Since being hired as the Mariners’ general manager in late September of 2015, Jerry Dipoto has been highly transparent about his intentions when it comes to the organization, his decision-making process, the needs of the big-league roster and his intentions when addressing those needs.
Past general managers such as Jack Zduriencik and Bill Bavasi were secretive and paranoid when it came to offseason plans, positions of need and how they might fill them.
Sources indicate Dipoto would rather come out and say it on the record, explain his thinking instead of local and national writers barraging him with texts or relying upon second-hand information from organizational or outside sources. Besides, it’s not as if the needs aren’t readily apparent based on the season before and the expected roster attrition following it.
In his annual end-of-the season news conference — the first by video conference — Dipoto not only wrapped up a 2020 season that he felt was successful and exceeded expectations in 60 games, but he also addressed the offseason plans to supplement a roster that he said he feels should compete for a postseason spot in 2021, particularly if MLB continues to use an expanded playoff format.
“We’ll go into this offseason, and I’ve shared it publicly (in his podcast and weekly radio show), with the idea that we have every intention of augmenting our club, most likely in the free-agent market and most likely with the bullpen as our primary focus,” he said.
Focusing on relievers in free agency isn’t exactly sexy when it comes to the hot-stove gossip. But few people can argue it isn’t needed.
Per FanGraphs, the Mariners’ 2020 bullpen combined for -1.5 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which was the worst in the American League with only the Red Sox (-0.6) producing a negative war. It also had the highest ERA (5.92), expected fielding independent pitching (5.69), which is like ERA but removes the fielding component, walk percentage (14.2), home runs per nine innings (1.69), total hit by pitches (23), second highest batting average (.258) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.837) allowed with the lowest strikeout percentage (20.2) and strikeout to walk percentage (7.8)
Help is needed in that bullpen.
The Mariners’ most effective right-handed reliever at the end of the season was Kendall Graveman, who converted from starting due to the pain caused from a benign tumor in his neck. The Mariners have a $3.5 million club option on Graveman for 2021.
“The biggest thing we didn’t get to see is resiliency, but we love Gravy,” Dipoto said. “His makeup is awesome. He’s a clubhouse leader. While his fastball trended up in the bullpen, it was already trending up as a starter and it just couldn’t sustain it through the length of a start, but in one- and two-inning outings, he was pretty consistently 96-98 mph and touching 99 mph. Part of it is, we don’t know how resilient he can be and if the long season of pitching three and four times a week whether it we’ll wear him down. Nobody works harder than Gravy and nobody’s going to be any more prepared. We just don’t know how you know his bounce-back is going to hold as a reliever.”
The Mariners’ best overall reliever was probably left-hander Anthony Misiewicz, a former minor-league starter who saw his stuff tick up in shorter stints.
Rule 5 draft choice Yohan Ramirez showed enough ability to harness his explosive fastball and slider to give the Mariners hope.
“Both of them I think put themselves in good position for 2021 and moving forward,” Dipoto said. “And with Anthony Misiewicz, I’m not sure that he could have done any more to cement a role on the ’21 club than he did. I thought from start to finish, his stuff, his command and the consistency in his performance was beyond his years, which coming into the year was zero.”
As in most years, there is expected to be myriad free-agent relievers available.
Most will be over age 30 and none should command a contract of more than two years with an option.
“I’d like to add three or four guys down there that can stabilize that group and give us some certainty as we move toward the end of the game,” Dipoto said. “There will be guys that have enough experience that we feel like they can help us moving forward and I don’t know that they’re going to be marquee names, that’s really not generally how bullpens work.”
The top five free agent relievers:
- Liam Hendriks, RHP — Oakland’s closer posted a 1.74 ERA and 14 saves this season. He had a 1.80 ERA and 25 saves last season.
- Blake Treinen, RHP — He was the A’s closer before Hendriks. In 2018, he had a 0.78 ERA and 38 saves. He struggled last season, but has bounced back for the Dodgers this season in a setup role.
- Alex Colome, RHP — Remember him? The Mariners acquired him from the Rays to serve as a setup man for Edwin Diaz in 2018 and traded him to the White Sox in 2019 for Omar Narvaez. Colome has 12 saves and a 0.81 ERA this season after saving 30 games for Chicago last season.
- Shane Greene, RHP — The former Tigers’ closer has served as a setup man for the Braves this season, but he had 65 saves with Detroit.
- Zach Britton, LHP — the former Orioles closer and current Yankees setup man has late-inning experience and his power sinker has helped him to a 1.89 ERA this season.
Five other names to consider:
- Jeremy Jeffress, RHP
- Trevor May, RHP
- Brad Hand, LHP
- Sergio Romo, RHP
- David Phelps, RHP
Of course, signing free-agent relievers is far from a guaranteed process. No role in baseball has been more unpredictable over the years. Just ask the Rockies, who spent more than $100 million going into the 2018 season on relievers Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee. Shaw and McGee were designated for assignment and released before this season, each with one year left on their contracts.
The Mariners had been vying with the Rockies for Shaw’s services during that offseason and used that money to sign Juan Nicasio to a forgettable two-year, $17 million contract. Nicasio had an awful, injury-filled 2019 season before being traded to the Phillies.
“We’re just going to do the best that we can with what the market has and be creative and how we looked at it,” Dipoto said.
The free-agent class for starters this offseason isn’t strong. It’s headlined by right-hander Trevor Bauer, the expected National League Cy Young Award winner. Sources have indicated that the Mariners had interest in signing Bauer, who lives in Maple Valley in the offseason, but his value has increased significantly this season. Bauer has often said he doesn’t want to commit to a long-term deal, but that might change with the potential payday looming.
The Mariners should look at a starting pitcher to supplement their expected six-man rotation. Beyond Marco Gonzales, there is still a fair amount of uncertainty.
They’ve said all along they’ll look at bringing Taijuan Walker, who was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, back to Seattle after a successful one-month return this season.
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi is only 31, while lefties Jose Quintana and Mike Minor also could be options.
If it sounds like the Mariners aren’t spending money as they should for a team that will have a lower payroll, sources indicate it’s a function of a weak free-agent class. And that in 2021, a free-agent class that could feature the shortstop quintet of Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story and Javy Baez, and outfielders Michael Conforto, Starling Marte and Kyle Schwarber, they will be highly motivated to spend.