Bruce Chen: The Starter Seattle May Need


On Wednesday, Erasmo Ramirez was lit up by a mediocre Texas offense as the M’s dropped the rubber match of a very winnable home series.

This was just the latest in a sequence of subpar outings from Seattle spot-starters, as neither Ramirez nor Taijuan Walker have yet developed into reliable options for Lloyd McClendon.

While I have previously advocated sticking with the 24-year old Nicaraguan, that was due to a lack of available replacements. However, now at the eleventh hour of the August waiver period, Kansas City may have just thrown the Mariners a lifeline.

Today, the Royals designated veteran southpaw Bruce Chen for assignment, and Seattle would be wise to take a flyer on the Panamanian for the rest of the season.

Chen has floated between the roles of starter and reliever throughout his 17-year career, starting only 225 of 398 games. While his career 4.58 ERA is nothing to get excited about, his consistency would be welcome as an emergency option for September. His 7.45 ERA in 2014 is mitigated somewhat by a 4.58 FIP, which any team that picks him up will hope is a sign of better days to come, at least in the short-term.

And for Seattle, this would be a depth move only, albeit a very shrewd one. The team has a solid rotation of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Roenis Elias, Chris Young, and James Paxton.

Feb 18, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik speaks to the media during MLB media day at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

But injuries always loom as a grim possibility, combined with the possibility (though it keeps becoming less and less likely) that Elias is shut down due to an innings limit and the chance that he, Young, or Paxton falls off drastically in the near future.

Lloyd McClendon has also repeatedly shown himself to be willing to push back the rotation for various reasons, thus necessitating a serviceable sixth starter.

And currently, sitting behind those heralded five are only Ramirez and Walker (unless you count now full-time reliever Brandon Maurer, which you should not).

Chen is by no means an ideal addition, though one Jack Zduriencik should readily accept this late in the season.

This leaves the team with a couple options, since Chen was not outright released: they could attempt a trade for him, bypassing waiver order, or they could wait ten days and take their chances that a team like Toronto or the Yankees does not swoop in first.

The main problem with the former is that the M’s would have to give KC something in exchange, while also being on the hook for Chen’s current deal: about $500,000 for the rest of 2014, and then a $5.5M mutual option, with a $1.25M buyout, for next year.

Nearly two million (assuming a 2015 buyout) would be a steep price for a safety valve, but the Royals might be persuaded to eat the rest of this season’s money for a slight upgrade in prospect sent back.

Of course, if the Royals, who themselves are still in the thick of things in the AL Central, wanted anything remotely resembling major league talent in return, Jack and Co. would have no choice but to wait the ten days out.

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The latter, in addition to giving other clubs the first crack at Chen, would not allow the Mariners to put the lefty on their playoff roster.

Considering they will only need three or four starters if they make it to October, however, only the first concern should be, along with Chen’s salary, given real thought.

But whatever the case, Seattle should, within reason, do all they can to land a little starting depth, for the harsh truth is that, as good as Taijuan Walker and (to a lesser extent) Erasmo Ramirez may be down the road, they will not take the Mariners anywhere but home if relied upon this September.