SEATTLE -- The free-agent market for pitchers began to move on Wednesday with Zack Wheeler agreeing to terms with the Phillies and Cole Hamels signing with the Braves. The Mariners aren’t fishing in those big-money waters this winter, but general manager Jerry Dipoto continues to seek pitching help both in the rotation and bullpen.
Here’s where the Mariners stand on pitching as next week’s Winter Meetings approach:
What pool are the Mariners paddling in?
Dipoto said on Wednesday that he’s talking with some free agents, with an eye toward potential bounceback candidates who could help not only this year, but in the longer term.
If you’re seeking clues, look no further than starter Kendall Graveman and reliever Carl Edwards Jr., two free agents already signed. Both are 28 and Graveman has another year of team control after this year, while Edwards has two more seasons before hitting free agency in ’23. Graveman, a former A’s Opening Day starter, is returning from Tommy John surgery, while Edwards had a rough 2019 after pitching high-leverage relief innings for the Cubs from 2016-18.
Remember last year’s “team of opportunity” approach in the bullpen? That plan uncovered some interesting relievers who should help going forward. Though not household names yet, guys like Matt Magill, Zac Grotz, Taylor Guilbeau, Erik Swanson and Rule 5 Draft pickup Brandon Brennan should be part of the future, along with Sam Tuivailala. Austin Adams was another promising pickup until he tore his ACL and meniscus in his left knee in September, but he’s targeting a midseason return.
Next year’s approach will be similar, though there are more pieces now in place. Dipoto would like to add a veteran or two to reinforce and help lead that young group, much like he did last year with Hunter Strickland and Corey Gearrin, knowing he can potentially flip those players at the Trade Deadline for prospects as well.
Any names we should look for?
Though he’ll be a free agent after this season, right-hander Arodys Vizcaino is just the kind of injury bounceback candidate who could intrigue Seattle. Vizcaino, 29, had 16 saves and a 2.11 ERA in 39 outings for the Braves in 2018, but underwent season-ending labrum surgery on his right shoulder last year and wound up being traded to the Mariners as part of a salary exchange on May 20 before becoming a free agent.
Vizcaino never pitched for the Mariners, but he spent several months rehabbing at their facility in Peoria, Ariz., and at least has familiarity with some in the organization now.
Though he's more of a funky side-arm soft-tosser, former Rangers lefty Alex Claudio, 27, could be a target with two years of team control remaining after being let go by the Brewers. Former Mariner right-hander Dominic Leone, who pitched for the Cardinals the past two years after a strong season in Toronto, is another possibility at 28 with two years of control.
What about the rotation?
Dipoto says that’s less critical than the bullpen, but he would like to add one more experienced starter, most likely one with the ability to relieve or follow an opener in order to provide versatility. Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc filled that role last year and the club already traded for Nestor Cortes Jr. from the Yankees and claimed Phillps Valdez from the Rangers, both of whom are potential candidates.
At this point, you can count on Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Justus Sheffield and Graveman to open the season as starters, if they're healthy. Righty Justin Dunn, the club's No. 5 prospect and No. 70 overall, will be given a shot at the fifth spot, but if he’s not ready or one of the top four gets hurt, the Mariners need options.
“If we can find one more guy to plug in and give us a little certainty innings-wise, that would be ideal,” Dipoto said. “We want to provide the potential for Dunn to come out of Spring Training and start every fifth day, so it’s finding versatility and the right guy to step into what might be more of a nebulous role and build that way. That’s not something likely to happen in early December, but more likely in January or as we head toward Spring Training.”
Lefty Martin Pérez, who was a decent innings eater with the Rangers and Twins in recent years, would seem like the right kind of candidate. Milone also fills that bill. But with Gonzales, Kikuchi and Sheffield all being southpaws, the preference might be for a right-hander.
Former Indian Cody Anderson and former D-back Taijuan Walker could be potential right-handed bounceback candidates, with both coming back from Tommy John surgeries. Walker came up as a top Mariners prospect and pitched in Seattle from 2013-16, but he's thrown just 14 innings over the past two seasons in Arizona due to arm issues and was non-tendered by the D-backs on Monday.