The Mariners have a lot of areas to improve upon next season, but fixing the bullpen could go a long way to having success in 2020 and beyond.
Despite capping off a six-win road trip with a blown save from Matt Magill yesterday, the Mariners have made great strides in building a respectable bullpen out of a unit that ranked dead last in the league in fWAR for the majority of the season. Even with the departures of Roenis Elías and Hunter Strickland at the deadline, Seattle has seen strong contributions out of the likes of Magill (other than yesterday), Sam Tuivailala, and Matt Wisler.
Wisler and Tuivailala, in particular, have been dominant over the last month and change. Both have been versatile pitchers for the Mariners, serving well in the opener’s role as well as late in games. Wisler hasn’t allowed an earned run since July 16, some 11.1 innings ago, while Tuivailala has only allowed a pair of earned runs since returning from the Injured List—also on July 16.
Injuries to Brandon Brennan, Connor Sadzeck, and Austin Adams not only derailed the Mariners’ chances to develop a cohesive bullpen this year, but to capitalize on the rich trade market for relievers. With the success the three aforementioned relievers had at full health this season, there’s no question Seattle would have reaped the benefits of a dry market.
This can be attributed to nothing more than just pure bad luck, but there is good news; coming out of Spring Training, the Mariners could bolster a bullpen that features Brennan, Sadzeck, Adams, Wisler, and Tuivailala. There’s also the foregone conclusion that, at some point over the next few weeks, Seattle will call up at least two relievers from a dominant Double-A Arkansas bullpen that’s seemingly bottomless with talent.
And don’t forget about Taylor Guilbeau, the hard-throwing southpaw Seattle acquired in the Elías/Strickland trade who’s just recently made his MLB debut. Guilbeau is a legit relief prospect with a high-leverage ceiling, and he may be the fifth- or sixth-best option in their ‘pen heading into next year, if not lower.
Even with the few Arkansas arms they may call up this season, which should be Art Warren and Sam Delaplane, there’s still tons of talent left that they should be able to pull from relatively early on in 2020. What I’m saying is, the Mariners are not short of options, and will have more than enough cracks at building a competitive bullpen next season.
Why is that important, in another year in which Seattle isn’t expected to compete for anything but the bottom of the cellar? Well, for one, they’ll be at least slightly more watchable from beginning to end. Secondly, and most importantly, it’s about capitalizing on the trade market.
The Mariners still have a lot of trade ammunition with Domingo Santana, Marco Gonzales, Mitch Haniger, Omar Narváez, etc., but where they could really break big is with their bullpen. Odds are that, once again, whether they’re a contender or not, teams are going to have a widespread bullpen problem in 2020. And, like I said, with the progress many of their relief prospects have made this year, the Mariners aren’t short of options to eventually build a group of seven-to-eight guys who can succeed at the highest level.
I legitimately believe the Mariners will have an above-average bullpen next season. There’s just too much opportunity at their fingertips to completely fall flat on their face. And, with that, I believe some of their most lucrative deals over the next 12 months will come from trading out of their bullpen depth.
There’s just so much potential to play with, and tons of reinforcements for the event that something will, inevitably, go wrong. Bullpens are finicky and 95% of MLB relievers are judged on a game-to-game basis. It’s a tough gig, not just from the reliever’s standpoint but from the perspective of the organization as well. But the Mariners are heading into 2020 well-prepared for the rocky road of bullpen construction, which is more than most teams can say, even the good ones.