The Mariners Are In A Punishing Cold Spell

The Mariners just finished a 3-6 road trip, losing all three 3-game series 2-1. It’s a testament to … something that we didn’t get swept in any of them, but it still isn’t ideal.

Remember when the Mariners had the biggest divisional lead in all of baseball? That 8.5 game lead is now 4.5 games, the second-slimmest lead in all of baseball. That team directly behind us is now the Astros, not the Rangers (who are 7.5 back). The Astros, embroiled in a 7-game win streak, have climbed to .500 at 40-40. Any notion that this was going to be a cakewalk the rest of the way should probably be dismissed.

It’s a combination of the hitters sucking, the rotation suffering some cracks in the armor, and the bullpen giving up a couple of late leads. You don’t go through a stretch like this without your entire team doing its part to cost you games.

It couldn’t happen at a worse time, either. Apparently, everyone has agreed that late-June is too early to be giving up on their season. For some reason, we have to wait a whole-ass month before guys can start being traded. By the time we get to late July, things will have turned a corner, guys will start hitting again, and it won’t feel like there’s a drastic need for change. We’ll wonder if veterans are giving it one last gasp, and if we’re giving up on them just as they’re finally figuring it out.

But, suffice it to say, the damage has been done. We’re three months in. We’re beyond the first half of the season. If you haven’t figured it out by now, then tough titty, you had 80+ games. Any uptick in production in July will only feel like a mirage.

In some downer news, Bryan Woo is back on the IL, with a hamstring strain. If it isn’t one thing with him, it’s five others. I guess Emerson Hancock will be back, but he also left his most recent start for injury concerns. By all accounts, he’ll be fine, but we’ll see. Neither of those two have proven to be the healthiest horses of the bunch.

The good news is that today’s an off-day. Also, the next three Mondays are all off-days (that third one being the start of the All Star Break). The toughest stretch of season is behind us. Even with the bummer finish, it went better than expected.

The bad news is that even though we’re greeted with a 9-game homestand spread out over 10 days, it’s against three pretty tough opponents: Minnesota, Baltimore, Toronto. Time to put that awesome home record nonsense to the test. If we somehow come out of this with a winning record, you MIGHT get me to be a believer.

Then, it’s just a weeklong trip down the California coast before the break. Nice way to ease into things. But will this cold spell continue? God, I hope not. There’s nothing worse than being forced to watch bad Mariners baseball …

The Three Worst Mariners Still On The Active Roster Are Under Contract Through 2025

You know why it feels so miserable to be a Mariners fan? Because it’s always one step forward, two steps back.

The Mariners made the playoffs in 2022, got through the wild card round … only to get swept by the Astros in the ALDS (losing a heartbreaking final game in 18 innings 1-0). One step forward, two steps back.

As you do, the Mariners made a number of moves in the offseason to try to better themselves heading into 2023. They brought in Teoscar Hernandez, they gave Jarred Kelenic a significant trial as a platoon outfielder (which eventually turned into a mostly-everyday role), and they worked in Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo into the rotation … but Kolten Wong and AJ Pollock were total busts, and Eugenio Suarez and Ty France took significant steps back, leading to us missing the playoffs. One step forward, two steps back.

Try try again, the Mariners went back to the drawing board heading into 2024. With a significant money crunch tying one hand behind their backs, they managed to shed dead salary (Marco Gonzales, Robbie Ray), while attempting to bring in some under-the-radar guys to help bolster the lineup. Josh Rojas (acquired at the deadline in 2023) has taken a significant step forward, Luke Raley has been a welcome addition and replacement for Kelenic, and Canzone and Bliss have had their moments filling in around the margins, all the while keeping our starting rotation intact … but our three most significant additions have all been fucking terrible.

One step forward, two steps back.

There are 8 Mariners in 2024 with a 0.0 WAR or lower (that is, negative WAR). Wins Above Replacement, that’s the stat. You’re comparing these players against “Replacement Level” players. “Replacement Level” doesn’t mean “average”. It means FUCKING TERRIBLE. If you’re a replacement level player, you’re just a warm body some hapless team is throwing out there because they have no better alternatives.

Of those 8, five are in Tacoma at the moment: Tyler Locklear (0.0), Luis Urias (-0.2), Jonatan Clase (-0.2), Sam Haggerty (-0.3), and Seby Zavala (-0.4). That’s a tough spot for Locklear, because I thought he did some good things while he was up here. But, he only played in 11 games, and as a first baseman, he doesn’t get much of a defensive boost. The rest of those guys are just terrible. Clase might turn it around at some point, but I doubt it’ll be here. Urias would probably do well to play in something more like a bandbox. Zavala and Haggerty should probably never be heard from again.

Anyway, the other three who are still on the active roster are Mitch Garver (0.0), Jorge Polanco (-0.1), and Mitch Haniger (-0.7). They’ve been, pound-for-pound, dollar-for-dollar, the worst Mariners of 2024. And they’re all – at least technically – under contract for 2025.

Jorge Polanco, to be fair, has a club option, with a $750,000 buy-out, which is all but guaranteed to happen. He’s earning $10.5 million this year, and would make $12 million next year. He’s cooked.

Mitch Garver is on the first of a 2-year, $24 million contract. And even though the M’s received $6 million from the Giants while trading for Haniger, we’re apparently on the hook for an extra million he gets as a bonus for being traded, meaning we’re likely on the hook for $12.5 million next year (on top of $16 million this year). That’s a lot of money to be on the hook for, for guys who are actively hurting our team.

These three players are also, not for nothing, in the top 6 of paid players on the roster in 2024. You can’t get much worse than that. The three biggest moves of the offseason: all busts.

And now we’ve gotta try to make chicken salad out of chicken shit at the deadline?

The only guy you could conceivably cut is Polanco. At some point, his will be a sunk cost, and it will be more worth it to the team to have him off the roster than even just benching him. That point won’t come before the trade deadline, and he brings back no value whatsoever as a trade chip. So, you just gotta give him the next month or so, hope he breaks out of this season-long slump, and when he inevitably continues to fail, you quietly release him sometime in August.

Garver potentially has some value in a trade, as he can play catcher, and in the right ballpark he can still hit some dingers. There’s also potential for him to just get better here. His numbers have improved – if ever-so-slightly – every month. In March/April, he had an OPS of .553; in May, that rose to .617; and so far in June, he’s mashing at an .830 clip. He’s not Babe Ruth or anything, but .830 would easily lead this team. If he can just do that the rest of the way, he’ll see his WAR get into the positive in no time!

It’s Hanger that’s the rough one, though. He’s got nothing. He had a VERY good first couple weeks to the season, and then proceeded to fall off a cliff with a boulder tied around his waist. He finished April with an OPS of .677; his OPS fell to .570 in May; and has been .538 in June. He’s also been a complete liability in the outfield, as he might be the worst defender on the team. Which is a shame, because we have very fond memories of Haniger! He’s a very likable guy. He’s hard-working, he’s a leader, he wants to be here. And, quite frankly, as he’s the only Mariner who bridged the gap between the previous generation (who never made the playoffs, looking at Felix and Seager, among many others) and this current one, it would be nice to send him off with some modicum of success in the post-season. As this team does, indeed, seem poised to get back there, what better opportunity?

But, at the same time, it’s Haniger who – more than anyone else – is preventing this team from achieving that goal. He has no value to anyone else, he’s a drain on the 2024 Mariners, and he’s also somehow a drain on the 2025 Mariners, and they haven’t even played a single game!

As we know from this ownership group, they’re not going to tolerate eating all of these salaries. With Polanco, they have no choice. Garver can still be salvaged. But, with Haniger, it feels like we’re stuck. We would have to ship off another prized prospect just to be rid of him, and I don’t know about you, but I’m getting fucking sick and tired of losing out on prospects just to open up cap space (in a sport that, again, doesn’t have an actual salary cap, other than the self-imposed one this team puts on itself for reasons of utter cheapness).

We already need to use these fucking prospects to acquire Major League talent in hopes to win right now! To also have to use them just to get rid of our duds is a fucking slap to the face.

In conclusion: I’m writing off Polanco and Haniger, but not quite Garver. As long as we can hide Garver as this team’s second catcher, he’s a clear step up from what backup catchers we have at the AAA level. It’s a pretty penny to have to pay for someone who might play once every five days, but at least he serves a function. Polanco and Haniger are entirely useless, and the sooner they’re gone, the better.

The Mariners’ Home/Road Splits Are Meaningless

There can be any number of reasons why a team might have contrasting home/road splits. Generally, teams are better at home than they are on the road. That’s just the way it goes. You have a slight advantage being at home, with final at-bats, with the crowd behind you, with being able to sleep in your own beds. Yet, it’s always a boring topic of conversation when a team is halfway through the season and is better on the road than they are at home.

That’s usually where the Mariners find themselves. For whatever reason, the Mariners are usually better on the road than they are at home. Usually, we chalk it up to the Mariners’ hitters struggling in their home ballpark, being unleashed on the road where it’s almost always easier for them to hit. And, when your pitching staff is good (which we usually have here), pitching tends to play anywhere and everywhere; hence the reverse home/road splits.

But, this year’s different. The Mariners are 27-12 at home, and 18-23 on the road (after back-to-back series losses at Cleveland and Miami). All of a sudden, the same kind of Mariners team we usually have (bad hitters, good pitchers) is “built to play at home”. T-Mobile Park has somehow turned into a “house of horrors” for opposing teams. We’ve unlocked the secret sauce to winning at home, and it’s to the detriment to our performance on the road!

Or, it’s all bullshit and means nothing.

If I had to attribute our struggles on the road to any one thing, it’s not our pitchers being mortal outside of the marine air of Seattle; it’s the fact that SO MANY of our road trips have taken us all the way across the country. Milwaukee, Toronto, Baltimore, New York, Washington D.C., Cleveland, Miami, and now Tampa. These trips have been long, they’ve been far, and they’ve often been without any breaks whatsoever. That shit adds up over a while.

What also happens over a while? These things tend to balance themselves out. The Mariners have often struggled with their home record early in seasons, only to finish above .500. I would expect this to be no different. There’s no way the Mariners are going to continue winning at a .692 clip at home the rest of the way. We’re also probably not going to finish below .500 on the road. Not with trips to play the Angels, White Sox, Tigers, Pirates, Angels again, A’s, Rangers, and Astros in the second half.

The Mariners are 45-35; after tonight we’re right at the halfway point in the season. The Mariners are probably, therefore, a 90-win team, when it’s all said and done. Maybe, as more teams fall out of contention, we can bump that up a few wins down the stretch. I would, therefore, expect us to win around 54-56% of our games at home, and 54-56% of our games on the road in total this year.

What we have to hope against is the notion that this team isn’t actually as good as it’s been playing like overall. Should we actually have a worse record, and therefore are in store for some negative regression? If that’s the case, then all bets are off. Because, if this is actually closer to an 85-win team, then we’re in trouble the rest of the way.

Regardless, it makes no difference where they play the games. It’s all going to more or less even out in the end.

In other news, Jorge Polanco is back, and is right back to batting second in the lineup. Meanwhile, Mitch Garver is batting 8th, and Mitch Haniger isn’t even playing tonight. Ty France has 1 hit since returning from the IL. The four most expendable and useless veterans are single-handedly working to tank this season, and I don’t know what this organization can do about it. They certainly won’t eat any of the money, without getting something back in return! Or, rather, I’m sure they’d be happy to get rid of them and pay for the right to do so in prospects, if our trade partner is willing to eat salary for us.

It’s truly a nightmare to be a Mariners fan. Every single day is worse than the last. And if you’re feeling good about things, wait a day or two! It’ll take a turn.

How The 2017 NFL Draft Ruined The Seattle Seahawks

I was writing about something else, when as a lark, I jumped into the Wiki of the 2017 NFL draft. I will be perfectly honest, I was there because of Patrick Mahomes.

It’s always nagged at me that the Seahawks were scouting Mahomes in the lead-up to that draft. Is that just noise? The Seahawks leaking reports to make John Schneider look smart? Maybe; anything’s possible. But, I don’t know if I would comprehend the endgame of that. Why leak that story at all, if he wasn’t legitimately interested?

If Mahomes was here, maybe Pete Carroll would still be here. Maybe the Seahawks would have more than the one Super Bowl victory. Maybe WE would be the envy of every other NFL fanbase!

The thought process behind the Mahomes-to-Seahawks hoopla was the concept that if he had fallen in the draft, maybe we would’ve taken him anyway, and had him sit behind Wilson until he was ready to ascend (and we could just let Wilson walk, like the Packers did with Favre).

But, he didn’t fall. Kansas City made sure of that. Kansas City moved up in the draft, trading with Buffalo to get the 10th overall pick in 2017, giving them 27 & 91, as well as a first rounder in 2018. For shits and giggles, I looked to see what the Seahawks had coming into that draft. We had 26, AND we had three third rounders, including pick 90.

If that isn’t a kick in the pants, I don’t know what is.

Now, obviously, the Seahawks had Russell Wilson. We signed him to a 4-year extension in July of 2015. You could argue that was the beginning of the end, because even though it wasn’t likely the Seahawks could’ve traded him that summer, if they had gotten a jump and traded him before (or even waited and traded him after the 2015 season), we would’ve gotten a HAUL in return. I know everyone is pleased as punch with what we swindled out of the Broncos after the 2021 season, but just imagine what we could’ve gotten for him in his prime, still on his rookie deal!

Anyway, as that link indicates, I was against trading Wilson in 2015. But, I would’ve gotten over it, especially if it had led to us getting Mahomes in 2017. You take the 2016 draft, rebuild at other spots, then you get Mahomes in 2017 and off you go.

What makes matters worse is what we actually did in the 2017 NFL draft.

We traded down from 26 to 31 (missing out on T.J. Watt in the process). We, then, traded down again, from 31 to 34 (missing out on Ryan Ramczyk in the process). We traded down one more time, from 34 to 35 (missing out on Cam Robinson), all so we could draft Malik McDowell. He was an all-time bust who we spent YEARS trying to recover from (making multiple trades for interior defensive linemen, who all backfired on us in one way or another, while slogging through mediocrity the entire way).

What did we do with the rest of the landslide of draft picks we acquired?

  • Ethan Pocic in the second round: who we dicked around with at guard, before ultimately putting him at the only position he was good at (center), but not before he got bit by he injury bug for multiple years.
  • Shaquill Griffin in the third round: a good, not great, cornerback, who was a pale imitation of Richard Sherman.
  • Lano Hill in the third round: a total bust of a strong safety; not even a pale imitation of Kam Chancellor.
  • Nazair Jones in the third round: a total nobody of a DT.
  • Amara Darboh in the third round: a total nobody of a WR.
  • Tedric Thompson in the fourth round: yet another total bust of a safety, who sure as shit was no Earl Thomas; we also suffer the further indignity of knowing that George Kittle was on our radar and could’ve been had in this spot.
  • Michael Tyson in the sixth round: not the boxer.
  • Justin Senior in the sixth round: who?
  • David Moore in the seventh round: one of the best players we drafted in this class, who was little more than a possession receiver in the vein of a poor man’s Jermaine Kearse.
  • Chris Carson in the seventh round: probably the most talented player in our draft class, who fell to the seventh round because of injury concerns, and did not disappoint on that count in the pros.

In short, we overpaid Russell Wilson for dwindling production, we missed out on Patrick Mahomes – a guy who might end up surpassing Tom Brady as the greatest player of all time – AND we not only stockpiled a shitload of crap, but had to account for our mistakes by making more mistakes in the future, all in hopes of clinging to playoff relevance that never panned out into championships.

You know, it’s entirely possible that the fans would’ve rioted if we’d traded Russell Wilson back in 2015 or 2016. But, I would argue, what we’ve had to endure since has been remarkably worse. Forever Mediocre, as I’ve taken to coining it.

Pete Carroll has two legacies when it comes to his time in Seattle. The first one is obviously terrific: he blessed us with our first NFL championship, he built up an exciting roster of young, ferocious players who were the most fun team to watch in the entire league for a good half-decade or more. Ultimately, that will overshadow everything else, and become The One True Legacy.

But, his other legacy is always going to linger, a Barry Bonds’ head-sized asterisk (minus the rampant doping). Because Pete Carroll shoulders the blame for having amassed such a splendid collection of players and ONLY winning one Super Bowl. He gets the blame for costing us XLIX (along with the OC for calling a dumb play, along with Russell Wilson for his decision-making in that instant, along with our receivers for not properly executing the play). He also gets the blame for the various personnel moves that backfired throughout the years (along with John Schneider, but obviously Carroll had total authority and final say). And, he gets the blame for the back-half of the decade he was here, when he lost control of the team, when his defense failed us, and when his franchise quarterback demanded more control of the offense.

What should’ve been a dynasty, was instead one dominant Super Bowl victory, one of the most regrettable moments in Super Bowl history, and a whole lotta “What Could’ve Been”.

There are any number of inflection points you can point to. Trading for Percy Harvin and giving him a dumptruck full of cash (over keeping your homegrown Golden Tate); the whole debacle that was the Jimmy Graham deal (both losing our Pro Bowl center, as well as changing an offense entirely to force-feeding a soft, slow tight end); giving in to the Let Russ Cook crowd as opposed to cutting ties a year earlier and trading him to the Bears like we should’ve. But, really, it was the 2017 draft, and all the decisions made before (that prevented us from moving up to grab Mahomes) and since (in the fallout of Malik McDowell), that ultimately proved to be this franchise’s downfall.

We’re still, 7 years later, trying to recover, with seemingly no end in sight.

What Happens After The Seahawks Have Another .500-ish Season?

In the last 9 years, the Seahawks have won the NFC West twice; they’ve made the playoffs six times, but failed to advance beyond the divisional round. In the last three seasons – the final one with an injured Russell Wilson, and the two with Geno Smith at the helm – we’ve gone a combined 25-26, including back-to-back 9-8 seasons.

That’s the nutshell of why Pete Carroll was fired. We’re hoping – with Mike Macdonald & Co. – to do significantly better than that.

Pete Carroll had a Win Forever mentality. That means no rebuilding, no tearing things down to build back better; rather, to maintain a consistent level of excellence, presumably to give yourself as many bites at the apple as possible. As we’ve seen from numerous middling-looking players and teams throughout the Super Bowl Era, all it takes is one hot stretch in the playoffs, and you too can be a champion, Joe Flacco! You too can be a Two-Time Champion, Eli Manning!

To some of us Seahawks fans, that feels like a Fantasyland of sorts. As we saw here, no team can win forever, not even one as lethally-constructed as the Legion Of Boom-era Seahawks. Contracts and egos and draft mistakes and compounding trade mistakes get in the way, and slowly, but surely, erode what you’ve built. You’re forced to make compromises, you get trapped into investing in the wrong position groups (so desperate to cling to the few stars you’ve managed to cultivate, even if it’s multiple safeties), until eventually you’re winning just enough to MAKE the playoffs, but you’re never good enough to do any real damage once you get there.

It’s the teams who tear down, who are able to fortify through high draft picks at key positions (quarterback, both sides of the line of scrimmage), they’re the ones who tend to pop more often than not. They’re the ones who get good and deep, who stay good for a while, before ultimately falling apart and needing to start the cycle all over again.

I would rather have THAT, than be Forever Mediocre, which is ultimately what the Pete Carroll system brought us. You’ll never become elite if you’re always drafting in the 20’s.

That’s all just a way of me saying: I think the Seahawks are going to be mediocre in 2024 once again.

Honestly? I don’t see any way it’s possible for these Seahawks to win fewer than 8 games. I don’t even care about the schedule; it doesn’t matter who we’re going up against. We have two decent, but not-great quarterbacks. Geno Smith has already proven he’s good enough to get us to 9 wins; he’s done it twice in a row! The drop-off from Smith to Sam Howell is negligible at best; there’s an argument to be made that the Seahawks might ultimately be better with Howell. Regardless, we won’t be worse.

The running back room is strong, the wide receiver room is strong, and the tight ends are fine (if unimportant to the passing game at large). The only way this offense takes a significant step back is if the offensive line is a total disaster, or if the offensive scheme is too much for these players to handle (or if our play-caller just isn’t ready for NFL adjustments). The thing is, the offensive line was already pretty bad last year, and a lot of the same pieces are returning (or similar-in-talent pieces to the guys we lost). I’ll be watching the OC closely, but given that he’s a former Husky – who presided over the best Husky offense we’ve ever seen – I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

As for the defense, the D-Line is as stacked as it’s been in years. We have talent at cornerback, so that’s the top two areas of need on any defense. We’re a little lacking in name recognition at linebacker and safety, but those are also two of the least-important position groups on any given team (and also the easiest to fill out with no-name players). Combined with Mike Macdonald being something of a defensive mastermind, I don’t expect this side of the ball to be any WORSE than it’s been the last few years (when it was down around 30th in the league in multiple areas).

The Seahawks have been 9-8 the last two years with a terrible defense and a Geno Smith-esque quarterback. Geno’s back, and the defense should be at least marginally improved, so I would expect nothing less than 8 or 9 wins this season.

With that being said, you might be wondering why I’m not asking what happens if the Seahawks are considerably better than expected? If, again, my floor is 8-9 wins, isn’t it at least possible that we win another 4 games and get to 12-13?

Sure, anything’s possible. But, again, this team has holes. The O-Line just isn’t there yet. Geno clearly has a ceiling that is going to prevent us from seriously competing against the very best teams in the league, and as long as we’ve got the 49ers and Rams in our own division, that dog just isn’t going to hunt. And, while I have the utmost confidence in our coaching staff, and believe we did a remarkable job wading through those waters in finding the correct hires this offseason, there’s always a learning curve that first season. There are growing pains, there are players who just won’t be good fits in our schemes, and there are players who will likely be resistant to change.

That’s my diplomatic way of saying: I don’t believe D.K. Metcalf will be long for this team.

All that put together, I’m expecting another 9-8 season in 2024. So, what happens when that ultimately transpires?

Well, I was discouraged to hear John Schneider – in some interview he gave recently – continue to espouse a version of that Win Forever mentality. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was a clunky way to avoid something that Pete Carroll either trademarked, or otherwise has his stink all over. Of course, what is an NFL GM going to say? They’re not going to tell us they WANT to have a shitty year or two, before rebounding and competing for a championship again. It just kinda has to come naturally, all while pretending you’re disappointed to be drafting in the Top 10 and getting a potential game-changing presence on your team.

This isn’t exclusive to the Seahawks, by the way. The Steelers seem to be a prime example of this philosophy. They haven’t seriously contended since 2016, when they lost in the AFC Championship game to the Patriots. Before that, it was 2010 when they lost in the Super Bowl to the Packers. Otherwise, you’re looking a nothing but early playoff exits and a whole lotta .500 ball or (slightly) better. I think this is precisely what the Seahawks want to be. Who’s more respected than the Steelers? They’ve had, like, 3 head coaches in the last 60 years or some shit. They’re rarely – if ever – truly bad; but outside of the Ben Roethlisberger era, they’re rarely great either. And, even in that Roethlisberger era, it was certainly front-loaded. For as talented as he was, later in his career, that team could never carry him over the finish line like the Broncos did with an elderly Peyton Manning.

I want to believe the Seahawks – upon finishing 9-8 again, or maybe even 10-7 and sneaking into a wild card spot – will cut ties with Geno Smith and make a serious push in the next year or two at drafting a quarterback of the future. Because how many of these mediocre finishes can we withstand? It’s the fucking WORST! I’d rather be fucking 3-14 than lose in the wild card round again.

But, I dunno. If Mike Macdonald is going to stick around here, he needs to do something great in the first couple years. Making a wild card as a rookie head coach might buy him a couple extra seasons, but will it also encourage this organization to stay the course? To put their faith in Geno Smith? To continue struggling to fill the O-Line because you can’t get any good linemen in the 20’s of the NFL draft?

It kinda feels like we’re in for another five years of this shit, until ultimately the entire house is swept away. Until the team is sold, Schneider is fired, and Macdonald is back coordinating defenses again. At which point, I’ll be pushing 50.

Good God, the passage of time is a cruel bitch.

It’s So Weird That The Huskies Are In The Big Ten Now

This time last year, I wasn’t super confident about the future of the Pac-12. We were heading into the last year of the Pac-12 as we knew it (at that time, we were looking at the L.A. schools leaving after the 2023 season), I didn’t have any super high expectations for the Huskies in general (or the conference as a whole) in football, or even basketball, and we were staring down the barrel of a terrible new media rights deal, and the potential addition of a couple of inferior schools to the conference. The only reasonable argument for good would’ve been the fact that the Huskies and the Ducks would’ve been the unquestioned leaders of the pack. But, that’s not saying a whole lot when compared to the greater college football landscape, if we’re generating pennies on the dollar compared to the other elite programs.

Thankfully, a lifeline presented itself, and to our credit, Washington took the Big Ten up on it. Leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten was definitely bittersweet, but it was ultimately the correct decision, for both our immediate future and our long-term goals.

Then, as the season got going, I was so wrapped up in Washington’s championship game run, I sort of forgot about the bigger picture. The Huskies were one of the best teams in the nation, the conference regained its long-lost form, and we really sent off the football portion of the conference with a bang. Even with every “final” moment – the final Apple Cup as a member of the Pac-12, the final conference championship game, the final home game, etc. – my eyes were squarely on the prize of a national championship, that we came oh so close to acquiring.

It hasn’t really hit me until now. Reading this article, wondering when my dad’s cable provider is going to get the Big Ten Network so he can watch the games … this is going to be a huge change!

The Apple Cup is on Saturday, September 14th! We’re now in a conference with 18 teams! Do I even know all 18 schools? And what do I know about them? Let’s see if I can list them all below:

  1. Michigan Wolverines – hated cross-country foes; I think we’ve beaten them a time or two in the Rose Bowl, but they also got one from us, as well as handling us pretty handily in the national championship game last season.
  2. Ohio State Buckeyes – one of the elites in college football, haven’t been able to beat Michigan the last few years. Always at or near the top in national recruiting, always sending huge skill guys to the NFL.
  3. Penn State Nittany Lions – Joe Paterno, diddling kids, and somehow still nationally relevant ever since the whole scandal (though, not quite on the top tier with Michigan and Ohio State).
  4. Wisconsin Badgers – one year of Russell Wilson, always a great O-line and running game. Usually pretty good, but hasn’t been great probably since Russ left.
  5. Michigan State Spartans – little brother to Michigan, yet somehow also not their main rival. Kind of like our Washington State Cougars.
  6. Nebraska Cornhuskers – Great in the 90’s, not so much the last 20 years. They just hired a head coach who’s supposed to be good, and didn’t they take our athletic director who was at Washington for six minutes?
  7. Northwestern Wildcats – Bunch of nerds. Meet the new, inferior Stanford Cardinal.
  8. Maryland Turpins – Actually Terrapins. What’s a Terrapin? Your guess is as good as mine.
  9. Rutgers – Ahh yes, the Scarlet Knights. Didn’t they used to have Greg Schiano? I wonder where he is now. … Oh, he’s at Rutgers again. Cool career path, bro.
  10. Indiana – Oh, of course, the Hoosiers. Used to be a great basketball program; I don’t think was ever even decent at football, but what do I know? I guess they had Penix before he was PENIX.
  11. Illinois Fighting Illini – Got that mascot nailed! I feel like they’ve been somewhat frisky in the last decade or so, but maybe I’m just thinking of that one time they made a New Years Six bowl.
  12. Iowa Hawkeyes – All defense. I think their offense is just punting on first down.
  13. Minnesota Golden Grahams – Gophers actually. If I recall correctly, I think the Huskies played them in the 1920’s, which is probably the last time they were any good. Also, NOT the school featured in the sitcom Coach; that was the Minnesota State Screaming Eagles, which is a fictional program that’s still more relevant than the Golden Gophers.
  14. Pittsburgh Tigers – I had to look it up; it’s actually the Purdue Boilermakers. That’s how memorable Purdue is. We beat them in the Rose Bowl when we had Tui and they had Brees.
  15. UCLA Bruins – Fuck U-C-L-A!
  16. USC Trojans – Pete Carroll, Reggie Bush, and all sizzle/no steak since then.
  17. Washington Huskies – The greatest school in the world.
  18. Oregon Ducks – Turd emoji.

So … I didn’t do great in my Big Ten knowledge. Now, I’ve gotta go into a season getting ready to play against these teams!

It’s bizarre looking at the schedule and not seeing any bay area schools. No Arizona or mountain time zone opponents. No easy pick-me-up against the Beaves. It feels all at once more daunting, as well as kind of the same when you dig into it. We play trash like Northwestern, Indiana, and Rutgers. But, we also get a rematch with Michigan at home, and a tough game in Iowa in October and Penn State in November. Then, in addition to a non-conference Apple Cup, we also face all three of our travelling Pac-12 partners (the L.A. schools at home, and Oregon on the road). Honestly, with all the turnover with Michigan’s roster and coaching staff, I think the toughest part of our schedule is joining us from the west coast!

It’s nice that we get to play all the Pac-12 schools in year one. That’s a cool way to help us transition. It’s a little odd that we face them all in the final month of the season, but it’ll be something to look forward to. Kinda feels like conference play starts in November this year, except not really.

You know what’s going to be fun? Hating on a whole new group of schools. I already have a strong distaste for the Big Ten anyway, but I know we’re going to get some razzing as one of the new kids in town. Which is going to infuriate me even further when we ultimately lose to one or more of these programs.

Really, though, it’s a soft landing of sorts. We don’t face a tough opponent until week 6 vs. Michigan, and again, how good will they be with all their best players going to the NFL? That kicks off a stretch where there’s almost no easy games the rest of the way (except for Indiana, but even that’s on the road).

I also can’t help but feel a little sad knowing there are so many teams we’ll no longer see again. The state of Arizona can fuck right off, and I still have nightmares flashing back on all the crazy Cal games, and all the times Stanford steamrolled us. But, I genuinely liked competing against Utah, and Colorado was the team we beat to win the Pac-12 Championship Game back in 2016, en route to a playoff loss against Alabama. I also feel bad that the Cougars and Beavers have to make due with their weird 2-team conference; they deserve better. They certainly deserve more than Rutgers or Maryland or fucking Minnesota.

I’m going to take solace in the fact that nothing is permanent, especially in college football. Things have changed so much, so quickly, and it’s only going to continue. We know where this thing is headed; it’s eventually going to be a sort of semi-pro league between high school and the pros, loosely affiliated with colleges and universities, but otherwise probably its own standalone thing. Depending on how many programs get scooped up into whatever the new thing will end up being, we might very well return to some semblance of normal. You have to figure there will be divisions of some sort, based off of geographic locations. Maybe that puts us back in line with our former conference foes. Maybe that brings WSU and OSU back into the fold. Maybe we won’t have to suffer the indignities of being in a cross-country conference, and we’ll never have to play Rutgers ever again!

Wouldn’t that be something?

Until then, we just gotta ride it out. What’s happening in college football is above my pay grade. I’m not going to pretend like I understand everything that’s going on. All I know is it has to do with gobs of money.

My job is to root for the Huskies, root against the Ducks, and let the chips fall where they may.

The Mariners Have The Biggest Divisional Lead In Baseball Right Now

Gotta get this post up before the inevitable crash!

After a 6-1 homestand – including a 3-game sweep of the Texas Rangers over the weekend – the Mariners now lead the A.L. West by 8.5 games. I think I read somewhere that this is the biggest divisional lead we’ve had since 2001, which was – of course – the last time we actually won the division. We are a whopping 17-5 against our division, including 4-2 against the Astros and 5-1 against the defending World Series champion Rangers.

For as bad as the actual start to this season was – 6-10 through April 14th – this is about as good of an outcome as you could hope for through June 16th. Not for nothing, but the Mariners are 37-21 since that nadir. Not too damn shabby.

At some point, we have to accept that this is who the Mariners are. They’re good. They’re not great. They obviously have some significant holes. An unluckier team might be down around .500, as opposed to 12 games over .500. But, this team isn’t going anywhere. Not without a significant amount of pitching injuries.

If this is what the Mariners are doing AS IS, that brings a couple questions to mind. #1 – what happens when certain players meet their inevitable positive regression? I’m going to go out on a limb and say Mitch Garver isn’t a .173 hitter all of a sudden. I’m also going to say that Jorge Polanco – when he comes back – will probably be better than .195. Now, I don’t know if those guys are going to be leaps & bounds better than what they’ve shown; I also don’t know if they’re going to continue to be around and given the playing time sufficient to pull themselves out of these respective season-long slumps. But, I would expect at least a little improvement.

I would also expect J.P. Crawford to go on a heater anytime now. Mitch Haniger, we know, has it in him. Now that Raley and Rojas have cooled off, can they readjust and get back to killing the baseball? And, we all know Julio and Cal have another gear that we haven’t quite seen yet.

So, what happens when those guys get it going a little more? Is that going to take place around the same time the pitching inevitably slumps? Well, that would be unlucky, wouldn’t it? Or, maybe perfectly lucky, depending on how clutch the offense can get.

My second question is that – if the Mariners are this good AS IS – how good can they be after adding a couple of competent bats at the trade deadline next month?

Well, obviously, that’s been a point of concern for me lately. Based on historical precedent, I don’t have a ton of confidence in their ability to deal well at the deadline.

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you know I’m prone to worry about a lot of things when it comes to the teams I follow. This is the first time I’ve written about how these 2024 Mariners are the Real Deal. It would take quite a collapse for them to blow this 8.5-game lead in the division. We also compare favorably to the wild card teams in the American League, just in case this is the second-coming of the 2002 and 2003 Mariners, where we gag away our chances in the second half.

So, this leads me into my newest concern. It’s unfamiliar territory, yet one I think at least long-time Mariners fans can relate to: what if this team is built more for the regular season than it is the post-season?

You can’t deny that this pitching staff is as good as it gets in baseball. The rotation, 1-6, is lights out. In the bullpen, we’ve got an elite closer, a couple of nice leverage arms, and competence throughout. We’ve also got a couple of nice wildcards in Logan Evans and Gregory Santos to boost us in the second half.

But, what does this group look like in the playoffs?

Castillo has been good, but it’s not like he’s Felix in his prime. There’s occasional brilliance, but more often than not, it’s 6 innings and 2 runs. Which, don’t get me wrong, is GREAT for the regular season. If you’re throwing Quality Starts out there more often than not, you’re all right in my book. But, in the playoffs, it’s anywhere from a 3-7 game series. You don’t have a lot of chances. And, if your ace blows a game, that’s a big hole to climb out of. It’s not like we can rely on pulling Castillo prematurely, because usually those two runs are being scored early. And, with the way this offense struggles to score runs through the first two-thirds of games, you’re more likely to try to squeeze a little extra out of Castillo, who tends to get better as the game goes on.

Then, there’s Kirby, who has been really up and down this season. He’s put up a lot of 0- and 1-run games, but he also has five starts of 4 runs or more given up. In the playoffs, that’s a death sentence. Or, rather, in the playoffs – with this offense – that’s a death sentence. Because, I don’t care how much we’re able to do at the deadline, we’re still going to enter the post-season with a lot of question marks on offense.

Hell, even when the Mariners have had an elite offense – back in the 90’s and early 2000’s – they still struggled mightily in the playoffs. Why? Because you’re only going up against elite teams, and all elite teams have elite pitching staffs.

I’ve probably waffled over Logan Gilbert a thousand times in his career, but that game he pitched on Sunday against the mighty Rangers’ offense – 8 innings, 0 runs, 0 walks, 2 hits, 9 strikeouts – might’ve put him over the top for me, at least when compared to Kirby, if not to the entire starting rotation. That was an absolutely brilliant performance! He had everything working, against a really tough opponent who was trying like crazy to not get swept by their direct rivals.

What’s most encouraging to me about Gilbert is his ability to go deep into games. He leads the Major Leagues in innings pitched! He’s got a really good ERA – 2.93 – but it’s not Cy Young calibre just yet. He’s got a low WAR – 1.9 – compared to the other greats across baseball. And, obviously, his 4-4 record isn’t anything to write home about (mostly because it feels like he gets among the worst run support in the game today). But, there’s been a number of times this year where his starts have gone from potentially elite, to merely just good, thanks to a late bomb or run scored, when he’s trying to eke out another inning. If he can clean that up, he’s got Cy Young written all over him.

As it stands now, though, Gilbert seems to have the best and most varied arsenal of the bunch. Bryce Miller is close, but he lacks the command to know where everything is going to go. Gilbert looks pretty close to having mastered the command of his splitter and a variety of other off-speed stuff, to go with that outstanding fastball. Especially that splitter, though; he had that thing dropping like a yo-yo against the Rangers!

Kirby, on the other hand, is still pretty fastball-heavy. He’s trying with his off-speed stuff, but he’s not good enough yet to get those balls to consistently fall out of the strike zone. As such, he’s struggling with his swing-and-miss at times, and that’s hurting his overall numbers.

I would like to see this team really maximize Gilbert. If he’s not this team’s ace, he should at least be our number two in the playoffs. But, even then, will it be enough?

As I said before, when you get to the playoffs, they ALL have elite pitching. And, as we’ve seen all year, you don’t necessarily need elite pitching to shut down this Mariners offense. The funny thing about this offense is that it kinda doesn’t matter who they face. They’re going to score 3-4 runs per game against the best AND the worst. We’ve seen them eat into pitch counts against aces, we’ve seen them overcome deficits against top-notch closers … AND we’ve seen them suck against soft-tossing junkball pitchers. No rhyme or reason to any of it!

I will say that I’ve been fairly discouraged with our lineups against lefty starters. We tried a lineup last Thursday against the White Sox – during the Buhner Buzz Cut night that I attended with some friends – that was among the worst I’ve ever seen. A struggling Dylan Moore in the 2-hole; a miserable Mitch Garver batting cleanup and DH’ing; a bottom four of Tyler Locklear (who actually managed to hit a solo homer against a pretty elite starter), Victor Robles (who should be off of this team very soon), Ryan Bliss (who probably just doesn’t have it, and needs to go back to Tacoma), and Seby Zavala (who I thought would’ve been cut by now, since Garver has become Kirby’s own personal catcher). The offense was as bad as advertised in that one, yet an Emerson Hancock spot start (7 innings, just 2 solo homers in the third), and a clutch Julio bomb in the ninth to tie it, took that game into extras, where unfortunately they scored their ghost runner and we didn’t.

That was the difference between a perfect homestand and a still very, very good one.

Which is funny, because the Mariners were fortunate to take 3 of 4 against the lowly White Sox. We really played down to our competition in that series! It required beating up on their maligned bullpen to do as well as we did. Yet, we came back against Texas and really poured it on! That was nice to see, after some iffy baseball against the Sox.

Thus ends our stretch of 30 games in 31 days. A positively BRUTAL stretch that should be outlawed in the MLB at this point. If you can’t give teams one fucking day off a week, then what are we even doing as a society? Yet, we managed to go 19-11 in that stretch. That was a real Separate The Men From The Boys part of the season, and we passed with flying colors.

Things calm down a bit as we head into the All Star Break, but not before another extended east coast road trip, starting in Cleveland tomorrow before a Florida two-step to play the Marlins and Rays. If we’re looking ahead, there’s only a 3-game set in Boston in the second half, otherwise our road trips only go as far east as Pittsburgh. There’s five series total played in the central or eastern timezones outside of our division in the second half. There’s also only one more trip to Texas (we play the Rangers and Astros back-to-back in late September). So, once we get past this immediate road swing, it’s SMOOTH SAILING as far as travel goes the rest of the way.

Which Mariners Player Would You Want From Prior Eras To Be On Today’s Team?

Jay Buhner was on the Brock & Salk show yesterday, and they asked him, “Who on this year’s team would you want for those Mariners teams you were on?” It’s a fun question to debate, but it’s just pure fan service. I mean, it’s not like it could ever happen, so in a sense it’s completely masturbatory.

Far be it for me to turn down such an opportunity!

Jay Buhner said he’d want to play with either J.P. Crawford or Cal Raleigh. That’s hard to argue with. I mean, I absolutely will, because how could you not take a pitcher? Those mid-90’s teams had the very best version of Alex Rodriguez at short stop, which means you’re bumping J.P. to second or third. Which is fine.

I will say that if I were to take one hitter from today’s Mariners and put them on the 90’s squads, no one would be cooler than Cal Raleigh. I like Dan The Man Wilson as much as anyone, but the dude was a black fucking hole in the playoffs. But, you put Cal on that lineup with A-Rod, Edgar, Buhner, Griffey, Blowers, Tino Martinez/Paul Sorrento? With Cal’s penchant for the dramatic late in games and late in seasons? That’s just beyond an insane lineup.

But, it’s silly. Either you take Andres Munoz and swap out Bobby Ayala’s worthless ass, or you take Luis Castillo and pair him with Randy Johnson, to further crush it with the rotation. Don’t sleep on adding another elite starter to the 1995 team. If we have Castillo in there, maybe we don’t have to go 5 games in the ALDS against the Yankees. Maybe we are better able to line up our rotation against the Indians in the ALCS. Can you imagine Castillo in there instead of Tim Belcher or Andy Benes?

That being said, the Mariners were shut out twice in the 1995 ALCS; indeed, in all four losses we scored 2 runs or fewer. So, maybe Cal would’ve been just the ticket.

As for those early 2000’s teams, I don’t think there’s any question: you put Luis Castillo in that rotation with Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, and Paul Abbott, and you throw Aaron Sele off a fucking cliff. Talk about a guy who was built for the regular season! That guy was a fucking trainwreck in the playoffs! Just fucking murdered us against the Yankees in back to back years; 16 innings across 3 starts, giving up 12 runs. And that’s JUST against the Yankees! For as worthless as Arthur Rhodes was in those series, I’ll take another ace, thank you very much.

But, let’s get back to the title of this post: who would I want from back then to be on today’s team?

Well, as much as I love a great pitching staff, and as tempting as it would be to add Randy Johnson to this group, that’s probably unnecessary, especially when you factor in how challenged this team is offensively.

It’s a clear 3-man race between A-Rod, Griffey, and Edgar. I would say Ichiro and Buhner are definitely honorable mentions, but the 2024 Mariners need more pop than Ichiro is capable or willing to provide, and more of a batting average than Buhner could possibly bring to the table.

The knock against Griffey and A-Rod is that they play two of the positions we’re strongest at. That being said, just move J.P. to second or Julio to right and call it a day. Of course, the knock against Edgar is that he plays no position, but I mean come on. Garver fucks off and it’s a complete 180 at DH.

Part of me feels like I’m over-thinking this. Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the best baseball players of all time. OF COURSE you take The Kid! I guess I’m a little wary because of his post-season numbers. They’re not great! Then again, none of the three are really all that spectacular. Edgar gets all the credit in the world for what he did against the Yankees in 1995, but his career numbers in three ALCS’s are pretty putrid (.156/.239/.234).

You know what? Fuck it. I want A-Rod here. Jorge Polanco is SO FUCKING BAD. Shit-can him, move J.P. to second. I feel like the upgrade of prime, Mariners-era A-Rod over Polanco is better than the upgrade we’d get with Griffey over take your pick in the outfield. Raley is obviously your third guy, probably platooning with Dylan Moore. So, Griffey over Haniger? Don’t get me wrong, that’s a pretty big leap too.

You know, it really says a lot about how shitty the 2024 Mariners lineup is that there are so many colossal black holes you’d love to swap out for Hall of Famers.

Just give me Ichiro, Griffey, Julio, Seager, A-Rod, J.P., Olerud, Raleigh, Edgar, with a bench full of Buhner, McLemore, Wilson, and Nelson Cruz, and throw them together with today’s pitching staff plus King Felix, Randy Johnson, Jeff Nelson, and Mike Jackson, and let’s go win a World Series!

Who Is The Second-Best Reliever On The Mariners Right Now?

We all know Andres Munoz is the first-best reliever on the Mariners; it goes without saying, it’s so obvious. I don’t know where the Mariners would be right now without Munoz, but they’d be considerably worse-off. Maybe even at or below .500.

But, who’s #2? It’s kind of a bummer of a question, because the real answer is the second-best Mariners reliver is on the IL at the moment. It’s probably Matt Brash (if he isn’t actually #1), followed by Gregory Santos. Two of our top three relievers are out of commission, and it’s kind of a steep decline from there.

It’s not fatal, though. This is still a good bullpen. And it has the potential to be great, if Santos comes back, and if we trade for someone like Paul Sewald. But, I think Scott Servais and the Analytics Department do a good job of papering over the bald spots of this group, that might otherwise be in weaker hands if we were just managing this bullpen with our guts, or conventional wisdom.

If you’ve watched the Mariners this year, you know that after Munoz (or, rather, before Munoz, if it’s the 8th inning or earlier), we tend to see Ryne Stanek. He’s the designated #2 in this bullpen. But, is he actually the second-best reliever? Probably not. He has the most experience in high-leverage situations, but I wouldn’t say he’s the #2 guy I trust the most to get me out of a jam, or to bridge that gap to Munoz. Sure, he throws the ball hard – often touching triple digits – but it’s awfully straight and hittable. I would also say his splitter or whatever he throws to get outs isn’t what was advertised. 11 of his 27 appearances has been for less than 1 full inning, often because he’s getting himself into jams that other guys (likely Munoz, for a 4-out or 5-out save) have to get him out of. He has a 4.38 ERA at the moment, and it feels like it could be a lot worse.

Through the first month, I would’ve said Gabe Speier was the second-best reliever (with his sub-1 ERA), but his month of May was pretty atrocious, and now he’s on the IL, so wipe that away.

There’s something to be said for Tyson Miller, who had a nice start to his season as well, but we let him go and now he’s kicking ass for the Cubs.

Tayler Saucedo has good-looking numbers, and has had a few big moments this year (including finishing off the 10th inning in Kansas City for his third save of the season), but for the most part I wouldn’t say he’s coming up in the highest-leverage situations. He’s a nice lefty, but I’m not ready to put him in that upper tier just yet.

There’s a number of journeymen relievers we’ve brought in here, who’ve had varying degrees of success, in spite of finding themselves sort of up and down between the Majors and minors. Austin Voth is probably the best story of the bunch, in that he’s managed to not only stick with the Mariners all year, but is doing pretty well for himself. In the early part of the season, it seemed like he was more of a mop-up artist, but he’s slowly, but surely, finding his way into bigger spots. I still wouldn’t put him in the top two, though.

One very interesting name is Mike Baumann, who we recently picked up from the Orioles. I found it extremely intriguing when I heard on the radio last week that the Mariners’ hitters vouched for him, as he was a tough at-bat for those who’ve faced him. Even though he’s been very good for the Mariners so far, I don’t know if I’m there with him just yet. He seems to have another fastball with not a ton of movement, and without a very distinct off-speed pitch. I’m still on a wait & see approach with him.

Who I think is probably the actual second-best reliever is also the guy I would’ve been least likely to believe to be the second-best reliever heading into the season, and that’s Trent Thornton.

Now, that doesn’t mean I think he’s great or anything. I would still place him firmly in a tier or two below Andres Munoz. I couldn’t possibly tell you how he had a 2.08 ERA with the Mariners last year (after coming here from Toronto in a mid-season trade), except to say his FIP was actually 4.72, which leads me to believe his defense largely saved his bacon, and/or he left a bunch of runners on base only for other guys to pull him out of the fire. Either way, I was largely unimpressed with Thornton last year, and came into 2024 wondering why he was still on the team.

Yet, this year, as things have shaken out, he did very well in low-leverage situations, to the point where he started earning more opportunities in close games that we could actually win! Now, it hasn’t always worked out; he has a 3.62 ERA, after all. But, his FIP is actually 2.86, meaning he should actually have better numbers than he does!

Ultimately, I think Thornton and Baumann are pretty close to the same guys, and maybe even throw Stanek in that bunch. I don’t think any of them have done enough to earn the 8th inning on a regular basis. But, they’re right there, good enough to maybe get a 7th inning every now and again, or to be put into tie games or games where we’re not losing by much and want to just keep it close to see if our offense scores late.

But, if we had to rely on those three guys exclusively in the biggest situations? I think it would be a disaster waiting to happen.

A bullpen is a fragile ecosystem. Guys need to have their roles sussed out. Ideally, we’re able to keep Munoz upright and dominating all year. Ideally, Santos will make his comeback at mid-season and take some of the load off of Stanek and Thornton. Ideally, Logan Evans will get called up at some point and become the next Matt Brash. Even if he does, it won’t start off that way; he’s going to have to earn his high-leverage spots. But, if by season’s end, we can put some space between Munoz and the Stanek/Thornton/Baumann triumvirate, I think we’ll have a nice little unit we can go to war with come playoff time.

In the interim, maybe Thornton keeps getting the job done. Maybe he’s the next Justin Topa. If nothing else, he’s another feather in the cap of this organization’s uncanny ability to get the most out of average-looking guys in the bullpen. Where were these coaches back in the 90’s, when the bullpen was – without question – our biggest Achilles heel?

Ty France Landed On The IL, Ty(ler) Locklear Got Called Up

On Friday, Ty France broke the Mariners all-time record for most Hit By Pitches, taking Edgar Martinez’s crown in relatively quick fashion. That’s a neat, albeit random record to own. On the downside, though, he was hit on the heel, which resulted in a hairline fracture, landing him on the IL for an indeterminate amount of time.

That being said, it doesn’t sound incredibly serious, so I wouldn’t expect him to be gone for much longer than a couple weeks.

Enter Tyler Locklear, who is only one of a few players from the 2022 draft to make it to the Major Leagues so far.

This is an interesting move for the Mariners, because they have very little – if any – Major League-ready hitters down in the minors who could potentially help out this season. We’ve tried Ryan Bliss, and through 23 at bats, he looks somewhat promising, but I’m not holding my breath. Jonatan Clase has already had a couple cups of coffee with the M’s through two-plus months, with very little to show for it. A couple other guys had brief call-ups without any sort of legitimate shot to produce. And we even picked up Victor Robles after he was let go by the Nationals; it’s probably pretty safe to say he’s shot.

The point is, I don’t know if there’s any help on the horizon that we can promote internally, or pick up via the MLB scrap heap. Our only real shot in 2024 is Tyler Locklear, and indeed, he’s no guarantee.

What prospect is, though? Even the best of the best have some growing pains. Tyler Locklear has produced every step of the way. Predictably, he raked in college. We took him in the second round in 2022; he proceeded to dominate at the lower A level that very same year. He was promoted to high-A Everett in 2023, crushed it there, and proceeded to get promoted again in 2023 to AA, where he finally met his match, but still showed out well.

That brings us to 2024, where he started at AA and took another step forward, which is impressive given that league isn’t nearly as forgiving to hitters as the PCL. You can argue AA has the best of the best prospects across the Major Leagues, but there’s still something to be said for getting your feet wet in AAA, where pitchers tend to throw more breaking pitches, and are in general a little more savvy on the ways of getting guys out. Tyler had 10 games in Tacoma, where he kept right on rolling.

Given this trajectory, and his massive minor league success, it was only a matter of time before the Mariners gave him a chance. We already moved Mitch Garver to backup catcher (making Seby Zavala’s roster spot as worthless as can be), so unless Garver and France balled out the rest of the way, Locklear was always going to at least get a look.

Which brings us back to France’s IL stint.

There are certainly internal options for the Mariners at the Major League level to fill in at first base. Luke Raley could play first, Dylan Moore can seemingly do it all, one would think Garver could handle it in a pinch. But, the time feels right. It’s early June; we’ve got a month and a half before the trade deadline. Let’s see what Locklear can do, because if he continues tearing the cover off the ball, that makes France or Garver expendable.

Ty France is an interesting case for the Mariners. He’s got one more Arb year in 2025 before he’s an unrestricted free agent. He’s also turning 30 in July. Through last year, he was on a steady decline in his offensive production, which led to him going to Driveline in the offseason and vastly revamping his swing and approach at the plate.

In spite of some peaks and valleys, France has unquestionably been a better hitter in 2024 than he was last year. That being said, his batting average is about the same (.251 compared to .250 in 2023), his OBP is worse (.329 vs. .337), and while his slugging has drastically improved (.403 over .366), it’s still considerably lower than it was in 2022 (.437), 2021 (.445), and 2020 (.468). France is earning just under $7 million this year, with a likely marginal increase for 2025; is that someone we absolutely NEED to hang onto?

That’s a tough question, because we can’t dismiss the fact that France has the third-highest slugging percentage on the team right now (behind Luke Raley and Dylan Moore). He also has the fourth-highest batting average, and the third-highest OPS. He’s second on the team in homers (tied with Garver, oddly enough, at 7), and is tied for the lead in doubles with Dylan Moore at 11. He’s not the best, most-productive hitter on the team, but he’s up there in just about all of the major categories. If you’re going to make France a cap casualty at the trade deadline – to help bring in other hitters – you better be DAMN sure you can replace his production at the lineup.

I would be curious to know what the Mariners’ front office feels about Locklear. Do they see him as The Future? Is this a scenario where maybe we flip France and a prospect for a rental like Pete Alonso? Presumably, there would be other salary offsets besides France, to get that deal done. But, knowing there’s a virtual certainty that we will never re-sign Alonso, could Locklear slot into first base heading into Spring Training 2025?

Or, might this call-up be a showcase of sorts, to see if we can package Locklear with someone else to bring in a hitter at a more-valuable position, like third base or left field?

Either way, Locklear had his first Major League start on Sunday, and went 1 for 4 with a double, RBI, and run scored (all in the 7th inning). He came out swinging from his very first at bat, and he ended up helping out in a big way, as the M’s salvaged one game of the 3-game set (not for nothing, but we should’ve won 2 of 3 in Kansas City, if we didn’t blow Friday’s game 10-9, after scoring 7 runs in the first and holding an 8-0 lead in the top of the 4th).

I’ll be rooting for him like crazy. Am I confident he’ll succeed? Absolutely not. That has nothing to do with Locklear, and everything to do with every other minor league bat I’ve ever seen called up to the bigs. The failure rate is quite high!

But, some dudes just know how to hit. It’s a shame that Locklear will be denigrated for “only” playing first base. I’ll say this: you still need guys to hit there. And I want a guy who not only looks the part – so many players “look the part” – but also has the numbers to back it up. Locklear has the numbers. He looks the part. So, I wouldn’t be too quick to give up on him, or flip him for a rental.

He COULD be the real deal. I hope the Mariners know what they’re doing.