The Shitshow That Was The 2013 Seattle Mariners, Part I: Pitching

When you end up with a season like the Mariners just finished, you blame it on one thing:  lack of a plan.

Tell me, where was the plan?  The team swapped Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales, the team swapped John Jaso for Mike Morse, and the team filled in the empty spaces with a lot of filler bullshit.  You could argue that the team at least tried something different with the hitting.  It opted to trade defense for home runs, but at least they did SOMETHING.  You can yell and scream until you’re blue in the face about how that’s a pretty crappy idea, but think about it this way:  if the team didn’t try to make it all about the dingers – if they went super defensive and super OBP on us – would it have made any difference whatsoever?

I argue it would not have made one bit of difference.  Because this team totally crapped the bed when it came to pitching.

Remember when Jon Garland was almost our 4th/5th starter?  That was a thing that almost happened.  In Spring Training, we were banking on him to make this big comeback from injury to carry the load at the back-end of our rotation.  We weren’t totally sold on him, and he had an opt-out clause, so when push came to shove Garland moved on and started 12 games for the Rockies before being released.  But HE was almost in our rotation.  Think about that!  We could have had Saunders, Garland, Harang, and Bonderman all starting games for us this year!

As it stands, just having Saunders, Harang, and Bonderman was bad enough, but what were you going to do?  As I said before, the Mariners decided to totally and completely neglect the pitching side of things.

Yes, you can count on Felix to be your Ace.  Yes, you could see good things coming from Iwakuma.  Maybe not as good as he actually turned out to be, but I was never worried that he was going to take a huge step back either.  After that?  We all figured Joe Saunders would be Vargas-lite, but he was so much WORSE.  I don’t care why he was worse, I just know that he only had 13 quality starts out of 32.  That’s terrible.  You want your #3 starter to be better than 50% with their quality starts (I’d say at least 20 of 32) and he was nowhere near that.  More often than not, Joe Saunders gave this team NO CHANCE to win in his starts.  That’s a guy who started for us all year.

After that, we had hopes that our younger guys would step up.  But, of course, Erasmo Ramirez came out of the gates injured and didn’t make it back until around the All Star Break (and even when he returned, he was pretty mediocre).  We were hopeful that Danny Hultzen could crack the bigs somewhere around mid-season, but he pitched in all of 6 games in Triple-A before being shut down with shoulder problems.  Brandon Maurer did make the team after an otherworldly Spring Training (making the jump straight from Double-A), but he proved to be totally ineffective in getting left-handed bats out and had to go down to Tacoma for further seasoning.  Taijuan Walker wasn’t ready to pitch in the Majors until September.  Ditto James Paxton.  And Beavan and Noesi further proved they are never going to be Major League starters.

As you can plainly see, the kids were not up to the task for one reason or another.  So, we had to bring up Bonderman when Maurer finally pitched his way to the minors.  We had to panic-trade for Harang when Beavan did the same.  Neither of these veterans lasted to September, because neither of these veterans had any fucking business being in the Major Leagues at this point in their careers.

In short, our starting rotation was a total joke.  Yeah, our top two guys were as good as any other team’s top two guys; but our bottom three were arguably the worst in all of baseball.  Regardless of who was plugged in there (9 other guys started games for the Mariners aside from Felix & Kuma), they were all the fucking worst!

And, when you combine a trainwreck of a starting rotation with the most volatile bullpen in the game, it’s pretty easy to see why the Mariners lost another 91 games.

The team had a 65% save percentage.  23 of 66 total save opportunities were blown.  Oddly enough, the team was NOT led in blown saves by erstwhile closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who was 24 of 29 in save opportunities.  He blew his fifth game by mid-June, was given a couple weeks off of closing duties, pitching in middle relief, then picked right back up again with a fairly solid July before absolutely going to shit in August.  The team sent him to Tacoma to work on some things, and after he returned he lost his job for good.

The team turned to Danny Farquhar, who had an excellent strike out percentage, but he wasn’t without his faults.  He ended up finishing the season as our closer, and saved 16 of 20 games.  Still, you have to wonder if you can count on him at all going forward.

The rest of the bullpen was full of hit-or-miss guys.  Oliver Perez and Yoervis Medina, for the most parts, were solid.  Furbush was okay at times and the plague at other times.  Stephen Pryor pitched in seven games before he was lost for the year.  Carter Capps – my predicted pick as best bullpen guy going into the season – also couldn’t get lefties out, in spite of his rocket fastball.  The rest of the Triple-A garbage the team brought up and plugged in throughout the year isn’t even worth mentioning.

The bullpen led baseball in strikeouts, and that’s about it.  They were either lockdown, or they were walking the world and giving away games.  There was very little in-between, and as mentioned above, it was about 65/35 as to whether you’d see Angel Bullpen or Devil Bullpen.

I’ll get into the future prospects of the pitching staff in Friday’s post, so I’ll save my opinions on what they should do (who they should keep, who they should get rid of, etc.).  My overall impression of this team is that it failed, horribly.  That’s nothing new.  But, as opposed to years past – where the pitching was often a strength – this year, the Mariners failed in a 50/50 split.  50% of why the Mariners were bad was because of the pitching, and 50% of why they were bad was because of everything else.  You’re not going to make the playoffs with two good starters and a bullpen that saves games 65% of the time.  Not unless you hit a ton like the 1997 Mariners.  But, as I’ll get to tomorrow, this team was FAR from the ’97 Mariners, in spite of the fact that they tried to hit homers like ’em.

Can We Be Done With Aaron Harang?

I know I’m really stepping out on a huge limb here, but I’d like to get this out on record before the Titanic officially plunges into the ocean:  Aaron Harang sucks.

This is what you get, Mariners!  This is what you fucking get when you dick around with Jon Garland and let him walk away.  You get to start the season with Blake fucking Beavan (who also sucks), followed by scrambling for a veteran starter (which you HAD with Jon fucking Garland), and you end up with a guy three times as fucking worse.

I’m not saying Jon Garland is some Cy Young winning miracle, but look at it this way:  Aaron Harang has started six games this year.  In three of those games, he has given up more runs than innings he managed to pitch.  He has one win, two quality starts, he’s fucking 35 years old, and he has NEVER been what you would call good.  He’s sometimes been bad, and other times been what you’d call “serviceable”, and now he’s done.  I can tell that he’s done because he’s making excuses for why he’s been bad.  Because he hasn’t been able to pitch every five days.  You can’t get any better when you’re just throwing bullpens!  Sure, I’ll buy that.  But, why were you stuck throwing these most-recent bullpens?  Oh, that’s right, because your back had an ouchie and you couldn’t make your last start!

All those other bullpens, at the beginning of the year:  that was because nobody wanted you.  Not REALLY.  You were passed around like a latex fuck doll at the worst bachelor party of all time.  Again, that speaks more about YOU than it does dumb ol’ bad luck.  It should be telling you:  you’re done, Aaron Harang.  Pack it up.  Either move to Japan or call it a career.  I’m sure you’ve got enough millions to live on, so let’s nobody feel sorry for ol’ Aaron Harang.

Bring up anyone else.  Literally anyone, I don’t care.  Just don’t make us watch this guy any more.

Shoot Me Now: The Mariners Are Still Terrible, April 2013 Edition

I swear I’m going to mention the Seahawks’ draft on this site very soon, but for now there’s this.

The Mariners just finished their first month of the season with a 12-17 record.  GOD THEY’RE THE WORST!

It’s no longer early.  Get ready to hear that phrase about a million times in the ensuing days & weeks.  It’s no longer early, so what the fuck?  What the fuck, Mariners?  You got something for me?  Where the fuck’s my money!  You got my fuckin’ money, Mariners?  Maybe my associate with his 9mm will help you remember …

I don’t know what that was.  The point is, no more excuses.  You’ve had 29 fucking games in 30 fucking days, if you haven’t shown us something we can use, then fuck you, go home and play with your fucking kids.

Kyle Seager has shown me something.  .292 batting average, 10 doubles (14 total extra-base hits), good for an .850 OPS.  That’s something!  That’s something you can hang your hat on!  Be proud of yourself, Seager.  You’re a hitter on the Mariners I genuinely enjoy watching.  Bringing the grand total to 1.

I’m coming around on Jason Bay, mostly because he’s not the total trainwreck everyone thought he’d be.  Now, in an ideal world, the trainwrecks on this team would, in fact, BE guys like Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, and the like.  In an ideal world, the trainwrecks certainly wouldn’t be Smoak, Ackley, and Montero.  But, we live in Seattle, where it’s never an ideal world.

To be fair, Ackley appears to be coming around a little bit.  After starting the year batting a lowly .091 after April 12th, he has raised his average to a whopping .253.  Now, his OPS still sucks, because he never walks and he only has the 3 doubles, but I’ll takes what I can gets.  Is this “hot” streak just a streak?  Is he about to go into another slump which sees him flatlining around the Mendoza line for the bulk of the season?  Let’s hope not.  At this point, I’m willing to live with Dustin Ackley:  Singles Hitter.  It’s better than Dustin Ackley:  Ground Out To Second Base.

Morales and Morse, after somewhat torrid starts, have come down to Earth.  Of course, Morse has that pinky issue he’s trying to pretend isn’t an issue, while Morales is a big fat guy who doesn’t want to be here, so how much can we expect from these two before the trade deadline?  It’s not like they have to try all that hard to get interest from contending teams.  You’d like to think they’d try hard to showcase themselves and get us the best possible players in return that we can get, but go back a couple of paragraphs to that whole “ideal world” thing.

On the pitching side of things, Felix and Iwakuma are in a dead heat for the early Cy Young race.  Both have sub-2 ERAs, both are striking out around 9 batters per 9 innings, both have 5 of 6 starts as Quality Starts, and both have winning records in spite of this grotesque offense.  Words cannot express how much I love these two guys.

Everyone else:  not so much.  Joe Saunders has given up exactly 2 earned runs over 22.1 innings in three home games this season.  Joe Saunders has given up exactly 19 earned runs over 13.2 innings in three road games this season.  I’m not gonna lie to you, I would SERIOUSLY consider running with a 6-man starting rotation and handcuffing Joe Saunders to his Safeco Field locker.

Brandon Maurer is pretty much exactly what you would expect of a middling prospect who has made the jump from AA to the Bigs.  Stephen Strasburg he isn’t.  Growing Pains is the euphemistic way of saying he’s not very good.  He’s had three crap games, two okay games against the Rangers, and one really good game against the Angels last week.  Right now, he’s a two-pitch pitcher with a slider and a fastball and no way to get left-handed hitters out.  Not for nothing, but this is why you keep a guy like Jon Garland out of Spring Training.  Even if you’re not 100% convinced he will keep over a full season, it’s still probably better than rushing Maurer too soon.  He needs to be in Tacoma developing and working on his change up.  Either that, or he needs to be throwing his change up more NOW while he’s with the Mariners.  Chock this season up as a lost cause and start developing his gifts for future seasons where hopefully we won’t suck so bad.

The less said about Aaron Harang, the better.  That guy is a fucking nightmare where I can’t wake up and a horrible monster is eating me alive.

The bullpen has more or less been as expected.  Wilhelmsen and Capps are rocking the party, Perez has been fine, Furbush has been okay, and Loe has been DFA’d.  Because he sucks.  Almost as hard as Aaron Harang.

In all honesty, I can’t wait until Aaron Harang is let go so I can immediately forget he was ever a Seattle Mariner until someone, somewhere, points out in a few years that he was on the team for a few of the most miserable weeks/months of my life, and I’ll go, “Oh yeah …” and then I’ll immediately forget he was ever a Seattle Mariner again.

There’s already talk of the team making moves, and not just the predictable moves of firing the GM and the manager.  At some point, you get tired of watching young prospects get rushed up too soon, struggle, and then have everyone else shrug their shoulders and say, “Welp, we tried!  And now there’s no one below them ready to replace them, so I guess we’re stuck!”  I hate the fact that the Mariners suck, I hate the fact that there isn’t anyone who is ready to come up to replace the suckier of the sucky Mariners, and I hate being reminded on a daily basis that this team sucks.

So, here’s a suggestion:  stop sucking!  Figure it the fuck out, win some fucking games, and give this city something to fucking cheer for!  We’re all a little sick and fucking tired of your bullshit.

The Back-End of the Mariners Rotation Still Stinks

More than many, I was willing to give Blake Beavan a shot this year.  A lot of fans wanted nothing to do with Beavan; they wanted him to start the year in Tacoma, or at the very least in the bullpen as a long man.  But, in Beavan I could see a guy who could provide a little value at the back-end of a rotation.  A guy who could eat up a lot of innings, who would keep you in more ballgames than he’d blow you, who – if he adjusted his arm-angle enough – might be able to flip that switch and pull a Doug Fister out of his ass.

But, for me to buy on, Beavan was going to have to come out of the gates on fire!  I’m willing to put up with slumps here and there, but that’s only AFTER you’ve shown me you’re worthy of being in the big leagues.  Beavan was already on thin ice coming IN to this season; he has since set fire to that ice and is now suffering from hypothermia as he drowns to his death.  He was 24 years old.

Look, this is getting pretty fucking old.  I’m tired of watching the same piece of crap go out there every five days and pitch like a piece of crap!  If I thought we had a better option who was physically ready for the grind of being in the rotation, I’d toss his name in right here, but unfortunately we’re kind of fucked on all fronts.  Hultzen needs more time to mature.  Bonderman needs more time to build his arm up.  Ramirez needs more time for both.

For the record, Jon Garland went 6 innings, giving up only 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks in his first start for the Rockies.  That was against the Padres; but then again, we just got done getting murdered by the Astros, so who’s the shithead now?

On the plus side, the novelty of the new season has officially worn off.  I no longer feel this intense desire to get in front of a TV to watch the Mariners play baseball anymore.  Getting beaten by the Astros, at home, while giving up 24 runs in the last two games will do that to you.

For the record, Jason Vargas went 5.2 innings, giving up only 1 run on 8 hits and 2 walks in his first start for the Angels.  That was in Texas against the Rangers.  Not that I would take that trade back or anything, but this is what happens when you trade from a position of strength and turn that strength into a weakness.  You’re just as bad as you were before, but you’re differently bad so at least it’s a little more interesting just because it’s different. 

You know, I’d really like to see what this lineup could do for us when we have guys like Hultzen, Ramirez, and Maurer all up in the Majors and all producing at a high level.  Then again, I’d like to see a lot of things.  Some titties in my face instead of this fucking computer, for starters.

2013 Seattle Mariners Regular Season Preview

See, this was the Spring Training preview.  Now, we’re talking about the Regular Season.  Big difference.

This is the first of a weekend-long bonanza of Mariners-related preview & prediciton posts.  In addition to this (which is really just a response to the above-linked Spring Training Preview, where I comment on how the team has turned out compared to my original predictions), I’m going to come at you with guns blazing.

In some order, I’m going to unleash the full force of my Inner-Homer and tell you why the 2013 Seattle Mariners are the best thing ever.  And I’m also going to unleash the full force of my Inner-Self-Loathing-Skeptic and tell you why this team is going to be a huge, embarrassing failure.  Should be some good times!

As for my predictions, I nailed the bats except for one.  Jason Bay is looking more and more like that 25th man over Casper Wells, which is entirely unexpected yet expected at the same time.  I mean, who could have believed that Bay – after two Figginsian years wandering the desert with a plastic inflatable bat – had enough punch to earn his way onto this team?  But, as I said before, this team has pretty much seen all it’s going to see out of Casper Wells.  He had 31 games over two months in 2011 and 93 games over a semi-full season last year.  We had multiple openings in the outfield these past two seasons; he had PLENTY of chances to earn his roster spot.  It goes to show the level of discomfort the Mariners felt that they had to sign Jason Bay to a minor league contract.  And, to his credit, Jason Bay held up over this past month of Spring Training.  So, there you go.

The only saving grace for Wells is if the team opts to put Guti on the DL to start the season (still an outside chance).  In my heart of hearts, I kind of hope this happens.  Let’s face it, it’s pretty easy to distrust these Spring numbers out of Bay.  I’d like to see what he can do over the course of the month of April – when the weather is at its coldest, and the games actually mean something to all parties involved – to see if he is ACTUALLY worth the roster spot, or if he’s an Arizona mirage that will turn out to be a cardboard cutout of an oasis.

Either that, or, you know, just put Wells on the DL.  Fake some kind of an injury.  Don’t tell me this hasn’t been done before!  You telling me Wells is going to blow the whistle on this happening?  What organization would trust him if he did?

Anyway, God, enough about that.  Regarding the pitching staff, I was kinda WAY off.

The obvious was Felix, Saunders, and Iwakuma in some order.  The last two spots I botched entirely, but I would say this was circumstantial more than it was a flaw in my logic.  Had Jon Garland not had that clause in his contract forcing the team’s hand a week prematurely, I have the strong belief that he would still be on this team today (over Maurer, most likely).  It was always going to come down to Beavan and Ramirez for a spot.  Neither really dominated the issue.  And when Ramirez came down with arm tightness, that sealed his deal right there.

To be honest, Beavan and Maurer are only marginally more interesting than Ramirez & Garland, but in the end, does it really matter?  Does anyone see Blake Beavan sticking around for the full season?  I sure don’t.  I’d be pleasantly surprised if Maurer doesn’t get sent down as well, but I have a feeling the team will have a much shorter leash with him than they did with Noesi last year.  The luxury of more options in Tacoma:  you gotta love it.

In the bullpen, I didn’t see this team NOT keeping a long reliever, what with all the fringe #5 starters we have in this organization.  But, you know, them’s the breaks.  I still don’t think it’s all that wise to go without.  Let’s look at the facts:  none of the arms are built up to the point where they can go much past 100 pitches for this first month.  What happens if Iwakuma only manages to go 4 or 5 innings, followed by Saunders getting lit up?  That’s a lot of taxation of your bullpen, and you haven’t even gotten to your #4 or #5 starters!

For the entire month of April, the Seattle Mariners have one off-day (smack-dab in the middle on the 15th).  They play the likes of the A’s, the White Sox (in Chicago, where they always thrash us), the Rangers twice, the Angels, the Tigers, and they close out with the Orioles.  Six games, over two series, with the Houston Astros are the only reprieve we will see in this early going.  Aside from those scrubs, we’re looking at some hefty offenses.  The starting rotation (Felix aside) is easily our shakiest aspect of this team.  You do the math.  If our bottom four starters don’t carry their share of the mail, this bullpen could be wiped out.

Aside from that quibble, I’m more than a little happy that Carter Capps is taking up the spot vacated by having no long reliever.  He’s worth it, and he’s totally due.  That guy is going to kick more ass than a buddy movie featuring Frank Dux and Chuck Norris.  Kameron Loe is another guy who made the team against my predictions.  He’s filling in for the injured Josh Kinney (60-Day DL, probably played his last game as a Mariner) and will kick significantly less ass.

As far as numbers are concerned, I got 22 of 25 correct (though, initially I predicted Beavan as a bullpen arm; I’m still counting him as he DID make the team).  Went with the wrong aging veteran reclamation project (Garland over Bay) and went with the wrong young starter with minor league options (Ramirez over Maurer).  Oh so close.

Brandon Maurer Cracks The Opening Week Starting Rotation

In short:  I’m for it.

Boom.  Post finished.

OK, not so fast.  I guess I’ll throw some weight behind this argument a little bit.  What we’re talking about here is a situation where there were two open spots in the rotation.  Originally, there were five guys realistically in the running:  Jon Garland, Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, Jeremy Bonderman, and Brandon Maurer.  Coming into Spring Training, everyone believed Bonderman was one of the longest shots simply because he’s older, he’s coming off an injury, he hasn’t pitched in a while, and even when he WAS healthy, he wasn’t that good.  But, you know, you sign him to a minor league deal, you throw a pittance at him, you invite him to camp, and you see what he can do.

Garland, in my opinion, was the biggest lock of the group.  Granted, he too was coming off of a major injury and a major layoff from pitching, but he struck me as a guy who was a little farther along in his recovery (having almost pitched last season before shutting himself down as a precautionary measure) and he was a guy with a better track record of success.  Aside from this one injury, he’d had a nice career eating up innings and doing just enough on the field to make himself useful.

In between those two extremes, you had three younger guys of varying Major League experience (ranging from Some to None), all with minor league options.  You could make the argument for any of those guys to start the season in Tacoma.  Beavan could’ve used more time in the minors to work on his new delivery.  Ramirez could’ve used more time to work on his secondary pitches.  Maurer could’ve used more seasoning, especially considering he has never even pitched in triple-A (let alone the Majors).  Of the three, Beavan has the most experience in the Majors, but he also has the lowest upside.  Maurer has no experience, but he has the highest upside; so the argument for starting him in Tacoma is probably even stronger because you’d delay starting his service time and have an extra year’s worth of team control at a reasonable-to-cheap salary.

But, you know, say what you will about the Seattle Mariners:  they don’t run their organization worrying about things like “service time” and “team control”.  Which is weird, because I’ve been killing this team for YEARS now for being so tight-fisted with their money and throwing away season after season in the name of lowering payroll (under the guise of “rebuilding” and “doing things the right way”).  But, they did it with Michael Pineda in 2011 and they’re doing it now, in 2013, with Brandon Maurer.

That isn’t to say they’re rushing these guys to the Majors.  In 2011, the Mariners had alternatives to Pineda, just as this year they have had alternatives to Maurer.  However, the sticky situation with Garland opting out of his deal last week, combined with Ramirez’s arm strength issues, pretty much made this a no-brainer.  Yeah, Maurer has pitched amazingly this spring, but it feels to me that this is more out of default than it is because he stormed onto the scene a la Pineda.

In 2011, all anyone could talk about was Pineda’s stuff.  His extreme fastball and his wicked curve.  He was a dynamo and it would’ve been an absolute crime to leave him off of the Major League roster.  This year … I mean, I guess some people talk about Maurer’s stuff.  But, it’s more in conjunction with his poise, his command, and his depth of arsenal.  Guy’s got four pitches and he can throw them in any count AND THAT’S GREAT.  But, does he have a 98 mile per hour fastball and gigantic hands that make the baseball look like a golf ball?

What I’m getting at is:  there isn’t quite the buzz surrounding Maurer that there was when Pineda cracked the team.  More than anything, that probably dates back to hype and expectations.  People were talking about Pineda in Seattle when he was an infant.  Maurer’s hype has been mired behind The Big Three of Hultzen, Paxton, and Walker.  Maurer – through his play last year (where he pitched in 24 AA games and generated 117 strikeouts in 137.2 innings, earning Pitcher of the Year honors in the Southern League) – worked his way into fans reluctantly re-dubbing them The Big Four, but even then no one really took him as seriously as the other three (or even Pineda, for that matter, when he was Mariners property).  Think about how you felt when the Mariners were trying to trade for Justin Upton and reports were coming out that one of The Big Three was being offered.  You weren’t sitting there wringing your hands, worrying about losing Brandon Maurer to the Diamondbacks, were you?

But, who knows?  Maybe you SHOULD have been concerned.  Because here he is, at the top of the mountain as the dust settles on this starting rotation race.  And I, for one, can’t wait to see how it shakes out.  Like many of you, I’d rather see the young guy with the serious upside in the Majors over a guy like Garland or Bonderman – neither of whom have any future with this team.  Yeah, Maurer will be on a strict pitch limit (a la Pineda in 2011).  Yeah, if the Mariners find themselves in contention in September, we will all be talking about how the M’s are planning on shutting Maurer down pretty soon (a la Strasburg with the Nationals).  And yeah, if Maurer sticks, we’re talking about losing a year’s worth of team control.  But, in the long run, I think this is really going to be worth our while.

Get the kid’s feet wet now, when we’re still not realistically expected to challenge for anything in the American League.  Get him that rookie experience now, so when next year comes around and the Mariners are looking to do even MORE damage, we won’t have to worry about Maurer’s pitch counts as much.  We won’t have to worry about shutting him down after five months.  Obviously, we’ll still be bringing him along slowly on the innings pitched front, but it won’t be as severe.  If we find ourselves in contention in 2014, and Maurer is leading the charge, we won’t lose him for any playoff run.

I know this is a lot of Big Think coming from a guy who generally believes this team is going to suck balls (until they show me otherwise) for years and years to come.  But, for entertainment’s sake, I’m GLAD we didn’t retain the Kevin Millwood type.  I’m GLAD the rookie gets a chance to prove himself.  And if he goes out and does the job, maybe that’ll give this organization more confidence going into next year.  They’ll be able to trust OTHER rookies.  They won’t have to bother with the runaround of giving aging, washed-up veterans minor league deals with Spring Training invites.  They won’t have to be so concerned with a “veteran presence” and they can, instead, just go with the best players available – regardless of age or Major League experience.

There’s a lot riding on this kid’s shoulders.  But, based on his Spring Training (2 runs in 20 innings, with 6 walks and 22 strikeouts), he has certainly earned it.

So, Jon Garland Won’t Pitch For The Mariners (Will Pitch For The Rockies)

News – if you can really call it “news” – happened while I was away.  I followed along, as I’m sure most of you did, and I was flabbergasted, as I’m sure most of you were.  I mean, who DIDN’T think he was a lock to make this team?

Apparently, last Friday was the deadline.  It was written into his deal so he’d have plenty of time to find a backup team in the event that the Mariners decided at the last minute they didn’t want him.  Funny thing is, I have a feeling had he opted to stick it out for the final week, the Mariners probably WOULD have made him their fourth or fifth starter.  Instead, the Mariners told him they weren’t ready to give him that spot, and he took that as his opportunity to look elsewhere for employment.

Now, obviously, we weren’t in on the conversation.  Maybe the Mariners said what they’re reported as having said, or maybe they said something different.  Maybe they left the opportunity open to him – to possibly make this team if he chose to stay – or maybe they slammed the door shut and told him to take a hike.  Either way, Garland figured he’d have a better chance elsewhere.

With Seattle this spring, Garland appeared as a starter in 4 games and as a reliever in 0 games.  He pitched 12 innings in those 4 games, giving up 10 hits, 3 runs (2 homers), 5 walks, and 4 strikeouts.  That’s the data.  And apparently he (or his agent) heard enough from other teams that those numbers would suffice.  It wasn’t the ballsiest of moves, but it was still a decision that came with some risk.  Risk that has now been rewarded with a Major League contract with the Rockies and a guaranteed starting job in the Major Leagues.

Will this move come back to bite the Mariners in the ass?  I find it incredibly hard to believe.  Garland is 33 years old.  Best case scenario (had he stayed, and the Mariners made him a starter):  he pitches the full season with us as a back-end starter, approaches 200 innings, has an ERA around 4 and a record around .500.  Had he done that, he most certainly would’ve signed a bigger deal elsewhere for multiple years.  I can’t imagine the Mariners would have extended him, knowing what we have ready to burst through the upper minor leagues.

Would it have been nice to have a stabilizing influence at the back-end of our rotation a la Kevin Millwood?  Sure, I guess.  But, Jon Garland isn’t the difference between playoffs and no-playoffs.  Hell, he’s not even the difference between contention and no-contention!  Again, define “contention” however you wish (I’d say within 5 games back of a playoff spot going into the final month is a pretty conservative estimate), but Garland was hardly a savior.  His ceiling is incredibly low, he had no future with this team beyond 2013 (had they opted to keep him), and his floor is pretty brutal when you think about it.

Jon Garland’s floor is essentially this:  we keep him, meaning we have to make room for him on our 40-man roster.  So, we cut someone younger, with more upside and more value, to bring in a guy on a one-year and ONLY one-year deal.  Then, he gets injured.  Because, let’s face it, there isn’t exactly the greatest track record of starting pitchers returning from shoulder surgery.  So, not only have we wasted a roster spot, but we paid a guy to come in and reinjure his most fragile body part.  Resulting in what the Mariners have right now!  Most likely a younger guy coming in and taking that final spot (like a Beavan or a Maurer).

Might as well avoid all that potential mess.  Or, at the very least, don’t let that potential mess dictate terms before you’re ready to accept.  I wish Garland nothing but the best for the Colorado Rockies.  Unfortunately, I have a feeling his best will result in 2013 being his final go-around.

Seattle Mariners Spring Training Preview

You can see yesterday’s Offseason Review here.  One-stop shopping for all the Seattle Mariners offseason moves of note (see what I did there with that “of note” … can’t pull the wool over the eyes of THIS guy).

So, to bring it back, this is the team the Seattle Mariners ended with in 2012 (the players in BOLD are no longer on the team going into 2013):

C – Jesus Montero
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
SS – Brendan Ryan
3B – Kyle Seager
LF – Casper Wells
CF – Michael Saunders
RF – Eric Thames
DH – John Jaso

C – Miguel Olivo
OF – Trayvon Robinson
INF – Munenori Kawasaki
Util – Chone Figgins

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Jason Vargas
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Kevin Millwood
  5. Blake Beavan

Closer – Tom Wilhelmsen
LRP – Oliver Perez
RRP – Josh Kinney
RRP – Stephen Pryor
LRP – Charlie Furbush
LRP – Lucas Luetge
Long Relief – Erasmo Ramirez

Obviously, the 2012 Mariners’ roster was ever-changing, so these aren’t concrete examples.  But, overall, in the 2nd half of last year, more often than not these are the players who played and those were the positions they played.  Give or take a Guti and Carp (when they were healthy) and a Shawn Kelley in the bullpen.

So, from the looks of things, we’re replacing at least seven guys on this roster (including our ENTIRE bench and 40% of our starting rotation).  But, obviously, those aren’t the only moves to be made.  You gotta figure aside from Pitching Staff Ace, everyone’s job is on the line.  Based on the offseason moves made to date, here’s what I’m seeing as our roster to start the 2013 season (changes from 2012 made in BOLD):

C – Jesus Montero
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
SS – Brendan Ryan
3B – Kyle Seager
LF – Michael Saunders
CF – Franklin Gutierrez
RF – Michael Morse
DH – Kendrys Morales

C – Kelly Shoppach
OF – Raul Ibanez
INF – Robert Andino
OF – Casper Wells

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Joe Saunders
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Jon Garland
  5. Erasmo Ramirez

Closer – Tom Wilhelmsen
LRP – Oliver Perez
RRP – Josh Kinney
RRP – Stephen Pryor
LRP – Charlie Furbush
LRP – Lucas Luetge
Long Relief – Blake Beavan

Obviously, I hold no sway in this deal.  Although, truth be told, if I had it my way and things break the way I hope they’ll break, this would be the starting 25 you’d see on Opening Day.

So, let’s go through it, position by position.

The first five players listed above, from Catcher – Montero down through our entire infield, is all the same.  Yes, it will be important for the moves the Mariners made to pan out if we’re hoping to shock the world and contend for a playoff spot in September; but if this team is ever going to pan out long-term, it’s going to be up to these five guys:  Montero, Smoak, Ackley, Seager, and Ryan.  Montero and Smoak are supposed to be our middle-of-the-order thumpers to drive in runs.  Thus far, they’ve been underwhelming.  Now, we’ll see if those “protection” theories hold any water (the thinking being:  if you have good, established hitters in your lineup, they will “protect” younger, inexperienced guys like Smoak and Montero, thereby allowing them to see better pitches because opposing pitchers are too worried about the veterans like Morse and Morales).  2013 is Make or Break for Jackie Z and it’s Make or Break for Montero and Smoak.  If they fail, Jackie Z is likely toast, Smoak is likely to be dealt for peanuts, and Montero will be relegated to a backup catcher role as Mike Zunino takes hold of the position for the next decade-plus.  If they succeed, then Jackie Z will likely be given an extension, Smoak will hold the fort at first base, and Montero will hold the fort at DH while Zunino takes over as full-time catcher anyway because he’s so great.

The bottom line:  we need Smoak and Montero to be good.  We need Seager to build upon his promising 2012.  We need Ackley to show why being picked #2 overall was a smart decision.  And we need Brendan Ryan to hit SOMETHING, because if he can be halfway competent, his defense makes him a superstar.

We need:  no more black holes!

Let’s move on to the outfield.  Michael Saunders played the full season in 2012 and made huge strides.  He primarily played in center because Guti once AGAIN couldn’t stay healthy.  Like Seager, it will be important for Saunders to build upon his promising 2012.  This organization has enough to worry about.  Let’s have Saunders not be one of those things.

Getting Guti back, healthy, and in center full time is akin to signing a bigtime free agent.  If we can just, for Christ’s sake!, get Guti back to where he was in 2009 before this nightmare run of maladies befell our beloved center fielder, then it’ll be an addition on par with the other big bats we brought in.

Morse, while a liability on defense, should be a steadying presence in the lineup.  Personally, I think these baseball intellectuals are giving WAY too much credence to defensive metrics they readily admit are flawed.  I don’t for one second believe Casper Wells is as good, much less better than Michael Morse as an overall baseball player.  His defense might be superior, but is it SO superior that it overwhelms the fact that Morse is a legitimate Major League hitter while Wells sucks dick except for a few brilliant spurts of prowess?  I say no.  Morse makes this team better than Wells and he makes this team better than all of the other jackasses we had in the corner outfield spots in 2012.

Morales is another legitimate Major League hitter that we can slide right into the #3 or #4 spot in the lineup.  With Morales and Morse as a one-two punch, we’re really giving other teams something to think about for the first time in YEARS.  More importantly, it pushes guys like Seager, Smoak, and Montero into less-stressful spots in the lineup, where they can worry about their own games, and not trying to carry this team on their backs.

As for the bench, I think we’re better across the board.  Shoppach has to be a step up from Olivo.  Ibanez essentially takes over as the veteran presence Chone Figgins occupied last year, only Ibanez should hopefully not be a complete waste of space.  Andino is an upgrade over Kawasaki.  The only question mark is the final outfield spot.  I’m predicting Casper Wells takes it over Jason Bay, because I just have zero confidence in that guy having anything left in the tank.  With Wells, you’re looking at a clear upgrade over Robinson, Thames, Carp, Peguero, and whoever else was our reserve outfielder in 2012.  Being the team’s 4th outfielder seems to be the role Casper Wells was born to play.  He can cover all the outfield positions and he’s not such a huge drop-off in offensive production when you play him sparingly (and against left-handed pitchers).

Here’s what our starting lineup could look like for much of the 2013 season:

  1. (L) – Dustin Ackley (2B)
  2. (L) – Kyle Seager (3B)
  3. (S) – Kendrys Morales (DH)
  4. (R) – Michael Morse (RF)
  5. (R) – Jesus Montero (C)
  6. (S) – Justin Smoak (1B)
  7. (R) – Franklin Gutierrez (CF)
  8. (L) – Michael Saunders (LF)
  9. (R) – Brendan Ryan (SS)

Doesn’t look too bad, right?  Again, this is all guess-work, but in an ideal world, if the Mariners are playing a 1-game playoff to get into the post-season, this is the lineup I’d like to see.  Against a tough right-handed pitcher, you can slide Saunders into center, and start Ibanez in left.  Late in games, you can put Wells in for Morse (or pinch-run him for Montero, Morales or Morse).  And on getaway games, you’re not losing a ton when you start Andino for Ryan, Shoppach for Montero, Ibanez for whoever, and Wells for whoever else.  You can give Seager and Ackley days off from playing the field by throwing them at DH once in a while.  Morales can always slide over to first base in a pinch, I’m assuming.  Lots of flexibility on this team.

More importantly, lots of production on this team, if things go the way we hope.  If Ackley improves and Seager at the very least doesn’t get any worse, you’re talking about a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup.  Morales and Morse are there to hit dingers, Montero and Smoak are down in the lineup where there’s less pressure on them.  And, at the end of our lineup, you’re not talking about 1/3 of our batters being a bottomless pit of despair!  While before we were trying to shoe-horn guys like Saunders and Guti into the upper third of the lineup, now we have the luxury to play them near the bottom, improving our production dramatically over guys like Thames, Trayvon Robinson, an everyday Casper Wells, and so on.  Saunders and Guti have the potential to be productive EVERY day, not every 10 days.  That’s big in my book.

I don’t want to alarm any of you.  If you’re on any heart medication or have a pacemaker, you may want to stop reading right now.  Don’t look now, but this offense MIGHT just be a league-average offense!  I KNOW, RIGHT?

If you want to know why so many people are picking the Mariners to be one of the “surprise” teams of 2013 a la Oakland and Baltimore of 2012, look no further.  Of course, by these very people declaring us a “surprise” team, they’ve effectively ruined the surprise and doomed us to a fate worse than Bill Simmons picking the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl.  I want you to keep that in mind as you don’t watch this team still playing in October.

One major reason to take a huge step back from all those post-season expectations is this team’s starting rotation.  At the top, we’re fine.  If Felix can give us his usual Cy Young-calibre pitching, we’ve got a huge leg-up over most other teams.  And, if Joe Saunders can continue to be Joe Saunders (and not Worse Joe Saunders), then we’ve effectively made up for the loss of Vargas and won’t miss much of a beat.

After those two, it gets a little … iffy.  Is Iwakuma the real deal, like he was in the second half of 2012?  Or, is he going to require another half-season to get his stuff up to snuff?  If we landed the real deal with Iwakuma, then I’ll tell you we’ve really got something here.  Felix, Saunders, and Iwakuma aren’t really on par with the best 1-2-3’s in the Major Leagues, but for the regular season they could be just enough to get the job done.  If those guys can give us 60 wins in their 90+ starts, then we’ve only got to manage somewhere around 30 wins across the other starters’ 60+ starts to be a legitimate candidate for post-season contention.

Well, when you put it that way …

The last two starters could be brutal, though.  I’m only pencilling Jon Garland into the rotation based on his prior performances; but that guy hasn’t pitched in a year and a half!  Erasmo Ramirez is only in my hypothetical rotation based on a handful of starts in June and again in September.  Ramirez had 4 starts in June where the M’s went 2-2 (his record being 0-2), his ERA was 4.58, and he averaged less than 5 innings per start.  Of course, a main reason for that average was his last start where he left injured in the 3rd inning and promptly went on the DL.  He only had 1 quality start out of those four, but MAN was it a quality start!  8 innings, 10 strikeouts, 1 earned run on 3 hits and a walk in a 1-0 loss to the A’s.  Upon his return from the DL, in a September call-up, Ramirez made 4 more starts.  The M’s were 1-3 in these games (his record being 1-1) and his ERA was only 2.96 in this stretch, as he averaged nearly 7 innings per start.

So, in reality, I’m basing Ramirez’s status in our 2013 rotation on five starts in 2012.  Not really the smartest way to go about predicting a roster, but then again, it’s not like I’m the only one.  Many smarter people than myself are also pencilling Ramirez into our rotation.

Which, when you think about it, could be the best thing for this team.  When you see these “surprise” teams jump out of the woodwork, what’s a general theme?  They USUALLY have one or two very young rotation guys who have breakout years.  What’s more likely?  A guy like Smoak or Ackley figures it out and takes the world by storm?  Or a pitcher like Ramirez (or Hultzen, or someone else) mowing people down out of nowhere?  You see it all the time with pitchers; why can’t Ramirez be that catalyst for us at the back-end of our rotation?

At which point, you’ve got an elite Felix Hernandez, a steady Joe Saunders, a solid Hisashi Iwakuma, and a breakout Erasmo Ramirez.  With Jon Garland as an innings eater who will give you a number of quality starts a la Kevin Millwood.  I’m not gonna lie to you, my heart just fluttered a little.

The more I think about it, if we can JUST squeeze the best out of this starting rotation, and if our hitters can do JUST enough to keep us in ballgames, this very well COULD be our year!  Because I don’t think you’re going to find many better bullpens – from top to bottom – than the one we have in Seattle this year.  It’s a shame we have to waste it on a team that will likely be treading water around .500, because in a couple years (when this team will theoretically be ready to make the big jump towards regular contention) this bullpen won’t be the same (and will likely price itself out of our range).

But, Wilhelmsen is a stud of the highest order.  Yet, if he fails, Carter Capps is waiting in the wings.  And if he fails, Stephen Pryor is another flame-thrower.  And if he fails, Oliver Perez can burn the strike zone from the left side.  And if HE fails … it goes on and on.  Furbush had an amazing 2012 out of the bullpen.  Kinney was solid, if unspectacular.  Luetge was a Rule 5 draft pick who stuck with the team as a left-handed specialist.  Beavan has always been an innings eater who will easily devour innings in a long relief role.

For the record, the likelihood of all those guys failing is pretty slim.  But, in my opinion, NONE of those guys will fail, and we will have the best lockdown bullpen in the American League.

How many 1-run games can the Mariners win?  Ultimately, that will tell the story as to whether or not this team makes the playoffs.  I know winning 1-run games isn’t really a sustainable model for building a championship contender, but every so often there are outliers.  The A’s last year were 11-5 in extra-innings games.  They were 25-18 in 1-run games.  The Orioles last year were a mind-boggling 16-2 in extra-innings games!  And they were 29-9 in 1-run games!

Meanwhile, the Mariners last year were 5-10 in extra-innings games and 25-28 in 1-run games.  Gotta figure out a way to turn those figures around.  Clutch hitting, quality starts, unbelievable bullpen pitching.  That’s the key.  With just enough late-game defense thrown in to keep everyone honest.

I’ll have an official Season Preview closer to our April 1st season debut in Oakland (where else?), once everything has been set in stone and we know just exactly what we can expect on Opening Night.  In the meantime, dare I say it?  There’s ACTUALLY some reasons for optimism in 2013?

Seattle Mariners Offseason Review

With Michael Bourn finally signing, with the Cleveland Indians of all teams, and with Spring Training officially underway, I’m officially calling it the End of the Offseason.  The Mariners have made ALL the moves they’re going to make, and their precious unprotected #12 draft pick is securely in their possession.  So, consider that their first move of the offseason:  keeping their draft pick (which they would’ve lost had they signed a premier free agent like Bourn or Josh Hamilton).  It’ll be interesting to see what that guy turns into, considering I’m hearing rumors that this isn’t the strongest of all draft classes.

The Mariners have made moves, both major and minor.  I’m not going to get into those Arbitration-Eligible players the Mariners had.  Just, rest assured, they eventually came to an agreement with all of them.

The Major Moves are as follows:

  1. Felix Hernandez signs 7-year, $175 million deal
  2. Jason Vargas is traded to Anaheim for Kendrys Morales
  3. John Jaso is indirectly traded to Oakland for Washington’s Michael Morse
  4. Hisashi Iwakuma signs 2-year, $14 million deal
  5. Joe Saunders signs 1-year, $6.5 million deal (plus mutual option for 2014)

These are the guarantees.  Felix is obviously the biggie; he really deserves to be in a class all his own.  Because, aside from his deal, Iwakuma’s deal, and possibly Saunders’ deal, everything else the Mariners have done this offseason has been strictly for 2013 and no more.  That isn’t to say the Mariners won’t re-sign Morales or Morse or anyone else, but without the guarantee on the table, we really can’t count on anything long-term, now can we?

As a gentle aside, I would point out that it’s quite unwise to dismiss Geoff Baker’s assessment out of hand that the Mariners aren’t gearing up for a transition of organizational power in the near future.  All the Mariners have at the moment are Felix, young guys on rookie contracts, a bunch of stiffs on 1-year deals, and the last year of Chone Figgins’ contract.  After 2013, we can forget that Chone Figgins ever happened, and all those stiffs will be dust in the wind.  Think about it.  For a franchise going into serious negotiations with a potential Regional Sports Network (be it Root Sports, Comcast, or some other entity yet to be determined), you’re looking at some SERIOUS fucking value.  Do the right thing, Nintendo, sell to a committed buyer whose primary and only obligation is to WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS!

So, Felix stays, Saunders replaces Vargas, Iwakuma gets a chance to build on his solid second half of last year, Morales fills the DH role shared by Montero and Jaso, and Morse fills the corner outfield role that was spread evenly between Ichiro and a bunch of AAA knuckleheads.

Our offseason will be defined by these major moves, but they’re not the only moves.  While our OFFSEASON will be defined by those five guys, our level of success in the regular season might just hinge on some of these minor deals we made.  It’s going to be more difficult ranking these guys as I did with the five above, but I’ll do my best.

  1. Jon Garland signs 1-year minor league deal
  2. Raul Ibanez signs 1-year Major League deal for $2.75 million plus incentives
  3. Oliver Perez signs 1-year, $1.5 million deal
  4. Trayvon Robinson is traded to Baltimore for Robert Andino
  5. Kelly Shoppach signs 1-year deal for $1.5 million
  6. Jason Bay signs 1-year deal for $1 million (if he makes the team), with only $500,000 guaranteed
  7. Jeremy Bonderman signs 1-year minor league deal
  8. Kameron Loe signs 1-year minor league deal

Obviously, there are a lot of question marks about these guys.  I have a feeling that Garland is going to come back and make an impact, but that’s really just a feeling.  Then again, of these 8 guys, he has the most potential to make the biggest impact on this team, being a regular in the starting rotation.

Ibanez is here to be a veteran presence and a bat off the bench.  He will get his share of starts, but I wouldn’t call him a “starter” by any stretch.

Perez, the Mariners rescued off the scrap heap before last season.  He threw in our bullpen for half a season and acquitted himself quite well.  He’s a hard-throwing left-hander with experience who should be able to lock down the 7th and/or 8th innings in a close game.

Robert Andino is the man nobody talks about, but that’s ridiculous because he IS our infield bench.  He’s the only guy on the roster who can play 3rd, 2nd, and short stop, and should be a huge upgrade over unofficial 2012 Mariners mascot Munenori Kawasaki.  Considering the fact that this team is going to have a catcher and two other guys who strictly play outfield (Ibanez and either Casper Wells or Jason Bay), Robert Andino is going to have the weight of the world upon him as he’s pencilled in to spell three of the four infield positions for an entire season.

Shoppach is a backup catcher.  He replaces Miguel Olivo as a veteran catcher presence and he also replaces John Jaso as our primary (and only, thank Christ) backup catcher.  I like Jaso as much as anyone, but it was KILLING me having three catchers on the same team.  Killing me.  Shoppach probably won’t be much better at the plate than Olivo, and he’s probably going to let his share of passed balls slip between his legs, but he’s NOT Miguel Olivo, so that buys him at least a month of reprieve from the likes of me.

Jason Bay is to the New York Mets what Chone Figgins was to us.  He was a big contract, a huge disappointment, and cut after the third year of his 4-year deal.  Now Jason Bay is to us what Chone Figgins is to the Florida Marlins:  a reclamation project on a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite and a real chance to resurrect his Major League career while playing for a terrible, terrible organization.  It would be wise for you to expect nothing of Jason Bay.  As it stands right now, he’s going to have to prove in the coming weeks that he’s more valuable to us as a 34 year old veteran on a 1-year deal whose last good offensive season was in 2009 than a 28 year old Casper Wells who still has some team control left on a relatively inexpensive contract (and who is capable of playing all three outfield positions fairly well, while Bay plays only one outfield position downright horribly).  His odds are long, put it at that.  Then again, Eric Wedge is Old School (to put it kindly).  It’ll be interesting if Bay puts up solid offensive numbers in Spring, because this organization has the feel of one that’s looking for any and every reason to get rid of Casper Wells.

Jeremy Bonderman is, like Garland, on a 1-year minor league deal to try to regain his Major League career.  Considering he was worse than Garland when both were in their primes, I find it hard to believe Bonderman has much of a chance in Hell.  Then again, you never know.  You just never know, but I REALLY wouldn’t count on this one.

Kameron Loe was just signed to essentially replace Shawn Kelley.  Kelley was re-signed for nearly a million dollars earlier this offseason (he was one of those Arbitration Eligible guys), then cut for seemingly no reason, except for the fact that he was on the 40-man roster and this team needed to make some cuts to bring in guys like Joe Saunders and Kelly Shoppach.  The difference is, Loe is on a minor league deal, so if he sucks, whatever.  If he’s good, then obviously the Mariners will have to make a move before the regular season starts.  Either way, he’s a bullpen arm and one without much of a future with this team considering his age and his track record of late.  At best, he’s insurance in case one of our bullpen studs (Carter Capps or Stephen Pryor) fall apart and need to start the season in the minors.

Finally, you can’t talk about this offseason without talking about the guys who are Mariners no more.

Chone Figgins was the first piece to fall, hail Satan.  We’re still paying him upwards of $8 million to run around in the tropical sun with the Florida Marlins, so bully for him.

Losing Jaso is probably the one that stung the most at the point of impact and it’s probably the one that still stings the most to this day.   He was consistently our best hitter in 2012 (which, obviously, isn’t saying a whole helluva lot, but still) and a guy I know we all loved watch play.  He had a knack for late-game heroics, he could get on base with the best of ’em, and shit, he caught Felix’s perfect game!  AND, as a catcher, he batted left-handed, which is about as rare as it gets!

The main problem, of course, was where he was going to see his playing time.  Ultimately, it would’ve been split between catcher and DH in some Devil’s Three-Way with Montero and Morales (with Morales being the other half of the DH platoon and Montero being the other half of the catcher platoon).  Ultimately, you’re talking about three quality (or supposedly-quality) bats for two positions.  Which means you’re talking about not exactly maximizing your bang for the buck.

With the trade for Morse, the Mariners are essentially going all-in with Montero.  Morse isn’t necessarily “better” than Jaso, but he has more power, so he’s a different KIND of “better”.  And he plays a position of need for this team (corner outfield).  We were logjammed with first base/DH/Catcher types; now we aren’t.  It’s as simple as that.  If we can get a similar OPS out of Morse (with slugging substituting for Jaso’s on-base percentage) than we would have with Jaso, while Montero continues to improve and Morales continues to be solid, then that’s a win-win in my book.

If that doesn’t happen, then we just made a huge mistake and gave Oakland the piece it needed to move over the hump in the playoffs this year.

The other big loss was Jason Vargas.  But, of course, we now have Joe Saunders.  While they aren’t exactly the same pitcher, they’re close enough.  In the end, I think we get the same production out of Saunders as we would have out of Vargas, so again we’re talking win-win with the boost we’ll hopefully get from Morales.

Trayvon Robinson was traded, but he’s not a huge loss.  We have PLENTY of AAA outfielders who can’t hit in the Majors.  Getting rid of one and getting back a solid infield bench player is about as much as anyone could’ve hoped for.

Recently, Shawn Kelley was DFA’d and ultimately traded to the New York Yankees for a AA center fielder.  I guess that’s great for the Jackson Generals and great for the Yankees (who were looking for cheap bullpen depth), but I don’t really see how this move helps the Mariners.  But, whatever.

Even more recently, Mike Carp was DFA’d.  We’re still in the period where the Mariners can trade him, but I wouldn’t expect much.  Mike Carp has always struck me as being the next Michael Morse – a quality bat with terrible defensive skills who just needs an opportunity to play everyday to show what he can do (and who never got that opportunity with the Mariners because he couldn’t stay healthy).  In other words, look for the Mariners to trade for Mike Carp in about five years.  You know, once he’s proven himself and has already had his very-best seasons with another team willing to give a guy a fucking chance.

There might be more moves as Spring Training progresses – Pitchers & Catchers have only just started up this past week – but for the most part, the offseason has come and gone.

Do I think the Mariners have improved?  Well, that’s a subject for part two of this post, to be released tomorrow.

Free Agent Watch: Mariners Sign Jon Garland

It’s a minor league, 1-year deal for a pitcher who hasn’t participated in a full season since 2010 due to injury.  It’s the Mariners taking another chance on a veteran stop-gap until the young studs in the high minors are ready to move up to the Big Leagues.  It’s more competition for Spring Training.

He’s … okay.  Well, he was okay.  Now?  Who the hell knows.  He hasn’t pitched in a year and a half.  Either he regains his form and earns a spot as this team’s 5th starter for 2013, or he gave it one last shot and he can retire without fear of What Might’ve Been.

Truth be told, the Mariners have quite the interesting pile of pitchers to choose from.  A mix of aging vets giving it one final go, young fringe Major Leaguers trying to establish themselves, and even younger Minor Leaguers who project to be stars one day.  As things stand right now, three guys have locked up spots in this rotation:

  • King Felix
  • Hisashi Iwakuma
  • Joe Saunders

Here are the rest of the guys, fighting for the final two spots, in order of the likelihood they actually break camp with the big ballclub:

  1. Erasmo Ramirez
  2. Blake Beavan
  3. Jon Garland
  4. Hector Noesi
  5. Danny Hultzen
  6. Jeremy Bonderman
  7. Brandon Mauer
  8. James Paxton
  9. Taijuan Walker

As you can see, the Garland signing isn’t insignificant.  At the moment, he’s On The Bubble, the last man out.  I think Ramirez showed enough talent at the end of last year to be a front-runner for one of the last two spots.  Beavan has been steady-if-unspectacular in his last two seasons with this team, but he doesn’t strike anyone out and he doesn’t induce ground balls.  All Garland has to do is prove he hasn’t lost too many MPH on his fastball and that he can still get Major League hitters out.  If he succeeds with that, I think it takes a nearly flawless Spring Training for Beavan to hold him off.

Noesi will only earn a spot if he proves he’s learned from last season’s mistakes, and if the guys in front of him are total duds.  His odds are among the longest.  The guys below him aren’t really fighting for anything; they’re just coming to showcase their talents.  Either for other teams to pick him up (Bonderman), or for the coaches on this team, to give them something to think about later in the season if this team needs to bring up a starter (Hultzen, Mauer, Paxton, Walker).  Among the young ones, Hultzen is the only one you could conceivably make a case for sticking with the big ballclub.  But, he would have to have a Michael Pineda-esque type of spring that absolutely forces Eric Wedge and Jackie Z to make the tough decision to forego keeping him in Triple-A for more seasoning.  I’m giving that, like, a 1% chance of happening.

Gun to my head (seriously, why are you putting all these guns to my head all the time?), having seen absolutely nothing from these guys, my guess is the 4th and 5th rotation spots go to Ramirez and Garland.  I just think these coaches are looking for any and every reason to not start Beavan.  If Garland is even halfway competent, I think he wins a spot on this team and the Mariners have to make some tough roster decisions on who to DFA.