Mariners Tidbit 4: Spring Training Has Finally Sprung

We had a game yesterday!  FINALLY!  Granted, it doesn’t count, and it happened in the middle of the day when I was working (and thus unable to watch any of it), but the information is out there!

I’m going to be spending a lot of time talking about various position battles this month, so these Tidbits are going to come in handy.

The Mariners played mostly reserves across the board in Game 1.  Chris Taylor got the start at short stop and went 0 for 3.  Annnnnnnnd, that’s about it.

Short Stop Battle Advantage:  Brad Miller

Taijuan Walker got the start on the pitching side of things.  He gave up a hit in the first and struck out two over 2 innings.  By all accounts, he looked pretty good.

Fifth Starter Battle Advantage:  Taijuan Walker

In Interesting Non-Roster Invitee News, D.J. Peterson jacked a homer in his first at bat.  Patrick Kivlehan had a couple singles.  Rafael Perez gave up a run in an inning of work.  And, Mark Lowe got the win by pitching a scoreless 10th.

In Tacoma-Bound Player News, James Jones led off and got a hit.  Jesus Montero got a couple singles.  Ji-Man Choi broke his leg by landing funny after leaping for a poor throw to first base.  And, yeah, that’s about all I’ve got.

In today’s game, we see Roenis Elias get the start, so this Fifth Starter Battle is getting interesting in a hurry.  All of our projected starting nine (left-handed hitting edition) is set to start against whoever San Diego is throwing out there.  Onward and upward.

Mariners Tidbit 3: Interesting Non-Roster Invitees

Hey, remember Joe Saunders?  Well, he’s back, only he’s not on a guaranteed deal and he’s looking to break back into the club via the bullpen.  You know, that group of kickass pitchers where we’re overflowing with talent?

Okay, so I’m using the word “interesting” very loosely in this case.  But, Joe Saunders COULD be interesting, if he’s used as a lefty specialist.  I believe in no way, shape, or form, will he make our roster out of Spring Training.  But, as with all good depth, it might not be a bad idea to keep him around in Tacoma to start.  If injuries come up in the first couple months, or if he’s simply pitching so well that he forces his way onto the roster, at least we’ll have him.  The only thing is, since he’s not a young player with options, once he’s called up to the Major Leagues, he has to be put on the 40-man roster and we can’t send him back down to the minors unless he clears waivers and agrees to the assignment.  So, you know, he’s the pitching equivalent to Endy Chavez, only with less assurance that he’s eventually going to be playing in Seattle again.

Speaking of:  Endy Chavez is back!  As far as security blankets go, we could do worse.  He comes to Spring Training, gets his work in, plays in Tacoma for a month or so, then gets called up for bench depth.  That’s been the routine, anyway.  This year, it might be tough.  With Ruggiano and Weeks as our outfield backups, someone out there is either going to have to struggle mightily or get injured.  Since no one named Michael Saunders is on this team anymore, it’s less likely we’re guaranteed to have that spot open up due to injury.  Nevertheless, what are the odds all five of our outfielders come in here and remain effective?  I’m banking on seeing Endy Chavez in a Mariners uniform before the 2015 season ends.  Our best-case scenario is we never have to pull the cord and Chavez uses an escape clause in his contract to seek employment elsewhere.

Speaking of injured outfielders:  Franklin Gutierrez is back!  Bet you never thought you’d see Guti back as a non-roster invitee, did ya?  And, yet, here we are.  I’m not going to put any expectations on him, but I hope he’s healthy and able to play a full year.  Truth be told, he could be an interesting guy to have roaming the outfield in Tacoma.  If he IS healthy and able to stay that way, and if he finds that old spark he had when he was a star with us back in the day, I like his potential as right-handed depth who’s capable of fielding well and produce some pop.  That’ll always be the dream, but of course I won’t be holding my breath.

John Baker is a veteran backup catcher who you figure has to be in the running to back up Zunino.  Jesus Sucre isn’t the be-all, end-all, though his defense is superb.  I imagine Sucre still has options.  So, if Baker is able to give us ANYTHING at the plate, I feel like the Mariners at least have to entertain the notion of keeping him up here.  As it stands, Sucre is a fucking black hole at the plate, which has to make it difficult to want to ever sit Zunino.

Mark Lowe is back, trying to get his career going again.  My gut tells me that he doesn’t have as much on his fastball as he did when he was throwing smoke for us way back when.  No way he cracks the Opening Day roster, and the odds might even be against him sticking in Tacoma, but we’ll see.

Rafael Perez is a guy who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2012.  He’s a veteran out of the Indians organization who had a really swell run from 2007-2011.  Here’s a more interesting guy who might actually have an outside shot at the Opening Day roster if he dazzles in March.  It’ll be interesting to see him work this month.  Worst case scenario is we keep him on our big league roster – temporarily displacing one of our younger arms, who can easily be stashed in Tacoma for a rainy day – and he doesn’t work out.  Then, we just call up our young arm and relatively little harm is done.  These comeback players don’t usually have a super-long leash, especially when you’re a team with visions of playoff contention.

The final two interesting non-roster guys are D.J. Peterson and Patrick Kivlehan.  Both players got their feet wet in AA last year and both of them are very promising first base prospects.  Peterson probably moreso, but to date I’ve still yet to hear anything about him getting reps at first (his natural position is third base, which is obviously blocked by Kyle Seager).  Neither of these guys figure to make the roster.  BUT, a positive showing in spring, and continued progression should see them break through into AAA.  From there, it’s a hop and a skip to a September call-up.  You like seeing these guys get experience with the big league training camp and hopefully they’re able to make the most of it.  I want to hear good things this month that stick in all of our minds going forward.  After all, LoMo isn’t forever.  Gotta figure SOMEONE out there will be able to get that taste of Smoak out of our mouths.

Mariners Tidbit 2: The Wonderful Wizard Of Weeks

Interesting news out of Marinersland this week, as LMC declared we’re looking at platoon situations in both right field and left field.  Of course, we all know about the Ruggiano/Smith platoon (or timeshare, or whathaveyou) in right, but we officially have ourselves a situation with Dustin Ackley sharing his position with Rickie Weeks in left.

What does this mean?  Well, for starters, I was WAY off base in my initial assessment of Weeks.  I thought all that “Weeks In The Outfield” stuff was just a media-created non-storyline.  Though, to be fair, I was right about Weeks getting some play behind LoMo at first base.  He truly COULD be a force as a super-utility guy.

  • Starting in left field with a lefty on the mound in place of Ackley
  • Starting at first base (likely also with a lefty on the mound) to rest LoMo
  • Giving Cano the occasional day off from playing the field at second
  • Maybe even used as a DH if we want to go righty-heavy and let Cruz play in the field

I mean, it’s not crazy to think that Weeks could be starting anywhere from 2-4 times a week!  He’ll have to keep up his production at the plate (otherwise, you’re talking about yet another disappointing bench player whose appearance in a lineup card inspires nothing but dread), but this could really be something!

I can’t remember the last time the Mariners had a real bench.  For as long as I can remember, our bench has consisted exclusively of washed up sluggers capable of little else than being a DH or backup DH; or some of our best & brightest from Tacoma, who are a little too good for AAA, but nowhere NEAR good enough for the Majors.

With Weeks, Bloomquist, and Ruggiano, we’ve got guys capable of covering us at every non-catcher position in the field.  You don’t like your prospects long term, if someone gets injured, and we’re forced to start these guys on the reg.  But, it’ll be nice to give our regulars the days off they need, while not taking a HUGE step back in production.

Mariners Tidbit 1

Back in 2010, before this blog was a twinkle in my eye, I had a running series called “A Paragraph With The Mariners”.  I ran 162 of these – as naturally that’s the number of games in a baseball season – but they didn’t just correspond with the games played.  The only rules were:  the posts had to be a single paragraph, no matter how long and unwieldy, and the posts had to be somewhat about the Mariners.

Well, I’m bringing back a version of that, but as you can see, I’m allowing myself to use multiple paragraphs if need be.  The Tidbits will just be short, rambling posts about the Mariners.  On a daily or almost-daily basis (no weekends, unless I decide to do them on weekends, but I’m not making any promises).

To kick things off, I would just like to point out that Opening Day is going to see the Mariners playing at home for the first time since 2008 (when we hosted the Rangers).  Six straight years of starting the season on the road (four of them against the A’s, one of them in Japan).  April 6th is the first game, and it JUST so happens to be a 1:10pm start!

I, for one, think this is VERY cool.  I know the games are going to be better attended this season – what with all the improvement of the on-field product and everything – and I know that the first game of the year is usually a sellout, regardless of how bad the Mariners appear, but nevertheless I’m making it my MISSION to go to this game!  Knock out of work around 11am, hit up Sluggers for some pre-game beers, then it’s a delightful afternoon at the ballpark with Felix on the mound.

Single game tickets are going on sale this Saturday.  I’m gonna be online right at the buzzer to buy tickets.

Seahawks Death Week: A Look Ahead

Yesterday, I got into the broad strokes of what the future of the Seahawks looks like:  good, potentially great, for many years to come.  So, what’s in store for 2015 specifically?

Well, for starters, let’s take a look at the schedule.  While the 2015 schedule hasn’t officially been released, we still know which teams we’ll be playing by virtue of it’s always the same rotation.  We get the teams in our division twice apiece, the NFC North, the AFC North, Dallas, and Carolina.  And, for reasons unknown, we also know who we’ll end up playing at home and who we’ll end up playing on the road.  To wit:

Home

  • San Francisco
  • Arizona
  • St. Louis
  • Chicago
  • Detroit
  • Cleveland
  • Pittsburgh
  • Carolina

Away

  • San Francisco
  • Arizona
  • St. Louis
  • Green Bay
  • Minnesota
  • Cincinnati
  • Baltimore
  • Dallas

For starters, I’m kind of fucking annoyed by the difficulty of our road schedule.  I’d MUCH rather go to Carolina than Dallas.  I’d also MUCH rather go to Cleveland and Pittsburgh than Cincy & Baltimore.  And, I’ll tell you this much, I’m not so foolish as to expect every time we play Green Bay, we get to play them in Seattle, but I’m not looking forward to playing them on the road either.  That’s a TOUGH road slate, with the only dud I see being Minnesota (and who knows if they’ll be better in year two under Teddy Bridgewater).  Meanwhile, I’ll give you three home duds right now with Cleveland, Chicago, and Carolina.

I think it’s pretty safe to assume another 7-1 home record in 2015, with our lone defeat probably being the Lions.  The question here is:  can we get to 5-3 on the road?  Not knowing what our division will look like, I definitely think it’s possible.  I’d REALLY like to believe we won’t be fooled by the bullshit the Rams try to pull every time we go there.  I don’t have much faith in the 49ers being a serious threat now that Jim Harbaugh is gone.  And, I still have the same reservations about Carson Palmer that I had going into last year, only this time he’s a year older and coming off of yet ANOTHER knee injury.  There are three winnable games right there, and we haven’t even gotten into how not-scary it is to play in Cincinnati, and how games in Dallas tend to draw a large road contingent.

It’s a potentially tough schedule, no doubt about it, but these teams on paper right now will look a lot different on the field when we play them.  What I will say is, there appears to be a large number of potential 10am starts in our future.  Unless we’re graced with a full slate of road primetime games like we were in 2014, I’m looking at the games against St. Louis, GB, Min, Cin, Bal, and possibly Dallas being early starts.  Fortunately for us, you gotta figure those contests against GB and Dallas are pretty tantalizing for primetime schedulers.  And, it wouldn’t shock me to see either Cincy or Baltimore being a Monday Night game, as both of them figure to be safe bets to be good this season.

On the field, you gotta think the Seahawks will be pretty great, but obviously a lot of it depends on what happens with the draft and in free agency.  In 2014, the offense was a true liability – whereas in 2013, the offense was pretty underrated and solid throughout.  The passing game struggled, our red zone offense failed too many times to convert long drives into touchdowns, and in general we could stand to improve on third downs.  That’s tough, because overall our third down conversion percentage looks pretty solid, but that’s taking into account the games where we absolutely dominated on third down.  But, there were games where we just disappeared, and lost accordingly because of too many 3 & Outs and too many stalled drives at midfield.  We’re a conservative offense in our play-calling and we’re a conservative offense in our decisions to go for it on 4th down.  When you put those two together, you have to be damn near perfect in the opportunities you have to pass the ball.  Drops, and otherwise poor performances out of our receivers held this team back too many times.  An infusion of talent is a must.

Defensively, it’s going to be a struggle to lead the league in fewest points allowed for a fourth straight year.  Losing Byron Maxwell is going to have a crippling effect, and if we can’t cover that up by improving our pass rush back to its 2013 peak, we’re GOING to give up more points and more yards than we’re used to.  Going into 2014, I thought our defense was going to slide a bit, but I thought our offense was ready to take a step forward and start compensating a little more.  It turned out the defense was on point for the most part and still carried this team like it has since 2012.  Going into 2015, I KNOW our defense is going to slide a bit, and I’m concerned our offense won’t improve enough to match and keep us at a championship level.  This Percy Harvin fiasco is the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it?

I just have a tough time envisioning a scenario where we bring in a defensive back who’s able to match Maxwell’s level of play.  I honestly don’t think Tharold Simon is up to the task of improving himself.  I don’t think Jeremy Lane is going to be healthy enough to step into the lineup on Day 1.  And, I don’t think there will be a rookie available to us who’s able to step in and play on Day 1.  The hope is, whatever rookie we do end up with, is able to survive some growing pains and turn into a Maxwell-type by the end of the season.  Good luck with that.

Same deal with improving the pass rush.  Even if we draft someone, I don’t think this person will be able to step in and be a force immediately.  Not where we’re drafting.  And, I don’t think there’s a free agent out there for us who will make the huge impact we need right away, as Ndamukong Suh is simply out of our price range.  That likely means we’ll be picking from the scraps of the free agent wasteland, and hoping for the best.  I’m less than encouraged by this scenario.

While I have faith that this team can maintain its level of dominance to get to 12 wins, take the division, and contend for a first round BYE, part of me realizes that the writing is on the wall.  Injuries happen to everyone.  Guys not panning out happen to everyone.  Our depth is seriously strained at this point, and now I’m reading about how Earl Thomas and Jeremy Lane might not be available in the pre-season, which says nothing about Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and Marshawn Lynch’s availability.

This can all fall apart in a hurry.  While I don’t THINK that’ll happen (or, at least, I keep telling myself I don’t think that’ll happen), you never know.  Here’s hoping Russell Wilson has some more magic in that old silk hat he found.

Seahawks Death Week: It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

If we win that Super Bowl, all conversation right now is focused on The New Dynasty.  For anyone who’s not a Seahawks fan, it’s pretty miserable to have to listen to, so in that sense the world is probably happier that the Patriots won.

For us, though – the tortured souls forced to relive that moment in every highlight package about last season – the only thing worse than an offseason focused on why Tom Brady Is The Greatest Quarterback Of All Time will be all the articles burying the Seahawks.

Yeah, it started with Keith Olbermann’s lunacy, but don’t think that’s going to be the end of it.  After all, the 2013 Seahawks were champions and looked stronger than every other team in the league by a million miles, and last year people STILL endlessly picked us apart, trying to degrade the quality of our roster as they made their convoluted predictions about why we wouldn’t get back to the Super Bowl.

The fact of the matter is – as I said yesterday – the Championship Window is still wide open for this team.  Even if Marshawn Lynch is 50/50 to return next year, take a look at the players we’ll have returning:

  • Russell Wilson
  • Doug Baldwin
  • Earl Thomas
  • Kam Chancellor
  • Richard Sherman
  • Bobby Wagner
  • Michael Bennett
  • Cliff Avril
  • K.J. Wright
  • Bruce Irvin
  • Jeremy Lane
  • Jordan Hill

That doesn’t factor in an offensive line that gets the job done more often than not, a deep running back group, and some veterans I left off who SHOULD be back (like Zach Miller, Brandon Mebane, and Tony McDaniel).

This is still a deep roster.  And it’s a quality roster in all the right places.  Our quarterback will be entering his fourth year, and he’s already shown that he belongs in the upper third or upper quarter of franchise quarterbacks in the league.  With Russell Wilson, we’re ALWAYS going to be somewhere on the “Good” spectrum.  We’re always going to at least contend for division titles and playoff spots.

It’s the players around Russell Wilson that make us championship-calibre.  The great thing about this team is that everyone plays off of everyone else.  Russell Wilson gets help from an elite running game.  The receivers get help from other defenses focusing on our running game, and from Wilson’s scrambling ability that gives them time to get open.  Defensively, our cornerbacks are allowed to be more aggressive thanks to the great play of our safeties.  Everyone in the secondary is helped out by our pass rush and our line’s ability to stop the run.  It’s all one terrific unit that only works when everyone is playing in unison.

Now, obviously our coaching staff took a bit of a hit with Dan Quinn moving on to coach the Falcons, but I don’t think any team has ever been totally devastated by the loss of a coordinator.  Kris Richard gets a deserved promotion, which is good for coaching continuity, as well as good for the message it sends to the guys.  Just as our greatest players are rewarded with contract extensions, our greatest coaches are rewarded with promotions.  Although, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, how hard can it really be to coach this defense with all the talent we’ve got on the roster?  Are Gus Bradley & Dan Quinn really that amazing?  Or, did they just luck into a roster for the ages?

I wouldn’t expect much of a drop-off because this is still Pete Carroll’s team.  It’s still his vision.  And, in spite of certain decisions that were made at the end of certain ballgames, Pete Carroll is still one of the best head coaches in the league.  And John Schneider is still one of the best general managers in the league.  The organization is still in good hands.

The only thing that could possibly derail things would be injuries, and those are impossible to predict, so it’s not even worth trying.

It’s hard to tell when the Championship Window might close.  It obviously opened in 2012, when we made that great season-ending run.  From a roster-quality standpoint, we probably peaked in 2013.  We dipped a bit in 2014, but if you focus on where this team ended up – after all the early-season strife in coming off of our first championship – you can see a team that peaked at right around where it was in 2012 (or maybe a little better still).  How long the window remains open depends on how well our recent draft picks of the last couple years – on into this year – pan out.  We had a great run of drafts from 2010-2012 that made us into what we are today.  It’s the drafts from 2013-2015 that will determine if we stay on this championship run, or if we fade back into the status of mere playoff contenders.

Here are the players we still have from our 2013 draft group:

  • Christine Michael (RB)
  • Jordan Hill (DT)
  • Jesse Williams (DT)
  • Tharold Simon (CB)
  • Luke Willson (TE)
  • Alvin Bailey (OL) – undrafted free agent

Williams has finished his first two seasons on the IR and might not be on the roster come September.  Bailey is depth along our offensive line who can play four positions.  Michael has been a third string running back who has been inactive more often than not; it doesn’t appear he’ll ever get a chance to be a starter with this team as long as Lynch is around.  Hill came on in the second half of 2014 as a strong part of our defensive tackle rotation, so hopes are high that can continue.  Simon has made some spot-starts and looked okay – though he’s been picked on quite a bit, and hasn’t come away as well as Maxwell did when he took over the starting spot opposite Sherman.  Willson spent most of 2014 as our #1 tight end and for the most part did pretty well.  I’m not convinced yet that he can be a #1 tight end forever, but he’s a great #2 or #3 tight end.

Here’s our 2014 draft class that remains:

  • Paul Richardson (WR)
  • Justin Britt (OT)
  • Cassius Marsh (DE)
  • Kevin Norwood (WR)
  • Kevin Pierre-Louis (LB)
  • Jimmy Staten (DT)
  • Eric Pinkins (DB)
  • Garry Gilliam (OL) – undrafted free agent
  • Brock Coyle (LB) – undrafted free agent

While there’s not really a prize jewel of the 2013, there are enough role players in that group to make it “good enough”, with the potential for greatness if either Michael or Simon somehow pans out.  The 2014 class has a higher upside, in spite of the fact that only four guys managed to make it all the way to the end without being put on IR.

Britt is obviously the biggest “get” in the group, as he started right away at right tackle – a position of need going into the season.  He played nearly every game and was good enough to be considered a starter going forward.  He’s not perfect, but you have to like all the experience he got.  He’ll heal up from his nagging injuries, get stronger going into next year, and we should see a nice boost out of him in year two.

I’m really high on Cassius Marsh.  He tops out as a starting defensive end opposite Michael Bennett (while eventually replacing him when Bennett retires or is let go at/near the end of his deal).  His floor, though, is what makes me happy, as I think at worst he’s still a rotational guy who can play both inside (on passing downs) and outside (on any down).  Considering we still have Bennett, Avril, and Irvin going into next season, if Marsh can stay healthy, I don’t think we have to invest a whole lot in our outside pass rush (the interior rush is another story, of course).

Richardson and Norwood are the wild cards of this class.  If they both pan out, we could be talking about this group in ways we talk about the draft classes of 2010-2012.  If just one sticks, I still think we’re happy.  If they both flame out, then we wasted two draft picks in an area of great need for this team.  I thought Richardson really started to come on at the end of the year, but obviously his torn ACL makes him a question mark going forward.  If he returns (and yes, it’s an “if” in this scenario), will he be the same guy?  Will he have the speed required to make it in the league?  Will he inevitably injure it again?  Remember, he had the same injury in college, to the same knee.  As for Norwood, it might be unfair, but I think we all expected a little more out of him.  The phrase “security blanket” has been used quite a bit with him.  Hopefully, being healthy and having a year’s experience under his belt will help him grow in year two.  We’ll need it, that’s for sure.

The other guys are longshots.  KPL figures to be a depth guy and a special teams standout if he can stay healthy.  Staten probably tops out as a rotational tackle on our defensive line, and probably one who isn’t active very often.  Pinkins was drafted to be another tall cornerback, but it doesn’t look like he has the ability and will probably be moved back to safety (where, obviously, we’re pretty well stocked).  Either Pinkins sticks as a backup to Kam, or he gets cut.  Gilliam is more offensive line depth.  And Coyle is a special teams guy and an okay backup to Bobby Wagner.  It wouldn’t shock me to see any of these guys get the ax at the end of Training Camp this year, if the right people come along to replace them.

There are certainly guys you like out of the 2013 & 2014 draft classes – even guys who project to be starters – but there aren’t many (if any) superstars in the bunch.  I know it’s hard, when you’re consistently drafting near the end of the first round every year, but then again, this is the team that has managed to make 4th & 5th rounders into superstars.  Here’s to hoping we get another diamond in the rough in this year’s class to keep the good vibes rolling.

Seahawks Death Week Reloaded

a.k.a. What The Seahawks Need To Do To Get Back To The Super Bowl & Win It All This Time, Again

“Rebuilding” is a word people use to talk about bad teams who are trying to get good again.  Eventually.  In a couple, two, three years.  “Reloading” is a word people use to talk about good teams who are trying to stay good in a hurry.  I’ve seen that word “reload” used to describe what the Seahawks are doing this offseason, but I’ve always read that with a negative connotation.  Teams that need to “reload” are teams that have been good in recent years (plural), but in the most recent season, the quality of their team dipped.  Like, a team that’s made the playoffs a bunch of years in a row, then had one down season where they missed the cut.  And, instead of blowing things up, they’re just going to reload for another run at a championship.

The 49ers are a PERFECT example of this.  Great team, had a rough 2014.  They weren’t terrible; they weren’t bad enough to warrant a complete rebuild.  They just need to reload.  Add some pieces to the core they’ve got now and they’ll be all set for another post-season run.

“Reload” is also a word you use when you talk about teams that are desperately trying to cling to relevance when they’re WELL past their prime.  Think about what the Seahawks were doing in the offseason between 2007 & 2008.  They PROBABLY should have blown it all up and done a total rebuild.  Instead, they tried to keep the team together, reloaded with a couple of ill-advised signings in Julius Jones & T.J. Duckett (among others), to give it one more go with Hasselbeck, Jones, and Co.  What happened?  They bottomed out in 2008, and bottomed out again in 2009 when they had the same strategy (T.J. Houshmandzadeh, anyone?).

These Seahawks, right now, this year, aren’t “reloading”, because these Seahawks are already loaded!  Regardless of what happens, we’re still going to be one of the youngest and most talented rosters in the league next year.  Losing a Super Bowl doesn’t mean you “reload” for next year.  You don’t re-anything!  You do a little tweaking and you continue to build up the depth of your squad.  It would be no different had we won the Super Bowl, or ended up losing in the NFC Championship Game.

***

The primary storyline this offseason will be the extension of Russell Wilson.  The secondary storyline this offseason will be the extension of Bobby Wagner.  Considering they were drafted into the new CBA, this is the first opportunity the Seahawks have had to extend these two (and to give them raises commensurate to the output they’ve given this team on the field).  We’re actually in really good shape right now, thanks to the in-season extensions the team gave K.J. Wright and Cliff Avril; those are two fewer deals the team has to worry about now that the offseason is ramping up.

How Wilson’s deal is structured will dictate a lot of the other moves this team makes, so it’ll be important to get that squared away pretty quickly.  I would argue Wagner’s deal – by virture of him not being a quarterback in the NFL – will be much simpler and easier to plan for (though, I doubt the team will wait to get him done either).

Those two guys are a given, and will get done, likely sometime around the Draft.  There are other, lesser guys up for new deals that the team will have to think about.

James Carpenter is a free agent.  After a rocky start to his career – one that has been pretty injury-plagued – it wouldn’t shock me to see the team let him walk away.  I can’t imagine he’s going to command a king’s ransom on the open market, but I’ve been surprised before.  Considering he’s more of a run-first blocker, with suspect pass-protection skills, I can’t imagine he’s a great fit for most teams who are pass-first.  If the Seahawks can bring him back on the cheap, I’d be all for it.  If they can’t, I’m not going to shed too many tears.  Either way, I would expect this team to draft hard for interior linemen this year.  Perhaps a guard/center type who could replace Carpenter now, and replace Unger when he’s no longer fit to handle the center duties.

Byron Maxwell is another biggie, and one we’ve all along said is not long for this team.  I can’t imagine the market is going to low-ball him; he’s going to get serious starter’s money.  Maybe not All Pro money, but it’ll likely be enough to price out the Seahawks.  I believe John Schneider when he says that Maxwell is a high priority, but I don’t think that’s at any price.  Here’s to hoping Tharold Simon grows up in a hurry between last season and this season.

Malcolm Smith is another free agent, but you can kiss him goodbye.  He hardly played at all outside of special teams when our core linebackers were healthy.  We’ve already extended Wright, we’re in the process of extending Wagner, and Irvin appears to be a coveted piece of our future that we’re keen on keeping around long term.  There’s just no room for Smith, who could likely be an effective starter on another team.  Let him go, replace him with a guy making the minimum, and we’ll be just fine.

Beyond that, the only other free agents we could potentially lose would be depth guys.  Tarvar, Schofield, Shead, Jeron Johnson.  None of these guys are “must keeps”.  I would argue extending our long snapper is of more value to the team than any of these other guys I’ve mentioned in this paragraph.

***

So, where does this team need help?

Our obvious starting point is Wide Receiver.  We need a couple, and we’re probably going to have to draft them to get them.  Let’s face it, trying to attract a free agent wide receiver into this offense is about as easy as the Seattle Mariners trying to attract a slugging right-handed power bat; nobody wants to sign here and watch their numbers plummet!  And, I don’t know if this has hit you yet, but we’re about to have a quarterback who is one of the top two or three highest-paid players in the NFL, so it’s not like we can afford to over-pay for Larry Fitzgerald or whoever else may or may not be available on the open market.  There will be no Percy Harvin-esque deals this offseason, or for the foreseeable future.

Draft.  Draft is the way to go for this position.  Lock them in pretty much against their wills and try to squeeze as much as you can out of them.

One route to take is what the Falcons did a few years ago:  sell out and trade up to draft a sure thing.  While it’s enticing – since this team is already at a championship-level – it’s never going to happen.  But, we do need to draft a receiver high.  In the first round, ideally, but no later than the third.  And, we probably need to draft a couple (one early, one late) just to get our numbers up and create some really good competition in camp this summer.

Doug Baldin is locked in thru 2016.  Jermaine Kearse is a restricted free agent who will be tendered at a high rate, meaning he’s pretty much a lock to be here at least in 2015.  These are two fine receivers, who both probably need to be bumped down a peg or two.  Ricardo Lockette is another restricted free agent who SHOULD be back, but he’s less of a lock than Kearse.  Paul Richardson had that devastating injury and is probably a strong candidate to start the season on the PUP list (meaning he will miss at least the first six weeks of the season; so it’s pretty safe to consider him a non-factor for 2015, considering the rate of re-injury when players try to rush back into playing shape mid-season).  Kevin Norwood had quite the underwhelming rookie campaign, so who knows if he’ll even be on the team when we eventually cut the roster back down to 53?  Then, there’s Chris Matthews, Bryan Walters, and some other fringe guys to think about.  I know Matthews was a revalation in the Super Bowl, but there’s a reason why he wasn’t playing the whole game – he was only in a small package of plays, because he’s not really that good.

I mean, yeah, Matthews is tall and athletic, and that accounts for something, but a lot of being a wide receiver is being in the right place at the right time and doing the right things when you get there.  He might not be the best route runner, he might not be adept enough at shedding defenders or creating separation.  I dunno, but there’s a reason why that guy kicks around on the fringes of the NFL all his career.  If he was better at all the things BESIDES height, he’d be making millions of dollars instead of hundreds of thousands.

Really, what this all boils down to is:  get ready for another crapshoot.  Maybe we’ll get lucky and find a top-notch receiver in the draft.  But, we took two cracks at it last year – with Richardson and Norwood – in one of the all time deepest drafts for the position, and we likely came away with a couple duds.  This year doesn’t look to be nearly as promising, so hopefully we find that diamond in the rough.

Because if we don’t, I hate to break it to you, but the overall makeup of our wide receiver group doesn’t figure to be all that remarkably improved in 2015.  Yes, the team needs to keep trying to get it right, but unless you get that Odell Beckham, you’ve likely got a project on your hands that will require a couple years to get up to speed.  Remember, Golden Tate wasn’t a star the minute he stepped into the NFL.  This shit takes time.

***

After receiver, things look a little more reasonable on offense.  I would expect the Seahawks to go hard after a free agent tight end.  That may or may not spell the end of Zach Miller’s Seahawks career, but considering he’s making a relatively low figure of $4 million, I would suspect he’ll be back (he may also agree to a pay cut, which would be all the better).  If we could pair Miller with a high-quality free agent tight end, and let Luke Willson continue to develop (i.e. stop dropping the ball so much), we may not NEED a bona fide #1 wide receiver.  Hell, Luke Willson by himself is already matchup hell for defenses; imagine if we’re able to sign another studly threat at tight end to go with him!  At a reasonable cost, that’d be the way I’d go.

Don’t expect the Seahawks to wade in the free agent waters for a lineman.  Carpenter is a wild card.  J.R. Sweezy might be looking at an extension this year, at a relatively reasonable cost.  We’ve still got Alvin Bailey, Garry Gilliam, and Patrick Lewis as quality depth pieces.  Okung is signed thru 2015, Unger is signed thru 2016, and Britt is signed thru 2017, so really the bulk of our offensive line will remain at least through next year.  I would still expect some late round finds by Tom Cable, but this probably isn’t the year where the Seahawks look high in the draft for replacements, unless someone TOO good falls to them.

Another big storyline is what’s going to happen to Marshawn Lynch.  Good God, is this something I don’t want to have to worry about.  The Seahawks are already on record as wanting to extend him, to keep him happy and well paid.  But, rumors are floating around hot and heavy that Lynch is thinking about retiring, which depresses me to no end.  I’ve been as vocal as anyone about not keeping running backs past their expiration dates, but Lynch is as crucial as they come.  I agree with the Seahawks in their desire to extend him another couple years, and I hope Lynch takes the deal.  If he were to happily retire as a Seahawk, I don’t know if I could be any more pleased.

Failing that, if he does leave the game this year, the Seahawks are obviously going to have to look to the draft.  Turbin is signed thru 2015 and will be the likely starter.  But, I imagine there’d be a big time share between him, Michael (signed thru 2016), and any rookie we bring in who wins that third RB job.  Our running game will take a noticeable hit, but I’m hopeful we’d be able to find our running back of the future out of that mix.

***

On defense, the immediate need is in the interior defensive line.  Kevin Williams was on a 1-year deal and probably won’t be back (he may retire, or he may take another small deal to try to get that ring, but I think the team will end up moving on).  Mebane and Tony McDaniel are both signed thru 2015.  I have a hard time seeing the team moving on from either of these guys before the ends of their deals, but I do think we’ll look to draft a defensive tackle pretty early.

What we’ve got that we can count on is Jordan Hill.  He’s probably not a starter, but he’s certainly a quality depth piece who has found a role in our pass rush packages.  Beyond that, it’s a lot of slim pickin’s.  Filler guys like Dobbs, Scruggs, Jesse Williams, and a bunch of other names who are THIS close to trading in their jobs in the NFL for jobs as nightclub bouncers and with private security firms.  Ideally, we’d be able to pick up someone high in the draft who will go into the rotation immediately and eventually replace Mebane or McDaniel, with another guy drafted late who could hopefully develop into a replacement next year or the year after.

This is also a position the team could look to bolster in free agency, if the price is right.  Ndamukong Suh is an interesting name people are talking about as a potential target for the Seahawks, but I’m not buying it.  He’s about to be one of the top two highest paid defensive linemen in the NFL; 1) he’s not taking a discount to be here, and 2) we’re not going to blow up our entire salary cap for the next three years just to bring him in.  Yes, it would be AMAZING if Suh played on this line next to Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril; we’d probably have the single greatest pass rush the world has ever seen.  I could also win the Mega Millions lottery tonight and be a wealthy unemployed person tomorrow.  Let’s not waste the time or brain cells giving this too much thought.

More likely, the team goes after a lower tier free agent.  Cost effective, helpful, hopefully younger with a longer shelf life than a Kevin Williams.  Someone equally as effective at stopping he run and rushing the passer.  I don’t have any specific names for you right now, but they’re out there.  It’s just a matter of if they want to play for a winner or not.

***

Elsewhere on the defense, I think there’s a lot of clamoring for another defensive end, but I’m actually pretty happy with what we’ve got.  Bennett on one side, Avril on the other.  When Bennett moves inside, we’ve got Irvin along with Avril on the same line going after the quarterback.  Even our depth is okay, with Cassius Marsh looking like a good prospect last season before he went out with injury.  Hopefully this is the year we let Schofield go and find a quality replacement in the draft.  Maybe somewhere in the 2nd round to 4th round range.  Get some freak athlete who does one thing and one thing extremely well.  Probably not a spot we’ll look in free agency, unless it’s as a depth guy to help out in camp.

Our linebackers are solid.  As I mentioned before, we’ll have Wagner, Wright, and Irvin all back.  We’ve still got Kevin Pierre-Louis and Brock Coyle who are signed long term as quality depth guys and special teamers.  Malcolm Smith should be pretty easy to replace with another low-round draft pick or undrafted free agent.

In the secondary, I’m assuming Maxwell will be gone.  Lane is signed thru 2015, Simon is here thru 2016.  Beyond that, I would expect the team to go after another corner or possibly two in the draft.  Unlikely you’ll see this team get a free agent unless it’s another depth guy for camp.

***

As per usual, this is a team that’s built through the draft, with strategic forays into free agency.  I would expect more of the same.  With Russell Wilson’s contract expected to be pretty reasonable in 2015 (most of his money will be in the form of a signing bonus; his cap number this year will be manageable because we can spread out his bonus across five years of salary cap), there may be opportunities to get free agents on bigger 1-year deals.  But, unless Lynch retires, or something unexpected happens, I wouldn’t expect the Seahawks to go out of their way to bring in a big money free agent from another team.  The most we spend – aside from extending our own guys – will likely be for a quality tight end.  Otherwise, it’s all draft, all the time.

The Horrifying Return Of Seahawks Death Week

Well, it’s been two weeks.  I think I can finally bring myself to talk openly and frankly about The Thing That Happened At The End Of That Game.  And, because Seahawks Death Week is sort of a tradition of mine – whenever the season officially ends for my beloved Seahawks in a losing fashion – and because it’s mid-February, with nothing else going on locally, I figure what better time to get a week’s worth of posts out of the way.

The last time I wrote about the Seahawks losing in the playoffs, we came off of a heartbreaking defeat to the Falcons where we sucked for the entire first half, came roaring back to take a brief lead with well under a minute to play, only to let them go right down the field to kick the game-ending field goal.  I bet you didn’t think there was a more soul-crushing way to lose, did you?

Someone might point to the three post-Super Bowl posts I wrote as a quasi-Seahawks Death Week epitaph, but those were just raw, visceral chunks of reaction to one play in one game.  The spirit of Seahawks Death Week is to celebrate the season as a whole, lament where we went wrong, try to figure out what we need to do to improve, and put everything to bed so we can all move on with our lives.  So, after today, I’m going to drop The Thing That Happened At The End Of That Game.

It sucks, because the 2014 Seahawks are always – until the end of time – going to be defined by the decision to throw on the one yard line in the Super Bowl.  That’s just the way it is, though.  It’s not fair, and a lot of fans will spend the rest of their lives pissing into the wind trying to get people to think of all the great things about this season.  But, in the end, the blurb in history books can only be so long, and no amount of people coming to Pete Carroll’s defense will ever change how that was the stupidest call in the history of sports.

As I’ve alluded to before, not only were there countless amazing things that happened in this season to make it worth more than just one play in one game, but there were countless amazing things in the very same game!  I mean, how did we overcome all the injuries in the secondary, from Jeremy Lane to Kam Chancellor to Earl Thomas to Richard Sherman all having major injuries (most of which required surgery).  In spite of Cliff Avril going down with a concussion, in spite of no quarterback pressure on Tom Brady whatsoever, we still had a chance to win that game.

Then, take a look at what we were bringing to the table on offense.  Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse as your #1 and #2 receivers?  The relative scrubbery of our tight ends.  The ragtag group of offensive linemen getting the job done.  In spite of the throw getting picked off at the end, this game is still another feather in the cap of Russell Wilson’s genius.  Who else is willing this team to be in a position to win it at the end?

I mean, shit, Chris Matthews was almost your Super Bowl MVP!  I know Malcolm Smith came out of left field last year, but Matthews would’ve taken the cake!  And yet, without him, are we even in it at the end?  Do we lose by double-digits?  I’m not saying that would’ve been worse than what ended up happening, but it certainly shines a different light on things.

Speaking of how we lost:  is that the worst way to lose?  I feel like 95% of Seahawks fans are saying emphatically, “YES!” and would be willing to fist fight me on the subject for even questioning it.  But, I keep going back to that NFC Championship Game; is what happened to us any worse than what happened to Green Bay?  For us, it was more sudden.  Thunk, intercepted, game over.  For the Packers, it was a long, slow bleed.  And, I know there was some blood-loss in our own game, considering the Seahawks had a double-digit lead over the Patriots in the fourth quarter and let them score on back-to-back drives.  But, in the end, we had the ball in our hands along with our own destiny.  The Packers had their “Oh Shit” moment with the onside kick.  Then, it was just a painful crawl to the finish line as we took the lead, let them kick it into overtime, and then they had to watch us drive for the game winning touchdown.  Their misery was drawn out; ours was a sucker punch that also gave us cancer.  Plus, for what it’s worth, Packers fans also had our Super Bowl misery to help them get over their own.

Given the circumstances and the meaning of it all, I objectively believe there is no worse way to lose in sports.  Football is the most popular sport in America, the Super Bowl is the pinnacle of football, it’s the most-watched television event of the year, and so to lose on that stage, with the Lombardi Trophy right there for the taking, makes any conference championship game defeat a walk in the park in comparison.

As the week continues, I’ll touch on the following topics:

The time for mourning is over.  It’s time to celebrate and look forward.  Let Seahawks Death Week wash over you like an opium-induced haze.

Predicting The Seasons Of Various Mariners In 2015, Part III

Today, we conclude our 3-part series, by taking a look at the batters/fielders.  Let’s get going before it all becomes obsolete!

Here are the links to read about the starting pitchers and the bullpen guys to get you all warmed up.

One more time, let’s try to predict a reasonable lineup, 1-9:

  1. Austin Jackson – CF
  2. Dustin Ackley – LF
  3. Robinson Cano – 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz – DH
  5. Kyle Seager – 3B
  6. Logan Morrison – 1B
  7. Mike Zunino – C
  8. Seth Smith – RF
  9. Brad Miller/Chris Taylor – SS

Probable Bench:

  • Backup Catcher
  • Willie Bloomquist
  • Rickie Weeks
  • Justin Ruggiano

With the signing of Rickie Weeks this week – to a guaranteed, Major League contract, no less – things start to clear up a little bit.  For starters, we can be all but assured that the loser of the short stop battle will be starting his season in Tacoma.  You can also bet on Guti, Endy, Montero, Romero, Jones, and all of these other fringe Major Leaguers to start in Tacoma too (unless injuries get in the way).  In one fell swoop, the depth on this team is improved greatly (in theory).

In theory, Rickie Weeks could play backup to Logan Morrison and/or Dustin Ackley.  In reality, Rickie Weeks has never played anything other than second base in his entire professional career.  I’m not 100% sold on his ability to transition to the outfield – especially considering he’s already not that great at defense when it comes to playing his “natural” position – but I’ll tell you what this DOES mean (and you’re not going to like it):  if Ackley struggles early, or he in general continues to struggle against left-handed pitching, instead of experimenting with Weeks in the outfield, what’s more likely to happen is we DH with Weeks against lefty starters, and push Cruz to left field.  I mean, what’s the simplest answer here?  That after 32 years, we force a guy to learn a completely foreign position?  Or, we let our big-money free agent signee get some work in the outfield once in a while when we need to sit Ackley?  WAKE UP, DUM DUMS!

I’m not saying that’s the worst thing in the world, but it’s probably going to happen, so better to brace for it now.

I’m not going to go too much more into the bench situation as it stands now.  I just like that our depth is a little more impressive than it was at this time last week.

Austin Jackson – I’m not buying it.  A-Jax has been trending downward the last two years, bottoming out in his couple months with Seattle.  He’s going to get the starting job in center because he’s the only guy we’ve got.  And, he’s going to play a lot more than he probably should, because again, he’s the only guy we’ve got.  But, it’s not going to be pretty.  I give it until the end of May before he’s knocked down in the order.  In no way should he be leading off, and I’m going to be repeating that phrase over and over for the first two months of the season, I can already tell.  By mid-season, the Mariners will be scrambling for even a lukewarm body to replace A-Jax in center, rendering him a useless bench player who comes in for defensive relief late in games.

Dustin Ackley – Again, I’m not buying it.  BAD START!  We’ve got two REAL BIG red flags here at the top of our order.  It’s going to be super annoying when we have to endure the entire month of April with Cano hitting with the bases empty.  The Mariners will have a quicker hook in moving Ackley down in the order, but unlike A-Jax, I don’t think they’ll be as quick to remove him from the lineup entirely.  I think Ackley will have the better season offensively than A-Jax, though it’ll still pale in comparison to Ackley’s second half in 2014.  It’s impossible to predict what Ackley is going to do, so it wouldn’t shock me to see him turn it back on in the second half of 2015, but I think in the end we’re all going to quietly wish we’d traded him at the height of his value.

Robinson Cano – Stud.  Expect more of the same as last year.  I think we’re still 2-3 years away from his decline.  Hope he doesn’t get injured.

Nelson Cruz – I’m more or less in line with everyone else on Cruz.  I think him hitting 40 homers was an anomaly (in spite of the fact that he hit more homers away from Baltimore).  I think his more natural number is anywhere from 25-30.  I think that number takes a hit with him playing half of his games in Safeco, meaning he probably tops out at 25, with a floor somewhere around 17-18.  I think there’s enough talent around him to make his other numbers look good (RBI, runs scored, OBP), and I think we still win enough games that it doesn’t matter.  But, we’re not REALLY going to be getting the bang for our buck that we were hoping.  If I’m wrong, then HALLELUJAH!  Our best bet is Cruz getting off to a hot start.  If we’re at the end of April and he’s at 2 home runs, this will probably be a match made in hell.

Kyle Seager – As always, no worries here.  It’d be a damn fine sight if he continues to improve.  One of these years, he’s going to hit over .300; why not this year?  For the first time since he came on as a regular you can count on, he’s not The Man.  He’s more like The Third Man.  If we ever get to the point where we can bat him in the 2-hole, I would expect his batting average to skyrocket.  As it stands now, I think he finally has it in him to get over the .270 hump.  Let’s play it safe:  .290, 24 homers, 101 RBI.

Logan Morrison – I’m much more relaxed about LoMo being our everyday first baseman now that we’ve got Rickie Weeks in the fold.  While it’s unrealistic to expect Weeks to just magically convert into an outfielder overnight, it’s not impossible to see him quickly adapt to playing first base.  Obviously, he’s not ideal, but I think he’s going to see quite a bit of playing time, as I just can’t envision a world where LoMo is healthy for a full season and producing in such a capacity that he’s not benched at some point for performance.  I mean, he’s not QUITE Justin Smoak-bad, but he’s also not a guy with a huge track record of success.  When he’s inevitably injured around mid-May, Weeks will step in and we’ll be fine for a while.  Then, we’ll get tired of Everyday Weeks, and by the time LoMo returns from injury, it’ll be a strict platoon the rest of the way (to spare LoMo’s fragile body, and to spare US from Everyday Weeks).

Mike Zunino – This is actually a really fun time to be a Mike Zunino fan.  So, if you’re not already on the bandwagon, I encourage you to hop on now before there’s a long line to get in.  He had his abbreviated rookie season, cut short by injury.  He had his full season as The Man behind the plate.  To date, nothing appears to be “too big” for this kid to handle.  The most important stuff – receiving pitches, handling pitchers, calling a game – is well within his wheelhouse.  The rest – hitting for stuff besides gargantuan power – is sure to improve as his comfort level continues to grow.

Last year, our boy hit 22 homers, in the mostly pressure-free “bottom of the order”.  That’s the good, but even that is something that can be improved upon.  The bad is his .199 batting average.  His 17 walks compared to 158 strikeouts.  His lack of speed and overall baserunning ability is something that’s just taken for granted, but his work at the plate can use some improvement.  Nevertheless, we now have his floor established.  If he is – going forward - the guy he was in 2014, it’s not the WORST thing in the world.  You’ve still got a quality defender and a power bat at the bottom of the order.  BUT, if he improves in his work at the plate – working counts, reducing strikeouts, eliminating holes in his swing – then the sky is the limit and we will all quickly forget what a trainwreck he was with a bat in his first couple seasons.  I believe he’s bound to only get better.  He’s probably 3-4 years away from his offensive peak years, but it’s still going to be fun to watch him improve.  If we get the same great defense, add about 25 points to his batting average, reduce his strikeouts by 10-15, and increase his walks by 10-15, I think those are very reasonable goals to attain in 2015.  His ceiling for this year is all of that, plus he scratches the surface of 30 homers & 30 doubles, but that’s probably a best-case scenario.

It’s also probably going to be the norm in his peak offensive years, so like I said before, these are fun times to be a Mike Zunino fan.

Seth Smith & Justin Ruggiano – You can’t talk about one without the other, as this is a package deal.  Seth Smith is the lefty.  That’s what we all need to remember.  He’s the guy who’s going to be playing more often, because there are more right-handed starting pitchers in baseball than lefties.  So, figure Smith plays about 2/3 of the games compared to Ruggiano’s 1/3 (if everything pans out, and both stay healthy).

I’m utterly convinced that one of these guys is going to fail miserably.  Odds are, Ruggiano is that guy.  Smith has experience playing in bigger ballparks, as he’s played with the A’s and Padres the last three seasons.  The fact that he was reasonably successful with the A’s doesn’t lead me to worry too much about his abilities to hit American League pitching.  And, quite frankly, considering he’s coming off of his best season – playing down in San Diego – gives me great comfort that he’s not about to fall off the tracks.

Ruggiano has been more or less a career backup.  He’s bounced around from the Rays to the Marlins to the Cubs last season.  He’s got moderate pop in his bat, which should be riddled useless in Safeco.  He’s the righty who does pretty well against lefties, so hopefully that trend continues.  Given the fact that he’s looking at some pretty spotty playing time, it wouldn’t shock me in the least if he gets off to a slow start.  I’m not expecting a ton out of either of these guys, though.  If we can get some good batting averages out of them, and occasional timely hitting with runners in scoring position, I’ll be happy.

Brad Miller & Chris Taylor – This is the loser-out situation in camp.  So, get ready for a million articles and blog posts on the Short Stop Battle of 2015!

Remember the Short Stop Battle of 2014?  Pretty lame, if you ask me.  Brad Miller had a torrid love affair with Spring Training and knocked Nick Franklin down to Tacoma.  Then, of course, Miller stunk once the calendar flipped to April, and was pretty bad until we were able to call up Chris Taylor.

What you need to know here is:  Miller has the bat, Taylor has the glove.  Miller’s power gives him the edge in this race, and since I’m convinced he’s a Spring Training Dandy, I’m throwing my full prediction behind Miller winning the job.  Either way, I think it’s good we have both of these guys, as I’m not convinced we should be sold on either.

I’m encouraged by the way Miller finished up his season last year.  That leads me to believe the pressure didn’t totally deflate him.  With that year under his belt, maybe he’ll be able to calm down and relax at the plate a little more.  It also helps that he’s not going into the season as the leadoff hitter.  They’ll most likely keep him in the 9-hole to take advantage of his speed as the lineup turns over.  I’m expecting a little more consistency out of Miller, which will be good for everyone, because if we can get him going, this lineup has the potential for juggernaut status.

Lots to like here.  Can’t wait for it to begin.  Go M’s.

Predicting The Seasons Of Various Mariners In 2015, Part II

Yesterday, (royal) we kicked our 2015 Mariners coverage into high gear with some words about what types of years we can expect out of our starting pitchers.  Today, let’s take a look at the bullpen in all its gory glory.

If you think about it, the bullpen is probably the most underrated aspect of any baseball team.  You’re not going to be in contention – and you’re CERTAINLY not going to be winning any divisions – if your bullpen is blowing games left and right.  Unless you’ve got the offense to end all offenses, you’re going to need your bullpen to be on point much more often than not (and even then, never forget about the mid-90s Mariners with their astronomical offense and astronomically bad bullpen).

When you look at this team as it’s presently constructed, we’re talking about a lineup that’s much better than it was, say, five years ago.  We’ve got three bona fide middle-of-the-order hitters with Cano, Cruz, and Seager.  And, we’ve got enough talent around those guys (while they might not be All Stars, we can at least expect them to get the job done from time to time) with Jackson, Ackley, LoMo, Zunino, and hopefully our right field platoon, that runs shouldn’t be the struggle to come by that they were in the most recent dark ages.  Brendan Ryan is NOT walking through that door.  Nor are the myriad pieces of crap we’ve employed of late.  It’s no 1927 Yankees, but this is an offense that should get the job done.  Then, factor in the starters, and we’re talking about another group good enough to be getting the job done more often than not.

Getting to the 6th and 7th innings with a lead should NOT be too much of a hassle for this team.  The question is:  can we expect the bullpen to lock these games down?

Fernando Rodney – Let’s start at the bottom.  Last year, our closer was better than he’d ever been, except for that crazy 2012 when he only gave up 5 earned runs all season.  In 2014, he blew three saves, which is outstanding.  He also ended up more or less costing us three other games, when he came in during a tie game and gave up the winning run.  So, he wasn’t PERFECT, but he was about as good as you could reasonably expect.  If we could squeeze another year out of him like we had last year, I’d be head over heels.

Relievers are tricky, though.  You never know what you’re going to get, and that has absolutely nothing to do with injuries.  You’ve got relatively small sample sizes with each season, and they get even smaller when you consider most relievers go just one inning per appearance.  You give up a couple runs and all of a sudden, your numbers look crazy bad.

With a closer, all you want is to not have to endure a string of consecutive meltdowns.  Somehow, we were spared this fate in 2014, but I doubt we’ll be so lucky in 2015.  It’s how you’re able to bounce back that will define your season.  With younger guys like Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen, multiple consecutive meltdowns triggered the demise of those guys as closers.  Doesn’t mean they’re not valuable relievers; just means they probably can’t handle the pressure of the end of the game.  Rodney strikes me as a guy who will suffer a run of bad luck, or bad performances, and be able to overcome.  I expect his numbers to look a little worse, but not so bad that we have to totally replace him for the duration.

Danny Farquhar – Probably the guy I worry about the least in this bullpen, so of course he’s going to be the guy who fucking tanks it.  Farquhar has been an absolute treat since he came over here in that Ichiro trade and has more or less been locking fools down on the reg.  My prediction is that he will continue to be dynamite and we’ll all continue to bemoan the fact that we’re NOT using Farquhar whenever Medina or Wilhelmsen enters the game.

Yoervis Medina – Speaking of the devil, I feel like Medina gets kind of a raw deal in this whole thing.  We’re talking about a guy who has blown exactly 5 saves in the last two years, and that’s been almost exclusively in a 7th & 8th inning role, which arguably can be the tougher innings to pitch, depending on the situation.  Nevertheless, you know as well as I that a sense of dread comes over all of us whenever Medina’s name gets called.  At times, Medina can be lights out and the best pitcher in the stadium.  At times, you wonder if he’ll ever find the strike zone again.  For the vast majority of his outings, he’s just good enough.  He’ll put a scare into everyone, but he wouldn’t be employed if he weren’t getting through these innings.  Frankly, you need guys like this to fill out your bullpen.  Medina is a horse, he can pitch multiple days in a row, he seemingly never gets injured, and in the long run he’s going to save your more important bullpen arms down the stretch.  I expect more of the same.

Tom Wilhelmsen – Dude turned into something of a Jack of All Trades last year.  He’s never fully regained the form that he had in 2012, when he stole the closer’s job from League, but he’s also not as bad as he was in 2013 when he lost the closer’s job.  He’s an innings eater, which is crucial when you’re talking about a bullpen that doesn’t really employ a “long reliever/spot starter” type.  I’m a little concerned about him regressing back to his crappy self, but if the team continues to use him properly (read: sparingly), we should be able to get some good mileage out of him.

Charlie Furbush – For some reason, I feel like Furbush took a huge step back in 2014, compared to 2013, but the numbers don’t really bare that out.  He somehow managed to blow exactly zero saves last year, but he did find himself on the losing end of five games (four in the first half alone, when he struggled out of the gate for long stretches).  Honestly, Furbush was the LAST guy I wanted to see come out of the bullpen last year, as 15 of his appearances saw him give up at least one run (saying nothing of the guys he let score who were put on base by the previous pitcher).  I don’t have high hopes for Furbush, but as he’s a reliever, he could magically figure out how to dominate the strike zone and be amazing.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed and move on.

Carson Smith & Dominic Leone – Leone was a rookie who managed to stay with the big club all year.  Smith was a guy who got a cup of coffee in September and made the most of it by making batters look silly while giving up 2 hits and zero runs in 9 appearances.  I hope both of these guys make the team, but suffice it to say, whether or not we go with the 8-man bullpen, they’ll both get some play in the bigs at some point this season.  I like Smith’s upside more, as I feel like he’s got his offspeed pitches figured out.  But, Leone is another horse who will get you multiple innings and be able to pitch multiple days in a row.  The hope is, with a full year under his belt, he’ll start adding to his arsenal and be even more dynamic than he was last year.  If that’s the case, watch out!

Overall, I do like our bullpen’s chances.  Even if some of the older guys start to flail about, I think we have enough hotshot young arms to make up for it.  The hope is, if someone is indeed done, the organization realizes it in time and makes the switch early enough to save our season.  Because, if Rodney, for instance, falls off the wagon, we’re going to need to act swiftly.  Playing him just because he’s the veteran – even though he’s melting down every game – will surely drive me insane and nobody wants that.