Look, Guys, The Mariners Are Who We Thought They Were

I’ll tell you this much, the Angels aren’t good either! They might make the playoffs, since just about everyone will be in the hunt by the end of this crazy season. But, from what I’ve seen so far, I’m not impressed.

Justin Dunn didn’t have a good outing in the opener to this series, and I’m starting to wonder why he’s so highly regarded as a prospect. His fastball isn’t all that fast, he doesn’t appear to have command of any of his pitches, and while he’s got a lot of movement to them, not knowing where they’re going to end up is KIND OF a problem. With so-so stuff, you’d think the team is rushing along someone who could at least throw strikes on a regular basis, but that doesn’t appear to be in his repertoire. I’m not flushing him down the toilet just yet, but I think it’s time to SEVERELY downgrade my expectations on this kid. It’s fine, there are better prospects (hopefully) coming down the pike.

Anyway, he gave up a 3-spot in the first inning of this start. The fact that he managed to go three additional innings of shutout ball is irrelevant to me, as I don’t remember him really looking much more than competent in any of them. But, we didn’t really get much out of our hitting in this one either. Austin Nola had a couple of RBIs on two hits, Kyle Lewis added a double to his pile, and Dylan Moore hit a homer, but a 5-3 loss is a 5-3 loss.

The M’s won the second game of this series behind another strong start from Marco Gonzales. 7 innings of 3-run ball is something I will take every single time! The bullpen, of course, tried their damnedest to gag this one away – giving up 3 more runs in the 8th – but we shut it down in the 9th to preserve a 7-6 victory. Nola had 2 more doubles, Kyle Seager hit his 200th career home run, and Dylan Moore and Kyle Lewis each had multiple hits to breathe life into things.

I fully expected the Mariners to take this series in the rubber match, but Taijuan Walker had other ideas. After a masterful start last week, he tossed quite the clunker here. 3.2 innings of 4-run ball where he pretty much labored throughout. The bullpen did an okay job of limiting the damage, but this was a no-go from the get-go. Dylan Bundy of the Angels tossed a complete game, giving up just a solo home run to Daniel Vogelbach for his first dinger of the season. The offense was ice cold in this one, which is certainly to be expected out of a group this young; you’re going to see games like this (honestly, I would’ve expected them to be a more regular occurrence than what we’ve seen to this point; but, the season IS young).

That drops the Mariners to 5-9, leaving us in fourth place in the division, with the red-hot Rockies coming to town for a weekend series. This … might get ugly.

I’m still quite pleased with Kyle Lewis’ Rookie of the Year campaign. The resurgence of Kyle Seager has been really fun to watch as well. And, Dylan Moore’s six extra-base hits in nine games has been a revelation! Austin Nola has been a real find these last couple of seasons; he looks like a very good Major Leaguer that we plucked out of nowhere. I’m still cautiously optimistic with J.P. Crawford’s start, and I’m reserving judgment for now on Shed Long. It would be fun to see Vogey mash some more home runs, but otherwise I don’t know if he’s long for a Mariners uniform. Evan White’s defense is predictably laudable, but the offense has been a MASSIVE struggle through a couple weeks. That’ll pick up, but it might be a long rookie season for the kid.

I’ve been shitting on the bullpen all year, but there are some good-looking guys who should be commended. Joey Gerber was just called up and has looked great in his two appearances! Yohan Ramirez was a Rule 5 guy we claimed from the Astros and while rough, he looks very promising. Carl Edwards is a veteran, but he got the save in that Angels series and seems to be reliable. Taylor Guilbeau has only given up one run in three innings of work as a lefty. And Matt Magill – another veteran – might be having the best go of it out of the bullpen with four shutout innings of work (and looking much less wild than Ramirez in doing so).

So, you know, that’s something anyway. In roster news, the aforementioned Bryan Shaw was sent down to Tacoma, presumably to work on some … everything. And Summer Camp darling Jose Marmolejos was also sent down to bring the Major League roster to 28 players. He was pretty overwhelmed at the plate – and a walking herd of cats in the outfield – so this is for the best for him and the team. In better news, thanks to all of these idiot MLB teams contracting so much COVID, 28 is the set roster minimum for teams the rest of the season. We were set to have to reduce it to 26 in a couple weeks, but no longer. So, thanks Marlins! Dozens of players will earn Major League checks because of your incompetence!

The Mariners Won A Series!

No no no, not a World Series. Just a series. It’s fine, we’re keeping expectations REAL low around here.

I don’t like the Angels. I think they peaked with Angels in the Outfield and they’ve been going downhill ever since! I might still hate the A’s the most, and obviously the Astros came from out of nowhere seven years ago to join the American League and torment my very soul, but there’s something so distasteful about the Angels and I can’t put my finger on it.

Maybe it’s because I should hate them MORE? Because they’re from the Los Angeles area (to be fair, Anaheim IS a city in its own right, and where they actually play all of their home games, which is why I refuse to call them the L.A. Angels), have a buttload of money to throw around, have the best player in the game, yet still find ways to be mediocre (and even then, in their mediocrity, still manage to make the lives of Mariners fans a living hell). I dunno! All I know is that I really don’t like them, I relish when they fail, and I take a personal interest in them failing to the Seattle Mariners.

This week, the Angels lost two of three to one of the very worst teams (on paper) in the Major Leagues, and while I COULD be happier … I’m still pretty gosh darn happy!

As expected, we didn’t get a lot out of the rookie starting pitchers.

  • Justus Sheffield: 3 innings, 4 runs
  • Justin Dunn: 3 innings, 3 runs, 2 earned

Sheffield looked so-so through two scoreless innings before things started to unravel. I didn’t LOVE the lack of life on his fastball (it seemed to sit in the low-90’s, I’d like to see that anywhere from 95-98 if possible). He didn’t seem to have the worst command I’ve ever seen, but it was clear he was battling. In that sense, I was proud he made it through the third only giving up two runs. All things considered, I might’ve been tempted to not send him out to start the fourth inning (which he did, not registering an out while giving up two more baserunners who would go on to score when the next batter knocked one out of the park against our reliever), but with the first four games all being heavily reliant on our bullpen, I can see why we tried to get a little more out of our starter. This game was, nevertheless, a tough one to watch, as the Mariners lost 10-2.

Apparently there was some sort of fourth inning hex put upon our pitching staff through the first turn of the rotation, because Justin Dunn was cruising through three innings before starting to come apart! Thankfully, the bats came alive in this one. The Angels led 4-1 before the Mariners started doing some damage with a 5-spot in the sixth (punctuated by Dylan Moore’s 3-run homer; WELCOME TO THE PARTY, PAL!). The Angels re-took the lead in the bottom half, 7-6, before the Mariners piled ’em back on with three more runs over the next two innings to win it 10-7.

The story of the rubber match was Marco Gonzales bringing his A-game. He went 6.1 innings, giving up 2 unearned runs on 3 hits, 1 walk, and 1 error by our second baseman. Jose Marmolejos jacked a 3-run homer in the first, and the Mariners didn’t score again until adding five insurance runs in the top of the ninth. Which we apparently needed desperately! A 3-2 lead (which is what we would’ve had) could’ve been disasterous, as Dan Altavilla gave up three runs in the ninth. Crisis was averted, though, and the good guys won 8-5.

Just about all the young guys you want to see succeed are doing just that through the first week of the season. Kyle Lewis continues to rake, leading the team in hits, batting average, homers, total bases, and RBI. J.P. Crawford has come on strong, leading the team in on-base percentage and is still hitting the ball hard. Tim Lopes and to a lesser extent Dylan Moore (in just two games, both against the Angels) have impressed as guys we penciled in as reserves. Shed Long looks more and more comfortable in the leadoff spot every time I see him. The best thing is that no one really seems to be overwhelmed. As the youngest team in baseball, you’d expect guys to be playing tentatively, but for the most part they seem like they have good plans when they’re at the plate.

Now that we’re one full turn through the rotation, I would expect the starters to start (!) pitching better. Marco getting into the seventh inning was absolutely necessary; here’s hoping at least the rest of the veterans can do the same. That will take a load off of this bullpen that’s had to work overtime keeping this pitching staff afloat.

The Mariners are 3-4, heading home for the first time. That’s about as good as any of us could have expected. Not for nothing, but that’s only 0.5 games behind the first place A’s and Astros! And would you look at that, the A’s are in town for four games! How about it?

Let’s just hope there’s still baseball to be played by Monday. I’m already hearing a number of games have been or are being canceled due to COVID-19. That … is not ideal.

The Mariners Mariners’d Things Up Down In Houston

This season was always going to be a bit of a sideshow combined with a tire fire, but it was particularly cruel to have the Mariners go to Houston to start the season with a four-game series. You’d be hard-pressed to find two more polar opposites with the Astros at the top of the game today (probably trending downward, you’d have to figure, as their players acclimate to the difficulties of not being able to cheat as much) and the Mariners near the very bottom (certainly trending upward, because how much lower can things get?). Frankly, I was surprised the M’s even won ONE game this weekend!

The pitching – across the board – really failed the Mariners in this series. We more or less expected that out of the bullpen (and that’s more or less what we got from them, aside from the lone victory), but the starters also completely shit the bed! It’s like they TRIED to get as much of it on there as possible, clogging up their bowels with lots of meat and cheese, holding it in for a few extra days, then unleashing their stinky fury all over the place.

  • Marco Gonzales: 4.1 innings, 4 runs, 3 earned
  • Taijuan Walker: 3.1 innings, 5 runs
  • Yusei Kikuchi: 3.2 innings, 5 runs
  • Kendall Graveman: 4.0 innings, 7 runs, 6 earned

I would expect those guys to get better sooner rather than later, as their arms build back up and they’re not forced to go up against lineups as stacked as the Astros’. Clearly, these guys were on shortened pitch counts, as no one really had an opportunity to ramp up completely; but even if they were at mid-season strength, I would argue there wasn’t much point in extending their leashes in these games given how poorly they performed.

The numbers from the bullpen in this series are actually better than they looked (I would attribute that to their inability to save the starters’ ERAs by preventing inherited runners from scoring):

  • Game 1: 3.2 innings, 4 runs
  • Game 2: 4.2 innings, 2 runs
  • Game 3: 5.1 innings, 1 run
  • Game 4: 4.0 innings, 1 run

Those aren’t terrible, particularly against a team like Houston, but we’ll see how things look as the season progresses.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though! There were some real bright spots among the hitters!

Kyle Lewis continues to be a Mariners dreamboat. Six hits in the four games, including two homers, with four RBI and a slash line of .400/.500/.800. J.P. Crawford hit two triples and a double, Evan White banged out his first career Major League home run yesterday, Tim Lopes had a couple of doubles. The only guys who are REALLY struggling are Mallex Smith and Daniel Vogelbach, and I don’t think either of them figure into the Mariners’ long-term plans anyway.

I was also really impressed with veteran Kyle Seager, who jacked a homer and three doubles (including at least one to left-center). It’s cool that he’s off to a hot start, and it seems like he’s really a calming veteran presence on what is the very youngest team in the Major Leagues.

I will say the defense overall was pretty rough. Only two errors in the four games, but I think there was some generous scoring going on. There were a number of allegedly-difficult plays that we flat out missed, that good defensive teams would’ve had no problem converting. I won’t make a big deal about it – because in the overall outlook of this season, defense is probably the least of our concerns – but it’s nevertheless something to monitor as these games pile on.

Now we’re off to Anaheim (does the fun ever START?) before our home opener this weekend. These games will be mighty interesting. Anaheim was projected to be one of the divisional contenders, but they’ve also compiled a 1-3 record. The M’s will feature Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn tonight and tomorrow; believe you me, my eyeballs will be glued to the screen for their 3.2 innings of work apiece!

Can The Mariners Win Over 24.5 Games?

I saw a tweet yesterday that shows the Mariners are projected – by at least one Vegas-adjacent betting-type establishment – to win the (tied for) third fewest games in the Major Leagues this year. Only the Tigers and Orioles are projected to win less often (pretty bold prediction, since both of those teams also won the fewest games last year).

Couple points to note: as this guy tweeted out, the Mariners haven’t won fewer than 25 of their first 60 games since 2010 (the last time the M’s lost over 100 games in a season). And, as Divish would go on to respond, the Mariners from a season ago – who started out with a ridiculous 13-2 record – ended up 25-35 after 60 games.

So, let’s use that as a jumping-off point. I’ll be honest, my initial gut reaction was to say, “Of course the Mariners are going to win fewer than 24 games this year!” The above tweets gave me pause a little bit, until I remembered that while the M’s have been mediocre almost my whole life over the last decade, they really haven’t been horrendously BAD since 2010, so yeah, that checks out.

The 2019 Mariners – who finished 68-94 – were much closer to the horrendously bad end of the spectrum than they were mediocre. And, since then, they’ve lost two of their more productive full-time hitters (Omar Narvaez and Domingo Santana) and two of their better part-time hitters (Edwin Encarnacion – who was traded away halfway through last year – and Mitch Haniger – who is still dealing with his injured whathaveyous).

On the pitching side of things – which was easily our biggest weakness in 2019 – we’re down many of our most productive veterans. Mike Leake was traded away last year, Tommy Milone (uhh, YEAH, look it up, he had the third-highest WAR among Mariners pitchers last year!) signed as a free agent with the Orioles, and Anthony Bass (fourth-highest WAR) was claimed by Toronto. With Wade LeBlanc also joining the Orioles, you could argue letting Felix move on to another organization was the best Addition By Subtraction move this team made (though you won’t hear that from me!).

What did we do to replace these veterans? Well, obviously, we’re stacking the roster with younger players! It’s what the Mariners – as a rebuilding team – are SUPPOSED to do! So, please, GET OFF MY ASS; I’m not complaining about any of this! I’m just writing words. And, in the context of this premise – Can the Mariners win over 24.5 games? – I’m going to contend that everything they’ve done to date points to the fact that no, they cannot.

Younger players are unpredictable … but you can pretty much predict what’s going to happen anyway. Look at me, I’m doing it right now! They’re going to struggle, because that’s what they do. They’re going to look great for a while, then they’re going to slump for a while; some might rebound and parlay that into success in 2021 and beyond, others will flame out and never make any positive impact for this organization.

As excited as I am for Kyle Lewis, Evan White, Austin Nola, and maybe J.P. Crawford (wait, I’m maybe excited about J.P. Crawford? What does that even mean?), I don’t think we can count on them to be anything close to consistent (except for “consistently bad” which is always on the table when you’re talking about the Mariners). And those guys (along with Kyle Seager, who showed he still has something left in the tank last year) are probably going to be the BEST guys on this team! Everyone else, I expect to be pretty mediocre at best, with a decent number of total flameouts headed our way.

I still expect the bullpen to be a disaster, with a good chance that it will be significantly worse than it was in 2019. The rotation could be interesting, though. Marco Gonzales should still be the best pitcher on this team (I would hope this is the last year we’re able to say that). Kendall Graveman – who is slotting to be the #4 starter as we head into the regular season this weekend – might be a legitimate stud if he can stay healthy! Taijuan Walker – our #2 guy at the moment – I’m less jazzed about, but his bulldog mentality should keep this team in plenty of games. I’m also starting to be really worried about Yusei Kikuchi, as I don’t believe he’s fully accepted his re-worked mechanics, and will start tinkering again at the first sign of trouble. Then, there’s Sheffield and Dunn, the young upstarts who will be getting their first legitimate shots at big league action. Like the younger hitting prospects, they too will struggle at times (and when they struggle, BOY will they struggle!).

All of that points to the smartest money being bet on the Mariners winning UNDER 24.5 games in 2020. And, that doesn’t even factor in the very real possibility that COVID-19 takes a significant turn for the worse and the league is forced to shut down. I don’t know what that does for betting purposes, but I think all of us nonbelievers would have a great claim to our winnings in that scenario. I mean, if the season were to be canceled prematurely … did they or did they not win fewer than the listed number of games that I shorted?

The 2020 Taylor Family Farm has never been in more secure hands! I’m betting the whole thing on the Mariners being the losers I know they can be! Don’t let me down, fellas!

The Mariners Have Their 60-Man Roster

It’s cool to be talking about baseball again. This time next month, we’ll be knee-deep in our delusion that “anything can happen in a 60-game season” and that “crazier things have happened”, so without further ado, why not get things kickstarted? Get ahead of this early, before key guys start succumbing to random injuries and we have to be reminded that – oh yeah – these are still the Mariners.

With all of the focus on the M’s replenishing their farm system’s starting pitching corps through the draft in the last few years, it’s easy to forget that there are some young, semi-interesting arms at the Major League level right now! Word on the street is, the Mariners will be going with a 6-man rotation in the early going. And I find all of these guys pretty compelling, for what they are, even if I have my doubts that few of them will still be around on the next hypothetical great Mariners team.

Marco Gonzales returns as your de facto Ace. Look, I’m on the record with my opinion about Marco: he’s fine. He’s nobody’s ace, but he’s likable, he works hard, he’s the kind of quality leader this team DESPERATELY needs right now (given most of our best veterans of recent years are on other teams now), and he has a drive to continue striving for greatness. You could make the argument that the best is yet to come and part of me believes that, because with experience he’s going to continue to get smarter and learn new tricks of the trade to get guys out. But, his stuff is what it is. He’s got a low-90’s fastball with an improving change up. He’s more pitch-to-contact than he is a bat-misser; more Jamie Moyer than Randy Johnson, in other words. That has value! Don’t get me wrong, but it also comes with a ceiling that’s not very exciting. Steadiness isn’t exciting. Reliability and dependability aren’t sexy. But, they’re important. Even as they fly under the radar, these qualities bring warm comfort to fans who know what they’re getting out of someone like Marco Gonzales every 5-6 days. They might not win you any championships, but they’ll keep you in the discussion.

It’s going to be a big year for Yusei Kikuchi. He got his feet wet last year as a 28 year old rookie from Japan and had the growing pains you might’ve expected. With the proper adjustments in place, we’re going to see if he can make it work as a Major Leaguer. This will, by no means, make or break his career with the Mariners, but it would be a nice stepping stone towards his all-important 2021 season. That will REALLY determine if he’s going to be here long term (as, following that, the M’s will have the option to extend him to a team-friendly deal for the next four years). Ideally, he’ll get a jumpstart on that by really putting together a solid two months of play.

Next up, we’ve got a couple of reclamation projects in Taijuan Walker and Kendall Graveman. Walker is only 27 years old, but somehow feels like an aging veteran! He’s on a $2 million deal to see if he can rebuild his value after two EXTREMELY injury-plagued seasons. It sounds like he’s still got a mid-90’s fastball, which always plays; at this point it’s just a matter of staying healthy. Graveman, similarly, is on a cheap deal in 2020; he’s also coming off of two EXTREMELY injury-plagued seasons of his own. He’s more of an off-speed specialist than Walker, but he nevertheless has a lot going for him IF he can stay healthy. You’d probably expect the Mariners to run a 6-man starting rotation regardless, considering how weird this year has been so far, but employing both Walker and Graveman further necessitates this cautious approach. Even if it’s foolish to expect both of them to make it the entire two months, the hope is that they can at least make it a few weeks, to give the rest of the rotation some time to stretch out their arms.

Another reason to be thankful for the super-sized rotation is the uncertainty around two of our more mature young prospects: Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn. Sheffield was the cornerstone of the James Paxton deal with the Yankees and as soon as we got him it was like the value of a new car the minute you drive it off the lot. Such is the blessing and the curse of being a Yankees prospect: everyone overrates you … until the Yankees no longer want you, then you’re automatically damaged goods. On paper, Sheffield has the stuff that Aces are made of, but as someone who’s had issues with command as he’s raised through the minor leagues, people have started to question if he has that consistency you’re looking for. Considering he’s done everything you can ask of someone in the minors – on top of his 8 appearances in Seattle towards the end of last season – this was always going to be the first real look we had at Sheffield as a rotation piece. If anything, he might actually benefit from the season being shortened to two months, since there’s really very little pressure on his shoulders. The downside, of course, is that if he struggles, there’s less of an opportunity to turn around a slow start. Whereas, in a full season, if he’s bad in the first half (but turns it around in the second half), then at least you can make an argument there’s momentum as he heads into 2021. Let’s just cross our fingers and hope he kills it out of the gate; then he can start next year with his head held high.

As for Justin Dunn, he came over in the Cano/Diaz deal with the Mets. He often gets overshadowed by Jarred Kelenic (who looks to be a future superstar), but Dunn in his own right – if he pans out as a quality starter – could make that trade look even MORE lopsided in the Mariners’ favor than it already appears to be. We took it very cautious with him in his cup of coffee last year, employing him as one of those insufferable “openers” where he’d start the game, pitch an inning or two, and hand the ball off to the real starter of that particular game. That’s probably wise, since he has less minor league experience to speak of than Sheffield (particularly when you factor in he skipped the AAA level to get here). I’m going to be VERY curious to see what he does with a rotation slot this season, as his rapid ascent seems to have him on track as having an even higher ceiling than Sheffield! At this point, if one of these two guys pans out, that’s probably a huge victory for this organization. If both of them pitch well, then the sky just might be the limit.

As usual, I’m going to skip chatter about the bullpen, because I know not who these guys are (for the most part). Like last year, the bullpen figures to be the severe weak point of the Mariners, so don’t be shocked if you see more than your fair share of blown saves once again.

Let’s move on to the starting lineup. I’ll try to guess what that’s going to be, 1-9:

  1. Mallex Smith – CF
  2. Evan White – 1B
  3. Kyle Lewis – RF
  4. Kyle Seager – 3B
  5. Tom Murphy – C
  6. Dan Vogelbach – DH
  7. J.P. Crawford – SS
  8. Dee Gordon – 2B
  9. Jake Fraley/Braden Bishop – LF

I don’t have very strong convictions about this order, to be honest. Evan White feels like a 2-hole hitter. Kyle Lewis REALLY exploded in his September call-up last year. Seager and Murphy are your veteran middle-of-the-order guys for now. Vogey gets one more shot to lock down that DH spot and see if he has what it takes to hit consistently at the Major League level. The rest of these guys – Smith, Crawford, Gordon, Fraley, Bishop – I could see hitting anywhere in the bottom third or leadoff spot, depending on who’s hot and who’s pitching for the opposing team on any particular day. You also gotta figure Austin Nola will get plenty of play, both as our backup catcher, and as a utility player; he proved last year that his bat was too important to sit on a regular basis. Also, you figure Shed Long will see the field quite a bit as a Super Sub, all around the infield and corner outfield spots. With this year almost certainly being Gordon’s last in a Mariners uniform, if Long hits as we hope he does, he could take over the starting second baseman job come September (ideally, Gordon will start the year on fire and be traded by the end of August to a team who needs a quality leadoff hitter type).

The non-pitchers on the Mariners will be fun to watch, but they’re also going to be PAINFUL to endure. The combination of youth and lack of consistency will make for some exciting games where you’ll want to believe this team has what it takes, but then you’ll be smacked back down to Earth when you see this team get shut out on the regular. I would expect to see quite a bit of games where we’re being no-hit for an uncomfortable number of innings (and, I predict at least one time where we DO either get no-hit, or lord help us, have a perfect game put up on us).

I don’t have a lot to say about the prospects who figure to reside exclusively on the Taxi Squad, other than a pretty significant portion are there for development purposes only, and won’t play for the Mariners in 2020. As expected. Nevertheless, there are some in-betweeners who aren’t on the official 40-man roster, but who could see their numbers called if things shake out a certain way. So, I’ll talk about them as they come up. Rest assured, things never go according to plan in baseball. More than a few of the guys I’ve talked about above will fail to pan out for one reason or another. We just have to hope that SO MANY things don’t go wrong, to the point where we have to call up certain prospects a year or two before they’re ready (and before we’re ready to start counting their service time years).

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mitch Haniger, who will start the year on the 45-day Injured List. Of course, as soon as I buy the guy’s jersey, he immediately falls apart; but of course that’s monstrous for me to say, because we’re talking about the man’s livelihood here! He’s had a lot of freaky health problems over the last calendar year, with multiple surgeries to rectify whatever core issues he’s got going on. The hope is we’ll see him at some point in September. Unless, of course, he keeps trying to push himself too hard and suffers further injuries. I’d suggest for him to just take it easy and come back healthier in 2021, but at this point I don’t think he can afford to! His final two Arbitration years are 2021 & 2022; the Mariners need to know what they’ve got in this guy. Whether he’s our Right Fielder of the Future, or whether he’s trade bait to make him someone else’s injury risk. Because, not for nothing, but his replacements are coming. We have Kyle Lewis on the roster right now, with two VERY highly-rated prospects set to join the Mariners as early as next year (probably around mid-season). If Haniger is going to stave off his competition, he needs to put together at least a few weeks of competent play towards the end of this season, if nothing else to boost his confidence heading into an all-important 2021 campaign!

The Mariners Drafted Emerson Hancock In The First Round

The Mariners had already been pretty hard at work – in previous drafts, as well as their bevy of step-back trades – in bolstering what looks to be the future of the Mariners’ everyday roster. Evan White (first base), Jarred Kelenic (outfield), Julio Rodriguez (outfield), J.P. Crawford (short stop), Cal Raleigh (catcher), Kyle Lewis (outfield) among others are either at the Major League level or very close to it. If the M’s are ever destined to break the playoff drought, most or all of these guys will have to hit in a big way.

The glaring issue was (and still is) pitching, particularly starting pitching. Starting in 2018 – with first round pick Logan Gilbert – and really coming to prominence last year (when nine of their first eleven picks were pitchers, including George Kirby in the first round), the Mariners have gone crazy trying to replenish their minor leagues with high-upside hurlers. Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn – among others who are at or near the Majors – are also obviously in the mix, but it was clear what we had the last few years wasn’t going to cut the mustard.

The streak continues with first round pick Emerson Hancock out of Georgia, who fell to the Mariners at #6 in yesterday’s first round of the MLB draft. Apparently, he was once deemed to be elite enough to be considered a potential #1 overall pick. While his most recent season did little to lower his value, as with many players who stay in college a year too long, scouts found reasons to pick apart his game to the point that he slid. He, nevertheless, has a mid-90’s fastball that can nearly touch triple digits. He’s got a great slider, a good change-up, and a curveball that needs work, but otherwise is still a quality part of his arsenal.

I’ve yet to read any concerning news about him from the blogs or whatnot, which I find promising. It seems like whenever the Mariners pick someone, there are immediate stories about how so-and-so projects as a future reliever, or a future fourth-outfielder or whatever. While it’s obviously too early to put ANY projections on a guy and expect them to stick across the board, it seems like those underwhelming predictions come true more often than not, especially where the Mariners are concerned. In other words, this doesn’t sound like a reach. It doesn’t sound like the M’s picked a guy with a “high floor but low ceiling”. This isn’t a safe pick of someone who can rush his way to the bigs (a la Danny Hultzen, when he was drafted second overall in 2011). This guy sounds like a LEGITIMATE top-end starter with a very real possibility to be a future Ace in this league (something, to my knowledge, the Mariners are sorely lacking at the moment, from a prospect perspective).

He could very well be the best pitching prospect we have in our organization RIGHT NOW!

This is very exciting to me! There are, of course, any number of things we have to worry about; he could refuse to sign (holding out for a crazy amount of money), he could get a big head and opt to not really put in the work required to advance his career, he could get injured and have his development delayed or even destroyed (again, a la Danny Hultzen), or he could just suck and start getting smacked around in the minors. The point is: there are COUNTLESS ways he could flame out before ever wearing a Seattle Mariners uniform in a game that counts. So, you know, don’t get your hopes up TOO much.

But, you know what I like? I like comparisons to Justin Verlander. I like dreaming that one day in 2-3 years, he could be anchoring a starting rotation for an exciting, young Mariners team looking to contend for a post-season berth. If nothing else, I like this strategy of selecting a SHIT-TON of pitching prospects in the hopes that a small handful will stick! It’s smart. As I outlined above, there are any number of ways prospects – especially pitching prospects, with all the possible injuries that can derail their effectiveness – won’t pan out. So, the best chance we have in succeeding is to throw as many resources at this problem as possible.

I’ll be concerned if the remaining five picks are so pitching-heavy, because you don’t want to TOTALLY neglect position players. But, for our needs right now, A+ in my book!

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

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

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

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

Projected 2020 Rotation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondary Starting Prospects

  • Justin Dunn
  • Nestor Cortes
  • Wei-Yin Chen

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

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

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

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

The Mariners Finished Sixth-Worst In All Of Baseball in 2019

For the last time, I get to talk about how the 2019 Mariners started 13-2, only to go 55-92 the rest of the way. Suffice it to say, the final 147 games were a better representation of this team’s true abilities.

Last in the A.L. West, four games behind the Angels, 29 behind the Wild Card-bound Athletics, and 39 behind the 107-win Astros. For draft purposes, we were just a single game better than Toronto for the fifth overall draft pick. I don’t know if that final win would’ve meant anything as far as a tie-breaker for that spot (as we “won” the season series against the Blue Jays), but if it prevented us from moving up a spot in the draft, then once again a meaningless late-season win will have done real, lasting damage.

Let’s rattle through some numbers: 68-94, a -135 run differential, a team slash line of .237/.316/.424; a team ERA of 4.99 (with a 5.00 FIP). Something interesting about this team is just how truly awful the Mariners were against the best of the American League. Against the Astros, Rays, Yankees, Twins, and Indians, the Mariners had a combined record of 7-38, which means against everyone else in baseball we were 61-56. The great team the Mariners could actually handle was the A’s at 9-10, but I find that very interesting. On the one hand, it’s a clear indictment that there’s an obvious difference in talent level between the Mariners and the best of the best; however on the other hand – while the M’s ended up with one of the worst records in all of baseball – we could hang with the clods in this Gods N’ Clods American League. So, we’re middle-of-the-road among the losers, but we are SO FUCKING FAR AWAY from the elites.

As we’ve discussed all year long, it was never about the results (except for my bloodlust for a higher draft pick), it was about developing our future stars. In that sense, I think this year was a moderate success. From just a clubhouse standpoint, I thought the team played hard all year. Maybe some lulls here and there – particularly with certain defensive struggles and base-running mistakes – but nothing alarming. At no point have I felt an overwhelming need to see Scott Servais fired and have a bunch of heads rolling. I thought he did a great job managing an impossible-to-win situation. He obviously doesn’t have forever to right the ship; if he wants to stick around for when this team gets good again, this probably has to be the nadir. I’m sure the higher ups will want to see steady progress in the right direction as soon as 2020, with a likely Playoffs Or Bust scenario in 2021 (depending on how much improvement we have next year). I’m not saying I believe the Mariners will make the post-season by 2021 – indeed, I’d bet hard the other way, if I’m being honest – and so this is just my way of saying that I fully expect this team will have a new field manager the next time we’re ACTUALLY contending for the playoffs again. It’s sort of a bummer, because I think Servais is the right man for the job, but it’s an impossible task he’s saddled with. The Mariners haven’t made the post-season in forever and as such, the fans aren’t going to wait around forever. If we’re not hovering around .500 next year, I think he’ll get the axe when it’s over (especially if attendance continues to go down as much as it did between 2018 & 2019, what with all the improvements to the stadium the Mariners are doing this offseason).

On the field, I guess I have cautious optimism about some of the strides the younger guys made, but what other choice do I have? I’m already on record as not believing this organization is anywhere close to the post-season, but it’s also not totally impossible to be pleasantly surprised.

The pitching is obviously the biggest concern, and there’s really not much to like about what we’ve got in the Majors so far. Marco Gonzales is the only guy who qualified by pitching enough innings, so that should tell you a lot. He was fine. He should be a reliable innings-eater who has more good games than bad ones; imagine Jamie Moyer with a better fastball and worse change up. As a #2, he’s less ideal; as #3 he’s good enough; as a #4 he’d be perfect. But, he’s nobody’s idea of an ace, yet he was far and away the best pitcher on this team.

The good thing about pitching is that it can vary so much from year to year, so it wouldn’t shock me to see a bunch of guys who just got their feet wet in 2019 taking huge steps forward in 2020. Kikuchi is obviously the one we most want to see make that leap, as he had about as rough of a debut to the Major Leagues as we ever could’ve predicted. I think we all thought he’d be more of a finished product at this point; now I pray that he isn’t. Because, if this is just who he is, then he’s of no use to this organization.

We don’t have Felix to kick around anymore, and I have to believe LeBlanc’s starting days are over for this team (aside from the occasional spot-start, if he’s even still here at all and we don’t trade him). So, we should see a lot of the younger guys going forward. I fully expect to see Justus Sheffield in the rotation out of Spring Training; there’s nothing he has left to do in AAA that he can’t do here against legitimate competition. We need to see what he has, and if he’s destined to be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher or not. To his credit, he made remarkable progress after seemingly going the other way to start the season. I hope we’re able to unlock whatever potential he has inside of him.

After those three (Gonzo, Kikuchi, Sheffield), I really have no idea. I’m pretty sure they’ll go out and sign a veteran on a cheap deal to help be a presence for the younger guys, but that final spot has to go to another youngster; maybe Justin Dunn? We’ll see.

I’m not even going to bother discussing the bullpen right now. It was as big a disaster as we ever could’ve hoped for, and I believe the primary reason why we lost so many games, so in that sense they did what they were supposed to do. Now, after getting a look at so many different guys, here’s hoping we can cobble something together to give them more of a chance to continue developing.

I would argue the biggest bright spots for this team came on the hitting side of the ball, but I also really question how many of these players will be around long term. J.P. Crawford seems like a good bet to be our starting short stop for a while, but is he good? He showed glimpses of greatness, but also long bouts of ineptitude with the bat. I liked what I saw out of Shed Long, and hope he gets a regular role with this team going forward, but he might not be anything more than a super-sub. Austin Nola was a nice find, but he’s not the future starting first baseman for this team in 2022; that’s supposed to be Evan White (and maybe as early as next year). That effectively makes Nola yet another super-sub.

We all loved what we saw out of Kyle Lewis in his cup of coffee this September, but it was just that: a September call-up for a first-time Major Leaguer. Can he carry it over into Spring Training and beyond? Dan Vogelbach hit a lot of homers, but not much else. Domingo Santana was a solid presence in the middle of the lineup when he was healthy, but he was also the absolute worst in the outfield. Mallex Smith got better as the season went along (and led the league in stolen bases), but he’s nobody’s idea of a centerfielder of the future. Dylan Moore is just a guy. Most of the younger guys we saw weren’t even good enough to be called out by name. The very best thing the Mariners had going for them in 2019 was the catcher position, led by Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy, but they’re not necessarily destined to be here forever either. They really just add up to one great catcher split in two, where one is shaky at defense and the other might just be better in smaller doses (and will be exposed if he’s ever given the everyday starting job). Then there’s Mitch Haniger, who was injured for what felt like the entire season. He didn’t look spectacular when he was out there, so I’m even less sure of him now than I was at this point last year.

More than anything, all we have is hope that the minor leaguers will continue to rocket their way up to Seattle. Which, you know, isn’t a ton to hang your hat on. I guess we’ll see. Again, what choice do we have, right?

My Confidence Level In The Mariners’ Rebuild So Far

Jeff Passan made a good point on Brock & Salk yesterday, when he asked who’s going to be part of the Mariners’ Major League team in 3 years. The more names you can pull from the current crop of players – either currently in the Bigs, or hopefully to-be-in-the-Bigs in 3 years’ time – the higher your confidence level should be in how the rebuild is going.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t have a great handle on the minors, aside from all the names everyone talks about all the time, so my choices are going to be different from someone who’s an expert. But, that’s the way it goes. I’m going to split up everyone I can think of into three-ish categories.

High Confidence

  • J.P. Crawford (INF)
  • Kyle Lewis (OF)
  • Mitch Haniger (OF)
  • Marco Gonzales (SP)
  • Justin Dunn (P)
  • Justus Sheffield (P)
  • Jarred Kelenic (OF)
  • Julio Rodriguez (OF)
  • Evan White (INF)

These are guys I’m all-but-guaranteeing will be part of the Mariners in three years, which right away feels both inadequate and wrong. I mean, for starters, I see four outfielders here. I suppose one or more of them could flame out and end up as a utility player, but more likely we’ll see one or more of them traded to help in other areas of the roster. My hunch is Mitch Haniger would be the one to go by the time we get to 2022, which is making me REALLY regret going out and buying his jersey earlier this year.

Kyle Lewis’ first week with the Mariners has been nothing short of phenomenal, and he’ll absolutely come into Spring Training next year looking to win a job of some sort. Rodriguez and Kelenic will look to get more seasoning in the minors next year, but if all goes according to plan, one or both will at least get a cup of coffee before the end of 2020. Evan White feels like he’s probably a couple of years away, but he too wouldn’t shock me if he saw some time in Seattle next season.

As for the pitchers, Marco should still be around, but who knows? The younger guys are still too young to put too much money on staying as starters, vs. being relegated to the bullpen. Better prospects than Sheffield have been banished as such.

Medium Confidence

  • Omar Narvaez (C)
  • Tom Murphy (C)
  • Cal Raleigh (C)
  • Austin Nola (Util)
  • Mallex Smith (OF)
  • Domingo Santana (OF)
  • Yusei Kikuchi (SP)
  • Sam Tuivailala (RP)
  • Erik Swanson (P)

I feel like if Cal Raleigh is going to stick with the Mariners, it might take up to three years for him to fully earn a roster spot. I have to imagine one of the two vets we have on roster now will be gone, but I honestly have no idea who it would be. Nola feels like the perfect candidate to be a utility player who can cover first base and the corner outfield spots (saying nothing of his ability to be a third catcher). Mallex Smith would only still be here as cheap insurance in case our younger outfielders don’t pan out. Santana feels like a candidate to eventually convert to 1B/DH. Kikuchi will either have figured it out and will be a nice middle-of-the-rotation staple for this team, or he’ll be elsewhere. Tuivailala is the only reliever right now I have ANY remote confidence in; not that none of the guys we have on roster now won’t still be here, but relief pitching is the last thing you need to shore up after settling things down everywhere else (in other words, I see a lot of potential trade candidates on the Major League roster right now). I’m not convinced whatsoever that Swanson will still be starting in 2022, but I’m medium convinced he’ll still be with the Mariners in some capacity.

Medium-Low Confidence

  • Shed Long (Util)
  • Dan Vogelbach (1B/DH)
  • Jake Fraley (OF)
  • Joe Rizzo (Util)

Long has enough pop in his bat, and can play enough different positions, to be a quality utility player. But, can he hit for high-enough average and get on base to this organization’s liking? On the flipside, Rizzo already has the average, and he appears to be improving on his power, but the question is his versatility. I read that they’re playing him all over the field, which is great for his chances, because it feels like his bat will play. But, if he can’t hack it defensively and he’s a man without a position, he could be some strong trade bait. As for Vogey, his first half was encouraging, but his second half has me concerned. The power is great, the on-base percentage is great, but if he’s hitting around the mendoza line, I just don’t know if there’s ENOUGH power there to make him worth all the strikeouts and whatnot. Also, if he never hits lefties, it’s REALLY hard to platoon a 1B/DH type; ideally you want him in your lineup every day mashing dingers no matter who’s pitching. All I know about Fraley is he’s a pretty highly-rated prospect for the Mariners, but he has yet to really show much in his short stint with the team this year. He feels like more trade bait.

Low Confidence

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Dylan Moore (Util)
  • Braden Bishop (OF)
  • Dee Gordon (2B)
  • Tim Lopes (INF)
  • Donnie Walton (INF)
  • Ryon Healy (1B)
  • Every other pitcher I haven’t listed above

I have to imagine the Mariners will do whatever it takes to make 2021 Seager’s last year in Seattle. He’s not worth what he’s making now, so by 2022, it should be pretty obnoxious. Healy’s injury status makes him a probable cut candidate as soon as the end of this year. Moore feels like a dime-a-dozen utility player who won’t be worth keeping around. Dee Gordon is another guy I gotta think will be gone before his contract expires in 2021. As for the younger guys, and anyone else I didn’t list, who the fuck knows? I know enough not to be super confident that they’ll be here in three years. If I’m wrong, then GREAT! That probably means they took serious leaps in their development. Who knows, maybe Bishop could be the next Chris Taylor with a simple change in his swing?! I mean, I doubt it, but you never know.

Anyway, to wrap this all up, I guess I give the rebuild a B- so far. I love the combination of those four outfielders I listed up top. I think our catching situation is pretty strong in the near future. First base should finally be locked down once Evan White makes it. I don’t know if I see a ton of hope on the pitching side of things, unless Dunn and Sheffield stick as starters and really start kicking some ass. If that’s the case, and you can pair them with Gonzales and Kikuchi, that’s a pretty solid rotation.

Still, gonna need some of these lower candidates to pop over the next couple seasons. If someone like Rizzo could lock down the third base job, and maybe Long the second base job, with some veterans crushing it in the middle of the lineup at DH … if you squint awful hard, you can see the makings of something special.

But, really, the odds of the Mariners being great in 2022 are remote any way you slice it. The Angels have the best baseball player in the world and when was the last time they really scared you? It goes without saying I doubt the Mariners will have someone in Trout’s league by then (which doesn’t even refer to the Astros and A’s and their crack development squads).

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.