The Interesting Case of Hisashi Iwakuma’s 2016 Season

Going into the season, if you asked me who would be the one Mariners starting pitcher to avoid the DL entirely, I most certainly would’ve pegged Iwakuma dead last in my rankings.  Considering I wasn’t too high on the prospects of Wade Miley at the time, my money probably would’ve been on him to stay healthy all year, but that’s neither here nor there.  Iwakuma seemingly did the impossible; he made over 30 starts for the first time since 2013.  That year, you may recall, Iwakuma was worth over 7 WAR, finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting, and made his only All Star appearance.  He was the legitimate #2 starter we’ve always been lacking (except for a brief, glorious run with Cliff Lee way back when).

Unfortunately, his 2013 season is also the year everyone points to as his ceiling.  Face it:  we’re never seeing those days out of him again.  We’re never seeing anything CLOSE to those days out of him again!

He was as healthy as he’s ever been in 2016, making 33 starts – just as he did in 2013 – but he was far from the godsend everyone has made him out to be.  For starters, in 33 games, he couldn’t even crack 200 innings, finishing stuck on 199.  That’s an average of 6 innings per start, which sounds all right, but you have to remember that’s an average.  Five of his starts were less than 5 innings, including two of the last three (when wins were at a premium); those counter-balance his five starts where he was truly dominant (7 innings or more, 2 runs or less).  The rest of his starts, as I’ve written before, were just sort of meh.  In that 6-inning range, anywhere from 2-4 runs given up.

I’m not saying Iwakuma’s bad!  I’m just saying that maybe people give him more credit than he deserves.  He’s not a #2 pitcher, but he’s treated like one, and it’s a mistake.  If I’m going into a 5-game series in the playoffs, I sure as shit don’t want to see Iwakuma going twice!  Once would be enough; Iwakuma is a fine #3 starter.  He’ll keep you in games more often than not, but for every game he’s dominant, there’s an equal number of games where he’s terrible.  I don’t like those odds if I have to see him twice in a 5-game series, but I’ll accept them if I only have to see him once.

The shitty part of it is that no one has really stepped up to take hold of that #2 starter job.  Really, it should’ve been Taijuan Walker’s to win, but his leg injury and an alleged lack of maturity prevented him from taking that next step everyone pegged him for going into the season.  It might be Paxton’s spot going into 2017, but he’s got his own health issues to deal with.

So, unfortunately, it looks like it’ll be Iwakuma once again.  He reached the threshold to have next year’s salary guaranteed at $14 million.  And, given the structure of his contract, all he needs to do is throw 125 innings in 2017 to make his 2018 contract guaranteed at $15 million.  He already earned all of his 2016 incentives (there don’t appear to be any built into the next two years), so his salary this year inflated to $13.5 million, bringing his likely 3-year total to $42.5 million, or just $2.5 million less than what the Dodgers were going to pay him before they failed him at his physical.  So, you know, not quite the bargain we were expecting.

Iwakuma could spend two full months on the DL next year (like he did in 2015) and still vest his 2018 contract at $15 million.  Think about THAT for a likely future pitfall.

It’s hard to get a handle on a Best Case Scenario for Iwakuma next year, because I’m pretty sure 2016 is it!  Keeping him healthy for a full year, with an ERA and a FIP over 4.  It’s either that, or a healthy Iwakuma for half a season and he somehow reverts back to his 2014-2015 form of an ERA and a FIP right around 3.50.  We can only work with that scenario if we have a viable 6th starter somewhere in our organization, which you have to figure is pretty likely (my guess is the team will go hunting for one this offseason, but I’ll get more into that another time).

Getting a fully healthy Iwakuma next year is probably our Worst Case Scenario, if you think about it.  I just don’t think he has the stamina to produce a full season’s worth of quality starts.  2013 Kuma isn’t walking through that door anytime soon!  BUT, he might be able to give us a half season’s worth!  Like, say, he gets injured in Spring Training, or sometime in April, misses three months, returns in July/August, builds up his arm and his timing, then puts in a dominant stretch run in September just as this team is playing for a playoff spot.  THAT, right there, is your Best Case Scenario.

Plus, let’s face it, any scenario where his 2018 salary doesn’t vest is probably the one you want to root for.  He’ll be 37 years old at the start of 2018; is that the age of the presumptive #2 starter you want to see in your Mariners rotation?  I know it’s not what I want.

The bottom line is, someone has to step up and overtake Iwakuma.  Or, the GM has to bring in someone to do so.  Maybe going into the season, more likely someone at the trade deadline.  But, if this team has visions of going to the playoffs in 2017, it has to find a better #2 than Hisashi Iwakuma.

I’m not going to title this “Edwin Diaz Is A God” because that would just jinx him and the Mariners don’t need that kind of hoodoo right now

“I’m A god.  I’m not THE God, I don’t think.”

We’ve all seen the numbers.  27 innings, 53 strikeouts, 26 hits allowed, 8 walks allowed, and his 6th earned run allowed last night in a 3-1 victory.  Most importantly, he’s yet to blow a single lead (both of his losses were in tie ballgames on the road).  But, I’m not here to obsess about numbers.  Read literally every other baseball-centric blog, because if they haven’t already opined about the genius that is Edwin Diaz, they will soon.

I just want to talk about how jacked up I am to have Edwin Diaz in my life.  I haven’t felt this way about a Mariners pitcher since Cliff Lee dawned the blue, grey, and white for two healthy pre-trade months.  I haven’t felt this way about a Mariners reliever since … ever?

So, you know what?  Fuck it.  When is the other shoe gonna drop?  Let’s get real here!  The Mariners can’t seem to have more than one season of quality closing before these guys turn into pumpkins (and in Cishek’s case, not EVEN a full season!).  Let’s look back at the long list of crap:

  • Steve Cishek (2016) – Great start, but lost his job after 4 months and 25 saves
  • Fernando Rodney (2014-2015) – Great 2014, but lost his job HARD in 2015 to a combo of Carson Smith and Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Danny Farquhar (2013) – Finished the season as the closer, replaced by FRE, was never good again
  • Tom Wilhelmsen (2012-2013) – Finished 2012 & started 2013 as the closer, then fell apart
  • Brandon League (2011-2012) – Was solid in 2010 as an 8th inning guy, was an All Star in 2011, fell apart quickly in 2012
  • David Aardsma (2009-2010) – Was great in 2009, was okay in 2010, but ultimately much worse and eventually lost his job to League (and injuries)
  • J.J. Putz (2006-2008) – Was legitimately great in 2006, had one of the all-time greatest seasons for a reliever in 2007, then had an injury-plagued 2008 before being traded
  • Eddie Guardado (2004-2005) – Had an injury-shortened 2004, was rock solid in 2005, then fell apart in 2006 and was traded away
  • Kaz Sasaki (2000-2003) – Was a 32 year old Rookie of the Year, then had two All Star appearances in 2001 & 2002, before falling apart in 2003 and leaving the country after his 4-year career.  Put up solid all-around numbers, but I never really felt comfortable with him protecting a lead in a big game (particularly the playoffs)

Before that, it was all bums and The Sheriff.  The point is, unless you want to count Sasaki (which I really DON’T), the Mariners have never really had a long-term solution to the closer problem.  They have good, great, even epic seasons here and there, but ultimately nothing LASTING.  I want LASTING, God dammit!

I want Edwin Diaz to be the real thing, and I want him here for the next decade plus, is that too much to fucking ask?

The Mariners Have Their Starting Rotation Set

In probably the biggest Mariners-related news of the week, James Paxton was sent down to the minors to work on some things.

If you were playing along at home, you’re probably like me and expected that Felix, Iwakuma, Miley, and Walker were locks all along to make the starting rotation.  All that remained was that fifth starter job, whose competition comprised of Paxton, Nathan Karns, Mike Montgomery, Vidal Nuno, and maybe some mystery person we hadn’t thought of yet.  As Spring Training progressed, Montgomery and Nuno worked their way into the bullpen fray, leaving just Paxton and Karns duelling it out.

Karns was the crown jewel of the Brad Miller/Logan Morrison/Danny Farquhar trade with the Rays.  James Paxton was part of the Big 4 from the Jackie Z era along with Walker (rotation), Danny Hultzen (perpetually injured), and Brandon Maurer (gone).  Both Karns and Paxton are young, and trying to establish themselves as permanent Major Leaguers; both have their limitations that have thus far prevented them from reaching that status.

Karns has had one full season in the Major Leagues, and he was brought along slowly, with his innings limited.  In that sense, he’s a bit of an unknown as to what he can really handle.  Paxton has had each of his last two seasons severely shortened by injuries.  He’s also a bit of an unknown as to what he can really handle, since his injuries were by no means career-threatening (indeed, they were sort of flukey in nature).

What ultimately did Paxton in was this very Spring Training battle.  He started off okay through his first three appearances, building up to 50 pitches and being mostly effective.  But, his last two starts really submarined him, giving up 7 runs each, averaging 3 innings per appearance, and being unable to throw more than 40 pitches in either start.  It’s not like Karns has been lighting the world on fire – he’s had his own meltdown issues – but at least he’s been able to get his pitch count up to the 80s and has reportedly looked more in command of his stuff.

What it all boils down to is that we know what we’ve got for at least the first couple weeks of the season.

  • Felix Hernandez
  • Hisashi Iwakuma
  • Wade Miley
  • Taijuan Walker
  • Nathan Karns

That’s not a bad set-up, at least on paper.  I have no reason to expect anything but greatness from King Felix.  I’ll always be wondering if I’m going to see Good Kuma or Bad Kuma in any given start.  I’m never going to have high expectations for Miley, hoping he’s able to limit damage as much as possible and at least look good in Safeco Field where he should benefit from marine layers and whatnot.  I’m giddy with excitement over Walker taking that next step into superstardom.  And, I’m just going to grit my teeth and hope for the best in any Karns start.  Let’s just say it would behoove the Mariners to keep both Montgomery and Nuno in the bullpen, as I anticipate the long reliever will be an important role on this team.

Best of all, we have Paxton waiting in the wings.  Yes, he’s got stuff to work on, but I don’t expect him to be down in Tacoma for very long.  Any one of these guys will see time on the DL, and it wouldn’t shock me if it happens in the first month of the season.  Ideally, Paxton will work the kinks out in his first handful of starts and then he’ll be ready to go once he’s called upon.

It’s not the best rotation in the world, but it’s got potential.  Probably more potential than any rotation I’ve seen since the Cliff Lee days in 2010.  But, as always, “potential” is a tricky word.  This rotation has the potential to be great, but it also has the potential to be a disaster.  I guess that’s why they play the games.

Jack Zduriencik Is Gone

I remember June 16, 2008, like it was seven years and a few weeks ago.  We were in the middle of a year that would just get worse and worse and worse.  The Mariners, coming off of a winning 2007 campaign, revamped their starting rotation with the Erik Bedard trade and the Carlos Silva signing.  A would-be weakness for the team was bolstered by the addition of a second ace pitcher, and an innings eater who’d solidify the back-end of the rotation while pitching half his games in the spacious Safeco Field.

Those 2008 Mariners would go on to lose over 100 games, netting the #2 overall draft pick.  On June 16, 2008, Bill Bavasi was fired after four and a half miserable fucking seasons.  And we all rejoiced, for we all knew Bavasi was not only the face of Satan incarnate, but the most bumbling and inept motherfucker ever to be given the keys to a professional franchise (tell me I’m wrong, COME AT ME BRO; I will fight you to the death).  Every year of his reign was another chance to reload.  Re-BUILD?  What does that even MEAN?  The Mariners were coming off of their most fruitful seasons under Pat Gillick; but those veterans were all long dead and buried.  Bavasi made it his mission to bring in veteran after veteran to try to right the ship, at the expense of our entire farm system and anything else he could get his hands on.  He wasted money, he traded away superstars, and he brought us nothing but losses piled upon losses piled upon shit.

On October 22, 2008, the Mariners brought in Jack Zduriencik, and while we didn’t really know much about him, we knew he worked in the upper management in Milwaukee, for a Brewers organization on the rise.  He was responsible for that team bringing in some of its biggest stars, and was the first non-GM to win Executive of the Year in 2007.  This guy was a rising star in his own right, and it seemed like he’d fit into the GM world like a glove.

On August 28, 2015, the Mariners fired Jack Zduriencik.  He’d been at the helm for a little over 6 and a half seasons.  So, it was time.  He’d out-lasted his predecessor and really wasn’t all that much better at his job.

Bill Bavasi’s Mariners record:  322-395, .449 winning percentage
Jack Zduriencik’s Mariners record:  506-595, .460 winning percentage

Over time, the Bavasi regime has become known for the Erik Bedard/Adam Jones trade, and the dual trades to the Indians in 2006 giving them quality All Stars Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera for magic beans.  Those are desperate moves no GM would EVER live down.  The Zduriencik regime will ultimately go down for the Triad of Suck that was Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero.  The Mariners gave up some legitimately great capital to bring in those guys (2nd overall draft pick, Cliff Lee, and Michael Pineda, respectively) and they all blew up in Z’s face.

Considering Jackie Z’s extensive history in scouting for Major League Baseball, that makes his transgressions all the more galling.  He’d been here for over 6 years and all he had to show for his work was Kyle Seager.  Anyone he ever brought in who was worth a damn was either an established free agent (Cano, Cruz) or some scrub who’d previously washed out of baseball either via injury or ineffectiveness, only to make his comeback with us for an anomalous year or two (Chris Young, Mark Lowe, Tom Wilhelmsen, Joe Beimel).  I mean, will you LOOK at some of the bullshit that’s crossed our paths thanks to Jackie Z:

  • Dustin Ackley, draft pick
  • Chone Figgins, free agent
  • Eric Byrnes, free agent
  • Justin Smoak, trade
  • The Entire Doug Fister Trade, less Charlie Furbush (a sometimes-okay lefty specialist out of the bullpen)
  • Jesus Montero, trade
  • Brandon League, trade
  • Casey Kotchman, trade
  • Mike Morse for John Jaso
  • Logan Morrison for Carter Capps
  • Mark Trumbo for Welington Castillo
  • Mike Zunino, draft pick
  • Danny Hultzen, draft pick
  • Nick Franklin, draft pick
  • Corey Hart, free agent
  • Jason Bay, free agent
  • Joe Saunders, free agent
  • Hector Noesi, trade
  • Miguel Olivo, free agent
  • The Hitless Wonder That Is Brendan Ryan, trade
  • Jack Cust, free agent
  • Blake Beavan, trade
  • Milton Bradley, trade
  • Rob Johnson, trade(ish)

You could go on and on, and I know I’m just picking and choosing the most worthless piles of crap out there, but LOOK AT THAT LIST!  Look at all those miserable bastards that have contributed to nearly 600 losses the last 6+ seasons!  That’s Jack’s legacy!  Did he give away studs on par with Jones, Choo, Cabrera, Tillman and the like?  No.  But, he did get PENNY on the dollar out of stud trade chips like Cliff Lee, Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, Brandon Morrow, John Jaso, and Carter Capps.  He had three draft picks in the top 3 overall and we’ve yet to see any of them amount to anything more than somewhat quality defense.  After this year, it’s highly likely two of those three draft picks won’t even be in the organization, with Ackley traded, Hultzen an injured free agent who should probably retire, and Mike Zunino fighting for his life somewhere between Tacoma and Seattle.

Was he as destructive as Bill Bavasi?  No, he was not.  That’s why August 28, 2015, came and went a little bit differently than June 16, 2008.  I don’t feel quite the sense of elation as I did when Bavasi finally got the ax.  That was on par with the Wicked Witch of the West getting assassinated; this is more like Old Yeller taking a bullet out behind the house.  Could the Mariners afford to keep him in charge even one more year?  Absolutely not.  His rabies-infested mind would surely destroy us all; he NEEDED to be put down, for his sake as much as our own.

But, it’s not even like that.  I have no real affinity for Jackie Z; it’s not like I’m going to miss him now that he’s gone.  But, it’s still a bummer, because this isn’t supposed to be how it ended.  There was a lot of flawed decision-making when it comes to Jackie Z’s reign; but, there’s also a lot of moves where you could see why he thought the way he did.  A lot of moves that looked good on paper, and then that paper was set ablaze by a fucking cannon.  Guys like Smoak and Ackley and Figgins and Montero – they all came highly touted and having produced quite a bit in their careers up to the point they arrived in Seattle.

In fact, you could say 2015 was a perfect microcosm of the entire Jackie Z era.  There was hope – coming off of a year where the Mariners ended up 1 game out of the playoffs.  There was a smart signing – Nelson Cruz, MVP candidate in 2015.  There was flawed logic – trading away a professional catcher during Zunino’s worst year in the Bigs for a righty power bat who will never play well in Safeco (and who’s yet another DH who shouldn’t be playing out in the field to boot).  And there was a whole lot of bad luck – Cano’s shitty start to the season, Ackley turning back into a pumpkin after last year’s bonanza second half, the bullpen absolutely falling apart after being one of the best units in the American League last year.

Like him or hate him, it’s just sad.  This whole season has been depressing as shit!  Jackie Z getting the boot is just the cherry on top.

The worst part is:  what do we do going forward?  When Bavasi was fired, there was a clear thought process:  scrap everything and start over through the draft.  It only got muddled when the Mariners had a winning record in 2009; that shouldn’t have happened, and it set things back in a lot of ways.  The Mariners made “contending ballclub” moves when they should’ve stuck to the gameplan to keep rebuilding.  It backfired in 2010, meaning we wasted two good rebuilding years thinking we were worth a damn.  We started anew in 2011, built the club up into a winner in 2014, only to see it all bottom out yet again.  Unexpectedly.  Yet again.  But, maybe we should have expected it.  This city is cursed in a lot of ways, and it took one of the greatest football teams of all time to break that spell in 2013.

Now, like in 2008, the Mariners have no farm system.  But, they’ve got plenty good at the Major League level.  This team is far from great, but it’s also far from the worst.  Will the organization be able to find the right guy to come in here and put all the pieces in place?

No.

It won’t.

Because Howard Lincoln is still the man calling all the shots.

He’s an imbecile and he needs to go.

But, we’re stuck with him, and that’s why we’ll always be losers.

Mariners Tidbit 65: Enjoying Baseball More

I don’t know what it is.  Maybe it’s the fact that the Mariners have won 6 of 9.  Maybe it’s all the raking our offense did in Colorado last week.  Maybe it’s residual honeymoon afterglow of a thrilling flurry of deadline deals.  Or, maybe it’s peace and contentedness in the knowledge that the “contention” portion of this season is long gone, and all that’s left is to give some of the younger guys some play to see what we have for next year.

The 2015 season rates pretty high on the unpleasant scale.  Sure, we’re losing a lot, and it’s not entirely unlike 2013, 2012, 2011, and so on; but 2015 deserves it’s own wing in the Unpleasantness Museum of Seattle.  Not since 2010 have expectations and reality been so diametrically opposed, but even then (or 2008 for that matter), we were coming off of seasons that were largely fraudulent.  In 2007, the Mariners were 14 games over .500 in spite of a -27 run differential.  In 2009, the Mariners were 8 games over .500, with a ridiculous -52 run differential.  One could say, in spite of heightened expectations in 2008 and 2010, you could have seen our regression coming a mile away (perhaps clouded by the likes of Erik Bedard and Cliff Lee, who many saw as the “missing pieces” of a championship run).

But, the God damned 2014 Mariners were 12 games over .500 (and a single game out of the Wild Card play-in game) with a whopping +80 run differential!  And what did we do but get “better” with offseason additions like Nelson Cruz and company?  2015 should have been a fucking slam dunk, and instead it’s been a sledgehammer to the nuts.

So, why do I feel better now?  It’s probably a combo of everything in the first paragraph.  There’s no real pressure that comes with expectations, because all expectations right now point to this team playing .500 ball and running out the string of games.  We’re also in the throes of NFL training camp and a few days away from the first pre-season game.  So, for the time being, it’s all about baseball until it’s not about baseball anymore until next February.

And, while it’s still batty to hope for some sort of turnaround, I think what’s most encouraging is some of the new players being productive and hitting.  Specifically, Jesus Montero and his 6 extra base hits in a very short sample size.  It might not last, but then again it might!  And just imagine where this team could be if Montero miraculously pans out.  The Pineda/Montero trade is the deal that won’t stop swinging wildly between one team clearly winning it over the other.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to see a bum like Ackley hit the DL mere days after we unloaded him.  I don’t expect his back issues to be a long-term issue; I’m just glad he’s away from me and my team, and we’ll never have to see him in a Mariners lineup ever again.  Maybe THAT’S why I’m so high on baseball right now!  I live in an Ackley-free world and a Happ-free world; there’s something to be said for your team getting rid of players you absolutely loathe.

Mariners Tidbit 42: One of the Three Worst Trades in the Jackie Z Era Comes To Town

For your reference, here’s a link to all the worst Seattle sports trades, signings, and draft picks.  For your more specific reference, here’s a list of just the ones about the Mariners.

I split them up by GM, so go ahead and scroll down to the bottom of that second link.  There, you’ll find the Jackie Z Poo-Poo Platter of GM moves.  The most recent three trades listed have thus far defined his tenure as GM (in addition to the Dustin Ackley draft pick, and as we move along, most likely the Danny Hultzen pick as well).

The Cliff Lee Trade, the Doug Fister Trade, and now the Michael Pineda Trade.  Notable for the bullshit we received in return, but defined by the studs we gave away.  The only trades that have been more soul-crushing from an organizational standpoint have been the Erik Bedard Trade (losing out on a killer combo of Adam Jones & Chris Tillman), the Tino Martinez/Jeff Nelson Trade, and the Randy Johnson Trade (because you’ll never convince me it was a smart idea to give up on a future Hall of Famer who’d go on to win many multiple Cy Young Awards).  That’s a sextet of suck if I’ve ever seen it!

Cliff Lee begat Justin Smoak, which turned into nothing.  Doug Fister has only left us Charlie Furbush, lefty specialist out of the bullpen.  And Michael Pineda was turned into Fat Jesus Montero who is now Skinny Jesus Montero who is still learning how to play first base down in Tacoma and is therefore worthless until the Mariners either get something for him, or figure out a way to call him back up and properly use him.  At best, he’s probably only a bench/reserve pinch hitter type.

Meanwhile, Michael Pineda returns tonight to face Felix Hernandez.  Pineda, you may recall, had a shit-ton of injuries just as soon as he was traded away.  We all thought we REALLY worked one over on the smug ol’ Yankees.  Stole their power-hitting catcher prospect, gave them damaged goods; fine by me.  Pineda ended up missing two full seasons – 2012 & 2013 – before returning in 2014 only to get suspended and then injured again, ultimately losing about half of that season as well.  Finally healthy, and pine tar-free, Pineda has racked up some incredibly impressive numbers through the first two months of this year.  A 6-2 record, a sub-4 ERA, a 16 strikeout game (67 total strikeouts against only 5 walks); he’s every bit the stud the Yankees thought they were getting in 2012, it just took him a long while to get there.

There have been a lot of winding roads to this Pineda/Montero Trade, but I think we can officially call it in favor of the Yankees.  And, as such, tonight we get to watch a huge reminder of why the Mariners are a terribly-run and forever-snakebitten organization.

Happy Monday again.

Mariners Tidbit 33: Tangling With A Sports Addiction

I missed the entirety of last night’s game.  When I went to bed, the Mariners were down by the score of 2-1, but I didn’t watch any of the first few innings either.  If I’m being perfectly honest, watching a bunch of old episodes of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia was more appealing than trying to get myself interested in a Mariners game against the Angels.  Two teams, 4 games under .500 coming into the evening, battling it out for sole possession of second place in the A.L. West.  That’s got Yawn written all over it.

I’ll be the first one to admit it, I don’t have the same juice that I had even a year ago.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a full game that I didn’t also attend in person.  I REALLY can’t remember the last time I saw a full game that I didn’t also attend in person that didn’t in some way feature Felix Hernandez on the mound.  And I wonder if I’m slowly going the way of the casual, fair-weather fan.

I read an article on Joss Whedon quitting Twitter.  Don’t ask me why; I’m not a particular fan of his work, nor was I a follower of his.  But, he said something interesting that struck a chord; he said, “When you keep doing something after it stops giving you pleasure, that’s kind of rock bottom for an addict.”  That’s the absolute epitome of being an addict, expecially of hard drugs like heroin.  At first, it feels like the best thing ever.  So, you continue to do it.  By the time you realize that you feel nothing after having done it, that’s when you know you’re doing it just to not feel shitty all the time.

Watching the Seattle Mariners used to give me great pleasure.  I’d ride the highs by jumping around and cheering like a maniac.  I’d suffer the lows by swearing my face off and throwing things.  Every year – even over this last decade – I’d legitimately get myself all in a lather about our chances at contending.  And, every year, I’d have to suffer the season falling through our grasp.  Sometimes it happened in late May, sometimes it happened in late September.  But always with the crushing realization that we’d once again failed to make the playoffs.

2003 was the last time the Mariners won over 90 games.  Since that year, there have been three other winning seasons.  In 2007, the Mariners won 88 games.  In response to that, the Mariners went out and signed Carlos Silva and traded for Erik Bedard.  We were really going to make a push for the post-season based on all the promise we’d just experienced.  In 2008, the Mariners lost 101 games and everyone was fired.  In 2009, somehow the Mariners won another 85 games.  In response to that, the Mariners went out and signed Chone Figgins and traded for Cliff Lee.  THIS TIME, we’d do it right!  In 2010, the Mariners once again lost 101 games.

In 2014, the Mariners won 87 games.  In response to that, the Mariners went out and signed Nelson Cruz and traded for J.A. Happ.  The Mariners right now are 11-16 and well on their way to another 101-loss season.

All the things we should’ve seen coming – and indeed a lot of the things we DID see coming – have come.  Our young starters have been spotty.  Our bullpen – after an insanely great 2014 – has regressed terribly.  Our young hitters are struggling, no one is getting on base, and when they do, no one is really hitting with runners in scoring position.  We overlooked all of this going into the season, because all we could see was an 87-win squad from 2014, largely unchanged, with the addition of the big bopper we’d been sorely lacking.  And, with that bopper actually producing … we’ve still managed to be far worse.

Aside from Felix, this is a hard team to watch.  You could say that about any of the Mariners teams since he came into the league – and indeed, I HAVE been saying that for as far back as I can remember – but I’ll tell you this much:  even in our worst years, I still watched a higher percentage of Mariners games than I’ve bothered with this year.  Why sit through something when you know they’re just going to find a way to lose?  When you wake up insanely early like I do every day, it REALLY has to be worth your while to want to stay up until 10pm or later.  And, for the most part this season, I just haven’t had it in me.  I’d rather catch up on some sleep than watch this Mariners season die by a thousand papercuts.

Baseball has never really had a super strong hold on me.  It was always a sport growing up that I’d rather play in my backyard than watch on TV.  I’ve always said I’m not a baseball fan, I’m a Mariners fan.  Nothing has changed in that regard.  I’m still a Mariners fan, I suppose.  But, my desire to follow the team as closely – on television or in print – is waning considerably.

At this point, until the Mariners seriously start to turn this around, I’m a Felix fan.  Until further notice, I’ll be watching every fifth day.  This team is going to have to work at it to get me back, because I refuse to get my hopes up again for another losing season.

Justin Smoak Is A Toronto Blue Jay

When I started this blog, however many moons ago, one of my primary objectives was to highlight all the ways the city of Seattle has been fucked over by underperforming and incompetent sports teams.  This was prior to the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl, obviously, and since I was born AFTER the Supersonics won the title in ’79, there had been no real champions in my lifetime (caveat:  I was not a Husky fan until I went to the University in 1999).  If this blog is remembered for anything, I would hope it’s for my ongoing collection of Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings (see the menu bar at the top of the page; you can sort by professional team, as well as view the master list without all of my rambling commentary on each deal).  It is truly my pride and joy.  My muse, my flame.  I certainly don’t give it the attention it deserves; I should really be updating it more as we run across these shitty deals and after these drafts sink in.  But, I try to be fair above all else, and let a deal play out before I deem it a failure.

Today, October 30, 2014, I updated those pages for the first time in over a year.  Again, I certainly could have added this one sooner, but with Justin Smoak this week getting picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays, I officially added The Cliff Lee Deal to the annals of Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings.

I feel like, at this point in the post, you should be imagining very prosperous music with lots of horns and drums playing loudly for all to hear.

(also, with less fanfare, I finally got around to adding the Michael Pineda Deal; I’m telling you, this page is like my neglected wife whose nether regions I’ve finally tended to for the first time in ages)

What can you say about Justin Smoak?  The term “Of The Future” is bandied about quite a bit around losing baseball clubs.  When you’re rebuilding, you’re really looking to solidify your team one position at a time.  Once you lock something down, then you can move on to other areas of need.  On July 9, 2010, Justin Smoak immediately became the Seattle Mariners’ First Baseman Of The Future.  It was a glorious time to be alive, except not really.

After a somewhat successful run in 2009 where the Mariners had a winning record, but fell oh so short of the post-season, we thought we were just a guy or two away from going that extra mile.  Cliff Lee, we hoped, was one of those guys.  After the abject failure of Erik Bedard in 2008 (who was still on the team, as it stood), Cliff Lee was a certainty.  A slam dunk.  A Cy Young candidate to go with our other Cy Young Candidate, Felix Hernandez (who, as chances would have it, went on to WIN that Cy Young award that very same year).

Then, of course, Cliff Lee got hurt in Spring Training and missed a month of 2010.  By the time he returned, we were effectively out of the race; it wasn’t all his fault, the team was flawed from the start.  Nevertheless, by mid-season, we were looking for trading partners to flip our greatest non-Felix asset.  There were many suitors, but there could only be one trade.

When you think of The Cliff Lee Deal, you don’t think of the one we made prior to 2010 to GET him.  Those guys we gave to the Phillies were losers!  Draftees of the prior regime who would go on to do nothing for the teams that acquired them (“teams” being the Mariners, Phillies, and whoever else they would play for).  That was, objectively, a GREAT deal by Jackie Z.  One of his best, if I may be so bold, sir!

No, the Cliff Lee Deal that we all think about is the one that brought in Justin Smoak, among others.  Others being some guy, an alleged date raping reliever, and a AAA starter.  Those guys don’t really matter.  Yes, the reliever was flipped for John Jaso, a useful bat who also played catcher; but he was never appreciated for what he was, so the Mariners ended up giving him away to the A’s where he has gone on to help them to multiple post-season berths.  Jaso begat the return of Mike Morse, who had one injury-filled season with the Mariners before hitting the go-ahead RBI in last night’s Game 7 of the World Series for the San Francisco Giants (he may have done other stuff between those two events, but I don’t care to know what that stuff was).

Justin Smoak was the cheese of The Cliff Lee Deal, and boy did he stink!

Four seasons and change, nearly 2,000 at bats, 158 extra-base hits, a .224/.309/.380 batting line.  Good for a whopping 1.3 WAR.  No, not per season, but in his entire Mariners career.  The only positives he brought to the table were:  his low salary figure, and his pretty-good defense (at a position where defense isn’t really a priority).

Our “First Baseman Of The Future” played in 496 games with the Seattle Mariners.  He earned $4,065,600 ($2.6 million of that coming in 2014, where he played in all of 80 games en route to losing his job to LoMo), and he was set to earn approximately $3.65 million in 2015 in arbitration if the Mariners opted to retain him (with a buy-out of $150,000).

Again, this is how wacky the salary structure is in Major League Baseball:  he was set to get a RAISE for next year, even though he lost his job and played in less than half of the games in 2014 due to injury and ineffectiveness.  Only in fucking America …

Luckily, the Mariners realized the error in their ways and cut ties.  Even luckier still, the Blue Jays decided to claim him, thereby saving the Mariners $150K.

Do I begrudge the Mariners for giving him all of those chances?  No.  I lament the deal in the first place.  You’d like to get a reasonable player in return for someone of Cliff Lee’s calibre.  But, when you’re talking about the Mariners of 2010-2013, you’re talking about teams who were MUCH more than a Justin Smoak away from contending.  This team had so many holes to fill.  Yes, they could have gone out and blew dozens of millions of dollars to try to bring in a first baseman in free agency, but by the time this team was actually ready to contend, that first baseman likely would’ve been on the downside of his career anyway.  Besides, it’s not so easy to just get guys to come here willingly.  Safeco Field SUCKS for hitters.  Seattle is where you go to watch your career die.

So, we HAD to see what Smoak could do.  He’d run into stretches of great competence and we’d always wonder, “Could he keep it up for a full year?  Could THIS be the turning point, where it clicks and he starts to get it?”  Ultimately:  no.  He couldn’t keep it up for a full year.  This was NOT the turning point.  And he never got it.  Maybe, with a better stadium situation in Toronto, where it’s easier to hit for extra bases, he can turn his career around.  But, it was never going to turn around in Seattle.

Ultimately, we’re all going to remember Justin Smoak as the butt of our jokes and scorn.  The few-and-far-between Smoak Bombs.  The Smoakamotive.  That Mariners commercial where he punched down a tree to make his own bat or something.  I’ll always marvel at the sheer volume of Warning Track Fly Balls.  I’ll always shake my head and sigh at the number of times I snookered myself into believing he was ready to turn a corner at any moment.  Taking any positive as a sign of his potential to break out.  I mean, at one time he was a highly-regarded prospect!  You don’t reach that status for no reason!  In the end, he probably doesn’t have what it takes to hack it, and won’t be long for this league.

For the record, I could seriously see him raking over in Japan if he ever decides to go that way.

Justin Smoak was a failure we won’t soon forget.  Hell, he was one of the primary reasons why Jackie Z almost lost his job!  He’s definitely #1 in the All Time Jackie Z Worst Personnel Moves list, even above Figgins and Montero if you can believe it.  But, in the end, he seemed like a good enough guy who tried his hardest to live up to what we all hoped he’d be.  He never struck me as a guy who pouted or was a distraction like some other players I’d rather not point out again.  He was legitimately one of the good guys on this team that has underachieved for so long.  I won’t go so far as say that he will be missed.  I’ll just say that it would’ve been nice if he would’ve lived up to all the hype.

Part of me hopes he turns it around in Toronto.  He very well could be one of those Change of Scenery guys, but I highly doubt it.  Besides, the rest of me would be quite annoyed if he did turn it around.  Because then, he’d be just another ex-Mariner doing it for someone else when he sure as shit couldn’t do it for us.

Looking Back On The Bright Side Of The 2014 Seattle Mariners

As I grow older, I find that for the most part I’m capable of only two emotions:  apathetic and surly.  This certainly describes my disposition when it comes to the Mariners.  In my surlier moods, I’ll take a hard line and let everyone know that there are NO MORAL VICTORIES.  Either you win or you don’t; either you make the playoffs or you fail.  Those opinions are no less valid just because at times I find myself waffling over to the other side.

The fact of the matter is, when I sit back and apathetically look at The Season That Was, I can see the ways in which 2014 was a success.  Everyone needed this season.  The organization needed it, just to get everyone to stop breathing down their necks.  The players needed it, to show that it IS possible to be a winning ballclub and still play half your games in Seattle.  And, quite frankly, the fans needed it more than anyone.

Let’s face it, there has been a gloomy, dark cloud hanging over the Seattle Mariners for over a decade.  Obviously, everyone knows the last playoff appearance was in 2001.  Since that time – including 2014 – there have been five seasons where the Mariners finished with a winning record.  In 2002 & 2003, the Mariners were still really good, but they were surrounded by teams who were even better, and thus failed to make the playoffs.  Then, the Mariners fell off the cliff, but looked to make something of a comeback in 2007, when they were 88-74.  Of course, you were looking at a team that was 14 games over .500 with a negative run differential, who did remarkably well in 1-run games.  2007 proved to be a fluke, and as the Mariners went all-in with the Erik Bedard deal, everything fell apart in 2008 (and would continue to more-or-less fall apart for many years to come).

2009 would prove to be another even-flukier season, where the Mariners went 85-77, but had a much worse run differential.  Undoubtedly, the Mariners fell into a sinkhole of despair in 2010, from which they are only NOW climbing out of.

Ever since the end of that 2010 season – where we sort of went all-in again with the Cliff Lee deal and the Chone Figgins signing – this organization has been in the tank.  We were able to flip Cliff Lee mid-season, but that deal turned out to be the Justin Smoak disaster.  We would go on to flip Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero after the 2011 season, and from then on it’s been all about Building From Within.  Which, quite honestly, is what you have to do if you’re a losing ballclub and you’re not ready to spend New York Yankees-type money in free agency.

And, it hasn’t been easy!  Many of our first-wave youngsters have come up and failed miserably.  Smoak and Montero and Ackley have largely been disappointing (until Ackley’s second half this past season).  For every Kyle Seager that we’ve hit upon, there have been dozens of Carlos Pegueros.

Finally, as the 2013 season ended (with the Mariners finishing 71-91), the organization had apparently seen enough to finally open up their wallets.

There have been rumors of the Mariners being “in on” any number of big-money free agents over the last several seasons, from Josh Hamilton to Prince Fielder, but they finally settled on Robinson Cano (who, really, has the highest floor of any of these guys).  Why this was the right time, or he was the right player, only the Mariners can say, but it turned out to be a huge success in the first year.  At the time of signing, Cano instantly became the best position player on the team.  His performance in the 2014 season was right in line with those expectations.  He was our 3-hole hitter and he never let us down.

On top of that, Kyle Seager took that next step in his progression, finally becoming an All Star (and deservedly so).  His defense is stellar, the pop is still in his bat, his batting average isn’t ideal, but he’s becoming more consistent and less streaky.

Then, we had a number of smaller players picking up the slack at times.  Logan Morrison was a positive, once he got healthy and was placed in the everyday lineup at first base.  Dustin Ackley – as I mentioned before – had that torrid second half to cement his status as our 2-hole hitter.  Mike Zunino surpassed 20 homers and played quality defense.  Role players like Endy Chavez, Michael Saunders, and Chris Taylor all made big impacts.  While, at the same time, the bullpen was a force to be reckoned with; and for most of the year we had four really good starting pitchers with Felix, Kuma, Young, and Elias.  The hitting, for the most part, did just enough to get the job done; and our bullpen locked it down in the later innings.  That’s a recipe for winning baseball.  Specifically, a team that finished 87-75, a single game out of the Wild Card.

And, not for nothing, but a team that also had a +80 run differential.  With that run differential, you should theoretically be looking at a 91-win ballclub, so it can be argued that the Mariners were, in fact, a little UNLUCKY.

***

This is the part where I’m supposed to shift gears and tell you all the things that were wrong with the 2014 Mariners, but I don’t really have it in me.  We all know where the Mariners need to improve before 2015:

  • DH
  • Right Field

Beyond that, it’s a matter of the younger players continuing to improve.  It’s Ackley building off of his second half.  It’s one of the two short stops (Miller or Taylor) winning that job and not looking back.  It’s Austin Jackson figuring out how to hit again.  It’s LoMo staying healthy.  It’s the bullpen not regressing too far.  And, it’s leaning on our starting pitching once again to keep us in ballgames.

It’s consistency in all three phases.  Fewer times being shut out.  And, if we have to make trades to get the pieces we want, it’s all about not giving up too much from our areas of strength.  And, of course, it’s about the right kind of luck.

Like 2008 and 2010, the 2015 season could see the Mariners go right back into the tank if things go horribly wrong.  The difference between now and those last two winning seasons is:  we’ve got a better foundation.  We’re not coming off of a smoke & mirrors season where the Mariners SOMEHOW generated a winning record despite a negative run differential.  And, the only players we’re losing to free agency are players we probably won’t miss too much (I’m looking at you, Kendrys Morales).

As we watch the Royals return from the doldrums to make the World Series for the first time in almost 30 years, this offseason will surely bring about feelings of, “Why Not Us?”  Hell, if the Seahawks can win the Super Bowl, why can’t the Mariners get back to the fucking playoffs?

Now is the time for the Best Offseason Ever.  The buzz is starting to return to this team.  2014 saw an increase in attendance for the first time in a long time.  If we can land a big free agent, I’m pretty sure 2015 will be the most-anticipated baseball season in Seattle since the 1990s.

The Case For Trading The Farm

Of course, when I say, “The Farm”, I’m only talking about a few guys.  Taijuan Walker, D.J. Peterson, Alex Jackson, and maybe two or three others.  When the average Mariners fan thinks of “The Farm”, that’s who they’re thinking about.  I don’t think anyone is going to give two shits if we can package the likes of Nick Franklin, Jesus Montero, or Erasmo Ramirez into a deal – and for good reason, because they likely wouldn’t fetch much anyway, because for as down as we are on these guys, the rest of baseball – the people in The Know – are even MORE down on these guys.

Nobody really wants to sell the farm.  We’re told from day 1 that the best franchises – regardless of sport – are those who draft and bring up their own stars.  That’s just the way it is.  And, as a result, fans get WAY too attached to the players in that organization.

But, what if I told you right now that by trading Walker, Peterson, and Jackson, the Mariners would bring in enough pieces to win the World Series in 2014?  I make no promises one way or the other going forward, but for at least 2014, the Mariners will be world champs.  Would you do it?

Some people would say no.  I happen to find that sick and absurd, because I would make that trade in a heartbeat!  The only problem with trades like these – where you’re a team in contention trading away young talent to the worst teams in hopes to rent a player for a few months and hopefully a playoff run – is that they backfire just as much as they work out.  Arguably, you could say they backfire way more – because only one team per year can win the World Series, and how many teams go out every season with the express goal of improving for that very championship?

And that’s just it.  No one can guarantee anything.  So, what if the Mariners and Rays work out some kind of deal that looks like:  Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, and Dominic Leone (and maybe another lesser player or two) for David Price and Ben Zobrist (and maybe another minor leaguer).  Would you do THAT trade?  That’s a lot of guaranteed years for two guys whose deals run out after 2014 (there is a team option for Zobrist, so he technically runs through 2015).  On the flipside, you’re giving the Mariners another ace pitcher and a rock solid #2 hitter who effectively ends Dustin Ackley’s career as an everyday starter.

I feel like that’s something of a realistic trade (I’m sorry, but the Rays aren’t going to accept Franklin, Ackley, Smoak, Montero, and Furbush for their two best players; I’M SORRY!), and a deal that helps both teams (one short term, one long term).  On the one hand, you could say the Mariners are getting ripped off in that deal.  The Rays would get a potential ace pitcher, a potential starting second baseman, a potential closer, and another prospect or two; and they’d only give up their current ace pitcher (who they won’t be able to re-sign after this year anyway, because they work on a shoe-string budget) and a jack-of-all-trades switch-hitter who otherwise (if they’d kept him) would be blocking a better prospect.

On the other hand, though, what if Taijuan Walker keeps getting injured and never makes it?  What if, instead of developing and refining his game, he continues to struggle with command issues for his whole (brief) career?  What if Nick Franklin is a dud, and Leone is only an okay reliever?  If that’s the case, even if the Mariners fail in their charge to win a World Series, I’d still call it a win for the Mariners.

The fact of the matter is, there are those two best-case scenarios for either team, and there are a million other variations in between.  You’ll never know unless the deal is made.

Those fans smarter than myself would bemoan the lost service time.  They’d complain (probably rightly so) that there’s no way in Hell that David Price will re-sign here after the season.  They’d love Zobrist, because he’s amazing, but they’d see his age (33) and make note of the fact that he might not be worth $7.5 million in 2015 (especially if his numbers this year continue what’s been something of a modest downward trend over the last year and a half).  Those smarter fans may be right, but you know what?  Part of me is kinda tired of waiting.  100% of me roots for the Seattle Mariners and not really its affiliates.  I don’t care if Seattle is considered as having one of the better minor league systems, because what I REALLY care about is how well the organization is doing at the Major League level.

Yes, I WOULD take 10 years of mediocrity if it meant a world championship.  I love the old Florida Marlins model of franchise ownership!  You’re telling me that group of morons were able to win not one, but TWO titles?  Where do I sign up?

Because, honestly, what would be the difference between that vast, savage hellscape and the one we’ve just emerged from between the years 2002-2013?

And yes, I trust Jack Z to make a smart trade for this organization like I trust him to drill into my skull without touching brain.  But, here’s the thing:  which deals does he get the most shit for?  The Smoak and Montero deals, of course.  Because they were unmitigated disasters.  Smoak and Montero were supposed to be high-upside studs and are instead steaming piles of manure.  It’s hard to say those deals backfired too much, because Cliff Lee was never going to re-sign with us at season’s end, and because Pineda has been injured and suspended more than he’s been healthy and contributing at the big league level.  But, here’s another doozy:  the Doug Fister trade.  That has netted us:  Charlie Furbush, a crappy left-handed reliever.  That one REALLY backfired, hard.

The point is:  Jackie Z doesn’t know shit about trading for prospects.  He’s been about as bad at it as anyone I’ve ever seen.  How he rose through the ranks in scouting is beyond me, because seemingly every trade he has made for prospects has totally tanked.  On the flipside, when he’s sending away prospects, he’s either been very lucky, or he knows what he’s doing.  There were all those losers we shipped off to get Cliff Lee here in the first place.  There was the Morrow deal (which kind of looks bad, until you see that Morrow has yet to throw 200 innings in a season, so it’s not like we gave up some true #1 starting pitcher).  There are probably some others, but nothing comes directly to mind, which means there’s no real nagging deal out there where I’m watching the likes of Adam Jones be awesome for another team.

If Jackie Z sees something in Taijuan Walker that leads him to believe Walker might not be as amazing as we all think he’s going to be, then I don’t really have a problem with shipping him off.  Just as long as we get some players coming back who will bring an immediate impact right away.  It’s not hard to look at David Price and Ben Zobrist and see a way they can help this team win.  Anything less … anything that brings with it a “who’s that?” from Mariners fans at large, and I’ll probably be irate.

Such is the thrill of contention in baseball!  Remember how we used to feel this way almost every year, from 1995 through 2003?  Remember how we’d talk about the trade deadline as a means to potentially make the team better NOW vs. in three years from now?  Remember all those years the Mariners “stood pat” and ended up either not making the playoffs, or losing prior to the World Series?  Conversely, remember all those years the Mariners traded away Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek and we still can’t fucking shut up about it?

It’s been one long bummer of a ride from the minute the Mariners set foot in Seattle lo those many decades ago.  But, as the Seahawks have taught us, it only takes one year to turn around a franchise’s fortunes.

This year COULD BE the year for the Mariners.  Of course, not as things stand right now; we’re at least two players away from serious contention for a championship.  Is it worth the potential cost of a future that might not even exist as we dream it?

I say yes, but that’s just the way I roll.  Instant gratification.  Give me a championship now and I can gnaw on that sucker for YEARS.  Do nothing, and that desire will only continue to gnaw at me, piece by piece, until I’m a broken husk of a man.