Mariners Free Agent Target: Wei-Yin Chen


The Seattle Mariners have been one of the busier teams in baseball since the offseason started in early November. Jerry Dipoto and his staff have already added players like Leonys Martin, Chris Iannetta and Nate Karns to the big league roster. However, the M’s starting rotation is lacking a reliable left-handed arm. I believe Wei-Yin Chen would be an intriguing addition this winter.

The Baltimore Orioles signed Wei-Yin Chen in January of 2012. The Taiwan native played the first five seasons of his professional career with the Chunichi Dragons of the Japan Central League. Chen registered a 2.59 ERA during his time in Japan, and the Orioles jumped at the chance to sign the southpaw.

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Chen received little fanfare prior to arriving on the scene in Baltimore, but he quickly made a name for himself in 2012. He finished fourth in American League Rookie of the Year voting after going 12-11 and posting a 4.02 ERA through 32 outings. Chen fanned 154 and walked 57 across 192.2 innings pitched.

The 30-year-old took his game to another level during the 2014 season. Chen tallied a career high, 16 wins for the upstart Orioles. The veteran southpaw also registered a 3.54 ERA through 31 starts. Chen was the O’s best hurler, and posted a 3.89 strikeout to walk ratio.

2015 was yet another strong campaign for Wei-Yin Chen. The Orioles failed to repeat their success from the previous season, but Chen went 11-8 with a 3.34 ERA across 31 outings. He struck out 153 and issued 41 free passes in 191.1 innings of work.

Apr 25, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen (16) pitches during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Chen has been remarkably consistent throughout his first four seasons in the big leagues. He sports a career record of 46-32, and has posted a 3.72 ERA in 117 starts. He has appeared in the postseason twice with Baltimore, going 1-1 and posting a 4.70 ERA across 3 outings. Dipoto is said to put a lot of stock into a pitcher’s strikeout to walk ratio, and Chen’s 3.18 career mark is quite impressive.

Baseball Reference is projecting Chen will go 11-8 and post a 3.67 ERA through 174.0 innings pitched in 2016. The mathematicians over at FanGraphs are even more optimistic. They predict Chen will 12-11 with a 3.63 ERA across 32 starts.

The free agent market for starting pitchers has been slow to develop thus far, but the Toronto Blue Jays inked J.A. Happ to a three-year contract worth $36 million dollars on Friday. Jason Vargas earned a four-year deal worth $32 million dollars with the Kansas City Royals prior to the 2014 season. I believe Chen could get a fourth year deal like Vargas, but his average annual salary should be closer to the $12 million Happ is making.

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Hisashi Iwakuma is currently a free agent, and he is being pursued by numerous teams. The Mariners may not be able to retain Kuma this winter. Dipoto has also been shopping James Paxton, Roenis Elias and Mike Montgomery this offseason in trade talks. There is plenty of instability right now in the Mariners’ rotation, and signing Wei-Yin Chen might be the best course of action.

Pax-Man is arguably the Mariners only serviceable southpaw. The 27-year-old has been brilliant when healthy, but he has been limited to just 26 starts combined over the last two seasons. Monty and Elias have been inconsistent at best, and neither is expected to develop into middle of the rotation arms.

Some have suggested the Mariners should pursue David Price on the open market. Price is the top left-hander available, but his 2016 salary is likely to be well north of $20 million dollars. The M’s already have Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano‘s monster deals on the books, and I doubt they have the money to meet Price’s demands.

Next: Mariners Free Agent Target: Justin Morneau

Wei-Yin Chen is obviously a notch below Price, but he is an ideal middle of the rotation starter. Chen fits into the second or third tier of available pitchers, and he is someone the M’s could conceivably afford. The Mariners could utilize Chen as their number two pitcher in 2016, or they could slide him into the number three spot. Personally, I believe Chen would be a perfect fit in Seattle.