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.

A Mid-August Look At The Mariners’ Youth Movement

With the start of football season, the Mariners just haven’t been all that interesting, so my posts on the team have been unsurprisingly less frequent.  However, of late, the Mariners have produced some exciting moments from a batch of our younger guys getting a late-season showcase.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  This is August.  This is a team far from contention.  We’ve seen this before; we’ll reserve our judgment for next year.  Let’s see if they can continue to produce when the games, the at bats, the pitches actually mean something.

I hear you.  How many times have we seen a pitcher come on like gangbusters in September, only to suck to high heaven the following spring?  How many hitters have made a name for themselves with their late-season call up, only to have that name erased forever when shit was on the line?  But, I will say this:  I’d rather have guys produce now than the alternative (being:  not producing at all).  Do quality at bats & innings pitched guarantee success in the following season?  No, of course not.  But, at least they open the door to possibility.  To hope.

I’m going to give an overview of a few of the more exciting players who’ve made an impact of late.  Let’s start with the pitchers, since they’re actually the less interesting of the two sides.

Dan Cortes – Did you know this guy has one of the lowest ERAs on the team?  You wouldn’t think so, by reading all the blogs around the city.  Of course, we’re talking about 8 measly innings pitched, but still.  All I ever hear about the guy is how he walks the world, but truth be told he’s only walked 3 guys.  What’s probably the most disturbing is that he’s struck out 0.  It’s too early to tell if the guy is going to be a major bullpen threat next year, but he’s shown so far in his few outings that he can go multiple innings, he can keep guys off base, and he’s even induced more groundball outs than flyball outs.  If he can keep it up, and have an awesome Spring, you could be looking at a trusted 6th/7th inning guy.

Tom Wilhelmsen – In my opinion, a guy who has no business being on a major league roster right now.  Granted, he’s got a live arm, but he’s too damn wild and ineffective.  He’s given up 12 walks vs. 10 strikeouts, he’s got an ERA in the mid-6 range, and he doesn’t appear to be making any progress.  For every decent outing, he’s got an absolute disaster right around the corner.  My best case scenario for this guy:  manage to somehow not kill the rest of his trade value over the next month and a half, then package him with some other prospects for a quality bat.  He’s a guy I wouldn’t mind losing, even if his is a story heart warming.

Josh Lueke – Glad we traded for this guy, glad we kept him glad he’s gotten a chance to show what he can do after his abomination of an April.  Don’t let the 8.44 ERA fool you; he was over 17 when he was originally sent down to Tacoma after his first 8 appearances.  The guy couldn’t do anything right, the velocity on his fastball was disturbingly low, and he was just getting pounded left and right.  Ever since his mid-July call-up, he’s pitched 9.2 innings and given up only 3 runs (with 7 strikeouts vs. 2 walks).  He’s too young to be closing games in the Majors, but one day he could be the man.  It’s nice having him around on his way up (as I imagine his trip back down the ladder of success will be a quick & painful one).

Charlie Furbush – The jury isn’t just out on this guy; the jury has yet to be selected!  He’s started 3 games for us, relieved in another.  He’s had a good start (5 innings, 1 run), a terrible start (4 innings, 7 runs, 6 earned), and a great start (7 innings, 1 run, against the Red Sox of all teams).  Sure, there’s promise, but promises are made to be broken.  The upside is:  he becomes a left-handed Doug Fister (i.e.  he’s a capable innings-eater who doesn’t strike anybody out, but also doesn’t walk the world).  If all he becomes is the left-handed Doug Fister, then we’ve pretty much come away from that trade ahead, since there are three other guys involved with the deal (not counting Pauley, who nobody in their right mind will ever miss).  If he fails in his charge to become the left-haded Doug Fister, then who cares?  Doug Fisters are a dime a dozen (you’ll never know how it pains me to say that, as I was actually a pretty big Doug Fister fan while he was here).

Blake Beavan – Here’s another guy with limited upside.  Essentially, we want him to be the right-handed Doug Fister (or, just Doug Fister).  At first, you had to LOVE what you saw out of the kid.  6 consecutive quality starts to kick off his career (including a couple of impressive performances down in Anaheim, going 14.1 innings over 2 starts, giving up 3 earned runs).  He has since backed those games up with a couple of real clunkers (11.1 innings, 11 runs, 6 home runs against Boston & Toronto).  That’s not going to cut it.  He’s got to find a way to be a little more spectacular in his wins and a little less like Chinese Water Torture in his losses.  I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in this guy right now, but I don’t think there’s any pitcher I’m more interested in seeing down the stretch.  Can he bounce back?  Will he flame out like the Challenger Explosion?

Now, to the hitters (in an effort to not bum everyone out, I’ve decided to leave Justin Smoak off this list).

Trayvon Robinson – Talk about an exciting debut!  The kid has flashed some serious glove, some serious power, and some serious consistency.  He’s 9 for 36 so far with 4 doubles and a homer.  Of course, in his 10 appearances he’s struck out 14 times with only 1 walk (so, in that sense, he’s just like Halman, Peguero, and all the rest of our high-strikeout AAA bashers).  People in the know seem to have higher hopes about Robinson in spite of these K’s, so who knows?  What I want to see out of him more than anything else is a batting average that doesn’t plummet to Figginsian levels with steady playing time.  All of these guys seem to start out ablaze, then a month goes by and it’s like they’ve been hit with a dozen fire extinguishers.

Casper Wells – Before the trade, Wells was hitting .257 with 4 homers, a .323 OBP, and a .451 slugging percentage in 113 at bats spread out over the first four months.  Since the trade, Wells is hitting .326 with 5 homers (including a homer in 4 consecutive games), a .413 OBP, and a .652 slugging percentage in 46 at bats.  Sure, a smaller sample size, but it could also be a testament to what the guy can do when given a chance to compete for a starting spot (and given a chance to play everyday).  A lot to like about the guy’s results, but I question if he can do it over the long haul.  For the moment, though, he’s making the Fister trade look like a fucking blockbuster.

Mike Carp – This guy is easily my favorite story of the year.  Not Pineda, not Ackley, not Wedge shaving off his moustache, not even the cutting of Milton Bradley.  Here’s a guy who looked like nothing more than a AAA also-ran.  Someone with not enough power for the power positions (left field, first base, DH) and not enough skill for the skill positions where we’re hurting the most (third base, short stop, catcher).  Essentially, he was a baseball player without a position.  No matter where you put him, he would ultimately never live up to the ideal.

Then, something happened.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the guy took a few dozen massive doses of steroids, but I’m pretty darn certain that’s not the case.  Simply put, the guy turned into a wild, uncaged animal for our Rainiers.  As guys like Peguero and Halman kept all the Major League playing time for themselves (and doing a poor job at it to boot), Carp quietly went about his business of being the Osama Bin Laden of the PCL (terrorizing, he was terrorizing them).  Finally, in early June, the Mariners had no choice.  They HAD to bring the guy up.

And, I don’t want to say he struggled, but he certainly wasn’t the hitter he was in Tacoma.  He had a .200 batting average with 2 doubles and 0 homers in 35 at bats … okay, so he struggled!  He still had enough walks to keep his OBP at .333.  When he was sent back down in early July, I was convinced that was it for the Mike Carp era.  It proved once and for all that Carp was indeed nothing more than a AAA also-ran.

Then, he was called back up.  And all of a sudden, he started dominating.  They gave him an everyday job and let him take his lumps.  As a result, Carp has rewarded the team with .371 batting average over his last 105 at bats.  He’s hit 6 homers, 6 doubles, and a triple.  He’s slugging .619 over this span to give himself an absolute Ruthian OPS.

You know why he’s my favorite story of the year?  Because he reminds me so much of Edgar.  A guy who toiled in the minors well into his 20s, then finally got a shot on some bad teams.  Once he had a regular opportunity to bat, he ran away with it, winning batting titles and the hearts of the Pacific Northwest.  Who’s to say Carp couldn’t do the same thing as our DH of the future?

I implore Mariners executives:  don’t go out and buy another past-his-prime designated hitter in the hopes that he’ll rebound to his 2-years-ago self.  2 years in baseball years might as well be 2 decades when you’re old.  Mike Carp is here now, he’s inexpensive, and he’s poised to tear the cover off the ball for years to come!

Dustin Ackley – This kid is just amazing.  There’s nothing else to say about him.  I have no concerns whatsoever that he’s going to regress next year.  I fully expect him to have a Wade Boggs type career for the next decade-plus.  Even when he’s struggling (like he has in August, with a .241 batting average), he’s still awesome (a .379 on-base percentage in that very same span).  On the year, he has 25 walks vs. 35 strikeouts.  He’s hit 5 homers, 5 triples, and 11 doubles; I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome that is for a second baseman.  In seriously not that many years, he’s going to go down as the best second baseman the Mariners have ever seen (with apologies to Harold Reynolds).  I love you Dustin Ackley.  So very damn much!

Talkin’ Tacoma Rainiers

I’m not gonna lie to you, this post is more for me than it is for you.  There are tons of other sites (probably) that can give you some real quality Rainiers analysis.  So, go there for the hard-hitting whathaveyou.

If you’re like me, you live in Tacoma and almost never end up getting out to a Rainiers game even though, every year before the season starts, you and your friends talk about “getting out to a few games this summer”.  Then, summer arrives, and you never think to head over to Cheney.

Also, if you’re like me, you find minor league baseball to be an enjoyable experience when you DO go to a game … but you don’t really follow the teams all that closely.  Aside from a few players touted as “up & coming”, you just don’t give too much of a shit.

However, with all the players who’ve made it up to the big ballclub, and with the player or players soon to come, I thought I’d take a look at the Tacoma Rainiers.

The Rainiers currently stand in 3rd place in the Pacific North Division (with a 28-35 record), 9 games behind the first place Reno Aces.  The two teams appear to be pretty comparable in their pitching (Tacoma is 12th in the PCL in ERA, Reno is 13th), but there looks to be a hitting discrepancy (with Reno 2nd in batting average and Tacoma 10th).  Obviously, this doesn’t tell the whole story, because the Rainiers are in the top 5 in both Home Runs and Runs Scored, so really I don’t know what to tell you.

From what I understand, the new park configurations make it tremendously easier to hit home runs to both left and right field (the high center field wall remains from Old Cheney Stadium), which probably explains why Tacoma is so much more improved in their power numbers.  And, why the ERA is so high.

Here’s all you really need to know about the pitching:  just hope and pray that none of the Mariners’ starters get injured.  Luke French – the odd man out of the rotation coming out of Spring Training once Pineda won a spot on the team – has been truly awful this year.  He’s got a 6.16 ERA and has given up 18 home runs in 13 games started.  Chaz Roe – who we got for Jose Lopez in the trade with the Rockies – has a worse ERA and an 0-5 record.  Blake Beavan – who we got in the Cliff Lee Trade – appears to be the best of the three, but his ERA is still 4.76 and he too looks like he’s nowhere near ready to break in with the big club.

The other notable names include Nate Robertson.  He’s been bad thus far, coming back from injury, but he’s only made two starts, so the book is still out on him.  In the bullpen, it looks like Josh Lueke has bounced back nicely with his return to triple-A.  He’s got a 3.33 ERA in 17 appearances.  Dan Cortes, on the other hand, has a 5.21 ERA in 15 appearances.  He’s got good strikeout numbers, but he’s being hit around quite a bit.  In other words, he’s probably a year away at least.

On the hitting side of things, I’m seeing a lot of really good numbers (a testament to the fact that so many of these guys have already been called up).  Dustin Ackley is batting .291 after a horrendous start to the season.  He’s got 9 homers and 16 doubles, and he’s walking considerably more than he’s striking out.  Ackley will be Seattle’s starting second baseman before the month of June is over, I guarantee it.

Other familiar names include Matt Tuiasosopo and Ryan Langerhans.  Tui looks like he’s struggling mightily with his .236 batting average.  Factor in that he’s playing primarily at first base, with his paltry power numbers (7 homers, 10 doubles), and I think you’re looking at a guy who’s not long for this organization.  I anticipate when his contract expires, it will not be renewed.  As for Langerhans, he’s playing just like you’d expect Langerhans to play.  In a pinch, he’ll be back with the Mariners this year (“pinch” being:  multiple injuries to our outfielders).

You might be wondering how Michael Saunders has been doing since being sent down.  Well, in 8 games, he’s batting .343 with 8 RBI, a homer, and a double.  That sounds about right:  kills triple-A pitching, sucks in the Majors.

Mike Wilson, you probably remember (if you were paying attention).  He actually played with the Mariners this year in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it one-month stint.  In that month, he got into 8 games even though we were told that Left Field would be a strict platoon between him and Carlos Peguero.  Granted, we ran into an inordinate number of right-handed pitchers, but still.  I remember some instances where Wilson could’ve pinch hit or something and was instead left riding pine.  I guess he didn’t make enough of an early impression with Wedge.  Anyway, Wilson’s leading the team in batting and has 4 hits in 3 games since being sent back down.

Real quick:  Josh Bard is doing good at catcher (of course, not good enough to be called up because he’s an everyday guy and Gimenez – the Mariners’ current backup catcher – isn’t an everyday guy); Matt Mangini is also doing good, but he’s coming back from injury.  Alex Liddi still has some major power at the third base position – something the Mariners are SORELY lacking – but he’s remarkably struck out 81 times in 61 games.  So, he’s still got some seasoning to do.

All in all, it’s nice to see there’s some talent down in Tacoma, but aside from Ackley, I don’t think there’s too many guys left down there who you’d want to count on with the Mariners.  However, if you’re looking to go see an entertaining, high-scoring ballgame (something you won’t get in Seattle), based on these numbers I would highly recommend going to a Rainiers game.

I REALLY gotta get out to a few games this summer.

Mariners Keep Winning, Now 2 Games from .500

I don’t want to alarm anybody here, but the Mariners are now 14-16.  To put that in perspective, we’re still in last place, but in the AL West that means we’re 2 games behind both Texas and Anaheim (and 1 game behind Oakland).

I swear to Christ, if the Mariners do one of the following – sweep this series and get to .500, move completely out of last place, or eventually just get to .500 – I am putting a God damned standings widget over there on the right side of the page and keeping it there all year!

This is the type of AL West everyone expected LAST year.  Instead, we got Texas running away with it, only to choke when it mattered most, but I digress.

The star of last night’s game is the rejuvenated Erik Bedard!  After throwing 33 pitches in the first inning, he settled down to go 7 strong (and, oddly enough, not giving up his first hit until the 6th inning).  That’s two games in a row where he’s gone 7; dare I say we’ve got the pitcher we were expecting in 2008?  If so, don’t look now, but that’s three high-quality starting pitchers to throw at the league …

Let’s breeze through the rest of the kudos:

Justin Smoak is a GOD right now.  3 for 4 last night with a double and 2 RBI.  This just continues to shine a light on my man crush that is Cliff Lee.  Without him, none of this would’ve been possible!

Don’t look now, but Jack Cust has his average up to .205 … I’m not saying that’s acceptable, but he’s no longer the worst guy on team.  For the record, it’s your turn to make the leap into the .200’s Brendan Ryan.

Unrelated to yesterday’s game:  Happy Rookie Of The Month, Michael Pineda!  Five more of those and you’ve got yourself a ROY.

Brandon League is 8 for 8 in save opportunities.  I don’t know what’s more surprising through May 3rd:  Brandon League is perfect, or Brandon League has actually had 8 save opportunities.

I haven’t seen Chris Ray in practically forever.  Whenever I’m able to write that sentence, you know it’s been a good day.  In fact, we haven’t seen ANY of the dregs of our bullpen lately!  No Ray, no Lueke (who’s now in Tacoma anyway), no Cortes (who was called up for Lueke), no Wilhelmsen.  Just a steady diet of Jamey Wright, Aaron Laffey, and David Pauley (who got the win last night).  FINALLY, a manager who’s not afraid to sit the struggling pitchers we all hate!  I think I’m falling in love with you, Eric Wedge.

Mariners: Back To The Grind

In the last 7 days, I missed 7 games.  In the last 7 days, I missed 3 wins; it’s not quite the best stretch of Mariner baseball over a 7-day period, but it’s damn close.  In the last 7 days, I missed back-to-back shutouts!  That hurt.  That hurt deep down, where I’m tender like a woman.  And, to further make matters worse, I missed a game where the Mariners scored 13 runs and just totally dominated from opening pitch to final out.

First of all, prediction:  the Mariners will never match or surpass 13 runs the rest of this year.

Secondly, in spite of all the awesome that happened this week, I’m still glad I did it and everyone should look for it to happen again in late May.

The reasons why should be clear.  Yes, if the Mariners went 3-4 (in every 7-game stretch) the rest of the way, they might actually be halfway respectable.  But there’s no way in HELL they’re going to keep up that pace.  See:  the final 2 Oakland games this weekend.  Or, for that matter, see:  5 of the 7 games last week!

For the official record, I’m going to define “Run Support” from now on as:  scoring 4 or more runs in a 9-inning game.  That’s support.  If your starting pitcher gives up more than 4 runs, then by definition he’s not “Keeping Us In The Game”. 

Well, the Mariners managed exactly 4 runs in the Pineda shutout (and, of course, they clobbered home 13 runs against Detroit).  But, every other game last week, the Mariners went 3 or less!  On the season, the Mariners have scored 3 or less 15 out of 23 games. 

To keep things balanced, that whole “Keeping Us In The Game” thing isn’t really working out either.  In 12 of 23 games, we’ve given up 5 runs or more.  For this team, that’s suicide, plain and simple.

One of those suicide bombers, Josh Lueke, has finally been let out of the noose he’s been hanging himself with all month.  He made 8 appearances this month and has been a total trainwreck in half of them.  Here are the reasons why his Major League ERA now stands at 17.05:

  • 0.2 IP, 4 ER
  • 0.1 IP, 1 ER
  • 0.1 IP, 4 ER
  • 1.0 IP, 3 ER

If you took out his other four appearances where he somehow managed to not give up a run, and JUST counted his ERA from those four appearances, he’d have a whopping 46.29 ERA.  That’s … that’s perfect.

In his place, Dan Cortes returns.  The same Dan Cortes who couldn’t settle down enough in Spring Training to keep a job on the club.  I guess we’ll see.  If he hasn’t lost his fastball like Lueke has, I’ll likely be content.  If he’s the second coming of Joe Table, then we’ve got a problem.

In happy news as I end this:  NO GAME TODAY!  What did I ever do to deserve an 8th Mariner-free day?

Predicting The Mariners 2011 Roster

I am well aware that we’re in the infancy of Spring Training, but what else are we going to do for the next few weeks but speculate, speculate, speculate?

Therefore, without further adieu, I give you what I think will be YOUR Seattle Mariners in 2011 (at least, before injuries, cuts, trades, surprise retirements, and jail time set in).

We’ll start with the Starters:

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Erik Bedard
  3. Jason Vargas
  4. Doug Fister
  5. Nate Robertson

First thing’s first:  that fifth starter is easily the weakest position on the team; you better come out of the block on fire if you hope to keep your job after the first couple months.  Because we have hot shot Michael Pineda – who SHOULD be the unquestioned fifth starter, but won’t be because if we start him out in AAA, his years don’t start counting against the organization (in other words, if he started out the season with the big ballclub, he would be a free agent a year sooner, after team control finally ends).

Also, nobody is saying Nate Robertson has anything won; he’s on a minor league contract after all.  There will be a 3-way battle (sans Pineda) between him, Luke French, and David Pauley.  First place gets to rent the fifth starter job, second place gets to be our bullpen long man (and pitch every 11 days or so), and third place gets to go to Tacoma.  And, since Pauley and French are already on the active roster, Robertson will have to heavily impress in Spring Training to be retained for the season.

On to the bullpen (with one minor note that David Aardsma WILL be our closer, but since he just had hip surgery, he might miss the first full month of the season; for the sake of argument, I’m including him in the following projection):

  • Closer:  David Aardsma
  • 8th Inning:  Brandon League
  • 7th Inning:  Chris Ray
  • Set Up:  Josh Lueke
  • Set Up:  Dan Cortes
  • Set Up:  Josh Flores
  • Long Reliever:  Luke French

My guess is, with French’s stability towards the end of last season, his hard work carries over to this Spring where he wins the backup job.  He’s also a left hander, so that will be cool.  Josh Flores is a Rule 5 guy Jackie Z decided to give a shot.  He played last year in A-ball, but he has high upside, so I think we’ll do everything in our power to keep him.  Lueke and Flores are both young up-and-comers who SHOULD win spots (one or both could run into the same Michael Pineda scenario where we try to delay their debuts with the big ballclub; if one has to start in Tacoma, I’d bet on Lueke, since Flores got to see some time with Seattle in September of last year).  Chris Ray is one of a thousand relievers we signed to minor league deals, and his is one of the biggest names (he was an effective closer in recent years, coming off injuries).  The other is Manny Delcarmen, and I have to believe one of those guys is done (my bet is Delcarmen, though he may have the better fastball).  League will probably be our closer until DA returns (with probably Jamey Wright taking up DA’s spot in said meantime).

Like last year, there’s a lot to like about our pitching staff.  Of course, it’s impossible to predict who’s going to tank out of nowhere like RRS did last year, but if things hold serve, having Felix, Bedard, and Vargas as our top three will be pretty impressive.  If anyone regresses, it’ll definitely be Fister, who was unable to keep up his pre-DL production post-DL last year.  He just doesn’t have the fastball, and if he’s not hitting spots with pinpoint precision, then he’s getting crushed and will likely be demoted once Pineda’s ready.  Speaking of Pineda:  when he enters the rotation and we can pump out Felix, Bedard, Vargas, and Pineda … WATCH OUT.  A lot to like about those four guys.

The bullpen is even fascinating in its own right.  Will DA return with a vengeance?  Will League improve upon his up-and-down 2010, where at times he was unhittable and at others he was my worst nightmare?  Will Ray or Delcarmen return to being awesome?  Will Lueke and Cortes make impact names for themselves?

I don’t have nearly the glowing praise of the following hitters, but let’s take a look at the starting nine:

  1. Ichiro – RF
  2. Chone Figgins – 3B
  3. Justin Smoak – 1B
  4. Jack Cust – DH
  5. Franklin Gutierrez – CF
  6. Miguel Olivo – C
  7. Michael Saunders
  8. Jack Wilson – SS
  9. Brendan Ryan – 2B

Limited power!  A lot of strikeouts!  Low batting averages!  Who could want anything more?

A key, as always, will be the 3-4-5 hitters.  Will Smoak take the next step in becoming a bonafide major leaguer?  Will Jack Cust be the designated hitter we’ve been lacking since 2004?  Will Franklin Gutierrez adjust to how pitchers have adjusted to him?  All three of these things need to happen for us to be an adequate ballclub; my guess is we see a lot of shuffling of the 3-4-5 spots like last year.

I see Miguel Olivo batting 6th primarily because he’s probably our 3rd best home run threat after Cust and Gutierrez.  He might even be our 2nd best home run threat.  Go ahead and let that sink in.  I’ll wait.

If you haven’t already taken an overdose of sleeping pills, imagine the black hole our last three spots will be (don’t get up, I’ll go get the bottle).  Ye gods; I have nothing positive to say about any of those guys so I won’t say anything at all.

Our bench is looking like this:

  • Milton Bradley – LF/DH
  • Adam Moore – C
  • Adam Kennedy
  • Ryan Langerhans

My guess is Bradley – because of his contract – and Moore – because we have to develop SOMEBODY at catcher after spending so many high draft picks on them – are locks to make the team.  Adam Kennedy is in a dogfight with Josh Wilson and a bevy of other crappy infielders for that bench spot.  My guess is his old batting form returns enough in Spring Training to earn him a job, only to suck balls once the calendar flips to April (a la Eric Byrnes last year).  Ryan Langerhans is in a similar dogfight with such exciting names as Gabe Gross and Jody Gerut for the backup outfielder spot.  I think he’ll pull it out because … I dunno, I just like him I guess.  And because his last name reminds me of Jagerbombs.

Of note is Dustin Ackley, who will also be a Michael Pineda-esque casualty (only to be brought up mid-season like the other young’uns).  On the one hand, I understand the financial aspect of getting these potential rising stars for an extra year; on the other, this team is HELLA-boring when the kids are in AAA.  Assuming, of course, that we lose upwards of 60% of our games again.  Which likely WILL happen.

So, that’s that; we’ll see how right I am.  By the way, I’m still not ready for baseball to start.  Maybe a little Spring Training buzz will light my fire.