The 2010 Mariners Rotation
Continuing on in the series, looking at the internal candidates to fill the Mariners’ roster in two years, working off the assumption that 2010 is the next time the M’s will try to compete for the division title. If you missed the look at the infield or outfield last week, follow the links. Today, the rotation.
Number One Starter Felix Hernandez
Before I talk about Felix, let’s get this out of the way – the idea that a team has to have an established ace to contend is a load of crap. Most people would agree that the current crop of “aces” would include Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, Brandon Webb, Josh Beckett, Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, John Lackey, and maybe a few people would argue for Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, or Carlos Zambrano. Regardless of the specifics, that’s basically your pool of guys who would be in the discussion.
Of those 12 guys, Beckett and Lackey are the only ones with World Series titles. Those guys have combined for something like 100 pitcher seasons, and 97% of the time, it has ended without a parade. The people who still believe that you build a baseball team by collecting a couple of top flight starting pitchers and ride them to victory are demonstrably wrong, so when people start crowing over the need for a #1 starter or an ace, just tune them out.
All that said, it would still be a pretty big upset if Felix wasn’t considered a legitimate ace, and quite possibly the best pitcher alive, in 2010. I know, there are a ton of people who are disappointed in his performance to date, but Felix is still way ahead of the curve – almost every pitcher in the Hall of Fame has had a worse start to their career than Felix has. His stuff is still top shelf, and if Zduriencik figures out how to put a decent defense behind him, the results will catch up. He’s literally the last thing on the roster we should be worried about.
Number Two to Number Four Starters: Brandon Morrow, Carlos Silva
For those of you who noticed there are only two names on the list, congratulations, you’ve identified a pretty significant issue that the M’s will have to address at some point in the next year. While there is a pretty significant crop of talented position player prospects in the upper levels of the farm system, the pitching depth at the Double-A and Triple-A levels suck. There’s just nothing there, which is why there are only two arms listed for three rotation slots.
For all his talent, Morrow is still something of a wild card. His command still needs quite a bit of work, because when 40% of your pitches miss the strike zone, you simply aren’t going to be able to work deep enough into games to be a big asset. His secondary stuff also needs to take a step forward to give him a weapon against left-handed hitters. And he’ll need to significantly increase his innings total in order to get through 30 starts in a season. But the raw ability is certainly there, and his upside means that the organization should do whatever possible to make his development as likely as possible. They’ll need him to turn into a middle of the rotation workhorse if they’re going to win in 2010, and an emphasis on outfield defense would go a long way to helping him have the confidence to pound the strike zone, which will be the key to his success.
As for Silva, he’s not going anywhere with that contract, so the team will have to hope they can as much from him as possible. And while he was pretty abysmal to watch in 2008, we also have to recognize that performance as an outlier – the results simply don’t match the underlying abilities, and it’s extremely likely that he’ll regress back towards being a marginally useful pitch-to-contact innings eater. Like with Morrow, however, he’ll need an improved defense behind him, and while he has next to no upside, he throws enough strikes to be an innings sponge with the right teammates around him. When you separate your view of Silva from his paycheck, and realize that his poor ’08 performance was based mostly on things that aren’t consistent from year to year, it’s easier to see him as a potentially useful part of the 2010 roster. That doesn’t mean the team shouldn’t dump him if they have the chance, but considering the likelihood of that is pretty slim, we should probably prepare for a few more years.
Even if he does return to form and Morrow improves, however, this team still needs another solid middle of the rotation starter. They don’t need any more established veterans, though – find a good arm who hasn’t broken through yet and attempt to buy low, preferably in trade. There aren’t enough good arms with upside in the organization right now, and adding several should be a priority.
Number Five Starter: Ryan Rowland-Smith, Ryan Feierabend, R.A. Dickey
RRS is a fun pitcher to root for, and a walking example of how easy it is to find back of the rotation starters who can get a lot of flyball outs and give you 150 to 180 decent innings for nothing. But we need to be honest with our expectations – his upside isn’t that much greater than Silva’s, and even though he’s young, there’s not much room for growth here. The only real path to stardom for a guy with his repertoire is to have exceptional command, but RRS just doesn’t – he misses the zone too much for a guy who doesn’t have knockout stuff. His extreme flyball nature will work well in Safeco, but not so well on the road. He profiles almost perfectly as a #5 starter for the M’s, though, and as long as he stays healthy, he should be a nice fit at the back of the rotation.
Feierabend and Dickey provide depth, though neither have shown enough in order to demand a real long look. Feierabend’s change-up is his only major league pitch, and Dickey’s still trying to perfect a knuckler that doesn’t knuckle often enough. Both have batting practice fastballs, and unless they take a big step forward, don’t expect either one to be a real contributor to the 2010 team.
Realistically, we’ve likely excluded two of the six names we’ve covered, and we’d love to be able to dump one of the remaining four if we could find someone who would pay a decent chunk of his contract. That leaves three starting pitcher in the organization that we actually want to be here, which is obviously not enough. Because of the presence of the overpaid veterans, the team shouldn’t have a problem finding enough arms for 2009, but for 2010, it becomes a real problem. The pursuit of a couple of decent long term starting pitching options should begin immediately – it’s much better to be proactive in finding good value arms than trying to react and patch a hole to fill out the roster a year from now.