The Mariners Traded For Diego Castillo

We learned about this one in the early evening hours yesterday, and the first tweet I saw about it – from a non-reporter – was something to the effect of, “Ho-hum, this guy’s just whatever, he’s no Kendall Graveman.” I mean, that’s very possible; he could come here and totally shit the bed, just like countless other relievers have done throughout the years, but I feel like that’s still residual reaction from the vitriol incited by the Graveman trade more than it is an accurate reflection of that person’s feelings on this deal in a vacuum.

Diego Castillo looks like he has amazing stuff! A fastball that hits triple digits, and a slider that sits in the low-90’s? Does that remind you of someone we recently traded away in the Robinson Cano deal, who was seen as the real prize of that acquisition? As we’ve seen from Edwin Diaz since putting on a Mets uniform, that combination isn’t a guarantee of a sub-1.00 ERA forever. But, I would argue that Kendall Graveman’s stuff isn’t going to remain in that otherworldly realm forever either. He’s bound to return to normal and start blowing some saves. At which point, he’ll be no better or worse than Diego Castillo.

Yes, Castillo blows some saves every now and again. That’s going to happen to just about anyone who isn’t having an unsustainably lucky/flukey season. But he’s also – assuming he stays healthy, which is a big assumption; given how hard he throws, his arm could blow at any time – going to be good-to-great most of the time. On top of which, he’s just entering his Arbitration years, meaning we can keep him for the next three seasons after this one.

He cost us J.T. Chargois – a guy we picked up off the scrap heap before this season – and Austin Shenton, a third base prospect (who, it sounds like, doesn’t have the defensive acumen to stick at third base). Think “Ty France Type” as his ultimate ceiling. So, you know, that’s tough – it sounds like he’s got the hitting part down – but this is also the first I’ve ever heard of him, so he couldn’t have been THAT elite of a prospect.

I know, I know, “what I don’t know could fill a book.” Speaking of which … it also comes in Kindle.

The Rays apparently love Chargois’ stuff, but I think they mostly like his cheapness (he’s not arbitration-eligible until 2023, so they could easily flip him this time next year if they’re so inclined). And, I’m sure they’ll get the most out of that Shenton guy, but I still like this deal for the Mariners.

Taken as a whole, it’s a Graveman for Castillo swap (a guy who’s a free agent at the end of this season, vs. a guy who will be here for three years BEYOND this season); a Rafael Montero for Joe Smith swap (two duds, but at least we’re able to recoup something for the Montero debacle); and a Shenton for Abraham Toro swap (a guy who just this year made it to the AA level, vs. a guy who is a Major League-ready prospect right now and could take a leap forward at any time); plus two prospects for Tyler Anderson (guys likely to never have much of an impact on this game, vs. a viable starting pitcher we can use starting this weekend in our push to make the playoffs).

I don’t know about you, but to me that looks like Jerry Dipoto sticking to his plan: going for it in 2021, while at the same time not sacrificing our major pieces of this rebuild.

Look, I think we learned A LOT about this team over this most recent homestand. It wasn’t a total success – we didn’t hit that 5-2 mark that I’d talked about – but it wasn’t a total failure either. It was a 4-3 homestand. If I’m being honest, kind of what I expected, in some way, shape, or form. We learned that the Mariners are indeed in contention for one of the 2021 Wild Card spots (3-1 against the A’s, one of the favorites to be in that play-in game), but we also learned that the Mariners probably aren’t in contention for the A.L. West (a lucky 1-2 against the Astros), and probably aren’t one of the elites.

Have you seen the deals they’re swinging in New York and Los Angeles? The Yankees and Dodgers are going ALL-IN on 2021 like nothing I can remember! These are mega, MEGA blockbuster trades, made by teams who are there. They’re not rebuilding, they’re BUILT. And they’re throwing any and all available minor league prospects away to get the superstars they need. And, you know what? They probably still have great farm systems plugging away behind those guys they just jettisoned! That’s what happens. That’s what success looks like.

Sure, the Mariners have a Top 5 or Top 10 farm system now, but I would argue that’s mostly top-heavy, with guys who are either in the Major Leagues right now (Kelenic, Raleigh, Gilbert), or guys who are a year or two away (J-Rod, Kirby, maybe Hancock). Now, I think it’s definitely deeper than it’s been in the last 15-20 years, but it’s not a well-oiled machine like the Yankees and Dodgers have been producing for decades. Until we get THERE, the topic of going All-In really means something. It means totally depleting what we’ve built in the minors. So, we better be good and fucking sure that we’re ready to contend NOT JUST FOR A WILD CARD SPOT, but the whole fuckin’ thing. I’m not interested in mortgaging our future just to break the playoff drought for a single-elimination play-in game. I want to be regarded as among the greats, the Astros and Dodgers and the like. I want a fucking World Series championship in my lifetime; is that too much to ask?!

So, I’m fine with these cursory deals. These players on the edge of the roster. Little upgrades here and there, while still taking shots on guys like Toro to be bigger pieces of the puzzle. While it hurts losing Graveman from a morale standpoint, you can’t say we threw him away for nothing. Castillo mitigates that loss considerably (I hope). Toro gives us a boost at second base for now (again, I hope). And we brought in a starter who couldn’t be any worse than the Bullpen Days and sub-replacement level guys we’ve been starting (almost definitely).

But, this whole “contention” business was always going to hinge on the players we have on the active roster right now, continuing to play out of their fucking minds. To be the clutchest motherfuckers on the planet. To mostly get hits with runners in scoring position, and to be the winningest team in one-run games in the Major Leagues. There’s no crazy amount of deals that was going to turn this Mariners team into that Astros team. This is it. You need the J.P. Crawfords and Dylan Moores and Cal Raleighs and Mitch Hanigers and Ty Frances and Luis Torrenses to lead the way. You need this starting rotation – held together by duct tape and fishing line – to keep us in most every ballgame. And you need this bullpen to be lockdown 9 times out of 10. Hell, maybe even 10 times out of 10, since we’re in the home stretch.

Two months to go! We are 55-48 heading into the dog days of summer. We’re 2.5 games behind the Athletics for the second wild card spot. We’re a mere 1 game ahead of the Yankees, and would you look at that! We go to their ballpark to play them on this upcoming road trip we’re on. Considering the way they manhandled us at T-Mobile Park, on top of their additions of Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo (a notorious Mariners-killer with Texas), I expect we won’t be too happy with what happens at Yankee Stadium.

But, you know, once an optimist, always an optimist.

The Mariners Probably Should’ve Been Swept By The Astros

There’s an obvious narrative going around that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. It goes as follows: the Mariners were one of the hottest teams in the league – having won four in a row over their immediate divisional rivals ahead of them in the standings – then they traded their apparent Heart & Soul of the team, Kendall Graveman, and all of a sudden are now in the tank, having lost two straight. It’s further punctuated by the fact that their last victory was an amazing come-from-behind affair where the M’s were down 7-0 before coming all the way back in dramatic fashion to win 11-8 (where, again, Graveman got the win and played a role in getting us to the point where we took the lead).

But, you know what I see when I look at this series against the Astros? I see three games the Mariners should’ve lost, and we were lucky to get the win we got.

Coming back from a 7-run deficit is as flukey as it gets. That was followed immediately by a game where we gave up a 3-spot in the top of the first and eventually found ourselves down 8-2 before coming back to lose 8-6. And then, of course, the finale saw us lose 11-4 in a game we were never even competitive in.

I mean, you can argue the wind was taken out of the team’s sails by the disappointment of seeing Graveman go to the opposing team’s clubhouse, but I think that notion is thwarted because on the very same day as the trade, you still saw this team scratch and claw to get 4 runs in the final 4 innings to make it interesting.

No, what this series featured was a clinic in disappointing Mariners starting pitching.

Monday was a disaster from the jump, as Darren McCaughan was making his Major League starting debut (recall he had pitched in the week prior, coming in after Keynan Middleton shit the bed as the Opener). McCaughan followed up his five no-hit innings by giving up 6 runs in the first in this one, ultimately managing to last 4 innings, giving up 7 runs, before being almost immediately sent back down to the minors. In case you were wondering why the Mariners traded for mediocre starter Tyler Anderson, this is why. This and all the previous Bullpen Days, where the Mariners amassed a whopping 1-8 record.

The Mariners started mounting their comeback in the bottom of the fourth, immediately after the Astros scored their 7th run, with a Cal Raleigh 3-run double. The Astros got one back in the top of the fifth to make it 8-3, but Kyle Seager hit a 3-run homer in the bottom half to cut it to 8-6. Then, Shed Long hit an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to make it a 1-run game, and you know what the Mariners do in 1-run games!

Well, usually it’s “win them”, but this time they turned it into a 3-run victory thanks to a grand slam by Dylan Moore in the bottom of the 8th inning.

To set the stage, Middleton pitched in this one as well, giving up that 8th Astros run. But, the bullpen was nails from there. Erik Swanson pitched two scoreless innings. Kendall Graveman came in for the 8th – Mariners down a run – and kept the score where it was. He doesn’t often come in when the M’s are trailing, but there was blood in the water and Scott Servais was pulling out all the stops.

Anyway, France singled to lead off the bottom of the 8th, but then two quick outs followed. Things looked grim. Jarred Kelenic – who really hasn’t been a whole lot better since being called back up – managed to work a walk. Tom Murphy – the third catcher used in this one – pinch hit for Shed Long and also walked, to load the bases. That brought up Moore, who jacked a high fastball (“fastball” in quotes, because this guy didn’t have much velo) to the upper deck in left field, knowing he had it all the way.

Fireworks continued from there, as the Astros reliever pretty clearly went headhunting for the very next batter, in this case J.P. Crawford. The pitcher would be ejected, after some choice curse words and yelling from Servais. Crawford would immediately be picked off at first, before the next reliever – now a Mariner, Joe Smith – even threw a pitch.

Paul Sewald – presumably our closer going forward – got the final three outs of the game to send everyone home happy.

That, my friends, was the environment everyone was walking into the next day, when the Graveman trade was announced. And, like clockwork, Chris Flexen showed up with a rare clunker: 4 innings, 7 runs. Nope, this wasn’t a rerun of the night before, he was literally as bad as a guy who got demoted to AAA the very same day. Hector Santiago returned from his suspension to throw 2 innings of 1-run ball, and the rest of the bullpen was scoreless from there (including Joe Smith throwing a clean inning), but 8 runs is clearly too much. You can’t expect an 11-run outburst every fucking day.

Nevertheless, Seager had a 2-run homer in the first, Kelenic had a 2-run single in the sixth, and newcomer Abraham Toro hit a 2-run homer in the ninth. You’d love to be undefeated in games where you score 6 runs, but unfortunately that’s baseball for you.

Yusei Kikuchi wasn’t QUITE as bad yesterday, but he only went 5 innings, giving up 4 runs (3 earned). On top of that, the bullpen was atrocious, as it will be from time to time, giving up 7 runs the rest of the way.

There was another Seager homer, another Toro homer, and a Kelenic bases loaded walk to give us our 4 runs. But, obviously, not enough.

Some bright spots include Seager being hot, and Toro hitting his fourth homer in four games (two with the Astros, two with the Mariners). Toro being good and shoring up the second base spot would be a great fix for the team’s chemistry woes at the moment. Him eventually taking over the starting third base job in 2022 and beyond would make this Graveman trade one of the all-time greats. So, you know, maybe stop pissing all over yourselves to dump on it.

Today’s an off-day before tomorrow’s trade deadline, so I expect to see lots of moves happening soon. Some of the rumors are CRAZY, so it’ll be really interesting to see how far Mariners management goes in trying to Win Now.

The Mariners Made A Couple Of Unpopular Trades

Yesterday was pretty enjoyable, at least through the early afternoon. We were all firmly in the afterglow of Monday night’s thrilling comeback victory over the Astros (which I’ll write about tomorrow, when I get to the series recap). That all shifted ON A DIME the moment the Mariners made their first deal of the day.

Where was I when I heard about Kendall Graveman being traded? I was in my bedroom, listening to a podcast from 710 ESPN where the radio hosts did an interview with Scott Servais. I wanted to lap up every last drop of the previous night’s win. As soon as it was over, I looked at my phone and noticed the “Breaking News” alert at the top of the screen.

I saw something to the effect of “Graveman Traded To The Astros” and my mind was on fire. So many conflicting thoughts!

  • Wait, our closer?
  • Wait … to a divisional rival?
  • Wait, doesn’t this fill the Astros’ most glaring hole?
  • Who did we get?
  • The Astros have a pretty deep roster and farm system, I bet it was somebody really good!
  • I mean, after all, you don’t trade to a team in your own division unless they’re willing to pay a king’s ransom, right?
  • Oh shit, it’s going to suck when we have to try to hit off of this guy now.

I ran to the office, opened my laptop, and continued scrolling through Twitter until I got all the details.

Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero to the Astros for Abraham Toro and Joe Smith.

Okaaaaaaay. Who dey?

Abraham Toro is an infielder (primarily third base, but can also play second) who is 24 years old and under organizational control through the 2025 season. All right! Not bad! Except, he’s played in parts of three seasons now and his career slash line is: .196/.278/.364. Yikes. So, he hits poorly, AND he doesn’t really have much power to speak of. And even his minor league numbers aren’t super eye-popping. He was originally drafted in the fifth round in 2016, so it’s not like he has this amazing pedigree.

But, I’ll say this: scouts seem to really believe that he’s due to break out anytime now. That’s encouraging. On top of which, he has homered in three straight games now (including Monday night against the Mariners, and last night against the Astros). I know that’s not a lot, but Mariners fans – and the players on that active roster – really needed to see him do something as a pinch hitter last night, considering the mood on the team.

If you haven’t read the Seattle Times article in the immediate aftermath of the trade yesterday, do yourself a favor and check it out. Odds are you’ve seen the quotes elsewhere, but the players – anonymously, of course – really let the organization have it, including Jerry Dipoto specifically. They DO NOT LIKE that guy! I mean, obviously, this is a continuation of the Kevin Mather nonsense from earlier this year, but now it’s all out in the open and actively harped upon: the Seattle Mariners – from the perspective of not just the fans, but the players too – do not care about winning ballgames at the Major League level.

I guess I had no idea how much the players liked Kendall Graveman! The amount of tears the article talks about is astonishing to me. I mean, I always liked the guy. He’s gutty and tough – playing through his degenerative neck issue, that has taken his ability to be a starter from him – and oh by the way, he’s also really fucking good! 0.82 ERA, 10 saves, 4-0 record across 30 games; he was far and away the best reliever in this bullpen that’s one of the best in all of baseball. That’s saying something!

But, also, he’s only signed through the end of this season. He’s on a cheap contract now, but with the way he’s been dominating, he’s going to be commanding a salary ten times that amount next year and beyond (getting it, almost certainly, from a team other than the Mariners). And, we absolutely cannot forget the fact that he has that injury issue, and could go down at any time. This is, 100%, the peak of Kendall Graveman’s value, and the Mariners would’ve been insane to NOT trade him.

However, yesterday afternoon was also 100% the peak of Worst Timing Ever when it comes to dealing Graveman, as again, we were all living in the afterglow of the previous night’s dramatic come-from-behind 11-8 victory, where Graveman came in for the 8th inning and shut the Astros down, to give the Mariners offense an opportunity to hit the go-ahead Grand Slam. He was instrumental in that victory, as he’s been in just about every game he’s appeared in this year. And, apparently he was also one of the most respected and beloved leaders on that team.

In a vacuum, taking out all of the emotions, it’s not a bad deal for the Mariners. We traded Graveman, again, at the apex of his value. We also were able to unload Rafael Montero, who’s a guy we’d just Designated For Assignment. In return, we get a relatively highly-touted Major League-level prospect (in other words, not a guy we have to wait on to develop in the minors), who we control through 2025 … and sure, we take on a veteran reliever in Joe Smith who’s been struggling this season with a bloated 7.48 ERA (but has otherwise been rock solid throughout his 15-year career). Joe Smith and Rafael Montero are essentially the same – two proven guys who need a change of scenery – which makes this a Graveman for Toro swap.

To get a guy of Toro’s potential, and not have to give up ANY prospects whatsoever? I’d do that in a heartbeat every time!

Now, obviously, the downside is specifically 2021-related. As I mentioned, the Astros are a great team with one major flaw: their bullpen. Kendall Graveman immediately slots into the back-end of their bullpen, shoring that up in a big way in the short term. With their offense and starting pitching, it shouldn’t be difficult to get the lead in most games. If they can hold that lead to the 7th or 8th inning, with Graveman in the mix, they should have no problem whatsoever holding onto those victories. A guy like Graveman, on a team that good, is worth his weight in gold. If I’m the A’s or the rest of the American League, I’m super-pissed at the Mariners right now, because we just handed the Astros a FastPass to the ALCS.

And, considering everyone on the Mariners believed this team had the potential to overcome the deficit and at least earn a Wild Card spot, you can see why helping one of your most direct rivals in this way is a slap to the face. We were already playing with one hand tied behind our backs when it comes to how many games behind we are, and the overall deficit in talent (necessitating additions, not subtractions), now we’re that armless and legless knight in that Monty Python movie, trying to fend off our opponents with no limbs and a plucky attitude.

The other deal of the day was a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates for Tyler Anderson. In return, the Mariners dealt two minor leaguers I’ve never heard of and don’t feel compelled to mention here (okay, you got me, they are Carter Bins – a catcher – and Joaquin Tejada – a pitcher). These appear to be low-level prospects (outside of our organizational Top 20, maybe even outside of our Top 30) who are more or less just lottery picks for the Pirates.

Tyler Anderson, meanwhile, is somewhat interesting. He’s a starter, so that’s good. He’s a lefty, which seems like overkill a little bit (with Kikuchi, Gonzales, and eventually Sheffield). He doesn’t throw particularly hard, his stuff isn’t amazing, his numbers aren’t spectacular. But, he’s an innings eater who shouldn’t embarrass himself as a member of this rotation. Indeed, if he pitches to his potential, he’ll probably be in our top three starters the rest of the way. He’s also only costing us the pro rated portion of $2.5 million. The downside is, of course, the fact that he’s only signed through this season, making him the dictionary definition of a deadline rental. But, we’ll get a good look at him and see if he’s someone who might be worth re-signing after this season. I can’t imagine he’d be super expensive even if he puts up good numbers here; Tyler Anderson is who he is: a competent back-end of the rotation starter.

Jerry Dipoto had a lot to say after the first deal of the day. He acknowledged that the Graveman trade doesn’t look great by itself, but he seemed to promise that more moves were coming. The trade deadline is July 30th at 1pm (for some reason, GMs can’t make deals on a Saturday? What is this, Shomer Fucking Shabbos?), so I still expect more deals to be made between now and then.

They better be made, because if this is it, it’s a pretty pisspoor way for the organization to say it believes in this 2021 squad. Kyle Seager said it best the other day; I’m paraphrasing here, but at some point it has to be about winning now, it can’t always be about future contention.

Was The Seattle Kraken Entry Draft Underwhelming As Well?

Boy, I hope not!

With the Kraken selecting second overall (and third in every subsequent round), you’d like to think we’d nab at least one quality player among the seven, but you never know.

Matty Beniers, a center from the University of Michigan, was the big prize for the Kraken. Owen Power – also from Michigan – was the consensus #1 overall player, and he indeed went to Buffalo with the first pick. Beniers eventually became the near-consensus #2 pick, and the Kraken didn’t fuck around. He’s an 18 year old center with one year of college experience (according to Wikipedia, he was slated to go to Harvard before the Ivy League cancelled their season due to COVID), but has shined throughout his amateur career. He’s been touted as one of the most NHL-ready players in this draft, which you can take a couple of ways. He could be the “safe” pick that might not eclipse expectations compared to some higher-upside prospects (but at least we know we SHOULD have a good all-around player), or he could continue his trajectory as one of the best hockey players in the world and really put it all together in the next few years. Either way, there isn’t a lot of downside in taking Beniers.

Ryker Evans went to us in the second round; he’ll be 20 in December. He’s a defenseman who’s considered to be quite a reach as a second rounder. He’s got a lot of experience in the minor leagues, so obviously there’s something in him the scouting department likes. It’ll be disappointing if he doesn’t pan out in the next few years.

Ryan Winterton was taken in the third round. He’s a center who some projected as possibly going higher, which is nice I guess. Overall, he’s seen as more of a depth piece, but that’s not nothing.

Ville Ottavainen is a defenseman out of Finland who was selected in the fourth round. This could be a find for the Kraken, as we’re particularly well set up in our Scandinavian scouting department.

Jacob Melanson is a right winger taken in the fifth round. Apparently anyone drafted below the third or fourth rounds are lottery picks more than anything. I nevertheless find it interesting the Kraken took Semyon Vyazovoi from Russia in the sixth round. Anytime your team drafts a goalie – even in the later rounds – he’s going to be someone to watch. Finally, the Kraken drafted Justin Janicke in the seventh round; he just turned 18 years old and is a left winger.

From what I’m reading, there’s nothing that blows you away with this draft by the Kraken. They didn’t try to get too cute by picking someone else over Beniers; that selection was so easy a caveman could’ve made it. Where we’ll ultimately judge the organization’s scouting department – as well as GM Ron Francis – is how well the players in rounds 2-7 pan out. Just like the drafts in every other sport, we won’t have a great idea about how well they did for another 4-5 years. So, I’ll see you in 4-5 years, when I’m better able to have an actual opinion on matters.

Is This Happening? Mariners Took 3 of 4 From Athletics

Last week, when I talked about the Mariners being in contention if they go 5-2 against the Athletics and Astros, I know there’s a number of ways to get to 5-2, but what I specifically had in mind was a 3-1 series win against the A’s and a 2-1 series win against the Astros. Just keep winning series, regardless of whether the teams are great or terrible.

Well, it’s four days later and here we are with a 3-1 series win against the A’s. It could all come crumbling down against a hot Astros team, but for now I’m encouraged.

What this series showed me is that the Mariners are just as good as the Athletics. That’s not insignificant, because Fangraphs still gives the A’s a 41.3% chance of making the playoffs, while the Mariners sit at an abysmal 4.9% (below even the Angels, who are somehow at 9.1%). This is in spite of the fact that the Mariners currently sit 1.5 games behind the A’s (and 4 games ahead of the Angels).

Of course, “as good as” isn’t the same as better. Even though the Mariners won the series – and lead the season series 6 games to 4 – I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say we’re better than the A’s just yet. The Mariners have their issues, and still seem like they’re inordinately lucky, but I refuse to say it’s ALL luck. The Mariners have talent, and they’re extremely strong in a number of key areas (bullpen being the top of the list), and I don’t see that going away anytime soon.

This series got off to a rough start last Thursday, though, as Sean Manaea eats the Mariners for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 7 innings, 1 run (solo homer by Tom Murphy in the 7th), 13 strikeouts. Just outstanding. Over his two appearances against the M’s this year, he’s thrown 16 innings, given up 1 run on 7 hits and 5 walks, while striking out 21. If I never see him mash the living daylights out of the Mariners again, it’ll be too soon.

Chris Flexen was game for a bit, but ultimately gave up 2 runs in 5.1 innings of work. The bullpen did their best, but Rafael Montero once again sucked any joy out of this one, giving up 2 runs in 1 inning of work. That – FINALLY – earned him his walking papers; get a load of this run over his last 8 appearances: 11 innings, 17 runs, 25 hits, 4 walks, 11 strikeouts. That’s an epically atrocious stretch, but that was already on top of a vastly mediocre season. I mean, it’s never a good sign when a team trades for you to be its closer and you blow three saves in the first two weeks of the season. He’s been dubbed the unluckiest pitcher in baseball, but at some point you have to create your own luck, don’t you? By not being totally and completely inept? I have no doubt whatsoever that Rafael Montero will be picked up by another team and immediately reverse his fortunes. If not the rest of this year, then definitely in 2022 (and possibly beyond). At which point, I will be annoyed, but not surprised.

With that unpleasantness behind us, the Mariners started kicking asses and taking names.

Friday night saw the return of Yusei Kikuchi and his Quality Starts: 6 innings, 3 runs, 12 strikeouts. It was a shame he had to leave with a no decision, because he was dealing in this one. But, at the same time, it was frustrating to see him blow a 3-0 lead.

Cal Raleigh hit his first career Major League home run, 444 feet to right center, to put us up 2-0. Luis Torrens immediately followed with a solo homer (all in the 2nd inning), to keep his string of hotness going. With this Mariners team, giving us a tie game heading into the 7th is everything you could ask for. Both starters were out of the game by that point, and I’ll put our bullpen up against anyone’s. Indeed, the combo of Erik Swanson, Paul Sewald, and Kendall Graveman shut it down from there. While, the A’s gagged this away in hilarious fashion.

With two outs in the bottom of the 7th, Dylan Moore reached on an infield single. He stole second base pretty easily (against a left-handed pitcher, no less), before advancing all the way home on two separate wild pitches. That was it! 4-3 Mariners win!

Saturday’s game showed you how much the Mariners wanted this one. The whole weekend really had a playoff vibe, from the way the teams played, to the way the managers managed, to how into it the fans were in the stands. I had high hopes for Logan Gilbert – making his third start against the A’s in his young career – but he struggled wildly, unable to get out of the third inning after throwing 40-something pitches in that frame alone. Yet, when it was said and done, after three full innings, the Mariners were only down 3-2.

Mitch Haniger was a man possessed in this one, as he hit two home runs and was a few feet away from hitting a third (settling for a double off the wall). Indeed, he scored three of our first four runs and staked us to a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fifth.

That looked like it might’ve been enough, but Drew Steckenrider gave up a hard-luck solo homer around the right field foul pole to a backup catcher going the other way in the 7th inning to tie it back up. That’s one of those bad omens you’d see countless times by the Mariners that would totally derail everything. Indeed, my instincts as a Mariners fan kicked in and I was convinced we’d lose it late.

But, the bullpen kept the game tied into the bottom of the 9th, where Luis Torrens led off with a single against the Athletics’ closer. Kelenic walked to move the pinch runner to second. Then, after a Shed Long strikeout, Jake Bauers walked to load the bases. After a J.P. Crawford fielder’s choice – with the infield drawn in – got the runner out at home, that set up Haniger to be the hero once again.

Except: surprise! The hero was, I shit you not, another wild pitch! Kelenic was able to easily scamper home and give us the walk-off 5-4 victory. Two games in a row where the winning run was scored late on a wild pitch; what are the odds?!

I was busy on Sunday and missed the finale; it sounds like I missed a great one! Marco Gonzales was on the hill – better the A’s than having him face the Astros, I’ll tell you that much – and he was okay. 5.2 innings, 2 runs. You’re really not asking him for much more than that, given the season he’s had so far.

Thankfully, the hitters didn’t hang him out to dry, putting up 4 runs in the bottom of the third to take a 4-2 lead to the bullpens. Seager, Torrens, and Murphy were the offensive heroes in this one, giving the Mariners just enough. Casey Sadler returned from the IL over the weekend – he was the guy taking Montero’s spot on the roster – and was dominant on Saturday, before getting touched up for a solo homer on Sunday. That was it, though, as the bullpen once again was phenomenal.

Tough break on this Astros series though, needing Darren McCaughan to make the spot start later today. It’s kind of difficult to see us winning this one, which would require us to win the next two games in a row to win the series. Not impossible, of course, but you always hate to lose that first game of a series. It doesn’t always turn out so amazingly – like it did against the A’s.

Then, after an off-day on Thursday, the Mariners embark on a massive 10-game road trip to Texas, Tampa, and New York. I know the Rangers are awful – and we get to see them a lot in the next month – but the Rays and Yankees are elite, and should pose significant tests. Are the Mariners REALLY a playoff team? Well, how we fare against the Astros, Rays, and Yankees will go a long way in determining if we are or not.

Was The Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Underwhelming?

I guess we’ll see! Obviously nobody has any idea what the future holds. We could look back on this day and wonder what the hell these incompetents were thinking, or we could look back on this day WITH wonder at the start of a great hockey dynasty. Or, you know, any outcome in between.

What I’m getting at the moment – just a couple days removed from the big NHL Expansion Draft, where the Kraken selected an unprotected player from every other NHL team, save Las Vegas – is that there isn’t this sense that Seattle is an immediate juggernaut like the Golden Knights were in their first season. Sure, the Kraken grabbed some good players, but for the most part they left plenty of quality guys on the table.

So, what was the plan? It appears the Kraken focused first and foremost on salary cap flexibility. That means not selecting a lot of huge stars and trying to build some sort of fantasy team on day one. That means not taking on a lot of bloated contracts from past-their-prime players, so there isn’t a lot of dead money hanging over us. I get the sense Vegas did that in their expansion draft, and acquired a lot more draft picks for the amateur draft in the process.

Indeed, the only trade I’m aware of is Tyler Pitlick, who we selected from Arizona, and traded to Calgary for a 4th round pick. But, even he only had a $1.75 million cap hit. That, nevertheless, leaves the Kraken with over $30 million in remaining cap space. This likely means the Kraken will have some higher profile moves up their sleeves in the coming weeks. And, it should start the franchise off on the right foot going forward when it comes to their salary cap and flexibility in tweaking the roster.

It was also noted that there weren’t nearly as many opportunities for steals in the expansion draft. When Vegas had theirs, they took advantage of teams and GMs who had no idea what they were doing. It seems those people have either been replaced in the interim, or have gotten a lot smarter, because they weren’t willing to be fleeced this time around. I think the NHL world at large was pretty appalled at how amazing the Golden Knights were from the get-go, and they did everything in their power to not let that happen again.

The Kraken also appear to be building on the strength of their defense, as most of their best players and biggest stars are either great two-way players, or are just better on defense. I don’t know if it’ll make for the most exciting, high-flying brand of hockey, but at least it’s a plan. At least it’s an identity. And, given the general vibe of sports fans in the Pacific Northwest, I’d say it’s fitting. We love us some defense around these parts! Even those great Supersonics teams of the 90’s under George Karl featured swarming and suffocating trap defenses. On top of that, the Kraken seem to be focused on bruisers. Tough guys. Setting a hard-ass tone on the ice. If we’re not going to be great, we should at least be able to whoop some ass and leave teams feeling it afterward. Northwest fans also love aggressively tough teams, so again, it fits the vibe.

And, even though I talk about the stars they got, the Kraken definitely avoided bringing in too many huge names, at least so far. Mark Giordano is the biggest name of the bunch, but he’s been in the league 15 years and will be 38 years old when the season gets underway. He’s our unquestioned leader and captain, but he’s also on the final year of his contract.

Two of the other bigger names we brought in are Jamie Oleksiak and Adam Larsson, who are both defensemen. These are guys you’ll want to learn about, as they figure to be prominent players this season.

Other guys, in no particular order, who should see a lot of time (assuming they don’t get traded) are Joonas Donskoi (forward), Calle Jarnkrok (forward), Jordan Eberle (right wing), Brandon Tanev (left wing), Vince Dunn (defense), Yanni Gourde (center), and Jared McCann (forward). I would also throw in players like Haydn Fleury (defense), Colin Blackwell (center), and Mason Appleton (forward) who could improve a great deal with opportunities to play and compete for spots.

Just about all of the guys the Kraken took are younger, less experienced players, with room to grow. The sky is the limit, really. I don’t know if there’s a ton of upside, necessarily – especially when it comes to the 2021/2022 season in particular – but I like this strategy over more established veterans who might have injury issues, or might not be as hungry because they’ve already earned the bulk of their career money. We might not be great now, but we’ve given ourselves plenty of opportunity to find some diamonds in the rough. Like this current Mariners rebuild, we can use this season to figure out where we’re good, and where we need to fill in the cracks. If things break right, we might not see the Kraken in the playoffs in year one, but they could be a force in the next 2-4 years.

Whether or not the Kraken follow in the footsteps of the Golden Knights has a lot to do with the goalie situation. We didn’t grab Carey Price from Montreal, who is an established stud (but also maybe more of an injury risk), but we stuck with our plan of going for inexperienced guys with undetermined upside. Chris Driedger was a backup in Florida, who looks like he’ll get a shot to start here. You never know how well these guys will play until they get in front of the net every day, but it sounds like he was effective in his limited duty as a backup, so I have high hopes. Even if he’s not as good as Price might’ve been in year one, if he’s 90% as effective or better, I think that’s a steal, given the salary savings.

Vitek Vanecek figures to be our backup goalie, who is more of a prototypical backup (in that he should be fine in spot duty), with Joey Daccord more of a developmental project. Since the Kraken have built around the strength of their defensemen, that should provide an additional boost to the goalies, and if one of them proves to be better than advertised, you never know! Worse teams have succeeded based on the strength of keeping scoring down to a minimum (I’m assuming; I’m really talking out of my ass on all of this here).

Also, shoutout to Alexander True, who used to play for the Seattle Thunderbirds back in the day. I have no idea if he’s any good or not, but he’s young and returning to where he had some minor league success, so I think that’s fun.

I obviously didn’t list off everyone the Kraken drafted, so there’s a good chance I missed someone who might be solid. But, I’m just trying to do SOME due diligence when it comes to learning about the NHL.

Which is more than I can say for the Seattle fucking Times. I bought the newspaper on Thursday, thinking I’d get some quality analysis on the players we got. There was one article on the front page that took a global view of everything; it had at least some stuff on the bigger names. But, on the actual Sports Page, there were two articles: one about the fans in attendance at the live draft event at Gasworks Park, and one about the local sports celebrities in attendance at the live draft event at Gasworks Park (none of which actually play the fucking game of hockey). In an insert, the Times had a list of the players, with no analysis whatsoever. What a fucking joke.

You have a responsibility, Seattle Times, to educate fans on this team and this game. Stop feeding us puff pieces and give us information we can chew on!

The Mariners Split Again With The Rockies

Two-game series in baseball are inherently unsatisfying. Splitting a two-game series, therefore, is unsatisfying to the tenth power (don’t ask me how the math works, I’m just the CEO here). The first game was outstanding! The second game left a bitter and confusing taste in my mouth. Without further ado.

Marco Gonzales has been a collosal disappointment in 2021, and until I hear definitively otherwise, I’m going to believe it’s because he’s secretly injured and trying to power through with mediocre stuff. Like, I’m going to need to see MRI reports, bone scans, blood test results, the works. He’s injured, is my firm belief and I’m sticking to it. See, his stuff is relatively close to what it’s been, but he’s clearly lost a bit off of his fastball. But, what’s really concerning is his command. Too many pitches are catching the heart of the plate, and as a result are either getting mashed or just missed getting mashed. I think it’s more the lack of command that his alleged injury is affecting. He’s trying to gut through the pain, which means he’s losing focus on where the pitches should be going. That’s my theory! Prove me wrong.

Anyway, Gonzo used smoke and mirrors to get through 5 innings, giving up 2 runs. His pitch count was in the 80’s, so under normal (healthy) circumstances, there would’ve been no question that the erstwhile Mariners ace would’ve gone out for one more frame. But, he was already starting to get hit around pretty good in his last couple innings, so it was beyond appropriate to pull him.

It also didn’t hurt that the M’s put up a 4-spot in the top of the sixth to give Marco a 4-2 lead. Cal Raleigh had his coming out party in this one, recording his first Major League hit (a bloop single to center), his first Major League RBI (a 2-run double in the aforementioned sixth inning), while walking once and scoring a run. Dylan Moore capped the scoring in the sixth with a 2-run homer. And Ty France hit a 2-run double in the seventh to add to the fun.

The only black spot on the bullpen’s ledger was a 2-run home run by C.J. Cron off of Paul Sewald in the eighth. Otherwise, Kendall Graveman had little trouble getting his 9th save of the season.

The game on Wednesday was yet another bullpen start that the Mariners lost. What is our record in Bullpen Day games? One of these days I’m going to go through the schedule and try to find out.

Literally everything was stupid and annoying about this one, starting with Keynan Middleton getting the “start”, going 1 inning, and giving up 5 runs on 5 hits and a walk. It’s especially galling because we’d called up Darren McCaughan from Tacoma to fill the bulk of the game’s innings. I hate the Opener in baseball. I think it’s fucking stupid and backfires more often than it is supposed to help. The idea seems based in logic – you get a hard-throwing “good” reliever in there to take out the first 3-4 batters (usually a team’s best hitters), then you give a mediocre starter a soft landing by having to face those batters fewer times over the course of his outing – but it rarely seems to work out as intended. Maybe because a reliever in a starting role gets in his head about it, maybe because the opposing team is more geared up to face the super hard stuff early in games. I don’t know! What I do know is that in this game, Middleton faced all 9 of Colorado’s batters. Meaning that when McCaughan entered the game, he had to start with the top of the lineup regardless.

What’s worst of all is that McCaughan was great! He threw five no-hit innings, giving up 1 run on 3 walks (technically, it was 2 walks and two sacrifices in the fourth inning, but he did give up 3 walks in total) and 0 strikeouts. No one is saying McCaughan is an immediate solution to our starting rotation woes, but as a spot starter, you could do worse. Indeed, the Mariners have done worse this year. A lot worse. In this very game no less!

Seager, Torrens, and Haniger all hit solo homers in this one, as we lost by a respectable 6-3 margin. Oddly enough, you could argue all three of these guys are on the trading block as we head into the July 31st trade deadline. I’m sure we’ll have more to say on the matter next week, but just keep an eye out for those guys.

All right, here we go! Are you ready for this? Four home games against the Athletics, followed by three home games against the Astros. The two teams ahead of us in the American League West standings, and the team (A’s) directly ahead of us in the Wild Card standings. It’s crazy that these games hit just as we’re sliding into the trade deadline, because these next seven games could really make or break our season. If we go 5-2 or better, I think you have to admit the Mariners are officially in contention for a playoff spot. If we go 3-4 or worse, I think it’s probably safe to say the Mariners are who we thought they were.

Not for nothing, but if the Mariners go 4-3, the season automatically shuts down and the World Series is canceled. I don’t make the rules! I’m just your humble servant reporting the news.

In prior years, this is always when the Mariners have face-planted. But, 2021 feels different somehow. I dunno, it could be an interesting next seven days.

The Mariners Open Up The Second Half With A Series Win Over The Angels

I was heartened to see the Mariners did the sensible thing and went with their three best starting pitchers to open up the second half stretch run. With the All Star Break giving the team a few days off, they easily could’ve rejiggered the rotation however they wanted, including making last Friday a de facto Opening Day 2.0 (or Opening Day 3.0 if you count when the state started allowing full capacity seating again) and brought out Marco Gonzales as the ostensible “ace” of the staff. Instead, he’s been bumped to the 4-hole in the rotation, missing the Angels entirely as he gets his turn in Colorado.

Scott Servais gets overlooked quite a bit when we talk about the success of the Seattle Mariners, both this season and over his tenure with the team. He also gets an inordinate amount of blame when shit goes wrong, particularly whenever the bullpen melts down late in various demoralizing losses. In essence, how the bullpen does seems to be the only indicator as to whether or not a manager is good … at least, if you read which way the tea leaves are blowing on Twitter.

Managers are more than bullpen decisions. Granted, they make those choices too; they have to use their best judgment to determine whether or not a guy “has it” on a particular night. But, a lot of even THOSE decisions are made for them by the stats department. Guys have certain strengths and weaknesses and if you’re in a position to win a ballgame, you put the pitchers in there who figure to fare best based on the myriad numbers that have been crunched.

It’s not Servais’ fault if a guy has an off-night though. It’s not his fault if his bullpen is terrible, just as it’s not his good grace if a bullpen is amazing. I would argue, compared to the managers we’ve seen over the last 10-15 years, Servais has shown the best judgment in not sticking with bad relievers for too long. Even when you glom onto the latest thorn in our side, Rafael Montero, you can see he lost his closer’s job almost immediately this year. He’s pretty much been converted to a long relief role in blowouts at this point, to see if the team can salvage some value or production out of him. His stuff still has potential, and he must be willing to work with the coaches in improving his game, otherwise if he was difficult I think he’d already be gone.

But, if you take a step back from obsessing over one guy, and look at the team globally, what Servais and his staff have been able to do with this group of guys is pretty remarkable. The Mariners are 50-44. They have no right to be this good, with a group of players this mediocre, and with a run differential of -51. You can write this off as a fluke, but this also isn’t the first time a Scott Servais-managed team has had a winning record with a negative run differential. This isn’t the first time he’s maximized the talent of his team and squeezed out as many wins as possible. He seems to be adept at getting a lot out of a little, which leaves me excited to see what he could do with a team loaded with talent.

That gets me back to his decision to go Flexen/Kikuchi/Gilbert over the weekend. He’s loyal to his guys, to a point, but he’s not going to force an issue just to make guys happy. He’s going to lead, by making the hard choices and potentially pissing off a guy like Marco Gonzales. Too many former Mariners managers would’ve stubbornly stuck with Marco, saying, “He’s my guy” and getting rightly roasted as a result. But, where are the accolades when Servais makes the smart decisions like this? Well, they come from me, on a blog hardly anyone reads.

I like Servais. I hope he stays here a good, long time. I hope he gets to see this rebuild to fruition. I hope we get to see what he’s capable of when the Mariners are ready to start winning 100 games per season.

***

As I mentioned, Chris Flexen got the start on Friday. He kept the good times rolling by going 7 innings, giving up 1 run. Thankfully, the M’s were able to rack up a 6-1 lead by the time he left the game, because the defense and bullpen just didn’t have it in this one. We nevertheless were able to hang on for a 6-5 victory, but it was a nailbiter at the end.

Kendall Graveman has been a concern for us of late, since he returned from the COVID-IL with a case of being an anti-vax idiot (allegedly). I wouldn’t put a lot of the blame on him in this one, since all three of his runs were unearned (thanks to two errors), but he’s also shown to be much more hittable of late. Even though, spread out over the entire season, Graveman has been our best reliever, it was heartening to see Servais pull him with one out remaining in the bottom of the ninth, to go with the hot hand of Paul Sewald, who was able to shut the door.

Jarred Kelenic got called back up to the Mariners in this one. How far we’ve fallen that he’s not the biggest story on this blog at the moment. But, he broke his 0-for-Forever streak with a hit on Friday, so good for him. He also found himself batting 7th in the lineup, which is probably where he should’ve been all along, so go ahead and count that as a knock on Servais (I would say, in general, his lineup construction has been fine, though there are baffling moments sprinkled in, as there are with all managers).

The offensive heroes on Friday were the guys we’ve come to expect to lead the way: Haniger, France, and Seager. They combined to go 7 for 12 with 5 RBI, 5 runs scored, including homers by Seager and Haniger, and a double by Haniger to boot. Dylan Moore also had a couple hits to chip in.

Saturday was worrying, because it was the second sub-par outing in a row for Yusei Kikuchi. Ever since he made the All Star squad, he’s fallen apart. It was easy to explain-away the game against the Yankees (who tend to mash lefties), but giving up 7 runs in 5 innings to the Angels makes this the start of a trend. A trend, quite frankly, I don’t like! Let’s hope he turns it back around sooner rather than later.

The other two runs were given up by, you guessed it, Rafael Montero in his one inning of work. Again, what can you do with this guy besides release him at this point? I feel like he has until Hector Santiago’s suspension is up, then he’s most likely gone. He’s pitched in 39 games this season. He’s performed well on occasion, but he’s given up at least one run in 19 of those games. That’s an INSANELY high percentage of games where he’s failed (I would argue it’s a failure whenever a reliever gives up even one run; blanket statement, and probably unfair, I know). 11 of those games he’s given up 2 or more runs, which is astronomically bad. And he’s not trending in the good direction; he’s given up 2-3 runs in 6 of his last 7 appearances (since he had those remarkable back-to-back 10th inning shutdown performances against the Rays). Rafael Montero, we hardly knew ye.

The Mariners lost 9-4 on Saturday, though, so it’s hard to be too mad at Montero. Maybe he slips through the cracks; we’ll see. There are certainly enough blowout opportunities to sneak him to the finish line with this team.

Haniger had a homer and 4 RBI in this one. Kelenic had his second hit since being called back up. Dylan Moore had two more hits. As did Ty France. J.P. Crawford had three hits!

The rubber match was thrilling for a number of reasons. Logan Gilbert pitched into the sixth inning again (5.2 innings, 2 runs on 4 hits & 2 walks, with 9 strikeouts), and the bullpen did its job until the very end. Things got a little hairy in the ninth, after an Ohtani homer off of Sewald, but the M’s were up by a lot and things weren’t really in doubt. A 7-4 win and yet another series for the good guys.

Kelenic has a 3-game hit streak, everyone! France is red hot (had 3 hits – including a homer – with 2 runs and 3 RBI), Luis Torrens had another dinger. And Mitch Haniger scored 3 runs to be highly involved.

The Mariners keep plugging away. This is really a fun team! I can’t say I’m loving EVERY minute of the experience, but the good days outnumber the bad ones, and I think that’s all you can really ask from this team.

Is The Mariners’ Jake Fraley For Real?

The alternate title for this post was going to be, “Jake Fraley Is This Year’s Dylan Moore Of 2020”, but it’s not quite apples to apples. The sentiment is there: he’s a fringe player, thought to be nothing more than a bench bat/fourth outfielder, who has stepped his game up to the point where the Mariners MUST put him in the lineup everyday. Or face the consequences. Namely: my wrath.

Dylan Moore was just that prior to 2020. He was a nobody. Then, last year, he figured out how to generate more power from his bat; his slugging jumped from .389 in 2019 to .496 in 2020. Of course, last year was a pandemic year. On top of that, Moore was buried on the active roster by lesser players (mostly an injured Shed Long), so even though he was killing it, he only appeared in 38 of 60 games.

Not for nothing, but through the first half of 2021, Moore finds himself playing considerably worse than even his paltry 2019 season. The only aspect of Moore that’s better today is his defense, but you couldn’t be much worse defensively than Moore was in 2019 (especially in the first half of that season). I had much higher hopes for Moore heading into this year, based on his 2020. I thought he’d enacted some sort of Chris Taylor transformation, but apparently that’s not the case. In all likelihood, 2020 was a mirage.

That brings us to Jake Fraley. He was brought over after the 2018 season from the Rays in the Mike Zunino/Mallex Smith trade. Mallex Smith was a bust, and I don’t think anyone had any confidence in Fraley being anything more than a Quad-A type of player. His brief cups of coffee in 2019 and 2020 all but confirmed it. I figured, at best, he was a reserve outfielder who might be a defensive replacement late in games, or an emergency starter if enough guys got injured.

And yet, here we are in 2021, and Jake Fraley is tied with Ty France for second (among position players) on the Mariners in WAR (1.6) even though he’s only appeared in half the games of France. He’s among the best players on the team in on-base percentage (first among position players at .409), slugging (third among position players at .439), and OPS (first among position players at .848).

And, like Moore in 2020, Fraley has often found himself buried on the active roster behind inferior players. It’s really only since the end of May that Fraley has found himself in the lineup on a regular basis. And yet, he’s managed to produce!

A lot of the hype – especially early on – surrounded Fraley’s walk rate. It was off the charts! It continues to be his biggest asset, but he’s managed to add a little pop to his bat to balance things out. He’s also – like J.P. Crawford – finding himself in the middle of a lot of these Mariners rallies. He’ll find a way on base when we need someone, he’ll steal a bag for you, and he’ll come up with a clutch hit late in the game to win it. What more can you ask for from someone who consistently finds himself batting near the bottom of the lineup?

It’s difficult to see Fraley’s long-term viability on the Mariners, with guys like Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez soon-to-be patrolling the outfield on a regular basis, and also Kyle Lewis, whenever he gets his injury issues squared away. Fraley could be an excellent bridge guy to our Outfield of the Future, or he could supplant someone like Lewis (if we find the right trade for him), or he could be a trade chip himself! I would want Fraley to build up considerably more value before the Mariners deal him, but thankfully there’s still plenty of time for that.

Ironically, Jake Fraley is exactly the type of player who would thrive in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. If he’s able to keep it up through the rest of this season, maybe we send him back for another Rays player, who perhaps will soon be too expensive for them to retain. Fraley has team control through 2025, so he’ll continue to be a bargain for a little while yet.

It’s always fun seeing these guys who you never expect to turn into anything, become quality everyday players. Fraley is especially fun because he’s so involved in all of the best aspects of what this 2021 Mariners team has become. Scrappy, fast, playing above their overall talent level, finding ways to get it done that are maybe a little less conventional than the Three True Outcomes. In another time, Fraley might’ve been one of my all-time favorite players. As it is, I’m going to enjoy the ride for as long as he takes me on it.

Chris Flexen Is One Of The More Pleasant Mariners Surprises

So much positivity and good vibes going on lately, I might have to change the name to Seattle Sports Heaven!

Chris Flexen was one of those out-of-left-field signings before this season that I don’t think anyone really had any faith in. You’re talking about a guy who flamed out so hard with the Mets organization that he spent 2020 in Korea, where to his credit he did manage to turn his game around, but you have to take that with a grain of salt. Lots of people leave the Major Leagues for greener pastures over in Asia and see dramatic improvements; that’s not a knock, they just don’t have the level of talent that MLB has. I think some fans may have pointed to the specific types of improvements Flexen made as an indication that it could translate back over here. But, again, I don’t know why anyone would have thought he’d be as good as he’s been so far with the Mariners.

He’s made 16 starts, with 8 of them of the quality variety. I would argue he’s done his job in all but four of those starts, which were pretty bad (including one where he failed to make it out of the second inning), but otherwise he’s eating innings and consistently giving the Mariners at least a chance to win. His 8-3 record reflects this nicely. He’s crazy-economical with his pitch counts to boot, which should bode well for his durability.

I wouldn’t normally be raving about a Chris Flexen type. From a pure “stuff” standpoint, he’s more in the #3 or #4 starter range. But, obviously the Mariners’ rotation has had its struggles this season – both with injury and effectiveness – so it’s nice to have this rock in there who we can depend on for this type of consistency. When you factor in his salary, he’s a tremendous bargain who will be around for at least the next 2-3 seasons if he continues to produce in this fashion.

Flexen is earning less than $2 million this year. He’s locked in at just under $3 million for next year. There’s a team option for 2023 worth $4 million, that increases to $8 million if he hits 150 innings in 2022, or a combined 300 innings from 2021-2022. Considering he’s already at 92.1 innings at the All Star Break, I would say the $8 million is likely to be met. There’s another Arbitration year in 2024 on top of that, so team control isn’t an issue with Flexen. He’ll be here for a while as long as he stays healthy and pitches the way he’s been pitching.

As we’ve seen, both locally and across MLB, filling out your rotation with quality pitchers is one of the most difficult things you can do. We always talk about the need for bona fide ace pitchers, but you also need guys like Flexen. He’s only 27 years old, so it feels silly to call him a “crafty veteran”, but he’s a pitcher. He’s not getting by on overwhelming stuff. He’s pitching to spots, pitching to contact, and generating just enough whiffs to prevent E.R.A. bloat. As long as they avoid injury, guys like Flexen can stick in the game for a long time. He strikes me as more of a journeyman type, but sometimes these guys stay so consistently good that teams HAVE to pay them lots of money to stick around for multiple years. We’re getting him in his prime, at sub-prime prices.

I don’t like being one of those fans who’s obsessed with the team’s bottom line, because MLB teams are owned by billionaires. They have the money to spend. If they don’t spend it, they’re just being stingy. But, I have to be a fan who lives in the real world, and I know the Mariners can be stingy. They’ll splurge when they have to, but they’re never going to consistently reside at the top of the market. At best, you might see the M’s in the top ten in payroll, but I don’t know if you’ll ever see us in the top five, or even the top seven or eight. Everything kind of has to go right for the Mariners to want to go all in.

So, we need the young crop of prospects to hit it big. And we need bargains like Flexen to out-perform their contracts. This helps make the Mariners good, and thereby helps the front office feel better about opening their wallets.

The Mariners are 48-43. That’s certainly better than I figured they’d be at his point, when I considered this team before the season. Chris Flexen is a great reason why. He has a 1.5 WAR. Justus Sheffield – one of the greatest Mariners disappointments so far in 2021 – has a negative 1.5 WAR. Flexen is the anti-Sheffield! He zeroes out all that Sheffield has done to try to sabotage this season. I think that’s pretty impressive!

I’m also amused that he’s another ex-Mets player who crushes it in Seattle. Can we make it a point to bring in every ex-Met and turn them into superstars?