How Many 2020 Mariners Can I Name Off The Top Of My Head, With Just A Minimal Amount Of Coffee Inside Me?

I listen to this podcast called Threedom, which features three of my favorite podcast comedians sitting around and bullshitting for an hour. And, last week I listened to the episode where Lauren was trying to list off as many different characters and whatnot as she could from the Star Wars franchise, having never (at the time) seen the movies. Essentially just going off of what pop culture has referenced that’s seeped into her subconscious. I thought that was a lot of fun, especially because I have my own blind spots; I’d be curious to see how many characters I could pull from something like the Harry Potter series, for instance. There’s Harry, of course. Hermione. The red-headed freak. Snape? Snope? Voldemort, for sure. From there, it’s all a jumble of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, so let’s move on.

I’m stealing this idea to see how many players from the 2020 Mariners I can name, without cheating. You’re bound to see a few guys from the minors in this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’ve said it before, but in 2019 I checked out on the Seattle Mariners. Part of that had to do with my work schedule – waking up at 4am, going to bed by 8pm, not wanting to be thoroughly irritated right before it’s time to sleep – but most of that had to do with the Mariners being just awful. I’ve put up with a lot of bad baseball in my 20-something years of following this team, but I refuse to lose sleep over them! Especially when the object isn’t to win games, but see the young guys develop.

Well, that carries over into 2020. In fact, the team might actually lose a lot MORE games than they did last year (and 94 losses is quite a lot on its own). So, suffice it to say, it’s going to be difficult to get any interest ramped up for this team.

So, without further ado, here is the (pitiful) list of pitchers that I know based on memory alone:

  • Marco Gonzales
  • Yusei Kikuchi
  • Justus Sheffield
  • Erik … Samsonite? Swanson!
  • Julio Rodriguez
  • Dan Altavilla
  • Brandon … Brennan?
  • Festa?
  • Taijuan Walker!

That’s really all I got. And honestly, I don’t even feel like a bad fan! I think Rodriguez and Festa are minor leaguers, but I was close (except Rodriguez is actually an outfielder, so I was WAY OFF). The only one I probably should’ve remembered was Sam Tuivailala, as he’s been around a little bit and was a pretty significant return in one of those damn trades we made with the Cardinals.

Here’s all the catchers I know:

  • Tom Murphy

And that’s it. Do the M’s even HAVE a backup catcher in the Major Leagues? We’ll find out this spring.

Outfield:

  • Mitch Haniger (injured list)
  • Kyle Lewis
  • Mallex Smith
  • Braden … Bishop?
  • Jarred Kelenic

Kelenic is obviously in the minors, but I nailed the rest! I mean, yeah, I also missed a couple, but I got the big names.

Infield:

  • Evan White
  • Kyle Seager
  • J.P. Crawford
  • Dee Gordon
  • Daniel Vogelbach
  • Shed Long

I almost forgot Shed Long! I knew he had a short name, and almost biffed it, but it fell out of my brain at the last second. Considering the rest of the 40-man roster is filled with potential backups and minor leaguers, I feel good about my effort here. Shame I forgot Austin Nola (who, I guess, can also play backup catcher?!), but what can you do?

That’s 21 guys. Honestly, better than I would’ve expected. Thankfully, with Pitchers & Catchers just reporting this week, I’ll have plenty of time to learn about everyone else.

Did I say “thankfully”? I meant Dreadfully.

I Like The Proposed MLB Playoff Changes

I doubt they’ll happen, but that’s neither here nor there.

At this point, change simply for the sake of change is a good thing for baseball. Shit is BORING! Especially when your favorite team is the Mariners and they suck EVERY. SINGLE. DAMN. YEAR.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t love everything about the proposed changes. But, I can understand why the league would want something like having teams choose their opponents: it makes for excellent sports radio and print fodder. ESPN would have, like, a whole hour of non-football-related content to devote to this!

While that part feels gimmicky, I’m almost always for expanding playoff teams, particularly in a game like baseball. If they wanted to shake things up for the better, they’d take away about 20 games from the regular season on top of this, but as has been said repeatedly since the dawn of man: that’s never happening. Owners will never willingly give up the revenue from those lost games (even though the games that remain would have increased significance, particularly since you’d be pulling from the lowest-attended days of the week – likely Mondays or Tuesdays).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 162-game seasons are a bear! You’re never making it through unscathed, and even if you do make it to the finish line, you’re so banged up and tired that it hardly seems fair to not at least guarantee teams one day off a week!

Again, neither here nor there.

The Wild Card system as we have it now is a joke. Reducing a full season’s worth of games for two teams in each league to a loser-goes-home match is as pitiful as it gets. If MLB does nothing else, they at least need to make the Wild Card a 3-game series (like they’re proposing here). I also like having the bottom two division winners involved in the fracas, because too many teams (I’m looking at you, A.L. Central) get to coast on inferior inter-divisional opponents only to slide right into the Divisional Series. No, the top team gets a BYE, and the rest of you should be fighting for your lives in a 3-game Wild Card round. Letting them host all three games feels like overkill a little bit (they should do a 1 & 2 series where the first game for the higher-seeded team is on the road, before hosting the final two), but beggars can’t be choosers.

Also, the fact that long-time baseball writers and old, stodgy fans hate this proposal means it can only be GOOD for the sport in the long run. They need to do more to generate interest in younger fans and the masses at large, besides belittling someone like Mike Trout for not making himself a bigger presence in media campaigns. Let the man hit; it’s the league’s job to generate popularity for its sport!

Marco Gonzales Will Be With The Mariners For A While

Right after the Super Bowl ended, the MLB twitter page sent out a photo full of baseball stars (any and all Astros players were suspiciously absent in their promotional strategy) with the sentiment of something to the effect of, “We Got Next.” I don’t follow the MLB twitter account, but someone I do follow re-tweeted it, which is why I saw it. It stuck out to me because the Seattle Mariners sent out a tweet right around the same time (almost certainly a leaguewide coordinated effort, but I refuse to do the research), with the exact same sentiment, and it was the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen … at least, it would’ve been, if it didn’t sound so much like a threat.

Oh REALLY, Mariners?! You’ve got next! What will you and your 64 wins be doing for us, exactly, other than boring the everloving shit out of everyone?

I don’t really have a lot to say, other than the big rebuild continues apace. How well that rebuild shakes out will hinge on how the younger prospects continue to develop. Same news, different day.

Until yesterday, when we got NEW news! Marco Gonzales was signed to an extension that buys out all of his arbitration years, and could potentially keep him around through 2025 at a reasonable rate. I say “reasonable” because with the way baseball salaries are continuing to skyrocket, 4 years and $30 million could be a bargain even for a soft-tossing lefty who’s able to eat a … number of innings per year. He threw a cool 203 innings in 2019, which is probably right around what you should expect (as starting pitchers continue to decline while bullpens pick up more of the load).

I’m fine with the deal. We traded for Marco in 2017, and he’s gotten better each of the last two years. I would argue he’s probably reached his ceiling as of last year (3.99 ERA, 3.2 WAR), but he’s young enough to keep right at that level for the duration of his contract. As has been discussed since 2018, he’s a fine #3 starter in this league; he’s less ideal as your team’s ace (which he had to be last season by default).

I’m actually more interested in this new strategy the Mariners are employing. I know, at this point, you can’t really waffle on the rebuild: either you’re all in, or everyone gets fired anyway. But, first with Evan White, and now Gonzales, we’re starting to see more of this core get locked up for the long term; buying out the cheaper arbitration years to hopefully get a discount on what these players might be worth on the open market for a year or two. Not only are the Mariners all in, but they’re DOUBLING DOWN on the rebuild, which I find fascinating.

If they’re right, they continue to lock up these younger guys to long-term deals, and this team hits it big, we could be set up for great success throughout the first half of the 2020’s. If they’re wrong, these younger guys never develop into the stars the Mariners think they’ll become, then HOO DOGGIES will this be a huge shitshow of a disaster!

The sensible thing probably would’ve been to let AT LEAST 2020 play out before we invest too heartily in some of these guys. But, you could argue the Mariners have done nothing but the sensible thing since they joined the league. Maybe it’s time to take some huge swings!

It’s a bold strategy, Cotton …

Seattle Hasn’t Had Anyone Like Kobe

I’m not here to write another puff piece about how the death of Kobe Bryant affected my life. I thought it was startling, I thought it was a bummer, it sucks not just for his family but all the other families who were involved. But, look, I wasn’t the biggest Kobe fan. I wasn’t necessarily a Kobe hater either; I’m Kobe Ambivalent.

And, as a Sonics fan who stopped following the NBA in 2008, I’ve always kinda hated the Lakers, so what did you really expect from me?

Successful people really REALLY loved Kobe, and I get that. He’s the personification of an intense desire to achieve all of your hopes and dreams. He’s a beacon to anyone looking to get ahead and make a name for themselves. I am … NOT successful. I don’t have that drive to be the best at everything I do. I have a drive to be okay at a lot of things, and sample the variety that is life.

So, you know, I can’t relate. To that part of it, anyway.

As a sports fan, I can certainly relate to the loss of a beloved player you’ve followed your entire life. A player who brought you nothing but joy for an extended period of time, and most importantly, a player who brought you that success that every fan craves for their favorite teams.

Which got me to thinking: who would be that massive loss for Seattle fans?

Ken Griffey Jr. pops immediately to mind, and as far as personal achievements are concerned, he’s certainly the best professional athlete we’ve ever had. He reached the top of his sport, he was known and admired throughout the world, and an entire generation of baseball players all wore their caps backwards and pretended to be HIM at the plate (like today’s generation, I’m sure, will all try to be the next Mike Trout).

And, yeah, while the Mariners had some good teams during his tenure, and there are a lot of positive memories of those teams, he never brought us a championship, let alone multiple championships like Kobe did.

I think, no matter how great you are, no matter how many Hall of Fame votes you get, you’re always going to get bumped up another level every time you win a title for your city, at least when it comes to the fans of that team. I’m sure, if Griffey died in a tragic accident, the city of Seattle would mourn like crazy. But, I can guarantee the world wouldn’t mourn as massively as they have for Kobe, and I think it has a lot to do with his team success on the court as much as his individual success (taking nothing away, of course, from the people who truly mourn the loss of the others in that crash; I’m talking strictly from a sports fan perspective).

When you boil it down to that, Seattle doesn’t have many candidates. Gary Payton is probably the most beloved Sonics player, but that wouldn’t have the resonance. We’re too far removed from the 1979 championship team for it to matter as much.

The closest person Seattle has to someone like Kobe is probably Russell Wilson. He has that drive to be the best, he’ll almost certainly have a long and Hall of Fame career when it’s all said and done. Now, it’s just a matter of winning a few more titles. Russell Wilson might go down as the greatest Seattle athlete of all time, even surpassing the likes of Griffey, which is fun to think about. It’s fun because we’re still smack dab in the middle of his career; we’ve got so much more time left!

Let’s just hope, you know, his off-the-field shenanigans are more of the dorky variety and not … you know what? Nevermind, let’s just leave it alone.

Some Thoughts On The Astros’ Cheating Scandal

I’d like to point out, for starters, that I hated the Astros before it was cool to hate the Astros. So, I feel like I’m a LITTLE bit more with it than the rest of the Johnny Come Lately’s. I’ve been on record for years now saying that – while MLB was probably correct to re-align the leagues to 15 teams apiece – they never should’ve moved Houston when there were less-established teams (Colorado and Arizona, for instance) who would’ve been a MUCH better fit in the A.L. West.

I’m happy to be blunt about my next point: the Astros are fucking cheaters, and deserve a punishment even more drastic than what they’ve received. That having been said, count me in the camp that firmly believes they weren’t the only ones cheating in this manner. Of course, Major League Baseball has been overwhelmed with cheating since the dawn of the game itself, from the Black Sox to doctoring baseballs to rampant use of illicit pharmaceutical substances to bat corking to run-of-the-mill sign-stealing to this electronic nonsense to whatever else has been going on that we don’t even know about. If it’s not one thing, it’s a million others, and nothing would surprise me at this point.

It’s the culture of baseball itself that should be on trial here, from the bogus “unwritten rules” to the overwhelming practice of players internally protecting the widespread act of cheating; whereas the NFL has always been about protecting the shield at all costs, baseball players prefer instead to wallow in corruption. The NFL, of course, has problems of its own that it should reflect upon; I don’t know what’s more destructive in the long run. All I know is that the game of baseball is a fucking joke, and it’s impossible to take any of it seriously when “credibility” has never been its pursuit.

You don’t reach the heights of major professional sports without a fierce dedication to a competitive spirit, and as such the people involved will always look for a hidden edge to defeat their opponents; that’s just to be expected. But, the enthusiasm to go outside the lines of fairness and legality has always set the game apart. Any professional athlete, coach, manager, and owner in any sport would be more than willing to cheat in the name of winning (see: the New England Patriots, for instance); what sets baseball apart from the other sports is its upper management’s – from the commissioner on down – willingness and desire to continually look the other way when they know its teams and players are cheating, only taking punitive action after everyone has accepted whatever hot-button form of cheating has been accepted as commonplace and The New Norm. When the Patriots get caught breaking the rules, they get punished; the NFL doesn’t wait around for 9 or 10 teams to follow suit, only to THEN act accordingly when the public finds out about it.

I wanted to compare baseball to the WWE, but the difference there is that wrestling is scripted and – more importantly – entertaining. Baseball is just crooked, masquerading as credible, so I don’t see how anyone can have faith in its legitimacy.

Lots of people want to compare these sign-stealing shenanigans to the Steroids Epidemic of the 1990’s. I think this is far worse. I would MUCH rather face someone on the juice than someone who literally knows what pitch I’m about to throw. I would argue steroids are a necessary evil based on the antiquated format of the game itself. 162 games a year, plus Spring Training, plus the post-season, is just too many fucking games. How can you possibly expect these people to survive an entire season of this kind of daily grind without getting injured? Besides that, there just isn’t enough of an offseason for most of these guys to recuperate! Even if you do make it through an entire season, you’re most likely dealing with some sort of injury that will require a significant chunk of your offseason to recover from; how are you then supposed to build up your body following that rehab period in time for the next year?

People who tried to defend the Astros for living in the 21st century, and taking advantage of the technology available to us, are missing the point. They also have the technology to bug an opposing play-caller’s microphone in the NFL; would you celebrate a football team for knowing its opponent’s play call before every snap? Or, would you think that’s a shitty thing to do, and against the spirit of the game?

Maybe I’m naive. Maybe it’s foolish of me to expect a fair game. But, if you don’t level the playing field and rid the game of this crap, where does it end?

Compared to the other sports, I’ve never been the biggest baseball fan in the world, and I attribute that 100% to the Mariners being the worst-run organization in all of professional athletics. If the shoe was on the other foot, and it was the Mariners destroying everyone and cheating to do it, I’m sure I’d have many different feelings. But, if my team is too inept to put a winning product on the field, it’s SURELY not smart enough to find a way to cheat to get an edge. Nevertheless, I’ve never felt it easier to give up on the game of baseball completely. As I mentioned above, these people will just find a brand new way to flout the rules until there’s another massive scandal that rocks the game to its foundations. So, why should I care? Why should I watch the games on television? Why should I follow the day-to-day minutiae? Even if I had any faith whatsoever in this current Mariners rebuild, why should I bother putting in the effort when I can ignore Major League Baseball completely, other than the small handful of games I attend in any given season? I usually just go to games with friends anyway, so it’s more of a reason to get together and hang out than it is to appreciate the game itself.

Maybe if they got their shit together and instituted real change, but again I ask: why should I trust anything that Major League Baseball does to try to make the game more honest? They’ve lied and cheated for well over a century now, the culture of the game is utterly bankrupt. This is the real shame of it all. When people talk about “what’s wrong with baseball” they focus on the pace and length of the individual games, when they should really be focusing on the character of the sport.

In the short term, all this talk of buzzers and 21st century technology has me thinking (for what it’s worth, I understand no one has actually copped to using buzzers, and hiding a conspiracy that vast would be nearly impossible on this scale – then again, never underestimate the sport’s eagerness to protect its most vile individuals – but I’ll choose to continue to believe the Astros, and probably others, were buzzing one another the upcoming pitches until the day I die): why do we still have hand signals in baseball at all? We have smart watches now, for Christ’s sake! Have the catcher push a button from a device he can store in his pocket that relays to the pitcher what pitch they want thrown; that way the runner standing on second base can focus on, you know, playing the game, as opposed to whatever combination of fingers are being flashed between the catcher’s legs.

In the big picture, though, this is a difficult scandal for me to reconcile. For the longest time, I used to say, “I’m not a baseball fan, I’m a Mariners fan.” Then, during the darkness of the last decade, I adjusted that sentiment to, “I’m not a Mariners fan, I’m a King Felix fan.” And now I have to wonder, was his career in Seattle cut short – and rendered completely asunder – because teams (plural) like the Astros knew what he was throwing? It’s hard not to notice that the effectiveness of his devastating change up lost a lot of its luster right around the time period when this scandal was in its infancy. How did the majority of Major League hitters go from helplessly whiffing at his change ups in the dirt, to all of a sudden laying off of them completely, even though they arrived at nearly the same speed as his fastball, looking nearly identical until they fell off the map? Just a coincidence, or were the Astros and their deciples not the only ones taking part in all of this sign-stealing horseshit?

I think this was a league-wide scourge, and everyone chose to just look the other way. The logic at that point is, “Since everyone is doing it, is it really cheating?” I’ll answer that for you: yes. Yes, it is cheating, and the people who SHOULD give a damn about that clearly do not.

There’s the old cliche about such-and-such being “as American as baseball and apple pie”, but that’s a phrase that needs to be put to bed forever. You know what’s inherently American? Graft, corruption, and a total lacking of scruples. Such is baseball.

If I were running the marketing campaign for Apple Pie, I’d want to distance myself from those other two entities as quickly as humanly possible!

The Mariners Head Into 2020 Following The Quietest Hot Stove Period In Recent Memory

Look, I’m not BASHING them for this. If you’re going to commit to a rebuild, then commit to the damn rebuild and stop half-assing it like you’ve been doing for the last 20 years! I’m just saying, these are the biggest Mariners moves of the offseason:

  • No Arbitration for Domingo Santana (who is still a free agent as of this writing)
  • Traded Omar Narvaez to the Brewers for minor league pitcher Adam Hill and a draft pick in 2020
  • Extended Evan White 6 years & $24 million
  • Signed Kendall Graveman 1 year, $1.5 million (with option for 2021)
  • Selected Yohan Ramirez in the Rule 5 Draft

Those are the BIGGEST moves, mind you. There are a bevy of smaller moves, involving relievers and utility players and whatnot. But, the sexy is right there. If this Mariners offseason was a porno, it would be a picture of two people in giant puffy winter coats, pants, and mittens holding hands.

It’s weird, is what I’m getting at. It’s weird for the Mariners – I can’t remember the last time nothing even moderately interesting happened for an entire offseason – and it’s especially weird for Jerry Dipoto, who seemingly has never seen a trade offer he didn’t immediately agree to.

It’s also a little refreshing, if I’m being honest. After last year’s 68-win campaign – where I had thoroughly checked out by mid May – the last thing I wanted to do was spend Football Season thinking about the Mariners. It’s almost like a self-imposed time out; they couldn’t do anything else except sit there and think about what they’d done.

For what it’s worth, I don’t disagree with any of the moves they’ve made. It sounds like they tried to shop Santana, but found no takers. I find it odd that NOBODY wants a 20/20 guy; it’s even more strange that he’s still on the market this close to Spring Training. But, Santana never really made defense a priority. He was one of the worst defensive outfielders in all of baseball! So, I’d rather let him walk than over-pay for someone who’s probably best suited to be a DH (we’ve already got one of those, his name is Daniel Vogelbach).

I also like trading high on Omar Narvaez. I don’t think his value was ever going to go up from what he did in 2019; unfortunately (again) defense plays a role in limiting his ceiling. The draft pick (in the late 60’s or early 70’s) is probably the most valuable piece in return. But, it also opens up what could’ve been a logjam at catcher, allowing some of our higher-upside prospects a chance to compete for playing time.

The Evan White deal is by far the most noteworthy thing the Mariners did since the season ended. It’s pretty rare by MLB standards, and it’s (I think) a first for the Mariners: extending a player long-term who has yet to surpass the AA level of the minors. He gets $22 million for six years, with a $2 million buyout after that. There are also three more relatively team-friendly option years after that, with buyouts built into each one of those as well. All told, it could amount to $55.5 million over 9 years which is definitely the best-case scenario. You WANT to see Evan White get the full value of his deal, because it means his play on the field almost certainly exceeded expectations.

I love the idea. Considering the economics of Major League Baseball, it’s a relatively low risk with the potential for a very high reward. By all accounts, White’s defense is ready for the Major Leagues right now; if things break right he could win many multiple Gold Gloves at first base. The downside, of course, is that it’s first base (not necessarily the most glamorous of defensive positions on the field).

What we don’t know is how his bat will play. Again, he’s yet to get above AA. He’ll be 24 years old in April. There’s almost certainly going to be growing pains over (probably) the first three years of this deal. He’ll get every opportunity to win the job out of Spring Training (which is the correct move), so fingers crossed he isn’t a total disaster at the plate.

My concern, long-term, is what is Evan White? He doesn’t strike me as a guy who will ever have much home run power. Can he hit enough doubles – and hit for a high-enough average overall – to be worth keeping around for the next decade? Or, will it all be walks and defense with this guy? I’m not saying that’s necessarily the worst thing in the world, but if you’re committing to someone with these types of guarantees, you’d like to get a great return on investment. All of that faith needs to be rewarded, otherwise this rebuild could sink in a hurry.

As for Graveman and Ramirez and all the other little moves, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach. I’ll get into this more the closer we get to the regular season – and I’m sure I’ll belabor the point all year long – but I have zero expectations for the 2020 Mariners from a win/loss perspective. Again, much like 2019, I’d love for this team to show improvement from the prospects, while losing a ton of games and getting another Top 10 draft pick (preferably by blowing late leads with another shaky bullpen).

The most important thing will be those prospects making strides towards being everyday Major Leaguers, and even more crucially, All Stars. You can’t win championships without superstars (plural, more than one). So, let’s take a ride on the Development Train! Choo choo!

Feel. The. Damn. Excitement.

The Mariners Are Officially The Last MLB Team To Have Never Reached The World Series

It was only a matter of time before the final domino fell. With the Washington Nationals (formally the Montreal Expos) in the process of blowing a 2-0 lead to the Houston Astros, the only team left standing in the Futility Pool is the same team with the longest playoff drought in all of the 4 major professional North American sports (apologies to the MLS for being a second-class North American sports entity).

You know what I’m sick of hearing? “Oh, your time is gonna come! Hang in there, it’s gonna be so great when it happens for you!”

First of all, shove your pity right up your ass! I’m sick and tired of hearing from people who have no idea what it’s like to root for this God-foresaken team. You can only talk to me if you’ve put in at least two decades of punishment with the Mariners; otherwise back the fuck off and mind your own fucking business.

Secondly, how do you know? What could possibly lead you to believe that the Mariners have a chance in hell of going on a World Series run? The inept ownership? The even-more-inept general managers? The collective organizational Heads Up Their Asses from the very top all the way through the lowest levels of the minors? The prospects who can’t stay healthy or fail to improve? The fact that we have to overpay every worthwhile free agent because nobody wants to live in this city or hit in this stadium or play for an organization full of perennial losers?

I appreciate some of our minor league prospects going out of their way to pump everyone up with platitudes, but I’ll believe it when I see it. And since, let’s face it, I could live to be 100 and will never see it, I won’t be holding my breath.

On top of the Mariners’ own rampant incompetence, how about the fact that they play in the American League West? They’re in the same division as the Astros who’ve won 100+ games in three consecutive seasons, and are about to win their second World Series title in three years. We’re also in a division with the low-spending, but well-run Athletics organization that always seems to get one over on us when we contend for the post-season. And, we play alongside the Angels and Rangers, who are no strangers to high payrolls and special homegrown talent. Then, on top of that, we have to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox over in the A.L. East, not to mention the similarly low-spending, but well-run Rays. And, if that weren’t enough, we have to deal with whatever Central team sprouts up to dominate on the regular (the Indians, Royals, Tigers, and White Sox have all either played in or won a World Series title since the last time the Mariners made the playoffs, so you can’t count any of them out).

The point is, it’s considerably harder to make it through the American League gauntlet with the vast pool of wealth and talented players/teams. Who do you have to deal with in the National League? The Dodgers and Cardinals and sometimes Cubs? It’s no comparison.

Baseball is dumb. The Mariners are dumber. And, with the rise of the Three True Outcomes – on top of King Felix moving on – I’m starting to wonder if I should continue giving a damn anymore. Hockey is on its way to Seattle. And, while I’m EXTREMELY doubtful that the Sonics will ever return, I’ll tell you this much: I’d bet everything I own that we get the Sonics back before the Mariners ever play in a World Series game!

I’ll also say this: I paid as little attention to the 2019 Mariners as I ever have since I started following them in their 1995 run, and here I am, still breathing. Maybe that’s just the way I should treat the Mariners from now on. Go full on Fair Weather Fan. Go to a few games here and there, but treat them as reasons to socialize with friends over having an actual fulfilling baseball experience. And, really only watch on TV if there’s absolutely nothing else to do … or if the team just so happens to be good at some point.

Why should I put in any effort with this team if they’re not going to put in any effort to win? Oh, they always talk a good game, but you HAVE to tell the fans that you’re trying to win. Then, you see some mystifying personnel move – or you see other, smarter teams making good moves that we easily could’ve done to improve our ballclub – and you have your answer. The Mariners seemingly spend money commensurate with other mid-tier ballclubs, then you see them cutting corners unexpectedly, or failing to go that extra inch to push them over the top, and again you have your answer. The answer to how hard this team is ACTUALLY working to legitimately contend for a World Series.

Here’s a hint: not very.

The Mariners never go the extra mile. We’re always in-between. We won’t spend like the Yankees or Red Sox or Dodgers; we also won’t tank for multiple seasons like the Astros or Cubs. Here a half-measure, there a half-measure, everywhere a half-measure. The best this team’s had to hope for is contending for the 2nd wild card spot – seemingly created just to keep fanbases like ours interested well into the second halves of seasons – and we couldn’t even finish THAT relatively easy job.

Sure, the M’s tanked in 2019, but apparently that’s all this organization is willing to stomach. Now, everyone’s in Job Saving Mode. Start improving steadily in the Wins & Losses department, or start finding new jobs. Which, if the tenures of Bill Bavasi and Jack Zduriencik are any indication (and they should be), that means winning by any means necessary. Panic trades, pushing guys through the minors before they’re ready, forcing guys to play through injuries, anything and everything to cripple this organization in the long term just for the illusion of contention in the short term. We’ve seen it repeatedly, and we’ll continue to see it, until the end of time.

What Are The Odds Felix Hernandez Gets Into The Hall Of Fame?

We had 15 mostly glorious years with Felix Hernandez in a Seattle Mariners uniform. Has he done enough to get into the Hall of Fame if his career ends this year?

The consensus is: no. Very good starting pitcher, great at times, but he’s just not quite there in pretty much every metric you look at. Here are the numbers as they stand today:

15 seasons, 419 games, 169-136 record, 3.42 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 25 CG’s, 11 SHO’s, 2,729.2 IP (222 av per 162 games), 2,487 hits (202 av per 162), 805 BB’s (65 av), 2,524 K’s (205 av), 117 ERA+, 8.3 K/9, 6 All Star Games, 1 Cy Young Award (2 runner ups), 2 ERA titles, 1 season leader in wins, 1 season leader in IP, 1 perfect game.

In looking at the pitchers who’ve made the hall of fame, they average the following (among the major stats):

18 seasons, 444 games started, 3.00 ERA, 246-171 record, 2,127 K’s, 3,683 IP

Those numbers are a bit skewed, because that takes in all the relievers too. If you look at just the starting pitchers, there’s a little area in Felix’s Baseball Reference page that looks at Hall of Fame Statistics. Any way you slice it, it looks like he comes up short. And, that’s a shame.

His 7-year peak is awesome. From 2009-2015, he had a record of 104-65, starting 230 games, with an ERA of 2.83. But, even that seemingly falls short compared to the hall of famers we have in there today.

One could make the argument that it’s too damn hard for a starting pitcher to make it into the Hall of Fame nowadays. One might also argue that’s the point, that it should be hard. That it’s the other sports – basketball and football particularly – who make it too easy for fringe guys to make it in. That’s tough to dispute. I just wonder if, as smarter people dig through the numbers, they find a way to prove that guys like Felix deserve to be recognized for their greatness.

My hunch is: I doubt it. The fact of the matter is, even if you didn’t look at the numbers, he was on so many terrible Mariners teams that he’s essentially irrelevant from a national perspective. One of the more impressive numbers is how many times he’s gone 7+ innings, giving up 2 runs or fewer, and ended up with a No Decision. It’s insane! How many more wins would he have if he belonged to a competent organization in his prime? How many games were ruined by catchers who couldn’t catch, a terrible bullpen, and inept hitters? How many years were shaved off of his career because he was left to throw so many innings because there was literally no one else on the roster to pick up the slack?

Bottom line is that if you took this actual Felix Hernandez and had him be a lifelong Yankees pitcher, we’d be singing a drastically different tune. He could have these exact numbers and if he were wearing pinstripes, we’d be looking at a Hall of Famer. But, he wouldn’t have these exact numbers; invariably they’d be better. And they’d be better where they count: the postseason.

It’s all but guaranteed that Felix will never pitch playoff baseball, which is one of the great tragedies in the last generation of Major League Baseball. Even if he makes a team next year, it’ll almost certainly be with a bottom feeder, as maybe a 5th starter candidate. He’ll still need to prove he’s not the pitcher he’s been the last three seasons (when he’s gone 15-27, with a 5.42 ERA) if he wants to eventually be dealt to a contender. Seems like long odds; I’ve been waiting for the turnaround the last three years, and I’m still waiting. He’s not getting any more life on his fastball back, so it’ll be a matter of figuring out how to pitch well with slower stuff, and I don’t know if he has that part of the game in him.

It’s not all bad. Felix still goes down as the greatest pitcher in Mariners history. He owns all of our important pitching records, and I’m not sure they’ll ever be broken. That still counts for something. He’s still loved and appreciated around these parts. He’ll have his opportunity to be recognized by the home crowd once again. In 30 years we’ll be telling our grandkids about the wonder that was King Felix.

He’s still one of only 23 players to ever throw a perfect game. And, until the next one, his is the most recent. That’s some pretty rare company.

I keep looking at Roy Halladay for a sign of hope. You can check out his numbers HERE; it’s an interesting comparison. Felix isn’t quite good as him, but he’s close. If he strung together another 2-3 years of Prime Felix, he’d probably be right there. The only difference is Halladay had those great postseason numbers (highlighted by a no hitter in his first ever playoff appearance).

There’s no sense in beating a dead horse any longer. It’s just a bummer, I guess. You could say that about every aspect of being a Mariners fan over the last 20+ years (and counting); what else is new?

The Mariners Finished Sixth-Worst In All Of Baseball in 2019

For the last time, I get to talk about how the 2019 Mariners started 13-2, only to go 55-92 the rest of the way. Suffice it to say, the final 147 games were a better representation of this team’s true abilities.

Last in the A.L. West, four games behind the Angels, 29 behind the Wild Card-bound Athletics, and 39 behind the 107-win Astros. For draft purposes, we were just a single game better than Toronto for the fifth overall draft pick. I don’t know if that final win would’ve meant anything as far as a tie-breaker for that spot (as we “won” the season series against the Blue Jays), but if it prevented us from moving up a spot in the draft, then once again a meaningless late-season win will have done real, lasting damage.

Let’s rattle through some numbers: 68-94, a -135 run differential, a team slash line of .237/.316/.424; a team ERA of 4.99 (with a 5.00 FIP). Something interesting about this team is just how truly awful the Mariners were against the best of the American League. Against the Astros, Rays, Yankees, Twins, and Indians, the Mariners had a combined record of 7-38, which means against everyone else in baseball we were 61-56. The great team the Mariners could actually handle was the A’s at 9-10, but I find that very interesting. On the one hand, it’s a clear indictment that there’s an obvious difference in talent level between the Mariners and the best of the best; however on the other hand – while the M’s ended up with one of the worst records in all of baseball – we could hang with the clods in this Gods N’ Clods American League. So, we’re middle-of-the-road among the losers, but we are SO FUCKING FAR AWAY from the elites.

As we’ve discussed all year long, it was never about the results (except for my bloodlust for a higher draft pick), it was about developing our future stars. In that sense, I think this year was a moderate success. From just a clubhouse standpoint, I thought the team played hard all year. Maybe some lulls here and there – particularly with certain defensive struggles and base-running mistakes – but nothing alarming. At no point have I felt an overwhelming need to see Scott Servais fired and have a bunch of heads rolling. I thought he did a great job managing an impossible-to-win situation. He obviously doesn’t have forever to right the ship; if he wants to stick around for when this team gets good again, this probably has to be the nadir. I’m sure the higher ups will want to see steady progress in the right direction as soon as 2020, with a likely Playoffs Or Bust scenario in 2021 (depending on how much improvement we have next year). I’m not saying I believe the Mariners will make the post-season by 2021 – indeed, I’d bet hard the other way, if I’m being honest – and so this is just my way of saying that I fully expect this team will have a new field manager the next time we’re ACTUALLY contending for the playoffs again. It’s sort of a bummer, because I think Servais is the right man for the job, but it’s an impossible task he’s saddled with. The Mariners haven’t made the post-season in forever and as such, the fans aren’t going to wait around forever. If we’re not hovering around .500 next year, I think he’ll get the axe when it’s over (especially if attendance continues to go down as much as it did between 2018 & 2019, what with all the improvements to the stadium the Mariners are doing this offseason).

On the field, I guess I have cautious optimism about some of the strides the younger guys made, but what other choice do I have? I’m already on record as not believing this organization is anywhere close to the post-season, but it’s also not totally impossible to be pleasantly surprised.

The pitching is obviously the biggest concern, and there’s really not much to like about what we’ve got in the Majors so far. Marco Gonzales is the only guy who qualified by pitching enough innings, so that should tell you a lot. He was fine. He should be a reliable innings-eater who has more good games than bad ones; imagine Jamie Moyer with a better fastball and worse change up. As a #2, he’s less ideal; as #3 he’s good enough; as a #4 he’d be perfect. But, he’s nobody’s idea of an ace, yet he was far and away the best pitcher on this team.

The good thing about pitching is that it can vary so much from year to year, so it wouldn’t shock me to see a bunch of guys who just got their feet wet in 2019 taking huge steps forward in 2020. Kikuchi is obviously the one we most want to see make that leap, as he had about as rough of a debut to the Major Leagues as we ever could’ve predicted. I think we all thought he’d be more of a finished product at this point; now I pray that he isn’t. Because, if this is just who he is, then he’s of no use to this organization.

We don’t have Felix to kick around anymore, and I have to believe LeBlanc’s starting days are over for this team (aside from the occasional spot-start, if he’s even still here at all and we don’t trade him). So, we should see a lot of the younger guys going forward. I fully expect to see Justus Sheffield in the rotation out of Spring Training; there’s nothing he has left to do in AAA that he can’t do here against legitimate competition. We need to see what he has, and if he’s destined to be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher or not. To his credit, he made remarkable progress after seemingly going the other way to start the season. I hope we’re able to unlock whatever potential he has inside of him.

After those three (Gonzo, Kikuchi, Sheffield), I really have no idea. I’m pretty sure they’ll go out and sign a veteran on a cheap deal to help be a presence for the younger guys, but that final spot has to go to another youngster; maybe Justin Dunn? We’ll see.

I’m not even going to bother discussing the bullpen right now. It was as big a disaster as we ever could’ve hoped for, and I believe the primary reason why we lost so many games, so in that sense they did what they were supposed to do. Now, after getting a look at so many different guys, here’s hoping we can cobble something together to give them more of a chance to continue developing.

I would argue the biggest bright spots for this team came on the hitting side of the ball, but I also really question how many of these players will be around long term. J.P. Crawford seems like a good bet to be our starting short stop for a while, but is he good? He showed glimpses of greatness, but also long bouts of ineptitude with the bat. I liked what I saw out of Shed Long, and hope he gets a regular role with this team going forward, but he might not be anything more than a super-sub. Austin Nola was a nice find, but he’s not the future starting first baseman for this team in 2022; that’s supposed to be Evan White (and maybe as early as next year). That effectively makes Nola yet another super-sub.

We all loved what we saw out of Kyle Lewis in his cup of coffee this September, but it was just that: a September call-up for a first-time Major Leaguer. Can he carry it over into Spring Training and beyond? Dan Vogelbach hit a lot of homers, but not much else. Domingo Santana was a solid presence in the middle of the lineup when he was healthy, but he was also the absolute worst in the outfield. Mallex Smith got better as the season went along (and led the league in stolen bases), but he’s nobody’s idea of a centerfielder of the future. Dylan Moore is just a guy. Most of the younger guys we saw weren’t even good enough to be called out by name. The very best thing the Mariners had going for them in 2019 was the catcher position, led by Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy, but they’re not necessarily destined to be here forever either. They really just add up to one great catcher split in two, where one is shaky at defense and the other might just be better in smaller doses (and will be exposed if he’s ever given the everyday starting job). Then there’s Mitch Haniger, who was injured for what felt like the entire season. He didn’t look spectacular when he was out there, so I’m even less sure of him now than I was at this point last year.

More than anything, all we have is hope that the minor leaguers will continue to rocket their way up to Seattle. Which, you know, isn’t a ton to hang your hat on. I guess we’ll see. Again, what choice do we have, right?

King Felix Steps Away From The Mariners

Long live the King …

I’ve been dreading this for so long. I’ve dreaded this season, I dreaded this game, and the last thing I ever wanted to do is write this blog post. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. And yet, it couldn’t have ended more appropriately for this team and this icon.

I was on Twitter the instant the Mariners first announced the final King’s Court of the season. I knew this day was coming, and I kinda hoped it would land on a Friday or Saturday, but it’s probably better it was on a Thursday. Fewer fair-weather fans whose only goal is to bro it up in The Pen. To go to this game, you had to be a real die-hard Felix fan; save the posers for Oktoberfest Night on Saturday (of which I am absolutely one, and will be in attendance for that as well).

Without blinking, I clicked the link and bought two tickets, not sure if I’d find anyone else who’d be free to go. I had seats 1 & 2 in Row 6 of one of the two original King’s Court sections (closest to home plate) before they expanded it to a quarter of the stadium. I’ve been in the King’s Court only a small handful of times, including one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen in person (click that link for more). I was at the Supreme Court which followed his perfect game, and I was at the most recent Turn Ahead The Clock Night when I walked away with a sweet red & silver t-shirt and K-card. Every time it’s been an unbelievably fun and memorable experience, but last night really topped them all.

My emotions were already all over the place before I even got to the stadium. I’d done my best in the days since I got the tickets to not think about it too much; denial is one of my greatest weapons in life. So, when the time came to leave work and mosey on over to Sluggers for some pre-game food and tallboys, it took every fiber of my being to not continuously blubber my way through the next few hours.

A few years back, in the King’s prime, I bought a t-shirt with his giant face on it. I’d never worn it for a variety of reasons: for a while there, I’d simply out-grown it through weight gain, plus it’s a white t-shirt and I generally don’t like to wear them very often as they tend to get dingy pretty fast. Plus, I mean, it’s a weird shirt! It’s got a giant head on it; it’s not like I can wear it many places without getting curious looks, and I’m not the kind of guy who likes to attract attention from strangers. I didn’t intend to save it for a special occasion, but when this came up, I dug it out from the back of my closet and wore it with pride last night.

We got to our seats at about 6:50pm, in plenty of time for the first of many standing ovations for our King. I’d noticed in recent years that the fans in the King’s Court were less inclined to stand and chant compared to when it was brand new. The whole point of being in the King’s Court is that it’s like a football atmosphere; most baseball games are stuffy and quiet, only erupting when something great happens. But, in the Court, we also erupt with the anticipation of something great happening; you know, like football crowds getting loud when the defense is on the field before every play. Thankfully, last night, everybody was really into it. We stood for the entire first inning! And, we had no qualms jumping out of our seats whenever the count got to two strikes. It hasn’t felt like that since the early days of the King’s Court (part of that is performance-based – Felix hasn’t been his usual dominant self in recent seasons – but part of that, I think, has to do with the fans, either being too jaded or over it or otherwise taking it all for granted).

In a cruel twist of fate, Angel Hernandez was behind the plate for this one, and believe you me, he heard it from us after every single non-strike call. He’s terrible anyway, so wearing it from the crowd was entirely justified. I don’t actually know how bad the umpiring was, but come on man, read the fucking room!

Anyway, the outing was far from ideal. Felix struggled through the first, but the damage was limited to one run after a bunch of pitches. He got tagged with a 2-run homer in the second (where apparently the guy who walked ahead of him should’ve been called out on his check-swing, but what else is new?), but settled down after that. The Mariners did have a couple errors on the night (at least one the King had to work around; I don’t remember when the other one happened), but he also benefitted by some truly outstanding plays behind him (including a diving catch by Dylan Moore in left field that surely would’ve been a bases-clearing double in the fifth).

His final line in a Mariners uniform: 5.1 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 4 walks, and 3 strikeouts. We didn’t get as many K’s as we would’ve liked, but when they came, the roar from the crowd – combined with the King turning toward us and acknowledging our adoration – was practically a religious experience. When he got out of the fifth on that diving catch, lingering on the field to give some love to Moore for his play, he was already over that 100-pitch mark. I started to well up then and there, knowing that was likely his final inning for the Mariners. I figured Scott would let him warm up for the sixth and then give him a final curtain call before seeing another batter, but he let him go up against one more. Robbie Grossman is the final batter King Felix saw as a member of the Seattle Mariners; he lined out to center on an 82mph change up.

Then, Scott came out of the dugout to a round of boos, but we quickly shifted to an explosion of gratitude. I’m literally STILL crying just thinking about it. I took dozens of pictures that I’ll hang onto, but I also tried to just be in the moment and soak it all up.

For what it’s worth, I know there’s the argument that they should’ve just let Felix stay out there for as long as he wanted, but in hindsight it’s better this way. It’s been pretty ugly for Felix the last few seasons, the last thing you want to do is have his final game end that way too. I’ll tell you what, though, if he’d ended his night with a strikeout, we’d be sitting around today talking about Beastquake 2.0.

I’ve written about Felix Hernandez more than anyone else since I started this blog (unofficially) back in 2008. I grew up as a child idolizing Steve Largent as my all-time favorite athlete, but King Felix has blown past the hall of fame wide receiver like he wasn’t even there. I’ve said it before and I’ll gladly say it again: I’m not a Mariners fan, I’m a Felix fan. He’s been – more times than is remotely appropriate – the only good thing about following this franchise in the years since he came up. I love Felix like he’s a member of my family, which is what makes this moment so heartbreaking for me. He’s been such a constant in my life – ever dependable and dominant and delightful – that I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself now that he’ll be finishing his career elsewhere.

It wasn’t supposed to go down this way. Well, that’s not totally true; for a while there it looked like it WAS supposed to end prematurely, but then he decided to sign an extension with the Mariners through the bulk of his career, and from then on I was convinced he’d always be ours. Spending your entire career in one city is so rare in this day and age, but it really felt like he was going to do it. I don’t want to sour this post by talking about the hardships of the last few years, but it sucks, you know? He was supposed to settle into a Bartolo Colon role in his mid-to-late 30’s, and he very well still might! But, it’ll have to be in another organization, which is depressing as all get out.

Of course, the worst part of all of this is that he’s still never tasted the post-season. All he’s wanted to do since he got here was win, and all the Mariners rewarded him with was mediocrity, with a few tantalizingly-close contending seasons sprinkled in. Sure, the organization let us all down with their poor drafting, poor trades, and poor player development, but it feels worse that they let HIM down. He was so fucking good for so fucking long, and he never got to showcase his greatness in the game’s brightest stage. He might catch on somewhere for a playoff run next year, and I hope he gets to see that drought eliminated, but he won’t get to do it with his filthy stuff of old. He’ll have to get crafty with it, and I hope he has it in him.

I know that eventually I’ll move on. There are some promising young players coming through the system who will turn into stars for the Mariners relatively soon. But, I don’t know if anyone will ever be as beloved as The King. He’s one of a kind. I’ll miss him. It won’t be the same when we don’t get to greet each other with “Happy Felix Day” every fifth game. The stadium will be that much less raucous without the court behind him. But, we’ll have our memories. I’ll be able to tell anyone who asks that I got to see one of the best pitchers of my generation playing for my hometown team. For that, I can only say to Felix …