The 2016 Mariners Had A Legit Hitting Lineup

In 2010, as difficult as it seemed at the time, I knew this day would eventually arrive.  The Mariners had been a great hitting team Back In The Day, in the glory years of the early 2000’s.  And, with steroids largely policed out of the game, we couldn’t reasonably expect a return to those types of insane power numbers.  Nevertheless, whatever “Good” means in this brave new world of lower power numbers and better overall pitching, whatever the new normal would end up being, ONE DAY, the Mariners would once again have a good lineup.

And, it appears, that time has come.

This is going to be very rudimentary, so I wouldn’t come here expecting a vast expanse on sabermetrics.  My little pea brain has a general fixation on what good hitting should be, and that number is .250.  If you’re hitting .250 or above, you’re doing all right.  If you can pack your lineup with those types of guys, you’re generally going to score lots of runs and, hopefully, win lots of games.  It’s not a hard and fast rule, but more of a glance.  There are obviously other ways to contribute – a lower average, with a higher OBP, for instance, will bring a lot to the table; ditto a guy with a high slugging percentage – but I like it when I can look at the Mariners’ stat-sheet and see a bunch of guys hitting .250 or above.  It warms my fuzzies right up.

Currently, the Mariners have 6 regulars hitting .250 or above (Cano, Cruz, Marte, Martin, Smith, and Seager).  Aoki and Iannetta are lagging behind a little bit, but they do make up for it with OBP.  The only guy struggling too much for comfort is Lind, with a .216 batting average to go with all of 5 walks on the season, and a paltry .319 slugging percentage.

On the plus side, that’s really only ONE black hole.  You could make an argument that Guti is another, but he doesn’t play nearly enough to qualify for that type of slur.  If he’s still struggling in July, then maybe you think about his role on this team.

But, as far as I’m concerned, having just the one regular struggling is FANTASTIC!

I started this post back on May 25th, and then for some reason I just abandoned it to my drafts folder.  I don’t know why; I guess I just didn’t feel like getting into a whole thing.  I was apparently pretty high on the Mariners’ hitters on May 25th, and that carried through – for the most part – the rest of the season.

I already got into Cano, Cruz, and Seager in a separate post, so feel free to read about my thoughts on them over there.  Spoiler alert:  I like those guys.  But, there were other guys I liked too, so let’s talk about them for a while.  In no particular order:

Leonys Martin

As a centerfielder (as a hitter and defensively), Leonys Martin was the definition of “Meets Expectations”.  Damn near a .250 hitter, 15 homers, 24 stolen bases, and absolutely elite, top-shelf fielding.  We’re not talking about Ken Griffey Jr. numbers or anything, but that’s as ideal of a centerfielder as you can expect.  Now, as a Mariners fan, when I think of Leonys Martin, I’d have to actually put him in the “Exceeds Expectations” category, because God damn have we been tortured with a bunch of mediocre outfield crap since Mike Cameron left!  We got nearly 2 seasons of Guti in his prime before he fell apart, but other than that, it’s been a wasteland of Meh out there.  When you factor in Martin’s declining offensive numbers in Texas in 2015, I was CONVINCED that he’d be a dud this year.  But, as I said, he really did shock the world with his level of play, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.  He’d never shown that kind of power before!  When all of us were expecting the equivalent of Brendan Ryan As Centerfielder at the plate, Martin was a revelation.  Consider me delighted we have him under club control for two more seasons.

Nori Aoki

I get the feeling, with Nori, that more people are down on him than high on him after what amounts to a 1-year experiment.  I’ll admit, while I’m not crazy about him defensively, and he obnoxiously ran himself into more outs than I care to remember (caught stealing 9 times out of 16 attempts, are you kidding me?), I think I’ll look back on him fondly overall.  It doesn’t hurt that he really tore shit up over the last two months of the season, after he’d been sent down to Tacoma to work on his swing (among, I’m assuming, other things).  On June 23rd, he was hitting .245, along with his crappy defense and baserunning, making him a total liability in all phases of the game.  He was called up about a month later, played for a month, had to go back to Tacoma for about a week due to other injuries and the roster crunch therein, and then finished the season playing mostly everyday.  He got that average back up to career norms in that time (.283) while adding 100 points to his OPS from his June low.  His main competition when it comes to returning in 2017 is:

Seth Smith

Both are left-handed corner outfielders who bring more with their bats than in the field.  Smith has a little more pop in his bat, but Aoki has slightly better on-base abilities.  Given Smith’s foot speed is absolute zero, Aoki has him there on the basepaths, and overall as an offensive weapon.  Smith’s already under contract though (for a sensible $7 million) while Aoki is an unrestricted free agent.  I don’t know if Aoki will draw a Qualifying Offer, or if that’s even an option with him, but at a hefty price tag of $17+ million, I doubt the Mariners would be willing to bite.  You’d think you could get Aoki to come back on a reasonable contract, but I would assume there’d have to be assurances made (i.e. the trading away of Seth Smith).  You really don’t need both of these guys on your roster, and it doesn’t sound like the Mariners are going to try to keep both.  One thing the team will have to consider is Smith’s rapid decline over the last two months of the season.  He barely hit .215 in August and September combined, and even with his mini power surge in September (5 homers, 2 doubles), his overall OPS really bottomed out as he rolled over into shift after shift.  Seth Smith is always lauded for his professional at bats, and his ability to get on base, which shouldn’t be discounted.  But, he sure does seem to wear down the more he plays, and the second halves to his seasons sure look pretty mediocre.  At some point, it would be ideal for the Mariners to shore up the corner outfield with a more permanent, everyday option.  But, for now, I guess we can live with another platoon year.

Guti, Gamel, Heredia

Let’s just lump all these guys together and wrap up the outfield portion of this post.  I won’t be shocked when the Mariners re-sign Guti to another 1-year deal, considering he’s a veteran right-handed bat with pop.  He appeared in all of 98 games in 2016, and his overall offensive numbers took a bit of a hit, but he didn’t totally flatline.  We got Gamel from the Yankees and didn’t really see enough of him in September.  He’ll be competing with Heredia most likely to be this team’s final outfielder.  For the most part, I liked what Heredia brought to the table, but I’d like to see some more power out of him.  Slap-hitting singles hitters don’t tend to stick at the Major League level very long.

Dae-ho Lee & Adam Lind

Ahh, the ol’ first base platoon.  Dae-ho Lee was another really pleasant surprise, who sort of struggled as the season went along.  He’s a free agent, but I wouldn’t mind having him back for another go-around if the price is right.  As for Lind, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.  His averages across the board took a huge nosedive, with his worst OPS since 2010.  Which just adds more fuel to the fire that guys get signed by Seattle and promptly lose the ability to hit.  Safeco isn’t even that bad to hit in anymore, compared to what it used to be before the fences were moved in!  Besides, it was never all that bad for lefties!  He just stunk.  For whatever reason – maybe the reputation of Safeco got in his head – he got off to a horrid start and was never able to fully recover.  I’m sure he’ll sign elsewhere and bounce right back to his usual self, in which case he can promptly and savagely go fuck himself with a bat right in his cornhole.

Ketel Marte

This was a guy I was pretty stoked about early in the season.  He was a little raw defensively, but his speed on the basepaths was top notch, and his bat was coming around.  Then, he hurt his hand and went on the DL, and was never the same.  Tack on another DL stint for mono, and you have one of the great lost seasons in Mariners history.  He played out the stretch run, but his bat never really recovered, and his defense never really developed.  He was making the same dumb, rookie mistakes in the field as he was at the beginning of the season.  I don’t expect the world out of a guy defensively, but you’ve GOT to make the routine plays!  When one of his blunders helped cost us a game in the final week of the season, I essentially wrote him off.  I might back off that stance eventually, but if the Mariners go out and deal for an upgrade at short stop, I won’t be crushed.  As I’ve said before, we’ve got to win while the winning’s good.  Cano, Cruz, and Felix won’t be in their primes forever.  I don’t know if we have the time to hold Marte’s hand as he works his way through these growing pains.

Zunino, Iannetta, Clevenger, Sucre

My overarching take-away from Mike Zunino’s 2016 is that he’s turned the corner.  Then, I looked at his numbers and now I’m starting to wonder if that’s true.  The power is still there, which is his saving grace, but it looked like he started to fall into the same old traps over the final two months of the season.  His strike out percentage was right there at his career norms (33.9%), his batting average was barely over the Mendoza Line, but I’ll give him credit:  his eye at the plate is VASTLY improved over what it was in 2015.  His walk rate jumped up to 10.9% from 5.1% over his first three seasons, which is incredible.  I’d also say that while he’s still striking out as much as ever, he’s not necessarily falling for those breaking balls low and away as much as he was before.  Baby steps, maybe.  But, there’s still a big ol’ hole in his swing, which is going to necessitate a quality catcher to either platoon with him, or spot him more days off than we’ve been giving him.  Obviously, this year, we had no choice but to play him mostly everyday, because he was so clearly better than any other catcher in this organization (in spite of Sucre’s random surge in production in September).  Iannetta is under contract for 2017, which is less than ideal, as he brings nothing to the table offensively, and even less to the table defensively.  Hopefully, we can trade him for a bag of batting donuts, because I’d almost rather have Sucre out there, if he can continue working on his batting skills.  Clevenger seems to be a non-starter, unless the team really wants to work with him on the whole Racist Tweets shitstorm.  I wouldn’t be totally against it; seems like having a left-handed catching partner with Zunino would be a good thing for this team (plus, he’s under club control for 2 more years, so it’d be nice to see what he’s got in him as a baseball player).

And The Rest

Which is really just Shawn O’Malley.  He’s a step up from Willie Bloomquist, so that’s something.

Reasonable Expectations For The 2016 Mariners

WORLD SERIES OR SUCK MY TITS BABY, WOOOOOO!!!

It’s been a whirlwind whatever amount of time since the new GM, Jerry Dipoto, took over, what with all the trades and signings and whatnot.  A TON of turnover up and down the roster, as well as up and down the organization.  So often, we get all caught up in the excitement of talking about new players, that we automatically associate New with Improved.  I mean, let’s face it, the advertising world has conditioned us to this effect.  Digiorno Pizza got a new pizza sauce recipe:  NEW & IMPROVED!  Except, while it was new, the flavor was a huge downgrade and their product tasted like shit, so they eventually switched back to the old recipe and the world rejoiced.

The truth of the matter is, sometimes New means Improved, and sometimes you end up with the PR nightmare of New Coke (or, that’s just what the Coca Cola company wants you to think, you sheeple).  The point is, change for the sake of change doesn’t mean this Mariners team is going to be any better than prior Mariners teams.

Then again, when you factor in how crummy this team was, could it really hurt to trim off the excess fat and replace it with literally anything else?

In many ways, particularly with the lineup and the outfield defense, we’re talking about Addition By Subtraction.  LoMo, Trumbo, and Zunino are great places to start.  Last year, LoMo flashed a quality glove at first base, but his production at the plate was pathetic; he’s gone, replaced by Adam Lind, who should be a steady presence at the plate, and good enough at the bag.  Trumbo was forced into a regular outfield starting role, because he was deemed marginally better than Dustin Ackley.  The outfield is probably the last place you want to see Trumbo, especially if that outfield is in Safeco Field.  Then, you gotta tack on his horrific start once he was traded over here, and regardless of how hot his season finished, he’s too streaky to be depended upon.  He’s also gone, replaced by let’s say Nori Aoki, a quality leadoff hitter and a significant upgrade in our corner defense.  Then, with Zunino, you’re talking about a guy ahead of his years defensively, but he was the blackest of black holes offensively.  He’s still in the organization, but he’s going to get his cuts down in Tacoma to hopefully build up some confidence and build up some better habits at the plate.  Replacing him with even a Replacement Level hitter like Iannetta should be a huge upgrade in our overall offense.

Gone are other young guys like Ackley and Miller, who were more Promising Hopefuls than Professionals You Could Rely On.  Gone are worthless veterans like Rickie Weeks, Justin Ruggiano, and Willie Bloomquist.  All of these moves are upgrades just by not having them on our team anymore!  This is truly a professional lineup that should get the job done day-in and day-out.  If we had this offense back in 2014, when our pitching was studly, we’d be talking about a World Series contender.

See, the problem with all this change – which I alluded to above – is that we as fans get seduced by all the improvements that we fail to recognize the weaknesses.  Or, we choose to see the weaknesses as potential strengths, if such and such breaks in our favor.  The fact of the matter is, the pitching is going to be a real issue in 2016, and our depth at the Major League level is already razor thin, so should injuries crop up (as they do for literally every single team), we may be in serious trouble.

The one problem with the lineup that I’ve neglected to this point is its reliance upon platoons.  The aforementioned Adam Lind, for instance, is GREAT against righties.  But, he’s absolutely awful against left-handed pitchers.  That presents a problem that the team is tentatively looking to rectify by platooning him with Jesus Montero (who is pretty solid against lefties, but struggles mightily against righties).  What happens if one of those guys gets injured?  What happens, particularly, if Lind gets injured (since there are more right-handed pitchers in the game than lefties)?  Then, we’re stuck with Montero as our everyday first baseman, and our production from that position at the plate plummets.

Same deal in the outfield.  We’ve got a Seth Smith/Franklin Gutierrez platoon.  Guti is a walking nightmare of maladies.  Last year, he was fortunate, as the team was in a position to give him the time he needed between games to recover.  But, he’s on a Major League deal; we can’t just send him to Tacoma or whatever, without putting him on the DL.  So, what happens if Seth Smith has a serious injury that keeps him out for a few months?  What was once a strength (our outfield defense) will now require the presence of Nelson Cruz to just get by!

You get the idea.  This thing goes on and on.  Even at the catcher position, we’ve got a righty and a lefty, which will only encourage the team to pursue a platoon sitch there too.  I know platoons are the wave of the future – and really, they make good sense, and should prolong some careers of guys with radical platoon splits – but when the shit hits the fan, you’re sort of left with your dick in your hand.

As for the pitching, I’ve gone over that repeatedly in recent weeks.  It’s scary.  After Felix, you need a lot of things to break right:

  • Will Taijuan Walker improve upon a decent – but far from great – rookie season?
  • Will Taijuan Walker manage to stay healthy again for a full season?
  • Will James Paxton manage to stay healthy for longer than a couple months?
  • Will Wade Miley’s numbers improve with the move to Safeco Field?
  • Will Wade Miley be good enough on the road to not be a total Joe Saunders?
  • Will Nathan Karns resemble the second coming of Erik Bedard in a good way (strong stuff, bulldog on the mound, stiffens with runners on); or will he resemble the second coming of Erik Bedard in a bad way (5 inning limit, arm problems, poor interviewee leading all of us to listen to the constant bitching of local Seattle media)?

Then, there’s the bullpen, which is a complete unknown.  After Joaquin Benoit (who has been a rock his entire career), it’s all cause for concern:

  • Who’s going to be the closer?
  • Will this team even employ a traditional closer?
  • Who’s our next-best reliever after Benoit?
  • Will Furbush continue his strong 2015, or revert to his inconsistent 2014?
  • Will Zych make good on his lights-out cup of coffee last season?
  • Will Evan Scribner continue to have issues with giving up home runs?
  • Will Jonathan Aro be the second coming of Evan Scribner, home run problem and all?
  • Will this apparent trend toward bullpen pitchers with lackluster velocity on their fastballs be the death of us all?

If I had to reach down into my gut, to see what it says about this team’s chances in 2016, I’d say the starting rotation is a little more promising than the bullpen.  I think the ‘pen has the chance to be one of the worst we’ve ever seen.  Mid-90s bad.  Bobby Ayala bad.  And the worst part?  I fear that this starting rotation will probably put a lot of strain on the bullpen by throwing short games.  Walker, Paxton, and Karns will all have their games where they can’t get past the 5th inning.  Miley is a total wild card, who could range from 2 innings to 8 innings.  That’s going to put a lot of stress on the King to get the job done in his starts.

I want to go off the deep end.  I want to jump to the head of the parade and pronounce this team as a true contender.  I want to like all these moves and champion the new GM as a guy who finally GETS it.  But, if I’m being honest, I think he’s just morphed this team into a different kind of sub-.500 team.  One that may hit better, score more runs.  But, in the end, a team that will blow a lot of leads late.  The question is:  how clutch are these hitters?  It’s an impossible metric to track, of course.  But, if this team is going to somehow hang in there and fight for a Wild Card spot, it’s going to have to somehow manufacture a crazy win/loss record in 1-run games and in walk-off/extra innings games.

Which is just another way of saying, I’ll have to see it to believe it.  I’ll have to see this team play well before I believe this team will continue to play well.

A Pre-Thanksgiving Look At The Changes To The Mariners’ Roster

There’s not much going on this week, is there?  The Husky basketball team has a major tournament in the Bahamas (and is playing Gonzaga for the first time since 2006); the Apple Cup lands on Black Friday once again; the Seahawks are playing for the opportunity to be over .500 for the first time in 2015; and, of course, there’s that major national holiday where we celebrate how we screwed over all the Native Americans celebrate “giving thanks” or some bullshit like that.

Anyway, fuck all that, because I’m writing about the Mariners.  We’ve seen a lot of change in a very short time, which got me to wondering how our team shapes up compared to last year’s disappointment.  So, let’s go down the line, starting with the everyday nine:

Catcher:  2016 – Iannetta, 2015 – Zunino
First Base:  2016 – Trumbo, 2015 – Morrison
Second Base:  Cano
Third Base:  Seager
Short Stop:  2016 – Marte, 2015 – Miller / Taylor / Marte
Left Field:  2016 – Smith/Guti?, 2015 – Ackley
Center Field:  2016 – Martin, 2015 – Jackson
Right Field:  2016 – TBD / Trumbo / Cruz, 2015 – Smith, Cruz
Designated Hitter:  2016 – Cruz, 2015 – Cruz / Various

The only three “guaranteed” holdovers (I put that in quotes, because you never really know what a new GM will do in these first few months of total power, before it’s slowly stripped away from him by management as his mistakes pile up) figure to be Cano, Cruz, and Seager.  Cruz figures to get the majority of his playing time at DH (God willing), but you can’t completely rule out him playing some right field.  Nevertheless, this team is in desperate need of an everyday solution to our right field problem (or at least a rock-solid left-handed platoon option who isn’t named Boog Powell).

Iannetta looks to be a step up from Zunino.  Trumbo figures to be a lateral move compared to LoMo (worse on defense, probably more consistent at the plate).  A Seth Smith/Franklin Gutierrez platoon in left would be a HUGE upgrade over Ackley, should they both manage to stay healthy.  Leonys Martin figures to be better defensively than A-Jax, as well as a better baserunner (how many times did we watch Jackson try to steal and get tagged out by a million miles?), but the jury is seriously out as to whether or not Martin can hit in Safeco.  It looked like Jackson was starting to get the hang of it in 2015, but I feel like Martin brings more upside and is an all-around improvement at the position.  Finally, we’ll see what we get out of a full season of Ketel Marte at short stop.  He might be a step down initially, but hopefully he’ll blossom into a quality starter in time.

Now, onto the starting rotation, where things are still a little up in the air:

1.  Felix Hernandez
2.  2016 – Iwakuma?, 2015 – Iwakuma
3.  Taijuan Walker
4.  2016 – Karns, 2015 – Happ / Elias
5.  2016 – Paxton / Elias, 2015 – Paxton / Montgomery / Nuno

Felix and Taijuan are the primary holdovers; they’re not going anywhere, for obvious reasons.  Hisashi Iwakuma turned down the Mariners’ qualifying offer of $15.8 million for next year in hopes of getting a longer-term deal.  There’s still a very good chance he signs with the Mariners; the qualifying offer was more of a way to discourage any other teams from signing him (as they would lose their first unprotected draft pick).  For what it’s worth, the GM sounds really eager to bring him back.  I’m a little lukewarm on the deal, but I don’t see a whole lotta better options out there.  Iwakuma has been good when healthy, but he’s prone to give up the long ball.  Beyond that, his most consistent attribute is getting himself injured and missing large chunks of season.  Honestly, I don’t think I want him on anything more than a 2-year deal, maybe with an option for a third year if he reaches certain Staying-Off-Of-The-DL benchmarks.

The back-end of the rotation looks like it’s going to be a zoo once again for the Mariners.  Paxton is an obvious choice, but he’s even more injury prone than Iwakuma.  Nathan Karns, our big return chip in the Brad Miller deal, looks to have a spot locked up; so if Iwakuma returns, that appears to be four spots on lockdown.  Vying for that fifth spot will be a bevy of underwhelming candidates, including Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery, and Vidal Nuno (though I still think he’s better suited as a long relief man in the bullpen).  Since Paxton is the likeliest candidate to win the spot out of Spring Training, it’s good to know we’ve got experienced options in Elias, Montgomery, and the like.  I’m certain we’ll need them.

As for how the back-end will fare, it’s tough to say.  My initial reaction is that they couldn’t be any worse than J.A. Happ, but I could be full of shit with that statement.  I’ve never seen Karns pitch!  I’ve seen the other guys, and they weren’t all that much better than Happ.  So, who knows?  Also, you gotta figure the team will go out and look for a cheap veteran to throw onto the pile.  If said veteran does well in Spring Training, we could be looking at another underwhelming half-year of a guy who doesn’t belong in the league anymore.

Regarding the potential bullpen, I don’t REALLY even want to go there, but here’s what I’ve got at this early point in the offseason:

Closer:  2016 – Benoit, 2015 – Rodney
8th Inning:  Carson Smith
7th Inning:  2016 – Zych?, 2015 – Wilhelmsen
Lefty #1:  Charlie Furbush
Lefty #2:  2016 – Riefenhauser?, 2015 – Beimel
Long:  2016 – Nuno?, 2015 – Nuno
Misc Relief:  2016 – Bass?, 2015 – Farquhar, Lowe, Others

Joaquin Benoit doesn’t have a ton of experience closing, but he does have a ton of experience being a boss reliever.  One would think his bossness would translate quite well from the 8th to the 9th inning.  Besides, Carson Smith is still young, and was getting kind of abused in the closer’s role last year (mostly by lefties); his natural spot in the bullpen should be the primary set-up man, facing mostly right-handed hitters.  Beyond those two guys, and Charlie Furbush (assuming he gets healthy in time), the rest of the bullpen is a total crapshoot.  Tony Zych looked pretty solid in his September call-up, so I’m sure he’ll get a shot at winning a spot.  We just traded for C.J. Riefenhauser, so I’m sure he’ll get every opportunity to win that second lefty spot (but, if he fails, we’ve got about four more on the 40-man roster who could supplant him).  I want to make Vidal Nuno a lock for the long relief/spot starter role, but you never know.  And, for that 7th bullpen spot (should we keep 7 guys in the bullpen), I have no fucking idea.  The guy who gets that spot probably isn’t even on this team right now.  I just put Bass up there because he was acquired in a recent trade, so I’m sure he’s going to get every chance to wow the team in Spring.

The bench is even more pointless to try to predict right now, but I’ll give it a whirl.  Figure our starting 9 (including “TBD” in right field; and for the purposes of this exercise, making Seth Smith the “starting” left fielder), plus 5 starting pitchers, plus 7 relievers, that leaves 4 bench spots:

Catcher:  2016 – Zunino, 2015 – Sucre
Corner Outfield:  Franklin Gutierrez
Infielder:  2016 – Luis Sardinas?, 2015 – Bloomquist/Taylor
Outfield:  2016 – Powell/O’Malley?, 2015 – Weeks/Ruggiano/Others

Right off the bat, Zunino is a huge upgrade over Sucre.  Guti’s taking up a spot on the roster, which necessitates a fifth outfielder to cover us in the likely event that Guti needs some extra days of rest to deal with whatever is nagging at him.  Boog Powell appears to be ready for a shot at the bigs.  Shawn O’Malley had a cup of coffee in September and really impressed everyone with his hustle, so you gotta figure he has a shot if nothing else changes about the roster.  Either one of those guys, you gotta figure, is better than Rickie Weeks, just defensively alone!  Finally, we say goodbye to Willie Bloomquist (hopefully for the last time), and we say hello to Luis Sardinas, who the Mariners just acquired from Milwaukee for a minor leaguer.  Sardinas has experience at all the infield positions, he’s played sparingly in the Majors the last two years, and he’s VERY young (will turn 23 years old next May).  He’s going to have to prove he can hit at least a little bit at the Big League level, because he’s got Chris Taylor who can also play all the infield spots, and has a similar amount of experience (but an additional two years of age).

Pointless exercise, or a fun way to waste time?  You decide!  Or don’t, I don’t care.  Tomorrow’s Turkey Day!

Where In The Fudge Do The Mariners Go From Here?

The following players are under contract for 2016:

  • Felix Hernandez (signed thru 2019)
  • Robinson Cano (signed thru 2023)
  • Kyle Seager (signed thru 2021, w/ option for 2022)
  • Nelson Cruz (signed thru 2018)
  • Seth Smith (signed thru 2016, w/ option for 2017)

Of course, the team has other players under team control, but for the most part those players are part of The Problem.  The above-referenced players are the good ones.  You like to think you can count on Felix, Cano, Seager, Cruz, and Smith; these are professional players who are going to give you professional performances for the most part.  A starting pitcher, a second baseman, a third baseman, a DH, and a platoon corner outfielder.  That’s what the Mariners have going for them in 2016.

So, what are they going to do about the 20 other spots on this roster?

Well, here’s a breakdown of the players who will most certainly be playing elsewhere in 2016, because their contracts run out after this year and either they won’t want to return or we won’t want them to return:

  • Austin Jackson
  • Hisashi Iwakuma
  • Fernando Rodney
  • J.A. Happ
  • Joe Beimel

So, in theory, the Mariners will be looking to fill two starting pitcher roles, a closer role, a lefty specialist role, and a center field role.  I already don’t like where 2016 is headed.

Here’s a list of players with 1 more year of arbitration eligibility before they become full blown free agents:

  • Mark Trumbo
  • Logan Morrison

Oh goodie!  Two underperforming first basemen – one from each side of the plate – who have no business being in the outfield!  Mark Trumbo is probably the more offensively-gifted of the two, but he’s also the absolute God damn worst in the field.  LoMo has some defensive value at first base, but he’s proven without a shadow of a doubt that he’s not an everyday player.  We all wondered what he could be if he actually managed to stay healthy for a full season.  WELP, look no further than his 2015 output!

Trumbo earned $6.9 million in 2015, so figure he’ll get somewhere in the $8-$9 million range in 2016 (if we decide to keep him and not just cut him loose set him free).  LoMo earned a shade under $3 mil in 2015; maybe he gets in the $4-$5 million range in 2016 (again, if we decide to keep him, which I’m pretty against).  If we dumped these two guys, we’d need to get a whole new first baseman/DH combo, which probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Next up, we’ve got the guys with 2 more years of arbitration eligibility before they become full blown free agents:

  • Dustin Ackley
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Tom Wilhelmsen

Did you know that Dustin Ackley has earned over $12 million in his professional baseball career?  That’s over $12 million for the single most disappointing draft pick in Mariners franchise history.  He earned $2.6 million in 2015, which you gotta figure gets bumped up to the $4 million range in 2016, and probably somewhere around $6 million in 2017.  GET RID OF HIM NOW!!!  I don’t care what you have to do, but Dustin Ackley needs to be gone; he’s had every possible chance you can give a prospect, and he’s proven his worth (his worth is zero).  Nothing in the next two years is going to turn him into what we need him to be.

Furbush is a guy I probably wouldn’t mind keeping around.  His pay rate is pretty reasonable, and I wouldn’t expect the raises he gets will break the bank.  Wilhelmsen might be a guy I give another year to, but he’s obviously not someone you’d want to extend long term, and probably not someone you’d want to keep after his final arbitration year.

Finally, here’s a list of all the younger guys with extensive Major League experience, who we’ve got tons of team control for:

  • Brad Miller
  • Mike Zunino
  • Taijuan Walker
  • Carson Smith
  • Jesus Sucre
  • Chris Taylor
  • Vidal Nuno
  • Mike Montgomery
  • James Paxton
  • Roenis Elias
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Lucas Luetge
  • James Jones
  • Jesus Montero

Just brutal.  There are simply too many fucking holes to count.  I mean, look, I guess you can feel pretty good about Brad Miller if you want.  But, he’s still wildly inconsistent.  Or, I guess that’s wrong:  he’s pretty much been consistently bad at the plate since he was first called up here.  And, Chris Taylor is no better, so there’s that.  With Ketel Marte recently being converted to the outfield, there’s yet another short stop prospect gone by the wayside.  Like him or lump him, but Brad Miller is your Opening Day 2016 starting short stop.

Mike Zunino, there’s another.  His rotting carcass has been dragging down this offense for the better part of two years.  But, what are you going to do?  He’s still young enough to where he could theoretically put it all together, but at this point I think it’s foolish to expect him to be the All Star we all hoped he’d be.  So, what we’ve got is Just Another Guy behind the plate.  Great.

Walker, Paxton, Montgomery, and Elias are all young, up & coming starters, but you’re going to run into the same questions going into next year that we had going into this year.  Are they too young?  Will there be more growing pains?  And, most importantly, can they ever stay fucking healthy?  Say what you will about the 2015 Mariners, but I think it will ultimately go down as a good thing for Walker, should he stay healthy the rest of the way.  This year of experience – God willing – will help him be a better pitcher in 2016 and going forward.  One can only hope.  As for Paxton, I won’t put him in Danny Hultzen territory, but I don’t think you can ever count on Paxton staying healthy for a full season.  And, if that’s the case, I really don’t think you can count on him as a starter out of Spring Training.  He might ultimately prove to be a bullpen guy for that very reason.  Montgomery is getting an extended look this year in hopes that we can plug him in for the full season next year.  Should he keep pumping out quality starts, his is a spot in the rotation we might not have to worry about.  But, should he start to get knocked around the more the American League gets used to his repertoire, then that’s yet another hole we’d need to plug.  A hole that might be too big even for Elias, who has seemingly taken something of a step back in his second season in the Majors/upper minors.  None of these guys could be considered safe bets for 2016, but then again, what does that even mean?  We all thought Hisashi Iwakuma was a safe bet for 2015, and look at what we’ve gotten.

The bullpen guys – Carson Smith, Danny Farquhar, Vidal Nuno, and Lucas Luetge – are all pretty iffy in their own rights.  Carson Smith looked to be the second coming of Jeff Nelson until very recently, when he’s been bashed around (possibly to over-use?  He is still fairly young in his career).  I’ll be looking for Smith to ramp it back up the rest of this year.  Nuno has looked okay and will likely be the reason why we don’t see a third year out of Joe Beimel.  Luetge probably continues to get stashed in Tacoma (along with David Rollins, should he manage to stick the rest of this year).  And, that leaves Farquhar, who’s probably good AAA insurance as long as he still has options, which I would assume he does.

The rest – Sucre, Jones, and Montero – aren’t much to write home about.  I have to believe the Mariners will find another backup catcher to allow us to keep Sucre in Tacoma where he belongs.  Jones doesn’t strike me as a guy who’s ever going to hit enough to be anything more than a 4th or 5th outfielder on a team with 3 good starting outfielders (which the Mariners most certainly are not).  Montero is a bit of a wild card, but can you really go into 2016 with him as your starting first baseman?  Or, even as a platoon first baseman?  It would be nice if the Mariners managed to pull their heads out of their asses long enough to call him up for good in 2015 and let us see what the newly-skinny Montero can do over the last two months of the season.  But, that might be asking too much of an incompetent organization looking at wholesale changes in the coming offseason.

The last guy – Mark Lowe – who I didn’t list above, will be a free agent I have to imagine the Mariners will want to re-sign, at least for a year or two.  So, let’s hope that gets done, I guess.

***

That just leaves us with the “Where Do We Go From Here?” bit referenced in the title.  Do the Mariners opt to keep most of the roster intact?  Do they just keep the top five guys under contract and wash away the rest?  Do they completely blow it up, putting anyone and everyone up for auction?

At this point, I’m so disgusted with the whole organization, if I had my druthers, the Mariners would only keep Felix and Seager.  I think if you have a team willing to put in significant coin to take over the remainder of Cano’s contract, I think you jump at the opportunity.  Should he manage to turn things around sufficiently in this second half to make the first half seem like an anomaly, the Mariners could probably trade Cano for a couple of quality pieces (especially when you consider the team he’d end up going to will have a much friendlier stadium to hit in).  Maybe the Mariners kick in $7 million per year the rest of the way, for the right to dump Cano and pick up a couple of quality prospects; wouldn’t that make sense?

Same thing goes for Cruz, though I don’t think the Mariners would have to kick in as much – or any – money to get some good pieces from him.  He’s been a dominant force offensively for the last two years and is only costing $14 million per year.  That’s NOT bad.

Do I think that’ll happen though?  Probably not.  I have to imagine teams are going to stay away from Cano’s contract until they can take him from us for pennies on the dollar.  Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for the Miami Marlins way of doing things:  when you know you’re fucked, dump & run!

Odds are, whoever the next GM is will consider Felix, Seager, Cano, & Cruz as “the core” and will look to build around them.  I can’t imagine Seth Smith, Miller, Zunino, Walker, Carson Smith, Furbush, or Nuno are going anywhere either.  Barring some sort of blockbuster trade, I think these are the guys you’re looking at as the safest bets to return in 2016:

  • Felix – starting pitcher
  • Walker – starting pitcher
  • Carson – reliever
  • Furbush – reliever
  • Nuno – reliever
  • Seager – third base
  • Cano – second base
  • Miller – short stop
  • Cruz – DH/right field
  • Seth – OF platoon
  • Zunino – Catcher

All told, you’ve got 11 of your 25-man roster right there.  How do you feel as that for your “core” players for 2016?  We just need 3 more starters, 4 more relievers, pretty much an entire outfield, a first baseman, and a bench.  I’ve never been more depressed.

Taking a look at the pitching staff, it’s pretty obvious that as long as they’re still here, Paxton, Montgomery, and Elias will get looks in Spring Training.  But, you’re still going to want to bring in a veteran and maybe two.  I’d hope that the Mariners will go hard after a top-end of the rotation guy, and stop trying to make it through seasons with J.A. Happ/Chris Young/Kevin Millwood types.  I mean, if you feel it’s necessary, pick up an innings eater to throw onto the Spring Training pile, but this team absolutely needs another ace-type pitcher, like Iwakuma was before he completely broke down.

For the bullpen, I like Mark Lowe being back.  I don’t even totally mind having Wilhelmsen around, since he’s good to eat up some innings, but I wouldn’t consider him as one of your Late Innings With A Small Lead type of guys.  Assuming Farquhar won’t ever be returning to form, I think this team would be well served in picking up another veteran reliever with a proven track record.  You know, someone like Rodney two years ago, only less volatile.  Lowe, Smith, and Proven Hard-Throwing Righty, combined with Nuno, Furbush, and innings-eating Wilhelmsen could be a nice little unit.  Save that seventh spot for someone off the scrap heap, or a young up & comer with some heat and I think that’d be okay.

So far, my Plan For 2016 involves spending relatively big on a starter and a reliever, while at the same time plucking a cheaper starter and reliever from the scrap heap.

On the hitting side of things, let’s start with first base.  I feel like whatever you do with the rest of the offense hinges on what you do at first base.  The Mariners can afford to keep LoMo or Trumbo, but I don’t think they can afford to keep them both (and I really wouldn’t mind seeing them get rid of both).  If you’re going to skimp on first base (like, say for instance, there just aren’t any quality first basemen available in free agency or via trade), then either you go whole hog with Trumbo as your everyday starting first baseman and cut LoMo loose, or you let Trumbo go, save a few mil, and put LoMo in a platoon with Montero.  Neither of these options are all that enticing, but that’s the world we’re living in.  You can’t afford to completely fill all the holes on this team via free agency, that’s just not how it works.  There aren’t enough good players out there, and the organization won’t be willing to spend all the money in the world just to try to make this team a winner.  We’ve already got major deals going out to five guys in 2016 – the aforementioned guys at the top of the post – those five guys account for almost $79 million in salary next season.  When you account for the 2015 Mariners spending over $126 million on this turd stew, it realistically puts this team with $47 million to spend (minus all the smaller amounts of money going to guys under team control, and minus the arbitration guys we opt to keep).  Honestly?  Not a whole lot of wiggle room.

Of the three options at first base, obviously I’m in favor of Door #3 – the free agent.  But, I’m a realistic man, so I’m putting our chances pretty low at that becoming a reality (especially considering this team has arguably bigger fish to fry in the outfield).  Of the remaining options, I like the idea of Trumbo getting the job outright, because that gives us another spot on the bench a platoon would otherwise take up.  I have to believe that Trumbo is going to give us better offensive output than a combo of LoMo & Montero, but I have to admit the platoon is intriguing (I guess they usually are).  In this instance, Montero would face all lefties and the occasional righty.  This would still give LoMo the majority of the starts, but hopefully the days off would keep him fresh, so he wouldn’t hit so many offensive lulls.  Then, figure LoMo would also come in during the later innings of games he doesn’t start as a defensive replacement, I think this could work in a pinch.  But, as I said before, under no circumstances should the team opt to keep both LoMo AND Trumbo.

With the rest of the infield pretty well accounted for, that leaves the outfield, and a huge gaping hole in center.  No way Austin Jackson returns.  He could be the dumbest man on the planet, but even then he’d still be too smart to want to stay in Safeco.  He’s had a decent bounce-back year in 2015, and I think he parlays that into a nice little 3-4 year deal somewhere a little more hitter-friendly.  And, since the Mariners have exactly no one in the minors ready to ascend in center field (and since the Angels aren’t looking to trade Mike Trout away anytime soon), they’re going to have to make finding a new center fielder one of their highest priorities (if not THE highest).  I don’t know who’s going to be out there in free agency, but this strikes me as something that might have to get done via trade.  We should just assume that we’re not going to find a miracle offensive center fielder, so I wouldn’t mind going the other way:  find the very best defensive center fielder you can possibly find and give HIM the job.  I long for the days of awe-inspiring catches being run down at the wall; I want those days to return, even if it means we have to suffer some more at the plate!  Let’s face it, as long as this team keeps drafting terribly, and as long as they play in Safeco, this team is going to be offensively challenged.  Might as well go the other way and get as strong defensively as you possibly can.

That goes double when you see what we’ve got in the corner outfield.  You’re just not going to keep Nelson Cruz from playing right field half the time.  It’s just the way it is.  Until he severely destroys his knees, he’s going to be a part of this defense.  And, say what you will about Seth Smith, but he’s no defensive wunderkind.  And besides all of that, you still need a right-handed platoon partner for Smith, as well as another solid all-around outfielder beyond that.  If the team was smart, they’d play Cruz in the outfield exclusively in National League parks and against left-handed starters and make Cruz Seth Smith’s platoon partner.  That’d give Smith about 2/3 of the starts, which is about what he should be getting, and it would still give Cruz enough starts in the outfield to feel like he’s giving us more than just his bat.  But, again, that’s if the team was smart.  In that instance, they’d only need to find TWO everyday outfielders instead of three or four in various timeshare situations.  Whatever happens, Ackley needs to go, and Trumbo needs to not be part of that outfield mix.

From there, fill out the bench as best as you can.  Find another catcher, I don’t care whose dick you have to suck.  Chris Taylor is an adequate bench player who can cover you in all the infield positions if need be; the new generation’s Willie Bloomquist.  Fill out the outfield bench spots with speed; maybe finally decide to keep Jones up here for the duration to be a base-stealing and defensive specialist.  Good teams DO have those guys, you know.

If it’s up to me, the roster looks something like this:

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Good, Veteran Starter
  3. Taijuan Walker
  4. Mike Montgomery/Roenis Elias
  5. James Paxton/Innings-Eating Veteran Starter
  • Good, Veteran Closer/Reliever
  • Carson Smith
  • Mark Lowe
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Vidal Nuno
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Other Veteran Righty Reliever/Young Righty Fireballer
  1. Mike Zunino – Catcher
  2. Trumbo OR LoMo/Montero – First Base
  3. Robinson Cano – Second Base
  4. Brad Miller – Short Stop
  5. Kyle Seager – Third Base
  6. Good, Veteran Corner Outfielder
  7. Good Defensive Center Fielder
  8. Smith/Cruz – Right Field
  9. Cruz/Whoever – Designated Hitter
  • Backup Catcher Who’s Not Sucre
  • Chris Taylor – Infielder
  • Backup First Baseman
  • Backup Outfielder

For the pitchers, it’s a one or the other scenario.  You’d have Felix and Walker pretty well locked in there, as well as whoever we bring in to be our #2.  Then, you’d want approximately four guys competing for those final two spots.  Paxton, if he’s healthy, probably gets the nod.  And, ideally, you’d only have Montgomery or Elias, but not both, as they’re pretty close to the same pitcher.  Innings-Eating Veteran needs to look reasonably good, but will very well have the advantage over both Montgomery & Elias, as he’s not likely to have any options left.

The bullpen is pretty self-explanatory.

If we go platoon at first base, then obviously the other half of that platoon becomes “Backup First Baseman”.  If we go Trumbo at first, then either Montero gets a chance to be on our bench, or we go out and get someone, but again, I don’t think LoMo should be that guy.  With Cruz & Smith, you’re still looking for three new outfielders (again, assuming the organization has any brains and opts to keep Trumbo away from the outfield entirely), and I wouldn’t mind the bench guy being someone like James Jones.  Either way, Jones can’t be the everyday center fielder, so that needs to come from elsewhere.  And, as I’ve stated repeatedly, they need to get rid of Ackley and go somewhere else for the left field spot too.

If this team wants to try to hang onto the core and keep building around it, I don’t see any way they get that done with fewer than six new players – two starters, two relievers, and at least two fielders/hitters.  The first base situation is a quagmire that we’re probably stuck with, but the outfield situation needs to be a complete breath of fresh air from head to toe.

I don’t know how they’re going to do it, and after this abortion of a season, I honestly don’t much care.  Just get it done and quit wasting Felix’s prime!

Mariners Tidbit 39: Potential In-House Replacements For Taijuan Walker

Taijuan Walker feels like the clubhouse leader for most disappointing Mariners pitcher of 2015 (which puts him in the running with Dustin Ackley for most disappointing player on the 25-man roster).  Don’t you just get the sense that every fifth day, we’re in for a real clunker?  He’s been so shitty this year, he hasn’t missed a start and yet he STILL doesn’t qualify for the E.R.A. title because he doesn’t have enough innings pitched!  Not that he’d be anywhere NEAR that title, with his team-worst 7.33 dragging the collective unit down with his sub-mediocrity, but it’s insane that he doesn’t even qualify.

Taijuan Walker has started 9 games this year.  He’s gone 6 innings or more in two of those games.  6 innings is NOT asking a lot out of a starter!  And yet, here is 20% of our starting rotation who has more games with fewer than 5 innings pitched (4! out of 9!) than he does with 6 innings or more.  It’s pretty obvious that he’s not ready to be an everyday Major League starter, but unfortunately, there hasn’t been much of anything the Mariners could do about it.

Hisashi Iwakuma probably won’t be back before the All Star Break in July.  I’m wondering if he’ll even be back before the rosters expand in September.  In case you haven’t looked at a calendar yet, there’s a huge chunk of games between now and the Break (and an even huger chunk between now and September).  It’s too early to be thinking about a trade (as teams rarely give up on guys before the month of July, as they don’t want their fanbase to get wise to the fact that they’re nowhere near contention), but I don’t even want to speculate on trades anyway.  There’s a near-infinite number of possibilities for the Mariners outside the organization, but here’s the deal:  all of our potential prospects to trade away are already at the Major League level.  Nobody wants Dustin Ackley, so stop believing that the Mariners can just trade him for Cole Hamels straight up (or package him with one of our under-performing short stops, because it’s NOT ENOUGH, YOU BLOODY BOWSERS).  Probably the best prospect the Mariners could trade would be Taijuan Walker, and are you really that excited to trade him away just yet?

For as much as I may be ripping on the guy for his performance this year, I don’t think I want him pitching for another organization.  I just think he needs to work on his secondary pitches in the minors.  Given how he was injured for most of last year, it’s not like he’s had this huge bounty of innings pitched in the upper minors.  The way he’s getting slapped around – even with his plus fastball – you can tell he’s not hitting his spots and his offspeed stuff could be a lot sharper.

With Iwakuma many weeks away, and ditto any possible trade help, that leaves us with the here and now.  The last week of May, the entire month of June, and upwards of 4 weeks of the month of July depending on various variables.  A huge chunk of games where I don’t necessarily want to see Taijuan Walker starting every day.

The only viable options are sitting there in Tacoma.  At the top of the list, we’ve got Mike Montgomery, who has literally never made an appearance in the Major Leagues.  He’s got lots of mostly-mediocre numbers at the AAA level, leading him into this year where he’s made 8 starts and has a 3.83 E.R.A. across 47 innings with a respectable 40 strikeouts.  One knock against him is that he’s another left-hander, which would mean we’d have 4 lefties in the rotation if he replaced Walker.  Considering he’d probably have the worst stuff of the four, I don’t relish the prospects of his starts (especially the ones away from Safeco).

Next on the list, we’ve got Sam Gaviglio, who has made 9 starts and has a 5.63 E.R.A. (you can see the very-big drop-off, and it really only gets worse from here) across 46.1 innings with 41 strikeouts.  He’s been about as erratic as Walker (a decent game here, a grotesque game there, lots of short outings) and you have to imagine he doesn’t have any of the potential to turn things around as Walker would.  He’s a guy you’d bring up if you needed a warm body, but at the same time he’s not someone you’d promote before Montgomery.

Jordan Pries was starting to turn a corner before he went on the DL in early May.  I have no idea when he’d be ready to pitch again.  Stephen Landazuri was just called up from AA and had a horrific start last Friday, so he’s not ready.  Forrest Snow is a fringe starter who has bounced around from AA to AAA in recent seasons.  He’s been starting for Tacoma for the last three weeks and one wonders if his arm has been sufficiently built up.  Justin Germano is apparently a minor league lifer who’s been starting since the beginning of the month.  He’s coming off of a stinker of an outing – but was sort of okay before that – and he’s not on the 40-man, so that’s another strike against him.

As most of these guys aren’t on the 40-man, that makes a move even more difficult.  When you consider none of these guys are clear upgrades over Walker, you can see why this has been a difficult situation for the organization.  Hell, the Mariners just called up Austin Jackson from the DL and sent down Danny Farquhar to work on some things.  Meaning:  the Mariners would rather go with a temporary 6-man bullpen than DFA Willie Bloomquist.  Or Weeks, but shit man, they have to get rid of one of these guys if they’re going to keep Miller & Taylor on the roster!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Danny Hultzen is still plugging away in AA, trying to build his arm back up.  He’s made 3 starts and gone a total of 8 innings in those starts, so no, he’s not ready either, and he probably won’t be until 2016.

In conclusion, I don’t know if there’s any point in calling for Walker’s head, because I doubt he’s going anywhere, unless the train REALLY goes off the rails.  I’m talking another 3-4 starts where he gives up near-double digit runs.  At that point, I don’t think the team would have any choice but to see what Montgomery can do.  But, I think the Mariners want to wait this out as long as humanly possible to see if either Walker is able to turn things around, or if they can work out a trade for a back-end starter where they don’t have to give up too much.

Sounds exciting, right?  If you want my advice, just watch something else whenever it’s Walker’s turn in the rotation.  Either you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you look at the box score the next day, or you’ll be glad you missed another stinker.

Mariners Tidbit 36: The Good, I Guess Homestand

For a website called “Seattle Sports Hell”, things have been AWFULLY chipper and hopeful around here lately.  Thankfully, I was able to blow that out of the water with an opus of despair as I looked for the most disappointing draft pick in Seattle sports history.  I’m quite happy with how that one turned out, even if you can make arguments against my harebrained theories.  We’re getting back to the roots of what Seattle Sports Hell is all about!  Lamenting our misfortune at being Seattle sports fans.  The grass is always greener everywhere but here (sorry, been watching a lot of Mad Men lately and I think I have a mood disorder).

The Mariners just finished a 9-game homestand with a 6-3 record.  It’s the first winning “stand” of the year, home or away, and could be seen as a sign of things turning around.  James Paxton just pitched his ass off yesterday, going 8 shutout innings.  Happ has been a revelation and a testament to how little I know about baseball.  Felix ran into his first defeat of the season halfway through the month of May and has been throwing Cy Young type ball for as far back as I can remember (which is about a month and a half).  Nelson Cruz continues to be the best hitter in baseball, even if his home run barrage has slowed to a trickle of late.

There are encouraging signs, but not encouraging enough.  Take the aforementioned Most Disappointing Draft Pick In Seattle Sports History (PLEASE!) and his .189 batting average.  Take Mike Zunino being even more lost at the plate than he was last year.  Take the fact that we don’t have an appropriate backup or replacement for either, when both of those players should probably have their loads lightened (Ackley shouldn’t be a starter anymore, period; and Zunino could probably benefit from not being the ONLY catcher on this team – sorry Sucre).

Still, others look like they’re turning things around.  Brad Miller, for one.  LoMo for another.  Cano and Seager are both about 50-points below where their averages should be, but at least they’re not totally worthless.  At least they’re not Rickie Weeks, Willie Bloomquist, or the aforementioned ghost of a player that is Jesus Sucre – none of whom deserve gainful Major League employment at this point in their careers.

While 6-3 is all well and good, we’re still talking about a team that’s 17-20.  A team that’s a whopping 7.5 games out of first place.  How in THE HOLY MOTHER OF FUCK did the Houston Astros go from the world’s laughingstock to the best team in the A.L. West, zooming right past us in the process?  This was supposed to be OUR year to dominate from wire to wire!  Houston would have its chance, but they were supposed to be another year or two away at least!  THIS IS NOT HOW THINGS WERE SUPPOSED TO WORK OUT!

The Mariners are going to need a shitload of more 6-3 homestands and road trips to get to where they need to be.  Excuses are like assholes, and the Mariners have 25 of them.  I don’t want to hear about injuries, I don’t want to hear about guys “coming around”, and I sure as shit don’t want to hear about this upcoming 9-game East coast road trip (or the 36 games in 37 days we’ve got to look forward to, starting tomorrow).  I just want to see more wins than losses and a huge bite taken out of the Astros’ lead by the end of this 36-game run.  Stop talking; we’ve had enough talk.  Just do.  Win the fucking games and let’s get this monkey off our backs.

The Year The Mariners Make It Back To The Playoffs

The 2014 Mariners finished the final two months of the season with a 31-22 record.  The team fell into a nice little routine, once all the kinks were worked out.  Logan Morrison officially supplanted Justin Smoak at first base.  Dustin Ackley looked more comfortable at the plate.  Felix Hernandez had a Cy Young-ish season.  The bullpen was the best in the American League.  You could point to any number of reasons why those Mariners ultimately failed, but never forget that as it stood, those Mariners were only one game away from a shot at the post-season.

Every year, at least since I’ve started this blog, I’ve gone into each Mariners season looking for reasons why the team might succeed.  If THIS and THIS and THIS and THIS happens, our best case scenario is:  the Mariners make the playoffs.  Usually, whatever THIS stood for was something huge.  Like, if the starting pitching holds up, and if the bullpen is lights out, and if all of our young players make big leaps forward in progress, and if the best players on the other teams in our division get injured, then MAYBE the Mariners would be good.  It was always a fantasy, where I ended every preview article with some variation of:  just keep me interested until football season, that’s all I ask.

Then, 2014 happened.  Robinson Cano provided us with a real middle-of-the-order presence.  Kyle Seager continued to progress into the All Star we all knew he could be.  Felix had another Felix-like year and the bullpen WAS lights out!  We still couldn’t fill in that DH spot to save our lives, and the offense in general was just inconsistent enough to keep us out of post-season action.  But, we were right there.  One or two moves away.

Those moves ended up being Nelson Cruz, a right field platoon, and a different veteran starter to hopefully lock down the back of our rotation.  Considering right field and DH were easily our worst two positions on the team last year, and in the early going, the fifth starter was a circus, you couldn’t have asked for a more efficient offseason from a front office perspective.  Everything else pretty much stays the same, which in this case isn’t the worst thing in the world.

The fact of the matter is, going into 2015, instead of searching far and wide for reasons why the Mariners might be good, I’ve found myself searching far and wide for reasons why the Mariners might fall short.  Will the bullpen regress back to 2013 levels of frustration?  Will key players get injured and miss the majority of the season?  Will our younger players fall apart as so many have before them?  These are the questions I’ve got floating around my head, but if I take a step back, forget I’ve been a Mariners fan for these last 10+ years of futility, and look at the whole situation with a fresh perspective, then I have to admit that what I’m looking at right now is a very good baseball team.  A playoff baseball team!  And these are the reasons why:

  • Felix Hernandez is the best right handed pitcher in baseball.  He has more than paid his dues with this organization, and now the organization looks like it’s FINALLY paying him back.  There have been years where we looked forward to a potentially contending season out of the Mariners, but this is easily the best team we’ve ever put around the King.  We’re coming off of an authentic winning season, he just got snubbed a little bit for the Cy Young Award, and now we’re better than ever:  you’re telling me Felix won’t be jacked up for 2015?  I think it’s possible he’s even better than before!
  • The bullpen is back.  We’ve got so many good, young arms behind Fernando Rodney that we’ve got legit Major Leaguers starting off the season in AAA.  Last year, they were the best in the league; if we can keep them somewhere around the Top 5 bullpens in the A.L., I think that’s more than enough to push us into the 90-win range.
  • The 3-4-5 spots in our lineup rival anyone in baseball.  Cano-Cruz-Seager, should they stay healthy, will be filling out the stat sheets on a regular basis.  We should be looking at anywhere from 60-70 homers, 250-270 RBI, and lots of hero moments as they come through in the clutch.
  • There are still regulars on this team who can get even better.  Specifically, I’m looking at Mike Zunino.  He’s super young and just starting his second full season behind the plate.  Now that he’s more or less acclimated with the pitching staff, and what it takes to be a superb defensive catcher, he can work on his bat.  He may not yet be the perennial All Star we all think he’ll be, but I’m looking forward to a big step forward in his pitch recognition and overall production at the plate.
  • I also think Ackley has something to prove – as he’s staring down the barrel of a platoon in the early going.  I’m a little dubious on Rickie Weeks carrying over his hot spring into the chilly April air of Seattle.  Here’s to hoping Ackley carries over his second half of 2014.
  • Logan Morrison needs to prove he can stay healthy and play 140-150 games, so why not have it be this year?  If you think about it, 2015 is really his last chance at being an everyday player.  If he misses half the season, I’m sure he’ll be relegated to a bench role for the duration of his career.
  • Brad Miller is another guy who could be a wonderful surprise.  If he does what he did last September – and not so much what he did last April – we could be in for a real boost at the bottom of our lineup.
  • The rest of our rotation behind King Felix has a lot of promise.  Hisashi Iwakuma has, for the most part in his Major League career, been a VERY effective starter.  He hit the skids late last season, but his entire 2013 season was rock solid.  He’s also in the last year of his deal, so I’m sure there’ll be a little extra juice in his appearances.  Walker and Paxton won spots in the rotation and are looking to jumpstart their careers.  One day, they’ll be multi-millionaires many times over; to be able to get strong production out of them while they make peanuts is a big reason why this team will be successful.  J.A. Happ is our bottom-of-the-rotation innings eater who we’re banking on being successful in Safeco.  He’s essentially fighting for his career too.  If he can’t make it in Seattle, what hope does he have of making it anywhere else?
  • Lloyd McClendan & Jack Zduriencik are not fucking around.  Dominic Leone had a shitstorm of a Spring Training one year removed from dominating at the Major League level as a rookie.  So, what happens?  Any other year, he would’ve had his 25-man roster spot warmed for him; but not this year.  This year, he gets to work out some things in Tacoma, as the guy who had the better spring takes his place.  Roenis Elias also had a phenomenal rookie season last year.  This year?  He was automatically placed into a dogfight with Taijuan Walker, which he ultimately lost.  LMC did everything in his power to downplay Walker’s outstanding spring – as he didn’t give up an earned run until the final week – when in years past, he might have been puffing him up.  There’s definitely an air of seriousness to what’s going on.  We are IN a pennant race, and the fucking season hasn’t started yet!  But, that’s the mindset you have to have.  Most of the players on the team – especially those brought up through the organization – haven’t been in this situation yet.  Well, they’ve been getting a hard and fast lesson thus far:  it’s do or die.  If you don’t produce, the Mariners have no problem replacing you with someone who will.  This isn’t about getting guys experience and preparing them for future seasons.  This is about 2015.

It’s that last bullet point that gets me most excited.  We all figured someone like J.A. Happ would be slotted in as the #3 starter, just given his experience alone.  But, no; the Mariners have him in the 5-hole.  Happ has more or less had a rotten spring.  While I understand the rationale for giving him a spot in the rotation – injuries always happen, we needed the depth – I can see straight away that he’s not going to have the long leash we all expected.  If he flubs up the month of April, and we aren’t beset with injuries to other starters, it wouldn’t shock me in the least to see him DFA’d (or mysteriously placed on the DL) as the team brings back Elias.

The biggest positive I have about this team is that there aren’t the holes that there were in years past.  There are potential problem areas – as there are with all teams – but there aren’t outright holes, guys you KNOW are going to be terrible.  Here’s the lineup:

  1. Austin Jackson (CF)
  2. Seth Smith / Justin Ruggiano (RF)
  3. Robbie Cano (2B)
  4. Nelson Cruz (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Logan Morrison / Willie Bloomquist (1B)
  7. Dustin Ackley / Rickie Weeks (LF)
  8. Mike Zunino / Jesus Sucre (C)
  9. Brad Miller (SS)

I could see A-Jax bounce back; it’s not impossible!  I could see the Smith/Ruggiano platoon being very effective.  I could see LoMo magically remain healthy.  I could see Ackley continue to improve as he gets more comfortable with his position.  And, I could see Miller reach that high ceiling we all dreamed he might.  If it all clicks and falls into place, this team could be a 100-win monster.  If certain players struggle, or if we run into a few DL stints here and there, I think we’re still looking at an 85-win minimum, with room to grow depending on luck and how well our pitching staff holds up.

I don’t think we’re in for a torrid start.  I’d be happy with an April that gets us to or a little above .500.  The thing with 2015 though, is if enough players are able to carry over their hot spring numbers, these Mariners have a better chance than any of the last 10+ Mariners teams of jumping out of the gate on fire.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see them win around 20 games in the first month, but I don’t think that’s mandatory for us to have a division-winning season.

I don’t really have a good handle on the other teams in the A.L. West.  The Rangers will probably be terrible.  I think the Astros and A’s will duke it out for the 3rd place spot.  And, I think Anaheim will be our primary foe.  I’d like to believe that the Mariners are a little more balanced.  I think the Angels might be a tad more top-heavy with some of their elite players, but if you look at us and them, 1-25, I think the Mariners are getting more bang for their buck.

Ultimately, I see a 95-67 record out of the Mariners in 2015.  To put it one way, that amounts to the Mariners winning approximately 16 games per month.  You’re telling me the 2015 Seattle Mariners can’t go 16-11 every single month?  That seems BEYOND reasonable!

I’ve got the Mariners just squeaking the division away from Anaheim, bumping them down to the Wild Card.  And, not for nothing, but I like this Mariners team to make a deep run in the post-season.  Oh yes, this is really, FINALLY happening.

The season starts in a few hours.  Who’s ready?

Mariners Tidbit 15: We Have A 25-Man Roster

UPDATE 4/3/2015:  And, forget almost nothing of what I said below; Dominic Leone will be starting the season in Tacoma while Carson Smith gets called back up …

Mostly, it’s who you’d think.  The rotation:

  1. King Felix
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. James Paxton
  4. J.A. Happ
  5. Taijuan Walker

The bullpen:

  • Fernando Rodney
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Yoervis Medina
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Dominic Leone
  • Tyler Olson

The Starting Nine:

  1. Austin Jackson (CF)
  2. Seth Smith (RF)
  3. Robbie Cano (2B)
  4. Nelson Cruz (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Logan Morrison (1B)
  7. Dustin Ackley (LF)
  8. Mike Zunino (C)
  9. Brad Miller (SS)

The Bench:

  • Jesus Sucre (C)
  • Rickie Weeks (INF/OF)
  • Willie Bloomquist (INF)
  • Justin Ruggiano (OF)

Considering Taijuan Walker was the favorite to make the rotation since before Spring Training even started, hard to find a surprise there.

There’s a moderate surprise with the bullpen.  We were all wondering if the team would go with an 8-man or 7-man bullpen.  Carson Smith made a huge splash in September of last year, leading us all to believe he’d be a shoo-in for the final 25 this year.  But, an underwhelming spring apparently did him in (even though you could argue Leone has been an absolute trainwreck in 9 appearances, giving up 10 earned runs in 7 innings).

The big surprise ends up being the seventh man in the bullpen, lefty Tyler Olson.  He has yet to give up an earned run in 10 appearances, striking out 15 in 12.2 innings.  He makes the jump from AA and gives us a little Furbush insurance (who has been his usual awful self this spring).

No shocks in the lineup; this thing was nailed down the minute we signed Rickie Weeks.  Once Bloomquist proved he’s back and 100% healthy, the only question was whether the team would go with Sucre or the veteran John Baker.  Considering this is Zunino’s team, and he’s ready to grab the bull by the ol’ horns, I don’t see any point in having a veteran backup just for the sake of having a veteran backup.  Sucre is the better defender, they’re probably both equally terrible with a bat in their hands, so when in doubt, go with the better defender.

Obviously, no 25-man roster is going to stay the same for the full season.  Players will get hurt, players will be sent down to Tacoma, players might even get cut.  But, the bulk of what you see above is what should lead this team to its first playoff appearance since 2001.

I may or may not do a proper season preview ahead of Monday’s opener, but I’ve yet to miss one in the last however many years and I’m not about to start missing them now.

Mariners Tidbit 8: The Short Stop Battle Has Been Decided

It wasn’t supposed to end in the second week of March, but that’s what happens when Chris Taylor gets hit by a pitch and fractures a bone in his wrist.

The Weatherman Is Dead!!!

Word around the Internet makes it sound like Chris Taylor will be out until mid-to-late May, so that kinda sucks I guess.  My initial reaction is twofold:

  1. Pretty happy we didn’t trade away Brad Miller in our offseason moves
  2. Pretty happy we didn’t waive Willie Bloomquist to make room for a Miller/Taylor platoon

The first point is pretty obvious.  I think most of us were happy the team kept Miller (even when fans were gnashing their teeth about the Michael Saunders trade), because no one in his right mind believes either Miller or Taylor automatically DESERVES to be handed the starting short stop job.  This was always going to be a battle to be decided in Spring Training, and that’s the way it should’ve been.

It doesn’t even matter that we all believed Miller had the edge all along; it’s always better to have competition and to have someone driving you to be a better player.  I have no doubt Brad Miller is a better baseball player thanks to all the competition we’ve put on his plate the last year and change.  Now, whether that means he’s Major League-ready, day-in and day-out, is another thing.

The second point is probably a point of contention among the Willie Must Go crowd.  I think we’re all in agreement that a 2-year guaranteed deal was too much to give Willie before last season, but that’s what it took to land him, we did it, and it’s done.  2015 is the final year of that 2-year deal.  The only question about whether or not he’d have a spot on this 25-man roster saved for him boiled down to whether or not he recovered from his surgery.  It looks like he’s recovered, and so here he is.  To stay.

A good chunk of the fanbase thought we should waive Willie.  Makes sense, when you think about it.  Both Brad Miller and Chris Taylor are better at baseball than Willie is right now.  This team would be better off in 2015 keeping Miller & Taylor on the 25-man and cutting Willie in the process.  Miller & Taylor could play all the infield spots, Weeks is already slotted in as a backup first baseman, and we’ve got about six guys who can play in the outfield.

Well, now with Taylor going down, I guess a good chunk of the fanbase is going to have to walk back some of those Willie comments.  Look who’s all of a sudden very crucial to our Major League depth!  Look who’s now the only healthy Major League-ready backup short stop in the organization!  Willie Fucking Bloomquist doesn’t sound so bad now, does he???

Obviously, I’m not Willie’s biggest supporter or anything.  But, I always thought it was a longshot to kick him off the roster.  It’s not that I think his leadership presence is all that important.  I just think I’d rather have the loser of the Miller/Taylor battle get his work in as an everyday starter down in Tacoma until we need him.  Why keep the loser in the Majors, getting 1-2 days of work per week?  I’m no expert, but that feels like a good way to stunt a player’s growth.

So now, here we are.

Short Stop Battle Winner:  Brad Miller (a.k.a. Default)

In other news, Roenis Elias got the start yesterday and looked like his usual okay self.

Fifth Starter Battle Advantage:  Taijuan Walker

Tomorrow, or sometime soon, I’m going to get into this whole second lefty in the bullpen idea.  Here’s a sneak peek:  why is Charlie Furbush automatically guaranteed to be the FIRST lefty in the bullpen when he’s arguably the third or fourth best?

Mariners Tidbit 5: Cruz Has Spoken

Not that I’m going to go all gaga over a Nelson Cruz spring training home run, but when I heard he rifled one out yesterday, I did a little happy dance in my mind.  My God, this needs to work out!  I don’t think I can take one more disappointing season!  IS THERE NO RELIEF???

The story of yesterday – a 9-4 blow out of the Padres – just so happened to be the middle of the order (3-4-5, Cano-Cruz-Seager) going 6 for 9 with a double, a homer, 3 runs scored, and 3 RBI.  If this is what we can expect on the reg, sign me up right now.

Brad Miller ended up going 0 for 1 with a walk.

Short Stop Battle Advantage:  Brad Miller, slightly

Roenis Elias got the start and ended up going 2 innings, giving up 3 hits, 1 walk, and no runs.

Fifth Starter Battle Advantage:  Taijuan Walker

In Interesting Non-Roster Invitee News, Patrick Kivlehan jacked a homer and batted in three runs.  Joe Saunders appeared to get some work in at the end, going 1 inning, giving up 2 hits (including a solo homer), walking 1 and striking out 1.  Inauspicious to say the least.

In Player Personnel News, Ji-Man Choi was DFA’d to make room for some reliever the Rangers claimed off of waivers, but then gave back because he’s injured.  Odds are, Choi will pass through waivers and rehab in Tacoma all year, so hopefully it works out.

Erasmo Ramirez gets the start today.  He is ABSOLUTELY going to need to make the best of every single opportunity if he hopes to stick.  Weeks will see some action in left, Ruggiano will see some action in center, Guti gets the start at DH, Montero will start at first, Taylor is in at short, and Willie B gets his first reps in at second base.  We’re not exactly surrounding Ramirez with the most dynamic defense in the world, so GOOD LUCK BUDDY!