The Los Angeles Angels have won the golden prize by signing Shohei Ohtani, one of the most valuable free agents available this offseason. By choosing the Angels, Ohtani’s decision sends the Seattle Mariners, who prioritized signing the two-way Japanese star, back to square one with their offseason plans.
What they now have
In their efforts to acquire Ohtani, the Mariners traded away four prospects: RHP Nick Neidert, RHP Robert Dugger, and IF Christopher Torres went to the Miami Marlins and C David Banuelos went to the Minnesota Twins. Baseball America ranked Neidert as the Mariners second best mid-season prospect in 2017. Dugger and Torres are two lottery ticket prospects although Torres projects to be an above-average shortstop defensively. As for Banuelos, many scouts consider him as one of the top defensive catchers available due to his maturity and his ability to handle a pitching staff.
In return, they received Dee Gordon from Miami and some international signing bonus money from Minnesota. The Mariners plan on using Gordon in centerfield, which could work. Gordon has the speed to cover the ground in centerfield and he has already shown the ability to learn new defensive positions. Since he made the switch from shortstop to second base in 2014, he has recorded a 12.4 UZR in 4459 innings and has recorded a UZR/150 of at least 6 in the last three seasons. But the Mariners took on the rest of his $37.9m contract along with his $14m vesting option for 2021, meaning they are paying a lot of money with the expectation of him turning into valuable centerfielder.
These moves leave the Mariners with fewer prospects but another player to pay. This move usually means that a team wants to win now. But they went 78-84 in 2017, an eight-game drop from their 86-76 mark in 2016. They were supposed to be a win-now team last year, but they did not perform like a win now team, and their win-now move to get Ohtani has fallen through. With the mentality to win now, they need to refocus after losing the Ohtani sweepstakes and figure out what players will help them contend for the playoffs in 2018.
What they do from here
The current rotation for the Mariners does not look promising outside of James Paxton (2.98 ERA, 2.61 FIP, 3.25 xFIP in 2017) and Mike Leake (3.92, 3.90, 3.91). Erasmo Ramirez (4.39, 4.43, 4.28) might be serviceable, but he has had issues with year-to-year consistency. Felix Hernandez (4.36, 5.02, 4.03) is in a full-on decline. The Mariners need at least one solid middle of the rotation guy.
From the free agent class, Lance Lynn (3.43, 4.82, 4.75) and Jaime Garcia (4.41, 4.25,4.18) could solve the problem, but both will be expensive for middle of the rotation pitchers, and both are now two seasons removed from their best years with the St. Louis Cardinals. Jhoulys Chacin (3.89, 4.26, 4.54) and Jason Vargas (4.16, 4.67, 4.94) could also serve as less expensive solutions. They could also try to acquire a pitcher in a trade, but they have stripped away at an already thin system to sign Ohtani. They only have one prospect, OF Kyle Lewis, on the MLB’s top 100 prospects list, so finding a trade partner when they have little to offer might be tough.
After losing out on Ohtani, the worst thing the Mariners could do is nothing. They have roster parts to win now, but they need to add pitching to contend. The Mariners may have prioritized Ohtani, but only one team gets to sign a player. Seattle has to move on and find an alternative.