SEATTLE — They could still use another capable starting pitcher, but the Seattle Mariners on Thursday at least made a move to strengthen their overworked bullpen.
In exchange for four minor-league prospects — Everett AquaSox outfielder Brayan Hernandez and pitchers Brandon Miller, Pablo Lopez and Lukas Schiraldi, each termed “higher-risk” by general manager Jerry Dipoto — the Mariners acquired Miami Marlins reliever David Phelps, a 30-year-old right-hander in his sixth major league season.
Phelps is expected to join the club on Friday, at which time the Mariners must make a corresponding roster move. Mariners manager Scott Servais said Phelps, who also has starting experience, will be used in the same manner as right-handers Nick Vincent, Tony Zych and Steve Cishek — in particular, perhaps, as a bridge from the sixth inning into the back end of Seattle’s bullpen.
“We’ll have another piece we can go to in that spot to work the ball,” Servais said. “And he could, again, pitch anywhere from some point in the sixth, seventh, eighth inning. We’ll see how it plays out. But we want to keep our guys fresh as much as possible. It’s going to be a challenge.”
In 44 appearances this season with the Marlins, Phelps is 2-4 with a 3.45 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 47 innings. He debuted with the New York Yankees in 2012, and has started 64 games throughout his career, but has started just five times in the past two seasons (and all five of those came in 2016).
Dipoto wouldn’t rule out the possibility of using Phelps as a starter in the future — he is under club control through 2018, which made him that much more appealing, Dipoto said — but that “I can’t say right now that it’s crossed our minds for 2017.”
Dipoto rattled off Phelps’ most coveted skills — a fastball in the mid-90s with a “well above-average” curveball and a cutter that has “really become a weapon for him,” in addition to an impressive strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio — and said “he becomes possibly the most versatile reliever we have down there, in some ways.”
Parting with prospects is never easy, Dipoto said, but he doesn’t think the Mariners gave up anybody who was “particularly close” to playing in the big leagues. Hernandez, a 19-year-old from Venezuela, is ranked by MLB.com as the No. 6 prospect in the Seattle organization, and was hitting .252 with two home runs and 15 RBI in 28 games this season with Short-A Everett. Lopez and Schiraldi were pitching in High-A Modesto; Miller was pitching in Low-A Clinton.
“All four we qualified as being higher-risk-type prospects in some way, shape or form,” Dipoto said. “So we’re trading risk for certainty, and we’re trading what is perhaps future surplus for present need.”
As for the possibility of trading for a starting pitcher?
“You think we gave up a lot to get David Phelps?” Dipoto remarked. “The starting pitching market is particularly high in what the asking prices are in return. We’re going to be realistic in what we can afford to let go.”