Mariners Gonna Mariners Down In Texas

The Mariners had another GREAT opportunity to win a series against a mediocre opponent. But then, you know …

The first game of the series against the Rangers saw the first Mariners blowout victory of the season! A 10-2 drubbing! Prior to that, the most the M’s had won by was three runs (on the flipside, we’ve lost by 6, 5, 8, 10, 5, and 5 runs already in this truncated season; which would explain our -35 run differential, pretty decisively the worst in all of Major League Baseball). Kyle Seager hit a grand slam in this one, Kyle Lewis and Dylan Moore both also had homers; in fact, every Mariner had at least one hit.

It wouldn’t be a sign of better things to come for the offense.

Justin Dunn got his first Major League victory in this one, having gone 6 innings, giving up 7 hits, 3 walks, 2 runs, while striking out 2. Not super dominant, but easily the best performance of his very brief career. More of these types of games and fewer of his … usual types of games, would be important going forward.

The next day, Marco Gonzales didn’t really have it (5 innings, 4 runs), but while the bullpen managed to limit the damage to just that, the offense couldn’t get it going. The Rangers needed six pitchers to get through this one, but did so, 4-2. Two hits for Kyle Seager, and there’s your offensive highlight.

The final game, yesterday, was a total shitshow! The Mariners jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning and held that through five. Taijuan Walker had a very nice outing, all things considered, and was about to make it through the sixth inning just as unscathed. Dylan Moore got the start at first base because of his hot hitting of late (he was 0 for 3 with a walk and two strikeouts in this one) and couldn’t dig out a slightly errant throw from J.P. Crawford for the final out of the inning. An out that Evan White – had he been starting – almost certainly would have made. Crawford got the error, but more importantly an unearned run was allowed to score in the process. I wondered at the time if that run would bite us in the ass, but Walker managed to wiggle off the line in the next at bat.

The Rangers scraped another run onto the board in the very next inning to make it 4-2; this one off of newcomer Joey Gerber (though, again, the next pitcher who inherited the baserunners allowed that man to score, because this bullpen is soft as freshly fallen snow and can’t be disturbed by complications on the field behind them). At this rate – one run per inning – the Rangers would tie the game up before the end of regulation!

Actually, it was much earlier than that.

In the eighth inning, Erik Swanson came in and the wheels came off. To his credit, he was throwing hard. Mike Blowers, on the broadcast, was absolutely creaming his jeans about some of the fastballs he was seeing out of this kid; he even touched 99mph on the radar gun! That, of course, got me excited, but it quickly faltered when it was clear Swanson couldn’t hit his spots. It’s frustrating to see a catcher set up in one spot (top of the zone) and see the pitcher throw the ball low and away. Or, worse, to see the catcher set up in the dirt, and watching Swanson groove a slider in the very middle of the plate.

Swanson, you’ll remember, is a former starting pitcher we got in the Justus Sheffield/James Paxton trade. At the time, we hoped maybe he could top out as a middle-of-the-rotation guy, but already he’s been demoted to a run-of-the-mill bullpen arm. And, with more appearances like this one, he won’t even have that for long. When it was all said and done, Swanson got 2 outs, gave up 3 hits, hit two batters, and gave up five runs while striking out just one (to be fair, it was an impressive-looking strikeout to kick off the inning). All the runs in that inning were charged to him, but of course Taylor Williams had every opportunity to get us out of it with the game still tied. Instead, a wild pitch and a 2-run single put the game away.

Austin Nola had a homer (as did Vogey) and another hit, and J.P. Crawford had two hits. But, the offense not ever adding on after that second inning was pretty criminal. So, you can say this was a total team effort, but the defense and bullpen really blew this one.

That puts the Mariners at 7-13 through 20 games; we’re a full third of the way through the season! 7-13 is also good for last place in the A.L. West (though, we’re somehow only 2.5 games out of a playoff spot, in this asterisk season).

Considering how bad we are, it’s probably a good thing the defense and bullpen are blowing so many games. I know there’s the argument that you don’t want to be a young team who’s used to losing, but the Astros lost more than anyone for a bunch of years in a row before being one of the most dominant teams in all of baseball (and cheaters, don’t forget the most dominant cheaters in all of baseball). 7-13 puts us as the third-worst team in all of baseball. That’s exciting! We could be in a prime drafting spot next year! The Red Sox are somehow worse, but I wouldn’t expect that to last; we could EASILY fall into the second spot! The Pirates, right now, are 3-13, but there’s still a lot of baseball left to be played.

The Mariners get their first off-day of the season today. Then, it’s off to Houston for a 3-game set over the weekend. I was kind of hoping, for morale’s sake, that the M’s would win that Rangers series, because our next seven games are against the Astros and Dodgers (a 2-game road series, followed immediately by a 2-game home series). I mean, I could see us going 0-7 in that stretch and it’s not even difficult to imagine!

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!

The Nothing Continues: Here’s Something About The Mariners’ Bullpen (Part 3)

Last week, we got into the everyday players and the starting rotation for the 2020 Seattle Mariners. I’ve put it off long enough – this is the equivalent of having already eaten my dessert and main course, leaving just the garbage cole slaw sweating its way across my plate two hours later (as I’m not allowed to leave the dinner table until I’ve eaten my vegetables) – so I present to you some VERY unhelpful words on the bullpen.

I’ll split this in two sections and see how it goes. First, we’ll look at the guys who played for the Mariners last year, then we’ll look at the newcomers to the ballclub (again, this is based on the Depth Chart section of the official Mariners roster). The “fun” thing about this one is: they’re all effectively new to me, because I have no idea who any of these guys are!

(let’s get this over with)

Holdovers

  • Matt Magill
  • Erik Swanson
  • Brandon Brennan
  • Dan Altavilla
  • Taylor Guilbeau
  • Gerson Bautista
  • Austin Adams

Looks like Matt Magill came over from the Twins before the trade deadline as he was released and the M’s picked up his contract. He’s been a middling reliever pretty steadily with the Twins since 2018, but doesn’t really do anything particularly well. He’s a right-handed 30-year old, so I guess there’s still time to turn it around, but for now he screams journeyman.

Erik Swanson came over in the James Paxton deal. There was initially hope that he could be part of a 1-2 punch with Justus Sheffield in the starting rotation, but it looks pretty clear that the Mariners believe Swanson’s destiny is as a bullpen arm. He started in 8 of his 27 appearances with the M’s in 2019 – his first whiff of the Major Leagues – but that clearly looked to be too much for him, as he was sent down to AAA in mid-May. When he returned in August, it was exclusively as a reliever who’d go 1-2 innings per appearance. Sort of a disappointing result for someone who looked like a promising mid-rotation starter, but that’s what happens when you over-value Yankees prospects.

Brandon Brennan was a Rule 5 guy the Mariners selected last year who managed to stay on the big league club all season. He was probably our best reliever last year through the first half of the season before going on the Injured List. His last two outings before going down were total disasters, which really hampered an otherwise pretty-good season. I don’t know if he has closer potential or not, but he’s at least somewhat interesting as is.

Dan Altavilla (pictured here looking like his head was photoshopped onto his body really awkwardly) feels like he’s been around forever. He’s got an arm like a rocket, but otherwise hasn’t been able to put together anything close to consistency (unless “consistently terrible” is what you’re looking for). With the stuff he’s got, combined with the fact that he’s only 27 years old, you can’t really write him off. But, we’ve been waiting around since 2016 when he made his Major League debut; ANY TIME NOW, ALTAVILLA!

Taylor Guilbeau sounds like a made-up name. Not in the way all names are made up, but like a clearly-fake alias a famous person gives a hotel manager when he’s out of town and wants to fuck some prostitutes. He apparently came over in the Roenis Elias trade with the Nationals last year, and got a lot of play in the last two months of 2019. He had two bad outings (resulting in blown saves) but was otherwise fine. Last year was the first time he’d gotten to either AAA or the bigs, so there’s still room to dream with this kid.

Gerson Bautista came over in the Cano/Diaz deal with the Mets, a right savaging of epic proportions. If memory serves, this kid throws hard, but my memory is for shit, so don’t take my word for it. He appeared in 8 games with the M’s last year and sucked, but he’s only 25 years old in May, so let’s hope that’s just a bad start to an otherwise stellar professional career.

Austin Adams came over in a separate deal with the Nationals last year. He’s in the running with Brennan for best reliever who finished the season with the M’s in 2019. It doesn’t seem like he’s got closer potential either though, so I dunno.

Newcomers

  • Yoshihisa Hirano
  • Carl Edwards Jr.
  • Yohan Ramirez

Yoshihisa Hirano is a buy-low candidate on a cheap 1-year deal. He had a great year in Arizona in 2018 as a rookie, but totally fell apart in 2019. After a long, successful career in Japan, he’ll be 36 years old this year and really just trying to maximize the last of his Major League value before presumably retiring or returning to Japan. I wouldn’t expect a lot; maybe we can flip him at the deadline this year if there’s a season and he plays well.

Carl Edwards Jr. was pretty awesome with the Cubs from 2016-2018, but had just a shitty 2019, which led to him signing with the Mariners this past offseason. He’ll only be 28 years old this year, so that makes him a far-more-interesting buy-low candidate than Hirano.

Yohan Ramirez was taken by the Mariners in this past offseason’s Rule 5 Draft from the Astros, so we know a couple things: he’s probably pretty good (though, obviously not good enough for them to protect him), and he knows how to cheat. I want both of those things for the Mariners!

There’s Still Nothing Going On, So Let’s Look At The Mariners’ Roster (Part 2)

In case you missed it, this week’s been a little light on the content side of things. Sue me, there isn’t fuck-all going on. BUT! I did … well, I did a dive a couple days ago (I can’t, and frankly I won’t, call it a Deep Dive, because come on, I’ve been mailing in my Mariners fandom for the better part of a year now) on the position players of note for the hypothetical 2020 season.

If that half-assed effort floats your boat, then have I got quite the solo buttcheek for you now! You’d think, “Hey, he did the everyday players in the first part; I bet he’ll get around to all the pitchers today!” and you’d be partially-correct. Look, I’m not gonna lie to you, this bullpen. I mean, you could’ve picked a dozen names out of the phone book (those things still exist, right?) and slapped ’em down on a page with stock ballplayer photos and I wouldn’t know the difference! So, today we’re gonna stick with the starting rotation candidates, because just the thought of trying to learn about every single one of these fuckers is as exhausting as it is pointless (I say that because – if I stuck with the same categories as the previous post – they’d all belong in the Placeholders section; I have very little faith in any of them sticking around long-term).

For the record, I’m doing away with the categories entirely for the rest of this, because we’re really not dealing with a large number of humans. Okay, enough preamble, let’s do this thing; it’s Quarantine Friday and I’ve got a lot of twiddling my thumbs left to do!

Projected 2020 Rotation

  • Marco Gonzales (LHP)
  • Yusei Kikuchi (LHP)
  • Kendall Graveman (RHP)
  • Justus Sheffield (LHP)
  • Taijuan Walker (RHP)

It’s hard to predict the set order on this thing, because both of the righties are coming off of injuries, and so we don’t know how much the team wants to put on their plates right out of the box. If you numbered them 1-5 in a vacuum, you’d probably put Sheffield third because – as the top Major League-ready starting pitching prospect – he’s a virtual lock to make the team out of Spring Training, but I know how much managers like to split up their rotations so there aren’t too many lefties throwing in a row (and he feels like the safest bet to have his outings limited in both pitch counts and overall appearances, with this being his first real stab at the bigs).

The order, of course, makes no difference after the first week, and will ultimately get jumbled along the way with injuries, ineffectiveness, and other random events (like having a bunch of planned doubleheaders to cram in as many games as possible due to coronavirus delays), so let’s just start at the top and work our way down.

Marco Gonzales. He’s our ace again! Sigh. Listen, I like the guy. He’s a local kid, we got him for relatively cheap in that Cardinals trade, and he’s made pretty steady improvement since he came over in 2017. But, there’s an obvious ceiling here that we have to talk about every time we talk about him (even moreso when he’s the best pitcher in your starting rotation two years running). 2019 was his best year yet, and on any other (good) team he would’ve been a #3 or #4 starter. I won’t say that’s the best he’s capable of, but I also can’t guarantee he continues this (slightly) upward trajectory. If he figures out how increase his strikeout percentage (it actually went down from 2018 to 2019, 7.83 K/9 to 6.52 K/9) I could reasonably see his peak being as a #2; but he’s not an ace. You’re never going to be confident in handing him the ball in Game 1 of any playoff series, and I feel like as far as Eyeball Tests go, that’s all you really need. Just like you know porn when you see it, you know an Ace when you see it, and Marco Gonzales is that old photo of the navy guy kissing that nurse-looking lady on V-J Day in Times Square: it’ll get the job done in a pinch, but you REALLY need to use your imagination!

Yusei Kikuchi. As an elderly veteran rookie from Japan, he had a pretty rough start to his Major League career last year. It wasn’t a complete disaster, because I don’t think it would’ve been fair to put too many expectations on a guy put in that position: new team, new country, all new sets of players to pitch against – the best in the world – plus let’s face it, it’s not like the Mariners were too focused on Wins & Losses. In a rebuild, you just want your prospects to gain valuable experience, show signs of improvement, make adjustments as needed, and most importantly stay healthy. Kikuchi got that experience, and he managed to stay healthy, but I think the concern lies in the other two components: I don’t think he made all that much improvement as the season went along, and I think it was because he tinkered too much when he tried to make adjustments.

The Kikuchi talking points all Spring Traning long – before the world went to shit – was having him settle on one arm angle, one throwing motion, and make that his natural form by repeating it exactly. And, to his credit, reports were pretty positive for him. He accepted the criticism and learned from his first season, and it looks like we could be in for a nice rebound from him. Thankfully, as the M’s are still in rebuild mode, expectations for team success remain low in 2020. But, we REALLY need to see some significant signs of improvement out of Kikuchi if we expect to rely on him during the potential upswing.

Kendall Graveman. You might remember him from so many Oakland A’s teams. He hasn’t pitched a full Major League season since 2016 (indeed, he missed all of 2019 with arm injuries). I remember him being relatively impressive – and indeed he was the A’s Opening Day starter two years in a row – but he’s also not really someone you need to have high expectations for. He’s making $2 million this year, with a club option for 2021 at $3.5 million, which is totally reasonable. I actually really like it as a roll of the dice, because he’s still under 30 years old and if he does well, you’ve got a reliable rotation guy for the next two years at an insanely-low salary. If he gets re-injured or otherwise sucks, then what has he cost you, really?

Justus Sheffield. The Great Mariners Hope! We shipped James Paxton off to the Yankees for him – at the time, the best starter the Mariners had (when he was healthy) – when we started this whole rebuild thing, and of the starting pitchers we’ve since accumulated, Sheffield has the most promise to actually BE that Ace I’ve been talking about. He’s got a live fastball, he’s clearly Major League-ready after pitching in the minors since 2014, but he’s also a Yankees prospect that they willingly traded away (as an intelligently-run organization, they tend to keep the guys who look like the biggest locks to hit it big, while sending away guys who are overrated because they were Yankees prospects in the first place).

He started for the Mariners from late-August onward last year, and was spotty. There isn’t really anything you can hang your hat on with this guy just yet, but here we go! 2020 is the year where he’ll be given every opportunity to grow and learn and try to figure out how to be a Major League starter. Like Kikuchi, you don’t need him to be perfect, but the hope is he’s a better pitcher by season’s end than he is in the early going. How this truncated season will affect him remains to be seen, but considering none outside of the truly insane expect the Mariners to be contending in 2021 either, I think it’s fair to give him at least next year as well to really blossom into someone worthy of that #1 starter’s job.

Taijuan Walker. The move to bring back Walker on a 1-year, $2 million deal REALLY delighted me to no end! Like Graveman, he’s coming off of two SERIOUSLY injury-plagued seasons (making just one appearance in 2019 after only three in 2018), but he’s fully healthy and ready to re-start his career. It’s the perfect buy-low scenario, because again there’s no risk whatsoever, in money or in team reputation (which is in the gutter). Of course, Walker most likely won’t look like the guy we traded to Arizona a few years ago, but that’s what makes this move so interesting. Walker the fireballer was exciting, a real Ace prospect; but we don’t know what Walker the pitcher looks like. Can he finesse his way into a Major League career? He’s only 27 years old. Also, can he get some of that old juice he had back? I wouldn’t ever expect him to hit the upper 90’s on his fastball, but can he work in the 93-94 mph range? That would be truly great, not just for him but for the Mariners (assuming they’d want to extend him longterm if he succeeds this year).

Secondary Starting Prospects

  • Justin Dunn
  • Nestor Cortes
  • Wei-Yin Chen

I’m sure there are countless other options among the rotation candidates for the Tacoma Rainiers, but I’m going to stick to the guys listed on the official Mariners roster depth chart, which rolls eight-deep these days. So, if I left out your favorite prospect, I don’t care.

Justin Dunn. At 24-years old, and one of the more highly-rated prospects in the Mariners’ organization, I feel like the team is in no hurry to rush him to the bigs. He had a cup of coffee in Seattle last year, as a de facto Opener (starting in all four of his appearances, but going no more than 2.0 innings), and really only had one bad outing. I’m sure there’s a vocal segment of M’s fans clamoring for him to open 2020 in the Majors, but he hasn’t even thrown a single pitch in AAA for crying out loud! I’d like to see a little more seasoning on his arm before we start putting a whole trough of food on his plate. Nevertheless, the future looks seriously bright for this kid. If we do end up competing for stuff in 2022, Dunn and Sheffield will be big reasons why.

Nestor Cortes. He’s another former-Yankees prospect who’s had a lot of time in the minors, but very little success in the Majors. For some reason, he’s listed among the starters on the depth chart, but that doesn’t appear to actually be his function. Looks like he might be a long-man out of the bullpen though, and in that role you’d expect him to get his share of spot starts (particularly with all the doubleheaders and whatnot). We traded essentially nothing to get him here, so again, another buy-low lottery ticket.

Wei-Yin Chen. He’s an older fella looking to rebuild his value on a bad team. He hasn’t started a game since 2018, and he signed only a minor league deal with the Mariners. Figure he’s one of these veterans who starts out in Tacoma, and either pitches well enough to earn a call up, or stinks and gets released (with the third option being: he pitches well, the Mariners have no room for him, and he opts out after a month or so to see if he can get a Big League job elsewhere). I dunno what to tell you here, he’s a body. If the shit hits the fan (or MLB expands rosters to handle all the games we end up playing in such a short period of time), I guess it’s good he’s here, but I wouldn’t expect greatness (or, really, even goodness).

Jay Bruce, We Hardly Knew Ye

You know, I had completely forgotten that Jay Bruce’s contract ran through 2020. So sure, I must have been, of his getting traded LONG before that would see the light of day.

The first part of the Big Mariners Step Back took place this past offseason, with Nelson Cruz being allowed to walk, with the trades of Cano & Diaz to the Mets, Paxton to the Yanks, and Segura to the Phillies (among other deals). There’s always more work to be done, but now that the Mariners have gone 12-35 since their 13-2 start, the second phase of the Big Mariners Step Back is ready to commence: jettison as many useless veterans as possible for as many high-ceiling prospects as possible.

When I say that, of course, I don’t really mean USELESS. Jay Bruce is useful! Just not for the purposes of what the Mariners are trying to accomplish in the short term. But, let’s be real, he’s also not great. He’s a 32 year old corner outfielder who hits for a low average and lots of dingers. With that skillset, and a long history of more competent play, Jay Bruce is earning a ridiculous amount of money (due in large part to how broken the free agency system is in Major League Baseball).

Well, now he’s the Phillies’ problem. Or, rather, he’s the Phillies’ fourth outfielder/bat off the bench. In return, the Mariners received A-ball prospect Jake Scheiner, a fourth round pick in 2017 who plays 3rd base, 1st base, and the corner outfield spots. He’ll be 24 in August and will join our high-A squad.

The upside is Scheiner could be our third baseman of the future. Given his age and his adequate defensive skills, that seems pretty ambitious. A more-realistic Best Case Scenario is that he turns into a utility player whose bat forces you to find a spot for him in most lineups.

The downside, of course, is limitless, but that’s the prospect game. You do the best with what you’re given.

Most encouraging, of course, is how we got Scheiner in the first place. Bruce’s deal has him earning $13 million this year and the next. You don’t get anything CLOSE to a prospect like Scheiner without swallowing a large chunk of cash, which is what the Mariners have done, sending along $18 million to make things palatable.

As a Mariners fan, I find that encouraging. There have always been empty gestures here and there of the M’s saying all the right things about wanting to win and get better, but more often than not, it boils down to the money. It has always felt like the Mariners cared more about turning a profit than they have putting a winning product on the field. If both of those things happened to dovetail, then all the better, but profits have always been the #1 priority.

I mean, hell, the most recent such scenario was the Cano deal. We could’ve eaten so much more money and gotten back a king’s ransom for a guy like Edwin Diaz (as it turns out, Jarred Kelenic looks like a superstar in the waiting, but you get the idea). $18 million isn’t chump change. Not for a team this bad, a team that’s REALLY going to struggle to fill out T-Mobile Park this summer.

Anyway, Jay Bruce was good to have around, and he appears to have done a lot of good with our young guys (particularly Daniel Vogelbach, who figures to see the lion’s share of ABs at the DH spot going forward). But, this was always the plan. And Bruce is only the beginning. Reports have already been floated out that the Fire Sale is open for business. Edwin Encarnacion figures to be the next domino to fall. Mike Leake hasn’t done much to help his cause, but he figures to get some sniffs. I have to believe Dee Gordon and Tim Beckham are also up for grabs.

After that, who knows?

The 2019 Mariners Have Even Bigger Ewing Theory Potential Than The 2001 Mariners

All credit to Bill Simmons, let’s go back JUST a bit, to 2001.

To put it in context, we all remember that crazy-wonderful 1995 team that saved baseball in Seattle. In 1996, behind a number of questionable dealings, and one glaring Randy Johnson-sized hole in our rotation, we fell back to Earth a little bit. But, the original core put it all together for a quasi-memorable playoff run that ended in the ALDS. That team was absolutely LOADED, with one of the all-time best power offenses in MLB history (264 homers, 925 runs scored, tops in the league in slugging & OPS), to go along with a healthy Big Unit, a rock-solid complement of starters featuring Jamie Moyer & Jeff Fassero, and a zoo of a bullpen that eventually coalesced into something halfway passable (though it cost us an arm & a leg in deadline deals to make it happen).

If you want to talk about one of the most underrated Seattle sports What Could’ve Been’s, the 1997 Mariners are right at the top. I mean, how does a team with Griffey, Edgar, A-Rod, and Buhner (all at the absolute PEAK of their powers) lose to the Baltimore Orioles in 4 games in the ALDS with Randy Johnson losing TWICE? It’s absolutely unfathomable. You’re telling me that team couldn’t have taken out the Indians and the Marlins for a World Series title? Get real!

Anyway, halfway through the 1998 season, the M’s traded Randy (as opposed to extending him; he would go on to win 4 Cy Young Awards and a World Series title in Arizona) while we slogged through a losing season. Then, after another slog through 1999, Griffey demanded a trade. We somehow managed to parlay that into a 2000 Wild Card finish and an ALCS appearance. Following that, A-Rod walked to the Rangers with a then-record $252 million contract, and in 2001 we somehow managed to parlay it into a tie for the most wins in a season in MLB history.

I now refer you back to that Bill Simmons article, which was actually written in the early stages of that 2001 season. Sometimes, freaky shit like this happens! The Mariners dropped three of their most talented players of all time – in the primes of their respective careers – and somehow improved. What the shit is that?!?

Fast forward to 2019. The Mariners just rid themselves of – or are otherwise playing without – the following guys:

  • Robinson Cano
  • Nelson Cruz
  • Edwin Diaz
  • Kyle Seager
  • Jean Segura
  • James Paxton
  • Alex Colome

Those are just the BEST guys, or ostensibly the guys who are supposed to be the best. That doesn’t even factor other bullpen arms, Mike Zunino, various other Quad-A outfielders, and so on and so forth. But those 7 guys up there are pretty huge. And yet, the 2019 Mariners are now 10-2 and absolutely DESTROYING everyone in their path!

Now, as it relates to this team’s 2001 Ewing Theory status, at least that team was coming off of a playoff appearance. THIS team is coming off of zero playoff appearances in 18 years!

Of course, the question is: How long can this continue? As I’ve written about ad nauseam so far, it’s only a matter of time. But, then again, who knows?

What we do know is that this offense is raking through 11 games, having hit 5 more homers last night en route to another lopsided victory. +37 in run differential is now the best in all of baseball, and from what we heard all last year, that’s the most important indicator of a team’s success, right?

So, maybe instead I should be asking: How long can this offense keep it up?

I don’t have a good answer for you there, but I hope it’s forever. If they are indeed the Best Offense In Baseball, then I think we’ll have to shift expectations for where this team can end up. Either way, at this point I’m glad I didn’t bet on the over/under for season wins, because I’m pretty sure I would’ve taken UNDER 74.5, and I’d be looking like an idiot right now.

Tempering Expectations For This Mariners Rebuild

What interests me most about the game of baseball is the long game. In football, you’ve got rosters twice the size of a baseball team, yet we see it every year: teams going from worst to first. You can turn around a football team in one offseason! But, in baseball, it takes seemingly forever (and, for an organization like the Mariners, LITERALLY forever).

I did a big, long post about the first successful Mariners rebuild. I originally wrote that in 2013, when we all were hopeful that we were in the middle of the next successful Mariners rebuild. There were so many moves made between the nadir of this franchise (2008) and the next time you could legitimately say the Mariners were in contention for the post-season (2014, when we finished 87-75, just 1 game back of a Wild Card spot) that it truly boggles the mind.

That rebuild was ultimately a failure. It produced three winning seasons between 2014 and 2018, and zero playoff appearances. Following last year’s collapse, Jerry Dipoto made a bunch of moves to jettison veterans and infuse the farm system with prospects. Our veteran holdovers include names like Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc, Roenis Elias, Dan Altavilla, and Dan Vogelbach; most (if not all) of those players will not be on this team the next time it reaches the post-season.

So, we’re stuck rooting for prospects. Rooting for potential. Rooting for the young guys to step up and prove themselves not just worthy of Major League roster spots, but ultimately good enough to get this team back to the playoffs one day (ideally one day very soon). Jerry Dipoto is staking his reputation and his job on these players. If it all falls apart like it did last time, he, Scott Servais, and a bunch of other very smart baseball men will be looking for employment elsewhere.

As I noted, we’ve been through this before. So, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

See, it can be fun and exciting knowing your team is out of it before the season even begins. First, there’s no expectations, so any on-field success you see is all gravy. Then, of course, there’s the factor of the unknown. New, young players you’ve never seen before are ALWAYS more interesting than old veterans who’ve been around for years. We pretty much know what guys like Seager, Healy, Felix, and Leake are; there’s nothing to learn about those guys. So, we pin all our hopes and dreams on the prospects. We want to see them in a Major League uniform right this minute, to pump them full of experience with the hopes that they’ll pan out immediately. This can lead to guys getting called up too early (a la Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Matt Tuiasosopo, etc.) or guys just being huge disappointments.

Let’s start with the 2008 season, the aforementioned nadir. That team lost 101 games and we were all miserable. Successful players like Felix, Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez, Jose Lopez, and even Yuniesky Betancourt were no match for the suck-asses that were Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro, Jeremy Reed, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, Erik Bedard, and so on. General Manager Bill Bavasi was fired, and The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild was on!

2009 proved to be a welcome surprise. Franklin Gutierrez was brought over in a trade, as was Jason Vargas (Doug Fister was one of the rare Bavasi draft picks that stuck in the org and actually panned out). Ichiro was still Ichiro! Russell Branyan and David Aardsma were quality pick-ups. Even the return of Ken Griffey Jr. for a victory lap proved valuable. That 85-win season led everyone (but the stat geeks, who knew those wins were on a shaky foundation) to believe we were way ahead of the curve on this rebuild. So much so that Jackie Z decided to make a big push to go for it in 2010.

We traded for Cliff Lee! We got rid of Carlos Silva and brought back a useful piece in Milton Bradley! Our young core of starters (Felix, Vargas, and Fister) were bolstered with key bullpen additions like Brandon League, Jamey Wright, and Sean White. So, what happened? The team fell apart (ultimately losing another 101 games; in hindsight, a second go-around with Old Griffey proved disasterous) and shipped off anyone of value for prospects. Lee was flipped for Justin Smoak (among others). Our high draft pick was used on a pitcher who got hurt so many times he never made the Bigs. And The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild 2.0 was on.

2011 was a key year for the rebuild, as the team REALLY went for it this time. Taking a stroll through that roster is long and arduous. Ichiro, Miguel Olivo, Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, and Adam Kennedy were the veteran everyday players; Felix, Vargas, Bedard, and Fister were still holding down the rotation (though Fister would be swapped for a bunch of nobodies at the deadline; yet another example of a trade that totally backfired for the Mariners); and League, Wright, and David Pauley (among others) were the steady influences in the bullpen. But, the young guys were the stars of the show. 2008 first rounder Dustin Ackley was called up midseason, as was Kyle Seager. Justin Smoak was handed the first base job. Guti started his slow descent into an injured adulthood. Then, there were guys like Michael Saunders, Greg Halman, Alex Liddi, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Chris Gimenez, Carlos Peguero, Adam Moore, Mike Wilson and more. On the pitching side of things, Michael Pineda was an All Star, but then there were guys like Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush (remember when he was a starting pitcher?), a younger Tom Wilhelmsen, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes, Chance Ruffin, and Shawn Kelley.

Those were all the players we hung our hats on. How many of them actually panned out? You can count them on one hand. How many of them panned out for the Seattle Mariners? That number is even smaller.

2012 saw the influx of guys like Jesus Montero (swapped for Michael Pineda), Hector Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez, Lucas Luetge, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, and John Jaso. They were paired with the holdovers like Smoak, Seager, Ackley, Felix, Vargas, Ichiro (starting his decline) and Figgins (at the end of his miserable Mariners career).

Then, there’s 2013, with prospects like Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino (a year after being drafted), Brandon Maurer, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. Veterans like Kendrys Morales, Endy Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, Jason Bay, Jeremy Bonderman, and Hisashi Iwakuma saw extensive playing time, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. The old guys didn’t do enough (and most were gone in short order), and the young guys (predictably) never panned out for this team.

So, please, keep all these duds in mind as we go forward. You’re going to hear A LOT of new names you’re not familiar with in 2019 and 2020. The team is going to tout these players as The Future; don’t believe ’em. The vast majority of these players will be more in a long line of losers that help to keep the Seattle Mariners out of the post-season.

Some guys will be promising, only to fall flat on their asses the following year when expectations are raised and other teams learn how to handle them. Some guys will be promising only to suffer devastating injuries that hinders their development. Some of those injured guys will be brought back too soon, only to struggle and lose their confidence. Some guys will just flat-out stink from the get-go. One, maybe two guys, will be okay. But, they won’t be enough. They’ll just embolden this organization to spend a bunch of money when the time “feels right”. At that point, some flashy veterans will be brought in to supplement our future “rising stars” and we’ll go through the process of “contending (for a wild card spot)” all over again.

The Mariners are never going to be the Astros or Cubs or Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers. They’re closer to the Athletics and Rays than anything else, just a Major League farm club for better-run organizations. The tremendous amount of luck required to turn us into one of those truly good teams isn’t ingrained in the city of Seattle and its sports teams. The best we can hope for is competent mediocrity.

The best we’re going to get is just outside, looking in.

Let’s Take An Early Look At The Mariners’ Starting Rotation 2019

Last week, I wrote about the difference between the 2018 everyday lineup and the projected 2019 everyday lineup. TL;DR: drastically worse at a few spots, slight improvement at a few spots, banking on bounce-back years from a lot of veteran guys. If you squint, you can sort of make out a Major League lineup with this group of guys, though I still find the reduction of power worrisome.

The pitching staff has been shaken up quite a bit as well compared to 2018. While the bullpen won’t be settled until we’re deep into Spring Training, the starting rotation is more or less on the 40-man roster as we speak, so I feel pretty safe in getting into this.

Gone from 2018 Roster

  • James Paxton
  • Erasmo Ramirez
  • Ariel Miranda
  • Hisashi Iwakuma

Starting from the bottom, Iwakuma didn’t throw a single inning for the Mariners in 2018, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t work his ass off all year to try to come back from injury! That ship has officially sailed, as he’s back in Japan to close out his professional career. He was always a longshot anyway, so getting nothing out of him last year feels pretty appropriate. He was nevertheless a quality starter for this team for a number of years.

Ariel Miranda spent most of last year in the minors, making only one start in Seattle. He has since asked out of the organization, to also pitch in Japan in 2019. It was somewhat surprising, after all he did in 2017 as a guy who wasn’t supposed to make the team, then ended up pitching most of the year in Seattle due to injuries. But, the rotation stayed mostly healthy in 2018, and Miranda just couldn’t find a way to make the leap. It’s not a substantial loss, as he’s really a Quad-A player, but it hurts this team’s depth, no question.

Erasmo Ramirez was supposed to be a starter out of Spring Training last year, but got hurt, and kept having setbacks throughout an overall disappointing year. He closed out 2017 strong, but never got it going in his 10 starts in 2018. The team let him walk, as he rightly wasn’t deserving of a raise in arbitration. Let’s hope this is the last time we sign up for the Erasmo Ramirez Experience.

The big loss, obviously, is our ace – James Paxton – getting traded to the Yankees. He has yet to stay healthy for a full year (28 starts in 2018 was as close as he’s gotten), but when he’s on, there are few better in the game today. The Mariners haven’t really filled this part of their rotation – 2019 should prove to be ace-less – but the hope is one of the younger guys steps up in the next couple years.

Holdovers from 2018

  • Marco Gonzales
  • Mike Leake
  • Felix Hernandez
  • Wade LeBlanc
  • Roenis Elias

Starting from the top, I think this is how you’d rank these guys heading into 2019. Marco Gonzales had a rough go after the trade in 2017, but with all of 2018 to develop and get better, he really stepped up and proved a lot of people wrong, myself included. He’s still young – he’ll be 27 this year – but already he’s proven to be a reliable #3-type starter. As he ages, you figure that total innings number will grow (he had 166.2 last year), so the name of the game is staying healthy, refining his approach, and continuing to battle. He’ll never be an ace, but it wouldn’t shock me if he took another step forward at some point to be a quality #2 starter in this league.

Mike Leake, when he’s on, is probably this team’s best starter. He made 31 starts last year and 18 of them were of the Quality variety. 9 of those starts were 7 innings or more, with 2 runs allowed or less. His problem, obviously, is that when he’s NOT on, he’s about as bad as you can get. 5 of his starts went less than 5 innings, and were some real turds. At 31 years of age, he is who he is at this point, which again is right in that #3 starter sort of range.

Felix has had a rough go of it the last couple years. 2017 was largely related to injuries, 2018 was largely related to ineffectiveness. He’s in the final year of his huge contract, and it’s hard to imagine he’s going to get any better than he was last year. 155.2 innings over 28 starts (and 1 relief appearance that was like a start, as he came in for an injured Paxton in the first inning). He had 8 Quality Starts, but only 3 of those really special Felix Quality Starts (7+, 2 or less). A lot has been made of the dwindling speed on his fastball, but it’s his command more than anything that’s let him down, as teams lay off his off-speed stuff and totally beat him into submission with anything else. He gave up 27 homers last year, easily a career high, while his K/9 is all the way down to 7.23. More often than not, he’s gutting his way through 5 innings, but one of those innings (usually the first) will be absolutely miserable for everyone involved. We’re running out the clock on this guy, and it couldn’t be sadder.

Wade LeBlanc got a nifty little extension last year after entering the rotation and putting up some really quality numbers. He made 27 starts and for the most part kept this team in ballgames. At this point, he’s anywhere from a #3 to a #5 starter, but at that price point and with those results, you’ll take that all day every day. He may not be a long-term solution, but he’s not a bad guy to have around on a team like this, with absolutely no expectations whatsoever.

Roenis Elias is back on another Arb year contract and figures to start the season in the bullpen. With the way this roster has shaken out, he figures to get a good share of spot starts, but at this point he’s no better than a #5 guy who on a good team would still be in AAA (assuming he has options, which I don’t know if he does or not). Either way, as a long reliever, you could do worse, particularly with this group of guys, all of which are capable of absolute duds on any given night.

Incoming 2019

  • Yusei Kikuchi
  • Justus Sheffield
  • Erik Swanson

The big name – and the lock to make the Opening Day Starting Rotation – is Kikuchi. He’s not an ace, but he probably tops out as a solid #2, which if he does that in his first MLB season would be a remarkable achievement. For 2019, it’s probably better to temper expectations. But, if he pans out, it’ll be a big reason for this team’s theoretical turnaround.

Sheffield is the big name from the Paxton deal with the Yankees. If anyone on this 40-man roster is destined to turn into an ace, he’s it. He’s the highest-rated pitching prospect in this organization, and unless someone I haven’t heard of comes from out of nowhere, our next ace is either Sheffield or it’s someone not currently under the Mariners umbrella. Now, early projections aren’t great – it’s far from a guarantee that Sheffield unlocks his full potential – but for now he’s the great Mariners hope. I wouldn’t expect greatness in 2019; just cross your fingers and pray for nominal improvement.

Swanson also came over in the Paxton trade and is flying WAY under the radar, which I think actually bodes well for his future in the organization. He’s right there on the same level as Sheffield, but he’s a little less raw in his approach. The higher floor/lower ceiling guy of the two, but people are already saying he has a chance to contend for a starting spot out of Spring Training. He probably needs an injury to cement that opportunity, but it’s nevertheless a good sign. Figure the Mariners at some point will get a good look at both of these guys in a Major League uniform in 2019, but odds are they’ll both start the season in Tacoma.

Outlook

Here’s my prediction for the 5-man rotation out of Spring Training:

  1. Marco Gonzales
  2. Mike Leake
  3. Yusei Kikuchi
  4. Felix Hernandez
  5. Wade LeBlanc

Also Known As: a rotation full of #3 starters!

It’s going to be really interesting, because we more or less have a solid, professional everyday lineup, combined with a solid, professional rotation. There likely won’t be any breakout stars among these five guys in 2019, but I think they’ll keep you in ballgames more often than not. At this point, I think Scott Servais has a pretty good handle on the four holdovers – he knows when to pull them from games, just as he knows when he can squeeze out a little extra – so he’s not going to (for instance), let the ship go down with a poor Felix outing. He has no qualms about yanking him in the first or second inning if need be, just as he has no qualms about sticking him in the bullpen for a spell until he finds his command again. So, I think you could certainly field a respectable overall team with this group of guys … for about 5-6 innings every game. After that, WHO THE HELL KNOWS WITH THIS BULLPEN?!

As the Mariners drastically over-achieved in 2018 thanks to the strength of our back-end relievers, so may this team fall apart with the lack thereof. We’ll get to that in another post, likely as we’re deeper into Spring Training.

But, competing in 2019 isn’t really important to me. In that sense, I really only care about Felix (because I always care about Felix), Marco (to confirm he still has at least what he had in 2018, but hopefully to see some improvement), and Kikuchi (to see how he adjusts to the switch to American baseball, as well as to see if he’s worth the committment both financially and in the number of years on his contract).

The crux is: how do the younger guys look? Will Sheffield and Swanson pan out? Can they make an immediate impact, so in 2020 we’re looking at a rotation that looks something like this:

  1. Justus Sheffield
  2. Yusei Kikuchi
  3. Marco Gonzales
  4. Erik Swanson
  5. Wade LeBlanc

In this hypothetical scenario, Felix retires and we find a taker for Leake (ideally at the 2019 deadline for a starter-needy team, who is willing to flip us a nice little prospect and take on the remainder of his salary). I think this is the best-case scenario for the Mariners’ prospects of contending in 2021 and beyond, because it means Sheffield becomes our ace, Kikuchi is as advertised, Gonzales is our bulldog in the middle, and Swanson is our underrated #4 guy with #3 or #2 stuff (and LeBlanc is still keeping us in ballgames).

Obviously, EVERYTHING has to go right for this to happen at such an accelerated pace, so don’t count on it looking even remotely like this in 2020. But, that’s what this year is for: it’s time to dream as big as possible … so we can have our hearts broken again and again and again.

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 James Paxton, The Next Great Rebuild Is On

James Paxton to the Yankees
Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, and Dom Thompson-Williams to the Mariners

So, yeah, this is what we all wanted, right?  Stop pussy-footing around, trying to merely contend for a wild card spot, and start tearing things down to rebuild the foundation even stronger in the seasons to come.  Will the Mariners suck in 2019?  Absolutely.  Were they going to be worth a damn anyway, if we’d re-signed Nelson Cruz, maybe brought in a guy or two from free agency, and tried to run it back with the same core of guys?  Probably not.  The Mariners were going to suck – or at best be mediocre – for years to come; I’d rather they REALLY suck and hope to hit on some young prospects, while waiting out the Astros and A’s and whoever else who are already good now, and figure to be good for a long time.

I’ll start with this:  James Paxton had to be one of the first to go.  That guy is a walking injury waiting to happen, he’s at the peak of his value as a front-line, ace-type starter, so we had to get him out of here while his arm was still attached to his body.  Counting on him to survive a full Major League Baseball season is unrealistic, because he’s literally never been able to do it to date.  Does that mean he’ll NEVER do it?  No; I’m sure as soon as 2019 he’ll be a Cy Young contender.  But, over the long haul, he’s going to be on the DL more than his fair share of times, and it would’ve been frustrating to try and root for the guy who can never stay healthy for longer than a month or two.

There’s also the very real possibility that the Yankees figure something out about his mechanics or whatever and fix him, so he goes on to have a Randy Johnson-esque career in his 30’s.  Never rule out the ineptitude of the Mariners’ organization and its coaching staff.

As for the return?  It’s underwhelming.  It was always going to be underwhelming.

For starters, I’ll agree with what Mike Salk has said on 710 ESPN:  I also hate trading for Yankee prospects because they ARE the most over-hyped prospects in the game.  Now, part of that is due to the fact that they manage to find so many diamonds in the rough; their great teams are ALWAYS built on homegrown talent.  So, yes, they do have an eye for it, but more importantly, they keep what’s going to work best for them, and they ship off the duds.

So, yeah, Justus Sheffield might be their best prospect NOW, but Jesus Montero was once their best prospect.  It might be a down period for Yankee prospects (because so many of them have made it to the Major League level in recent seasons).  Sheffield has also been traded twice in his young career; are we sure we want to get too excited about a guy that two teams have already given up on?

Sure, he COULD be the next James Paxton, but he could also be a back-end of the rotation nothing.  He throws UP to 97 miles per hour, but how much do you want to bet he actually sits closer to 93-94?  And that doesn’t even go into how trading for ANY pitching prospect is risky business, with all the injuries that befall pitchers nowadays.

The bottom line is, scouts around the game feel he likely tops out as a #2 starter, whatever that means.  I guess it means he’s not going to be one of the top 10-15 starters in the league.  For the purposes of the Mariners’ organization, he’ll likely be our #1, but he’s a #1 starter like Freddy Garcia was once a #1.  It all depends on the rotation; someone’s gotta go on opening day.

That’s already underwhelming, and I haven’t even gotten to the throw-ins.  Erik Swanson is another pitcher who’s already been traded twice in his career.  He’s yet to actually make any Major League appearances, though (whereas Sheffield at least made it into 3 games in relief towards the end of last year).  Swanson did pretty good in AAA last year – and both of these guys figure to at least get a look in Spring Training in 2019 – but I’d bet the family farm that he starts out in Tacoma.  Swanson is projected to be a back-end of the rotation starter at best, with some guys projecting him to eventually end up in the bullpen.  In which case, whoop-dee-freaking-doo.

Then there’s Dom Thompson-Williams, an outfielder who made it all the way to the high-A level last year.  He’s young-ish, but probably should’ve made it higher than he has.  He figures to start in AA in 2019 and I guess we’ll see.  They say he plays center, but he projects more as a corner outfielder, and ultimately probably a 4th outfielder at the Major League level.  Either way, don’t expect to see him on the Mariners before 2020 or 2021.

Which, incidentally, is what Jerry Dipoto said is the target for the Mariners to start turning it back around again.  We’ll see.  That sounds pretty optimistic.

As I said up top, I’m all for trading Paxton, but I dunno.  Maybe we could’ve held off until AFTER Thanksgiving to see what we could get.  Is this really the best deal out there?  Are we sure there wasn’t another team willing to chip in just a little bit more?  Obviously, we were limited.  The teams who’d be in on Paxton are the teams who feel they’re World Series contenders RIGHT NOW.  There wouldn’t have been any rebuilding teams, or middling wild card teams in on him, because those teams would be looking for better bets on long-term health.  The Yankees are just hoping Paxton can keep it together for 1-2 years; if he has that in him, maybe they go to the World Series next year.  Or, if he lands on the DL a bunch in 2019, they can always trade him next off-season to recoup whatever they can get.

My thing is, the Mariners believe in their ability to develop players more than I believe in them.  The Mariners probably feel like they can get the most out of Sheffield, that with their coaches, they can turn him into an ace.  I’ll tell you right now, that’s not gonna happen.  Developing fringe talent into stars is probably the WORST thing the Mariners do.  Killing it on social media, engaging with the fans, having cool ballpark give-aways, celebrating their retired stars?  That’s more in their wheelhouse.  It’s fine, we all have our special talents.  Being good at baseball just isn’t one of the Mariners’.

Of course, I’m talking out of my ass, because I haven’t seen any of these guys play at all.  They could shock the world and prove Jerry Dipoto to be a genius.  Based on precedent, I have my doubts.  I’m a Mariners fan, and as such I’m destined to always root for a loser.