Reasonable Expectations For The 2016 Mariners

WORLD SERIES OR SUCK MY TITS BABY, WOOOOOO!!!

It’s been a whirlwind whatever amount of time since the new GM, Jerry Dipoto, took over, what with all the trades and signings and whatnot.  A TON of turnover up and down the roster, as well as up and down the organization.  So often, we get all caught up in the excitement of talking about new players, that we automatically associate New with Improved.  I mean, let’s face it, the advertising world has conditioned us to this effect.  Digiorno Pizza got a new pizza sauce recipe:  NEW & IMPROVED!  Except, while it was new, the flavor was a huge downgrade and their product tasted like shit, so they eventually switched back to the old recipe and the world rejoiced.

The truth of the matter is, sometimes New means Improved, and sometimes you end up with the PR nightmare of New Coke (or, that’s just what the Coca Cola company wants you to think, you sheeple).  The point is, change for the sake of change doesn’t mean this Mariners team is going to be any better than prior Mariners teams.

Then again, when you factor in how crummy this team was, could it really hurt to trim off the excess fat and replace it with literally anything else?

In many ways, particularly with the lineup and the outfield defense, we’re talking about Addition By Subtraction.  LoMo, Trumbo, and Zunino are great places to start.  Last year, LoMo flashed a quality glove at first base, but his production at the plate was pathetic; he’s gone, replaced by Adam Lind, who should be a steady presence at the plate, and good enough at the bag.  Trumbo was forced into a regular outfield starting role, because he was deemed marginally better than Dustin Ackley.  The outfield is probably the last place you want to see Trumbo, especially if that outfield is in Safeco Field.  Then, you gotta tack on his horrific start once he was traded over here, and regardless of how hot his season finished, he’s too streaky to be depended upon.  He’s also gone, replaced by let’s say Nori Aoki, a quality leadoff hitter and a significant upgrade in our corner defense.  Then, with Zunino, you’re talking about a guy ahead of his years defensively, but he was the blackest of black holes offensively.  He’s still in the organization, but he’s going to get his cuts down in Tacoma to hopefully build up some confidence and build up some better habits at the plate.  Replacing him with even a Replacement Level hitter like Iannetta should be a huge upgrade in our overall offense.

Gone are other young guys like Ackley and Miller, who were more Promising Hopefuls than Professionals You Could Rely On.  Gone are worthless veterans like Rickie Weeks, Justin Ruggiano, and Willie Bloomquist.  All of these moves are upgrades just by not having them on our team anymore!  This is truly a professional lineup that should get the job done day-in and day-out.  If we had this offense back in 2014, when our pitching was studly, we’d be talking about a World Series contender.

See, the problem with all this change – which I alluded to above – is that we as fans get seduced by all the improvements that we fail to recognize the weaknesses.  Or, we choose to see the weaknesses as potential strengths, if such and such breaks in our favor.  The fact of the matter is, the pitching is going to be a real issue in 2016, and our depth at the Major League level is already razor thin, so should injuries crop up (as they do for literally every single team), we may be in serious trouble.

The one problem with the lineup that I’ve neglected to this point is its reliance upon platoons.  The aforementioned Adam Lind, for instance, is GREAT against righties.  But, he’s absolutely awful against left-handed pitchers.  That presents a problem that the team is tentatively looking to rectify by platooning him with Jesus Montero (who is pretty solid against lefties, but struggles mightily against righties).  What happens if one of those guys gets injured?  What happens, particularly, if Lind gets injured (since there are more right-handed pitchers in the game than lefties)?  Then, we’re stuck with Montero as our everyday first baseman, and our production from that position at the plate plummets.

Same deal in the outfield.  We’ve got a Seth Smith/Franklin Gutierrez platoon.  Guti is a walking nightmare of maladies.  Last year, he was fortunate, as the team was in a position to give him the time he needed between games to recover.  But, he’s on a Major League deal; we can’t just send him to Tacoma or whatever, without putting him on the DL.  So, what happens if Seth Smith has a serious injury that keeps him out for a few months?  What was once a strength (our outfield defense) will now require the presence of Nelson Cruz to just get by!

You get the idea.  This thing goes on and on.  Even at the catcher position, we’ve got a righty and a lefty, which will only encourage the team to pursue a platoon sitch there too.  I know platoons are the wave of the future – and really, they make good sense, and should prolong some careers of guys with radical platoon splits – but when the shit hits the fan, you’re sort of left with your dick in your hand.

As for the pitching, I’ve gone over that repeatedly in recent weeks.  It’s scary.  After Felix, you need a lot of things to break right:

  • Will Taijuan Walker improve upon a decent – but far from great – rookie season?
  • Will Taijuan Walker manage to stay healthy again for a full season?
  • Will James Paxton manage to stay healthy for longer than a couple months?
  • Will Wade Miley’s numbers improve with the move to Safeco Field?
  • Will Wade Miley be good enough on the road to not be a total Joe Saunders?
  • Will Nathan Karns resemble the second coming of Erik Bedard in a good way (strong stuff, bulldog on the mound, stiffens with runners on); or will he resemble the second coming of Erik Bedard in a bad way (5 inning limit, arm problems, poor interviewee leading all of us to listen to the constant bitching of local Seattle media)?

Then, there’s the bullpen, which is a complete unknown.  After Joaquin Benoit (who has been a rock his entire career), it’s all cause for concern:

  • Who’s going to be the closer?
  • Will this team even employ a traditional closer?
  • Who’s our next-best reliever after Benoit?
  • Will Furbush continue his strong 2015, or revert to his inconsistent 2014?
  • Will Zych make good on his lights-out cup of coffee last season?
  • Will Evan Scribner continue to have issues with giving up home runs?
  • Will Jonathan Aro be the second coming of Evan Scribner, home run problem and all?
  • Will this apparent trend toward bullpen pitchers with lackluster velocity on their fastballs be the death of us all?

If I had to reach down into my gut, to see what it says about this team’s chances in 2016, I’d say the starting rotation is a little more promising than the bullpen.  I think the ‘pen has the chance to be one of the worst we’ve ever seen.  Mid-90s bad.  Bobby Ayala bad.  And the worst part?  I fear that this starting rotation will probably put a lot of strain on the bullpen by throwing short games.  Walker, Paxton, and Karns will all have their games where they can’t get past the 5th inning.  Miley is a total wild card, who could range from 2 innings to 8 innings.  That’s going to put a lot of stress on the King to get the job done in his starts.

I want to go off the deep end.  I want to jump to the head of the parade and pronounce this team as a true contender.  I want to like all these moves and champion the new GM as a guy who finally GETS it.  But, if I’m being honest, I think he’s just morphed this team into a different kind of sub-.500 team.  One that may hit better, score more runs.  But, in the end, a team that will blow a lot of leads late.  The question is:  how clutch are these hitters?  It’s an impossible metric to track, of course.  But, if this team is going to somehow hang in there and fight for a Wild Card spot, it’s going to have to somehow manufacture a crazy win/loss record in 1-run games and in walk-off/extra innings games.

Which is just another way of saying, I’ll have to see it to believe it.  I’ll have to see this team play well before I believe this team will continue to play well.

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