In what is shaping up to be a very busy pre-Thanksgiving Hot Stove League, the Mariners announced on Wednesday that they have agreed with relief pitcher Carl Edwards Jr. on a one-year contract. Edwards will receive a base salary of $950,000, with the potential to make another $500,000 in performance incentives tied to appearances and games finished.
This is the type of move that you will likely see more of in Seattle this winter. The Mariners are rebuilding, and though it’s not the type of rebuild that tears everything down to the foundation, they probably won’t be competitive in 2020. Whether you call it a rebuild or a retool or a reimagining, finding low-cost pickups and reclamation projects are typically smart things for teams to do. It’s also a healthy situation for players seeking to rebuild their value and get better contracts down the road.
Seattle’s bullpen is a prime place for these types of low-risk additions. Spending on relievers tends to be the worst bang-for-the-buck signings when it comes to wins, so it’s natural to look for these kinds of transactions to fill out the relief corps. The Mariners are also a good candidate for this as they’re currently projected in our Depth Charts to have the worst bullpen in baseball.
Edwards, a former Rangers starting pitcher prospect, found his niche as a short reliever with the Cubs from 2016-18, as his lack of a consistent changeup was less of a problem in short stints. Over Edwards’ first three full seasons in the majors, he struck out 213 batters in 154 1/3 innings, putting up a 3.03 ERA/3.12 FIP. However, continued command issues prevented Edwards from moving up in the pecking order. Walks plagued him as a prospect, and while he’s much better than he used to be, his locations can be inconsistent. In a poor 2019, Edwards actually set a career high for pitches in the zone despite walking nearly seven batters per nine innings.
To try and remedy the situation, Edwards tinkered with his mechanics before the 2019 season, adding a delay in his windup. MLB controversially said his delivery was illegal, but not until the season had already started. The sudden forced change to Edwards’ mechanics was an issue for him, and in his first four appearances, he allowed six runs, five walks, and two home runs in 1.2 innings. The Cubs decided to option Edwards to the minors to sort out his mechanics.
Edwards was recalled in May and largely returned to form, striking out 15 batters against three walks and allowing a 2.03 ERA and a .335 OPS against in 15 games for the Cubs. However, an injury to Edwards’ non-throwing shoulder sent him to the injured list for a month. Fighting for a playoff spot with a weak bullpen, the Cubs felt they couldn’t wait for Edwards to be healthy and traded him to the Padres for Brad Wieck. San Diego released Edwards earlier this month rather than risk going to arbitration.
There are some risks associated with Edwards, but I don’t think they are unreasonable ones. An injury to a non-throwing shoulder is obviously better than an injury to the throwing one, and Edwards was quite effective in 2019 when healthy and able to work out his pitching motion. I’d argue that these factors make him a better bet for a bounce-back season than many pitchers in similar situations. The ZiPS projection isn’t exciting, but a projection system is poorly equipped for odd situations like the one Edwards faced in April, so I’d take the under on his ERA.
I personally expect an ERA+ more in the 110-115 range, which is not world-beating, but the Mariners aren’t paying much. This is a hard offseason to add relievers, so there’s a good chance that a revived Edwards has trade deadline value come July. Additionally, Seattle is a great spot for him to land considering he doesn’t have a difficult path to a roster spot unless he’s absolutely terrible in the spring. Plus, staying on the west coast means Carl Jr. doesn’t have to change his name to Hardee’s.
Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.