The Mariners Split The Series With The Red Sox

All in all, I’d say that went pretty well.  We lost a close one in that good Felix game; we won one in exciting, high-scoring, come-from-behind fashion; we won a 1-0 nailbiter in that outstanding Wade LeBlanc game; and we got torched on get-away day.

That game on Friday was as exciting as it gets.  I think we all figured the best left-handed starter we’d see this weekend was going to be starting that night, but James Paxton didn’t have his usual stuff.  Also the defense – with its 3 errors that very easily could’ve been 4 or 5 – didn’t have its usual stuff either.  In an absolute disaster of a third inning, Paxton was only able to get one guy out before being pulled, having given up 6 runs (somehow 5 of which were earned).  Chasen Bradford limited the damage to just that, but the M’s found themselves – once with a 3-run lead – down 6-3.

That’s when recently recalled Rob Whalen entered the game to soak up some innings.  (oh shit, if we’d been playing Tampa, I could’ve said “soak up some Rays”!  But we’re all done playing the Rays this season!  I’ll have to save that gem for next year …).  Rob Whalen ended up going 4 scoreless innings to allow the M’s to chip away at that deficit.  Mitch Haniger hit one in in the fifth; Mike Zunino homered in the seventh.  That set the stage for the bottom of the eighth, down 6-5, runners on first and second with one out, and Denard Span pinch hitting for Guillermo Heredia.  He jerked a ball down the right field line for a 2-run double, as the Red Sox outfielder was playing WAY over in right-center for some reason.  With a 7-6 lead, Edwin Diaz came in to shut them down for his 26th save of the season.

If you thought THAT was unexpected, just wait until you get a load of Saturday’s game!  Wade LeBlanc vs. some knuckleballer, on the FOX game of the week!  I have to imagine they were a little underwhelmed with the matchup coming into it, but hot damn were they treated to a pitcher’s duel to end all pitcher’s duels!

To his credit, Steven Wright was pretty outstanding.  The knuckleballer went 7 innings, giving up just 1 run on 5 hits & 2 walks with 4 strikeouts.  As it turns out, though, Wade LeBlanc was remarkably better.  He went 7.2 innings of shutout ball, giving up just 2 hits while striking out 9!  My dad asked me what we could expect of LeBlanc before the game, and I said I’d be ecstatic if he gave up just a couple runs in 5 innings, but he really blew my projection out of the water!  It was as dominant a performance as I’ve seen this year, as he allowed a leadoff hit to start the game, and then nothing until – with two outs in the eighth – he allowed a single to end his night as he faced the minimum up to that point.  Honestly, that first hit he allowed was pretty bogus – as the ump didn’t have his strike zone quite figured out yet – and should’ve been a strikeout.  So, we were THAT CLOSE to perfection, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

The one run the Mariners scored was back in third on a single by Cruz, and somehow it held up.  Colome got out of the eighth unscathed, and Diaz worked the ninth for his 27th save of the season.  Easy peasy.

Sunday, I dunno, it got away from us.  Leake didn’t really have it, giving up a 5-spot in the third.  But, he managed to keep it to just that through six innings, so at least he saved the bullpen a little bit.  I think we were all under the impression – as the game went on – that the Mariners would mount a comeback eventually, but it was sort of the opposite.  The Red Sox played add-on, and the M’s really let a lot of opportunities get by them, going 3 for 12 with RISP.  There was, however, another 2.1 innings from Elias, who only gave up 1 run, so that trade is looking better and better.

Hard to be too upset by a 50/50 split, though.  If you offered that to me before the series started, I would’ve taken it in a heartbeat.  Now, the Mariners go on the road for a huge one:  the final east coast road trip of the (regular) season.  The downside to the weekend is that the Astros just completed a 10-0 road trip to take a 1.5 game lead in the division, which is just insane.  In case you thought the division was in the bag or something (unlikely, I know), it’s not.  We are a full 8 games up on the Angels though, so fuck them.

Thankfully, there’s an off-day today before the festivities start.  One last big test before we coast to the finish line.  Up first: the Yankees.  Our likely rivals in that 1-game Wild Card.  My stomach is all in knots just thinking about it.

Key To The Mariners’ Chances Going Forward

The biggest key to the Mariners’ success to date in 2018 is the starting rotation staying healthy (for the most part) and vastly improving after the month of April (where just about everyone was either adequate or terrible, up to and including James Paxton).  I would argue that even the injury to Erasmo Ramirez was a blessing in disguise, as Wade LeBlanc has made a name for himself with this opportunity.  But, with Paxton, Gonzales, and Leake all overcoming rough starts to the season, turning into reliable and often dominant pieces to this puzzle (alongside LeBlanc’s baffling greatness from Day 1), the Mariners have been able to weather a lot of storms and build up a record that all but guarantees a playoff spot in October.

The biggest hit to the Mariners’ chances going forward is NOT the loss of Robbie Cano for all those games (plus the playoffs) but rather the depth of the Mariners’ bullpen (or lack thereof).

It’s truly remarkable what the Mariners are doing with this scotch taped-together bullpen.  Phelps went down in Spring Training; he was supposed to be an 8th inning type guy (who could also go multiple innings in a pinch).  Scrabble was so terrible at doing his one job (getting lefties out) that he was DFA’d.  Juan Nicasio hasn’t been nearly the dominant force we thought he’d be when we signed him to that big 2-year deal (and is currently on the DL).  Nick Vincent had a rough start to the season and is also currently on the DL (having just had a setback with his groin injury).  Dan Altavilla has had multiple DL stints this year and might be out for a very long time with his arm injury.  Casey Lawrence – while tearing it up in Tacoma as a starter right now – got off to a rough start and had to be sent down after 4 appearances.  Ryan Cook was hot when he returned from the DL, but has been hit around in 3 of his last 4 appearances.  Alex Colome has closer-type stuff, but he’s been far from perfect since coming over from the Rays (especially AGAINST those very Rays).

And yet, if you didn’t get into specifics and just asked me, “How’s Seattle’s bullpen doing this year?”  I’d likely tell you, “Pretty great!”

Edwin Diaz is taking the league by storm in his third year in the bigs.  James Pazos – in his second year on the Mariners – has been outstanding.  Chasen Bradford came out of nowhere to be a reliable back-of-the-bullpen guy to eat a lot of innings for us.  And even those guys who’ve had their struggles from time to time – Nicasio, Vincent, and Colome in particular – have also been successful in a lot of high leverage situations.

With a number of those guys on the DL (hopefully Nicasio & Vincent will be back soon), though, it’s hard not to be concerned about the future.  There are a lot of high leverage innings left this season!  With the way this team plays, with all the close games, it seems like there’s zero margin for error every single night!  Sure, a lot of the guys are young and healthy now, but will they succumb to over-use?

The good thing is, I don’t believe for a minute that the Mariners are finished making moves to improve the big league club.  We have a number of quality starters down in Tacoma, in the event we need long relief help or spot starts.  Nick Rumbelow is another guy who figured big in the Mariners’ bullpen plans before he got hurt; he’s coming back from injury and getting his feet wet in Tacoma as we speak.  Also, it usually doesn’t take a whole lot in trade to get a quality reliever back before the deadline, and with plenty of teams tanking this season, the supply should be pretty significant.

Either way, though, if you told me the Mariners would have to roll with a playoff bullpen consisting of Diaz, Colome, Nicasio, Vincent, Pazos, Bradford, Cook, and Elias, I’d be okay with that.  Two dominant closer types, two solid 8th inning guys behind them, two solid 6th/7th inning guys who can shut down rallies and go multiple innings if need be, along with a wildcard in Cook (who has 8th inning stuff, he just needs to work on his command a little bit) and a spot-starter/long-reliever in Elias … I just don’t know how you improve upon that a whole lot.  Obviously, a lot can happen between now and October.  Guys can get injured, guys can lose their stuff or their confidence, but for the most part that’s a reliable bullpen group.

What most concerns me is what happens if a lot of guys get injured, and we have to start replacing too many of these pieces.  As we’ve seen this year with the bullpen, last year with the rotation, and on and on and on, injuries can mount in a hurry.  We lose Diaz, we’re pretty much shit out of luck.  We lose too many of our 8th inning guys, same deal.  We already use Diaz too much as it is; I don’t want to see him in there for too many save opportunities where he has to get more than 3 outs.  At least not until we’re actually IN the playoffs.

The rotation and the solid hitting will carry us to where we want to go, but to do any significant damage once we get into the post-season, it’s going to rest precariously on the all-important bullpen arms.  I hope they’re up to the challenge.

Fuck You Angels! The Mariners Got The Sweep

When I was a kid, I gave much more of a shit about baseball rivalries than I do now.  I hated the Yankees, obviously.  I disliked the Rangers quite a bit (especially when they signed A-Rod).  In the early 2000’s, I REALLY hated the Athletics, because even though the Mariners won 90+ games from 2000-2003, the A’s were the reason why we only made the playoffs twice (in spite of a couple 93-win campaigns).  In recent years, I guess I hate the Astros, but I don’t even know if they qualify as a rivalry, from my fan’s perspective.  It’s more of a looming dread whenever I see HOU coming up on the little pocket calendar I have hanging up at my desk.  When the switch flipped and Houston became HOUSTON, it’s been utter annihilation (and even before they were good, they still won an annoying amount of times).  Besides, this is really the first year where the Mariners and Astros have been on the same level, record-wise.  They may indeed grow to become my most hated baseball enemy when the season’s over.

But, for now, I think I hate the Angels the most.  Granted, they’re clearly the better franchise.  They’ve actually WON a World Series, for instance.  They’ve been to the playoffs 10 times to our 4; they’ve consistently been more of a winning team in general (and haven’t had those bottom-out years like the Mariners have).  Nevertheless, with the Astros way up there, I’ve always seen the Angels as more of our peers.  Whenever you find the Mariners contending for a wild card spot, the Angels always seem to be right there with us.  Also, from 2010 onward, the Angels only have the 1 playoff appearance, so it’s not like they’ve been super awesome of late.  And, they’ve had a number of players I couldn’t help but despise, from Mike Trout to Jered Weaver to (retroactively) Chone Figgins to John Lackey to Troy Glaus to Tim Salmon to Chuck Finley.  The only Angels player I ever really liked was Vlad, because he was fucking amazing and I secretly never forgave the Mariners for not making a bigger push to sign him when he was a free agent after 2003.  Can you even imagine?  That would’ve been so much fun!

Anyway, the Mariners just swept the Angels yesterday in the 3-game series, and I couldn’t be happier.

I didn’t hold out a ton of hope in yesterday’s game, even when the Angels’ starter was pulled after 2 innings with an injury.  Marco Gonzales really wasn’t as sharp as he’d been of late, only lasting 5 innings, giving up 3 runs.  We knew ahead of time that Edwin Diaz wasn’t going to be available, after pitching 3 games in a row, and in 4 games in 5 days.  That slotted the bullpen all kinds of wonky, and accordingly the bullpen wasn’t as sharp as it had been of late either.  Newcomer Mike Morin – in just his 2nd appearance since being called up from Tacoma – gave up a run on a triple and a sac fly.  Chasen Bradford – who has been all kinds of good this year – gave up 2 solo homers in the 7th to put us behind by 2 runs.  And, there we were, late in the game, facing the prospects of losing for just the third time in the month of June.

That’s when the offense went back to work.  Gamel and Zunino had RBIs in the 2nd to stake the Mariners to a 2-0 lead.  Then, after an RBI by Trout (who somehow didn’t homer in this one, though he did have two hits and two intentional walks), Nelson Cruz hit a 2-run bomb (which is his 5th in the last 5 games) to put the M’s up 4-1.  In the 7th, after Bradford gagged up the homers, Segura hit a guy in on a double; followed by Healy solo homering in the 8th to re-tie the game; ultimately setting the stage for a bottom of the 9th showdown (thanks to a couple scoreless innings out of eventual winner Roenis Elias).

With one out, Segura on at first, Mitch Haniger took a mistake by the Angels pitcher and deposited it into the left field stands for his second walk-off home run of the season.  Not for nothing, but that’s his 16th homer of the season (tying his mark of 2017) and his 52nd RBI (surpassing what he did in 2017, in 29 fewer games).  Can you imagine what it’ll be like if he can stay healthy all year?  He truly is deserving of a slot on the All Star team.

The Mariners are still 0.5 games ahead of the Astros, but are now 7.5 games ahead of the Angels, which is just the best.

Now, we’ve got a 4-game series against the Red Sox.  I hope you like a lot of annoying Boston fans, because they’re coming out in force!  The good news is Chris Sale pitched yesterday, so we lucked into avoiding one of the best lefties in the game.  The bad news is the rest of their rotation is also really fucking good.  And, James Paxton is saddled with Friday’s “Fireworks Night” game, which I believe the Mariners have lost every fucking time they’ve done it.  Here’s to hoping for a little of that old Felix magic tonight as he squares off against David Price.  This series could get REAL dicey in a hurry.

The Mariners Won 3 of 4 Against The Rays

And 6 of 7 in the season series!

The game on Thursday saw the Rays creep back into it late before the Mariners slammed the door.  How would the rest of the weekend look?

Pretty much as expected, all things considered.  Marco Gonzales took the hill on Friday and continued this streak of greatness he’s been on.  He advanced his career high in innings pitched – this time going 7.1 innings of 2-run ball – before giving way to the bullpen.  We put up 4 runs thanks to some solid small ball.  Daniel Vogelbach returned – and had an RBI single – as the Mariners had to put Nicasio and Altavilla on the DL (Nicasio with a minor knee issue; Altavilla with what looks to be a serious arm thing that might keep him out for an extended period of time).  Jean Segura had another hit to bring his average to .340, second in the American League at the time.  And, Mitch Haniger drove in the other two runs as he continued his push to be an All Star.  Alex Colome got one out in the 8th, but ended up allowing the Rays to once again pull within 1 run, necessitating Edwin Diaz needing to get a 4-out save.  He did his job to get his 22nd save on the season.

Saturday was a rematch of the previous week’s duel of Felix vs. Snell; this time, it was a collosal bummer.  Felix struggled through 3 innings, giving up 6 runs; and while Roenis Elias was able to limit the damage in his 4 innings of work, giving up just 1 run, the offense couldn’t quite chip away at the deficit (going 0 or 11 with RISP).  So, we lost by a score of 7-3.  Newcomer Mike Morin joined the relief corps; he hasn’t had a good season at the Major League level since 2014, but he ended up striking out 2 in his scoreless inning of work, so we’ll see how he does in Nicasio’s absence.  He obviously won’t be thrust into an 8th inning role, but that’s neither here nor there.

The Mariners bounced right back on Sunday.  James Paxton struggled a bit (for him), but still went 7 innings, giving up 3 runs and striking out 10.  Pazos let a runner get on in his 0.1 innings of work, who would eventually come around to score with Alex Colome on the mound (he would let all three victories get to within 1 run, just to make things interesting against his old club).  Nevertheless, Edwin Diaz got his 23rd save of the season, thanks to some suspect baserunning from the Rays, making the final, baffling out at home plate.  Cruz, Zunino, and Seager all homered to account for the 5 runs the M’s scored.

We now sit atop the A.L. West with the Houston Astros (1 game better in the loss column, 1 game worse in the win column), 4.5 games up on the Angels, who come to town for a 3-game series starting tonight.  They just saw their prized offseason acquisition – Shohei Ohtani – go on the DL (with a chance he might need Tommy John surgery and not return until the 2020 season), so things are going pretty poorly down in Anaheim.  With the Mariners flying high – and Felix not set to start until the Boston series – now is the perfect time to pounce on our greatest rivals for that 2nd wild card spot (while hopefully keeping the Astros at bay for the division).  It’s sad that we have to start dreading every Felix start, but that’s apparently the world in which we live.

We’re officially entering the teeth of the schedule:  3 vs. the Angels, 3 vs. the Yankees, and 7 vs. the Red Sox (4 at home before an East Coast road trip next week).  After some cupcakes, we’ll face the Angels 6 more times before the All Star Break, so it’s time for the Mariners to play their very best!

The Mariners Swept The Rays, Are In First Place

This is the latest the Mariners have been in first place in the A.L. West since 2003?  Am I reading that right?

This is … utter insanity.  I keep waiting for these guys to fall apart and this team keeps proving me wrong!  We’ve seen good stretches of Mariners baseball before; in each of the last 4 years, for instance, we’ve flirted with the concept of contention.  Maybe the M’s have a great week or two, maybe they have an outstanding road trip or something and head home to face a division rival for a huge weekend series, and what happens next?  They fall apart.  And, it’s not necessarily always against the likes of the Astros!  This team has been on some runs and were set to face some sub-.500 competition and they would STILL find ways to lose to those teams, and derail all the progress they’d made scratching and clawing to get to that point!

Hell, when the Astros were the worst team in baseball – before all their prospects hit it big – we’d STILL lose to their fucking asses at least half the time!

What’s the difference this time?  The Mariners are still beating all the teams they’re supposed to beat.  They’re beating the Twins, and the Royals, and the Tigers, and the Blue Jays, and the White Sox, and the Athletics, and the Rangers, and the Indians.  Coming into this series, the Rays were one game over .500; they were a scrappy group of battlers who might’ve been JUST the thorn in our side to – as I mentioned – derail all of the progress we’ve made lately.  And yet, what happened?  We beat them in all three games by a combined 4 runs!

On Friday, we saw another Mike Leake gem:  7 innings, 2 runs, 6 hits, 0 walks, 8 strikeouts.  Colome got us to the 9th with a 1-run lead, but unfortunately Diaz had his 3rd blown save of the season to send it to extras.  We eventually won it in the bottom of the 13th (after 2 scoreless innings from Roenis Elias, who was called up to replace the DFA’d Scrabble; I’ll be happy to not have to talk about that guy ever again) on a Mitch Haniger solo homer to center.

On Saturday, we saw the continuing emergence of Marco Gonzales, who went 6.2 innings of 1-run ball, with 5 hits, 2 walks, and 6 strikeouts.  He continues to be so impressive; I love it!  Cruz, Seager, and Healy accounted for the 3 runs, and the bullpen was perfect (with Diaz getting his 20th save of the season).

On Sunday, we saw the return of Dominant King Felix:  8 innings of 1-run ball, with 5 hits, 1 walk, and 7 strikeouts.  I say dominant even though it wasn’t Felix at his peak; it wasn’t Perfect Game Felix or anything.  But, even when Felix was a Cy Young guy, he had games like this:  he’d dance around a couple jams here and there, but he’d go deep into the ballgame nevertheless, keeping the team in it.  Indeed, it was so much like a Classic King Felix game that the Mariners didn’t score any runs until the 8th inning!  It was 1-0 for the longest time, because the Rays’ Blake Snell absolutely murdered us through 6 innings, striking out 12 (including the first 7 of the game, to tie the A.L. record, and 8 of the first 9 through the lineup), walking 0, and giving up only 2 weak singles.  We were fortunate to foul off a bunch of pitches and otherwise get his pitch count high so they had to pull him early.  We finally scratched a couple runs across in the bottom of the 8th thanks to some elite small ball from the likes of Span and Gordon, and Diaz was able to make it hold up with his 21st save of the season.

As for the Felix show yesterday, I’ll say this:  I was thrilled for him.  He REALLY needed that.  Now, it’s the Rays, and their lineup looks like one of the more impotent ones in the American League (at least from what I’ve seen of it), but with the way Felix had been going, that didn’t matter.  He would’ve struggled against AAA hitting; so hopefully it’s something mechanical they were able to work out.  He gets a rematch against the Rays (and the same opponent in Snell) this week, so hopefully it goes the same as before.

We’re now 37-22; the Astros are 37-24.  The Yankees are still a ridiculous 37-17, but they don’t matter at the moment; they’re the Astros’ problem!  Because WE own the division right now!  And, not for nothing, but we’re 5.5 games over the Angels, which is a lot of breathing room (but I’ll always accept a little more).

Of course, we have a 2-game set in Houston starting tomorrow, so this very well could be a short-term division lead.  They have the best rotation in all of baseball; but we have Paxton and LeBlanc going, our two hottest pitchers!  If anyone is going to keep us in these games, it’s those guys!

Now that I’ve said that, watch us get blown out and swept.  But, today’s an off-day; WE CAN’T LOSE TODAY (knock on wood)!

Mr. Dipoto’s Wild Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

Important Mariners Transactions for the 2016 Season

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

Will Ariel Miranda Get A Legitimate Shot At Next Year’s Mariners Rotation?

In any season where a team finishes with 86 wins and a few games short of the playoffs, there are going to be plenty of pleasant surprises to go along with the smattering of disappointments that prevented you from reaching your goal in the first place.  Of all the deals made in Jerry Dipoto’s first year, one of the few that didn’t either totally backfire or result in no net change whatsoever for either involved team was the Wade Miley for Ariel Miranda trade.

Miranda was a Cuban AAA prospect on the cusp of breaking through to the Majors.  With the Orioles in the pennant race – and with the Mariners in pretty bad shape by the end of July – this was seen as a clear power move for Baltimore, and another sign of the Mariners giving up on their season (to go along with sending a valuable bullpen piece/spot starter in Montgomery away, as well as a veteran set-up reliever in Benoit).  In all likelihood, aside from the Montgomery deal, the Mariners were no worse after those other two trades than before.  But, sending Miley and Benoit to contenders was clearly a cost-cutting move for a team that had less than a 50% chance of making the playoffs (going into August, the Mariners were 52-51, so not the most inspiring of records).

Anyway, for the Orioles, you could see why they opted for Miley over Miranda, even though both were lefties with marginal stuff:  Miley was the veteran, and in a pennant race, you always want the guy with experience over the guy who has never started in the Bigs before.

I’d say it wasn’t shocking that Miley stunk up the joint upon going to Baltimore; he’s a terrible pitcher, and it was a bad idea to bring him here in the first place.  But, he got us Ariel Miranda, and considering what we gave up to get Miley in the first place (Roenis Elias and Carson Smith), we might’ve still come out ahead in the whole thing.  Miranda is already better than Elias ever was, plus he MUST have more club control.  Carson Smith was injured throughout most of 2016, so we’ll see how he comes back from Tommy John surgery.  But, Smith is just a reliever, and you’d trade a quality reliever for a quality starter 9 times out of 10.

The Mariners brought Miranda along slowly, which was absolutely the right thing to do, even as the team itself started playing better down the stretch and closing the gap between themselves and the wild card teams.  His longest start was only 7 innings, and his highest pitch count in any one game was 103.  He averaged about 84 pitches per start.  As such, we were able to keep him fresh through September, we were able to keep him healthy, and we were able to preserve his confidence, as he often found himself rolling through the first five innings before quickly being pulled at the first sign of trouble late in games.  By season’s end, he was on a great run, finishing with 3 quality starts in September (including an impressive 7-inning, 2-run, 8-strikeout victory against Houston of all teams).

When you tack on his seemingly unflappable nature (he more than held his own in his final start against the A’s, a do-or-die game for this team, going 5.1 innings of 1-run ball), Miranda has more than earned a chance to compete for a starting job next spring.  My question is:  will he get that chance?

Obviously, we’re pretty far away from that point, so anything I say from here on out is pure speculation, but the rotation as it stands right now – indeed as it stood at season’s end – is:

  1. King Felix
  2. Iwakuma
  3. Paxton
  4. Walker
  5. Miranda

Regardless of what happens, Felix and Kuma aren’t going anywhere.  I believe James Paxton has earned a spot in this rotation with his work in 2016, so he doesn’t have to compete for anything.  He just has to show up in shape and ready to build his arm up to where it was this year.  I think Walker will be given every opportunity to win a spot in this rotation, but I also think he’s going to have to earn it.  He’s going to have to come in healthy, with the right mindset, and ready to pound the zone with strikes.  I also think he’s fully capable of doing that, and putting up good spring numbers, so his situation boils down to whether or not the team wants to make an example of him.  To tone down expectations a little bit and let him settle into a groove in Tacoma for the first month before getting called back up.  It wouldn’t shock me, so I hope, for his sake, he comes into camp all business next year.

I also think, as I’ve written before, that the team isn’t set on this rotation.  I’d bet my next four paychecks that the Mariners will end up either trading for or signing a veteran free agent sometime before Pitchers & Catchers report.  Now, the question here is:  will they go after a Wade Miley type?  I.e. a supposedly-solid veteran who has his rotation spot all but guaranteed?  Or, will it be more of a Jeremy Bonderman type who comes in under a minor league deal, with a shot at the big league camp in Spring Training, but who likely starts his season in Tacoma before proving he’s worthy of a real opportunity in Seattle?  Regardless, when you throw that person (or persons) into the mix, alongside Nate Karns (if he manages to return from injury), along with whoever from the minors decides to make a big splash, I could see a real dogfight for these last two spots.

As I said, Walker probably has the edge, but if we bring in a bona fide veteran (which is the way I’m leaning, if I had to make a prediction), that means it’ll be Walker vs. Miranda for that final spot.  Both have options left, so either one could start his year in Tacoma.  But, Walker has better stuff and higher upside.  So, if Miranda is going to make a name for himself, he’s really going to have to step up his game.

I like Miranda’s fastball well enough.  It’s hard to tell if he got as far as he did this year because no one really knew him or faced him; I’d be curious to see how he does next year, when opposing batters have more of a book on him.  He’s also got a splitter that he tends to leave up in the zone, as well as a change up that looks like the same thing.  He’s got to get better at keeping those off-speed pitches down in the zone.  And, it would help if he developed a curve or a slider to keep lefties off-balance.

I won’t be totally pissed if Miranda has to start his year in Tacoma, because I know that sooner or later we’re going to need him.  I know I’ve said this repeatedly in the past about Roenis Elias, but it’ll be nice to have Miranda as starting insurance, because it’s nearly impossible for a rotation to stay fully intact with the same five guys for a full season.  If Miranda works on his craft and stays healthy, he might be one of the better 6th starters in the league!

Who Are The Real Mariners?

I use this logic a lot when I’m describing a team:  good teams find a way to win close games.  Conversely, bad teams find ways to lose those games.  In the first two months, by and large, the Mariners were finding ways to win those 50/50 games they would’ve lost in years past.  In June, where we’re halfway through and the Mariners are already 4-9, the Mariners are finding every way imaginable to lose the games they were just winning a few weeks ago!

Last night, the Mariners did everything right.  They jumped all over a good pitcher early, locking in a 5-2 lead before Walker fell apart and had to be pulled due to an achilles injury.  Still, it was 5-4 heading into the 7th inning, and you know what?  That should be enough.  The bullpen has one fucking job.  Each guy in that bullpen, ALL they have to do, is get somewhere between 1-3 batters out when you’re at that point in the game.  Generally:  one guy pitches the 7th, one guy pitches the 8th, and Cishek comes in to close it out in the 9th.

HOW FUCKING HARD IS IT TO GET THREE HITTERS OUT?

A one run lead heading into the 7th should just be a victory for your team, period.  If you can’t hold that down, then you have no business playing in this league.

But, fine, you know what?  The Mariners did this bullpen a huge favor by tacking on TWO MORE runs in the top of the 7th!  So, a 1-run lead became what should’ve been an insurmountable 3-run lead, and at this point you’re just TRYING to give away baseball games if you blow a 3-run lead with three innings to go!

So, in trots Nick Vincent, he of the 87 mph fastball that lopes gently across the plate; it’s a wonder how he’s not hit harder more often.  He, of course, gave up a hit and a walk before allowing the game-tying 3-run homer, and it was all academic at that point.  Mike Montgomery came in and proceeded to suck the dick of everyone in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, and what was once a sure-thing victory turned into yet another demoralizing defeat.

Did you know the Mariners are winless in the last five games decided by 1 run?  That, of course, is dating back to the series with the Twins, where all this misery started in the first place.  So, what is it?  Who are the REAL Mariners?  Was it the team rocking and rolling through most of the first two months of the season?  Is that team just hitting a rough patch?  Or, are THESE the real Mariners?  And THESE Mariners just happened to have been playing an unsustainably-good brand of baseball for the first 8 weeks of the season?

I’m afraid I’m out of answers on this one.  Trying to figure out the Seattle Mariners makes my head hurt.

Again, I hate to be a broken record, but I have no problem whatsoever with the hitting.  Granted, the Mariners were 3 for 14 with runners in scoring position last night … BUT THEY SCORED SEVEN FUCKING RUNS!  I don’t give a SHIT how they score them; if they’re consistently averaging over 5 runs per game, they’re doing their jobs!  If they score SEVEN runs in a game, they should damn well win that motherfucking game!  So, shove your devil’s advocate argument up your fucking asshole, because I’m not buying it!

This is all on the pitching, which is – for the record – the part of the team that was most overhauled in the offseason.  I’ll praise Jerry Dipoto until the cows come home for the way he invigorated the lineup and our defensive presence; but by the same token, you have to criticize him a little bit for the way the pitching was handled.

If you even want to call Iwakuma a “positive” presence on this team, then I’ll give you that, but you’ve got to give ME the fact that Dipoto was lucky to have him fall in his lap.  Iwakuma was all but a Dodger until they backed out of the deal, at which point suddenly Mariners ownership found a few extra sheckles to give him a deal.  But, I wouldn’t say that was Dipoto working his Dipoto Magic.

Wade Miley has been a disaster to this point.  That’s not to say he won’t turn it around, but halfway into June, Miley sucks.  To get him, we gave up a young, cheap starter with lots of club control (Roenis Elias, who by the way, we’ll be seeing start against us when we hit Boston this weekend) and a potentially-elite reliever in Carson Smith, who is awesome when healthy (and also cheap, with lots of club control), but obviously hasn’t been this year.

I’m not actually mad at the Karns deal at all.  I’ll give Dipoto a pass on this one, considering he got Karns by trading away a lot of our garbage from the previous regime (Brad Miller, LoMo, and Danny Farquhar).  Karns still has upside, and/or could be trade bait for someone better in the short term.

That takes us to the bullpen, which was largely overhauled.  A couple of guys haven’t even pitched for us yet, so their injury-plagued seasons are on Dipoto.  Benoit missed a bunch of time, and hasn’t been the lockdown set-up man we all thought he was going to be (he also has a ridiculous salary to boot).  Peralta was a disaster who we kept around for as long as we did due to injuries to other guys.  Cishek has 3 losses and 4 blown saves on his record already.  Nick Vincent has looked okay, but he’s probably not fit for the advanced bullpen role he’s been thrust into.  Am I missing anyone?  I guess Steve Johnson is a thing, and not a very good thing at that.

I dunno.  We’re talking about a lot of guys who are coming off of down years.  The Mariners under Jackie Z were largely predicated on bringing in guys on value deals, who were good TWO years ago, but struggled the year prior, thus why they were so cheap to bring in to begin with.  I hate that line of thinking, even if it’s probably best applied to the bullpen, whose wonky nature will see guys dominate one year, then look like total and complete ass the next year, while largely throwing the same exact stuff (see Benoit, for instance; or see Fernando Rodney in San Diego, who has STILL not given up an earned run, after sucking all ass around town for the Mariners last year).

Are these good Mariners having a bad run, or bad Mariners finally showing their true colors?  I suspect the answer is somewhere in between.  These are the Mariners.  Sometimes they’re going to look like world-beaters, sometimes they’re going to look like the worst team in baseball.  They’re a whole lot closer to being a .500 team than anyone wants to believe, especially considering exactly 3 weeks ago, we were 10 games OVER .500.

I hate sports.

The Official 2016 Mariners Preview

I got into a bunch of stuff last week, if you missed it.

So, without further ado, why not kick this post off by talking about the hitters and fielders?

I’ve been on record for a while now as being pretty impressed by the collection of hitters the Mariners have amassed this year.  I think we’re across-the-board better than we were last year, and better than we’ve been in I can’t remember how many years.  Adam Lind should be an improvement over the streaky LoMo.  I’m not really all that high on Brad Miller (again, streaky), so I think we’ll get more consistency out of Ketel Marte.  Chris Iannetta should be leaps & bounds better than the black hole that was Mike Zunino.  Nori Aoki should be a HUGE upgrade over Dustin Ackley.  And, considering there was absolutely nothing special about Austin Jackson, that means we’re not taking much of a hit offensively with Leonys Martin, while at the same time getting a bigtime player defensively in center.

When you tack that onto Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz still in their primes, the improved health of Robinson Cano leading to a dramatic return to form, and the steady presence of Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez in a platoon situation, I think we’re going to see this team be quite competitive offensively, compared to in years past where most of the time we were struggling just to score a run or two.

In fact, I’ll take it one step further.  I think we’re going to see a high number of shootouts, where the Mariners are scoring 7+ runs, while at the same time giving up 7+ runs.  While the obvious home run numbers won’t be there, I think this COULD prove to be the best offense we’ve had since 2001.

Which is a shame, because usually it’s the pitching I have the most confidence in.  This year, terms like “potential” and “cautiously optimistic” have been uttered by me when talking about the collection of starters and relievers we’ve got on the roster.  It’s less than ideal.  You can make the case for and against just about every one of these guys.

I’m like 85-90% sure Felix Hernandez is going to continue being great.  But, while I won’t damn him for the so-called poor finish to his season last year, I will say there were a disturbing number of appearances where he got absolutely annihilated.  8 runs against Houston, where he only got 1 out.  7 runs each against the Yankees and Diamondbacks.  10 runs in 2.1 innings against Boston.  I’m not used to seeing my guy struggle like he did in these games.  I mean, I didn’t think I’d EVER see a time where he couldn’t get out of the first inning!  It’s not cause to be alarmed, but it’s cause to be on alert.  King Felix is still performing at a high level for the most part, but winter is coming.

On any given day, I’m 50/50 as to whether we’ll see Good Iwakuma or Crap Iwakuma.  He had that 2013 season where he was amazing (and amazingly healthy), but he’s followed it up with two so-so years.  While he finished pretty consistently strong, he had a run from late 2014 through early 2015 where he was giving up homers at an insane rate.  Even in his best year, he was giving up almost a homer a game, so that’s not entirely a negative issue with him.  But, keeping guys off base and keeping the ball from looking like a juicy piece of meat for opposing batters to mash will always be the key.

Wade Miley is more or less an effective innings eater, but he reminds me of every soft-tossing lefty starter we’ve had here in the last 8 years or so.  Vargas, Saunders, Elias, Happ, Washburn, Rowland-Smith, and I’m sure I’m forgetting countless others.  Vargas was probably the best of the bunch, but he didn’t come as a finished product and had his share of growing pains along the way.  Does Miley have an effective out pitch?  If he doesn’t have an awesome splitter or change up or something, I don’t have high hopes for him being very good.

Taijuan Walker seems to have the most promise among players taking a big leap forward.  But, at the same time, he could just be who he is.  When his command is on, he’ll be tough, but ultimately falling short of that elite, Ace status.

Then, there’s what’s sure to be a revolving door of sorts at the bottom of the rotation.  Karns is young, and I don’t really know what he has.  Paxton is down in Tacoma, waiting for either Karns to slip up, or someone else to get injured.  Neither one of them inspire too much confidence (I mean, our main injury insurance in Paxton is himself injury-prone!).

Ultimately, this is going to be the highest variance season we’ve seen out of the Mariners since 2007.  You know how, in every Preview post I’ve ever written about the Mariners, I talk about the Best Case Scenario?  Well, usually my scenarios are based in far-off delusions (Ackley/Smoak/Montero/Miller/Zunino will hopefully be ready to take the next step into being a productive and elite member of baseball society).  But, the actual variance in possibilities isn’t usually that great.  A normal range of outcomes is usually anywhere from 70-80 wins.  But, this year?  I could see this team winning anywhere from 65 games to 90 games and not have it be totally crazy.

What does a 65-win Mariners team look like?  Well, probably injury-riddled at its core.  One would think that team will have to face significant time with King Felix on the shelf, and at least one of the big three (Cano/Cruz/Seager).  As this team doesn’t really have a ton of depth, nor a ton of talent coming up through the pipeline, it just won’t be able to overcome significant health issues at its premium positions.

What does a 75-win Mariners team look like?  Well, tbh, a lot like last year’s team.  The bullpen struggles, the starters are somewhat effective, but have their own peaks & valleys to deal with, and the hitters aren’t as good as we thought going in.  That means Iannetta is just as black of a hole as Zunino; Lind isn’t much of an upgrade over LoMo, as he struggles to adjust to Safeco Field; Ketel Marte is drastically worse than the low bar Brad Miller had set for us; Nori Aoki looks more like Austin Jackson than we care to admit; and Leonys Martin looks more like James Jones than we care to admit.  That team also has one of the big three (let’s say Cruz, for shits and giggles, since he would appear to be due for some regression towards the mean) unexpectedly struggling a lot more than they did last year, due to nagging health issues or simply advanced age.

What does an 85-win Mariners team look like?  Well, for starters, the hitters match my expectations of being the strength of this team.  The pitching likely struggles at spots, and maybe Iwakuma or Karns miss a month or two due to injury (probably at different points in the season, giving us a lot more of Paxton than we expected).  The bullpen goes through hot periods and extra cold periods, but the offense is just clutch enough to give us a Kansas City Royals-esque spate of walk-off wins.  This team stays relevant throughout the season – giving Seattle fans lots to talk about all summer – and might even break that streak of seasons without a postseason appearance, depending on how things shake out in the rest of the American League.  Ultimately, this team probably disappoints in the playoffs (if it does get there), but it gives fans a ton of hope going into the 2017 season.

What does a 90-win (or 90+ win) Mariners team look like?  Well, here’s your Best Case Scenario.  Here’s where absolutely everything that needed to break right DOES break right.  Felix is in the Cy Young conversation.  Iwakuma is back to his 2013 tricks.  Wade Miley comes better than advertised and not only eats up innings, but figures out how to be an effective #2 or #3 starter.  Taijuan Walker goes thermonuclear.  And, the duo of Karns/Paxton are pleasant surprises whose ability to pitch finally catches up to their raw stuff.  This team gets strong seasons out of its primary 8th & 9th inning bullpen guys, and gets enough out of the rest of the bullpen to make it one of the top five units in the league.  And the hitting is not only as good as I think it’s going to be, but it still manages to come through on that clutchness factor, where we’re winning a vast majority of 1-run games (what some would say is an unsustainable rate of winning in those types of close games).  This team probably catches some luck among the rest of the A.L. West and takes the division, and cruises right into the ALCS.  Felix gets to show the world what it’s been missing by not having him in the playoffs, as he blows away the field in his post-season starts, and this team makes its first-ever World Series appearance (where it goes on to lose in five games, because this is Seattle, and we can’t have nice things).

So, where do I have my money?

In Tahoe, there was a Futures bet.  The over/under for the Mariners was 82 wins.  Now, considering I had 1 good betting day out of 4 when I was down there, you can take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt.  If I still had money on the last day there, I would’ve bet everything I had on the Mariners winning under 82 games.  What does that mean?  Well, my gambling prowess notwithstanding, I believe there is a greater than 50% chance that the shit hits the fan with this team (either with injuries, or a struggling bullpen, or the hitters just not being as good as we expected) and the Mariners struggle to remain competitive.  You know me, I hate a team that doesn’t pitch well.  Even if the key guys stay healthy, I still think this team – at the end of the day – will look a lot like it did last year, at least in the win/loss column.

That having been said, there’s a part of me that believes in this team more than last year’s team.  I wonder if that’s just because it looks so different (13 of the 25 players we have going into Opening Day will be playing their first games as Mariners).  I mean, different = better, right?  Well, at least different = more exciting, for the first few weeks anyway.

My hunch is that the offense will ultimately be one of the better ones we’ve seen in recent history, but it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see this offense get off to yet ANOTHER slow start in the month of April.  All the better to make me look foolish in my predictions (because everything in the world revolves around me and what I think).  Conversely, the pitching will probably start out on fire, and this team will be a couple games under .500 going into May.  It’ll tread water – as the Mariners like to do – through the All Star Break, and then on that road trip at the end of July the Mariners will go something like 1-7 and play themselves right out of contention (and a season-saving deadline deal).  From there, it’ll just be a matter of playing out the string of yet another losing season.  I think the record will be 77-85.

I like this team, but I’ve been burned too many times in the past.  I’ll go into this year expecting the worst, because why shouldn’t I?  We’ve got national morons predicting the Mariners will shock the world – like we read about just about every single year – but what are they basing it on?  The same things I’m basing my prediction on:  the high variance nature of this roster.  When has that ever worked out in our favor to spell out a post-season appearance?  Not bloody often.

The Mariners Have Their Bullpen Set Too

This was always going to be the most interesting part of Spring Training this year (though, admittedly, not interesting enough to force me to actually pay attention day-in and day-out).  The way I had it, coming in, there were three surefire locks, and one of those locks – Charlie Furbush – came in as damaged goods and looks like he could miss weeks, if not months, of the season.  Beyond that, it was a wild fracas to lock down the back-end of the bullpen.

Steve Cishek looks to be the obvious closer, what with his 2-year, $10 million deal.  How married Scott Servais is to traditional closer roles is anyone’s guess, but let’s go out on a limb and say more often than not, when the Mariners are nursing a lead of 3 runs or less, Steve Cishek will be the last pitcher the Mariners use.

Joaquin Benoit was the other lock to make this team, he of the $7.5 million deal that we took off of the Padres’ hands in trade.  You like traditional 8th inning guys, who can close for you in a pinch?  Benoit is your man!  Think of him as your Farquhar replacement, or your Wilhelmsen replacement, or your Carson Smith replacement, or you Medina replacement, or your Maurer replacement, or your …

Then, there’s the rest of the pile.  Tony Zych came out of the woodwork late last season, putting in an awesome September in a handful of appearances.  I always had him pegged on the higher-end of the bubble guys, mostly because unlike most of the pitchers on this team, he can actually throw a fastball … you know, FAST.  One of the more confusing aspects of the new regime is how they value pitching, particularly bullpen pitching.  Maybe it’s old school, outdated thinking to want to have a bunch of fireballing hurlers in your bullpen, but I’ve seen a lot of mediocre guys come and go who’ve been forced out of this league because they couldn’t throw much faster than 90 miles per hour.  I guess location and movement are always a big help, but every now and again you just feel all warm and cozy when a guy can reach back and throw 98 mph.

Furbush wasn’t the only guy bit by the injury bug this spring.  Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook both looked like reclamation projects that had a better than 50% chance of making the team.  Instead, both will start the year on the DL.

A few of my other bubble guys ended up getting sent down to Tacoma, including Jonathan Aro (came over in the Carson Smith/Roenis Elias for Wade Miley deal), Justin De Fratus (who was waived, and then re-signed to a minor league deal, as his arm strength didn’t appear to be up to Major League snuff), and Joe Wieland among numerous others.

That opened the door for something of a longshot in Joel Peralta, who was brought in on a minor league deal with an invite to compete.  In hindsight, it might be unfair to think of him as being a longshot.  Indeed, he probably deserved better than a minor league deal in the first place.  He has a history of being wildly successful as recently as 2014!  He ended up hitting the DL last year and upon his return looked pretty mediocre.  Hard to fault teams for wondering if his nerve injury would be a career killer.  But, apparently he’s done enough in this Spring Training to earn himself a job with the Mariners, so he can’t be all bad.

Without Furbush, and without any younger options in the organization to make the jump, it was looking pretty grim as far as finding a left-handed option out of the bullpen was concerned.  Fortunately, the Mariners had a surplus of starters in camp, a couple of which were out of options and clinging for dear life to the big leagues.  Vidal Nuno was always going to make this team, but coming into Spring Training, you couldn’t be entirely sure if it would be as a starter or a reliever.  Odds were always in favor of the latter, and lo it has come to pass.  You like Nuno in the bullpen because he has starting experience.  Especially early in the season, when you’re likely to find starters struggling to get into a groove, you might have a need for a long reliever coming in and eating up innings.

The best thing that ever happened to Mike Montgomery, of course, is that very injury to Furbush.  Montgomery was always a longshot to make the rotation, and therefore a longshot to make this team.  If you asked knowledgeable Mariners fans, most of them would’ve pegged Montgomery to be a possible trade chip (barring injury, of course) at the end of Spring Training.  Well, it didn’t take long for Montgomery to abandon his starting ambitions for 2016.  And, given that he’s out of options, it only made sense to try him out in relief, to give us another experienced arm, and another arm we can use in long relief if need be.  Having Nuno and Montgomery gives us two lefties, two long relievers, and a ton of flexibility with how we mix and match at the end of games.

The seventh and final bullpen spot came way out of left field, as the Mariners traded for Nick Vincent this week, for a player to be named later.  Vincent is another guy who’s out of options, but he has tons of Major League relieving experience, and by his numbers looks like a guy who’s had a lot of success.  I don’t know what happened in San Diego to cause them to lose favor in this kid, but their loss would appear to be our gain in this sitch.

Like the rotation, and indeed the entire 25-man roster, the bullpen has a lot of possibilities.  It could be great, it could be the worst, or it could be anywhere in between.  Aside from Zych, there’s a lot of experience in these arms, and a lot of quality experience.  Guys like Cishek, Benoit, Peralta, and Vincent have had a lot of success in this league.  Best of all, it looks almost nothing like the bullpen we had last year, which was a collosal disappointment and one of the primary reasons why we failed to make the playoffs.

I don’t know what it’ll look like a month from now, but for the time being I’m going to go into this thing cautiously optimistic and see how that treats me.