Shortly after the 2014 season ended there were rumors Michael Saunders was on the trading block. Since the Seattle media seemed surprised, it follows that the Mariners leaked the information. The rumors were strong that Seattle, for some reason, was unhappy with him. Injury prone it was said, and often. However in 2012 Saunders had 509 at bats, hitting .247 with 19 homers, 57 RBI’s. in 2013 he had 406 at bats, hit .236 with 12 homers, and 46 RBI’s.
The numbers say that when he was healthy, he was not productive; that when he was injured, it was promise unfulfilled. But Seattle was going to trade him and now he has returned to his home country of Canada where he will get an opportunity for an everyday job with Toronto.
In return the Mariners received J.A. Happ, a left handed pitcher. He had a great 2009 for the Phillies, pitching in 35 games, 23 starts, winning 12, losing 4, with 2 shutouts and an ERA of 2.93.
But his promise went the way of Saunders. For his career, Happ, has pitched for three teams, Philadelphia, Houston, and Toronto with a 51-53 record and 4.24 ERA. He strikes out 7.6 per 9 innings and walks 3.8. Happ is 32 and signed through the 2015 season.
What does this mean for Seattle?
Seattle’s rotation begins with King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma. After that the Mariners can choose from James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias, Happ, or Erasmo Ramirez. Happ should take spot of the second left-handed starter with Chris Young gone, though as a free agent, Young could still be signed by Seattle.
There are rumors that Walker will be traded, something the Seattle media has been talking about as long as the rumors about Saunders, probably longer. I suspect another Mariner leak, and that means Walker, like Saunders, will be traded. But for who is the question. I would not be surprised at a multi player trade with Walker, a reliever, one of their two shortstops, Chris Taylor or Brad Miller, and perhaps a minor league player with Seattle getting two or three in return.
Even with Nelson Cruz aboard the Good Ship Mariner, along with J.A. Happ, the Mariners are not done looking for new crew members. Ones that could take them into the playoffs.
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.
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.
Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak, and Corey Hart are all on rehab in Tacoma, but at some point they will be return to Seattle and three players will either be sent to Tacoma or released.
Since Cole Gillespie and Stefan Romero both bat from the right side and M’s need batters right handed bats, they are likely to stay, though Romero batting .204 could find himself in Tacoma when Saunders returns. The outfielder most in danger is Endy Chavez hitting .224. He is one of those bench players who always seems to find different ways to contribute and that could keep him in Seattle. Tough call either way for Jackie Z and Lloyd McClendon.
Logan Morrison would have been the odd man out with Smoak’s return. Morrison was hitting .164 in 61 at bats, but Monday night against Boston went 4-4 with 2 homers, raising his average to .215. With McClendon, if you are hot you play, so Morrison would DH when Smoak returns. Smoak is batting .208 with 7 homers and 29 rbis. He is an excellent defensive player at first, but for every hot week he has, Smoak has three weeks of abject, rally floundering futility. He is a favorite of Jackie Z which means Mariner fans will suffer through the 2014 season. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and if he is resigned Mariner fans should boycott Safeco Field.
When Hart returns that means Jesus Montero will head back to Tacoma. Montero is 4 for 14 with a homer. He is the fallback should Hart struggle when he returns. Hart was hitting .209 with 5 homers an 17 rbis in 37 games. As an injury plagued player that makes Montero an important bat to keep warm with the Rainiers. Even if send down, he is likely to return.
Jackie Z and McClendon have some difficult decisions to make. Chavez, Montero, and who?
With the season roughly one quarter over Cano hit his second home run of the season. This time last year he was in double figures. But there is one number indicating he will start hitting more home runs.
Other than inside the park home runs created primarily from line drives and speed of the hitter, home runs are created by long fly balls.
Taking a close look at Robinson Cano’s ground ball outs going back to 2010 we find that 56.2% of his outs were ground ball outs. In 2011 61.2, in 2012 64.7 and in 2013 60.6. About ten days ago Cano was 4th in groundball outs, his percentage in the mid 80’s. That is not Cano’s track record. Beginning play today, he has dropped to 71.9%. That means he his hitting more fly balls.
And consider May is coming to an end. The summer brings warmer weather, hot days more conducive to home runs. That is especially true in Seattle where April and May has a chill in the air, the air is more heavy, slowing the ball down. Not so in summer where Safeco becomes a fair park for power and home run numbers increase.
So with Cano’s ground ball outs declining, his fly ball outs increasing as summer is knocking on Safeco’s door, we will see more dingers off Cano’s bat.
More good news is that 25 of the next 36 games are at home. With Seattle one game below .500 they have the opportunity to keep in the division race. Both James Paxton and Taijuan Walker are on the way back, both being available in early June. If they remain healthy, if they can get back into rhythm and be effective as the weather heats up, Seattle just needs James Jones and Michael Saunders batting in front of Cano to get on base to see more home runs and more W’s in the win column.
The one drawback is that Corey Hart, who was batting behind Cano, will be out four to six weeks. Now Seattle needs a cleanup hitter. In baseball it is hard to get everything working at the same time, some problem always lingers to resolve. For the Mariners it is the number four hitter and who will play shortstop this summer.
In the meantime, put on the shades, head to Safeco, and begin the Cano home run watch.
Lloyd McClendon could be altering the Mariners outfield. Abraham Almonte has already been sent to Tacoma and James Jones has been recalled. But what does this mean for the six outfielders on the roster, when most teams carry five?
Following Seattle’s dreadful eight game losing streak, they have now won eight of ten and coming from behind for some of those wins. At 15-15 the Mariners are 3 games out of first and should they sweep the next three games against the first place A’s it will send the AL West spinning. The Mariners are only two behind second place Texas and a half game behind the third place Angels.
Now is a good time to keep momentum going. Michael Saunders is 10 for his last 23 with three straight two hit games batting leadoff. Will he stay in center or be moved to right for Jones to play center? Does Hart stay at DH?
Rookie Stefen Romero is 6 for his last 17. Will he platoon with Dustin Ackley in left?
If McClendon so chooses, he could have an entire platoon outfield. Left handed bats Ackley, Jones, and Saunders against right handed pitchers and right handed bats Romero, Hart, and Gillespie against lefties, but the problem here is no center fielder.
But if Jones can hit and Romero continues to impress, McClendon will have some juggling to do? Jones and Romero will get more playing time if Ackley, batting .154 in the last ten games, continues to falter. As Pete Carroll says, it is about competition.
And consider that left handed bat Logan Morrison is still on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring and has yet to begin running. He has not played in a game since April 14th and one wonders if the Mariners are keeping him on the DL because they have no need for him at the present time.
Many teams play games with the DL, a way of hiding players until they are forced to make a decision.
It may be only May, but they are playing Oakland and if they can win at least two of the next three they are making headway. The games you win or lose now are just as important as August and September. And who plays in the outfield in the coming weeks may be the big story.
One Mariner who has already been benched is Abraham Almonte, but two others are on the verge of losing theirs.
Almonte lost his job because at the time of the benching he was leading the league in strikeouts and batting below the Mendoza line at .198. He also struggled in the field making two errors in one game. Michael Saunders who replaced him is hot, hot, hot. 8 for 18 batting leadoff with 4 rbis. As long as he hits, he plays.
Brad Miller may find himself in Tacoma soon. He is hitting .188 and the Mariners offense is such they can’t afford to keep that average in the lineup. Though Nick Franklin could return, the Mariners may take a look at Chris Taylor, batting .361 at Tacoma with 11 doubles, 2 triples, 3 homers, 16 rbis, and 5 steals. He has made only three errors in 26 games. He was a team mate of pitcher Danny Hultzen at Virginia.
Franklin is doing well in Tacoma, hitting .324 with 4 homers and 15 rbis, but I feel the Mariners would like to see what Taylor can do at the major league level.
Another problem is Charlie Furbush who is 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA. Fifteen hits in 9.1 innings allowing eight runs will get any pitcher in a doghouse, even a lefty. Lucas Luetge could be recalled, but he has not fared well either. Unless they want to bring up a righty from Tacoma, Furbush will stay on the Good Ship Mariner.
Dustin Ackley is batting .241 with one homer and 12 rbis. Traditionally left field is a power spot and Ackley has little. It could be, that like Justin Smoak, Ackley has settled into a .240 hitter. I doubt the M’s will make change here unless Dustin drops further down, but without help in Tacoma he will probably platoon with Cole Gillespie. The M’s do like James Jones .313 in Tacoma. If Dustin falters look for a Jones call up.
And lastly, when either Taijuan walker or James Paxton is ready it is adios Brandon Maurer. No explanation needed here.