Let’s first kick this off by quickly apologizing for how long it took to finally put this thing out. We were hoping to drop this a couple weeks ago, but, you know, shit happens and all that. Either way, it’s here now, and hey – at least the Mariners didn’t do anything in the meantime!
If you’re subscribed to our Patreon, you’ve actually known what our offseason plan for the Mariners has been for some time now. On October 23, we posted the first version of our plan exclusively to our Tier 2 and 3 patrons, then opened it up to all of our patrons a week later. We’ve released three different versions of the plan over that time leading up to this finalized plan we’re presenting to you all today. However, it should be noted that we will continue to make changes to the plan on our Patreon in accordance with actual moves the Mariners make, so if you’re looking for a live, reactionary offseason plan, consider subscribing today (only $3/month gets you access).
Alright, now that we’ve gotten the shameless advertisement out of the way, allow us to explain how we decided to attack this offseason plan.
RAISE THE FLOOR
The goal – and slogan – of our offseason plan is, “Raise the Floor.” What exactly does raising the floor mean? Well, since Jerry Dipoto has openly proclaimed that the Mariners intend on contending for a playoff spot in 2021, we wanted to find a way to build a roster that could realistically hit the 81-85 win threshold that will be necessary to earn a berth in an expanded postseason format without sacrificing significant prospect capital, blocking any prominent young players, and giving out expensive, long-term commitments. It was also important for us to acquire players that we felt had high floors, so even if 2021 turned into a disaster for the Mariners, there would still be a good shot to trade some of these acquisitions midseason for a decent return. Basically, what “Raise the Floor” really means at its core is to cover all the bases to set the Mariners up for the years in which they truly intend to do some damage in 2022 and beyond, whether it’s giving this team its first taste of playoff baseball in 2021 or allowing them to put more pieces in place for a future run.
Sounds easier said than done, right? Totally understandable. So, how are we planning to accomplish this? Mostly by spending some – not all – of the payroll the Mariners have freed up over the last two years with the departures of Félix Hernández and Robinson Canó, amongst others. Now, this probably seems far-fetched considering most MLB owners are likely to cry poor because of the pandemic, but we’re fairly optimistic over here at True to the Trident, and this plan is ultimately what we would do rather than what Jerry Dipoto and John Stanton would do.
There are also several prospects we’ve identified in the Mariners organization who seemingly don’t have a very clear path to playing time in Seattle and still hold some solid trade value, a la Jake Fraley. We also wanted to find a new home for Braden Bishop, who’s been disappointingly underutilized by Seattle. We didn’t feel comfortable giving up anyone in our personal top 10 in a season filled with so much uncertainty, especially given the lack of clarity on if the 16-team playoff format or something similar is here to stay. Even if the postseason reverts back to its original 10-team format, we think this Mariners roster we’ve built has a decent enough chance to make things somewhat interesting for a while with both the Astros and A’s on the downward trend, for now.
With that long-winded opener, let’s finally get into the moves, starting with the minor league signings.
FREE AGENT SIGNINGS
Sign C Caleb Joseph, INF Logan Forsythe, and UTL Kyle Mottice to MiLB contracts
With Tom Murphy hurt and Austin Nola eventually traded to the Padres, Mariners fans got pretty familiar with backup catchers Joseph Odom and Joe Hudson in 2020. Both are now free agents after being removed from Seattle’s 40-man roster, so the Mariners are going to have to look elsewhere to build some catching depth behind Murphy and Luis Torrens with Cal Raleigh still likely a year away from the bigs. The 34-year-old Caleb Joseph doesn’t offer much of an offensive upgrade over Odom or Hudson, but should be a better defensive replacement if Murphy or Torrens were to go down.
Logan Forsythe hasn’t been particularly good since he left Tampa Bay, but he’s virtually free veteran depth that won’t kill you at second base if he has to step in for Dylan Moore and/or Shed Long for a game or two. Every Mariners team needs a Gordon Beckham type, right?
Lastly, Kyle Mottice is by far the most interesting name here. Mottice was unfortunately one of the many minor league players around the league that were released by their respective organizations whom cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for their decision. Before that, the former non-drafted free agent had been hitting the ball pretty well in the low-level minors while showing off his above-average speed and positional flexibility across the infield and in the corner outfield spots; however, don’t expect much power to come from the bat. Mottice presents a similar profile to current Mariner Sam Haggerty, so he’s probably no more than a 4A player at best, but he definitely deserves another crack at professional baseball and I’d like to see how the hit tool plays at higher levels.
Sign UTL Brad Miller to one-year, $5 million contract
I’m sure we’ve already kicked your anxiety up a notch with flashbacks of Brad Miller attempting to complete a 6-3 putout, but all jokes aside, the former Mariners shortstop has silently turned himself into one of baseball’s better bench pieces over the past two seasons. In his last 341 plate appearances, Miller has slashed .247/.343/.510 with 20 home runs and 50 RBIs, striking out at a 26.7% clip and walking 11.7% of the time. In 2020, he finished in the 89th percentile in barrel percentage and 73rd percentile in hard hit rate.
Miller is still pretty shaky defensively, but did seem to get more comfortable in the outfield since leaving Seattle, though he didn’t log a single inning out there for the Cardinals in 2020. In fact, he was mostly a designated hitter for them, and could continue to rotate in that role with Ty France in Seattle. When he did make it on the field for St. Louis, it wasn’t pretty, though they put him at his worst position, third base, where he tallied five errors in just 87 innings.
In Seattle, Miller would have to take on his fair share of work in the outfield where his athleticism alone should make him a better option than what’s behind him (Haggerty, José Marmolejos, etc.). The presence of Long, France, and Moore should keep him out of the infield for the most part, though he’s likely the de facto backup shortstop whenever J.P. Crawford needs a day, which is fine – he won’t hurt you that much filling in every now and then. Ultimately, what this move comes down to is getting some legitimate pop and on-base ability on the bench, pushing the more inconsistent (and overall underwhelming) bats of Marmolejos, Haggerty, Tim Lopes, and others further down the totem pole.
Sign RHP Joakim Soria to one-year, $7 million contract
Dipoto has publicly said that intends on acquiring three-to-five pitchers this offseason and you’ll find out pretty quickly that we took that statement rather literally. It’s no secret that the Mariners’ bullpen was horrific in 2020, finishing dead-last in the league in fWAR (-1.5) after injuries to Matt Magill and Carl Edwards Jr., as well as a positive COVID-19 test for Yoshihisa Hirano, derailed any semblance of experience for their unit. One could even make the argument that the Mariners were possibly a couple decent relievers away from sneaking into the expanded postseason, which they missed out on by just two games. We recognize that Seattle doesn’t need to “go big or go home” in the bullpen this year, nor should they, but we definitely made it a big point of emphasis to add some stability there.
For a position group that perfectly fits the dictionary definition of inconsistency, Joakim Soria may be the closest thing to a “sure thing” for a veteran reliever. In his 13 seasons in MLB, the 36-year-old Soria has never finished with a negative fWAR, and has only posted a FIP north of 4.00 once. He’s averaged well over a strikeout per inning over the last five seasons and walks opposing hitters at a league average rate or better, though he did post a 4.03 BB/9 in a shortened 2020 season.
Soria is an ideal late-inning reliever for this particular Mariners team, giving them that much-needed stability in the back of their bullpen and would certainly be an attractive piece at the deadline if things don’t work out in the first half of the season for Seattle.
Sign RHP Trevor May to two-year, $12 million contract
Like I said, we’re going pretty hard on the pitching front and it’s safe to say we’re far from done. Trevor May is the last free agent signing of our offseason plan, coming in at an incredibly affordable two-year, $12 million deal. Now, you may look at what May’s done over the last few years and think this is a severe underpay, but again, this reliever market is pretty deep and with the financial uncertainty around the league, some pitchers are probably not going to get what they’re actually worth. For what it’s worth, when we initially put May in our plan, we had him on a two-year, $20 million contract then changed it after we saw some projections put him more in the range we’re at now.
May, a Washington native, has missed a ton of bats since transitioning to a full-time bullpen role in 2016. Since then, his lowest K/9 was 11.05 in 2019 with a BB/9 high of 3.64 in the same year. In the shortened 2020 season, May posted an extraordinary 14.66 K/9, good for the sixth-best mark in the entire league. He also finished in the 99th percentile in whiff rate, 83rd percentile in expected opponent batting average, 77th percentile in expected wOBA and expected ERA, and 76th percentile in fastball spin rate. Look back on previous years, and while some of those numbers do take a dip, there’s still a whole lotta red on his Baseball Savant page.
Though May has posted elite numbers, we don’t think he’s necessarily the de facto closer in this bullpen. We like the flexibility of being able to pick and choose our pitchers from a more situational perspective, and it’s hard not to get excited about what a Soria-May tandem could look like in the late innings of close ballgames, no matter who goes in where and when.
Trade LHP Jorge Benítez to the Atlanta Braves for LHP Sean Newcomb
The former first-round selection of a Jerry Dipoto-led Angels front office, Sean Newcomb’s career has come to a bit of a standstill. Following a successful 2019 campaign primarily as a reliever, Newcomb found himself appearing in just four games for the Braves in 2020 to the tune of a 7.51 FIP before being sent down to their alternate training site for the remainder of the year. A quick dive into Braves Twitter found that there seems to be a bit of a rift between Newcomb and Atlanta’s decision-makers, particularly about his usage as a reliever instead of a starter, and with this week’s addition of Charlie Morton and Newcomb taking up a precious 40-man spot on a contending Braves team, it would appear that this is all heading towards some sort of trade or DFA.
If the rumors about his unhappiness with a reliever role are true, then that is certainly a red flag for the Mariners or any other team that may inquire about him. But for us, we think Newcomb could still find success as a starter, though he’s going to have to earn a spot in the rotation over Justin Dunn, Nick Margevicius, and Ljay Newsome. In 2018, his last full season as a starter, Newcomb logged 164 innings of work with a 3.90 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 8.78 K/9, and 4.45 BB/9 while ranking in the 89th percentile in opponent barrel percentage and 77th percentile in hard hit rate. Jump ahead a year later to his 51 appearances as a reliever and Newcomb was even better, lowering his ERA to 3.16, his BB/9 to 3.82, and finishing in the 90th or better percentiles in several categories, including curveball spin rate and opponent barrel percentage. The curveball is legit and the Mariners would absolutely need to get him to throw it more than the 19.7% clip he posted in 2019. That same year, the pitch produced a 43.3% whiff rate as opponents slashed just .093/.157/.093 against it.
Newcomb still has one minor league option left and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2022, making him club-controlled for the next four seasons. Perhaps there are some character concerns to be worried about, but that aside, this lines up to be a really good value play for whoever comes calling Atlanta.
Trade OF Jake Fraley, RHP Devin Sweet, and OF Keegan McGovern to the Pittsburgh Pirates for RHP Chris Stratton and RHP Michael Burrows
Perhaps this is a mistake going all-in on the small sample size of the 2020 season, but Chris Stratton unlocked something this year. Ranking in the 97th and 98th percentiles for curveball and fastball spin rate, respectively, Stratton immediately jumped near the top of our board when looking deeper into his 2020 season. He’s also probably the best Major League return you can get in a Jake Fraley trade right now, given Fraley’s injury history and the Mariners’ unwillingness to give him proper playing time in 2020; that speaks volumes to other teams.
So yeah, there’s a bit of risk involved here that Stratton’s 30 innings of success this past season were just a mirage, especially when you look at everything else he’s done in his career. However, this was Stratton’s first season fully committed to the bullpen, and he absolutely ran with it. Stratton posted an 11.70 K/9, 3.90 BB/9, and 3.19 FIP, with whiff rates of 31% or better on three of his four offerings, most notably the extraordinary 39.1% clip on his fastball. Stratton has always been elite in the spin rate department, so that’s good news for sustainability purposes, but it’s still hard not to be concerned about the lack of success prior to 2020. The fastball did see an uptick in velocity this year, perhaps due in part to him settling in as a reliever, so if he can get closer to the mid 90s more consistently with that spin, he should continue to miss bats. But is his slider a true secondary? It hasn’t been great, even in 2020, for a pitch that he throws a quarter of the time. Perhaps it’d be better if he leaned more on that high-spin curve, which he only used 17% of the time this season despite opposing hitters slashing just .105/.179/.158 against it.
As for Michael Burrows, this is a guy that Colby really wanted to put in here. Initially the deal was for Stratton and utilityman Adam Frazier, but with our signing of Brad Miller, the Frazier acquisition became redundant and I didn’t want to get just Stratton out of this. Burrows, a former 11th round selection by the Pirates in the 2018 draft, should be a fairly quick riser in the system despite being just 21-years-old. His fastball is his best pitch, sitting in the mid-to-high 90s with good spin, and he has a good breaking ball to pair with it. Even if he can’t find a promising tertiary pitch with his changeup, there’s a pretty good chance the worst case scenario for him is a solid reliever.
Trade RHP Isaiah Campbell, LHP Brayan Perez, OF Braden Bishop, and RHP Elvis Alvarado to the San Diego Padres for LHP Joey Lucchesi, OF Tommy Pham, and RHP Mason Fox
Again, this is putting a lot on the results of a shortened 2020 season, but this is what we have to work with. With Mike Clevinger out for the 2021 season due to Tommy John surgery, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Padres to give up on a young, promising, controllable pitcher on the surface. But the Padres were strapped for help in their rotation for a good portion of a 2020 season in which they went all-in for and didn’t seem all too interested in Lucchesi being a part of that, demoting him to the alternate training site three times after just three appearances.
Now, those three appearances didn’t necessarily go well, with Lucchesi allowing five runs in 5.2 innings of work, but it’s still pretty confusing as to why he was seemingly cast aside all season long. From what we can tell, he wasn’t hurt, and what imakes it all the more confusing is that he was coming off a stellar 2019 campaign in which he threw 163.2 innings to the tune of a 4.17 FIP and 8.69 K/9. These are usually the signs that a player is on his way out of town, no matter how much of a head-scratcher it really is. It’s quite possible this deal is too light for San Diego and they would want more of a Major League return for Lucchesi, but we also feel this package could be enticing to a team that still bolsters a pretty good farm system, though it did get weaker over the course of this year’s trade deadline. Plus, the Mariners don’t have a lot to offer in terms of Major League talent they could live without.
Since we’re putting a ton of stock into the happenings of 2020, let’s talk about Tommy Pham and why he’s in this deal. Pham’s season was cut short after fracturing the hamate bone in his left hand; however, he wasn’t playing all that well before the injury. In the 31 games he appeared in, Pham posted a -0.1 fWAR, slashing .211/.312/.312 with three home runs and 12 RBIs. While it would be unfair to say this is who Pham is now, these struggles paired with MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration projection of ~$8 million in a pandemic may be enough for the Padres to go another direction and possibly non-tender him. So, why not try to get something for him first, right? In this deal, the Mariners would take on the entirety of Pham’s final year on his contract.
Now, why does Pham make any sense for the Mariners, especially with Jarred Kelenic on the way? Simply, we do not trust the health of Mitch Haniger and feel entirely uncomfortable with Phillip Ervin or José Marmolejos taking over a starting role if Haniger or Lewis go down. It should also be noted that there’s no guarantee Kelenic comes up and plays well right out of the gate. There’s a very real possibility that he, like many top prospects before him, could struggle and potentially end up getting sent back down. Since our whole plan revolves around “raising the floor,” we’re doing just that with the outfield depth.
This trade was made pretty late in the game, actually. Initially, we had our sights set on signing Kevin Gausman or Jon Gray. However, Gausman accepted his qualifying offer from the Giants and Gray’s status with the Rockies is still up in the air as he gets set to hit arbitration. We still think there’s a decent shot Gray gets non-tendered by Colorado, but we wanted to go with something more concrete for this finalized version of the plan. And yeah, we could have simply just traded for Gray instead, but we felt like this deal was too good to pass up, especially when you include Pham.
40-MAN ROSTER AND PAYROLL
Starting Pitchers (9): Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Justus Sheffield, Joey Lucchesi, Nick Margevicius, Justin Dunn, Sean Newcomb, Ljay Newsome, Juan Then
Relief Pitchers (15): Ian Hamilton, Doming Tapia, Wyatt Mills, Aaron Fletcher, Joey Gerber, Brandon Brennan, Sam Delaplane, Kendall Graveman, Yohan Ramirez, Anthony Misiewicz, Andrés Muñoz, Chris Stratton, Joakim Soria, Trevor May
Catchers (2): Tom Murphy, Luis Torrens
Infielders (9): Evan White, Ty France, Dylan Moore, Kyle Seager, J.P. Crawford, Brad Miller, Shed Long, Tim Lopes, Sam Haggerty
Outfielders (5): Kyle Lewis, Mitch Haniger, Tommy Pham, Phillip Ervin, Taylor Trammell
Payroll (Approx.): ~$106,195,000
OTHER TARGETS AND MIDSEASON TRADE CANDIDATES
Here are some of the other players that were considered/discussed for this offseason plan:
LHP Sean Manaea, Athletics
LHP José Alvarado, Rays
LHP Matthew Boyd, Tigers
LHP Gregory Soto, Tigers
LHP Génesis Cabrera, Cardinals
LHP Adam Morgan, Phillies
LHP Zach Muckenhirn, Orioles
RHP Antonio Senzatela, Rockies
RHP Kevin Gausman, Giants
RHP Chris Archer, Free Agent
RHP Solomon Bates, Giants
RHP Jon Gray, Rockies
RHP Zach Davies, Padres
RHP Joe Jiménez, Tigers
RHP Tyler Mahle, Reds
RHP Ryne Stanek, Marlins
RHP Ryan Helsley, Cardinals
RHP Álex Colomé, Free Agent
RHP Garrett Richards, Free Agent
2B Adam Frazier, Pirates
2B Ryan McMahon, Rockies
SS Ha-Seong Kim, Free Agent
OF Tyler O’Neill, Cardinals
OF Ben Gamel, Brewers
OF Albert Almora Jr., Cubs
OF Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
OF Milton Smith II, Marlins
OF Steven Duggar, Giants
OF Moises Gomez, Rays
OF Manuel Margot, Rays
OF David Dahl, Rockies
And here are the players on our 40-man roster who could be dealt at the deadline if the Mariners start off slow:
LHP Sean Newcomb
LHP Nick Margevicius
LHP Anthony Misiewicz
RHP Joakim Soria
RHP Trevor May
RHP Kendall Graveman
RHP Chris Stratton
C Tom Murphy
3B Kyle Seager
OF Tommy Pham
OF Mitch Haniger
UTL Brad Miller
UTL Dylan Moore
Thank you so much for staying patient with us while we get this all put together. Again, if you’re interested in following our live offseason plan, which will be updated and adapted for each and every move the Mariners make in the real world, you can get access to that and the Control the Zone podcast for just $3 a month through our Patreon. Let us know in the comments below what you guys think about our plan and what you guys want the Mariners to do this winter!