Current Mariners Rotation Not “Good” Enough

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 26: Jake Arrieta
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 26: Jake Arrieta /

That’s it, I have seen enough. Up to this point, I was of the belief the Mariners could potentially find a way to ride their current starting rotation into the playoffs. Stars aligned, curses lifted, it was possible. Yesterday officially pushed me over the edge.

No more pretending. It‘s time for the Mariners to acknowledge the massive elephant hovering over this city and make a run at one (or some) of the free agent pitchers currently looking for a job.

Yesterday afternoon the Mariners were met with quite the scare. Felix Hernandez was making his spring debut against the Chicago Cubs and through the first inning the King looked poised to regain his throne. A 1-2-3 first, including two strike outs coming against major league bats, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo – it was the start we all wanted to see.

Then came the second inning and my official breakdown.

To lead off the inning Felix hit Cubs short stop Addison Russell on a 2-2 pitch. Two pitches later, Cubs catcher Victor Carantini lined a fast ball right back where it came from leaving Felix riving in pain on the right side of the infield. Arm hanging to his side, excruciating pain failing over his face – this was not “good.”

Naturally, Mariners fans who knew what was happening immediately concluded the worst case scenario – Felix’s elbow just exploded.

With the game not televised, uncertainty filled the cyberspace as all eyes were fixed on Twitter waiting for the local media members to report what they were seeing. At first, despite being on the scene, even they weren’t quite sure what the actual injury was.

"“Felix Hernandez takes a hard line drive off of his right arm. Trainers out. Not good.” -@GregJohnsMLB, “Felix coming out of the game. Looks like [the ball] hit him directly in the right hand. He’s in considerable pain.” -@GregJohnsMLB,"

Was it his arm? His hand? Come on man, what did he hurt?

"“Felix Hernandez exits his start in obvious pain after being struck on the right elbow by a line drive. Video of the play in the post” – @RyanDivish, Seattle Times"

It WAS his elbow?!?! Queue the violin.

As we all know now, by the end of the evening we were able to collectively exhale as the x-rays taken of the upper forearm and elbow area were negative. Nothing more than a contusion. Good news, but this will still keep Felix from seeing the mound anytime soon.

As reported by Greg Johns, Mariners manager Scott Servais had this to say in a post game interview:

"“He’s going to be out a while. We’ll know more in a couple days… He had his pitches working. He threw the ball really well. It’s just bad luck. Lucky for us it’s happened early in the spring and he’s got some time to hopefully recoup. We’ll just have to wait and see how it is in a couple days.” – Scott Servais, Seattle Mariners Manager"

Not ideal, but for now it seems it could have been much worse.

So, where does this leave the starting rotation of the Mariners? Just four games into spring training Felix and Erasmo Ramirez (potential fourth or fifth starter) are unable to pitch due to injury. Their ace, James Paxton has yet to take the mound, but will be given his opportunity to injure himself this afternoon in a split squad game in Peoria.

Quick side note: would anyone be against limiting Paxton to live batting practice scenarios until Opening day? At this point I know I wouldn’t be against it.

This leaves the Mariners with Mike Leake and Marco Gonzalez to hold this rotation together. THAT is what they are left with.

SEATTLE, WA – SEPTEMBER 1: Starter Mike Leake
SEATTLE, WA – SEPTEMBER 1: Starter Mike Leake /

Mike Leake is the one piece we can all have confidence in right now. Did I just say the one piece to have confidence in is the #3 starter? Sure did. *Sigh* Anyway, Leake showed well against the Chicago White Sox in his first Cactus League appearance on Saturday – 2IP, 1 H, 0R, 0BB, 0K. The Mariners will need to see more of that.

As our very own Ty Gonzalez pointed out in his game recap of that eventual 5-3 loss to the Sox, the right-handed ground ball pitcher will be the “crutch” of this rotation. This rings true now more than ever. Thankfully through five regular season starts and one spring outing as a Mariner, Leake has given us no reason to think he won’t get the job done. And this is just me writing out loud, but it might be time to find this guy a bubble or some bubble wrap to walk around in.

Marco Gonzalez also got his spring started off on the right foot this past Sunday – 2IP, 0H, 0R, 1BB, 4 K. Great news, as expectations are high. But knowing this is Marco’s second year removed from Tommy John surgery, there will likely be some risk management going on throughout the season.

Limited innings and pitch counts would be my expectation throughout the year. And if the injuries his teammates are dealing with linger into the season, asking Gonzalez to jump from the fifth starter’s role into a third or fourth starter’s role could be the difference between a fully healthy season and some time spent on the DL.

So, what is their plan moving forward? Beyond the original starting five, are the Mariners going to assume the likes of Andrew Moore and Ariel Miranda are going to be reliable enough to keep the team in the playoff picture? Is the plan really to stick with the guys they have? Hope Paxton can stay healthy? Hope Felix and Erasmo get back within a couple of weeks and then magically find a way to get into regular season shape before the end of spring? Is the plan to sit back and put the Jocko Willink motivational video that has spawned Servais’ 2018 team motto on repeat in the clubhouse? Yeah, sure… “good” plan.

I get that it might seem silly to think games 1-20 matter in the grand scheme of things. The season is a 162 game gauntlet with many peeks and valleys. But guess what? Those games DO matter! At 78-84 a year ago, the Mariners finished tied with the Texas Rangers for third place in the A.L. West Division and were seven games out of the second wild card spot. They have a lot of ground to make up and if they want to truly compete for a playoff spot, they need to have the mindset that EVERY game does matter.

Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb – all unsigned. You don’t want to fork out the multi-year $12, $15, $20 million per year deal these guys are looking for, reach for the stars and balloon a one year deal at them. The current 2018 MLB luxury tax threshold is set at $197 million. The current projected cap number for the Mariners is right around $160 million. You’ve got the cap space – “good.”

Offer Arrieta one year at $26 million. You’ll still be under the cap by $11 million and have an immediate #2 starter – “good.”

If Arrieta isn’t your cup of tea, offer one year, $20 million to Lynn or $16 million to Cobb. In addition, send R.A. Dickey a $6 million one year offer with bonus incentives that could get him closer to $10 million. Still under the cap by around $10 – $15 million and you immediately improve your rotation – “good.”

I can’t help but believe any one of these three rotations would outperform the current Paxton-Felix-Leake-Ramirez-Gonzalez combo:

 ONE                                             TWO                                         THREE

Paxton                                        Paxton                                      Paxton

Arrieta                                         Lynn                                          Cobb

Felix                                             Felix                                           Felix

Leake                                           Leake                                        Leake

Gonzalez                                    Dickey                                       Dickey

Obviously, signing a free agent (or two) isn’t as simple as I am writing it out to be. It would require some creativity with the 40-man roster. But at what point do you look yourself in the mirror, realize the window is closing, and FINALLY say, “It is time to truly go for it”?

That time is now. The offense is more solid top to bottom than it has been in over a decade. Ability to get on base, speed, power, is all there. NOW is the time. For 17 years Mariners fans have gone into each season thinking the team was going to be “good.”

Next: Who Helps the Mariners More: Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb?

Well, watching our King go down yesterday spawned a realization that the offense, although potentially great, is not going to be able to carry another depleted pitching staff. The current rotation as it stands today, has the potential to be “good.” The Mariners brass just has to realize, it isn’t “good” enough.