- The Mariners could be active in their efforts to pick up some bullpen depth over the course of Spring Training, per Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. Divish notes that right-hander Anthony Swarzak, acquired to help balance out the financial component of the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz blockbuster, isn’t likely to be ready for Opening Day (due to shoulder discomfort). With that in mind, Seattle is likely to take to the waiver wire in an effort to bolster its depth, though it doesn’t sound as if the club is intent on spending significantly in order to bolster its ’pen at this point.
Feb. 20: Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times takes a broader look, reporting that the Mariners are in the market for a right-handed-hitting catcher to pair with the left-handed-hitting Narvaez. The organization’s preference, per Divish, is to add a catcher on a minor league contract or a split MLB deal. Maldonado, however, is still seeking a fully guaranteed big league deal. The fact that he’s having a difficult time coming by one, given his defensive prowess, frankly comes as a surprise; Maldonado’s bat last season was light, but then again, so was that of the league-average catcher (84 wRC+). At the very least, one would think that Maldonado is a clear upgrade over a significant portion of backup catchers throughout the league.
At this point, the free-agent market offers little in the way of alternatives outside of switch-hitting Matt Wieters (who, like Maldonado, is represented by Scott Boras). That said, there will quite likely be numerous catching options that hit the market over the course of Spring Training, both in the form of players being exposed to waivers and other veterans opting out of minor league contracts.
It’s been a quiet offseason for Maldonado, one of the game’s most highly regarded defenders behind the plate. While Maldonado doesn’t offer much help with the bat, he’s a former Gold Glove winner with a career 38 percent caught-stealing rate whose framing rates have never once rated as below-average at the Major League level, per Baseball Prospectus. Dating back to 2012, the only catchers in all of baseball with more Defensive Runs Saved than Maldonado’s 68 are Buster Posey (92) and Yadier Molina (83), though both have caught at least 2000 innings more than Maldonado.
Strong as his glovework might be, Maldonado is a career .220/.289/.350 hitter who has managed a lowly .223/.276/.360 (73 OPS+) line in 875 plate appearances across the past two seasons. Maldonado does have a bit of pop, as evidenced by the .137 ISO and 23 home runs he’s logged dating back to Opening Day 2017.
For the Mariners, Maldonado would provide a nice defensive-minded option to pair with offseason trade acquisition Omar Narvaez, who remains a shaky defender despite the fact that his bat took a step forward in 2018. Currently, journeyman David Freitas projects to be the primary backup to Narvaez, as he’s the only other catcher on the Mariners’ 40-man roster. Veteran Jose Lobaton is in camp with the Mariners on a minor league pact as well.
There’s been little in the way of reported interest in Maldonado since December, when the Mets and White Sox were both linked to him. New York, however, has has since added Wilson Ramos on a two-year contract, while the ChiSox picked up James McCann to pair with veteran Welington Castillo.
- The Mariners will open the season in Japan, which could be outfielder Ichiro Suzuki’s major league sendoff, but the 45-year-old has informed the team he has no plans to retire, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. As he has done in the past, Ichiro told media Saturday he wants to play until he’s “at least” 50, though he did declare that he expects the Mariners uniform to be the last one he wears as a professional baseball player (via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times). Unfortunately, in regards to playing another several years, odds are stacked against Ichiro. The future Hall of Famer posted dismal production in two of three seasons as a Marlin from 2015-17, after all, and then did the same over 47 plate appearances last season in his return to the Mariners. Seattle then moved him into a front office role in early May, ending his season, but brought him back on a minor league deal last month.
- Sticking with the Mariners’ outfield, Mallex Smith will sit out “at least” the first few weeks of camp because of a strained flexor mass in his right forearm, Greg Johns of MLB.com writes. The injury doesn’t appear serious, but with the Japan-bound Mariners set to begin their season earlier than most teams, any setback could jeopardize Smith’s status heading into their March 20 opener, Johns points out. Smith, who notched 40 stolen bases and 3.4 fWAR with the Rays in 2018, joined the Mariners in an offseason trade which also featured Mike Zunino as a principal piece.
Veteran right-hander Doug Fister has elected to call it a career after spending parts of 10 seasons in the Majors, agent Page Odle tells Jon Morosi of MLB.com. Fister, 35, received multiple Major League contract offers this winter, according to Odle, but is instead making a “100 percent family-driven” decision to spend time with his wife and two children.
A seventh-round pick of the Mariners back in 2006, Fister ascended to the Majors as a largely unheralded prospect with the Mariners in 2009. After establishing himself as a quality starter over his first 378 frames with the Mariners, Fister was flipped to the Tigers in a 2011 trade deadline deal, where he’d go on to thrive over another three seasons. Fister, in fact, was somewhat quietly one of the game’s better starters from 2011-14, pitching to a 3.11 ERA (129 ERA+) with 6.5 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and 0.7 HR/9.
A 2015 forearm strain led to diminished velocity and diminished results for Fister, though he managed to make 32 starts for the 2016 Astros and served as a stabilizing force in their rotation. Hip and knee injuries slowed Fister in his most recent run with the Rangers, with the latter of the two issues ultimately ending his season after 66 innings.
All in all, Fister will walk away from his baseball career with a lifetime 83-92 record, a 3.72 ERA, 6.1 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 1422 1/3 big league innings. The towering 6’8″ righty also amassed an impressive postseason resume, tallying 56 2/3 innings of 3.02 ERA ball with a 41-to-17 K/BB ratio in five separate postseasons runs (three with the Tigers, one with the Nats and one with the Red Sox). He made one World Series start, with the Tigers in ’12, where he tossed six innings of one-run ball against the Giants.
Fister earned more than $36MM in player salaries over the life of a career that both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs value at 20 wins above replacement. Best wishes to the former Tigers, Mariners, Nationals, Astros, Red Sox and Rangers righty in his life beyond baseball.
Veteran slugger Edwin Encarnacion is expected to open camp with the Mariners after trade talks surrounding him failed to gain traction, per Jon Morosi of MLB.com (Twitter link). Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto is expected to continue exploring potential deals over the course of Spring Training as needs arise throughout the league, he notes. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times wrote over the weekend that interest in Encarnacion had faded. Encarnacion, among the game’s steadiest sluggers, has one year remaining on his three-year, $60MM contract and is almost certainly limited to American League clubs at this point of his career. An injury to a contender’s DH this spring could create some additional interest in Encarnacion, but a trade at this juncture doesn’t seem all that likely.
- Outfield prospect Kyle Lewis was invited to the Mariners’ big league Spring Training camp, a positive development for Lewis after an injury-plagued start to his pro career, TJ Cotterill writes for Baseball America. The 11th overall pick of the 2016 draft, Lewis has already undergone two knee surgeries, limiting him to just 711 plate appearances and 165 games over two-plus seasons. These injuries and a not-unrelated relative lack of production (.258/.328/.430 slash line in the minors) have caused Lewis’ prospect stock to drop, though the 23-year-old is entering a season healthy for the first time. “He’s missed so much time, but we feel better today than we’ve ever felt with his work and his progress. Most of us who have been around Kyle, we really don’t have a lot of concern about the ability. It’s the health,” Mariners farm director Andy McKay said.
After the Mariners acquired designated hitter/first baseman Edwin Encarnacion from the Indians in a three-team trade in December, the retooling M’s informed the slugger they were planning on flipping him elsewhere for prospects, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports. While Enarnacion did generate interest from a few other teams after Seattle acquired him, he’s still a member of the Mariners nearly two months after the fact. The reason? Potential suitors for Encarnacion have faded, Divish relays, making it possible the 36-year-old will at least open the season with the Mariners.
The Rays, Astros and White Sox were reportedly “involved” in talks for Encarnacion in late December. Tampa Bay showed no interest in trading for Encarnacion, however, even if the Mariners ate half of the remaining $25MM guarantee left on his contract, according to Divish. Meanwhile, although the Mariners did shop Encarnacion to division-rival Houston, the Astros appear content with Tyler White and Yuli Gurriel as their top DH/first base options, Divish suggests. As for the White Sox, they don’t look like a clean fit for Encarnacion given the presences of lumbering sluggers Jose Abreu and Yonder Alonso.
With Encarnacion primarily being a DH at this juncture of his career, his market’s limited to the American League, where nobody is champing at the bit to acquire him, per Divish. The Mariners’ best hope of moving Encarnacion before the season may be if a contending team’s DH/first baseman suffers an injury during the spring, then, as Divish observes. Otherwise, it appears the M’s will be left to hope Encarnacion – a once-dominant offensive force who posted a 146 wRC+ and a major league-best 231 home runs from 2012-17 – can rebuild his stock in their uniform leading up to the July and August trade deadlines. Encarnacion did belt 32 homers in 579 PAs last year – his seventh straight campaign with at least 30 HRs – though his .246/.336/.474 line and 115 wRC+ fell flat in comparison to his tremendous output over prior seasons.
Like Encarnacion, right-hander Felix Hernandez is potentially a year from free agency and may be in his last several months as a Mariner. And the M’s have even less hope of finding a taker for the formerly marvelous Hernandez, owing to both his team-high salary ($27.5MM) and the hideous 5.13 ERA/5.12 FIP he registered over 242 1/3 innings from 2017-18. Despite King Felix’s recent struggles, however, “all indications” are that he plans to his career beyond the upcoming season, Divish writes. Regardless, Hernandez will try to return to at least serving as a viable starter this year after an awful showing in 2018, when the M’s briefly relegated the 2010 AL Cy Young winner to their bullpen. Going forward, though, general manager Jerry Dipoto emphasized that the Mariners are planning on using Hernandez solely as a starter.
An independent investigation “did not uncover any credible evidence” to support allegations by Dr. Lorena Martin that high-placed Mariners employees made racist comments and improperly fired certain Latino employees, as Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports.
Martin served as director of high performance for the Mariners until she was terminated last October. Thereafter, Martin publicly alleged that GM Jerry Dipoto, manager Scott Servais, and director of player development Andy McKay had used language labeling Latino players “lazy, dumb, and stupid” and had fired Dominican trainers “because of their color/race.” Major League Baseball launched an investigation into the allegations, hiring the law firm Epstein Becker Green to conduct it.
In light of the investigation’s findings, which were reached by the firm after it conducted seventeen interviews, it seems the commissioner’s office will not pursue any disciplinary action against the Mariners organization under the league’s workplace code of conduct. However, the conclusion of the league inquiry does not resolve the still-pending lawsuit that Martin brought against the organization regarding her termination.
For her part, Martin issued a statement casting doubt on the process. As she notes, the lead attorney on the matter, Jennifer Gefsky, has deep ties to Major League Baseball and commissioner Rob Manfred. Per Martin, Gefsky and her firm focused mostly on speaking with current Mariners employees and did not contact “corroborative witnesses” that she identified during her own interview. Additionally, referring to her prior allegations, Martin says that Gefsky “chose not to speak with any of the Dominican trainers who were fired who could attest to the discriminatory conduct.”
A pair of players has been outrighted after clearing waivers …
- The Mets will retain the rights to former first-round draft pick Gavin Cecchini, who was recently dropped from the 40-man roster and seemed a plausible candidate to be claimed. Evidently, no rival clubs were intrigued enough to create the roster space that would have been required. Cecchini is still just 25 years old and has at times hit well in the minors, but he has never developed much power and was limited by injuries last year.
- Also heading to Triple-A after losing his roster spot is Mariners righty Max Povse. The writing was on the wall after Povse scuffled through his two seasons with the Seattle organization, though the former third-rounder still has some impressive physical tools. The M’s will presumably be glad to hang on to the 6’8 hurler. If he throws well in camp or at the outset of the season, it’s still possible he could find his way back to the MLB mound in the season to come.
JAN. 27: Strickland will earn a $1.3MM salary this year and could end up making nearly $2.6MM via incentives based on appearances and games finished, Greg Johns of MLB.com reports.
JAN. 24: The Mariners have agreed on a one-year contract with righty reliever Hunter Strickland, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (via Twitter). Though only a one-year contract, Seattle still retains control over Strickland through the 2021 season, via Strickland’s two remaining arbitration-eligible seasons.
Strickland was something of a surprise addition to the free agent relief market when the Giants designated him for assignment in November, effectively releasing him prior to the non-tender deadline. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected Strickland for a modest $2.5MM salary in 2019, so combined with the team control through 2021, it raised some eyebrows when the Giants parted ways with the 30-year-old.
2018 was, however, the weakest of Strickland’s four full MLB seasons. He posted career-worst totals in ERA (3.97), homer rate (9.1%), grounder rate (38.1%), strikeout rate (7.35), and swinging strike rate, while allowing far more hard contact than in past years — Strickland’s 42.3% hard-hit ball rate dwarfed his 31.7% career rate. The real lowlight was a two-month DL stint due to a fractured hand, an injury suffered when Strickland punched a door in anger after a blown save.
The Giants may have simply felt that a change in scenery was necessary, so the Mariners now get the opportunity at a potential bargain if Strickland returns to his old form. Over 173 2/3 innings and 195 appearances from 2015-17, Strickland was a quality part of San Francisco’s bullpen, posting a 2.75 ERA, 2.84 K.BB rate, and 8.6 K/9. He could find himself in line for saves as part of the Mariners’ drastically overhauled bullpen, with Cory Gearrin and Anthony Swarzak also in the mix for closer duty.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.