During the course of the Mariners’ current rebuild, the team has seen the departures of all but one of their 2018 Opening Day relievers.
Now the reconstruction of a depleted Mariners bullpen has begun, and recent acquisitions of former Giants relievers Cory Gearrin and Hunter Strickland have helped slightly rise its stock. The goal in 2019, however, isn’t to match the 2018 domination from the likes of Álex Colomé and Edwin Díaz, but to instead build value, potential, and – hopefully – progression.
As the bullpen currently stands, no reliever stands out to immediately assume a specific role. This is good, because it allows the Mariners to distribute equal opportunity to each and every one of their relievers moving forward.
At first glance, Strickland will likely get first dibs at closing games. But that may be a role that consistently shifts between several pitchers throughout the 2019 season, including Strickland, newcomer Anthony Swarzak, Shawn Armstrong, and perhaps even Matthew Festa.
In an ideal world, Strickland and Swarzak bounce back in significant ways to earn the Mariners something of value on the trade market come July, August, or earlier, and Armstrong picks up where he left off from his strong September to also earn trade value.
Both Armstrong and Strickland carry multiple years of club control with them, not only making them more valuable to potential suitors, but also candidates to stick with the Mariners past 2019.
With someone like Festa, however, that’s where the real potential of the Mariners’ bullpen lies. Festa is one of three relief prospects the M’s have that should contribute in some way this season. As Festa appears set to break camp on the 25-man roster, the other two aforementioned relievers, Wyatt Mills and Art Warren, may not be too far behind.
This trio could be the makeup of a young, dominant bullpen as the Mariners slide back into a window of contention. But other arms, such as Gerson Bautista, Collin Kober, Dayeison Arias, Joey Gerber, and Sam Delaplane could find themselves in Seattle at one point or another as the season dwindles.
Maybe it’s unfair to say that the Mariners have endless options to develop a bullpen capable of performing at a high level in 2019, but it does feel more likely than not that they’ll eventually find a combination of relievers that they can ride with into 2020 with confidence.
Of course, relievers are interchangeable, and even the best bullpens on paper are usually a crapshoot. But the Mariners have a farm full of arms that pose unique qualities, and also bolster a history of successfully growing young relievers. So while there are certainly warranted questions about the immediate success the current ‘pen can have, there should be some sense of comfort found in the potential of where it could wind up.