Under-the-radar pitchers who could help raise the Mariners’ floor
There’s a lot of buzz and excitement surrounding the Mariners this offseason, and for very good reason.
Despite fielding one of the youngest and most inexperienced rosters in all of baseball, manager Scott Servais guided the Mariners to a 90-72 record as they finished just two games out of a playoff berth, marking the first time Seattle played meaningful baseball into the final game of the year since 2014.
Now, the Mariners figure to be one of the more aggressive teams this offseason, and they have already been tied to some of the bigger names on both markets, such as free-agent All-Star infielder Marcus Semien and Cincinnati Reds starter Luis Castillo.
When you talk about the Mariners and this offseason, it’s obviously going to start with the stars. And that’s for good reason as the organization is set up to make splashes in both free agency and in trades due to payroll flexibility and one of the deepest farm systems in baseball.
But not every signing or trade is going to be a big splash for a huge name. In fact, it’s more likely that most of the additions to the ballclub will be solid contributors brought in for a very important reason, which is to raise this team’s floor.
So which free agents would be able to help the Mariners in that regard and at positions of need? Let’s take a look.
(Note: For a full list of MLB free agents, visit this link for a position-by-position breakdown.)
Right now, the Mariners have three starters penned into the opening day rotation in Marco Gonzales, Logan Gilbert and Chris Flexen. They may very well add at least one big-name starter before spring training, but just as important, Seattle needs to add solid rotation depth that can eat innings, especially considering Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn struggled in 2021 both on the mound and with injuries.
• LHP Tyler Anderson
This is a rather easy name to point to as Anderson, 32 in December, was with the Mariners at the end of the 2021 campaign.
A trade deadline acquisition from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Anderson showed the Mariners he can raise the floor of the rotation. He was available and overall pretty consistent. In 13 starts, Anderson posted a 4.81 ERA and 2-3 record and regularly gave Servais five innings before handing things over to the bullpen. His ERA was inflated by a pair of bad outings against the Angels, as they accounted for two of the three times he allowed four or more runs in his 13 starts for Seattle.
The Mariners were ravaged by injuries in 2021, and while Anderson (and others on this list) aren’t the sexiest names, they should be able to eat innings and keep Seattle away from dreaded bullpen games, which will allow the team’s potent group of relievers to shine in more critical situations.
• RHP Anthony DeSclafani
Not only does Anthony DeSclafani have a fantastic name, but he was really, really darn good in 2021 and a major part of the San Francisco Giants leading MLB in wins.
The 31-year-old right hander tied his career-high in starts (31) and posted a career-best 3.17 ERA in 167 2/3 innings. DeSclafani also threw two shutouts.
The underlying metrics on DeSclafani’s Statcast page suggest that there may be some regression in 2022, but overall he’d immediately make Seattle’s starting rotation deeper and longer as an innings eater.
Due to the amount of big names on the free-agent market like Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, Zack Greinke, Carlos Rodón, and DeSclafani’s 2021 teammate Kevin Gausman, DeSclafani could wind up being one of the better, more quiet signings for a team like the Mariners.
• LHP Alex Wood
Speaking of members of the 2021 Giants rotation, Alex Wood put together a real nice season for San Francisco after two down years in 2019 and 2020.
A 2017 All-Star, the veteran southpaw made 26 starts in 2021, posting a 3.83 ERA in 138 2/3 innings (average of 5 1/3 innings per start) and striking out 9.9 batters per nine innings. And a good trend for Wood? Keeping the ball in the ballpark. After allowing 2.8 and 1.4 home runs per nine innings respectively in 2019 and 2020 (48 1/3 innings between those two seasons), he was down to 0.9 home runs per nine innings in 2021.
Wood, 30, did a good job avoiding barrels (86th percentile), threw strikes (73rd percentile in walk percentage) and was above-average in whiff percentage (61st percentile), chase rate (70th percentile) and strikeout rate (65th percentile), according to Statcast.
There are some questions about overall durability due to Wood throwing over 150 innings just four times over nine seasons, but as a back-end starter, he could certainly provide considerable value for the Mariners.
• LHP Steven Matz
A former highly-rated pitching prospect for the New York Mets, the 30-year-old Steven Matz got a fresh start with the Toronto Blue Jays after a rocky and injury-plagued 2020 season.
Matz responded well with a 14-7 record and a 3.82 ERA in 150 2/3 innings (29 starts). Now, the Long Island native will test the open market for the first time.
Matz has one of the better fastballs among lefty starters, averaging 94.5 mph. His changeup was his second-most used offering and opposing batters hit just .209 off the pitch. He also uses a slider and curveball, and per Statcast, Matz was a little unlucky with those pitches. Batters hit .302 off the slider, but he had an expected opponent batting average of .222, and with the curve, batters hit .256 while they were expected to hit .220.
The actual slugging numbers versus expected slugging percentage were also skewed one way, which could suggest Matz could have had an even better 2021 than he did, which is saying something because he had a pretty good season for Toronto.
• RHP Zach Davies
Zach Davies was one of the better pitchers in baseball in the shortened 2020 season for the San Diego Padres, going 7-4 with a 2.73 ERA in 12 starts, and that was coming off the heels of a very solid 2019 showing for the Milwaukee Brewers where he went 10-7 with a 3.55 ERA in 31 starts (159 2/3 innings). He also was a very solid starter for the Brewers in 2016 and 2017.
But in 2021, his lone season with the Chicago Cubs, Davies struggled mightily. In 32 starts, Davies posted a 5.78 ERA while going 6-12. Davies was never a high strikeout guy, but that decreased from 8.2 per nine innings to 6.9.
His biggest issue? Walks. Davies walked 75 batters, most in baseball, and allowed 4.6 free passes per nine innings.
So why would the Mariners want a guy coming off that kind of year?
Well, as mentioned, Davies is a year removed from being one of the better starters in baseball. He also had a very solid career during his time with the Brewers, is still just 28, and his numbers and underlying metrics in 2021 don’t line up all that much with his numbers for the rest of his career. And if walking batters is an issue, the Mariners pride themselves on attacking the zone, so maybe that’s the kind of coaching staff Davies needs if he were to be a buy-low signing, which could be a low-risk, high-reward move for Seattle.
Davies would also be a hometown signing of sorts as he was born in Puyallup. Though he moved with his family to Arizona when he was 7 years old, he is still connected to the area, even sporting a tattoo of the Space Needle and Seattle skyline with the words “Remember Where You Came From” on his left arm.
A big reason the Mariners were as successful as they were in 2021 was due to their dominant bullpen led by Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider and Casey Sadler.
The Mariners return those three and Diego Castillo, and with veteran closer Ken Giles and electric 22-year-old Andrés Muñoz both returning from Tommy John surgery, Seattle should have a ton of firepower for the bullpen.
But what’s missing there? A lefty.
All six of those hurlers are right-handed, and while Anthony Misiewicz is still on the roster, he doesn’t appear to be a go-to southpaw that could put this bullpen over the top, especially considering the lefties the Mariners face regularly like Shohei Ohtani, Michael Brantley and Yordan Álvarez.
So who could help in that regard?
• LHP Brad Hand
It’s maybe cheating a little bit to throw Brad Hand in as an underrated free agent to look at as he’s arguably the biggest-name lefty reliever on the market, but he is coming off a -0.3 WAR season and was with three teams in 2021.
A three-time All-Star, Hand had 21 saves in 2021, but he also blew seven tries. His ERA was 3.90 but his fielding independent pitching was 4.58.
Hand led baseball in saves in 2020, though, and 2021 was Hand’s worst season since 2015, which was his second full year in the big leagues.
Hand is still just 31 years old and would give the Mariners a lefty with a proven track record of not just getting fellow lefties out but batters in general, which is key given MLB’s three-batter minimum rule. He would join a number of Mariners relievers who could handle high-leverage spots in late innings, as well.
• LHP Aaron Loup
Out of all the lefties on the free-agent market, Loup has been the most valuable reliever since the start of 2020.
Loup, 34 next month, shined for the Mets in 2021, allowing just six earned runs in 65 appearances, good for a 0.95 ERA.
Loup’s Statcast page is a thing of beauty, as he excelled in just about everything aside from fastball velocity. Opposing lefties slashed just .167/.226/.214 and had just two extra-base hits off of Loup.
Loup will be in high demand even if he’s not a name most fans are familiar with, but if the Mariners want to be able to shorten games while also being able to get the best lefties in each lineup out on a regular basis, it’s hard to do much better than Loup.
• LHP Andrew Chafin
In 71 games between two teams and two leagues, Andrew Chafin was really darn good in 2021.
Chafin allowed 14 earned runs in 68 2/3 innings (1.83 ERA) between his time with the Cubs and Oakland A’s, and he excelled at keeping the ball in the ballpark with a 0.5 home runs per nine inning clip.
Opposing lefties also struggled against Chafin, slashing .170/.250/.223 with two extra-base hits in 104 plate appearances.
Chafin is 31 years old and would definitely give the Mariners a boost as a lefty option for Servais.
• LHP Brooks Raley
Mariners fans may know Brooks Raley as the Houston Astros reliever who gave up the grand slam to Dylan Moore in that comeback win back in July.
The 2021 season wasn’t the best to Raley, who had a -0.4 WAR, but he was very effective for Houston in 2020.
Aside from decreasing the amount of home runs per nine innings he allowed, most of Raley’s numbers shot up from 2020 to 2021 such as hits per nine (4.5 to 7.9), walks per nine (2.3 to 2.9), ERA (3.94 to 4.78) and WHIP (0.750 to 1.204). But Raley’s 2021 ERA of 4.78 was much higher than his 3.27 FIP, so it would seem some bad luck came into play, which isn’t uncommon for relievers given it’s the most volatile position in baseball.
Raley would probably possess the lowest floor of the four lefties written here, and he may offer the least upside as well. But at the very least he’d give Servais another lefty aside from Misiewicz to go to.
Look for a companion article to this on under-the-radar free-agent hitters that the Mariners could target soon on 710Sports.com.