The Mariners sent four minor-leaguers to the Marlins in the deal, according to a source: outfielder Brayan Hernandez and pitchers Pablo Lopez, Brandon Miller and Lukas Schiraldi.
With one of the bigger homestands of the season — 10 games in 11 days vs. the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets — starting Thursday night and in the midst of the American League wild-card race, the Mariners have added an impact pitcher to the bullpen in an effort to push for their first postseason appearance since 2001.
On Thursday general manager Jerry Dipoto acquired right-handed reliever David Phelps from the Miami Marlins for a package of four minor-league players. The key piece of the quartet headed to Miami is outfielder Brayan Hernandez, who was rated as the No. 6 prospect in the Mariners system by MLB Pipeline. Phelps is under club control through next season before becoming a free agent.
Phelps, 30, was 2-4 with a 3.45 ERA in 44 appearances with the Marlins this season. Over his past 36 games dating to April 23, Phelps has posted a 2.19 ERA (nine earned runs, 37 innings) and a .195 batting average against with 39 strikeouts and 19 walks.
“David was a target player for us headed into the deadline period,” Dipoto said in a statement. “The quality of his work, particularly over the past two years in the bullpen, in addition to his versatility, including his background as starter, made him very attractive to us. He fits our roster very well and is controllable through the 2018 season.”
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Phelps is a former starter who produced average results with the Yankees and Marlins in that role. When he was converted to a reliever, there was an uptick in his fastball velocity, from 91-92 mph to 94-95 mph, and improved results. He was solid last season serving as a starter and reliever. He posted a 7-6 record with a 2.28 ERA, four saves and 25 holds. He held hitters to a .197 average and struck out 11.8 batters per nine innings.
Because of his starting background, Phelps is capable of throwing multiple innings. The Mariners will look to use Phelps in a middle-relief role as a bridge in the sixth and seventh innings to get to setup men Nick Vincent, Tony Zych and Marc Rzepczynski. And on occasions where a starter is in trouble in the fifth inning of a close game, Phelps could step in and pitch more than one inning. It’s a role made popular by Houston’s Chris Devenski and something the Mariners tried last season with Nathan Karns and this season with Max Povse, yielding less than stellar results.
Besides Hernandez, the Mariners are giving up three right-handed pitchers — Lukas Schiraldi, Pablo Lopez and Brandon Miller.
The loss of Hernandez isn’t quite as dire considering the emergence of Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia at the big-league level, the looming presence of Kyle Lewis and Tyler O’Neill and the improvements of Braden Bishop, Ian Miller and Chuck Taylor. Even this year’s top draft pick — Evan White — has the potential to play outfield because of his athleticism. Once a weakness under previous general manager Jack Zduriencik, outfield has grown into a position of depth.
Hernandez turns 20 on Sept. 11 and has spent the majority of the season with Short-A Everett. In 28 games with the AquaSox, Hernandez hit .252 (26 for 103) with two doubles, four triples, two home runs, 15 RBI and four stolen bases.
Opposing scouts provided mixed reviews on Hernandez and his true potential.
“I put an organizational player grade on him,” an AL scout said. “It’s average to 55 tools across the board without a lot of feel or instincts. He’s not terrible, he’s just not very good.”
The three pitches are fringe-level prospects with low ceilings.
“They are just guys,” a scout said.
Lopez, 21, was 5-8 with a 5.04 ERA in 18 starts and one relief appearance with High-A Modesto this season. He was signed as an international free agent on July 4, 2012. In five seasons in the organization, he’s posted a 21-11 record with a 3.37 ERA in 60 appearances (46 starts). He missed the 2014 season because of Tommy John surgery.
Miller, 22, projects as the best of the three pitchers. He was 9-4 with a 3.65 ERA in 18 starts with Low-A Clinton this season. In 101 innings, he struck out 94 and walked 23. A sixth-round draft pick in 2016 out of Millersville University in Pennsylvania, Miller was named a Midwest League All-Star.
Schiraldi, who turns 25 on July 25, made 28 relief appearances with Modesto this season. He was 2-1 with a 4.58 ERA and three saves in seven save opportunities. He was a strikeout machine, punching out 63 batters in 371/3 innings. He was a 15th-round pick in the 2014 draft out of the University of Texas. He started his pro career as a starter but was converted to a reliever this season.