Player Profiles 2020: Seattle Mariners Bullpen
The Mariners were bad last year. Their hitting was bad (particularly after they traded Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce), their pitching was bad and, unsurprisingly, their bullpen was bad.
The team traded Edwin Diaz and Alex Colome before the season started and let go of Nick Vincent and James Pazos, two solid relief arms. They also traded veterans Hunter Strickland, Anthony Swarzak and Roenis Elias during the year, leaving them with an extremely thin and unaccomplished bullpen for the last few months of the season.
General manager Jerry DiPoto never just leaves things be, so I’m sure this bullpen will change dramatically over the next few winter months, but for now the Mariners bullpen is perhaps the least inspiring in all of baseball.
|Matt Magill||Sam Tuivailala||Carl Edwards Jr.||Dan Altavilla||Nestor Cortes||Brandon Brennan|
Closer – Matt Magill
Yowza. It’s hard to believe the Mariners will enter the 2020 season with Matt Magill as their primary ninth-inning option, but I suppose he’d be their best choice.
Magill handled the role at times last year, recording five saves on the season—all between August 17 and September 18.
He posted a nice 28% strikeout rate, and his 8.7% walk rate was OK I guess, but a 4.09 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP aren’t going to help your fantasy team any, especially on a bad club.
Magill, originally a 31st-round pick in 2015, does have a nice slider (19.0% swinging strike and a 3.2 pVAL), but his curveball is a disaster, and his fastball, despite coming in at 95 mph, is too hittable for him to have any sustained success.
The 29-year-old journeyman is not a viable fantasy option except in deep leagues and is by no means guaranteed the closing role.
Setup – Sam Tuivailala
Realistically, just about any of Seattle’s relievers could end up closing next season, assuming the club doesn’t make a move.
If that is the case, Sam Tuivailala would be my top choice. He’s maybe the only one who has a chance to actually have some fantasy relevance in 12-teamers next year, and only if he’s the top guy in the ninth inning.
The 27-year-old missed a good chunk of last year with an injury, but he was solid after returning—pitching to a 2.35 ERA (3.13 FIP) with a 1.04 WHIP and a 28.7% strikeout rate.
Those numbers will make you a top-tier closer if you’re pitching the ninth, although his 11.7% walk rate, .226 BABIP and freakishly lucky home run numbers (3.4% HR/FB rate) point to some upcoming regression.
Still, Tui has two solid breaking balls that both generated O-swing rates over 30% and swinging-strike rates of exactly 11.4%. Not exactly world-beating, but decent enough.
If Tui ends up the closer, he could be a nice dart throw in 12+ team leagues. That’s not saying much, but it’s more than I can say for the vast majority of this bullpen.
Setup – Carl Edwards Jr.
Here’s a fun one. Carl Edwards Jr. had the highest rate of pitches thrown in the zone of his career last year, despite an abhorrent 6.88 BB/9. The 28-year-old was a reclamation-project signing by DiPoto, and it’s easy to see the appeal, as the right-hander had back-to-back seasons with an ERA below 3.00 and a K/9 above 11.5 before last season’s debacle.
However, Edwards’ struggles last year can be explained. He tinkered with his mechanics over the offseason, only to find out that his new delivery was ruled illegal by the MLB—after the season began. While attempting to rework those mechanics during the season, Edwards got rocked to the tune of six earned runs, five walks and two dingers in 1.2 innings.
He was sent to the minors, corrected his mechanics, and posted a 2.03 ERA for the Cubs in 15 innings before another injury forced a trade to San Diego.
Now, Edwards will look to get back on track in Seattle. His control issues likely aren’t gone, but if he can return to being the 2.60 ERA, 12.00 K/9 guy he was from 2017 to 2018, there’s a good chance he’ll be closing games in the Emerald City—making him a useful fantasy arm to keep an eye on.
Middle – Dan Altavilla
I’m a big Dan Altavilla fan. I wrote about him before the 2019 season as a potential closing candidate in Seattle, and while that didn’t come true, the underlying data is still largely accurate.
Altavilla’s issue is simple: He can’t throw strikes. It’s a huge problem for the burly right-hander, who had a ghastly 18.8% walk rate in 14.2 big league innings, and a similar 16.4% rate in 14 innings with Triple-A Tacoma.
Altavilla’s 98 mph fastball and 90 mph slider are both potentially plus pitches, but unless he can throw them in the zone, he’ll be a fringe bullpen piece and an untrustworthy fantasy asset.
Middle – Nestor Cortes Jr.
The Mariners flipped some international slot money to the Yankees in exchange for Nestor Cortes Jr., a soft-tossing left-hander who can fill a variety of roles for Seattle. DiPoto talked about Cortes after the trade was announced, saying he can start, he can pitch in the late innings, he can pitch in the middle innings or he could even be an opener.
Cortes went 5-1 with a 5.67 ERA in 33 appearances for New York last year, but he did run a nice 9.32 K/9 despite a fastball that hovers around 90 mph. His deception and variety of pitches can make him effective at times, but he’ll likely settle into a long relief role and occasional opener for Seattle, not giving him much, if any, fantasy relevance.
Middle – Brandon Brennan
Brandon Brennan made his big league debut last season for Seattle, and despite an identical 4.56 ERA and 4.56 BB/9, he actually had some underlying numbers that suggest he could be a decent middle reliever—although I doubt he ends up in the ninth inning or on your fantasy team anytime soon.
Brennan generated a lot of swings and misses last year, including a 27.5% swinging-strike rate on his changeup and a 21.3% rate on his slider. His fastball didn’t miss a lot of bats, but it did generate a lot of ground balls, and despite subpar results, he did have three pitches with positive pVALs last year.
The problem is the command, which was all over the place. That was an issue throughout his lengthy minor league career with the White Sox, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
If he magically learns how to command the strike zone, he could be an above-average closer. More than likely, he’s an average middle reliever with OK strikeout numbers and bad everything else—which shouldn’t land him anywhere near your fantasy team.
Erik Swanson, Taylor Guilbeau, Austin Adams (Inj), Art Warren, Gerson Bautista, Zac Grotz, Matt Festa
Of this group, Erik Swanson is far and away the one I’m most interested in. Swanson came to the Mariners in the James Paxton trade. A starting pitching prospect, Swanson has apparently been shifted to the bullpen, a smart move considering his abhorrent changeup. Now he’ll be allowed to work his mid-90s fastball and plus slider into potentially a late-inning role—after all, he did save two games for Seattle down the stretch.
The Mariners shipped away Elias to the Nationals in exchange for Taylor Guilbeau, an interesting left-handed pitching prospect whose ceiling is, well, probably Elias. After getting converted into a reliever in 2017, Guilbeau has posted strong numbers at every stop, including a 3.65 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP in 12.1 big league innings for Seattle. However, his 13.7% strikeout rate is ugly, and his .211 BABIP certainly seems likely to come up. I expect Guilbeau to settle into a LOOGY role for the Mariners, making him a semi-useful big league pitcher but a non-factor in fantasy.
Austin Adams is maybe the best of this group, but he will miss six to eight months with a torn ACL, putting his return likely around midseason. He could factor into the back of the bullpen, depending how the rest of the offseason and midseason trades go.
Art Warren tossed 5.1 innings for the Mariners last season, but he didn’t pitch at all in Triple-A, so I don’t think he’ll start the season in the big leagues. The 26-year-old former prospect could be an option by midseason, though, and his wipeout slider and 70-grade fastball could make him a nice late-inning piece.
Gerson Bautista was the third piece, behind Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, acquired in the big Diaz/Robinson Cano trade. He has a rough year last year, with an 8.75 ERA at Triple-A and an 11.00 ERA in the big leagues, but his 98 mph fastball and 50-grade slider could make him an eventual late-inning arm, possibly as early as 2020 if he rights the ship.
Zac Grotz is yet another reliever who made his big league debut last year. In 17.1 innings, Grotz posted a 4.15 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP, with a nice 2.69 FIP and a 24.7% strikeout rate. He’s a fastball/changeup arm with a cutter and a slider that he didn’t show much of last year, but he’ll need to work on his command if he wants to be anything more than a fringe middle reliever.
Matt Festa put together three straight very good seasons in the minor leagues from 2016 to 2018, rocketing through the system and finishing 2018 with a 2.16 ERA in 8.1 big league innings. He took a step backward in 2019, however, posting a nice 2.68 ERA at Triple-A, but with a 5.64 ERA, 6.12 FIP and 1.43 WHIP in the big leagues.
Festa’s stuff isn’t anything special, with a 93 mph fastball and secondaries that all grade out below average, so expecting him to be anything more than an average middle reliever is foolish.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)