The Mariners have a long track record of turning relievers with some exciting traits into dominant late-inning options. Last year, they put waiver claims in for Gabe Speier and Tayler Saucedo and swung a Spring Training trade for Justin Topa. Most fans probably had a collective reaction of "Who?" at the time, but these three transactions played a massive role in Scott Servais' bullpen.
Those three relievers had signature moments in the Mariner's 88-win season. Topa locked down games when Andres Munoz was battling control, command issues, and injury concerns. Speier and Saucedo faced some of the tougher lefties down the stretch and didn't disappoint, holding them to a combined .206 average. Those three relievers are more than likely locked in for next year. However, plenty of intriguing relievers behind them could become the next hidden gems unearthed by a stellar Mariner pitching development staff.
The Prospect: Prelander Berroa
We're high on Prelander Berroa, and rightfully so. The Mariners practically stole the 23-year-old from the San Francisco Giants in 2022 for utility infielder Donny Walton. Berroa has always run shocking walk rates, with 2022 being the highest at 16.8%. The Mariner's pitching development team transitioned the flamethrowing righty to a bullpen role as they did with Matt Brash last season. The goal was to allow Berroa to allow his stuff to play up in shorter stints, and it worked, dropping his walk rate to 14.2%. The free passes can still be a problem, but the Mariners are onto something with Berroa, who made his Major League debut last season.
With Isaiah Campbell now in Boston as part of the Luis Urias trade, look for Berroa to have a real shot at breaking camp with the big-league club. That all depends on his ability to continue to take steps forward in the command and control department.
The Trade Acquisition: Carlos Vargas
I don't fault most fans for panning the Eugenio Suarez trade, which netted the Mariners a veteran catcher, Seby Zavala, and a young reliever, Carlos Vargas. Mainly because even the most well-read fan probably never heard of the latter. Vargas was the Diamondback's 15th-rated prospect at the time of the trade and made a handful of appearances in 2023. The 24-year-old reliever is a lot like Berroa in that he possesses a triple-digit heater and a wipeout slider but also has an issue with the free passes (7.71% in 2023).
There is a good chance he will start the season in the Pacific Coast League as the Tacoma Rainier's closer, as he works to hone in the command and control.
The Veteran: Kirby Snead
29-year-old Kirby Snead spent the past few years with the Oakland Athletics, routinely serving as their lefty specialist. The results are mixed, with 2021 being his best season when he ran a 12.83 strikeout rate. The next few years would include uneven seasons in between injuries.
There is a lot of Andrew Chafin in Snead, which could appeal to the Mariners as their other two lefties (Gabe Speier and Tayler Saucedo) offer more fastball velocity. The key is to get the sweeping slider working and those groundball rates back up to the career highs he fired with Toronto in 2021. Something tells me the Mariner's pitching lab has a plan for Snead, and if it works, he could make the opening-day roster.
There is undoubtedly a tremendous amount of skepticism around the team this offseason. Still, we all should agree on Jerry Dipoto's ability to unearth arms and the development staff to turn them into quality bullpen pieces. It's not like they haven't done this before.