The Mariners Extended Dipoto & Servais As They Try To Contend Down The Stretch

After just totally biffing it against the Royals, the Mariners played three winnable games against the Astros, winning two of them in shutout fashion.

The only loss was in the series opener on Monday, where we bafflingly blew it in the 8th by turning a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 loss. Chris Flexen didn’t have his greatest stuff, but still pitched into the sixth inning, giving up just 2 runs. Casey Sadler locked it down through the 7th, giving us just enough time to take that all-too-brief lead in the bottom of the sixth.

The Astros scored their first two runs in the 1st inning, making the Flexen performance even more impressive. Jose Marmolejos – back with the Mariners after going on the warpath with the Rainiers for much of the season – hit a solo homer in his first at bat to make it 2-1. That’s where it remained until Dylan Moore – pinch hitting for Marmolejos – jacked a 2-run homer to make everyone happy.

But, then Joe Smith was tasked with handling the 8th inning. I don’t totally get it. Was Drew Steckenrider simply unavailable? Did Scott Servais lose his mind? Either way, shaky defense and even shakier pitching meant Smith gave up three singles and two runs, before he was pulled for Yohan Ramirez to get the final two outs of the inning. The Mariners were toast from there.

Tuesday saw Yusei Kikuchi take the mound, desperately needing a quality start to help save his Mariners career. And, to his credit, he went out and dominated: 7 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 4. His fastball was lively, he threw it often, and he got ahead of hitters; when he’s able to do that, good things tend to result.

The game was, nevertheless, scoreless as we headed into the bottom of the eighth. Paul Sewald got the job done in the top half against the top of the lineup, setting the stage for Kendall Graveman, who was making his first appearance in Seattle since the infamous deadline deal.

Graveman still has electric stuff, but the Mariners put a tough challenge on him. J.P. Crawford led off the inning with a walk, Seager singled after a Haniger strikeout, and Ty France was hit on the forearm to load the bases. The table was set … for Abraham Toro of all people, the very centerpiece the Mariners got back in return in the Graveman deal.

Toro got in a 1-2 hole early, whiffing hard on Graveman’s sinkers. But, he finally started making contact – fouling off three pitches while working the count even – before unloading on a sinker in the inner-middle of the plate for a grand slam. It was glorious! I’m not going to say the Mariners won the trade in that single at-bat – lord knows this bullpen has been plenty fallible in Graveman’s absence – but I’ve been a fan of Toro since we got him, and that further cements in my mind the value he brings to this team, both this season and in the years to come.

It was Graveman’s first loss of the season – and it dented his ERA pretty good – but he’s still been wildly effective for the Astros since going over there. Just, you know, not against the Mariners. Against us, he’s gone 1.1 innings and given up 5 runs. Shit, maybe he WAS the world’s greatest teammate! He’s so good, he’s STILL helping us win ballgames!

If the 4-0 shutout was impressive, Wednesday’s 1-0 shutout was truly remarkable. Logan Gilbert – another starter who’s struggled over the last month – went 5 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits & 0 walks, while striking out 4. Again, lots of fastballs and he did a good job of staying ahead of hitters.

This game saw the return of Justus Sheffield, now a reliever since his return from the IL. I don’t know if that’s a permanent move, or if that’s even a role he’s well-suited for, but he got through his one inning unscathed to get the win. Because we scored our lone run in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to a Crawford single, walks by Haniger and France, and a sac fly to center off the bat of – you guessed it – Abraham Toro. It wasn’t a deep fly ball by any means, but with Crawford’s speed – and the sun wreaking havoc on the outfielder – it was long enough.

Then, it was shutdown time. Sadler did his job in the 7th. Steckenrider returned to get two outs in the 8th (before putting two runners on), which necessitated Paul Sewald going in there for the 4-out save. Which he managed heroicly, striking out three guys in the process (while only getting into a little trouble in the 9th before slamming the door shut).

It’s a bummer we didn’t manage to take all three games – because at this point in the season, we could’ve really used the boost – but winning this series was very impressive the way we did it. The Astros have the best offense in baseball, and we absolutely shut them down!

Before the game on Wednesday, it was announced that Jerry Dipoto was extended (and promoted to President of Baseball Operations). Essentially, he’s still the GM, and he still reports to the owner, John Stanton, but clearly this is a big endorsement of his rebuild. It was simultaneously announced that Scott Servais was also extended to continue managing the ballclub; the terms for their contracts were not disclosed, so it’s unknown how long they’re under contract for.

I don’t really know of anyone who thinks Servais is a bad manager. Quite the contrary, I think most of us are really impressed with how hard he gets his guys to play for him, even when they’re lacking in talent compared to some of the elite teams around baseball. We might get blown out here and there – that’s going to happen – but we tend to be IN most of these games at the very least, and as far as the last two seasons are concerned, winning much more of them than anyone would’ve predicted.

I like Servais. I don’t have a lot of regard for managers in baseball in general; I think, for the most part, these teams sort of manage themselves. They get too much of the blame when things go wrong, and probably an appropriate amount of the credit when things go right. But, you can really see how Servais has built the culture here. It’s different than it was under Lloyd McClendon, Don Wakamatsu, Eric Wedge, and on and on dating back to the glory days of Lou Piniella. Honestly, Servais might be the best manager in all of baseball right now, and I’ve been saying for a while: I’d LOVE to see what he does with a team that’s as talented as the Astros or Dodgers or Yankees.

And, for what it’s worth, I do think Servais makes a high percentage of the correct calls when it comes to sticking with a pitcher vs. pulling him for a fresh arm. I mean, that probably has a lot to do with the analytics department, but it’s a credit to Servais that he actually follows the numbers and not just his fucking gut (*cough* Lloyd McClendon *cough*).

As for Dipoto, he’s MUCH more divisive. Fans seem to either love him and lap up the Kool Aid like the thirsty sheep that they are; or fans seem to hate him and want to ride him out of town on a rail.

I’m in the middle. If I had my druthers, we would’ve backed up the Brinks truck to Theo Epstein’s house and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse YEARS ago. But, obviously, that’s never happening. We hired Dipoto after the 2015 season, and while his moves have been hit-or-miss, I think there’s a lot unexplained from his tenure. He inherited an aging roster that was still trying to break the playoff drought. How much did ownership hamper him when it comes to tearing it all down back then and rebuilding immediately? I would argue they meddled quite a bit, with guys like Felix, Cruz, Cano, and Seager playing at the tops of their games.

It wasn’t until after the 2018 season – when we won 89 games, but again fell well short of making the playoffs – that we FINALLY committed to a real, official rebuild. I would say, by and large, Dipoto’s moves before that point were largely disappointing and underwhelming. Again, how much was he hampered by ownership, who likely limited his spending? I would argue quite a bit, with Felix’s dying contract, Seager’s bloated deal, and Cano’s albatross hanging around our neck.

I contend that SINCE the end of the 2018 season, Dipoto has been largely on fire with his trades, his under-the-radar dart-throw free agent signings, and his draft picks. In that time, he turned around a farm system that was one of the worst – if not THE worst – in all of baseball, into one of the best this year (including one publication ranking us #1 overall). The trade of Cano & Edwin Diaz for Jarred Kelenic (and others) is the big draw. But, he also pulled off the Austin Nola deal (for Ty France and Luis Torrens) and the aforementioned Graveman deal for Toro.

It hasn’t worked out perfectly since then. The Mariners really bottomed out in 2019, for instance. But, we played much better in a COVID-shortened 2020 season. And, this year, we find ourselves firmly in contention for a wild card spot with a month left to play.

You can argue that many of the young position players are failing to make the leap from AAA to the Major Leagues, but if that’s Dipoto’s fault, then it’s also on all the scouts and pundits who continue to laud these players as among the most talented of all the prospects coming up in the last two years. They’re still young-enough in their careers to turn things around. Plus, there are more prospects where they came from if they do, indeed, fail at this level.

On top of which, the Mariners have cheaped out long enough. It sounds like after having this year to analyze the guys we’ve got, the purse strings are going to be loosened, allowing us to go out and make some splashy free agent deals. Between that, and the trades we can make by having one of the best farm systems in baseball, as long as we don’t fuck things up COMPLETELY, we should be watching the Seattle Mariners in the post-season sooner rather than later.

So, no, I’m not a Jerry Dipoto hater. But, I’m also not drinking the Kool Aid completely either. He still needs to finish the job. Lots of teams throughout baseball have been in the position we’re in now. VERY few actually manage to morph into World Series champions, let alone enjoy the kind of sustained success you see out of teams like the Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox.

I’ll fully believe it when I see it. Don’t do what the Mariners always do: get swindled in trades for mediocre veterans who come here and shit the bed. DO do what good teams do: ship off shaky prospects for quality starters, and let’s go win us a fucking World Series title!

2021 Mariners Preview Extravaganza: We Have A Rest Of The Team

Yesterday, I wrote about the starting rotation. Today – the day of the Mariners’ first game of the season – I’ll be writing about everything else.

If you’ve been following along all offseason, I’ve already written about most of these guys. But, now we have an official roster, so let’s run through it.

We’re pretty set with the infield:

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Dylan Moore (2B)
  • Evan White (1B)
  • Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)

All healthy, present, and accounted for! All of them, of course, come with question marks. Does Seager have anything left in the late-career resurgence tank? Can Crawford build on his Gold Glove campaign to be a more consistent (and somewhat more powerful) hitter? Was 2020 a mirage for Moore? Will White EVER hit, period? And, is the catcher position as strong as I expect it to be? How many of these guys – if any – will be longterm solutions at their respective positions? I gotta believe that the Next Great Mariners Team has at least a few of these guys playing roles; they can’t ALL still be in the minors or other organizations!

One guy we don’t have to worry about is:

This guy can hit! No notes! Also, since I believe in him so strongly, watch him struggle mightily. This is the way.

The outfield is my favorite part of this team, now and especially in the future. With Kyle Lewis starting on the 10-Day IL, it’s a little underwhelming at the moment, but obviously the M’s have to play it super safe with our 2020 Rookie of the Year.

  • Mitch Haniger (RF)
  • Jake Fraley (CF)
  • Taylor Trammell (LF)
  • Sam Haggerty (INF/OF)
  • Jose Marmolejos (INF/OF)

The story of camp has been Trammell making the Opening Day roster. Not just as an injury replacement to the injured Lewis, but as a legitimate starting left fielder for this team. He’s another one of those great guys we traded for from the Padres last year when we sent them Austin Nola – making us three for three of guys coming over in return making the team in 2021, with France and Torrens – whose prospect stock has fluctuated wildly over the course of his minor league career. But, he appears to be putting it all together now at just the right time: ahead of Kelenic and Rodriguez. This glut of highly-touted outfielders will only make things that much easier for the M’s as they fill out the rest of the roster to try to build a championship ballclub. Of everyone on this 26-man roster, Trammell is the one I’m most excited about.

And Haniger is the one I’m most curious about. He’s had a long road back to full health; at one point in his career he was one of the top 25-or-so players in the American League. It wouldn’t shock me to see him right back in that area; it also wouldn’t shock me to see him totally shit the bed. He no longer seems to be the future of the franchise, but he’s currently the present, and will have every opportunity to rebuild his value in the game of baseball.

Fraley and the rest are just guys. Placeholders until our young superstars return from injury and/or get called up from the minors.

The obvious wildcard on the Mariners is the bullpen:

  • Rafael Montero
  • Kendall Graveman
  • Nick Margevicius
  • Anthony Misiewicz
  • Keynan Middleton
  • Casey Sadler
  • Will Vest
  • Drew Steckenrider

Oof. Like I said, I have avoided learning too much about the bullpen; I’d rather watch them with my own eyes and draw my own conclusions. But, to get me started, I guess I’ll look up some info and regurgitate it here, for my own benefit if nothing else.

The Mariners traded for Rafael Montero from the Rangers in the offseason. He had 8 saves for a terrible Rangers team last year, and I guess figures to be our closer out of the gate? He doesn’t have a ton of Major League experience, but maybe he’s put it all together. We’ll see. He’s not a bad buy-low candidate, at least in the short term.

Graveman we all know. He was here last year, signed to be a starter after missing a lot of time with injuries. He ended up with a neck issue that somehow allows him to throw very hard in short bursts as a reliever, but hampers him too much to go too many innings in a row. I don’t understand this one iota (mostly, I don’t understand why he doesn’t just have some surgical procedure to fix it and return 100% healthy), but whatever. He’s generally pretty good for an inning most of the time, so that makes him a quality set-up candidate in my mind.

Margevicius was neck-and-neck with Justin Dunn for the sixth starter job. He will be one of the long men in the bullpen to eat up innings and keep us in ballgames when a starter falters. He’ll also be the first man to join the rotation if there’s an injury (and there will be an injury). He’s fine, I like him in this role a great deal. He’s also one of just two lefties in the ‘pen, so there should be no shortage of work for him this season.

Misiewicz is presumably our top lefty reliever. We drafted him in 2015 and he made his debut last year. He was pretty good, I think! I dunno, we’ll see I guess.

Keynan “Don’t Call Me Kenyan” Middleton was a free agent signing who played for the Angels’ organization the last four years. His 2020 looked pretty atrocious. The three years prior look better, just as long as you don’t go sniffing around his FIP too hard. He might be just a guy. A cheap guy, but a guy nevertheless. He’s still young enough to put it all together, but don’t hold your breath.

Sadler is a veteran we claimed from the Cubs last year, who has bounced around multiple organizations. He’s someone else with big Just A Guy energy.

Will Vest is a Rule 5 guy we poached from the Tigers this offseason. He will be making his Major League debut this year, which will be somewhat fun! Other than that, I dunno. He’s the Rule 5 guy, that’s the nugget I’m going to keep in my brain and promptly forget as soon as he makes it into an actual game.

Drew Steckenrider sounds like one of those names I always fuck up when it comes to those Lookout Landing Sporcle quizzes asking you to name all the Mariners’ pitchers from a particular season. He came over from the Marlins organization on a minor league deal and was apparently one of the last guys to make the team. He’s another one I’m not holding my breath about.

***

The world is our oyster here! The Mariners could be a Bottom Five team, but I really don’t think that will be the case. There’s a lot of young talent in the organization just waiting to break through. There’s a TON of athleticism. There’s promise bursting at the seams. This is a team that WANTS to be great, that has just enough leadership at just the right spots – including the coaching staff – to potentially make it happen. We could be looking at a team that hangs around and FINALLY becomes the one to break the playoff drought!

Or, you know, it could be another year with another mediocre record.

But, the hope is that the young guys will improve. That’s really all that matters. 2020 was a roaring success because we saw improvement from the guys we needed to see improvement from. 2021 needs to be more of the same. Winning and losing isn’t quite as irrelevant as it was last year, but that’s not the ultimate agenda quite yet. The experience of winning isn’t quite as important as the experience of just playing at this level, but there is a lot of value there. That’s why I won’t be as maniacal as in years past when it comes to getting a high draft pick for next season.

Do what you’re going to do, Mariners!

My prediction is that the M’s easily surpass the 72.5 win total that Vegas has them at. But, ultimately I don’t see us getting one of those Wild Card spots. Instead, we’ll probably be drafting in the teens next year.

I’m reserving all predictions beyond that. I’m not making ANY specific player predictions, because so much can happen. Injuries, regression, breakouts, it’s all on the table. My only hope is that I don’t exit this season feeling worse about the Mariners than I do right now. Right now, I’m full of optimism! So, let’s just work in service of that and try to make 2022 and beyond really special!

I Don’t Know If The Mariners Are High On Ty France, But I Am!

Ty France seems to be one of those players without a position. That seems to be a trend with a lot of quote/unquote third basemen who come up through the minors at that spot, especially when they’re more known for their bats than their gloves. Do natural third basemen even exist? Or are they just plus-sized second basemen or slow-footed short stops? You be the judge!

Ty France, apparently, is coming at it from another angle, as a slightly-more-athletic first baseman type. Like, imagine if Daniel Vogelbach was 2/3 of his actual size, but, you know, could still actually hit a baseball.

These types of supposedly-deficient defenders always intrigue me, because if his 2020 season was any indication, the bat is there! He slashed .305/.368/.468 in 43 games across two teams (coming over in the Austin Nola deal with the Padres), with not really much of a dropoff at all during the transition. Ideally, you probably want a little more than the 14 extra base hits in that span, but a high batting average and competent on-base percentage makes up for a lot of ills in the power game for me. I’d rather someone come from this type of floor, because you can tweak a swing to create more loft if need be; but that kind of eye for balls and strikes is much harder to teach by the time you get to the Major League level. Knowing when to swing and what to swing at is an art, and most baseball players fail miserably at it.

He’s also only 26 years old, with up to five seasons of team control (including arbitration years), and while he’s not proficient at any one position, he’s capable of filling in at just about any spot on the infield (and by that I mean first, second, or third base).

It’s hard to talk about Ty France without talking about Dylan Moore, because both of them look to factor heavily on this team in the early going of the 2021 season. Presumably, that puts Moore in left field (next to Kyle Lewis in center, and Mitch Haniger in right) and that puts France at second base (between Evan White at first and J.P. Crawford at short, with Kyle Seager at his trusty third base spot). While we know Moore can play anywhere, it’s unknown at this time if we can hide France in one of the corner outfield spots in a pinch, but given our history of left fielders, it wouldn’t shock me to see the team give it a go (it just depends on how much of a liability France is up the middle).

As I alluded to, France’s “natural” position is third base. One would hope, if Seager ends up leaving after this season, that France could slide in there and we won’t miss a beat. But, if France isn’t any good at third, you’d have to wonder about his ability to play second, where I would assume – even between a couple of Gold Glovers in White & Crawford – defensive range is more of an issue.

Worst case scenario has the Mariners playing France primarily as the team’s Designated Hitter. You would think, given our history with Edgar Martinez (and our complete inability to properly replace Gar since his retirement), that the Mariners – more than most – can appreciate what an elite DH can bring to the table. But, like most teams, we’re trying to live in the 21st Century, where the DH is more of a rotational job, to give guys days off from playing in the field every day. Which means that, in their mind, you probably don’t want to be saddled with France at DH more than 3-4 times per week, which means he will need to be at least an adequate fielder 2-3 times per week. If he’s completely inept, that’s a problem, as it drastically reduces your lineup versatility.

That’s why guys like France – more often than not – aren’t foundational pieces, but instead guys who bounce around in deals like the one we made last year. He has value – so long as he’s hitting – but rarely gets the opportunity to stick in any one place thanks to his mediocre glove.

I’m, nevertheless, quite high on him for the reasons I’ve stated. The Mariners also have one of the best infield coaches in the Major Leagues, so I would hope that he can mold France into something passable in the field. Because, if we can work that out, that’s a HUGE hole we don’t need to fill later.

If we’re looking to break the playoff drought in 2021 – at least a year ahead of schedule – then we’re going to need more consistency out of our everyday lineup. While the pitching is shaky, as we saw last year, our coaches were able to mitigate things by keeping close tabs on the starters in their individual starts (not leaving them out there to get out of jams too often in the third/fourth times through the lineup). Obviously, the bullpen needs to drastically improve, but given the natural volatility of even high-level relievers, sheer randomness could always come into play to help us out this season. But, we need the hitters to hit, and not go into super-long funks.

That means, of course, that our stars – Lewis, Haniger, and Seager – need to perform to their potential/abilities, and that means some of these diamonds in the rough that we’ve stumbled upon – Moore, our catchers, Crawford, White, and France – need to be more consistent, and help pick up the slack when others are struggling. I have no doubt that France’s bat can be a big pick-me-up for this team. But, he just needs to not be a total wasteland out in the field.

I believe he can do it! And I hope that Austin Nola deal continues to pay huge dividends for many years to come!

The Mariners Are Stacked At Catcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, What Is A Dylan Moore?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2020 Mariners Are Giving People A Lot Of Hope For 2021

The best-case scenario for the 2020 Mariners would’ve been going 60-0 with the players we had on our original roster (without calling up any of our prized prospects), followed by a rampage through the playoffs and our first (of many) World Series titles; my second and third wishes – for the record, if there are any lamp-imprisoned genies out there reading this – would be a billion tax-free American dollars given to me through no criminal means, and my very own Perpetual Orgasm Machine that I’m able to plug into Matrix-style for my own nonstop indulgence.

Since we obviously didn’t reach that apex of baseball achievement, I’d have to say the 2020 Mariners season was a qualified success! I’ll rate it a 7 out of 10 batting doughnuts (you don’t rate baseball success on a scale of batting doughnuts?). Based on expectations as a long-suffering Mariners fan, though, I’d have to bump it up to an 8 out of 10.

There was every reason to expect the worst this year. Key guys getting injured. Potential stars failing to develop. Botched trades. Useless free agent signings. Listless or negative clubhouse chemistry compounded exponentially as losses mounted. The Mariners have been in some form of rebuild since plummeting back to Earth in 2004. You can say they’ve never really torn the franchise down to the studs until this time around – and I’m inclined to agree with you – but there’s also no one right way to rebuild a franchise. As it turns out, hindsight being what it is, we know that all the ways we’ve tried it over the last 16 years have been utter failures, largely due to the reasons listed at the top of this paragraph; we’ve seen it all and then some!

So, to have the relative success this team was able to achieve is pretty remarkable. For the first time in a VERY long time, there is reason for actual hope. This feels real! Not based on a mountain of lies and unsustainably-lucky performances. We finished 27-33, and even with the playoffs expanded to eight teams per league, we still failed to get there. Honestly, I think that’s great! We didn’t overachieve! Because let’s face it, the last time there was this much hype around a bad, yet-hopefully-rebuilding Mariners squad, we did overachieve (in 2007 and again in 2009) and were crushingly disappointed (in 2008 and again in 2010).

Our general managers in those eras made what now feels like panic moves, to bolster a house of cards and see if we could parlay unlikely success into a return to meaningful, post-season baseball. And, we ended up losing over 100 games in response both times, falling apart under the weight of too-high expectations.

That isn’t to say the Mariners should stand pat going into 2021; just stick to the plan. The plan all along was to strip away the rotting, dead wood, give our young prospects an opportunity to flourish, and then add on complementary, quality veterans to slingshot into the stratosphere. While a 60-game, COVID-shortened season isn’t the ideal form of development for our young guys, it’s better than nothing. And, you can argue they flourished all the same.

The M’s are in desperate need for young, cheap, homegrown stars (not necessarily draft picks or international free agent signings, but really anyone acquired to work their way through our minor league system). Kyle Seager was really the last one to stick in any sort of meaningful way, and he obviously has a ceiling to his level of production; before him you’re probably looking at King Felix. That’s NOT a lot of stars over the last 15 years, which makes the futility all the more understandable.

With the crop of youngsters we have on the team now, and the guys in the upper levels of the minors (who figure to be called up pretty early on in the 2021 season), there are a considerable number of candidates who could be stars for this team. That’s so exciting!

As a change of pace, I’m going to rank the top Mariners I’m most excited about, with a little blurb for each.

  1. Jarred Kelenic – We did it! We kept him in the minors for the entirety of the 2020 season! That buys us an extra year of club control, and if we keep him down there for the first month or so in 2021, that’ll earn us one MORE year. This is important, see, because he’s far and away the best prospect we’ve had in the organization since King Felix, the best position player prospect we’ve had since Adam Jones, and probably the best position player prospect who we’re not going to foolishly trade away since Alex Rodriguez! If it all breaks as it should, his floor should be as a perennial All Star, with his ceiling being an MVP-calibre superstar.
  2. Kyle Lewis – Our should-be Rookie of the Year, he’s really exceeded expectations both in his 2019 cup of coffee and his 2020 surge forward. Of course, in both instances, we saw some struggles; his final month of this season was a pretty collosal nightmare from a batting average perspective. But, he remained a tough out – with a resepctable on-base percentage throughout – and took a huge leap in his defense, in locking down the everyday centerfield job. You never root for someone to do poorly, of course, but I don’t think his end to the season was a bad thing. He’s not a finished product, that’s clear. That’s also really exciting, because we know what the floor is (and that’s a really good player); we have no idea what the ceiling is, though, which allows us to dream as big as we want!
  3. Evan White – On paper, his rookie season wasn’t all that good, but there are still promising signs of things to come. For starters, he’s already among the best defensive first basemen in baseball. That’s going to paper over a lot of things for someone who slashed only .179/.253/.352. Anecdotally, though, I think we all saw some good improvement with his approach at the plate. In 54 games, he hit 7 doubles and 8 homers; extrapolate that out for nearly a full season and you’re looking at a 20/20 player. As a rookie? I’ll take that. This was good, pain-free experience for a still-developing prospect; I know I’ve said this a lot over the years, but I really believe he’s only going to get better from here. When he makes contact, the ball really explodes off his bat! This isn’t a Justin Smoak/Warning Track Power sort of swing; he’s got some pop that will play at this level! He just needs to improve his eye at the plate and his contact rate; everything else will work itself out in the years ahead.
  4. Marco Gonzales – What a stud. Just an absolute horse for this team. Someone to lead a new generation of exciting pitchers both with his outstanding on-field performance and his in-clubhouse guidance. I’ll be honest, I forgot we already extended him through 2025, but now that I confirmed it (and at a pretty reasonable salary to boot), I’m even more thrilled! When the M’s originally acquired him from the Cardinals in 2017, I thought we were getting just another ho-hum, soft-tossing lefty who at best would translate to a #5 starter, but more likely fizzle out of baseball entirely. Boy am I happy to be so wrong! He has gotten better every year he’s been here, to the point where you can legitimately have him in the Cy Young conversation! I thought his 2018/2019 level of production was his peak – a 4 ERA type of guy who might give you 175-200 innings and keep you in most games – but what he was in 2020 was a legitimate … ALMOST ace. He’s so close! If he can do what he did this season over 30+ starts next year, then I’ll absolutely give him that mantle for as long as he’s still in Seattle.
  5. Mitch Haniger – Don’t think I forgot about you! You know what’s exciting? Having an All Star locked and loaded and ready to go (hopefully) in 2021. He’s still young, he’s still at the Arbitration level for two more seasons, he’s STARVING to be back on the diamond and among the greats in this league again (so you know motivation won’t be an issue), and he’s still talented in all the ways you want in a right fielder. Sure, he might be a little rusty at first, but he hasn’t irrevocably declined; he’s just had nagging, freak injuries. Injuries, mind you, that should fully heal and shouldn’t hamper his ability going forward. I’m under the assumption that – before too long – he’ll return to his 2018 level, where he was a 6-WAR type of player. This further helps matters because, while the Mariners do have a considerable glut in outfield talent, they don’t necessarily have to call them all up right away. We’ve got Haniger here to soften the blow! Also, with the DH spot up for grabs, if we do end up extending Haniger beyond 2022, he can always transition there and prolong his career that way.
  6. J.P. Crawford – Before the final series of the season – where he raised his batting average nearly 30 points in four games – I think there was a lot of consternation about Crawford’s 2020 season. To that I would say: this is the same guy who was hitting nearly .400 through July 31st; he’s streaky! In great and maddening ways! If you offered me .259/.335/.343 out of him every year, with the quality defense he plays at short stop, I think I’d take that and be happy. I don’t think anyone loves the idea of him being this team’s leadoff hitter – though, he was pretty great at working counts and looking at a lot of pitches this year – but as a bottom-of-the-order type of guy with plus-defense? Yes please! But, more importantly, he’s young enough that there’s still plenty of potential for him to get better as he gets used to playing at this level. I think he’s fine, and I’m happy to continue rooting for him.
  7. Justus Sheffield – There was a lot of concern for him as I’ve noted before, the bloom had come off the rose a little bit (even though he only just turned 24 this year). He was always going to start this season in the Majors and be given every opportunity to work his way through any growing pains. I think he came out of it wildly successful given my pre-season expectations! Six of his ten starts were of the quality variety, and I’d argue it would’ve been seven of ten had the manager left him in there longer in his final appearance of the season (there was no reason to push him, since we weren’t playing for anything, but he had plenty left in the tank). The fastball isn’t great, but his slider is phenomenal, and I thought his command improved tremendously from where it was in 2019. When we traded James Paxton to get him, we’d hoped we were getting a future ace; I don’t think that’s in the cards here. But, he can be a quality #2 or an elite #3 in a great rotation if he continues to progress.
  8. Ty France – He’s not the biggest name we got in the Austin Nola deal, but he’s the most Major League-ready bat, which is just what this team needs. The question remains: where does he belong? Is he a DH until Kyle Seager moves on? Does he take over at third base after that? Do we try to transition him over to second base? Do we shoehorn him into left field until Kelenic gets called up? Or, is he simply trade bait for someone else who has a more established defensive fit for this team? What I’m excited about is the fact that his production at the plate didn’t falter one bit in going from San Diego to Seattle. You never know what you’re going to get when you trade for someone; sometimes the transition causes them to press and try to do too much (leading to mistakes). His bat plays anywhere in the 2-6 range in the lineup – depending on who you’ve got around him – and it should continue to be productive as long as he’s here (under team control through the 2025 season).
  9. Dylan Moore – He’s your frontrunner for the starting second baseman job next year, but he too can play all over the field if you need him. This is VERY impressive for someone who appeared to be nothing more than a utility guy (at best) or a Quad-A level talent (at worst). We’ve seen TONS of Dylan Moore types who never took the next step into being an everyday starter, which is why his story is so special. He came into this season and really set all of our expectations on fire! His defense has DRASTICALLY improved since the beginning of 2019, and now his bat – particularly his power numbers – has taken that leap as well. He’s yet another diamond in the rough this team was able to pluck from obscurity who should be a valuable player on the roster, as well as a valuable trade chip if we need him to be.
  10. Tom Murphy / Luis Torrens – Let’s just lump both of our prospective catchers in here. This has long been a troubled position for the Mariners (as an organization with LOTS of trouble spots they’ve failed to properly fill over the years, that’s really saying something). It’s so reassuring that we not only have this spot 100% locked down in 2021, but for many years to come (with prospect Cal Raleigh knocking on the door of the Majors, who figures to be our regular starting catcher as soon as 2022 or 2023). Murphy, of course, spent 2020 injured, but he should return at full health (and to his quality 2019 form). This, fortunately, afforded us ample opportunity to get a good, long look at Torrens, who also came over from San Diego, and was really reliable in all facets of the catching game for the M’s.
  11. Justin Dunn – Our other big rookie starter getting a “full” season’s worth of experience didn’t have quite as promising of a year as Sheffield. He too has a rather disappointing fastball, but makes up for it with tons of movement. Which means that he didn’t give up very many hits (or even a ton of hard-hit balls), but he walked a bunch of dudes (31 in just over 45 innings). You wonder, if he is able to harness things and stay within the strike zone more, if that’ll translate to giving up more hits and extra-base hits. BUT, if he’s able to put it ALL together, he could be a really special guy. As it is, this was just a year to get his feet wet, and he did that, while staying healthy throughout. He’s worked his arm up, accounting for four quality starts out of ten, and now it’s time to take what he’s learned this year and advance things in 2021 and beyond. Once again – with Sheffield – he’ll be given every opportunity to walk out of Spring Training with a starting rotation job, which means he has a significant head start over the younger guys we’ve drafted in recent years, who are champing at the bit to make their marks in the Major Leagues.
  12. Yohan Ramirez – The bullpen was an unmitigated disaster in 2020, but Ramirez – the Rule 5 guy we got from the Cheating Astros’ organization – managed to not only stay up all year, but be probably our best overall reliever, as well as the guy most poised to be our Closer of the Future. He made 16 appearances, got 3 saves, and had the best ERA on the team (of guys who finished the season on the 25-man roster). He had 26 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, so he’s got electric stuff; but he also had 20 walks in that span, which means he’s yet to fully harness it. Bullpen is such a crapshoot, and we’ve probably got 20 guys right behind him who all have potential to be at least competent, so I don’t know if it makes a ton of sense to go crazy here. I’m just happy we came out of this season with ONE guy I like!

I could go on and on; there are a few pitchers in the minors I’m pretty excited about, but I know almost nothing about them, and I don’t know what exactly they were able to accomplish in Tacoma this year, without any real games happening (and facing the same Mariners prospects over and over). Many of them won’t be ready until 2022 at the earliest, and even the guys who are on the cusp will still likely have to start 2021 in the minors just to prove they’re ready to be called up.

But, if you just look at the guys I talked about here, 2021 looks like it could be quite fun. By midseason, Kelenic, Lewis, and Haniger could be our outfielders. Seager, Crawford, Moore, White, and Murphy/Torrens could be our infield, with Ty France as our DH (and any number of good-looking bench/utility guys behind them, like Jose Marmolejos, Sam Haggerty, Tim Lopes, and Shed Long). What do you think about this lineup?

  1. Dylan Moore (2B)
  2. Mitch Haniger (RF)
  3. Kyle Lewis (CF)
  4. Kyle Seager (3B)
  5. Ty France (DH)
  6. Evan White (1B)
  7. Jarred Kelenic (LF)
  8. Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)
  9. J.P. Crawford (SS)

Obviously, of course, Kelenic will eventually ascend toward the 2-4 range in the lineup, but as a rookie? Let’s give him a soft landing, at least until he’s worked through his inevitable struggles.

That’s a fun lineup, though, right?! Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais are already talking about the 2021 team contending for the playoffs – which is a good year (at least) earlier than most projections had us heading into this season – and that has to be a considerable reason why. Those guys can hit, defend, steal bases, get on base; everything you want! That’s a viable Major League everyday roster that can win a lot of ballgames.

On the pitching side of things, it’s a little more iffy. It sounds like we’re going to continue with a 6-man rotation, with four of the slots going to Marco, Justus Sheffield, Yusei Kikuchi, and Justin Dunn. Figure that Nick Margevicius and Ljay Newsome will compete for a fifth spot (with the other likely heading to the bullpen as a long reliever), and a sixth spot going to a free agent (maybe bring back Taijuan Walker, who was KILLING it in Toronto after we traded him; it’s a bummer that it doesn’t look like he got a chance to pitch in the playoffs, before they lost to the Rays). With all the money the Mariners have to spend, I have to imagine that whoever we sign in free agency will be of high quality. So, if you figure he’s at least on Marco’s level, that’s two high-quality starters at the top of the rotation, with two promising young guys in Sheffield & Dunn, and Kikuchi who will hopefully figure it out at some point (considering his pedigree in the Japanese league). Also, not for nothing, but Margevicius and Newsome both threw lots of strikes and consistently kept the M’s in ballgames, so I have no problem with either one of them.

It’s not a dominant rotation, but as long as guys don’t regress too bad, you can win a lot with them.

The bullpen is another matter, of course. You figure the M’s will also look to free agency here to shore it up, but I won’t be holding my breath. The variance from season to season when it comes to relievers makes them too unpredictable to project. It’s going to take a lot of luck – in finding the right guys, as well as helping our homegrown guys improve in their development – but if the Mariners somehow hit the lottery with their bullpen configuration, then 2021 could very well be the year we end the streak.

It could be the first year since 2001 that we make the post-season!

(it would also help if MLB kept the playoff format as is, with eight teams per league advancing, but that’s neither here nor there).

As I mentioned, every time I’ve left a season allowing myself to dream big about the future, the Mariners have fallen on their faces. This time DOES feel different, though. The foundation doesn’t seem like it’s being held together by 15 year old duct tape, with a leaking roof and spiders crawling all over the basement. The veterans are still in their primes, the young guys look poised to develop early, and if we can just catch a fucking BREAK for once, maybe there will be cause for real, legitimate celebration in 2021!

Or, you know, maybe everything falls apart again, the front office all gets fired after making all these promises of contention, panic moves – made in hopes to save their jobs – all bite us horrifically in the ass, and we’re left to do this all over again in another 5-10 years.

When I put it that way, when do the Seattle Kraken start playing?

The Mariners Are Starting To Fade With That Weekend Series In San Diego

Let’s just pretend last night’s game against the Astros didn’t happen. Football season being what it is, it necessitates my writing about the Seahawks most Monday mornings. And I’ll be damned if I’m posting twice on the same day when I don’t have to!

So, imagine it’s yesterday morning when I’m writing this. The M’s are 23-30 and coming off of a series defeat to the Padres. The fact that we won once – and took the finale to extra innings – is impressive-enough, but with the Cheating Astros winning 2/3 over the weekend, they took an insurmountable 4-game lead heading into the Seattle series this week.

Friday’s 6-1 defeat was a bust any way you slice it. Yusei Kikuchi gave up 5 runs in 4 innings; his season hasn’t been ideal by any stretch of the imagination. In spite of decent bullpen work the rest of the way, the offense couldn’t generate more than three hits (one of them a solo homer by Evan White).

That made Saturday’s 4-1 victory all the more exciting, though. Legitimate cause for celebration – Justus Sheffield – tossed another gem, going 6 innings, giving up 1 run. He has been a true revelation this season! Kyle Lewis hit a solo homer (his 11th on the season) and two guys we brought in from the Padres in that Austin Nola deal – Ty France and Luis Torrens – combined for 4 hits and 3 RBI in this one. Nola, meanwhile, has shockingly been ice cold since going to San Diego, with only 10 hits in 49 at bats, for a slash line of .204/.316/.388, which has to be a disappointment for both him and his new team. Maybe the pressure is too much? Maybe it’s just a flukey cold streak. We’ll see. Anyway, this one got hairy in the ninth inning, with Yoshihisa Hirano loading the bases before getting out unscathed.

The finale on Sunday was pretty bonkers, with both starters getting into the fifth inning without giving up any hits. The M’s actually managed to draw first blood in the bottom of the fifth with a single and a double to take a 1-0 lead. Justin Dunn didn’t give up a hit until he got two outs into the sixth inning, before a walk, a double, and 3-run homer ended his outing. The Mariners tied it in the eighth on a Dylan Moore 2-run bomb, which eventually got us into extras. With the dumb Start A Runner On Second Base rule in effect, the Padres scored in the top of the tenth and the Mariners did the same to make it 4-4 heading into the 11th. The Padres did significant damage this time around, scoring three runs to ultimately take the game, 7-4.

Again, heading into Monday, the Mariners and their 23-30 record were good for tenth in the draft order next year. Still well within shouting distance of a much better pick! How will we do against the Astros? I’m predicting three more defeats!

(Would you look at that?! After last night’s game, I’m already wrong in my prediction!)

Alas, The Mariners Have No More Games Against The Inept Rangers Left To Play

The Mariners finished the 10-game season set against the Rangers with an 8-2 record, thanks to the 4-game sweep over Labor Day weekend. Ever since the disasterous Rangers/Astros/Dodgers road trip where we went 2-8, the Mariners have won 11 out of 14, and were quite close to winning two more in that stretch! That brings us up to a 19-22 record, good for third in the A.L. West and, not for nothing, but also DANGEROUSLY close to actual playoff contention!

No joke, we’re closer to second place in the division (2 games) than we are fourth place (2.5 games), and don’t forget that the top two teams in every division advance to the playoffs (plus two wild card teams per conference).

Now, of course, let’s not go crazy. The Rangers are BAD. But, what I think is pretty entertaining is the fact that the Mariners … might not be bad? I’m also highly amused that we’re in the midst of a 6-game winning streak and this is mostly AFTER the Mariners made all of their trade deadline deals. Sure, losing Taijuan Walker and Austin Nola doesn’t help, but everyone else seems to be addition by subtraction. Let’s look back fondly at the last four days, before reality comes crashing down again as we head to San Francisco to play the Giants over the next couple days.

After our series against the A’s was COVID-ed out, you’d be reasonable in thinking the M’s might be a little rusty or otherwise lacking in focus. But, Yusei Kikuchi brought his lunch pail in this one, going 6 innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits (0 walks) with 7 strikeouts. It was a highly-effective performance (against, again, a bad Rangers offense). Dylan Moore, back from the IL, has been on fire; he had 2 hits in this one. Evan White also had 2 hits (including a double) and 2 walks, knocking in 2. And J.P. Crawford mashed a 3-run home run to salt this one away late. The Mariners were up 6-1 going into the ninth inning, when the Rangers made it marginally interesting, but they still lost by three runs.

The quality pitching continued for the Mariners on Saturday, as Justus Sheffield went 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits & 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts. Dylan Moore had another hit in this one. Newcomer Ty France has had a solid start to his Mariners career, with two hits of his own (he has 4 hits and 4 RBI since coming over in the trade with San Diego). There were lots of clutch hits up and down the lineup, though, as the M’s were 5 for 12 with runners in scoring position. Also of note is that Yohan Ramirez notched his second save of his young Major League career, locking down a 5-3 victory.

Justin Dunn couldn’t let the Quality Start train fall off the tracks; on Sunday he managed 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks, with 4 strikeouts, after really struggling through the first two innings. This was a game where the offense did just enough in nailing a 4-3 win. Kyle Seager led the way with 2 hits (including a 2-run home run in the first), and Kyle Lewis had a solo bomb. Kendall Graveman made his second appearance of the weekend in this one, since returning from the IL. He’ll be a bullpen guy the rest of the way due to a neck injury that’s preventing him from getting deep into games. He also just might be a bullpen guy forever, because he seems perfectly suited for this role. He can touch 99 miles per hour with his fastball, he has tons of movement on his pitches, and he’s an unflappable veteran who should be good in these pressure-packed moments. Honestly, I’d love to see him as our 7th or 8th inning guy exclusively next year.

Finally, on Labor Day, Marco Gonzales continues to be master of his domain (I’m using that phrase correctly, right? He doesn’t jack off?). He’s also a really great baseball pitcher! 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits (0 walks) with 7 strikeouts. He is just a marvel to watch out there. I figured he could turn himself into a decent #3 or MAYBE a #2 if he really worked at his craft, but he is legitimately a borderline ace right now. At this point, I’m surprised when he’s NOT going at least 7 innings and giving up 2 runs or less. Certainly, in three of his last four starts, he’s gone 23 innings and given up just 4 runs. His ERA now sits at 3.02 and he’s worked his way up to a 5-2 record on the season. The only blemish in this 8-4 victory came in the ninth inning, when Aaron Fletcher was handed a soft landing of sorts with a 6-run lead. He got one out while giving up a run and leaving the bases loaded. Yohan Ramirez had to enter in this improbable save-situation and try not to give up the farm. He got a quick out on a sacrifice fly, walked the bases loaded again, but got the final batter to foul out to end it, picking up his third career save in the process. Big moment for the kid!

Look, I know it’s dumb to dream of the playoffs now, especially when the Astros still get to play the Rangers a whopping seven times, but I just think it’s remarkable that we’re in this position at all. The starting pitching – particularly from the younger guys, but really across the board – has been better than I ever could’ve imagined. The bullpen has been a struggle to watch, but I would argue our very worst offenders (save Aaron Fletcher, for now) are off the team and out of the organization entirely.

What has obviously impressed me the most has been the hitting. The everyday players. Kyle Lewis has cooled off considerably since his red-hot start, but he’s still finding ways to contribute and should be a leading Rookie of the Year candidate. Kyle Seager has been flat-out fun to watch! He’s the kind of guy you love to have leading a new crop of youngsters, as he goes about his business the way you hope EVERY player on your team would. J.P. Crawford is still streaky as all get-out, and hasn’t quite mastered the power element of his bat, but his ability to get on base hasn’t wavered all year; with his defensive ability up the middle, I’ll take it. Evan White is still digging himself out of a pretty deep hole to start his Major League career, but he’s been MUCH improved over the last 2-3 weeks. He doesn’t look lost at the plate, and his power is insane when he’s able to connect.

The real fun has come from the fringes. Austin Nola obviously turned himself into an All Star and was traded for a bounty. Dylan Moore appears to be right on his tail, hitting .293/.369/.565 with 7 doubles and 6 homers; that’s supposed to be your utility outfielder! He was this scrawny-looking Quad-A guy last year who was barely hitting over .200 across 113 games! Then, there was Sam Haggerty (before he just went on the IL), who came out of nowhere to hit like a maniac. And even Jose Marmolejos has been red-hot since being called back up from the minors! His defense isn’t any sort of sight to behold, but he’s more than making up for it with his power bat!

The point is, I expected the offense to struggle a lot more than they have this year. Of course, there’s still about three weeks left to go, so anything can happen.

Counterpoint: there’s still about three weeks left to go, so anything can happen! We have ten games against National League opponents (who don’t get to see us too often, and therefore aren’t used to beating up on us like the American League has). We have three games – at home – against the Astros (our rivals for one of those playoff spots), and six games against the A’s (who are leading the division at the moment, but are long overdue for a cool-off period).

If the Mariners are worthy of making the playoffs, they’ll figure out how to overcome this two-game deficit. If they’re not, then it wasn’t meant to be. Either way, it won’t change my excitement level for 2021 one iota. Better days are ahead, my friends! I can feel it!

The Mariners Split With The Angels The Hard Way

Well, the good news is: we never have to play the Angels again in 2020.

There is no bad news.

It’s not all that dire, actually; I just don’t like them very much. The Mariners split the weekend 4-game series, and they split the 10-game season series; considering seven of those games were down in Anaheim (because MLB’s scheduling is dumb), that’s actually kind of impressive (of course, considering the Angels might be even worse than the Mariners, that’s also whatever the opposite of “impressive” is; Google says “unimpressive” might be the word I’m looking for there).

Game 1 of this series was pretty rough on the ol’ offense. Nick Margevicius spun another relative gem – 6 innings, 2 runs – but the bullpen gave up a late solo homer to Guess Who* and our ninth inning comeback fell one run short. Seager and Crawford had doubles in this one; Lopes and Swingin’ Sam Haggerty had the RBI.

* – Mike Trout, of course

Game 2 was a miserable affair I was more than happy to have missed (winning all of $10 playing poker against my family). A 16-3 laugher where Justus Sheffield didn’t quite have it (4.2 innings, 6 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks, with 6 strikeouts) and Tim Lopes got to pitch an inning of mop-up duty. Shed Long hit a homer – to prove he doesn’t JUST make outs all the time – and Austin Nola got his last walk in a Mariners uniform.

Games 3 and 4 were a couple of thrilling 2-1 victories for the good guys! I truly loved every minute of these!

Justin Dunn (in Game 3) followed up his 6 innings of 1-hit, 0-run ball by producing yet another line of 6 innings of 1-hit, 0-run ball! This time with 3 extra walks, but with the same 6 strikeouts! Kyle Lewis provided a solo homer in the top of the seventh to put Dunn in line for another win, but that was immediately coughed back up by the bullpen. The score stayed that way into the top of the 10th inning, when Tim Lopes hit automatic baserunner Kyle Lewis in from second base to take the lead, which Yohan Ramirez locked down for his first career Major League save.

I’ll admit, I’m not really a fan of starting a guy off at second base when we get to extra innings, but it’s new and different, so that makes it interesting (at least for now). At some point, I feel like that novelty is going to wear off and it’s going to stop feeling like legitimate baseball. You should need more than a bloop single to win an extra-innings game. I dunno, maybe that’s just a sign I’m getting old. You kids today with your “participation trophies” and your “baseball games that no longer go 18 innings once in a blue moon”.

Game 4 might’ve been my absolute favorite game of the season. Marco Gonzales had a complete game 4-hitter, with 1 walk and 8 strikeouts! He was absolutely marvelous! There were a couple of unlucky, broken-bat singles in the ninth inning to make it interesting, but then Guess Who* came to bat nursing a 3-strikeout game. He promptly hit a line drive right at Kyle Seager, who was able to double off the runner at second base for two outs. From there, the game was well in hand. He only needed 102 pitches in this gem! GOD I MISS COMPLETE GAMES!

Jose Marmolejos continued his red hot road trip with the go-ahead homer in the sixth inning; prior to that, Joe Odom (current starting catcher until the guy from the Padres gets cleared to play) knocked in Jake Fraley to get the scoring started for the Mariners.

The Mariners currently sit 15-22 and in third place in the A.L. West (VERY comfortably behind the top two teams). That record is good for 8th in the draft order for next season. On the one hand, getting swept by the Angels would’ve put us in the driver’s seat for one of the top draft spots, but on the other hand: how embarrassing that would’ve been!

In COVID news, I guess someone on the Athletics caught it? So, that means at least the first two games of the 3-game set that would’ve started tonight are postponed. If everything looks good, maybe we get a doubleheader in on Thursday. It’s pretty convenient that this is a homestand for the Mariners, so at least they can enjoy the break in the comfort of their own homes. The downside is, this is the last time Oakland was scheduled to come to Seattle, so if they’re ever going to make up that third game, they’ll have to do it on one of the teams’ mutual off-days in September:

  • Could be Monday the 14th; Seattle will return home the day before, though Oakland would have to hop from Texas (on Sunday) to Seattle (Monday) to play in Colorado on Tuesday
  • Could be Thursday the 17th; Seattle has a rare mid-homestand off-day, while Oakland would tack an extra day to their Texas/Colorado road trip before returning to Oakland for their game on Friday
  • Otherwise, MLB could unfairly add to the three games in Oakland the Mariners are set to play to close out the season, but I don’t think that’s very likely.

Here’s to hoping – for the teams’ sakes – that they’re able to at least get one of these games played on Thursday of this week. But, you know, better to be safe than sorry and all that.

Blockbuster: The Mariners Traded Austin Nola & Duds For Prospects (and probably some duds too)

The San Diego Padres are making a move, ladies and germs. From what I can tell, this is the equivalent of pushing your chips out and declaring yourself All In. At the time of this writing, they’ve made four deals, and the trade deadline is still some hours away yet.

One of those deals was to acquire Sicilian Army Knife (seriously, according to Wikipedia anyway, the Nolas emigrated from Sicily) Austin Nola from the Mariners. Since the deal was padded out from there, here’s the nuts and bolts:

  • Padres acquire: Austin Nola, Austin Adams, and Dan Altavilla
  • Mariners acquire: Taylor Trammell, Andres Munoz, Luis Torrens, and Ty France

The rumors started swirling yesterday morning, when Nola was not-so-suspiciously out of the lineup (he had just played the night before, and catchers usually get day games off following night games), but the Mariners DID suspiciously call up a third catcher just in case. Of the players the Mariners might be willing to part with (in other words, the players NOT currently factored into the overall rebuild), Austin Nola had the most value of anyone. He’s currently in the prime of his career, he plays multiple positions well (catcher, first base, the corner outfield spots, maybe even a little third base in a pinch), and he’s still under club control for five more years beyond 2020 (meaning for the duration of his prime, he figures to be extremely cost-effective).

At that point, you have to wonder – as a Mariners fan – why we’d want to give away someone with so much value? If he’s so good, and he’s cheap for so long, isn’t that someone you try to build around?

Well, he turns 31 years old in December. Asked and answered. If we don’t expect the Mariners to seriously contend until 2022 at the earliest – which will be Nola’s age-32 season – is it wise to expect he’ll still be as good when he’s entering his mid-30’s? It’s likely Nola’s trade value will never be higher than it is right this very minute. If his on-field production starts to decline, that value is going to plummet. So, it’s probably smarter to strike while the iron is hot. Nevertheless, when I started reading the rumors, I was adamant that the Mariners better get a king’s fucking ransom in return! We can’t keep trading quality players for pennies on the dollar if we’re ever going to turn this ship around!

And, to their credit, it sounds like the Mariners did just that!

Taylor Trammell is the big prize here. He’s a Top 100 prospect who, oddly enough, is also an outfielder. Including the two guys we have in the minors (until at least a month into the 2021 season) as well as Kyle Lewis, that gives the Mariners four very highly-coveted outfielders. Which, on the one hand, gives us insurance in case someone doesn’t pan out, while on the other hand gives us a valuable trade chip in the unlikely event that they ALL pan out.

Andres Munoz is a reliever who can throw triple digits with ease. At least, he could, until he required Tommy John surgery back in March. Pitchers usually return from this surgery intact, so that’s not much of a worry. He’s 21 years old and already has 22 games of Major League experience from 2019, when he showed that electric stuff (30 strikeouts in 23 innings, albeit with 11 walks and 10 runs given up). I know fans are going to want to immediately declare him the “Closer of the Future”, but let’s hold our horses a little bit. It’s fun to get excited over guys who throw as hard as he does, but these types of pitchers flame out just as easily as they succeed (and it’s pretty rare that any reliever is successful over a long career). I think the best we can hope for is that he puts together one or two magical years when all the stars seem to align for the Mariners; but, banking on him being any consistent presence over the next half decade or longer is simply unrealistic. That being said, his stuff is CLEARLY better than anyone else in the Mariners’ minor league system (saying nothing of the Major League roster, which is a dumpster fire).

Luis Torrens is a 24 year old catcher with moderate MLB experience, where the best he’s shown is promise. He should get a significant look the rest of this season. To his credit, he’s looked better in 2020 than he ever has at this level, and he’s young enough to still build himself into a viable Major League catcher. But, it’s clear the Mariners are banking on Cal Raleigh – currently on the Jarred Kelenic/Julio Rodriguez track – to be this team’s Catcher of the Future. At best, Torrens figures to be his backup, if he’s still around in a few years. In the meantime, he could be the bridge to Raleigh if everything breaks right for him.

It doesn’t sound like Torrens is much of a defender behind the plate. But, so far I’ve really liked the Mariners’ coaching staff when it comes to improving catcher defense. They’ve been able to turn Austin Nola into a star, they got the most out of Omar Narvaez (rated as among the very worst defensive catchers when we traded for him before last season), they turned Tom Murphy’s career around before his injury this year. It seems like they can work with someone like Torrens and build him into at least a league-average catcher.

Ty France is a 26 year old third baseman, who is in his second year in the bigs. Fans have taken that as a sign that Kyle Seager could be moved later today (seems unlikely, given his contract), but he really seems like just another prospect to throw onto the pile. His bat in the minor leagues was insane, but he struggled quite a bit in his Major League debut last year. He’s been better this year – in a small sample, of course – but obviously it’s too soon to make any sort of definitive statement about his development. Like Torrens, I would expect France will get a LONG look the rest of the way, either at DH or subbing in for Seager. Hopefully, his bat stays as hot as it’s been to this point of the season, as losing Nola is going to put a serious damper on this Mariners offense the rest of the way.

I also understand – thanks to U.S.S. Mariner – that France can also play second base, which could be significant because Shed Long looks … bad. Don’t get me wrong, physically he LOOKS cool as shit, but he can’t hit, he lost all his power it would seem, and his defense is nothing to write home about. Since there’s clearly an immediate hole at second base, and there figures to be a hole at third base in the next year or two, if France pans out with his bat, that’s a big worry off our collective plates.

On top of this, the Mariners were able to rid themselves of Dan Altavilla, who – as I’ve lambasted repeatedly this year (and in years prior) – has never been able to parlay his strong arm into Major League success (even more reason to caution against over-hyping Munoz). Austin Adams was a good reliever for the Mariners in 2019, but there’s a reason why I refused to learn any of these relievers’ names this year: none of them figure to be here when the Mariners are good again. Adams hasn’t pitched at all in 2020 because of his ACL surgery (which doesn’t figure to be a serious ailment for a pitcher, but nevertheless requires a buttload of rehab to come back from), which makes his inclusion in this deal all the more surprising. From what I recall, he’s been throwing … somewhere, and may in fact return to Major League action before the season ends. But, I mean, that’s a lot to ask from someone – to jump right into the fire like that – who hasn’t pitched an inning in anger since last September.

This is a pretty exciting deal for the Mariners, all things considered. This further bolsters our farm system and makes our current youth movement at the Major League level all the more interesting. It’s also an exciting deal for the Padres! I have no reason for any animosity towards them; they’re another franchise who hasn’t been good in a LONG time. It’s commendable for them to play for the championship right now, as opposed to playing it safe and seeing if their own guys can develop on their own. I don’t really have any other ponies in this race (particularly with King Felix sitting the season out), so yeah, I’ll root for the Padres! Go get ’em boys! May Austin Nola be the last piece to the championship puzzle!