With Felix out, who takes his place in the Mariners’ rotation?

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 27: Manager Scott Servais #29 removes starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez #31 of the Seattle Mariners during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on April 27, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 27: Manager Scott Servais #29 removes starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez #31 of the Seattle Mariners during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on April 27, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Felix Hernandez is no longer a part of the Mariners’ starting rotation. While I’ve been very critical of Felix this year – and rightfully so – it still sucks writing that. But life moves on and the Mariners are now faced with the task of replacing the dethroned king.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Erasmo Ramirez will likely start in Felix’s absence this Sunday. After rehabbing a shoulder injury that has sidelined him for nearly the entirety of the 2018 season, Erasmo appears to finally be ready to make his return.

The problem is, Erasmo doesn’t inspire much confidence within the Mariners’ fanbase. For many, Erasmo could be seen as a downgrade from Felix. He’s not, but he’s also not a huge upgrade.

Erasmo figured things out in Tampa Bay, but his success hasn’t translated to his second stint in Seattle. In 13 starts since being acquired last July, Erasmo has an ERA of 4.77 (5.68 FIP) and has had a major home run problem.

In those 13 starts, Erasmo has allowed 19 home runs, including five to the Indians in his last start back in April. Erasmo kept the ball on the ground quite a bit in Tampa (49.2 GB%), which played a key role in his success there, but that hasn’t been the story in Seattle (37.4 GB%). He’s left a high amount of pitches elevated, which has led to so many balls going over the fence.

All that said, something needed to be done about Felix. Even if Erasmo continues to struggle, it’s worth giving him a shot. The Mariners still have time to look elsewhere for another solution.

Before we look outside of the organization, allow me to present an internal option: Rob Whalen.

Man, I love me some Rob Whalen. Not only does he have an amazing and inspirational story about overcoming mental health struggles, he’s also pitched fairly well in Triple-A. Over 97.1 innings, Whalen has a 4.90 ERA (4.07 FIP) with a 8.23 K/9. He’s not very flashy, but he could slot in as a solid fifth starter.

In his one MLB appearance this year, Whalen threw four scoreless innings of relief against the Red Sox, retiring the first nine hitters he faced. The Mariners went on to win the game 7-6, and while Whalen was credited with a no-decision, he surely was one of the MVPs that night.

Whalen has struggled in his six career starts at the Major League level, but such a small sample size should not restrict him from another opportunity. At the very least, the Mariners should give him one start over the next week to see what he can give them. If it goes poorly, oh well.

As I said, the Mariners have time to find their fifth starter. With 20 days remaining until the waiver deadline, a potential trade is still in play.

The Mariners have money and would likely find themselves taking on a large salary to acquire a solid veteran pitcher. James Shields, Jordan Zimmermann, and Ervin Santana all come to mind.

Shields is owed roughly $5 million for the rest of 2018 and can be bought out in 2019 for $2 million. While he is 4-13 with a 5.00 xFIP this season, Shields has shown flashes of excellence on occasion and currently finds himself with a 1.2 fWAR.

Since 2015, Shields has pitched for some pretty terrible teams and his performance has suffered. Perhaps a relocation to a contending club could see the return of “Big Game James.” Just a thought.

Zimmermann is also pretty interesting, though he has a full no-trade clause. Of course, he would likely prefer to no longer pitch on the lowly Tigers and thus lift his clause for the right situation.

Now, Zimmermann is scheduled to make $50 million over the next two seasons. The Tigers would have to eat a significant chunk of that, but the Mariners can afford to take on some.

Zimmermann has been a major disappointment since coming to Detroit, but he’s fared a bit better in 2018. While he’s only thrown 77 innings so far, Zimmermann has an ERA of 4.31 (4.24 FIP) and brings more playoff experience to a hopeful team.

Santana, on the other hand, has just returned from a lingering finger injury that had kept him out since February. While he’s struggled in his first three starts back, he’s coming off of back-to-back three-win seasons and could help a contending team as a back-end starter.

Alike Shields, Santana has a team option next season with a $1 million buyout. You’re not stuck with him if you don’t want him.

Of the three, I’m currently leaning toward Zimmermann. While none of these options have been spectacular by any means, Zimmermann has been solid in his limited work this year and gives you the potential of a dominant re-emergence.

Zimmermann might also be the cheapest option, considering that both the Twins and White Sox aren’t stuck with Santana and Shields past this season either. The Tigers are stuck with Zimmermann for a very high cost if they can’t work out a deal.

All things considered, the Mariners got better by optioning Felix to the bullpen. It was a very heart-wrenching decision to make, but a necessary one at that. Now, the Mariners have to move on and continue to make the right decisions.

They have time to weigh their options and make minor mistakes to figure things out, just as long as they don’t make a bigger mistake in choosing the wrong option.