You Can’t Win ‘Em All, Mariners

I guess it’s only natural to want a little more.  When things have been going so well, you’re on a nice little tear since the All Star Break, and you win the first two games in the series down in Texas, you hope to get over that hump and get the sweep!  Boy, a sweep would’ve been nice heading into the series in Kansas City.  Of course, at this point, wins are the most precious things we have; the Mariners need as many as they can get.

But, you’re not going to win too many games when you go 1 for 9 with RISP, and leave 9 runners on base.  I know Ariel Miranda gave up a whopping 3 homers, and 5 runs total in his 5.2 innings of work, but I think I have to blame Kyle Seager just as much for this loss.  Why single out one batter?  Well, the other two studs on this team – Cano & Cruz – got on base a combined 6 times.  If Seager had only shown up to play in this one – in a stadium he usually does well in – the Mariners almost certainly would’ve scored more than 1 run, and could’ve made a game out of it.

In the top of the first, with Andrew Cashner teetering, having already given up 1 run, with 2 more on and only 1 out, Seager lined out to center to help take him off the hook.  Then, in the top of the third, with two more on and two out, Seager lined out to left field to once again let him off the hook.  Finally, in the top of the eighth, with two on and nobody out, Seager lined out to center again.  If any of those line outs were homers, the Mariners would’ve been within 1 run.  If Seager has a night to remember, maybe the Mariners win that game.  I know there were other hitters with other chances to bring home runs, but those guys aren’t currently in the middle of a $100 million contract.  Not that I’m knocking it or anything, but I think it’s reasonable to expect more out of your $100 million guys.

Anyway, I checked out of this one after it was 5-1 and they had the rain delay.  Obviously, the offense was held in check the rest of the way.  On the plus side, they’ve got a bunch of old episodes of Cheers on Netflix, and I got to bed at my regular time.

I dunno, I should probably say something about Ariel Miranda, but he is who he is.  He came into this year as the team’s sixth starter, and that’s about what he is.  He’s definitely cooled off from that run he was on earlier this year, and sort of settled into this Whatever he’s become.  At least he’s still better than Wade Miley.

The Mariners will have Yovani Gallardo take the mound tonight and try to avoid falling right back to .500.  Then, it’s Paxton, Felix, and Erasmo the rest of the weekend, as the M’s try to overtake the Royals for the second Wild Card.  A 4-game sweep should almost certainly get the job done.  A 3-1 series win will put us right in the thick of it, percentagewise.  A 2-2 tie and we’re kissing our sister.  Anything worse than that is incest, and you know how I feel about that.

Mariners Fingerblast Angels To Take The Series

See, now that’s what I’m talking about.  The Mariners don’t necessarily NEED a big, long, impressive winning streak.  Just win a bunch of regular ol’ series 2-1, and before you know it, you’re right back in this thing.

The key, of course, after winning this Angels series 2-1 is to NOT then go ahead and lose the weekend Texas series.  Let’s try to keep the momentum going!

Last night’s game was impressive on all fronts.  11-3 victory where the offense generated 16 hits and 4 walks.  The only homer was a solo shot by Valencia late in the game; otherwise the overwhelming majority of the scoring happened the old fashioned way:  hitting with runners in scoring position.  The Mariners were 6 for 15 in this regard.

Segura, Gamel, Cruz, Seager, Valencia, and Heredia all had multiple hits, including a 4 for 5 day for Valencia, as he starts to heat up.  Ben Gamel was on base 5 times, getting 3 hits and 2 walks, and he had a fabulous diving catch in the 9th inning.  Just an all out fantastic day from the offense.

On the pitching side of things, Ariel Miranda was able to go 7 full innings, giving up just the 2 runs, sparing our bullpen and looking good doing it.  Everyone is marvelling at how we were able to fleece the Orioles by getting Miranda for Wade Miley last year, and believe me, I’m right there with you guys.  I would point out, however, that after a very rough 2016 season (both in Seattle and Baltimore), Miley has turned things around in a big way in the early going.  I’m not saying I’d rather have him back or anything; I’m plenty happy with Miranda’s youth and upside.  But, we shouldn’t dismiss the fact that Miley is having a nice bounceback year for himself, including an 8 inning/1 run/11 strikeout performance against the Reds a couple starts back.  His walk count is still too high to sustain these numbers, but the most runs he’s given up in any start this year is only 3, while the fewest innings he’s pitched is 5.  On the flipside, Miranda has had a couple duds this year, but also a couple really impressive 7 inning performances (including last night).

I think we all knew this team would need Miranda at some point this year.  Even before Smyly went down, I figured he’d be up in Seattle at some point (in an ideal world, taking over for an ineffective Yovani Gallardo).  But, it’s a little weird to know that we have to count on him THIS much; he’s essentially our 2nd-best starter right now behind Paxton!  I’ve always considered Miranda kind of a back-end of the rotation guy, where you’re happy if he just keeps you in the game and hope your offense has enough in the tank to carry the team over the top.  But, with Smyly and Felix down, with Kuma throwing 84mph fastballs, and with Gallardo being Gallardo, the Mariners really NEED Miranda to step up in a major way.  We need a lot more of these 7 inning starts out of him, if nothing else than to spare our terrible bullpen!

I do want to touch on one more thing before I get on with my day.

GOOD PROBLEM TO HAVE ALERT:  Ben Gamel has been fucking terrific since being called up!  Okay, so I understand why that’s good, but why is it also a problem?  Well, Guillermo Heredia has been fucking terrific all season!  And while the numbers aren’t super amazing, Jarrod Dyson has been a HUGE part of this team’s success (what mediocre amount of success this team has enjoyed, anyway).  So …

What do we do when Mitch Haniger comes back?

Again, don’t think I’m complaining about this, because I think it’s fantastic that Gamel is picking up the slack in Haniger’s absence.  I thought the offense was going to take a HUGE hit, and in fact it’s only improved as Gamel keeps up his part of the bargain, and everyone else gets hot around him.  But, we’re very much in a situation where this team has four outfielders worthy of starting, and only three places to play them.

I’d also like to appeal to the baseball gods, if I may:  please DON’T rectify this situation by injuring someone else upon Haniger’s return!  I BEG OF YOU, JUST LET US BE HEALTHY FOR A WHILE!

The way I see it, for now Gamel’s success affords the Mariners some luxury in bringing Haniger back.  They can wait until he’s 100%, give him as much rehab work in the minors as he needs, and probably wait until the last minute before calling him back up.  But, if Haniger returns to the Mariners hitting like he was before he went on the DL, you absolutely have to keep playing him every day.  So, that solves right field.

As much as I love what Heredia has done for the Mariners this year, with his speed, his defense, and some timely power hits, I think if Gamel keeps tearing the cover off the ball, you gotta keep him in your lineup.  What most likely happens is he and Heredia platoon, but it’s a strict platoon where Gamel only faces righties and Heredia only faces lefties.  It’s just the way it has to be, until another injury crops up, or until someone starts slumping.

I think you absolutely keep Dyson in the lineup everyday, and maybe spot him an off-day every 10 games or so to keep him fresh.

Something else I wonder about is:  what happened to Taylor Motter?

He fits into this outfield equation too, a little bit, and when Haniger comes back I think he REALLY gets the shaft, all things being equal.  That bumps him, for all intents and purposes, to this team’s 5th outfielder.  Of course, he’s also this team’s primary utility infielder, but really that’s kind of a joke.

How often do you ever see Cano get a day off that’s not also a day to rest some nagging injury?  When is Cano ever a healthy scratch?  Or Seager for that matter?  And, with the way Segura is playing, do you see him getting many days off?

That leaves first base, which will be VERY interesting to watch over the next few weeks.  Since April 25 (or right after Dan Vogelbach was called up), Valencia has hit 10 for 24, with 3 homers, 1 double, 5 RBI, and 7 runs scored.  I’d say he responded to that Vogelbach challenge quite well!  Valencia has always been known as a streaky hitter, so you had to figure this type of a hot stretch would come eventually.  Here is his slash line going into the 25th vs. his slash line this morning:

  • Before:  .145/.217/.226/.443
  • Now:  .221/.284/.395/.679

He still has a ways to go to get back to his numbers of the last couple years, but that’s just it.  Before the whole Vogelbach mess, everyone expected Taylor Motter to take over as this team’s primary first baseman once Segura returned from injury.  Instead, Vogelbach got those opportunites, squandered them, and all the while Motter has been the forgotten man.

I wouldn’t say it’s 100% without merit; Motter is hitless in his last 10 at bats, over 5 games, but he really only started 2 of those games, and came in as a reserve/pinch hitter in the other 3.  The only reason you could say this is far and away the coldest stretch of his season is because he’s been so damn good to this point!

It also doesn’t help him that both he and Valencia are right handed, so a platoon there would be pointless.

I think the team is going to have to at the very least ride out this hot streak Valencia has been on, if nothing else than he WILL be needed if this team is to be successful.  And, while I still have my doubts about Motter’s viability over the long haul, I also can’t discount the possibility that he just might have fixed whatever was wrong with his swing in seasons past, and that he’s a new player now.  In which case, should this team be grooming him to be more than just a utility player?  It seems like a waste to keep his bat in mothballs, but, I mean, there are only so many spots you can fill in a lineup.  And I’m pretty sure he’s never played catcher in his professional career.

I dunno.  Like I said, these are all good problems to have, but it is sort of a bummer.  It is nice to know he’s there, though, in case injury strikes again.  I love not having such a significant drop off in production from starter to backup!  But, it just seems like Motter did nothing wrong, and yet he’s being punished in some unfair way.  That’s baseball, I guess.

What Are You Supposed To Do With A Mariners Offense Playing Like This?

At some point this week, I decided I’d take it upon myself to post a recap of all the Mariners games, even on *shudder* the weekends.  Someone needs to slap some sense into me, preferably with a couple of perky C’s.

I don’t know what to tell you.  5 hits in a 5-1 defeat to the thoroughly unimpressive Angels.  1 for 7 with runners in scoring position, another 7 left on base.  I mean, what is this?  Is this Spring Training fatigue?  The fact that these guys have been away from home for so long, and now the MLB schedule-makers have tacked on an extra 7 days to this living nightmare?  Will a simple matter of some home cooking turn this thing around?

God, I hope it doesn’t take that long.  Going 1-6 in your first week isn’t an insurmountable mountain to climb, but it sure as shit makes life unnecessarily difficult.

I mean, it’s one thing to see Kyle Seager struggle in the early going; we’ve come to expect that at this point.  And we all knew the outfield would be a bit of a depressing mixed bag at the plate (currently hitting a collective 8 for 59 (.136) with 5 walks, 2 doubles, 1 homer, and 18 strikeouts).  But, I think what’s most alarming is the funk that Cano and Cruz have been in through 5 games.

Those are our rocks!  Our studs!  Our superstars!  6 hits in 39 at-bats (.154) with 2 doubles, 0 homers, 1 RBI, 5 walks, and a whopping 13 strikeouts.  I know 5 games is a small sample size and everything, but come on!

Really, you can go up and down the lineup and pull these lunatic numbers that make you wonder just what sort of fresh hell we’re in for this season, so I won’t bombard you with all the misery.  I will say that I have no problem with Segura so far; I like that Seager has at least taken the most walks on the team to feature the highest OBP (.364), even though he’s only batting .125; and I’m starting to come around to Mitch Haniger (who leads the team in extra-base hits with 2) mostly because he seems to also have a good command of the strike zone with a .333 OBP.

As far as last night’s game is concerned, we got our first look at Yovani Gallardo.  I came away not totally sick to my stomach!  Granted, he went 5 innings and gave up 3 runs (being pulled in the bottom of the 6th with no outs after giving up a solo homer and a hard-hit single) while only throwing 90 pitches, but there were issues outside of his control that severely altered the course of the game for him.

In the bottom of the first, Gallardo gave up a leadoff single, followed by an ever-so-unfortunate double to Kole Calhoun (opposite field, against the outfield shift, just BARELY touching the chalk of the left field foul line before bouncing into the stands).  If that ball lands foul, who knows where the inning takes him?  Even still, with no outs and runners on 2nd & 3rd, he only gave up a sac fly to Mike Trout before getting out of the inning.

Then, in the bottom of the third, disaster.  A couple of singles and a strikeout preceeded Trout coming to bat.  After spotting him a 3-0 count, the Mariners intentionally walked him to get to Albert Pujols with 1 out and the bases loaded.  Pujols obliged about as well as you could ask for with a weak grounder right at Kyle Seager.  It was a tailor-made double play ball to get out of the inning still down 1-0.  Instead, Seager totally biffed it, allowing a run to score with the bases still loaded.  I couldn’t tell you how many pitches that cost Gallardo in his pitch count, but he ended up striking out the very next batter before getting out of the bases loaded jam with a ground ball to third.

And you may say, “Well, his pitch count stalled at 90 anyway, so it’s not like he was THAT over-worked,” but I’ll say this:  pitches in high-pressure situations like that, with the bases loaded and less than 2 outs, count A LOT more than pitches with nobody on base.  Sure, it was mostly his doing that got the bases loaded in the first place, but in the end, he induced a ground ball that should’ve been a double play and instead was a fielder’s choice/error that got no one out.  That’s not on Gallardo.

All in all, I thought Gallardo looked okay.  I saw him touch 94mph on the gun, he was usually in the lower 90s with his fastball, and he was able to work both up and down in the zone to pretty solid effect.  I mean, he’s never going to be anything amazing, but he’s a veteran 5th starter, so a lot of his starts are going to look like this.  He’s going to spread around a bunch of hits, hopefully not walk too many, and usually keep you in enough ballgames to justify his roster spot.  Think of a Kevin Millwood or a Chris Young type moreso than a Wade Miley or a Joe Saunders type.  At least, that’s my hope.

Casey Fien looked pretty good in his first inning of relief, then gave up a 2-run homer in his second inning of relief.  But, he’s not really a guy you’re going to count on in the 8th inning of a game you’re winning; he’s a guy you’re going to see in games like this, where we’re losing but hoping he can keep it close enough for us to come back.  I think the jury is still out on him, but I also don’t see him going anywhere anytime soon, even with Tony Zych set to rejoin the Mariners at some point in the next week or two.

Finally, Dillon Overton got his first inning of relief in the soft landing we unfortunately couldn’t give to Chase De Jong.  Overton gave up a meaningless single and netted 2 strikeouts, but I couldn’t tell you how he looked because I turned off the TV after that 2-run homer Fien gave up.

Felix Day today.  Let’s hope he doesn’t have to cover first base.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Drew Smyly

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

There’s a pretty good amount of turnover this year, compared to the starting rotation on Opening Day 2016.  The only holdovers are King Felix and Kuma, as we rounded out the rest of our starting five with Taijuan Walker, Wade Miley, and Nate Karns.  With those five, you figured you had an Ace, a solid #2, a stopgap veteran innings-eater, and a couple of young power arms to build your rotation around for the future.  Well, Miley turned out to be a dud, Karns evolved into an injured dud, and we salvaged whatever remaining value Walker had by trading him for an important, everyday player at shortstop.

In their place, we have a holdover in Paxton, alongside newcomers Yovani Gallardo and Drew Smyly.  I’m not expecting much out of Gallardo, which puts that much more pressure on Smyly to succeed.  The 2017 Mariners can ill afford two black holes in the rotation if they expect to break into the post-season.

There was a good amount of hype that, for whatever reasons, failed to fully materialize for Smyly as he broke into the Major Leagues.  He followed up a solid rookie season by being thrown into a bullpen role in his second year.  Smyly’s best season was in 2014, when the Tigers shipped him off at the height of his value for a David Price deadline deal.  Smyly went to the Rays and closed his season on a tear.  It ALMOST looked like they’d flipped an ace for an ace, but then Smyly spent most of 2015 injured.  He pitched the full year in 2016, but was no better than replacement level.  At which point, here we are, hoping a change of scenery will do everyone some good.

Since we do have a full season’s worth of data, I’m mostly interested in what he was able to do last year.  He pitched a career-high 175.1 innings, striking out 167 and walking only 49.  His big problem was giving up 32 homers in 30 starts.  I know that sounds like something Iwakuma is known for, but in 33 starts he only gave up 28 dongers last year.  So, that’s a bit of a red flag.  Yes, he’s going to limit baserunners where he can, by being around the plate, but that’s only a good thing if you’re avoiding getting too much of the plate at the same time.  It’s a slippery slope, and one that saw him with a career-high in opposing slugging percentage and a career-low in ground ball to fly ball ratio.  With a respectable strikeout percentage, it would seem to me this is a guy who wants to make his living pitching up in the zone, inducing weak contact pop ups and fly balls.  Given his numbers last year, I take it he failed to get the ball up enough, and those hanging whathaveyous were pounded into submission.

This is a move that would’ve been much more celebrated before the Mariners moved in Safeco Field’s fences.  Now that the park plays much more closer to league average – indeed, last year played like a bandbox as far as homers are concerned – the addition of Smyly is less of a projected sure thing.  It’s not enough to be a lefty with a good offspeed pitch and just hope your fly ball gets run down in deep centerfield, now you have to pitch like you actually mean it!  Like you know what you’re doing.  Like you’re in a place that won’t forgive you a big, fat, juicy meatball right in the middle of the plate.  If he’s got enough control to avoid giving up tons of walks, let’s hope he’s able to also paint those edges and avoid those hot zones.

Smyly could end up being huge for this team.  If he pans out and we opt to keep him, he’s young enough to stick around for a good, long while.  If he pans out and we suck this year, we can also flip him at the deadline for quality prospects.  If he sucks, he’s still a lefty pitcher with starting and relieving experience, and those guys will always have SOME value.  I’m just hoping he and the rest of this rotation can keep their shit together to give us the best season we’ve had in over a decade.

Mr. Dipoto’s Wild Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

Important Mariners Transactions for the 2016 Season

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

Will Ariel Miranda Get A Legitimate Shot At Next Year’s Mariners Rotation?

In any season where a team finishes with 86 wins and a few games short of the playoffs, there are going to be plenty of pleasant surprises to go along with the smattering of disappointments that prevented you from reaching your goal in the first place.  Of all the deals made in Jerry Dipoto’s first year, one of the few that didn’t either totally backfire or result in no net change whatsoever for either involved team was the Wade Miley for Ariel Miranda trade.

Miranda was a Cuban AAA prospect on the cusp of breaking through to the Majors.  With the Orioles in the pennant race – and with the Mariners in pretty bad shape by the end of July – this was seen as a clear power move for Baltimore, and another sign of the Mariners giving up on their season (to go along with sending a valuable bullpen piece/spot starter in Montgomery away, as well as a veteran set-up reliever in Benoit).  In all likelihood, aside from the Montgomery deal, the Mariners were no worse after those other two trades than before.  But, sending Miley and Benoit to contenders was clearly a cost-cutting move for a team that had less than a 50% chance of making the playoffs (going into August, the Mariners were 52-51, so not the most inspiring of records).

Anyway, for the Orioles, you could see why they opted for Miley over Miranda, even though both were lefties with marginal stuff:  Miley was the veteran, and in a pennant race, you always want the guy with experience over the guy who has never started in the Bigs before.

I’d say it wasn’t shocking that Miley stunk up the joint upon going to Baltimore; he’s a terrible pitcher, and it was a bad idea to bring him here in the first place.  But, he got us Ariel Miranda, and considering what we gave up to get Miley in the first place (Roenis Elias and Carson Smith), we might’ve still come out ahead in the whole thing.  Miranda is already better than Elias ever was, plus he MUST have more club control.  Carson Smith was injured throughout most of 2016, so we’ll see how he comes back from Tommy John surgery.  But, Smith is just a reliever, and you’d trade a quality reliever for a quality starter 9 times out of 10.

The Mariners brought Miranda along slowly, which was absolutely the right thing to do, even as the team itself started playing better down the stretch and closing the gap between themselves and the wild card teams.  His longest start was only 7 innings, and his highest pitch count in any one game was 103.  He averaged about 84 pitches per start.  As such, we were able to keep him fresh through September, we were able to keep him healthy, and we were able to preserve his confidence, as he often found himself rolling through the first five innings before quickly being pulled at the first sign of trouble late in games.  By season’s end, he was on a great run, finishing with 3 quality starts in September (including an impressive 7-inning, 2-run, 8-strikeout victory against Houston of all teams).

When you tack on his seemingly unflappable nature (he more than held his own in his final start against the A’s, a do-or-die game for this team, going 5.1 innings of 1-run ball), Miranda has more than earned a chance to compete for a starting job next spring.  My question is:  will he get that chance?

Obviously, we’re pretty far away from that point, so anything I say from here on out is pure speculation, but the rotation as it stands right now – indeed as it stood at season’s end – is:

  1. King Felix
  2. Iwakuma
  3. Paxton
  4. Walker
  5. Miranda

Regardless of what happens, Felix and Kuma aren’t going anywhere.  I believe James Paxton has earned a spot in this rotation with his work in 2016, so he doesn’t have to compete for anything.  He just has to show up in shape and ready to build his arm up to where it was this year.  I think Walker will be given every opportunity to win a spot in this rotation, but I also think he’s going to have to earn it.  He’s going to have to come in healthy, with the right mindset, and ready to pound the zone with strikes.  I also think he’s fully capable of doing that, and putting up good spring numbers, so his situation boils down to whether or not the team wants to make an example of him.  To tone down expectations a little bit and let him settle into a groove in Tacoma for the first month before getting called back up.  It wouldn’t shock me, so I hope, for his sake, he comes into camp all business next year.

I also think, as I’ve written before, that the team isn’t set on this rotation.  I’d bet my next four paychecks that the Mariners will end up either trading for or signing a veteran free agent sometime before Pitchers & Catchers report.  Now, the question here is:  will they go after a Wade Miley type?  I.e. a supposedly-solid veteran who has his rotation spot all but guaranteed?  Or, will it be more of a Jeremy Bonderman type who comes in under a minor league deal, with a shot at the big league camp in Spring Training, but who likely starts his season in Tacoma before proving he’s worthy of a real opportunity in Seattle?  Regardless, when you throw that person (or persons) into the mix, alongside Nate Karns (if he manages to return from injury), along with whoever from the minors decides to make a big splash, I could see a real dogfight for these last two spots.

As I said, Walker probably has the edge, but if we bring in a bona fide veteran (which is the way I’m leaning, if I had to make a prediction), that means it’ll be Walker vs. Miranda for that final spot.  Both have options left, so either one could start his year in Tacoma.  But, Walker has better stuff and higher upside.  So, if Miranda is going to make a name for himself, he’s really going to have to step up his game.

I like Miranda’s fastball well enough.  It’s hard to tell if he got as far as he did this year because no one really knew him or faced him; I’d be curious to see how he does next year, when opposing batters have more of a book on him.  He’s also got a splitter that he tends to leave up in the zone, as well as a change up that looks like the same thing.  He’s got to get better at keeping those off-speed pitches down in the zone.  And, it would help if he developed a curve or a slider to keep lefties off-balance.

I won’t be totally pissed if Miranda has to start his year in Tacoma, because I know that sooner or later we’re going to need him.  I know I’ve said this repeatedly in the past about Roenis Elias, but it’ll be nice to have Miranda as starting insurance, because it’s nearly impossible for a rotation to stay fully intact with the same five guys for a full season.  If Miranda works on his craft and stays healthy, he might be one of the better 6th starters in the league!

Always A Prospect, Never A Bride: The Ongoing Saga of Paxton & Walker

When the season started, it was Felix, Iwakuma, Miley, Walker, and Karns, with James Paxton relegated to Tacoma to work on his fastball, work on his command, and work on his fastball command.  As the rotation started to be hacked to bits with injuries, Paxton was thankfully the first one called up.  On June 1st, he made his 2016 debut with the Mariners; it was far from ideal.

But, he was throwing regularly in the high 90s, sometimes touching triple digits, and you could see his two months in Tacoma made a world of difference.

And, aside from a quick trip to the DL in mid-August – thanks to a line drive off his throwing arm in the 9th inning of a game he was dominating – Paxton proved to be remarkably healthy (also, I guess, aside from some fingernail issues he was having late in the season that cut some starts short).

What we never really got out of Paxton, though, was any sort of consistency.  Good start, good start; bad start, bad start; good, bad, good, bad, and so on.  I suppose your take-away from Paxton’s 2016 season depends on your expectations.  At a baseline level, my hopes were that he’d just stay healthy, and avoid any prolonged stints on the DL.  In that sense, he mostly succeeded.  He does have that improved fastball, and his breaking ball looked much better than in years past.  He’s getting sort of a Mr. Snappy thing going against right handers that can be overpowering at times.  But, he also gets dinked and dunked to death, and when things start going downhill in a start, they snowball until he’s left you with no chance of winning.

James Paxton is, of course, an unfinished product.  It’s too bad we’ll never know how his season would’ve finished had he not taken that line drive off his throwing arm on August 7th.  That one had all the makings of a complete game, which would’ve come directly on the heels of an 8-inning, 4-hit, 1-run performance against the Red Sox (that we would go on to blow in the 9th).  With those back-to-back starts (and 3 of 4 if you go back a little further, to his 7-inning, 1-run win in Toronto), it looked like it was FINALLY starting to click for him.  Now, whether or not that was just a random quality stretch, we’ll never know.  But, obviously, when he returned from the DL, he had three consecutive starts of 5 innings or less, as he worked his way back from injury.  It wasn’t until his September 11th start where we saw the Good Paxton again, which he carried through to the end of the year (with an enticing potential start in the Wild Card game that was not to be).

I actually have a lot of high hopes for Paxton going into 2017, which is probably a mistake.  But, God damn, I mean, it’s all there!  He HAS the stuff!  He has ACE stuff!  He can BE that #2 starter I was talking about in my Iwakuma post.  If he can put it together for a full season, hell, he could be our #1 starter in all but name only come 2018!  All Star Game appearances, Cy Young Awards, the sky is the limit for Paxton.

But, haven’t we been saying this more or less since 2013?  Usually, it’s injuries that prevent him from reaching his full potential – and believe me, we’re not out of those woods by any stretch of the imagination either – but even when he’s healthy, he has a tendency to get knocked around.

What he’s done that’s encouraging – as long as it continues – is he’s reduced his walks and increased his strikeouts. Before this year, he averaged 3.5 walks per 9 innings; in 2016 he averaged 1.8.  Before this year, he averaged 7.4 strikeouts per 9 innings; in 2016 he averaged 8.7.  Before this year, he had a 2.09 strikeout to walk ratio; in 2016 he bumped that up to 4.88.  These are all very positive trends.  He’s got a better handle of the strikezone.  Fewer free passes should, over time, equate to better overall performances.  But, there’s also a bit of a downside to that:  before this year, he gave up an average of 7.7 hits per 9 innings; in 2016, he gave up 10.0.  Which means his WHIP actually went UP this year, compared to his combined 2013-2015.

Part of that is just dumb luck.  Before this year, his babip-against was .271; in 2016 it skyrocketed to .347.  That’s what I mean when I say he was dinked and dunked to death; balls that formerly found gloves this year found holes.  As such, that inflated his batting average against (.229 before, .279 this year) and his OPS against (.641 before, .717 this year).  But, there was also an uptick in his slugging against (.340 before, .406 this year).  That goes back to being in the strike zone more; maybe he was a little TOO in the strike zone, if you catch my drift.

Also, not for nothing, and I don’t really know how to place this, but in his combined 30 starts from 2013-2015, the team committed 10 errors behind him; in 2016, in 20 starts, the team committed 9.  Part of that is his defense not exactly helping him, but part of that is also his pitches being more hittable, and being put in play more often.  So, I dunno, maybe it’s a wash.

All in all, I’m going to say that 2016 was a net-positive for Paxton, but there are still enough concerns that he won’t put it all together in 2017.  Or EVER, for that matter.  He’ll need to continue to work on his fastball command and maybe miss a few more bats per game to get his numbers down enough to be a real force in this league.

***

As for Taijuan Walker, the hype behind him going into this year couldn’t have been higher.  National pundits were ALL OVER Walker this year as a player to watch.  As a guy ready to take the next step into superstardom.  It obviously didn’t go according to plan.

For the month of April, he was right on track.  But, then injuries started to creep into the equation.  Neck spasms in early May, and an ongoing foot injury through the summer.  In mid-June, a start was cut short.  Then again on July 5th.  We shut him down for a spell, then put him on the DL after his comeback when he still wasn’t fully right.  Walker returned in early August, had one bad start, then was sent down to Tacoma.  Partly to work back into rotation shape, but partly because the team felt he needed an attitude adjustment.  Walker returned in late August for the stretch run, had one amazing start on September 13th (complete game shutout, 3-hitter, no walks, 11 strikeouts), but other than that wasn’t really much to write home about.

Now, Walker is considering having offseason surgery.  If it’ll fix his foot, I hope he does it.  I know there’s probably a risk of the surgery going bad, or him still having problems post-op, so I’ll defer to his doctors on that.  But, I’ll just say that Walker’s 2016 left me MUCH less hopeful of him taking his game to the next level.

Like Paxton, Walker first came up to the Majors in 2013.  Like Paxton, Walker has had his share of injuries.  Unlike Paxton, Walker made it through 2015 mostly unscathed, which is the reason why everyone had such high hopes for his 2016.  Once a guy gets a full season under his belt, the next step is an improvement in performance.  But, it really wasn’t to be.  Aside from a few remarkable starts, it was the same ol’ Walker.

Remember all those averages I pulled for Paxton, showing his numbers from before compared to this year?  Well, for Walker, all those numbers are essentially the same.  In fact, Walker’s babip against went DOWN (.269 in 2016 compared to .288 before).  While his batting average and on-base percentages were all the same, there was a big uptick in slugging percentage (.462 in 2016 compared to .391 before).  Plain and simple, Walker got rocked in 2016, more than he’s ever been rocked before.  His fastball velocity fluctuated like a mad dog, his command of the changeup came and went, and as a result, you never knew what you were going to get out of him from start to start.

It’s part of the reason why the team sent him down to Tacoma to work on things.  Hell, the strategy worked for Paxton to start the season!  If the team wasn’t so absolutely desperate for starting pitching in the stretch run, they would’ve been wise to keep him in Tacoma longer.  As it stands, you have to wonder if he’ll win a spot in the Major League rotation in 2017.

I’ll get more into this in my Ariel Miranda post, but I think the final rotation spot is going to come down to Miranda and Walker (and, sure, Karns and some others, but most realistically it’ll be Miranda and Walker).  There’s no doubt in my mind one of the top priorities for the Mariners this offseason will be to pick up another veteran starter, either via free agency or trade, to mix in there with Felix, Iwakuma, and Paxton.  That leaves one opening for multiple pitchers, and I don’t think it would be the worst idea for Walker to get a little more work in Tacoma.  Just to make sure his mechanics are in order, so when he comes back to Seattle (for the games that REALLY matter), we’ll have a better idea of which Taijuan Walker we’ll be seeing from start to start.

Paxton and Walker seem to be joined at the hip in their journey with the Seattle Mariners.  Always on the cusp of making it big, but always falling short for one reason or another.  The team almost certainly hasn’t given up on either of these guys, but one thing to keep in mind as the offseason progresses:  don’t be shocked if one or both of these guys are traded away.  Truth be told, their potential would make such a scenario as heartbreaking as can be.  But, I’m beginning to have my doubts that they’ll ever REACH that potential.  And, we might be better off getting rid of them when their value is at its highest (although, to be fair, Walker’s value was probably at its highest at this point last year).

The Interesting Case of Hisashi Iwakuma’s 2016 Season

Going into the season, if you asked me who would be the one Mariners starting pitcher to avoid the DL entirely, I most certainly would’ve pegged Iwakuma dead last in my rankings.  Considering I wasn’t too high on the prospects of Wade Miley at the time, my money probably would’ve been on him to stay healthy all year, but that’s neither here nor there.  Iwakuma seemingly did the impossible; he made over 30 starts for the first time since 2013.  That year, you may recall, Iwakuma was worth over 7 WAR, finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting, and made his only All Star appearance.  He was the legitimate #2 starter we’ve always been lacking (except for a brief, glorious run with Cliff Lee way back when).

Unfortunately, his 2013 season is also the year everyone points to as his ceiling.  Face it:  we’re never seeing those days out of him again.  We’re never seeing anything CLOSE to those days out of him again!

He was as healthy as he’s ever been in 2016, making 33 starts – just as he did in 2013 – but he was far from the godsend everyone has made him out to be.  For starters, in 33 games, he couldn’t even crack 200 innings, finishing stuck on 199.  That’s an average of 6 innings per start, which sounds all right, but you have to remember that’s an average.  Five of his starts were less than 5 innings, including two of the last three (when wins were at a premium); those counter-balance his five starts where he was truly dominant (7 innings or more, 2 runs or less).  The rest of his starts, as I’ve written before, were just sort of meh.  In that 6-inning range, anywhere from 2-4 runs given up.

I’m not saying Iwakuma’s bad!  I’m just saying that maybe people give him more credit than he deserves.  He’s not a #2 pitcher, but he’s treated like one, and it’s a mistake.  If I’m going into a 5-game series in the playoffs, I sure as shit don’t want to see Iwakuma going twice!  Once would be enough; Iwakuma is a fine #3 starter.  He’ll keep you in games more often than not, but for every game he’s dominant, there’s an equal number of games where he’s terrible.  I don’t like those odds if I have to see him twice in a 5-game series, but I’ll accept them if I only have to see him once.

The shitty part of it is that no one has really stepped up to take hold of that #2 starter job.  Really, it should’ve been Taijuan Walker’s to win, but his leg injury and an alleged lack of maturity prevented him from taking that next step everyone pegged him for going into the season.  It might be Paxton’s spot going into 2017, but he’s got his own health issues to deal with.

So, unfortunately, it looks like it’ll be Iwakuma once again.  He reached the threshold to have next year’s salary guaranteed at $14 million.  And, given the structure of his contract, all he needs to do is throw 125 innings in 2017 to make his 2018 contract guaranteed at $15 million.  He already earned all of his 2016 incentives (there don’t appear to be any built into the next two years), so his salary this year inflated to $13.5 million, bringing his likely 3-year total to $42.5 million, or just $2.5 million less than what the Dodgers were going to pay him before they failed him at his physical.  So, you know, not quite the bargain we were expecting.

Iwakuma could spend two full months on the DL next year (like he did in 2015) and still vest his 2018 contract at $15 million.  Think about THAT for a likely future pitfall.

It’s hard to get a handle on a Best Case Scenario for Iwakuma next year, because I’m pretty sure 2016 is it!  Keeping him healthy for a full year, with an ERA and a FIP over 4.  It’s either that, or a healthy Iwakuma for half a season and he somehow reverts back to his 2014-2015 form of an ERA and a FIP right around 3.50.  We can only work with that scenario if we have a viable 6th starter somewhere in our organization, which you have to figure is pretty likely (my guess is the team will go hunting for one this offseason, but I’ll get more into that another time).

Getting a fully healthy Iwakuma next year is probably our Worst Case Scenario, if you think about it.  I just don’t think he has the stamina to produce a full season’s worth of quality starts.  2013 Kuma isn’t walking through that door anytime soon!  BUT, he might be able to give us a half season’s worth!  Like, say, he gets injured in Spring Training, or sometime in April, misses three months, returns in July/August, builds up his arm and his timing, then puts in a dominant stretch run in September just as this team is playing for a playoff spot.  THAT, right there, is your Best Case Scenario.

Plus, let’s face it, any scenario where his 2018 salary doesn’t vest is probably the one you want to root for.  He’ll be 37 years old at the start of 2018; is that the age of the presumptive #2 starter you want to see in your Mariners rotation?  I know it’s not what I want.

The bottom line is, someone has to step up and overtake Iwakuma.  Or, the GM has to bring in someone to do so.  Maybe going into the season, more likely someone at the trade deadline.  But, if this team has visions of going to the playoffs in 2017, it has to find a better #2 than Hisashi Iwakuma.

A Little Something On The Mariners (because I refuse to write about ANOTHER FUCKING LOSS to the Rams)

Well, the writing was on the wall coming into this weekend.  The Mariners were riding high on an 8-game winning streak, they’d achieved the height of their 2016 success – 10 games over .500 – for a third time, and like the two times before, they’d fail to get to 11 games over .500.

Frankly, I was expecting the Astros to sweep us.  So, to wake up from my rage blackout Sunday afternoon and find the Mariners had actually taken one back from those Houston turds was as welcome a surprise as I ever could’ve imagined.

Friday was the infamous dud of a Felix start, where the offense also failed to show up, resulting in a 6-0 shutout.  Saturday’s game was somehow even more infuriating, considering Paxton was perfect through 5 innings, then gave up two runs in the 6th, which turned out to be the deciding two runs in a 2-1 defeat.  Friday was what it was, but this thing turned bad on Saturday when the offense failed to show up for a second consecutive day.  In a way, Friday’s lack of offensive oomph made sense, since Collin McHugh has made us his bitch since he entered the league; but Saturday?  Against Mike Fiers?  Who has been average at best this season?  Going 6 shutout innings?  Have I asked enough questions to show how incredulous all of this makes me?

With those two games out of the way, it all hinged on Sunday afternoon’s game, featuring Ariel Miranda against Doug Fister.  You may recall we’ve lost the last two times we’ve faced Fister, as he had done just enough to keep them in the game while their otherworldly offense took care of the rest.  Miranda has been on a nice little run this month, but is still shaky, is still young, and is still prone to getting knocked around, particularly the third time through the lineup.

Which is what made his performance yesterday so impressive.  7 innings of 2-run ball with 8 strikeouts!  When you compare his numbers with us to what Wade Miley has done since going over to Baltimore, this trade looks like the steal of the century (at least in the early going).

On top of Miranda’s solid outing, the offense finally got its shit together, knocking Fister out in the 4th inning.  All told, it added up to a 7-3 victory, with the Mariners salvaging a 1-game lead over the Astros in the Wild Card hunt.

Probably the best thing to come out of this weekend is that the rest of the wild card contenders also have been struggling.  So, really, we somehow didn’t lose all that much ground (if any).  Right now, the Orioles have the first spot (thankfully, the Red Sox are starting to pull away, which is what needs to happen for us to have a shot), and the Blue Jays have the second spot.  The Blue Jays, not for nothing, come to town for a 3-game series starting tonight.  We are tied with the Tigers, two games behind the Blue Jays.  We can essentially write our own ticket (or, if you like, control our own destiny) by sweeping them out of the playoffs.  We can also greatly improve our chances if we simply win the series the old fashioned way; a 2-1 win will still pull us to within a game of the last wild card spot with a little over a week to go.

Losing this series absolutely can’t happen.  Getting swept is assured destruction.  So, of course, it figures we have to face J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez in this series, two guys absolutely fucking killing it this season.  Hope the bats stay out of hibernation this week, because we’re going to need ’em!

Injuries Are Killing The Mariners This Year

I know nobody wants to hear it.  Teams are snakebitten every year; all teams have to deal with injuries at one point or another.  But, it’s also no secret that the teams you chronically see going on deep playoff runs tend to be the teams that are predominantly healthy.  Unsustainably healthy.  You won’t see this type of freaky health from year to year, but if you can get lucky in one season, you can go a long way with your primary guys avoiding stints on the DL.

The Mariners have been spectacularly unlucky in 2016.  There hasn’t been a single day this year where some key piece hasn’t been missing.  This team has never been complete!  And, it seems like just as soon as one guy gets healthy, another guy goes down.

Look at this timeline of guys hitting the DL:

  • 4/3 – Furbush & Scribner (key bullpen pieces)
  • 4/25 – Benoit (had he been healthy all year, a guy you could expect would have been a lockdown 8th inning guy)
  • 5/3 – Zych (was dominating through the first month, has missed most of the season)
  • 5/22 – Marte (just when he was starting to assert himself as one of the better short stops in the American League)
  • 5/27 – Martin (Mariners have no competent backup defensive centerfielder on their roster; defense suffered accordingly while he was out.  He was also on a hot stretch offensively when he went down)
  • 6/1 – King Felix (I don’t need to tell you how huge this was)
  • 6/17 – Miley (he wasn’t good, but it further depleted a shaky starting rotation)
  • 6/24 – Sampson (he only made one start, but we never got to know his potential)
  • 6/29 – Vincent (further depleting our bullpen at the worst possible time)
  • 6/30 – Clevenger (was set for increased playing time, but ultimately worked out with Zunino’s return)
  • 7/6 – Walker (was supposed to be his breakout year, but the nagging foot issue inhibited his growth)
  • 7/23 – Marte again (mono, really)
  • 7/30 – Karns (never really popped this year, but again, lack of depth for our pitching staff)
  • 8/4 – Cishek (his injury might have been a key part of him blowing those saves and losing his closer’s job)
  • 8/16 – Paxton (just when he was starting to dominate the league)
  • 8/22 – Storen (just as the bullpen was starting to gel into a dominant unit)

And that doesn’t even factor in Kyle Seager, who’s missing games this week, as well as Cano and Cruz at times this year missing games due to minor injuries.  Suffice it to say, I’ve seen O’Malley and Freeman start more games than I care to see.

If the Mariners could just get their best 25 guys to stay healthy for any extended period of time, you’d be looking at a no-doubt playoff team!  Probably one giving the Rangers a serious run for their money!  As it is, it’s a miracle the Mariners have held in there as long as they have.