Edwin Encarnacion, We Hardly Knew Ye

Well, in answer to the question: “Will Edwin Encarnacion Garner The Mariners More In Trade Than Jay Bruce?“, the answer is a resounding: we’ll see.

As we all remember, the Jay Bruce deal got us an A-Ball prospect by the name of Jake Scheiner, who plays the corner infield and corner outfield spots. In return, the Mariners had to give a good chunk of change to the Phillies to compensate for Bruce’s high salary. We all expected a similar situation with Encarnacion, and lo and behold, here we are.

The Mariners recently participated in the MLB Draft, in which they spent a crazy number of high-round draft picks on pitching, because not only does our pitching stink at a Major League level, but it stinks at all levels throughout the minors. In recent days, highly-touted prospect Justus Sheffield was demoted down to AA, after consistently and thoroughly stinking for the Tacoma Rainiers. I was lamenting this fact over the weekend, as we were bamboozled once again by a “sure thing” prospect from the Yankees, wishing out into the universe that the Mariners never trade with that fucking team ever again (because all their prospects are FUCKING OVERRATED), and in return the universe farted in my face.

Edwin Encarnacion was traded to the Yankees for Juan Then, a 19 year old pitcher who figures to be in A-Ball this year. In return, the Mariners had to pay about half of the remaining salary owed to Encarnacion.

It should be noted that Juan Then originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Mariners as a younger teenager. We traded him with another low-level prospect for Nick Rumbelow, a reliever with the Yankees who was supposed to be worth a damn, except SURPRISE, wasn’t worth a damn because Yankees. Figure anyone the Yankees opt to give away in a deal is someone who sucks and will never fucking amount to anything.

It should also be noted that there are rumors that the Mariners could have gotten more from other organizations if only the Mariners were willing to take on more of Encarnacion’s salary. I find this remarkably easy to believe, and even though you’ll find record of me praising the organization for eating money on these deals to acquire prospects, know for the record that I don’t have all the information. While I suppose it’s true we could’ve easily just traded these guys for nothing, in a straight salary dump, it’s also true that if the Mariners ate 100% of the money, we’d probably be looking at better (or more) prospects in return.

The ultimate take-away from this deal comes from a Buster Olney tweet I saw this morning, where he notes the Mariners have only $65.5 million in committed money for 2020, $41.5 million for 2021, and $0 for 2022. And, if the team ever figures out a way to trade Mike Leake (which shouldn’t be too hard, if he keeps pitching as well as he has the last four starts), those millions should go down considerably.

From there, you figure the team will be looking to move Dee Gordon, while at least listening to offers for Wade LeBlanc, Tim Beckham, and any other veteran not nailed down.

I’ll get into what we’re looking at the rest of the way in another post, but for now, let’s send Encarnacion off with a hearty goodbye and good luck. In 65 games, he hit 21 homers, 49 RBI, and was good for 2.0 WAR while playing a very competent first base. The Mariners have had FAR WORSE Rent-A-Players in their history; indeed, Encarnacion might be among the very best. It’s just too bad he was squandered on such a wretched team.

Still, it’s not every day you see a professional like Encarnacion make the best of a bad situation. We literally couldn’t have asked anything more from a delightful human being. His parrot rides will certainly be missed.

Jay Bruce, We Hardly Knew Ye

You know, I had completely forgotten that Jay Bruce’s contract ran through 2020. So sure, I must have been, of his getting traded LONG before that would see the light of day.

The first part of the Big Mariners Step Back took place this past offseason, with Nelson Cruz being allowed to walk, with the trades of Cano & Diaz to the Mets, Paxton to the Yanks, and Segura to the Phillies (among other deals). There’s always more work to be done, but now that the Mariners have gone 12-35 since their 13-2 start, the second phase of the Big Mariners Step Back is ready to commence: jettison as many useless veterans as possible for as many high-ceiling prospects as possible.

When I say that, of course, I don’t really mean USELESS. Jay Bruce is useful! Just not for the purposes of what the Mariners are trying to accomplish in the short term. But, let’s be real, he’s also not great. He’s a 32 year old corner outfielder who hits for a low average and lots of dingers. With that skillset, and a long history of more competent play, Jay Bruce is earning a ridiculous amount of money (due in large part to how broken the free agency system is in Major League Baseball).

Well, now he’s the Phillies’ problem. Or, rather, he’s the Phillies’ fourth outfielder/bat off the bench. In return, the Mariners received A-ball prospect Jake Scheiner, a fourth round pick in 2017 who plays 3rd base, 1st base, and the corner outfield spots. He’ll be 24 in August and will join our high-A squad.

The upside is Scheiner could be our third baseman of the future. Given his age and his adequate defensive skills, that seems pretty ambitious. A more-realistic Best Case Scenario is that he turns into a utility player whose bat forces you to find a spot for him in most lineups.

The downside, of course, is limitless, but that’s the prospect game. You do the best with what you’re given.

Most encouraging, of course, is how we got Scheiner in the first place. Bruce’s deal has him earning $13 million this year and the next. You don’t get anything CLOSE to a prospect like Scheiner without swallowing a large chunk of cash, which is what the Mariners have done, sending along $18 million to make things palatable.

As a Mariners fan, I find that encouraging. There have always been empty gestures here and there of the M’s saying all the right things about wanting to win and get better, but more often than not, it boils down to the money. It has always felt like the Mariners cared more about turning a profit than they have putting a winning product on the field. If both of those things happened to dovetail, then all the better, but profits have always been the #1 priority.

I mean, hell, the most recent such scenario was the Cano deal. We could’ve eaten so much more money and gotten back a king’s ransom for a guy like Edwin Diaz (as it turns out, Jarred Kelenic looks like a superstar in the waiting, but you get the idea). $18 million isn’t chump change. Not for a team this bad, a team that’s REALLY going to struggle to fill out T-Mobile Park this summer.

Anyway, Jay Bruce was good to have around, and he appears to have done a lot of good with our young guys (particularly Daniel Vogelbach, who figures to see the lion’s share of ABs at the DH spot going forward). But, this was always the plan. And Bruce is only the beginning. Reports have already been floated out that the Fire Sale is open for business. Edwin Encarnacion figures to be the next domino to fall. Mike Leake hasn’t done much to help his cause, but he figures to get some sniffs. I have to believe Dee Gordon and Tim Beckham are also up for grabs.

After that, who knows?

Where Is The Bottom For This Mariners Team?

God that 13-2 start was fucking stupid …

Ever since, the M’s have gone 7-21, which is much more in line with where we saw this team heading into the season. The over/under on wins was right around 73.5 to 74.5; at 13-2, it seemed idiotic to count on the under winning the day. Now, it’s not so crazy.

The A’s are one of those teams where you’ll see their unimpressive record, focus on other things, and then a couple months later you find they’ve ripped off an impossible number of wins. Maybe not every single year, but even more than just once in a lifetime is annoying as a Mariners fan, to the point where I have Sports PTSD because of them.

Well, I would argue the M’s have the same power, just in the opposite direction. This franchise can rip off an impossible number of losses in a short period of time, and unlike the A’s, the Mariners ACTUALLY do this every single fucking year. It gets so bad, you wonder if they’ll ever see another winning month. Hell, sometimes you wonder if they’ll ever see another winning SERIES.

Now, in all reality, we’re talking about a season full of streaks. We started out red hot, we’re currently ice cold, but another hot streak is probably right around the corner (maybe as soon as this week). What this post is attempting to posit is that: maybe we just keep on losing?

From a talent perspective, I believe the Mariners are one of the five worst teams in all of baseball. Forget the farm system and all the minor league levels (for now, though I don’t see much immediate help on the horizon); I’m talking strictly from the product on the Major League field.

This defense is the absolute worst. The bullpen is – if not the absolute worst – among them and making a serious push for the bottom spot. And, while the hitting has a good amount of pop – and can put up some crooked numbers – it was always going to cool off, and it appears to have finally done so. What’s more, there was never going to be enough offense to compensate for all this team’s weaknesses.

Weaknesses which, apparently, are extending to the starting rotation.

I’ve largely given the rotation a passing mark on the Pass/Fail grading system, because while there’s no top-shelf talent, there’s a lot of 2’s and 3’s that’ll generally keep you in ballgames. With the hitting this team has shown, if you could cobble together a proper bullpen, you could see a team contending for a playoff spot with this rotation.

But, as the season has lurched forward, we’ve started seeing some cracks in the armor of that argument. Two out of his last three starts has seen Marco Gonzales bury this team early in those games; that’s ostensibly your ACE of the staff! A semi-lukewarm start from King Felix has gone down in flames (culminating with a stint on the IL this week). Mike Leake has had some real duds mixed in there, as we all expected. Wade LeBlanc was the first of our starters to hit the IL; while he appears to be on the mend, we’ll see what that translates to when he finally makes it back. In his absense, Erik Swanson has started to struggle as teams write the book on him. The minor league starting depth behind Swanson figures to be markedly worse.

If we run into some more starting pitching injuries – as well as injuries to our everyday players, which is only a matter of time – how bad can this team’s record get? We already know the bullpen is a disaster; any hope for that to change is going to depend on the players in the organization magically improving. We also know that a number of these veterans are going to be shopped at the trade deadline, if not sooner. Their replacements should inspire no confidence.

The Mariners once had the very best record in all of baseball. Then, almost exactly a month later, we’re now talking about the team with the 11th-worst record in baseball and falling HARD. And, if that doesn’t move the needle for you, the Mariners also at one point had baseball’s best run differential. Now … it’s the 11th-worst.

The point is, outside of that hot start, this is a Bottom 10 baseball team. I would argue, based on what our minds tell us, combined with the eye test of what we’re seeing from this team on the field, the 2019 Mariners are closer to the team that’s gone 7-21 as opposed to the team that started 13-2.

While I’m dreading all the bad baseball we’re all going to be subjected to over the next few months, I’m not-so-secretly relishing the end result, which figures to be a Top 10 pick in next year’s draft.

There Was Some Interesting Pitching This Weekend For The Future Of The Mariners

Just because I’ve been a little more hands-off with this Mariners team, doesn’t mean I’m not at least following along with what’s happening. Sure, I went to last Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Cubs, and sure it was the God damn apocalpyse. But, that’s an anomaly for Marco Gonzales. It brought him down to Earth – he’s not an ace, in spite of his role on this year’s team – but it’s not an indicator of things to come.

There were some pleasant developments over the weekend that we should all look at fondly, as it hopefully further cements the notion that this rebuild (or whatever) is headed in the right direction. Marco will be fine, but we need more than just him if we’re going to get our hopes up.

Yusei Kikuchi took the mound on Friday, following his perfect 1-inning start the last time out. Of course, we’re talking about a small sample size, but he bounced back with 7 innings of 1-run ball, giving up 3 hits, walking 1, and striking out a whopping 10 batters! Of course, the team squandered all of this, in losing 2-1, but that’s a helluvan outing. EASILY his best start of the year. More of that please!

Mike Leake had a very Mike Leakean start on Saturday (6 innings, 3 runs, in what would be a 5-4 loss, the second game blown by the bullpen in as many days), but what’s more important is Erik Swanson’s start on Sunday. We managed to NOT go winless against the Indians for 2019 thanks to a 10-0 route, helmed by Swanson’s 6 innings of 1-hit (3 walk) ball. We were able to stretch him out over 100 pitches, he got out of some jams, and maybe most importantly, this was his second start against the Indians (last time he went 6 innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits). So, they had a chance to see him, make adjustments, and they STILL couldn’t do anything against him! I like that an awful lot.

Nothing about this weekend means anything definitive in the grand scheme of things, but they’re important steps in the way we want to go. This still doesn’t solve the lack of a real, bona fide ace on this staff, but I would argue the more pitchers we have in that #2 starter range, the better we’ll be. We can always go out and rent an ace, if in a year or two this team develops into a true contender; but until then, we need to build up the roster around that hypothetical final piece. Kikuchi and Swanson look like nice sections of foundation so far in their young Major League careers.

The Ridiculous Mariners Swept The Royals Because Why Not?

It all started on a Monday evening where Felix was celebrating his birthday by puking his guts out. He muddled through 1 inning, but obviously wasn’t sharp. The Mariners were down 4-2 by the time I packed it in for the night. I woke up the next morning to an improbable 13-5 victory. 2 more Encarnacion homers, as well as blasts from Bruce, Vogelbach, and Dylan Moore of all people.

Then Tuesday rolled around. It was two-all when I went to sleep. I woke up the next morning and lo and behold, 6-3 Mariners. Marco Gonzales improved to 4-0 on the year with 6 solid innings, and the bullpen was perfect. The only homer belonged to Bruce, but that didn’t stop the rest of the hitters, who all combined for 15 hits, including 2 doubles by Vogey.

On Wednesday, there was a bit of a rocky start from Yusei Kikuchi; when I went to bed it was three-all. I woke up to a delightful little 6-5 victory. Kikuchi ended up settling down to go a full six innings, and while the bullpen failed to hold it down, Mitch Haniger was on the case with a ninth inning homer to break the tie. Our homer streak was nearly snapped in this one until that shot, and boy was it a big one!

Finally, yesterday was getaway day, so I was awake for the whole shebang, but had to miss a good chunk in the middle for lunch. Mike Leake had a pretty poor outing, but limited the damage to 4 runs over 5 innings. Luckily, the offensive freight train couldn’t be stopped. Vogey and Dee Gordon had homers in this one – to extend the streak to 15 games in a row to start the season, an American League record – with Vogey’s being the game winner in the tenth. It was a 7-6 victory, meaning the Mariners have scored 6 or more runs in 13 of 15 games, which is clinically insane.

I’m as flummoxed as you are. I’ll say this, though: with the Astros and Indians coming to town, followed by a 4-game trip to Anaheim and a 2-gamer in San Diego, the schedule gets much more difficult than it has been. Talk to me in a couple weeks to see how excited I am about this season’s potential.

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!

The Too-Late, Too-Sick, Too-Hungover 4-Games-In Seattle Mariners 2019 Season Preview Spectacular!

See, here’s the thing.

The Mariners started the regular season in Japan against the A’s for a 2-game set more than a week ago, right when I was starting my big yearly Reno trip for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. As such, I was too busy at work getting things ready for my absence to write a proper season preview.

Then, there was Reno. Last week’s Wednesday through Monday. Non-stop drinking and gambling and carrying on. I couldn’t exactly pull myself away to write thousands of words on the upcoming Mariners season!

Then, I was immediately confronted with a cold. On the brightside, it was my first cold since post-Reno week LAST year, but nevertheless I was so run down from the lack of sleep that something had to give. In theory, I could’ve written something, but it would’ve been through a foggy haze, and I don’t like to work that way.

I was limited to one work day this week as a result, where I was too busy getting caught up on everything that I’d missed, so Thursday was out. Then, I had the Mariners’ home opener that night! Finally, yesterday could’ve been an option, but I was still recovering from the previous night, so here we are. A rare Saturday morning blog post. No rest for the wicked.

***

First, a quick recap. The Mariners are 3-1 as of this writing. They managed to sweep the A’s in Japan behind solid, if unspectacular, starts featuring Marco Gonzales (Opening Day Starter) and Yusei Kikuchi, as well as a whole lotta power hitting from the offense (newcomers Tim Beckham and Domingo Santana looking particularly good early).

Then, the M’s got off to a tremendous start against the Red Sox for a game and a half. The home opener featured more solid, if unspectacular, pitching from Gonzales, as the offense bashed its way to a 12-4 win. My friends and I got to heckle the World Series champions; their fans got to remind us of their World Series championships; it was all in good fun.

Last night appeared to be more of the same, as the good guys got off to a 6-1 lead through four innings, but we let it get chipped away throughout the rest of the game without playing any more add-on, culminating with a 3-run homer in the top of the ninth to blow it 7-6.

So, there we are, 3-1. First place in the A.L. West on a formality. It’s only a matter of time before we tumble our way down the standings.

***

So, the biggest news of the early going is that Kyle Seager injured his something or other and is out for two months. This is his first trip on the IL, so it’s pretty amazing someone has been as durable as he has for so long. Nevertheless, it throws our entire infield out of whack.

Ryon Healy is a good defensive first baseman; now he’s a terrible defensive third baseman. That essentially guaranteed a roster spot for out-of-options Dan Vogelbach, who is vying for playing time at first with Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce, all three of which are absolute disasters on defense. While Dee Gordon is holding his own with outstanding play at second base, I don’t seem to recall Tim Beckham as being any great shakes at short stop (I do, however, seem to recall teams trying to move him to less-featured defensive spots around the infield, due to limitations in his range).

That leaves us with catcher. Omar Narvaez is the offensive answer to the Mike Zunino question; but at the same time he’s been rated as among the worst defensive catchers, if not the VERY worst. In all facets. Until the other day, David Freitas was the only other catcher on the 40-man roster, until we just acquired Tom Murphy, who is more in the mold of a Zunino, except with worse power and defensive abilities.

So, for two months here, we might be talking about the worst infield in all of baseball. With Beckham, Bruce, and Healy accounting for 5 errors already, in just 4 games, that would seem to bear out (on top of 1 passed ball from Narvaez in his 3 games). But, even when Seager returns, it’s hard to call this team a juggernaut in the field.

That alone puts a lot of extra strain on the offense, which through four games has certainly been up to the task, beating up on the aces for both the A’s and Red Sox so far.

Tim Beckham is hitting .500 with 3 homers and 2 doubles through four games. Domingo Santana is hitting .389 with 3 homers and 2 doubles. Mitch Haniger and Ryon Healy are both hitting .294 with a combined 3 homers and 5 doubles. Mallex Smith has already hit a homer and a triple in two games. The team in total has 12 homers, 9 doubles and a triple in the early going, having scored a total of 32 runs.

Now, obviously, there’s a lot of season left to play. I predict that Haniger will have probably the best and most complete season of all the everyday players. Healy will be streaky and hit anywhere from 25-30 homers with a low batting average. Mallex Smith and Dee Gordon should be pretty productive at the top and bottom of the lineup. Encarnacion and Bruce will probably hit for low averages, a good amount of power, but otherwise unremarkable (we can only hope they succeed early and are traded for younger, better prospects for the long term). Narvaez will be awesome and frustrating in the exact opposite ways Zunino was awesome and frustrating. I feel like all those stories are going to follow their respective blueprints to a T.

The guys I’m more interested in are guys like Beckham, Santana, Seager, and Vogelbach (saying nothing of the guys in the minors, who I’ll talk a little about later). This is a VERY important year for each of those four guys.

Beckham was a #1 overall draft pick in 2008, so clearly he was once presumed to be a great prospect. Now, obviously, that hasn’t panned out, as he’s had a pretty rocky career to date. But, there have been glimpses. In 2017, between two teams, he hit 22 homers and accounted for a 3.3 WAR. I’d like to believe yet another change of scenery – maybe combined with a hot start like we’ve seen through 4 games – could be the spark his career needs. Lord knows I’ll be the last guy to believe in J.P. Crawford’s longterm prospects as an everyday, elite short stop. If Beckham were to somehow put it all together, wouldn’t THAT be just the kickstart this team needs in its rebuild?

It’s also an important year for our very own Kyle Seager, who had enjoyed a charmed life up until recent years and the advent of the defensive shift. 2018 was his career nadir, so starting 2019 on the Injured List is about as poor a start as you can get. He’s earning a huge sum of money and is guaranteed through at least 2021, so it would be nice to see him get back on the horse and at least resemble his career norms again. My concern is that this injury setback forces him to press upon his return, resulting in even worse numbers both offensively and in the field. Being the Kyle Seager of old would make him well worth his money, though, and would reinforce the positive direction of this rebuild.

Dan Vogelbach is out of options, and is essentially a man without a position. The key for him is to either start fucking hitting (he has 1 strikeout in his lone AB, in pinch hit duty last night), or see this team trade away either Encarnacion or Bruce before Seager comes back, thereby guaranteeing him a spot as this team’s DH/1B sub. It’s now or never when it comes to the Mariners, so I hope he’s figured it out late in his career. I can’t imagine he has one shred of value as trade bait, so bolstering that would be a plus.

The guy I’m most interested in – regardless of the guys in the minors – is Domingo Santana, the power-hitting left fielder. The Mariners are in desperate need of superstars throughout their lineup, as arguably only Mitch Haniger fits that bill. The only other guy currently on the 25-man roster who has that potential is Santana. Thankfully, he (as with Beckham) has shown this potential as recently as 2017, putting up a 3.0 WAR season with 30 homers and 29 doubles. If that guy comes back, or gets even better, then we’re really talking. He’s still got two more Arb years on top of what he’s making now, so if this team is going to be contending for a World Series by 2021, I believe he’s going to have to be a huge part of it in the middle of our order.

So, you know, watch out for him straining an oblique or something. That’s our Mariners luck, right?

***

The pitching side of things is pretty mediocre.

The rotation is what it is; there’s no one who even RESEMBLES an ace. Marco Gonzales is ostensibly our best starter and prospect on the 25-man roster, but he’s nothing more than a #3 in my eyes. Kikuchi probably has a higher ceiling as a true #2, but the team is going to handle him with kid gloves – giving him a 1-inning start every fourth or fifth time out, to keep him fresh – so he also comes with the most variance. He could be great, or he could wear down in the second half and take a lot longer to get better. Thankfully, this team has no intention of contending this year, so we can be patient.

Mike Leake is another #3-type pitcher. He’ll be great sometimes and he’ll be downright awful sometimes. And, the rest of the time he’ll just be sort of adequate. He’s making a lot of money and word has it we’re looking to trade him, so obviously we’re not talking about part of our future. In that sense, I’ve already lost interest, except for what he can net us in trade.

Wade LeBlanc is a #4 or a #5 on a good team. On a great team, he’s probably a long reliever, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be useful. I think he’s more than capable of running back what he did in 2018, but again, he’s not really part of the longterm future, so whatever.

Felix has been demoted to this team’s #5, and I’m on record as doubting very much that he’ll still be on this roster by May. June at the latest. It’s best not to think about it; but the team has AAA prospects that we’re looking to give experience in the Majors, so as soon as they’re ready – barring injuries elsewhere in the rotation – I think Felix is the odd man out.

It’s really not a great rotation. Paired with an elite bullpen, with the offense as supercharged as it appears to be, I’d be more inclined to suspend disbelief on a playoff run. But, this feels like a rotation that’s going to give up anywhere from 3-5 runs per game, backed up by a bullpen that’s going to give up 1-3 more runs per game. And, when the offense goes cold – as it inevitably will, from time to time this season – the Mariners are going to be SUPER BAD, and will run off some hysterical losing streaks.

I don’t even know where to start with this bullpen.

Hunter Strickland – ostensibly our closer – just blew his first save of the year (2/3 in save opportunities in the early going) and may or may not have an injured arm/shoulder that could put him on the IL. We’ll know more later today. He’s far from the dominant pitcher we had in Edwin Diaz, so right off the bat we’re worse than last year; if he goes down with injury, the M’s are essentially without a closer. This could get VERY ugly.

Roenis Elias and Cory Gearrin have gotten a bunch of innings so far and have looked okay. As for the rest, I have no fucking idea. There are a lot of names I’m not familiar with, so I really don’t have a lot to add. Talk to me later in the year, when there’s more of a book on these guys.

My hunch is that none of these guys will be on the next Mariners playoff team, and therefore will add nothing to this team’s season but heartbreak.

***

All in all, I actually think the first four games are a microcosm of the season to come. I think for the Mariners to win games, we’re going to have to score a ton of runs. I think there will still be a good share of close games to dance our way around, and while we won’t lose all of them, I could see quite a few of our losses looking like the one we had last night: go up big early, have that lead slowly chipped away as our offense hibernates, only to blow it in the end. Ultimately, though, what will torpedo this season is something we haven’t seen a lot of: an offense that goes completely down the shitter. Not even the very best offenses are able to keep up this type of production for 162 games, and I fully expect this group of guys to come WAY down to Earth sooner rather than later.

Low batting averages, lots of strikeouts, and prolonged power slumps surrounding intermittent periods of offensive brilliance. Just because this year is starting out with one of those intermittent periods of offensive brilliance doesn’t mean that’s going to be the norm. Far from it. We could start stinking up the joint as early as tonight and it wouldn’t shock me!

I think the over/under on wins for the Mariners heading into the season was 74.5. I think we’ll hit the over, but I think it’ll be by the skin of our teeth. 75-87 is my prediction. The guys we desperately need to be great won’t be great. The high-level prospects will be mediocre. One or two hopeful minor league studs will suffer devastating injuries. And, this whole cycle of middle-of-the-road bad baseball will continue on into infinity as I die hopeless and alone, having never seen the Mariners play in a World Series.

Tempering Expectations For This Mariners Rebuild

What interests me most about the game of baseball is the long game. In football, you’ve got rosters twice the size of a baseball team, yet we see it every year: teams going from worst to first. You can turn around a football team in one offseason! But, in baseball, it takes seemingly forever (and, for an organization like the Mariners, LITERALLY forever).

I did a big, long post about the first successful Mariners rebuild. I originally wrote that in 2013, when we all were hopeful that we were in the middle of the next successful Mariners rebuild. There were so many moves made between the nadir of this franchise (2008) and the next time you could legitimately say the Mariners were in contention for the post-season (2014, when we finished 87-75, just 1 game back of a Wild Card spot) that it truly boggles the mind.

That rebuild was ultimately a failure. It produced three winning seasons between 2014 and 2018, and zero playoff appearances. Following last year’s collapse, Jerry Dipoto made a bunch of moves to jettison veterans and infuse the farm system with prospects. Our veteran holdovers include names like Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc, Roenis Elias, Dan Altavilla, and Dan Vogelbach; most (if not all) of those players will not be on this team the next time it reaches the post-season.

So, we’re stuck rooting for prospects. Rooting for potential. Rooting for the young guys to step up and prove themselves not just worthy of Major League roster spots, but ultimately good enough to get this team back to the playoffs one day (ideally one day very soon). Jerry Dipoto is staking his reputation and his job on these players. If it all falls apart like it did last time, he, Scott Servais, and a bunch of other very smart baseball men will be looking for employment elsewhere.

As I noted, we’ve been through this before. So, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

See, it can be fun and exciting knowing your team is out of it before the season even begins. First, there’s no expectations, so any on-field success you see is all gravy. Then, of course, there’s the factor of the unknown. New, young players you’ve never seen before are ALWAYS more interesting than old veterans who’ve been around for years. We pretty much know what guys like Seager, Healy, Felix, and Leake are; there’s nothing to learn about those guys. So, we pin all our hopes and dreams on the prospects. We want to see them in a Major League uniform right this minute, to pump them full of experience with the hopes that they’ll pan out immediately. This can lead to guys getting called up too early (a la Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Matt Tuiasosopo, etc.) or guys just being huge disappointments.

Let’s start with the 2008 season, the aforementioned nadir. That team lost 101 games and we were all miserable. Successful players like Felix, Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez, Jose Lopez, and even Yuniesky Betancourt were no match for the suck-asses that were Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro, Jeremy Reed, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, Erik Bedard, and so on. General Manager Bill Bavasi was fired, and The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild was on!

2009 proved to be a welcome surprise. Franklin Gutierrez was brought over in a trade, as was Jason Vargas (Doug Fister was one of the rare Bavasi draft picks that stuck in the org and actually panned out). Ichiro was still Ichiro! Russell Branyan and David Aardsma were quality pick-ups. Even the return of Ken Griffey Jr. for a victory lap proved valuable. That 85-win season led everyone (but the stat geeks, who knew those wins were on a shaky foundation) to believe we were way ahead of the curve on this rebuild. So much so that Jackie Z decided to make a big push to go for it in 2010.

We traded for Cliff Lee! We got rid of Carlos Silva and brought back a useful piece in Milton Bradley! Our young core of starters (Felix, Vargas, and Fister) were bolstered with key bullpen additions like Brandon League, Jamey Wright, and Sean White. So, what happened? The team fell apart (ultimately losing another 101 games; in hindsight, a second go-around with Old Griffey proved disasterous) and shipped off anyone of value for prospects. Lee was flipped for Justin Smoak (among others). Our high draft pick was used on a pitcher who got hurt so many times he never made the Bigs. And The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild 2.0 was on.

2011 was a key year for the rebuild, as the team REALLY went for it this time. Taking a stroll through that roster is long and arduous. Ichiro, Miguel Olivo, Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, and Adam Kennedy were the veteran everyday players; Felix, Vargas, Bedard, and Fister were still holding down the rotation (though Fister would be swapped for a bunch of nobodies at the deadline; yet another example of a trade that totally backfired for the Mariners); and League, Wright, and David Pauley (among others) were the steady influences in the bullpen. But, the young guys were the stars of the show. 2008 first rounder Dustin Ackley was called up midseason, as was Kyle Seager. Justin Smoak was handed the first base job. Guti started his slow descent into an injured adulthood. Then, there were guys like Michael Saunders, Greg Halman, Alex Liddi, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Chris Gimenez, Carlos Peguero, Adam Moore, Mike Wilson and more. On the pitching side of things, Michael Pineda was an All Star, but then there were guys like Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush (remember when he was a starting pitcher?), a younger Tom Wilhelmsen, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes, Chance Ruffin, and Shawn Kelley.

Those were all the players we hung our hats on. How many of them actually panned out? You can count them on one hand. How many of them panned out for the Seattle Mariners? That number is even smaller.

2012 saw the influx of guys like Jesus Montero (swapped for Michael Pineda), Hector Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez, Lucas Luetge, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, and John Jaso. They were paired with the holdovers like Smoak, Seager, Ackley, Felix, Vargas, Ichiro (starting his decline) and Figgins (at the end of his miserable Mariners career).

Then, there’s 2013, with prospects like Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino (a year after being drafted), Brandon Maurer, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. Veterans like Kendrys Morales, Endy Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, Jason Bay, Jeremy Bonderman, and Hisashi Iwakuma saw extensive playing time, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. The old guys didn’t do enough (and most were gone in short order), and the young guys (predictably) never panned out for this team.

So, please, keep all these duds in mind as we go forward. You’re going to hear A LOT of new names you’re not familiar with in 2019 and 2020. The team is going to tout these players as The Future; don’t believe ’em. The vast majority of these players will be more in a long line of losers that help to keep the Seattle Mariners out of the post-season.

Some guys will be promising, only to fall flat on their asses the following year when expectations are raised and other teams learn how to handle them. Some guys will be promising only to suffer devastating injuries that hinders their development. Some of those injured guys will be brought back too soon, only to struggle and lose their confidence. Some guys will just flat-out stink from the get-go. One, maybe two guys, will be okay. But, they won’t be enough. They’ll just embolden this organization to spend a bunch of money when the time “feels right”. At that point, some flashy veterans will be brought in to supplement our future “rising stars” and we’ll go through the process of “contending (for a wild card spot)” all over again.

The Mariners are never going to be the Astros or Cubs or Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers. They’re closer to the Athletics and Rays than anything else, just a Major League farm club for better-run organizations. The tremendous amount of luck required to turn us into one of those truly good teams isn’t ingrained in the city of Seattle and its sports teams. The best we can hope for is competent mediocrity.

The best we’re going to get is just outside, looking in.

Let’s Take An Early Look At The Mariners’ Starting Rotation 2019

Last week, I wrote about the difference between the 2018 everyday lineup and the projected 2019 everyday lineup. TL;DR: drastically worse at a few spots, slight improvement at a few spots, banking on bounce-back years from a lot of veteran guys. If you squint, you can sort of make out a Major League lineup with this group of guys, though I still find the reduction of power worrisome.

The pitching staff has been shaken up quite a bit as well compared to 2018. While the bullpen won’t be settled until we’re deep into Spring Training, the starting rotation is more or less on the 40-man roster as we speak, so I feel pretty safe in getting into this.

Gone from 2018 Roster

  • James Paxton
  • Erasmo Ramirez
  • Ariel Miranda
  • Hisashi Iwakuma

Starting from the bottom, Iwakuma didn’t throw a single inning for the Mariners in 2018, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t work his ass off all year to try to come back from injury! That ship has officially sailed, as he’s back in Japan to close out his professional career. He was always a longshot anyway, so getting nothing out of him last year feels pretty appropriate. He was nevertheless a quality starter for this team for a number of years.

Ariel Miranda spent most of last year in the minors, making only one start in Seattle. He has since asked out of the organization, to also pitch in Japan in 2019. It was somewhat surprising, after all he did in 2017 as a guy who wasn’t supposed to make the team, then ended up pitching most of the year in Seattle due to injuries. But, the rotation stayed mostly healthy in 2018, and Miranda just couldn’t find a way to make the leap. It’s not a substantial loss, as he’s really a Quad-A player, but it hurts this team’s depth, no question.

Erasmo Ramirez was supposed to be a starter out of Spring Training last year, but got hurt, and kept having setbacks throughout an overall disappointing year. He closed out 2017 strong, but never got it going in his 10 starts in 2018. The team let him walk, as he rightly wasn’t deserving of a raise in arbitration. Let’s hope this is the last time we sign up for the Erasmo Ramirez Experience.

The big loss, obviously, is our ace – James Paxton – getting traded to the Yankees. He has yet to stay healthy for a full year (28 starts in 2018 was as close as he’s gotten), but when he’s on, there are few better in the game today. The Mariners haven’t really filled this part of their rotation – 2019 should prove to be ace-less – but the hope is one of the younger guys steps up in the next couple years.

Holdovers from 2018

  • Marco Gonzales
  • Mike Leake
  • Felix Hernandez
  • Wade LeBlanc
  • Roenis Elias

Starting from the top, I think this is how you’d rank these guys heading into 2019. Marco Gonzales had a rough go after the trade in 2017, but with all of 2018 to develop and get better, he really stepped up and proved a lot of people wrong, myself included. He’s still young – he’ll be 27 this year – but already he’s proven to be a reliable #3-type starter. As he ages, you figure that total innings number will grow (he had 166.2 last year), so the name of the game is staying healthy, refining his approach, and continuing to battle. He’ll never be an ace, but it wouldn’t shock me if he took another step forward at some point to be a quality #2 starter in this league.

Mike Leake, when he’s on, is probably this team’s best starter. He made 31 starts last year and 18 of them were of the Quality variety. 9 of those starts were 7 innings or more, with 2 runs allowed or less. His problem, obviously, is that when he’s NOT on, he’s about as bad as you can get. 5 of his starts went less than 5 innings, and were some real turds. At 31 years of age, he is who he is at this point, which again is right in that #3 starter sort of range.

Felix has had a rough go of it the last couple years. 2017 was largely related to injuries, 2018 was largely related to ineffectiveness. He’s in the final year of his huge contract, and it’s hard to imagine he’s going to get any better than he was last year. 155.2 innings over 28 starts (and 1 relief appearance that was like a start, as he came in for an injured Paxton in the first inning). He had 8 Quality Starts, but only 3 of those really special Felix Quality Starts (7+, 2 or less). A lot has been made of the dwindling speed on his fastball, but it’s his command more than anything that’s let him down, as teams lay off his off-speed stuff and totally beat him into submission with anything else. He gave up 27 homers last year, easily a career high, while his K/9 is all the way down to 7.23. More often than not, he’s gutting his way through 5 innings, but one of those innings (usually the first) will be absolutely miserable for everyone involved. We’re running out the clock on this guy, and it couldn’t be sadder.

Wade LeBlanc got a nifty little extension last year after entering the rotation and putting up some really quality numbers. He made 27 starts and for the most part kept this team in ballgames. At this point, he’s anywhere from a #3 to a #5 starter, but at that price point and with those results, you’ll take that all day every day. He may not be a long-term solution, but he’s not a bad guy to have around on a team like this, with absolutely no expectations whatsoever.

Roenis Elias is back on another Arb year contract and figures to start the season in the bullpen. With the way this roster has shaken out, he figures to get a good share of spot starts, but at this point he’s no better than a #5 guy who on a good team would still be in AAA (assuming he has options, which I don’t know if he does or not). Either way, as a long reliever, you could do worse, particularly with this group of guys, all of which are capable of absolute duds on any given night.

Incoming 2019

  • Yusei Kikuchi
  • Justus Sheffield
  • Erik Swanson

The big name – and the lock to make the Opening Day Starting Rotation – is Kikuchi. He’s not an ace, but he probably tops out as a solid #2, which if he does that in his first MLB season would be a remarkable achievement. For 2019, it’s probably better to temper expectations. But, if he pans out, it’ll be a big reason for this team’s theoretical turnaround.

Sheffield is the big name from the Paxton deal with the Yankees. If anyone on this 40-man roster is destined to turn into an ace, he’s it. He’s the highest-rated pitching prospect in this organization, and unless someone I haven’t heard of comes from out of nowhere, our next ace is either Sheffield or it’s someone not currently under the Mariners umbrella. Now, early projections aren’t great – it’s far from a guarantee that Sheffield unlocks his full potential – but for now he’s the great Mariners hope. I wouldn’t expect greatness in 2019; just cross your fingers and pray for nominal improvement.

Swanson also came over in the Paxton trade and is flying WAY under the radar, which I think actually bodes well for his future in the organization. He’s right there on the same level as Sheffield, but he’s a little less raw in his approach. The higher floor/lower ceiling guy of the two, but people are already saying he has a chance to contend for a starting spot out of Spring Training. He probably needs an injury to cement that opportunity, but it’s nevertheless a good sign. Figure the Mariners at some point will get a good look at both of these guys in a Major League uniform in 2019, but odds are they’ll both start the season in Tacoma.

Outlook

Here’s my prediction for the 5-man rotation out of Spring Training:

  1. Marco Gonzales
  2. Mike Leake
  3. Yusei Kikuchi
  4. Felix Hernandez
  5. Wade LeBlanc

Also Known As: a rotation full of #3 starters!

It’s going to be really interesting, because we more or less have a solid, professional everyday lineup, combined with a solid, professional rotation. There likely won’t be any breakout stars among these five guys in 2019, but I think they’ll keep you in ballgames more often than not. At this point, I think Scott Servais has a pretty good handle on the four holdovers – he knows when to pull them from games, just as he knows when he can squeeze out a little extra – so he’s not going to (for instance), let the ship go down with a poor Felix outing. He has no qualms about yanking him in the first or second inning if need be, just as he has no qualms about sticking him in the bullpen for a spell until he finds his command again. So, I think you could certainly field a respectable overall team with this group of guys … for about 5-6 innings every game. After that, WHO THE HELL KNOWS WITH THIS BULLPEN?!

As the Mariners drastically over-achieved in 2018 thanks to the strength of our back-end relievers, so may this team fall apart with the lack thereof. We’ll get to that in another post, likely as we’re deeper into Spring Training.

But, competing in 2019 isn’t really important to me. In that sense, I really only care about Felix (because I always care about Felix), Marco (to confirm he still has at least what he had in 2018, but hopefully to see some improvement), and Kikuchi (to see how he adjusts to the switch to American baseball, as well as to see if he’s worth the committment both financially and in the number of years on his contract).

The crux is: how do the younger guys look? Will Sheffield and Swanson pan out? Can they make an immediate impact, so in 2020 we’re looking at a rotation that looks something like this:

  1. Justus Sheffield
  2. Yusei Kikuchi
  3. Marco Gonzales
  4. Erik Swanson
  5. Wade LeBlanc

In this hypothetical scenario, Felix retires and we find a taker for Leake (ideally at the 2019 deadline for a starter-needy team, who is willing to flip us a nice little prospect and take on the remainder of his salary). I think this is the best-case scenario for the Mariners’ prospects of contending in 2021 and beyond, because it means Sheffield becomes our ace, Kikuchi is as advertised, Gonzales is our bulldog in the middle, and Swanson is our underrated #4 guy with #3 or #2 stuff (and LeBlanc is still keeping us in ballgames).

Obviously, EVERYTHING has to go right for this to happen at such an accelerated pace, so don’t count on it looking even remotely like this in 2020. But, that’s what this year is for: it’s time to dream as big as possible … so we can have our hearts broken again and again and again.

The Mariners Did Some Other Stuff Too

The big signing of the free agency period so far has been Yusei Kikuchi, but that’s not all they’ve done of late!

(yes it is, that’s all anyone really cares about)

Another name you’ll be hearing about is Tim Beckham, who’s a short stop out of Baltimore. He was signed to a 1-year, $1.75 million deal. You might remember the M’s making a deal with the Phillies for J.P. Crawford, who is ostensibly our “Short Stop Of The Future” (until the 2019 season is over, when a new one will be annointed). Crawford is a glove-first guy whose glove is maybe a little spotty, but what’s worse is that his bat stinks. Assuming that holds true, Tim Beckham is veteran insurance. At 29 years of age (later this month), he’s a career .252/.304/.424 hitter with moderate pop, sub-average speed, probably an adequate glove, who strikes out way more than he should. Ideally, Beckham will be a utility infielder, but since I don’t have any hopes for Crawford whatsoever, I’d bank on Beckham getting significant playing time. He should also be a huge upgrade over Andrew Romine, so at least that’s something.

Cory Gearrin is a right-handed reliever who got a 1-year, $1.4 million deal to be in the mix for a set-up role. He’s 33 years old in April, and true to form, he had a quality 2017 and a bummer of a 2018. His K/9 is nothing that’ll blow you away, so really he’s like pretty much every other reliever in the world.

And then there’s the re-signing of Dustin Ackley to a minor league deal. I guess he’s more or less a first baseman now, which is (I think) what he was in his final year in college, and so all that promise of him being a #2 overall pick is officially dead. He hasn’t hit in the Bigs since 2016, having spent the past two years in AAA for Anaheim, and by all accounts did okay for them. To be fair, he does play in the corner outfield spots, as well as second base in a pinch. I don’t know if there’s any room in our outfield as it’s currently constructed for Ackley to break in, but I could certainly see him promoted if Ryon Healy goes down, or if he simply tears it up for Tacoma and the M’s are looking for a spark. It’s nothing that moves the needle for me, though, because he’s a bust and that’s never going to change. Tacoma needs guys too, is what I’m told.

In former-Mariners news, Nelson Cruz signed a 1-year deal with the Twins for a little over $14 million. That’s fun! Plus, you know, he’s not in the division, so the most we have to see him is 6 or 7 times (of course, he could very well be dealt at the deadline, at which point that number could sadly change). I still think he’s got a lot to offer a team looking for added pop to their lineup, so I think this is a very good move for them. If the team as a whole sucks, then they should be able to recoup some of that in trade value.

Finally, Roenis Elias was extended (and thus avoids arbitration) on a deal worth a shade under $1 million. He’ll be important to this ballclub, as we’ll need a quality long reliever who can spot start on occasion. Of course, he’s yet another soft-tossing lefty to go with Kikuchi, Gonzales, and LeBlanc (as well as Sheffield, who isn’t quite as soft-tossing, but yet another lefty who figures to see some starts in 2019). Right now, our right-handed starters are Felix and Leake, which does nothing to disspell our soft-tossing reputation.