Will Ariel Miranda Get A Legitimate Shot At Next Year’s Mariners Rotation?

In any season where a team finishes with 86 wins and a few games short of the playoffs, there are going to be plenty of pleasant surprises to go along with the smattering of disappointments that prevented you from reaching your goal in the first place.  Of all the deals made in Jerry Dipoto’s first year, one of the few that didn’t either totally backfire or result in no net change whatsoever for either involved team was the Wade Miley for Ariel Miranda trade.

Miranda was a Cuban AAA prospect on the cusp of breaking through to the Majors.  With the Orioles in the pennant race – and with the Mariners in pretty bad shape by the end of July – this was seen as a clear power move for Baltimore, and another sign of the Mariners giving up on their season (to go along with sending a valuable bullpen piece/spot starter in Montgomery away, as well as a veteran set-up reliever in Benoit).  In all likelihood, aside from the Montgomery deal, the Mariners were no worse after those other two trades than before.  But, sending Miley and Benoit to contenders was clearly a cost-cutting move for a team that had less than a 50% chance of making the playoffs (going into August, the Mariners were 52-51, so not the most inspiring of records).

Anyway, for the Orioles, you could see why they opted for Miley over Miranda, even though both were lefties with marginal stuff:  Miley was the veteran, and in a pennant race, you always want the guy with experience over the guy who has never started in the Bigs before.

I’d say it wasn’t shocking that Miley stunk up the joint upon going to Baltimore; he’s a terrible pitcher, and it was a bad idea to bring him here in the first place.  But, he got us Ariel Miranda, and considering what we gave up to get Miley in the first place (Roenis Elias and Carson Smith), we might’ve still come out ahead in the whole thing.  Miranda is already better than Elias ever was, plus he MUST have more club control.  Carson Smith was injured throughout most of 2016, so we’ll see how he comes back from Tommy John surgery.  But, Smith is just a reliever, and you’d trade a quality reliever for a quality starter 9 times out of 10.

The Mariners brought Miranda along slowly, which was absolutely the right thing to do, even as the team itself started playing better down the stretch and closing the gap between themselves and the wild card teams.  His longest start was only 7 innings, and his highest pitch count in any one game was 103.  He averaged about 84 pitches per start.  As such, we were able to keep him fresh through September, we were able to keep him healthy, and we were able to preserve his confidence, as he often found himself rolling through the first five innings before quickly being pulled at the first sign of trouble late in games.  By season’s end, he was on a great run, finishing with 3 quality starts in September (including an impressive 7-inning, 2-run, 8-strikeout victory against Houston of all teams).

When you tack on his seemingly unflappable nature (he more than held his own in his final start against the A’s, a do-or-die game for this team, going 5.1 innings of 1-run ball), Miranda has more than earned a chance to compete for a starting job next spring.  My question is:  will he get that chance?

Obviously, we’re pretty far away from that point, so anything I say from here on out is pure speculation, but the rotation as it stands right now – indeed as it stood at season’s end – is:

  1. King Felix
  2. Iwakuma
  3. Paxton
  4. Walker
  5. Miranda

Regardless of what happens, Felix and Kuma aren’t going anywhere.  I believe James Paxton has earned a spot in this rotation with his work in 2016, so he doesn’t have to compete for anything.  He just has to show up in shape and ready to build his arm up to where it was this year.  I think Walker will be given every opportunity to win a spot in this rotation, but I also think he’s going to have to earn it.  He’s going to have to come in healthy, with the right mindset, and ready to pound the zone with strikes.  I also think he’s fully capable of doing that, and putting up good spring numbers, so his situation boils down to whether or not the team wants to make an example of him.  To tone down expectations a little bit and let him settle into a groove in Tacoma for the first month before getting called back up.  It wouldn’t shock me, so I hope, for his sake, he comes into camp all business next year.

I also think, as I’ve written before, that the team isn’t set on this rotation.  I’d bet my next four paychecks that the Mariners will end up either trading for or signing a veteran free agent sometime before Pitchers & Catchers report.  Now, the question here is:  will they go after a Wade Miley type?  I.e. a supposedly-solid veteran who has his rotation spot all but guaranteed?  Or, will it be more of a Jeremy Bonderman type who comes in under a minor league deal, with a shot at the big league camp in Spring Training, but who likely starts his season in Tacoma before proving he’s worthy of a real opportunity in Seattle?  Regardless, when you throw that person (or persons) into the mix, alongside Nate Karns (if he manages to return from injury), along with whoever from the minors decides to make a big splash, I could see a real dogfight for these last two spots.

As I said, Walker probably has the edge, but if we bring in a bona fide veteran (which is the way I’m leaning, if I had to make a prediction), that means it’ll be Walker vs. Miranda for that final spot.  Both have options left, so either one could start his year in Tacoma.  But, Walker has better stuff and higher upside.  So, if Miranda is going to make a name for himself, he’s really going to have to step up his game.

I like Miranda’s fastball well enough.  It’s hard to tell if he got as far as he did this year because no one really knew him or faced him; I’d be curious to see how he does next year, when opposing batters have more of a book on him.  He’s also got a splitter that he tends to leave up in the zone, as well as a change up that looks like the same thing.  He’s got to get better at keeping those off-speed pitches down in the zone.  And, it would help if he developed a curve or a slider to keep lefties off-balance.

I won’t be totally pissed if Miranda has to start his year in Tacoma, because I know that sooner or later we’re going to need him.  I know I’ve said this repeatedly in the past about Roenis Elias, but it’ll be nice to have Miranda as starting insurance, because it’s nearly impossible for a rotation to stay fully intact with the same five guys for a full season.  If Miranda works on his craft and stays healthy, he might be one of the better 6th starters in the league!

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