The Mariners Finished Sixth-Worst In All Of Baseball in 2019

For the last time, I get to talk about how the 2019 Mariners started 13-2, only to go 55-92 the rest of the way. Suffice it to say, the final 147 games were a better representation of this team’s true abilities.

Last in the A.L. West, four games behind the Angels, 29 behind the Wild Card-bound Athletics, and 39 behind the 107-win Astros. For draft purposes, we were just a single game better than Toronto for the fifth overall draft pick. I don’t know if that final win would’ve meant anything as far as a tie-breaker for that spot (as we “won” the season series against the Blue Jays), but if it prevented us from moving up a spot in the draft, then once again a meaningless late-season win will have done real, lasting damage.

Let’s rattle through some numbers: 68-94, a -135 run differential, a team slash line of .237/.316/.424; a team ERA of 4.99 (with a 5.00 FIP). Something interesting about this team is just how truly awful the Mariners were against the best of the American League. Against the Astros, Rays, Yankees, Twins, and Indians, the Mariners had a combined record of 7-38, which means against everyone else in baseball we were 61-56. The great team the Mariners could actually handle was the A’s at 9-10, but I find that very interesting. On the one hand, it’s a clear indictment that there’s an obvious difference in talent level between the Mariners and the best of the best; however on the other hand – while the M’s ended up with one of the worst records in all of baseball – we could hang with the clods in this Gods N’ Clods American League. So, we’re middle-of-the-road among the losers, but we are SO FUCKING FAR AWAY from the elites.

As we’ve discussed all year long, it was never about the results (except for my bloodlust for a higher draft pick), it was about developing our future stars. In that sense, I think this year was a moderate success. From just a clubhouse standpoint, I thought the team played hard all year. Maybe some lulls here and there – particularly with certain defensive struggles and base-running mistakes – but nothing alarming. At no point have I felt an overwhelming need to see Scott Servais fired and have a bunch of heads rolling. I thought he did a great job managing an impossible-to-win situation. He obviously doesn’t have forever to right the ship; if he wants to stick around for when this team gets good again, this probably has to be the nadir. I’m sure the higher ups will want to see steady progress in the right direction as soon as 2020, with a likely Playoffs Or Bust scenario in 2021 (depending on how much improvement we have next year). I’m not saying I believe the Mariners will make the post-season by 2021 – indeed, I’d bet hard the other way, if I’m being honest – and so this is just my way of saying that I fully expect this team will have a new field manager the next time we’re ACTUALLY contending for the playoffs again. It’s sort of a bummer, because I think Servais is the right man for the job, but it’s an impossible task he’s saddled with. The Mariners haven’t made the post-season in forever and as such, the fans aren’t going to wait around forever. If we’re not hovering around .500 next year, I think he’ll get the axe when it’s over (especially if attendance continues to go down as much as it did between 2018 & 2019, what with all the improvements to the stadium the Mariners are doing this offseason).

On the field, I guess I have cautious optimism about some of the strides the younger guys made, but what other choice do I have? I’m already on record as not believing this organization is anywhere close to the post-season, but it’s also not totally impossible to be pleasantly surprised.

The pitching is obviously the biggest concern, and there’s really not much to like about what we’ve got in the Majors so far. Marco Gonzales is the only guy who qualified by pitching enough innings, so that should tell you a lot. He was fine. He should be a reliable innings-eater who has more good games than bad ones; imagine Jamie Moyer with a better fastball and worse change up. As a #2, he’s less ideal; as #3 he’s good enough; as a #4 he’d be perfect. But, he’s nobody’s idea of an ace, yet he was far and away the best pitcher on this team.

The good thing about pitching is that it can vary so much from year to year, so it wouldn’t shock me to see a bunch of guys who just got their feet wet in 2019 taking huge steps forward in 2020. Kikuchi is obviously the one we most want to see make that leap, as he had about as rough of a debut to the Major Leagues as we ever could’ve predicted. I think we all thought he’d be more of a finished product at this point; now I pray that he isn’t. Because, if this is just who he is, then he’s of no use to this organization.

We don’t have Felix to kick around anymore, and I have to believe LeBlanc’s starting days are over for this team (aside from the occasional spot-start, if he’s even still here at all and we don’t trade him). So, we should see a lot of the younger guys going forward. I fully expect to see Justus Sheffield in the rotation out of Spring Training; there’s nothing he has left to do in AAA that he can’t do here against legitimate competition. We need to see what he has, and if he’s destined to be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher or not. To his credit, he made remarkable progress after seemingly going the other way to start the season. I hope we’re able to unlock whatever potential he has inside of him.

After those three (Gonzo, Kikuchi, Sheffield), I really have no idea. I’m pretty sure they’ll go out and sign a veteran on a cheap deal to help be a presence for the younger guys, but that final spot has to go to another youngster; maybe Justin Dunn? We’ll see.

I’m not even going to bother discussing the bullpen right now. It was as big a disaster as we ever could’ve hoped for, and I believe the primary reason why we lost so many games, so in that sense they did what they were supposed to do. Now, after getting a look at so many different guys, here’s hoping we can cobble something together to give them more of a chance to continue developing.

I would argue the biggest bright spots for this team came on the hitting side of the ball, but I also really question how many of these players will be around long term. J.P. Crawford seems like a good bet to be our starting short stop for a while, but is he good? He showed glimpses of greatness, but also long bouts of ineptitude with the bat. I liked what I saw out of Shed Long, and hope he gets a regular role with this team going forward, but he might not be anything more than a super-sub. Austin Nola was a nice find, but he’s not the future starting first baseman for this team in 2022; that’s supposed to be Evan White (and maybe as early as next year). That effectively makes Nola yet another super-sub.

We all loved what we saw out of Kyle Lewis in his cup of coffee this September, but it was just that: a September call-up for a first-time Major Leaguer. Can he carry it over into Spring Training and beyond? Dan Vogelbach hit a lot of homers, but not much else. Domingo Santana was a solid presence in the middle of the lineup when he was healthy, but he was also the absolute worst in the outfield. Mallex Smith got better as the season went along (and led the league in stolen bases), but he’s nobody’s idea of a centerfielder of the future. Dylan Moore is just a guy. Most of the younger guys we saw weren’t even good enough to be called out by name. The very best thing the Mariners had going for them in 2019 was the catcher position, led by Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy, but they’re not necessarily destined to be here forever either. They really just add up to one great catcher split in two, where one is shaky at defense and the other might just be better in smaller doses (and will be exposed if he’s ever given the everyday starting job). Then there’s Mitch Haniger, who was injured for what felt like the entire season. He didn’t look spectacular when he was out there, so I’m even less sure of him now than I was at this point last year.

More than anything, all we have is hope that the minor leaguers will continue to rocket their way up to Seattle. Which, you know, isn’t a ton to hang your hat on. I guess we’ll see. Again, what choice do we have, right?

My Confidence Level In The Mariners’ Rebuild So Far

Jeff Passan made a good point on Brock & Salk yesterday, when he asked who’s going to be part of the Mariners’ Major League team in 3 years. The more names you can pull from the current crop of players – either currently in the Bigs, or hopefully to-be-in-the-Bigs in 3 years’ time – the higher your confidence level should be in how the rebuild is going.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t have a great handle on the minors, aside from all the names everyone talks about all the time, so my choices are going to be different from someone who’s an expert. But, that’s the way it goes. I’m going to split up everyone I can think of into three-ish categories.

High Confidence

  • J.P. Crawford (INF)
  • Kyle Lewis (OF)
  • Mitch Haniger (OF)
  • Marco Gonzales (SP)
  • Justin Dunn (P)
  • Justus Sheffield (P)
  • Jarred Kelenic (OF)
  • Julio Rodriguez (OF)
  • Evan White (INF)

These are guys I’m all-but-guaranteeing will be part of the Mariners in three years, which right away feels both inadequate and wrong. I mean, for starters, I see four outfielders here. I suppose one or more of them could flame out and end up as a utility player, but more likely we’ll see one or more of them traded to help in other areas of the roster. My hunch is Mitch Haniger would be the one to go by the time we get to 2022, which is making me REALLY regret going out and buying his jersey earlier this year.

Kyle Lewis’ first week with the Mariners has been nothing short of phenomenal, and he’ll absolutely come into Spring Training next year looking to win a job of some sort. Rodriguez and Kelenic will look to get more seasoning in the minors next year, but if all goes according to plan, one or both will at least get a cup of coffee before the end of 2020. Evan White feels like he’s probably a couple of years away, but he too wouldn’t shock me if he saw some time in Seattle next season.

As for the pitchers, Marco should still be around, but who knows? The younger guys are still too young to put too much money on staying as starters, vs. being relegated to the bullpen. Better prospects than Sheffield have been banished as such.

Medium Confidence

  • Omar Narvaez (C)
  • Tom Murphy (C)
  • Cal Raleigh (C)
  • Austin Nola (Util)
  • Mallex Smith (OF)
  • Domingo Santana (OF)
  • Yusei Kikuchi (SP)
  • Sam Tuivailala (RP)
  • Erik Swanson (P)

I feel like if Cal Raleigh is going to stick with the Mariners, it might take up to three years for him to fully earn a roster spot. I have to imagine one of the two vets we have on roster now will be gone, but I honestly have no idea who it would be. Nola feels like the perfect candidate to be a utility player who can cover first base and the corner outfield spots (saying nothing of his ability to be a third catcher). Mallex Smith would only still be here as cheap insurance in case our younger outfielders don’t pan out. Santana feels like a candidate to eventually convert to 1B/DH. Kikuchi will either have figured it out and will be a nice middle-of-the-rotation staple for this team, or he’ll be elsewhere. Tuivailala is the only reliever right now I have ANY remote confidence in; not that none of the guys we have on roster now won’t still be here, but relief pitching is the last thing you need to shore up after settling things down everywhere else (in other words, I see a lot of potential trade candidates on the Major League roster right now). I’m not convinced whatsoever that Swanson will still be starting in 2022, but I’m medium convinced he’ll still be with the Mariners in some capacity.

Medium-Low Confidence

  • Shed Long (Util)
  • Dan Vogelbach (1B/DH)
  • Jake Fraley (OF)
  • Joe Rizzo (Util)

Long has enough pop in his bat, and can play enough different positions, to be a quality utility player. But, can he hit for high-enough average and get on base to this organization’s liking? On the flipside, Rizzo already has the average, and he appears to be improving on his power, but the question is his versatility. I read that they’re playing him all over the field, which is great for his chances, because it feels like his bat will play. But, if he can’t hack it defensively and he’s a man without a position, he could be some strong trade bait. As for Vogey, his first half was encouraging, but his second half has me concerned. The power is great, the on-base percentage is great, but if he’s hitting around the mendoza line, I just don’t know if there’s ENOUGH power there to make him worth all the strikeouts and whatnot. Also, if he never hits lefties, it’s REALLY hard to platoon a 1B/DH type; ideally you want him in your lineup every day mashing dingers no matter who’s pitching. All I know about Fraley is he’s a pretty highly-rated prospect for the Mariners, but he has yet to really show much in his short stint with the team this year. He feels like more trade bait.

Low Confidence

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Dylan Moore (Util)
  • Braden Bishop (OF)
  • Dee Gordon (2B)
  • Tim Lopes (INF)
  • Donnie Walton (INF)
  • Ryon Healy (1B)
  • Every other pitcher I haven’t listed above

I have to imagine the Mariners will do whatever it takes to make 2021 Seager’s last year in Seattle. He’s not worth what he’s making now, so by 2022, it should be pretty obnoxious. Healy’s injury status makes him a probable cut candidate as soon as the end of this year. Moore feels like a dime-a-dozen utility player who won’t be worth keeping around. Dee Gordon is another guy I gotta think will be gone before his contract expires in 2021. As for the younger guys, and anyone else I didn’t list, who the fuck knows? I know enough not to be super confident that they’ll be here in three years. If I’m wrong, then GREAT! That probably means they took serious leaps in their development. Who knows, maybe Bishop could be the next Chris Taylor with a simple change in his swing?! I mean, I doubt it, but you never know.

Anyway, to wrap this all up, I guess I give the rebuild a B- so far. I love the combination of those four outfielders I listed up top. I think our catching situation is pretty strong in the near future. First base should finally be locked down once Evan White makes it. I don’t know if I see a ton of hope on the pitching side of things, unless Dunn and Sheffield stick as starters and really start kicking some ass. If that’s the case, and you can pair them with Gonzales and Kikuchi, that’s a pretty solid rotation.

Still, gonna need some of these lower candidates to pop over the next couple seasons. If someone like Rizzo could lock down the third base job, and maybe Long the second base job, with some veterans crushing it in the middle of the lineup at DH … if you squint awful hard, you can see the makings of something special.

But, really, the odds of the Mariners being great in 2022 are remote any way you slice it. The Angels have the best baseball player in the world and when was the last time they really scared you? It goes without saying I doubt the Mariners will have someone in Trout’s league by then (which doesn’t even refer to the Astros and A’s and their crack development squads).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See, here’s the thing.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

The pitching side of things is pretty mediocre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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