Seattle Mariners: Will Patrick Corbin be the M’s top target?
By Ty Gonzalez
You want starting pitching? Well, here’s an opportunity to get one of the better left-handed starters in the MLB. At 29-years-old, Patrick Corbin is hitting free agency right at the peak of his prime.
Ask any Mariner fan and they’ll tell you that starting pitching is the team’s biggest need. Getting better at the position is easier said than done. Considering that the Mariners don’t have the prospect capital to acquire a pitcher of significant value through trade, they have to enter the fray of the highly competitive free agent market.
Thankfully, this offseason has a relatively wide ranger of starting pitchers, especially at the top. Not only will teams be vying for Corbin, but J.A. Happ, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Nathan Eovaldi, and Aníbal Sánchez, among others, will garner quite a bit of attention. Corbin may be the best option of all, however, after a 6.3 fWAR season in 2018.
In 2013, Corbin put himself on the map with a 3.5 fWAR season in which he posted a 3.43 FIP over 208.1 innings pitched. The following Spring, however, team doctors discovered a partially torn ligament in his throwing arm, resulting in Tommy John surgery and sidelining him for the entire 2014 season. Corbin returned for the second half of the 2015 season, but showed signs of wear, struggling through 2016.
Corbin turned things around in 2017, learning to rely more on his sinker/slider combination to get outs. His strikeout numbers went up and he kept the ball on the ground for half of the contact made against him. Corbin was able to pitch 189 innings that season, notching a 4.08 FIP and 3.5 fWAR.
That built the foundation for an amazing 2018 season, in which Corbin entered his name in the conversation for National League Cy Young. Corbin began to shy away from his fastball more than ever, only throwing it 19.7% of the time. He also added a curveball to his arsenal, giving him three deadly breaking pitches to attack hitters with. It worked, immensely. Corbin’s K/9 skyrocketed by nearly three whole points to 11.07, totaling a whopping 246 strikeouts on the year. That would rank first on the Mariners by 38, for those that care.
He was also healthy for the full year again, reaching the 200 innings mark for the second time in his career. That’s a pretty miraculous feat for any pitcher, let alone one that’s only four years removed from one of the most career-ruining injuries in all of professional sports.
So why Corbin, and why would he choose the Mariners? Expectedly, there will be a fair amount of competition the Mariners will have to fend off in their pursuit, but they have something Corbin’s other potential suitors don’t have: history. In 2010, the Diamondbacks acquired former Mariner Joe Saunders and Corbin, along with two other prospects, from the Angels for Dan Haren. Their general manager? Jerry Dipoto, who left the Diamondbacks after one season to join — guess who? — the Angels.
Fun sidenote: Dipoto acquired Tyler Skaggs in that deal as well, then later reacquired him for the Angels in the three-team, Adam Eaton/Mark Trumbo deal in 2013. Eaton went on to become one of the better center fielders in the MLB, and Skaggs is starting to come into his own with Anaheim. Meanwhile, Trumbo was traded to the Mariners two years later and the D-Backs got nothing of worth in return.
Dipoto wanted Corbin then and I imagine he would want him now. Corbin is a clear upgrade over the Mariners’ current number two, Marco Gonzales, and would make the top of their rotation one of the best in the MLB. It’s hard to find quality left-handed starters in the MLB, and adding Corbin would give the Mariners three in James Paxton, Corbin, and Gonzales.
Corbin, who turns 30 next July, will be in line for a large payday. Anywhere from four-to-six years, worth up to $23-$28 million per season seems to be the bar for his next contract. It would be, by and large, the biggest contract Jerry Dipoto has ever extended to a player in his tenure with the Mariners. They do have the money to do it, especially if they look to increase payroll for 2019.
Having Félix Hernández’s insanely large contract coming off the books in 2020 also helps, meaning the Mariners would likely look to backload Corbin’s deal to limit the damage done immediately. That works out better for both sides, given the commitment and guarantees it gives Corbin.
Even with the history and clear fit, it’ll be extremely hard for the Mariners to come out of this offseason with Corbin in hand. The Diamondbacks will likely want to retain him and will more than likely attach a qualifying offer to him in early November. This means that the Mariners would have to sacrifice their second round pick in the 2019 MLB Amateur Draft in order to sign Corbin.
I don’t see the Diamondbacks as a large threat, however, as Corbin isn’t their only major free agent set to hit the market. A.J. Pollock, whom Colby posed as a possibility for the Mariners, being the biggest one of all. But Eduardo Escobar, Brad Ziegler, Jon Jay, and Daniel Descalso are all preparing to pack their bags as well. Time is also closing in on a massive extension for perennial All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, so the Diamondbacks are quickly finding themselves in a financial bind. Not to mention they’re already paying Zack Greinke $34 million per season as is.
My biggest concern is whether or not Corbin wants to remain on the West Coast. Born in Clay, New York, Corbin stayed on the East Coast for the entirety of his amateur career, finishing college at Chipola College in Marianna, Florida. Perhaps he’ll be in the market for a team closer to home, leaving the Mariners without a prayer, which may be the case already.
I don’t know if everything will come together for the Mariners, but I hope they do whatever they can to bring Corbin in. He’s the type of pitcher they need, coming in at a nice age right in the middle of his prime. It’s not often that you get this kind of opportunity in free agent, especially with the potential financial flexibility the Mariners may have. It just feels like the stars have aligned, or at least I hope they have.
In any case, if you’re one of the countless Mariners fans clamoring for starting pitcher, then you want Patrick Corbin on your team. Simple as that.