Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Jarrod Dyson

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

Remember the days when the Mariners could hardly cobble together ONE centerfielder?  Remember when Jason Bay of all people actually got some play there?  Now, the Mariners have approximately 1 billion centerfielders, and we’re all the better for it.

We got Jarrod Dyson from the Royals for Nate Karns, which sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, but remember how not worth a damn Karns was last year?  Remember how the Mariners are trying to “Win Now”?  You see how you scum.  You get the idea.

In a vacuum, acquiring Dyson is nothing to get one’s panties wet over.  You’re talking about a slap-hitting defense-first outfielder, for crying out loud.  But, in context, it’s hard to dislike the move.  For starters, we get to pair him with Leonys Martin to showcase the best defensive 1-2 punch of any outfield.  He’s also, not for nothing, a competent backup should Martin get injured.  And, with the likelihood of a Ben Gamel/Mitch Haniger/Taylor Motter/Guillermo Heredia in right field, you’re talking about one of the best – if not THE best – defensive outfield in Major League Baseball.  And, shush, even if you have to run Danny Valencia or *shudder* Nelson Cruz over in right, you’re not losing a whole helluva lot by having Dyson and Martin covering as much ground as they do.

Then, when you stop to consider this pitching staff – a staff that gives up a lot of contact and a lot of fly balls – and how much it’s likely to struggle this year, a top-notch defensive outfield is just what the doctor ordered.  Let’s face it, we’re going to get PLENTY of offense out of our infield and DH; maintaining an elite run-saving defense could be the difference in getting those last few victories to get us over the hump and into the playoffs.

Now, obviously, the elephant in the room is Dyson’s offense.  We’ve had terrible visions of slap-hitting, defense-first outfielders over the years (when they’re not power-hitting, defense-last lumbering oafs, that is); it seems like these little guys are the only ones we’re able to work through our minor league system.  The last time we were able to cultivate a complete outfielder, we traded him away to the Orioles with a bunch of other guys for Erik Bedard.  So, you know, what makes Dyson stand out over all the other humps we’ve run through here?

He’ll hit you anywhere from .250 to .280, depending on the season.  As I alluded to before, he’s got next-to-no power (6 homers in the last 5 seasons), aside from maybe a few singles he’s able to stretch into doubles.  He gets on base at a decent-enough clip to see him spend a significant amount of time near the top of the lineup, but I have to figure there will be peaks and valleys that will see him drop to near the bottom of the lineup at times as well.  The biggest draw with someone like Dyson – particularly when you bat him high in the lineup – is his speed on the basepaths.  156 stolen bases the last five seasons, which doesn’t even get into how many times he’ll go from first to third on a single, or score from first on a double, and so on and so forth.

One would think, on an offense like this, if he played everyday, he’d approach 100 runs scored, so long as he put up quality on-base numbers.  But, given that he’s never really been an everyday player in his 7 seasons with Kansas City, I have to wonder if the Mariners won’t do some sort of quasi-platoon with him and our other Quad-A outfielders on this team.

This move has me less hard than the one to bring in Danny Valencia, but I can still appreciate why it was made and what Dyson brings to the table.  If things break right for him this year, he could be a big part of this team’s success both defensively and offensively.  Considering he’s another one in a contract year, he has every reason to come into 2017 ready and raring to go.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Danny Valencia

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

This might be lowkey the most intriguing move the Mariners made all offseason.  To be honest, going into this, I had no idea who Danny Valencia was or what he could bring to the table, other than being a platoon partner at first base, with the capability to play corner outfield.  I honestly forgot he came up as a third baseman, and they see him as a guy who can give Kyle Seager a day off here and there if necessary.  Other than that, there was just this overall aura of “Clubhouse Cancer” clouding my opinion of the man.  I guess he got into a fight with Billy Butler last year in Oakland?  And, I guess I took that to mean he was a problem everywhere he played?  Truth be told, since coming up in 2010, he’s played for a whopping six franchises before landing in Seattle, which can’t bode well for your uninformed opinion on the man.

But, if you look at his numbers, we’re not talking about a superstar you build your team around.  Valencia is a complementary player to fill out your roster with some depth and versatility.  He’s had good years and bad years.  He’s a right-handed bat who KILLS left-handed pitching.  And, over the last couple years, he’s improved his production against same-handed pitching as well.

Also, not for nothing, but it kinda sounds like Billy Butler was acting like a total ass-bag in that clubhouse fight and deserved to be concussed.  So, take that for what it’s worth.

Here’s the deal.  We traded for Valencia, giving the A’s a minor league pitcher with not a ton of upside.  He’s a free agent after this season, who is earning $5.5 million this year.  He’s currently slotted to be a first base platoon partner with Dan Vogelbach.  And, you figure, if he proves capable of doing some damage against righties, he’ll get some play in the outfield as well.

On the low-end of the scale, he’ll be a backup playing exclusively against lefties.  On the high-end, he very well could force himself into an everyday position on this team, in sort of a Mark McLemore-type role on the team.  He can play practically anywhere on the field, except probably catcher, short stop, and centerfield.  He’s got a moderate amount of pop (35 homers total the last two years; 45 doubles in the same span), he’s played exclusively in the American League (so he knows the pitching), he hits for a pretty solid average (.280-.290 range or so), and he’s improved at getting on base.  Considering he’s in a contract year, on a potential playoff team, you have to figure he’s going to be engaged and looking for his first real big payday in professional baseball.

Quite honestly, this has all the makings of a MAJOR breakout waiting to happen.  I can’t think of a better guy to have in this role for us, at a better time.  If he manages to do what I think he’ll do, then we’re talking about the Big Three, Jean Segura, Valencia, and one of our speedy outfielders (likely Jarrod Dyson, who I’ll write about in due time) comprising the top six spots in our lineup, which as we get closer to the regular season, is looking more and more formidable by the day.  On top of that, you’ve got a guy in Zunino you don’t have to bat any higher than 7th?!?!  That’s incredible!  You keep him stashed in the bottom third, while still getting a good amount of power that you otherwise wouldn’t expect so low in the lineup.

The best part of having Valencia on the team is that we don’t have to go back to the Franklin Gutierrez well.  As much as I love and appreciate the guy (who recently signed with the Dodgers) for what he was able to do, and his journey back to playing on a semi-regular basis, he’s getting up there in age, and his production last year was lacking considerably.  Valencia is a step up in every way, plus I don’t have to worry about whether or not he’s going to be available to play.  The same can be said for not going back to the Dae-ho Lee well.  Again, LOVE the guy, really appreciate what he was able to do last year in his first (and probably only) season in the Major Leagues.  It was a fun and worthy experiment, but he’s probably in a better place now, back in Korea making some serious dough.  I can’t imagine – if we’d re-signed him – that he’d improve considerably from what he gave us last year (which, admittedly, started to decline the more he was forced into action due to Adam Lind’s mediocrity).  And, let’s face it, his total and complete lack of speed on the basepaths was a huge liability compared to someone like Valencia.

Look, what I’m getting at here is, I’m very high on Danny Valencia.  Put me all in on as much stock as I can buy on this guy, because I think he’s poised for a really special season.  And look, I’m not saying he is some sort of clubhouse cancer or anything, but if he IS, this team is loaded with veterans in leadership positions that should keep him in line.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Carlos Ruiz

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

You can’t really talk about the addition of Carlos Ruiz without talking about Mike Zunino, so consider this post a 2 for 1.  Zunino has had a tricky professional career so far.  He was drafted 3rd overall in 2012, poised to be this team’s Catcher of the Future.  The “future” ended up being June 11, 2013, and if you think that sounds quick – about a year and a week after being drafted – yeah, you’re right.  That’s pretty fucking quick.

But, he had the pedigree, he had the chops in college, he did pretty well in the minors, and this team was desperate.  Really, more than anything, the GM was desperate for ONE of his high first round draft picks to pan out, so he kept throwing lukewarm damp pasta against the wall hoping something would eventually stick.

After a promising start in 2013, he was given the everyday job in 2014.  The next two years, he played more or less as this team’s starting catcher, and while he grew into a leader of pitchers and a quality defender behind the plate, it was increasingly clear that he didn’t have a clue when he stood up there with a bat in his hands.  If he didn’t luck into the barrel squaring up the ball for a homer, he usually struck out.  It got so bad that, once Jerry Dipoto took over, he brought in not one but TWO new catchers to ensure Zunino started 2016 in Tacoma, where he belonged.  An untimely injury to Steve Clevenger – who, it appeared, was starting to come around at the plate with increasing playing time – necessitated Zunino’s call-up.  Chris Iannetta’s utter incompetence necessitated Zunino’s retaking of the starting catcher role.

But, to his credit, Zunino came back with renewed focus at the plate and a keen eye for the strike zone.  The script didn’t flip totally – though his first month back saw him producing astronomic numbers at the plate – but there’s certainly something to build upon for the 2017 season.

So, why trade for Ruiz then?

Well, for starters, from August 23, 2016, through the end of the season, Zunino went 13 for 89 (.146) with 5 extra base hits.  And, while it’s great he was able to walk 11 times in that span – indeed, he nearly doubled his walk rate from the previous year, albeit in a smaller sample – you have to worry about Zunino falling back into some old, bad habits at the plate.  Enter Ruiz.

At this point in his career, 38 years old and whatnot, Ruiz probably isn’t much more than a backup catcher.  I’ll say this, though:  he should be a damned good one!  If all goes according to plan, and the Mariners are able to go with a 65/35 split, with Zunino getting the regular duty and Ruiz backing him up, I don’t think I could be happier.  That’ll mean Zunino is pulling his weight at the plate, no one is injured, and both guys are contributing in a big way.

If, however, Ruiz starts eating into that 65/35 split, and starts taking more of a starter’s role on the team, we’ll probably have some issues.  I like what Ruiz has to offer, I really do.  He’s leaps and bounds above what a Jesus Sucre can do for you; he’s got some good defense, some pop in his bat, he’ll hit for average and get on base.  As a guy who plays roughly 35% of the time, he should be golden.  But, I feel like the more he plays, the more diminishing returns we’re going to see out of him, and that scares me.  That particularly scares me in the context of this season, because that means we’re also getting diminishing returns out of Zunino, which will translate into the following:

  1. The 2017 Mariners will have a black hole at the catcher spot once again
  2. The viability of Mike Zunino as a full time starter going forward plummets

Ultimately, what we need to have happen is for Zunino to be around a .250 hitter with his pop, pitch framing, and everything else.  That’s the mark of a REAL Catcher of the Future.  If his bat falls apart again this year, then you have to strongly think about trading him away and salvaging as much value as you can, while at the same time working your ass off over the next year to fill the catcher position on a more permanent basis.

2017 is really a Do or Die year for the Mariners and their catcher spot.  Carlos Ruiz is here to hopefully mitigate some of that risk – should Zunino bottom out again – but he’s not a long-term solution.  On the flipside, for a team looking to make the playoffs, Carlos Ruiz is EXACTLY the type of guy you want on your team.  Someone who’s been there.  Someone who’s a top-flight leader (on a team full of them, with Felix, Robbie, Cruz, Seager, Martin, and so on).  And, most importantly, if he does stick in that backup role, he’s still a guy you’re not afraid to play in August and September, when the games REALLY start to get meaningful.

What has been a big problem for the Mariners the last couple times they’ve been in September playing meaningful baseball?  Well, for one, they’ve run Mike Zunino into the fucking ground by throwing him out there practically every single day.  Here’s to hoping, at the very least, Ruiz is able to give our stud some days off!  Let him be rested and fresh when it gets down to the nitty gritty.

Compared to a lot of the other, higher-profile moves the Mariners made this offseason, I like this Ruiz deal a lot.  It’s underrated, but it could prove to make all the difference in the world, for this year and beyond.  Let him ease the pressure of Zunino being The Man, while at the same time allowing him to learn at the feet of one of the greats of the last decade at his position.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Jean Segura

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

On first glance, it feels like this name should be higher on the list, but when you consider he’s the first position player after the Big Three, it feels a little more appropriate.

For what it’s worth, I feel like we’re in good hands with Cano, Cruz, and Seager.  It would be pretty crippling if one or more of those guys got significantly injured or otherwise underperformed in 2017, but if I had to put money on it, I’d say we’ll be okay with those guys.  It’s with Segura – and some of our other new guys brought in to bring even more stability to this offense – that I start to really worry.

Last year, I’d say the Mariners’ offense was slightly above average.  It was good enough to get the job done, had the pitching also been up to the task.  With great pitching, last year’s team could have been a World Series contender, but that’s neither here nor there.  This year’s offense I’m projecting to be even better!  We just need the pitching to not fall apart and we should remain in contention for the full season; halfway decent pitching should be enough to get us over the hump.

I feel that way because with the addition of Segura – who we received in trade for Taijuan Walker – it looks like our Big Three has morphed into a Big Four.  Obviously, there are other additions to this team that I’m factoring into my overall opinion, but Segura is the biggest piece; hence why I’m so worried.

Segura has had four full seasons in the Major Leagues, but he only has the one great one.  Granted, for a change, his great season was last year – which makes him one of the few incoming players we’re NOT trying to bank on a bounceback performance – but still, the fact that we traded one of our biggest assets to get him is a real gamble on our part!

He hit 20 homers last year; his previous high was 12 (he also had seasons with 5 and 6 homers).  He hit 41 doubles last year; his previous high was 20 (with seasons of 14 and 16).  His slash line last year was .319/.368/.499/.867; his previous best season was in 2013 when he slashed .294/.329/.423/.752 (with his 2014 and 2015 seasons being pretty unremarkable in this department as well).  Now, if you sat me down and GUARANTEED me we’d get his exact 2013 production (with the aforementioned 20 doubles and 12 homers), or we could roll the dice to see if he could replicate his breakout season of 2016 (or, God forbid, actually improve upon it), I think I would shake your hand and take those 2013 numbers all day every day.  Because those numbers are LEAPS AND BOUNDS better than what we got out of Ketel Marte (who also went over to Arizona in this trade), and most other short stops we’ve had around here, since the A-Rod days.  However, my concern is – due to the perceived Seattle Mariners curse – he reverts even further and gives us those crappy numbers from 2014 or 2015.  It would be just so Mariners to give up two young, cheap, cost-controlled potential superstars for a guy who had one great season and then went right back to being a pumpkin.

I know they’re different circumstances, and different players, but I’m catching a big Adrian Beltre vibe off of this move.  Recall Beltre had the best season of his career the year before the Mariners signed him to a huge deal; then he reverted right back to his old numbers or worse.  Sure, his Hall of Fame defense made up for a lot of that – and if Segura gives us that type of defense (which, signs point to Probably Not), then fine – but it was still a case of a team paying for recent past performance and getting bit in the ass.

All that having been said, there are some encouraging parts to this thing.  Like I got into a little bit above, I think regardless of what we get, it’s a step up from Ketel Marte.  Marte is a fringe guy right now and might never develop into anything.  If he does, he’s probably a couple-two-three years away from being a bona fide regular MLB player.  For a team like the 2017 Mariners, in obvious Win-Now Mode, you can’t waste your time spinning your wheels trying to develop someone like Marte, who – for all the good he has in him – makes too many mental and physical mistakes to be a net positive.  With Segura, you’ve got a productive, veteran guy you can slot somewhere in the top of your order.  He’s also a guy I’m pretty confident can get on base at a good clip, which slides right into my next plus:  he’s speedy.  122 stolen bases the last four years.  With some of the speedy outfield guys we’ve got that can slot next to him in the lineup, it’s pretty alluring with the likes of Cano, Cruz, and Seager lined up behind them.  Segura, if nothing else, should score around or over 100 runs if nothing else, so long as he stays healthy.

And, hey, not to dump on Marte too much, but Segura’s defense should be good enough that he doesn’t give you a lot of the boneheaded throws and whatnot.

I’m not sold on Segura until I see him in some regular season action, but I’m better-than-50% confident he’ll be a quality player for this team, and I think that really bodes well for the offense and this team’s overall chances.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Drew Smyly

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

There’s a pretty good amount of turnover this year, compared to the starting rotation on Opening Day 2016.  The only holdovers are King Felix and Kuma, as we rounded out the rest of our starting five with Taijuan Walker, Wade Miley, and Nate Karns.  With those five, you figured you had an Ace, a solid #2, a stopgap veteran innings-eater, and a couple of young power arms to build your rotation around for the future.  Well, Miley turned out to be a dud, Karns evolved into an injured dud, and we salvaged whatever remaining value Walker had by trading him for an important, everyday player at shortstop.

In their place, we have a holdover in Paxton, alongside newcomers Yovani Gallardo and Drew Smyly.  I’m not expecting much out of Gallardo, which puts that much more pressure on Smyly to succeed.  The 2017 Mariners can ill afford two black holes in the rotation if they expect to break into the post-season.

There was a good amount of hype that, for whatever reasons, failed to fully materialize for Smyly as he broke into the Major Leagues.  He followed up a solid rookie season by being thrown into a bullpen role in his second year.  Smyly’s best season was in 2014, when the Tigers shipped him off at the height of his value for a David Price deadline deal.  Smyly went to the Rays and closed his season on a tear.  It ALMOST looked like they’d flipped an ace for an ace, but then Smyly spent most of 2015 injured.  He pitched the full year in 2016, but was no better than replacement level.  At which point, here we are, hoping a change of scenery will do everyone some good.

Since we do have a full season’s worth of data, I’m mostly interested in what he was able to do last year.  He pitched a career-high 175.1 innings, striking out 167 and walking only 49.  His big problem was giving up 32 homers in 30 starts.  I know that sounds like something Iwakuma is known for, but in 33 starts he only gave up 28 dongers last year.  So, that’s a bit of a red flag.  Yes, he’s going to limit baserunners where he can, by being around the plate, but that’s only a good thing if you’re avoiding getting too much of the plate at the same time.  It’s a slippery slope, and one that saw him with a career-high in opposing slugging percentage and a career-low in ground ball to fly ball ratio.  With a respectable strikeout percentage, it would seem to me this is a guy who wants to make his living pitching up in the zone, inducing weak contact pop ups and fly balls.  Given his numbers last year, I take it he failed to get the ball up enough, and those hanging whathaveyous were pounded into submission.

This is a move that would’ve been much more celebrated before the Mariners moved in Safeco Field’s fences.  Now that the park plays much more closer to league average – indeed, last year played like a bandbox as far as homers are concerned – the addition of Smyly is less of a projected sure thing.  It’s not enough to be a lefty with a good offspeed pitch and just hope your fly ball gets run down in deep centerfield, now you have to pitch like you actually mean it!  Like you know what you’re doing.  Like you’re in a place that won’t forgive you a big, fat, juicy meatball right in the middle of the plate.  If he’s got enough control to avoid giving up tons of walks, let’s hope he’s able to also paint those edges and avoid those hot zones.

Smyly could end up being huge for this team.  If he pans out and we opt to keep him, he’s young enough to stick around for a good, long while.  If he pans out and we suck this year, we can also flip him at the deadline for quality prospects.  If he sucks, he’s still a lefty pitcher with starting and relieving experience, and those guys will always have SOME value.  I’m just hoping he and the rest of this rotation can keep their shit together to give us the best season we’ve had in over a decade.

Yeah, I Dunno: Seahawks Signed Kicker Blair Walsh

You remember; quit playin’!  Freezing cold Wild Card game in Minnesota, Seahawks trailing 9-0 until the fourth quarter when they put up 10 to take the lead, albeit with too much time left on the clock, allowing the Vikings to drive down to the 9 yard line.  The snap, the hold, the kick, yanked hard left, no good from 27 yards away, and the Miracle Seahawks find a way to advance.

Blair Walsh was the guy!  He was also the guy who hit on 92% of his field goals as a rookie in 2012 (including an insane 10/10 from 50+), making the Pro Bowl and landing on the All Pro team.  He was on track for what appeared to be a long and successful career.  Then, he missed that kick against the Seahawks, spent the offseason with everyone feeling sorry for him, and entered 2016 hoping to turn the page forever.  Instead, he was only able to connect on 75% of his field goals, while missing 4 extra points, across 9 games before the Vikings let him go.

And, uhh, yeah.  Now he’s here.  In Seattle.  On a team with their own kicking issues, to be true, as Hauschka had a hand in costing us both Arizona games, among other notable knob jobs.  Hauschka’s troubles stem not from one paralyzing, historic gaffe, but a seeming mental block he’s been unable to get over (I blame the longer extra points throwing him off).

I see this as the Seahawks covering their asses a little bit.  I don’t think the job has been handed to Walsh; he’ll still have to go out there this offseason & pre-season and earn the thing.  Counter to prior Seahawks teams under Carroll & Schneider, I think we’re going to see a real, bona fide kicking competition.  What does that mean?

It’s possible we haven’t seen the last of Hauschka.  I can’t imagine Walsh is commanding anything more than the veteran minimum – who’s going to get in a bidding war for a guy with the yips for Christ’s sake? – he’s lucky to even get a shot at a job.  We could bring Hauschka back on a similar deal – no guaranteed money – and let them duke it out.  The rub here is, it’s possible Hauschka’s market is a little more costly than anticipated.  If there are teams out there willing to give Hauschka a multi-year deal, or lots of guaranteed money, then Walsh is our backup and we look elsewhere in the competition forum.

Could that mean drafting a kicker?  Tough to say.  I have no idea who’s coming out of college this year.  My hunch is the Seahawks WON’T blow a draft pick – even a 6th or 7th rounder – but will much more likely pick up an undrafted guy and invite him to camp.

If they don’t, and they don’t go after Hauschka or another unsigned veteran, and they simply bank on Walsh turning his career around in 2017, I REALLY have to question this move more than I already do.  I mean, when have you ever heard of a Kicker Redemption Story?  All you ever hear about is a kicker missing a huge kick and never being heard from again; I’ve literally never heard of someone missing a life-changing kick, then coming back to future glory.  If this is the first, then God bless him, but I’ll be over here betting the ol’ Taylor Family Farm on him continuing to suck all ass around town.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Hisashi Iwakuma

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

I don’t know if I could’ve reasonably asked for much more than what Kuma gave us in 2016.  He stayed off the DL for the first time since 2013 – which is more than you can say for every other starter on this team last year – and he kept us “in the ballgame” in about 25 of those starts (give or take; I’m doing a rough eyeball test of his game log here).  As I’ve said countless times, expecting him to return to his elite 2013 form just isn’t happening.  The best we can expect is pretty much what he gave us in 2016.  And that … wasn’t bad.

You’re going to find me talking about each and every one of our five projected starting pitchers in this series because they’re all super important to the success of the team this season.  The order isn’t a coincidence (Felix 1, Paxton 2, Kuma 3 …) because I feel like – at this stage in his career – Kuma is a #3 starter.  You hope he stays healthy, you hope he doesn’t fall off the cliff with his production, and you hope – with a top-tier offense – he’s able to win you a bunch of games.  He’ll be 36 years old as the season starts, which is really getting up there in baseball years, so here’s to hoping he’s taking good care of himself this offseason.

I’m writing about all the starters because our depth is rail thin.  I already have zero confidence in Gallardo as our fifth starter, so pointing to Ariel Miranda as a part of this team’s “depth” just isn’t going to do it for me.  In essence, I’m already banking on Miranda getting significant time in this rotation thanks to ineffectiveness alone.  That’s not even factoring in the usual bumps and bruises you get with your average starting rotation.  It’s damn near impossible for the same five guys to make all the starts for your team for a full season; someone is GOING to get injured.  Given his age and his track record, I think it’s easy money to bet on Kuma seeing the DL at least once.  Beyond that, Paxton has a history of a billion different weird injuries, and you gotta figure there’s not much tread left on Felix’s arm; it’s only a matter of time before he blows it out and has some REAL rehabbing to get through.

So, with that being the case, and with the guys in Tacoma being who they are, it would be an absolute godsend for Kuma to somehow make all his starts for the second year in a row.  Or, at the very least, hold out until July when this team can make a deal at the deadline.

Not for nothing, but if we’re going to venture out and dream a little dream, Kuma doesn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence as the #3 starter in a playoff series.  In an ideal world, King Felix bounces back, James Paxton takes a big step forward, and this team trades for an elite starter at the deadline to bump Kuma down to 4 or 5 in the rotation.  But, you know, let’s not go nuts dissecting our playoff chances here when pitchers and catchers haven’t even reported.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Edwin Diaz

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

One way to mitigate the damage of a shaky starting rotation is to be smart about it.  Don’t leave ’em in there too long!  Maybe don’t pull them at the very first sign of trouble, but once you get through the 4th or 5th inning, tighten up that leash.  A top-notch bullpen can cover up A LOT of warts on a pitching staff.

Edwin Diaz is the key to the whole thing, but consider this post a catch-all for the entire bullpen.  Now, obviously, it’s early February, and therefore it’s too early to make any sort of valid prediction as to what the Opening Day bullpen is going to look like.  For starters, it’s highly likely Steve Cishek starts off the regular season on the DL, and doesn’t come back until mid-April (if not later).  There are guys we can be pretty confident about – Scrabble, Scribner, Vincent – but the only guy who has a guaranteed spot on this roster (barring injury) is Diaz.

Yes, he’s the closer.  Yes, he’s got the best arm on the team.  But, he’ll also only be 23 years old this spring, and he’s coming off of a little over half a season of Major League experience.  AND, not for nothing, but he really struggled those last two months as his fastball lost a bit of velocity and as the rest of the American League figured him out.  He was over-used and his command really faltered by season’s end.  Not enough to lose him his job, but enough to leave a pile of doubt in my mind.

I don’t expect him to be perfect, but I do need him to be dominant.  If we have to waste time with a switch at the closer position, that’s a hassle that’s going to doom this team.  As it stands, the bullpen is far from a strength.  Ideally, we’ll see Diaz, Cishek (when he returns) and Scribner all pitch really well from the right side, with Scrabble doing his thing from the left side.  If those four guys pan out in a big way, I can see this team going pretty far.

What I do like about this bullpen as it’s currently constructed is its depth.  We’ve got those top four guys, then we’ve got Vincent, Zych, Altavilla, and a bunch of other guys we’ve either traded for or brought up through the farm system.  Guys with Major League experience and guys with tons of potential.

A bullpen is generally 7 pitchers deep, but over the course of a full season, you might burn through twice or three times that number!  Guys get injured, guys perform poorly, guys get over-used and you’re forced to bring in fresh arms to get you through a rough patch.  You’re only as good as your depth, as far as pitching is concerned, until September, when you’re only as good as your team’s health dictates.

The worst case scenario for this team is having its starters middle their way through the season, with the bullpen a total disaster.  The Mariners have a lot going on as far as hitting and defense is concerned, but they don’t have enough to overcome what very well could be a trainwreck pitching staff.  So, you know, let’s shock the world, huh?  One way to do that:  have the bullpen come out of nowhere to lead this team to the promised land.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Kyle Seager

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

Kyle Seager has been a rock since he arrived.  But, a rock that continues to push itself and improve over the years.  2016 was the best year of his career, and the scary thing is that he still has lots of room to improve.

I like Seager.  He might not be my favorite Mariner of all time, but he’s quickly rising through the ranks.  His defense is solid, but I wouldn’t consider him a natural like Adrian Beltre.  His at bats aren’t really Appointment Television (unless it’s the bottom of the 9th or later and we’re looking at a situation where he can tie it or win us the ballgame).  He’s not some hyper-specimen sent to us from the Baseball Gods to reinvent the National Pasttime.

But, he’s really, really good.  And, in that sense, he might be one of the rarest of players.  Most guys go through prolonged slumps; Kyle Seager mostly avoids these (particularly after the month of April).  Most guys have down years, thanks to one significant injury, many multiple nagging injuries, or simple blind bad luck; Kyle Seager is the same as he ever was, when he’s not actively improving.  It’s uncanny!  He’s the one guy I never have to worry about!  So, let’s throw a few more gasoline bombs onto this jinx fire and see if we can’t get him injured in Spring Training.

You know what’s crazy?  Kyle Seager is 29 years old; he could still be at least as productive as he is now for another 10 years, easily!  He could go down as the greatest all-around career-Mariner in the history of the franchise!  When you package the defense, the power, the improving batting average and on-base percentage, the fact that he plays third base – which is one of the tougher spots to fill and fill well – and wrap it all up in a guy who plays every day and doesn’t really fall off regardless of who’s pitching against him, and we’re talking about a guy who is going to go down as one of the most valuable players we’ve ever seen.

In 2017, he’s the third in our crucial Big Three.  We need Kyle Seager to keep being Kyle Seager.  And, if he wants to find a way to be even better than he was in 2016, we might be talking about a guy in the American League MVP conversation.  Granted, he’s a long shot, but it’s not impossible.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: James Paxton

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

The topic of this team – and particularly the pitching staff – having a high variance of outcomes in 2017 has been discussed to death.  But, it’s a topic for a reason.  You could see these starters collectively falling on their faces, collectively carrying this team to 100+ wins, or anywhere in between.  My point of contention is that it feels like the odds of the starters stinking up the joint far outweighs the odds of them dominating.

I can plausibly see a bounce-back year out of Felix, because he’s the be-all end-all for human beings.  Drew Smyly is a total unknown, and I’m always at least a little guarded whenever we bring in someone from another organization.  He’s coming off of a down year as well, but at least he’s coming off of a year where he made 30 starts.  Anything goes with Smyly, but I highly doubt we’re going to see a huge uptick in productivity.  I’m firmly on the record that there’s no way Iwakuma stays healthy for a second consecutive season, so at the very least I’m anticipating a 15-day DL stint.  On top of that, his best season by a million miles was in 2013; we’re never seeing those days again.  I feel like our best-case scenario for Kuma is an exact repeat of last season, which was just sort of okay.  And as for Gallardo, *giant fart noise*.

The only candidate for a tremendous step forward is one James Paxton.  He started the 2016 season in Tacoma, worked on his mechanics, and was called up at the beginning of June to slide into the rotation.  After a spotty couple of months, Paxton started to bear down, culminating in his finest start of the season when he pitched into the 9th inning against the Angels, giving up 0 earned runs.  Unfortunately, that’s also the game where he took a liner off of his pitching arm and had to go on the DL for a little over two weeks.  He was able to return for the stretch run, but was never quite the same in those final 7 starts, mostly reverting to his early-season form.

Nevertheless, he’s a big, young guy with a power arm.  We tend to go into every new season thinking This Could Be So-And-So’s Breakout Year, but in the case of Paxton, we might actually be there.  I’m at least not willing to rule it out.

Felix is this team’s ace, and even if he comes back and pitches like he did last year, he’s still going to feast on the weaker teams, and he’s going to keep the Mariners in most ballgames overall; an improved offense could even see him get to 20 wins for the first time, albeit probably with an inflated ERA.  Kuma is the consummate 50/50 guy who will be terrible half the time and great the other half.  An improved offense might see his win total spike a little bit, but he is who he is.  Smyly feels like another guy who’s just going to eat innings and maintain a .500 record.  And, here’s to hoping the offense is able to pick up the #5 starter so it’s not a total drain.  If you figure those four starters are going to get you maybe 55 wins or so, with the bullpen set to get you 25 or so, that gets you to 80 wins for the entire pitching staff not named James Paxton.

So, can he get us 15 wins?  If you think 95 wins gets you the division, then you gotta be rooting for Paxton to take a significant role in that.  It’s a tall order, to be sure, as his previous high in wins was 6.  That means he not only needs to stay healthy for the full season, but he needs to be really fucking good.

(also, not for nothing, but those 80 wins get chipped away the more this team has to deal with injuries in its rotation, so let’s just hope no one gets injured ever, okay?)

If he’s ever going to do it, no time like the present.  He’s even more critically important if this team does make the playoffs.  You know Felix is going to get slotted into the first game of any series if this team can swing it; unless a trade gets made at the deadline, Paxton is clearly this team’s most talented #2 starter.  So, we need him on his game in 2017 to prove to the organization that he’s capable of taking the reigns.  That slots Iwakuma or Smyly into the #3 role where they belong.

I know that’s getting ahead of things, but as long as we’re putting the cart before the horse, can I just BEG the Mariners to go all in for an ace starting pitcher at the trade deadline to really bolster our chances?