The Mariners Have Managed To Hold Onto First Place In Spite Of Their Offensive Incompetence

Is the incompetence offensive? Or is the offense incompetent? Why not both?!

The 10-day/10-game road trip that just concluded wasn’t as mortifying as it could’ve been. There was a nice late-game scramble in Baltimore to take one of those three games; we managed to score 4 runs off the hottest closer in the game to help us split the 4-game series against the Yankees; and, while winning 1 of 3 against the Nationals isn’t ideal, it limited the damage to only a 4-6 road trip, when it very easily could’ve been 2-8 or worse.

Knowing how close it had been atop the A.L. West for most of this season, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Mariners somehow comfortably ahead of the rest. I was even more shocked to see that the Mariners are the only team in the division with a winning record as of this writing. We are 3 games over .500, and 3.5 games ahead of second place Texas (who are 4 games under .500). The Astros (who we’re playing now, back in Seattle) are 6 games under, the A’s are 11 games under, and the Angels are a whopping 13 games under .500.

It’s always something with the Mariners. It seems like every single year, we can say, “If only X, Y, and Z were to happen, this team would contend for a World Series.” A buddy of mine and I were talking about this very subject yesterday. If the Mariners ever figure out how to score more runs, they’re going all the way! He had mentioned previously that the 2018 Mariners – the last decent group, with Cruz, Seager, Cano, etc. – if they had only had more pitching, would’ve been serious contenders.

This MIGHT end up being the most extreme case we’ve ever seen, though. The starting pitching is SO good, and the bullpen has been its usual brand of effective (and occasionally excellent), that it feels like if the Mariners ever score 5 runs, they should be undefeated. That if we can average an extra half-run per game the rest of the year, we WILL go all the way.

Through 55 games, the Mariners are averaging 3.73 runs per game. If you were to bump that up to just 4 and a quarter, that’s an extra 28-29 runs. Are you telling me – with an extra 28-29 runs – we wouldn’t have an extra 6-7 wins? Come on. We’d be one of the best teams in baseball! If you bump us up to 234 runs (as opposed to our actual 205 runs), there would still be 15 teams ahead of us in the MLB. 234 is EXTREMELY middle-of-the-road. 205 is 4th-worst. So, it’s not like I’m asking a lot. I’m not asking for the moon and the stars here. I’m asking for an extra half-run per game, to turn us into one of the best teams in the game.

Now, the question, obviously, is: how do we get there?

It’s a valiant effort by this team to hang around .500 and luck into the division lead as we head into June, but a lot of that has been predicated on the Astros and Rangers either dealing with an inordinate amount of injuries or just playing well below their means. You can argue the Mariners have also had injuries (Brash, Santos, Woo, Crawford, Canzone, now Polanco), and have also played below their means (Julio, Polanco, Garver, Haniger). But, I would argue our ceiling isn’t nearly as high as the two Texas teams, and they’re coming. They’re GOING to get hot and start making a charge; it’s only a matter of when, not if.

So, how do we fend them off? Or, at the very least, put ourselves in a position to steal this division when it’s all said and done?

How do we get to that extra half-run per game?

I really want to say there’s enough on this roster as it’s currently constructed. I want to believe that Julio has started to turn things around as soon as I badmouthed him on the blog (as was my intent, naturally). I want J.P. to rebound, I want Garver to start mashing, I want Ty France to salvage his career, I want Haniger to look a little more like he did 6 years ago, and a lot less like he’s looked the last two seasons. I want the Polanco that was advertised to us when we traded for him, and I want our pleasant surprises (Raley, Moore, Rojas) to continue being productive Major Leaguers.

But, that might be asking too much. Haniger is probably toast. Polanco and Garver clearly haven’t adjusted to life in Seattle. Rojas has already started to come down to Earth after that supernova start to the season, and I don’t think Raley or Moore are far behind. Those guys are fine, but expecting more from them than what they are is a bridge too far. I do see better days for J.P. And, obviously, Julio will have his good times. But, it sure feels like Ty is on borrowed time, and is probably one extended slump away from getting the boot (or, at least, getting benched in favor of Tyler Locklear, who was recently promoted to AAA Tacoma).

That leads me to believe there’s an outside move or two coming. But, will that be enough?

I was going to do a post about how I don’t want the Mariners to go after seasoned veterans anymore. Too many of them get here, get it into their heads that they can’t hit here (if they didn’t already arrive with those preconceived notions), and it becomes one long self-fulfilling prophecy until they get shit-canned or sold for scrap parts. The problem with that concept for a blog post is, there are too many players I’d have to exclude. I mean, obviously, you have to take out Nelson Cruz: Greatest Mariners Free Agent Of All Time. You have to forget about the first Eugenio Suarez season. You at least have to ignore the occasional clutch success of Carlos Santana in big moments, and the semi-competence of Teoscar Hernandez (particularly when he was super hot last August, only to be overshadowed by Julio, who was a man possessed).

But, I would write that post because of guys like Garver and Polanco and Jesse Winker and Kolton Wong and A.J. Pollock and Adam Frazier. What do they have in common? They’re all established, veteran Major Leaguers. They were all very productive immediately before arriving in Seattle. And, they all sucked. They probably shouldn’t have. If they had signed with another team, maybe one that didn’t have as much pressure to win (and win close), or maybe with a team that had a friendlier hitting environment, maybe they would’ve been success stories with those respective teams. Guys like Frazier and Winker HAVE, in fact, gone on to other teams, with moderate success. One would suspect that Garver and/or Polanco – when they move on next year – will have a much easier time turning their fortunes around.

On the flipside, maybe the Mariners are smarter to buy low on younger, hungrier Quad-A type players, like Canzone and Raley and Rojas. Maybe it’s better to continue bringing up guys from within, like Clase and Bliss. Oh sure, a lot of them will fail and move on. But, if you can get one or two to hit, that’s invaluable! Because they’re cheap, and they will have done it here. They won’t be coming from some other organization and have to try to adapt.

Or, we can just admit that every team has moves that flop, involving both young guys and veterans alike, and it’s all one big, shitty crapshoot. That’s kind of where I’m at with all of this, and why I didn’t bother writing that post (you didn’t see nothin’ here; these aren’t the droids you’re looking for).

Some interesting numbers to look at: we’re 10-4 in one-run games, which I heard is best in baseball. That’s going to HAVE to happen if this thing is going to continue. We finished April 15-11 (we were 2-2 in March), which I don’t think anyone saw coming after the way we started. And we’re actually a game under .500 in May (it certainly felt like we were doing better than that, but again, that last road trip was certainly a killer). We’re 7-7 in blowouts, we’re 6 games over .500 at home, and 3 games under .500 on the road. Most importantly, we have a winning record in our division (7-3 against Houston, Texas, and Oakland; we’ve yet to play the Angels).

Keep it up! We eked one out against the Astros last night, gotta find a way to win at least one of the next two.

Can The Mariners Contend For Shohei Ohtani?

The All Star Break happened this past week. Seattle hosted, there were lots of events all around town, and I wasn’t there. I don’t feel bad about that, because – for instance – tickets to the All Star Game and the Home Run Derby were insanely expensive. The thing last weekend sounded kinda cool, where there was the Futures Game and the Celebrity Softball Game all for one ticket. But, then you’ve got all the driving it takes to get there, finding parking, all the walking, being around all the people, and God forbid if you’re sitting in a section drenched with sun, but it’s not super fun to be roasting during a hot summer day, even in Seattle.

Quite frankly, I had other plans last weekend that were far more enjoyable. And I’ve got other things to spend my money on that take priority. So, even though this might be the last chance for me to attend any sort of All Star festival in my hometown (it took 22 years to get back here; I’ll be an old man probably the next time they come again), I don’t feel bad about missing out. Maybe if I was 10-15 years younger, with more disposable income, I would’ve been all over it. But, whatevs.

I also just didn’t have a ton of interest. I missed even watching the Home Run Derby on TV because I wanted to see the movie Past Lives in a theater. I watched a good chunk of the All Star Game, but that was because I was visiting my dad, and even then I couldn’t be bothered to stay the full nine innings. I blame a lot of my lack of interest on the Mariners being super mediocre (and therefore super disappointing, considering pre-season expectations). Whenever the Mariners are super mediocre, I use the All Star Break to unwind, and detach from all things baseball. That was more or less my status this week.

But, being on Twitter and whatnot, you can’t help but hear about interesting things. Like the Shohei Ohtani experience. The fans chanting, “Come To Seattle!” Him talking at the press conference about how he spends some offseason time in the Seattle area (apparently going to Driveline for some hitting instruction/analysis in Kent), and how much he likes the area. We already know that the Mariners were one of the final teams in on him when he originally came to MLB from Japan. And we already know that he’s going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

So, what are the odds that the Mariners are able to sign him?

I gotta say, first and foremost, I can’t remember the last time I was this invested in a free agent. There are, I’m sure, free agents in every sport, every year, that I would really want for my teams. But, maybe the financials don’t line up, maybe they’d be blocked by a player I like who’s already on the team, or maybe they just have no interest in signing in Seattle, so the rumors never point to us being a possibility. But, here, you have to think the Mariners are in on it. The organization desperately wants and needs him, both for his pitching as well as his hitting. We fit a lot of the parameters of what he’s looking for in a new home. I’m sure we’d be willing to structure the contract around his wants and needs; maybe he gets a full no trade clause. Maybe he wants an opt out (or multiple opt outs) after a certain number of seasons.

I’m not saying the M’s are a lock, or that we’re even frontrunners. There are other organizations in other markets with more money to spend and a better winning pedigree that I’m sure could put us to shame. But, at the very least, the Mariners have a seat at the table, and that’s important.

That being said, I’m reluctant to get my hopes up. Granted, I’m ALWAYS reluctant to get my hopes up because I’m a firm believer in jinxes, and believing that something good might happen is a great way to ensure that something actually-terrible is going to happen.

There’s only one positive outcome, and that’s Ohtani signing with the Mariners. There are two neutral outcomes: he makes a surprise retirement, or he opts to play outside of Major League Baseball (both options are quite remote). The rest of the outcomes are all bad, with the worst being: he signs with the Rangers, Astros, or Angels (spoiler alert: the A’s have no shot, so it’s not even worth mentioning the entirety of the other teams in the A.L. West).

If I’m being honest, I think the least likely of the three would be Ohtani signing with the Astros. I don’t know that they have the money to take him on. Of course, that would be the most enraging, so I’m not ruling it out for that reason alone. I kinda think – depending on how the rest of this season shakes out – that the Rangers are a sneaky option: lots of money, a youngish team on the rise, lots of All Stars to surround yourself with, and they were reportedly one of the preferred Ohtani teams the last time he was a free agent (which were: teams on the west coast, the Rangers, and the Cubs).

I want to say the Mariners are (and should be) all in on Ohtani. There are a lot of arguments you can make that one of the big reasons why we didn’t opt to make a bigger splash in free agency last offseason was because we knew we were putting our eggs in the Ohtani basket for 2024 and beyond. Of course, they can’t come out and say that, so instead they say the reason is Julio’s contract and Castillo’s contract (both of which were signed during the previous regular season). This is sort of akin to how the Mariners went out of their way to free up international dollars the last time Ohtani was a free agent, when we were caught with our pants around our ankles thanks to the Angels signing him. At that point, we had nothing to spend that money on, and ended up trading a lot of it away, rather than make any attempt at signing any international guys.

Will that be our downfall in 2023? Will we have gone to all these lengths to save money, only to fall short once again? And how is that going to affect our roster-building strategy for 2024 if Ohtani goes elsewhere? Will we be left with scraps and have to find other ways to try and improve?

Or, am I wrong entirely, and the price tag for Ohtani will actually be too high for the Mariners?

We can’t rule that out, even though it makes all the sense in the world to sign him at whatever the cost. The money can be made back through other avenues. I know it’s looking like a $500 or $600 million deal in totality (10 years, $50-$60 million per year), which will be the most expensive contract in MLB history by a million miles, but billionaires are good at one thing: making money. They should have no problem making money off of Ohtani.

Nevertheless, the Mariners are a notoriously cheap organization. Not like Oakland or Tampa are cheap; but those franchises have stadium issues that never got squared away. The Mariners HAVE their stadium. They own a majority stake in their cable channel (Root Sports). And yet they still manage to underspend compared to the big dogs. They blame the middling media market, meanwhile they take home a tidy profit damn near every year there isn’t a worldwide pandemic.

So, I can’t say with 100% certainty that the Mariners aren’t scared off by that pricetag.

I also can’t say I would necessarily blame them, in one very specific respect: what if he gets hurt?

As a pitcher, you’re always subject to arm issues. What if he needs Tommy John or any other litany of injuries that would keep him out for a significant portion of the year? That not only eliminates one of your best pitchers, but also your best hitter, in one fell swoop. Now you’re paying $50-$60 million a year for someone on the IL, that you hope will return to form. He’ll also be 30 in July of next year. There’s a good chance he’ll never be as good as he’s been these last three seasons with the Angels. Can you afford that sort of contract when he’s pushing 40? When will he need to be transitioned away from pitching and become a full time DH? Will this be a Robinson Cano situation, where we’re shedding great players just to get out from under his contract, if we even can?

Don’t get me wrong, I still want Ohtani! Even if he’s only giving us five good years, that’s our window anyway! I want a World Series title in the next five years; we’ll worry about years 6-10 when they come.

But, I have every reason to believe he won’t sign with Seattle. There will be some other team with more money, more amenities to offer, and a better plan to win it all. What have the Mariners EVER done to show you they’re committed to going all the way? To doing whatever it takes? Sure, they make big splashes to go from bad to mediocre. But, when they get to be even a little good, the M’s pull back on the throttle. They stand pat when it comes to trades. They pinch every last penny in free agency. They never push their chips all in.

And that, more than anything, is the reason why we’ll never see Ohtani in a Mariners uniform. Either we won’t pay him what he’s worth, or he’ll see right through us and have enough sense to know that the Mariners won’t do a damn thing once he’s here. Felix Hernandez is the King; he’s also the #1 cautionary tale of an organization that let a remarkable talent be squandered by not doing enough to build around him. Felix deserved better than the Mariners. So does Ohtani.

2023 Mariners Bright Spots So Far

It can be easy to dump all over this season, for good reason. The Mariners were expected to compete for the A.L. West, or at the very least somehow make it back to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2000-2001. We’re very nearly two months into the year and the Mariners are 23-24. It’s embarrassing, it’s infuriating, and it’s starting to feel like we’re getting to the point of desperation. It’s starting to feel like this team needs to go on a massive tear just to get to where they should’ve been all along. Essentially, we’re required to bank on what happened last year – when the M’s won 14 in a row and 22 out of 25 – except the problem is, this team has thus far failed in what they’ve been so good at recently: winning in 1-run games. Sure, there have been blowouts so far that have contributed to a +27 run differential, but that just means we’re 3 games off of the pace of where we should be.

We’re 6 games out of first place. AND we have three other teams to leapfrog to get there. That’s not where you want to be, if the expectations coming into the season were to – again – compete for a division title.

On the flipside, it’s not like we’re the A’s. It’s not like we’re the White Sox. The Mariners are a team with a lot of talented players, and while there are a plethora of disappointments, there’s also a lot of bright spots that we didn’t necessarily see coming either.

My tendency is – when a team plays down to this level – to throw away the season and focus on next year. The problem with that is – unlike in years past – there’s still enough talent on this team, and it is still early enough (even though I hate that line of thinking as much as anyone), that we’re in our window right this second. I don’t WANT to focus on next year. Because, sure, while it’s interesting to imagine what this team might look like in 2024 and beyond, there are also a number of the same underperforming players who will be back as well. It’s not a matter of these bright spots continuing to make their mark; it’s a matter of everyone else playing up to the backs of their baseball cards. It’s about everyone being good at the same time and putting together a magical season. We’ve had the experience of 2022. We’ve made the playoffs, we won a series, and we played the eventual World Series champs the toughest of anyone they played in their entire post-season run last year. Now it’s time to take the next step.

But, instead of belaboring our woes, let’s look at the silver linings of 2023 through 47 games.

You have to start with Jarred Kelenic, obviously. Some people are on record – at least back in April – of saying they’d trade a slow team start for Kelenic turning into The Real Deal. I was definitely uncomfortable with that line of thinking, but I do think it’s a franchise-changer for Kelenic to not only be a solid platoon guy, but to be an All Star everyday player, against both righties and lefties. To have played himself not only into a starter role, but someone batting in the top third or top half of the lineup. It still might be too soon to take this to the bank – I mean, look at Julio’s 2022 vs. 2023 – but I also don’t think Kelenic is a flash in the pan. I think this is who he is, he’s unlocked something extra-special – something we all saw in him as a prospect since the Cano deal – and he projects going forward to be a vital piece of this team’s success. His average has dipped ever-so-slightly below .300, but the whole offensive package is exactly what you want. He’s the best player on this team this season, period. That’s extraordinary! It certainly wasn’t something I was anticipating coming in.

I’m not going to completely abandon the regulars from here on out, but let’s shift over to the pitching for awhile.

George Kirby has built on an already-phenomenal start to his career. He’s been the best pitcher on this team all season. 8 quality starts out of 9, and that one was his first start of the season, whch I’m more than happy to write off. He’s getting deep into games, he’s economical with his pitches, and he’s giving this team a chance to win every five days. The fact that we’re only 5-3 in his quality starts says more about this offense and how it’s let the team down.

Bryce Miller has obviously come from out of nowhere, to a degree. He was on everyone’s radar coming out of Spring Training, but in another universe, he wouldn’t have gotten the call-up until late May or June. He’s 4 for 4 in quality starts, and two of them came against the Astros and Braves. He’s also getting deep into games, he’s also economical with his pitches, and more importantly, he’s helping us all forget how much we were counting on Robbie Ray to be a central part of this rotation. We essentially replaced a former Cy Young Award winner with another Cy Young-calibre arm.

There are a number of nice bullpen pieces who have stepped up, even if the bullpen as a whole has been a little inconsistent (and not quite up to snuff compared to recent seasons). Justin Topa, Gabe Speier, Trevor Gott, and Juan Then all have quality stuff and solid numbers so far. They’ve helped us through some poor outings by Brash, Castillo, Festa, and Sewald, and injuries to Munoz and Murfee. It’s kind of mind-blowing how we’re able to keep reloading a stacked bullpen, while overcoming the expected high-variance year-to-year performances you get with a segment of the team that’s always so volatile.

While I don’t want to dismiss the inconsistencies of Logan Gilbert and Luis Castillo, they’ve also had some dynamic outings so far, and it’s not hard to see these guys continue to chug along and give you the quality outings you’ve come to expect so far in their careers. The starting rotation is, far and away, the strength of this team, and pretty much the only reason why we’ve even managed to hang around .500. The hitting will start to come around at some point, so having our 1-4 spots in the rotation being so good will give us a great chance to go on that significant winning streak we need to climb back into contention.

I’m happy to shout out J.P. Crawford in this particular blog post, because I think a lot of us were really down on him after his 2022 (especially the way it ended with a whimper). He’s always been kinda streaky, but all too often he goes in the tank for long stretches, leaving his overall numbers a little lackluster. But, especially as we started this year with so many hitters in the tank, it was nice to have some consistent production from our slap-hitting short stop. Indeed, he’s actually hitting a good number of extra-base hits for him – mostly doubles – but more importantly he’s still getting on base at a great clip. His on-base percentage leads the team among qualified players, and he has since elevated himself to leadoff hitter once again (thanks in large part to Julio’s struggles, but still). And just anecdotally, the only hitter I’m more comfortable with right now in a big spot than J.P. is Kelenic. J.P. is one of the great leaders on this team, and so far he’s been leading his ass off!

Finally, let’s round out this post with Jose Caballero. It’s WAY too early to lower the Mission Accomplished banner with him, but the M’s have been in a desperate search to shore up the second base position since the Cano deal, opting to go with veteran savvy on short-term deals the last two years. Adam Frazier was a dud, and so far Kolten Wong has made us long for the days of Adam Frazier (it’s not surprising to see him have a little bit of a bounce-back season with the Orioles so far). Once Caballero started seeing playing time (we got him as sort of an A-ball level Just A Guy in a deadline deal with the Diamondbacks in 2019 for Mike Leake), I think we all thought he’d only be keeping Dylan Moore’s bench spot warm for him until he healed up. But, with Wong sucking, Caballero has gotten more and more opportunities, and he’s certainly made the most of them! So far, Caballero has played in 8 fewer games and had 38 fewer at bats than Wong, but he has the same number of doubles, infinity more homers, is crushing him in all slash figures (OPS of .802 vs. .468), and already has a 2 WAR advantage (0.8 vs. -1.3)! All in his first-ever Major League season! I mean, what the fuck?! I don’t know if this is going to continue for Caballero, but it certainly looks like he’s getting more comfortable in all facets of the game. We’ll see if he sticks as a long-term solution to our second base woes. But, right now? Caballero is a godsend, and the Mariners can certainly use more of that.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong For The 2023 Mariners Pitchers?!

As usual, I get into a situation where I want to write about the entire team, and I have to split it up into two posts because it gets way too unwieldy. Yesterday, we talked about the hitters, today it’s the pitchers.

I’m more bullish on the pitchers than I am on the hitters. So, that having been said, watch the hitters crush it this year, while the pitching lags behind. That having been said, there are legitimate concerns about everyone.

Luis CastilloI’ve already written about Castillo, so I’ll let that pretty much speak for itself. That having been said, the floor is still higher with him than anyone else in the rotation. Even if he gets off to a bad start to the season, he should right the ship at some point and keep things steady. Nevertheless, just one season prior we signed Robbie Ray to a big money deal, and he definitely took a step back from his Cy Young-winning pace.

Robbie Ray – Speaking of which, I think it’s fair to be a little worried. He got off to a rough start, picked it up mid-season when he re-introduced his 2-seam fastball back into the repertoire, but after his hot stretch, was up-and-down to close the year. He also REALLY struggled against the Astros and Blue Jays (with very poor playoff performances), and seemingly cleaned up against the bottom-feeders of the A.L. I don’t know if he can be trusted. Lotta meatballs being thrown over too much of the plate. His K/9 was the lowest it’s been since 2015 (in just his second season in the Majors), that’s a bad trend. This isn’t so much a precautionary tale as it is what I think will happen this season: I think Robbie Ray will suck!

Logan Gilbert – He made a huge jump in innings last year, going from 119.1 to 185.2 (plus playoffs), so while I’m not necessarily worried about his results, I am worried about arm fatigue. Let’s hope he’s a unicorn. He could also stand to have better off-speed stuff to generate whiffs; he can’t rely on his fastball forever.

George Kirby – Similarly, we’re looking at a kid who went from the minors to 130 innings (plus playoffs). We’re going to need to ride these power arms if we want to go far through the playoffs. We’re also going to need them to make up for the trainwreck that Robbie Ray figures to be. It’s worrisome that we also have to limit their innings through the regular season just to carry them through, but it’s also necessary for their longterm health.

Marco Gonzales – I understand he’s in the “best shape of his life” or whatever, but he’s Marco. He has soft stuff and needs pinpoint command to limit damage. Like Ray, he’ll clean up on the bottom-feeders, but otherwise he’s just an innings-eater. The worry from now on is: when will he fall off a cliff? I don’t know if he has the kind of stuff to be a Jamie Moyer type and pitch into his 40’s.

Chris Flexen – The other concern with these last two starters is: who will ultimately be traded mid-season? I would expect Flexen has more trade value given his contract status; he’d be a nice little veteran rental for some pitching-needy team. That is, unless he totally falls off the face of the earth. He doesn’t have the best stuff, and while I understand he’s fully capable of eating innings as a long reliever, I don’t know if that’s the role most suited to his abilities. A soft-throwing guy with a 6+ ERA isn’t going to fetch much of anything at the deadline.

Andres Munoz – There’s never going to be a year where we don’t worry about his arm. The way he throws, it’s just going to be a given. Now, obviously, he looks like the second coming of Edwin Diaz, and last year he very much pitched like that. But, even Diaz had that first year with the Mets where his ERA was pushing 6 and he was blowing saves left and right. Between him and Cano in 2019, it truly looked like the M’s fleeced them in that deal. But, ever since, Diaz has been lights out and earned a humongous contract extension. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Munoz have that kind of career trajectory, up to and including the anomaly of a terrible season. Will it be in 2023? We’ll have to wait and see.

Paul Sewald – Here’s a guy who’s been an absolute revelation since joining the Mariners in 2021. He struck out guys at a ridiculously unsustainable clip that first year, before coming back down to Earth in 2022. Nevertheless, he was still very good, with an even-better ERA. However, there were little blips of rough outings towards the end that give me pause. Did he just get tired? That’s certainly understandable; he’s pitched 60+ games in back-to-back years, in EXTREMELY high-leverage situations. He hasn’t come close to that kind of usage in his professional career. Hopefully, with other Mariners relievers taking steps forward in their development, that’ll give us more chances to rest Sewald, so he’ll be fresher down the stretch. But, the secret concern is: has the league caught up to his weird throwing style? He doesn’t come with a lot of heat, so he’s overly reliant on his unique arm slot and pitch movement. But, when he leaves a hanger, it can get crushed.

Matt Brash – Everyone. I mean EVERYONE is high on Matt Brash right now. So, right here, how can you not be concerned? If you could bet on Matt Brash being awesome in 2023, there would be a huge discrepancy between the betting public and the Vegas sportsbooks. Smart money’s always on the house. I’m just saying, don’t be shocked if he gets knocked around, or suffers elbow issues.

Diego Castillo – You don’t have to squint very hard to see a scenario where Castillo stinks. With the advent of the pitch clock, you’re talking about speeding up one of the slowest pitchers in baseball. Now, as a casual fan, it’ll be nice not to have to endure his constant twitching and adjusting of his baseball cap between every single pitch. But, what will that mean for his effectiveness? He’s overly reliant on a slider that gets a lot of swings and misses, but he also has a tendency to blow up and get mashed around. I’d love to know how his numbers look whenever he throws 20+ pitches in an inning, vs. when he’s able to get out in 19 or less. The more he throws, the wilder he gets. His numbers were already trending the wrong way last year, and he has lost his high-leverage status accordingly. Is this the year where it all falls apart?

Matt Festa – He’s kind of Just A Guy to me. He throws strikes, which will keep him employed more often than not. But, I don’t know what he does beyond that that’s anything special. Natural variance could clip his wings.

Penn Murfee – Oddball spelling of his name aside, at least Murfee has a sweeping slider that’s tough on righties. But, he also doesn’t have an amazing fastball, so he could be done in by a few bad outings as well.

Trevor Gott – I’m going to cut this post off here, as everyone else looks to be depth pieces. We lost Erik Swanson in a trade this offseason – probably selling at the exact peak of his value – and Gott figures to be a veteran option to throw onto the pile. He’s only making a little over a million bucks, so it’s not like we’re compelled to keep him all year. He’s really just some insurance against a few of the younger arms we’re looking to call up at some point. I expect him to be terrible, and pitch exclusively in the lowest-leverage situations.

What Impact Did Robinson Cano Have On The Seattle Mariners?

Did you know that 2023 is the final year of the 10-year, $240 million contract that Robinson Cano signed with the Mariners in December of 2013? Furthermore, did you know that we’re still on the hook for another $3.75 million, even though he hasn’t played for us since 2018? I mean, it’s a far cry from the $20.25 million the Mets have to cough up for someone who likely won’t even crack a Major League roster this year, but that’s neither here nor there.

As you can read here right after it was announced, I was doing somersaults and backflips trying to talk myself into the Mariners turning around the ship. Check out the weirdly prescient crack about Cano’s bat being legally pronounced dead in 2021 (when he was actually suspended the entire year for steroids). But, I still contend that if they’d listened to me – spending money on the proper complementary veterans, and trading Taijuan Walker for David Price – maybe the 2014 Mariners would’ve broken the playoff drought.

For the TL;DR crowd, in short we were all excited the Mariners were finally spending money on a bigtime free agent, while at the same time understanding that there was no way Cano would be worth $24 million per season at the tail end of the contract.

Robbie Cano is an interesting figure in Seattle sports history. I don’t see him as someone who was particularly well-liked by fans, but he’s also not someone who’s loathed. He made the majority of his money in Seattle, but he’ll forever be associated with the New York Yankees (where he had the bulk of his success). That being said, it’s not like he dropped off the face of the earth when he came here. His numbers – while not quite as elite as they were in the Bronx – were still relatively on par with his prior production (especially when you consider he had to battle our marine layer in half his games). Predictably, his five years in Seattle were his best years of this deal; it wasn’t until after he went back to New York (this time with the Mets) where he fell off.

In that respect, Cano’s tenure here is kind of miraculous! We got the absolute best we could’ve possibly hoped for out of him (including his 2016 season where he hit a career-high 39 homers), then we got out from under his deal with a relatively low penalty (Edwin Diaz and just under $14 million in total, thanks to the 2020 COVID-shortened season, and his 2021 suspension), while still holding onto the lottery ticket that is Jarred Kelenic (who could be a valuable starter/platoon outfielder as early as this season). Granted, Cano was never able to lead us back to the playoffs, but I’m hard pressed to blame any one guy for that result (maybe Jack Zduriencik).

So, what’s Cano’s legacy here? I think that’s complicated. We got to see a Hall of Fame-calibre talent play every day for five years … but he probably cheated his way out of Hall of Fame contention thanks to his multiple steroid suspensions. You can choose to appreciate him for his abilities on the field, but at the same time it’s hard to ignore the behind-the-scenes rumors of him not trying hard, not getting along with segments of the team, and generally projecting an annoyingly laissez-faire attitude that may or may not have rubbed off on the younger players around him. It’s hard to build a culture of accountability when you’ve got such a significant presence undermining you at every turn. But, a lot of that stuff is conjecture; none of us can speak with any certainty to how he was as a teammate.

The bottom line is: the Mariners never won with Robinson Cano. Not enough to make the playoffs anyway. There were a couple years where we contended into September, but nothing really worth getting worked up about. His legacy ultimately boils down to being on the last Mariners teams before this current rebuild (which started the year after he was traded away), that ultimately led to our being a Wild Card team in 2022. And you can’t really even attribute THAT to getting rid of him, because none of the players we received in that package did anything to get us there (unless you count Justin Dunn, who we eventually flipped with other prospects in a separate deal to the Reds, netting us Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker; but that’s kinda grasping at straws).

My lasting memory of Robinson Cano in a Mariners uniform is one of half measures. We would eventually go on to sign Nelson Cruz, but not until the 2015 season, where they both played together in the lineup side-by-side for four years. But, Cruz VASTLY outshined Cano as far as contract value – decidedly earning the entirety of his money – while also allowing us to get out from under him a year too early (rather than a year too late). There’s nothing but positive vibes coming from our collective memories of Cruz. Other than that, though, the Mariners never quite spent enough or did enough to get over the hump. That era of Mariners baseball was good-not-great, and ultimately led to the decision to blow the whole thing up and start over from scratch.

It’s been much more hopeful ever since. Under Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners have drafted better, developed better, and forged a unified front with the field management. We’re no longer churning through managers every two years; Scott Servais has set the tone and the players have responded. At all levels, you can feel the difference. It’s a whole new culture with the Mariners’ organization. In that respect, Cano represents the last death knell of the previous culture. The losing culture. The bloated, ineffectual, rudderless culture. Hopefully lost to the sands of time, never to be thought of again.

Can The Mariners Overtake The Astros In 2023?

As we get closer to the start of Spring Training – which commences in a couple weeks – it’s looking less and less likely that the Mariners will make a big, impactful move to improve this year’s team. Although, to be fair, the Winker/Suarez deal came down in mid-March last year, so it’s not impossible for something huge to come down the pike. Nevertheless, we can only render judgments on things as we know them today.

And today, we have a team that added Teoscar Hernandez, Kolten Wong, Trevor Gott, and A.J. Pollock; they lost Mitch Haniger (Giants), Kyle Lewis (Diamondbacks), Jesse Winker (Brewers), Abraham Toro (Brewers), Adam Frazier (Orioles), Carlos Santana (Pirates), and Erik Swanson (Blue Jays), among others. Feels like a wash to me. We’re REALLY banking a lot of our hopes and dreams on Hernandez and Wong coming to Seattle and continuing their relatively high-quality play. I get why we made these moves – Haniger is an injury waiting to happen, Winker and Toro were busts here, Frazier and Santana might be over the hill – but I can see a world where Winker bounces back when fully healthy, and where Haniger manages to keep his body right and not succumb to some more atrocious injury luck.

The justification for not spending a lot in free agency, or taking a lot of money on in trades, is due to our extending Julio Rodriguez and Luis Castillo in the middle of last year. Somehow, those two get lumped into our Hot Stove tally sheet by the Mariners, mostly to play down the complaints that the M’s are fucking tightwads, but that’s neither here nor there. They are who they are.

I’m not as up in arms as a lot of fans are. For the most part, I think the Mariners are building the right way. I’m already on record as saying I hate these big-money deals for outside free agents (the Robinson Cano conundrum). And I understand the farm system took a hit in the rankings – thanks to guys graduating to the Majors, and other guys getting traded away in the Castillo deal – so there’s not a ton of value left to jettison. It’s smart to not completely gut our minors just to bring in one more guy, especially if we’re not necessarily One More Guy away from winning a World Series. What I take issue with is the fact that there were mid-tier free agents out there who we could’ve signed to mid-level free agent deals – knowing we needed at least one more outfielder, as well as someone to rotate at DH – and we opted for A.J. Pollock. I think that’s going to burn us; I hope I’m wrong.

At some point, we have to move forward with the team we’ve been given. Which brings us to the question at hand: can the Mariners overtake the Astros in 2023?

This question assumes, of course, that the Mariners and Astros are the two best teams in the A.L. West, and by “overtaking the Astros”, it means the Mariners will win the division. For the sake of argument, then, let’s just further assume there’s no huge surprise team among the Angels, Rangers, or Athletics (who I would expect to finish in that order at the bottom of the division, though there’s always the chance the Rangers make a leap).

I’ll start with this: I haven’t kept great tabs on the Astros’ wheelings and dealings this offseason. I’m just taking it for granted they’re going to be at least as good as they were in 2022. Meaning: they’re probably good enough to win over 100 games. Last year, the Astros won 106 games, and were 16 games better than the Mariners. So, that’s the gap I’m talking about. Can we make up 16 games on them?

Well, for one thing, since we only play them 13 times – down from the usual 19 – there are fewer opportunities to gain ground in head-to-head play. But, as we’ve seen pretty much since the Astros joined the American League, that actually means there are fewer opportunities for them to beat our brains in. In my mind, that can only be a good thing for the M’s.

There are two, MAYBE three major things that I’m pointing to as reasons for optimism. The big two being: Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez. As much as I loathe including them as part of our overall spending this offseason, I do think there’s a legitimate argument to be made in favor of the Mariners picking up some wins in 2023.

Recall we traded for Castillo on July 30th last year; this year, we get him for the full season! (I should point out that this post also has to assume that everyone I write about stays healthy all year, or at least the vast majority of the games, for all teams involved; of course, the M’s could overtake the Astros if their top five guys all go down with ACL tears). Castillo was a 1 WAR player for the Mariners over the final two months; he counted 3.1 WAR for the Reds. What difference will he make at the top of our rotation every 5-6 days (depending how deep of a rotation we opt to go with to start out) for a full six months? I think that’s pretty significant.

Also recall that Julio Rodriguez was effectively worthless in the month of April last year, as he was getting his footing at the Major League level. Now he’s an All Star who should play at a very high level from Day 1. Having that experience last year can only boost him that much more in year two (let’s hope there’s no Sophomore Slump!). You can also say something similar about Cal Raleigh; he was officially demoted to Tacoma for a short spell before injury thrust him back to Seattle, where he FINALLY turned it around. I’m a little more concerned about his effectiveness this year; he’s still pretty boom or bust at the plate. But, let’s just say he SHOULD be as good as he was in the second half last year, and if we get that for a full season, it’ll be a nice lift for this offense in the months of April and May.

Finally, as a little bonus, I’ll just quickly add that the training wheels are officially off of Logan Gilbert, and the experience he’s had through two seasons will hopefully propel him towards one of those upper rotation slots. If he’s not a second ace on this team, I would expect him to be at least an effective #2. His career trajectory to date has been remarkable, and there’s still room for him to get better. We’re just getting into George Kirby’s second season, where it’s expected the training wheels are very much still on (considering he pitched a lot more as a rookie than the team expected going into last year). But, his ceiling looks to be even higher than Gilbert’s, so as long as these guys don’t have any major setbacks, you’re talking about one of the best rotations in all of baseball, starting on Day 1.

Is that enough? The bullpen will have to continue being lights out. The offense will have to continue being timely with their hitting and cluster luck. If everything goes according to plan, and we don’t run into a bunch of guys having career-worst seasons, I think there’s an okay chance. Maybe a 66.67% chance the Astros win the division, with a 33.33% chance the Mariners prevail. That’s not amazing, but considering it’s usually a 99.99% chance the Astros dominate, I’ll take it.

I’m Over The Huge Mega-Deal In Free Agency For The Mariners

Being a fan of the Mariners from 2005-2018 is the baseball fan equivalent of being a Vietnam War veteran. I’m still having flashbacks. There are any number of terrible free agent signings both within that period and outside of that period (for the purposes of this post, when I talk about free agents, I’m talking exclusively about the outside free agents we’ve signed to come to Seattle, not the guys who were Mariners that we then re-signed once they hit free agency), but from 2005-2018, I think the four biggest marquee free agent signings we all know and love are Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz.

Cruz, admittedly, is an absolute success story, the likes of which is rare and beautiful. On the opposite end of the spectrum, hearing the name Richie Sexson again makes me want to shut my eyes and never look at the Seattle Mariners ever again. When in reality, it was more of a mixed bag, with his power numbers holding up for two seasons, before he fell off a cliff.

Beltre, I feel like, gets more kudos than … whatever the opposite of kudos are, because his defense was elite, because he was best friends with King Felix, and because he settled into a role that was fairly reliable. However, he came here off of a 2004 season with the Dodgers where he finished 2nd in MVP voting. We came into it expecting 48 homers per year, and got far FAR less. As for Cano, I think we all had fair expectations for what that was. 10 years, $24 million per year. We expected about half of those years to be good, and half of those years to be in severe overpaid decline. And that’s pretty much what we got (with the silver lining that maybe we got a good trade out of the whole thing, depending on what Kelenic ends up turning into). But, regardless, it sucks that you’re investing in someone for a decade, knowing full well that half of those years will be miserable failures (only able to get out from under it by taking advantage of a know-nothing GM).

The point of my bringing those players up in this context is the fact that paying huge sums in free agency doesn’t come with a great success rate. You can say that about trades, you can say that about drafts, you can say that about lower-priced free agents. But, obviously, the cost is far less for everything else. But, when you make a huge splash in free agency, the expectation is that those players will not only come in and make an immediate impact, but they’ll be the cornerstones of your franchise. They’ll put you over the top. If you were a losing organization, they’ll turn you into playoff contenders; if you were already playoff contenders, then they’ll turn you into championship contenders.

Every year in the baseball offseason, the biggest storylines revolve around the Hot Stove. Those elite players who’ve hit free agency are the most talked-about. And, teams like the Mariners – who have relatively low payrolls, who are also coming off of a playoff run – are often expected to be big players in those sweepstakes. And the fans ALWAYS get mad when the Mariners opt to sit out the top tiers of free agency.

It doesn’t make sense, for a variety of reasons. For starters, if you just look at the history of the Seattle Mariners, they don’t make huge splashes in free agency in these situations. If you think about the four players I discussed above, those were all situations where we were trying to bail out a sinking ship. We were never in a position to bolster a team from good to great in that period. The last time the Mariners were great, they largely built up the roster in response to losing other major stars (Randy, Griffey, A-Rod), going with less-heralded all stars over those supernovas.

The other big reason why free agency doesn’t make sense is that it really ties you down to one or two major decisions. The reason why building from within is preferred over the alternative is because you have more information. You’re extending guys who have already had success here. For a team playing half its games in Seattle, that means everything. We see over and over again players come here and struggle, with the ballpark, the climate, the distance away from their offseason homes, whathaveyou. It doesn’t matter if they’re power hitters, line drive hitters, or speedy bloop hitters. So, literally anyone you bring here is a coin flip at best; why would you want to tie yourself down for 5-10 years on someone if you don’t even know if they can succeed here? If you trade for someone and they stink, you can get out of it in a year or two without major financial repercussions. Free agents have their money fully guaranteed.

I would also argue – even with the very best players – there’s a reason why they reached free agency. Aaron Judge was your 2022 American League MVP. He broke the A.L. record for home runs. He’s one of the top three most popular players in all of baseball. The Yankees have all the money and revenue in the world. If they REALLY wanted to avoid all this, if they REALLY wanted him to stick around long term, they would’ve already worked out an extension. As we saw with Julio Rodriguez, as the Angels did with Mike Trout, as countless other teams have done with their super-duper-stars, when you want someone to stick around, you figure out how to get it done before they hit free agency.

I’d be curious to know the success rate of players who sign the top 5-10 free agent contracts every year. How often are those players just as good or better than they were prior to signing? And how long before they decline? How often do those players decline right away, or within a season or two? I remember lots of horror stories from the first half of 2022, when the bulk of the uber-free agents were all struggling with their new teams. There’s a chance Aaron Judge signs a contract somewhere else and is just as good as he was with the Yankees. But, there’s a much BETTER chance he signs somewhere and is worse. But that team is stuck paying him an insane amount of money, and guaranteeing him a spot in their everyday lineup, which is the ultimate double whammy.

I don’t need that. Honestly, I don’t need that ever again. I’d rather the Mariners pay their home-grown guys. I’d rather we trade for players nearing the end of their initial contract, who are incentivized to play hard to try to earn more money. I like the way this team has been built. I don’t want them to suddenly change course and start chasing the huge names, only to have those players struggle and waste all of our time.

Frankly, I’m glad that’s the plan. It’s hard enough to get everything right with your own guys. Evan White’s contract looks like a mini-disaster at the moment. J.P. Crawford seems to have more value as a team leader and chemistry guy than he does with his bat. So, I don’t understand how we EVER get things right with outside free agency. That just seems like the crapshoot to end all crapshoots.

Julio Rodriguez Made The Home Run Derby Fun Again

As Mariners fans, we have a love/hate relationship with the Home Run Derby. Our last entrant was Robinson Cano, who flamed out in 2016. Before that, we had Bret Boone in 2003, who managed a whopping 0 homers, and again in 2001, when he got all of 3 (turns out, when your specialty is hitting them the opposite way, that’s not necessarily the best way to win a derby). We also got Edgar in there in 2000, which I had totally blocked from my memory; even back then he felt out of place. Maybe if you arranged a Doubles Derby or something …

But, then you’ve also got the 1990s, and all the times Ken Griffey Jr. made it fun and relevant. Although, I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t specifically recall any of his three victories. I feel like I must have watched them, but they don’t really stand out except in reruns on ESPN The Ocho.

It’s funny, I couldn’t tell you for sure the last time I sat down and watched the Home Run Derby in its entirety. I’m guessing it wasn’t in 2016, since I didn’t write about it. But, Cano was never built for something like that; I don’t care that he won it all with the Yankees in 2011. Anyway, that’s pretty damning for the derby itself, since there’s literally nothing else going on in sports the week of the All Star Break. Although, it’s hard to blame the event itself. Usually, the Mariners are so mediocre by this point in the season, all I want is a fucking break where I can focus on literally anything BUT baseball.

This year, however, excitement for baseball is back! All it took was a 14-game winning streak, and 22 wins in 25 games!

I know for a fact I haven’t seen the Home Run Derby since they changed it from 10 “outs” to a time limit each round. I don’t know which way I like more. It feels like there’s more urgency when the outs start ticking upward; that makes those runs guys go on feel more impressive. If you’re down to your last out, and you rip off four or five more dingers, that can make all the difference, in a relatively pressure-packed situation! But, on the other hand, we’re definitely getting more bang for our buck with the time limit. Especially over the last three years, we’re seeing higher home run totals across the board, and isn’t that the point? More dingers = more fun & excitement!

It’s a little silly, though, to be regularly tinkering with the rules, because the derby grows stale or whatever. They seem to have a similar “problem” as the Academy Awards: everyone tries and fails to make the event shorter and more popular with the youths of today. There are eight participants, they each get three minutes to hit as many homers as possible. That’s 24 minutes in round one, 12 more minutes in round two, followed by a two-minute final per person: 40 minutes of home run action. So, why does it take three hours to put on this event? Well, everyone gets 30 seconds of “bonus time”, automatically built in. How is it bonus time if everyone gets it? WHO CARES?! Then, you get an additional 30 seconds if – during your allotted three-minute round – you hit two home runs of 440 feet or more. Then, there’s a brief rest period between your round and the bonus time, plus you’re allowed to take a time out during your three-minute round.

Look, I’m not complaining. I’m just saying, if your goal is to make this thing shorter, you’ve got a funny way of going about it. Honestly, three hours feels appropriate for this sort of nonsense.

I will say that it can get a little confusing, as oftentimes they’re already throwing the next pitch before we can even see if the last one went out or not. There were times when the counter was a little slow, so you’ll forgive me if Conspiracy Theory Steven wasn’t on alert when Juan Soto’s total jumped up a few extra homers in the final round out of nowhere.

But, in the grand scheme of things – even in the grand scheme of baseball things – you have to remember none of this means anything. This is the consummate Just Happy To Be There sort of occasion. Did Julio Rodriguez have fun? Did he more than double his 2022 Major League salary by finishing in second place? Did he make a name for himself on a national level, to the point where he even overshadowed the winner? Yes, yes, and yes, and that’s all that matters.

I always forget how irrelevant we are up here in the Seattle area, when it comes to the national perspective. We were pretty well known for our professional football when Russell Wilson was around. In soccer circles, I guess we’re kind of a big deal. But, by and large, unless you live in an A.L. West market, you don’t get to see the Mariners very much. It was funny to hear – even among other baseball players at the event – all the guys who had never seen Julio in person before. Not to mention all the people around the country who had never seen him period!

It’s a shame that ESPN doesn’t cover the sport like it used to. Even in the summer, Sportscenter and the like are focused more on the goings on of the NFL and NBA offseasons. Used to be, you could flip on ESPN in the evenings and see a nonstop barrage of highlights from the day’s MLB games. That would be the opportunity for the rest of the nation to see what’s happening (or not happening) in Seattle. Now, it takes a 14-game winning streak to finally break through; something that happens maybe once a generation.

It’s safe to say, though, Julio Rodriguez made a big impact yesterday. He led off the event by hitting 32 homers, easily defeating Corey Seager, who had 24 (which was the most by anyone in a single round at the Home Run Derby not named Julio Rodriguez, making his the unluckiest of draws). Then, he followed that up by mashing 31 more in the second round, to defeat last year’s winner, Pete Alonso (who looked like he was taking the thing WAY too seriously; do you really need to meditate heading into your turn?).

With the reduction in time for the finals (from 3 minutes to 2), it was disconcerting to see Julio struggle in regulation. He didn’t even qualify for the extra 30 seconds, as he only hit one home run 440 feet or beyond. Still, it was impressive that he managed 18 of them in total, which gave him a glimmer of hope to win it all (since Juan Soto did barely just enough in each of his victorious rounds). It even seemed likely that Julio would win, after Soto struggled through his first minute. But, then he caught fire. And, he managed to unlock the extra 30 seconds that Julio couldn’t, which gave him plenty of time to get that 19th home run during his bonus period.

Kind of a bummer of an anticlimactic ending, but all in all it was super fun to see Julio do his thing. It’s even cooler to witness the world getting their first glimpse of our latest superstar. Julio Rodriguez has already made a big impact on the field for the Mariners this year. He’s a big reason for our success and an even bigger reason for our hope for the future. He’s only missing a couple things so far: he’s yet to take away a home run over the fence, and he’s yet to have that signature at bat that endures the test of time (though, I would say that grand slam against the Rangers – blowing open a game that was only a 1-run lead – was pretty special).

The cool thing, though, is that he’s only 21 years old. He’s got PLENTY of time to make his lasting mark on the game of baseball. Even cooler, now he’s going to have the eyes of the world on him. If anyone can rise to that occasion, it’s Julio.

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!