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Britt’s Seattle Mariners 2020 Offseason Plan: Time to Spend Some Fuckin’ Money

Seattle Mariners 2020 offseason plan: Time to spend some fuckin’ money

Playoff baseball is currently happening, but as Mariners fans, these times are not for us. As the Reds and Braves game plays in the background, without me paying any attention to the score, it makes me sad that baseball that I’m interested in watching is over for the year. Sure, I’ll probably take a glance at the World Series, or tune into a few innings of the LCS if either of them reach game seven. But baseball is a regional game, one that doesn’t draw me to watch regardless of which two teams are playing. In baseball, I need a team I care about to be playing.

Unfortunately, I care about the Seattle Mariners. So, instead of watching tense, exciting postseason baseball with good players and good teams, I’m going to tell you what the Mariners need to do this offseason to try to earn their way back into the playoffs. What are my qualifications? Well, for one, my 28-32 prediction was just one game off of the Mariners’ 27-33 record this season. That do anything for you? How about the fact that I read a lot of baseball websites, and like analytics a lot? Maybe the fact that I talk about this sport in a small group chat and also one-on-one with a handful of other friends? Boom, motherfuckers, I’m qualified.

So now that it’s been established that I know what I’m talking about, it’s time for Jerry Dipoto and Mariners ownership to listen up and do exactly as I say if they want to live make it to the playoffs by 2022. Many teams are run by slimy and sleazy business jerks that will probably try to use the pandemic as a reason to further reduce offseason spending than they already have been, despite these franchises being valued in the billions of dollars.

The Mariners will likely be one of these teams, so much of this will likely ultimately end up being wish casting. I mean, the Mariners could easily afford to open the wallet and the top free agent for the next five offseasons and their ownership would still be rich as fuck, but they’d instead rather lay off a bunch of scouts making pennies just so Kevin Mather and John Stanton don’t have to make any fewer pennies themselves. It sucks, they suck, they’re giant assholes, et cetera. So after detailing what I would do, I’ll be sure to write a shorter, less-interesting plan of what I expect the Mariners to actually do. It won’t be as fun, I promise you that! “They” actually spend more on 2021 than I would, but on one-year deals that allow them to be cheaper long-term.

Now that I’ve wasted four paragraphs of your time burying the lede, it’s time to get into the super sweet, super sexy offseason moves, baby. Remember, first we’re doing what I would do and what the Mariners should do. Their much stinkier and worse actual moves will be predicted second.

Sign C J.T. Realmuto to a five-year, $125 million contract.

How do you get the best catcher in the league, still in the midst of his athletic prime, who has spent his last two seasons on a playoff contender that has fallen short, to come sign with a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in two decades? You give him a whole fuckin’ lot of money. Like, considerably more than any other team will want to give to a catcher who will turn 30 before opening day 2021.

Yasmani Grandal’s four-year, $73 million deal, given to him just before his age-31 season last offseason, is good for framing just how much more I think the Mariners need to spend than a team that’s already good to get Realmuto. Both catchers are regarded as great pitch-framers, with Realmuto perhaps getting a slight edge there. Grandal, on the flipside, is a slightly better hitter (.343 career wOBA to Realmuto’s .333), and is a switch hitter, while Realmuto is just a righty. Still, both players have been roughly 4-5 WAR players over their last three seasons, so you could say they’re pretty close to equally valuable. It’s just going to take the “Seattle Mariners tax” to get Realmuto to choose to come here, which I’m going to say for him is about $7 million per season, and one additional year.

I’d expect Realmuto to continue to be somewhere near a great player through his age-32 season, so you’ll probably be dealing with decline in the last two years of the deal. The Mariners’ window for trying to win with him as a foundational piece of the team, then, is probably 2021-23. If he’s bad in 2024-25, theoretically the rest of the team will have grown up around him, and you can get by with average or below-average production from him. And hey, maybe he ages well, too. Considering the Mariners only have $71 million committed to their 40-man roster for 2021, and just $15.5m, $13.3m, $19m, and $8m committed from 2022-25, his contract won’t hurt much on the back end even if he does decline more quickly than they would like. (Hat tip to Goose for 40-man salary figures).

For those shouting that he’d be blocking Cal Raleigh…well, yeah, he would be. But we know that Realmuto is arguably the best catcher in the league right now, while we’re simply hoping that Raleigh will be any good. I’m a fan of Raleigh as a prospect, but he’s still a risk. It’s very rare that one of the very best catchers in baseball makes it to free agency before their 30th birthday, so this is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often. You’ve got loads of payroll flexibility, and your catching situation is full of interesting maybes, with average starter/a couple all-star appearances as the absolute upside. Go get a guy that you know can do it at the MLB level, and is young enough to keep doing it until you think you’re going to be good.

Sign SP James Paxton to a two-year, $12 million contract.

I’m assuming that Paxton is going to be on the shelf for all of 2021, even though he’s been throwing off of flat ground attempting to get himself ready to come back later in the postseason for the Yankees. Forearm stuff in the pitching arm so often leads to Tommy John, that I’m just guessing that this is how it’s going to work out. Much like the Cubs signing Drew Smyly to a two-year deal when he was injured with the anticipation of getting him back for the second season of the deal, a $12 million commitment to Paxton could look like a bargain if he comes back and gives you 100 or more innings of anything close to his peak performance in 2022. I’d backload the deal so that the M’s are only paying $4 million in 2021, leaving Paxton due $8 million in 2022. For a team with as little money committed as they have, this is a solid roll of the dice, albeit one that likely won’t help you in 2021. Bring Big Maple home. At worst, you’re out $12 million, which is a drop in the bucket by modern MLB payroll standards.

Sign SP Marcus Stroman to a 3-year, $75 million contract.

My initial target for this spot was Masahiro Tanaka, but the more I looked at both of them, the more I felt Stroman was a better fit. Stroman didn’t pitch in the 2020 season, opting out just before opening day due to a calf injury. When healthy, though, Stroman fits the Mariners’ roster very well—he’s an extreme groundball pitcher, that limits walks fairly well, keeps the ball in the ballpark, and won’t be 30 until next May. His decision to opt-out seemed to have more to do with COVID considerations than his  calf, so even though he’s had some injury history, I wouldn’t be too worried about the fact that he didn’t pitch in 2020. Tanaka has also had some injury issues over the years, so there’s some risk in that regard no matter which of the two you decide to roll with.

While I’d happily take either, it seems like the Mariners’ roster is more set to take advantage of Stroman’s skillset than Tanaka’s. Kyle Seager is still a very good third baseman, and both Evan White & J.P. Crawford are elite defenders at their position. Whoever plays second base will probably be somewhere between below-average and average, but with three of four infielders being great, that should give an extreme ground ball pitcher like Stroman a good chance to outpitch his FIP—which already sits at a solid 3.64 for his career. T-Mobile Park should help keep his home run numbers down, too.

I’d assume if he had pitched in 2020, he might be getting offers like this from multiple teams, but some teams will be wary of his injury history, and decision to sit out the 2020 season. He probably won’t want to sign an extremely long-term deal so he has one more bite at the free agency apple if he’s coming off a solid few seasons, but now’s the time if he wants to get some guaranteed cash.

I’d assume the market will probably give him offers in the 2/$50 or 3/$60m range, so the “Mariners tax” for Stroman is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of an extra $5m per year and the longer deal. Not all of the Mariners’ hot pitching prospects will pan out, so getting some solid top/middle rotation arms that you can count on will be imperative if the M’s expect to compete in 2022. Stroman is that kind of reliable arm who has shown he can do it at the MLB level.

Sign SP Taijuan Walker to a 2-year, $38 million contract.

Walker’s surface numbers between Toronto and Seattle looked really good this year: A 2.70 ERA, 50 strikeouts in 53.1 innings, and he made all 11 of his scheduled starts. A deeper dive, though, reveals a good-not-great season. Walker averaged just under five innings per start, and failed to go more than four innings in five of his 11 outings. His 4.56 FIP is decent enough for a back-end starter, and his 4.14 mark after the trade to Toronto looks more like number three starter performance.

Still, the best thing Walker did for himself this year was simply stay healthy. He’ll probably be frustrated by a lack of offers after a season in which he posted an ERA under 3.00, but teams are smarter now and will see that he was closer to a decent starter than a great one. Signing a two-year deal allows him to go back into free agency before his age 30 season and try to get that massive payday, while betting on him for two years gives the Mariners one more established arm in their rotation in 2022, the first year they’ll probably have a reasonable expectation of being good.

$19 million per year is about right for a 2.0 WAR player, which is about what Walker was on pace for if this had been a normal season. Given Walker’s familiarity and seemingly good relationship with this organization, I don’t really feel like the “Mariners tax” applies here. A rare player that doesn’t need extra incentive to come to Seattle! I’m assuming the Mariners will go with six starters,  so that’s why you’ve got room for him, even if you’re also signing Stroman.

Decline Dee Strange-Gordon’s $14 million mutual option.

No-brainer here. Saves $14m in payroll room, Dee can try to go sign with another team as a utility guy or a starter for a bad team. He’s a good guy, but he’s not a fit here.

Sign some bullpen guys to one-year deals. Don’t go over $10m in total commitments.

So those are the moves. Outside of the one or two superstar relievers in the game at any given time, I’m not too interested in giving any bullpen guys guarantees for a season you’re not expecting to compete in. Expect a few live-arm guys that can be flipped for prospects at the deadline if they’re performing.

Now! Let’s take a look at what the roster looks like now that we’ve got the players. WAR projections are just my own educated guesses. I try to be conservative with them, but I find they still generally come out more optimistic most projection systems, so keep that in mind. They’re just my dumbass guesses. Same thing with arbitration figures! Ok, let’s go!

PositionPlayerProjected WARSalary
CJ.T. Realmuto4.0$25m
1BEvan White1.0$1.3m
2BDylan Moore2.0$564K
3BKyle Seager3.0$18.5m
SSJ.P. Crawford2.5$4m (arb)
LFJarred Kelenic2.0$564K
CFKyle Lewis4.0$564K
RFMitch Haniger2.0$5m (arb)
DHTy France2.0$564K
CLuis Torrens0.5$564K
CTom Murphy0.5$1.5m (arb)
UTILTim Lopes0.5$564K
1B/OFJose Marmolejos0.5$564K
OFJake Fraley0.0$564K
UTILShed Long0.0$564K
SPMarco Gonzales4.0$5.5m
SPMarcus Stroman3.0$25m
SPJustus Sheffield3.0$564K
SPTaijuan Walker2.0$19m
SPYusei Kikuchi2.5$16.5m
SPLogan Gilbert1.0$564K
SPJustin Dunn-0.5$564K
SPJames Paxton0.0 (assumed injured)$4m
SPNick Margevicius0.5$564K
RPThe pile0.0$10m (collectively)
TOTAL 40.0$132.64m

So basically, the Mariners add a whopping $83 million in payroll in free agency, and a few million more in arbitration raises. This gives them a pretty middle-of-the pack payroll, with enough flexibility to go very hard after one of the MVP-caliber shortstops (Seager, Lindor, Correa, Story) after the 2021 offseason. They might even have enough money left over to chase Syndergaard! Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, and Brandon Belt will also be free agents after 2021, so if White fails to develop, they’ll still have the payroll flexibility necessary to spend big money to fix that spot.

I’m a Dylan Moore believer, but if I’m wrong, you can give plate appearances to Shed Long, Ty France, and Donovan Walton there. Jarred Kelenic won’t be up with the big club to start the season for service time manipulation issues, so Moore might get some run in the outfield (where defensive metrics love him!) early in the season, giving France and Long more of an opportunity to show they have the glove for second.

A standard replacement-level team wins about 48 games, so if my WAR projections are spot-on, as I’m sure they totally will be, then you’re looking at about an 88-win roster in 2021, a total that should keep them contending for a wild card berth late into the season. Obviously, some of the young players have the talent to be greater than my projections, and many of them will turn out to be shit and be negative WAR contributors. But I think it’s not unreasonable to look at this roster and see a mid-to-high 80s win total.

The real fun with this roster is how well it’s set up to truly become something great in 2022. Kelenic and Gilbert will have most of a season of experience under their belts, and should be poised to take the next step in their development, to the point where they could be truly above-average players for a contending team. James Paxton might give you 15-20 starts of good-to-great production before he suffers some sort of nagging injury.

J.P. Crawford will become a nifty trade chip to use to help fill the positions that become apparent black holes in the 2021 season, so long as you commit to breaking the bank for one of the superstar shortstops. Julio Rodriguez might make his debut, which could let you use Mitch Haniger as a trade chip as well. Cross your fingers that Mitch has a big rebound year in 2021. Cal Raleigh, Taylor Trammell, and more can be seen as insurance if any of the prospects that graduate to the show stumble. If the graduates don’t, you’ve got some great trade chips on your hands. Maybe Justin Dunn does something in the minors or bullpen that makes a team want to trade for him. Lots of things can happen when you’re not counting on all of prospects to deliver!

The Mariners need to spend money on superstars eventually, and they can add three big-money free agents this offseason, while still leaving themselves room for a superstar shortstop and a run at Noah Syndergaard, Freddie Freeman, or another marquee player before the 2022 season. It’s a half-step to building the team you want to win the division with, and one I feel like you have to take, rather than counting on all your prospects to develop exactly as you plan. If the Mariners wait until the next offseason to go after a big name, I fear that some of their prospects will fail to pan out on the way, making the organization more gunshy about going big for a Lindor or Seager, keeping them stuck in the awful spot of 78-85 wins for the next half-decade.

I do, however, think that’s pretty much exactly what the Mariners will do, though. I promised I’d throw in what I expect the Mariners to do in addition to my idea of what I want them to do. Here’s what Jerry and co. will get done this offseason:

Sign SP Trevor Bauer to a one-year, $35 million contract.

The Mariners and Bauer together has been talked about so much on twitter that sometimes I forget he’s not already on the team. As far as we can all tell from the internet, he’s kind of a jerk with shitty politics, but there’s no denying that he’s an excellent pitcher. I’d be conflicted with him on the M’s, but he would help them win games. He’s also apparently developed a friendship with Yusei Kikuchi, and I’m sure the M’s would want his influence—as a pitcher, not a person—to rub off there. Bauer has said he’ll only sign one-year deals, and I think he’s going to stay true to that, so you’ll have to pay more per season to keep him. On the other hand, if he gets hurt, his value for next season tanks. It’s a risk Bauer seems willing to take, and given the Mariners’ payroll flexibility, I think Dipoto would be happy to go year-to-year with him through the Mariners’ projected contention window. Bauer wants to win, though, and giving him the most money on one-year deals might not be worth it for him if he could take a slight discount to go to a team he believes can win a World Series right away.

Sign SP Taijuan Walker to a two-year, $38 million contract.

Same argument I made for him earlier. He’s pretty good, he fits, he likes it here, he won’t be too expensive.

Sign SP Jake Arrieta to a one-year, $18 million contract.

Jake Arrieta hasn’t been a star since 2016, or even average since 2018, but he’s a ground ball pitcher that would be a good fit for the Mariners’ stellar infield defense. He ran FIPs of 4.26, 4.89, and 4.66 in three years and 64 starts in Philadelphia, so he’s probably not completely washed up. Dipoto would sign him with an eye towards moving him for prospects at the deadline, or, if the team was surprisingly in contention, he might be good enough to keep the rotation stable. Getting out of the hitter’s park in Philadelphia and coming over to T-Mobile park should help him keep the ball in the ballpark more, and position him well to get one last multi-year contract in the 2021 offseason.

Sign RP Trevor Rosenthal to a four-year, $60 million deal.

Jerry Dipoto has a bad track record with signing free agent relievers—Marc Rzepczynksi, Juan Nicasio, Cory Gearrin, Carl Edwards, Ryan Cook, Steve Cishek—the list goes on. Jerry is determined to get one right, so determined that he’ll pay Trevor Rosenthal as if he’s a top-notch closer instead of a pretty good reliever who is just one year removed from one of the most disastrous relief seasons in recent memory. I expect him to go after A’s closer Liam Hendriks first, but when he spurns the Mariners for a better team, Rosenthal will be plan B, and Dipoto will feel that he can’t afford to not get one of the market’s top relievers.

Rosenthal has had four good seasons, and his career numbers are good, but I’m not one to ever, ever trust a reliever. I’m not going to like this when it happens, but it feels like Jerry will go out and get his veteran closer this offseason, in preparation of being truly good in 2022, and perhaps inflating the 2021 win total a bit with some close wins.

Sign RP Chris Devenski to a one-year, $8 million deal.

Devenski hasn’t been good in years, but Dipoto has been trying to find his version of the three-inning flamethrower for years since Devenski broke out in 2016. He hasn’t been the same since, and his season came to an early end thanks to bone spurs in his elbow. Devenski is still just 30, and Dipoto will hope their development staff can help find of the old 2016-17 magic in his arm. A Devenski type has been Dipoto’s white whale for so long, that he’ll overpay to get the real thing.

Sign RP Trevor May to a two-year, $22 million deal.

Dipoto has said he wants to get some relievers to solidify the back end of games in comments to the press this offseason, and given his usual transparency, I’m inclined to believe him. Trevor May is a good reliever that racks up strikeouts, with so-so command and a bit of a tater problem. Still, he’s got 8th-inning reliever credentials, and Dipoto will want a guy to get the ball to Rosenthal in the ninth. He’ll hope that T-Mobile park will suppress his home run problems.

Sign RP Aaron Loup to a two-year, $12 million deal.

Gotta have a southpaw you can count on in the bullpen, and considering the Mariners don’t currently have one of those, Loup looks like the best option on the free agent market. Loup ran a 3.83 FIP this season, close enough to his career mark of 3.50. He holds lefties to a .624 OPS over his career, so he fits the bill as a guy who can come in and face a L-R-L combo of batters. He also has much better command than the other left-handed star reliever on the market, Justin Wilson. After Rzepczynski, I think Dipoto wants a guy that can find the zone more often.

So there’s the moves I think they’ll make. It’s a lot more boring, isn’t it?! I was trying to find trade partners in both scenarios, but it seems like right now the Mariners have more young guys they want to keep, than older guys they want to trade for young guys. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dipoto move Haniger at the deadline if he’s performing well this season, to open up a spot for one of the kids.

The other name I wanted to try to find room for, but couldn’t, was Marcell Ozuna. The Mariners have been linked to him for years since Dipoto arrived, but he’s going to cost a poopload of money this year, and the Mariners don’t have a spot in the outfield that will be vacant for long if Kelenic is going to spend a significant amount of time in the majors in 2021. So, it’s sad for Jerry, but also probably more beneficial to the long-term health of the Mariners, that Marcell Ozuna will not be coming here in 2021.

Here’s a look at the expected, Dipoto-plan roster:


Position
PlayerProjected WARSalary
CLuis Torrens1.0$564K
1BEvan White1.0$1.3m
2BDylan Moore2.0$564K
3BKyle Seager3.0$18.5m
SSJ.P. Crawford2.5$4m (arb)
LFJarred Kelenic2.0$564K
CFKyle Lewis4.0$564K
RFMitch Haniger2.0$5m (arb)
DHTy France2.0$564K
CTom Murphy0.5$564K
UTILSam Haggerty0.0$564K
UTILTim Lopes0.5$564K
1B/OFJose Marmolejos0.5$564K
OFJake Fraley0.0$564K
UTILShed Long0.0$564K
SPMarco Gonzales4.0$5.5m
SPTrevor Bauer5.0$35m
SPJustus Sheffield3.0$564K
SPTaijuan Walker2.0$19m
SPYusei Kikuchi2.5$16.5m
SPJake Arrieta1.5$18m
SPJustin Dunn-0.5$564K
SPLogan Gilbert1.0$564K
SPNick Margevicius0.5$564K
RPTrevor Rosenthal1.5$15m
RPTrevor May0.5$11m
RPChris Devenski-0.5$8m
RPAaron Loup0.0$6m
RPRest of the pile-1.0~$5m
TOTAL 40.5$176.26

So basically, the way I see it, the roster I expect Dipoto to build will be 0.5 wins better, for about $44 million more. The good news is Bauer ($35), Arrieta ($18), and Devenski ($8m) come off the books after 2021, giving the Mariners $61m of that back to spend in the next offseason. Put another way, they’ll go into the offseason with $115 million committed to players in 2022, giving them the room to go after one of the superstar shortstops, and the flexibility to sign Bauer to another one-year deal, as I’m sure Dipoto will want to do.

I gave Luis Torrens a bump in production compared to my plan, because he’ll be getting a lot more playing time without Realmuto in front of him. If Cal Raleigh develops, one or both of Murphy and Torrens could get traded in the following offseason to fill other holes. I’d fully expect Haniger to be playing elsewhere by 2022, leaving room for Julio Rodriguez to come up a few weeks into that season. If the Mariners are playing to their projected WAR total and are in the race, they probably make the mistake of hanging onto Arrieta instead of dealing him to a competitor for whatever prospect they can get. So, hope they underperform, so Arrieta can get you a reliever prospect or something.

I fucking hate spending big money on relievers, especially mediocre relievers. I do expect that that’s what Dipoto is going to spend most of this offseason doing, however. I’m being generous on my WAR projections for each of them, because we all know a reliever could easily be worth nothing or negative value just a year after being a stud. All four relievers I have him signing have collapse potential.

So on one hand, you’ve got a plan that goes and grabs a superstar now, a steady rotation piece, and some intriguing pieces with upside in my plan. On the other, you’ve got a pitching-heavy approach that prioritizes shoring up the back end of the bullpen and allocating resources there for multiple years. The 2021 WAR totals are similar, though my plan leaves the M’s with more flexibility for the 2021 offseason. I think mine is clearly the winner, but I’ve also been wrong about baseball more often than I’ve been right. Whatchu got, readers?

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Brett Miller View All

I'm one of those writer guys. Do me a solid if you don't hate me for some reason, and subscribe to The BS Show with Brett and Shane on iTunes, Google Play, or SoundCloud! :D Or listen to it on Sports With Neil and Friends. Basically, just listen to it, please. I'd think you were pretty cool.

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