After the news broke on Friday, on Monday the Mariners officially announced the signing of free agent reliever Steve Cishek. He'll compete for the closer spot along with veteran Joaquin Benoit
The Steve Cishek Experience?
It doesn’t have quite the same context as it did with former Mariners closer Fernando Rodney, who earned that moniker and others like it. But the hope for the Mariners is that ninth innings in 2016 will be less experience and more ease and formality following a season in which they blew 24 saves and turned the end of games into unpredictable adventures.
On Monday, the Mariners announced the signing of free-agent reliever Cishek to a two-year contract. General manager Jerry Dipoto cleared up any questions regarding Cishek’s expected role with his first comments during a media conference call.
“The intention is that he’s our closer,” Dipoto said. “He brings with him a great deal of experience — a couple of 30-save seasons in Miami. Obviously, he had a slow start to last season but a really fast finish. I’m really happy to have Steve on board. I do believe this is a very positive addition to the back of our bullpen.”
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Though the Mariners don’t release financial details of contracts, sources confirmed that Cishek will make $4 million in 2016 and $6 million in 2017. The contract also includes up to $7 million in incentives. To make room on the 40-man roster for Cishek, left-hander Rob Rasmussen was designated for assignment.
“I don’t think that this is a project of any sort,” Dipoto said. “Steve comes in fully healthy and ready to go. There’s no reason he shouldn’t revert back to what he’s always done before. If it wasn’t for the fact that he had early-season struggles last year, we wouldn’t be on the phone line because there’s a pretty good chance he’d still be on the Marlins.”
The Mariners were one of a few teams in baseball without a defined closer on their roster. They pushed that opportunity on Cishek.
“When my agent called and said there was a couple offers on the table, but one is really interesting — the Mariners are looking for a closer,” Cishek said. “Immediately, I was like, ‘All right, tell me more, tell me more, I want to hear about it.’ “
” … I like to be the guy that has all the pressure on him and the rest of the team relies upon you to finish the game out. I embraced that. I was hoping to get the opportunity again and soon. So when I heard they were interested in me closing again, I was all in.”
Cishek wasn’t holding out for a closing job, but it made the Mariners an easy choice.
“It was extremely important,” he said. “Going into free agency for the first time, I was just looking to pitch in the back end of the bullpen. I knew coming off a year where I struggled that teams might be hesitant. If it was the back end of the bullpen, that would be great. When Jerry offered the closing job, I was ready to jump all over it. That’s what I was hoping to do again.”
Cishek, 29, began the 2015 season as the Marlins’ closer — a role he had held the previous two years. Early struggles in the first two months forced him out of that role. In his first 19 outings of 2015 he posted a 1-5 record with four saves and a 6.58 ERA.
“I came into spring training, and my arm slot was quite a bit lower than it had been in the past,” he said. “As a result, I was losing velocity and my slider didn’t have as much bite. What was ironic was I had like the best spring training of my career. I was just throwing everything I wanted to. It was really bizarre.
“For whatever reason, I was obsessed with my velocity, and it’s hard for me in my mechanics to raise my arm, then drop it back down. Once the season started, I wasn’t happy where I was mechanically, and results weren’t showing. Maybe I overdid it trying to get back on track. I just had a hard time trying to figure it out.”
Cishek was sent to Class AAA to work on his mechanics in May. He was recalled and began to pitch well in a setup role. The Marlins traded him to the Cardinals at the trade deadline. Over his final 40 appearances of 2015, including his time in St. Louis, Cishek posted a 1.75 ERA in 36 inning as a setup man.
“Now that the season is over with, I realize that with a lot of relief pitchers — we don’t have the consistency of starters with our innings pitched — and we go through times like that throughout our career,” he said.
The Mariners believe Cishek will bounce back to his closing form of 2013-14 so they can use Joaquin Benoit as the setup man in the eighth inning. In 2013 and 2014 Cishek saved 73 games for the Marlins. He pitched 135 innings during that span, posting a 2.73 ERA with 158 strikeouts and 43 walks.
“I’m quite confident,” Dipoto said. “We are one year removed from Steve Cishek being one of the top closers in baseball. That wasn’t an accident. He did that in 2014. He did that in 2013. As we sit here, parts of six seasons into his career, his level of consistency has been remarkable.
“While it’s reasonable to say that 2015 was not up to Steve’s standards, by his own admission, we aren’t talking about a guy that struggled all year long. He found ways to contribute and seems to have done a nice of fixing himself. You don’t get very many opportunities to bring on a closer of Steve’s magnitude in this type of way.”
Rasmussen was one of three minor-league pitchers acquired from the Blue Jays at the trade deadline last season as part of the deal that sent reliever Mark Lowe to Toronto. He was 2-1 with a 10.67 ERA (14.1 innings, 17 earned runs) in 19 appearances.
Dipoto will continue to add pieces to the bullpen. But they likely will be players signed to minor-league contracts with invitations to big-league spring training.
“I would expect that we will make some type of addition,” he said. “But as we talked about the last week to 10 days, with Steve’s addition, that probably does it for the heavy lifting.”
Steve Cishek bio
Position: Relief pitcher.
Height, weight: 6-6, 215.
Born: June 18, 1986 in Falmouth, Mass.
Notable: Last name is pronounced “SEE-schek.” … Split last season with the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals and combined to go 2-6 with a 3.58 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 59 appearances. Over his final 40 relief appearances, he posted a 1.75 ERA with 31 strikeouts. … Posted consecutive 30-save seasons in 2013 (34) and 2014 (39), and his 73 saves over that two-year span ranked fourth in the National League and eighth in the majors.