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.
All sports fans have heard the preseason predictions, just like Seattle Mariner fans heard national baseball writers say Seattle would compete for the pennant, with some predicting the Mariners would play in the World Series. I never bought into it because, though these baseball pundits said ‘they look good on paper,’ paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, then poof the paper is gone.
And so it has been for Seattle. Poof, their season is long gone. Many baseball writers pointed to the Mariners starting pitching and bullpen. The ace of the staff is King Felix. But despite a 14-8 record, Felix is 3-3 with a 6.26 RERA and a .343 batting average against in his last seven starts. At this rate he would have one of his worst seasons. Who could predict that, nor could anyone predict Hisashi Iwakuma missing a large part of the season with injuries; the same for James Paxton. Mike Montgomery, called up from AAA, who started so brilliantly is 0-3 with a plus seven ERA since the all-star game. Roenis Elias who was sent to Tacoma long ago, was recently recalled and though he may yet start, he has been relegated to the bullpen.
Then there is the bullpen, nearly flawless in 2014, but deeply flawed in 2015. To this date the bullpen has blown 17 saves and are in large part the reason the Mariners lead the majors with 22 losses with the opposition winning in their last at bat. And having 20 extra inning games already, the bullpen has been taxed. Fernando Rodney who closed 48 games last season has been released. Yoervis Medina, the 8th inning pitcher last season was gone after 12 innings, though his pitching numbers did not merit the M’s parting with him so early, not with a 3.00 era and a win and save.
Danny Farquhar, Dominic Leone, and Joe Beimel, stalwarts all in 2014, have failed in 2015 and Tom Wilhelmsen was sent to AAA for a spell. The Mariners have tried Tyler Olsen, 5.40; Mayckol Guaipe, 7.50; Dave Rollins 7.85; and Robert Rasmussen, 16.71, and though their inning pitched is low, their numbers tell the story.
Their one reliable reliever, Mark Lowe, was traded at the deadline for prospects-or suspects if you wish. Charlie Furbush, solid from the left side, pitched 21 innings before an arm injury.
And now you know why looking at paper is a folly; why believing the paper is foolish, a chimera, a distorted hopeful dream. Paper tends to go up in smoke. Just ask the Seattle Mariners.
For those unaware of Mike Montgomery he will be 26 on July 1st. He was the first round draft choice of the Kansas City Royals in the 2008 amateur draft, 36th overall. In 2012 he was traded to Tampa Bay in the deal that sent James Shields to the Royals. Tampa was not happy with his development and this spring were trying to convert the left handed starter to a reliever.
But then the Rays traded him to Seattle for Erasmo Ramirez at the end of training camp, March 31st of this year. The Mariners needed a starter at triple A as insurance should one of their Major league pitchers get an injury. When James Paxton went down, Montgomery got the call, making his major league debut against the New York Yankees June 2nd, allowing one run in six innings.
Tuesday night at Safeco Field, pitching against his former organization the Kansas City Royals, Montgomery pitched a complete game 4-hit shutout striking out ten, walking nobody. It evened his record at 2-2 with a 2.04 ERA. In 35.1 innings he has allowed 26 hits, 8 walks, struck out 22 and given up one homer. He also has shown the ability to get out of jams. The Royals had the bases loaded in the first, no outs, and did not score. In the second inning they had runners at first and second, no outs, and Montgomery struck out the side.
The thing is there was nothing in his unremarkable minor league career to indicate how well he has pitched at the major league level. Before his promotion, he was 4-3 at Tacoma with a 3.74 ERA. He had pitched 53 innings in his nine starts, not quite six per start. But the batting average against was .240. His entire minor league career shows a 46-50 record with 4.24 ERA in 159 starts and 5 relief appearances. More remarkable is he had only two complete games in his 159 starts and not one shutout. Not one, none, zip, never happened. His shutout of the Royals was his first professional whitewash.
They say-and we know who they are-that lefties develop later and it could be the Mariners have a steal and for once another organization, or in Mike’s case, two, are the ones getting fleeced not the Mariners. Seattle has lost Adam Jones, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo to name but three they should have kept.
The Mariners currently have five starters doing well, though Felix in June has struggled. The King will not come out of the rotation, so it will be interesting what happens when Iwakuma and Paxton are once again healthy. Who leaves the rotation and where do they go? Tacoma? Unlikely. Bullpen? Stay tuned. But General Montgomery in command of all his pitches doesn’t look to be going anywhere.
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.
James Paxton is on the disabled list, so reason number one is that Seattle needs a starter and Mike Montgomery has been starting for Tacoma in Triple AAA. The second reason is that, like Paxton, Montgomery is a lefty. The third reason is that he has not started since May 26th, so he is rested. Naturally if Tacoma starts him before Tuesday he is not the answer.
Montgomery has no major league experience. He started his pro career at the age of 18 in 2008 when he was drafted out of high school by Kansas City. He has pitched in 164 minor league games, 159 were starts. he has only two complete games and his won loss record is 46-50 with a 4.24 ERA. His strikeout to walk issue is good and he does give up many long balls. Of course pitching at the major league level is another matter. His numbers are not overwhelming. But who else do the Mariners have to start with Paxton sidelined?
Mike Blowers has suggested Dominic Leone. But he is a relief pitcher, not likely to last three innings and his pitching this season has been ineffective. He was called up, but why start him? You will be taxing your bullpen, something Lloyd is loath to do. An ineffective reliever starting against the New York Yankees makes no sense.
It has also been suggested that Jack Zduriencik, Mariners GM, may be calling around trying to make a trade. I doubt being in a vulnerable position as the M’s are, any team will help Seattle and the asking price for a short term fix undoubtedly would be too high.
It is funny in retrospect that this past spring everyone said the Mariners had a lot of depth. But they really don’t have depth. They had one proven starter in Tacoma, Roenis Elias, and he was called up when Iwakuma went on the DL. Now Paxton is out. One more pitcher going down and the Mariners may be doomed.
The strength of the 2014 Mariners was pitching, especially a strong bullpen. They were 25-20 with a Major League leading 2.59 ERA with batting average against of .219.
But relief pitching is rarely consistent from year to year and this year they are blowing it-literally. They are 21st in ERA at 4.06, and have won 3 and lost 9, the most in baseball. They are responsible for 9 of the 17 losses. And five of their last six losses have been by one run.
What is curious is one of the changes in the bullpen Seattle recently made. Joe Beimel replacing rookie Tyler Olsen was expected from the left side. But why was Yoervis Medina sent down for Mark Lowe? In 12 innings Medina gave up 11 hits and 7 walks. Though the walks are high he struck out 9 and had an ERA of 3.00. Hardly numbers to be sent down to Tacoma.
Consider that Danny Farquhar who has a 5.02 ERA, has two blown saves, and has a .278 batting average against. Medina .234. Dominic Leone has a 5.40 ERA in 8 innings along with six walks. So why was Medina chosen to be sent down? I wish I had the answer. Some guys get more of a chance then others; maybe Lloyd McClendon saw something he didn’t like in Medina. I know I see something I don’t like in Farquhar and Leone.
Seattle needs answers in the pen and need them soon. Felix has pitched great, Paxton and Elias are now pitching well, and Happ has had only one bad outing. They deserve better then they have gotten of late.
More changes could come soon. And that’s no bull.
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.