The Mariners Traded Away Mike Zunino

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

For now, this:

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

The Rays sent Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 2-Part Mariners Preview: My Hope For 2018

And, so, here we are.  Opening Day is tomorrow.  Time to get back on the horse.

The Mariners have been disappointing fans far and wide since before I was born.  Most of the time, they’re just bad.  Sometimes, there’s hope that if things break right, they’ll be in contention in September.  Once in a blue moon, they’re good, but still fall short of the ultimate goal.

Always:  they let us down.  2018 will be no exception.

In this recent stretch of Mariners seasons – since we brought in Cano and Cruz to lock down the middle of our lineup – there’s been plenty of reasons for optimism.  Indeed, since the start of the 2014 season, the Mariners actually have a winning record!  327-321.  With the advent of the second wild card spot, the M’s have been RIGHT THERE pretty much every year.  We’re mired in one of those stretches where if things had just broken right, we might’ve actually made the playoffs for the first time since 2001.  But, there’s been untimely injuries, and regression from formerly great players, and bullpen issues at just the worst possible times.  Somehow, some way, the Mariners have found a way to lose just enough to keep alive the longest playoff drought in all of the major professional North American sports.  It’s absolutely mind-boggling, and it’s never going to end.

Last year was particularly bad with the injuries, as the Mariners ran through approximately 5,000 different pitchers, and the offense just wasn’t good enough to carry the load like we’d hoped going into the season.  The M’s made a number of moves last year to try to mitigate some of the injury losses to the rotation and such, bringing in guys like Marco Gonzales, Erasmo Ramirez, Mike Leake, and David Phelps, while also working in minor league guys like Andrew Moore, Chase De Jong, James Pazos, Max Povse, and relying on someone like Ariel Miranda when he was ill-equipped for the rigors of a full Major League season in a starting rotation.  A lot of those moves happened mid-season, and as such the front office is trying to spin it like they’re part of THIS offseason, as an excuse for why they haven’t done a whole lot via trades or free agency since the 2017 season ended.  No starters were added, which is arguably where the Mariners need the most help; a couple of relievers were brought in who look pretty good.  But, for the most part, we’re running it back with the same pitching staff as last year.  The same pitching staff that spent more time on the DL than off of it.  The same pitching staff that – even when healthy – wasn’t good enough to get this team back into the playoffs.

To combat that, the Mariners made some moves to bolster the offense a little bit, in unique ways.  Dee Gordon – Gold Glove second baseman – was brought in and has been converted to centerfield.  So far, through Spring Training, it sounds like he’s taking to it pretty well, but I have to believe there’ll be some growing pains.  Ryon Healy was brought in to start at the revolving door that’s been first base.  He seems like he’ll be no better and no worse than any of the other schlubs we’ve ran out at that position.  As there’s literally no talent whatsoever in the minor leagues, it’s not like the Mariners had a whole lot of ammunition with which to trade for guys; all of our value is already up in the Major Leagues.  Some of the most important moves were the moves the Mariners DIDN’T make.  They kept both Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger, which I think we all were expecting at least one of those guys to get shipped off so the team could bring in pitching help.  Gamel is nursing an oblique strain, which tends to nag and drag on, causing players to struggle well after they’ve returned from the DL, so maybe that’s unfortunate.  Nevertheless, I think we all like those guys’ potential to grow into quality Major Leaguers, so I guess I’m more or less okay with those guys staying here.

All of this is a way to say that it’s been a LONG time since I’ve been as apathetic about this team’s post-season chances as I am right now.  Even when we were at our very worst, in 2008, I could hate this team with a passion (also, going into that season – coming off of a pretty successful 2007 – my hopes were high for a real playoff run; ditto 2010).  Most years, I can contort my brain into believing that our good players will stay good (and healthy), that our young guys will develop into stars, and that we’ll get just enough pitching to push this thing over the top (again, if everything breaks in our favor).  But, this year?  I got nothing.

The Mariners JUST finished a season with 78 wins, 7 games out of the second wild card (with 4 teams in our way), and a whopping 23 games out of the AL West title.  As I just explained:  the Mariners have done next to nothing to improve upon a team that was already pretty bad.  Moreover, the Mariners have done next to nothing to get rid of injury-prone players (even going so far as to bring Hisashi Iwakuma back on a minor league deal to see if he has anything left in the tank), therefore I see no reason to expect this team won’t be just as injury-prone as they’ve been the last 2-3 years.  Paxton?  Felix?  Haniger?  Ticking time bombs.  And that’s not even counting all the players who already went down in Spring Training (money well spent on Lorena Martin, Director of High Performance; a barrel full of whiskey and a rabid donkey could’ve done a better job of keeping these stiffs healthy so far).  And, that doesn’t even get into the Mariners’ competition.  Remember the Astros?  The team that was 23 games better than us last year?  The World Series champs?  Yeah, they’re still there, they’re still amazing, and they’ve actually made a number of moves to – you know – IMPROVE THEIR BALLCLUB.  Remember the Angels, who were 2 games better?  Same deal.  Remember the Rangers, who were exactly the same in record?  They also suffered a number of injuries that held them back last year, and they’ve also done more than the Mariners have in improving their ballclub.  Even Oakland, who’s clearly rebuilding around young talent, has more reason for optimism than the Mariners, AND THEY PLAY IN OAKLAND HALF THE TIME!

So, yeah, I’ve written off this Seattle Mariners team and they’ve yet to even play a game.  Fuck you and your opinions on the matter.  Does it make me any less of a fan?  WHO CARES?  If you want to be a Mariners Super Fan, and live in a land of make-believe, be my fucking guest.  I plan on riding this team so fucking hard this season, they’re going to be ground into dust.

But, as I alluded to in the title of this post, I’m here to write about my hopes for the 2018 season.  Primary among them, of course, is this team proving me wrong.  Most of my life, I’ve held some kernel of belief that the Mariners could possibly do something amazing and blow away everyone’s expectations.  Most of my life, I’ve been wrong.  I’m ALWAYS wrong!  And, as a result, I’m always let down.  Well, I’ve never been so certain of a team not contending in my life; if there was any way to short the Mariners’ chances of making the playoffs, I would’ve bet the entire Taylor Family Farm!  As such, maybe I’m wrong again!  Maybe the Mariners will do something so crazy that I can’t even fathom how it would be possible!

Maybe all the best guys will stay healthy, and all the young guys will turn into stars and the Mariners will be 30 games over .500 in 1-run games.  Just an unsustainable run of unexpected greatness, and we’ll all come back here at the end of the season and I’ll take the roasting I so richly deserve for all my negativity!  Okay, even in this dreamland scenario, winning the AL West still seems like a bit of a stretch, but a miracle second wild card run would be just the thing that would knock me on my ass.  Thankfully, next-to-no one in the national media punditry is picking the Mariners to do anything but hover around .500.  I know I’m wrong all the time, but those guys – especially when they pick the Mariners to do well – are wrong ALL THE TIME.

More realistically, here are some hopes I hope:

I hope Felix stays healthy and has an okay year.  Maybe an ERA around 4.50, with a couple real standout games against the likes of the A’s or White Sox, and not too many blown saves by the bullpen.

I hope Paxton limits his DL stints to just one, and for only a month at the most.  Ideally, maybe knock that out in late May or June, so he has the whole second half of the season to really shine.  He has Cy Young-quality stuff, and I hope he gets as close as he’ll ever get to putting his name in that conversation.

I hope Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales really blossom into viable starters.  Leake’s already been around for a while, so he is what he is, but if he can just sort of hang around and be a #3-type starter, that would be ideal.  Gonzales is still young enough that I can fool myself into thinking he has another level to his talent.  Most likely, he’ll be a bum, but guys have put it all together before.  I hope he learns how to pitch effectively and shocks the world by being better than we ever expected.

I hope Edwin Diaz is just amazing.  I love that kid, he’s fun to watch, and not for nothing – if this whole thing falls apart in a nasty way – he could be a huge trade chip.

I hope Dee Gordon hits well, because I want to see him running around the bases as much as humanly possible.  I also hope he takes to centerfield, because it would be fun to have another great defensive centerfielder.

I hope Mitch Haniger also limits his DL stints to just one, and for only a month at the most.  It’s too much to ask for guys like him or Paxton to stay totally healthy – because none of us can ever have nice things – but in the grand scheme of things, just a month on the DL isn’t the end of the world.  Not when you have 5 other months to get things going.  I hope when he is healthy, Haniger is the stud we all thought he was.

I hope Dan Vogelbach parlays this torrid Spring Training into taking over the starting job at first base for the foreseeable future.  I also hope that we squeeze one more great year out of Nelson Cruz and then let him walk when his contract expires – getting out hopefully a year too early rather than a year too late – so we can shift Vogelbach over to his more natural DH position (or have him split time between first & DH with Cano, when his legs inevitably prevent him from sticking at second base through the back-half of his contract).  I also hope we don’t see the start of the inevitable Cano decline, as including 2018, we’ve got 6 more years on this deal.

I hope Mike Zunino turns into an All Star.  Oddly enough, this IS within the realm of possibility, which is an absolute mindfuck.  We might one day sing Jackie Z’s praises for his foresight in selecting Zunino with the 3rd overall pick in 2012!

Finally, I hope that if all of this blows up in our faces in April and May, the team has the foresight to cut and run.  I hope they’re able to unload insane contracts, bring back quality minor leaguers, and re-load the farm system with studs who might one day lead this team back to the playoffs for the first time in forever.  There’s a lot of trade-able talent on this team.  So, if we’re just treading water – or worse – like I think most of us expect to be, then don’t dilly dally.  Burn this motherfucker down.  Put us out of our misery and give us a reason to REALLY have hope again.