Chris Flexen Is One Of The More Pleasant Mariners Surprises

So much positivity and good vibes going on lately, I might have to change the name to Seattle Sports Heaven!

Chris Flexen was one of those out-of-left-field signings before this season that I don’t think anyone really had any faith in. You’re talking about a guy who flamed out so hard with the Mets organization that he spent 2020 in Korea, where to his credit he did manage to turn his game around, but you have to take that with a grain of salt. Lots of people leave the Major Leagues for greener pastures over in Asia and see dramatic improvements; that’s not a knock, they just don’t have the level of talent that MLB has. I think some fans may have pointed to the specific types of improvements Flexen made as an indication that it could translate back over here. But, again, I don’t know why anyone would have thought he’d be as good as he’s been so far with the Mariners.

He’s made 16 starts, with 8 of them of the quality variety. I would argue he’s done his job in all but four of those starts, which were pretty bad (including one where he failed to make it out of the second inning), but otherwise he’s eating innings and consistently giving the Mariners at least a chance to win. His 8-3 record reflects this nicely. He’s crazy-economical with his pitch counts to boot, which should bode well for his durability.

I wouldn’t normally be raving about a Chris Flexen type. From a pure “stuff” standpoint, he’s more in the #3 or #4 starter range. But, obviously the Mariners’ rotation has had its struggles this season – both with injury and effectiveness – so it’s nice to have this rock in there who we can depend on for this type of consistency. When you factor in his salary, he’s a tremendous bargain who will be around for at least the next 2-3 seasons if he continues to produce in this fashion.

Flexen is earning less than $2 million this year. He’s locked in at just under $3 million for next year. There’s a team option for 2023 worth $4 million, that increases to $8 million if he hits 150 innings in 2022, or a combined 300 innings from 2021-2022. Considering he’s already at 92.1 innings at the All Star Break, I would say the $8 million is likely to be met. There’s another Arbitration year in 2024 on top of that, so team control isn’t an issue with Flexen. He’ll be here for a while as long as he stays healthy and pitches the way he’s been pitching.

As we’ve seen, both locally and across MLB, filling out your rotation with quality pitchers is one of the most difficult things you can do. We always talk about the need for bona fide ace pitchers, but you also need guys like Flexen. He’s only 27 years old, so it feels silly to call him a “crafty veteran”, but he’s a pitcher. He’s not getting by on overwhelming stuff. He’s pitching to spots, pitching to contact, and generating just enough whiffs to prevent E.R.A. bloat. As long as they avoid injury, guys like Flexen can stick in the game for a long time. He strikes me as more of a journeyman type, but sometimes these guys stay so consistently good that teams HAVE to pay them lots of money to stick around for multiple years. We’re getting him in his prime, at sub-prime prices.

I don’t like being one of those fans who’s obsessed with the team’s bottom line, because MLB teams are owned by billionaires. They have the money to spend. If they don’t spend it, they’re just being stingy. But, I have to be a fan who lives in the real world, and I know the Mariners can be stingy. They’ll splurge when they have to, but they’re never going to consistently reside at the top of the market. At best, you might see the M’s in the top ten in payroll, but I don’t know if you’ll ever see us in the top five, or even the top seven or eight. Everything kind of has to go right for the Mariners to want to go all in.

So, we need the young crop of prospects to hit it big. And we need bargains like Flexen to out-perform their contracts. This helps make the Mariners good, and thereby helps the front office feel better about opening their wallets.

The Mariners are 48-43. That’s certainly better than I figured they’d be at his point, when I considered this team before the season. Chris Flexen is a great reason why. He has a 1.5 WAR. Justus Sheffield – one of the greatest Mariners disappointments so far in 2021 – has a negative 1.5 WAR. Flexen is the anti-Sheffield! He zeroes out all that Sheffield has done to try to sabotage this season. I think that’s pretty impressive!

I’m also amused that he’s another ex-Mets player who crushes it in Seattle. Can we make it a point to bring in every ex-Met and turn them into superstars?