Posted on November 26, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
As the Seattle Mariners look to rebuild, they aren’t likely to spend much money this winter. However, they did open up their wallet on Tuesday to sign former Oakland pitcher Kendall Graveman. The two sides agreed to a deal worth $1.5 million in 2020 with a $3.5 million option for 2021. There are also incentives based on innings pitched that could make allow Graveman to make far more than the base salary. After sitting out all of 2019 after underdoing Tommy John surgery, Graveman figures to be a nice low-risk signing for the rebuilding Mariners.
Graveman, who will turn 29 next month, broke into the majors in 2014 with the Blue Jays. He was traded to the A’s the following offseason in the deal that sent Josh Donaldson to Toronto. Over the next three seasons, he was a steady part of Oakland’s rotation, making 71 starts over that time, winning 22 games. However, Graveman got off to a rough start in 2018, going 1-5 with a 7.60 ERA over seven starts before undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The A’s parted ways with Graveman after the 2018 season, but he landed with the Cubs last winter. Graveman ended up doing the majority of his Tommy John rehab as a member of the Cubs and even made a couple of minor league rehab starts in Chicago’s farm system toward the end of the 2019 season. However, the Cubs ultimately declined his $3 million option for the 2020 season, sending him back to the free-agent market, where the Mariners scooped him up.
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“Kendall is a great bounce-back candidate,” Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said of Graveman. “His makeup is off the charts, and we’ve done a fair bit of homework on him from his time in Oakland and more recently in Chicago. He was a workhorse, ground ball-oriented pitcher, with whom we saw a velocity spike prior to his Tommy John surgery.”
Seattle’s hope is that if Graveman is healthy, he’ll fill one of the vacancies in their starting rotation. At the moment, Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi are the only pitchers guaranteed a spot in Seattle’s rotation in 2020. With Graveman on board, the Mariners would at least have three solid mid-rotation starters, which isn’t a bad foundation for a rebuilding team, assuming Graveman is able to return to the form he had from 2015 to 2017.
“We really trust him and his ability to consistently throw strikes,” said Dipoto. “At 28 years old, he has the ability to stay in our system for a period of time and gives us something to look forward to.”
For the remaining spots in their rotation, the Mariners are hoping that some of their young prospects will prove ready to take on full-time jobs in the big leagues. Justus Sheffield is a good bet to get a chance after starting seven games for Seattle last year. The same is true of Justin Dunn, who impressed in his first four major league starts. Erik Swanson could also get an opportunity to start, although he also pitched out of Seattle’s bullpen last season.
Given the uncertainty of Seattle’s rotation, Graveman and the Mariners are a perfect match for one another. Graveman doesn’t have to worry about competing for a rotation spot while the Mariners can fill one of the vacancies in their rotation without forcing a young pitcher to take a spot before he’s ready. Obviously, there are no guarantees that he’ll come back from surgery healthy and productive. But signing Graveman carries little risk for the Mariners and comes with plenty of upside.