Mariners snare free agent Washburn

Mariners add Washburn to rotation

Old friends Jarrod Washburn and Bill Bavasi have both been doing a lot of hunting this winter.

Washburn, the left-handed starter who spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Angels, has been tracking down deer near his rural Wisconsin home.

Bavasi, the Mariners' general manager, has been scouring the free agent market and pounding the phone lines with other teams to improve his team for 2006.

Both scored what they seem to think is a major hit by agreeing to a four-year, $37.5 million contract that will allow Washburn to stay in the American League West and Bavasi to continue to renovate the Seattle starting rotation.

"At the start of this offseason, our goals were to acquire a high-quality starting pitcher, add offense, re-sign Jamie Moyer and, ideally, upgrade our catching," Bavasi said. "Today's announcement marks the final, and perhaps most important, in that offseason list of goals.

"Jarrod is a proven Major League winner who immediately makes us better in the starting rotation. He has pitched in big games, including in the postseason. He was a pitcher we had targeted from the beginning of the offseason, and we are very excited to have him on the club for the next four years."

Washburn, 31, made $6.5 million last year with the Angels and went 8-8, but his 3.20 ERA ranked fourth in the AL and was his lowest mark since his watershed season of 2002, when he went 18-6 with a 3.15 ERA as the ace for an Angels team that won the World Series.

Bavasi knows Washburn very well. As GM of the Angels in 1995, he selected Washburn in the second round of the First-Year Player Draft, and he watched the pitcher develop into a feisty, courageous gamer who gritted out most of his early career with about four versions of one pitch: the fastball.

Washburn, who has a lifetime 75-57 career record with a 3.93 ERA, has added to his repertoire since then, with a changeup, a slider and the beginnings of a split-fingered fastball in his arsenal since 2003.

"I don't think there's any question I'm a better pitcher now than I have been in the past," Washburn said. "I'm continuing to improve my overall game. I was kind of forced into that non-fastball thing. In Spring Training in '03, I fell down on my shoulder and I'm pretty stubborn and I don't like missing time so I kept pitching through it. I lost some zip on my fastball that year.

"I was forced to use other pitches I didn't have confidence in. By doing that, I gained more confidence in the breaking ball. By throwing it more often, it got better. I continued to evolve as a pitcher."

Washburn is a contact pitcher who gets a good deal of fly-ball outs, which should play well in the vast layout of Safeco Field. He pitches at about 86-89 mph with a fastball that occasionally reaches 90-92.

Another positive about Washburn is the fact that he won't have to make at least half of his starts in Anaheim. In his Major League career, Washburn is 47-24 with a 3.34 ERA away from Angel Stadium, compared to 28-33 and 4.61 ERA at home.

More good numbers for the Mariners: Last year, he was second in the AL in road ERA with a 2.65 mark and led the AL in night ERA at 2.53. Washburn also got stronger as the year went on, allowing more than three earned runs in three of his final 17 starts, and he did not allow a stolen base all season. The 177 1/3 innings without a steal was the fourth-highest total of innings pitched in a season without allowing a steal since 1974.

Washburn also seems to like pitching in Seattle. Last year, he compiled a 1.93 ERA in two Safeco Field starts while holding opponents to a .188 batting average there. Lifetime in Safeco, Washburn is 5-4 with a 3.53 ERA and a .240 opposing batting average in 11 starts.

"With my history, I've been a fly-ball pitcher, and there's no question that Safeco Field plays pretty big," Washburn said. "When you've got guys like Ichiro [Suzuki] and Jeremy Reed out there in the outfield, I've seen them make some great plays over the years. [When] you got guys like that running down balls for you, it sure can help."

"Jarrod should be a great fit for our rotation," Mariners manager Mike Hargrove added. "With the left-handed hitting in the AL West and in our ballpark, it's nice to have another lefty."

One concern about Washburn in the last couple of years has been injuries. In 2004, he was sidelined for six weeks because of a cartilage tear in his chest and finished the year with 25 starts and 149 1/3 innings. Last season, he had flare-ups in his elbow and forearm that limited him to 177 1/3 innings and 29 starts. The last time Washburn pitched over 200 innings was 2003, when he logged a career-high 207 1/3.

Still, the Angels won the AL West in 2004 and 2005.

"We won the division and Jarrod had a huge part in that," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said in early 2005. "He poured his heart out there all year and held up his end. At times, he might have struggled with a few things, but we know what he can do. We saw it in 2002. It's still in there."

The Mariners are banking big-time on Scioscia's sentiments, and the addition of Washburn gives them another piece to a rotation that's almost full.

Washburn joins Moyer, Felix Hernandez and Joel Pineiro as definites for Seattle's starting staff, and Tuesday should give more clues, when the team decides if it will offer contracts to arbitration-eligible hurlers Gil Meche and Ryan Franklin.

Rumors have been swirling that the Mariners might be talking trades with the Red Sox, who will be looking for a center fielder if free agent Johnny Damon leaves Boston, perhaps for the New York Yankees. If that happens, published reports have indicated that the Mariners might deal Reed to the Sox for either Matt Clement or Bronson Arroyo.

Meanwhile, Washburn represents another big step in the Mariners' offseason rebuilding plan. They already signed free agent catcher Kenji Johjima and outfielder/designated hitter Carl Everett, while trading catcher Yorvit Torrealba for hard-throwing relief prospect Marcos Carvajal.

The newest Mariner said he'll be surprised if it isn't a better year for Seattle fans than it has been for the last two.

"Every time we played against the Mariners last year, I couldn't believe they weren't winning more games," Washburn said. "They've got a lot of talent on the ballclub. The lineup they have starting with Ichiro at the top and working all the way down, they've got some talented guys.

"They felt they were lacking some better pitching. I think I can improve that ... I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.