Mariners active in starting pitching market ... if price is right

March 17th, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Though they might not outright say it, it’s clear that the Mariners would like to add another impact starting pitcher, and preferably soon.

Yet unless asking prices come down on some of their top trade targets, it’s possible that they fill the role in-house. Matt Brash, the club’s No. 9 prospect, is probably the leading candidate among that group, but Levi Stoudt (No. 8) has also impressed this spring and will be in the mix. Justus Sheffield might be the most logical contender from an experience standpoint, but the club would like to see the left-hander regain a feel for his offspeed pitches and better overall command. Nick Margevicius is also back from surgery to repair symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome.

Asked who is leading the way for consideration early in camp, Mariners manager Scott Servais left things more indeterminate.

“Oh, it's open, there's no question about that,” Servais said. “As far as specific names, you guys can put that together. Young players, a lot of these young guys have never even pitched in a Major League Spring Training game. So we’ve got to see how the spring plays out. Justus Sheffield is trying to rebound after a rough year last year. We'll see how that works out. So however it goes, and like I said, that guy may not be in camp yet.”

Translation: We could use a reinforcement.

The Mariners remain active in the trade market, but sources indicated that other clubs see themselves in a position of leverage, given 1) Seattle’s clear need for a starter, 2) that the Mariners have the No. 2 farm system in baseball, per MLB Pipeline, and 3) other options, such as the free-agent market, are bleak. Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has said that if the club were to add a starter, it would be a mid-to-top-rotation piece.

Trade options are dwindling and other teams are actively pursuing them as well.’s Mark Feinsand reported Thursday that Kansas City is making a run at Oakland’s Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea, who the Mariners have pursued. Cincinnati, which is also selling top talent, is reportedly making Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle available. Beyond that, the market for available starters is growing thinner by the day.

Dipoto’s actions since the lockout was lifted last Friday have revealed the club’s apprehensions of making what it perceives to be an overpay. Kris Bryant’s seven-year, $182 million agreement with the Rockies -- which shocked many in the industry given how much money Colorado spent despite seemingly not being close to contending -- illustrated that the Mariners were not willing to go that far for the coveted free agent, whom they’d targeted.

Instead of committing that many years and dollars to Bryant, an average of $26 million per, taking him through his age-36 season, the Mariners instead opted to trade for Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez, who they believe address their needs for not one, but two impact bats, and who will earn roughly a combined $17.5 million in 2022. It came at a cost, notably No. 7 prospect Brandon Williamson, along with right-hander Justin Dunn and outfielder Jake Fraley.

Seattle’s logic of avoiding an overpay also applies to prospect capital, which the Mariners have spent three years aggressively accruing and developing. Noelvi Marte (No. 2) is a big part of the Mariners’ long-term plans, and Servais said Thursday that the man-child of an infielder will play regularly in Cactus League play. The Mariners won’t trade him unless the return is substantial, and thus far, they haven’t reached that point.

So that leads back to the rotation of today. The Cactus slate begins Friday against the Padres, with Marco Gonzales to pitch at least two innings. When healthy, the veteran lefty gives the club as much clarity as any player on the roster. The rest of those solidified in the rotation -- Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert and Chris Flexen -- do too.

“It starts at the top, with Ray and Marco, we certainly saw what Logan is capable of doing, and Flex put the solid year together,” Servais said. “So you feel really good about that group. Any night somebody takes the mound out of those four, you feel like you’ve got a really good chance to win the game, so it does alleviate some of the anxieties.”

Yet beyond benefiting from a bridge to its younger talent later this season, another component to the Mariners’ pursuit of another starter is the industry-wide health concern about the delayed start to Spring Training. And it’s not yet clear if rosters will expand beyond 26 players for the first month (or more) of the regular season.

“That’s what you're most concerned about, is getting those guys stretched out,” Servais said. “Our guys look really good. ... You’re always a little bit more concerned about ramping up the pitching, so we'll keep a very close eye on that.”

To be sure, the Mariners’ rotation is in a much stronger place than years past. But with Opening Day just three weeks out, an external addition would make it even stronger for 2022.

“If you only had one or two of those guys [in the rotation currently], and you're trying to fill three spots and not knowing what you get, it's a totally different ballgame,” Servais said. “So I like our pitching staff. You can never have enough pitching.”