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.
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.
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 2015 edition of the Seattle Mariners starting rotation has many to choose from. It starts with King Felix, under contract through 2019. Hisashi Iwakuma has a club option for 2015 and the Mariners will pick that up. They have three young pitchers in Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Roenis Elias. That is five and next season, finally at full health is Danny Hultzen, a left handed pitcher and former number one pick of Seattle. That is six and I am not counting Erasmo Ramirez who is out of options and his 2014 performance indicates he will not return. And though Chris Young would be welcomed back by me at any rate, he is a free agent and the Mariners have not indicated he fits into their 2015 plans.
Mariner GM, Jack Zduriencik has said he wants another starting pitcher. With six to choose from the question is why. The answer is that they have four young pitchers and young pitchers are unproven, even with the brief success of Paxton and Walker, there is no real track record.
The indications are one or two of the young pitchers will be packaged for a big right handed bat. A lot of fans would like to see the Marlins Giancarlo Stanton and his home run hitting bats in a Mariner dugout and there will be talk, by fans, radio talking heads, and others to create buzz. But the odds say no. If you had Stanton, why trade him when you can build around him. So lets leave Stanton alone. If the Mariners want to sell the farm so be it, but I look for something more realistic.
If the Mariners trade a youthful arm or two for some young bats, then a starting pitcher will come from the free agent market. A partial list of those available according to Baseball Prospectus are John Lester, Max Scherzer, Ryan Vogelsong, James Shields and Brandon McCarthy. A couple of pitchers with options are Dan Haren and Johnny Cueto. These are on my short list. There are others to choose from, but these arms are a good starting point.
There are more options on the free agent market for pitchers than hitters, thus it seems a pitcher, like Walker, whom the Mariners previously offered to Arizona for Justin Upton, could be traded.
I was concerned early in the day when Seattle sent Abraham Almonte to San Diego, along with a minor league pitcher for Chris Denorfia, a 34 year old outfielder with no power. He does bat from the right side, but is at best a 4th outfielder, perhaps a platoon in left or right with Ackley and Chavez. I assume Stephen Romero will be send back to Tacoma.
It was not a bad trade, just not one that would improve Seattle that much. On the other hand they received a veteran outfielder and gave up no players that figured in the Mariners future.
Then the rumor hit that Seattle was involved with two teams where the Rays David Price was the centerpiece. It was true. Price went to the Tigers, who sent the Rays starting pitcher Drew Smyly along with a young A ball shortstop, 18 year old Willy Adames, the number three rated Tiger prospect. The Mariners sent the Rays Nick Franklin who did not figure in Seattle’s future with Robinson Cano at second and Brad Miller and Chris Taylor ahead of him at shortstop. In return the Mariners received centerfielder Austin Jackson from the Tigers. Jackson is not a big homerun hitter, but is a .277 career hitter and considered one of the top centerfielders in baseball. He is signed through 2015 and is 27. James Jones will likely be sent to Tacoma until September as Jackson will be the everyday centerfielder.
Whether Denorfia and Jackson can help the Mariners get a wild card spot is not the point. Seattle gave up no player that figured in their future, so no harm done. The two moves improve the Mariners without losing anything. They still have D.J. Peterson, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton.
There was no trade that Seattle could have made that would fill all there holes. But all in all, a good day for Jackie Z who definitely improved the team.
Heading into the Mariners final game before the all-star break they have a 51-43 record. Major league pundits, radio heads, TV heads, columnists, and people who love crunching numbers say the Mariners can not sustain their winning ways. They point out the team batting average, on base percentage, and tell you they are lucky. One person said they were getting cluster hits. It is another way of saying they hit well with runners in scoring position.
But they keep on winning. And the statistic under W is the only number that counts in the end.
Here is a statistic for everyone to think about. The Mariners magic number is three. When the Mariners score two runs or less they have a 5-27 record. I would wager any team scoring two runs or less will have a losing record. But when the Mariners hit their magic number of three, as in three runs or more, they have a 46-16 record.
So if the Mariners score three runs, chances are they will win. Friday night against Oakland they won 3-2 and Saturday night they won 6-2. I am going out on a limb and say if the Mariners score three on Sunday they will sweep the A’s, a good way to head into the all-star break.
But . . .
The second half is another season. It is the drive to get into the playoffs. With Roenis Elias struggling, probably on an innings limitation, and with Taijuan Walker having control problems, the Mariners need another starter. I think the Price is right for Seattle. It has been reported the Rays are scouting Mariner players and the Mariner scouts are doing the same with the Rays, indicating a possible multi player deal.
Of course it good be all smoke.
But if the Mariners land David Price they have another magic three, as in King Felix, Prince Iwakuma, and David Price. That is a staff set for the playoffs. And if the offense can score three runs or more during the playoffs . . .
What’s up with ESPN senior baseball writer for ESPN.com Keith Law?
In an interview with Brock and Danny on 710 ESPN Seattle Law said Mariner manager Lloyd is a bad manager. He said Lloyd “can’t manage a bullpen, can’t manage his bench and with a bad offense the Mariners should no be playing small ball (which is something they don’t always do by the way, as anyone who saw their four homer performance in Houston will note).
Law also said they never should have hired McClendon because he failed in Pittsburgh, so why give him a second chance when he is a loser.
There was a baseball manager who managed the Mets for five years compiling a 286-420 record, a .405 winning percentage. According to Law’s law this man should not have been given a second chance, but the Braves did, so to did the Cardinals, and though never winning more than 89 games in his nine years with those two teams, he had some success in his 12 years with the New York Yankees, so much so, that Joe Torre was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Law’s opinion on losing managers not deserving a second a shot is inane, if not downright stupid. And for those who follow the Mariners on a daily basis it is clear McClendon has managed both the bullpen and his bench with success. Maybe McClendon is lucky, or maybe he knows what he is doing. Law also said McClendon is a cold personality. Sounds like Law has something personal against McClendon.
Law also said Mariners top pitching prospect should be traded because he is damaged goods, has changed his delivery and now throws too high in the strike zone and his curveball is garbage. It must be said that Law was once a scout and has worked in the Toronto Blue Jays front office. So he has credentials, but having credentials does not mean having intelligence, nor even knowing what you are talking about. It is an opinion. He is entitled to his. The jury is out on Walker, but I am willing to bet that Walker, barring injury, will have a good career.
When it comes to Seattle Mariner law, Keith flunked his bar exam.