Where Is The Bottom For This Mariners Team?

God that 13-2 start was fucking stupid …

Ever since, the M’s have gone 7-21, which is much more in line with where we saw this team heading into the season. The over/under on wins was right around 73.5 to 74.5; at 13-2, it seemed idiotic to count on the under winning the day. Now, it’s not so crazy.

The A’s are one of those teams where you’ll see their unimpressive record, focus on other things, and then a couple months later you find they’ve ripped off an impossible number of wins. Maybe not every single year, but even more than just once in a lifetime is annoying as a Mariners fan, to the point where I have Sports PTSD because of them.

Well, I would argue the M’s have the same power, just in the opposite direction. This franchise can rip off an impossible number of losses in a short period of time, and unlike the A’s, the Mariners ACTUALLY do this every single fucking year. It gets so bad, you wonder if they’ll ever see another winning month. Hell, sometimes you wonder if they’ll ever see another winning SERIES.

Now, in all reality, we’re talking about a season full of streaks. We started out red hot, we’re currently ice cold, but another hot streak is probably right around the corner (maybe as soon as this week). What this post is attempting to posit is that: maybe we just keep on losing?

From a talent perspective, I believe the Mariners are one of the five worst teams in all of baseball. Forget the farm system and all the minor league levels (for now, though I don’t see much immediate help on the horizon); I’m talking strictly from the product on the Major League field.

This defense is the absolute worst. The bullpen is – if not the absolute worst – among them and making a serious push for the bottom spot. And, while the hitting has a good amount of pop – and can put up some crooked numbers – it was always going to cool off, and it appears to have finally done so. What’s more, there was never going to be enough offense to compensate for all this team’s weaknesses.

Weaknesses which, apparently, are extending to the starting rotation.

I’ve largely given the rotation a passing mark on the Pass/Fail grading system, because while there’s no top-shelf talent, there’s a lot of 2’s and 3’s that’ll generally keep you in ballgames. With the hitting this team has shown, if you could cobble together a proper bullpen, you could see a team contending for a playoff spot with this rotation.

But, as the season has lurched forward, we’ve started seeing some cracks in the armor of that argument. Two out of his last three starts has seen Marco Gonzales bury this team early in those games; that’s ostensibly your ACE of the staff! A semi-lukewarm start from King Felix has gone down in flames (culminating with a stint on the IL this week). Mike Leake has had some real duds mixed in there, as we all expected. Wade LeBlanc was the first of our starters to hit the IL; while he appears to be on the mend, we’ll see what that translates to when he finally makes it back. In his absense, Erik Swanson has started to struggle as teams write the book on him. The minor league starting depth behind Swanson figures to be markedly worse.

If we run into some more starting pitching injuries – as well as injuries to our everyday players, which is only a matter of time – how bad can this team’s record get? We already know the bullpen is a disaster; any hope for that to change is going to depend on the players in the organization magically improving. We also know that a number of these veterans are going to be shopped at the trade deadline, if not sooner. Their replacements should inspire no confidence.

The Mariners once had the very best record in all of baseball. Then, almost exactly a month later, we’re now talking about the team with the 11th-worst record in baseball and falling HARD. And, if that doesn’t move the needle for you, the Mariners also at one point had baseball’s best run differential. Now … it’s the 11th-worst.

The point is, outside of that hot start, this is a Bottom 10 baseball team. I would argue, based on what our minds tell us, combined with the eye test of what we’re seeing from this team on the field, the 2019 Mariners are closer to the team that’s gone 7-21 as opposed to the team that started 13-2.

While I’m dreading all the bad baseball we’re all going to be subjected to over the next few months, I’m not-so-secretly relishing the end result, which figures to be a Top 10 pick in next year’s draft.

There Was Some Interesting Pitching This Weekend For The Future Of The Mariners

Just because I’ve been a little more hands-off with this Mariners team, doesn’t mean I’m not at least following along with what’s happening. Sure, I went to last Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Cubs, and sure it was the God damn apocalpyse. But, that’s an anomaly for Marco Gonzales. It brought him down to Earth – he’s not an ace, in spite of his role on this year’s team – but it’s not an indicator of things to come.

There were some pleasant developments over the weekend that we should all look at fondly, as it hopefully further cements the notion that this rebuild (or whatever) is headed in the right direction. Marco will be fine, but we need more than just him if we’re going to get our hopes up.

Yusei Kikuchi took the mound on Friday, following his perfect 1-inning start the last time out. Of course, we’re talking about a small sample size, but he bounced back with 7 innings of 1-run ball, giving up 3 hits, walking 1, and striking out a whopping 10 batters! Of course, the team squandered all of this, in losing 2-1, but that’s a helluvan outing. EASILY his best start of the year. More of that please!

Mike Leake had a very Mike Leakean start on Saturday (6 innings, 3 runs, in what would be a 5-4 loss, the second game blown by the bullpen in as many days), but what’s more important is Erik Swanson’s start on Sunday. We managed to NOT go winless against the Indians for 2019 thanks to a 10-0 route, helmed by Swanson’s 6 innings of 1-hit (3 walk) ball. We were able to stretch him out over 100 pitches, he got out of some jams, and maybe most importantly, this was his second start against the Indians (last time he went 6 innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits). So, they had a chance to see him, make adjustments, and they STILL couldn’t do anything against him! I like that an awful lot.

Nothing about this weekend means anything definitive in the grand scheme of things, but they’re important steps in the way we want to go. This still doesn’t solve the lack of a real, bona fide ace on this staff, but I would argue the more pitchers we have in that #2 starter range, the better we’ll be. We can always go out and rent an ace, if in a year or two this team develops into a true contender; but until then, we need to build up the roster around that hypothetical final piece. Kikuchi and Swanson look like nice sections of foundation so far in their young Major League careers.

You May Have Noticed I’m Not Really All That Invested In The Mariners This Year

The Mariners and Rangers split a 4-game series over the weekend. Marco Gonzales continued his hot start to the season with 7 innings of shutout ball on Thursday as the M’s beat up on the Rangers 14-2. Friday night was a fun, extra innings adventure featuring Kikuchi’s first one-inning start of his MLB career. Justus Sheffield came in after that and looked predictably wild over 3 innings, giving up 2 runs. The game featured a blown save in the later innings, but the good guys manufactured a run in the 11th to win 5-4.

Then, the series took a disturbing turn over the weekend, as the Mariners lost both games, 15-1 and then 14-1. Mike Leake was trash, the rest of the bullpen was mediocre, and Dylan Moore was forced into an inning of work (giving up 4 runs in the process). Then, Erik Swanson had his first really bad outing of his young career, and once again the bullpen was mediocre (certainly not helped by 4 Mariners errors and a number of other shitty defensive plays).

Look, I just can’t get it up for this season. First of all, my schedule just doesn’t afford me the luxury to watch many games during the work week. So, when I’m confronted by a weekend like this – losing 29-2 combined – I mean, what do you want from me? I have no idea who half of these pitchers are. The defense is an absolute disaster across the board. And sure, the offense can go to pound town against weak pitching, but is easily shut down once opposed by real talent.

The Mariners are 18-13 and are the second wild card team as of April 29th, but we know how this season is going to end. I would wager there will be more months where the Mariners are under .500 than above .500, and right now I’m down 1 with 5 months to go! So, half-assed recaps are going to continue for the foreseeable future, at least until I can think of something remotely interesting to write about this team.

The Mariners Got Swept By The Padres

For those keeping track at home, that’s a 6-game losing streak to the mighty San Diego Padres of San Diego.

On Tuesday, Erik Swanson got his second career start, pitching into the sixth inning, giving up 5 runs, 4 earned. I didn’t catch this one, but I seem to remember hearing both the defense and bullpen letting Swanson down in this one, so take those numbers with a grain of salt. He struck out 3 and walked 0 while being very economical with his pitch count, so a lot of good sprinkled in there. The bats were never able to put anything together though, as the M’s lost 6-3.

Then, on getaway day, Felix tossed a rare gem! 7 innings of 1-run ball on 3 hits, 1 walk, and a whopping 8 strikeouts! It really felt like old times again! Mostly because the offense, once again, couldn’t get anything going and the M’s lost 1-0. Nevertheless, that’s an outing I didn’t think he had in him anymore. Sure, I could see him going 7 innings every now and again. I could see him limiting opponents to 1 run every once in a while, maybe while stranding a bunch of runners throughout the game. But, both combined with 8 strikeouts is pretty outstanding!

Obviously, that’s the best start of the year for Felix by a million miles, but there are a lot of encouraging signs and a lot of encouraging reports coming out that maybe he’s starting to put it all together again. Maybe Aging Felix can be like Aging Bartolo Colon. Dare to dream!

The offense is a little more worrisome. No one had Ryon Healy pegged as anything for this team in the long term, but his hot start has cooled off considerably. The numbers for the better hitters at the top of the lineup are starting to coalesce into something resembling their career norms. The major concern is Mallex Smith, who’s been dropped to the bottom of the lineup, with a slash line of .182/.270/.273. That’s just abysmal, on top of what’s been some miserable fucking defense in centerfield. This is NOT what we signed up for! Not even a little bit! When Mike Zunino – who went to the Rays in this trade to bring in Smith – has a higher batting average and on-base percentage, you know you’ve got some serious problems with your swing. This shit needs to turn around in a hurry, because the last thing we need is a(nother) head case overthinking everything all the damn time.

The Astros Put The Mariners Out Of Their Misery

The Mariners went into the weekend series against the Astros 13-2, wildly successful against the dregs of the A.L. Central, a slow-starting Red Sox team, a mediocre Angels team, and an A’s team playing the villain in Japan. This weekend was to be the first real test since Expectations shifted ever-so-slightly.

And they just pounded us into submission. On Friday, it was a more traditional pounding, as the Astros clubbed two grand slams en route to a 10-6 victory. One could almost write it off, and find a silver lining in the Mariners’ scoring 6 runs yet again, but even those good vibes were countered by the loss of Wade LeBlanc to an oblique strain that will keep him out at least two months.

That makes Erik Swanson the first of the brand new pitching prospects to get his crack on our 25-man roster. Of course, he already made a relief appearance earlier in the week, but it’s looking like he’ll take LeBlanc’s role in the rotation, which should prove interesting. I can’t envision high hopes for him right out of the gate, but this was never supposed to be about Winning Now. If he improves over time, or at least shows flashes of potential, I’ll be hopeful.

As we got to Saturday and Sunday, it was time to face the Astros’ big guns. Would the Mariners’ New & Improved lineup pose a challenge to Verlander & Cole?

Well, Verlander gave up 1 run on 2 hits while walking 0 and striking out 11. The only thing our lineup was good for was to get his pitch count moderately high. He threw 105 across 6 innings, which simply means we prevented him from going 8 or 9 innings, because seriously his shit was filthy and we had no chance whatsoever (Felix put up a nice game, though, for what he is now; 6 innings of 3-run ball you’ll take every time).

The Mariners were only marginally better against Cole, who went 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits, with 0 walks and 11 strikeouts on 101 pitches. Again, all we managed to do was keep their starter from the CG. Marco Gonzales did his damnedest, but he ultimately faltered in the 6th and the bullpen gave it away in the 7th.

So, now we’re 13-5. The Astros, in one 3-game series, clawed their way back to within a game of the M’s (tied in the loss column), and we can stop envisioning Ewing Theory scenarios. The 13-2 start was, as we all expected, just a hot streak that randomly happened at the very beginning of the season. The only thing the Mariners accomplished this weekend was to extend their streak of games to start a season with at least one home run, now at 18. I’ll be curious if we can get to the point where we start talking about the all-time Major League record for games with a home run regardless of whether or not it’s the start to a season.

Let’s Take An Early Look At The Mariners’ Starting Rotation 2019

Last week, I wrote about the difference between the 2018 everyday lineup and the projected 2019 everyday lineup. TL;DR: drastically worse at a few spots, slight improvement at a few spots, banking on bounce-back years from a lot of veteran guys. If you squint, you can sort of make out a Major League lineup with this group of guys, though I still find the reduction of power worrisome.

The pitching staff has been shaken up quite a bit as well compared to 2018. While the bullpen won’t be settled until we’re deep into Spring Training, the starting rotation is more or less on the 40-man roster as we speak, so I feel pretty safe in getting into this.

Gone from 2018 Roster

  • James Paxton
  • Erasmo Ramirez
  • Ariel Miranda
  • Hisashi Iwakuma

Starting from the bottom, Iwakuma didn’t throw a single inning for the Mariners in 2018, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t work his ass off all year to try to come back from injury! That ship has officially sailed, as he’s back in Japan to close out his professional career. He was always a longshot anyway, so getting nothing out of him last year feels pretty appropriate. He was nevertheless a quality starter for this team for a number of years.

Ariel Miranda spent most of last year in the minors, making only one start in Seattle. He has since asked out of the organization, to also pitch in Japan in 2019. It was somewhat surprising, after all he did in 2017 as a guy who wasn’t supposed to make the team, then ended up pitching most of the year in Seattle due to injuries. But, the rotation stayed mostly healthy in 2018, and Miranda just couldn’t find a way to make the leap. It’s not a substantial loss, as he’s really a Quad-A player, but it hurts this team’s depth, no question.

Erasmo Ramirez was supposed to be a starter out of Spring Training last year, but got hurt, and kept having setbacks throughout an overall disappointing year. He closed out 2017 strong, but never got it going in his 10 starts in 2018. The team let him walk, as he rightly wasn’t deserving of a raise in arbitration. Let’s hope this is the last time we sign up for the Erasmo Ramirez Experience.

The big loss, obviously, is our ace – James Paxton – getting traded to the Yankees. He has yet to stay healthy for a full year (28 starts in 2018 was as close as he’s gotten), but when he’s on, there are few better in the game today. The Mariners haven’t really filled this part of their rotation – 2019 should prove to be ace-less – but the hope is one of the younger guys steps up in the next couple years.

Holdovers from 2018

  • Marco Gonzales
  • Mike Leake
  • Felix Hernandez
  • Wade LeBlanc
  • Roenis Elias

Starting from the top, I think this is how you’d rank these guys heading into 2019. Marco Gonzales had a rough go after the trade in 2017, but with all of 2018 to develop and get better, he really stepped up and proved a lot of people wrong, myself included. He’s still young – he’ll be 27 this year – but already he’s proven to be a reliable #3-type starter. As he ages, you figure that total innings number will grow (he had 166.2 last year), so the name of the game is staying healthy, refining his approach, and continuing to battle. He’ll never be an ace, but it wouldn’t shock me if he took another step forward at some point to be a quality #2 starter in this league.

Mike Leake, when he’s on, is probably this team’s best starter. He made 31 starts last year and 18 of them were of the Quality variety. 9 of those starts were 7 innings or more, with 2 runs allowed or less. His problem, obviously, is that when he’s NOT on, he’s about as bad as you can get. 5 of his starts went less than 5 innings, and were some real turds. At 31 years of age, he is who he is at this point, which again is right in that #3 starter sort of range.

Felix has had a rough go of it the last couple years. 2017 was largely related to injuries, 2018 was largely related to ineffectiveness. He’s in the final year of his huge contract, and it’s hard to imagine he’s going to get any better than he was last year. 155.2 innings over 28 starts (and 1 relief appearance that was like a start, as he came in for an injured Paxton in the first inning). He had 8 Quality Starts, but only 3 of those really special Felix Quality Starts (7+, 2 or less). A lot has been made of the dwindling speed on his fastball, but it’s his command more than anything that’s let him down, as teams lay off his off-speed stuff and totally beat him into submission with anything else. He gave up 27 homers last year, easily a career high, while his K/9 is all the way down to 7.23. More often than not, he’s gutting his way through 5 innings, but one of those innings (usually the first) will be absolutely miserable for everyone involved. We’re running out the clock on this guy, and it couldn’t be sadder.

Wade LeBlanc got a nifty little extension last year after entering the rotation and putting up some really quality numbers. He made 27 starts and for the most part kept this team in ballgames. At this point, he’s anywhere from a #3 to a #5 starter, but at that price point and with those results, you’ll take that all day every day. He may not be a long-term solution, but he’s not a bad guy to have around on a team like this, with absolutely no expectations whatsoever.

Roenis Elias is back on another Arb year contract and figures to start the season in the bullpen. With the way this roster has shaken out, he figures to get a good share of spot starts, but at this point he’s no better than a #5 guy who on a good team would still be in AAA (assuming he has options, which I don’t know if he does or not). Either way, as a long reliever, you could do worse, particularly with this group of guys, all of which are capable of absolute duds on any given night.

Incoming 2019

  • Yusei Kikuchi
  • Justus Sheffield
  • Erik Swanson

The big name – and the lock to make the Opening Day Starting Rotation – is Kikuchi. He’s not an ace, but he probably tops out as a solid #2, which if he does that in his first MLB season would be a remarkable achievement. For 2019, it’s probably better to temper expectations. But, if he pans out, it’ll be a big reason for this team’s theoretical turnaround.

Sheffield is the big name from the Paxton deal with the Yankees. If anyone on this 40-man roster is destined to turn into an ace, he’s it. He’s the highest-rated pitching prospect in this organization, and unless someone I haven’t heard of comes from out of nowhere, our next ace is either Sheffield or it’s someone not currently under the Mariners umbrella. Now, early projections aren’t great – it’s far from a guarantee that Sheffield unlocks his full potential – but for now he’s the great Mariners hope. I wouldn’t expect greatness in 2019; just cross your fingers and pray for nominal improvement.

Swanson also came over in the Paxton trade and is flying WAY under the radar, which I think actually bodes well for his future in the organization. He’s right there on the same level as Sheffield, but he’s a little less raw in his approach. The higher floor/lower ceiling guy of the two, but people are already saying he has a chance to contend for a starting spot out of Spring Training. He probably needs an injury to cement that opportunity, but it’s nevertheless a good sign. Figure the Mariners at some point will get a good look at both of these guys in a Major League uniform in 2019, but odds are they’ll both start the season in Tacoma.

Outlook

Here’s my prediction for the 5-man rotation out of Spring Training:

  1. Marco Gonzales
  2. Mike Leake
  3. Yusei Kikuchi
  4. Felix Hernandez
  5. Wade LeBlanc

Also Known As: a rotation full of #3 starters!

It’s going to be really interesting, because we more or less have a solid, professional everyday lineup, combined with a solid, professional rotation. There likely won’t be any breakout stars among these five guys in 2019, but I think they’ll keep you in ballgames more often than not. At this point, I think Scott Servais has a pretty good handle on the four holdovers – he knows when to pull them from games, just as he knows when he can squeeze out a little extra – so he’s not going to (for instance), let the ship go down with a poor Felix outing. He has no qualms about yanking him in the first or second inning if need be, just as he has no qualms about sticking him in the bullpen for a spell until he finds his command again. So, I think you could certainly field a respectable overall team with this group of guys … for about 5-6 innings every game. After that, WHO THE HELL KNOWS WITH THIS BULLPEN?!

As the Mariners drastically over-achieved in 2018 thanks to the strength of our back-end relievers, so may this team fall apart with the lack thereof. We’ll get to that in another post, likely as we’re deeper into Spring Training.

But, competing in 2019 isn’t really important to me. In that sense, I really only care about Felix (because I always care about Felix), Marco (to confirm he still has at least what he had in 2018, but hopefully to see some improvement), and Kikuchi (to see how he adjusts to the switch to American baseball, as well as to see if he’s worth the committment both financially and in the number of years on his contract).

The crux is: how do the younger guys look? Will Sheffield and Swanson pan out? Can they make an immediate impact, so in 2020 we’re looking at a rotation that looks something like this:

  1. Justus Sheffield
  2. Yusei Kikuchi
  3. Marco Gonzales
  4. Erik Swanson
  5. Wade LeBlanc

In this hypothetical scenario, Felix retires and we find a taker for Leake (ideally at the 2019 deadline for a starter-needy team, who is willing to flip us a nice little prospect and take on the remainder of his salary). I think this is the best-case scenario for the Mariners’ prospects of contending in 2021 and beyond, because it means Sheffield becomes our ace, Kikuchi is as advertised, Gonzales is our bulldog in the middle, and Swanson is our underrated #4 guy with #3 or #2 stuff (and LeBlanc is still keeping us in ballgames).

Obviously, EVERYTHING has to go right for this to happen at such an accelerated pace, so don’t count on it looking even remotely like this in 2020. But, that’s what this year is for: it’s time to dream as big as possible … so we can have our hearts broken again and again and again.

Mariners Fire Sale! Everything Must Go!

I’ve had sort of mixed emotions about the first two big deals on this list (that I linked to, if you want to read about my feelings).  I think they were definitely necessary moves the Mariners needed to make, to shake things up and boost our farm system, but ultimately I wonder if we got enough back in return.  A starting catcher (who’s also a defensive wizard) for a centerfielder who probably won’t be here for more than a year or two before we get tired of yet another slap-hitting singles artist FEELS like pennies on the dollar.  Then, giving up a potential Ace starting pitcher for a mixed bag of minor league talent – again, while bolstering our terrible minor league teams – FEELS like yet more pennies on the dollar.  Now, of course, both of those guys (all three, if you want to include Heredia) come with their own risks.  Paxton and his injury issues, and Zunino with his woeful hitting issues, could submarine their respective new teams.  Or, they could figure it out/catch a little luck, and be superstars we gave up on too soon.

Before we get to the next slate of deals, I’ll talk about the minor moves the M’s made.  For starters, it seems odd that we’d dump Herrmann when we were already looking to trade Zunino, and the fact that the Astros made a play on him is doubly concerning.  In the end, probably no big thing, and he’s probably not a guy you’d want to guarantee a 40-man roster spot at this point in his career, so whatever.

Not going to arbitration on either Erasmo or Nick Vincent is probably a net gain.  I’m on the record as not having a whole lot of belief in Erasmo.  I think, for what he brings, he shouldn’t cost you very much in salary, so if he gets that elsewhere, more power to him.  And, while I like Vincent as much as the next guy, he was due a significant raise, and given his age and his declining abilities in 2018, that’s money poorly spent for the direction this team is going in.  I’m okay without either of them going forward, as I particularly think Vincent’s best days are behind him, and he’s going to get WAY too much money from another team.

The M’s offered Elias arbitration, and I think that’s cool, but I would’ve been cool if we didn’t as well.  I don’t think he’s in the longterm plans, but you do need to fill out a 25-man roster.  As a reliever/swing starter, there’s some value there.  He was good in 2018, and it’s just as likely he’ll be terrible in 2019, in which case that helps us on our quest to get a higher draft pick.

Finally, Casey Lawrence asked for his release so he can go pitch overseas.  I wish him the best, but again, no great loss.  He was mostly AAA fodder with occasional underwhelming call-ups.

***

Okay, now to the big deals!  Let’s start with the appetizer.

There was all this talk about the above-referenced blockbuster deal with the Mets, but before we were finished obsessing over that one, Jerry Dipoto snuck in a sneaky-good deal with the White Sox.  Alex Colome was another guy with some value who was not in our longterm plans.  He’s still got closing ability, he did pretty okay in 2018, so that value was probably not going up considerably.  Better to strike now rather than at midseason, when he could suck (or get injured) in the first half and see his value drop to zero.

On top of that, we get a starting-calibre catcher in return!  Omar “Don’t Call Me Navarez” Narvaez is a bat-first, lefty-hitting catcher who can take a walk and hit for a decent average.  He lacks Zunino’s power, but he’s improved in that area over the last year.  Where he stinks, unfortunately, is every aspect of his defense, as he rates as one of the very worst in the league.  Pitch-framing, throwing out runners, blocking pitches in the dirt, you name it, he sucks at it.  So, that’s going to be a drastic change of pace.  He’s essentially the Anti-Zunino, so if you REALLY hated Zunino, you’re REALLY gonna love this guy.

We’ll see if he can pick it up defensively, but I feel like that’s something you either have or you don’t, and you don’t really develop it if you lack it in the first place.  I hope I’m wrong, but I feel like he’s NOT the Catcher of the Future, not unless we find more pitchers who are able to miss more bats (without diving balls between and betwixt his legs).

Regardless, if you can get a starting catcher with multiple years of team control for a reliever on the final year of his contract, that’s a deal you make 10 times out of 10.

So, that solves the Zunino-sized hole at our catcher spot.

***

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s dig into the main course:  the Mets deal.

Robinson Cano has 5 years and $120 million left on his deal.  He’s old, but he’s still pretty effective; if I had to guess I’d say he has at least 2-3 more years left playing at his current level of productivity.  There’s always the chance that he’ll start his decline sooner rather than later – particularly on defense – but he’s too naturally talented to be a total black hole at the plate.  That having been said, as his legs go, it’ll end up being either singles, homers, or strikeouts, so unless he beefs up his homer totals, I can’t see him hitting a significant number of doubles from here on out.  With Nelson Cruz seemingly out of the picture, it looked like Cano was a natural to start to transition to his eventual destination as this team’s primary DH.  But, the M’s obviously had other plans.

So, what changed in a year?  Obviously, the PED suspension.  I’m trying to get a handle on if it’s a concern of a second suspension (and a yearlong ban), or if it’s just his attitude/personality and how it might clash with the new/younger direction this team is looking to make.  He’s obviously a big character on this team, and commands a lot of respect wherever he goes, and maybe the Mariners just want the players to learn from a different voice.  I mean, Cano is an All Star, so you can obviously learn a ton from a guy who built himself up from nothing.  But, there are the usual concerns about his hussle and his passion for the game.  I dunno.  I don’t know if we’ll ever get the real dirt about why the Mariners wanted out from under this deal.  I would assume the concern lies in the fact that he probably NEEDS the PEDs to keep up with his usual All Star level, and without them, his decline will start earlier.

With the $24 million per year contract, we obviously were never going to trade him by himself.  Unfortunately, the only real carrot we could dangle to get him out of here was our all-world closer Edwin Diaz.

I’ve been on record from the very beginning as saying this team should deal Diaz, and if I had it my way, we would’ve traded JUST him to the highest bidder, and gotten a REAL prospect windfall in return.  Honestly, I don’t believe he has it in him to stay at that level for very long.  I think with the way he throws the ball, he’s destined to sustain a serious arm injury, maybe even as soon as 2019.  It wouldn’t shock me in the SLIGHTEST to see him tear something and be out for a year.  I think, regardless of whether he injures his arm or not, he’s destined to lose velo on his fastball sooner rather than later – certainly well before he’s set to hit free agency – and with that I think his value as a closer will plummet.  This is, without question, Edwin Diaz at the peak of his value, and we were never going to have a better opportunity to replenish our minor leagues.

If it were up to me, and the Mariners are just hellbent on ridding this culture of Robinson Cano, then I would’ve just cut him and paid him his remaining salary, while trading Diaz for the highest bounty possible.  But, obviously, it’s not my money, so that’s easy for me to say.

That scenario just isn’t realistic.  I don’t see the harm in forcing him to exclusively DH (while maybe spot starting at second in an emergency), and riding out the remaining years of his contract.  Was he really so poisonous to this culture?  Would his presence alone have set us back so much?

Now, obviously, there’s the fringe benefit of making the Mariners worse by getting rid of him now.  Like I said, Cano can still play, and I bet he’ll be pretty solid for the Mets in 2019.  If our goal is to bottom out, then obviously you don’t want a guy in your lineup doing POSITIVE things like hitting for a high average, lots of extra-base hits, and lots of RBI.  So, that’s something.

In return, we take on some high-priced/low-performing contracts from the Mets.  Jay Bruce is set to earn $26 million over the next two years.  He’s a corner outfielder and I can’t imagine his defense is worth a damn.  Maybe he starts in left; maybe he platoons with Gamel (though, they both bat lefty, so that seems unlikely); maybe the M’s find a way to flip him to another team!  He was okay in 2017, but really had a bad 2018.  He does have some pop in his bat, and he’ll be 32 next year, so maybe we run him out as the DH?  Feels like the best way to preserve his legs and keep him away from anything related to defense.

Anthony Swarzak is on the hook for $8 million in 2019; he’s a veteran reliever who also had a good 2017, then bottomed out in 2018.

If we just talk about money, that’s $21 million for Bruce & Swarzak in 2019, and $13 for Bruce in 2020; that totals $34 million out of Cano’s remaining $120 million.  On top of that, the M’s chipped in an extra $20 million, meaning we ended up saving a total of $66 million going forward (not counting the remaining guys in the deal).  That’s not an insignificant number, especially when you hope that by the time 2021 rolls around, this team will be in a position to contend again.  That’s just the time when Cano should start to suck and Diaz should be recovering from a shoulder surgery!

As for the prospects, your guess is as good as mine.  Kelenic was the 6th overall selection in the 2018 draft.  He’s an 18-year old outfielder with all the tools; he just needs to develop them.  He would be the prize of this deal.  Again, if you can trade a reliever for a starting-calibre outfielder, you make that trade 10 times out of 10.  The question is:  do you trust this organization to develop him the right way?

Dunn is a 19th overall draft pick from 2016 and was the Mets’ highest pitching prospect.  He was in AA last year, so he appears to be on the right track.

Bautista is a reliever who can apparently throw 100 miles per hour.  Obviously, he has command problems, but we have a couple years to work out those kinks before hopefully he’ll stick in our Major League bullpen (or get flipped for still more prospects, if the ol’ rebuild hasn’t gone according to plan).

For what the Mariners were trying to do – acquire top-flight prospects while shedding some money and ridding the clubhouse of a possible cancer – this is probably as good as it gets.  If the outfielder pans out, it’s a terrific deal.  If he doesn’t, and the starter converts to relief, and the reliever flames out, then this could’ve busted SUPER HARD.

***

And, for dessert, I bring you the Jean Segura deal.

This one … REALLY makes me mad.  For starters, we traded for him prior to 2017 in what was at the time a CLEAR victory for the Mariners.  For Taijuan Walker (who doesn’t look like he’ll come close to being the ace we thought he could be), we got an All Star short stop and an All Star outfielder in the primes of their careers.  He started off strong in 2017, so we signed him MID-SEASON to a 5-year extension when we could’ve easily let him play it out through 2018 and seen what we had in him.

But, we liked him enough, so fine, 5-year extension.  He was officially part of our future.  And they didn’t realize until halfway through 2018 that he’s a headcase???  That he’s kind of soft and kind of a clubhouse cancer and we’re now bound and determined to do whatever it takes to be rid of him?

Look, I get the spirit of the rebuild, I really do!  But, this is an All Star player – particularly with the bat – on a very REASONABLE contract; he should be worth more than this!

Segura is due $14.25 million per year for the next 4 years.  In that time, he’ll almost certainly be worth that figure, if not be an outright bargain.  But, whatever, we save that money and we ostensibly get worse at the short stop position in 2019 (again, so we can tank and get that higher draft pick).  Then, there’s Juan Nicasio’s $9 million for 2019.  He, of course, sucked a fat one in 2018, but that could obviously flip entirely the very next year, because that’s how it is with relievers; randomness abounds!  Nevertheless, that’s a lot for an 8th inning reliever who may or may not be finished.  James Pazos has a nothing salary, which is most galling, because he’s both young and good!  Why couldn’t HE fetch a pretty penny on the open market?  Why the need to throw him into the mix?

Particularly when Carlos Santana is coming our way?!  He’s a first baseman (or a DH, depending on what else we do with that first base spot) who’s owed a combined $35 million over the next two years ($500,000 of that is a buyout for 2021, because you figure there’s no way in hell this team is going to pay a 35 year old first baseman another $17.5 million when they don’t have to).  Santana – like all these other useless veterans we’re getting back in these deals – was great in 2017 and stunk in 2018.  So, NOT GREAT, JERRY!

The prize in this deal, I guess, is J.P. Crawford, who will be a 24-year old glove-first/no-bat short stop in 2019.  If we can develop the bat into something halfway decent, then maybe that’s an upgrade in the end.  But, that’s obviously no guarantee.

And, that’s it.  A new short stop and a savings of another $31 million.  On the plus side, all these massive contracts expire after 2019 or 2020, so RIGHT ON TRACK FOR 2021 YOU GUYS!

As always, it’s hard to judge anything until you see the rest of the offseason moves.  But, you figure the biggest deals have been made (unless the team goes full boar and unloads Haniger for another bevy of prospects), and now it’s time for the rest of the roster moves to fill in around these guys.  But, on a surface level, it’s hard to get too excited, when so many variables are in play.

The Mariners Traded James Paxton, The Next Great Rebuild Is On

James Paxton to the Yankees
Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, and Dom Thompson-Williams to the Mariners

So, yeah, this is what we all wanted, right?  Stop pussy-footing around, trying to merely contend for a wild card spot, and start tearing things down to rebuild the foundation even stronger in the seasons to come.  Will the Mariners suck in 2019?  Absolutely.  Were they going to be worth a damn anyway, if we’d re-signed Nelson Cruz, maybe brought in a guy or two from free agency, and tried to run it back with the same core of guys?  Probably not.  The Mariners were going to suck – or at best be mediocre – for years to come; I’d rather they REALLY suck and hope to hit on some young prospects, while waiting out the Astros and A’s and whoever else who are already good now, and figure to be good for a long time.

I’ll start with this:  James Paxton had to be one of the first to go.  That guy is a walking injury waiting to happen, he’s at the peak of his value as a front-line, ace-type starter, so we had to get him out of here while his arm was still attached to his body.  Counting on him to survive a full Major League Baseball season is unrealistic, because he’s literally never been able to do it to date.  Does that mean he’ll NEVER do it?  No; I’m sure as soon as 2019 he’ll be a Cy Young contender.  But, over the long haul, he’s going to be on the DL more than his fair share of times, and it would’ve been frustrating to try and root for the guy who can never stay healthy for longer than a month or two.

There’s also the very real possibility that the Yankees figure something out about his mechanics or whatever and fix him, so he goes on to have a Randy Johnson-esque career in his 30’s.  Never rule out the ineptitude of the Mariners’ organization and its coaching staff.

As for the return?  It’s underwhelming.  It was always going to be underwhelming.

For starters, I’ll agree with what Mike Salk has said on 710 ESPN:  I also hate trading for Yankee prospects because they ARE the most over-hyped prospects in the game.  Now, part of that is due to the fact that they manage to find so many diamonds in the rough; their great teams are ALWAYS built on homegrown talent.  So, yes, they do have an eye for it, but more importantly, they keep what’s going to work best for them, and they ship off the duds.

So, yeah, Justus Sheffield might be their best prospect NOW, but Jesus Montero was once their best prospect.  It might be a down period for Yankee prospects (because so many of them have made it to the Major League level in recent seasons).  Sheffield has also been traded twice in his young career; are we sure we want to get too excited about a guy that two teams have already given up on?

Sure, he COULD be the next James Paxton, but he could also be a back-end of the rotation nothing.  He throws UP to 97 miles per hour, but how much do you want to bet he actually sits closer to 93-94?  And that doesn’t even go into how trading for ANY pitching prospect is risky business, with all the injuries that befall pitchers nowadays.

The bottom line is, scouts around the game feel he likely tops out as a #2 starter, whatever that means.  I guess it means he’s not going to be one of the top 10-15 starters in the league.  For the purposes of the Mariners’ organization, he’ll likely be our #1, but he’s a #1 starter like Freddy Garcia was once a #1.  It all depends on the rotation; someone’s gotta go on opening day.

That’s already underwhelming, and I haven’t even gotten to the throw-ins.  Erik Swanson is another pitcher who’s already been traded twice in his career.  He’s yet to actually make any Major League appearances, though (whereas Sheffield at least made it into 3 games in relief towards the end of last year).  Swanson did pretty good in AAA last year – and both of these guys figure to at least get a look in Spring Training in 2019 – but I’d bet the family farm that he starts out in Tacoma.  Swanson is projected to be a back-end of the rotation starter at best, with some guys projecting him to eventually end up in the bullpen.  In which case, whoop-dee-freaking-doo.

Then there’s Dom Thompson-Williams, an outfielder who made it all the way to the high-A level last year.  He’s young-ish, but probably should’ve made it higher than he has.  He figures to start in AA in 2019 and I guess we’ll see.  They say he plays center, but he projects more as a corner outfielder, and ultimately probably a 4th outfielder at the Major League level.  Either way, don’t expect to see him on the Mariners before 2020 or 2021.

Which, incidentally, is what Jerry Dipoto said is the target for the Mariners to start turning it back around again.  We’ll see.  That sounds pretty optimistic.

As I said up top, I’m all for trading Paxton, but I dunno.  Maybe we could’ve held off until AFTER Thanksgiving to see what we could get.  Is this really the best deal out there?  Are we sure there wasn’t another team willing to chip in just a little bit more?  Obviously, we were limited.  The teams who’d be in on Paxton are the teams who feel they’re World Series contenders RIGHT NOW.  There wouldn’t have been any rebuilding teams, or middling wild card teams in on him, because those teams would be looking for better bets on long-term health.  The Yankees are just hoping Paxton can keep it together for 1-2 years; if he has that in him, maybe they go to the World Series next year.  Or, if he lands on the DL a bunch in 2019, they can always trade him next off-season to recoup whatever they can get.

My thing is, the Mariners believe in their ability to develop players more than I believe in them.  The Mariners probably feel like they can get the most out of Sheffield, that with their coaches, they can turn him into an ace.  I’ll tell you right now, that’s not gonna happen.  Developing fringe talent into stars is probably the WORST thing the Mariners do.  Killing it on social media, engaging with the fans, having cool ballpark give-aways, celebrating their retired stars?  That’s more in their wheelhouse.  It’s fine, we all have our special talents.  Being good at baseball just isn’t one of the Mariners’.

Of course, I’m talking out of my ass, because I haven’t seen any of these guys play at all.  They could shock the world and prove Jerry Dipoto to be a genius.  Based on precedent, I have my doubts.  I’m a Mariners fan, and as such I’m destined to always root for a loser.