Where In The Fudge Do The Mariners Go From Here?

The following players are under contract for 2016:

  • Felix Hernandez (signed thru 2019)
  • Robinson Cano (signed thru 2023)
  • Kyle Seager (signed thru 2021, w/ option for 2022)
  • Nelson Cruz (signed thru 2018)
  • Seth Smith (signed thru 2016, w/ option for 2017)

Of course, the team has other players under team control, but for the most part those players are part of The Problem.  The above-referenced players are the good ones.  You like to think you can count on Felix, Cano, Seager, Cruz, and Smith; these are professional players who are going to give you professional performances for the most part.  A starting pitcher, a second baseman, a third baseman, a DH, and a platoon corner outfielder.  That’s what the Mariners have going for them in 2016.

So, what are they going to do about the 20 other spots on this roster?

Well, here’s a breakdown of the players who will most certainly be playing elsewhere in 2016, because their contracts run out after this year and either they won’t want to return or we won’t want them to return:

  • Austin Jackson
  • Hisashi Iwakuma
  • Fernando Rodney
  • J.A. Happ
  • Joe Beimel

So, in theory, the Mariners will be looking to fill two starting pitcher roles, a closer role, a lefty specialist role, and a center field role.  I already don’t like where 2016 is headed.

Here’s a list of players with 1 more year of arbitration eligibility before they become full blown free agents:

  • Mark Trumbo
  • Logan Morrison

Oh goodie!  Two underperforming first basemen – one from each side of the plate – who have no business being in the outfield!  Mark Trumbo is probably the more offensively-gifted of the two, but he’s also the absolute God damn worst in the field.  LoMo has some defensive value at first base, but he’s proven without a shadow of a doubt that he’s not an everyday player.  We all wondered what he could be if he actually managed to stay healthy for a full season.  WELP, look no further than his 2015 output!

Trumbo earned $6.9 million in 2015, so figure he’ll get somewhere in the $8-$9 million range in 2016 (if we decide to keep him and not just cut him loose set him free).  LoMo earned a shade under $3 mil in 2015; maybe he gets in the $4-$5 million range in 2016 (again, if we decide to keep him, which I’m pretty against).  If we dumped these two guys, we’d need to get a whole new first baseman/DH combo, which probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Next up, we’ve got the guys with 2 more years of arbitration eligibility before they become full blown free agents:

  • Dustin Ackley
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Tom Wilhelmsen

Did you know that Dustin Ackley has earned over $12 million in his professional baseball career?  That’s over $12 million for the single most disappointing draft pick in Mariners franchise history.  He earned $2.6 million in 2015, which you gotta figure gets bumped up to the $4 million range in 2016, and probably somewhere around $6 million in 2017.  GET RID OF HIM NOW!!!  I don’t care what you have to do, but Dustin Ackley needs to be gone; he’s had every possible chance you can give a prospect, and he’s proven his worth (his worth is zero).  Nothing in the next two years is going to turn him into what we need him to be.

Furbush is a guy I probably wouldn’t mind keeping around.  His pay rate is pretty reasonable, and I wouldn’t expect the raises he gets will break the bank.  Wilhelmsen might be a guy I give another year to, but he’s obviously not someone you’d want to extend long term, and probably not someone you’d want to keep after his final arbitration year.

Finally, here’s a list of all the younger guys with extensive Major League experience, who we’ve got tons of team control for:

  • Brad Miller
  • Mike Zunino
  • Taijuan Walker
  • Carson Smith
  • Jesus Sucre
  • Chris Taylor
  • Vidal Nuno
  • Mike Montgomery
  • James Paxton
  • Roenis Elias
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Lucas Luetge
  • James Jones
  • Jesus Montero

Just brutal.  There are simply too many fucking holes to count.  I mean, look, I guess you can feel pretty good about Brad Miller if you want.  But, he’s still wildly inconsistent.  Or, I guess that’s wrong:  he’s pretty much been consistently bad at the plate since he was first called up here.  And, Chris Taylor is no better, so there’s that.  With Ketel Marte recently being converted to the outfield, there’s yet another short stop prospect gone by the wayside.  Like him or lump him, but Brad Miller is your Opening Day 2016 starting short stop.

Mike Zunino, there’s another.  His rotting carcass has been dragging down this offense for the better part of two years.  But, what are you going to do?  He’s still young enough to where he could theoretically put it all together, but at this point I think it’s foolish to expect him to be the All Star we all hoped he’d be.  So, what we’ve got is Just Another Guy behind the plate.  Great.

Walker, Paxton, Montgomery, and Elias are all young, up & coming starters, but you’re going to run into the same questions going into next year that we had going into this year.  Are they too young?  Will there be more growing pains?  And, most importantly, can they ever stay fucking healthy?  Say what you will about the 2015 Mariners, but I think it will ultimately go down as a good thing for Walker, should he stay healthy the rest of the way.  This year of experience – God willing – will help him be a better pitcher in 2016 and going forward.  One can only hope.  As for Paxton, I won’t put him in Danny Hultzen territory, but I don’t think you can ever count on Paxton staying healthy for a full season.  And, if that’s the case, I really don’t think you can count on him as a starter out of Spring Training.  He might ultimately prove to be a bullpen guy for that very reason.  Montgomery is getting an extended look this year in hopes that we can plug him in for the full season next year.  Should he keep pumping out quality starts, his is a spot in the rotation we might not have to worry about.  But, should he start to get knocked around the more the American League gets used to his repertoire, then that’s yet another hole we’d need to plug.  A hole that might be too big even for Elias, who has seemingly taken something of a step back in his second season in the Majors/upper minors.  None of these guys could be considered safe bets for 2016, but then again, what does that even mean?  We all thought Hisashi Iwakuma was a safe bet for 2015, and look at what we’ve gotten.

The bullpen guys – Carson Smith, Danny Farquhar, Vidal Nuno, and Lucas Luetge – are all pretty iffy in their own rights.  Carson Smith looked to be the second coming of Jeff Nelson until very recently, when he’s been bashed around (possibly to over-use?  He is still fairly young in his career).  I’ll be looking for Smith to ramp it back up the rest of this year.  Nuno has looked okay and will likely be the reason why we don’t see a third year out of Joe Beimel.  Luetge probably continues to get stashed in Tacoma (along with David Rollins, should he manage to stick the rest of this year).  And, that leaves Farquhar, who’s probably good AAA insurance as long as he still has options, which I would assume he does.

The rest – Sucre, Jones, and Montero – aren’t much to write home about.  I have to believe the Mariners will find another backup catcher to allow us to keep Sucre in Tacoma where he belongs.  Jones doesn’t strike me as a guy who’s ever going to hit enough to be anything more than a 4th or 5th outfielder on a team with 3 good starting outfielders (which the Mariners most certainly are not).  Montero is a bit of a wild card, but can you really go into 2016 with him as your starting first baseman?  Or, even as a platoon first baseman?  It would be nice if the Mariners managed to pull their heads out of their asses long enough to call him up for good in 2015 and let us see what the newly-skinny Montero can do over the last two months of the season.  But, that might be asking too much of an incompetent organization looking at wholesale changes in the coming offseason.

The last guy – Mark Lowe – who I didn’t list above, will be a free agent I have to imagine the Mariners will want to re-sign, at least for a year or two.  So, let’s hope that gets done, I guess.

***

That just leaves us with the “Where Do We Go From Here?” bit referenced in the title.  Do the Mariners opt to keep most of the roster intact?  Do they just keep the top five guys under contract and wash away the rest?  Do they completely blow it up, putting anyone and everyone up for auction?

At this point, I’m so disgusted with the whole organization, if I had my druthers, the Mariners would only keep Felix and Seager.  I think if you have a team willing to put in significant coin to take over the remainder of Cano’s contract, I think you jump at the opportunity.  Should he manage to turn things around sufficiently in this second half to make the first half seem like an anomaly, the Mariners could probably trade Cano for a couple of quality pieces (especially when you consider the team he’d end up going to will have a much friendlier stadium to hit in).  Maybe the Mariners kick in $7 million per year the rest of the way, for the right to dump Cano and pick up a couple of quality prospects; wouldn’t that make sense?

Same thing goes for Cruz, though I don’t think the Mariners would have to kick in as much – or any – money to get some good pieces from him.  He’s been a dominant force offensively for the last two years and is only costing $14 million per year.  That’s NOT bad.

Do I think that’ll happen though?  Probably not.  I have to imagine teams are going to stay away from Cano’s contract until they can take him from us for pennies on the dollar.  Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for the Miami Marlins way of doing things:  when you know you’re fucked, dump & run!

Odds are, whoever the next GM is will consider Felix, Seager, Cano, & Cruz as “the core” and will look to build around them.  I can’t imagine Seth Smith, Miller, Zunino, Walker, Carson Smith, Furbush, or Nuno are going anywhere either.  Barring some sort of blockbuster trade, I think these are the guys you’re looking at as the safest bets to return in 2016:

  • Felix – starting pitcher
  • Walker – starting pitcher
  • Carson – reliever
  • Furbush – reliever
  • Nuno – reliever
  • Seager – third base
  • Cano – second base
  • Miller – short stop
  • Cruz – DH/right field
  • Seth – OF platoon
  • Zunino – Catcher

All told, you’ve got 11 of your 25-man roster right there.  How do you feel as that for your “core” players for 2016?  We just need 3 more starters, 4 more relievers, pretty much an entire outfield, a first baseman, and a bench.  I’ve never been more depressed.

Taking a look at the pitching staff, it’s pretty obvious that as long as they’re still here, Paxton, Montgomery, and Elias will get looks in Spring Training.  But, you’re still going to want to bring in a veteran and maybe two.  I’d hope that the Mariners will go hard after a top-end of the rotation guy, and stop trying to make it through seasons with J.A. Happ/Chris Young/Kevin Millwood types.  I mean, if you feel it’s necessary, pick up an innings eater to throw onto the Spring Training pile, but this team absolutely needs another ace-type pitcher, like Iwakuma was before he completely broke down.

For the bullpen, I like Mark Lowe being back.  I don’t even totally mind having Wilhelmsen around, since he’s good to eat up some innings, but I wouldn’t consider him as one of your Late Innings With A Small Lead type of guys.  Assuming Farquhar won’t ever be returning to form, I think this team would be well served in picking up another veteran reliever with a proven track record.  You know, someone like Rodney two years ago, only less volatile.  Lowe, Smith, and Proven Hard-Throwing Righty, combined with Nuno, Furbush, and innings-eating Wilhelmsen could be a nice little unit.  Save that seventh spot for someone off the scrap heap, or a young up & comer with some heat and I think that’d be okay.

So far, my Plan For 2016 involves spending relatively big on a starter and a reliever, while at the same time plucking a cheaper starter and reliever from the scrap heap.

On the hitting side of things, let’s start with first base.  I feel like whatever you do with the rest of the offense hinges on what you do at first base.  The Mariners can afford to keep LoMo or Trumbo, but I don’t think they can afford to keep them both (and I really wouldn’t mind seeing them get rid of both).  If you’re going to skimp on first base (like, say for instance, there just aren’t any quality first basemen available in free agency or via trade), then either you go whole hog with Trumbo as your everyday starting first baseman and cut LoMo loose, or you let Trumbo go, save a few mil, and put LoMo in a platoon with Montero.  Neither of these options are all that enticing, but that’s the world we’re living in.  You can’t afford to completely fill all the holes on this team via free agency, that’s just not how it works.  There aren’t enough good players out there, and the organization won’t be willing to spend all the money in the world just to try to make this team a winner.  We’ve already got major deals going out to five guys in 2016 – the aforementioned guys at the top of the post – those five guys account for almost $79 million in salary next season.  When you account for the 2015 Mariners spending over $126 million on this turd stew, it realistically puts this team with $47 million to spend (minus all the smaller amounts of money going to guys under team control, and minus the arbitration guys we opt to keep).  Honestly?  Not a whole lot of wiggle room.

Of the three options at first base, obviously I’m in favor of Door #3 – the free agent.  But, I’m a realistic man, so I’m putting our chances pretty low at that becoming a reality (especially considering this team has arguably bigger fish to fry in the outfield).  Of the remaining options, I like the idea of Trumbo getting the job outright, because that gives us another spot on the bench a platoon would otherwise take up.  I have to believe that Trumbo is going to give us better offensive output than a combo of LoMo & Montero, but I have to admit the platoon is intriguing (I guess they usually are).  In this instance, Montero would face all lefties and the occasional righty.  This would still give LoMo the majority of the starts, but hopefully the days off would keep him fresh, so he wouldn’t hit so many offensive lulls.  Then, figure LoMo would also come in during the later innings of games he doesn’t start as a defensive replacement, I think this could work in a pinch.  But, as I said before, under no circumstances should the team opt to keep both LoMo AND Trumbo.

With the rest of the infield pretty well accounted for, that leaves the outfield, and a huge gaping hole in center.  No way Austin Jackson returns.  He could be the dumbest man on the planet, but even then he’d still be too smart to want to stay in Safeco.  He’s had a decent bounce-back year in 2015, and I think he parlays that into a nice little 3-4 year deal somewhere a little more hitter-friendly.  And, since the Mariners have exactly no one in the minors ready to ascend in center field (and since the Angels aren’t looking to trade Mike Trout away anytime soon), they’re going to have to make finding a new center fielder one of their highest priorities (if not THE highest).  I don’t know who’s going to be out there in free agency, but this strikes me as something that might have to get done via trade.  We should just assume that we’re not going to find a miracle offensive center fielder, so I wouldn’t mind going the other way:  find the very best defensive center fielder you can possibly find and give HIM the job.  I long for the days of awe-inspiring catches being run down at the wall; I want those days to return, even if it means we have to suffer some more at the plate!  Let’s face it, as long as this team keeps drafting terribly, and as long as they play in Safeco, this team is going to be offensively challenged.  Might as well go the other way and get as strong defensively as you possibly can.

That goes double when you see what we’ve got in the corner outfield.  You’re just not going to keep Nelson Cruz from playing right field half the time.  It’s just the way it is.  Until he severely destroys his knees, he’s going to be a part of this defense.  And, say what you will about Seth Smith, but he’s no defensive wunderkind.  And besides all of that, you still need a right-handed platoon partner for Smith, as well as another solid all-around outfielder beyond that.  If the team was smart, they’d play Cruz in the outfield exclusively in National League parks and against left-handed starters and make Cruz Seth Smith’s platoon partner.  That’d give Smith about 2/3 of the starts, which is about what he should be getting, and it would still give Cruz enough starts in the outfield to feel like he’s giving us more than just his bat.  But, again, that’s if the team was smart.  In that instance, they’d only need to find TWO everyday outfielders instead of three or four in various timeshare situations.  Whatever happens, Ackley needs to go, and Trumbo needs to not be part of that outfield mix.

From there, fill out the bench as best as you can.  Find another catcher, I don’t care whose dick you have to suck.  Chris Taylor is an adequate bench player who can cover you in all the infield positions if need be; the new generation’s Willie Bloomquist.  Fill out the outfield bench spots with speed; maybe finally decide to keep Jones up here for the duration to be a base-stealing and defensive specialist.  Good teams DO have those guys, you know.

If it’s up to me, the roster looks something like this:

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Good, Veteran Starter
  3. Taijuan Walker
  4. Mike Montgomery/Roenis Elias
  5. James Paxton/Innings-Eating Veteran Starter
  • Good, Veteran Closer/Reliever
  • Carson Smith
  • Mark Lowe
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Vidal Nuno
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Other Veteran Righty Reliever/Young Righty Fireballer
  1. Mike Zunino – Catcher
  2. Trumbo OR LoMo/Montero – First Base
  3. Robinson Cano – Second Base
  4. Brad Miller – Short Stop
  5. Kyle Seager – Third Base
  6. Good, Veteran Corner Outfielder
  7. Good Defensive Center Fielder
  8. Smith/Cruz – Right Field
  9. Cruz/Whoever – Designated Hitter
  • Backup Catcher Who’s Not Sucre
  • Chris Taylor – Infielder
  • Backup First Baseman
  • Backup Outfielder

For the pitchers, it’s a one or the other scenario.  You’d have Felix and Walker pretty well locked in there, as well as whoever we bring in to be our #2.  Then, you’d want approximately four guys competing for those final two spots.  Paxton, if he’s healthy, probably gets the nod.  And, ideally, you’d only have Montgomery or Elias, but not both, as they’re pretty close to the same pitcher.  Innings-Eating Veteran needs to look reasonably good, but will very well have the advantage over both Montgomery & Elias, as he’s not likely to have any options left.

The bullpen is pretty self-explanatory.

If we go platoon at first base, then obviously the other half of that platoon becomes “Backup First Baseman”.  If we go Trumbo at first, then either Montero gets a chance to be on our bench, or we go out and get someone, but again, I don’t think LoMo should be that guy.  With Cruz & Smith, you’re still looking for three new outfielders (again, assuming the organization has any brains and opts to keep Trumbo away from the outfield entirely), and I wouldn’t mind the bench guy being someone like James Jones.  Either way, Jones can’t be the everyday center fielder, so that needs to come from elsewhere.  And, as I’ve stated repeatedly, they need to get rid of Ackley and go somewhere else for the left field spot too.

If this team wants to try to hang onto the core and keep building around it, I don’t see any way they get that done with fewer than six new players – two starters, two relievers, and at least two fielders/hitters.  The first base situation is a quagmire that we’re probably stuck with, but the outfield situation needs to be a complete breath of fresh air from head to toe.

I don’t know how they’re going to do it, and after this abortion of a season, I honestly don’t much care.  Just get it done and quit wasting Felix’s prime!

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