Mariners 2018 Starting Rotation: Thinking Outside of the Box

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 14: Felix Hernandez
ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 14: Felix Hernandez /

With Jerry Dipoto opting to stay away from the Free Agent market up to this point, we can assume the starting rotation will likely look like this:

  1. James Paxton

  2. Felix Hernandez

  3. Mike Leake

  4. Erasmo Ramirez

  5. Marco Gonzalez

Ariel Miranda and Andrew Moore will also be competing for those fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. However, there are a few factors point to Ramirez and Gonzalez being “the guys”.

First, Gonzalez is out of minor league options. He’d have to make it through waivers before he could be sent to Tacoma which isn’t likely considering he’s a lefty who dials it up in the low-to-mid 90’s.

Combine that with the fact he was brought in last season via a trade that sent one of the Mariners top prospects in Tyler O’Neill to St. Louis, trying to push Gonzalez through waivers would be an incredibly bad look and risky proposition.

As for Ramirez, his $4 million salary is guaranteed, which in reality guarantees him a spot on the roster. It is realistic to think a bullpen role could be a possibility, as he has spent a good part of his career in long relief. In fact, he has 100 career relief appearances with at least one coming in each of his six Major League season.

However, all of his 11 appearances with the Mariners last year were starts and over his entire Mariners career (in addition to the back half of last season, Ramirez also played the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons in Seattle), 79% of his appearances have been made as a starter. Those numbers make me believe Servais intends for Ramirez to start.

Now, it is definitely possible for either Miranda or Moore to put together a dominant spring and force either Ramirez or Gonzalez into the ‘pen. And if that happens, great, it would only mean good things were happening in the rotation.

Miranda would be the most likely candidate to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Last season he started 29 games for the Mariners and that experience shouldn’t be ignored. But looking at the numbers, it is hard to imagine he would’ve seen all of those starts had there not been so many injuries on the staff.

Miranda Season Totals: 8-7 record, 5.12 ERA, 5.73 FIP, 37 HR given up (2nd worst in MLB), 1.0 WAR

Andrew Moore would be the long shot. After pitching well beyond expectations in his first two starts last season he eventually came back to earth. There were definitely shining moments, but over his nine starts it became clear the 23-year old would benefit from some more time on the farm.

Andrew Moore Season Totals:

First 2 appearances (2 starts): 15 IP, 1-1 record, 3.60 ERA, 8 K, 0 BB

Final 8 appearances (7 starts): 36.6 IP, 0-4 record, 6.12 ERA, 23 K, 8 BB, 1 blown save

In the end, both Miranda and Moore have minor league options available and have had ups and downs at the major league level. That, combined with Ramirez’s contract and Gonzalez’s lack of options, paint a pretty clear picture that Miranda and Moore will start the season in Tacoma.

So, with the starting rotation presumably known, it’s time for the annual concern over the durability of the pitching staff to kick in. Specifically, concern over the two guys currently at the top.

Felix hasn’t given the Mariners 30+ starts since 2015. He’s consistently lost velocity each of the last three seasons and since 2014 he’s seen his WAR drop from a 6.8 all the way down to a 0.8.

Paxton on the other hand did set a career high in starts last year with 24 and in a majority of those starts he was dominant. But it was also his fourth straight year with multiple stints on the disabled list. Last year was a definite passing of the torch from the “King” to the “Big Maple,” but 24 starts out of their new ace isn’t going to be enough to get this team where they need to go.

They’ll need to get close to a full season from both Felix and Paxton if they want to get into the Wild Card mix along with the Red Sox, Twins, and Angels of the world. And so we ask the question, how do the Mariners get there? How do they find a way to get all of those starts out of two pitchers who can’t seem to stay healthy?

Dipoto and Servais may not be interested in entertaining any new ideas at the moment. But I have an idea they should consider. Not only will this help support the desire to reduce innings and keep arms healthy, but it will improve a team who needs to go for it NOW.

Dive into the Free Agency market and sign a mid-tier pitcher.

As talented as the top-tier guys like Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, and Lance Lynn are you might be shocked to find out you can get similar production out of some of the lesser names.


A: 33 GS, 186.1 IP, 3.43 ERA, 4.82 FIP, 7.39 K/9, 3.77 BB/9, 1.4 WAR

B: 30 GS, 170.2 IP, 4.59 ERA, 5.30 FIP, 8.71 K/9, 2.94 BB/9, 0.5 WAR

C: 32 GS, 179.2 IP, 4.16 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 6.71 K/9, 2.91 BB/9, 1.6 WAR

D: 31 GS, 186.2 IP, 3.86 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 10.08 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 3.5 WAR

*stats courtesy of Fangraphs

Now what if I told you one of those players was going to demand up to  $10 million less per year (maybe more) than the other three AND he wouldn’t need a long-term deal? Would you not be begging me for the player’s name and his agent’s phone number?

Here are the owners of the above stats:

A: Lance Lynn

B: Jake Arrieta

C: Jason Vargas

D: Yu Darvish

Yes, to go for it right now the Mariners should get on the phone and attempt to bring back 35-year-old, Jason Vargas. I’ll let that sink in a moment as I’m sure some of you are choking on that last statement.

Okay. I know it sounds crazy, but it makes sense. Look at the numbers, the production is there. Sure, Kansas City dealt with Vargas’ injuries the two years prior to last season, but name a Mariners pitcher that doesn’t come with injury risk these days?

Vargas still has something in the tank, and there is no doubt the price would be right. Which is important, because as much as Dipoto wants to claim money isn’t a factor, not a single one of us, not even himself,  believes him.

One caveat to this would be if Arrieta decided he’d be willing to accept a 1-year deal. At that point throwing $28 million at him for 2018 would be an acceptable win now option. But the realist in me knows the Mariners don’t have it in them. So I say focus on the affordable.

Based on the very little interest he has received on the open market – not to mention the team friendly deal Yu Darvish just signed with the Cubs (6 years, $126 million) – it would be safe to say the Mariners could get Vargas at a relatively cheap price. Two years at $18 million would have a great shot at getting it done. If he balks at it, up it to $20 million and/or throw in a club option in 2020.

As it stands today, the Mariners are currently projecting to wind up right around $30 million under this year’s cap of $197 million. Adding $9 million will have them operating right about where they’ve been over the last 3 seasons. That is close to $20 million under the cap.  Financially, it makes sense.

If it is the roster you are worried about, this would only help you in trying to keep your staff healthy. This is where you get creative, think outside of the box. Build on the current ideas of potentially going to a 13-man staff, 6-man starting rotation. Be innovative.

Put Felix in the #4 spot in the rotation where there could be less pressure on him to give more innings. Add Vargas behind Leake and go with a hybrid six-man rotation of Paxton, Leake, Vargas, Felix, Gonzalez, with Ramirez getting a start every 2 rotations.

Unconventional, sure. Realistic and manageable, most definitely. And at this point, why not?

Honestly, I’m not sure why Dipoto is so against checking in on some of these available free agents. Maybe he doesn’t think this group is anywhere close to being a playoff team. Maybe ownership has slammed the door shut on any more spending and he’s passing it off as his plan. Or maybe he truly believes the guys he has can actually get this team into the playoffs.

Who knows, but when you look at the options side by side, I can’t help but think it is obvious what needs to happen.

Current                 Proposed

Paxton                  Paxton

Felix                       Leake

Leake                    Vargas

Ramirez                Felix

Gonzalez              Gonzalez


I am optimistic the team, as it stands today, can make a playoff push. I’ve even said before I don’t believe the cupboard isn’t all that bare. But I also realize my optimism rests mostly on the shoulders of the offense and there is room for improvement in the rotation.

Next: Is Robinson Cano Overpaid? Hardly

The right free agent acquisition could be the difference between “almost” and “finally” and we are all ready to FINALLY put an end to the drought.