Can The Mariners Win Over 24.5 Games?

I saw a tweet yesterday that shows the Mariners are projected – by at least one Vegas-adjacent betting-type establishment – to win the (tied for) third fewest games in the Major Leagues this year. Only the Tigers and Orioles are projected to win less often (pretty bold prediction, since both of those teams also won the fewest games last year).

Couple points to note: as this guy tweeted out, the Mariners haven’t won fewer than 25 of their first 60 games since 2010 (the last time the M’s lost over 100 games in a season). And, as Divish would go on to respond, the Mariners from a season ago – who started out with a ridiculous 13-2 record – ended up 25-35 after 60 games.

So, let’s use that as a jumping-off point. I’ll be honest, my initial gut reaction was to say, “Of course the Mariners are going to win fewer than 24 games this year!” The above tweets gave me pause a little bit, until I remembered that while the M’s have been mediocre almost my whole life over the last decade, they really haven’t been horrendously BAD since 2010, so yeah, that checks out.

The 2019 Mariners – who finished 68-94 – were much closer to the horrendously bad end of the spectrum than they were mediocre. And, since then, they’ve lost two of their more productive full-time hitters (Omar Narvaez and Domingo Santana) and two of their better part-time hitters (Edwin Encarnacion – who was traded away halfway through last year – and Mitch Haniger – who is still dealing with his injured whathaveyous).

On the pitching side of things – which was easily our biggest weakness in 2019 – we’re down many of our most productive veterans. Mike Leake was traded away last year, Tommy Milone (uhh, YEAH, look it up, he had the third-highest WAR among Mariners pitchers last year!) signed as a free agent with the Orioles, and Anthony Bass (fourth-highest WAR) was claimed by Toronto. With Wade LeBlanc also joining the Orioles, you could argue letting Felix move on to another organization was the best Addition By Subtraction move this team made (though you won’t hear that from me!).

What did we do to replace these veterans? Well, obviously, we’re stacking the roster with younger players! It’s what the Mariners – as a rebuilding team – are SUPPOSED to do! So, please, GET OFF MY ASS; I’m not complaining about any of this! I’m just writing words. And, in the context of this premise – Can the Mariners win over 24.5 games? – I’m going to contend that everything they’ve done to date points to the fact that no, they cannot.

Younger players are unpredictable … but you can pretty much predict what’s going to happen anyway. Look at me, I’m doing it right now! They’re going to struggle, because that’s what they do. They’re going to look great for a while, then they’re going to slump for a while; some might rebound and parlay that into success in 2021 and beyond, others will flame out and never make any positive impact for this organization.

As excited as I am for Kyle Lewis, Evan White, Austin Nola, and maybe J.P. Crawford (wait, I’m maybe excited about J.P. Crawford? What does that even mean?), I don’t think we can count on them to be anything close to consistent (except for “consistently bad” which is always on the table when you’re talking about the Mariners). And those guys (along with Kyle Seager, who showed he still has something left in the tank last year) are probably going to be the BEST guys on this team! Everyone else, I expect to be pretty mediocre at best, with a decent number of total flameouts headed our way.

I still expect the bullpen to be a disaster, with a good chance that it will be significantly worse than it was in 2019. The rotation could be interesting, though. Marco Gonzales should still be the best pitcher on this team (I would hope this is the last year we’re able to say that). Kendall Graveman – who is slotting to be the #4 starter as we head into the regular season this weekend – might be a legitimate stud if he can stay healthy! Taijuan Walker – our #2 guy at the moment – I’m less jazzed about, but his bulldog mentality should keep this team in plenty of games. I’m also starting to be really worried about Yusei Kikuchi, as I don’t believe he’s fully accepted his re-worked mechanics, and will start tinkering again at the first sign of trouble. Then, there’s Sheffield and Dunn, the young upstarts who will be getting their first legitimate shots at big league action. Like the younger hitting prospects, they too will struggle at times (and when they struggle, BOY will they struggle!).

All of that points to the smartest money being bet on the Mariners winning UNDER 24.5 games in 2020. And, that doesn’t even factor in the very real possibility that COVID-19 takes a significant turn for the worse and the league is forced to shut down. I don’t know what that does for betting purposes, but I think all of us nonbelievers would have a great claim to our winnings in that scenario. I mean, if the season were to be canceled prematurely … did they or did they not win fewer than the listed number of games that I shorted?

The 2020 Taylor Family Farm has never been in more secure hands! I’m betting the whole thing on the Mariners being the losers I know they can be! Don’t let me down, fellas!

The Mariners Head Into 2020 Following The Quietest Hot Stove Period In Recent Memory

Look, I’m not BASHING them for this. If you’re going to commit to a rebuild, then commit to the damn rebuild and stop half-assing it like you’ve been doing for the last 20 years! I’m just saying, these are the biggest Mariners moves of the offseason:

  • No Arbitration for Domingo Santana (who is still a free agent as of this writing)
  • Traded Omar Narvaez to the Brewers for minor league pitcher Adam Hill and a draft pick in 2020
  • Extended Evan White 6 years & $24 million
  • Signed Kendall Graveman 1 year, $1.5 million (with option for 2021)
  • Selected Yohan Ramirez in the Rule 5 Draft

Those are the BIGGEST moves, mind you. There are a bevy of smaller moves, involving relievers and utility players and whatnot. But, the sexy is right there. If this Mariners offseason was a porno, it would be a picture of two people in giant puffy winter coats, pants, and mittens holding hands.

It’s weird, is what I’m getting at. It’s weird for the Mariners – I can’t remember the last time nothing even moderately interesting happened for an entire offseason – and it’s especially weird for Jerry Dipoto, who seemingly has never seen a trade offer he didn’t immediately agree to.

It’s also a little refreshing, if I’m being honest. After last year’s 68-win campaign – where I had thoroughly checked out by mid May – the last thing I wanted to do was spend Football Season thinking about the Mariners. It’s almost like a self-imposed time out; they couldn’t do anything else except sit there and think about what they’d done.

For what it’s worth, I don’t disagree with any of the moves they’ve made. It sounds like they tried to shop Santana, but found no takers. I find it odd that NOBODY wants a 20/20 guy; it’s even more strange that he’s still on the market this close to Spring Training. But, Santana never really made defense a priority. He was one of the worst defensive outfielders in all of baseball! So, I’d rather let him walk than over-pay for someone who’s probably best suited to be a DH (we’ve already got one of those, his name is Daniel Vogelbach).

I also like trading high on Omar Narvaez. I don’t think his value was ever going to go up from what he did in 2019; unfortunately (again) defense plays a role in limiting his ceiling. The draft pick (in the late 60’s or early 70’s) is probably the most valuable piece in return. But, it also opens up what could’ve been a logjam at catcher, allowing some of our higher-upside prospects a chance to compete for playing time.

The Evan White deal is by far the most noteworthy thing the Mariners did since the season ended. It’s pretty rare by MLB standards, and it’s (I think) a first for the Mariners: extending a player long-term who has yet to surpass the AA level of the minors. He gets $22 million for six years, with a $2 million buyout after that. There are also three more relatively team-friendly option years after that, with buyouts built into each one of those as well. All told, it could amount to $55.5 million over 9 years which is definitely the best-case scenario. You WANT to see Evan White get the full value of his deal, because it means his play on the field almost certainly exceeded expectations.

I love the idea. Considering the economics of Major League Baseball, it’s a relatively low risk with the potential for a very high reward. By all accounts, White’s defense is ready for the Major Leagues right now; if things break right he could win many multiple Gold Gloves at first base. The downside, of course, is that it’s first base (not necessarily the most glamorous of defensive positions on the field).

What we don’t know is how his bat will play. Again, he’s yet to get above AA. He’ll be 24 years old in April. There’s almost certainly going to be growing pains over (probably) the first three years of this deal. He’ll get every opportunity to win the job out of Spring Training (which is the correct move), so fingers crossed he isn’t a total disaster at the plate.

My concern, long-term, is what is Evan White? He doesn’t strike me as a guy who will ever have much home run power. Can he hit enough doubles – and hit for a high-enough average overall – to be worth keeping around for the next decade? Or, will it all be walks and defense with this guy? I’m not saying that’s necessarily the worst thing in the world, but if you’re committing to someone with these types of guarantees, you’d like to get a great return on investment. All of that faith needs to be rewarded, otherwise this rebuild could sink in a hurry.

As for Graveman and Ramirez and all the other little moves, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach. I’ll get into this more the closer we get to the regular season – and I’m sure I’ll belabor the point all year long – but I have zero expectations for the 2020 Mariners from a win/loss perspective. Again, much like 2019, I’d love for this team to show improvement from the prospects, while losing a ton of games and getting another Top 10 draft pick (preferably by blowing late leads with another shaky bullpen).

The most important thing will be those prospects making strides towards being everyday Major Leaguers, and even more crucially, All Stars. You can’t win championships without superstars (plural, more than one). So, let’s take a ride on the Development Train! Choo choo!

Feel. The. Damn. Excitement.

The Mariners Finished Sixth-Worst In All Of Baseball in 2019

For the last time, I get to talk about how the 2019 Mariners started 13-2, only to go 55-92 the rest of the way. Suffice it to say, the final 147 games were a better representation of this team’s true abilities.

Last in the A.L. West, four games behind the Angels, 29 behind the Wild Card-bound Athletics, and 39 behind the 107-win Astros. For draft purposes, we were just a single game better than Toronto for the fifth overall draft pick. I don’t know if that final win would’ve meant anything as far as a tie-breaker for that spot (as we “won” the season series against the Blue Jays), but if it prevented us from moving up a spot in the draft, then once again a meaningless late-season win will have done real, lasting damage.

Let’s rattle through some numbers: 68-94, a -135 run differential, a team slash line of .237/.316/.424; a team ERA of 4.99 (with a 5.00 FIP). Something interesting about this team is just how truly awful the Mariners were against the best of the American League. Against the Astros, Rays, Yankees, Twins, and Indians, the Mariners had a combined record of 7-38, which means against everyone else in baseball we were 61-56. The great team the Mariners could actually handle was the A’s at 9-10, but I find that very interesting. On the one hand, it’s a clear indictment that there’s an obvious difference in talent level between the Mariners and the best of the best; however on the other hand – while the M’s ended up with one of the worst records in all of baseball – we could hang with the clods in this Gods N’ Clods American League. So, we’re middle-of-the-road among the losers, but we are SO FUCKING FAR AWAY from the elites.

As we’ve discussed all year long, it was never about the results (except for my bloodlust for a higher draft pick), it was about developing our future stars. In that sense, I think this year was a moderate success. From just a clubhouse standpoint, I thought the team played hard all year. Maybe some lulls here and there – particularly with certain defensive struggles and base-running mistakes – but nothing alarming. At no point have I felt an overwhelming need to see Scott Servais fired and have a bunch of heads rolling. I thought he did a great job managing an impossible-to-win situation. He obviously doesn’t have forever to right the ship; if he wants to stick around for when this team gets good again, this probably has to be the nadir. I’m sure the higher ups will want to see steady progress in the right direction as soon as 2020, with a likely Playoffs Or Bust scenario in 2021 (depending on how much improvement we have next year). I’m not saying I believe the Mariners will make the post-season by 2021 – indeed, I’d bet hard the other way, if I’m being honest – and so this is just my way of saying that I fully expect this team will have a new field manager the next time we’re ACTUALLY contending for the playoffs again. It’s sort of a bummer, because I think Servais is the right man for the job, but it’s an impossible task he’s saddled with. The Mariners haven’t made the post-season in forever and as such, the fans aren’t going to wait around forever. If we’re not hovering around .500 next year, I think he’ll get the axe when it’s over (especially if attendance continues to go down as much as it did between 2018 & 2019, what with all the improvements to the stadium the Mariners are doing this offseason).

On the field, I guess I have cautious optimism about some of the strides the younger guys made, but what other choice do I have? I’m already on record as not believing this organization is anywhere close to the post-season, but it’s also not totally impossible to be pleasantly surprised.

The pitching is obviously the biggest concern, and there’s really not much to like about what we’ve got in the Majors so far. Marco Gonzales is the only guy who qualified by pitching enough innings, so that should tell you a lot. He was fine. He should be a reliable innings-eater who has more good games than bad ones; imagine Jamie Moyer with a better fastball and worse change up. As a #2, he’s less ideal; as #3 he’s good enough; as a #4 he’d be perfect. But, he’s nobody’s idea of an ace, yet he was far and away the best pitcher on this team.

The good thing about pitching is that it can vary so much from year to year, so it wouldn’t shock me to see a bunch of guys who just got their feet wet in 2019 taking huge steps forward in 2020. Kikuchi is obviously the one we most want to see make that leap, as he had about as rough of a debut to the Major Leagues as we ever could’ve predicted. I think we all thought he’d be more of a finished product at this point; now I pray that he isn’t. Because, if this is just who he is, then he’s of no use to this organization.

We don’t have Felix to kick around anymore, and I have to believe LeBlanc’s starting days are over for this team (aside from the occasional spot-start, if he’s even still here at all and we don’t trade him). So, we should see a lot of the younger guys going forward. I fully expect to see Justus Sheffield in the rotation out of Spring Training; there’s nothing he has left to do in AAA that he can’t do here against legitimate competition. We need to see what he has, and if he’s destined to be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher or not. To his credit, he made remarkable progress after seemingly going the other way to start the season. I hope we’re able to unlock whatever potential he has inside of him.

After those three (Gonzo, Kikuchi, Sheffield), I really have no idea. I’m pretty sure they’ll go out and sign a veteran on a cheap deal to help be a presence for the younger guys, but that final spot has to go to another youngster; maybe Justin Dunn? We’ll see.

I’m not even going to bother discussing the bullpen right now. It was as big a disaster as we ever could’ve hoped for, and I believe the primary reason why we lost so many games, so in that sense they did what they were supposed to do. Now, after getting a look at so many different guys, here’s hoping we can cobble something together to give them more of a chance to continue developing.

I would argue the biggest bright spots for this team came on the hitting side of the ball, but I also really question how many of these players will be around long term. J.P. Crawford seems like a good bet to be our starting short stop for a while, but is he good? He showed glimpses of greatness, but also long bouts of ineptitude with the bat. I liked what I saw out of Shed Long, and hope he gets a regular role with this team going forward, but he might not be anything more than a super-sub. Austin Nola was a nice find, but he’s not the future starting first baseman for this team in 2022; that’s supposed to be Evan White (and maybe as early as next year). That effectively makes Nola yet another super-sub.

We all loved what we saw out of Kyle Lewis in his cup of coffee this September, but it was just that: a September call-up for a first-time Major Leaguer. Can he carry it over into Spring Training and beyond? Dan Vogelbach hit a lot of homers, but not much else. Domingo Santana was a solid presence in the middle of the lineup when he was healthy, but he was also the absolute worst in the outfield. Mallex Smith got better as the season went along (and led the league in stolen bases), but he’s nobody’s idea of a centerfielder of the future. Dylan Moore is just a guy. Most of the younger guys we saw weren’t even good enough to be called out by name. The very best thing the Mariners had going for them in 2019 was the catcher position, led by Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy, but they’re not necessarily destined to be here forever either. They really just add up to one great catcher split in two, where one is shaky at defense and the other might just be better in smaller doses (and will be exposed if he’s ever given the everyday starting job). Then there’s Mitch Haniger, who was injured for what felt like the entire season. He didn’t look spectacular when he was out there, so I’m even less sure of him now than I was at this point last year.

More than anything, all we have is hope that the minor leaguers will continue to rocket their way up to Seattle. Which, you know, isn’t a ton to hang your hat on. I guess we’ll see. Again, what choice do we have, right?

My Confidence Level In The Mariners’ Rebuild So Far

Jeff Passan made a good point on Brock & Salk yesterday, when he asked who’s going to be part of the Mariners’ Major League team in 3 years. The more names you can pull from the current crop of players – either currently in the Bigs, or hopefully to-be-in-the-Bigs in 3 years’ time – the higher your confidence level should be in how the rebuild is going.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t have a great handle on the minors, aside from all the names everyone talks about all the time, so my choices are going to be different from someone who’s an expert. But, that’s the way it goes. I’m going to split up everyone I can think of into three-ish categories.

High Confidence

  • J.P. Crawford (INF)
  • Kyle Lewis (OF)
  • Mitch Haniger (OF)
  • Marco Gonzales (SP)
  • Justin Dunn (P)
  • Justus Sheffield (P)
  • Jarred Kelenic (OF)
  • Julio Rodriguez (OF)
  • Evan White (INF)

These are guys I’m all-but-guaranteeing will be part of the Mariners in three years, which right away feels both inadequate and wrong. I mean, for starters, I see four outfielders here. I suppose one or more of them could flame out and end up as a utility player, but more likely we’ll see one or more of them traded to help in other areas of the roster. My hunch is Mitch Haniger would be the one to go by the time we get to 2022, which is making me REALLY regret going out and buying his jersey earlier this year.

Kyle Lewis’ first week with the Mariners has been nothing short of phenomenal, and he’ll absolutely come into Spring Training next year looking to win a job of some sort. Rodriguez and Kelenic will look to get more seasoning in the minors next year, but if all goes according to plan, one or both will at least get a cup of coffee before the end of 2020. Evan White feels like he’s probably a couple of years away, but he too wouldn’t shock me if he saw some time in Seattle next season.

As for the pitchers, Marco should still be around, but who knows? The younger guys are still too young to put too much money on staying as starters, vs. being relegated to the bullpen. Better prospects than Sheffield have been banished as such.

Medium Confidence

  • Omar Narvaez (C)
  • Tom Murphy (C)
  • Cal Raleigh (C)
  • Austin Nola (Util)
  • Mallex Smith (OF)
  • Domingo Santana (OF)
  • Yusei Kikuchi (SP)
  • Sam Tuivailala (RP)
  • Erik Swanson (P)

I feel like if Cal Raleigh is going to stick with the Mariners, it might take up to three years for him to fully earn a roster spot. I have to imagine one of the two vets we have on roster now will be gone, but I honestly have no idea who it would be. Nola feels like the perfect candidate to be a utility player who can cover first base and the corner outfield spots (saying nothing of his ability to be a third catcher). Mallex Smith would only still be here as cheap insurance in case our younger outfielders don’t pan out. Santana feels like a candidate to eventually convert to 1B/DH. Kikuchi will either have figured it out and will be a nice middle-of-the-rotation staple for this team, or he’ll be elsewhere. Tuivailala is the only reliever right now I have ANY remote confidence in; not that none of the guys we have on roster now won’t still be here, but relief pitching is the last thing you need to shore up after settling things down everywhere else (in other words, I see a lot of potential trade candidates on the Major League roster right now). I’m not convinced whatsoever that Swanson will still be starting in 2022, but I’m medium convinced he’ll still be with the Mariners in some capacity.

Medium-Low Confidence

  • Shed Long (Util)
  • Dan Vogelbach (1B/DH)
  • Jake Fraley (OF)
  • Joe Rizzo (Util)

Long has enough pop in his bat, and can play enough different positions, to be a quality utility player. But, can he hit for high-enough average and get on base to this organization’s liking? On the flipside, Rizzo already has the average, and he appears to be improving on his power, but the question is his versatility. I read that they’re playing him all over the field, which is great for his chances, because it feels like his bat will play. But, if he can’t hack it defensively and he’s a man without a position, he could be some strong trade bait. As for Vogey, his first half was encouraging, but his second half has me concerned. The power is great, the on-base percentage is great, but if he’s hitting around the mendoza line, I just don’t know if there’s ENOUGH power there to make him worth all the strikeouts and whatnot. Also, if he never hits lefties, it’s REALLY hard to platoon a 1B/DH type; ideally you want him in your lineup every day mashing dingers no matter who’s pitching. All I know about Fraley is he’s a pretty highly-rated prospect for the Mariners, but he has yet to really show much in his short stint with the team this year. He feels like more trade bait.

Low Confidence

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Dylan Moore (Util)
  • Braden Bishop (OF)
  • Dee Gordon (2B)
  • Tim Lopes (INF)
  • Donnie Walton (INF)
  • Ryon Healy (1B)
  • Every other pitcher I haven’t listed above

I have to imagine the Mariners will do whatever it takes to make 2021 Seager’s last year in Seattle. He’s not worth what he’s making now, so by 2022, it should be pretty obnoxious. Healy’s injury status makes him a probable cut candidate as soon as the end of this year. Moore feels like a dime-a-dozen utility player who won’t be worth keeping around. Dee Gordon is another guy I gotta think will be gone before his contract expires in 2021. As for the younger guys, and anyone else I didn’t list, who the fuck knows? I know enough not to be super confident that they’ll be here in three years. If I’m wrong, then GREAT! That probably means they took serious leaps in their development. Who knows, maybe Bishop could be the next Chris Taylor with a simple change in his swing?! I mean, I doubt it, but you never know.

Anyway, to wrap this all up, I guess I give the rebuild a B- so far. I love the combination of those four outfielders I listed up top. I think our catching situation is pretty strong in the near future. First base should finally be locked down once Evan White makes it. I don’t know if I see a ton of hope on the pitching side of things, unless Dunn and Sheffield stick as starters and really start kicking some ass. If that’s the case, and you can pair them with Gonzales and Kikuchi, that’s a pretty solid rotation.

Still, gonna need some of these lower candidates to pop over the next couple seasons. If someone like Rizzo could lock down the third base job, and maybe Long the second base job, with some veterans crushing it in the middle of the lineup at DH … if you squint awful hard, you can see the makings of something special.

But, really, the odds of the Mariners being great in 2022 are remote any way you slice it. The Angels have the best baseball player in the world and when was the last time they really scared you? It goes without saying I doubt the Mariners will have someone in Trout’s league by then (which doesn’t even refer to the Astros and A’s and their crack development squads).

It Only Took 146 Games For The Mariners To Get To 60 Wins

The best Mariners game I’ve seen all year didn’t actually involve the Mariners at all! It was a Texas League Playoffs matchup last Wednesday, featuring the Arkansas Travelers against the Tulsa Drillers, televised on Root Sports, featuring Jerry Dipoto doing color commentary. The Travelers won a tense 2-1 battle, though sadly they would go on to lose the series in five games. Getting to see potential future Mariners stars at the AA level is really the only source of hope in this nothing of a season.

The M’s are 60-86 this morning, after a couple of wins to start this week’s Reds series. The only reason to ever look at the standings if you’re a Mariners fan is to see where they’ll be drafting next year. For the last few weeks, we’ve pretty much been stuck at the 6th overall draft slot. The Blue Jays are in fifth, 3 games worse, and the Royals are in fourth, a whopping 6 games worse. So, moving down in the standings to get a better draft pick seems pretty remote with only 16 games remaining (only 6 of which are against teams with winning records, and only 2 of THOSE games are against the Astros, which at this point should be considered certain defeats).

There is still a chance to get a slightly worse draft pick, though, which is not what I want to be thinking about right now. But, the Rockies – who have been terrible in the second half of this season – are only 2 games better, and the Pirates – who we play in Pittsburgh next week – are only 4 games better (likewise, the White Sox – who we play at home this weekend – are just 4.5 games better). The point is: EYES ON THE PRIZE! There are A LOT of terrible teams on the Mariners’ schedule (those teams I just mentioned, as well as the Orioles, who are the second-worst team in all of baseball by record); we need to continue to lose just enough to at the very least keep our 6th overall draft pick!

As for how this season has gone, I haven’t the foggiest. I still don’t think I’ve seen a 2019 Mariners game all the way through. I think I read somewhere that they either set a franchise record or a Major League record for most players used in a season, which feels about right. There are a ton of guys I’ve never heard of before (especially from the bullpen side of things), and the ones I have heard of haven’t been all that riveting.

The whole thing with a “rebuild” or a “step-back” or whatever is twofold: lose a bunch of games to replenish your roster with high draft picks, and play a lot of young guys to give them the experience they need to develop into stars in the near future. Well, that first part has gone pretty well (again, in spite of that 13-2 start that grows more baffling by the day). The other half of the equation is a mixed bag.

We got a whopping 63 games out of Mitch Haniger before injuries followed by repeated setbacks to said injuries derailed his entire season. Not that he was ever REALLY in danger of being sent to the minors or anything – he was generally considered to be one of our stars and leaders of this team – but he’s still a relatively young guy in the grand scheme of things, and probably could’ve used at least a good second half to springboard into a more promising 2020.

Likewise, Domingo Santana hasn’t played since mid-August. Mallex Smith had to be sent down for a spell to correct things about his defense and his swing. Shed Long and J.P. Crawford have both missed time with injuries in an all-important year for a couple of guys looking to compete for starting jobs in 2020.

On the flipside, our catcher position has arguably never been stronger! Omar Narvaez is far and away our best hitter, and Tom Murphy has been a revelation (when he was considered a journeyman backup at best when we brought him in). Austin Nola came from out of nowhere to put up some solid offensive numbers as a first base replacement for the injured Ryon Healy. And, even Kyle Seager has had a nice bounce-back campaign after a rough last couple of seasons; in just 90 games he has 22 homers and at least looks like the Kyle Seager of old, who earned that massive contract. It’s nice to at least not have a black hole at third base heading into next year.

Those guys have been solid, Crawford has looked like a viable Major Leaguer at short stop. Mallex Smith has 41 stolen bases to make up for some soft offensive numbers. Dan Vogelbach has had a rough stretch since the All Star Break, but he still has 30 homers and a .344 on-base percentage; if he ever figures out how to hit lefties, watch out! I feel like there’s enough potential on this side of the ball to make 2020 somewhat interesting.

The real bright spot for the organization has been what’s going on in the minors. Jarred Kelenic has rocketed all the way up to AA, and hasn’t really missed a beat. Kyle Lewis was just called up from AA for a cup of coffee and has hit two homers in his first two games. A number of other guys have blossomed to the point where we’re not only NOT the laughingstock of minor league farm systems, but we’re actually pretty respectable! Maybe not in the realm of the Astros/Braves/Dodgers/Yankees, but at least in the conversation down in that next tier. Kelenic could very well be in that Mike Trout mold of superstar, should things continue on this trajectory.

The pitching is another matter, of course. Marco Gonzales is what he is, which is fine. Sometimes, he’s really on it, but sometimes he’s got nothing. His 4.30 ERA feels about right for him; he’s certainly nobody’s idea of a #1 starter. But, as a #3, he’s okay. As a #4 he’s probably better. To say that Yusei Kikuchi’s rookie season hasn’t gone according to plan has been an understatement. A lot of mediocre-to-ugly stat lines, with his bright spots few and far between. You can see the potential is there, and the stuff is there. The best thing we can say is that if he’s going to have a season like this, better to get it out of the way now, when winning isn’t really the top concern. If he’s going to have a CAREER like this, though, then yeah, he’ll be a huge bust.

As you may recall, the Mariners spent a buttload of draft picks earlier this summer on pitching prospects, which felt like a total overreaction to the years guys like Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson were having. Swanson was always going to be a candidate to switch to the bullpen, and it appears that’s what the team has done with him in the second half of this season, which is obviously disappointing. That disappointment has only been worsened by the fact that he really hasn’t looked good in either role. There’s still hope for Sheffield, in spite of his ragged start to 2019. He was in Tacoma, he had some bad games in Seattle, he went back to Tacoma, then he was demoted even further, down to AA to get his mechanics right. That probably has more to do with the fact that the PCL is a home run factory what with the juiced balls and small ballparks, but that’s neither here nor there. Sheffield has pretty quietly had an improved second half, and in his two September starts, he’s combined to go 11 innings, giving up 12 hits, 1 run, with 5 walks and 11 strikeouts. It’s baby steps, but I’ll take it.

As for the bullpen, I couldn’t even start. I don’t even know who’s here anymore! Our saves leader – Roenis Elias with 14 – is on the Nationals, that much I do know. Our next-highest saves leaders have 4 apiece. I have to believe we’re at or near the top of Major League Baseball in BLOWN saves, but that’s not a stat they like to throw around very much.

To be fair, at this point in our rebuild, the bullpen is probably the last thing we should be worrying about. I said it earlier this season and it’s come to fruition: you want everyone on the team to play well, then you want the bullpen to absolutely tear every game apart. Gotta get that high draft pick! Gotta draft and develop well! Gotta get back to the playoffs somehow, some way! Gotta win a World Series before the Earth is swallowed up by the Sun!

Of Course The Mariners Can’t Even Tank Properly!

I returned from my big Clusterfest weekend dismayed to find the Mariners have gone on a little run of late, winning 5 of 6, including 3 of 4 against the very worst team in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles.

The Mariners are 36-47, which is still hilarious when you factor in our infamous 13-2 start to the season. But, it’s also ridiculously close to .500, particularly when you consider how bad this team has looked for the majority of this season. The Orioles – on the other hand – are a whopping 22-57! They’re doing everything within their power to lose and lose often; the Mariners, on the other hand, still seem to be straddling the fence.

Always and forever on the fence.

I guess it should be noted that there’s no one way to (re)build a franchise, but I think I can take a stab at it, based on who’s currently leading the way in the standings in 2019. Up in the top half of the league, we’re talking about a bunch of teams who were bad for a spell, drafted well, developed their stars, and when it was time to compete, beefed up their team salary with free agents and/or trade acquisitions to put them over the top. That’s not a tried & true formula for every single team; I don’t remember the Yankees or Red Sox really bottoming out, and likewise I don’t recall the Rays or Athletics ever spending ANY money ever. But, the point is, you never see teams middling their way to the top, which is what the Mariners are trying to do and it’s what they’ve done since their inception back in the 70’s.

Once the Mariners got REALLY bad in 2004, they should’ve immediately reversed course, dumped everyone, and gone for a full rebuild. Instead, heading into the 2005 season, the Mariners dropped huge gobs of money into the pockets of Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre (massive overpays for both, as Beltre never approached his 2004 season with the Dodgers, and Sexson was a gigantic drain for this franchise by the time his contract expired in 2008) and the rest is history.

The Mariners have been really unlucky in the last two decades to boot. In years where they were supposed to be bad, they competed out of nowhere; in years where they were supposed to be competitive, they’ve generally flatlined. It’s hard to want to stick to a plan when expectations are defied so often. I mean, what do you do when you resign yourself to sucking, only to find yourself in the thick of breaking a generational playoff-less streak?

But, it’s that very mode of thinking that’s torpedoed this franchise. Not having the wherewithal and the guts to stick with a plan. It’s why this team has churned through managers like a rabid dog with a T-bone steak. It’s why general managers have made panic move after panic move, forever in a reactive position based seemingly on emotions and the whims of an erratic ownership group.

If you look at the top half of baseball, there are the usual suspects, but then there are teams like the Twins, Astros, Indians, Braves, Cubs, Rangers, Brewers, Phillies, and Rockies. Teams clearly trending in the right direction, and teams who underwent massive rebuilds in recent years. Those teams used to be DREADFUL, and now they’re among the best. You don’t HAVE to be the Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers to compete at a high level; you just need to be smart and have a plan and GOD DAMMIT STICK TO THAT PLAN.

Okay. So, let’s say the Mariners finally have a plan. Let’s say 2019 is the first true rebuild in God knows how long. It’s still not the kind of rebuild I believe this team needs, nor is it even a rebuild that makes any sense. “Stepping back” in 2019 to be in contention by (hopefully) 2021 just isn’t realistic. Not when you’re talking about needing to fill 10/12 spots on a Major League pitching staff, including 100% of the bullpen. Not when you’re talking about a dearth of quality pitching in the high minors. Not when you JUST spent an inordinate amount of draft picks this year on replenishing your pitching (when those guys won’t be ready for the Bigs until 2022 at the VERY earliest).

The Mariners believe they currently roster – at the Major League level – players who will be part of the “Next Great Mariners Team”. Guys like Haniger, Gonzales, and Kikuchi. Maybe guys like Vogelbach, Santana, Narvaez, Mallex Smith, and J.P. Crawford. I’ll tell you right now, every single one of those guys have considerable flaws to their games, so you tell me: will the Mariners be competitive by 2021 or 2022? If so, how many of those players will still be on this roster?

The M’s are still the 6th worst team in baseball at the time of this writing, but there are at least 5 teams just ahead of them that will be vying for a Top 10 draft pick by season’s end. At this point, the Orioles, Royals, Tigers, Blue Jays, and Marlins all look like locks to make the Bottom 5 (our only hope is that the Orioles/Jays & Royals/Tigers are in the same divisions, so they play one another 19 times this year). Meanwhile, with how well the hitting has been at times, I could easily see the Mariners slide outside of the Top 10, at which point winning is doing more harm than good.

Then again, it’s not necessarily where you draft, but rather how you develop. That’s the biggest key to success in baseball, over everything else. Based on that, I’m just wasting my words on this team, because the Mariners have to rank among the worst in the game at development. You can hang bad luck on a few players, but the overwhelming majority of Mariners prospects have been just plain bad.

I Am Absolutely Ready For The Mariners To Hit Rock Bottom

It’s been an interesting almost-year to follow the Mariners. Once last season ended with yet another whimper, the Fire Sale officially commenced, and with it one of the more remarkable rollercoasters in recent memory.

As I’ve mentioned a million times now, the Mariners started 2019 with a 13-2 record. This was followed by them going 18-43; for about half a month, we were talking about one of the most surprisingly good stories in all of baseball, and ever since it’s been one of the most predictably bad stories in all of baseball. So, with the trades of Bruce and Encarnacion, Fire Sale 2.0 is in full effect. Where she ends, nobody knows.

One of the major themes in recent weeks – since this team has plummeted – has been my desire for them to lose as much as possible, to get as high of a draft pick as possible next year. If we’re kicking this rebuild into full gear, might as well make the sky the limit (or whatever the reverse of that is for losing). The team hasn’t really disappointed in that regard, but it can always get better (or worse, depending on your perspective).

Ergo, the Mariners need to trade anyone of value that won’t be around for the theoretical Next Great Mariners Team. Now, of course, if you’re like me, you believe that Next Great Mariners Team doesn’t exist, because the Mariners will NEVER be great, such is our lot in life as Mariners fans. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t try. That doesn’t mean that the baseball gods can’t look down upon us favorably, if only for one magical season. It can’t ALL be 1995 and 2001 and that’s it, can it?

(it absolutely can, but that’s neither here nor there)

What’s funny is that I have serious doubts that the M’s would’ve been as willing to move on from Encarnacion and/or Bruce if certain guys hadn’t at least shown potential, if not outright skill. If Vogey weren’t as good as he’s been, for instance – and make no mistake, based on his Major League career heading into this season, he was as far from a guarantee as you can get – I have my doubts that we would’ve been comfortable trading away both of our big bats. Maybe I’m too in my own head with that 2010 team, but remember how our lineup was so historically terrible that we had to go out and RE-acquire Russell Branyan in a deal midway into the season – even though that team was headed for a 100+ loss season regardless – just to not be even MORE inept than we already were? You could put the blame for that on the prior ownership group and the prior GM, but 1) how much different is this new ownership group REALLY when you consider most of them were minority owners originally, and 2) teams in general have a hard time bottoming out because it angers too many of the fairweather fans that sports teams have to cater to (knowing that hardcore fans will be there regardless, it’s those fairweather folks who keep the lights on).

My thing is: I WANT this team to totally bottom out! And I think we have a pretty good chance. Not great, mind you, because there are some truly God-awful teams around baseball this year, it’s going to be hard to keep up with how great they are at losing. Gun to my head, I think getting a Top 2 or 3 draft pick isn’t in the cards. Getting a Top 5 pick is probably our realistic best case scenario, and it would be a huge disappointment if we landed outside of the Top 10. So, yeah, getting rid of as many helpful veterans as possible is a great start.

How low we can go still depends on a number of key factors. For starters, if the pitching improves too much, that’s going to hurt, because right now it’s that part of the team (particularly the bullpen) that’s costing us the most. I want – or, rather NEED – this bullpen to continue to blow otherwise winnable games late. I wouldn’t mind seeing Marco Gonzales do okay, but I also wouldn’t mind seeing Kikuchi continue to middle his way through his first year in the Bigs. Experience for the younger guys is more important than having them succeed out of the gates. Working on their craft, working on adjustments they need to make, is more important.

As for the hitters, I think this team needs to go young almost across the board and let them fail or succeed, because I think the pitching is more than bad enough to cost us enough to stay in the Top 10 draft pick range. Someone like Kyle Seager is always going to start, but another nagging injury or two wouldn’t be the worst thing for the team.

But, J.P. Crawford, Vogey, Santana, Haniger (when he’s healthy), Mallex, both of our catchers, and Shed Long (whenever we get out from under Dee Gordon) all need to be playing every day by the end of the season. And if they struggle, all the better!

I was concerned that the Mariners might’ve gotten too bad too quickly, that if they TRULY bottom out, the ownership group will be tempted to clean house in the front office. That’s probably a worst case scenario that we’ll never actually reach. I don’t honestly think these Mariners will be bad enough to start costing people their jobs. And, quite honestly, losing a bunch in May and June is probably better than doing so down the stretch.

Remember last year, when our May and June was terrific, and we looked like a sure bet to make the Wild Card? What happened? Well, we peaked too early and lost out late. An overall good season was derailed by a poor finish, and that’s the taste that’s left in your mouth. Whereas, if we’d struggled early, then finished super hot (while having the same overall record), 2018 would’ve been deemed a rousing success, and maybe we’d be looking at a 2019 season where the front office would’ve opted to go for it once again.

Well, if we suck now, but the young guys improve by season’s end, to the point where we win some meaningless games in August or September (while still maintaining a Top 10 draft status), I think that’s the best of all worlds. We have some momentum heading into 2020 (which is meaningless from a statistical point of view, but is very meaningful when it comes to the outlook of fans, and is great for those young players looking to parlay a great finish into promising careers moving forward) and maybe these Mariners indeed do start to contend for playoff spots or division titles in 2021 instead of 2022 or later.

All of that starts with losing as much as possible right this very minute. So, say goodbye to the vets, and let’s hope that it doesn’t stop there!

Yesterday’s Game Was Almost The Epitome Of A Perfect Mariners Loss

Picture this: a delightfully pleasant-weather spring day in Seattle. After a morning tastefully celebrating D-Day, as I do every year, I scrambled to get as much work done as I could, elated that my workday would be wrapping up around noon.

At the strike of twelve, I was in my Mariners hat and on my way out of the building. The wait for the light rail to arrive was longer than the ride from Westlake to International District, but it beats the hell out of walking all the way there I guess. I was starving, so I bought a $4 hot dog in the alley next to CenturyLink Field and had just enough time to wolf it down before I met my friends next to the Left Field Entrance.

Section 332 …

We got seats in section 332 for the 12:40pm start time and JUST missed first pitch, as we were waiting in line to get our first beers of the day. When we finally sat down, the Astros already had runners on base with nobody out. This was the second time Scott Servais used an Opener in this series alone – apparently he doesn’t trust soft-tossing lefties against the top of the order, because he did the same thing in the Wade LeBlanc start (who went on to pitch 8 innings of 1-run ball) – and it was the second time it totally backfired. In the aforementioned LeBlanc start, Cory Gearrin went 1.0 innings, giving up 3 runs in a 4-2 loss. I’m not saying had LeBlanc gotten the actual start – and subsequently went 8 innings of 1-run ball in this hypothetical scenario – that we would’ve won 2-1 (because, lord knows we’re more than capable of blowing a save in the 9th), but going down 3-0 in the first inning was a hole too big to dig our way out of.

Welp!

Yesterday someone named Austin Adams, who I’ve never heard of before, was somehow WORSE! Yes, he gave up 3 runs in the first inning, putting us in a would-be insurmountable hole against the likes of Justin Verlander (or so we thought), but he didn’t even have the decency of going a full inning! He threw 30 pitches and got 2 outs; starter Tommy Milone had to come in with a runner on base and get the final out of the inning (he would go on to throw 5 more on top of it, giving up a Wade LeBlanc-esque 1 run).

Can we fucking stop with the Opener now, Scott Servais? Or, at least, can we put a reliever in there who knows his ass from a hole in the ground? I don’t even know if that phrase makes sense here, but I’M STANDING BY IT!

The Mariners got a run back in the bottom of the first thanks to some weird defense by the Astros (deciding to NOT catch a pop fly by Encarnacion was an interesting choice, I must say), and then things settled in a little more predictably for a while. The Astros’ lead ballooned up to 5-1 before things started getting interesting.

We chased Verlander in the bottom of the seventh and worked a nice 2-out rally against the bullpen, pulling the game to 5-4. The Astros got one back in the eighth, and the M’s did the same in the bottom half. Then, against their closer in the bottom of the ninth, the Mariners pulled it to 6-6 to force the game into extras.

The Astros took the lead in the top of the tenth, but Omar Narvaez jacked a solo bomb to re-tie the game in the bottom frame. Things stayed that way until the 14th inning, when a line drive got past Domingo Santana in right for a leadoff triple (he would score the game-winning run on a sac fly). Spoiler alert, but the M’s lost with the bases juiced full of walks, but I’m gonna stop here for a moment to talk about Santana.

Servais wasn’t all Opener Gaffes this week; he also made what I thought was a pretty savvy move. For most of the year, the outfield has been Santana in left, Mallex Smith in center, and Mitch Haniger in right. It made sense. Haniger is probably better suited as a right fielder, and his strong arm plays well there. Smith was supposed to be a defensive whiz and a natural in center. And, while Santana’s natural home is in right, the left field in Safeco isn’t unreasonable, and it would seem to mask his weaker throwing arm (at least compared to Haniger’s).

Well, that ended up backfiring miserably, as Santana has led all of baseball in errors and misplayed balls while in left field, and Mallex’s defense has completely fallen apart for some reason since he re-joined the Mariners. So, this week, Servais moved Smith to left, Haniger to center, and Santana to right. That would take some of the mental pressure off of Mallex, and hopefully do the same for Santana. While we might have less range with Haniger in center, overall you’d think it would be a net positive throughout the outfield.

Well, that miscue by Santana in the 14th inning – taking a terrible GODAWFUL route to the ball, letting it get over his head, then bounce around allowing the runner to get to third – proves once and for all that he’s just not an outfielder. He’s a fucking defensive disaster. At this point, I don’t know if the team has any other choice but to keep him there, hope he improves, and find a way to trade him for prospects or something (assuming his bat continues to play).

It’s doubly imperative to keep him there, as Haniger left the game yesterday halfway through with an injury; we’ll see how long that keeps him out.

Anyway, yesterday was ALMOST perfect. The Mariners lost, which is important for us getting that top draft pick next year (still hanging tough with that 5th spot, 5 games back of Baltimore/Kansas City), but the Mariners were also entertaining in that loss! Hell, I was getting as hyped up as anyone with Vogelbach in there making life miserable for Houston’s pitching (he finished 2 for 5 with a run, an RBI, and 2 walks).

The only downside to the whole thing is, of course, the ballpark cutting off beer sales after 7 innings! There was DOUBLE that amount of baseball left to be played! We all ended up leaving the game early – some of us to go get another beer at a nearby bar – because we were TOO sober!

All in all, though, a pleasant way to spend a Thursday in early June.

Taking A Step Back I See What You Did There From Talking About The Mariners

If the Mariners aren’t trying to win this year, then I’m not going to try writing about them on a consistent basis.

Unfortunately, with no NBA in Seattle, and Hockey a few years away yet, that leaves a big, gaping hole in my summer content months. Usually, I try to at least half-ass a week’s worth of blog posts during the MLB season, but this year is just TOO much.

As long as this season keep spiraling out of control, I’m never NOT going to lead each post with a comment about how this team started 13-2, because the mere concept of that grows more implausible by the day. Here’s your regular reminder of how futile this team has been: the record is now 11-30 since that season apex.

Obviously, the Mariners are last in the A.L. West. 12.5 games behind first place Houston at the time of this writing. The Angels are a game better than us, but their team is also considerably better and has underachieved thus far to date. I am basing that last statement on exactly one piece of data: their -18 run differential against our -45. The good news is that, finally, the Mariners have cracked the Top 10 of next year’s MLB draft (if the season ended today, we’d pick 8th). We’re certainly within spitting distance of the worst overall record (6 games ahead of the Orioles with 106 games left to go … yes, I have absolutely initiated the Countdown For Tankocalypse 2019), and if we keep playing like we have over the last 41 games, we’ll get there in no time!

Is there any hope for the future amid all the nonsense? Well, Mitch Haniger apparently leads the American League in strikeouts; I guess that jersey purchase was a little premature. Our best hitters (Narvaez and Santana) are also the worst defensive players in the history of Major League Baseball (approximately). We have just the two competent starting pitchers (Gonzales and Kikuchi) and the bullpen has somehow managed to be even worse than it was this time a month ago. If it weren’t for the occasional Vogel-Bomb, I don’t think this team moves the needle even a teeny, tiny blip on my Interest-Meter.

Saying that I don’t care about the Seattle Mariners isn’t strong enough. I can’t even remember the last time I watched a full game; it might be the Opening Day game I attended in person! Of course, my work schedule plays a pretty significant role in whether or not I can watch during the week, but that still leaves Friday evenings and weekends free, and at this point they’re not even on my mind as options for my free entertainment hours. If the only draw for your team is a pudgy DH, I’d say things have sunk about as low as they can go.

I look at these Mariners and I compare them to a team like the Astros and it’s just depressing! I can’t envision a scenario where all the stars align and this team legitimately contends for a world championship. CERTAINLY not in my lifetime! Maybe not ever?

At this point, if you’re not putting the Mariners in the discussion of Worst Run Franchises In Major Professional Sports, then you’re overlooking one of the ragingest dumpster fires the sporting world has ever produced. I mean, at this rate, the M’s are almost DEMANDING that Scott Servais be fired by their putrid on-field play. At that point, it’ll be Ownership vs. Jerry Dipoto, and you have to wonder how many more days at the helm our embattled GM has left; because in that fight, Ownership wins 100% of the time.

Ideally, the Mariners will stick with the plan to rebuild. But, if the 2019 team stinks TOO hard, and loses 100+ games, then you have to wonder if Ownership will have the stomach. I can’t imagine the attendance numbers will look all that great when it’s all said and done. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before the Mariners renege on their rebuild idea, sign a bunch of Win Now free agents, and do just enough to once again miss out on a Wild Card spot.

If this sounds like something you’ve heard before, then congratulations, you’ve been a Mariners fan long enough for it to be considered a legitimate war crime.

You know, I run a Seattle sports blog that completely neglects the sport of soccer even though the Sounders are a delight year-in and year-out. Instead, I devote an irrational percentage of web space to a team in the Mariners that makes me physically ill. I’m not saying that I’m ready to pick up a new team and start writing about it; but I obviously have no problem DROPPING a team and ignoring them even when they’re in my own back yard.

Maybe it’s time to stop following the Mariners on a daily basis. Rid my Twitter feed of all the M’s beat writers and pretend like they don’t exist. Be one of those fair weather fans who spends their time at games guzzling tallboys and chit-chatting with friends over actually paying attention to what’s going on on the field. If nothing else, it would be better for my psyche.

Are The Mariners The Worst Home Team In Baseball?

There are obviously worse teams out there. The Orioles are 3-10 at home, for instance. The Marlins and Nationals are marginally worse at home, recordwise. But, God damn have the Mariners been horrid at T-Mobile Park so far!

In choosing to go to the 3:40pm game yesterday, I couldn’t have picked a worse one to attend. An 11-0 rout by the Cubs that was never even remotely competitive after the first inning. In the stands packed to the gills with Cubs fans, there was less than nothing to cheer for. I left after the third inning, after we were down 7-0; it was the best decision I made all day.

So, getting back to the original premise, the first homestand of the season was pretty good. The M’s went 5-1 against the Red Sox and Angels, with a +14 run differential. Not bad! The subsequent 6-1 road trip really had fans taking notice, but that was just the calm before the storm. We returned home to lose all six games to the Astros and Indians; our Run Differential At Home went from +14 to +2, as our record went to 5-7. After a 3-3 road trip to Anaheim and San Diego, we won the first two against the Rangers to bring our Run Differential At Home back up to +15. Then, the apocalypse: we lost the final two to the Rangers, and both games to the Cubs, by a combined 39 runs. That’s a -24 Run Differential At Home, which I have to believe is the worst in baseball.

Our overall Run Differential is all the way down to +2. It … hasn’t been pleasant.

In other news, I know Mallex Smith was sent down to work on things, but can we also send Domingo Santana down? Because that dude is a piece of shit in the outfield! I have never seen anyone drop so many easy fly balls in my life! He has 6 errors in the outfield already! No one else has more than 3! I mean, does he just not care? Is he trying to tank it so the team will keep him as a DH? His bat may be better than I expected, but his defense is a million times worse, and if the team doesn’t bench his ass at least once in the next series, I’m going to seriously question Scott Servais and his managing style. He has no problem calling out Felix or Jean Segura, but Domingo Santana is just going to continue getting away with nonchalant outfield defense? No fucking way! Send a fucking message, Servais! Nip this shit in the bud!

That’s all I got. Thank Christ the Mariners are off today, because there’s no way I could bring myself to look at them right now.