Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Mitch Haniger

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Okay, this is it.  The end of the line for this series.  I wasn’t even going to include Mitch Haniger in this thing, but I feel like wrapping this up on a Friday has a nice feel to it.  I can start next week fresh, writing about something else.

Mitch Haniger is an unknown at this point.  He’s a lottery ticket for this team.  He came over in the Taijuan Walker/Jean Segura deal, and certain pockets of Mariners fandom are pretty high on Haniger’s prospects in ways that are baffling to me.  Yeah, it looks like he’s more or less mastered the upper minors and is ready to get his shot in the Big Leagues, but we’ve seen billions of those guys and how many actually pan out?

Haniger got his first call-up in Arizona in August of last year and played more or less every day.  That having been said, obviously there’s not a lot you can learn from 34 games.  If he earns his way onto the Mariners’ Opening Day roster, that likely will mean he’s the best of a pretty mediocre group of Quad-A outfielders.  Ideally, with his feet wet last year, it all won’t feel so big to him anymore and he can just come up here and play like he always has.

The thing is, the Mariners need SOMEONE to play right field.  For the time being, Haniger has the inside track, but it could be anyone’s job to lose, from Ben Gamel to Guillermo Heredia to Taylor Motter to Boog Powell to who knows what.  I think everyone’s in agreement that Haniger has the best pedigree, and therefore the best opportunity to blow up, so in that sense he gets the majority of the focus.

If he fails, the team can always fall back on Danny Valencia moving to right field on a more permanent basis, but that move would also hinge on Dan Vogelbach panning out at first base, which I feel is as much of a given as it is for Haniger to lock down the right field spot.

There are two unproven guys on this team getting real shots at Major League careers:  Haniger and Vogelbach.  It’s concerning, particularly for a team looking to break a long playoff drought, but it beats the hell out of what we’ve had around here since forever.  Usually, instead of two of these guys, it’s six, and all of them stink.  We’ll see I guess.

I’m going into the season banking on right field being an offensive black hole whenever Nelson Cruz or Danny Valencia aren’t starting there.  So, if I get anything out of Haniger & Co., it’ll be gravy.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Yovani Gallardo

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I’ve been more or less dogging this move ever since it happened, so I’m going to try to take a different approach to discussing Yovani Gallardo.  It’s no secret I’m not high on the guy.  This goes beyond the fact that he was a turd sandwich in 2016 in Baltimore; he’s been on a downward trajectory more or less since the 2012 season ended.  A notable exception is the 2015 season he had in Texas, when he made 33 starts and had the best WAR of his career.  Nevertheless, his velocity is way down compared to his peak, and I don’t know if he’s got the tools to become the kind of complete pitcher someone like Felix Hernandez evolved into when he lost his overpowering velo.

After reading about his 2016 season, though, I’m starting to come down on my hardline stance.  The game of baseball is such a mental high-wire act that disrupting any small part of someone’s life can have drastic effects.  Heading into 2016, Gallardo got stuck with the Qualifying Offer from Texas, which has to be in the Top 5 dumbest rules in all of sports.  Considering he was getting up there in age, and the fact that he’d logged a lot of miles on his arm over the years, teams were reluctant to give away a first round draft pick just to sign him.  Which makes sense, because come on Major League Baseball!  Quit being dumb!  He finally got signed by Baltimore, albeit late in the off-season, and struggled to get caught up in time for the regular season.  This resulted in him having shoulder issues, which saw him land on the DL, and from there he was never really the same.

This year, he’s under contract, the trade to the Mariners gave him sufficient time to prepare, and he was able to work on strengthening his shoulder to prepare for the new season.  Say what you will about his 2016, but in the 7 seasons prior, he made at least 30 starts, pitched at least 180 innings, and was good for a WAR of 2 or more in 5 of those 7 seasons.  If we can get that:  30 starts, 180 innings, 2.0 WAR, I’m not gonna lie to you, I will sign up for that RIGHT NOW.

And, honestly, that’s very do-able.  Some combination of his 2014 and 2015 seasons is probably where his effectiveness lies.  It’s not great; he’s more of an Iwakuma than a Felix, but over the course of a full season, you’ll gladly take it.  If Gallardo isn’t the problem in this rotation, it’s ideal, because you know SOMEONE is going to be a problem.  Probably multiple someones, but as I’ve said repeatedly, it’s nigh on impossible to get the same 5 starters to stay healthy and effective for a full season.  Gallardo going for a full 30+ starts means we can pull the ripcord on the Ariel Miranda parachute when someone else goes down or implodes.

Yovani Gallardo isn’t an exciting move.  It isn’t a sexy move.  It isn’t really even that interesting of a move.  But, if it pans out in one magical, playoff-bound season, it’s a move you look back on while nodding knowingly.  Yeah, that makes sense.  That’s the kind of move a playoff team makes.  It flips a lumbering, corner outfielder in Seth Smith for a #5 starter who provides the value of a #3 or #4 starter.  Lots of guys have MUCH higher potential to break out, or otherwise lead the Mariners to glory.  But, those same guys have the potential to regress, or otherwise fall on their faces.  Gallardo feels like a cheap way to extract some extra value out of a guy nobody expects to do anything.  In that sense, he might be one of the BEST moves Dipoto made all offseason.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Leonys Martin

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All I can tell you about Leonys Martin is that he’s a pleasant surprise.  The Mariners dealt for him before last season – losing nothing in the process – and he was one of those guys coming in after a down season looking for a bounce-back.  In 2013 and 2014, Martin looked like a potential superstar-in-waiting.  Maybe that’s over-stating things a bit, but his defensive ability has always been off the charts, and whenever he gives you anything on offense, he becomes one of the more valuable players on your team.

Which is why my enthusiasm was so tempered when he came here.  But, he really showed something!  His defense is as advertised – which is why it’s so exciting to think about an outfield with him, Jarrod Dyson, and Mitch Haniger.  What was really encouraging was how hot he came in out of the gate.  Through May he hit 9 of what would become 15 homers, a career high.  He was hitting for a good average, getting on base at a nice clip, and those power numbers – combined with his defensive ability – made him one of the most important players on the team!  Then, he pulled a hammy and missed a couple weeks.  When he returned, he wasn’t really the same.

He wasn’t a total washout, but his power was really sucked away, and his strikeout numbers spiked.  It’s hard to know what to think about those strikeout numbers, because he’s never had a season that bad in that area before.  Was he swinging for the fences too much due to that early-season success?  Was it just an anomaly?  Regardless, that’s something for him and Edgar to work on in Spring Training, as he returns today after testifying in some case involving Cuban baseball defectors.

As I’ve been saying all along, I’m pretty happy with how the offense is shaping up.  As such, we really don’t need a ton of production out of someone like Martin.  As long as he keeps playing that great defense, and keeps that batting average over .200, I should be happy.  Anything more is a nice little bonus.  Across the entire outfield, I’m not asking for a lot.  I’m not even asking for one guy to shock the world and take a huge step forward!  Mostly, I’d just like to see all three spots not be a black hole at the same time.  Maybe Martin can be successful in April and May, Dyson can get hot in June and July, and whoever’s in right field can take over in August and September.

What I’d really like, more than anything, is for these guys to stay healthy for as long as possible.  There aren’t a lot of places on this team where the Mariners have significant depth, but Outfield Defense is certainly one of them.  I’d REALLY like to see how this season plays out with all of those guys healthy and stealing runs from the other team on a consistent basis.  Just because we have upwards of 5 or 6 guys who are capable of filling the void in centerfield doesn’t mean I want to see them in there on a rotating basis!

Aside from health concerns, I’m ready.  Let’s do this!  Let’s get them out there and see what they can do together!

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Dan Vogelbach

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Look, we’re kinda getting down to the bottom of the barrel a little bit in these “very important” Mariners.  I get that.  I’m just trying to get through the month with a little content on the ol’ website before Spring Training gets going in earnest.

I’ll dive into this one by saying that I’m a little concerned about first base.  First base and the outfield in general has been a problem dating back to 2008 and it’s never REALLY been solved.  This year, instead of half-assing it, we went full throttle on defense to bolster our outfield, probably to the detriment of our hitting from that neck of the woods.  I’m predicting the 8th and 9th spots in the lineup will regularly go to two of our three outfield spots, and for once I’m okay with it.

First base has been a different kind of black hole entirely.  Dating back to 2008, when Richie Sexson totally bottomed out and became one of my most-loathed players of all time, look at who we’ve been running out there:  Bryan LaHair, Russell Branyan, Casey Kotchman, Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison, Jesus Montero, Adam Lind, and Dae-ho Lee, to name but a few.  Any one of those guys, if they were even REMOTELY worth a damn, could’ve taken the Mariners’ first baseman job and ran with it.  Instead, we’re onto the next one, and in this case it’s some combo of Dan Vogelbach and Danny Valencia (at least to start off the season).

Dan Vogelbach is the main prize we got in the Mike Montgomery trade last summer with the Cubs.  He came over here as a big power hitter from the left side who has had a lot of success in the upper minors (was a rookie in 2011, climbed the ranks through A-ball, reached AA in 2015 and AAA in 2016).  He slashed .272/.403/.425 in AA and .292/.417/.505 in AAA.  Finally, in September of last year, he got his first cup of coffee in the Majors and picked up his first Big League hit, but otherwise did absolutely nothing.  For what it’s worth, he could’ve batted 1.000 in 12 at-bats in Seattle last year and I’d feel the same exact way about him, because it’s 12 at-bats.  There’s nothing to learn about anyone’s September call-up, ever.  We’ve seen guys come up and be amazing, only to revert back to nothing the next year; just as we’ve seen guys struggle in their first call-ups while eventually sticking in the Majors at some point in the future.

All that having been said, I feel like the majority of Mariners fans out there would rather have Mike Montgomery right now, but that’s neither here nor there.

Vogelbach is also a guy who came here without a position.  I mean, yeah, he’s played first base all through the minors, but he’s not really a defensive wunderkind.  So, not only does the kid have to prove his worth in Spring Training just to make the Opening Day roster, but he’s got to figure out how to hit Major League pitching, AND he’s got to be good-enough defensively to not be a total liability.  That’s A LOT to expect out of someone, especially as a rookie!

I don’t know about you, but I like my baseball rookies to have at least one aspect of their game already figured out by the time they reach the Majors.  Usually, that means you’re getting a great defensive talent who will hopefully adjust and eventually learn to hit.  Those guys, at least, know they have the defensive part down, so all they have on their plates is needing to hit (oh, is that all?).  But, if a guy has to come up, learn how to hit, AND learn how to play defense better, the odds of him struggling are greatly increased.

My point is:  I don’t see any way that Vogelbach has a good season in 2017.  The hope is that he’s such a natural at hitting that he’ll come up here and start mashing from Day One, but I’ve been burned on that pipe dream too many times.  Our most-realistic best-case scenario is that he at the very least has a good eye for balls and strikes and is able to walk his way to a respectable on-base percentage, while providing 15-20 homers near the bottom of our lineup as he gives Valencia the occasional off-day.

I think the most-realistic realistic-case scenario is that he stinks.  I understand the idea is to have a Vogelbach/Valencia platoon, and it would stand to reason that by being the left-handed hitter, Vogelbach would get 2/3 of the starts at first base.  But, I think that script will get flipped pretty early on in the year.  I think a terrible April out of Vogelbach will render him little more than a bench player (unless they opt to send him to Tacoma to work it out on an everyday basis), and Valencia ends up with the lion’s share of starts at first base.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think you’re going to run into any number of articles around mid-season clamoring for another left-handed bat who can play first base with Valencia.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Jarrod Dyson

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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

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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

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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

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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.