The Top Ten Biggest Seattle Sports Disappointments

It’s a cloudy-ass day in July and we haven’t had any sports that I give a shit about in over three months, so why not kick off the month with a big ball of negativity?!

Once again, in the absence of any decent sports news, I take inspiration from the Brock & Salk podcast, where one of the listeners asked the question of who is on your Seattle sports Mount Rushmore for biggest disappointments? I’m clearly unable to limit my disgust to just four individuals, so you get a Top Ten from me (with an extra Honorable Mention – FREE OF CHARGE – because these disappointments are like my babies, I can’t leave any of them out!).

Being a Sports Disappointment is obviously a nebulous concept with lots of different definitions, so here’s mine (for the sake of today’s argument): these are people who we expected to be great when they came here, and ultimately totally sucked. How they got here is irrelevant, so I’m not factoring in (as heavily) if it was a lopsided trade, a high draft pick, or an inflated contract (with the basis that all of these players were terrible for their respective Seattle sports teams, one would assume a poor trade, draft slot, or contract is a given anyway). Similarly, this can’t be based on someone else that our team passed on in the draft, because there would be inherent disappointment already built into that selection.

Malik McDowell, for instance, doesn’t qualify for this list. He’s certainly one of the most damaging draft picks of the last decade for the Seahawks, but as a second rounder, I don’t think expectations were astronomical that he’d be anything truly amazing. Likewise, trading away Scottie Pippen for Olden Polynice doesn’t qualify, because I would like to think most people noted that right away to be a terrible deal, and as such I can’t imagine there were great expectations for ol’ #0.

Without further ado, let’s get to our Honorable Mention: Jesus Montero. The Mariners traded for the former #1 overall baseball prospect early in 2012 from the Yankees. Given Michael Pineda’s career since he left Seattle, this is one of those infamous Lose/Lose deals. Nevertheless, the next ten guys I talk about must’ve been REALLY bad, because Montero was as mediocre as it gets. The main reason why he’s on the outside looking in is because by the time he came to Seattle, there was already a building consensus that he wasn’t long for the catcher position. He just didn’t have the build, the skills, nor the presence with the pitching staff for his defense to measure up. The hope was that maybe he could land at first base with some practice, but ultimately I think most saw him as a future DH. Regardless of that, there was NO QUESTION that his bat would be what provided the bulk of his value, and when you’re talking about those Mariners squads from 2008-2013, a hulking power bat from the right side of the plate was our white whale. Montero was SUPPOSED to be our cleanup hitter for the next decade; instead he hasn’t been in the Majors since 2015, and is more known for his ice cream sandwich fight than his “prowess” on the baseball diamond.

#10 – Danny Hultzen (Mariners)

This is the only real draft bust on the list (not to say there aren’t some REALLY BAD draft picks going forward, but at least those guys played a little bit!). Hultzen was a #2 overall draft pick, considered to be the safest starting pitcher prospect of the 2011 draft, and appeared to be on the fast track to make it to the Major Leagues within 2-3 years. Even if there was a question of his stuff – and his high-ceiling/ace potential – if his arm injuries didn’t totally derail him, we WOULD HAVE seen him pitch for the Mariners relatively early in his career. We’ll never know how disappointing that might’ve been, but I remember being really high on this guy when we got him, and it’s one of the great What If’s in recent Mariners history.

#9 – Justin Smoak (Mariners)

He’s sort of in that Jesus Montero realm, in that he was formerly a very highly-rated prospect, with the bloom starting to come off the rose by the time the M’s were able to acquire him. Oddly enough, when we made the deal in 2010, it’s reported that the Mariners turned down a proposed offer from the Yankees which would’ve included Montero! What did we do to get so lucky as to end up with BOTH when all was said and done?! Again, we’re talking about the Dead Ball Mariners of 2008-2013 or so; Smoak was really the first bite at the apple of trying to turn around our moribund offense. Switch-hitter with power, elite first base defense, good eye at the plate, and a proven minor league track record to hit for average, get on base at a high clip, and impress with his power to all fields. That ended up translating to the Bigs as Warning Track Power, someone who couldn’t really hit from the right side at all, a very LOW batting average, and someone who would consistently roll over on pitches instead of hitting to all fields as advertised. While his defense played, and he had an okay eye for taking walks, he also struck out a ton and didn’t start figuring out how to play at this level until he left for Toronto, where he was an All Star in 2017 (with 22+ homers in the last three seasons, the high being 38 in that aforementioned All Star season).

#8 – Aaron Curry (Seahawks)

As a #4 overall draft pick in 2009, you can certainly point to any number of linebackers taken after him and lament Tim Ruskell’s poor decision-making. BUT! I said we’re not doing that here! So, instead let’s just look at the situation at the time: the Seahawks were coming off of a pretty abysmal 2008 season where the defense just had NOTHING going for it. The offense looked like it MIGHT be salvagable with our aging veterans, but the defense needed an injection of youth and explosiveness. Curry was famously the “safest” pick off the board, as someone who could come in, play right away, and play at a high level. Even then, though, his game started getting picked apart pretty quickly. We soon learned there wasn’t much of a pass-rushing threat to his game, which made him ostensibly a coverage linebacker. The Seahawks have long prided themselves on quality linebacker play, so that checks out. Except, as it turned out, Curry couldn’t even do THAT well! He did, in fact, nothing well, and two years later we traded him to the Raiders in the middle of the 2011 season for draft picks (one of which would turn out to be J.R. Sweezy, which wasn’t too shabby of a return, all things considered).

#7 – Dustin Ackley (Mariners)

Speaking of #2 overall draft picks, welcome to the first pick of the Jack Zduriencik Era in 2009! I wrote pretty extensively on the topic of Dustin Ackley over the years, to the point where the rest of my list today SERIOUSLY conflicts with that post I just linked to. But, I would argue the parameters of the argument today are a little different. I’m trying to eliminate all outside factors and just focus on the players themselves. Yes, Ackley was VERY disappointing! He was supposed to be a guy who hit for a very high average, with enough pop/speed/defense to make him a regular All Star for his Major League career. Instead, he was middling at best and hasn’t cracked a Major League roster since 2016. I would also put part of the blame on the Mariners’ front office, as they continuously dicked around with him. He was a primo first baseman in college, with some experience in the outfield. What did we do? We made him a second baseman, which almost certainly stunted his development. Then, when that failed, we tried to make him a centerfielder, even though he really didn’t have the range or ability to cover that much ground (especially in Safeco Field at the time). And yet, the bat never showed up in Seattle, so that’s ultimately why he’s such a disappointment.

#6 – Chone Figgins (Mariners)

You really, REALLY hate to see it! This was the first big free agent bust of the Jack Zduriencik Era: four years, $36 million in December of 2009. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was for this signing! By this point, we’d long realized that Safeco Field – with its configuration, and with our Marine Layer in Seattle – would be death to home run hitters. Guys like Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson, among others, tried and ultimately failed to replicate their prior glories in Seattle. But, Figgins was the opposite of that! He was an undersized Jack-Of-All-Trades type of Swiss Army Knife you could plug in at nearly EVERY position on the field, with zero power hype to speak of whatsoever! And, most importantly, he’d hit for the Angels in a big way (.291 average & .363 on-base percentage in Anaheim across 8 seasons before signing with the Mariners). Slot him in at third base (his preferred position) and at the top of your batting lineup, and watch him hit .300 and steal 40+ bases! He somehow reached that stolen base plateau in his first year here, but his average dropped about 40 points overnight. He couldn’t get along with the Mariners’ management (and, presumably, some of the players) and was deemed the very worst signing of Jack Zduriencik’s career. Smarter baseball people than myself probably saw all this coming, but I’ll admit it was a rude awakening for me.

#5 – Percy Harvin (Seahawks)

If this were a list of my own personal Most Loathed Seattle Sports Athletes, Harvin would probably rank higher. I have no problem invoking his name among the greatest all-time Seahawks blunders because he is SO unlikable (the peak being him punching out Golden Tate before our Super Bowl victory in the 2013 season). Why he doesn’t rank higher here is the fact that we DID win that Super Bowl (mostly in spite of him), on top of the fact that I think most of us realized – when the deal was made – that it was too high a price to pay for ANYONE, even with his ability (at the time). Still, he had proven in his career with the Vikings to be a lethal gadget player on offense, and one of the best return men in the Special Teams department. While we could see the cost in draft picks and contract compensation was stratospheric, it was hard not to dream big about what this offense could be with Harvin in the fold. Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, AND Percy Harvin?! Come on! And, then he immediately got injured upon arrival, and didn’t really end up making any impact whatsoever until we reached the Super Bowl. The highlight of his Seahawks career was the kickoff return for a touchdown against the Broncos. Some thought he deserved consideration for the Super Bowl MVP, but we were already up 22-0 at the time, so I mean. The bottom line is, Harvin dogged it in 2014 – taking himself out of games, refusing to play through anything more than a hangnail – and was traded in the middle of the season for whatever we could get. So much wasted money and potential.

#4 – Erik Bedard (Mariners)

Everyone points to the lopsided deal – that sent the Orioles a ton of quality baseball players – but the true crime is just how bad Bedard became as soon as he got here! He was a bona fide Ace-type pitcher for Baltimore – so much so that he was deemed to be the #1 over Felix Hernandez in his first year here – and the expectation was that our rotation would lead us back to the playoffs with Bedard in the fold. Instead, he was a consummate Five-And-Dive artist who both stunk AND couldn’t stay healthy. Why he’s not higher on this list is because all of those Mariners teams were VERY terrible and would have been regardless, with our without Bedard. Still a bitter pill to swallow.

#3 – Rick Mirer (Seahawks)

The bigger disappointment here is the fact that the Seahawks had the #2 pick at all, and not the #1 (which would’ve guaranteed us Drew Bledsoe). In that Dustin Ackley piece, I had Dan McGwire among the biggest draft pick disappointments in Seattle sports history, but that largely hinged on who we DIDN’T get in that draft – namely: Brett Favre – but I don’t think anyone REALLY expected greatness out of McGwire (except for the inept Seahawks ownership group at the time). Rick Mirer, on the other hand, was very highly regarded. Even if he wasn’t the ideal QB of that draft, he wasn’t supposed to be a bad fall-back option. But, he was worse than anyone could’ve possibly imagined. He nearly destroyed my standing as a Seahawks fan for the rest of the 1990’s! The saving grace for Mirer is the fact that we were able to flip him for a first round draft pick in 1997.

#2 – Jeff Cirillo (Mariners)

I just remember LOVING this deal so much! In December of 2001 – coming off of the Mariners’ 116-win campaign – we were looking at one of the most complete teams in the Major Leagues. One of our main weak spots was third base, where we employed the pedestrian David Bell. Cirillo, on the other hand, had a remarkable 10-year career to that point with the Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies, where he hit over .300, had an on-base percentage over .450, hardly ever struck out, and played a quality third base! I mean, on a team with Ichiro, Boone, Olerud, Edgar, Cameron, Wilson, Guillen, McLemore, and the rest, Cirillo was only going to put us MORE over the top! That’s when we got our first big taste of what happens when guys come over from Colorado: the thin air they play in made hitting at home a breeze. Meanwhile, in Seattle, even for someone like Cirillo – who wasn’t a natural power hitter by any means – it seems like Safeco just got in everyone’s heads if nothing else. He hit for a miserable .234 across two partial seasons, and his on-base percentage plummeted to a ridiculous .295! To add insult to injury, those two seasons coincided with two of the most frustrating years to be a Mariners fan, where both teams won 93 games, yet failed to make the playoffs because baseball is dumb and only had one Wild Card team at the time. To add even more insult to even more injury, we traded him away in early 2004 and got essentially nothing back in return.

#1 – Vin Baker (Supersonics)

You don’t see a lot of Sonics on this list, because for the most part – until the bitter end – we were a pretty well-run organization. Sure, you can point to the litany of failed centers we drafted in the 2000’s, but I would argue most fans saw through those duds the minute their names were called. Similarly, everyone wondered why someone like Jim McIlvaine was given such a high-money contract, so to be “disappointed” would mean you’d have to have high expectations for someone who had hardly done anything in his career to that point! Vin Baker, on the other hand, was a multi-year All Star in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks. I almost didn’t want to include Baker on this list, because for some reason I have memories of more good times than actually existed. The truth of the matter is – upon trading for him when Shawn Kemp forced his way out in a 3-team deal, justifiably, because McIlvaine – the Sonics only enjoyed ONE quality year out of Baker. The first year here, the 1997/1998 season, when he maintained his All Star streak and led the Sonics to a semifinals appearance in George Karl’s last go-around in Seattle.

He then immediately fell off the cliff. The strike-shortened season saw Baker’s alcoholism creep in, resulting in a ballooning of his weight that drastically reduced his effectiveness on the court. For some reason, in spite of his fall-off, the Sonics rewarded him with a 7-year, $86 million deal. Yet, he was never the same, with three increasingly-mediocre seasons to follow before we were able to trade him to the Celtics for a bunch of role players. There’s a lot of unfair resentment towards Baker for tanking his career the way he did, but I think mostly people just feel sorry for him. No one in Seattle wanted to see Shawn Kemp leave; indeed Wally Walker & Co. did a remarkable job of destroying a championship-calibre squad. But, I can’t tell you how happy I was that we were able to get Baker here initially! His game – if maybe not his personality – fit this team PERFECTLY! He had a better post-up game than Kemp, could shoot from long range better than Kemp, and overall you didn’t have to worry about the ups & downs. Baker was a steady 20/10 type of guy when he got here, night-in and night-out. Which makes his post-1998 years SO disappointing! His wasn’t the type of game that should’ve deteriorated so quickly. Kemp’s game was more raw athleticism; Baker’s game was fundamental basketball prowess. Yet, when it’s all said and done, two of the great basketball tragedies to come out of that lockout season were Baker and Kemp, both succumbing to being out of shape and never ultimately recovering.

Tempering Expectations For This Mariners Rebuild

What interests me most about the game of baseball is the long game. In football, you’ve got rosters twice the size of a baseball team, yet we see it every year: teams going from worst to first. You can turn around a football team in one offseason! But, in baseball, it takes seemingly forever (and, for an organization like the Mariners, LITERALLY forever).

I did a big, long post about the first successful Mariners rebuild. I originally wrote that in 2013, when we all were hopeful that we were in the middle of the next successful Mariners rebuild. There were so many moves made between the nadir of this franchise (2008) and the next time you could legitimately say the Mariners were in contention for the post-season (2014, when we finished 87-75, just 1 game back of a Wild Card spot) that it truly boggles the mind.

That rebuild was ultimately a failure. It produced three winning seasons between 2014 and 2018, and zero playoff appearances. Following last year’s collapse, Jerry Dipoto made a bunch of moves to jettison veterans and infuse the farm system with prospects. Our veteran holdovers include names like Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc, Roenis Elias, Dan Altavilla, and Dan Vogelbach; most (if not all) of those players will not be on this team the next time it reaches the post-season.

So, we’re stuck rooting for prospects. Rooting for potential. Rooting for the young guys to step up and prove themselves not just worthy of Major League roster spots, but ultimately good enough to get this team back to the playoffs one day (ideally one day very soon). Jerry Dipoto is staking his reputation and his job on these players. If it all falls apart like it did last time, he, Scott Servais, and a bunch of other very smart baseball men will be looking for employment elsewhere.

As I noted, we’ve been through this before. So, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

See, it can be fun and exciting knowing your team is out of it before the season even begins. First, there’s no expectations, so any on-field success you see is all gravy. Then, of course, there’s the factor of the unknown. New, young players you’ve never seen before are ALWAYS more interesting than old veterans who’ve been around for years. We pretty much know what guys like Seager, Healy, Felix, and Leake are; there’s nothing to learn about those guys. So, we pin all our hopes and dreams on the prospects. We want to see them in a Major League uniform right this minute, to pump them full of experience with the hopes that they’ll pan out immediately. This can lead to guys getting called up too early (a la Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Matt Tuiasosopo, etc.) or guys just being huge disappointments.

Let’s start with the 2008 season, the aforementioned nadir. That team lost 101 games and we were all miserable. Successful players like Felix, Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez, Jose Lopez, and even Yuniesky Betancourt were no match for the suck-asses that were Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro, Jeremy Reed, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, Erik Bedard, and so on. General Manager Bill Bavasi was fired, and The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild was on!

2009 proved to be a welcome surprise. Franklin Gutierrez was brought over in a trade, as was Jason Vargas (Doug Fister was one of the rare Bavasi draft picks that stuck in the org and actually panned out). Ichiro was still Ichiro! Russell Branyan and David Aardsma were quality pick-ups. Even the return of Ken Griffey Jr. for a victory lap proved valuable. That 85-win season led everyone (but the stat geeks, who knew those wins were on a shaky foundation) to believe we were way ahead of the curve on this rebuild. So much so that Jackie Z decided to make a big push to go for it in 2010.

We traded for Cliff Lee! We got rid of Carlos Silva and brought back a useful piece in Milton Bradley! Our young core of starters (Felix, Vargas, and Fister) were bolstered with key bullpen additions like Brandon League, Jamey Wright, and Sean White. So, what happened? The team fell apart (ultimately losing another 101 games; in hindsight, a second go-around with Old Griffey proved disasterous) and shipped off anyone of value for prospects. Lee was flipped for Justin Smoak (among others). Our high draft pick was used on a pitcher who got hurt so many times he never made the Bigs. And The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild 2.0 was on.

2011 was a key year for the rebuild, as the team REALLY went for it this time. Taking a stroll through that roster is long and arduous. Ichiro, Miguel Olivo, Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, and Adam Kennedy were the veteran everyday players; Felix, Vargas, Bedard, and Fister were still holding down the rotation (though Fister would be swapped for a bunch of nobodies at the deadline; yet another example of a trade that totally backfired for the Mariners); and League, Wright, and David Pauley (among others) were the steady influences in the bullpen. But, the young guys were the stars of the show. 2008 first rounder Dustin Ackley was called up midseason, as was Kyle Seager. Justin Smoak was handed the first base job. Guti started his slow descent into an injured adulthood. Then, there were guys like Michael Saunders, Greg Halman, Alex Liddi, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Chris Gimenez, Carlos Peguero, Adam Moore, Mike Wilson and more. On the pitching side of things, Michael Pineda was an All Star, but then there were guys like Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush (remember when he was a starting pitcher?), a younger Tom Wilhelmsen, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes, Chance Ruffin, and Shawn Kelley.

Those were all the players we hung our hats on. How many of them actually panned out? You can count them on one hand. How many of them panned out for the Seattle Mariners? That number is even smaller.

2012 saw the influx of guys like Jesus Montero (swapped for Michael Pineda), Hector Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez, Lucas Luetge, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, and John Jaso. They were paired with the holdovers like Smoak, Seager, Ackley, Felix, Vargas, Ichiro (starting his decline) and Figgins (at the end of his miserable Mariners career).

Then, there’s 2013, with prospects like Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino (a year after being drafted), Brandon Maurer, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. Veterans like Kendrys Morales, Endy Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, Jason Bay, Jeremy Bonderman, and Hisashi Iwakuma saw extensive playing time, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. The old guys didn’t do enough (and most were gone in short order), and the young guys (predictably) never panned out for this team.

So, please, keep all these duds in mind as we go forward. You’re going to hear A LOT of new names you’re not familiar with in 2019 and 2020. The team is going to tout these players as The Future; don’t believe ’em. The vast majority of these players will be more in a long line of losers that help to keep the Seattle Mariners out of the post-season.

Some guys will be promising, only to fall flat on their asses the following year when expectations are raised and other teams learn how to handle them. Some guys will be promising only to suffer devastating injuries that hinders their development. Some of those injured guys will be brought back too soon, only to struggle and lose their confidence. Some guys will just flat-out stink from the get-go. One, maybe two guys, will be okay. But, they won’t be enough. They’ll just embolden this organization to spend a bunch of money when the time “feels right”. At that point, some flashy veterans will be brought in to supplement our future “rising stars” and we’ll go through the process of “contending (for a wild card spot)” all over again.

The Mariners are never going to be the Astros or Cubs or Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers. They’re closer to the Athletics and Rays than anything else, just a Major League farm club for better-run organizations. The tremendous amount of luck required to turn us into one of those truly good teams isn’t ingrained in the city of Seattle and its sports teams. The best we can hope for is competent mediocrity.

The best we’re going to get is just outside, looking in.

The Mariners Did Some Other Stuff Too

The big signing of the free agency period so far has been Yusei Kikuchi, but that’s not all they’ve done of late!

(yes it is, that’s all anyone really cares about)

Another name you’ll be hearing about is Tim Beckham, who’s a short stop out of Baltimore. He was signed to a 1-year, $1.75 million deal. You might remember the M’s making a deal with the Phillies for J.P. Crawford, who is ostensibly our “Short Stop Of The Future” (until the 2019 season is over, when a new one will be annointed). Crawford is a glove-first guy whose glove is maybe a little spotty, but what’s worse is that his bat stinks. Assuming that holds true, Tim Beckham is veteran insurance. At 29 years of age (later this month), he’s a career .252/.304/.424 hitter with moderate pop, sub-average speed, probably an adequate glove, who strikes out way more than he should. Ideally, Beckham will be a utility infielder, but since I don’t have any hopes for Crawford whatsoever, I’d bank on Beckham getting significant playing time. He should also be a huge upgrade over Andrew Romine, so at least that’s something.

Cory Gearrin is a right-handed reliever who got a 1-year, $1.4 million deal to be in the mix for a set-up role. He’s 33 years old in April, and true to form, he had a quality 2017 and a bummer of a 2018. His K/9 is nothing that’ll blow you away, so really he’s like pretty much every other reliever in the world.

And then there’s the re-signing of Dustin Ackley to a minor league deal. I guess he’s more or less a first baseman now, which is (I think) what he was in his final year in college, and so all that promise of him being a #2 overall pick is officially dead. He hasn’t hit in the Bigs since 2016, having spent the past two years in AAA for Anaheim, and by all accounts did okay for them. To be fair, he does play in the corner outfield spots, as well as second base in a pinch. I don’t know if there’s any room in our outfield as it’s currently constructed for Ackley to break in, but I could certainly see him promoted if Ryon Healy goes down, or if he simply tears it up for Tacoma and the M’s are looking for a spark. It’s nothing that moves the needle for me, though, because he’s a bust and that’s never going to change. Tacoma needs guys too, is what I’m told.

In former-Mariners news, Nelson Cruz signed a 1-year deal with the Twins for a little over $14 million. That’s fun! Plus, you know, he’s not in the division, so the most we have to see him is 6 or 7 times (of course, he could very well be dealt at the deadline, at which point that number could sadly change). I still think he’s got a lot to offer a team looking for added pop to their lineup, so I think this is a very good move for them. If the team as a whole sucks, then they should be able to recoup some of that in trade value.

Finally, Roenis Elias was extended (and thus avoids arbitration) on a deal worth a shade under $1 million. He’ll be important to this ballclub, as we’ll need a quality long reliever who can spot start on occasion. Of course, he’s yet another soft-tossing lefty to go with Kikuchi, Gonzales, and LeBlanc (as well as Sheffield, who isn’t quite as soft-tossing, but yet another lefty who figures to see some starts in 2019). Right now, our right-handed starters are Felix and Leake, which does nothing to disspell our soft-tossing reputation.

All Star Week Continued: Mariners Bright Spots

Look for “Mariners Shit Stains” tomorrow, but I thought I’d kick us off with a little positivity on a Thursday morning.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, my absolute favorite thing about the 2016 Mariners by a million miles is Dae-ho Lee.  The sense of pure joy I feel whenever he does something awesome is unmatched by anyone else in all of sports right now (particularly with the retirement of Marshawn Lynch).  When the Mariners brought him in, he was in a battle with Jesus Montero for the backup first baseman job, and even though Lee didn’t look all that much better than Montero in Spring Training, I was fully aboard the decision to pick Lee, simply because of the unknown factor.  We know what Jesus Montero is, and he hasn’t disappointed me since he was picked up by Toronto (he’s yet to get a call-up from AAA, where he’s doing okay, but isn’t blowing you away with his power, and still doesn’t know how to take a walk).  Lee, conversely, at least had some upside, as he came from another professional league where he played at a high level.  Ultimately, it’s just baseball; it’s just throwing and catching and hitting and running.  Lee’s got the skills, and they’ve transferred beautifully from Korea, to Japan, to now the United States.  On top of that, with Lind’s early struggles, Lee has been a godsend!  I won’t say I saw this season coming out of Lee – it certainly wouldn’t have shocked me to see him put up Jesus Montero-type numbers, followed by his eventual release – indeed, he’s been probably the most pleasant surprise of the bunch!

I won’t try to rank all my bright spots, so let’s just go down the line.  Robinson Cano has bounced back in a big way after an injury-plagued 2015.  He’s healthy, and he’s playing to the All Star form that got him his $240 million contract in the first place.  With 21 homers, he’s already matched last year’s total.  If his slash line holds, this will be his best year since 2012, when he had a .929 OPS and an 8.2 WAR.  As it stands right now, his .555 slugging percentage is the best of his career (if he can keep it at that level), and he’s on pace to shatter his season high in homers and extra base hits.  Just an all-around stud; 3 years down, 7 to go.

I wonder if people are a little disappointed in Nelson Cruz this year, as it feels like he’s taken a step back compared to his off-the-charts 2015.  But, he’s still doing VERY well for himself, and is on track to get back to 40 homers for the third straight year.  One thing to watch is that he’s already grounded into 11 double plays; his career high in a season was 17 back in 2014, so that’s certainly not a number you like to top.

Kyle Seager rounds out our Big 3, and boy am I pleased with his season so far!  As usual, he got off to an abysmal start, but he’s beyond turned it around.  It seems like he always over-corrects like this, only to settle into his usual range of hitting in the .260’s by season’s end, but I dunno.  Something tells me his success could easily continue on, if not actually improve by season’s end.  A full year under Edgar Martinez, for one, combined with his own sturdy work ethic.  You wonder if he’ll tire out – considering he never gets an off day – so if there’s a reason for any late-season decline, I’d say that would have to be it.  Nevertheless, he’s on pace to blow away his previous power numbers, already with 18 homers at the break (his career high in a season is 26).  One thing to watch with him is that he’s already got 10 errors, which is very unlike him (his career high in a season is 16, which he had last year, which is a downward trend from 2014’s Gold Glove season).

I’m very pleased with Ketel Marte’s progress in his second season in the bigs (and first FULL season).  You had to wonder, with his quality 2015, was that just an aberration, like Ackley and Zunino and Montero before him – who all got early call-ups, did well at first, and then regressed HARD?  Well, so far, Marte is hitting well (his speed helping pump up those numbers a little bit).  He has work to do with taking a walk; hopefully that will advance with experience, as there’s no excuse for a kid this fast to not have a better awareness of the strike zone.  Speedy players who can take a walk and steal a base are worth their weight in gold!  You also look to see him clean up his mental miscues in the basepaths and in the field with experience as well.  But, no real glaring complaints two years into his budding career.

Leonys Martin has been a delight.  We’ve been waiting since Guti’s prime for a quality defensive centerfielder to come around, and by God I think we’ve found one!  It’s so important to this organization, considering we play half our games in Safeco (and considering we’re perennially saddled with slow-footed corner outfielders).  And, while I wasn’t expecting much out of him at the plate, his 11 homers are already a career high in a season!  He’s not ideal at the plate – and he’s REALLY not an ideal leadoff hitter – but I love what we’ve gotten out of him so far.

Honorable mention (on the hitting side) goes to Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta.  Smith’s work at the plate is exactly what winning teams need.  He hits for a solid average, he can take a walk, he’s got some pop, and I don’t know if this is a thing or not, but he seems to be pretty clutch when we need someone to come through.  As far as Iannetta is concerned, he’s not leaps & bounds ahead of Zunino at the plate, and I don’t know if he’s necessarily all that much better defensively either, but he’s been a rock so far this season.  From the eyeball test, he doesn’t look nearly as lost at the plate as Zunino looked last year, so that’s big.  And, while it’s tough to see Clevenger go down the way he did, if and when Zunino returns, it’ll be nice to have him learn from Iannetta.  He’s never really had a competent pro to teach him the ropes, so the second half of this season could be huge for Zunino’s development.

***

On the pitching side of things … hoo boy, it’s a little dodgy.

Edwin Diaz has come out guns blazing, getting the call up direct from AA.  34 strikeouts in 17.2 innings, or just about 2 strikeouts per inning.  Unreal!  He’s hitting triple digits on the reg, he’s got a wicked slider, and if he keeps this up, he could be closing games in no time.  As it is, he’s entering games in the most pressure-packed situations (pre-9th inning variety), and I’ll say it right here:  Diaz has been hands down the best reliever on this team this year.  Period.

It’s been nice to see Mike Montgomery make good on all his promise.  He’s throwing strikes, he’s limiting walks, and he’s done everything this team’s asked him to do.  I know, like 99% of professional athletes will do what’s asked of them.  But, compare what Montgomery’s done this year to a closer who comes into the game in a non-save situation, and you’ll get what I mean.  He’s been fine in relief, in all roles, and just before the break got a spot start with excellent results.  He’s in line for at least one more post-break start, and could very well have pitched himself back into the rotation (thanks to his excellence, and to the rest of the rotation’s utter ineptitude).

And, you know what?  That’s it.  I could write a lot more if I wanted to, but I don’t, because I don’t think any of the other pitchers deserve to be mentioned in this post.  You’ll read why tomorrow.

The Mariners Drafted Kyle Lewis & Joe Rizzo

I’m not a huge draftnik in general, and specifically with baseball I don’t know if I could care any less than I already do.  I don’t follow college baseball, I sure as SHIT don’t follow high school baseball, I’m not a scout, and trying to project what teenagers will become in 3-8 years sounds like a futile and pointless exercise.

I pay attention one day a year, and that’s Day 1 of the draft, and by “pay attention” I mean:  I happen to be on Twitter and notice the beat writers talking about it.  Then, I click on links they offer, read what people have to say, and that’s the basis for my knowledge on the subject.  Pretty neat, huh?

In years past, the Mariners have drafted the following in the first round:

  • 2015 –
  • 2014 – Alex Jackson (OF)
  • 2013 – D.J. Peterson (3B – converted to 1B)
  • 2012 – Mike Zunino (C)
  • 2011 – Danny Hultzen (SP)
  • 2010 – Taijuan Walker (SP)
  • 2009 – Dustin Ackley (OF – converted to 2B – converted to OF)
  • 2009 – Nick Franklin (SS)
  • 2009 – Steve Baron (C)

As you can see, a real Who’s Who of garbage (and Taijuan Walker).  To be honest, I forgot all about Steve Baron, but he’s a no-bat defensive catcher who makes Jesus Sucre look like Babe Ruth at the plate.  Nick Franklin is in the Tampa Bay organization and is still trying to break on through into becoming a regular big leaguer.  Dustin Ackley is The Most Disappointing Man In The World.  Taijuan you all know and love.  Hultzen is one of a long line of safe Jackie Z draft picks, who was supposedly the most “Major League-ready” pitcher, but whose bevy of arm injuries has killed his career.  The jury is still out on Peterson and Jackson; but Peterson was drafted for his bat and his power, and has yet to really impress with either on a regular basis; and Jackson is mired in single-A ball, appearing to be on nobody’s fast track to the Majors.

This year, with the 11th overall pick, the Mariners selected Kyle Lewis, an outfielder out of Mercer University.  He’s 6’4, he bats and throws right-handed, his position for now is in centerfield, but some project him to be a corner outfield guy.  He played basketball and baseball in high school, and only dedicated himself exclusively to baseball relatively late in his amateur career.  He went to Mercer as a project, busted out as a Sophomore, and was “College Player of the Year” as a Junior this year.  In 61 games this season, he hit 20 homers while putting up a slash line of .395/.535/.731, while also walking a whopping 66 times.  So, he’s got the power, he’s got the plate discipline, his swing is apparently a little long and wonky, but they can work on that with him after he signs, he’s rangy, with good but not great speed, and has a nice arm.  His high leg kick is apparently a concern, which could mean he’s in for a lot of strikeouts when paired with that swing.  So, it’ll be imperative that he smooths all that out if he wants to make it to the Bigs someday.  One would think, as he continues to round out as a pro and puts on some more muscle, he won’t necessarily need that leg kick to generate the power he’s accustomed to.  If that clicks for him, he could be a monster.  I’m seeing comparisons ranging from Jason Heyward to Mike Cameron.

From what I’ve read, I like the pick, but then again I’d probably be saying that no matter who the Mariners went with at the 11th overall spot.  Lewis had been considered by many to be a Top 10 pick, with some people ranking him as high as the third overall selection.  The Mariners themselves thought they didn’t have a chance at him when they scouted him initially, so for them it was a nice, pleasant surprise.  I mostly like that he’s a high upside player.  Granted, he could make it to Tacoma and promptly flame out like so many Quad-A outfielders we’ve gotten to that point in recent years.  But, if he figures it all out, he could be a superstar in this league.  Here’s to hoping he’s got the focus, and the organization has the people around him to make that a reality.

The farm system, right now, is pretty dire.  I don’t think there’s a single person in AAA, for instance, who projects to be an everyday Major Leaguer (maybe a bullpen guy or something, but the rest of those guys seem to have hit their ceilings).  There’s some good-looking talent in AA right now, but you figure you’re still at least a couple years away (at best) from seeing them produce in a Mariners uniform.  Beyond that, who knows?  So, when I see the Mariners have drafted a centerfielder, I don’t really pay attention to specific “needs” at the big league level.  Since these guys don’t generally make an impact for many years after they’re drafted, it’s not like football where you see holes and you draft guys to fill those holes; in 5 years, or whatever, when Kyle Lewis is ready to get his shot at the Major Leagues, will there be a hole in centerfield?  Probably, but you can’t think that way as a fan.  From a farm system perspective, there are holes EVERYWHERE, at all levels!  The draft is the crappiest of crapshoots, particularly in baseball.  Bringing in talent, regardless of position, is what’s important right now.

Especially since, when you think about it, the Mariners are currently in contention, and might be robbing from that farm system to try to bring in big leaguers to help us win right now.  Obviously, we just drafted Kyle Lewis, so he isn’t going anywhere.  But, guys above him, in AA and AAA, might be shipped off.  So, replacing those guys with incoming draft picks – and having some of those draft picks actually pan out – is going to be pretty important.

Which brings me to the Mariners’ second round pick, Joe Rizzo.  He’s a high schooler with a nice swing, who appears to be pretty polished at the plate, and raw literally everywhere else.  He’s not as athletic as you like – particularly for a third baseman – which is why everyone is already projecting him to move anywhere from left field to first base.  Considering that’s more or less what they were talking about when the Mariners drafted D.J. Peterson, I’m not super-thrilled with these descriptions.  I mean, who was the last guy they talked about in these terms, who actually panned out in a big way in the Majors?  Seriously, I’m asking, because as I said before, I don’t follow the draft all that closely!

For what it’s worth, they said similar things about Dustin Ackley as well (although, his bat was more highly regarded, thus the #2 overall draft slot).  Guys who hit well in college and high school, who don’t have an established defensive position, aren’t really options in my mind.  Yeah, they may be good to go from a hitting perspective, but that just means they’re going to put all their energy into either learning a new defensive position, or trying to refine the position they came up with.  Either way, all that focus on the defensive side of the ball – which is VERY important – will inevitably take away from them becoming a professional hitter, at which point you’ve got a player who isn’t good defensively, who also hasn’t made any strides at the plate, and all that promise they had coming in will have been squandered.

Look for Joe Rizzo to be absolutely nothing for the Mariners one day.  I hope he proves me wrong, but I seriously doubt it.

At least with Kyle Lewis, you’ve got athleticism, and some built-in defensive ability, to go with his excellence at the plate, so all he has to do is refine and mature, as opposed to essentially starting all over as a professional.

Baseball can be really discouraging.  Baseball prospects are generally at the top of that pyramid.  Now you can see why I rarely try to put any energy into focusing on the minor leagues.

What Going To Bed Before The 9th Inning Looks Like

It was all lining up against me.  The A’s were in town; they’ve been notoriously tough to beat in Safeco Field the last couple years for some reason (even though they’ve been largely terrible in general).  Jay Buhner was in the booth, riding a 1-40 streak when calling Mariners games.  We let another starter off the hook and then our bullpen largely prevented our own starter from getting the win it looked like he deserved through five innings.  Plus, it was already past 10pm, and I gotta wake up before 6am to go to work!

Yes, I’m weak.  But, I’ve seen the meager defeat go out with a whimper in the 9th inning far too many times.  True, Robinson Cano mashed a 2-run homer in the 8th to bring the game to within one run, but come on!  What were the odds the team would repeat that feat just one inning later?  With two outs.  In a 1-2 count …

Hell, this is why people tell you to never leave a game early.  I can’t argue with ’em!  People who stuck it out to the bitter end – people who left the TV on for another 20-30 minutes – were rewarded with the kinds of positive memories those of us who found out about the result this morning can only dream about.

That’s the difference with this team, compared to years past.  Count them out at your own risk.  I’ve seen this team come back from large deficits that would’ve been impossible for prior Mariners squads.  It’s one telltale sign – at least from an eyeball test perspective – that this team is for real.

It’s remarkably impressive the way Scott Servais’ moves are working out.  He hasn’t done a ton of tinkering with the batting lineup this year.  For the most part, he’s got a lefty-heavy and a righty-heavy lineup, where certain guys will move up or down in the lineup depending on which way they bat.  But, within those splits, there haven’t been any real major shakeups until this week, where Leonys Martin took over leadoff duties from Nori Aoki.  We’ve seen this in past seasons, and it generally deserves the world’s biggest eye roll.  “Going with the hot hand” in baseball is pretty pointless, because most good hot streaks last about a week, and then the player reverts to prior form; conversely, most cold streaks don’t last very long either, and it’s only a matter of time before a veteran will turn things around.

I mean, how many times have we seen Dustin Ackley, batting in the bottom third of the lineup, start to spray the ball around pretty good, followed by the manager moving him up to leadoff, followed by him not getting a hit for a week, followed by him moving back down to the bottom third of the lineup?

Oh, so you’re telling me Leonys Martin sprays the ball around on the road against the likes of the Orioles and Reds – in two very hitter-friendly ballparks – and now all of a sudden he’s worthy of batting in the leadoff spot?

But, shit man, I’ll be damned if he isn’t worthy!  Two hits on Monday, the game-winning 2-run homer last night, he’s striking the ball well, his power is showing no signs of reverting back to career norms, his confidence is through the roof, and I’m, like, one more hitting career being turned around for the better before I start a Church of Edgar Martinez and worship him as our lord and savior

(we’ll meet on Friday nights; if you don’t have your own Light Bat, one will be provided; B.Y.O. Bud Lights)

Servais isn’t all lineup shuffling either.  I think his bullpen usage has been outstanding.  While it takes most other managers at least a good, solid month of sucking before they move on from a trusted veteran arm, Servais has been on top of this thing!  Joel Peralta hadn’t looked superb when his numbers were great, but the team needed him in that 8th inning role, what with all the injuries.  Once his numbers started to reflect just how poorly he’d been throwing, it wasn’t more than a few outings before he was busted to the back-end of the bullpen, in favor of guys like Nick Vincent and Mike Montgomery.  Now, I know they weren’t perfect last night – Vincent, in relief of Karns in the 6th, gave up a couple of inherited runners; then Montgomery gave up a couple of Vincent’s runners in that same inning – but I think those moves were totally, 100% defensible.

Nick Vincent has the best K-rate of anyone in the bullpen worth a damn.  Karns was running into that third time through the order and gave up a couple of hard-hit balls; given his youth, I think it’s reasonable to doubt that he’d be able to get out of that jam.  When you need a strikeout, put in your best strikeout guy, in this case Vincent.  Now, it didn’t work out, but the move is justified.  And, while Montgomery was unable to get out of the 6th without giving up more damage, he ended up going another three innings of shutout ball to 1) get the win, and 2) save the bullpen from further usage.

Where would we be without Mike Montgomery right now?  To think, he was a guy on the bubble going into Spring Training, and very well may have been cut or traded had everyone been healthy!

The rest of the kudos will be spread around:

Seth Smith had a 3-hit day to bump his average back up to respectability.

Robbie Cano had a 3-RBI day to maintain his league lead.

Nelson Cruz had a timely and overlooked RBI single in the 3rd, when it looked like the Mariners might squander a scoring opportunity after putting the first two batters on base.

Nori Aoki had a couple of hits, including that double in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, to prolong the game and get it to the hero of the evening.  That’s one of those deals that also gets overlooked, but without that hit, we’re singing a different tune this morning.

The Mariners Got The Blowout Victory They Were Looking For

Come for the dangling prepositions in the title, stay for the analysis of a game I didn’t even watch!

Boy, that was really something, wasn’t it?  Here’s Baltimore – one of the hottest teams in the American League – having feasted on the bottom-feeders in recent weeks, to achieve the best record in the league, hosting Seattle, who just lost three in a row at home to the struggling, infirmed Angels.  Shirley, the Mariners would find it tough sledding in the bandbox that is … whatever they call the Orioles’ stadium (don’t call me surely).

That’s when the 3-4-5 hitters decided to drop the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B all over the place.

  • Cano – 3 for 4 with a double, 2 RBI, and 3 runs scored
  • Cruz – 3 for 3 with a homer, 5 RBI, and 2 runs scored
  • Seager – 2 for 4 with a homer, 3 RBI, and 1 run scored

All 10 runs batted in were batted in by those three players in a 10-0 rout to open up the series.  Wade Miley had a semi-efficient 6 innings of 2-hit ball, Nuno pitched in (!) with a couple of perfect innings, and Steve Johnson got some work in as our last man out of the bullpen (now that Mayckol Guaipe has been returned to Tacoma, with Benoit coming off of the DL).

The Mariners really needed a win, they really needed a soft landing for the bullpen, they needed to give an extra day off to Peralta and Cishek to get their heads clear, and they needed to get the game completed under the shadow of some suspect weather conditions.  It was really the most perfect start to this road trip (where it’ll be a MIRACLE if we get through it without a game being cancelled and needing to be made up during the dog days of the season where the Mariners are short on extra days off).

Also, as I said before, I didn’t watch the game, but my hat’s off to Miley for repeatedly getting through that lineup without getting killed.  I’m not holding out hope that he’s going to be anything more than what we thought he was, but as long as he’s not anything less, I think we can be okay.  A guy like Miley is just what this team needs.  THIS team.  Where the hitting is professional, and runs are scored at a respectable pace.  But, if you put Miley in the rotation in some of those prior Mariners teams – with the likes of Ackley, Smoak, and the rest of those duds – we’d be constantly pulling our hair out whenever Miley took the mound.

Miley needs run support.  Those infantile offenses who struggled to score 3 runs on a nightly basis would NEVER be able to do the job.  Yeah, Miley will eat up innings, and he’ll “keep you in ballgames”, but only if your offense is scoring 4+ runs a night.  Anything less and you might as well roll with me out there on the mound, because I’ll get you pretty close to the number of Quality Starts that Miley will get you on an annual basis (relatively speaking).

Honestly, it always feels good when we make it through a Miley start with a victory, because I know Taijuan Walker is right around the corner.  And then we’ve got an increasingly more interesting Karns, before it’s right back to the top of the rotation with Felix again.  I guess what I’m really trying to say is:

Wade Miley shouldn't be a chore!

Wade Miley shouldn’t be a chore!

The Official 2016 Mariners Preview

I got into a bunch of stuff last week, if you missed it.

So, without further ado, why not kick this post off by talking about the hitters and fielders?

I’ve been on record for a while now as being pretty impressed by the collection of hitters the Mariners have amassed this year.  I think we’re across-the-board better than we were last year, and better than we’ve been in I can’t remember how many years.  Adam Lind should be an improvement over the streaky LoMo.  I’m not really all that high on Brad Miller (again, streaky), so I think we’ll get more consistency out of Ketel Marte.  Chris Iannetta should be leaps & bounds better than the black hole that was Mike Zunino.  Nori Aoki should be a HUGE upgrade over Dustin Ackley.  And, considering there was absolutely nothing special about Austin Jackson, that means we’re not taking much of a hit offensively with Leonys Martin, while at the same time getting a bigtime player defensively in center.

When you tack that onto Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz still in their primes, the improved health of Robinson Cano leading to a dramatic return to form, and the steady presence of Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez in a platoon situation, I think we’re going to see this team be quite competitive offensively, compared to in years past where most of the time we were struggling just to score a run or two.

In fact, I’ll take it one step further.  I think we’re going to see a high number of shootouts, where the Mariners are scoring 7+ runs, while at the same time giving up 7+ runs.  While the obvious home run numbers won’t be there, I think this COULD prove to be the best offense we’ve had since 2001.

Which is a shame, because usually it’s the pitching I have the most confidence in.  This year, terms like “potential” and “cautiously optimistic” have been uttered by me when talking about the collection of starters and relievers we’ve got on the roster.  It’s less than ideal.  You can make the case for and against just about every one of these guys.

I’m like 85-90% sure Felix Hernandez is going to continue being great.  But, while I won’t damn him for the so-called poor finish to his season last year, I will say there were a disturbing number of appearances where he got absolutely annihilated.  8 runs against Houston, where he only got 1 out.  7 runs each against the Yankees and Diamondbacks.  10 runs in 2.1 innings against Boston.  I’m not used to seeing my guy struggle like he did in these games.  I mean, I didn’t think I’d EVER see a time where he couldn’t get out of the first inning!  It’s not cause to be alarmed, but it’s cause to be on alert.  King Felix is still performing at a high level for the most part, but winter is coming.

On any given day, I’m 50/50 as to whether we’ll see Good Iwakuma or Crap Iwakuma.  He had that 2013 season where he was amazing (and amazingly healthy), but he’s followed it up with two so-so years.  While he finished pretty consistently strong, he had a run from late 2014 through early 2015 where he was giving up homers at an insane rate.  Even in his best year, he was giving up almost a homer a game, so that’s not entirely a negative issue with him.  But, keeping guys off base and keeping the ball from looking like a juicy piece of meat for opposing batters to mash will always be the key.

Wade Miley is more or less an effective innings eater, but he reminds me of every soft-tossing lefty starter we’ve had here in the last 8 years or so.  Vargas, Saunders, Elias, Happ, Washburn, Rowland-Smith, and I’m sure I’m forgetting countless others.  Vargas was probably the best of the bunch, but he didn’t come as a finished product and had his share of growing pains along the way.  Does Miley have an effective out pitch?  If he doesn’t have an awesome splitter or change up or something, I don’t have high hopes for him being very good.

Taijuan Walker seems to have the most promise among players taking a big leap forward.  But, at the same time, he could just be who he is.  When his command is on, he’ll be tough, but ultimately falling short of that elite, Ace status.

Then, there’s what’s sure to be a revolving door of sorts at the bottom of the rotation.  Karns is young, and I don’t really know what he has.  Paxton is down in Tacoma, waiting for either Karns to slip up, or someone else to get injured.  Neither one of them inspire too much confidence (I mean, our main injury insurance in Paxton is himself injury-prone!).

Ultimately, this is going to be the highest variance season we’ve seen out of the Mariners since 2007.  You know how, in every Preview post I’ve ever written about the Mariners, I talk about the Best Case Scenario?  Well, usually my scenarios are based in far-off delusions (Ackley/Smoak/Montero/Miller/Zunino will hopefully be ready to take the next step into being a productive and elite member of baseball society).  But, the actual variance in possibilities isn’t usually that great.  A normal range of outcomes is usually anywhere from 70-80 wins.  But, this year?  I could see this team winning anywhere from 65 games to 90 games and not have it be totally crazy.

What does a 65-win Mariners team look like?  Well, probably injury-riddled at its core.  One would think that team will have to face significant time with King Felix on the shelf, and at least one of the big three (Cano/Cruz/Seager).  As this team doesn’t really have a ton of depth, nor a ton of talent coming up through the pipeline, it just won’t be able to overcome significant health issues at its premium positions.

What does a 75-win Mariners team look like?  Well, tbh, a lot like last year’s team.  The bullpen struggles, the starters are somewhat effective, but have their own peaks & valleys to deal with, and the hitters aren’t as good as we thought going in.  That means Iannetta is just as black of a hole as Zunino; Lind isn’t much of an upgrade over LoMo, as he struggles to adjust to Safeco Field; Ketel Marte is drastically worse than the low bar Brad Miller had set for us; Nori Aoki looks more like Austin Jackson than we care to admit; and Leonys Martin looks more like James Jones than we care to admit.  That team also has one of the big three (let’s say Cruz, for shits and giggles, since he would appear to be due for some regression towards the mean) unexpectedly struggling a lot more than they did last year, due to nagging health issues or simply advanced age.

What does an 85-win Mariners team look like?  Well, for starters, the hitters match my expectations of being the strength of this team.  The pitching likely struggles at spots, and maybe Iwakuma or Karns miss a month or two due to injury (probably at different points in the season, giving us a lot more of Paxton than we expected).  The bullpen goes through hot periods and extra cold periods, but the offense is just clutch enough to give us a Kansas City Royals-esque spate of walk-off wins.  This team stays relevant throughout the season – giving Seattle fans lots to talk about all summer – and might even break that streak of seasons without a postseason appearance, depending on how things shake out in the rest of the American League.  Ultimately, this team probably disappoints in the playoffs (if it does get there), but it gives fans a ton of hope going into the 2017 season.

What does a 90-win (or 90+ win) Mariners team look like?  Well, here’s your Best Case Scenario.  Here’s where absolutely everything that needed to break right DOES break right.  Felix is in the Cy Young conversation.  Iwakuma is back to his 2013 tricks.  Wade Miley comes better than advertised and not only eats up innings, but figures out how to be an effective #2 or #3 starter.  Taijuan Walker goes thermonuclear.  And, the duo of Karns/Paxton are pleasant surprises whose ability to pitch finally catches up to their raw stuff.  This team gets strong seasons out of its primary 8th & 9th inning bullpen guys, and gets enough out of the rest of the bullpen to make it one of the top five units in the league.  And the hitting is not only as good as I think it’s going to be, but it still manages to come through on that clutchness factor, where we’re winning a vast majority of 1-run games (what some would say is an unsustainable rate of winning in those types of close games).  This team probably catches some luck among the rest of the A.L. West and takes the division, and cruises right into the ALCS.  Felix gets to show the world what it’s been missing by not having him in the playoffs, as he blows away the field in his post-season starts, and this team makes its first-ever World Series appearance (where it goes on to lose in five games, because this is Seattle, and we can’t have nice things).

So, where do I have my money?

In Tahoe, there was a Futures bet.  The over/under for the Mariners was 82 wins.  Now, considering I had 1 good betting day out of 4 when I was down there, you can take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt.  If I still had money on the last day there, I would’ve bet everything I had on the Mariners winning under 82 games.  What does that mean?  Well, my gambling prowess notwithstanding, I believe there is a greater than 50% chance that the shit hits the fan with this team (either with injuries, or a struggling bullpen, or the hitters just not being as good as we expected) and the Mariners struggle to remain competitive.  You know me, I hate a team that doesn’t pitch well.  Even if the key guys stay healthy, I still think this team – at the end of the day – will look a lot like it did last year, at least in the win/loss column.

That having been said, there’s a part of me that believes in this team more than last year’s team.  I wonder if that’s just because it looks so different (13 of the 25 players we have going into Opening Day will be playing their first games as Mariners).  I mean, different = better, right?  Well, at least different = more exciting, for the first few weeks anyway.

My hunch is that the offense will ultimately be one of the better ones we’ve seen in recent history, but it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see this offense get off to yet ANOTHER slow start in the month of April.  All the better to make me look foolish in my predictions (because everything in the world revolves around me and what I think).  Conversely, the pitching will probably start out on fire, and this team will be a couple games under .500 going into May.  It’ll tread water – as the Mariners like to do – through the All Star Break, and then on that road trip at the end of July the Mariners will go something like 1-7 and play themselves right out of contention (and a season-saving deadline deal).  From there, it’ll just be a matter of playing out the string of yet another losing season.  I think the record will be 77-85.

I like this team, but I’ve been burned too many times in the past.  I’ll go into this year expecting the worst, because why shouldn’t I?  We’ve got national morons predicting the Mariners will shock the world – like we read about just about every single year – but what are they basing it on?  The same things I’m basing my prediction on:  the high variance nature of this roster.  When has that ever worked out in our favor to spell out a post-season appearance?  Not bloody often.

Jesus Montero Is No More

The rest of this week figures to be devoted to a number of moves the Mariners have made in advance of the regular season starting next week.  Big names, like Mike Zunino and James Paxton, alongside smaller names like Boog Powell, Chris Taylor, and Stefen Romero, have all been sent down to Tacoma.  Some of those names were expected to get chopped, some of those names are a surprise.  But, I’m going to start with Jesus Montero.

If you search his name on my website, you’ll find he was very much my whipping boy for many years.  You know what I think about all the time when it comes to the Seattle Mariners?  The mind-bogglingly stupid trades our various GMs have made throughout the years.  That is by no means a complete list, but it’s a good jumping-off point.  There have been some WHOPPERS over the years, but right down there at the bottom, you’ll see the full terms of the Pineda/Montero trade.

That trade has been a rollercoaster of emotion since it happened on January 23, 2012.  I liked it at first, because we were trading from a position of depth, and we had a serious need for power hitting (or, really, hitting of ANY kind).  While he wasn’t gangbusters out of the gate, at least he didn’t miss two full seasons and most of a third due to serious arm injuries.  But, then Montero got fat and lazy and had the ice cream sandwich incident down in the minor leagues, while at the same time Pineda returned from injury and started to look solid again.  Even though Montero lost the weight and started to take his career more seriously, he ultimately never developed into much more than a fringe Quad-A type player who struggles to hit the curve ball, struggles to hit right handed pitching, and ultimately doesn’t make enough of an empact against left handed pitching to be of any value.  He’s no longer a viable catching prospect, and he’s trying his best to convert to first base, but his best position defensively is probably no position at all.

I no longer have my anger issues with the guy that I used to.  Indeed, I respect him quite a bit for turning everything around and at least putting in the effort.  That’s really all anyone can ask for.  Ultimately, though, you can’t help but feel – as a Mariners fan – at least some resentment for his Too Little, Too Late results.  What we needed was for him to put in that effort back in 2012 when we first got him; not when he was essentially poison and lost any value whatsoever to try to salvage something.

Then, when you note Hector Noesi also came over in the deal … it’s best not to think about it.  My blood pressure can’t handle it.

Jesus Montero is out of options, so he was DFA’d.  The Toronto Blue Jays picked him up, and now have him, Michael Saunders, and Justin Smoak on their roster.  As I’m sure countless people have already pointed out, they’re a Dustin Ackley away from being the most disappointing version of the Seattle Mariners we’ve seen in the last generation.  All that promise, all washed up.

What this move ultimately represents is the last of the worst of the Jack Zduriencik era being eliminated from this roster.  There are still some likely mistakes we’re dealing with – who will hopefully be improved by their time learning their craft in the minors, I’m looking at you, Zunino – but on the big league roster, we’ve only got the best of the Jackie Z era, or the little hatchlings of the Jerry Dipoto era.  Whether that’s enough to turn around this organization remains to be seen, but ultimately I’m taking a positive, Out With The Old, In With The New stance.  Fuck off, Jesus Montero, and thanks for nothing!

It’s Too Early For Me To Be Excited For Mariners Baseball 2016

If you’re on Twitter, and you follow the appropriate beat writers (Divish, Dutton, Drayer, Johns), you’ll notice that Spring Training is in full bloom.  Or, mostly full bloom, I guess.  Pitchers and Catchers have reported and are already getting into their regularly scheduled bullpen sessions.  The rest of the players are set to report today (if they haven’t already).  We are T-Minus 1 week until the first Spring Training game of the 2016 season.

If the Mariners Fanfest was any indication, either there’s a lot of anticipation for this new Mariners season (and new Mariners regime), or a bunch of baseball fans were just happy to get out of the house for a weekend in late January.  Either way, we’re about to be neck-deep in baseball coverage come March, followed by the long slog towards the post-season and eventually the next off-season, which should kick off at some point in 2025 (the baseball season is long, almost torturously long).

I don’t understand these baseball fans who complain that the offseason is too long.  The last game of last season took place on November 1, 2015.  The first game took place on April 5, 2015.  That’s 211 out of 365 meaningful days of baseball.  Tack on another month, and we’re talking about 242 out of 365 days of baseball.  Go back another couple weeks for when pitchers & catchers report, and we’re up to around 255 days of baseball-like activities!  Meaning there are only around 110 days, or not even 4 full months, of off-season.  So, you know, if you somehow found yourself in mid-December “missing” baseball, you’re a God damn freak of nature and should probably be isolated from the rest of humanity.

Even if football wasn’t the greatest sport on the planet, you know why it’s so much better than baseball?  If you take the regular season all the way through the Super Bowl, you’re talking about 161 days, or 5 months & change worth of meaningful football.  Add on another month and a half for pre-season and training camp and you STILL don’t come close to the sheer calendar-suck that is the baseball season.  Football … allows us to miss it.  Absence makes the grow fonder and so on and so forth.  Baseball is that clingy friend whose calls you accept only 33% of the time because you just don’t have the energy to listen to their bullshit on a daily basis.

So, no, my excitement level isn’t at the fever pitch it is for many other fans right now.  While I don’t think there’s an appropriate amount of off-season time to just unwind and get away from things, I certainly wouldn’t want the season to start any sooner.  I’ll be happy to have the next month-plus to slowly ramp up.

I feel like this is something I wrote about last year too, though I can’t seem to find it.  At the very least, I shared a similar sentiment.  That having been said, I’m trying to remember if my excitement level is higher this year relative to this point last year.

Recall, last year, we were coming off of a season where we fell 1 game short of the play-in game (or a play-in game to get to the play-in game, but that’s neither here nor there).  And, to that team, we added a great hitter in Nelson Cruz, various other middling players who were hopeful upgrades to previous black holes, and we had some addition by subtraction in that we no longer were counting on the likes of Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders.  You had to figure that our offense would be improved, and our pitching would be just good enough, to get us over the hump.  Then, Cano’s first half happened.  And the bullpen fell apart.  And Ackley still stunk.  And the bench brought nothing to the table.  And players like Zunino failed to develop.  And we lost Paxton to injury again.  And so on, and so on, and so on.  The season fell apart pretty quickly.  Two games under .500 in April, still two games under .500 through May, and off the cliff after that.  With Houston running away from things early, and a bunch of other teams between us and a playoff berth, 2015 was yet another lost season in a decade full of ’em.

BUT, going into last year, expectations couldn’t have been higher.

And now it’s 2016.  Coming off of a season where we were 10 games under .500, nowhere near playoff contention at any point.  But, the GM was fired, and with that comes renewed hope.  Lots of roster turnover breeds if not higher expectations, at least different expectations.  With a focus away from right-handed power hitters, and towards guys who can get on base and put pressure on opposing teams, you’d THINK (in this age where small ball rules the day) the offense will be better.  There will be less dependence on the middle of the order doing all the work.  There will be less dependence on young players making the leap in their development.  And, improved depth from 1-40 on the roster (granted, at the expense of our farm system, but who gives a shit how good our AA team is playing right now?) should hopefully mitigate a total collapse if some players get injured (which really isn’t a question of “if” but of “when” and “who”).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I am more excited this year.  And this team might not be any better than last year’s!  But, it’ll be a different type of mediocre, if it is.  With a real possibility of something great happening.

I know we go into every season saying, “Well, if this and this and this goes right, we have a chance to be in contention.”  That’s nothing new, and it won’t stop as long as we’re all fans of this God-foresaken team.  But, I like the idea of this team’s potential.  I like veterans at the catcher position.  I like the steady bat and on-base percentage of a guy like Lind at first base.  I like the way our outfield is constructed for the first time in YEARS.  And, I like the bounce-back potential of guys like Cano, and various pitchers.  I mean, isn’t there a CHANCE that Paxton makes it through a full season at least once in his career?  It’s not like he’s dealing with shoulder issues or elbow issues.  He’s had some freaky shit land on him.  Same goes for Iwakuma.  Couldn’t these guys pull ONE healthy season with the rest of our more dependable starters?  And, really, the bullpen is FULL of guys looking to have bounce-back years to save their careers.  But, they’re veterans, and they’ve had success in the recent past.  Little tweaks here and there will HOPEFULLY return them to some semblance of glory.

See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?  Starting to get more excited for baseball to get going already!  I just have to keep talking myself into it.  Talking myself into it.  In a few weeks, I’ll get there.  And, on April 8th, when we have our home opener, I’ll be right there in the stands, beer in hand, ready to roll.