It’s Okay That Justus Sheffield Doesn’t Quite Have The Ceiling Everyone Hoped He’d Have

I’ll just put it this way: who would you rather have right now, James Paxton or Justus Sheffield?

The fun answer to that question is, in theory, the Mariners could have BOTH, what with Paxton currently being a free agent. Since we traded him to the Yankees for Sheffield (and … others), Paxton has predictably suffered from injuries and it seems like a long shot that he’ll ever be counted upon to anchor a rotation. He could be had for an incentive-laden deal, but I wouldn’t count him among any longterm plans.

Since this is Uninteresting Mariners Week, though, let’s leave the more interesting topics for another time. Similarly to a lot of other guys, I like Sheffield. I would rather have him, even though the ceiling is always going to be higher for Paxton when he’s healthy. But Sheffield is much younger and – so far – not prone to injury. It’s a no-brainer, in that sense.

And, to his credit, Sheffield had a pretty good year in 2020! It was his first “full” season in the Major Leagues (COVID-19 limitations notwithstanding; he would’ve been up here for a 162-game season as well, had the pandemic not raged quite so hard). Clearly, the Mariners were taking it easy on him, not pushing him too much; his longest outings were 7 innings, and his highest single-game pitch count was 99. Yet, he still managed 6 Quality Starts out of 10 total appearances, which is pretty good for a 24 year old.

My biggest concern, obviously, lies in his fastball. It’s not particularly … fast. He did improve his command, and hitters weren’t quite as able to mash him for extra-base hits. If anything, he’s a perfectly fine starting pitcher! He’s just a victim of expectations. When you trade a pitcher like Paxton to a team like the Yankees – and you hear about a guy like Sheffield, who used to be one of the highest-rated prospects in the country – you expect you’re trading a Current Ace for a Future Ace. Sheffield will most likely never be an Ace, in the sense that we think of them. He doesn’t have that overpowering fastball, so he’s going to have to improve as an all-around pitcher. 2020 saw him making that first step. One would hope he has the drive to continue working on his game, because he could be a fine mainstay in this rotation with Marco Gonzales and whoever else emerges from the young crop.

I really don’t have a lot to say otherwise. Worst case scenario is he regresses in 2021, and he puts his future with the organization in jeopardy (or he gets injured, in which case, his future will still be in jeopardy). Part of me sort of expects him to be Just Another Guy, which is why I’ve yet to fully commit to him as a prospect in our overall rebuild. At least he’s not Erik Swanson, though; that guy … yeesh!

The Mariners Have Been Smoked Out Of Seattle; Things Are Clearly Going Great Right Now

We got that doubleheader in against the A’s on Monday – in far-less than ideal conditions, smokewise – but with the air quality failing to improve, MLB made the probably-smart decision to move the 2-game series against the Giants to San Francisco, where I guess things have improved dramatically since the last time we played them (on September 9th) and the sky made it look like they were on Mars. That pushed things back to where our Tuesday/Wednesday do-si-do this week became a Wednesday/Thursday whathaveyou, which necessitated a flip-flopping of my Seahawks preview post and this Mariners post-series post, so what I’m REALLY getting at is this whole thing is a huge inconvenience to me above everyone else!

I am, of course, kidding. The smoke in the Pacific Northwest continues to be a huge dumpster fire to the point that even our 3-game home series against the Padres had to be moved to San Diego this weekend. Between these five games, and the additional make-up game against the A’s that’s already been tacked onto our season-ending series in Oakland, that’s at least six home games the Mariners will have had to play on the road this year. So, on top of being a rebuilding team that has improbably found itself on the fringe of playoff contention in spite of trades shedding the roster of a couple of our best guys, we’re saddled with a 24/36 home/road split. If we figure out some way to make the post-season with all of this going against us, then truly there is a higher power who is improbably a Mariners fan (to whom I would like to ask: WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN THE LAST 20 YEARS?!).

Anyhoozle, the Mariners were just beaten two more times by the Giants, so I’m pretty glad to be the fuck away from THAT team for a while.

Wednesday’s 9-3 defeat was pretty demoralizing. Ljay Newsome – fresh off of a shortened start when he was hit in the pitching hand by a line drive – was clearly rusty, giving up 5 runs in 3 innings. Erik Swanson was recently called back up – fresh off of either being demoted for sucking, or maybe an injury, I forget/don’t care – and clearly hasn’t learned how to pitch since he was with the Mariners last, giving up 3 more runs (2 earned) in 1/3 of an inning. There was some okay bullpen work beyond that, but the damage was done. Kyle Lewis had a couple hits in this one, but he’s been pretty cold of late, with his batting average dipping below .300. I hope his Rookie of the Year chances aren’t in jeopardy!

Thursday’s 6-4 defeat was demoralizing in a completely different way. After five innings, the Mariners held a 4-1 lead (scoring all of our runs in the second, as we chased the Giants’ starter from the game), but proceeded to slowly, but surely, give it all away. Nick Margevicius was spectacular through five, but he couldn’t get a single out in the sixth inning, and two more runs were allowed in the process. Things were still in okay shape, with Kendall Graveman coming in for the seventh inning. But, he just didn’t have it in this one, giving up three more runs while getting only two outs. It’s been a while since we’ve had a prolonged slump from our bullpen, but we appear to be in the throes of one right now, and it’s not much fun.

Our only chance to make the playoffs seems to be as the A.L. West’s second place team, as the Wild Card looks to be out of reach. The Cheating Astros were working with us on that goal by losing a bunch of games, but they have the easiest remaining schedule in all of baseball the rest of the way, while I believe the Mariners have one of the hardest. We currently sit three games behind Houston, which is really four games, because they own the tiebreaker in the head-to-head matchup already.

It’s not looking likely that we break the streak, is my point. As I mentioned, we have three more games down in San Diego over the weekend. If we can somehow get through that without losing any more ground on the Astros, then we have a three-game set against Houston that we SHOULD be able to play in Seattle next week! If we hold serve in San Diego, and sweep the Astros next week, that would put us in a dead heat; from there we’d have four games down in Oakland to try to make up one game’s worth of ground against Houston to overtake them.

I apologize if you wasted your time reading the previous paragraph, because none of that is EVER going to happen. My hunch is: we’ll continue to spiral this weekend, and be officially eliminated at home in Seattle next week, making our final series in Oakland totally meaningless.

Which brings us back to draft positioning! We’re 22-28 right now. That puts us squarely in the 10th spot in the draft next year. I don’t want to alarm you, but given our difficult schedule, we have a VERY legitimate opportunity to leapfrog anywhere from 4 to 8 teams. To get to the #2 overall draft position, we’re only four games separated from the Texas Rangers! Obviously, they’re terrible, but you never know!

The floor is the limit, everyone!

If The Astros Beat Up On The Mariners And I’m Not Around To Watch It, Does It Make A Sound?

Looks like I picked a good weekend to go camping with my friends. Spoiler Alert: the Mariners lost all three games down in Houston over the weekend!

So, let’s go through this together, shall we?

Apparently Yusei Kikuchi was scratched from his start on Friday with neck spasms. We’re hoping that he misses just the one start, and is fine for his next scheduled go-around. But, in the meantime, Friday was a bullpen day, and if you know anything about this Mariners bullpen, it’s that – HOLY HELL – do they suck!

Nestor Cortes got the “start” – if you want to call it that – and got exactly one out, while giving up 8 runs (7 earned), before handing the ball off to Bryan Shaw (who was called back up to the Majors against my wishes). All told, the Mariners gave up 9 runs in the first inning (and 10 runs across the first two innings) to make this one totally and completely pointless. In the end, the M’s lost 11-1 and Bryan Shaw was finally released from the organization after his 1.2 innings of 2-run ball. He’s shot, from a Major League perspective, and while he was a fun punching bag while it lasted, it’s starting to literally feel like beating a dead horse.

One good thing that came out of this one is Yohan Ramirez went 3 innings and only gave up 1 run. He’s a promising young bullpen arm we poached from the Astros, so it would be nice if he did well this season. We also apparently picked up someone by the name of Brady Lail, who also went 3 innings in this one, giving up 0 runs on 0 hits while striking out 3. So, could be a name to watch going forward.

The Mariners were in need of a quality start following that debacle, which makes it all the more impressive that Nick Margevicius – on Saturday – went 6 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 4 hits and 0 walks, while striking out 3. With the bullpen behind him holding things down, that’s a game you’d expect even a team like the Mariners to win! But, unfortunately, the offense was PRETTY dormant in this series. Again, we were held to just one run – an Evan White blast to center – in a 2-1 defeat.

So, technically, I lied when I said I didn’t see any of this series. I got home just in time to see Justus Sheffield get through his sixth and final inning of work (he only gave up 2 runs, 1 earned, on 6 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 4). It was 2-2 at the time and the game was handed off to the bullpens of both teams. In my defense, though, I was texting and otherwise catching up on all the news I’d missed over the weekend, so my mind was occupied elsewhere for the hour or so that I was in front of the TV. We got into the ninth still tied, when in walked Erik Swanson, who ended up suffering his second tough loss in a week. I kept wondering – as I occasionally looked up at the screen – why he kept pitching to a left-handed batter low and inside, until lo and behold, the dude jacked a solo homer to right to end the game 3-2. This is a week, I’m sure, Swanson will be happy to forget and move on from.

As you can see, the offense shit the bed in this one as well. Kyle Lewis had a couple hits, but otherwise there wasn’t much to see here. As I discussed last week, it doesn’t get any easier for the Mariners, as we have four games against a dominant Dodgers team coming up.

What did a three-game sweep do to our draft stock? Well, we’re still the third-worst team in Major League Baseball. We’ve played considerably more games than both the Red Sox and Pirates, though, so it’ll be interesting to see if they have to make up those games they missed. At 7-16, we’re only a half game worse than the Angels, which boggles the mind considering they have Mike Trout and a very high payroll full of quality players.

The good news is, after this past weekend, we never have to go to the state of Texas again in the 2020 season. Not that I was overly concerned about our level of travel this year, but it’s kind of nice considering that was as far east as we were ever going. All but three of our remaining road games are in the state of California (with the aforementioned three non-California games being in Arizona).

The offensive struggles are a wee bit concerning, but I’m not losing my shit just yet. Kyle Lewis has cooled off a tad, but that’s good. It’s good for him to have to adjust and work through a dip. Kyle Seager and Austin Nola are still plugging away. J.P. Crawford is probably always going to be a little streaky. Shed Long is still batting under .200, which is unfortunate; I don’t think he’s going to end up being our everyday second baseman of the future. And Evan White is still struggling, though hopefully that homer he hit over the weekend is a little spark that gets him going.

After this Dodgers series, the schedule eases up considerably the rest of the way (until the last week of the season), so that might be a good opportunity for our young guys – and our pitching staff – to get into a bit of a groove. I don’t really believe the Mariners are the third-worst team in baseball. They’re PROBABLY better than that, and just in a bad streak right now. They also very well could be exactly that bad or worse, at least from a record standpoint. Young teams like this tend to find ways to lose more than they find ways to win. So, you’ll often see when the pitching is good (like it was on Saturday & Sunday), the hitting goes in the tank. Or, if our hitting rebounds, then the pitching goes in the tank. It’s not ideal, but it’s also not an indicator of things to come, next season and beyond. That’s why I’m rooting for as bad of a finish as possible. Let’s stockpile more high draft picks – hopefully in a 2021 draft that’s more than five rounds long! – continue to replenish this farm system (currently ranked third in all of baseball) and try to build a sustainable winner for years to come!

Mariners Gonna Mariners Down In Texas

The Mariners had another GREAT opportunity to win a series against a mediocre opponent. But then, you know …

The first game of the series against the Rangers saw the first Mariners blowout victory of the season! A 10-2 drubbing! Prior to that, the most the M’s had won by was three runs (on the flipside, we’ve lost by 6, 5, 8, 10, 5, and 5 runs already in this truncated season; which would explain our -35 run differential, pretty decisively the worst in all of Major League Baseball). Kyle Seager hit a grand slam in this one, Kyle Lewis and Dylan Moore both also had homers; in fact, every Mariner had at least one hit.

It wouldn’t be a sign of better things to come for the offense.

Justin Dunn got his first Major League victory in this one, having gone 6 innings, giving up 7 hits, 3 walks, 2 runs, while striking out 2. Not super dominant, but easily the best performance of his very brief career. More of these types of games and fewer of his … usual types of games, would be important going forward.

The next day, Marco Gonzales didn’t really have it (5 innings, 4 runs), but while the bullpen managed to limit the damage to just that, the offense couldn’t get it going. The Rangers needed six pitchers to get through this one, but did so, 4-2. Two hits for Kyle Seager, and there’s your offensive highlight.

The final game, yesterday, was a total shitshow! The Mariners jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning and held that through five. Taijuan Walker had a very nice outing, all things considered, and was about to make it through the sixth inning just as unscathed. Dylan Moore got the start at first base because of his hot hitting of late (he was 0 for 3 with a walk and two strikeouts in this one) and couldn’t dig out a slightly errant throw from J.P. Crawford for the final out of the inning. An out that Evan White – had he been starting – almost certainly would have made. Crawford got the error, but more importantly an unearned run was allowed to score in the process. I wondered at the time if that run would bite us in the ass, but Walker managed to wiggle off the line in the next at bat.

The Rangers scraped another run onto the board in the very next inning to make it 4-2; this one off of newcomer Joey Gerber (though, again, the next pitcher who inherited the baserunners allowed that man to score, because this bullpen is soft as freshly fallen snow and can’t be disturbed by complications on the field behind them). At this rate – one run per inning – the Rangers would tie the game up before the end of regulation!

Actually, it was much earlier than that.

In the eighth inning, Erik Swanson came in and the wheels came off. To his credit, he was throwing hard. Mike Blowers, on the broadcast, was absolutely creaming his jeans about some of the fastballs he was seeing out of this kid; he even touched 99mph on the radar gun! That, of course, got me excited, but it quickly faltered when it was clear Swanson couldn’t hit his spots. It’s frustrating to see a catcher set up in one spot (top of the zone) and see the pitcher throw the ball low and away. Or, worse, to see the catcher set up in the dirt, and watching Swanson groove a slider in the very middle of the plate.

Swanson, you’ll remember, is a former starting pitcher we got in the Justus Sheffield/James Paxton trade. At the time, we hoped maybe he could top out as a middle-of-the-rotation guy, but already he’s been demoted to a run-of-the-mill bullpen arm. And, with more appearances like this one, he won’t even have that for long. When it was all said and done, Swanson got 2 outs, gave up 3 hits, hit two batters, and gave up five runs while striking out just one (to be fair, it was an impressive-looking strikeout to kick off the inning). All the runs in that inning were charged to him, but of course Taylor Williams had every opportunity to get us out of it with the game still tied. Instead, a wild pitch and a 2-run single put the game away.

Austin Nola had a homer (as did Vogey) and another hit, and J.P. Crawford had two hits. But, the offense not ever adding on after that second inning was pretty criminal. So, you can say this was a total team effort, but the defense and bullpen really blew this one.

That puts the Mariners at 7-13 through 20 games; we’re a full third of the way through the season! 7-13 is also good for last place in the A.L. West (though, we’re somehow only 2.5 games out of a playoff spot, in this asterisk season).

Considering how bad we are, it’s probably a good thing the defense and bullpen are blowing so many games. I know there’s the argument that you don’t want to be a young team who’s used to losing, but the Astros lost more than anyone for a bunch of years in a row before being one of the most dominant teams in all of baseball (and cheaters, don’t forget the most dominant cheaters in all of baseball). 7-13 puts us as the third-worst team in all of baseball. That’s exciting! We could be in a prime drafting spot next year! The Red Sox are somehow worse, but I wouldn’t expect that to last; we could EASILY fall into the second spot! The Pirates, right now, are 3-13, but there’s still a lot of baseball left to be played.

The Mariners get their first off-day of the season today. Then, it’s off to Houston for a 3-game set over the weekend. I was kind of hoping, for morale’s sake, that the M’s would win that Rangers series, because our next seven games are against the Astros and Dodgers (a 2-game road series, followed immediately by a 2-game home series). I mean, I could see us going 0-7 in that stretch and it’s not even difficult to imagine!

The Nothing Continues: Here’s Something About The Mariners’ Bullpen (Part 3)

Last week, we got into the everyday players and the starting rotation for the 2020 Seattle Mariners. I’ve put it off long enough – this is the equivalent of having already eaten my dessert and main course, leaving just the garbage cole slaw sweating its way across my plate two hours later (as I’m not allowed to leave the dinner table until I’ve eaten my vegetables) – so I present to you some VERY unhelpful words on the bullpen.

I’ll split this in two sections and see how it goes. First, we’ll look at the guys who played for the Mariners last year, then we’ll look at the newcomers to the ballclub (again, this is based on the Depth Chart section of the official Mariners roster). The “fun” thing about this one is: they’re all effectively new to me, because I have no idea who any of these guys are!

(let’s get this over with)

Holdovers

  • Matt Magill
  • Erik Swanson
  • Brandon Brennan
  • Dan Altavilla
  • Taylor Guilbeau
  • Gerson Bautista
  • Austin Adams

Looks like Matt Magill came over from the Twins before the trade deadline as he was released and the M’s picked up his contract. He’s been a middling reliever pretty steadily with the Twins since 2018, but doesn’t really do anything particularly well. He’s a right-handed 30-year old, so I guess there’s still time to turn it around, but for now he screams journeyman.

Erik Swanson came over in the James Paxton deal. There was initially hope that he could be part of a 1-2 punch with Justus Sheffield in the starting rotation, but it looks pretty clear that the Mariners believe Swanson’s destiny is as a bullpen arm. He started in 8 of his 27 appearances with the M’s in 2019 – his first whiff of the Major Leagues – but that clearly looked to be too much for him, as he was sent down to AAA in mid-May. When he returned in August, it was exclusively as a reliever who’d go 1-2 innings per appearance. Sort of a disappointing result for someone who looked like a promising mid-rotation starter, but that’s what happens when you over-value Yankees prospects.

Brandon Brennan was a Rule 5 guy the Mariners selected last year who managed to stay on the big league club all season. He was probably our best reliever last year through the first half of the season before going on the Injured List. His last two outings before going down were total disasters, which really hampered an otherwise pretty-good season. I don’t know if he has closer potential or not, but he’s at least somewhat interesting as is.

Dan Altavilla (pictured here looking like his head was photoshopped onto his body really awkwardly) feels like he’s been around forever. He’s got an arm like a rocket, but otherwise hasn’t been able to put together anything close to consistency (unless “consistently terrible” is what you’re looking for). With the stuff he’s got, combined with the fact that he’s only 27 years old, you can’t really write him off. But, we’ve been waiting around since 2016 when he made his Major League debut; ANY TIME NOW, ALTAVILLA!

Taylor Guilbeau sounds like a made-up name. Not in the way all names are made up, but like a clearly-fake alias a famous person gives a hotel manager when he’s out of town and wants to fuck some prostitutes. He apparently came over in the Roenis Elias trade with the Nationals last year, and got a lot of play in the last two months of 2019. He had two bad outings (resulting in blown saves) but was otherwise fine. Last year was the first time he’d gotten to either AAA or the bigs, so there’s still room to dream with this kid.

Gerson Bautista came over in the Cano/Diaz deal with the Mets, a right savaging of epic proportions. If memory serves, this kid throws hard, but my memory is for shit, so don’t take my word for it. He appeared in 8 games with the M’s last year and sucked, but he’s only 25 years old in May, so let’s hope that’s just a bad start to an otherwise stellar professional career.

Austin Adams came over in a separate deal with the Nationals last year. He’s in the running with Brennan for best reliever who finished the season with the M’s in 2019. It doesn’t seem like he’s got closer potential either though, so I dunno.

Newcomers

  • Yoshihisa Hirano
  • Carl Edwards Jr.
  • Yohan Ramirez

Yoshihisa Hirano is a buy-low candidate on a cheap 1-year deal. He had a great year in Arizona in 2018 as a rookie, but totally fell apart in 2019. After a long, successful career in Japan, he’ll be 36 years old this year and really just trying to maximize the last of his Major League value before presumably retiring or returning to Japan. I wouldn’t expect a lot; maybe we can flip him at the deadline this year if there’s a season and he plays well.

Carl Edwards Jr. was pretty awesome with the Cubs from 2016-2018, but had just a shitty 2019, which led to him signing with the Mariners this past offseason. He’ll only be 28 years old this year, so that makes him a far-more-interesting buy-low candidate than Hirano.

Yohan Ramirez was taken by the Mariners in this past offseason’s Rule 5 Draft from the Astros, so we know a couple things: he’s probably pretty good (though, obviously not good enough for them to protect him), and he knows how to cheat. I want both of those things for the Mariners!

How Many 2020 Mariners Can I Name Off The Top Of My Head, With Just A Minimal Amount Of Coffee Inside Me?

I listen to this podcast called Threedom, which features three of my favorite podcast comedians sitting around and bullshitting for an hour. And, last week I listened to the episode where Lauren was trying to list off as many different characters and whatnot as she could from the Star Wars franchise, having never (at the time) seen the movies. Essentially just going off of what pop culture has referenced that’s seeped into her subconscious. I thought that was a lot of fun, especially because I have my own blind spots; I’d be curious to see how many characters I could pull from something like the Harry Potter series, for instance. There’s Harry, of course. Hermione. The red-headed freak. Snape? Snope? Voldemort, for sure. From there, it’s all a jumble of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, so let’s move on.

I’m stealing this idea to see how many players from the 2020 Mariners I can name, without cheating. You’re bound to see a few guys from the minors in this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’ve said it before, but in 2019 I checked out on the Seattle Mariners. Part of that had to do with my work schedule – waking up at 4am, going to bed by 8pm, not wanting to be thoroughly irritated right before it’s time to sleep – but most of that had to do with the Mariners being just awful. I’ve put up with a lot of bad baseball in my 20-something years of following this team, but I refuse to lose sleep over them! Especially when the object isn’t to win games, but see the young guys develop.

Well, that carries over into 2020. In fact, the team might actually lose a lot MORE games than they did last year (and 94 losses is quite a lot on its own). So, suffice it to say, it’s going to be difficult to get any interest ramped up for this team.

So, without further ado, here is the (pitiful) list of pitchers that I know based on memory alone:

  • Marco Gonzales
  • Yusei Kikuchi
  • Justus Sheffield
  • Erik … Samsonite? Swanson!
  • Julio Rodriguez
  • Dan Altavilla
  • Brandon … Brennan?
  • Festa?
  • Taijuan Walker!

That’s really all I got. And honestly, I don’t even feel like a bad fan! I think Rodriguez and Festa are minor leaguers, but I was close (except Rodriguez is actually an outfielder, so I was WAY OFF). The only one I probably should’ve remembered was Sam Tuivailala, as he’s been around a little bit and was a pretty significant return in one of those damn trades we made with the Cardinals.

Here’s all the catchers I know:

  • Tom Murphy

And that’s it. Do the M’s even HAVE a backup catcher in the Major Leagues? We’ll find out this spring.

Outfield:

  • Mitch Haniger (injured list)
  • Kyle Lewis
  • Mallex Smith
  • Braden … Bishop?
  • Jarred Kelenic

Kelenic is obviously in the minors, but I nailed the rest! I mean, yeah, I also missed a couple, but I got the big names.

Infield:

  • Evan White
  • Kyle Seager
  • J.P. Crawford
  • Dee Gordon
  • Daniel Vogelbach
  • Shed Long

I almost forgot Shed Long! I knew he had a short name, and almost biffed it, but it fell out of my brain at the last second. Considering the rest of the 40-man roster is filled with potential backups and minor leaguers, I feel good about my effort here. Shame I forgot Austin Nola (who, I guess, can also play backup catcher?!), but what can you do?

That’s 21 guys. Honestly, better than I would’ve expected. Thankfully, with Pitchers & Catchers just reporting this week, I’ll have plenty of time to learn about everyone else.

Did I say “thankfully”? I meant Dreadfully.

My Confidence Level In The Mariners’ Rebuild So Far

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

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

High Confidence

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

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

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

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

Medium Confidence

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

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

Medium-Low Confidence

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

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

Low Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.