Well, The Fucking Mariners Lost Again

It does seem like we got some semblance of the Good Kuma in this one, though it obviously didn’t end very well.  He was cruising along during the parts of the game I saw, before my social drinking brought me to a location that didn’t have the game on TV.  When I stopped watching, the Mariners had a 1-0 lead and things were looking promising.  Then, it all went to shit.

Iwakuma gave up a solo homer in the fifth to tie it, a solo homer in the sixth to take the L, and a double that would eventually be sacrificed home to rub salt in the wounds.  Meanwhile, as alluded to just now, the Mariners’ offense couldn’t do much of anything.  Yet again, a mediocre left-handed starter absolutely gave us fits, as Sean Manaea spun 6 innings of brilliance against a really frustrating set of Mariners bats.

Danny Valencia sucks dog shit.  He has ONE JOB, and that’s to be a good hitter against left-handed pitching.  In spite of his career numbers being really fucking glowing against lefties, this year he’s actually somehow WORSE against them!  .111/.333/.111 is the line he has right now against lefties, which is un-fucking-acceptable.  His dumb ass is here to be a platoon partner at first base, only since Dan Vogelbach is destined to be a bust, we’re stuck with Valencia full time, and it’s a God damn nightmare.  I never thought I’d see the day I longed for Adam Lind to be back in my life.  Hell, Justin Fucking Smoak would be a better option at this point!

Also, middle of the order?  Yeah, I’m looking at the big swinging dicks of Cano, Cruz, and Seager:  we’re going to need a good game out of you more than once out of every seven days, okay?  WHERE’S THE BEEF, YOU TURKEYS???  You are our power hitters, and right now you’re hitting like a bunch of Nancy’s.  Mitch Haniger can’t fucking do everything!  GET YOUR FUCKING SHIT TOGETHER AND GET ON A HOT STREAK RIGHT FUCKING NOW!

Two games.  Two games lost to this God-foresaken A’s team.  Typical fucking Mariners bullshit.  Can’t wait to be swept this weekend.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Dan Vogelbach

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

Look, we’re kinda getting down to the bottom of the barrel a little bit in these “very important” Mariners.  I get that.  I’m just trying to get through the month with a little content on the ol’ website before Spring Training gets going in earnest.

I’ll dive into this one by saying that I’m a little concerned about first base.  First base and the outfield in general has been a problem dating back to 2008 and it’s never REALLY been solved.  This year, instead of half-assing it, we went full throttle on defense to bolster our outfield, probably to the detriment of our hitting from that neck of the woods.  I’m predicting the 8th and 9th spots in the lineup will regularly go to two of our three outfield spots, and for once I’m okay with it.

First base has been a different kind of black hole entirely.  Dating back to 2008, when Richie Sexson totally bottomed out and became one of my most-loathed players of all time, look at who we’ve been running out there:  Bryan LaHair, Russell Branyan, Casey Kotchman, Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison, Jesus Montero, Adam Lind, and Dae-ho Lee, to name but a few.  Any one of those guys, if they were even REMOTELY worth a damn, could’ve taken the Mariners’ first baseman job and ran with it.  Instead, we’re onto the next one, and in this case it’s some combo of Dan Vogelbach and Danny Valencia (at least to start off the season).

Dan Vogelbach is the main prize we got in the Mike Montgomery trade last summer with the Cubs.  He came over here as a big power hitter from the left side who has had a lot of success in the upper minors (was a rookie in 2011, climbed the ranks through A-ball, reached AA in 2015 and AAA in 2016).  He slashed .272/.403/.425 in AA and .292/.417/.505 in AAA.  Finally, in September of last year, he got his first cup of coffee in the Majors and picked up his first Big League hit, but otherwise did absolutely nothing.  For what it’s worth, he could’ve batted 1.000 in 12 at-bats in Seattle last year and I’d feel the same exact way about him, because it’s 12 at-bats.  There’s nothing to learn about anyone’s September call-up, ever.  We’ve seen guys come up and be amazing, only to revert back to nothing the next year; just as we’ve seen guys struggle in their first call-ups while eventually sticking in the Majors at some point in the future.

All that having been said, I feel like the majority of Mariners fans out there would rather have Mike Montgomery right now, but that’s neither here nor there.

Vogelbach is also a guy who came here without a position.  I mean, yeah, he’s played first base all through the minors, but he’s not really a defensive wunderkind.  So, not only does the kid have to prove his worth in Spring Training just to make the Opening Day roster, but he’s got to figure out how to hit Major League pitching, AND he’s got to be good-enough defensively to not be a total liability.  That’s A LOT to expect out of someone, especially as a rookie!

I don’t know about you, but I like my baseball rookies to have at least one aspect of their game already figured out by the time they reach the Majors.  Usually, that means you’re getting a great defensive talent who will hopefully adjust and eventually learn to hit.  Those guys, at least, know they have the defensive part down, so all they have on their plates is needing to hit (oh, is that all?).  But, if a guy has to come up, learn how to hit, AND learn how to play defense better, the odds of him struggling are greatly increased.

My point is:  I don’t see any way that Vogelbach has a good season in 2017.  The hope is that he’s such a natural at hitting that he’ll come up here and start mashing from Day One, but I’ve been burned on that pipe dream too many times.  Our most-realistic best-case scenario is that he at the very least has a good eye for balls and strikes and is able to walk his way to a respectable on-base percentage, while providing 15-20 homers near the bottom of our lineup as he gives Valencia the occasional off-day.

I think the most-realistic realistic-case scenario is that he stinks.  I understand the idea is to have a Vogelbach/Valencia platoon, and it would stand to reason that by being the left-handed hitter, Vogelbach would get 2/3 of the starts at first base.  But, I think that script will get flipped pretty early on in the year.  I think a terrible April out of Vogelbach will render him little more than a bench player (unless they opt to send him to Tacoma to work it out on an everyday basis), and Valencia ends up with the lion’s share of starts at first base.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think you’re going to run into any number of articles around mid-season clamoring for another left-handed bat who can play first base with Valencia.

Cano, Cruz, Seager: An Appreciation

In football (and, I guess in all sports, but people seem to talk about it in football the most), the goal is to strike a healthy balance between offense and defense, between high-priced superstars and cost-effective elite youth, between a strong running game and an opportunistic passing attack on offense, as well as stout run defense and a lethal pass rush.  Of course, there have been teams that got by with a stark imbalance (usually a top defense and a meh offense), but even the teams who have won Super Bowls with high-flying offenses usually see an uptick in their defensive production, if only for that championship season.

The Mariners, for years, have been anything but balanced.  The pitching has usually been okay, but for the longest time, the hitting was non-existent.  In the Jackie Z “Rebuild On The Cheap Through Prospects” Era, the middle of our order was riddled with sick jokes.  Power hitters with no on-base abilities who struck out a ton, line drive hitters with warning track-power who struck out a ton, past-their-prime veterans who struck out a ton, injury-plagued veterans who couldn’t even stay off the DL long enough to strike out a ton, and so on and so forth.

It really wasn’t until we signed Robinson Cano in 2014, then paired him with Nelson Cruz in 2015, that we could say we had a middle-of-the-order we could be proud of.  But, there always seemed to be a straggler.  In 2014, Cano was top notch and Seager was Seager, but Kendrys Morales was a lump of crap, and all too many at bats were going to the likes of Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak.  In 2015, Cruz and his 44 homers were far and away our offensive MVP, and while Seager was still Seager, Cano was plagued with nagging injuries and had a forgettable first half of the season.  This three-piece didn’t really all put it together until 2016, but boy did they make beautiful music together!

Not since the trio of A-Rod, Griffey, and Edgar have the Mariners had a middle of the order this formidable.  Don’t take my word for it, though; take these numbers:

  • Cano – .298/.350/.533, 39 homers, 103 RBI
  • Cruz – .287/.360/.555, 43 homers, 105 RBI
  • Seager – .278/.359/.499, 30 homers, 99 RBI

I would like to point out, before we move on, that Seager would’ve had that 100th RBI had his line drive not hit the second base umpire in the last week of the season, as it most certainly would’ve scored the runner from second.

Anyway, as you can see, that’s a ton of production.  We were second in the league in homers, and 112 of our 223 (a hair over 50%) were from those three guys.  They missed a combined 12 games and led us to our best offensive season since the Lou Piniella days.

Cano had a career high in homers, which is particularly impressive coming off of his 2015, when we all wondered if he was beginning his decline a little earlier than scheduled.  He proved he’s still the superstar we signed up for, and even though his batting average dipped under .300 for just the third time since becoming an everyday player, the huge boost in his power numbers were most welcome on a team that stayed in contention throughout the season.  We’re 3 years into a 10-year contract; it’s comforting to believe we have at least a couple more high-level years to go with Cano before we face that inevitable decline.

Cruz has been something of a revelation since leaving the Rangers at the age of 33.  He’s always had impressive power, but lacked consistency.  Everyone figured he’d get a massive deal anyway, because this is baseball and GMs are dumb, but more teams than expected were turned off by his lack of defensive ability.  So, he signed a 1-year prove-it deal with Baltimore and turned out the best season of his career to date, with 40 homers and a 4.7 WAR over 159 games.  He parlayed that into finally getting that massive deal with the Mariners (4 years, $57 million) and somehow had an even BETTER season in 2015!  44 homers and a 5.2 WAR over 152 games (including a .302 batting average and .369 on-base percentage, which remain career highs with a minimum of 110 games played).  It was better than we could have possibly hoped for, considering he played half his games in Safeo Field (moved-in fences or no, it’s still a notoriously tough place to hit dingers).

It would’ve been pretty unrealistic to expect that upward trajectory to continue, and while it came to pass that Cruz’s numbers took a bit of a dip, it wasn’t the nosedive some of us feared.  He still hit over 40 homers and nearly pulled off a .290 batting average in earning another 4.7 WAR season.  Granted, he played a lot more DH than he did last year, but that’s not a bad thing.  Given his limitations in the field, he SHOULD be preserved by playing almost exclusively DH (outside of games in N.L. stadia).  Considering we’re halfway through his contract, and he’s still hitting as well as he did in Baltimore (combined with our tough luck with free agent acquisitions in the past), I feel like we’re playing with house money with Cruz.  Hell, his year THIS year could’ve been even better had he not been dealing with that wrist injury down the stretch!  Talk about a guy playing through the pain and producing at a high level!

Given what we’ve seen out of him over the first half of his contract, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect him to continue playing at a high level at least through the 2017 season.  One would hope, barring injury, that his decline doesn’t officially kick in until 2018 or beyond, but suffice it to say these declines can start at any time, and when they hit, it’s remarkable how fast a player can go from being at the top of his game to out of baseball entirely (see:  Sexson, Richie).

The real player I’m in awe of in 2016 is Kyle Seager.  I just don’t remember ever seeing a player like him before.  He consistently gets better with each passing season!  It’s incredible!  Usually those guys end up leaving Seattle, and finding their success with other teams.  There have certainly been Mariners players who have been better than Seager, but guys like A-Rod and Griffey were superstars as infants.  Edgar was already a pro hitter when he was still languishing in the minors.  Cano and Cruz obviously made their names elsewhere before cashing in here.  But, Seager is a true rarity.  A true find.  A homegrown stud at a difficult defensive position who was rewarded with a contract extension, and who continues to improve at his craft.  We’ve had Seager in Seattle for six years (five full seasons), and the best part of his game is that he could continue to improve for six more years!

He’s played in at least 155 games in every full year he’s been in the Majors.  Before 2016, he’d hit for an average of around .260 to .270.  He’s increased his homer production each and every year.  He’s got a gold glove under his belt.  He’s been an All Star.  But, this year, he took his hitting to a new level.  Yes, yes, the career highs in homers, RBI, and runs scored.  But, also career highs in average, on-base percentage, and slugging!  And, we’re talking considerable jumps:

  • .278 average, previous high of .268 in 2014
  • .359 on-base percentage, previous high of .338 in 2013
  • .499 slugging percentage, previous high of .454 in 2014
  • .858 OPS, previous high of .788 in 2014

This coincides with a smarter approach at the plate.  If you look at his spray charts this year compared to years past, you’ll see while he’s predominantly a pull hitter when it comes to homers, he’s much better at distributing batted balls evenly throughout the field.  Still a lot of ground-outs to the second baseman, but not nearly as pronounced as it was even two years ago.  If he can continue to improve in this regard, he might even be able to get teams to stop shifting so much when he comes to the plate.

I still contend there’s a .300 hitter lurking beneath the surface of Kyle Seager.  The more he works at hitting to all fields, the better his chances of cracking that barrier.  Of course, you take the good with the bad, and there are definite limitations to Seager’s game.  He’s got power, but not to all fields.  So, the trick is, maintaining that 20-30 homer power, while morphing into that .300 hitter I keep saying (every year) that we’re going to see one of these days.  It’ll happen, and when it does, I’m going to go hoarse from saying “I Told You So” so many times.

The best part of this 2016 Mariners team was its heart of the order.  These 3-4-5 hitters.  Even if they went through individual slumps, they weren’t long-lasting.  And, it seemed like there was never a point in the year where all of them were in a slump at the same time.  There was always one or two of these guys hitting to pick up the slack.  And, when all three were on at the same time, it was usually a bloodbath for the other team.  Now, whether that contributed to the hitters around them being better, or getting better pitches to hit, I couldn’t tell you.  I do know that we had 9 guys (including our fearsome Big Three) who had over 10 homers, which is pretty impressive.  I’m sure guys ahead of them (pitchers not wanting to walk guys ahead of Cano) and behind them (pitchers not wanting to give up more RBI, as there would most certainly be at least one guy on base by the time the 6-hole batter came up) saw better pitches to hit.  But, this was also a very veteran team, that by and large was able to work a count better than we’ve seen in over a decade.  So, it’s tough to say how the Big Three affected the rest of the lineup.

I just know what they were able to do, and it was the best we’ve seen ’round these parts in quite some time.

Ideally, we’ll get more of the same in 2017.  We’re probably going to need it, as I can’t imagine the pitching staff is going to drastically improve between now and then.  But, if they start to regress, at least we’ll have 2016.  It didn’t end in a post-season berth, but it was still an entertaining year of baseball thanks to these three guys.

Mariners Trade Mike Montgomery To Cubs For Dan Vogelbach

That’s the headline, anyway.  The Mariners also received minor league pitcher Paul Blackburn, and gave away minor league pitcher Jordan Pries.

When you think about the weird journey of Mike Montgomery – a former first round pick who couldn’t quite make the jump to the Bigs, traded to Seattle for Erasmo Ramirez of all people, coming into Spring Training this year without a spot on the team, then winning a bullpen role thanks to injuries and his own step forward in development – this really feels like the organization selling high on a middling prospect.

When I think about any trade, I think about the ceilings of all involved – particularly the stars of the trade.  What’s Mike Montgomery’s ceiling?  If his performance this year is any indication, he could be a back-of-the-rotation starter, or he could be a pretty solid reliever.  If he puts it all together?  Maybe he could become a #3 starter, but if that happens, we’re probably a ways away.  Fortunately for the Cubs, they’ll have lots of time to get to know him.  While I believe he’s out of options, Montgomery still has 2 years of team control over him, followed by 3 more arbitration years after that.  When you consider his salary this year is only $515,000, there is potentially GREAT value in this guy.  The Cubs just got a young, cost-controlled left-handed pitcher who can start, who can relieve, and who theoretically is still getting better.

Then again, he could just be who he is.  An okay lefty, with okay stuff, but not all that special.  He’ll have good years and bad years, he’ll eat up innings for you probably (if you stick him in the rotation), but he might very well be an underwhelming starter.  At which point, the Cubs traded away an even younger, more cost-controlled, potential middle-of-the-order bat, for a lefty long reliever who will most likely never close out your games.

From a Mariners perspective, losing Montgomery hurts way more in the short term.  In the long term, I don’t know how much I’d trust handing him a rotation spot.  I think we could do better, and I think it wouldn’t be that hard.  In the short term, though, I’m on record as saying he’s probably the third-best starter we have right now, considering Walker’s injury issues won’t be resolving until after the season ends (and it appears he’ll be playing through this foot issue until the offseason, when he has surgery to repair it), and he’s easily our second-best reliever.  When you figure the Mariners’ greatest need is, was, and will always be pitching for the rest of this season, it’s a lot to stomach.  In that sense, it almost DOES feel like the Mariners are being sellers.

Of course, I can’t really make a definitive claim on that score until I see what other moves the Mariners end up making.  This almost certainly will NOT be the only trade we see from the Mariners this year.

In return, we get this guy.  Dan Vogelbach.  A lot of people are saying he’s a left-handed hitting Billy Butler.  Technically, I suppose the kid can play first base, but it doesn’t sound like anyone really trusts him to stick there.  Which means his future likely rests at designated hitter (or, in some sort of rotation between the two).  The Mariners, as you know, already have a pretty awesome DH in Nelson Cruz.  But, since Cruz can ostensibly play right field, you justify the trade by telling everyone that, and downplaying how this hurts your outfield defense.  You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul one way or the other.  Either you struggle with first base defense, or you struggle with right field defense.  I don’t know what’s worse, but then again, I’ve never seen Vogelbach play.

The kid has a quality bat, though!  Where have we heard that before?  Oh, that’s right, with every single 1B/DH prospect Jackie Z brought in here!  But, while Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, Logan Morrison, and others were all pretty one-dimensional, Vogelbach’s bat looks like it can legitimately play at the Major League level.  Montero and LoMo were always prone to being handcuffed by same-handed pitchers; they also struggled to take a walk and avoid swinging at those low-and-away breaking balls.  Vogelbach appears to have a good grasp of the strike zone, and looks like he can hit both lefties and righties.  High walk rates and low strikeout rates are EXACTLY what I want to see out of a guy in AAA who is just itching to bust through in the Majors.

As I talked about yesterday, it would seem Adam Lind’s days are numbered with the team, just as he’s starting to really assert himself and become the player we all thought we were getting.  Part of me hopes that’s not necessarily the case, as part of me still holds out the delusion that the Mariners will be playing for something important in September, and he could be a big part of that.  Trading Lind would be another telltale sign of the Mariners being sellers, as you’re swapping out a trusted veteran on an upswing for a kid who’s never played at this level before.  Highly-rated prospect or not, Vogelbach is going to have some growing pains to start.  I almost hope he just stays in Tacoma until September call-ups, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Bat-First, or rather, Bat-Only players like Vogelbach tend to give me the willies.  If I knew without a doubt we’d be getting the next Edgar Martinez, and we’d just plug him into the DH role for the next 15 years, that’s one thing.  But, to be a valuable player in this league, when you’re not playing a defensive position, you REALLY need to hit the fuck out of the ball.  You need to put up crazy-high batting averages, get on base a lot, AND you need to consistently hit for power.  20-30 homers per year and 30-40 doubles per year.  If he comes here and is just sorta okay, but maybe hits .270, struggles against lefties, and is on the lower end of those power numbers, then what have you got?  A clogged artery in the middle of your hitting lineup completely blocking your roster flexibility – and one who needs a platoon partner to boot!

I’m not saying that’s what he’ll be, but these ARE the Seattle Mariners.  The same cursed franchise that drafts the greatest prospect we’ve seen around here since Adam Jones, in Kyle Lewis, who proceeds to tear up his knee one month into his professional career and is out for the year, if not longer.  Great.  I’m sure a massively fucked up knee won’t completely sap all his speed and athleticism …

Also kind of annoying about this Vogelbach move is that he also blocks some of our prospects coming up through the minors who are ALSO predominantly limited defensively, but have big swingin’ bats (I’m looking at you, D.J. Peterson).  Maybe this opens us up to other trade possibilities, though, particularly if Vogelbach makes it big in the Majors.

I have nothing to say about the swapped minor league pitchers.  Neither one looks like much of a promising prospect.  Regarding the main parts of the trade, I guess I’ll treat it like I treat every deal:  clench my buttocks and hope for the best.  It’s in the hands of the baseball gods now.  Or, I guess, to be more accurate, considering how these types of trades normally go for the Mariners, it’s in the hands of the baseball Satans.

All Star Week Finale: Mariners Shit Stains

I TOLD YOU I’D SHOOT, BUT YOU DIDN’T BELIEVE ME!  WHY DIDN’T YOU BELIEVE ME?

Yesterday, I hit upon the good things we’ve seen in this Mariners season.  Today:  the rest.

Like yesterday, let’s start on the hitting side.  Nori Aoki is the obvious huge disappointment, as he entered this season on the heels of not only a fruitful career in Japan, but a solid and productive 4-year MLB career as he bounced around from the Brewers to the Royals to the Giants.  I mean, like clockwork, the guy was batting in the .280’s every season, with solid on-base numbers, minimal power, and enough defense to make the whole package pretty enticing.  This year, however, his power has gone completely in the toilet, and his batting average is 40 points lower than normal.  His stolen base output has declined every year since coming to America, and this year is no exception, as he has 4 stolen bases against 7 caught stealing.  His left field defense is suspect at best, and his centerfield defense was a God damn neverending sewage-eating contest.  It’s been so bad for Aoki this year that he was sent down to Tacoma (where, to his credit, he’s regained some of his old form at the plate, albeit in only 11 games), which all points to one thing:  age.  He’s 34 years old, and it’s very reasonable to boil all this down to him just being on the downslope of his career.  Don’t take it hard, Aoki, plenty of players even better than you have come to Seattle in their twilight years only to die the True Death.

Adam Lind is my other everyday player (or quasi-everyday) catching some shade today, although I have a hard time really disliking the guy.  He seems like a really cool dude, and I like him as a player a helluva lot more than I did Smoak, LoMo, or Montero.  I do still think he’s got a bit of a turnaround in him this year, but I’m not sure that belief is entirely based in reality.  Lind had a pretty awful April, playing most every day.  He started to pick it up in May, but then he went right back in the toilet in June, so I dunno.  As noted yesterday, Dae-ho Lee is rightly eating into Lind’s playing time, as the team is trusting Lee more and more against right-handed pitching.  Should Lee continue to prove he’s capable of playing and producing on an everyday basis, we could be looking at a situation where Lind is relegated to backup status (getting occasional starts against righties, and/or when the team opts to put Cruz in the outfield and play Lee & Lind at the same time).  It’s just a bummer, because I figured Lind, of anyone we brought in this year, would be a guy you could count upon to play to his career norms.

***

And that’s it!  I’m moving on to the pitchers, because they’ve been a neverending source of rage and agita in my life this season.

Right at the top of the list – indeed, the most disappointing development of the entire 2016 Mariners season – has been the health of Felix Hernandez.  I mean, he’s far and away my favorite player on this team, and far and away my favorite local athlete playing today (he also sits on my local Mount Rushmore next to Gary Payton, Steve Largent, and Edgar Martinez, but that’s neither here nor there).  Going into any Mariners season, my worst nightmare has always been if King Felix gets injured.  By and large, over the previous ten seasons, I’ve mostly managed to dodge that harsh reality, but this year, both myself and the team has been cock-slapped by his absence.  This year’s team has EASILY had the best lineup of hitters we’ve had ’round these parts since Felix has become a Major Leaguer.  And, at least through the first couple months, this team as a whole looked like it had the best chance to make the post-season in the same span.  As a die-hard Mariners fan, all we’ve wanted to see over the last decade was Felix Hernandez pitching in the post-season.  To reward him for his baffling loyalty to this organization, and prove to the world that he made the right decision (or, at the very least, to show that it wasn’t all for naught).  The panic in all of our hearts has always been, “WE NEED TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS WHILE FELIX IS STILL IN HIS PRIME!  WE’RE WASTING HIS MOTHERFUCKING PRIME, YOU GUYS!”  So, to have him go down with this calf injury, when – 1. we have the best team around him we’ve ever had, and 2. our pitching depth is as poor as it’s ever been, and ergo he’s never been more needed – is truly a cosmic Fuck You to every Mariners fan still foolish enough to follow this team.

I didn’t mean to push this section into a second paragraph, but here’s my point:  where would the Mariners be if Felix had never gotten injured?  He went down on May 27th.  We’ve gone 17-25 ever since.  In the starts that he missed (counting every five days, assuming no rotation shuffling), the Mariners have gone 3-5, including Paxton’s initial disaster of a start on June 1st, a mediocre Miley start on July 9th, and a few hard-luck defeats where the offense didn’t necessarily show up (or, commonly known as your average Felix start).  A healthy Felix would conservatively get you two more wins in that stretch, with a very reasonable possibility of him pitching a shutout in there and squeezing out a third.  But, a healthy Felix also slots out some of the shakier pitchers who have made appearances in the rotation.  Maybe a healthy Felix – combined with Paxton’s resurgence down in Tacoma – bumps Karns out of the rotation sooner.  Maybe it prevents Adrian Sampson’s call-up (and subsequent arm injury that cost him his season).  Maybe we don’t have a potentially-useless LeBlanc to kick around.  MAYBE, it allows us to DL Taijuan Walker sooner – which I’m on record as saying we should have done in the first place – because we’re not so obsessed about our awful pitching depth.  There are endless What If’s out there, all surrounding the injury of our Ace.

But, it also bears mentioning that even when Felix was healthy this season, he didn’t look quite right.  Dating back to last year, Felix has been prone to getting knocked around a little bit in some starts.  His velocity is way down (even more than usual), and his command hasn’t quite been there.  Was the injury causing that?  Is it the natural effect of aging (he may only be 30 years old, but he’s got a billion miles on his pitching arm right now)?  It’s something to watch, as he makes his rehab starts ahead of an expected return to the Majors next Wednesday.  Please be healthy and good again, Felix!  We need you more than ever before!

***

I devoted more of this post than I’d anticipated on King Felix, so let me run through the rest of the pitching disappointments as quickly as possible.

Wade Miley – Fuck You!

Joel Peralta – Good Fucking Riddance!

Wade Miley – Fuck You Again, I can’t wait until this team cuts your ass!

Joaquin Benoit – Over-priced, spent time on the DL, has been garbage since his return.  Not the 8th inning enforcer we traded for.

Nathan Karns – 5 & Dive specialist we haven’t seen since Erik Bedard.  Not a long-term solution to our rotation woes.

Hisashi Iwakuma – A .500, middle-of-the-road pitcher who might be an okay 3rd or 4th starter, but is past his prime and no longer a viable #2.

James Paxton – Has the stuff to be an ace, but for some reason always gets killed by dribblers, dinks, and dunks (and poor defense).

Taijuan Walker – This injured foot has killed what was once a promising season in his development; a chronic set-back that likely won’t resolve until after the season ends.

Tony Zych – Probably this team’s 2nd best reliever (after Diaz), whose injury issues will cost him almost the entire season.

Charlie Furbush – Has been out the whole year, is set to return soon, but will probably be terrible.

Tom Wilhelmsen – Has returned, has been okay in his first few appearances, but the other shoe is right here, just waiting to drop.

Fernando Rodney – A HUGE Fuck You!  Pitches like dogshit last year for the Mariners, gets demoted, gets released, then comes back this year to have his very best-ever season?  What the fuck?!  Eat all the dicks, you turd!

Steve Cishek – For making me long for the days of the Fernando Rodney Experience.  Whereas Rodney’s appearances were always a slow bleed for 30 minutes, followed by complete disaster; Cishek just stabs you in the gut, then comes back two days later to jam his thumb into your festering wound.

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 Mariners Got The Blowout Victory They Were Looking For

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wade Miley shouldn't be a chore!

Wade Miley shouldn’t be a chore!

The Official 2016 Mariners Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where do I have my money?

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

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

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

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

Jesus Montero Is No More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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