BROCK AND SALK

Mariners’ Dipoto addresses replacing Erik Swanson, possible target Kodai Senga

Nov 18, 2022, 11:35 AM
Mariners Kodai Senga...
Kodai Senga of Team Japan delivers a pitch against Team USA during the Olympic Games on Aug. 7, 2021. (Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)
(Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

The Mariners addressed a big area of need with the addition of slugging outfielder Teoscar Hernández, but it came at the cost of a very good MLB reliever in Erik Swanson.

Dipoto: What Teoscar Hernández brings that the Mariners’ lineup needs

Swanson was one of two players that Seattle sent to Toronto for Hernández (the other being lefty pitching prospect Adam Macko), and the deal comes on the heels of Swanson’s best year in the big leagues.

Swanson, 28, posted a 1.68 ERA and sub-1.000 WHIP in 53 2/3 innings in a very good Mariners bullpen in 2022, his fourth MLB season.

So what are the Mariners losing with Swanson? And how will they go about replacing him in the bullpen? President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto discussed that during his Thursday show on Seattle Sports 710 AM.

“Right now we’re trying to view the open spots that we have, (and ask) how can we maximize our outcomes within those spaces?” Dipoto said. “And in this deal, we hated giving up Erik Swanson. Swanny was a huge contributor for us and a point of strength, but we felt like (the bullpen) was an area of depth that if it could help us improve in another area of lesser quality, then we would do that.”

As far as replacing Swanson goes, there are a few factors at play.

First off, Dipoto thinks the M’s bullpen is still in great shape even without Swanson, which is part of why Swanson was traded.

“We’ve talked about whatever the future holds for Matt Brash, but assuming Matt Brash is a part of our bullpen with Andrés Muñoz and Paul Sewald and Diego Castillo and Matt Festa, Penn Murfee, we still feel like we’re in a pretty good spot,” he said. “Our bullpen has been a strength of ours for quite some time, and, again, the foundation is strong.”

If the opportunity arises, Dipoto said the Mariners will add to the bullpen, especially if they can get a left-handed pitcher. That’s because Swanson, despite being right-handed, was Seattle’s main relief option for facing left-handed hitters because of his elite splitter. Now the Mariners don’t have a clear go-to guy for facing lefties in specific situations.

“That now goes away and we’ll need to replace that in some way, whether that is a true left-handed pitcher or another right-hander who excels in that area,” Dipoto said. “But it’s something we’ll look at. I don’t think it’s a dire need or a big concern of ours, but it’s something we’ll look at.”

Are there any in-house options who could fill that role going forward? Dipoto said that since MLB’s implementation of a three-batter minimum for relievers, it’s made it harder to carry a “situational pitcher.” That being said, Seattle has two lefties who could be in the mix in Brennan Bernardino and Gabe Speier, the latter of whom was recently added via waivers.

“Both Gabe Speier and Brennan Bernardino are good at getting the lefties and they’ve got the physical stuff to excel in that role,” Dipoto said. “Whether they can excel in a multi-hitter role, I’m not sure. We have to see what that looks like as we get into the season. We see multiple pitchers on the market both in trade and smaller free agent targets that we feel like could be advantageous there, but then you’re opened up to competing with 29 other teams for their services.”

Is Kodai Senga and his “ghost” forkball a Mariners’ target?

It’s unclear what the Mariners will do with the fifth and final spot in their starting rotation.

Currently, Seattle has four starters penned in to the opening day rotation in Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby. After that, though, is a question mark.

The M’s have two veteran starters on the roster in Marco Gonzales and Chris Flexen, but both have been the subject of trade rumors. Seattle also has a handful of pitching prospects closing in on their MLB debuts including Emerson Hancock, Taylor Dollard, Bryce Miller and Prelander Berroa.

But as MLB Network’s Jon Morosi said this week, the Mariners are reportedly interested in one of the top free-agent right-handed starting pitchers. That pitcher is Kodai Senga of the Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball league’s Orix Buffaloes, who is now available to sign with all 30 MLB teams.

Brock Huard brought up Senga not necessarily because of Morosi’s report, but because the 29 year old has what’s been described as a “ghost” forkball. Has Dipoto ever heard about or seen a “ghost” forkball?

“I don’t think anybody sees it judging by the results that the opponents have experienced,” Dipoto said, laughing.

That then led to Dipoto sharing his thoughts and observations on the three-time NPB All-Star.

“Kodai is among the most talented pitchers in the world. In the draft room we generally reference arm talent, and Kodai is an extreme arm talent,” he said. “He sits around 100 mph – upper 90s, routinely touching 100 – as a starter carrying a deep workload. And his primary out pitch is a ‘ghost’ forkball or a split-finger that just disappears.”

Not too many MLB pitchers use a splitter or forkball, but Dipoto said there’s enough out there to determine who throws the better ones. It is a very common secondary pitch in Japan, though.

“And we think his is about the best in the world,” he said. ” … Senga’s is a special pitch and it gives him a chance to be a special pitcher in our league.”

The Jerry Dipoto Show airs live at 8:30 a.m. every Thursday on Seattle Sports 710 AM during Brock and Salk. You can listen to this week’s edition in the player below.

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