There are a few dozen free agents out there and time is running out for these players as teams are reporting to spring training camps. As a disclaimer I am in no way endorsing any team sign any of these players. Jimmy Rollins is 37, and Marlon Byrd is 38, still young for most people, but in baseball years they are senior citizen. So there are certain players that you see no future for, that you understand why there is no interest, but . . .
Austin Jackson is 29, a decent outfielder who can steal bases and hit a few homers. He has been a starter, maybe he still wants to be one, but as a fourth outfielder, to platoon against lefties, he still has a future. Does he want too much money? Is that keeping him off a roster? Another outfielder is Drew Stubbs who had his best year in 2014 hitting .283 for the Rockies. He is 31, but last year hit .195 between Colorado and Texas and though he strikes out 34% of the time and is a .244 career hitter, he could be a fifth outfielder for someone. Does anyone use the phrase ‘veteran presence’ anymore?
Need an infielder? Ian Desmond is 30, and hit .255 and .233 the last two years, but hit 43 home runs and stole 37 bases. He and Jackson can still win some games for somebody. Again is it money? Another player to help win games is David Freese, 32, and former World Series hero. What, nobody wants this guy. He hit .257 with 14 homers for the Angels in 2015.
Starting pitching is still available. Tim Lincecum is 31 and his ERA since 2012 has been 5.18, 4.37, 4.74, and last year 4.13 in 15 starts. But he is smart, a two time Cy Young winner, and can still be a fourth or fifth starter. Rumor has it he will sign with someone shortly as he has looked good in workouts. So who started the rumor is my question.
But I understand why teams avoid Chad Billingsley, 31, who made two starts in 2013, missed all of 2014 and last year in seven starts with the Phillies did not look good at all. A 5.84 ERA and 53 hits in 37 innings, but only 8 walks.
Two players I intended to mention were Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, but as I was writing the draft for this piece it was announced Gallardo signed with the Orioles and it was expected Fowler would also join the Orioles. Gallardo got a three year deal. So perhaps the last dominos are beginning to fall.
Baseball is a tough journey for some players; some stars fall out of the baseball galaxy. Not all go out with a blaze of glory. Some just disappear.
Before the infield dust had settled following Mariner GM Jack Zduriencik’s dismissal, interim GM, Jeff Kingston, sent Mike Zunino to AAA Tacoma, calling up catcher John Hicks. He threw out 49% of base stealers in 2013 and was doing close to that in Tacoma.
Coming so soon after Jack’s departure, they door barely closed, makes one wonder if it was Jack keeping Zunino in Seattle despite two consecutive seasons batting under .200, with this season being particularly worrisome with a .174 average and 132 strikeouts in 350 at bats (37.7 rate). He was striking out two times for every rare hit he got. Jack should have sent him down months ago.
An even bolder move is that when rosters were expanded for September, Zunino was not recalled. Instead he was ticketed for the Arizona instructional league to work on his swing, to reshape, rebuild, remake, re-everything. He is an excellent defensive catcher, but he desperately needs to get his hitting on track if he wants a major league career.
Centerfielder Austin Jackson who would be a free agent was traded to the Cubs, where he joins former Mariners Fernando Rodney and Chris Denorfia. They said they wanted to get a good luck at Brad Miller in center, but that is misleading. Miller has more value as the role Mark McLemore, someone who can play on a regular basis, but playing different positions on a nightly basis. Miller has already tied McLemore’s mariner record for most positions played in a season. Miller has played all three outfield spots along with third, short and second.
Kingston also traded Justin Ruggiano, whom Zduriencik signed prior to the season, was released, cleared waivers, sent to Tacoma, and now is helping the Dodgers win games.
It would be easy for Kingston to do nothing and let the new GM make decisions, but Jeff is, as one might expect, auctioning for the job. So far so good. This his sixth season with the Mariners after nine seasons with San Diego, having been hired as an intern in 1999. He is young and the Mariners would be wise to avoid the usual in hiring a big name experienced candidate. A bolder, younger man, one with 15 years of experience already in the books might be a good hiring.
I heard on ESPN 710 Seattle the other day that Richie Weeks and Dustin Ackley will platoon in left. Ackley, the Mariners former second baseman, learned to play left field after being sent to minors to straighten out his hitting. Last season he played left and this season he will be joined by fellow second baseman Richie Weeks, if that report turns out to be true. And Weeks is listed 2nd on left field depth chart.
That would give Seattle five outfielders, Ackley, Weeks, Austin Jackson, Justin Ruggiano, and Seth Smith. Since Nelson Cruz may get time in the outfield if needed, that leaves speedy James Jones with little chance of making the team and likely ending up in Tacoma.
It has also been said that the whoever losses the shortstop competition between Chris Taylor and Brad Miller will end up in Tacoma with Willie Bloomquist as the utility player.
Since the Mariners are likely to have 12 pitchers because manager Lloyd McClendon does not care about complete games that leaves 13 position players. With the five outfielders listed above, plus DH Cruz and two catchers, that leaves five infielders; Logan Morrison, Robinson Cano, one shortstop from the above mentioned competition, Kyle Seager and Willie Bloomquist as Mr. Utility.
If all that has been said is true it appears the Mariners have their position players already set. The team has flexibility with interchangeable parts in the outfield depending on whether they are facing a left or right handed pitcher. And while the infield will be set, Cruz will get an occasional day at first or in one of the corner spots. Bench players will be a non-description of the 2015 Mariners as all will be seeing action on a regular basis, though Bloomquist could get lonely with Cano, and Seager being everyday players. Willie will get playing time at short, at first, and can play the outfield if needed.
And even with Jesus Montero having lost 40 pounds he may be in Tacoma along with other quality players. Tacoma could win the PCL with the Mariners having a strong roster. And we haven’t even talked about what pitchers will be down the I-5 freeway.
If you keep score at Mariner games, bring a pencil rather than a pen. You may need it as the scorecard will no doubt fill up on many days.
The Seattle Mariner outfield is more questionable than their infield for 2015.
Austin Jackson hit a mere .229 with no homers and 14 rbis after coming over from Detroit in a trade. He did steal 11 bases, decent for a leadoff man, but he also struck out 26% of the time, not good for a leadoff hitter. He is under contract for one year so he is likely to man center in 2015, perhaps to tutor James Jones who was 27 of 28 in stolen bases in 108 games and is a great weapon if his hitting becomes consistent and his outfield play improves, thus the Jackson mentorship.
Left and right field have questions. Dustin Ackley finished with a .245 average, 14 homers and 65 rbis. He hit .365 in July after a terrible start, then .280 in August, but .149 in September. The Mariners still do not know who the real Dustin Ackley is. He is eligible for arbitration and it will be interesting to see how the negotiations go. If he gets a one year deal that means this is the year to prove who he is. Another mediocre year and he will be gone. Michael Saunders has hit .231 in 551 games for Seattle, his best year was 2012 when he hit .247 with 19 homers and 65 rbis. He will be 29 next season and like Ackley is eligible for arbitration. Both bat left handed and the Mariners are seeking a bat from the right side.
One free agent who looks good-on the surface-is Michael Cuddyer who hit .332 last season with 10 homers and .331, but in only 49 games. The year before he hit .331 with 20 homers and 84 rbis. But he will be 36 next season and those statistics are misleading for he played in Colorado where the hits just keep on coming. He spent most of his career in Minnesota hitting between .236 and .284.
The Mariners may be best served by making a trade for a right handed bat, but I am not inclined to offer who or for whom, because any trade proposal is wishful thinking, and pure fantasy speculation.
But do not be surprised with trades as the Mariners came within one game of the playoffs and the time for developing is over and the time to make a move is now. They need to take the next step forward, staying put will no longer do.
The numbers are not spectacular, in fact are average if not mediocre. Since being traded to Seattle Austin Jackson is batting .259 in 35 games with 11 rbis and 7 stolen bases. Chris Denorfia in 23 games is batting .206 with a homer and 4 rbis. The Mariners got the right handed bats they wanted to balance the lineup, but these numbers would not seem to translate to wins, but they do.
Since the trades the Mariners are 23-12 and have outscored the opposition 157-103. Maybe it is that elusive magic called chemistry; maybe it is the leadership of Robinson Cano and a few others; maybe it is a team that believes in itself; maybe it can’t be explained.
The Mariners have gotten lucky with hot bats at the right time. Consider Brad Miller who was flirting with the Mendoza line for most of the season. Chris Taylor came up and was red hot. Then the scouting reports caught up to him and he was pitched to differently, his average trailed off; then Brad Miller got hot. There has always been a few hot bats. Dustin Ackley who in the first half appeared to be playing himself out of Seattle, but since the all-star break has been the player everyone hoped he would be. Seager started cold then has been one of the best hitters in the game since May, made the all-star team, and has proven you can hit at Safeco with a .319 average, 16 homers, 53 rbis.
Since the all-star break the Mariners batting average is .251, 14th in baseball. Forget the early season. What is important is how they are playing now. They have 19 games left and one day off, that comes Thursday. I am betting Seattle will either grab second place from Oakland, or at worst be the second wild card. Detroit and Oakland are struggling, but in the baseball world that can change faster than a Lloyd McClendon trip to the mound.
However, Seattle has the best pitching in baseball, a better defense than Oakland or Detroit, and Jackson and Denorfia, and whatever that means.
For the Seattle Mariners it is in the numbers to win a wild card spot in the playoffs. They have 32 games left. The good news is that eighteen are on the road, fourteen at home. That sounds odd because any other team would prefer playing games at home where they have an advantage.
But the Mariners are a weird team. At home, after losing to Texas 2-0 Monday night, they are 34-33 at home, a .507 winning percentage. But on the road they are 37-26. Those numbers are the opposite of what most teams will do. Play .500 at home they say, and play winning ball at home. Maxims and adages are fine, but it does not always hold true, at least for the Mariners.
Now consider that the loss to Texas came on a night after a day game in Boston, so their body clocks were off Monday night and batting against a pitcher they have never seen, nor heard of, a pitcher with a 1-5 record and a plus 7 ERA. Of course he gives up three hits in eight innings. Blame it not on the Bosa Nova, but on studies showing reflexes are not as sharp when going from east to west. Thank God there is a reason to blame the loss from a pitcher nobody knows. I forget his name. I don’t want to know. Phil Humber was bad enough .
So let us say we forget that game and take their percentage of winning prior to the game and multiply that over 14 remaining homes games. It is 7.12 wins. Now take their road winning percentile and multiply by 18 road games and we get 10.56. My calculator says 7.12 + 10.56 is 17.68. We round up to 18, so Seattle at their current pace will win 89 games.
But throw that number out for the following reason. Since Seattle made the trade for Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia the Mariners are 15-7, a winning percentage of .681. That math, which I like better, and is more accurate to present time, gives the Mariners 21 more wins and 92 for the season.
The Mariners have recently changed their rotation so that King Felix with his new normal rest will pitch the wild card play-in game. Of course being the best pitcher in the American League he will win and the Mariners will go to the World Series and win that as well and Seattle will be home to the Seahawks and Mariners, champions of the world.
It’s in the numbers. At least mine.
I was concerned early in the day when Seattle sent Abraham Almonte to San Diego, along with a minor league pitcher for Chris Denorfia, a 34 year old outfielder with no power. He does bat from the right side, but is at best a 4th outfielder, perhaps a platoon in left or right with Ackley and Chavez. I assume Stephen Romero will be send back to Tacoma.
It was not a bad trade, just not one that would improve Seattle that much. On the other hand they received a veteran outfielder and gave up no players that figured in the Mariners future.
Then the rumor hit that Seattle was involved with two teams where the Rays David Price was the centerpiece. It was true. Price went to the Tigers, who sent the Rays starting pitcher Drew Smyly along with a young A ball shortstop, 18 year old Willy Adames, the number three rated Tiger prospect. The Mariners sent the Rays Nick Franklin who did not figure in Seattle’s future with Robinson Cano at second and Brad Miller and Chris Taylor ahead of him at shortstop. In return the Mariners received centerfielder Austin Jackson from the Tigers. Jackson is not a big homerun hitter, but is a .277 career hitter and considered one of the top centerfielders in baseball. He is signed through 2015 and is 27. James Jones will likely be sent to Tacoma until September as Jackson will be the everyday centerfielder.
Whether Denorfia and Jackson can help the Mariners get a wild card spot is not the point. Seattle gave up no player that figured in their future, so no harm done. The two moves improve the Mariners without losing anything. They still have D.J. Peterson, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton.
There was no trade that Seattle could have made that would fill all there holes. But all in all, a good day for Jackie Z who definitely improved the team.