In 2010, as difficult as it seemed at the time, I knew this day would eventually arrive. The Mariners had been a great hitting team Back In The Day, in the glory years of the early 2000’s. And, with steroids largely policed out of the game, we couldn’t reasonably expect a return to those types of insane power numbers. Nevertheless, whatever “Good” means in this brave new world of lower power numbers and better overall pitching, whatever the new normal would end up being, ONE DAY, the Mariners would once again have a good lineup.
And, it appears, that time has come.
This is going to be very rudimentary, so I wouldn’t come here expecting a vast expanse on sabermetrics. My little pea brain has a general fixation on what good hitting should be, and that number is .250. If you’re hitting .250 or above, you’re doing all right. If you can pack your lineup with those types of guys, you’re generally going to score lots of runs and, hopefully, win lots of games. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but more of a glance. There are obviously other ways to contribute – a lower average, with a higher OBP, for instance, will bring a lot to the table; ditto a guy with a high slugging percentage – but I like it when I can look at the Mariners’ stat-sheet and see a bunch of guys hitting .250 or above. It warms my fuzzies right up. Currently, the Mariners have 6 regulars hitting .250 or above (Cano, Cruz, Marte, Martin, Smith, and Seager). Aoki and Iannetta are lagging behind a little bit, but they do make up for it with OBP. The only guy struggling too much for comfort is Lind, with a .216 batting average to go with all of 5 walks on the season, and a paltry .319 slugging percentage. On the plus side, that’s really only ONE black hole. You could make an argument that Guti is another, but he doesn’t play nearly enough to qualify for that type of slur. If he’s still struggling in July, then maybe you think about his role on this team. But, as far as I’m concerned, having just the one regular struggling is FANTASTIC!
I started this post back on May 25th, and then for some reason I just abandoned it to my drafts folder. I don’t know why; I guess I just didn’t feel like getting into a whole thing. I was apparently pretty high on the Mariners’ hitters on May 25th, and that carried through – for the most part – the rest of the season.
I already got into Cano, Cruz, and Seager in a separate post, so feel free to read about my thoughts on them over there. Spoiler alert: I like those guys. But, there were other guys I liked too, so let’s talk about them for a while. In no particular order:
As a centerfielder (as a hitter and defensively), Leonys Martin was the definition of “Meets Expectations”. Damn near a .250 hitter, 15 homers, 24 stolen bases, and absolutely elite, top-shelf fielding. We’re not talking about Ken Griffey Jr. numbers or anything, but that’s as ideal of a centerfielder as you can expect. Now, as a Mariners fan, when I think of Leonys Martin, I’d have to actually put him in the “Exceeds Expectations” category, because God damn have we been tortured with a bunch of mediocre outfield crap since Mike Cameron left! We got nearly 2 seasons of Guti in his prime before he fell apart, but other than that, it’s been a wasteland of Meh out there. When you factor in Martin’s declining offensive numbers in Texas in 2015, I was CONVINCED that he’d be a dud this year. But, as I said, he really did shock the world with his level of play, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. He’d never shown that kind of power before! When all of us were expecting the equivalent of Brendan Ryan As Centerfielder at the plate, Martin was a revelation. Consider me delighted we have him under club control for two more seasons.
I get the feeling, with Nori, that more people are down on him than high on him after what amounts to a 1-year experiment. I’ll admit, while I’m not crazy about him defensively, and he obnoxiously ran himself into more outs than I care to remember (caught stealing 9 times out of 16 attempts, are you kidding me?), I think I’ll look back on him fondly overall. It doesn’t hurt that he really tore shit up over the last two months of the season, after he’d been sent down to Tacoma to work on his swing (among, I’m assuming, other things). On June 23rd, he was hitting .245, along with his crappy defense and baserunning, making him a total liability in all phases of the game. He was called up about a month later, played for a month, had to go back to Tacoma for about a week due to other injuries and the roster crunch therein, and then finished the season playing mostly everyday. He got that average back up to career norms in that time (.283) while adding 100 points to his OPS from his June low. His main competition when it comes to returning in 2017 is:
Both are left-handed corner outfielders who bring more with their bats than in the field. Smith has a little more pop in his bat, but Aoki has slightly better on-base abilities. Given Smith’s foot speed is absolute zero, Aoki has him there on the basepaths, and overall as an offensive weapon. Smith’s already under contract though (for a sensible $7 million) while Aoki is an unrestricted free agent. I don’t know if Aoki will draw a Qualifying Offer, or if that’s even an option with him, but at a hefty price tag of $17+ million, I doubt the Mariners would be willing to bite. You’d think you could get Aoki to come back on a reasonable contract, but I would assume there’d have to be assurances made (i.e. the trading away of Seth Smith). You really don’t need both of these guys on your roster, and it doesn’t sound like the Mariners are going to try to keep both. One thing the team will have to consider is Smith’s rapid decline over the last two months of the season. He barely hit .215 in August and September combined, and even with his mini power surge in September (5 homers, 2 doubles), his overall OPS really bottomed out as he rolled over into shift after shift. Seth Smith is always lauded for his professional at bats, and his ability to get on base, which shouldn’t be discounted. But, he sure does seem to wear down the more he plays, and the second halves to his seasons sure look pretty mediocre. At some point, it would be ideal for the Mariners to shore up the corner outfield with a more permanent, everyday option. But, for now, I guess we can live with another platoon year.
Guti, Gamel, Heredia
Let’s just lump all these guys together and wrap up the outfield portion of this post. I won’t be shocked when the Mariners re-sign Guti to another 1-year deal, considering he’s a veteran right-handed bat with pop. He appeared in all of 98 games in 2016, and his overall offensive numbers took a bit of a hit, but he didn’t totally flatline. We got Gamel from the Yankees and didn’t really see enough of him in September. He’ll be competing with Heredia most likely to be this team’s final outfielder. For the most part, I liked what Heredia brought to the table, but I’d like to see some more power out of him. Slap-hitting singles hitters don’t tend to stick at the Major League level very long.
Dae-ho Lee & Adam Lind
Ahh, the ol’ first base platoon. Dae-ho Lee was another really pleasant surprise, who sort of struggled as the season went along. He’s a free agent, but I wouldn’t mind having him back for another go-around if the price is right. As for Lind, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. His averages across the board took a huge nosedive, with his worst OPS since 2010. Which just adds more fuel to the fire that guys get signed by Seattle and promptly lose the ability to hit. Safeco isn’t even that bad to hit in anymore, compared to what it used to be before the fences were moved in! Besides, it was never all that bad for lefties! He just stunk. For whatever reason – maybe the reputation of Safeco got in his head – he got off to a horrid start and was never able to fully recover. I’m sure he’ll sign elsewhere and bounce right back to his usual self, in which case he can promptly and savagely go fuck himself with a bat right in his cornhole.
This was a guy I was pretty stoked about early in the season. He was a little raw defensively, but his speed on the basepaths was top notch, and his bat was coming around. Then, he hurt his hand and went on the DL, and was never the same. Tack on another DL stint for mono, and you have one of the great lost seasons in Mariners history. He played out the stretch run, but his bat never really recovered, and his defense never really developed. He was making the same dumb, rookie mistakes in the field as he was at the beginning of the season. I don’t expect the world out of a guy defensively, but you’ve GOT to make the routine plays! When one of his blunders helped cost us a game in the final week of the season, I essentially wrote him off. I might back off that stance eventually, but if the Mariners go out and deal for an upgrade at short stop, I won’t be crushed. As I’ve said before, we’ve got to win while the winning’s good. Cano, Cruz, and Felix won’t be in their primes forever. I don’t know if we have the time to hold Marte’s hand as he works his way through these growing pains.
Zunino, Iannetta, Clevenger, Sucre
My overarching take-away from Mike Zunino’s 2016 is that he’s turned the corner. Then, I looked at his numbers and now I’m starting to wonder if that’s true. The power is still there, which is his saving grace, but it looked like he started to fall into the same old traps over the final two months of the season. His strike out percentage was right there at his career norms (33.9%), his batting average was barely over the Mendoza Line, but I’ll give him credit: his eye at the plate is VASTLY improved over what it was in 2015. His walk rate jumped up to 10.9% from 5.1% over his first three seasons, which is incredible. I’d also say that while he’s still striking out as much as ever, he’s not necessarily falling for those breaking balls low and away as much as he was before. Baby steps, maybe. But, there’s still a big ol’ hole in his swing, which is going to necessitate a quality catcher to either platoon with him, or spot him more days off than we’ve been giving him. Obviously, this year, we had no choice but to play him mostly everyday, because he was so clearly better than any other catcher in this organization (in spite of Sucre’s random surge in production in September). Iannetta is under contract for 2017, which is less than ideal, as he brings nothing to the table offensively, and even less to the table defensively. Hopefully, we can trade him for a bag of batting donuts, because I’d almost rather have Sucre out there, if he can continue working on his batting skills. Clevenger seems to be a non-starter, unless the team really wants to work with him on the whole Racist Tweets shitstorm. I wouldn’t be totally against it; seems like having a left-handed catching partner with Zunino would be a good thing for this team (plus, he’s under club control for 2 more years, so it’d be nice to see what he’s got in him as a baseball player).
And The Rest
Which is really just Shawn O’Malley. He’s a step up from Willie Bloomquist, so that’s something.