All Star Week Continued: Mariners Bright Spots

Look for “Mariners Shit Stains” tomorrow, but I thought I’d kick us off with a little positivity on a Thursday morning.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, my absolute favorite thing about the 2016 Mariners by a million miles is Dae-ho Lee.  The sense of pure joy I feel whenever he does something awesome is unmatched by anyone else in all of sports right now (particularly with the retirement of Marshawn Lynch).  When the Mariners brought him in, he was in a battle with Jesus Montero for the backup first baseman job, and even though Lee didn’t look all that much better than Montero in Spring Training, I was fully aboard the decision to pick Lee, simply because of the unknown factor.  We know what Jesus Montero is, and he hasn’t disappointed me since he was picked up by Toronto (he’s yet to get a call-up from AAA, where he’s doing okay, but isn’t blowing you away with his power, and still doesn’t know how to take a walk).  Lee, conversely, at least had some upside, as he came from another professional league where he played at a high level.  Ultimately, it’s just baseball; it’s just throwing and catching and hitting and running.  Lee’s got the skills, and they’ve transferred beautifully from Korea, to Japan, to now the United States.  On top of that, with Lind’s early struggles, Lee has been a godsend!  I won’t say I saw this season coming out of Lee – it certainly wouldn’t have shocked me to see him put up Jesus Montero-type numbers, followed by his eventual release – indeed, he’s been probably the most pleasant surprise of the bunch!

I won’t try to rank all my bright spots, so let’s just go down the line.  Robinson Cano has bounced back in a big way after an injury-plagued 2015.  He’s healthy, and he’s playing to the All Star form that got him his $240 million contract in the first place.  With 21 homers, he’s already matched last year’s total.  If his slash line holds, this will be his best year since 2012, when he had a .929 OPS and an 8.2 WAR.  As it stands right now, his .555 slugging percentage is the best of his career (if he can keep it at that level), and he’s on pace to shatter his season high in homers and extra base hits.  Just an all-around stud; 3 years down, 7 to go.

I wonder if people are a little disappointed in Nelson Cruz this year, as it feels like he’s taken a step back compared to his off-the-charts 2015.  But, he’s still doing VERY well for himself, and is on track to get back to 40 homers for the third straight year.  One thing to watch is that he’s already grounded into 11 double plays; his career high in a season was 17 back in 2014, so that’s certainly not a number you like to top.

Kyle Seager rounds out our Big 3, and boy am I pleased with his season so far!  As usual, he got off to an abysmal start, but he’s beyond turned it around.  It seems like he always over-corrects like this, only to settle into his usual range of hitting in the .260’s by season’s end, but I dunno.  Something tells me his success could easily continue on, if not actually improve by season’s end.  A full year under Edgar Martinez, for one, combined with his own sturdy work ethic.  You wonder if he’ll tire out – considering he never gets an off day – so if there’s a reason for any late-season decline, I’d say that would have to be it.  Nevertheless, he’s on pace to blow away his previous power numbers, already with 18 homers at the break (his career high in a season is 26).  One thing to watch with him is that he’s already got 10 errors, which is very unlike him (his career high in a season is 16, which he had last year, which is a downward trend from 2014’s Gold Glove season).

I’m very pleased with Ketel Marte’s progress in his second season in the bigs (and first FULL season).  You had to wonder, with his quality 2015, was that just an aberration, like Ackley and Zunino and Montero before him – who all got early call-ups, did well at first, and then regressed HARD?  Well, so far, Marte is hitting well (his speed helping pump up those numbers a little bit).  He has work to do with taking a walk; hopefully that will advance with experience, as there’s no excuse for a kid this fast to not have a better awareness of the strike zone.  Speedy players who can take a walk and steal a base are worth their weight in gold!  You also look to see him clean up his mental miscues in the basepaths and in the field with experience as well.  But, no real glaring complaints two years into his budding career.

Leonys Martin has been a delight.  We’ve been waiting since Guti’s prime for a quality defensive centerfielder to come around, and by God I think we’ve found one!  It’s so important to this organization, considering we play half our games in Safeco (and considering we’re perennially saddled with slow-footed corner outfielders).  And, while I wasn’t expecting much out of him at the plate, his 11 homers are already a career high in a season!  He’s not ideal at the plate – and he’s REALLY not an ideal leadoff hitter – but I love what we’ve gotten out of him so far.

Honorable mention (on the hitting side) goes to Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta.  Smith’s work at the plate is exactly what winning teams need.  He hits for a solid average, he can take a walk, he’s got some pop, and I don’t know if this is a thing or not, but he seems to be pretty clutch when we need someone to come through.  As far as Iannetta is concerned, he’s not leaps & bounds ahead of Zunino at the plate, and I don’t know if he’s necessarily all that much better defensively either, but he’s been a rock so far this season.  From the eyeball test, he doesn’t look nearly as lost at the plate as Zunino looked last year, so that’s big.  And, while it’s tough to see Clevenger go down the way he did, if and when Zunino returns, it’ll be nice to have him learn from Iannetta.  He’s never really had a competent pro to teach him the ropes, so the second half of this season could be huge for Zunino’s development.

***

On the pitching side of things … hoo boy, it’s a little dodgy.

Edwin Diaz has come out guns blazing, getting the call up direct from AA.  34 strikeouts in 17.2 innings, or just about 2 strikeouts per inning.  Unreal!  He’s hitting triple digits on the reg, he’s got a wicked slider, and if he keeps this up, he could be closing games in no time.  As it is, he’s entering games in the most pressure-packed situations (pre-9th inning variety), and I’ll say it right here:  Diaz has been hands down the best reliever on this team this year.  Period.

It’s been nice to see Mike Montgomery make good on all his promise.  He’s throwing strikes, he’s limiting walks, and he’s done everything this team’s asked him to do.  I know, like 99% of professional athletes will do what’s asked of them.  But, compare what Montgomery’s done this year to a closer who comes into the game in a non-save situation, and you’ll get what I mean.  He’s been fine in relief, in all roles, and just before the break got a spot start with excellent results.  He’s in line for at least one more post-break start, and could very well have pitched himself back into the rotation (thanks to his excellence, and to the rest of the rotation’s utter ineptitude).

And, you know what?  That’s it.  I could write a lot more if I wanted to, but I don’t, because I don’t think any of the other pitchers deserve to be mentioned in this post.  You’ll read why tomorrow.

The Mariners Drafted Kyle Lewis & Joe Rizzo

I’m not a huge draftnik in general, and specifically with baseball I don’t know if I could care any less than I already do.  I don’t follow college baseball, I sure as SHIT don’t follow high school baseball, I’m not a scout, and trying to project what teenagers will become in 3-8 years sounds like a futile and pointless exercise.

I pay attention one day a year, and that’s Day 1 of the draft, and by “pay attention” I mean:  I happen to be on Twitter and notice the beat writers talking about it.  Then, I click on links they offer, read what people have to say, and that’s the basis for my knowledge on the subject.  Pretty neat, huh?

In years past, the Mariners have drafted the following in the first round:

  • 2015 –
  • 2014 – Alex Jackson (OF)
  • 2013 – D.J. Peterson (3B – converted to 1B)
  • 2012 – Mike Zunino (C)
  • 2011 – Danny Hultzen (SP)
  • 2010 – Taijuan Walker (SP)
  • 2009 – Dustin Ackley (OF – converted to 2B – converted to OF)
  • 2009 – Nick Franklin (SS)
  • 2009 – Steve Baron (C)

As you can see, a real Who’s Who of garbage (and Taijuan Walker).  To be honest, I forgot all about Steve Baron, but he’s a no-bat defensive catcher who makes Jesus Sucre look like Babe Ruth at the plate.  Nick Franklin is in the Tampa Bay organization and is still trying to break on through into becoming a regular big leaguer.  Dustin Ackley is The Most Disappointing Man In The World.  Taijuan you all know and love.  Hultzen is one of a long line of safe Jackie Z draft picks, who was supposedly the most “Major League-ready” pitcher, but whose bevy of arm injuries has killed his career.  The jury is still out on Peterson and Jackson; but Peterson was drafted for his bat and his power, and has yet to really impress with either on a regular basis; and Jackson is mired in single-A ball, appearing to be on nobody’s fast track to the Majors.

This year, with the 11th overall pick, the Mariners selected Kyle Lewis, an outfielder out of Mercer University.  He’s 6’4, he bats and throws right-handed, his position for now is in centerfield, but some project him to be a corner outfield guy.  He played basketball and baseball in high school, and only dedicated himself exclusively to baseball relatively late in his amateur career.  He went to Mercer as a project, busted out as a Sophomore, and was “College Player of the Year” as a Junior this year.  In 61 games this season, he hit 20 homers while putting up a slash line of .395/.535/.731, while also walking a whopping 66 times.  So, he’s got the power, he’s got the plate discipline, his swing is apparently a little long and wonky, but they can work on that with him after he signs, he’s rangy, with good but not great speed, and has a nice arm.  His high leg kick is apparently a concern, which could mean he’s in for a lot of strikeouts when paired with that swing.  So, it’ll be imperative that he smooths all that out if he wants to make it to the Bigs someday.  One would think, as he continues to round out as a pro and puts on some more muscle, he won’t necessarily need that leg kick to generate the power he’s accustomed to.  If that clicks for him, he could be a monster.  I’m seeing comparisons ranging from Jason Heyward to Mike Cameron.

From what I’ve read, I like the pick, but then again I’d probably be saying that no matter who the Mariners went with at the 11th overall spot.  Lewis had been considered by many to be a Top 10 pick, with some people ranking him as high as the third overall selection.  The Mariners themselves thought they didn’t have a chance at him when they scouted him initially, so for them it was a nice, pleasant surprise.  I mostly like that he’s a high upside player.  Granted, he could make it to Tacoma and promptly flame out like so many Quad-A outfielders we’ve gotten to that point in recent years.  But, if he figures it all out, he could be a superstar in this league.  Here’s to hoping he’s got the focus, and the organization has the people around him to make that a reality.

The farm system, right now, is pretty dire.  I don’t think there’s a single person in AAA, for instance, who projects to be an everyday Major Leaguer (maybe a bullpen guy or something, but the rest of those guys seem to have hit their ceilings).  There’s some good-looking talent in AA right now, but you figure you’re still at least a couple years away (at best) from seeing them produce in a Mariners uniform.  Beyond that, who knows?  So, when I see the Mariners have drafted a centerfielder, I don’t really pay attention to specific “needs” at the big league level.  Since these guys don’t generally make an impact for many years after they’re drafted, it’s not like football where you see holes and you draft guys to fill those holes; in 5 years, or whatever, when Kyle Lewis is ready to get his shot at the Major Leagues, will there be a hole in centerfield?  Probably, but you can’t think that way as a fan.  From a farm system perspective, there are holes EVERYWHERE, at all levels!  The draft is the crappiest of crapshoots, particularly in baseball.  Bringing in talent, regardless of position, is what’s important right now.

Especially since, when you think about it, the Mariners are currently in contention, and might be robbing from that farm system to try to bring in big leaguers to help us win right now.  Obviously, we just drafted Kyle Lewis, so he isn’t going anywhere.  But, guys above him, in AA and AAA, might be shipped off.  So, replacing those guys with incoming draft picks – and having some of those draft picks actually pan out – is going to be pretty important.

Which brings me to the Mariners’ second round pick, Joe Rizzo.  He’s a high schooler with a nice swing, who appears to be pretty polished at the plate, and raw literally everywhere else.  He’s not as athletic as you like – particularly for a third baseman – which is why everyone is already projecting him to move anywhere from left field to first base.  Considering that’s more or less what they were talking about when the Mariners drafted D.J. Peterson, I’m not super-thrilled with these descriptions.  I mean, who was the last guy they talked about in these terms, who actually panned out in a big way in the Majors?  Seriously, I’m asking, because as I said before, I don’t follow the draft all that closely!

For what it’s worth, they said similar things about Dustin Ackley as well (although, his bat was more highly regarded, thus the #2 overall draft slot).  Guys who hit well in college and high school, who don’t have an established defensive position, aren’t really options in my mind.  Yeah, they may be good to go from a hitting perspective, but that just means they’re going to put all their energy into either learning a new defensive position, or trying to refine the position they came up with.  Either way, all that focus on the defensive side of the ball – which is VERY important – will inevitably take away from them becoming a professional hitter, at which point you’ve got a player who isn’t good defensively, who also hasn’t made any strides at the plate, and all that promise they had coming in will have been squandered.

Look for Joe Rizzo to be absolutely nothing for the Mariners one day.  I hope he proves me wrong, but I seriously doubt it.

At least with Kyle Lewis, you’ve got athleticism, and some built-in defensive ability, to go with his excellence at the plate, so all he has to do is refine and mature, as opposed to essentially starting all over as a professional.

Baseball can be really discouraging.  Baseball prospects are generally at the top of that pyramid.  Now you can see why I rarely try to put any energy into focusing on the minor leagues.

What Going To Bed Before The 9th Inning Looks Like

It was all lining up against me.  The A’s were in town; they’ve been notoriously tough to beat in Safeco Field the last couple years for some reason (even though they’ve been largely terrible in general).  Jay Buhner was in the booth, riding a 1-40 streak when calling Mariners games.  We let another starter off the hook and then our bullpen largely prevented our own starter from getting the win it looked like he deserved through five innings.  Plus, it was already past 10pm, and I gotta wake up before 6am to go to work!

Yes, I’m weak.  But, I’ve seen the meager defeat go out with a whimper in the 9th inning far too many times.  True, Robinson Cano mashed a 2-run homer in the 8th to bring the game to within one run, but come on!  What were the odds the team would repeat that feat just one inning later?  With two outs.  In a 1-2 count …

Hell, this is why people tell you to never leave a game early.  I can’t argue with ’em!  People who stuck it out to the bitter end – people who left the TV on for another 20-30 minutes – were rewarded with the kinds of positive memories those of us who found out about the result this morning can only dream about.

That’s the difference with this team, compared to years past.  Count them out at your own risk.  I’ve seen this team come back from large deficits that would’ve been impossible for prior Mariners squads.  It’s one telltale sign – at least from an eyeball test perspective – that this team is for real.

It’s remarkably impressive the way Scott Servais’ moves are working out.  He hasn’t done a ton of tinkering with the batting lineup this year.  For the most part, he’s got a lefty-heavy and a righty-heavy lineup, where certain guys will move up or down in the lineup depending on which way they bat.  But, within those splits, there haven’t been any real major shakeups until this week, where Leonys Martin took over leadoff duties from Nori Aoki.  We’ve seen this in past seasons, and it generally deserves the world’s biggest eye roll.  “Going with the hot hand” in baseball is pretty pointless, because most good hot streaks last about a week, and then the player reverts to prior form; conversely, most cold streaks don’t last very long either, and it’s only a matter of time before a veteran will turn things around.

I mean, how many times have we seen Dustin Ackley, batting in the bottom third of the lineup, start to spray the ball around pretty good, followed by the manager moving him up to leadoff, followed by him not getting a hit for a week, followed by him moving back down to the bottom third of the lineup?

Oh, so you’re telling me Leonys Martin sprays the ball around on the road against the likes of the Orioles and Reds – in two very hitter-friendly ballparks – and now all of a sudden he’s worthy of batting in the leadoff spot?

But, shit man, I’ll be damned if he isn’t worthy!  Two hits on Monday, the game-winning 2-run homer last night, he’s striking the ball well, his power is showing no signs of reverting back to career norms, his confidence is through the roof, and I’m, like, one more hitting career being turned around for the better before I start a Church of Edgar Martinez and worship him as our lord and savior

(we’ll meet on Friday nights; if you don’t have your own Light Bat, one will be provided; B.Y.O. Bud Lights)

Servais isn’t all lineup shuffling either.  I think his bullpen usage has been outstanding.  While it takes most other managers at least a good, solid month of sucking before they move on from a trusted veteran arm, Servais has been on top of this thing!  Joel Peralta hadn’t looked superb when his numbers were great, but the team needed him in that 8th inning role, what with all the injuries.  Once his numbers started to reflect just how poorly he’d been throwing, it wasn’t more than a few outings before he was busted to the back-end of the bullpen, in favor of guys like Nick Vincent and Mike Montgomery.  Now, I know they weren’t perfect last night – Vincent, in relief of Karns in the 6th, gave up a couple of inherited runners; then Montgomery gave up a couple of Vincent’s runners in that same inning – but I think those moves were totally, 100% defensible.

Nick Vincent has the best K-rate of anyone in the bullpen worth a damn.  Karns was running into that third time through the order and gave up a couple of hard-hit balls; given his youth, I think it’s reasonable to doubt that he’d be able to get out of that jam.  When you need a strikeout, put in your best strikeout guy, in this case Vincent.  Now, it didn’t work out, but the move is justified.  And, while Montgomery was unable to get out of the 6th without giving up more damage, he ended up going another three innings of shutout ball to 1) get the win, and 2) save the bullpen from further usage.

Where would we be without Mike Montgomery right now?  To think, he was a guy on the bubble going into Spring Training, and very well may have been cut or traded had everyone been healthy!

The rest of the kudos will be spread around:

Seth Smith had a 3-hit day to bump his average back up to respectability.

Robbie Cano had a 3-RBI day to maintain his league lead.

Nelson Cruz had a timely and overlooked RBI single in the 3rd, when it looked like the Mariners might squander a scoring opportunity after putting the first two batters on base.

Nori Aoki had a couple of hits, including that double in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, to prolong the game and get it to the hero of the evening.  That’s one of those deals that also gets overlooked, but without that hit, we’re singing a different tune this morning.

The Mariners Got The Blowout Victory They Were Looking For

Come for the dangling prepositions in the title, stay for the analysis of a game I didn’t even watch!

Boy, that was really something, wasn’t it?  Here’s Baltimore – one of the hottest teams in the American League – having feasted on the bottom-feeders in recent weeks, to achieve the best record in the league, hosting Seattle, who just lost three in a row at home to the struggling, infirmed Angels.  Shirley, the Mariners would find it tough sledding in the bandbox that is … whatever they call the Orioles’ stadium (don’t call me surely).

That’s when the 3-4-5 hitters decided to drop the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B all over the place.

  • Cano – 3 for 4 with a double, 2 RBI, and 3 runs scored
  • Cruz – 3 for 3 with a homer, 5 RBI, and 2 runs scored
  • Seager – 2 for 4 with a homer, 3 RBI, and 1 run scored

All 10 runs batted in were batted in by those three players in a 10-0 rout to open up the series.  Wade Miley had a semi-efficient 6 innings of 2-hit ball, Nuno pitched in (!) with a couple of perfect innings, and Steve Johnson got some work in as our last man out of the bullpen (now that Mayckol Guaipe has been returned to Tacoma, with Benoit coming off of the DL).

The Mariners really needed a win, they really needed a soft landing for the bullpen, they needed to give an extra day off to Peralta and Cishek to get their heads clear, and they needed to get the game completed under the shadow of some suspect weather conditions.  It was really the most perfect start to this road trip (where it’ll be a MIRACLE if we get through it without a game being cancelled and needing to be made up during the dog days of the season where the Mariners are short on extra days off).

Also, as I said before, I didn’t watch the game, but my hat’s off to Miley for repeatedly getting through that lineup without getting killed.  I’m not holding out hope that he’s going to be anything more than what we thought he was, but as long as he’s not anything less, I think we can be okay.  A guy like Miley is just what this team needs.  THIS team.  Where the hitting is professional, and runs are scored at a respectable pace.  But, if you put Miley in the rotation in some of those prior Mariners teams – with the likes of Ackley, Smoak, and the rest of those duds – we’d be constantly pulling our hair out whenever Miley took the mound.

Miley needs run support.  Those infantile offenses who struggled to score 3 runs on a nightly basis would NEVER be able to do the job.  Yeah, Miley will eat up innings, and he’ll “keep you in ballgames”, but only if your offense is scoring 4+ runs a night.  Anything less and you might as well roll with me out there on the mound, because I’ll get you pretty close to the number of Quality Starts that Miley will get you on an annual basis (relatively speaking).

Honestly, it always feels good when we make it through a Miley start with a victory, because I know Taijuan Walker is right around the corner.  And then we’ve got an increasingly more interesting Karns, before it’s right back to the top of the rotation with Felix again.  I guess what I’m really trying to say is:

Wade Miley shouldn't be a chore!

Wade Miley shouldn’t be a chore!

The Official 2016 Mariners Preview

I got into a bunch of stuff last week, if you missed it.

So, without further ado, why not kick this post off by talking about the hitters and fielders?

I’ve been on record for a while now as being pretty impressed by the collection of hitters the Mariners have amassed this year.  I think we’re across-the-board better than we were last year, and better than we’ve been in I can’t remember how many years.  Adam Lind should be an improvement over the streaky LoMo.  I’m not really all that high on Brad Miller (again, streaky), so I think we’ll get more consistency out of Ketel Marte.  Chris Iannetta should be leaps & bounds better than the black hole that was Mike Zunino.  Nori Aoki should be a HUGE upgrade over Dustin Ackley.  And, considering there was absolutely nothing special about Austin Jackson, that means we’re not taking much of a hit offensively with Leonys Martin, while at the same time getting a bigtime player defensively in center.

When you tack that onto Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz still in their primes, the improved health of Robinson Cano leading to a dramatic return to form, and the steady presence of Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez in a platoon situation, I think we’re going to see this team be quite competitive offensively, compared to in years past where most of the time we were struggling just to score a run or two.

In fact, I’ll take it one step further.  I think we’re going to see a high number of shootouts, where the Mariners are scoring 7+ runs, while at the same time giving up 7+ runs.  While the obvious home run numbers won’t be there, I think this COULD prove to be the best offense we’ve had since 2001.

Which is a shame, because usually it’s the pitching I have the most confidence in.  This year, terms like “potential” and “cautiously optimistic” have been uttered by me when talking about the collection of starters and relievers we’ve got on the roster.  It’s less than ideal.  You can make the case for and against just about every one of these guys.

I’m like 85-90% sure Felix Hernandez is going to continue being great.  But, while I won’t damn him for the so-called poor finish to his season last year, I will say there were a disturbing number of appearances where he got absolutely annihilated.  8 runs against Houston, where he only got 1 out.  7 runs each against the Yankees and Diamondbacks.  10 runs in 2.1 innings against Boston.  I’m not used to seeing my guy struggle like he did in these games.  I mean, I didn’t think I’d EVER see a time where he couldn’t get out of the first inning!  It’s not cause to be alarmed, but it’s cause to be on alert.  King Felix is still performing at a high level for the most part, but winter is coming.

On any given day, I’m 50/50 as to whether we’ll see Good Iwakuma or Crap Iwakuma.  He had that 2013 season where he was amazing (and amazingly healthy), but he’s followed it up with two so-so years.  While he finished pretty consistently strong, he had a run from late 2014 through early 2015 where he was giving up homers at an insane rate.  Even in his best year, he was giving up almost a homer a game, so that’s not entirely a negative issue with him.  But, keeping guys off base and keeping the ball from looking like a juicy piece of meat for opposing batters to mash will always be the key.

Wade Miley is more or less an effective innings eater, but he reminds me of every soft-tossing lefty starter we’ve had here in the last 8 years or so.  Vargas, Saunders, Elias, Happ, Washburn, Rowland-Smith, and I’m sure I’m forgetting countless others.  Vargas was probably the best of the bunch, but he didn’t come as a finished product and had his share of growing pains along the way.  Does Miley have an effective out pitch?  If he doesn’t have an awesome splitter or change up or something, I don’t have high hopes for him being very good.

Taijuan Walker seems to have the most promise among players taking a big leap forward.  But, at the same time, he could just be who he is.  When his command is on, he’ll be tough, but ultimately falling short of that elite, Ace status.

Then, there’s what’s sure to be a revolving door of sorts at the bottom of the rotation.  Karns is young, and I don’t really know what he has.  Paxton is down in Tacoma, waiting for either Karns to slip up, or someone else to get injured.  Neither one of them inspire too much confidence (I mean, our main injury insurance in Paxton is himself injury-prone!).

Ultimately, this is going to be the highest variance season we’ve seen out of the Mariners since 2007.  You know how, in every Preview post I’ve ever written about the Mariners, I talk about the Best Case Scenario?  Well, usually my scenarios are based in far-off delusions (Ackley/Smoak/Montero/Miller/Zunino will hopefully be ready to take the next step into being a productive and elite member of baseball society).  But, the actual variance in possibilities isn’t usually that great.  A normal range of outcomes is usually anywhere from 70-80 wins.  But, this year?  I could see this team winning anywhere from 65 games to 90 games and not have it be totally crazy.

What does a 65-win Mariners team look like?  Well, probably injury-riddled at its core.  One would think that team will have to face significant time with King Felix on the shelf, and at least one of the big three (Cano/Cruz/Seager).  As this team doesn’t really have a ton of depth, nor a ton of talent coming up through the pipeline, it just won’t be able to overcome significant health issues at its premium positions.

What does a 75-win Mariners team look like?  Well, tbh, a lot like last year’s team.  The bullpen struggles, the starters are somewhat effective, but have their own peaks & valleys to deal with, and the hitters aren’t as good as we thought going in.  That means Iannetta is just as black of a hole as Zunino; Lind isn’t much of an upgrade over LoMo, as he struggles to adjust to Safeco Field; Ketel Marte is drastically worse than the low bar Brad Miller had set for us; Nori Aoki looks more like Austin Jackson than we care to admit; and Leonys Martin looks more like James Jones than we care to admit.  That team also has one of the big three (let’s say Cruz, for shits and giggles, since he would appear to be due for some regression towards the mean) unexpectedly struggling a lot more than they did last year, due to nagging health issues or simply advanced age.

What does an 85-win Mariners team look like?  Well, for starters, the hitters match my expectations of being the strength of this team.  The pitching likely struggles at spots, and maybe Iwakuma or Karns miss a month or two due to injury (probably at different points in the season, giving us a lot more of Paxton than we expected).  The bullpen goes through hot periods and extra cold periods, but the offense is just clutch enough to give us a Kansas City Royals-esque spate of walk-off wins.  This team stays relevant throughout the season – giving Seattle fans lots to talk about all summer – and might even break that streak of seasons without a postseason appearance, depending on how things shake out in the rest of the American League.  Ultimately, this team probably disappoints in the playoffs (if it does get there), but it gives fans a ton of hope going into the 2017 season.

What does a 90-win (or 90+ win) Mariners team look like?  Well, here’s your Best Case Scenario.  Here’s where absolutely everything that needed to break right DOES break right.  Felix is in the Cy Young conversation.  Iwakuma is back to his 2013 tricks.  Wade Miley comes better than advertised and not only eats up innings, but figures out how to be an effective #2 or #3 starter.  Taijuan Walker goes thermonuclear.  And, the duo of Karns/Paxton are pleasant surprises whose ability to pitch finally catches up to their raw stuff.  This team gets strong seasons out of its primary 8th & 9th inning bullpen guys, and gets enough out of the rest of the bullpen to make it one of the top five units in the league.  And the hitting is not only as good as I think it’s going to be, but it still manages to come through on that clutchness factor, where we’re winning a vast majority of 1-run games (what some would say is an unsustainable rate of winning in those types of close games).  This team probably catches some luck among the rest of the A.L. West and takes the division, and cruises right into the ALCS.  Felix gets to show the world what it’s been missing by not having him in the playoffs, as he blows away the field in his post-season starts, and this team makes its first-ever World Series appearance (where it goes on to lose in five games, because this is Seattle, and we can’t have nice things).

So, where do I have my money?

In Tahoe, there was a Futures bet.  The over/under for the Mariners was 82 wins.  Now, considering I had 1 good betting day out of 4 when I was down there, you can take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt.  If I still had money on the last day there, I would’ve bet everything I had on the Mariners winning under 82 games.  What does that mean?  Well, my gambling prowess notwithstanding, I believe there is a greater than 50% chance that the shit hits the fan with this team (either with injuries, or a struggling bullpen, or the hitters just not being as good as we expected) and the Mariners struggle to remain competitive.  You know me, I hate a team that doesn’t pitch well.  Even if the key guys stay healthy, I still think this team – at the end of the day – will look a lot like it did last year, at least in the win/loss column.

That having been said, there’s a part of me that believes in this team more than last year’s team.  I wonder if that’s just because it looks so different (13 of the 25 players we have going into Opening Day will be playing their first games as Mariners).  I mean, different = better, right?  Well, at least different = more exciting, for the first few weeks anyway.

My hunch is that the offense will ultimately be one of the better ones we’ve seen in recent history, but it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see this offense get off to yet ANOTHER slow start in the month of April.  All the better to make me look foolish in my predictions (because everything in the world revolves around me and what I think).  Conversely, the pitching will probably start out on fire, and this team will be a couple games under .500 going into May.  It’ll tread water – as the Mariners like to do – through the All Star Break, and then on that road trip at the end of July the Mariners will go something like 1-7 and play themselves right out of contention (and a season-saving deadline deal).  From there, it’ll just be a matter of playing out the string of yet another losing season.  I think the record will be 77-85.

I like this team, but I’ve been burned too many times in the past.  I’ll go into this year expecting the worst, because why shouldn’t I?  We’ve got national morons predicting the Mariners will shock the world – like we read about just about every single year – but what are they basing it on?  The same things I’m basing my prediction on:  the high variance nature of this roster.  When has that ever worked out in our favor to spell out a post-season appearance?  Not bloody often.

Jesus Montero Is No More

The rest of this week figures to be devoted to a number of moves the Mariners have made in advance of the regular season starting next week.  Big names, like Mike Zunino and James Paxton, alongside smaller names like Boog Powell, Chris Taylor, and Stefen Romero, have all been sent down to Tacoma.  Some of those names were expected to get chopped, some of those names are a surprise.  But, I’m going to start with Jesus Montero.

If you search his name on my website, you’ll find he was very much my whipping boy for many years.  You know what I think about all the time when it comes to the Seattle Mariners?  The mind-bogglingly stupid trades our various GMs have made throughout the years.  That is by no means a complete list, but it’s a good jumping-off point.  There have been some WHOPPERS over the years, but right down there at the bottom, you’ll see the full terms of the Pineda/Montero trade.

That trade has been a rollercoaster of emotion since it happened on January 23, 2012.  I liked it at first, because we were trading from a position of depth, and we had a serious need for power hitting (or, really, hitting of ANY kind).  While he wasn’t gangbusters out of the gate, at least he didn’t miss two full seasons and most of a third due to serious arm injuries.  But, then Montero got fat and lazy and had the ice cream sandwich incident down in the minor leagues, while at the same time Pineda returned from injury and started to look solid again.  Even though Montero lost the weight and started to take his career more seriously, he ultimately never developed into much more than a fringe Quad-A type player who struggles to hit the curve ball, struggles to hit right handed pitching, and ultimately doesn’t make enough of an empact against left handed pitching to be of any value.  He’s no longer a viable catching prospect, and he’s trying his best to convert to first base, but his best position defensively is probably no position at all.

I no longer have my anger issues with the guy that I used to.  Indeed, I respect him quite a bit for turning everything around and at least putting in the effort.  That’s really all anyone can ask for.  Ultimately, though, you can’t help but feel – as a Mariners fan – at least some resentment for his Too Little, Too Late results.  What we needed was for him to put in that effort back in 2012 when we first got him; not when he was essentially poison and lost any value whatsoever to try to salvage something.

Then, when you note Hector Noesi also came over in the deal … it’s best not to think about it.  My blood pressure can’t handle it.

Jesus Montero is out of options, so he was DFA’d.  The Toronto Blue Jays picked him up, and now have him, Michael Saunders, and Justin Smoak on their roster.  As I’m sure countless people have already pointed out, they’re a Dustin Ackley away from being the most disappointing version of the Seattle Mariners we’ve seen in the last generation.  All that promise, all washed up.

What this move ultimately represents is the last of the worst of the Jack Zduriencik era being eliminated from this roster.  There are still some likely mistakes we’re dealing with – who will hopefully be improved by their time learning their craft in the minors, I’m looking at you, Zunino – but on the big league roster, we’ve only got the best of the Jackie Z era, or the little hatchlings of the Jerry Dipoto era.  Whether that’s enough to turn around this organization remains to be seen, but ultimately I’m taking a positive, Out With The Old, In With The New stance.  Fuck off, Jesus Montero, and thanks for nothing!

It’s Too Early For Me To Be Excited For Mariners Baseball 2016

If you’re on Twitter, and you follow the appropriate beat writers (Divish, Dutton, Drayer, Johns), you’ll notice that Spring Training is in full bloom.  Or, mostly full bloom, I guess.  Pitchers and Catchers have reported and are already getting into their regularly scheduled bullpen sessions.  The rest of the players are set to report today (if they haven’t already).  We are T-Minus 1 week until the first Spring Training game of the 2016 season.

If the Mariners Fanfest was any indication, either there’s a lot of anticipation for this new Mariners season (and new Mariners regime), or a bunch of baseball fans were just happy to get out of the house for a weekend in late January.  Either way, we’re about to be neck-deep in baseball coverage come March, followed by the long slog towards the post-season and eventually the next off-season, which should kick off at some point in 2025 (the baseball season is long, almost torturously long).

I don’t understand these baseball fans who complain that the offseason is too long.  The last game of last season took place on November 1, 2015.  The first game took place on April 5, 2015.  That’s 211 out of 365 meaningful days of baseball.  Tack on another month, and we’re talking about 242 out of 365 days of baseball.  Go back another couple weeks for when pitchers & catchers report, and we’re up to around 255 days of baseball-like activities!  Meaning there are only around 110 days, or not even 4 full months, of off-season.  So, you know, if you somehow found yourself in mid-December “missing” baseball, you’re a God damn freak of nature and should probably be isolated from the rest of humanity.

Even if football wasn’t the greatest sport on the planet, you know why it’s so much better than baseball?  If you take the regular season all the way through the Super Bowl, you’re talking about 161 days, or 5 months & change worth of meaningful football.  Add on another month and a half for pre-season and training camp and you STILL don’t come close to the sheer calendar-suck that is the baseball season.  Football … allows us to miss it.  Absence makes the grow fonder and so on and so forth.  Baseball is that clingy friend whose calls you accept only 33% of the time because you just don’t have the energy to listen to their bullshit on a daily basis.

So, no, my excitement level isn’t at the fever pitch it is for many other fans right now.  While I don’t think there’s an appropriate amount of off-season time to just unwind and get away from things, I certainly wouldn’t want the season to start any sooner.  I’ll be happy to have the next month-plus to slowly ramp up.

I feel like this is something I wrote about last year too, though I can’t seem to find it.  At the very least, I shared a similar sentiment.  That having been said, I’m trying to remember if my excitement level is higher this year relative to this point last year.

Recall, last year, we were coming off of a season where we fell 1 game short of the play-in game (or a play-in game to get to the play-in game, but that’s neither here nor there).  And, to that team, we added a great hitter in Nelson Cruz, various other middling players who were hopeful upgrades to previous black holes, and we had some addition by subtraction in that we no longer were counting on the likes of Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders.  You had to figure that our offense would be improved, and our pitching would be just good enough, to get us over the hump.  Then, Cano’s first half happened.  And the bullpen fell apart.  And Ackley still stunk.  And the bench brought nothing to the table.  And players like Zunino failed to develop.  And we lost Paxton to injury again.  And so on, and so on, and so on.  The season fell apart pretty quickly.  Two games under .500 in April, still two games under .500 through May, and off the cliff after that.  With Houston running away from things early, and a bunch of other teams between us and a playoff berth, 2015 was yet another lost season in a decade full of ’em.

BUT, going into last year, expectations couldn’t have been higher.

And now it’s 2016.  Coming off of a season where we were 10 games under .500, nowhere near playoff contention at any point.  But, the GM was fired, and with that comes renewed hope.  Lots of roster turnover breeds if not higher expectations, at least different expectations.  With a focus away from right-handed power hitters, and towards guys who can get on base and put pressure on opposing teams, you’d THINK (in this age where small ball rules the day) the offense will be better.  There will be less dependence on the middle of the order doing all the work.  There will be less dependence on young players making the leap in their development.  And, improved depth from 1-40 on the roster (granted, at the expense of our farm system, but who gives a shit how good our AA team is playing right now?) should hopefully mitigate a total collapse if some players get injured (which really isn’t a question of “if” but of “when” and “who”).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I am more excited this year.  And this team might not be any better than last year’s!  But, it’ll be a different type of mediocre, if it is.  With a real possibility of something great happening.

I know we go into every season saying, “Well, if this and this and this goes right, we have a chance to be in contention.”  That’s nothing new, and it won’t stop as long as we’re all fans of this God-foresaken team.  But, I like the idea of this team’s potential.  I like veterans at the catcher position.  I like the steady bat and on-base percentage of a guy like Lind at first base.  I like the way our outfield is constructed for the first time in YEARS.  And, I like the bounce-back potential of guys like Cano, and various pitchers.  I mean, isn’t there a CHANCE that Paxton makes it through a full season at least once in his career?  It’s not like he’s dealing with shoulder issues or elbow issues.  He’s had some freaky shit land on him.  Same goes for Iwakuma.  Couldn’t these guys pull ONE healthy season with the rest of our more dependable starters?  And, really, the bullpen is FULL of guys looking to have bounce-back years to save their careers.  But, they’re veterans, and they’ve had success in the recent past.  Little tweaks here and there will HOPEFULLY return them to some semblance of glory.

See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?  Starting to get more excited for baseball to get going already!  I just have to keep talking myself into it.  Talking myself into it.  In a few weeks, I’ll get there.  And, on April 8th, when we have our home opener, I’ll be right there in the stands, beer in hand, ready to roll.

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.

A Pre-Thanksgiving Look At The Changes To The Mariners’ Roster

There’s not much going on this week, is there?  The Husky basketball team has a major tournament in the Bahamas (and is playing Gonzaga for the first time since 2006); the Apple Cup lands on Black Friday once again; the Seahawks are playing for the opportunity to be over .500 for the first time in 2015; and, of course, there’s that major national holiday where we celebrate how we screwed over all the Native Americans celebrate “giving thanks” or some bullshit like that.

Anyway, fuck all that, because I’m writing about the Mariners.  We’ve seen a lot of change in a very short time, which got me to wondering how our team shapes up compared to last year’s disappointment.  So, let’s go down the line, starting with the everyday nine:

Catcher:  2016 – Iannetta, 2015 – Zunino
First Base:  2016 – Trumbo, 2015 – Morrison
Second Base:  Cano
Third Base:  Seager
Short Stop:  2016 – Marte, 2015 – Miller / Taylor / Marte
Left Field:  2016 – Smith/Guti?, 2015 – Ackley
Center Field:  2016 – Martin, 2015 – Jackson
Right Field:  2016 – TBD / Trumbo / Cruz, 2015 – Smith, Cruz
Designated Hitter:  2016 – Cruz, 2015 – Cruz / Various

The only three “guaranteed” holdovers (I put that in quotes, because you never really know what a new GM will do in these first few months of total power, before it’s slowly stripped away from him by management as his mistakes pile up) figure to be Cano, Cruz, and Seager.  Cruz figures to get the majority of his playing time at DH (God willing), but you can’t completely rule out him playing some right field.  Nevertheless, this team is in desperate need of an everyday solution to our right field problem (or at least a rock-solid left-handed platoon option who isn’t named Boog Powell).

Iannetta looks to be a step up from Zunino.  Trumbo figures to be a lateral move compared to LoMo (worse on defense, probably more consistent at the plate).  A Seth Smith/Franklin Gutierrez platoon in left would be a HUGE upgrade over Ackley, should they both manage to stay healthy.  Leonys Martin figures to be better defensively than A-Jax, as well as a better baserunner (how many times did we watch Jackson try to steal and get tagged out by a million miles?), but the jury is seriously out as to whether or not Martin can hit in Safeco.  It looked like Jackson was starting to get the hang of it in 2015, but I feel like Martin brings more upside and is an all-around improvement at the position.  Finally, we’ll see what we get out of a full season of Ketel Marte at short stop.  He might be a step down initially, but hopefully he’ll blossom into a quality starter in time.

Now, onto the starting rotation, where things are still a little up in the air:

1.  Felix Hernandez
2.  2016 – Iwakuma?, 2015 – Iwakuma
3.  Taijuan Walker
4.  2016 – Karns, 2015 – Happ / Elias
5.  2016 – Paxton / Elias, 2015 – Paxton / Montgomery / Nuno

Felix and Taijuan are the primary holdovers; they’re not going anywhere, for obvious reasons.  Hisashi Iwakuma turned down the Mariners’ qualifying offer of $15.8 million for next year in hopes of getting a longer-term deal.  There’s still a very good chance he signs with the Mariners; the qualifying offer was more of a way to discourage any other teams from signing him (as they would lose their first unprotected draft pick).  For what it’s worth, the GM sounds really eager to bring him back.  I’m a little lukewarm on the deal, but I don’t see a whole lotta better options out there.  Iwakuma has been good when healthy, but he’s prone to give up the long ball.  Beyond that, his most consistent attribute is getting himself injured and missing large chunks of season.  Honestly, I don’t think I want him on anything more than a 2-year deal, maybe with an option for a third year if he reaches certain Staying-Off-Of-The-DL benchmarks.

The back-end of the rotation looks like it’s going to be a zoo once again for the Mariners.  Paxton is an obvious choice, but he’s even more injury prone than Iwakuma.  Nathan Karns, our big return chip in the Brad Miller deal, looks to have a spot locked up; so if Iwakuma returns, that appears to be four spots on lockdown.  Vying for that fifth spot will be a bevy of underwhelming candidates, including Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery, and Vidal Nuno (though I still think he’s better suited as a long relief man in the bullpen).  Since Paxton is the likeliest candidate to win the spot out of Spring Training, it’s good to know we’ve got experienced options in Elias, Montgomery, and the like.  I’m certain we’ll need them.

As for how the back-end will fare, it’s tough to say.  My initial reaction is that they couldn’t be any worse than J.A. Happ, but I could be full of shit with that statement.  I’ve never seen Karns pitch!  I’ve seen the other guys, and they weren’t all that much better than Happ.  So, who knows?  Also, you gotta figure the team will go out and look for a cheap veteran to throw onto the pile.  If said veteran does well in Spring Training, we could be looking at another underwhelming half-year of a guy who doesn’t belong in the league anymore.

Regarding the potential bullpen, I don’t REALLY even want to go there, but here’s what I’ve got at this early point in the offseason:

Closer:  2016 – Benoit, 2015 – Rodney
8th Inning:  Carson Smith
7th Inning:  2016 – Zych?, 2015 – Wilhelmsen
Lefty #1:  Charlie Furbush
Lefty #2:  2016 – Riefenhauser?, 2015 – Beimel
Long:  2016 – Nuno?, 2015 – Nuno
Misc Relief:  2016 – Bass?, 2015 – Farquhar, Lowe, Others

Joaquin Benoit doesn’t have a ton of experience closing, but he does have a ton of experience being a boss reliever.  One would think his bossness would translate quite well from the 8th to the 9th inning.  Besides, Carson Smith is still young, and was getting kind of abused in the closer’s role last year (mostly by lefties); his natural spot in the bullpen should be the primary set-up man, facing mostly right-handed hitters.  Beyond those two guys, and Charlie Furbush (assuming he gets healthy in time), the rest of the bullpen is a total crapshoot.  Tony Zych looked pretty solid in his September call-up, so I’m sure he’ll get a shot at winning a spot.  We just traded for C.J. Riefenhauser, so I’m sure he’ll get every opportunity to win that second lefty spot (but, if he fails, we’ve got about four more on the 40-man roster who could supplant him).  I want to make Vidal Nuno a lock for the long relief/spot starter role, but you never know.  And, for that 7th bullpen spot (should we keep 7 guys in the bullpen), I have no fucking idea.  The guy who gets that spot probably isn’t even on this team right now.  I just put Bass up there because he was acquired in a recent trade, so I’m sure he’s going to get every chance to wow the team in Spring.

The bench is even more pointless to try to predict right now, but I’ll give it a whirl.  Figure our starting 9 (including “TBD” in right field; and for the purposes of this exercise, making Seth Smith the “starting” left fielder), plus 5 starting pitchers, plus 7 relievers, that leaves 4 bench spots:

Catcher:  2016 – Zunino, 2015 – Sucre
Corner Outfield:  Franklin Gutierrez
Infielder:  2016 – Luis Sardinas?, 2015 – Bloomquist/Taylor
Outfield:  2016 – Powell/O’Malley?, 2015 – Weeks/Ruggiano/Others

Right off the bat, Zunino is a huge upgrade over Sucre.  Guti’s taking up a spot on the roster, which necessitates a fifth outfielder to cover us in the likely event that Guti needs some extra days of rest to deal with whatever is nagging at him.  Boog Powell appears to be ready for a shot at the bigs.  Shawn O’Malley had a cup of coffee in September and really impressed everyone with his hustle, so you gotta figure he has a shot if nothing else changes about the roster.  Either one of those guys, you gotta figure, is better than Rickie Weeks, just defensively alone!  Finally, we say goodbye to Willie Bloomquist (hopefully for the last time), and we say hello to Luis Sardinas, who the Mariners just acquired from Milwaukee for a minor leaguer.  Sardinas has experience at all the infield positions, he’s played sparingly in the Majors the last two years, and he’s VERY young (will turn 23 years old next May).  He’s going to have to prove he can hit at least a little bit at the Big League level, because he’s got Chris Taylor who can also play all the infield spots, and has a similar amount of experience (but an additional two years of age).

Pointless exercise, or a fun way to waste time?  You decide!  Or don’t, I don’t care.  Tomorrow’s Turkey Day!

The Mariners Made A Big Ol’ Trade With The Rays

If you read my Seahawks mid-season post from yesterday and were looking forward to the Part 2, where I rip into everything I find objectionable about this Seahawks season so far, I apologize.  Fortunately, it will still be “mid-season” after the weekend; and really, when you think about it, this gives Seahawks players an extra three full days (if you include today) to fuck up somehow (DUIs, spousal abuse, disorderly conduct, attending a Taylor Swift concert).

The reason for the delay, as I’m sure you’re able to glean from the title, is something a little more timely and pressing of my interest took place last night:  the aforementioned tig ol’ brade.

The Deets:

  • Seattle sends SS/OF Brad Miller, 1B/DH/OF Logan Morrison, and relief pitcher Danny Farquhar to Tampa
  • Tampa sends starting pitcher Nathan Karns, relief pitcher C.J. Riefenhauser, and OF (sigh) Boog Powell to Seattle

Really?  “Boog” is the name we’re going with?

I know very little about what we got in return, other than what I’ve just read about this trade this morning.  Nathan Karns is a soon-to-be 28 year old right-handed starter who was a rookie last year with the Rays.  He made 26 starts (and 1 relief appearance), going 7-5, striking out 145 in 147 innings.  He was shut down in early September (probably prudent) with forearm tightness, but I doubt that’ll be a problem going into 2016.

In 2014, he pitched 157 innings across AAA and the bigs (only 12 of those innings in the bigs), so he might be a couple years away from being a reliable 200-innings-per-year guy.  As far as his 2015 is concerned, I wonder.  He only made three starts all year where he went a full 7 innings or more; a lot of his starts are in the 4-5 innings range.  Maybe that’s Tampa being cautious with a young pitcher, in hopes of preserving his arm, in which case, fine.  But, if he’s a little 5-inning dandy a la Erik Bedard, then that’s probably not too good.  Also, from what I’ve read, no one is falling all over themselves praising his rocket arm.  They actually don’t really mention anything about his fastball speed, which leads me to believe he falls in the realm of “average”, which for the world we’re living in today, probably means he throws in the 92-93 mph range.  Nothing flashy, but also just fast enough to avoid Jamie Moyer comparisons.  Everyone seems to believe he’s a back-end (read: 4th or 5th) starter, which in an ideal scenario – on a GOOD team – means an innings eater who manages to keep his ERA under or around 4.  But, in the case of every Mariners 4th or 5th starter you’ve ever seen in the last decade, always means he’s good for about 10 quality starts, with the rest being absolute disasters.

So, we’ll see.

C.J. Riefenhauser (whose name already annoys me, so I hope they get rid of him as soon as possible) is a lefty reliever who has pitched in small parts of the last two seasons in the Major Leagues.  His 2015 September call-up was apparently the toast of Tampa, so maybe we’ve got something there.  Or, maybe he’s just another guy.  Or, maybe he’s worse than just another guy because he’s got a stupid, hard-to-spell last name.  If he turns out to be good, and makes the big league club out of Spring Training, I’m calling him The Ceej and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it.

(sigh) Boog Powell has never played in the Majors.  He’s a center fielder – a position we desperately need, now that Austin Jackson and Brad Miller are both gone – and he apparently is pretty athletic.  So, hopefully that means he’s good defensively, or at least means he’ll one day soon be good defensively, because the Safeco outfield has a lot of space to cover.  He finally cracked AAA last year for half of the season, batting .257, but with a robust .360 on-base percentage (and absolutely no power whatsoever).  He’s gotten on base his whole career, and he makes a lot of contact, which are two things this team so desperately needs at the top of the lineup.  He steals a middling number of bases (approximately 15 or so a year), so he’s not a super-burner, but should be a good-enough base-runner.  What we don’t know, obviously, is whether or not he’s ready to face Major League pitching.  You can be an on-base machine, but if you can’t hit above .150, you’re not going to last.  I have my doubts, but I’m willing to feign hope.

The Mariners got rid of three players, none of whom make me sad to no longer be wearing a Mariners uniform.  I know a lot of the local baseball nerds haven’t finished sucking Brad Miller’s dick yet (and Tampa is SUCH a long flight away), but I’m just glad we were able to maximize as much trade value out of him as possible.  Brad Miller: The Whole Package was pretty valuable, I suppose.  But, he was always going to be frustrating for never living up to the potential that most fans saw in him.  His batting average always stunk.  He wasn’t THAT good at getting on-base.  He wasn’t THAT good at making contact.  And sure, his bat had power, but what are we talking about here, 20 doubles and 10 homers a year?  Pardon me for not falling all over my fainting couch with the vapors at this great and wonderous player who apparently had a lot of defensive ability, but still couldn’t manage to hold onto his natural short stop position.  Maybe he’ll put it all together one day.  He strikes me as a guy (unlike, say, Ackley or Smoak, who feel like lost causes no matter where they play) who could really shake things up in a more hitter-friendly environment.  I think he’ll be a good one for Tampa – maybe even an All Star – but he was never going to be that here.

LoMo feels like a tack-on more than anything.  There’s no way the Mariners wanted to give him a raise in arbitration (to upwards of $5 million for next year), just to get the same mediocre play.  On a good team, LoMo might be a nice bench player and backup first baseman.  His defensive skills really blossomed once he got everyday play, but his bat was never consistent enough to hack it on a daily basis.  For every hot stretch, he’d suffer a slump five times as long.  And, not for nothing, but he’s worthless in the outfield, so don’t go there girlfriend.  I don’t know what Tampa’s future holds at the first base and DH positions, but as long as LoMo isn’t starting at either, they should be fine.

Danny Farquhar actually feels a little more interesting to me, if I’m a Rays fan.  He’s HAD success in the very recent past.  Yeah, his 2015 was a fucking disaster, but I feel like a little tweak here and there in his mechanics might be all that it takes to get him back to his 2014 glory.  To be honest, the Mariners might have been able to do the same thing, mechanics-wise, but if you do that and it fails, then you’re stuck with a reliever with no value whatsoever.  Too much of a risk for a guy who doesn’t really have a future here (he’s not a closer, and as he gets into arbitration, he’s going to cost more and more money).

I like the deal a lot.  The Mariners got rid of three players with no value to the current regime.  Brad Miller already lost his starting short stop job to Ketel Marte, and there was no guarantee he was ever going to fully grasp the outfield position.  LoMo is terrible, and in a logjam with Trumbo, Cruz, and Jesus Montero as far as 1B/DH is concerned.  And, honestly, if we can’t do better than Farquhar, then our bullpen is already fucked.

In return, we get a young starting pitcher who goes immediately into the starting rotation (assuming he doesn’t have a total meltdown in Spring Training), who we have club control over for a very long time; a potential lefty specialist out of the bullpen; and a potential starting centerfielder for – again – a very long time.  Or, we just picked up an injury-prone starter who can’t get out of the sixth inning, a minor league lefty reliever, and a Quad-A outfielder in a long line of crappy Quad-A outfielders in recent Mariners history.  But, the point is, we took a chance, and now we just let the chips fall.  If it works out, GREAT!  The new GM is a genius (for now).  If it doesn’t work out, then how is that any different than what we’ve endured as Mariners fans for the last 15 years?

I’m right.  You see how I’m right.

What I won’t do is fall all over myself praising the new GM for having the balls to trade away highly-touted players from the previous GM’s regime.  Don’t forget, Jackie Z did the same exact thing with the VAST majority of the players Bill Bavasi cultivated in his tenure here.  I think, after a year or two, the only name players still here from the Bavasi era were Michael Saunders and, like Brandon Maurer.

This is what ALWAYS HAPPENS.  The new GM marks his territory by pissing all over the place, as he rids the organization of every faulty move that got him here in the first place.  Obviously, this is the first move of many; the only shocking thing about it is how early it happened.  Jerry Dipoto isn’t wasting any time; good for him.  But, if I’m anyone on this team not named Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, or Kyle Seager, I wouldn’t go buying a house in the area anytime soon.  It’s okay Robinson Cano, you can buy a house.  They probably won’t trade you; but even if they do, have you SEEN the real estate market in Seattle?  It’s booming!  Buy as much as you can!