At the onset of the 2021 season, the Mariners announced their starting rotation: Marco Gonzalez (2020: 7-2, 3.10 ERA), Big Maple (James Paxton, 2020: 1-1, 6.64 ERA), Justus Sheffield (4-3, 3.58 ERA), Chris Flexen (2020 w/ Doosan Bears: 8-4, 3.01 ERA), Yusei Kikuchi (2020: 2-4, 5.17 ERA), and Justin Dunn (2020: 4-1, 4.34 ERA).
I don’t think many Mariners fans would have expected Kikuchi and Dunn to be our strongest starting pitchers going into mid-June. As a result, starting pitching is likely going to be an area where the organization commits to spending a large amount in the upcoming offseason.
The 2021 free agency class for starting pitching is incredibly strong. Some notable names include Noah Syndergaard, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Lance Lynn, Marcus Stroman, Kevin Gausman, Corey Kluber, Dylan Bundy, and our very own Big Maple (James Paxton). In total, this class features 5 Cy Young winners (Kershaw 3x, Scherzer 3x, Verlander 2x, Kluber x2, Greinke x1) and provides the Mariners with a plethora of targets in the upcoming offseason.
With the low payroll that the Mariners currently employ, it’s not unreasonable to expect that they’ll make a move for a significant pitcher to lead the rotation next year.
While some of these names are intriguing, there are a few names that are unrealistic. Syndergaard underwent Tommy John surgery last year and scouts were reporting a loss of velocity before his rehab assignment was cut short. Kershaw, Verlander, and Greinke don’t fit the mold of starting pitchers that the Mariners would go after.
As much as Mariners fans love the Big Maple, it’s likely that the front office would require a significant salary decrease before an agreement could be made. There are a handful of names on this list that could fit the mold of a splashy ace to lead this rotation and will be judged on a buy/don’t buy basis – especially at the right price.
Let’s start off with pitchers that I don’t think the Mariners should go for a.k.a. Don’t Buy.