Seattle Mariners 2019 Position Preview: Relief Pitchers
LATE INNING RELIEVERS
If there is any sort of silver lining going into the first season of a rebuild, it’s the experimentation that comes with it. Fans should expect a lot of experimenting on the frontlines of the Mariners’ bullpen, with three veteran relievers expected to get a look at the closer’s role and let the rest figure itself out.
In that group, there are newly-acquired relievers Hunter Strickland and Anthony Swarzak, as well as Shawn Armstrong, who returns to the Mariners following a – pun intended – strong finish to the 2018 season. Ironically, all three have not been giving consistent opportunity to close throughout their career, though all carry some faint experience.
Of the three, Strickland has the most experience after taking over closing duties for the injured Mark Melancon in San Francisco last season. But after a blown save against the Marlins, Strickland fractured his hand in frustration and subsequently lost his closer job upon his return, and eventually his employment with the Giants after the season.
Prior to 2018, Strickland had been one of the game’s premier non-closers in a consistently solid Giants bullpen. The Mariners signed Strickland to a one-year deal, though the 30-year-old has a final arbitration-eligible year attached to him. So it’s possible Strickland will last in Seattle beyond the 2019 season, though putting a good year together, especially as a closer, could put strong value back on his name by the deadline.
Armstrong falls under a similar category, though he carries four years of control and lacks the name value Strickland holds. But he also has the highest potential of these three veteran relievers and fits the mold of closer the best, bolstering a three-pitch repertoire that equally misses bats and keeps balls on the ground at a steady rate.
While Strickland appears to be the early frontrunner for closing duties, Armstrong will get his shot at it and may assume full control over the role early on in the season.
Of course, there’s also Swarzak, who’s blown nine of 15 save opportunities in his career. Not very encouraging numbers for someone who may be involved in the Mariners’ closer competition. However, Swarzak is currently nursing a shoulder injury heading into Spring Training, potentially making it a two-horse race between Armstrong and Strickland.
In 2017, Swarzak pitched a solid 77.1 innings for the White Sox and Brewers, posting a 10.59 K/9 and 2.74 FIP. That earned him a two-year, $14 million contract with the Mets. But the 33-year-old righty struggled to stay healthy and floundered when he got his opportunities on the mound, struggling with command issues and keeping runners off the base paths.
The Mariners acquired Swarzak in the Edwin Díaz/Robinson Canó deal in order to offset some of the money in Canó’s contract. Jerry Dipoto and co. will be holding out hope for Swarzak to bounce back this season and rebuild some of his value in order to shed a little bit off of his remaining salary and get something in return for him.
If the M’s are successful in dealing any of the aforementioned relievers, it seems likely that either Wyatt Mills or Art Warren will get a crack at handling the ninth inning towards the end of the year. Any sort of productivity out of the role from either one would be a huge boost for the future of the Mariners’ bullpen, and perhaps wipe the bad taste of dealing Díaz out of some fans’ mouths.