A Roster Shake-Up & A Mariners Victory

One did not necessarily lead to the other, of course, unless you believe in the motivating factor of roster transactions.

The minor move is that Chase De Jong was sent back down to Tacoma – a day after going 4 scoreless innings in relief of Ariel Miranda – in favor of Chris Heston, another spot starter/long reliever type.  Obviously, this was through no fault of De Jong’s, but simply because after pitching 4 full innings, he wasn’t going to be available in relief again for a few days.  And, with this rotation (specifically with guys like Gallardo, who got the start in yesterday’s game), you never know when you’re going to need an extra reliever.

Also, not for nothing, but De Jong and now Heston are merely keeping this spot warm until Steve Cishek works his way back into MLB playing shape, which is probably a week or so away.

The major move made yesterday was the DFA of Leonys Martin.  That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow.  I wouldn’t say he was a fan favorite or anything, but I’m sure the fans liked him enough.  He played great defense and he had a good run at the plate just last season.  It seemed like just a matter of time before he’d pick it back up at the plate and at least be passable in the everyday lineup.  But, thanks to the Mariners losing 3 in a row in Oakland – and starting off the season 1-9 on the road heading into yesterday’s game – time is exactly something the Mariners DON’T have a lot of.  This season is going down the toilet in a hurry, and we can’t sit around waiting for all of our slumping hitters to get their collective shit together.  In that sense, you could say the DFA of Leonys Martin is just as much about the entire team as it is about Martin’s own deficiencies.  Which, I’m sure, made the move that much more hard to swallow.  Because, while the fans liked him enough, the players and the coaching staff adored this kid, and I’m sure the move was as painful as it gets.

The thing is, I’m not super convinced it’s a moved that needed to be made.  Right now, we’re a team with just three outfielders, that is, until Jean Segura comes back from the DL, which should be any day now.  When Segura returns, you’ve got Motter who can play there too, but he’s a utility guy who can play anywhere.  He’s also the only guy on the roster who can back up at any infield position (assuming Mike Freeman gets sent back to Tacoma upon Segura’s return).  For all intents and purposes, Danny Valencia becomes your traditional fourth outfielder, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him at first base either.

See, the corresponding move with the Leonys Martin DFA is the calling back up of Dan Vogelbach, who hit .309/.409/.473 in Tacoma, with 3 doubles and 2 homers in 16 games.  The talk is, for now, Valencia rides the pine while Vogelbach gets to start every day.  THIS is a move that’s been about a week overdue, but again, I don’t know if it needed to be made at the expense of Martin.

Here are my concerns:

  1. I’m not convinced Guillermo Heredia is an everyday player
  2. I’m not convinced Dan Vogelbach is ready (or will ever be ready) for the Major Leagues
  3. What do we do if Jarrod Dyson gets injured for an extended period of time?
  4. I also lowkey have my doubts about Taylor Motter, as it feels like the other shoe is about to drop anyday now, and we’re in for an extended stretch of no hitting and lots of strikeouts

The Heredia thing, I think, sort of goes without saying, but let me try to elaborate.  I think he’s okay.  I think he’s a fine fifth outfielder, maybe.  He’s been a big help in the early going, and right now I’d say he’s DEFINITELY playing better than Leonys Martin.  But, I think long-term, Heredia isn’t much more than a Quad-A player.  The speed is great, don’t get me wrong, but he doesn’t seem to hit it out of the infield very much, and he can’t rely on infield base hits and bunts alone!  He walks about as often as Mike Zunino, which is to say hardly at all, and if he’s not pulling his weight in OBP, I don’t see him adding a whole lot of value with his bat.  He needs to be walking a ton and stealing a ton of bases for him to be an everyday outfielder for us.

The Vogelbach thing, I’ve been harping on for a while.  I just don’t know if he has it.  He’s still pretty young though, so I don’t know if it’s necessarily fair to expect him to have it right out of the gate.  I think he’s going to struggle at least in this early going, which means he’ll fall back into the platoon they’d planned for him and Valencia in the first place.  You gotta figure, at some point, Valencia is going to start hitting for us, and the more he does that, the more he’s going to see the field.  At which point, you’ve sort of got Vogelbach here as a lefty pinch hit bat off the bench.  Is that worth giving up on Leonys Martin?

Because, yeah, what if Dyson has to go on the DL for something?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have Martin there, with everyday playing experience?  Without Martin, I guess you slide over Heredia, and maybe call up Ben Gamel as an extra outfielder.  Is that a better situation than what you would’ve had with Martin?

And, if everything else works out, Vogelbach takes the first base job and runs with it, and the rest of our infield stays healthy, that means Motter effectively becomes your left fielder.  But, does increased playing time for Motter equate to decreased production at the plate? You figure pitchers are going to figure him out EVENTUALLY.  Does he have what it takes to re-adjust?  Or, will he flail along and watch his strikeouts skyrocket?

To counter all of my hemming and hawing, you’re probably right to ask:  what would I have done differently?

Well, for starters, do we REALLY need 8 relievers?  I think it was a smart idea to kick off the season, as the starters generally need some time to build their arms up and get their innings-counts up to snuff, but I feel like we’re there now.  Granted, Paxton and Miranda gave us some pretty shitty starts in that Oakland series, but it’s not like the bullpen has been notoriously over-worked or anything!  For the first three weeks of the season, they’ve split a pretty average workload among 8 people instead of 7 (more, really, when you count the guys coming and going from Tacoma).  There’s only been the one extra-innings game, in the third game of the season.  They had a huge homestand and one day off, with another off day scheduled today (and the next two Mondays to boot).  We could have EASILY made it through the next few days (or however long it will take for Segura to come off the DL) with just 7 relievers.  Then, when Segura is ready to return, we send Freeman down like planned, and keep going with a full bench and lots of different lineup options.

Facing a right-handed pitcher?  With Martin in the fold, you can go:  Segura, Haniger, Cano (L), Cruz, Seager (L), Vogelbach (L), Zunino, Dyson (L), Martin (L), with over half your lineup batting from the left side.  Facing a lefty?  You can go Segura, Haniger, Cano (L), Cruz, Seager (L), Motter, Valencia, Zunino, Heredia, with Heredia in center and Motter in left.  I dunno, I’m just spit-balling here, but with Martin you’ve got extra speed on your bench, another lefty hitter for late in games, and extra defense in case the unthinkable happens.  Instead, you waive him for nothing and hope no other team picks him up, and that he’s willing to play for you in Tacoma until it’s time to call him up again.  Seems like a longshot.

***

As for yesterday’s game, it was an 11-1 Mariners victory, to salvage at least not getting swept by the fucking A’s.  For what it’s worth, the Mariners are now 5-9 against the American League West, which obviously is far from ideal.  Also, the Mariners are tied for last in the division with the Angels at 8-12, good for third-worst in the entire league.

Motter hit a grand slam and Cruz hit a 3-run homer.  They combined for 9 of the 11 RBI.  Vogelbach had his first hit and RBI of the season, and played just fine at first base.  Seager had a minor hip issue that kept him from starting, but he was available to pinch hit if needed.  Considering he wasn’t, it’s nice that he has these back-to-back days off heading into the Detroit series.

On the pitching side of things, we finally got a good start out of Gallardo, going 6.1 innings, giving up 1 run on 4 hits, with 1 walk and 7 strikeouts.  Zych, Scrabble, and Scribner wiped out the later innings with no damage done.

So, the Mariners need to figure out how to win on the road.  Remember last year, when it was the opposite, and the Mariners had trouble winning at home in the early going?  They were 1-5 in their first home series last year, whereas they were 8-4 on the road and would go on into May 18-7 on the road before coming down to Earth.  How far down?  The 2016 Mariners finished 7 games over .500 at home, and only 3 games over .500 on the road.  That’s because most teams, by and large, are better at home than they are on the road.  So, you could sort of see a turnaround in the 2016 Mariners’ home record coming, even if it did take a while.  Which means the hot start on the road was VERY much to their benefit, and a big reason why they were able to stay in contention for so long.

This year, the Mariners are 6-3 at home, and now 2-9 on the road.  That’s pretty terrible, because while you would expect the Mariners to be good at home, it’s also not inconceivable that the Mariners might be this bad on the road.  In an ideal world, I think you want the Mariners to hover around .500 on the road, and be really good at home; in this world, it’s going to take A LOT of winning to get back to .500 on the road, and it’s going to take maintaining a lot of winning to stay really good at home.  None of this bodes well, and it’s starting to become clear to me that 2017 is going to be a lot like 2015, 2010, and 2008.  Recall those were all years where we were coming off of winning seasons, with heightened expectations, and collapsing under the weight of said expectations.  Same team, different GM/Manager combo.  God I hope I’m wrong.

Mariners Posted Impressive Comeback Win To Sweep Rangers

This game had it all!  By which I mean it had a lot of things.  For instance, it had speed at the top of the lineup manufacturing a run in the bottom of the first.

It had Hisashi Iwakuma absolutely fall apart after a nondescript first inning, giving up 6 runs while recording just the 9 outs.  110 more innings to go before Iwakuma’s 2018 option vests and we’re going to have to pay him upwards of $15 million next year.

I don’t hate the guy by any means, but I do think that he’s A) overpaid, and B) overrated.  I know I harp on this a lot, but if I don’t explain myself, it just looks like I have an irrational hatred of Japanese people or something.  He’s OKAY.  But, he’s pretty far removed from his best season in 2013, and even that year looks like an anomaly compared to every other year he’s been in the Major Leagues.  I get the feeling that people expect him to be great every time out, when in reality he’s good maybe half the time, and bad the other half.  As I sarcastically noted on Twitter yesterday, he was long overdue for a bad game considering he’d already given us two pretty okay starts in the first week.

What’s even more galling is that he’d yet to throw more than 90 pitches in either of his first two starts, then he had the off-day on Thursday, then he was pushed back a start so we could split up Paxton and Miranda (which, I don’t know why we didn’t do that to start the season, but whatever), so he had two extra days to rest up and still couldn’t give us much of anything against a fairly mediocre Rangers team.  Unless you want to say his timing was thrown off with the extra days in between starts, but he strikes me as a guy who needs that sort of careful handling to make it through the season.

Anyway, if I can get off my soapbox for a moment, there we were, down 6-1 heading into the bottom of the third inning.  This game had the feel of I want to say almost every single Sunday game from last year:  just a humdrum defeat where no one really shows up to play.  And then, in the bottom of the third, the two leadoff guys got on and Haniger muscled out a 3-run homer to left-center to put the Mariners right back in the game!

At that point, Servais went with the quick hook of Iwakuma, since he clearly didn’t have anything resembling “it”, and for once the bullpen was up to the task.

Recent call-up Evan Marshall went 2.1 perfect innings to bridge us over to the late-inning relief guys.  He was a quality reliever for Arizona in 2014, then hit the skids the last two seasons before being released.  He doesn’t look like anything special when you watch him, but he throws a lot of quality strikes and is obviously capable of going multiple innings in a pinch.  I don’t know necessarily where he stands with the ballclub once Cishek is ready to return from his rehab assignment, but assuming everyone stays healthy, and no one really falls apart with their mechanics (I’m looking at you, Altavilla), I’d have to think Marshall is the odd man out.  But, assuming he still has options, it’s nice to know we can count on him should the need arise for a long man out of the ‘pen.

James Pazos came in to strikeout the last two guys in the 6th inning, before walking the leadoff batter in the 7th.  Tony Zych made his 2017 debut by inducing a fly-out before giving up a single.  Scrabble was able to shut down that threat, as well as get the first two outs of the 8th (not without walking a batter).  That’s when Dan Altavilla came in and loaded the bases on back-to-back walks.

I should point out that the Mariners had tied the game by this point.  Cole Hamels got through five innings with a 6-4 lead, and for the third consecutive start to open the season, he watched his bullpen gag away the victory.  In the bottom of the sixth, Seager doubled to lead off, and Valencia of all people doubled him home.  Then, in the bottom of the seventh, Guillermo Heredia hit quite the crowd-pleasing solo homer to left to tie it at 6.  I couldn’t be happier for the kid, who had this look of pure joy as he hit it, and again as he was greeted at the dugout with a big bear hug by Cano.  The fact that he’s contributing and playing well in the early going is really awesome, both for him and the team, as we wait for the middle of the order to really get cooking.

So, when Altavilla looked like he was going to tear all that apart in the next half-inning, it was pretty demoralizing.  And yet, he finally got some pitches to enter the strike zone, which ultimately led to Elvis Andrus striking out on something low and in to end the threat.  Sighs of relief all around.

It would be short lived, though, as Edwin Diaz came in for the ninth inning and gave up a lead-off, go-ahead homer to put the M’s down 7-6.  All of that for NOTHING!  And, on just a terrible sequence of pitches, as he started off Nomar Mazara with a 2-0 count before grooving a fastball middle-in that Mazara was able to cheat on because he was expecting fastball all the way.  You hate to pull the Closer In Non-Save Situations card, but that was a real doozy.  Diaz was able to get through the rest of the inning unscathed, but the damage appeared to be done.

Until the Rangers brought in closer Sam Dyson (who might find this is his only mention on my website, with the way he’s going of late).  Dyson had been a pretty great closer for the Rangers last year, saving 38 games.  He’s actually been a solid reliever since 2014, so it’s not like we’re talking about a flash in the pan here.  But, in his first 6 appearances this season (including yesterday), he’s had 3 blown saves and another outright loss, with an ERA of 27.00.  It’s my understanding that he won’t be closing games for Texas for a while, which is too bad, but I’ll gladly take it because it means the Mariners overcame a 7-6 deficit in the ninth inning yesterday.

Jarrod Dyson pinch hit for Chooch and reached on an infield single.  He then proceeded to steal second base before we even had to bunt (God, I love Dyson’s speed!).  Leonys Martin then bunted him over to third, and was safe at first thanks to perfect bunt placement and poor pitcher defense.  Mike Freeman then pinch hit for Heredia, to give us another lefty hitter.  Martin stole second on his own, which led the Rangers to walk Freeman to load the bases and set up a play at any base.  This brought up Mitch Haniger, who worked one of the most impressive walks you’re ever going to see in a situation like that.  Tie game, no outs, with the heart of the order coming up.  SURELY we wouldn’t bungle this opportunity, would we?

Well, for starters, don’t call me Shirley (this joke really doesn’t work in print, but I’ll be damned if that’s ever stopped me from using it), but also the middle of the order has been pretty fucking far from intimidating this year.  Cano, Cruz and Seager have a combined 2 homers in the first two weeks.  I know it’s not all about homers with these guys, but they’re the same hitters who knocked out 112 dingers just last year.  Cano has one more extra base hit (4) than he does times he’s grounded into a double play (3).  Same with Cruz (3 extra base hits, 2 double plays).  So, you know, it absolutely wasn’t a given that the Mariners would come through in that situation.

Indeed, with the infield pulled in, Cano hit a fielder’s choice to the second baseman to keep the bases loaded and the game tied.  With one out, the Rangers opted to play back for the double play, and boy did it look like Cruz would oblige!  He hit a sharp grounder to short that Andrus just couldn’t get a handle on, resulting in everyone being safe and ending the game 8-7 for the good guys.  But, damn, if he comes up with that ball, and is able to flip it to second, I think there’s a really solid chance they’re able to double up Cruz at first.  It would’ve been a bang-bang play at the very least, with CB Bucknor of all people bungling things up on that end of the field.

(Bucknor who, not for nothing, ejected Scott Servais earlier in the game for arguing about his idiocy at first base, as it seemed he defered to the Rangers’ first baseman on making a fair/foul call, but that’s neither here nor there).

I’ll tell you what, this was just what the doctor ordered for the Mariners.  Like I said yesterday, the series win was nice, but this really needed to be a sweep.  Now, the Mariners are finally out of the cellar in the A.L. West (5-8, a half game up on the Rangers, who had to have felt pretty good about themselves coming into this series).  A quick look of the standings sees the A’s at 5-7 and the Angels at 6-7.  The Astros, at 8-4, are the only team with a winning record, in other words.

Oh, is it too early to Standings Watch?  A thousand times no!

(although, maybe don’t look too hard at the Wild Card standings for a while.  At least until the Mariners are able to climb back to .500)

The Miami Marlins come in for three, before the M’s head out on a 10-game road trip (4 in Oakland, 3 in Detroit, and 3 in Cleveland).  Over/under on weather-related postponements is set at 2.5, and I’m inclined to bet the over.

Blowing A 5-Run Lead For The Mariners Is Child’s Play

Much like the night before, this game started off pretty promising.  The offense jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, Mike Freeman hit his first-ever Major League home run in the second inning, and Taylor Motter – the untamable beast – hit a 2-run homer in the third inning to really set things up nicely.  Yovani Gallardo was cruising along, so it should’ve been a cinch for him to go 6 innings and get that quality start.  And, from there, surely our finest bullpen arms would be able to put the game away easy peasy!

Except, starting in the fourth inning, Gallardo decided to give the whole lead away.  Two runs in the fourth & two more in the fifth made it 5-4 Mariners, but at least Gallardo got to qualify for the win!  Because that’s fucking important!  Not the fact that he clearly lost his command way back in the fourth inning and probably should’ve been pulled before he could do any more damage!

But, where would that get us?  As it was, we pulled him after five, and the bullpen STILL managed to more than give the game away.  Scrabble kept it tight in the sixth inning, but Dan Altavilla – ostensibly our best reliever after our closer – wiped away everything by giving up 3 runs in the seventh.  After that, I just turned the fucking game off.

I mean, the game was already a collosal bore, dragging on WAY too long thanks to both starters futzing around on the mound all damn day.  There was no way the Mariners were going to get that lead back.  When the dregs of the bullpen gave up 3 more runs in the eighth, let’s just say I wasn’t surprised.

The obvious point of contention is to look at the offense that didn’t do a God damn thing after the third inning.  That isn’t the way to put most teams away, let alone the Astros who are really fucking good and really have our fucking number.  But, it’s not like there were tons of opportunities.  After the third inning, the Mariners never had more than 1 baserunner in an inning, and all told spread out just three hits.

Quite frankly, this is the type of game I expected to see a lot of this season.  Crappy starting pitching followed by really sketchy bullpen pitching.  The offense did enough to win on many days, but obviously 5 runs isn’t going to cut it every time out for this pitching staff.

This thing sort of goes deeper though.  We’ve had to count on A LOT of young arms this year, less than two weeks in.  Altavilla is 24, having just made the jump from AA late last year.  Dillon Overton is 25 and has just 9 Major League appearances to his name.  Evan Marshall is 26, and has just one full Major League season under his belt.  James Pazos is 25 and had just 18 Major League appearances before this season.  Chase De Jong is just 23 and made his Major League debut in that extra innings Houston loss.  And, hell, our closer, Edwin Diaz is only 23 and is still more or less getting his feet wet as he made the jump from AA last year.  So, you know, don’t be shocked if you see these guys come up here and struggle from time to time.  Also, don’t be shocked if some or all of them ultimately flame out, because we simply don’t know how they’re going to respond when they get punched in the mouth like they’ve been recently.

Also, not for nothing, but the veterans we’ve sprinkled in around them haven’t exactly been world-beaters.  Aside from Scrabble – who’s pitched 2.1 innings in 4 appearances – we’re talking about Nick Vincent (very underwhelming), Evan Scribner (far from ideal), and Casey Fien (who was just outrighted to Tacoma to make room for Evan Marshall on the 25-man roster, and Boog Powell on the 40-man roster).

I’ll say this, the team could REALLY use Tony Zych and Steve Cishek back and healthy.

On the offensive side of things, I can’t help but be dazzled by Taylor Motter, who has 4 doubles and a homer in the last two days.  I said it before, kind of joking, but now I’m serious:  he NEEDS to be the everyday first baseman as long as he’s hitting like this.  Between him and Haniger, they’re in the early running for Biggest Pleasant Surprises (the Dae-ho Lee Award).  The longer Motter hits, the more the team is going to have to play him.  If he becomes a starter (either at first base or in the outfield), we’re going to be talking about this past offseason for many years to come.  Two very big black holes are currently being filled by Motter and Haniger, and if they continue to play well for a full season, it’s going to bode REALLY well for our chances down the stretch.

First thing’s first:  start taking care of business in the division.

Today is an off-day, which I’d say the Mariners desperately need.  Here’s to hoping this weekend goes better than last weekend.

The Official 2017 Seattle Mariners Preview, Part II: The Pitchers

You can read Part I HERE.

There are two ways this thing can go down in 2017:  either the Mariners break the curse and make it back into the post-season, or they don’t and the pitching is entirely to blame.

Now, there are also two ways that previous sentence can go down in 2017:  either I’m right, or the Mariners will find another way to screw both me and the entire fanbase by having good-enough pitching and yet still not making the playoffs somehow, but that’s neither here nor there.

It’s already starting, if I’m being honest, with all this Drew Smyly stuff (UPDATE:  out 6-8 weeks).  Why is it, in sports, that it always seems like teams suffer the most injuries at the spots they can least afford to suffer injuries?  It’s like the man with one leg who sprains his good ankle.  I mean, seriously, what the fuck?

It’s unfair to pin your hopes on one guy, but I have a feeling Smyly was going to be a key cog in our rotation.  Obviously, our chances start with what we get from Felix.  He needs to bounce back in a major way and be that Ace we’ve seen from him before.  Then, you figure the next guy up – the guy who has the biggest opportunity to really explode (in a good way) and possibly climb into that Ace realm – is James Paxton.  The variance on that guy ranges from Top End Starter all the way to Injured Waste of Space, with a lot of options in between.  Then, I always figured Smyly had the next-highest variance of possibilities on the team.  He was an erstwhile top prospect who has had success in this league, and it wasn’t hard to picture it all coming together for him.  If you could work out a Big Three of sorts in our rotation with Felix, Paxton, and Smyly, with those guys carrying the major load, you’d take what you could get out of Kuma and Gallardo and probably walk away with something resembling 90+ wins (depending on how the bullpen shakes out).

Kuma and Gallardo, by the by, have the least amount of variance on the team.  You know what you’re going to get with those guys, and as long as it’s something approaching .500 ball, you’ll take it and you’ll fucking like it.

But, now this Smyly thing happened, and we’ve already got to dip into our starting pitching reserves.  The only question now is, how long until disaster strikes again, and will Smyly be back in time to pick up the slack?

As for the bullpen, buckle up buckaroos!

There’s actually a lot to like about this unit, all things considered, but a lot of things would have to break right to expect these guys to be totally lockdown.  Edwin Diaz, for as talented as he is, is still going to be something of a rollercoaster.  Looking beyond just the Opening Day roster, Steve Cishek figures to have a major role in the back-end of the bullpen when he gets fully healthy and ready to fire, and we’ve all seen the kinds of meltdowns he’s capable of.  I look forward to Evan Scribner being a calming, dominant presence – based on his September last year and his Spring Training this year – but we don’t really know!  We’ve yet to see him when the games REALLY start to matter (while the Mariners were still “in contention” last September, it was going to take a minor miracle for them to claw all the way back into post-season play).  We better hope Scribner has what it takes, because Nick Vincent has looked like warm, hittable garbage this spring, and his stuff wasn’t all that good to begin with.  I have a feeling Vincent won’t be on the team by season’s end.  That Scrabble guy was our major bullpen free agent signing, to be our primary lefty reliever, and he’s certainly had his ups and downs.  You don’t sign a guy like him for 2 years and $11 million just to be a fucking LOOGY, so he better figure the fuck out how to limit the damage from right-handed hitters, because so far this spring they’re responsible for ALL of the runs he’s given up.

On the plus side, some of the younger guys look better than expected.  Dan Altavilla has all but won himself a spot on the team.  Tony Zych is also working his way back from injury, and should play a big role in this bullpen when he’s ready.  James Pazos is another lefty the team is looking at long and hard, though he’s suffering many of the same complications as Scrabble, with right-handed hitters bashing the shit out of him.  With someone like Pazos, though, I don’t think you mind as much letting him be a LOOGY for a while, to get his feet wet and build his confidence (especially if this team goes with 8-man bullpens for various stretches of the season).  Beyond that, you’ve got any number of non-roster guys who are doing great, but I’m having a hard time figuring out who’s slated to be in a minor league rotation vs. who’s fodder for our bullpen should the need arise.

Bottom line with these guys, I think the bullpen is good enough to get us there.  I would be legitimately surprised (and yet, as a longtime Mariners fan, not surprised whatsoever) if the bullpen totally fell apart like it did in 2015.

What is a concern is not just the rotation underperforming, but their underperformance having a drastically negative impact on our bullpen.  A dominant bullpen can carry the load for a short period of time, if the rotation goes into a slump (which always happens, at one point or another, on every team).  But, if the bullpen is expected to carry this pitching staff over a super-long stretch of games, it’s ultimately going to get over-worked and severely lose its effectiveness.  So, yeah, the bullpen COULD struggle when all is said and done, but you have to look at the whole picture and decide:  are these guys just duds, or did the rotation totally screw them over?

I keep going back and forth with my predictions for this team.  I know when I was in Reno, I thought the bet of over 85.5 wins was pretty solid.  But, I didn’t think it was solid enough to actually put my own money on it, so do with that what you will.  My feeling on the Mariners seems to change with my mood.  When I’m happy, I can see this team winning over 90 games and going pretty far.  When I’m unhappy, work is getting to me, and I’m obsessing over the 5,000th consecutive overcast day in fucking SEATTLE GOD DAMN WASHINGTON FUCK ME WHY DON’T I MOVE TO SAN DIEGO AND GET AWAY FROM ALL THIS BULLSHIT … my outlook on the Mariners’ prospects tends to swirl down the toilet along with my disposition.

I WANT to believe!  But, I’ve been burned time and time and time and time again.  Sometimes I think it’s safer just to predict another 80-something win season where the Mariners fall oh so short of the Wild Card.  I also think it’s safer because I worry if I predict a World Series championship, I’m jinxing the team, because I’m clinically insane.  Besides, if I go with everyone else and just say the Mariners will win 85 games, I can be pleasantly surprised if I’m wrong and they win more.

Well, I’m not going to do that this year.  THIS time, I’m actually going to go out on a ledge and risk looking QUITE the fool!  95 wins!  I say this not with excitement for what’s about to happen, or with the blind enthusiasm of a mental patient, but with terse resentment and overwhelming expectations.

You fucking owe this to us, Mariners!  I’m tired of pussy-footing around and blindly hoping for a “fun summer” or whatever.  I don’t just want you to keep things interesting until football season rolls around.  Fuck football season!  It’s not like the Seahawks are elite anymore anyway!  We’re all deluding ourselves in believing this team’s championship window is still open; they’ve been on a downward spiral since they beat Denver 43-8.  The Seahawks are old news; it’s the Mariners’ time now!

And we’ve put up with too much of your bullshit to let this thing go on one more season.  You better be great, you better take care of business in this division, and you better deliver the fucking goods come playoff time!  Because I’m sick and tired of carrying a torch for this team!  I want lots of wins and lots of success!

And baseball gods, if you’re listening, you can eat all the world’s dicks, because you fucking owe us too!  The Mariners have been baseball’s whipping boys since forever.  Even when we were good, we were morbidly unlucky!  It’s about time the Mariners defied all expectations, guys out-performed projections, and the team stayed mostly-healthy.  This Smyly shit will not stand!  I want GOOD luck from here on out!

I think I’m losing my mind, you guys, so I’m going to wrap this up.  Just a couple things to keep an eye on before I go.

The current odds for the Mariners to win the World Series is 30 to 1.  I think the odds were lower when I was in Reno (maybe 20 or 25 to 1).  I was thinking, with the way I like to throw money around when I’m down there, of putting $1,000 on this, just to see if I could see a miracle in my lifetime.  I didn’t, of course, but that’ll be something to look back on should something wonderful happen in 2017.

Also, the odds for Nelson Cruz to hit the most home runs in the Major Leagues was a whopping 20 to 1.  Last year, Cruz was second with 43, behind Mark Trumbo’s 47.  The year before that, Cruz was second with 44, behind Chris Davis’ 47.  The year before that, Cruz was first with 40.  Again, we’re talking among the entire Major Leagues!  He’s been 2nd, 2nd, and 1st in the last three years.  This spring, he looks just as good as ever, if not even better somehow.  Would THAT have been a good bet to throw $1,000 on?  I think it’s infinitely more likely to happen than the Mariners winning the World Series, so you could say I’ve been kicking myself for the last two weeks for not throwing money down on Cruz.  We’ll just see, I guess.

There was also a bet to see who could get more combined hits, home runs, and RBIs between Kyle Seager and his brother.  I think the younger Seager is a lock on that one; easiest money I ever left on the table.

Ariel Miranda & Dan Vogelbach Will Start The Season In Tacoma

The end of Spring Training is nigh, and as such, the Mariners are whittling their roster down to what will become the Opening Day 25.  In that hullabaloo, some interesting decisions have been made.

From the beginning, most of the beat writers and such have been predicting that Ariel Miranda would start the season in the Mariners’ bullpen, as a second – or even a third – lefty.  This was before his last three starts, where he gave up a combined 10 runs (9 earned) in 8.2 innings, with 7 walks and 7 strikeouts.  The spin is the organization wants to keep him starting, in case he needs to come up and replace someone in our rotation, but the fact of the matter is the Mariners were planning on taking the best pitchers regardless of whether they started or not.  Ariel Miranda isn’t pitching like one of the top 12 or 13 pitchers on this roster, so he gets to go to Tacoma for a while to figure it out.  A promising start early in Spring Training comes to a disappointing close.  Hopefully he gets back on track pretty quickly, because I know we’re going to need him at some point.

The other surprise move is Dan Vogelbach being optioned to Triple-A.  He had been pencilled in as the team’s starting first baseman; the only concern the team had was whether or not he could handle the defensive duties.  From the sounds of things, he’s been okay, but could probably use a little work.  The spin is the oranization is treating this like a James Paxton/Mike Zunino situation from last year:  they want him to work on improving his game in the comfort and anonymity of Tacoma, until the time is right and he’s called back up.  The fact of the matter is, his defense is probably good enough, but after the first week or so of Spring Training, his hitting has gone down the toilet.  Which is kinda what I predicted all along:  something always suffers when you’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Dan Vogelbach isn’t a natural first baseman.  He’s really just a DH that the team needs to shoehorn into a defensive spot to justify having him on the roster.  So, he’s been scrambling to work on the ins and outs of the first base position, and as a result his hitting has taken a backseat.

Like I’ve always said, it’s so much easier to bring up a prospect if he’s got the defensive part down pat.  Because, even if you’re a supposed natural at the plate in the minor leagues like Vogelbach is, there’s ALWAYS going to be a learning curve when you make the jump to the Majors.  Guys who only have to worry about one part of their games always have an easier go of it than guys who have to worry about both.

It’s too early to pull out the Bust label, but this is definitely an opening salvo.  Something tells me the first base position is going to be another need going into 2018.

With Shawn O’Malley having recently had an emergency appendectomy, it’s looking more and more like Taylor Motter will be the utility infielder (including backup first baseman).  As Motter and starter Danny Valencia are both righties, we lose that first base platoon, so I hope Valencia gets good at hitting right-handed pitching in a hurry.

This feels like a setback, but a minor one that we should have no trouble overcoming.  I always kind of expected Valencia to play closer to an everyday role anyway; I just thought he’d split more time between first base and right field.  Our depth takes a bit of a hit, but that just means guys like Motter, Haniger, and maybe Heredia have to pick up the slack.  I’m going to be REALLY interested to see how those guys perform if they make the Opening Day roster.

In other news, the Mariners say they’re going with an 8-man bullpen to start the regular season, and we’re all having a tough time predicting who those guys will be.  Particularly with guys like Cishek and Zych coming back from injury, and with Miranda and a few others already getting demoted to Tacoma.

  1. Edwin Diaz
  2. Evan Scribner
  3. Nick Vincent
  4. Marc Rzepczynski
  5. Dan Altavilla?
  6. James Pazos?
  7. Casey Fien?
  8. Some guy on another team we acquire in trade?

Yeah, I dunno.  I guess we’ll see.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Edwin Diaz

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

One way to mitigate the damage of a shaky starting rotation is to be smart about it.  Don’t leave ’em in there too long!  Maybe don’t pull them at the very first sign of trouble, but once you get through the 4th or 5th inning, tighten up that leash.  A top-notch bullpen can cover up A LOT of warts on a pitching staff.

Edwin Diaz is the key to the whole thing, but consider this post a catch-all for the entire bullpen.  Now, obviously, it’s early February, and therefore it’s too early to make any sort of valid prediction as to what the Opening Day bullpen is going to look like.  For starters, it’s highly likely Steve Cishek starts off the regular season on the DL, and doesn’t come back until mid-April (if not later).  There are guys we can be pretty confident about – Scrabble, Scribner, Vincent – but the only guy who has a guaranteed spot on this roster (barring injury) is Diaz.

Yes, he’s the closer.  Yes, he’s got the best arm on the team.  But, he’ll also only be 23 years old this spring, and he’s coming off of a little over half a season of Major League experience.  AND, not for nothing, but he really struggled those last two months as his fastball lost a bit of velocity and as the rest of the American League figured him out.  He was over-used and his command really faltered by season’s end.  Not enough to lose him his job, but enough to leave a pile of doubt in my mind.

I don’t expect him to be perfect, but I do need him to be dominant.  If we have to waste time with a switch at the closer position, that’s a hassle that’s going to doom this team.  As it stands, the bullpen is far from a strength.  Ideally, we’ll see Diaz, Cishek (when he returns) and Scribner all pitch really well from the right side, with Scrabble doing his thing from the left side.  If those four guys pan out in a big way, I can see this team going pretty far.

What I do like about this bullpen as it’s currently constructed is its depth.  We’ve got those top four guys, then we’ve got Vincent, Zych, Altavilla, and a bunch of other guys we’ve either traded for or brought up through the farm system.  Guys with Major League experience and guys with tons of potential.

A bullpen is generally 7 pitchers deep, but over the course of a full season, you might burn through twice or three times that number!  Guys get injured, guys perform poorly, guys get over-used and you’re forced to bring in fresh arms to get you through a rough patch.  You’re only as good as your depth, as far as pitching is concerned, until September, when you’re only as good as your team’s health dictates.

The worst case scenario for this team is having its starters middle their way through the season, with the bullpen a total disaster.  The Mariners have a lot going on as far as hitting and defense is concerned, but they don’t have enough to overcome what very well could be a trainwreck pitching staff.  So, you know, let’s shock the world, huh?  One way to do that:  have the bullpen come out of nowhere to lead this team to the promised land.

The Mariners Made Two More Trades Last Week

  • Seth Smith (OF) to Baltimore for Yovani Gallardo (SP)
  • Nathan Karns (SP) to Kansas City for Jarrod Dyson (OF)

When I look at that, I see one good trade and one bad one.  Let’s start with the bad.

Seth Smith has real value as a platoon outfielder, mostly for his bat, and if dealt to the right team, could be a nice little addition to a championship roster.  In that sense, considering how good Baltimore already was, this feels right for them.  He doesn’t need to play every day, he doesn’t even need to start!  He’ll come in and pinch hit for them down the stretch or in the playoffs and make a big impact, I’m sure of it.

Gallardo, meanwhile, is a guy whose best years are CLEARLY behind him.  He peaked between 2009-2012 with Milwaukee and has seen his strikeout numbers plummet ever since.  Considering he’s ostensibly supposed to be a right-handed power arm, that’s certainly cause for concern.  He was still more or less effective through the 2015 season, but that saw him hover around the 180 innings range.  For a guy who’s also supposed to be an “innings eater”, I mean, I guess averaging 6 innings per start is okay, but I dunno.

Then, last year, he played in Baltimore, and he didn’t play well.  He had a shoulder injury that kept him out of the rotation for 8 weeks, and upon his return he could never get it going.  The Orioles sent over $2 million to offset the $11 million he’s making this year.  And, if he totally flames out, all it will take is $2 million more to take care of his buyout next year (he’s set to earn $13 million otherwise).  Like a lot of other guys Jerry Dipoto has brought in during his tenure here, we’re hoping for a bounce-back year.  And, considering it looks like he’s more or less locked into the #4 starter role – with the loss of Taijuan Walker – we’re REALLY hoping he bounces back.

My ultimate takeaway is that I knew all along the Mariners were going to do something to bring in another veteran starter.  It’s just a shame this is the best we could do.  I feel like any number of free agents on the market would be a better gamble.  Considering the starting pitching on this team was already a weakness coming into this offseason, and then we traded away Taijuan, I was just hoping we had something more impressive up our sleeves than a guy who might be done as soon as this year.

As for the good trade, SO LONG KARNS!  I can’t say that I’m going to miss him.  I really don’t give a shit that he has a ton of team control (while Dyson has just one year left on his deal), because we’ve already played that game.  Team control is meaningless if the player is terrible.  Karns had a full year in 2015 with the Rays and showed some promise, but it was also clear that he couldn’t go deep into games and they were really protecting him with his innings count.  He had every opportunity in 2016 with the Mariners to cement his status as a starting pitcher in this league, but in 15 starts I’d say he really only had about 2 good ones.  Most games, he struggled just to get through 5 innings.  Eventually, the team had to demote him to reliever, before he was demoted to Tacoma, and then put on the DL.  At that point, he fell off the face of the Earth, so I don’t even know if he’s healthy again, or if he’s spending this winter rehabbing.  For all I know, he might not ever start again!  Considering he didn’t throw all that hard, and his stuff wasn’t all that good (he had an okay curve ball, when he could control it, which was almost never), I’m hard pressed to peg him as even turning into a quality reliever.  He feels like a guy who’s going to be out of baseball in the next year or two.  Better to cut bait now and get what you can.

Which, in this case, is a guy I really like!  Dyson isn’t an impressive hitter by any stretch.  He’s got no power whatsoever, so go ahead and put that out of your mind.  I’m not even sure he’s destined to be an everyday starter with this team.  He’ll probably hit for around .250-.260, he’s improving with his on-base percentage, and across the last five years he’s averaged over 30 stolen bases per season.  When you top him off as a quality defender, and pair him with Leonys Martin in center, you’re talking about a ton of speed at the bottom of our lineup (unless he starts to hit out of his mind, in which case you could see him move up in the lineup) and a ton of outfield defense.  Which, for this pitching staff, it’s pretty easy to see how this will be a good thing.

So, in taking these two trades as a whole, did the Mariners improve?  Well, if you look at it this way:

  • Gallardo for Karns
  • Dyson for Smith

I think you could say we did.  Say what you will about Gallardo, but he’s sure as shit better than Karns!  And, I know we all like Seth Smith’s bat, but he’s been prone to cold streaks (particularly late in seasons) and has batted around .250 both years he’s been in Seattle.  You figure his on-base percentage will be better than Dyson’s, but the difference in baserunning and defense puts Dyson WAY ahead in this thing.

It’s still not an ideal team, but it’s rounding into something respectable.  The lineup in particular is something you’ve gotta like.  I’ve got it like this:

  1. Segura (SS)
  2. Valencia (1B)
  3. Cano (2B)
  4. Cruz (DH)
  5. Seager (3B)
  6. Ruiz (C)
  7. Martin (CF)
  8. Haniger (RF)
  9. Dyson (LF)

Or, depending on the opposing pitcher, and how well guys are playing, you could sub in Vogelbach at first base, pushing Valencia to one of the corner outfield spots.  Also, put Haniger in the same outfield pile as Gamel, Heredia, Powell, and O’Malley; not all of those guys will crack the Opening Day roster, but they’re just a phone call away if they start out in Tacoma.  Still, I like the first seven guys in that lineup an awful lot, and there are many reasons for optimism about Haniger and Dyson as well.

The tricky thing is the pitching staff, particularly the rotation:

  1. Felix
  2. Kuma
  3. Paxton
  4. Gallardo
  5. Miranda

Word from Dipoto is that the Mariners are still looking to bolster their depth in the rotation, which I would say is a MUST.  Nevertheless, it sounds like we shouldn’t expect a big splash.  If we get a free agent, expect it to be a low-level guy.  If it’s a trade, expect it to be for another fringe prospect.  It doesn’t sound like, at this time, the Mariners will be selling the farm (what little farm we’ve got left) to bring in a stud.  We’ll see where they’re at by the end of June though.

The bullpen actually looks like it’s rounding into shape.  There are plenty of guys to choose from, and I’m sure a few more moves will be made here, but these are the guys I like:

  • Closer – Diaz
  • RHP – Cishek
  • RHP – Scribner
  • RHP – Zych
  • RHP – Vincent
  • LHP – Scrabble

There’s room for one more reliever on there, I would expect a second lefty, but we’ll see.  On paper, those six guys look pretty good, but they don’t play the games on paper.

Next month, pitchers and catchers report, and we get this thing going.  I’m sure we’ll have a better idea of what to expect regarding the Opening Day roster by then.

Mariners Sign Marc Rzepczynski Ahead Of Winter Meetings

This guy’s nickname is Scrabble?  You’re damn skippy I’m calling him Scrabble from now on!

Consider this your weekly Mariners update, a day earlier than usual.  That’s because I’m preparing myself for the Husky basketball team to get destroyed by Gonzaga tonight, followed by me absolutely destroying everything there is to destroy about Husky basketball tomorrow.  It should be fun!

Scrabble is a lefty reliever.  He’s signed for 2 years and $11 million total, which is in that Steve Cishek price range.  Scrabble is absolutely dominant against left-handed batters, and can’t do a damn thing against right-handed batters.  If you combined the left half of Scrabble with the right half of Cishek, you’d be talking about the perfect relief pitcher.

I’m not super jazzed about spending big bucks on relievers, but then again, is $5.5 million per year even considered “big bucks” anymore in Major League Baseball?  It seems like we’re just a couple decades away from that being the minimum veteran salary.

I do think this gives Scott Servais a lot of flexibility in his bullpen usage.  I get the feeling that in an ideal world, Servais would be a Mike Scioscia type, with lots of trips to the bullpen, even in the middle of an inning.  Relief pitchers are already specialists, but we’re getting specialists on top of specialists with guys like Scrabble and Cishek!  You really just want to use those guys in the highest-leverage situations, but only against same-handed batters.  In this case, the 2017 bullpen is shaping up to be a very good one … in 9-inning games.  But, maybe lacking a bit if we have to go to extras, which happens probably 10-15 times per year.

With Scrabble and Cishek, you’ve got Edwin Diaz, Evan Scribner, Nick Vincent, and probably Tony Zych if he’s healthy.  That’s six guys, with one spot left over, likely for a second left-handed reliever.  It’s coming together!  Now, let’s see if it can gel.

And let’s see if we can find another starter.

Mariners Traded Walker & Marte For Segura, Haniger, & Curtis

In a Thanksgiving Eve shocker, the Mariners and Diamondbacks made a 5-player deal.  The Mariners essentially gave up on Taijuan Walker ever being an ace starting pitcher because they felt they couldn’t wait for Ketel Marte to finally develop into an everyday, starting short stop.

Walker was drafted in 2010, had a couple cups of coffee with the Mariners in 2013 & 2014, then got a rotation job in 2015.  For the last two seasons, he’s flashed brilliance, but more than anything has wallowed in inconsistency.  There’d be games where he’d overwhelm the opponent, followed by games where he struggled to get to three innings.  When he was coming up through the organization, in large part he was overshadowed by other starting prospects like Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, but Walker always had the highest ceiling.  With his make-up, his fastball, and his devastating change up, many had him pegged to be the heir apparent to Felix Hernandez.  In many people’s eyes, he was as untouchable as Felix Hernandez himself, which is why this trade was difficult for a lot of people to stomach.

You can’t help but remember the prospect, and how highly he was rated within this organization and among the best in all of Major League Baseball.  Walker was always talked about in terms of the king’s ransom he could get for us, but we always opted to keep him because he was more valuable than anything we could get back for him.

Well, here he is, 26 years old (he’ll be 27 next August), after two years in the Majors, and it turns out he’s worth … this.

Part of me thinks we’re giving up too early on the kid, but at some point you have to ask:  how long should we wait for him to make the jump?  The main problem with this team the last couple years, as we brought in Cano and Cruz, and as Seager proved himself to be one of the best third basemen in all of baseball, is that for a team THIS CLOSE to reaching the playoffs, we were trying to have it both ways.  We were a veteran team, but we were also trying to break in a bunch of young players.  We over-spent on some veterans, and so we were trying to cut corners at some pretty high-profile positions to get by.  When you’ve got so much of a core that’s ready and capable of making a deep playoff run, you can’t be waiting around for all these young guys to take it to the next level.

Taijuan Walker might very well develop into an Ace of sorts.  It’s been alluded to that a lot of his issues are related to maturity and/or confidence and/or work ethic.  That’s aside from the obvious issues with his mechanics breaking down, and his frequent injuries (that probably helped in throwing off his mechanics in the first place).  I mean, you don’t just send down your third or fourth best starting pitcher to Tacoma – in the middle of a Wild Card chase – unless the kid has some real issues to work out.  If it is by and large related to maturity, then obviously in a few years he should be ready to truly break out.  Or, maybe it’s this trade to Arizona – with his first ballclub essentially giving up on him – that’s the wake-up call for him to finally bloom.  Maybe, if we’d kept him forever, he’d never take stock of his career and make the changes necessary to be great.  We’ll never know.

It’s also highly likely that he’s already reached his ceiling, and 2015/2016 is as good as it gets for him.  That he’ll be some variation of what he’s been for the next 5-10 years and then call it a career.  I tend to believe, with the switch to the National League, that should be good for a moderate boost to his numbers.  They have the fucking pitchers batting and everything; that’s a free out 9 times out of 10.  But, I’m more inclined to believe that Walker might top out as a #3 type pitcher, but not really a dominant Cy Young contender.

In which case, I think we’re selling on him about as high as we could’ve hoped.  If you’re like me, and you don’t believe he was primed for a huge improvement in 2017 – if you think he pretty much would be this up-and-down guy we’ve seen the last two years – then the longer we would’ve kept him, the lower his value would’ve gotten.

Quite frankly, getting a starting short stop, who’s a whiz with the bat at the top of our lineup, for even an improved version of Taijuan Walker, is well worth the swap.

That’s because there was no way in hell Ketel Marte was ever going to make the leap, ESPECIALLY not in 2017.  Let’s face it, the Mariners are in Win-Now mode.  Cano is still great, but he’s getting up there.  Cruz has probably peaked, so the question now his how fast will his decline torpedo his career?  King Felix was decidedly off his game in 2016, so who knows that that means going forward?  The Mariners might just have this one shot in 2017 to get to the playoffs and see what happens.  Come 2018, everything might fall apart.

So, enter Jean Segura.  He was one of the best players in all of baseball last year, and we get him for a couple of prospects.  Even if he doesn’t quite reach his lofty peak of 2016 – which, not for nothing, I wouldn’t expect him to – he’s still bound to be better and more consistent than Ketel Marte.  He hits well, gets on base, steals bases, and has some pop in his bat.  And, you gotta figure he won’t be so prone to the bone-headed fielding mistakes, which gives me peace of mind already!

If Walker and Segura are the main components of this deal, Marte and Mitch Haniger pose as the high-level prospects of the deal.  Marte definitely has all the tools, but like Walker, I think he needs a few more years’ worth of maturity to take his game to the next level.  One would hope Haniger doesn’t have that problem, but he’s also not necessarily someone we’re counting on.  I’m told he’s a good defensive outfielder, who gives us depth in case Leonys Martin gets injured.  He’ll be thrown onto the pile with Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia and Shawn O’Malley and whoever else in this team’s outfield battle.

Speaking of, you figure Martin is a lock for center, so that’s nice to not have to worry about.  Seth Smith is locked into at least a platoon job in one of the corner outfield spots (likely left field); Danny Valencia has experience playing outfield and should find himself there when he’s not covering first base.  I still sort of expect Guti to come back and maybe take over the other half of the Seth Smith platoon, as well as probably another cheap veteran signing to compete for a spot.  Otherwise, in effect, we traded one inexperienced spot (short stop) for another (right field).

But, at the very least, we’ll be athletic.  With all the studs in our infield, we can really maximize our defense in the outfield.  I just hope that one or two of these younger outfielders can show SOMETHING in Spring Training.

The final piece of the deal is lefty reliever Zac Curtis.  It’s pretty blatant how hard the Mariners have gone after trying to bolster their bullpen from the left side.  Consider Curtis another arm on the pile.  He’ll get a shot in Spring Training, but in all likelihood he’ll need to go to Tacoma to start out.  It’s depth, which is nice, but he’s really just a throw-in guy.  The Mariners gave up a lot of potential upside in this deal, so you figure getting one bona fide regular, one upside guy back in Haniger, plus a reliever, is a pretty good return value.

This sets us up for a nice little lineup, that could look something like this:

  1. Jean Segura – SS
  2. Seth Smith – LF
  3. Robinson Cano – 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz – DH
  5. Kyle Seager – 3B
  6. Danny Valencia – 1B
  7. Zunino/Ruiz – C
  8. Leonys Martin – CF
  9. Right Fielder

From top to bottom, that’s not bad.  The first six guys in the lineup are proven veterans; the catcher position is both veteran with some pop; Leonys Martin had a great first year for the Mariners and if he continues to give us that, we’d all be ecstatic; and you figure the right fielder will at least have some speed and some on-base ability, so if nothing else he’ll help give the top of our order someone to hit in on occasion.

Of course, on the flipside, the pitching staff is very much in flux.  I won’t try to cobble together a predicted bullpen – as everything is still WAY too fluid right now – but you figure Edwin Diaz and most likely Steve Cishek will feature pretty prominently.  It’s the rotation that’s currently the cause of most concern though.

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. James Paxton
  4. Ariel Miranda

That 4-hole was vacated by Walker in this deal, so who fills it?  For what it’s worth, I think this bolsters Miranda’s chances of making the Opening Day roster, so long as he doesn’t completely fall apart in Spring Training.  Even so, he’s no more than a 5th starter right now, and we’ll likely be looking for a right hander to fill that gap between Paxton and Miranda.

There’s obviously Nathan Karns, but he ended the 2016 season in a bad way with injuries, and I still have yet to hear about whether he’s recovering and whether he’ll be ready for Spring Training or not.  Beyond that, the cupboard would appear pretty bare.  Dipoto is already on record as stating that starting pitching is his next target, likely via free agency to start.  But, I wouldn’t expect a huge splash in this arena.  Figure some sort of mid-range deal, maybe for a guy looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued or just plain down 2016 season.  And, you figure, a few smaller deals to bolster our starting pitching in Tacoma, as I don’t feel like there’s too much coming up through the system at the moment.

Considering you figure the hitting is going to be improved in 2017, barring injuries, and it was already pretty good (at least, good enough to keep us in contention) in 2016, the 2017 Mariners will only go as far as its pitching can take it.  This was also true in 2016, so what I’ve said to you just now isn’t anything you didn’t already know.  But, you have to think that we’re coming from a stronger starting point than we were last year.

Last year, we weren’t sure Iwakuma could stay healthy for a full season; now we know he can (whether that just means he’s more likely to get injured in year 2 remains to be seen, but that’s neither here nor there).  Last year, Paxton started out the year in Tacoma; this year, you figure he’ll be ready from the jump to build upon an exciting breakout season.  And Miranda showed a lot in a lot of high-pressure situations, while still being coddled a little bit in his innings counts; it’ll be interesting to see how he fares when the reigns are loosened a bit.

Regardless, the Mariners were always going to go out and get a veteran starter to compete in Spring Training (or, at least, force some competition at the bottom of the rotation among Walker, Paxton, and Miranda).  With Walker now gone, this changes nothing.  The Mariners could very well go out and sign TWO guys, leaving them with the option to start Miranda in Tacoma until he’s needed, because as I always like to remind everyone, it’s damn near impossible for the same five guys to make ALL the starts in a single Major League Baseball season.

As always, it’s best to look at all the moves as a collective, when we get to Spring Training.  On its surface, I like the Walker deal mostly because I have my doubts about the pieces we gave away, and I also like shoring up a prime spot like short stop.  But, if this means we’re only able to bring scrubs into our starting rotation, then obviously you have to look at the Walker trade in a different light.

And, like I always say, I don’t want no scrubs!

Mariners Made Some Minor Moves, Brought In Another Catcher

This is the time of year where it’s easy to lose track of the Mariners’ wheelings and dealings, so I’m going to do my best to corral them in the occasional post (mostly so it’s easier for me to go back later and find them, when I do my longer Mariners-related preview posts).  So, without further ado, some stuff:

  • Exercised Seth Smith’s 2017 option for $7 million
  • Declined Chris Iannetta’s option
  • Waived Nori Aoki (picked up by Houston, ugh)
  • Furbush, Clevenger, and Ryan Cook declined assignments with Tacoma, became free agents
  • Claimed Dean Kiekhefer off waivers from St. Louis
  • Lind, Storen, Dae-ho Lee, and Guti also granted free agency
  • Trade Vidal Nuno to Dodgers for catcher Carlos Ruiz

So, mostly news about guys who probably won’t be back.  I can’t imagine, with the shitstorm on Twitter, that the Mariners will work that hard to bring back Steve Clevenger.  Furbush is still annihilated with injuries, so I don’t know what his deal is.  I guess he’ll continue to work his way back into pitching shape and then see if he can get a deal somewhere.  It’s not impossible for him to return to Seattle, but he’s going to have to prove he’s 100%, or else come back on a minor league, try-out deal.  Either way, can’t afford to keep those guys on our 40-man roster; better to have the open spots.  The Mariners actually need a quality left-handed reliever, not a guy who will spend the entirety of 2017 on the DL.

Speaking of left-handed relievers, Vidal Nuno is gone!  I dunno, he was a guy we all liked for his versatility, but it turns out if you’re a crappy starter and a crappy reliever, the bottom line is you’re crappy.  We were able to swap him for another catcher, which looks like an awesome deal from a Mariners perspective.

Mike Zunino came back to the Majors in 2016 better than he was before, but he’s still not a finished product.  His defense is second to only a select few, as he was among the league leaders in defensive runs saved, while playing less than half the season in the Bigs.  With Ruiz’s bat – and competent on-base abilities – I wouldn’t mind seeing an equal timeshare between the two guys.  If they can stay healthy, we might be looking at not just replacement-level production out of the catcher position, but actually having it be a net-positive for this team!  Either way, it’s a VAST improvement over Chris Iannetta, which is all I can ask for.

Also speaking of left-handed relievers, this Kiekhefer guy is one of those!  He has all of 26 Major League appearances under his belt, all in 2016, and most of them pretty sub-par.  He’s sort of like a lefty version of Steve Cishek, only not as good.  He’ll destroy left-handed hitting, but he appears to struggle mightily against righties.  I guess you could argue he’s still pretty young, and for the most part looked better in September than he did earlier in the year (one 4-run appearance aside), but more than anything I think you peg him to be Spring Training fodder.  He’s on the 40-man roster, for now, but that’s not necessarily set in stone.  Whether he has options (I would assume he still does) is another issue.  If he pitches well in spring, either he makes the big league team, or he goes to Tacoma as insurance.  I guess we’ll see.

I think the writing was already on the wall when it came to Smith and Aoki.  The team likes Smith’s veteran leadership and steady (sometimes power) bat in the lineup over Aoki’s streakiness and slap-hittiness.  Aoki’s questionable defensive ability, and his poor base running, really did him in.  Nevertheless, I hate seeing him go to Houston, as I’m CONVINCED he’ll have a career year, even if he doesn’t play every day.

As for everyone else, we’ll wait and see.  I can’t imagine the market is too broad for Guti, so expect him back.  Dae-ho Lee might be less inclined to return, unless he’s guaranteed more playing time.  I have to think we’re going to look for a more permanent fix for our first base woes.  Drew Storen might be the toughest one to retain, as I can’t imagine the Mariners will want to break the bank for a right handed reliever who had a nice half-season with us, but is ultimately a hit-or-miss prospect going forward.  If he wants to come back on a relatively minor deal, fine, but I don’t think I’m paying more than $2-3 million for his services.

So far, so good.  The Mariners are better now than they were at the end of the 2016 season.  Let’s keep doing that and everything should be fine.