Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has already laid the groundwork for a slower off-season, but even he has admitted that the bulk of this winter will be focused on adding pitching.
But the Dipoto is walking a fine line. You see, the Mariners are losing 40% of their starting rotation to free agency. Felix Hernandez and Tommy Milone are likely gone and the team is all but certain to decline the option on Wade LeBlanc‘s deal, leaving the incumbents of Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, and Justus Sheffield as the lone trio in the rotation.
Now here is where the fine line comes into play. The Mariners have the young arms to fill those rotation spots, most notably Justin Dunn and Logan Gilbert. But both Dunn and Gilbert probably need a little more seasoning in the minors before they are called up, preferably in June or July.
The challenge for Jerry Dipoto is to find an MLB quality starter or two, that won’t break the bank financially, has a relatively low acquisition cost, and should retain value into the summer so he can be flipped for prospects to make room for either Dunn or Gilbert. Enter Julio Teheran.
Teheran, an RHP who is entering his age-29 season, is due a $12 million team option for 2020 before entering free agency for the first time. The thing is, the Braves don’t seem that inclined to pay it. With a plethora of younger, cheaper, and more talented arms, that $12 million could be better spent elsewhere.
So, it would only seem natural that the Braves decline the option unless, of course, a team was interested in a trade. Teheran is a natural fit for a team like Seattle. Good enough to help at the big league level but not so good or with such a long contract that it blocks players you want to see get significant time in 2020.
In 2019, Teheran finished the regular season with a 3.88 ERA, a 4.66 FIP, 8.35 K/9, a 39% groundball rate, while making 33 starts and covering 175 innings. Solid, but unspectacular, #4 type of numbers.
What’s interesting about Teheran is that his average fastball velocity dropped below 90 mph for the first time in his career, but he never got more value out of the pitch than he did in 2019. Perhaps this is thanks to the spin rate on the pitch, which ranks in the 70th percentile.
Teheran rounds out his repertoire with a nice changeup, a slider, and a curveball with a spin rate ranks in the 84th percentile in the game.
Teheran is a safe bet to make his starts and cover the innings needed to help the team navigate through the first half of 2020 and there is enough upside to potentially flip him again in July for a decent return.
Consider what the Reds did with Tanner Roark. They acquired him from the Nationals last off-season for Tanner Rainey, he pitched about as well as he has throughout his career, and they were able to trade him for OF Jameson Hannah.
In essence, the Reds flipped a middle reliever for 4 months of a #4 starter and an outfield prospect who has a good chance to be an everyday player. Pretty good right? In terms of range, Hannah is probably in the same type of prospect list as Jake Fraley. Would you trade Art Warren for Jake Fraley? You probably would.
Teheran makes sense for the Mariners because he is cheap and should maintain value throughout the summer. And even if you can’t get anything terribly exciting for Teheran, at the cost of a middle reliever, it is well worth the risk.