There’s just no way that can happen again.
No way the Seattle Mariners will have to go so deep into their farm system and so far into other team’s rotations just to find pitchers who can start games for them.
Scott Servais was asked how he’s a different manager now than when he started two years ago.
“I never imagined I’d have to go through a season where I used 40 pitchers,” he said. “That has made me a better person and manger.
“The adversity and things we went through last year I would not wish upon anybody, and we will not go through it again.”
Only one other team in baseball history has used 40 pitchers in a season (the 2014 Texas Rangers).
And no other team in Mariners history used 17 starters like the 2017 team did.
Compare that to the 2001 season when the Mariners last reached the playoffs, when they used eight different starters.
Remember that? Freddy Garcia, Aaron Sele and Jamie Moyer all threw more than 200 innings. And Paul Abbott threw 163 innings.
All of them threw more innings than Ariel Miranda, who led last year’s club with 160 innings pitched. Miranda was supposed to be the Tacoma Rainiers’ No. 1 pitcher to start the season, and, lo and behold, he ended up being the Mariners’ most reliable one — though he seemed gassed by the end.
Edwin Diaz and Nick Vincent threw more innings last year than 13 of the Mariners’ 17 starters. And they’re relievers.
There were simply a lot of players starting games that the Mariners had no intention of using as their starting pitchers when the season began — unless they were starting with Triple-A Tacoma or Double-A Arkansas.
“As we sit here right now, we feel like probably last year was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence,” said Andy McKay, the Mariners’ director of player development.
He knocked on the wooden table in front of him as he spoke.
“I would be shocked if we have another year in baseball like that,” he continued.
They enter this season with a rotation expected to include Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Mike Leake, Erasmo Ramirez and Marco Gonzales.
That’s after planning to go with Felix, Paxton, Drew Smyly, Hisashi Iwakuma and Yovani Gallardo last year.
The immediate-gratification move would be to sign one of the bevvy of top-tier starters still on the free-agent market — someone like Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn. There’s also Jaime Garcia, Andrew Cashner and Jason Vargas.
But, like it or not, general manager Jerry Dipoto has been adamant that they are done tinkering with the starting rotation. His moves came in the second-half of last season, adding Leake, Ramirez and Gonzales via trades.
He was asked about the perception that this rotation is not commensurate with other teams around the American League.
“It’s not, to be fair,” Dipoto said, bluntly. “The Houston Astros are loaded. I don’t know how else to answer the question. They have a terrific rotation (one that now also includes Gerrit Cole via trade). Their rotation on paper is as good as anybody in baseball or better.”
But then he went back to this Mariners rotation.
“I don’t think there is another team in the American League West (besides the Astros) that outpaces us in terms of our starting rotation,” he said.
“Frankly, I’m not sure, with the exception of last year’s playoff teams — being the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros — I don’t think there is another team in the American League who can say definitively that their rotation is better than ours.”
So either he’s a liar, a lunatic — or he’s on to something.
The grounds for his assertion start with Felix. He said they need their former Cy Young pitcher to give them at least 25 starts.
“Nuts and bolts — it comes down to how Felix comes in at spring training,” Dipoto said. “If Felix gives us 16 or less (starts), like was the case last year, we are going to have to answer a lot of questions.”
And then there’s the rest of the rotation. Miranda was the only Mariners pitcher with more than 25 starts last year (29). Paxton was one of the best pitchers in baseball when he was on the mound, going 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
Fangraphs lists him as having the 10th-best wins-above-replacement among starters last year (4.6) and they only see 29-year-old lefty improving.
Leake was solid last year (3-1 with a 2.53 ERA). His WAR was 3.1 — and just 33 pitchers were better than that. But he just started five games for the Mariners following an Aug. 30 trade from the Cardinals.
“If you consider the fact that Mike Leake started five games, Erasmo started 11 and Felix 16, I would anticipate that those 32 starts — that’s what you would expect each of them to provide in a full season,” Dipoto said. “The sensible math is that if we can get something like a full season out of each of those three, hopefully we answered our offseason rotation building last summer.
“We think that’s a pretty good group. And if it’s not, hopefully you’ve seen enough from me in the past couple of years that hopefully we won’t watch without trying to help. We will try to help in some way. We will find out as the season progresses.”
He also said that they haven’t sat idle in the free-agent pitching market for nothing. And it doesn’t have to do with their budget, despite their projected payroll of more than $157 million — which is already higher than last year’s club-record budget of $154 million.
They are simply committed to Felix, Paxton, Leake and Ramirez, while being cost-effective and using a young starter in the mix — whether that be Gonzales (who is out of options), Miranda or Andrew Moore.
“You have to create innings for guys to show what they can do,” Dipoto said. “If you can get one of these guys to step forward, and do what we believe they can do and do what they’ve done (at other levels) … now you have young, affordable starting pitching you can grow with.
“We are doing the best we can to develop our system, not to clog it. Could we go out and sign a free agent that would be better than our current fifth starter? Absolutely. Would that be the best thing for the present of the Mariners? Maybe. Would that be the best thing for the wider lens — for the present and future — of the Mariners? Probably not.”