The Mariners Blew The Minnesota Home Opener

There was a time early last season when I took it upon myself to try and track the numbers for Mariners hitters with RISP.  That was because the M’s started off abnormally bad in this area, and I was curious to see how bad it could get, or how long that badness would remain.  Those numbers started to normalize as we got into late April and May, but for a while there, it was pretty dire!  And the team really struggled as a result.

I don’t know if that’s been as big of an issue thus far, through a week’s worth of games, but a performance like yesterday (2/17 with RISP) is pretty much as bad as it gets.  The Mariners were getting on base like crazy yesterday, with 8 hits, 4 walks, and 2 Twins errors.  There were only 2 clean innings for the Twins’ pitching staff/defense, and yet the Mariners were only able to muster 2 fucking runs, both in the first inning.  Pathetic, all the way around, and a game the Mariners absolutely should’ve won, Cruz or no Cruz.

For a while there, it looked like we might pull it out.  Paxton was dealing through five innings.  But, getting into that third time through the lineup, Joe Mauer singled to lead off the bottom of the sixth, and Miguel Sano smashed him in with a 2-run jack.  It’s funny how much lip service the Mariners were paying to this notion of limiting the exposure of our starting pitching, and utilizing this massive bullpen we’ve accumulated.  But, Scott Servais has really just been managing like every other fucking manager since the dawn of time.  We’re in the midst of 4 off days in 2 weeks; there will never be this many rest days outside of the All Star Break the rest of the season.  Also, we’re rocking a 4-man rotation, which means we have an 8-man bullpen.  No one as of yet has been worked to death.  And we ALL know the numbers of just about every single hitter when he sees the same pitcher for the third time in a game.  And yeah, I get it, Paxton’s pitch count was low, and he was kicking ass up to that point.  But, how many times do you see that?  It happens ALL THE TIME.  Guys dominate, then they get into the 6th inning or whatever, and all of a sudden the other team is hitting tee shots off of him.  All it takes is a weird bloop single and one bad pitch that catches too much of the plate, and BAM, 2-run home run.  A 2-0 game becomes a 2-2 game.  Then, you try to squeeze an extra few outs out of Dan Altavilla, and BAM again, you’re down 3-2.  Then, the stupid fucking umpire botches an OBVIOUS called strike 3, followed by the hitter taking that gift and turning it into another solo homer on the very next pitch, and BAM, it’s 4-2 and you’re sucking Fernando Rodney’s arrow-shaped dick in the ninth.

Just stop pissing down my leg and telling me it’s raining, that’s all.  If you’re going to talk about lightening the loads of these starting pitchers, then STICK TO IT!  Pull them after the second time through the lineup (unless the offense has it out of reach, but only walk that tightrope if we have a 3 run lead or more).  THIS IS WHERE THE GAME IS GOING!  Shorter starting stints, and supplement that with longer bullpen arms.  Altavilla is never going to be a competent multi-inning reliever; he’s a 1-and-done guy.  I’m talking about having more Wade LeBlancs, more Casey Lawrences, and save those hyper-power arms for the 8th and 9th innings.

One more note about the offense before I close this out.  8 hits, none of them for extra bases.  That’s fucking absurd.  I know with Cruz and Zunino out, our power is limited, but where are the doubles?  Yeah, it’s nice that Vogelbach had 2 more hits to add to his hot start, but where’s the power?  What about Jean Segura?  He had 30+ doubles the last two years; he’s got 2 through 6 games so far.  And Ryon Healy, so help me God, what a fucking BUST this guy is!  WHOSE DICK DO YOU GOTTA SUCK TO BRING IN EVEN A DECENT-HITTING FIRST BASEMAN???  Also, you still spell your name like a fucking asshole.

Another Friday off-day.  Cool.

The Mariners Had Their Asses Handed To Them In San Francisco

Look, this just isn’t going to be the greatest road trip in the history of the world unless the pitching shows up.

The Mariners are 2-1 since Nelson Cruz was injured, but don’t let the winning record in the small sample size fool you.  This team is severely hamstrung without their best power hitter locking down the middle of that lineup.  Haniger and Cano, God bless ’em, are doing the lord’s work driving in runs; as are Gordon and Segura, getting on base.  But everyone Seager and below in the lineup is pretty mediocre right now, and I don’t care if you’re the cluster-luckiest team in all of Major League Baseball, you’re not going to win many games with only 4 guys producing.  Thankfully, the stupid series with the Giants is over after only 2 games, so we don’t have to suffer our stupid pitchers trying to swing a bat again until the middle of July.

Of course, you’re not going to win many games if your starting pitcher gives up 8 runs in 4 innings either.  It hurts my heart whenever King Felix struggles, so I’m not going to dwell on it too much.  I mean, what sort of cold-hearted bastard gets mad at Old Yeller for succumbing to rabies; IT’S NOT HIS FAULT ALSO I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE THE ONE WHO IS CRYING!

We had a less-than-stellar James Pazos sighting, as well as an inning-gobbling appearance out of Wade LeBlanc to save the rest of our bullpen ahead of today’s sub-freezing game in Minnesota.

On the hitting side of things, guys sort of got theirs, but Johnny Cueto did an excellent job of spreading out the damage and avoiding the big inning (which, unfortunately, with zero command of his fastball, Felix couldn’t match).  Gordon and Cano both had a couple singles apiece; Haniger had a hit and two walks to rub it in everyone’s faces that he’s got the best approach at the plate right now; Mike Marjama had the first hit of his 2018 season (and a double to boot); but Dan Vogelbach was the star of the show (so to speak), with his two hits, including an RBI double (the only run the Mariners would score all day).

Look, these things happen, and I get that.  But, as I’ve been preaching all week, this team is in desperate need of the bottom of its lineup to start pulling its weight.  I hope, like I’ve never hoped before, that we eventually get to see this team at full strength, with Cruz, Zunino, and Gamel all back to full strength and starting everyday (along with all the other starters we have going now).  I have no doubt Cruz is a major upgrade over anyone else at DH; same with Zunino over anyone else at Catcher; same with Gamel over the likes of Ichiro or Heredia in left field.  At that point, I think the weakest part of the lineup is at first base, and I’m not so sure we wouldn’t be better off with Vogelbach getting the lion’s share of starts over there (with Healy in a strict platoon against left-handed pitching).

Also, I’ll say this:  if Ichiro doesn’t get hot at the plate in a hurry, I think he could be waived just as soon as Gamel is ready to come off the DL.  Clock’s ticking for our Hall of Famer; I hope the Mariners do the right thing here.

Mariners Offense Continues Humming Along

With Nelson Cruz joining Mike Zunino, Ben Gamel, David Phelps, and Erasmo Ramirez on the DL, I’ll admit I didn’t have the highest of hopes for the Mariners yesterday.  We’re rolling with two nobodies at catcher, left field and first base haven’t provided a whole lot on the offensive side of the ball, and there we were in San Francisco, playing in a National League park.  With Seager’s usual early-season struggles in full effect, it seemed like a day where the offense might shit the bed.  And, with Marco Gonzales on the mound, I more than have my doubts that he can hold it together this season.

Happily, my fears were unfounded, at least for a day.  Though, with these injuries to Cruz and Zunino, the bottom of the order is pretty pathetic.  The bulk of the damage yesterday was done by hitters 1-5 (Gordon, Segura, Cano, Haniger, Seager).  Sure, Healy & Heredia both had their first hits of the season, but neither is really going to be an offensive force this year (or ever); more like complementary players who might chip in some production here and there.

While it was nice to see Seager get a couple hits and a walk, the top four guys are really dominating so far this season.  Dee Gordon was 3/5 with 2 stolen bases and a run scored.  Jean Segura was 3/4 with a walk and 2 runs scored.  Cano was 1/4 with a walk, an RBI, and 2 runs scored.  And Haniger continues to be this team’s MVP through four games, going 1/5 with a run and 2 RBI.  Here’s hoping his hot streak continues at least until Cruz can come back.

Marco Gonzales looked about as impressive as I’ve ever seen him through 6 innings yesterday.  At that point, he’d only given up 1 run off of 4 hits, 0 walks, and 1 strikeout on a measly 80 pitches.  So, it made perfect sense to try to squeeze one more inning out of him.  Heading into the bottom of the seventh, the M’s were up 6-1.  Gonzo struck out the leadoff hitter, but that was followed by a single and a 2-run homer (on a pitch that was about as middle-middle as they get) to unceremoniously end his day.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a great way to start his season (probably the most important season of his professional career), but God damn would it have been a lot cooler to see him only give up the 1 run.  Not that I think a late-game 2-run homer will completely shatter his confidence, but I do think confidence is his friend, and the more of it he has, the better off we’ll all be.  Don’t forget, he’s out of options.  It’s not like we can just stash him in Tacoma for another season to work on his craft.  It’s now or never!

Nick Vincent got us out of the seventh with a couple scary-looking fly-outs.  Juan Nicasio struggled in his second consecutive appearance (giving up 3 hits and 1 run to make things interesting and get Dan Altavilla warming up in the bullpen).  It did look like he was starting to throw harder than before, so maybe he’s still rounding into shape.  I’m still sort of expecting him to land on the DL any day now with arm issues that will explain away why he’s looked so mediocre through three outings.  Thankfully, Edwin Diaz is still red hot, as he closed out the game with no trouble.

I still have a lot of concerns about this offense as we continue on this week without two of our biggest boppers.  Things look okay now, because we’re 3-1, but after we leave Frisco we’ve gotta go to Minnesota and Kansas City before we start to see some guys return.  In that time, we’re gonna need some of these guys who aren’t hitting to pick it up in a big way.  I don’t think cluster luck is going to be our friend for too much longer.

The Mariners Kicked Off 2018 With A Series Win Over The Indians

Saturday didn’t go quite as expected, following Thursday’s miracle victory over Corey Kluber on Opening Day.  James Paxton took the hill for Game 2 and was supposed to dominate, as is his Canadian way.  Instead, he was blasted for a first inning Grand Slam, and ultimately gave up 6 runs in just under 5 innings to take the L.  The bullpen – led by Casey Lawrence’s 2.2 innings of shutout relief – kept the team in it, as the offense chipped away at the deficit.  Homers by Haniger and Cruz (and RBI singles by Cano and Segura) made it a 6-5 game, but that’s where it remained, as the M’s really couldn’t do anything against Cleveland’s superior late-inning relief corps.

This put Sunday’s game in real jeopardy.  Thankfully, the pitching and hitting were up to the task.

Mike Leake started off the year just as strong as he finished 2017, going 7 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 4.  RBI doubles by Segura and Seager tied the game in the fifth inning, and homers by Gordon and Haniger put the game away in the seventh.  Juan Nicasio did his damnedest to almost blow it in the eighth, with a 2-run homer given up.  But, Edwin Diaz was on fire in the ninth to put the game away, and earn his second save of the short season.

Mitch Haniger is on an absolute tear through three games, with a double, 2 homers, 3 RBI, and a whopping 2.227 OPS.  Cano, Cruz, and Gordon are all off to hot starts at the plate as well (though Cruz apparently twisted his ankle on Saturday – after his second homer in two games – and may or may not miss some extended time).  Segura started to pick things up in yesterday’s game, and Ichiro and Seager have had their moments.

The defense played particularly well in this series, with Gordon flashing the leather all over the place.  Ichiro stole a homer on Saturday.  The backup catchers (with Zunino starting the season on the DL) have blocked a number of important pitches, and Ryon Healy – while doing nothing with his bat – has picked a number of tough balls on throws to first.

The injury to Cruz follows in a long line of hilarious injuries, as he did it while slipping on stairs in the dugout or some damn thing.  I mean, what fucking ancient gypsy witch cursed this team?  If you find out, let me know so we can cut her fucking heart out.  I’d like to say when he and Zunino return, this team is going to look unstoppable on offense, but that would presume we won’t have another five injuries happen between now and then!

Still, pretty cool to take 2/3 against the Indians, who look great and figure to be in the hunt for the best record in baseball.  Now, we hit the road, and for some reason have three more off-days in the next two weeks.  We also feature as the opponent in home openers for San Francisco (tomorrow) and Minnesota (Thursday).  Also, lots of day games in this stretch, so it’s truly one of the oddest starts to a season in recent memory.

Tomorrow, Marco Gonzales gets his first start of the season, before the rotation turns over with Felix again on Wednesday.  Assuming Cruz won’t play the next few days, I’m curious to see what we’ve got in Dan Vogelbach.  Ryon Healy already looks pretty miserable at the plate, and Vogelbach wasn’t able to muster much more than a few futile swings and misses in his start at DH yesterday.  The long national nightmare of a black hole at first base continues apace.

My 2-Part Mariners Preview: My Expectations For 2018

Wish in one hand, shit in the other.  You get the idea.

And so here we are, Opening Day.  We’re all overflowing with optimism.  Well, not all of us.  Super annoying baseball fans are overflowing with optimism, but what do they know?  They’re just excited baseball’s back, as if it’s not the longest death march every fucking year.  Six months of this shit, plus a month of playoffs (or, hell, maybe more).  It starts today and lasts the rest of our fucking lives.

You want my opinion on the 2018 season?  MOOD.

I dunno, I feel like I’ve written this same exact fucking preview every year for the last decade.  Honestly, I can see this season going one of two ways:  either the Mariners do shock the world and break the playoff-less streak, or they completely and totally fall apart and end up with a Top 5 draft pick next year.  I don’t think there’s a middle-ground, at all.  And, if I were a betting man, I’d bet the ol’ farm on the latter.

So, let’s get into it.  Let’s talk about the plan; the bundle of twine and duct tape holding the season together.  Let’s see how Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais try to MacGyver their way to contention.

The Rotation

  • Felix Hernandez
  • James Paxton
  • Mike Leake
  • Marco Gonzales
  • Erasmo Ramirez
  • Ariel Miranda
  • Andrew Moore
  • Rob Whalen
  • Chase De Jong
  • Wade LeBlanc
  • Hisashi Iwakuma?

Normally, I just hit you with a 5-man rotation (in this case, the top five names, whenever Ramirez gets healthy), but why bother stopping there?  Ramirez is ALREADY injured, and while they say they won’t need the fifth spot in the rotation until April 11th or some damn thing, you know he won’t be healthy by then, so that puts Ariel Miranda (blessedly starting the season in Tacoma, where he belongs) in line for at least one start.  Quite frankly, it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if he’s called up sooner than April 11th because someone ELSE got injured.  I’m looking at Felix, I’m looking at Paxton, I’m looking at Marco Gonzales.  Pick your poison!

And believe me, they’re all poison.  I’d start aligning your expectations with mine pretty soon, because there’s no saving this rotation.  It’s abysmal.  Felix is not the Felix of old and he’s never going to be.  He’s going to give up annoying dingers with his nothing fastball, he’s going to walk a ton of guys because hitters have been told to lay off the changeup, and he’ll kinda sorta keep the Mariners in a lot of games, but only if the offense comes to play.

Paxton is great, but obviously can’t stay healthy and never will.  It’s always some damn thing, and the saving grace has always been that it’s never anything really serious.  It’s never a bad shoulder or elbow injury … but you know they’re coming.  It’s only a matter of time.  And, when those injuries hit, his career is pretty much over.  Maybe just rent property in the Maple Grove, don’t buy.

I like the IDEA of Mike Leake more than I think I like the actual pitcher.  I think he’s just okay, but far from special.  He’ll be like Felix in a different way; he’ll probably keep this team in a lot of games (again, if the offense shows up), but he’s rarely going to wow you with his stuff or blow other teams away.

I don’t even really like the idea of Marco Gonzales, much less the actual pitcher.  I think it was a bust of a trade that brought him here, I think he’s only in the rotation because he’s out of minor league options, and while he had a good Spring Training, we all know that means nothing.  These types of pitchers (go ahead and throw Erasmo Ramirez into the mix – who had a great stretch of starts last year, but don’t expect THAT to last), who are just gifted a spot on a 25-man roster due to being out of options, RARELY end up panning out.  If they were worth a damn, they would’ve solidified their status as bona fide Major Leaguers a long time ago.  What are the odds they manage to put it all together – COINCIDENTALLY – the same year they run out of minor league options?  You see my point.

The rest of those guys are just guys.  Iwakuma will never pitch in the Major Leagues again.  Wade LeBlanc has been brought in to be a long reliever, but I could see him getting a spot start or two.  Andrew Moore sucked last year, and didn’t really wow anyone with his Spring.  Chase De Jong is just a guy.  And, while Rob Whalen turned some heads (until his disaster of a final start back on the 18th), he also appears to be just a guy.

The plan with this rotation is to try and limit their innings to 5-6 per start, in the hopes of keeping guys fresh and healthy, and limit the damage opposing offenses can do the third & fourth times through a lineup.  So, the day-to-day management on Servais’ shoulders is going to be pretty hefty.  That’s also going to put a high burden on the bullpen to pick up the slack.  And, since Major League Baseball has stubbornly refused to expand gameday rosters beyond 25 players (in spite of the fact that the game is obviously going in this direction, and therefore teams will need more arms than ever before), that either means over-working your ‘pen, playing with a smaller bench (as it is, there’s usually room for no more than 4 players on your bench, and 1 of those guys has to be a backup catcher), or running guys back and forth from Tacoma to Seattle.  The problem, of course, is when too many starters have too many games in a row where they’re not pitching enough innings, the bullpen is gassed, there aren’t any off-days, there aren’t any guys to bring up from Tacoma, and you’re essentially throwing games away because you just need the starter to pick the team up, regardless of how terrible he is.  With a team like this Mariners team – that often finds itself (in recent seasons) only a handful of games out of the playoffs – they can ill-afford to just throw games away.  Sure, it’s a marathon and all that, but it’s a marathon that ultimately comes down to a couple seconds at the finish line.

I think the Mariners are doing the best with what they have, and the plan is sound in my mind.  But, the pitchers just aren’t good.  And the ones that are good aren’t reliable.  It’s easy for me to see a similar deluge of injuries happening this year, and the whole season just falling apart.

The Bullpen

  • Edwin Diaz
  • Juan Nicasio
  • Nick Vincent
  • James Pazos
  • Marc Rzepczynski
  • Dan Altavilla
  • Casey Lawrence
  • Wade LeBlanc

There are obviously a number of guys starting out in Tacoma, so I’ll stick with the Opening Day 8 for the time being.  Right off the bat, the Mariners lost David Phelps for the season, as I believe he’s going in for Tommy John surgery.  That was going to be a huge part of our late-inning dominance.  Recall we just traded a bunch of prospects to the Marlins for his services before the deadline last year, where he made all of 10 appearances before being shut down with an injury.  Now, he’s out for all of 2018, and this is the final year of his deal before he’s a free agent.  So, not only did we throw a bunch of prospects away, but we wasted $5.5 million dollars this year, just so he can go out next year and pitch for somebody else.  Why would he stay?  Why would the Mariners commit to spending more money on him?  This is Drew Smyly all over again.  GREAT TRADE DIPOTO!

As for the guys who are here, there’s a lot to like about Edwin Diaz and Juan Nicasio.  But, of course, when will Diaz turn back into a pumpkin?  All our other closers – dating back to, I want to say, Kaz Sasaki – have had 1-2 good years before falling apart.  Well, Diaz has been up here for around 1.5 years, so it’s time for him to suck.  As for Nicasio, I’m getting a real Joaquin Benoit vibe.  Remember that guy?  He was around forever, never got hurt, was always a reliable 8th inning guy?  Then, when he donned a Mariners jersey, he was hurt within the first month of the season?  I’m just saying, let’s see the guy do something for a couple months before we get too excited.

Nick Vincent was a workhorse and our most reliable pitcher in 2017.  Of course, he got tuckered out in September, due to all the overuse, so they took it easy on him this Spring.  Yeah, I feel like that’s a bad sign.  If he’s not an arm injury waiting to happen, he’s certainly a terrible pitching season waiting to happen.  Pass.

Lefties Pazos and Scrabble should be okay, but you never know.  Tony Zych was finally shit-canned because he can’t stay healthy; that’s a bummer.  I loved his stuff and thought he had really dominant potential.  In his place, Altavilla has won a job.  He was all over the place last year, but it wouldn’t shock me to see him settle down and have a good year.  Might take a while for this team to realize how much better he is than someone like Vincent (who I expect to struggle early and often), but they’ll probably have no choice but to use Altavilla in some high-leverage situations before too long.

Then, we’ve got a couple of long relievers.  The Mariners brought in Wade LeBlanc, who I guess has been converted to relief?  He’s got no minor league options, so either he comes here and eats up innings like a champ, or he’s cut.  The problem with this signing is, if he’s not absolutely terrific, I have a hard time seeing him stick on the 25-man roster.  This team likes to bring guys up from Tacoma far too often, and needs relievers with minor league options so they can dick them around.  That’s why I like the chances of someone like Casey Lawrence (who I assume still has options, but I refuse to go online to research).  Lawrence had a bonzer Spring Training and essentially came out of nowhere to win a job in the Bigs (he was a starter last year, brought up & down a few times when guys got injured, but wasn’t anything special).  I assume if he does well, he’ll STILL be sent back and forth to and from Tacoma, because Mariners gonna Mariners.

Having a couple of innings-eaters in your bullpen is going to be critical, so here’s hoping those guys manage to keep us in enough games to be relevant.  But, the more of our back-end of the bullpen guys get injured or otherwise have terrible years, the higher the chances this entire house of cards comes crashing down.  To make the playoffs, the Mariners will need to have one of the 5 best bullpens in the American League (maybe even Top 3), to compensate for that disaster of a starting rotation.  Do these guys inspire that sort of confidence?  I gotta say, replacing David Phelps with Wade LeBlanc is a BAD start to this season that’s only going to get worse from here.

The Everyday Players

  1. Dee Gordon (CF)
  2. Jean Segura (SS)
  3. Robinson Cano (2B)
  4. Nelson Cruz (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Mitch Haniger (RF)
  7. Ryon Healy (1B)
  8. Mike Zunino (C)
  9. Ichiro (LF)
  • Mike Marjama (C)
  • Dan Vogelbach (1B)
  • Guillermo Heredia (OF)
  • Andrew Romine (INF)
  • Ben Gamel (OF) – DL
  • Taylor Motter (OF/INF) – Tacoma

I like that lineup.  I like it a lot more with Ben Gamel in the fold, but we probably won’t see him at his best for a while.

I expect Gordon to be fine defensively, but I do expect him to struggle at the plate.  That’ll be rough.  I think Segura will be fine.  I think Cano will be okay (I think we’re still in the gradual stage of his decline; I don’t believe the cliff is here yet).  I think Cruz will have his ups and downs (I could see him succumbing more to injury this year than his past 4 years combined).  Kyle Seager is what he is and I’m going to stop trying to wish into existence another level to his game.  I think Hangier will be good when healthy, but again I think he’ll rarely be healthy.  I think Healy is sort of a nothing guy who might have a few good games here and there, but for the most part will be mediocre.  I think Zunino will be great!  I like him to make a big jump in his game!  Not only will he NOT be sent down to Tacoma to work on his swing, but I think he’ll be in the conversation for the All Star Game (and might even make the team as a backup).  As for Ichiro, I can only see it ending badly.  Final year with Griffey bad.  Like, waived in the first month or two bad.  He’s got no power, he’s down in speed, he had pretty much no Spring Training, and he’s coming off of a minor injury.  Just seems like a recipe for immediate disaster.

I’m interested to see what Marjama brings; I have no opinion one way or the other on what his season will be like.  Vogelbach is the story of Spring Training, but that won’t last.  He won’t get much in the way of playing time, and when he does get a start, he won’t make the most of his opportunities.  Heredia is a nice bench outfielder; hope he’s fully healthy.  Romine is a guy; I could see him getting waived in favor of Motter (who also is just a guy, but a younger, cheaper guy).

This season will go down the toilet in a hurry if guys like Cano, Cruz, and Seager all struggle.  I like Segura to hit, but I could see his power continue to be limited by Safeco and this cold Seattle weather.  And, of course, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that younger guys like Haniger and Zunino do struggle at the plate (injuries aside) and this team is left scrambling.  For the most part, I believe the offense will be okay, and I don’t think ALL those bad things will happen, but I don’t think the offense is good enough to compensate for the shitty pitching.  Frankly, I don’t think ANY offense would be good enough to compensate for the shitty pitching on this team.

The last couple times the Mariners really bottomed out, we went 61-101 (in 2008 & 2010).  I could see something around that number yet again.  My prediction?

65-97

The 2018 Seattle Mariners:  Feel The Excitement It’s Faaaaannnn-Tastic Suck Our Dicks, You’re Just Here For The Beer & Fried Crickets Anyway!

My 2-Part Mariners Preview: My Hope For 2018

And, so, here we are.  Opening Day is tomorrow.  Time to get back on the horse.

The Mariners have been disappointing fans far and wide since before I was born.  Most of the time, they’re just bad.  Sometimes, there’s hope that if things break right, they’ll be in contention in September.  Once in a blue moon, they’re good, but still fall short of the ultimate goal.

Always:  they let us down.  2018 will be no exception.

In this recent stretch of Mariners seasons – since we brought in Cano and Cruz to lock down the middle of our lineup – there’s been plenty of reasons for optimism.  Indeed, since the start of the 2014 season, the Mariners actually have a winning record!  327-321.  With the advent of the second wild card spot, the M’s have been RIGHT THERE pretty much every year.  We’re mired in one of those stretches where if things had just broken right, we might’ve actually made the playoffs for the first time since 2001.  But, there’s been untimely injuries, and regression from formerly great players, and bullpen issues at just the worst possible times.  Somehow, some way, the Mariners have found a way to lose just enough to keep alive the longest playoff drought in all of the major professional North American sports.  It’s absolutely mind-boggling, and it’s never going to end.

Last year was particularly bad with the injuries, as the Mariners ran through approximately 5,000 different pitchers, and the offense just wasn’t good enough to carry the load like we’d hoped going into the season.  The M’s made a number of moves last year to try to mitigate some of the injury losses to the rotation and such, bringing in guys like Marco Gonzales, Erasmo Ramirez, Mike Leake, and David Phelps, while also working in minor league guys like Andrew Moore, Chase De Jong, James Pazos, Max Povse, and relying on someone like Ariel Miranda when he was ill-equipped for the rigors of a full Major League season in a starting rotation.  A lot of those moves happened mid-season, and as such the front office is trying to spin it like they’re part of THIS offseason, as an excuse for why they haven’t done a whole lot via trades or free agency since the 2017 season ended.  No starters were added, which is arguably where the Mariners need the most help; a couple of relievers were brought in who look pretty good.  But, for the most part, we’re running it back with the same pitching staff as last year.  The same pitching staff that spent more time on the DL than off of it.  The same pitching staff that – even when healthy – wasn’t good enough to get this team back into the playoffs.

To combat that, the Mariners made some moves to bolster the offense a little bit, in unique ways.  Dee Gordon – Gold Glove second baseman – was brought in and has been converted to centerfield.  So far, through Spring Training, it sounds like he’s taking to it pretty well, but I have to believe there’ll be some growing pains.  Ryon Healy was brought in to start at the revolving door that’s been first base.  He seems like he’ll be no better and no worse than any of the other schlubs we’ve ran out at that position.  As there’s literally no talent whatsoever in the minor leagues, it’s not like the Mariners had a whole lot of ammunition with which to trade for guys; all of our value is already up in the Major Leagues.  Some of the most important moves were the moves the Mariners DIDN’T make.  They kept both Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger, which I think we all were expecting at least one of those guys to get shipped off so the team could bring in pitching help.  Gamel is nursing an oblique strain, which tends to nag and drag on, causing players to struggle well after they’ve returned from the DL, so maybe that’s unfortunate.  Nevertheless, I think we all like those guys’ potential to grow into quality Major Leaguers, so I guess I’m more or less okay with those guys staying here.

All of this is a way to say that it’s been a LONG time since I’ve been as apathetic about this team’s post-season chances as I am right now.  Even when we were at our very worst, in 2008, I could hate this team with a passion (also, going into that season – coming off of a pretty successful 2007 – my hopes were high for a real playoff run; ditto 2010).  Most years, I can contort my brain into believing that our good players will stay good (and healthy), that our young guys will develop into stars, and that we’ll get just enough pitching to push this thing over the top (again, if everything breaks in our favor).  But, this year?  I got nothing.

The Mariners JUST finished a season with 78 wins, 7 games out of the second wild card (with 4 teams in our way), and a whopping 23 games out of the AL West title.  As I just explained:  the Mariners have done next to nothing to improve upon a team that was already pretty bad.  Moreover, the Mariners have done next to nothing to get rid of injury-prone players (even going so far as to bring Hisashi Iwakuma back on a minor league deal to see if he has anything left in the tank), therefore I see no reason to expect this team won’t be just as injury-prone as they’ve been the last 2-3 years.  Paxton?  Felix?  Haniger?  Ticking time bombs.  And that’s not even counting all the players who already went down in Spring Training (money well spent on Lorena Martin, Director of High Performance; a barrel full of whiskey and a rabid donkey could’ve done a better job of keeping these stiffs healthy so far).  And, that doesn’t even get into the Mariners’ competition.  Remember the Astros?  The team that was 23 games better than us last year?  The World Series champs?  Yeah, they’re still there, they’re still amazing, and they’ve actually made a number of moves to – you know – IMPROVE THEIR BALLCLUB.  Remember the Angels, who were 2 games better?  Same deal.  Remember the Rangers, who were exactly the same in record?  They also suffered a number of injuries that held them back last year, and they’ve also done more than the Mariners have in improving their ballclub.  Even Oakland, who’s clearly rebuilding around young talent, has more reason for optimism than the Mariners, AND THEY PLAY IN OAKLAND HALF THE TIME!

So, yeah, I’ve written off this Seattle Mariners team and they’ve yet to even play a game.  Fuck you and your opinions on the matter.  Does it make me any less of a fan?  WHO CARES?  If you want to be a Mariners Super Fan, and live in a land of make-believe, be my fucking guest.  I plan on riding this team so fucking hard this season, they’re going to be ground into dust.

But, as I alluded to in the title of this post, I’m here to write about my hopes for the 2018 season.  Primary among them, of course, is this team proving me wrong.  Most of my life, I’ve held some kernel of belief that the Mariners could possibly do something amazing and blow away everyone’s expectations.  Most of my life, I’ve been wrong.  I’m ALWAYS wrong!  And, as a result, I’m always let down.  Well, I’ve never been so certain of a team not contending in my life; if there was any way to short the Mariners’ chances of making the playoffs, I would’ve bet the entire Taylor Family Farm!  As such, maybe I’m wrong again!  Maybe the Mariners will do something so crazy that I can’t even fathom how it would be possible!

Maybe all the best guys will stay healthy, and all the young guys will turn into stars and the Mariners will be 30 games over .500 in 1-run games.  Just an unsustainable run of unexpected greatness, and we’ll all come back here at the end of the season and I’ll take the roasting I so richly deserve for all my negativity!  Okay, even in this dreamland scenario, winning the AL West still seems like a bit of a stretch, but a miracle second wild card run would be just the thing that would knock me on my ass.  Thankfully, next-to-no one in the national media punditry is picking the Mariners to do anything but hover around .500.  I know I’m wrong all the time, but those guys – especially when they pick the Mariners to do well – are wrong ALL THE TIME.

More realistically, here are some hopes I hope:

I hope Felix stays healthy and has an okay year.  Maybe an ERA around 4.50, with a couple real standout games against the likes of the A’s or White Sox, and not too many blown saves by the bullpen.

I hope Paxton limits his DL stints to just one, and for only a month at the most.  Ideally, maybe knock that out in late May or June, so he has the whole second half of the season to really shine.  He has Cy Young-quality stuff, and I hope he gets as close as he’ll ever get to putting his name in that conversation.

I hope Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales really blossom into viable starters.  Leake’s already been around for a while, so he is what he is, but if he can just sort of hang around and be a #3-type starter, that would be ideal.  Gonzales is still young enough that I can fool myself into thinking he has another level to his talent.  Most likely, he’ll be a bum, but guys have put it all together before.  I hope he learns how to pitch effectively and shocks the world by being better than we ever expected.

I hope Edwin Diaz is just amazing.  I love that kid, he’s fun to watch, and not for nothing – if this whole thing falls apart in a nasty way – he could be a huge trade chip.

I hope Dee Gordon hits well, because I want to see him running around the bases as much as humanly possible.  I also hope he takes to centerfield, because it would be fun to have another great defensive centerfielder.

I hope Mitch Haniger also limits his DL stints to just one, and for only a month at the most.  It’s too much to ask for guys like him or Paxton to stay totally healthy – because none of us can ever have nice things – but in the grand scheme of things, just a month on the DL isn’t the end of the world.  Not when you have 5 other months to get things going.  I hope when he is healthy, Haniger is the stud we all thought he was.

I hope Dan Vogelbach parlays this torrid Spring Training into taking over the starting job at first base for the foreseeable future.  I also hope that we squeeze one more great year out of Nelson Cruz and then let him walk when his contract expires – getting out hopefully a year too early rather than a year too late – so we can shift Vogelbach over to his more natural DH position (or have him split time between first & DH with Cano, when his legs inevitably prevent him from sticking at second base through the back-half of his contract).  I also hope we don’t see the start of the inevitable Cano decline, as including 2018, we’ve got 6 more years on this deal.

I hope Mike Zunino turns into an All Star.  Oddly enough, this IS within the realm of possibility, which is an absolute mindfuck.  We might one day sing Jackie Z’s praises for his foresight in selecting Zunino with the 3rd overall pick in 2012!

Finally, I hope that if all of this blows up in our faces in April and May, the team has the foresight to cut and run.  I hope they’re able to unload insane contracts, bring back quality minor leaguers, and re-load the farm system with studs who might one day lead this team back to the playoffs for the first time in forever.  There’s a lot of trade-able talent on this team.  So, if we’re just treading water – or worse – like I think most of us expect to be, then don’t dilly dally.  Burn this motherfucker down.  Put us out of our misery and give us a reason to REALLY have hope again.

The Mariners Signed Reliever Juan Nicasio & Other Things Happened

Juan Nicasio (2 years, $17 million) is a 7-year pro, starter-turned-reliever from the right side, who had a very good year last year.  He was great for Pittsburgh, was waived at the end of August for some reason, picked up by Philly, and was traded a week later to St. Louis for minor league prospects.  I don’t know and I don’t want to know.  He averaged a strikeout per inning and apparently has pretty good stuff (mid-90s fastball, good slider, not-so-good change).  Throw him on the pile of potential late-inning relievers with closer Diaz, Vincent, Phelps, Zych, and sometimes Altavilla from the right side; with Scrabble and Pazos on the left side, and you’ve got the makings of a pretty good bullpen.  Not great, not out-of-this-world or anything, but pretty good.  Potentially.  Or maybe not.  Maybe some of them are good, some are bad, and some are injured.  That’s the way the cookie crumbles in this thing, doesn’t it?  It’s all one big, stupid, pointless crapshoot.

Yeah, sure, I like the move, but bullpens are so volatile and random, it’s hard to get too excited about anything anymore.  “We’ll see.”  That’s gonna be my motto with this Mariners team, this year and forever.  We’ll see.

The Mariners also traded away some of their International Slot Money to the Rays for a minor league reliever they’d originally traded TO the Rays last year for God knows what.  So, that’s something.  They also traded some slot money to the Indians for a reliever by the name of Shawn Armstrong.  He’s actually got some Major League experience, so I feel like he’s actually worth mentioning.  But, not a ton of experience, so let’s go ahead and store that name and move on.

And, the Mariners took Mike Ford in the Rule 5 Draft from the Yankees’ organization.  It was to be expected that the M’s would go after someone in the Rule 5 Draft this year, as they had ample roster space, but I figured it would be for a pitcher (most likely a reliever), because you need to keep anyone you pick in the Rule 5 Draft on your roster for a full season, otherwise the player’s rights revert back to his original team.  Considering there’s been all this chatter about the M’s going with a 6-man rotation for at least part of the season, or an 8-man bullpen for a lot longer, it made sense.  What doesn’t make sense is that Mike Ford is a first baseman.  A first baseman who has never played an inning of Major League ball.  Who, indeed, has only 25 games’ worth of AAA experience.

Now, of course, it’s always possible the Mariners and Yankees work out a trade, if indeed 25 games’ worth of AAA experience isn’t enough to land you on a Major League roster for a full season, but it’s a puzzling move any way you slice it.  Obviously, when we’re talking about Rule 5 players, we’re not talking about an organization’s best prospect.  This is a guy the Yankees felt they could leave off of their 40-man roster and risk losing to another club.  Maybe they figured – as most anyone would – that no one would bother with a 25 year old 5-year minor league first baseman whose numbers aren’t really all that eye-popping.  But, that’s the Mariners for you.  The same Mariners, mind you, who just traded for first baseman Ryon Healy.  It didn’t look like he needed a platoon partner, so again, I guess we’ll see.

In yet other minor news, Andrew Albers was granted his release so he could go play in Asia.  That’s one less useful AAA starter we could spot start in a pinch.

And finally, I’ll end with this:  Drew Smyly ended up signing a 2-year, $10 million deal with the Chicago Cubs, which I guess was more than we were willing to go.  He gets $3 million this year just to recover from surgery, and another $7 million in 2019, with $6 million in incentives if he returns to starting.  Thus ends the Drew Smyly era in Seattle.  He never threw a pitch in a regular season game, he earned a little under $7 million, and he cost us three prospects.  If that isn’t the epitome of the perfect Seattle Mariners transaction, I don’t know what is.

The Mariners Traded For Dee Gordon

I don’t have a good space for this post, as the next day I anticipate having an opening will be next Thursday, which would make this beyond stale.  So, instead, I’m doubling up on a Friday.

The Mariners acquired Dee Gordon from the Miami Marlins!  In return, the Marlins get three minor leaguers.  If you thought, like I did, that the Mariners traded away all their minor leaguers, you’d be wrong.  Indeed, considering Gordon’s talent level, I’m shocked the Marlins were able to find three guys they liked from our farm system, but that’s neither here nor there.

It looks like the Marlins are in salary dump mode, which isn’t something new.  Dee Gordon is set to earn $37 million over the next three years, with 2021 being an option year ($14 million if he stays, $1 million if we buy him out; the option vests automatically if he has 600 plate appearances in 2020, or 1,200 across 2019-2020).

If you don’t know who Dee Gordon is, he was a starting second baseman for the Marlins, who happened to play at an All Star level in 2014 & 2015.  He also won a Gold Glove in 2015, as well as a Silver Slugger award and had the National League batting title.  He had a down season in 2016, thanks to an 80-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs (which is cause for concern, because I’m sure the next offense is way worse than 80 games), but he bounced back in a big way in 2017.

The hitting talent is there.  He doesn’t have much in the way of power, but in his last three full seasons he’s had over 20 doubles per year.  He’s also going to sprinkle in a good number of triples, because the dude is fast.  He’s one of the fastest players in the Major Leagues.  In his last three full seasons, he’s averaged over 60 stolen bases per year!  He’s going to get caught from time to time, but still, that’s insane.  He could probably stand to walk more, but if he hits the way he’s capable of hitting, on-base percentage shouldn’t be an issue.

The biggest issue, of course, is what I mentioned earlier:  he’s a second baseman!  Robinson Cano, is also, a second baseman.  Dee Gordon also has experience as a short stop.  But, Jean Segura is our short stop.  He just signed an extension in the middle of last season!  Cano and Segura aren’t going anywhere.  Ipso facto, the Mariners are making Dee Gordon convert to center field.  Where he’s never played an inning of Major League ball.

And he’s got about 4 months to get it down.

Not that I have a choice in the matter, but I’m okay with the whole thing.  My biggest concern is how well he does in his defensive conversion.  I’ve seen plenty of players get shuffled around to other positions while at the Major League level, and it rarely has gone well.  Usually, we’re talking about going from DH to first base, or catcher to first base, or first base to second base to outfield, or third base to corner outfield, and so on and so forth.  The defense gets worse, and the hitting also suffers.  If anything, it takes about a year to get acclimated, if they get acclimated at all!  So, I wouldn’t say I’m on the bandwagon just yet.

I do like the idea, though.  I mean, the guy is super fast, why WOULDN’T he at least be passable in center field?  It’ll probably take some time before he gets to be elite, but that should come with experience.  In the early going, how about he just makes the routine plays?  Between that, and his elite bat at the top of the lineup, I’ll take it.

Speaking of that lineup, here’s a possibility:

  1. Dee Gordon (CF)
  2. Jean Segura (SS)
  3. Robinson Cano (2B)
  4. Nelson Cruz (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Mitch Haniger (RF)
  7. Ryon Healy (1B)
  8. Mike Zunino (C)
  9. Ben Gamel (LF)

That’s pretty aces, from top to bottom.  Now, whether we still have Ben Gamel when the season starts, I guess we’ll see.  It’s probably a good sign that he’s featured in some of the promotional give-aways this season, but I guess they could always stop production on those.

Can’t have a trade without giving away some pieces.  The Mariners gave away Chris Torres (a low level minor league short stop prospect with a lot of upside), Nick Neidert (probably the top pitching prospect in the M’s system who projects as a mid-rotation starter with low velocity but good command and change-up), and Robert Dugger (a relief pitching prospect).  I don’t know if any of these guys will turn into anything, but that’s the risk, isn’t it?  You’ll probably see Neidert in a Major League uniform sooner rather than later (maybe even as early as this season, considering the tank job the Marlins are pulling), and if he becomes a quality starting pitcher, that one could sting.

To lessen that sting, the Mariners also got $1 million in International Slot Money.  Shohei Ohtani is a Japanese player who is both a quality starter and a quality hitter.  He has narrowed down his field of prospective teams to seven, one of which includes the Mariners.  Due to his very young age, he’s not entitled to the usual Free Agent money you’d see thrown around for posted Japanese players.  But, he’s determined to come to America, and right now is trying to figure out where he fits best.  The Mariners now have somewhere in the area of $3.5 million to offer him – which is the most among the seven remaining teams, by a small margin – but this was never really about money for Ohtani.  Although, I’m sure the Mariners are thinking that if all things are equal in that regard, it’ll come down to where Seattle ranks among his potential destinations.  The Mariners have a lot to offer, and many consider us to be the leaders of the pack, but I’m not gonna get my hopes up.  Easier that way.

Lots more moves to go this off-season.  One very important move could be coming in a matter of days.

UPDATE:  And the move has been made.  Shohei Ohtani to the Anaheim Angels.  Between them and the Astros, maybe think about cancelling Mariners baseball for the next 3-5 years.

Wasting No Time: The Mariners Traded For Their New First Baseman

So, I guess the Danny Valencia/Yonder Alonso experiment is over.  They were both thrilling and aggravating, but ultimately not a very major reason why the Mariners failed to make the playoffs in 2017.  They’re now free to return to the Oakland A’s, or any other team they see fit.

Speaking of the Oakland A’s, the Mariners traded with them again.  To bring in another first baseman again.  For the third time in a row.  Ryon Healy is his name, which isn’t a totally annoying way to spell the name Ryan, but that’s neither here nor there.  He’ll be 26 years old in January and has spent the past season and a half in the Big Leagues.  In that time, he’s been solidly productive:

  • .282/.313/.475/.788 with 38 homers, 49 doubles, a whole mess of strikeouts and not very many walks

Without knowing how good he is defensively (I assume he’s fine), this feels like a quality addition to the right side of the plate.  More importantly, the Mariners don’t feel like they’ll have to platoon him, which should free up a roster spot on the bench.  I suppose that spells doom for Dan Vogelbach’s future in a Mariners uniform, but more than anything he feels like trade bait for one of the 50 other deals Jerry Dipoto is going to do between now and the end of the year.

Another cool thing about this deal is that Healy is still two full seasons away from being arbitration eligible.  The Mariners, if things go well, should have him for 5 full seasons before he’d earn any sort of significant money!  And, if he’s already flashing this type of power and batting average as a second year player, one would think the sky is the limit.

He’s going to fit in quite well in the 2018 batting order, too.  Check out my way-too-early projection:

  • Segura (SS)
  • Haniger (RF)
  • Cano (2B)
  • Cruz (DH)
  • Seager (3B)
  • Healy (1B)
  • Gamel (LF)
  • Zunino (C)
  • Heredia (CF)

I highly doubt that’ll be the Opening Day 9, but you get the idea.  Bank on the top 6 guys being THE guys.  Toss in Zunino in the bottom third with one, maybe two new outfielders, and you’ve got yourself a lineup.

I think my favorite part of this deal is that the Mariners won’t be subjected to a first base retread.  I don’t have to worry about the return of LoMo, for instance, who was a name being bandied about when people discussed possible solutions to this first base quandary.  Same goes for Justin Smoak (though, I have to figure Toronto is pretty happy with him after last year), Brad Miller, and the duo from last season.  Danny Valencia is a nice player, and it was awesome to have his defense over there, but he is who he is.  He’ll have hot streaks and cold streaks and he’ll struggle quite a bit against right handed pitching.  Yonder Alonso, I think, is more flash in the pan than player on the rise.  Before 2017, his season high in homers was 9; last year, he hit 28.  I’m not going to bring steroids into the conversation, because I think the league has done a pretty good job to test those drugs out of the sport, but it does feel like an unsustainable leap.  Also, not for nothing, but the bulk of his damage last year was done pre-All Star Break (where he made his first-ever All Star Game).  He fell off a pretty mighty cliff and never really righted the ship after he was traded.  His on-base ability was a breath of fresh air, but the M’s didn’t bring Yonder Alonso over to walk guys in.

And that’s where I think we get a little too in the weeds with on-base percentage.  Sometimes, you just want a guy to mash you a 3-run homer.  Yeah, if you can, get you a man who can do both, and hold onto him for the duration of his career.  But, if I had to choose what I want out of my first baseman, batting out of the 6-hole?  Give me doubles n’ dingers.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about who the Mariners gave up:  Emilio Pagan and minor leaguer Alexander Campos.  Pagan, you may recall, was a rookie last year and one of our very best relievers.  Long relief, late in games, high leverage situations, extra innings, you name it and more often than not he came through the trials with flying colors.  Considering how cheap he is, and how much team control he has left, that’s a guy you could see anchoring your bullpen for many years to come.  But, if he can get you a starting first baseman – and not just for a season or two, but for up to 5 years or more, if you opt to extend him long term – that’s a no-brainer.  I mean, let’s face it, odds are Emilio Pagan won’t be the next Mariano Rivera.  Duh.  I would also say the odds are we’re trading him at his very highest value.  If we’d kept him even one more year, and he struggled, he couldn’t be traded for much more than Jack Squat (see:  Vogelbach).

As for Campos, he’s a 17-year old infielder.  We almost certainly won’t read about him ever again.  And, if we do, it almost certainly won’t be for at least 3-5 years, and by that point I hope to be long dead, having probably never again seen the Mariners in the post-season.

I will say that it’s a little scary to trade from a position of weakness (pitching) to further bolster a position of strength (hitting).  To say nothing of the issues with the rotation, how good will this bullpen be when you trade away arguably your 2nd most talented reliever after Edwin Diaz?  I know, Nick Vincent will likely start as your 8th inning guy, but I don’t know if I buy him having back-to-back amazing seasons.  And, besides that, you need more than two quality relievers to win games consistently.  Aside from David Phelps when he was healthy, and our lefties Pazos and Scrabble, I didn’t see a lot of uber-promising young talent coming through Tacoma into the Bigs last year.  With the minors as depleted as they are, I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of impact trades for pitching, unless you’re cool giving up on Ben Gamel (who I ASSURE you will not bring back the type of prize Mariners fans would expect from someone who looks like he could be a solid starter for many years to come; so be ready to be VERY disappointed at some point this offseason).

All that being said, I think this is a great trade, and it’s a deal I would do again and again in a heartbeat.  If I’m being perfectly honest, aside from maybe re-signing Jarrod Dyson, I don’t think I’d do very much to turn over the offense.  I like our outfield!  I like Haniger and Gamel and the combo of Dyson and Heredia!  That’s great defense across the board, with solid plate production and speed on the basepaths.  It’s unrealistic to believe that the hitting/defense side of the game is going to stay as is, especially with Dipoto running the show, and especially since we’re almost certainly going to have to trade from that position of strength (hitting) to improve our pitching.  But, whatever you do, you’ve got to keep that outfield defense as a strength, without sacrificing too much in the way of hitting.  Edgar Martinez can’t do it all!