Yesterday the Mariners released Tom Wilhelmsen after a short second stint in Seattle. He only pitched twenty-five innings, but that was enough playing time for GM, Jerry Dipoto to determine if Wilhelmsen would be part of the M’s future plans.
Wilhelmsen was a long time staple in the Mariners bullpen up until the end of 2015. He pitched exceptionally, especially in 2012 and 2014 when his ERA was at or below 2.50.
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When he wasn’t coming in as a middle-reliever, Wilhelmsen had the chance to shut down games as the M’s closer (mostly in 2012 and 2013).
Over his four years in the Pacific North-West, he tallied sixty-seven saves; enough to tie him with the M’s mid-nineties closer, Norm Charlton, for the fifth most saves in Mariners history.
At the end of 2015, he was exchanged for the Texas Rangers, Leonys Martin, who is currently the Mariners centerfielder and team spark plug. Not a year later, Wilhelmsen would return to the M’s in mid-June.
Whether it was due to his role demoted role from closer to mid-reliever in the M’s bullpen or the back problems that would later put him on the DL, the right-hander never settled back down in Seattle. He would finish 2016 with an ERA of 3.60 over twenty-nine games.
As a side note, he was able to close out one game, recording a save, and taking sole possession of fifth place on the Mariners saves list. But it wasn’t enough for Dipoto to keep Wilhelmsen around.
And who should be surprised? The M’s have been completely transforming their pitching resources since the off-season began.
In the past month, Ryan Cook and Charlie Furbush have been outrighted -Cook would sign a minor league deal two days later- David Rollins and Adrian Sampson were claimed off waivers, Dylan Thompson, Zack Littell, and Andrew Kittredge were traded away, and Drew Storen and Hisashi Iwakuma both elected for free agency.
The Mariners have gotten a few hurlers in return such as James Pazos. They have also claimed Dean Kiekhefer and Ryan Weber off waivers. But it is clear to see that many more pitchers are not on the Mariners roster anymore.
The reason behind this seems to be Dipoto’s interest in giving young, hardworking Mariners a chance to prove themselves at the big league level.
Aside from signing new players like Peter Tago and Blake Perry, who have not played a game at the big league level, the M’s have selected the contracts of Paul Fry and Thyago Vieira, who will get their first playing time at Safeco Field.
Vieira has worked his way through the minors, including throwing in Venezuela in two minor league summer seasons. Fry is has fought his way into the M’s top twenty prospect list, and is coming off a great season at AAA Tacoma.
With the additions of Fry and Vieira, the Mariners now have five, top thirty prospects on their twenty-five man roster. On top of that, four more pitchers are twenty-six or younger, most notably, Edwin Diaz and Taijuan Walker.
So, even just a month into the off-season, Dipoto is sending a clear message as to what he plans to do with this club for 2017. The big question looming over the Mariners because of this choice is: will the young pitchers live up to the expectations that have been rightfully thrust upon them? Only time will tell.