My kneejerk reaction is that I hate this move. My measured and composed reaction – after giving this some thought – is that I’m not happy, with equal parts anger and sadness.
To be fair, if I had any interest in being fair, I guess I have to say that there’s a lot that’s up in the air, and a lot we don’t know. From what was reported, this is something the Mariners are trying, specifically for the 2022 season, because they believe they have a need for some bullpen help, and they think Matt Brash can help in that area. That doesn’t mean he can’t spend the following offseason reverting back to being a starter, while working on his pitches that aren’t his fastball and slider (in hopes of building up his overall arsenal, and making him a more viable starting candidate in 2023 and beyond). He could also struggle as a reliever in the short term, and return to being a starter – in the minor leagues – before the 2022 season concludes.
I guess we first have to talk about this alleged “need” for more Major League relievers. That’s debatable. The bullpen was supposed to be this team’s biggest strength heading into the season. But, as we’ve seen already – one month in – there are already some cracks the team is dealing with. Sadler, Giles, and Romo (among others, I’m assuming, who I’ve forgotten for the moment) are missing extensive time. Castillo, Steckenrider, and even Sewald have already gotten blown up a time or three, and those are supposed to be the majority of the A-Team Bullpen. And, as we’ve been talking about since before the season even started, bullpen comes with the highest of variance from season to season, so you can never have enough bullpen help.
Okay, so I’ll buy that. Brash can, most likely, help out our Major League bullpen.
If that’s the case, then why wasn’t he put into the bullpen from the get-go?
Well, because he’s been kicking some fucking ass up and down the minor leagues as a starter! It was only natural, then, to have him go into Spring Training in a competition for the team’s fifth starter job. Mind you, that job was available for one of two reasons: either the team was unable to find a veteran to fill that void, or because they believed someone internally – someone like Brash – was qualified to earn that spot in the rotation. As it shook out, the duel was between Brash and George Kirby. Brash won the job on the merits of his Spring Training (and, again, his prior track record of dominating in the minors).
So, why the fuck do you only give him five regular season starts before demoting him from the Majors and from the ranks of the starting pitcher?
Was this all a sham? Was he only here as competition for Kirby? If that’s the case, either the team always intended for Kirby to win the job, and Brash forced their hand otherwise, or the team always wanted Kirby to lose the job to justify sending him down to the minors until the month of May, thereby allowing the team to earn an extra year of club control. I don’t know if that’s even a thing anymore – with the new CBA the league is playing under – but it would make a lot of sense if that’s the case.
I don’t think it was a sham, though. The Mariners seem to be all-in on ending this playoff drought, and I don’t think they’d roll with Brash for five turns in the rotation if he wasn’t qualified to pitch at this level.
What I do think is that Brash struggled – as everyone expected, because he’s so young and inexperienced – and now the Mariners are panicking, because they can see things starting to fall apart, and they need to do whatever it takes to make it to the playoffs. For reasons that are sort of unclear, because I don’t think any high-level jobs are at stake. Playoffs or not, I think Dipoto will be back for at least 2023. Same goes for Servais (besides that, Servais isn’t the one making this decision; Dipoto is).
It’s the panicking that’s most frustrating, because this DEFINITELY isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Mariners make an asinine move like this. We all remember the Brandon Morrow saga. He was the starter we drafted – ahead of Tim Lincecum, two-time Cy Young Award winner, I might add – who was skyrocketed into the Majors as a reliever because the team thought that would be the quickest way to help in the short term. He was okay, but when it turned out that he wasn’t enough to boost us into the post-season, we opted to try and move him back to being a starter. That ultimately failed and he was traded to the Blue Jays for Brandon League and a minor leaguer. Morrow showed some real bright spots and even dominance as a starter for the Blue Jays, but the damage was done. His growth was stunted, injuries mounted, and he eventually ended his career as a reliever once again.
What a fucking nightmare! And now we’re doing it again to this kid, and he’s powerless to stop it.
My hunch – however misguided it might be – is that the Mariners have had this in the back of their mind for a while now: that Brash was always destined to be a reliever. His performance this season would seem to check that box. If we look at the glass as half-empty, then Brash is a two-pitch pitcher (fastball & slider) with no feel for anything else (change-up & curve), and no real command for any of them. With a limited pitch count as it is – given his youth, and this team’s philosophy to restrict innings on our young arms – we’re not likely to ever get him deep into ballgames. So, instead of killing the Mariners every fifth day, and instead of wasting time in AAA trying to develop his arm as a starter, we’re just going to get a jumpstart on his reliever career now, in hopes that we can salvage what we’ve got and move on (with an outside shot that he develops into a lockdown reliever in late-game, high-leverage situations by season’s end).
But, again, if you believed that about him – that he was always destined to be a reliever – then why not make him one earlier? Did you need him to see incontrovertible proof that he sucks as a starter to get him to accept the demotion? Because, I have news for you: he might NOT suck as a starter! But, you’ve taken away any possibility to the contrary by making this move.
If Brash is great as a reliever, then odds are he’s going to stick to relief work. If he sucks as a reliever, then you’ve wasted a year of his development, AND you’ve killed his confidence. Moving him back into a starter role will almost certainly fail, because he’ll have it in the back of his mind that he not only couldn’t hack it as a starter in his first cup of coffee with the big league ballclub, but he also couldn’t hack it as a reliever. The lowest of the low. The Justus Sheffield’s of the world.
It’s just so short-sighted. This year isn’t about making the playoffs as a fringe wild card team. This year is about sticking to the fucking plan, developing the young guys, and hoping they make a huge leap forward in 2023 and beyond, when we might be contending for the division and maybe even the World Series! I don’t understand why we’re not giving Brash the demotion to Tacoma – that he’s earned through inconsistent play – to get a breather and continue tinkering with his pitch arsenal. Maybe he figures out how to better throw in and around the strike zone (without catching SO MUCH of the strike zone that he gets crushed), and gets his redemption later in the regular season? Instead, we have to hope he morphs into a dominant 8th or 9th inning closer-type, or else he’s just nothing.
And, maybe worst of all, now his trade value plummets! He was once a fucking steal of a trade target from the Padres (for Taylor Williams, whoever that guy is). Now, he might as well be Taylor Williams!
I’m just so disgruntled. This feels like the first domino that falls before a total collapse. Everything was going so well in the big Mariners rebuild, and now … we’ve done what we always do: we Mariners’d everything up.
It’s been a little bit, but the Same Old Mariners are back in action. Sometimes, it’s comforting to know there are certainties in the world. The sun will rise in the morning. Traffic is always going to be miserable. And the Mariners are going to fuck things up and stay as far away from the World Series as humanly possible.