The 2016 Seattle Mariners Starting Rotation Possibilities

Who Goes When In the M’s Rotation?

A new year has dawned and the Seattle Mariners of 2016 look just as new as the year does, under the watchful eyes of new Mariners’ General Manager Jerry Dipoto.

Much the way we discussed the Mariners lineup possibilities, there are just as many interesting nuances and numbers to sort through when you try to come up with the M’s starting five.  Continuing with the “possibilities” thought process, let’s turn our attention to the M’s starting rotation.

The good news here is that we have plenty of candidates for the rotation.  Some I think are locks, others could easily turn into heated spring training battles that won’t get decided until April.  Here’s a look at all of the guys that want to be one of the five starters come April 4th  when the Mariners get their season started against the Rangers.

Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

Felix pitches on opening day. Case closed. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer/Dan DeLong)

Felix Hernandez

I really don’t think I have to spend a lot of time discussing whether or not Felix Hernandez is going to make the Mariners rotation.  Not only will he make it, he’ll be the opening day starter baring some kind of injury during the spring.  Anyone who thinks otherwise can just buy their ticket to stupid town right now.

Felix may not have had his best year by his lofty standards in 2015, but he still won 18 games and threw 200+ innings.  That’s the eighth consecutive season Hernandez has thrown 200+ innings.  He also has had an ERA less than 4.00 in his last nine consecutive seasons.  Argument over!  Felix throws on opening day.

Hisashi Iwakuma

In a move that can only be described as coup d’etat-like, the M’s sleepless new General Manager, Jerry Dipoto, managed to re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma for an affordable price and after the Mariners had all but lost him to the Dodgers.  Iwakuma’s return was so improbable, even to Dipoto, that he and the M’s had already made a trade to get another starter to replace Iwakuma prior to his unlikely return.

The Dodgers backed out of Iwakuma’s deal at the last possible second and the Mariners were only too happy to swoop in and get Iwakuma back, and at even better deal than they had originally offered him.

The biggest concern with Iwakuma has to be his health.  He spent much of the 2015 season the DL with a lat muscle problem.  The Dodgers also cited Iwakuma’s physical as the reason for backing out of their deal with the right hander.

Iwakuma’s only other significant injury was when he snagged his finger in a chain link fence two years ago while practicing his pitching motion.  I think I have to classify that injury into the “freak accident” category and not something I would worry about being a problem long term.

If the lat problem is your only real concern, then I have to think you roll the dice with Iwakuma as far as where he fits into the M’s rotation.  He’s put up four solid seasons worth of numbers for the Mariners.  There’s no real reason to think he can’t do it at least one more time.  I slot him in the two hole right behind Felix.

Miley is a new but very reliable new face in the M's rotation.

Miley is a new but very reliable new face in the M’s rotation.

Wade Miley

Now things start to get a bit more interesting as we work our way down the rotation.  Wade Miley is a new name to the Mariners’ roster.  He’s the guy Dipoto went out and got to replace Iwakuma.  The cost was heavy too.  The M’s sent Carson Smith out of town to get Miley to Seattle but I don’t think having too many starters is ever a real concern.

Miley was brought to Seattle for two reasons.  He eats a lot of innings and he’s a durable, reliable guy in a major league rotation.  Looking at his numbers, there’s nothing else there that gets you real excited other than the fact that he continually throws better than 190 innings every year.

Miley doesn’t walk a huge number of guys.  He’s about average in that area.  Miley regularly pitches to contact and he gives up some hits as a result, but rarely does he let the hitting get out of hand.

Playing in Safeco Field with the kind of defense behind him that Dipoto has built will likely mean a jump up in Miley’s numbers.  For that reason I give him the nod for the number three hole behind Iwakuma.

Walker is poised for a breakout season. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) ORG XMIT: OTK

Walker is poised for a breakout season. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) ORG XMIT: OTK

Taijuan Walker

The Seattle Mariners’ ace-in-training, Taijuan Walker, threw more innings than he ever had in a single season when he posted 169.2 innings pitched in the 2015 season.  Walker finished with an 11-8 record with an ERA at 4.59 for the year.

It’s easy to forget that Walker is still just 23 years old and still learning how to pitch in the big leagues.  However, jumping his innings pitched totals by more than 130 innings from 2014 to 2015 is a definite sign that Walker is poised to have a big season in 2016.

Dogging Walker might be the fact that he has struggled with injuries.  Still, if healthy, Walker is my guy for the number four spot in the M’s rotation.  Despite the injury risk, Walker has earned this opportunity.  Besides, the Mariners have backup if Walker’s health becomes an issue.

The Number Five Spot

I’m pretty confident about my front four guys.  The battle for the fifth spot is going to be very, very interesting during the month of March.  There are two principal guys that will be gutting it out for the spot.  They are lefty James Paxton and righty Nate Karns.  Also, as wild cards, the Mariners must consider Mike Montgomery and Vidal Nuno for the fifth spot.

Karns could beat out Paxton for the fifth rotation spot.

Karns could beat out Paxton for the fifth rotation spot.

Four guys, one spot.  It’s a problem, but one just about any manager or GM would love to have, especially when you start considering the talent these guys have.

M’s fans should be very familiar with Paxton.  He’s been a dominant lefty starter for the M’s at times, and a frequent visitor to the disabled list at others.  There’s not any question in my mind that Paxton is capable of being an outstanding MLB starter.  There’s a huge question as to whether or not he can do it for 200 innings in one season.  If he can stay healthy, the Mariners would have a gem.

Another potential gem is Karns.  Karns, like Paxton, has thrown only 170 innings or so in his major league career.  The big difference is that Karns managed to throw most of his in a single season, which was just last year, whereas Paxton has amassed his total over three injury filled seasons.

Karns could easily win this job if he simply continues to pitch well and stays healthy while Paxton has another visit to the DL.  The decision will get much tougher if Paxton’s health doesn’t falter.

The other consideration might be that the M’s will want a second left hander in the rotation to go along with Miley.  That could entice the Mariners to go with Paxton over Karns if everything else winds up equal during the spring.

Don’t count out Montgomery or Nuno from consideration either.  Montgomery is also left handed and pitched a pretty impressive string of seven games in June and July last season that included back to back, complete game shutouts.  Putting up those kinds of numbers won’t allow the M’s to ignore Montgomery’s candidacy for the 5th spot.

Nuno, as far as I am concerned, has better value as a long relief/spot starter type of a guy than a regular in the rotation.  The Mariners used him in that role last year and I think he fits in well there.  If injuries strike the M’s rotation, and you’d be a fool to think it won’t happen, they’ll need Nuno in this role again.

Making The Call

If I had to call it today, without the benefit of watching spring training, here’s my starting five in order– Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton.

I lean towards Paxton for the left handed factor only at this point.  Ability wise, I think Paxton and Karns are equal.  Should he falter, Karns would be the first guy I’d call up to replace him, or anyone else in the rotation.  So much can happen during Spring Training, however, so don’t count any of these guys out just yet.

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About Brian Scott

Husband, Philosopher, Animal Rights Advocate, and Author Brian is a Spokane native and Gonzaga University grad. Seahawks, Mariners, GU Hoops and Cougar football are the teams that drive his passion for sports. You can catch him on twitter too! Connect with Brian today!
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