It’s Okay That Justus Sheffield Doesn’t Quite Have The Ceiling Everyone Hoped He’d Have

I’ll just put it this way: who would you rather have right now, James Paxton or Justus Sheffield?

The fun answer to that question is, in theory, the Mariners could have BOTH, what with Paxton currently being a free agent. Since we traded him to the Yankees for Sheffield (and … others), Paxton has predictably suffered from injuries and it seems like a long shot that he’ll ever be counted upon to anchor a rotation. He could be had for an incentive-laden deal, but I wouldn’t count him among any longterm plans.

Since this is Uninteresting Mariners Week, though, let’s leave the more interesting topics for another time. Similarly to a lot of other guys, I like Sheffield. I would rather have him, even though the ceiling is always going to be higher for Paxton when he’s healthy. But Sheffield is much younger and – so far – not prone to injury. It’s a no-brainer, in that sense.

And, to his credit, Sheffield had a pretty good year in 2020! It was his first “full” season in the Major Leagues (COVID-19 limitations notwithstanding; he would’ve been up here for a 162-game season as well, had the pandemic not raged quite so hard). Clearly, the Mariners were taking it easy on him, not pushing him too much; his longest outings were 7 innings, and his highest single-game pitch count was 99. Yet, he still managed 6 Quality Starts out of 10 total appearances, which is pretty good for a 24 year old.

My biggest concern, obviously, lies in his fastball. It’s not particularly … fast. He did improve his command, and hitters weren’t quite as able to mash him for extra-base hits. If anything, he’s a perfectly fine starting pitcher! He’s just a victim of expectations. When you trade a pitcher like Paxton to a team like the Yankees – and you hear about a guy like Sheffield, who used to be one of the highest-rated prospects in the country – you expect you’re trading a Current Ace for a Future Ace. Sheffield will most likely never be an Ace, in the sense that we think of them. He doesn’t have that overpowering fastball, so he’s going to have to improve as an all-around pitcher. 2020 saw him making that first step. One would hope he has the drive to continue working on his game, because he could be a fine mainstay in this rotation with Marco Gonzales and whoever else emerges from the young crop.

I really don’t have a lot to say otherwise. Worst case scenario is he regresses in 2021, and he puts his future with the organization in jeopardy (or he gets injured, in which case, his future will still be in jeopardy). Part of me sort of expects him to be Just Another Guy, which is why I’ve yet to fully commit to him as a prospect in our overall rebuild. At least he’s not Erik Swanson, though; that guy … yeesh!

Uninteresting Mariners Week: Marco Gonzales Is A Good Baseball Guy

The running theme with me and the Mariners the last few years is: I hold the pitching staff in the utmost contempt. It’s an unfair assertion, because I’m sure you could argue – bullpen aside, which seems like it was constructed to be terrible and cost this team games, to help generate higher draft picks – that at least the rotation has been adequate, and the reason why the Mariners have been so bad of late has more to do with the everyday roster. But, it’s hard to look at this unit and not see a bunch of fourth and fifth starters in other, more superior rotations.

I lament the lack of a true ace! Prior to 2019, we had James Paxton as our top dog (when healthy), and before that King Felix was our whole franchise. It’s rare for this organization – dating back to when I started being a fan in the mid-90’s – to NOT have at least one elite pitcher at the head of the rotation. But, for the last two years – and going forward, at least for now – that guy has been Marco Gonzales.

Every time I write about the guy, it’s the same analysis: he’s better than I ever thought he’d be, he’s better than people give him credit for, he just goes out there and gets the job done (at least keeping the team in his games, if he has to battle through a subpar performance), and his job as one of this team’s key leaders has been an absolute revelation! He’s a Pacific Northwest guy, he loves the area, and that makes a big difference. He WANTS to be here! He WANTS to win! And he’s going to out-work everyone to make sure that happens, bettering both his own game and those of the players around him.

If you’re talking about a team’s Ace, you couldn’t ask for more from a Marco Gonzales! Except, you know, some more M’s per H on his fastball. Because how excited can you get about an ace who throws in the 80’s and low 90’s? I’m sure in the 1920’s he would’ve been the bee’s knees, hombre; the total cat’s meow. But, as we’re all aware, athletes have advanced their training techniques beyond swinging a medicine ball around and pulling springs apart. Dudes are jacked and better at sports than ever before, and nothing beats a strikeout when you’re a Major League pitcher.

As always, I feel I need to make a point of saying I like Marco Gonzales! I want him to be with the Mariners for a very long time. He reminds me of a Jamie Moyer type whose game can endure for years, and be a mainstay in this rotation. But, from an interest-level standpoint, I’m hoping some of these prospects with a more impressive assortment of pitches will break through and take over this team’s Ace role, so we can slot Gonzo as the #2 or #3 where he belongs and really make the most of this rebuild.

Like some of these other reliable workhorses on the roster, I know what I’m going to get from Gonzales: Quality Starts much more often than not. I’m a red-blooded American male who likes a good handjob as much as the next guy! I’m never going to turn down a Marco Gonzales Quality Start. I’m just saying that they’re rarely going to make my toes curl or cause me to distractedly drift into oncoming traffic.

If you want to see a Mariners victory in 2021, tune into a Gonzo start and you’re likely to get your wish. But, if you’re more interested in what this team could look like in 2022 and beyond, odds are you’re going to want to get a live stream of the Tacoma Rainiers or the Arkansas Travelers.

Uninteresting Mariners Week: Nobody Believes In J.P. Crawford

When the Mariners flipped Jean Segura (and others) to the Phillies for high-level prospect J.P. Crawford heading into the 2019 season, he was already coming off of two pretty nothing years in the Majors, and it felt like the bloom was already off the rose. Expectations for him have been tempered from the moment he put on a Mariners uniform.

His 2019 season didn’t really do a lot to change the perception, as he had to overcome two stints in the minors before we gave him a proper look in the second half. He was handed the starting short stop job in 2020 because it was going to be a lost year for the franchise regardless – considering where we were at in our rebuild, to say nothing of the whole pandemic thing – and even though it was only a 60-game span, we’ve seen our best look from the guy we thought MIGHT be our everyday short stop going forward.

It brings me no joy that all this time – whenever people talk about what this rebuilding plan might look like in 2022 and beyond – that everyone is still talking about the Mariners making a big splash for an All Star short stop – either in free agency, or via some blockbuster trade – and Crawford’s eventual landing spot with this team (if he manages to stick at all) will be at second base.

This is a guy who JUST won a Gold Glove! Short stop is one of the most difficult defensive positions, and he was deemed the very best in the American League! When you think about how that was never really his reputation – and you remember how much he struggled at times as recently as 2019 – it really is remarkable to see how far he’s come in his game.

It’s his hitting, though, that is probably always going to limit him. He had just-okay power numbers in 2019, but only hit for a .226 average. He sacrificed quite a bit of that nothing power in 2020 to raise his average to .255, but he otherwise doesn’t get on base nearly often enough to be a legitimate leadoff hitter. On top of that, he’s about as streaky as it gets; lack of consistency might be a bigger hurdle to overcome than the lack of pop.

Now, what we have to remember is, he’s still only 26 years old. 2021 is going to be huge for him, because he HAS Major League experience. He’s coming off of a Gold Glove win. He spent the entirety of 2020 at the Major League level; his confidence should never be higher. He has stability, he has his position on this team locked down, and we’re still at a point in the rebuild where it’s not VITAL that we make the playoffs. He has every opportunity in 2021 to break out, he just has to take advantage (and hopefully catch some breaks along the way).

So, why am I less interested in him? Because, quite frankly, I don’t know if I believe it’ll happen. I think even if he reaches his full potential, that potential isn’t as a guy you build your team around. Even if he does break out, that probably just guarantees his roster spot, but he’ll still be moved to second base if the Mariners decide to make a push for an elite short stop. If that was the plan all along when they set out on this rebuild, then I don’t think there’s anything Crawford can do – short of making a considerable showing towards the A.L. MVP – to stick at his position. And, to be an MVP candidate, you need to bring MUCH more power to the plate than he’ll ever be capable of; it just seems the entire deck is stacked against him.

I expect Crawford will be pretty much what he was last year, with probably a little more power, because I’m assuing that’s all he’s been working on this offseason. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a FINE player, but I’m just not getting my hopes up for him like I am for some of these other guys. He’ll probably be around for a while, but I don’t think he’s going to be a significant piece to this team’s future success. If anything, he might not be a detriment. The world needs ditch diggers too, you know?

Is There Any Chance The Mariners Extend Kyle Seager Beyond 2021?

The last however many Mariners posts have been about some of the players I’m most interested in for the 2021 season. So, I thought, why not switch it up and talk about some of the players I’m least interested in? I really got my finger on the pulse of this whole blogging thing!

I would say the odds are better than 90% that 2021 is the last season with Kyle Seager in a Mariners uniform, so right there a lot of this is pointless. BUT! I don’t think it’s totally inconceivable that the Mariners figure out a way to keep Seager around, if he has a productive year.

Kyle Seager is the greatest third baseman the Mariners have ever had. He’s already a lock for the team’s hall of fame whenever he retires. We drafted him in the third round in 2009, he made his Major League debut in 2011, and he’s pretty much been our everyday third baseman ever since. He’s been durable; only in 2019 did he see extended time on the Injured List, when he needed surgery on his hand. Otherwise, day-in and day-out, you could rely on Seager being a mainstay.

And, he’s been pretty consistent. While it’s certainly true that his numbers have dipped in the second half of his career – as MLB has drastically increased its usage of the defensive shift with hitters like Seager – and he really struggled in 2018, he’s bounced back nicely over the last two seasons when he’s been in there. I remember early on in his career thinking that the sky was the limit; even when he signed his big money extension, I thought there was still better things to come. It’s clear his best years were from 2014-2016 (his ceiling, where his WAR ranged from 5.4 to 6.7), and his prime years were 2012-2017 (WAR ranged from 2.8 to 6.7). After the nadir that was 2018, his injury-shortened 2019 saw a return to that prime form. I’m willing to discount the second half slide in 2020 based on the wackiness of the year, but that first half continued on the promise of his resurgence!

My point is, it’s not outside the realm of possibility. He won’t be that peak player from 2014-2016, but he could return to Prime Seager very easily.

Now, I don’t think the Mariners would be interested in paying Kyle Seager his $15+ million option for 2022 (it can move up to $20 million based on performance escalators). But, he’s only 33 this year. It certainly seems like he has another three years as a productive third baseman, if he wants to keep at it. And, he could always transition to first base or DH towards the end of that; as a left-handed hitter who’s always been good against left-handed pitching, there’s a lot of value left in his bat as an everyday hitter; he had 43 extra base hits in 106 games in 2019, and 21 in 60 games in 2020.

For the Mariners to want to extend him, he’ll need to obviously be good-to-great in 2021. His WAR definitely needs to be over 3, probably approaching or even surpassing 4. I would also have to assume, in this scenario, the team won’t have a lot of confidence in Ty France taking over the everyday third baseman job next year. There already doesn’t seem to be much in the minor league pipeline, so that doesn’t figure to be an issue. At that point, it’ll boil down to whoever is out there in the free agent market. I don’t have those answers, as obviously a lot can change between now and next offseason. Assuming the Mariners don’t make a blockbuster trade, or try to land a whale in free agency, Kyle Seager figures to be near the top of the free agent third basemen available on a reasonable contract. So, why not keep him around and buy yourself some time?

Given what the market looks like, if the Mariners decide they don’t want to cheap out on the position, and they’re not confident in Ty France, they don’t have a lot of money guaranteed to players in 2022. The $15 million (or whatever it ends up being after the potential escalator) would actually be a likely reduction in salary for Seager over the $18.5 million he’s making this year. So, if he earns his money in 2021 through his performance, he could end up being a bargain for this team next season, while affording us another year to figure out what we want to do with the position in the long term. Beyond 2022 – if Seager stays – we could go year-to-year, if the Mariners are good and he’s still a valuable piece to our winning ways.

The bottom line, though, is we kind of know what we’re going to get from Seager. Solid defense, solid power from his bat, sub-optimal batting average in the .230’s or .240’s, and one of the few leaders on this team from a veteran standpoint. Any dip in that production will totally seal his fate, and even a continuation of what he’s been lately will also most likely result in this being his final year here. But, you know based on who he is – to say nothing of the fact that his next contract could be his last one – that he’s going to give it everything he has. You won’t find many players more motivated to be great and help their team win than Kyle Seager. So, it doesn’t feel like a stretch for this season to go reasonably well for him. He’s still going to be plopped right in the middle of the lineup as the cleanup hitter, he’s still going to be in there almost every single game; he’s Kyle Seager: our rock.

It’s not a super-exciting story, but much like our catcher position, it’s nice to not have to worry about third base for at least a year.

It’s Time For The Seahawks To Face Up To What Russell Wilson Can & Can’t Do

Russell Wilson is 32 years old. 2021 will be his tenth season in the NFL, following a full four years in college. As has been discussed previously – but hasn’t been made a big-enough deal of – he’s no longer a spring chicken. Yes, he can still run – he’s run for over 4,500 yards in his NFL career, including 513 in 2020 – but he can’t escape like he used to. It used to be pretty rare when a defensive lineman brought him down in the open field; now it’s happening regularly. He isn’t able to juke guys and get around them as much as before. It’s father time! He is, and always will be, undefeated.

It took a few years before the league came to terms with the fact that Russell Wilson is a quality pocket passer. We saw what he was capable of in the latter half of 2015, when he put it all together and shredded the league with his arm. That’s been the version of Russell Wilson we’ve been trying ever-since to recapture. Over the last half-decade, Wilson has been more of a pocket passer, and the results have been great. Yet, every year after his rookie season, he’s been sacked a MINIMUM of 40 times; he’s almost always at or near the top in all of football. That can’t continue. Not with his aging body and slowing legs.

It makes sense, though. While the Seahawks’ offensive line has been better the last few years, it has never TRULY been great (and some seasons, it’s been among the very worst in the game). And, to be honest, I don’t think the O-Line has EVER been particularly good at pass protection since Pete Carroll joined the organization; he likes to run the ball, he wants guys who can make that happen, to the detriment of our quarterback’s safety. We’ve been able to manage thanks to Wilson’s legs and his ability to make plays out of thin air. Yet, even at his most fleet-of-foot, he’s still been knocked on his ass more than just about anyone else over the life of his NFL career.

With Shane Waldron as our new offensive coordinator, the hope is that the Seahawks’ offense will look a lot more like the Rams’ offense. If it works out the way it should, this might be the smartest hire by Pete Carroll since he decided to hitch his wagon to John Schneider as General Manager.

The Rams specialize in lots of running and lots of play action passing. The Rams love to run a wide variety of plays out of similar-looking pre-snap sets, to better fool opposing defenses and keep them on their toes just a fraction of a second longer (that fraction is all the difference you need in the NFL).

The Rams also do what the Seahawks have been completely incapable of doing – except for that brief run in 2015 – get the ball out of their quarterback’s hands quickly. Jared Goff, for all his faults, has yet to be sacked more than 33 times in a season (and other than that one year, he’s never been sacked more than 25 times since he became a full-time starter). Imagine what the Seahawks could do if we were able to shed TWENTY sacks from Wilson’s body every year!

While the O-Line – and its construction by the people in charge – deserves its share of the blame, just as much should be placed on the scheme itself. Yes, Russell Wilson is one of the best deep-ball passers in the NFL. But, taking so many shots also comes with a lot more risk: holding the ball a lot longer, waiting for guys to get open. If those guys end up covered, that leaves Wilson trying to find other alternatives; it’s in that amount of time where the pocket usually collapses, leaving Wilson either running for his life, or cowering under the combined weight of multiple linemen closing in around him. If Wilson is forced to get the ball out quickly – by completing more short and intermediate crossing routes – then that’s less on his shoulders. Taking some of the decision-making off of his plate should be only to the team’s benefit. Wilson is always going to want to make the big highlight play; eliminating that as an option in favor of safer, less-sexy passing plays, should help us in that almighty metric of 3rd down conversion percentage.

And, while Wilson is slower, he’s not yet a total statue. Tom Brady has made a career out of quick passing, but he can’t run for shit unless it’s a quarterback sneak that only needs to get one yard! With Wilson’s legs – and the Rams’ style of offense that loves to feature designed quarterback roll-outs – the Seahawks should be able to take advantage of those plays far better than the Rams ever could with Goff; and, to his credit, Goff was good-enough on those types of plays as it was. These plays can still allow for Wilson to gain yards with his legs, but it should also drastically reduce the number of “playground” type plays where Wilson has to escape danger and throw long on the fly. These types of plays dried up CONSIDERABLY over the last half of the 2020 season, because of Wilson’s decline and the league catching up to what we’ve been doing all along. So, maybe it’s time to put those plays to rest in favor of something new.

I hope Waldron is able to fully implement the Rams’ style of offense, I hope the Seahawks have players who can adapt to it, and I hope everyone is able to buy in and let the new guy run the show (I’m looking at you, Meddling Pete Carroll). Word on the street is, Brian Schottenheimer either chose to keep, or was forced to keep, about 70% of Darrell Bevell’s playbook during the previous offensive coordinator change-over. That better not happen here. It’s time for the Seahawks to make wholesale changes. I don’t care how difficult it’s going to be with COVID-19 and the lack of in-person instruction. Make this new scheme easy to understand on paper, so when we finally can congregate together later in the summer, we’ll be off and running and ready to dominate in 2021.

The Mariners Are Stacked At Catcher

This isn’t a super-interesting topic on the Mariners landscape, but it is pretty noteworthy, especially when you consider how long we’ve struggled to fill this spot.

The Mariners have not just one, but two perfectly cromulent catchers at the Major League level, in Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens. The Mariners traded for the veteran Murphy from the Giants heading into 2019, and that year he had his best season of his career! He was so good, the M’s felt comfortable trading away Omar Narvaez for basically nothing.

Of course, Murphy injured his foot and missed the entire 2020 season, but he’s healthy and back in the fold as this team’s co-starting catcher. That’s only happening because the Mariners traded for Torrens at the deadline last year (along with Ty France and another high-level prospect) in exchange for Austin Nola. I wouldn’t say Torrens put up Nola-like numbers when he came over, but he was very capable, both offensively and defensively!

The combination of Murphy and Torrens is putting a lot of Mariners fans at ease. Most spots on the everyday roster are locked in at this point – even though Spring Training has yet to commence – but they come with lots of questions and concerns. Even with someone like Kyle Lewis – who won the American League Rookie of the Year award – you have to wonder how he will put it all together over a full season, with all the ups and downs built into it. But, I’ll tell you this much: the least of my concerns heading into 2021 will be what the Mariners are able to do at catcher.

Not to say these guys are the best in baseball. Maybe as a unit, I would say there is little-to-no drop-off between whoever the “starter” ends up being and whoever his backup is (though, I do anticipate pretty close to a 50/50 split, as long as health isn’t a factor); but I don’t think either of these guys are bound to be All Stars or anything. They’re just capable, all-around catchers who should hit enough to help out, and shouldn’t be disasterous behind the plate.

You might think, “Well, that’s not sexy!” And you’d be right! But, at this point, all I’m looking for is run-of-the-mill, missionary-style, passionless married people intercourse from the catcher spot. I don’t need a Mike Zunino who’s a great receiver, but strikes out nine million times a season; nor do I need an Omar Narvaez, who hits like crazy but is among the worst defenders in the game. I just need dudes who can do both to the point where I’m not pulling my hair out whenever I look at them. In the same way in football, the very best long-snappers are ones you never have to think about (because, with a position like that, you’re only thinking about them when they fuck up), such is the catcher in baseball. Just do your job!

On top of the fact that both Murphy and Torrens are good players, they’re also not necessarily important for our future. Murphy has two more Arbitration years remaining, while Torrens has a whopping four more years of team control. These are bridge guys to the future, who is Cal Raleigh. Raleigh in his own right is someone we could see get a cup of coffee at the Major League level in 2021 (or maybe even a whole pot of coffee, if injuries worm their way into the picture). He’s one of the highest-touted prospects in our organization, and a consensus guy who should man that position for many years to come. By 2022, it’s not out of the question that he’d break Spring Training with the Mariners, and as soon as 2023 he could be firing on all cylinders if things go according to plan. That’s exciting!

That’s the current catching spot locked down, as well as high hopes for the very near future! For the first time since Dan Wilson, this won’t have to be a source of frustration! I can’t wait to never talk about this position again!

So, What Is A Dylan Moore?

I swear I was going to get around to doing a Dylan Moore post independent of this very interesting one by Lookout Landing. Really, if I had to give an overarching title to my series of Mariners-related posts lately, it would be: Things I Find Interesting About The Mariners In 2021. And, obviously, I find Dylan Moore VERY interesting!

He was drafted in 2015 by the Texas Rangers. He bounced around a couple of other organizations before signing as a free agent with the Mariners prior to the 2019 season. He was projected to be a utility guy who is capable of backing up at many spots: both corners of the outfield (center if you’re desperate), as well as every spot around the infield except catcher (he even pitched in one game when the Mariners were getting destroyed and needed someone to eat an inning). He made his Major League debut with the M’s in 2019 and was about what you’d expect someone like him to be: a bad hitter and a capable defender (when he even struggled with his glove early in that season, he truly looked like a lost cause; thankfully for him and the organization, he at least improved on that facet of his game before the season concluded).

It made sense to hang onto Moore heading into 2020, because why not? Depth and competition being what it is, you can never have enough cheap utility guys to help you out in a pinch. But, the Mariners also brought in a few other guys who did the same exact job, because why not? Moore in 2019 did absolutely nothing to guarantee his own job security.

With his defensive issues in the rearview, Moore went to work improving on his hitting (which you can read about in that LL piece above). What resulted was nothing short of breathtaking! Smallish sample and all of that, but Moore was absolutely one of the very best players on that team! Kyle Lewis got all the publicity – for obvious reasons – but day-in and day-out, there weren’t many people you could rely on more to come through for this team (especially once we traded Austin Nola away) than Dylan Moore.

He played so well that he went from a utility guy, to a utility guy you couldn’t take out of your lineup (once again, he played every defensive spot on the field except catcher), to a bona fide starter at second base once Shed Long went down. In fact, he played so well that heading into 2021, he’s already being pencilled into the lineup as your everyday second baseman (though, I could see him playing quite a bit in left field as well, until Jarred Kelenic gets the call-up).

It’s an exciting time to be a Dylan Moore! This year can make or break his entire professional baseball career! He’s 28 years old, he will be entering his first of three Arbitration years in 2022, he’s on a young, up-and-coming team and at least for the time being, he has the potential to be a big reason for its success. The Mariners clearly have this hole at second base that needs to be filled (to say nothing of third base once Kyle Seager moves on after this year), and unless Shed Long turns it on (being demoted to a utility role going forward), there really isn’t a lot in the pipeline. The Mariners could always make a big splash next year (maybe signing a high-priced short stop as a free agent, which could theoretically move J.P. Crawford to second base, as has been indicated by many scouts to be his future), but they also might not have to. Dylan Moore has his future in his hands; if he kills it in 2021, either the Mariners can keep him as their everyday second baseman for at least the next few years, or they can flip him for a great return of Major League talent and/or future prospects.

Considering the investment to bring Moore into the organization, I couldn’t be happier with what we’re witnessing! Assuming he stays healthy and his star keeps rising, it’s all gravy at this point!

Obviously, the downside is: he could turn back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight. Or, you know, get hurt (which seems to happen quite a bit whenever I get excited about someone). As that LL post indicates, opposing pitchers could make his life miserable with off-speed stuff and render this whole fantasy moot. He was batting near the top of the lineup most of last year, and you’d think he’s destined to start out in the 2-hole this season; teams are fully aware of the Dylan Moore transformation. He will have to continue to work on his swing and make adjustments to the new tactics we all anticipate will be coming.

But, even getting to the point where he could hit a fastball with any regularity is a place I never expected we’d get to, so I don’t see why he couldn’t continue to improve and become a fully well-rounded hitter. Should that be the case, it’s yet another reason to be excited by the prospects of these 2021 Mariners.

The Seahawks Hired Shane Waldron To Be Their Offensive Coordinator

We briefly interrupt our Mariners 2021 pre-season coverage to bring you an announcement: the Seahawks did a thing!

The Brian Schottenheimer era was never dull, even if he himself was never all that exciting. I seem to remember being a bit higher on him as a hire than most Seahawks fans (there was A LOT of dread in the Pacific Northwest about him bringing this offense to new lows), as throughout his coordinating career he’d been saddled with mediocre-to-bad quarterbacks; until he met up with Russell Wilson, he’d never really had a chance to show what he could do. And what happened? In Schotty’s three years, he led three of the eight highest scoring offenses in franchise history; including two of the top three (including the number one overall in 2020).

But, obviously, things soured over the final half of this past season. I wonder if it’ll ever come out exactly what happened when he and the Seahawks parted ways. I still have a hunch that Pete Carroll gave him a My Way Or The Highway speech and Schotty took the highway on out of town. Considering Schottenheimer’s stock was as low as it gets when he was originally hired, I’d love to get a peek inside his head to see if this was some sort of power play gone awry; that either he was angling to be the Head Coach In Waiting here, or if he wanted more autonomy over the offense so he could move on to be promoted somewhere else.

Anyway, regardless, after a 12-4 division-winning season, the Seahawks were suddenly on the hunt for a new offensive coordinator. And there were rumors aplenty! Retreads and up-and-comers, and in-house candidates all across the football map. Whenever this happens, I try to stay out of the fire and look on from a distance; I don’t like doing a lot of research into candidates who aren’t likely to be hired for my team. So, I’ll admit, Shane Waldron – Passing Game Coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams since 2018 – wasn’t on my radar (then again, you could fill a book with the guys who weren’t on my radar).

What is a Passing Game Coordinator? Well, if you’re cynical like me and think it’s just a meaningless promotion in-name-only, you’re not far off! If you’re also cynical like me, it’s easy to be skeptical when we’re talking about hiring someone from the Rams. The Sean McVay Coaching Tree hasn’t exactly been full of ripe, blossoming fruit; it’s kind of been full of worms and tent caterpillars. McVay has been a hotshot ever since he went to L.A. He’s a brilliant offensive mind and his teams were pretty unstoppable for a while. Obviously, I think a lot of that has to do with him being the one calling the plays. On top of that, the Rams also have an offensive coordinator in Kevin O’Connell. That means, not only does their O.C. not call the plays, but we just hired the guy THIRD in command of that offense (who, again, also never called plays).

What we’re hoping for, I guess, is that some of the McVay Magic rubbed off on Waldron. I have my doubts about that, but we’ll see. It’s discouraging that he was already on staff coming into 2020 (as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach) when they plucked O’Connell from the scrap heap (makes you wonder how much smoke McVay was blowing up his ass in that article). There’s a lot we don’t know about his role with the Rams, but I can’t imagine he had a ton of say about the direction of the offense when he had two guys ahead of him in the pecking order to answer to.

Where I’m encouraged is with the offense he could be bringing over from the Rams. We don’t know how he’ll be at calling plays; I’m sure that will be trial by fire and there will be a big learning curve for him to overcome. But, from a scheme standpoint, I could see things getting a lot more creative, based on what the Rams have been able to do the last few years (with, mind you, an inferior quarterback with no mobility whatsoever). The Rams run the style of offense I think a lot of Seahawks fans have been clamoring for. They still run the ball quite a bit – which I know is near and dear to Pete Carroll’s heart – but they also build off of that by running tons of Play Action, and that is quite frankly what the Seahawks do best, and what they haven’t done NEARLY enough, throughout the run of Russell Wilson’s career, and in particular in 2020. The Seahawks should be running Play Action more than ANY other team in the league! It should be an obnoxiously-high percentage of our passing plays!

What I also like about what the Rams have done is they make sure to have options at all levels of the passing game. It’s not just deep balls and check-downs; they have been able to scheme receivers open at the intermediate level to a degree you just don’t see outside of Kansas City and maybe a couple of other teams. It’s something that I thought Darrell Bevell didn’t get enough credit for during his time here (with Doug Baldwin being a big part of that, knowing where to get open in various zones), and it’s something that I thought has been sorely lacking since Schottenheimer was hired.

The point is – as always – it’s far too soon to know if this is a good or bad hire. We’ll find out. Sean McVay was just some relative nobody before he took the football world by storm. I will say this, I’d rather have second- and third-wave hires from the McVay Coaching Tree than some of those first-wave guys (many of whom have already gone on to failure). Shane Waldron has had a lot of time working under McVay, so if indeed there is any magic to rub onto him, it’s more likely it would have after four seasons than it would be after one.

What ultimately blows my mind is how people started to question whether or not this was a good opportunity for someone. There are only (I would assume) 32 offensive coordinator spots in the NFL. This isn’t an easy job to earn! It’s often a stepping stone to being a head coach; if that’s your ultimate goal, I would think being ANY team’s O.C. and primary play-caller is high on your list. So, that alone cuts through most of that argument. But, when you compare the Seahawks to the rest of the NFL, look at what you have: one of the longest-tenured head coaches and general managers (lots of stability and a culture of winning already established); one of the best quarterbacks in the game; a duo of receivers that rank among the best in the league today, with lots of complementary talent around them to help make this unit hum; and it was a Top 10 scoring team as recently as this past season! Who wouldn’t want to work with this group? How many better opportunities are out there, either available right this moment, or exist PERIOD? When you look at all the dysfunctional franchises in the league, when you hear reports of all these quarterbacks potentially changing teams, when you know of all the instability built into the NFL based on everyone’s high expectations of winning at all costs, it’s asinine to me why anyone would turn this job down.

If that ultimately boils down to Pete Carroll and his meddling ways, well … then maybe we have bigger problems here than I realized.

At What Point Do The Mariners Worry About Evan White?

Let me be clear: I’m not worried about Evan White right now. He was a 24-year old rookie last year, making the jump from AA to the Majors, fresh off of a contract extension that bought out his cheap team control and arbitration years to give him a guaranteed $24 million over 6 seasons, with the possibility of being worth up to $55.5 million over 9 seasons. There was a worldwide pandemic, no fans in the stands, and he’s on a rebuilding team that’s looking to go from mediocre-at-best to elite within the next few years. He was a first round draft pick in 2017 and has been handed the keys to the first base position for the foreseeable future.

There was, in short, A LOT on his plate in 2020. And, other than his defense – which was superb enough to garner him the first of probably many Gold Glove Awards – a lot went wrong. He had a slash line of .176/.252/.346. His strikeout rate was through the roof, his swing-and-miss rate skyrocketed compared to his minor league norms, and he got off to a REALLY bad start; so those terrible numbers are a result of him sort of turning things on a little bit towards the end of the truncated season (emphasis on “a little bit”).

Many fans are concerned, because the Mariners are planning on giving him a LONG leash, for obvious reasons: his contract, the fact that he’s a high draft pick, the fact that he’s so elite at defense, the fact that we’re still not projected to legitimately contend for championships for at least another few years. This doesn’t have the feel of rushing someone along like it did with so many guys prior (Mike Zunino most notably), because he’s not on a team that’s expected to do anything, other than incrementally improve year by year. Rather, he’s being given the experience he needs – in a low-pressure environment, relative to expectations (obviously, it’s high-pressure in the sense that it’s the MAJOR LEAGUES and therefore the dream of everyone who’s ever picked up a baseball bat as a child) – as this organization continues to grow through its rebuild. He’s not the Franchise Savior; White has always been projected as a solid complementary piece to a potentially-great team. If everything pans out with the rest of the rebuild, you’d be happy with White bringing you his usual brand of defense, and batting 7th in the order every night. Best case scenario still only has White maybe batting in the 2-hole (if he gets his strikeouts under control and starts walking and hitting for power more).

Even though the plan seems sound, you never know if it’s a case of too much too soon. White needs to hit to make it in the Majors, that’s the bottom line. He doesn’t need to be a guy who hits .300, or who bashes 35+ home runs; with his defense, you can excuse some mediocre or streaky hitting. BUT, he can’t be a sub-.200 guy who strikes out 200 times; that’s never going to fly.

I won’t say 2021 is a Make Or Break year for White, like it might be for someone like Haniger or obviously Kikuchi; I will say that it would be nice to see some improvement. If it’s more of the same – or God forbid worse – then I think that’s a very ominous trend, and you’d have to start wondering if he will last through his contract. At the very least, we would seriously alter our expectations. A prolonged slump to start his Major League career can very well be his reality, since he brings so much with his glove; it’s nearly impossible to sit him (made all the more apparent by the fact that we have no other first basemen of note in the pipeline behind him). It’s White Or Bust, for at LEAST the next two seasons!

The Mariners can make it easier on him by other guys producing in the lineup. If we can hide White towards the bottom of the order, then I think it’s okay to keep a struggling hitter who is otherwise a value add in the field. But, if everyone else underperforms, that’s only going to magnify White’s presence, since he is considered a piece of this team’s future.

I know we’re all rooting for him to succeed; it’s always a bonus whenever you can draft and develop your own talent and turn them into viable everyday players. An Evan White who pans out means we have one less hole to fill on this roster going forward; a roster full of more question marks than definite answers. And since expectations for him have been tempered from the beginning – he was never projected to be a huge power bat in the middle of the lineup, for instance – the bar he needs to cross isn’t unreasonable at all. Be a .250 hitter. Get on base at a .350 clip. Hit 20 homers and 30 doubles a year. And be a regular finalist for the Gold Glove at first base. That isn’t too much to ask, I don’t think. Anything beyond that is gravy.

It would be nice if he could clear this benchmark starting in 2021, but if he doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world. However, if he isn’t at that level for 2022 and beyond … then I think it could be time to worry.

What Do The Mariners Do If Mitch Haniger Is Great Again?

It can be easy to overlook the fact that Mitch Haniger is still on the Seattle Mariners. The guy last played in a baseball game on June 6, 2019. That’s when he formally went down with what has been described as an oblique injury (there was also something about a ruptured testicle that I seem to have blocked out of my memory, as those words – put together – tend to make me black out). These injuries are notoriously difficult to play sports with, and apparently quite difficult to overcome. In Haniger’s case, it required multiple surgeries, missing the rest of 2019 and all of 2020 (in spite of the fact that 2020’s season started late and only lasted 60 games).

Added to the “easy to overlook” factor in all of this is the excitement over our Rookie of the Year, Kyle Lewis, as well as hotshot prospects Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic (who are both poised to ascend to the Major Leagues either this season or next). You don’t even have to squint to envision an outfield of K-Lew, J-Rod, and J-Kel(?) in some order; if everything goes according to plan, that IS the future for the Mariners’ organization.

And yet, there’s real potential for a “motherfuckers act like they forgot about Dre Mitch” situation here. As recently as 2018, Haniger was an All Star. He had a 6.2 WAR, with 26 homers and an OPS of .859. That was only his age 27 season; not only was he the “future” of the Mariners, he was the present and the FACE of the organization (especially with King Felix on his way out the following year). He’s 30 years old now, he’s completely healthy and recovered from all the medical shit, and apparently he is fucking jacked!

Obviously, the Mariners have him written down in pen as the Opening Day right fielder for 2021. If he returns to his 2018 level of production, he will easily be this team’s best player. He’s also in his second year of arbitration, with one more season of team control left.

So, what will happen with Mitch Haniger?

Well, there are options. We can let his deal play out, thank him for his time, and move on. In this scenario, that either means the Mariners are confident in the outfield I outlined above, or it means Haniger doesn’t return to his previous level of greatness (because of lack of production, or because he suffers another injury). If Haniger does manage to recapture that old magic, I don’t think this scenario is very likely, because how are you going to find opportunities for all three of those other outfielders to showcase their talents, when Haniger has a stranglehold on right field? And also, why would you let Haniger walk if he’s back to being great again?

Well, that leads me to another option: Mitch Haniger becomes this team’s regular DH. This also doesn’t seem very likely, because he’s too athletic to squander his talents just being a hitter. But, if he’s one of those injury-prone guys who can’t stay off the Injured List, that might ultimately be his destiny. Now, to get around the roster crunch, the Mariners could always rotate the outfielders, so everyone is getting a DH day throughout the week; that’s something I think they’ll do regardless, to try to keep everyone fresh. So, I’ll throw this idea on the Maybe Pile.

Another option is: the Mariners sign Haniger to an early extension. For this to become a reality, he would almost certainly have to get through 2021 completely unscathed from injury. That’s a tall order for literally any baseball player, but for someone as unlucky as him, it’s probably an impossibility. Nevertheless, if he’s once again a 6-WAR player, the M’s could always extend him – effectively buying out his 2022 arbitration year to get something of a discount – and then figure out the outfield crunch later. I’ll be honest, this is probably the least likely scenario of the bunch.

The option I’m most curious about is: the Mariners could trade Haniger. I highly doubt he will be traded during the season, but if he is, he would have to get off to an amazingly hot start. Right now, Mitch Haniger has almost no trade value. He’s only earning a little over $3 million, but for teams who don’t have access to his medicals – and who haven’t seen him play since 2019 – if you’re trading for Haniger, you’re trading for his potential. Is this recovery legit? Can he return to his 2018 production level? Teams don’t like to give up quality players or prospects for question marks; they want to know they’re getting someone who will help right away. In that case, it doesn’t make sense for the Mariners to trade him until he’s built up most of his previous value. He’ll never be as valuable as he was after the 2018 season – because at that time he had two more years of club control – but if he plays like an All Star in 2021, with another option year at a relatively reasonable price for 2022, that COULD be worth something to another team if we decide to trade him next offseason.

The only downside is, with one more year after this season on his contract, that’s still not enough value to get a top flight prospect. You’re probably only trading him to a team that’s already great and is near the luxury tax threshold (who also happens to need an outfielder). So, even this option isn’t the greatest for the Mariners; I wouldn’t go into any Haniger trade scenario very optimistic that we’re going to fleece some dimwitted general manager like we did in the Cano deal.

If I’m being realistic, my prediction is that Haniger returns this year and is just okay. I don’t necessarily believe he’ll suffer another devastating injury, but I could see him getting worn down by various bruises and strains, as all players must endure. I think the combination of the long gap in between playing the game of baseball, his tendency to press (to want to be great so badly that he tries to do too much at the plate), and some good old fashioned bad luck with BABIP will render his numbers relatively mediocre. I don’t believe even his best-case scenario will see him return to those 2018 heights; even if he’s good, though, I don’t think that will be enough to make him much of a trade candidate.

In that case, the Mariners might have their hand forced heading into the 2022 season. They might decide to trade him just to get SOME value out of him. Either that, or let him start the season in Seattle, in hopes that he’ll get off to a hot start and allow the organization to deal him at the deadline, to be some other contender’s rental for a few months.

I know we’re delving into a lot of hypotheticals here, but let’s say he’s just okay in 2021 and remains in Seattle in 2022; what happens if he IS great to start that season, but the Mariners themselves are also great and contending for the playoffs? Do we then let it ride with Haniger and see where he can lead us?

That’s kind of what I’m hoping for, among all the possibilities. I like Haniger! Shit, I bought his jersey after the 2018 season for Christ’s sake! I thought that was a safe choice, of someone who I believed would be a major part of this organization for many years to come. While I’m obviously seduced by an outfield of Lewis, Rodriguez, and Kelenic, I do hope there’s room for Haniger to stick around for another handful of seasons, because I believe he’s a real asset when he’s healthy.

But, that’s the key, isn’t it? That’s everything with him! I don’t know if he has what it takes to stay on the field consistently, and ultimately it’ll be his downfall with the Mariners’ organization if he’s not here beyond 2022.