Turning to one’s past is not always a good idea, but there are two former Mariners who will be free agents this off-season that might be able to boost the team’s rotation at the start of next year and are at least worth looking into.
The Mariners, like most teams in baseball, need pitching help in 2020. With multiple holes in the starting rotation, the team will have to get creative to fill the gaps until the prospects like Logan Gilbert and Justin Dunn deem themselves ready.
General Manager Jerry Dipoto has already stated that he doesn’t see the team shopping at the top of the market, but two former Mariners could provide depth to the rotation without breaking the bank or requiring long term contracts that would limit what the team does moving forward.
Both of these pitchers come with question marks, but the Mariners will need to sign at least one of these types of pitchers for next year. While it might not be either of these players, someone looking to rebuild their value in a pitcher-friendly park should probably be brought in to manage the innings of the younger pitchers on the staff.
The first former Mariner (if he can really be called that) is left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly. Smyly never really pitched for the Mariners, injuring his arm in a spring training game, but could be a worthwhile risk.
Smyly wasn’t very good last year, but that was to be expected after missing two seasons (including his one with Seattle) due to injury. Playing in the ballparks in Texas and Philadelphia didn’t help matters either. Smyly made $7 million last year and should be looking for another one year deal where he could improve his value and look for a multi-year contract next off-season.
The Mariners have to decide if Smyly is a better bet than incumbents (who will both most likely be free agents as well) Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone. While both Milone and LeBlanc had better 2019 seasons than Smyly, Smyly is the youngest of the group (turns 31 in June) and arguably has the highest upside.
If Smyly was willing to take a one year, $5-7 million deal (which is the same range the team will pay LeBlanc if they pick up his option) he would provide a veteran presence in the rotation as well as provide the team with a nice bounce-back opportunity that they could flip at the deadline if he pitches well.
The other former Mariner worthy of consideration is Michael Pineda. Pineda was actually good, really good, for the Minnesota Twins this past year. However, at the end of the year Pineda was slapped with an 80 game suspension for taking a supplement that contained a masking agent.
The suspension was reduced to 60 games after the argument was made convincingly enough that he wasn’t trying to mask steroid use. The suspension will carry over to the start of the 2020 season, which could cause Pineda’s market to decline a bit.
Signing Pineda is going to take multiple years and decent money, but Pineda was 11-5 last year in 26 starts for the Twins and turns 31 in January, making him young enough to fit the window the Mariners are trying to push open. Signing Pineda also raises the floor of the 2020 roster and is exactly the type of signing the team should look at making.
Whoever signs Pineda won’t have him for the full season due to the suspension, and Pineda does have an injury history, but this is a type of value the team might not be able to pass up. Adding Pineda to the rotation right now means he’s probably the #2 starter behind Marco Gonzales once he returns from his suspension.
If Pineda produces like he did last year, then you have a solid contributor in your rotation that either becomes a solid piece moving forward or is traded for other needs when/if the time arises.
Pineda made $8 million last year and due to the suspension, his market might be a bit depressed. A multi-year deal in the $10-12 million a year range might be enough to get Pineda wearing teal and blue again.
The Mariners do have money to spend this winter and have holes in their rotation. Earmarking $15-$20 million of the available budget for two starting pitchers with upside is a good gamble and the types of moves the team has to be looking into.
While adding these two doesn’t vault the team into playoff contention next year, they raise the floor (assuming both perform) of the roster while maintaining the roster flexibility the team desires.