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).

The Mariners Pounded The Twins And Also Made Two Draft Picks

The Mariners beat the Twins 14-3.  The Mariners scored in 6 of the 9 innings, and every batter had at least one hit.  Mitch Haniger busted out with 4 hits, 4 runs, and 2 RBI; Nelson Cruz had 2 hits, 2 runs, and 4 RBI; Ben Gamel had 2 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs; Seager, Valencia, Zunino, and Tyler Smith all had multi-hit games as well.

Yovani Gallardo, after being given a 2-0 lead in the first inning, gave up 2 runs in the bottom half to sicken me to my core.  But, to his credit, he managed to settle down and went 6 innings, giving up 3 runs, 7 hits, and walked only 1, while striking out 5.  He had a lot of wait time between innings, which couldn’t have been easy, so it was nice of him to look semi-competent in a laugher.

The real news of the day belongs to the MLB draft.  The first two rounds took place last night and the Mariners made two selections.

  • First Round, 17th Pick – Evan White, 1B
  • Second Round, 55th Pick – Sam Carlson, RHP

White is a college kid with good offensive numbers, great defensive abilities, and an all-around great attitude according to everyone who talks about him.  Someone had mentioned his defensive abilities could translate to the outfield – which would obviously give him a lot more value as an overall baseball player – but the Mariners are saying he could have Gold Glove defensive ability at first base, so that’s where he’ll start out.  It also doesn’t hurt that he’s going to sign right away and join up with the Everett Aqua Sox.

John Olerud is probably the lazy comparison, but I dunno, I’m not really a guy who focuses too hard on the minor leagues.  Was Olerud an athletic marvel coming out of college?  I always assumed he was a plodder from the get go.  Either way, if White turns into Olerud, I would absolutely take that in a heartbeat.

I understand the thought process behind moving a guy to a more premium defensive position, like centerfield for instance, which is what people have said about White.  But, just look at the Mariners:  how long have we been trying to fix the first base position?  How many years have we just been getting by with 1-year deals on guys we’re hoping will have bounce-back seasons?  First base is an absolute need position for this team, so I’d really rather they not screw around with switching positions and whatnot.

I don’t know if the power numbers are super there, so I wouldn’t expect this kid to be a pure slugger.  But, it’s promising to hear he’s gotten better every year.  First base doesn’t have to be a 40-homer a year target; I’d gladly take half of that with a good batting average and great defense.  Either way, we’ll likely know more about him in three years or so.

Sam Carlson is an interesting pick for us, as many had projected him to be a first rounder.  Some even projected him over Evan White!  He’s a high schooler out of Minnesota who already throws in the mid-90s, so that’s pretty freakin’ sweet.  It appears a lot of teams were wary of picking him, as he agreed to go to the University of Florida, so it looks like it’ll take a little extra money to get him to sign.  We’ll see.  The team is confident they’ll get him, but I guess they have to be.  He most likely didn’t say he was a lock to go to college, so I figure there has to be some wiggle room there.

The question that has to weigh on his mind is whether or not he can improve his draft stock by going to college for a year or two.  There’s a big risk there, considering he can go and look pretty bad and fall way down in the draft.  But, there’s also a chance to get back in that first round and maybe even into the Top 10.  Those are the chips he’s holding in negotiations.

All in all, an interesting day for Mariners fans.  Rounds 3-10 happen today, followed by the rest taking place tomorrow.  I can’t imagine I’ll get much more in depth on the topic, considering I know nothing about high school or college baseball players.  I just hope there are some future quality Major Leaguers in there.