The Long Shadow of the Randy Johnson Trade

I moved this to my Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings heading HERE.

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.

The Mariners Can’t Stop Trading, Also Won’t Stop

Yeah, so this time it’s Roenis Elias & Carson Smith to the Red Sox for Wade Miley & Jonathan Aro.

From what I understand, the main pieces in this deal are Smith for Miley; the Red Sox needed a dominant, late-inning reliever, and the Mariners needed a mediocre, left-handed innings eater.  That may be oversimplifying things a bit, but not all that much.  I feel like Aro was thrown in to help mitigate the sting of giving away our best reliever; he looks like a guy on the cusp of competing for a Major League roster spot.  And, I feel like Elias was thrown in … because the Red Sox were asking for the moon and the stars and the Mariners decided to oblige?

A lot of Mariners fans hate this deal, so Welcome To Seattle, Jerry Dipoto!  Mariners fans are probably going to hate A LOT of your deals, because as Seattle sports fans, we’ve had a lot of experience getting shafted by inept general managers.  This just sounds like a lot to give up, to get so little in return.

Carson Smith, many believe (I among them) will be a dominant pitching force for years to come.  He’s already great now, just think of how awesome he’ll be with five more years of experience!  This has shades of trading away Jeff Nelson back in December of 1995; he went to the Yankees and won a bunch of championships with Tino Martinez and the gang.  So, that right there is bad enough.  When you throw in Elias – another young guy who should only improve with experience, and who’s already had the better part of two seasons in the Major Leagues as it is – it’s hard to feel, as a Mariners fan, like we haven’t just been bent over and taken to town with a 12-inch strap-on dildo.

For what?  Wade Miley and a prospect?  Wade Miley, the second coming of J.A. Happ’s miserable half-season with the Mariners before he miraged his way through the National League into an insane contract with the Blue Jays this offseason?  What did we do to deserve THIS?

Well, for starters, blame the rest of the fucking league for paying through their asses for some of these pitchers.  I mean, seriously, over $30 million per year for Zack Greinke and David Price?  Get the fuck right out of here!  I know these guys are great pitchers, but no one is WORTH that much!  Enjoy your albatross contracts when they inevitably get injured and start to decline.

Anyway, as a result of that, and with a specific nod to the Dodgers for prying Iwakuma away to the tune of 3 years & $45 million, the Mariners had to do something in this pitching-crazy market.  That something, apparently, was to trade for a lefty starter with mediocre numbers, whose greatest attribute has been his health.  Because if there’s ever a curse that comes with having mediocre players on your baseball team, it’s the curse of everlasting health.

For what it’s worth, I am glad the Mariners didn’t go to a third year with Iwakuma.  I like Kuma as much as the next guy, but he can’t stay healthy to save his life.  It sucks having to count on him, only to see him miss two months every year.  Which brings up the interesting question:  would you rather have four months of a quality, ace-lite starting pitcher, or a full season with a 4th/5th starter who will be great one week, and then can’t get out of the second inning the next?  I’m torn on the subject.

The one variable we have yet to discover is how Miley will be affected by pitching in Safeco.  I know, we went through this same thing with Happ just last year, but if Miley can turn into a Jason Vargas-like pitcher for us, while continuing to eat up innings, this deal might be palatable.

When you look at the big picture, you can see why the Mariners went this way.  We preserve our 11th overall draft pick by not signing a free agent pitcher with a qualifying offer.  We also save some money by not paying those extravagant free agency prices, as Miley is set to earn just under $15 million combined over the next two years (with a $12 million option on the third year, if we’d like to keep him).  In this context, it’s pretty apparent that the team is in no position to increase salary this year.  I’m not necessarily saying this is good or bad, but it appears to be a fact.  Right now, counting just the players under a Major League contract (not counting arbitration guys, or younger guys under team control), we’ve got $102,250,000 tied up in 11 players.  When you pad that out with the rest of the guys on the 40-man, you’re looking at a team that’s RIGHT around its payroll limit.  There might be a moderate increase for a lower-tier first baseman (potential platoon option with Jesus Montero, should he show continued signs of life in Spring Training), but other than that, some flyers on veteran pitchers, and maybe another bullpen arm or two, what you see is what you’re going to get.

As for the rotation itself, as noted above, Miley is a considerable step down in talent from Iwakuma.  That’s going to put some pressure on some other guys to step up.  With Iwakuma in the fold, the Mariners had a natural #2 type pitcher to slot in behind Felix.  Now?  Someone is going to have to step into that role.  Is that pitcher Taijuan Walker?  I sure as shit hope he’s ready to make the leap, because if he’s not ready, we’re looking at a lot of 4/5-type starters in this rotation behind The King.  Karns is young & unproven.  Paxton is also young & unproven, plus he’s an injury waiting to happen and our most likely trade chip.  Montgomery is unproven and another likely trade chip.  Nuno is probably better suited as a bullpen guy/long reliever/spot starter; but, I’m starting to get the feeling that he’ll have a very real opportunity to lock down the 5th starter’s job, especially if Paxton is dealt for a first baseman and/or turns up injured again.

I’m pretty sure I read a quote somewhere from our GM about the Miley trade, saying that he wanted to bring in a proven guy who will take the ball every fifth day, to help compensate for the fact that we’re relying on so many younger guys to fill out our rotation.  I think that was something of a shot at Elias (indirectly, of course), as he, along with our other fringe starters, have been anything but consistent.  But, I’ll tell you what, if those younger guys don’t develop in a hurry, we could be looking at another long season.

As for Elias, it really stinks that he was a throw-in to this deal.  He was an excellent security blanket to be able to stash in AAA in the likely event of injury.  I mean, how often are you able to bring up a guy with significant Major League experience to either spot start for you or flat out slot into your rotation for a few months?  Elias wasn’t the greatest, but I thought he battled out there like a pro.  Give him another year or two, and I think he’ll be a rock-solid starter for years to come.  Maybe not an All Star, but could he really be THAT much worse than Wade Miley?

**UPDATE**

Now hearing about a trade bringing in Adam Lind from the Brewers.  Plays first base, gets on base a lot.  GIVE US A BREAK!!!!

Mariners Tidbit 47: Jack Zduriencik Needs To Be Fired

You’re a fucking retard if you think the Seattle Mariners are making the playoffs this year.  Yes, I’m talking to you, on June 15th:  you’re a retard if you think there’s any way this team is going to right the ship.  7.5 games behind first place; 4th place overall in the A.L. West.  13th fucking place in the American League – meaning we’d have to pass over EIGHT teams just to get to a play-in game – it’s over.  RETARDS!  It’s over.

You know how I know it’s over?  Because this team’s roster is a fucking joke.  The defense is a joke, the hitting is a joke, and the pitching – God bless ’em – just isn’t good enough to overcome the shitty defense and even shittier hitting.

And Jackie Z is the man behind all of it.  He’s had his chances.  He’s MORE than had his share of chances.  The organization would’ve been justified in letting him go after the 2010 season, and yet here we are.  He’s not the sloppy, back-alley abortion that Bill Bavasi was; Jackie Z didn’t completely gut our farm system in some pathetic Win Now maneuver. Jackie Z is terrible in completely new and fresh ways, but make no mistake, he IS terrible at what he does.

At best, with any trade he makes, we have to hope that both teams end up frustrated and unhappy.  Jackie Z is NEVER going to pull the wool over the eyes of another GM.  But, if the guy we get in return can manage to suck just as much as the players we send away, then it’s a victorious trade for Trader Jack.  What was the best deal he ever made?  It was the Vargas/Guti/Putz trade with the Indians and Mets way back when, and look at how well that worked out long term!  Vargas was a solid starter, who we traded away for a season’s worth of Kendrys Morales; Guti was a solid starter until his body completely broke down; and the guys we gave away didn’t totally murder us in the deal.  That’s unquestionably the BEST trade Jackie Z has ever made in his time with the Mariners!

Getting back to the roster construction, just look at this team.  It’s like the guy read “Moneyball” and proceeded to rip out the pages, one at a time, and wipe his ass with each and every one of them.  Anyone who even has a remote ability to work a count and take a walk might as well be screaming the N-word at the top of his lungs while every media outlet in the world is recording, because the Mariners under Jackie Z can’t get rid of these guys fast enough!  John Jaso is the primary example here, but I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.  The point is, this team hasn’t really even TRIED to bring in well-rounded hitters outside of overpaying for Robinson Cano, and look at how great he’s been in just his second season here.

The Mariners have the most myopic front office in the league.  Where have the Mariners struggled?  Right handed dingers!  So, they bring in Nelson Cruz, Rickie Weeks, Mark Trumbo, and they get rid of Justin Ruggiano because he doesn’t hit ENOUGH dingers, regardless of the fact that he’s one of the few hitters on this team who can work a Major League count.  If you’re taking walks and not hitting dingers, YOU’RE OFF THE TEAM!

And therefore, when this team hits dingers, it tends to do well.  When this team hits no dingers, it gets shut out by the likes of the fucking Astros two times in three days.  I mean, just look at these guys!

Austin Jackson – a good-enough role player on a stacked team, but no one you really want at the top of your order.

Seth Smith – another good-enough role player who probably shouldn’t be playing every day, and certainly someone else you don’t need at the top of your order.

Robinson Cano – Good player, probably not $24 million per year good.  But, beggars can’t be choosers.

Nelson Cruz – Good at dingers!  Not going to win you any Triple Crowns any time soon.  Should never be playing in the outfield.

Kyle Seager – Good all-around baseball player.  Literally the only one cultivated by the Jackie Z regime.

Logan Morrison – His slumps make him look like the worst hitter on the planet.  His hot streaks make him look like he belongs for a breathtaking short burst of time.  Better defensively at first base than any of us thought; should never play the outfield.

Dustin Ackley – The Most Disappointing Man In The World.  Can’t hit, can’t work a count (probably because the Jackie Z regime drilled that skill out of him in the name of dingers as soon as he was drafted), is okay defensively but has a terrible throwing arm, so he’s not really a guy you want to have out there because everyone is going to run on him.

Brad Miller – Doesn’t hit enough, is pretty good defensively, but still makes mind-boggling mistakes from time to time.

Mike Zunino – Doesn’t hit enough (but at least he hits a few dingers!), is pretty good defensively, and is playing almost every single day because this team’s backup catcher is literally the worst.

Mark Trumbo – Dingers, and that’s it.

Jackie Z has been a disaster almost the entire time he’s been the Mariners’ GM, except the team lucked into a couple of winning seasons during his tenure that’s allowed him to keep his job in spite of the fact that we’ve burned through three managers and are well on our way to burning through our fourth in Lloyd McClendon.  You don’t have to fire Jackie Z today, you don’t have to fire him tomorrow.  But, you should probably rein him in on any deadline deals that don’t involve shedding salary, and you absolutely MUST fire him by the time the season ends.

The old fucks who run the Mariners need to bring in someone younger and smarter than Jackie Z.  Someone who is willing to think outside the box (and get rid of LMC in favor of a manager who thinks the same way).  2015 better be the last fucking year we’re stuck with Jackie Z blowing smoke up our asses.

Catching Up With The 2015 Seattle Mariners

It’s been about a month since I’ve written about the Mariners.  The last newsworthy item I felt compelled to write about was trading Michael Saunders for J.A. Happ.  Prior to that, it was the Nelson Cruz signing.  Prior to that, it was the Kyle Seager extension.  That’s about it for the major events in this offseason, as it pertains to the 2015 squad.

There have been some minor moves that should impact the club one way or another.  Let’s list them here!

  • December 30th:  Mariners trade Brandon Maurer to Padres for Seth Smith
  • December 17th:  Mariners trade minor league reliever to Cubs for Justin Ruggiano
  • December 11th:  Kendrys Morales signed a 2-year deal with the Royals who for some reason offered Kendrys Morales a 2-year deal

OK, so it’s not a huge list.  Some other Mariners became ex-Mariners by signing with other teams, but I don’t much care about that.  I just care that Kendrys Morales is gone and hopefully will never return.

So, where does that leave us?  Let’s look at the roster as currently constructed:

Outfield

Left – Dustin Ackley
Center – Austin Jackson
Right – Seth Smith / Justin Ruggiano

Infield

Third – Kyle Seager
Short – Brad Miller / Chris Taylor
Second – Robbie Cano
First – Logan Morrison
Catcher – Mike Zunino

DH/Outfield – Nelson Cruz

Those are the guys you’re going to see the most.  Miller and Taylor will duke it out for the starting short stop job, with the loser likely starting the season in Tacoma (with an outside chance of the loser sticking on the bench, but I wouldn’t count on it).

As for the bench, you’re looking at keeping a backup catcher (likely Jesus Sucre), a utility infielder (likely Willie Bloomquist, if he can return to good health), a fifth outfielder (a James Jones / Endy Chavez type) and possibly a backup first baseman (Jesus Montero?).  It all really depends on how many we opt to keep in the bullpen.  A 5-man bench might be too much to carry when you’re talking about a strict platoon job in right field; so, it’s very possible we don’t keep a fifth outfielder.  Bank on the 25th spot on the roster being entirely dependant upon whether or not the team feels Jesus Montero is ready to return to the Bigs.

The starting rotation looks something like this:

  • Felix Hernandez
  • Hisashi Iwakuma
  • J.A. Happ
  • James Paxton
  • Roenis Elias / Taijuan Walker

I don’t necessarily think that’ll be the exact order.  But, if you look at the rotation today, Happ’s roster spot is MUCH more secure than the three pitchers behind him.  Now, obviously, the final two spots in the rotation will come down to overall health and performance in Spring Training.  With everything being equal, and everyone healthy as a horse, I’d anticipate Paxton being this teams #3 starter.  And, I don’t care what anyone else says, until I hear otherwise I’ve got Elias ahead of Walker for the simple reason that he pitched for the Big Ballclub for almost the entire 2014 season.  Either way, don’t count on the Mariners running out a 6-man rotation, and don’t count on any of these six pitchers starting the year in the bullpen.  When push comes to shove, one of the last three guys will be starting in Tacoma until needed by Seattle at a later date.

In the bullpen, you’ve got the following fighting for anywhere from 6-8 spots (again, depending on how many bench spots we decide to keep):

  • Fernando Rodney
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Yoervis Medina
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Carson Smith
  • Dominic Leone
  • David Rollins / Lucas Luetge / Edgar OImos / (misc. 2nd lefty reliever)
  • Erasmo Ramirez

As you can see, even without Maurer, the Mariners have an insane surplus of relief pitching.  There is NO WAY we’re keeping all of these guys.  Rollins is a Rule 5 guy, so unless we want to work out a trade with the Astros, we either have to keep him on our Major League roster or give him back.  Now, if he stinks in Spring Training, I don’t think the team will have any problem giving him back.  But, if he shows promise, but otherwise isn’t totally ready to stick in the Bigs, then a tough decision will have to be made.

To determine who stays, let’s take a look at the locks on this team.  The Mariners have 10 regular everyday players and they’ll keep 5 starting pitchers.  That leaves 10 roster spots.  You have to keep a backup catcher, so that brings us to 9.  You have to keep a utility infielder, so there’s 8.  At this point, the Mariners will have to decide what’s more important:  an 8th reliever, or another backup first baseman/outfielder.  With a healthy Bloomquist, you can conceivably plug him in at first in a pinch.  Montero still has options, as do Jones and Romero (who would be another option as a backup outfielder).

The bullpen locks are as follows:  Rodney, Farquhar, Medina, Wilhelmsen, and Furbush.  Leone stuck with the Mariners all year last year and proved to be effective in going multiple innings.  Smith came up late, but absolutely destroyed everyone in his path.  I like Smith more than Leone, but if I had my druthers, I’d keep them both.  And, if they do, well, that’s 7 bullpen arms right there, and we haven’t even added a second lefty.

So, there you go.  The final spot will either be a second lefty reliever, Jesus Montero, a fifth outfielder, or someone else entirely, because it’s impossible to predict a 25-man roster this far out.

Before I move on, I’d like to comment on Erasmo Ramirez, as he’s an interesting case.  Ramirez is out of options.  And, by all accounts, Ramirez will NOT pass through waivers.  So, either he makes the Mariners out of Spring Training, or he’s traded at some point in Spring Training to try to recoup SOME value out of him, or he’s DFA’d at the end of Spring Training and some other team claims a perfectly good long reliever/spot starter.

For the record, I don’t think Ramirez makes the Mariners unless there’s a rash of injuries.  We’re talking about two of the above-referenced starting pitchers, or a bevy of the above-referenced relievers.  If that’s the case, I could see him sticking in a long relief role, but those are some LONG odds.

***

The world is pretty high on the Seattle Mariners in 2015.  There are reasonable odds in Vegas for this team to win it all.  There are various sabermetric arguments made that this is one of the top teams in the American League (if not THE top team).  You’re looking at a Mariners team that fell one win short of vying for a Wild Card spot, that has improved in some key areas while at the same time retained talent at other key areas.

Even with the loss of Maurer, as I mentioned above, this team is LOADED in the bullpen.  I can’t tell you how huge that is.  Of course, the bullpen could completely shit the bed and it wouldn’t be a total shocker.  But, I like the chances of a bunch of hard-throwing strikeout righties.

The rotation, if it can manage to be healthier than it was in 2014, could be quite formidable.  Felix is the best pitcher alive.  Iwakuma has proven to be a stout second banana.  The sky’s the limit for Paxton.  Happ should benefit from Safeco’s dimensions as a Vargas-type lefty.  Elias has already proven to be effective in the Bigs.  And, the sky’s also the limit for Walker if he cracks the rotation.  I believe the phrase we’re looking for is Pigs In Shit.  The Mariners are like pigs in shit with this pitching staff.

As for the everyday players, take a look at this lineup and see how it works for you:

  1. Austin Jackson – CF
  2. Dustin Ackley – LF
  3. Robbie Cano – 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz – DH
  5. Kyle Seager – 3B
  6. Logan Morrison – 1B
  7. Seth Smith (against righties) / Justin Ruggiano (against lefties) – RF
  8. Mike Zunino – C
  9. Brad Miller / Chris Taylor – SS

Huh?  How about it?  Does that season your potatoes?

Now, of course, there are concerns.  A-Jax was pretty terrible last year.  We’re either banking on him bouncing back, or we’re going to throw a worthless pile of crap out there in the leadoff spot every day for a number of months.  If A-Jax fails us, I’m not gonna lie to you, we’re KINDA screwed.  But, moving on, Ackley has proven – if nothing else in his Major League career – to be completely unreliable.  Just when you think he’s solved all his problems, he goes in the tank.  Just when you think he’s a worthless bum, he starts raking for a couple months.  So, I dunno.

The Mariners are rock solid in the middle of the order, which is more than you could say about this team in the last decade.  The only thing that knocks us out is if Cano, Cruz, or Seager suffer some injuries.

Beyond that, the bottom half of the order is interesting, and potentially terrifying.  The latest issue of concern is Logan Morrison.  He hasn’t proven to be healthy in his career, which will be a kick in the groin because we have NOBODY behind him.  Jesus Montero – while 30-35 pounds lighter than last year – is still a longshot to be even DECENT as a first baseman.  After Montero, who do you got?  D.J. Peterson is probably a year away; it would be a miracle if we bring him up this year and he succeeds.  Ji-Man Choi had a shitty 2014 coming off of a PED suspension.  The free agent market is deader than dead.  It’s bad out there for a first baseman-hungry team like the Mariners.  Just cross your fingers, pray LoMo stays healthy, and try not to think about the consequences if he doesn’t.

The Smith/Ruggiano platoon is interesting because it seems almost TOO perfect, you know?  Smith is a lefty who rakes against righties; Ruggiano is a righty who rakes against lefties.  There’s NO WAY this works out the way we planned it, is there?  Even if we stick to the platoon and don’t mess with anything, you gotta figure one or both will either suffer a massive injury and/or take a huge step back as he tries to contend with Safeco’s dimensions.  This’ll be a Believe It When I See It type of situation.

Zunino is still Zunino, which means he’ll mash over 20 homers, strike out a ton, and play solid defense.  You figure with a full year under his belt, there’s bound to be some natural progression, so hopefully he works out some of the kinks.  Then, we’ve got a short stop battle for the ages.  The offensively-challenged Taylor vs. the wild card Miller.  I like Miller for his power bat, but either way this is a GREAT problem to have.

I’m not ready to crown their asses just yet, but I’m sure the excitement for the Mariners will start building once football season ends.  February 20th:  Pitchers & Catchers report.  Spring Training kicks off the first week of March.  It’s almost here.

Looking Back At The 2014 Mariners: The Hitters, Part II

Consider this the second in a series of looks back at the 2014 Mariners.  For once, it’s going to be more than, “They fucking sucked, I’m sick of thinking about this shit, I’ll see you in February.”  I’m sure I’ll toss out the usual “What Went Right” and “What Went Wrong” posts as time and desire permit, but right now I’m taking a look at the players.  In short, I’m going to list all the players who accumulated a stat for the 2014 Mariners, and I’m going to talk about each of them individually.

I’m also breaking this up into three parts, because we’re pushing 7,000 words here.

Click HERE for Part I
Click HERE for Part III (tomorrow)

Corey Hart – The Mariners picked him up as a free agent, taking a flyer that he’d return to his old, bashing ways in Milwaukee.  Of course, he hadn’t played since 2012 – losing a full year to knee injuries – and baseball isn’t like riding a bike.  Especially when you’re 142 years old ABOUT A YEAR YOUNGER THAN I AM?  GOOD GOD I’M OLD!

Hart appeared in a lot of games in the first month and a half.  Mostly at DH.  Occasionally – and ill-advisedly – in the outfield.  Then, he was placed on the DL.  He returned to play a lot in July, then he went back on the DL again until September call-ups.  He stunk throughout, hitting right around .200 for the season.

He had 9 doubles and 6 homers in 68 games.  A paltry 32% of his hits went for extra bases, which is not something you’re looking for in a “power hitter” in your cleanup spot, who you want protecting Robinson Cano in the order.

Outlook for 2015:  The Mariners have already given him his release, because they needed to make room to bring Jesus Montero back from the suspended list.  That’s how little Corey Hart means to this organization, and it’s the perfect representation of his value.  When you look back at his career as a Mariner, just think about that and frown.  Frown with all your might.

Austin Jackson – If you haven’t by now TL;DR’d this series of posts and you’re following along closely, A-Jax is the second of three guys we traded for in July to help bolster the ballclub.  We traded Nick Franklin to get him.  Nick Franklin was an expendable trade chip who never really had a future in this organization once Robbie Cano was signed.  Austin Jackson was a very good, still-in-his-prime centerfielder with another year of team control in 2015.

The Mariners, of course, DESPERATELY needed a centerfielder.  With Guti taking the year off to get his health issues squared away (and no longer a centerfield prospect anymore, given his durability issues), with Abe Almonte a fucking zoo out there, and with James Jones’ absolute dearth of power, we didn’t have a whole lot of options.  A-Jax looked like a perfect fit.

In Detroit, from 2010-2013, A-Jax was worth no less than 3.4 wins per year.  He was a plus-fielder with quicks on the basepaths who could hit for some pop as well as for average.  He declined greatly in 2014, for reasons no one can quite fathom.  In Detroit this year, he was average-at-best, though his power and overall hitting numbers weren’t down dramatically.  Which makes you wonder if he took that huge step back in the field.  Either way, he was better than what we had in Seattle – or so we thought.

In Seattle, A-Jax batted .229/.267/.260.  He was good for 0.1 WAR.  And, not for nothing, but anecdotally he was a fucking disaster in big situations.  Seemed like whenever he had a man on base or otherwise an opportunity to positively affect a ballgame, he would instead ground into a double play or (at best) strike out.  He proved to be my least-favorite of the three mid-season acquisitions, and that’s REALLY saying something Kendrys Morales.

Outlook for 2015:  Still in Seattle, still starting in center, still batting leadoff.  At least out of Spring Training.  Beyond that, who’s to say?  If he plays like he did in the last two months of this season, you never know.  We may be talking about one of the many reasons why the 2015 Mariners DON’T make the playoffs.  Honestly, we’re REALLY counting on A-Jax to turn it around.  I highly doubt the Mariners are going to go out and find another guy to compete in center.  So, if A-Jax fails, and there’s no one in the minors to take his place, we’re proper fucked at a spot on the team where we’re banking on being set.  Just in case you were overwhelmed by the warm-fuzzies after this pleasant 2014 run, keep that in mind.

James Jones – In his first two months, James Jones was amazing.  He was everything Abe Almonte wasn’t.  He was crisp at the plate.  He wasn’t the most-refined in the outfield, but he was solid enough.  And, he was a wizard on the basepaths.

Then, July came around and he started falling off.  We all started noticing his faults.  Like:  how he wasn’t really improving as a centerfielder.  Like:  how he couldn’t hit for power.  Like:  how if he didn’t slap a single the other way, he couldn’t get on base to take advantage of those legs.  In the end, he lost his starting job, was sent back to Tacoma for a couple weeks, then returned exclusively as a bench player.

It’s the part he was born to play, baby!

Keep him away from the starting lineup, keep him out of center, and watch him shine.  He’s a plus-defender in the corner outfield, with speed and a strong arm.  Put him in during the later innings to replace Endy Chavez or whoever.  Pinch run him for Kendrys Morales or some other slow piece of crap.  He’s GOLD!

27 stolen bases in 28 attempts.  Very, very good.

14 extra-base hits in 312 at-bats (with only 12 walks vs. 67 strikeouts) is very, very BAD.  That’s factoring in how a lot of those doubles were hustle-doubles.

Outlook for 2015:  He needs to bulk up.  He needs to get a little more power into his bat.  He needs to retain how well he hit the outside pitch the other way, but he’s also gotta recognize pitches better and take MANY more walks.  His career will be built on a foundation of base-stealing.  If he wants that career to primarily take place in the Majors, then he needs to figure out a way to get on base with more regularity.  In an ideal world, he’d fix what’s wrong with him and be our fourth or fifth outfielder.  But, I got a feeling he’ll start out in Tacoma again.  Not the worst thing in the world.

Brad Miller – In following the Dustin Ackley Path To Success, Brad Miller was a mid-season call-up as a rookie and did quite well.  So well, in fact, that he pretty much earned his starting job without a fight.  Nevertheless, the Mariners put the short stop job up for grabs between Miller and Nick Franklin.  Didn’t matter, as Miller mopped the floor with him in the month of March.  The job was his, and everyone rejoiced.

Then the regular season started:

  • April:  .173/.212/.333 with 26 strikeouts in 81 at-bats
  • May:  .136/.260/.152 with 17 strikeouts and 1 extra-base hit in 66 at-bats

In June, he turned it around with:  .298/.355/.512 with 21 strikeouts in 84 at-bats.  But, then July happened:  .172/.262/.224 with 12 strikeouts and 3 extra-base hits in 58 at-bats.  On July 24th, Miller lost his starting job for good, with the promotion of Chris Taylor.  From that point on, they’d split duties, with Taylor getting the bulk of the looks the rest of the way in high-pressure games.

To his credit, Miller did turn his season around somewhat:

  • August:  .273/.357/.545 with 6 strikeouts and 4 extra-base hits in only 22 at-bats
  • September:  .314/.340/.549 with 13 strikeouts and 7 extra-base hits in 51 at-bats

On the whole, Miller’s 2014 was worse than his 2013, but he still has the potential to be a solid starting short stop in this league.  His power potential is undeniable.  His defense isn’t quite as good as Taylor’s, but he’s very athletic and there’s talk of him maybe converting to outfield (or, at least adding that to his repertoire to become a super-utility guy).  Normally, losing your starting position and getting that super-utility label is a death sentence, but in this case I’m willing to hear it out.

Outlook for 2015:  He will once again come in competing for the starting short stop job, this time against Chris Taylor.  If he mashes again like he did in Spring of 2014, he’s certain to win the job out of camp.  But, I have no doubt that if all things are equal with health, there will be a short leash on Miller if he struggles again in April.

Jesus Montero – You know the story:  we traded Michael Pineda and some other dude for Montero and Hector Noesi.  Noesi was a disaster who was finally DFA’d this year (and who became an okay starter for a struggling White Sox team).  Pineda has been mostly injured throughout his time with the Yankees, but at season’s end he flashed that potential he showed in Seattle as a rookie.

Jesus Montero, on the other hand, has been a fucking loser from the get-go.  First, he was our starting catcher of the future; that didn’t pan out.  Then, we looked to convert him to first base; that hasn’t gone well.  He’s a fat, immobile turd who gets to add “injury prone” to his list of descriptors.  Then, towards the end of the 2014 season, on a rehab assignment with the Everett Aqua Sox, functioning as a first base coach (which, not for nothing, is his future in the game:  a base coach for a single-A baseball team), Jesus Montero was baited into an altercation with an allegedly drunken scout (at the time) for the Seattle Mariners after that scout (again allegedly) sent him an ice cream sandwich and yelled at him to hustle more.

The scout was fired (and rightly so, because I like to give Montero shit, but even I know he was acting like a cunt), and Jesus Montero was suspended (probably because he went into the stands with a baseball bat in his hands, which is a huge no-no in sports).  Montero has since been reinstated, and is apparently being watched like a hawk by the Mariners’ front office.  There’s one last chance on the table for Montero in a Mariners uniform (or, more likely, for Montero as trade bait to try to recoup some of his tons of lost value).  They’ve got him in Arizona working out on a strict exercise program (because, you know, he came in fat to Spring Training 2014 and admitted as such in interviews that all he did was sit around and stuff his face during the offseason).

Outlook for 2015:  Once a loser, always a loser.  There will be all this crap written about how he’s in the “best shape of his life”, but that’ll probably mean that he’s lost all his power.  He’ll start out in Tacoma and continue to suck (if he’s not outright traded in the offseason as a throw-in to a much bigger deal).

Kendrys Morales – Sigh.  Here we go.

You remember him as a productive hitter for the Angels for a bunch of years.  Then, he broke his foot or some damn thing while celebrating a game-winning home run and he ended up losing his 2011 season.  The Mariners swapped Jason Vargas for him straight up prior to the 2013 season (after a decent, but not great 2012) and he had a decent, but not great first year with the club.

The big draw with Morales – aside from being a huge step up compared to the other DHs we’ve employed since Edgar Martinez retired – was that even though he’d be a free agent at season’s end, we could tender him and if he signed as a free agent elsewhere, we’d get a high draft pick (a first rounder most likely, unless it was one of the top 10 “protected” draft picks).  So, we offered him the tender – 1 year, $14.1 million – and of course he turned it down.  Reportedly, we even offered him a 3-year, $30 million deal, and he turned THAT down.  See, Scott Boras is his agent, and together they thought they could squeeze a little more out of the free agent market.

They couldn’t.  No one would sign him.  Because no one wants a broken down statue on the basepaths who can’t play first base because he’ll get hurt or need a few days off every time.  He’s a DH and nothing more, and not even that great of a DH at that.  .449 slugging percentage in 2013, playing almost every single day.  That’s crap.  When you bring nothing else to the table, then guess what:  you don’t get contract offers when it means a team has to give up a high draft pick.

In June, he signed with the Twins.  Again reportedly, the Mariners were interested in signing him during the season, but he wouldn’t have it.  So, we ended up trading for him, by giving the Twins Stephen Pryor (a reliever returning from major injury who was no longer the smoke-thrower he was pre-surgery).

Kendrys had 154 at bats with the Twins.  His numbers were bad (.234/.259/.325), but we all rationalized it away by saying, “He didn’t have a REAL Spring Training, so just consider his numbers with the Twins as his Spring.”

That oft-belabored talking point would soon switch to, “If the Mariners can just get Kendrys going down the stretch, everything should be all right with the offense.”  That’s because he was much, MUCH worse as a Seattle Mariner than he was as a Twin (hitting .207/.285/.347), so whenever he managed to do something right (which, again, wasn’t very often), we all had to hope and pray that THIS was the day that turned a slumping slugger who has “always hit” into what we thought we were getting as the centerpiece of our mid-season trades to bolster a contending team.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  But, at least Morales doesn’t have to worry about being tendered anymore.  Even if he DID qualify, there’s no way in FUCKING HELL that even the Mariners would be stupid enough to offer him a 1-year deal for $15.3 million.

Outlook for 2015:  If he had managed even a semi-reasonable finish to his 2014 season, I could’ve seen the Mariners trying to bring him back on a 2-3 year deal.  But, he looked so bad, I doubt it’d happen.  On top of that, I don’t think Morales wants to be here.  Truth be told, he never did (and proved it by signing with a last-place Twins team even though the Mariners were in contention this year and wanted him back), but after his disaster of a season, I think he’s going somewhere on a prove-it deal.  Some place like Baltimore or the Yankees or some other place he can DH in a small ballpark.  Get his numbers back up to where they should be, and then hopefully sign a final long-term deal for big money with the Rangers or some damn place.

Looking Back At The 2014 Mariners: The Hitters, Part I

Consider this the first in a series of looks back at the 2014 Mariners.  For once, it’s going to be more than, “They fucking sucked, I’m sick of thinking about this shit, I’ll see you in February.”  I’m sure I’ll toss out the usual “What Went Right” and “What Went Wrong” posts as time and desire permit, but right now I’m taking a look at the players.  In short, I’m going to list all the players who accumulated a stat for the 2014 Mariners, and I’m going to talk about each of them individually.

I’m also breaking this up into three parts, because we’re pushing 7,000 words here.

Dustin Ackley – Funny thing about Ackley.  If you’d followed the Mariners all season, you’d know that Ackley was one of the most important reasons for our continued success.  But, if you didn’t follow along, and you just now looked at his numbers on the surface, you’d think, “What’s the big fucking deal, bitch?”  He batted .245 this year; he batted .253 LAST year.  He walked only 32 times this year in 143 games; he walked 37 times last year in only 113 games.  What gives?

Well, for starters, his slugging went way up.  .398 vs. .341 last year.  That amounts to 27 doubles, 4 triples, and 14 homers, over last year’s 18/2/4 line on extra-base hits.

Then, take a look at his first half vs. second half.  At the end of the day on June 30, 2014, Ackley was hitting:  .214/.273/.329/.602, with 12 doubles, 2 triples, & 4 homers.  From July 1st onward, Ackley hit .274 with a slugging percentage of .463.  He hit 15 doubles, 2 triples, and a whopping 10 homers to really pick up the slack.  It might’ve been even better, but a nagging ankle injury in September limited his playing time and production.  His August was insane, though:  .280/.325/.533/.857.

So, what does all of this mean?  Haven’t we been seduced by this siren’s song before?  He played a little over half a season (from mid-June onward) as a rookie and did well.  He had a solid start to 2012 and then fell off the map.  He struggled for most of the first half of 2013 before turning it on in August (after enduring a monthlong stint in the minors to get his head right).  Then, in 2014, he struggled in the first half again – finding himself batting towards the bottom of the lineup – before turning it on in the second half.  Which Ackley is the real Ackley?  I’d like to believe he can uphold his second half numbers, but I’ll never be sure until I actually see it for a full year.

Outlook for 2015:  Ackley looks to be the Mariners’ starting left fielder once again, as well as our 2-hole hitter.  We’ll bank on him continuing to hit and play solid corner defense.  If all goes well, we’ve got our left fielder of the future, today.  If all goes to shit, then Ackley is nothing more than a 4th outfielder on a good team’s bench.

Abraham Almonte – On the heels of a pretty mediocre Spring Training, Almonte was handed the keys to the starting center field job as well as our leadoff hitter role.  He was fast, he was exciting at times, but he was raw and for as many amazing plays he made, he made twice as many mistakes.  In the end, he hit like shit and was sent down to Tacoma in early May.  He was later traded to the Padres for Chris Denorfia, where he went on to be a slightly better – but still quite mediocre – hitter.  And then in September, his playing time was cut drastically.

Outlook for 2015:  I have to imagine in AAA somewhere, but certainly not for the Mariners.

Willie Bloomquist – He was a guy – if you’re a Mariners fan – who nobody wanted.  And yet, he was a guy who the Mariners signed to a 2-year guaranteed deal to be this team’s primary utility infielder/outfielder.  And, in the first three and a half months, he played more than anyone would’ve liked, because the majority of this lineup sucked dick.  Particularly our short stop and our entire outfield.  As such, not only did Willie play a lot for a utility guy, but he batted near the top of the lineup.

And, if I’m being honest, he wasn’t The Worst.  He batted .278 and played solid defense.  He was a replacement-level god in a world of sub-replacement clods.  He held this team together in a lot of ways until other guys either improved on their own or came up from Tacoma.  Then, he had a season-ending injury.  But, it was okay.  Chris Taylor was slapping hits around, Ackley was turning it on, and trades were made to theoretically bolster the lineup.

Outlook for 2015:  He’s still under contract, so there’s that.  He had surgery, so I guess it all depends on how he recovers.  If he’s able to return to form, he should be good to have around on the bench.  If he’s not, then we’ll have to decide whether we want to eat the salary, or keep him around anyway as a veteran presence or some damn thing.  I tend to believe he’ll be here, but it wouldn’t kill me if he started the season in the Minors (so, on the DL, getting some extended Spring Training).

John Buck – He was our backup catcher, brought in on a 1-year deal, to back up Mike Zunino (with an outside shot at playing more regularly, depending on whether or not Zunino struggled at the Major League level).  He played in 27 games for the Mariners, he was pisspoor behind the plate, and he was even worse at bat.  He’ll be remembered for hitting a game-winning 2-run home run down in Atlanta, and then getting DFA’d on his birthday on July 7th after a 2-0 win at home over the Twins.  By all accounts, he was a great Clubhouse Guy (who may or may not have come up with the double-jackoff hand signals after guys reached base), but he was also a poor receiver who the pitchers wanted to be rid of.  Jesus Sucre was called up to replace him.  The Mariners would go on to lose their next three games and finish the month of July 7-12, inciting what many only I called the John Buck Curse.

Outlook for 2015:  He was apparently picked up in September by the Angels and played in five games.  The Angels would go on to have the best record in the American League, only to get swept in the ALDS by the Royals.  So, maybe the John Buck Curse has many different meanings.  He won’t be back with the Mariners and he likely won’t be back in baseball period.  All adequate things must come to an end.

Robinson Cano – You know the story:  10 years, $240 million.  He’s here through the 2023 season.  2014 was Year One.

  • The numbers:  .314/.382/.454/.836; 37 doubles, 2 triples, 14 homers, 10 stolen bases, 61 walks, 68 strikeouts, 82 RBI, 77 runs scored, 6.4 WAR, 1 heart stolen (mine, *swoon*)

Want to know how those numbers line up with his career figures?  Let’s take a look:

  • .310/.358/.499/.857; 41.2 doubles per year, 3 triples, 21.8 homers, 4.8 stolen bases (his 2014 total was a career-best), 41.1 walks, 75.7 strikeouts, 90.4 RBI, 87.6 runs scored, 4.88 WAR

His power numbers were a little down, but you had to expect that coming from a bandbox in the Bronx to a cavernous wasteland that is Safeco Field.  Nevertheless, if you go by WAR, this was the fourth-best season of his career.  And that’s in a lineup with not a whole lot around him in support.  There was Seager, and a lot of question marks and holes.  It’s no wonder Cano was among the league leaders in intentional walks.

Consider me a Cano Fan 4 Life after he won me $500 and gave me a good excuse to go back to Tahoe next year to claim my winnings.  We shouldn’t expect these types of numbers for the remaining nine years of his contract, but it’s a helluva start, and in my opinion he’s worth every fucking penny.

Outlook for 2015:  Starting second baseman, 3-hole hitter.  Mark it down in Sharpie.  MVP candidate?  You got it!  The guy who ultimately brings the Mariners back to the post-season?  Gosh I hope so!  Any way you slice it, I would expect numbers comparable to what he did in 2014, with little-to-no dropoff.

Endy Chavez – Like 2013, Endy Chavez signed a minor league deal to return to the Mariners in 2014.  Like 2013, Endy Chavez started the regular season in Tacoma.  This year, he first appeared on May 30th; I believe he had it written into his contract that if he wasn’t on the Mariners’ roster by the end of May, he could get his release and be free to sign elsewhere.

When Endy first played for the Mariners in 2009, he had speed and great fielding ability.  Then, Yuniesky Betancourt happened, causing Endy to tear an ACL.  Ever since, he’s lost much of that speed and fielding ability.  But, if you’re looking for a guy to come off the bench, play some corner outfield, play some emergency centerfield in a pinch, and hit .270 while slapping around a bunch of singles and never walking, then Endy Chavez is your guy!  In short, I like him for what he is.  I like him as THAT.  I don’t like it when he’s playing every day and I don’t like it when he’s batting near the top of the lineup.  Maybe if he walked more, but that’s never going to happen.

Outlook for 2015:  Surprisingly, Endy only played in 80 games this year.  Doesn’t it feel like A LOT more?  I guess if you factor in how he missed the first two months, he really did play in a high percentage (probably around 3/4 of all possible games).  I get the sense that the Mariners will bring him back once again on a minor league deal.  Because why not?  Is he really holding anyone else back?  Not from what I’ve seen.  I’ll take his .270 batting average over some of the stiffs we’ve had roaming the corner outfield spots of late.  If you figure the locks to make this outfield are Ackley, A-Jax, and Michael Saunders (with James Jones as an outside shot as a 4th guy); and if you figure that the Mariners are all but guaranteed to go out and get another outfielder to compete for a starting spot from outside the organization; then it really makes a lot of sense to bring Endy back, start him in Tacoma, and bring him up in late May again if there’s a need for bench help.

Chris Denorfia – He was one of three guys we acquired in trade in the month of July to help us with our stretch run.  We weren’t asking for a lot out of Denorfia:  platoon in right field with Endy Chavez/Michael Saunders when he was healthy, and hit well against left-handed pitchers.  What we got was remarkably less than what we expected.

In 2013, Denorfia was a 4-win player for San Diego, who also plays in a pitcher’s paradise.  He’s always been more or less a bench player in his career, but he got real starting time from 2011-2013 and made the most of it, accounting for a little over 7 wins in production during that time.  For whatever reason, in 2014 he fell off the proverbial cliff.  In 89 games with the Padres before being traded, he hit .242/.293/.319 – essentially the definition of replacement-level.  We picked him up and he hit .195/.256/.317, or just less than a replacement-level player.  In real-world numbers, he had 5 extra-base hits in 32 games.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper.  We brought this guy in to bat right-handed against left-handed pitchers.  How did he do in the role he was brought in for?

In 61 of 90 plate appearances, he hit .164/.246/.255, with 2 of his 5 extra-base hits.

So, in other words, he was an unmitigated disaster.  Chock that trade up as a huge FAIL, because I can all but guarantee that Abe Almonte could’ve EASILY surpassed those bullshit numbers.

Outlook for 2015:  Not a Mariner.  I don’t care where he ends up, as long as it’s not here.  He’ll probably get a minor league deal with an invite to camp somewhere to compete for another bench spot.  I’d say 50/50 he breaks camp with a Major League team.

Nick Franklin – In Spring Training, it was a battle between Nick Franklin and Brad Miller for the starting short stop job.  Remember that?  Remember how we signed Cano, thereby closing that position to Franklin who’d started there for much of 2013?  Remember how we had visions of turning Franklin into a reserve outfielder?

Anyway, Brad Miller was off-the-charts hot in Spring Training, and that was that for Franklin.  Until around mid-April, when he was called up because he was hitting so well and Miller wasn’t.  He proceeded to stink and by early June was back down in Tacoma again.

We would go on to trade him to the Rays in a 3-team deal that brought us Austin Jackson.  At the time, it looked like a gift from the Heavens.

Franklin wouldn’t make his Rays debut until September.  He played in 11 games for them in total.  In his first start, he had two hits with a double, an RBI, and a run scored.  He would go on to have only five more hits, two more extra-baggers, and that’s about it.

Outlook for 2015:  I guess contending for a roster spot with the Rays?  There’s a lot of team control left, so I’m sure he’ll have plenty of chances.  We’ll see.

Cole Gillespie – He’s another fringe, AAAA-type player who’s probably too good for Triple-A, but not good enough for the Majors.  And yet, I’m absolutely certain he would’ve been an improvement over Chris Denorfia.  He played in 34 games and did okay.  I still don’t quite remember why we let him go.  He played in 1 other Major League game after he left and I don’t know what’s going on now.

Outlook for 2015:  Sometimes you eat the bar …

Random Mariners Thoughts From The First Week Of The Season

A 3-0 sweep of the Angels left us all with the loftiest of expectations.  An ugly 4-day weekend in Oakland brought us back down to Earth a little bit.

Going into that Oakland series, I told you that I would have taken a 2-2 split and called it a day.  Turns out, that was probably a little unrealistic.  After Thursday night’s shit-show of a performance by Sean Barber:  Professional Umpire, the morons who run the stadium decided it would be fun to leave the tarp off of the field while an overnight storm was on the horizon.  With the field a soggy, sinking mess, Friday’s game was cancelled and Saturday’s game was in some serious jeopardy.

Saturday’s game was indeed played, however, and it was about as enjoyable as it gets.  Felix was ripping out their throats for nearly three hours, then Fernando Rodney came in and did his job, getting the final two outs of the game.  Whole lot to like out of the pitching in that game, but we can’t forget Dustin Ackley’s 2-run bomb, and Almonte’s solo bomb.  They’ve both been hitting the ball quite hard, which is good to see.

Sunday’s game was about as miserable as it gets.  After jumping out to a 3-0 lead, the Mariners failed to score in the final six innings, as thousands upon thousands of youths in the crowd were non-stop whistling these free plastic bracelets that were given out (which apparently had some way to make them whistle and drive me slowly insane … I can still hear it when I plug my ears!).

I mean, seriously, that weekend series was FUCKED.  If I ever had even the slightest inkling to visit Oakland, that inkling has been smothered in its sleep.  Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just COMPLETELY surrounded by fuck-ups and idiots?  Because that’s what that weekend series was like for the Mariners (a refreshing change-of-pace from the Mariners being the fuck-ups and idiots).

Anyway, here are my random thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Robinson Cano is amazing.  I know we get to see effortless greatness every five days out of Felix, but I honestly forgot what it felt like to see that out of an everyday player.  When was the last time we ever LOOKED FORWARD to a batter for the Mariners?  Now, I find myself counting the outs in the inning, and counting the number of hitters it’s going to take to get back to Cano.  It’s exciting!  And by God, I won’t HEAR a negative comment about my boy Cano!  He’s perfect, and if you want to mess with the bull, you better believe you’re going to get the horns!
  • Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley are off to hot starts:  7 extra base hits between them, to go along with 14 of the team’s 34 RBI.  If this is indeed the beginning of their career turnarounds, then holy Hell it’s about time!  But, if this is just another hot streak that these guys have been prone to from time to time (only, in this case, the “streak” just happens to coincide with the beginning of the season), then I’m going to be seriously disappointed.  Still, it’s got to mean something that they’re getting off to such a hot start, right?  Better to see that average at a high level than to see it impossibly low and constantly think about how you’re going to dig yourself out of that hole.
  • Speaking of digging out of an early hole:  Kyle Seager has two hits in five games.  Of course, they’re both doubles, and he HAS been hitting the ball pretty hard.  One of his outs came on a sharply hit ball that collided with the first base bag, bouncing up into the running arms of the pitcher who beat him easily to the bag for the out.  I’m not worried about Seager.  He could go 0-for-the-next-week and I’ll still remain confident in his abilities to turn things around.  Still, you have to expect some of these other guys to cool off a little bit, at which point, we’re going to need Seager to pick up the slack.
  • The two most exciting players on this team right now are Brad Miller and Abraham Almonte.  While raw and a little reckless, Almonte looks like he’s going to fit right in as a center fielder and leadoff hitter for this team.  If he can manage to be a pain in the ass for opposing teams, that’s going to be a HUGE plus for this team and its offense.  Just need to reign him in a little bit on some of the wildness (especially on the basepaths).  Once he’s able to hone that energy into being predominantly positive, he’ll really have an impact on this game.
  • Brad Miller is another one of those guys who’s hitting the ball hard and seeing some sub-par results.  If he keeps it up, he could be a near-.300 hitter.
  • Would someone explain to me why John Buck wasn’t starting yesterday with Erasmo Ramirez on the hill?  He was SO GOOD for him, calling the pitches and working to ensure that Ramirez was putting the ball where it needed to go.  Seems to me that Buck could have used that game to keep fresh, and Zunino could have used that day off to give him back-to-back days off before the home opener tomorrow.
  • Also, does someone want to tell me why we have Corey Hart batting in the 5-spot, when all I’m reading about is how he’s still trying to get his stroke and his timing back at the plate?  I get that he needs to see live pitching to improve, and that live pitching should probably be at the Major League level, but why in the 5-spot?  He’s been out of the game for so long!  It’s probably going to take him at least a month of hardcore struggling before he figures it out!  Why not put him in the 9-hole until he proves that he’s earned his way up the ladder?
  • I’ll tell you another thing, I’m not wild and crazy about LoMo either.  In fact, overall our DH/RF spot on this team has been pretty pathetic.  I can’t get too mad, though, because every time LoMo starts in right field, he’s only blocking Michael Saunders, who has NOT proven he deserves to be an everyday outfielder.  Nevertheless, I don’t think we’re very far off from me (and everyone else) calling for Stefen Romero to get a chance to play everyday.  Here’s to hoping that we see another couple left-handed starters in the near future.
  • Taijuan Walker made a rehab start and all went well.  He’s got another one coming up soon and after that he could be ready to return to the Majors.  It’ll be interesting to see what the club decides (fingers crossed it means Tom Wilhelmsen goes away).
  • Felix is 2-0 and already looks like he’s in mid-season form.  Remember when we had to wait around for May or June before Felix kicked it into high gear?  He’s on another level in 2014.
  • They stuck Chris Young into the bullpen this week, thanks to the rainless rain-out in Oakland on Friday (and thanks to the team DFA’ing Hector Noesi after that horrendous Thursday night outing where he gave up the game winning home run on his second pitch of the night).  Young pitched a couple innings yesterday and looked halfway decent.  I think there’s a good chance, if he keeps it up, that we keep him in the long-relief role for the rest of the season, once Iwakuma returns (or until the rotation has another opening).
  • James Paxton gets to start the home opener tomorrow.  The last few years, it’s been the likes of Jason Vargas and Safeco Joe Saunders, so this’ll be a nice reprieve.  I won’t be going to that game, but I WILL be going to the Supreme Court game this Friday.

Overall, in spite of the way things ended on this road trip, my outlook is positive on this team.  The Angels are clearly a mess, and the A’s aren’t all that mind-blowing.  Our offense compares pretty favorably to theirs.  Our starting rotation compares pretty favorably to theirs.  The only real difference between the two teams is the fact that the A’s have one of the best bullpens in baseball and the Mariners … don’t.  In other words, you don’t want to get into a battle of bullpens like we had on Thursday night.  Then again, if Jim Johnson continues to struggle, who knows?

The Shitshow That Was The 2013 Seattle Mariners, Part II: Hitting & Defense

Catch Part I HERE.

To be honest, it’s been two days of this and I’m already bored and frustrated by rehashing the 2013 Mariners season.  I’d quit right here, but then what kind of Seattle sports blogger would I be?  A half-assed one, that’s what!  Well, I’ll have you know that I’m determined to use my whole ass starting right now!  So, get used to it!

The best and only hitters you could reasonably qualify as “good” on this team in 2013 were Kendrys Morales and Kyle Seager.  Morales, as we’re all well aware, was received in trade for Jason Vargas.  Not to get too deep into this, I’ll just say that the Mariners traded a strength to fill a weakness and essentially came out even in the deal.  I don’t necessarily know what Vargas did in Anaheim and I don’t care, because what he did there has no bearing on what he would have done in a Mariners uniform.

I like Morales.  I don’t love him.  I don’t think he’s worth $14 million a season and I don’t think he’s worth having around for more than two years (three tops, but that’s really pushing it).  Apparently, the Mariners have either extended a qualifying offer to him (for the aforementioned $14 million) or are going to extend him a qualifying offer, but either way it doesn’t sound like he’s going to accept it.  Either that means the Mariners reach some sort of multi-year deal with him, or they let him go to another team and receive some sort of first round draft compensation.

So, what does the 2013 Kendrys Morales season mean to me?  Well, if he ends up going to another team, it’ll mean absolutely nothing.  We kind of figured he’d be a one-year-and-done player anyway when we traded for him; and besides, who really wants to stay with the Mariners for longer than they have to?  Besides Felix (God bless you, sweet Felix).  And, if Morales stays around for another three years?  Then, his 2013 season showed us that he’s still got it.  What is “it”?  Well, on the one hand, you can look at him and say he’s an over-priced quasi-slugger who has no business playing in the field, and offers nothing in the base-running game, so his value is limited.  Or, on the other hand, you can look at him and say he’s easily the best designated hitter we’ve had since Edgar Martinez.

Are you a Glass Half Empty guy or a Glass Half Full?  Yeah, he’s going to cost us a lot of money if he stays.  But, he beats the fucking shit out of the Carl Everetts and Jose Vidros of the fucking world.  So, calm the fuck down.  It’s not your money.  Besides, it’s about time the Mariners start shelling out some dough so I don’t have to watch a colossal bunch of fuck-ups year-in and year-out.

Kyle Seager, on the other hand, is our little third base pride and joy.  He’s steady as the day is long.  30+ doubles, 20+ homers, solid defense.  He’s a true middle-of-the-order (anywhere from 2-5 in the lineup) hitter and best of all:  he’s actually someone we drafted and cultivated from our very own farm system!  I’m starting to doubt that he’ll ever be that perennial All Star, but I’ll tell you what:  I’d give anything to have eight more hitters just like him at all the other positions.  And, you gotta figure that sooner or later he’s going to really pop and have a year where he bats .330 with maybe 40 doubles and 30 homers.  Wouldn’t shock me in the slightest.

Of course, it also wouldn’t shock me if he just fell off the face of the Earth, because that’s what everyone else does in this organization.

Dustin Ackley had something of a bounce-back year, at least at the plate.  I’m not ready to start sucking his dick and writing him in as an everyday player for this team going forward, but let’s just say I’m cautiously encouraged.  He absolutely stunk through the first two months of the season, somehow batting even worse than he did in 2012 (which I didn’t think was physically possible for him).  The Mariners finally had to send him back down to Tacoma because, Jesus Christ, he was batting .205 again!  In Tacoma, he proceeded to fuck everyone’s shit up and found himself back in the Majors by the end of June.  Of course, at this point, Nick Franklin had usurped his job at second base, so the organization converted him back to a center fielder.

His defense wasn’t the worst I’d ever seen, but he was clearly the team’s third best center fielder (behind Guti & Michael Saunders), and maybe even the fourth best (behind Endy Chavez).  Whereas his second base defense was quite solid, his center field defense was doing his WAR no favors.  And, when he returned to the Mariners, his batting average cratered to a season-low .194.  He more-or-less struggled through July and everyone thought he was done.  Too good for Triple-A, but not good enough for the Majors.  Just another Jeremy Reed.  Then, something happened.  He caught fire in August with this line:  .390/.420/.597/1.017, raising his season average to .258 in the process.  He coasted on that hot August through September to finish the season with a .253 average.  Rubes have hope for the future of Dustin Ackley.  The rest of us jaded fucks have our doubts.

Justin Smoak was similarly interesting, in that he started shitty, missed some time, came back, and peaked somewhere in July.  He tailed off at the end of the year leaving us all to believe this is just who he is.  A .240-ish hitter with minimal pop and okay defense at first base.

Michael Saunders was more distressing than anything.  Everyone thought he had turned a corner in 2012 after fiddling with his batting stance in the off-season.  For him to take a step back the way he did in 2013, you can’t help but think he’s a fourth outfielder at best.  Essentially, 2014 will be his last shot, but who knows if he’ll even HAVE a last shot?  The team seems pretty set on going full-boar in finding some new outfielders to replace the gaping holes we’ve had for the better part of a half decade.

Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, and Mike Zunino were three call-ups in 2013 who were all probably rushed into starting Major League jobs before they were ready.  Miller acquitted himself well, though his propensity for defensive blunders are a little nerve-wracking.  Franklin started off a house afire, but he really struggled the longer he remained in the starting lineup.  I know when Ackley was on his torrid streak, people were calling to move him back to his old second base job, but at that point you can’t start jerking people around (especially when there was nothing to play for this season except for experience, which Franklin got in spades).  Zunino gets an incomplete because he broke his hamate bone and missed a bunch of time.  His leadership and defensive abilities are a welcome addition.  But, he’s still pretty raw at the plate.

In a nutshell, this season was defined by the veterans and how they failed us.  I already went over the veteran starting pitchers who totally stunk up the joint.  Well, they were joined by guys like Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, Jason Bay, Brendan Ryan, Endy Chavez, Kelly Shoppach, Henry Blanco, Robert Andino, and of course, the oft-injured Guti. All brought in (or retained) with the intent to add “leadership” to our young core.

Ibanez tied the record for most home runs by a senior citizen with 29.  That was good for a lark, especially when he managed to bash 24 of them before the All Star Break.  Hell, we all thought he was going to SHATTER the record.  But, of course, what happens when you let a 41 year old play every fucking day?  His production goes down the shitter.  5 more homers the rest of the way.  And, if you think I’m talking about Ibanez’s home runs too much, that’s because his homers were literally the ONLY thing he was bringing to the table.  We couldn’t play him at DH where he belonged, because that’s where Kendrys Morales belonged (and, truth be told, it’s also where Mike Morse and Jason Bay belonged, but they can’t ALL be designated hitters).  So, we got to enjoy Raul’s baffling defense in left field on a near-everyday basis.  Lucky us.

It was no better with Morse in right, but at least he was injured for most of the season.  His first couple of weeks were pretty intense; it looked like he might mash 50 homers.  Since this is Morse we’re talking about, you had to figure his body would break down.  I guess that’s what happens when you’re no longer free to take steroids as much as you’d like.

I refuse to acknowledge the presence of any of the other veteran hitters on this team because each one is worse than the last.  I’ve already blown through way too many words on this group of hitters as it is, so I’ll cut this short and save some stuff for tomorrow when I look at what the Mariners should do this off-season.  If you catch me writing anything other than “Blow the whole fucking thing up,” then I encourage you to write your congressman and have me put in prison.

The Shitshow That Was The 2013 Seattle Mariners, Part I: Pitching

When you end up with a season like the Mariners just finished, you blame it on one thing:  lack of a plan.

Tell me, where was the plan?  The team swapped Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales, the team swapped John Jaso for Mike Morse, and the team filled in the empty spaces with a lot of filler bullshit.  You could argue that the team at least tried something different with the hitting.  It opted to trade defense for home runs, but at least they did SOMETHING.  You can yell and scream until you’re blue in the face about how that’s a pretty crappy idea, but think about it this way:  if the team didn’t try to make it all about the dingers – if they went super defensive and super OBP on us – would it have made any difference whatsoever?

I argue it would not have made one bit of difference.  Because this team totally crapped the bed when it came to pitching.

Remember when Jon Garland was almost our 4th/5th starter?  That was a thing that almost happened.  In Spring Training, we were banking on him to make this big comeback from injury to carry the load at the back-end of our rotation.  We weren’t totally sold on him, and he had an opt-out clause, so when push came to shove Garland moved on and started 12 games for the Rockies before being released.  But HE was almost in our rotation.  Think about that!  We could have had Saunders, Garland, Harang, and Bonderman all starting games for us this year!

As it stands, just having Saunders, Harang, and Bonderman was bad enough, but what were you going to do?  As I said before, the Mariners decided to totally and completely neglect the pitching side of things.

Yes, you can count on Felix to be your Ace.  Yes, you could see good things coming from Iwakuma.  Maybe not as good as he actually turned out to be, but I was never worried that he was going to take a huge step back either.  After that?  We all figured Joe Saunders would be Vargas-lite, but he was so much WORSE.  I don’t care why he was worse, I just know that he only had 13 quality starts out of 32.  That’s terrible.  You want your #3 starter to be better than 50% with their quality starts (I’d say at least 20 of 32) and he was nowhere near that.  More often than not, Joe Saunders gave this team NO CHANCE to win in his starts.  That’s a guy who started for us all year.

After that, we had hopes that our younger guys would step up.  But, of course, Erasmo Ramirez came out of the gates injured and didn’t make it back until around the All Star Break (and even when he returned, he was pretty mediocre).  We were hopeful that Danny Hultzen could crack the bigs somewhere around mid-season, but he pitched in all of 6 games in Triple-A before being shut down with shoulder problems.  Brandon Maurer did make the team after an otherworldly Spring Training (making the jump straight from Double-A), but he proved to be totally ineffective in getting left-handed bats out and had to go down to Tacoma for further seasoning.  Taijuan Walker wasn’t ready to pitch in the Majors until September.  Ditto James Paxton.  And Beavan and Noesi further proved they are never going to be Major League starters.

As you can plainly see, the kids were not up to the task for one reason or another.  So, we had to bring up Bonderman when Maurer finally pitched his way to the minors.  We had to panic-trade for Harang when Beavan did the same.  Neither of these veterans lasted to September, because neither of these veterans had any fucking business being in the Major Leagues at this point in their careers.

In short, our starting rotation was a total joke.  Yeah, our top two guys were as good as any other team’s top two guys; but our bottom three were arguably the worst in all of baseball.  Regardless of who was plugged in there (9 other guys started games for the Mariners aside from Felix & Kuma), they were all the fucking worst!

And, when you combine a trainwreck of a starting rotation with the most volatile bullpen in the game, it’s pretty easy to see why the Mariners lost another 91 games.

The team had a 65% save percentage.  23 of 66 total save opportunities were blown.  Oddly enough, the team was NOT led in blown saves by erstwhile closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who was 24 of 29 in save opportunities.  He blew his fifth game by mid-June, was given a couple weeks off of closing duties, pitching in middle relief, then picked right back up again with a fairly solid July before absolutely going to shit in August.  The team sent him to Tacoma to work on some things, and after he returned he lost his job for good.

The team turned to Danny Farquhar, who had an excellent strike out percentage, but he wasn’t without his faults.  He ended up finishing the season as our closer, and saved 16 of 20 games.  Still, you have to wonder if you can count on him at all going forward.

The rest of the bullpen was full of hit-or-miss guys.  Oliver Perez and Yoervis Medina, for the most parts, were solid.  Furbush was okay at times and the plague at other times.  Stephen Pryor pitched in seven games before he was lost for the year.  Carter Capps – my predicted pick as best bullpen guy going into the season – also couldn’t get lefties out, in spite of his rocket fastball.  The rest of the Triple-A garbage the team brought up and plugged in throughout the year isn’t even worth mentioning.

The bullpen led baseball in strikeouts, and that’s about it.  They were either lockdown, or they were walking the world and giving away games.  There was very little in-between, and as mentioned above, it was about 65/35 as to whether you’d see Angel Bullpen or Devil Bullpen.

I’ll get into the future prospects of the pitching staff in Friday’s post, so I’ll save my opinions on what they should do (who they should keep, who they should get rid of, etc.).  My overall impression of this team is that it failed, horribly.  That’s nothing new.  But, as opposed to years past – where the pitching was often a strength – this year, the Mariners failed in a 50/50 split.  50% of why the Mariners were bad was because of the pitching, and 50% of why they were bad was because of everything else.  You’re not going to make the playoffs with two good starters and a bullpen that saves games 65% of the time.  Not unless you hit a ton like the 1997 Mariners.  But, as I’ll get to tomorrow, this team was FAR from the ’97 Mariners, in spite of the fact that they tried to hit homers like ’em.