Amidst all the latest rumors and buzz, it’s safe to say that James Alston Paxton will not be with the Mariners in 2019 and beyond. Going away with him would be the role of starting ace pitcher. Someone will need to succeed him. Question is, who should it be?
If we narrow it down to our 2018 rotation, we have Marco Gonzales, Wade Leblanc, Mike Leake, and Felix Hernandez. Roenis Elias gets an asterisk due to the interim work he did but ace he is not. He would make a good fifth starter if we don’t make any significant moves for a starter.
Beginning with Marco, he seemed way more settled into Major League pitching last year than in 2017. Being one year older helps a little but still, he was in a groove. Of 2018 starters, Marco had the least amount of walks (32) as well as the most wins at 13. While he definitely showed flashes of future ace potential, it needs to remain in the future.
Throwing Marco into the role of ace would be unwise in that the team would be jumping the gun. The Mariners have a habit of prematurely turning a player into something they are not yet and that mistake can’t be made with Marco. Give him a year or two more of pro experience and then let’s talk ace. The M’s took a gamble for the better when they swapped this guy for Tyler O’Neill, but he’s not ready yet.
Now Wade just a minute. If you were told that the Mariners starter who led the rotation in lowest ERA and tossed a handful of quality starts was Wade Leblanc, you wouldn’t believe me. In fact he did so well he made us wonder if we would ever see Erasmo again. Wade’s inning-eating clearly paid off as he earned himself a contract while Erasmo was non-tendered.
So there’s your reason why Wade should stay on the back end of the rotation at four or five. The fact that he was a substitute and pitched better than hoped for shows that he is an asset, but not the ace hero Emerald City needs.
Out of the bottom three starters last year, Mike Leake showed the most vulnerability. Mike had a higher ERA than Wade or Marco. While he did outdo both of them in innings pitched at 185.2, the amount of runs you give up offsets.
Leake may have also began the season over his head as his first half was good but he faded a little into the later months, when quality pitching was needed most. In April through July, he had about one bad start (five runs allowed or more) per month. He however allowed five or more runs in four of his last six starts and is lucky the M’s had already cried uncle to the A’s.
We are left with you know who, Mr. Felix Hernandez. He needs another chance at ace. After all, he only was it for most of his career! Is he the same Felix or as filthy as before? No. Was last season hard to watch? Yes! But 2019 will be a clean slate for him to pitch like his old ace days. If he is slipping and sliding after April, the experiment has failed and try one of the other fellas. But let’s give Felix the benefit of the doubt. It would be fitting for what will likely be his final hoorah in Mariners teal.