A quarter of the way through the Seattle Mariners’ 2021 season, Drew Steckenrider emerged from the depths of mediocrity to help solidify the Mariners’ bullpen as one of the best in the American League.
Steckenrider, affectionately known by some as “Steckasaurus”, was a low-key minor league signing by Seattle last offseason, after he posted a 6.28 ERA in 2019 with the Miami Marlins and sat out the shortened 2020 season. However, after a solid showing in Spring Training, the Mariners gave him a shot as a low-leverage reliever in the big leagues to start the season.
Unfortunately, Steckenrider’s season didn’t get off to a great start. His first appearance came in Seattle’s second game of the season, where he sacrificed three runs in less than an inning of work, eventually drawing the loss in a 6-3 defeat to the San Francisco Giants. He had a few more rocky appearances in April, but once mid-May came around… Steckenrider couldn’t be touched.
The best stretch of Drew Steckenrider’s season came after the Mariners’ controversial trade deadline swap of star closer Kendall Graveman for the largely unknown Abraham Toro, which opened the door for Steckenrider and Paul Sewald to share the closer role in Seattle. From August 6th through September 13th, Steckenrider didn’t allow a single run while collecting six saves, three holds, and two wins in relief.
After a surprisingly good 2021 season, the Mariners now have three options with Drew Steckenrider this offseason.
If the Mariners would like to keep consistency in their bullpen and hedge the potential risk of depending on successful Tommy John recoveries from Ken Giles and Andres Munoz, Seattle would be wise to bring Steckenrider back for one more year on a major league deal. The Mariners already tendered him a contract this offseason (likely for around $2 million), but Steckenrider won’t be able to sign until after the current lockout.
Another option to keep Steckenrider around would be to offer him a multi-year deal; Seattle recently signed Munoz to a 4-year, $7.5 million contract, so they’ve already demonstrated an interest in committing to relievers for the long-term, especially if it can be done at an affordable price.
However, if the Mariners feel confident that Giles and Munoz are ready to contribute in 2022, they may view Steckenrider as a highly valuable trade piece this offseason. Contenders from around the league are always interested in adding top-end relievers, so the Mariners could be able to fashion a similar trade to this year’s Graveman-Toro deal and pull in a young, controllable player who may be blocked at the major league level.
My vote would be for Steckenrider to come back to Seattle for one more run; if he succeeds, he’ll have even more trade value next offseason, and if he doesn’t meet expectations, the Mariners have plenty of other relievers to rely on. In the latter situation, a decent trade opportunity could be missed, but I think Seattle would be wise to continue demonstrating a commitment to their own talent, while trusting their farm system to properly prepare their top prospects for the majors.