The Mariners Played The Indians For The Last Time

Haha! Fun with technicalities and team name changes.

This was a camping weekend for yours truly, so I only ended up watching maybe the last couple innings of the Sunday game. Turns out, I didn’t really miss much.

The Mariners lost 7-0 on Friday. A text from my friend came through that read, “At least the Mariners weren’t no hit. Minor win with that.” That was really all I needed to know. I think this was Justin Dunn’s first start back since the brief IL stint, and clearly he didn’t have anything, nor did anyone else on the team.

Saturday’s game was an unfortunate one that we probably should’ve had. A 4-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth? That’s a game you should win 10 times out of 10. The real shame of it all is that another great start by Yusei Kikuchi was wasted; he went 7 innings of shutout ball, giving up 3 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 6. Kendall Graveman – still working his way back from the COVID IL – gave up a solo homer in the 8th, but that’s still no excuse for Rafael Montero blowing the 9th the way he did. That’s his 6th blown save of the season and at this point I just don’t see how we salvage it with him. It’s one of two things with him: either this is a lost season and he’ll get it all back in 2022 (presumably with a new team), or he’s just finished as a Major League pitcher. The way he’s been throwing, I just can’t see him turning things around in 2021, and even if he does, it DEFINITELY won’t be with the Mariners. One of the biggest busts of the year, and that’s factoring in James Paxton getting injured in his very first start.

On top of everything, Saturday’s game was our first loss in extra innings. We salvaged things on Sunday, winning that one 6-2. Logan Gilbert had another great start, going 6.2 innings, giving up 1 run on 4 hits and 1 walk, striking out 6. The bullpen was lockdown from there, until two outs into the 9th inning, when Graveman had some trouble getting that 27th out. He eventually loaded the bases and wild pitched in a run before closing the door. Even with a 5-run lead, Scott Servais wasn’t taking any chances with this one. The aforementioned Graveman went on back-to-back days (throwing 33 pitches in this game alone), Kyle Seager went from DH to 3B for that 9th inning. Shed Long was removed from LF for Jake Fraley; Ty France went from 3B to 1B. He WOULD NOT tolerate another blown save, if he could help it! And yet, Graveman almost did so anyway, which would’ve been pretty hilarious, in a sick way.

The Mariners went 4-6 on that road trip, losing two games in every city they visited. They’ve now earned a nice, long homestand for their trouble.

The Mariners Bounced Back The Opposite Way, Lost A Series To The Athletics

The 6-5 victory on Monday sealed off five wins in a row, and a stretch of 7 wins in 8 games: relatively impressive after the 6 losses in a row that preceeded it. Granted, the bullpen gagged away our 4-2 lead late in the game, blowing a would-be victory for Logan Gilbert – who was impressive over 6 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits and a walk, with 5 strikeouts, on 80 pitches – but we were able to prevail in extras thanks to some clutch hitting and a rabid sacrifice fly by Tom Murphy.

My friends and I went to the game on Tuesday thinking we had this game pegged. Marco Gonzales was making his return from the IL and wasn’t projected to go very far, since he hadn’t made any tune-up starts in the minor leagues. This one had all the feel of a game that might get out of hand early, with the bullpen carrying the mail like it usually does to keep things interesting to the end.

Instead, Marco was great! He threw 50 pitches, made it through 4 innings, and gave up only 1 run on 2 hits. It was, indeed, the bullpen that was shot, giving up the other 11 runs that turned this game into a rout, particularly with a 6-run seventh inning. We left the game not long after that debacle.

Wednesday’s rubber match was a total nightmare. I watched for almost three innings, but the A’s put up a 5-spot in the third and I knew it was over from there. I don’t know a ton about the Athletics and their players, but I know Sean Manaea fucking owns our asses. One run would’ve been too much, as this ended in a 6-0 complete game shutout for the man. Chris Flexen was able to gamely make it through 6 innings, just giving up those 5 runs, so it was nice of him to spare the bullpen a little bit (as Justin Dunn is going to miss his next start, which means we’re in for yet another bullpen day coming up).

It’s actually kind of crazy how many Mariners are hitting the IL this year. I have little frame of reference how they compare to the rest of MLB, or how they compare to normal seasons in the recent past, but it feels like a lot. It feels somewhat abnormal. Some of these would have happened in any ol’ season – I’m looking at Ty France getting hit by a pitch, and Kyle Lewis’ bum knee – but there has to be a non-zero number of injuries that we can attribute to COVID-19 and the cockadoodie 2020 season with only 60 games and no minor leagues. Guys whose bodies … for lack of a better phrase are out of baseball shape. So they’re getting these strains that they might not otherwise.

Of course, this could also just be a byproduct of the game today. Today’s player probably needs more regular off-days than they’re getting. Teams are unwilling or unable to roster full benches – because they’re using every extra spot on their bullpens – and obviously that’s for good reason, given how many of these injuries are happening to pitchers. When you’re a team like the Mariners – trying to run a 6-man rotation out there, partially in hopes of reducing some of the wear-and-tear, even though we no longer employ more than 6 viable starting pitchers at the Major League level – this rash of injuries becomes more pronounced. When fans are forced to watch many multiple bullpen days because the organization fucked around in the offseason putting all their chips in on James Paxton, there’s an injury trickle-down effect when that very bullpen that’s been carrying this team gets overworked. All in the name of this theory that a 6-man rotation is supposed to cut down on injuries.

IT’S NOT WORKING, MARINERS! All it’s doing is costing you games and the livelihood of your relievers that you’re running through a fucking meat-grinder.

In theory, in an ideal world where the Mariners have an unlimited source of quality starting pitchers, a 6-man rotation might be a good idea. But, in reality, almost no team has 6 good-to-great starters. They BARELY have 5, with the depth being of the sub-replacement level variety. There’s a reason why teams in the playoffs scale back to three starters, maybe four at the most. Obviously, you can’t do that over the course of a full 162-game season, but it’s pretty apparent you also can’t stretch it out to 6 without throwing away some games.

Those games start to add up when you’re hovering around .500 and ostensibly in contention for a postseason berth.

The Mariners Split A 4-Game Series Against The Red Sox

It’s interesting to think about what a 13-9 start for the Mariners means. The strength of schedule has been fucking crazy. Boston is first in the A.L. East. The White Sox are second in the Central; the Twins should end up better than their record indicates right now. The Astros are obviously slumping and will be much better than their sub-.500 record when it’s all said and done. And the Dodgers and Giants are the top two teams in the N.L. West. So, to have this winning record, and only be a game behind the scorching-hot A’s is pretty outstanding!

But, it’s also incredibly early. And maybe the bullpen has been unsustainably hot. And the clutch late-game heroics have been unsustainably … existing. This could all be randomness that just so happens to be taking place against very good teams (and the Orioles).

Or, if you want to look on the bright side – something I’ve been trying to do a little more of lately, in spite of the blog’s name – maybe the Mariners are actually good, and they’ll REALLY start to rack up the W’s when we get to the part of the schedule where we can feast on the dregs of the game! Wouldn’t that be something?!

I mean, I’ll be honest: I keep waiting for the tide to turn and the Mariners to be exposed as the frauds they are … yet here we are, 22 games in, and still going strong! If you play around .500 against the good teams, and something like .667 against the bad teams, well, that’s a playoff team in all likelihood.

So, a 2-2 road set in the city of Boston is something akin to a 2-1 series against a shitty team.

Last Thursday, the Mariners were up to their usual tricks: erasing a 2-0 deficit in the sixth inning with an impressive rally (highlighted by a 2-run double by Ty France), then erasing a 3-2 deficit in the eighth with a J.P. Crawford double. Only to explode for a 4-spot in the tenth inning, featuring a clinching 3-run homer by Mitch Haniger to put it away.

Justin Dunn looked more in control in his 5 innings of work (2 runs on 6 hits and only 1 walk, with 5 strikeouts), and the bullpen was dominant from there (1 run on 2 hits and 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts).

The M’s couldn’t keep the good times going on Friday, but very nearly did pull yet another game out of their asses! Yusei Kikuchi didn’t have it, giving up 5 runs in less than 5 innings of work. The bullpen, however, kept us in it JUST enough to let things get interesting (minus an unearned run attributed to Ljay Newsome, who was otherwise solid). We were down 6-2 in the ninth inning before a 3-run homer by Kyle Seager made things interesting. But, just not enough offense in this one; 4/12 with runners in scoring position, with 9 left on base.

We bounced back in a huge way on Saturday behind a STRONG Chris Flexen start (7 innings, 1 run on 4 hits & 1 walk, with 7 strikeouts). The offense blew the doors off, with France, Seager, White, and Haggerty all contributing multi-hit games in the 8-2 victory. Can’t say enough good things about how Flexen has looked the first few times through the rotation. He is a VERY welcome surprise, after the dud of a bottle rocket that was the return of James Paxton.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull off the series victory on Sunday, as Nick Margevicius couldn’t get more than a single out and we had to go with a Bullpen Day. After being pulled prematurely in his previous start, Margevicius was put on the IL today with shoulder inflammation; we’ll see who takes his place (though Newsome figures to be a safe bet).

You’d think a Bullpen Day – with the way the bullpen has been going – might not be the worst idea. And, indeed, they were excellent, holding the Red Sox to 1 run over 7.2 innings. But, the damage was done with the 4-spot Margevicius gave up, as we lost 5-3. Again, the offense scuffled, going 2/11 with RISP and striking out 11 more times. That’s going to happen, as the offense isn’t elite after the first couple batters, and as we go up against top tier starters. Hopefully, things start to level off on both ends (where we’re not facing so many guys with Ace-like stuff, and our hitters regress to a more competent level of baseline).

Now, it’s four in Houston. So, maybe the swoon starts today? We’ll see! I’m still waiting.

The Mariners Won One Against The White Sox

If you ever want to know where the Mariners are in their rebuild, it’s helpful to see how they play against the very best teams in baseball. I would put the White Sox up there among them, and at least at this point in the rebuild, the M’s were outclassed.

The game on Monday was a brutal 6-0 shutout. Justus Sheffield looked pretty good through three innings, but the wheels started to come off in the fourth, and he was done after five, having given up 6 runs, 4 earned. I would say that performance was as expected for a guy making his first start of the season, against a team that absolutely mashes left-handed pitching.

The real drag was from the lineup, who managed only three hits on the day (two of them by Haniger). We struck out 15 fucking times against only 4 walks; that’s as pathetic as it gets. Take a picture of what the outfield looks like right now (sans Haniger), as it can ONLY improve from here with call-ups and guys returning from injury. Jake Fraley, Sam Haggerty, and Taylor Trammell don’t appear to be Major League players (yet? maybe ever?). Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, and Julio Rodriguez can’t get here soon enough.

The only positive in this one was the four innings of shutout ball by the bullpen. Don’t get used to that, though.

Tuesday’s game was a miserable 10-4 blowout, where both Paxton and Fraley left injured. Paxton’s injury seems particularly bad, as he’s reportedly seeking a second opinion. Fraley: who cares? Margevicius never should’ve appeared in this series – being a soft-tossing lefty – and was roped around accordingly. The rest of the bullpen behind him didn’t do the team any favors either, as everyone after Paxton combined to give up 9 of the 10 runs.

As for the hitters, Haniger and Ty France were good! Tom Murphy was productive in his at-bats at DH. Everyone else was pretty mediocre.

Yesterday’s game was a relatively impressive 8-4 victory for the M’s! I’ll be honest, that was a tough one to see coming, and in retrospect seems even less likely!

Justin Dunn has improved velocity on his fastball, but was otherwise up to his old tricks in this one: allowing one hit while walking EIGHT! Ye gods. He failed to get through the fifth inning. BUT, the hitters brought their lunch pails in this one, scoring three off of old buddy Dallas Keuchel, then five more against some hapless reliever who got knocked around something fierce.

Kyle Seager started pulling his weight in this one, with three hits and three RBI. But, seven Mariners in total had hits, most of them in a 7-run sixth inning.

The bullpen went 4.1 innings, giving up just 1 run, with Will Vest getting his first career Major League win. All in all, a lot to like about this one game at least. If the series as a whole is a barometer of where the Mariners are in their rebuild, it’s encouraging to have a performance like this one to at least give us some hope.

Now, the Mariners are off on their first road trip of the season, with a weird three-game series against the Twins (with a random Friday off-day). I don’t understand why MLB didn’t schedule this with another off-day on Sunday; if you’re SO worried about there being a rainout, why not front-load the games so you have a better opportunity to get the entire series in? Sure, the Twins’ home-opener is secure, but what happens if there’s a rain storm on Saturday or Sunday? We’re fucked into making a repeat trip to Minnesota later in the season! Fucking idiots; schedule smarter!

James Paxton Is Hurt Again

In his first start back, no less!

Before the game yesterday, I was trying to think of a couple storylines to write about the Mariners this morning. One, I think, is very much on the table, and I will get to it shortly. The other was going to compliment the bullpen a little bit, but that might be premature.

Regardless, they take a backseat to James Paxton throwing 24 pitches in anger last night before succumbing to elbow pain. Jesus Christ.

When you sign a guy in the prime of his life – if not, necessarily, the prime of his Major League Baseball career – you kind of expect … something. Even when you sign him to a 1-year, prove-it deal, after an injury-shortened 2020 season, you still figure there’s been plenty of time for him to recover and build himself up into a Best Shape Of His Life candidate. While you’re aware of the risk of another injury befalling this unlucky individual, you DEFINITELY don’t expect that injury to take place in the very first start, after an incident-free Spring Training!

I mean, I can’t even begin to tell you the level of relative despair I felt when I heard the announcers say that Scott Servais was coming out of the dugout in the second inning. I’m sure that’s nothing to the actual despair felt by Paxton and those close to him, but this really fucking sucks. Not just from a fan or a team perspective. Obviously, I want to see him pitch. He’s great when he’s healthy! He’s a fun guy to root for! And, not for nothing, but if he helps the Mariners win ballgames, maybe we can parlay that into ongoing affiliation with the team; or, conversely, if we want to take another stab at trading a veteran on a short deal for prospect(s) at the trade deadline this summer, all the better there too. But, even if nothing comes out of his second stint with the Mariners, and it fails to benefit us whatsoever, I was mostly hoping – for his sake – that he’d last the whole season and be able to resurrect things, to the extent that a pitcher with his injury history is able to do so. He really does deserve to have sustained success, and it’s not completely unheard of for guys in his position to have late-career flourishes.

It was announced today that he’s going on the 10-Day IL (as well as Jake Fraley, who apparently injured his hamstring while making a spectacular diving catch last night). Nick Margevicius – who had the ignominious honor to follow Paxton last night into a hornet’s nest of White Sox batters who crush left-handed pitching – will take the open spot in the rotation. That’s as big of a downgrade as you can get, I’d imagine, but it obviously won’t be as bad as it was last night in every start he makes.

Get well soon, Paxton! This season is A LOT more fun with you on the mound!

The Mariners Somehow Won Their Opening Weekend Series!

Actually, that’s not such a remarkable feat, but you try writing thousands of quasi-unique blog post titles and see what you come up with.

After staying at the game past 11pm, and then not getting home until around midnight last Thursday, I didn’t have it in me to watch the entirety of Friday night’s game. I’m such a bad fan! I’m such an old man! Kill me now!

What I did see, however, was an impressive outing by Yusei Kikuchi (who swapped places with Paxton in the rotation for … reasons), who went 6 innings, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk while striking out 10! Unfortunately, all three of his runs came on 2 homers, and he ended up with a no decision for his troubles.

This feels like a pretty standard 6-3 loss for the Mariners in 2021: pretty good starting pitching, not so great hitting (only 6 hits all game), and a dud performance from the bullpen (highlighted by Drew Steckenrider’s 3 runs in 0.2 innings of relief). Once the game was given away like that, I toddled off to bed. But, I still say this one was promising, for Kikuchi’s improved command alone. If he can keep that up all year, we might be onto something!

I’ll admit, I didn’t have high hopes for the rubber match on Saturday (the rare Sunday off-day is throwing me for a loop, I have to admit), with Chris Flexen making his Mariners debut. I was also outside working with my friends in their backyard gravel pit, so I managed to miss all but the very end of this one. Which is too bad, because it looks like I missed a pretty good Flexen outing! 5 innings of shutout ball, on 4 hits & 2 walks, with 6 strikeouts. We were told ahead of time that he might be limited in how long he could go, so all things considered that’s pretty amazing!

The bullpen behind him was also pretty fantastic! I would assume the combination – in some order – of Kendall Graveman, Anthony Misiewicz, and closer Rafael Montero will be in play for the vast majority of games where the Mariners hold a lead late. These are the guys Scott Servais is going to rely on until they prove they can’t handle it. Graveman went 2 shutout innings, striking out 5. Misiewicz appeared to struggle, but got two outs in the eighth. And Montero came through with the 4-out save after blowing one on Opening Night. All in all, as solid a 4-0 victory as you’ll see.

It’s obviously too early to draw any grand conclusions from three games. I don’t think the Giants are overburdened with quality pitching, so while it’s nice that the M’s hitters did as well as they did, we could very well be in for lean times ahead. Only three American League teams – who have played in just three games – have more team strikeouts so far. And, again, that’s with the Giants not having good pitching whatsoever.

The vaunted White Sox come to town for three starting tonight, before we hit the road for Minnesota and Baltimore. It would be nice to steal as many wins over the next ten days as possible, considering how difficult the schedule gets in the back-half of this month, and on into May.

2021 Mariners Preview Extravaganza: We Have A Starting Rotation

I don’t know if the official 26-man roster has been set yet, but I do know we have the 6-man rotation good to go. So, I’ll start there. I’ll forego the bullpen because I don’t know those men, nor do I care to know those men. Tomorrow, I’ll look to talk about the everyday players and then we’ll get this pig in gear!

  1. Marco Gonzales (L)
  2. James Paxton (L)
  3. Chris Flexen (R)
  4. Justus Sheffield (L)
  5. Yusei Kikuchi (L)
  6. Justin Dunn (R)

The next man up – at least until Logan Gilbert gets his initial call-up – figures to be lefty Nick Margevicius. So, a lot of familiar faces there.

Once the M’s signed Paxton, this is pretty much the group we expected all along, even if the order after the top two is a little surprising. I think you can really toss all four of the bottom guys (five if you count Margevicius) into a hat and pick them out at random. Is Flexen really the #3 guy? Or, is he just projected to be the most-reliable right-handed starter and Scott Servais wanted to break up the four lefties? My hunch is it’s the latter.

When healthy, I’ll ride or die with Gonzales and Paxton all day every day; I think that’s as solid a 1-2 punch as you’ll find. Especially with Paxton as your #2? When he’s going strong, he’s as dominant as they come! If things break right with this team, these two guys should have tremendous winning percentages when it’s all said and done.

Neither, of course, were particularly amazing in Spring Training; Gonzales had a pretty high ERA and Paxton only made two official starts (with, presumably, lots of games in back-alleys to fill out his pitch counts). But, these are tried and true veterans who only need to get the work in; they have nothing to prove in these games. I expect big things.

Flexen has always been an interesting case, as he’s largely either an unknown in America, or a terrible pitcher. He salvaged his career in Asia, and obviously is hoping he can carry that over back in the Major Leagues, but this is all Wait & See for me. He had five starts in Spring Training, and pretty pedestrian numbers, but his last two starts totalled 8 innings of 5-hit, shutout ball. So, at least he’s hot heading into the regular season.

Justus Sheffield impressed the hell out of me in 2020. He’s another one with pretty shabby Spring Training numbers, but his last two starts totalled 8.2 innings of 6-hit, 2-run ball. He’s not the proven veteran that Gonzales and Paxton are, so I don’t know if we can totally write off his performance in those four official games. I would still expect an up-and-down season, hopefully with more ups than downs. A full Mariners turnaround and/or a playoff-bound 2021 season likely requires Sheffield to be better than he was in 2020, and to continue to improve as time goes on. I’ll be rooting like crazy for this to happen, even though I have my nagging doubts.

Seeing Yusei Kikuchi as the #5 starter is pretty abysmal, all things considered. There’s no way the Mariners signed him to all of that money to be their fifth starter. Kikuchi had three official starts in Spring Training and his numbers were solid. He continues to make steady progress, but I don’t know if he’s making ENOUGH progress to be a guy that will stick around beyond 2021. At this point, I’d say my prediction is that he’ll continue to scuffle and won’t be here in 2022 under his existing contract, if at all. BUT, of any one of these bottom four guys who might put it all together, I think Kikuchi has the highest ceiling in 2021 (if not necessarily beyond). He has the stuff! The fastball works. If the command locks in, the American League better watch out, because Kikuchi could be pretty special.

I was happy to see Justin Dunn make the rotation in the 6-spot, because obviously he has a much higher ceiling than Margevicius. He’s apparently in tremendous shape and has added a few MPH to his fastball. He’s still young, he’s still raw, but he battled like crazy in 2020 and I’m hopeful another year in the Bigs will work wonders for his development. Like the rest of these bottom four guys, I expect ups and downs. Like Sheffield (and, really, everyone, I suppose), here’s to more ups than downs.

The over/under for Mariners wins is 72.5 (72-90/73-89). That’s a pretty low bar for this team to clear. If it does, I think we’ll have to lean on the rotation to … just keep us in games. That’s largely what they did in 2020. Nothing TOO flashy, just some solid 5-6 innings of 3-4 run ball. The hitting will be there sometimes and will fail us sometimes (but, I think it’ll be there more often than not); the bullpen PROBABLY won’t blow it every single time.

For this team to exceed expectations and actually contend for a playoff spot, I think the rotation will have to be better than just solid. They’ll have to go long stretches of carrying this team. Of not putting too much on the shoulders of the bullpen, as it tries to sort itself out. It COULD be capable of that, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I think this rotation is good enough to get us to 76-80 wins, with the team constructed around it as such. The real wild card is what we have in the upper minors, how quickly they can develop, and how hot they start their Major League careers.

The Mariners are going to have to ride their youngsters if they’re going to wildly exceed expectations. Fingers crossed!

The Mariners Brought Back James Paxton!

For athletes not named Felix Hernandez (my one and only), it’s usually Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind whenever someone leaves the Seattle orbit. To be fair, with fantasy football what it is, it’s relatively easy to keep tabs on ex-Huskies who have moved on to better things; and I always enjoy whenever the Husky basketball Twitter feed updates me on all the goings on of our pro Dawgs. But, I’m rarely going out of my way to keep tabs on players once they’ve left the Seattle area.

The Mariners traded James Paxton to the Yankees after the 2018 season, for Justus Sheffield and others. I knew at the time that he didn’t have a lot of club control left, but I couldn’t have pinpointed with any certainty when that contract was set to expire. He went to the Yankees with high expectations, and even though his numbers ended up being relatively in line with past performance (maybe just a tick worse, but negligible overall), and even though he started a career-high 29 games, he obviously fell short of those expectations. If we’re being honest, though, it’s almost impossible to meet expectations when it comes to the Yankees; if you’re not leading them to a World Series, then you’re probably falling short in some way.

Regardless, 2020 was as close to a disaster as it gets. Even in a pandemic-shortened year, Paxton’s season was further cut short due to injuries, and he managed only five starts. Before the season even started, he had surgery on his back that would’ve cost him 3-4 months, then his recurring forearm issue returned and that was that. The Yankees apparently just let him walk, rather than extend him any further offers.

I guess we know which team won THAT trade!

When I heard Paxton was still a free agent a month into 2021, those whispers that he might prefer a return to Seattle became a lot more interesting. There has, of course, been a lot of lobbying from a segment of the fanbase for the Mariners to “spend money”, if not to win now, at least to put us into a better position to win in 2022, when some of the highly-touted prospects start showing up. Even though this is only a one year deal, it makes a lot of sense to bring Paxton back now, to see what he has left in the tank.

It’s a one year deal for $8.5 million. I’m told there are incentives tied to the number of starts (or maybe just appearances) he makes: $750,000 for 10 starts, and another $750,000 if he makes it to 20 (max value of $10 million, in other words). That seems like a pretty achievable goal; he could spend a good chunk of the season on the Injured List and still make it to 20 starts no problem.

I like the move because I like James Paxton. When he’s healthy, there aren’t many left-handed pitchers who are more dominant. He’ll be 32 years old this year, and as we all know, durability isn’t his strong suit, so I don’t know if it’ll ever be wise to trust him with a huge-money, multi-year contract. But, at this point – even if he makes it through 2021 unscathed (which, the smart money says he’ll be at least a LITTLE scathed eventually, based on history) – I don’t think there’s enough trust in him to guarantee anything more than a 3-year deal at best. So, if he’s great again, and the Mariners like what they see, another extension a year from now shouldn’t break the bank.

Plus, get this: he actually LIKES Seattle! Who knew THAT was possible?! I’m used to professional Seattle teams having to over-pay to bring in quality free agents; it’s rare for this to be an ideal landing spot for an incoming player.

The bottom line is, it’s a win-win for both parties. Paxton gets a low-pressure environment to showcase his abilities, and the Mariners get a relatively cheap starter to throw onto the pile. It works to both parties’ advantage that we’re rolling back the six-man rotation as well. Obviously, it seems like this is the best way to maximize Paxton without over-working his arm, while still giving the Mariners an opportunity to build up the arms of some of our younger prospects.

Ultimately, I think it boils down to this: no one was super-excited about Chris Flexen. I think we can all agree – for a team like the Mariners, in the middle of a rebuild – the Flexen signing is a relatively smart one. But, he’s still a big question mark when it comes to being a Major League starter. Considering all the other big question marks we have in this rotation, it’s only natural to want to bolster this part of the roster.

So, what are we looking at now? Not a bad little rotation, all things considered:

  • Marco Gonzales
  • James Paxton
  • Yusei Kikuchi
  • Justus Sheffield
  • Chris Flexen
  • Justin Dunn

Even though Paxton is more of your prototypical Ace-type starter, there’s no way he’s taking over Marco’s spot in the rotation, which is probably for the best if you think about it. That further takes the pressure off of Paxton – he can be just one of the guys – and obviously doesn’t create a rift on the team, considering Marco is one of the main leaders on the roster. Also, since Paxton’s fastball is so much faster than Marco’s, it makes more sense for him to go after, that way whenever we face the same team, they won’t be all geared up to crush Marco’s softer stuff (what that means for the guy who ultimately has to follow Paxton is, of course, troublesome, but that’s neither here nor there).

Obviously, I have no idea the actual order of the rotation; that won’t be made clear until we get into Spring Training. But, those are the guys likeliest to qualify for the rotation, so barring any surprises, I think we’re pretty set. It wouldn’t shock me to see Flexen moved up in the rotation, just to break things up, since the way I have it would mean four consecutive left-handed starters in a row, but again, we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.

I like the top two guys a lot! The next two, I have relatively high hopes for; and the last two are total wild cards.

This being baseball, I wouldn’t expect the rotation to remain static. There will be injuries. There may be demotions. And, of course, there will be guys in the upper minors who are pounding on the door, just itching to make their marks.

The only question that remains between now and when the players report to camp is: will the Mariners make any more signings? Taijuan Walker is STILL a free agent, you know …

It’s Okay That Justus Sheffield Doesn’t Quite Have The Ceiling Everyone Hoped He’d Have

I’ll just put it this way: who would you rather have right now, James Paxton or Justus Sheffield?

The fun answer to that question is, in theory, the Mariners could have BOTH, what with Paxton currently being a free agent. Since we traded him to the Yankees for Sheffield (and … others), Paxton has predictably suffered from injuries and it seems like a long shot that he’ll ever be counted upon to anchor a rotation. He could be had for an incentive-laden deal, but I wouldn’t count him among any longterm plans.

Since this is Uninteresting Mariners Week, though, let’s leave the more interesting topics for another time. Similarly to a lot of other guys, I like Sheffield. I would rather have him, even though the ceiling is always going to be higher for Paxton when he’s healthy. But Sheffield is much younger and – so far – not prone to injury. It’s a no-brainer, in that sense.

And, to his credit, Sheffield had a pretty good year in 2020! It was his first “full” season in the Major Leagues (COVID-19 limitations notwithstanding; he would’ve been up here for a 162-game season as well, had the pandemic not raged quite so hard). Clearly, the Mariners were taking it easy on him, not pushing him too much; his longest outings were 7 innings, and his highest single-game pitch count was 99. Yet, he still managed 6 Quality Starts out of 10 total appearances, which is pretty good for a 24 year old.

My biggest concern, obviously, lies in his fastball. It’s not particularly … fast. He did improve his command, and hitters weren’t quite as able to mash him for extra-base hits. If anything, he’s a perfectly fine starting pitcher! He’s just a victim of expectations. When you trade a pitcher like Paxton to a team like the Yankees – and you hear about a guy like Sheffield, who used to be one of the highest-rated prospects in the country – you expect you’re trading a Current Ace for a Future Ace. Sheffield will most likely never be an Ace, in the sense that we think of them. He doesn’t have that overpowering fastball, so he’s going to have to improve as an all-around pitcher. 2020 saw him making that first step. One would hope he has the drive to continue working on his game, because he could be a fine mainstay in this rotation with Marco Gonzales and whoever else emerges from the young crop.

I really don’t have a lot to say otherwise. Worst case scenario is he regresses in 2021, and he puts his future with the organization in jeopardy (or he gets injured, in which case, his future will still be in jeopardy). Part of me sort of expects him to be Just Another Guy, which is why I’ve yet to fully commit to him as a prospect in our overall rebuild. At least he’s not Erik Swanson, though; that guy … yeesh!

Uninteresting Mariners Week: Marco Gonzales Is A Good Baseball Guy

The running theme with me and the Mariners the last few years is: I hold the pitching staff in the utmost contempt. It’s an unfair assertion, because I’m sure you could argue – bullpen aside, which seems like it was constructed to be terrible and cost this team games, to help generate higher draft picks – that at least the rotation has been adequate, and the reason why the Mariners have been so bad of late has more to do with the everyday roster. But, it’s hard to look at this unit and not see a bunch of fourth and fifth starters in other, more superior rotations.

I lament the lack of a true ace! Prior to 2019, we had James Paxton as our top dog (when healthy), and before that King Felix was our whole franchise. It’s rare for this organization – dating back to when I started being a fan in the mid-90’s – to NOT have at least one elite pitcher at the head of the rotation. But, for the last two years – and going forward, at least for now – that guy has been Marco Gonzales.

Every time I write about the guy, it’s the same analysis: he’s better than I ever thought he’d be, he’s better than people give him credit for, he just goes out there and gets the job done (at least keeping the team in his games, if he has to battle through a subpar performance), and his job as one of this team’s key leaders has been an absolute revelation! He’s a Pacific Northwest guy, he loves the area, and that makes a big difference. He WANTS to be here! He WANTS to win! And he’s going to out-work everyone to make sure that happens, bettering both his own game and those of the players around him.

If you’re talking about a team’s Ace, you couldn’t ask for more from a Marco Gonzales! Except, you know, some more M’s per H on his fastball. Because how excited can you get about an ace who throws in the 80’s and low 90’s? I’m sure in the 1920’s he would’ve been the bee’s knees, hombre; the total cat’s meow. But, as we’re all aware, athletes have advanced their training techniques beyond swinging a medicine ball around and pulling springs apart. Dudes are jacked and better at sports than ever before, and nothing beats a strikeout when you’re a Major League pitcher.

As always, I feel I need to make a point of saying I like Marco Gonzales! I want him to be with the Mariners for a very long time. He reminds me of a Jamie Moyer type whose game can endure for years, and be a mainstay in this rotation. But, from an interest-level standpoint, I’m hoping some of these prospects with a more impressive assortment of pitches will break through and take over this team’s Ace role, so we can slot Gonzo as the #2 or #3 where he belongs and really make the most of this rebuild.

Like some of these other reliable workhorses on the roster, I know what I’m going to get from Gonzales: Quality Starts much more often than not. I’m a red-blooded American male who likes a good handjob as much as the next guy! I’m never going to turn down a Marco Gonzales Quality Start. I’m just saying that they’re rarely going to make my toes curl or cause me to distractedly drift into oncoming traffic.

If you want to see a Mariners victory in 2021, tune into a Gonzo start and you’re likely to get your wish. But, if you’re more interested in what this team could look like in 2022 and beyond, odds are you’re going to want to get a live stream of the Tacoma Rainiers or the Arkansas Travelers.