It Only Took 146 Games For The Mariners To Get To 60 Wins

The best Mariners game I’ve seen all year didn’t actually involve the Mariners at all! It was a Texas League Playoffs matchup last Wednesday, featuring the Arkansas Travelers against the Tulsa Drillers, televised on Root Sports, featuring Jerry Dipoto doing color commentary. The Travelers won a tense 2-1 battle, though sadly they would go on to lose the series in five games. Getting to see potential future Mariners stars at the AA level is really the only source of hope in this nothing of a season.

The M’s are 60-86 this morning, after a couple of wins to start this week’s Reds series. The only reason to ever look at the standings if you’re a Mariners fan is to see where they’ll be drafting next year. For the last few weeks, we’ve pretty much been stuck at the 6th overall draft slot. The Blue Jays are in fifth, 3 games worse, and the Royals are in fourth, a whopping 6 games worse. So, moving down in the standings to get a better draft pick seems pretty remote with only 16 games remaining (only 6 of which are against teams with winning records, and only 2 of THOSE games are against the Astros, which at this point should be considered certain defeats).

There is still a chance to get a slightly worse draft pick, though, which is not what I want to be thinking about right now. But, the Rockies – who have been terrible in the second half of this season – are only 2 games better, and the Pirates – who we play in Pittsburgh next week – are only 4 games better (likewise, the White Sox – who we play at home this weekend – are just 4.5 games better). The point is: EYES ON THE PRIZE! There are A LOT of terrible teams on the Mariners’ schedule (those teams I just mentioned, as well as the Orioles, who are the second-worst team in all of baseball by record); we need to continue to lose just enough to at the very least keep our 6th overall draft pick!

As for how this season has gone, I haven’t the foggiest. I still don’t think I’ve seen a 2019 Mariners game all the way through. I think I read somewhere that they either set a franchise record or a Major League record for most players used in a season, which feels about right. There are a ton of guys I’ve never heard of before (especially from the bullpen side of things), and the ones I have heard of haven’t been all that riveting.

The whole thing with a “rebuild” or a “step-back” or whatever is twofold: lose a bunch of games to replenish your roster with high draft picks, and play a lot of young guys to give them the experience they need to develop into stars in the near future. Well, that first part has gone pretty well (again, in spite of that 13-2 start that grows more baffling by the day). The other half of the equation is a mixed bag.

We got a whopping 63 games out of Mitch Haniger before injuries followed by repeated setbacks to said injuries derailed his entire season. Not that he was ever REALLY in danger of being sent to the minors or anything – he was generally considered to be one of our stars and leaders of this team – but he’s still a relatively young guy in the grand scheme of things, and probably could’ve used at least a good second half to springboard into a more promising 2020.

Likewise, Domingo Santana hasn’t played since mid-August. Mallex Smith had to be sent down for a spell to correct things about his defense and his swing. Shed Long and J.P. Crawford have both missed time with injuries in an all-important year for a couple of guys looking to compete for starting jobs in 2020.

On the flipside, our catcher position has arguably never been stronger! Omar Narvaez is far and away our best hitter, and Tom Murphy has been a revelation (when he was considered a journeyman backup at best when we brought him in). Austin Nola came from out of nowhere to put up some solid offensive numbers as a first base replacement for the injured Ryon Healy. And, even Kyle Seager has had a nice bounce-back campaign after a rough last couple of seasons; in just 90 games he has 22 homers and at least looks like the Kyle Seager of old, who earned that massive contract. It’s nice to at least not have a black hole at third base heading into next year.

Those guys have been solid, Crawford has looked like a viable Major Leaguer at short stop. Mallex Smith has 41 stolen bases to make up for some soft offensive numbers. Dan Vogelbach has had a rough stretch since the All Star Break, but he still has 30 homers and a .344 on-base percentage; if he ever figures out how to hit lefties, watch out! I feel like there’s enough potential on this side of the ball to make 2020 somewhat interesting.

The real bright spot for the organization has been what’s going on in the minors. Jarred Kelenic has rocketed all the way up to AA, and hasn’t really missed a beat. Kyle Lewis was just called up from AA for a cup of coffee and has hit two homers in his first two games. A number of other guys have blossomed to the point where we’re not only NOT the laughingstock of minor league farm systems, but we’re actually pretty respectable! Maybe not in the realm of the Astros/Braves/Dodgers/Yankees, but at least in the conversation down in that next tier. Kelenic could very well be in that Mike Trout mold of superstar, should things continue on this trajectory.

The pitching is another matter, of course. Marco Gonzales is what he is, which is fine. Sometimes, he’s really on it, but sometimes he’s got nothing. His 4.30 ERA feels about right for him; he’s certainly nobody’s idea of a #1 starter. But, as a #3, he’s okay. As a #4 he’s probably better. To say that Yusei Kikuchi’s rookie season hasn’t gone according to plan has been an understatement. A lot of mediocre-to-ugly stat lines, with his bright spots few and far between. You can see the potential is there, and the stuff is there. The best thing we can say is that if he’s going to have a season like this, better to get it out of the way now, when winning isn’t really the top concern. If he’s going to have a CAREER like this, though, then yeah, he’ll be a huge bust.

As you may recall, the Mariners spent a buttload of draft picks earlier this summer on pitching prospects, which felt like a total overreaction to the years guys like Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson were having. Swanson was always going to be a candidate to switch to the bullpen, and it appears that’s what the team has done with him in the second half of this season, which is obviously disappointing. That disappointment has only been worsened by the fact that he really hasn’t looked good in either role. There’s still hope for Sheffield, in spite of his ragged start to 2019. He was in Tacoma, he had some bad games in Seattle, he went back to Tacoma, then he was demoted even further, down to AA to get his mechanics right. That probably has more to do with the fact that the PCL is a home run factory what with the juiced balls and small ballparks, but that’s neither here nor there. Sheffield has pretty quietly had an improved second half, and in his two September starts, he’s combined to go 11 innings, giving up 12 hits, 1 run, with 5 walks and 11 strikeouts. It’s baby steps, but I’ll take it.

As for the bullpen, I couldn’t even start. I don’t even know who’s here anymore! Our saves leader – Roenis Elias with 14 – is on the Nationals, that much I do know. Our next-highest saves leaders have 4 apiece. I have to believe we’re at or near the top of Major League Baseball in BLOWN saves, but that’s not a stat they like to throw around very much.

To be fair, at this point in our rebuild, the bullpen is probably the last thing we should be worrying about. I said it earlier this season and it’s come to fruition: you want everyone on the team to play well, then you want the bullpen to absolutely tear every game apart. Gotta get that high draft pick! Gotta draft and develop well! Gotta get back to the playoffs somehow, some way! Gotta win a World Series before the Earth is swallowed up by the Sun!

The 2019 Mariners Went 18-14 In March/April

The M’s started out 13-2 on the year, and everyone was pleasantly surprised. Then, the M’s went 5-12 to finish the month, and everyone said, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

It’s been a topsy-turvy 2019, but when you start to dig into it, it makes a lot of sense. Against teams with winning records (Houston, Cleveland, San Diego, Chicago Cubs), the Mariners are 0-9; which puts us at 18-5 against the rest of the league. That’s pretty much what the M’s have been the last few years – as we’ve clung to the desperate notion of “contention” – beat up on the bad teams, struggle against the elite teams, and fall just short of the playoffs. Considering where we thought this team would be heading into the season – as one of those bottom-feeders – you have to figure this is the Best Case Scenario for this team. But, REAL contention, as a LEGITIMATE World Series threat, well, let’s not go that far.

The starting pitching is more or less what we thought it was: good enough to keep us in games. The hitting is probably a little better than expected – they’ll go to pound town on subpar pitching – but they still struggle against the better staffs. The bullpen is probably a little worse than expected: there’s no closer to speak of, and while they’re not blowing every single game, they’re still far from trustworthy. The most alarming aspect of the 2019 Mariners thus far is how absolutely abominable the defense turned out to be.

Oh sure, the loss of Seager created a massive black hole at third base; Healy will never be a fit there. That, in turn, weakened our first base defense a tick. Catcher was always going to be a negative for this team, because we went out and brought in the exact opposite of Mike Zunino. But, I’m not sure I expected Tim Beckham to be so terrible at short. Domingo Santana regularly misses even the routine plays in left. And Mallex Smith – until being sent down yesterday for his swing issues – is FAR from what was advertised as a plus defender in center.

That having been said, there’s been more bright spots than negatives with this team. Marco Gonzales is pitching like a ROCKSTAR right now! 5-0, 2.80 ERA, averaging over 6 innings per start. He is so far from what he was two years ago, it’s absolutely amazing. I would argue Felix is better than expected, but the bar was set pretty low, and there’s still a lot of season left to play, so I won’t be counting any chickens one month in. Roenis Elias has been a trouper for our bullpen (2.16 ERA, 4 saves), and Brandon Brennan – our Rule 5 Guy – might be our best reliever of the season so far!

The majority of the good vibes have been coming from the plate, though. Dan Vogelbach has been on fire (.310/.462/.732); Dee Gordon is healthy and hitting the cover off the ball; Santana, Narvaez, and Beckham have all been terrific with a bat in their hands. Encarnacion and Bruce, while their averages have been low, their power numbers are still spectacular. Really, the only downer has been Mallex Smith, but I would expect he just needs a couple weeks in Tacoma to get his head and his swing right.

So, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Mariners, but it’s also not all roses and sunshine. I’m coming back down to Earth a little bit when it comes to talk of them adding for a possible playoff run. Forget that. Stay the course. And, maybe blow a few extra games in May to make the front office certain we’re on the right track. The last thing we need to do is blow things up AGAIN by trying to add to this team when it has no business doing so.

Sure Enough, The Mariners Suck Again

In spite of what happened last night (an absurd 11-10 Mariners victory down in Anaheim, blowing what was once a 10-2 lead) I think we can all agree – based on losing six straight games to the Astros and Indians (going 0 for the Homestand, after building up so much good will en route to a 13-2 start) – that the Mariners do, indeed, suck again.

Take out the “again” part, because when have we NOT, amirite?

After last Friday’s so-so performance against Wade Miley and Co., the bats went in the tank for the remainder of the homestand. The Mariners scored 1, 2, 4, 2, and 0 runs respectively, to come hurtling back down to Earth. And, sure, I’ll come out and say it: we were facing significantly better starting pitching over those five games, compared to the first 16, so it probably shouldn’t shock anyone that the Mariners’ offense cooled off considerably. They were never going to stay as red hot as they were.

Ahh, the ebbs and flows of a baseball season … can gobble my modestly-sized dick!

Last night showed how the Mariners can suck in the other direction. How do you blow an 8-run lead over the course of two innings? By having probably the worst bullpen in all of baseball.

It was nice to see the bats re-emerge (Healy had 2 homers and 5 RBI, Narvaez had 3 hits and 4 RBI, Vogelbach got on base 5 times with his 2 hits & 3 walks), but once again it was a shaky performance from the bullpen and by connection, the manager. You got 6 innings of 2-run ball out of King Felix … so what are you doing trying to press your luck by sending him out there for the 7th? I don’t CARE what his pitch count was! You’re just asking for trouble.

He was pulled in favor of R.J. Alaniz, who is probably a guy I will never write about again, as I’m assuming he’ll be sent down to Tacoma today and never heard from again. He gave up 4 runs (earning a 24.00 ERA), but the guys after him weren’t all that much better.

In the end, though, it was 10-10 after eight innings. Somehow, the M’s pushed across a run in the ninth and Roenis Elias was able to shut it down. But, obviously, it never should’ve been remotely CLOSE to being that close, and yet it was. Because the Mariners suck. Now and forever.

Happy Friday everyone!

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

See, here’s the thing.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

The pitching side of things is pretty mediocre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Tempering Expectations For This Mariners Rebuild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gone from 2018 Roster

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

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

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

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

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

Holdovers from 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incoming 2019

  • Yusei Kikuchi
  • Justus Sheffield
  • Erik Swanson

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

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

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

Outlook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mariners Did Some Other Stuff Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mariners Fire Sale! Everything Must Go!

I’ve had sort of mixed emotions about the first two big deals on this list (that I linked to, if you want to read about my feelings).  I think they were definitely necessary moves the Mariners needed to make, to shake things up and boost our farm system, but ultimately I wonder if we got enough back in return.  A starting catcher (who’s also a defensive wizard) for a centerfielder who probably won’t be here for more than a year or two before we get tired of yet another slap-hitting singles artist FEELS like pennies on the dollar.  Then, giving up a potential Ace starting pitcher for a mixed bag of minor league talent – again, while bolstering our terrible minor league teams – FEELS like yet more pennies on the dollar.  Now, of course, both of those guys (all three, if you want to include Heredia) come with their own risks.  Paxton and his injury issues, and Zunino with his woeful hitting issues, could submarine their respective new teams.  Or, they could figure it out/catch a little luck, and be superstars we gave up on too soon.

Before we get to the next slate of deals, I’ll talk about the minor moves the M’s made.  For starters, it seems odd that we’d dump Herrmann when we were already looking to trade Zunino, and the fact that the Astros made a play on him is doubly concerning.  In the end, probably no big thing, and he’s probably not a guy you’d want to guarantee a 40-man roster spot at this point in his career, so whatever.

Not going to arbitration on either Erasmo or Nick Vincent is probably a net gain.  I’m on the record as not having a whole lot of belief in Erasmo.  I think, for what he brings, he shouldn’t cost you very much in salary, so if he gets that elsewhere, more power to him.  And, while I like Vincent as much as the next guy, he was due a significant raise, and given his age and his declining abilities in 2018, that’s money poorly spent for the direction this team is going in.  I’m okay without either of them going forward, as I particularly think Vincent’s best days are behind him, and he’s going to get WAY too much money from another team.

The M’s offered Elias arbitration, and I think that’s cool, but I would’ve been cool if we didn’t as well.  I don’t think he’s in the longterm plans, but you do need to fill out a 25-man roster.  As a reliever/swing starter, there’s some value there.  He was good in 2018, and it’s just as likely he’ll be terrible in 2019, in which case that helps us on our quest to get a higher draft pick.

Finally, Casey Lawrence asked for his release so he can go pitch overseas.  I wish him the best, but again, no great loss.  He was mostly AAA fodder with occasional underwhelming call-ups.

***

Okay, now to the big deals!  Let’s start with the appetizer.

There was all this talk about the above-referenced blockbuster deal with the Mets, but before we were finished obsessing over that one, Jerry Dipoto snuck in a sneaky-good deal with the White Sox.  Alex Colome was another guy with some value who was not in our longterm plans.  He’s still got closing ability, he did pretty okay in 2018, so that value was probably not going up considerably.  Better to strike now rather than at midseason, when he could suck (or get injured) in the first half and see his value drop to zero.

On top of that, we get a starting-calibre catcher in return!  Omar “Don’t Call Me Navarez” Narvaez is a bat-first, lefty-hitting catcher who can take a walk and hit for a decent average.  He lacks Zunino’s power, but he’s improved in that area over the last year.  Where he stinks, unfortunately, is every aspect of his defense, as he rates as one of the very worst in the league.  Pitch-framing, throwing out runners, blocking pitches in the dirt, you name it, he sucks at it.  So, that’s going to be a drastic change of pace.  He’s essentially the Anti-Zunino, so if you REALLY hated Zunino, you’re REALLY gonna love this guy.

We’ll see if he can pick it up defensively, but I feel like that’s something you either have or you don’t, and you don’t really develop it if you lack it in the first place.  I hope I’m wrong, but I feel like he’s NOT the Catcher of the Future, not unless we find more pitchers who are able to miss more bats (without diving balls between and betwixt his legs).

Regardless, if you can get a starting catcher with multiple years of team control for a reliever on the final year of his contract, that’s a deal you make 10 times out of 10.

So, that solves the Zunino-sized hole at our catcher spot.

***

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s dig into the main course:  the Mets deal.

Robinson Cano has 5 years and $120 million left on his deal.  He’s old, but he’s still pretty effective; if I had to guess I’d say he has at least 2-3 more years left playing at his current level of productivity.  There’s always the chance that he’ll start his decline sooner rather than later – particularly on defense – but he’s too naturally talented to be a total black hole at the plate.  That having been said, as his legs go, it’ll end up being either singles, homers, or strikeouts, so unless he beefs up his homer totals, I can’t see him hitting a significant number of doubles from here on out.  With Nelson Cruz seemingly out of the picture, it looked like Cano was a natural to start to transition to his eventual destination as this team’s primary DH.  But, the M’s obviously had other plans.

So, what changed in a year?  Obviously, the PED suspension.  I’m trying to get a handle on if it’s a concern of a second suspension (and a yearlong ban), or if it’s just his attitude/personality and how it might clash with the new/younger direction this team is looking to make.  He’s obviously a big character on this team, and commands a lot of respect wherever he goes, and maybe the Mariners just want the players to learn from a different voice.  I mean, Cano is an All Star, so you can obviously learn a ton from a guy who built himself up from nothing.  But, there are the usual concerns about his hussle and his passion for the game.  I dunno.  I don’t know if we’ll ever get the real dirt about why the Mariners wanted out from under this deal.  I would assume the concern lies in the fact that he probably NEEDS the PEDs to keep up with his usual All Star level, and without them, his decline will start earlier.

With the $24 million per year contract, we obviously were never going to trade him by himself.  Unfortunately, the only real carrot we could dangle to get him out of here was our all-world closer Edwin Diaz.

I’ve been on record from the very beginning as saying this team should deal Diaz, and if I had it my way, we would’ve traded JUST him to the highest bidder, and gotten a REAL prospect windfall in return.  Honestly, I don’t believe he has it in him to stay at that level for very long.  I think with the way he throws the ball, he’s destined to sustain a serious arm injury, maybe even as soon as 2019.  It wouldn’t shock me in the SLIGHTEST to see him tear something and be out for a year.  I think, regardless of whether he injures his arm or not, he’s destined to lose velo on his fastball sooner rather than later – certainly well before he’s set to hit free agency – and with that I think his value as a closer will plummet.  This is, without question, Edwin Diaz at the peak of his value, and we were never going to have a better opportunity to replenish our minor leagues.

If it were up to me, and the Mariners are just hellbent on ridding this culture of Robinson Cano, then I would’ve just cut him and paid him his remaining salary, while trading Diaz for the highest bounty possible.  But, obviously, it’s not my money, so that’s easy for me to say.

That scenario just isn’t realistic.  I don’t see the harm in forcing him to exclusively DH (while maybe spot starting at second in an emergency), and riding out the remaining years of his contract.  Was he really so poisonous to this culture?  Would his presence alone have set us back so much?

Now, obviously, there’s the fringe benefit of making the Mariners worse by getting rid of him now.  Like I said, Cano can still play, and I bet he’ll be pretty solid for the Mets in 2019.  If our goal is to bottom out, then obviously you don’t want a guy in your lineup doing POSITIVE things like hitting for a high average, lots of extra-base hits, and lots of RBI.  So, that’s something.

In return, we take on some high-priced/low-performing contracts from the Mets.  Jay Bruce is set to earn $26 million over the next two years.  He’s a corner outfielder and I can’t imagine his defense is worth a damn.  Maybe he starts in left; maybe he platoons with Gamel (though, they both bat lefty, so that seems unlikely); maybe the M’s find a way to flip him to another team!  He was okay in 2017, but really had a bad 2018.  He does have some pop in his bat, and he’ll be 32 next year, so maybe we run him out as the DH?  Feels like the best way to preserve his legs and keep him away from anything related to defense.

Anthony Swarzak is on the hook for $8 million in 2019; he’s a veteran reliever who also had a good 2017, then bottomed out in 2018.

If we just talk about money, that’s $21 million for Bruce & Swarzak in 2019, and $13 for Bruce in 2020; that totals $34 million out of Cano’s remaining $120 million.  On top of that, the M’s chipped in an extra $20 million, meaning we ended up saving a total of $66 million going forward (not counting the remaining guys in the deal).  That’s not an insignificant number, especially when you hope that by the time 2021 rolls around, this team will be in a position to contend again.  That’s just the time when Cano should start to suck and Diaz should be recovering from a shoulder surgery!

As for the prospects, your guess is as good as mine.  Kelenic was the 6th overall selection in the 2018 draft.  He’s an 18-year old outfielder with all the tools; he just needs to develop them.  He would be the prize of this deal.  Again, if you can trade a reliever for a starting-calibre outfielder, you make that trade 10 times out of 10.  The question is:  do you trust this organization to develop him the right way?

Dunn is a 19th overall draft pick from 2016 and was the Mets’ highest pitching prospect.  He was in AA last year, so he appears to be on the right track.

Bautista is a reliever who can apparently throw 100 miles per hour.  Obviously, he has command problems, but we have a couple years to work out those kinks before hopefully he’ll stick in our Major League bullpen (or get flipped for still more prospects, if the ol’ rebuild hasn’t gone according to plan).

For what the Mariners were trying to do – acquire top-flight prospects while shedding some money and ridding the clubhouse of a possible cancer – this is probably as good as it gets.  If the outfielder pans out, it’s a terrific deal.  If he doesn’t, and the starter converts to relief, and the reliever flames out, then this could’ve busted SUPER HARD.

***

And, for dessert, I bring you the Jean Segura deal.

This one … REALLY makes me mad.  For starters, we traded for him prior to 2017 in what was at the time a CLEAR victory for the Mariners.  For Taijuan Walker (who doesn’t look like he’ll come close to being the ace we thought he could be), we got an All Star short stop and an All Star outfielder in the primes of their careers.  He started off strong in 2017, so we signed him MID-SEASON to a 5-year extension when we could’ve easily let him play it out through 2018 and seen what we had in him.

But, we liked him enough, so fine, 5-year extension.  He was officially part of our future.  And they didn’t realize until halfway through 2018 that he’s a headcase???  That he’s kind of soft and kind of a clubhouse cancer and we’re now bound and determined to do whatever it takes to be rid of him?

Look, I get the spirit of the rebuild, I really do!  But, this is an All Star player – particularly with the bat – on a very REASONABLE contract; he should be worth more than this!

Segura is due $14.25 million per year for the next 4 years.  In that time, he’ll almost certainly be worth that figure, if not be an outright bargain.  But, whatever, we save that money and we ostensibly get worse at the short stop position in 2019 (again, so we can tank and get that higher draft pick).  Then, there’s Juan Nicasio’s $9 million for 2019.  He, of course, sucked a fat one in 2018, but that could obviously flip entirely the very next year, because that’s how it is with relievers; randomness abounds!  Nevertheless, that’s a lot for an 8th inning reliever who may or may not be finished.  James Pazos has a nothing salary, which is most galling, because he’s both young and good!  Why couldn’t HE fetch a pretty penny on the open market?  Why the need to throw him into the mix?

Particularly when Carlos Santana is coming our way?!  He’s a first baseman (or a DH, depending on what else we do with that first base spot) who’s owed a combined $35 million over the next two years ($500,000 of that is a buyout for 2021, because you figure there’s no way in hell this team is going to pay a 35 year old first baseman another $17.5 million when they don’t have to).  Santana – like all these other useless veterans we’re getting back in these deals – was great in 2017 and stunk in 2018.  So, NOT GREAT, JERRY!

The prize in this deal, I guess, is J.P. Crawford, who will be a 24-year old glove-first/no-bat short stop in 2019.  If we can develop the bat into something halfway decent, then maybe that’s an upgrade in the end.  But, that’s obviously no guarantee.

And, that’s it.  A new short stop and a savings of another $31 million.  On the plus side, all these massive contracts expire after 2019 or 2020, so RIGHT ON TRACK FOR 2021 YOU GUYS!

As always, it’s hard to judge anything until you see the rest of the offseason moves.  But, you figure the biggest deals have been made (unless the team goes full boar and unloads Haniger for another bevy of prospects), and now it’s time for the rest of the roster moves to fill in around these guys.  But, on a surface level, it’s hard to get too excited, when so many variables are in play.

Looking At Some Numbers And Stuff About The 2018 Mariners

The Mariners’ season ended with a whimper over the weekend.  The M’s took 3 of 4 against the Rangers to finish 89-73.  That’s good for 14 games behind the Astros for the division and 8 games behind the Athletics for the second wild card (also, 1 game behind the Rays for the first runner up position to that second wild card, but that’s neither here nor there).

The Mariners were -34 in run differential, which comes out to a pythagorean win total of only 77.  They were 45-36 at home and 44-37 on the road.  They were 36-21 in 1-run games and a whopping 14-1 in extras!

Somehow, the Mariners had a winning record against every single team in the division:

  • 10-9 vs. Houston
  • 10-9 vs. Oakland
  • 11-8 vs. Anaheim
  • 10-9 vs. Texas

The Mariners were 23-9 against the AL Central, 19-15 against the AL East.  But, as I talked about before, the Mariners were a dreadful 6-14 against the National League (which, again, if you flip that, then we’re tied with the A’s for that second wild card spot).

Here’s the month-by-month:

  • March/April:  16-11
  • May:  18-11
  • June:  19-9
  • July:  10-13
  • August:  12-16
  • September:  14-13

And just to rub some salt in the wounds:

  • Pre July 4th:  55-31
  • July 4th onward:  34-42

I like to point to July 3rd as the high-water mark, but it was really just the beginning of the end.  The REAL high-water mark was at the conclusion of our game on June 5th, where we beat the Astros in Houston and took a 2-game lead in the A.L. West.  We, of course, lost to the eventual champs the very next day and after another week of hovering around first place, we ended up dipping below for the duration of the season.

*Sigh* those were wonderful, delightful times back in early June.  I was so young and naive in those days!

Let’s move on to some individual accolades.

  • Jean Segura is your 2018 Mariners batting champion, with a .304 average
  • Robinson Cano is your 2018 Mariners OBP leader with .374
  • Mitch Haniger is your non-suspended 2018 Mariners OBP leader with .366
  • Nelson Cruz is your slugging champ with .509
  • And Haniger is your OPS champ with .859 (narrowly besting Cruz’s .850)

Here are all the guys who had 10+ homers:

  1. Cruz – 37
  2. Haniger – 26
  3. Ryon Healy – 24
  4. Kyle Seager – 22
  5. Mike Zunino – 20
  6. Segura – 10
  7. Cano – 10

With all of that, the Mariners were just 11th in the AL in homers.

Some other individual numbers:

  • Cruz beat Haniger in RBI, 97-93
  • Haniger beat Seager in doubles, 38-36
  • Dee Gordon beat Denard Span in triples, 8-6
  • Segura edged Haniger in total hits, 178-170
  • Segura also edged Haniger in runs scored, 91-90
  • Gordon topped Segura in steals 30-20

My MVP has to go to Mitch Haniger, who was amazing this year.  He finished with a 6.1 WAR, which was easily the best on the team, and looks to be just scratching the surface of a great MLB career.

On to the pitchers:

  • Your ERA champ among qualified starters was Wade LeBlanc with 3.72
  • James Paxton led the team in strikeouts with 208
  • Mike Leake led the Mariners in innings pitched with 185.2
  • Marco Gonzales led the team in wins with 13
  • Leake led the team in quality starts with 18

Here’s your pitching section just devoted to the miracle that was Edwin Diaz:

  • (Obviously) led the Mariners in saves with 57
  • 57 is tied for 2nd all time in a season in MLB history
  • He fell 5 short of the all-time leader, Francisco Rodriguez
  • He led the team in pitching WAR with 3.2
  • Paxton was second with 2.9
  • He led the team in K/9 with 15.22
  • Only Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances had higher K/9 in the A.L.
  • Even though he’s just a reliever, and pitched fewer than half the innings of the starters, Diaz’s 124 strikeouts was still good for 5th on the team (one behind King Felix, who pitched 82 more innings)
  • The next-closest reliever in strikeouts was Nick Vincent with 56
  • He led the team in WHIP with 0.79
  • He led the team in ERA with 1.96
  • He led all pitchers in games played with 73 (Vincent was second with 62)

Without making it a whole thing, here are some props to some non-Diaz relievers who had great seasons.  Alex Colome, Roenis Elias, and James Pazos all logged in some serious innings for the Mariners and all had sub-3 ERAs.  I know that stat doesn’t mean much anymore, but I mean, those guys were dealing more often than not.

Nevertheless, Edwin Diaz is my Mariners Cy Young Award winner and it’s not even close.

Finally, let’s take a look at how some of these Mariners greats stacked up against the rest of the American League:

  • Segura was 7th in batting average, and one of 8 in the A.L. to hit over .300
  • Haniger was 9th in WAR
  • Segura was 15th in WAR (with 4.3)
  • Haniger was 10th in OPS
  • Cruz was 14th in OPS
  • Cruz was 8th in homers
  • Diaz (again, obviously) led the league in saves (2nd place had 43)

So, that’s that.  Another playoffs-less season in the books.  Do it all again in 2019?  Sure, why not?  What the hell else do I have going on in my life?  Might as well continue to root for a mediocre baseball team some more.

The Mariners Have Lots Of New Relievers

I talked a little bit yesterday about Sam Tuivailala, the righty from the Cardinals who struggles against lefties.  Well, yesterday afternoon, the Mariners brought in a couple more guys.

We got veteran righty Adam Warren from the Yankees for some international slot money.  He looks like he’s pretty solid (and definitely great against right-handed bats).  And, we got lefty Zach Duke from the Twins for Chase De Jong and some other guy Ryan Costello.

While Tuivailala is a cost-control guy we’ve got for a few years, both Warren and Duke are veterans on the final years of their deals.  If they’re bad, then whatever, we took a shot.  If they’re good, I can’t imagine it would cost a whole helluva lot to retain them for 2019.

I’m still waiting to get a good idea of how the bullpen is going to look when the dust settles.  I wonder if Roenis Elias goes back to Tacoma for a spell.  Maybe a struggling guy or two goes on the DL to get right.  Maybe a struggling guy or two gets DFA’d for being a suck-ass (looking at you, Nicasio).

So, does this push us over the top?  Ehh, I dunno.  Still feels like the return of Cano is the big help on the horizon, but it couldn’t hurt to add to your bullpen, as it’s generally the most important group on the team (particularly down the stretch).  I guess we’ll see.  The Mariners didn’t give up a whole lot (unless Seth Elledge turns into a stud in a year or two) to get these three guys, and they have the potential to be significantly better over these final two months.

But, don’t get me wrong, these aren’t HUGE huge deals.  Edwin Diaz is still your closer, Alex Colome is still your 8th inning guy.  These are arms to help us through the 6th and 7th innings, ideally with lots of mixing-and-matching going on.  Figure some of these games are going to drag out quite a bit with the increased in-inning pitching changes.