Each day before pitchers and catchers report to their respective spring training sites, the number of unsigned free agents decreases by three to four players. It’s far from a signing spree, but it’s still more progress and movement than in the previous months.
The rate of announced deals is likely to increase in the days ahead, but there will still be a large group of experienced and productive players without a team when full-squad workouts begin Feb. 21.
Wednesday morning, second baseman Kolten Wong agreed to a two-year, $18 million deal with the Brewers, one-time Mariners reliever and former White Sox closer Alex Colome agreed to a one-year, $5 million contract with the Twins, and veteran reliever Joakim Soria reached an agreement with the Diamondbacks for one year at $3.5 million.
A glance at MLB Trade Rumors’ free agent tracker lists 131 unsigned free agents, though some retired players like Hisashi Iwakuma are on the tracker. FanGraphs’ free agent tracker listed 175 unsigned free agents while Jayson Stark of The Athletic reported that of the 240 players who filed for free agency after the 2020 season, 148 were unsigned as of Tuesday. The discrepancy comes from the inclusion of players returning from playing in Japan and South Korea and others who opted out of the 2020 season like Felix Hernandez, who is reportedly signing a minor-league deal with the Orioles.
Regardless of what list you choose from, the number of unsigned free agents this late into the offseason is atypical. The main source of blame for the sluggish market is the financial stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a shortened 2020 season without fans and a 2021 season when attendance is expected to be extremely limited in the first few months.
The Mariners have yet to take part in the action after signing right-handed starter Chris Flexen and right-handed reliever Keynan Middleton and trading for right-handed reliever Rafael Montero early in the offseason. General manager Jerry Dipoto reiterated his desire to add another starting pitcher, a reliever and a left-handed hitter who could play second base and left field (Wong would have fit that need) during his weekly radio show last Thursday.
There are plenty of players to fit those positional needs, but Dipoto is working with a limited payroll budget per MLB sources. And there are no coupons or BOGO offers in baseball free agency.
Here’s a look at the best remaining players to fit the Mariners needs:
Trevor Bauer, RHP — It seems pointless to put him on the list because the Mariners are unlikely to give him $30 million to $35 million a year for six or seven years with an opt out. Will any team? As the reigning National League Cy Young winner, he was the best available starting pitcher when free agency opened and hasn’t signed yet. Then again, Liam Hendriks, the new White Sox closer, is the only free agent pitcher to receive a contract of three years or more this offseason.
James Paxton, LHP — The Mariners know all about the Big Maple. They know about his talent. They’ve seen him at his best. They’ve watched him battle a myriad of minor injuries in his time with Seattle. The severity of his injuries grew in New York. But adding him on an incentive-laden, one-year deal with an option for 2022 might be worth the risk.
Jake Odorizzi, RHP — Injuries, including a line drive off his chest, limited him to just 13 2/3 innings last year. But from 2017 to 2019, he posted a 32-25 record with a 4.05 ERA in 90 starts. From 2014 to 2018, he started at least 28 games in each season with 30 or more starts in four seasons and tallied 13.3 Wins Above Replacement.
Taijuan Walker, RHP — He’s last on the list, but should be first in the Mariners’ priority to sign. When they traded Walker to the Blue Jays last season, Dipoto and manager Scott Servais talked openly about wanting to bring him back for 2021. So what changed? Walker’s asking price might have gone up some after showing he was back to 100% health. Still, the cash-strapped Royals gave 33-year-old lefty Mike Minor a two-year, $20 million contract. Seattle should be able to offer Walker a three-year deal at $30 million with an option for a fourth.
Trevor Rosenthal, RHP — He’s got the best potential and talent of the remaining free agents. Still, the concerns about his consistency are valid. He was awful in 2019 and had no idea where the ball was going. But in 2020, his second full year after Tommy John surgery, he was solid, posting a 1.90 ERA in 23 2/3 innings with a fastball that touched triple digits consistently.
Jake McGee, LHP — After flaming out with the Rockies and failing to live up to a $30-plus million contract, McGee found success in the Dodgers bullpen, posting a 3-1 record and 2.66 ERA in 20 1/3 innings. He walked just three batters while striking out 33.
Keone Kela, RHP — He has Northwest roots having played high school baseball at Chief Sealth and one season at Everett Community College. He has talent and past success at the MLB level. But there were some disciplinary issues while with the Pirates and also some forearm issues at the end of last season.
Shane Greene, RHP — His strikeout rate dropped and his walk rate increased last season, but he’s saved a combined 55 games between 2018-2019. He can also pitch as a set-up man as well.
Left-handed hitting utility player
Marwin Gonzalez — He’s actually a switch-hitter and one of the best utility players in baseball. He tormented the Mariners for seasons. But he’s now 32 and starting to decline a little in production. Could the Mariners sign him and then move him at midseason when Jarred Kelenic is the full-time left fielder?
Brad Miller — The former Mariner isn’t really good defensively as left fielder or second baseman or any position, but he’s shown he can hit at the MLB level. He was an effective bench player for the Cardinals last season. But would he prefer to remain in the National League?
Brock Holt — A veteran utility player who understands his role, Holt was abysmal at the plate last season. But from 2017 to 2019, he hit .269 with a .354 on-base percentage.