The Mariners Have Their 60-Man Roster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veterans

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

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

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

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

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

Placeholders

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

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

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

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

One-More-Chance Guys

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

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

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

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

Quad-A Players

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

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

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

Legitimate Prospects

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

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

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

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

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

My Confidence Level In The Mariners’ Rebuild So Far

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

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

High Confidence

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

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

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

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

Medium Confidence

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

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

Medium-Low Confidence

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

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

Low Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

Mariners Fire Sale! Everything Must Go!

I’ve had sort of mixed emotions about the first two big deals on this list (that I linked to, if you want to read about my feelings).  I think they were definitely necessary moves the Mariners needed to make, to shake things up and boost our farm system, but ultimately I wonder if we got enough back in return.  A starting catcher (who’s also a defensive wizard) for a centerfielder who probably won’t be here for more than a year or two before we get tired of yet another slap-hitting singles artist FEELS like pennies on the dollar.  Then, giving up a potential Ace starting pitcher for a mixed bag of minor league talent – again, while bolstering our terrible minor league teams – FEELS like yet more pennies on the dollar.  Now, of course, both of those guys (all three, if you want to include Heredia) come with their own risks.  Paxton and his injury issues, and Zunino with his woeful hitting issues, could submarine their respective new teams.  Or, they could figure it out/catch a little luck, and be superstars we gave up on too soon.

Before we get to the next slate of deals, I’ll talk about the minor moves the M’s made.  For starters, it seems odd that we’d dump Herrmann when we were already looking to trade Zunino, and the fact that the Astros made a play on him is doubly concerning.  In the end, probably no big thing, and he’s probably not a guy you’d want to guarantee a 40-man roster spot at this point in his career, so whatever.

Not going to arbitration on either Erasmo or Nick Vincent is probably a net gain.  I’m on the record as not having a whole lot of belief in Erasmo.  I think, for what he brings, he shouldn’t cost you very much in salary, so if he gets that elsewhere, more power to him.  And, while I like Vincent as much as the next guy, he was due a significant raise, and given his age and his declining abilities in 2018, that’s money poorly spent for the direction this team is going in.  I’m okay without either of them going forward, as I particularly think Vincent’s best days are behind him, and he’s going to get WAY too much money from another team.

The M’s offered Elias arbitration, and I think that’s cool, but I would’ve been cool if we didn’t as well.  I don’t think he’s in the longterm plans, but you do need to fill out a 25-man roster.  As a reliever/swing starter, there’s some value there.  He was good in 2018, and it’s just as likely he’ll be terrible in 2019, in which case that helps us on our quest to get a higher draft pick.

Finally, Casey Lawrence asked for his release so he can go pitch overseas.  I wish him the best, but again, no great loss.  He was mostly AAA fodder with occasional underwhelming call-ups.

***

Okay, now to the big deals!  Let’s start with the appetizer.

There was all this talk about the above-referenced blockbuster deal with the Mets, but before we were finished obsessing over that one, Jerry Dipoto snuck in a sneaky-good deal with the White Sox.  Alex Colome was another guy with some value who was not in our longterm plans.  He’s still got closing ability, he did pretty okay in 2018, so that value was probably not going up considerably.  Better to strike now rather than at midseason, when he could suck (or get injured) in the first half and see his value drop to zero.

On top of that, we get a starting-calibre catcher in return!  Omar “Don’t Call Me Navarez” Narvaez is a bat-first, lefty-hitting catcher who can take a walk and hit for a decent average.  He lacks Zunino’s power, but he’s improved in that area over the last year.  Where he stinks, unfortunately, is every aspect of his defense, as he rates as one of the very worst in the league.  Pitch-framing, throwing out runners, blocking pitches in the dirt, you name it, he sucks at it.  So, that’s going to be a drastic change of pace.  He’s essentially the Anti-Zunino, so if you REALLY hated Zunino, you’re REALLY gonna love this guy.

We’ll see if he can pick it up defensively, but I feel like that’s something you either have or you don’t, and you don’t really develop it if you lack it in the first place.  I hope I’m wrong, but I feel like he’s NOT the Catcher of the Future, not unless we find more pitchers who are able to miss more bats (without diving balls between and betwixt his legs).

Regardless, if you can get a starting catcher with multiple years of team control for a reliever on the final year of his contract, that’s a deal you make 10 times out of 10.

So, that solves the Zunino-sized hole at our catcher spot.

***

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s dig into the main course:  the Mets deal.

Robinson Cano has 5 years and $120 million left on his deal.  He’s old, but he’s still pretty effective; if I had to guess I’d say he has at least 2-3 more years left playing at his current level of productivity.  There’s always the chance that he’ll start his decline sooner rather than later – particularly on defense – but he’s too naturally talented to be a total black hole at the plate.  That having been said, as his legs go, it’ll end up being either singles, homers, or strikeouts, so unless he beefs up his homer totals, I can’t see him hitting a significant number of doubles from here on out.  With Nelson Cruz seemingly out of the picture, it looked like Cano was a natural to start to transition to his eventual destination as this team’s primary DH.  But, the M’s obviously had other plans.

So, what changed in a year?  Obviously, the PED suspension.  I’m trying to get a handle on if it’s a concern of a second suspension (and a yearlong ban), or if it’s just his attitude/personality and how it might clash with the new/younger direction this team is looking to make.  He’s obviously a big character on this team, and commands a lot of respect wherever he goes, and maybe the Mariners just want the players to learn from a different voice.  I mean, Cano is an All Star, so you can obviously learn a ton from a guy who built himself up from nothing.  But, there are the usual concerns about his hussle and his passion for the game.  I dunno.  I don’t know if we’ll ever get the real dirt about why the Mariners wanted out from under this deal.  I would assume the concern lies in the fact that he probably NEEDS the PEDs to keep up with his usual All Star level, and without them, his decline will start earlier.

With the $24 million per year contract, we obviously were never going to trade him by himself.  Unfortunately, the only real carrot we could dangle to get him out of here was our all-world closer Edwin Diaz.

I’ve been on record from the very beginning as saying this team should deal Diaz, and if I had it my way, we would’ve traded JUST him to the highest bidder, and gotten a REAL prospect windfall in return.  Honestly, I don’t believe he has it in him to stay at that level for very long.  I think with the way he throws the ball, he’s destined to sustain a serious arm injury, maybe even as soon as 2019.  It wouldn’t shock me in the SLIGHTEST to see him tear something and be out for a year.  I think, regardless of whether he injures his arm or not, he’s destined to lose velo on his fastball sooner rather than later – certainly well before he’s set to hit free agency – and with that I think his value as a closer will plummet.  This is, without question, Edwin Diaz at the peak of his value, and we were never going to have a better opportunity to replenish our minor leagues.

If it were up to me, and the Mariners are just hellbent on ridding this culture of Robinson Cano, then I would’ve just cut him and paid him his remaining salary, while trading Diaz for the highest bounty possible.  But, obviously, it’s not my money, so that’s easy for me to say.

That scenario just isn’t realistic.  I don’t see the harm in forcing him to exclusively DH (while maybe spot starting at second in an emergency), and riding out the remaining years of his contract.  Was he really so poisonous to this culture?  Would his presence alone have set us back so much?

Now, obviously, there’s the fringe benefit of making the Mariners worse by getting rid of him now.  Like I said, Cano can still play, and I bet he’ll be pretty solid for the Mets in 2019.  If our goal is to bottom out, then obviously you don’t want a guy in your lineup doing POSITIVE things like hitting for a high average, lots of extra-base hits, and lots of RBI.  So, that’s something.

In return, we take on some high-priced/low-performing contracts from the Mets.  Jay Bruce is set to earn $26 million over the next two years.  He’s a corner outfielder and I can’t imagine his defense is worth a damn.  Maybe he starts in left; maybe he platoons with Gamel (though, they both bat lefty, so that seems unlikely); maybe the M’s find a way to flip him to another team!  He was okay in 2017, but really had a bad 2018.  He does have some pop in his bat, and he’ll be 32 next year, so maybe we run him out as the DH?  Feels like the best way to preserve his legs and keep him away from anything related to defense.

Anthony Swarzak is on the hook for $8 million in 2019; he’s a veteran reliever who also had a good 2017, then bottomed out in 2018.

If we just talk about money, that’s $21 million for Bruce & Swarzak in 2019, and $13 for Bruce in 2020; that totals $34 million out of Cano’s remaining $120 million.  On top of that, the M’s chipped in an extra $20 million, meaning we ended up saving a total of $66 million going forward (not counting the remaining guys in the deal).  That’s not an insignificant number, especially when you hope that by the time 2021 rolls around, this team will be in a position to contend again.  That’s just the time when Cano should start to suck and Diaz should be recovering from a shoulder surgery!

As for the prospects, your guess is as good as mine.  Kelenic was the 6th overall selection in the 2018 draft.  He’s an 18-year old outfielder with all the tools; he just needs to develop them.  He would be the prize of this deal.  Again, if you can trade a reliever for a starting-calibre outfielder, you make that trade 10 times out of 10.  The question is:  do you trust this organization to develop him the right way?

Dunn is a 19th overall draft pick from 2016 and was the Mets’ highest pitching prospect.  He was in AA last year, so he appears to be on the right track.

Bautista is a reliever who can apparently throw 100 miles per hour.  Obviously, he has command problems, but we have a couple years to work out those kinks before hopefully he’ll stick in our Major League bullpen (or get flipped for still more prospects, if the ol’ rebuild hasn’t gone according to plan).

For what the Mariners were trying to do – acquire top-flight prospects while shedding some money and ridding the clubhouse of a possible cancer – this is probably as good as it gets.  If the outfielder pans out, it’s a terrific deal.  If he doesn’t, and the starter converts to relief, and the reliever flames out, then this could’ve busted SUPER HARD.

***

And, for dessert, I bring you the Jean Segura deal.

This one … REALLY makes me mad.  For starters, we traded for him prior to 2017 in what was at the time a CLEAR victory for the Mariners.  For Taijuan Walker (who doesn’t look like he’ll come close to being the ace we thought he could be), we got an All Star short stop and an All Star outfielder in the primes of their careers.  He started off strong in 2017, so we signed him MID-SEASON to a 5-year extension when we could’ve easily let him play it out through 2018 and seen what we had in him.

But, we liked him enough, so fine, 5-year extension.  He was officially part of our future.  And they didn’t realize until halfway through 2018 that he’s a headcase???  That he’s kind of soft and kind of a clubhouse cancer and we’re now bound and determined to do whatever it takes to be rid of him?

Look, I get the spirit of the rebuild, I really do!  But, this is an All Star player – particularly with the bat – on a very REASONABLE contract; he should be worth more than this!

Segura is due $14.25 million per year for the next 4 years.  In that time, he’ll almost certainly be worth that figure, if not be an outright bargain.  But, whatever, we save that money and we ostensibly get worse at the short stop position in 2019 (again, so we can tank and get that higher draft pick).  Then, there’s Juan Nicasio’s $9 million for 2019.  He, of course, sucked a fat one in 2018, but that could obviously flip entirely the very next year, because that’s how it is with relievers; randomness abounds!  Nevertheless, that’s a lot for an 8th inning reliever who may or may not be finished.  James Pazos has a nothing salary, which is most galling, because he’s both young and good!  Why couldn’t HE fetch a pretty penny on the open market?  Why the need to throw him into the mix?

Particularly when Carlos Santana is coming our way?!  He’s a first baseman (or a DH, depending on what else we do with that first base spot) who’s owed a combined $35 million over the next two years ($500,000 of that is a buyout for 2021, because you figure there’s no way in hell this team is going to pay a 35 year old first baseman another $17.5 million when they don’t have to).  Santana – like all these other useless veterans we’re getting back in these deals – was great in 2017 and stunk in 2018.  So, NOT GREAT, JERRY!

The prize in this deal, I guess, is J.P. Crawford, who will be a 24-year old glove-first/no-bat short stop in 2019.  If we can develop the bat into something halfway decent, then maybe that’s an upgrade in the end.  But, that’s obviously no guarantee.

And, that’s it.  A new short stop and a savings of another $31 million.  On the plus side, all these massive contracts expire after 2019 or 2020, so RIGHT ON TRACK FOR 2021 YOU GUYS!

As always, it’s hard to judge anything until you see the rest of the offseason moves.  But, you figure the biggest deals have been made (unless the team goes full boar and unloads Haniger for another bevy of prospects), and now it’s time for the rest of the roster moves to fill in around these guys.  But, on a surface level, it’s hard to get too excited, when so many variables are in play.

The Mariners Traded Away Mike Zunino

The unpleasant Mariners news freshest in our minds right now is the racism and sexism accusations by former employee Lorena Martin.  Obviously, if true, it’s fucking terrible.  Even if they’re total lies – as the team alleges – then the Mariners essentially were swindled into hiring a con artist for a made-up position within the organization that did absolutely nothing to improve the on-field success of the team in 2018 or beyond.  If that isn’t he epitome of the Seattle Mariners, I don’t know what is.

For now, this:

The Mariners sent Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia, and minor leaguer Michael Plassmeyer

The Rays sent Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley

So, that’s it.  Mike Zunino – drafted 3rd overall in 2012, was rushed to the Majors in June of 2013, played in 6 mostly-mediocre seasons – is now a Tampa Bay Ray.

This sucks, obviously.  It actually sucks in a lot of different ways.  For starters, Zunino goes down as yet another highly-drafted bust for the poorly-managed Seattle Mariners.  He was supposed to be our Catcher of the Future, solidifying a position of extreme need for years to come.  And, in a lot of ways, he succeeded.  He was a wizard defensively.  We haven’t had a defensive catcher this good since Dan Wilson, who last played in 2005 (and who was last worth a damn in 2002).  He also crushed a lot of dingers – 95 in his career to date, which has seen a lot of shuttling between Seattle and Tacoma – which is a huge plus when you consider the catcher position.  Really, he did everything you’d ever want from a catcher … except hit for average.

His career slash:  .207/.276/.406/.682.  If he batted .250 (like he did in 2017, when he was worth a whopping 3.3 WAR in only 124 games) he’d be an All Star.  But, more often than not, he was around .200 (or worse), and you just can’t have that black of a hole in your lineup, no matter how many dingers he mashes.

He was great with the pitchers, he was great throwing out would-be base-stealers, he was great blocking pitches in the dirt, and he was one of the best guys in the game at framing pitches and stealing extra strikes.  He did so much for this pitching staff that doesn’t show up on your traditional stat sheets.  All of that is going to be drastically worse, and most people really won’t understand why.  When Marco Gonzales and Wade LeBlanc and the rest of those soft-tossing jokers see huge upticks in their ERAs, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

At the same time, again, you can’t have a .200 hitter in your lineup every single day.  I can see why the team made a move.  Of course, as I wrote about earlier when talking about blowing up the Mariners, you’re not going to get anything of value back, and lo and behold!

The Mariners famously once had Mallex Smith for a little over an hour before flipping him from the Braves to the Rays.  This was all a part of the Drew Smyly deal which, yeah, the less said about that the better.  So, instead of buying low on a guy we all thought was destined to be a 4th outfielder, we’ve bought considerably higher on a guy who still might be nothing more than a 4th outfielder.

Smith was a reserve in 2016 with the Braves and in 2017 with the Rays.  He became their starting centerfielder in 2018 and did this:  .296/.367/.406/.773 with a 3.5 WAR.  That’s all pretty good, I guess, but can we count on it going forward?  Or, was that as good as he’ll ever be, and he’s destined to revert to a .250 hitter going forward?  I’ll take that from my power-hitting catcher, but not from my single-slapping outfielder.

Because yeah, there’s no power coming from Mallex Smith’s bat.  2 homers last year in 141 games.  27 doubles, and I have to believe a lot of those were because of his speed.  It’s not smart to compare him to what he’s not, so I’m not going to lose my shit about this.  For what he is – if he can replicate those numbers for the duration of his deal – he looks like a fine player.

Good defense, hits for average, can take a walk, he stole 40 bases last year.  On top of those doubles, he hit 10 triples.  Every part of that is an upgrade over what we had in centerfield last year.

Which makes saying goodbye to Guillermo Heredia all that much easier.  He never developed beyond being that 4th outfielder, floundering HARD in a starting role.  Those guys are a dime a dozen and I’m sure we’ve got a ton of them already in our system.

Also, the other guy we got back – Jake Fraley – is probably another.  Fraley was drafted in 2016 and figures to start off 2018 in AA.  He’s another defense-first outfielder who will probably never hit for power and my hunch is he’ll top out as a 4th outfielder type.  Neat.

It’s always hard to say who won or lost a trade when it first happens, but I’m giving the nod to the Rays.  From what I understand, they have plenty of quality outfielders on their team, so they didn’t really need Mallex Smith.  Heredia will be a fine reserve for them, and might even find some more pop in his bat with that bandbox they play in down in Tampa.  Zunino already has the defensive bona fides, so if they can just tweak his bat a little to hit for a higher average, then they’ve got a stud for many years to come.  A stud who’s still on a cheap deal, so if he does figure it out, he could be flipped to the Yankees or someone rich for a windfall of prospects.

Meanwhile, I guess the Mariners get a top-of-the-order hitter who will probably struggle at first, before yo-yo’ing up and down between that and the bottom of the order.  At least they’re bringing in guys who fit the mold they profess to desire (as opposed to Dee Gordon, who can’t take a walk to save his life).

Speaking of which, I guess this means Dee either moves to 2nd base full time, or gets traded for more pennies on the dollar.  My bet would be on the latter.  This obviously won’t be the last move the Mariners make this offseason.  Once we get closer to the 2019 season, and we’re able to put all the puzzle pieces together, we can view this trade in the larger context of what exactly the Mariners are doing.

From just this deal, it’s impossible to see what the plan is, vis-a-vis tanking for the future vs. going for it now.  Really, it looks like almost every other Jerry Dipoto deal, trying to have it both ways.  Straddling the line, playing for the wild card, call it what you like.  In the end, it means the Mariners will continue to suck for the foreseeable future, with no hope in sight.