Jarred Kelenic’s Tacoma Rainiers Career Is Complete

Word has been trickling out this week that Jarred Kelenic is going to be called up to play for the Seattle Mariners on Thursday, May 13, 2021. Assuming this is true, if you live in/around the Tacoma area and failed to go to a Rainiers game in the last week, it looks like you missed your opportunity to see Kelenic play for cheap.

The Rainiers have gone 3-3 against the El Paso Chihuahuas over the 6-game homestand. In that time, Kelenic had 27 at bats, posting the following line:

  • .370/.414/.630/1.043, 10 hits (1 double, 2 homers), 5 RBI, 6 Runs, 2 stolen bases, 2 walks, and 5 strikeouts

The standard rhetoric from Jerry Dipoto and the rest of the Mariners brass – before and after the whole Kevin Mather hullabaloo – has been something to the effect of: we’re not straying from our plan, we want to make sure Kelenic is REALLY SUPER-DUPER READY so we’re not losing a year of team control somehow setting him back in his development, and we just really want to see how he handles the AAA level.

Well. Based on those numbers, I’d say he handled the AAA level pretty well.

The long national nightmare is over, Mariners fans! Jarred Kelenic is finally getting his opportunity (are you SURE you don’t want to see how he handles a AAA road trip? Or are six home games enough?), the Mariners control his rights through the 2027 season, and now they can begin the long road of trying to rebuild and repair the relationship.

Kelenic is a surefire stud and future MLB superstar. I have no doubt in my mind! When 2027 rolls around, he’s going to command the highest salary in Major League history, and he’s going to be worth it. So, Mariners, can we PLEASE try not to fuck things up anymore than you already have?

In the meantime, the M’s are 18-18, with one more game down in Los Angeles to go later tonight. After a 13-8 start, we’ve gone on a 5-10 skid, as luck and regression have not been our friends. We’re currently third in the A.L. West, 3.5 games behind Oakland for the lead. Would the Mariners’ record be any better with Kelenic up here from day one? Given the number of skids we’ve had to play in left field at times, I think unquestionably! Will any of these games we’ve given away come back to haunt us down the line? That remains to be seen.

From a team standpoint, playing around .500 ball in the pre-Kelenic portion of the season is probably better than our wildest dreams could’ve conjured up, especially when you factor in the vast number of pitching injuries we’ve had to sustain in such a short and unfortunate time. Kelenic won’t solve all of our ills, but sometimes a hotshot young player gets called up and lights a fire under an exciting and volatile team. I’m hoping that’s the case going forward.

2021 isn’t about contention. It’s about gaining experience and knowledge about which players are legitimate parts of the rebuild vs. which ones are trade fodder or future roster casualties. Nevertheless, 2021 isn’t NOT about contention either. We’re not tanking for draft picks. We’d LOVE to foster a culture of winning. And, above all, sports are supposed to be entertainment. There’s a lot of season left, and I, for one, would love it if the Mariners remained entertaining. Frankly, they’re only entertaining when they’re winning, so let’s get back to doing that. I know Jarred Kelenic can help in this charge.

The Mariners Absolutely Must Fire President Kevin Mather Immediately

I don’t come to these types of reactionary decisions lightly. I’m not waiting around, scrolling Twitter all day, just looking for something to be offended by. Indeed, when I come across something that either already has blown up, or clearly WILL blow up in the very near future, I tend to chuckle and think, “Well, that person just ended their own life.”

These types of responses – so and so must be fired immediately – get lumped in with this phony concept of Cancel Culture. For starters, it doesn’t exist. No one is ever canceled; at worst, they go in Time Out for a while and then get to resume earning a living again. If Brett Ratner can get another job directing a major motion picture, if Mel Gibson can be welcomed back into the Hollywood fold, if Louis C.K. can start touring again after a nine-month vacation, you tell me who’s really canceled. Beyond that, you know who NEVER seems to get canceled? Good people. Isn’t that strange? It’s only the fucking assholes, or the idiots who can’t keep their mouths shut and need to boost their own egos constantly who end up taking themselves down (for a period of time). Furthermore, if you don’t know how the game is played by now, it’s your own fault. If you do or say shitty things, you will be exposed eventually … SO JUST DON’T DO OR SAY SHITTY THINGS! Because it very much is a game, and you’re losing if you get found out; there’s no money in being a martyr. Just because good people don’t get canceled doesn’t mean there aren’t bad people absolutely THRIVING; they’re just smart enough to know how the world works.

In fact, I’m annoyed that Kevin Mather’s speech at the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club (whatever the FUCK that is; I’m assuming it’s full of the absolute worst of what this area has to offer, when it comes to entitled wealthy pricks) is even SLIGHTLY brushing up against racism, because while he’s certainly being one of those entitled wealthy pricks in his comments about Iwakuma (and other players, not noted in the link above; go find the full transcript for all of his bon mots), and while those are indeed fireable sentiments, I’m not here to tell you what you don’t already know: rich old white guy looks down on those from other ethnicities, news at 11.

I think Kevin Mather should be fired because he’s fucking terrible at his job!

When you are a president of something, your primary job is to be a leader. Handing out all of the Mariners’ internal secrets – when it comes to sabotaging a player’s service time, when it comes to exposing (in broad strokes) the organization’s financial situation, when it comes to fucking badmouthing your employees (you know, the guys you rely on to play the fucking game of baseball) – that’s not being a leader. I mean, in political terms, it’s the baseball equivalent of Joe Biden handing all of our nuclear codes to the Russians; Kevin Mather is helping THE REST OF THE LEAGUE destroy the Mariners.

If you’re a player in the organization, how can you trust anything that anyone says, from manager Scott Servais, to GM Jerry Dipoto, to primary owner and CEO John Stanton? If you are a free agent, why would you ever sign with a team that has this much contempt for its players? IT’S ALREADY HARD ENOUGH TO GET FREE AGENTS TO COME TO FUCKING SEATTLE! Because we’re so far out of the way, because we’ve sucked for almost the entirety of this organization’s existence, and because the weather is fucking shit! Now you’re chopping off both of the organization’s arms and legs, tossing us a sword, and telling us to go fight?

Someone who WANTED to get fired, who went into his boss’s office and shat on his desk and motherfuckered everyone in the most public and ostentatious way possible couldn’t have done a better job than what Mather did at this meaningless online event. He name-drops just about everyone, and NOT in a good way; in fact, he has something derogatory to say about just about everyone.

The thing is, did he lie? As far as I can tell, no. He said what everyone was already thinking. We knew there was no chance that any of the high-level prospects were going to get a shot at the Major Leagues in 2020. We knew that Jarred Kelenic wouldn’t likely be called up until May of 2021, to ensure that the Mariners control his services through 2027. We knew, financially, the Mariners are in good shape, because they have a controlling stake in their own cable channel that earns them countless millions of dollars that they get to hide from the rest of the league (there’s no profit-sharing in Regional Sports Networks; that’s all M’s, baby!). But, you can’t say those things out loud! Major League Baseball has another huge collective bargaining agreement to work out with the player’s union very soon! Do you think the rest of the league wants this type of dirty laundry aired for all to see (and to be used against them)?!

What galls me is that Kevin Mather talked about how confident he is that the Mariners are going to be world champions with this group. First of all, don’t you God damn jinx it! Secondly, if you’re ostensibly so high on these players, why are you making it nearly impossible for them to want to stick around longer than they absolutely have to? Why do I envision some of these guys refusing to play, and forcing their way out of Seattle eventually? Why do I see those championship hopes slipping through our fingers like the sands of fucking time, because one way or another we’re going to shoot ourselves in the fucking foot?

That’s what this is: the ultimate act of self-sabotage. His comments are no good for the Seattle Mariners organization BECAUSE they are the truth. They are the truth and everyone knows it, because there are 29 other MLB organizations who feel the same way about their own players (the only difference is, the other 29 presidents aren’t so fucking STUPID as to speak these words into a recorded Zoom meeting – allegedly while not knowing that it was being recorded in the first place, because he’s old and technologically inept). In that sense, this is the most Mariners thing he could have possibly done. The Mariners are ALWAYS fucking things up for themselves, in new and profoundly shocking and moronic ways. It’s like we’re fucking allergic to winning!

I am usually inclined to give people a second chance, if they speak out of turn or let some small thing slip out in conversation, or if something is taken out of context, but we’re talking about a keynote speech. This isn’t something he just blurted into a hot mic; this is something he worked on and maybe even rehearsed. To not know that this would get out into the world is BEYOND arrogant and/or asinine, because EVERYTHING gets out into the world! Shit man, even Ted Cruz can’t sneak away to Cancun for a weekend – abandoning his state in its time of need like the miserable fucking snake oil salesman that he is – without his picture (ON THE PLANE) circulating throughout every corner of the Internet. You think, you, Kevin Mather, are somehow exempt from the world that is 2021?

Of course, I had completely forgotten about how Mather was wrapped up in that sexual harassment scandal (and somehow got away scot-free with his employment with the organization intact). I was going to say that even though this is his first strike (it would, in fact, be his second strike … that we are aware of), he needs to be fired immediately, because this goes above and beyond damaging to the Seattle Mariners. It’s fucking sabotage.

His apology (riddled with spelling and grammatical errors as it is; perhaps he needs an English interpreter to help him with his statements) is meaningless. It’s also the first time he’s lied to us in this entire ordeal. Those comments are his own, because they are also reflective of the Seattle Mariners’ organization. They come off of years of strategy meetings and conversations with the rest of the higher ups, formulating their plan on how to run this rebuild. He can work to make amends all he wants, but that needs to be done with a pink slip in his back pocket.

Kevin Mather clearly can’t be trusted with delicate, valuable information related to the Seattle Mariners. Furthermore, I don’t know of a damn thing he has EVER done that makes him worthy of keeping his job. The best thing you could say about Mather up to this point is that he managed to stay OUT of the news (again, aside from the sexual harassment scandal). That’s something Chuck Armstrong – his predecessor – couldn’t seem to accomplish, as he kept sticking his big foot in his mouth in seemingly every interview. But, to blow up whatever good will he’d built up in such spectacular fashion is akin to striking out the side on a single pitch.

ONETWOTHREESTRIKESYOU’REOUT, Kevin Mather. I know you’re only fluent in Dumb, but I trust you won’t need anyone else to spell it out for you to help you understand.

Let’s Be Patient, Mariners Fans

Look, I’m right there with you. I’ve been there with you the entire time (and by “entire time” I mean I jumped on the bandwagon in the late summer of 1995 like a lot of other people in the Pacific Northwest who weren’t necessarily baseball fans until there was a professional team around here actually worth watching). I’ve ENDURED losing season after losing season, mediocre season after mediocre season, and those handful of seasons where we came oh so close to breaking the playoff drought.

I started this fucking BLOG in large part due to the Mariners and their ineptitude! I needed an outlet for my rage, the M’s were my vessel, and Richie Sexson in 2008 was my inspiration. I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t furious with this organization; even in 2001 – in the midst of a 116-win season – I was pissing and moaning about all the moves the M’s didn’t make mid-season to push us over the hump!

I can’t say I’m the biggest Mariners fan, nor would I want to. I haven’t been around since the beginning. I have no idea what this team looked like in the 80’s, other than various blooper clips that have seeped into my subconscious over the years. But these last 20 years have FELT like a fucking lifetime in and of itself.

I. FEEL. YOUR. PAIN.

And, obviously, I have no skin in the game. I’m not paid by the Mariners. I’m not in the practice of writing puff pieces defending this team. Do I sometimes let my annoying homer side get the best of me, succumbing to rare bouts of optimism when things are going or looking good? Sure, who doesn’t? Why be a fan if there wasn’t some small sliver of hope that our team will one day win it all before our bones have turned to ash? The thing is, we have no choice but to talk ourselves into the next plan of action working! It’s not like we have any say in matters of personnel. Sometimes flukey shit happens. Sometimes the stars align.

Sports fandom is, like, 90% belief, 5% crushing disappointment, and 5% watching the games.

So, believe me when I say this: I don’t come to this argument lightly. But, it’s clearly in all of our best interests to be patient, let the rebuild play itself out, and let’s just see what happens.

I’m not saying you have to trust in Jerry Dipoto & Co. Remain skeptical! Why wouldn’t you? What have they done to earn your trust?

But, now is not time to jump the gun. In spite of the improvement we saw in a weird 2020 season, in spite of MLB increasing the number of playoff teams, in spite of all the glowing reports about our farm system: this team isn’t ready. It may “contend” in 2021 – in the same way that almost all American League teams will contend, if indeed 8 out of 15 teams continue to make it into the postseason – but this isn’t a legitimate championship squad just yet.

And, frankly, I know we’re all looking at 2022 as the goal for finally making the playoffs, but maybe we should be pumping the brakes on that too. You never know with young players how long it’s going to take for them to finally pop. It came out over the last week that the Mariners have five players ranked in the Top 100 Prospects per Baseball America, including two in the top five (Julio Rodriguez, 3; Jarred Kelenic, 4). Will all five of those guys pan out? Hell, will both of J-Rod and Kelenic pan out? I will believe it when I see it.

But, the important thing to remember is: you can’t see it if they’re not out there playing for you. You can’t go out there and sign an outfielder or two when you’ve already got Kyle Lewis (2020 Rookie of the Year) and Mitch Haniger (back from injury in 2021 and looking buffer than ever), on top of two prospects in the minor league top five!

Do you want to go out and sign a starting pitcher or two, to help fill out your rotation? Why would you do that when you have Logan Gilbert (35) and Emerson Hancock (57) in your farm system? Gilbert is ready to jump to the Major Leagues THIS season! Hancock is still a couple years away, but that’s about when you’d expect this team to start contending for real. There are also countless pitching prospects outside of the top 100 (remember, the Mariners have been going HARD in the draft on pitching the last few years); I’m not saying all of these guys will pan out, but one or two might! That’s on top of Justus Sheffield, who took a major step forward in his development in 2020, and Justin Dunn, who is just getting started and nevertheless showed real improvement in his first full season.

All of these guys are young and inexperienced. You want to see what you have, so you know who to keep and who to later flip for other players who can come in here and help this team win at the Major League level.

It doesn’t hurt the Mariners one bit to be regarded as having one of the very best farm systems in all of baseball. Only a small handful of teams have as many as five players in Baseball America’s Top 100, and the M’s are one of them! That reputation is only going to be an asset going forward when the guys we know are rockstars are at the Major League level and producing in a major way. Other teams will see that and wonder who else we’re hiding in the basement of this organization. You didn’t hear it from me, but it rubs the lotion on its skin.

In a way, I do see the other side of the argument. There’s nothing stopping the Mariners from signing a bigtime free agent now, because if the young core is as good as advertised, that free agent will still be around when the Mariners are good again. But, you’re making a lot of assumptions there. Are you signing a guy that will block one of that young core (specifically a position player)? Well, that’s a non-starter for me. There is time later for that, if whatever position of need can’t be filled internally. Are you talking about bringing in a stud starting pitcher? Well, those guys get hurt all the time! Bringing in a great guy for 2021 doesn’t do us any good if the team around him is still young and mediocre. And, if he’s hurt in 2022 or 2023 when this team IS good, then again, that does nothing for us. Also, are any of the free agents out there worth a damn? Are there any true Ace starters on the market? There doesn’t appear to be, to me anyway. On top of injury concerns, there’s aging and regression to worry about (when, again, there will be a whole new crop of free agents in 2022 and again in 2023).

And, if you’re talking about trading guys from our farm system to bring in a younger superstar, again that’s a non-starter for me. Because you know who teams are going to ask for in return? Your very best prospects. Those guys in the Baseball America Top 100. I want to see those guys HERE! And just because other teams are able to trade Not Their Best Prospects to get guys like Blake Snell, doesn’t mean the Mariners would also make that happen to their benefit. The Padres had been building their farm system for years in the lead-up to the Snell deal! The M’s don’t have nearly that sparkling of a reputation as drafters and developers. The Padres also, not for nothing, have a proven young core that made a run in the playoffs in 2020; they were more ready to make that kind of a deal. The Mariners have done jack shit for 20 years; they are not ready.

So, let’s hold our horses here. The only other argument I can make is this: even if the M’s splurged on free agents, and sold their farm for other Major League-ready players, there’s still a great chance that we wouldn’t see this team even make the playoffs. The Mariners have been half-assing rebuilds for the last 20 years; panicking now to try to break a drought would be more of the same. For what? So maybe they can get a wild card spot?

If you’re a Mariners fan, that should not be your priority. We’ve had it too hard for too long. The amount of karma we’ve built up in our suffering should be ENORMOUS. We are due for not just a playoff team, but a real, honest-to-goodness World Series champion! And, there’s no way we’re going to get there by throwing good money after aging free agents, and mortgaging our farm system for unwanted cast-offs from other teams.

We’re only going to reach the promised land by developing our own young talent, promoting them when they’re ready, and wishing on a star that they all hit big at the same time. This is the model. Once those guys are ready, THEN you start throwing money at free agents to complete the puzzle. Once you recognize where the minimal amount of holes are on your roster – because the vast majority of those holes have been filled in-house – then it’s so much easier to get over the final hump.

For now, kick your feet up, sit back, and enjoy the process. I know the 76ers turned “the process” into a four-letter word, but you know, sometimes it goes the other way too. To paraphrase the great Fred Durst, you gotta have faith.

Chris Flexen Is A Guy The Mariners Might Be Counting On (and Some Thoughts On The Six-Man Rotation)

The six-man rotation for the 2020 season felt like a great way to give our guys some semblance of experience this year, while at the same time protecting them during a wonky situation where we had a long break, then the ramp-up to Spring Training, then another long break, then a quick ramp-up, followed by a 60-game season. Pitching baseballs for a living under normal circumstances is quite taxing, but this had the potential for real leaguewide disaster!

The six-man rotation also offered the Mariners an opportunity to get a good sample size from numerous starters. Going in, we had two guys who were deserving locks to crack the rotation (Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi), two guys who were coming off of devastating injuries and multiple years away from the game (Taijuan Walker and Kendall Graveman), and two rookies who had never (to my knowledge) cracked an Opening Day starting rotation (Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn). That’s four unproven guys, plus a number of minor leaguers (including Nick Margevicius and Ljay Newsome) who we would end up throwing in there when Walker was traded and Graveman went down with another injury (and ultimately landed in a bullpen role). As the M’s are in the middle of a full rebuild, it was necessary to get a good look at as many different guys as possible. Hence, the six-man rotation was born.

But, now we’re talking about carrying over the six-man rotation into 2021, when things are (hopefully) returning back to normal. Part of that has to do with protecting the guys (we don’t know how their arms will respond, going from pitching so few innings in a year, to a full 162-game season), part of that has to do with the Mariners still being smack-dab in the middle of a full rebuild (though ideally closer to being contenders than having to scrap it all and start over), but an interesting wrinkle is that part of the decision might reside in this is just where the game of baseball is headed. The Mariners MIGHT be on the ground floor of revolutionizing the sport in a major way. That’s kind of exciting!

The thing is, it’s going to be difficult to quantify whether or not this is an effective way to run a pitching staff. We likely won’t know until we’ve had multiple seasons of data on injuries and effectiveness; it would also be helpful if other teams joined in on our quest to normalize the six-man rotation, to give us all even more data on the matter (but, that also might take away our competitive advantage, if indeed this will be the new normal). The thing is, professional sports are inherently risk-averse. If the Mariners come out and shit the bed in 2021, they might be inclined to blame it on the six-man rotation (particularly if our starters struggle in spite of the extra rest they’re getting between starts), and then the concept will likely die.

I’m always in favor of trying new things in sports. It gets back to that competitive advantage notion. When you reach the highest levels of your sport, everyone has the same information. Every team has an analytics department. Teams have the smartest minds working as hard as possible, all in an effort to get the SLIGHTEST edge over their opponents. To the point where it feels more like luck than anything else when a team has sustained success.

It’s jarring when a pro team does anything remarkably outside of the ordinary. Teams in recent years have dabbled with the “Opener” – a relief pitcher starting a baseball game, pitching one or two innings (to get out the opposing team’s very best batters) before the actual starter comes in and goes the next 5-7 innings while hopefully seeing the top of the order fewer times in that particular game (because the stats say the more times a batter gets to go up against the same pitcher in a game, the more success they’ll have as the game goes along). There have been decidedly mixed results on how the Opener has worked out, but I think consensus is trending toward the direction that it’s a flop. Too many of these relief pitchers starting games are getting pounded and putting their teams in big holes (which leads me to wonder, with the top of the order properly warmed up against a fireballer like that, are they having more success against the softer-tossing starting pitchers who follow them out there?). But, hey, you can’t gain a competitive advantage without breaking some eggs!

The last really successful organization that found an edge against the rest of the league was the Oakland A’s around the turn of the century. They were the first team to really adopt the concepts of Bill James and other prominent analytical baseball minds to their advantage. They were a roaring success, though weren’t quite able to translate that into World Series titles (all they did was infuriatingly make it so the Mariners were denied two more opportunities to make the postseason, in 2002 and 2003, the last two truly great M’s teams).

It’s hard for me to say that a six-man rotation will be on par with what the A’s were doing, but I do believe it has significantly more value than the Opener.

For starters (!), the Mariners really don’t have an elite rotation. Marco Gonzales continues to shatter my expectations, but I also wouldn’t put him on par with the best of the best ace starters in the game today. Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn also impressed me a lot in their rookie campaigns, but they too have clear ceilings that aren’t at that ace level. Yusei Kikuchi has been a disappointment through two years, but it’s still too early to give up on him as he transitions from Japan to America. Margevicius and Newsome are not likely to be long-term rotation guys, as we have younger pitchers we will be looking to promote either in 2021 or 2022 at the latest. Graveman, as I mentioned, is now a bullpen guy going forward, due to his chronic neck issue that he apparently refuses to have surgery on, yet doesn’t prevent him from throwing really hard for an inning or two every other day. Taijuan Walker could always be re-signed if the price is right, but for now the Mariners have gone in another direction.

I had never heard of Chris Flexen before word came down that the Mariners signed him to a 2-year, $7 million deal. This obviously has the feel of another one of those buy-low Jerry Dipoto deals where he’s trying to squeeze out significant value from a candidate to have a bounce-back in his career. Except, in this case, Flexen was NEVER good … until he went over to the Korea Baseball Organization for the 2020 season. He had a lot of success over there in his 21 games started. Strikeouts were up, walks were down, it was everything you could ask for. With the caveat that the level of competition is obviously not where it is in the Major Leagues. It sounds like he was able to take advantage of their aggressive style of play in getting hitters to swing at his stuff outside of the strike zone. So, it’s hard to say if his stuff will translate back to the U.S.

The upside is: there is precedent for someone to go to the KBO and come back and pitch well. Also, the money is quite nice. $7 million over two years is nothing in MLB terms (even in the wake of a pandemic-related financial collapse). If he turns into a useful starter, then he’s an absolute bargain! And, if he stinks, then hey, no sweat off our noses.

Probably best not to expect too much out of Flexen, but feel free to leave yourself open to believing that he might keep the good times rolling. My hunch is he’ll look good out of the gate, then the league will start to adjust to what he’s doing out there, and then we’ll know if he’s worth a damn or not. If he can adjust to how the batters adjust to him, then we might have something. But, if he can’t figure it out, then it was a nice idea that just didn’t pan out (but maybe he can still be a useful bullpen guy for a while).

I think we were all hoping for a little more out of free agency when it came to bolstering the rotation, but if this is indeed truly it, then I think I’ll be slightly disappointed. Yes, the Mariners have a lot of highly-rated prospects working their way through the minor leagues in the next two years, but not ALL of them are going to pan out, for one reason or another. Remember “The Big Four” of Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Brandon Maurer? Hultzen never pitched in the Majors with the Mariners due to injuries, Walker had middling success until he was traded away, and Maurer eventually had to convert to a bullpen role and hasn’t pitched since 2018. Paxton was the only guy who panned out, and he still had his share of injuries throughout his career, ultimately getting traded to the Yankees for Sheffield when we started our rebuild.

Nothing is a given, is my point. And, if we’re truly going to go forward with this six-man rotation, it seems like there should be plenty of room for a guy like Flexen, as well as a free agent with more substance. We’ll see if the Mariners think the same way as I do or not.

The 2020 Mariners Are Giving People A Lot Of Hope For 2021

The best-case scenario for the 2020 Mariners would’ve been going 60-0 with the players we had on our original roster (without calling up any of our prized prospects), followed by a rampage through the playoffs and our first (of many) World Series titles; my second and third wishes – for the record, if there are any lamp-imprisoned genies out there reading this – would be a billion tax-free American dollars given to me through no criminal means, and my very own Perpetual Orgasm Machine that I’m able to plug into Matrix-style for my own nonstop indulgence.

Since we obviously didn’t reach that apex of baseball achievement, I’d have to say the 2020 Mariners season was a qualified success! I’ll rate it a 7 out of 10 batting doughnuts (you don’t rate baseball success on a scale of batting doughnuts?). Based on expectations as a long-suffering Mariners fan, though, I’d have to bump it up to an 8 out of 10.

There was every reason to expect the worst this year. Key guys getting injured. Potential stars failing to develop. Botched trades. Useless free agent signings. Listless or negative clubhouse chemistry compounded exponentially as losses mounted. The Mariners have been in some form of rebuild since plummeting back to Earth in 2004. You can say they’ve never really torn the franchise down to the studs until this time around – and I’m inclined to agree with you – but there’s also no one right way to rebuild a franchise. As it turns out, hindsight being what it is, we know that all the ways we’ve tried it over the last 16 years have been utter failures, largely due to the reasons listed at the top of this paragraph; we’ve seen it all and then some!

So, to have the relative success this team was able to achieve is pretty remarkable. For the first time in a VERY long time, there is reason for actual hope. This feels real! Not based on a mountain of lies and unsustainably-lucky performances. We finished 27-33, and even with the playoffs expanded to eight teams per league, we still failed to get there. Honestly, I think that’s great! We didn’t overachieve! Because let’s face it, the last time there was this much hype around a bad, yet-hopefully-rebuilding Mariners squad, we did overachieve (in 2007 and again in 2009) and were crushingly disappointed (in 2008 and again in 2010).

Our general managers in those eras made what now feels like panic moves, to bolster a house of cards and see if we could parlay unlikely success into a return to meaningful, post-season baseball. And, we ended up losing over 100 games in response both times, falling apart under the weight of too-high expectations.

That isn’t to say the Mariners should stand pat going into 2021; just stick to the plan. The plan all along was to strip away the rotting, dead wood, give our young prospects an opportunity to flourish, and then add on complementary, quality veterans to slingshot into the stratosphere. While a 60-game, COVID-shortened season isn’t the ideal form of development for our young guys, it’s better than nothing. And, you can argue they flourished all the same.

The M’s are in desperate need for young, cheap, homegrown stars (not necessarily draft picks or international free agent signings, but really anyone acquired to work their way through our minor league system). Kyle Seager was really the last one to stick in any sort of meaningful way, and he obviously has a ceiling to his level of production; before him you’re probably looking at King Felix. That’s NOT a lot of stars over the last 15 years, which makes the futility all the more understandable.

With the crop of youngsters we have on the team now, and the guys in the upper levels of the minors (who figure to be called up pretty early on in the 2021 season), there are a considerable number of candidates who could be stars for this team. That’s so exciting!

As a change of pace, I’m going to rank the top Mariners I’m most excited about, with a little blurb for each.

  1. Jarred Kelenic – We did it! We kept him in the minors for the entirety of the 2020 season! That buys us an extra year of club control, and if we keep him down there for the first month or so in 2021, that’ll earn us one MORE year. This is important, see, because he’s far and away the best prospect we’ve had in the organization since King Felix, the best position player prospect we’ve had since Adam Jones, and probably the best position player prospect who we’re not going to foolishly trade away since Alex Rodriguez! If it all breaks as it should, his floor should be as a perennial All Star, with his ceiling being an MVP-calibre superstar.
  2. Kyle Lewis – Our should-be Rookie of the Year, he’s really exceeded expectations both in his 2019 cup of coffee and his 2020 surge forward. Of course, in both instances, we saw some struggles; his final month of this season was a pretty collosal nightmare from a batting average perspective. But, he remained a tough out – with a resepctable on-base percentage throughout – and took a huge leap in his defense, in locking down the everyday centerfield job. You never root for someone to do poorly, of course, but I don’t think his end to the season was a bad thing. He’s not a finished product, that’s clear. That’s also really exciting, because we know what the floor is (and that’s a really good player); we have no idea what the ceiling is, though, which allows us to dream as big as we want!
  3. Evan White – On paper, his rookie season wasn’t all that good, but there are still promising signs of things to come. For starters, he’s already among the best defensive first basemen in baseball. That’s going to paper over a lot of things for someone who slashed only .179/.253/.352. Anecdotally, though, I think we all saw some good improvement with his approach at the plate. In 54 games, he hit 7 doubles and 8 homers; extrapolate that out for nearly a full season and you’re looking at a 20/20 player. As a rookie? I’ll take that. This was good, pain-free experience for a still-developing prospect; I know I’ve said this a lot over the years, but I really believe he’s only going to get better from here. When he makes contact, the ball really explodes off his bat! This isn’t a Justin Smoak/Warning Track Power sort of swing; he’s got some pop that will play at this level! He just needs to improve his eye at the plate and his contact rate; everything else will work itself out in the years ahead.
  4. Marco Gonzales – What a stud. Just an absolute horse for this team. Someone to lead a new generation of exciting pitchers both with his outstanding on-field performance and his in-clubhouse guidance. I’ll be honest, I forgot we already extended him through 2025, but now that I confirmed it (and at a pretty reasonable salary to boot), I’m even more thrilled! When the M’s originally acquired him from the Cardinals in 2017, I thought we were getting just another ho-hum, soft-tossing lefty who at best would translate to a #5 starter, but more likely fizzle out of baseball entirely. Boy am I happy to be so wrong! He has gotten better every year he’s been here, to the point where you can legitimately have him in the Cy Young conversation! I thought his 2018/2019 level of production was his peak – a 4 ERA type of guy who might give you 175-200 innings and keep you in most games – but what he was in 2020 was a legitimate … ALMOST ace. He’s so close! If he can do what he did this season over 30+ starts next year, then I’ll absolutely give him that mantle for as long as he’s still in Seattle.
  5. Mitch Haniger – Don’t think I forgot about you! You know what’s exciting? Having an All Star locked and loaded and ready to go (hopefully) in 2021. He’s still young, he’s still at the Arbitration level for two more seasons, he’s STARVING to be back on the diamond and among the greats in this league again (so you know motivation won’t be an issue), and he’s still talented in all the ways you want in a right fielder. Sure, he might be a little rusty at first, but he hasn’t irrevocably declined; he’s just had nagging, freak injuries. Injuries, mind you, that should fully heal and shouldn’t hamper his ability going forward. I’m under the assumption that – before too long – he’ll return to his 2018 level, where he was a 6-WAR type of player. This further helps matters because, while the Mariners do have a considerable glut in outfield talent, they don’t necessarily have to call them all up right away. We’ve got Haniger here to soften the blow! Also, with the DH spot up for grabs, if we do end up extending Haniger beyond 2022, he can always transition there and prolong his career that way.
  6. J.P. Crawford – Before the final series of the season – where he raised his batting average nearly 30 points in four games – I think there was a lot of consternation about Crawford’s 2020 season. To that I would say: this is the same guy who was hitting nearly .400 through July 31st; he’s streaky! In great and maddening ways! If you offered me .259/.335/.343 out of him every year, with the quality defense he plays at short stop, I think I’d take that and be happy. I don’t think anyone loves the idea of him being this team’s leadoff hitter – though, he was pretty great at working counts and looking at a lot of pitches this year – but as a bottom-of-the-order type of guy with plus-defense? Yes please! But, more importantly, he’s young enough that there’s still plenty of potential for him to get better as he gets used to playing at this level. I think he’s fine, and I’m happy to continue rooting for him.
  7. Justus Sheffield – There was a lot of concern for him as I’ve noted before, the bloom had come off the rose a little bit (even though he only just turned 24 this year). He was always going to start this season in the Majors and be given every opportunity to work his way through any growing pains. I think he came out of it wildly successful given my pre-season expectations! Six of his ten starts were of the quality variety, and I’d argue it would’ve been seven of ten had the manager left him in there longer in his final appearance of the season (there was no reason to push him, since we weren’t playing for anything, but he had plenty left in the tank). The fastball isn’t great, but his slider is phenomenal, and I thought his command improved tremendously from where it was in 2019. When we traded James Paxton to get him, we’d hoped we were getting a future ace; I don’t think that’s in the cards here. But, he can be a quality #2 or an elite #3 in a great rotation if he continues to progress.
  8. Ty France – He’s not the biggest name we got in the Austin Nola deal, but he’s the most Major League-ready bat, which is just what this team needs. The question remains: where does he belong? Is he a DH until Kyle Seager moves on? Does he take over at third base after that? Do we try to transition him over to second base? Do we shoehorn him into left field until Kelenic gets called up? Or, is he simply trade bait for someone else who has a more established defensive fit for this team? What I’m excited about is the fact that his production at the plate didn’t falter one bit in going from San Diego to Seattle. You never know what you’re going to get when you trade for someone; sometimes the transition causes them to press and try to do too much (leading to mistakes). His bat plays anywhere in the 2-6 range in the lineup – depending on who you’ve got around him – and it should continue to be productive as long as he’s here (under team control through the 2025 season).
  9. Dylan Moore – He’s your frontrunner for the starting second baseman job next year, but he too can play all over the field if you need him. This is VERY impressive for someone who appeared to be nothing more than a utility guy (at best) or a Quad-A level talent (at worst). We’ve seen TONS of Dylan Moore types who never took the next step into being an everyday starter, which is why his story is so special. He came into this season and really set all of our expectations on fire! His defense has DRASTICALLY improved since the beginning of 2019, and now his bat – particularly his power numbers – has taken that leap as well. He’s yet another diamond in the rough this team was able to pluck from obscurity who should be a valuable player on the roster, as well as a valuable trade chip if we need him to be.
  10. Tom Murphy / Luis Torrens – Let’s just lump both of our prospective catchers in here. This has long been a troubled position for the Mariners (as an organization with LOTS of trouble spots they’ve failed to properly fill over the years, that’s really saying something). It’s so reassuring that we not only have this spot 100% locked down in 2021, but for many years to come (with prospect Cal Raleigh knocking on the door of the Majors, who figures to be our regular starting catcher as soon as 2022 or 2023). Murphy, of course, spent 2020 injured, but he should return at full health (and to his quality 2019 form). This, fortunately, afforded us ample opportunity to get a good, long look at Torrens, who also came over from San Diego, and was really reliable in all facets of the catching game for the M’s.
  11. Justin Dunn – Our other big rookie starter getting a “full” season’s worth of experience didn’t have quite as promising of a year as Sheffield. He too has a rather disappointing fastball, but makes up for it with tons of movement. Which means that he didn’t give up very many hits (or even a ton of hard-hit balls), but he walked a bunch of dudes (31 in just over 45 innings). You wonder, if he is able to harness things and stay within the strike zone more, if that’ll translate to giving up more hits and extra-base hits. BUT, if he’s able to put it ALL together, he could be a really special guy. As it is, this was just a year to get his feet wet, and he did that, while staying healthy throughout. He’s worked his arm up, accounting for four quality starts out of ten, and now it’s time to take what he’s learned this year and advance things in 2021 and beyond. Once again – with Sheffield – he’ll be given every opportunity to walk out of Spring Training with a starting rotation job, which means he has a significant head start over the younger guys we’ve drafted in recent years, who are champing at the bit to make their marks in the Major Leagues.
  12. Yohan Ramirez – The bullpen was an unmitigated disaster in 2020, but Ramirez – the Rule 5 guy we got from the Cheating Astros’ organization – managed to not only stay up all year, but be probably our best overall reliever, as well as the guy most poised to be our Closer of the Future. He made 16 appearances, got 3 saves, and had the best ERA on the team (of guys who finished the season on the 25-man roster). He had 26 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, so he’s got electric stuff; but he also had 20 walks in that span, which means he’s yet to fully harness it. Bullpen is such a crapshoot, and we’ve probably got 20 guys right behind him who all have potential to be at least competent, so I don’t know if it makes a ton of sense to go crazy here. I’m just happy we came out of this season with ONE guy I like!

I could go on and on; there are a few pitchers in the minors I’m pretty excited about, but I know almost nothing about them, and I don’t know what exactly they were able to accomplish in Tacoma this year, without any real games happening (and facing the same Mariners prospects over and over). Many of them won’t be ready until 2022 at the earliest, and even the guys who are on the cusp will still likely have to start 2021 in the minors just to prove they’re ready to be called up.

But, if you just look at the guys I talked about here, 2021 looks like it could be quite fun. By midseason, Kelenic, Lewis, and Haniger could be our outfielders. Seager, Crawford, Moore, White, and Murphy/Torrens could be our infield, with Ty France as our DH (and any number of good-looking bench/utility guys behind them, like Jose Marmolejos, Sam Haggerty, Tim Lopes, and Shed Long). What do you think about this lineup?

  1. Dylan Moore (2B)
  2. Mitch Haniger (RF)
  3. Kyle Lewis (CF)
  4. Kyle Seager (3B)
  5. Ty France (DH)
  6. Evan White (1B)
  7. Jarred Kelenic (LF)
  8. Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)
  9. J.P. Crawford (SS)

Obviously, of course, Kelenic will eventually ascend toward the 2-4 range in the lineup, but as a rookie? Let’s give him a soft landing, at least until he’s worked through his inevitable struggles.

That’s a fun lineup, though, right?! Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais are already talking about the 2021 team contending for the playoffs – which is a good year (at least) earlier than most projections had us heading into this season – and that has to be a considerable reason why. Those guys can hit, defend, steal bases, get on base; everything you want! That’s a viable Major League everyday roster that can win a lot of ballgames.

On the pitching side of things, it’s a little more iffy. It sounds like we’re going to continue with a 6-man rotation, with four of the slots going to Marco, Justus Sheffield, Yusei Kikuchi, and Justin Dunn. Figure that Nick Margevicius and Ljay Newsome will compete for a fifth spot (with the other likely heading to the bullpen as a long reliever), and a sixth spot going to a free agent (maybe bring back Taijuan Walker, who was KILLING it in Toronto after we traded him; it’s a bummer that it doesn’t look like he got a chance to pitch in the playoffs, before they lost to the Rays). With all the money the Mariners have to spend, I have to imagine that whoever we sign in free agency will be of high quality. So, if you figure he’s at least on Marco’s level, that’s two high-quality starters at the top of the rotation, with two promising young guys in Sheffield & Dunn, and Kikuchi who will hopefully figure it out at some point (considering his pedigree in the Japanese league). Also, not for nothing, but Margevicius and Newsome both threw lots of strikes and consistently kept the M’s in ballgames, so I have no problem with either one of them.

It’s not a dominant rotation, but as long as guys don’t regress too bad, you can win a lot with them.

The bullpen is another matter, of course. You figure the M’s will also look to free agency here to shore it up, but I won’t be holding my breath. The variance from season to season when it comes to relievers makes them too unpredictable to project. It’s going to take a lot of luck – in finding the right guys, as well as helping our homegrown guys improve in their development – but if the Mariners somehow hit the lottery with their bullpen configuration, then 2021 could very well be the year we end the streak.

It could be the first year since 2001 that we make the post-season!

(it would also help if MLB kept the playoff format as is, with eight teams per league advancing, but that’s neither here nor there).

As I mentioned, every time I’ve left a season allowing myself to dream big about the future, the Mariners have fallen on their faces. This time DOES feel different, though. The foundation doesn’t seem like it’s being held together by 15 year old duct tape, with a leaking roof and spiders crawling all over the basement. The veterans are still in their primes, the young guys look poised to develop early, and if we can just catch a fucking BREAK for once, maybe there will be cause for real, legitimate celebration in 2021!

Or, you know, maybe everything falls apart again, the front office all gets fired after making all these promises of contention, panic moves – made in hopes to save their jobs – all bite us horrifically in the ass, and we’re left to do this all over again in another 5-10 years.

When I put it that way, when do the Seattle Kraken start playing?

Baseball’s Back! Until It’s Not Again

So, here’s all the facts that I know right now. Spring Training re-starts on July 1st. The Mariners will train in Seattle at Safeco Field (with Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium and Everett’s … Funko Field (tf?) housing some of the minor league training that will go on.

The regular season will start on either Thursday, July 23rd, or Friday, July 24th. It will be 60 games long. Those games – for the Mariners – will consist of opponents in the A.L. West and N.L. West only (40 games against our A.L. rivals, 20 against the N.L.). And the regular season will conclude on Sunday, September 27th.

Fun fact: the 60-game schedule will be the fewest played by Major League Baseball since the 1878 season! That was also a 60-gamer, when the league consisted of a grand total of six teams. The Boston Red Caps (who would go on to be the Boston Braves, who would go on to be the Atlanta Braves) went 41-19 that year. The More You Know …

It’s already being reported that “more than one player” in the Mariners’ organization has tested positive for COVID-19, so that’s fun. I guess it’s better to get it out of the way early? Not that I’m advocating for COVID Parties or anything, but why not knock this out like the Chicken Pox and field a fully healthy team for the couple months we’ll be on the field?!

I’m, like, 50% kidding.

For Spring Training, the Mariners will have their 40-man roster, along with an additional 20 players from the minors. Then, in the regular season, we’ll see a 30-man Major League roster for the first two weeks, then a 28-man roster for the next two weeks, until finally settling on a 26-man roster for the duration. Because, OF FUCKING COURSE, MLB has to cheap out every step of the way. We couldn’t POSSIBLY have four extra players earning a Major League salary for a whopping SIXTY GAMES! Perish the thought! Somebody hand me my fancy hand fan and point me to the nearest fainting couch, for I’ve come down with a case of the vapors something fierce!

The most interesting part of the whole deal is this Taxi Squad I keep hearing about. Since there won’t be a minor league season, we won’t have the usual pool of replacement players to pull from when our Major League players come down with injuries or a nasty case of Ineffectiveness. So, of the 60 total players I mentioned above that are invited to Spring Training, whoever’s not on the active roster will be part of this Taxi Squad. For the Mariners, these players will be stationed in Tacoma – presumably working out on the regular, maybe playing some pick-up type games to stay sharp – and can be called up as you would in any other season.

That, of course, comes with the usual bullshit where if you call someone up, you have to put them on your 40-man roster (if they’re not on there already). Since the Mariners are planning on putting many of their highest-rated prospects on this Taxi Squad – to give them SOME development in this otherwise lost year – that means there’s potential to “start the clock” as it were on guys who might not have been called up to the bigs until 2021 at the earliest. Losing a year of team control for this slapped-together 60-game Asterisk Season feels like a crime against humanity, but it would also be so perfectly Mariners that I’m not even mad.

Of course, Jerry Dipoto is already slapping down the notion that guys like Jarred Kelenic or Julio Rodriguez will actually play for Seattle this year – which you have to say, because to do so would be to RUSH them to the Majors when they’re almost certainly not ready! – but what happens if half the team comes down with COVID-19? What happens if the Mariners truly stink (as we all expect them to do) and they get a wild hair up their asses about taking a look at the future of the organization?

Also, not for nothing, but would giving Kelenic, Rodriguez, and the like some experience in 2020 be the worst thing in the world? Why NOT jumpstart their careers in a season we’d just as soon forget? Especially when we’re looking at 2021 and a BRUTAL fight over a new CBA! I mean, if you thought all the public bickering back-and-forth to get to this 60-game season was bad, just wait until the future of Major League Baseball is on the line! If you thought the players and the owners dug their heels in too much for some bullshit, just you WAIT when billions upon billions of dollars are on the line! I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if the entire 2021 season gets canceled due to players holding out or owners locking them out (you can’t fire me, I quit!).

Other pointless restrictions to roster construction for 2020 include the fact that you can’t just move players on and off of the Taxi Squad. If someone gets injured on the T.S. (fitting initials alert) and you need to replace him, you have to outright or release them, which subjects them to being claimed by other organizations. Also, if someone from the active roster is sent down, they can’t be recalled again until the usual 10 days (or is it 14? who can keep track?) have passed.

Fun new wrinkles include: the DH being played in all ballparks. This has apparently been where the game is heading (it’s expected to be ratified in the next CBA, whenever that’s taken care of) and I am ALL FOR IT! It’s about damn time! I’ve talked about how dumb it is for pitchers to have to bat (because they suck at it and refuse to practice at it, so it’s a worthless automatic out just about every time through the lineup), and I’m glad the sane world agrees with me.

Another one is: in tie games after nine innings, teams will start with a runner on second base, in an effort to end these games quicker. They’ve tinkered with this in the minor leagues in recent seasons, and it makes sense here, with the shortened season and awkward roster construction going on. Nevertheless, I’m a little concerned about this being a long-term change going forward. I don’t know HOW I know this, but I know that this rule change will screw over the Mariners somehow, some way, when it matters most. And when it does, BOY HOWDY will I bitch about it nonstop!

Okay, that’s all I got for now. I’m looking forward to writing about baseball for a while! But I’m also kind of dreading how this will make my life worse in unforeseen ways. Such is life, I suppose.

It Only Took 146 Games For The Mariners To Get To 60 Wins

The best Mariners game I’ve seen all year didn’t actually involve the Mariners at all! It was a Texas League Playoffs matchup last Wednesday, featuring the Arkansas Travelers against the Tulsa Drillers, televised on Root Sports, featuring Jerry Dipoto doing color commentary. The Travelers won a tense 2-1 battle, though sadly they would go on to lose the series in five games. Getting to see potential future Mariners stars at the AA level is really the only source of hope in this nothing of a season.

The M’s are 60-86 this morning, after a couple of wins to start this week’s Reds series. The only reason to ever look at the standings if you’re a Mariners fan is to see where they’ll be drafting next year. For the last few weeks, we’ve pretty much been stuck at the 6th overall draft slot. The Blue Jays are in fifth, 3 games worse, and the Royals are in fourth, a whopping 6 games worse. So, moving down in the standings to get a better draft pick seems pretty remote with only 16 games remaining (only 6 of which are against teams with winning records, and only 2 of THOSE games are against the Astros, which at this point should be considered certain defeats).

There is still a chance to get a slightly worse draft pick, though, which is not what I want to be thinking about right now. But, the Rockies – who have been terrible in the second half of this season – are only 2 games better, and the Pirates – who we play in Pittsburgh next week – are only 4 games better (likewise, the White Sox – who we play at home this weekend – are just 4.5 games better). The point is: EYES ON THE PRIZE! There are A LOT of terrible teams on the Mariners’ schedule (those teams I just mentioned, as well as the Orioles, who are the second-worst team in all of baseball by record); we need to continue to lose just enough to at the very least keep our 6th overall draft pick!

As for how this season has gone, I haven’t the foggiest. I still don’t think I’ve seen a 2019 Mariners game all the way through. I think I read somewhere that they either set a franchise record or a Major League record for most players used in a season, which feels about right. There are a ton of guys I’ve never heard of before (especially from the bullpen side of things), and the ones I have heard of haven’t been all that riveting.

The whole thing with a “rebuild” or a “step-back” or whatever is twofold: lose a bunch of games to replenish your roster with high draft picks, and play a lot of young guys to give them the experience they need to develop into stars in the near future. Well, that first part has gone pretty well (again, in spite of that 13-2 start that grows more baffling by the day). The other half of the equation is a mixed bag.

We got a whopping 63 games out of Mitch Haniger before injuries followed by repeated setbacks to said injuries derailed his entire season. Not that he was ever REALLY in danger of being sent to the minors or anything – he was generally considered to be one of our stars and leaders of this team – but he’s still a relatively young guy in the grand scheme of things, and probably could’ve used at least a good second half to springboard into a more promising 2020.

Likewise, Domingo Santana hasn’t played since mid-August. Mallex Smith had to be sent down for a spell to correct things about his defense and his swing. Shed Long and J.P. Crawford have both missed time with injuries in an all-important year for a couple of guys looking to compete for starting jobs in 2020.

On the flipside, our catcher position has arguably never been stronger! Omar Narvaez is far and away our best hitter, and Tom Murphy has been a revelation (when he was considered a journeyman backup at best when we brought him in). Austin Nola came from out of nowhere to put up some solid offensive numbers as a first base replacement for the injured Ryon Healy. And, even Kyle Seager has had a nice bounce-back campaign after a rough last couple of seasons; in just 90 games he has 22 homers and at least looks like the Kyle Seager of old, who earned that massive contract. It’s nice to at least not have a black hole at third base heading into next year.

Those guys have been solid, Crawford has looked like a viable Major Leaguer at short stop. Mallex Smith has 41 stolen bases to make up for some soft offensive numbers. Dan Vogelbach has had a rough stretch since the All Star Break, but he still has 30 homers and a .344 on-base percentage; if he ever figures out how to hit lefties, watch out! I feel like there’s enough potential on this side of the ball to make 2020 somewhat interesting.

The real bright spot for the organization has been what’s going on in the minors. Jarred Kelenic has rocketed all the way up to AA, and hasn’t really missed a beat. Kyle Lewis was just called up from AA for a cup of coffee and has hit two homers in his first two games. A number of other guys have blossomed to the point where we’re not only NOT the laughingstock of minor league farm systems, but we’re actually pretty respectable! Maybe not in the realm of the Astros/Braves/Dodgers/Yankees, but at least in the conversation down in that next tier. Kelenic could very well be in that Mike Trout mold of superstar, should things continue on this trajectory.

The pitching is another matter, of course. Marco Gonzales is what he is, which is fine. Sometimes, he’s really on it, but sometimes he’s got nothing. His 4.30 ERA feels about right for him; he’s certainly nobody’s idea of a #1 starter. But, as a #3, he’s okay. As a #4 he’s probably better. To say that Yusei Kikuchi’s rookie season hasn’t gone according to plan has been an understatement. A lot of mediocre-to-ugly stat lines, with his bright spots few and far between. You can see the potential is there, and the stuff is there. The best thing we can say is that if he’s going to have a season like this, better to get it out of the way now, when winning isn’t really the top concern. If he’s going to have a CAREER like this, though, then yeah, he’ll be a huge bust.

As you may recall, the Mariners spent a buttload of draft picks earlier this summer on pitching prospects, which felt like a total overreaction to the years guys like Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson were having. Swanson was always going to be a candidate to switch to the bullpen, and it appears that’s what the team has done with him in the second half of this season, which is obviously disappointing. That disappointment has only been worsened by the fact that he really hasn’t looked good in either role. There’s still hope for Sheffield, in spite of his ragged start to 2019. He was in Tacoma, he had some bad games in Seattle, he went back to Tacoma, then he was demoted even further, down to AA to get his mechanics right. That probably has more to do with the fact that the PCL is a home run factory what with the juiced balls and small ballparks, but that’s neither here nor there. Sheffield has pretty quietly had an improved second half, and in his two September starts, he’s combined to go 11 innings, giving up 12 hits, 1 run, with 5 walks and 11 strikeouts. It’s baby steps, but I’ll take it.

As for the bullpen, I couldn’t even start. I don’t even know who’s here anymore! Our saves leader – Roenis Elias with 14 – is on the Nationals, that much I do know. Our next-highest saves leaders have 4 apiece. I have to believe we’re at or near the top of Major League Baseball in BLOWN saves, but that’s not a stat they like to throw around very much.

To be fair, at this point in our rebuild, the bullpen is probably the last thing we should be worrying about. I said it earlier this season and it’s come to fruition: you want everyone on the team to play well, then you want the bullpen to absolutely tear every game apart. Gotta get that high draft pick! Gotta draft and develop well! Gotta get back to the playoffs somehow, some way! Gotta win a World Series before the Earth is swallowed up by the Sun!

Taking A Step Back I See What You Did There From Talking About The Mariners

If the Mariners aren’t trying to win this year, then I’m not going to try writing about them on a consistent basis.

Unfortunately, with no NBA in Seattle, and Hockey a few years away yet, that leaves a big, gaping hole in my summer content months. Usually, I try to at least half-ass a week’s worth of blog posts during the MLB season, but this year is just TOO much.

As long as this season keep spiraling out of control, I’m never NOT going to lead each post with a comment about how this team started 13-2, because the mere concept of that grows more implausible by the day. Here’s your regular reminder of how futile this team has been: the record is now 11-30 since that season apex.

Obviously, the Mariners are last in the A.L. West. 12.5 games behind first place Houston at the time of this writing. The Angels are a game better than us, but their team is also considerably better and has underachieved thus far to date. I am basing that last statement on exactly one piece of data: their -18 run differential against our -45. The good news is that, finally, the Mariners have cracked the Top 10 of next year’s MLB draft (if the season ended today, we’d pick 8th). We’re certainly within spitting distance of the worst overall record (6 games ahead of the Orioles with 106 games left to go … yes, I have absolutely initiated the Countdown For Tankocalypse 2019), and if we keep playing like we have over the last 41 games, we’ll get there in no time!

Is there any hope for the future amid all the nonsense? Well, Mitch Haniger apparently leads the American League in strikeouts; I guess that jersey purchase was a little premature. Our best hitters (Narvaez and Santana) are also the worst defensive players in the history of Major League Baseball (approximately). We have just the two competent starting pitchers (Gonzales and Kikuchi) and the bullpen has somehow managed to be even worse than it was this time a month ago. If it weren’t for the occasional Vogel-Bomb, I don’t think this team moves the needle even a teeny, tiny blip on my Interest-Meter.

Saying that I don’t care about the Seattle Mariners isn’t strong enough. I can’t even remember the last time I watched a full game; it might be the Opening Day game I attended in person! Of course, my work schedule plays a pretty significant role in whether or not I can watch during the week, but that still leaves Friday evenings and weekends free, and at this point they’re not even on my mind as options for my free entertainment hours. If the only draw for your team is a pudgy DH, I’d say things have sunk about as low as they can go.

I look at these Mariners and I compare them to a team like the Astros and it’s just depressing! I can’t envision a scenario where all the stars align and this team legitimately contends for a world championship. CERTAINLY not in my lifetime! Maybe not ever?

At this point, if you’re not putting the Mariners in the discussion of Worst Run Franchises In Major Professional Sports, then you’re overlooking one of the ragingest dumpster fires the sporting world has ever produced. I mean, at this rate, the M’s are almost DEMANDING that Scott Servais be fired by their putrid on-field play. At that point, it’ll be Ownership vs. Jerry Dipoto, and you have to wonder how many more days at the helm our embattled GM has left; because in that fight, Ownership wins 100% of the time.

Ideally, the Mariners will stick with the plan to rebuild. But, if the 2019 team stinks TOO hard, and loses 100+ games, then you have to wonder if Ownership will have the stomach. I can’t imagine the attendance numbers will look all that great when it’s all said and done. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before the Mariners renege on their rebuild idea, sign a bunch of Win Now free agents, and do just enough to once again miss out on a Wild Card spot.

If this sounds like something you’ve heard before, then congratulations, you’ve been a Mariners fan long enough for it to be considered a legitimate war crime.

You know, I run a Seattle sports blog that completely neglects the sport of soccer even though the Sounders are a delight year-in and year-out. Instead, I devote an irrational percentage of web space to a team in the Mariners that makes me physically ill. I’m not saying that I’m ready to pick up a new team and start writing about it; but I obviously have no problem DROPPING a team and ignoring them even when they’re in my own back yard.

Maybe it’s time to stop following the Mariners on a daily basis. Rid my Twitter feed of all the M’s beat writers and pretend like they don’t exist. Be one of those fair weather fans who spends their time at games guzzling tallboys and chit-chatting with friends over actually paying attention to what’s going on on the field. If nothing else, it would be better for my psyche.

This Felix Hernandez Thing Feels Like It’s Going To Go Sour In A Hurry

This thing has been bad for a while now. Obviously, it stems from the simple fact that Felix Hernandez’s stuff just isn’t what it used to be. Part of that is overblown. People make it sound like Felix was throwing 94 mph smoke as recently as two years ago, but he hasn’t been THAT Felix for a while now. He wasn’t even THAT Felix when he won his Cy Young Award in 2010! Even then, he was barely scraping by on 91 or 92 mph fastballs, but his changeup was so unhittable that it didn’t even matter that there was hardly any difference in speeds between the two.

That’s what’s so frustrating about the narrative around Felix’s decline of late, that almost everyone gets wrong. It’s not the quality of his stuff that’s changed, it’s the accuracy behind it, and the simple fact that the book on him has been figured out. Lay off the changeup, because he rarely ever throws it for strikes. Wait him out on the fastball, then pound it into submission. He can get by on a pretty good curveball to make people look foolish a time or two, but eventually he’s going to run into a bad inning. It’s just a matter of getting him out of there before he can do too much damage to himself.

Maybe it starts with a bad call from the ump. A blown called third strike that keeps an at-bat alive, long enough to see that batter walk because Felix will do a lot out there, but give in isn’t one of them. He’s not going to throw you a 3-2 fastball in the zone when he can try to fool you with his bread n’ butter changeup. Only, like I said, guys aren’t falling for that line anymore.

Or maybe it starts with a booted ball in the infield. Felix does his job, gets them to hit it at someone, but Kyle Seager has it go off his glove. Seager seemingly makes that play 9 times out of 10, but for whatever reason, when Felix is on the mound, the ball finds a hole in his glove.

Maybe it’s a bloop that drops carefully into No Man’s Land. Maybe it’s a seeing-eye grounder up the middle past two diving middle infielders. Maybe it’s a line-drive rocket off of Felix’s hip. Or, maybe it’s a matter of Felix thinking he can steal a quick strike and get ahead in the count. Maybe the book on a certain hitter is that he always takes strike one in his first at bat of the game, except this time the batter flips the script and mashes that two-seamer for a 400-foot blast to left-center to lead off the game.

There’s no telling how exactly it’s going to happen, but it happens just about every single game now. The Unravelling. In the good ol’ days, Felix would find a way to bulldog his way to 6 or 7 innings, limiting the damage to just one or two early runs. Now, he’s lucky to finish his final inning without giving up a matching number of runs. He usually at least figures out a way to string some zeroes together, but there’s almost always that one crooked number that severs the artery and sends his performance to the morgue.

He can’t be trusted to be what he was. He’s reduced to being this team’s #5 starter. His streak of Opening Day starts is slated to end this year, with Marco Gonzales set to make the first start in Japan next week. We’re famously in the final year of his contract that sees him making $27 million, and at this point we probably shouldn’t even count on him seeing it through to the end.

Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais were brought in prior to the 2016 season and they’ve literally never seen Great Felix. He’s been good at times – mostly in that very first year – but never really great. Not like he was. In that sense – and many others – they don’t have the ties to Felix that we, the fans, do. Sure, it’s hard to move on from a local legend, not the least of which because he makes a prohibitive amount of money and has a full No Trade Clause. At this point, with the relationship as soured as it is on both sides, I’m sure he’d be as willing to waive that clause just as the team would be willing to take on whatever cash it would take to get him in another environment. You have to figure, the only reason why he’s still here isn’t some obligation to the type of fan who only clings to the old timers like he and Ichiro and the ghost of Ken Griffey Jr., but because no other team would have Felix in this current incarnation. MAYBE, if he flashes some of that old swagger for long enough in the early portion of this season, some playoff-starved team with pitching issues might take a flier on a rejuvenated vet. But, I wouldn’t count on it.

I can already see how this is going to end. It’s not with some triumphant return to glory. It’s not by the Mariners saving a few shekels or weaseling a low-level prospect away from another team. It’ll happen sometime in late April or early May. It’ll follow yet another disaster of a start. He won’t be offered a role in the bullpen; he certainly won’t transition into a full time closer like so many erstwhile greats before him. He won’t be granted a stint on the Injured List to clear his head or give some arm “injury” a chance to heal.

He’s going to be DFA’d.

He’ll be dropped to the wolves, he’ll find no takers for his salary as it’s currently constructed, and the Mariners will end up paying all but a pro-rated veteran’s minimum as some other also-ran gives him a change of scenery to see if there’s anything left in the tank. And the 33 year old baseball player will throw his first pitch for an organization outside of the Mariners’ purview since he turned 16 years of age. Think about THAT; he’s been with the Mariners’ organization longer than he HASN’T been with the Mariners’ organization. It’s going to be weird and depressing and ultimately a relief.

I hope he never leaves. But, failing that, I hope he leaves as soon as possible, finds success with another team, and gets his first-ever start in the post-season. I hope he finds a way to move on and I hope we find a way to move on. Regardless, I’ll be rooting for him every step of the way.

I’m a Felix Hernandez fan first, and a Mariners fan second. I’m one of a dying breed around these parts. I’ll cherish every moment like it’s my last, because at any moment it very well could be.

The Mariners Signed Hunter Strickland

I was gonna write about how much I don’t give a shit about Ichiro returning to the Mariners to start out the 2019 season, but it turns out I don’t even give enough of a shit to finish the thought. So, let’s talk about the new reliever the Mariners signed.

This might be one of the better value signings of the entire Jerry Dipoto era, and that’s saying something, because he’s been dumpster diving more or less since day one! Hunter Strickland’s claim to fame is punching a wall and breaking his pitching hand, which incidentally is what makes this deal so intriguing.

He was having a pretty solid year leading up to the incident; a 2.84 ERA, 13 saves against 4 blown (while tacking on a couple more losses in tie games). That just happened to be his second blown save in his previous three appearances, which was too much for him to bear. After the broken hand, he wasn’t remotely the same, throwing some pretty mediocre numbers over the last month and a half of the season.

Strickland apparently has a bit of a temper on him, which I’m okay with. I generally like it when guys show emotion out on the field; it clearly shows they give a shit about what’s happening in the game (in that sense, drawing them closer to the fans who also live and die with every pitch). While I don’t think he’ll totally turn over a new leaf, you’d think after his 2018, he’d learn not to pick fights with buildings.

2018 was his first year as a closer for the Giants; from 2015-2017, he was just a quality set-up reliever. He doesn’t strike out the world, so don’t expect Edwin Diaz 2.0 or anything, but he’s got a track record of a lot of success in the Major Leagues, and a very small track record of ineptitude after a hand injury. I’m inclined to believe Strickland is closer to what he was from 2015 through the first half of 2018 than he is those final 15 games.

For all that, the Mariners get him on a deal that’s costing them $1.3 million plus incentives. On top of that, he’s under team control for two more arbitration years! So, if everything pans out ahead of schedule, he could still be here when the Mariners are relevant again. Or, if things don’t quite pan out – but he’s still successful – then you figure we can flip him at the deadline for a pretty decent haul. OR, if he stinks, then at least he didn’t cost much and we can go our separate ways after this season.

If only ALL sports deals were so friendly!

I won’t pretend like I have even the foggiest idea of how the Mariners’ bullpen is going to shake out this year, but it stands to reason that Strickland will be a pretty big part of it. Most likely even this team’s closer, if he proves he’s fully recovered, but at the very least somewhere in that 8th inning range.