Slow News Week: The Mariners Are Going To Retire Edgar Martinez’s Number

In case you felt the need to ask my opinion:  I’m for it!  Love me some Edgar, believe he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, believe he deserves to be in there before David Ortiz.  Better writers, smarter at baseball, have given you all the arguments why he belongs.  Bad writers, dumb at baseball, have yet to put him in there.  And somehow life goes on.

Last year, the Mariners retired Ken Griffey Jr.’s number 24, and I can’t remember a better 3-day weekend I’ve had at the ol’ ballpark.  This year, if you check out the promotions the Mariners released, you can see it’s a pretty similar deal.  First homestand in August – like last year, only this year it’s the ONLY homestand in August – with give-aways all three days.  An Edgar Bobblehead on Friday, August 11th; the actual ceremony and a “Replica Number” on Saturday, August 12th; and a Replica Jersey on Sunday, August 13th.  Each to the first 45,000 fans, which is pretty much everyone, which means they’re expecting easy sell-outs for these games.

I’m debating as to whether I want to go to any/all of these games like I did last year.  You’d think this would be right up my alley:  I love free shit memorabilia, I like going to baseball games, and I certainly like Edgar more than Griffey (if for no other reason than he didn’t force his way out of Seattle, but that’s neither here nor there).  But, I dunno.  I’m still in sort of a football hangover, and I’m still not ready to grapple with another long baseball season.

Single game tickets go on sale on Saturday, March 11th though, so maybe I’ll start getting jazzed up for things by then.

As is always the case, people are already speculating about the next number to be retired.  Truth be told, we’re probably running low.  I don’t know if I see Jamie Moyer making a run at the Hall of Fame (you have to at least get close in the voting for the Mariners to give you a shot).  Randy Johnson is already in there, but are his 10 years with the Mariners enough to warrant a number retirement?  Especially when you factor in how he was Good-Not-Great for about half those seasons, and did all his best pitching after he left Seattle?  Let’s look at this logically here:  he didn’t wear a Mariners hat in the Hall of Fame AND if he was so good and so revered, why would they give out his number to another player a few years after he left?

If anything, I think the next number the Mariners retire is number 51, but ONLY for Ichiro.  As far as I’m concerned, after Edgar, he’s your next Mariners Hall of Famer.  If Randy Johnson should get his number retired, let Arizona handle that.  Let’s face it, the Mariners were dumb enough to not extend him and make him a lifelong member of this organization, so they have no business painting history in some alternate light.  He’s already in the team’s hall of fame, that’s enough.  51 belongs to Ichiro, the First Ballot guy, and the guy who played the overwhelming majority of his Major League career in a Seattle uniform.

Anyway, that’s all I got.  Just trying to wipe away the dust and cobwebs off the site.  I’ll be back to hopefully some more regularly scheduled posting next week, unless we get some breaking news in the meantime.

In Conclusion: My Final Thoughts On The 2016 Seattle Mariners

I’m finding it harder and harder to get angry over the end result of yet another season without the playoffs.  But, let’s just let that sink in for a while and see if the rage comes back.

With every regime change, it feels like you start your fandom all over again.  True, the Seattle Mariners have gone 15 consecutive seasons without reaching the playoffs, but Jerry Dipoto’s Seattle Mariners are only on an 0 for 1 streak!  He improved over the 2015 Mariners, and had us contending for that second wild card spot up to the very end of the season.  Had a couple things gone differently, maybe we’re in there against either Baltimore or Toronto, fighting for an opportunity to get into the ALDS.

This year was especially different, because it not only saw the Mariners bring in a new GM, but also a change in ownership.  No more Howard Lincoln to kick around!  Whether it had any bearing on the 2016 season, or the direction of this franchise going forward, it feels – as a fan – like a clean slate.  That dark cloud of incompetence has lifted with the infusion of fresh blood.  This isn’t the team with the longest playoff drought in the entirety of the Major Leagues; for all intents and purposes, we’re looking at an expansion team, and a stacked one at that.

Were the 2016 season Year 8 of the Jack Zduriencik regime, I think I’d feel a lot differently than I do.  A new regime brings with it new hope.  A winning season falling just short of the playoffs – knowing you’re THIS CLOSE to being relevant – means that we’re just a couple pieces here and there from taking the next step NEXT year.

But, just because there are new people in place at the top, doesn’t mean we forget what’s come before this.  These still are the Seattle Mariners!  An inept franchise for the bulk of its existence, with a brief window of competence from 1995 to 2001.  I’m into my third decade of rooting on this team, and it’s been a non-stop parade of misery from the start.

I really wanted 2016 to be the year to break the string.  Our stars aren’t getting any younger, for one, and it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll have many stars coming up through the pipeline in the next few seasons.  I REALLY wanted to see Felix get a taste of post-season life, because he deserves it more than anyone.  And, quite frankly, I’ve seen this group of guys go on a hot streak.  If we could’ve maintained our high level of performance from our pitching staff, the sky was the limit for this team.  With Paxton on the hill, I like our chances in a 1-game playoff.  From there, let the chips fall where they may and see what happens.

As it stands, the lasting image I have for this team – the image I can’t get out of my head – is Felix in the dugout, with his head against the railing after the Mariners lost to the A’s on October 1st to officially eliminate us from the playoffs.  That’s 12 years of frustration and anguish, personified.  One more year on the outside looking in.  One more year of utter failure.

I feel you ...

I feel you …

In spite of what I’ve written before (which you really should read, if you want more vitriol in your season-ending Mariners wrap-up post), there’s a lot to like about our chances in 2017.  We’ve still got our core guys locked in place – Felix, Cano, Cruz, Seager, Kuma – and a bunch of other guys who helped us go pretty far this year – Smith, Diaz, Cishek, Paxton, Walker, Miranda, Martin, Zunino, Iannetta, Marte.  While you’re right to be concerned about Dipoto’s trades thus far in his Mariners career, you have to admit he was able to find some diamonds in the rough in his free agent signings.  If Dan Vogelbach can stick – and truth be told, he’s been able to hit well at every level so far in his young career – we could be poised to make a big jump next year.

But, I’ve got a whole offseason to talk about that.  For now, you know what?  I’m going to feel okay about the 2016 Mariners.  This was a fun team to root for, that gave us a lot of wonderful memories.  Huge walk-off hits from Lind, Martin, Cano, and Dae-ho Lee, among others; the epic Ken Griffey Jr. Weekend in early August to kickstart our comeback drive to contention; and a wild September run that saw us fall JUST short.  Feel however you want to feel, but any season that allows me to check the standings on a daily basis down the stretch to try to figure out our path to the post-season is ultimately an entertaining one, if nothing else.

Maybe don’t go overboard.  Failing to make the playoffs isn’t something to be proud of.  I’m not going to say “Good Job,” or “You Did Your Best,” or any of those other pithy platitudes.  We’ve been down this road before.  We’ve been close to the playoffs as recently as 2014; we’ve had winning seasons in 2009 & 2007.  Each of those years have seen bountiful hope and optimism heading into subsequent seasons.  In 2015, the Mariners won 11 fewer games than the previous year, ending up 76-86; in 2010, the Mariners won 24 fewer games than the previous year, ending up 61-101; in 2008, the Mariners won 27 fewer games than the previous year, ending up 61-101 again.  In this run of futility that started with the Bill Bavasi regime, winning seasons haven’t been building blocks so much as edges of cliffs for the franchise to fall from.  There are plenty of reasons to think 2017 will be different, but that’s what we said after 2007, 2009, and 2014 as well.

Be careful out there, is what I’m getting at.  Don’t set yourself up for a big fall by setting expectations too high.  I’m mostly saying this to myself, because every year I get suckered in, and every year I’m left drained.  Let’s take the Wait & See approach and hopefully the Mariners will prove they’ve broken the curse.

I don’t know what Seattle did to deserve the Mariners, but at some point we have to be rewarded for sticking by this team all these years, right?  I mean, Cleveland can’t have ALL the sports glory, can it?

The 2016 Mariners Had A Legit Hitting Lineup

In 2010, as difficult as it seemed at the time, I knew this day would eventually arrive.  The Mariners had been a great hitting team Back In The Day, in the glory years of the early 2000’s.  And, with steroids largely policed out of the game, we couldn’t reasonably expect a return to those types of insane power numbers.  Nevertheless, whatever “Good” means in this brave new world of lower power numbers and better overall pitching, whatever the new normal would end up being, ONE DAY, the Mariners would once again have a good lineup.

And, it appears, that time has come.

This is going to be very rudimentary, so I wouldn’t come here expecting a vast expanse on sabermetrics.  My little pea brain has a general fixation on what good hitting should be, and that number is .250.  If you’re hitting .250 or above, you’re doing all right.  If you can pack your lineup with those types of guys, you’re generally going to score lots of runs and, hopefully, win lots of games.  It’s not a hard and fast rule, but more of a glance.  There are obviously other ways to contribute – a lower average, with a higher OBP, for instance, will bring a lot to the table; ditto a guy with a high slugging percentage – but I like it when I can look at the Mariners’ stat-sheet and see a bunch of guys hitting .250 or above.  It warms my fuzzies right up.

Currently, the Mariners have 6 regulars hitting .250 or above (Cano, Cruz, Marte, Martin, Smith, and Seager).  Aoki and Iannetta are lagging behind a little bit, but they do make up for it with OBP.  The only guy struggling too much for comfort is Lind, with a .216 batting average to go with all of 5 walks on the season, and a paltry .319 slugging percentage.

On the plus side, that’s really only ONE black hole.  You could make an argument that Guti is another, but he doesn’t play nearly enough to qualify for that type of slur.  If he’s still struggling in July, then maybe you think about his role on this team.

But, as far as I’m concerned, having just the one regular struggling is FANTASTIC!

I started this post back on May 25th, and then for some reason I just abandoned it to my drafts folder.  I don’t know why; I guess I just didn’t feel like getting into a whole thing.  I was apparently pretty high on the Mariners’ hitters on May 25th, and that carried through – for the most part – the rest of the season.

I already got into Cano, Cruz, and Seager in a separate post, so feel free to read about my thoughts on them over there.  Spoiler alert:  I like those guys.  But, there were other guys I liked too, so let’s talk about them for a while.  In no particular order:

Leonys Martin

As a centerfielder (as a hitter and defensively), Leonys Martin was the definition of “Meets Expectations”.  Damn near a .250 hitter, 15 homers, 24 stolen bases, and absolutely elite, top-shelf fielding.  We’re not talking about Ken Griffey Jr. numbers or anything, but that’s as ideal of a centerfielder as you can expect.  Now, as a Mariners fan, when I think of Leonys Martin, I’d have to actually put him in the “Exceeds Expectations” category, because God damn have we been tortured with a bunch of mediocre outfield crap since Mike Cameron left!  We got nearly 2 seasons of Guti in his prime before he fell apart, but other than that, it’s been a wasteland of Meh out there.  When you factor in Martin’s declining offensive numbers in Texas in 2015, I was CONVINCED that he’d be a dud this year.  But, as I said, he really did shock the world with his level of play, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.  He’d never shown that kind of power before!  When all of us were expecting the equivalent of Brendan Ryan As Centerfielder at the plate, Martin was a revelation.  Consider me delighted we have him under club control for two more seasons.

Nori Aoki

I get the feeling, with Nori, that more people are down on him than high on him after what amounts to a 1-year experiment.  I’ll admit, while I’m not crazy about him defensively, and he obnoxiously ran himself into more outs than I care to remember (caught stealing 9 times out of 16 attempts, are you kidding me?), I think I’ll look back on him fondly overall.  It doesn’t hurt that he really tore shit up over the last two months of the season, after he’d been sent down to Tacoma to work on his swing (among, I’m assuming, other things).  On June 23rd, he was hitting .245, along with his crappy defense and baserunning, making him a total liability in all phases of the game.  He was called up about a month later, played for a month, had to go back to Tacoma for about a week due to other injuries and the roster crunch therein, and then finished the season playing mostly everyday.  He got that average back up to career norms in that time (.283) while adding 100 points to his OPS from his June low.  His main competition when it comes to returning in 2017 is:

Seth Smith

Both are left-handed corner outfielders who bring more with their bats than in the field.  Smith has a little more pop in his bat, but Aoki has slightly better on-base abilities.  Given Smith’s foot speed is absolute zero, Aoki has him there on the basepaths, and overall as an offensive weapon.  Smith’s already under contract though (for a sensible $7 million) while Aoki is an unrestricted free agent.  I don’t know if Aoki will draw a Qualifying Offer, or if that’s even an option with him, but at a hefty price tag of $17+ million, I doubt the Mariners would be willing to bite.  You’d think you could get Aoki to come back on a reasonable contract, but I would assume there’d have to be assurances made (i.e. the trading away of Seth Smith).  You really don’t need both of these guys on your roster, and it doesn’t sound like the Mariners are going to try to keep both.  One thing the team will have to consider is Smith’s rapid decline over the last two months of the season.  He barely hit .215 in August and September combined, and even with his mini power surge in September (5 homers, 2 doubles), his overall OPS really bottomed out as he rolled over into shift after shift.  Seth Smith is always lauded for his professional at bats, and his ability to get on base, which shouldn’t be discounted.  But, he sure does seem to wear down the more he plays, and the second halves to his seasons sure look pretty mediocre.  At some point, it would be ideal for the Mariners to shore up the corner outfield with a more permanent, everyday option.  But, for now, I guess we can live with another platoon year.

Guti, Gamel, Heredia

Let’s just lump all these guys together and wrap up the outfield portion of this post.  I won’t be shocked when the Mariners re-sign Guti to another 1-year deal, considering he’s a veteran right-handed bat with pop.  He appeared in all of 98 games in 2016, and his overall offensive numbers took a bit of a hit, but he didn’t totally flatline.  We got Gamel from the Yankees and didn’t really see enough of him in September.  He’ll be competing with Heredia most likely to be this team’s final outfielder.  For the most part, I liked what Heredia brought to the table, but I’d like to see some more power out of him.  Slap-hitting singles hitters don’t tend to stick at the Major League level very long.

Dae-ho Lee & Adam Lind

Ahh, the ol’ first base platoon.  Dae-ho Lee was another really pleasant surprise, who sort of struggled as the season went along.  He’s a free agent, but I wouldn’t mind having him back for another go-around if the price is right.  As for Lind, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.  His averages across the board took a huge nosedive, with his worst OPS since 2010.  Which just adds more fuel to the fire that guys get signed by Seattle and promptly lose the ability to hit.  Safeco isn’t even that bad to hit in anymore, compared to what it used to be before the fences were moved in!  Besides, it was never all that bad for lefties!  He just stunk.  For whatever reason – maybe the reputation of Safeco got in his head – he got off to a horrid start and was never able to fully recover.  I’m sure he’ll sign elsewhere and bounce right back to his usual self, in which case he can promptly and savagely go fuck himself with a bat right in his cornhole.

Ketel Marte

This was a guy I was pretty stoked about early in the season.  He was a little raw defensively, but his speed on the basepaths was top notch, and his bat was coming around.  Then, he hurt his hand and went on the DL, and was never the same.  Tack on another DL stint for mono, and you have one of the great lost seasons in Mariners history.  He played out the stretch run, but his bat never really recovered, and his defense never really developed.  He was making the same dumb, rookie mistakes in the field as he was at the beginning of the season.  I don’t expect the world out of a guy defensively, but you’ve GOT to make the routine plays!  When one of his blunders helped cost us a game in the final week of the season, I essentially wrote him off.  I might back off that stance eventually, but if the Mariners go out and deal for an upgrade at short stop, I won’t be crushed.  As I’ve said before, we’ve got to win while the winning’s good.  Cano, Cruz, and Felix won’t be in their primes forever.  I don’t know if we have the time to hold Marte’s hand as he works his way through these growing pains.

Zunino, Iannetta, Clevenger, Sucre

My overarching take-away from Mike Zunino’s 2016 is that he’s turned the corner.  Then, I looked at his numbers and now I’m starting to wonder if that’s true.  The power is still there, which is his saving grace, but it looked like he started to fall into the same old traps over the final two months of the season.  His strike out percentage was right there at his career norms (33.9%), his batting average was barely over the Mendoza Line, but I’ll give him credit:  his eye at the plate is VASTLY improved over what it was in 2015.  His walk rate jumped up to 10.9% from 5.1% over his first three seasons, which is incredible.  I’d also say that while he’s still striking out as much as ever, he’s not necessarily falling for those breaking balls low and away as much as he was before.  Baby steps, maybe.  But, there’s still a big ol’ hole in his swing, which is going to necessitate a quality catcher to either platoon with him, or spot him more days off than we’ve been giving him.  Obviously, this year, we had no choice but to play him mostly everyday, because he was so clearly better than any other catcher in this organization (in spite of Sucre’s random surge in production in September).  Iannetta is under contract for 2017, which is less than ideal, as he brings nothing to the table offensively, and even less to the table defensively.  Hopefully, we can trade him for a bag of batting donuts, because I’d almost rather have Sucre out there, if he can continue working on his batting skills.  Clevenger seems to be a non-starter, unless the team really wants to work with him on the whole Racist Tweets shitstorm.  I wouldn’t be totally against it; seems like having a left-handed catching partner with Zunino would be a good thing for this team (plus, he’s under club control for 2 more years, so it’d be nice to see what he’s got in him as a baseball player).

And The Rest

Which is really just Shawn O’Malley.  He’s a step up from Willie Bloomquist, so that’s something.

Mr. Dipoto’s Wild Ride

Jerry Dipoto was hired to be Seattle’s general manager on September 28, 2015.  His first major move was claiming Cody Martin off waivers from Oakland on October 19th.  Four days later, he hired Scott Servais to be his manager.  From there, we were off and running in the Jerry Dipoto Era.

He made a lot of moves in the ol’ transactions wire, both large and small.  I tried to pull most of the ones relevant to the 2016 Mariners’ Major League ballclub.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going to go ahead and rank his moves from most impactful to least, with commentary on each.  At the very bottom of the post, I’ll throw in a section with just the transactions in chronological order, so you can see them all lined up in a neat little pile.

Also, if you want to know my overall thoughts on Dipoto’s first year as the GM of the Mariners, you’ll find my closing arguments at the bottom (just before the chronological list of important transactions).  This post has TL;DR written all over it!

12/2/15 – Baltimore Orioles traded C Steve Clevenger to Seattle Mariners for RF Mark Trumbo and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser.

This one feels like cheating, but I’m still putting this at #1 because it’s so laughably lopsided against the Mariners, it harkens back to the Bill Bavasi glory days.  Trumbo was an All Star outfielder on a wild card team who hit 47 homers, 108 RBI, and all around had his best season ever.  Granted, the same problems were still there – a low batting average, a not-great on-base percentage, a shit-ton of strikeouts – but if you’re just talking about the right-handed half of a corner outfield platoon, making just a hair over $9 million, would you rather have his massive bat or Franklin Gutierrez making $2.5 million?  I know we love Guti and all of that, but his defense isn’t all that much better than Trumbo’s, and there’s no comparing the hitting numbers.  Even in a very minor role, Guti still had a down year by his standards.  And, of course, who can forget what we got back in return?  Aside from salary saved (that, as far as I can tell, ended up going to Joaquin Benoit, so *fart noise*), we got a left-handed backup catcher in Steve Clevenger who hardly ever played, then broke a bone in his hand, then said a bunch of racist shit on Twitter, then was suspended for the rest of the year, before ultimately (I’m assuming) being released.  On top of ALL of that, this trade had a direct impact on the standings.  The Orioles probably would’ve made a different move to acquire a power bat, but it almost certainly wouldn’t have been as good.  And, we ended up finishing 3 games behind Baltimore in the wild card.  So, we sent what would become their very best power bat and run producer to our direct rival, who snatched up the final A.L. playoff spot by just a handful of games.  Inauspicious start to say the least.

11/16/15 – Texas Rangers traded CF Leonys Martin and RHP Anthony Bass to Seattle Mariners for RHP Tom Wilhelmsen, CF James Jones and PTBNL (3B Patrick Kivlehan).

Let’s follow that turd sandwich with the opposite of that (vagina pizza?).  The Rangers ended up signing Ian Desmond on a 1-year, $8 million deal later on in the offseason (leaving me to wonder why we just didn’t fucking do that, but whatever), so I don’t totally understand why they were so keen to let Leonys Martin go, but obviously they didn’t see him in their future plans.  Martin ended up starting for us from day 1, playing a superb centerfield, and even blowing away his season high for homers with 15.  All in all, he was slightly better than we thought he’d be, with two more years of Arbitration to go.  While he’ll never be a superstar, he’s a solid offensive piece and an elite defensive talent.  The fact that we ended up getting back 2/3 of this trade for nothing later in the season is the hilarious part, along with the fact that Wilhelmsen was a dumpster fire while wearing a Rangers uniform (and sort of his usual okay self when the alleged double-agent returned to Seattle), and the fact that James Jones is who we thought he was.  We essentially gave the Rangers nothing and got a starting centerfielder for a minimum of 3 years in return.  Not too shabby.

12/18/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Hisashi Iwakuma.

We all know the story of how the Mariners got Iwakuma back in the fold, but if you don’t know, go here and read this.  What I will say is, to anyone making any sort of argument that the Mariners’ cost-cutting measures helped pave the way for Kuma’s return, you can go fuck yourself, because you’re full of shit.  Those moves were made well before we got Kuma back, and were under the assumption that he was going to go elsewhere for a higher guaranteed contract than we were willing to pay.  The owners, to their credit, opted to make room in the budget to bring him back when the opportunity presented itself, and it paid off pretty well, all things considered.  Without Kuma, things could’ve been A LOT worse (I don’t know if I made that point well enough in that linked post up there, but it’s true; the AAA starting prospects were pretty shabby).

12/14/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Steve Cishek.

Two years, $10 million, plus incentives.  He secured 25 saves and blew 7 of them.  That’s a lot of blown saves in what amounted to a little over half a season’s worth of closing ballgames, particularly for a team that finished 3 games out of the wild card.  Overall, his numbers actually look pretty good on the season, and at times he approached the level of dominance he once had back in 2013.  But, a career-high 8 homers allowed really did him in.  He was pretty dominant against righties, but lefties hit 5 of those 8 homers, in significantly fewer plate appearances.  With him losing his job to Edwin Diaz the way he did, he projects to be an 8th inning set up man in 2017, with an outside chance of regaining his closer’s job should Diaz falter in his Sophomore season.

12/9/15 – Milwaukee Brewers traded 1B Adam Lind to Seattle Mariners for RHP Carlos Herrera, RHP Daniel Missaki and RHP Freddy Peralta.

Meet Adam Lind, your left-handed first baseman platoon partner.  He had a few memorable late-game hits (walk-offs and whatnot), but for the most part Lind was a huge disappointment.  His numbers took a significant dive compared to his career norms, and they never really recovered the way we all hoped.  He was essentially a replacement-level player making $8 million.  On the plus side, we likely didn’t give up anyone special to get him, but suffice it to say, first base is the hole that can never be filled.

7/31/16 – Seattle Mariners traded LHP Wade Miley to Baltimore Orioles for LHP Ariel Miranda.

12/7/15 – Boston Red Sox traded RHP Jonathan Aro and LHP Wade Miley to Seattle Mariners for RHP Carson Smith and LHP Roenis Elias.

Ahh, the Miley deals.  I ranked the deal sending him away higher than the deal bringing him in for a couple reasons.  For starters, while he spent more time in Seattle doing everything he could to ruin our playoff chances, we were able to deal him to our main rival in Baltimore, where he proceeded to do everything he could to ruin their playoff chances.  We were able to dump salary (and increase theirs), while at the same time getting in return a potential future starter, at a minimum salary, with many years of club control.  On the flipside, those Red Sox really swindled us good!  Though, it had no effect on the 2016 season, as neither Smith nor Elias hardly played at all due to injuries/ineffectiveness.  The decider could be Jonathan Aro – who made all of one appearance with the big league ballclub – but I’d put my money on Carson Smith returning at some point and being a dominant late-game reliever.

11/5/15 – Seattle Mariners traded SS Brad Miller, 1B Logan Morrison and RHP Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay Rays for RHP Nathan Karns, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser and CF Boog Powell.

I downgraded this move mostly for the incomplete/unknown nature of the various players involved.  I will say that Brad Miller ended up hitting 30 homers for Tampa, and playing a decent number of games at first base, leading me to wonder what could have been had we held onto him and Trumbo and either platooned them both at first, or at various positions around the field.  Miller’s overall batting numbers are nothing to write home about, but those homers would’ve looked awfully nice in a Seattle uniform.  In return, we got about half a season out of Karns, who was mostly mediocre.  He’s still a starter with lots of club control, but now he’s injured, and I’d say no news is bad news when it comes to his injury, as it doesn’t appear he’s anywhere close to returning to action.  And, if he does, will he ever make good on his promise?  I’m starting to have my doubts.  The one saving grace might be Boog Powell, but he spent most of 2016 suspended for ‘roids or some damn thing.  Besides, at best he appears to be a 4th outfielder, so all in all, I’d say this is another major trade we got killed in.  It particularly hurts because Brad Miller is cheap, versatile, with lots of club control, and we essentially got back nothing in return.

12/3/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent LF Norichika Aoki.

Aoki signed a 2-year deal, but only 2016 was guaranteed.  His 2017 option would’ve vested at 480 plate appearances, but he only managed 467.  He ended up earning just shy of $6 million this year, but lost out on $6 million next year by 13 PA’s.  He likely would’ve had a lot less, but he ended the last two months absolutely on FIRE at the plate, and we couldn’t sit him.  Even with his finish, I’d say he was a net-negative for this team, considering his defense was pretty galling, and his base running was even worse.  The team already has Seth Smith under club control next year, so I can’t imagine we bring Aoki back unless we deal Smith first.  File this under:  Eh, It Was Worth A Shot.

3/30/16 – San Diego Padres traded RHP Nick Vincent to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL.

Faced with a bevy of bullpen injuries in Spring Training, this was an underrated move just before the regular season that ended up paying off.  Until it stopped paying off, like a hot black jack table with a new dealer.  All in all, Nick Vincent was a fine reliever in 2016, but he was savagely over-used, and I can’t really blame Servais for it either, because he didn’t really have a whole lotta options in the first half of the season.  It wasn’t until Dipoto made all of his summer deals when the Mariners could finally cobble together a workable bullpen.  By that point, injuries (directly attributed to said overuse) piled up on Vincent, sending him on a DL stint.  He did return, and was okay, but by that point he was behind a number of superior relievers, which was appropriate.  Vincent should be nobody’s 8th inning guy.  Save him for the blowouts and the extra innings affairs and you’ll be in better shape.

11/23/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent C Chris Iannetta.

He started off hot in April, cooled off in May, and I contend he ended up losing his starter’s job because the team overused him (though, this time I DO blame Servais).  We brought Clevenger in here in that ill-fated Trumbo deal, so why didn’t we use him more?  Was he REALLY that terrible?  If so, why bring him in in the first place?  Seems to me they made a snap judgment in Spring Training, refused to give Clevenger a consistent chance, even though when he did start, he looked pretty okay.  Iannetta, on the other hand, proved to be a pretty big disaster defensively, and his power was drained to zero by the second half of the season.  Now, it’s neither here nor there that Clevenger ended up breaking his hand, opening the door for Mike Zunino’s triumphant return.  All I know is Iannetta is under contract at over $4 million next year, and he figures to be this team’s backup catcher.  Not ideal use of funds.

2/3/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent 1B Dae-ho Lee to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Oh how I love Dae-ho Lee, let me count the ways!  He started the season by knocking Jesus Montero off the roster, which is always nice.  He secured the right-handed platoon of first base, and ended up by and large outplaying Adam Lind.  On top of that, some early heroics endeared him to the fanbase for all eternity.  But, he did cool off considerably as the season went along, and with that his playing opportunities dwindled.  He spent some time in Tacoma, to regain his swing, but never really made much of an impact in the stretch run.  His defense was a pleasant surprise, and his ability to go the other way kept opposing defenses honest.  Then again, his base running was predictably bad.  But, he was cheap, earning just $1 million, while being worth every penny.  Word is the team wants him back for 2017, and I don’t blame ’em!  I’d like to see him back as well!  I don’t know if he’ll ever be an everyday starter, but I’m curious to see how his game will grow now that he’s got a season’s worth of experience in the Majors.

11/11/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RF Franklin Gutierrez.

As noted above in the Trumbo section, this turned out to be less than ideal.  Complain all you want about there not being any right handed power bats on the market, but we fucking gave one away in Trumbo!  The plus side on Guti is that he’s cheaper, he’s well-liked in the clubhouse, and he doesn’t need to or even want to play everyday.  He’ll always be as prepared as can be in a pinch, so that’s not something to worry about.  But, in the end, he’s another year older, and his body has been ravaged by injuries and illnesses over the years.  His defense has taken a huge step back, and I don’t think any part of his game is ever going to get better; it can, indeed, only get worse.  Sounds like the team wants him back too, but I think that’s a mistake.

7/20/16 – Seattle Mariners traded RHP Jordan Pries and LHP Mike Montgomery to Chicago Cubs for 1B Dan Vogelbach and RHP Paul Blackburn.

Oh what could’ve been with Mike Montgomery.  As I’ve written about repeatedly, this was a deal made to sell high on an iffy bullpen piece, for hopefully a future starter at first base.  Montgomery proved with his ongoing stint with the Cubs that he’s here to stay, and this one might end up backfiring even more depending on how long and impressive his Major League career ends up being.  Shades of Matt Thornton, if you ask me.  In return, Dan Vogelbach, who got a cup of coffee with the Mariners, but still looks pretty raw.  He figures to get a shot in Spring Training (at least in a platoon role), but I have serious doubts.  If anything, he probably figures to be a placeholder until one of our other impressive first base prospects is ready to make the jump.  Don’t be shocked if, come June 2017, D.J. Peterson has supplanted Vogelbach (that is, assuming we don’t go out on the open market to bring in a veteran).

7/26/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded RHP Drew Storen and cash to Seattle Mariners for RHP Joaquin Benoit.

11/12/15 – San Diego Padres traded RHP Joaquin Benoit to Seattle Mariners for RHP Enyel De Los Santos and SS Nelson Ward.

The Joaquin Benoit deals!  He cost upwards of $8 million this year, and he ended up being a total dud, first hitting the DL for a protracted injury, then being a lump of crap upon his return.  Makes you wonder how he was ever good in the first place, but then he went to Toronto and pitched lights out the rest of the year.  Hence why that deal is ranked higher.  I don’t think we gave up much of anything to get him (seemed like a cost-cutting move by the Padres, if anything), but we did end up getting back an interesting piece in Drew Storen.  One of those Change of Scenery deals that ACTUALLY works, as Storen was MUCH better as a member of the Mariners than he was in a Blue Jays uni.  Of course, this move helped/hurt both teams, as Toronto was the other wild card team that had us by 3 games by season’s end.  They got the better of us ever-so-slightly, as Benoit proved to be the healthier option than Storen, and the more important piece to their bullpen than Storen was to ours.  Both are UFA’s this year, and neither figures to make a substantial salary; I could easily see Storen returning to Seattle if the price is right.

2/9/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Joel Peralta to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

6/22/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent Tom Wilhelmsen.

12/8/15 – Oakland Athletics traded RHP Evan Scribner to Seattle Mariners for RHP Trey Cochran-Gill.

I’m going to start lumping a bunch of moves in, as I failed to anticipate how long this post would end up being.  Peralta was a longtime vet brought in on an invite to Spring Training.  He ended up winning a job in our bullpen thanks to lots of injuries ahead of him.  He was also pretty okay in March, but it would not last long.  We ended up designating him for assignment in June, after it was clear his Major League career was done.  Similarly, Tom Wilhelmsen – in on that Leonys Martin deal – had a hard luck stint with the Rangers.  They’d finally had enough of him by June, and we were more than happy to bring him back.  A veteran, making the minimum, familiar with the organization, willing to go to Tacoma to work on some things, while at the same time able to fill in on Seattle’s bullpen that was sort of in shambles at this point of the season.  Wilhelmsen ended up being who we thought he was, which is far from elite, but at the same time far from the waste of space he was for Texas.  Scribner spent the bulk of 2016 on the DL.  He returned in September and was FAR AND AWAY our best reliever in those 12 appearances, giving up 0 runs and only 5 hits in 14 innings.  Where was THAT when we needed it April through August?  He’s under club control for three more years, and if he pitches anywhere close to what he was in September, this trade with Oakland looks MUCH better than it already is.

6/22/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded LHP Wade LeBlanc to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL.

One of these days, I’d like to write a book about Wade LeBlanc’s 2016 season, because something sure as shit doesn’t add up.  We traded for him at probably our lowest point in the season (most likely for cash), and he was inserted into our rotation when most everyone else was injured.  AND HE WAS ALL RIGHT!  He didn’t turn the world on with his smile or anything, but he was somewhat competent!  He had 5 quality starts out of 8, and he looked no worse than Ariel Miranda.  Of course, there’s no point in having both Miranda and LeBlanc in your rotation at the same time, unless you’re just riddled with injuries, but who’s to say LeBlanc couldn’t have taken to a bullpen role?  He sure as shit took to it with Pittsburgh, when we dealt him to the Pirates in September!  He gave up 1 earned run in 12 innings with them!  I hope that PTBNL we get back from the Pirates is something more than just the cash we gave away to the Blue Jays in June.

8/6/16 – Pittsburgh Pirates traded RHP Arquimedes Caminero to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL and Future Considerations (LHP Jake Brentz and RHP Pedro Vasquez).

10/19/15 – Seattle Mariners claimed Cody Martin off waivers from Oakland Athletics.

Caminero came to Seattle and tore the A.L. a new asshole with his 100mph fastball.  Unfortunately, when teams started sitting dead red, and when he lost his command, they tore him a new asshole right back.  You can’t help but be intrigued by a guy like that, and hopefully our coaches are able to work with him mechanically to help him reign in some of that explosiveness.  Regardless, we’ve got 4 more years of club control on a guy with a ton of upside, so I like the move.  As for Cody Martin, I don’t know what to tell you.  He made a couple of spot starts for us, and a few more relief appearances, but other than mop up duty in extra innings games, he didn’t provide much of an impact.  He started primarily with Tacoma, and he figures to do more of the same in 2017.

3/1/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent CF Guillermo Heredia.

8/31/16 – New York Yankees traded RF Ben Gamel to Seattle Mariners for RHP Jio Orozco and RHP Juan De Paula.

I honestly have no idea where Heredia came from, what he was doing for the entirety of the 2015 calendar year, or anything other than we signed him as a free agent out of Cuba.  But, he tore through the minors and was called up to be primarily a defensive replacement in the outfield.  He figures to compete with Ben Gamel, among other guys, to be one of this team’s reserve outfielders.  Heredia bats righty and Gamel lefty, so it’s not like they’re in direct competition, but they sort of are, with Heredia on the inside track considering this organization’s lack of right handed bats.  They’re both for the most part on the same level, talent-wise, with Heredia having the higher ceiling, and Gamel more likely to be Major League-ready.  The 2017 outfield figures to be pretty jam-packed, with centerfield already on lockdown, so guys like Heredia and Gamel have a long way to go.

8/1/16 – Seattle Mariners claimed 1B Mike Freeman off waivers from Arizona Diamondbacks.

6/19/16 – Seattle Mariners traded SS Chris Taylor to Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Zach Lee.

11/20/15 – Seattle Mariners traded CF Ramon Flores to Milwaukee Brewers for 2B Luis Sardinas.

The Mariners never really figured out their reserve infielder spot.  Ultimately, Shawn O’Malley took the bull by the horns, but he’s not really much better than any of these guys listed here.  Luis Sardinas had the first crack at the job, but quickly proved to be ineffective (ultimately traded away to San Diego in August).  Chris Taylor had about the shortest opportunity I’ve ever seen, but in what I want to say was his only start with us this year, he had 2 errors and was sent away almost immediately afterward.  He ended up predictably doing nothing for the Dodgers (after his leadoff triple with them right after the trade), so no big loss.  Mike Freeman had some memorable plate appearances (particularly in that Anaheim series during Griffey weekend), and should be around to compete for the backup infielder spot next year.

3/17/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Steve Johnson to a minor league contract.

8/6/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded LHP Pat Venditte to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL (2B Tim Lopes).

11/6/15 – Seattle Mariners claimed LF Daniel Robertson off waivers from Los Angeles Angels.

1/12/16 – Los Angeles Dodgers traded RHP Joe Wieland to Seattle Mariners for SS Erick Mejia.

These last deals aren’t really even worth mentioning, but I stuck them down here at the bottom anyway.  Steve Johnson appeared in 16 games, almost exclusively as the very last man in the bullpen.  When it became readily apparent he was a waste of space, we cut him loose in mid-June.  Pat Venditte is the switch-pitcher we brought in, who got his cup of coffee with us in September, almost exclusively in blowout situations.  I don’t know if he’ll ever be much more than a novelty.  Robertson appeared in 9 games, and for the life of me, I can’t remember a thing about any of ’em.  Apparently, they took place in July.  He obviously didn’t make much of an impression, as he didn’t return in September with the rest of the call-ups.  Finally, Joe Wieland appeared in one game, making a spot start on August 12th against the A’s.  He gave up 6 runs in 5 innings, as we lost 6-3.  We ended up trading him to the Braves in September, rendering him as little more than a trivia question answer, and not even an interesting one.

***

So, all in all, how would I rate Jerry Dipoto’s first year on the job?  I’d say of all the moves I listed above, about half of them were good and half of them were bad.  I would say the trades were particularly bad (including the Trumbo, Lind, 1st Miley, and Karns deals) with only the Leonys Martin deal having a real positive impact.  He was able to find a lot of value towards the back-end of the roster, particularly the bullpen, as the season went along, and he was smart to fill the roster with veterans, considering the closing competitive windows of our aging stars.  Ultimately, the Mariners improved by 10 games in his first year, so that’s certainly a feather in his cap.  But, I think a lot of that was achieved by players already here.  Cano having a bounce-back year, Seager improving, Zunino improving, Paxton making more of an impact, and so on and so forth.

What Dipoto needs to do now is find a way to fill some of these holes that are still dogging us.  First base, short stop, corner outfield.  He needs to find cost-effective ways to bolster our pitching staff.  And, let’s face it, he needs a little luck to go his way.  This team is close.  So very close to making the post-season and breaking this streak.  But, at the same time, it’s also pretty damn close from bottoming out yet again.  Is Dipoto the man for the job?  Time will tell, but I’m going to reserve any enthusiasm I have for the man until I see some actual results on the field.

It’s playoffs or bust, Jerry!  You’ll get a “good job” out of me when I see some rings on the fingers of these players.

***

Important Mariners Transactions for the 2016 Season

  • 10/19/15 – Seattle Mariners claimed Cody Martin off waivers from Oakland Athletics.
  • 11/5/15 – Seattle Mariners traded SS Brad Miller, 1B Logan Morrison and RHP Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay Rays for RHP Nathan Karns, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser and CF Boog Powell.
  • 11/6/15 – Seattle Mariners claimed LF Daniel Robertson off waivers from Los Angeles Angels.
  • 11/11/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RF Franklin Gutierrez.
  • 11/12/15 – San Diego Padres traded RHP Joaquin Benoit to Seattle Mariners for RHP Enyel De Los Santos and SS Nelson Ward.
  • 11/16/15 – Texas Rangers traded CF Leonys Martin and RHP Anthony Bass to Seattle Mariners for RHP Tom Wilhelmsen, CF James Jones and PTBNL (3B Patrick Kivlehan).
  • 11/20/15 – Seattle Mariners traded CF Ramon Flores to Milwaukee Brewers for 2B Luis Sardinas.
  • 11/23/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent C Chris Iannetta.
  • 12/2/15 – Baltimore Orioles traded C Steve Clevenger to Seattle Mariners for RF Mark Trumbo and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser.
  • 12/2/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Justin De Fratus.
  • 12/3/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent LF Norichika Aoki.
  • 12/7/15 – Boston Red Sox traded RHP Jonathan Aro and LHP Wade Miley to Seattle Mariners for RHP Carson Smith and LHP Roenis Elias.
  • 12/8/15 – Oakland Athletics traded RHP Evan Scribner to Seattle Mariners for RHP Trey Cochran-Gill.
  • 12/9/15 – Milwaukee Brewers traded 1B Adam Lind to Seattle Mariners for RHP Carlos Herrera, RHP Daniel Missaki and RHP Freddy Peralta.
  • 12/14/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Steve Cishek.
  • 12/18/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Hisashi Iwakuma.
  • 1/7/16 – Seattle Mariners released RHP Anthony Bass.
  • 1/12/16 – Los Angeles Dodgers traded RHP Joe Wieland to Seattle Mariners for SS Erick Mejia.
  • 2/3/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent 1B Dae-Ho Lee to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.
  • 2/9/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Joel Peralta to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.
  • 3/1/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent CF Guillermo Heredia.
  • 3/17/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Steve Johnson to a minor league contract.
  • 3/28/16 – Toronto Blue Jays claimed 1B Jesus Montero off waivers from Seattle Mariners.
  • 3/30/16 – San Diego Padres traded RHP Nick Vincent to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL.
  • 5/29/16 – Texas Rangers traded 3B Patrick Kivlehan to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL (RHP Justin De Fratus).
  • 6/2/16 – Seattle Mariners designated RHP Joel Peralta for assignment.
  • 6/17/16 – Seattle Mariners designated RHP Steve Johnson for assignment.
  • 6/19/16 – Seattle Mariners traded SS Chris Taylor to Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Zach Lee.
  • 6/22/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded LHP Wade LeBlanc to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL.
  • 6/22/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent Tom Wilhelmsen.
  • 7/20/16 – Seattle Mariners traded RHP Jordan Pries and LHP Mike Montgomery to Chicago Cubs for 1B Dan Vogelbach and RHP Paul Blackburn.
  • 7/26/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded RHP Drew Storen and cash to Seattle Mariners for RHP Joaquin Benoit.
  • 7/31/16 – Seattle Mariners traded LHP Wade Miley to Baltimore Orioles for LHP Ariel Miranda.
  • 8/1/16 – Seattle Mariners designated 3B Patrick Kivlehan for assignment.
  • 8/1/16 – Seattle Mariners claimed 1B Mike Freeman off waivers from Arizona Diamondbacks.
  • 8/6/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded LHP Pat Venditte to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL (2B Tim Lopes).
  • 8/6/16 – Pittsburgh Pirates traded RHP Arquimedes Caminero to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL and Future Considerations (LHP Jake Brentz and RHP Pedro Vasquez).
  • 8/15/16 – Seattle Mariners sent Daniel Robertson outright to Tacoma Rainiers.
  • 8/15/16 – Seattle Mariners traded 2B Luis Sardinas to San Diego Padres for Player To Be Named Later.
  • 8/31/16 – New York Yankees traded RF Ben Gamel to Seattle Mariners for RHP Jio Orozco and RHP Juan De Paula.
  • 9/13/16 Seattle Mariners traded LHP Wade LeBlanc to Pittsburgh Pirates for PTBNL.
  • 9/14/16 Seattle Mariners traded RHP Joe Wieland to Atlanta Braves for PTBNL.

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 Did Just Good Enough, Winning Series In Oakland

On the downside, the Mariners had their 6-game winning streak snapped.  On the plus side, they won a series, as expected.

Let’s call a spade a spade here:  the Oakland Athletics are terrible this year.  To NOT win that series would’ve been a huge disappointment, and quite frankly, something the Same Ol’ Mariners would have done.  As has been noted countless times, all the rest of these games are vitally important.  There’s no screwing around anymore.  Relievers are going to be pushed a little harder, hitters are going to have to focus a little more, and starters are going to be the backbone of this whole fucking thing.

With Taijuan Walker still in Tacoma, finding himself, getting his groove back, or whatever you want to call it (4.1 innings, 4 runs, 6 hits, and 4 fucking walks on Saturday, in what we’ll go ahead and call The Disgruntled Start), the team turned to recent call-up Joe Wieland on Friday to make his first Major League start of the season.  Joe is, what can only be described as a journeyman; a 26 year old veteran of the upper minors, who has 10 career Big League starts to his name.  His numbers in Tacoma this year are less than encouraging (he was really butchered early in the season), but he’s been coming on of late, with 4 of his last 5 starts being of the Quality variety.  I was having my ass kicked by Guns N’ Roses at CenturyLink Field on Friday, so I didn’t see a second of this game, but it sounded like he mostly kept us in the game until they brought him back out there in the 6th inning and he couldn’t get an out (giving up 4 straight singles – including one with the bases loaded – before being pulled).  To be fair, his pitch count was ridiculously low, and he’d been okay after a rocky first, so it would’ve been stupid to pull him after the 5th.

With the dud out of the way, you could sense the Mariners were at a bit of a crossroads there on Saturday.  Would they rebound like champions?  Or, would they Same Ol’ Mariners it up, effectively destroying a lot of the momentum they’ve built up since the All Star Break (and particularly since the Griffey Weekend)?

Well, things were rolling right along with Iwakuma on the mound.  He had a rough 2nd inning where he threw a ton of pitches, but he limited them to 1 run, and really settled down nicely until the 6th, when he was battered around pretty good.  By that time, though, the Mariners put 4 runs on the board, and the bullpen made sure it stuck.  Vincent, Caminero, Wilhelmsen, and Diaz combined for 3.2 innings of 2-hit, 0-walk ball to secure the 4-3 victory.

That brought us to the rubber match yesterday, with Wade “Thank God We Kept The GOOD Wade” LeBlanc on the mound.  Ol’ Wadey-boy had himself a GAME, racking up 7 strikeouts, but like the two guys before him, faltered in the 6th inning.  He still got the Quality Start (making it 5 of 7 this season), as he handed a lead over to the bullpen who made it stick.  We even managed to prevent using Edwin Diaz in back-to-back games (though, to be fair, he did have to warm up in the 9th), as the Mariners won 8-4.

Seager, O’Malley, Aoki, Cruz, and Cano all had fine weekends at the plate, and the team played clean ball for the most part.  Just what the doctor ordered.

Now, we go into Anaheim for a 4-game set, with the Angels on a 10-game losing streak.  Anything less than a 3-1 record would be a REAL disappointment.  It sounds like Joe Wieland will get another chance to take the hill, so hopefully he’ll rebound from a semi-poor performance.  King Felix and Iwakuma will also make starts this series, as well as (hopefully) the return of Paxton from that line drive that hit his elbow.  Go get ’em, boys!

My Griffey Hall Of Fame Weekend Experience, Day 3

Go ahead and check out Day 1 and Day 2, if you missed ’em over the weekend.  I WENT TO ALL THREE GAMES AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT AND MEMORIES THAT WILL LAST A LIFETIME!

Pre-game breakfast at Jimmy's ...

Pre-game breakfast at Jimmy’s …

It was rough getting going on Sunday.  We wanted to be on the road by 8:30, so I sucked down a cup of coffee, put on my finest Husky gear, and went with the Rainiers cap you see above.  We got there around 9am, in anticipation of the 10am opening of the gates, ahead of the 1:10pm start time.  Needless to say, our line positioning was the best of all three days.

A free jersey is a free jersey ...

A free jersey is a free jersey …

As soon as we got our shirts, we walked right back out, so we could grab breakfast and a million mimosas at Jimmy’s On First, in what has to be one of the top three restaurant bills I’ve ever been involved with (almost exclusively because we spent a good two and a half to three hours drinking champagne-based beverages).  Everything was a God damn delight.

Let's win the whole fuckin' thing ...

Let’s win the whole fuckin’ thing …

We missed the ceremonial first pitch (I heard Gary Payton threw to Griffey behind the plate) and the actual first game pitch thanks to our dallying, but once seated, we were treated to a real delight.  Mike Trout, instead of hitting a first inning 3-run home run, struck out 4 times (but sufficiently beat us in other ways – like taking away a possible Grand Slam – proving he was indeed the MVP of this weekend).

James Paxton was the star, going 8.1 innings of 1-run ball before taking a liner off of his throwing elbow to miss out on the complete game.  With Edwin Diaz unavailable – because seriously, it seems like all these games are close lately – The Bartender locked down the final two outs for the emergency save.

Among the other heroes included call-up Mike Freeman, who got the start for Robbie Cano (being given a regular rest day, but also probably watching out for his sore foot) and had his first Major League hit and RBI in going 2 for 3.  It all added up to a 3-1 victory on the back of our pitching, which is what we’ll need if we want to go somewhere in this race.

The Mariners, in sweeping this weekend, regained second place in the A.L. West (7 games behind Texas), and are a mere 3.5 games behind Detroit for the second Wild Card spot, with the Tigers coming in for three games, starting tonight.  Our destiny is right there, in our hands!  Let’s get out there and do this thing!  Let’s keep the momentum going!  Let’s give ’em something to talk about!

How about love?

My Griffey Hall Of Fame Weekend Experience, Day 2

I stayed up through the whole game, everyone!  Keep your chins up!

Allow me to re-introduce myself ...

Allow me to re-introduce myself …

Look, I’m not gonna lie to you, Day 1 kinda got away from me a little bit.  It took me a while to get going on Day 2, but I eventually ventured out of my apartment, grabbed a couple coffees and some scratch tickets, and even worked in a shower before I sweated myself through the second game of the weekend.

I threw $190 into scratch tickets and walked away with $30 when all was said and done, but it’s not all champagne wishes and caviar dreams for Steven A. Taylor.  There’s also copious amounts of line waiting!  We left South Lake Union around a quarter to 3, Ubering our way to 1st & Edgar Martinez Way to the sight of yet another fuckload of people waiting in lines to grab Day 2’s prize:  a mini Griffey HOF plaque.  We, no joke, got in the same line for the Left Field Entrance, at about the same distance as I was for Day 1.  And lo and behold, we got our plaques.

Bee-you-tiful ...

Bee-you-tiful …

We opted to stay in the stadium, as opposed to making our usual trek to Sluggers, because the 24 Retirement Ceremony was starting at 5:30, and we sure as shit didn’t want to miss it.  Since we were starving, food was our #1 priority.  I made the mistake of ordering a Mariner Dog (ate two bites and threw the rest away) and some Club Level “garlic” fries.  You tell me, is this abomination an appropriate order of garlic fries?

Horse. Shit.

Horse. Shit.

That’s either garlic powder, or parmesan cheese, but there’s NO FUCKING GARLIC on that shit!  Safeco, I expect better.

Once I got rid of that shit, I ended up walking a million miles to get a mediocre slice of pepperoni pizza and a cup of chocolate soft serve ice cream, before turning my attention to the $6 Tecates they sell at the Hit It Here Cafe.  Beer:  you can’t fuck up beer.

Let your freak flag fly ...

Let your freak flag fly …

The ceremony was fantastic.  The Mariners know how to do one thing well, and that’s throw a party for their greats.  The usual suspects showed up, from Alvin Davis, to Dan Wilson, to Jay Buhner, to Jamie Moyer, to Edgar Martinez wearing a backwards cap, to Dave Niehaus’ widow; while a bunch of shockers popped in, like Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy, Gary Payton, Spencer Haywood, Rickey Henderson, and others.  Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Kobe Bryant, and even Jeff Gordon had jumbotron salutes.  It was truly a star-studded affair.

The Great One ...

The Great One …

We even got a Griffey speech with almost no blubbering!  It was everything you could ever want from a ceremony!

Retire them numbers ...

Retire them numbers …

Then, the game happened, and I don’t even know anymore.  Like the previous night, Mike Trout hit a 3-run homer in the first to put the Mariners at a huge disadvantage.  Unlike the previous night, the Mariners were unable to respond with more than a single run in the bottom half of the inning.  But, in spite of Taijuan Walker’s mediocre return from the DL (4 innings, 6 runs), the Mariners continued to chip away!  1 run in the first, another in the third (Guillermo Heredia’s first ever homer), 2 runs in the fifth (Guti homer, to pull him within a triple of the cycle), and 4 runs in the seventh (a Leonys Martin sac fly, and a MONSTER 3-run homer from the hero of the night, Shawn O’Malley).

It was truly a magical night.  Shawn O’Malley even followed up his game-winning homer with a diving stab the next inning to take a hit away from them, resulting in chanting from the sellout crowd.  Was I JUST complaining of O’Malley’s defense earlier this week?  I don’t recall that!  Surely t’was some other blogger!  Was I among those leading the chants for the rest of the evening?  No hypocrite guy, but MAYBE!

Big ups to the bullpen tonight, for picking up where Taijuan failed to leave off.  Cody Martin went 2.2, Drew Storen got the last out in the 7th (and the win).  Wilhelmsen came in to dominate the 8th, and Edwin Diaz got the game sealing double play to close out the 9th.  Bing, bang, boom, Mariners defeat Angels 8-6, and we all went home delirious.

Day 3 happens later today, and I, for one, can’t wait.

Let your body move to the music ...

Let your body move to the music …

My Griffey Hall Of Fame Weekend Experience, Day 1

Friday, around 3pm, I ducked out of work and walked to the Westlake station, rode the light rail, got out at the Stadium exit, survived that circular ramp, and was faced with my greatest dilemma:  which line would I stand in?

Under normal circumstances, bobbleheads are hot ticket items.  The first 20,000 gets this little creature that looks nothing like its intended likeness, of a player whose career will take a huge shit next year before he’s traded for peanuts on the dollar!  Better get to Safeco early, folks!  But, these are obviously not normal circumstances.  These are Griffey Days!  Three days celebrating the man, the myth, the legend!  The single greatest, most talented, most popular Mariner in franchise history!  The guy who saved baseball in Seattle!  He was just inducted into the baseball hall of fame, and now we’re throwing him a ceremony and retiring his number throughout the organization – only the second such retired number, with the first belonging to Jackie Robinson, who died before the Seattle Mariners were even a thing.

So, yeah, THIS bobblehead:  kind of a big deal.

I surveyed the clusterfuck that was Royal Brougham Way, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of where the lines ended.  Which one was for the Centerfield Entrance?  Which one was for The ‘Pen?  Which one went into the Left Field Entrance?  I HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA!  So, fuck it.  Fuck all of those lines, I walked over to Dave Niehaus Way, with the intent of getting into the line for the Home Plate Entrance.  However, there were even multiple lines HERE as well!  One facing south, one facing north.  So, I got in the north-facing line, which ended up filling into the Left Field Entrance anyway.  I was standing there for probably an hour – or half of an episode of Never Not Funny – before we started moving.  I swear they were letting us in early, because the regular, non-‘Pen entrances weren’t supposed to open until 5:10.  Either way, I wasn’t complaining.  I entered with my three tickets, picked up three bobbleheads, and walked right back out of that stadium.

The Kid ...

The Kid …

My friends – to whom the other two bobbleheads belonged – were running late, so we ended up meeting at Sluggers for pre-game tallboys and mini corn dogs.  The Banquet Beer was flowing like wine, let me tell you!  Going to Sluggers is something of a tradition for us and Mariners games, but what was absolutely perfect about going there on Griffey Bobblehead Day is that when we finally walked over to get into Safeco, everyone was already inside!  So, we actually made it inside, fresh beers in hand, for first pitch.  A Griffey Bobblehead Day Miracle!

On the jumbotron: Griffey's Curtain Call ...

On the jumbotron: Griffey’s Curtain Call …

As for the game itself, that has to be one of the strangest I’ve ever seen in person.  King Felix was on the mound, appropriately enough, given the occasion, but he was very un-King like in that first inning.  There was a first-pitch double, then a walk, followed by a Mike Trout 3-run home run; or, as it’s commonly known:  a fucking dumpster fire.  Starts just don’t get much worse than that.  And, considering the King hasn’t really been his usual immaculate self this season, you had to wonder if this was the beginning of a VERY short, VERY rocky outing for our ace, against one of the worst teams in the league.

To his credit, he settled down in a big way, shutting down the next 9 batters in a row, and 12 of the next 13 before giving up a solo homer in the top of the fifth.  But, by that point, the Mariners had things firmly in hand.

What’s the best response your offense can give you, when your ace gives up three runs in the top of the first inning?  How about DOUBLING those runs in the bottom of the inning!  It was unreal.  Tim Lincecum got the start, and the UW alumnus seemed like just the type of pitcher who would make our offense shit its collective pants.  Instead, he let the first four batters of the game single, before getting Seager to fly out.  From there, an RBI single and an RBI fly-out tied the game, before Zunino finished the job with a 3-run bomb to left field.

And that was that.  It was 6-3 Mariners after one inning, then it was 6-4, then the game ended.  To say Felix settled down is really an understatement, because he ended up going 8 innings, while throwing only 100 pitches, before giving way to Edwin Diaz for the three-strikeout save.  I may or may not have been awake in my seat in the later innings; it’s tough to say.  Are any of us REALLY awake?  Is all of this the dream of some autistic kid, and maybe I didn’t pass out at the game?  Furthermore, if you pass out at the game, and an usher doesn’t kick you out, were you even passed out at all?  Or maybe just resting your eyes?

I DON’T KNOW!  These are the kinds of unanswerable questions one asks himself on a hungover Saturday morning while writing a blog post.  Two more days to go …

I Don’t Know Why I Stayed Up To Watch All Of That Mariners Game Last Night

You want the short answer?  I knew Ariel Miranda was getting his first Major League start and I wanted like hell for him to do well.  We’d just shipped off Wade Miley – who, in his first start with the Orioles, went 5 innings, giving up 4 runs in a loss – and I’d made that big to do about Good Riddance and all that jazz.  This year has been such a shitshow with the pitching, I’m DESPERATE for any possibility that a new guy might help turn things around.

Also, not for nothing, but I realize we’re just starting to get into Looking Forward To Next Year mode – even if I’m being dragged there kicking and screaming – and I’d like to have some reasons for optimism.  I NEED a good pitching staff, or else I get all wonky!

Well, Ariel Miranda acquitted himself just fine last night.  6 innings, 2 runs, spreading out 8 hits and a walk, with 5 strikeouts.  He got himself into a little trouble here and there, but was able to pitch around it.  I thought he hit his spots pretty well, for the most part.  He seemed pretty fearless out there, and pretty natural at the same time.  He might get sent right back down to Tacoma in a minute, what with Taijuan Walker’s return, but let’s be real here:  no one expects this rotation to stay intact for the next two weeks, let alone the rest of the season.  We will most definitely see Ariel Miranda again.  And I hope we get a lot more of what we saw last night, because that’s a guy I can go to war with.

Unfortunately, as has been the case more and more of late, the hitting let us down last night.  The Mariners should win every game they hold an opponent to 2 runs in regulation.  But, it wasn’t to be.  Robbie – after being our hero on Tuesday – totally shit the bed last night.  Cruz wasn’t good for anything more than a couple of walks.  Seager was 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position.  Zunino was only good for a couple of walks (a lot of walks by Mariners hitters last night, which makes the end result particularly galling, as we’re NEVER this patient at the plate).  The only middle-of-the-order hitter to do ANYTHING last night was Dae-ho Lee, with the RBI single in the 5th to tie the game.  He’s so good at getting that runner in by knocking a single the other way; he’s NOT just a power guy!  That’s what we love about Dae-ho so much!

The rest of the lineup wasn’t much better, to be fair.  Leonys Martin is in a BIGTIME slump right now.  Guillermo Heredia is NOT a leadoff hitter, and I wish Servais would stop doing that.  Shawn O’Malley had a solo homer – and 3 hits on the day – but he’s also not a starting-calibre short stop, which was on full display in the top of the 11th, when his diving stab at a single through the infield cost the Mariners a run and ultimately the game.  A competent defensive short stop at the very least is able to keep that ball in the infield, with a good chance of actually making the play and getting the out at first.  This team seriously needs Ketel Marte back in the lineup.  Because he’s leaps and bounds better than O’Malley defensively, and because we need to see if the kid has what it takes to be our everyday short stop next year and beyond.

I mean, seriously, who gets mono in this day and age?!

Short story long, I’ve gotta give it up for the bullpen last night.  They really worked their asses off to keep that game tied as long as it was.  I thought Miranda was pulled at exactly the right time:  he made it through 6, and even though he’d only thrown 80 pitches, he was starting to get hit hard, and it’s better to preserve the kid’s confidence going forward than try to squeeze another inning out of him and giving up the lead in the process.  I like Storen in that spot right now, I thought Nuno was in there the exact right amount, and I even agree with having Wilhelmsen in there for the 4 outs.  No one was egregiously over-used, but with Diaz unavailable (having pitched in 4 days out of the last 5), you had to get a little extra somewhere.  I started the 10th inning wondering just what in the hell the Mariners were thinking by not bringing Blake Parker up sooner – as it looked like he’d been kicking all ass in Tacoma – but by the end of the 10th, I was having visions of Joel Peralta, and understood it probably wasn’t the organization being prejudiced against guys named Blake.  By the time we got to the 11th, and Cody Martin was the last man standing, you kinda knew time was growing short.  I just hoped he wouldn’t IMMEDIATELY give up the go-ahead run, but maybe buy us an inning or two before falling apart.

Oh well, I guess.  Can’t win ’em all, I suppose.  We’ll get ’em next time and whatnot.  The sun’ll come out tomorrow and whathaveyou.

Big Griffey Hall of Fame Weekend starts tonight.  I’m going to all three games, so I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say come Monday.