The off-season is officially over as the Cactus League is underway and the Seattle Mariners will play every day for the next four weeks. But there is still one major hole to fill with the perfect stopgap still available.
I’m a big fan of the rebuild. It’s going almost perfectly. There haven’t been any major blunders by the baseball operations side of things and the Mariners are not only on track to meet their timeline goals, but they’re also actually a few steps ahead. But Seattle lost 80+ games of development through no fault of their own and as a result, the first year of fringe playoff contention might be pushed back. But a quick look around the AL West shows a division that is very much up for grabs.
There are no dominant teams in this division. In fact, it can be argued, that the Mariners are the only team that got better this off-season. And considering the lack of high-profile moves made by Seattle, that really is sad. But the team is still likely a year behind the Astros, Athletics, and Angels, though the gap is as small as it has been over the past 2 years. Seattle is ascending, while the Astros and Athletics are sliding and the Angels continue to ride the fence between mediocre and good.
A division title isn’t likely, but it’s not impossible and those odds can get significantly better with one simple addition: Jake Odorizzi. Amazingly, the Mariners might have the best and deepest rotation in the division, featuring a bevy of mid-rotation arms with more coming quickly. But the team is going with a six-man rotation, and while the early reports on the likes of Justin Dunn and Nick Margevicius are encouraging, they’re far from a sure thing.
But with Marco Gonzales anchoring the rotation along with high-upside arms Yusei Kikuchi and James Paxton, it isn’t difficult to squint and see a good rotation carrying the 2021 Mariners. But adding a proven, quality, mid-rotation arm will not only raise the floor of the 2021 season but also it’s ceiling. There isn’t anything spectacular about Odorizzi. He’s only posted one season with an fWAR greater than 3.0 and until 2019, he had never averaged more than a strikeout per inning. He has good but not great stuff and good but not great command.
He’s going to be 31-years-old at the end of spring training and is coming off an injury-riddled season. But just like Gonzales, Odorizzi excels at the one area that is most important to all pitchers: he gets a lot of outs without giving up a lot of runs. Prior to 2020, Odorizzi had a six-season run where he made 28 starts or more and covered 143.1 or more innings. Jake Odorizzi is a solid, #3 starter who has no home exactly one month before opening day. The Mariners should change that.
It doesn’t hurt that Seattle is currently facing a PR nightmare that has left a fan base questioning why they’ve stuck around. The addition of Odorizzi is in many ways an olive branch to the fans and, more importantly, a clear sign to the 2021 roster that you believe they can do some damage in the AL West. Odorizzi isn’t a star and he doesn’t have to be. But a healthy Jake Odorizzi slotted behind Gonzales and Paxton is a conversation changer and gives the Mariners a legitimate chance to make 2021 a little bit more than a developmental season.