The Mariners Lost Their Home Opener

We got a lot of information out of that first game. I don’t know if it was enough information to make an informed opinion about this Mariners team, but it was more information than we had from all the Spring Training games combined.

For starters, this is the first go-around for the rotation. Arms aren’t quite built up to mid-season form. There’s going to be a little ramping up period. So, I can’t say I’m totally shocked by Luis Castillo’s 5 innings/4 runs performance. To be honest, that’s almost exactly what I had him pegged for heading into yesterday.

The bottom of the bullpen isn’t anything special … yet. It’s gonna be a lot more fun to watch this team when Brash and Santos rejoin the squad.

Mitch Haniger has taken his hot hitting into the regular season. 2 for 3 with a walk and a homer. He’s always been a streaky guy, which is part of the reason why games that matter couldn’t arrive soon enough. Here’s hoping he can keep this going into April and beyond.

Polanco and Garver look like they can help. It was nice to see both of them get hits, including a double by Garver late.

Julio and Cal look like studs. We just need guys to get on base ahead of them.

Canzone came crashing down to Earth immediately in this one, with an 0 for 2 day at the plate, and a wildly misplayed ball in left field to let someone stretch a double into a triple. He was replaced by Dylan Moore, who promptly hit a 2-run bomb to center to pull the game to within a run in the 7th. I wonder if this is the Dylan Moore the team was expecting last year. Now that he’s fully healthy, maybe he’s ready to show what he can do.

Batting 8th, Ty France went 0 for 4. I didn’t get the sense that he was swinging at a lot of crap, but the results are the results. Today is another day.

J.P. seemed to get a little jobbed by the home plate umpire on balls & strikes, especially in his first at bat, when he should’ve earned a walk. Tough night at the plate, but he offered his usual excellence in the field.

Can’t say that for Luis Urias, who took over for Josh Rojas late, struck out, and misplayed a grounder so hard at third base that he not only didn’t tag the runner coming from second (who was standing practically an arm’s length away), but he took forever to throw it to first AND the throw was as soft and wobbly as any pass you would’ve seen from Peyton Manning in his final NFL season. What are we even doing with this guy?

Luke Raley ended our evening in the bottom of the 9th. He batted for Urias with two outs and Haniger standing at first, down 6-4. This wasn’t even remotely a competitive at bat, as he took a strike down the middle, then flailed wildly at the next two pitches (both in the zone). All were apparently cutters, 93-94 miles per hour. Not even a foul tip. Trading with the Rays seems like it’s always a fool’s errand. My guess is, we’re going to wish we had Caballero to handle third base for us, because I just don’t see a path for Raley to be successful here.

2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part II: Run Scoring

In case you missed it, read Part I here about the 2024 Mariners run prevention.

As was discussed yesterday, the Mariners aren’t even close to contenders without a dominant pitching staff. That’s what this team is built on. We need the starters to keep things close and low scoring, we need the bullpen to go above and beyond, and we need the defense to just be passable. This gets us to the front porch of the playoffs. How we’re going to walk in the door? How far we’re going into the house? Well, that’s up to the hitters, now isn’t it?

It’s really a Chicken Or Egg situation then, isn’t it? What’s more important, the pitching or the hitting? We need great pitching, because the hitting is subpar. But, with no hitting whatsoever, it doesn’t matter how great our pitching is, because if you can’t score runs, you’re not winning games!

And, as we discussed yesterday, we can’t really rely on the Spring Training numbers, because they don’t matter. They don’t translate to the regular season. It’s not like they’re A.P. classes we can use for college credit; everyone reverts back to .000 starting today.

You know who were the four best OPS regulars this spring? Julio (naturally), Haniger (sounds right), Polanco (solid veteran), and Canzone (The Mirage). It’ll be interesting to see where these guys end up at season’s end – and who ends up as the top four OPS guys – because other than Julio, I don’t know if I believe in ANY of them.

The stars on this squad are Julio, J.P., and Cal. Center field, short stop, catcher. Those are our studs. We don’t have to worry about them producing; they’re going to be fine. We love them, and honestly, we don’t talk enough about how great they are!

Then, there’s a creamy middle of veterans: Haniger, Polanco, France, Garver. Right field, second base, first base, DH. This is the pile we’re relying on to stay healthy, as all have massive injury concerns, and it would be a miracle if they avoided the IL. They’re good, productive middle-of-the-order hitters when they’re healthy, except France comes with the additional caveat of having worked on a new swing all offseason. He seems to have made some headway in that department this spring; I’ll reject a lot of exhibition numbers, but 6 walks over 5 strikeouts definitely seems like a step in the right direction. On the downside, he tied for the lead in spring at bats with 44 and managed all of zero homers. The high batting average is nice – and if he reverts to a high average/high on-base guy with limited power, I’ll take it – but it is a little concerning to see so few extra-base hits.

If those seven hitters all pan out, I think we’ll be fine. But, when have things EVER panned out the way we want them to?

Which brings us to the fringe guys: Canzone, Raley, Urias, Rojas, Moore. Left field, third base, utility. These are the guys who we always try to talk ourselves into. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if Canzone turned into a legitimate baseball player? Oh, wouldn’t it be great if Urias came in here and proved everybody wrong? Oh, wouldn’t it be so sweet if Raley was the Rays player they gave up on who actually turned out to be someone useful?

As you can tell, I don’t have a ton of any confidence in any of those guys, or anyone else residing in this area of the active roster. These are barely .200 hitters who strike out too much and might sack up for a homer once every 20 games or so. Canzone, I’ve talked about. He’s the guy getting the most pub, and probably the guy I want MOST to succeed, so he’s clearly going to crap out. Raley has had about as bad of a Spring Training as you can get (.159/.245/.227), joining France as the other player with 44 at bats and 0 homers. It’s funny how spring numbers never matter … except when you hit as poorly as Raley. Then, you have to wonder: if he can’t hit in the cozy confines of a slick Arizona atmosphere, how is he ever going to hit in the murky slog that is Seattle?

Third base just seems like a cesspool at this point. The black hole to end all black holes. Rojas is Moore without the unjustified confidence, and Urias seems like a total bust. I think, at best, we get nothing from that spot in the order, but are at least middle-of-the-road defensively. At worst, we also lead the league in errors; think Russ Davis without the 30 homer potential.

I really want to believe in this team. I really want to believe in the pundits and nerds who think this offense will be better than expected. But, I have almost 30 years of Mariners fandom in my back pocket. I know what this team does. I know what it’s capable of when you start to believe in them. Every season where I’ve come in confident, they’ve let me down. It’s only when my belief is at its lowest when they at least flirt with contention. But, you know the story. One playoff appearance in the last 20-something years, which was a sweep in the ALCS to the Houston Astros of all teams. We can’t have nice things, so why should 2024 be any different?

It’s the first day of the season. The time of unbridled optimism and rejuvenated hope. This is supposed to be when you Believe Big or whatnot! But, I just can’t get there. Not with all the holes this organization left for itself. Not with all the question marks we have to rely on if we want to be good.

The best I can give you is my attention. I’ll be honest, when I heard about all the nonsense with payroll, I was ready to quit on this team. I was ready to be a fairweather fan at best, and maybe just stop watching them altogether. While they didn’t do enough to suck me into believing this is a playoff team, they did do enough to at least keep me around for a while.

The projections say this is an 85-win team, which is good enough to hang around contention and maybe sneak into a wild card if things break right. I think 85-77 feels about right. I also think that won’t be NEARLY enough to make a wild card. We’ll probably end up a few games out, but ultimately another wasted year is upon us.

2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part I: Run Prevention

It’s interesting how opinions can shift. Just two months ago, I was ranting and raving about the F-grade the Mariners deserved for this offseason (not necessarily the grade Jerry Dipoto & Co. earned, but the organization as a whole, starting first & foremost with ownership). Since then, it should be pointed out, three very important personnel moves were made. We traded for Jorge Polanco to shore up second base. We traded for Gregory Santos to shore up the back-end of our bullpen. Then, we signed Ryne Stanek after it became clear Santos (and Brash) wouldn’t be healthy enough to break camp with the Mariners out of Spring Training. You’re talking about some much-needed depth, and you’re also talking about – when healthy – a team that should at least hang around.

On top of those moves, the other thing that’s happened in the subsequent two months since I wrote that post is that the Mariners have had their entire Spring Training session. We have some more information than we did before. Even though we’re all loathe to talk positively about numbers, you can’t help but feel at least a little warm and fuzzy about hitters mashing the ball, and the stuff from your pitchers starting to come around.

I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve done a complete 180 on this team. But, between the additional moves, the exhibition performance, all the pundits and analytics being more bullish than bearish on this team, and the general optimism of spring and the new season directly before us, it’s hard not to have that … whatever the opposite is of cloud your thinking. Clear? Sunny up? They’ve gone and sunnied up my disposition – without my consent, I might add – and I’m not sure how to reconcile those feelings from two months ago.

You know what I hate? Being everyone’s “dark horse”. You know what else I hate? Being suckered into this fucking team, only for them to fall flat on their asses.

So, I’m trying to shut all that noise out and just focus on what my brain tells me. For starters, I have to give the usual caveat: all of this prognostication assumes we have an average amount of health (or better). Every team deals with injuries. Even the very best teams have to endure stretches where it feels like the baseball gods are whooping them with the ugly stick. The Rangers last year – World Series champions – had a spell in the second half where it looked like they might fall apart. But, they picked themselves up, steamrolled through the playoffs, and the rest was history. But, obviously, everyone remembers the 1996 Mariners, where Randy Johnson was lost for most of the year, and we also lost a good month from Ken Griffey Jr. Teams can’t endure the loss of their two best players for extended stretches and still hope to compete. If the 2024 Mariners lose Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez, no one is going to sit there and say, “Well, that’s just an average amount of baseball injuries.” It’s debilitating!

With that out of the way, let’s get going here. Since all I want to talk about is the hitting, we’re going to save that for Part II tomorrow. Right now, let’s get into the pitching and (a little bit on the) defense (at the end).

Baseball is tricky. You can’t sit there and say, “So and so is the most important guy on this team, and without him playing great, we have no chance.” It’s not football with the quarterback position. It’s not basketball with whoever your superstar is. Baseball is too much of a team sport. Yes, you need your stars to play well, but one guy can’t do it all. If that were the case, Mike Trout would be a champion countless times over.

You can’t even pin it all on a single pitcher, though I’ll contend until my dying breath that there’s nothing quite like an ace to dominate (particularly down the stretch of a pennant race). But, with the 2024 Mariners, we’re not even close to talking about them being contenders without this pitching staff, and especially this starting rotation. They’re the straw that stirs the drink. The most important aspect of this team, by far.

I don’t think you’re going to find a more talented one through five in Major League Baseball – nor one with a higher upside – than the one the Mariners are going to throw out there this seaason. Luis Castillo and George Kirby, right now, are among the best starters in all of baseball, and Logan Gilbert isn’t too far behind. And the pure, raw stuff of Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, and Emerson Hancock (who is slotting into Woo’s spot while he starts the season on the IL with a little bit of arm inflammation) makes them more than the ideal 4 & 5 starters. There’s the kind of potential that we just saw in the first couple of seasons with Kirby and Gilbert! Now, obviously, that’s no guarantee they’re going to turn into bona fide All Stars, but if the worst thing you can say is that the guys projected to be in the back of your rotation – with mid-to-high 90’s fastballs with tons of movement and some promising off-speed pitches – are going to get hit around every now and then, that’s a pretty great problem to have.

Do you know how many teams have absolute bums in the back-end of their rotation? Do you know how many teams are relying on soft-tossing journeymen a la Marco Gonzales to simply eat up innings? Meanwhile, the Mariners have nothing but power arms fisting their way through opposing lineups; it’s outstanding!

Obviously, the knock against the rotation is the lack of depth. But, what team doesn’t have that problem? With Hancock, I’ve already listed six guys who we like. The top three guys are better than most other teams have in their ace spots; and the bottom three guys are better than most every other team’s back-end. If those other teams suffer rotation injuries, I can only imagine the drop-off in quality!

The fact of the matter is, the Mariners are uniquely positioned to withstand the injury bug every now and then. Obviously, it would be ideal if we can get through the next couple months without losing any more starters – to give our bullpen an opportunity to heal up. But, with our home stadium, with our marine layer, and eventually when we get our bullpen figured out, I don’t have a big problem ceding a few outings to a Quad-A starter every now and then. Let him five & dive and hope your offense is up to the task to win a squeaker.

Now, that bullpen does come with some questions. I think we’re all in agreement that when our studs get healthy, a top four (in whatever order you choose) of Santos, Brash, Stanek, and Munoz, is as good as it gets. Again, in all of Major League Baseball. At that point, it almost doesn’t matter who else you put out there. Saucedo and Speier are reliable-enough. Trent Thornton could conceivably be due for a bounce-back, after having a full offseason in our throwing program. And, I’m sure there are plenty of under-the-rader arms in our organization who are poised to be the next Justin Topa or Paul Sewald. Until this unit lets me down, I have to believe we have what it takes to get the job done in the bullpen.

If this team is going to get back to the playoffs, it’s going to be on the arms to get the job done. For as good as they are, it would be helpful if the defense could pick things up behind them, but we’ll see.

By all accounts, we’re going to take a serious step back defensively. Which is kind of shocking, if I’m honest. I always remember Mitch Haniger being better than average. Has he really taken such a dive with age and injury? If he has, that’s a problem, because we’re clearly not as good in left field with the loss of Kelenic. I don’t even know if Luke Raley is competent out there! We might be on the hook for Super Utility Dylan Moore more than we’d like (that is, if he’s not covering for third base).

Speaking of which, is Luis Urias the worst defensive third baseman in baseball? We’ll find out! He sure as shit seems to be worse than Suarez. And I don’t know if Rojas or Moore are much better. Also, what are we going to get out of Polanco at second?

Seems like the potential for a lot of holes. That being said, I don’t care how old Haniger is, there’s no WAY he’s worse than Teoscar Hernandez. We still have Julio and J.P. And our catching figures to be among the best in baseball as well (or, at the very least, the most underrated).

I don’t know if we can count on this defense to carry us. But, as long as it isn’t a total hindrance, then the run prevention half of this team should be among the best in the American League. Certainly good enough to get us to the post-season.

Now, will the hitting do its part? Check back tomorrow (and the rest of this regular season) to find out!

The Husky Basketball Team Fired Mike Hopkins, Hired Danny Sprinkle

After a fifth consecutive season landing outside of the NCAA Tournament, and after a losing conference record in four out of the last five years, it was a foregone conclusion that Mike Hopkins would be fired prior to finishing out the last year of his contract. We were at a point in his tenure where the turnover was pretty massive from year to year, there hasn’t been a viable high school recruit since the Romar era, and there was a complete and utter lack of improvement among those who did end up returning. On top of everything else, Hopkins couldn’t even run his signature zone defense anymore, because of that lack of continuity.

It’s been pretty miserable to be a Husky fan, ever since the last remnants of the Romar era won Hopkins his second consecutive Pac-12 Coach of the Year award, in our last season in the NCAA Tournament in 2019. There’s been equal parts hopelessness and delusion, into thinking that whatever scrubs we were able to bring in via the transfer portal would somehow shake out into a winning basketball club. Ultimately, it’s been a consistent lack of consistency, other than the fact that we couldn’t win any big games against quality opponents, and frequently flubbed things up against lower-quadrant teams.

In the end, we had to very nearly run out the string, thanks to the other big coaching blunder we had to pay out, in the form of Jimmy Lake.

Now that the unpleasantness is behind us, let’s welcome Danny Sprinkle! That name sounding like a My Little Pony notwithstanding, it seems like we did good with this hire. He has a 109-50 record in five seasons, across two teams. He turned around a moribund program in Montana State (after two so-so seasons, he took them to the NCAA Tournament as a 14-seed in back-to-back years), then he flipped a Utah State team that returned zero points from its previous season’s roster into an 8-seed this year that beat TCU in the first round, before succumbing to the juggernaut that is 1-seed Purdue.

That’s three NCAA Tournament appearances in a row, for those keeping track at home. We haven’t had three consecutive Tourney appearances since the 2009-2011 seasons!

This, of course, feels like a Kalen DeBoer situation (or a Jedd Fisch situation, for that matter), where Sprinkle is a head coach on the rise, who will look to jump ship at the first opportunity. But, as is our lot in life, you kind of have to hope that’s the endgame, because it means we’ll actually see some NCAA success in the near future. It won’t be a lot of success, of course. But, just getting there feels like half 99% of the battle.

I don’t know where Sprinkle lands on the list of Best New Hires in men’s basketball this year, but it feels like he’s the best of OUR particular options. The former Coug head coach jumped ship to Stanford of all teams, which seems odd considering it sounded like he could’ve had his pick of any number of open jobs (after taking that team into the Round of 32 this year, when nothing was expected of them heading into this season). It’s even more remarkable that the Huskies were able to hire anyone, considering our Athletic Director left us last week to go to Nebraska of all schools (yes, the same AD who has been here for all of 6 months).

While I agree that the next AD needs to be someone with bona fide Husky ties (and not some dick in the yard from Tulane), I’m not buying that noise about Sprinkle potentially being a long-term fit because his dad played here, and because he was born in Pullman. That’s a tenuous fucking grip AT BEST on the reality of the situation. Washington is a Stepping Stone program (unfortunately for Hopkins, it was a stepping stone into a dark fucking abyss). We haven’t found the next Mark Few, so you can get that out of your heads right now.

I’m excited that we got a young and promising head coach who has had a lot of recent success, but my excitement is most certainly tempered. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m not interested in him doing everything he can to retain the players we have currently on our roster, or our assistant head coaches for that matter. I dunno, maybe I should be; maybe all these players need is just some semblance of competence among its head coach to bring in a winning scheme that works. But, this program has been a stone cold loser for half a decade, and I have no loyalty to ANY of these chumps. Sprinkle should do what’s best for Sprinkle, and if that means totally cleaning house, so be it. I’ll take his opinion over anyone else’s. If it were up to me, the assistants on this staff would be updating their resumes; maybe they can see if Seattle U is hiring.

My Favorite Seahawks Move So Far This Offseason

This blog post on Field Gulls popped up late last week at just around the same time I had a similar idea for my own blog. Of course, they posted first, so credit where it’s due for getting the job done ahead of me. But, that’s still not going to stop me from voicing my own take!

As I’ve talked about, it’s been a very Seahawky offseason so far. No real big outside free agent splash signings; we kept our own highest-priority free agent, we shuffled off some money in the form of overpaid cap casualties, and we brought in a bevy of bridge guys on short-term, inexpensive deals to fill out the roster around our core. So, when you look at that list of players on the Field Gulls link, it’s not going to knock you out.

On the whole, I would say I like what the Seahawks have done. I can’t say I’m totally in love with it, but then again, I don’t know what I can really expect. We were in pretty bad shape the last few years, both from a salary cap standpoint, as well as an underperforming veterans standpoint. It really says something when the Seahawks have exactly one player from their 2020 draft class on their roster, and that’s only because Darrell Taylor lost a year of eligibility due to coming into the league with an injury (at this point, based on what we’ve seen from him through three seasons, it would be a longshot to see him getting a proper second contract with the Seahawks).

My point is, it’s not like the Seahawks could afford to spend lavishly in free agency. And, with our stupid 9-8 record – and the fact that we traded away a second round pick for Leonard Williams last year (which was only necessary BECAUSE our salary cap situation was so shitty) – it’s not like we have a solid cache of draft picks to fall back on. So again, what did I really expect? We came into this offseason with one hand tied behind our back, we used what cap casualties we could to loosen that binding, but ultimately there’s only so much money to go around, and a lot of roster spots needed to field a team.

If I’m being honest, the Seahawks move that got me the most excited is the hiring of Mike Macdonald. My second-favorite move is hiring Ryan Grubb. My third-favorite is firing Clint Hurtt. But, that doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of the exercise.

My favorite player move, then, has to be Leonard Williams. Simply because he’s the best player we signed, period. He’s either the best or second-best player on our defense, and I’d put him probably in the top five most impactful players on the entire team. Dude is a stud, on a team that’s kind of in short supply of them.

But, I dunno, that signing doesn’t feel like it’s in the spirit of the exercise either. Just as similar favorites – cutting Jamal Adams, not overpaying for Bobby Wagner, and not REALLY overpaying for Damien Lewis – are also not in the spirit. In my mind, the question posed in the title of this post has to do with NEW players. What’s my favorite incoming Seahawks move?

If it feels like slim pickin’s, that’s because it is. Two incoming free agents on 2-year deals, everyone else is on a 1-year deal. The most money – SURPRISE – is going to a safety. I want to say Rayshawn Jenkins – or one of the two middle linebackers – is my favorite move, but to be honest, I don’t know those guys from Adam. I’m sure one or more of them will make a great impact, but right now, they’re all J.A.G.’s to me.

I can’t bring myself to put Sam Howell in this category, even though I like him. I do think he has potential. Sure, he’s most likely in the range of Drew Lock to Baker Mayfield, which isn’t tremendous. I mean, before last season’s resurgence with the Bucs, we were talking about Baker being an injury-prone bust for crying out loud! But, with the right development, and a little luck, maybe Howell turns into something more? Maybe he’s a Rich Gannon or a Jeff Garcia type. Someone who’s better than a Game Manager, but obviously well short of a Hall of Famer. Someone who – on the right team – can lead you to a Super Bowl, but is going to need a lot of help to push you over the edge.

My biggest beef with the Sam Howell deal is that we traded for him to be a backup. I mean, maybe that’s what he deserves to be, after leading the league in interceptions and sacks endured; it’s probably not the worst idea in the world to let him sit and learn a little more. But, if the whole point is to bring in a young player on a cap-friendly contract, you’re not exactly extracting any value from that deal by sitting him for one of the two remaining years before he’s a free agent. I think the odds are long that he comes in and blows everyone away in Training Camp. With a new team and a new offensive coordinator, he’s not going to overtake a dependable – if uninspiring – veteran in Geno Smith. The only way Howell plays extensively is if Geno REALLY shits the bed, or succumbs to injury, which, we’ll see.

So, if I’m being honest, I think my favorite move is bringing back George Fant!

The Seahawks clearly struggled last year on the O-Line. Abe Lucas apparently has a chronic knee issue that’s always going to limit him in one way or another (if it’s not practice reps, then it’ll be games played), and he’s coming off of some sort of clean-up procedure done this offseason. The hope was to get two more years of competent tackle play from Lucas and Charles Cross, but I don’t know if you can count on that. When you factor in needing to replace all three interior linemen spots, it’s pretty demoralizing knowing that one of your tackle spots is also unreliable.

I think we’re all of the mindset that the Seahawks are going to draft guard with their first pick (probably after they trade down a time or two). My guess is, we won’t stop at just one draft pick; there will be multiple interior linemen drafted. That’s a lot of youth up front – especially when you add last year’s picks of Anthony Bradford and Olu Oluwatimi – so it’s nice to have someone like George Fant on the roster. Someone who can capably slide into either tackle spot in a pinch, as well as someone who can mentor the younger players. Lord knows we’re not getting either quality from Stone Forsythe!

It’s not the sexiest move the Seahawks have ever made, but George Fant is 100% my favorite incoming player on this team.

But, taking the question a little more abstractly, I think my favorite “move” of all is the fact that the Seahawks are eating all of Jamal Adams’ dead money this year, and the fact that we seem to be cleaning house financially, so as to be in a position next year to really make some headway on this rebuild. It’s not a tank job; I’m sure we’re still well-positioned for another 9-8 season in 2024. But, there’s bound to be plenty of money for next year to go out and have some fun. Maybe we’ll get a party boat!

I Know Who This Year’s Spring Training Mirage Is Going To Be For The Mariners

This is always fun. What’s a Spring Training Mirage, you ask? Well, try using your powers of deduction and it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out: it’s the guy who kicks ass in Spring Training, then once the Regular Season starts, he sucks.

That’s sort of the over-arching, simplified definition. There are different levels to the Spring Training Mirage though. Usually it involves someone who has yet to really make an impact at the Major League level, but we all want to believe they’re close. They’re right there on the fringe, and if only they can show their stuff in Spring Training – and have that carry over into a hot start to the regular season – they can parlay it into a viable and productive Major League career.

Past candidates have included guys like Cooper Hummel last year (who improbably made the big league roster out of spring, only to falter fast and hard). In 2022 and 2023, you had Jarred Kelenic (who actually continued his hot spring hitting into the regular season last year, before eventually succumbing to his baser tendencies at the plate). In 2021, it was Taylor Trammell with his .311 batting average and 9 extra base hits. In 2019, Braden Bishop slashed .379/.419/.724 (his career slash in the majors was .133/.188/.156). 2018 was particularly exciting, as we had Daniel Vogelbach AND Mike Zunino crushing the ball in spring (.407/.529/.926 for Vogey; .395/.458/.791 for Zunino), only for both to fall down around the Mendoza line that regular season.

There was Taylor Motter in 2017, Shawn O’Malley in 2016, Dustin Ackley in 2015 and 2014, Jesus Montero in 2013, Alex Liddi in 2012, and Matt Tuiasosopo in 2011. I could go on and on.

It doesn’t matter how much you want to believe, it doesn’t matter that they’re in the “best shape of their lives”, it doesn’t matter what swing changes they’ve instituted or how good the media members say they look. Spring Training Mirages aren’t real. They’re not going to come to Seattle and miraculously save your season, no matter how much you need them to. They’ll have every opportunity to win a spot, and they’ll squander that opportunity because Marine Layer or whatever.

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. 2024’s Mariners Spring Training Mirage is Dominic Canzone.

The cool thing about this award is you don’t even need the regular season to start to figure out who’s already won it! Canzone is a fringe Major Leaguer (having less than 60 games to his name, all in 2023), he plays a position the Mariners are a little weak at (and could most benefit from a new breakout star no one was expecting), and he’s – by all accounts – tearing the cover off the ball this spring (.281/.333/.656 with 3 homers, 3 doubles, and 9 RBI).

The big question everyone wants answered is: why does it have to be this way? Is there any avoiding an immediate regular season swoon?

I’m afraid not. See, these players generally have some semblance of talent. But, in spring, they feast on fastballs, and pitchers just trying to work on their craft while getting their pitch counts up. You’re not seeing a ton of nasty sliders and change ups, not like you will in the regular season.

So, what are the Mariners going to do? Well, they’re going to start Canzone out in left field primarily. They’re going to bat him 7th or 8th – in hopes that the soft landing will help – and they’re going to give him a good couple of weeks, while platooning him out whenever a lefty pitcher starts against us.

Fortunately for us, the inverse of the Spring Training Mirage tends to come into play as well. Those are the players who struggle during the spring, only for things to click once the games start meaning something. We have to hope that’s what’s going on with Luke Raley right now, because otherwise he looks like a friggin’ disaster! I fully expect left field to be a black hole for us the entire season, which is going to make things tough to watch.

The other black hole – third base – also features our runner up for the Spring Training Mirage, as Luis Urias has come on of late to look actually productive at the plate. Don’t count on that continuing once the calendar flips to March 28th.

The Seahawks Signed Linebackers

With lots of big-name potential targets signing elsewhere (Bobby Wagner with the Commanders, Jordyn Brooks with the Dolphins, Patrick Queen with the Steelers), linebacker (particularly “inside” or “off-ball” linebacker) was suddenly a position of tremendous need! Heading into last week, we had three undrafted free agents on our roster at the position, the most experienced one being Special Teamer Jon Rhattigan.

So, YEAH, I’d say it was imperative for the Seahawks to start doing something here.

We’re going to find out how important inside linebackers are in this league, real damn quick. The devalued positions in the NFL are starting to make a bit of a comeback. Safety, of course, was one of our most overpaid positions of recent years. Running back still seems to be hitting a floor – though you’ll see an occasional shockingly-high contract every now and then. But, more and more, we’re seeing linebackers start to earn their keep in a bigger way.

That isn’t to say I think we NEED to be giving big bucks to these guys. I still feel like this is a position where we can save a few pennies.

Tyrel Dodson was the first of two linebackers we signed. He was, apparently, the highest-graded linebacker according to PFF last year. Last year was also the first time he’d ever started (for the Bills), after three years of being a reserve (he was also an undrafted free agent signing originally). He’s apparently great at stopping the run as well as in coverage, which is exactly what the Seahawks needed.

Then, the Seahawks went and signed Jerome Baker away from the Dolphins. 1 year, $7 million (the terms of Dodson’s contract still haven’t been released, but it’s also apparently a 1 year deal). Baker is a 6-year vet (all with Miami) who was drafted in the third round. He was also apparently a cap casualty (and effectively replaced by Jordyn Brooks) which makes me wonder who got the short end of the stick in this swap.

Baker sounds like Just A Guy. He’ll be fine. The hope is, together, both of these guys will be a drastic improvement in pass coverage compared to Wagner and Brooks, at a fraction of the cost. Regardless, they figure to be better than the nobodies we had currently on our roster.

Also regardless: linebacker is going to be a great need for us in this upcoming draft. Perfect timing for this to be a weak linebacker class!

The Seahawks Traded For Sam Howell?!

Huh.

The Seahawks get Sam Howell (2 years left on his rookie deal), a 4th & 6th rounder (102 & 179 respectively); the Commanders get a 3rd & 5th (78 & 152 respectively).

There’s conflicting reports about what kind of value the Washington Football Team received – anywhere from the equivalent of a late 3rd round pick, all the way down to a 7th round pick – but all I see is now the Seahawks have traded away their only second round pick and the higher of their two third round picks. We have all of 7 draft picks this year, 5 of them in the fourth round or later (in a draft, mind you, that is universally panned for its lack of depth on Day 3).

But, okay whatever. We’ll deal with that later. For now, what do we have in Sam Howell?

We have a guy who was a 5th round pick in 2022. A guy who started all 17 games in 2023. A guy who led the league in pass attempts (612), interceptions (21), and times sacked (65). He completed 63.4% of passes, for 3,946 yards, 21 TDs, and 6.4 yards per attempt. Geno Smith was 7.3 yards per attempt, if we’re into comparing numbers.

According to Brady Henderson, Washington was 14th in pass block win rate, so it’s not like we can even blame a shitty O-Line. I will say, though, that we COULD probably blame the shittiness of the team as a whole, with the defense being particularly atrocious in the second half of the season (when they lost 8 in a row); considering he was always forced into throwing them back into games, it’s not a shocker that he’d be a little mistake prone.

But, even that argument doesn’t hold a lot of water, because if a quarterback is truly great, shouldn’t he lift up an inferior team? Sam Howell might be a lot of things, but “great” isn’t one of them. I think he’s fine. On the low end, he’s probably Drew Lock. On the high end, he’s probably a poor man’s Baker Mayfield. That’s a nice little middle-range where Geno Smith also resides, albeit with different skills and different deficiencies.

Geno can be pretty accurate. Geno is mistake-averse. And, I thought he showed some improvement in 2023 in avoiding sacks and getting the ball out of his hands quickly (by offensive design, naturally), but he too tends to hold onto the ball too long, and takes too many back-breaking sacks on third down. The main difference between Geno and Sam is that Sam can actually scramble. He can better extend those third down plays when it’s an obvious passing situation and opposing defenses are gearing up to take his head off.

The main question will be processing. How quickly can Sam Howell process what’s going on? How quickly can he read the defense and find the right receiver (or check to the right play to take advantage of what the other team is giving him)?

This doesn’t change my conviction that the Seahawks need to draft a quarterback. But, I don’t know how they’re going to do that! If they don’t draft one in the first round, if they don’t trade down to acquire more picks, then what is this going to look like?

What this does do, however, is give credence to possibly eating a bunch of Geno’s salary and trading him to a needy team that wants a middle-of-the-road veteran quarterback. Could we sucker a team like the Raiders or Titans into giving us a draft pick or two? What if we sweeten the deal with a D.K. Metcalf?

On its own, I don’t love this move. Sam Howell doesn’t appear to be an obvious upgrade over Geno Smith, and I’m not even sure he’s an upgrade over Drew Lock!

But, I’m told Howell allegedly has a strong arm. And I kinda like how he’s not just a Checkdown Charlie. But, 21 interceptions and 65 sacks is absolutely unforgivable.

Ultimately, my opinion on this move will hinge on whether or not the Seahawks draft a quarterback this year. And, failing that, it’s going to hinge on how quickly we choose to move on from Geno Smith. If we have no rookie, and if we blow through the entire 2024 season with Geno at the helm, I’m going to be extremely upset when we end up with another 9-win campaign.

Not that I necessarily believe Howell would be able to do any better. But, I think it’s fair to say there’s at least a little uncertainty about his ceiling. We know Geno’s ceiling; we’ve lived it the last two years. I want fresh blood!

The Seahawks Restructured Tyler Lockett

Well, now we know what’s happening: the Seahawks are keeping Lockett around, for at least one more year.

It was announced over the weekend that the Seahawks restructured Tyler Lockett’s contract, reducing it to 2 years and $30 million, with $4 million in incentives. That was really all we knew until recently, when we got the exact breakdown. Lockett will get a base salary of just over $4.6 million. It’s an $8 million signing bonus, but with the funky math and presumably the old dead money we have to tangle with, his cap hit this year is just over $18.5 million. However, next year nothing is guaranteed and there’s only a dead cap charge of $4 million.

I don’t understand any of it.

Anyway, we get to hang onto Lockett, and we get to save a little cash, while potentially allowing him to earn his way to his previously agreed-to contract through incentives. It’s a win for everyone! Especially the team, which not only gets to play with a still very good Lockett, but also gets to save however many millions of dollars.

The Seahawks Have Been Very Seahawky In Free Agency

There was a great post on Formerly Twitter this week that had something to do with the top 10 or whatever free agent signings of 2022. There were precious few (maybe only 1?) that are still with the team they signed with AND haven’t taken a pay cut. That’s … two seasons. And already, most of them have moved on.

I don’t know if that’s necessarily par for the course, or an outlier, but I would venture to say it’s closer to the former than the latter. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say free agents – by and large – are busts, I will say they are – by and large – not worth the money they receive. We all know why; this isn’t our first rodeo: you’re paying for past production.

That isn’t to say there aren’t diamonds in the rough here and there. Some of my best friends are free agents! Where would the Seahawks have been without Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril? Where would the Saints have been without Drew Brees, or the Broncos without Peyton Manning? Every once in a while, they exceed expectations, but more often than not, they disappoint.

It’s not even remotely a hot take to say that teams are best served building through the draft. It’s also not even remotely a hot take to say that teams will always prioritize re-signing their very best players. Regardless of how good they end up becoming, free agents who actually make it to market are always deemed to be expendable for one reason or another. Maybe that reason is due to chronic mismanagement by the team letting them walk, and they simply can’t afford to hang onto a guy they would otherwise prefer to keep.

Or maybe those free agents are flawed in some way, and their former teams understand those players aren’t worth what they’re destined to command after a bidding war.

I like the fact that the Seahawks generally stay out of the big-spending free agency fray. That being said, I also understand the fan angst, especially THIS year.

We’re not overburdened with draft picks, for starters. Now, maybe that means we’re looking to trade down a bunch of times; wouldn’t shock me in the slightest. But, there are a lot of open roster spots on this team, and we can’t fill them all via the draft. If we don’t start making some free agent moves eventually, then we’ll have to back-fill via any undrafted free agents coming out of college, or other cast-offs literally nobody else wants.

But, honestly? I don’t have a big problem with what the Seahawks have been doing. Like, I don’t have a problem with saying goodbye to everyone from our 2020 draft class except for Darrell Taylor. If they’re not worth the second contract, then don’t force it just because you drafted them. Sometimes, guys don’t pan out. Sometimes, other players are going to be better fits. Especially when you’ve got a brand new coaching staff and a brand new offensive and defensive scheme.

The latest signings seem to be more of that line of thinking. They’re all kinda fringey.

We signed a second tight end, Pharaoh Brown, to a 1-year, $4 million deal. He hasn’t done a whole lot since being an undrafted free agent in 2017, but he’s very tall and allegedly more of a pass catcher than a blocker. So, really, he’s Colby Parkinson, only a lot cheaper.

Then, we went out and got ex-Husky center Nick Harris for a year and two and a half million. He gives us competition at all of the interior line spots, for cheaper than an Evan Brown type (which means that if we want to go young across the O-Line, we can do that, as Harris is by no means guaranteed a starting spot).

Then, we brought back Artie Burns. Great! He was a valuable contributor last year to our secondary and provides much-needed depth. We also tendered RFAs Michael Jackson and Jon Rhattigan (with Jackson being an original-round tender, meaning if he signs elsewhere, we get an additional 5th round pick). I’m all for it, more solid depth pieces.

Maybe the biggest news of the last day or so was the re-signing of Darrell Taylor. We could’ve gone to the trouble of also tendering him, but given how productive he’s been as a pass rusher the last three seasons (21.5 sacks), it’s fair to wonder if we would’ve lost him. We don’t know what this deal looks like, so I’ll just say it’s nice to have him back. Obviously, he’s got some flaws to his game – in his utter inability to set an edge or stop the run – but the way he flashes to the quarterback isn’t ordinary. You’re not finding that in any ol’ free agent pass rusher.

The Seahawks resumed adding outside players by picking up Rayshawn Jenkins on a 2-year, $12 million deal. He was a cap casualty by the Jags, but he was also extremely productive in limiting receptions. A defensive backfield with Jenkins and Julian Love should be just as great – if not moreso – than the one we had with Diggs and Adams, for considerably cheaper.

The final big move (so far) was bringing back George Fant, on what’s reportedly a 2-year deal worth up to $14 million. As has been noted, this is more than just offensive tackle insurance. This appears to speak to the delicate nature of Abe Lucas’ chronic knee condition. I think it’s fair to wonder: is he going in for surgery that’s going to cost him the 2024 season? Is he going to be a frequent inactive due to health issues? That’s a tremendous shame, as he looked like a unique talent and value as a 2022 third round draft pick. Regardless, the odds of Lucas seeing a second contract with the Seahawks seems pretty slim at the moment.

Finally, in outgoing player news, Bobby Wagner signed a 1-year deal with Dan Quinn in Washington for $8.5 million. That’s certainly more than I’d want to spend on a run-stuffing middle linebacker who can’t cover anyone in space. Also, among the RFA players NOT tendered was Jake Curhan, who has been dealing with injury issues of his own throughout his young career. Can’t be saddled with too many offensive linemen who can’t stay upright; best to move on.

I still think there’s potential for one more splash signing at some point, though obviously the best of the best free agents are already off the board. So, we’ll see.