Have The Mariners Now Hit A New Low For This Season?

Losing 2 of 3 to the lowly Oakland A’s – a team everyone keeps telling me “isn’t even trying to win” – to drop to last place in the A.L. West at 18-27, tied for the fifth-worst record in all of baseball, sure does feel like Rock Bottom. I guess we could’ve been swept by those same A’s, but the season is still relatively early and we still have five more series to play against them.

I can kind of understand why we bring in these hitters – this year, it’s Jesse Winker, for instance – and they struggle right off the bat and also forevermore. Seattle’s a tough place to play. Odds are you’re far away from your home, or at least where you’d ideally rather be living (though, make no mistake, the few homegrown locals we manage to bring back here also struggle just the same). The ballpark – even with the fences brought in a few years back – is a tough place to hit, what with the marine layer knocking down potential homers and an outfield that’s decidedly unfriendly to doubles hitters. Then, there’s just the stigma of multiple decades of hitters coming here and sucking (save Nelson Cruz, who is a magical creature, and we damn well didn’t appreciate him enough when he was here), infecting the fragile psyches of guys ill-equipped for the mental rigors of wearing that Mariners uniform and being absorbed into our organization of utter mediocrity. It can be a lot. I don’t envy any hitter who is brought here against his will and forced to play for such dysfunction.

Same goes for hitting prospects we bring in here, who would be sure-fire All Stars for any other organization. They have all of the above, plus the indignity of having to “learn” from a collection of hitting coaches throughout all levels that are and always have been completely and totally inept at their jobs. Only the Mariners could fuck up a sure thing like Jared Kelenic. It is our destiny.

But, what I don’t understand is why certain pitchers come here and revert back into pumpkins. Robbie Ray was a legitimate free agent prize this past offseason, coming off of a Cy Young Award. How is he so hittable?! How is his stuff so pedestrian?! For someone with as much strikeout potential as he has, he seems to also dump a lot of meatballs right down the middle; it’s infuriating.

And yet, I’m supposed to sit here and feel glad because Julio Rodriguez looks like the real deal right out of the gate? Wow, I guess 1 out of 30 fucking hitting prospects isn’t bad, huh? Is this what it’s come to?

I’m NOT glad, because it’s not that hard to find one fucking stud prospect to be the face of your franchise. The Mariners ALWAYS have one stud. Before Julio, we had Felix. Before Felix, we had Ichiro. Before Ichiro, we had A-Rod and Edgar and Griffey (you know, all those teams you hear about ad nauseam, because that’s literally the only fucking time the Mariners were ever fucking good). Felix and Ichiro account for most of the last two decades, but what did we ever do to build winners around them? Jack Shit. We did a lot of half measures and panic deals when we thought we were close, only to fall short time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time again.

So, great, we have one stud again. Julio. Is he going to single-handedly win us a title? How’s Mike Trout doing down in Anaheim? Lots of playoff glory under his belt?

What’s most infuriating – as I’ve said before – is the fact that 2022 isn’t even all that important in the grand scheme of things. This year was supposed to be about further building up the young guys. Getting them experience, and getting them used to the rigors of facing other Major Leaguers. But, guys like Kelenic and Raleigh and Brash and Toro and on and on down the line are fucking SUCK-ING!

It’s also, not for nothing, kind of obnoxious that the bullpen is who we thought it was. Regression away from the unsustainable heights of 2021. Just so fucking predictable. If it’s something some dimwit like yours truly can easily warn you about ahead of time, it’s as fucking hack as it gets. I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised. But, the likes of Drew Steckenrider and Diego Castillo have turned me into some sort of prophet with their horseshit performances.

God damn this fucking team. God damn them for getting our hopes up and shitting the bed like so many Johnny Depp cocaine parties. It’s the end of May and I’m pissed off beyond all rationality, so in other words, right on time.

I fucking hate the Mariners. Why do we put ourselves through this?

Kyle Seager Was The Best Mariners Third Baseman Of All Time

When we’re doing an All Mariners Team – which is pretty fun to think about, now that I bring it up – you can pen in Kyle Seager as the third baseman (with all due respect to Mike Blowers). For shits n’ giggles, let’s run it down real quick:

  • Ichiro (RF)
  • Ken Griffey Jr. (CF)
  • Jay Buhner (LF)
  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Alex Rodriguez (SS)
  • Bret Boone (2B)
  • Alvin Davis (1B)
  • Dan Wilson (C)
  • Edgar Martinez (DH)

Not too far off from what I had back in 2012 (although, the more I think about it, the more I think Ichiro deserves the respect of having right field; plus, can you imagine Buhner’s arm throwing out guys from left?!). I’ll also say I was THIS CLOSE to putting Robinson Cano at second base, but I just couldn’t. Even though he signed that huge deal, he never really felt like a Mariner; he was always a New York guy.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there, because we’re talking about Kyle Seager today!

It was always assumed 2021 would be Kyle Seager’s last year here. Truth be told, he would’ve been traded a while back, but they built a poison pill into his contract that guaranteed his 2022 option would be paid in full upon completion of any trade. Given the way baseball inflation was going at the time of signing – prior to the 2015 season – and given the way Seager had played up until that point, an optimist might’ve assumed his 2022 option would be a bargain. But, that turned out to decidedly not be the case, and he became an albatross around Jerry Dipoto’s neck as we headed into the rebuild.

I’m somewhat conflicted about Kyle Seager. He was fun to root for from the very beginning, as a rookie in 2011. He got called up right around the same time as Dustin Ackley, and for half a year anyway, both of them looked like potential cornerstones to the franchise. Ackley quickly petered out from there, but Seager continued to improve. He wasn’t a natural third baseman, but that was where he ended up thanks to the Mariners’ hole at the spot, and Seager took advantage of the opportunity. Indeed, he got better every year through the 2016 season, before things took a turn for the worse.

In 2016 – the second year of his contract extension – he was a 6.9 WAR player who garnered a little bit of MVP attention. Two years removed from his only All Star appearance, and his only Gold Glove award, he slashed .278/.359/.499, with 30 homers, 36 doubles, and 99 RBI. It was the culmination of six straight years of improvement! Every year, I kept expecting a little more, and every year he kept delivering. Not only that, but his floor wasn’t bad either. Even with those 2016 numbers, I felt like he had potential for more.

Then, the dreaded infield shift became popularized and entrenched in the game of baseball. And, with Seager being such an extreme pull hitter, it decimated his offensive value. In 2017, he was a 2.5 WAR player; he would never see another WAR higher than that. In 2018, he really fell apart as a sub-1 WAR player; his slash line fell all the way to .221/.273/.400. Not only was he basically a replacement-level player, but he was never hurt and therefore in the lineup every single day! That changed in 2019, when he landed on the IL, but by then he started to figure out how to be productive as a pull hitter in a shifting world; he finished that season at 2.4 WAR that might’ve been higher had he been healthy all year.

Seager became something of a lightning rod of controversy in 2021, through no fault of his own really. The whole Kevin Mather thing put Seager’s final year under a microscope, as he called him overpaid, and essentially told the world what the organization feels about its best-ever third baseman: they didn’t want him. Seager, nevertheless, has always been the consummate professional, showing up everyday, mentoring young players, and being an all-around mainstay in the middle of an otherwise struggling lineup.

Seager in 2021 had arguably his best-ever power season, hitting a career-high 35 homers and 101 RBI. His slash line was pretty wretched – .212/.285/.438 – but he still salvaged a 2.0 WAR just by being so productive with his extra-base hits; he had 63 extra-base hits and 65 singles. Guys who hit for such a low average still have a place in this league if they can mash 35-plus homers a year – or 30-plus homers along with quality defense – so I would call Seager’s 2021 a success.

At the same time, I wouldn’t expect too many more successful seasons if he remained in a Mariners uniform. MAYBE one more year, but even then he could fall off the cliff in a hurry. I would expect Seager might be able to prolong his career elsewhere, in a more lefty-friendly environment. He’s always crushed it in the state of Texas, so that might be an option for him! But, I like the idea of Seager leaving Seattle on a high note.

For the most part, Kyle Seager was a great member of the Seattle Mariners. I’d rather he leave with us remembering him fondly, than us seeing him as an aging veteran who can barely hobble around the bases.

I would argue it’s also time to move on because I don’t think he wants to be here anymore. Rumors abound that he was the source behind a lot of angry quotes about the organization this year, especially after the Kendall Graveman deal. Granted, I think Dipoto has made it clear he didn’t want to keep Seager through the end of his contract, and probably did everything in his power to try to rid the team of him, so I don’t blame Seager one bit for feeling the way he does. The fact of the matter is, the Mariners never would’ve gotten anything in trade close to the value of what Seager still brought to a potential team. It made sense to keep him from that standpoint, but it also made sense to keep him because even though we were going Full Rebuild for the first time in forever, you still need veteran leadership to help guide players through the choppy waters as the talent level on the big league ballclub plummets. I would argue that kind of leadership was largely absent from the years of 2008-2013, and that could be a big reason why the Mariners never got off the ground in that time.

What I’m trying to say is that the Mariners got their money’s worth out of Kyle Seager, even if he never got to play in the post-season. I mean, shit, A LOT of Mariners failed to reach the playoffs, it’s not just a Seager problem. He just had the misfortune of succeeding in an inept, bumbling organization.

I don’t know what Seager’s legacy is other than the Greatest Mariners Third Baseman. He was never the flashy prospect of a King Felix. He was never at a Hall of Fame level of an Edgar Martinez. He was never a big worldwide household name like a Griffey or an Ichiro. He just quietly went about his business, day-in and day-out. In that sense, he should be my favorite type of player.

But, my big take-away is one of lost potential. In another era, Seager would’ve continued to blossom beyond his 2016-level of production. But, he could never fully recover from the shift. When I think of Kyle Seager, that’s what I think of: rolling over on a ground ball to a second baseman playing in shallow right field.

Kyle Seager had good, solid power. 242 homers, 309 doubles, 807 RBI, 704 runs scored. From a career slash line perspective, it’s not the worst: .251/.321/.442. But, there’s a big difference between the first half of his career, and the second half:

  • 2011-2016: .266/.334/.446, with a 119 OPS+
  • 2017-2021: .231/.304/.436, with a 103 OPS+

That later era, that’s when he was age 29-33; those are supposed to be your PRIME years as a professional baseball player! That’s when you’ve got all the experience and smarts in the world, while still being pretty much at your peak physically. When you think of someone like Nelson Cruz, he was just hitting his stride at age 33! Different body types and all of that, but it’s just frustrating is all.

You could argue Kyle Seager is one of the unluckiest baseball players in the history of the game. The advent and apex of the shift happened right as his prime got started, and it’ll likely be legislated out of the game not long after he hangs ’em up (they’re already working rules into the minor leagues that forces the infield to keep two players on either side of second base, while disallowing them to stand in the outfield). I mean, he’s made well over $100 million in his career – including a $2 million buyout coming his way for 2022 – so it’s a real World’s Smallest Violin type of “unlucky”. But, you get the idea.

That having been said, my fondness level for Seager is well over 50% compared to my disappointment, so I’ll always remember him as one of the Mariners greats. Eventually, cooler heads will prevail and he’ll enter the team’s hall of fame; he’ll be back in the fold and rightly celebrated for all of his accomplishments, throwing out a first pitch here and there, and conversing during game telecasts as we watch this team through the years. Until then, I wish him the best in his future endeavors. I hope he makes it back to the playoffs on another team (unless it’s the Astros; in that case, he can go straight to Hell).

The Mariners Extended Dipoto & Servais As They Try To Contend Down The Stretch

After just totally biffing it against the Royals, the Mariners played three winnable games against the Astros, winning two of them in shutout fashion.

The only loss was in the series opener on Monday, where we bafflingly blew it in the 8th by turning a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 loss. Chris Flexen didn’t have his greatest stuff, but still pitched into the sixth inning, giving up just 2 runs. Casey Sadler locked it down through the 7th, giving us just enough time to take that all-too-brief lead in the bottom of the sixth.

The Astros scored their first two runs in the 1st inning, making the Flexen performance even more impressive. Jose Marmolejos – back with the Mariners after going on the warpath with the Rainiers for much of the season – hit a solo homer in his first at bat to make it 2-1. That’s where it remained until Dylan Moore – pinch hitting for Marmolejos – jacked a 2-run homer to make everyone happy.

But, then Joe Smith was tasked with handling the 8th inning. I don’t totally get it. Was Drew Steckenrider simply unavailable? Did Scott Servais lose his mind? Either way, shaky defense and even shakier pitching meant Smith gave up three singles and two runs, before he was pulled for Yohan Ramirez to get the final two outs of the inning. The Mariners were toast from there.

Tuesday saw Yusei Kikuchi take the mound, desperately needing a quality start to help save his Mariners career. And, to his credit, he went out and dominated: 7 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 4. His fastball was lively, he threw it often, and he got ahead of hitters; when he’s able to do that, good things tend to result.

The game was, nevertheless, scoreless as we headed into the bottom of the eighth. Paul Sewald got the job done in the top half against the top of the lineup, setting the stage for Kendall Graveman, who was making his first appearance in Seattle since the infamous deadline deal.

Graveman still has electric stuff, but the Mariners put a tough challenge on him. J.P. Crawford led off the inning with a walk, Seager singled after a Haniger strikeout, and Ty France was hit on the forearm to load the bases. The table was set … for Abraham Toro of all people, the very centerpiece the Mariners got back in return in the Graveman deal.

Toro got in a 1-2 hole early, whiffing hard on Graveman’s sinkers. But, he finally started making contact – fouling off three pitches while working the count even – before unloading on a sinker in the inner-middle of the plate for a grand slam. It was glorious! I’m not going to say the Mariners won the trade in that single at-bat – lord knows this bullpen has been plenty fallible in Graveman’s absence – but I’ve been a fan of Toro since we got him, and that further cements in my mind the value he brings to this team, both this season and in the years to come.

It was Graveman’s first loss of the season – and it dented his ERA pretty good – but he’s still been wildly effective for the Astros since going over there. Just, you know, not against the Mariners. Against us, he’s gone 1.1 innings and given up 5 runs. Shit, maybe he WAS the world’s greatest teammate! He’s so good, he’s STILL helping us win ballgames!

If the 4-0 shutout was impressive, Wednesday’s 1-0 shutout was truly remarkable. Logan Gilbert – another starter who’s struggled over the last month – went 5 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits & 0 walks, while striking out 4. Again, lots of fastballs and he did a good job of staying ahead of hitters.

This game saw the return of Justus Sheffield, now a reliever since his return from the IL. I don’t know if that’s a permanent move, or if that’s even a role he’s well-suited for, but he got through his one inning unscathed to get the win. Because we scored our lone run in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to a Crawford single, walks by Haniger and France, and a sac fly to center off the bat of – you guessed it – Abraham Toro. It wasn’t a deep fly ball by any means, but with Crawford’s speed – and the sun wreaking havoc on the outfielder – it was long enough.

Then, it was shutdown time. Sadler did his job in the 7th. Steckenrider returned to get two outs in the 8th (before putting two runners on), which necessitated Paul Sewald going in there for the 4-out save. Which he managed heroicly, striking out three guys in the process (while only getting into a little trouble in the 9th before slamming the door shut).

It’s a bummer we didn’t manage to take all three games – because at this point in the season, we could’ve really used the boost – but winning this series was very impressive the way we did it. The Astros have the best offense in baseball, and we absolutely shut them down!

Before the game on Wednesday, it was announced that Jerry Dipoto was extended (and promoted to President of Baseball Operations). Essentially, he’s still the GM, and he still reports to the owner, John Stanton, but clearly this is a big endorsement of his rebuild. It was simultaneously announced that Scott Servais was also extended to continue managing the ballclub; the terms for their contracts were not disclosed, so it’s unknown how long they’re under contract for.

I don’t really know of anyone who thinks Servais is a bad manager. Quite the contrary, I think most of us are really impressed with how hard he gets his guys to play for him, even when they’re lacking in talent compared to some of the elite teams around baseball. We might get blown out here and there – that’s going to happen – but we tend to be IN most of these games at the very least, and as far as the last two seasons are concerned, winning much more of them than anyone would’ve predicted.

I like Servais. I don’t have a lot of regard for managers in baseball in general; I think, for the most part, these teams sort of manage themselves. They get too much of the blame when things go wrong, and probably an appropriate amount of the credit when things go right. But, you can really see how Servais has built the culture here. It’s different than it was under Lloyd McClendon, Don Wakamatsu, Eric Wedge, and on and on dating back to the glory days of Lou Piniella. Honestly, Servais might be the best manager in all of baseball right now, and I’ve been saying for a while: I’d LOVE to see what he does with a team that’s as talented as the Astros or Dodgers or Yankees.

And, for what it’s worth, I do think Servais makes a high percentage of the correct calls when it comes to sticking with a pitcher vs. pulling him for a fresh arm. I mean, that probably has a lot to do with the analytics department, but it’s a credit to Servais that he actually follows the numbers and not just his fucking gut (*cough* Lloyd McClendon *cough*).

As for Dipoto, he’s MUCH more divisive. Fans seem to either love him and lap up the Kool Aid like the thirsty sheep that they are; or fans seem to hate him and want to ride him out of town on a rail.

I’m in the middle. If I had my druthers, we would’ve backed up the Brinks truck to Theo Epstein’s house and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse YEARS ago. But, obviously, that’s never happening. We hired Dipoto after the 2015 season, and while his moves have been hit-or-miss, I think there’s a lot unexplained from his tenure. He inherited an aging roster that was still trying to break the playoff drought. How much did ownership hamper him when it comes to tearing it all down back then and rebuilding immediately? I would argue they meddled quite a bit, with guys like Felix, Cruz, Cano, and Seager playing at the tops of their games.

It wasn’t until after the 2018 season – when we won 89 games, but again fell well short of making the playoffs – that we FINALLY committed to a real, official rebuild. I would say, by and large, Dipoto’s moves before that point were largely disappointing and underwhelming. Again, how much was he hampered by ownership, who likely limited his spending? I would argue quite a bit, with Felix’s dying contract, Seager’s bloated deal, and Cano’s albatross hanging around our neck.

I contend that SINCE the end of the 2018 season, Dipoto has been largely on fire with his trades, his under-the-radar dart-throw free agent signings, and his draft picks. In that time, he turned around a farm system that was one of the worst – if not THE worst – in all of baseball, into one of the best this year (including one publication ranking us #1 overall). The trade of Cano & Edwin Diaz for Jarred Kelenic (and others) is the big draw. But, he also pulled off the Austin Nola deal (for Ty France and Luis Torrens) and the aforementioned Graveman deal for Toro.

It hasn’t worked out perfectly since then. The Mariners really bottomed out in 2019, for instance. But, we played much better in a COVID-shortened 2020 season. And, this year, we find ourselves firmly in contention for a wild card spot with a month left to play.

You can argue that many of the young position players are failing to make the leap from AAA to the Major Leagues, but if that’s Dipoto’s fault, then it’s also on all the scouts and pundits who continue to laud these players as among the most talented of all the prospects coming up in the last two years. They’re still young-enough in their careers to turn things around. Plus, there are more prospects where they came from if they do, indeed, fail at this level.

On top of which, the Mariners have cheaped out long enough. It sounds like after having this year to analyze the guys we’ve got, the purse strings are going to be loosened, allowing us to go out and make some splashy free agent deals. Between that, and the trades we can make by having one of the best farm systems in baseball, as long as we don’t fuck things up COMPLETELY, we should be watching the Seattle Mariners in the post-season sooner rather than later.

So, no, I’m not a Jerry Dipoto hater. But, I’m also not drinking the Kool Aid completely either. He still needs to finish the job. Lots of teams throughout baseball have been in the position we’re in now. VERY few actually manage to morph into World Series champions, let alone enjoy the kind of sustained success you see out of teams like the Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox.

I’ll fully believe it when I see it. Don’t do what the Mariners always do: get swindled in trades for mediocre veterans who come here and shit the bed. DO do what good teams do: ship off shaky prospects for quality starters, and let’s go win us a fucking World Series title!

The Mariners Toppled The Twins

Last Thursday’s 10-2 drubbing of the Mariners by the hot Twins bats feels like a decade ago. We shouldn’t forget about it, though, because that’s the second start in as many outings for Marco Gonzales where he looked decidedly un-ace-like. After giving up 3 walks and 3 homers on Opening Day, Marco gave up two of each to the Twins. His ERA now sits at over 10, and while it’s not time yet to completely panic, there’s a version of Marco out there in the Multiverse who REALLY breaks bad, and this is the start of it all.

I don’t think that’s the Marco of our universe, though. But, I’m not throwing that out with the bathwater, either. I pause because it’s the very start of the season, after an unusually-short 2020 season. His command/control is clearly off, and it just might take him a little bit to get it going again. I hope that’s it, and that he rights the ship in a hurry.

Based on that game, you’d be right to worry about … well, everything! But, then Yusei Kikuchi stepped onto the mound and spun 6 innings of 2-run ball to keep us in it! His only blemish was a 2-run homer by Nelson Cruz (on a pretty good pitch on the outside of the zone, hit the other way over a very high wall), and can you blame him for being mashed by one of the best in the game today? I’m always surprised when Nellie makes an out!

This was a nice little coming-out series for Taylor Trammell, who had his first Major League homer in this one. Haniger also had a solo blast that contributed to the Mariners’ temporary lead. Kyle Seager would also come up big in this series, hitting a go-ahead RBI in the eighth inning before Rafael Montero blew his second save of the season in the bottom of the eighth (why he was in there so early is anyone’s guess; I refuse to research this insignificant detail). Ultimately, Haniger hit the winning sacrifice fly in the tenth to help put this one away. Sadler, Graveman (who also got the win), and Middleton (who ended up with the save) all did their jobs with a scoreless inning of bullpen work each. Lots of help up and down the lineup in this one; it seems like this team – more than most – is going to need the whole “Team Effort” thing to be a big part of their victories this season, at least until the superstars separate themselves. All in all, a nice 4-3 victory for the M’s.

The rubber match on Sunday looked like as big of a lost cause as I’ve seen. I tuned in specifically to see Chris Flexen – because I missed his first start with the M’s – and it was an interesting one! He was in a nasty little jam in the first, but got out of it while giving up only the one run. It looked like he might cruise for a while after that, but the third inning happened with lots of unlucky balls finding grass they shouldn’t have (including a pretty harmful error to help things along). Flexen limited the damage to three more runs (two earned), only to pretty much fall apart in the fifth. In all, he went the five innings, giving up six runs (five earned), while throwing only 84 pitches.

The Mariners were down 6-0 at that point, and I officially switched over to watch The Masters, so I missed the four runs the Mariners scored in the top of the sixth. Including a homer by Seager, and a 3-run blast by Trammell! Once I saw what was happening on Twitter, I switched it back, and was rewarded by a pretty entertaining little comeback!

The Mariners got one more back in the seventh, and it was a 6-5 game until the ninth, when Kyle Seager stepped to the plate with two on, jacking his second homer of the game. The bullpen was truly remarkable in this one. Will Vest went two scoreless, Drew Steckenrider pitched a scoreless eighth to earn his first victory, and Rafael Montero bounced back with his second save of the season, with an easy 9-pitch affair.

It was reasonable to think – before this past weekend – that Trammell might be on a fast track to Tacoma for a long-ish stint in AAA, but hopefully he’s starting to turn a corner. Hopefully success begets success. He’s still sitting with a sub-.200 batting average, so obviously there’s work to be done. But, now pitchers know they’re going to have to be reasonably careful with him. At the very least, I’d love to see what he looks like when Kyle Lewis reclaims his spot in the middle of the order. If nothing else, our outfield coverage should be insane!

Also, props to Kyle Seager for his output so far this season. This is the guy I was hoping to see, as it may be his final year with the team that drafted him.

Wins like these are important to teams like this. That attitude of never saying die or whatever is a pretty big deal when it comes to Scott Servais-managed Mariners squads, which is why I’m really rooting for him to make it through this rebuild unscathed. I do think Servais is one of the good ones; if managers do anything other than decide when to take out pitchers and be scapegoats for underperforming teams, I think they can help breed a culture, and I like the culture he’s breeding here. Given what the Mariners have had to endure in all the years since Lou Piniella was here, it’s HARD to turn around a culture like the one that had set in!

That’s all I got. Four more in Baltimore starting today. They’re pretty bad, the Mariners should be somewhat better, so you’d hope another series win is in the cards, as we get to the real meat of the April schedule coming up.

The Mariners Cut Dan Vogelbach

The Mariners are bound to make a lot of low-level roster moves this season, as they cycle through young players to get a look at as many prospects as possible (at least, when it comes to prospects whose service time they don’t mind churning through before it’s absolutely necessary; sorry Jarred Kelenic, you gotta wait). As such, I’m not going to write about every little move the team makes.

For instance, last night we saw the 2020 debuts for a couple of Quad-A outfielders who will probably never amount to much of anything at the Major League level; am I going to talk about them? No, I am not. I can barely muster the energy to talk about how Mallex Smith was demoted off of the Major League roster the other day. He’s been PRETTY terrible since we traded away Mike Zunino to bring him here, and while I don’t miss Zunino’s millions of strikeouts and anemic batting average, it still feels like we should’ve gotten a better player in return for a former #3 overall draft pick whose defense at least played well at this level. But, anyway, Mallex Smith is here now and he apparently still has minor league options; nevertheless, I don’t expect he’ll be part of the Mariners’ organization in 2021, so here’s hoping he figures his swing out to the point where we can maybe trade him away for scraps.

Dan Vogelbach is the real story here, and I know what you’re thinking. Here’s a guy with a slash line of .094/.250/.226; why are we writing a Mariners Obituary for someone who was never really much of anyone?

I dunno, I guess I think it’s noteworthy when the Mariners – who we can all agree has been a poorly-run organization for almost the entirety of its existence – DFA a guy who was an All Star just a year ago. First of all, it’s crazy that Vogey was an All Star to begin with; the guy’s career numbers are pretty pisspoor: .196/.326/.397. As a guy marketed as a big, burly, hit-first dude when he first came here, his only real skill that you could count on was his ability to take walks. I always got the feeling that the only reason he EVER swung the bat was due to peer pressure from coaches and players around him. Guys with no speed – who only generate walks and singles – have no value in this league, unless you play a premium defensive position AND you’re the absolute very best at that position (the paradox there is that you generally need to have a lot of speed to be good at defense). Vogey’s best defensive position was Designated Hitter; he’s like the rambunctious little boy who is best able to “help” his mom by staying out of her hair for a while. If he was ever going to stick at this level, he needed to be a guy who – when he did swing – hit lots and lots of dingers.

And, for one season, he did that. In 2019, he hit 30 homers in 144 games. By then, he was no longer blocked by Nelson Cruz at DH, and the team mostly stopped trying to shoehorn him into playing first base, so he was free to just mash. Both fortunately and unfortunately, he did the bulk of that mashing in the first half of the season. He hit 20 of those homers from April through June (which is the period that they look at to determine All Star Game rosters), but both his power and overall batting numbers took a steep decline from that point onward. As I’ve complained about repeatedly, he’d find ways to get ahead in the count, then he’d take a nice, juicy meatball right down the middle rather than depositing it into outer space. From there, he’d either work that walk I mentioned earlier, or he’d feebly swing and usually strike out.

The thing is, there’s no joy in writing this. I’m not happy he’s gone, like I usually am for so many underperforming former Mariners. Vogey was an incredibly likable guy, all things considered. There’s a reason everyone keeps comparing him to Chris Farley; he just seems like such a fun teddy bear/party animal! HE NEVER STRAPPED HIS BATTING GLOVES IN; HE JUST LET THE FLAPS HANG OPEN! He always seemed like he was having a great time, and by all accounts he was a terrific teammate and clubhouse presence. You couldn’t help but root for the guy, because the potential for greatness was always there, but also because you just wanted to see Vogey do well and continue to be happy! Also, not for nothing, but as a bigger guy myself, I can’t help but want to see other big dudes succeed at such an insane level as the Major Leagues.

But, also, by some accounts he wasn’t necessarily the most dedicated to his health or his craft. It sounds like, at some point, he got so good at hitting that he sort of cruised by on what he did well, and never really worked to keep improving. And, it’s like the manager said, if your one thing is hitting, and you’re consistently NOT hitting, then at some point the team needs to make a move.

Someone, I think, on Twitter mentioned something about Vogey playing in Japan or Korea; I think that’s PERFECT for him! I think he would excel SPECTACULARLY overseas! Do you know how many slug-first former MLBers go over there and jack dozens of homers every year, to universal acclaim?! He would be a freaking SUPERSTAR over there! While it’s not outside the realm of possibility for him to get his career back on track here in the States, I think that really is the best option; he’d get to do what he loves, he’d probably be great at it, he’d have thousands (or maybe even millions if he’s good enough) of adoring fans, he’d make a good living, and he’d get to go back to being Vogey again (without all the pressure of trying to be a cornerstone to a rebuilding franchise).

Anyway, I’m rooting for him. Consider me a Vogey fan for life. And, of course, there’s always the outside chance that the team re-signs him to a minor league deal (assuming he clears waivers), but either way this still feels like the end in many respects.

The Mariners Were Swept In The First Half Of The Home & Home Series With The Dodgers

Ways to lose: the M’s have found a few.

I just wrote, on Monday, about how with teams like these Mariners, sometimes the offense will be great & the pitching will be bad, and sometimes the offense will go in the tank when the pitching is good. Then, as if I conjured it out of thin air, it came to be over the last two games.

How does a Monday evening slugfest sound to you? Justin Dunn had another hard go of it, managing to make it only two innings while giving up six runs. In his defense, Corey Seager tried to break all of his ribs with a line drive in the second at-bat of the game, and after that apparently Dunn couldn’t throw his slider (I’m assuming his best pitch?) without pain.

Miraculously, the bats picked him up, and for a while there had the Mariners in line for a potential victory! Moore, Lewis, Seager, Nola, and White all had multiple hits; one of those hits (apiece) were home runs for Lewis and Seager, and both of those hits were home runs for White (who, again, is putting up more quality at-bats of late). The Mariners were down 6-2 after two innings, but held an 8-6 lead going into the bottom of the seventh.

Then, in walked Matt Magill – one of the few bullpen arms whose praises I’ve sung in this space – who had yet to give up a run all season. He got two outs in this one, but five runs came across to break his scoreless streak. We got one more run in the eighth, but it wasn’t to be, as the Dodgers held on 11-9.

Out of sight, out of mind, though! Yesterday was a new day! Our ace, Marco Gonzales, was on the hill, and he was truly pitching like an ace this time around. In 100-degree Los Angeles heat, he went 7 innings (throwing 102 pitches), giving up 1 run on 5 hits and 0 walks, while tying his career high with 9 strikeouts! Simply and truly remarkable, with just a teeny, tiny hiccup of a jam in the sixth that he was able to pitch his way out of. He also, not for nothing, got some defensive help in this one, with a superb sprinting catch in the outfield by Kyle Lewis – leaping up and catching the ball as it would’ve hit the top of the wall for at least a double – as well as an exciting double play started by J.P. Crawford – who gobbled up a ground ball in the shift, tagged the runner trying to go to second, then rocketed a throw to first to end the inning. Again – and thankfully – some of the high-end kids continue to impress, giving me hope for the future of this organization.

But, the Mariners didn’t score until the top of the seventh, and even then only managed a single run. It didn’t feel like – when I watched this one almost all the way through – there were too many chances for the M’s to score, but it turns out there were plenty, as we went 0/7 with runners in scoring position. In that seventh, Austin Nola was up with runners on second and third and nobody out, and the ump rung him up on just an AWFUL called third strike, which really felt like a back-breaker. I would love to visit the universe where this game happened and his at-bat was handled properly (preferably by Robot Umps, of course), because I feel like he at least had a single in him – if not a walk to load the bases and put even more pressure on the Dodgers’ bullpen – but what can you do? Tim Lopes grounded out into a fielder’s choice RBI, but that was all she wrote.

In a 1-1 tie heading into the eighth inning, Scott Servais – for some reason – handed the ball to Dan Altavilla. While I agree, it’s better to give him a clean inning instead of having him come in with inherited runners, I’m wondering what he has EVER done in his career to deserve this level of trust? This is his fifth year with the Mariners; five years of Major League appearances. In all that time, he’s never been able to stick for a full season, often being sent down to the minors to continue working on his mechanics, or dealing with injuries. I can’t fault him for getting hurt, but in spite of a fastball that can hit 99mph, he has in no way, shape, or form managed to improve. The only reason he’s up here now, I’m sure, is because we just don’t have anyone who’s better; the rest of the bullpen is just as much of a disaster (he’s also still on a cheap, rookie deal, and I can’t imagine he has too many more option years left). So, in that sense, maybe it was just his “turn” and it doesn’t matter who Servais throws out there in the eighth inning of a tie game. But, whatever the case may be, it was frustrating to see Altavilla out there, and it was frustrating watching him gag away the game while throwing 29 pitches to get three outs. If anything, I guess I’m surprised he only gave up the one run, and we only lost 2-1.

As I feared, this brings our losing streak to seven games, with both the Dodgers and Mariners now flying up to Seattle for another two-game set here. We shot our wad with a 9-run scoring outburst, and we made as good a use as we could’ve hoped for with our ace, so breaking this streak seems outside the realm of probability in the next two days. We’re 7-18 with a -50 run differential (only the Red Sox are worse at -52). We’re still in line for the third overall draft pick (with the Red Sox taking over the top spot and the Pirates falling to second; though based on winning percentage you’d want to flip those two teams).

In more lighthearted news, ESPN just rated the Mariners as the third-most cursed franchise in the Major Leagues. Even that, somehow, feels like an insult; how are we not number one?! The only team to have never been to a World Series feels about as cursed as you can get. With only four post-season appearances in our history – dating back to 1977 – I dunno. It’s more than just the 2001 team winning 116 games and losing in the ALCS, I can tell you that. A franchise that had Griffey, Edgar, Randy, and A-Rod (four surefire Hall of Famers, if A-Rod wasn’t a steroid user who spent the bulk of his playing career being totally and completely unlikable to fans, players, and media alike) managed to do nothing. That same franchise who would go on to have Ichiro, Felix, Beltre, Cano, and Cruz likewise … nada. There have been lots of great players who’ve come through this moribund franchise over the years. If that’s not the makings of an all-time curse … I dunno, give it another decade, I’m sure ESPN will come around.

There’s Absolutely Nothing Else To Do, So Let’s Look At The Mariners’ Roster (Part 1)

I would’ve normally done this weeks ago, but since we all died in early March and are now currently in a loop of the last episode of Lost, I guess I’ll get to it now.

There’s probably going to be baseball this year, right? I’m, like, 81% confident we’ll see the MLB in some form (though, for real, it would be cool if ALL the states could get on the same page with the fucking social distancing and whatnot; it’s gonna suck when certain areas see the curve flatten and re-rise again because other fucknuts around the country aren’t taking this seriously enough). So, we should probably have some sort of idea of who the Mariners are that we’ll get to watch eventually.

I’ll save the disaster that is this team’s pitching staff for the next post in this series, because I can’t even right now. The everyday players are actually – if you squint really hard while wearing your cataractiest pair of rose-colored glasses – kind of, sort of, in a way, a little bit interesting.

Here’s what we’re gonna do. I could sit here and go Position By Position with you and you’ll catch what I’m putting down and we’ll all go about our days a little bit dumber more informed probably. But, that insults your intelligence and, quite frankly, is something I’d be doing if I didn’t have all the damn free time in the world because everything has shut down. So, instead, we’ll group everyone on the Active Roster into categories: Veterans, Placeholders, One-More-Chance Guys, Quad-A Players, and Legitimate Prospects. This should give us all a pretty good idea of where things stand in the Mariners’ rebuild, and it’ll be cool to look back on later and see how wrong I was!

Veterans

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Dee Gordon (2B)
  • Carlos Gonzalez (OF)

These are the least-interesting guys on the team, because none of them figure to be around for the Next Great Mariners Squad (though, to be fair, if we’re being realistic here those hypothetical guys probably haven’t even been BORN yet … is how long it will be … because they’re such a poorly-run, inept organization … you get it). So, let’s get these guys out of the way really quick.

Seager is still under contract through 2021, with an option for 2022 (though I can’t envision a scenario where he’s here for that long; hell, at the first sign of competence I have to imagine the team will look to trade him to a needy contender). He actually had a nice, bounce-back year in 2019 – even though his batting average continues to suffer at the hands of the dreaded Infield Shift – as the second-most valuable position player behind Tom Murphy in an injury-shortened season. He almost certainly won’t ever set foot in the playoffs in a Mariners uniform though, so let’s move on.

Dee Gordon is signed through this season, with an option for 2021 that vests with 600 plate appearances. Considering all that’s going on, it’s a virtual lock he won’t see that happen, which is to all of our great relief. Look, Dee’s a fun guy. He’s super fast, he can be flashy with the glove, and he’s streaky as hell (which means SOMETIMES he gets on fire and looks like one of the best leadoff hitters of all time); but usually he’s just mediocre and overpaid. So, you know, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have … Dee Gordon.

CarGo isn’t even (I don’t think) on the Active Roster at the moment. He was more Haniger insurance than anything, I think. Is anyone hurt more by this COVID-19 than CarGo? The way things are shaking out, Haniger might actually make a full recovery from his surgery in time to start the season! I mean, yeah, people have died and whatnot, but a 34-year old over-the-hill outfielder might’ve just missed out on his last chance at Major League glory mediocrity!

Placeholders

  • Tom Murphy (C)
  • Austin Nola (C/1B)
  • Dylan Moore (OF/INF)
  • Tim Lopes (OF/INF)

Controversy, right out of the box! Murphy’s only 29-years old, so it’s not inconceivable that he cements himself as the Everyday Starting Catcher for the next however many years. But, come on. Let’s get serious here, huh? Can we get serious?! Cal Raleigh is the consensus Catcher Of The Future in this organization! We just need Murphy to buy us a couple more years – maybe mentor the future stud a little bit – and then step away gracefully (ideally, when his Arbitration years expire, so some other team can sign him to a needlessly-expensive deal).

I’ll be honest, I hardly know who Austin Nola is. I know he came up last year and was remarkably efficient in his limited playing time, but if you threw him in a lineup with five other honkies, there’s no way I’d be able to find him (and I’m LITERALLY looking at his thumbnail photo right now!). I know he played a lot of first base, and I think maybe some outfield? Yet, all of a sudden he’s the 2020 Mariners’ backup catcher. Bold Strategy Cotton and all that. Maybe he sticks with the Mariners as some futuristic Super Sub, but I have my doubts.

Dylan Moore and Tim Lopes are CURRENTLY Quad-A guys, but they’ve sort of established themselves as bench guys around the infield and outfield, so I’m putting them in this spot because these guys are dimes-a-dozen. You know how when you play Yahtzee and you always get the Full House every single game without really trying? Because let’s say you’re going for 3’s and on your second or third roll you just luck into the Full House for an easy 25 points? That’s what Moore and Lopes are; they’re a Yahtzee Full House, the easiest thing to find in all of board games.

One-More-Chance Guys

  • Daniel Vogelbach (DH/1B)
  • Mallex Smith (CF)
  • Mitch Haniger (RF)

Also known as: The Vogey Special. Daniel Vogelbach is living a pretty charmed life. He got here at just the right time. We traded for him in 2016, he got to mash his way through the minors, and just as everything was falling apart in the Major League clubhouse, he was promoted to help fill the void of power at the plate. With Nelson Cruz no longer blocking him at designated hitter, Vogey got his fill in 2019. While he started off pretty hot, he cooled off significantly in the back-half of the season. Now 27-years old, with no discernable value defensively, this is really his last shot to make it with the Mariners. We know he can hit 30 homers; he did just that last year. Now, we need either more consistency, or another 10-15 homers on top of that to justify his worth. Seems unlikely.

Mallex Smith kind of had the opposite-type of year in 2019 as Vogey; he started off TERRIBLY after coming over in a trade from the Rays. So bad, in fact, that we had to send him down to Tacoma to work on … everything. His bat stunk, his defense stunk (somehow, even though he’s ostensibly a centerfielder), his confidence plummeted, he was over-thinking everything. It was an absolute unmitigated disaster. When he came back up, though, he was able to turn it around somewhat (though, the damage had largely been done). His 2018 season saw him as a potential leadoff hitter for the next decade; now he’s languishing at the bottom of the order and is hanging onto this organization by a thread. A 2020 like his 2019 will see him elsewhere in 2021.

Oh, I WENT THERE! You like Mitch Haniger, I like Mitch Haniger, the Mariners OBVIOUSLY like Mitch Haniger (after all, when we were shipping off everything of value that wasn’t nailed down before last season, the M’s opted to hang onto him as the centerpiece to the big rebuild), but his injury issues that cost him most of last year (continuing, infuriatingly, into this year somehow) are starting to snowball into something much more sinister than we ever could’ve imagined. Look, he had a pretty great 2018 season, but that’s just one year! He has in no way established himself as a superstar or even an everyday player at this point! Injuries were part of his background before he even got here, so it’s not like we can say this is a fluke; he might be the next Franklin Gutierrez for all we know. I’m not saying the Mariners will necessarily cut bait if he doesn’t prove himself in 2020, but some of those trade rumors are starting to look more and more plausible with him. If the younger outfield prospects have big years, Haniger might find himself pushed aside for a flashier crop of dudes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Quad-A Players

  • Shed Long (INF/OF)
  • Jake Fraley (OF)

These guys are going to get every opportunity to shine in 2020 – as should be the case, because what else do the Mariners have to lose at this point – but the bottom line is: I don’t believe either of these guys are bona fide Major League talents. Shed Long looks like he could be a decent utility player in the future. He can play all around the infield and corner outfield spots, he’s got an impressive amount of pop in his bat for a guy of his size; but I just don’t think he’s a starter.

As for Fraley, I don’t think he’s even a Major Leaguer period! He strikes me as a guy who will make most of his living in AAA, with brief appearances in the Major Leagues as a replacement bench guy for injured outfielders. Moving on.

Legitimate Prospects

  • Evan White (1B)
  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Kyle Lewis (OF)

Obviously, there are more legitimate prospects in the minor leagues, but this isn’t a post about them. We all know who they are and what they mean to the future of this organization. I’m more interested in the guys who are on the Mariners RIGHT NOW.

Evan White is one of the bigger names we have to look forward to. He was a first round draft pick in 2017, and they just signed him to a 6-year deal with three more option years. He’s the First Baseman Of The Future, and the Future Is Now Motherfuckers! So, he goes into this category because he HAS to go here. The Mariners NEED him to be a cornerstone, otherwise all hope will continue being lost.

I’m really on the fence with J.P. Crawford. Gun to my head: I don’t think he’ll ever be great. But, he’s obviously not a Quad-A guy, and he’ll obviously be given more than just this year to prove himself as a starter. I think he’ll be fine. If we’re lucky, he’ll have a career like Carlos Guillen or something (though, hopefully his best years will be here and not in Detroit). If we’re unlucky, he’ll turn into Brad Miller and we’ll curse the day we ever became Mariners fans in the first place (damn you 1995!).

I am drinking all the Kyle Lewis Kool Aid you’ve got! I freaking LOVE this kid! He’s had such a hard road after being this team’s #1 draft pick in 2016, starting with tearing his ACL a few weeks later as a rookie. From there, after all the rehab, he struggled to find his game again, until finally putting it all together last season. When he got his cup of coffee with the Mariners in September, he made the absolute most of his 18 games, hitting 6 homers and 5 doubles. I hope he crushes it this year and never looks back, because he’s got real All Star potential if he can put it all together.

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?

The 2019 Mariners Have Even Bigger Ewing Theory Potential Than The 2001 Mariners

All credit to Bill Simmons, let’s go back JUST a bit, to 2001.

To put it in context, we all remember that crazy-wonderful 1995 team that saved baseball in Seattle. In 1996, behind a number of questionable dealings, and one glaring Randy Johnson-sized hole in our rotation, we fell back to Earth a little bit. But, the original core put it all together for a quasi-memorable playoff run that ended in the ALDS. That team was absolutely LOADED, with one of the all-time best power offenses in MLB history (264 homers, 925 runs scored, tops in the league in slugging & OPS), to go along with a healthy Big Unit, a rock-solid complement of starters featuring Jamie Moyer & Jeff Fassero, and a zoo of a bullpen that eventually coalesced into something halfway passable (though it cost us an arm & a leg in deadline deals to make it happen).

If you want to talk about one of the most underrated Seattle sports What Could’ve Been’s, the 1997 Mariners are right at the top. I mean, how does a team with Griffey, Edgar, A-Rod, and Buhner (all at the absolute PEAK of their powers) lose to the Baltimore Orioles in 4 games in the ALDS with Randy Johnson losing TWICE? It’s absolutely unfathomable. You’re telling me that team couldn’t have taken out the Indians and the Marlins for a World Series title? Get real!

Anyway, halfway through the 1998 season, the M’s traded Randy (as opposed to extending him; he would go on to win 4 Cy Young Awards and a World Series title in Arizona) while we slogged through a losing season. Then, after another slog through 1999, Griffey demanded a trade. We somehow managed to parlay that into a 2000 Wild Card finish and an ALCS appearance. Following that, A-Rod walked to the Rangers with a then-record $252 million contract, and in 2001 we somehow managed to parlay it into a tie for the most wins in a season in MLB history.

I now refer you back to that Bill Simmons article, which was actually written in the early stages of that 2001 season. Sometimes, freaky shit like this happens! The Mariners dropped three of their most talented players of all time – in the primes of their respective careers – and somehow improved. What the shit is that?!?

Fast forward to 2019. The Mariners just rid themselves of – or are otherwise playing without – the following guys:

  • Robinson Cano
  • Nelson Cruz
  • Edwin Diaz
  • Kyle Seager
  • Jean Segura
  • James Paxton
  • Alex Colome

Those are just the BEST guys, or ostensibly the guys who are supposed to be the best. That doesn’t even factor other bullpen arms, Mike Zunino, various other Quad-A outfielders, and so on and so forth. But those 7 guys up there are pretty huge. And yet, the 2019 Mariners are now 10-2 and absolutely DESTROYING everyone in their path!

Now, as it relates to this team’s 2001 Ewing Theory status, at least that team was coming off of a playoff appearance. THIS team is coming off of zero playoff appearances in 18 years!

Of course, the question is: How long can this continue? As I’ve written about ad nauseam so far, it’s only a matter of time. But, then again, who knows?

What we do know is that this offense is raking through 11 games, having hit 5 more homers last night en route to another lopsided victory. +37 in run differential is now the best in all of baseball, and from what we heard all last year, that’s the most important indicator of a team’s success, right?

So, maybe instead I should be asking: How long can this offense keep it up?

I don’t have a good answer for you there, but I hope it’s forever. If they are indeed the Best Offense In Baseball, then I think we’ll have to shift expectations for where this team can end up. Either way, at this point I’m glad I didn’t bet on the over/under for season wins, because I’m pretty sure I would’ve taken UNDER 74.5, and I’d be looking like an idiot right now.

Comparing The Mariners Lineups From 2018 To 2019

Grains of salt, I’ve taken a few: obviously it’s mid-January, and Jerry Dipoto is a wildman when it comes to wheeling and dealing. So, this could look VERY different when Pitchers & Catchers Report, as it could look VERY different come April when the regular season gets going in earnest. But, it’s getting to be gambling season, and my friends have commissioned me to start looking at this team for the purposes of futures bets; namely: over/under 74.5 wins.

My hunch is, we’re pretty close to looking at the everyday lineup. Sure, some high-salary oldies could be sent packing, but I’ll speculate on that with each guy. For what it’s worth, I’m not going to talk about every single dude who played at each position in 2018; I’m going to stick to the big names, the guys who played the lion’s share of games. Without further ado:

Catcher

2018 – Mike Zunino, 2019 – Omar Narvaez

This is one of those changes I’m most interested in seeing how it plays out in the early going, because these guys could hardly be more different. Zunino was excellent in all facets of defense at the position; Narvaez appears to be among the very worst. Zunino had a ton of power, not only launching balls among the farthest in the league, but also with the volume of balls leaving the park the last couple seasons. Narvaez appears to have very little power, and will be fortunate – with his increased workload – to hit double-digit dingers. On the flipside, Zunino’s batting average and on-base percentage were absolute trash, and the primary source of this entire fanbase’s angst. Narvaez, conversely, hits for a very nice average, with a tremendous on-base percentage, and doesn’t strike out NEARLY as often. So, you know, pick your poison, I guess. What means more to the overall success of the team?

My hunch is that it’ll be a wash. I can already tell you that we’re going to be inundated with countless articles and blog posts about how Zunino’s overall package is worth more than Narvaez’s, but I honestly don’t understand all the defensive metrics and I feel like much more weight is put on them than is actually the case. I will say this: if defense is ever going to mean more, it’s at the catcher spot, with all the different ways they control the game.

First Base

2018 – Ryon Healy/Dan Vogelbach, 2019 – Same

Putting Vogey in here seems like a bit of a stretch; he hardly played in the Bigs in 2018 and he might not play much at all in 2019 either. Nevertheless, it’s now or never for the kid, so this is his last and best shot with the Mariners.

As for Healy, I’m pretty confident we know what we’ve got in him: a placeholder for Evan White. He’s a high power guy (25 and 24 homers the last two years) whose average and on-base percentage took a big hit as he went from Oakland to Seattle between 2017 and 2018. He strikes out a ton (though he scaled that back just a tad last year), and brings solid first base defense (for what that’s worth). Considering where all the power went on this team between 2018 and 2019, Healy could be a difference-maker for this squad. If his power becomes drained, that’s a black hole this team can ill-afford. If he steps up and returns his average to the .270 range, we could be talking about a nice player on an underwhelming team.

I do think one or both of these guys could still be traded, but the value isn’t very high, so I wouldn’t bank on it.

Second Base

2018 – Robinson Cano/Dee Gordon, 2019 – Dee Gordon

Losing Cano obviously hurts in the short term (this is a post about the 2019 season, so I won’t get into the benefits of dumping his salary and remaining contract years). He only had 10 homers and 22 doubles last year, but remember he missed half the season. Prior to that, with the Mariners, Cano had been a force in all facets of the game. His power numbers were much better than we expected, his slash line was as expected, and his defense was silky smooth as always.

Gordon, on the other hand, was brought in here to convert to outfield in an experiment that was working just fine until the Cano suspension. Of course, at that time, we thanked our lucky stars we still had an All Star second baseman on the roster, so it was a no-brainer to move him back to the infield. But, his bat went in the tank thereafter, finishing the season with a slash line of .268/.288/.349. He stole 30 bases – which was exactly half of what he did in 2017 – and while his defense was pretty stellar, it was clear he wasn’t the leadoff hitter we were hoping for. The guy just won’t take a walk. He hardly even takes a single PITCH! Gordon is the kind of guy who needs to hit over .300 to be of any value to your team, because otherwise he doesn’t find enough ways to get on base and use that speed to his advantage; he’s never had any power to speak of, and really doesn’t leg out enough doubles to be of any use.

Gordon is a clear downgrade at the spot for 2019. I thought the Mariners would’ve traded him by now, but his value appears to be too low to get anything back. He might be someone to look at dealing at the deadline, assuming another team has a need at the position. Any way you slice it, this is a guy who was brought in to bat #1 in the lineup, who will spend more time batting #9.

Third Base

2018 – Kyle Seager, 2019 – Same

Seager has been a steady presence for the Mariners since his rookie call-up in 2011. Last year was an all-time low across the board. His defense was actually something to laud early in the 2018 season, but it eroded as did his confidence. He’s a guy who’s always tinkering with his stance and approach, but the bottom line is as the use of shifts has gone up, so have his numbers gone down.

I don’t really see a fix for this, outside of the MLB commissioner totally outlawing shifts, which almost certainly won’t happen this year. Either he figures out how to hit the other way (seems very unlikely), he devotes his entire game to lifting the ball and hitting dingers (he might as well, since his strikeout numbers were also at an all-time high in 2018), or he just gets lucky with BABIP (which also doesn’t seem likely, as you’d think the shift is designed to cut that way down). Bottom line: he better develop a change in his swing that induces MANY more fly balls, or he’s toast.

I do think he’ll be on the trading block at some point this season, but moving him won’t be easy, as his value is at its all-time lowest.

Short Stop

2018 – Jean Segura, 2019 – J.P. Crawford/Tim Beckham

Here is your very biggest downgrade on the entire team, and it’s not even close. Jean Segura was a .300 hitter, with moderate home run power, very good doubles numbers, low strikeouts, and excellent on-base numbers. Combined with his defense, which was fine, and you’re talking about an All Star short stop.

Crawford is a young-ish, highly-touted prospect who is verging on Bust territory. Beckham is slightly less young-ish, highly-touted prospect who is already in that Bust territory. I don’t think either of these guys are remarkably better defensively than Segura (if they’re better at all, which remains to be seen), and their bats outright stink. This is going to be a black hole for the entire 2019 season, outside of probably a few (and far between) hot streaks.

Centerfield

2018 – Dee Gordon/Guillermo Heredia/Others, 2019 – Mallex Smith

I’ve already talked about Gordon. Heredia brought better defense, but otherwise very little to the table battingwise. He was a Quad-A player at best who got way too long of a look at Ben Gamel’s expense.

Mallex Smith broke out in 2018 and appears to be a fun-looking young player going forward. His defense is great, he hits for a high average, and unlike Dee, he CAN take a walk. He can take many of them! There’s no power there, but he stole 40 bases last year, and actually parlayed his speed into 27 doubles. With Gordon as the #9 hitter, and Smith as the #1 hitter, if we can ever get these guys on the bases at the same time, we should likely see some runs scored. Smith is a prototypical leadoff hitter and should be a huge upgrade at this spot in the lineup.

Right Field

2018 – Mitch Haniger, 2019 – Same

He’s got all the tools and is a cornerstone piece for this organization for many years to come (unless, of course, some needy franchise gives us a Godfather deal for an insane return of high-level prospects). The only question is, will he be the same now that he’s far and away the best player on the team? Last year, he had Cruz, Cano, and even Seager to hide behind. We could bat him second, taking advantage of those heavier hitters behind him, or we could move him down to 6th in the lineup to hide him a little bit. But, you figure with Cano and Cruz gone, he’s likely going to be slotted right in the sweet spot of #3 or #4. Will the added pressure get to him? He hasn’t been so great in those spots to this point in his career, albeit in very few ABs.

Left Field

2018 – Denard Span/Ben Gamel/Guillermo Heredia, 2019 – Jay Bruce/Domingo Santana

Heredia, I talked about. Gamel was an okay defender, with excellent batting numbers, though a complete dearth of power. Span was old, with waning defensive skills, but brought everything you could ever want to the plate with him. Just about every time was a professional at bat and a God damned delight! Shades of grandfather Seth Smith.

In Jay Bruce, you hope to see more of the same as with Span. He’ll be 32 years old this year, and his average took a big hit in 2018 (after being pretty respectable to that point in his career), but he comes with more power than anyone we had in 2018. He also gets on base quite a bit, so you could see him as this team’s #2 hitter.

In Domingo Santana, we actually have someone much more interesting. He’s coming off of a rough, injury-plagued 2018, but in 2017, he was absolutely fantastic. High average, good on-base numbers, and 30 homers to go with 29 doubles. If he returns to that player, opposite Mitch Haniger, with Mallex Smith in the middle helping cover extra ground, we could be talking about a dynamite outfield the likes of which we haven’t seen around here in a LONG time.

But, that’s a pretty big IF. The good thing, we have both of these guys, so you’d think ONE of them would pan out. At this point, we have no idea how the timeshare is going to work, as I would assume it’ll be based on merit. But, I have to imagine Santana will get a pretty significant look, as he figures to be part of this team’s future. If he stinks, and Bruce is washed up, then what might’ve been an improvement could very well be a downgrade compared to 2018. If nothing else, you’d think we’d at least see improved power numbers out of this spot. As for everything else, who knows?

Designated Hitter

2018 – Nelson Cruz, 2019 – Edwin Encarnacion

This feels like a pretty significant downgrade on first look, but that could be my absolute love of Nellie clouding my judgment. In reality, while he still hit a whopping 37 homers in 2018, his average took a big hit, ending up at .256. Which, incidentally, is in line with where Encarnacion has been for much of his career. Encarnacion has 30+ homers in his last seven years, so assuming Cruz’s average doesn’t snap back into the .270-.290 range, this could be pretty close to even compared to where the Mariners were in 2018.

Of course, Encarnacion is probably the MOST likely of these guys to be moved before the season starts, at which point you’re looking at a lot more Jay Bruce, a lot more Vogelbach, or a lot more some guy off the scrap heap (in which case, it’s a big minus).

Conclusion

In 2018, based on run differential, the Mariners should’ve been a 77-win team. Obviously, a crazy-unsustainable amount of good luck in the pitching department (specifically the bullpen department) led to the 2018 Mariners actually winning 89 games. Considering most of those bullpen guys are gone, to be replaced by clear downgrades across the board (saying nothing of the starting rotation), you’d have to think at the very least the Mariners will play closer to their run differential expectations.

Which takes us to the hitters. I don’t think the Mariners were particularly lucky OR unlucky in 2018 when it comes to hitting. I think what you saw was what you got. Assuming that proves the same again (and we don’t see a bunch of flukey walk-off homers, or insane cluster-luck), will this group of position players bring the win total up or down compared to 2018?

I have catcher, first base, third base, right field as a wash. I also see DH as a wash, assuming Encarnacion lasts the entire season in a Mariners uniform.

I see very significant downgrades at second base and short stop, from a hitting perspective (defense is likely a wash) which will ensure that this team doesn’t win 80 games.

I see upgrades at center and left fields, though left is the biggest wild card. It could be a HUGE upgrade, or a wash, with a chance of even being a detriment. Center is almost assured to be an improvement, as we’ll be getting improved defense and improved on-base numbers (with all else being the same).

So, what does this mean for the over/under of 74.5? Well, there’s room for improvement at third base and left field. I find it unlikely that Seager will be able to do enough to return to his former glory, which means we’re putting A LOT of hope on that young left fielder panning out and turning into a star (to replace one of the THREE stars we sent away).

There’s also a good chance Haniger regresses some, that the older guys are finished, that the catcher defense reduces the effectiveness of our pitchers, and that the overall power numbers from this offense goes totally and completely in the tank. At which point, will there be enough walks, singles, and doubles to score enough runs to win any games? With THIS pitching staff?

While I have yet to really focus on the pitchers yet, let’s say winning over 74.5 games doesn’t look great.