SEATTLE -- It took a while to work out the final details, but former Mets right-hander Chris Flexen signed a two-year contract with the Mariners on Friday as general manager Jerry Dipoto continued adding pitching depth to his organization.
Flexen’s agreement with the Mariners was first reported Dec. 9, but the contract had to clear several hurdles before its completion. According to the New York Post, the 26-year-old will earn a guaranteed $4.75 million over the next two seasons, with a $4 million team option for 2023 that would convert to an $8 million vesting option if Flexen pitches 150 innings in '22 or a combined 300 innings in '21-22.
The Mariners would like to continue with the six-man rotation they instituted last year, and Flexen provides another option to a group headed by returnees Marco Gonzales, Justus Sheffield, Yusei Kikuchi, Justin Dunn and Nick Margevicius, as well as Seattle's No. 4 prospect Logan Gilbert and other youngsters waiting in the wings.
Though Flexen has pitched in relief at times, Dipoto said he’ll be in the rotation with the Mariners.
“We believe Chris is a terrific addition to our pitching staff,” Dipoto said. “His maturation as a pitcher and impressive on-field performance in 2020 were both significant. At age 26, he’s a natural fit as we continue to grow our young core.”
Flexen spent last season in Korea, where he posted an 8-4 record and a 3.01 ERA in 21 starts for the Doosan Bears despite missing a month with a broken right foot. Prior to that, he’d gone 3-11 with an 8.07 ERA in 27 appearances -- including 11 starts -- over three years with the Mets.
“I am extremely excited to be part of the Mariners' organization,” Flexen said. “This is a young group of guys that have a lot of talent, and I look forward to competing alongside them this year.”
Manager Scott Servais reaffirmed this week that the six-man rotation remains firmly in the plans.
“I am a big fan of the six-man rotation,” Servais said in a Wednesday video conference. “I thought it worked great last year, keeping in mind we had an expanded roster. If we go back to 26, now you’re cutting out a couple arms in the bullpen, which makes it a little more challenging. But as we sit today, it’s something we’re going to go forward with. I think it’s a benefit for our younger pitchers. Having that extra day allows them to work on some things more aggressively between starts.
“I think it helps Yusei Kikuchi. I think it helps a lot of different guys, because we’re seeing better stuff when they go out there the sixth day. Also, it allows me to give them a little longer leash and let them try to work through some of the traffic and situations that come up in the fifth or sixth inning. It worked really well for us.”
“Right now, we’re going into Spring Training and will start the season that way and see where it takes us," Servais added. "But having only eight bullpen guys, you’re going to need guys in that bullpen that can throw multiple innings and be very resilient and able to bounce back.”
At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Flexen relies primarily on a fastball that averaged 94 mph in 2019, per Statcast, as well as a slider, curve and changeup. Command was an issue with the Mets as he had 54 walks and 49 strikeouts in 68 innings in his time in the Majors, but he struck out 132 against 30 walks in 116 2/3 frames in Korea.
Flexen also fared better at Triple-A Syracuse in 2019, when he was 5-3 with a 4.46 ERA in 26 outings (14 starts) with 92 strikeouts and 21 walks in 78 2/3 innings. Drafted by the Mets out of Memorial High School (Calif.) in '12, MLB Pipeline ranked Flexen the Mets’ No. 9-ranked prospect at one point in '18.
Dipoto already had added two bullpen pieces this week, acquiring Rangers closer Rafael Montero via trade and signing former Angels right-hander Keynan Middleton to a free-agent deal. The Mariners also claimed 24-year-old starter Robert Dugger off waivers from the Marlins on Dec. 7, and Servais said he expects more pitching to be added in the coming weeks.