This year’s bullpen is a lot different than it was a year ago at this time. Brandon Brennan, who the Mariners selected in Rule 5 draft last year during the Winter Meetings, is the only returning member who started last season in the bullpen.
Dan Altavilla who came up for the first time making his debut in 2016 with the Mariners was on the team’s roster when they played two games against the Oakland A’s in Tokyo, Japan in March was sent down to Tacoma after they returned to the states.
He made a couple of trips up to Seattle last year, but he only appeared in 17 games. In September, when he was called up for the expansion of the roster, he showed flashes of dominance on why he is still with the Mariners. Seattle is hoping he will be able to stay healthy in 2020 and play up to his talent. This could be the last chance he has.
A major reason the Mariners failed last season was the lack of a good bullpen, especially in the first half of the season. Cory Gearrin the Mariners had signed in January 2019 was put on waivers and claimed by the New York Yankees on August 23. Brandon Brennan was hurt at the time so Gearrin was the only reliever still on the roster who began the season in Seattle before the waiver claim. Dan Altavilla was in Tacoma at the time.
The relievers the Mariners acquired during last season who ended up staying when the season completed played a major part in why Seattle bullpen had a better second half. Most of the relievers who ended the season will be competing for a spot on next season’s team along with those acquired during this off-season plus several pitchers who pitched in the minor leagues last year.
The Mariners acquired right-handed reliever Matt Magill from the Minnesota Twins for cash on July 21. Like most of the Mariners acquisitions during last season, he was a reclamation project. On August 17 Magill saved his first game for the Mariners over the Toronto Blue Jays. He ended up having five saves when the season ended in seven opportunities.
Right now, the closer’s job is his to lose unless Jerry Dipoto finds someone else to close. This may unlikely since the Mariners are in rebuilding mode and would have no need to acquire an experienced closer. That may not happen until the Mariners are ready to compete for the playoffs.
Austin Adams, whom the Mariners acquired from the Washington Nationals on May 4, had a good season for the Mariners primarily as a setup man in the seventh and eighth inning. Seattle was planning to use him in the same role in 2020. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL on September 23 so he will probably miss the first half of 2020.
Sam Tuivailala, the right-handed reliever the Mariners acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals before the trading deadline in 2018, who missed the first half of 2019 because of an injury, will have the first chance of being the Mariners setup man out of the bullpen. In 23 games, Tuivailala had an era of 2.35 with the opposing hitters batting .163. He can be dominating when healthy so the Mariners are hoping for that in 2020.
Left-handed pitcher Taylor Guilbeau, who the Mariners acquired at the trading deadline in 2019 for Hunter Strickland is expected to be Seattle’s left-handed specialist for 2020. Jerry Dipoto likes the makeup of Guilbeau. Right now Seattle doesn’t have many lefties to compete against Guilbeau.
They did acquire Nestor Cortes from the New York Yankees. He has been used as a long reliever but could step in the left-handed situation if the Mariners are not happy with Guilbeau or he is injured and they don’t pick up another lefty.
Erik Swanson, whom the Mariners acquired the last off-season along with Justus Sheffield for James Paxton, is a wild card. A former starter, Seattle liked what he did coming out of the bullpen when he was brought up from Tacoma on July 16. The Mariners could use him as an opener or long reliever depending on the situation. How he does during spring training will decide how manager Scott Servais uses him.
The Mariners will have at least ten relievers competing for three spots in the bullpen along with minor league invitees. It will be interesting to see who else fills the spots. The Mariners could trade any of the above-mentioned pitchers for prospects as well since this will be another rebuilding year. Go M’s.