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.

The Long Shadow of the Randy Johnson Trade

I moved this to my Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings heading HERE.

Mariners Tidbit 67: Iwakuma’s No-Hitter

The first Mariners no-hitter happened on June 2, 1990, against the Detroit Tigers.  Randy Johnson walked 6 and struck out 8 in 138 pitches for the 2-0 victory.

The second Mariners no-hitter happened on April 22, 1993, against the Boston Red Sox.  Chris Bosio walked 2 and struck out 4 in 97 pitches for the 7-0 victory.

The third Mariners no-hitter happened on June 8, 2012, against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Kevin Millwood, Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League, and Tom Wilhelmsen combined to walk 3 and strike out 9 in 114 pitches for the 1-0 victory.

The fourth Mariners no-hitter was also the first Mariners perfect game; it happened on August 15, 2012, against the Tampa Bay Rays.  Felix Hernandez struck out 12 in 113 pitches for the 1-0 victory.

The fifth Mariners no-hitter happened yesterday afternoon, against the Baltimore Orioles.  Hisashi Iwakuma walked 3 and struck out 7 in 116 pitches for the 3-0 victory.

Is it weird that all of the Mariners no-no’s have happened at home?  Is it weird that the last two happened on Wednesday matinee games?

As usual, I was at work yesterday while all of this was going on.  Furthermore, I was stuck in meetings for most of the afternoon, so I didn’t even realize that a no-hitter was officially happening until the 8th inning.  I was able to listen to Iwakuma close out the 8th before running out of work and over to Pacific Place for an impromptu happy hour.  Sitting at the bar of Gordon Biersch, I quickly ordered a Captain & Coke while the final commercials ran before the top of the 9th.

I don’t remember everything.  Obviously, this isn’t my first no-hit rodeo, but I don’t know if I’ll ever forget Kyle Seager’s basket catch in foul territory.  That was banana-nuts!  And then I want to say the next at bat, Iwakuma grooved a fastball right in the middle of the plate that the hitter thankfully fouled off.  After that, it was relatively smooth sailing getting the last two outs.

I don’t care who you are, but no-hitters are always special.  It’s SUCH a hard thing to accomplish; you see SO MANY of them lost in the final couple of at-bats.  So, my hat is off to Iwakuma and everyone else involved for getting the job done.

I’m finding it difficult to peg just where we’re at with Iwakuma.  Is this a last gasp of brilliance before he declines even further?  Is this proof that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated and premature?  And, if so, how much more does he have left in the tank?

What this no-hitter accomplishes is it gets me – and most of the fans – back in Iwakuma’s corner.  That’s a biggie.  From the last month of the 2014 season through most of this season, Iwakuma has been an unmitigated disappointment.  Since returning from two months on the DL, he’s had flashes of brilliance – 8 shutout innings against the Angels, 7 quality innings in Detroit, an almost-complete game shutout in Minnesota, 7 more quality innings against the Rangers – but he’s also had a good amount of duds:  4 homers given up to the Tigers in Safeco, just a so-so game in New Yankee Stadium, getting blown out at home against the Diamondbacks.

The back-and-forth nature of his outings the last month and a half are definitely cause for concern, but what this no-hitter does is make it okay for the team to bring him back for 2016, at least in my mind (pending what he does the rest of this season, of course).  The thing is, though, we have to temper our expectations.

I don’t know if it’s fair to count on Iwakuma to be healthy for a full season anymore.  He’s missed extensive time in all but one of his Major League seasons.  Also, I don’t know if we should expect him to be the #2 starting pitcher this team needs.  He strikes me as more of a 4 or 5 going forward; meaning this team STILL needs to bring in a high-end starter either via free agency or trade.  Also, if Iwakuma does warrant an extension, I wouldn’t go anywhere beyond 2 years; that’s a deal-breaker for me.

Anyway, this is all stuff we can hash out later, when the season’s over.  For now, let’s celebrate a truly amazing feat.  The Orioles are a good hitting team, and Iwakuma’s been serving up a steady diet of meatballs for a while now.  To hold them hitless is OUTSTANDING!

Looking Back At The 2014 Mariners: The Pitchers, Part II

Turns out there’s A LOT more to say about the 2014 Mariners than I originally thought.  Anyway, last week I wrote about all the position players used by the Mariners throughout the season.  It turned out to be a massive, 7,000+ word monstrosity that took over four hours to write and had to be split over three days.

This one figures to be a lot somewhat shorter simply because we used a total of 24 different position players and only 20 pitchers.  Here’s to me keeping this to a modest TWO posts!

Click HERE for Part I

In case you missed it, here’s the breakdown of the hitters from last week:

And now, without further ado, let’s talk about the rest of the pitchers.

Yoervis Medina This is all you REALLY need to know about Medina’s 2014.

If only they had the Internet back when Gil Meche caught Mo Vaughn looking.

Everyone absolutely LOVES to get off on hating on Medina.  I don’t get it!  Is he the best reliever this team has?  No.  Is he the guy you ideally want to see in the 8th inning of a winning ballgame?  Probably not.  But, way more often than not, he gets the job done.  He averages over a strikeout per inning, gotta like that.  He’s a little over 2:1 strikeout-to-walk, which isn’t the greatest, but it’s far from terrible.  Opposing batters hit .229 off of him, which is very good.  His OPS against is under .650.

I mean, seriously!  What more do you want out of the guy?  He’s durable, he’s good to go pretty much whenever you need him.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard any sort of variation on the phrase, “Medina isn’t available in today’s game because he’s pitched too many days in a row.”  He’s a 2-year pro whose ERA is below three in both years.  Even by more advanced metrics, he’s not bad.  So, why all the hate?

Fuck if I know.  He does tend to be a little wild sometimes.  He’s not quite Fernando Rodney Experience levels of cardiac arrest, but he’ll certainly raise the ol’ blood pressure from time to time.

When I look at a reliever, though, I like to look at meltdowns.  Is he going to be awesome for a while and then go all Brandon League on you?  That’s not good.  If you count ’em out, though, of his 66 appearances in 2014, he gave up at least one run only 12 times.  So, in 18% of his appearances, he’s giving up a run.  Granted, when he’s going in higher leverage situations, those runs tend to mean a little more.  But, I would venture to say of those 12 games where he gave up at least one run, he wasn’t the sole reason why we lost most of those.  Relievers can give up a run here and there and not have it bite them in the ass.

For my money, he’s young, he throws hard, he strikes people out; that’s worth him getting into and out of a few jams every now and then.

Outlook for 2015:  A lot of my talk yesterday was about how the Mariners are destined to trade a reliever or two for hitting help.  I’d venture to say Medina – along with Wilhelmsen – is probably on the lower end of the rankings.  My point being:  get used to seeing his mug come out of the bullpen on the reg in 2015.  And, if I’m right about Farquhar, Maurer, and/or Leone getting shipped off, that will only strengthen LMC’s resolve on using Medina in the 8th inning.  If he stays healthy, I’d bank on him being his usual, reliable, sometimes-scary self.

Hector Noesi – I want to say Noesi was out of options and that’s why he made the Mariners out of Spring Training.  I mean, his numbers were okay, but when you compare them to the rest of his Mariners career, I don’t think any fan thought he DESERVED to be here.

On April 2nd, he pitched an inning of relief in Anaheim, giving up 2 runs in a single inning.  It was a blowout Mariners victory, so people let it slide.

Then, on April 3rd, he came into a tie game in the bottom of the 12th down in Oakland.  He threw two pitches to Coco Crisp, the second of which was a game-winning home run.  Considering we missed out on the playoffs by 1 game to those very same Oakland A’s, you COULD say Hector Noesi is the reason why we fell short.

He moved on to the Rangers and made three appearances.  In his final appearance, against the White Sox, Noesi went a single inning and gave up 7 runs.  Fuck if I know what they saw, because after the Rangers released him the following day, the White Sox would go on to pick him up and pitch him less than a week later.  Noesi eventually cracked the White Sox’s rotation (because shit went very VERY wrong for that organization in 2014) and did all right.

He even got to start against the Mariners twice.  The White Sox would win both games (1-0 over in Chicago, 2-1 in Seattle), while Noesi combined to throw 14 innings, giving up 10 hits, 1 run, 0 earned runs, while striking out 9 and walking only 3.

If this is the point where you kill yourself, I totes understand.

Outlook for 2015:  Who the fuck cares?  Fuck that guy!

James Paxton – Paxton made 4 starts in September of 2013 and really plowed through the competish.  With that, he factored into the battle for the starting rotation in 2014 and easily won a job.  He made two starts, winning both, and then had to be shut down with a strained lat muscle.

He was only supposed to miss a few weeks to a month, but he didn’t actually make his Major League return until August thanks to a number of setbacks.  Once he got his strength back, he was the stud we’ve all come to expect (for the most part).

Outlook for 2015:  Definite front-runner for a rotation spot once again.  Will he be able to stay healthy?  Hopefully, the organization figured out what was wrong and how to avoid it in the future.  The sky is the limit with this kid if he can stay healthy.  Best-case scenario is:  he turns into a legitimate #2 starter behind Felix one day.  The sooner that day comes, the better our chances at making the post-season.

Stephen Pryor – Pryor flashed onto the scene in the later parts of 2012 and showed a rocket arm with closer-type stuff.  He figured to be a staple of our bullpen in 2013, but got injured.  All sorts of shoulder-type stuff.  That carried over into 2014.  He made a single appearance, on July 9th, giving up an unearned run.  I think he was called up to be a warm body (kinda like Luetge) to eat a couple innings.  In the end, he was sent back down and eventually traded to the Twins for Kendrys Morales.

Outlook for 2015:  It looked like he lost quite a bit off of his fastball.  He never did make any appearances for the Twins after he was traded, so that leads me to believe he’s still working his way back in the minors.  Hope he gets his stuff back; seemed like a good enough guy.

Erasmo Ramirez – Every year, from 2012 onward, we’ve had high hopes for this kid.  Good control, nice change up.  But, he throws a very straight, hittable ball.  And, sometimes he loses that control that’s his bread & butter.  Once that happens, he’s one of the ugliest pitchers you’ll ever watch.

He made 14 starts for the Mariners in 2014 (17 appearances overall).  With Iwakuma out, Ramirez made the rotation out of Spring Training.  He proved to be unreliable and eventually lost his job to Brandon Maurer (who proved to be even worse).  He re-entered the rotation in June, when he managed to more-or-less put up zeroes, but also couldn’t go deep into games because who could trust him to?  It was all spot starts after that, whenever we wanted to push guys back or otherwise give them extra rest.

Outlook for 2015:  Fodder for Tacoma, with Emergency Starter potential.  If he makes the rotation out of Spring Training again, something has gone horribly wrong (again).

Fernando Rodney – Meet your new Single-Season Saves Leader in Franchise History!

48 baby!  Hot dog!  Only 3 blown saves!  Gee willikers!  19 out of 69 games where he gave up at least 1 run!  Actually, that’s not the best figure in the world.

They don’t call it the Fernando Rodney Experience for nothing.

10.31 K’s per 9.  He’s got that fastball that runs anywhere from 93-99 miles per hour.  He’s got that change up that runs in the low 80s.  He’s got batters in between those two speeds MOST of the time.  And, every once in a while, he has a gnarly little meltdown.

Whatever you do, don’t bring him into the 9th inning of a tie game.  You WILL be losing that shit in short order.

Outlook for 2015:  He’s signed for one more season.  Another $7 million.  If we get similar production to what we got in 2014, he’ll be worth every penny.  If he takes even a modest step back, it could be a real trainwreck for the senses.  I’m fairly confident he’ll be what we expect him to be, but I make no guarantees.

Carson Smith – Nine games, all in September.  He would’ve been here sooner, but our Major League bullpen was kicking too many asses and taking too many names.  There was a roster crunch that got even crunchier when Brandon Maurer discovered 6 extra MPH on his fastball.

What we saw out of Smith, however, shows me this is the real fucking deal.  In those 9 games, he threw 8.1 innings (in a playoff chase, I might add!  In some pretty serious moments!), gave up 0 runs, 2 hits, struck out 10, and walked only 3.  Lots of movement on his hard fastball, with a wicked slider.

Outlook for 2015:  Theoretically, he could be another one of those Trade Chip guys, but teams generally like to have proven commodities.  I mean, these were the first 9 appearances of his Major League career!  I think he stays for that reason alone.  And, he’s the reason why I wouldn’t be absolutely heartbroken if we lost a Farquhar or a Maurer.  He can easily slide right in there as a 7th or 8th inning set up guy.  Eventually?  Another future closer, if he stays healthy.

Taijuan Walker – Another guy who got a September call-up in 2013.  Another guy who looked good during his cup of coffee.  Another guy who figured to be in the rotation battle in Spring Training 2014.  And, another guy who got injured and missed a significant portion of the year.

We might thank that injury for his still being here.  As, you have to figure it sapped some of his value from around the league.  You never know, if he was healthy and dominating, maybe it’s Walker who we trade at the deadline for a super-amazing, non-Kendrys bat.

I wish I could look into some alternate dimension where Iwakuma, Paxton, and Walker were all healthy out of Spring Training and healthy for the duration of the year.  What would’ve happened to the 2014 Mariners in this universe?  Could’ve been fucking amazing, if you ask me.

Shoulder impingement.  Had him shut down in Spring Training and didn’t allow him to return to the Majors until the end of June.  He made three sporadic starts before September, but spent the majority of the year down in Tacoma.  Working on his arm strength, and later working on his control.  He returned in September and looked much better, closing out his regular season with an 8-inning, 1-run game against the Blue Jays that we ended up losing 1-0 (essentially the nail in the coffin to our season, though we did finish with four straight victories to come within a game of a play-in game to the play-in game).

Outlook for 2015:  They stuck Walker down in the Arizona Fall League to get some work in.  By all accounts, he’s looked great.  He’ll be back in Spring Training fighting for a rotation spot.  If all goes according to plan, your 2015 rotation will look like this:  Felix, Iwakuma, Paxton, Walker, Elias.  But, then again, when does anything ever go according to plan?  Count on the Mariners bringing in a veteran or two to fight for the final rotation spot, so nothing will be handed to Walker.  But, if he’s got his head on straight and puts in the work necessary to make it, he should be fine.

Tom Wilhelmsen – He took over as closer in 2012 for the displaced Brandon League.  He lost his job as closer in 2013, suffering from Brandon League disease.  People wondered if he’d be traded prior to 2014.  People wondered if he’d even make the Big League roster out of Spring Training.

Not only did he make it, but he earned the trust of LMC to the point that he was THE guy behind Rodney.  He rewarded that trust by having a pretty mediocre April.  Calls for his head soon followed, but you know what?  Instead of doing what these relievers normally do – totally implode until they’ve been DFA’d or traded for a bag of baseballs – he figured his shit out and had a nice little 2014 season!

Wilhelmsen was lights out from May until the very end of September (for the record, the entire bullpen was lights out from May until the very end of September, hence the reason why we lost so many games towards the end there).  He ceded his 8th inning duties to Medina & Farquhar, but he earned something a little more important:  long relief & the occasional spot start on Bullpen Days.

He was made for this role, so I’m glad it’s clicked.  There’s been chatter here and there about him converting back into a starter, but I doubt it’ll happen.

Outlook for 2015:  I think he’ll be right here, doing what he did in 2014.  It’ll be nice to have him back (never would’ve caught myself saying that at the end of 2013).

Chris Young – The Mariners signed Randy Wolf to a minor league contract heading into Spring Training.  He was given a legitimate chance to win a rotation spot thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness out of some of our younger guys (Maurer, Beavan, others).

Scott Baker was another guy the Mariners signed prior to Spring.  He was ALSO given a legitimate opportunity at cracking the starting rotation.  He ended up being pretty awful in his four starts and asked for his release (since we weren’t ready to anoint him the starter, he used an opt-out clause in his deal).  This opened the door wide open for Wolf, who wasn’t a WHOLE lot better in his five spring starts, but it beat going into the season with AAA guys.

But, here’s the rub:  the Mariners asked Wolf to sign a contract with a clause that stated if the Mariners waived him after 45 days, they wouldn’t have to pay his full $1 million salary.  Randy Wolf threw a hissy fit (over what was a pretty standard clause for guys in his position) and refused, also asking for his release.  It was so granted.

Meanwhile, Chris Young was fighting for a spot with the Washington Nationals.  Prior to the season, the Nationals traded for Doug Fister (remember him?), and thus no longer had an opening for Young.  Young was released and the Mariners signed him.

He went ahead and agreed to the contract with the 45-day clause.  He was not only rewarded with a rotation spot for almost the full season (he broke down a bit towards the end and was benched), but he very well should be the frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year.  AND, he probably rejuvenated his career to the point that, in 2015, he’ll get a guaranteed contract (and MAYBE even a multi-year deal).

Young’s first appearance of the year was out of the bullpen.  This was to build up some innings, as he’d had a gap between his release from the Nats and his pickup by the M’s.  His next 29 appearances were all starts, as injuries and ineffectiveness reared their heads.

3.65 ERA, 12-9 record, 108 strikeouts in 165 innings, with only 143 hits and 60 walks.  All of this after many years in the baseball wilderness.  Before 2014, he hadn’t made 29 starts since 2007.  Indeed, he missed ALL of 2013.  Comeback Player of the Year?  I think so.

Outlook for 2015:  My guess is, he’ll command more money elsewhere.  It’s also my hope, because I don’t think he’s going to catch this lightning in a bottle twice.  It was nice having him here, it was nice watching him fight the regression dragon as long as humanly possible, but I’ve seen the 83 MPH fastball and the damage done.  If he’s not inducing weak infield pop-ups, he’s getting crushed.  Pity the team that overpays him in 2015.

Looking Back At The 2014 Mariners: The Hitters, Part II

Consider this the second in a series of looks back at the 2014 Mariners.  For once, it’s going to be more than, “They fucking sucked, I’m sick of thinking about this shit, I’ll see you in February.”  I’m sure I’ll toss out the usual “What Went Right” and “What Went Wrong” posts as time and desire permit, but right now I’m taking a look at the players.  In short, I’m going to list all the players who accumulated a stat for the 2014 Mariners, and I’m going to talk about each of them individually.

I’m also breaking this up into three parts, because we’re pushing 7,000 words here.

Click HERE for Part I
Click HERE for Part III (tomorrow)

Corey Hart – The Mariners picked him up as a free agent, taking a flyer that he’d return to his old, bashing ways in Milwaukee.  Of course, he hadn’t played since 2012 – losing a full year to knee injuries – and baseball isn’t like riding a bike.  Especially when you’re 142 years old ABOUT A YEAR YOUNGER THAN I AM?  GOOD GOD I’M OLD!

Hart appeared in a lot of games in the first month and a half.  Mostly at DH.  Occasionally – and ill-advisedly – in the outfield.  Then, he was placed on the DL.  He returned to play a lot in July, then he went back on the DL again until September call-ups.  He stunk throughout, hitting right around .200 for the season.

He had 9 doubles and 6 homers in 68 games.  A paltry 32% of his hits went for extra bases, which is not something you’re looking for in a “power hitter” in your cleanup spot, who you want protecting Robinson Cano in the order.

Outlook for 2015:  The Mariners have already given him his release, because they needed to make room to bring Jesus Montero back from the suspended list.  That’s how little Corey Hart means to this organization, and it’s the perfect representation of his value.  When you look back at his career as a Mariner, just think about that and frown.  Frown with all your might.

Austin Jackson – If you haven’t by now TL;DR’d this series of posts and you’re following along closely, A-Jax is the second of three guys we traded for in July to help bolster the ballclub.  We traded Nick Franklin to get him.  Nick Franklin was an expendable trade chip who never really had a future in this organization once Robbie Cano was signed.  Austin Jackson was a very good, still-in-his-prime centerfielder with another year of team control in 2015.

The Mariners, of course, DESPERATELY needed a centerfielder.  With Guti taking the year off to get his health issues squared away (and no longer a centerfield prospect anymore, given his durability issues), with Abe Almonte a fucking zoo out there, and with James Jones’ absolute dearth of power, we didn’t have a whole lot of options.  A-Jax looked like a perfect fit.

In Detroit, from 2010-2013, A-Jax was worth no less than 3.4 wins per year.  He was a plus-fielder with quicks on the basepaths who could hit for some pop as well as for average.  He declined greatly in 2014, for reasons no one can quite fathom.  In Detroit this year, he was average-at-best, though his power and overall hitting numbers weren’t down dramatically.  Which makes you wonder if he took that huge step back in the field.  Either way, he was better than what we had in Seattle – or so we thought.

In Seattle, A-Jax batted .229/.267/.260.  He was good for 0.1 WAR.  And, not for nothing, but anecdotally he was a fucking disaster in big situations.  Seemed like whenever he had a man on base or otherwise an opportunity to positively affect a ballgame, he would instead ground into a double play or (at best) strike out.  He proved to be my least-favorite of the three mid-season acquisitions, and that’s REALLY saying something Kendrys Morales.

Outlook for 2015:  Still in Seattle, still starting in center, still batting leadoff.  At least out of Spring Training.  Beyond that, who’s to say?  If he plays like he did in the last two months of this season, you never know.  We may be talking about one of the many reasons why the 2015 Mariners DON’T make the playoffs.  Honestly, we’re REALLY counting on A-Jax to turn it around.  I highly doubt the Mariners are going to go out and find another guy to compete in center.  So, if A-Jax fails, and there’s no one in the minors to take his place, we’re proper fucked at a spot on the team where we’re banking on being set.  Just in case you were overwhelmed by the warm-fuzzies after this pleasant 2014 run, keep that in mind.

James Jones – In his first two months, James Jones was amazing.  He was everything Abe Almonte wasn’t.  He was crisp at the plate.  He wasn’t the most-refined in the outfield, but he was solid enough.  And, he was a wizard on the basepaths.

Then, July came around and he started falling off.  We all started noticing his faults.  Like:  how he wasn’t really improving as a centerfielder.  Like:  how he couldn’t hit for power.  Like:  how if he didn’t slap a single the other way, he couldn’t get on base to take advantage of those legs.  In the end, he lost his starting job, was sent back to Tacoma for a couple weeks, then returned exclusively as a bench player.

It’s the part he was born to play, baby!

Keep him away from the starting lineup, keep him out of center, and watch him shine.  He’s a plus-defender in the corner outfield, with speed and a strong arm.  Put him in during the later innings to replace Endy Chavez or whoever.  Pinch run him for Kendrys Morales or some other slow piece of crap.  He’s GOLD!

27 stolen bases in 28 attempts.  Very, very good.

14 extra-base hits in 312 at-bats (with only 12 walks vs. 67 strikeouts) is very, very BAD.  That’s factoring in how a lot of those doubles were hustle-doubles.

Outlook for 2015:  He needs to bulk up.  He needs to get a little more power into his bat.  He needs to retain how well he hit the outside pitch the other way, but he’s also gotta recognize pitches better and take MANY more walks.  His career will be built on a foundation of base-stealing.  If he wants that career to primarily take place in the Majors, then he needs to figure out a way to get on base with more regularity.  In an ideal world, he’d fix what’s wrong with him and be our fourth or fifth outfielder.  But, I got a feeling he’ll start out in Tacoma again.  Not the worst thing in the world.

Brad Miller – In following the Dustin Ackley Path To Success, Brad Miller was a mid-season call-up as a rookie and did quite well.  So well, in fact, that he pretty much earned his starting job without a fight.  Nevertheless, the Mariners put the short stop job up for grabs between Miller and Nick Franklin.  Didn’t matter, as Miller mopped the floor with him in the month of March.  The job was his, and everyone rejoiced.

Then the regular season started:

  • April:  .173/.212/.333 with 26 strikeouts in 81 at-bats
  • May:  .136/.260/.152 with 17 strikeouts and 1 extra-base hit in 66 at-bats

In June, he turned it around with:  .298/.355/.512 with 21 strikeouts in 84 at-bats.  But, then July happened:  .172/.262/.224 with 12 strikeouts and 3 extra-base hits in 58 at-bats.  On July 24th, Miller lost his starting job for good, with the promotion of Chris Taylor.  From that point on, they’d split duties, with Taylor getting the bulk of the looks the rest of the way in high-pressure games.

To his credit, Miller did turn his season around somewhat:

  • August:  .273/.357/.545 with 6 strikeouts and 4 extra-base hits in only 22 at-bats
  • September:  .314/.340/.549 with 13 strikeouts and 7 extra-base hits in 51 at-bats

On the whole, Miller’s 2014 was worse than his 2013, but he still has the potential to be a solid starting short stop in this league.  His power potential is undeniable.  His defense isn’t quite as good as Taylor’s, but he’s very athletic and there’s talk of him maybe converting to outfield (or, at least adding that to his repertoire to become a super-utility guy).  Normally, losing your starting position and getting that super-utility label is a death sentence, but in this case I’m willing to hear it out.

Outlook for 2015:  He will once again come in competing for the starting short stop job, this time against Chris Taylor.  If he mashes again like he did in Spring of 2014, he’s certain to win the job out of camp.  But, I have no doubt that if all things are equal with health, there will be a short leash on Miller if he struggles again in April.

Jesus Montero – You know the story:  we traded Michael Pineda and some other dude for Montero and Hector Noesi.  Noesi was a disaster who was finally DFA’d this year (and who became an okay starter for a struggling White Sox team).  Pineda has been mostly injured throughout his time with the Yankees, but at season’s end he flashed that potential he showed in Seattle as a rookie.

Jesus Montero, on the other hand, has been a fucking loser from the get-go.  First, he was our starting catcher of the future; that didn’t pan out.  Then, we looked to convert him to first base; that hasn’t gone well.  He’s a fat, immobile turd who gets to add “injury prone” to his list of descriptors.  Then, towards the end of the 2014 season, on a rehab assignment with the Everett Aqua Sox, functioning as a first base coach (which, not for nothing, is his future in the game:  a base coach for a single-A baseball team), Jesus Montero was baited into an altercation with an allegedly drunken scout (at the time) for the Seattle Mariners after that scout (again allegedly) sent him an ice cream sandwich and yelled at him to hustle more.

The scout was fired (and rightly so, because I like to give Montero shit, but even I know he was acting like a cunt), and Jesus Montero was suspended (probably because he went into the stands with a baseball bat in his hands, which is a huge no-no in sports).  Montero has since been reinstated, and is apparently being watched like a hawk by the Mariners’ front office.  There’s one last chance on the table for Montero in a Mariners uniform (or, more likely, for Montero as trade bait to try to recoup some of his tons of lost value).  They’ve got him in Arizona working out on a strict exercise program (because, you know, he came in fat to Spring Training 2014 and admitted as such in interviews that all he did was sit around and stuff his face during the offseason).

Outlook for 2015:  Once a loser, always a loser.  There will be all this crap written about how he’s in the “best shape of his life”, but that’ll probably mean that he’s lost all his power.  He’ll start out in Tacoma and continue to suck (if he’s not outright traded in the offseason as a throw-in to a much bigger deal).

Kendrys Morales – Sigh.  Here we go.

You remember him as a productive hitter for the Angels for a bunch of years.  Then, he broke his foot or some damn thing while celebrating a game-winning home run and he ended up losing his 2011 season.  The Mariners swapped Jason Vargas for him straight up prior to the 2013 season (after a decent, but not great 2012) and he had a decent, but not great first year with the club.

The big draw with Morales – aside from being a huge step up compared to the other DHs we’ve employed since Edgar Martinez retired – was that even though he’d be a free agent at season’s end, we could tender him and if he signed as a free agent elsewhere, we’d get a high draft pick (a first rounder most likely, unless it was one of the top 10 “protected” draft picks).  So, we offered him the tender – 1 year, $14.1 million – and of course he turned it down.  Reportedly, we even offered him a 3-year, $30 million deal, and he turned THAT down.  See, Scott Boras is his agent, and together they thought they could squeeze a little more out of the free agent market.

They couldn’t.  No one would sign him.  Because no one wants a broken down statue on the basepaths who can’t play first base because he’ll get hurt or need a few days off every time.  He’s a DH and nothing more, and not even that great of a DH at that.  .449 slugging percentage in 2013, playing almost every single day.  That’s crap.  When you bring nothing else to the table, then guess what:  you don’t get contract offers when it means a team has to give up a high draft pick.

In June, he signed with the Twins.  Again reportedly, the Mariners were interested in signing him during the season, but he wouldn’t have it.  So, we ended up trading for him, by giving the Twins Stephen Pryor (a reliever returning from major injury who was no longer the smoke-thrower he was pre-surgery).

Kendrys had 154 at bats with the Twins.  His numbers were bad (.234/.259/.325), but we all rationalized it away by saying, “He didn’t have a REAL Spring Training, so just consider his numbers with the Twins as his Spring.”

That oft-belabored talking point would soon switch to, “If the Mariners can just get Kendrys going down the stretch, everything should be all right with the offense.”  That’s because he was much, MUCH worse as a Seattle Mariner than he was as a Twin (hitting .207/.285/.347), so whenever he managed to do something right (which, again, wasn’t very often), we all had to hope and pray that THIS was the day that turned a slumping slugger who has “always hit” into what we thought we were getting as the centerpiece of our mid-season trades to bolster a contending team.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  But, at least Morales doesn’t have to worry about being tendered anymore.  Even if he DID qualify, there’s no way in FUCKING HELL that even the Mariners would be stupid enough to offer him a 1-year deal for $15.3 million.

Outlook for 2015:  If he had managed even a semi-reasonable finish to his 2014 season, I could’ve seen the Mariners trying to bring him back on a 2-3 year deal.  But, he looked so bad, I doubt it’d happen.  On top of that, I don’t think Morales wants to be here.  Truth be told, he never did (and proved it by signing with a last-place Twins team even though the Mariners were in contention this year and wanted him back), but after his disaster of a season, I think he’s going somewhere on a prove-it deal.  Some place like Baltimore or the Yankees or some other place he can DH in a small ballpark.  Get his numbers back up to where they should be, and then hopefully sign a final long-term deal for big money with the Rangers or some damn place.

Mariners Do Something: Evaluating The Trade Deadline Deals

Mariners trade Abraham Almonte (OF) & Stephen Kohlscheen (RP) to San Diego for Chris Denorfia (OF)

Chris Denorfia is a guy who can play the outfield.  He’s been more-or-less a regular presence since 2011, playing more-or-less everyday when healthy.  He bats right handed and apparently hits left handed pitching pretty well.  He’s got a very minimal amount of pop in his bat, but at least this means we don’t have to see both Endy Chavez AND James Jones in the same lineup at the same time.

In exchange, we gave up Abraham Almonte, who is a poor man’s James Jones.  And also whatever a Stephen Kohlscheen is.  Apparently, he’s a minor league relief pitcher.  BFD.  Denorfia is a free agent at the end of this year, which leads me to believe this is strictly a rental, because what free agent hitter in his right mind would opt to stick around this hellhole?

It’s another safe move in a long line of moves where the Mariners want to look like they’re doing something without actually doing something.  I suppose it beats any panic move where we sell off important future assets for pennies on the dollar.  But, just once, I’d like to see the Mariners really go to town and fleece someone good.

Mariners trade Nick Franklin (2B) to Rays, who trade David Price (SP) to Tigers, who trade Austin Jackson (OF) to Mariners (the Rays also got Drew Smyly (SP) from the Tigers … and I guess a young minor leaguer?)

Or, I could just put it like this, to make it less confusing:

Mariners trade Nick Franklin (2B) for Austin Jackson (OF)

Nick Franklin was blocked at second base, obvs.  Nick Franklin is not what you should be looking for in a starting short stop, defensively-speaking.  Nick Franklin strikes out a shit-ton and seems to be too in love with the long ball (maybe if he was actually BETTER at hitting the long ball, this wouldn’t be a bad thing, but he’s literally a Smurf – three apples tall – so no).

In short, we had no use for Nick Franklin, unless we were going to take the time and effort to turn him into a super utility bench player, which was never going to happen.  He was always good in the minors.  He was good for a bit in 2013 with the Mariners, then he stunk.  He lost the battle for the short stop spot in Spring Training 2014, then he didn’t get much of a shot with the Mariners thereafter, and when he did he stunk even worse than last year.  Nick Franklin was a fucking useless, non-lethal appendage:  it didn’t hurt to have him as part of your organization, but it didn’t help either.

Austin Jackson is your new starting center fielder.  He’s 27 years old, bats righty, leads off a lineup, and is under contract through 2015.  He’ll steal you a base occasionally, he’s already got one of the best on-base percentages on the team, and he’s already hit 25 doubles in his first 99 games of the season.  Austin Jackson is so much better than Endy Chavez and James Jones, I can’t even see straight!

Further Analysis

When you tack on these two moves with the Pryor for Morales trade, you finally start seeing some semblance of an offense taking shape.  People are already trying to condemn the Morales move as a failed experiment, even though he’s been with the team a whole week, but I’m not going to give up on a tried and true hitter just yet.

Here’s what I expect a lineup to look like:

  1. Austin Jackson (CF)
  2. Dustin Ackley/Michael Saunders (LF)
  3. Robbie Cano (2B)
  4. Kendrys Morales (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Mike Zunino (C)
  7. Chris Denorfia/Endy Chavez (RF)
  8. Logan Morrison (1B)
  9. Chris Taylor/Brad Miller (SS)

You probably have to platoon Denorfia.  He’ll play against all lefty pitchers and some righties.  With Jackson starting every day, there’s probably no need to keep Jones.  Better to send Jones to Tacoma, let him get CF reps on a daily basis (especially with Almonte going to the Padres).  Have to imagine this is also curtains for Stefen Romero, because he’s also useless, but actively hurting our big league club every time he gets a start.

The question remains:  what happens when Paxton is activated for his start on Saturday?  Either the Mariners DFA Corey Hart, or they send down one of their relievers.  By my count, we have 8 relievers, which is probably 1 too many.  I could see this going either way, to tell you the truth.  With the reliever sent down, we don’t have to DFA anyone.  Do we want to keep Hart around as a pinch hitter and a seldom-used DH/1B?  Sigh, I guess.  I know we have Smoak and Montero down in Tacoma to use in case of injury, but who gives a damn at this point?

We’re knocking Hart out of the everyday lineup, so that’s a start.  Maybe he can start to get his timing back by hitting the batting cages extra hard.  He’s certainly more of a threat as a pinch hitter than Romero, and probably more of a threat than either Smoak or Montero, so whatever.

All in all, not a bad day.  We didn’t get Zobrist or Price or Lester, so you can forget about a serious threat at the World Series.  But, on the plus side, we’ve locked down our center field position for 2015.  That’s one less guy we’d have to go get in the offseason.

Two months to go.  Let’s see what the boys can do.

Mariners Trade Stephen Pryor For Kendrys Morales

You know, I really don’t understand these fucking people who don’t like the trade for Kendrys Morales.  Let’s look at the deal in a vacuum:  who did we give up and who did we get?

Well, we gave up a relief pitcher.  A relief pitcher coming off of lat surgery.  A relief pitcher whose fastball has lost anywhere from 6-8 miles per hour.  A relief pitcher who wasn’t even in the big leagues!

If you look at the hierarchy of young relievers on rookie deals in the Mariners organization, I think you’d start with the guys currently in the Majors.  Brandon Maurer, right now, has the highest upside – though he’s been a reliever for a very short time.  Dom Leone has a lot of upside as well.  You’ve got Farquhar, who could be closing games right this second, if Fernando Rodney wasn’t here.  Wilhelmsen and Medina sort of round things out.  All have been very good in their relief roles, which is why all of them are with the Mariners right now.

AND WE DIDN’T HAVE TO GIVE UP ANY OF THEM!

I’ve kind of had this feeling for a while – and I think many others have as well – that Brandon Maurer could be a really solid trade chip.  A throw-in to sweeten a deal to bring back a hitter.  Right now, of all the players I worry about the Mariners trading (of all the players the Mariners would conceivably trade, so in other words, excluding Felix and anyone else who’s currently All Star calibre), Maurer is probably number 2 on that list behind D.J. Peterson.  I legit think Maurer can be a closer in this league.  Not only that, I think he can be one of the BEST closers.  With that live fastball, and with his command of the slider and changeup, the sky is the limit.  And, after next year, when Rodney’s contract expires, look who we’ll have to slide right in there, into that closer role!

We didn’t have to give up Maurer or anyone else on our big league club to bring in Morales.  We gave up a guy coming back from a pretty serious surgery, who may never again regain his fastball.  Without that fastball, Stephen Pryor is about as valuable as I would be to your pitching staff, and I’m barely scraping 60mph on the gun at Safeco!

Any reasonable person couldn’t POSSIBLY be mad with what we gave up.  Yes, there’s a CHANCE that Pryor regains his form, but there’s also a chance they name me the next Queen of fucking England.  Anything can happen, quit letting your opinion be swayed by fucking hypotheticals!

What we got in return is a guy we’re all pretty familiar with.  Maybe that’s the issue.  Maybe people are more turned on by the unknown.  Like Josh Willingham, for instance.  Some dude who sucks in the outfield, who strikes out a lot, and who’s barely over .200.  Forgive me if I don’t share your enthusiasm for yet another aging, lanky white power bat whose best days are CLEARLY behind him.

FUCK JOSH WILLINGHAM!  I’ll take Kendrys Morales any fucking day over Josh Willingham!

And you want to know why?  It’s not because Morales provides any value defensively or on the basepaths (he doesn’t).  He’s a DH, plain and simple; it’s criminal to play him in the field, because you’d risk re-injuring him again.  No, I want Kendrys Morales here for one simple reason:  he can hit at Safeco Field.

Shove your small sample sizes RIGHT UP YOUR ASS!  I don’t want to hear it!  Last year, he batted .277/.336/.449.  I know those aren’t the best numbers ever, but for this team, they’re pretty fucking good.  They’re a SHITLOAD better than Corey Hart, for what it’s worth.  Corey Hart who’s currently batting .214/.295/.332.  Fuck Hart’s prior production, because this is what he’s doing now, and there’s no guarantee that his numbers are going to regress back up to where he’s been in his career.  Sometimes, people are just done, and there’s nothing to regress back to.  Corey Hart is done and that’s that.

And, I know what you’re thinking:  look at Morales’ numbers this year.  Fine.  They’re not good.  But, don’t forget that tonight’s game will be only his 40th of the season (and don’t be so selective; if you want to look at Hart’s prior production at the plate, you MUST look at Morales, who actually PLAYED THE GAME OF BASEBALL IN 2013).  Don’t forget that Morales is just coming off of a 12-game hitting streak, featuring six doubles in the last two weeks.  Corey Hart has exactly 2 doubles since his return from the DL.  HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR YOU TO GET YOUR TIMING BACK?  You’re a fucking baseball player!  Most good players come back from the DL and hit the ground running.  Corey Hart is a wheezing fucking gasbag.

I fully expect Kendrys Morales’ numbers to improve dramatically.  Getting back to my point before, you want to see his numbers in Safeco Field?

In 117 games, across 473 plate appearances, he’s got:  .287/.340/.498 with 35 doubles, 19 homers, with only 79 strikeouts.

All too often, the Mariners bring guys in and they immediately become terrible.  Prospects who tear shit up at every level suddenly enter Safeco Field and they’re the worst.  Free agent signings who would probably be GREAT somewhere else – like Baltimore – find that Seattle is their last Major League stop.

Make no mistake, it’s all in their heads.  Only the truly great, and the strong of will, are able to conquer the mythical beast that is the spooky Marine Layer of Safeco Field.  And Kendrys Morales is one of those heroes.

Look, assholes who don’t like this trade, we were getting zilch from our DH position.  Now, we’re probably going to get SOMETHING.  No, it’s not an outfielder.  No, he’s not John Jaso.  Sorry.  John Jaso is gone and he’s never coming back; get over it.  Morales doesn’t walk, doesn’t play defense, doesn’t run well.  But, he hits a fucking baseball!  At this point, I will settle for that.

Make no mistake, we can’t stop here.  Remember in the offseason, when the Mariners signed Robbie Cano and everyone was like, “I love it!  Now, don’t stop here; keep filling holes!”  And then remember how the Mariners pretty much stopped there?  Remember how the Mariners half-assed the rest of their off-season duties by bringing in LoMo and the aforementioned Corey Hart?  Yeah, we can’t repeat that mistake again.

Kendrys Morales is a nice START.  But, we need more.  Anything from one to three outfielders, as well as a starting pitcher.  By this time next week, I better be looking at a totally different lineup!

For shits and giggles, though, here’s an ideal look at what the Mariners look like with Morales:

  1. Jones (CF)
  2. Seager (3B)
  3. Cano (2B)
  4. Morales (DH)
  5. LoMo (1B)
  6. Zunino (C)
  7. Ackley (LF)
  8. Chavez (RF)
  9. Miller/Taylor (SS)

For what it’s worth, I know the Mariners won’t bat Seager in the 2-hole.  Lloyd is hell-bent on Morales as our cleanup hitter, which pushes Seager back to the 5-spot.  Which means lots more Chavez/Jones as the 1/2 hitters.  If you LITERALLY set a table the way Chavez & Jones set a table in a baseball lineup, all the plates and glasses would be broken, and there would be a big, steaming turd pile for a centerpiece.

Well, We’re Here: The 2014 Mariners May Begin

I suppose now is as good a time as any.  Get some predictions out in the ether, give an overview of the team as it stands now and the team as it may prove to stand at season’s end.  But, look, you know the score.  I don’t need to sit here and tell you what to think about the Seattle Mariners.  It’s pretty obvious.

Felix is great.  Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton are young and have promise.  Taijuan Walker is on the 15-day DL, is younger, and has even more promise.  Hisashi Iwakuma is on the 15-day DL, is going to miss maybe twice that number of days, and is better than everyone but Felix.  This rotation could be pretty rock solid, or it could turn into total crap.  There’s been more growing pains with the youngsters in this organization than actual episodes of Growing Pains!

The bullpen just looks terrible.  Outside of Danny Farquhar and maybe Yoervis Medina, I’m expecting a whole lot of crap out of this unit.  On the plus side, we appear to have guys waiting in the wings.

Prediction #1 – Tom Wilhelmsen won’t make it into the month of May.  I don’t know if he has options, but I assume he does.  Either way, I think he’s finished as a Major Leaguer.  Which makes him the third of three consecutive closers we’ve used (to go along with Brandon League and David Aardsma) who we should have absolutely traded at the peaks of their abilities.

There are a couple guys in Tacoma who are ready to play in the big leagues right now.  And Stephen Pryor isn’t far away from a return as well, as he also starts the season on the 15-day DL.  I expect A LOT of turnover out of this bullpen, because I just don’t trust most of the guys we have (the less said about Hector Noesi the better; the fuckin’ guy “earns” a 25-man roster spot even though he has no business even earning a paycheck in the game of baseball, just because he’s out of options, the fucking prick).  Fernando Rodney strikes me as the type of guy who is going to come in here and be a complete disaster.

Prediction #2 – Fernando Rodney will lose his job as this team’s closer at least once this season.  I think Farquhar is going to kick off this season like a man possessed and ultimately save us a lot of games (not literally, of course, but the term “save” is mis-used in the game of baseball anyway) by coming in during high-leverage 7th & 8th inning situations and generating lots of strikeouts with inherited runners on base.  I also think that Rodney is going to start off very up & down, then he’s going to go through a huge slump where he can’t find the strike zone, necessitating a “temporary demotion”.  The only way he gets his closer’s job back is if Farquhar has to go on the DL or something.  Let’s call Fernando Rodney:  Jose Mesa 2.0.

Unfortunately, as seems to always be the case, the hitting doesn’t inspire any more confidence than the pitching.  If you’re a Glass Half Full type of guy, then you like our chances with players like Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Brad Miller.  You probably feel like it’s only a matter of time for Corey Hart to regain his feel for the plate and start mashing again.  You’re probably encouraged by Dustin Ackley’s newfound stroke at the plate and are confident enough in his left field defense.  You likely think we have something pretty great in Mike Zunino (and feel he will take a big step forward this year).  And, you might even buy Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders being competent role players (as opposed to being guys who are supposed to carry the load, which we thought they should have been early in their careers).

If you’re that Glass Half Full guy, you’re probably feeling pretty confident, and obnoxiously so.  At the first sign of success out of this team, you’ll be there with your “I Told You So’s,” and your “I Believed In Justin Smoak All Along; Where Were You’s?”.  If you’re the Glass Half Empty guy, then you probably like Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and no one else.

Brad Miller is supposed to break out this year, but when has that ever gone our way?  Mike Zunino is supposed to cement his position as the Catcher of the Future, but when has THAT ever gone our way?

Prediction #3 – Mike Zunino is going to struggle with injury again and we’re going to get MUCH more of John Buck than we would like.

Dustin Ackley had a good second half to last season and has carried that over into Spring Training, but we’ve seen that out of him and Justin Smoak every fucking year, and when has that ever panned out into a successful full season in the Majors?  Michael Saunders?  Please.  Corey Hart?  Yeah, that’s a bust waiting to happen.  Logan Morrison?  I don’t know him, but I’m sure he’s a jerk.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m much closer to the Glass Half Empty guy than the Glass Half Full guy.  If you twisted my arm, I’d probably tell you I’m a little excited to see what Brad Miller becomes.  But, I just find it difficult to see this lineup being all that effective.

I do think Abe Almonte will be better at the plate than his Spring Training numbers indicated.  I also really look forward to Stefen Romero and hope he earns some additional playing time in right field.

Overall, what do I expect out of this team?  Shit man, I dunno.  Last year we were hovering right around 10-under .500 for most of the year until September when we completely fell apart and ended the season 71-91.  This year, if everything that can go wrong DOES go wrong, I would expect that very same record.  On the plus side, if everything that can go right DOES go right, I would expect something along the lines of a 91-71 record.

Now, a lot of things would have to go right.  Felix would have to be his usual Cy Young self.  Iwakuma will have to make it back by month’s end and return to his last year’s form.  Paxton, Walker, and Ramirez will all have to be great right out of the gate.  Fernando Rodney won’t necessarily need to be what he was two years ago, but he’ll have to be somewhere between that level and the level he was last year (or, in other words, he’ll have to be BETTER than he was last year), while the rest of the bullpen (once Noesi is shit-canned and Wilhelmsen makes Tacoma his permanent home) starts to gel as the season wears on.  And, of course, all the young-ish guys – Miller, Zunino, Ackley, Smoak, Saunders, Almonte – as well as one of either Hart or Morrison at DH, will have to be better than we could reasonably imagine.

It sounds like a lot, because it IS a lot.  It’s too much to ask of a roster.  Can you ask all 25 guys on a baseball team to just, “Hey, BE BETTER!”?  I doubt it.  That’s why we’ve got:

Prediction #4 – The Mariners will finish 76-86.  Instead of taking a steep nosedive in the final month of the season, the Mariners will kind of hold their own.  Which, in turn, will knock them out of the protected Top 10 draft pick, and will be a minor annoyance to all.  This leads me to:

Prediction #5 – Jackie Z will be kept on as the General Manager of this team, because … he’s earned it?  Yeah, let’s go with that.  Rather, I like to think of it as punishment for a job poorly done.  In my twisted little mind, I like to imagine Jackie Z really hates his job.  He hates getting up in the morning, coming into the office, reading all the hate out there.  He hates being terrible at his job, but the team JUST WON’T FIRE HIM, so what’s he going to do?  He’s heard about all of these guys who left the organization and went on to bigger and better things, and he wants that, he really does!  But, it doesn’t happen unless the Mariners let him go.  He can’t quit, because that would make him a quitter and would ruin his chances elsewhere.  But, if he’s fired, then he can say, “What could I do?  They were too far gone when I got there!  AND, they didn’t give me enough time to turn it around.”  So, every day he trudges in to work, hoping for the pink slip that never comes.

Predicting The 25-Man Roster For The 2014 Mariners

I guess there’s always room for a surprise or two, but this year feels more established than in recent past seasons.  Which is odd, because with a 40-man roster constructed as such, you’d expect there to be openings EVERYWHERE.

But, ownership seems to like where things are going, so let’s hash it out here.

Your two catchers are Mike Zunino and John Buck.  That’s the easiest position to lock down.  Maybe they split it up 2/3 Zunino and 1/3 Buck or maybe they flip it if Zunino comes out struggling.  Either way, it would take an absolutely abysmal Spring Training for Zunino to be sent directly to Tacoma.

Your starting infield looks like this:

  • Justin Smoak – 1B
  • Robinson Cano – 2B
  • Brad Miller – SS
  • Kyle Seager – 3B

That’s set.  If they don’t end up trading Nick Franklin, he’ll get a cursory shot at short stop, but he won’t win the job and he’ll likely be sent down to Tacoma to be insurance against infield injury.  I don’t know if Smoak has any more options, but again it would take a total cratering in Spring Training for him to not make the team.  He’s seemingly going to get every single opportunity to be this team’s first baseman.

Your reserve infielder is Willie Bloomquist.  Because they didn’t give the guy a 2-year deal only to be cut in Spring Training.  I know he can technically play outfield, but let’s face it:  Bloomquist is the only guy on the team who can play every spot on the infield in a pinch, if guys need a day off or get injured.  You’re not going to put Bloomquist in left field or something so he can throw out his shoulder.

Your best set of defensive outfielders are these three guys:

  • Dustin Ackley
  • Michael Saunders
  • Franklin Gutierrez

You’ll notice I didn’t say “Your Starting Outfield”, because in all likelihood, these three guys won’t be starting too many games together.

Because you’ve got these First Base/Designated Hitter Types Who Will Be Shoe-Horned Into The Outfield:

  • Corey Hart
  • Logan Morrison
  • Nelson Cruz (?)

At this point, I’m just going to write in Nelson Cruz as a Mariner until I see he’s signed with another team.  It’s so far beyond a foregone conclusion, I’m already counting down the days until this team finally cuts him.

To be fair, I don’t know a whole lot about Hart or Morrison defensively.  I only know what I’ve heard and what I’ve read, which doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.  It sounds like Corey Hart will be our DH at least half the time, and the team will throw him into the field and have a rotating DH the other half of the time.

And, that’s it.  Those are your 13 position players.  You’ve got your nine players who will likely get the most playing time (this is also my predicted everyday – or mostly everyday – batting lineup):

  1. Brad Miller – SS
  2. Michael Saunders – CF
  3. Robinson Cano – 2B
  4. Kyle Seager – 3B
  5. Nelson Cruz – RF
  6. Corey Hart – DH
  7. Logan Morrison – LF
  8. Justin Smoak – 1B
  9. Mike Zunino – C

And your bench:

  • John Buck – C
  • Dustin Ackley – OF
  • Willie Bloomquist – INF
  • Franklin Gutierrez – OF

Obviously, if the team somehow passes on Nelson Cruz, that’s going to open up a lot more playing time for Guti.  And, a week later, when he gets injured, that’ll open up a lot more playing time for Ackley.

If I have to predict a Cruz replacement among those already on the 40-man roster, I’ll pick Abraham Almonte.  But, I have a feeling, in spite of what will be a raging Spring Training out of ol’ Abe, this team will do whatever it takes to make sure he starts the season in Tacoma.  Prove me wrong, Mariners!  Prove me wrong!

***

Things will be far more interesting on the pitching side of things (if you consider the pitching side of things on an 80-win baseball team even remotely interesting).  You’ve got your top two starters locked down in Felix & Iwakuma, and your next three spots being divided up among the following pitchers:

  • Taijuan Walker
  • James Paxton
  • Erasmo Ramirez
  • Scott Baker
  • Blake Beavan
  • Brandon Maurer
  • Hector Noesi

So, if you’re wondering how the 2014 Seattle Mariners are going to fare, look no further than the back 3/5 of the rotation.  Will Taijuan Walker make the leap from Triple-A Stud to Bona Fide Major Leaguer?  If so, that’s a good start, but not nearly enough to guarantee contention.  Really, this team needs both Walker AND Paxton to be everything they were in the final month of 2013, plus a little extra, if it expects to be in a race for the division or a Wild Card spot.  If you’re optimistic, then good for you.  I hope that optimism takes you far in life.

As for me?  I don’t even see it as a guarantee that those two crack the rotation out of Spring Training!

They SHOULD.  They’re clearly more talented than those listed below them.  But, that’s not a guarantee.  Not with this team.  Not with the way things have gone in recent years.

If you want my prediction, here’s the starting rotation I’ve got:

  1. Felix
  2. Iwakuma
  3. Walker
  4. Paxton
  5. Baker

I always defer to the veteran on the minor league deal, because it seems like teams always defer to the veteran on the minor league deal.  Something about how he has experience or something.  Plus, I’ve spent the better part of two years talking up Erasmo Ramirez as a future starter in this league, and every year he proves me wrong by being injured or just flat-out sucking.  For the record, I can theoretically see this team contending with either one of those guys as a 5th starter (assuming, of course, that we get huge bumps out of Walker & Paxton), but obviously all the upside resides with Ramirez.

This Mariners bullpen is the fucking Wild West, but I’m going to do my best to figure things out.

Fernando Rodney will kick off the year as the team’s closer.  Good luck with that.  Keep him away from anyone with a pacemaker.

Danny Farquhar will be your set-up man.  It’s almost more appropriate to have your better reliever as your 8th inning guy, since it seems like more high-leverage situations take place in the 8th inning.

Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina will fill in behind Farquhar, depending on whether we need a lefty or a righty.  So, that pushes us to four relievers who I’m pretty confident will make this team out of Spring Training.

Stephen Pryor is clearly the next-best reliever, but he’s recovering from injury and likely won’t be back in pitching shape until May or June.  As such, I’m writing him off completely and hoping to be pleasantly surprised by the All Star Break.

Unless the team makes some more reliever moves between now and April, I like Tom Wilhelmsen to be a long reliever/mop-up guy in blowouts.  And, again, unless the team picks up another situational lefty off of the scrap heap, I like Lucas Luetge in that role.

Which just leaves a spot-starter/long reliever, which I like going to Blake Beavan.  I think the team has sufficiently given up on Beavan ever being a starter for this team (which is nice).  I also think that if Erasmo Ramirez doesn’t crack the starting rotation, they look to keep him starting in Tacoma, to be ready in the instance that one of our Major League starters gets injured or turns ineffective.  I also think that Brandon Maurer gets another crack at being a starter for Tacoma before eventually giving up the ghost and being the reliever we all know him to be.

And that’s that.  To recap, here’s your Starting Nine:

  1. Brad Miller – SS
  2. Michael Saunders – CF
  3. Robinson Cano – 2B
  4. Kyle Seager – 3B
  5. Nelson Cruz – RF
  6. Corey Hart – DH
  7. Logan Morrison – LF
  8. Justin Smoak – 1B
  9. Mike Zunino – C

Your Bench:

  • John Buck – C
  • Dustin Ackley – OF
  • Willie Bloomquist – INF
  • Franklin Gutierrez – OF

Your Starting Rotation:

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. Taijuan Walker
  4. James Paxton
  5. Scott Baker

And your Bullpen:

  • Fernando Rodney
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Yoervis Medina
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Lucas Luetge
  • Blake Beavan

The Shitshow That Was The 2013 Seattle Mariners, Part I: Pitching

When you end up with a season like the Mariners just finished, you blame it on one thing:  lack of a plan.

Tell me, where was the plan?  The team swapped Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales, the team swapped John Jaso for Mike Morse, and the team filled in the empty spaces with a lot of filler bullshit.  You could argue that the team at least tried something different with the hitting.  It opted to trade defense for home runs, but at least they did SOMETHING.  You can yell and scream until you’re blue in the face about how that’s a pretty crappy idea, but think about it this way:  if the team didn’t try to make it all about the dingers – if they went super defensive and super OBP on us – would it have made any difference whatsoever?

I argue it would not have made one bit of difference.  Because this team totally crapped the bed when it came to pitching.

Remember when Jon Garland was almost our 4th/5th starter?  That was a thing that almost happened.  In Spring Training, we were banking on him to make this big comeback from injury to carry the load at the back-end of our rotation.  We weren’t totally sold on him, and he had an opt-out clause, so when push came to shove Garland moved on and started 12 games for the Rockies before being released.  But HE was almost in our rotation.  Think about that!  We could have had Saunders, Garland, Harang, and Bonderman all starting games for us this year!

As it stands, just having Saunders, Harang, and Bonderman was bad enough, but what were you going to do?  As I said before, the Mariners decided to totally and completely neglect the pitching side of things.

Yes, you can count on Felix to be your Ace.  Yes, you could see good things coming from Iwakuma.  Maybe not as good as he actually turned out to be, but I was never worried that he was going to take a huge step back either.  After that?  We all figured Joe Saunders would be Vargas-lite, but he was so much WORSE.  I don’t care why he was worse, I just know that he only had 13 quality starts out of 32.  That’s terrible.  You want your #3 starter to be better than 50% with their quality starts (I’d say at least 20 of 32) and he was nowhere near that.  More often than not, Joe Saunders gave this team NO CHANCE to win in his starts.  That’s a guy who started for us all year.

After that, we had hopes that our younger guys would step up.  But, of course, Erasmo Ramirez came out of the gates injured and didn’t make it back until around the All Star Break (and even when he returned, he was pretty mediocre).  We were hopeful that Danny Hultzen could crack the bigs somewhere around mid-season, but he pitched in all of 6 games in Triple-A before being shut down with shoulder problems.  Brandon Maurer did make the team after an otherworldly Spring Training (making the jump straight from Double-A), but he proved to be totally ineffective in getting left-handed bats out and had to go down to Tacoma for further seasoning.  Taijuan Walker wasn’t ready to pitch in the Majors until September.  Ditto James Paxton.  And Beavan and Noesi further proved they are never going to be Major League starters.

As you can plainly see, the kids were not up to the task for one reason or another.  So, we had to bring up Bonderman when Maurer finally pitched his way to the minors.  We had to panic-trade for Harang when Beavan did the same.  Neither of these veterans lasted to September, because neither of these veterans had any fucking business being in the Major Leagues at this point in their careers.

In short, our starting rotation was a total joke.  Yeah, our top two guys were as good as any other team’s top two guys; but our bottom three were arguably the worst in all of baseball.  Regardless of who was plugged in there (9 other guys started games for the Mariners aside from Felix & Kuma), they were all the fucking worst!

And, when you combine a trainwreck of a starting rotation with the most volatile bullpen in the game, it’s pretty easy to see why the Mariners lost another 91 games.

The team had a 65% save percentage.  23 of 66 total save opportunities were blown.  Oddly enough, the team was NOT led in blown saves by erstwhile closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who was 24 of 29 in save opportunities.  He blew his fifth game by mid-June, was given a couple weeks off of closing duties, pitching in middle relief, then picked right back up again with a fairly solid July before absolutely going to shit in August.  The team sent him to Tacoma to work on some things, and after he returned he lost his job for good.

The team turned to Danny Farquhar, who had an excellent strike out percentage, but he wasn’t without his faults.  He ended up finishing the season as our closer, and saved 16 of 20 games.  Still, you have to wonder if you can count on him at all going forward.

The rest of the bullpen was full of hit-or-miss guys.  Oliver Perez and Yoervis Medina, for the most parts, were solid.  Furbush was okay at times and the plague at other times.  Stephen Pryor pitched in seven games before he was lost for the year.  Carter Capps – my predicted pick as best bullpen guy going into the season – also couldn’t get lefties out, in spite of his rocket fastball.  The rest of the Triple-A garbage the team brought up and plugged in throughout the year isn’t even worth mentioning.

The bullpen led baseball in strikeouts, and that’s about it.  They were either lockdown, or they were walking the world and giving away games.  There was very little in-between, and as mentioned above, it was about 65/35 as to whether you’d see Angel Bullpen or Devil Bullpen.

I’ll get into the future prospects of the pitching staff in Friday’s post, so I’ll save my opinions on what they should do (who they should keep, who they should get rid of, etc.).  My overall impression of this team is that it failed, horribly.  That’s nothing new.  But, as opposed to years past – where the pitching was often a strength – this year, the Mariners failed in a 50/50 split.  50% of why the Mariners were bad was because of the pitching, and 50% of why they were bad was because of everything else.  You’re not going to make the playoffs with two good starters and a bullpen that saves games 65% of the time.  Not unless you hit a ton like the 1997 Mariners.  But, as I’ll get to tomorrow, this team was FAR from the ’97 Mariners, in spite of the fact that they tried to hit homers like ’em.