Some Baseball Players Are Opting Out

I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t see it coming. Of course, I didn’t put too much thought into it; all the stories I read were about the back-and-forth between players and owners. The owners wanted to mitigate their “losses” as much as possible, first by attempting to drastically reduce salaries, then by actually drastically reducing the number of games played (whether there would have been or will be any real financial losses is up for debate, since owners refuse to open their books and let the public in on all of their various money-making deals we don’t get to be privy to). On the flipside, word from the players’ side hinged on variations of, “We’re baseball players and we want to play baseball!” Players argued for full pro-rated portions of their salaries, and made a case to play as many games as possible in the COVID-shortened timeframe we’ve been allotted (in an attempt to earn as much of their expected salaries as possible, more than their actual desire to play a shit-ton of doubleheaders, or otherwise extend the season well into November). Maybe I’m gullible, but I’d hoped once we finally got an agreement in place, we’d see not only a return of baseball, but a group of happy, grateful players (and owners, I guess, though they’re obviously far more behind the scenes) just glad to be back out in the world and playing the game they love.

Yeah, okay, I see how that sounds. But, before you lump me in with your most loathed Boomer sportswriters of old, I’m going somewhere with this.

Obviously, no one’s happy with a 60-game season. Fans aren’t, but we also have to take what we can get, because our feelings are never taken into consideration. The players sure as shit aren’t, as they’re barely getting over a third of their expected 2020 salaries. I would argue the owners aren’t happy about it either, but they can’t control when or how severe a pandemic will hit. Nevertheless, this is what we get, and we’re starting to see some really big names opting out of playing this season.

Apparently, if you can prove you have a pre-existing condition that would be an increased COVID-related risk, you’re allowed to opt out of playing and receive your full salary. That doesn’t appear to be the case in the names I’m seeing so far; most of the players opting out are exceedingly wealthy. These players are also allowed to opt out, but they don’t get paid, so obviously their wealth plays a large part in their decision. They’re not fringe players looking to make names for themselves; those players – even if they DO have pre-existing issues – can’t afford to sit out, even in an asterisk-season like 2020, because there are always younger, hungrier players coming down the pipeline behind them.

The Washington Nationals, at the time I’m writing this, have three players sitting out the 2020 season. As World Series champs from last year, it’s probably not as much of a disappointment to their fans, who are still likely basking in the glow of such magic; nevertheless, if I were a fan, I’d still be a little irritated (at least). I know how short these championship windows can be – in ANY sport – and if you don’t strike while the iron is hot, it can be another long, lean few decades of futility (as a Mariners fan, we don’t even have a World Series appearance and I know that feeling all too well!).

David Price recently said he wouldn’t be playing in 2020, and he was JUST traded (earlier this offseason) to another championship contender – the L.A. Dodgers – in a blockbuster deal that most hard-luck Dodgers fans had looked forward to as the move to potentially push their Always A Bridesmaid team over the top. He hasn’t been his old, Cy Young self in recent seasons, but Price is still quite an effective starting pitcher and would be of great help to that team. If I were a fan, I’d be totally despondent! Now, they’re so good, they could easily contend for a title without him, but that’s still not something you want to see when you’ve been SO CLOSE to a title these last few years (and arguably cheated out of one by the Astros and/or the Red Sox in 2017 & 2018).

Most recently, Felix Hernandez declared he’s going to sit out 2020. Of course, I love King Felix more than life itself, and so he can do no wrong in my eyes (he was also on a minor league deal and contending for a fifth starter job with the Braves, so he was no lock to make the team anyway, and indeed might have been given a head’s up that it wasn’t looking as good for him now as it was back in March, for whatever reason); still, selfishly, I’ll miss getting to watch his comeback attempt from afar.

So far, no Mariners have opted out yet. But, as I alluded to above, most of the guys in this organization are either not-yet-established prospects, or veterans still clinging to relevance (and potentially looking for substantial paydays from new teams in the very near future), so I don’t know if it makes sense for anyone on this team to sit out. Besides that, the M’s aren’t very good this year, so sitting out wouldn’t make any difference to a team that’s going to end up with a bad overall record regardless.

BUT, if I were a fan of a legitimate contender – or even a team just looking to sneak into a Wild Card pot – I’d be somewhere on the spectrum from Disappointed to Super Pissed, and probably waffling back and forth between those two emotions day by day. Asterisk-Season or not, 2020 presents a unique and fun opportunity for an Out-Of-Nowhere team to jump up and shock the world, earning a championship they might not have otherwise gotten in a full 162-game regular season! I think that’s exciting! It’s a fun way to shake up what’s normally a demoralizing slog, where most middle-of-the-road teams fall by the wayside anywhere from late April to late September (the longer you remain in contention, the more depressed you feel when the rug is ultimately pulled out from under you).

In the grand scheme of things, I don’t really care that much, for all the reasons I said above (especially about how the Mariners are going to be bad regardless, and they’re the only team I actually give a shit about). As a human being, you have every right to take your own safety and the health of your family into consideration. I’m not going to begrudge or belittle anyone for protecting their loved ones (I mean, let’s face it, I know teams are putting in precautions, but they can’t 100% guarantee the virus won’t infiltrate the clubhouse). I just want to watch baseball for a while, read about our upcoming prospects, and boo the Houston Astros. So, players can keep declaring they’re going to opt out all they want.

Maybe, if enough of the biggest stars go away, I can try to talk myself into the Mariners making a splash this season! It’s unrealistic, but nuttier things have happened.

Mariners Lose A Pitcher’s Duel In Red Sox Opener

Quality starts have been rare for The King this season, but now we’ve got 2 pretty great starts out of his last three games, including one against probably the best team in the American League.

Felix followed up a dominant 8-inning, 1-run performance against the Rays with a 3-inning, 6-run performance against the Rays, making the good start look more like an anomaly than a sign of better things to come.  So, the fact that he was able to bounce right back against the Red Sox last night and go 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits, 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts, makes things all the more confusing.

If I’m being honest, this is more in line with what I’d hoped to see out of him.  Sure, there will be disaster starts, but I also expected to see a little vintage Felix sprinkled in, and the fact that we’re starting to see that again is a really good thing for this team.  He’s not as all-important to this team’s success like he was back in his prime, but now it’s different.  It’s more important for ME, as a fan, that he do well this year so he’s allowed to pitch in the post-season when we finally get there, because it would break my fucking heart to see the Mariners get in the playoffs and not see Felix on the mound.

Unfortunately, for those watching the game last night, David Price was just a little bit better, going 7 innings, giving up 1 run on 5 hits, 0 walks, with 7 strikeouts.  In the end, that’s all she wrote:  a 2-1 loss.

The Mariners were 0-2 with RISP, so it’s not like there were a ton of scoring opportunities.  I do find it interesting that Craig Kimbrel walked the first two batters in the 9th with Seager and Healy coming up, and we totally shit the bed from there.  I’m less annoyed by Healy – as he’s been remarkably solid this year once he returned from his April DL stint – though he did ground out into the game-ending double play; but I’m starting to get really pissed about what we’re getting out of Kyle Seager.  Yeah, okay, he traditionally starts slow, but this is getting ridiculous!  He’s hitting .226 and now we’re in mid-June!  HOW MUCH LONGER ARE WE GOING TO HAVE TO WAIT FOR SEAGER TO GET HIS ASS IN GEAR AT THE PLATE?

If this game is a sign of things to come, we’re in for a very fun, very exciting series against the Red Sox this weekend.

Fuck You Angels! The Mariners Got The Sweep

When I was a kid, I gave much more of a shit about baseball rivalries than I do now.  I hated the Yankees, obviously.  I disliked the Rangers quite a bit (especially when they signed A-Rod).  In the early 2000’s, I REALLY hated the Athletics, because even though the Mariners won 90+ games from 2000-2003, the A’s were the reason why we only made the playoffs twice (in spite of a couple 93-win campaigns).  In recent years, I guess I hate the Astros, but I don’t even know if they qualify as a rivalry, from my fan’s perspective.  It’s more of a looming dread whenever I see HOU coming up on the little pocket calendar I have hanging up at my desk.  When the switch flipped and Houston became HOUSTON, it’s been utter annihilation (and even before they were good, they still won an annoying amount of times).  Besides, this is really the first year where the Mariners and Astros have been on the same level, record-wise.  They may indeed grow to become my most hated baseball enemy when the season’s over.

But, for now, I think I hate the Angels the most.  Granted, they’re clearly the better franchise.  They’ve actually WON a World Series, for instance.  They’ve been to the playoffs 10 times to our 4; they’ve consistently been more of a winning team in general (and haven’t had those bottom-out years like the Mariners have).  Nevertheless, with the Astros way up there, I’ve always seen the Angels as more of our peers.  Whenever you find the Mariners contending for a wild card spot, the Angels always seem to be right there with us.  Also, from 2010 onward, the Angels only have the 1 playoff appearance, so it’s not like they’ve been super awesome of late.  And, they’ve had a number of players I couldn’t help but despise, from Mike Trout to Jered Weaver to (retroactively) Chone Figgins to John Lackey to Troy Glaus to Tim Salmon to Chuck Finley.  The only Angels player I ever really liked was Vlad, because he was fucking amazing and I secretly never forgave the Mariners for not making a bigger push to sign him when he was a free agent after 2003.  Can you even imagine?  That would’ve been so much fun!

Anyway, the Mariners just swept the Angels yesterday in the 3-game series, and I couldn’t be happier.

I didn’t hold out a ton of hope in yesterday’s game, even when the Angels’ starter was pulled after 2 innings with an injury.  Marco Gonzales really wasn’t as sharp as he’d been of late, only lasting 5 innings, giving up 3 runs.  We knew ahead of time that Edwin Diaz wasn’t going to be available, after pitching 3 games in a row, and in 4 games in 5 days.  That slotted the bullpen all kinds of wonky, and accordingly the bullpen wasn’t as sharp as it had been of late either.  Newcomer Mike Morin – in just his 2nd appearance since being called up from Tacoma – gave up a run on a triple and a sac fly.  Chasen Bradford – who has been all kinds of good this year – gave up 2 solo homers in the 7th to put us behind by 2 runs.  And, there we were, late in the game, facing the prospects of losing for just the third time in the month of June.

That’s when the offense went back to work.  Gamel and Zunino had RBIs in the 2nd to stake the Mariners to a 2-0 lead.  Then, after an RBI by Trout (who somehow didn’t homer in this one, though he did have two hits and two intentional walks), Nelson Cruz hit a 2-run bomb (which is his 5th in the last 5 games) to put the M’s up 4-1.  In the 7th, after Bradford gagged up the homers, Segura hit a guy in on a double; followed by Healy solo homering in the 8th to re-tie the game; ultimately setting the stage for a bottom of the 9th showdown (thanks to a couple scoreless innings out of eventual winner Roenis Elias).

With one out, Segura on at first, Mitch Haniger took a mistake by the Angels pitcher and deposited it into the left field stands for his second walk-off home run of the season.  Not for nothing, but that’s his 16th homer of the season (tying his mark of 2017) and his 52nd RBI (surpassing what he did in 2017, in 29 fewer games).  Can you imagine what it’ll be like if he can stay healthy all year?  He truly is deserving of a slot on the All Star team.

The Mariners are still 0.5 games ahead of the Astros, but are now 7.5 games ahead of the Angels, which is just the best.

Now, we’ve got a 4-game series against the Red Sox.  I hope you like a lot of annoying Boston fans, because they’re coming out in force!  The good news is Chris Sale pitched yesterday, so we lucked into avoiding one of the best lefties in the game.  The bad news is the rest of their rotation is also really fucking good.  And, James Paxton is saddled with Friday’s “Fireworks Night” game, which I believe the Mariners have lost every fucking time they’ve done it.  Here’s to hoping for a little of that old Felix magic tonight as he squares off against David Price.  This series could get REAL dicey in a hurry.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Drew Smyly

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

There’s a pretty good amount of turnover this year, compared to the starting rotation on Opening Day 2016.  The only holdovers are King Felix and Kuma, as we rounded out the rest of our starting five with Taijuan Walker, Wade Miley, and Nate Karns.  With those five, you figured you had an Ace, a solid #2, a stopgap veteran innings-eater, and a couple of young power arms to build your rotation around for the future.  Well, Miley turned out to be a dud, Karns evolved into an injured dud, and we salvaged whatever remaining value Walker had by trading him for an important, everyday player at shortstop.

In their place, we have a holdover in Paxton, alongside newcomers Yovani Gallardo and Drew Smyly.  I’m not expecting much out of Gallardo, which puts that much more pressure on Smyly to succeed.  The 2017 Mariners can ill afford two black holes in the rotation if they expect to break into the post-season.

There was a good amount of hype that, for whatever reasons, failed to fully materialize for Smyly as he broke into the Major Leagues.  He followed up a solid rookie season by being thrown into a bullpen role in his second year.  Smyly’s best season was in 2014, when the Tigers shipped him off at the height of his value for a David Price deadline deal.  Smyly went to the Rays and closed his season on a tear.  It ALMOST looked like they’d flipped an ace for an ace, but then Smyly spent most of 2015 injured.  He pitched the full year in 2016, but was no better than replacement level.  At which point, here we are, hoping a change of scenery will do everyone some good.

Since we do have a full season’s worth of data, I’m mostly interested in what he was able to do last year.  He pitched a career-high 175.1 innings, striking out 167 and walking only 49.  His big problem was giving up 32 homers in 30 starts.  I know that sounds like something Iwakuma is known for, but in 33 starts he only gave up 28 dongers last year.  So, that’s a bit of a red flag.  Yes, he’s going to limit baserunners where he can, by being around the plate, but that’s only a good thing if you’re avoiding getting too much of the plate at the same time.  It’s a slippery slope, and one that saw him with a career-high in opposing slugging percentage and a career-low in ground ball to fly ball ratio.  With a respectable strikeout percentage, it would seem to me this is a guy who wants to make his living pitching up in the zone, inducing weak contact pop ups and fly balls.  Given his numbers last year, I take it he failed to get the ball up enough, and those hanging whathaveyous were pounded into submission.

This is a move that would’ve been much more celebrated before the Mariners moved in Safeco Field’s fences.  Now that the park plays much more closer to league average – indeed, last year played like a bandbox as far as homers are concerned – the addition of Smyly is less of a projected sure thing.  It’s not enough to be a lefty with a good offspeed pitch and just hope your fly ball gets run down in deep centerfield, now you have to pitch like you actually mean it!  Like you know what you’re doing.  Like you’re in a place that won’t forgive you a big, fat, juicy meatball right in the middle of the plate.  If he’s got enough control to avoid giving up tons of walks, let’s hope he’s able to also paint those edges and avoid those hot zones.

Smyly could end up being huge for this team.  If he pans out and we opt to keep him, he’s young enough to stick around for a good, long while.  If he pans out and we suck this year, we can also flip him at the deadline for quality prospects.  If he sucks, he’s still a lefty pitcher with starting and relieving experience, and those guys will always have SOME value.  I’m just hoping he and the rest of this rotation can keep their shit together to give us the best season we’ve had in over a decade.

Mariners Return Home, Hoping For A Miracle

Well, some good news and some bad news out of yesterday afternoon’s drubbing of the Astros, 12-4.  We won!  That’s always good.  Staved off execution for one more day, gotta like that.  We put pressure on our rivals, as their games didn’t start until later in the day.  And, let’s be serious, I’m taking GREAT pleasure in knowing we have all but officially knocked the Astros out of the playoffs (they are 3.5 games out of the second wild card with 3 games to go and would need to win out while Baltimore would need to lose their final 4 games and the other teams ahead of them would need to stumble greatly as well).  The Astros may have had our number for most of the year, but we put the final nail in their coffin!

The bad news, of course, is that Baltimore came back in the 9th inning to beat the Blue Jays, and Detroit won a rained out game against Cleveland.  So, we remain 1 game behind the Tigers and 2 games behind the Orioles, with 4 games to go for each of us.

I got to listen to some of the game on the radio yesterday, and it sounds like the offense would not be denied.  Smart move.  James Paxton had okay stuff, but could only muster 5 innings against that Astros offense.  Evan Scribner was the real hero of the day, getting us out of a major jam in the 6th and going 2 full innings of relief.  Where has THAT guy been all season?  Oh, right, injured.  Man, if he’d been healthy and pitching like this all year, we’d be in a MUCH different position right now

On the flipside, Doug Fister couldn’t get out of the 2nd inning, as the Astros – with their backs to the wall – went with the quick hook.  They were able to make it as close as 7-4 after six innings of play, but the Mariners were able to pour it on.

Cano hit his 36th homer of the season and Seager hit 30 for the first time in his career, giving the Mariners three guys with 30+ homers for the first time since 1997!  Cano and Seager each had 3 RBI apiece to bring them up to 97 and 99 respectively.  With Cruz already at 102, we’re damn near three guys with 100+ RBI for the first time since – I wanna say – 2001.  I could be having my years mixed up, but I’m pretty sure that’s what I gleaned from Twitter the last few days.

So, here’s where we stand, heading into Thursday:

  • Cleveland at Detroit at 10am.  I’ve heard there’s more rain on the horizon, and they might not even be able to get this game in today.  If they can’t, and it needs to be made up, they’d have to do that on Monday, which will throw a lot of things out of whack.
  • Detroit then heads to Atlanta for a 3-game series.  The Braves are 65-92 and in last place in the National League, so that’s not too encouraging.  On the plus side, no DH, so Victor Martinez will be relegated to pinch hit duty in their most important series of the year.  Of course, given Atlanta’s ineptitude, it’s not likely he’ll be needed, and they’ll have just given him 3 days to rest ahead of the playoffs.
  • Baltimore at Toronto at 4pm.  The Orioles sit 1 game behind the Blue Jays for the top wild card spot.  If they win today, they’ll be tied and – assuming we beat the A’s – we’ll be exactly 2 games behind both of them.  Which, if that’s the case, means Toronto’s back in play.
  • Baltimore then heads to New York for a 3-game series against the Yankees.  Tanaka is one of the scheduled starters, so you’d think Baltimore would at least lose that one for us, but who can be sure anymore?
  • If Toronto loses today, as I noted, they’re back in play.  That means their three game series in Boston, against the division winners, could be HUGE.  Toronto will have Happ and Aaron Sanchez going that series, which makes things difficult.  But, the Red Sox will have David Price and 22-game winner Rick Porcello going to counter.  I don’t know if that means anything – it’s very likely Boston will be VERY careful with their starters’ pitch counts, since they have a guaranteed spot in the ALDS – but it’s some small slice of hope to cling to.

Obviously, it all means nothing if we can’t beat the A’s.  Aside from not having Paxton, we have as ideal of a rotation as possible.  I think the worst part is we don’t have a day off before this series.  The bullpen is expanded, but there have been a lot of pressure innings to pitch through recently.  It’d be nice to give them a breather.  More importantly than that, though, is I’d REALLY like to give Nelson Cruz a day off to rest that wrist.  He’s been as game as anyone in playing through all that pain, but I worry we’re getting diminishing returns the more consecutive days he plays, reaggravating it with every swing, unable to take bullpens before games.

All I ask is that the Mariners sweep this series and keep the pressure on the other teams ahead of us.  At that point, it’ll be in the hands of the sports gods.  KEEP YOUR CHINS UP!!!

Mariners Came Up With A Huge Victory In A Game They Had No Business Winning

David Price vs. Wade LeBlanc?  On the heels of two blown saves in a row?  With someone by the name of Guillermo Heredia leading off and Luis Sardinas filling in for Ketel Marte?  Against the best hitting team in the league in the Boston Red Sox?  That game had LOSS written all over it, in giant capital letters.  So of course the Mariners won last night!

Of course, you figure with those circumstances, any plausible victory for the Mariners would have to come against the bullpen, involving some late-inning heroics.  But, you know, you’ve still got to get to those late innings within striking distance!  And here’s where I come back to dish out a little bit of praise for our starter last night.  LeBlanc is absolutely nothing special.  But, he’s had 5 starts now, and 4 of them have been Quality Starts.  He was scraping the bottom of the barrel for a quality start last night, with 3 runs in 6 innings, but that’s pretty much the baseball definition of “keeping them in the ballgame.”  THIS is what, I think, we all expected out of Wade Miley when we initially brought him in here.  And this is why I don’t give a hairy-ass fuck about dealing Miley now for peanuts on the dollar.  Wade Mileys are dimes a fucking dozen!  Wade LeBlanc is one.  Ariel Miranda – getting the start tomorrow – is likely another.

On the other end of the spectrum, Edwin Diaz got the first save of his budding career.  Now that we’ve all taken a deep sigh of relief, we can pull back from the edge of the cliff and try to enjoy this team again.  Of course, he remains the lone reliever we can count upon to do his fucking job, but let us pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  Look over here!  Diaz is closing!  Everything is awesome!

In between, we had the aforementioned late-game heroics.  Another homer by Zunino – his fourth – brings his slugging percentage up to a whopping .719.  He’s not exactly a brand new hitter or anything, but this is as promising as it gets, compared to where he was last year.  Then, three consecutive singles out of the bottom of our order knocked Price out of the game with a 2-run lead with 2 on and nobody out.  Seth Smith had a pinch hit strikeout, bringing up Robinson Cano against the normally on-point Fernando Abad.  Cano tore into his offering to give us a 5-4 lead, and the rest was history.

At issue now is the fact that the Mariners have been playing exactly .500 ball since the last week of June, with a record of 15-15 over their last 30 games.  It should go without saying that this is NOT the way to get back in the Wild Card race.  There are 57 games left in the season; at this pace, you figure the Mariners will win 28 more times, which would leave us with a year-end record of 81-81.

To have a realistic shot, 90 wins is the benchmark.  To get there, in 57 more games, the Mariners would have to go 37-20, or winning approximately 65% of our games from here on out.  It sounds daunting, but it’s absolutely do-able.  As I talked about Monday, though, the time is now.  The Mariners need to keep winning games they have no business winning, and hold onto those leads they’re supposed to keep.  Go get ’em.

The Mariners Broke Their Mini Losing Streak

Of 4 games.  Was damn near 6 games, if we never manufactured the greatest comeback in franchise history last Thursday.

For those of you who don’t mind a little standings-watching in early June, the Mariners have dug themselves quite a hole, as they trail the Rangers by 4 games (for the record, if you DO mind a little standings-watching, go fuck yourselves; seriously, what’s the big fucking deal if I check the standings every now and then?).  Obviously, it’s not the end of the world, and there’s a lot of baseball left to play, but it’s crazy how hot the Rangers have been lately (and ohbytheway, they’re going to be in town for another weekend series starting Friday; WILL THE MARINERS BE SWEPT AGAIN?  Stay tuned).

As the old saying goes, a really long journey starts with a first step!  And that first step for the Mariners was getting off the schneid.  They did it in a somewhat improbable way, in that Wade Miley was at the helm of a solid pitching performance!  Seven innings of 4-hit, shutout ball was just what the doctor ordered, as the Mariners – behind Nelson Cruz’s two homers – chased Cleveland’s starter in the fourth inning.  From there, it was cruise control to the finish and a 7-1 victory.

Aside from the Miley start he so desperately needed to work his way back to respectability, I didn’t find a whole lot about last night’s game very interesting.

Monday’s game, however, is another story.

Granted, Monday’s game was a 3-1 loss for the good guys, as the offense just never could get going.  But, the story here was all about the pitching.

James Paxton took the mound for his second start in the Majors this season.  He didn’t disappoint.  He went 6 innings, holding Cleveland to 5 hits and 1 walk, while giving up 3 runs (1 earned) and striking out a whopping TEN batters.  If Chris Iannetta would’ve come down with the throw at the plate – tagging out the runner who ended up scoring – which by all accounts was right on the money and a catch he should’ve made, odds are that game is a lot different.  At the very least, you can make an argument that Paxton gets a no decision instead of a loss; at best, who knows if he gives up that solo homer the next inning?  Maybe he would’ve gotten a shutout victory!

Nevertheless, Paxton’s performance was absolutely legendary.  It has, quite honestly, forced me to re-think my whole stance on his very existence!  This is a James Paxton the likes of which I’ve never seen before, and I’ve been watching him pitch off and on since 2013!  He’s always been big, and he’s always been a lefty, and when he’s been healthy, he’s been a promising potential piece of some brilliant future Mariners team.  But, of course, he’s never been able to stay healthy – and maybe that’ll continue.  All I know is, while he’s been good, he’s never been anything special.

Paxton has always had an okay fastball.  I couldn’t tell you where he would average in the past, it’s been so long since I’ve seen the Paxton Of Old; but it feels like he was usually somewhere around 93 mph.  That’s an okay fastball.  Not great, not elite, but better than the finesse schlubs like Miley and Joe Saunders and the like.  Paxton’s issue has always been with his control, working those edges of the strike zone, staying away from the middle of the plate.

But, this year?  Shit, he’s topping out at 100 mph!  Where the FUCK did THIS come from?  And, I’m not just talking about him hitting triple digits in the first inning, before getting tired and settling into the 95 mph range.  I mean he’s in there, over 100 pitches, still hitting 100 on the radar gun!  With a nasty slider or curve or whatever to keep hitters off-balance.

I mean, are you JOKING me?  As I said before, now I have to re-think everything!  Going into this year, and even through the first couple months of the season, when Paxton was toiling away in Tacoma, working on his velocity and his command, I had him pegged as prime trade bait.  Should the Mariners be in contention at the trade deadline – which it looks like they will be – James Paxton (packaged with another guy or two, perhaps, from the lower minors) could be flipped for another team’s 2-month rental.  Whatever this year’s version of David Price is, the ace starting pitcher on the last year of his rookie deal, who will be a difference-maker for a quality team in the post-season that needs an extra little push.

But NOW?  After seeing THIS?  I mean, obviously, it’s only two starts (of him throwing 100 mph heat), but if this is the new normal for James Paxton, are we better off keeping him, inserting him into the starting rotation for good, and riding him to post-season glory?

Before, Paxton always projected – at least, in my eyes – as topping out as a quality #2 starter.  But, with this type of stuff, the sky is the limit.  Tall lefty, throwing 100 mph, with a biting slider:  that’s ace material.  That’s Randy Johnson material.  That’s the second coming of The Big Unit, with Mr. Snappy’s command being all the difference between him being a solid mid-rotation pitcher and him being the other ace this team needs (when Felix comes back healthy, of course).

If he keeps this up, this is truly a gift from the gods.  If he works out, first of all, I don’t see how you send him back to Tacoma.  Either you ride with a 6-man rotation, or you make a tough call on Walker or Karns (with the way Walker’s been pitching over the last month, that call might not be so tough if it continues).  But, if this works out, and we get ace production from this unlikeliest of sources, then if we do need to make a deal at the deadline, it won’t necessarily have to be for a starting pitcher!  We can use that to shore up the bullpen, or bolster some of our hitting depth, or fix some other hole that comes up at the time.

Oh yeah, and don’t think I’m sitting here sleeping on Edwin Diaz.

In the very same game where Paxton was as dominant as he was, Edwin Diaz made his Major League debut.  Previously a minor league, AA starting pitcher with issues (mainly that he doesn’t have a quality third pitch to get lefties out on a consistent basis), the Mariners – earlier this very season – converted him to a reliever (because relievers are better able to get away with only having two quality pitches, especially when one of them is the fastball Diaz is sporting).  After making essentially five starts, Diaz had all of 11 appearances where he went 2 innings or less (“relief” appearances, for all intents and purposes).  In those appearances, he pitched a total of 13.2 innings, giving up 2 runs (1 earned), 7 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 19.

That was, apparently, all that mattered for the Mariners.  To be fair, the M’s have been struggling with that final bullpen spot.  Joel Peralta turned back into a pumpkin, and we’ve seen guys like Mayckol Guaipe, Cody Martin, and Steve Johnson all occupy that spot, with varying results.  While Johnson is still on the roster, he’s not a guy you want to count upon in high-leverage situations.  Tony Zych had a setback recently and doesn’t appear to be close to returning.  So, essentially, the Mariners have been relying on a 5-man bullpen, and those guys were getting seriously over-worked.  If we’re content with Steve Johnson being the last man in the bullpen (to be used during blowouts and as a last resort in extra innings situations), the team desperately needed another quality arm it could mix into the rotation in the 7th and 8th innings.  Enter Edwin Diaz.

Like Paxton, Diaz also hits triple digits on the radar gun (topping out at 101 mph).  Unlike Paxton, Diaz has a lot of run on his fastball, making it remarkably more difficult to hit.  And, for a 22 year old kid making the leap from AA to the Majors, in his first-ever appearance, he had absolutely no trouble whatsoever locating the strike zone (10 of his 11 pitches were strikes).  He ended up striking out 1 batter in his first perfect inning, before returning to the dugout to a standing ovation from the home crowd.  All in all, not a bad start to a career.

As I said before, this could also be a gift from the gods.  I’ve said all along the Mariners needed another top-notch starter; and I think we’ve all been in agreement that the bullpen could use a little life injected into it.  With Diaz, maybe we’ve found that guy (yet again, saving us from later having to trade for that guy).  As Zych and Furbush get healthy, there will be a roster crunch, but that’s a GOOD problem to have.  No one ever complained about having too much quality depth.

Looking At Possible Areas Of Improvement For The Mariners At The Deadline

I know we’re getting WAY ahead of ourselves here, but I’ve got a free Friday with nothing to do, so I thought I’d look at this.

Now, obviously, many things can change between now and the end of July.  Key guys could get injured, opening up new holes on this roster I haven’t even imagined yet.  But, let’s say things stay relatively static between now and July 31st.  The Mariners continue to win, staying in contention, and guys for the most part stay healthy (or, if they hit the DL, aren’t expected to miss too much time).  If the deadline were today, where should the Mariners look to improve?

Make no mistake, if the Mariners are still in contention at the deadline, I think it would be foolish to stand pat.  Even really good teams – and so far, I would include the Seattle Mariners in that description – can always use some help somewhere.  I think, at this point, with how veteran our 25-man roster is, we should most certainly be in Win Now mode.  There really isn’t much of a farm left to mortgage anyway.

For starters, let’s look at where we’re set.  Second base, third base, catcher, DH, and left field are all pretty much on lockdown.  I’d say as long as Marte avoids a massive collapse, his spot at short stop is pretty safe too.  Another fringe lock to remain on the team would be Leonys Martin; he’s on the fringe because his bat isn’t there, but he’s a lock because of his defense.  I suppose it’s POSSIBLE that the Mariners could upgrade there, but they’d have to find someone whose defense is just as good, and I don’t know if there are a whole lot of those guys out there.

The obvious upgrade spot is at first base.  I tend to agree with the people who say Lind is going to turn things around and start playing to the back of his baseball card again.  Which, considering the hole he’s dug himself through five weeks, would be a significant surge in production to get back to his career norms.  If that comes between now and the end of July, then fine, keep the first base platoon and move along.  But, if for whatever reason, he simply can’t hit the ball in a Mariners uniform – like so many crappy first basemen we’ve brought in through the years – then I think this is the first spot you look to shore up at the deadline.  Bring in another lefty to pair with Dae-ho Lee, or if you can find one, bring in an everyday starter (because, if I’m being honest, I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop with Lee, but you didn’t hear that from me).

Another upgrade spot that isn’t so obvious is corner outfield.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some Seth Smith, and I want to see him get his regular at bats against righties throughout the season.  He’s going to give you the most professional AB of anyone on this team, and when things get interesting in September, you’re going to want him up there with the game on the line.  What I will say is that maybe there’s an upgrade over Guti sitting out there.  I like Guti as much as the next guy, but this isn’t 2010 or 2015.  This is a contending Major League Baseball season!  Feel-good stories only feel good when the player is succeeding, and to this point Guti hasn’t brought a whole lot to the table.  If he’s not producing on offense, then what is he?  He’s clearly lost a step in the outfield, so if you can find a right-handed corner outfielder who will bring you improved defense, while being able to contribute at a league-average level at the plate, then that could be a nice little spark for us going into the post-season.

On the pitching side of things, let’s go with the starters first.  I really WANT to say that we’re all set here, but I have to look at this thing logically.  If there’s a high-quality starter out there, probably on the final year of his deal, and that team is looking for prospects because they know they can’t re-sign him to a big money deal, then I think you absolutely make that deal.  Don’t trade Walker to do it, of course!  Trade anyone but Walker (and Felix, obvs)!  Hell, Paxton should be a really nice trade chip for us by July, and I’d even be willing to part with Karns – whose value right now has to be at an all-time high – if we were able to get the right guy.  Someone like David Price LAST year.  I don’t know who that pitcher is this year, but he’s gotta be out there.  That would put you with a rotation of King Felix, Ace #2, Hisashi Iwakuma, Wade Miley, and Taijuan Walker, which is just beyond sick (if you imagine a David Price-quality pitcher as that Ace #2).

As for the bullpen, I kinda feel like if the Mariners are going to do ANYTHING, this will be the primary focus.  Steve Cishek is obviously the man, and Joaquin Benoit could be back as early as this weekend.  If Benoit can prove he can stay healthy through July, then I think you’ve locked down your 8th & 9th innings.  That will bump Joel Peralta back a ways (where he belongs, if I’m being honest), to where he’s not in so many high leverage situations.  That slots Nick Vincent back as well, with Montgomery and Nuno still holding the fort on the left side.  The only reason why I wouldn’t go totally hog wild on the bullpen is that there are other reinforcements on the way.  Charlie Furbush, for one, can be quite effective when healthy.  I’d like to see the team ensure he’s back to 100% full strength before wedging him back into the bullpen.  If he’s able to return for a second-half run, that’s a nice little pickup, and maybe allows the Mariners to trade off someone like Mike Montgomery to get help elsewhere.  Also, Tony Zych should hopefully return in another month to 6 weeks.  He’s arguably one of the most talented arms in the entire bullpen, so that’s a huge pick-me-up for us.  A bullpen, from the top down, that goes Cishek, Benoit, Zych, Furbush, Peralta, Vincent, and Nuno is – I think – a bullpen that can consistently get the job done night-in and night-out.

But, of course, if Peralta falters like we all expect him to, and the Mariners can go out and get another arm on the semi-cheap, I think that’s a given.  I’ll take that for granted all day err day.

It’s funny.  In years past, a post like this would’ve been three times as long, with all the holes we’ve had up and down our roster.  THIS year?  It’s actually kind of a struggle to find places to improve.  You can make solid cases that guys who are currently underperforming will eventually break out of it and pay back all of our patience.  It might not be the worst thing in the world if the Mariners stand pat, but I think when there’s an opportunity to at the very least improve your depth, you have to do it in a season like this.  By every measure, the Mariners are – right now – one of the best teams in the American League.  But, are they at the level of World Series champions?  Probably not without some help.

The Mariners Can’t Stop Trading, Also Won’t Stop

Yeah, so this time it’s Roenis Elias & Carson Smith to the Red Sox for Wade Miley & Jonathan Aro.

From what I understand, the main pieces in this deal are Smith for Miley; the Red Sox needed a dominant, late-inning reliever, and the Mariners needed a mediocre, left-handed innings eater.  That may be oversimplifying things a bit, but not all that much.  I feel like Aro was thrown in to help mitigate the sting of giving away our best reliever; he looks like a guy on the cusp of competing for a Major League roster spot.  And, I feel like Elias was thrown in … because the Red Sox were asking for the moon and the stars and the Mariners decided to oblige?

A lot of Mariners fans hate this deal, so Welcome To Seattle, Jerry Dipoto!  Mariners fans are probably going to hate A LOT of your deals, because as Seattle sports fans, we’ve had a lot of experience getting shafted by inept general managers.  This just sounds like a lot to give up, to get so little in return.

Carson Smith, many believe (I among them) will be a dominant pitching force for years to come.  He’s already great now, just think of how awesome he’ll be with five more years of experience!  This has shades of trading away Jeff Nelson back in December of 1995; he went to the Yankees and won a bunch of championships with Tino Martinez and the gang.  So, that right there is bad enough.  When you throw in Elias – another young guy who should only improve with experience, and who’s already had the better part of two seasons in the Major Leagues as it is – it’s hard to feel, as a Mariners fan, like we haven’t just been bent over and taken to town with a 12-inch strap-on dildo.

For what?  Wade Miley and a prospect?  Wade Miley, the second coming of J.A. Happ’s miserable half-season with the Mariners before he miraged his way through the National League into an insane contract with the Blue Jays this offseason?  What did we do to deserve THIS?

Well, for starters, blame the rest of the fucking league for paying through their asses for some of these pitchers.  I mean, seriously, over $30 million per year for Zack Greinke and David Price?  Get the fuck right out of here!  I know these guys are great pitchers, but no one is WORTH that much!  Enjoy your albatross contracts when they inevitably get injured and start to decline.

Anyway, as a result of that, and with a specific nod to the Dodgers for prying Iwakuma away to the tune of 3 years & $45 million, the Mariners had to do something in this pitching-crazy market.  That something, apparently, was to trade for a lefty starter with mediocre numbers, whose greatest attribute has been his health.  Because if there’s ever a curse that comes with having mediocre players on your baseball team, it’s the curse of everlasting health.

For what it’s worth, I am glad the Mariners didn’t go to a third year with Iwakuma.  I like Kuma as much as the next guy, but he can’t stay healthy to save his life.  It sucks having to count on him, only to see him miss two months every year.  Which brings up the interesting question:  would you rather have four months of a quality, ace-lite starting pitcher, or a full season with a 4th/5th starter who will be great one week, and then can’t get out of the second inning the next?  I’m torn on the subject.

The one variable we have yet to discover is how Miley will be affected by pitching in Safeco.  I know, we went through this same thing with Happ just last year, but if Miley can turn into a Jason Vargas-like pitcher for us, while continuing to eat up innings, this deal might be palatable.

When you look at the big picture, you can see why the Mariners went this way.  We preserve our 11th overall draft pick by not signing a free agent pitcher with a qualifying offer.  We also save some money by not paying those extravagant free agency prices, as Miley is set to earn just under $15 million combined over the next two years (with a $12 million option on the third year, if we’d like to keep him).  In this context, it’s pretty apparent that the team is in no position to increase salary this year.  I’m not necessarily saying this is good or bad, but it appears to be a fact.  Right now, counting just the players under a Major League contract (not counting arbitration guys, or younger guys under team control), we’ve got $102,250,000 tied up in 11 players.  When you pad that out with the rest of the guys on the 40-man, you’re looking at a team that’s RIGHT around its payroll limit.  There might be a moderate increase for a lower-tier first baseman (potential platoon option with Jesus Montero, should he show continued signs of life in Spring Training), but other than that, some flyers on veteran pitchers, and maybe another bullpen arm or two, what you see is what you’re going to get.

As for the rotation itself, as noted above, Miley is a considerable step down in talent from Iwakuma.  That’s going to put some pressure on some other guys to step up.  With Iwakuma in the fold, the Mariners had a natural #2 type pitcher to slot in behind Felix.  Now?  Someone is going to have to step into that role.  Is that pitcher Taijuan Walker?  I sure as shit hope he’s ready to make the leap, because if he’s not ready, we’re looking at a lot of 4/5-type starters in this rotation behind The King.  Karns is young & unproven.  Paxton is also young & unproven, plus he’s an injury waiting to happen and our most likely trade chip.  Montgomery is unproven and another likely trade chip.  Nuno is probably better suited as a bullpen guy/long reliever/spot starter; but, I’m starting to get the feeling that he’ll have a very real opportunity to lock down the 5th starter’s job, especially if Paxton is dealt for a first baseman and/or turns up injured again.

I’m pretty sure I read a quote somewhere from our GM about the Miley trade, saying that he wanted to bring in a proven guy who will take the ball every fifth day, to help compensate for the fact that we’re relying on so many younger guys to fill out our rotation.  I think that was something of a shot at Elias (indirectly, of course), as he, along with our other fringe starters, have been anything but consistent.  But, I’ll tell you what, if those younger guys don’t develop in a hurry, we could be looking at another long season.

As for Elias, it really stinks that he was a throw-in to this deal.  He was an excellent security blanket to be able to stash in AAA in the likely event of injury.  I mean, how often are you able to bring up a guy with significant Major League experience to either spot start for you or flat out slot into your rotation for a few months?  Elias wasn’t the greatest, but I thought he battled out there like a pro.  Give him another year or two, and I think he’ll be a rock-solid starter for years to come.  Maybe not an All Star, but could he really be THAT much worse than Wade Miley?

**UPDATE**

Now hearing about a trade bringing in Adam Lind from the Brewers.  Plays first base, gets on base a lot.  GIVE US A BREAK!!!!

Mariners Make More Moves, MmmKay?

I feel like there’s something going on every two minutes, so I better get this up quick.

  • Mariners trade Mark Trumbo & C.J. Riefenhauser to Baltimore for Steve Clevenger
  • Mariners signed Nori Aoki to a 1-year deal
  • Mariners signed Justin De Fratus to 1-year deal
  • Mariners claimed Andy Wilkins off waivers from Baltimore
  • Mariners designated Edgar Olmos for assignment

A lot of little deals add up to a whole lotta HUH?

Obviously, Trumbo isn’t a Jerry Dipoto Kinda Guy, that much is clear, considering this is the second time in his GM career that he’s traded Trumbo away.  He strikes out a lot, hits for a low average, plays pretty shabby defense, and all in the name of a few dingers every now and then.  To be honest, I’m not sad to see him go.  To be PERFECTLY honest, I’m not sad to see a lot of the Jackie Z disappointments go.  One would think you’d be able to get more for a guy like Trumbo – especially from a team like Baltimore, who plays in a bandbox – but he’s set to make about $9 million next year, and apparently this was nothing but a cost-cutting move.

The fact that we also had to give up C.J. Riefenhauser, all for the honor of bringing back a backup catcher in Steve Clevenger, seems to be an extra slap in the face to all concerned (except for Clevenger, I guess, who has to feel like ten million bucks right about now).  But, let’s face it, Riefenhauser is semi-expendable, considering we’ve got about a thousand lefty relievers right now.  And Trumbo was never going to be the difference between us winning and losing.  Shedding his salary, and being allowed to make other moves for potentially better players, ultimately brings this deal up to the “Not So Bad” level.

I don’t think anyone is expecting much out of Clevenger.  He’s out of options, which means he’s all but assured to be this team’s backup catcher this year.  That forces Mike Zunino down to Tacoma for continued seasoning (unless the team decides to keep three catchers and/or convert one of them to first base, which I won’t rule out).  There’s also the outside chance that the team ends up flipping Clevenger for another player, like they just did with Riefenhauser (really disappointed I’m not going to get to write out “Riefenhauser” on the reg in 2016); or an interesting, VERY outside chance that the team trades Zunino (but, I honestly can’t see them giving up on a player this young, this good defensively, and with this much promise to turn his career around at the plate).  On the plus side, Clevenger is a lefty, which means he’ll likely start against the most difficult right-handed pitchers (but, obviously not ALL of them, as Chris Iannetta is still slated to be our starter).  And, overall, this seriously improves our overall organizational catcher depth.  Iannetta and Clevenger in the Bigs, Zunino and Sucre (probably) in Tacoma, and everyone else in the lower minors slotted accordingly.  If and when there’s an injury to a Major League catcher, it’s nice to know we’ll have Zunino at the ready to come up and play immediately (especially since he knows a lot of the pitchers really well).

That’s honestly more than I thought I’d write about the acquisition of a backup catcher, but there you go.

The more interesting move of the last 24 hours is actually the reported signing of outfielder Nori Aoki.  You might remember him from playing in Kansas City in 2014 on their World Series team.  He’ll be 34 years old next year (downside), but he’s only on a 1-year deal.  His 2015 was cut short due to a concussion, but he’s apparently been cleared to play and all appears to be well on that end.  Most importantly, he solves our Right Field problem, plays solid defense, hits for a solid average, and gets on base like a fiend.  I, for one, love a guy who walks more than he strikes out; I don’t know about you.  He’s a top-of-the-order table-setter type of guy that this team has been SORELY lacking since Ichiro exited his prime.  I don’t know if he’ll bat first or second in the order, but either way, this is the best news I’ve heard all offseason.

The outfield now looks like it’s going to be a left field platoon of Seth Smith & Guti, with Leonys Martin in center, and a right field semi-platoon with Aoki and Nelson Cruz (likely with Aoki playing the majority of the games, health permitting).  Our defense is bolstered, our hitting/on-base percentage is improved … this is honestly working out just as Dipoto promised.

Normally when you see this much turnover out of a new GM, I get the feeling that he’s just trying to mark his territory, seeking change for the sake of change, while at the same time trying to make the previous GM look as silly as possible.  But, I dunno, Dipoto feels different.  He’s got a plan – which every GM has when they start a new job – and he’s actually working toward making that plan a reality.  The only move he’s made so far that somewhat challenges his vision is Leonys Martin – who is NOT a good on-base guy – but he’s still got the defensive skills and athleticism you look for out of a center fielder.  When you partner the move to bring him in with the signing of Aoki (while also making a concerted effort to reassure fans that Martin will be a bottom-of-the-order hitter) I think that smooths things out, as this team is in dire-need of more table-setters (and, quite honestly, we don’t know if Ketel Marte is one of those guys yet).

Of course, what these moves have accomplished is, while they’ve filled our most glaring outfield hole, they opened up one at first base.  With LoMo no mo’ (kill me, kill me now), and with Trumbo gone, that just leaves Jesus Montero as our only first baseman on the 40-man.  Unless you count this Andy Wilkins guy, who has all of 17 games of Major League experience.  What we’re really looking at is:  this team isn’t done.  Not by a long shot.  BUT, things are in a little clearer focus.

Outfield is set.  Catcher is probably set.  Infield is mostly set; just need a first baseman.  The bullpen probably has more tweaking to go (we also signed this Justin De Fratus guy, who was a reliever for the Phillies the last few years, had a good 2014, had a crappy 2015, you know the score).  Need to add another starter (likely Iwakuma) and we’re good to go.  Or not, you never seem to know with new GMs.

What we do know is that there’s probably not another HUGE deal on the horizon.  With so much money tied up in Felix, Cano, Cruz, and Seager, don’t expect one of the top free agents (like a Chris Davis, for instance, who does play first base) to sign here.  The last big money deal will likely go to Iwakuma, and that’s still probably going to be a 2-3 year, modestly-priced deal.  Nothing like what you’re seeing with guys like David Price and the like (set to make $31 million per season, which sounds like suicide to me, but it’s not my money).

*** UPDATE ***

Looks like the Mariners gave away Patrick Kivlehan, a promising first base prospect from Tacoma, to finish the trade to the Rangers that brought in Leonys Martin.  This displeases me greatly, as I thought he’d be a guy who might pop for us.  Hope it doesn’t come back to bite us in the ass.