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.

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.

Comparing The Mariners Lineups From 2018 To 2019

Grains of salt, I’ve taken a few: obviously it’s mid-January, and Jerry Dipoto is a wildman when it comes to wheeling and dealing. So, this could look VERY different when Pitchers & Catchers Report, as it could look VERY different come April when the regular season gets going in earnest. But, it’s getting to be gambling season, and my friends have commissioned me to start looking at this team for the purposes of futures bets; namely: over/under 74.5 wins.

My hunch is, we’re pretty close to looking at the everyday lineup. Sure, some high-salary oldies could be sent packing, but I’ll speculate on that with each guy. For what it’s worth, I’m not going to talk about every single dude who played at each position in 2018; I’m going to stick to the big names, the guys who played the lion’s share of games. Without further ado:

Catcher

2018 – Mike Zunino, 2019 – Omar Narvaez

This is one of those changes I’m most interested in seeing how it plays out in the early going, because these guys could hardly be more different. Zunino was excellent in all facets of defense at the position; Narvaez appears to be among the very worst. Zunino had a ton of power, not only launching balls among the farthest in the league, but also with the volume of balls leaving the park the last couple seasons. Narvaez appears to have very little power, and will be fortunate – with his increased workload – to hit double-digit dingers. On the flipside, Zunino’s batting average and on-base percentage were absolute trash, and the primary source of this entire fanbase’s angst. Narvaez, conversely, hits for a very nice average, with a tremendous on-base percentage, and doesn’t strike out NEARLY as often. So, you know, pick your poison, I guess. What means more to the overall success of the team?

My hunch is that it’ll be a wash. I can already tell you that we’re going to be inundated with countless articles and blog posts about how Zunino’s overall package is worth more than Narvaez’s, but I honestly don’t understand all the defensive metrics and I feel like much more weight is put on them than is actually the case. I will say this: if defense is ever going to mean more, it’s at the catcher spot, with all the different ways they control the game.

First Base

2018 – Ryon Healy/Dan Vogelbach, 2019 – Same

Putting Vogey in here seems like a bit of a stretch; he hardly played in the Bigs in 2018 and he might not play much at all in 2019 either. Nevertheless, it’s now or never for the kid, so this is his last and best shot with the Mariners.

As for Healy, I’m pretty confident we know what we’ve got in him: a placeholder for Evan White. He’s a high power guy (25 and 24 homers the last two years) whose average and on-base percentage took a big hit as he went from Oakland to Seattle between 2017 and 2018. He strikes out a ton (though he scaled that back just a tad last year), and brings solid first base defense (for what that’s worth). Considering where all the power went on this team between 2018 and 2019, Healy could be a difference-maker for this squad. If his power becomes drained, that’s a black hole this team can ill-afford. If he steps up and returns his average to the .270 range, we could be talking about a nice player on an underwhelming team.

I do think one or both of these guys could still be traded, but the value isn’t very high, so I wouldn’t bank on it.

Second Base

2018 – Robinson Cano/Dee Gordon, 2019 – Dee Gordon

Losing Cano obviously hurts in the short term (this is a post about the 2019 season, so I won’t get into the benefits of dumping his salary and remaining contract years). He only had 10 homers and 22 doubles last year, but remember he missed half the season. Prior to that, with the Mariners, Cano had been a force in all facets of the game. His power numbers were much better than we expected, his slash line was as expected, and his defense was silky smooth as always.

Gordon, on the other hand, was brought in here to convert to outfield in an experiment that was working just fine until the Cano suspension. Of course, at that time, we thanked our lucky stars we still had an All Star second baseman on the roster, so it was a no-brainer to move him back to the infield. But, his bat went in the tank thereafter, finishing the season with a slash line of .268/.288/.349. He stole 30 bases – which was exactly half of what he did in 2017 – and while his defense was pretty stellar, it was clear he wasn’t the leadoff hitter we were hoping for. The guy just won’t take a walk. He hardly even takes a single PITCH! Gordon is the kind of guy who needs to hit over .300 to be of any value to your team, because otherwise he doesn’t find enough ways to get on base and use that speed to his advantage; he’s never had any power to speak of, and really doesn’t leg out enough doubles to be of any use.

Gordon is a clear downgrade at the spot for 2019. I thought the Mariners would’ve traded him by now, but his value appears to be too low to get anything back. He might be someone to look at dealing at the deadline, assuming another team has a need at the position. Any way you slice it, this is a guy who was brought in to bat #1 in the lineup, who will spend more time batting #9.

Third Base

2018 – Kyle Seager, 2019 – Same

Seager has been a steady presence for the Mariners since his rookie call-up in 2011. Last year was an all-time low across the board. His defense was actually something to laud early in the 2018 season, but it eroded as did his confidence. He’s a guy who’s always tinkering with his stance and approach, but the bottom line is as the use of shifts has gone up, so have his numbers gone down.

I don’t really see a fix for this, outside of the MLB commissioner totally outlawing shifts, which almost certainly won’t happen this year. Either he figures out how to hit the other way (seems very unlikely), he devotes his entire game to lifting the ball and hitting dingers (he might as well, since his strikeout numbers were also at an all-time high in 2018), or he just gets lucky with BABIP (which also doesn’t seem likely, as you’d think the shift is designed to cut that way down). Bottom line: he better develop a change in his swing that induces MANY more fly balls, or he’s toast.

I do think he’ll be on the trading block at some point this season, but moving him won’t be easy, as his value is at its all-time lowest.

Short Stop

2018 – Jean Segura, 2019 – J.P. Crawford/Tim Beckham

Here is your very biggest downgrade on the entire team, and it’s not even close. Jean Segura was a .300 hitter, with moderate home run power, very good doubles numbers, low strikeouts, and excellent on-base numbers. Combined with his defense, which was fine, and you’re talking about an All Star short stop.

Crawford is a young-ish, highly-touted prospect who is verging on Bust territory. Beckham is slightly less young-ish, highly-touted prospect who is already in that Bust territory. I don’t think either of these guys are remarkably better defensively than Segura (if they’re better at all, which remains to be seen), and their bats outright stink. This is going to be a black hole for the entire 2019 season, outside of probably a few (and far between) hot streaks.

Centerfield

2018 – Dee Gordon/Guillermo Heredia/Others, 2019 – Mallex Smith

I’ve already talked about Gordon. Heredia brought better defense, but otherwise very little to the table battingwise. He was a Quad-A player at best who got way too long of a look at Ben Gamel’s expense.

Mallex Smith broke out in 2018 and appears to be a fun-looking young player going forward. His defense is great, he hits for a high average, and unlike Dee, he CAN take a walk. He can take many of them! There’s no power there, but he stole 40 bases last year, and actually parlayed his speed into 27 doubles. With Gordon as the #9 hitter, and Smith as the #1 hitter, if we can ever get these guys on the bases at the same time, we should likely see some runs scored. Smith is a prototypical leadoff hitter and should be a huge upgrade at this spot in the lineup.

Right Field

2018 – Mitch Haniger, 2019 – Same

He’s got all the tools and is a cornerstone piece for this organization for many years to come (unless, of course, some needy franchise gives us a Godfather deal for an insane return of high-level prospects). The only question is, will he be the same now that he’s far and away the best player on the team? Last year, he had Cruz, Cano, and even Seager to hide behind. We could bat him second, taking advantage of those heavier hitters behind him, or we could move him down to 6th in the lineup to hide him a little bit. But, you figure with Cano and Cruz gone, he’s likely going to be slotted right in the sweet spot of #3 or #4. Will the added pressure get to him? He hasn’t been so great in those spots to this point in his career, albeit in very few ABs.

Left Field

2018 – Denard Span/Ben Gamel/Guillermo Heredia, 2019 – Jay Bruce/Domingo Santana

Heredia, I talked about. Gamel was an okay defender, with excellent batting numbers, though a complete dearth of power. Span was old, with waning defensive skills, but brought everything you could ever want to the plate with him. Just about every time was a professional at bat and a God damned delight! Shades of grandfather Seth Smith.

In Jay Bruce, you hope to see more of the same as with Span. He’ll be 32 years old this year, and his average took a big hit in 2018 (after being pretty respectable to that point in his career), but he comes with more power than anyone we had in 2018. He also gets on base quite a bit, so you could see him as this team’s #2 hitter.

In Domingo Santana, we actually have someone much more interesting. He’s coming off of a rough, injury-plagued 2018, but in 2017, he was absolutely fantastic. High average, good on-base numbers, and 30 homers to go with 29 doubles. If he returns to that player, opposite Mitch Haniger, with Mallex Smith in the middle helping cover extra ground, we could be talking about a dynamite outfield the likes of which we haven’t seen around here in a LONG time.

But, that’s a pretty big IF. The good thing, we have both of these guys, so you’d think ONE of them would pan out. At this point, we have no idea how the timeshare is going to work, as I would assume it’ll be based on merit. But, I have to imagine Santana will get a pretty significant look, as he figures to be part of this team’s future. If he stinks, and Bruce is washed up, then what might’ve been an improvement could very well be a downgrade compared to 2018. If nothing else, you’d think we’d at least see improved power numbers out of this spot. As for everything else, who knows?

Designated Hitter

2018 – Nelson Cruz, 2019 – Edwin Encarnacion

This feels like a pretty significant downgrade on first look, but that could be my absolute love of Nellie clouding my judgment. In reality, while he still hit a whopping 37 homers in 2018, his average took a big hit, ending up at .256. Which, incidentally, is in line with where Encarnacion has been for much of his career. Encarnacion has 30+ homers in his last seven years, so assuming Cruz’s average doesn’t snap back into the .270-.290 range, this could be pretty close to even compared to where the Mariners were in 2018.

Of course, Encarnacion is probably the MOST likely of these guys to be moved before the season starts, at which point you’re looking at a lot more Jay Bruce, a lot more Vogelbach, or a lot more some guy off the scrap heap (in which case, it’s a big minus).

Conclusion

In 2018, based on run differential, the Mariners should’ve been a 77-win team. Obviously, a crazy-unsustainable amount of good luck in the pitching department (specifically the bullpen department) led to the 2018 Mariners actually winning 89 games. Considering most of those bullpen guys are gone, to be replaced by clear downgrades across the board (saying nothing of the starting rotation), you’d have to think at the very least the Mariners will play closer to their run differential expectations.

Which takes us to the hitters. I don’t think the Mariners were particularly lucky OR unlucky in 2018 when it comes to hitting. I think what you saw was what you got. Assuming that proves the same again (and we don’t see a bunch of flukey walk-off homers, or insane cluster-luck), will this group of position players bring the win total up or down compared to 2018?

I have catcher, first base, third base, right field as a wash. I also see DH as a wash, assuming Encarnacion lasts the entire season in a Mariners uniform.

I see very significant downgrades at second base and short stop, from a hitting perspective (defense is likely a wash) which will ensure that this team doesn’t win 80 games.

I see upgrades at center and left fields, though left is the biggest wild card. It could be a HUGE upgrade, or a wash, with a chance of even being a detriment. Center is almost assured to be an improvement, as we’ll be getting improved defense and improved on-base numbers (with all else being the same).

So, what does this mean for the over/under of 74.5? Well, there’s room for improvement at third base and left field. I find it unlikely that Seager will be able to do enough to return to his former glory, which means we’re putting A LOT of hope on that young left fielder panning out and turning into a star (to replace one of the THREE stars we sent away).

There’s also a good chance Haniger regresses some, that the older guys are finished, that the catcher defense reduces the effectiveness of our pitchers, and that the overall power numbers from this offense goes totally and completely in the tank. At which point, will there be enough walks, singles, and doubles to score enough runs to win any games? With THIS pitching staff?

While I have yet to really focus on the pitchers yet, let’s say winning over 74.5 games doesn’t look great.

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.

The Mariners Traded Away Mike Zunino

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

For now, this:

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

The Rays sent Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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