Seattle adds a pair of veteran relievers for two distinct roles in its bullpen.
The Mariners officially added two new relievers to their 40-man roster on Saturday night just days before the Major League Baseball winter meetings begin on Monday at The Gaylord Resort in National Harbor, Maryland.
The club announced the free agent signings of Marc Rzepczynski and Casey Fien. To make room for both on the 40-man roster, a pair of pitchers — lefty Dean Kiekhefer and right-hander Zach Lee — were designated for assignment.
The two signings are different in their purpose. Rzepczynski will be inserted into the Seattle bullpen as the late-inning left-handed specialist while Fien provides versatile organizational depth for the bullpen and another veteran right-handed arm with set-up man Steve Cishek unlikely to be ready at the start of spring training and possibly the regular season.
News that the Mariners had reached an agreement with Rzepczynski broke a few days earlier, but he had to pass a physical before it was finalized. It’s officially a two-year contract for $11 million.
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General manager Jerry Dipoto addressed a glaring need and something that was missing in the bullpen last season with the signing — a left-handed late-inning presence to face tough left-handed hitters.
“We feel like Marc is a perfect compliment to Steve Cishek and Nick Vincent,” Dipoto said. “Those guys are excellent against right-handers and Marc is generally excellent against left-handed hitters. It gives us a potentially dynamic combination when we get into later innings and being able to match up.”
Rzepczynski, 31, pitched for the A’s and Nationals last season, making 70 combined appearances and posting a 1-0 record with a 2.64 ERA and 46 strikeouts and 29 walks in 47 1/3 innings pitched. Since 2011, Rzepczynski has made 394 relief appearances, which is the fourth-most among left-handed pitchers during the span. That includes at least 70 appearances in five of his last six seasons.
For his career, he has limited left-handed hitters to a .222 batting average (147-for-661) with a .291 on-base percentage and .298 slugging percentage. He has a 3.81 strikeout to walk ratio against lefties and has given up just eight homers in 738 plate appearances. Last season, lefties hit .265 against Rzepczynski (27-for-102) but he did strikeout 31 left-handed batters in 113 plate appearances with six walks.
Fien, 33, signed a one-year deal. He pitched for both the Twins and Dodgers last season, making 39 combined relief appearances. He posted a 1-1 record with a 5.49 ERA. Fien has made big league appearances over parts of the last seven seasons. He isn’t overpowering, but is a strike thrower with a 4.8 percent walk percentage over 277 innings pitched.
SBNation’s Chris Cotillo reports Fien’s deal is worth $1.1 million with up to $300,000 in performance bonuses.
The Mariners claimed Kiekhefer off waivers earlier in the offseason from the Cardinals. He made his big league debut this season and appeared in 26 games for St. Louis on multiple call-ups. He posted a 5.23 ERA.
Seattle acquired Lee from the Dodgers in a trade for shortstop Chris Taylor. He struggled with Class AAA Tacoma, posting an 0-9 record with a 7.39 ERA in 14 starts. Before the trade, he was 7-5 with a 4.89 ERA in 13 starts for Class AAA Oklahoma City.
There is a strong chance that Kiekhefer and Lee will clear waivers and be outrighted to Class AAA Tacoma and remain in the organization.