Every July, trade rumors swirl and deals get done. Contending teams get stronger, while those out of contention restock their farm systems. Just last season, the Houston Astros acquired Justin Verlander at the deadline, a move that turned them from a good team into a squad capable of winning a World Series. He made five regular season starts, going 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA, and proceeded to go 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA in an impressive postseason run to the World Series.
It’s still early, but all indications are that the Mariners (16-11) are going to be in contention this year. They currently have the fourth best record in the AL, despite a slew of early bumps and bruises. With a lineup as good as any M’s team since 2001 (I know, I know, not saying a lot), a hot bullpen, and just enough starting pitching, the year is looking promising. However, why not up-the-ante a bit and make a move for a starting pitcher… well, now?
Why procrastinate until late July when there are more buyers in the market? Instead of getting a starting pitcher for five starts, the M’s could have him for twenty. It’s been well documented that the M’s farm system isn’t exactly stocked with blue-chip prospects. Without the pieces to trade for a Verlander-type pitcher in late July, the M’s will only benefit on their return if time is on their side. Over the course of 20 starts, a mid-tier starting pitcher could add two to four wins above the M’s current options at the fifth starting spot. That could be the difference between playoff baseball at Safeco, or cleaning out the clubhouse after game 162. However, wait too long, and the return on investment doesn’t have the time to make as big of an impact. A middle-tier arm acquired in late July could make a difference of maybe one win, since they will only have five starts with their new team.
Yes, the price tag is going to be higher in May than it is in July. But so is the reward.
Think of the Mike Leake trade last season, which benefits the club for multiple years. If Dipoto can pull something like that off again, but this time prior to June, the M’s will be serious contenders for the next five months. Paxton, Leake, Felix, and Gonzales are a bonified four-man rotation. But with how good the American League is looking this year, can the M’s really afford the Erasmo/Miranda/Elias experiment until August? Teams like the Red Sox and Astros will be fine-tuning their rosters at the deadline, adding a key piece here and there if they need it. The Mariners are in another category, needing a piece for the entire season, not just a handful of starts at the end. If acquired soon, the new acquisition is closer to an off-season signing than a mid-season trade acquisition.
Dipoto has shown discipline in going after players with multiple years of team control (Leake, Gonzales, Haniger), but now could be the time to splurge on a one-year rental in hopes of making the postseason for the first time since ’01.
The following pitchers are set to become free agents in 2019 and would be good targets for the M’s in 2018:
Francisco Liriano, Detroit Tigers
Brandon McCarthy, Atlanta Braves
Chris Tillman, Baltimore Orioles
J.A. Happ, Toronto Blue Jays
Tyson Ross, San Diego Padres
Marco Estrada, Toronto Blue Jays
Andrew Moore is a potential in-house solution to the fifth starting spot, but he could also be a nice piece in a trade for one of the players mentioned above. With or without an additional starting pitcher, the M’s are going to be fun to watch all season long. Is this the year to break the postseason drought? Only time will tell, but hopefully the M’s don’t wait long to push their chips to the middle of the table.