We do not know what direction the Seattle Mariners will choose to go this off-season, nor do we know how the expanded playoffs will impact their aggressiveness in both the trade and free-agent markets. Will they be aggressive? Nibble around the edges? We do not know. But we can prepare for any of those scenarios and it’s never too late to start.
The Seattle Mariners need pitching. The total failure of their bullpen this season (by design), shows that having promising arms doesn’t mean you have quality pitching. In fact, the only sure thing in the entire Mariners organization right now is Marco Gonzales. Justus Sheffield and Yusei Kikuchi have been promising, but aren’t anywhere near locks. Justin Dunn and Nick Margevicius have had their ups and downs, and we don’t yet know if Logan Gilbert can pitch at the big league level with success(though the odds are good).
And therein lies the problem. The Mariners have plenty of talented starting pitching prospects but don’t have a large enough sample size to come to any conclusions. So for 2021, they’ll need a veteran starter or two who, ideally, can shift to the bullpen if needed. The Mariners have done something similar with Kendall Graveman this year, and they could look to do it again this off-season. But who could they target? Enter Tyler Chatwood.
Entering free agency after three dissapointing seasons with the Chicago Cubs, Chatwood could be an ideal fit for the Mariners this off-season, if for no other purpose than a “fix and flip” trade candidate. Chatwood, who turns 31-years-old in December, hasn’t lived up to his three year, $38 million contract he received from the Cubs, but has done exactly what he has spent his whole career doing: getting groundballs and surrendering home runs.
It almost doesn’t make sense. Chatwood, who boasts a 54.1% ground ball rate in his career, also has a 13.5% HR/FB rate. How can a guy who gets so many grounders give up so many home runs? While, prior to this season, Chatwood has posted above-average swing-and-miss numbers just once, in 2019. In addition, Chatwood doesn’t have pinpoint control which leads to walk issues and, therefore, pitches that catch too much of the plate.
As of today, Chatwood has a career 6.61 K/9 and a 4.69 BB/9. That is way too close to a 1:1 ratio and doesn’t appear to fit the M.O. for a Jerry Dipoto trade target. But after he was banished to the Cubs bullpen in 2019, Chatwood started doing something he had never done before: he started striking guys out. His K/9 jumped to 8.83 and his K% bumped up 2%. This isn’t earth shattering, except that Chatwood has returned in 2020 and has posted a 12.05 K/9 in 18 innings.
It’s a curious 5 game stretch for Chatwood, whose K% has spiked at the same time his ground ball percentage has fallen off a cliff ( down to 38.5%). This all paints the picture of a 31-year-old back-end starter, so why would the Mariners be interested? In layman’s terms, Tyler Chatwood can spin it. He ranks in the 96th percentile in fastball spin rate and the 96th percentile in curveball spin rate.
We know how much the Mariners love their high spin rate guys in the bullpen, particularly in regards to their fastball. But there are three major questions: is Chatwood healthy? Does he make sense for Seattle? Does Seattle make sense for him?
The first question regarding his health is a complete unknown. David Ross has said he’s highly unlikely to pitch again this season, which is an obvious red flag. But remember, the Mariners signed Taijuan Walker and Graveman with similar injury questions, so it’s not a deal-breaker (though neither was coming off an injury).
Second, does he make sense for Seattle? I would argue that he does. You’ll likely have a rotation spot open to offer him, he has experience in the bullpen, and the high fastball spin rate Dipoto covets. If they feel okay about his health, a one year deal could make sense for Seattle.
And finally, does it make sense for Chatwood to come to Seattle? It could. As we mentioned above, there aren’t going to be many teams that can offer Chatwood the opportunity to start. There are even fewer of those teams who get to pitch in a quality ballpark like T-Mobile. And even fewer who have a reputation around baseball for helping pitchers reach their maximum potential in a short amount of time.
There are several road blocks in any free agency candidate that make them highly unlike to sign with any team. But Chatwood is a good candidate, who checks some of the boxes the Mariners look for, and isn’t going to block any of the teams top prospects from making their debuts. Watch for the Chatwood to Seattle connections this winter. I have a feeling you might see a few.