Mariners end quiet Winter Meetings by taking Chris Clarke in Rule 5 draft


SAN DIEGO — On the third and final day of the Winter Meetings, the Mariners finally made an acquisition — though it’s not likely to satisfy a fanbase that probably felt the team would do more this week.

The Mariners selected 24-year-old right-handed pitcher Chris Clarke in the major-league portion of Wednesday’s Rule 5 draft, the final event of the meetings before teams scattered back to their respective cities.

The Mariners have had three Rule 5 pitchers make their Opening Day rosters since the 2019 season: Brandon Brennan (2019), Yohan Ramirez (2020) and Will Vest (2021).

Can Clarke, a former fourth-round pick of the Cubs in 2019, join that group in what is already a pretty good bullpen? We will see.

“He has a very good sinker, a curveball and changeup, and he throws a boatload of strikes,” said Mariners general manager Justin Hollander. “This skillset was very appealing to us. He does a lot of things we like.”

Clark, who was primarily a reliever at USC, has done both starting and relieving in his three seasons in the Cubs’ system. He spent the 2022 season at High-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee, compiling a 4.64 ERA in 26 games (21 starts).

For his professional career, Clarke has only walked 42 hitters in 196 2/3 innings, which certainly fits what the Mariners like from their relievers — filling up the strike zone.

The Mariners are hopeful they can help Clarke with a few things — “turn some dials,” as Hollander said — much like they have previously with not only their Rule 5 picks but also, recently, Austin Adams, Paul Sewald and others.

“We want to take a shot and see if we can help him,” Hollander said. “We can shorten him up and make him a more traditional reliever. He’s been a starter and we think he throws more than enough strikes.

“He’s kind of in that mixed role with real pitches and the physical size (Clarke is 6-foot-7),” Hollander said. “It was a gamble worth taking for us.”

Sadler returns on minor-league deal

Reliever Casey Sadler is likely heading back to the Mariners, this time on a minor-league contract. The deal for the 32-year-old has yet to be made official, though that could change before long.

Sadler missed all of last season after having right shoulder surgery. The club thinks he’ll be ready for the start of spring training with a chance to earn a job in the Mariners’ bullpen.

Sadler had an 0.67 ERA in 40 1/3 innings for the Mariners in 2021, striking out 37 while allowing only 19 hits. That 0.67 ERA was the lowest in the big leagues and also the lowest in franchise history for a single season with a minimum of 30 innings.

The competition for jobs in the Mariners’ bullpen figures to be fierce this spring. On a 13-man staff — minus the five starters — the candidates for the eight bullpen spots at this point include Sadler, Matt Brash, Diego Castillo, Chris Clarke, Matt Festa, Trevor Gott, Andrés Muñoz, Paul Sewald, Penn Murfee, Gabe Speier and Brandon Bernardino.

What’s next for the Mariners?

The Mariners’ front office contingent headed back to Seattle after Wednesday’s Rule 5 draft with work still to be done on the big-league roster before the start of spring training in February.

In terms of their to-do list, nothing has changed.

“Same shopping list that we’ve had coming in,” Hollander said. “We’d like to add more offense if we could and we’d like to create more advantage either by platoons or depth as we get deeper into the offseason. Then if something presents itself that makes our team better, we’re open to that.”

To date, the Mariners have traded for outfielder Teoscar Hernández and second baseman Kolten Wong. Ideally, they’d like to add another outfielder, a right-handed hitter and perhaps someone who can spell Ty France at first base and maybe get at-bats as the designated hitter.

That addition (or additions) are likely to come through trade, as the Mariners aren’t likely to make a large splash in free agency.

“We’ll get home, we’ll regroup and I think things will start to open-up a little bit once we get into next week,” Hollander said.

(Photo of Clarke: Danny Parker / Four Seam Images via Associated Press)


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