2 Mariners Takes: What under the radar move should M’s make?
Mariners fans are eagerly anticipating an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement in baseball because it will allow general manager Jerry Dipoto to finish up a newsworthy offseason that was half-done at best before the MLB lockout was instituted.
As you might expect, attention has been spent mostly on potential Mariners additions of big names in free agency such as Kris Bryant or Trevor Story. There will be less flashy signings, however, and they may end up being just as important.
In a continuation of our series where multiple 710 ESPN Seattle personalities share their differing views on specific Mariners topics, 710Sports.com’s Brent Stecker and Brandon Gustafson each suggest an under the radar move for the M’s to make before the 2022 season.
Brent’s pick: Re-sign Tyler Anderson
From the outset of this Mariners offseason, there’s one simple move I’ve thought would check an important – if unheralded – box for their 2022 team.
It’s a move they’ve already made. They just have to make it again.
Tyler Anderson was an incredibly valuable addition to the Mariners before the MLB trade deadline last July. He was something they had been missing – a veteran starter who could stabilize the back end of the rotation. And that’s precisely what he did.
Before we go any further, let’s clear up a few sticking points. First, Anderson had a 4.81 ERA and 1.319 WHIP in his 13 starts for Seattle last year, neither of which look great. Second, the first thing M’s fans are probably going to think when his name comes up is his disastrous start in the last game of the season, allowing four runs (three earned) on five hits and two walks in just 1 2/3 innings of work.
Here’s why those two points don’t tell the whole story.
Anderson pitched five innings or more in eight of his first 10 starts with the M’s, including four quality starts (six innings or more with three earned runs or less allowed). Add in one strong four-inning appearance and Anderson allowed three runs or less in 10 of his 13 games with Seattle. So why did his ERA and WHIP end up in rough territory? Chiefly three bad starts, one of which was especially bad – a two-inning outing against the Angels where he was touched up for nine earned runs.
Considering that poor game against Los Angeles, which happened on Sept. 25, I was surprised the M’s opted to start him on short rest in Game 162 against those same Angels. I figured it was a bad matchup for him, and I think that proved to be the case. But the fact that Anderson was manager Scott Servais’ choice in a must-win situation should indicate just how reliable he had been since coming to Seattle in a trade from Pittsburgh. While it’s not the most scientific metric, the Mariners did go 7-3 in Anderson’s 10 starts previous to the final day of the season.
Long story short, Anderson more often than not gave the Mariners’ offense a chance to win every five days, which goes a long way coming from a starter in the back end of a rotation.
Anderson became a free agent after the season, and the Mariners need someone to fill that role he already did in 2021. At 32 years old and coming off a one-year, $2.5 million contract, the former Oregon Ducks standout should be a relatively cost-effective option to plug back into Seattle’s rotation. With new ace Robbie Ray now leading a staff that includes returners Chris Flexen, Logan Gilbert and Marco Gonzales, bringing back Anderson would make for a pretty good starting five on opening day, don’t you think?
– Brent Stecker, 710Sports.com editor
Brandon’s pick: Add a left-handed specialist to the bullpen
The Mariners won 90 games in 2021 thanks in large part to an excellent bullpen.
Even with standout right-hander Kendall Graveman dealt in a midseason trade along with Rafael Montero, who started the year as the team’s closer but struggled to the point he was designated for assignment, the unit excelled and helped Seattle stay in the playoff race until the final day of the regular season.
The standouts were Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider and Casey Sadler, all of whom shined in big ways as go-to weapons for manager Scott Servais. All three will return, as will 2021 trade deadline acquisition Diego Castillo, who has a career 2.98 ERA, 1.067 ERA and 28 saves. Additionally, the Mariners will get reinforcements in the form of Andrés Muñoz and Ken Giles, both of whom spent the 2021 season recovering from Tommy John surgery but figure to be key components of the Mariners’ bullpen in 2022.
While it’s great that all six of those players will be back, they are also all right-handed, leaving Seattle without a clear option against opposing left-handed hitters.
Now, it should be clear that all six of those relievers can and will get left-handers out. But it’s also important for the Mariners or any contending club to have a go-to southpaw out of the bullpen.
Last year, the Mariners had 2,219 plate appearances against left-handed hitters. Of those 2,219, just 638 came when both the Mariners pitcher and the opposing hitter were both left-handed. But even that number is a bit misleading when looking at why they need to add a southpaw reliever.
Again, the Mariners faced lefty hitters 638 times with a lefty on the hill. But starters Marco Gonzales (150), Yusei Kikuchi (146) and Tyler Anderson (59 after he was traded to Seattle) make up a good chunk of that total. Additionally, 76 of Justus Sheffield’s battles against lefties came as a starter – 17 as a reliever – and James Paxton, Nick Margevicius and Héctor Santiago all faced lefties as starters, as well.
All in all, 448 of the Mariners’ 638 plate appearances with lefty pitchers against lefty hitters were by starters. And of the 190 by relievers, 100 belonged to Anthony Misiewicz, who lefty opponents slashed .261/.303/.370 against. That slash line is even more concerning when you consider the Mariners, overall, did well against lefty hitters.
Lefties slashed .231/.304/.393 against the Mariners with 74 home runs, 164 extra-base hits and a 2.41 strikeout to walk rate. Mariners right-handers allowed a .231/.311/.396 slash line to lefties with 54 home runs, 118 extra-base hits and a 2.18 strikeout to walk rate in 1,581 plate appearances. Mariners southpaws boasted a .233/.287./.385 slash line with 23 home runs, 46 extra-base hits and a 3.23 strikeout to walk rate in 638 plate appearances. And that’s with Misiewicz allowing a .261 opponent batting average to lefty hitters.
Misiewicz has potential and is still a capable young southpaw, but if the Mariners are looking to strengthen their bullpen and end their playoff drought, they need to add an impact lefty reliever. That’s especially critical as the Mariners are in a division full of tough lefty hitters – Corey Seager with Texas, Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez of the Astros, and the Angels’ trio of Brandon Marsh, Jared Walsh and, of course, the reigning MVP Shohei Ohtani.
As far as internal options aside from Misiewicz, Aaron Fletcher is still in the farm system, but he has a ERA over 12 in eight MLB innings between 2020 and 2021. After that? Slim pickings on the prospect side of things unless the Mariners were to call up Brandon Williamson and place him in the bullpen, though he’s a top 100 prospect according to Baseball America as a starter.
Luckily for the Mariners, there’s free agency, and two names I’ve written about before are still on the market.
Brad Hand, a 31-year-old multi-time All-Star, had a down year in 2021 with three teams, but he’s still a proven arm with big upside who could stabilize the Mariners’ bullpen from the left side. Hand led baseball in saves in 2020, and from 2016 to 2020 was one of the game’s best and most reliable lefty relievers. Lefties own a career slash line of just .191/.266/.298 against Hand and hit .225 against him in 2021.
Brad Hand struck out the side for the save … So what?
— Cleveland Guardians (@CleGuardians) August 7, 2019
The other name? Andrew Chafin, who was one of the game’s top southpaws for the Oakland A’s in 2021. Opponents slashed just .186/.248/.273 against the 31 year old, and lefties fared even worse, slashing .170/.250/.223 with only two extra-base hits in 104 plate appearances.
Those two would be huge additions to the Mariners, but there’s an additional name on the market who could help a great deal.
That would be 36 year old Tony Watson, who had a very good year between his time with the Los Angeles Angels and San Francisco Giants, especially for the NL West champs.
In 62 appearances, Watson allowed a .193/.258/.285 slash line in 2021. Lefties slashed .195/.258/.293 while righties slashed .192/.257/.280, so he has no issue getting either side of the plate out, a key because of the three-batter minimum rule that started in MLB last year.
The Mariners already have the makings of one of MLB’s top bullpens yet again, but adding one of these three southpaws to the mix would go a long way in Seattle’s attempt to end its playoff drought in 2022.
– Brandon Gustafson, 710Sports.com assistant editor
Previous Mariners topic: Breakout player picks
• Shannon Drayer: Jarred Kelenic ready to take steps in Year 2
• Bob Stelton: Logan Gilbert built for big moments
• Gustafson: Andrés Muñoz could be next lights-out reliever
• Stecker: Cal Raleigh’s high ceiling at catcher