I feel like the narrative for the 2016 Mariners is about to be established, and it’s totally fucking fraudulent.
At the end of May, the Mariners were in first place and headed into a key stretch of season. Then, Ketel Marte and Leonys Martin went down in the same week, and the Mariners totally bungled that key stretch of season. They both returned as soon as their 15-day DL stints were up, but that was just the beginning. In what has become a nightmare scenario, the Mariners have seen King Felix, Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker, Nick Vincent, Joaquin Benoit, Steve Clevenger, Tony Zych, and Adrian Sampson all hit the DL this year (on top of such “mainstays” as Charlie Furbush, Jesus Sucre, Ryan Cook, and Evan Scribner all starting the year on the DL). While losing these guys certainly hasn’t helped the cause of remaining in post-season contention, I feel like the argument is about to shift to where it’s the injuries themselves that are to blame for all of this, and by simply getting guys back, the Mariners will return to their April & May glories.
When, the reality is, I was writing about this team needing help before most these injuries even started! Now, I’ll certainly take the blame for putting the whammy on this team when I wrote about how healthy they’d been to date, but it’s pretty quaint to look back on that post now. THESE Mariners look like they need help just about everywhere, wheras THOSE Mariners weren’t too far off.
I’ll give you this: getting Felix Hernandez back will – hopefully – be a big boost to this rotation. It’s tough to say how much this calf injury is going to affect him the rest of the year – we know he’s a gamer, and will play through a lot of pain to be the leader this team needs, but will that make him a less effective pitcher overall? Regardless, King Felix at 75% is still better than Wade Miley, Wade LeBlanc, Mike Montgomery, and Taijuan Walker at 50%; indeed, King Felix at 75% is probably better than everyone on this roster (save Iwakuma when he’s on a hot streak).
I still think this team needs another bigtime starting pitcher, but given how the last six weeks have gone, I’m less high on acquiring a 2-month rental than I was in mid-May. I just don’t think it’s reasonable to expect this team to blow the farm on 2016 alone, when so much of this team (especially in the pitching department) is falling apart and needs an upgrade.
With Felix back, your five best starting pitchers are:
Walker will jump up to the 3-4 range once his foot injury heals, thankfully pushing LeBlanc out of here, but the fact remains that Karns and Miley are both ineffective and need to be removed (if not from the team entirely, then at least from the rotation – which has already happened to Karns). The timetable on Walker looks like at least another couple weeks, which puts us into August, but I still maintain that this team needs to get him all the way back to 100% before bringing him back, because his injury-shortened starts are killing this team.
As for the bullpen, I don’t know where the help is going to come from, to be honest. As a good start, it’d be nice to take away the closing role from Cishek. I thought this was a really well-reasoned argument to go to the Bullpen By Committee approach. That’s a tough thing, though, when I really only have confidence in one guy – Edwin Diaz, who has been un-fucking-believable – and even then, I have to see what happens when the league figures him out and he has to adjust. If anything, I think the Mariners need to be more like the Angels in their bullpen usage – just annoy the piss out of everyone by using multiple relievers per inning if you have to, playing the matchup game to the Nth degree.
But, let’s face it, who can trust this bullpen? Cishek and Benoit were supposed to bring veteran stability to this unit, but they’ve both been disasters at times. Nick Vincent was strong to start the year, but he’s injured (and before that, was starting to get hit pretty hard). Montgomery has been good, but he struggled in late-game, pressure situations (and he might also be MUCH better used in the starting rotation). Nuno has been good, but he’s more of a wild card than we’ve seen. The jury is still out on Karns (though, the team appears to be saving him for mop-up long relief). And, if Miley does get demoted to the bullpen, how exactly will that be a good thing (when the vast majority of his starts involve him getting shelled early, only to settle down for the last few innings)?
Beyond that, Zych appears to be a lost cause for 2016. Furbush is on the mend, but will he return to his 2015 form? Or, his pre-2015 form when he was spotty at best? Wilhelmsen is back, and looking like he’s being groomed for more high-leverage situations (even though he was a Hindenburg crossed with a Challenger-level disaster in Texas); can’t say I have much trust there. And, with all these veterans leaving a lot to be desired, why would I feel good having faith in the likes of Cook or Scribner, should they ever fully make it back from injury?
That just leaves the Tacoma guys: Roach, Aro, Martin, Guaipe, and Rollins, none of whom have been able to consistently throw strikes or generally do their fucking jobs at the Big League level.
So, you can go ahead and make Diaz the closer if you want, but that’s still only taking care of the 9th inning. What about the 8th, 7th, 6th, and 5th innings? You know, the ones our starters are too inept to get through.
Quite frankly, I LIKE how they’ve used Diaz so far. Diaz is by far the best reliever on this team right now, and he’s being used as such: in situations with runners on base, in close ballgames, when you absolutely, no questions asked, need a strikeout to get out of a huge mess. As has been noted by countless smarter baseball fans than myself, sometimes the most important inning of relief ISN’T the 9th inning. In fact, I’d say more often than not, that moment reveals itself to be earlier; but, baseball is so entrenched in this system of set up men & closers that it’s considered automatic when it really shouldn’t be. As such, THAT’S the most important reason why I think the Mariners should go with a bullpen by committee; not because I necessarily need to see Cishek pitch earlier, but because I don’t think he should be entrusted with getting the final three outs when he might only be qualified to get 1-2 of those outs.
Fuck. The. Save. Stat.
You want some help on the horizon? Get rid of established bullpen roles, bring in another starter for more than just the stretch run, demote the shit out of Miley & Karns, and let everything ride.
You know what you DON’T do? You don’t make “corner outfield” your top priority.
Here’s what I don’t understand: everyone under the sun praises Seth Smith for his quality, professional at bats. Yet, these same people keep telling anyone who’ll listen that this team needs to trade for a left fielder. WHY? I get it, you’d like to see improved outfield defense. So would I. But, you still need to start Smith against any right-handed starter, which puts him in your lineup 2/3 of the time. And, while his numbers aren’t necessarily eye-popping, I think you’re getting enough out of Guti in his platoon role to justify the roster spot.
Which, I guess, leaves right field, where we’ve seen more of Nelson Cruz than anyone could possibly like. But, it comes back to getting your best hitting lineup out there. And, more often than not, when a right handed pitcher is on the mound against us, that means getting both Lind and Dae-ho Lee in there. Lee has shown he deserves more regular at bats, even against righties, which means if you’re getting both Lee and Lind in there, one of them is going to have to DH. That pushes Cruz into the outfield, for obvious reasons, on the days you don’t sit one of Lind or Lee.
This team doesn’t need a starting corner outfielder (besides, getting one that’s good defensively AND one that has good on-base skills, is a fucking unicorn that most other teams aren’t willing to part with); it needs a better reserve outfielder. Nori Aoki has already been demoted to Tacoma, which was appropriate and the right start. At this point, if anything, you’d just want a reserve that’s better than him, or O’Malley, or the recently recalled Dan Robertson (who really hasn’t had a chance to play enough to show you he’s ready to stick or not).
For me, I’m not really sweating the outfield right now. The rest of this team’s hitting and defense is good enough to withstand the occasional Robertson start in the outfield, or the occasional outfield with both Smith and Cruz roaming the corners.
In TL;DR, while there IS help on the horizon, with injured guys getting healthy, I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be enough to turn around the fortunes for this star-crossed team. For this team to do what it truly NEEDS to do, it’s going to have to trade away the farm and it’s going to have to take on some significant payroll, neither of which I think this organization is prepared to do.