Ci-Shek, Please! – Seattle Mariners Offseason Update, Part Four
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
With the recent subtraction of erstwhile closers Carson Smith, Danny Farquhar, and Tom Wilhelmsen, it was starting to feel like the Mariners were improving every part of their roster at the expense of the relief corps. This doesn’t necessarily cripple them in terms of contending, but most playoff teams run deep in the bullpen (see: your reigning World Series champions, the Kansas City Relievers). Sure, the team picked Joaquin Benoit up from the scrap heap that is the San Diego Padres, but many of the deals recently chronicled in this very space were consummated with the inclusion of Seattle relievers. Presumably, new general manager Jerry Dipoto took a look at his sleek new lineup and revamped rotation, tapped his finger against his chin, and said “We can do better than this.”
Enter Steve Cishek. Formerly of the Miami Marlins and coming off a half-season stint with the St. Louis Cardinals, Cishek signed a two-year deal worth $10 million this past Friday to join us in the PNW. The early expectation is that he will be the team’s closer come Opening Day, with Benoit handling the eighth inning, but we all know that Spring Training can make fools of us all. Interesting tidbit: Cishek holds the Marlins’ franchise record for consecutive saves, with 33 straight. Mighty impressive for an organization that hasn’t even won that many games in a season since Jeffrey Loria was systematically obliterating the Montreal Expos.
Cishek certainly brings a great deal of closing experience with him – he’s recorded 95 saves since he began pitching primarily in the ninth inning, back in 2012. It’s pedantic to say that Cishek has “the stuff” necessary to close, mostly because “the stuff” is completely unquantifiable. Theoretically, any pitcher can take the ball at the end of the game with a lead and have a more than fair chance of preserving the win. The numbers that we can examine, however, don’t exactly make the picture any clearer. Cishek’s ERA has risen steadily over the last three years, from a 2.33 mark in 2013 to 3.58 last season. FIP doesn’t really know what to make of him either – his 3.86 figure in 2015 was higher than his ERA, but 2014 saw a discrepancy of a full run between the two (ERA: 3.17; FIP: 2.17). Equally troubling is the decline in his strikeout numbers: he posted a career-best 11.57 K/9 in that stellar 2014 before managing just a meager 7.81 in 2015.
Relievers, as we know, are fluid. They exist in a reality just outside of our own, enigmas unto themselves. One year, they pitch like Mariano Rivera; the next, Saul Rivera. Even though a few of his peripherals could be cause for concern (I decided not to include his walk rates here, since I suffer from clinical depression and just looking at those numbers made me despondent), there’s reason to believe that Cishek should aptly handle closing duties at Safeco Park. For one, he’ll be pitching in Safeco Park. For another, he’s still just 29. Some swingmen throw effectively well into their 40s; Steve doesn’t even turn 30 until June. He’ll likely need an adjustment period, as he’s never thrown a single pitch in the American League, but most of his new divisional rivals don’t have intimidating sluggers throughout their lineups – once you get past Mike Trout, Carlos Correa, and Prince Fielder, it’s just despair, anguish, and Billy Butler.
I find myself saying this a lot nowadays, but this appears to be yet another savvy move made by the Mariners’ new captain. Call me a #DipotoDevotee if you want, but you can’t say this man isn’t doing his level best to bring relevancy back to Seattle baseball. With Cishek in the fold and Iwakuma returning to it, an intriguing Mariners roster becomes that much more so. Eat your heart out, Fernando Rodney.
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