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The Seattle Mariners made their first major addition to the 40 man roster this off-season, signing Chris Flexen to a 2-year, 4.75 million contract. The move came as a bit of a shock as Flexen hasn’t been to successful in his short stint in the big leagues, but is coming off a great season in the KBO.
Flexen threw 116.2innings, posting a 3.01 ERA, a 2.74 xFip, a 10.18 K/9, and walked just 2.31 BB/9. But it appears that Flexen’s success can’t simply be written of as pitching against inferior competition. After all, the 26-year-old was a legitimate prospect in a decent Mets farm system before his struggles in the big leagues. So what changed?
When he was with the Mets, Flexen sat 91-94 MPH with his fastball and featured good control, a fringe changeup, and a solid breaking ball. But despite the breaking ball being his best pitch, he rarely used it with the Mets. In fact, despite Flexens curveball sitting in the 84th percentile in spin rate in 2019, he only threw the pitch 6% of the time and when he did, it was pretty well crushed.
But Flexen committed to using the pitch in the KBO and as such, the rest of his stuff played up as well. Flexen comes straight downhill from his 6’5 ” size, creating angle issues for most hitters. Despite his lack of plus velocity, Flexen lives comfortably at the top of the zone, where opponents hit just .117. This pairs well with his big overhand curveball, a combo that has served many pitchers well over the years, including former Mariner Aaron Sele.
Flexen’s role is still not known as most believe he is best used as a multi-inning reliever. However, there is a vesting option for a third year worth $8 million if Flexen pitches 150 innings in 2022 or 300 innings combined in 2021 and 2022. These incentives seem to indicate that the Mariners at least sold Flexen on the idea that he will get to compete for a rotation start this spring.
The Mariners currently only have 3 starting pitcher slots locked in, so Flexen looks to be headed to competition with Justin Dunn, Nick Margevicius, Ljay Newsome, and possibly Logan Gilbert for the final 3 spots, giving him good odds of making the rotation pending other additions.
When all is said and done, if Flexen is a solid reliever, the Mariners will control through his age 28 seasons at a cost of just $8.75 million for 3 years. If not, he’s a lottery ticket that will ultimately account for less than 1/25th of the team’s total payroll the next two seasons.