The Seattle Mariners are going to need to add starting pitching this winter and there is no shortage of names being thrown around as potential fits. But perhaps we are missing one potential darkhorse.
We have spent a majority of our off-season writing about potential starters for the Mariners to target. And we have covered a lot of possibilities. But while we spent a lot of time looking at Chris Archer as a possibility (and in my opinion, still a good one), we may have overlooked his teammate.
With the Pirates cleaning house with their management team and a rebuild on the horizon, Pittsburgh could be looking to unload anything with value including Starling Marte, Keone Kela, Chris Archer and, for the purposes of our discussion, Jameson Taillon.
Taillon, a former second overall pick who turns 28-years-old in a week, has established himself as a solid, mid-rotation starter from 2016-2018. While trading away such a pitcher seems counterintuitive, there are some circumstances that make the possibility a valid one.
First, if the Pirates are going to enter a rebuild, Taillon won’t throw a pitch for a competitive Pirates team during his remaining 3-years of club control.
Second, Pittsburgh doesn’t have a lot of enticing pieces to trade off their major league roster. With an aging and increasingly more expensive roster, the best way to gain value is to shop anybody with value, including Jameson Taillon.
Third and perhaps most importantly, Taillon will be a non-factor for anybody in 2020. At least, we can basically assume so. Taillon underwent Tommy John Surgery in August, putting a serious question mark on his availability for all of 2020. So even if the Pirates wanted to give it one more go, Taillon wouldn’t be a factor for them.
For those reasons, the Pirates may very well shop Taillon. But if he is going to miss the 2020 season, why would the Mariners be interested? Well, because Taillon is basically the Mitch Haniger of starting pitching. He isn’t flashy, and isn’t as well known around the game, but has All-Star potential.
He only made 7 starts in 2019, making the entire season an irrelevant study, but both his 2017 and 2018 were quite good. In 2018, Taillon’s best season, he posted a 3.20 ERA, a 3.46 FIP, an 8.43 K/9, 2.17 BB/9, a 46% groundball rate, and posted a 3.9 fWAR in 191 innings.
He missed some time in 2017, but still managed a 4.44 ERA, a 3.48 FIP, and a 3.2 fWAR while averaging 8.42 K/9 and 3.10 BB/9 over 133.2 innings. He also produced a 47.3% groundball rate. Taillon was largely the same pitcher in 17 and 18.
So we have a solid, mid-rotation floor built-in before the TJ surgery. Obviously, the big question is how long will it be before he can become that again. Remember, it is often the year after your comeback season where pitchers return to normal. If this is the case for Taillon, the Mariners may have to wait until 2022(his last year of club control) to see the 2018 version of Taillon.
But think about that year for a second. 2022. The year the Mariners believe they’ll be able to make a legitimate run at a division title. By then, players like Jared Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby could be established contributors or better.
In 2022, you’ll know what Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn are. You’ll know if Shed Long is an everyday player and you’ll have given Jerry Dipoto 3 off-seasons to build around this core. And now you’ll have (in theory) a #3 starter with upside for more. And if Taillon makes the jump in 2021, it could be the missing piece that jumps the timeline one year.
Trading for Jameson Taillon could be a risk for Dipoto. He isn’t going to be cheap and you’ll only get him for 2 full seasons. But despite that, his timeline is still a better fit than other options being mentioned like Jon Gray and Chris Archer. He won’t cost you Kelenic, Julio, or Gilbert. And he will be here for at least one season of your established window.
The cost will be critical if the Pirates engage the Mariners in trade talks. If Pittsburgh is willing to move Taillon, the Mariners should be interested. And while Taillon isn’t going to fetch anybody earth-shattering, parting ways with an Evan White, Kyle Lewis, or possibly a package of Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley could be a risk worth taking.
The Mariners need upside in their organization and they need to add it without sacrificing significant, All-Star potential prospects along the way. And with the added bonus of Taillon being controlled through 2022, he could be exactly what Seattle needs.