Re-Examining The Mariners’ Kelenic Trade With The Braves

When I wrote about this trade initially, there was a lot going on. Honestly, it’s a deal that requires multiple posts to really dig in and assess everything.

For instance, we have more information. We knew it was a Salary Dump, but we didn’t necessarily know why it was so. It’s also interesting to see where the players involved ended up, as two of the three Mariners we shipped off were subsequently flipped. To be fair, it really feels like everyone ended up where they were supposed to. Marco Gonzales was traded to Pittsburgh. Evan White was sent to Anaheim. And the guy with the most upside – Jarred Kelenic – remains in Atlanta.

I couldn’t tell you for a million dollars if Pittsburgh will be any good in 2024; they finished 4th in the NL Central last year. If I had to guess – based solely on reputation – I would say they’re a young team with lots of prospects getting chances to play at the Major League level, and were in need of a calm, veteran presence in their rotation to eat innings and be a guiding force for the rest of the pitching staff. I didn’t even need to look it up to know that the Braves would also be sending money to the Pirates to complete the deal, and the least surprising thing of all is that the return is a Player To Be Named Later.

This is, frankly, ideal for all involved. Pittsburgh gets a solid vet who will probably be at least a little rejuvenated by pitching in the NL again (even if the pitchers no longer hit, I think it’s safe to say most of the hitting talent resides in the American League). Marco gets a chance to be a starter, after effectively losing his rotation spot in Seattle with his injury last year. It’s low expectations, so he’ll most likely have a longer leash. And, the Mariners don’t have to worry about a potentially-disgruntled presence languishing in the bullpen and costing us games because that role is nowhere near his forte.

As for Evan White, his career could go any number of directions. He could immediately get injured again, and that will just be his destiny until his contract runs out. He could recover and be an okay player (great defensively, not so hot hitting). Or, he could come back stronger than ever, put it all together at the plate, and be an All Star for years to come. In which case, OF COURSE he’s an Angel. OF COURSE they would pick up our scraps and turn him into a weapon we have to face a dozen times a year.

The Angels can easily afford to take this project on. They just lost Ohtani, so it’s not like people are really expecting much out of this team. They can keep him in the minors for at least another year, to let White build himself back up. And I’m sure, as they continue to underwhelm in the standings, White will get a Major League opportunity sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, the Braves got back a useful player while never having to try to work White into their system. And, as for the Mariners, we get to move on from another injury-riddled disappointment, without pouring good money over bad to try to make him a thing here.

The ultimate kick in the ass, though, is likely to be Jarred Kelenic. He stays with the Braves. They, obviously, took on a lot of salary to make this whole thing go, so it’s only fair for them to have the highest-upside share of this deal.

I would say it’s still fair to question Kelenic’s ceiling. The guy has obvious holes in his swing. He strikes out a ton. He has a decent eye at the plate, but that’s not going to prevent him from going chasing more than he should. He’s also a pretty big headcase, and I don’t know if that’s ever going to mature out of his personality. I’m sure if he actually achieved real, sustained success at this level, it would do wonders for his psyche. But, it’s also fair to wonder if that was ever going to happen in a Mariners uniform.

We already knew that Kelenic didn’t like the Mariners organization. They dicked around with him, waiting to call him up until after he got to a point where we’d have another season of team control. They offered him an Evan White-like contract when he was still in the minors, that he saw as a lowball slap to the face, and then effectively held him hostage by telling him he could come up to the Major Leagues sooner, only if he signed the deal. And I don’t know what he thought about his usage when he finally did get the call-up, but immediately putting him in the upper third of the lineup seemed like a mistake, putting immense pressure on him, when he would’ve been better served starting out at the bottom of the order.

If it wasn’t clear he hated the Mariners before, literally every statement and interview he’s given since the deal with the Braves has only cemented the notion.

I don’t see Kelenic as the type of player who’s going to tank his own development just to get out of an organization, but if I had to bet on it, I’d say he was never going to fully blossom with the M’s. With this fresh start, this new team, new ballpark, and new set of eyes coaching him up, I fully expect Kelenic will really take some huge leaps forward. There’s no doubt about it in my mind: the Braves are the superior baseball organization in every facet of the game. If they can’t turn Kelenic into a star, no one can.

There’s still risk, of course. I’m not saying it’s a done deal that he’s going to be an All Star with the Braves. But, the likelihood goes up tenfold with him there over him still being here.

The pressure’s completely and totally off now. He has no choice but to start out near the bottom of the order; they have one of the most stacked lineups in all of baseball. They also have their share of outfielders, so they can even afford to platoon Kelenic if need be.

On the one hand, it’s a bummer, because I did have really high hopes for Kelenic. A potential outfield with an elite Kelenic playing alongside Julio for a decade would’ve been a real treat!

But, on the other hand, I dunno, is Kelenic kind of an asshole? Or, at the very least, so intense that he’s no fun to be around? Is this a situation where, for this team at least, it’s addition by subtraction? The Mariners Roundtable on the Mitch Unfiltered Podcast made an interesting point; when were the Mariners at their very best and hottest last year? In late July and August. Between the time Kelenic went out for kicking a water cooler and the time he returned, the Mariners went 32-16; when he returned, the Mariners went 9-10 overall (5-10 in the games Kelenic appeared in). No one is necessarily saying that Kelenic is the reason we were mediocre – and the absence of Kelenic was the reason we were red-hot – but I’m also not totally ruling it out. He seems like a Dark Cloud walking around on a regular basis; who needs that kind of energy in their lives? Not even a team FULL of Eugenio Suarezes could counterbalance Kelenic’s unrelenting angst!

All that being said, though, as a Mariners fan, you’d like to think we could get more for him. You’d like to think he’s worth more than simply shedding however many millions of dollars from our current and future payrolls. In a good and decent world – where the Mariners aren’t owned by tight-fisted old misers – I would expect, at the very least, a prospect or two we could all be excited about.

There’s no “winning” this trade for the Mariners. At best, I think we have to hope everyone else loses. But, just know that I’m mentally preparing myself for the time when Kelenic becomes a legitimate star in this league. It almost seems destined at this point. And, if Evan White turns his fortunes around, you’re going to see quite a bit of the erstwhile Mariners Future out there performing for other teams, while the Actual Mariners remain in Seattle wasting all of our fucking time.

The Disappointing Mariners Tenure Of Robbie Ray

Was this always a dumb idea? We sit here and we piss and moan about the Mariners not spending any money on free agents, then when they actually do – to the tune of 5 years and $115 million for Robbie Ray a couple years ago – what happens? He doesn’t quite live up to the hype, then he gets injured and misses a season and a half.

I will say that this Walking Tommy John Surgery Waiting To Happen line is scarily accurate.

In hindsight, of course this was a dumb idea. We got Robbie Ray immediately following his career-best season. We bought stock in him at the absolute peak of his value. He’d never really seriously contended for a Cy Young Award before that; he was always kind of up and down throughout his career. AND we were getting him starting with his Age 30 season, banking that he’d learned whatever trick he needed to learn to be an upper echelon starting pitcher (when, in reality, he just had an inordinate amount of good luck with Toronto in 2021, and it was going to be impossible for him to ever replicate that again).

Ray started his 2022 season with two straight months of mediocrity (a near-5 ERA through the first week of June), before focusing on his 2-seam fastball and jumpstarting a fantastic turnaround. The rest of the way, he was much better, with some pretty notable exceptions.

July of 2022, he had back-to-back starts against the Astros, where he combined for 5.2 innings, 10 runs on 15 hits and 4 walks, with only 4 strikeouts. Fast forward to back-to-back starts in September, against the Braves and Angels, where he combined for 10 innings, 9 runs on 16 hits and a walk.

Then, there were the two disasterous appearances in the playoffs. 4 runs in 3 innings against the Blue Jays (where we miraculously came back to win 10-9), followed by a walk-off, game-losing homer allowed two pitches into a bullpen appearance against the Astros. He ate up two thirds of an inning in that 18-inning marathon loss to the Astros a few days later, but the damage was done.

There was cautious optimism for a rebound in 2023. If anyone was veteran-enough and confident-enough to make it back from such a disastrous finish to a season, it was Ray. He had a tremendous Spring Training, but it was all for naught, as he threw 91 pitches in 3.1 innings of his first start before blowing out his arm and requiring that aforementioned Tommy John surgery. He went on to miss the rest of 2023, and it was announced that the earliest he’d be available is around the All Star Break in 2024. That always bodes poorly, as pitchers are rarely the same after such a substantial layoff. Best case scenario is he’s something close to normal by the start of 2025, but by then he’ll be 33 years old, so that’s asking a lot.

You can’t really rule out a comeback in 2024, but I’m just going to say it’s not very likely. In an ideal world, he’s a boost to your rotation late in the season, and some injury insurance if you can hang around contention for that long. But, I was heading into this year not expecting anything out of Robbie Ray, and willing to be pleasantly surprised if he proved me wrong.

I guess I can’t be shocked, then, that the Mariners decided to trade him. We already got rid of the over-inflated contracts of Marco Gonzales, Evan White, and Eugenio Suarez; part of me wondered if Robbie Ray would be next. Given the M.O. of this ownership group and front office, $23 million is a lot to spend on someone who might not help you out at all this year (or, at the very least, not at all through the first half). According to Mariners Math, we couldn’t afford it (it’s like Girl Math, only MUCH more stingy).

In that case, the return makes sense. Frisco takes our dead money, and we take theirs. Mitch Haniger is a walking oblique strain waiting to happen, and that starter we got from them is nothing more than a J.A.G. But, at least Haniger might give us a third of a season, and the pitcher might give us some sub-par bullpen outings in blowout games. And, in the grand scheme of things, we don’t have to pay Robbie Ray an additional $50 million across 2025 and 2026 (assuming he sticks around on the player option); we just have to pay Haniger $15.5 million in 2025.

I will say, though, the potential upside for this deal is all on the Giants’ side. It’s MUCH more likely that Ray turns into a useful starter again, than it is that Haniger will play anything close to a full season over the next two years. Even if we take extra special care of Haniger, give him lots of rest days, and he manages to make it through without an IL stint, I don’t trust that he’s still a good player. His numbers have been in steep decline since 2018, and he’s 33 this year. I’m guessing he’s very close to being done as a Major League player, if he isn’t done already.

I don’t think this is a good deal for the Mariners. It’s also probably not a good deal for the Giants, but I think it has the potential to be a better deal for them than I do for us. The Giants are buying low, so even if he does the bare minimum for them, it’s going to be a better outcome than it would ever have been for us.

All of that being said, I don’t entirely dislike Robbie Ray. He was kind of put in a no-win situation with the M’s. There was never going to be any living up to the contract. But, he did himself no favors by putting up way too many Erik Bedard-like outings. Ultimately, I think he’ll go down as being well-liked by fans, if for no other reason than he was a mentor to guys like George Kirby and Logan Gilbert. That’s cool, I guess. If his teachings made those guys better than they would’ve been otherwise, then I’ll hold him in high esteem.

Who was that old reliever who taught J.J. Putz his forkball? Eddie Guardado? I mean, that was probably his greatest contribution to the Mariners’ organization, and he’s pretty well-liked.

But, in the grand scheme of things, George Kirby was always going to be elite. Robbie Ray was … less than. And, he’ll go down as one of the biggest busts in Mariners history. For what he cost, for what he produced on the field, and for what he got us back in trade.

Is this the end of the Mariners’ cost-cutting trades this offseason? Well, there’s still another month or so before Spring Training. Somebody find Luis Castillo and make sure he’s still on the team!

The Mariners Made A Couple Of Trades To More Or Less Wrap Up Their Offseason

Full disclosure: I’m writing this on Friday afternoon of January 5th, the day these two trades went down. It was noted at this time by Dipoto that these were pretty much it as far as it goes for the major moves this offseason. There might be a small piece here or there coming in, but nothing to write home about. Nothing that’s going to drastically shake-up the organization’s chances to compete in 2024. So, if that’s not correct, and something huge happens between this day, and the day this post hits the Internet, you almost certainly won’t even be reading this paragraph, as I’ll need a new lede.

To recap this offseason so far:

You know what that has the feel of? A tear-down. Not an overwhelming tear-down, but you’re taking guys who were significant contributors to your team last year, you’re cutting them out, and you’re replacing them with …

Suffice it to say, the whole Root Sports brouhaha has been a disaster for our collective fan morale. This was a team that already needed to improve at left field, second base, and DH, and went ahead and added third base and right field to the mix (to say nothing of the uncertainty surrounding first base, with Ty France and his dwindling production). And what did we get for our consternation? Around $20 million.

Okay, so $20 million to play around with. There was some talk about the Mariners having intentions of still finding a way to out-spend our already-middling salary total from last year, so that’s not a zero chunk of change. But, it’s hard to see how you can fill out a whopping five spots on your everyday roster, not without significant trades to deplete your resources elsewhere. And, at this point, based on everything they’ve done, I find it VERY hard to believe we’re even going to spend as much as we did last year, let alone go past that mark.

The Mariners started their hard road back to relevancy by signing Mitch Garver to be our everyday DH (with maybe a start here and there at first base, or as an emergency backup catcher). That accounted for $12 of the $20 million, across two years. Probably means that’s it for free agency.

Which brings us to the flurry of moves made on January 5th:

  • The Mariners traded Robbie Ray to the Giants for Mitch Haniger and starter Anthony DeSclafani (in a deal notable for it being a money-neutral swap for 2024)
  • The Mariners traded Jose Caballero to the Rays for outfielder Luke Raley

If you follow me on Twitter (currently known as X) – and why wouldn’t you? I’m a mediocre-at-best follow – you already know how I feel about these trades, but I’ll reiterate here.

I like Mitch Haniger a lot as a person (and, not for nothing, I’ve never been super-into Robbie Ray as a Mariner, but that’s neither here nor there), but I don’t understand the unconditional love for this deal. Haniger is what we thought he was: consistently injured. Injured guys can’t help you win ballgames (unless it’s addition by subtraction, which at this point you have to put on the table). Haniger played in 61 games last year, with a whopping THREE stints on the IL. He played in 57 games in his final season with the Mariners in 2022. He played a full season in 2021, but no games in 2020, and only 63 games in 2019. 2018 was his last (and his only) great season at the Major League level, and we’re never seeing him play at that level again. At this point, with how broken down his body is, it’s fair to wonder if he’s even someone who’s playable. He might be a sub-.200 hitter for us going forward.

This year’s money is irrelevant (though it’s in excess of $17 million) because the money’s gone either way (we were either giving it to an injured Robbie Ray or an injured Mitch Haniger), but he’s also set to earn over $15 million next year on a player option. Why would he turn that down to become a free agent? Only someone who plays the vast majority of a full season at a relatively competent level would do that!

As for the pitcher, he supposedly “isn’t bad”. A ringing endorsement if I’ve ever heard one. I’ve never seen the guy pitch, so I can’t really sit here and tell you any different. But, based on his numbers (a FIP in the 4-5 range the last two years, a career 7.9 K/9 average – which dipped to 7.1 last year – and someone who in the last five years maxed out at 167.2 innings in a season), he strikes me as a right-handed Marco Gonzales. He also was lost to injury last year in July, and only appeared in 5 games in 2022. So, not even as durable as Marco then. Neat. At least he’s on the last year of his deal.

I think the most interesting aspect of this particular trade is what Dipoto said afterward. First of all, right out of the box it’s being declared that DeSclafani is destined for a long relief role in the bullpen. That’s assuming our five starters – Castillo, Gilbert, Kirby, Miller, and Woo – make it through Spring Training healthy.

More importantly, though, Dipoto said that the Mariners looked into the possibility of trading one of their young starters, and “never liked the way it looked.”

I think that’s tremendously informative, and might be the most important thing the Mariners have done to try to salvage the long-term viability of this team going forward.

A lot of us believed in an inevitable trade from one of those five guys, to try to bolster our lineup. Maybe we’d back-fill the rotation via free agency, or in a separate, lesser deal. But, to truly improve our lineup, we’d need to deal from a position of strength (thereby diluting it). The likeliest trade chips were Miller and/or Woo. They were the least-proven of our starters who finished the season last year, which meant they had an unknown upside, but also an unknown downside. The hope being: maybe they’re not as good as we think, so let some other team find that out the hard way, while we get one of their stud hitters.

It doesn’t shock me that the Mariners were looking at all of their trade options. Ownership really tied their hands this offseason, so what other choice did they have? I will say that it’s somewhat surprising to hear the return wasn’t looking as bright as we’d once imagined. But, we don’t know all the ins and outs. We don’t know, for instance, how much salary this organization would be willing to take on. It’s one thing to trade Woo for whatever high-priced slugger is on the trade block at the moment; but, if ownership is unwilling to take on that salary, then obviously the point is moo (you know, a cow’s opinion).

But, we also don’t know how other teams value our pitchers. Maybe they weren’t as high on Miller or Woo as we are. Maybe everyone was holding out for Kirby or Gilbert, and we’re steadfast on keeping them. OR, maybe we’re the ones over-valuing our starters, and other teams refused to match our demands. There’s a lot of variables we don’t know about.

I find it somewhat encouraging, though, knowing that we’re taking a stand. We’re holding strong to our young, vibrant rotation. We’re keeping our strength, and at least heading into 2024 knowing we’re set somewhere. It may not be enough to get us to the playoffs, but at least it’s a plan.

I’m encouraged by that, even knowing how pisspoor this lineup is likely to be.

I can already tell this post is too long, so I’ll save my Robbie Ray thoughts for another time. Spoiler alert: the upside for the Giants is significantly higher than it is for the Mariners in this trade, even though it’s likely to be inconsequential-to-bad for both teams.

I’ll tell you what, though, I actually like the trade with the Rays! Maybe that’s a bad sign; when have the Rays ever NOT swindled us? But, getting rid of Caballero and bringing back a potentially-useful outfield bat – without having to throw in more prospects to get the deal done – is pretty sweet!

I was not a Caballero fan. I know I’m in the minority here, but so be it. His best attributes consisted exclusively of bothering the shit out of the Astros and Rangers (among other teams, I’m sure), because I guess he fucked with them when it came to the pitch clock. But, I mean, we’re talking about a guy who didn’t hit for average, didn’t hit for power, was okay defensively and on the basepaths, but who also made a lot of mistakes in both areas. He started off last year relatively hot – mostly in on-base percentage – but by the end of the season he was only getting on base if guys plunked him. He was hit by 17 pitches, and I’m willing to bet a good number of those were on purpose because he was so annoying.

I was not looking forward to another year of Caballero as this team’s mostly-everyday second baseman. Now, watch the Rays turn him into an All Star.

Luke Raley, on the other hand, is a little more seasoned, and is coming off of a year where he had a 126 OPS+. In 118 games, he had 45 extra base hits, to go along with 14 stolen bases. He does garner his fair share of strikeouts, but with the loss of Kelenic, we had a need for some lefty power.

In fact, there’s a pretty interesting comparison to be had between the 2023 seasons of Kelenic vs. Raley:

  • Kelenic: 105 games, 416 PA, .253/.327/.419/.746, .359 BABIP, 25 2B, 2 3B, 11 HRs (2.6% HR rate), 13 SB, 41 BB (9.9% BB rate), 132 K’s (31.7% K rate)
  • Raley: 118 games, 406 PA, .249/.333/.490/.824, .330 BABIP, 23 2B, 3 3B, 19 HRs (4.7% HR rate), 14 SB, 28 BB (6.9% BB rate), 128 K’s (31.5% K rate)

Pretty comparable, honestly. But, Raley clearly has the better home run power, with maybe not quite as good of an eye at the plate, but also maybe better bat-to-ball abilities. In looking at their respective batted ball rates, we see some more interesting similarities and differences in 2023:

  • Kelenic: Exit Velo 90.9, Hard Hit 45.6%, Line Drive 29.8%, Ground Ball 43.8%, Fly Ball 24.4%, Pull 33.1%, Center 52.1%, Oppo 14.9%
  • Raley: Exit Velo 89.6, Hard Hit 45.7%, Line Drive 17.2%, Ground Ball 40.9%, Fly Ball 27.6%, Pull 39.7%, Center 47.0%, Oppo 13.4%

Kelenic is hitting more line drives, which contributes to a higher BABIP and a higher batting average. But, Raley is hitting fewer grounders and more fly balls, and is hitting drastically more to the pull side, which contributes to his increased home run numbers. I feel like, if anything, that’s going to help him play a little better at T-Mobile Park, considering the short porch in right. How frustrating was it to see Kelenic hit the ball hard to center or the other way, only for it to be gobbled up by an outfielder? Hopefully, we’ll see less of that from Raley.

This post is WAY off the rails, so I’ll stop here. At some point in the near future, I’ll talk about what this means for our lineup in 2024.

What Happens If This Is It For The Mariners?

The recent moves by the Mariners have a rationale behind them. You’ll note there that I didn’t say it was a GOOD rationale. I didn’t even say it was a rationale that I buy. But, they – the Mariners (ownership and front office) – feel they are in an economic pinch. This is in spite of 2.7 million fans coming to games in 2023, this is in spite of all the success this team has had the last two seasons, this is in spite of all the countless millions of dollars this team has generated over the years.

Where is the economic pinch coming from?

Well, local cable provider Xfinity/Comcast/Whatever The Fuck decided they would do their customers a solid by removing Root Sports from the basic cable package. That saved people, what, $10 per month? Something like that? On the one hand, it makes sense. The vast majority of people who subscribe to cable aren’t necessarily interested in sports programming, and if given the choice of saving $10 per month, or having the option to scroll past a sporting event, I’m sure most people would gladly take the ten bucks. Sports fans – and there ARE many of us – tend to forget that we’re actually a minority in this world (depending on the sport, of course, and depending on the locale; in Alabama, for instance, I’m sure football fans are in the majority; you get the idea).

What has been the gripe all along about people on the west coast generally, and in the greater Seattle area specifically, when it comes to the Pac-12? There isn’t enough fan interest – compared to the SEC and Big10 – to generate the kinds of revenues for our schools to be able to compete on a level playing field. Well, I guess for Seattle, you can extend that to Major League Baseball (Mariners), Hockey (Kraken), and the NBA (Trailblazers), among other lesser sports. We apparently don’t care enough about these teams to force Xfinity’s hand in keeping Root Sports on the basic plan. As a result, if we want to keep Root Sports – and we’re forced to go with Xfinity – we have to pony up for whatever the sports tier is, something like $18-$20 extra per month. I would bet that most fans interested in the Mariners, for example, don’t give a shit about all the other things one might get with that sports tier; they just want the M’s. So, then it comes down to a decision: do you want to pay an extra $20 per month for all the bells and whistles, just to get the one thing you want? Or do you want to say, “Fuck it, I don’t need to watch the Mariners anymore, I can listen on the radio”? Or do you find an alternative streaming option that offers Root Sports at a lower financial level, cutting the Xfinity cord for good?

That’s the pinch. What we don’t know exactly is how much this is costing the Mariners. They have a controlling ownership stake in Root Sports. This was done, in theory, to bring in extra revenue streams for the team that they didn’t have to share with the rest of Major League Baseball. This SHOULD have been making us countless millions of extra dollars every year, to ideally put us in the upper echelon of Major League teams when it comes to revenue, as a result, allowing us to spend with the big boys. But, we don’t know if that’s true or not. We don’t know if this deal has been as good for the Mariners as they intended. Maybe it has! But, as with all billionaires, it doesn’t matter what you made LAST year; it only matters what you make NEXT year. And, again, we don’t know what this is going to cost the M’s. Either it’s super dire, and the RSN model is going to collapse upon itself as more and more people cut the cable cord, or it’s just kind of annoying and is going to take some millions of dollars out of the pockets of literal billionaires.

CAN’T HAVE THAT! Losing even one dollar is an outrage to fucking billionaires, because they’re fucking psychopaths. Greedy fucking villains who we entrust with our sporting allegiance, because we have no other choice. We’re not Packers fans.

Anyway, now the Mariners have – through the trades of Suarez, Gonzales, White, and Kelenic, and through the lack of a qualifying offer to Teoscar Hernandez – saved themselves, what, $20 million for 2024? Hypothetically something close to $40 million, if Teoscar would have signed? Anyway, let’s just say $20 million; that feels like a comfortable round number to work with. We assume this is money the team is going to use towards filling out the roster, but we also assumed the Mariners would increase payroll over last year, rather than savagely cut it, so where does assuming get us?

What can you get for $20 million?

We need a right fielder, left fielder, third baseman, second baseman, and designated hitter. I think it’s safe to say we’re never going to get a legit DH under this front office group; they’d rather put whatever bullshit in there they have laying around, under the guise of giving guys “rest days” (that never actually happen, because it just ends up being Mike Ford or some bullshit). If we take DH out of the equation – and project some scrub already on the roster for that role (Canzone, Haggerty, Moore, whatever) – that’s still four starters we need. If we project Urias in that third base spot (a black hole if I’ve ever met one), and maybe Dylan Moore in that second base spot, that’s still two outfielders we need to find, and only $20 million with which to spend.

YOU CAN’T GET ANYTHING IN BASEBALL FOR UNDER $20 MILLION! Do you remember what A.J. Pollock cost last year? His broke ass was $7 million, specifically to be a platoon partner; he wasn’t even brought here to be an everyday player! Who the hell are we going to get for $20 million, to fill anywhere from 2-5 open spots in the everyday lineup? No one. No one good, anyway.

For the record, I do kind of expect the Mariners to spend this $20 million. I don’t think we’re done making moves; there will probably be a few new players coming in at some point. Remember that year when the Seahawks had some extra money to spend, and rather than sign one great offensive lineman, they spread it around on 4-5 scrubs? I think that’s what the Mariners will do. They’ll bypass all of these potentially impactful bats, wait around for the guys nobody wants, and still probably overpay a few of them into coming here, kinda like the way the Seahawks overpaid for Luke Joeckel.

When I talk about “this being it” for the Mariners, that’s what I mean. I think all of the potential impact bats are already on this roster. Julio, Cal, J.P., hopefully Ty France with a new Driveline swing.

Then, there’s everyone else: Dylan Moore, Josh Rojas, Jose Caballero, Sam Haggerty, Luis Urias, Dominic Canzone, Cade Marlowe, Taylor Trammell. You know, all of these junk guys who are just around because they don’t have any minor league options. That’s the kind of talent we have, and that’s the kind of talent I expect the Mariners to bring in with their meagre ration of $20 million.

By my count, we have 4 spots left on the 40-man roster. I would say, if the season started today, all of the guys I just listed – plus a backup catcher, also a nobody – are the 13 position players on the 26-man active roster. Maybe we mix and match, drop a guy here and there down to the minors, depending on who we’re able to bring in via free agency or trade, but again, the talent level isn’t going to be all that different from what we’re looking at.

Pretty grim! Almost no power, almost no high batting averages, very little ability to get on base with any regularity. That seems like a lineup that’s destined to take this team absolutely nowhere. It’s significantly WORSE than it was in 2023, and again, that was a lineup that failed to push us back into the playoffs. We can only go downward from here with a lineup even closely resembling THAT.

So, where do we turn to for hope?

I think, at this point, it’s safe to say we should start thinking of the Seattle Mariners in terms of the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals, and the like. I know we’ve always lamented the Mariners for being too cheap, but that hasn’t really been the case until now. They’ve always just been afraid to go the extra step. They’ve always been content with half measures. They’ve always failed to finish the job to put this team over the top. In that sense, how is this any different? We get close to where we want to go – in the playoffs for the first time in two-plus decades, then a game or two short of the playoffs a season later – but never do what needs to be done to turn this team from a fringe contender into a legitimate World Series contender.

But now? With this kind of cost cutting? With reports that it’s all but certain that the Mariners are never going to be able to extend Cal Raleigh – because he’ll cost too much, and likely because he wants to go somewhere to be on a winner – we’re not only fucking up our contention window, but now we know this window has a finite timetable to it.

We’re never going to be able to keep this young core together. That was the plan before, right? Draft and develop a spectacular young core, then fill in around the edges with quality outside veterans to push us over the top. Now, we have to pick and choose who we can keep. We have to think about a future where we can have George Kirby OR Logan Gilbert, but not both. We have to think about all of these young guys as they head into their arbitration seasons, where their salaries will skyrocket based on their high levels of performance as very young players. We’re not going to be able to extend them all early. And we’re not going to be able to afford them even DURING those arbitration years, let alone afterward when they become unrestricted free agents. That means – since, again, we’re thinking in terms of A’s, Rays, Royals, etc. – that we’re going to have to start trading some of these guys for more cost-controlled prospects and just hope and pray we can develop the guys we get in return into viable Major League pieces.

The bummer in all of this is that our next crop of homegrown prospects are another full year or two away from hitting the Major Leagues. So, not only do we have an ever-shrinking window with our current crop of young Major League talent, but there’s likely going to be a significant gap between when those players start leaving, and the next crop ascends.

How long do we have with our current crop?

Cal Raleigh is arbitration eligible in 2025-2027. Logan Gilbert is eligible in 2024-2027 (his estimated 2024 contract will be $5 million, and will only go up and up and up from there). George Kirby is eligible from 2025-2028. Luis Castillo is signed through 2027, with a vesting option for 2028. Robbie Ray is here likely through 2026 (he has a player option after 2024, but considering he’ll at best be playing half a season next year, seems unlikely he’d opt out); we’re stuck with his crazy salary unless he gets lumped in with the next round of salary dump trades. And J.P. Crawford is signed through 2026. Obviously, Julio isn’t going anywhere, so I hope he likes being our ONE good player, because I’m guessing if we haven’t won a World Series by 2026, we’re going to start moving on from most of these guys.

That’s a 2-3 year window. 2024 & 2025 for sure, MAYBE 2026, if ownership hasn’t totally panicked by then and switched to a new GM/manager combo. We can write off 2024, as the team has no prospects ready to come up. 2025 is maybe a possibility to improve from within. Leaving us with a narrow pinpoint window of 2026 as the ideal target.

By then, maybe Cole Young, Harry Ford, Colt Emerson, Michael Arroyo, Felnin Celesten, Tai Peete, and the like, will be ready to make their mark at the Major League level.

If that’s how ownership is going to treat this team – if all we have left to hope for is our prospects taking the next steps – then I think it’s time to turn our attention to the minors. Because I don’t think there’s going to be any significant help coming via free agency. Sure seems like most trades – from here on out – will be shipping off guys with less club control for guys with more club control. Then, it’s just retreads and reclamation projects as far as free agency is concerned.

Obviously, I’m not saying that 2026 is the year we win the World Series. That’s a BEST case scenario, and also the soonest we should even be thinking about that. I think the lead-up to 2026 is going to be pretty frustrating, and 2026 itself might be a total disaster for all I know.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know where I’m at with this team anymore. I feel like I had the rug pulled out from under me. Again, I don’t know why I should’ve expected any different. But, it hasn’t felt like dire straits like this for a while. It still felt like this team was on the rise, even with the pitfall that was 2023. But now? I can only see the doom and the gloom.

I don’t know how much more I can give as a fan to this team. I think as this ownership group starts pulling back its money and its effort from the talent level on the Major League roster, so will I start to pull back my interest in watching this team, in going to their games, in investing my heart and soul into the day-to-day grind. As the Mariners predictably fall short on the field, so will I fall short in giving a fuck.

There’s more to life than Mariners baseball. I know I’ve threatened leaving this team high and dry for years now. But, I also wasn’t married then. I didn’t have a family then. I didn’t have other things that would draw my attention away from this organization that CLEARLY doesn’t give two shits about this fanbase. Why bother? Why feed into their villainy? Let them run the Mariners into the ground. I’ve got my own life to live.

The Mariners Are Continuing Their Short, Quick Backslide Into Mediocrity

It’ll be interesting to look back five years from now, when we reflect upon the six-year anniversary of the last time the Mariners made the playoffs – itself the first time we’d made the playoffs in 20+ years – how will that team be remembered? Will it have the same reverence as the 1995 playoff team? Or will it be closer to that 2000 team, kind of forgotten and overlooked?

It’s funny that a franchise who has made the playoffs only five times in its history can have playoff teams that are overlooked, but such is the world we live in.

I guess one could argue the Mariners are getting all of their least popular moves out of the way early, rather than spread them out over the course of the entire offseason. But, at some point, you have to wonder if the bad taste that’s in all of our mouths won’t overshadow whatever good moves they eventually make.

Of course, you have to wonder if any good moves are on the horizon, but that’s neither here nor there.

We traded Jarred Kelenic, Marco Gonzales, and Evan White to the Atlanta Braves for reliever Jackson Kowar and pitching prospect Cole Phillips. Kowar, I guess, is a hard-throwing right hander who has yet to put it together through pieces of three seasons with the Royals; even his numbers at the AAA level the last three years have been subpar. Phillips, meanwhile, was drafted in 2022 and needed Tommy John surgery. He’s yet to pitch in the minors, as far as I can tell. He’s the rawest of prospects at this point, and I have no idea where he’ll start his career with us, but it’ll be nowhere near the Majors.

As you can tell by 2/3 of the names we gave up, this is a salary dump. Marco is making over $12 million this year. There’s also a club option year in 2024 that’s worth $15 million, but clearly we were never going to pick that up. Also clear: we didn’t want to pay him $12 million to be a shitty reliever, so it’s not hard to see why we’d want to move on.

Evan White signed a team-friendly buy-out of his arb years back in 2020, when he was a Gold Glove first baseman during COVID times. He’s since been mostly too injured to play (not logging a game in the Majors since 2021), and when he has played he’s been bad (spending small bits of time in AAA the last two years, doing next-to-nothing of value at the plate). A glove-first first baseman is the last thing this team needs, and with his salary looking to spike in 2024 and 2025 ($15 million total across the two seasons), with future club options that come with a small cost to buy out, it’s also not hard to see why we’d want to move on.

Marco stopped being part of this team’s future plans pretty much as soon as he signed his last contract; you knew he was never going to see another one here. He stopped being part of this team’s present as soon as we were able to call up enough young prospects to fill out the rotation. He was always a Meh starter who could eat a respectable amount of innings and keep you in a respectable amount of games. But, usually he was only good against the very worst teams, and pretty hard to watch against the likes of the Astros and whatnot.

Evan White is kind of a disappointing story, since he was a first round draft pick and is so talented and athletic defensively, but he just couldn’t stay healthy. Even if he had, there’s a strong chance he never would’ve made it anyway, considering the holes in his swing made him a pretty big liability at the plate. If you were often frustrated by all the strikeouts you saw from Teoscar Hernandez, Eugenio Suarez, and yes, Jarred Kelenic, you would’ve been pretty miserable seeing White flail at the plate all these years. Maybe those injuries were a blessing in disguise, at least for the eyes of every Mariners fan.

The Kelenic piece hurts, for those of us who were clinging to hope that he’d eventually figure it out, put it all together, and be an All Star for years to come. Around the time Evan White signed his extension, we thought Kelenic was also on a fast track to super success. That turned out to decidedly NOT be the case, and for a little bit it looked like he was going to be an extreme bust. In the last offseason, he really worked on his swing, and came into 2023 looking better than he’d ever been. That carried over into a strong start to this season, before he eventually cooled off, then kicked a water cooler, landed on the IL, and made it back in time to struggle at the end of the season when we could’ve most used a boost.

I am, in no way, shape, or form, giving up on the concept of Kelenic being a good Major Leaguer, but I’ve been resigned to the fact for a while now that it wasn’t going to be in a Mariners uniform. He was the most likely candidate to be traded away this offseason to help us bolster the ballclub.

What I didn’t predict was that instead of helping to bring back a Major League-ready bat to come in here and start right away, he’d be used as a means to shed unwanted salary, probably netting us nothing in return other than that savings.

Fans are justifiably upset. This is a Salary Dump. The Suarez deal was a Salary Dump. Not giving Teoscar Hernandez a qualifying offer was itself a form of Salary Dump. These aren’t the moves of good, healthy organizations looking to compete for a World Series. These are the moves of third-tier, “cash-strapped” organizations who choose to pinch every penny even though they’re owned by billionaires and those teams are worth untold billions of dollars on the open market.

Some fans are choosing to have trust in the Mariners for some reason. At this point, maybe the humor is so dry it’s flying over my head, but if it’s legitimate and there are fans out there still believing in the shit this team is peddling, then we’ve got some serious Stockholm Syndrome going on and maybe we should send social services to their homes to make sure they’re okay.

The argument is: the Mariners are picking up extra money any way they can so they can go out and spend it on high-priced free agents and/or trade acquisitions.

It’s funny, because remember when the Mariners made all those moves to free up extra cash the last time? It was, incidentally enough, when Shohei Ohtani first came to the United States. Remember what happened? We failed miserably, and then did nothing with the international signing money we acquired. Nor did we do anything else in regular free agency to shore up the team. In effect, we put all our eggs in the Ohtani basket, and watched those eggs fall off of a cliff Wile E. Coyote-style, splatting to the ground below.

How are we this stupid? How are the Mariners so stupid as to fall for the Ohtani allure yet again, when he will never come here no matter what we offer him? And how are Mariners fans so stupid as to think this team’s logic is based anywhere close to reality?

Maybe they have other plans. Maybe there are other targets we’re trying to acquire. Even so, you can always make these cost-cutting deals AFTER you’ve added the pieces you’re committing to add. You don’t have to do it before! You don’t have to look like the cheapest organization on the planet. You don’t have to bottom out the hope of an entire fanbase.

As we’ve discussed in the previous two deals, it’s pretty clear there’s a new philosophy with the Mariners when it comes to striking out. Or, rather, that philosophy might’ve always been there, but we’re finally taking steps towards seeing it to fruition. Hernandez and Suarez were two of the top three hitters with the most strikeouts in the league, with a total of 425 combined. Kelenic didn’t have that many strikeouts only because he didn’t play in as many games; but his strikeout rate was actually highest on the team (31.7%, compared to 31.1% for Hernandez and 30.8% for Suarez).

For the record, last year there were five hitters above league average in strikeout rate (23.2%), with the other two being Julio (24.5%) and Cal (27.8%). For some reason, I don’t think either of those guys are in danger of going anywhere anytime soon.

So, when you factor in the strikeout aversion this team has suddenly developed, Kelenic’s days in Seattle were numbered. My contention here – like with Hernandez and Suarez – is that we’re not getting enough in return for very valuable pieces. I guess the team is hoping that it’s actually Addition By Subtraction. Except, the only problem with that is: you still need players to fill in for the vacant roles you just created!

Now, we’re down a third baseman, a right fielder, and a left fielder. We already needed a DH and a second baseman, as well as a new first baseman (depending on how much you believe in Ty France being fixed by Driveline). All we’ve done so far is pick up a backup catcher and a couple of potential relievers (assuming we’re able to fix what’s wrong with them in Spring Training).

That’s a lot to have to fill in one offseason. Arguably, it’s too much, and we’re going to come up short in multiple areas yet again. On top of which, there aren’t any prospects we can reasonably hope to rely upon in 2024, meaning we’re not just in need of help in our everyday starting lineup, but we’re also in need of bolstering our depth. As you can see by how much that depth was forced into action in 2023, they are NOT good enough to carry this team to the post-season.

It just feels like the Mariners are going further and further backward in their development, when they’re really supposed to be making a big push towards World Series relevance. And I can’t tell what exactly the plan is. Are we waiting for our next batch of prospects to develop? That won’t come until 2025 at the earliest, probably closer to 2026 or even 2027. At which point, what are we doing with the guys we’ve got at the Major League level currently?

At this rate, it seems like we’re waiting for them to get so fed up they demand to be traded out of here. God, wouldn’t that be nice? Can I demand to be traded to a fanbase where their team actually gives a shit about winning? I don’t even know what that’s like!

What The Mariners Need To Fix Heading Into 2024

Whenever you hear someone from the team talk about what went wrong with the 2023 Mariners, and what they need to do to get back to the playoffs in 2024, they make it sound like it’s just a small tweak here and there. I got into the positives of the 2023 squad, and yeah, there’s a lot of good pieces here. But, I would also say it’s not an insignificant undertaking!

I counted 12 positives, and that’s including Teoscar, who is not a guarantee to be back. He’ll likely be extended a qualifying offer, which everyone believes he will turn down. At which point, either you find a way to sign him as a free agent, or you have to go out and fill that spot in right field. Regardless, 12 is less than half of the Major League roster. Even if you add a few of those bullpen pieces to the mix, you’re still hovering around 50% of the team that could definitely use an upgrade. That’s hardly a small tweak here and there!

If we’re talking about reasons why the Mariners fell short this year, you have to start with Ty France and Eugenio Suarez. Ty has been a regular whipping boy this season, for good reason. He has drastically fallen off a cliff these last two years, to the point where he was barely above replacement level in 2023.

In 2021, I would’ve said Ty France was one of our most important players. His batting average has slipped 41 points, his on-base percentage has slipped 31 points, and his slugging has fallen a whopping 79 points. Its been a disaster, on top of which, his strikeouts are climbing. He’s doing nothing well, and even his defense – by the numbers – has fallen off. He somehow managed to avoid the IL, and he had a career high in HBP; that’s what he has to hang his hat on. He has 2 arb years remaining, and I’m not even sure we should give him that much. It might be better for everyone involved for him to just move on, except I don’t know what’s out there to fill in at that spot. It’s not like we can trust in Evan White. Free Agency sounds like a wasteland. We’ll probably have to fill that spot via trade, and so help me if we bring in another one of these Quad-A guys to try to hit in T-Mobile Park.

The only hope is that his year two arb number doesn’t increase much, and that he follows through with the program at Driveline (and it somehow manages to stick). I know they worked wonders for J.P., but I can’t imagine Ty France has been going out and doing nothing the past two offseasons; Driveline is no guarantee of future success.

Eugenio is a slightly different story. His batting average and on-base percentages year over year are pretty close to one another; it was just his power that took a bit of a dive (31 homers in 2022, 22 homers in 2023). That’s a little trickier to explain. His line drive percentage actually went up this year – which might speak to the uptick in doubles – but his fly ball percentage dropped. His pull percentage spiked, while his balls to center and right fell. His hard hit rate and ground ball percentages were both static, and his strikeout rate actually went down a tick (even though his overall strikeouts went up, mostly due to his playing in every single game). Is that just bat angle? Is that the way pitchers were throwing to him? Were they busting him up and in, and that reduced his effectiveness in getting the ball to leave the park?

He also just turned 32 years old, so we can’t necessarily rule that out. Either way, I don’t see him going anywhere. Or, let me put it this way: I don’t see both him AND France leaving (maybe one or the other). But, you can’t try to replace both of those guys plus Teoscar; that’s just too much to try to accomplish in one offseason.

There wasn’t a bigger (and better) story than Jarred Kelenic for the early part of the season. This was truly a make-or-break season for the youngster, and he seemed to take the biggest step forward of anyone in a Mariners uniform. The first couple months were outstanding! It’s too bad they were overshadowed by the rest of the team struggling as much as they did.

His first 53 games – through the end of May – saw him hit .277/.333/.513, with 14 doubles, a triple, and 10 homers. His final 52 games – June through the end of the year – saw him hit .226/.320/.316, with 11 doubles, a triple, and 1 homer.

So, what was that all about? How much did the stint on the IL for kicking a water cooler have to play into it? Well, considering he was struggling mightily leading up to it – hence his physical display of frustration – you can’t blame it ALL on the layoff. Did pitchers adjust to whatever adjustments he had made in the offseason? Probably. Was he ill-equipped to then adjust again? Sure seems like it. What does this mean for his Major League career going forward?

Well, I think it’s safe to say he salvaged some of his value, which is a plus. But, can you really go into next season with him as your everyday left fielder? Or even your most-days platoon left fielder? For what it’s worth, I don’t know if his splits necessarily dictate that he HAS to be a platoon guy. He had a slightly higher batting average and slugging percentage against lefties, and was actually luckier with BABIP against righties than lefties. So, I think he’s fine to be an everyday outfielder. I still think there’s room for him to grow as he continues getting comfortable at the Major League level. But, he goes in the tank for far too long to be considered dependable, and he doesn’t strike me as an All Star type player. He might luck into a hot half-season and get handed a spot one year. Overall, though, I think he’s destined to do whatever it is he’s going to do in another uniform. I believe this will be the offseason we package him to another team, in hopes to bring in a veteran we can count on.

The rest of the problem children include Jose Caballero, Mike Ford, Kolten Wong, Dylan Moore, Dominic Canzone, A.J. Pollock, Josh Rojas, Sam Haggerty, Cade Marlowe, Taylor Trammell, Cooper Hummel (remember him?), Tommy La Stella, and Brian O’Keefe. I can’t possibly devote an entire paragraph or series of paragraphs to these guys, because we’d be here all day. Suffice it to say, they’re all fringe Major Leaguers (at best), and were eating up WAY too many spots in our lineup for this offense to be even remotely effective. Some of them had decent stretches (Ford had 16 homers on the year, Caballero was an on-base machine for a while, Rojas and Marlowe had brief hot streaks), but on the whole, these are not the types of players you want to pin your hopes on.

On the pitching side of things, you have to begin with Robbie Ray and the fact that he only made the one start this year. Now, do we know if he would’ve been good this year? Remember how poorly the end of his 2022 season went. But, that could’ve been a fluke. The bottom line is that a guy you were expecting to eat up a significant chunk of quality innings wasn’t around for you. It accelerated the development of Miller and Woo – which in the end might’ve been a bonus – but you could see those guys start to wear down towards the end of the year. Would they have been fresher if we could’ve held them back a little longer? We’ll never know, but it sure seems likely.

Marco Gonzales only made it 10 starts this year, and continued his gradual downturn ever since 2020. We’re still stuck with him for one more year, and I find it hard to believe we’ll be able to find a trade partner for him. On the one hand, he’ll be healthy by the start of 2024, and you can’t have too much starting pitching; on the other hand, he’s useless as a member of the bullpen, and if he keeps Woo or Miller from starting for too long, it’s going to be enraging.

The biggest tragedy of this year might’ve been the injury to Emerson Hancock. We only got about two and a half starts out of him, but he looked fairly promising in his limited action. And it happened right around the time Bryan Woo was returning from his brief IL stint, when we were supposed to head into the dog days of summer with a 6-man rotation, to hopefully keep everyone fresh. How important was THAT in derailing our season? Who’s to say? It’s one more What If to throw onto a season full of ’em.

And we’ve already gone into the bullpen of it all. There were gods and clods, and the clods were pretty damn mediocre. Trading Sewald, so far, looks like a disaster. But, that’s one of those things you can’t measure in two months’ time. You have to look at it over the next 2-3 years and see where everyone lands. I’ll say this: I don’t have any confidence in Canzone or Rojas. But, I also think we’re right around the corner from Sewald turning into a pumpkin. In which case, it was all for naught, and very well might’ve been the single biggest factor in sinking our season.

So, TL;DR, what do we need to fix? Well, we need to upgrade at either 1B or 3B. We need to fill RF with either Teoscar or Other. We need a bona fide fucking DH, because this horse shit we’ve been doing isn’t going to fly.

The Mariners are so full of shit with this DH thing, by the way. It was supposedly a means to give regular guys off-days, but how often was it used for that purpose, really? Suarez played at third damn near every day. France rarely went off first. J.P. never sits. Instead, that spot went to Teoscar on occasion (which was really a means to improve our outfield defense), Cal once in a while (when Murphy was healthy and able to back him up), and people like Ford, Pollock, Haggerty, Rojas, and the like. Lots of bullshit bench guys getting DH starts and doing nothing with them! Just sign a great hitter and park him there! Enough with this experiment that you’re not even using as you say you will!

Also, we need a proper second baseman, a proper backup catcher (who can stay healthy all year), and an outfielder or three (depending on what happens with Teoscar and Kelenic). Oh, and replenish the bullpen with at least one heavy duty arm (so it’s not just Brash, Topa, and Munoz and that’s it).

So, yeah, there’s a lot to do, and only one offseason to do it.

What’s Up With Ty France?

I don’t want to nitpick too much, since the Mariners have been playing so well over the last couple months, but I have real concerns about Ty France that just aren’t going away.

We traded for France at the 2020 deadline in the infamous COVID-shortened season. He was a part of that blockbuster Austin Nola deal that also brought back Andres Munoz, Luis Torrens (back with the M’s this week as some insurance, reporting to Tacoma), and Quad-A outfielder Taylor Trammell. He got regular playing time with us in 2020 and showed a high-average, high-OBP toolset with a little bit of pop and versatility. Really, my favorite kind of player.

He assumed our starting first baseman job in 2021 thanks to injury and ineffectiveness from Evan White, and he’s run with it. In 2021 and 2022, his power numbers surged: 32 doubles & 18 homers in 2021, 27 doubles & 20 homers in 2022. With that, though, the average has gone down each year. .291 in 2021, .276 in 2022, and .254 this year. His OBP has gone down too, ever-so-slightly, in the .370’s in 2020, to .368 in 2021, to .340 the last two years. It should also be pointed out that he’s either at or near the top of the league in getting hit by pitches. And, due to that and some other flukey circumstances, he’s had his share of time on the IL, which has also worsened as time has gone on (152 games played in 2021, 140 in 2022, and so far 130 this year; here’s hoping he doesn’t get hit with too many more errant baseballs and can move the needle in the right direction in this final month).

What has me concerned is the power outage from his bat. With one month left in the season, he has 30 doubles, but only 10 homers. His career slugging percentage through 2022 was .438; this year it’s .379. And I don’t know how to explain it! His BABIP is down compared to career averages, but slightly up from last year. His strikeout rate is at his career norm. His hard hit rate is also at his career norm. He’s hitting fewer ground balls than normal, and therefore his fly balls are up a tick. He’s up in pull and center percentages, hitting fewer balls the other way (which, again, would indicate he should have more homers, not drastically less).

Where France is extremely down compared to career norms is in his Win Probability numbers. He’s very much in the negative, when he was firmly a net-add the last two years. That goes to explain his reduction in WAR (4.2 in 2021, 3.0 in 2022, 0.8 so far this year), and a mediocre RBI line (73 in 2021, 84 in 2022, only 51 so far this year), but Win Probability numbers also have a clutch feel to them, and France has been decidedly NOT-clutch in 2023. I mean, look no further than the fact that his ground ball percentage is drastically down (46.7% in 2021, 47.8% in 2022, only 42.5% this year), but he’s somehow grounded into MORE double plays (13 in 2021, 18 in 2022, a whopping 24 this year with a month to go).

I mean, I don’t have the specifics on all MLB first basemen, but I have to think France ranks among the worst. He has a defensive WAR of -1.0 for crying out loud! Between that and his dwindling performance at the plate – on top of his reputation as a player frequently playing in pain, with suffering results – I don’t think it’s any surprise that he’s seen his spot in the lineup fall in recent weeks. You can’t just lock him into the three- or four-hole anymore. And, with two years of arbitration left, you have to wonder how much longer he’s destined to be in this organization.

There was cause for optimism back in July when it was reported he had some chiropractic work done that supposedly fixed his neck, allowing him to see the ball more easily, fixing some funky mechanics that had crept into his at-bats. But, in the second half (starting July 14th), I don’t know if we’ve seen a ton of improvement:

  • First Half: 86 games, .261/.332/.389, 22 doubles, 7 homers, 19 walks, 66 strikeouts
  • Second Half: 44 games, .238/.358/.351, 8 doubles, 3 homers, 17 walks, 30 strikeouts

I mean, it looks like the chiro did improve his vision at the plate; he’s not flailing quite as often at those pitches out of the zone. But, his power and batting average are still slipping.

I don’t know what to tell you. How do you explain it? Is it just baseball? Is he breaking down with age and a skyrocketing HBP count? Is his bat speed dwindling? Probably the bat speed thing, right?

Regardless, it sucks. Ty France is so much fun to root for. And when he’s on a heater, there isn’t a tougher out, or someone I’d rather see at the plate in an important situation. The problem is: he hasn’t been that guy very often this year. And he REALLY wasn’t that guy late last year when we were in our playoff run.

Julio isn’t going to continue being a supernova forever. Teoscar’s hot streak is bound to cool off at some point. The more Cal Raleigh is forced to play – in the absence of a competent backup, until Tom Murphy returns – the less effective he’s bound to be at the plate. With Suarez kind of an enigma this season, we could REALLY use a scorching month of September out of France if we want to achieve our goal of winning the West and securing a wild card bye.

I fear, if he continues on this disappointing trend, we’ll be in for a similarly disappointing exit from this season.

Biggest Disappointments (So Far) Of The 2023 Mariners

Yesterday, I got into some of the bright spots. Today, it’s time to shine a light on the pits of despair.

As always, there’s a lot of blame to go around when a team is as mediocre as the Mariners. To put things in perspective, as of the moment of this writing, the M’s are 10-1 against Oakland, Colorado, and St. Louis (three of the worst, or at least most-underperforming, teams on our schedule to date). Against everyone else, we’re 14-23.

But, I don’t want this post to be 300 pages long. So, we’re not going to get into the bottom part of the order too much. Frankly, I never expected much out of La Stella or Pollock or even Wong; they all felt like poor fits to me, and I was never going to be surprised that they sucked. It also isn’t terribly shocking that Haggerty has been bad at the plate, or that Murphy got off to a slow start, or that Trammell & Hummel are more Quad-A guys than actual Major Leaguers. If you went into this season banking on one or more of these guys to be catalysts to our success, you were always bound to be disappointed.

What’s more concerning has been our studs, who have been decidedly unstudly. We’re never going to go anywhere if these guys don’t pick it up.

With so many other storylines going on, Julio Rodriguez was kind of sliding under the radar for a while. But, he’s been pretty far from what we had come to expect from him. Somewhere in between the dregs of last April and the rest of the season, but a helluva lot closer to the poor end of that spectrum. I don’t think it was out of line for people to already have notions of MVPs dancing in their heads, so an OPS under .700 this far into May is fairly discouraging. I don’t think anyone believes this is who he’s going to be the rest of the year, but he can snap out of this funk anytime now, as far as I’m concerned.

Teoscar gets a lot of the flak, and sort of gets lumped in with the other shitty newcomers, but I don’t think he’s unsalvageable. I also don’t think he’s necessarily been anything other than what we should have expected. Maybe he’s a little light in the extra-base hits, maybe he’s striking out a bit more than normal. But, he was always a guy who struck out a lot. He was always Boom Or Bust. I think where the disconnect lays – and I’m as guilty of it as anyone – is projecting him to be some sort of Home Run King or something upon arriving here. We saw a guy with a lot of talent, a guy entering a contract year, and a guy with enough power to overcome the challenges of playing half his games in Marine Layer, U.S.A. But, I think this is just who he is. He’s not going to become the next Nelson Cruz in a Mariners uniform. He’s going to muddle his way through this season, and take the biggest deal he can get with another team next year. I do expect he’ll pick it up a little bit at some point, but I also don’t think he’s going to be a huge guy for us.

I think I’m officially starting to sour on the Ty France experience. I certainly, 100% don’t want to see him reach a second contract with the Mariners. We’re talking about a guy who, sure, when he’s healthy, he’s probably my favorite type of hitter on this team. But, part of that quality that makes him so rootable also tends to get him hurt. He crowds the plate and takes an inordinate number of pitches off his body. Last year, he went on the IL while playing in the field, and when he returned he was pretty much worthless for the rest of the season. It turned out – obviously – that he was playing in a considerable amount of pain. And, at least for him, he can’t seem to perform when he’s trying to fight through nagging injuries. Already this year, we’ve seen him go in the tank; is he already dealing with injuries and we’re not even two full months in yet? I just wish Evan White wasn’t also so injury prone (with MUCH more devastating conditions), because I was really hoping to see what he could do before his contract starts getting expensive. Either way, Ty’s home run power seems to be dwindling, and he’s not even really putting up an impressive batting average. I think it’s a long, slow decline from here on out.

Eugenio Suarez is quite off of his power pace from last year, and while I don’t think this is bound to continue forever – he tends to hit them in bunches – it’s yet another major reason why the M’s have had so much trouble scoring runs this year. Last year at this time, he had 9 homers and 9 doubles; this year it’s 5 and 5. Just boil it down to that. Everything else being pretty much equal, you have to imagine the additional RBI of just equalling what he did last year (adding 4 more doubles and 4 more homers to his current total) might be worth a small handful of games by themselves, considering what our record is in 1-run games.

It’s easy to shit on Marco Gonzales – I do it all the time! If you put him in perspective, I’ll admit you could do a lot worse for a #5 starter. But, we’re 9 starts in and I would argue he didn’t give us a chance to win 3 of them based on his performance. He’s reached 6 innings (and no further) 4 times, in spite of extremely reasonable pitch counts in all of his starts. That shows me a guy who can, at times, be effective, but even then he can’t be trusted. We’re trying to squeeze as much as we can out of this dried sponge, and then getting him the hell off the mound.

I would say Matt Brash isn’t exactly the force of nature we were promised by pretty much everyone this offseason. The stuff is still there, but he’s disturbingly hittable for a guy we’ve been trying to shoehorn into high leverage spots. It makes me wonder if he’s ever going to figure it out. I was still holding out some hope that he’d one day return to a starting role, but if he can’t even master a single inning, how would we be able to trust him with 6+?

Finally, let’s dump on Chris Flexen. On the one hand, maybe we should be praising him; for, if he hadn’t stunk so hard in his limited duty as a 6th starter – following Ray’s injury – we wouldn’t have gotten to see Bryce Miller this early. But, his entire package – even as a reliever – has been appalling. He’s in a contract year, he had been pretty reliable as a back-of-the-rotation starter until this season, and there was every reason to believe we might trade him at the deadline for a prospect, or as part of a package to bring in a hitter to help us for the stretch run. Instead, his value is pretty much nothing, and we’d be trading him just to get him off our roster. I would say that maybe there’s hope he can rebuild his reputation in the bullpen, but we don’t have very many opportunities to make use of a long reliever with the rotation arms we have now. And he’s not a leverage reliever in the slightest; you can pretty much only use him in blowouts. Sure, he’s had five consecutive scoreless outings (8 total innings) since his ERA hit its zenith of 8.86, but it’s taken him a little over 3 weeks just to accrue those outings. He’s a last resort, and he’s going to have to be near-perfect from now until the end of July to have any value at all.

God Damn These Mariners Have Been Annoying So Far!

Suffice it to say, I’ve been on vacation for Spring Break the last week. It was, uhh, not warm.

Frozen Lake Is Frozen

So, yeah, I haven’t had to slog through these 4-6 Mariners like the rest of you. I went to the game on Opening Night, the M’s won a thrilling 3-0 game over the Guardians that just zipped by, then I took the next day off of work, then I flew out to Minnesota with my family for lots of indoor activities at an otherwise lovely timeshare.

But, I’ve also been there with you, at least following along on Twitter. And it hasn’t been pleasant! Every time I turn around, the Mariners are blowing leads, getting hurt, giving up huge chunks of runs, throwing the ball all over the field (except where it’s supposed to go), and otherwise struggling to consistently hit offensively (with a few exceptions).

I can’t even can absolutely begin to tell you what’s the most disappointing aspect of these 2023 Mariners through 10 games, and (all apologies for the recency bias) I’m leaning towards the bullpen.

Yesterday’s game was potentially HUGE, and it’s infuriating to me that we blew it. Just, in general, the difference between being 5-5 and 4-6 is everything. 5-5 is so much more palatable, after a 2-5 start (with series losses at home to both the Guardians and the fucking Angels). While 4-6 obviously isn’t the end of the world, that game was the nail in the coffin for our season series against Cleveland. Had we won, we would’ve been 4-3 against them on the year (and, as such, had the tiebreaker over them come playoff time). Instead, they’re the ones who are 4-3 over us, and will take that advantage with them through the rest of the season. Cleveland figures to be direct competition with us, either as divisional champs, or as wild card fodder. Now we have to beat their record by a game if we want to stay ahead of them in the seeding.

What the fuck happened to Matt Brash?! What was all this shit about him having the best slider in Major League history? Seems a little premature and totally outlandish, if you ask me. We were fucking all set up with a 2-run lead in the bottom of the 9th and he fucking gagged it away. We really need him to come through, as the bullpen has been regularly taxed in this early going, and now that we’re down Andres Munoz (one of a disturbing number of injuries to high profile pitchers already, not even two weeks into the season), Brash figures to get the lion’s share of high-leverage situations not going to Paul Sewald.

Frankly, ONE injury is too many. But, we lost Robbie Ray after his first start of the season (after he looked so effective in Spring Training), forcing our hand in starting Chris Flexen, who is … fine. Munoz’s arm was not responding after outings, which is concerning to say the least, given the way he throws. Then, I heard Evan White has another major injury that’s going to cost him the first half of this season (if we’re lucky, it won’t be the whole year; either way, it’s another huge setback to his development).

And, oh by the way, Matt Festa has stunk (and was demoted to Tacoma this week), Brash has two blown saves already, Penn Murfee has two losses on the year (in spite of his 0.00 ERA), Diego Castillo has been predictably ineffective, and we had to call up someone named J.B. Bukauskas, who is someone I’ve never heard of in my life.

You can’t really absolve the starters though, because other than Luis Castillo (who has been OUTSTANDING through two starts, so it’s probably time to jinx him as he takes the hill later today), they’ve been pretty rough. Certainly not the strength of this team that we were all counting on heading into this season. Of course, it’s too early to panic, but not too early to at least be a little concerned.

I’ll be honest, the offense as a whole is pretty much what I expected. We’ve scored 43 runs in 10 games, that feels pretty close to what this team is. .234/.299/.374 as a team; you kinda expect the on-base numbers to improve, and the power numbers to drastically improve, but for now it is what it is. France, Julio, Cal, and Suarez are all top-notch. Kelenic has been showing some excellent progress (also helped by the lack of a shift).

But, on the flipside, we’re still waiting for Teoscar to get going. Kolten Wong has been a disaster. Indeed, all the newcomers – including Pollock, Hummel, and La Stella – have been atrocious so far. Combine that with getting nothing out of Murphy, Haggerty, or Moore (who’s still injured), and things could really be a lot better.

I think what’s most infuriating has been the defense. I don’t know if this is randomness or what, but there have been some serious breakdowns in the field, and that’s not helping matters in the slightest. Not with how the pitching has sucked, and how the hitting is just barely keeping its head above water.

I think what’s been most concerning has been our lack of success in the close games. We’re only 2-4 in games decided by 2 runs or less. That’s gotta change, and in a big way, if we want to contend for the division this year. The down-roster part of our bullpen needs to step it up in a big way. I’m including Brash in that, because until he proves over a lengthy period of time that he can hang, I can’t say I totally trust him in high-leverage situations.

I guess the good thing is, no one is running away with the A.L. West so far. We’re tied in record with Houston. The A’s are who we thought they were (2-7), and the Rangers and Angels are only 5-4 (hardly world beaters, as expected). It’s all still there for us, but we can’t go digging ourselves too big of a hole. We can’t come to depend on crazy-insane surges over the course of a season, like last year when we won 14 in a row and 22 out of 25. That doesn’t just happen every year.

But, also, we can’t freak out at every 4-6 stretch. Because this won’t be the only time this season where the Mariners play at a .400 level. It’s a long year. 152 more games to go.

Let’s go out tonight and get a W to start the new week off on a brighter note.

Who Will Be The Mariners’ 13th Man?

Are rosters still comprised of 26 players in Major League Baseball? Or are they cutting it back down to 25? I can’t really keep track of all these little details anymore. But, I do know there’s a limit on the number of pitchers you can carry, and that you have to have 13 position players at a minimum. Seems a LITTLE idiotic, but there’s so much to complain about when it comes to the rules of baseball, I’m not going to get bent out of shape about teams having an extra bench spot here and there.

As has been reported of late, the Mariners are pretty well set for the majority of their position player spots, becoming even more certain based on Taylor Trammell’s recent hamate bone injury that’s going to keep him out the entirety of Spring Training. He will almost certainly start the regular season down in Tacoma, giving the M’s one less guy to compete for that final active roster spot.

Catchers: Cal Raleigh, Tom Murphy.

Infield: Eugenio Suarez, J.P. Crawford, Kolten Wong, Ty France.

Outfield: Julio Rodriguez, Teoscar Hernandez, A.J. Pollock.

Platoon/Backups: Jarred Kelenic, Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty.

There’s 12 guys right there, pretty well set. Kelenic still has an option, so if he completely shits the bed in Spring Training, maybe he starts out in Tacoma, but I think that’s a very remote possibility. That leaves one other spot, and by my calculations only three realistic guys – currently on our 40-man – to compete for it.

Moore can play every spot on the infield AND the outfield. Haggerty can backup anywhere in the outfield and – in a pinch – can go in there at first, second, or third base. So, you can go into this 13th roster spot taking the Best Player Available, in a sense. You don’t need to worry about filling a specific hole. The outfield defense is well covered, and the infield defense is covered enough to at least get you through an emergency situation (if you were to lose two or more guys).

The three guys remaining are Tommy La Stella, Cade Marlowe, and Evan White.

The simplest and easiest answer to this question is Tommy La Stella. He’s a veteran who has experience all around the infield (save short stop) and is currently listed as a designated hitter. He’s a 34 year old veteran who has the feel of a Replacement Level hitter (if all goes well) from the left side of the plate. He’s not much of a power guy, though, so you’re bringing him in for a veteran presence and his eye at the plate. Combine that with the fact that the Mariners have options for both White and Marlowe, it’s kind of a no brainer. Let them both play every day in Tacoma, get their reps up, and call them back to Seattle if/when a need arises. It’s baseball, there are 162 games, there will eventually be a need, if not sooner, then later.

But, that’s not what anybody wants. La Stella feels like camp fodder. He’s earning $720K, which is all guaranteed, but also isn’t very much money in baseball terms. I would assume the Mariners want someone else to take this spot, but given the inherent roster flexibility with the two younger players, they’re really going to have to blow the team away this spring.

Marlowe is an interesting case, because with Trammell out, he’s the de facto “competition” for Kelenic in that platoon spot in left field. Marlowe has rocketed up the minor leagues over the last two years – playing most of 2022 in AA before getting called up to AAA for 13 games – and there’s certainly a believable scenario where he beats out Kelenic in the platoon battle, given his incredible speed, base-stealing ability (he swiped 42 bags between the two minor league levels last year), and on-base ability. At that point, it would be a battle between Kelenic and La Stella for the final bench spot, and maybe Kelenic beats him out (or maybe the team wants to preserve Kelenic’s final option year, just in case).

My hunch is, the least likely person to win the final roster spot out of Spring Training is Evan White. He’s just been too banged up the last couple years, and I have to imagine the team wants him down in Tacoma playing every day (and maybe getting cross-trained at multiple positions, to increase his value to the team). That being said, assuming White is fully healthy and stays that way, I think it’s only a matter of time before he gets called up. Even if it’s not as an injury replacement, I think his bat will be desperately needed once the month of May rolls around.

That’s all I’m giving La Stella. I imagine we’ll give him every opportunity to win the final spot in Spring Training. I imagine he’ll get regular at bats as our primary DH (when we’re not rotating quasi-rest days for the other starters), and I think it’s all but guaranteed that he’s totally washed as a Major League player. After a month or so, the team will opt to move on, and if all goes according to plan, Evan White will be the first player called up to take his place. That’ll allow him and Ty France to bounce back and forth – giving France the regular DH days he needs to stay fresh throughout the year – and hopefully provide some additional pop in a lineup that could surely use it.

It’ll also be interesting to see if White gets some work in left field. I only have a tiny bit more confidence in A.J. Pollock’s abilities to succeed in a Mariners uniform, so it would be VERY interesting to me if we one day see an Evan White/Jarred Kelenic platoon in left. Two highly-regarded former prospects giving it a go to try to salvage their careers here (one who signed the early extension to buy out his Arbitration years, the other who spurned such an offer, probably costing himself untold millions of dollars in the process).