The Mariners Made A Somewhat Interesting, Minor Trade

It’s a trade so minor, not even Lookout Landing bothered to do a write-up on it (yet).

The Mariners acquired reliever Mike Baumann and minor league catcher Michael Perez from the Orioles, for minor league catcher Blake Hunt.

It kinda feels like that stupid Tik Tok thing, where I’m walking down the sidewalk and talking into my phone … “We’re Mariners fans! Of course we’re going to nit-pick to death even the most minuscule details of every trade!”

“We’re Mariners fans! Of course we believe guys only turn into good baseball players once they’ve left the organization!”

“We’re Mariners fans! Of course we can’t wait for the sweet release of death!”

By the way, I don’t actually have Tik Tok, but I do watch a stupid amount of Instagram Reels. Yet, even I know it’s a Tik Tok thing, because no one in their right mind talks about watching Instagram Reels. But, I digress.

I kinda want to like this deal, but I’ve got my foot caught in some netting that I just can’t pull myself free from. I understand the need to bolster our bullpen. In that sense, the addition of Mike Baumann feels like it at least has potential. Is he remarkably better than Cody Bolton, who was optioned to Tacoma? I dunno, we’ll see. I would say probably, but who knows? He’s been pretty darn good the last two seasons, and he’s only 28. But, if he’s so great, why did Baltimore DFA him recently (leading to this trade, because we wouldn’t be in line to claim him off waivers, given our overall record)? Especially when bullpen is their biggest weakness as a team?

The first thing I look at when it comes to pitchers is their ERA, because I’m a 43 year old man and I’m dumb. The second thing I look at is their strikeouts per 9. I feel like that’s one of the better dummy stats for relievers; shows you what kind of stuff they have and how good of an out-pitch they’ve got.

His ERA numbers are good; under 4 in 2023 and 2024. He had 8.5 SO/9 in 2023, and 7.9 this year (in a much smaller sample size). It’s good. Ideally, you want 9 or more (averaging a strikeout-plus per inning), but that’s fine. I will, of course, have to reserve judgment until I can see him actually pitch in a Mariners uniform, but it seems like this should be a value-add to the team.

What I don’t totally get are these shenanigans with the catcher position. Specifically the backup catcher spot.

We all know Cal Raleigh is great. But, the dude could use a break every once in a while! And the team could use someone who isn’t a total fucking waste of space. If you’re going to back up Cal Raleigh and you’re going to be a black hole in the lineup, the least you can do is be a whiz defensively! But, Seby Zavala is neither a remotely decent hitter, nor a remotely competent backstop. That kid from The Sandlot would be a better alternative!

Before we brought in Zavala, we traded for Blake Hunt (giving up Tatem “Don’t Call Me Lewis” Levins). Levins is still in A-ball with the Rays, so who knows if he’ll ever amount to anything. But, Hunt at least seemed promising. He was in AAA last year with the Rays, and has been a very pleasant surprise for the Tacoma Rainiers so far this year (slashing .293/.372/.533).

You’re telling me, right now, Blake Hunt isn’t an improvement over Seby Zavala? The same Seby Zavala who went into today’s game slashing .188/.212/.344? Frankly, it’s asinine that Zavala is here in the first place, and for what? Because he’s 5 years older than Hunt?

Now, Hunt goes to Baltimore, where he should be a significant improvement over the guy we got for him, Michael Perez. Perez who, at this point, is hardly even a AAA player. He looks as washed up as it gets, which isn’t the worst thing in the world as long as he stays in Tacoma. But, it looks like the Mariners found the one guy in professional baseball who’s more useless than Zavala.

I would take Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham over either of these guys. Hell, I would take Kevin Costner TODAY over them!

I wish I could find information on how much team control the M’s will have over Baumann. From what I could glean, he’s a pre-arbitration player, so that gives us a few years of team control. This only really works out if we can turn him into a leverage arm. With Brash gone, and Santos the biggest of question marks, we’re in desperate need of another leverage arm.

It does NOT work if Baumann is another Austin Voth or Cody Bolton-type. He needs to be better. He needs to slot most of the rest of the arms (not named Munoz or Stanek) down a rung. At that point, I think I’ll find a way to move beyond this backup catcher conundrum.

The Mariners Are Down J.P. Crawford, Continue To Win Anyway

There’s definitely an argument to be made that this isn’t really any big loss. J.P. Crawford – like most Mariners hitters – is off to an excruciatingly slow start. .198 batting average, .296 on-base percentage, four extra-base hits in 22 games, and there’s even been some defensive lapses that might not show up in your average stat sheet, but have still hampered this team at times.

That being said, other than Julio or Cal, J.P. is the guy we can least-afford to lose time. He plays the toughest defensive position, he’s our leadoff hitter, he’s one of the few competent lefty bats we have on the roster, and in spite of his slow start, I fully expect him to turn it around anytime he gets back on the field.

What’s even worse, though, is his injury. The dreaded Oblique Strain. Depending on how lucky you are, you’re either out for a month, or a year and a half if you’re Mitch Haniger. There’s luck involved, there’s giving it time to heal, there’s walking that tightrope of not rushing it and making it worse, while still getting your body back into baseball shape in order to not miss too much time, when every single game matters. Honestly? I’d rather he just kicked a water cooler and gotten hurt like Jarred Kelenic did last year; at least there’s a viable timeline you can follow, when you know he’ll be back in your lineup. J.P. Crawford could be back before the end of May, or he could have to wait until September. Or he could come back, play a while, re-injure it, and find himself once again down for the count.

So, NOT IDEAL.

Yet, the Mariners managed to go 1-1 against the Rangers without him, and 2-1 against the Diamondbacks. Heading into the Braves series, we were up to 15-13 and in first place in the A.L. West!

Of course, we’re talking about a team that’s absolutely laying the league to waste with its pitching. There was a 4-0 shutout in game one against Texas, with Logan Gilbert going 6.2 innings. There was a 5-1 loss in the middle there, with Bryce Miller getting roughed up a bit. But, we came right back to win 4-3, with another Luis Castillo Quality Start, and some more shut down bullpen work.

We won our fourth consecutive series by taking the first two against the Diamondbacks (sans Paul Sewald, who has started this season on the IL). Game 1 was a 6-1 blowout (thanks in large part to a Haniger Grand Slam), with Emerson Hancock going 6 innings and giving up just the one run. In game 2, we won 3-1 behind another George Kirby masterpiece (7 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts). Even though we took a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning of game 3, we couldn’t quite lock it down, losing 3-2. Nevertheless, Gilbert went 6.1 innings, giving up two of the runs, striking out 9 along the way.

This team is in an interesting groove right now. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I totally believed in the pitching. I mean, I figured it would be good, but not good-enough, you know? Like, they’d keep us in games, but ultimately the offense would be their undoing. I think part of that disbelief has to do with the bullpen, which has been the biggest pleasant surprise of the young season so far.

All the way up and down that bullpen, you’re seeing some phenomenal numbers! Who knew Gabe Speier had this kind of dominance in him? Who saw Trent Thornton bouncing back after looking like ass for most of his career? Look at what we’re getting from guys like Cody Bolton, Brett de Geus, Tayler Saucedo, and Austin Voth! They all have ERAs under 3. We’ve seen some cracks in the armor of guys like Andres Munoz and Ryne Stanek, but they’re still – by and large – throwing flames and getting us out of big spots more often than not (their numbers are nothing to sneeze at either, also in the sub-3 ERA range).

What does that mean? Well, for one thing, we’re not having to over-work our starters. We’re able to pull them before they turn into pumpkins, without giving up the game entirely. They can focus on being economical with their pitches and just getting through six innings.

Everyone said this pitching staff – particularly the rotation – would keep the Mariners afloat. But, they’re doing so much more. They’re REALLY kicking some fucking ass! It’s all so much better than I ever could’ve imagined. And, not for nothing, but Bryan Woo is one or two more rehab starts away from coming back. We have SIX stud starters, when most teams struggle to even have three!

There’s still a lot of work left for this offense to start pulling its weight. It’s not helping that we’re forced to make Dylan Moore an everyday player. But, at some point, they’re going to have to get it together, if we want these Mariners to truly contend for a playoff spot.

Looking At The Mariners’ Bullpen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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