The Mariners Have Their 60-Man Roster

It’s cool to be talking about baseball again. This time next month, we’ll be knee-deep in our delusion that “anything can happen in a 60-game season” and that “crazier things have happened”, so without further ado, why not get things kickstarted? Get ahead of this early, before key guys start succumbing to random injuries and we have to be reminded that – oh yeah – these are still the Mariners.

With all of the focus on the M’s replenishing their farm system’s starting pitching corps through the draft in the last few years, it’s easy to forget that there are some young, semi-interesting arms at the Major League level right now! Word on the street is, the Mariners will be going with a 6-man rotation in the early going. And I find all of these guys pretty compelling, for what they are, even if I have my doubts that few of them will still be around on the next hypothetical great Mariners team.

Marco Gonzales returns as your de facto Ace. Look, I’m on the record with my opinion about Marco: he’s fine. He’s nobody’s ace, but he’s likable, he works hard, he’s the kind of quality leader this team DESPERATELY needs right now (given most of our best veterans of recent years are on other teams now), and he has a drive to continue striving for greatness. You could make the argument that the best is yet to come and part of me believes that, because with experience he’s going to continue to get smarter and learn new tricks of the trade to get guys out. But, his stuff is what it is. He’s got a low-90’s fastball with an improving change up. He’s more pitch-to-contact than he is a bat-misser; more Jamie Moyer than Randy Johnson, in other words. That has value! Don’t get me wrong, but it also comes with a ceiling that’s not very exciting. Steadiness isn’t exciting. Reliability and dependability aren’t sexy. But, they’re important. Even as they fly under the radar, these qualities bring warm comfort to fans who know what they’re getting out of someone like Marco Gonzales every 5-6 days. They might not win you any championships, but they’ll keep you in the discussion.

It’s going to be a big year for Yusei Kikuchi. He got his feet wet last year as a 28 year old rookie from Japan and had the growing pains you might’ve expected. With the proper adjustments in place, we’re going to see if he can make it work as a Major Leaguer. This will, by no means, make or break his career with the Mariners, but it would be a nice stepping stone towards his all-important 2021 season. That will REALLY determine if he’s going to be here long term (as, following that, the M’s will have the option to extend him to a team-friendly deal for the next four years). Ideally, he’ll get a jumpstart on that by really putting together a solid two months of play.

Next up, we’ve got a couple of reclamation projects in Taijuan Walker and Kendall Graveman. Walker is only 27 years old, but somehow feels like an aging veteran! He’s on a $2 million deal to see if he can rebuild his value after two EXTREMELY injury-plagued seasons. It sounds like he’s still got a mid-90’s fastball, which always plays; at this point it’s just a matter of staying healthy. Graveman, similarly, is on a cheap deal in 2020; he’s also coming off of two EXTREMELY injury-plagued seasons of his own. He’s more of an off-speed specialist than Walker, but he nevertheless has a lot going for him IF he can stay healthy. You’d probably expect the Mariners to run a 6-man starting rotation regardless, considering how weird this year has been so far, but employing both Walker and Graveman further necessitates this cautious approach. Even if it’s foolish to expect both of them to make it the entire two months, the hope is that they can at least make it a few weeks, to give the rest of the rotation some time to stretch out their arms.

Another reason to be thankful for the super-sized rotation is the uncertainty around two of our more mature young prospects: Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn. Sheffield was the cornerstone of the James Paxton deal with the Yankees and as soon as we got him it was like the value of a new car the minute you drive it off the lot. Such is the blessing and the curse of being a Yankees prospect: everyone overrates you … until the Yankees no longer want you, then you’re automatically damaged goods. On paper, Sheffield has the stuff that Aces are made of, but as someone who’s had issues with command as he’s raised through the minor leagues, people have started to question if he has that consistency you’re looking for. Considering he’s done everything you can ask of someone in the minors – on top of his 8 appearances in Seattle towards the end of last season – this was always going to be the first real look we had at Sheffield as a rotation piece. If anything, he might actually benefit from the season being shortened to two months, since there’s really very little pressure on his shoulders. The downside, of course, is that if he struggles, there’s less of an opportunity to turn around a slow start. Whereas, in a full season, if he’s bad in the first half (but turns it around in the second half), then at least you can make an argument there’s momentum as he heads into 2021. Let’s just cross our fingers and hope he kills it out of the gate; then he can start next year with his head held high.

As for Justin Dunn, he came over in the Cano/Diaz deal with the Mets. He often gets overshadowed by Jarred Kelenic (who looks to be a future superstar), but Dunn in his own right – if he pans out as a quality starter – could make that trade look even MORE lopsided in the Mariners’ favor than it already appears to be. We took it very cautious with him in his cup of coffee last year, employing him as one of those insufferable “openers” where he’d start the game, pitch an inning or two, and hand the ball off to the real starter of that particular game. That’s probably wise, since he has less minor league experience to speak of than Sheffield (particularly when you factor in he skipped the AAA level to get here). I’m going to be VERY curious to see what he does with a rotation slot this season, as his rapid ascent seems to have him on track as having an even higher ceiling than Sheffield! At this point, if one of these two guys pans out, that’s probably a huge victory for this organization. If both of them pitch well, then the sky just might be the limit.

As usual, I’m going to skip chatter about the bullpen, because I know not who these guys are (for the most part). Like last year, the bullpen figures to be the severe weak point of the Mariners, so don’t be shocked if you see more than your fair share of blown saves once again.

Let’s move on to the starting lineup. I’ll try to guess what that’s going to be, 1-9:

  1. Mallex Smith – CF
  2. Evan White – 1B
  3. Kyle Lewis – RF
  4. Kyle Seager – 3B
  5. Tom Murphy – C
  6. Dan Vogelbach – DH
  7. J.P. Crawford – SS
  8. Dee Gordon – 2B
  9. Jake Fraley/Braden Bishop – LF

I don’t have very strong convictions about this order, to be honest. Evan White feels like a 2-hole hitter. Kyle Lewis REALLY exploded in his September call-up last year. Seager and Murphy are your veteran middle-of-the-order guys for now. Vogey gets one more shot to lock down that DH spot and see if he has what it takes to hit consistently at the Major League level. The rest of these guys – Smith, Crawford, Gordon, Fraley, Bishop – I could see hitting anywhere in the bottom third or leadoff spot, depending on who’s hot and who’s pitching for the opposing team on any particular day. You also gotta figure Austin Nola will get plenty of play, both as our backup catcher, and as a utility player; he proved last year that his bat was too important to sit on a regular basis. Also, you figure Shed Long will see the field quite a bit as a Super Sub, all around the infield and corner outfield spots. With this year almost certainly being Gordon’s last in a Mariners uniform, if Long hits as we hope he does, he could take over the starting second baseman job come September (ideally, Gordon will start the year on fire and be traded by the end of August to a team who needs a quality leadoff hitter type).

The non-pitchers on the Mariners will be fun to watch, but they’re also going to be PAINFUL to endure. The combination of youth and lack of consistency will make for some exciting games where you’ll want to believe this team has what it takes, but then you’ll be smacked back down to Earth when you see this team get shut out on the regular. I would expect to see quite a bit of games where we’re being no-hit for an uncomfortable number of innings (and, I predict at least one time where we DO either get no-hit, or lord help us, have a perfect game put up on us).

I don’t have a lot to say about the prospects who figure to reside exclusively on the Taxi Squad, other than a pretty significant portion are there for development purposes only, and won’t play for the Mariners in 2020. As expected. Nevertheless, there are some in-betweeners who aren’t on the official 40-man roster, but who could see their numbers called if things shake out a certain way. So, I’ll talk about them as they come up. Rest assured, things never go according to plan in baseball. More than a few of the guys I’ve talked about above will fail to pan out for one reason or another. We just have to hope that SO MANY things don’t go wrong, to the point where we have to call up certain prospects a year or two before they’re ready (and before we’re ready to start counting their service time years).

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mitch Haniger, who will start the year on the 45-day Injured List. Of course, as soon as I buy the guy’s jersey, he immediately falls apart; but of course that’s monstrous for me to say, because we’re talking about the man’s livelihood here! He’s had a lot of freaky health problems over the last calendar year, with multiple surgeries to rectify whatever core issues he’s got going on. The hope is we’ll see him at some point in September. Unless, of course, he keeps trying to push himself too hard and suffers further injuries. I’d suggest for him to just take it easy and come back healthier in 2021, but at this point I don’t think he can afford to! His final two Arbitration years are 2021 & 2022; the Mariners need to know what they’ve got in this guy. Whether he’s our Right Fielder of the Future, or whether he’s trade bait to make him someone else’s injury risk. Because, not for nothing, but his replacements are coming. We have Kyle Lewis on the roster right now, with two VERY highly-rated prospects set to join the Mariners as early as next year (probably around mid-season). If Haniger is going to stave off his competition, he needs to put together at least a few weeks of competent play towards the end of this season, if nothing else to boost his confidence heading into an all-important 2021 campaign!

Baseball’s Back! Until It’s Not Again

So, here’s all the facts that I know right now. Spring Training re-starts on July 1st. The Mariners will train in Seattle at Safeco Field (with Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium and Everett’s … Funko Field (tf?) housing some of the minor league training that will go on.

The regular season will start on either Thursday, July 23rd, or Friday, July 24th. It will be 60 games long. Those games – for the Mariners – will consist of opponents in the A.L. West and N.L. West only (40 games against our A.L. rivals, 20 against the N.L.). And the regular season will conclude on Sunday, September 27th.

Fun fact: the 60-game schedule will be the fewest played by Major League Baseball since the 1878 season! That was also a 60-gamer, when the league consisted of a grand total of six teams. The Boston Red Caps (who would go on to be the Boston Braves, who would go on to be the Atlanta Braves) went 41-19 that year. The More You Know …

It’s already being reported that “more than one player” in the Mariners’ organization has tested positive for COVID-19, so that’s fun. I guess it’s better to get it out of the way early? Not that I’m advocating for COVID Parties or anything, but why not knock this out like the Chicken Pox and field a fully healthy team for the couple months we’ll be on the field?!

I’m, like, 50% kidding.

For Spring Training, the Mariners will have their 40-man roster, along with an additional 20 players from the minors. Then, in the regular season, we’ll see a 30-man Major League roster for the first two weeks, then a 28-man roster for the next two weeks, until finally settling on a 26-man roster for the duration. Because, OF FUCKING COURSE, MLB has to cheap out every step of the way. We couldn’t POSSIBLY have four extra players earning a Major League salary for a whopping SIXTY GAMES! Perish the thought! Somebody hand me my fancy hand fan and point me to the nearest fainting couch, for I’ve come down with a case of the vapors something fierce!

The most interesting part of the whole deal is this Taxi Squad I keep hearing about. Since there won’t be a minor league season, we won’t have the usual pool of replacement players to pull from when our Major League players come down with injuries or a nasty case of Ineffectiveness. So, of the 60 total players I mentioned above that are invited to Spring Training, whoever’s not on the active roster will be part of this Taxi Squad. For the Mariners, these players will be stationed in Tacoma – presumably working out on the regular, maybe playing some pick-up type games to stay sharp – and can be called up as you would in any other season.

That, of course, comes with the usual bullshit where if you call someone up, you have to put them on your 40-man roster (if they’re not on there already). Since the Mariners are planning on putting many of their highest-rated prospects on this Taxi Squad – to give them SOME development in this otherwise lost year – that means there’s potential to “start the clock” as it were on guys who might not have been called up to the bigs until 2021 at the earliest. Losing a year of team control for this slapped-together 60-game Asterisk Season feels like a crime against humanity, but it would also be so perfectly Mariners that I’m not even mad.

Of course, Jerry Dipoto is already slapping down the notion that guys like Jarred Kelenic or Julio Rodriguez will actually play for Seattle this year – which you have to say, because to do so would be to RUSH them to the Majors when they’re almost certainly not ready! – but what happens if half the team comes down with COVID-19? What happens if the Mariners truly stink (as we all expect them to do) and they get a wild hair up their asses about taking a look at the future of the organization?

Also, not for nothing, but would giving Kelenic, Rodriguez, and the like some experience in 2020 be the worst thing in the world? Why NOT jumpstart their careers in a season we’d just as soon forget? Especially when we’re looking at 2021 and a BRUTAL fight over a new CBA! I mean, if you thought all the public bickering back-and-forth to get to this 60-game season was bad, just wait until the future of Major League Baseball is on the line! If you thought the players and the owners dug their heels in too much for some bullshit, just you WAIT when billions upon billions of dollars are on the line! I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if the entire 2021 season gets canceled due to players holding out or owners locking them out (you can’t fire me, I quit!).

Other pointless restrictions to roster construction for 2020 include the fact that you can’t just move players on and off of the Taxi Squad. If someone gets injured on the T.S. (fitting initials alert) and you need to replace him, you have to outright or release them, which subjects them to being claimed by other organizations. Also, if someone from the active roster is sent down, they can’t be recalled again until the usual 10 days (or is it 14? who can keep track?) have passed.

Fun new wrinkles include: the DH being played in all ballparks. This has apparently been where the game is heading (it’s expected to be ratified in the next CBA, whenever that’s taken care of) and I am ALL FOR IT! It’s about damn time! I’ve talked about how dumb it is for pitchers to have to bat (because they suck at it and refuse to practice at it, so it’s a worthless automatic out just about every time through the lineup), and I’m glad the sane world agrees with me.

Another one is: in tie games after nine innings, teams will start with a runner on second base, in an effort to end these games quicker. They’ve tinkered with this in the minor leagues in recent seasons, and it makes sense here, with the shortened season and awkward roster construction going on. Nevertheless, I’m a little concerned about this being a long-term change going forward. I don’t know HOW I know this, but I know that this rule change will screw over the Mariners somehow, some way, when it matters most. And when it does, BOY HOWDY will I bitch about it nonstop!

Okay, that’s all I got for now. I’m looking forward to writing about baseball for a while! But I’m also kind of dreading how this will make my life worse in unforeseen ways. Such is life, I suppose.

I Don’t See Why The Seahawks Should Break The Bank For Jamal Adams

This is what happens when there’s no baseball: I feel compelled to write about every nonsense rumor that pops up on the Internet. Get your shit together, MLB!

Jamal Adams is a really good Safety for the New York Jets. I mean, I guess. I’ll take your word for it. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him play, I don’t know if he’s a free safety or a strong safety (I’m, like, 85% positive he IS a safety, though), and even though I just looked at an article about him (with pictures) I don’t even think I could tell you the number he wears!

I would venture to say – based on what everyone is saying about him, and the fact that he’s holding out for more money/demanding a trade to get that money – that he’s one of the best safeties in football. So, yeah, in that sense, WHY NOT?! I’m a Seahawks fan, why wouldn’t I want all the best players to be on my team?

Well, because in the NFL, you don’t have unlimited resources. You’ve got to find a way to fit this new contract in your salary cap without it costing you some of your other best players, and you’ve got to trade a king’s ransom of draft picks just to get him here! The Seahawks have been willing to do that a number of times over the years and even the best-case scenario (being Duane Brown) still set us back pretty severely in how much we had to give up to get him here. At least with Brown, it filled a very specific and dire need; with Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham, they were luxuries this team didn’t need and didn’t even know how to use properly (or could manage to keep healthy). I would argue Adams falls more in the latter camp.

The Seahawks’ secondary is fine. It’s not the Legion of Boom, but it’s good enough. It’s not a liability. Everyone is super down on Bradley McDougald for some reason, as if he’s been a huge liability and not the best, most-consistent player in our secondary since Earl Thomas went down. Paired with Quandre Diggs, I think they give you about 90% of what the L.O.B. safeties gave us in their heyday, which is fine by me.

Also, not for nothing, but Marquise Blair was a second round draft pick last year. Everyone who knows anything about the NFL knows the best way to build your team is through the draft. And yet, everyone seems to forget that whenever one of these hotshots hits the free agency/trade market. Why are we taking Blair so high if we’re not grooming him to be our Safety Of The Future? At some point, you have to trust in your process and not go after every huge name that becomes available!

Duane Brown made sense because we really didn’t have any highly-rated prospects coming up the pipeline at left tackle. Jamal Adams doesn’t make sense, with how our roster is constructed at the moment. If he’d become available this time last year, I’d suggest you’re onto something. But, we have Quandre Diggs, who I like a lot, as well as two competent other safeties and three pretty solid cornerbacks. The secondary is set! Stop worrying about the secondary!

And stop trying to throw away all of our high future draft picks! We need those guys too! A lot more than we need to incrementally improve at safety.

Also, 33. Jamal Adams’ jersey number is 33. I had to look it up, but I couldn’t let this thing end without figuring that out. Also, I guess he’s primarily a strong safety, but can play both? Or really anywhere? I dunno, and I don’t much care. Just don’t join another team in the NFC West and I’ll be relatively happy.

I’m Excited & Nervous About The Huskies Adding Transfer Quarterback Kevin Thomson

Writing about Husky Football twice in the same week, and it’s not even football season yet? I feel like a real college football … head.

As I wrote about before, the Huskies are coming off of two consecutive highly-rated recruiting classes (2019 & 2020) and as such are considered to be among the favorites to win the Pac-12 this season. Of course, 1-A among biggest question marks would be: who’s going to start at quarterback? The guy who’s never started a college football game, the other guy who’s never started a college football game, or the incoming True Freshman who’s – say it with me now – never started a college football game?

No one really believed the Huskies were going to stand pat with Jacob Sirmon, Dylan Morris, and Ethan Garbers, though the dream scenario was trying to entice that USC transfer to come here (J.T. Daniels ended up going to Georgia, because SEC). Enter Kevin Thomson.

Thomson was the Big Sky Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2019, when he threw for 3,216 yards and 27 TDs (against only 8 INTs), with an additional 619 yards rushing and 12 more TDs on the ground for Sacramento State. It’s truly an impressive resume … for a small school in the Big Sky; so take that with about a thousand grains of salt.

Graduate transfers are a unique proposition. They’ve got the experience you like to see (especially if you’re a program that has none at the position), but you always have to wonder why they’re transferring in the first place. Russell Wilson was famously a grad transfer, but I feel like he’s the exception. He – along with Gardner Minshew for the Cougs – are probably the ideal of what you’d like to see when you acquire one of these players, but look at what we’re talking about here: a future NFL Hall of Famer, and another NFLer who played for a Mike Leach system that was built for players like Minshew to succeed at an elite level.

I’m sure over the vast landscape of grad transfer quarterbacks, you’ve got all kinds, from those elite success stories, all the way down to complete washouts who never played a down for their new school. I feel like the majority of these guys are like Thomson, who played the bulk of their college careers for a smaller school, and are looking to get a taste of the big time to see what they’re made of.

The Huskies are saying the right things, of course. He isn’t guaranteed the starting job by any means, as it will be a four-man competition as we head into the season. But, you can see why people might be excited about Thomson. The experience disparity between him and the others alone gives him a significant advantage as it is, but considering COVID-19 eliminated all spring practices – and has severely hampered what we’re able to do for any sort of training camp this summer – you have to figure Thomson is all but a lock.

The cool part of this is – if he works out – then we’ve got a legitimately better chance to win a lot of games this fall. The knock against Thomson is his accuracy – which has yet to get over 60% in any of his seasons – but I wonder about the talent level around him. With Pac-12 players on the roster to throw to (and to block for him), we could see that number improve. I also LOVE a dual-threat quarterback – especially in college – where protection often breaks down regardless of how talented the offensive lines are (lack of rushing ability seriously hampered Browning and Eason – and as a result, the entire Husky offense – in recent years, in spite of really good O-Lines in front of them).

The other cool part of this is – even if he doesn’t work out – then that means whoever does end up winning the starting job will be that much better and hopefully result in the Huskies winning even more games. I’ll never throw advanced competition out of bed for eating crackers!

The downside is, these moves often lead to one or more quarterbacks transferring from the program, and the three above guys I mentioned who were already on the roster are all highly-rated prospects (with a 5-star QB joining the Huskies in 2021 who looks to be a strong candidate to be a multi-year starter from Day One). You’d hate to see someone leave the program – who might go on to a quality college career – for a one-year rental in a grad transfer. But, the fun thing is: it’s all in their hands. If you want to be the starter, go out and win the job. It’s that simple.

I would’ve put the Huskies’ chances at winning the Pac-12 at MAYBE 10% before this week, given their schedule and the level of competition around the conference. I think this move legitimately improves our chances. And, if we hear good things about Thomson as the competition gets going, you’ll be looking at one rabid Dawg fan when the calendar flips to September!

I mean, let’s be real, you’re going to hear from a rabid Dawg fan regardless because I’m a consummate homer and will have talked myself into ongoing Husky domination between now and then, regardless of whatever news I read. Is it sane? Probably not. Will I be getting my hopes up for later disappointment? Well, I’m a sports fan, so what else is new?

The Huskies Need 2020 To Go Well

I’m not shy about saying this: I don’t follow college recruiting on anything more than a cursory level. I read some articles in the Seattle Times, I see things pop up on Twitter once in a while, and over time names start looking familiar as potential future stars for my beloved Huskies.

Since 2016, the Huskies have been the best program the Pac-12 has had to offer. Two conference titles in the last four seasons, with a College Football Playoff berth to boot (the last time a Pac-12 school made it into the final four in football). If you look at recruitment rankings, however, the Huskies have steadily rated behind Oregon. Of course, rankings aren’t everything; the Huskies’ program is proof enough that coaching and development have just as much – if not more – to do with how well your team performs on the field. Nevertheless, as we see with the SEC (and various other power programs around the United States), recruiting – over time – matters most. Consistently bringing in the very best players year-in and year-out will set your program up for indefinite greatness.

In both the 2019 and 2020 classes, it’s been Oregon and Washington (in that order) in the top two of conference recruitment rankings. That’s the primary reason why both schools are favored to win the Pac-12 North, in spite of the fact that both are replacing quarterbacks who left for the NFL. Since the Ducks are coming off of an overwhelmingly powerful 2019 season – where they went 12-2 and won the Rose Bowl – they’re the overwhelming favorites to repeat in that endeavor. The Huskies, on the other hand, feel like considerable long shots, not the least of which because we’re breaking in a brand new head coach.

All of this is preamble to my main concern: recruiting for the 2021 class. It’s by no means a done deal, of course; and as has been noted elsewhere, there could be even more movement as players opt to switch their commitments coming out of the pandemic. I’m not panicking – I’m confident we’ll find the Huskies in the top quartile in conference recruitment rankings when it’s all said and done – but as it stands now, we’re lagging WAY behind the likes of Oregon (yet again) as well as USC (another favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2020), with the primary bright spot being 5-star quarterback Sam Huard that’s keeping this class afloat.

Again, I don’t know all the names, but I keep seeing news items of Husky targets choosing to go elsewhere. I’m sure that’s normal, and I’m overreacting, but this feels different to me. It feels like a lot of highly-rated recruits are taking a Wait & See approach with the Huskies. Waiting to see if Jimmy Lake can keep the run of success going that we saw under Chris Petersen.

Which makes the 2020 season so very important. You could argue the next two years – in conjunction – will provide a more fair assessment, but regardless the time is now! We’re coming off of two recruiting classes in the Top Two in the conference; that needs to translate into a lot of success right out of the gate, or I’ll be worried about the state of the program going forward. Middle-of-the-road finishes, with expected growing pains from a new head coach, are not going to keep the momentum going in the right direction. Not with the steady progress we’re seeing down in Cal, the expected return to power of Stanford (who seemingly always manages to poach a top player or two from the state of Washington every year based on their high academic reputation), and the excitement of a new potentially-great coach over in WSU (a program that made great strides under Mike Leach and hopes to parlay that into perpetuating its own momentum).

There’s a great opportunity for the Huskies at the same time. If the concern is we’ll fall on our face and find the program lost in the woods during the 2020’s, the potential is that we’ll come out of the gate on fire and REALLY impress future recruits by showing out under a BRUTAL schedule. I still can’t get over how difficult this schedule is – with all of our most difficult games coming on the road – but that means any number of upsets could vault our esteem in the eyes of the college football nation up many levels. Jimmy Lake has the pressure of following a legend, of helming a premiere west coast football program, and a worldwide pandemic on his shoulders as he leads this team. If he does well, that could slingshot the Huskies into a whole new stratosphere for the next decade!

Why Can’t The Seahawks’ Pass Rush Be Improved Without Clowney?

I’ve been on here pretty regularly lamenting the state of the Seahawks’ pass rush as we head into the 2020 season. I’ve also been hoping that the Seahawks could find a way to bring Jadeveon Clowney back under the salary cap, at a reasonable number (either in a 1-year or preferably a multi-year deal) that accounts for the injury risk he’s pretty clearly proven to be throughout his career, dating to his college days.

Look, we all know he’s one of the most talented defensive linemen alive, of that there’s no debate. And while the number of missed games isn’t TOO alarming – particularly after his rookie season that was cut short to only four games – in his professional career he’s only made it through a full 16-game season one time. And, I would argue – based on the fact he’s never had a double-digit sack campaign – that his effectiveness is DRASTICALLY reduced when he’s forced to play through injuries. While it remains to be seen – and likely could never be proven – in general one would assume a player on his rookie deal is most likely to try to play through injuries (as opposed to someone on his second or third deal), to show his value and better earn that mega-second contract. You can damn me all you want for putting as much emphasis in the sack statistic – as opposed to more advanced metrics that show the overall value of a pass rusher’s productivity (QB hurries and hits and whatnot) – when you think of the game’s best pass rushers, you always think of guys with lots and lots of sacks. That’s just the way it is. So, if I’m granting you the fact that Clowney is one of the best defensive linemen in the game of football – and the mark of a great defensive lineman is how well he performs in passing situations (since, by and large, passing is the most effective way to move the ball down the field for opposing offenses) – then it would stand to reason that nagging injuries (that he has, for the most part, played through; credit where it’s due) have severely limited him. A mostly-healthy Clowney through his career would have – CONSERVATIVELY – at least twice as many career sacks as he has now (32 over six seasons).

Ergo, the injury risk is real, NFL teams believe this pretty much across the board, and any team that signs him to a multi-year deal is invariably going to have to account for this at one time or another through the duration of the guaranteed portion of his contract (if not moreso, because again – I would assume – guys on a second contract are probably not as likely to want to play through injury). If that were false, then he would’ve been signed by now, because as I said, he’s one of the best in the game today.

So, it doesn’t make sense – and really, it NEVER made sense – for the Seahawks to commit max money to keep him around. It would be NICE to have him around, but clearly that doesn’t appear to be our inevitability. Seahawks fans have come to understand this and are lamenting it accordingly. The rationale being: if we had one of the least-effective pass rushing units in the entire league in 2019 WITH Clowney, how much worse is it going to get WITHOUT him?

To which I ask: why does it have to be worse?

What we have to do is take a look at the whole pass rushing stew the Seahawks have to offer as compared to what we had in 2019. It’s idiotic to simply point to Bruce Irvin & Benson Mayowa vs. Clowney and call it a day. I don’t know if either of them are necessarily playing the same particular position that Clowney played, so it’s apples and oranges anyway.

Let’s start with Quinton Jefferson, who a laughably-large portion of Seahawks fans are listing as one of our key defectors. He was OKAY, but some fans talk about him like we just lost Michael Bennett in his prime or something! Quite frankly, he’s not a starting defensive end in this league, but he was playing a starter’s portion of snaps last year out of necessity. They’re criticizing the team for keeping Branden Jackson when BASICALLY they’re both the same player, only Jackson is significantly cheaper (he’s also not necessarily guaranteed a spot on this roster, so maybe calm down a little bit). I’m as down on L.J. Collier as anyone around these parts, but if he can stay healthy through Training Camp and the pre-season, I don’t see why he couldn’t give you everything we had from Jefferson this very minute; with, I might add, a considerable upside to be significantly better (and conditions don’t even have to be perfect for this to be true).

Next, let’s look at Mychal Kendricks, our former strong-side linebacker. He had a 2-sack game in Arizona in September last year and I think we all got a little too excited; he ended up with one more sack the rest of the way. Bruce Irvin is his direct replacement and I have to believe that’s an upgrade for a number of reasons. For starters, I don’t think the Seahawks will be in as much Base Defense as last year (again, out of necessity). Our nickel corner spot should be vastly improved, meaning we won’t need Irvin to play out in coverage nearly as much. I would expect him to be, effectively, a fifth pass rusher on a lot of downs (at least, a lot more than Kendricks ever was).

It’s unfair to consider Mayowa as Clowney’s de facto replacement – though their measurables match up fairly well, sizewise – as Clowney obviously does a lot more than the Seahawks would ask of Mayowa. They’re not going to ask Mayowa to play along the interior of the line, for instance, which Clowney was more than capable of doing at times. I would argue that less-is-more with Mayowa, so limiting him strictly to obvious pass rushing situations is likely to keep him fresh and more effective than he would be if he played every down like Clowney. As such, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Mayowa with more sacks in 2020 than Clowney (he had four more than Clowney in 2019, while playing in only two more games).

As a quick interlude, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the BIGGEST “addition by subraction” candidate, which would be Ziggy Ansah. Given our cap situation last year, the Seahawks had a lot of eggs in the Ansah basket on his 1-year prove-it deal, and all he managed to prove was that he’s finished as a viable NFL player. Giving his number of snaps to ANYONE who isn’t a corpse is bound to be a vast improvement, and indeed probably the single biggest upgrade on the entire roster from 2019 to 2020!

Moving inside, I will be VERY interested in what the defensive tackles bring to the table in 2020. One of the strangest contracts in recent memory is Jarran Reed’s 2-year, $23 million deal. The Seahawks appeared to get very little savings on a short-term basis (for a player who was suspended for six games in 2019 for a domestic violence charge), nor any savings under a longer-term contract (with it being only two years). Were the Seahawks swindled worse than when they dealt for Percy Harvin and gave him all that loot? Or is this a “crazy like a fox” situation? I’m probably focused on motivation more than I should be, but here we have a player heading into his age-27 season, who was drafted by the Seahawks and knows our scheme well, and who already has a double-digit sack season under his belt. You can argue there’s a risk of him landing in more hot water, but I doubt it (and, if he does get in trouble again, it’s not a prohibitive cost to cut him after 2020). I believe very strongly that him missing so many games last year set him back in a way that he’d never recover from. It’s essentially like having your pre-season taken away from you, then being thrown to the wolves mid-stream; that’ll hamper anyone, even a 4-year vet. At that point, either you believe his 2018 season was a fluke, or it’s more in line with who he is as a player. If the latter is true, then the Seahawks could be VERY happy the next two years. Getting back to motivation, he’ll be heading into his age-29 season as a free agent. If he kills it these next two years, then he’ll have set himself up for a mega-deal, so he has every reason to try his very best.

In keeping with our defensive tackles, Poona Ford is heading into his third year as a pro. You might poo-poo him as a pass-rushing threat, with just half a sack to his name; but Jarran Reed was a MUCH higher-rated lineman coming out of college, and he only had three combined sacks in his first two years before blowing up (and he played MANY more snaps in his first two seasons by comparison). Could we see a similar spike from Poona? Maybe not double digits, but in the 5-6 sack range? And, speaking of third-year pros, we haven’t even mentioned the Seahawks’ sack-leader in 2019, Rasheem Green. I know four sacks is nothing to write home about, but Green is also only 23 years old. If ANYONE is poised to make a big jump, it’s Green. I would argue this season largely hinges on him and Collier, but mostly Green. Figure he’ll play a lot of defensive end in base, then slide inside to rush the passer on third downs; I, for one, am excited to see what he can do, and if he can put it all together. He won’t be what Clowney can be at full health, but even if he’s 75% Clowney, that’s still better than most of what we had going for us last year!

Then, that brings us to our two wild cards: rookie Darrell Taylor, and likely bubble candidate Shaquem Griffin. We traded up (at a hefty cost, I might add) to select Taylor in the second round, which means he figures to get a considerable look at earning some playing time as a rookie. I’ll never put much confidence in a rookie, but it’s okay to hope a LITTLE bit. The Seahawks seem to know what they’re doing when they go to the trouble of trading up in the draft to get someone. My (safe) hunch is, Taylor will be a better pro in future seasons, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility for him to bring something worthwhile to the table as a rookie. As for Griffin, he had his first career sack as a pro in the playoffs against Green Bay in the fourth quarter (that very nearly helped us come back and win that game). It took us a while, but we finally got him in on some sub-packages late in 2019, and he figures to have a similar role as we head into 2020. If he balls out in the pre-season and earns a job on the roster, I think it’s safe to assume he’ll be moderately effective in his third year as a pro. Every little bit helps!

And this doesn’t even get into the likelihood that the Seahawks will go out and sign another free agent or two. None of them will be Clowney, but taken as a whole, I don’t see why this pass rushing unit can’t improve over 2019! For starters, that seems like a low bar to clear. Secondly, it won’t be on any one man’s shoulders. That means a lot of guys will have to step up – to either have career years, or perpetuate their recent career years – but I think that’s a healthier way to go about it, over trying to find some savior to come in and grace your team with his dominance.

The real question is: can this pass-rushing unit be even middle-of-the-road? It’s one thing to go from 29th in the league to 25th; but can the Seahawks get into the teens? That might make all the difference in the world! With a solid linebacking unit, and what appears to be a vastly improved secondary, that could be the difference between the Seahawks eking in as a Wild Card team vs. winning the NFC West or – lord help us – snatching the NFC’s #1 seed.

The Mariners Drafted Other Guys Too

I don’t usually do a lot of writing about the baseball draft, for all the reasons you’d expect. I don’t watch high school or college baseball. I don’t even keep very good tabs on the minor leagues, let alone any amateurs or foreign players. And, quite frankly, I just don’t have a lot of interest in these prospects. Baseball is such a crapshoot – seemingly more of a crapshoot than any other sport I follow – that it’s too much mental energy for me to expend. I have a life, you know! GET OFF MY ASS!!!

But, we’re in the midst of the God damned world falling apart before our very eyes, so sports topics to write about are at a premium. If you want my thoughts on politics or world events, sign up for my weekly e-mail blast: TaylorHandsome’s Hot Takes. All the takes that are TOO DAMN HOT for your traditional media outlets! Like, have you heard about this coronavirus thing? I’m hearing it’s going to be a pretty big deal, but I have my doubts …

Yesterday, I wrote about the guy the Mariners drafted in the first round. Isn’t that CUTE?! Major League Baseball thinks it’s important enough to split up its draft over multiple days, as if anyone in their right mind gives a shit about watching the coverage on television! Anyway, the remaining four rounds took place yesterday, so here are some words about that.

Zach DeLoach is an outfielder the M’s took in the second round. He struggled in his first couple of college years, then really poured it on. He’s a guy who – had the 2020 season been allowed to finish – might’ve risen in the draft ranks to become a first round pick, so the Mariners feel fortunate to have gotten him here. There are a lot of highly-rated outfielders in our farm system, but almost like pitching, you really can’t have enough good outfielders.

Connor Phillips was taken with the comp pick we got back from the Brewers in the deal for Omar Narvaez. He’s a right handed starting pitcher who’s only 19 years old. He throws hard and has a solid 4-pitch mix. Sounds like another high-ceiling pitching prospect to throw onto the pile.

Kaden Polcovich is a smallish infield prospect who’s a switch-hitter and has a decent amount of pop for a guy his size. As a third rounder, there might be some upside to unlock, but people are projecting him as a utility infielder. Considering how difficult it is to make the Major Leagues at all, that’s no small potatoes. But, you know, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

Tyler Keenan is 6’4 and 240 pounds. He played third base in college and will get a look there in the pros, but most are projecting him to play first base in his professional career. Lots of pop to his bat, plus he’s a lefty. I would anticipate he’ll see plenty of DH in his career if he ends up making it to the Bigs.

Finally, Taylor Dollard was taken in the fifth round. He’s another pitcher, not as hard of a thrower, and made many of his bones as a relief pitcher. He was stretched out to be a starter recently, so I’m sure the Mariners will give him every opportunity to try that in the pros. But, again, I wouldn’t get my hopes up. If there’s a need at relief pitcher, and that’s the quickest path for him to advance through the ranks, don’t think for a second that the organization (or ANY organization, really) will do what’s in his best interests and take it slow trying to develop him as a starter. He’ll need to be great almost immediately to stick in that role, and I have a lot of doubts that’ll happen.

So, there you have it. Three pitchers and three position players. 2020 MLB Draft in the books. Now, let’s resume forgetting these guys even existed for a few years and see how they turn out!

The Mariners Drafted Emerson Hancock In The First Round

The Mariners had already been pretty hard at work – in previous drafts, as well as their bevy of step-back trades – in bolstering what looks to be the future of the Mariners’ everyday roster. Evan White (first base), Jarred Kelenic (outfield), Julio Rodriguez (outfield), J.P. Crawford (short stop), Cal Raleigh (catcher), Kyle Lewis (outfield) among others are either at the Major League level or very close to it. If the M’s are ever destined to break the playoff drought, most or all of these guys will have to hit in a big way.

The glaring issue was (and still is) pitching, particularly starting pitching. Starting in 2018 – with first round pick Logan Gilbert – and really coming to prominence last year (when nine of their first eleven picks were pitchers, including George Kirby in the first round), the Mariners have gone crazy trying to replenish their minor leagues with high-upside hurlers. Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn – among others who are at or near the Majors – are also obviously in the mix, but it was clear what we had the last few years wasn’t going to cut the mustard.

The streak continues with first round pick Emerson Hancock out of Georgia, who fell to the Mariners at #6 in yesterday’s first round of the MLB draft. Apparently, he was once deemed to be elite enough to be considered a potential #1 overall pick. While his most recent season did little to lower his value, as with many players who stay in college a year too long, scouts found reasons to pick apart his game to the point that he slid. He, nevertheless, has a mid-90’s fastball that can nearly touch triple digits. He’s got a great slider, a good change-up, and a curveball that needs work, but otherwise is still a quality part of his arsenal.

I’ve yet to read any concerning news about him from the blogs or whatnot, which I find promising. It seems like whenever the Mariners pick someone, there are immediate stories about how so-and-so projects as a future reliever, or a future fourth-outfielder or whatever. While it’s obviously too early to put ANY projections on a guy and expect them to stick across the board, it seems like those underwhelming predictions come true more often than not, especially where the Mariners are concerned. In other words, this doesn’t sound like a reach. It doesn’t sound like the M’s picked a guy with a “high floor but low ceiling”. This isn’t a safe pick of someone who can rush his way to the bigs (a la Danny Hultzen, when he was drafted second overall in 2011). This guy sounds like a LEGITIMATE top-end starter with a very real possibility to be a future Ace in this league (something, to my knowledge, the Mariners are sorely lacking at the moment, from a prospect perspective).

He could very well be the best pitching prospect we have in our organization RIGHT NOW!

This is very exciting to me! There are, of course, any number of things we have to worry about; he could refuse to sign (holding out for a crazy amount of money), he could get a big head and opt to not really put in the work required to advance his career, he could get injured and have his development delayed or even destroyed (again, a la Danny Hultzen), or he could just suck and start getting smacked around in the minors. The point is: there are COUNTLESS ways he could flame out before ever wearing a Seattle Mariners uniform in a game that counts. So, you know, don’t get your hopes up TOO much.

But, you know what I like? I like comparisons to Justin Verlander. I like dreaming that one day in 2-3 years, he could be anchoring a starting rotation for an exciting, young Mariners team looking to contend for a post-season berth. If nothing else, I like this strategy of selecting a SHIT-TON of pitching prospects in the hopes that a small handful will stick! It’s smart. As I outlined above, there are any number of ways prospects – especially pitching prospects, with all the possible injuries that can derail their effectiveness – won’t pan out. So, the best chance we have in succeeding is to throw as many resources at this problem as possible.

I’ll be concerned if the remaining five picks are so pitching-heavy, because you don’t want to TOTALLY neglect position players. But, for our needs right now, A+ in my book!

Of Course The Year The Mariners Draft So High Is The Year The Draft Is Five Rounds Long

The Mariners will have the 6th overall pick in this year’s upcoming MLB draft. That makes it their highest draft position since 2014, when they also drafted 6th overall. There’s usually 40 rounds to a Major League Baseball draft, which means under normal circumstances, the Mariners would have the 6th pick in all 40 rounds.

This year, due to COVID-19, the tightwad owners decided to reduce the draft to 5 rounds, which is obviously a significant reduction (the M’s have 6 picks in total, as they received an extra compensatory pick for reasons I don’t care to research).

This is, obviously, a huge drag for a rebuilding franchise that could use as many swings as possible to find viable potential future Major Leaguers. There was apparently talk of extending it to 10 rounds – which would NOT be nothing – but of course cheapness prevailed (cheapness always prevails when it comes to baseball … except when it comes to handing out over-inflated mega-contracts to over-the-hill players based on recent-past performance). I’d be curious to know what that vote looked like; it sounds like the Mariners were hoping for at least 10 rounds as well. I would imagine small-market teams like the A’s and Rays took lead on this endeavor; every franchise is worth, conservatively, at least a billion dollars, but of course so many ownership groups cry poverty every fucking step of the way, it just makes you want to puke.

Of course, you can make the argument that after the first five rounds, finding viable prospects is tough. As it is, #1 overall picks can be busts just as easily as stars! Since the turn of the century, the Mariners have drafted in the top three a total of four times, and easily the best baseball player of the bunch was Mike Zunino (a defense-first homer machine who strikes out like crazy and was traded away for a slap-hitting centerfielder). So, you know, counting on ANY prospect in baseball is an exercise in getting your heart ripped from your chest, while watching it continue to beat as the life drains from your body.

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t find diamonds in the rough in the later rounds. It’s asinine to me this isn’t at least going 10; you see SO MANY Major Leaguers picked in those rounds, it’s just unbelievable.

Then again, I hate to play The Mariners Are Terrible At Their Jobs Advocate, but the Mariners are terrible at their jobs! You could give them a thousand draft picks this year, and I’m sure they’d find a way to screw it up one way or another! Picking the wrong guy, targeting the wrong positions, dicking around with what positions they end up playing, and all-around sucking at player development.

All in all, it’s a minor quibble (especially considering we’re still trying to find a way to get the players and owners to agree on re-starting the 2020 season), but it’s just so Mariners for this to happen NOW, I can’t even stand it.

God I hate baseball so much. Then why do I want it back so bad? Because I’m a sick man!

You Know, We Don’t Really NEED Athletes To Say ANYTHING

A lot of people are wondering what sports are going to look like as we come out of this COVID-19 epidemic, and just generally in the years/decades to come.

The Match II was a popular thing that happened recently. If you don’t know what that is, it was this round of golf played by Tiger Woods against Phil Mickelson; their partners, respectively, were Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. They apparently raised a lot of money for … people who were affected by the virus, I guess. Obviously, with social distancing and all that, it was a golf match with no fans, no caddies, and a limited number of crew people around to broadcast the whole thing. To compensate for this, all four players were mic’d up and wearing earpieces, so they could chat with the announcers and any other celebs who called in and wanted to chat. It was very charming and a fun way to spend an otherwise sportsless afternoon.

I was listening to the Brock & Salk podcast after The Match II, and they interviewed one of the announcers, who talked about the experience, and it was his opinion that this could be a wave of the future, not just for golf but for all major sports. The XFL dabbled in a lot of live, on-field interviews where their sideline reporters had to run around and find players who just did something exciting to ask them about it in real-time (as opposed to after the game, which is what would happen under normal circumstances). I’ve probably talked about that before, but really, WHO IS THIS FOR?! I would argue, only people IN the media enjoy this shit.

Do you know why The Match II was such a rousing success, with respect to the live interactions between media & athletes? Because you had four of the biggest, most famous, most articulate athletes in modern sports history. Tiger and Phil and Peyton and Tom? OF COURSE they’re going to be engaging and interesting to interact with!

Do you know what the VAST MAJORITY of athletes sound like on a regular basis? Dumb as rocks. Boring as dirt. Bland cliche machines who have been programmed over their entire lives in how to “game” the media. Saying something while never really saying anything. It is, by and large, BRUTAL to listen to an athlete being interviewed, whether it’s in the moment or after they’ve had hours and hours to craft a pre-packaged response.

I mean, as you can see from Drew Brees’ recent comments – before he walked them back, of course – you can give an athlete YEARS to come up with an opinion, and he’ll still sound like he has no idea what he’s talking about!

The wave of the future, I’m sad to say, is headed in the direction of more media interactions with players, and it’s going to be to all of our detriment. I dunno, unless I’m just an old man now; that’s possible too. Maybe to keep the younger generations engaged in sports, you need to offer this horseshit to continue to grow and prosper your sport. I would guess that’s probably closer to reality, since there’s so much money involved in this enterprise, it’s not like they haven’t done TONS of market research on the topic.

The thing I can’t tell is: who’s pushing for this? Is it the leagues? Do they like it when their players put their feet in their own mouths? Is any publicity good publicity, as they say? Or, are the players pushing for this, in an attempt to grow their individual brands and introduce new market streams during and after their athletic careers? I’m sure both could be true, I suppose. But, I just keep coming back to the sports media complex trying to create a market for something where there’s really no demand for it!

Athletes saying dumb shit can generate countless clicks and views and scoops and editorials for days on end! You’ve got the dumb shit they say, you’ve got the immediate backlash, you’ve got follow-up stories from other sports people commenting on it, you’ve got talking heads voicing their VERY LOUD opinions on sports chat shows, you’ve got sports radio hosts being handed hours upon hours of content to regurgitate. Then, you’ve got the same athlete apologizing for the dumb shit they said, the immediate backlash to that, the continued follow-up stories, the ever-growing VERY LOUD opinions on sports chat shows, and another full day’s worth of sports radio fodder … until some other athlete says something else dumb and the Baby Huey that is our collective sports media consciousness proceeds to waddle over to the next outrage where he plops his ass down to obsess over the next round of nonsense.

You don’t get ANY of that without constant media/athlete interactions. And, sure, you have to wade through an endless stream of cliches and rote, banal responses. But, once you unearth that little nugget of gold, you’re on easy street for at least another week.

Now, don’t misconstrue what I’m saying here. This isn’t a “Stick To Sports” rant. This is a “Stick To What You’re Good At” rant.

When LeBron James or Richard Sherman or Michael Bennett or Gregg Popovich or any number of intelligent, thoughtful people give an opinion on an issue of the day, I’m more than happy to listen. Or, even if it’s just X’s & O’s talk! Deshaun Watson gives some of the best postgame interviews about certain critical plays that happened during his games! Even Bill Belichick, when he wants to be, can be engaging and insightful on a bevy of different topics.

But, I would argue these people are the exceptions, and you REALLY have to suffer through a lot of mindlessness in the meantime. Not EVERYONE needs to make their voices heard. Sometimes, it’s okay just to shut the fuck up and let the adults have a fucking conversation. If you’ve got nothing interesting or worthwhile to say, then maybe just do us all a favor and keep quiet. You’ll save us a lot of wasted time, and you’ll potentially save yourself a lot of agony by not having to scramble to make up for some faux pas that got out in some interview you didn’t prepare for and didn’t think would come to light to a worldwide audience.

Again, I’m mostly talking to Drew Brees here, but this goes for a lot of you!