Jesus Montero Is No More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mariners Made A Big Ol’ Trade With The Rays

If you read my Seahawks mid-season post from yesterday and were looking forward to the Part 2, where I rip into everything I find objectionable about this Seahawks season so far, I apologize.  Fortunately, it will still be “mid-season” after the weekend; and really, when you think about it, this gives Seahawks players an extra three full days (if you include today) to fuck up somehow (DUIs, spousal abuse, disorderly conduct, attending a Taylor Swift concert).

The reason for the delay, as I’m sure you’re able to glean from the title, is something a little more timely and pressing of my interest took place last night:  the aforementioned tig ol’ brade.

The Deets:

  • Seattle sends SS/OF Brad Miller, 1B/DH/OF Logan Morrison, and relief pitcher Danny Farquhar to Tampa
  • Tampa sends starting pitcher Nathan Karns, relief pitcher C.J. Riefenhauser, and OF (sigh) Boog Powell to Seattle

Really?  “Boog” is the name we’re going with?

I know very little about what we got in return, other than what I’ve just read about this trade this morning.  Nathan Karns is a soon-to-be 28 year old right-handed starter who was a rookie last year with the Rays.  He made 26 starts (and 1 relief appearance), going 7-5, striking out 145 in 147 innings.  He was shut down in early September (probably prudent) with forearm tightness, but I doubt that’ll be a problem going into 2016.

In 2014, he pitched 157 innings across AAA and the bigs (only 12 of those innings in the bigs), so he might be a couple years away from being a reliable 200-innings-per-year guy.  As far as his 2015 is concerned, I wonder.  He only made three starts all year where he went a full 7 innings or more; a lot of his starts are in the 4-5 innings range.  Maybe that’s Tampa being cautious with a young pitcher, in hopes of preserving his arm, in which case, fine.  But, if he’s a little 5-inning dandy a la Erik Bedard, then that’s probably not too good.  Also, from what I’ve read, no one is falling all over themselves praising his rocket arm.  They actually don’t really mention anything about his fastball speed, which leads me to believe he falls in the realm of “average”, which for the world we’re living in today, probably means he throws in the 92-93 mph range.  Nothing flashy, but also just fast enough to avoid Jamie Moyer comparisons.  Everyone seems to believe he’s a back-end (read: 4th or 5th) starter, which in an ideal scenario – on a GOOD team – means an innings eater who manages to keep his ERA under or around 4.  But, in the case of every Mariners 4th or 5th starter you’ve ever seen in the last decade, always means he’s good for about 10 quality starts, with the rest being absolute disasters.

So, we’ll see.

C.J. Riefenhauser (whose name already annoys me, so I hope they get rid of him as soon as possible) is a lefty reliever who has pitched in small parts of the last two seasons in the Major Leagues.  His 2015 September call-up was apparently the toast of Tampa, so maybe we’ve got something there.  Or, maybe he’s just another guy.  Or, maybe he’s worse than just another guy because he’s got a stupid, hard-to-spell last name.  If he turns out to be good, and makes the big league club out of Spring Training, I’m calling him The Ceej and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it.

(sigh) Boog Powell has never played in the Majors.  He’s a center fielder – a position we desperately need, now that Austin Jackson and Brad Miller are both gone – and he apparently is pretty athletic.  So, hopefully that means he’s good defensively, or at least means he’ll one day soon be good defensively, because the Safeco outfield has a lot of space to cover.  He finally cracked AAA last year for half of the season, batting .257, but with a robust .360 on-base percentage (and absolutely no power whatsoever).  He’s gotten on base his whole career, and he makes a lot of contact, which are two things this team so desperately needs at the top of the lineup.  He steals a middling number of bases (approximately 15 or so a year), so he’s not a super-burner, but should be a good-enough base-runner.  What we don’t know, obviously, is whether or not he’s ready to face Major League pitching.  You can be an on-base machine, but if you can’t hit above .150, you’re not going to last.  I have my doubts, but I’m willing to feign hope.

The Mariners got rid of three players, none of whom make me sad to no longer be wearing a Mariners uniform.  I know a lot of the local baseball nerds haven’t finished sucking Brad Miller’s dick yet (and Tampa is SUCH a long flight away), but I’m just glad we were able to maximize as much trade value out of him as possible.  Brad Miller: The Whole Package was pretty valuable, I suppose.  But, he was always going to be frustrating for never living up to the potential that most fans saw in him.  His batting average always stunk.  He wasn’t THAT good at getting on-base.  He wasn’t THAT good at making contact.  And sure, his bat had power, but what are we talking about here, 20 doubles and 10 homers a year?  Pardon me for not falling all over my fainting couch with the vapors at this great and wonderous player who apparently had a lot of defensive ability, but still couldn’t manage to hold onto his natural short stop position.  Maybe he’ll put it all together one day.  He strikes me as a guy (unlike, say, Ackley or Smoak, who feel like lost causes no matter where they play) who could really shake things up in a more hitter-friendly environment.  I think he’ll be a good one for Tampa – maybe even an All Star – but he was never going to be that here.

LoMo feels like a tack-on more than anything.  There’s no way the Mariners wanted to give him a raise in arbitration (to upwards of $5 million for next year), just to get the same mediocre play.  On a good team, LoMo might be a nice bench player and backup first baseman.  His defensive skills really blossomed once he got everyday play, but his bat was never consistent enough to hack it on a daily basis.  For every hot stretch, he’d suffer a slump five times as long.  And, not for nothing, but he’s worthless in the outfield, so don’t go there girlfriend.  I don’t know what Tampa’s future holds at the first base and DH positions, but as long as LoMo isn’t starting at either, they should be fine.

Danny Farquhar actually feels a little more interesting to me, if I’m a Rays fan.  He’s HAD success in the very recent past.  Yeah, his 2015 was a fucking disaster, but I feel like a little tweak here and there in his mechanics might be all that it takes to get him back to his 2014 glory.  To be honest, the Mariners might have been able to do the same thing, mechanics-wise, but if you do that and it fails, then you’re stuck with a reliever with no value whatsoever.  Too much of a risk for a guy who doesn’t really have a future here (he’s not a closer, and as he gets into arbitration, he’s going to cost more and more money).

I like the deal a lot.  The Mariners got rid of three players with no value to the current regime.  Brad Miller already lost his starting short stop job to Ketel Marte, and there was no guarantee he was ever going to fully grasp the outfield position.  LoMo is terrible, and in a logjam with Trumbo, Cruz, and Jesus Montero as far as 1B/DH is concerned.  And, honestly, if we can’t do better than Farquhar, then our bullpen is already fucked.

In return, we get a young starting pitcher who goes immediately into the starting rotation (assuming he doesn’t have a total meltdown in Spring Training), who we have club control over for a very long time; a potential lefty specialist out of the bullpen; and a potential starting centerfielder for – again – a very long time.  Or, we just picked up an injury-prone starter who can’t get out of the sixth inning, a minor league lefty reliever, and a Quad-A outfielder in a long line of crappy Quad-A outfielders in recent Mariners history.  But, the point is, we took a chance, and now we just let the chips fall.  If it works out, GREAT!  The new GM is a genius (for now).  If it doesn’t work out, then how is that any different than what we’ve endured as Mariners fans for the last 15 years?

I’m right.  You see how I’m right.

What I won’t do is fall all over myself praising the new GM for having the balls to trade away highly-touted players from the previous GM’s regime.  Don’t forget, Jackie Z did the same exact thing with the VAST majority of the players Bill Bavasi cultivated in his tenure here.  I think, after a year or two, the only name players still here from the Bavasi era were Michael Saunders and, like Brandon Maurer.

This is what ALWAYS HAPPENS.  The new GM marks his territory by pissing all over the place, as he rids the organization of every faulty move that got him here in the first place.  Obviously, this is the first move of many; the only shocking thing about it is how early it happened.  Jerry Dipoto isn’t wasting any time; good for him.  But, if I’m anyone on this team not named Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, or Kyle Seager, I wouldn’t go buying a house in the area anytime soon.  It’s okay Robinson Cano, you can buy a house.  They probably won’t trade you; but even if they do, have you SEEN the real estate market in Seattle?  It’s booming!  Buy as much as you can!

Tracking The Last Five Years In Seattle Sports

If you look at the right sidebar on my main page, you’ll notice a few things.  I try to update and keep track of the teams that are in-season with their current records and their next scheduled games.  I’ve got a list of categories, if you’d rather just read about one particular team.  I’ve got links to my Twitter and Facebook pages.  And, below that, I’ve got a list of the last five years’ worth of records for each of the teams I cover on this blog.

From time to time, I’ll refer to this list.  Sometimes, I need to know exactly how many wins a certain team had in a specific recent year; sometimes, I just like to marvel at how long it’s been since a team has made the postseason.  I chose five years because I think that’s a good barometer as to where a team is headed.  You can take a quick glance and see if things are trending upward, downward, or in the case of Husky Football, maddeningly the same.

The first thing I notice is that the Seattle Supersonics have been missing from this list for quite some time.  Six-plus years, which is a fucking travesty.  Let’s get on this, NBA!  As for everyone else, let’s separate them by heading.

Husky Basketball

Clearly trending downward.  Once the Mariners make the playoffs this year, the Husky men’s basketball team will have the longest postseason drought in the area, which is just impossible to comprehend.

The great thing about looking back at just the last five years is, it’s usually a good indicator as to a coach’s job security.  Lorenzo Romar has just finished year 4 without an NCAA Tournament appearance.  Gotta figure one more of those and he’s out on his ass.

Husky Football

As I said before, clearly trending even.  2010 was our first year playing in a bowl game since we bottomed out in 2008.  At this point last year, you’d have an argument that the program was trending upward, but with 2014’s uneven performance – punctuated by the dud of a Cactus Bowl – I might even make the argument things are starting to go south.

The Huskies lose some really good players on defense to the NFL draft this year.  Compound that with their most experienced quarterback – Cyler Miles – stepping away from the team (maybe forever?), and I have to wonder where our wins are going to come from in conference play.  2015 is certainly going to be a step back, but hopefully it’s a productive step back, where we find a quality replacement at quarterback who’ll be ready to help this team pop in 2016.  There’s still reason for optimism, but it’s going to be difficult to see through the thick layer of shit that’s right in front of us.

Seattle Seahawks

Trending even, but it’s not like things could get much better than the 2013 season.  I’m not ready to proclaim the Seahawks on a downward trend – as we’ve still got the pieces in place for an extended run at Super Bowls – but it’s hard to say things are going to get much better.  Back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, one boneheaded playcall from winning them both, I’d say this team is still at its peak level of dominance.

Still, 2015 is a key pivot point in this organization’s trajectory.  Guys aren’t getting old, necessarily, but they’re getting older.  Combine that with three consecutive playoff runs for the pillars of this team and you’re talking a lot of mileage.  If we can’t figure out a way to re-stock our depth with this year’s draft (combined with the IR players from last year’s draft who’ve had a full year to acclimate to being a professional), things could start to get hairy in a hurry.  We’re always going to be great as long as our great players remain healthy; but how long this championship run lasts will depend on the quality of players who step up when the greats get hurt.

Seattle Mariners

Trending upward!  Hurrah!  Last year, we were one game out from a play-in game for the playoffs.  We dumped our crap – Smoak, Hart, Morales, Denorfia, Beavan, soon-to-be Ramirez – and what useful pieces we lost aren’t devastating to our overall outlook in 2015 (Saunders, Young, Maurer, Beimel).  The important thing is who we’ve brought in to replace them.  Nelson Cruz is a MAMMOTH upgrade at DH.  Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano should be moderate upgrades in the outfield (over Saunders and Jones, particularly).  Rickie Weeks could be a boon for our bench (over someone like Romero).  And, healthy seasons out of Walker and Paxton should alleviate some of the burden the team had to endure with the likes of Maurer, Beavan, and Ramirez (who were absolute disasters when they had to spot start last year).

Obviously, it’s a long season, and anything can happen.  But, it’s good to know that the Mariners have as good a shot as anyone to not only make the postseason, but win the whole thing.  If you think about it, this is a team BUILT for the playoffs.  Felix is the best pitcher in baseball.  Iwakuma is a rock solid #2.  Paxton and Walker both have the potential to be #1 or #2 pitchers.  Then, with the lineup, we’ve got a 3-4-5 that rivals any team’s with Cano-Cruz-Seager.  Combine that with enough role players around them who should keep this offense afloat in the lean times, and top it all off with a bullpen that could be in the top 5 in all of baseball, and you’ve got a team where it wouldn’t be crazy to see it go all the way.

The overall sports atmosphere in Seattle is one of Encouraging Optimism, which is a huge step up from Cautious Optimism (which is usually as high as things get around here).  The Seahawks obviously busted through the gates with their championship last year, but with the Mariners surging, we’re really in some glorious days.  Of course, it’s not perfect.  We’re probably looking at a total rebuild after next year’s Husky basketball team once again fails to make the Tourney.  But, in general, I’d say this is the best time to be a fan of Seattle sports teams.

Now, all we need is a clear plan to bring our Sonics back, and maybe a lead on an expansion hockey franchise, and we’ll be all set.

Mariners Tidbit 11: What’s Happ-ening?

You know who’s presumably got two thumbs and is in a no-win situation?  J.A. Happ.

After the Cruz signing, and probably the Seager extension, the trade for J.A. Happ has gotten the most pub in Seattle.  It makes sense – and in a way, even the trade makes sense – but I don’t think there’s any way this thing ends well for Happ in Seattle.

We’re all abundantly aware that Michael Saunders was the price to obtain Happ.  Saunders was deemed – by the organization – to be too much of an injury risk to keep around.  He promptly required knee surgery at the beginning of Spring Training this year, but it looks like he’ll nevertheless be ready for the start of the regular season.  For some reason, I doubt that’s the last time we’re going to hear about Saunders missing time or going under the knife.

Anyway, the fans were up in arms over the move.  We all saw what Saunders was capable of – when healthy – and it seemed like too much to give up for what we got in return.  Happ is a middle-of-the-road innings-eater in the same vein as Chris Young, Joe Saunders, Jeremy Bonderman, Aaron Harang, and Kevin Millwood, to name a few.  It seems like every year, the Mariners are in the market for one of these re-treads, and every year we get a new experience.  Chris Young was the epitome of Best Case Scenario and Jeremy Bonderman was probably at the opposite end of the spectrum.  You don’t bring these guys in and give them spots in your rotation for their upside, because at this point there IS no upside.  Chris Young was pretty solid last year, but he’s still far from the ideal (and, besides that, there’s a reason why it took him so long before he caught on with a ballclub).  You employ these guys as injury insurance, or as insurance against one of your younger (higher upside) pitchers not quite being ready for primetime.

Either way, no one WANTS to employ a J.A. Happ.  But, it makes good sense, if he can keep you in enough ballgames and give you something close to a .500 record in his starts.

Happ’s start to this spring has been less than ideal.  He’s made three starts and all he’s really accomplished is getting his pitch count up into the 80s.  Obviously, no one in his right mind should be focused to intently on the numbers one puts up in Spring Training, but it’s just more ammo to throw onto the fire in the case against Happ ever being a fan favorite.  What’s most important is what happens in the regular season, but what right do we have to be excited about his regular season performance, based on his past experience?

The hope – and probably the Best Case Scenario – with J.A. Happ is that he’s able to turn in a Safeco Joe-esque one-year career with the Mariners.  Puts up decent-to-good numbers at home, and is mostly a trainwreck on the road.  While it’s evident that these types of nothing pitchers are able to extend their careers by pitching half their games in Seattle, it’s still putting a Band Aid over a severed foot.  Eventually, they start struggling at home as well as on the road, and when that happens they’re effectively useless.

I’m calling it right now:  J.A. Happ will cause more harm than good.  The team will be well-served to demote him to the bullpen or DFA him altogether, because I have no doubt in my mind that he’s clearly the sixth best starting pitcher in this organization.  Hell, at this point I wonder if Erasmo Ramirez is even better than Happ!  Here’s to hoping the Mariners realize this before he costs us our shot at the postseason.

Mariners Tidbit 8: The Short Stop Battle Has Been Decided

It wasn’t supposed to end in the second week of March, but that’s what happens when Chris Taylor gets hit by a pitch and fractures a bone in his wrist.

The Weatherman Is Dead!!!

The Weatherman Is Dead!!!

Word around the Internet makes it sound like Chris Taylor will be out until mid-to-late May, so that kinda sucks I guess.  My initial reaction is twofold:

  1. Pretty happy we didn’t trade away Brad Miller in our offseason moves
  2. Pretty happy we didn’t waive Willie Bloomquist to make room for a Miller/Taylor platoon

The first point is pretty obvious.  I think most of us were happy the team kept Miller (even when fans were gnashing their teeth about the Michael Saunders trade), because no one in his right mind believes either Miller or Taylor automatically DESERVES to be handed the starting short stop job.  This was always going to be a battle to be decided in Spring Training, and that’s the way it should’ve been.

It doesn’t even matter that we all believed Miller had the edge all along; it’s always better to have competition and to have someone driving you to be a better player.  I have no doubt Brad Miller is a better baseball player thanks to all the competition we’ve put on his plate the last year and change.  Now, whether that means he’s Major League-ready, day-in and day-out, is another thing.

The second point is probably a point of contention among the Willie Must Go crowd.  I think we’re all in agreement that a 2-year guaranteed deal was too much to give Willie before last season, but that’s what it took to land him, we did it, and it’s done.  2015 is the final year of that 2-year deal.  The only question about whether or not he’d have a spot on this 25-man roster saved for him boiled down to whether or not he recovered from his surgery.  It looks like he’s recovered, and so here he is.  To stay.

A good chunk of the fanbase thought we should waive Willie.  Makes sense, when you think about it.  Both Brad Miller and Chris Taylor are better at baseball than Willie is right now.  This team would be better off in 2015 keeping Miller & Taylor on the 25-man and cutting Willie in the process.  Miller & Taylor could play all the infield spots, Weeks is already slotted in as a backup first baseman, and we’ve got about six guys who can play in the outfield.

Well, now with Taylor going down, I guess a good chunk of the fanbase is going to have to walk back some of those Willie comments.  Look who’s all of a sudden very crucial to our Major League depth!  Look who’s now the only healthy Major League-ready backup short stop in the organization!  Willie Fucking Bloomquist doesn’t sound so bad now, does he???

Obviously, I’m not Willie’s biggest supporter or anything.  But, I always thought it was a longshot to kick him off the roster.  It’s not that I think his leadership presence is all that important.  I just think I’d rather have the loser of the Miller/Taylor battle get his work in as an everyday starter down in Tacoma until we need him.  Why keep the loser in the Majors, getting 1-2 days of work per week?  I’m no expert, but that feels like a good way to stunt a player’s growth.

So now, here we are.

Short Stop Battle Winner:  Brad Miller (a.k.a. Default)

In other news, Roenis Elias got the start yesterday and looked like his usual okay self.

Fifth Starter Battle Advantage:  Taijuan Walker

Tomorrow, or sometime soon, I’m going to get into this whole second lefty in the bullpen idea.  Here’s a sneak peek:  why is Charlie Furbush automatically guaranteed to be the FIRST lefty in the bullpen when he’s arguably the third or fourth best?

Mariners Tidbit 3: Interesting Non-Roster Invitees

Hey, remember Joe Saunders?  Well, he’s back, only he’s not on a guaranteed deal and he’s looking to break back into the club via the bullpen.  You know, that group of kickass pitchers where we’re overflowing with talent?

Okay, so I’m using the word “interesting” very loosely in this case.  But, Joe Saunders COULD be interesting, if he’s used as a lefty specialist.  I believe in no way, shape, or form, will he make our roster out of Spring Training.  But, as with all good depth, it might not be a bad idea to keep him around in Tacoma to start.  If injuries come up in the first couple months, or if he’s simply pitching so well that he forces his way onto the roster, at least we’ll have him.  The only thing is, since he’s not a young player with options, once he’s called up to the Major Leagues, he has to be put on the 40-man roster and we can’t send him back down to the minors unless he clears waivers and agrees to the assignment.  So, you know, he’s the pitching equivalent to Endy Chavez, only with less assurance that he’s eventually going to be playing in Seattle again.

Speaking of:  Endy Chavez is back!  As far as security blankets go, we could do worse.  He comes to Spring Training, gets his work in, plays in Tacoma for a month or so, then gets called up for bench depth.  That’s been the routine, anyway.  This year, it might be tough.  With Ruggiano and Weeks as our outfield backups, someone out there is either going to have to struggle mightily or get injured.  Since no one named Michael Saunders is on this team anymore, it’s less likely we’re guaranteed to have that spot open up due to injury.  Nevertheless, what are the odds all five of our outfielders come in here and remain effective?  I’m banking on seeing Endy Chavez in a Mariners uniform before the 2015 season ends.  Our best-case scenario is we never have to pull the cord and Chavez uses an escape clause in his contract to seek employment elsewhere.

Speaking of injured outfielders:  Franklin Gutierrez is back!  Bet you never thought you’d see Guti back as a non-roster invitee, did ya?  And, yet, here we are.  I’m not going to put any expectations on him, but I hope he’s healthy and able to play a full year.  Truth be told, he could be an interesting guy to have roaming the outfield in Tacoma.  If he IS healthy and able to stay that way, and if he finds that old spark he had when he was a star with us back in the day, I like his potential as right-handed depth who’s capable of fielding well and produce some pop.  That’ll always be the dream, but of course I won’t be holding my breath.

John Baker is a veteran backup catcher who you figure has to be in the running to back up Zunino.  Jesus Sucre isn’t the be-all, end-all, though his defense is superb.  I imagine Sucre still has options.  So, if Baker is able to give us ANYTHING at the plate, I feel like the Mariners at least have to entertain the notion of keeping him up here.  As it stands, Sucre is a fucking black hole at the plate, which has to make it difficult to want to ever sit Zunino.

Mark Lowe is back, trying to get his career going again.  My gut tells me that he doesn’t have as much on his fastball as he did when he was throwing smoke for us way back when.  No way he cracks the Opening Day roster, and the odds might even be against him sticking in Tacoma, but we’ll see.

Rafael Perez is a guy who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2012.  He’s a veteran out of the Indians organization who had a really swell run from 2007-2011.  Here’s a more interesting guy who might actually have an outside shot at the Opening Day roster if he dazzles in March.  It’ll be interesting to see him work this month.  Worst case scenario is we keep him on our big league roster – temporarily displacing one of our younger arms, who can easily be stashed in Tacoma for a rainy day – and he doesn’t work out.  Then, we just call up our young arm and relatively little harm is done.  These comeback players don’t usually have a super-long leash, especially when you’re a team with visions of playoff contention.

The final two interesting non-roster guys are D.J. Peterson and Patrick Kivlehan.  Both players got their feet wet in AA last year and both of them are very promising first base prospects.  Peterson probably moreso, but to date I’ve still yet to hear anything about him getting reps at first (his natural position is third base, which is obviously blocked by Kyle Seager).  Neither of these guys figure to make the roster.  BUT, a positive showing in spring, and continued progression should see them break through into AAA.  From there, it’s a hop and a skip to a September call-up.  You like seeing these guys get experience with the big league training camp and hopefully they’re able to make the most of it.  I want to hear good things this month that stick in all of our minds going forward.  After all, LoMo isn’t forever.  Gotta figure SOMEONE out there will be able to get that taste of Smoak out of our mouths.

Predicting The Seasons Of Various Mariners In 2015, Part I

Hope you’re ready for endless Mariners discussion!  This year, I don’t think there’s going to be one definitive 2015 Mariners Preview post.  Rather, I think I’m going to roll them out occasionally, over the next couple months.

These are exciting times to be a Mariners fan.  That’s all relative, of course.  Compared to all the losing we’ve been exposed to in recent years, just about ANYTHING ELSE could be considered exciting.  I keep waffling between the Mariners being really good in 2015 – as many smart baseball types are predicting – and being another huge letdown.  I mean, you know how the Mariners haven’t made the playoffs since 2001?  Well, there HAVE been winning seasons since then.  2007 and 2009 come immediately to mind in the particularly wretched stretch from the years 2004 thru 2013.  So, we HAVE come off of winning seasons, only to fall right on our asses with 100-loss teams.  Granted, the 2007 and 2009 Mariners were paper tigers and were due to regress (though, 100 losses seems to be a bit of an over-correction on the whole regression to the mean argument), but it’s not impossible to see the 2015 Mariners hit the toilet.

One thing I keep telling myself is:  the 2014 Mariners won 87 games, and for the most part, the core is intact.  We’re bringing back seven of our eight starting position players, all of our starting pitchers except for Chris Young, and all of our relievers except for Brandon Maurer.  Even if we added NOTHING to last year’s team, you’re looking at some semblance of a .500 roster.  Then, take into account the vast upgrade at DH (Nelson Cruz over Hart/Morales/Other), the possible moderate upgrade in right field (Smith/Ruggiano over Saunders), the possible even trade in our rotation (Happ over Young), and the bevy of young, hard-throwing right handers in our bullpen to step up and replace Maurer, and yeah, it all looks pretty promising.

But, injuries wipe that all way.  If we lose Cano, Seager, Cruz, or Felix for any significant period of time, we’re kinda screwed.  Or, if we lose a large amount of regulars from the second and third tiers of this team’s talent pool, we certainly won’t have enough depth to overcome.

I mean, look at our depth in general!  Who’s our backup second baseman if Cano is out for a month?  Bloomquist?  Oh, that’s fun.  What do we do if Seager sprains an ankle?  Move Miller over to third?  Bloomquist again?  What happens when LoMo inevitably gets injured?  Bring up a guy from Tacoma who isn’t ready?  Bloomquist one more time?  Shit, what if Bloomquist isn’t able to come back from his surgery in time for the season?

That’s saying nothing of the very real possibilities that one or more of our outfielders comes out of the gate sucking dick and needing to be replaced.  How much do we trust Ackley or A-Jax?  What do we even know about this right field platoon?  What if we’re forced to play Cruz in the field more than at DH?  And what if that leads to him getting injured like Hart was all year last year?

It’s no slam dunk that this Mariners team makes the playoffs.  You really gotta hope that this team’s most important players are able to stay healthy for the duration.  But, I guess that’s what baseball is.  I mean, how often do you run into an organization that’s overflowing with depth at every position?  If you run into an unlucky streak, you turn into the Texas Rangers of last year.  That was a GOOD team, but they suffered injuries at just about every single fucking position and ended up being one of the worst teams in baseball.  Don’t think that can’t happen to the Mariners, because if I know my Seattle sports history, I’ll tell you THAT living hell is very much on the table.

***

For now, I’ll try to set aside all doom & gloom and make an effort to tell you what I actually think is going to happen this year.  Let’s start with the starting rotation and call it a day.  I’ll work on the bullpen and the everyday starters in separate posts.

Felix Hernandez – Ahh, what would I do without Felix?  Last year, he had maybe the greatest season of his career, yet he came OH SO CLOSE to winning his second Cy Young award.  He’s been on quite the roll since he was unleashed in 2009 and allowed to pitch unlimited innings.  I would expect more of the same greatness, though it may be unfair to expect him to be as good as he was last year.  Nevertheless, he has it in him to be even BETTER, so I wouldn’t totally count it out.  Count him for 30+ starts, 200+ strikeouts, and I’m gonna say it:  20+ wins!  BOOM!  What’s more, his season won’t be defined by some lame start in Toronto in September, either.

Hisashi Iwakuma – Last year, Iwakuma missed the first month of the season with a sprained ligament in his finger.  His season as a whole was considerably worse than what he brought to the table in 2013, with a rough final seven starts really doing the damage.  It’s impossible to say what’s wrong – if anything – but you’ve got to be at least a little concerned.  But, his strikeout rate was marginally better, and he was fantastic at limiting walks.  The only thing you can really point to is his BABIP increasing from .233 in 2013 to .274 in 2014.  Meaning he went from being incredibly lucky in 2013 to about average (or maybe even still better than average) in 2014.  Anecdotally, it seemed to me that Iwakuma was a little too in love with the strike zone last year, and got beat accordingly too many times.  He also found himself up in the zone more than I’m sure he’d like, which resulted in him getting pounded just a little bit harder.  His double plays were down, and overall he wasn’t pitching quite as deep into ballgames.

I’m not going to say he’s fallen off the cliff, but it would be nice to see a bounce-back season.  I wouldn’t expect the greatness of 2013 – when he seriously contended for a Cy Young Award – but also not the relative failure of 2014 either.  Somewhere in the middle would suit me right down to the bone.  At this point, it’s probably insane to predict a full season of health out of Iwakuma, but here’s hoping we keep him upright for the majority.

J.A. Happ – Suffice it to say, I’m less than thrilled with this guy just being handed a rotation spot.  I highly doubt what he’s going to produce is going to be as good – let alone better – than what we would get from Roenis Elias.  But, I understand the sentiment.  You’ve GOT to have rotation depth, especially if you’re in a position to contend like the Mariners are this year.  If we were coming off of a 60-win season, I highly doubt Happ would be on our roster today.  We’d be pushing as many young pitchers as we could out into the spotlight to see how they fare.  The Mariners are in a fortunate position, though, as – with Happ – we now have six guys who are (or could be) legitimate Major League starters.  Three of those six guys have options, meaning we can stash them in Tacoma without much fuss.  Also, not for nothing, but of those three guys, no one really DESERVES to be handed a spot in this rotation.  So, it’s not batshit crazy to stick Walker, Elias, or even Paxton down in Tacoma for a little additional seasoning, until the time is right to bring one of them back up.  Happ doesn’t have options, and at least in his Safeco starts he should be Good Enough, so whatever.

Part of me expects Happ to find his way to the DL at some point.  The homer in me hopes that DL stint is some manufactured injury due to him struggling, while one of the starters below gets his crack at being called up from Tacoma.  Overall, he might get a slight bump from pitching half of his games in Safeco, but I’m not going to wet my pants over the prospects of J.A. Happ having a career year.  If his ERA is under 4, I’d be ecstatic

James Paxton – Of the three guys we’ve got for the final two spots, I’d say Paxton is the consensus safest bet.  If he’s able to stay healthy, I think he could top out – this year – as this team’s second-best starter in our rotation.  If not, or if he wears down by season’s end, I think he could still be a very good chip for us in our hopes of contending for a playoff spot.  It’s hard to expect him to go a full season, but I would expect a considerable jump in innings from last year to this year.  Here’s to hoping he makes it back in time for a September stretch run.

Taijuan Walker & Roenis Elias – I expect, like many others do, that Walker and Elias will be battling for the 5th starter job.  I’ve been of the opinion that Elias deserves to have consideration over Walker, if for no other reason than he was here pretty much the whole season last year and acquitted himself very well.  That should give a guy a leg up over someone who spent most of last year injured, then the rest of last year toiling down in Tacoma before a September call-up.

But, you can’t deny that Walker has the “stuff” over Elias.  Walker’s potential is Future Ace.  Elias should end up as a nice mid-rotation lefty if everything pans out.  Also, you’ve got to look at the rotation around Elias.  We’ve already got two lefties, including another relatively soft-tossing lefty in Happ.  It would seem to be unwise to have Happ & Elias pitching back-to-back, just as it would seem unwise to throw three lefties in a row with Happ, Paxton, and Elias.  All of that, combined with Paxton and Walker finally being healthy, combined with Paxton and Walker having the higher pedigree, combined with Elias having made the jump from AA to the Bigs (completely skipping AAA), it’s reasonable to expect Elias to start the year in Tacoma, and to be ready for the inevitability when one of the other five starters gets injured for a spell.

While I expect Walker to make the rotation out of Spring Training (assuming all are healthy), I don’t necessarily expect Walker to excel out of the gate or for the duration.  It wouldn’t shock me to see Walker and Elias swap roles at some point due to performance rather than injury.  Nevertheless, I do like Walker to improve as the season goes on, and eventually reclaim that #5 role before the year ends.

Catching Up With The 2015 Seattle Mariners

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

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

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

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

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

Outfield

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

Infield

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

DH/Outfield – Nelson Cruz

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

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

The starting rotation looks something like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mariners Traded Michael Saunders For J.A. Happ

The Mariners completed a trade that’s not only alarmingly bad in and of itself, but what it represents for our offseason plan going forward.

For starters, I’m going to go ahead and pump the breaks myself on Michael Saunders.  He’s not an MVP candidate waiting to happen.  He’s a solid 4th outfielder and a fringe starter.  Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much – so why are all of our collective panties in a bunch – but you have to look at it like this:  right now the Mariners barely have ONE viable starting outfielder.  We’re currently banking on the last half-season’s worth of Dustin Ackley carrying over; and I’ll believe in Austin Jackson’s potential when he SHOWS me something.  And, assuming you’ve been paying attention to the Seattle Mariners over the last few years, you’re well aware that we have CONSISTENTLY struggled to run out three quality outfielders.  That’s WITH Michael Saunders on the roster!  Yes, he struggled for a long time when he first came up, but he slowly improved to the point where he was useful and potent as a corner outfielder.

But, he suffered some minor injuries, especially the last couple seasons.  That apparently soured the organization on him, which strikes me as odd.

It’s odd because as soon as Lloyd McClendon took over as manager, he seemed to have it out for Saunders.  Saunders never even had a shot at competing for a starting outfield spot.  The team would rather hand over right field to the creaky knees of LoMo and Corey Hart.  And, while I agree that Saunders really doesn’t have any business playing centerfield, the team also doesn’t have any business giving Abe Almonte a starting job over Saunders.  So, what was going on there?  It’s like Jackie Z told Lloyd when he first got here that Saunders is no good.  And, even as the regular season started out, and we were struggling, Saunders often found himself benched in favor of losers.  Unfortunately for all, when Saunders finally DID get his crack at starting, he found himself on the DL on two separate occasions.  I guess that sealed his fate, but I would argue his fate was sealed long before.

Which is REALLY weird because – going into Spring Training – the biggest disappointment in the organization, Justin Smoak, was being touted as THE starting first baseman as well as a potential league leader in doubles.  Why were they pumping up a fucking trainwreck who never showed ANYTHING outside of random hot spurts in the month of September, while they dismissed a truly valuable outfield rotation player?

It boggles the mind.

While Saunders’ value may be inflated among his staunchest supporters, his injury woes are also inflated by the Mariners (and, apparently, other organizations around baseball, who didn’t have what it took to provide us with a better trade).  It’s not like he’s a pitcher coming off shoulder surgery.  Most of his maladies were of the fluke variety.  He doesn’t strike me as a living, breathing Bumblebee Man, with misfortune hiding around every corner in more hilarious and creative ways.  He just strikes me as someone who has had some misfortune.  But, once he’s able to stay on the field for a full season, you’ll all see that Michael Saunders is really special.  And the Mariners will feel pretty damn foolish in the process.

In return, we get J.A. Happ.  A soft-tossing lefty veteran who doesn’t do anything well, but who also isn’t so horrible that he’s been drummed out of the league.  He’s earning upwards of $7 million and this is the last year of his deal (whereas Saunders still had a couple years left, at a much cheaper rate).

You can’t ignore the fact that the Mariners traded away from a position of weakness.  We already needed another starting outfielder BEFORE we let Saunders go to Toronto.  Nothing changes there, although now what we’re looking at is a drastic reduction of the quality of our depth.  Saunders is really the ideal 4th outfielder.  He probably deserves better – and will get it, by starting in Toronto this year – but as long as we had him, we had some real security in case shit hit the fan (which it usually does, because this is Seattle).

Granted, the Mariners also needed to pick up a veteran starter, because I think we’re all in agreement that to count on Paxton, Walker, and Elias to last the full season in the Majors is asking a lot.  Beyond that, it’s not like we’re sitting on a mountain of pitching depth in the minors.  Hell, even Erasmo Ramirez is out of options and will either need to be carried as a long reliever, traded, or DFA’d!  And, considering the strength of our bullpen as it’s currently constructed, it’s not like we can afford two long relievers.

I mention that because, in an ideal world, Paxton, Walker, and Elias would all crack the starting rotation, and Happ would be relegated to being a long reliever.  I’m sure Happ is nice.  I’m sure he’s got a little Chris Young in him.  I’m sure, playing half his games in Safeco, he’ll be okay as an innings eater.  But, he’s no one you want to COUNT on!  He’s no one I necessarily want to see out there every fifth day, wondering whether or not this is the day he’s going to implode in the second inning.  There’s real honest to goodness upside with Paxton, Walker, and Elias.  What you see with Happ is what you get:  a .500 pitcher with an ERA over 4.  He’s not going to all of a sudden turn it on.  At best, he’ll manage an ERA under 4, but that’s going to require dominant performances at home, with a bunch of Hold Your Breath performances on the road.  Great, just what I never want to see.

See, what really troubles me about this trade – aside from the loss of Saunders and the gain of Happ – is what we’re looking at going forward, with the rest of our offseason moves.  We still need an outfielder.  Maybe a couple outfielders.  And there isn’t a lot left on the free agent market.  So, does this make a trade more of a certainty?  And, if we decide to trade for a quality outfielder, does that mean the days are numbered for one or more of the triad of Paxton, Walker, and/or Elias?  You all know the rumors.  You’ve all heard who Taijuan Walker is connected to.  Is that really what you want?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

But, with Happ, it sounds a little more plausible, doesn’t it?  I would argue we could’ve gotten a Happ-like starting pitcher in free agency, without giving up Saunders, but what the fuck do I know?  Either way, he’s here now, and he could REALLY make things terrible.  I don’t even want him on our roster, but I understand the need for depth.  Teams almost never get to enjoy the same five starters playing all the way through, uninterrupted, for a full season.  But, once we trade Walker, or one of our other young studs, that just means Happ goes from Depth Piece to being locked in as one of our starters, regardless.

There are strengths and weaknesses to being in Win Now mode.  Obviously, if that’s your mode, then your team is pretty damn good already.  But, oftentimes, it leads to ownership making questionable decisions.  I was on board with Nelson Cruz, because we didn’t have to give up anything but money (and, I guess, a 4-year committment).  But, now?  Consider me VERY concerned about the next major move the Mariners make.