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 …

My Confidence Level In The Mariners’ Rebuild So Far

Jeff Passan made a good point on Brock & Salk yesterday, when he asked who’s going to be part of the Mariners’ Major League team in 3 years. The more names you can pull from the current crop of players – either currently in the Bigs, or hopefully to-be-in-the-Bigs in 3 years’ time – the higher your confidence level should be in how the rebuild is going.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t have a great handle on the minors, aside from all the names everyone talks about all the time, so my choices are going to be different from someone who’s an expert. But, that’s the way it goes. I’m going to split up everyone I can think of into three-ish categories.

High Confidence

  • J.P. Crawford (INF)
  • Kyle Lewis (OF)
  • Mitch Haniger (OF)
  • Marco Gonzales (SP)
  • Justin Dunn (P)
  • Justus Sheffield (P)
  • Jarred Kelenic (OF)
  • Julio Rodriguez (OF)
  • Evan White (INF)

These are guys I’m all-but-guaranteeing will be part of the Mariners in three years, which right away feels both inadequate and wrong. I mean, for starters, I see four outfielders here. I suppose one or more of them could flame out and end up as a utility player, but more likely we’ll see one or more of them traded to help in other areas of the roster. My hunch is Mitch Haniger would be the one to go by the time we get to 2022, which is making me REALLY regret going out and buying his jersey earlier this year.

Kyle Lewis’ first week with the Mariners has been nothing short of phenomenal, and he’ll absolutely come into Spring Training next year looking to win a job of some sort. Rodriguez and Kelenic will look to get more seasoning in the minors next year, but if all goes according to plan, one or both will at least get a cup of coffee before the end of 2020. Evan White feels like he’s probably a couple of years away, but he too wouldn’t shock me if he saw some time in Seattle next season.

As for the pitchers, Marco should still be around, but who knows? The younger guys are still too young to put too much money on staying as starters, vs. being relegated to the bullpen. Better prospects than Sheffield have been banished as such.

Medium Confidence

  • Omar Narvaez (C)
  • Tom Murphy (C)
  • Cal Raleigh (C)
  • Austin Nola (Util)
  • Mallex Smith (OF)
  • Domingo Santana (OF)
  • Yusei Kikuchi (SP)
  • Sam Tuivailala (RP)
  • Erik Swanson (P)

I feel like if Cal Raleigh is going to stick with the Mariners, it might take up to three years for him to fully earn a roster spot. I have to imagine one of the two vets we have on roster now will be gone, but I honestly have no idea who it would be. Nola feels like the perfect candidate to be a utility player who can cover first base and the corner outfield spots (saying nothing of his ability to be a third catcher). Mallex Smith would only still be here as cheap insurance in case our younger outfielders don’t pan out. Santana feels like a candidate to eventually convert to 1B/DH. Kikuchi will either have figured it out and will be a nice middle-of-the-rotation staple for this team, or he’ll be elsewhere. Tuivailala is the only reliever right now I have ANY remote confidence in; not that none of the guys we have on roster now won’t still be here, but relief pitching is the last thing you need to shore up after settling things down everywhere else (in other words, I see a lot of potential trade candidates on the Major League roster right now). I’m not convinced whatsoever that Swanson will still be starting in 2022, but I’m medium convinced he’ll still be with the Mariners in some capacity.

Medium-Low Confidence

  • Shed Long (Util)
  • Dan Vogelbach (1B/DH)
  • Jake Fraley (OF)
  • Joe Rizzo (Util)

Long has enough pop in his bat, and can play enough different positions, to be a quality utility player. But, can he hit for high-enough average and get on base to this organization’s liking? On the flipside, Rizzo already has the average, and he appears to be improving on his power, but the question is his versatility. I read that they’re playing him all over the field, which is great for his chances, because it feels like his bat will play. But, if he can’t hack it defensively and he’s a man without a position, he could be some strong trade bait. As for Vogey, his first half was encouraging, but his second half has me concerned. The power is great, the on-base percentage is great, but if he’s hitting around the mendoza line, I just don’t know if there’s ENOUGH power there to make him worth all the strikeouts and whatnot. Also, if he never hits lefties, it’s REALLY hard to platoon a 1B/DH type; ideally you want him in your lineup every day mashing dingers no matter who’s pitching. All I know about Fraley is he’s a pretty highly-rated prospect for the Mariners, but he has yet to really show much in his short stint with the team this year. He feels like more trade bait.

Low Confidence

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Dylan Moore (Util)
  • Braden Bishop (OF)
  • Dee Gordon (2B)
  • Tim Lopes (INF)
  • Donnie Walton (INF)
  • Ryon Healy (1B)
  • Every other pitcher I haven’t listed above

I have to imagine the Mariners will do whatever it takes to make 2021 Seager’s last year in Seattle. He’s not worth what he’s making now, so by 2022, it should be pretty obnoxious. Healy’s injury status makes him a probable cut candidate as soon as the end of this year. Moore feels like a dime-a-dozen utility player who won’t be worth keeping around. Dee Gordon is another guy I gotta think will be gone before his contract expires in 2021. As for the younger guys, and anyone else I didn’t list, who the fuck knows? I know enough not to be super confident that they’ll be here in three years. If I’m wrong, then GREAT! That probably means they took serious leaps in their development. Who knows, maybe Bishop could be the next Chris Taylor with a simple change in his swing?! I mean, I doubt it, but you never know.

Anyway, to wrap this all up, I guess I give the rebuild a B- so far. I love the combination of those four outfielders I listed up top. I think our catching situation is pretty strong in the near future. First base should finally be locked down once Evan White makes it. I don’t know if I see a ton of hope on the pitching side of things, unless Dunn and Sheffield stick as starters and really start kicking some ass. If that’s the case, and you can pair them with Gonzales and Kikuchi, that’s a pretty solid rotation.

Still, gonna need some of these lower candidates to pop over the next couple seasons. If someone like Rizzo could lock down the third base job, and maybe Long the second base job, with some veterans crushing it in the middle of the lineup at DH … if you squint awful hard, you can see the makings of something special.

But, really, the odds of the Mariners being great in 2022 are remote any way you slice it. The Angels have the best baseball player in the world and when was the last time they really scared you? It goes without saying I doubt the Mariners will have someone in Trout’s league by then (which doesn’t even refer to the Astros and A’s and their crack development squads).

It Only Took 146 Games For The Mariners To Get To 60 Wins

The best Mariners game I’ve seen all year didn’t actually involve the Mariners at all! It was a Texas League Playoffs matchup last Wednesday, featuring the Arkansas Travelers against the Tulsa Drillers, televised on Root Sports, featuring Jerry Dipoto doing color commentary. The Travelers won a tense 2-1 battle, though sadly they would go on to lose the series in five games. Getting to see potential future Mariners stars at the AA level is really the only source of hope in this nothing of a season.

The M’s are 60-86 this morning, after a couple of wins to start this week’s Reds series. The only reason to ever look at the standings if you’re a Mariners fan is to see where they’ll be drafting next year. For the last few weeks, we’ve pretty much been stuck at the 6th overall draft slot. The Blue Jays are in fifth, 3 games worse, and the Royals are in fourth, a whopping 6 games worse. So, moving down in the standings to get a better draft pick seems pretty remote with only 16 games remaining (only 6 of which are against teams with winning records, and only 2 of THOSE games are against the Astros, which at this point should be considered certain defeats).

There is still a chance to get a slightly worse draft pick, though, which is not what I want to be thinking about right now. But, the Rockies – who have been terrible in the second half of this season – are only 2 games better, and the Pirates – who we play in Pittsburgh next week – are only 4 games better (likewise, the White Sox – who we play at home this weekend – are just 4.5 games better). The point is: EYES ON THE PRIZE! There are A LOT of terrible teams on the Mariners’ schedule (those teams I just mentioned, as well as the Orioles, who are the second-worst team in all of baseball by record); we need to continue to lose just enough to at the very least keep our 6th overall draft pick!

As for how this season has gone, I haven’t the foggiest. I still don’t think I’ve seen a 2019 Mariners game all the way through. I think I read somewhere that they either set a franchise record or a Major League record for most players used in a season, which feels about right. There are a ton of guys I’ve never heard of before (especially from the bullpen side of things), and the ones I have heard of haven’t been all that riveting.

The whole thing with a “rebuild” or a “step-back” or whatever is twofold: lose a bunch of games to replenish your roster with high draft picks, and play a lot of young guys to give them the experience they need to develop into stars in the near future. Well, that first part has gone pretty well (again, in spite of that 13-2 start that grows more baffling by the day). The other half of the equation is a mixed bag.

We got a whopping 63 games out of Mitch Haniger before injuries followed by repeated setbacks to said injuries derailed his entire season. Not that he was ever REALLY in danger of being sent to the minors or anything – he was generally considered to be one of our stars and leaders of this team – but he’s still a relatively young guy in the grand scheme of things, and probably could’ve used at least a good second half to springboard into a more promising 2020.

Likewise, Domingo Santana hasn’t played since mid-August. Mallex Smith had to be sent down for a spell to correct things about his defense and his swing. Shed Long and J.P. Crawford have both missed time with injuries in an all-important year for a couple of guys looking to compete for starting jobs in 2020.

On the flipside, our catcher position has arguably never been stronger! Omar Narvaez is far and away our best hitter, and Tom Murphy has been a revelation (when he was considered a journeyman backup at best when we brought him in). Austin Nola came from out of nowhere to put up some solid offensive numbers as a first base replacement for the injured Ryon Healy. And, even Kyle Seager has had a nice bounce-back campaign after a rough last couple of seasons; in just 90 games he has 22 homers and at least looks like the Kyle Seager of old, who earned that massive contract. It’s nice to at least not have a black hole at third base heading into next year.

Those guys have been solid, Crawford has looked like a viable Major Leaguer at short stop. Mallex Smith has 41 stolen bases to make up for some soft offensive numbers. Dan Vogelbach has had a rough stretch since the All Star Break, but he still has 30 homers and a .344 on-base percentage; if he ever figures out how to hit lefties, watch out! I feel like there’s enough potential on this side of the ball to make 2020 somewhat interesting.

The real bright spot for the organization has been what’s going on in the minors. Jarred Kelenic has rocketed all the way up to AA, and hasn’t really missed a beat. Kyle Lewis was just called up from AA for a cup of coffee and has hit two homers in his first two games. A number of other guys have blossomed to the point where we’re not only NOT the laughingstock of minor league farm systems, but we’re actually pretty respectable! Maybe not in the realm of the Astros/Braves/Dodgers/Yankees, but at least in the conversation down in that next tier. Kelenic could very well be in that Mike Trout mold of superstar, should things continue on this trajectory.

The pitching is another matter, of course. Marco Gonzales is what he is, which is fine. Sometimes, he’s really on it, but sometimes he’s got nothing. His 4.30 ERA feels about right for him; he’s certainly nobody’s idea of a #1 starter. But, as a #3, he’s okay. As a #4 he’s probably better. To say that Yusei Kikuchi’s rookie season hasn’t gone according to plan has been an understatement. A lot of mediocre-to-ugly stat lines, with his bright spots few and far between. You can see the potential is there, and the stuff is there. The best thing we can say is that if he’s going to have a season like this, better to get it out of the way now, when winning isn’t really the top concern. If he’s going to have a CAREER like this, though, then yeah, he’ll be a huge bust.

As you may recall, the Mariners spent a buttload of draft picks earlier this summer on pitching prospects, which felt like a total overreaction to the years guys like Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson were having. Swanson was always going to be a candidate to switch to the bullpen, and it appears that’s what the team has done with him in the second half of this season, which is obviously disappointing. That disappointment has only been worsened by the fact that he really hasn’t looked good in either role. There’s still hope for Sheffield, in spite of his ragged start to 2019. He was in Tacoma, he had some bad games in Seattle, he went back to Tacoma, then he was demoted even further, down to AA to get his mechanics right. That probably has more to do with the fact that the PCL is a home run factory what with the juiced balls and small ballparks, but that’s neither here nor there. Sheffield has pretty quietly had an improved second half, and in his two September starts, he’s combined to go 11 innings, giving up 12 hits, 1 run, with 5 walks and 11 strikeouts. It’s baby steps, but I’ll take it.

As for the bullpen, I couldn’t even start. I don’t even know who’s here anymore! Our saves leader – Roenis Elias with 14 – is on the Nationals, that much I do know. Our next-highest saves leaders have 4 apiece. I have to believe we’re at or near the top of Major League Baseball in BLOWN saves, but that’s not a stat they like to throw around very much.

To be fair, at this point in our rebuild, the bullpen is probably the last thing we should be worrying about. I said it earlier this season and it’s come to fruition: you want everyone on the team to play well, then you want the bullpen to absolutely tear every game apart. Gotta get that high draft pick! Gotta draft and develop well! Gotta get back to the playoffs somehow, some way! Gotta win a World Series before the Earth is swallowed up by the Sun!

As We All Expected Heading Into This Season, Daniel Vogelbach Is The Mariners’ All Star Representative

What a crazy year, huh? I mean, seriously, who saw THIS coming? Knowing what we knew about Vogey heading into the season, I’ll just say this: I don’t think I ever anticipated affectionately calling him Vogey! I didn’t think I’d be affectionately calling him ANYTHING!

Even if you saw this team being terrible, and even if you predicted that we’d already ship off our veteran bats by now, there were still plenty of other candidates ahead of Vogey heading into the season, with Mitch Haniger at the very top of the list. He was, after all, an All Star last year. Plus, “outfield” is the biggest position on the team, so it would’ve been easy to sneak him on as a reserve. Much harder to make it as a quote/unquote first baseman (which is where Vogey’s listed, per the MLB website).

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really give it much thought up until now, mostly because I never REALLY cared. If I had to guess at what I would’ve guessed heading into the season, I probably would’ve just banked on some pitcher coming from out of nowhere to have super low numbers and ultimately never making it into the actual All Star Game.

This is MUCH more interesting! Now, invite Vogey to participate in the Home Run Derby and I might actually watch the fucking thing!

That’s all that’s left to look forward to in my book. He’s tied for 17th in all of baseball with 20 homers, which is enough. Not all of those players are in the game in the first place, so that really whittles things down. But, I would argue (mostly sight unseen) that Vogey has had a higher rate of impact with his dingers. It always seems like he’s hitting these bombs late in games to pull the team back into it (if only for the bullpen to gag it away again). It’s that hardly-quantifiable clutchness factor that, I believe, sets him apart.

Also: Big Man Hit Ball Really Hard. For entertainment’s sake, let’s get this man a slot in the Derby!

If I had to project his chances – should they invite him in – I’d say Vogey will either wilt quietly in the first round, hitting lots of disappointing liners and pop ups … or he’ll make it all the way to the finals and (perhaps) win the whole fuckin’ thing. If I were a betting man (and you know that I am), I’d put a good chunk of cash on Vogey coming out he victor.

Of Course The Mariners Can’t Even Tank Properly!

I returned from my big Clusterfest weekend dismayed to find the Mariners have gone on a little run of late, winning 5 of 6, including 3 of 4 against the very worst team in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles.

The Mariners are 36-47, which is still hilarious when you factor in our infamous 13-2 start to the season. But, it’s also ridiculously close to .500, particularly when you consider how bad this team has looked for the majority of this season. The Orioles – on the other hand – are a whopping 22-57! They’re doing everything within their power to lose and lose often; the Mariners, on the other hand, still seem to be straddling the fence.

Always and forever on the fence.

I guess it should be noted that there’s no one way to (re)build a franchise, but I think I can take a stab at it, based on who’s currently leading the way in the standings in 2019. Up in the top half of the league, we’re talking about a bunch of teams who were bad for a spell, drafted well, developed their stars, and when it was time to compete, beefed up their team salary with free agents and/or trade acquisitions to put them over the top. That’s not a tried & true formula for every single team; I don’t remember the Yankees or Red Sox really bottoming out, and likewise I don’t recall the Rays or Athletics ever spending ANY money ever. But, the point is, you never see teams middling their way to the top, which is what the Mariners are trying to do and it’s what they’ve done since their inception back in the 70’s.

Once the Mariners got REALLY bad in 2004, they should’ve immediately reversed course, dumped everyone, and gone for a full rebuild. Instead, heading into the 2005 season, the Mariners dropped huge gobs of money into the pockets of Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre (massive overpays for both, as Beltre never approached his 2004 season with the Dodgers, and Sexson was a gigantic drain for this franchise by the time his contract expired in 2008) and the rest is history.

The Mariners have been really unlucky in the last two decades to boot. In years where they were supposed to be bad, they competed out of nowhere; in years where they were supposed to be competitive, they’ve generally flatlined. It’s hard to want to stick to a plan when expectations are defied so often. I mean, what do you do when you resign yourself to sucking, only to find yourself in the thick of breaking a generational playoff-less streak?

But, it’s that very mode of thinking that’s torpedoed this franchise. Not having the wherewithal and the guts to stick with a plan. It’s why this team has churned through managers like a rabid dog with a T-bone steak. It’s why general managers have made panic move after panic move, forever in a reactive position based seemingly on emotions and the whims of an erratic ownership group.

If you look at the top half of baseball, there are the usual suspects, but then there are teams like the Twins, Astros, Indians, Braves, Cubs, Rangers, Brewers, Phillies, and Rockies. Teams clearly trending in the right direction, and teams who underwent massive rebuilds in recent years. Those teams used to be DREADFUL, and now they’re among the best. You don’t HAVE to be the Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers to compete at a high level; you just need to be smart and have a plan and GOD DAMMIT STICK TO THAT PLAN.

Okay. So, let’s say the Mariners finally have a plan. Let’s say 2019 is the first true rebuild in God knows how long. It’s still not the kind of rebuild I believe this team needs, nor is it even a rebuild that makes any sense. “Stepping back” in 2019 to be in contention by (hopefully) 2021 just isn’t realistic. Not when you’re talking about needing to fill 10/12 spots on a Major League pitching staff, including 100% of the bullpen. Not when you’re talking about a dearth of quality pitching in the high minors. Not when you JUST spent an inordinate amount of draft picks this year on replenishing your pitching (when those guys won’t be ready for the Bigs until 2022 at the VERY earliest).

The Mariners believe they currently roster – at the Major League level – players who will be part of the “Next Great Mariners Team”. Guys like Haniger, Gonzales, and Kikuchi. Maybe guys like Vogelbach, Santana, Narvaez, Mallex Smith, and J.P. Crawford. I’ll tell you right now, every single one of those guys have considerable flaws to their games, so you tell me: will the Mariners be competitive by 2021 or 2022? If so, how many of those players will still be on this roster?

The M’s are still the 6th worst team in baseball at the time of this writing, but there are at least 5 teams just ahead of them that will be vying for a Top 10 draft pick by season’s end. At this point, the Orioles, Royals, Tigers, Blue Jays, and Marlins all look like locks to make the Bottom 5 (our only hope is that the Orioles/Jays & Royals/Tigers are in the same divisions, so they play one another 19 times this year). Meanwhile, with how well the hitting has been at times, I could easily see the Mariners slide outside of the Top 10, at which point winning is doing more harm than good.

Then again, it’s not necessarily where you draft, but rather how you develop. That’s the biggest key to success in baseball, over everything else. Based on that, I’m just wasting my words on this team, because the Mariners have to rank among the worst in the game at development. You can hang bad luck on a few players, but the overwhelming majority of Mariners prospects have been just plain bad.

I Am Absolutely Ready For The Mariners To Hit Rock Bottom

It’s been an interesting almost-year to follow the Mariners. Once last season ended with yet another whimper, the Fire Sale officially commenced, and with it one of the more remarkable rollercoasters in recent memory.

As I’ve mentioned a million times now, the Mariners started 2019 with a 13-2 record. This was followed by them going 18-43; for about half a month, we were talking about one of the most surprisingly good stories in all of baseball, and ever since it’s been one of the most predictably bad stories in all of baseball. So, with the trades of Bruce and Encarnacion, Fire Sale 2.0 is in full effect. Where she ends, nobody knows.

One of the major themes in recent weeks – since this team has plummeted – has been my desire for them to lose as much as possible, to get as high of a draft pick as possible next year. If we’re kicking this rebuild into full gear, might as well make the sky the limit (or whatever the reverse of that is for losing). The team hasn’t really disappointed in that regard, but it can always get better (or worse, depending on your perspective).

Ergo, the Mariners need to trade anyone of value that won’t be around for the theoretical Next Great Mariners Team. Now, of course, if you’re like me, you believe that Next Great Mariners Team doesn’t exist, because the Mariners will NEVER be great, such is our lot in life as Mariners fans. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t try. That doesn’t mean that the baseball gods can’t look down upon us favorably, if only for one magical season. It can’t ALL be 1995 and 2001 and that’s it, can it?

(it absolutely can, but that’s neither here nor there)

What’s funny is that I have serious doubts that the M’s would’ve been as willing to move on from Encarnacion and/or Bruce if certain guys hadn’t at least shown potential, if not outright skill. If Vogey weren’t as good as he’s been, for instance – and make no mistake, based on his Major League career heading into this season, he was as far from a guarantee as you can get – I have my doubts that we would’ve been comfortable trading away both of our big bats. Maybe I’m too in my own head with that 2010 team, but remember how our lineup was so historically terrible that we had to go out and RE-acquire Russell Branyan in a deal midway into the season – even though that team was headed for a 100+ loss season regardless – just to not be even MORE inept than we already were? You could put the blame for that on the prior ownership group and the prior GM, but 1) how much different is this new ownership group REALLY when you consider most of them were minority owners originally, and 2) teams in general have a hard time bottoming out because it angers too many of the fairweather fans that sports teams have to cater to (knowing that hardcore fans will be there regardless, it’s those fairweather folks who keep the lights on).

My thing is: I WANT this team to totally bottom out! And I think we have a pretty good chance. Not great, mind you, because there are some truly God-awful teams around baseball this year, it’s going to be hard to keep up with how great they are at losing. Gun to my head, I think getting a Top 2 or 3 draft pick isn’t in the cards. Getting a Top 5 pick is probably our realistic best case scenario, and it would be a huge disappointment if we landed outside of the Top 10. So, yeah, getting rid of as many helpful veterans as possible is a great start.

How low we can go still depends on a number of key factors. For starters, if the pitching improves too much, that’s going to hurt, because right now it’s that part of the team (particularly the bullpen) that’s costing us the most. I want – or, rather NEED – this bullpen to continue to blow otherwise winnable games late. I wouldn’t mind seeing Marco Gonzales do okay, but I also wouldn’t mind seeing Kikuchi continue to middle his way through his first year in the Bigs. Experience for the younger guys is more important than having them succeed out of the gates. Working on their craft, working on adjustments they need to make, is more important.

As for the hitters, I think this team needs to go young almost across the board and let them fail or succeed, because I think the pitching is more than bad enough to cost us enough to stay in the Top 10 draft pick range. Someone like Kyle Seager is always going to start, but another nagging injury or two wouldn’t be the worst thing for the team.

But, J.P. Crawford, Vogey, Santana, Haniger (when he’s healthy), Mallex, both of our catchers, and Shed Long (whenever we get out from under Dee Gordon) all need to be playing every day by the end of the season. And if they struggle, all the better!

I was concerned that the Mariners might’ve gotten too bad too quickly, that if they TRULY bottom out, the ownership group will be tempted to clean house in the front office. That’s probably a worst case scenario that we’ll never actually reach. I don’t honestly think these Mariners will be bad enough to start costing people their jobs. And, quite honestly, losing a bunch in May and June is probably better than doing so down the stretch.

Remember last year, when our May and June was terrific, and we looked like a sure bet to make the Wild Card? What happened? Well, we peaked too early and lost out late. An overall good season was derailed by a poor finish, and that’s the taste that’s left in your mouth. Whereas, if we’d struggled early, then finished super hot (while having the same overall record), 2018 would’ve been deemed a rousing success, and maybe we’d be looking at a 2019 season where the front office would’ve opted to go for it once again.

Well, if we suck now, but the young guys improve by season’s end, to the point where we win some meaningless games in August or September (while still maintaining a Top 10 draft status), I think that’s the best of all worlds. We have some momentum heading into 2020 (which is meaningless from a statistical point of view, but is very meaningful when it comes to the outlook of fans, and is great for those young players looking to parlay a great finish into promising careers moving forward) and maybe these Mariners indeed do start to contend for playoff spots or division titles in 2021 instead of 2022 or later.

All of that starts with losing as much as possible right this very minute. So, say goodbye to the vets, and let’s hope that it doesn’t stop there!

Edwin Encarnacion, We Hardly Knew Ye

Well, in answer to the question: “Will Edwin Encarnacion Garner The Mariners More In Trade Than Jay Bruce?“, the answer is a resounding: we’ll see.

As we all remember, the Jay Bruce deal got us an A-Ball prospect by the name of Jake Scheiner, who plays the corner infield and corner outfield spots. In return, the Mariners had to give a good chunk of change to the Phillies to compensate for Bruce’s high salary. We all expected a similar situation with Encarnacion, and lo and behold, here we are.

The Mariners recently participated in the MLB Draft, in which they spent a crazy number of high-round draft picks on pitching, because not only does our pitching stink at a Major League level, but it stinks at all levels throughout the minors. In recent days, highly-touted prospect Justus Sheffield was demoted down to AA, after consistently and thoroughly stinking for the Tacoma Rainiers. I was lamenting this fact over the weekend, as we were bamboozled once again by a “sure thing” prospect from the Yankees, wishing out into the universe that the Mariners never trade with that fucking team ever again (because all their prospects are FUCKING OVERRATED), and in return the universe farted in my face.

Edwin Encarnacion was traded to the Yankees for Juan Then, a 19 year old pitcher who figures to be in A-Ball this year. In return, the Mariners had to pay about half of the remaining salary owed to Encarnacion.

It should be noted that Juan Then originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Mariners as a younger teenager. We traded him with another low-level prospect for Nick Rumbelow, a reliever with the Yankees who was supposed to be worth a damn, except SURPRISE, wasn’t worth a damn because Yankees. Figure anyone the Yankees opt to give away in a deal is someone who sucks and will never fucking amount to anything.

It should also be noted that there are rumors that the Mariners could have gotten more from other organizations if only the Mariners were willing to take on more of Encarnacion’s salary. I find this remarkably easy to believe, and even though you’ll find record of me praising the organization for eating money on these deals to acquire prospects, know for the record that I don’t have all the information. While I suppose it’s true we could’ve easily just traded these guys for nothing, in a straight salary dump, it’s also true that if the Mariners ate 100% of the money, we’d probably be looking at better (or more) prospects in return.

The ultimate take-away from this deal comes from a Buster Olney tweet I saw this morning, where he notes the Mariners have only $65.5 million in committed money for 2020, $41.5 million for 2021, and $0 for 2022. And, if the team ever figures out a way to trade Mike Leake (which shouldn’t be too hard, if he keeps pitching as well as he has the last four starts), those millions should go down considerably.

From there, you figure the team will be looking to move Dee Gordon, while at least listening to offers for Wade LeBlanc, Tim Beckham, and any other veteran not nailed down.

I’ll get into what we’re looking at the rest of the way in another post, but for now, let’s send Encarnacion off with a hearty goodbye and good luck. In 65 games, he hit 21 homers, 49 RBI, and was good for 2.0 WAR while playing a very competent first base. The Mariners have had FAR WORSE Rent-A-Players in their history; indeed, Encarnacion might be among the very best. It’s just too bad he was squandered on such a wretched team.

Still, it’s not every day you see a professional like Encarnacion make the best of a bad situation. We literally couldn’t have asked anything more from a delightful human being. His parrot rides will certainly be missed.

Will Edwin Encarnacion Garner The Mariners More In Trade Than Jay Bruce?

It feels like an appropriate time to talk about Edwin Encarnacion – with his two homers yesterday, including the 400th of his career – and it’s been something I’ve been thinking about since the Jay Bruce deal: is it fair to assume the Mariners will get more in an Encarnacion trade?

I mean, after all, we’re talking about a guy right now who’s hitting .245/.356/.532, with 20 homers, 7 doubles, and 46 RBI. He’s primarily played first base and has done pretty well there for someone who was thought to only be a DH. Compare that to Jay Bruce, who before the trade was hitting .212/.283/.533, with 14 homers, 11 doubles, and 28 RBI. While you could argue there’s slightly more value in Bruce’s defensive ability – as he can play first base and the corner outfield without embarrassing himself – I think we can all agree who has been the superior hitter both this year and in recent seasons.

Now, obviously, their contract situations are different. Bruce had 2020 guaranteed, whereas there’s only a club option for 2020 on Encarnacion; we’re talking about the prorated portion of $20 million for this year, and $5 million for next year’s buyout. Either way, the Mariners will have to send money to the other team to get any sort of prospect back in return. So, other than that, the question is – money being equal – will the Mariners get MORE back in return?

I feel like the obvious answer is Yes, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. For starters, there is the fact that Bruce is at least able to play the outfield; that opens up a lot more spots for him. As a 1B/DH, we’re talking about 29 other first base openings, and only 14 other DH openings. Most teams are pretty set at those spots, and I don’t think anyone is going to trade for Encarnacion to be a bench bat.

The other issue – which I don’t think gets brought up enough – is that there’s always a premium for quality left-handed bats, particularly for teams in contention. Right-handers are a dime a dozen in baseball, and right-handed power bats who can’t play the outfield have the lowest value imaginable; they’re like running backs in football. In the 90’s, they were all the rage, but not anymore.

That’s why I’m okay with hanging onto Encarnacion for as long as it takes. At this point, the Mariners need to be rooting for another team’s 1B/DH to get injured, while still being in the race for a playoff spot. I would like to think, with how well he’s been playing, that there will be a market at SOME point, because it’s ridiculous that he’s languishing on a terrible team with the year he’s having. Encarnacion deserves better, is what I’m getting at. And, the Mariners deserve to be rewarded for making the savvy move to bring him in here in the first place.

Let’s hope the rest of baseball does right by all of us.