Mariners Trade Deadline Targets: Relievers who could boost bullpen
In addition to adding to the rotation, the Mariners – as in the case of essentially every contender – will likely be trying to add to their bullpen.
The ‘pen has again been a strength for the M’s this year, but among the arms is a rookie (Penn Murfee), a pitcher in his first full MLB season (Andrés Muñoz), one in the midst of a breakout season (Erik Swanson), a swingman/starter (Tommy Milone), and a trio that has had rollercoaster 2022 campaigns (Diego Castillo, Ryan Borucki and Matt Festa – though Castillo has certainly shown he’s capable of being a shutdown option).
The Mariners may also get Ken Giles back from a shoulder injury, but he’s barely pitched since the start of 2020 so the team shouldn’t be pinning too many hopes on him.
Who could they target to give the ‘pen a boost? Here’s a look at several options.
(Author’s Note: ERA is often a misleading statistic when looking at relievers, so Fielding Independent Pitching is the number I’ll be focusing more on for these arms. Like ERA, FIP is better the lower it is. For those unfamiliar with FIP, here’s MLB’s definition of the statistic.)
• Detroit’s Gregory Soto, Andrew Chafin and Michael Fulmer
Of these three, Soto would definitely get them the most in return as he’s a multi-time All-Star flamethrower from the left side who is just 27 and signed through 2025. Naturally, though, that makes him an attractive target for contenders as he could help long-term.
But the Tigers also have two more veteran arms on the rental side of things in Chafin and Fulmer.
Chafin, a 32-year-old lefty who has a player option after this season, owns a 2.32 FIP in 35 appearances and has allowed only one home run while striking out over 10 per nine. I wrote this offseason that the Mariners should have targeted Chafin in free agency, and now, they could trade to get him from a poor Tigers team and add him to a contender. And while Borucki has been solid for the Mariners since being acquired, the M’s could stand to add a more proven go-to lefty for the bullpen.
Fulmer, meanwhile, is 29 and has had an interesting career for Detroit. He was the 2016 Rookie of the Year as a starter but never quite built off that success and wound up moving to the bullpen last year, a move that’s worked out well for the right-hander across 75 relief outings. In 2022, he has a 3.38 FIP and has also allowed only one long ball over 37 outings. The walk rate is a little high, but that’s really the only concerning thing with Fulmer’s numbers this season. Fulmer is a pending free agent.
• Texas’ Matt Moore
Moore, now 33, began his career as a top prospect for the Tampa Bay Rays as a starting pitcher. But since his All-Star appearance in 2013, he’s been average or worse as a starter. As a full-time reliever for the Rangers this year, though, the lefty has impressed.
In 33 appearances, Moore has a 1.61 ERA, 2.57 FIP and 1.209 WHIP while striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings and not allowing a single home run in 44 2/3 innings.
Moore is left-handed, can go multiple innings, can get strikeouts, keeps the ball in the yard and is a soon-to-be free agent. He’s also been an advanced metric darling in 2022, ranking in the 94th percentile or better in hard hit rate, xWOBA, xERA, xBA, xSLG and barrel rate, per Stactast. He’s also been above average in fastball spin, whiff rate, chase rate and strikeout rate, ranking in the 72nd percentile or better in each of those categories.
The Rangers may not want to be sellers at the deadline after spending so much this past offseason, but with Moore only signed through the end of the season, it may make sense to part ways with him and get something in return as Texas is well under .500 and doesn’t appear primed to contend for a playoff spot down the stretch.
• Chicago’s Chris Martin and David Robertson
The Mariners preach dominating the strike zone, and the 36-year-old Martin of the Cubs does just that as evidenced by his 100th percentile walk rate, per Statcast. The 6-foot-8 right-hander is striking out more than 11 batters per nine innings and is pitching better than his 4.50 ERA may suggest as he has a 3.23 FIP. Martin is under club control through 2023.
Robertson is also a veteran right-hander as the 14-year MLB veteran began his career back in 2008. He’s pitched well for the Cubs this year with a 3.23 FIP and a sub-1.000 WHIP while allowing less than five hits per nine and striking out more than 11 per nine. The 37 year old, set to be a free agent after this season, has seven years of postseason experience – all in the American League. Both factors should make him an hot target for contending clubs.
• Colorado’s Alex Colomé and Daniel Bard
The Mariners acquired Colome at the deadline once before back in 2018 before trading him that offseason as their rebuild began. His 2022 numbers are interesting as his FIP (2.82) is pretty dang good, but his WHIP is 1.514 and his strikeouts per nine are close to a career low. He’s kept the ball in the ballpark despite making home appearances in Denver, though, as he has yet to allow a home run this year. Colome is 33, proven and a pending free agent. Plus, he’d be shifting to a far more pitcher-friendly ballpark if he returns to Seattle.
Bard, 37, has been one of baseball’s best stories over the last three years. After beginning his career as a standout with the Red Sox, Bard lost control of the strike zone, acquiring “the yips,” and didn’t appear in an MLB game between 2014 and 2019. He was out of baseball altogether in 2018 and 2019 before returning in 2020 with Colorado. He was very good then, had a rocky 2021 season but has been strong in 2022 with a 3.55 FIP. 1.055 WHIP and allowing less than five hits per nine innings and picking up 10.3 strikeouts per nine. Bard turned 37 last month and is a pending free agent.
• Miami’s Anthony Bass
Another former Mariners reliever, Bass has quietly been one of baseball’s best relievers this year. The 34-year-old right-hander has a 1.95 FIP and sub-1.000 WHIP in 42 games for the Marlins and has allowed only one home run this season. He’s also allowing just 6.9 hits per nine and is striking out 9.3 batters per nine, which is on pace to be a new career-high.
Bass is under club control for the rest of this season and has a club option for the 2023 season.
• Arizona’s Ian Kennedy and Mark Melancon
The Diamondbacks have two veteran relievers with name recognition who could be flipped at the deadline.
Kennedy has been the better of the two this year, but he hasn’t been great. The 37-year-old righty has a 4.47 FIP in 34 appearances and is issuing walks at the highest clip of his 16-year MLB career. Kennedy wouldn’t be added to be a go-to arm but he could certainly be a solid depth piece, especially in case of injuries or if younger arms go through some rough patches.
Melancon is the bigger name of the two as he is a four-time All-Star – including last season – and while his eight losses may cause some pause with some, he’s been pretty good in 2022 with a 3.62 FIP. He is striking out just 6.3 per nine (his career average is 8.1) and his WHIP is 1.561 as he’s allowing three walks per nine and over 11 hits per nine. The veteran closer has been above-average in terms of limiting barrels and hard contact, though. He also has six years of playoff experience.
Kennedy is signed through the end of 2022 with a club option for 2023 while Melancon is signed through 2023 with a mutual option for 2024.
• Pittsburgh’s Chris Stratton
When looking at Pirates trade candidates, the two big “sexy” names are outfielder Bryan Reynolds and All-Star reliever David Bednar. In the case of Bednar, he’s under club control through 2026, so even the rebuilding Pirates have no real urgency to trade him.
Stratton, meanwhile, is 31 years old and could be moved. His ERA is 5.03 and his WHIP is 1.525, but Stratton’s FIP is 3.74. He’s giving up too many hits and too much hard contact (not necessarily home runs), but he does have a few underlying metrics that may have some analytically-minded teams interested.
Per Statcast, Stratton’s fastball spin rate is in the 100th percentile and his curveball spin rate is in the 99th percentile. He’s also in the 90th percentile in chase rate.
The Mariners have done well with finding relievers and really honing in on what they do well, so perhaps Stratton is an intriguing buy-low option in that sense. He’s also under club control through 2023.