The Seattle Mariners started to address their starting rotation before the lockout ended by signing Robbie Ray to headline their staff. He is a better pitcher than most fans thought Seattle would land for their pitching staff, but they still need to add one more; I believe an option to fill out the staff is free agent right hander Garrett Richards.
Now, Garrett Richards is not by any means as “sexy” of an add as Robbie Ray for the rotation, but he is the type of player that can provide underrated value to the Mariners. Imagine last year if the team could have turned to Richards instead of Robert Dugger, Ljay Newsome, Darren McCaughan, or Nick Margevicius; when you compare the prospect of having Richards instead of those players (who accounted for over 60 innings pitched for the Mariners), it is much more appealing.
Garrett Richards could be brought in to be the fifth starter, as he was in that role for the Boston Red Sox last year until mid-July. If you compare his numbers to Marco Gonzales in the first half last year, Richards actually had the better first half: Richards had a 4.91 ERA in 91.2 innings in the first half, while Gonzales posted a 5.88 ERA in 56.2 innings. It is not a totally fair comparison, because Gonzales was hurt for most of that time, but Richards was still much better.
Richards started half of the year for the Red Sox, but he was nothing too special, so they moved him to the bullpen. He could do this for Seattle too; the Mariners have multiple pitching prospects that could be ready to join the Mariners rotation halfway through the year.
If Jerry Dipoto believes that George Kirby, Matt Brash, or Brandon Williamson will be better than Richards in July, then they should sign Richards for one year. They can do this and let him start as long as his performance proves he belongs, and if he turns out to be really solid next year, then the Mariners have a great problem. If one of the prospects is ready for the big leagues, then they can move Richards to the bullpen and he can be a multi-inning pitcher.
Another scenario for signing Richards is that he is signed to be the sixth starter. If the Mariners signed him, and then traded for a player like Sonny Gray, Frankie Montas, or Adrian Houser, then he can be a fill-in if someone else gets hurt and they don’t have to run Robert Dugger out there for a long stretch of time.
There are a multitude of reasons for the Mariners to sign Garrett Richards, but they almost all lead back to the same idea: he improves their depth. No great team has ever had a shortage of starting pitching options, and this would be no different for the Mariners. Even if Richards never makes a start for them and is their long reliever, he still can provide value.
As a reliever, Richards has quality stuff that plays well out of the bullpen: his fastball is in the 93rd percentile in spin rate, and his curveball is in the 99th percentile. Those two bode well for him, especially if the Mariners’ pitching development staff have another little tweak for him. They have turned many pitchers into well above-average relievers, and they can do the same with Richards.
Richards throws a 94 mph fastball, an 88 mph slider, and his curveball is around 78 with an excellent spin rate. Opponents barely hit above .200 on his curveball, so maybe if he threw his curveball more to go with his big slider, then he might be an even better pitcher out of the bullpen.
I believe Garrett Richards would be able to do a lot for the Mariners, even if he is not the fifth starter; he provides great depth, raises the floor of the pitching staff greatly, and can always move into the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever if his best fit isn’t as a starter.