There’s not much going on this week, is there? The Husky basketball team has a major tournament in the Bahamas (and is playing Gonzaga for the first time since 2006); the Apple Cup lands on Black Friday once again; the Seahawks are playing for the opportunity to be over .500 for the first time in 2015; and, of course, there’s that major national holiday where we
celebrate how we screwed over all the Native Americans celebrate “giving thanks” or some bullshit like that.
Anyway, fuck all that, because I’m writing about the Mariners. We’ve seen a lot of change in a very short time, which got me to wondering how our team shapes up compared to last year’s disappointment. So, let’s go down the line, starting with the everyday nine:
Catcher: 2016 – Iannetta, 2015 – Zunino
First Base: 2016 – Trumbo, 2015 – Morrison
Second Base: Cano
Third Base: Seager
Short Stop: 2016 – Marte, 2015 – Miller / Taylor / Marte
Left Field: 2016 – Smith/Guti?, 2015 – Ackley
Center Field: 2016 – Martin, 2015 – Jackson
Right Field: 2016 – TBD / Trumbo / Cruz, 2015 – Smith, Cruz
Designated Hitter: 2016 – Cruz, 2015 – Cruz / Various
The only three “guaranteed” holdovers (I put that in quotes, because you never really know what a new GM will do in these first few months of total power, before it’s slowly stripped away from him by management as his mistakes pile up) figure to be Cano, Cruz, and Seager. Cruz figures to get the majority of his playing time at DH (God willing), but you can’t completely rule out him playing some right field. Nevertheless, this team is in desperate need of an everyday solution to our right field problem (or at least a rock-solid left-handed platoon option who isn’t named Boog Powell).
Iannetta looks to be a step up from Zunino. Trumbo figures to be a lateral move compared to LoMo (worse on defense, probably more consistent at the plate). A Seth Smith/Franklin Gutierrez platoon in left would be a HUGE upgrade over Ackley, should they both manage to stay healthy. Leonys Martin figures to be better defensively than A-Jax, as well as a better baserunner (how many times did we watch Jackson try to steal and get tagged out by a million miles?), but the jury is seriously out as to whether or not Martin can hit in Safeco. It looked like Jackson was starting to get the hang of it in 2015, but I feel like Martin brings more upside and is an all-around improvement at the position. Finally, we’ll see what we get out of a full season of Ketel Marte at short stop. He might be a step down initially, but hopefully he’ll blossom into a quality starter in time.
Now, onto the starting rotation, where things are still a little up in the air:
1. Felix Hernandez
2. 2016 – Iwakuma?, 2015 – Iwakuma
3. Taijuan Walker
4. 2016 – Karns, 2015 – Happ / Elias
5. 2016 – Paxton / Elias, 2015 – Paxton / Montgomery / Nuno
Felix and Taijuan are the primary holdovers; they’re not going anywhere, for obvious reasons. Hisashi Iwakuma turned down the Mariners’ qualifying offer of $15.8 million for next year in hopes of getting a longer-term deal. There’s still a very good chance he signs with the Mariners; the qualifying offer was more of a way to discourage any other teams from signing him (as they would lose their first unprotected draft pick). For what it’s worth, the GM sounds really eager to bring him back. I’m a little lukewarm on the deal, but I don’t see a whole lotta better options out there. Iwakuma has been good when healthy, but he’s prone to give up the long ball. Beyond that, his most consistent attribute is getting himself injured and missing large chunks of season. Honestly, I don’t think I want him on anything more than a 2-year deal, maybe with an option for a third year if he reaches certain Staying-Off-Of-The-DL benchmarks.
The back-end of the rotation looks like it’s going to be a zoo once again for the Mariners. Paxton is an obvious choice, but he’s even more injury prone than Iwakuma. Nathan Karns, our big return chip in the Brad Miller deal, looks to have a spot locked up; so if Iwakuma returns, that appears to be four spots on lockdown. Vying for that fifth spot will be a bevy of underwhelming candidates, including Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery, and Vidal Nuno (though I still think he’s better suited as a long relief man in the bullpen). Since Paxton is the likeliest candidate to win the spot out of Spring Training, it’s good to know we’ve got experienced options in Elias, Montgomery, and the like. I’m certain we’ll need them.
As for how the back-end will fare, it’s tough to say. My initial reaction is that they couldn’t be any worse than J.A. Happ, but I could be full of shit with that statement. I’ve never seen Karns pitch! I’ve seen the other guys, and they weren’t all that much better than Happ. So, who knows? Also, you gotta figure the team will go out and look for a cheap veteran to throw onto the pile. If said veteran does well in Spring Training, we could be looking at another underwhelming half-year of a guy who doesn’t belong in the league anymore.
Regarding the potential bullpen, I don’t REALLY even want to go there, but here’s what I’ve got at this early point in the offseason:
Closer: 2016 – Benoit, 2015 – Rodney
8th Inning: Carson Smith
7th Inning: 2016 – Zych?, 2015 – Wilhelmsen
Lefty #1: Charlie Furbush
Lefty #2: 2016 – Riefenhauser?, 2015 – Beimel
Long: 2016 – Nuno?, 2015 – Nuno
Misc Relief: 2016 – Bass?, 2015 – Farquhar, Lowe, Others
Joaquin Benoit doesn’t have a ton of experience closing, but he does have a ton of experience being a boss reliever. One would think his bossness would translate quite well from the 8th to the 9th inning. Besides, Carson Smith is still young, and was getting kind of abused in the closer’s role last year (mostly by lefties); his natural spot in the bullpen should be the primary set-up man, facing mostly right-handed hitters. Beyond those two guys, and Charlie Furbush (assuming he gets healthy in time), the rest of the bullpen is a total crapshoot. Tony Zych looked pretty solid in his September call-up, so I’m sure he’ll get a shot at winning a spot. We just traded for C.J. Riefenhauser, so I’m sure he’ll get every opportunity to win that second lefty spot (but, if he fails, we’ve got about four more on the 40-man roster who could supplant him). I want to make Vidal Nuno a lock for the long relief/spot starter role, but you never know. And, for that 7th bullpen spot (should we keep 7 guys in the bullpen), I have no fucking idea. The guy who gets that spot probably isn’t even on this team right now. I just put Bass up there because he was acquired in a recent trade, so I’m sure he’s going to get every chance to wow the team in Spring.
The bench is even more pointless to try to predict right now, but I’ll give it a whirl. Figure our starting 9 (including “TBD” in right field; and for the purposes of this exercise, making Seth Smith the “starting” left fielder), plus 5 starting pitchers, plus 7 relievers, that leaves 4 bench spots:
Catcher: 2016 – Zunino, 2015 – Sucre
Corner Outfield: Franklin Gutierrez
Infielder: 2016 – Luis Sardinas?, 2015 – Bloomquist/Taylor
Outfield: 2016 – Powell/O’Malley?, 2015 – Weeks/Ruggiano/Others
Right off the bat, Zunino is a huge upgrade over Sucre. Guti’s taking up a spot on the roster, which necessitates a fifth outfielder to cover us in the likely event that Guti needs some extra days of rest to deal with whatever is nagging at him. Boog Powell appears to be ready for a shot at the bigs. Shawn O’Malley had a cup of coffee in September and really impressed everyone with his hustle, so you gotta figure he has a shot if nothing else changes about the roster. Either one of those guys, you gotta figure, is better than Rickie Weeks, just defensively alone! Finally, we say goodbye to Willie Bloomquist (hopefully for the last time), and we say hello to Luis Sardinas, who the Mariners just acquired from Milwaukee for a minor leaguer. Sardinas has experience at all the infield positions, he’s played sparingly in the Majors the last two years, and he’s VERY young (will turn 23 years old next May). He’s going to have to prove he can hit at least a little bit at the Big League level, because he’s got Chris Taylor who can also play all the infield spots, and has a similar amount of experience (but an additional two years of age).
Pointless exercise, or a fun way to waste time? You decide! Or don’t, I don’t care. Tomorrow’s Turkey Day!