Another Series Played, Another Series Lost By The Mariners

The Mariners scored a season-high 6 runs on Wednesday to salvage one game of the 3-game series in Toronto. Five of those runs came in the 10th inning.

If a Mariners game leaving regulation tied at 1-1 sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it also happened in the Red Sox series, when we gave up 2 runs in the top half of the 10th, before exploding for 3 runs in the bottom half to walk it off.

The Mariners have played 13 games this season. They have a 5-8 record. Two of those wins came in our only two extra-innings games. I think you know where I’m going with this. From innings 1-9, the Mariners have scored a total of 34 runs, or 2.62 runs per regulation-length game. And they’ve scored 8 runs in the 10th inning of games. So, really, it’s just a matter of keeping the game tied as long as possible!

There’s nothing good or pleasant to say about this team, so I have to resort to that kind of bullshit to keep myself entertained. We lost on Monday thanks to another lousy fucking start from Luis Castillo. Another 5-inning, 4-run affair from the world’s most mediocre ace. That’s three games now, none of which have seen him get out of the 6th inning. He’s given up 4 runs in each of them, 2 homers, and 25 (!) hits. At times, he’s wildly unlucky, with guys poking filthy stuff off the plate for singles; at other times, he’s serving up ding-dongers right down the middle. It all adds up to him being unquestionably our worst starter so far; yeah, I said it!

We lost on Tuesday thanks to another abysmal outing by George Kirby. Looks like I was premature in labelling him the best starter on the team after his initial outing. Once again, he got crushed because he doesn’t know how to NOT throw strikes. Free-swingin’ teams are going to have a field day every time he takes the mound, because all he wants to do is throw first-pitch strikes, second-pitch strikes, and third-pitch strikes. Until he learns to start pitching backwards – because CLEARLY his reputation preceeds him – I just don’t see how he’s going to develop into a fully-rounded pitcher.

We also lost those games, of course, because the offense failed to bail out our struggling starters. To the bullpen’s credit, they only gave up 1 run across 7 innings of work. But, there’s no comeback and very little fight in this offense.

I mean, shit, we damn near squandered another gem from Logan Gilbert on Wednesday. He went 7.2 innings, held them to 1 run on 5 hits and a walk, while striking out 8. He couldn’t quite get through eight, even though he was at 89 pitches, but Andres Munoz got him out of the jam, and kept the game tied through the bottom of the 9th.

That’s when, finally, guys started hitting. Cal Raleigh had a 2-run bomb, Ty France had an RBI double, and Mitch Haniger had a 2-run single.

If I had to dig deep and find something vaguely interesting to talk about this offense, I think it has to be this: last year – and for probably the last decade-plus – we lamented the lack of production out of the bottom of the order. To the point where many fans have charged that these black holes are keeping us from making the playoffs. I know I’ve definitely banged that drum!

But, when you sit down and think about it logically, the fact of the matter is, the Mariners are only going as far as the top of the order takes them. If you’re sitting there worried about what hitters 7-9 are doing, you’re missing the point. This season – through 13 games, anyway – is really proving that point. Because it’s largely been the bottom of the order that’s been doing the most damage.

Dom Canzone might not be an All Star or anything, but he’s far and away leading this team in slugging with .567! He’s the team leader in homers with 3, he’s tied for the lead in extra-base hits with 4, he’s second in RBI with 6, he’s second in total bases, and tied for first in WAR. And he’s only tied for sixth in hits with 7! When he puts the bat to the ball, it goes far, and I just might have some words to eat after calling him the Spring Training Mirage.

Ty France has been hitting so much at the bottom of the order that he’s worked his way back up to the 3-hole! He’s got a .316 average and leads the team with 12 hits (even though he missed three games with paternity leave)! Dylan Moore, Josh Rojas, and even Luis Urias are all slugging over .400, which isn’t any kind of phenomenal bar to clear, but do you know how many of our top-of-the-order and middle-of-the-order hitters are slugging over .400? Mitch Haniger, end of list.

Cal Raleigh, J.P. Crawford, Mitch Garver, Julio Rodriguez, and especially Jorge Polanco have all SUUUUUUUCKED so far. Polanco has done so poorly he’s dropped to fifth in the lineup, and I don’t think we’re too far away from him getting a rest day, or dropping towards the bottom for a spell.

Those are your studs. Those are the guys (plus Haniger) you’re counting on to take you to the promised land. And you’re getting next-to-nothing from them.

So, yeah, that’s where we’re at. We have an off-day, then it’s home for the Cubbies. I guess the good news is the fact that no one is really running away with the A.L. West yet. Not that I’m standings-watching or anything.

The Mariners’ Everything Looks As Bad As Expected

I don’t know what we’re doing here. We can’t string together back-to-back quality starts to save our lives, our defense is a God damn trainwreck, we’re still sucking at the plate as per usual. It’s all bad. Everything about the Mariners is bad. We’re somehow 4-6, but it feels like we should be 0-10.

The first game in Milwaukee showed some promise. But, just as much – if not more – left us with a lot of doubts. After an incredible first start to the season, Logan Gilbert gave up three bombs (4 runs total) in 5.2 innings. What’s worse is that the offense FINALLY came alive in the top of the sixth – to tie the game at 3-3 – only for Logan to give up a homer in the bottom half. We somehow managed to bridge the game down just one run in the bottom of the 8th, when Ryne Stanek – our second-best reliever – gave up three hits to give the Brewers a little extra cushion.

All that being said, credit where it’s due, the offense rallied again – this time in the top of the 9th – to score twice and force the blown save to tie the game at 5-5. Unfortunately, with Julio standing at second, Mitch Haniger couldn’t get him home. We were stuck going with our first-best reliever – Andres Munoz – who promptly walked four guys around just the one strikeout, to walk-off-walk the game to its conclusion.

On Saturday, we got probably the best start of young Bryce Miller’s career: 7 shutout innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, on only 78 pitches. To much fan consternation, Scott Servais didn’t let him go out for the 8th, but honestly I get it. It’s his second year in the pros, he was heading into the heart of the order for the third time, why ruin a perfectly fine boost of confidence?

The second-guessers were nearly proven right, though, as the bullpen immediately turned a 4-0 lead into a 4-3 nailbiter. We did manage to add an insurance run before Munoz took another crack at pitching in a Major League Baseball game, which he passed with flying colors. Because obviously a guy in a save situation is going to try harder than a guy in a tie game.

Still looking for our first series win of the season, the Mariners had a third consecutive game where a pitcher on our staff got absolutely abused. In this case, Emerson Hancock got obliterated, from the moment he stepped on the mound. We squeezed 3.1 innings out of him, but he gave up 8 runs on 11 hits, with 1 walk, and 6 strikeouts. Caught a lot of the plate, was WAY too fastball-heavy early in the game, and his breaking pitches stunk (hence the over-reliance on the heater). Tayler Saucedo ate up 2.2 innings of shutout ball, but otherwise this was the SECOND time Josh Rojas has had to come in to pitch in a blowout, for those keeping track at home. 10 games, two Josh Rojas pitching appearances. That’s how our season is going.

It’s just so fucking demoralizing to follow this team. Every time you want to believe, they slap you with a big, fat dose of reality: the Same Ol’ Mariners are always gonna Same Ol’ Mariners. The hitting is always going to stink. Crappy defense is a new wrinkle, but at the same time not totally unprecedented. Recall back to the “glory days” of Jackie Z, when he kept bringing in the Mark Trumbos and Jesus Monteros of the world. Sacrifice a little defense in the hopes that the offense will more than make up for it. Except, SURPRISE, in Seattle that offense doesn’t play, and now you get crap defense to boot!

What I’m struggling with the most has to be the pitching. And you can’t even blame bullpen injuries for this. We’re two turns through the rotation; every starter has had one good game and one crap game, except for Luis Castillo – ostensibly our ace – who has TWO crap games (more on him in a few days, after I write about his latest fucking debacle). That kind of inconsistency isn’t going to cut it. Not with the way the hitting is going to forever struggle, and not with the way the defense is going to give teams extra outs.

We’re 23rd in ERA. We have 3 Quality Starts in 10 games. We’re middle of the road in WHIP. We’re tied for the 4th-most home runs given up (7 of the 10 games played in Seattle!), and we have the 8th-highest opponent batting average. And these are just the run of the mill dummy stats; I’m sure analytics aren’t looking at the Mariners too kindly either.

But, you know, that’s Mariners baseball. It’s a shit sandwich, all the fucking time, forever.

The Mariners’ Defense Looks As Bad As Expected

The bad defense didn’t show up all over the box score. In fact, there wasn’t a single unearned run in the entire 2-1 series loss to the Guardians. But, so far this season, there’s been a neverending barrage of plays guys are failing to make for their pitchers. It’s no small part of the reason why Castillo and Kirby had such bad days in the two losses. Even if they’re not necessarily considered errors, they’re still plays that should’ve been made. Giving teams extra outs – even middle-of-the-road teams like the Guardians – will get you beat every time.

This series started off so promising, with a 5-4 victory on Monday. Emerson Hancock made his 2024 debut, going 5.1 innings and holding them to only 3 runs. And, other than Munoz giving up a solo homer to the heart of the order in the 8th, the bullpen locked this one down pretty good.

It was especially encouraging because we saw the continued hot start to Ty France’s season (with 2 more hits and a walk), as well as a massive 3-run bomb by Dominic Canzone to center field. I’m entirely doubting Canzone’s ability to do this on a regular basis, but no one would be happier to be wrong if he decides to pan out!

Tuesday saw another underwhelming performance from Luis Castillo (again, aided by poor defense). 5.2 innings, 10 hits, 4 runs, 1 walk, and 7 K’s. He got off to a blazing start through the first three innings, then trailed off, suffering from One Big Inning (3 runs in the 4th) and another little inning (1 run in the 5th).

Of course, there’s not a lot you can do when the bats sleep through the first two-thirds of the game. We didn’t score until the 7th inning, thanks to a 1 for 13 performance with RISP.

The less said about Wednesday’s 8-0 shutout, the better. 4 measly singles and a double were all that could be mustered by the Mariners’ offense. Kirby had an all-around poor day, giving up all 8 runs in 3.2 innings (not all of that is attributable to poor defense, since he gave up 10 hits and only struck out 2).

For those keeping track at home, the Mariners’ offense has struck out 74 times in 7 games, tied for the second-most in baseball (and the Dodgers, who are first with 82, have played in 2 more games, and are also 7-2 and in first place in the N.L. West, so they get a pass).

We are 27th in batting average (.196), 28th in on-base percentage (.261), and 29th in slugging (.289). All in all, that adds up to 30th in OPS (.550).

Is it scheme/philosophy? Is it talent on the roster? Is it this pesky Seattle weather? You know, just once I’d like for this team to start out the season on the road, so we’re not always having to go from the warmth of Arizona, to the dank freeze of the Pacific Northwest.

I will say that part of the problem is the fact that only Ty France and Josh Rojas are actually hitting well. Julio, J.P., and Polanco are all out to lunch. Everyone else is about where I’d expect them to be a week into the season. Honestly, it feels like a miracle that the Mariners are as good as 3-4, considering it would’ve been conceivable for them to lose every single one of these games. We’ll see what week 2 holds.

The Mariners’ Offense Looks As Bad As Expected

The Mariners came out of that 4-game Red Sox series with a 2-2 split. It’s probably as good of an outcome as we could have expected, considering one of those wins came 1-0, and the other necessitated overcoming a 2-run deficit in the bottom of the 10th inning (after the game was tied 1-1 through regulation). By all rights, that should’ve been a 4-game sweep with the Mariners losing all four, but here we are.

We scored 10 runs in four games, so that’s not ideal. After that first game, the pitching started to come alive, but as you’ll see, there’s a difference between the high-end pitching, and everyone else.

George Kirby is the best pitcher on this team. He came out on Friday and dominated, throwing 6.2 scoreless innings, giving up 2 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 8. Speier got him out of the 7th inning with our lead intact, Stanek got two outs in the 8th, and Munoz got the 4-out save to preserve our first win of the season. J.P. Crawford hit a solo homer in the 6th for our only scoring of the day.

Saturday was another pitching-heavy day, with Logan Gilbert going 7 innings, giving up just the 1 run. He looked equally as phenomenal as Kirby, giving up 4 hits, 1 walk, while striking out 8. Lots of great movement on his pitches, with only one little mini-jam that he was able to work out of in the 5th.

The bullpen kept things square at 1-1 through nine innings. The M’s scored in their first and final frames in this one. Haniger hit an RBI single in the bottom of the first to kick off the scoring. Then, we did absolutely nothing until the 10th. We needed that 10th inning explosion, because Trent Thorton made his first 2024 appearance and looked A LOT like 2023 Trent Thornton, promptly giving up 2 runs (1 earned, 1 inherited) in 0.2 innings before being relieved. Thankfully, we kept the damage to 2 runs, and we mounted our first (and, to date, only) extended rally of the season, punctuated by Julio Rodriguez’s first-ever game-winning hit of any kind (in this case, a single to right to score Rojas from third).

The good vibes couldn’t extend to Sunday, as the Mariners had no juice whatsoever, losing 5-1. Bryce Miller gave up 4 runs in 5 innings, and the offense had nothing going.

In total, the Mariners struck out 45 times in their first four games. That’s third most in all of baseball, and one of the teams ahead of us – the Dodgers – have already played two more games. So, you know, not great. Everything we heard about this offseason revolved around cutting down on strikeouts.

As for the offensive implosion, we hired this “Offensive Coordinator”, which sounds like one of those moves a team makes that is – within a year – roundly mocked for being as stupid as we all expected it to be coming into the season. He was supposed to help our hitting coaches to – among other things – get this offense going EARLIER, so we’re not totally flailing at the plate in April and May. Well, today’s April 1st, so maybe his job didn’t quite get started for those pesky March games.

I dunno, does Boston have great pitching? They didn’t seem all that impressive to me. But, regardless, we’re second-to-last in batting average, dead last in OBP, second-to-last in slugging, and the only reason we’re not dead last in runs scored is because the three teams below us have only played three games.

I get it, it’s one series. It’s so damn early. There’s plenty of time for things to get going. But also, until these guys start performing, all they’re going to do is confirm our worst suspicions about this team. Which is only going to rile up the fanbase that much more.

I wouldn’t say I feel great about the Mariners right now. But, I also wouldn’t say my opinion has changed from this time last week. It’s a long season. Let’s just hope it’s not also a LONG season.

2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part I: Run Prevention

It’s interesting how opinions can shift. Just two months ago, I was ranting and raving about the F-grade the Mariners deserved for this offseason (not necessarily the grade Jerry Dipoto & Co. earned, but the organization as a whole, starting first & foremost with ownership). Since then, it should be pointed out, three very important personnel moves were made. We traded for Jorge Polanco to shore up second base. We traded for Gregory Santos to shore up the back-end of our bullpen. Then, we signed Ryne Stanek after it became clear Santos (and Brash) wouldn’t be healthy enough to break camp with the Mariners out of Spring Training. You’re talking about some much-needed depth, and you’re also talking about – when healthy – a team that should at least hang around.

On top of those moves, the other thing that’s happened in the subsequent two months since I wrote that post is that the Mariners have had their entire Spring Training session. We have some more information than we did before. Even though we’re all loathe to talk positively about numbers, you can’t help but feel at least a little warm and fuzzy about hitters mashing the ball, and the stuff from your pitchers starting to come around.

I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve done a complete 180 on this team. But, between the additional moves, the exhibition performance, all the pundits and analytics being more bullish than bearish on this team, and the general optimism of spring and the new season directly before us, it’s hard not to have that … whatever the opposite is of cloud your thinking. Clear? Sunny up? They’ve gone and sunnied up my disposition – without my consent, I might add – and I’m not sure how to reconcile those feelings from two months ago.

You know what I hate? Being everyone’s “dark horse”. You know what else I hate? Being suckered into this fucking team, only for them to fall flat on their asses.

So, I’m trying to shut all that noise out and just focus on what my brain tells me. For starters, I have to give the usual caveat: all of this prognostication assumes we have an average amount of health (or better). Every team deals with injuries. Even the very best teams have to endure stretches where it feels like the baseball gods are whooping them with the ugly stick. The Rangers last year – World Series champions – had a spell in the second half where it looked like they might fall apart. But, they picked themselves up, steamrolled through the playoffs, and the rest was history. But, obviously, everyone remembers the 1996 Mariners, where Randy Johnson was lost for most of the year, and we also lost a good month from Ken Griffey Jr. Teams can’t endure the loss of their two best players for extended stretches and still hope to compete. If the 2024 Mariners lose Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez, no one is going to sit there and say, “Well, that’s just an average amount of baseball injuries.” It’s debilitating!

With that out of the way, let’s get going here. Since all I want to talk about is the hitting, we’re going to save that for Part II tomorrow. Right now, let’s get into the pitching and (a little bit on the) defense (at the end).

Baseball is tricky. You can’t sit there and say, “So and so is the most important guy on this team, and without him playing great, we have no chance.” It’s not football with the quarterback position. It’s not basketball with whoever your superstar is. Baseball is too much of a team sport. Yes, you need your stars to play well, but one guy can’t do it all. If that were the case, Mike Trout would be a champion countless times over.

You can’t even pin it all on a single pitcher, though I’ll contend until my dying breath that there’s nothing quite like an ace to dominate (particularly down the stretch of a pennant race). But, with the 2024 Mariners, we’re not even close to talking about them being contenders without this pitching staff, and especially this starting rotation. They’re the straw that stirs the drink. The most important aspect of this team, by far.

I don’t think you’re going to find a more talented one through five in Major League Baseball – nor one with a higher upside – than the one the Mariners are going to throw out there this seaason. Luis Castillo and George Kirby, right now, are among the best starters in all of baseball, and Logan Gilbert isn’t too far behind. And the pure, raw stuff of Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, and Emerson Hancock (who is slotting into Woo’s spot while he starts the season on the IL with a little bit of arm inflammation) makes them more than the ideal 4 & 5 starters. There’s the kind of potential that we just saw in the first couple of seasons with Kirby and Gilbert! Now, obviously, that’s no guarantee they’re going to turn into bona fide All Stars, but if the worst thing you can say is that the guys projected to be in the back of your rotation – with mid-to-high 90’s fastballs with tons of movement and some promising off-speed pitches – are going to get hit around every now and then, that’s a pretty great problem to have.

Do you know how many teams have absolute bums in the back-end of their rotation? Do you know how many teams are relying on soft-tossing journeymen a la Marco Gonzales to simply eat up innings? Meanwhile, the Mariners have nothing but power arms fisting their way through opposing lineups; it’s outstanding!

Obviously, the knock against the rotation is the lack of depth. But, what team doesn’t have that problem? With Hancock, I’ve already listed six guys who we like. The top three guys are better than most other teams have in their ace spots; and the bottom three guys are better than most every other team’s back-end. If those other teams suffer rotation injuries, I can only imagine the drop-off in quality!

The fact of the matter is, the Mariners are uniquely positioned to withstand the injury bug every now and then. Obviously, it would be ideal if we can get through the next couple months without losing any more starters – to give our bullpen an opportunity to heal up. But, with our home stadium, with our marine layer, and eventually when we get our bullpen figured out, I don’t have a big problem ceding a few outings to a Quad-A starter every now and then. Let him five & dive and hope your offense is up to the task to win a squeaker.

Now, that bullpen does come with some questions. I think we’re all in agreement that when our studs get healthy, a top four (in whatever order you choose) of Santos, Brash, Stanek, and Munoz, is as good as it gets. Again, in all of Major League Baseball. At that point, it almost doesn’t matter who else you put out there. Saucedo and Speier are reliable-enough. Trent Thornton could conceivably be due for a bounce-back, after having a full offseason in our throwing program. And, I’m sure there are plenty of under-the-rader arms in our organization who are poised to be the next Justin Topa or Paul Sewald. Until this unit lets me down, I have to believe we have what it takes to get the job done in the bullpen.

If this team is going to get back to the playoffs, it’s going to be on the arms to get the job done. For as good as they are, it would be helpful if the defense could pick things up behind them, but we’ll see.

By all accounts, we’re going to take a serious step back defensively. Which is kind of shocking, if I’m honest. I always remember Mitch Haniger being better than average. Has he really taken such a dive with age and injury? If he has, that’s a problem, because we’re clearly not as good in left field with the loss of Kelenic. I don’t even know if Luke Raley is competent out there! We might be on the hook for Super Utility Dylan Moore more than we’d like (that is, if he’s not covering for third base).

Speaking of which, is Luis Urias the worst defensive third baseman in baseball? We’ll find out! He sure as shit seems to be worse than Suarez. And I don’t know if Rojas or Moore are much better. Also, what are we going to get out of Polanco at second?

Seems like the potential for a lot of holes. That being said, I don’t care how old Haniger is, there’s no WAY he’s worse than Teoscar Hernandez. We still have Julio and J.P. And our catching figures to be among the best in baseball as well (or, at the very least, the most underrated).

I don’t know if we can count on this defense to carry us. But, as long as it isn’t a total hindrance, then the run prevention half of this team should be among the best in the American League. Certainly good enough to get us to the post-season.

Now, will the hitting do its part? Check back tomorrow (and the rest of this regular season) to find out!

The Mariners Signed Ryne Stanek

I’m at a loss for words. How did the Mariners stumble into signing Ryne Stanek? Why was he still available in the first place? Why didn’t the Astros make a bigger push to bring him back? How did we get him for so cheap and on such a short deal?

It’s reportedly a 1 year, $4 million contract, with $2 million in incentives. That is flabbergasting! There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. There are around eight relievers per team on any given 26-man roster. You’re telling me that NOBODY could’ve used Stanek’s services?

It’s crazy to me that the Mariners, of all teams, got him to sign. With our money issues, I just never would’ve expected it!

I guess the reason why he was available is twofold. For starters, apparently his original asking price was way too high. And, accordingly, I think teams might’ve been a little scared by his 2023 season. In 2022, Stanek was one of the best relievers in baseball (1.15 ERA in 59 games); but, those numbers drastically inflated last year (4.09 ERA in 55 games). I would also say there’s probably cause for concern with a pitcher who’s going to turn 33 years old in July, who has appeared in 186 regular season games across the last three seasons (with an additional 21 post-season games in that span). You’re talking about 69 appearances per season on average!

You have to come with a little perspective on a move like this. I think it’s safe to say we’re heading into the downside of his career. There’s a nonzero chance he’s cooked. He walks a lot of guys, his FIP is inflated, his K per 9 innings have declined the last couple years, and he’s going from a terrific defensive team in Houston to a very sketchy one in Seattle (lookin’ at you, third base and corner outfield).

But, on the flipside, he averaged over 98 miles per hour on his fastball last year, he has two amazing out pitches, he has reverse platoon splits, he has all that playoff experience, AND I feel like he’s got some extra motivation with the way the Astros just let him walk without really making any effort to keep him.

For the Mariners, it’s a no-brainer. Maybe other teams can be a little more discerning with their bullpen choices. But, we already had a CONSIDERABLE need to add to our bullpen, and that’s before all the arm issues with Matt Brash and Gregory Santos (that are going to put both of them on the IL heading into the regular season). You know what I haven’t heard about so far in Spring Training? The one or two From Out Of Nowhere guys who are supposed to make a big impact. Carlos Vargas, by all accounts, has been wild. Jackson Kowar has been shut down with arm soreness. None of the other fringe candidates have really popped.

The Mariners already have a hard-enough time winning games in April and May with their hitting consistently slamming down on the snooze button until the weather warms up. We can’t afford to ALSO have a piecemeal bullpen costing us important early-season wins. Stanek should hopefully alleviate some of those concerns, bridging this team until Brash and Santos come back.

Then, assuming no further injuries derail this season, you’re talking about a 4-headed monster at the back of that bullpen with Brash, Munoz, Santos, and Stanek. In that situation, Stanek is either your third or fourth option! You shouldn’t necessarily NEED to overwork him! Thereby, ideally, getting the most out of him, while preserving him for a late-season playoff push.

I’m more than willing to dismiss his 2023 numbers, because relievers are always so volatile. Also, it’s not like we’re committing to him longterm. If he comes here and stinks, eating $4 million isn’t so bad.

I couldn’t be more thrilled with this move. Which probably means it’s going to bite us in the ass, because that’s what always happens with the Mariners. This doesn’t change the major faults with this roster’s construction (still lookin’ at you, third base and corner outfield), but hopefully this is one less hole we have to worry about. Every little bit helps, when you’re a team like the Mariners and you’re projected to be right there on the playoff fringe. It’s all about pitching – while hopefully getting Just Enough out of your hitting – and so you really can’t have too many live wire arms in your arsenal. In that sense, Ryne Stanek is the perfect move for this very team.

How did we get so lucky?

Matt Brash Is Very Important To What The Mariners Are Trying To Do In 2024

It can be easy to take the bullpen for granted. That’s funny to say as a Mariners fan dating back to 1995, when so many of those teams in the mid-to-late 90’s were totally and completely derailed by a faulty bullpen. But lately? There’s some kind of secret sauce in the organization with the way we’re coaching these guys up. Every year, there’s a smattering of dominant back-end relievers, with another heaping spoonful of guys who come from out of nowhere to give us quality innings. This team has been the epitome of buying low and getting the most out of reclamation projects.

It rarely seems to work anywhere else on the team, but in the bullpen, it’s everything. And, as we know, an elite bullpen can paper over a lot of holes. See: Fun Differential.

How have we been taking the 2024 bullpen for granted? Well, simply put, we have a tremendous top three guys in our bullpen with Andres Munoz, Matt Brash, and Gregory Santos. That’s a 7-8-9 (in whatever order you choose) that can rival the very best in baseball, when they’re going good. Then, when you factor in this team’s penchant for finding diamonds in the rough, it’s just a matter of figuring out who they are in Spring Training, and rolling them out as if they belonged up here all along. Maybe it’s some holdovers from last year, like Speier or Saucedo; maybe it’s newcomers like Carlos Vargas or Jackson Kowar; maybe it’s some youngster from the minors I’ve never heard of! Whoever it is, this team will identify them, and we’ll be just fine.

That’s the assumption, anyway. You’ve still gotta go out and play the games. The guys still have to perform. But, it becomes exponentially more difficult if we have to do all of this without Matt Brash.

Pitchers in general are tough to rely on, healthwise. That seems to go double for hard-throwing pitchers, and quadruple for high-effort guys like Brash and Munoz, with funky arm angles and biting sliders. And when it comes to a baseball team, it’s hard to pin your hopes too much on any one single player. Even someone like Julio … he’s still just one of nine guys in a lineup; one of 26 guys on an active roster. Julio could homer in every single at bat and it’s still no guarantee you’re going to win enough games to be great. A lot of other things have to go right.

But, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Matt Brash is this team’s most important reliever. He might not be the guy in the ninth inning racking up the saves every time, but he’s the guy we tend to go to when we need our most important outs of the ballgame. He’s the guy taking on the very best opposing hitters, in the toughest situations (guys on base, less than two outs, likely needing a strikeout or a double play to get out of a jam), when the game is at its most perilous point.

Last year, he led the pitching staff in appearances with 78, and he led all relievers in innings pitched with 70.2. He also, not for nothing, led all relievers in strikeouts with 107, and holds with 24. I should point out, in fairness, that Justin Topa was right there at number two in a lot of these categories (75 appearances, 69.0 innings, 23 holds), but that also speaks to Brash’s importance, since Topa is no longer with the team.

Part of the reason why Brash was so over-utilized is due to Munoz spending some time on the IL, and Sewald getting dealt at the deadline. Brash and Topa were really our most consistent relievers throughout the entire season. Part of me expects a bit of a bounce-back from Munoz (though, I’m most certainly NOT taking him for granted), which would be a big boost, especially in the early part of the regular season.

The good news about this Matt Brash injury stuff is that the MRI came back okay. It’s not perfect; he has “elbow inflammation” and as such has been shut down in the early part of Spring Training. He’s apparently not surgical at this time, however that leads me to wonder if he’s just trying to gut through it, and eventually this year his arm is going to succumb. Either way, reports indicate Brash won’t be ready for the start of the regular season, as the team is going to be overly cautious (as they should be).

This is obviously a relief compared to what everyone was speculating about earlier this week. Tommy John was being thrown around with impunity. I’m not holding my breath though, because I feel like we’re one wrong move away from it being a reality. I hope I’m wrong! I hope he makes it back to the ballclub by mid-to-late April and can go full tilt the rest of the season. But, if he’s shut down, that’s going to be AWFUL for this team.

I don’t even want to think about it. There’s always some piece of devastating news that happens before the season even gets going. Figures it had to be Matt Brash. On the level of importance to this team’s success, I’d put the starting rotation and a few select position players (Julio, Cal, J.P.) ahead of him, but Brash is right there in the Top 10 for sure. Here’s to hoping we avoid a nightmare scenario!

Looking At The Mariners’ Bullpen

My concern throughout this offseason is that the bullpen wasn’t being fostered as much as it should, and that it would be this team’s biggest weakness (even worse than a probably-terrible offense). Matt Brash can still be prone to blow-ups, and Andres Munoz can be pretty inconsistent at times. And how long before either has a serious arm injury knocking them out for the season?

Gregory Santos helps in that regard. Now, we appear to have a true three-headed monster at the back of the bullpen (as long as they stay healthy), which just means we have to slot the rest in behind them.

The Mariners are pretty clearly in a three-tier system with their bullpen, with the above-referenced guys in that very top tier. In the next tier down, I’m putting guys like:

  • Gabe Speier
  • Tayler Saucedo
  • Eduard Bazardo
  • Ty Adcock

They were all varying degrees of “fine” in 2023 for the Mariners. They could grow into something more, they could regress hard, or they could stay middle-of-the-road relievers, eating up innings mostly in lost causes, with the occasional bursts of usefulness in higher leverage situations (when our elite relievers are taxed and need a rest).

Then, we’ve got the total wild cards who currently reside on the 40-man roster:

  • Carlos Vargas
  • Austin Voth
  • Trent Thornton
  • Cody Bolton
  • Jackson Kowar
  • Mauricio Llovera

Llovera was claimed off waivers and seems like camp fodder. Bolton was purchased from the Pirates and looks like he had somewhat of a rough rookie season in 2023 (after pretty good numbers in the minors). Kowar came over in the Kelenic trade (who was himself flipped by the Braves after playing in the Royals’ organization) and seems like the best possibility to make good on that otherwise terrible deal for the M’s. Kowar hasn’t really been good since 2021, so we’ll see.

I’m on record as not understanding what Thornton is doing on the Mariners. Sure, his ERA looked amazing last year (2.08), but his FIP was 4.72 and that seems to be closer to his actual value. He got lucky last year; I expect that luck to run out very soon. As for Voth, I guess he has a sweeper pitch that might be something. Both of these guys are veterans, so I guess the hope is they prove capable enough to stick and be some mentors to the younger guys.

Carlos Vargas might be the most interesting prospect of the bunch (he came over in the Suarez deal). He’s still pretty raw and I’m guessing will start off the season in Tacoma. But, we need plenty of depth to hang out in AAA until they get the call up for injuries or ineffectiveness.

I’ll tell you what, though, the bottom of this bullpen could look VERY dire, unless we have a surprise or two make it big out of Spring Training. I guess I should stop doubting the Mariners’ abilities in finding diamonds in the rough, because they’ve done it every year for God knows. But, how long until the luck runs out, or the well runs dry, or whatever you want to call it?

My sentiment on bullpens for a while now is: since they’re so incredibly volatile, you might as well not pump a ton of free agency dollars into them. Especially if you’re a team like the Mariners and there’s a finite amount of those dollars to go around. I’d rather spend that money in more useful areas. But, if our ability to develop these nobodies ever falters, or if we find the wrong set of nobodies who don’t take to our partcular teachings, then there’s nothing worse than a truly terrible bullpen. The best way to win more games than you otherwise should – i.e. the best way to paper over a subpar offense – is to go above and beyond in your bullpen. But, conversely, the best way to look like the absolute fucking worst, is to blow a bunch of games you should’ve won, because your starting rotation is awesome and your hitting is sometimes competent, but your bullpen just can’t lock it down.

Which is why I don’t usually give the bullpen a ton of thought. I don’t want to know all the ins and outs. I just want to show up when the regular season starts and find out who’s great and who needs to go.

The Mariners Traded For Gregory Santos

After the last deal, for Jorge Polanco, the Mariners made a weak spot that much more flimsy by raiding from a bullpen that was already down Paul Sewald (as well as promising youngsters Isaiah Campbell, Penn Murfee, and Matt Festa, among others we’ve shipped off over the last couple seasons). The loss of Justin Topa meant that our third-best reliever (and maybe our first-most-consistent reliever) was gone. I mean, can you imagine what a bullpen would look like with Sewald, Brash, Munoz, AND Topa? Well, we had it for most of last damn year, and look at where it got us!

Well, over the weekend, the M’s made a trade with the White Sox. We gave them reliever Prelander Berroa, minor league outfielder Zach DeLoach, and a very nice 69th overall draft pick. In return, we get reliever Gregory Santos.

Berroa was a promising reliever prospect who pitched primarily in AA last year, while drinking a sip of coffee with the Mariners in two appearances. There’s some incredible stuff there, a blazing fastball, tons of strikeouts, but also a little iffy on the command. I find it extremely interesting that the Mariners – an organization prized for developing bullpen arms – would give up on a prospect like Berroa. Maybe they’re worried about his arm holding up, maybe they doubt his ability to rein in his command. Whatever it is, it feels like he was the most talented of The Pile we have on the 40-man roster today. Ultimately, the thinking is: Santos has it right now, whereas Berroa might still be another year away. And if you believe that this team is trying to win in 2024 (which I’m still not so sure they are), then obviously you like a Santos more than a Berroa.

With Santos, there’s lots of club control, and instead of being a huge maybe, the belief is that he’s a legitimate stud. My concern is his durability and his ability to generate strikeouts.

He appeared in 60 games in 2023, all with the White Sox. In 2022, he pitched in 37 games (mostly in the minors); in 2021, he pitched in 17 games (also mostly in the minors), and in 2020 he didn’t pitch at all due to COVID. So, it’s no wonder he landed on the IL late last year with arm problems; the hope is that it was just fatigue. But, the Mariners tend to be one of those teams that over-taxes their bullpen, so I don’t know if I’m jumping for joy.

As for his strikeouts, it’s not like he DOESN’T strike batters out. But, he’s not in the upper echelon of a Brash or Munoz. He averaged 9.0 stikeouts per nine innings last year; Munoz averaged 12.3 and Brash averaged a whopping 13.6! What’s interesting about Santos is that he has reverse platoon splits. As a right hander, he’s actually BETTER against lefties. It’s a sample size of one season, but still. Lower batting average, on-base, slugging. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is leaps and bounds better. While Brash and Munoz aren’t BAD against lefties, when they do struggle, it tends to be because lefties get to them. Santos might be a salve for this problem. We can mix-and-match a little more, if an opposing team has a run of lefties coming.

What sounds crazy to me is that Fangraphs or someone has projected Santos to be the best reliever in baseball in 2024. If that’s the case, then DAMN is this a good deal!

Obviously, we don’t know what Zach DeLoach is going to turn into (or Gabriel Gonzalez, for that matter, from the Polanco deal), but neither projected to be much of anything for the Mariners in 2024. DeLoach played all of last year in Tacoma, and was presumably their best and most consistent hitter, but was he ever going to crack our ever-growing chasm of Quad-A utility guys? I mean, shit, we already have Haggerty, Raley, Canzone, Marlowe, Moore, Trammell, and Clase. And that’s not even factoring in Julio and Haniger! Frankly, DeLoach going to the White Sox feels like the best thing for him. My guess is, as someone who’s already been traded multiple times, he’s not going to pan out at the Major League level. But, if he does, a place like Chicago, with low expectations and lots of opportunity for at bats, just might do the trick.

In a future post, I’m going to write about the bullpen. There’s still work to do, but I don’t know if that’s going to come from outside the organization. All those developmental coaches are going to have to earn their paychecks this spring!

The Mariners Traded For Jorge Polanco

Going to Minnesota, we have reliever Justin Topa, starter What’sHisButtFromTheGiants Anthony DeSclafani, outfield prospect Gabriel Gonzalez, and pitching prospect Darren Bowen.

Going to Seattle, we have Jorge Polanco, a 30 year old starting infielder (pegged to be our everyday second baseman) with one year left on his contract (and a club option for 2025).

DeSclafani is no big loss. I’m honestly relieved that I don’t have to watch him pitch for the Mariners. Seems like a guy better suited to be a back-of-the-rotation starter and NOT a long reliever like the M’s were going to use him as. I’m going to go out on a limb and say neither prospect will amount to much at the Major League level (because if either one of them do, then this trade absolutely murders the Mariners).

I would say the part that hurts the most is losing Justin Topa, who is going into the first of three arbitration years, and is earning just a million and a quarter dollars this season. He figured to be our third-best reliever behind Brash and Munoz, but I would argue – on the whole – he was more consistent and less blowup-prone than anyone in the pen in 2023. The Mariners were already in need of a pick-me-up or two out of the bullpen (as we’ve talked about ad nauseam, they’ve yet to even replace Paul Sewald, and now we’re talking about replacing Topa too), and now that job is even more important.

Quite frankly, the Mariners’ stance on this – that they can pick up any ol’ scrub off the scrap heap and turn them into ace relievers – is bordering on irresponsible hubris. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mariners’ biggest weakness in 2024 IS the bullpen (and we all know how little I think of the starting lineup, so that’s really saying something).

All that being said, it doesn’t feel like the worst deal I’ve ever seen. The money pretty much evens out (I think it was reported the M’s are sending money to the Twins to make it so). They get a couple of scratch-off lottery tickets to provide some longterm hope, and they get a valuable reliever to add to what I’m told is a strength for them. Plus, you know, the starter could be okay for them in that division (where the hitting is less fearsome than it is in the West). In turn, the Mariners get a VAST improvement over the likes of Josh Rojas, Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, et al, when it comes to plugging one of their infield holes.

We already knew going into the season that second and third base would suck for this team. Now, what this deal presupposes is … maybe only one of those spots will suck?

I’m willing to go out on that limb that Jorge Polanco will be a valuable hitter for this team when he’s healthy. One guy I’ve never met on Formerly Twitter telling me so is good enough for me! But, there’s that caveat again, right? Polanco hasn’t played a full season since 2021. The last two years, it’s been knee and ankle injuries. Something like five or six stints on the IL. Sure as shit reminds me of one Mitch Haniger; how could it not? It was pretty much the first point bandied about in the analysis of this deal for the M’s.

If I choose to see the positive in this, it’s nice to see us fill a hole with a bona fide Major Leaguer, and not just another Quad-A nobody. If I choose to see the negative in this, then it’s just another coin flip with the usual questions we have when we bring in ANY new hitter:

  • Can he stay healthy?
  • Can he hit in Seattle, or will his bat be swallowed up in the marine layer?
  • Can he withstand the pressure of playing for a new team?
  • Will he enjoy living here, which is presumably very far away from wherever he considers home?
  • How close is he to falling off of an age-related production cliff?

You can plug those questions in about ANY of the guys we brought in this offseason – Mitch Garver, Luke Raley, Mitch Haniger, Luis Urias, Seby Zavala – as well as any of the guys we’ve brought in over the last few years, and get a wide variety of answers. Inevitably, some will hack it okay, some will become total garbage. And it’s not necessarily always the ones you think. I keep coming back to guys like Jesse Winker and Kolten Wong; we were supposed to be getting – at the very least – solid veterans who could give you professional at bats. What we got, was nothing.

As with all of this offseason’s moves, I’m not holding my breath. Quite frankly, I’m not moving off of my F grade for the Mariners; I still don’t think we’re any better than we were a year ago. If I’m being generous, the Polanco deal has the potential to now put this offense over the top compared to 2023. But, a shaky bullpen was made all the shakier with the loss of Topa. And now our rotation depth – which was razor thin before – is totally evaporated. Unless our top five starters manage to stay healthy for the full year – on top of key guys like Polanco and Haniger for our lineup – there’s a good chance we’re worse across the board. Hence the failing grade.

I will say that – as with all the other trades this offseason – I mostly felt relief that we didn’t actually trade any of our young starters. But, that still isn’t going to move the needle enough for me to vastly change my outlook on this offseason.

Just once, I’d like to see the Mariners make a move that is universally lauded, rather than coming with a thousand caveats. Something tells me it ain’t gonna happen.