Mired in a 12-year playoff drought, the Seattle Mariners opened their checkbook this offseason, committing $39.8 million of 2014 salary to free agents Robinson Cano ($24 million), Fernando Rodney ($7 million), Corey Hart ($6 million), and Willie Bloomquist ($2.8 million). The Mariners find themselves in the thick of the American League playoff picture on the strength of ace Felix Hernandez, lefty Hisashi Iwakuma, and a surprising run of effectiveness from Cuban lefty Roenis Elias.
Beyond that trio, Seattle's other 35 starts have gone to James Paxton, Chris Young, Brandon Maurer, Blake Beavan, and Erasmo Ramirez. That quintet has rewarded the front office with -0.3 WAR with only Paxton showing promising results prior to an early April lat injury that figures to keep him out until the All-Star Break.
Even with Paxton in the fold, the Mariners have a massive need for quality starting pitching.
Thankfully for Seattle fans, mega-prospect Taijuan Walker appears ready to return to the big club after a dominant outing in his latest rehab appearance. However, even with Walker, the back of the rotation is shaky with the unproven Elias complemented by two recently injured prospects in Walker and Paxton.
Given Seattle's "all in" approach as evidenced by their offseason splurge, they appear likely to seek external improvements to their roster at the trade deadline.
Because he figures so prominently in their immediate plans, I am assuming that Walker is off limits. Were he to come available in trade talks, Jeff Samardzija could be in play for Seattle whereas Jason Hammel appears to be a much more likely option if Walker is off limits.
Beyond Walker, top Mariners prospect and nominal third baseman D.J. Peterson is an awful fit for the Cubs given that he is a bat-only player who is extremely likely to end up at first base or as a designated hitter. Peterson has a solid offensive profile, but he would be homeless in the Cubs organization.
If Seattle feels comfortable with Elias's success and Walker's health, the aforementioned James Paxton could find his way into a trade. The 6-4, 220-pound 25-year-old lefty made two excellent starts in 2014 before hitting the disabled list and his 2013 cup of coffee also showed promise. He features a blazing fastball that averages over 94 miles per hour, but neither his curveball or cutter projects as anything better than an average offering. If both pitches make it and he refines his command, Paxton looks like a strong third starter. At 25, such projection seems ambitious.
After Walker, Peterson, and Paxton, we move to the strength of the Seattle system: projectable young arms. Massive 19-year-old right-hander Victor Sanchez skipped the High-A level, and while he is struggling some in the Southern League, he is holding his own. Between 2013 and 2014, Sanchez has issued just 32 walks in 168 innings pitched, a rate of 1.71 BB/9. At 6-0, 255-pounds, his body must be monitored carefully. If the body matures in a positive manner, his plus low-90s fastball as well as his solid curveball and changeup should play up thanks to his simple, clean delivery.
Although older than Sanchez, 20-year-old righty Edwin Diaz has much more development ahead of him. The 2012 third-round-pick stands 6-2 while weighing just 178 pounds. Diaz drops his arm a bit with his delivery, but like Sanchez, the mechanics are smooth and repeatable. His low-90s tailing fastball is his bread-and-butter while his low-80s slurve has a chance to be a plus offering. His changeup isn't close at this point, but with a few years separating him from the top level, he has time to refine the pitch. I'm not sure that Diaz has room to add the 15 or so pounds needed to stick in a rotation, but he still looks slender so additional size shouldn't inhibit his delivery.
Likely my favorite prospect in the Seattle system despite his immense risk is Brazilian lefty Luiz Gohara. Gohara turns 18 on deadline day, yet the lefty measures in at 6-3, 210-pounds. His delivery could use some ironing out that will likely come as he matures physically, but until then, his body merits caution much like Sanchez's. It seems almost silly to talk about Gohara's secondary stuff at this stage; he works with a changeup and a curveball but he is still at a developmental stage where he is trying additional pitches. Regardless of the progress of the secondary offerings, a low-to-mid-90s fastball from a 17-year-old southpaw requires our attention, particularly one with a professional resume that includes lots of strikeouts and groundouts.
The last full profile goes to catcher Tyler Marlette. A 2011 fifth-round-pick, Marlette uses his 5-11, 195-pound frame to produce a well-rounded offensive attack including strong batting average, average strikeouts, acceptable walks, and emerging power. He is regarded as a high-character player with a strong arm, although the rest of the catching profile needs development time. Marlette appears to have employed his power more regularly in 2014, improving his projection. He has filled out his frame with no speed to offer, but the bat/arm combination could still get him to the Majors.
Now for the quick hits:
Jesus Montero: The former prized Yankee catcher has floundered completely in Seattle with maturation concerns and no production. Yet he was nonetheless one of baseball's marquee assets just a few years ago. He is a defensive nightmare whose bat has disappeared.
Danny Hultzen: The big lefty and second overall pick in the 2011 draft has missed basically all of 2013 and 2014 due to shoulder injuries, including a torn labrum and rotator cuff. When healthy, Hultzen worked with four pitches, all of which flashed plus, but his command was a major concern even before the missed time.
Gabby Guerrero: The 20-year-old outfielder evokes thoughts of Junior Lake, a 6-3, 190-pound athlete with massive power and no pitch recognition whatsoever. Guerrero feels like he could break out on a moment's notice even though the far more likely outcome is for him to quietly disappear from affiliated baseball. It's hard not to love light-tower power and a huge arm. After walking just 21 times in 2013, he has already drawn 22 free passes in 51 fewer games in 2014. As for the strikeouts...
Jabari Blash: In addition to his incredible name, Blash has incredible power...and incredible contact issues. He has never struck out in fewer than 20 percent of his plate appearances at any level, and he is above 30% at Triple-A so far. But the power. The 6-5, 224-pound outfielder posted a .282 ISO at Double-A and has followed with a .271 ISO at Triple-A. Unfortunately, his batting average didn't make the trip to Tacoma and a .210 average figures to sabotage the power. Perhaps he can carve out a niche as a short-side platoon outfielder and bench bat. Blash was recently suspended 50 games for testing positive for a drug of abuse, so his value has certainly taken a hit.
Proposal #1: Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija to Seattle for starting pitcher James Paxton, starting pitcher Luiz Gohara, starting pitcher Victor Sanchez, and starting pitcher Edwin Diaz
Proposal #2: Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija to Seattle for starting pitcher Victor Sanchez, starting pitcher Luiz Gohara, outfielder Gabby Guerrero, outfielder Jabari Blash, and starting pitcher Danny Hultzen
Proposal #3: Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jason Hammel to Seattle for starting pitcher Luiz Gohara and starting pitcher Edwin Diaz
Proposal #4: Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jason Hammel to Seattle for starting pitcher James Paxton and outfielder Gabby Guerrero
Proposal #5 (bonus): Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jason Hammel and first baseman Dan Vogelbach to Seattle for starting pitcher James Paxton, starting pitcher Luiz Gohara, and starting pitcher Danny Hultzen
I know I said I was sticking to deals in which the Cubs gave up only one pitcher, but I couldn't resist: the Mariners desperately need projectable bats and their rotation is full of strong, controllable arms. Vogelbach just makes too much sense in Seattle, and the Mariners have the kind of projectable arms the Cubs want in return for the young hitter.
What do you think? Is there possibly a team where Hammel makes more sense than Seattle? And do these deals leave you feeling satisfied?