A full week after the close of the winter meetings, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Seattle Mariners’ GM Jerry Dipoto isn’t in any hurry to sign free agents. Following the Taijuan Walker / Ketel Marte for Jean Segura / Mike Haniger / and Zac Curtis trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks on November 24th, the hot stove has been ice cold in the Emerald City. But, maybe no move is the right move.
No Good Fit in Free Agency
From the onset, this season’s free agent class wasn’t / isn’t the best fit for the Mariners’ needs. Once CF Dexter Fowler was off the board, signing with the St. Louis Cardinals for $82.5MM over five years, the number of players Mariners’ fans could imagine roaming Safeco Field dropped precipitously.
The biggest of the remaining bats, Edwin Encarnacion, Joey Bautista, and Mark Trumbo, all figure to be DH types over the life of their next contracts, which would overlap the remaining two years on Nelson Cruz’ deal. Encarnacion or Trumbo could play 1B with some defensive liabilities, but Dipoto has shown a willingness to use less expensive platoons at both first and corner outfield, the position Bautista could play when not DHing. The efficacy of that willingness remains to be seen, however.
The Mariners never figured to be in the wild “proven closer” market of 2016, having discovered and cultivated Edwin Diaz from the farm system. Soon to be 23, Diaz isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2020 and won’t hit free agency until 2023. Given that closers rarely generate even 2 WAR with their limited innings, Diaz (and 26 other closers) will be a much better value than Aroldis Chapman for the New York Yankees at five-years $86MM, or Kenly Jansen for the Los Angeles Dodgers at five-years $80MM, or Mark Melancon for the San Francisco Giants for four-years $62MM.
Think about it for a second. All three of those contracts are worth more than Nelson Cruz’s current deal with the Mariners. Chapman, the most valuable of the three closers last season, generated 2.5 WAR. Nelson Cruz, on the other hand, generated 5 oWAR and 4.7 WAR overall. Boomsticks are more valuable than saves, by far.
But, the Mariners are still in need of a starting pitcher to replace Walker in the rotation and possibly another bat, even assuming Segura repeats or even comes close to his break out season of 2016 with the Diamondbacks. The problem, though, is that this year’s pitching class, to put it politely, stinks. When Jeremy Hellickson with a lifetime 1.250 WHIP and 4.30 ERA (101 ERA+) is regarded as the best available free agent starter, you need to look elsewhere.
The more likely pitching option for the M’s is to begin the season with Felix Hernandez, Wade Miley, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, and an internal “to be determined.” Then just see where they stand in June. Inevitably, there will be several teams that figured to be good who aren’t and will want to sell. Conversely, there will be good teams, like say the Boston Red Sox, who have a wealth of assets in one area – like starting pitching – who will be looking to get even better in another area, in preparation for a playoff run.
It’s the Team You Finish with That Counts
Fans, of course, like splashy moves. If the Mariners were to sign Encarnacion tomorrow, there would be a Twitter buzz, for sure. If the Mariners shipped off top prospects to the Chicago White Sox for starting pitcher Jose Quintana, IPAs would flow at the bars on 1st Avenue. But, this year, given this class of free agents, Dipoto is probably doing the best thing by playing it conservatively.
And remember the old adage. The team you start with in the Spring isn’t necessarily the team you finish with in the Fall.