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.

Free Agent Watch: Mariners Retain Shawn Kelley

Slow news week, I know.  Can’t help it; any writing I’ve managed to muster has gone into a recap of my Mexico trip.  Still trying to find a way to recap it that won’t get me fired or thrown in jail …

HEY, SHAWN KELLEY’S BACK!  It’s like he never left!

So, look, it’s Shawn Kelley.  He’s a right-handed reliever who throws hard, throws strikes, generally puts up solid numbers, but every once in a while looks like a total assclown.  He alone is no one to get too excited about.  But, throw him in a bullpen that looks as stacked as any in the Major Leagues and you’ve got something pretty special.

It sucks … just a little bit, when the most exciting, most talented portion of your baseball team is your bullpen.  I’d like to go back in time, to those good Mariners teams of the late 90s and early 00s.  Back when they would’ve KILLED for a bullpen this good.  I’d like to tell everyone who watched, “I know we could use a bullpen to get over that hump, but PLEASE, cherish what you have!  Solid starting rotations, other-worldly hitting, a front office you could feel confident in!  Treasure it!  Stay here!  Stay as long as you can!”

Here’s the 6-man bullpen as I see it:

  1. Tom Wilhelmsen
  2. Stephen Pryor
  3. Oliver Perez
  4. Shawn Kelley
  5. Charlie Furbush
  6. Lucas Luetge

There’s also:

  • Carter Capps
  • Josh Kinney
  • Chance Ruffin
  • Maybe Hector Noesi

One would think something’s gotta give, especially if Capps comes out in Spring on fire.  Everyone had the brilliant idea this offseason of trading from this heaping strength to bring in some firepower elsewhere in the lineup.  Thus far, all we’ve done is hoard, like that guy in your fantasy football league who holds onto too many quarterbacks expecting to wheel and deal, only to fail and give up when the going gets tough and he absolutely needs to fill a hole elsewhere.

I’d sure like to see this team bring in a quality starter.  But, yeah, I guess having Shawn Kelley back is cool too.

Seattle Mariners Roster Explosion 2012!!!

When I try to wrap my head around something, I like to make lists.  I like to listen to instrumental rock and I like to make lists.

So, without further ado …

For starters, let’s look at the 40-man.  You can see it all laid out here in an official capacity, but I would like to break it down thusly:

Guys Already Sent To The Minors:

  1. Danny Hultzen (SP – Left Handed)
  2. Yoervis Medina (SP – Right Handed)
  3. Mauricio Robles (RP – Left Handed)
  4. Francisco Martinez (3B – Right Handed)
  5. Carlos Truinfel (Inf – Right Handed)
  6. Johermyn Chavez (OF – Right Handed)
  7. Chih-Hsien Chiang (OF – Left Handed)
  8. Trayvon Robinson (OF – Switch Hitter)

Guys Destined For The Minors:

  1. Chance Ruffin (RP – Right Handed)
  2. Charlie Furbush (SP – Left Handed)
  3. Adam Moore (C – Right Handed)
  4. Alex Liddi (Inf – Right Handed)
  5. Carlos Peguero (OF – Left Handed)

Guys On The Disabled List Who Will Eventually Be In The Majors:

  1. Franklin Gutierrez (CF – Right Handed)

Now we’re getting somewhere!  Forget those 14 guys even exist, because they won’t matter until the season is well out of hand.

Now, how about we get to your Starting Nine, in what appears to be the order Eric Wedge will have them batting (at least initially):

  1. Chone Figgins (3B – Switch Hitter)
  2. Dustin Ackley (2B – Left Handed)
  3. Ichiro (RF – Left Handed)
  4. Justin Smoak (1B – Switch Hitter)
  5. Jesus Montero (DH – Right Handed)
  6. Mike Carp (LF – Left Handed)
  7. Miguel Olivo (C – Right Handed)
  8. Michael Saunders (CF – Left Handed)
  9. Brendan Ryan (SS – Right Handed)

Now, if I were convinced that these guys would be good, I’d say that’s one helluva lineup to post against a right handed pitcher.  But, I digress.  Those are your starting 9 to start the season, barring some fluke.

Guys Who Figure To Start The Season On The Bench:

  1. John Jaso (C – Left Handed)
  2. Munenori Kawasaki (Inf – Left Handed) (also:  not yet on the 40-man, but will be)
  3. Casper Wells (OF – Right Handed)
  4. Kyle Seager (Inf – Left Handed)

Assuming, of course, the team goes with a 4-man bench.  I’m also assuming that Casper Wells makes the team over Carlos Peguero (which, let’s be realistic, is the way it SHOULD be).  If Wells continues to struggle as he has in Spring Training, then when Guti comes back, it’ll be a matter of either Wells or Saunders going back down to Tacoma.  But, that’s an argument for another time.  This brings our 40-man total to 27.  Let’s look at the pitchers.

Starting Five:

  1. Felix Hernandez (Right Handed)
  2. Jason Vargas (Left Handed)
  3. Kevin Millwood (Right Handed) (also:  not yet on the 40-man, but will be)
  4. Blake Beavan (Right Handed)
  5. Hector Noesi (Right Handed)

So, it doesn’t really diversify all that much (4 righties & a lefty), but it’s what we’ve got, so we better get used to it.  I fully expect Millwood to be the 3rd starter, because I doubt very much that Wedge is going to keep on a veteran like Millwood and not put him right in the middle of the order.  Then again, who really cares?  The last four pitchers on this list inspire fear in exactly no one, so take my order with a grain of salt.

This brings us to our 7-man bullpen:

  1. Brandon League (Closer)
  2. George Sherrill (Left Handed)
  3. Tom Wilhelmsen (Right Handed)
  4. Lucas Luetge (Left Handed)
  5. Shawn Kelley (Right Handed)
  6. Steve Delabar (Right Handed)
  7. Hisashi Iwakuma (Right Handed)

Yeah, I guess we’ll see.  I think the bullpen might be the biggest wildcard on the team.  Who knows WHAT you’re going to get?

And at this point, you might be thinking, “Hey!  That’s only 39 guys!”  And you’d be right.  I don’t know if they need to right now or not, but if they had to they could always put Erasmo Ramirez on the 40-man to make things a little more complete.  Although, if he’s not on the 40-man now, and we’re past the point of the Rule 5 Draft, I don’t see why the Mariners have to go to all the trouble right now.  Seems like they could easily wait until the end of the season (or whenever he earns his way up to the Big Club) to add him to the 40-man.

Anyway, that’s it.  I feel better informed already!

Mariners 2011 Season Overview: Doug Fister

I’ve been meaning to do one of these posts on Doug Fister since I started a couple weeks ago.  In an attempt to be topical, I figured I’d get it out of the way today, since he’s still in the playoffs and all.

First, a quick rundown of this year’s stats (with the Mariners):

21 starts, 3-12 record, 146 innings pitched (averaging a shade under 7 innings per start), 32 walks, 89 strikeouts, 1.17 WHIP, 3.33 ERA.

I’ve pretty much been on Fister’s jock since the beginning of the 2010 season, when I compared him to Greg Maddux.  That may have been a reach at the time, but now that gap has CERTAINLY gotten a lot shorter.

Anyway, with those stats I listed above, the Mariners received in trade:  Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin, and minor league third baseman prospect Francisco Martinez (the supposed Crown Jewel of the trade and the only guy we got whose name doesn’t start with C). 

Wells is a guy who can play all three outfield positions (though, will ultimately end up in one of the corners), whose got a little pop in his bat, and will either be a good player for us, a good player for another team (if we trade him), or a bust.  Notice I said “good”.  Not “great”.

Furbush was WILDLY hit-or-miss in our starting rotation this season.  Admittedly, I wasn’t able to watch him all that closely, but when I did see him he struck me as the kind of guy who can’t control his stuff.  Just didn’t seem to me like he knew where his ball was going to end up.  But, since he was usually somewhere within the strike zone, he’d get crushed on occasion.  There were flashes of goodness from him too, but I doubt he’ll end up as anything better than a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen.  Still, his ceiling is being a GREAT left-handed specialist, so I guess it’s not all doom and gloom.

Ruffin made it into 13 games this year and struck out 15.  Too soon to tell, but again, you’re looking at another bullpen guy at best.  They say he COULD be a closer, but his low-90s fastball doesn’t really impress-a-me much.

Meaning:  if this Francisco Martinez (which, honestly, sounds like a name someone just made up when asked to quickly pick a Latino-sounding name of a baseball player) guy doesn’t pan out as the stud we’re all hoping he’ll be (at third base no less!), then we essentially got a Meh return for a guy in Doug Fister who did this with Detroit:

10 starts, 8-1 record, 70.1 innings pitched (averaging a shade over 7 innings per start), 5 walks, 57 strikeouts, 0.84 WHIP, 1.79 ERA

That’s not even taking into account Fister winning Game 5 in New York against the Yankees to move on from Round 1 of the MLB playoffs; nor is it taking into account the equally-impressive Game 3 victory vs. Texas (with Detroit already down 2-0), guaranteeing a second Verlander start (which the Tigers just won last night, to bring the series to within 3-2 as they head back to Texas, with Fister poised to start the Game 7 if it reaches that point).

Oh yeah, and Fister is also under club control for a few more years.

The man has done nothing but work hard and improve upon his craft every year he’s been in professional baseball.  I’m not gonna lie to you, it stinks that we had to let him go.  Doug Fister could’ve been the greatest Number 3 pitcher in baseball for the Mariners.  Instead, he’s a bundle of prospects that may or may not make a fuckload of difference a couple years down the road.

I’m usually one of those guys who either forgets about ex-Mariners once they’re traded (at best), or actively roots against ex-Mariners (at worst).  I rarely find myself caring – in the positive sense of the word – for guys once they’ve been swapped for prospects.  But, Fister was special.  There’s absolutely nothing to dislike about the guy.  I wish him nothing but the best for the rest of his career and I hope he wins the World Series this year.