Seattle Mariners: A Surprising Opportunity to Buy This Off-Season

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 08: Starting pitcher Michael Fulmer #32 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Seattle Mariners in the second inning at Safeco Field on August 8, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 08: Starting pitcher Michael Fulmer #32 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Seattle Mariners in the second inning at Safeco Field on August 8, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /

The Seattle Mariners are rebuilding this off-season. No question about it. But unlike traditional rebuilds, Seattle appears to want a quick turnaround. Could this lead to a surprising trade this winter?

Rule 1 of most rebuilds is that prospects are kings. You do not trade any of the decent ones you have. You acquire as many as you can for your veterans as well. While the Mariners have certainly gotten prospects back in their trades, they have not been avoiding veterans.

In fact, in just about every trade they’ve made thus far, with the exception of James Paxton and Ricardo Sanchez, Seattle has acquired a veteran with some significant track record in Major League Baseball.

In these trades, they have acquired Mallex Smith, Omar Narvaez, Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, Carlos Santana, and Edwin Encarnacion. Even some of the younger pieces they have acquired have some MLB experience, mainly Justus Sheffield and J.P. Crawford. The only prospect they have acquired who is more than 2 years away from the big leagues is Jarred Kelenic, and even that isn’t a guarantee.

So yes, the Mariners are rebuilding. But they are not doing so in a way that makes it look like it will be 5 years before they can even think about competing. In fact, Jerry Dipoto has repeatedly said that he wants to be ready to compete by 2020 or 2021 at the latest. And thus far, that is exactly how he has operated.

So if the team wants to compete in 2 years, couldn’t they look to buy players who can help them now and in 2021-2022? Possibly. The difficulty in this is finding a player like this who is actually available. Players with 4 years or more of club control with enough upside to justify spending on resources on them are tough to come by.

Perhaps more difficult is finding a player young enough to make sense beyond 2022 that is actually worth acquiring that Dipoto can afford. Well, perhaps we have found such a player. Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer.

Fulmer checks all the boxes we mentioned above. Four or more years of club control? Check. Upside that makes it worth spending prospect capital? Fulmer posted a 3.0 and 3.5 fWAR in his first 2 seasons. So, check. What about his age? He turns 26 in March, so you are buying his age 26-29 seasons. Check.

Fulmer is coming off a down season in which he battled knee injuries and saw his value drop from 3.5 wins to 1.4 wins in 2018. Fulmer still has an above-average fastball, that can hit 97 and has a hard sinker with good arm-side run.

In addition to the power pitches, Fulmer has a nice slider and a changeup. Unfortunately, the changeup has gotten more firm in 2017 and 2018, and as a result, its effectiveness has suffered in that time.

Despite above-average stuff, Fulmer doesn’t miss a lot of bats. His career 7.03 K/9 is below-average but his 2.53 BB/9 rate is pretty darn good. Fulmer also has a good 47.7% groundball rate but did have trouble with the home run ball in 2018.

The question remains, has the league caught up to Fulmer? Or was 2018 just injury related? One thing that isn’t questionable is that Fulmer’s trade value has never been lower. But what would this cost? Here is our proposal:

Obviously, the name that jumps off the page is Kyle Lewis. At one time a premier prospect in the game, injuries derailed Lewis’ timeline and poor performance has knocked some of the shine off his profile.

But Lewis is still a good prospect, who most believe be a decent bat with above-average power. He has shown that he can handle centerfield, but should be above-average in RF, where is power will play better. Lewis may be a .260/.340/.450  with 25-30 home run with above-average defense at his ceiling.

In addition to Lewis, the Mariners would send Wyatt Mills to Detroit. Mills is a virtual carbon copy of Steve Cishek, a low side-arm fastball/slider combo who throws strikes. Mills should be MLB ready by 2019, and Lewis has a chance to join him.

Of course, we all know the limitations of Ryon Healy, but he may appeal to the Tigers, who can employ Miguel Cabrera as a full-time DH, and try and turn Ryon Healy into the bat he was in the A’s minor league system.

The three pieces are likely going to be useable to the Tigers, who have a plethora of young arms who will be ready to replace Fulmer soon. The Tigers committed to more of a longer-term rebuild, so acquiring 6 years each of Lewis and Mills isn’t a bad return for Fulmer coming off a down season.

There are actually a number of iterations in this deal. Perhaps the Mariners can recoup Shane Greene in this deal, or find a swap of prospects that both teams like. But the meat of this deal makes some sense for both sides.

dark. Next. Mariners in on Sonny Gray?

Unorthodox? Yes. But everything about Jerry Dipoto’s off-season thus far has been unorthodox. Adding the potential upside of Fulmer to the rotation that may include Marco Gonzales. Justus Sheffield, and Justin Dunn by as soon as this season makes sense for Seattle.