The Mariners Have Their 60-Man Roster

It’s cool to be talking about baseball again. This time next month, we’ll be knee-deep in our delusion that “anything can happen in a 60-game season” and that “crazier things have happened”, so without further ado, why not get things kickstarted? Get ahead of this early, before key guys start succumbing to random injuries and we have to be reminded that – oh yeah – these are still the Mariners.

With all of the focus on the M’s replenishing their farm system’s starting pitching corps through the draft in the last few years, it’s easy to forget that there are some young, semi-interesting arms at the Major League level right now! Word on the street is, the Mariners will be going with a 6-man rotation in the early going. And I find all of these guys pretty compelling, for what they are, even if I have my doubts that few of them will still be around on the next hypothetical great Mariners team.

Marco Gonzales returns as your de facto Ace. Look, I’m on the record with my opinion about Marco: he’s fine. He’s nobody’s ace, but he’s likable, he works hard, he’s the kind of quality leader this team DESPERATELY needs right now (given most of our best veterans of recent years are on other teams now), and he has a drive to continue striving for greatness. You could make the argument that the best is yet to come and part of me believes that, because with experience he’s going to continue to get smarter and learn new tricks of the trade to get guys out. But, his stuff is what it is. He’s got a low-90’s fastball with an improving change up. He’s more pitch-to-contact than he is a bat-misser; more Jamie Moyer than Randy Johnson, in other words. That has value! Don’t get me wrong, but it also comes with a ceiling that’s not very exciting. Steadiness isn’t exciting. Reliability and dependability aren’t sexy. But, they’re important. Even as they fly under the radar, these qualities bring warm comfort to fans who know what they’re getting out of someone like Marco Gonzales every 5-6 days. They might not win you any championships, but they’ll keep you in the discussion.

It’s going to be a big year for Yusei Kikuchi. He got his feet wet last year as a 28 year old rookie from Japan and had the growing pains you might’ve expected. With the proper adjustments in place, we’re going to see if he can make it work as a Major Leaguer. This will, by no means, make or break his career with the Mariners, but it would be a nice stepping stone towards his all-important 2021 season. That will REALLY determine if he’s going to be here long term (as, following that, the M’s will have the option to extend him to a team-friendly deal for the next four years). Ideally, he’ll get a jumpstart on that by really putting together a solid two months of play.

Next up, we’ve got a couple of reclamation projects in Taijuan Walker and Kendall Graveman. Walker is only 27 years old, but somehow feels like an aging veteran! He’s on a $2 million deal to see if he can rebuild his value after two EXTREMELY injury-plagued seasons. It sounds like he’s still got a mid-90’s fastball, which always plays; at this point it’s just a matter of staying healthy. Graveman, similarly, is on a cheap deal in 2020; he’s also coming off of two EXTREMELY injury-plagued seasons of his own. He’s more of an off-speed specialist than Walker, but he nevertheless has a lot going for him IF he can stay healthy. You’d probably expect the Mariners to run a 6-man starting rotation regardless, considering how weird this year has been so far, but employing both Walker and Graveman further necessitates this cautious approach. Even if it’s foolish to expect both of them to make it the entire two months, the hope is that they can at least make it a few weeks, to give the rest of the rotation some time to stretch out their arms.

Another reason to be thankful for the super-sized rotation is the uncertainty around two of our more mature young prospects: Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn. Sheffield was the cornerstone of the James Paxton deal with the Yankees and as soon as we got him it was like the value of a new car the minute you drive it off the lot. Such is the blessing and the curse of being a Yankees prospect: everyone overrates you … until the Yankees no longer want you, then you’re automatically damaged goods. On paper, Sheffield has the stuff that Aces are made of, but as someone who’s had issues with command as he’s raised through the minor leagues, people have started to question if he has that consistency you’re looking for. Considering he’s done everything you can ask of someone in the minors – on top of his 8 appearances in Seattle towards the end of last season – this was always going to be the first real look we had at Sheffield as a rotation piece. If anything, he might actually benefit from the season being shortened to two months, since there’s really very little pressure on his shoulders. The downside, of course, is that if he struggles, there’s less of an opportunity to turn around a slow start. Whereas, in a full season, if he’s bad in the first half (but turns it around in the second half), then at least you can make an argument there’s momentum as he heads into 2021. Let’s just cross our fingers and hope he kills it out of the gate; then he can start next year with his head held high.

As for Justin Dunn, he came over in the Cano/Diaz deal with the Mets. He often gets overshadowed by Jarred Kelenic (who looks to be a future superstar), but Dunn in his own right – if he pans out as a quality starter – could make that trade look even MORE lopsided in the Mariners’ favor than it already appears to be. We took it very cautious with him in his cup of coffee last year, employing him as one of those insufferable “openers” where he’d start the game, pitch an inning or two, and hand the ball off to the real starter of that particular game. That’s probably wise, since he has less minor league experience to speak of than Sheffield (particularly when you factor in he skipped the AAA level to get here). I’m going to be VERY curious to see what he does with a rotation slot this season, as his rapid ascent seems to have him on track as having an even higher ceiling than Sheffield! At this point, if one of these two guys pans out, that’s probably a huge victory for this organization. If both of them pitch well, then the sky just might be the limit.

As usual, I’m going to skip chatter about the bullpen, because I know not who these guys are (for the most part). Like last year, the bullpen figures to be the severe weak point of the Mariners, so don’t be shocked if you see more than your fair share of blown saves once again.

Let’s move on to the starting lineup. I’ll try to guess what that’s going to be, 1-9:

  1. Mallex Smith – CF
  2. Evan White – 1B
  3. Kyle Lewis – RF
  4. Kyle Seager – 3B
  5. Tom Murphy – C
  6. Dan Vogelbach – DH
  7. J.P. Crawford – SS
  8. Dee Gordon – 2B
  9. Jake Fraley/Braden Bishop – LF

I don’t have very strong convictions about this order, to be honest. Evan White feels like a 2-hole hitter. Kyle Lewis REALLY exploded in his September call-up last year. Seager and Murphy are your veteran middle-of-the-order guys for now. Vogey gets one more shot to lock down that DH spot and see if he has what it takes to hit consistently at the Major League level. The rest of these guys – Smith, Crawford, Gordon, Fraley, Bishop – I could see hitting anywhere in the bottom third or leadoff spot, depending on who’s hot and who’s pitching for the opposing team on any particular day. You also gotta figure Austin Nola will get plenty of play, both as our backup catcher, and as a utility player; he proved last year that his bat was too important to sit on a regular basis. Also, you figure Shed Long will see the field quite a bit as a Super Sub, all around the infield and corner outfield spots. With this year almost certainly being Gordon’s last in a Mariners uniform, if Long hits as we hope he does, he could take over the starting second baseman job come September (ideally, Gordon will start the year on fire and be traded by the end of August to a team who needs a quality leadoff hitter type).

The non-pitchers on the Mariners will be fun to watch, but they’re also going to be PAINFUL to endure. The combination of youth and lack of consistency will make for some exciting games where you’ll want to believe this team has what it takes, but then you’ll be smacked back down to Earth when you see this team get shut out on the regular. I would expect to see quite a bit of games where we’re being no-hit for an uncomfortable number of innings (and, I predict at least one time where we DO either get no-hit, or lord help us, have a perfect game put up on us).

I don’t have a lot to say about the prospects who figure to reside exclusively on the Taxi Squad, other than a pretty significant portion are there for development purposes only, and won’t play for the Mariners in 2020. As expected. Nevertheless, there are some in-betweeners who aren’t on the official 40-man roster, but who could see their numbers called if things shake out a certain way. So, I’ll talk about them as they come up. Rest assured, things never go according to plan in baseball. More than a few of the guys I’ve talked about above will fail to pan out for one reason or another. We just have to hope that SO MANY things don’t go wrong, to the point where we have to call up certain prospects a year or two before they’re ready (and before we’re ready to start counting their service time years).

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mitch Haniger, who will start the year on the 45-day Injured List. Of course, as soon as I buy the guy’s jersey, he immediately falls apart; but of course that’s monstrous for me to say, because we’re talking about the man’s livelihood here! He’s had a lot of freaky health problems over the last calendar year, with multiple surgeries to rectify whatever core issues he’s got going on. The hope is we’ll see him at some point in September. Unless, of course, he keeps trying to push himself too hard and suffers further injuries. I’d suggest for him to just take it easy and come back healthier in 2021, but at this point I don’t think he can afford to! His final two Arbitration years are 2021 & 2022; the Mariners need to know what they’ve got in this guy. Whether he’s our Right Fielder of the Future, or whether he’s trade bait to make him someone else’s injury risk. Because, not for nothing, but his replacements are coming. We have Kyle Lewis on the roster right now, with two VERY highly-rated prospects set to join the Mariners as early as next year (probably around mid-season). If Haniger is going to stave off his competition, he needs to put together at least a few weeks of competent play towards the end of this season, if nothing else to boost his confidence heading into an all-important 2021 campaign!

The Mariners Drafted Emerson Hancock In The First Round

The Mariners had already been pretty hard at work – in previous drafts, as well as their bevy of step-back trades – in bolstering what looks to be the future of the Mariners’ everyday roster. Evan White (first base), Jarred Kelenic (outfield), Julio Rodriguez (outfield), J.P. Crawford (short stop), Cal Raleigh (catcher), Kyle Lewis (outfield) among others are either at the Major League level or very close to it. If the M’s are ever destined to break the playoff drought, most or all of these guys will have to hit in a big way.

The glaring issue was (and still is) pitching, particularly starting pitching. Starting in 2018 – with first round pick Logan Gilbert – and really coming to prominence last year (when nine of their first eleven picks were pitchers, including George Kirby in the first round), the Mariners have gone crazy trying to replenish their minor leagues with high-upside hurlers. Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn – among others who are at or near the Majors – are also obviously in the mix, but it was clear what we had the last few years wasn’t going to cut the mustard.

The streak continues with first round pick Emerson Hancock out of Georgia, who fell to the Mariners at #6 in yesterday’s first round of the MLB draft. Apparently, he was once deemed to be elite enough to be considered a potential #1 overall pick. While his most recent season did little to lower his value, as with many players who stay in college a year too long, scouts found reasons to pick apart his game to the point that he slid. He, nevertheless, has a mid-90’s fastball that can nearly touch triple digits. He’s got a great slider, a good change-up, and a curveball that needs work, but otherwise is still a quality part of his arsenal.

I’ve yet to read any concerning news about him from the blogs or whatnot, which I find promising. It seems like whenever the Mariners pick someone, there are immediate stories about how so-and-so projects as a future reliever, or a future fourth-outfielder or whatever. While it’s obviously too early to put ANY projections on a guy and expect them to stick across the board, it seems like those underwhelming predictions come true more often than not, especially where the Mariners are concerned. In other words, this doesn’t sound like a reach. It doesn’t sound like the M’s picked a guy with a “high floor but low ceiling”. This isn’t a safe pick of someone who can rush his way to the bigs (a la Danny Hultzen, when he was drafted second overall in 2011). This guy sounds like a LEGITIMATE top-end starter with a very real possibility to be a future Ace in this league (something, to my knowledge, the Mariners are sorely lacking at the moment, from a prospect perspective).

He could very well be the best pitching prospect we have in our organization RIGHT NOW!

This is very exciting to me! There are, of course, any number of things we have to worry about; he could refuse to sign (holding out for a crazy amount of money), he could get a big head and opt to not really put in the work required to advance his career, he could get injured and have his development delayed or even destroyed (again, a la Danny Hultzen), or he could just suck and start getting smacked around in the minors. The point is: there are COUNTLESS ways he could flame out before ever wearing a Seattle Mariners uniform in a game that counts. So, you know, don’t get your hopes up TOO much.

But, you know what I like? I like comparisons to Justin Verlander. I like dreaming that one day in 2-3 years, he could be anchoring a starting rotation for an exciting, young Mariners team looking to contend for a post-season berth. If nothing else, I like this strategy of selecting a SHIT-TON of pitching prospects in the hopes that a small handful will stick! It’s smart. As I outlined above, there are any number of ways prospects – especially pitching prospects, with all the possible injuries that can derail their effectiveness – won’t pan out. So, the best chance we have in succeeding is to throw as many resources at this problem as possible.

I’ll be concerned if the remaining five picks are so pitching-heavy, because you don’t want to TOTALLY neglect position players. But, for our needs right now, A+ in my book!

There’s Absolutely Nothing Else To Do, So Let’s Look At The Mariners’ Roster (Part 1)

I would’ve normally done this weeks ago, but since we all died in early March and are now currently in a loop of the last episode of Lost, I guess I’ll get to it now.

There’s probably going to be baseball this year, right? I’m, like, 81% confident we’ll see the MLB in some form (though, for real, it would be cool if ALL the states could get on the same page with the fucking social distancing and whatnot; it’s gonna suck when certain areas see the curve flatten and re-rise again because other fucknuts around the country aren’t taking this seriously enough). So, we should probably have some sort of idea of who the Mariners are that we’ll get to watch eventually.

I’ll save the disaster that is this team’s pitching staff for the next post in this series, because I can’t even right now. The everyday players are actually – if you squint really hard while wearing your cataractiest pair of rose-colored glasses – kind of, sort of, in a way, a little bit interesting.

Here’s what we’re gonna do. I could sit here and go Position By Position with you and you’ll catch what I’m putting down and we’ll all go about our days a little bit dumber more informed probably. But, that insults your intelligence and, quite frankly, is something I’d be doing if I didn’t have all the damn free time in the world because everything has shut down. So, instead, we’ll group everyone on the Active Roster into categories: Veterans, Placeholders, One-More-Chance Guys, Quad-A Players, and Legitimate Prospects. This should give us all a pretty good idea of where things stand in the Mariners’ rebuild, and it’ll be cool to look back on later and see how wrong I was!

Veterans

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Dee Gordon (2B)
  • Carlos Gonzalez (OF)

These are the least-interesting guys on the team, because none of them figure to be around for the Next Great Mariners Squad (though, to be fair, if we’re being realistic here those hypothetical guys probably haven’t even been BORN yet … is how long it will be … because they’re such a poorly-run, inept organization … you get it). So, let’s get these guys out of the way really quick.

Seager is still under contract through 2021, with an option for 2022 (though I can’t envision a scenario where he’s here for that long; hell, at the first sign of competence I have to imagine the team will look to trade him to a needy contender). He actually had a nice, bounce-back year in 2019 – even though his batting average continues to suffer at the hands of the dreaded Infield Shift – as the second-most valuable position player behind Tom Murphy in an injury-shortened season. He almost certainly won’t ever set foot in the playoffs in a Mariners uniform though, so let’s move on.

Dee Gordon is signed through this season, with an option for 2021 that vests with 600 plate appearances. Considering all that’s going on, it’s a virtual lock he won’t see that happen, which is to all of our great relief. Look, Dee’s a fun guy. He’s super fast, he can be flashy with the glove, and he’s streaky as hell (which means SOMETIMES he gets on fire and looks like one of the best leadoff hitters of all time); but usually he’s just mediocre and overpaid. So, you know, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have … Dee Gordon.

CarGo isn’t even (I don’t think) on the Active Roster at the moment. He was more Haniger insurance than anything, I think. Is anyone hurt more by this COVID-19 than CarGo? The way things are shaking out, Haniger might actually make a full recovery from his surgery in time to start the season! I mean, yeah, people have died and whatnot, but a 34-year old over-the-hill outfielder might’ve just missed out on his last chance at Major League glory mediocrity!

Placeholders

  • Tom Murphy (C)
  • Austin Nola (C/1B)
  • Dylan Moore (OF/INF)
  • Tim Lopes (OF/INF)

Controversy, right out of the box! Murphy’s only 29-years old, so it’s not inconceivable that he cements himself as the Everyday Starting Catcher for the next however many years. But, come on. Let’s get serious here, huh? Can we get serious?! Cal Raleigh is the consensus Catcher Of The Future in this organization! We just need Murphy to buy us a couple more years – maybe mentor the future stud a little bit – and then step away gracefully (ideally, when his Arbitration years expire, so some other team can sign him to a needlessly-expensive deal).

I’ll be honest, I hardly know who Austin Nola is. I know he came up last year and was remarkably efficient in his limited playing time, but if you threw him in a lineup with five other honkies, there’s no way I’d be able to find him (and I’m LITERALLY looking at his thumbnail photo right now!). I know he played a lot of first base, and I think maybe some outfield? Yet, all of a sudden he’s the 2020 Mariners’ backup catcher. Bold Strategy Cotton and all that. Maybe he sticks with the Mariners as some futuristic Super Sub, but I have my doubts.

Dylan Moore and Tim Lopes are CURRENTLY Quad-A guys, but they’ve sort of established themselves as bench guys around the infield and outfield, so I’m putting them in this spot because these guys are dimes-a-dozen. You know how when you play Yahtzee and you always get the Full House every single game without really trying? Because let’s say you’re going for 3’s and on your second or third roll you just luck into the Full House for an easy 25 points? That’s what Moore and Lopes are; they’re a Yahtzee Full House, the easiest thing to find in all of board games.

One-More-Chance Guys

  • Daniel Vogelbach (DH/1B)
  • Mallex Smith (CF)
  • Mitch Haniger (RF)

Also known as: The Vogey Special. Daniel Vogelbach is living a pretty charmed life. He got here at just the right time. We traded for him in 2016, he got to mash his way through the minors, and just as everything was falling apart in the Major League clubhouse, he was promoted to help fill the void of power at the plate. With Nelson Cruz no longer blocking him at designated hitter, Vogey got his fill in 2019. While he started off pretty hot, he cooled off significantly in the back-half of the season. Now 27-years old, with no discernable value defensively, this is really his last shot to make it with the Mariners. We know he can hit 30 homers; he did just that last year. Now, we need either more consistency, or another 10-15 homers on top of that to justify his worth. Seems unlikely.

Mallex Smith kind of had the opposite-type of year in 2019 as Vogey; he started off TERRIBLY after coming over in a trade from the Rays. So bad, in fact, that we had to send him down to Tacoma to work on … everything. His bat stunk, his defense stunk (somehow, even though he’s ostensibly a centerfielder), his confidence plummeted, he was over-thinking everything. It was an absolute unmitigated disaster. When he came back up, though, he was able to turn it around somewhat (though, the damage had largely been done). His 2018 season saw him as a potential leadoff hitter for the next decade; now he’s languishing at the bottom of the order and is hanging onto this organization by a thread. A 2020 like his 2019 will see him elsewhere in 2021.

Oh, I WENT THERE! You like Mitch Haniger, I like Mitch Haniger, the Mariners OBVIOUSLY like Mitch Haniger (after all, when we were shipping off everything of value that wasn’t nailed down before last season, the M’s opted to hang onto him as the centerpiece to the big rebuild), but his injury issues that cost him most of last year (continuing, infuriatingly, into this year somehow) are starting to snowball into something much more sinister than we ever could’ve imagined. Look, he had a pretty great 2018 season, but that’s just one year! He has in no way established himself as a superstar or even an everyday player at this point! Injuries were part of his background before he even got here, so it’s not like we can say this is a fluke; he might be the next Franklin Gutierrez for all we know. I’m not saying the Mariners will necessarily cut bait if he doesn’t prove himself in 2020, but some of those trade rumors are starting to look more and more plausible with him. If the younger outfield prospects have big years, Haniger might find himself pushed aside for a flashier crop of dudes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Quad-A Players

  • Shed Long (INF/OF)
  • Jake Fraley (OF)

These guys are going to get every opportunity to shine in 2020 – as should be the case, because what else do the Mariners have to lose at this point – but the bottom line is: I don’t believe either of these guys are bona fide Major League talents. Shed Long looks like he could be a decent utility player in the future. He can play all around the infield and corner outfield spots, he’s got an impressive amount of pop in his bat for a guy of his size; but I just don’t think he’s a starter.

As for Fraley, I don’t think he’s even a Major Leaguer period! He strikes me as a guy who will make most of his living in AAA, with brief appearances in the Major Leagues as a replacement bench guy for injured outfielders. Moving on.

Legitimate Prospects

  • Evan White (1B)
  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Kyle Lewis (OF)

Obviously, there are more legitimate prospects in the minor leagues, but this isn’t a post about them. We all know who they are and what they mean to the future of this organization. I’m more interested in the guys who are on the Mariners RIGHT NOW.

Evan White is one of the bigger names we have to look forward to. He was a first round draft pick in 2017, and they just signed him to a 6-year deal with three more option years. He’s the First Baseman Of The Future, and the Future Is Now Motherfuckers! So, he goes into this category because he HAS to go here. The Mariners NEED him to be a cornerstone, otherwise all hope will continue being lost.

I’m really on the fence with J.P. Crawford. Gun to my head: I don’t think he’ll ever be great. But, he’s obviously not a Quad-A guy, and he’ll obviously be given more than just this year to prove himself as a starter. I think he’ll be fine. If we’re lucky, he’ll have a career like Carlos Guillen or something (though, hopefully his best years will be here and not in Detroit). If we’re unlucky, he’ll turn into Brad Miller and we’ll curse the day we ever became Mariners fans in the first place (damn you 1995!).

I am drinking all the Kyle Lewis Kool Aid you’ve got! I freaking LOVE this kid! He’s had such a hard road after being this team’s #1 draft pick in 2016, starting with tearing his ACL a few weeks later as a rookie. From there, after all the rehab, he struggled to find his game again, until finally putting it all together last season. When he got his cup of coffee with the Mariners in September, he made the absolute most of his 18 games, hitting 6 homers and 5 doubles. I hope he crushes it this year and never looks back, because he’s got real All Star potential if he can put it all together.

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.

Marco Gonzales Will Be With The Mariners For A While

Right after the Super Bowl ended, the MLB twitter page sent out a photo full of baseball stars (any and all Astros players were suspiciously absent in their promotional strategy) with the sentiment of something to the effect of, “We Got Next.” I don’t follow the MLB twitter account, but someone I do follow re-tweeted it, which is why I saw it. It stuck out to me because the Seattle Mariners sent out a tweet right around the same time (almost certainly a leaguewide coordinated effort, but I refuse to do the research), with the exact same sentiment, and it was the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen … at least, it would’ve been, if it didn’t sound so much like a threat.

Oh REALLY, Mariners?! You’ve got next! What will you and your 64 wins be doing for us, exactly, other than boring the everloving shit out of everyone?

I don’t really have a lot to say, other than the big rebuild continues apace. How well that rebuild shakes out will hinge on how the younger prospects continue to develop. Same news, different day.

Until yesterday, when we got NEW news! Marco Gonzales was signed to an extension that buys out all of his arbitration years, and could potentially keep him around through 2025 at a reasonable rate. I say “reasonable” because with the way baseball salaries are continuing to skyrocket, 4 years and $30 million could be a bargain even for a soft-tossing lefty who’s able to eat a … number of innings per year. He threw a cool 203 innings in 2019, which is probably right around what you should expect (as starting pitchers continue to decline while bullpens pick up more of the load).

I’m fine with the deal. We traded for Marco in 2017, and he’s gotten better each of the last two years. I would argue he’s probably reached his ceiling as of last year (3.99 ERA, 3.2 WAR), but he’s young enough to keep right at that level for the duration of his contract. As has been discussed since 2018, he’s a fine #3 starter in this league; he’s less ideal as your team’s ace (which he had to be last season by default).

I’m actually more interested in this new strategy the Mariners are employing. I know, at this point, you can’t really waffle on the rebuild: either you’re all in, or everyone gets fired anyway. But, first with Evan White, and now Gonzales, we’re starting to see more of this core get locked up for the long term; buying out the cheaper arbitration years to hopefully get a discount on what these players might be worth on the open market for a year or two. Not only are the Mariners all in, but they’re DOUBLING DOWN on the rebuild, which I find fascinating.

If they’re right, they continue to lock up these younger guys to long-term deals, and this team hits it big, we could be set up for great success throughout the first half of the 2020’s. If they’re wrong, these younger guys never develop into the stars the Mariners think they’ll become, then HOO DOGGIES will this be a huge shitshow of a disaster!

The sensible thing probably would’ve been to let AT LEAST 2020 play out before we invest too heartily in some of these guys. But, you could argue the Mariners have done nothing but the sensible thing since they joined the league. Maybe it’s time to take some huge swings!

It’s a bold strategy, Cotton …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feel. The. Damn. Excitement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Confidence Level In The Mariners’ Rebuild So Far

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

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

High Confidence

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

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

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

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

Medium Confidence

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

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

Medium-Low Confidence

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

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

Low Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

Comparing The Mariners Lineups From 2018 To 2019

Grains of salt, I’ve taken a few: obviously it’s mid-January, and Jerry Dipoto is a wildman when it comes to wheeling and dealing. So, this could look VERY different when Pitchers & Catchers Report, as it could look VERY different come April when the regular season gets going in earnest. But, it’s getting to be gambling season, and my friends have commissioned me to start looking at this team for the purposes of futures bets; namely: over/under 74.5 wins.

My hunch is, we’re pretty close to looking at the everyday lineup. Sure, some high-salary oldies could be sent packing, but I’ll speculate on that with each guy. For what it’s worth, I’m not going to talk about every single dude who played at each position in 2018; I’m going to stick to the big names, the guys who played the lion’s share of games. Without further ado:

Catcher

2018 – Mike Zunino, 2019 – Omar Narvaez

This is one of those changes I’m most interested in seeing how it plays out in the early going, because these guys could hardly be more different. Zunino was excellent in all facets of defense at the position; Narvaez appears to be among the very worst. Zunino had a ton of power, not only launching balls among the farthest in the league, but also with the volume of balls leaving the park the last couple seasons. Narvaez appears to have very little power, and will be fortunate – with his increased workload – to hit double-digit dingers. On the flipside, Zunino’s batting average and on-base percentage were absolute trash, and the primary source of this entire fanbase’s angst. Narvaez, conversely, hits for a very nice average, with a tremendous on-base percentage, and doesn’t strike out NEARLY as often. So, you know, pick your poison, I guess. What means more to the overall success of the team?

My hunch is that it’ll be a wash. I can already tell you that we’re going to be inundated with countless articles and blog posts about how Zunino’s overall package is worth more than Narvaez’s, but I honestly don’t understand all the defensive metrics and I feel like much more weight is put on them than is actually the case. I will say this: if defense is ever going to mean more, it’s at the catcher spot, with all the different ways they control the game.

First Base

2018 – Ryon Healy/Dan Vogelbach, 2019 – Same

Putting Vogey in here seems like a bit of a stretch; he hardly played in the Bigs in 2018 and he might not play much at all in 2019 either. Nevertheless, it’s now or never for the kid, so this is his last and best shot with the Mariners.

As for Healy, I’m pretty confident we know what we’ve got in him: a placeholder for Evan White. He’s a high power guy (25 and 24 homers the last two years) whose average and on-base percentage took a big hit as he went from Oakland to Seattle between 2017 and 2018. He strikes out a ton (though he scaled that back just a tad last year), and brings solid first base defense (for what that’s worth). Considering where all the power went on this team between 2018 and 2019, Healy could be a difference-maker for this squad. If his power becomes drained, that’s a black hole this team can ill-afford. If he steps up and returns his average to the .270 range, we could be talking about a nice player on an underwhelming team.

I do think one or both of these guys could still be traded, but the value isn’t very high, so I wouldn’t bank on it.

Second Base

2018 – Robinson Cano/Dee Gordon, 2019 – Dee Gordon

Losing Cano obviously hurts in the short term (this is a post about the 2019 season, so I won’t get into the benefits of dumping his salary and remaining contract years). He only had 10 homers and 22 doubles last year, but remember he missed half the season. Prior to that, with the Mariners, Cano had been a force in all facets of the game. His power numbers were much better than we expected, his slash line was as expected, and his defense was silky smooth as always.

Gordon, on the other hand, was brought in here to convert to outfield in an experiment that was working just fine until the Cano suspension. Of course, at that time, we thanked our lucky stars we still had an All Star second baseman on the roster, so it was a no-brainer to move him back to the infield. But, his bat went in the tank thereafter, finishing the season with a slash line of .268/.288/.349. He stole 30 bases – which was exactly half of what he did in 2017 – and while his defense was pretty stellar, it was clear he wasn’t the leadoff hitter we were hoping for. The guy just won’t take a walk. He hardly even takes a single PITCH! Gordon is the kind of guy who needs to hit over .300 to be of any value to your team, because otherwise he doesn’t find enough ways to get on base and use that speed to his advantage; he’s never had any power to speak of, and really doesn’t leg out enough doubles to be of any use.

Gordon is a clear downgrade at the spot for 2019. I thought the Mariners would’ve traded him by now, but his value appears to be too low to get anything back. He might be someone to look at dealing at the deadline, assuming another team has a need at the position. Any way you slice it, this is a guy who was brought in to bat #1 in the lineup, who will spend more time batting #9.

Third Base

2018 – Kyle Seager, 2019 – Same

Seager has been a steady presence for the Mariners since his rookie call-up in 2011. Last year was an all-time low across the board. His defense was actually something to laud early in the 2018 season, but it eroded as did his confidence. He’s a guy who’s always tinkering with his stance and approach, but the bottom line is as the use of shifts has gone up, so have his numbers gone down.

I don’t really see a fix for this, outside of the MLB commissioner totally outlawing shifts, which almost certainly won’t happen this year. Either he figures out how to hit the other way (seems very unlikely), he devotes his entire game to lifting the ball and hitting dingers (he might as well, since his strikeout numbers were also at an all-time high in 2018), or he just gets lucky with BABIP (which also doesn’t seem likely, as you’d think the shift is designed to cut that way down). Bottom line: he better develop a change in his swing that induces MANY more fly balls, or he’s toast.

I do think he’ll be on the trading block at some point this season, but moving him won’t be easy, as his value is at its all-time lowest.

Short Stop

2018 – Jean Segura, 2019 – J.P. Crawford/Tim Beckham

Here is your very biggest downgrade on the entire team, and it’s not even close. Jean Segura was a .300 hitter, with moderate home run power, very good doubles numbers, low strikeouts, and excellent on-base numbers. Combined with his defense, which was fine, and you’re talking about an All Star short stop.

Crawford is a young-ish, highly-touted prospect who is verging on Bust territory. Beckham is slightly less young-ish, highly-touted prospect who is already in that Bust territory. I don’t think either of these guys are remarkably better defensively than Segura (if they’re better at all, which remains to be seen), and their bats outright stink. This is going to be a black hole for the entire 2019 season, outside of probably a few (and far between) hot streaks.

Centerfield

2018 – Dee Gordon/Guillermo Heredia/Others, 2019 – Mallex Smith

I’ve already talked about Gordon. Heredia brought better defense, but otherwise very little to the table battingwise. He was a Quad-A player at best who got way too long of a look at Ben Gamel’s expense.

Mallex Smith broke out in 2018 and appears to be a fun-looking young player going forward. His defense is great, he hits for a high average, and unlike Dee, he CAN take a walk. He can take many of them! There’s no power there, but he stole 40 bases last year, and actually parlayed his speed into 27 doubles. With Gordon as the #9 hitter, and Smith as the #1 hitter, if we can ever get these guys on the bases at the same time, we should likely see some runs scored. Smith is a prototypical leadoff hitter and should be a huge upgrade at this spot in the lineup.

Right Field

2018 – Mitch Haniger, 2019 – Same

He’s got all the tools and is a cornerstone piece for this organization for many years to come (unless, of course, some needy franchise gives us a Godfather deal for an insane return of high-level prospects). The only question is, will he be the same now that he’s far and away the best player on the team? Last year, he had Cruz, Cano, and even Seager to hide behind. We could bat him second, taking advantage of those heavier hitters behind him, or we could move him down to 6th in the lineup to hide him a little bit. But, you figure with Cano and Cruz gone, he’s likely going to be slotted right in the sweet spot of #3 or #4. Will the added pressure get to him? He hasn’t been so great in those spots to this point in his career, albeit in very few ABs.

Left Field

2018 – Denard Span/Ben Gamel/Guillermo Heredia, 2019 – Jay Bruce/Domingo Santana

Heredia, I talked about. Gamel was an okay defender, with excellent batting numbers, though a complete dearth of power. Span was old, with waning defensive skills, but brought everything you could ever want to the plate with him. Just about every time was a professional at bat and a God damned delight! Shades of grandfather Seth Smith.

In Jay Bruce, you hope to see more of the same as with Span. He’ll be 32 years old this year, and his average took a big hit in 2018 (after being pretty respectable to that point in his career), but he comes with more power than anyone we had in 2018. He also gets on base quite a bit, so you could see him as this team’s #2 hitter.

In Domingo Santana, we actually have someone much more interesting. He’s coming off of a rough, injury-plagued 2018, but in 2017, he was absolutely fantastic. High average, good on-base numbers, and 30 homers to go with 29 doubles. If he returns to that player, opposite Mitch Haniger, with Mallex Smith in the middle helping cover extra ground, we could be talking about a dynamite outfield the likes of which we haven’t seen around here in a LONG time.

But, that’s a pretty big IF. The good thing, we have both of these guys, so you’d think ONE of them would pan out. At this point, we have no idea how the timeshare is going to work, as I would assume it’ll be based on merit. But, I have to imagine Santana will get a pretty significant look, as he figures to be part of this team’s future. If he stinks, and Bruce is washed up, then what might’ve been an improvement could very well be a downgrade compared to 2018. If nothing else, you’d think we’d at least see improved power numbers out of this spot. As for everything else, who knows?

Designated Hitter

2018 – Nelson Cruz, 2019 – Edwin Encarnacion

This feels like a pretty significant downgrade on first look, but that could be my absolute love of Nellie clouding my judgment. In reality, while he still hit a whopping 37 homers in 2018, his average took a big hit, ending up at .256. Which, incidentally, is in line with where Encarnacion has been for much of his career. Encarnacion has 30+ homers in his last seven years, so assuming Cruz’s average doesn’t snap back into the .270-.290 range, this could be pretty close to even compared to where the Mariners were in 2018.

Of course, Encarnacion is probably the MOST likely of these guys to be moved before the season starts, at which point you’re looking at a lot more Jay Bruce, a lot more Vogelbach, or a lot more some guy off the scrap heap (in which case, it’s a big minus).

Conclusion

In 2018, based on run differential, the Mariners should’ve been a 77-win team. Obviously, a crazy-unsustainable amount of good luck in the pitching department (specifically the bullpen department) led to the 2018 Mariners actually winning 89 games. Considering most of those bullpen guys are gone, to be replaced by clear downgrades across the board (saying nothing of the starting rotation), you’d have to think at the very least the Mariners will play closer to their run differential expectations.

Which takes us to the hitters. I don’t think the Mariners were particularly lucky OR unlucky in 2018 when it comes to hitting. I think what you saw was what you got. Assuming that proves the same again (and we don’t see a bunch of flukey walk-off homers, or insane cluster-luck), will this group of position players bring the win total up or down compared to 2018?

I have catcher, first base, third base, right field as a wash. I also see DH as a wash, assuming Encarnacion lasts the entire season in a Mariners uniform.

I see very significant downgrades at second base and short stop, from a hitting perspective (defense is likely a wash) which will ensure that this team doesn’t win 80 games.

I see upgrades at center and left fields, though left is the biggest wild card. It could be a HUGE upgrade, or a wash, with a chance of even being a detriment. Center is almost assured to be an improvement, as we’ll be getting improved defense and improved on-base numbers (with all else being the same).

So, what does this mean for the over/under of 74.5? Well, there’s room for improvement at third base and left field. I find it unlikely that Seager will be able to do enough to return to his former glory, which means we’re putting A LOT of hope on that young left fielder panning out and turning into a star (to replace one of the THREE stars we sent away).

There’s also a good chance Haniger regresses some, that the older guys are finished, that the catcher defense reduces the effectiveness of our pitchers, and that the overall power numbers from this offense goes totally and completely in the tank. At which point, will there be enough walks, singles, and doubles to score enough runs to win any games? With THIS pitching staff?

While I have yet to really focus on the pitchers yet, let’s say winning over 74.5 games doesn’t look great.

Should The Mariners Extend Nelson Cruz?

When the Mariners signed Nelson Cruz to a 4-year deal before the 2015 season, I was in the camp that yelled out to the heavens, “IT’S ABOUT TIME!”  I wanted him a year earlier – when he was a bargain for the Orioles on a 1-year deal – but we missed out.  Not letting that opportunity slip through our fingers a second time, Jackie Z & Co. signed him to a $57 million contract (all guaranteed, because MLB), $1 million as a signing bonus, with four equal shares of $14 million per year paying out accordingly.

Given his age, his declining athleticism from an outfield defense perspective, and his injury history, I think we all took that deal in the same vein we did the Robinson Cano deal:  if we can get his usual offensive production for half of the deal, it would be worth it.  Anything beyond that is pure gravy.

Well, we’re just over halfway through the final year of that deal, and as Mariners fans we’re up to our EYEBALLS in gravy!

I know it sounds crazy, but as purely a DH making $14 million per year, Nelson Cruz has nevertheless been a total bargain.  He’s averaged over 150 games per season (and is on his way to matching that this year), he’s hit for 44, 43, and 39 homers (respectively), and he’s already got 22 this year (on pace to surpass 40 homers yet again).  This is what we brought him here for, to hit dingers and hit for a solid average.  And, while those numbers have been steadily declining, it’s been ever-so-slight; so slight as to really be negligible from a production standpoint.  2015 was his best year with the Mariners (and arguably his best year ever), but he’s only dropped a tad since then.  Instead of falling off of a mountain, Cruz is enjoying a leisurely stroll down a molehill.

He could drop dead the moment I publish this post and his stint with the Mariners would STILL be better than my wildest dreams upon his signing 4 years ago.  Which brings us to the ultimate question:  should the Mariners keep him around beyond 2018?

I find myself saying the same things I always say about a beloved veteran athlete whose prime might be just behind him, but is otherwise still playing at a high level:  I wouldn’t mind having him back, under the right contract.  Obviously, I want something that’s somewhat team-friendly, but I also live in the real world, and I understand how deals work in the MLB.  Reports indicate Cruz is looking for a multi-year deal.  Given how much of a boss he’s been for the majority of his career – but especially when he got out of Texas and became more of an all-world DH – my hunch is he’ll get what he’s looking for.  But, “multi-year” can mean a lot of things.  Since he just turned 38 years old this week, I can’t imagine he’ll land anything beyond a 2-year contract (it only takes one team, of course, so it wouldn’t TOTALLY shock me if he saw a 3-year deal from someone like the Royals or, I dunno, the Orioles maybe; but I highly doubt it).  So, would I be interested in the Mariners signing him to a 2-year deal worth $26-$30 million?

I mean, again, I probably wouldn’t be devastated, but the more I think about it, the more I start to wonder if I’m coming at this from the wrong angle.

I keep saying I want to be the type of fan that roots for teams who get rid of aging players a year too early vs. a year too late.  So, I need to build some thicker skin about these types of things.  Yes, Cruz has been wonderful in a Mariners uniform; you can consider me a fan for life for all he’s done.  Do I really want that legacy tarnished if he turns into a Richie Sexson in his final season with us?

More to the point:  do I think Cruz has two MORE years where he can give us this type of 4-win production?

The Mariners just signed Wade LeBlanc to an extension this week.  He’s got guaranteed money for 2019, with apparent team options (and incentives) based on his performance that could see him in Seattle through 2022.  It’s basically one of the most team-friendly deals I’ve ever seen that wasn’t negotiated by the player directly.  A lot of the Mariners core we have now is locked up at least through next year, if not for many years to come.  Cruz is really the most important player not under contract for next year, which is why this is coming up now.

For what it’s worth, the LAST thing I want to have happen is for the Mariners to extend him before the season ends.  I mean, let’s face it, he’s one major injury away from calling it a career.  That’s just the way these things go when you get to be his age.  If he tears a rotator cuff or an ACL or otherwise has to go on the shelf for up to a year, how good do you think he’s going to be when he comes back?  That’s assuming he has no setbacks!  Will he have the power he has now?  Will he be able to hit for the average he’s hitting now?  Or, will both of those numbers dip to the point that – considering he plays no defense whatsoever – he’s just a replacement-level player that can only DH?

Sorry, but you HAVE to wait to see how his season plays out before even CONSIDERING an extension.  At which point, I say you wait for the market to dictate what he’s worth.  Teams haven’t been willing to shell out mega millions for designated hitters in recent years.  You could argue he’s different, and given his work ethic and leadership abilities, he’s worth more than your average lumbering slugger.  But, I wouldn’t bet he’ll get insane money.  It’s even possible he’d earn less of a base salary (with more in the way of incentives) than he’s getting now.

And, as always, Bob Dutton makes some good points here.  What do the Mariners want to do with Robinson Cano after this year?  We’re in the 5th year of his 10-year deal, and the plan all along was to eventually move him away from second base.  With his suspension, it looks like that plan has been accelerated.  It was always going to require the Mariners getting a worthy second baseman to take his place, and with Dee Gordon’s emergence, you can see why the team is comfortable with him there.  And, with Healy under team control (arbitration eligible through 2022), and Evan White behind him, I don’t see a lot of free time from the first base position.  Besides that, how would Cano take to a possible transition there?  He might prefer (and even be better suited) to simply DHing.

These are all questions we have facing us in mid-August when Cano returns from his suspension, by the way.  Where does he fit?  I would assume he’ll still play some at second base, but not so much that it cuts Dee Gordon out (who will need to be our starter there in the playoffs).  I would also assume Cano fills in at first base on a part time basis – possibly against right-handed pitchers? – but it’s going to be a struggle.  You can’t play Cano at DH over Cruz, barring injury.  But, you CAN play him at DH starting next year, if Cruz is playing elsewhere.

Based on the way the roster is constructed, this seems to be the most sensible and smartest way to go.  I love Cruz, and in another world I wouldn’t mind him finishing his career in Seattle.  But, we’ve got Cano for another 5 years, at $24 million per year, rendering him effectively untradeable.

Best case scenario has the Mariners passing Cano through waivers in August and sending him somewhere in a salary dump deal with a team looking for some veteran leadership.  But, considering he has a full no-trade clause, that seems unlikely.  It would also require the Mariners to eat anywhere from $10-$14 million per year for the rest of the contract, which almost defeats the purpose.

Unless the purpose is to use the money you’re saving to put it up toward a Nelson Cruz extension.  Long story short, the only way I want to see the Mariners extend Cruz is by first ridding themselves out from under the albatross that is Cano’s massive contract.  Since that seems impossible, I’m afraid we’re going to have to bid adieu to Mr. Cruz after this season, with the consolation being that we enjoyed the perfect free agent transaction (which is so rare nowadays).