BY Art Thiel 03:28PM 08/10/2017

Thiel: Mariners need to go for Tigers’ Verlander

Somehow, the Mariners at the moment are a wild-card team. But if won’t last if they burn out the bullpen with five-inning starters. So, John Stanton, go get Justin Verlander.

Detroit’s Justin Verlander in 2011 was the Cy Young Award winner and AL MVP. / Wiki Commons

What will end first: The regular season or the Mariners’ solid bullpen performances?

In the wins at Oakand Tuesday and Wednesday, the bullpen produced 9.2 scoreless innings, which helped make for a 6-3 road trip and a 16-9 record since the All-Star break, best in the American League. The Mariners began Thursday three games above .500 (59-56) for the first time this season, and in possession of the second wild-card berth.

Held today, the one-game playoff would be in New York against the other wild card team, the 60-52 Yankees. Sadly for Mariners fans, the AL insists the regular season continue.

Which means that the baseball world would be denied the opportunity to watch the latest Mariners’ call-up, say, Thyago Vieria, the 24-year-old Brazilian, make his major league debut in sold-out Yankee Stadium on national TV. He would start because no one else in the organization was left.

For the Mariners to be where they are — in the playoff hunt but watching the ground coming up fast — is a remarkable, albeit temporary, contradiction in baseball physics.

So far, the Seattle pen is fourth in the AL in team ERA (3.86) and third in innings pitched (396.2). Lately, the relievers have been carrying the franchise, something no one anticipated in March, nor expects to continue into September. In the past 70 games since May 21, the bullpen has a 2.73 ERA, second lowest in the majors in that time.

The feat is likely a bubble, partly created by a productive offense and a saggy middle of the American League. What will burst the bubble is the continuing chaos in the starting rotation behind James Paxton. (Update: Paxton was removed from Thursday’s night’s start in the seventh inning after apparently straining a pectoral muscle on his 107th pitch of the game. An MRI was scheduled for Friday.) 

Absent the injured Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly, general manager Jerry Dipoto has assembled a mammoth coterie of 4-A starters, all of whom would be sixth starters on any other team’s five-man rotation.

They are supplying a passel of starts lasting four to five innings, meaning the bullpen will shortly begin pre-blowing its gaskets.

Fortunately, help is available: Justin Verlander, whom many of you know as Mr. Kate Upton.

The 34-year-old right-hander of the Detroit Tigers, who are in tear-down mode following the conclusion of their title opportunity, is known to be available ahead of the Aug. 31 waiver deadline for trades. This is the same period a year ago when general manager Jerry Dipoto made a nice score in acquiring LF Ben Gamel in a trade with the Yankees.

The difficulty in Verlander’s acquisition is the balance due on his contract, about $63 million through 2019, and the fact that he is no longer the ace he was (8-7 with a 3.97 ERA over 24 starts in 145 innings this season). He also has a no-trade clause, meaning he could veto a trade to Seattle simply because his wife does not like smoke in her beautiful blues.

The Tigers also would want prospects in return. As you may have read, the Mariners don’t have many. The Tigers also want the acquiring team to pick up all, or nearly all, of Verlander’s contract. Fortunately, the Mariners have a lot of money, and could make up in cash what they lack in prospects.

Evidence for their shrewd wealth is how they can turn a simple retiring-jersey-number ceremony this weekend into a three-day extravaganza of replica jerseys, bobbleheads, flyovers, beach landings, mountain summits and moon launches. And get rewarded handsomely for doing it.

So the ability to throw money is there. The will shall be tested as the Aug. 31 waiver-deadline approaches. It is competitive.

The Houston Astros, who lead the AL by a furlong, have been inquiring about Verlander, who over his past six starts has a 2.31 ERA, including six shutout innings over the Astros July 31. Wednesday, he gave up one hit in eight scoreless innings in Detroit’s 10-0 win over the Pirates.

So he seems right now to be close to the substantive pitcher he was. Plus, Verlander has 16 games of postseason experience, or 16 more than perhaps the entire Mariners system.

Critics of such an acquisition will say that its cost is too much for a shot at one game on the road. That is a rational argument to make for most teams, but the Mariners have been irrationally lousy for 15 years. And the dearth of prospects suggests that waiting around for the next Ken Griffey Jr. to emerge from the farm is the acme of faulty thinking.

Dipoto has already moved, tepidly, in the direction of going for it by adding pitchers David Phelps, Marco Gonzales and Erasmo Ramirez prior to the July 31 deadline, then acquiring platoon 1B Yonder Alonso Sunday in a trade with Oakland for a two-month rental player. The cumulative cost for these four players was not high, but it was future treasure foregone in an attempt to win in 2017.

So for Dipoto to lose his nerve now in pursuing Verlander would also be a waste of the resources already expended this season.

The Verlander possibility is the first real test for owner John Stanton, who formally took over from Howard Lincoln one year ago. Stanton is as deep a baseball guy as Lincoln was shallow, and he has plenty of risk tolerance. As a minority owner since 2001 and as a Seattle lifer, he feels the Mariners’ futility in ways unlike any previous guy who sat upon the throne.

The Mariners are obligated to over-do it in 2017 because for the previous 40 years, it has been under-done so woefully.

If it means anything for Kate Upton to waive the no-trade clause, since May 27, the Mariners have the AL’s second-best record behind Houston. And the Seattle smoke is temporary, as would be the franchise’s futility if Verlander joined Paxton at the top of the Mariners rotation.



  • drwheelock

    Art – I agree with you entirely, but a decision like this will either MAKE or BREAK a GM.

    Worse case scenario? Verlander throws out his arm/shoulder before the post season and Seattle is on the hook thru 2019 paying Verlander thru possible Tommy Johns, which would ruin us in 2018 & 2019.

    Best case scenario? Verlander stays healthy (no reason to believe he won’t) and Paxton/Verlander/Felix make an incredible 1-2-3 behind some of the best defense & Bullpen in MLB.

    Rumor is Detroit will pay remaining 2017 salary, but they don’t want to contribute to 2018 & 2019 salary for Verlander unless they get some awesome great prospects (and I don’t see Seattle giving Lewis away for Verlander…their ONLY top prospect in MLB Prospect List). If Seattle would give Lewis away, they “might” be able to get Detroit to kick in $6-8M/yr in 2018 & 2019, BUT then even “if” Detroit is willing Verlander can block the trade. Verlander is the ONLY SP out there that could make an impact for Seattle at this point.

    PS: I favor the move, but Dipoto may be reserved in doing this cause if the move fails in any way (i.e.: injury) his job will be on the line…and I personally do NOT want to see him go! But here is the thing, especially “if” we could get Detroit to kick in at least $6M for V’s 2018 salary. Verlanders definitely tradable if Seattle is out of contention by next June/July, AND Seattle could use Verlander to load back up on prospects that we lost in getting him! Just because we have him longterm for the potential 2017 Playoffs & probably for no added 2017 payroll + 2 add’l years if we kept him thru 2019. Plus Verlander has Better stuff than Felix who has been regressing lots since 2016 (thank God we control Paxton for the next 4 years.).

    My FINAL push: Focus on 2017 and land Verlander and see how far we get in the playoffs, and then worry about what we do with Verlander in 2018 & 2019 whether we decide to keep him or sell him. The way I look at it is that Seattle will HAVE TO buy a TOR SP this offseason (i.e.: Arrieta). Getting Verlander NOW will take us out of a FA SP this offseason, but I am ok with that. Iwakuma & Gallardo will be GONE in 2018, so the nearly $25M can go towards Verlanders 2018 salary….thats how I view it anyways.

    • Kevin Lynch

      Well said! This is interesting. If Verlander waives the ‘no trade’ clause and Detroit waives the need for Lewis and the M’s to pay all salary for 2018 and 2019 then the risk gets reduced enough to jump. Otherwise, it’s a huge gamble. The Verlander you see today (excellent) is not necessarily the Verlander you will see in 2018 and 2019. That has to be considered.

      • art thiel

        The next two years are worthy of consideration, but Dipoto’s priority is 2017. But now with Paxton’s injury, we can’t know yet how that changes the Mariners strategy.

    • art thiel

      Yes, it’s high risk but I don’t he’ll do it unless Stanton supports it. I don’t see Stanton taking a “it’s your ass” posture if it busts. Since the Mariners have more money than prospects, taking the risk financially is easier. But if the Tigers insist on one premier prospect like Lewis, it probably doesn’t get done.

      • drwheelock

        Just found out another “twist” in the story on MLBTradeRumors. “If” Verlander gets traded, he can actually opt-out of the deal after 2017. This is good AND bad news.

        1) Detroit is supposedly willing to pay the remaining 2017 salary, meaning we’d land a TOR starter for the rest of 2017 and possibly the playoffs without spending a penny. So, “if” Verlander opts out this offseason Seattle is off the hook for his 2018 & 2019 salary.

        2) The bad news? If Dipoto ends up sending out last top MLB-prospect Lewis in this deal, and ‘then’ Verlander opts-out we would have given Lewis away for a 1.5 month rental player in Verlander. NO WAY would you include Lewis in the deal if there is any chance Verlander opts out.

        3) The good news? Lets say Seattle takes on ALL of Verlanders 2018 & 2019 salary, and Detroit pays the remaining 2017 salary. No way would Detroit expect a top prospect like Lewis in return. AND THEN if Verlander opts out Seattle is off the hook for his 2018 and 2019 salary, and we land him in 2017 for free for a playoff push.

        I’m expecting Seattle is going to have to get pretty damn aggressive this offseason to land a TOR Ace type pitcher. My eye is on Arrieta, and any team is going to have to dish out in the $22-26m/yr range for someone like Arrieta over 7 yrs. I’m ok with that if we can’t get Verlander now, OR if Verlander opts out this offseason. Basically, Seattle would be taking the money saved from Iwakuma & Gallardo (combined $24m approx) and turning that into either Verlander or someone like Arrieta (or Darvish type of SP, etc).

        Now with Paxton out for at least 2-3 weeks this is insane! SEATTLE DOES NOT HAVE A SUSTAINABLE ROTATION AT ALL! Dipoto has been amazing with everything else. He’s replaced his roster with high OBP players, one of the top infields in MLB, one of the top Bullpens, and I honestly do not think there is another outfield better than Seattle’s. We have 4 top CFer type OF’ers running every night, and thats even with Haniger out on the DL. 85% of our rotation has been on the DL most of the year except for Gallardo a #5 SP. But yet we still sit in a wild card spot as of today.

        • drwheelock

          One more thing…Seattle ownership group finally stepped up this past year and put their money where the mouth is to field an incredible team with a $153M payroll. After 2017 our committed contracts so far for 2018 drops down to $102M. We have lots of ARB players, and a few needs. Ruiz isn’t worth $4.5M. Zunino is finally up for ARB, but has extreme hot/cold streaks. Lucroy will be avail and after a mediocre yr will prob take a contract in the $3.5m range. But Seattle has the funds to go after someone like Arrieta this offseason aggressively, plus Smyly is a non-tender candidate and there was talk last month about possibly non-tendering him in 2018 and working out a deal to bring him back late in the year under a different type of contract once he’s healthy again.

          So my point being is that Seattle has the funds in 2018 to pay Verlanders full $28m if we decided to keep him next year, and if he didn’t opt out. And if he did opt out we’d have the funds to land someone like an Arrieta or Darvish type TOR SP.

        • drwheelock

          With Verlanders opt out clause “if” traded there is no way Detroit will get any type of top prospect back in the deal. But without top prospects Detroit won’t be paying for any 2018-2019 salary either…which I’m ok with!

  • Paul Harmening

    Wow, any chance to see Kate Upton in the flesh (attending a playoff game at Safeco when hubby is pitching I mean) is worth any price. I can’t believe I said that.

    Other than that, we fans are grasping at straws, including Art. And, I would not want to Dipato or Stanton from this point onward. BUT, what else is there out there?

    • art thiel

      Worth any price? I can’t believe you said that either.

  • Ken S.

    So long as Dipoto doesn’t follow that long ingrained tradition the Mariners have followed for far too long – that being doing nothing! I think the M’s could make a decent run in the playoffs. With a great defense and equally good offense the time to do something is now! Not next year.

    • art thiel

      Agreed about urgency in light of their history. But with Paxton down, the bullpen can’t survive all the short starts.

  • L78

    While “The Double” was a great moment in Seattle sports history it also is a vastly overrated one. It bares repeating that the Mariners didn’t even win the A.L. pennant in 1995, let alone the World Series. In fact, if anything it was a steppingstone to a grossly underachieving club that had the likes of Griffey, A-Rod and Randy Johnson, and yet won practically nothing. The Yankees, meanwhile, used 1995 as a dynastic steppingstone, one that began the very next year with a major upset over Atlanta. It just seems there is something inherently flawed with an organization that has a meager four division titles to show for 41 seasons of history, yet continually beats the drums for something that happened decades ago. I along with many other fans (check the yearly attendance totals) are tired of being beaten to death with 1995 celebrations from an organization utterly bereft of progressive ideas. Every year it’s the same thing–bring back Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson, Jamie Moyer, et al, and treat them like Gods. You know what the real legacy of the team is? Shaky ownership,comically inept utter management, and loads of non-playoff years.