My 2-Part Mariners Preview: My Hope For 2018

And, so, here we are.  Opening Day is tomorrow.  Time to get back on the horse.

The Mariners have been disappointing fans far and wide since before I was born.  Most of the time, they’re just bad.  Sometimes, there’s hope that if things break right, they’ll be in contention in September.  Once in a blue moon, they’re good, but still fall short of the ultimate goal.

Always:  they let us down.  2018 will be no exception.

In this recent stretch of Mariners seasons – since we brought in Cano and Cruz to lock down the middle of our lineup – there’s been plenty of reasons for optimism.  Indeed, since the start of the 2014 season, the Mariners actually have a winning record!  327-321.  With the advent of the second wild card spot, the M’s have been RIGHT THERE pretty much every year.  We’re mired in one of those stretches where if things had just broken right, we might’ve actually made the playoffs for the first time since 2001.  But, there’s been untimely injuries, and regression from formerly great players, and bullpen issues at just the worst possible times.  Somehow, some way, the Mariners have found a way to lose just enough to keep alive the longest playoff drought in all of the major professional North American sports.  It’s absolutely mind-boggling, and it’s never going to end.

Last year was particularly bad with the injuries, as the Mariners ran through approximately 5,000 different pitchers, and the offense just wasn’t good enough to carry the load like we’d hoped going into the season.  The M’s made a number of moves last year to try to mitigate some of the injury losses to the rotation and such, bringing in guys like Marco Gonzales, Erasmo Ramirez, Mike Leake, and David Phelps, while also working in minor league guys like Andrew Moore, Chase De Jong, James Pazos, Max Povse, and relying on someone like Ariel Miranda when he was ill-equipped for the rigors of a full Major League season in a starting rotation.  A lot of those moves happened mid-season, and as such the front office is trying to spin it like they’re part of THIS offseason, as an excuse for why they haven’t done a whole lot via trades or free agency since the 2017 season ended.  No starters were added, which is arguably where the Mariners need the most help; a couple of relievers were brought in who look pretty good.  But, for the most part, we’re running it back with the same pitching staff as last year.  The same pitching staff that spent more time on the DL than off of it.  The same pitching staff that – even when healthy – wasn’t good enough to get this team back into the playoffs.

To combat that, the Mariners made some moves to bolster the offense a little bit, in unique ways.  Dee Gordon – Gold Glove second baseman – was brought in and has been converted to centerfield.  So far, through Spring Training, it sounds like he’s taking to it pretty well, but I have to believe there’ll be some growing pains.  Ryon Healy was brought in to start at the revolving door that’s been first base.  He seems like he’ll be no better and no worse than any of the other schlubs we’ve ran out at that position.  As there’s literally no talent whatsoever in the minor leagues, it’s not like the Mariners had a whole lot of ammunition with which to trade for guys; all of our value is already up in the Major Leagues.  Some of the most important moves were the moves the Mariners DIDN’T make.  They kept both Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger, which I think we all were expecting at least one of those guys to get shipped off so the team could bring in pitching help.  Gamel is nursing an oblique strain, which tends to nag and drag on, causing players to struggle well after they’ve returned from the DL, so maybe that’s unfortunate.  Nevertheless, I think we all like those guys’ potential to grow into quality Major Leaguers, so I guess I’m more or less okay with those guys staying here.

All of this is a way to say that it’s been a LONG time since I’ve been as apathetic about this team’s post-season chances as I am right now.  Even when we were at our very worst, in 2008, I could hate this team with a passion (also, going into that season – coming off of a pretty successful 2007 – my hopes were high for a real playoff run; ditto 2010).  Most years, I can contort my brain into believing that our good players will stay good (and healthy), that our young guys will develop into stars, and that we’ll get just enough pitching to push this thing over the top (again, if everything breaks in our favor).  But, this year?  I got nothing.

The Mariners JUST finished a season with 78 wins, 7 games out of the second wild card (with 4 teams in our way), and a whopping 23 games out of the AL West title.  As I just explained:  the Mariners have done next to nothing to improve upon a team that was already pretty bad.  Moreover, the Mariners have done next to nothing to get rid of injury-prone players (even going so far as to bring Hisashi Iwakuma back on a minor league deal to see if he has anything left in the tank), therefore I see no reason to expect this team won’t be just as injury-prone as they’ve been the last 2-3 years.  Paxton?  Felix?  Haniger?  Ticking time bombs.  And that’s not even counting all the players who already went down in Spring Training (money well spent on Lorena Martin, Director of High Performance; a barrel full of whiskey and a rabid donkey could’ve done a better job of keeping these stiffs healthy so far).  And, that doesn’t even get into the Mariners’ competition.  Remember the Astros?  The team that was 23 games better than us last year?  The World Series champs?  Yeah, they’re still there, they’re still amazing, and they’ve actually made a number of moves to – you know – IMPROVE THEIR BALLCLUB.  Remember the Angels, who were 2 games better?  Same deal.  Remember the Rangers, who were exactly the same in record?  They also suffered a number of injuries that held them back last year, and they’ve also done more than the Mariners have in improving their ballclub.  Even Oakland, who’s clearly rebuilding around young talent, has more reason for optimism than the Mariners, AND THEY PLAY IN OAKLAND HALF THE TIME!

So, yeah, I’ve written off this Seattle Mariners team and they’ve yet to even play a game.  Fuck you and your opinions on the matter.  Does it make me any less of a fan?  WHO CARES?  If you want to be a Mariners Super Fan, and live in a land of make-believe, be my fucking guest.  I plan on riding this team so fucking hard this season, they’re going to be ground into dust.

But, as I alluded to in the title of this post, I’m here to write about my hopes for the 2018 season.  Primary among them, of course, is this team proving me wrong.  Most of my life, I’ve held some kernel of belief that the Mariners could possibly do something amazing and blow away everyone’s expectations.  Most of my life, I’ve been wrong.  I’m ALWAYS wrong!  And, as a result, I’m always let down.  Well, I’ve never been so certain of a team not contending in my life; if there was any way to short the Mariners’ chances of making the playoffs, I would’ve bet the entire Taylor Family Farm!  As such, maybe I’m wrong again!  Maybe the Mariners will do something so crazy that I can’t even fathom how it would be possible!

Maybe all the best guys will stay healthy, and all the young guys will turn into stars and the Mariners will be 30 games over .500 in 1-run games.  Just an unsustainable run of unexpected greatness, and we’ll all come back here at the end of the season and I’ll take the roasting I so richly deserve for all my negativity!  Okay, even in this dreamland scenario, winning the AL West still seems like a bit of a stretch, but a miracle second wild card run would be just the thing that would knock me on my ass.  Thankfully, next-to-no one in the national media punditry is picking the Mariners to do anything but hover around .500.  I know I’m wrong all the time, but those guys – especially when they pick the Mariners to do well – are wrong ALL THE TIME.

More realistically, here are some hopes I hope:

I hope Felix stays healthy and has an okay year.  Maybe an ERA around 4.50, with a couple real standout games against the likes of the A’s or White Sox, and not too many blown saves by the bullpen.

I hope Paxton limits his DL stints to just one, and for only a month at the most.  Ideally, maybe knock that out in late May or June, so he has the whole second half of the season to really shine.  He has Cy Young-quality stuff, and I hope he gets as close as he’ll ever get to putting his name in that conversation.

I hope Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales really blossom into viable starters.  Leake’s already been around for a while, so he is what he is, but if he can just sort of hang around and be a #3-type starter, that would be ideal.  Gonzales is still young enough that I can fool myself into thinking he has another level to his talent.  Most likely, he’ll be a bum, but guys have put it all together before.  I hope he learns how to pitch effectively and shocks the world by being better than we ever expected.

I hope Edwin Diaz is just amazing.  I love that kid, he’s fun to watch, and not for nothing – if this whole thing falls apart in a nasty way – he could be a huge trade chip.

I hope Dee Gordon hits well, because I want to see him running around the bases as much as humanly possible.  I also hope he takes to centerfield, because it would be fun to have another great defensive centerfielder.

I hope Mitch Haniger also limits his DL stints to just one, and for only a month at the most.  It’s too much to ask for guys like him or Paxton to stay totally healthy – because none of us can ever have nice things – but in the grand scheme of things, just a month on the DL isn’t the end of the world.  Not when you have 5 other months to get things going.  I hope when he is healthy, Haniger is the stud we all thought he was.

I hope Dan Vogelbach parlays this torrid Spring Training into taking over the starting job at first base for the foreseeable future.  I also hope that we squeeze one more great year out of Nelson Cruz and then let him walk when his contract expires – getting out hopefully a year too early rather than a year too late – so we can shift Vogelbach over to his more natural DH position (or have him split time between first & DH with Cano, when his legs inevitably prevent him from sticking at second base through the back-half of his contract).  I also hope we don’t see the start of the inevitable Cano decline, as including 2018, we’ve got 6 more years on this deal.

I hope Mike Zunino turns into an All Star.  Oddly enough, this IS within the realm of possibility, which is an absolute mindfuck.  We might one day sing Jackie Z’s praises for his foresight in selecting Zunino with the 3rd overall pick in 2012!

Finally, I hope that if all of this blows up in our faces in April and May, the team has the foresight to cut and run.  I hope they’re able to unload insane contracts, bring back quality minor leaguers, and re-load the farm system with studs who might one day lead this team back to the playoffs for the first time in forever.  There’s a lot of trade-able talent on this team.  So, if we’re just treading water – or worse – like I think most of us expect to be, then don’t dilly dally.  Burn this motherfucker down.  Put us out of our misery and give us a reason to REALLY have hope again.

Holy Mother Of God: The Mariners Are Over .500!

Look, I’m no hero.  I’m just a man.  A man who had an opportunity to go to a Mariners game last night, featuring the Major League debuts of starter Andrew Moore and reliever Max Povse, on a team that finally got back to .500 for the fourth time after falling to 33-37.  Do I hold a particular amount of good luck with my presence in the stadium?  Is there some magic elixir that permeates this organization when I stuff my face with beer and hot dogs and soft serve ice cream?  Like I said, I’m no hero; I’ll leave that conversation for someone else to have.

All I know is I was there!  And it was glorious!

It’s been extremely exciting and satifsying to have the full offense healthy and playing together for all of two days, and I hope to see it healthy and playing together for many, many more.  Jean Segura is the best leadoff man we’ve had since Ichiro.  Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger are quintessential 2-hole hitters, easily interchangeable depending on the handedness of the starter.  Cano, Cruz, and Seager are a legitimate, superstar middle of the order.  Valencia’s streakiness makes him frustrating, but also makes him dangerous when he’s on a heater.  Heredia and Dyson are speedy, disruptive manaces who seem to always do something positive in just about every game.  And we all hold out hope that Zunino has turned things around enough to maintain his status as an everyday catcher in this league.

The point is, there really aren’t any free at-bats in that lineup.  They’re going to work the count to death, they’re going to get guys on base, and they’re going to get guys home at a good-enough clip to be upper echelon in this league.  Even if you’re able to overpower this offense, it’s only temporary.  A few innings, or at most a few games, before they’re right back on the trolley.

Last night, this offense was a battering ram.  3 runs in the second to get things going.  2 more runs in the third to keep piling on.  An overwhelming 4 runs in the seventh to put the game away.  Just one smashing blow after another.  There was Gamel with the 2-RBI double off of a lefty pitcher.  There was Heredia following that up with an RBI single.  Then, a 2-run homer from Cano and a grand slam from Cano to put this one in the refrigerator.

I had a good feeling about Cano in this one, after I wrote yesterday that I thought he was starting to look dialed in at the plate.  I predicted three hits for him coming into the game, but I guess I’ll settle for the 2 homers and 6 RBI.  I’ll say this:  it’s not a moment too soon, with the Astros coming to town this weekend.  The Mariners are going to need all the help they can get.

The other big story of the game was Andrew Moore in his first Big League start.  We were in the club level, in the section right next to the press box on the first base side, and as such it wasn’t the greatest vantage point for noticing balls and strikes.  He seemed to have good-enough velocity, usually parked around 91 mph, but sometimes touching 93.  He obviously didn’t walk anyone, which is always big.  He seemed to get into a lot of deep counts – with Tigers hitters frequently fouling off pitches – and that looked like it inflated his pitch count a little bit.  He gave up a solo homer to Ian Kinsler in the third, and got into a little bit of trouble in the fifth, but he powered through the sixth and even the seventh inning while just giving up those 3 runs on 6 hits, with 4 strikeouts.  An outstanding debut for a highly-rated prospect, one of the last of the Jackie Z era.

With a 9-3 lead, Max Povse got to get his debut in as well, starting the eighth inning.  He looked like he threw pretty hard, but I didn’t get a sense that there was a ton of movement to his pitches.  Again, though, tough vantage to make a definitive call.  Anyway, he got two pretty quick outs, then apparently got overwhelmed by the moment:  a double, a homer to Miguel Cabrera, a double, and a single ended his night, giving up 3 runs in 2/3 of an inning.  Tony Zych cleaned up the mess and Steve Cishek worked the ninth for a quick and painless save (Diaz was unavailable after working 4 straight days); his first save since July 30, 2016, which had to feel nice after all he’s gone through since then.

All in all, a great team win, and a fabulous 4-game series sweep of the Tigers.  As noted above, the Mariners are over .500 for the first time all season, at 38-37.  They’re still 12.5 games behind the Astros in the A.L. West, but they’re only 1 game behind the Rays for the second Wild Card (behind the Twins, who are a half game back).

Felix comes back today, so we’ll finally learn the fate of Yovani Gallardo.  The Astros come to town; we haven’t seen them since the second week in April.  We’re a whopping 2-5 against them, and looked like the clearly inferior team in just about every game we played against them, so it would be nice to turn things around here while the going is good.  Let’s put some distance between us and .500 the other way, so it’s not as easy to get so buried like we were!

Former Mariners Defeated Current Mariners

How fucking weird is this shit?  The Blue Jays hit three homers yesterday, by three different people who spent significant time in the Mariners organization, scoring all four of their runs in a 4-2 Blue Jays victory.

In the fourth, the Mariners nursing a 1-0 lead, Kendrys Morales hit a 2-run homer.  Those would be Ariel Miranda’s only 2 runs allowed, in his 6.1 innings (2 hits, 5 walks, 2 strikeouts) as he continues his fine sophomore campaign.

Then, in the eighth, after the Mariners tied it at two on a Jarrod Dyson stolen base followed by two errors (on a bad throw from the catcher to second base, allowing Dyson to take third; and on the centerfielder over-running said bad throw, allowing Dyson to take home), Ezequiel Carrera hit a solo homer to right.

Carrera, you might remember, was thrown into that massive 3-team deal back in December of 2008 that brought the Mariners Guti, Vargas, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp, among others (in the height of the Jackie Z era).  Carrera never got a call up to Seattle – making it as high as Tacoma in 2010 – before being traded to Cleveland that same year in June for the return of Russell Branyan.  Remember when the Mariners were so bad on offense they had to go back to the Branyan well and STILL set records for fewest runs scored in a season?  Yeah.

Anyway, I wouldn’t say Carrera has been some All Star or anything since we gave him away, but he’s been a nice little player for a few teams, including Toronto.

Finally, in the ninth, Justin Smoak smacked a homer off of Steve Cishek, because of course he did.

I know the bullpen did us no favors last night, but they’ve been the best bullpen in baseball for a little while now, so I’m down to give them some slack.  Where I think the Mariners were really lacking is on offense, and I attribute this one to not having Jean Segura.

I obviously misjudged Taylor Motter’s abilities when he got off to his hot start this season, but he’s been remarkably bad at the plate ever since.  All you gotta do is pitch him away – which is sort of the defacto strategy for most pitchers anyway – and he’ll roll over on it and die on his feet.  He’s been able to scratch out some singles here and there, but his power is GONE.  He’s hit 1 homer since April 23rd; he’s hit 0 doubles since May 9th.  Suffice it to say, this stint making up for Segura has not gone as well as the first one.

The Mariners had the double-whammy of having to start Tyler Smith at short stop (bumping Motter to first base) because Danny Valencia needed a day off to rest some nagging injuries.  Valencia still came in to pinch hit, but didn’t do anything.  Tyler Smith, I know is a rookie, but he doesn’t appear to have it at the Major League level.  Sucks we had to lose Mike Freeman, because it feels like he could be a real asset right now.

It seems like most everyone is dealing with one nagging injury or another, but since this is the stupid sport of baseball, there’s yet another game today.  I guess that’s what you get with all these fully-guaranteed contracts:  no fucking days off.  Maybe they can work that into the next collective bargaining agreement.

Why It Doesn’t Make Sense To Blow Up The Mariners

It’s always alarming when people start talking about tearing a team down and doing a full-on rebuild, particularly when it’s a team like the Mariners, who had the hype and expectations they had coming into the season.  Indeed, it’s more than just alarming; it’s discouraging, frustrating, enraging, you name it.  It also makes sense in a lot of ways.  The Mariners have an aging roster with guys like Cano and Cruz on offense, and guys like Felix and Iwakuma on the pitching staff, on top of various role players and guys on 1-year deals.  When you factor that in with how this team has underperformed, is staring down the barrel of last place, with a few guys making a lot of money, and then take a look at how barren the farm system is, and yeah, I can see why people might be clamoring for a tear down.  Get the nasty taste of Jackie Z and Howard Lincoln out of our mouths once and for all, start fresh with the new ownership group and the new GM.

Now, normally, when you do this, you have someone on your roster who you choose to build around, but I’m hearing people talking about trading Cruz, Cano, Felix, (obvs) and Kyle Seager?  Not that Seager is some stud superstar or anything, but he’s not old, he’s not particularly overpaid, and you figure he’s got a lot of years left of being a productive player at this level.

But, here, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s say, for the sake of argument that the Mariners continue to be terrible on into July and anyone and everyone is on the table for trade.  I want to go through the roster line by line, so to speak, and tell you why it doesn’t make a ton of sense to blow the whole thing up.

Any conversation in this area is going to start with Robinson Cano.  We’re currently in the fourth year of a 10-year deal, where he’s making $24 million per season.  He’s 34 years old and still putting up All Star numbers.  He has that DL stint under his belt already this year, which is an obvious concern (given his age), and that contract is pretty prohibitive for a lot of teams.  Smaller market cities just flat out won’t be able to afford him; teams at the top of the league in payroll are going to be VERY wary of bringing on such a huge deal.  So, right there, you’re chopping off maybe half the league, not even factoring in the teams who have a need for a second baseman, who are also in contention and willing to be buyers at the deadline.  Oh, and by the way, Cano has a full no-trade clause, so he’d have to agree to any deal.  The bottom line is, there’s no way the Mariners are trading Cano without opting to eat a significant portion of his salary, in which case why even bother?  We’re not at a point where he’s a cancer in the organization.  And, even if we did trade him while eating a bunch of money, we STILL probably won’t get anyone of value in return.  That’s, like, a million whammies against this ever happening.  Next.

Nelson Cruz.  He’s even older than Cano, at 36 years of age, but he’s in the third year of a 4-year deal.  He’s still playing at an All Star level, but he’s also just a DH.  He can only play the outfield in National League games, and I’m not totally sure he can even play on back-to-back days.  That SEVERELY limits his value.  It takes out the entire National League, for starters, as he can’t play any other defensive position than right field.  So, he’s a DH.  I’m sure an American League team would welcome him with open arms, but he immediately limits a team’s flexibility to give guys DH “rest” days late in the season.  His contract isn’t too terrible, at $14 million next year (and whatever pro-rated portion of that for the rest of this season), but again, you’re not talking about a guy who is going to bring back a lot of value.  Maybe a couple Quad-A guys, and some salary relief and that’s about it.  Next.

Felix Hernandez, of course.  He’s 31 years old, but he’s been in the Major Leagues since 2005 and has a lot of miles on his arm.  He spent significant time on the DL last year and again this year.  He’s making $26 million this year and next, and $27 million in 2019.  There’s a $1 million option for 2020 if he spends significant time on the DL with an elbow injury, otherwise he’ll be a free agent in 2020.  His performance has declined since 2014 (the last year he was really at an All Star level) with no reason to expect him to return to a consistent All Star level.  In short, trading Felix would be a straight-up salary dump for very low-level prospects.  And, on top of it, he too has a full no-trade clause.  Seems highly unlikely any team would take on the risk of a Felix Hernandez for that type of money, so this is another scenario where the Mariners would almost certainly have to eat some of that money.  He doesn’t have the type of emotional value anywhere else besides Seattle, so what would be his motivation to want to go elsewhere (aside from being a broken-down starter trying to back-door into a playoff appearance)?  Seems like a longshot at best that the Mariners are able to deal him at all.  Next.

Hisashi Iwakuma.  Will he even be healthy by July?  Let’s assume he is, for the sake of argument.  Well, he’s 36 years old right now.  He’s earning $14 million this year, so he’ll cost his new ballclub whatever the pro-rated amount of that is.  He’s 94 innings-pitched away from earning a guaranteed $15 million in 2018, which he could very well reach if he’s able to return by July (otherwise, it looks like 2018 is a $10 million club option year, and he could be released if he doesn’t reach the innings threshold).  Also, Kuma has a full no-trade clause.  His velocity has gone down significantly this season, he’s not making great progress in his rehab at the moment, and aside from 2016, he hasn’t proven to be very durable.  Throw him on the pile of guys I’ve already mentioned who won’t bring back much of anything in trade, aside from salary relief.

Boring and repetitive, no?  Let’s return to Kyle Seager then.  Here’s a guy with some real, actual value.  He’s 29 years old.  He’s on a contract for up to five more seasons after this year (2022 is a club option year with a buy-out).  He has yet to be prohibitively expensive, though his salary spikes starting in 2018 (between $18-$19 million per season over the next four years, while his 2022 season value could climb as high as $20 million if he reaches certain performance markers).  Again, though, that’s not an unreasonable number for a guy like Seager, who plays a solid third base, who is as durable as they get, who is consistent offensively (and has improved little by little every year).  This is a guy any team would love to have!  So, we get back to the usual questions:  which teams in contention also need a third baseman?  You could talk about moving him to second base in a pinch, but moving him to first base seems like a waste of his talents, and reduces much of his value.  I could see the Mariners getting a really valuable piece in return for Kyle Seager, but once you trade him, you’ve got an immediate hole at third base.  Who fills that void?  The Mariners don’t have anyone in the minors right now ready to step in there on an everyday basis.  If you trade Seager for a third base prospect, you still don’t know if that guy will pan out.  You’re essentially trading a sure thing for a lottery ticket, and you haven’t really helped your team out in any other areas.  Plus, Seager is a homegrown talent, and if you’re looking to unload salary elsewhere, you’re going to want to keep a guy like Seager around to help lessen the blow of the fact that the Mariners would (in this scenario) be getting rid of a lot of familiar faces.  However, if the Mariners are forced to keep guys like Cano, Felix, and Cruz (due to age and salary issues), then by all means, try to get as much as you can for Seager.  I just hope the backup plan at third base is a true asset and this won’t be a Robbing Peter to Pay Paul situation.

Jean Segura is under club control through 2018, so here’s another valuable piece.  Who wouldn’t want a guy like Segura?  You could stick him at short stop or second base, you can put him at the top of your lineup as he’s a hitting machine, he’s got plenty of pop in his bat to boot, and he’s cost-friendly from a contract perspective (his final Arb year is next year, but he’s a steal at $6.2 million this year, and should still be a bargain next year with whatever raise he gets).  You can unload Seager and Segura and get some high-level prospects back, but again those are a couple of really big holes to fill on the left side of your infield.

After that, I don’t know that you have a ton of value left to trade.  Smyly’s hurt, Gallardo is bad, Valencia is just okay, ditto Dyson and some of the veteran bullpen guys.  You’re not going to get much back in return, is my point.  The only other guys with value on the Mariners are younger guys:  Paxton, Haniger, Heredia, Gamel, Diaz, Altavilla, Pazos, but isn’t the whole point of a total roster rebuild to build AROUND that young core?  Wouldn’t you want to KEEP guys like Paxton, Haniger, Heredia, Gamel, Diaz, and the like?  Sure, you could get some decent prospects back, but at that point you’re REALLY trying to bottom out if you’re going to trade talent like this.  That’s more of a long-con like the Astros did, where they went after the #1 overall draft pick year after year after year.  Can the Mariners afford to wait that long, when they’re already the team with the longest playoff drought in the entirety of Major League Baseball?

I’ll talk a little more about Paxton here, since I’m thinking he’s a name people might want to trade.  Like Kuma, Paxton is a guy who has never proven he can stay healthy for a full season.  He hasn’t really had any significant arm trouble, but it’s been a lot of other things, and you have to think the significant arm trouble is on the horizon.  I just don’t know if you’re going to get the type of value for a guy like Paxton that you’d be happy with.  It makes more sense to hang onto him for the pennies he’s making now, let him build up value over the next few seasons (if he can), and reap the rewards of his ace-like performances while we can.

I dunno.  A total rebuild is a nice idea, particularly in a season like this where everything is going to shit, but I just can’t see it.  At best, the Mariners can unload salary, while getting some good prospects back for Seager and Segura, but it comes at a price:  knowing the Mariners won’t contend for anything for another 3-5 years or more.  Maybe you’re okay with that, but there’s another problem with “building for the future”:  even if you run into a Best Case Scenario, like with the Royals a few years ago, these things are short lived!  Guys get injured, guys underperform at random, guys become free agents and command huge deals on the open market.

Going back to the Royals, they were a bottom-feeder for almost 30 years!  They won the World Series in 1985, then didn’t make the playoffs again until 2014.  They made the World Series in back-to-back years in 2014 and 2015 (winning it all the second time around), then fell to .500 in 2016 and now, in 2017, they’re last in the American League.  THAT’S HOW FAST IT CAN ALL FALL APART!

Now, come back to the Mariners.  Again, I reiterate, the Mariners have the longest playoff drought in the entire Major Leagues.  They’re one of two teams who have never reached the World Series (with the Nationals/Expos), and one of 8 teams who have never won it all.  Only the Buffalo Bills have a longer playoff drought in all of the four major American professional sports.  You could make an argument that the Mariners, as presently constructed, are just a couple players away from being serious playoff contenders (particularly on the pitching side of things).  Are you willing to throw that all away, to start over fresh, without any guarantee whatsoever that tanking these next 3-5 years will bring about any sort of turnaround?  Just because it looks like it’s worked for the Astros doesn’t mean it will work for the Mariners.  And, even with the Astros on the rise, how long will it last?  Will they be the new Royals in three years?

TL;DR:  why do we even follow the sport of baseball?  ALL OF LIFE IS A MEANINGLESS FARCE!

Mariners Lose (A Lot) to 1, For The Fifth Straight Game

I don’t know what to tell you.  The fans are demoralized.  The players are demoralized.  The coaches are demoralized.  The Mariners are a half game out of last place in the entire American League.  With the collection of hitting talent on this team, that’s not supposed to happen.  But, that IS what happens when you run out a AAA pitching staff.  That’s what happens when you gut your farm system on the way out the door (Jackie Z) trying to save your own job.  That’s what happens when you continuously rob Peter (pitching) to pay Paul (hitting), because you fail time and time and time again to field a legitimate Major League lineup.

This isn’t a This Year issue.  This isn’t really even a Jerry Dipoto problem.  It’s ingrained.  It’s longstanding.  It’s institutional.

This dates back to 2015, 2008, 2004, 2000, 1998, 1996, all the way back to the start of the franchise.  The Mariners are who we thought they were.  They’ve always been the caretaker at the Overlook Hotel.

A Jean Segura throwing error in yesterday’s game helped lead to 4 unearned runs in the bottom of the first inning.  A fleeting 1-0 Mariners lead in the top of the first became a 5-1 deficit after the second inning add-on RBI by the Nationals; the score would remain unchanged to the bitter end.

Be honest:  when the Mariners took that 1-0 lead, how many of you thought, “Well, the Mariners got their 1 run; I guess they’re done now!”  Because, that’s exactly what I thought.

On the plus side, Cano had three hits, Heredia had two hits, and a smattering of hits up and down the lineup, but of course the team was only 1 for 7 with RISP.  That’s not going to get you more than one run a game very often.

In Everyday I’m Shufflin’ … Players Between Seattle & Tacoma news:  Emilio Pagan was rewarded for his 4 shutout innings of relief of Christian Bergman the day before by being sent back down, with Rob Whalen getting the call-up.  He could be a long reliever, or he could be a spot starter as we continue to wait for Paxton’s return.  Yay.

Morning game today, unless it gets rained out.  At this point, I’m praying for rain outs for the next month, if that’s possible.  However long it takes until guys start coming back.

Mariners Get Much-Needed Win On Griffey Statue Day

With the way this season’s gone so far, the Mariners should’ve lost last night’s game 9 ways from Sunday, but instead somehow pulled out the 2-1 victory.

Felix looked good, though still not quite his old dominant self, in going 7.1 innings, giving up 1 run on 6 hits, striking out 3 with 0 walks.  The fact that he’s still on 0 walks through three starts is about as amazing as it gets.  Last night, he pitched to contact well and for the most part was rewarded by his defense, aside from that Zunino bungle in front of home plate.

The King was still in great shape in the 8th inning, at around 80 pitches heading in.  But, a line-out to the short stop and a single to the next batter ended his day.  Scrabble came in and got the next two lefties out to end the threat.  From there, it was more or less a relatively pain-free save situation for Diaz, who watched a 2-out single scamper over to third base on a steal and a wild pitch before being stranded.

The Mariners kicked off the scoring with Nelson Cruz’s first homer of the season, a solo shot in the 4th, to go up 1-0.  It was an impressive liner to right-center field, and you know Cruz is going well at the plate when he’s going the other way with power.

Obviously, the offense isn’t going right when you only get 2 runs, but 6 Mariners managed to get at least 1 hit.  They’re just not getting these in succession, as they went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position.

Part of it wasn’t necessarily their fault though, as in the bottom of the 7th, Dyson reached on an infield single, and stole second before Heredia could bunt him over.  Heredia finally DID bunt him over, but it got away from the pitcher, ending up with runners on the corners and nobody out.  That brought up Mitch Haniger, who worked the count in his favor and hit a shot off the top of the wall that the idiot umpiring crew called a home run.  It was later ruled NOT a home run, but for some reason they put Haniger back at first base and Heredia back at second.  You can say Heredia mis-read the ball all you want, but with their speed, there’s no way they wouldn’t have gotten to second and third on that hit.  That sufficiently changed the course of the inning, but with the meat of the order coming up, you still had to feel good about our chances of playing a little add-on, right?

WRONG.  Cano popped out and Cruz hit into a double play.  I guess that solo homer back in the 4th didn’t cure all of Cruz’s ills quite yet.

Danny Valencia is still stinking up the joint.  So is Mike Zunino.  Valencia just looks as lost at the plate as I’ve seen anyone.  Zunino has a giant hole in his swing causing him to miss anything up in the zone.  A guy with his power and his youth should not be missing on this many fastballs in the zone, saying nothing of the times he goes chasing those breaking balls that fall out of the zone.  I’ve been doing a little work on updating my Worst Trades, Draft Picks, and Free Agent Signings page, and right now in my notes I’ve written “Mike Zunino?”  Well, we’re going on 5 years since he was drafted, and I’m just about to take that question mark off of his name and cement him in as yet another first round Mariners draft bust.  God damn you Jack Zduriencik, you worthless pile of crap.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Carlos Ruiz

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

You can’t really talk about the addition of Carlos Ruiz without talking about Mike Zunino, so consider this post a 2 for 1.  Zunino has had a tricky professional career so far.  He was drafted 3rd overall in 2012, poised to be this team’s Catcher of the Future.  The “future” ended up being June 11, 2013, and if you think that sounds quick – about a year and a week after being drafted – yeah, you’re right.  That’s pretty fucking quick.

But, he had the pedigree, he had the chops in college, he did pretty well in the minors, and this team was desperate.  Really, more than anything, the GM was desperate for ONE of his high first round draft picks to pan out, so he kept throwing lukewarm damp pasta against the wall hoping something would eventually stick.

After a promising start in 2013, he was given the everyday job in 2014.  The next two years, he played more or less as this team’s starting catcher, and while he grew into a leader of pitchers and a quality defender behind the plate, it was increasingly clear that he didn’t have a clue when he stood up there with a bat in his hands.  If he didn’t luck into the barrel squaring up the ball for a homer, he usually struck out.  It got so bad that, once Jerry Dipoto took over, he brought in not one but TWO new catchers to ensure Zunino started 2016 in Tacoma, where he belonged.  An untimely injury to Steve Clevenger – who, it appeared, was starting to come around at the plate with increasing playing time – necessitated Zunino’s call-up.  Chris Iannetta’s utter incompetence necessitated Zunino’s retaking of the starting catcher role.

But, to his credit, Zunino came back with renewed focus at the plate and a keen eye for the strike zone.  The script didn’t flip totally – though his first month back saw him producing astronomic numbers at the plate – but there’s certainly something to build upon for the 2017 season.

So, why trade for Ruiz then?

Well, for starters, from August 23, 2016, through the end of the season, Zunino went 13 for 89 (.146) with 5 extra base hits.  And, while it’s great he was able to walk 11 times in that span – indeed, he nearly doubled his walk rate from the previous year, albeit in a smaller sample – you have to worry about Zunino falling back into some old, bad habits at the plate.  Enter Ruiz.

At this point in his career, 38 years old and whatnot, Ruiz probably isn’t much more than a backup catcher.  I’ll say this, though:  he should be a damned good one!  If all goes according to plan, and the Mariners are able to go with a 65/35 split, with Zunino getting the regular duty and Ruiz backing him up, I don’t think I could be happier.  That’ll mean Zunino is pulling his weight at the plate, no one is injured, and both guys are contributing in a big way.

If, however, Ruiz starts eating into that 65/35 split, and starts taking more of a starter’s role on the team, we’ll probably have some issues.  I like what Ruiz has to offer, I really do.  He’s leaps and bounds above what a Jesus Sucre can do for you; he’s got some good defense, some pop in his bat, he’ll hit for average and get on base.  As a guy who plays roughly 35% of the time, he should be golden.  But, I feel like the more he plays, the more diminishing returns we’re going to see out of him, and that scares me.  That particularly scares me in the context of this season, because that means we’re also getting diminishing returns out of Zunino, which will translate into the following:

  1. The 2017 Mariners will have a black hole at the catcher spot once again
  2. The viability of Mike Zunino as a full time starter going forward plummets

Ultimately, what we need to have happen is for Zunino to be around a .250 hitter with his pop, pitch framing, and everything else.  That’s the mark of a REAL Catcher of the Future.  If his bat falls apart again this year, then you have to strongly think about trading him away and salvaging as much value as you can, while at the same time working your ass off over the next year to fill the catcher position on a more permanent basis.

2017 is really a Do or Die year for the Mariners and their catcher spot.  Carlos Ruiz is here to hopefully mitigate some of that risk – should Zunino bottom out again – but he’s not a long-term solution.  On the flipside, for a team looking to make the playoffs, Carlos Ruiz is EXACTLY the type of guy you want on your team.  Someone who’s been there.  Someone who’s a top-flight leader (on a team full of them, with Felix, Robbie, Cruz, Seager, Martin, and so on).  And, most importantly, if he does stick in that backup role, he’s still a guy you’re not afraid to play in August and September, when the games REALLY start to get meaningful.

What has been a big problem for the Mariners the last couple times they’ve been in September playing meaningful baseball?  Well, for one, they’ve run Mike Zunino into the fucking ground by throwing him out there practically every single day.  Here’s to hoping, at the very least, Ruiz is able to give our stud some days off!  Let him be rested and fresh when it gets down to the nitty gritty.

Compared to a lot of the other, higher-profile moves the Mariners made this offseason, I like this Ruiz deal a lot.  It’s underrated, but it could prove to make all the difference in the world, for this year and beyond.  Let him ease the pressure of Zunino being The Man, while at the same time allowing him to learn at the feet of one of the greats of the last decade at his position.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Nelson Cruz

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

There’s a pretty stark contrast between the Jack Zduriencik Mariners and the Jerry Dipoto Mariners.  Things were so dire and deficient – one might even say decrepit! – that Jackie Z found himself scouring the ends of the Earth for some right-handed power bats.  Guys were slow, they had a terrible eye for the strikezone, and while they were able to mash some dingers on occasion, WAY more often than not they struck out or otherwise failed to produce.

Pretty clear that Jackie Z’s eventual vision didn’t pan out.  He may have come to Seattle like a Jerry Dipoto on steroids, but he quickly pivoted when Chone Figgins failed to pan out and the rest of our Speed & Defense All Stars failed to score any runs.

Nelson Cruz is a guy transcending these two eras.  He obviously represents the best of what Jackie Z had to offer – a massively successful right-handed power bat, purchased in free agency, at what was once thought to be a reach, but has thus far been a bargain – but clearly he’s a relic of bygone days.  Fortunately, the Mariners play in the American League, and the designated hitter is a big part of the offensive program.  While Cruz is a lumbering outfielder who probably shouldn’t get too many starts in the field at his age, Dipoto has stocked this organization with fast, rangy outfielders who can run down everything (thereby making up for their lack of pop in the lineup with their speed on the basepaths).  It’s a new day!  A new, defensively sound day.

Nelson Cruz has been truly remarkable the last three years.  He’s played at least 152 games per year, hit over 40 homers per year, and his batting average and on-base percentage dwarfs what he was able to do with the Rangers.  A couple days ago, I talked about Felix’s Second Act, and how he’s going to need to step up if he wants to be a Hall of Famer; well, it’s truly unbelievable to see how great Nelson Cruz’s second act has been.  He’ll be 37 on July 1st, but he’s really showing no signs of slowing down.  He was always solid-but-unspectacular with the Rangers, but he’s been an elite power hitter the last three years, and there’s no reason to expect that to fall off now.

The Mariners just need him to hit.  Stay healthy and hit.  Resist the urge to put him in right field (outside of National League road games) and let him hit.  OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WON’T YOU PLEASE LET THE MAN HIT!?!?

The biggest reason for the Mariners’ offensive turnaround towards the end of the Jackie Z era has been the free agent signings of Cano and Cruz.  It’s one of the rare gifts he was able to leave this organization.  Obviously, Cano has the 10-year deal (7 more years to go!), and we’re all anxiously awaiting his career downturn; but Cruz is only heading into Year 3 of 4.  If he can produce this year like he has in his last three seasons, he could drop dead on Day 1 of Year 4 and his contract would be a steal!  Nearly every great team has that one hitter who does it all.  Hits for average, hits for power, takes lots of walks, and is otherwise a menace in the cleanup spot in the lineup.  You can believe whatever you want about lineup construction, but I take a lot of solace having him smack dab in the middle of Cano and Seager.  That’s a fantastic Pick Your Poison situation for the Mariners.  Any one of those guys can burn you, and frequently they do!

We just need to squeeze one more year out of Cruz.  Keep on truckin’.  With the pitching as sketchy as it is, we’re going to need all the offense we can get.

Mariners Traded Alex Jackson For Two Starting Pitchers

I haven’t written about every single transaction the Mariners have made this offseason, because that would be crazy (there’ve been so many!).  If it’s just a move for depth, particularly in the minor leagues, I tend to not bother.  These sorts of players might get flipped again before they officially put on a Mariners uniform; if not, they’ll get a shot in Spring Training before likely spending the bulk of their seasons in Tacoma, only to be called up as injury replacements.  Or ineffectiveness replacements.  You get the idea.

For instance, the Mariners brought in lefty reliever James Pazos from the Yankees for some prospect.  Will he make an impact with the big club?  Who knows?

Then, you’ve got the two utility players we got from Tampa:  Taylor Motter and Richie Shaffer; are these guys going to make a difference?  I have no clue.

But, this trade here with Atlanta, this one might have legs.  Alex Jackson was the final first round draft pick of the Jackie Z era.  He’s yet to climb out of A-ball and looks to be yet another in a long line of duds the Mariners have drafted in the first round since Adam Jones back in 2003 (pending the careers of Taijuan Walker and Mike Zunino, but come on).  The only other first rounder we have left from the Jackie Z era is D.J. Peterson, who’s probably as good as gone later this offseason, if the right deal comes along.

Alex Jackson might eventually pan out, but I’ll just go ahead and say I have my doubts.  He was going to start this year in A-ball yet again, which means if he didn’t make significant strides this year, his value likely would have plummeted.  In which case, we’re talking about selling a guy at the peak of his value.  And, by all accounts, the Mariners were able to snag quite a haul.

Rob Whalen is a guy who’s most ready to compete for a starting spot in 2017’s rotation.  He doesn’t have much Major League experience, just getting a cup of coffee in 2016, but he has extensive experience in the upper minors, and has good numbers to boot.  He’s certainly nobody who deserves a guaranteed spot on the Major League roster, but he’s solid depth we can stash in Tacoma to start the season.  And, who knows, if he blows up in Spring Training, then all the better.

Max Povse is the other pitcher we got in the deal, and he’s the one everyone’s raving about.  He cracked AA last year, but he has a high ceiling with his awesome fastball.  He becomes one of the top pitching prospects in our entire system, which sounds awesome, but is probably a testament to how shitty our farm is right now.  He’ll likely start in AA again this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Tacoma by the time we reach the summer months.

It’s a nice little deal, but this doesn’t change anything when it comes to finding a replacement for Taijuan Walker.  This just sets us up to be better in the event of injuries, and allows us to come from a spot that’s a little less desperate on the pitching side of things.  Obviously, the off-season is still young, and we’ve got a long way to go before this roster is finalized.

In Conclusion: My Final Thoughts On The 2016 Seattle Mariners

I’m finding it harder and harder to get angry over the end result of yet another season without the playoffs.  But, let’s just let that sink in for a while and see if the rage comes back.

With every regime change, it feels like you start your fandom all over again.  True, the Seattle Mariners have gone 15 consecutive seasons without reaching the playoffs, but Jerry Dipoto’s Seattle Mariners are only on an 0 for 1 streak!  He improved over the 2015 Mariners, and had us contending for that second wild card spot up to the very end of the season.  Had a couple things gone differently, maybe we’re in there against either Baltimore or Toronto, fighting for an opportunity to get into the ALDS.

This year was especially different, because it not only saw the Mariners bring in a new GM, but also a change in ownership.  No more Howard Lincoln to kick around!  Whether it had any bearing on the 2016 season, or the direction of this franchise going forward, it feels – as a fan – like a clean slate.  That dark cloud of incompetence has lifted with the infusion of fresh blood.  This isn’t the team with the longest playoff drought in the entirety of the Major Leagues; for all intents and purposes, we’re looking at an expansion team, and a stacked one at that.

Were the 2016 season Year 8 of the Jack Zduriencik regime, I think I’d feel a lot differently than I do.  A new regime brings with it new hope.  A winning season falling just short of the playoffs – knowing you’re THIS CLOSE to being relevant – means that we’re just a couple pieces here and there from taking the next step NEXT year.

But, just because there are new people in place at the top, doesn’t mean we forget what’s come before this.  These still are the Seattle Mariners!  An inept franchise for the bulk of its existence, with a brief window of competence from 1995 to 2001.  I’m into my third decade of rooting on this team, and it’s been a non-stop parade of misery from the start.

I really wanted 2016 to be the year to break the string.  Our stars aren’t getting any younger, for one, and it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll have many stars coming up through the pipeline in the next few seasons.  I REALLY wanted to see Felix get a taste of post-season life, because he deserves it more than anyone.  And, quite frankly, I’ve seen this group of guys go on a hot streak.  If we could’ve maintained our high level of performance from our pitching staff, the sky was the limit for this team.  With Paxton on the hill, I like our chances in a 1-game playoff.  From there, let the chips fall where they may and see what happens.

As it stands, the lasting image I have for this team – the image I can’t get out of my head – is Felix in the dugout, with his head against the railing after the Mariners lost to the A’s on October 1st to officially eliminate us from the playoffs.  That’s 12 years of frustration and anguish, personified.  One more year on the outside looking in.  One more year of utter failure.

I feel you ...

I feel you …

In spite of what I’ve written before (which you really should read, if you want more vitriol in your season-ending Mariners wrap-up post), there’s a lot to like about our chances in 2017.  We’ve still got our core guys locked in place – Felix, Cano, Cruz, Seager, Kuma – and a bunch of other guys who helped us go pretty far this year – Smith, Diaz, Cishek, Paxton, Walker, Miranda, Martin, Zunino, Iannetta, Marte.  While you’re right to be concerned about Dipoto’s trades thus far in his Mariners career, you have to admit he was able to find some diamonds in the rough in his free agent signings.  If Dan Vogelbach can stick – and truth be told, he’s been able to hit well at every level so far in his young career – we could be poised to make a big jump next year.

But, I’ve got a whole offseason to talk about that.  For now, you know what?  I’m going to feel okay about the 2016 Mariners.  This was a fun team to root for, that gave us a lot of wonderful memories.  Huge walk-off hits from Lind, Martin, Cano, and Dae-ho Lee, among others; the epic Ken Griffey Jr. Weekend in early August to kickstart our comeback drive to contention; and a wild September run that saw us fall JUST short.  Feel however you want to feel, but any season that allows me to check the standings on a daily basis down the stretch to try to figure out our path to the post-season is ultimately an entertaining one, if nothing else.

Maybe don’t go overboard.  Failing to make the playoffs isn’t something to be proud of.  I’m not going to say “Good Job,” or “You Did Your Best,” or any of those other pithy platitudes.  We’ve been down this road before.  We’ve been close to the playoffs as recently as 2014; we’ve had winning seasons in 2009 & 2007.  Each of those years have seen bountiful hope and optimism heading into subsequent seasons.  In 2015, the Mariners won 11 fewer games than the previous year, ending up 76-86; in 2010, the Mariners won 24 fewer games than the previous year, ending up 61-101; in 2008, the Mariners won 27 fewer games than the previous year, ending up 61-101 again.  In this run of futility that started with the Bill Bavasi regime, winning seasons haven’t been building blocks so much as edges of cliffs for the franchise to fall from.  There are plenty of reasons to think 2017 will be different, but that’s what we said after 2007, 2009, and 2014 as well.

Be careful out there, is what I’m getting at.  Don’t set yourself up for a big fall by setting expectations too high.  I’m mostly saying this to myself, because every year I get suckered in, and every year I’m left drained.  Let’s take the Wait & See approach and hopefully the Mariners will prove they’ve broken the curse.

I don’t know what Seattle did to deserve the Mariners, but at some point we have to be rewarded for sticking by this team all these years, right?  I mean, Cleveland can’t have ALL the sports glory, can it?