The trade that caught people off guard who follow the Mariners was trading catcher Wellington Castillo a little over a week after acquiring him from Chicago. Jack Zduriencik said Arizona needed a catcher so shipped him away for Mark Trumbo. I thought Jack’s job was to fill needs for the Mariners, not other teams.
Seattle desperately needed a back up catcher because Jesus Sucre hits worse than Zunino and they wanted a bat with a little bit of power. Castillo filled that need. Jack said so himself. He was happy with the trade. Then he trades him away for a player they did not need.
What was Jack Zduriencik thinking? You fill a need then you go back to a void. It would have been smarter to bring up Jesus Montero after the trade for Castillo and keep Jesus up.
Montero came to Seattle in a trade with high expectations, but failed. He did not take the game seriously and was suspended last year as well. But when he came to training camp this season he was unrecognizable. I could not believe the transformation. He was in the best shape of his life. He has a wife and a child and has dedicated himself to his family and to becoming a solid major league player. Thus far he has torn up the Pacific Coast League, but has only gotten ten at bats with three hits and two walks with the Mariners this year.
As hard as Montero has worked and as productive as he has been at AAA he deserved more of a chance, but Jackie Z is content to keep him in Tacoma. Jack should have taken a page from Seahawk coach Pete Carroll. He signs players who are hungry to prove themselves and gives them a chance, like Richard Sherman, like Doug Baldwin, like Jermaine Kearse, and so on.
Meanwhile Trumbo is batting .228 with 3 homers. Castillo came into the getaway game with Arizona batting .227 and hit two homers off Felix Hernandez, giving him 10 on the season. Since the Mariners needed Castillo he should have stayed and Montero could be belting out hits with Seattle instead of watching Trumbo flail at pitches a foot off the plate. Thanks Jack.
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.
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.
There are two pitchers trying to make the Mariners pitching staff and neither is likely to make it, though one will end up in Tacoma. Another pitcher is a spring invitee, not on the 40-man roster, and if he shows anything at all he could be in Tacoma as well.
As to the first pitcher, look for a healthy Danny Hultzen. Remember him, the Mariners number one pick a few years ago. He was 9-7 in his first season in the minor leagues in 2012 and in 2013 was 5-1 in seven starts before going down with an arm injury and has not pitched since then. He could even end up in a lower classification, but no matter where he lands he is starting his journey back to the majors. In 32 minor league starts he is 14-8 with a 2.82 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 159.2 innings, allowing 109 hits.
How his injury will affect him is anyone’s guess, but it is always good to have extra arms as pitchers have more injuries in todays game than ever before. Which brings us to another pitcher, the one not on the 40-man roster, though in 2013 lefty Joe Saunders was part of the Mariner rotation, but at 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA he was not a fan favorite. The 33-year old is 89-86 with a 4.37 career ERA. His winning record is misleading. In 2008-2009 he was 33-14 for the Angels. He is not that pitcher anymore. He is trying to make a comeback after starting 8 games for Texas in 2014 going 0-5 with a 6.13 ERA and then pitching 3.1 relief innings for the Orioles giving up five runs. In addition he made four minor league stops, three in AAA and one in AA and did not fare well there either.
Saunders is good against lefties with a career .243 batting average against, so maybe he will be fighting for a lefty relief spot. If he does end up in Tacoma, he is-as they say-insurance.
But for me Joe reminds me of the past when he and Aaron Harang were giving up runs like cheap nylons. I like the new Mariners thank you, not the beleaguered ones.
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?
It was no surprise when switch-hitter Nick Franklin was sent back to triple A Tacoma. He was batting .128 with 21 strikeouts in 47 at bats. He had a chance to unseat Brad Miller at short and failed.
McClendon, without mentioning any name, said, “This is not a country club. It is about positive results.” He also said that it is about production, not whether ” I like you or not. If you produce, I like you, if you don’t produce, I don’t like you.” The statement implies that Franklin thinks McClendon doesn’t like him, but for Lloyd, as any manager, it is about winning and winning is about producing.
When Abraham Almonte hit .198 in the leadoff spot in 27 games he was sent back to Tacoma. When Erasmo Ramirez began the season in the starting rotation he was sent back because he was 1-4 with a 6.00 ERA. Brandon Maurer was sent down because he pitched worse, now Ramirez is back. At the moment they have no other choices for the fifth spot. But if Taijuan Walker, in rehab in Tacoma, gets well, he will be back and all will be well with the world.
Which brings us to McClendon’s patience with the lack of production of Brad Miller. He did homer this weekend and drove in two key runs with a single against New York Monday, but he is still batting .164. McClendon is patience because of limited options. Franklin was one, the other was Chris Taylor who was hitting great at Tacoma; .372 in 35 games with 13 doubles, 5 triples, 3 homers, and 21 rbis. Of course the Pacific Coast League is a hitters league. And Taylor is not on the 40-man roster, meaning if he were to be recalled, Seattle must designate somebody for assignment.
But Taylor has not played since May 13th. He is injured. Like Walker, if Taylor gets healthy, gets back into hitting shape in Tacoma, he could be called up. Seattle is not a country club, it is about positive results. Franklin knows that, Almonte knows that, and Miller knows that. It is time for Miller to get it going before he is sent back to the country club, wherever that is.
What is my tee time?