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.

Former Mariners Defeated Current Mariners

How fucking weird is this shit?  The Blue Jays hit three homers yesterday, by three different people who spent significant time in the Mariners organization, scoring all four of their runs in a 4-2 Blue Jays victory.

In the fourth, the Mariners nursing a 1-0 lead, Kendrys Morales hit a 2-run homer.  Those would be Ariel Miranda’s only 2 runs allowed, in his 6.1 innings (2 hits, 5 walks, 2 strikeouts) as he continues his fine sophomore campaign.

Then, in the eighth, after the Mariners tied it at two on a Jarrod Dyson stolen base followed by two errors (on a bad throw from the catcher to second base, allowing Dyson to take third; and on the centerfielder over-running said bad throw, allowing Dyson to take home), Ezequiel Carrera hit a solo homer to right.

Carrera, you might remember, was thrown into that massive 3-team deal back in December of 2008 that brought the Mariners Guti, Vargas, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp, among others (in the height of the Jackie Z era).  Carrera never got a call up to Seattle – making it as high as Tacoma in 2010 – before being traded to Cleveland that same year in June for the return of Russell Branyan.  Remember when the Mariners were so bad on offense they had to go back to the Branyan well and STILL set records for fewest runs scored in a season?  Yeah.

Anyway, I wouldn’t say Carrera has been some All Star or anything since we gave him away, but he’s been a nice little player for a few teams, including Toronto.

Finally, in the ninth, Justin Smoak smacked a homer off of Steve Cishek, because of course he did.

I know the bullpen did us no favors last night, but they’ve been the best bullpen in baseball for a little while now, so I’m down to give them some slack.  Where I think the Mariners were really lacking is on offense, and I attribute this one to not having Jean Segura.

I obviously misjudged Taylor Motter’s abilities when he got off to his hot start this season, but he’s been remarkably bad at the plate ever since.  All you gotta do is pitch him away – which is sort of the defacto strategy for most pitchers anyway – and he’ll roll over on it and die on his feet.  He’s been able to scratch out some singles here and there, but his power is GONE.  He’s hit 1 homer since April 23rd; he’s hit 0 doubles since May 9th.  Suffice it to say, this stint making up for Segura has not gone as well as the first one.

The Mariners had the double-whammy of having to start Tyler Smith at short stop (bumping Motter to first base) because Danny Valencia needed a day off to rest some nagging injuries.  Valencia still came in to pinch hit, but didn’t do anything.  Tyler Smith, I know is a rookie, but he doesn’t appear to have it at the Major League level.  Sucks we had to lose Mike Freeman, because it feels like he could be a real asset right now.

It seems like most everyone is dealing with one nagging injury or another, but since this is the stupid sport of baseball, there’s yet another game today.  I guess that’s what you get with all these fully-guaranteed contracts:  no fucking days off.  Maybe they can work that into the next collective bargaining agreement.

The Long Shadow of the Randy Johnson Trade

I moved this to my Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings heading HERE.

Mariners Tidbit 13: Endy Chavez Go Bye Bye

In a surprising turn of events, the Mariners won’t be graced with a third straight year of Endy Chavez starting the season in Tacoma, followed by him getting called back up in time for the month of May.  Instead, he decided to opt out right now, to try to catch onto a bench elsewhere.

On the one hand, yeah, this is probably a good thing.  After all, with Weeks and Ruggiano figuring to get extensive playing time in platoons, and with Nelson Cruz getting his share of outfield appearances, it’s not like we’ve got all the room in the world for someone in Chavez who probably isn’t all that good.  He’s not really a threat on the basepaths; he’s not really all that great in the field; he can’t take a walk to save his life; he’s got no power.  In short, he’s probably best suited to be an emergency fill-in, and even then, you’d hope you could do better.

The hard truth is:  if we happen to lose so many players to injury that we have to pull from the minors just to field a roster, then I have to imagine James Jones is the first guy called up.  He’s young, he’s a whiz on the basepaths (so, he’s the ideal pinch runner late in games), he’s a solid defensive corner outfielder (and a so-so centerfielder in a pinch), he can hit to all fields (albeit, predominantly singles) and he’s got upside (at least, more upside than Chavez).

The Linus Van Pelt side of me who needs that security blanket is disappointed to see Endy Chavez go.  But, the more rational side of me knows we’re better off this way.  Whatever other part of me that’s left over questions just why in the hell would Chavez opt to leave the Mariners NOW, when we’re finally GOOD?!  I get that a professional likes to get that playing time in – and there HAS to be a desperate team out there looking for outfield depth.  But, at this point, if I’m Endy Chavez, I think I’m doing my best to try to get that ring.  Unless the Washington Nationals have expressed an interest that I’ve yet to hear about, seems to me you could do a lot worse than the 2015 Seattle Mariners.

But, who knows?  Maybe Chavez will be back.  Maybe he’ll get picked up by another team, start out in the minors like he does, and opt out after a month.  Or, maybe he’ll stink and get cut.  For some reason, I’m not totally convinced we’ve seen the last of Endy Chavez.

Mariners Tidbit 3: Interesting Non-Roster Invitees

Hey, remember Joe Saunders?  Well, he’s back, only he’s not on a guaranteed deal and he’s looking to break back into the club via the bullpen.  You know, that group of kickass pitchers where we’re overflowing with talent?

Okay, so I’m using the word “interesting” very loosely in this case.  But, Joe Saunders COULD be interesting, if he’s used as a lefty specialist.  I believe in no way, shape, or form, will he make our roster out of Spring Training.  But, as with all good depth, it might not be a bad idea to keep him around in Tacoma to start.  If injuries come up in the first couple months, or if he’s simply pitching so well that he forces his way onto the roster, at least we’ll have him.  The only thing is, since he’s not a young player with options, once he’s called up to the Major Leagues, he has to be put on the 40-man roster and we can’t send him back down to the minors unless he clears waivers and agrees to the assignment.  So, you know, he’s the pitching equivalent to Endy Chavez, only with less assurance that he’s eventually going to be playing in Seattle again.

Speaking of:  Endy Chavez is back!  As far as security blankets go, we could do worse.  He comes to Spring Training, gets his work in, plays in Tacoma for a month or so, then gets called up for bench depth.  That’s been the routine, anyway.  This year, it might be tough.  With Ruggiano and Weeks as our outfield backups, someone out there is either going to have to struggle mightily or get injured.  Since no one named Michael Saunders is on this team anymore, it’s less likely we’re guaranteed to have that spot open up due to injury.  Nevertheless, what are the odds all five of our outfielders come in here and remain effective?  I’m banking on seeing Endy Chavez in a Mariners uniform before the 2015 season ends.  Our best-case scenario is we never have to pull the cord and Chavez uses an escape clause in his contract to seek employment elsewhere.

Speaking of injured outfielders:  Franklin Gutierrez is back!  Bet you never thought you’d see Guti back as a non-roster invitee, did ya?  And, yet, here we are.  I’m not going to put any expectations on him, but I hope he’s healthy and able to play a full year.  Truth be told, he could be an interesting guy to have roaming the outfield in Tacoma.  If he IS healthy and able to stay that way, and if he finds that old spark he had when he was a star with us back in the day, I like his potential as right-handed depth who’s capable of fielding well and produce some pop.  That’ll always be the dream, but of course I won’t be holding my breath.

John Baker is a veteran backup catcher who you figure has to be in the running to back up Zunino.  Jesus Sucre isn’t the be-all, end-all, though his defense is superb.  I imagine Sucre still has options.  So, if Baker is able to give us ANYTHING at the plate, I feel like the Mariners at least have to entertain the notion of keeping him up here.  As it stands, Sucre is a fucking black hole at the plate, which has to make it difficult to want to ever sit Zunino.

Mark Lowe is back, trying to get his career going again.  My gut tells me that he doesn’t have as much on his fastball as he did when he was throwing smoke for us way back when.  No way he cracks the Opening Day roster, and the odds might even be against him sticking in Tacoma, but we’ll see.

Rafael Perez is a guy who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2012.  He’s a veteran out of the Indians organization who had a really swell run from 2007-2011.  Here’s a more interesting guy who might actually have an outside shot at the Opening Day roster if he dazzles in March.  It’ll be interesting to see him work this month.  Worst case scenario is we keep him on our big league roster – temporarily displacing one of our younger arms, who can easily be stashed in Tacoma for a rainy day – and he doesn’t work out.  Then, we just call up our young arm and relatively little harm is done.  These comeback players don’t usually have a super-long leash, especially when you’re a team with visions of playoff contention.

The final two interesting non-roster guys are D.J. Peterson and Patrick Kivlehan.  Both players got their feet wet in AA last year and both of them are very promising first base prospects.  Peterson probably moreso, but to date I’ve still yet to hear anything about him getting reps at first (his natural position is third base, which is obviously blocked by Kyle Seager).  Neither of these guys figure to make the roster.  BUT, a positive showing in spring, and continued progression should see them break through into AAA.  From there, it’s a hop and a skip to a September call-up.  You like seeing these guys get experience with the big league training camp and hopefully they’re able to make the most of it.  I want to hear good things this month that stick in all of our minds going forward.  After all, LoMo isn’t forever.  Gotta figure SOMEONE out there will be able to get that taste of Smoak out of our mouths.

Predicting The Seasons Of Various Mariners In 2015, Part III

Today, we conclude our 3-part series, by taking a look at the batters/fielders.  Let’s get going before it all becomes obsolete!

Here are the links to read about the starting pitchers and the bullpen guys to get you all warmed up.

One more time, let’s try to predict a reasonable lineup, 1-9:

  1. Austin Jackson – CF
  2. Dustin Ackley – LF
  3. Robinson Cano – 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz – DH
  5. Kyle Seager – 3B
  6. Logan Morrison – 1B
  7. Mike Zunino – C
  8. Seth Smith – RF
  9. Brad Miller/Chris Taylor – SS

Probable Bench:

  • Backup Catcher
  • Willie Bloomquist
  • Rickie Weeks
  • Justin Ruggiano

With the signing of Rickie Weeks this week – to a guaranteed, Major League contract, no less – things start to clear up a little bit.  For starters, we can be all but assured that the loser of the short stop battle will be starting his season in Tacoma.  You can also bet on Guti, Endy, Montero, Romero, Jones, and all of these other fringe Major Leaguers to start in Tacoma too (unless injuries get in the way).  In one fell swoop, the depth on this team is improved greatly (in theory).

In theory, Rickie Weeks could play backup to Logan Morrison and/or Dustin Ackley.  In reality, Rickie Weeks has never played anything other than second base in his entire professional career.  I’m not 100% sold on his ability to transition to the outfield – especially considering he’s already not that great at defense when it comes to playing his “natural” position – but I’ll tell you what this DOES mean (and you’re not going to like it):  if Ackley struggles early, or he in general continues to struggle against left-handed pitching, instead of experimenting with Weeks in the outfield, what’s more likely to happen is we DH with Weeks against lefty starters, and push Cruz to left field.  I mean, what’s the simplest answer here?  That after 32 years, we force a guy to learn a completely foreign position?  Or, we let our big-money free agent signee get some work in the outfield once in a while when we need to sit Ackley?  WAKE UP, DUM DUMS!

I’m not saying that’s the worst thing in the world, but it’s probably going to happen, so better to brace for it now.

I’m not going to go too much more into the bench situation as it stands now.  I just like that our depth is a little more impressive than it was at this time last week.

Austin Jackson – I’m not buying it.  A-Jax has been trending downward the last two years, bottoming out in his couple months with Seattle.  He’s going to get the starting job in center because he’s the only guy we’ve got.  And, he’s going to play a lot more than he probably should, because again, he’s the only guy we’ve got.  But, it’s not going to be pretty.  I give it until the end of May before he’s knocked down in the order.  In no way should he be leading off, and I’m going to be repeating that phrase over and over for the first two months of the season, I can already tell.  By mid-season, the Mariners will be scrambling for even a lukewarm body to replace A-Jax in center, rendering him a useless bench player who comes in for defensive relief late in games.

Dustin Ackley – Again, I’m not buying it.  BAD START!  We’ve got two REAL BIG red flags here at the top of our order.  It’s going to be super annoying when we have to endure the entire month of April with Cano hitting with the bases empty.  The Mariners will have a quicker hook in moving Ackley down in the order, but unlike A-Jax, I don’t think they’ll be as quick to remove him from the lineup entirely.  I think Ackley will have the better season offensively than A-Jax, though it’ll still pale in comparison to Ackley’s second half in 2014.  It’s impossible to predict what Ackley is going to do, so it wouldn’t shock me to see him turn it back on in the second half of 2015, but I think in the end we’re all going to quietly wish we’d traded him at the height of his value.

Robinson Cano – Stud.  Expect more of the same as last year.  I think we’re still 2-3 years away from his decline.  Hope he doesn’t get injured.

Nelson Cruz – I’m more or less in line with everyone else on Cruz.  I think him hitting 40 homers was an anomaly (in spite of the fact that he hit more homers away from Baltimore).  I think his more natural number is anywhere from 25-30.  I think that number takes a hit with him playing half of his games in Safeco, meaning he probably tops out at 25, with a floor somewhere around 17-18.  I think there’s enough talent around him to make his other numbers look good (RBI, runs scored, OBP), and I think we still win enough games that it doesn’t matter.  But, we’re not REALLY going to be getting the bang for our buck that we were hoping.  If I’m wrong, then HALLELUJAH!  Our best bet is Cruz getting off to a hot start.  If we’re at the end of April and he’s at 2 home runs, this will probably be a match made in hell.

Kyle Seager – As always, no worries here.  It’d be a damn fine sight if he continues to improve.  One of these years, he’s going to hit over .300; why not this year?  For the first time since he came on as a regular you can count on, he’s not The Man.  He’s more like The Third Man.  If we ever get to the point where we can bat him in the 2-hole, I would expect his batting average to skyrocket.  As it stands now, I think he finally has it in him to get over the .270 hump.  Let’s play it safe:  .290, 24 homers, 101 RBI.

Logan Morrison – I’m much more relaxed about LoMo being our everyday first baseman now that we’ve got Rickie Weeks in the fold.  While it’s unrealistic to expect Weeks to just magically convert into an outfielder overnight, it’s not impossible to see him quickly adapt to playing first base.  Obviously, he’s not ideal, but I think he’s going to see quite a bit of playing time, as I just can’t envision a world where LoMo is healthy for a full season and producing in such a capacity that he’s not benched at some point for performance.  I mean, he’s not QUITE Justin Smoak-bad, but he’s also not a guy with a huge track record of success.  When he’s inevitably injured around mid-May, Weeks will step in and we’ll be fine for a while.  Then, we’ll get tired of Everyday Weeks, and by the time LoMo returns from injury, it’ll be a strict platoon the rest of the way (to spare LoMo’s fragile body, and to spare US from Everyday Weeks).

Mike Zunino – This is actually a really fun time to be a Mike Zunino fan.  So, if you’re not already on the bandwagon, I encourage you to hop on now before there’s a long line to get in.  He had his abbreviated rookie season, cut short by injury.  He had his full season as The Man behind the plate.  To date, nothing appears to be “too big” for this kid to handle.  The most important stuff – receiving pitches, handling pitchers, calling a game – is well within his wheelhouse.  The rest – hitting for stuff besides gargantuan power – is sure to improve as his comfort level continues to grow.

Last year, our boy hit 22 homers, in the mostly pressure-free “bottom of the order”.  That’s the good, but even that is something that can be improved upon.  The bad is his .199 batting average.  His 17 walks compared to 158 strikeouts.  His lack of speed and overall baserunning ability is something that’s just taken for granted, but his work at the plate can use some improvement.  Nevertheless, we now have his floor established.  If he is – going forward – the guy he was in 2014, it’s not the WORST thing in the world.  You’ve still got a quality defender and a power bat at the bottom of the order.  BUT, if he improves in his work at the plate – working counts, reducing strikeouts, eliminating holes in his swing – then the sky is the limit and we will all quickly forget what a trainwreck he was with a bat in his first couple seasons.  I believe he’s bound to only get better.  He’s probably 3-4 years away from his offensive peak years, but it’s still going to be fun to watch him improve.  If we get the same great defense, add about 25 points to his batting average, reduce his strikeouts by 10-15, and increase his walks by 10-15, I think those are very reasonable goals to attain in 2015.  His ceiling for this year is all of that, plus he scratches the surface of 30 homers & 30 doubles, but that’s probably a best-case scenario.

It’s also probably going to be the norm in his peak offensive years, so like I said before, these are fun times to be a Mike Zunino fan.

Seth Smith & Justin Ruggiano – You can’t talk about one without the other, as this is a package deal.  Seth Smith is the lefty.  That’s what we all need to remember.  He’s the guy who’s going to be playing more often, because there are more right-handed starting pitchers in baseball than lefties.  So, figure Smith plays about 2/3 of the games compared to Ruggiano’s 1/3 (if everything pans out, and both stay healthy).

I’m utterly convinced that one of these guys is going to fail miserably.  Odds are, Ruggiano is that guy.  Smith has experience playing in bigger ballparks, as he’s played with the A’s and Padres the last three seasons.  The fact that he was reasonably successful with the A’s doesn’t lead me to worry too much about his abilities to hit American League pitching.  And, quite frankly, considering he’s coming off of his best season – playing down in San Diego – gives me great comfort that he’s not about to fall off the tracks.

Ruggiano has been more or less a career backup.  He’s bounced around from the Rays to the Marlins to the Cubs last season.  He’s got moderate pop in his bat, which should be riddled useless in Safeco.  He’s the righty who does pretty well against lefties, so hopefully that trend continues.  Given the fact that he’s looking at some pretty spotty playing time, it wouldn’t shock me in the least if he gets off to a slow start.  I’m not expecting a ton out of either of these guys, though.  If we can get some good batting averages out of them, and occasional timely hitting with runners in scoring position, I’ll be happy.

Brad Miller & Chris Taylor – This is the loser-out situation in camp.  So, get ready for a million articles and blog posts on the Short Stop Battle of 2015!

Remember the Short Stop Battle of 2014?  Pretty lame, if you ask me.  Brad Miller had a torrid love affair with Spring Training and knocked Nick Franklin down to Tacoma.  Then, of course, Miller stunk once the calendar flipped to April, and was pretty bad until we were able to call up Chris Taylor.

What you need to know here is:  Miller has the bat, Taylor has the glove.  Miller’s power gives him the edge in this race, and since I’m convinced he’s a Spring Training Dandy, I’m throwing my full prediction behind Miller winning the job.  Either way, I think it’s good we have both of these guys, as I’m not convinced we should be sold on either.

I’m encouraged by the way Miller finished up his season last year.  That leads me to believe the pressure didn’t totally deflate him.  With that year under his belt, maybe he’ll be able to calm down and relax at the plate a little more.  It also helps that he’s not going into the season as the leadoff hitter.  They’ll most likely keep him in the 9-hole to take advantage of his speed as the lineup turns over.  I’m expecting a little more consistency out of Miller, which will be good for everyone, because if we can get him going, this lineup has the potential for juggernaut status.

Lots to like here.  Can’t wait for it to begin.  Go M’s.

Catching Up With The 2015 Seattle Mariners

It’s been about a month since I’ve written about the Mariners.  The last newsworthy item I felt compelled to write about was trading Michael Saunders for J.A. Happ.  Prior to that, it was the Nelson Cruz signing.  Prior to that, it was the Kyle Seager extension.  That’s about it for the major events in this offseason, as it pertains to the 2015 squad.

There have been some minor moves that should impact the club one way or another.  Let’s list them here!

  • December 30th:  Mariners trade Brandon Maurer to Padres for Seth Smith
  • December 17th:  Mariners trade minor league reliever to Cubs for Justin Ruggiano
  • December 11th:  Kendrys Morales signed a 2-year deal with the Royals who for some reason offered Kendrys Morales a 2-year deal

OK, so it’s not a huge list.  Some other Mariners became ex-Mariners by signing with other teams, but I don’t much care about that.  I just care that Kendrys Morales is gone and hopefully will never return.

So, where does that leave us?  Let’s look at the roster as currently constructed:

Outfield

Left – Dustin Ackley
Center – Austin Jackson
Right – Seth Smith / Justin Ruggiano

Infield

Third – Kyle Seager
Short – Brad Miller / Chris Taylor
Second – Robbie Cano
First – Logan Morrison
Catcher – Mike Zunino

DH/Outfield – Nelson Cruz

Those are the guys you’re going to see the most.  Miller and Taylor will duke it out for the starting short stop job, with the loser likely starting the season in Tacoma (with an outside chance of the loser sticking on the bench, but I wouldn’t count on it).

As for the bench, you’re looking at keeping a backup catcher (likely Jesus Sucre), a utility infielder (likely Willie Bloomquist, if he can return to good health), a fifth outfielder (a James Jones / Endy Chavez type) and possibly a backup first baseman (Jesus Montero?).  It all really depends on how many we opt to keep in the bullpen.  A 5-man bench might be too much to carry when you’re talking about a strict platoon job in right field; so, it’s very possible we don’t keep a fifth outfielder.  Bank on the 25th spot on the roster being entirely dependant upon whether or not the team feels Jesus Montero is ready to return to the Bigs.

The starting rotation looks something like this:

  • Felix Hernandez
  • Hisashi Iwakuma
  • J.A. Happ
  • James Paxton
  • Roenis Elias / Taijuan Walker

I don’t necessarily think that’ll be the exact order.  But, if you look at the rotation today, Happ’s roster spot is MUCH more secure than the three pitchers behind him.  Now, obviously, the final two spots in the rotation will come down to overall health and performance in Spring Training.  With everything being equal, and everyone healthy as a horse, I’d anticipate Paxton being this teams #3 starter.  And, I don’t care what anyone else says, until I hear otherwise I’ve got Elias ahead of Walker for the simple reason that he pitched for the Big Ballclub for almost the entire 2014 season.  Either way, don’t count on the Mariners running out a 6-man rotation, and don’t count on any of these six pitchers starting the year in the bullpen.  When push comes to shove, one of the last three guys will be starting in Tacoma until needed by Seattle at a later date.

In the bullpen, you’ve got the following fighting for anywhere from 6-8 spots (again, depending on how many bench spots we decide to keep):

  • Fernando Rodney
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Yoervis Medina
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Carson Smith
  • Dominic Leone
  • David Rollins / Lucas Luetge / Edgar OImos / (misc. 2nd lefty reliever)
  • Erasmo Ramirez

As you can see, even without Maurer, the Mariners have an insane surplus of relief pitching.  There is NO WAY we’re keeping all of these guys.  Rollins is a Rule 5 guy, so unless we want to work out a trade with the Astros, we either have to keep him on our Major League roster or give him back.  Now, if he stinks in Spring Training, I don’t think the team will have any problem giving him back.  But, if he shows promise, but otherwise isn’t totally ready to stick in the Bigs, then a tough decision will have to be made.

To determine who stays, let’s take a look at the locks on this team.  The Mariners have 10 regular everyday players and they’ll keep 5 starting pitchers.  That leaves 10 roster spots.  You have to keep a backup catcher, so that brings us to 9.  You have to keep a utility infielder, so there’s 8.  At this point, the Mariners will have to decide what’s more important:  an 8th reliever, or another backup first baseman/outfielder.  With a healthy Bloomquist, you can conceivably plug him in at first in a pinch.  Montero still has options, as do Jones and Romero (who would be another option as a backup outfielder).

The bullpen locks are as follows:  Rodney, Farquhar, Medina, Wilhelmsen, and Furbush.  Leone stuck with the Mariners all year last year and proved to be effective in going multiple innings.  Smith came up late, but absolutely destroyed everyone in his path.  I like Smith more than Leone, but if I had my druthers, I’d keep them both.  And, if they do, well, that’s 7 bullpen arms right there, and we haven’t even added a second lefty.

So, there you go.  The final spot will either be a second lefty reliever, Jesus Montero, a fifth outfielder, or someone else entirely, because it’s impossible to predict a 25-man roster this far out.

Before I move on, I’d like to comment on Erasmo Ramirez, as he’s an interesting case.  Ramirez is out of options.  And, by all accounts, Ramirez will NOT pass through waivers.  So, either he makes the Mariners out of Spring Training, or he’s traded at some point in Spring Training to try to recoup SOME value out of him, or he’s DFA’d at the end of Spring Training and some other team claims a perfectly good long reliever/spot starter.

For the record, I don’t think Ramirez makes the Mariners unless there’s a rash of injuries.  We’re talking about two of the above-referenced starting pitchers, or a bevy of the above-referenced relievers.  If that’s the case, I could see him sticking in a long relief role, but those are some LONG odds.

***

The world is pretty high on the Seattle Mariners in 2015.  There are reasonable odds in Vegas for this team to win it all.  There are various sabermetric arguments made that this is one of the top teams in the American League (if not THE top team).  You’re looking at a Mariners team that fell one win short of vying for a Wild Card spot, that has improved in some key areas while at the same time retained talent at other key areas.

Even with the loss of Maurer, as I mentioned above, this team is LOADED in the bullpen.  I can’t tell you how huge that is.  Of course, the bullpen could completely shit the bed and it wouldn’t be a total shocker.  But, I like the chances of a bunch of hard-throwing strikeout righties.

The rotation, if it can manage to be healthier than it was in 2014, could be quite formidable.  Felix is the best pitcher alive.  Iwakuma has proven to be a stout second banana.  The sky’s the limit for Paxton.  Happ should benefit from Safeco’s dimensions as a Vargas-type lefty.  Elias has already proven to be effective in the Bigs.  And, the sky’s also the limit for Walker if he cracks the rotation.  I believe the phrase we’re looking for is Pigs In Shit.  The Mariners are like pigs in shit with this pitching staff.

As for the everyday players, take a look at this lineup and see how it works for you:

  1. Austin Jackson – CF
  2. Dustin Ackley – LF
  3. Robbie Cano – 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz – DH
  5. Kyle Seager – 3B
  6. Logan Morrison – 1B
  7. Seth Smith (against righties) / Justin Ruggiano (against lefties) – RF
  8. Mike Zunino – C
  9. Brad Miller / Chris Taylor – SS

Huh?  How about it?  Does that season your potatoes?

Now, of course, there are concerns.  A-Jax was pretty terrible last year.  We’re either banking on him bouncing back, or we’re going to throw a worthless pile of crap out there in the leadoff spot every day for a number of months.  If A-Jax fails us, I’m not gonna lie to you, we’re KINDA screwed.  But, moving on, Ackley has proven – if nothing else in his Major League career – to be completely unreliable.  Just when you think he’s solved all his problems, he goes in the tank.  Just when you think he’s a worthless bum, he starts raking for a couple months.  So, I dunno.

The Mariners are rock solid in the middle of the order, which is more than you could say about this team in the last decade.  The only thing that knocks us out is if Cano, Cruz, or Seager suffer some injuries.

Beyond that, the bottom half of the order is interesting, and potentially terrifying.  The latest issue of concern is Logan Morrison.  He hasn’t proven to be healthy in his career, which will be a kick in the groin because we have NOBODY behind him.  Jesus Montero – while 30-35 pounds lighter than last year – is still a longshot to be even DECENT as a first baseman.  After Montero, who do you got?  D.J. Peterson is probably a year away; it would be a miracle if we bring him up this year and he succeeds.  Ji-Man Choi had a shitty 2014 coming off of a PED suspension.  The free agent market is deader than dead.  It’s bad out there for a first baseman-hungry team like the Mariners.  Just cross your fingers, pray LoMo stays healthy, and try not to think about the consequences if he doesn’t.

The Smith/Ruggiano platoon is interesting because it seems almost TOO perfect, you know?  Smith is a lefty who rakes against righties; Ruggiano is a righty who rakes against lefties.  There’s NO WAY this works out the way we planned it, is there?  Even if we stick to the platoon and don’t mess with anything, you gotta figure one or both will either suffer a massive injury and/or take a huge step back as he tries to contend with Safeco’s dimensions.  This’ll be a Believe It When I See It type of situation.

Zunino is still Zunino, which means he’ll mash over 20 homers, strike out a ton, and play solid defense.  You figure with a full year under his belt, there’s bound to be some natural progression, so hopefully he works out some of the kinks.  Then, we’ve got a short stop battle for the ages.  The offensively-challenged Taylor vs. the wild card Miller.  I like Miller for his power bat, but either way this is a GREAT problem to have.

I’m not ready to crown their asses just yet, but I’m sure the excitement for the Mariners will start building once football season ends.  February 20th:  Pitchers & Catchers report.  Spring Training kicks off the first week of March.  It’s almost here.

Looking Back On The Bright Side Of The 2014 Seattle Mariners

As I grow older, I find that for the most part I’m capable of only two emotions:  apathetic and surly.  This certainly describes my disposition when it comes to the Mariners.  In my surlier moods, I’ll take a hard line and let everyone know that there are NO MORAL VICTORIES.  Either you win or you don’t; either you make the playoffs or you fail.  Those opinions are no less valid just because at times I find myself waffling over to the other side.

The fact of the matter is, when I sit back and apathetically look at The Season That Was, I can see the ways in which 2014 was a success.  Everyone needed this season.  The organization needed it, just to get everyone to stop breathing down their necks.  The players needed it, to show that it IS possible to be a winning ballclub and still play half your games in Seattle.  And, quite frankly, the fans needed it more than anyone.

Let’s face it, there has been a gloomy, dark cloud hanging over the Seattle Mariners for over a decade.  Obviously, everyone knows the last playoff appearance was in 2001.  Since that time – including 2014 – there have been five seasons where the Mariners finished with a winning record.  In 2002 & 2003, the Mariners were still really good, but they were surrounded by teams who were even better, and thus failed to make the playoffs.  Then, the Mariners fell off the cliff, but looked to make something of a comeback in 2007, when they were 88-74.  Of course, you were looking at a team that was 14 games over .500 with a negative run differential, who did remarkably well in 1-run games.  2007 proved to be a fluke, and as the Mariners went all-in with the Erik Bedard deal, everything fell apart in 2008 (and would continue to more-or-less fall apart for many years to come).

2009 would prove to be another even-flukier season, where the Mariners went 85-77, but had a much worse run differential.  Undoubtedly, the Mariners fell into a sinkhole of despair in 2010, from which they are only NOW climbing out of.

Ever since the end of that 2010 season – where we sort of went all-in again with the Cliff Lee deal and the Chone Figgins signing – this organization has been in the tank.  We were able to flip Cliff Lee mid-season, but that deal turned out to be the Justin Smoak disaster.  We would go on to flip Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero after the 2011 season, and from then on it’s been all about Building From Within.  Which, quite honestly, is what you have to do if you’re a losing ballclub and you’re not ready to spend New York Yankees-type money in free agency.

And, it hasn’t been easy!  Many of our first-wave youngsters have come up and failed miserably.  Smoak and Montero and Ackley have largely been disappointing (until Ackley’s second half this past season).  For every Kyle Seager that we’ve hit upon, there have been dozens of Carlos Pegueros.

Finally, as the 2013 season ended (with the Mariners finishing 71-91), the organization had apparently seen enough to finally open up their wallets.

There have been rumors of the Mariners being “in on” any number of big-money free agents over the last several seasons, from Josh Hamilton to Prince Fielder, but they finally settled on Robinson Cano (who, really, has the highest floor of any of these guys).  Why this was the right time, or he was the right player, only the Mariners can say, but it turned out to be a huge success in the first year.  At the time of signing, Cano instantly became the best position player on the team.  His performance in the 2014 season was right in line with those expectations.  He was our 3-hole hitter and he never let us down.

On top of that, Kyle Seager took that next step in his progression, finally becoming an All Star (and deservedly so).  His defense is stellar, the pop is still in his bat, his batting average isn’t ideal, but he’s becoming more consistent and less streaky.

Then, we had a number of smaller players picking up the slack at times.  Logan Morrison was a positive, once he got healthy and was placed in the everyday lineup at first base.  Dustin Ackley – as I mentioned before – had that torrid second half to cement his status as our 2-hole hitter.  Mike Zunino surpassed 20 homers and played quality defense.  Role players like Endy Chavez, Michael Saunders, and Chris Taylor all made big impacts.  While, at the same time, the bullpen was a force to be reckoned with; and for most of the year we had four really good starting pitchers with Felix, Kuma, Young, and Elias.  The hitting, for the most part, did just enough to get the job done; and our bullpen locked it down in the later innings.  That’s a recipe for winning baseball.  Specifically, a team that finished 87-75, a single game out of the Wild Card.

And, not for nothing, but a team that also had a +80 run differential.  With that run differential, you should theoretically be looking at a 91-win ballclub, so it can be argued that the Mariners were, in fact, a little UNLUCKY.

***

This is the part where I’m supposed to shift gears and tell you all the things that were wrong with the 2014 Mariners, but I don’t really have it in me.  We all know where the Mariners need to improve before 2015:

  • DH
  • Right Field

Beyond that, it’s a matter of the younger players continuing to improve.  It’s Ackley building off of his second half.  It’s one of the two short stops (Miller or Taylor) winning that job and not looking back.  It’s Austin Jackson figuring out how to hit again.  It’s LoMo staying healthy.  It’s the bullpen not regressing too far.  And, it’s leaning on our starting pitching once again to keep us in ballgames.

It’s consistency in all three phases.  Fewer times being shut out.  And, if we have to make trades to get the pieces we want, it’s all about not giving up too much from our areas of strength.  And, of course, it’s about the right kind of luck.

Like 2008 and 2010, the 2015 season could see the Mariners go right back into the tank if things go horribly wrong.  The difference between now and those last two winning seasons is:  we’ve got a better foundation.  We’re not coming off of a smoke & mirrors season where the Mariners SOMEHOW generated a winning record despite a negative run differential.  And, the only players we’re losing to free agency are players we probably won’t miss too much (I’m looking at you, Kendrys Morales).

As we watch the Royals return from the doldrums to make the World Series for the first time in almost 30 years, this offseason will surely bring about feelings of, “Why Not Us?”  Hell, if the Seahawks can win the Super Bowl, why can’t the Mariners get back to the fucking playoffs?

Now is the time for the Best Offseason Ever.  The buzz is starting to return to this team.  2014 saw an increase in attendance for the first time in a long time.  If we can land a big free agent, I’m pretty sure 2015 will be the most-anticipated baseball season in Seattle since the 1990s.

Looking Back At The 2014 Mariners: The Hitters, Part III

Consider this the third in a series of looks back at the 2014 Mariners.  For once, it’s going to be more than, “They fucking sucked, I’m sick of thinking about this shit, I’ll see you in February.”  I’m sure I’ll toss out the usual “What Went Right” and “What Went Wrong” posts as time and desire permit, but right now I’m taking a look at the players.  In short, I’m going to list all the players who accumulated a stat for the 2014 Mariners, and I’m going to talk about each of them individually.

I’m also breaking this up into three parts, because we’re pushing 7,000 words here.

Click HERE for Part I
Click HERE for Part II

Logan Morrison – Following the signing of Corey Hart, the Mariners hedged their bet by trading away Carter Capps to the Marlins for their version of Justin Smoak.  LoMo played a little more outfield than Smoak ever could have dreamed, and he was a lot more injured, but the sentiment is still the same:  a guy with a lot of power potential who just never put it together, for a maddeningly long amount of time.

He’s yet to play a full season (only over 100 games once in his 5-year Major League career), and he’s yet to be all that effective at the plate.  Encouragingly, 2014 was his best year ever, so there’s hope yet.

He hit .262/.315/.420, with 11 homers and 20 doubles in 99 games.  He had only 9 games in the outfield, with the rest at 1B or DH, which is promising.  Let’s keep him there.  He was a VAST improvement over Justin Smoak (who got the lion’s share of starts early in the season at first base) offensively, and wasn’t all that bad defensively either.  He’s club-controlled and if he can stay healthy, might just be a viable starting first baseman for us.  He’s no All Star or anything, but at this point I’ll just take anyone who’s above replacement.

Outlook for 2015:  Slot him in as your starting first baseman.  At best, the Mariners will only be able to bring in one right-handed slugger, and you have to figure that guy will play primarily at DH.  If, in some incomprehensible universe, the Mariners bring in two sluggers, then I suppose you could be looking at LoMo as a platoon option at first/DH.  But, I bet he sticks and makes us all forget about that time he smashed a bat against a wall in frustration and cut up his face, causing him to miss some time.

Humberto Quintero – Says here he was a third catcher down the stretch and had as many at-bats (2) as Felix Hernandez (as many hits too).

Outlook for 2015:  He’s a free agent.  Either he’ll be back in Tacoma, or he’ll be with some other team’s AAA squad, or he’ll be somewhere else.

Stefen Romero – As per usual, the Mariners were desperate for right-handed outfield bats.  Stefen Romero was pretty good in Spring Training and won a spot on the Major League club.  He stunk.  He was sent down and brought up multiple times.  In that aforementioned game in Atlanta where John Buck hit the game-winning home run, Romero hit a game-tying 3-run home run that ultimately led to Buck’s magic.  This day would be the highlight for both of these men in 2014.

Outlook for 2015:  I dunno.  Tacoma probably.  Outside shot at a bench spot with the Mariners, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Michael Saunders – I’m just going to come out and say it:  Michael Saunders was the third best position player on the Mariners in 2014 behind Cano and Seager.  That’s really saying something, considering he only appeared in 78 games.

Why did he only appear in 78 games?  Well, to start the season, he was on the bench, behind Almonte, LoMo, Romero, and others.  When he got a chance to play – however infrequently – he consistently produced.  But, he missed a huge chunk of June with an injury; then again missed some of July, all of August, and some more of September with another injury.

Is this what the team considers Michael Saunders to be?  This injury-prone fourth outfielder who needs regular days off to stay healthy, fresh, and productive?  Probably.  Not for nothing, but when you’re talking about these guys who play all-out all the time, I tend to agree.  Yeah, he’ll give up his body to make a play, but he’ll be paying for it later.  That’s why I never understood all the vitriol with Ichiro never diving.  Do you want him falling all over the field going after balls?  Or, do you want a guy you can count on to be in your lineup every single day?  Same thing with Shaun Alexander.  Until the end of his career, he was very durable.  Why?  He went down and out of bounds rather than take unnecessary hits.  I love Beastmode and Jay Buhner as much as the next guy, but I’m just sayin’, there’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself and living to fight another day.

Outlook for 2015:  He’s looking to get a raise in arbitration.  He should certainly be back.  Pencil him in as a fourth outfielder with a chance to win a starting job if things break right.  If you wanted my prediction right now, though, I’d say he’s not starting.  I’ve got Ackley in left, A-Jax in center, and Free Agent X or Trade Acquisition Y in right.  Still, it’ll be nice to have Saunders back, as I DO think he’s a bona fide Major Leaguer.  He’ll be even more valuable if we manage to find three viable starters to play ahead of him in the outfield.  No more crappy Endy Chavez for us if we can help it!

Kyle Seager – LOVE me some Kyle Seager, boy!  Hot damn that kid is damn hot!

He led the team in homers with 25 and RBI with 96.  He made his very first All Star game and got a couple flimsy hacks in.  He’s been a regular since July 2011 (the same time as Ackley) and he hasn’t let us down once!  In his three full seasons, he’s hit at least 20 homers and batted between .259 and .268.  All the while, improving dramatically with his defense at third base.  This is reflected in his WAR, which has gone up from 2.6 in 2012, to 3.9 in 2013, to a whopping 5.8 this year.  He was only bested in that number by Felix and Cano, which puts him in rarefied air.

And the best part?  He can still get better!  Particularly at the plate.  I agree with LMC, he can and SHOULD be hitting in the .280s.  And, if this team manages to produce some heavy hitters in this lineup, I think he’d be an ideal 2-hole hitter.  Regardless, I have no problem with him batting fifth, IF we find a legitimate cleanup guy.

Either way, I love the fact that there’s someone besides Cano and Felix who I don’t have to worry about.  He doesn’t slump for extended periods of time.  He’s not afraid to hit in Safeco.  He doesn’t get injured.  He doesn’t have extreme splits at the plate.  Thank God for Kyle Seager!

Outlook for 2015:  I’ll have what I’m having!

Justin Smoak – Ahh, the anti-Seager.  Before the season – indeed, even before Spring Training – Smoak was touted as the starting first baseman.  He was someone LMC declared would one day lead the league in doubles.  Instead, he’s successfully led the league in facepalm moments.

His April was no good after his first seven games.  His May was even worse.  In June, he was either sent down to Tacoma or injured.  Either way, he sucked dick the rest of the way.  .202/.275/.339.  THIRTEEN doubles.  PRETTY sure that’s not even close to league-leading.

Outlook for 2015:  He’s arbitration-eligible and due to make some serious coin if he stays.  He’s also out of minor league options, so we can’t just stash him in Tacoma when we’re sick and tired of looking at him.  I have to believe, with every fiber of my being, that he won’t be back.  He’s been given every chance in the world to succeed and he’s been dreadful at every turn.  It’s time for him to go elsewhere and fail miserably for someone else.  If he’s lucky, the Rockies will sign him and he’ll parlay a hot Spring Training into an okay career, making us all wonder, “What If”, except I’ll tell you What If:  he never would’ve made it in Seattle!  It’s Bandbox or Bust for Smoak.

Jesus Sucre – This was the guy we brought up to replace John Buck.  He’s a better receiver of baseballs – he can frame a pitch well and has a pretty good arm – but he’s nothing with a bat in his hands.

Outlook for 2015:  I’m almost certain he’ll be back in Tacoma.  There’s an outside chance he’s back up here as a backup to Zunino.  But, I have to believe that “backup catcher” is once again one of our middling priorities in the upcoming offseason.

Chris Taylor – He was called up and played his first game on July 24th.  He would’ve been called up sooner, but he had to go on the DL for a brief period.  Either way, his promotion was made possible by Brad Miller being a suck-ass for the first few months of the season.

In total, he played in 47 games.  He had a great batting average (.287), but only hit 8 balls for extra bases (with no triples or homers).  His defense was a step above Miller’s, so there’s your trade off.  Miller is a guy who will hit for power, but he won’t walk, so if he’s not striking the ball flush, then he’s not doing much for you.  Taylor is a guy who will never hit for power, but he walks a little more and doesn’t strike out NEARLY as much.  He also gives you better defense.

Or, put it this way:  Taylor was worth 1.5 WAR in his 47 games; Miller was worth 1.6 WAR in 123 games.

So, what do you value?  Premium power at a premium position?  Or defense and stability?  If Miller plays up to his potential (meaning:  hitting for a high average and cutting down somewhat on strikeouts, while maintaining his power), then his ceiling is one of the best offensive short stops in baseball.  I think Taylor is pretty much at his ceiling right now, meaning he’s anywhere from a 3.5 to 4.5-WAR player (if he can keep it up through a full season).

Outlook for 2015:  I guess we’ll find out next year.  It’ll be interesting to see the short stop position battle shake out in Spring Training, and it’ll be even more interesting to see if the winner of that battle can hold onto his job.  Gun to my head:  I think Miller has the edge in this race.  I think they love his power and are willing to put up with some defensive lapses and slumps.  Not TOO MANY slumps, mind you, but I guess we’ll see.  Taylor is a nice Plan B to have.

Mike Zunino – Right out of the gate, just know that Mike Zunino isnt going anywhere.  He’s the entrenched starter as catcher and will be for years to come.

With that out of the way … KIND OF a woofer of a 2014.  Here are the positives:

  • He stayed healthy and played in 131 of a possible 162 games.  That’s quite a workload!
  • He threw out 28.3% of base stealers (28 of 99), which I want to say is good (at least, it’s a vast improvement over the duds we’ve had here since Dan Wilson retired).
  • He was in the upper echelon of pitch-framers, stealing more would-be balls as strikes than most other catchers in baseball.
  • His Catcher E.R.A. was 3.18 (I don’t even know what that means, or if it’s even a good stat or not)
  • He only had 8 passed balls all year (considering he catches Felix on a regular basis, VERY impressive).
  • He hit 22 home runs.
  • He’s only 23 years old and already has a year and a half of Major League experience under his belt.

You notice that most of his positives are defense-related, yet I’m seeing here that his Defensive-WAR was only 0.3 and his overall WAR was only 0.6.  According to other metrics, he actually had NEGATIVE defensive runs saved numbers.  What the shit?

I was all prepared to come on here and talk about what a stud he’s been defensively, and about what a black hole he’s been at the plate.  Turns out, not so fast.

With my untrained eye (and mediocre grasp of advanced stats), I think he’s still good defensively.  I know for a FACT that he’s the best catcher we’ve had in YEARS.  Again, probably since Wilson.  I also think that his bat stinks, but it’s sure to get better.  It would almost have to, as I don’t think it can get much worse.

He had 476 plate appearances in 2014.  Of those, 337 were against right-handed pitchers and 139 were against lefties.  Here are his splits:

  • Vs. Lefties:  .252/.295/.427, 8 doubles, 5 homers, 42 strikeouts, 30.2% Ks
  • Vs. Righties:  .176/.237/.394, 12 doubles, 2 triples, 17 homers, 116 strikeouts, 34.4% Ks

That’s gotta tighten up.  He’s a home run blast waiting to happen, but much more often he’s a strikeout waiting to happen.  And against righties, he’s remarkably worse.  That’s gotta change, because we can’t just save him for lefties.  We’ve got to hit on this guy because he’s THAT important to our future.

Outlook for 2015:  Starting catcher.  You probably want to keep him towards the bottom of the lineup again.  Which isn’t the worst thing in the world.  Let him get his feet wet and maybe one day he’ll be a 5-hole or 6-hole hitter.  I’m not too worried yet, but his offense has to pick up.  If he hits in 2015 the way he did in 2014, I’m going to be VERY concerned.

Looking Back At The 2014 Mariners: The Hitters, Part II

Consider this the second in a series of looks back at the 2014 Mariners.  For once, it’s going to be more than, “They fucking sucked, I’m sick of thinking about this shit, I’ll see you in February.”  I’m sure I’ll toss out the usual “What Went Right” and “What Went Wrong” posts as time and desire permit, but right now I’m taking a look at the players.  In short, I’m going to list all the players who accumulated a stat for the 2014 Mariners, and I’m going to talk about each of them individually.

I’m also breaking this up into three parts, because we’re pushing 7,000 words here.

Click HERE for Part I
Click HERE for Part III (tomorrow)

Corey Hart – The Mariners picked him up as a free agent, taking a flyer that he’d return to his old, bashing ways in Milwaukee.  Of course, he hadn’t played since 2012 – losing a full year to knee injuries – and baseball isn’t like riding a bike.  Especially when you’re 142 years old ABOUT A YEAR YOUNGER THAN I AM?  GOOD GOD I’M OLD!

Hart appeared in a lot of games in the first month and a half.  Mostly at DH.  Occasionally – and ill-advisedly – in the outfield.  Then, he was placed on the DL.  He returned to play a lot in July, then he went back on the DL again until September call-ups.  He stunk throughout, hitting right around .200 for the season.

He had 9 doubles and 6 homers in 68 games.  A paltry 32% of his hits went for extra bases, which is not something you’re looking for in a “power hitter” in your cleanup spot, who you want protecting Robinson Cano in the order.

Outlook for 2015:  The Mariners have already given him his release, because they needed to make room to bring Jesus Montero back from the suspended list.  That’s how little Corey Hart means to this organization, and it’s the perfect representation of his value.  When you look back at his career as a Mariner, just think about that and frown.  Frown with all your might.

Austin Jackson – If you haven’t by now TL;DR’d this series of posts and you’re following along closely, A-Jax is the second of three guys we traded for in July to help bolster the ballclub.  We traded Nick Franklin to get him.  Nick Franklin was an expendable trade chip who never really had a future in this organization once Robbie Cano was signed.  Austin Jackson was a very good, still-in-his-prime centerfielder with another year of team control in 2015.

The Mariners, of course, DESPERATELY needed a centerfielder.  With Guti taking the year off to get his health issues squared away (and no longer a centerfield prospect anymore, given his durability issues), with Abe Almonte a fucking zoo out there, and with James Jones’ absolute dearth of power, we didn’t have a whole lot of options.  A-Jax looked like a perfect fit.

In Detroit, from 2010-2013, A-Jax was worth no less than 3.4 wins per year.  He was a plus-fielder with quicks on the basepaths who could hit for some pop as well as for average.  He declined greatly in 2014, for reasons no one can quite fathom.  In Detroit this year, he was average-at-best, though his power and overall hitting numbers weren’t down dramatically.  Which makes you wonder if he took that huge step back in the field.  Either way, he was better than what we had in Seattle – or so we thought.

In Seattle, A-Jax batted .229/.267/.260.  He was good for 0.1 WAR.  And, not for nothing, but anecdotally he was a fucking disaster in big situations.  Seemed like whenever he had a man on base or otherwise an opportunity to positively affect a ballgame, he would instead ground into a double play or (at best) strike out.  He proved to be my least-favorite of the three mid-season acquisitions, and that’s REALLY saying something Kendrys Morales.

Outlook for 2015:  Still in Seattle, still starting in center, still batting leadoff.  At least out of Spring Training.  Beyond that, who’s to say?  If he plays like he did in the last two months of this season, you never know.  We may be talking about one of the many reasons why the 2015 Mariners DON’T make the playoffs.  Honestly, we’re REALLY counting on A-Jax to turn it around.  I highly doubt the Mariners are going to go out and find another guy to compete in center.  So, if A-Jax fails, and there’s no one in the minors to take his place, we’re proper fucked at a spot on the team where we’re banking on being set.  Just in case you were overwhelmed by the warm-fuzzies after this pleasant 2014 run, keep that in mind.

James Jones – In his first two months, James Jones was amazing.  He was everything Abe Almonte wasn’t.  He was crisp at the plate.  He wasn’t the most-refined in the outfield, but he was solid enough.  And, he was a wizard on the basepaths.

Then, July came around and he started falling off.  We all started noticing his faults.  Like:  how he wasn’t really improving as a centerfielder.  Like:  how he couldn’t hit for power.  Like:  how if he didn’t slap a single the other way, he couldn’t get on base to take advantage of those legs.  In the end, he lost his starting job, was sent back to Tacoma for a couple weeks, then returned exclusively as a bench player.

It’s the part he was born to play, baby!

Keep him away from the starting lineup, keep him out of center, and watch him shine.  He’s a plus-defender in the corner outfield, with speed and a strong arm.  Put him in during the later innings to replace Endy Chavez or whoever.  Pinch run him for Kendrys Morales or some other slow piece of crap.  He’s GOLD!

27 stolen bases in 28 attempts.  Very, very good.

14 extra-base hits in 312 at-bats (with only 12 walks vs. 67 strikeouts) is very, very BAD.  That’s factoring in how a lot of those doubles were hustle-doubles.

Outlook for 2015:  He needs to bulk up.  He needs to get a little more power into his bat.  He needs to retain how well he hit the outside pitch the other way, but he’s also gotta recognize pitches better and take MANY more walks.  His career will be built on a foundation of base-stealing.  If he wants that career to primarily take place in the Majors, then he needs to figure out a way to get on base with more regularity.  In an ideal world, he’d fix what’s wrong with him and be our fourth or fifth outfielder.  But, I got a feeling he’ll start out in Tacoma again.  Not the worst thing in the world.

Brad Miller – In following the Dustin Ackley Path To Success, Brad Miller was a mid-season call-up as a rookie and did quite well.  So well, in fact, that he pretty much earned his starting job without a fight.  Nevertheless, the Mariners put the short stop job up for grabs between Miller and Nick Franklin.  Didn’t matter, as Miller mopped the floor with him in the month of March.  The job was his, and everyone rejoiced.

Then the regular season started:

  • April:  .173/.212/.333 with 26 strikeouts in 81 at-bats
  • May:  .136/.260/.152 with 17 strikeouts and 1 extra-base hit in 66 at-bats

In June, he turned it around with:  .298/.355/.512 with 21 strikeouts in 84 at-bats.  But, then July happened:  .172/.262/.224 with 12 strikeouts and 3 extra-base hits in 58 at-bats.  On July 24th, Miller lost his starting job for good, with the promotion of Chris Taylor.  From that point on, they’d split duties, with Taylor getting the bulk of the looks the rest of the way in high-pressure games.

To his credit, Miller did turn his season around somewhat:

  • August:  .273/.357/.545 with 6 strikeouts and 4 extra-base hits in only 22 at-bats
  • September:  .314/.340/.549 with 13 strikeouts and 7 extra-base hits in 51 at-bats

On the whole, Miller’s 2014 was worse than his 2013, but he still has the potential to be a solid starting short stop in this league.  His power potential is undeniable.  His defense isn’t quite as good as Taylor’s, but he’s very athletic and there’s talk of him maybe converting to outfield (or, at least adding that to his repertoire to become a super-utility guy).  Normally, losing your starting position and getting that super-utility label is a death sentence, but in this case I’m willing to hear it out.

Outlook for 2015:  He will once again come in competing for the starting short stop job, this time against Chris Taylor.  If he mashes again like he did in Spring of 2014, he’s certain to win the job out of camp.  But, I have no doubt that if all things are equal with health, there will be a short leash on Miller if he struggles again in April.

Jesus Montero – You know the story:  we traded Michael Pineda and some other dude for Montero and Hector Noesi.  Noesi was a disaster who was finally DFA’d this year (and who became an okay starter for a struggling White Sox team).  Pineda has been mostly injured throughout his time with the Yankees, but at season’s end he flashed that potential he showed in Seattle as a rookie.

Jesus Montero, on the other hand, has been a fucking loser from the get-go.  First, he was our starting catcher of the future; that didn’t pan out.  Then, we looked to convert him to first base; that hasn’t gone well.  He’s a fat, immobile turd who gets to add “injury prone” to his list of descriptors.  Then, towards the end of the 2014 season, on a rehab assignment with the Everett Aqua Sox, functioning as a first base coach (which, not for nothing, is his future in the game:  a base coach for a single-A baseball team), Jesus Montero was baited into an altercation with an allegedly drunken scout (at the time) for the Seattle Mariners after that scout (again allegedly) sent him an ice cream sandwich and yelled at him to hustle more.

The scout was fired (and rightly so, because I like to give Montero shit, but even I know he was acting like a cunt), and Jesus Montero was suspended (probably because he went into the stands with a baseball bat in his hands, which is a huge no-no in sports).  Montero has since been reinstated, and is apparently being watched like a hawk by the Mariners’ front office.  There’s one last chance on the table for Montero in a Mariners uniform (or, more likely, for Montero as trade bait to try to recoup some of his tons of lost value).  They’ve got him in Arizona working out on a strict exercise program (because, you know, he came in fat to Spring Training 2014 and admitted as such in interviews that all he did was sit around and stuff his face during the offseason).

Outlook for 2015:  Once a loser, always a loser.  There will be all this crap written about how he’s in the “best shape of his life”, but that’ll probably mean that he’s lost all his power.  He’ll start out in Tacoma and continue to suck (if he’s not outright traded in the offseason as a throw-in to a much bigger deal).

Kendrys Morales – Sigh.  Here we go.

You remember him as a productive hitter for the Angels for a bunch of years.  Then, he broke his foot or some damn thing while celebrating a game-winning home run and he ended up losing his 2011 season.  The Mariners swapped Jason Vargas for him straight up prior to the 2013 season (after a decent, but not great 2012) and he had a decent, but not great first year with the club.

The big draw with Morales – aside from being a huge step up compared to the other DHs we’ve employed since Edgar Martinez retired – was that even though he’d be a free agent at season’s end, we could tender him and if he signed as a free agent elsewhere, we’d get a high draft pick (a first rounder most likely, unless it was one of the top 10 “protected” draft picks).  So, we offered him the tender – 1 year, $14.1 million – and of course he turned it down.  Reportedly, we even offered him a 3-year, $30 million deal, and he turned THAT down.  See, Scott Boras is his agent, and together they thought they could squeeze a little more out of the free agent market.

They couldn’t.  No one would sign him.  Because no one wants a broken down statue on the basepaths who can’t play first base because he’ll get hurt or need a few days off every time.  He’s a DH and nothing more, and not even that great of a DH at that.  .449 slugging percentage in 2013, playing almost every single day.  That’s crap.  When you bring nothing else to the table, then guess what:  you don’t get contract offers when it means a team has to give up a high draft pick.

In June, he signed with the Twins.  Again reportedly, the Mariners were interested in signing him during the season, but he wouldn’t have it.  So, we ended up trading for him, by giving the Twins Stephen Pryor (a reliever returning from major injury who was no longer the smoke-thrower he was pre-surgery).

Kendrys had 154 at bats with the Twins.  His numbers were bad (.234/.259/.325), but we all rationalized it away by saying, “He didn’t have a REAL Spring Training, so just consider his numbers with the Twins as his Spring.”

That oft-belabored talking point would soon switch to, “If the Mariners can just get Kendrys going down the stretch, everything should be all right with the offense.”  That’s because he was much, MUCH worse as a Seattle Mariner than he was as a Twin (hitting .207/.285/.347), so whenever he managed to do something right (which, again, wasn’t very often), we all had to hope and pray that THIS was the day that turned a slumping slugger who has “always hit” into what we thought we were getting as the centerpiece of our mid-season trades to bolster a contending team.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  But, at least Morales doesn’t have to worry about being tendered anymore.  Even if he DID qualify, there’s no way in FUCKING HELL that even the Mariners would be stupid enough to offer him a 1-year deal for $15.3 million.

Outlook for 2015:  If he had managed even a semi-reasonable finish to his 2014 season, I could’ve seen the Mariners trying to bring him back on a 2-3 year deal.  But, he looked so bad, I doubt it’d happen.  On top of that, I don’t think Morales wants to be here.  Truth be told, he never did (and proved it by signing with a last-place Twins team even though the Mariners were in contention this year and wanted him back), but after his disaster of a season, I think he’s going somewhere on a prove-it deal.  Some place like Baltimore or the Yankees or some other place he can DH in a small ballpark.  Get his numbers back up to where they should be, and then hopefully sign a final long-term deal for big money with the Rangers or some damn place.