The Knee-Jerk Reactionary’s Post-Game Review

Hey there Broseph and Brosephette!  Knee-Jerk Reactionary here.

I’ve been brought aboard to help out with the daily, or almost-daily, game recaps.  Because if there’s one thing the Internet loves, it’s pornography!  If there’s two things the Internet loves, it’s pornography and cat videos!  If there’s THREE things the Internet loves, it’s pornography, cat videos, AND TELLING EVERYONE WHY THEY’RE FUCKING WRONG #AllCapsMatter #ALLCAPSMATTER.

As a Mariners fan who spends all his time on Twitter, interacting with the spineless weasels who report on this team for a living, I like to make my opinions known as subtly as possible.  And, if that means wishing cancer upon them, or hounding them daily about why the Mariners don’t bring up Abraham Almonte and start him in center, then at least I’ll know I’ve done my due diligence, unlike those clowns at the Seattle Times or Lookout Landing!

Let’s just say there’s a reason why I have only 6 actual Tweets, and 8,000 @-replies.  #NoTime2Sleep.

So, who am I?  Just your average, passionate Mariners fan, who listens to sports radio all day every day and responds to my favorite DJs on Twitter like they’re talking only to me.  Sometimes I forget to take my meds and think Softy really DOES want me to smother my kids in their sleep, so we can run away and start a sports bar together.  But, then I take my pills and the voices go away for a while.

Anyway, enough about me!  I’m here to talk about the game!  The Mariners were in Texas for the second game of the season, and I’m not gonna lie to you, THIS IS THE YEAR!  We’re breaking the streak of losing seasons, everyone!  World Series Champions Or Bust!

Best Run Differential in the American League?  YOUR Seattle Mariners!  Most Runs Scored in the American League?  YOUR Seattle Mariners!  Most Home Runs in the American League?  YOUR Seattle Mariners!   Lowest ERA in the American League?  YOUR Seattle Mariners!  Lowest Batting Average Against in the American League?  YOUR Seattle Mariners!

What happens when you score the most runs and give up the fewest?  You win ALL the games!  (except for some flukey bullshit that happened on Monday, whatever THAT was all about)

I mean, I can’t even remember why we were all worried about that bullpen!  It’s like, HELLO, they haven’t given up any runs the whole entire season!  In my book, that’s the best bullpen in baseball right there.

Time to win today, time to win the rest of this week, and let’s do this thing!  #GripItAndRipIt!

Mariners Tidbit 58: Jesus Montero Is Back … Hooray?

Driving down to Tacoma yesterday afternoon for my weekly summer bowling league, I found myself flipping through the three local sports radio shows as the story was breaking:  the Mariners called up Jesus Montero.  We would go on to find out that J.A. Happ apparently still has options, and since he won’t be starting between now and the All Star Break, we used his option to get him off of our 25-man roster for a couple weeks.  He’ll be eligible to return just as soon as we need him, which I would assume is somewhere around July 20th or 21st.

Surprisingly, with news of Montero’s return – and likely impending implementation over the weekend, as we face a run on lefty starters – the tenor of the discussion wasn’t, “Yawn, who cares?”  I was catching a whiff of unbridled enthusiasm!  For a player whose career Major League numbers with the Seattle Mariners look like this:

  • .251/.291/.378/.669, 19 homers, 73 RBI across 680 plate appearances

That’s right around 1 full season’s worth of plate appearances, spread out over three mediocre years.  Last year, he played in all of 6 games in the middle of endless controversy.  Since he was traded for Michael Pineda, Montero has proven to be the following:

  • A terrible defensive catcher
  • Terrible at taking a walk or working a count
  • Terrible at hitting right handed pitching
  • A slow, lazy tub of goo who only in this past offseason managed to get his fitness to where it needs to be
  • A steroids user
  • Not a fan of ice cream sandwiches
  • Terrible at hitting any type of breaking ball or offspeed pitch
  • Strikeout-prone
  • A symbol of all that has gone wrong in the Jack Zduriencik era

In short, Jesus Montero – the Seattle Mariner – has been a complete and utter disaster from the start.  Why would ANYONE think even for a moment that his being called up is going to matter one iota?

  • .332/.370/.529/.899, 15 homers, 68 RBI across 368 plate appearances

Those are his numbers this year while playing in Tacoma.  By all accounts, he’s maintained the weight loss, he’s quicker and more athletic; hell, he’s even managed to somehow hit FIVE triples!  He’s been mashing as a combo DH/1B this year, while at the same time nearly everyone on the Major League roster has struggled at hitting.  Nelson Cruz started off insanely hot, but has cooled off in the last month-plus.  Robinson Cano is going through his worst-ever season in the bigs.  Mark Trumbo appears to be yet another bust.  Weeks and Ruggiano are gone.  I guess what I’m trying to say is:  can you BLAME Mariners fans for thinking that Montero couldn’t POSSIBLY be worse than what we already have?

Yes.  Yes, I can.  Because, YOU FAT BLOATED IDIOT, how many times are we going to go through this?  The solution to all of our problems doesn’t lie in the roster of the Tacoma Fucking Rainiers!  Guys like Jesus Montero, and Carlos Peguero, and Alex Liddi, and Mike Wilson, and Wladimir Balentien, and James Jones, and Stefen Romero, and Abe Almonte, and Carlos Triunfel, and Matt Tuiasosopo, and Casper Wells, and Trayvon Robinson, and Eric Thames, and Adam Moore, and Matt Mangini will ALWAYS do well in Tacoma, because they’re as close as it comes to being bona fide Major League hitters without actually BEING Major League hitters.  They do well down there, they get called up with all this fanfare – invariably because they’re filling a roster spot vacated by a do-nothing turd – and they promptly do their best impression of a do-nothing turd!

And, unlike most of those other guys – when they made their first appearances with the big league ballclub – we KNOW what Jesus Montero can do in the Majors; we’ve seen it firsthand!  Doesn’t mean someone like Montero couldn’t make it as a bench player or a platoon guy on another team; shit, even Bryan LaHair was an All Star one year for the Cubs.  But, it’s beyond idiotic to believe Montero is going to be that valuable player HERE.  For the Seattle Mariners.  Playing half their games in Safeco Field.

I know it’s fun to dream.  I know it’s fun to look at Montero’s relatively skinny frame, point to how he was once a VERY highly rated prospect, and fantasize about how he may be one of the rare late bloomers who turns his career around without the all-important change of scenery.  But, let’s get fucking real, huh?  Could we just once not get suckered into a belief that Jesus Montero will be worth a damn?  Can we PLEASE just live in the now???

The Mariners Traded Michael Saunders For J.A. Happ

The Mariners completed a trade that’s not only alarmingly bad in and of itself, but what it represents for our offseason plan going forward.

For starters, I’m going to go ahead and pump the breaks myself on Michael Saunders.  He’s not an MVP candidate waiting to happen.  He’s a solid 4th outfielder and a fringe starter.  Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much – so why are all of our collective panties in a bunch – but you have to look at it like this:  right now the Mariners barely have ONE viable starting outfielder.  We’re currently banking on the last half-season’s worth of Dustin Ackley carrying over; and I’ll believe in Austin Jackson’s potential when he SHOWS me something.  And, assuming you’ve been paying attention to the Seattle Mariners over the last few years, you’re well aware that we have CONSISTENTLY struggled to run out three quality outfielders.  That’s WITH Michael Saunders on the roster!  Yes, he struggled for a long time when he first came up, but he slowly improved to the point where he was useful and potent as a corner outfielder.

But, he suffered some minor injuries, especially the last couple seasons.  That apparently soured the organization on him, which strikes me as odd.

It’s odd because as soon as Lloyd McClendon took over as manager, he seemed to have it out for Saunders.  Saunders never even had a shot at competing for a starting outfield spot.  The team would rather hand over right field to the creaky knees of LoMo and Corey Hart.  And, while I agree that Saunders really doesn’t have any business playing centerfield, the team also doesn’t have any business giving Abe Almonte a starting job over Saunders.  So, what was going on there?  It’s like Jackie Z told Lloyd when he first got here that Saunders is no good.  And, even as the regular season started out, and we were struggling, Saunders often found himself benched in favor of losers.  Unfortunately for all, when Saunders finally DID get his crack at starting, he found himself on the DL on two separate occasions.  I guess that sealed his fate, but I would argue his fate was sealed long before.

Which is REALLY weird because – going into Spring Training – the biggest disappointment in the organization, Justin Smoak, was being touted as THE starting first baseman as well as a potential league leader in doubles.  Why were they pumping up a fucking trainwreck who never showed ANYTHING outside of random hot spurts in the month of September, while they dismissed a truly valuable outfield rotation player?

It boggles the mind.

While Saunders’ value may be inflated among his staunchest supporters, his injury woes are also inflated by the Mariners (and, apparently, other organizations around baseball, who didn’t have what it took to provide us with a better trade).  It’s not like he’s a pitcher coming off shoulder surgery.  Most of his maladies were of the fluke variety.  He doesn’t strike me as a living, breathing Bumblebee Man, with misfortune hiding around every corner in more hilarious and creative ways.  He just strikes me as someone who has had some misfortune.  But, once he’s able to stay on the field for a full season, you’ll all see that Michael Saunders is really special.  And the Mariners will feel pretty damn foolish in the process.

In return, we get J.A. Happ.  A soft-tossing lefty veteran who doesn’t do anything well, but who also isn’t so horrible that he’s been drummed out of the league.  He’s earning upwards of $7 million and this is the last year of his deal (whereas Saunders still had a couple years left, at a much cheaper rate).

You can’t ignore the fact that the Mariners traded away from a position of weakness.  We already needed another starting outfielder BEFORE we let Saunders go to Toronto.  Nothing changes there, although now what we’re looking at is a drastic reduction of the quality of our depth.  Saunders is really the ideal 4th outfielder.  He probably deserves better – and will get it, by starting in Toronto this year – but as long as we had him, we had some real security in case shit hit the fan (which it usually does, because this is Seattle).

Granted, the Mariners also needed to pick up a veteran starter, because I think we’re all in agreement that to count on Paxton, Walker, and Elias to last the full season in the Majors is asking a lot.  Beyond that, it’s not like we’re sitting on a mountain of pitching depth in the minors.  Hell, even Erasmo Ramirez is out of options and will either need to be carried as a long reliever, traded, or DFA’d!  And, considering the strength of our bullpen as it’s currently constructed, it’s not like we can afford two long relievers.

I mention that because, in an ideal world, Paxton, Walker, and Elias would all crack the starting rotation, and Happ would be relegated to being a long reliever.  I’m sure Happ is nice.  I’m sure he’s got a little Chris Young in him.  I’m sure, playing half his games in Safeco, he’ll be okay as an innings eater.  But, he’s no one you want to COUNT on!  He’s no one I necessarily want to see out there every fifth day, wondering whether or not this is the day he’s going to implode in the second inning.  There’s real honest to goodness upside with Paxton, Walker, and Elias.  What you see with Happ is what you get:  a .500 pitcher with an ERA over 4.  He’s not going to all of a sudden turn it on.  At best, he’ll manage an ERA under 4, but that’s going to require dominant performances at home, with a bunch of Hold Your Breath performances on the road.  Great, just what I never want to see.

See, what really troubles me about this trade – aside from the loss of Saunders and the gain of Happ – is what we’re looking at going forward, with the rest of our offseason moves.  We still need an outfielder.  Maybe a couple outfielders.  And there isn’t a lot left on the free agent market.  So, does this make a trade more of a certainty?  And, if we decide to trade for a quality outfielder, does that mean the days are numbered for one or more of the triad of Paxton, Walker, and/or Elias?  You all know the rumors.  You’ve all heard who Taijuan Walker is connected to.  Is that really what you want?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

But, with Happ, it sounds a little more plausible, doesn’t it?  I would argue we could’ve gotten a Happ-like starting pitcher in free agency, without giving up Saunders, but what the fuck do I know?  Either way, he’s here now, and he could REALLY make things terrible.  I don’t even want him on our roster, but I understand the need for depth.  Teams almost never get to enjoy the same five starters playing all the way through, uninterrupted, for a full season.  But, once we trade Walker, or one of our other young studs, that just means Happ goes from Depth Piece to being locked in as one of our starters, regardless.

There are strengths and weaknesses to being in Win Now mode.  Obviously, if that’s your mode, then your team is pretty damn good already.  But, oftentimes, it leads to ownership making questionable decisions.  I was on board with Nelson Cruz, because we didn’t have to give up anything but money (and, I guess, a 4-year committment).  But, now?  Consider me VERY concerned about the next major move the Mariners make.

Looking Back At The 2014 Mariners: The Hitters, Part III

Consider this the third in a series of looks back at the 2014 Mariners.  For once, it’s going to be more than, “They fucking sucked, I’m sick of thinking about this shit, I’ll see you in February.”  I’m sure I’ll toss out the usual “What Went Right” and “What Went Wrong” posts as time and desire permit, but right now I’m taking a look at the players.  In short, I’m going to list all the players who accumulated a stat for the 2014 Mariners, and I’m going to talk about each of them individually.

I’m also breaking this up into three parts, because we’re pushing 7,000 words here.

Click HERE for Part I
Click HERE for Part II

Logan Morrison – Following the signing of Corey Hart, the Mariners hedged their bet by trading away Carter Capps to the Marlins for their version of Justin Smoak.  LoMo played a little more outfield than Smoak ever could have dreamed, and he was a lot more injured, but the sentiment is still the same:  a guy with a lot of power potential who just never put it together, for a maddeningly long amount of time.

He’s yet to play a full season (only over 100 games once in his 5-year Major League career), and he’s yet to be all that effective at the plate.  Encouragingly, 2014 was his best year ever, so there’s hope yet.

He hit .262/.315/.420, with 11 homers and 20 doubles in 99 games.  He had only 9 games in the outfield, with the rest at 1B or DH, which is promising.  Let’s keep him there.  He was a VAST improvement over Justin Smoak (who got the lion’s share of starts early in the season at first base) offensively, and wasn’t all that bad defensively either.  He’s club-controlled and if he can stay healthy, might just be a viable starting first baseman for us.  He’s no All Star or anything, but at this point I’ll just take anyone who’s above replacement.

Outlook for 2015:  Slot him in as your starting first baseman.  At best, the Mariners will only be able to bring in one right-handed slugger, and you have to figure that guy will play primarily at DH.  If, in some incomprehensible universe, the Mariners bring in two sluggers, then I suppose you could be looking at LoMo as a platoon option at first/DH.  But, I bet he sticks and makes us all forget about that time he smashed a bat against a wall in frustration and cut up his face, causing him to miss some time.

Humberto Quintero – Says here he was a third catcher down the stretch and had as many at-bats (2) as Felix Hernandez (as many hits too).

Outlook for 2015:  He’s a free agent.  Either he’ll be back in Tacoma, or he’ll be with some other team’s AAA squad, or he’ll be somewhere else.

Stefen Romero – As per usual, the Mariners were desperate for right-handed outfield bats.  Stefen Romero was pretty good in Spring Training and won a spot on the Major League club.  He stunk.  He was sent down and brought up multiple times.  In that aforementioned game in Atlanta where John Buck hit the game-winning home run, Romero hit a game-tying 3-run home run that ultimately led to Buck’s magic.  This day would be the highlight for both of these men in 2014.

Outlook for 2015:  I dunno.  Tacoma probably.  Outside shot at a bench spot with the Mariners, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Michael Saunders – I’m just going to come out and say it:  Michael Saunders was the third best position player on the Mariners in 2014 behind Cano and Seager.  That’s really saying something, considering he only appeared in 78 games.

Why did he only appear in 78 games?  Well, to start the season, he was on the bench, behind Almonte, LoMo, Romero, and others.  When he got a chance to play – however infrequently – he consistently produced.  But, he missed a huge chunk of June with an injury; then again missed some of July, all of August, and some more of September with another injury.

Is this what the team considers Michael Saunders to be?  This injury-prone fourth outfielder who needs regular days off to stay healthy, fresh, and productive?  Probably.  Not for nothing, but when you’re talking about these guys who play all-out all the time, I tend to agree.  Yeah, he’ll give up his body to make a play, but he’ll be paying for it later.  That’s why I never understood all the vitriol with Ichiro never diving.  Do you want him falling all over the field going after balls?  Or, do you want a guy you can count on to be in your lineup every single day?  Same thing with Shaun Alexander.  Until the end of his career, he was very durable.  Why?  He went down and out of bounds rather than take unnecessary hits.  I love Beastmode and Jay Buhner as much as the next guy, but I’m just sayin’, there’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself and living to fight another day.

Outlook for 2015:  He’s looking to get a raise in arbitration.  He should certainly be back.  Pencil him in as a fourth outfielder with a chance to win a starting job if things break right.  If you wanted my prediction right now, though, I’d say he’s not starting.  I’ve got Ackley in left, A-Jax in center, and Free Agent X or Trade Acquisition Y in right.  Still, it’ll be nice to have Saunders back, as I DO think he’s a bona fide Major Leaguer.  He’ll be even more valuable if we manage to find three viable starters to play ahead of him in the outfield.  No more crappy Endy Chavez for us if we can help it!

Kyle Seager – LOVE me some Kyle Seager, boy!  Hot damn that kid is damn hot!

He led the team in homers with 25 and RBI with 96.  He made his very first All Star game and got a couple flimsy hacks in.  He’s been a regular since July 2011 (the same time as Ackley) and he hasn’t let us down once!  In his three full seasons, he’s hit at least 20 homers and batted between .259 and .268.  All the while, improving dramatically with his defense at third base.  This is reflected in his WAR, which has gone up from 2.6 in 2012, to 3.9 in 2013, to a whopping 5.8 this year.  He was only bested in that number by Felix and Cano, which puts him in rarefied air.

And the best part?  He can still get better!  Particularly at the plate.  I agree with LMC, he can and SHOULD be hitting in the .280s.  And, if this team manages to produce some heavy hitters in this lineup, I think he’d be an ideal 2-hole hitter.  Regardless, I have no problem with him batting fifth, IF we find a legitimate cleanup guy.

Either way, I love the fact that there’s someone besides Cano and Felix who I don’t have to worry about.  He doesn’t slump for extended periods of time.  He’s not afraid to hit in Safeco.  He doesn’t get injured.  He doesn’t have extreme splits at the plate.  Thank God for Kyle Seager!

Outlook for 2015:  I’ll have what I’m having!

Justin Smoak – Ahh, the anti-Seager.  Before the season – indeed, even before Spring Training – Smoak was touted as the starting first baseman.  He was someone LMC declared would one day lead the league in doubles.  Instead, he’s successfully led the league in facepalm moments.

His April was no good after his first seven games.  His May was even worse.  In June, he was either sent down to Tacoma or injured.  Either way, he sucked dick the rest of the way.  .202/.275/.339.  THIRTEEN doubles.  PRETTY sure that’s not even close to league-leading.

Outlook for 2015:  He’s arbitration-eligible and due to make some serious coin if he stays.  He’s also out of minor league options, so we can’t just stash him in Tacoma when we’re sick and tired of looking at him.  I have to believe, with every fiber of my being, that he won’t be back.  He’s been given every chance in the world to succeed and he’s been dreadful at every turn.  It’s time for him to go elsewhere and fail miserably for someone else.  If he’s lucky, the Rockies will sign him and he’ll parlay a hot Spring Training into an okay career, making us all wonder, “What If”, except I’ll tell you What If:  he never would’ve made it in Seattle!  It’s Bandbox or Bust for Smoak.

Jesus Sucre – This was the guy we brought up to replace John Buck.  He’s a better receiver of baseballs – he can frame a pitch well and has a pretty good arm – but he’s nothing with a bat in his hands.

Outlook for 2015:  I’m almost certain he’ll be back in Tacoma.  There’s an outside chance he’s back up here as a backup to Zunino.  But, I have to believe that “backup catcher” is once again one of our middling priorities in the upcoming offseason.

Chris Taylor – He was called up and played his first game on July 24th.  He would’ve been called up sooner, but he had to go on the DL for a brief period.  Either way, his promotion was made possible by Brad Miller being a suck-ass for the first few months of the season.

In total, he played in 47 games.  He had a great batting average (.287), but only hit 8 balls for extra bases (with no triples or homers).  His defense was a step above Miller’s, so there’s your trade off.  Miller is a guy who will hit for power, but he won’t walk, so if he’s not striking the ball flush, then he’s not doing much for you.  Taylor is a guy who will never hit for power, but he walks a little more and doesn’t strike out NEARLY as much.  He also gives you better defense.

Or, put it this way:  Taylor was worth 1.5 WAR in his 47 games; Miller was worth 1.6 WAR in 123 games.

So, what do you value?  Premium power at a premium position?  Or defense and stability?  If Miller plays up to his potential (meaning:  hitting for a high average and cutting down somewhat on strikeouts, while maintaining his power), then his ceiling is one of the best offensive short stops in baseball.  I think Taylor is pretty much at his ceiling right now, meaning he’s anywhere from a 3.5 to 4.5-WAR player (if he can keep it up through a full season).

Outlook for 2015:  I guess we’ll find out next year.  It’ll be interesting to see the short stop position battle shake out in Spring Training, and it’ll be even more interesting to see if the winner of that battle can hold onto his job.  Gun to my head:  I think Miller has the edge in this race.  I think they love his power and are willing to put up with some defensive lapses and slumps.  Not TOO MANY slumps, mind you, but I guess we’ll see.  Taylor is a nice Plan B to have.

Mike Zunino – Right out of the gate, just know that Mike Zunino isnt going anywhere.  He’s the entrenched starter as catcher and will be for years to come.

With that out of the way … KIND OF a woofer of a 2014.  Here are the positives:

  • He stayed healthy and played in 131 of a possible 162 games.  That’s quite a workload!
  • He threw out 28.3% of base stealers (28 of 99), which I want to say is good (at least, it’s a vast improvement over the duds we’ve had here since Dan Wilson retired).
  • He was in the upper echelon of pitch-framers, stealing more would-be balls as strikes than most other catchers in baseball.
  • His Catcher E.R.A. was 3.18 (I don’t even know what that means, or if it’s even a good stat or not)
  • He only had 8 passed balls all year (considering he catches Felix on a regular basis, VERY impressive).
  • He hit 22 home runs.
  • He’s only 23 years old and already has a year and a half of Major League experience under his belt.

You notice that most of his positives are defense-related, yet I’m seeing here that his Defensive-WAR was only 0.3 and his overall WAR was only 0.6.  According to other metrics, he actually had NEGATIVE defensive runs saved numbers.  What the shit?

I was all prepared to come on here and talk about what a stud he’s been defensively, and about what a black hole he’s been at the plate.  Turns out, not so fast.

With my untrained eye (and mediocre grasp of advanced stats), I think he’s still good defensively.  I know for a FACT that he’s the best catcher we’ve had in YEARS.  Again, probably since Wilson.  I also think that his bat stinks, but it’s sure to get better.  It would almost have to, as I don’t think it can get much worse.

He had 476 plate appearances in 2014.  Of those, 337 were against right-handed pitchers and 139 were against lefties.  Here are his splits:

  • Vs. Lefties:  .252/.295/.427, 8 doubles, 5 homers, 42 strikeouts, 30.2% Ks
  • Vs. Righties:  .176/.237/.394, 12 doubles, 2 triples, 17 homers, 116 strikeouts, 34.4% Ks

That’s gotta tighten up.  He’s a home run blast waiting to happen, but much more often he’s a strikeout waiting to happen.  And against righties, he’s remarkably worse.  That’s gotta change, because we can’t just save him for lefties.  We’ve got to hit on this guy because he’s THAT important to our future.

Outlook for 2015:  Starting catcher.  You probably want to keep him towards the bottom of the lineup again.  Which isn’t the worst thing in the world.  Let him get his feet wet and maybe one day he’ll be a 5-hole or 6-hole hitter.  I’m not too worried yet, but his offense has to pick up.  If he hits in 2015 the way he did in 2014, I’m going to be VERY concerned.

Looking Back At The 2014 Mariners: The Hitters, Part II

Consider this the second in a series of looks back at the 2014 Mariners.  For once, it’s going to be more than, “They fucking sucked, I’m sick of thinking about this shit, I’ll see you in February.”  I’m sure I’ll toss out the usual “What Went Right” and “What Went Wrong” posts as time and desire permit, but right now I’m taking a look at the players.  In short, I’m going to list all the players who accumulated a stat for the 2014 Mariners, and I’m going to talk about each of them individually.

I’m also breaking this up into three parts, because we’re pushing 7,000 words here.

Click HERE for Part I
Click HERE for Part III (tomorrow)

Corey Hart – The Mariners picked him up as a free agent, taking a flyer that he’d return to his old, bashing ways in Milwaukee.  Of course, he hadn’t played since 2012 – losing a full year to knee injuries – and baseball isn’t like riding a bike.  Especially when you’re 142 years old ABOUT A YEAR YOUNGER THAN I AM?  GOOD GOD I’M OLD!

Hart appeared in a lot of games in the first month and a half.  Mostly at DH.  Occasionally – and ill-advisedly – in the outfield.  Then, he was placed on the DL.  He returned to play a lot in July, then he went back on the DL again until September call-ups.  He stunk throughout, hitting right around .200 for the season.

He had 9 doubles and 6 homers in 68 games.  A paltry 32% of his hits went for extra bases, which is not something you’re looking for in a “power hitter” in your cleanup spot, who you want protecting Robinson Cano in the order.

Outlook for 2015:  The Mariners have already given him his release, because they needed to make room to bring Jesus Montero back from the suspended list.  That’s how little Corey Hart means to this organization, and it’s the perfect representation of his value.  When you look back at his career as a Mariner, just think about that and frown.  Frown with all your might.

Austin Jackson – If you haven’t by now TL;DR’d this series of posts and you’re following along closely, A-Jax is the second of three guys we traded for in July to help bolster the ballclub.  We traded Nick Franklin to get him.  Nick Franklin was an expendable trade chip who never really had a future in this organization once Robbie Cano was signed.  Austin Jackson was a very good, still-in-his-prime centerfielder with another year of team control in 2015.

The Mariners, of course, DESPERATELY needed a centerfielder.  With Guti taking the year off to get his health issues squared away (and no longer a centerfield prospect anymore, given his durability issues), with Abe Almonte a fucking zoo out there, and with James Jones’ absolute dearth of power, we didn’t have a whole lot of options.  A-Jax looked like a perfect fit.

In Detroit, from 2010-2013, A-Jax was worth no less than 3.4 wins per year.  He was a plus-fielder with quicks on the basepaths who could hit for some pop as well as for average.  He declined greatly in 2014, for reasons no one can quite fathom.  In Detroit this year, he was average-at-best, though his power and overall hitting numbers weren’t down dramatically.  Which makes you wonder if he took that huge step back in the field.  Either way, he was better than what we had in Seattle – or so we thought.

In Seattle, A-Jax batted .229/.267/.260.  He was good for 0.1 WAR.  And, not for nothing, but anecdotally he was a fucking disaster in big situations.  Seemed like whenever he had a man on base or otherwise an opportunity to positively affect a ballgame, he would instead ground into a double play or (at best) strike out.  He proved to be my least-favorite of the three mid-season acquisitions, and that’s REALLY saying something Kendrys Morales.

Outlook for 2015:  Still in Seattle, still starting in center, still batting leadoff.  At least out of Spring Training.  Beyond that, who’s to say?  If he plays like he did in the last two months of this season, you never know.  We may be talking about one of the many reasons why the 2015 Mariners DON’T make the playoffs.  Honestly, we’re REALLY counting on A-Jax to turn it around.  I highly doubt the Mariners are going to go out and find another guy to compete in center.  So, if A-Jax fails, and there’s no one in the minors to take his place, we’re proper fucked at a spot on the team where we’re banking on being set.  Just in case you were overwhelmed by the warm-fuzzies after this pleasant 2014 run, keep that in mind.

James Jones – In his first two months, James Jones was amazing.  He was everything Abe Almonte wasn’t.  He was crisp at the plate.  He wasn’t the most-refined in the outfield, but he was solid enough.  And, he was a wizard on the basepaths.

Then, July came around and he started falling off.  We all started noticing his faults.  Like:  how he wasn’t really improving as a centerfielder.  Like:  how he couldn’t hit for power.  Like:  how if he didn’t slap a single the other way, he couldn’t get on base to take advantage of those legs.  In the end, he lost his starting job, was sent back to Tacoma for a couple weeks, then returned exclusively as a bench player.

It’s the part he was born to play, baby!

Keep him away from the starting lineup, keep him out of center, and watch him shine.  He’s a plus-defender in the corner outfield, with speed and a strong arm.  Put him in during the later innings to replace Endy Chavez or whoever.  Pinch run him for Kendrys Morales or some other slow piece of crap.  He’s GOLD!

27 stolen bases in 28 attempts.  Very, very good.

14 extra-base hits in 312 at-bats (with only 12 walks vs. 67 strikeouts) is very, very BAD.  That’s factoring in how a lot of those doubles were hustle-doubles.

Outlook for 2015:  He needs to bulk up.  He needs to get a little more power into his bat.  He needs to retain how well he hit the outside pitch the other way, but he’s also gotta recognize pitches better and take MANY more walks.  His career will be built on a foundation of base-stealing.  If he wants that career to primarily take place in the Majors, then he needs to figure out a way to get on base with more regularity.  In an ideal world, he’d fix what’s wrong with him and be our fourth or fifth outfielder.  But, I got a feeling he’ll start out in Tacoma again.  Not the worst thing in the world.

Brad Miller – In following the Dustin Ackley Path To Success, Brad Miller was a mid-season call-up as a rookie and did quite well.  So well, in fact, that he pretty much earned his starting job without a fight.  Nevertheless, the Mariners put the short stop job up for grabs between Miller and Nick Franklin.  Didn’t matter, as Miller mopped the floor with him in the month of March.  The job was his, and everyone rejoiced.

Then the regular season started:

  • April:  .173/.212/.333 with 26 strikeouts in 81 at-bats
  • May:  .136/.260/.152 with 17 strikeouts and 1 extra-base hit in 66 at-bats

In June, he turned it around with:  .298/.355/.512 with 21 strikeouts in 84 at-bats.  But, then July happened:  .172/.262/.224 with 12 strikeouts and 3 extra-base hits in 58 at-bats.  On July 24th, Miller lost his starting job for good, with the promotion of Chris Taylor.  From that point on, they’d split duties, with Taylor getting the bulk of the looks the rest of the way in high-pressure games.

To his credit, Miller did turn his season around somewhat:

  • August:  .273/.357/.545 with 6 strikeouts and 4 extra-base hits in only 22 at-bats
  • September:  .314/.340/.549 with 13 strikeouts and 7 extra-base hits in 51 at-bats

On the whole, Miller’s 2014 was worse than his 2013, but he still has the potential to be a solid starting short stop in this league.  His power potential is undeniable.  His defense isn’t quite as good as Taylor’s, but he’s very athletic and there’s talk of him maybe converting to outfield (or, at least adding that to his repertoire to become a super-utility guy).  Normally, losing your starting position and getting that super-utility label is a death sentence, but in this case I’m willing to hear it out.

Outlook for 2015:  He will once again come in competing for the starting short stop job, this time against Chris Taylor.  If he mashes again like he did in Spring of 2014, he’s certain to win the job out of camp.  But, I have no doubt that if all things are equal with health, there will be a short leash on Miller if he struggles again in April.

Jesus Montero – You know the story:  we traded Michael Pineda and some other dude for Montero and Hector Noesi.  Noesi was a disaster who was finally DFA’d this year (and who became an okay starter for a struggling White Sox team).  Pineda has been mostly injured throughout his time with the Yankees, but at season’s end he flashed that potential he showed in Seattle as a rookie.

Jesus Montero, on the other hand, has been a fucking loser from the get-go.  First, he was our starting catcher of the future; that didn’t pan out.  Then, we looked to convert him to first base; that hasn’t gone well.  He’s a fat, immobile turd who gets to add “injury prone” to his list of descriptors.  Then, towards the end of the 2014 season, on a rehab assignment with the Everett Aqua Sox, functioning as a first base coach (which, not for nothing, is his future in the game:  a base coach for a single-A baseball team), Jesus Montero was baited into an altercation with an allegedly drunken scout (at the time) for the Seattle Mariners after that scout (again allegedly) sent him an ice cream sandwich and yelled at him to hustle more.

The scout was fired (and rightly so, because I like to give Montero shit, but even I know he was acting like a cunt), and Jesus Montero was suspended (probably because he went into the stands with a baseball bat in his hands, which is a huge no-no in sports).  Montero has since been reinstated, and is apparently being watched like a hawk by the Mariners’ front office.  There’s one last chance on the table for Montero in a Mariners uniform (or, more likely, for Montero as trade bait to try to recoup some of his tons of lost value).  They’ve got him in Arizona working out on a strict exercise program (because, you know, he came in fat to Spring Training 2014 and admitted as such in interviews that all he did was sit around and stuff his face during the offseason).

Outlook for 2015:  Once a loser, always a loser.  There will be all this crap written about how he’s in the “best shape of his life”, but that’ll probably mean that he’s lost all his power.  He’ll start out in Tacoma and continue to suck (if he’s not outright traded in the offseason as a throw-in to a much bigger deal).

Kendrys Morales – Sigh.  Here we go.

You remember him as a productive hitter for the Angels for a bunch of years.  Then, he broke his foot or some damn thing while celebrating a game-winning home run and he ended up losing his 2011 season.  The Mariners swapped Jason Vargas for him straight up prior to the 2013 season (after a decent, but not great 2012) and he had a decent, but not great first year with the club.

The big draw with Morales – aside from being a huge step up compared to the other DHs we’ve employed since Edgar Martinez retired – was that even though he’d be a free agent at season’s end, we could tender him and if he signed as a free agent elsewhere, we’d get a high draft pick (a first rounder most likely, unless it was one of the top 10 “protected” draft picks).  So, we offered him the tender – 1 year, $14.1 million – and of course he turned it down.  Reportedly, we even offered him a 3-year, $30 million deal, and he turned THAT down.  See, Scott Boras is his agent, and together they thought they could squeeze a little more out of the free agent market.

They couldn’t.  No one would sign him.  Because no one wants a broken down statue on the basepaths who can’t play first base because he’ll get hurt or need a few days off every time.  He’s a DH and nothing more, and not even that great of a DH at that.  .449 slugging percentage in 2013, playing almost every single day.  That’s crap.  When you bring nothing else to the table, then guess what:  you don’t get contract offers when it means a team has to give up a high draft pick.

In June, he signed with the Twins.  Again reportedly, the Mariners were interested in signing him during the season, but he wouldn’t have it.  So, we ended up trading for him, by giving the Twins Stephen Pryor (a reliever returning from major injury who was no longer the smoke-thrower he was pre-surgery).

Kendrys had 154 at bats with the Twins.  His numbers were bad (.234/.259/.325), but we all rationalized it away by saying, “He didn’t have a REAL Spring Training, so just consider his numbers with the Twins as his Spring.”

That oft-belabored talking point would soon switch to, “If the Mariners can just get Kendrys going down the stretch, everything should be all right with the offense.”  That’s because he was much, MUCH worse as a Seattle Mariner than he was as a Twin (hitting .207/.285/.347), so whenever he managed to do something right (which, again, wasn’t very often), we all had to hope and pray that THIS was the day that turned a slumping slugger who has “always hit” into what we thought we were getting as the centerpiece of our mid-season trades to bolster a contending team.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  But, at least Morales doesn’t have to worry about being tendered anymore.  Even if he DID qualify, there’s no way in FUCKING HELL that even the Mariners would be stupid enough to offer him a 1-year deal for $15.3 million.

Outlook for 2015:  If he had managed even a semi-reasonable finish to his 2014 season, I could’ve seen the Mariners trying to bring him back on a 2-3 year deal.  But, he looked so bad, I doubt it’d happen.  On top of that, I don’t think Morales wants to be here.  Truth be told, he never did (and proved it by signing with a last-place Twins team even though the Mariners were in contention this year and wanted him back), but after his disaster of a season, I think he’s going somewhere on a prove-it deal.  Some place like Baltimore or the Yankees or some other place he can DH in a small ballpark.  Get his numbers back up to where they should be, and then hopefully sign a final long-term deal for big money with the Rangers or some damn place.

Looking Back At The 2014 Mariners: The Hitters, Part I

Consider this the first in a series of looks back at the 2014 Mariners.  For once, it’s going to be more than, “They fucking sucked, I’m sick of thinking about this shit, I’ll see you in February.”  I’m sure I’ll toss out the usual “What Went Right” and “What Went Wrong” posts as time and desire permit, but right now I’m taking a look at the players.  In short, I’m going to list all the players who accumulated a stat for the 2014 Mariners, and I’m going to talk about each of them individually.

I’m also breaking this up into three parts, because we’re pushing 7,000 words here.

Dustin Ackley – Funny thing about Ackley.  If you’d followed the Mariners all season, you’d know that Ackley was one of the most important reasons for our continued success.  But, if you didn’t follow along, and you just now looked at his numbers on the surface, you’d think, “What’s the big fucking deal, bitch?”  He batted .245 this year; he batted .253 LAST year.  He walked only 32 times this year in 143 games; he walked 37 times last year in only 113 games.  What gives?

Well, for starters, his slugging went way up.  .398 vs. .341 last year.  That amounts to 27 doubles, 4 triples, and 14 homers, over last year’s 18/2/4 line on extra-base hits.

Then, take a look at his first half vs. second half.  At the end of the day on June 30, 2014, Ackley was hitting:  .214/.273/.329/.602, with 12 doubles, 2 triples, & 4 homers.  From July 1st onward, Ackley hit .274 with a slugging percentage of .463.  He hit 15 doubles, 2 triples, and a whopping 10 homers to really pick up the slack.  It might’ve been even better, but a nagging ankle injury in September limited his playing time and production.  His August was insane, though:  .280/.325/.533/.857.

So, what does all of this mean?  Haven’t we been seduced by this siren’s song before?  He played a little over half a season (from mid-June onward) as a rookie and did well.  He had a solid start to 2012 and then fell off the map.  He struggled for most of the first half of 2013 before turning it on in August (after enduring a monthlong stint in the minors to get his head right).  Then, in 2014, he struggled in the first half again – finding himself batting towards the bottom of the lineup – before turning it on in the second half.  Which Ackley is the real Ackley?  I’d like to believe he can uphold his second half numbers, but I’ll never be sure until I actually see it for a full year.

Outlook for 2015:  Ackley looks to be the Mariners’ starting left fielder once again, as well as our 2-hole hitter.  We’ll bank on him continuing to hit and play solid corner defense.  If all goes well, we’ve got our left fielder of the future, today.  If all goes to shit, then Ackley is nothing more than a 4th outfielder on a good team’s bench.

Abraham Almonte – On the heels of a pretty mediocre Spring Training, Almonte was handed the keys to the starting center field job as well as our leadoff hitter role.  He was fast, he was exciting at times, but he was raw and for as many amazing plays he made, he made twice as many mistakes.  In the end, he hit like shit and was sent down to Tacoma in early May.  He was later traded to the Padres for Chris Denorfia, where he went on to be a slightly better – but still quite mediocre – hitter.  And then in September, his playing time was cut drastically.

Outlook for 2015:  I have to imagine in AAA somewhere, but certainly not for the Mariners.

Willie Bloomquist – He was a guy – if you’re a Mariners fan – who nobody wanted.  And yet, he was a guy who the Mariners signed to a 2-year guaranteed deal to be this team’s primary utility infielder/outfielder.  And, in the first three and a half months, he played more than anyone would’ve liked, because the majority of this lineup sucked dick.  Particularly our short stop and our entire outfield.  As such, not only did Willie play a lot for a utility guy, but he batted near the top of the lineup.

And, if I’m being honest, he wasn’t The Worst.  He batted .278 and played solid defense.  He was a replacement-level god in a world of sub-replacement clods.  He held this team together in a lot of ways until other guys either improved on their own or came up from Tacoma.  Then, he had a season-ending injury.  But, it was okay.  Chris Taylor was slapping hits around, Ackley was turning it on, and trades were made to theoretically bolster the lineup.

Outlook for 2015:  He’s still under contract, so there’s that.  He had surgery, so I guess it all depends on how he recovers.  If he’s able to return to form, he should be good to have around on the bench.  If he’s not, then we’ll have to decide whether we want to eat the salary, or keep him around anyway as a veteran presence or some damn thing.  I tend to believe he’ll be here, but it wouldn’t kill me if he started the season in the Minors (so, on the DL, getting some extended Spring Training).

John Buck – He was our backup catcher, brought in on a 1-year deal, to back up Mike Zunino (with an outside shot at playing more regularly, depending on whether or not Zunino struggled at the Major League level).  He played in 27 games for the Mariners, he was pisspoor behind the plate, and he was even worse at bat.  He’ll be remembered for hitting a game-winning 2-run home run down in Atlanta, and then getting DFA’d on his birthday on July 7th after a 2-0 win at home over the Twins.  By all accounts, he was a great Clubhouse Guy (who may or may not have come up with the double-jackoff hand signals after guys reached base), but he was also a poor receiver who the pitchers wanted to be rid of.  Jesus Sucre was called up to replace him.  The Mariners would go on to lose their next three games and finish the month of July 7-12, inciting what many only I called the John Buck Curse.

Outlook for 2015:  He was apparently picked up in September by the Angels and played in five games.  The Angels would go on to have the best record in the American League, only to get swept in the ALDS by the Royals.  So, maybe the John Buck Curse has many different meanings.  He won’t be back with the Mariners and he likely won’t be back in baseball period.  All adequate things must come to an end.

Robinson Cano – You know the story:  10 years, $240 million.  He’s here through the 2023 season.  2014 was Year One.

  • The numbers:  .314/.382/.454/.836; 37 doubles, 2 triples, 14 homers, 10 stolen bases, 61 walks, 68 strikeouts, 82 RBI, 77 runs scored, 6.4 WAR, 1 heart stolen (mine, *swoon*)

Want to know how those numbers line up with his career figures?  Let’s take a look:

  • .310/.358/.499/.857; 41.2 doubles per year, 3 triples, 21.8 homers, 4.8 stolen bases (his 2014 total was a career-best), 41.1 walks, 75.7 strikeouts, 90.4 RBI, 87.6 runs scored, 4.88 WAR

His power numbers were a little down, but you had to expect that coming from a bandbox in the Bronx to a cavernous wasteland that is Safeco Field.  Nevertheless, if you go by WAR, this was the fourth-best season of his career.  And that’s in a lineup with not a whole lot around him in support.  There was Seager, and a lot of question marks and holes.  It’s no wonder Cano was among the league leaders in intentional walks.

Consider me a Cano Fan 4 Life after he won me $500 and gave me a good excuse to go back to Tahoe next year to claim my winnings.  We shouldn’t expect these types of numbers for the remaining nine years of his contract, but it’s a helluva start, and in my opinion he’s worth every fucking penny.

Outlook for 2015:  Starting second baseman, 3-hole hitter.  Mark it down in Sharpie.  MVP candidate?  You got it!  The guy who ultimately brings the Mariners back to the post-season?  Gosh I hope so!  Any way you slice it, I would expect numbers comparable to what he did in 2014, with little-to-no dropoff.

Endy Chavez – Like 2013, Endy Chavez signed a minor league deal to return to the Mariners in 2014.  Like 2013, Endy Chavez started the regular season in Tacoma.  This year, he first appeared on May 30th; I believe he had it written into his contract that if he wasn’t on the Mariners’ roster by the end of May, he could get his release and be free to sign elsewhere.

When Endy first played for the Mariners in 2009, he had speed and great fielding ability.  Then, Yuniesky Betancourt happened, causing Endy to tear an ACL.  Ever since, he’s lost much of that speed and fielding ability.  But, if you’re looking for a guy to come off the bench, play some corner outfield, play some emergency centerfield in a pinch, and hit .270 while slapping around a bunch of singles and never walking, then Endy Chavez is your guy!  In short, I like him for what he is.  I like him as THAT.  I don’t like it when he’s playing every day and I don’t like it when he’s batting near the top of the lineup.  Maybe if he walked more, but that’s never going to happen.

Outlook for 2015:  Surprisingly, Endy only played in 80 games this year.  Doesn’t it feel like A LOT more?  I guess if you factor in how he missed the first two months, he really did play in a high percentage (probably around 3/4 of all possible games).  I get the sense that the Mariners will bring him back once again on a minor league deal.  Because why not?  Is he really holding anyone else back?  Not from what I’ve seen.  I’ll take his .270 batting average over some of the stiffs we’ve had roaming the corner outfield spots of late.  If you figure the locks to make this outfield are Ackley, A-Jax, and Michael Saunders (with James Jones as an outside shot as a 4th guy); and if you figure that the Mariners are all but guaranteed to go out and get another outfielder to compete for a starting spot from outside the organization; then it really makes a lot of sense to bring Endy back, start him in Tacoma, and bring him up in late May again if there’s a need for bench help.

Chris Denorfia – He was one of three guys we acquired in trade in the month of July to help us with our stretch run.  We weren’t asking for a lot out of Denorfia:  platoon in right field with Endy Chavez/Michael Saunders when he was healthy, and hit well against left-handed pitchers.  What we got was remarkably less than what we expected.

In 2013, Denorfia was a 4-win player for San Diego, who also plays in a pitcher’s paradise.  He’s always been more or less a bench player in his career, but he got real starting time from 2011-2013 and made the most of it, accounting for a little over 7 wins in production during that time.  For whatever reason, in 2014 he fell off the proverbial cliff.  In 89 games with the Padres before being traded, he hit .242/.293/.319 – essentially the definition of replacement-level.  We picked him up and he hit .195/.256/.317, or just less than a replacement-level player.  In real-world numbers, he had 5 extra-base hits in 32 games.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper.  We brought this guy in to bat right-handed against left-handed pitchers.  How did he do in the role he was brought in for?

In 61 of 90 plate appearances, he hit .164/.246/.255, with 2 of his 5 extra-base hits.

So, in other words, he was an unmitigated disaster.  Chock that trade up as a huge FAIL, because I can all but guarantee that Abe Almonte could’ve EASILY surpassed those bullshit numbers.

Outlook for 2015:  Not a Mariner.  I don’t care where he ends up, as long as it’s not here.  He’ll probably get a minor league deal with an invite to camp somewhere to compete for another bench spot.  I’d say 50/50 he breaks camp with a Major League team.

Nick Franklin – In Spring Training, it was a battle between Nick Franklin and Brad Miller for the starting short stop job.  Remember that?  Remember how we signed Cano, thereby closing that position to Franklin who’d started there for much of 2013?  Remember how we had visions of turning Franklin into a reserve outfielder?

Anyway, Brad Miller was off-the-charts hot in Spring Training, and that was that for Franklin.  Until around mid-April, when he was called up because he was hitting so well and Miller wasn’t.  He proceeded to stink and by early June was back down in Tacoma again.

We would go on to trade him to the Rays in a 3-team deal that brought us Austin Jackson.  At the time, it looked like a gift from the Heavens.

Franklin wouldn’t make his Rays debut until September.  He played in 11 games for them in total.  In his first start, he had two hits with a double, an RBI, and a run scored.  He would go on to have only five more hits, two more extra-baggers, and that’s about it.

Outlook for 2015:  I guess contending for a roster spot with the Rays?  There’s a lot of team control left, so I’m sure he’ll have plenty of chances.  We’ll see.

Cole Gillespie – He’s another fringe, AAAA-type player who’s probably too good for Triple-A, but not good enough for the Majors.  And yet, I’m absolutely certain he would’ve been an improvement over Chris Denorfia.  He played in 34 games and did okay.  I still don’t quite remember why we let him go.  He played in 1 other Major League game after he left and I don’t know what’s going on now.

Outlook for 2015:  Sometimes you eat the bar …

Jack Zduriencik Receives “Multi-Year” Extension

Nobody really has any idea what this means, other than Jackie Z is getting rewarded for what is really his first successful season as a general manager.  Obviously, success is measured by how well your Major League ballclub does, and this year we’re looking at a team that’s 13 games above .500.

I must say, I’ve been quite pleased with the job Z has done this year.  The Cano deal looks like a slam dunk, the trade for LoMo has been a vast improvement over Justin Smoak, and the deals at the deadline were reasonable while at the same time not giving away all of our prized young talent.

I probably see these things a little differently than most, but the bottom line is:  Kendrys Morales is an improvement over the designated hitters we’ve had here before.  Austin Jackson is an improvement over James Jones and Abe Almonte.  Chris Denorfia gives us a solid right-handed platoon in right field.

Then, you have to factor in the pitching.  The Mariners REALLY got lucky that Randy Wolf threw a hissy fit and walked, thereby opening the door for Chris Young.  Nevertheless, Z went out and got him to sign and he’s been a thrilling success story.  Same goes for Fernando Rodney, who has been tasked with locking down this bullpen for two years.  Joe Beimel was another low-cost prospect who panned out.

At this point, it’s probably easier to look at which moves DIDN’T work, because that number is much smaller.  Corey Hart is an obvious disappointment, but you had to like the reasoning behind that signing when it happened.  John Buck is a guy who didn’t really work out, but who’s going to put a guy on blast for not hitting on a backup catcher?  Willie Bloomquist has been okay, but then he got hurt, and now you wonder why we’d go out and sign him to a 2-year deal when he probably should’ve been had for less.  Granted, we needed his versatility as a utility infielder early in the season, but was he ever going to be necessary in 2015?

The point is, after starting out this year at an all-time low as far as fan confidence is concerned, Z has rebounded quite nicely.  Cautiously optimistic is probably the phrase I’d use.  It doesn’t hurt that some of the younger guys are coming around a little bit (Ackley, for instance, if this thing is indeed for real).  I mean, when you’ve got the likes of Smoak, Montero, Ackley up until a few weeks ago, the Fister deal, the Figgins signing, and the 2013 outfield all under your belt … that’s a LOT to recover from!  You’d be foolish to revert back to In Jack We Trust again, but for now, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Frankly, it’s as much as he deserves, at least until we see some sustained success over a number of years.

This extension is like giving your teenage child the keys to your car the day they receive their driver’s license.  Yeah, you “trust” them, because you have to, but that doesn’t mean you’re not constantly worried for your car’s safety every moment they’re out there alone on those city streets.

Mariners Do Something: Evaluating The Trade Deadline Deals

Mariners trade Abraham Almonte (OF) & Stephen Kohlscheen (RP) to San Diego for Chris Denorfia (OF)

Chris Denorfia is a guy who can play the outfield.  He’s been more-or-less a regular presence since 2011, playing more-or-less everyday when healthy.  He bats right handed and apparently hits left handed pitching pretty well.  He’s got a very minimal amount of pop in his bat, but at least this means we don’t have to see both Endy Chavez AND James Jones in the same lineup at the same time.

In exchange, we gave up Abraham Almonte, who is a poor man’s James Jones.  And also whatever a Stephen Kohlscheen is.  Apparently, he’s a minor league relief pitcher.  BFD.  Denorfia is a free agent at the end of this year, which leads me to believe this is strictly a rental, because what free agent hitter in his right mind would opt to stick around this hellhole?

It’s another safe move in a long line of moves where the Mariners want to look like they’re doing something without actually doing something.  I suppose it beats any panic move where we sell off important future assets for pennies on the dollar.  But, just once, I’d like to see the Mariners really go to town and fleece someone good.

Mariners trade Nick Franklin (2B) to Rays, who trade David Price (SP) to Tigers, who trade Austin Jackson (OF) to Mariners (the Rays also got Drew Smyly (SP) from the Tigers … and I guess a young minor leaguer?)

Or, I could just put it like this, to make it less confusing:

Mariners trade Nick Franklin (2B) for Austin Jackson (OF)

Nick Franklin was blocked at second base, obvs.  Nick Franklin is not what you should be looking for in a starting short stop, defensively-speaking.  Nick Franklin strikes out a shit-ton and seems to be too in love with the long ball (maybe if he was actually BETTER at hitting the long ball, this wouldn’t be a bad thing, but he’s literally a Smurf – three apples tall – so no).

In short, we had no use for Nick Franklin, unless we were going to take the time and effort to turn him into a super utility bench player, which was never going to happen.  He was always good in the minors.  He was good for a bit in 2013 with the Mariners, then he stunk.  He lost the battle for the short stop spot in Spring Training 2014, then he didn’t get much of a shot with the Mariners thereafter, and when he did he stunk even worse than last year.  Nick Franklin was a fucking useless, non-lethal appendage:  it didn’t hurt to have him as part of your organization, but it didn’t help either.

Austin Jackson is your new starting center fielder.  He’s 27 years old, bats righty, leads off a lineup, and is under contract through 2015.  He’ll steal you a base occasionally, he’s already got one of the best on-base percentages on the team, and he’s already hit 25 doubles in his first 99 games of the season.  Austin Jackson is so much better than Endy Chavez and James Jones, I can’t even see straight!

Further Analysis

When you tack on these two moves with the Pryor for Morales trade, you finally start seeing some semblance of an offense taking shape.  People are already trying to condemn the Morales move as a failed experiment, even though he’s been with the team a whole week, but I’m not going to give up on a tried and true hitter just yet.

Here’s what I expect a lineup to look like:

  1. Austin Jackson (CF)
  2. Dustin Ackley/Michael Saunders (LF)
  3. Robbie Cano (2B)
  4. Kendrys Morales (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Mike Zunino (C)
  7. Chris Denorfia/Endy Chavez (RF)
  8. Logan Morrison (1B)
  9. Chris Taylor/Brad Miller (SS)

You probably have to platoon Denorfia.  He’ll play against all lefty pitchers and some righties.  With Jackson starting every day, there’s probably no need to keep Jones.  Better to send Jones to Tacoma, let him get CF reps on a daily basis (especially with Almonte going to the Padres).  Have to imagine this is also curtains for Stefen Romero, because he’s also useless, but actively hurting our big league club every time he gets a start.

The question remains:  what happens when Paxton is activated for his start on Saturday?  Either the Mariners DFA Corey Hart, or they send down one of their relievers.  By my count, we have 8 relievers, which is probably 1 too many.  I could see this going either way, to tell you the truth.  With the reliever sent down, we don’t have to DFA anyone.  Do we want to keep Hart around as a pinch hitter and a seldom-used DH/1B?  Sigh, I guess.  I know we have Smoak and Montero down in Tacoma to use in case of injury, but who gives a damn at this point?

We’re knocking Hart out of the everyday lineup, so that’s a start.  Maybe he can start to get his timing back by hitting the batting cages extra hard.  He’s certainly more of a threat as a pinch hitter than Romero, and probably more of a threat than either Smoak or Montero, so whatever.

All in all, not a bad day.  We didn’t get Zobrist or Price or Lester, so you can forget about a serious threat at the World Series.  But, on the plus side, we’ve locked down our center field position for 2015.  That’s one less guy we’d have to go get in the offseason.

Two months to go.  Let’s see what the boys can do.

3 Months In: How About Them M’s?

45-38.  +56 in run differential, which places us second in all of Major League Baseball (behind the A’s, who are a fucking brickhouse).  Third place in the division (3 games in the loss column behind the Angels), 1.5 games ahead of the next-best teams for the second Wild Card spot.

We’re in there!  We’re doin’ it!  Scrapping, yelling, mixing it up!  And yet, it seemed so impossible only three months ago.

Three months ago, I was of the opinion that everything had to go right for this team to do what it’s doing right now.  To be fair, a lot has gone right, but it’s by no means a perfect storm.  After the first month of the season, it felt like the same ol’ Mariners.  A big, fat, 8-game losing streak ruined what was an otherwise fine first couple weeks of the season.  And, thus far, this season as a whole has come to be defined by that losing streak.  There’s the Mariners through the 8-game losing streak:  7-13, hopelessly out-matched by teams like the Marlins and Astros (thought to be the two worst teams in all of baseball), ready to run out the string of shitty performances like we have in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008, 2006, and so on.

And then, there’s the Mariners AFTER the 8-game losing streak:  38-25, amazing pitching, just enough hitting on most nights, an absolutely lights out bullpen, and a leader getting the most out of his players on a daily basis.

People still talk about the 8-game losing streak like it was an asteroid striking the Earth and wiping out civilization as we know it.  In a way, it did.  It destroyed the early-season bandwagon jumpers straight away.  All that was left were the hardcore, die hard Mariners fans.  Who watch games on a regular basis even though they have eyes and are able to comprehend simple arithmetic.  We the lowly, we the shivering, we the starving for a contender.  Any scraps or morsels of winning baseball, we pounce on and hungrily devour.  And since that 8-game losing streak, we have THRIVED!  My God, what a glorious last couple of months!  Two straight months of winning baseball, capped off by an 18-10 run in the month of June.

April seems so long ago now.  Remember when Abraham Almonte played in 27 games and started almost every one in centerfield, as our leadoff hitter?  Remember how he batted .198 with streaky defense and streakier base running?

Remember when James Paxton had two good-lookin’ starts out of Spring Training before being injured?  Remember how he was supposed to be back by now?

Remember how we lost Taijuan Walker to injury in Spring Training?  Remember how he just returned last night and threw himself a Quality Start?

Remember Kyle Seager’s slump to start the season?  And then he single-handedly ended the infamous 8-game losing streak and subsequently went on a tear that saw him raise his slash line from .156/.280/.219/.499 to what it is today:  .274/.345/.483/.828.  Even Kyle Seager defines his season by that 8-game losing streak!  Where his fortunes go, our fortunes go.  At the start, Seager was hovering near the bottom of the lineup, and now he’s entrenched as our cleanup hitter!

Remember how Iwakuma missed the first month of the season?  He hasn’t been his regular, Cy Young-ish self since his return, but he’s been plenty damn good, and certainly a huge upgrade over some of these other starters we’ve used.

It’s been a rough go with injuries, but I guess most every team could say that.  What’s most impressive is how players have responded.  Felix Hernandez is probably having his best-ever season, and that’s saying a lot, considering – in my estimation – he’s the best pitcher in baseball.  In this era of dominant pitching, it would be an amazing achievement for him to get his second Cy Young Award.

Roenis Elias has stepped up HUGE.  I don’t think anyone expected a whole lot out of him to start the year.  I know, for me, I was just hoping that he’d sort of be okay for a month until the rest of our rotation returned from injury.  Instead, those guys have had significant set-backs, and Elias has picked up the slack in a huge way.  What’s even more impressive:  Elias has a lot of room for growth; who knows what he’ll be doing in a year or two?!

Remember Randy Wolf?  Remember how he was supposed to be a thing?  And remember how he left the team because we wanted him to sign a contract that would allow us to cut him after 45 days, without penalty?  Yeah, he got REAL pissy with a process that happens ALL THE TIME.  Guys like Randy Wolf are a dime a dozen.  They don’t deserve guaranteed contracts because they’re old and coming off of injury.  They deserve what they get:  a safety net for the team that’s sticking its neck out by giving this guy a chance.  So, Randy Wolf split, and on the year he has appeared in six games.  He’s 1-3 with a 5.26 ERA, and it doesn’t appear that he has a job at the moment.  If he does, it’s not with a Major League team.

The Mariners, meanwhile, went out and picked up Chris Young, who was only more than happy to sign that contract with that 45-day clause.  He felt it was better to prove oneself and EARN that full-year pick up.  And, as it turned out, circumstances dictated that he was necessary to have in the rotation, with all the injuries and poor performances from guys like Ramirez and Maurer.  So, what did he do, with the circumstances he was given?  Made the most of them and proceeded to kick a lot of Major League ass!  He’s the current owner of a 3.15 ERA and MOUNTAINS full of regression potential.  But, that’s neither here nor there, because you can’t take away his first three months of the season, and those first three months have been AMAZING!

This could have been yours, Randy Wolf.  But, you let pride get in the way.  Tsk tsk.

For as solid as the rotation has been (or, at least, 4/5 of the rotation), the bullpen has been even better.  Currently, all but one guy has an ERA under 4 in the bullpen.  And that one guy?  Our eighth man, Brandon Maurer, who recently converted to the ‘pen and introduced the world to his 99mph fastball.

I can’t say enough good things about the bullpen.  If this team was ever going to go anywhere, the bullpen needed to over-perform its pre-season projections.  And it has, in spades.  Fernando Rodney has been one of the few (only?) free agent closers to sign with a new team this past off-season and be worth the money he’s been given.  It was dicey to start, but Rodney has really come on since about mid-May or so.  His save opportunities aren’t NEARLY as frightening as they were to start the season.  He has better command of his stuff.  And, finally, he has quieted those of us (myself included) who thought Farquhar deserved a crack at the closer’s job.  With Rodney in there locking shit down, that bumps everyone else back a level, and they seem to be handling it with great alacrity.

Leone has been good, Medina has been good, Farquhar has been good, Hell, even Wilhelmsen has been good!  Those are four really good right-handed set-up men, not counting Maurer, who has been lights out in his few bullpen appearances.  Joe Beimel has been rock-solid from the left side, if a bit underutilized (though, I guess with a guy his age – 37 – you probably want to keep him fresh by using him less often).  And, while Furbush has had his moments of being truly awful, he has picked it up of late, and there really isn’t any other option from the left side that you feel confident about.

On the offensive side of things, we’ve been just as unlucky with injuries.  Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison, and Corey Hart have all spent time on the DL.  That’s a starting corner outfielder, a starting first baseman, a platoon outfielder/first baseman, and our starting designated hitter, all missing significant time.  The jury is still out on these guys, but thus far Saunders has looked really good, Smoak has looked really bad, LoMo has looked great since his return (and since he was given a chance to play everyday), and Hart looks incomplete.

Compounding the problem, the usual and unusual suspects have underperformed.  Dustin Ackley had one short stretch of goodness surrounded by an ocean of ineptitude.  Brad Miller really took a shit after one of the hottest Spring Trainings I’ve ever seen.  Almonte was given too long of a leash.  Nick Franklin was a strikeout machine in his two brief call-ups.  Stefen Romero could never take advantage of the opportunity he was given.  And while Zunino has shown brilliance behind the plate, his discipline AT the plate leaves a lot to be desired.

Nevertheless, there have been just enough bright spots to be pleasantly surprised.  At the top of that list, as far as hitters are concerned, is Robinson Cano.  He has been WELL worth the $240 million paycheck, at least in the first half of his first season here.  We’ll see how the rest of it goes, but it’s nice knowing we have at least one guy we can count on, day-in and day-out.

The aforementioned Kyle Seager has been another.  I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m surprised by his performance, but it is pretty thrilling to see what he’s done at home this year.  11 of his 12 bombs have come at Safeco, and his splits from there are pretty mesmerizing (you have to figure his road numbers will pick up in a matter of time).

James Jones has been rock solid since coming up to replace Almonte.  He’s like Almonte with a better contact rate, and not as skittish in the field or on the basepaths.  Almonte could be a disaster, or he could make other teams look foolish, but there was rarely an in-between where you felt comfortable with him out there.  Jones, on the other hand, is a calming influence.  And, not for nothing, but he’s up to 17 stolen bases with only 1 time being thrown out.  This guy slaps an infield single, and he’s on third in moments!

When you tack on Saunders’ solid play, with the surging Morrison and the power-streaky Zunino, and you’ve got six guys who range from “amazing” to “pretty good”.  Then, factor in Brad Miller’s improvement in the month of June, and Endy Chavez’s ability to hit a lot of singles and nothing else … well, you get the idea.

As the fan said in the movie Major League, “Ya know, these guys ain’t so fuckin’ bad.”  This is a team that had a lot of holes coming out of Spring Training.  Shockingly, they’ve managed to fill a lot of those holes with guys inside the organization.  If I were to rate the roster based on various confidence levels, this team has more positives than negatives.  Let’s go down the list:

I Feel Great About:

  • Felix Hernandez (SP)
  • Robinson Cano (2B)
  • Kyle Seager (3B)

I Feel Good About:

  • Mike Zunino (C)
  • Hisashi Iwakuma (SP)
  • Roenis Elias (SP)
  • Michael Saunders (OF)
  • James Jones (CF)
  • Everyone In The Bullpen

I Feel Adequate About:

  • Logan Morrison (1B/DH)
  • Brad Miller (SS)
  • Chris Young (SP)
  • Taijuan Walker (SP)
  • Justin Smoak (1B)
  • Cole Gillespie (OF)
  • Endy Chavez (OF)
  • Willie Bloomquist (INF)
  • John Buck (C)

I Feel Bad About:

  • Dustin Ackley (LF)
  • Corey Hart (DH)

There’s really only two guys I don’t trust, who figure to have a big impact on this team.  Two guys who I would be more than happy to replace with outside help at the trade deadline.  This team needs a new left fielder in the worst way.  It also needs someone to pick up the slack at DH.  If it were up to me, we’d leave LoMo at first base and see if he can continue this run he’s been on.  If he starts to falter, then maybe platoon him with Smoak.  But, either way, someone to play DH is a must.

But, who knows?  Maybe this organization struggles to make any trades and is forced to take another look at the guys we’ve got now.  Maybe Corey Hart finds his timing again and rips off a nice little second half.  Maybe Smoak gets healthy and turns it around.  Maybe Ackley has a fire lit under his ass with all this talk about the Mariners trying to unload him for nothing.

Or, maybe the Mariners fall apart in the second half and we go back to ripping this team on a weekly basis.  The fact of the matter is, I’m actually excited for what the second half could bring for this team.  I’m excited about the future, and for vastly different reasons than before!  Because the future isn’t some nebulous, intangible blob way off in the distance.  The future is here and now!  Right before us!  Three more months to go!

Three more months before – dare I say – a little bit more?

Random Thoughts of the Week 5 Mariners

Running out of different combinations of titles for these weekly posts …

There were five games played in the last week, thanks to a New York rainout.  The Mariners went 4-1, losing on Friday when Felix and the bullpen didn’t really have their best stuff.

Things are looking up since that 8-game losing streak.  Let me be one of many who have already brought this up, but the Mariners have gone 7-2 since that losing streak, and both losses were the Felix starts.  The Mariners kick off week 6 one game under .500.  I’ve been thinking about it and this is probably as good as it gets.  The Mariners are, as presently constructed, around a .500 team.  If they can SOMEHOW stay around .500 through the rest of the month, we’re looking at a POSSIBLE best-case-scenario type of thing.

As I’ve talked about repeatedly, this starting rotation isn’t going to do it.  The Mariners have too many long-reliever types (Maurer, Young, Ramirez) starting games for us, and zero long-reliever types in the actual bullpen where they’re needed.  This bullpen has been pretty shoddily used, but it’s also done a tremendous job given the circumstances.

Take out Felix & Roenis Elias and the rest of our starters have combined for 69.1 innings over 14 starts, which amounts to LESS than 5 innings per start.  Hell, if you throw Elias into the mix, you’re still talking about 104.1 innings over 20 starts, which is just a little over 5 innings per start.  I mean, say what you will about the bullpen, but they have been seriously overworked.  Seriously overworked WITHOUT a long reliever in the unit.

Now, obviously, Chris Young won’t be going anywhere.  If nothing else, he could be a valued long man if Paxton & Walker manage to return this season.  That’ll be nice to have, because it’ll mean Maurer and Ramirez will remain down in AAA where they belong.  And, it’ll be nice because, obviously, we’ll have Paxton & Walker back, and they should be vast improvements over the alternative.

In other news, Iwakuma returned over the weekend and did pretty well.  He pitched into the seventh inning, kept us in it, and got the win.  HUGE boost to the team; here’s to hoping that he sticks around for the rest of the season.

Robinson Cano is still a godsend.

Michael Saunders has been on quite the hot streak over the last week and change.  You still don’t want to see him in the everyday lineup long term, but it couldn’t hurt riding this out while he has the scorching bat.

Abraham Almonte was sent down after yesterday’s game.  To start the season, the good out-weighed the bad with him, but over the last 3-4 weeks, he’s been pretty much a disaster.  Considering he never really did all that much in Spring Training (yet, somehow earned daily starts in center and at the top of the lineup), I can’t imagine him returning to the Major Leagues any time soon.  I don’t know what the team saw in him to give him so many chances, but you’re not going to win too many games on “potential”.

Someone I do see some potential in is Stefen Romero.  He’s not necessarily rocking my socks off or anything, but he’s steadily gotten more playing time and is starting to look more comfortable at the plate.  In the last 7 games he’s played in, he’s 7 for 27 with 2 doubles, 1 triple, 5 runs scored and an RBI.  Again, they’re not the best numbers I’ve ever seen, but I’d like to see him get some steady playing time through the rest of this month to see what he’s got.  He passes the eyeball test as a guy who will get on base and will hit for a little pop.  At the very least, he’s not a guy the other teams will feel the need to pull a defensive shift on (words can’t describe how tired I am of the shift; why can’t these batters just hit the ball the other way once in a while?).

Charlie Furbush is terrible.  He had a good year last year, which goes to show just how wild relievers will vary from season to season.  He looks like another one of those guys who doesn’t know where the ball is going to end up when it leaves his hand.  He also throws a very flat ball, which can’t be too terribly difficult to hit.  His ERA in the month of May after two appearances is infinity.  The manager has clearly lost some confidence in him, but what can we do?  Lucas Luetge is no better.  I don’t even know who we have beyond that in our bullpen.

Someone mind telling me again why we didn’t re-sign Oliver Perez?  He ended up signing a 2-year deal for a little over $4 million TOTAL with the Diamondbacks.  You’re telling me we couldn’t have gone 2 years, $5 million?  Hell, in the month of May alone, he’s infinity better than Furbush, and Perez hasn’t really been all that good this year!

Sometimes, I get the feeling that this Mariners front office doesn’t know what the fuck it’s doing, but maybe it’s just me.