A Roster Shake-Up & A Mariners Victory

One did not necessarily lead to the other, of course, unless you believe in the motivating factor of roster transactions.

The minor move is that Chase De Jong was sent back down to Tacoma – a day after going 4 scoreless innings in relief of Ariel Miranda – in favor of Chris Heston, another spot starter/long reliever type.  Obviously, this was through no fault of De Jong’s, but simply because after pitching 4 full innings, he wasn’t going to be available in relief again for a few days.  And, with this rotation (specifically with guys like Gallardo, who got the start in yesterday’s game), you never know when you’re going to need an extra reliever.

Also, not for nothing, but De Jong and now Heston are merely keeping this spot warm until Steve Cishek works his way back into MLB playing shape, which is probably a week or so away.

The major move made yesterday was the DFA of Leonys Martin.  That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow.  I wouldn’t say he was a fan favorite or anything, but I’m sure the fans liked him enough.  He played great defense and he had a good run at the plate just last season.  It seemed like just a matter of time before he’d pick it back up at the plate and at least be passable in the everyday lineup.  But, thanks to the Mariners losing 3 in a row in Oakland – and starting off the season 1-9 on the road heading into yesterday’s game – time is exactly something the Mariners DON’T have a lot of.  This season is going down the toilet in a hurry, and we can’t sit around waiting for all of our slumping hitters to get their collective shit together.  In that sense, you could say the DFA of Leonys Martin is just as much about the entire team as it is about Martin’s own deficiencies.  Which, I’m sure, made the move that much more hard to swallow.  Because, while the fans liked him enough, the players and the coaching staff adored this kid, and I’m sure the move was as painful as it gets.

The thing is, I’m not super convinced it’s a moved that needed to be made.  Right now, we’re a team with just three outfielders, that is, until Jean Segura comes back from the DL, which should be any day now.  When Segura returns, you’ve got Motter who can play there too, but he’s a utility guy who can play anywhere.  He’s also the only guy on the roster who can back up at any infield position (assuming Mike Freeman gets sent back to Tacoma upon Segura’s return).  For all intents and purposes, Danny Valencia becomes your traditional fourth outfielder, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him at first base either.

See, the corresponding move with the Leonys Martin DFA is the calling back up of Dan Vogelbach, who hit .309/.409/.473 in Tacoma, with 3 doubles and 2 homers in 16 games.  The talk is, for now, Valencia rides the pine while Vogelbach gets to start every day.  THIS is a move that’s been about a week overdue, but again, I don’t know if it needed to be made at the expense of Martin.

Here are my concerns:

  1. I’m not convinced Guillermo Heredia is an everyday player
  2. I’m not convinced Dan Vogelbach is ready (or will ever be ready) for the Major Leagues
  3. What do we do if Jarrod Dyson gets injured for an extended period of time?
  4. I also lowkey have my doubts about Taylor Motter, as it feels like the other shoe is about to drop anyday now, and we’re in for an extended stretch of no hitting and lots of strikeouts

The Heredia thing, I think, sort of goes without saying, but let me try to elaborate.  I think he’s okay.  I think he’s a fine fifth outfielder, maybe.  He’s been a big help in the early going, and right now I’d say he’s DEFINITELY playing better than Leonys Martin.  But, I think long-term, Heredia isn’t much more than a Quad-A player.  The speed is great, don’t get me wrong, but he doesn’t seem to hit it out of the infield very much, and he can’t rely on infield base hits and bunts alone!  He walks about as often as Mike Zunino, which is to say hardly at all, and if he’s not pulling his weight in OBP, I don’t see him adding a whole lot of value with his bat.  He needs to be walking a ton and stealing a ton of bases for him to be an everyday outfielder for us.

The Vogelbach thing, I’ve been harping on for a while.  I just don’t know if he has it.  He’s still pretty young though, so I don’t know if it’s necessarily fair to expect him to have it right out of the gate.  I think he’s going to struggle at least in this early going, which means he’ll fall back into the platoon they’d planned for him and Valencia in the first place.  You gotta figure, at some point, Valencia is going to start hitting for us, and the more he does that, the more he’s going to see the field.  At which point, you’ve sort of got Vogelbach here as a lefty pinch hit bat off the bench.  Is that worth giving up on Leonys Martin?

Because, yeah, what if Dyson has to go on the DL for something?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have Martin there, with everyday playing experience?  Without Martin, I guess you slide over Heredia, and maybe call up Ben Gamel as an extra outfielder.  Is that a better situation than what you would’ve had with Martin?

And, if everything else works out, Vogelbach takes the first base job and runs with it, and the rest of our infield stays healthy, that means Motter effectively becomes your left fielder.  But, does increased playing time for Motter equate to decreased production at the plate? You figure pitchers are going to figure him out EVENTUALLY.  Does he have what it takes to re-adjust?  Or, will he flail along and watch his strikeouts skyrocket?

To counter all of my hemming and hawing, you’re probably right to ask:  what would I have done differently?

Well, for starters, do we REALLY need 8 relievers?  I think it was a smart idea to kick off the season, as the starters generally need some time to build their arms up and get their innings-counts up to snuff, but I feel like we’re there now.  Granted, Paxton and Miranda gave us some pretty shitty starts in that Oakland series, but it’s not like the bullpen has been notoriously over-worked or anything!  For the first three weeks of the season, they’ve split a pretty average workload among 8 people instead of 7 (more, really, when you count the guys coming and going from Tacoma).  There’s only been the one extra-innings game, in the third game of the season.  They had a huge homestand and one day off, with another off day scheduled today (and the next two Mondays to boot).  We could have EASILY made it through the next few days (or however long it will take for Segura to come off the DL) with just 7 relievers.  Then, when Segura is ready to return, we send Freeman down like planned, and keep going with a full bench and lots of different lineup options.

Facing a right-handed pitcher?  With Martin in the fold, you can go:  Segura, Haniger, Cano (L), Cruz, Seager (L), Vogelbach (L), Zunino, Dyson (L), Martin (L), with over half your lineup batting from the left side.  Facing a lefty?  You can go Segura, Haniger, Cano (L), Cruz, Seager (L), Motter, Valencia, Zunino, Heredia, with Heredia in center and Motter in left.  I dunno, I’m just spit-balling here, but with Martin you’ve got extra speed on your bench, another lefty hitter for late in games, and extra defense in case the unthinkable happens.  Instead, you waive him for nothing and hope no other team picks him up, and that he’s willing to play for you in Tacoma until it’s time to call him up again.  Seems like a longshot.

***

As for yesterday’s game, it was an 11-1 Mariners victory, to salvage at least not getting swept by the fucking A’s.  For what it’s worth, the Mariners are now 5-9 against the American League West, which obviously is far from ideal.  Also, the Mariners are tied for last in the division with the Angels at 8-12, good for third-worst in the entire league.

Motter hit a grand slam and Cruz hit a 3-run homer.  They combined for 9 of the 11 RBI.  Vogelbach had his first hit and RBI of the season, and played just fine at first base.  Seager had a minor hip issue that kept him from starting, but he was available to pinch hit if needed.  Considering he wasn’t, it’s nice that he has these back-to-back days off heading into the Detroit series.

On the pitching side of things, we finally got a good start out of Gallardo, going 6.1 innings, giving up 1 run on 4 hits, with 1 walk and 7 strikeouts.  Zych, Scrabble, and Scribner wiped out the later innings with no damage done.

So, the Mariners need to figure out how to win on the road.  Remember last year, when it was the opposite, and the Mariners had trouble winning at home in the early going?  They were 1-5 in their first home series last year, whereas they were 8-4 on the road and would go on into May 18-7 on the road before coming down to Earth.  How far down?  The 2016 Mariners finished 7 games over .500 at home, and only 3 games over .500 on the road.  That’s because most teams, by and large, are better at home than they are on the road.  So, you could sort of see a turnaround in the 2016 Mariners’ home record coming, even if it did take a while.  Which means the hot start on the road was VERY much to their benefit, and a big reason why they were able to stay in contention for so long.

This year, the Mariners are 6-3 at home, and now 2-9 on the road.  That’s pretty terrible, because while you would expect the Mariners to be good at home, it’s also not inconceivable that the Mariners might be this bad on the road.  In an ideal world, I think you want the Mariners to hover around .500 on the road, and be really good at home; in this world, it’s going to take A LOT of winning to get back to .500 on the road, and it’s going to take maintaining a lot of winning to stay really good at home.  None of this bodes well, and it’s starting to become clear to me that 2017 is going to be a lot like 2015, 2010, and 2008.  Recall those were all years where we were coming off of winning seasons, with heightened expectations, and collapsing under the weight of said expectations.  Same team, different GM/Manager combo.  God I hope I’m wrong.

Mariners Posted Impressive Comeback Win To Sweep Rangers

This game had it all!  By which I mean it had a lot of things.  For instance, it had speed at the top of the lineup manufacturing a run in the bottom of the first.

It had Hisashi Iwakuma absolutely fall apart after a nondescript first inning, giving up 6 runs while recording just the 9 outs.  110 more innings to go before Iwakuma’s 2018 option vests and we’re going to have to pay him upwards of $15 million next year.

I don’t hate the guy by any means, but I do think that he’s A) overpaid, and B) overrated.  I know I harp on this a lot, but if I don’t explain myself, it just looks like I have an irrational hatred of Japanese people or something.  He’s OKAY.  But, he’s pretty far removed from his best season in 2013, and even that year looks like an anomaly compared to every other year he’s been in the Major Leagues.  I get the feeling that people expect him to be great every time out, when in reality he’s good maybe half the time, and bad the other half.  As I sarcastically noted on Twitter yesterday, he was long overdue for a bad game considering he’d already given us two pretty okay starts in the first week.

What’s even more galling is that he’d yet to throw more than 90 pitches in either of his first two starts, then he had the off-day on Thursday, then he was pushed back a start so we could split up Paxton and Miranda (which, I don’t know why we didn’t do that to start the season, but whatever), so he had two extra days to rest up and still couldn’t give us much of anything against a fairly mediocre Rangers team.  Unless you want to say his timing was thrown off with the extra days in between starts, but he strikes me as a guy who needs that sort of careful handling to make it through the season.

Anyway, if I can get off my soapbox for a moment, there we were, down 6-1 heading into the bottom of the third inning.  This game had the feel of I want to say almost every single Sunday game from last year:  just a humdrum defeat where no one really shows up to play.  And then, in the bottom of the third, the two leadoff guys got on and Haniger muscled out a 3-run homer to left-center to put the Mariners right back in the game!

At that point, Servais went with the quick hook of Iwakuma, since he clearly didn’t have anything resembling “it”, and for once the bullpen was up to the task.

Recent call-up Evan Marshall went 2.1 perfect innings to bridge us over to the late-inning relief guys.  He was a quality reliever for Arizona in 2014, then hit the skids the last two seasons before being released.  He doesn’t look like anything special when you watch him, but he throws a lot of quality strikes and is obviously capable of going multiple innings in a pinch.  I don’t know necessarily where he stands with the ballclub once Cishek is ready to return from his rehab assignment, but assuming everyone stays healthy, and no one really falls apart with their mechanics (I’m looking at you, Altavilla), I’d have to think Marshall is the odd man out.  But, assuming he still has options, it’s nice to know we can count on him should the need arise for a long man out of the ‘pen.

James Pazos came in to strikeout the last two guys in the 6th inning, before walking the leadoff batter in the 7th.  Tony Zych made his 2017 debut by inducing a fly-out before giving up a single.  Scrabble was able to shut down that threat, as well as get the first two outs of the 8th (not without walking a batter).  That’s when Dan Altavilla came in and loaded the bases on back-to-back walks.

I should point out that the Mariners had tied the game by this point.  Cole Hamels got through five innings with a 6-4 lead, and for the third consecutive start to open the season, he watched his bullpen gag away the victory.  In the bottom of the sixth, Seager doubled to lead off, and Valencia of all people doubled him home.  Then, in the bottom of the seventh, Guillermo Heredia hit quite the crowd-pleasing solo homer to left to tie it at 6.  I couldn’t be happier for the kid, who had this look of pure joy as he hit it, and again as he was greeted at the dugout with a big bear hug by Cano.  The fact that he’s contributing and playing well in the early going is really awesome, both for him and the team, as we wait for the middle of the order to really get cooking.

So, when Altavilla looked like he was going to tear all that apart in the next half-inning, it was pretty demoralizing.  And yet, he finally got some pitches to enter the strike zone, which ultimately led to Elvis Andrus striking out on something low and in to end the threat.  Sighs of relief all around.

It would be short lived, though, as Edwin Diaz came in for the ninth inning and gave up a lead-off, go-ahead homer to put the M’s down 7-6.  All of that for NOTHING!  And, on just a terrible sequence of pitches, as he started off Nomar Mazara with a 2-0 count before grooving a fastball middle-in that Mazara was able to cheat on because he was expecting fastball all the way.  You hate to pull the Closer In Non-Save Situations card, but that was a real doozy.  Diaz was able to get through the rest of the inning unscathed, but the damage appeared to be done.

Until the Rangers brought in closer Sam Dyson (who might find this is his only mention on my website, with the way he’s going of late).  Dyson had been a pretty great closer for the Rangers last year, saving 38 games.  He’s actually been a solid reliever since 2014, so it’s not like we’re talking about a flash in the pan here.  But, in his first 6 appearances this season (including yesterday), he’s had 3 blown saves and another outright loss, with an ERA of 27.00.  It’s my understanding that he won’t be closing games for Texas for a while, which is too bad, but I’ll gladly take it because it means the Mariners overcame a 7-6 deficit in the ninth inning yesterday.

Jarrod Dyson pinch hit for Chooch and reached on an infield single.  He then proceeded to steal second base before we even had to bunt (God, I love Dyson’s speed!).  Leonys Martin then bunted him over to third, and was safe at first thanks to perfect bunt placement and poor pitcher defense.  Mike Freeman then pinch hit for Heredia, to give us another lefty hitter.  Martin stole second on his own, which led the Rangers to walk Freeman to load the bases and set up a play at any base.  This brought up Mitch Haniger, who worked one of the most impressive walks you’re ever going to see in a situation like that.  Tie game, no outs, with the heart of the order coming up.  SURELY we wouldn’t bungle this opportunity, would we?

Well, for starters, don’t call me Shirley (this joke really doesn’t work in print, but I’ll be damned if that’s ever stopped me from using it), but also the middle of the order has been pretty fucking far from intimidating this year.  Cano, Cruz and Seager have a combined 2 homers in the first two weeks.  I know it’s not all about homers with these guys, but they’re the same hitters who knocked out 112 dingers just last year.  Cano has one more extra base hit (4) than he does times he’s grounded into a double play (3).  Same with Cruz (3 extra base hits, 2 double plays).  So, you know, it absolutely wasn’t a given that the Mariners would come through in that situation.

Indeed, with the infield pulled in, Cano hit a fielder’s choice to the second baseman to keep the bases loaded and the game tied.  With one out, the Rangers opted to play back for the double play, and boy did it look like Cruz would oblige!  He hit a sharp grounder to short that Andrus just couldn’t get a handle on, resulting in everyone being safe and ending the game 8-7 for the good guys.  But, damn, if he comes up with that ball, and is able to flip it to second, I think there’s a really solid chance they’re able to double up Cruz at first.  It would’ve been a bang-bang play at the very least, with CB Bucknor of all people bungling things up on that end of the field.

(Bucknor who, not for nothing, ejected Scott Servais earlier in the game for arguing about his idiocy at first base, as it seemed he defered to the Rangers’ first baseman on making a fair/foul call, but that’s neither here nor there).

I’ll tell you what, this was just what the doctor ordered for the Mariners.  Like I said yesterday, the series win was nice, but this really needed to be a sweep.  Now, the Mariners are finally out of the cellar in the A.L. West (5-8, a half game up on the Rangers, who had to have felt pretty good about themselves coming into this series).  A quick look of the standings sees the A’s at 5-7 and the Angels at 6-7.  The Astros, at 8-4, are the only team with a winning record, in other words.

Oh, is it too early to Standings Watch?  A thousand times no!

(although, maybe don’t look too hard at the Wild Card standings for a while.  At least until the Mariners are able to climb back to .500)

The Miami Marlins come in for three, before the M’s head out on a 10-game road trip (4 in Oakland, 3 in Detroit, and 3 in Cleveland).  Over/under on weather-related postponements is set at 2.5, and I’m inclined to bet the over.

Mariners Get Much-Needed Win On Griffey Statue Day

With the way this season’s gone so far, the Mariners should’ve lost last night’s game 9 ways from Sunday, but instead somehow pulled out the 2-1 victory.

Felix looked good, though still not quite his old dominant self, in going 7.1 innings, giving up 1 run on 6 hits, striking out 3 with 0 walks.  The fact that he’s still on 0 walks through three starts is about as amazing as it gets.  Last night, he pitched to contact well and for the most part was rewarded by his defense, aside from that Zunino bungle in front of home plate.

The King was still in great shape in the 8th inning, at around 80 pitches heading in.  But, a line-out to the short stop and a single to the next batter ended his day.  Scrabble came in and got the next two lefties out to end the threat.  From there, it was more or less a relatively pain-free save situation for Diaz, who watched a 2-out single scamper over to third base on a steal and a wild pitch before being stranded.

The Mariners kicked off the scoring with Nelson Cruz’s first homer of the season, a solo shot in the 4th, to go up 1-0.  It was an impressive liner to right-center field, and you know Cruz is going well at the plate when he’s going the other way with power.

Obviously, the offense isn’t going right when you only get 2 runs, but 6 Mariners managed to get at least 1 hit.  They’re just not getting these in succession, as they went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position.

Part of it wasn’t necessarily their fault though, as in the bottom of the 7th, Dyson reached on an infield single, and stole second before Heredia could bunt him over.  Heredia finally DID bunt him over, but it got away from the pitcher, ending up with runners on the corners and nobody out.  That brought up Mitch Haniger, who worked the count in his favor and hit a shot off the top of the wall that the idiot umpiring crew called a home run.  It was later ruled NOT a home run, but for some reason they put Haniger back at first base and Heredia back at second.  You can say Heredia mis-read the ball all you want, but with their speed, there’s no way they wouldn’t have gotten to second and third on that hit.  That sufficiently changed the course of the inning, but with the meat of the order coming up, you still had to feel good about our chances of playing a little add-on, right?

WRONG.  Cano popped out and Cruz hit into a double play.  I guess that solo homer back in the 4th didn’t cure all of Cruz’s ills quite yet.

Danny Valencia is still stinking up the joint.  So is Mike Zunino.  Valencia just looks as lost at the plate as I’ve seen anyone.  Zunino has a giant hole in his swing causing him to miss anything up in the zone.  A guy with his power and his youth should not be missing on this many fastballs in the zone, saying nothing of the times he goes chasing those breaking balls that fall out of the zone.  I’ve been doing a little work on updating my Worst Trades, Draft Picks, and Free Agent Signings page, and right now in my notes I’ve written “Mike Zunino?”  Well, we’re going on 5 years since he was drafted, and I’m just about to take that question mark off of his name and cement him in as yet another first round Mariners draft bust.  God damn you Jack Zduriencik, you worthless pile of crap.

The Official 2017 Seattle Mariners Preview, Part I: The Hitters

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been doing these season preview posts, and I’ve been splitting them up between hitters and pitchers.  So, you know, why mess with what’s so obviously working?

Last year, the Mariners were third in runs scored in the American League.  They were fourth in hits, fifth in OBP, slugging, and OPS, and seventh in batting average.  They were remarkably low in doubles and triples, but were second in the league in homers.  All in all, they were clearly in the upper third in most batting categories, which makes them the best hitting Mariners team we’ve seen in quite some time.  So, you can see some of the moves already starting to work.  Cano had a bounce-back year, Cruz kept on chugging along, and Seager had his best season to date.  But, the fill-in pieces, guys like Martin, Smith, Aoki, Marte, and Lee all had nice years too.  It was really a pleasant surprise and one of the main reasons why the 2016 Mariners were so much fun to watch.

Now, the pitching was another story, and the ultimate reason why we failed yet again to make the playoffs, but that’s a story for tomorrow.

This year, the Mariners are poised to be even BETTER on offense.  Last year, the Mariners were a good 110 runs behind Boston for first; this year, the M’s might be able to bridge that gap!  It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see this Mariners team lead the league in runs scored, barring injury of course.  The moves they’ve made to bolster this offense has been nothing short of outstanding:

  • Traded Vidal Nuno for backup catcher Carlos Ruiz (opting to let Chris Iannetta walk)
  • Traded a minor league pitcher for Danny Valencia (opting to let Lind & Lee walk)
  • Traded Taijuan Walker & Ketel Marte for Jean Segura & Mitch Haniger (and a minor league reliever)
  • Traded Nate Karns for Jarrod Dyson (opting to trade Seth Smith for a starting pitcher)

Let’s break this down.  Starting at the top, we’re going into 2017 with a combo of Zunino and Ruiz at catcher, as opposed to Iannetta and Clevenger.  Iannetta, as you may recall, had a pretty good start to the season, but quickly settled into everyday mediocrity.  Clevenger was just plain underutilized before he got injured and was lost for the season.  By the time Zunino got his call-up, he was a man possessed, but eventually settled into some bad habits.  His batting average plummeted, though his on-base percentage was a breath of fresh air.  The hope is, his good habits start to outweigh his bad ones, and he’s able to eventually hit for something resembling a respectable average (to go along with all of his natural power, his natural ability to draw HBPs, and his newfound skill for drawing walks).  And, if he doesn’t, Carlos Ruiz is there to pick up some of the slack.  He figures to be an immediate upgrade over Iannetta, with the option to take over full time if needed.  This is a win all the way around, particularly considering we didn’t give up much to get him.

Next, we’ve got Danny Valencia, who for now will be taking over for the combo of Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee.  Lind was a disappointment for the entirety of 2016, aside from a few clutch late-game heroics.  Lee started off the season as the best story of the year, but as he got more playing time and opposing pitchers got more of a book on him, his numbers declined in the second half, to the point where he had to face a stint in Tacoma to get his swing under control.  Valencia is in no way a perfect, polished player, but he’s been fantastic the last two seasons, particularly against lefties, but improving against righties.  Even if he regresses while starting every day, he should still be a big improvement over Lind and what Lee became in the second half last year.  If Valencia can just hold it together until Vogelbach works on his game in Tacoma and gets called back up, we should be in good shape at first base for the first time in forever.

The deal that everyone’s hoping puts the Mariners over the top is the one that brought in Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger for Walker and Marte.  Marte has already been demoted to Triple-A, meanwhile Segura looks FANTASTIC so far this spring.  He hits for average, he’s got some pop in his bat, he can steal bases; the Mariners might have the biggest upgrade at any position in the entire American League from 2016 to 2017 in their switch from Marte to Segura.  I can’t WAIT for the season to start and I get to watch this guy every day.  Meanwhile, Haniger hasn’t slowed down one iota this spring, as you could make the argument he’s been the best player on the team in the month of March.  I know that means nothing, and I depressingly await his reverting to a pumpkin once the calendar flips to April.  But, if by the grace of all that is holy he manages to be the “surprise” player all the coaches believe he’ll be, we could be talking about this Taijuan Walker trade as highway robbery in favor of the Mariners.  So, you know, remember I said that when both of the Mariners’ guys flop out while Walker wins his second Cy Young Award in a few years.

Rounding out the outfield, we’ve got Jarrod Dyson, who figures to get plenty of playing time in left field.  Between Dyson and Haniger – replacing the likes of Seth Smith and Aoki/Guti – we’re talking about a MASSIVE improvement in our outfield defense.  This is no small thing, particularly when you consider our pitching staff and all the flyballs they tend to give up.  Dyson also figures to be a top-of-the-lineup hitter when he’s in there, who can steal a billion bases for you, so all around speed is the name of the game.  Dyson and Segura will be the primary base-stealers for you, but then there’s Martin (who had 24 last year) as well as Haniger, Heredia, and whoever ends up being our utility infielder.  When you think about late game heroics, I think you’re going to find we’ll be less reliant on the 10th inning home run, and more reliant on pinch runners stealing second and scoring on a single.  This could be HUGE for our record in 1-run games, which tends to be average-to-awful.

So, yeah, the hitting looks good!  As long as the Big Three don’t take significant steps back, or miss significant time with injuries, we should be right around the top of the American League in most important batting categories.  Leaving us with the ultimate question:  will we have enough pitching to win enough ballgames to get a spot in the post-season?

I’ll look into that tomorrow, as well as give you my official predictions on the season.

Ariel Miranda & Dan Vogelbach Will Start The Season In Tacoma

The end of Spring Training is nigh, and as such, the Mariners are whittling their roster down to what will become the Opening Day 25.  In that hullabaloo, some interesting decisions have been made.

From the beginning, most of the beat writers and such have been predicting that Ariel Miranda would start the season in the Mariners’ bullpen, as a second – or even a third – lefty.  This was before his last three starts, where he gave up a combined 10 runs (9 earned) in 8.2 innings, with 7 walks and 7 strikeouts.  The spin is the organization wants to keep him starting, in case he needs to come up and replace someone in our rotation, but the fact of the matter is the Mariners were planning on taking the best pitchers regardless of whether they started or not.  Ariel Miranda isn’t pitching like one of the top 12 or 13 pitchers on this roster, so he gets to go to Tacoma for a while to figure it out.  A promising start early in Spring Training comes to a disappointing close.  Hopefully he gets back on track pretty quickly, because I know we’re going to need him at some point.

The other surprise move is Dan Vogelbach being optioned to Triple-A.  He had been pencilled in as the team’s starting first baseman; the only concern the team had was whether or not he could handle the defensive duties.  From the sounds of things, he’s been okay, but could probably use a little work.  The spin is the oranization is treating this like a James Paxton/Mike Zunino situation from last year:  they want him to work on improving his game in the comfort and anonymity of Tacoma, until the time is right and he’s called back up.  The fact of the matter is, his defense is probably good enough, but after the first week or so of Spring Training, his hitting has gone down the toilet.  Which is kinda what I predicted all along:  something always suffers when you’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Dan Vogelbach isn’t a natural first baseman.  He’s really just a DH that the team needs to shoehorn into a defensive spot to justify having him on the roster.  So, he’s been scrambling to work on the ins and outs of the first base position, and as a result his hitting has taken a backseat.

Like I’ve always said, it’s so much easier to bring up a prospect if he’s got the defensive part down pat.  Because, even if you’re a supposed natural at the plate in the minor leagues like Vogelbach is, there’s ALWAYS going to be a learning curve when you make the jump to the Majors.  Guys who only have to worry about one part of their games always have an easier go of it than guys who have to worry about both.

It’s too early to pull out the Bust label, but this is definitely an opening salvo.  Something tells me the first base position is going to be another need going into 2018.

With Shawn O’Malley having recently had an emergency appendectomy, it’s looking more and more like Taylor Motter will be the utility infielder (including backup first baseman).  As Motter and starter Danny Valencia are both righties, we lose that first base platoon, so I hope Valencia gets good at hitting right-handed pitching in a hurry.

This feels like a setback, but a minor one that we should have no trouble overcoming.  I always kind of expected Valencia to play closer to an everyday role anyway; I just thought he’d split more time between first base and right field.  Our depth takes a bit of a hit, but that just means guys like Motter, Haniger, and maybe Heredia have to pick up the slack.  I’m going to be REALLY interested to see how those guys perform if they make the Opening Day roster.

In other news, the Mariners say they’re going with an 8-man bullpen to start the regular season, and we’re all having a tough time predicting who those guys will be.  Particularly with guys like Cishek and Zych coming back from injury, and with Miranda and a few others already getting demoted to Tacoma.

  1. Edwin Diaz
  2. Evan Scribner
  3. Nick Vincent
  4. Marc Rzepczynski
  5. Dan Altavilla?
  6. James Pazos?
  7. Casey Fien?
  8. Some guy on another team we acquire in trade?

Yeah, I dunno.  I guess we’ll see.

Who Are Our Mariners Spring Training Darlings Thus Far?

Just a God damn black hole of sports nothingness going on.  REALLY need the NBA to come back to Seattle …

The fun part about Spring Training is seeing the guys whose numbers really explode from out of nowhere.  Going into the season, you know who the stars are going to be, and you know those guys mostly use the month of March to work on their timing and rounding into everyday playing shape.  But, for the younger, fringe guys, sometimes their careers depend upon what they’re able to show in this limited period of time.  It’s the difference between starting the season in Tacoma vs. Seattle, or the difference between staying in the Mariners’ organization vs. becoming eventual trade or DFA fodder down the road.  Have you done everything the coaches have asked of you?  Have those changes improved things?  Do you have what it takes to contribute to the Big League club?

For the 2017 Mariners, there are fewer open spots than ever before.  This team is mostly set at most of its positions.  There are some backup outfield and bullpen spots up for grabs, but that’s about it.

Of course, the worst part about Spring Training is seeing those guys whose numbers really explode from out of nowhere, and then seeing them turn back into pumpkins once the games start meaning something.  So, it’s important to remember that with Spring Training, it’s not just a small sample size, but an inflated sample at that.  Balls are easier to hit in that warm Arizona air.  Minor league pitchers show up with more regularity, and often are the ones throwing to those minor league hitters whose numbers are popping.

Yes, it’s important to show up in Spring Training, but it’s VASTLY more important to show up in the regular season.  So, let’s take a look at some of the guys who are kicking ass now, and hope beyond hope that they continue kicking ass in the future.

I think the names that are generating the most excitement thus far are Mitch Haniger and Guillermo Heredia.  Both are hitting well over .400, both have 6 extra-base hits, and both are coming up huge in the clutch to bat runners in.  Haniger has a little more upside in the power department, but Heredia has more upside in the speed department, so both have a lot of value.  They’re also getting a ton of playing time, considering they’re trying to win jobs in that crowded outfield.  We know Leonys Martin and Jarrod Dyson are locks, but that right field spot – when Nelson Cruz and Danny Valencia aren’t there – is up for grabs, and it might come down to the last day of Spring Training before that job is won.  It’s probably unrealistic to expect both of these guys to carry their numbers over into April – indeed, it’s WAY more likely that neither of them are worth a damn in the regular season – but if just one of them can do it, I’d be a very happy camper.

Behind those guys, we’ve got the following utility players:  Boog Powell, Taylor Motter, Ben Gamel, Shawn O’Malley, and Mike Freeman.  Powell is another guy looking to make an impression in the outfield, but he’s at a significant disadvantage considering he’s technically still suspended for using steroids or some damn thing.  Fortunately for him, he’s hitting .500 as of this writing, and earning lots of commendations from the coaching staff.  I’d look for him to be an everyday player out of Tacoma when he comes off suspension, but he’s definitely a guy who could work his way to Seattle if he keeps at it.  Ben Gamel has really had a nondescript spring thus far, which doesn’t bode well considering how Heredia and Haniger have played.  What he’s got going for him is that he bats lefty, while Heredia and Haniger are both righties, but I don’t know if that’s going to be enough to keep him in Seattle on Opening Day.  He’ll need a big surge in production these next couple weeks.

Shawn O’Malley probably has the inside track for the utility infielder position, given that he’s probably the best defensive short stop of the bunch.  He’s certainly underwhelming from an offensive standpoint, with a complete and utter lack of power, but the fact that you can put him almost anywhere on the field is his biggest selling point.  I know less about Taylor Motter, but his Spring Training hitting numbers are certainly more promising.  While defense is important in a utility bench guy, if one of our infield starters has a significant injury that causes them to miss a lot of games, it wouldn’t shock me to see Motter usurp O’Malley as the guy who plays everyday.  And, then there’s Mike Freeman, who has already been outrighted to Tacoma.  Barring a trade, he’ll probably start there until Seattle has an injury need, in which case you could do a lot worse than Mike Freeman.

The final fringe guy I’ll talk about is Dan Vogelbach.  He’s obviously slated to be the left-handed platoon partner at first base, and thus far he’s done pretty well for himself while garnering the most at-bats of anyone.  It’s pretty obvious the Mariners want to give him as much work as possible, to ensure his defense is up to snuff, as well as to see if he can hit Major League pitching.  It’s a little concerning he only has 2 doubles and no homers to date, but from what I’m hearing he’s hitting to all fields, working counts, and getting on base with regularity.  It’s better than nothing (i.e. Logan Morrison).

I’ll close by talking about Leonys Martin a little bit.  He’s hitting a whopping .179 with no walks and 3 doubles to his name, which is somewhat concerning.  When you figure he’s slotted to be our everyday centerfielder, we’re going to need more than that at the plate.  Apparently, he’s been working on his swing, to cut down on strikeouts, and at least that looks like it’s working (only 3 K’s in 28 at-bats).  The saving grace for Martin is that while it’s true that you shouldn’t get too excited about really great Spring Training numbers, you also shouldn’t get too depressed about really poor Spring Training numbers.  As I said before, a lot of the veterans are just getting their work in, and don’t really flip the switch until April.  While Martin certainly falls in that veteran category, he’s still a guy who shouldn’t totally dismiss working on his offense, considering that’s the part of his game that needs the most work.

Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the pitching.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Mitch Haniger

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

Okay, this is it.  The end of the line for this series.  I wasn’t even going to include Mitch Haniger in this thing, but I feel like wrapping this up on a Friday has a nice feel to it.  I can start next week fresh, writing about something else.

Mitch Haniger is an unknown at this point.  He’s a lottery ticket for this team.  He came over in the Taijuan Walker/Jean Segura deal, and certain pockets of Mariners fandom are pretty high on Haniger’s prospects in ways that are baffling to me.  Yeah, it looks like he’s more or less mastered the upper minors and is ready to get his shot in the Big Leagues, but we’ve seen billions of those guys and how many actually pan out?

Haniger got his first call-up in Arizona in August of last year and played more or less every day.  That having been said, obviously there’s not a lot you can learn from 34 games.  If he earns his way onto the Mariners’ Opening Day roster, that likely will mean he’s the best of a pretty mediocre group of Quad-A outfielders.  Ideally, with his feet wet last year, it all won’t feel so big to him anymore and he can just come up here and play like he always has.

The thing is, the Mariners need SOMEONE to play right field.  For the time being, Haniger has the inside track, but it could be anyone’s job to lose, from Ben Gamel to Guillermo Heredia to Taylor Motter to Boog Powell to who knows what.  I think everyone’s in agreement that Haniger has the best pedigree, and therefore the best opportunity to blow up, so in that sense he gets the majority of the focus.

If he fails, the team can always fall back on Danny Valencia moving to right field on a more permanent basis, but that move would also hinge on Dan Vogelbach panning out at first base, which I feel is as much of a given as it is for Haniger to lock down the right field spot.

There are two unproven guys on this team getting real shots at Major League careers:  Haniger and Vogelbach.  It’s concerning, particularly for a team looking to break a long playoff drought, but it beats the hell out of what we’ve had around here since forever.  Usually, instead of two of these guys, it’s six, and all of them stink.  We’ll see I guess.

I’m going into the season banking on right field being an offensive black hole whenever Nelson Cruz or Danny Valencia aren’t starting there.  So, if I get anything out of Haniger & Co., it’ll be gravy.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Jarrod Dyson

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

Remember the days when the Mariners could hardly cobble together ONE centerfielder?  Remember when Jason Bay of all people actually got some play there?  Now, the Mariners have approximately 1 billion centerfielders, and we’re all the better for it.

We got Jarrod Dyson from the Royals for Nate Karns, which sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, but remember how not worth a damn Karns was last year?  Remember how the Mariners are trying to “Win Now”?  You see how you scum.  You get the idea.

In a vacuum, acquiring Dyson is nothing to get one’s panties wet over.  You’re talking about a slap-hitting defense-first outfielder, for crying out loud.  But, in context, it’s hard to dislike the move.  For starters, we get to pair him with Leonys Martin to showcase the best defensive 1-2 punch of any outfield.  He’s also, not for nothing, a competent backup should Martin get injured.  And, with the likelihood of a Ben Gamel/Mitch Haniger/Taylor Motter/Guillermo Heredia in right field, you’re talking about one of the best – if not THE best – defensive outfield in Major League Baseball.  And, shush, even if you have to run Danny Valencia or *shudder* Nelson Cruz over in right, you’re not losing a whole helluva lot by having Dyson and Martin covering as much ground as they do.

Then, when you stop to consider this pitching staff – a staff that gives up a lot of contact and a lot of fly balls – and how much it’s likely to struggle this year, a top-notch defensive outfield is just what the doctor ordered.  Let’s face it, we’re going to get PLENTY of offense out of our infield and DH; maintaining an elite run-saving defense could be the difference in getting those last few victories to get us over the hump and into the playoffs.

Now, obviously, the elephant in the room is Dyson’s offense.  We’ve had terrible visions of slap-hitting, defense-first outfielders over the years (when they’re not power-hitting, defense-last lumbering oafs, that is); it seems like these little guys are the only ones we’re able to work through our minor league system.  The last time we were able to cultivate a complete outfielder, we traded him away to the Orioles with a bunch of other guys for Erik Bedard.  So, you know, what makes Dyson stand out over all the other humps we’ve run through here?

He’ll hit you anywhere from .250 to .280, depending on the season.  As I alluded to before, he’s got next-to-no power (6 homers in the last 5 seasons), aside from maybe a few singles he’s able to stretch into doubles.  He gets on base at a decent-enough clip to see him spend a significant amount of time near the top of the lineup, but I have to figure there will be peaks and valleys that will see him drop to near the bottom of the lineup at times as well.  The biggest draw with someone like Dyson – particularly when you bat him high in the lineup – is his speed on the basepaths.  156 stolen bases the last five seasons, which doesn’t even get into how many times he’ll go from first to third on a single, or score from first on a double, and so on and so forth.

One would think, on an offense like this, if he played everyday, he’d approach 100 runs scored, so long as he put up quality on-base numbers.  But, given that he’s never really been an everyday player in his 7 seasons with Kansas City, I have to wonder if the Mariners won’t do some sort of quasi-platoon with him and our other Quad-A outfielders on this team.

This move has me less hard than the one to bring in Danny Valencia, but I can still appreciate why it was made and what Dyson brings to the table.  If things break right for him this year, he could be a big part of this team’s success both defensively and offensively.  Considering he’s another one in a contract year, he has every reason to come into 2017 ready and raring to go.

The Mariners Made Two More Trades Last Week

  • Seth Smith (OF) to Baltimore for Yovani Gallardo (SP)
  • Nathan Karns (SP) to Kansas City for Jarrod Dyson (OF)

When I look at that, I see one good trade and one bad one.  Let’s start with the bad.

Seth Smith has real value as a platoon outfielder, mostly for his bat, and if dealt to the right team, could be a nice little addition to a championship roster.  In that sense, considering how good Baltimore already was, this feels right for them.  He doesn’t need to play every day, he doesn’t even need to start!  He’ll come in and pinch hit for them down the stretch or in the playoffs and make a big impact, I’m sure of it.

Gallardo, meanwhile, is a guy whose best years are CLEARLY behind him.  He peaked between 2009-2012 with Milwaukee and has seen his strikeout numbers plummet ever since.  Considering he’s ostensibly supposed to be a right-handed power arm, that’s certainly cause for concern.  He was still more or less effective through the 2015 season, but that saw him hover around the 180 innings range.  For a guy who’s also supposed to be an “innings eater”, I mean, I guess averaging 6 innings per start is okay, but I dunno.

Then, last year, he played in Baltimore, and he didn’t play well.  He had a shoulder injury that kept him out of the rotation for 8 weeks, and upon his return he could never get it going.  The Orioles sent over $2 million to offset the $11 million he’s making this year.  And, if he totally flames out, all it will take is $2 million more to take care of his buyout next year (he’s set to earn $13 million otherwise).  Like a lot of other guys Jerry Dipoto has brought in during his tenure here, we’re hoping for a bounce-back year.  And, considering it looks like he’s more or less locked into the #4 starter role – with the loss of Taijuan Walker – we’re REALLY hoping he bounces back.

My ultimate takeaway is that I knew all along the Mariners were going to do something to bring in another veteran starter.  It’s just a shame this is the best we could do.  I feel like any number of free agents on the market would be a better gamble.  Considering the starting pitching on this team was already a weakness coming into this offseason, and then we traded away Taijuan, I was just hoping we had something more impressive up our sleeves than a guy who might be done as soon as this year.

As for the good trade, SO LONG KARNS!  I can’t say that I’m going to miss him.  I really don’t give a shit that he has a ton of team control (while Dyson has just one year left on his deal), because we’ve already played that game.  Team control is meaningless if the player is terrible.  Karns had a full year in 2015 with the Rays and showed some promise, but it was also clear that he couldn’t go deep into games and they were really protecting him with his innings count.  He had every opportunity in 2016 with the Mariners to cement his status as a starting pitcher in this league, but in 15 starts I’d say he really only had about 2 good ones.  Most games, he struggled just to get through 5 innings.  Eventually, the team had to demote him to reliever, before he was demoted to Tacoma, and then put on the DL.  At that point, he fell off the face of the Earth, so I don’t even know if he’s healthy again, or if he’s spending this winter rehabbing.  For all I know, he might not ever start again!  Considering he didn’t throw all that hard, and his stuff wasn’t all that good (he had an okay curve ball, when he could control it, which was almost never), I’m hard pressed to peg him as even turning into a quality reliever.  He feels like a guy who’s going to be out of baseball in the next year or two.  Better to cut bait now and get what you can.

Which, in this case, is a guy I really like!  Dyson isn’t an impressive hitter by any stretch.  He’s got no power whatsoever, so go ahead and put that out of your mind.  I’m not even sure he’s destined to be an everyday starter with this team.  He’ll probably hit for around .250-.260, he’s improving with his on-base percentage, and across the last five years he’s averaged over 30 stolen bases per season.  When you top him off as a quality defender, and pair him with Leonys Martin in center, you’re talking about a ton of speed at the bottom of our lineup (unless he starts to hit out of his mind, in which case you could see him move up in the lineup) and a ton of outfield defense.  Which, for this pitching staff, it’s pretty easy to see how this will be a good thing.

So, in taking these two trades as a whole, did the Mariners improve?  Well, if you look at it this way:

  • Gallardo for Karns
  • Dyson for Smith

I think you could say we did.  Say what you will about Gallardo, but he’s sure as shit better than Karns!  And, I know we all like Seth Smith’s bat, but he’s been prone to cold streaks (particularly late in seasons) and has batted around .250 both years he’s been in Seattle.  You figure his on-base percentage will be better than Dyson’s, but the difference in baserunning and defense puts Dyson WAY ahead in this thing.

It’s still not an ideal team, but it’s rounding into something respectable.  The lineup in particular is something you’ve gotta like.  I’ve got it like this:

  1. Segura (SS)
  2. Valencia (1B)
  3. Cano (2B)
  4. Cruz (DH)
  5. Seager (3B)
  6. Ruiz (C)
  7. Martin (CF)
  8. Haniger (RF)
  9. Dyson (LF)

Or, depending on the opposing pitcher, and how well guys are playing, you could sub in Vogelbach at first base, pushing Valencia to one of the corner outfield spots.  Also, put Haniger in the same outfield pile as Gamel, Heredia, Powell, and O’Malley; not all of those guys will crack the Opening Day roster, but they’re just a phone call away if they start out in Tacoma.  Still, I like the first seven guys in that lineup an awful lot, and there are many reasons for optimism about Haniger and Dyson as well.

The tricky thing is the pitching staff, particularly the rotation:

  1. Felix
  2. Kuma
  3. Paxton
  4. Gallardo
  5. Miranda

Word from Dipoto is that the Mariners are still looking to bolster their depth in the rotation, which I would say is a MUST.  Nevertheless, it sounds like we shouldn’t expect a big splash.  If we get a free agent, expect it to be a low-level guy.  If it’s a trade, expect it to be for another fringe prospect.  It doesn’t sound like, at this time, the Mariners will be selling the farm (what little farm we’ve got left) to bring in a stud.  We’ll see where they’re at by the end of June though.

The bullpen actually looks like it’s rounding into shape.  There are plenty of guys to choose from, and I’m sure a few more moves will be made here, but these are the guys I like:

  • Closer – Diaz
  • RHP – Cishek
  • RHP – Scribner
  • RHP – Zych
  • RHP – Vincent
  • LHP – Scrabble

There’s room for one more reliever on there, I would expect a second lefty, but we’ll see.  On paper, those six guys look pretty good, but they don’t play the games on paper.

Next month, pitchers and catchers report, and we get this thing going.  I’m sure we’ll have a better idea of what to expect regarding the Opening Day roster by then.

Mariners Traded Walker & Marte For Segura, Haniger, & Curtis

In a Thanksgiving Eve shocker, the Mariners and Diamondbacks made a 5-player deal.  The Mariners essentially gave up on Taijuan Walker ever being an ace starting pitcher because they felt they couldn’t wait for Ketel Marte to finally develop into an everyday, starting short stop.

Walker was drafted in 2010, had a couple cups of coffee with the Mariners in 2013 & 2014, then got a rotation job in 2015.  For the last two seasons, he’s flashed brilliance, but more than anything has wallowed in inconsistency.  There’d be games where he’d overwhelm the opponent, followed by games where he struggled to get to three innings.  When he was coming up through the organization, in large part he was overshadowed by other starting prospects like Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, but Walker always had the highest ceiling.  With his make-up, his fastball, and his devastating change up, many had him pegged to be the heir apparent to Felix Hernandez.  In many people’s eyes, he was as untouchable as Felix Hernandez himself, which is why this trade was difficult for a lot of people to stomach.

You can’t help but remember the prospect, and how highly he was rated within this organization and among the best in all of Major League Baseball.  Walker was always talked about in terms of the king’s ransom he could get for us, but we always opted to keep him because he was more valuable than anything we could get back for him.

Well, here he is, 26 years old (he’ll be 27 next August), after two years in the Majors, and it turns out he’s worth … this.

Part of me thinks we’re giving up too early on the kid, but at some point you have to ask:  how long should we wait for him to make the jump?  The main problem with this team the last couple years, as we brought in Cano and Cruz, and as Seager proved himself to be one of the best third basemen in all of baseball, is that for a team THIS CLOSE to reaching the playoffs, we were trying to have it both ways.  We were a veteran team, but we were also trying to break in a bunch of young players.  We over-spent on some veterans, and so we were trying to cut corners at some pretty high-profile positions to get by.  When you’ve got so much of a core that’s ready and capable of making a deep playoff run, you can’t be waiting around for all these young guys to take it to the next level.

Taijuan Walker might very well develop into an Ace of sorts.  It’s been alluded to that a lot of his issues are related to maturity and/or confidence and/or work ethic.  That’s aside from the obvious issues with his mechanics breaking down, and his frequent injuries (that probably helped in throwing off his mechanics in the first place).  I mean, you don’t just send down your third or fourth best starting pitcher to Tacoma – in the middle of a Wild Card chase – unless the kid has some real issues to work out.  If it is by and large related to maturity, then obviously in a few years he should be ready to truly break out.  Or, maybe it’s this trade to Arizona – with his first ballclub essentially giving up on him – that’s the wake-up call for him to finally bloom.  Maybe, if we’d kept him forever, he’d never take stock of his career and make the changes necessary to be great.  We’ll never know.

It’s also highly likely that he’s already reached his ceiling, and 2015/2016 is as good as it gets for him.  That he’ll be some variation of what he’s been for the next 5-10 years and then call it a career.  I tend to believe, with the switch to the National League, that should be good for a moderate boost to his numbers.  They have the fucking pitchers batting and everything; that’s a free out 9 times out of 10.  But, I’m more inclined to believe that Walker might top out as a #3 type pitcher, but not really a dominant Cy Young contender.

In which case, I think we’re selling on him about as high as we could’ve hoped.  If you’re like me, and you don’t believe he was primed for a huge improvement in 2017 – if you think he pretty much would be this up-and-down guy we’ve seen the last two years – then the longer we would’ve kept him, the lower his value would’ve gotten.

Quite frankly, getting a starting short stop, who’s a whiz with the bat at the top of our lineup, for even an improved version of Taijuan Walker, is well worth the swap.

That’s because there was no way in hell Ketel Marte was ever going to make the leap, ESPECIALLY not in 2017.  Let’s face it, the Mariners are in Win-Now mode.  Cano is still great, but he’s getting up there.  Cruz has probably peaked, so the question now his how fast will his decline torpedo his career?  King Felix was decidedly off his game in 2016, so who knows that that means going forward?  The Mariners might just have this one shot in 2017 to get to the playoffs and see what happens.  Come 2018, everything might fall apart.

So, enter Jean Segura.  He was one of the best players in all of baseball last year, and we get him for a couple of prospects.  Even if he doesn’t quite reach his lofty peak of 2016 – which, not for nothing, I wouldn’t expect him to – he’s still bound to be better and more consistent than Ketel Marte.  He hits well, gets on base, steals bases, and has some pop in his bat.  And, you gotta figure he won’t be so prone to the bone-headed fielding mistakes, which gives me peace of mind already!

If Walker and Segura are the main components of this deal, Marte and Mitch Haniger pose as the high-level prospects of the deal.  Marte definitely has all the tools, but like Walker, I think he needs a few more years’ worth of maturity to take his game to the next level.  One would hope Haniger doesn’t have that problem, but he’s also not necessarily someone we’re counting on.  I’m told he’s a good defensive outfielder, who gives us depth in case Leonys Martin gets injured.  He’ll be thrown onto the pile with Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia and Shawn O’Malley and whoever else in this team’s outfield battle.

Speaking of, you figure Martin is a lock for center, so that’s nice to not have to worry about.  Seth Smith is locked into at least a platoon job in one of the corner outfield spots (likely left field); Danny Valencia has experience playing outfield and should find himself there when he’s not covering first base.  I still sort of expect Guti to come back and maybe take over the other half of the Seth Smith platoon, as well as probably another cheap veteran signing to compete for a spot.  Otherwise, in effect, we traded one inexperienced spot (short stop) for another (right field).

But, at the very least, we’ll be athletic.  With all the studs in our infield, we can really maximize our defense in the outfield.  I just hope that one or two of these younger outfielders can show SOMETHING in Spring Training.

The final piece of the deal is lefty reliever Zac Curtis.  It’s pretty blatant how hard the Mariners have gone after trying to bolster their bullpen from the left side.  Consider Curtis another arm on the pile.  He’ll get a shot in Spring Training, but in all likelihood he’ll need to go to Tacoma to start out.  It’s depth, which is nice, but he’s really just a throw-in guy.  The Mariners gave up a lot of potential upside in this deal, so you figure getting one bona fide regular, one upside guy back in Haniger, plus a reliever, is a pretty good return value.

This sets us up for a nice little lineup, that could look something like this:

  1. Jean Segura – SS
  2. Seth Smith – LF
  3. Robinson Cano – 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz – DH
  5. Kyle Seager – 3B
  6. Danny Valencia – 1B
  7. Zunino/Ruiz – C
  8. Leonys Martin – CF
  9. Right Fielder

From top to bottom, that’s not bad.  The first six guys in the lineup are proven veterans; the catcher position is both veteran with some pop; Leonys Martin had a great first year for the Mariners and if he continues to give us that, we’d all be ecstatic; and you figure the right fielder will at least have some speed and some on-base ability, so if nothing else he’ll help give the top of our order someone to hit in on occasion.

Of course, on the flipside, the pitching staff is very much in flux.  I won’t try to cobble together a predicted bullpen – as everything is still WAY too fluid right now – but you figure Edwin Diaz and most likely Steve Cishek will feature pretty prominently.  It’s the rotation that’s currently the cause of most concern though.

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. James Paxton
  4. Ariel Miranda

That 4-hole was vacated by Walker in this deal, so who fills it?  For what it’s worth, I think this bolsters Miranda’s chances of making the Opening Day roster, so long as he doesn’t completely fall apart in Spring Training.  Even so, he’s no more than a 5th starter right now, and we’ll likely be looking for a right hander to fill that gap between Paxton and Miranda.

There’s obviously Nathan Karns, but he ended the 2016 season in a bad way with injuries, and I still have yet to hear about whether he’s recovering and whether he’ll be ready for Spring Training or not.  Beyond that, the cupboard would appear pretty bare.  Dipoto is already on record as stating that starting pitching is his next target, likely via free agency to start.  But, I wouldn’t expect a huge splash in this arena.  Figure some sort of mid-range deal, maybe for a guy looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued or just plain down 2016 season.  And, you figure, a few smaller deals to bolster our starting pitching in Tacoma, as I don’t feel like there’s too much coming up through the system at the moment.

Considering you figure the hitting is going to be improved in 2017, barring injuries, and it was already pretty good (at least, good enough to keep us in contention) in 2016, the 2017 Mariners will only go as far as its pitching can take it.  This was also true in 2016, so what I’ve said to you just now isn’t anything you didn’t already know.  But, you have to think that we’re coming from a stronger starting point than we were last year.

Last year, we weren’t sure Iwakuma could stay healthy for a full season; now we know he can (whether that just means he’s more likely to get injured in year 2 remains to be seen, but that’s neither here nor there).  Last year, Paxton started out the year in Tacoma; this year, you figure he’ll be ready from the jump to build upon an exciting breakout season.  And Miranda showed a lot in a lot of high-pressure situations, while still being coddled a little bit in his innings counts; it’ll be interesting to see how he fares when the reigns are loosened a bit.

Regardless, the Mariners were always going to go out and get a veteran starter to compete in Spring Training (or, at least, force some competition at the bottom of the rotation among Walker, Paxton, and Miranda).  With Walker now gone, this changes nothing.  The Mariners could very well go out and sign TWO guys, leaving them with the option to start Miranda in Tacoma until he’s needed, because as I always like to remind everyone, it’s damn near impossible for the same five guys to make ALL the starts in a single Major League Baseball season.

As always, it’s best to look at all the moves as a collective, when we get to Spring Training.  On its surface, I like the Walker deal mostly because I have my doubts about the pieces we gave away, and I also like shoring up a prime spot like short stop.  But, if this means we’re only able to bring scrubs into our starting rotation, then obviously you have to look at the Walker trade in a different light.

And, like I always say, I don’t want no scrubs!