Tempering Expectations For This Mariners Rebuild

What interests me most about the game of baseball is the long game. In football, you’ve got rosters twice the size of a baseball team, yet we see it every year: teams going from worst to first. You can turn around a football team in one offseason! But, in baseball, it takes seemingly forever (and, for an organization like the Mariners, LITERALLY forever).

I did a big, long post about the first successful Mariners rebuild. I originally wrote that in 2013, when we all were hopeful that we were in the middle of the next successful Mariners rebuild. There were so many moves made between the nadir of this franchise (2008) and the next time you could legitimately say the Mariners were in contention for the post-season (2014, when we finished 87-75, just 1 game back of a Wild Card spot) that it truly boggles the mind.

That rebuild was ultimately a failure. It produced three winning seasons between 2014 and 2018, and zero playoff appearances. Following last year’s collapse, Jerry Dipoto made a bunch of moves to jettison veterans and infuse the farm system with prospects. Our veteran holdovers include names like Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc, Roenis Elias, Dan Altavilla, and Dan Vogelbach; most (if not all) of those players will not be on this team the next time it reaches the post-season.

So, we’re stuck rooting for prospects. Rooting for potential. Rooting for the young guys to step up and prove themselves not just worthy of Major League roster spots, but ultimately good enough to get this team back to the playoffs one day (ideally one day very soon). Jerry Dipoto is staking his reputation and his job on these players. If it all falls apart like it did last time, he, Scott Servais, and a bunch of other very smart baseball men will be looking for employment elsewhere.

As I noted, we’ve been through this before. So, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

See, it can be fun and exciting knowing your team is out of it before the season even begins. First, there’s no expectations, so any on-field success you see is all gravy. Then, of course, there’s the factor of the unknown. New, young players you’ve never seen before are ALWAYS more interesting than old veterans who’ve been around for years. We pretty much know what guys like Seager, Healy, Felix, and Leake are; there’s nothing to learn about those guys. So, we pin all our hopes and dreams on the prospects. We want to see them in a Major League uniform right this minute, to pump them full of experience with the hopes that they’ll pan out immediately. This can lead to guys getting called up too early (a la Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Matt Tuiasosopo, etc.) or guys just being huge disappointments.

Let’s start with the 2008 season, the aforementioned nadir. That team lost 101 games and we were all miserable. Successful players like Felix, Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez, Jose Lopez, and even Yuniesky Betancourt were no match for the suck-asses that were Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro, Jeremy Reed, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, Erik Bedard, and so on. General Manager Bill Bavasi was fired, and The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild was on!

2009 proved to be a welcome surprise. Franklin Gutierrez was brought over in a trade, as was Jason Vargas (Doug Fister was one of the rare Bavasi draft picks that stuck in the org and actually panned out). Ichiro was still Ichiro! Russell Branyan and David Aardsma were quality pick-ups. Even the return of Ken Griffey Jr. for a victory lap proved valuable. That 85-win season led everyone (but the stat geeks, who knew those wins were on a shaky foundation) to believe we were way ahead of the curve on this rebuild. So much so that Jackie Z decided to make a big push to go for it in 2010.

We traded for Cliff Lee! We got rid of Carlos Silva and brought back a useful piece in Milton Bradley! Our young core of starters (Felix, Vargas, and Fister) were bolstered with key bullpen additions like Brandon League, Jamey Wright, and Sean White. So, what happened? The team fell apart (ultimately losing another 101 games; in hindsight, a second go-around with Old Griffey proved disasterous) and shipped off anyone of value for prospects. Lee was flipped for Justin Smoak (among others). Our high draft pick was used on a pitcher who got hurt so many times he never made the Bigs. And The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild 2.0 was on.

2011 was a key year for the rebuild, as the team REALLY went for it this time. Taking a stroll through that roster is long and arduous. Ichiro, Miguel Olivo, Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, and Adam Kennedy were the veteran everyday players; Felix, Vargas, Bedard, and Fister were still holding down the rotation (though Fister would be swapped for a bunch of nobodies at the deadline; yet another example of a trade that totally backfired for the Mariners); and League, Wright, and David Pauley (among others) were the steady influences in the bullpen. But, the young guys were the stars of the show. 2008 first rounder Dustin Ackley was called up midseason, as was Kyle Seager. Justin Smoak was handed the first base job. Guti started his slow descent into an injured adulthood. Then, there were guys like Michael Saunders, Greg Halman, Alex Liddi, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Chris Gimenez, Carlos Peguero, Adam Moore, Mike Wilson and more. On the pitching side of things, Michael Pineda was an All Star, but then there were guys like Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush (remember when he was a starting pitcher?), a younger Tom Wilhelmsen, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes, Chance Ruffin, and Shawn Kelley.

Those were all the players we hung our hats on. How many of them actually panned out? You can count them on one hand. How many of them panned out for the Seattle Mariners? That number is even smaller.

2012 saw the influx of guys like Jesus Montero (swapped for Michael Pineda), Hector Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez, Lucas Luetge, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, and John Jaso. They were paired with the holdovers like Smoak, Seager, Ackley, Felix, Vargas, Ichiro (starting his decline) and Figgins (at the end of his miserable Mariners career).

Then, there’s 2013, with prospects like Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino (a year after being drafted), Brandon Maurer, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. Veterans like Kendrys Morales, Endy Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, Jason Bay, Jeremy Bonderman, and Hisashi Iwakuma saw extensive playing time, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. The old guys didn’t do enough (and most were gone in short order), and the young guys (predictably) never panned out for this team.

So, please, keep all these duds in mind as we go forward. You’re going to hear A LOT of new names you’re not familiar with in 2019 and 2020. The team is going to tout these players as The Future; don’t believe ’em. The vast majority of these players will be more in a long line of losers that help to keep the Seattle Mariners out of the post-season.

Some guys will be promising, only to fall flat on their asses the following year when expectations are raised and other teams learn how to handle them. Some guys will be promising only to suffer devastating injuries that hinders their development. Some of those injured guys will be brought back too soon, only to struggle and lose their confidence. Some guys will just flat-out stink from the get-go. One, maybe two guys, will be okay. But, they won’t be enough. They’ll just embolden this organization to spend a bunch of money when the time “feels right”. At that point, some flashy veterans will be brought in to supplement our future “rising stars” and we’ll go through the process of “contending (for a wild card spot)” all over again.

The Mariners are never going to be the Astros or Cubs or Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers. They’re closer to the Athletics and Rays than anything else, just a Major League farm club for better-run organizations. The tremendous amount of luck required to turn us into one of those truly good teams isn’t ingrained in the city of Seattle and its sports teams. The best we can hope for is competent mediocrity.

The best we’re going to get is just outside, looking in.

Walker Does His Best To One-Up Paxton

Teams can fall a little too in love with their prospects (unless you’re a new GM and those prospects were brought in by the previous regime).  They tend to over-value them in trade negotiations, and give them countless chances they wouldn’t otherwise give free agents on team-friendly, short-term deals.  Fans, well, what’s bigger and more all-encompassing than “love”, because that’s what they’ve got for their team’s prospects.  Shut up!  The Angels should be so lucky to trade us Mike Trout for Stefen Romero!  And so on and so forth.

It’s with good reason, though, as prospects are little nuggets of hope.  With established veterans, you pretty much know what they are, and you pay accordingly.  We’re all aware of the ceilings of guys like Cano, Cruz, and Aoki.  But, with prospects – guys just starting to get their feet wet, all the way up to guys with some experience, but haven’t entrenched themselves in the Bigs – the sky is the limit.  Most of the time, prospects fizzle out.  Sometimes, guys bust through into established roles in the Major Leagues.  And, every once in a great while, guys will hit it big, and it’s in this case where you – as a fan – are so desperate to get in on the ground floor.

Prospects who hit it big are cost-effective superstars, essential to a team’s chances in having a long, sustained run of success.  Even though there’s no salary cap in the MLB, you can’t literally bring in 25 free agents to fill out your roster and expect to win every year.  You need cheap guys under team control to round out your squad, and fill in around them with free agent veterans and the like.

For so many years under Bavasi and Zduriencik, the model failed.  Prospects never developed, and veterans came in and took dumps all over our hearts.  For every winning season, there were at least three losing seasons, and ultimately the model needed a total revamp.

This year, the Mariners seem to have the right mix of veterans, and now they’re starting to see some real potential and production out of their prospects.  There are still plenty of growing pains, but if we can work through those over the course of the next couple months, we might be in for a fun stretch of baseball this fall.

The prime area I’m talking about here is in the starting rotation.  Walker, Karns, and now Paxton, are essentially still prospects, in that I don’t believe any of them have reached their ceilings.  We’re going to need them to pop if we expect to remain in contention, and hopes have never been higher.

Remember the Big 4 of Walker, Paxton, Hultzen, and Maurer?  Remember how they were all together, kicking ass in the minor leagues, and we all pointed to the future of the Mariners’ starting rotation as being in the conversation with those Braves teams of the 1990s?  Well, such is baseball, Hultzen is all but out of the game, Maurer has been converted to a full-time reliever (in another organization, no less), Paxton has spent the majority of his career injured (and the majority of this season in Tacoma), and Walker is still trying to figure out how to transition from a guy who throws electric stuff into an actual pitcher.

Remember the original wave of hotshot pitching prospects the Mariners over-valued, around the turn of the century?  Headed by a still-young Freddy Garcia, we had Gil Meche, Ryan Anderson, Joel Pineiro, and to a lesser extent, Ryan Franklin.  Remember what happened with that group?  Garcia was an okay ace-type pitcher (but far from an elite, Randy Johnson type).  Meche flashed early potential before suffering arm problems, then was sort of mediocre before leaving in free agency.  Ryan Anderson never made the leap to the Bigs, thanks to injuries and general ineffectiveness (the hype of him being touted as “The Little Unit” or whatever trite comparison to Randy Johnson probably didn’t help much either).  Pineiro also flashed a lot of early potential before regressing to mediocre (and then bouncing around the league as a starter/reliever for the later years in his career).  And Franklin had a nice little assortment of pitches, but none of them were top shelf, and he spent the majority of his Mariners career being mediocre before converting to a reliever full time and having a lot of great success in the National League.  The claim to fame for this group is that 4/5 of them (Garcia, Meche, Pineiro, and Franklin) combined with Jamie Moyer in 2003 to be the only starting 5-man rotation in my lifetime, in all of Major League Baseball, to make every single start for a team in a season.  While it amounted to 93 wins (on the back of a still-awesome offense), it didn’t lead to a playoff spot, nor any sustained success going forward (as the Mariners, in 2004, would win 30 fewer games).

So, with that in mind, I don’t want to sit here and make this out to be more than it is.  Hell, earlier this week, I was just bitching about each and every one of these starting pitchers for their recent failures.  But, on the heels of Paxton’s eye-opening performance on Monday, Walker came out last night and pitched 8 shutout innings, with 0 walks and only 3 hits (all singles).  Considering Walker’s been as culpable as any of our starters for this team’s recent struggles, it was nice to see him bounce back against a pretty solid Indians team.

Moreover, don’t think I didn’t notice the timing in all of this.  Granted, the broadcast mentioned a “Get Your Shit Together, Or Else” meeting between the pitching coach and all the starters recently, but I like to think there’s a little friendly rivalry going on between Walker and Paxton, the last two standing from that notorious Big 4.  Walker is a fiery, competitive guy, who wants so desperately to be great.  But, he doesn’t have any peers on this team.  Felix, Iwakuma, and Miley are all veterans.  Karns is new to the team, even if he’s in a similar boat experience-wise.  But, Karns hasn’t had to endure the hardships of a go-nowhere organization like Walker.  Paxton, however, does have that in common.  Paxton is Walker’s true peer and true rival (even though, I highly doubt they’re actually enemies).  There was a lot of heat on Paxton after his most recent start, and I’m sure it didn’t sit well with Walker – who had a tremendous amount of heat on him coming into this season, from local as well as national media types.

I’m not saying I necessarily predicted this or anything.  But, after watching last night’s game, I don’t know how I could’ve missed it.  Walker looked like a man possessed.  We’ve seen him nibble and get too cute with his offspeed stuff, trying to find an appropriate mix-and-match system that works for him, with frequently middling results.  We’ve also seen him snap back into Default-Taijuan mode, where he pumps teams with a crazy percentage of fastballs, controlling the strike zone, and using his overpowering arm to win a game.  But, last night’s game was something else.  He looked like he wanted to throw baseballs THROUGH the opposing team’s bats.  He was focused, in control, and utterly dominant.

Now, if only he could do this every time out, we’d be in business.

Will Paxton’s presence be the spark that keeps Walker on his toes and his head in the game?  Will they together push one another into new realms of greatness we haven’t seen from either guy to date in their careers?  Will Karns take a look at what’s going on and say, “Hey fellas!  Wait up!”?  Will Miley’s shaved-off beard take 99% of the blame for his prior struggles this season, or 100% of the blame?  As you can see, I have no idea how to end this thing, so I’m just going to stop … here.

The Mariners Have Their Bullpen Set Too

This was always going to be the most interesting part of Spring Training this year (though, admittedly, not interesting enough to force me to actually pay attention day-in and day-out).  The way I had it, coming in, there were three surefire locks, and one of those locks – Charlie Furbush – came in as damaged goods and looks like he could miss weeks, if not months, of the season.  Beyond that, it was a wild fracas to lock down the back-end of the bullpen.

Steve Cishek looks to be the obvious closer, what with his 2-year, $10 million deal.  How married Scott Servais is to traditional closer roles is anyone’s guess, but let’s go out on a limb and say more often than not, when the Mariners are nursing a lead of 3 runs or less, Steve Cishek will be the last pitcher the Mariners use.

Joaquin Benoit was the other lock to make this team, he of the $7.5 million deal that we took off of the Padres’ hands in trade.  You like traditional 8th inning guys, who can close for you in a pinch?  Benoit is your man!  Think of him as your Farquhar replacement, or your Wilhelmsen replacement, or your Carson Smith replacement, or you Medina replacement, or your Maurer replacement, or your …

Then, there’s the rest of the pile.  Tony Zych came out of the woodwork late last season, putting in an awesome September in a handful of appearances.  I always had him pegged on the higher-end of the bubble guys, mostly because unlike most of the pitchers on this team, he can actually throw a fastball … you know, FAST.  One of the more confusing aspects of the new regime is how they value pitching, particularly bullpen pitching.  Maybe it’s old school, outdated thinking to want to have a bunch of fireballing hurlers in your bullpen, but I’ve seen a lot of mediocre guys come and go who’ve been forced out of this league because they couldn’t throw much faster than 90 miles per hour.  I guess location and movement are always a big help, but every now and again you just feel all warm and cozy when a guy can reach back and throw 98 mph.

Furbush wasn’t the only guy bit by the injury bug this spring.  Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook both looked like reclamation projects that had a better than 50% chance of making the team.  Instead, both will start the year on the DL.

A few of my other bubble guys ended up getting sent down to Tacoma, including Jonathan Aro (came over in the Carson Smith/Roenis Elias for Wade Miley deal), Justin De Fratus (who was waived, and then re-signed to a minor league deal, as his arm strength didn’t appear to be up to Major League snuff), and Joe Wieland among numerous others.

That opened the door for something of a longshot in Joel Peralta, who was brought in on a minor league deal with an invite to compete.  In hindsight, it might be unfair to think of him as being a longshot.  Indeed, he probably deserved better than a minor league deal in the first place.  He has a history of being wildly successful as recently as 2014!  He ended up hitting the DL last year and upon his return looked pretty mediocre.  Hard to fault teams for wondering if his nerve injury would be a career killer.  But, apparently he’s done enough in this Spring Training to earn himself a job with the Mariners, so he can’t be all bad.

Without Furbush, and without any younger options in the organization to make the jump, it was looking pretty grim as far as finding a left-handed option out of the bullpen was concerned.  Fortunately, the Mariners had a surplus of starters in camp, a couple of which were out of options and clinging for dear life to the big leagues.  Vidal Nuno was always going to make this team, but coming into Spring Training, you couldn’t be entirely sure if it would be as a starter or a reliever.  Odds were always in favor of the latter, and lo it has come to pass.  You like Nuno in the bullpen because he has starting experience.  Especially early in the season, when you’re likely to find starters struggling to get into a groove, you might have a need for a long reliever coming in and eating up innings.

The best thing that ever happened to Mike Montgomery, of course, is that very injury to Furbush.  Montgomery was always a longshot to make the rotation, and therefore a longshot to make this team.  If you asked knowledgeable Mariners fans, most of them would’ve pegged Montgomery to be a possible trade chip (barring injury, of course) at the end of Spring Training.  Well, it didn’t take long for Montgomery to abandon his starting ambitions for 2016.  And, given that he’s out of options, it only made sense to try him out in relief, to give us another experienced arm, and another arm we can use in long relief if need be.  Having Nuno and Montgomery gives us two lefties, two long relievers, and a ton of flexibility with how we mix and match at the end of games.

The seventh and final bullpen spot came way out of left field, as the Mariners traded for Nick Vincent this week, for a player to be named later.  Vincent is another guy who’s out of options, but he has tons of Major League relieving experience, and by his numbers looks like a guy who’s had a lot of success.  I don’t know what happened in San Diego to cause them to lose favor in this kid, but their loss would appear to be our gain in this sitch.

Like the rotation, and indeed the entire 25-man roster, the bullpen has a lot of possibilities.  It could be great, it could be the worst, or it could be anywhere in between.  Aside from Zych, there’s a lot of experience in these arms, and a lot of quality experience.  Guys like Cishek, Benoit, Peralta, and Vincent have had a lot of success in this league.  Best of all, it looks almost nothing like the bullpen we had last year, which was a collosal disappointment and one of the primary reasons why we failed to make the playoffs.

I don’t know what it’ll look like a month from now, but for the time being I’m going to go into this thing cautiously optimistic and see how that treats me.

The Mariners Have Their Starting Rotation Set

In probably the biggest Mariners-related news of the week, James Paxton was sent down to the minors to work on some things.

If you were playing along at home, you’re probably like me and expected that Felix, Iwakuma, Miley, and Walker were locks all along to make the starting rotation.  All that remained was that fifth starter job, whose competition comprised of Paxton, Nathan Karns, Mike Montgomery, Vidal Nuno, and maybe some mystery person we hadn’t thought of yet.  As Spring Training progressed, Montgomery and Nuno worked their way into the bullpen fray, leaving just Paxton and Karns duelling it out.

Karns was the crown jewel of the Brad Miller/Logan Morrison/Danny Farquhar trade with the Rays.  James Paxton was part of the Big 4 from the Jackie Z era along with Walker (rotation), Danny Hultzen (perpetually injured), and Brandon Maurer (gone).  Both Karns and Paxton are young, and trying to establish themselves as permanent Major Leaguers; both have their limitations that have thus far prevented them from reaching that status.

Karns has had one full season in the Major Leagues, and he was brought along slowly, with his innings limited.  In that sense, he’s a bit of an unknown as to what he can really handle.  Paxton has had each of his last two seasons severely shortened by injuries.  He’s also a bit of an unknown as to what he can really handle, since his injuries were by no means career-threatening (indeed, they were sort of flukey in nature).

What ultimately did Paxton in was this very Spring Training battle.  He started off okay through his first three appearances, building up to 50 pitches and being mostly effective.  But, his last two starts really submarined him, giving up 7 runs each, averaging 3 innings per appearance, and being unable to throw more than 40 pitches in either start.  It’s not like Karns has been lighting the world on fire – he’s had his own meltdown issues – but at least he’s been able to get his pitch count up to the 80s and has reportedly looked more in command of his stuff.

What it all boils down to is that we know what we’ve got for at least the first couple weeks of the season.

  • Felix Hernandez
  • Hisashi Iwakuma
  • Wade Miley
  • Taijuan Walker
  • Nathan Karns

That’s not a bad set-up, at least on paper.  I have no reason to expect anything but greatness from King Felix.  I’ll always be wondering if I’m going to see Good Kuma or Bad Kuma in any given start.  I’m never going to have high expectations for Miley, hoping he’s able to limit damage as much as possible and at least look good in Safeco Field where he should benefit from marine layers and whatnot.  I’m giddy with excitement over Walker taking that next step into superstardom.  And, I’m just going to grit my teeth and hope for the best in any Karns start.  Let’s just say it would behoove the Mariners to keep both Montgomery and Nuno in the bullpen, as I anticipate the long reliever will be an important role on this team.

Best of all, we have Paxton waiting in the wings.  Yes, he’s got stuff to work on, but I don’t expect him to be down in Tacoma for very long.  Any one of these guys will see time on the DL, and it wouldn’t shock me if it happens in the first month of the season.  Ideally, Paxton will work the kinks out in his first handful of starts and then he’ll be ready to go once he’s called upon.

It’s not the best rotation in the world, but it’s got potential.  Probably more potential than any rotation I’ve seen since the Cliff Lee days in 2010.  But, as always, “potential” is a tricky word.  This rotation has the potential to be great, but it also has the potential to be a disaster.  I guess that’s why they play the games.

The Mariners Made A Big Ol’ Trade With The Rays

If you read my Seahawks mid-season post from yesterday and were looking forward to the Part 2, where I rip into everything I find objectionable about this Seahawks season so far, I apologize.  Fortunately, it will still be “mid-season” after the weekend; and really, when you think about it, this gives Seahawks players an extra three full days (if you include today) to fuck up somehow (DUIs, spousal abuse, disorderly conduct, attending a Taylor Swift concert).

The reason for the delay, as I’m sure you’re able to glean from the title, is something a little more timely and pressing of my interest took place last night:  the aforementioned tig ol’ brade.

The Deets:

  • Seattle sends SS/OF Brad Miller, 1B/DH/OF Logan Morrison, and relief pitcher Danny Farquhar to Tampa
  • Tampa sends starting pitcher Nathan Karns, relief pitcher C.J. Riefenhauser, and OF (sigh) Boog Powell to Seattle

Really?  “Boog” is the name we’re going with?

I know very little about what we got in return, other than what I’ve just read about this trade this morning.  Nathan Karns is a soon-to-be 28 year old right-handed starter who was a rookie last year with the Rays.  He made 26 starts (and 1 relief appearance), going 7-5, striking out 145 in 147 innings.  He was shut down in early September (probably prudent) with forearm tightness, but I doubt that’ll be a problem going into 2016.

In 2014, he pitched 157 innings across AAA and the bigs (only 12 of those innings in the bigs), so he might be a couple years away from being a reliable 200-innings-per-year guy.  As far as his 2015 is concerned, I wonder.  He only made three starts all year where he went a full 7 innings or more; a lot of his starts are in the 4-5 innings range.  Maybe that’s Tampa being cautious with a young pitcher, in hopes of preserving his arm, in which case, fine.  But, if he’s a little 5-inning dandy a la Erik Bedard, then that’s probably not too good.  Also, from what I’ve read, no one is falling all over themselves praising his rocket arm.  They actually don’t really mention anything about his fastball speed, which leads me to believe he falls in the realm of “average”, which for the world we’re living in today, probably means he throws in the 92-93 mph range.  Nothing flashy, but also just fast enough to avoid Jamie Moyer comparisons.  Everyone seems to believe he’s a back-end (read: 4th or 5th) starter, which in an ideal scenario – on a GOOD team – means an innings eater who manages to keep his ERA under or around 4.  But, in the case of every Mariners 4th or 5th starter you’ve ever seen in the last decade, always means he’s good for about 10 quality starts, with the rest being absolute disasters.

So, we’ll see.

C.J. Riefenhauser (whose name already annoys me, so I hope they get rid of him as soon as possible) is a lefty reliever who has pitched in small parts of the last two seasons in the Major Leagues.  His 2015 September call-up was apparently the toast of Tampa, so maybe we’ve got something there.  Or, maybe he’s just another guy.  Or, maybe he’s worse than just another guy because he’s got a stupid, hard-to-spell last name.  If he turns out to be good, and makes the big league club out of Spring Training, I’m calling him The Ceej and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it.

(sigh) Boog Powell has never played in the Majors.  He’s a center fielder – a position we desperately need, now that Austin Jackson and Brad Miller are both gone – and he apparently is pretty athletic.  So, hopefully that means he’s good defensively, or at least means he’ll one day soon be good defensively, because the Safeco outfield has a lot of space to cover.  He finally cracked AAA last year for half of the season, batting .257, but with a robust .360 on-base percentage (and absolutely no power whatsoever).  He’s gotten on base his whole career, and he makes a lot of contact, which are two things this team so desperately needs at the top of the lineup.  He steals a middling number of bases (approximately 15 or so a year), so he’s not a super-burner, but should be a good-enough base-runner.  What we don’t know, obviously, is whether or not he’s ready to face Major League pitching.  You can be an on-base machine, but if you can’t hit above .150, you’re not going to last.  I have my doubts, but I’m willing to feign hope.

The Mariners got rid of three players, none of whom make me sad to no longer be wearing a Mariners uniform.  I know a lot of the local baseball nerds haven’t finished sucking Brad Miller’s dick yet (and Tampa is SUCH a long flight away), but I’m just glad we were able to maximize as much trade value out of him as possible.  Brad Miller: The Whole Package was pretty valuable, I suppose.  But, he was always going to be frustrating for never living up to the potential that most fans saw in him.  His batting average always stunk.  He wasn’t THAT good at getting on-base.  He wasn’t THAT good at making contact.  And sure, his bat had power, but what are we talking about here, 20 doubles and 10 homers a year?  Pardon me for not falling all over my fainting couch with the vapors at this great and wonderous player who apparently had a lot of defensive ability, but still couldn’t manage to hold onto his natural short stop position.  Maybe he’ll put it all together one day.  He strikes me as a guy (unlike, say, Ackley or Smoak, who feel like lost causes no matter where they play) who could really shake things up in a more hitter-friendly environment.  I think he’ll be a good one for Tampa – maybe even an All Star – but he was never going to be that here.

LoMo feels like a tack-on more than anything.  There’s no way the Mariners wanted to give him a raise in arbitration (to upwards of $5 million for next year), just to get the same mediocre play.  On a good team, LoMo might be a nice bench player and backup first baseman.  His defensive skills really blossomed once he got everyday play, but his bat was never consistent enough to hack it on a daily basis.  For every hot stretch, he’d suffer a slump five times as long.  And, not for nothing, but he’s worthless in the outfield, so don’t go there girlfriend.  I don’t know what Tampa’s future holds at the first base and DH positions, but as long as LoMo isn’t starting at either, they should be fine.

Danny Farquhar actually feels a little more interesting to me, if I’m a Rays fan.  He’s HAD success in the very recent past.  Yeah, his 2015 was a fucking disaster, but I feel like a little tweak here and there in his mechanics might be all that it takes to get him back to his 2014 glory.  To be honest, the Mariners might have been able to do the same thing, mechanics-wise, but if you do that and it fails, then you’re stuck with a reliever with no value whatsoever.  Too much of a risk for a guy who doesn’t really have a future here (he’s not a closer, and as he gets into arbitration, he’s going to cost more and more money).

I like the deal a lot.  The Mariners got rid of three players with no value to the current regime.  Brad Miller already lost his starting short stop job to Ketel Marte, and there was no guarantee he was ever going to fully grasp the outfield position.  LoMo is terrible, and in a logjam with Trumbo, Cruz, and Jesus Montero as far as 1B/DH is concerned.  And, honestly, if we can’t do better than Farquhar, then our bullpen is already fucked.

In return, we get a young starting pitcher who goes immediately into the starting rotation (assuming he doesn’t have a total meltdown in Spring Training), who we have club control over for a very long time; a potential lefty specialist out of the bullpen; and a potential starting centerfielder for – again – a very long time.  Or, we just picked up an injury-prone starter who can’t get out of the sixth inning, a minor league lefty reliever, and a Quad-A outfielder in a long line of crappy Quad-A outfielders in recent Mariners history.  But, the point is, we took a chance, and now we just let the chips fall.  If it works out, GREAT!  The new GM is a genius (for now).  If it doesn’t work out, then how is that any different than what we’ve endured as Mariners fans for the last 15 years?

I’m right.  You see how I’m right.

What I won’t do is fall all over myself praising the new GM for having the balls to trade away highly-touted players from the previous GM’s regime.  Don’t forget, Jackie Z did the same exact thing with the VAST majority of the players Bill Bavasi cultivated in his tenure here.  I think, after a year or two, the only name players still here from the Bavasi era were Michael Saunders and, like Brandon Maurer.

This is what ALWAYS HAPPENS.  The new GM marks his territory by pissing all over the place, as he rids the organization of every faulty move that got him here in the first place.  Obviously, this is the first move of many; the only shocking thing about it is how early it happened.  Jerry Dipoto isn’t wasting any time; good for him.  But, if I’m anyone on this team not named Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, or Kyle Seager, I wouldn’t go buying a house in the area anytime soon.  It’s okay Robinson Cano, you can buy a house.  They probably won’t trade you; but even if they do, have you SEEN the real estate market in Seattle?  It’s booming!  Buy as much as you can!

Mariners Tidbit 54: Bullpen Roster Moves

Five highly productive members of the 2014 bullpen are no longer in Seattle.  Brandon Maurer was traded in the offseason for Seth Smith.  Yoervis Medina was traded in May for Welington Castillo.  Dominic Leone was traded with Castillo and two minor leaguers for Mark Trumbo.  Danny Farquhar has been languishing in Tacoma due to ineffectiveness for much of the season, and he hasn’t been thriving in AAA.  Now, Tom Wilhelmsen is the latest to get the boot, being sent down to join Farquhar in the Minor League Ballclub of the Damned.

Wilhelmsen has been mostly awful this year, but he’s gotten away with it for longer than he probably should’ve thanks to the fact that the majority of the runs he’s given up have been inherited runners that counted against the pitchers he relieved.  Like most of our other underperforming bullpen pitchers, it’s all about command.  He doesn’t have it.  Seemingly no one in this year’s bullpen has it.  And as such, the Mariners have struggled.

David Rollins gets his shot, after missing half the season due to a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.  He looked amazeballs in Spring Training, so we’ll see if there’s another diamond in the rough.  If he succeeds, then that’s swell, because he’s under team control for a good long while.  If he fails, then we may have to offer him back to his former team, as he’s a Rule 5 draft pick.  The last thing we need to be doing is helping the Astros stay great, so let’s just hope he pitches well for us.

The Mariners also sent down Vidal Nuno, presumably to give him more of a chance to pitch (and maybe stretch him out to be a starter).  It’d be nice to have a spot starter down there ready to go should disaster strike.  In his place, we called up Mayckol Guaipe, a right hander who you may recall made his first-ever Major League appearance on June 1st, pitching 2.1 shutout innings in a blowout loss to the Yankees.  That was one of Felix’s rare duds, and Guaipe really saved our ‘pen that day.  He would be sent back down immediately after, so it’s nice to see him get another crack at the bigs, given that this is his 9th year in our organization.

Other roster moves were made, but I’m splitting these posts up in the name of brevity.  And because I’ve got other shit I need to do.

Mariners Tidbit 14: Erasmo Ramirez Traded For A Bust

Well, this played out pretty much like everyone expected.  The starting rotation – in some order or another – will be Felix, Paxton, Iwakuma, Happ, and Walker, with Elias waiting in the wings as needed.  Erasmo Ramirez never had a shot, but he was never really GOING to have a shot so long as the six guys above him on the depth chart stayed healthy.

Erasmo Ramirez probably isn’t a guy who’s ever going to be a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues.  He’ll get opportunities, because he’s young and cheap and under club control for however much longer.  He’ll start, but he won’t be a starter.  Unless he lands on a very bad team – and who knows, maybe the Rays are that bad team – I don’t think he’ll ever consistently win a job in a starting rotation.

He’s a decent fill-in guy.  Someone who – if you can afford to keep him around on your 25-man roster – will spot start for you when someone else goes down.  But, I highly doubt we’re looking at someone who’s going to make the significant leap required to be an everyday Major Leaguer.

It’s pretty amazing that the Mariners got anything for him at all.  Then again, that’s what we said about the Jarrod Washburn trade, the Carlos Silva trade, the Jeff Clement trade, and so on and so forth.  On the one hand, you feel over the moon that you got ANYBODY; the ol’ “I’ll Take A Bag Of Balls & A Couple Batting Donuts” deal.  You see what you get in return and you try to start plugging holes with your new acquisition.  But, you gotta remember that whenever you’re trading away a disappointment, odds are you’re getting another disappointment in return.

Mike Montgomery was a first round pick out of high school for the Kansas City Royals.  He’s a lefty with a good fastball and a decent change up, without a third pitch or the confidence to hack it.  He was poised to break out in 2011 but immediately went in the tank.  His 2012 actually saw him sent from AAA to AA before being traded.  The Rays were in the process of converting him into a reliever, which sounds like the way to go.  It worked for Brandon Maurer, after all.  The only thing is, he’s a lefty who’s better against right-handed bats, because he could never figure out how to throw his curve ball effectively and consistently.

The important thing is:  he has options.  Well, option.  He’ll get to start out in Tacoma, he’ll continue to work out of the bullpen, and he’ll get to take this year to do nothing but work on his craft.  No pressure of him being called up immediately.  Just let him do his thing and see if the conversion does the trick.  Maybe when September rolls around, he’ll have earned himself a call up.  At which point, we’ll get a better look at him ahead of next year’s Spring Training to see if he’s worthy of a shot at our bullpen in 2016.

This is probably as good as we could’ve hoped for.  We got something in return – another left-handed bullpen arm to throw onto the pile – we traded him out of the division – in the event he goes Full Noesi and comes back to bite us in the ass every time we face him – and it frees up the spot on our 25-man roster.  Now, let’s put this in the rearview and go win us a division.

Tracking The Last Five Years In Seattle Sports

If you look at the right sidebar on my main page, you’ll notice a few things.  I try to update and keep track of the teams that are in-season with their current records and their next scheduled games.  I’ve got a list of categories, if you’d rather just read about one particular team.  I’ve got links to my Twitter and Facebook pages.  And, below that, I’ve got a list of the last five years’ worth of records for each of the teams I cover on this blog.

From time to time, I’ll refer to this list.  Sometimes, I need to know exactly how many wins a certain team had in a specific recent year; sometimes, I just like to marvel at how long it’s been since a team has made the postseason.  I chose five years because I think that’s a good barometer as to where a team is headed.  You can take a quick glance and see if things are trending upward, downward, or in the case of Husky Football, maddeningly the same.

The first thing I notice is that the Seattle Supersonics have been missing from this list for quite some time.  Six-plus years, which is a fucking travesty.  Let’s get on this, NBA!  As for everyone else, let’s separate them by heading.

Husky Basketball

Clearly trending downward.  Once the Mariners make the playoffs this year, the Husky men’s basketball team will have the longest postseason drought in the area, which is just impossible to comprehend.

The great thing about looking back at just the last five years is, it’s usually a good indicator as to a coach’s job security.  Lorenzo Romar has just finished year 4 without an NCAA Tournament appearance.  Gotta figure one more of those and he’s out on his ass.

Husky Football

As I said before, clearly trending even.  2010 was our first year playing in a bowl game since we bottomed out in 2008.  At this point last year, you’d have an argument that the program was trending upward, but with 2014’s uneven performance – punctuated by the dud of a Cactus Bowl – I might even make the argument things are starting to go south.

The Huskies lose some really good players on defense to the NFL draft this year.  Compound that with their most experienced quarterback – Cyler Miles – stepping away from the team (maybe forever?), and I have to wonder where our wins are going to come from in conference play.  2015 is certainly going to be a step back, but hopefully it’s a productive step back, where we find a quality replacement at quarterback who’ll be ready to help this team pop in 2016.  There’s still reason for optimism, but it’s going to be difficult to see through the thick layer of shit that’s right in front of us.

Seattle Seahawks

Trending even, but it’s not like things could get much better than the 2013 season.  I’m not ready to proclaim the Seahawks on a downward trend – as we’ve still got the pieces in place for an extended run at Super Bowls – but it’s hard to say things are going to get much better.  Back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, one boneheaded playcall from winning them both, I’d say this team is still at its peak level of dominance.

Still, 2015 is a key pivot point in this organization’s trajectory.  Guys aren’t getting old, necessarily, but they’re getting older.  Combine that with three consecutive playoff runs for the pillars of this team and you’re talking a lot of mileage.  If we can’t figure out a way to re-stock our depth with this year’s draft (combined with the IR players from last year’s draft who’ve had a full year to acclimate to being a professional), things could start to get hairy in a hurry.  We’re always going to be great as long as our great players remain healthy; but how long this championship run lasts will depend on the quality of players who step up when the greats get hurt.

Seattle Mariners

Trending upward!  Hurrah!  Last year, we were one game out from a play-in game for the playoffs.  We dumped our crap – Smoak, Hart, Morales, Denorfia, Beavan, soon-to-be Ramirez – and what useful pieces we lost aren’t devastating to our overall outlook in 2015 (Saunders, Young, Maurer, Beimel).  The important thing is who we’ve brought in to replace them.  Nelson Cruz is a MAMMOTH upgrade at DH.  Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano should be moderate upgrades in the outfield (over Saunders and Jones, particularly).  Rickie Weeks could be a boon for our bench (over someone like Romero).  And, healthy seasons out of Walker and Paxton should alleviate some of the burden the team had to endure with the likes of Maurer, Beavan, and Ramirez (who were absolute disasters when they had to spot start last year).

Obviously, it’s a long season, and anything can happen.  But, it’s good to know that the Mariners have as good a shot as anyone to not only make the postseason, but win the whole thing.  If you think about it, this is a team BUILT for the playoffs.  Felix is the best pitcher in baseball.  Iwakuma is a rock solid #2.  Paxton and Walker both have the potential to be #1 or #2 pitchers.  Then, with the lineup, we’ve got a 3-4-5 that rivals any team’s with Cano-Cruz-Seager.  Combine that with enough role players around them who should keep this offense afloat in the lean times, and top it all off with a bullpen that could be in the top 5 in all of baseball, and you’ve got a team where it wouldn’t be crazy to see it go all the way.

The overall sports atmosphere in Seattle is one of Encouraging Optimism, which is a huge step up from Cautious Optimism (which is usually as high as things get around here).  The Seahawks obviously busted through the gates with their championship last year, but with the Mariners surging, we’re really in some glorious days.  Of course, it’s not perfect.  We’re probably looking at a total rebuild after next year’s Husky basketball team once again fails to make the Tourney.  But, in general, I’d say this is the best time to be a fan of Seattle sports teams.

Now, all we need is a clear plan to bring our Sonics back, and maybe a lead on an expansion hockey franchise, and we’ll be all set.

Predicting The Seasons Of Various Mariners In 2015, Part I

Hope you’re ready for endless Mariners discussion!  This year, I don’t think there’s going to be one definitive 2015 Mariners Preview post.  Rather, I think I’m going to roll them out occasionally, over the next couple months.

These are exciting times to be a Mariners fan.  That’s all relative, of course.  Compared to all the losing we’ve been exposed to in recent years, just about ANYTHING ELSE could be considered exciting.  I keep waffling between the Mariners being really good in 2015 – as many smart baseball types are predicting – and being another huge letdown.  I mean, you know how the Mariners haven’t made the playoffs since 2001?  Well, there HAVE been winning seasons since then.  2007 and 2009 come immediately to mind in the particularly wretched stretch from the years 2004 thru 2013.  So, we HAVE come off of winning seasons, only to fall right on our asses with 100-loss teams.  Granted, the 2007 and 2009 Mariners were paper tigers and were due to regress (though, 100 losses seems to be a bit of an over-correction on the whole regression to the mean argument), but it’s not impossible to see the 2015 Mariners hit the toilet.

One thing I keep telling myself is:  the 2014 Mariners won 87 games, and for the most part, the core is intact.  We’re bringing back seven of our eight starting position players, all of our starting pitchers except for Chris Young, and all of our relievers except for Brandon Maurer.  Even if we added NOTHING to last year’s team, you’re looking at some semblance of a .500 roster.  Then, take into account the vast upgrade at DH (Nelson Cruz over Hart/Morales/Other), the possible moderate upgrade in right field (Smith/Ruggiano over Saunders), the possible even trade in our rotation (Happ over Young), and the bevy of young, hard-throwing right handers in our bullpen to step up and replace Maurer, and yeah, it all looks pretty promising.

But, injuries wipe that all way.  If we lose Cano, Seager, Cruz, or Felix for any significant period of time, we’re kinda screwed.  Or, if we lose a large amount of regulars from the second and third tiers of this team’s talent pool, we certainly won’t have enough depth to overcome.

I mean, look at our depth in general!  Who’s our backup second baseman if Cano is out for a month?  Bloomquist?  Oh, that’s fun.  What do we do if Seager sprains an ankle?  Move Miller over to third?  Bloomquist again?  What happens when LoMo inevitably gets injured?  Bring up a guy from Tacoma who isn’t ready?  Bloomquist one more time?  Shit, what if Bloomquist isn’t able to come back from his surgery in time for the season?

That’s saying nothing of the very real possibilities that one or more of our outfielders comes out of the gate sucking dick and needing to be replaced.  How much do we trust Ackley or A-Jax?  What do we even know about this right field platoon?  What if we’re forced to play Cruz in the field more than at DH?  And what if that leads to him getting injured like Hart was all year last year?

It’s no slam dunk that this Mariners team makes the playoffs.  You really gotta hope that this team’s most important players are able to stay healthy for the duration.  But, I guess that’s what baseball is.  I mean, how often do you run into an organization that’s overflowing with depth at every position?  If you run into an unlucky streak, you turn into the Texas Rangers of last year.  That was a GOOD team, but they suffered injuries at just about every single fucking position and ended up being one of the worst teams in baseball.  Don’t think that can’t happen to the Mariners, because if I know my Seattle sports history, I’ll tell you THAT living hell is very much on the table.

***

For now, I’ll try to set aside all doom & gloom and make an effort to tell you what I actually think is going to happen this year.  Let’s start with the starting rotation and call it a day.  I’ll work on the bullpen and the everyday starters in separate posts.

Felix Hernandez – Ahh, what would I do without Felix?  Last year, he had maybe the greatest season of his career, yet he came OH SO CLOSE to winning his second Cy Young award.  He’s been on quite the roll since he was unleashed in 2009 and allowed to pitch unlimited innings.  I would expect more of the same greatness, though it may be unfair to expect him to be as good as he was last year.  Nevertheless, he has it in him to be even BETTER, so I wouldn’t totally count it out.  Count him for 30+ starts, 200+ strikeouts, and I’m gonna say it:  20+ wins!  BOOM!  What’s more, his season won’t be defined by some lame start in Toronto in September, either.

Hisashi Iwakuma – Last year, Iwakuma missed the first month of the season with a sprained ligament in his finger.  His season as a whole was considerably worse than what he brought to the table in 2013, with a rough final seven starts really doing the damage.  It’s impossible to say what’s wrong – if anything – but you’ve got to be at least a little concerned.  But, his strikeout rate was marginally better, and he was fantastic at limiting walks.  The only thing you can really point to is his BABIP increasing from .233 in 2013 to .274 in 2014.  Meaning he went from being incredibly lucky in 2013 to about average (or maybe even still better than average) in 2014.  Anecdotally, it seemed to me that Iwakuma was a little too in love with the strike zone last year, and got beat accordingly too many times.  He also found himself up in the zone more than I’m sure he’d like, which resulted in him getting pounded just a little bit harder.  His double plays were down, and overall he wasn’t pitching quite as deep into ballgames.

I’m not going to say he’s fallen off the cliff, but it would be nice to see a bounce-back season.  I wouldn’t expect the greatness of 2013 – when he seriously contended for a Cy Young Award – but also not the relative failure of 2014 either.  Somewhere in the middle would suit me right down to the bone.  At this point, it’s probably insane to predict a full season of health out of Iwakuma, but here’s hoping we keep him upright for the majority.

J.A. Happ – Suffice it to say, I’m less than thrilled with this guy just being handed a rotation spot.  I highly doubt what he’s going to produce is going to be as good – let alone better – than what we would get from Roenis Elias.  But, I understand the sentiment.  You’ve GOT to have rotation depth, especially if you’re in a position to contend like the Mariners are this year.  If we were coming off of a 60-win season, I highly doubt Happ would be on our roster today.  We’d be pushing as many young pitchers as we could out into the spotlight to see how they fare.  The Mariners are in a fortunate position, though, as – with Happ – we now have six guys who are (or could be) legitimate Major League starters.  Three of those six guys have options, meaning we can stash them in Tacoma without much fuss.  Also, not for nothing, but of those three guys, no one really DESERVES to be handed a spot in this rotation.  So, it’s not batshit crazy to stick Walker, Elias, or even Paxton down in Tacoma for a little additional seasoning, until the time is right to bring one of them back up.  Happ doesn’t have options, and at least in his Safeco starts he should be Good Enough, so whatever.

Part of me expects Happ to find his way to the DL at some point.  The homer in me hopes that DL stint is some manufactured injury due to him struggling, while one of the starters below gets his crack at being called up from Tacoma.  Overall, he might get a slight bump from pitching half of his games in Safeco, but I’m not going to wet my pants over the prospects of J.A. Happ having a career year.  If his ERA is under 4, I’d be ecstatic

James Paxton – Of the three guys we’ve got for the final two spots, I’d say Paxton is the consensus safest bet.  If he’s able to stay healthy, I think he could top out – this year – as this team’s second-best starter in our rotation.  If not, or if he wears down by season’s end, I think he could still be a very good chip for us in our hopes of contending for a playoff spot.  It’s hard to expect him to go a full season, but I would expect a considerable jump in innings from last year to this year.  Here’s to hoping he makes it back in time for a September stretch run.

Taijuan Walker & Roenis Elias – I expect, like many others do, that Walker and Elias will be battling for the 5th starter job.  I’ve been of the opinion that Elias deserves to have consideration over Walker, if for no other reason than he was here pretty much the whole season last year and acquitted himself very well.  That should give a guy a leg up over someone who spent most of last year injured, then the rest of last year toiling down in Tacoma before a September call-up.

But, you can’t deny that Walker has the “stuff” over Elias.  Walker’s potential is Future Ace.  Elias should end up as a nice mid-rotation lefty if everything pans out.  Also, you’ve got to look at the rotation around Elias.  We’ve already got two lefties, including another relatively soft-tossing lefty in Happ.  It would seem to be unwise to have Happ & Elias pitching back-to-back, just as it would seem unwise to throw three lefties in a row with Happ, Paxton, and Elias.  All of that, combined with Paxton and Walker finally being healthy, combined with Paxton and Walker having the higher pedigree, combined with Elias having made the jump from AA to the Bigs (completely skipping AAA), it’s reasonable to expect Elias to start the year in Tacoma, and to be ready for the inevitability when one of the other five starters gets injured for a spell.

While I expect Walker to make the rotation out of Spring Training (assuming all are healthy), I don’t necessarily expect Walker to excel out of the gate or for the duration.  It wouldn’t shock me to see Walker and Elias swap roles at some point due to performance rather than injury.  Nevertheless, I do like Walker to improve as the season goes on, and eventually reclaim that #5 role before the year ends.

Catching Up With The 2015 Seattle Mariners

It’s been about a month since I’ve written about the Mariners.  The last newsworthy item I felt compelled to write about was trading Michael Saunders for J.A. Happ.  Prior to that, it was the Nelson Cruz signing.  Prior to that, it was the Kyle Seager extension.  That’s about it for the major events in this offseason, as it pertains to the 2015 squad.

There have been some minor moves that should impact the club one way or another.  Let’s list them here!

  • December 30th:  Mariners trade Brandon Maurer to Padres for Seth Smith
  • December 17th:  Mariners trade minor league reliever to Cubs for Justin Ruggiano
  • December 11th:  Kendrys Morales signed a 2-year deal with the Royals who for some reason offered Kendrys Morales a 2-year deal

OK, so it’s not a huge list.  Some other Mariners became ex-Mariners by signing with other teams, but I don’t much care about that.  I just care that Kendrys Morales is gone and hopefully will never return.

So, where does that leave us?  Let’s look at the roster as currently constructed:

Outfield

Left – Dustin Ackley
Center – Austin Jackson
Right – Seth Smith / Justin Ruggiano

Infield

Third – Kyle Seager
Short – Brad Miller / Chris Taylor
Second – Robbie Cano
First – Logan Morrison
Catcher – Mike Zunino

DH/Outfield – Nelson Cruz

Those are the guys you’re going to see the most.  Miller and Taylor will duke it out for the starting short stop job, with the loser likely starting the season in Tacoma (with an outside chance of the loser sticking on the bench, but I wouldn’t count on it).

As for the bench, you’re looking at keeping a backup catcher (likely Jesus Sucre), a utility infielder (likely Willie Bloomquist, if he can return to good health), a fifth outfielder (a James Jones / Endy Chavez type) and possibly a backup first baseman (Jesus Montero?).  It all really depends on how many we opt to keep in the bullpen.  A 5-man bench might be too much to carry when you’re talking about a strict platoon job in right field; so, it’s very possible we don’t keep a fifth outfielder.  Bank on the 25th spot on the roster being entirely dependant upon whether or not the team feels Jesus Montero is ready to return to the Bigs.

The starting rotation looks something like this:

  • Felix Hernandez
  • Hisashi Iwakuma
  • J.A. Happ
  • James Paxton
  • Roenis Elias / Taijuan Walker

I don’t necessarily think that’ll be the exact order.  But, if you look at the rotation today, Happ’s roster spot is MUCH more secure than the three pitchers behind him.  Now, obviously, the final two spots in the rotation will come down to overall health and performance in Spring Training.  With everything being equal, and everyone healthy as a horse, I’d anticipate Paxton being this teams #3 starter.  And, I don’t care what anyone else says, until I hear otherwise I’ve got Elias ahead of Walker for the simple reason that he pitched for the Big Ballclub for almost the entire 2014 season.  Either way, don’t count on the Mariners running out a 6-man rotation, and don’t count on any of these six pitchers starting the year in the bullpen.  When push comes to shove, one of the last three guys will be starting in Tacoma until needed by Seattle at a later date.

In the bullpen, you’ve got the following fighting for anywhere from 6-8 spots (again, depending on how many bench spots we decide to keep):

  • Fernando Rodney
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Yoervis Medina
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Carson Smith
  • Dominic Leone
  • David Rollins / Lucas Luetge / Edgar OImos / (misc. 2nd lefty reliever)
  • Erasmo Ramirez

As you can see, even without Maurer, the Mariners have an insane surplus of relief pitching.  There is NO WAY we’re keeping all of these guys.  Rollins is a Rule 5 guy, so unless we want to work out a trade with the Astros, we either have to keep him on our Major League roster or give him back.  Now, if he stinks in Spring Training, I don’t think the team will have any problem giving him back.  But, if he shows promise, but otherwise isn’t totally ready to stick in the Bigs, then a tough decision will have to be made.

To determine who stays, let’s take a look at the locks on this team.  The Mariners have 10 regular everyday players and they’ll keep 5 starting pitchers.  That leaves 10 roster spots.  You have to keep a backup catcher, so that brings us to 9.  You have to keep a utility infielder, so there’s 8.  At this point, the Mariners will have to decide what’s more important:  an 8th reliever, or another backup first baseman/outfielder.  With a healthy Bloomquist, you can conceivably plug him in at first in a pinch.  Montero still has options, as do Jones and Romero (who would be another option as a backup outfielder).

The bullpen locks are as follows:  Rodney, Farquhar, Medina, Wilhelmsen, and Furbush.  Leone stuck with the Mariners all year last year and proved to be effective in going multiple innings.  Smith came up late, but absolutely destroyed everyone in his path.  I like Smith more than Leone, but if I had my druthers, I’d keep them both.  And, if they do, well, that’s 7 bullpen arms right there, and we haven’t even added a second lefty.

So, there you go.  The final spot will either be a second lefty reliever, Jesus Montero, a fifth outfielder, or someone else entirely, because it’s impossible to predict a 25-man roster this far out.

Before I move on, I’d like to comment on Erasmo Ramirez, as he’s an interesting case.  Ramirez is out of options.  And, by all accounts, Ramirez will NOT pass through waivers.  So, either he makes the Mariners out of Spring Training, or he’s traded at some point in Spring Training to try to recoup SOME value out of him, or he’s DFA’d at the end of Spring Training and some other team claims a perfectly good long reliever/spot starter.

For the record, I don’t think Ramirez makes the Mariners unless there’s a rash of injuries.  We’re talking about two of the above-referenced starting pitchers, or a bevy of the above-referenced relievers.  If that’s the case, I could see him sticking in a long relief role, but those are some LONG odds.

***

The world is pretty high on the Seattle Mariners in 2015.  There are reasonable odds in Vegas for this team to win it all.  There are various sabermetric arguments made that this is one of the top teams in the American League (if not THE top team).  You’re looking at a Mariners team that fell one win short of vying for a Wild Card spot, that has improved in some key areas while at the same time retained talent at other key areas.

Even with the loss of Maurer, as I mentioned above, this team is LOADED in the bullpen.  I can’t tell you how huge that is.  Of course, the bullpen could completely shit the bed and it wouldn’t be a total shocker.  But, I like the chances of a bunch of hard-throwing strikeout righties.

The rotation, if it can manage to be healthier than it was in 2014, could be quite formidable.  Felix is the best pitcher alive.  Iwakuma has proven to be a stout second banana.  The sky’s the limit for Paxton.  Happ should benefit from Safeco’s dimensions as a Vargas-type lefty.  Elias has already proven to be effective in the Bigs.  And, the sky’s also the limit for Walker if he cracks the rotation.  I believe the phrase we’re looking for is Pigs In Shit.  The Mariners are like pigs in shit with this pitching staff.

As for the everyday players, take a look at this lineup and see how it works for you:

  1. Austin Jackson – CF
  2. Dustin Ackley – LF
  3. Robbie Cano – 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz – DH
  5. Kyle Seager – 3B
  6. Logan Morrison – 1B
  7. Seth Smith (against righties) / Justin Ruggiano (against lefties) – RF
  8. Mike Zunino – C
  9. Brad Miller / Chris Taylor – SS

Huh?  How about it?  Does that season your potatoes?

Now, of course, there are concerns.  A-Jax was pretty terrible last year.  We’re either banking on him bouncing back, or we’re going to throw a worthless pile of crap out there in the leadoff spot every day for a number of months.  If A-Jax fails us, I’m not gonna lie to you, we’re KINDA screwed.  But, moving on, Ackley has proven – if nothing else in his Major League career – to be completely unreliable.  Just when you think he’s solved all his problems, he goes in the tank.  Just when you think he’s a worthless bum, he starts raking for a couple months.  So, I dunno.

The Mariners are rock solid in the middle of the order, which is more than you could say about this team in the last decade.  The only thing that knocks us out is if Cano, Cruz, or Seager suffer some injuries.

Beyond that, the bottom half of the order is interesting, and potentially terrifying.  The latest issue of concern is Logan Morrison.  He hasn’t proven to be healthy in his career, which will be a kick in the groin because we have NOBODY behind him.  Jesus Montero – while 30-35 pounds lighter than last year – is still a longshot to be even DECENT as a first baseman.  After Montero, who do you got?  D.J. Peterson is probably a year away; it would be a miracle if we bring him up this year and he succeeds.  Ji-Man Choi had a shitty 2014 coming off of a PED suspension.  The free agent market is deader than dead.  It’s bad out there for a first baseman-hungry team like the Mariners.  Just cross your fingers, pray LoMo stays healthy, and try not to think about the consequences if he doesn’t.

The Smith/Ruggiano platoon is interesting because it seems almost TOO perfect, you know?  Smith is a lefty who rakes against righties; Ruggiano is a righty who rakes against lefties.  There’s NO WAY this works out the way we planned it, is there?  Even if we stick to the platoon and don’t mess with anything, you gotta figure one or both will either suffer a massive injury and/or take a huge step back as he tries to contend with Safeco’s dimensions.  This’ll be a Believe It When I See It type of situation.

Zunino is still Zunino, which means he’ll mash over 20 homers, strike out a ton, and play solid defense.  You figure with a full year under his belt, there’s bound to be some natural progression, so hopefully he works out some of the kinks.  Then, we’ve got a short stop battle for the ages.  The offensively-challenged Taylor vs. the wild card Miller.  I like Miller for his power bat, but either way this is a GREAT problem to have.

I’m not ready to crown their asses just yet, but I’m sure the excitement for the Mariners will start building once football season ends.  February 20th:  Pitchers & Catchers report.  Spring Training kicks off the first week of March.  It’s almost here.