Before reading this, I apologize if I go full redundancy in here if you’ve listened to the latest podcast. Last night while recording, I jammed my stick in the mud and essentially advocated for the Mariners to stay put outside of making a move almost identical to the one they just made, trading for RH reliever David Phelps from the Miami Marlins. Phelps is a converted starter/swingman, spending the first four years of his career averaging 90mph on his heater, all while being a perfectly fine, but middling major league player. After his conversion, Phelps saw his average velocity jump into the 93-94 range, with the latter being his number this year. He’s throwing harder than ever, and while he’s taken a step back from his big 2016 breakout season, he’s still been a quality arm.
Phelps was outstanding in relief for the Marlins last year, and he even managed to duck back in and start five games for the Marlins in August, and they were pretty damn good starts too – allowing a .563 OPS against, but also averaging less than 5 innings a start. There was no real stretch period for his transition, and he hopped back into the bullpen in September and crushed it, only allowing 5 hits across his 8 innings while striking out 13.
This year, Phelps hasn’t been quite as good, though the results are still solid. He’s never been a man of great control, and that’s continued into this year. He’s still missing bats, but at a lesser rate (9.77 K/9, down from 11.84 in ‘16). The xFIP has landed at 3.74, and his resulting contribution to the Marlins has been a perfectly fine 0.3 WAR.
From a fit perspective, it’d be hard to find somebody who makes more sense than Phelps. He’s been durable during his career, and he’s shown the ability to get “rubbery”, i.e. throw multiple innings when asked without much consequence immediately following. The velocity is still rising, and he’s under club control for 2018 as well. At 30, he’s right in that dry-aging meaty part of the curve. Phelps has no discernable red flags, and he comes to the Mariners filling their greatest (black) hole – people who can throw baseballs.
There will be clamoring that Phelps isn’t the starter the team needs, and while that’s true, the Mariners also cannot make a playoff push while throwing Edwin Diaz and Nick Vincent every single time they play a close game they’re on track to win. Diaz has thrown his damn arm off lately, and while he’s been Jekyll instead of Hyde lately (that’s the good one, right?), it’s more than likely that he’s going to hit another valley before the season is over, leaving the team void of quality late-inning options. Phelps is a classic late-inning power arm, and while he hasn’t been awesome this season, they paid a price that represents that dip.
The ol’ rumor mill stated that the Marlins weren’t in love with the Mariners farm system, and well, yeah. The centerpiece from the M’s teenage wasteland is Brayan Hernandez, that not-so-small Venezuelan child the Mariners paid a pretty penny for back in 2014. Hernandez is 19 now, and isn’t doing much of anything in Everett. He remains a long-term project with some amount of unknown upside, but at best he’s still three years away from contributing to a major league team in any fashion. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that even somebody Ben Gamel could be a free agent before Hernandez ever dons an MLB uniform. He is, kindly put, a project who hasn’t shown any signs of translating tools into production.
The other arms lost are Brandon Miller, Pablo Lopez, and Lukas Schiraldi. The latter two are having horrible seasons in Modesto and will be lucky to ever make an MLB roster, and while Miller is doing fine in Clinton, his odds are still poor at best. Lopez and Miller both appear in the middle of the Mariners top 30 prospect list on MLB.com, but make no mistake, these players would not be similarly placed in an average farm system. Their loss should not be deeply lamented – outside of some unforeseen breakout, which could happen to anyone, there isn’t an MLB arm in the bunch. They are, more than anything else, throw-ins and lottery tickets to complete this deal.
Maybe this is a tiny bit of an overpay considering Phelps’ step back and Hernandez’s unknown upside/tools combo, but it fits just fine into a win-now strategy without much damage to the limited farm system. Phelps’ 2018 control give the M’s a chance to try him as a starter again to see if the velocity sticks, or they can flip him right back around for their own batch of lottery tickets that Dipoto likes. We’ll see how this affects the rotation, but Gallardo could move back into the #5 slot and Sam Gaviglio, who is decidedly not a MLB pitcher, could head back to AAA. Either way, Phelps slots in nicely as a late-inning option, especially as a person who can throw two innings when the bullpen is gassed. The Mariners have to win a lot of games to make the playoffs, and they’ll need an arm like Phelps to help carry the load.