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.
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.
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.
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.
I had thought that Jesus Montero, Endy Chavez, Logan Morrison, or Stephan Romero would be sent to Tacoma to make room for Justin Smoak, Corey Hart and Michael Saunders when they were eligible to return from their rehab assignment at AAA Tacoma.
Montero was sent down, as was Romero. Saunders came up, but so did Brandon Maurer, now a relief pitcher. Starting didn’t work for him, but he has been great out of the pen.
Things change though and a few things are keeping Hart and Smoak in Tacoma. One is that Chavez and Morrison both got hot; Chavez went from the .220’s to hitting in the .260’s and Morrison from .160’s to the 230’s. Meanwhile Hart in 33 at bats is hitting .273 with a homer and 4 rbis. Not bad, but Smoak is hitting .220 with a homer and 3 rbis in 41 at bats.
Besides Chavez and Morrison making big contributions there is one more reason why Smoak and Hart are stuck in Tacoma. It is the rule of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” The Mariners are hot having won eight of ten. They are currently seven games above .500 at 45-38 and are in the wild card picture. The chemistry seems good, so why tinker when there is no player who should be sent down.
Okay there is one and only one player. The Mariners currently have 13 pitchers and 12 position players on the 25 man roster. If they continue to keep 13 pitchers then only one player could be sent down and the only player not making contributions is Dustin Ackley. Batting .214 with 4 homers and only 27 at bats in 74 games, he is in a 2-28 slump and has not gotten a hit since June 22nd.
With Smoak floundering in Tacoma and Morrison hitting with Seattle that leaves Hart as a possible call up with Ackley-providing he still has options left-being sent back to AAA. He has been a huge disappointment since being the Mariners number one pick, second overall in the 2009 draft. (The number one pick was Stephen Strasburg). Ouch! That hurts like a 100 miles per hour fastball plunking your elbow.
With Taijuan Walker making his Tacoma starts on the same days as Erasmo Ramirez made his for Seattle one could surmise that when Walker was ready, he would be called up and Ramirez sent down. In his last start Walker pitched a complete game shutout against Oklahoma City. Ramirez was sent to Tacoma, but Brandon Maurer was called up for bullpen duty. Curious, but there are three scenarios for this promotion.
One is that knowing Ramirez was going to be sent down they brought up Maurer for an extra arm in the bullpen until Walker is called up to start against Houston. A very likely possibility as the only member of the bullpen with an ERA north of 3.00 is Charley Furbush at 3.75 and he is a left handed pitcher. There is no one for Maurer, even striking out four in two innings against Boston, to displace anyone in Seattle’s bullpen, one of the best in baseball.
Another scenario is that Seattle wants to see Walker make another start. There is no need to rush him. If he makes two, even three starts in a row he would be called up. It could be that Maurer will pitch again in relief Friday against Cleveland, then get the start against Houston. Since his demotion from the Mariner rotation where he was dreadful with a + 7 ERA he has been getting work out of the Tacoma pen, so how far can he go as a starter.
A third scenario is that Maurer is being showcased for a possible trade and there might be a team or two looking for a reliever and Seattle is showing off Maurer’s arm that can throw a fastball in the high 90’s.
All three are possibilities that make sense.
It would appear that Michal Saunders will come off his rehab stint in Tacoma. I speculated in my last blog that Endy Chavez would likely go back to Tacoma. But Seattle, if he is not out of options, should send Dustin Ackley and his .220 batting average along with 4 homers and 27 RBIs to AAA. Those are terrible numbers for a power position. I had not considered him a s a possible player sent back to port, but the Mariners are better off with Chavez in left, James Jones in center, and Saunders in right. Chavez is not a power hitter either, but at least he has been productive in the leadoff spot. If Ackley still has options left, the Mariners should exercise it.