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After 89 wins in 2018 didn’t sniff the postseason, the Mariners willfully took a step back in 2019 . A fifth-place finish and 94 losses later, the Mariners have another development year on the horizon when/if the 2020 season gets underway. Even so, General Manager Jerry Dipoto isn’t one to sit quietly on the sidelines, and he found ways to keep himself busy this winter.

Guaranteed Contracts

Trades and Claims

Extensions

  • Signed LHP Marco Gonzalez to four-year, $30MM extension (from 2021-2024), $5MM in 2021, $5.5MM in 2022, $6.5MM in 2023, $12MM in 2024, plus $1MM signing bonus and $15MM team option for 2025
  • Signed 1B Evan White to six-year, $24MM ($1.3MM in 2020 and 2021, $1.4MM in 2022, $3MM in 2023, $7MM in 2024, $8MM in 2025, $10MM team option in 2026 plus two more club options in 2027 and 2028 for a combined $21.5MM).

Notable Minor League Signings

Notable Losses

First and foremost, let’s pour one out for King Felix. Now 34-years-old, Felix Hernandez joined the Braves as a non-roster invitee this spring, officially ending his 15-year tenure with the Mariners. Granted, we haven’t seen vintage King Felix since…maybe 2015? Regardless: 15 years, 418 starts, 6 All-Star appearances, a Cy Young award, 169 wins, 8 200-inning seasons, 25 complete games, 11 shutouts, 1 relief appearance, and tragically, zero postseason appearances. The Mariners fielded some competitive rosters over the years (85-89 wins five times from 2005 to 2019), but whenever the Mariners end their playoff drought, they’ll do so without King Felix. Still, he goes down as a Seattle great: a career 3.42 ERA/3.52 FIP, good for 50.3 bWAR/54 fWAR.

Beyond Felix, the Mariners didn’t lose anyone of terrible consequence this winter. Healy, Beckham, Milone, Tuivailala and Santana had their moments, while Vizcaino, Siri, and Anderson never appeared in a regular season game for Seattle. None should be missed long-term as the Mariners continue to set their sights on 2021 and beyond.

Meanwhile, they brought back a familiar face in Taijuan Walker. If healthy, Walker has a good chance of making the rotation. For $2MM (plus incentives), it’s a safe gamble for the M’s, and at 27-years-old, there’s still some upside if he can return to form. The M’s ought to have enough leash to give him that opportunity.

Elsewhere in the rotation, the Gonzalez extension keeps the former Cardinal at the front of the rotation for the next four seasons (maybe five) at a good rate. The 28-year-old is coming off solid back-to-back 3+ fWAR seasons, eclipsing the 200-inning mark while going 16-13 with a 3.99 ERA/4.15 FIP in 2019. He’s not the type to front a rotation, but he’s a solid arm who should continue to be an asset throughout the length of his new extension.

The rest of the rotation – and most of the roster – is a series of auditions. The M’s have a lot of interesting young players in the clubhouse, and before Trader Jerry gets set to make another push for the postseason, he’s got to sort the real McCoys from the small-sample hucksters.

In the rotation, there are two types of tryout candidates: prospects and retreads. Walker has the familiarity with the Seattle base, but Kendall Graveman may also get a chance to earn a rotation spot after spending last season rehabbing with the Cubs. Graveman knows the division well having put up a little more than two full seasons worth of solid back-end rotation work for the A’s from 2015 to 2018.

In the prospects camp, Justus Sheffield is facing a make-or-break campaign after seven so-so starts with the big league club last year. Justin Dunn also got a taste last year, and though the former Mets farmhand may not start the year in the majors, he should be a prime understudy after putting together a solid season in Double-A.

Waiver claim Nick Margevicius falls somewhere between the two camps. He struggled in the bigs last year with the Padres, posting a 6.79 ERA/5.64 FIP, but he made the jump from Double-A, and he’s still just 23-years-old. His typically pristine control slipped just enough to hurt upon reaching the big leagues, while his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio skyrocketed. He wasn’t exactly pitching in a bandbox in San Diego, but if he can limit the long ball and get his walks-per-nine back under 2 where it lived for most of his minor league career, the Mariners might have another lefty for the rotation.

Along with Yusei Kikuchi, that’s at least seven semi-interesting arms to look at, which might be more than enough in a short season (though there’s obviously a ton of uncertainty there). The other notable additions this winter were in the bullpen, where new Yoshihisa Hirano, Carl Edwards Jr., Nestor Cortes Jr. and Rule 5 pick Yohan Ramirez all have a chance to make the Opening Day roster.

Hirano struggles somewhat for the Diamondbacks in his second season stateside, but he also bumped his strikeout rate from 8.0 K/9 to 10.4 K/9 – with a lesser jump in walk rate (3.1 BB/9 to 3.7 BB/9). He could end up being a big piece of the bullpen. CJ Edwards, meanwhile, was one of the more inexplicable flameouts in 2019: 8.47 ERA/5.74 FIP across 22 appearances for the Cubs and Padres. Considering the 3+ seasons with a 3.06 ERA/3.12 FIP that Edwards put together for the Cubs from 2015 to 2018, and he makes for an intriguing flyer who is still just 28-years-old.

On the offensive end, Dipoto made two big moves. The first was trading starting catcher Omar Narvaez to the Brewers for a Competitive Round Draft Pick and 6’6″ right-hander Adam Hill. Narvaez had a good season last year (.278/.353/.460 with 22 home runs, 199 wRC+), but his other half Tom Murphy looked good too (just ask MLBTR’s own Anthony Franco). Hill has a big arm, but has to get his control under wraps. He was the Brewers #24 prospect per MLB.com at the time of the deal. The Brewers had him for just half a season after he joined the organization from the Mets in January as part of the Keon Broxton deal.

Dipoto took the opportunity to add youth, so they’ll turn over the backstop duties to Murphy and Aaron Nola’s big brother Austin. Murphy posted good numbers on both sides of the ball, and he’ll get the starting nod, but Nola figures to get plenty of playing time as well. Nola is an infield convert who plans to make catching his full-time gig in 2020. If he can stick it defensively, he seems to have enough bat for the position (.269/.342/.454 in 267 plate appearances last year). Assuming good health, the Murphy/Nola combo ought to be sufficient in 2020 while Cal Raleigh continues to work his way towards the bigs.

Dipoto’s other significant decision was giving first baseman Evan White a six-year, $24MM deal after he played the 2019 season for the Arkansas Travelers in Double-A. White, 24 on Sunday, certainly looks worth the money if he continues to perform as he did for the Travelers. White hit .293/.350/.488 with 18 home runs across 400 plate appearances in 2019. He’s the Mariners’ 4th-ranked prospect per Fangraphs, and he profiles as a complete player with plus power, speed, and defense that should help him claim (and keep) first base for the next half decade.

Granted, it’s risky to hand $24MM to a kid who’s totaled 4 games above Double-A, but Dipoto secured significant upside with this deal, which includes three option years for an additional $31.5MM. If White turns into the player Dipoto suspects, they’ll have him for the next 9 seasons at an AAV of $6.17MM. Also, they can now start White on the major league roster without manipulating his service clock (if they deem him ready). First base certainly isn’t thought of as a core position these days, but core players  routinely make their homes there (Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt, etc.), and while White has a lot to prove before qualifying to break bread with that trio, the Mariner brass saw enough to write his name on the lineup card in pen.

If there was a surprise this winter from Trader Jerry, it’s that he didn’t find a way to move more of his remaining veterans. Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon would figure to be the first to move in 2020 if they can establish any value. Unfortunately, Gordon doesn’t have any at present (nor much of a path to establishing some), and Seager’s price tag all but nullifies any value he might have accrued during a bounce-back .239/.321/.468, 110 wRC+ 2019 season. The eldest Seager bounced around the trade papers this winter in regards to hot corner openings in the NL East, but he’s owed $19.5MM in 2020, $18.5MM in 2021, and if he were dealt, a $15MM club option for 2022 becomes a player option. The option clause makes Seager difficult to deal, and the Mariners like his makeup, so it seems as likely as anything that he’ll play out the remainder of his deal in T-Mobile Park.

Other veterans like Mallex Smith and Daniel Vogelbach are young enough to be a part of the next Seattle contender, but more than that, they don’t carry much trade value at present. Vogelbach, 27, finished last season with 30 home runs and a palatable 111 wRC+. But he’s not a fielder, and he’s not a runner, and even though he’s not even arb eligible until 2022, there’s not a lot of need for his skill set around the league. Smith, 27 in May, has shown promise at times in his career, but as MLBTR’s own Connor Byrne wrote about in a recent post entitled “Seattle’s Struggling Center Fielder“…well, the title pretty much tells the tale (and if not, Connor can take you the rest of the way).

Mitch Haniger is the guy toeing the line here, as the Mariners’ have long-lauded his character and the total package he brings to the table, but as a 29-year-old corner outfielder, it’s fair to wonder if his contributions would better serve a contender. A slew of injuries has kept that question on the back-burner, however, as there’s no timetable for his return after undergoing a pair of offseason surgeries.

Finding core players to play alongside White will be priority number one for Scott Servais and company whenever play resumes. Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic are two big-time prospects  atop the M’s vision board, but they’re both probably a year or maybe more away. In the meantime, Servais and Dipoto will keep a daily eye on a whole host of young position players who may or may not become crucial parts of their future. Among those looking to secure their long-term place: Shed Long, Jake Fraley, J.P. Crawford, Kyle Lewis, Braden Bishop, and to a lesser extend, guys like Tim Lopes and Donovan Walton. Some vets were brought in to compete – CarGo, Cody Anderson, Wei-Yin Chen, among others – but it’s looking increasingly likely that the Mariners will ride the youth wave in 2020.

2020 Outlook

If a couple from the Long/Fraley/Crawford/Lewis bucket can establish themselves – along with Sheffield and/or Dunn in the rotation – then the Mariners will count 2020 as a success. They could even set themselves up as a real team of interest heading into 2021. Conditions for development aren’t ideal, but the biggest question facing the M’s might be how much they can learn about their young players in a potentially shortened season. Speculation on that front will have to wait until we know more. For now, we’ll have to settle for grading the Mariners’ winter work.

How would you grade the Mariners’ offseason moves?  (Link for app users.)




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