If Seattle opts to acquire new players, President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto may be challenged to find trade partners amenable to dealing players two months before the August 2 MLB trade deadline. Dipoto did pull off a minor transaction yesterday acquiring left-hander Ryan Borucki, who had been designated for assignment by the Blue Jays. Realistically, Seattle’s bullpen needs much more than what Borucki likely provides.
With this in mind, I took a stab at identifying relievers capable of helping the Mariners in various roles right now. Since we’re still in the first week of June, I focused on struggling teams trending towards being sellers this summer.
Having said that, it’s only fair to point out that Seattle has also stumbled to a losing record over the first two months of the season. For this reason, there’s some dumb blogger like me out there, who is probably suggesting certain Mariners as potential trade targets for other clubs.
Yes, deadline deal season is upon us.
To be clear, this list is far from all-inclusive. It’s just my collection of names, who I believe could make Seattle’s bullpen better right now. All but two are 30-somethings. You’ve probably heard of them, although you may not have realized some were still on an active roster.
Unless otherwise noted, the relievers discussed are pending free agents.
Signing free agents Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki in the offseason suggests the Cubs aren’t in a rebuild. But the team is well below .500 and far from a wild card berth. Assuming the North Siders did decide to trade veterans with limited club control remaining, Robertson should be a target for the Mariners or any club wanting to add a proven late-inning arm.
This season, Robertson has closed games for Cubs manager David Ross delivering outstanding results along the way. Advanced metrics back that up. To date, 261 relievers have faced at least 50 hitters this season. The Alabama alum’s .233 xwOBA is 11th best within that group.
Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls without the influence of good or bad defense. It also factors in strikeouts and walks. Essentially, xwOBA captures the key elements for being successful on the mound – minimizing contact, avoiding base runners, and preventing the most damaging batted balls.
Don’t like saber-stats? Robertson’s conventional numbers also look very good. Opponents are hitting just .145 against him this year. That ranks 18th in the group of 261 relievers just mentioned, plus the right-hander’s 35.3% strikeout rate is also 18th best.
Robertson’s well-established record of high-leverage success and extensive postseason experience would undoubtedly bolster a Mariners bullpen lacking in both respects. The 14-year veteran has appeared in 33 playoff games with the Yankees and Rays striking out 42 in 37.2 innings, including New York’s World Series championship season in 2009.
Just like Robertson, the right-handed throwing Bard has been superb at closing out games. Making his stat line even more impressive – Coors Field serves as his team’s home field. The former North Carolina Tar Heel doesn’t miss bats as often as Robertson. But his xwOBA ranks 20th among those 261 relievers facing 50-plus hitters.
Like Chicago, the Rockies added a marquee talent in the offseason – Kris Bryant. But Colorado currently resides in the NL West cellar, well out of contention in a very competitive division. Still, Bard’s team is close enough to the final NL wild card spot that adding players rather than dealing them away is a realistic possibility.
Edwards is definitely playing for a team that’s not going to contend in 2022. The Nationals are buried under the basement of the NL East division. Therefore, the one-time Mariner could be made available sooner than later thanks to Washington’s awful record. That said, there is some risk to consider for clubs interested in eight-year veteran.
Injuries have plagued Edwards since he made 58 appearances for the Cubs in 2018. He missed much of 2019 due to shoulder and rib cage problems. With the Mariners in 2020, the South Carolina native pitched in just five games due to an elbow issue. Last year, an oblique strain sidelined him before the Blue Jays released him in late August. All told, he tossed 5.2 innings for the Braves and Toronto in 2021.
So why does Edwards make my list?
His 2022 numbers are good – better than most of Seattle’s current relievers. Granted, Edwards only has 13 appearances thus far and his injury history raises concerns. On the other hand, his spotty record of availability in recent seasons means the cost of acquiring the right-hander may be relatively low.
Martin is the next of several Cubs we’ll be discussing. The Texan, who’s primarily pitched innings 5-7 this season, has impressive strikeout and walk rates. That said, some of you are probably more interested in his .317 opponent AVG. An understandable sentiment, but his expected stats including his .228 expected AVG (xBA) and .266 xwOBA should help alleviate those concerns to some degree.
And why do those expected numbers look good?
There are a few reasons. Martin is avoiding damaging contact with barrel and hard-hit rates better than corresponding league averages. Furthermore, opponents are having unusual ground ball success against the McLennan Community College product.
Fun fact: Chris Martin attended the same junior college as Mariners Hall of Famer Jay Buhner.
Martin’s 69.8% ground ball rate is second-highest among 331 relievers who’ve allowed at least 25 batted balls this season. In theory, that’s a a good thing since the MLB average on grounders against relief pitchers is .238. But opposing hitters have a ridiculous .533 AVG against the right-hander. That’s over 100 points higher than the next pitcher. To me, Martin’s poor ground ball numbers will likely resolve through time. Perhaps a new infield behind him would also help.
Martin appeared in 14 postseason games with the Braves in 2019-21, including two World Series contests last year. Per Spotrac, the righty has one year of club control remaining after this season before he’s eligible for free agency.
Like the Mariners, the Tigers have been a disappointment after signing starter Eduardo Rodriguez and shortstop Javier Báez over the winter. The team isn’t occupying last place in the AL Central thanks to the Royals being even worse. That said, Detroit is essentially is in the same spot as Seattle. Perhaps it opts to stand pat or even add players before August 2. On the other hand, being a seller is a possibility.
If the Tigers do decide to sell, Fulmer is a relief arm worth pursuing. The 2016 AL Rookie of the Year, who has been a successful setup man this year, is basically league-average at generating strikeouts. But he’s enjoyed considerable success by avoiding the most damaging contact. His two-percent barrel rate is 24th best among 485 pitchers allowing at least 25 batted balls this season.
Bass is our second former Mariner and the lone Marlin we’ll be discussing. Miami isn’t too far away to contend from a mathematical perspective. But realistically, it’s unlikely the team climbs back into contention in the NL East or the wild card picture.
As with Fulmer, the right-handed Bass isn’t an elite-level strikeout pitcher. But his 24.6% hard-hit rate is 16th best among the 485 pitchers we just mentioned. That and a better-than-average walk rate make the Wayne State product a valuable setup weapon out of a bullpen.
Bass’ contract has a club option for 2023 with a $1 million buyout and escalator clauses based on games finished by the veteran of 11 MLB seasons. Perhaps the budget-minded Marlins would prefer getting his salary off their books.
The first of two southpaws on our list possesses a less-than-appealing walk rate. Plus, his 1.9 HR/9 IP is somewhat hard to ignore. Still, his opponent AVG, strikeout rate, and xwOBA are much better than league-average. Perhaps of more interest to Mariners fans, Norris has held left-handed hitters to a .100 AVG and .233 SLG this season. Seattle’s southpaw relievers have been touched up for a .271 AVG and .519 SLG by lefty bats.
Having said all that, Norris’ numbers against right-handed hitters aren’t as spectacular. Three of his four home runs allowed have come against righty bats, who have an .836 OPS against him. Still, the Tennessee native would give Seattle’s bullpen something it currently lacks – a lefty reliever who’s been successful against left-handed hitters this year.
Our second lefty has actually been a little more successful against right-handers than left-handers in 2022. Still, all opponents are slugging just .320 against Chafin, who hasn’t allowed a home run in 17 appearances. Overall, the Kent State alum has been a solid veteran performer out of Detroit’s bullpen mainly working in the seventh inning.
There’s an intangible about Chafin that doesn’t have anything to do with on-field success, but it’s fun nonetheless – the dude’s personality. Last year, he asked Cubs fans via Twitter for assistance with buying a car offering tickets to games as a finder’s fee. How awesome is that?
Hey @cubs fans! I’m looking to buy an old “beater” car for like 2k to drive around the city cuz my truck is way too big for the narrow streets here. Must be manual transmission! Haha cut me a good deal and we can mix in free tickets throughout the season!!
— andrew chafin (@BigCountry1739) April 10, 2021
From the business side, Chafin is set to earn $6.5 million in 2023, although he can opt out at the end of this season. Perhaps that’s more money than the Mariners or other clubs will want to obligate to Arizona’s 2022 first round draft pick.
Our final candidate has struggled with walks. But his overall stats look solid. Moreover, Peralta has demonstrated the ability to be a multi-inning weapon for Tigers manager A.J. Hinch this season. The native of the Dominican Republic has pitched more than one inning in eight of his 14 appearances this season with his longest outing being 2.2 frames.
Peralta isn’t a big swing and miss pitcher. But he’s done well at keeping the ball out of the air with a 55.2% ground ball and impressive .219 AVG on grounders. Adding a veteran multi-inning arm capable of keeping the ball on the ground would certainly benefit the Mariners right now.
Something to consider as you peruse the names on our list. The Mariners have the payroll flexibility to take on the remaining salary of any trade candidate in MLB without needing to receive financial compensation. Perhaps this drops the asking price for any potential seller more interested in paring payroll than adding talent.
As I alluded to earlier, finding a willing trade partner this early in June is a tough ask with so many clubs being fringy contenders at the moment. Perhaps the Borucki deal is evidence of the quiet nature of the current trade market. Let’s face it. Shipping out players right now essentially signals a team is giving up for the season. Seattle fans wouldn’t appreciate Dipoto raising the white flag this week. The same applies to fan bases in towns like Detroit and Chicago.
Then again, if the Mariners don’t make upgrades to the bullpen within a few weeks, the team may end up being sellers by July. That would be an unfortunate outcome for a team and fan base with lofty postseason aspirations on Opening Day.
My Oh My…
Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home.
In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park.
You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins
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