Yesterday was our first busy day of the 2019-2020 MLB Hot Stove season. While the Seattle Mariners weren’t one of those busy teams, they were impacted by the flurry of moves.
All across MLB, teams were busy exercising options, slapping qualifying offers on players and clearing 40 man roster spots in what is basically the pregame warm-up for the hot stove season. The Mariners did most of their warm-up a few days ago, but a new crop of free agents has hit the market and there are some interesting names now available.
Perhaps no name piqued my interest more than now-former Cleveland Indians pitcher, Danny Salazar. A 2016 All-Star selection, the right-handed pitcher who turns 30-years-old in January, was outrighted off Cleveland’s 40-man roster yesterday. He refused his assignment to AAA, becoming an unrestricted free agent this winter.
Once viewed as a promising staple in Cleveland’s rotation that featured Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, injuries have derailed Salazar’s career. Now with his age, injury history, and the emergence of Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber, Salazar just wasn’t going to factor into the equation in 2020. At least, not for Cleveland.
But as far a lottery ticket “opportunity buys” go, Salazar may have one of the highest upsides of those mentioned. He missed all of 2018 and could only muster 24 innings in 2019, but a look back at his last semi-healthy season of 2017 shows an arm that is easy to dream on.
In 2017, he made 19 starts (and 4 relief appearances) for Cleveland and posted a 12.67 K/9, a 3.84 BB/9, a 3.48 FIP, and posted a 2.1 fWAR season. The strikeout numbers are gaudy and they have been for most of Salazar’s career. He owns a career 10.47 K/9 mark and has never posted a sub-9.49 K/9 in his career (with the exception of his 4 MLB inning season in 2019).
Salazar gets a ton of strikeouts and throws enough strikes to have legitimate #2 upside when he’s healthy. But that is, of course, the big question. Can he stay healthy? The beauty of this situation for the Mariners is that he doesn’t have to.
You aren’t counting on him to deliver you 150 innings. You aren’t banking your 2020 success on his shoulder, elbow, or groin. Anything the Mariners can get from Salazar is a bonus with the extreme upside of a mid-rotation or better ceiling.
Not doing due diligence on an arm like Salazar would be a crime for a rebuilding team who has stated that they will be heavily involved in the “opportunity buy” market. If you believe Salazar has a chance to give you meaningful innings, it is a risk worth absorbing.
Arms like Danny Salazar don’t get released often and when they do, all 30 teams should be sniffing around. Whether or not it comes to be, the Mariners owe it to themselves to find out what Salazar is looking for and whether it meshes well with their philosophy. And if it does, don’t be afraid to open the door because the opportunity may be knocking.