Wasting No Time: The Mariners Traded For Their New First Baseman

So, I guess the Danny Valencia/Yonder Alonso experiment is over.  They were both thrilling and aggravating, but ultimately not a very major reason why the Mariners failed to make the playoffs in 2017.  They’re now free to return to the Oakland A’s, or any other team they see fit.

Speaking of the Oakland A’s, the Mariners traded with them again.  To bring in another first baseman again.  For the third time in a row.  Ryon Healy is his name, which isn’t a totally annoying way to spell the name Ryan, but that’s neither here nor there.  He’ll be 26 years old in January and has spent the past season and a half in the Big Leagues.  In that time, he’s been solidly productive:

  • .282/.313/.475/.788 with 38 homers, 49 doubles, a whole mess of strikeouts and not very many walks

Without knowing how good he is defensively (I assume he’s fine), this feels like a quality addition to the right side of the plate.  More importantly, the Mariners don’t feel like they’ll have to platoon him, which should free up a roster spot on the bench.  I suppose that spells doom for Dan Vogelbach’s future in a Mariners uniform, but more than anything he feels like trade bait for one of the 50 other deals Jerry Dipoto is going to do between now and the end of the year.

Another cool thing about this deal is that Healy is still two full seasons away from being arbitration eligible.  The Mariners, if things go well, should have him for 5 full seasons before he’d earn any sort of significant money!  And, if he’s already flashing this type of power and batting average as a second year player, one would think the sky is the limit.

He’s going to fit in quite well in the 2018 batting order, too.  Check out my way-too-early projection:

  • Segura (SS)
  • Haniger (RF)
  • Cano (2B)
  • Cruz (DH)
  • Seager (3B)
  • Healy (1B)
  • Gamel (LF)
  • Zunino (C)
  • Heredia (CF)

I highly doubt that’ll be the Opening Day 9, but you get the idea.  Bank on the top 6 guys being THE guys.  Toss in Zunino in the bottom third with one, maybe two new outfielders, and you’ve got yourself a lineup.

I think my favorite part of this deal is that the Mariners won’t be subjected to a first base retread.  I don’t have to worry about the return of LoMo, for instance, who was a name being bandied about when people discussed possible solutions to this first base quandary.  Same goes for Justin Smoak (though, I have to figure Toronto is pretty happy with him after last year), Brad Miller, and the duo from last season.  Danny Valencia is a nice player, and it was awesome to have his defense over there, but he is who he is.  He’ll have hot streaks and cold streaks and he’ll struggle quite a bit against right handed pitching.  Yonder Alonso, I think, is more flash in the pan than player on the rise.  Before 2017, his season high in homers was 9; last year, he hit 28.  I’m not going to bring steroids into the conversation, because I think the league has done a pretty good job to test those drugs out of the sport, but it does feel like an unsustainable leap.  Also, not for nothing, but the bulk of his damage last year was done pre-All Star Break (where he made his first-ever All Star Game).  He fell off a pretty mighty cliff and never really righted the ship after he was traded.  His on-base ability was a breath of fresh air, but the M’s didn’t bring Yonder Alonso over to walk guys in.

And that’s where I think we get a little too in the weeds with on-base percentage.  Sometimes, you just want a guy to mash you a 3-run homer.  Yeah, if you can, get you a man who can do both, and hold onto him for the duration of his career.  But, if I had to choose what I want out of my first baseman, batting out of the 6-hole?  Give me doubles n’ dingers.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about who the Mariners gave up:  Emilio Pagan and minor leaguer Alexander Campos.  Pagan, you may recall, was a rookie last year and one of our very best relievers.  Long relief, late in games, high leverage situations, extra innings, you name it and more often than not he came through the trials with flying colors.  Considering how cheap he is, and how much team control he has left, that’s a guy you could see anchoring your bullpen for many years to come.  But, if he can get you a starting first baseman – and not just for a season or two, but for up to 5 years or more, if you opt to extend him long term – that’s a no-brainer.  I mean, let’s face it, odds are Emilio Pagan won’t be the next Mariano Rivera.  Duh.  I would also say the odds are we’re trading him at his very highest value.  If we’d kept him even one more year, and he struggled, he couldn’t be traded for much more than Jack Squat (see:  Vogelbach).

As for Campos, he’s a 17-year old infielder.  We almost certainly won’t read about him ever again.  And, if we do, it almost certainly won’t be for at least 3-5 years, and by that point I hope to be long dead, having probably never again seen the Mariners in the post-season.

I will say that it’s a little scary to trade from a position of weakness (pitching) to further bolster a position of strength (hitting).  To say nothing of the issues with the rotation, how good will this bullpen be when you trade away arguably your 2nd most talented reliever after Edwin Diaz?  I know, Nick Vincent will likely start as your 8th inning guy, but I don’t know if I buy him having back-to-back amazing seasons.  And, besides that, you need more than two quality relievers to win games consistently.  Aside from David Phelps when he was healthy, and our lefties Pazos and Scrabble, I didn’t see a lot of uber-promising young talent coming through Tacoma into the Bigs last year.  With the minors as depleted as they are, I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of impact trades for pitching, unless you’re cool giving up on Ben Gamel (who I ASSURE you will not bring back the type of prize Mariners fans would expect from someone who looks like he could be a solid starter for many years to come; so be ready to be VERY disappointed at some point this offseason).

All that being said, I think this is a great trade, and it’s a deal I would do again and again in a heartbeat.  If I’m being perfectly honest, aside from maybe re-signing Jarrod Dyson, I don’t think I’d do very much to turn over the offense.  I like our outfield!  I like Haniger and Gamel and the combo of Dyson and Heredia!  That’s great defense across the board, with solid plate production and speed on the basepaths.  It’s unrealistic to believe that the hitting/defense side of the game is going to stay as is, especially with Dipoto running the show, and especially since we’re almost certainly going to have to trade from that position of strength (hitting) to improve our pitching.  But, whatever you do, you’ve got to keep that outfield defense as a strength, without sacrificing too much in the way of hitting.  Edgar Martinez can’t do it all!

Former Mariners Defeated Current Mariners

How fucking weird is this shit?  The Blue Jays hit three homers yesterday, by three different people who spent significant time in the Mariners organization, scoring all four of their runs in a 4-2 Blue Jays victory.

In the fourth, the Mariners nursing a 1-0 lead, Kendrys Morales hit a 2-run homer.  Those would be Ariel Miranda’s only 2 runs allowed, in his 6.1 innings (2 hits, 5 walks, 2 strikeouts) as he continues his fine sophomore campaign.

Then, in the eighth, after the Mariners tied it at two on a Jarrod Dyson stolen base followed by two errors (on a bad throw from the catcher to second base, allowing Dyson to take third; and on the centerfielder over-running said bad throw, allowing Dyson to take home), Ezequiel Carrera hit a solo homer to right.

Carrera, you might remember, was thrown into that massive 3-team deal back in December of 2008 that brought the Mariners Guti, Vargas, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp, among others (in the height of the Jackie Z era).  Carrera never got a call up to Seattle – making it as high as Tacoma in 2010 – before being traded to Cleveland that same year in June for the return of Russell Branyan.  Remember when the Mariners were so bad on offense they had to go back to the Branyan well and STILL set records for fewest runs scored in a season?  Yeah.

Anyway, I wouldn’t say Carrera has been some All Star or anything since we gave him away, but he’s been a nice little player for a few teams, including Toronto.

Finally, in the ninth, Justin Smoak smacked a homer off of Steve Cishek, because of course he did.

I know the bullpen did us no favors last night, but they’ve been the best bullpen in baseball for a little while now, so I’m down to give them some slack.  Where I think the Mariners were really lacking is on offense, and I attribute this one to not having Jean Segura.

I obviously misjudged Taylor Motter’s abilities when he got off to his hot start this season, but he’s been remarkably bad at the plate ever since.  All you gotta do is pitch him away – which is sort of the defacto strategy for most pitchers anyway – and he’ll roll over on it and die on his feet.  He’s been able to scratch out some singles here and there, but his power is GONE.  He’s hit 1 homer since April 23rd; he’s hit 0 doubles since May 9th.  Suffice it to say, this stint making up for Segura has not gone as well as the first one.

The Mariners had the double-whammy of having to start Tyler Smith at short stop (bumping Motter to first base) because Danny Valencia needed a day off to rest some nagging injuries.  Valencia still came in to pinch hit, but didn’t do anything.  Tyler Smith, I know is a rookie, but he doesn’t appear to have it at the Major League level.  Sucks we had to lose Mike Freeman, because it feels like he could be a real asset right now.

It seems like most everyone is dealing with one nagging injury or another, but since this is the stupid sport of baseball, there’s yet another game today.  I guess that’s what you get with all these fully-guaranteed contracts:  no fucking days off.  Maybe they can work that into the next collective bargaining agreement.

Mariners Survive Game 1 Against Seattle Blue Jays

My absolute favorite Mariners moment of the last five years (dating back to the King’s perfect game in 2012) happened last September 21st.  Top of the seventh, on his 112th pitch of the game, Felix Hernandez got Michael Saunders to ground out to second base to preserve a 1-0 lead (Diaz would go on to blow that save in the top of the ninth, but the Mariners would ultimately prevail 2-1 in 12 innings) and as the King walked off the mound – most certainly knowing that would be his final pitch of the ballgame – he screamed out for the world to hear, “THIS IS MY HOUSE!”

The opponent:  The Toronto Blue Jays.  The location:  Seattle, Washington.  The stands:  nearly 40,000 people, the vast majority of which were Canadian Blue Jays fans.

These games are an affront to common decency!  For starters, if the Mariners are supposed to be the regional team, why are all these people from Western Canada still fans of the Blue Jays?  Get out of here with your Canadian pride!  And, while I’m sure all these businesses along the I-5 corridor appreciate the influx of Cana-dough whenever these people come here, I still think the Mariners should be ashamed of themselves for marketing these games to Blue Jays fans.  And the area merch stores should be DOUBLY ashamed to stock their shelves with so much Blue Jays crap!

THIS IS OUR HOUSE, GOD DAMMIT!  HAVE A LITTLE FUCKING PRIDE!

I don’t really have a baseball team that I loathe more than the others.  It used to be the Yankees, but that was when the Mariners were making the playoffs more than once a generation.  I sort of have equal disdain for all the other A.L. West teams (though, the Astros are starting to nose ahead in that horse race).  But, I think I have the most fire pumping through my veins whenever Toronto comes to town and it sounds like a Blue Jays home game in Safeco Field.  This aggression will not stand, man!

Last night’s game wasn’t quite as satifsying as that Felix moment from last year, but it’s close.  Toronto jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, scoring 1 in the second when Gaviglio got himself into a jam, and another in the third when Jose Bautista hit a solo homer to left.  The M’s got one back in the bottom of the third when Dyson’s speed turned a single into a run with a stolen base, a wild pitch, and a Gamel single to right.

And 2-1 it stayed, with the Blue Jays starter cruising with a low pitch count into the seventh inning, when FINALLY the Mariners rallied.  Cano doubled, Seager walked, and Valencia hit one in on a single.  Zunino walked to load the bases, and up came Dyson again.  With the infield drawn in, he laced a single to center that scored the go-ahead run (while leading to Valencia getting throw out at the plate).

Gaviglio had another fine outing, going 6 innings, giving up the 2 runs (one unearned, thanks to a Zunino passed ball), giving up 6 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 5.  He struggled early in the game, but really settled into a nice groove over his final couple of innings.

Tyler Cloyd had his first appearance, taking over for Gaviglio in the seventh, after being called up from Tacoma a while ago.  He got the first two outs of the inning okay, but gave up a single and a double to the next two guys, getting out of the inning with a crazy-awesome relay from Dyson to Motter to Zunino.  For his efforts, he got his first Major League win since 2013 with the Phillies.

After snatching the lead from the Blue Jays, Nick Vincent was called in to handle the eighth.  He gave up a couple of singles, but ended up striking out the side (including a couple of really impressive at-bats against Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak – who knew what Vincent was going to do to him, watched Vincent do just what he expected, and still swung through the inside cutter for the frustrating-for-him-but-not-me-because-fuck-Smoak strike three).  I know Vincent has been pretty great all year, but this was as good as I’ve ever seen him!

Then, in the bottom of the eighth, with runners at first & second and two outs, Kyle Seager had as professional of an at-bat as you’ll ever see, as he lined an RBI single the other way off of a pretty tough-looking lefty reliever.  Just an outstanding piece of hitting for a guy who has a valid reputation as a pull hitter.

With the 2-run cushion, Edwin Diaz came in throwing flames.  He touched 101mph on multiple occasions, including the final strike of the inning to blow it past Kevin Pillar.  Again, it wasn’t quite the Felix moment from last year, but Diaz climbing the ladder and hitting 101 for the game-ending strikeout was pretty boss hoss.

This win is doubly huge because it sets the Mariners up well for the rest of the series, with Ariel Miranda going tonight, and Paxton going tomorrow.  Here’s to hoping he won’t take it easy on his Canadian brethren.

The Mariners Were Swept In Toronto

I mean, you knew the good times weren’t going to last, right?  Not with this rotation in the shambles it’s in.  All four starters in that series were destined to start out in Tacoma or worse before injuries set in, and while they’d all done pretty well in the previous turn through the rotation, odds were heavily against them replicating that sort of success a second time in a row.

What we probably didn’t see coming was the Mariners’ offense only scoring 6 runs in 4 games, particularly after how they mashed in Philly.  But, they too had been on a nice little roll recently, and were destined to come back to Earth at some point.

People are going to look back at the 2017 Mariners as the Great Lost Season.  This team had all the potential in the world to gel into something fantastic, but an absurd number of pitching injuries will ultimately torpedo all this promise.  We’ll have to look back and wonder what could have been, if all our key guys stayed healthy.

Or, if they’d stayed out of the WBC?

There have been a number of key injuries around Major League Baseball this year.  To be fair, there are a number of key injuries around Major League Baseball EVERY year, and they don’t do the WBC on an annual basis.  But, someone mentioned the WBC recently when talking about a lot of the players who are missing time, and I think it’s definitely worth exploring.

I’m not an anti-WBC zealot, by any means, but I think it’s misplaced on the schedule.  MLB players already play upwards of 162 games a year, plus playoffs if they’re so lucky, plus a bunch of Spring Training games to ramp up for the regular season.  That’s already TOO MUCH baseball; now you’re throwing in this meaningless tournament at the start of the season?  Forcing everyone to start getting in baseball shape sooner – and thereby reducing their recovery period in the offseason by however many weeks – just so they can, what, play for their countries?  Didn’t we have baseball in the Olympics for that?

I think the only way to have a viable WBC tournament is to have it during the middle of the MLB season.  The players will leave and go play for their national teams after they’re already sufficiently warmed up, and their MLB teams will just have to get by until they return.

Because this Doing It During Spring Training bullshit, I believe, is having an adverse effect on these players.

Drew Smyly was the obvious early example, as he didn’t look the same after his one start in the WBC.  But, there’s also Jean Segura – who was on the DL for two weeks – as well as Robbie Cano and Nelson Cruz, who have yet to hit the DL, but who have both had nagging leg injuries that have cost them a few games of late.  Then, of course, we have Felix Hernandez, who ALREADY had a billion miles on his throwing arm, and apparently thought it would be a good idea to throw a few more on there in a meaningless WBC tournament.

If you ask me, it’s only a matter of time before Yovani Gallardo and Edwin Diaz see time on the shelf, at which point that’ll account for just about everyone of import in the Mariners organization who played in the WBC.

I could be totally off base, and all these injuries could just be coincidences.  After all, Iwakuma didn’t play in the WBC.  Mitch Haniger didn’t play in the WBC.  A bunch of these other guys on the DL didn’t participate in the WBC either.  I dunno.  I’m just angry and sad and frustrated.  I always want the Mariners to do well, but I REALLY wanted this year to be the year we returned to the playoffs.  Mostly because it just made the most sense.  This is the most talented team we’ve had since 2003, and it’s just getting harder and harder to swallow.

I just can’t remember the last time I felt this beaten down.  It feels like, for the Mariners to win on a consistent basis, they have to average 8+ runs per game.  We’re never going to get those 2-1 or 1-0 wins.  Although, you could argue, yesterday’s game came the closest.

Ariel Miranda threw five scoreless innings of relatively impressive baseball.  The Mariners were finally able to scratch across a run in the top of the fifth to take a 1-0 lead.  Then, Miranda walked the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the sixth and was pulled for James Pazos.  Of course, that run ended up coming around to score, along with one more, thanks to Justin Smoak jacking a 2-run bomb to center.  Because, yeah, fuck that guy.  That cunt couldn’t do shit when he was with the Mariners, but he’s sure as shit going to have his bloody revenge whenever he plays AGAINST the Mariners.  Go fuck yourself, Justin Smoak, you worthless knob.

Jarrod Dyson was able to tie the game with his first homer of the season, and that took us to the bottom of the ninth, where Edwin Diaz gave up the walk-off homer to Toronto’s punchless centerfielder.  I guess turnabout is fair play or whatever.

In the series, Mariners hitters were 4 for 35 with runners in scoring position, harkening back to the first week of this God-foresaken season.  The sweep dropped the Mariners’ road record to 7-16 and dropped our run differential to an even 0.  So, at least we’re no longer one of those shameful teams who have a losing record and a positive run differential, in defiance of all that is holy and right in the game of baseball.

No days off this week, but the Mariners are back home for seven games.  At least that’s something.  Nothing to get too excited about though.  You’re probably better off trying to binge-watch the first two seasons of Twin Peaks before its revival kicks off Sunday night.

Mariners Drop A Deuce In Toronto

See, because it means turd, but also 2, in that they’ve now lost 2 in Toronto … I’ll see myself out.

Like I was saying yesterday, I’ve just got a bad feeling about this series.  This is one of those teams the Mariners probably SHOULD handle with ease.  Sure, the Mariners have a lot of pitchers on the DL, but the Blue Jays have a lot of hitters on the DL.  Good ones.  As I mentioned before, Justin Smoak is their fucking cleanup hitter for Christ’s sake.  I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy!

Also, not for nothing, but Toronto really doesn’t have much to write home about on the pitching front.  Yet, after giving up a 2-run homer to Nelson Cruz in the first inning of Thursday’s game, they’ve managed to hold the Mariners scoreless, including a 4-0 snoozefest on Friday.

The M’s were once again without Robbie Cano, which feels like a bigger deal because of the way he was kicking ass and taking names before he went out.  I don’t know if his presence alone would be enough, but it feels like he’d at least make these defeats more respectable.  He’d probably be the one taking advantage with runners in scoring position, anyway.

Christian Bergman got the start, giving up 3 runs in 5 innings, which is about all you can ask for.  You can try to ask for more, but that’s being selfish.  Dude just wants his rug back and all that.

As for today, I’m being told Ryan Weber will get the call-up from Tacoma.  I don’t know if that’s to start, or to back up Dillon Overton, but either way it’s going to require a corresponding 40-man roster move.  Considering Evan Scribner has already been bumped to the 60-day DL – and I don’t know if we have the luxury of anyone else being ready to go on the shelf for that amount of time – there could be a difficult move coming.

On the injury front, Felix tried throwing and didn’t respond well, which is terrifying news.  He’s the one with the shoulder injury, and as a result he’s being backed off of the throwing program.  Which certainly takes the month of May off the table, at the very least.  We might be into mid-to-late June at this point, because remember:  the longer he’s on the DL, the more rehab assignments he’ll have to do to get warmed back up.  If you want my opinion, I think this puts his entire season into doubt.  I think we’ll be LUCKY to get Felix back sometime after the All Star Break, and it wouldn’t shock me if that’s just him gutting through an injury that will ultimately require surgery.

In happier news, James Paxton has done some throwing, and the team tentatively expects him back around the next road trip.  Mitch Haniger is going to swing the bat in some tee-ball practice later today; if all goes well, he could be back in a couple weeks as well.  Steve Cishek is about one more rehab outing away from returning to the Mariners, so we could see him in the bullpen anyday now.  And … still no word on Iwakuma, which I feel like the longer this goes without word, the worse his injury actually is.  God help us all.

UPDATE:  Kuma’s out 4-6 weeks.  Carry on with the God helping us all thing.

EARLY 10am game today and tomorrow.  Get into it, it’s gonna get a little weird around here.

Short-Handed Mariners Got Whomped In Toronto

I had a bad feeling about this game all day.  If I were a gambling man, near a gambling establishment, I would’ve made a significant bet on the Blue Jays to win it, and sure enough:  7-2 Toronto.

That, of course, was before I found out that Robinson Cano would sit due to that sore quad.  Oddly enough, though, it was AFTER I discovered that Justin Smoak was going to be the Blue Jays’ cleanup hitter.  He ended up going 3 for 3 with 4 RBI, because he’s a no-talent ass clown.

Nelson Cruz hit a 2-run bomb in the top of the first inning to put the Mariners in control, but obviously that wouldn’t be enough.  Chase De Jong did his part through four innings, but he fell apart after that, finishing with 5 innings, 6 runs on 7 hits & 3 walks, with only 1 strikeout.

More Mariners moves before the game.  Zac Curtis – who came over in the Walker/Segura trade – was called up from AA to replace Dan Altavilla (who was sent back to Tacoma to continue working on things).  Curtis pitched an inning of soft-landing relief, giving up 0 runs.  Sam Gaviglio – who was called up when Iwakuma went on the DL – pitched the last two innings, giving up a solo homer to Justin Smoak.

The Mariners also picked up reliever Casey Lawrence off waivers from Toronto and sent him to Tacoma.  To make room on the 40-man, Evan Scribner was put on the 60-day DL, so I guess we won’t have him to kick around for a while.

The bats were quiet yesterday, but there were also some lineup issues.  Cano, obviously, is a huge blow, since he’s really starting to heat up.  Also, Guillermo Heredia had visa issues because he’s Cuban and they played in Canada and Donald Trump is our president and everyone is dumb.  So, that forced Taylor Motter into the outfield and Mike Freeman to get the start at second base.  Motter got a walk and Freeman got less than that.  I don’t even know what Mike Freeman is doing up here, except yes I do, because apparently Shawn O’Malley hurt his shoulder and I still don’t know how, and because Mitch Haniger is still on the DL with that oblique.  GET WELL SOON, MITCH!  Freeman is still dining out on that 2-hit day in Houston where he hit his home run, and hasn’t done a God damn thing since.

Also, it stinks that Carlos Ruiz apparently can’t play on back-to-back days, because this Tuffy guy SUUUUUUUCKS.  God fucking dammit, whose dick do you gotta suck to get a good-hitting catcher on this team?

Here’s to hoping the lineup is rested and refreshed for the next three games, because I could see this 4-game series getting out of control with how bad our pitching looks.

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.