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.
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.
Seattle’s GM, Jack Zduriencik, was fired this morning. No surprise, but was it all his fault?
Yes and no. It is not his fault the Bullpen , the strength of the team in 2014, was a disaster in 2015. His main problem was the inability to rebuild the minor league system. After seven years it is no better, if not worse, than when he took over. Kyle Seager is the only regular it has produced until this summer when Ketel Marte was brought up and his play shows he is a star of the future at shortstop.
With the demotion of catcher Mike Zunino to Tacoma, it looks like Jack was the reason Mike remained as catcher despite never batting .200 in nearly two seasons. He is one of the best defensive catchers, but his hitting is awful. He was kept up because Jesus Sucre is an even worse catcher and it was said there was nobody in the minor leagues to replace Mike.
Which brings up the trade for Welington Castillo from the Cubs, an excellent backup catcher, and one with power. But a week later Jack said he traded him to Arizona, because “Arizona needed a catcher.” Well, so did the Mariners Jack, so why trade him for the lumbering, defensively challenged, Mark Trumbo? A terrible trade, always is, when you trade a need for someone you don’t need.
The funny thing about Zunino’s demotion is that it was said, and I heard Shannon Drayer, who covers the Mariners say it, that “There is nothing he can learn in Triple A. All he will see is Triple A pitching and that won’t prove anything.” It would seem she was mouthing what the Mariners said. But most, it not all, young players who struggle at the major league level are sent to Triple A to work on their hitting.
At this point I do not know who was recalled as the news just came over the radio. But it will be a good wakeup call for Mike. In the majors you have to play defense and hit.
How the 2016 team will be reshaped by the new GM, whoever that will be, and whether manager Lloyd McClendon will return are yet to be decided. Stay tuned at Mariner Central.
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
Last August umpire Tony Randazzo ejected Mariner manager Lloyd McClendon on consecutive nights. The reason for running Lloyd out of the game the second time night was lame, as my blog at the time points out. Here is a link to that blog, though you will have to scroll down to find it:
Randazzo and Lloyd have a history that goes back years. And it’s not a good one.
But lets be honest. There are bad cops, bad politicians-okay they’re all bad-bad lawyers, bad doctors, and yes, there are bad umpires. Some carry personal grudges onto the diamond. Last night it started when Brett Gardner on a full count, checked his swing-well according to Randazzo who was umpiring at third- but Gardner had taken two steps towards the Yankees dugout (even he thought it was a strike), then stopped when he heard the umpires call, tossed his bat, took off his arm pad and walked to first. Replay shows, according to my eyes and the eyes of many, that he did not check his swing. It should have been a strikeout. It was important because later in the inning A-Fraud Rodriquez checked his swing and the first base umpire said it was a ball on another full count. This was too close to call; it could have gone either way. The Yankees scored a run that inning, one that had they not got, would have given the Mariners a win instead of losing in extra innings.
Mariner catcher Mike Zunino objected and was tossed from the game and Lloyd had enough. He stormed out of the dugout to first, got ejected, then made a tour of the umpires, heading to home for a brief bark, then on to third to chew on Randazzo’s ear. Stone-faced Tony to his credit stood his ground with courtly stoicism. I think he knew Lloyd had a beef. I also think that Lloyd was already gone and he was glad of it.
I don’t care what the umpires association would say if anything. Nor do I care what Randazzo might say. It is political posturing. Umpires are human. They can dislike players, dislike managers, and they can give a favorable call on a close play to those they like and give an unfavorable call to those they don’t and who is going to be the wiser.
Granted that checked swings are in the eye of the beholder; it is a judgment call made in second. But it is not coincidental that Randazzo all to often gives Lloyd and the Mariners the dark side of the close calls.
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.