The Mariners signed Lefty-Reliever Hong-Chih Kuo and Righty-Reliever Shawn Camp to major league contracts this year. The team had been seemingly courting Kuo for a while, and Kuo told teams that he’d be signing with the Mariners.
It would seem that the obvious deciding factor is for Kuo is that the Mariners will guarantee him a half-million dollars. He’s got the potential to earn over $3 million.
Kuo is a power-lefty that has struck out more than a batter per inning, and even did so last year while his velocity has dropped about 1.5 mph. The Mariners entered last season without a true lefty option out of the pen, and haven’t had a good one there since they traded George Sherrill to Baltimore in the deal that brought Erik Bedard to Seattle. Having Sherrill back on the roster, and potentially Sean Henn also coming out of the pen, the team may seem a bit lefty-heavy, but Kuo is also an above-average pitcher against righties for his career and Safeco will help to hide some of his deficiencies.
The big issue with Kuo is that he walks too many batters. While he missed less bats on average last year than any other year of his career, he also threw less pitches in the strike zone than ever before in his career. He averaged 7.67 K/9 last year, while dealing with anxiety and elbow issues.
If he’s healthy, both mentally and physically, he’s got shut-down reliever potential, and is a viable trade candidate at the deadline. He’s probably worth the $500,000 risk to bring him in, as he could be worth much more than the maximum the Mariners could pay him.
The Camp signing is a bit more curious. He certainly doesn’t seem like a guy with peripherals that indicate he’d deserve a minor league deal. His K/9 has dropped every year since 2007, and he averaged only 4.34 K/9 last year while averaging 2.98 BB/9. He throws a lot of ground balls (53.5 percent) and misses a tick under a league-average amount of bats. I don’t think that Camp is much better than many of the non-roster invitees guys the Mariners signed already. That said, the salary is probably pretty low, and he can handle some innings out of the pen.
To make room for those two the Mariners designated both Chris Gimenez and Mike Wilson for assignment. The two both seem likely to return the Mariners farm system, but especially Gimenez, who was already non-tendered earlier this offseason.