The Seattle Mariners will have a different look next season, and it will be a big one as Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Danny Farquhar, are headed to Tampa Bay. Morrison played 146 games, hitting 17 home runs, but his .225 average made his days numbered. And though new GM Jerry Dipoto said he liked Miller, Ketel Marte is the shortstop of the future and Miller is only adequate in the outfield. Farquhar had a great 2014, but struggled in 2015.
In return the Mariners received starting pitcher Nathan Karns, 27, who was 7-5 in 147 innings with a 3.67 ERA and 145 strikeouts. CJ Riefenhauser will be 26 when the 2016 season starts. He is a lefty who made 17 appearances, was 1-1 with a 5.52 ERA. The third player the Mariners received is 22 year old minor leaguer Boog Powell (no relation to the great Oriole first baseman). Powell was drafted by Oakland and traded to the Rays as part of the deal that sent Ben Zobrist and Yuniel Escobar to Oakland . Powell is a left handed hitting centerfielder who hit .295 with a .385 on base percentage, belting out 16 doubles, 9 triples and stealing 18 bases between double A and triple A last year. He did serve a 50 game suspension in 2014. Shame, shame.
But Dipoto is high on Powell, seeing him as a catalyst at the top of the order. Time will tell, but Dipoto is not shy about changing the roster, getting the type of players he believes will change the Mariners style of play. Pitching and outfield were his priorities and the changes have begun.
Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners new GM, has a massive overhaul ahead of him. And his options are limited. Here are the problems he faces. Only two starting pitchers, a bullpen best known as an arson squad, no outfielders, no catching depth, and who’s on first. All of which are an Abbott and Costello routine.
Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker are his two starters. Hisashi Iwakuma is a free agent, will be 35 next April 12, and has had injuries each of the last two years. That being said, the Mariners should make a good offer to keep Iwakuma because they are desperate for starters. James Paxton can not be counted on as he has spent more time on the disabled list the past two years than on the mound. Strained dorsi muscle, a bad finger, and a split fingernail have plagued him and there is no reason to believe he can stay healthy. Elias can not pitch beyond the fifth inning and has yet to prove being anything other than a fifth starter at best.
The strength of the 2014 team was the bullpen, and those who dominated that year pitched more like batting practice pitchers in 2015. Consider Danny Farquhar who was 3-1, 2.66 in 2014 and allowed only five home runs in 71 innings. On 9/26 against the Angels he gave up a 9th inning walk-off homer. Two days later on the 28th against Houston he gives up the game winning homer in the 7th. Two days later on the 30th, again in the 7th, he serves up another homer breaking up 6-6 tie and M’s lose 7-6. On the 2nd of October against Oakland it is 4-4 when a 2-run homer in the 8th gives the A’s a 4-2 win. The M’s lost 9 of last 11 after getting within three wins of .500. Five of those nine losses were by one run, and four of the those losses charged to Farquhar who gave up four game winning homers. He finished 1-8. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “And so it goes.”
Dipoto said he wants athletic players and wants outfielders who can chase down balls in the gap, something that, for some reason, escaped Jackie Z, the former GM. Where does Dipoto get outfielders. He is high on Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, but both are former infielders and Miller has not proven that he can play centerfield. James Jones, effective in 2014, did not get enough playing time this past season, so his future is cloudy. The minor leagues have nobody major league ready if you believe what everyone has said.
Logan Morrison, the M’s first baseman, hit .225 and is a free agent, so his return is dubious, though the M’s may try to resign him because they have more pressing problems. Then there is catcher Mike Zunino, a defensive standout, who can’t hit .200.
The Mariners Robinson Cano’s zillion dollar contract will keep him in Seattle and Felix will not be traded due to pitching shortage, so the only tradable player is Nelson Cruz, at least one that brings back multiple players. Kyle Seager is too valuable at third to trade as there are not many gold glove third basemen who hit 26 homers. And Ketel Marte looks like a future star at short.
I prefer Cruz stays in Seattle, but if the M’s are going to get some players, he is the best fishing bait they have.
I always get irritated listening to Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon in his post game interviews, when all to often I hear him say “We have to get better.” No kidding. But how Lloyd? Any ideas? After the Mariners last game before the break, Lloyd finally said that he had been giving the players some rope, but it hasn’t worked, and “we have to make changes.”
Change players? Be more demanding of players? Choke them with the rope?
They will not win the division, nor will they be a wild card; both avenues are blocked by multiple teams, and not all teams ahead of them are going to go south at the same time. Not being close to the scene I can not blame McClendon. At least not entirely. I do believe it is a managers job to get a team ready to play, to play consistently fundamentally sound baseball. The way the Mariners have played it does not look like they care that much. The enjoy playing the game, but despite players protestations, they don’t’ seem to have the fire to win. Players say what people want them to say.
If Lloyd gets part of the blame, Jack Zduriencik, the general manager, gets some blame for not being able to scout non-pitchers in the amateur draft. Kyle Seager was a find, but Dustin Ackley and to this point Mike Zunino have been a bust. And their shortstops Chris Taylor and Brad Miller are only holding the job until 21-yeard old Ketel Marte, switch hitting shortstop, is ready. According to an article on MLB.Com, Marte was to be brought up at the end of May, but an injury shelved him.
It could be that Marte comes up when the Mariners realize they must see if he is their shortstop for 2016. That is one thing they should do. Another is trade Trumbo to a contender for a relief pitcher. Find a backup catcher. At the end of the season, on fan appreciation night, have two dollar hotdogs and a fan ballot on whether to fire or keep Jackie Z. But the best thing is to get Paul Allen to buy the team.
My fictional account of the New York Giants and Charlie Faust in 1911
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said after 50 games he would know what kind of team he had. They have played 51 and are three games below .500 and twice of late have failed to rise above that mark. They are not a playoff team at present and most likely will not be. Even with over 100 games to play there is no sign they will get better.
In 2014 the M’s hit .244 next to last in the American League. After 51 games they are hitting .236 and only the Brewers .227 average is worse. Their .297 on base percentage is 28th in baseball. On the positive side they are slugging at a .396 clip, 16th in baseball. But since they are 28th in runs it means most of the home runs are solo blasts.
They are also 5th in baseball in batters striking out. That means not putting the ball in play; at least fly balls and ground balls have the chance to advance runners. Mike Zunino is striking out at a 42% clip. He is batting .183 and while I would loved to see him begin to hit, no team can carry a catcher, no matter how good is defense, if he is an offensive liability. An occasional home run does not help. Hitting below .200 for two consecutive seasons will bring into question of what to do with him in 2016.
Currently the Mariners have three hitters above .500. Nelson Cruz .333, Kyle Seager .277, and Seth Smith .262. Robinson Cano keeps swinging at balls out of the zone is batting an un-Cano .246. Dustin Ackley can catch the ball, can not throw it home, and is hitting .185.
Ackley and Zunino are the new Justin Smoak. Whenever Smoak got on one of his rare one week hitting binges, Mariner broadcaster Mike Blowers and others would bring out the old line, “it looks like he has it figured out now.” Of course Justin would go into a hitting funk lasting a month, then another brief fling of hitting brought out the tiresome cliché. When the 2015 season started and Ackley was hot, the cliché came out again, “it looks like Dustin has it figured out.” Wrong! When ever Zunino has a two hit game, we hear it again. Enough already. Neither has it figured out-as yet.
When the season started the Mariners wanted either Brad Miller or Chris Taylor to take the shortstop job. Neither has. Taylor, now in Tacoma, couldn’t hit, and Miller’s throws to first are not unlike a Fernando Rodney experience. And now Miller is not hitting.
Last season the Mariners got by with the best pitching in baseball, but that is not the case this year. Iwakuma is disabled and it is questionable whether he will return to his former self. James Paxton on the DL with a finger strain weakens the starting five and the bullpen has been inconsistent. Danny Farquhar, now in Tacoma is being stretched out to become a starting pitcher. It is a fail safe move in case Mike Montgomery, starting tonight against the Yankees, is not the answer with Paxton gone. So much for Mariner depth, the illusion of spring. The bullpen has been charged with 13 of the 27 losses.
The truth is there are no signs this is a playoff team. A weak hitting catcher, no shortstop, no left fielder, lack of hitting, too many players striking out, no depth in starting pitching, and an inconsistent bullpen are not signs of a playoff team. Wait till next year.
It is not the .210 batting average that bothers me. Though the Mariners are 26th in baseball and 12th in the American League is not the problem. Their on base percentage does bother me. At .258 they are 14th in the American league, ahead of only the Twins at .249. The reason for that is the same as last season and that is the inability to draw walks.
They are 13th in the league in walks with 18 in nine games. The Twins have 17 and the White Sox have 13, but they have played eight games. Last season the M’s drew 396 walks, last in the League. Oddly Kansas City was last with .380. who finished with a 89-73 record. The difference was Kansas City hit .263 while Seattle hit .244 and that is why the Mariners finished dead last in on base percentage at .300.
The Mariners survived a poor offensive output in 2014 because their pitching was one of the best in baseball. It is early, but through nine games they have had only two good starts, one from Felix, the other from J.A. Happ. Paxton, Iwakuma, and Paxton have either struggled or floundered. And closer Fernando Rodney has blown up the last two games.
Everything looked good in spring training, but there is no pressure in those games; once the bell rings, high expectations can cause things to go wrong. I don’t know whether they feel the pressure of expectations or not. They say no, but what do you expect them to say. It could be the pitchers are not in their rhythm, are having trouble locating.
The focus of the everyday players has not been there. Cano thought the bases were loaded when there were runners at second and third and began walking home from third when a batter walked and Cano was thrown out. Logan Morrison forgot how many outs there were in consecutive innings. Brad Miller Forgot to cover second base once.
The 3-6 record is disappointing and while the starting pitching has been poor, it should not mask the Mariners inability to get on base. Homers alone will not win games. You need to be patient, get pitchers deeper into counts, draw walks, and get clutch hitting. The M’s are doing none of that.
It is time for the Mariners to step and during this nine game home stand. Forget expectations and start playing fundamentally sound baseball.
Let’s start with the starting lineup and reserves. 1b will be Logan Morrison. Willie Bloomquist, if he can make the team, could be back up. But, though top minor league prospect D.J. Peterson is listed at third base, that position is manned by all-star Kyle Seager. Peterson has started 19 games in the minors at first and no doubt will get a good look this spring. He bats right handed and would be a good platoon with Morrison. He made one error in 171 chances in the minors. I think Peterson will make the team. Logan and Peterson are two.
Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager are no brainers. that is four.
Catcher will be Mike Zunino. The back up will either be Jesus Sucre or John Hicks. That is six
Shortstop is anyone’s guess. The Mariners have said they do not want to platoon Brad Miller and Chris Taylor. They want somebody to win the job. If that position remains will they let the other, probably Miller be the utility player and let Willie Bloomquist go. I think youth will prevail and Miller and Taylor both make the roster. That is eight.
The outfield is more interesting. Austin Jackson is slated for center. The Mariners have said Justin Ruggiano and Seth Smith will platoon in right. That leaves Dustin Ackley in left. But Dustin has failed to live up to his potential. A bigger bat would ne nice. Nelson Cruz can play left, not as well as Ackley, but Cruz’s bat will make up for that. What about Cruz as DH you ask. Jesus Montero, a right handed bat with potential power, has lost 30 pounds and is set to revive his career and live up to his potential. If his bat makes noise this spring, then he is DH. Ruggiano, Smith, Jackson, Cruz, Ackley, and Montero is six. That is 14.
That leaves 11 pitchers. Problem here as I think the M’s will carry 12 pitchers. More later.
Starting pitchers are King Felix, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, and J.A. Happ. There is also a chance that Roenis Elias or Erasmo Ramirez could dazzle , but it will be hard not to go with Paxton and Walker. That leaves six relief pitchers, unless I drop an everyday player of course.
The bullpen with have Fernando Rodney, Tom Wilhelmsen, Carson Smith and Danny Farquhar. From the left side it will be Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge, or perhaps Mike Kirkham. That leaves out Dominic Leone, Yoervis Medina, and lefty David Rollins. I don’t want to leave them out, but it will be a battle during spring training because the M’s have a lot of good arms. The bullpen is their strength. I think they will go with 12, so I must cut an everyday player. I think that battle will be between Montero and Ackley.
And did you know that Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez have been invited to spring training. For the first time in some years the question is not where can they find players to make the team, but who can they keep. There will be some excellent players left off the roster on opening day. The team now has talent to compete at a higher level.
Other than pitching the Seattle Mariners infield was a strong suit in 2014 and will again in 2015. Robinson Cano, though tailing off in September, finished with a .314 average, 14 homers, and 82 RBI’s. His home run production dropped, but consider he spent his previous years in the band box of Yankee Stadium, a home run haven. While 100 RBI’s would be nice, consider the one and two slots in the order fluctuated greatly, with Abraham Almonte, James Jones, and then Austin Jackson batting leadoff and none were proficient at getting on base. The same was true of the number two slot until Dustin Ackley finally settled in.
Kyle Seager at third is also a sure thing with a .268 average, 26 home runs, and 96 RBI’s. He also works extremely hard on his defense, certainly a Gold Glove caliber candidate. One of those SABR mathematicians calculated this summer that the A’s John Donaldson was the best defensive third baseman in the American League and Seager was second.
I am including Mike Zunino among the infielders because I can. He is also a lock despite a .199 average. He hit 22 homers with 60 RBI’s and those numbers along with his ability to handle pitchers, call a game, and block pitches will keep him in the lineup. As long as his hitting improves he should be behind the plate for quite some time.
Now we get to the open positions at first and short. Justin Smoak is unlikely to return. His lack of production speaks for itself. In 2014 .202 with 7 homers and 30 RBI’s in 80 games. He lost his job to Logan Morrison. He is scheduled to make $3,650,000 in 2015, but the Mariners can buy out his contract for $150,000. The Mariners have the buyout option since he did not reach 525 plate appearances.
Morrison who signed a one year contract in the previous offseason is still under Mariner control, though he is arbitration eligible, and will not be a free agent until 2017. He hit .262 with 11 homers and 38 rbis in 99 games. Five of his homers and 11 of his RBI;s came in September when he hit .342. His main job for now is to man first base until D.J. Peterson, the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year is ready. That could be sometime in 2015,
Shortstop is up for grabs between Chris Taylor, a right handed batter-which the Mariners need-hitting .287 in 136 at bats, but no homers and only 9 RBI’s and Brad Miller, .221-10-36. It could be a spring training completion, though Mariner Manager Lloyd McClendon has hinted that Miller could be a super sub. It is also very possible that one could be packaged with a relief pitcher and a young pitcher for a strong right handed bat.
What Seattle needs is a DH. Corey Hart is already gone and Kendrys Morales most likely will be as well. One switch hitter on the free agent market is the Tigers Victor Martinez who hit .335 with 32 homers (career high) and 103 RBI’s. And he can play first base if needed. His last contract was 4 years and $50 million. He will be 36 next season. If he wants 4 years what is the price and will the Mariners be willing to pay. The Mariners have said the payroll will increase, but how much?
Stay tuned for an interesting off season as Jack pursues both a bat or two and a starting pitcher. Next blog we’ll look at the outfield.