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).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Course The Mariners Can’t Even Tank Properly!

I returned from my big Clusterfest weekend dismayed to find the Mariners have gone on a little run of late, winning 5 of 6, including 3 of 4 against the very worst team in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles.

The Mariners are 36-47, which is still hilarious when you factor in our infamous 13-2 start to the season. But, it’s also ridiculously close to .500, particularly when you consider how bad this team has looked for the majority of this season. The Orioles – on the other hand – are a whopping 22-57! They’re doing everything within their power to lose and lose often; the Mariners, on the other hand, still seem to be straddling the fence.

Always and forever on the fence.

I guess it should be noted that there’s no one way to (re)build a franchise, but I think I can take a stab at it, based on who’s currently leading the way in the standings in 2019. Up in the top half of the league, we’re talking about a bunch of teams who were bad for a spell, drafted well, developed their stars, and when it was time to compete, beefed up their team salary with free agents and/or trade acquisitions to put them over the top. That’s not a tried & true formula for every single team; I don’t remember the Yankees or Red Sox really bottoming out, and likewise I don’t recall the Rays or Athletics ever spending ANY money ever. But, the point is, you never see teams middling their way to the top, which is what the Mariners are trying to do and it’s what they’ve done since their inception back in the 70’s.

Once the Mariners got REALLY bad in 2004, they should’ve immediately reversed course, dumped everyone, and gone for a full rebuild. Instead, heading into the 2005 season, the Mariners dropped huge gobs of money into the pockets of Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre (massive overpays for both, as Beltre never approached his 2004 season with the Dodgers, and Sexson was a gigantic drain for this franchise by the time his contract expired in 2008) and the rest is history.

The Mariners have been really unlucky in the last two decades to boot. In years where they were supposed to be bad, they competed out of nowhere; in years where they were supposed to be competitive, they’ve generally flatlined. It’s hard to want to stick to a plan when expectations are defied so often. I mean, what do you do when you resign yourself to sucking, only to find yourself in the thick of breaking a generational playoff-less streak?

But, it’s that very mode of thinking that’s torpedoed this franchise. Not having the wherewithal and the guts to stick with a plan. It’s why this team has churned through managers like a rabid dog with a T-bone steak. It’s why general managers have made panic move after panic move, forever in a reactive position based seemingly on emotions and the whims of an erratic ownership group.

If you look at the top half of baseball, there are the usual suspects, but then there are teams like the Twins, Astros, Indians, Braves, Cubs, Rangers, Brewers, Phillies, and Rockies. Teams clearly trending in the right direction, and teams who underwent massive rebuilds in recent years. Those teams used to be DREADFUL, and now they’re among the best. You don’t HAVE to be the Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers to compete at a high level; you just need to be smart and have a plan and GOD DAMMIT STICK TO THAT PLAN.

Okay. So, let’s say the Mariners finally have a plan. Let’s say 2019 is the first true rebuild in God knows how long. It’s still not the kind of rebuild I believe this team needs, nor is it even a rebuild that makes any sense. “Stepping back” in 2019 to be in contention by (hopefully) 2021 just isn’t realistic. Not when you’re talking about needing to fill 10/12 spots on a Major League pitching staff, including 100% of the bullpen. Not when you’re talking about a dearth of quality pitching in the high minors. Not when you JUST spent an inordinate amount of draft picks this year on replenishing your pitching (when those guys won’t be ready for the Bigs until 2022 at the VERY earliest).

The Mariners believe they currently roster – at the Major League level – players who will be part of the “Next Great Mariners Team”. Guys like Haniger, Gonzales, and Kikuchi. Maybe guys like Vogelbach, Santana, Narvaez, Mallex Smith, and J.P. Crawford. I’ll tell you right now, every single one of those guys have considerable flaws to their games, so you tell me: will the Mariners be competitive by 2021 or 2022? If so, how many of those players will still be on this roster?

The M’s are still the 6th worst team in baseball at the time of this writing, but there are at least 5 teams just ahead of them that will be vying for a Top 10 draft pick by season’s end. At this point, the Orioles, Royals, Tigers, Blue Jays, and Marlins all look like locks to make the Bottom 5 (our only hope is that the Orioles/Jays & Royals/Tigers are in the same divisions, so they play one another 19 times this year). Meanwhile, with how well the hitting has been at times, I could easily see the Mariners slide outside of the Top 10, at which point winning is doing more harm than good.

Then again, it’s not necessarily where you draft, but rather how you develop. That’s the biggest key to success in baseball, over everything else. Based on that, I’m just wasting my words on this team, because the Mariners have to rank among the worst in the game at development. You can hang bad luck on a few players, but the overwhelming majority of Mariners prospects have been just plain bad.

I Am Absolutely Ready For The Mariners To Hit Rock Bottom

It’s been an interesting almost-year to follow the Mariners. Once last season ended with yet another whimper, the Fire Sale officially commenced, and with it one of the more remarkable rollercoasters in recent memory.

As I’ve mentioned a million times now, the Mariners started 2019 with a 13-2 record. This was followed by them going 18-43; for about half a month, we were talking about one of the most surprisingly good stories in all of baseball, and ever since it’s been one of the most predictably bad stories in all of baseball. So, with the trades of Bruce and Encarnacion, Fire Sale 2.0 is in full effect. Where she ends, nobody knows.

One of the major themes in recent weeks – since this team has plummeted – has been my desire for them to lose as much as possible, to get as high of a draft pick as possible next year. If we’re kicking this rebuild into full gear, might as well make the sky the limit (or whatever the reverse of that is for losing). The team hasn’t really disappointed in that regard, but it can always get better (or worse, depending on your perspective).

Ergo, the Mariners need to trade anyone of value that won’t be around for the theoretical Next Great Mariners Team. Now, of course, if you’re like me, you believe that Next Great Mariners Team doesn’t exist, because the Mariners will NEVER be great, such is our lot in life as Mariners fans. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t try. That doesn’t mean that the baseball gods can’t look down upon us favorably, if only for one magical season. It can’t ALL be 1995 and 2001 and that’s it, can it?

(it absolutely can, but that’s neither here nor there)

What’s funny is that I have serious doubts that the M’s would’ve been as willing to move on from Encarnacion and/or Bruce if certain guys hadn’t at least shown potential, if not outright skill. If Vogey weren’t as good as he’s been, for instance – and make no mistake, based on his Major League career heading into this season, he was as far from a guarantee as you can get – I have my doubts that we would’ve been comfortable trading away both of our big bats. Maybe I’m too in my own head with that 2010 team, but remember how our lineup was so historically terrible that we had to go out and RE-acquire Russell Branyan in a deal midway into the season – even though that team was headed for a 100+ loss season regardless – just to not be even MORE inept than we already were? You could put the blame for that on the prior ownership group and the prior GM, but 1) how much different is this new ownership group REALLY when you consider most of them were minority owners originally, and 2) teams in general have a hard time bottoming out because it angers too many of the fairweather fans that sports teams have to cater to (knowing that hardcore fans will be there regardless, it’s those fairweather folks who keep the lights on).

My thing is: I WANT this team to totally bottom out! And I think we have a pretty good chance. Not great, mind you, because there are some truly God-awful teams around baseball this year, it’s going to be hard to keep up with how great they are at losing. Gun to my head, I think getting a Top 2 or 3 draft pick isn’t in the cards. Getting a Top 5 pick is probably our realistic best case scenario, and it would be a huge disappointment if we landed outside of the Top 10. So, yeah, getting rid of as many helpful veterans as possible is a great start.

How low we can go still depends on a number of key factors. For starters, if the pitching improves too much, that’s going to hurt, because right now it’s that part of the team (particularly the bullpen) that’s costing us the most. I want – or, rather NEED – this bullpen to continue to blow otherwise winnable games late. I wouldn’t mind seeing Marco Gonzales do okay, but I also wouldn’t mind seeing Kikuchi continue to middle his way through his first year in the Bigs. Experience for the younger guys is more important than having them succeed out of the gates. Working on their craft, working on adjustments they need to make, is more important.

As for the hitters, I think this team needs to go young almost across the board and let them fail or succeed, because I think the pitching is more than bad enough to cost us enough to stay in the Top 10 draft pick range. Someone like Kyle Seager is always going to start, but another nagging injury or two wouldn’t be the worst thing for the team.

But, J.P. Crawford, Vogey, Santana, Haniger (when he’s healthy), Mallex, both of our catchers, and Shed Long (whenever we get out from under Dee Gordon) all need to be playing every day by the end of the season. And if they struggle, all the better!

I was concerned that the Mariners might’ve gotten too bad too quickly, that if they TRULY bottom out, the ownership group will be tempted to clean house in the front office. That’s probably a worst case scenario that we’ll never actually reach. I don’t honestly think these Mariners will be bad enough to start costing people their jobs. And, quite honestly, losing a bunch in May and June is probably better than doing so down the stretch.

Remember last year, when our May and June was terrific, and we looked like a sure bet to make the Wild Card? What happened? Well, we peaked too early and lost out late. An overall good season was derailed by a poor finish, and that’s the taste that’s left in your mouth. Whereas, if we’d struggled early, then finished super hot (while having the same overall record), 2018 would’ve been deemed a rousing success, and maybe we’d be looking at a 2019 season where the front office would’ve opted to go for it once again.

Well, if we suck now, but the young guys improve by season’s end, to the point where we win some meaningless games in August or September (while still maintaining a Top 10 draft status), I think that’s the best of all worlds. We have some momentum heading into 2020 (which is meaningless from a statistical point of view, but is very meaningful when it comes to the outlook of fans, and is great for those young players looking to parlay a great finish into promising careers moving forward) and maybe these Mariners indeed do start to contend for playoff spots or division titles in 2021 instead of 2022 or later.

All of that starts with losing as much as possible right this very minute. So, say goodbye to the vets, and let’s hope that it doesn’t stop there!

Yesterday’s Game Was Almost The Epitome Of A Perfect Mariners Loss

Picture this: a delightfully pleasant-weather spring day in Seattle. After a morning tastefully celebrating D-Day, as I do every year, I scrambled to get as much work done as I could, elated that my workday would be wrapping up around noon.

At the strike of twelve, I was in my Mariners hat and on my way out of the building. The wait for the light rail to arrive was longer than the ride from Westlake to International District, but it beats the hell out of walking all the way there I guess. I was starving, so I bought a $4 hot dog in the alley next to CenturyLink Field and had just enough time to wolf it down before I met my friends next to the Left Field Entrance.

Section 332 …

We got seats in section 332 for the 12:40pm start time and JUST missed first pitch, as we were waiting in line to get our first beers of the day. When we finally sat down, the Astros already had runners on base with nobody out. This was the second time Scott Servais used an Opener in this series alone – apparently he doesn’t trust soft-tossing lefties against the top of the order, because he did the same thing in the Wade LeBlanc start (who went on to pitch 8 innings of 1-run ball) – and it was the second time it totally backfired. In the aforementioned LeBlanc start, Cory Gearrin went 1.0 innings, giving up 3 runs in a 4-2 loss. I’m not saying had LeBlanc gotten the actual start – and subsequently went 8 innings of 1-run ball in this hypothetical scenario – that we would’ve won 2-1 (because, lord knows we’re more than capable of blowing a save in the 9th), but going down 3-0 in the first inning was a hole too big to dig our way out of.

Welp!

Yesterday someone named Austin Adams, who I’ve never heard of before, was somehow WORSE! Yes, he gave up 3 runs in the first inning, putting us in a would-be insurmountable hole against the likes of Justin Verlander (or so we thought), but he didn’t even have the decency of going a full inning! He threw 30 pitches and got 2 outs; starter Tommy Milone had to come in with a runner on base and get the final out of the inning (he would go on to throw 5 more on top of it, giving up a Wade LeBlanc-esque 1 run).

Can we fucking stop with the Opener now, Scott Servais? Or, at least, can we put a reliever in there who knows his ass from a hole in the ground? I don’t even know if that phrase makes sense here, but I’M STANDING BY IT!

The Mariners got a run back in the bottom of the first thanks to some weird defense by the Astros (deciding to NOT catch a pop fly by Encarnacion was an interesting choice, I must say), and then things settled in a little more predictably for a while. The Astros’ lead ballooned up to 5-1 before things started getting interesting.

We chased Verlander in the bottom of the seventh and worked a nice 2-out rally against the bullpen, pulling the game to 5-4. The Astros got one back in the eighth, and the M’s did the same in the bottom half. Then, against their closer in the bottom of the ninth, the Mariners pulled it to 6-6 to force the game into extras.

The Astros took the lead in the top of the tenth, but Omar Narvaez jacked a solo bomb to re-tie the game in the bottom frame. Things stayed that way until the 14th inning, when a line drive got past Domingo Santana in right for a leadoff triple (he would score the game-winning run on a sac fly). Spoiler alert, but the M’s lost with the bases juiced full of walks, but I’m gonna stop here for a moment to talk about Santana.

Servais wasn’t all Opener Gaffes this week; he also made what I thought was a pretty savvy move. For most of the year, the outfield has been Santana in left, Mallex Smith in center, and Mitch Haniger in right. It made sense. Haniger is probably better suited as a right fielder, and his strong arm plays well there. Smith was supposed to be a defensive whiz and a natural in center. And, while Santana’s natural home is in right, the left field in Safeco isn’t unreasonable, and it would seem to mask his weaker throwing arm (at least compared to Haniger’s).

Well, that ended up backfiring miserably, as Santana has led all of baseball in errors and misplayed balls while in left field, and Mallex’s defense has completely fallen apart for some reason since he re-joined the Mariners. So, this week, Servais moved Smith to left, Haniger to center, and Santana to right. That would take some of the mental pressure off of Mallex, and hopefully do the same for Santana. While we might have less range with Haniger in center, overall you’d think it would be a net positive throughout the outfield.

Well, that miscue by Santana in the 14th inning – taking a terrible GODAWFUL route to the ball, letting it get over his head, then bounce around allowing the runner to get to third – proves once and for all that he’s just not an outfielder. He’s a fucking defensive disaster. At this point, I don’t know if the team has any other choice but to keep him there, hope he improves, and find a way to trade him for prospects or something (assuming his bat continues to play).

It’s doubly imperative to keep him there, as Haniger left the game yesterday halfway through with an injury; we’ll see how long that keeps him out.

Anyway, yesterday was ALMOST perfect. The Mariners lost, which is important for us getting that top draft pick next year (still hanging tough with that 5th spot, 5 games back of Baltimore/Kansas City), but the Mariners were also entertaining in that loss! Hell, I was getting as hyped up as anyone with Vogelbach in there making life miserable for Houston’s pitching (he finished 2 for 5 with a run, an RBI, and 2 walks).

The only downside to the whole thing is, of course, the ballpark cutting off beer sales after 7 innings! There was DOUBLE that amount of baseball left to be played! We all ended up leaving the game early – some of us to go get another beer at a nearby bar – because we were TOO sober!

All in all, though, a pleasant way to spend a Thursday in early June.

Are The Mariners The Worst Home Team In Baseball?

There are obviously worse teams out there. The Orioles are 3-10 at home, for instance. The Marlins and Nationals are marginally worse at home, recordwise. But, God damn have the Mariners been horrid at T-Mobile Park so far!

In choosing to go to the 3:40pm game yesterday, I couldn’t have picked a worse one to attend. An 11-0 rout by the Cubs that was never even remotely competitive after the first inning. In the stands packed to the gills with Cubs fans, there was less than nothing to cheer for. I left after the third inning, after we were down 7-0; it was the best decision I made all day.

So, getting back to the original premise, the first homestand of the season was pretty good. The M’s went 5-1 against the Red Sox and Angels, with a +14 run differential. Not bad! The subsequent 6-1 road trip really had fans taking notice, but that was just the calm before the storm. We returned home to lose all six games to the Astros and Indians; our Run Differential At Home went from +14 to +2, as our record went to 5-7. After a 3-3 road trip to Anaheim and San Diego, we won the first two against the Rangers to bring our Run Differential At Home back up to +15. Then, the apocalypse: we lost the final two to the Rangers, and both games to the Cubs, by a combined 39 runs. That’s a -24 Run Differential At Home, which I have to believe is the worst in baseball.

Our overall Run Differential is all the way down to +2. It … hasn’t been pleasant.

In other news, I know Mallex Smith was sent down to work on things, but can we also send Domingo Santana down? Because that dude is a piece of shit in the outfield! I have never seen anyone drop so many easy fly balls in my life! He has 6 errors in the outfield already! No one else has more than 3! I mean, does he just not care? Is he trying to tank it so the team will keep him as a DH? His bat may be better than I expected, but his defense is a million times worse, and if the team doesn’t bench his ass at least once in the next series, I’m going to seriously question Scott Servais and his managing style. He has no problem calling out Felix or Jean Segura, but Domingo Santana is just going to continue getting away with nonchalant outfield defense? No fucking way! Send a fucking message, Servais! Nip this shit in the bud!

That’s all I got. Thank Christ the Mariners are off today, because there’s no way I could bring myself to look at them right now.

The 2019 Mariners Went 18-14 In March/April

The M’s started out 13-2 on the year, and everyone was pleasantly surprised. Then, the M’s went 5-12 to finish the month, and everyone said, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

It’s been a topsy-turvy 2019, but when you start to dig into it, it makes a lot of sense. Against teams with winning records (Houston, Cleveland, San Diego, Chicago Cubs), the Mariners are 0-9; which puts us at 18-5 against the rest of the league. That’s pretty much what the M’s have been the last few years – as we’ve clung to the desperate notion of “contention” – beat up on the bad teams, struggle against the elite teams, and fall just short of the playoffs. Considering where we thought this team would be heading into the season – as one of those bottom-feeders – you have to figure this is the Best Case Scenario for this team. But, REAL contention, as a LEGITIMATE World Series threat, well, let’s not go that far.

The starting pitching is more or less what we thought it was: good enough to keep us in games. The hitting is probably a little better than expected – they’ll go to pound town on subpar pitching – but they still struggle against the better staffs. The bullpen is probably a little worse than expected: there’s no closer to speak of, and while they’re not blowing every single game, they’re still far from trustworthy. The most alarming aspect of the 2019 Mariners thus far is how absolutely abominable the defense turned out to be.

Oh sure, the loss of Seager created a massive black hole at third base; Healy will never be a fit there. That, in turn, weakened our first base defense a tick. Catcher was always going to be a negative for this team, because we went out and brought in the exact opposite of Mike Zunino. But, I’m not sure I expected Tim Beckham to be so terrible at short. Domingo Santana regularly misses even the routine plays in left. And Mallex Smith – until being sent down yesterday for his swing issues – is FAR from what was advertised as a plus defender in center.

That having been said, there’s been more bright spots than negatives with this team. Marco Gonzales is pitching like a ROCKSTAR right now! 5-0, 2.80 ERA, averaging over 6 innings per start. He is so far from what he was two years ago, it’s absolutely amazing. I would argue Felix is better than expected, but the bar was set pretty low, and there’s still a lot of season left to play, so I won’t be counting any chickens one month in. Roenis Elias has been a trouper for our bullpen (2.16 ERA, 4 saves), and Brandon Brennan – our Rule 5 Guy – might be our best reliever of the season so far!

The majority of the good vibes have been coming from the plate, though. Dan Vogelbach has been on fire (.310/.462/.732); Dee Gordon is healthy and hitting the cover off the ball; Santana, Narvaez, and Beckham have all been terrific with a bat in their hands. Encarnacion and Bruce, while their averages have been low, their power numbers are still spectacular. Really, the only downer has been Mallex Smith, but I would expect he just needs a couple weeks in Tacoma to get his head and his swing right.

So, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Mariners, but it’s also not all roses and sunshine. I’m coming back down to Earth a little bit when it comes to talk of them adding for a possible playoff run. Forget that. Stay the course. And, maybe blow a few extra games in May to make the front office certain we’re on the right track. The last thing we need to do is blow things up AGAIN by trying to add to this team when it has no business doing so.

The Mariners Got Swept By The Padres

For those keeping track at home, that’s a 6-game losing streak to the mighty San Diego Padres of San Diego.

On Tuesday, Erik Swanson got his second career start, pitching into the sixth inning, giving up 5 runs, 4 earned. I didn’t catch this one, but I seem to remember hearing both the defense and bullpen letting Swanson down in this one, so take those numbers with a grain of salt. He struck out 3 and walked 0 while being very economical with his pitch count, so a lot of good sprinkled in there. The bats were never able to put anything together though, as the M’s lost 6-3.

Then, on getaway day, Felix tossed a rare gem! 7 innings of 1-run ball on 3 hits, 1 walk, and a whopping 8 strikeouts! It really felt like old times again! Mostly because the offense, once again, couldn’t get anything going and the M’s lost 1-0. Nevertheless, that’s an outing I didn’t think he had in him anymore. Sure, I could see him going 7 innings every now and again. I could see him limiting opponents to 1 run every once in a while, maybe while stranding a bunch of runners throughout the game. But, both combined with 8 strikeouts is pretty outstanding!

Obviously, that’s the best start of the year for Felix by a million miles, but there are a lot of encouraging signs and a lot of encouraging reports coming out that maybe he’s starting to put it all together again. Maybe Aging Felix can be like Aging Bartolo Colon. Dare to dream!

The offense is a little more worrisome. No one had Ryon Healy pegged as anything for this team in the long term, but his hot start has cooled off considerably. The numbers for the better hitters at the top of the lineup are starting to coalesce into something resembling their career norms. The major concern is Mallex Smith, who’s been dropped to the bottom of the lineup, with a slash line of .182/.270/.273. That’s just abysmal, on top of what’s been some miserable fucking defense in centerfield. This is NOT what we signed up for! Not even a little bit! When Mike Zunino – who went to the Rays in this trade to bring in Smith – has a higher batting average and on-base percentage, you know you’ve got some serious problems with your swing. This shit needs to turn around in a hurry, because the last thing we need is a(nother) head case overthinking everything all the damn time.

The Mariners Are Too Delightfully Ignorant To Realize They’re Supposed To Be Terrible

The M’s won 2 of 3 in Chicago to raise their record to 9-2. It’s as insane as it is beautiful!

I think we’re still all on the same page that the other shoe is going to drop at some point, but you can’t say this isn’t fun. The Mariners lead all of Major League Baseball in runs, hits, homers, and total bases; we’re second in doubles (tops in the A.L.), fourth in average (tops in the A.L.), sixth in on-base percentage (second in the A.L.), second in slugging (tops in the A.L.), second in OPS (tops in the A.L.), and second in run differential (tops in the A.L.). It’s the Dodgers, the Mariners, and everybody else.

And oh by the way, it’s the Mariners who lead everyone in the most important category of them all: Wins.

Of course, we’re not even halfway through the first full month of the season, so this constitutes more of a “streak” than a full-blown trend, but how can you not like what you’ve been seeing?

More importantly, if you were writing up the Best Case Scenario for what a Step-Back season would look like, this is it ALMOST to the letter.

Hitters are dominating.

More specifically: your future potential core looks terrific. Mitch Haniger is doing Mitch Haniger things. He’s not even fully warmed up yet, but more importantly he hasn’t taken any steps backward; there’s room for improvement. To the eye test, though, he’s right there. Then, there’s Domingo Santana, who looks like an MVP candidate through 11 games. He’s hitting over .300, he’s up there in homers, he leads the team in RBI and walks, and again with the eye test, he LOOKS like a #3 hitter in this lineup. We lost Cano, but we haven’t lost a step, and that’s important. Omar Narvaez is a welcome respite from Mike Zunino’s floundering at the plate. Mallex Smith hasn’t even gotten rolling, but he’s already wreaking havoc at the top of the lineup. Dee Gordon is doing Dee Gordon things. Tim Beckham still hasn’t cooled off. Even Daniel Vogelbach has exploded onto the scene, looking like that mashing DH prospect we all envisioned he could be when he first came here! And, while Ryon Healy hasn’t taken a step forward at the plate, considering he’s trying to muddle through a switch to third base, it’s remarkable in and of itself that he hasn’t taken a step back.

Then, on the flipside, your tradeable veterans are also looking solid. Jay Bruce’s average is down, but he’s leading a power-heavy lineup in homers. Edwin Encarnacion’s power is just starting to heat up, but he’s finding other ways to produce, hitting an even .300 and providing stability in the cleanup spot. A cold start for either of those guys would’ve reduced their value to absolute zero; this way should our winning ways slow down, and if a contending team has a need, we could flip them for better prospects than we gave up to bring them in.

On the pitching side of things, the starters look okay. Marco Gonzales is 3-0 and he’s coming off of a start where he pitched into the ninth inning while giving up just one run; he’s part of that future core. Yusei Kikuchi looks as good as advertised, but he also has room for improvement (a less-inept defense behind him would probably help make his numbers look a little better); he’s also part of the future core. Mike Leake is probably the best starter in the rotation in the early going; he’s a guy we will probably flip at the deadline for prospects. The rest of the rotation is made up more or less of placeholders, but it’s always better to see these guys succeed, in the event we want to wheel and deal later on.

The key to this whole Step-Back is seeing what you have out of your bullpen. What young guys do we have that we can build around for the near future when we hope to contend again? What guys can we trade? If the hitters hit well and the starters succeed, what do we care if the bullpen is a little wacky and gives up leads late?

The Mariners could very well be 11-0 if they had a competent bullpen; as it stands what’s making this Step-Back season not-quite perfect is that we’re not blowing ENOUGH leads! A quality offense, with quality starters, whose bullpen blows tons of games, rendering our record good enough for a Top 10 draft pick in 2020 is the ultimate Best Case Scenario, and I feel like we’re just about there.

In the meantime, if this team gains a little extra confidence with a scorching-hot start, who am I to complain? Let’s keep the good times rolling in this series against a down Royals team this week!