The Official 2017 Seattle Mariners Preview, Part I: The Hitters

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been doing these season preview posts, and I’ve been splitting them up between hitters and pitchers.  So, you know, why mess with what’s so obviously working?

Last year, the Mariners were third in runs scored in the American League.  They were fourth in hits, fifth in OBP, slugging, and OPS, and seventh in batting average.  They were remarkably low in doubles and triples, but were second in the league in homers.  All in all, they were clearly in the upper third in most batting categories, which makes them the best hitting Mariners team we’ve seen in quite some time.  So, you can see some of the moves already starting to work.  Cano had a bounce-back year, Cruz kept on chugging along, and Seager had his best season to date.  But, the fill-in pieces, guys like Martin, Smith, Aoki, Marte, and Lee all had nice years too.  It was really a pleasant surprise and one of the main reasons why the 2016 Mariners were so much fun to watch.

Now, the pitching was another story, and the ultimate reason why we failed yet again to make the playoffs, but that’s a story for tomorrow.

This year, the Mariners are poised to be even BETTER on offense.  Last year, the Mariners were a good 110 runs behind Boston for first; this year, the M’s might be able to bridge that gap!  It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see this Mariners team lead the league in runs scored, barring injury of course.  The moves they’ve made to bolster this offense has been nothing short of outstanding:

  • Traded Vidal Nuno for backup catcher Carlos Ruiz (opting to let Chris Iannetta walk)
  • Traded a minor league pitcher for Danny Valencia (opting to let Lind & Lee walk)
  • Traded Taijuan Walker & Ketel Marte for Jean Segura & Mitch Haniger (and a minor league reliever)
  • Traded Nate Karns for Jarrod Dyson (opting to trade Seth Smith for a starting pitcher)

Let’s break this down.  Starting at the top, we’re going into 2017 with a combo of Zunino and Ruiz at catcher, as opposed to Iannetta and Clevenger.  Iannetta, as you may recall, had a pretty good start to the season, but quickly settled into everyday mediocrity.  Clevenger was just plain underutilized before he got injured and was lost for the season.  By the time Zunino got his call-up, he was a man possessed, but eventually settled into some bad habits.  His batting average plummeted, though his on-base percentage was a breath of fresh air.  The hope is, his good habits start to outweigh his bad ones, and he’s able to eventually hit for something resembling a respectable average (to go along with all of his natural power, his natural ability to draw HBPs, and his newfound skill for drawing walks).  And, if he doesn’t, Carlos Ruiz is there to pick up some of the slack.  He figures to be an immediate upgrade over Iannetta, with the option to take over full time if needed.  This is a win all the way around, particularly considering we didn’t give up much to get him.

Next, we’ve got Danny Valencia, who for now will be taking over for the combo of Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee.  Lind was a disappointment for the entirety of 2016, aside from a few clutch late-game heroics.  Lee started off the season as the best story of the year, but as he got more playing time and opposing pitchers got more of a book on him, his numbers declined in the second half, to the point where he had to face a stint in Tacoma to get his swing under control.  Valencia is in no way a perfect, polished player, but he’s been fantastic the last two seasons, particularly against lefties, but improving against righties.  Even if he regresses while starting every day, he should still be a big improvement over Lind and what Lee became in the second half last year.  If Valencia can just hold it together until Vogelbach works on his game in Tacoma and gets called back up, we should be in good shape at first base for the first time in forever.

The deal that everyone’s hoping puts the Mariners over the top is the one that brought in Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger for Walker and Marte.  Marte has already been demoted to Triple-A, meanwhile Segura looks FANTASTIC so far this spring.  He hits for average, he’s got some pop in his bat, he can steal bases; the Mariners might have the biggest upgrade at any position in the entire American League from 2016 to 2017 in their switch from Marte to Segura.  I can’t WAIT for the season to start and I get to watch this guy every day.  Meanwhile, Haniger hasn’t slowed down one iota this spring, as you could make the argument he’s been the best player on the team in the month of March.  I know that means nothing, and I depressingly await his reverting to a pumpkin once the calendar flips to April.  But, if by the grace of all that is holy he manages to be the “surprise” player all the coaches believe he’ll be, we could be talking about this Taijuan Walker trade as highway robbery in favor of the Mariners.  So, you know, remember I said that when both of the Mariners’ guys flop out while Walker wins his second Cy Young Award in a few years.

Rounding out the outfield, we’ve got Jarrod Dyson, who figures to get plenty of playing time in left field.  Between Dyson and Haniger – replacing the likes of Seth Smith and Aoki/Guti – we’re talking about a MASSIVE improvement in our outfield defense.  This is no small thing, particularly when you consider our pitching staff and all the flyballs they tend to give up.  Dyson also figures to be a top-of-the-lineup hitter when he’s in there, who can steal a billion bases for you, so all around speed is the name of the game.  Dyson and Segura will be the primary base-stealers for you, but then there’s Martin (who had 24 last year) as well as Haniger, Heredia, and whoever ends up being our utility infielder.  When you think about late game heroics, I think you’re going to find we’ll be less reliant on the 10th inning home run, and more reliant on pinch runners stealing second and scoring on a single.  This could be HUGE for our record in 1-run games, which tends to be average-to-awful.

So, yeah, the hitting looks good!  As long as the Big Three don’t take significant steps back, or miss significant time with injuries, we should be right around the top of the American League in most important batting categories.  Leaving us with the ultimate question:  will we have enough pitching to win enough ballgames to get a spot in the post-season?

I’ll look into that tomorrow, as well as give you my official predictions on the season.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Jarrod Dyson

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

Remember the days when the Mariners could hardly cobble together ONE centerfielder?  Remember when Jason Bay of all people actually got some play there?  Now, the Mariners have approximately 1 billion centerfielders, and we’re all the better for it.

We got Jarrod Dyson from the Royals for Nate Karns, which sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, but remember how not worth a damn Karns was last year?  Remember how the Mariners are trying to “Win Now”?  You see how you scum.  You get the idea.

In a vacuum, acquiring Dyson is nothing to get one’s panties wet over.  You’re talking about a slap-hitting defense-first outfielder, for crying out loud.  But, in context, it’s hard to dislike the move.  For starters, we get to pair him with Leonys Martin to showcase the best defensive 1-2 punch of any outfield.  He’s also, not for nothing, a competent backup should Martin get injured.  And, with the likelihood of a Ben Gamel/Mitch Haniger/Taylor Motter/Guillermo Heredia in right field, you’re talking about one of the best – if not THE best – defensive outfield in Major League Baseball.  And, shush, even if you have to run Danny Valencia or *shudder* Nelson Cruz over in right, you’re not losing a whole helluva lot by having Dyson and Martin covering as much ground as they do.

Then, when you stop to consider this pitching staff – a staff that gives up a lot of contact and a lot of fly balls – and how much it’s likely to struggle this year, a top-notch defensive outfield is just what the doctor ordered.  Let’s face it, we’re going to get PLENTY of offense out of our infield and DH; maintaining an elite run-saving defense could be the difference in getting those last few victories to get us over the hump and into the playoffs.

Now, obviously, the elephant in the room is Dyson’s offense.  We’ve had terrible visions of slap-hitting, defense-first outfielders over the years (when they’re not power-hitting, defense-last lumbering oafs, that is); it seems like these little guys are the only ones we’re able to work through our minor league system.  The last time we were able to cultivate a complete outfielder, we traded him away to the Orioles with a bunch of other guys for Erik Bedard.  So, you know, what makes Dyson stand out over all the other humps we’ve run through here?

He’ll hit you anywhere from .250 to .280, depending on the season.  As I alluded to before, he’s got next-to-no power (6 homers in the last 5 seasons), aside from maybe a few singles he’s able to stretch into doubles.  He gets on base at a decent-enough clip to see him spend a significant amount of time near the top of the lineup, but I have to figure there will be peaks and valleys that will see him drop to near the bottom of the lineup at times as well.  The biggest draw with someone like Dyson – particularly when you bat him high in the lineup – is his speed on the basepaths.  156 stolen bases the last five seasons, which doesn’t even get into how many times he’ll go from first to third on a single, or score from first on a double, and so on and so forth.

One would think, on an offense like this, if he played everyday, he’d approach 100 runs scored, so long as he put up quality on-base numbers.  But, given that he’s never really been an everyday player in his 7 seasons with Kansas City, I have to wonder if the Mariners won’t do some sort of quasi-platoon with him and our other Quad-A outfielders on this team.

This move has me less hard than the one to bring in Danny Valencia, but I can still appreciate why it was made and what Dyson brings to the table.  If things break right for him this year, he could be a big part of this team’s success both defensively and offensively.  Considering he’s another one in a contract year, he has every reason to come into 2017 ready and raring to go.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Drew Smyly

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

There’s a pretty good amount of turnover this year, compared to the starting rotation on Opening Day 2016.  The only holdovers are King Felix and Kuma, as we rounded out the rest of our starting five with Taijuan Walker, Wade Miley, and Nate Karns.  With those five, you figured you had an Ace, a solid #2, a stopgap veteran innings-eater, and a couple of young power arms to build your rotation around for the future.  Well, Miley turned out to be a dud, Karns evolved into an injured dud, and we salvaged whatever remaining value Walker had by trading him for an important, everyday player at shortstop.

In their place, we have a holdover in Paxton, alongside newcomers Yovani Gallardo and Drew Smyly.  I’m not expecting much out of Gallardo, which puts that much more pressure on Smyly to succeed.  The 2017 Mariners can ill afford two black holes in the rotation if they expect to break into the post-season.

There was a good amount of hype that, for whatever reasons, failed to fully materialize for Smyly as he broke into the Major Leagues.  He followed up a solid rookie season by being thrown into a bullpen role in his second year.  Smyly’s best season was in 2014, when the Tigers shipped him off at the height of his value for a David Price deadline deal.  Smyly went to the Rays and closed his season on a tear.  It ALMOST looked like they’d flipped an ace for an ace, but then Smyly spent most of 2015 injured.  He pitched the full year in 2016, but was no better than replacement level.  At which point, here we are, hoping a change of scenery will do everyone some good.

Since we do have a full season’s worth of data, I’m mostly interested in what he was able to do last year.  He pitched a career-high 175.1 innings, striking out 167 and walking only 49.  His big problem was giving up 32 homers in 30 starts.  I know that sounds like something Iwakuma is known for, but in 33 starts he only gave up 28 dongers last year.  So, that’s a bit of a red flag.  Yes, he’s going to limit baserunners where he can, by being around the plate, but that’s only a good thing if you’re avoiding getting too much of the plate at the same time.  It’s a slippery slope, and one that saw him with a career-high in opposing slugging percentage and a career-low in ground ball to fly ball ratio.  With a respectable strikeout percentage, it would seem to me this is a guy who wants to make his living pitching up in the zone, inducing weak contact pop ups and fly balls.  Given his numbers last year, I take it he failed to get the ball up enough, and those hanging whathaveyous were pounded into submission.

This is a move that would’ve been much more celebrated before the Mariners moved in Safeco Field’s fences.  Now that the park plays much more closer to league average – indeed, last year played like a bandbox as far as homers are concerned – the addition of Smyly is less of a projected sure thing.  It’s not enough to be a lefty with a good offspeed pitch and just hope your fly ball gets run down in deep centerfield, now you have to pitch like you actually mean it!  Like you know what you’re doing.  Like you’re in a place that won’t forgive you a big, fat, juicy meatball right in the middle of the plate.  If he’s got enough control to avoid giving up tons of walks, let’s hope he’s able to also paint those edges and avoid those hot zones.

Smyly could end up being huge for this team.  If he pans out and we opt to keep him, he’s young enough to stick around for a good, long while.  If he pans out and we suck this year, we can also flip him at the deadline for quality prospects.  If he sucks, he’s still a lefty pitcher with starting and relieving experience, and those guys will always have SOME value.  I’m just hoping he and the rest of this rotation can keep their shit together to give us the best season we’ve had in over a decade.

Mariners Made A Couple More Trades, Ended Up With Drew Smyly

Last week, there were two trades in a matter of hours?  Minutes?  Usually, I just lump these deals together because I’m constantly a week behind – a byproduct of this being the playoffs and my football posts taking precedence – but these deals actually go together:

  1. Mariners trade Luiz Gohara & Thomas Burrows to Atlanta for Shae Simmons & Mallex Smith
  2. Mariners trade Mallex Smith, Carlos Vargas, & Ryan Yarbrough to Tampa for Drew Smyly

Gohara and Burrows are a couple of low-level minor league pitchers with not a lot of experience, but some real potential.  Mallex Smith is another speedy, Quad-A outfielder type (of which this team already has a hundred billion).  Yarbrough was our AA pitcher of the year, but projects to be maybe a 5th starter in a Major League rotation if everything breaks right.  Vargas is a 17 year old infielder.  At worst, this is a deal that will come to bite us in the ass in 3-5 years, if some of these prospects actually pan out.  Obviously, the Mariners don’t have time to wait around for a bunch of low-level prospects to MAYBE turn into actual players, so the rationale behind these moves – if nothing else – is sound.

Shae Simmons is a right handed reliever to throw onto the pile.  Just like toilet paper and Bud Lights, you can never have too much!  Eventually, we’re going to work our way through all these relievers until the job gets done!  Simmons doesn’t have a ton of Major League experience, but he does have some, so you could say he’s ready to compete right now.  And, he also has options, so we can stash him in Tacoma until the time is right.  His boggle sounds like he can’t stay healthy, so that kind of stinks, as it seems like we have a lot of those types of guys in our bullpen pile right now.

Obviously, the big “get” out of these moves is starter Drew Smyly.  He looked like he’d be an absolute stud coming out of Detroit, but then they traded him to Tampa, he’s suffered some shoulder issues, and last year wasn’t totally amazing even though he lasted the full season.  Nevertheless, a good outfield defense should help him, as well as playing half his games at Safeco (although, oddly enough, Safeco was a home run paradise last year, so who knows?).

We didn’t bring him in to compete, though.  This sets our rotation, in some way shape or form:

  1. Felix
  2. Kuma
  3. Paxton
  4. Gallardo
  5. Smyly

That’s … not the worst.  I only put Smyly in the 5-hole because I think the team will look to separate Paxton and Smyly so as to not have two lefties pitch on back to back days.  Really, after Felix, you can shuffle that rotation anyway you want – as long as you split the lefties – and you should be fine.

I like it!  I could be wrong, but I like it.  Obviously, the first thing that stands out is that it’s VERY veteran.  That’s a good thing, in the sense that we won’t have to worry about young pitchers and their emotions (I’m looking at you, Taijuan Walker).  But, between injury concerns for every one of those guys, not to mention recent bouts of ineffectiveness for every one of those guys, and you’ve got a volatile mix that could lead the Mariners to upwards of 90-100 wins, or that could fall apart and drag this team down to the 70-80 win range.

How does that work for you?  If I told you right now that the Mariners will win somewhere between 70-100 games, what would you say?

I’m sorry, but the correct response you were looking for was, “No doi.”

Still, it feels better with these five guys than it would have with Walker and Karns.  I just don’t trust Walker to save my life, and I think Smyly is definitely a steadier, more sensible option.  And, I think Gallardo – warts and all – is a better option than Karns.  Then, we’ve got Ariel Miranda in reserve for the inevitable rotation injury.  We just have to hope there aren’t too many injuries at once.  There isn’t much depth left behind Miranda, and Yarbrough theoretically would’ve been one of those guys, as he was slated to start the season in Tacoma after doing so well in AA.  Cody Martin was DFA’d to make room on the 40-man as a result of these deals, so he’s likely out unless no one picks him up.  The only other AAA guy I’m even remotely aware of is that Rob Whalen guy we got in the Alex Jackson deal with the Braves.  Not for nothing, but considering the sorry state of the Braves these last few years, it’s not encouraging to be getting all these guys from them in trades.

But, let’s worry about depth when it comes time to actually see it pitching in a Mariners uniform.  For now, the roster is mostly set, although the last time I wrote that, the Mariners almost immediately went out and made two more trades, so what do I know?

The Mariners Made Two More Trades Last Week

  • Seth Smith (OF) to Baltimore for Yovani Gallardo (SP)
  • Nathan Karns (SP) to Kansas City for Jarrod Dyson (OF)

When I look at that, I see one good trade and one bad one.  Let’s start with the bad.

Seth Smith has real value as a platoon outfielder, mostly for his bat, and if dealt to the right team, could be a nice little addition to a championship roster.  In that sense, considering how good Baltimore already was, this feels right for them.  He doesn’t need to play every day, he doesn’t even need to start!  He’ll come in and pinch hit for them down the stretch or in the playoffs and make a big impact, I’m sure of it.

Gallardo, meanwhile, is a guy whose best years are CLEARLY behind him.  He peaked between 2009-2012 with Milwaukee and has seen his strikeout numbers plummet ever since.  Considering he’s ostensibly supposed to be a right-handed power arm, that’s certainly cause for concern.  He was still more or less effective through the 2015 season, but that saw him hover around the 180 innings range.  For a guy who’s also supposed to be an “innings eater”, I mean, I guess averaging 6 innings per start is okay, but I dunno.

Then, last year, he played in Baltimore, and he didn’t play well.  He had a shoulder injury that kept him out of the rotation for 8 weeks, and upon his return he could never get it going.  The Orioles sent over $2 million to offset the $11 million he’s making this year.  And, if he totally flames out, all it will take is $2 million more to take care of his buyout next year (he’s set to earn $13 million otherwise).  Like a lot of other guys Jerry Dipoto has brought in during his tenure here, we’re hoping for a bounce-back year.  And, considering it looks like he’s more or less locked into the #4 starter role – with the loss of Taijuan Walker – we’re REALLY hoping he bounces back.

My ultimate takeaway is that I knew all along the Mariners were going to do something to bring in another veteran starter.  It’s just a shame this is the best we could do.  I feel like any number of free agents on the market would be a better gamble.  Considering the starting pitching on this team was already a weakness coming into this offseason, and then we traded away Taijuan, I was just hoping we had something more impressive up our sleeves than a guy who might be done as soon as this year.

As for the good trade, SO LONG KARNS!  I can’t say that I’m going to miss him.  I really don’t give a shit that he has a ton of team control (while Dyson has just one year left on his deal), because we’ve already played that game.  Team control is meaningless if the player is terrible.  Karns had a full year in 2015 with the Rays and showed some promise, but it was also clear that he couldn’t go deep into games and they were really protecting him with his innings count.  He had every opportunity in 2016 with the Mariners to cement his status as a starting pitcher in this league, but in 15 starts I’d say he really only had about 2 good ones.  Most games, he struggled just to get through 5 innings.  Eventually, the team had to demote him to reliever, before he was demoted to Tacoma, and then put on the DL.  At that point, he fell off the face of the Earth, so I don’t even know if he’s healthy again, or if he’s spending this winter rehabbing.  For all I know, he might not ever start again!  Considering he didn’t throw all that hard, and his stuff wasn’t all that good (he had an okay curve ball, when he could control it, which was almost never), I’m hard pressed to peg him as even turning into a quality reliever.  He feels like a guy who’s going to be out of baseball in the next year or two.  Better to cut bait now and get what you can.

Which, in this case, is a guy I really like!  Dyson isn’t an impressive hitter by any stretch.  He’s got no power whatsoever, so go ahead and put that out of your mind.  I’m not even sure he’s destined to be an everyday starter with this team.  He’ll probably hit for around .250-.260, he’s improving with his on-base percentage, and across the last five years he’s averaged over 30 stolen bases per season.  When you top him off as a quality defender, and pair him with Leonys Martin in center, you’re talking about a ton of speed at the bottom of our lineup (unless he starts to hit out of his mind, in which case you could see him move up in the lineup) and a ton of outfield defense.  Which, for this pitching staff, it’s pretty easy to see how this will be a good thing.

So, in taking these two trades as a whole, did the Mariners improve?  Well, if you look at it this way:

  • Gallardo for Karns
  • Dyson for Smith

I think you could say we did.  Say what you will about Gallardo, but he’s sure as shit better than Karns!  And, I know we all like Seth Smith’s bat, but he’s been prone to cold streaks (particularly late in seasons) and has batted around .250 both years he’s been in Seattle.  You figure his on-base percentage will be better than Dyson’s, but the difference in baserunning and defense puts Dyson WAY ahead in this thing.

It’s still not an ideal team, but it’s rounding into something respectable.  The lineup in particular is something you’ve gotta like.  I’ve got it like this:

  1. Segura (SS)
  2. Valencia (1B)
  3. Cano (2B)
  4. Cruz (DH)
  5. Seager (3B)
  6. Ruiz (C)
  7. Martin (CF)
  8. Haniger (RF)
  9. Dyson (LF)

Or, depending on the opposing pitcher, and how well guys are playing, you could sub in Vogelbach at first base, pushing Valencia to one of the corner outfield spots.  Also, put Haniger in the same outfield pile as Gamel, Heredia, Powell, and O’Malley; not all of those guys will crack the Opening Day roster, but they’re just a phone call away if they start out in Tacoma.  Still, I like the first seven guys in that lineup an awful lot, and there are many reasons for optimism about Haniger and Dyson as well.

The tricky thing is the pitching staff, particularly the rotation:

  1. Felix
  2. Kuma
  3. Paxton
  4. Gallardo
  5. Miranda

Word from Dipoto is that the Mariners are still looking to bolster their depth in the rotation, which I would say is a MUST.  Nevertheless, it sounds like we shouldn’t expect a big splash.  If we get a free agent, expect it to be a low-level guy.  If it’s a trade, expect it to be for another fringe prospect.  It doesn’t sound like, at this time, the Mariners will be selling the farm (what little farm we’ve got left) to bring in a stud.  We’ll see where they’re at by the end of June though.

The bullpen actually looks like it’s rounding into shape.  There are plenty of guys to choose from, and I’m sure a few more moves will be made here, but these are the guys I like:

  • Closer – Diaz
  • RHP – Cishek
  • RHP – Scribner
  • RHP – Zych
  • RHP – Vincent
  • LHP – Scrabble

There’s room for one more reliever on there, I would expect a second lefty, but we’ll see.  On paper, those six guys look pretty good, but they don’t play the games on paper.

Next month, pitchers and catchers report, and we get this thing going.  I’m sure we’ll have a better idea of what to expect regarding the Opening Day roster by then.

Mariners Traded For Chris Heston

In my ongoing series of A Week Late Mariners Transactions, I present to you a trade with the San Francisco Giants.  Part of me is surprised that the Player To Be Named Later hasn’t already been announced, since this deal is so old it can do whatever a week-old person can do.  Drool, I guess.

Who is Chris Heston?  Exactly.  He was a rookie starter for the Giants in 2015, making 31 starts, and apparently threw a no-hitter against the Mets that year.  If you look at his 2015 numbers from April through July, I think you’d come away pretty impressed with Heston (for a rookie).  He went 6 or more innings 13 times out of his first 20 starts.  Then, he apparently hit a wall in August and September, with his overall performance really falling apart, going 6 innings or more only once in his final 11 starts.

Then, in 2016, thanks to an apparently-deep rotation, Heston spent the vast majority of the year in the minors.  He made 14 pretty pedestrian starts in AAA, and now he’s here, in another Jerry Dipoto-esque trade for a guy who was really good recently, but is hoping for a bounce-back year.

I guess throw Heston in the mix with Karns, Miranda, and Whalen for one of the final rotations spots behind Felix, Kuma, and Paxton.  I say “one” of the final rotation spots because if we’re forced to go with two of those guys to fill the final two spots, we’re in deep doo-doo.  Thankfully, the Mariners are still in the market for another veteran starter, likely an “innings-eater”, so someone who most likely won’t get anyone’s dick hard.

I can already see myself endlessly complaining about the starting pitching on this team all damn season long.  Who’s looking forward to another frustrating around-.500 finish?  I know I’m not!

Meanwhile, the Sounders won the MLS Cup, the Huskies are in the College Football Playoffs, and we’re all still wallowing in the afterglow of the 2013 Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory.  You keep trying hard, Mariners!  I’ll do my best to continue giving a damn!

Mariners Traded Walker & Marte For Segura, Haniger, & Curtis

In a Thanksgiving Eve shocker, the Mariners and Diamondbacks made a 5-player deal.  The Mariners essentially gave up on Taijuan Walker ever being an ace starting pitcher because they felt they couldn’t wait for Ketel Marte to finally develop into an everyday, starting short stop.

Walker was drafted in 2010, had a couple cups of coffee with the Mariners in 2013 & 2014, then got a rotation job in 2015.  For the last two seasons, he’s flashed brilliance, but more than anything has wallowed in inconsistency.  There’d be games where he’d overwhelm the opponent, followed by games where he struggled to get to three innings.  When he was coming up through the organization, in large part he was overshadowed by other starting prospects like Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, but Walker always had the highest ceiling.  With his make-up, his fastball, and his devastating change up, many had him pegged to be the heir apparent to Felix Hernandez.  In many people’s eyes, he was as untouchable as Felix Hernandez himself, which is why this trade was difficult for a lot of people to stomach.

You can’t help but remember the prospect, and how highly he was rated within this organization and among the best in all of Major League Baseball.  Walker was always talked about in terms of the king’s ransom he could get for us, but we always opted to keep him because he was more valuable than anything we could get back for him.

Well, here he is, 26 years old (he’ll be 27 next August), after two years in the Majors, and it turns out he’s worth … this.

Part of me thinks we’re giving up too early on the kid, but at some point you have to ask:  how long should we wait for him to make the jump?  The main problem with this team the last couple years, as we brought in Cano and Cruz, and as Seager proved himself to be one of the best third basemen in all of baseball, is that for a team THIS CLOSE to reaching the playoffs, we were trying to have it both ways.  We were a veteran team, but we were also trying to break in a bunch of young players.  We over-spent on some veterans, and so we were trying to cut corners at some pretty high-profile positions to get by.  When you’ve got so much of a core that’s ready and capable of making a deep playoff run, you can’t be waiting around for all these young guys to take it to the next level.

Taijuan Walker might very well develop into an Ace of sorts.  It’s been alluded to that a lot of his issues are related to maturity and/or confidence and/or work ethic.  That’s aside from the obvious issues with his mechanics breaking down, and his frequent injuries (that probably helped in throwing off his mechanics in the first place).  I mean, you don’t just send down your third or fourth best starting pitcher to Tacoma – in the middle of a Wild Card chase – unless the kid has some real issues to work out.  If it is by and large related to maturity, then obviously in a few years he should be ready to truly break out.  Or, maybe it’s this trade to Arizona – with his first ballclub essentially giving up on him – that’s the wake-up call for him to finally bloom.  Maybe, if we’d kept him forever, he’d never take stock of his career and make the changes necessary to be great.  We’ll never know.

It’s also highly likely that he’s already reached his ceiling, and 2015/2016 is as good as it gets for him.  That he’ll be some variation of what he’s been for the next 5-10 years and then call it a career.  I tend to believe, with the switch to the National League, that should be good for a moderate boost to his numbers.  They have the fucking pitchers batting and everything; that’s a free out 9 times out of 10.  But, I’m more inclined to believe that Walker might top out as a #3 type pitcher, but not really a dominant Cy Young contender.

In which case, I think we’re selling on him about as high as we could’ve hoped.  If you’re like me, and you don’t believe he was primed for a huge improvement in 2017 – if you think he pretty much would be this up-and-down guy we’ve seen the last two years – then the longer we would’ve kept him, the lower his value would’ve gotten.

Quite frankly, getting a starting short stop, who’s a whiz with the bat at the top of our lineup, for even an improved version of Taijuan Walker, is well worth the swap.

That’s because there was no way in hell Ketel Marte was ever going to make the leap, ESPECIALLY not in 2017.  Let’s face it, the Mariners are in Win-Now mode.  Cano is still great, but he’s getting up there.  Cruz has probably peaked, so the question now his how fast will his decline torpedo his career?  King Felix was decidedly off his game in 2016, so who knows that that means going forward?  The Mariners might just have this one shot in 2017 to get to the playoffs and see what happens.  Come 2018, everything might fall apart.

So, enter Jean Segura.  He was one of the best players in all of baseball last year, and we get him for a couple of prospects.  Even if he doesn’t quite reach his lofty peak of 2016 – which, not for nothing, I wouldn’t expect him to – he’s still bound to be better and more consistent than Ketel Marte.  He hits well, gets on base, steals bases, and has some pop in his bat.  And, you gotta figure he won’t be so prone to the bone-headed fielding mistakes, which gives me peace of mind already!

If Walker and Segura are the main components of this deal, Marte and Mitch Haniger pose as the high-level prospects of the deal.  Marte definitely has all the tools, but like Walker, I think he needs a few more years’ worth of maturity to take his game to the next level.  One would hope Haniger doesn’t have that problem, but he’s also not necessarily someone we’re counting on.  I’m told he’s a good defensive outfielder, who gives us depth in case Leonys Martin gets injured.  He’ll be thrown onto the pile with Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia and Shawn O’Malley and whoever else in this team’s outfield battle.

Speaking of, you figure Martin is a lock for center, so that’s nice to not have to worry about.  Seth Smith is locked into at least a platoon job in one of the corner outfield spots (likely left field); Danny Valencia has experience playing outfield and should find himself there when he’s not covering first base.  I still sort of expect Guti to come back and maybe take over the other half of the Seth Smith platoon, as well as probably another cheap veteran signing to compete for a spot.  Otherwise, in effect, we traded one inexperienced spot (short stop) for another (right field).

But, at the very least, we’ll be athletic.  With all the studs in our infield, we can really maximize our defense in the outfield.  I just hope that one or two of these younger outfielders can show SOMETHING in Spring Training.

The final piece of the deal is lefty reliever Zac Curtis.  It’s pretty blatant how hard the Mariners have gone after trying to bolster their bullpen from the left side.  Consider Curtis another arm on the pile.  He’ll get a shot in Spring Training, but in all likelihood he’ll need to go to Tacoma to start out.  It’s depth, which is nice, but he’s really just a throw-in guy.  The Mariners gave up a lot of potential upside in this deal, so you figure getting one bona fide regular, one upside guy back in Haniger, plus a reliever, is a pretty good return value.

This sets us up for a nice little lineup, that could look something like this:

  1. Jean Segura – SS
  2. Seth Smith – LF
  3. Robinson Cano – 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz – DH
  5. Kyle Seager – 3B
  6. Danny Valencia – 1B
  7. Zunino/Ruiz – C
  8. Leonys Martin – CF
  9. Right Fielder

From top to bottom, that’s not bad.  The first six guys in the lineup are proven veterans; the catcher position is both veteran with some pop; Leonys Martin had a great first year for the Mariners and if he continues to give us that, we’d all be ecstatic; and you figure the right fielder will at least have some speed and some on-base ability, so if nothing else he’ll help give the top of our order someone to hit in on occasion.

Of course, on the flipside, the pitching staff is very much in flux.  I won’t try to cobble together a predicted bullpen – as everything is still WAY too fluid right now – but you figure Edwin Diaz and most likely Steve Cishek will feature pretty prominently.  It’s the rotation that’s currently the cause of most concern though.

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. James Paxton
  4. Ariel Miranda

That 4-hole was vacated by Walker in this deal, so who fills it?  For what it’s worth, I think this bolsters Miranda’s chances of making the Opening Day roster, so long as he doesn’t completely fall apart in Spring Training.  Even so, he’s no more than a 5th starter right now, and we’ll likely be looking for a right hander to fill that gap between Paxton and Miranda.

There’s obviously Nathan Karns, but he ended the 2016 season in a bad way with injuries, and I still have yet to hear about whether he’s recovering and whether he’ll be ready for Spring Training or not.  Beyond that, the cupboard would appear pretty bare.  Dipoto is already on record as stating that starting pitching is his next target, likely via free agency to start.  But, I wouldn’t expect a huge splash in this arena.  Figure some sort of mid-range deal, maybe for a guy looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued or just plain down 2016 season.  And, you figure, a few smaller deals to bolster our starting pitching in Tacoma, as I don’t feel like there’s too much coming up through the system at the moment.

Considering you figure the hitting is going to be improved in 2017, barring injuries, and it was already pretty good (at least, good enough to keep us in contention) in 2016, the 2017 Mariners will only go as far as its pitching can take it.  This was also true in 2016, so what I’ve said to you just now isn’t anything you didn’t already know.  But, you have to think that we’re coming from a stronger starting point than we were last year.

Last year, we weren’t sure Iwakuma could stay healthy for a full season; now we know he can (whether that just means he’s more likely to get injured in year 2 remains to be seen, but that’s neither here nor there).  Last year, Paxton started out the year in Tacoma; this year, you figure he’ll be ready from the jump to build upon an exciting breakout season.  And Miranda showed a lot in a lot of high-pressure situations, while still being coddled a little bit in his innings counts; it’ll be interesting to see how he fares when the reigns are loosened a bit.

Regardless, the Mariners were always going to go out and get a veteran starter to compete in Spring Training (or, at least, force some competition at the bottom of the rotation among Walker, Paxton, and Miranda).  With Walker now gone, this changes nothing.  The Mariners could very well go out and sign TWO guys, leaving them with the option to start Miranda in Tacoma until he’s needed, because as I always like to remind everyone, it’s damn near impossible for the same five guys to make ALL the starts in a single Major League Baseball season.

As always, it’s best to look at all the moves as a collective, when we get to Spring Training.  On its surface, I like the Walker deal mostly because I have my doubts about the pieces we gave away, and I also like shoring up a prime spot like short stop.  But, if this means we’re only able to bring scrubs into our starting rotation, then obviously you have to look at the Walker trade in a different light.

And, like I always say, I don’t want no scrubs!

Mr. Dipoto’s Wild Ride

Jerry Dipoto was hired to be Seattle’s general manager on September 28, 2015.  His first major move was claiming Cody Martin off waivers from Oakland on October 19th.  Four days later, he hired Scott Servais to be his manager.  From there, we were off and running in the Jerry Dipoto Era.

He made a lot of moves in the ol’ transactions wire, both large and small.  I tried to pull most of the ones relevant to the 2016 Mariners’ Major League ballclub.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going to go ahead and rank his moves from most impactful to least, with commentary on each.  At the very bottom of the post, I’ll throw in a section with just the transactions in chronological order, so you can see them all lined up in a neat little pile.

Also, if you want to know my overall thoughts on Dipoto’s first year as the GM of the Mariners, you’ll find my closing arguments at the bottom (just before the chronological list of important transactions).  This post has TL;DR written all over it!

12/2/15 – Baltimore Orioles traded C Steve Clevenger to Seattle Mariners for RF Mark Trumbo and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser.

This one feels like cheating, but I’m still putting this at #1 because it’s so laughably lopsided against the Mariners, it harkens back to the Bill Bavasi glory days.  Trumbo was an All Star outfielder on a wild card team who hit 47 homers, 108 RBI, and all around had his best season ever.  Granted, the same problems were still there – a low batting average, a not-great on-base percentage, a shit-ton of strikeouts – but if you’re just talking about the right-handed half of a corner outfield platoon, making just a hair over $9 million, would you rather have his massive bat or Franklin Gutierrez making $2.5 million?  I know we love Guti and all of that, but his defense isn’t all that much better than Trumbo’s, and there’s no comparing the hitting numbers.  Even in a very minor role, Guti still had a down year by his standards.  And, of course, who can forget what we got back in return?  Aside from salary saved (that, as far as I can tell, ended up going to Joaquin Benoit, so *fart noise*), we got a left-handed backup catcher in Steve Clevenger who hardly ever played, then broke a bone in his hand, then said a bunch of racist shit on Twitter, then was suspended for the rest of the year, before ultimately (I’m assuming) being released.  On top of ALL of that, this trade had a direct impact on the standings.  The Orioles probably would’ve made a different move to acquire a power bat, but it almost certainly wouldn’t have been as good.  And, we ended up finishing 3 games behind Baltimore in the wild card.  So, we sent what would become their very best power bat and run producer to our direct rival, who snatched up the final A.L. playoff spot by just a handful of games.  Inauspicious start to say the least.

11/16/15 – Texas Rangers traded CF Leonys Martin and RHP Anthony Bass to Seattle Mariners for RHP Tom Wilhelmsen, CF James Jones and PTBNL (3B Patrick Kivlehan).

Let’s follow that turd sandwich with the opposite of that (vagina pizza?).  The Rangers ended up signing Ian Desmond on a 1-year, $8 million deal later on in the offseason (leaving me to wonder why we just didn’t fucking do that, but whatever), so I don’t totally understand why they were so keen to let Leonys Martin go, but obviously they didn’t see him in their future plans.  Martin ended up starting for us from day 1, playing a superb centerfield, and even blowing away his season high for homers with 15.  All in all, he was slightly better than we thought he’d be, with two more years of Arbitration to go.  While he’ll never be a superstar, he’s a solid offensive piece and an elite defensive talent.  The fact that we ended up getting back 2/3 of this trade for nothing later in the season is the hilarious part, along with the fact that Wilhelmsen was a dumpster fire while wearing a Rangers uniform (and sort of his usual okay self when the alleged double-agent returned to Seattle), and the fact that James Jones is who we thought he was.  We essentially gave the Rangers nothing and got a starting centerfielder for a minimum of 3 years in return.  Not too shabby.

12/18/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Hisashi Iwakuma.

We all know the story of how the Mariners got Iwakuma back in the fold, but if you don’t know, go here and read this.  What I will say is, to anyone making any sort of argument that the Mariners’ cost-cutting measures helped pave the way for Kuma’s return, you can go fuck yourself, because you’re full of shit.  Those moves were made well before we got Kuma back, and were under the assumption that he was going to go elsewhere for a higher guaranteed contract than we were willing to pay.  The owners, to their credit, opted to make room in the budget to bring him back when the opportunity presented itself, and it paid off pretty well, all things considered.  Without Kuma, things could’ve been A LOT worse (I don’t know if I made that point well enough in that linked post up there, but it’s true; the AAA starting prospects were pretty shabby).

12/14/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Steve Cishek.

Two years, $10 million, plus incentives.  He secured 25 saves and blew 7 of them.  That’s a lot of blown saves in what amounted to a little over half a season’s worth of closing ballgames, particularly for a team that finished 3 games out of the wild card.  Overall, his numbers actually look pretty good on the season, and at times he approached the level of dominance he once had back in 2013.  But, a career-high 8 homers allowed really did him in.  He was pretty dominant against righties, but lefties hit 5 of those 8 homers, in significantly fewer plate appearances.  With him losing his job to Edwin Diaz the way he did, he projects to be an 8th inning set up man in 2017, with an outside chance of regaining his closer’s job should Diaz falter in his Sophomore season.

12/9/15 – Milwaukee Brewers traded 1B Adam Lind to Seattle Mariners for RHP Carlos Herrera, RHP Daniel Missaki and RHP Freddy Peralta.

Meet Adam Lind, your left-handed first baseman platoon partner.  He had a few memorable late-game hits (walk-offs and whatnot), but for the most part Lind was a huge disappointment.  His numbers took a significant dive compared to his career norms, and they never really recovered the way we all hoped.  He was essentially a replacement-level player making $8 million.  On the plus side, we likely didn’t give up anyone special to get him, but suffice it to say, first base is the hole that can never be filled.

7/31/16 – Seattle Mariners traded LHP Wade Miley to Baltimore Orioles for LHP Ariel Miranda.

12/7/15 – Boston Red Sox traded RHP Jonathan Aro and LHP Wade Miley to Seattle Mariners for RHP Carson Smith and LHP Roenis Elias.

Ahh, the Miley deals.  I ranked the deal sending him away higher than the deal bringing him in for a couple reasons.  For starters, while he spent more time in Seattle doing everything he could to ruin our playoff chances, we were able to deal him to our main rival in Baltimore, where he proceeded to do everything he could to ruin their playoff chances.  We were able to dump salary (and increase theirs), while at the same time getting in return a potential future starter, at a minimum salary, with many years of club control.  On the flipside, those Red Sox really swindled us good!  Though, it had no effect on the 2016 season, as neither Smith nor Elias hardly played at all due to injuries/ineffectiveness.  The decider could be Jonathan Aro – who made all of one appearance with the big league ballclub – but I’d put my money on Carson Smith returning at some point and being a dominant late-game reliever.

11/5/15 – Seattle Mariners traded SS Brad Miller, 1B Logan Morrison and RHP Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay Rays for RHP Nathan Karns, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser and CF Boog Powell.

I downgraded this move mostly for the incomplete/unknown nature of the various players involved.  I will say that Brad Miller ended up hitting 30 homers for Tampa, and playing a decent number of games at first base, leading me to wonder what could have been had we held onto him and Trumbo and either platooned them both at first, or at various positions around the field.  Miller’s overall batting numbers are nothing to write home about, but those homers would’ve looked awfully nice in a Seattle uniform.  In return, we got about half a season out of Karns, who was mostly mediocre.  He’s still a starter with lots of club control, but now he’s injured, and I’d say no news is bad news when it comes to his injury, as it doesn’t appear he’s anywhere close to returning to action.  And, if he does, will he ever make good on his promise?  I’m starting to have my doubts.  The one saving grace might be Boog Powell, but he spent most of 2016 suspended for ‘roids or some damn thing.  Besides, at best he appears to be a 4th outfielder, so all in all, I’d say this is another major trade we got killed in.  It particularly hurts because Brad Miller is cheap, versatile, with lots of club control, and we essentially got back nothing in return.

12/3/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent LF Norichika Aoki.

Aoki signed a 2-year deal, but only 2016 was guaranteed.  His 2017 option would’ve vested at 480 plate appearances, but he only managed 467.  He ended up earning just shy of $6 million this year, but lost out on $6 million next year by 13 PA’s.  He likely would’ve had a lot less, but he ended the last two months absolutely on FIRE at the plate, and we couldn’t sit him.  Even with his finish, I’d say he was a net-negative for this team, considering his defense was pretty galling, and his base running was even worse.  The team already has Seth Smith under club control next year, so I can’t imagine we bring Aoki back unless we deal Smith first.  File this under:  Eh, It Was Worth A Shot.

3/30/16 – San Diego Padres traded RHP Nick Vincent to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL.

Faced with a bevy of bullpen injuries in Spring Training, this was an underrated move just before the regular season that ended up paying off.  Until it stopped paying off, like a hot black jack table with a new dealer.  All in all, Nick Vincent was a fine reliever in 2016, but he was savagely over-used, and I can’t really blame Servais for it either, because he didn’t really have a whole lotta options in the first half of the season.  It wasn’t until Dipoto made all of his summer deals when the Mariners could finally cobble together a workable bullpen.  By that point, injuries (directly attributed to said overuse) piled up on Vincent, sending him on a DL stint.  He did return, and was okay, but by that point he was behind a number of superior relievers, which was appropriate.  Vincent should be nobody’s 8th inning guy.  Save him for the blowouts and the extra innings affairs and you’ll be in better shape.

11/23/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent C Chris Iannetta.

He started off hot in April, cooled off in May, and I contend he ended up losing his starter’s job because the team overused him (though, this time I DO blame Servais).  We brought Clevenger in here in that ill-fated Trumbo deal, so why didn’t we use him more?  Was he REALLY that terrible?  If so, why bring him in in the first place?  Seems to me they made a snap judgment in Spring Training, refused to give Clevenger a consistent chance, even though when he did start, he looked pretty okay.  Iannetta, on the other hand, proved to be a pretty big disaster defensively, and his power was drained to zero by the second half of the season.  Now, it’s neither here nor there that Clevenger ended up breaking his hand, opening the door for Mike Zunino’s triumphant return.  All I know is Iannetta is under contract at over $4 million next year, and he figures to be this team’s backup catcher.  Not ideal use of funds.

2/3/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent 1B Dae-ho Lee to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Oh how I love Dae-ho Lee, let me count the ways!  He started the season by knocking Jesus Montero off the roster, which is always nice.  He secured the right-handed platoon of first base, and ended up by and large outplaying Adam Lind.  On top of that, some early heroics endeared him to the fanbase for all eternity.  But, he did cool off considerably as the season went along, and with that his playing opportunities dwindled.  He spent some time in Tacoma, to regain his swing, but never really made much of an impact in the stretch run.  His defense was a pleasant surprise, and his ability to go the other way kept opposing defenses honest.  Then again, his base running was predictably bad.  But, he was cheap, earning just $1 million, while being worth every penny.  Word is the team wants him back for 2017, and I don’t blame ’em!  I’d like to see him back as well!  I don’t know if he’ll ever be an everyday starter, but I’m curious to see how his game will grow now that he’s got a season’s worth of experience in the Majors.

11/11/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RF Franklin Gutierrez.

As noted above in the Trumbo section, this turned out to be less than ideal.  Complain all you want about there not being any right handed power bats on the market, but we fucking gave one away in Trumbo!  The plus side on Guti is that he’s cheaper, he’s well-liked in the clubhouse, and he doesn’t need to or even want to play everyday.  He’ll always be as prepared as can be in a pinch, so that’s not something to worry about.  But, in the end, he’s another year older, and his body has been ravaged by injuries and illnesses over the years.  His defense has taken a huge step back, and I don’t think any part of his game is ever going to get better; it can, indeed, only get worse.  Sounds like the team wants him back too, but I think that’s a mistake.

7/20/16 – Seattle Mariners traded RHP Jordan Pries and LHP Mike Montgomery to Chicago Cubs for 1B Dan Vogelbach and RHP Paul Blackburn.

Oh what could’ve been with Mike Montgomery.  As I’ve written about repeatedly, this was a deal made to sell high on an iffy bullpen piece, for hopefully a future starter at first base.  Montgomery proved with his ongoing stint with the Cubs that he’s here to stay, and this one might end up backfiring even more depending on how long and impressive his Major League career ends up being.  Shades of Matt Thornton, if you ask me.  In return, Dan Vogelbach, who got a cup of coffee with the Mariners, but still looks pretty raw.  He figures to get a shot in Spring Training (at least in a platoon role), but I have serious doubts.  If anything, he probably figures to be a placeholder until one of our other impressive first base prospects is ready to make the jump.  Don’t be shocked if, come June 2017, D.J. Peterson has supplanted Vogelbach (that is, assuming we don’t go out on the open market to bring in a veteran).

7/26/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded RHP Drew Storen and cash to Seattle Mariners for RHP Joaquin Benoit.

11/12/15 – San Diego Padres traded RHP Joaquin Benoit to Seattle Mariners for RHP Enyel De Los Santos and SS Nelson Ward.

The Joaquin Benoit deals!  He cost upwards of $8 million this year, and he ended up being a total dud, first hitting the DL for a protracted injury, then being a lump of crap upon his return.  Makes you wonder how he was ever good in the first place, but then he went to Toronto and pitched lights out the rest of the year.  Hence why that deal is ranked higher.  I don’t think we gave up much of anything to get him (seemed like a cost-cutting move by the Padres, if anything), but we did end up getting back an interesting piece in Drew Storen.  One of those Change of Scenery deals that ACTUALLY works, as Storen was MUCH better as a member of the Mariners than he was in a Blue Jays uni.  Of course, this move helped/hurt both teams, as Toronto was the other wild card team that had us by 3 games by season’s end.  They got the better of us ever-so-slightly, as Benoit proved to be the healthier option than Storen, and the more important piece to their bullpen than Storen was to ours.  Both are UFA’s this year, and neither figures to make a substantial salary; I could easily see Storen returning to Seattle if the price is right.

2/9/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Joel Peralta to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

6/22/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent Tom Wilhelmsen.

12/8/15 – Oakland Athletics traded RHP Evan Scribner to Seattle Mariners for RHP Trey Cochran-Gill.

I’m going to start lumping a bunch of moves in, as I failed to anticipate how long this post would end up being.  Peralta was a longtime vet brought in on an invite to Spring Training.  He ended up winning a job in our bullpen thanks to lots of injuries ahead of him.  He was also pretty okay in March, but it would not last long.  We ended up designating him for assignment in June, after it was clear his Major League career was done.  Similarly, Tom Wilhelmsen – in on that Leonys Martin deal – had a hard luck stint with the Rangers.  They’d finally had enough of him by June, and we were more than happy to bring him back.  A veteran, making the minimum, familiar with the organization, willing to go to Tacoma to work on some things, while at the same time able to fill in on Seattle’s bullpen that was sort of in shambles at this point of the season.  Wilhelmsen ended up being who we thought he was, which is far from elite, but at the same time far from the waste of space he was for Texas.  Scribner spent the bulk of 2016 on the DL.  He returned in September and was FAR AND AWAY our best reliever in those 12 appearances, giving up 0 runs and only 5 hits in 14 innings.  Where was THAT when we needed it April through August?  He’s under club control for three more years, and if he pitches anywhere close to what he was in September, this trade with Oakland looks MUCH better than it already is.

6/22/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded LHP Wade LeBlanc to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL.

One of these days, I’d like to write a book about Wade LeBlanc’s 2016 season, because something sure as shit doesn’t add up.  We traded for him at probably our lowest point in the season (most likely for cash), and he was inserted into our rotation when most everyone else was injured.  AND HE WAS ALL RIGHT!  He didn’t turn the world on with his smile or anything, but he was somewhat competent!  He had 5 quality starts out of 8, and he looked no worse than Ariel Miranda.  Of course, there’s no point in having both Miranda and LeBlanc in your rotation at the same time, unless you’re just riddled with injuries, but who’s to say LeBlanc couldn’t have taken to a bullpen role?  He sure as shit took to it with Pittsburgh, when we dealt him to the Pirates in September!  He gave up 1 earned run in 12 innings with them!  I hope that PTBNL we get back from the Pirates is something more than just the cash we gave away to the Blue Jays in June.

8/6/16 – Pittsburgh Pirates traded RHP Arquimedes Caminero to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL and Future Considerations (LHP Jake Brentz and RHP Pedro Vasquez).

10/19/15 – Seattle Mariners claimed Cody Martin off waivers from Oakland Athletics.

Caminero came to Seattle and tore the A.L. a new asshole with his 100mph fastball.  Unfortunately, when teams started sitting dead red, and when he lost his command, they tore him a new asshole right back.  You can’t help but be intrigued by a guy like that, and hopefully our coaches are able to work with him mechanically to help him reign in some of that explosiveness.  Regardless, we’ve got 4 more years of club control on a guy with a ton of upside, so I like the move.  As for Cody Martin, I don’t know what to tell you.  He made a couple of spot starts for us, and a few more relief appearances, but other than mop up duty in extra innings games, he didn’t provide much of an impact.  He started primarily with Tacoma, and he figures to do more of the same in 2017.

3/1/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent CF Guillermo Heredia.

8/31/16 – New York Yankees traded RF Ben Gamel to Seattle Mariners for RHP Jio Orozco and RHP Juan De Paula.

I honestly have no idea where Heredia came from, what he was doing for the entirety of the 2015 calendar year, or anything other than we signed him as a free agent out of Cuba.  But, he tore through the minors and was called up to be primarily a defensive replacement in the outfield.  He figures to compete with Ben Gamel, among other guys, to be one of this team’s reserve outfielders.  Heredia bats righty and Gamel lefty, so it’s not like they’re in direct competition, but they sort of are, with Heredia on the inside track considering this organization’s lack of right handed bats.  They’re both for the most part on the same level, talent-wise, with Heredia having the higher ceiling, and Gamel more likely to be Major League-ready.  The 2017 outfield figures to be pretty jam-packed, with centerfield already on lockdown, so guys like Heredia and Gamel have a long way to go.

8/1/16 – Seattle Mariners claimed 1B Mike Freeman off waivers from Arizona Diamondbacks.

6/19/16 – Seattle Mariners traded SS Chris Taylor to Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Zach Lee.

11/20/15 – Seattle Mariners traded CF Ramon Flores to Milwaukee Brewers for 2B Luis Sardinas.

The Mariners never really figured out their reserve infielder spot.  Ultimately, Shawn O’Malley took the bull by the horns, but he’s not really much better than any of these guys listed here.  Luis Sardinas had the first crack at the job, but quickly proved to be ineffective (ultimately traded away to San Diego in August).  Chris Taylor had about the shortest opportunity I’ve ever seen, but in what I want to say was his only start with us this year, he had 2 errors and was sent away almost immediately afterward.  He ended up predictably doing nothing for the Dodgers (after his leadoff triple with them right after the trade), so no big loss.  Mike Freeman had some memorable plate appearances (particularly in that Anaheim series during Griffey weekend), and should be around to compete for the backup infielder spot next year.

3/17/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Steve Johnson to a minor league contract.

8/6/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded LHP Pat Venditte to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL (2B Tim Lopes).

11/6/15 – Seattle Mariners claimed LF Daniel Robertson off waivers from Los Angeles Angels.

1/12/16 – Los Angeles Dodgers traded RHP Joe Wieland to Seattle Mariners for SS Erick Mejia.

These last deals aren’t really even worth mentioning, but I stuck them down here at the bottom anyway.  Steve Johnson appeared in 16 games, almost exclusively as the very last man in the bullpen.  When it became readily apparent he was a waste of space, we cut him loose in mid-June.  Pat Venditte is the switch-pitcher we brought in, who got his cup of coffee with us in September, almost exclusively in blowout situations.  I don’t know if he’ll ever be much more than a novelty.  Robertson appeared in 9 games, and for the life of me, I can’t remember a thing about any of ’em.  Apparently, they took place in July.  He obviously didn’t make much of an impression, as he didn’t return in September with the rest of the call-ups.  Finally, Joe Wieland appeared in one game, making a spot start on August 12th against the A’s.  He gave up 6 runs in 5 innings, as we lost 6-3.  We ended up trading him to the Braves in September, rendering him as little more than a trivia question answer, and not even an interesting one.

***

So, all in all, how would I rate Jerry Dipoto’s first year on the job?  I’d say of all the moves I listed above, about half of them were good and half of them were bad.  I would say the trades were particularly bad (including the Trumbo, Lind, 1st Miley, and Karns deals) with only the Leonys Martin deal having a real positive impact.  He was able to find a lot of value towards the back-end of the roster, particularly the bullpen, as the season went along, and he was smart to fill the roster with veterans, considering the closing competitive windows of our aging stars.  Ultimately, the Mariners improved by 10 games in his first year, so that’s certainly a feather in his cap.  But, I think a lot of that was achieved by players already here.  Cano having a bounce-back year, Seager improving, Zunino improving, Paxton making more of an impact, and so on and so forth.

What Dipoto needs to do now is find a way to fill some of these holes that are still dogging us.  First base, short stop, corner outfield.  He needs to find cost-effective ways to bolster our pitching staff.  And, let’s face it, he needs a little luck to go his way.  This team is close.  So very close to making the post-season and breaking this streak.  But, at the same time, it’s also pretty damn close from bottoming out yet again.  Is Dipoto the man for the job?  Time will tell, but I’m going to reserve any enthusiasm I have for the man until I see some actual results on the field.

It’s playoffs or bust, Jerry!  You’ll get a “good job” out of me when I see some rings on the fingers of these players.

***

Important Mariners Transactions for the 2016 Season

  • 10/19/15 – Seattle Mariners claimed Cody Martin off waivers from Oakland Athletics.
  • 11/5/15 – Seattle Mariners traded SS Brad Miller, 1B Logan Morrison and RHP Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay Rays for RHP Nathan Karns, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser and CF Boog Powell.
  • 11/6/15 – Seattle Mariners claimed LF Daniel Robertson off waivers from Los Angeles Angels.
  • 11/11/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RF Franklin Gutierrez.
  • 11/12/15 – San Diego Padres traded RHP Joaquin Benoit to Seattle Mariners for RHP Enyel De Los Santos and SS Nelson Ward.
  • 11/16/15 – Texas Rangers traded CF Leonys Martin and RHP Anthony Bass to Seattle Mariners for RHP Tom Wilhelmsen, CF James Jones and PTBNL (3B Patrick Kivlehan).
  • 11/20/15 – Seattle Mariners traded CF Ramon Flores to Milwaukee Brewers for 2B Luis Sardinas.
  • 11/23/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent C Chris Iannetta.
  • 12/2/15 – Baltimore Orioles traded C Steve Clevenger to Seattle Mariners for RF Mark Trumbo and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser.
  • 12/2/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Justin De Fratus.
  • 12/3/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent LF Norichika Aoki.
  • 12/7/15 – Boston Red Sox traded RHP Jonathan Aro and LHP Wade Miley to Seattle Mariners for RHP Carson Smith and LHP Roenis Elias.
  • 12/8/15 – Oakland Athletics traded RHP Evan Scribner to Seattle Mariners for RHP Trey Cochran-Gill.
  • 12/9/15 – Milwaukee Brewers traded 1B Adam Lind to Seattle Mariners for RHP Carlos Herrera, RHP Daniel Missaki and RHP Freddy Peralta.
  • 12/14/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Steve Cishek.
  • 12/18/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Hisashi Iwakuma.
  • 1/7/16 – Seattle Mariners released RHP Anthony Bass.
  • 1/12/16 – Los Angeles Dodgers traded RHP Joe Wieland to Seattle Mariners for SS Erick Mejia.
  • 2/3/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent 1B Dae-Ho Lee to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.
  • 2/9/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Joel Peralta to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.
  • 3/1/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent CF Guillermo Heredia.
  • 3/17/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Steve Johnson to a minor league contract.
  • 3/28/16 – Toronto Blue Jays claimed 1B Jesus Montero off waivers from Seattle Mariners.
  • 3/30/16 – San Diego Padres traded RHP Nick Vincent to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL.
  • 5/29/16 – Texas Rangers traded 3B Patrick Kivlehan to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL (RHP Justin De Fratus).
  • 6/2/16 – Seattle Mariners designated RHP Joel Peralta for assignment.
  • 6/17/16 – Seattle Mariners designated RHP Steve Johnson for assignment.
  • 6/19/16 – Seattle Mariners traded SS Chris Taylor to Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Zach Lee.
  • 6/22/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded LHP Wade LeBlanc to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL.
  • 6/22/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent Tom Wilhelmsen.
  • 7/20/16 – Seattle Mariners traded RHP Jordan Pries and LHP Mike Montgomery to Chicago Cubs for 1B Dan Vogelbach and RHP Paul Blackburn.
  • 7/26/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded RHP Drew Storen and cash to Seattle Mariners for RHP Joaquin Benoit.
  • 7/31/16 – Seattle Mariners traded LHP Wade Miley to Baltimore Orioles for LHP Ariel Miranda.
  • 8/1/16 – Seattle Mariners designated 3B Patrick Kivlehan for assignment.
  • 8/1/16 – Seattle Mariners claimed 1B Mike Freeman off waivers from Arizona Diamondbacks.
  • 8/6/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded LHP Pat Venditte to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL (2B Tim Lopes).
  • 8/6/16 – Pittsburgh Pirates traded RHP Arquimedes Caminero to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL and Future Considerations (LHP Jake Brentz and RHP Pedro Vasquez).
  • 8/15/16 – Seattle Mariners sent Daniel Robertson outright to Tacoma Rainiers.
  • 8/15/16 – Seattle Mariners traded 2B Luis Sardinas to San Diego Padres for Player To Be Named Later.
  • 8/31/16 – New York Yankees traded RF Ben Gamel to Seattle Mariners for RHP Jio Orozco and RHP Juan De Paula.
  • 9/13/16 Seattle Mariners traded LHP Wade LeBlanc to Pittsburgh Pirates for PTBNL.
  • 9/14/16 Seattle Mariners traded RHP Joe Wieland to Atlanta Braves for PTBNL.

Always A Prospect, Never A Bride: The Ongoing Saga of Paxton & Walker

When the season started, it was Felix, Iwakuma, Miley, Walker, and Karns, with James Paxton relegated to Tacoma to work on his fastball, work on his command, and work on his fastball command.  As the rotation started to be hacked to bits with injuries, Paxton was thankfully the first one called up.  On June 1st, he made his 2016 debut with the Mariners; it was far from ideal.

But, he was throwing regularly in the high 90s, sometimes touching triple digits, and you could see his two months in Tacoma made a world of difference.

And, aside from a quick trip to the DL in mid-August – thanks to a line drive off his throwing arm in the 9th inning of a game he was dominating – Paxton proved to be remarkably healthy (also, I guess, aside from some fingernail issues he was having late in the season that cut some starts short).

What we never really got out of Paxton, though, was any sort of consistency.  Good start, good start; bad start, bad start; good, bad, good, bad, and so on.  I suppose your take-away from Paxton’s 2016 season depends on your expectations.  At a baseline level, my hopes were that he’d just stay healthy, and avoid any prolonged stints on the DL.  In that sense, he mostly succeeded.  He does have that improved fastball, and his breaking ball looked much better than in years past.  He’s getting sort of a Mr. Snappy thing going against right handers that can be overpowering at times.  But, he also gets dinked and dunked to death, and when things start going downhill in a start, they snowball until he’s left you with no chance of winning.

James Paxton is, of course, an unfinished product.  It’s too bad we’ll never know how his season would’ve finished had he not taken that line drive off his throwing arm on August 7th.  That one had all the makings of a complete game, which would’ve come directly on the heels of an 8-inning, 4-hit, 1-run performance against the Red Sox (that we would go on to blow in the 9th).  With those back-to-back starts (and 3 of 4 if you go back a little further, to his 7-inning, 1-run win in Toronto), it looked like it was FINALLY starting to click for him.  Now, whether or not that was just a random quality stretch, we’ll never know.  But, obviously, when he returned from the DL, he had three consecutive starts of 5 innings or less, as he worked his way back from injury.  It wasn’t until his September 11th start where we saw the Good Paxton again, which he carried through to the end of the year (with an enticing potential start in the Wild Card game that was not to be).

I actually have a lot of high hopes for Paxton going into 2017, which is probably a mistake.  But, God damn, I mean, it’s all there!  He HAS the stuff!  He has ACE stuff!  He can BE that #2 starter I was talking about in my Iwakuma post.  If he can put it together for a full season, hell, he could be our #1 starter in all but name only come 2018!  All Star Game appearances, Cy Young Awards, the sky is the limit for Paxton.

But, haven’t we been saying this more or less since 2013?  Usually, it’s injuries that prevent him from reaching his full potential – and believe me, we’re not out of those woods by any stretch of the imagination either – but even when he’s healthy, he has a tendency to get knocked around.

What he’s done that’s encouraging – as long as it continues – is he’s reduced his walks and increased his strikeouts. Before this year, he averaged 3.5 walks per 9 innings; in 2016 he averaged 1.8.  Before this year, he averaged 7.4 strikeouts per 9 innings; in 2016 he averaged 8.7.  Before this year, he had a 2.09 strikeout to walk ratio; in 2016 he bumped that up to 4.88.  These are all very positive trends.  He’s got a better handle of the strikezone.  Fewer free passes should, over time, equate to better overall performances.  But, there’s also a bit of a downside to that:  before this year, he gave up an average of 7.7 hits per 9 innings; in 2016, he gave up 10.0.  Which means his WHIP actually went UP this year, compared to his combined 2013-2015.

Part of that is just dumb luck.  Before this year, his babip-against was .271; in 2016 it skyrocketed to .347.  That’s what I mean when I say he was dinked and dunked to death; balls that formerly found gloves this year found holes.  As such, that inflated his batting average against (.229 before, .279 this year) and his OPS against (.641 before, .717 this year).  But, there was also an uptick in his slugging against (.340 before, .406 this year).  That goes back to being in the strike zone more; maybe he was a little TOO in the strike zone, if you catch my drift.

Also, not for nothing, and I don’t really know how to place this, but in his combined 30 starts from 2013-2015, the team committed 10 errors behind him; in 2016, in 20 starts, the team committed 9.  Part of that is his defense not exactly helping him, but part of that is also his pitches being more hittable, and being put in play more often.  So, I dunno, maybe it’s a wash.

All in all, I’m going to say that 2016 was a net-positive for Paxton, but there are still enough concerns that he won’t put it all together in 2017.  Or EVER, for that matter.  He’ll need to continue to work on his fastball command and maybe miss a few more bats per game to get his numbers down enough to be a real force in this league.

***

As for Taijuan Walker, the hype behind him going into this year couldn’t have been higher.  National pundits were ALL OVER Walker this year as a player to watch.  As a guy ready to take the next step into superstardom.  It obviously didn’t go according to plan.

For the month of April, he was right on track.  But, then injuries started to creep into the equation.  Neck spasms in early May, and an ongoing foot injury through the summer.  In mid-June, a start was cut short.  Then again on July 5th.  We shut him down for a spell, then put him on the DL after his comeback when he still wasn’t fully right.  Walker returned in early August, had one bad start, then was sent down to Tacoma.  Partly to work back into rotation shape, but partly because the team felt he needed an attitude adjustment.  Walker returned in late August for the stretch run, had one amazing start on September 13th (complete game shutout, 3-hitter, no walks, 11 strikeouts), but other than that wasn’t really much to write home about.

Now, Walker is considering having offseason surgery.  If it’ll fix his foot, I hope he does it.  I know there’s probably a risk of the surgery going bad, or him still having problems post-op, so I’ll defer to his doctors on that.  But, I’ll just say that Walker’s 2016 left me MUCH less hopeful of him taking his game to the next level.

Like Paxton, Walker first came up to the Majors in 2013.  Like Paxton, Walker has had his share of injuries.  Unlike Paxton, Walker made it through 2015 mostly unscathed, which is the reason why everyone had such high hopes for his 2016.  Once a guy gets a full season under his belt, the next step is an improvement in performance.  But, it really wasn’t to be.  Aside from a few remarkable starts, it was the same ol’ Walker.

Remember all those averages I pulled for Paxton, showing his numbers from before compared to this year?  Well, for Walker, all those numbers are essentially the same.  In fact, Walker’s babip against went DOWN (.269 in 2016 compared to .288 before).  While his batting average and on-base percentages were all the same, there was a big uptick in slugging percentage (.462 in 2016 compared to .391 before).  Plain and simple, Walker got rocked in 2016, more than he’s ever been rocked before.  His fastball velocity fluctuated like a mad dog, his command of the changeup came and went, and as a result, you never knew what you were going to get out of him from start to start.

It’s part of the reason why the team sent him down to Tacoma to work on things.  Hell, the strategy worked for Paxton to start the season!  If the team wasn’t so absolutely desperate for starting pitching in the stretch run, they would’ve been wise to keep him in Tacoma longer.  As it stands, you have to wonder if he’ll win a spot in the Major League rotation in 2017.

I’ll get more into this in my Ariel Miranda post, but I think the final rotation spot is going to come down to Miranda and Walker (and, sure, Karns and some others, but most realistically it’ll be Miranda and Walker).  There’s no doubt in my mind one of the top priorities for the Mariners this offseason will be to pick up another veteran starter, either via free agency or trade, to mix in there with Felix, Iwakuma, and Paxton.  That leaves one opening for multiple pitchers, and I don’t think it would be the worst idea for Walker to get a little more work in Tacoma.  Just to make sure his mechanics are in order, so when he comes back to Seattle (for the games that REALLY matter), we’ll have a better idea of which Taijuan Walker we’ll be seeing from start to start.

Paxton and Walker seem to be joined at the hip in their journey with the Seattle Mariners.  Always on the cusp of making it big, but always falling short for one reason or another.  The team almost certainly hasn’t given up on either of these guys, but one thing to keep in mind as the offseason progresses:  don’t be shocked if one or both of these guys are traded away.  Truth be told, their potential would make such a scenario as heartbreaking as can be.  But, I’m beginning to have my doubts that they’ll ever REACH that potential.  And, we might be better off getting rid of them when their value is at its highest (although, to be fair, Walker’s value was probably at its highest at this point last year).

Injuries Are Killing The Mariners This Year

I know nobody wants to hear it.  Teams are snakebitten every year; all teams have to deal with injuries at one point or another.  But, it’s also no secret that the teams you chronically see going on deep playoff runs tend to be the teams that are predominantly healthy.  Unsustainably healthy.  You won’t see this type of freaky health from year to year, but if you can get lucky in one season, you can go a long way with your primary guys avoiding stints on the DL.

The Mariners have been spectacularly unlucky in 2016.  There hasn’t been a single day this year where some key piece hasn’t been missing.  This team has never been complete!  And, it seems like just as soon as one guy gets healthy, another guy goes down.

Look at this timeline of guys hitting the DL:

  • 4/3 – Furbush & Scribner (key bullpen pieces)
  • 4/25 – Benoit (had he been healthy all year, a guy you could expect would have been a lockdown 8th inning guy)
  • 5/3 – Zych (was dominating through the first month, has missed most of the season)
  • 5/22 – Marte (just when he was starting to assert himself as one of the better short stops in the American League)
  • 5/27 – Martin (Mariners have no competent backup defensive centerfielder on their roster; defense suffered accordingly while he was out.  He was also on a hot stretch offensively when he went down)
  • 6/1 – King Felix (I don’t need to tell you how huge this was)
  • 6/17 – Miley (he wasn’t good, but it further depleted a shaky starting rotation)
  • 6/24 – Sampson (he only made one start, but we never got to know his potential)
  • 6/29 – Vincent (further depleting our bullpen at the worst possible time)
  • 6/30 – Clevenger (was set for increased playing time, but ultimately worked out with Zunino’s return)
  • 7/6 – Walker (was supposed to be his breakout year, but the nagging foot issue inhibited his growth)
  • 7/23 – Marte again (mono, really)
  • 7/30 – Karns (never really popped this year, but again, lack of depth for our pitching staff)
  • 8/4 – Cishek (his injury might have been a key part of him blowing those saves and losing his closer’s job)
  • 8/16 – Paxton (just when he was starting to dominate the league)
  • 8/22 – Storen (just as the bullpen was starting to gel into a dominant unit)

And that doesn’t even factor in Kyle Seager, who’s missing games this week, as well as Cano and Cruz at times this year missing games due to minor injuries.  Suffice it to say, I’ve seen O’Malley and Freeman start more games than I care to see.

If the Mariners could just get their best 25 guys to stay healthy for any extended period of time, you’d be looking at a no-doubt playoff team!  Probably one giving the Rangers a serious run for their money!  As it is, it’s a miracle the Mariners have held in there as long as they have.