Author Archives: Matthew

Are the Mariners Any Good in the Draft?

The Mariners roster, even into the minor leagues, does not have a lot of clear answers. What is clear, is that the Mariners just need more players. Good players, if we can be picky, but in some cases, just more players in general would be a good thing.

Prior to last offseason, the Mariners had the worst farm system in baseball. There were few impact prospects and little depth. Some positions had no prospects with realistic chances of making the majors, which is pretty rare. The offseason trades of Diaz, Paxton and others brought in a huge amount of talent, but the system is still only middle of the pack. It’s tremendously better, but far from overflowing with talent.

Luckily, the MLB draft begins this Monday, and the Mariners will add 35-41 players to their organization (depending on how many they sign). I personally think the baseball draft is more interesting than the other more publicized NFL and NBA drafts, but I can understand why few people follow it. The Mariners will draft 41 players, and I will have maybe heard of three of them. Then they will all go to the minor leagues, and if we’re lucky four of them will be in Seattle in four or five years, and maybe a couple more will follow eventually, and the rest we will never hear about again. It’s a weird process.

Want to hear something strange and depressing? Kyle Seager is the only player on the Mariners current 25-man roster who was originally drafted by the team. Some of that is the result of Jerry Dipoto’s countless trades, but a lot of it is due to some really bad drafting. That simply has to change if the Mariners are going to contend anytime soon. Dipoto’s regime has had three drafts, and I’m honestly not sure how they’ve done. It’s still too early to judge any of them fully, but I’m going to run through real quick and see what we can find out.

2016

First Pick: Kyle Lewis, OF

I was incredibly excited and surprised when Lewis dropped to the M’s at #11. He was expected to be a top 5 guy, with a power bat and the athleticism to play center. And for about a month he looked amazing. Then he destroyed his knee in a collision at the plate, and it’s taken nearly three years to get him consistently on the field again. Hope is far from lost, but he’s off to a slow start in double-A this season. I could just as easily see him regaining his form and being an all star in Seattle as I could see him never finding it and fading quietly into retirement. This was a good pick that has met nothing but bad luck.

Best Pick: Um, none?

This draft does not look great. 2nd rounder Joe Rizzo’s hitting okay in high-A this season, but right now he looks like a fringe big leaguer at best. There are some potential bullpen arms, led by Matt Festa, but no sure things. I’m not saying there’s no hope left, but it doesn’t look good. Interestingly, their last pick was Adley Rutschman, a catcher who went to Oregon State and will likely be the first player taken this week. I’m sure the Mariners drafted him knowing there was no way they would sign him, but it’s still a depressing what if to think about.

Best Late Pick (after Round 10): Reggie McClain, P, 13th Round

He’s the pick in part because his name is Reginald Kristen McClain. He’s also had decent success as a starter and reliever and is currently in Tacoma. He’s got a chance to make the bigs, which is more than we can say for most of these picks. If Eric Filia could stop getting suspended for (allegedly) smoking pot, he’d be the choice here.

Overview: Like I said, this draft wasn’t great. It’ll be okay if Lewis regains his form, but even that’s not really enough to save this class. At the time of Dipoto’s hire, I was surprised he retained Tom Allison, who ran the drafts for Zduriencik. The Mariners may very well end up with nothing to show for the whole draft, save a few decent relief innings from Festa and a couple of others. Hopefully, they get more than that from Lewis and/or Rizzo, but the odds aren’t great..

2017

First Pick: Evan White, 1B

White was a slightly underwhelming pick at the time, because he didn’t have a ton of power and his calling card was athleticism and gold glove defense at first base. That’s a weird profile for anyone, much less a top 20 pick. It became clear the Mariners think he has more power in his bat, and his second half last season showed they might be right. He’s off to a slower start in double-A this season, but he still looks like the first baseman of the future. Whether he plays more like JT Snow or, I don’t know, Paul Goldschmidt is unknowable at this point.

Best Pick: White, so let’s talk about 2nd Rounder Sam Carlson

This draft may rest on whether Carlson can return and flourish after Tommy John surgery. A high school righty with a big arm and heavy sinker, Carlson has yet to throw a pitch for the Mariners. He might see action later this year. If he could return to his earlier promise, he could be a top of the rotation starter in four or five years. Right now he’s just another sign of the Mariners bad luck (or bad scouting).

Best Late Round Pick: Sam Delaplane, RHRP, 23rd Round

Delaplane, as of Wednesday, was third in the Cal League (High-A) in strikeouts. As a reliever. He’s striking out nearly two batters an inning. I don’t know if his stuff’ll play as he gets closer to the bigs, but you can’t do much more than what he’s doing.

Overview: This was the first draft run by Scott Hunter, who took over when Allison moved up in the organization. It’s not a bad draft, in part because Dipoto traded a good share of the players in the top 10 rounds almost immediately to build last year’s team. We can argue whether that was a good choice, but it’s one way to get production from a draft. There are some good arms in the farm from this class, but this draft will ride on how White and Carlson develop. Interestingly, the M’s picked up another first rounder from this class when they got Justin Dunn in the Cano/Diaz trade.

2018 (It’s way too early to evaluate this, but we’ll take a look anyway)

First Pick: Logan Gilbert, SP

Gilbert was a workhorse out of Stetson University. In keeping with Mariner tradition, he came down with mono after being drafted and didn’t pitch until this spring. This was probably a good thing, as he was a little overworked in college and his velocity had dipped, but it felt very Mariners-y. Gilbert looks like a phenomenal pick. He’s already gone through Low-A and is throwing well in High-A. He has four pitches and throws in the 90s. Barring injury, he looks like a solid big league starter. Whether he can become close to an ace might depend on whether his velocity bumps back up into the mid- to high-90s. I think he’s the system’s top starter prospect by far. 2021 is a reasonable ETA.

Best Pick: Probably Gilbert, but let’s say: Cal Raleigh, C, 3rd Round

Raleigh was a college catcher with good defensive skills. More rare is that he’s a switch-hitter with good power. He’s playing well in High-A right now and could very well be a starter in Seattle down the road.

Best Late Round Pick: Damon Casetta-Stubbs, RHP, 11th Round

The 11th and 12th rounds are where teams try to grab high upside high schoolers who may not sign. The reasons for this are complicated, but Casetta-Stubbs fits the bill. He’s a big time arm from the northwest, and I’m sure the M’s were thrilled when they were able to get him to sign. He’s made seven starts in low-A with mixed results at best, so I’m curious if they move him to Everett when their season opens. Regardless, he has one of the most projectable arms in the system and could move up prospect ratings quickly.

Overview: Again, it’s way early, but this class looks better. Second rounder Josh Stowers has already been traded, but he brought back Shed Long, so that looks good so far. The first 10 rounds have more upside than the previous few classes, while the later rounds are heavy on relief arms, with a couple of interesting bats thrown in. It might only look good because they haven’t failed yet, but I don’t cringe looking at this group, so that’s a start. It helps that they traded for #6 overall pick Jarred Kelenic, who is off to a monster start. The M’s say he was their top player in the class, which might just be talk, but I kind of think it’s true. He looks extremely good.


So that’s one terrible draft, one mediocre at best, and one with promise that hasn’t proven anything yet. The Mariners pick at #20 on Monday, but they do have 4 picks in the top 100 this year, so we’ll at least have some new names to talk about. The Mariners are past the point of their top pick immediately becoming their top prospect, but they still badly need to hit on this class if they want to continue to restock the system.

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Checking On The Mariners

A third of the way through the season, the Mariners are right where I thought they’d be. Barring a crazy comeback, they’re about to be 24-33. Before the season, I would’ve said they’d be solidly under .500 but far from the worst team in the league, and that’s right where they are.

I can’t take a lot of credit, though, because how they got here is weird as can be. As you might have forgotten by now, the M’s ran to their best start in history, sitting at 13-2 a few weeks into the season. They’ve gone 11-31 since. Both of those numbers are kind of amazing. Much like the hot start, this slump won’t last, but the team has enough real issues to likely keep them from ever getting back to .500. I would guess they end up as one of the better bad teams in the league, if that makes any sense.

Regardless of how they got here, the focus of this season has always been the future. The Mariners are on record as planning to contend again next season or 2021. Personally, I think next season is a pipe dream, but 2021 isn’t out of the question. I’m going to run through the roster and see what progress they’ve made toward that end. This isn’t going to mention everyone; it’s more of a check-in on who might be moving toward establishing themselves as a future foundation piece.

Catcher

We’ll start on a high note. Omar Narvaez is currently among the best offensive catchers in the league. His defense has been mediocre at best, but it’s still been better than I expected, and seems to be improving. The glove has a bit to go before he’s a no doubt starter for a pennant winner, but if he can continue to improve, the bat is more than enough already. Tom Murphy has also been a welcome surprise after the terrible back ups the team has had lately. It seems unlikely both are around in two years, but there’s no reason why they can’t be.

Infield

This is a jumbled mess. The best bet for 2021 looks like JP Crawford at short, despite what looked like a bad ankle sprain a minute ago. He’s hit very well in his month or so in the bigs, and while he’s not likely going to ever win a gold glove, he’s been solid and a huge defensive improvement over Tim Beckham. Beckham isn’t a bad utility guy, but he’s on a one year deal and I’m sure would like to start. I could see him taking over second base, but he’s not a shortstop and mostly likely will not be a Mariner in 2020, and maybe even in August this year. Seager looks great in his week back, but who knows what’s going to happen with that contract situation. Shed Long is hitting well right now, but I’ll need to see more, especially with the glove, to count him as a definite piece of the future.

That leaves plenty of options but not much clarity. First base looks similar. Daniel Vogelbach is everyone’s new favorite, and for good reason. He and Narvaez are the clear biggest developments this season. I see no reason why Vogey can’t continue as a middle of the order bat. The question is whether he can ever be more than a designated hitter. Being able to play first semi-regularly would be very helpful. Ryon Healy seems to have settled as the definition of average, which generally isn’t good enough for a first baseman. That leaves a hole, with a couple of other potential options. Evan White is off to a slow start at Double-A, but he has time to right himself after suffering an early injury. His potential gold glove defense is enticing after watching this year’s squad fumble the ball all over the place. Another option I haven’t seen mentioned is Domingo Santana. I have no idea whether he can field a grounder, but he certainly struggles in the outfield. If the team likes his bat enough to keep him around, he’ll likely have to find a new position, given his defense and the outfield options in the minors. Overall, the infield has by far the most questions and fewest future options in the system.

Outfield

The outfield looks better, but there are plenty of questions here too. Despite his slow start, I have no worries about Haniger. The only way he’s not a solid contributor in 2021 is if Dipoto decides they’re better off trading him for a couple of young pieces. I already mentioned Santana. I like his bat. He’s plenty good enough to be a streaky, slugging left fielder, but I don’t know if the defense will ever be good enough for Safeco’s big power alleys. There are other options for the corners in the minors, but no one that can be penciled into the line up yet. Jake Fraley, acquired from Tampa for Mike Zunino, has been excellent in double-A. His running mates there, Kyle Lewis and Dom Thompson-Williams, have athleticism and interesting tools, but are currently missing the production to match.

In center, Mallex Smith looks revitalized by his short minors stint. He’s a solid piece when he’s hitting and running like the last few games. I think he’s a better fit as a very good fourth outfielder, but that’s dependent on finding a gold glove-level center fielder who is around league average at the plate to supplant him. Maybe Braden Bishop could fit that bill, but there’s no way to tell yet. The only other in-house option is Jarred Kelenic, who was promoted to High A tonight after torching Low-A the last two months. He won’t be 20 until mid-July and is looking like a future star, and possibly more than that. Opening day 2021 is probably too optimistic for him to make Seattle, but a debut sometime that year isn’t out of the question.

Pitching

Honestly, I don’t know what to make of the pitching staff, so this is going to be short. Marco and Kikuchi look like solid members of the 2021 rotation, barring injury or something else unexpected (that always goes without saying about pitchers). I don’t see any other current big league starters being part of a contending rotation going forward, at least on a regular basis. Erik Swanson and Justus Sheffield have promise but plenty to work on still. They should both see more big league time before the year’s over. Justin Dunn, obtained in the Cano-Diaz deal, is in a similar situation at AA. Further down, Logan Gilbert, last year’s first round pick, is carving through both levels of A ball. He could be on a similar timeline to Kelenic, although 2022 seems a more likely ETA. While a few bullpen pieces are starting to emerge, anyone trying to forecast the 2021 bullpen this early is crazy. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the whole pen turns over by then.

 

There’s plenty to like about this team, despite the horrible play of late. The farm system has performed well thus far too. There’s still a lot of questions to answer, though. They’re going to need a lot of things to go right, and likely a few notable free agent signings, if they really hope to contend in 2021. These are the Mariners though, so that’s nothing new. There’s always 2022!

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How Do The Mariners Succeed in 2019?

The Mariners are about three hours from the first pitch of the season. Everything about this opener is strange, starting with the fact the game will start at 2:30 AM in Seattle. I’m pretty sure they play Oakland in every opener, but this time will be in the Tokyo Dome. Even stranger will be having someone other than Felix on the mound, for the first time since 2008. In fact, with Kyle Seager’s injury, the only holdover from 2018’s opening line up at the same position will be Mitch Haniger.

So, what should fans expect, or even hope for this season? Usually with a rebuilding team, the answer is pretty easy: progress from young players, but not so much that the team plays itself out of a top draft pick. Baseball, and this year’s M’s team in particular, is a little different. Top draft picks are nice, but they’re no sure things in baseball and take a long time to develop. The Mariners aren’t tanking for Zion Williamson.

Further confusing expectations, this M’s squad might not be that bad. They’re not going to be good, to be clear. A .500 season would be an overachievement. As they started trading off veterans this offseason, people assumed they were going to completely tear the team down and 100 losses would be an inevitability. Instead, they kept Haniger, Gonzales and a handful of others, added pieces at the big league level or close to it, and took back a bunch of veterans in salary swaps.

The upshot is a team that won’t contend (barring something crazy), but shouldn’t be horrible, while having the clear expectation of being good in a couple of years. It’ll be a weird year. So, what would make this a successful season for the M’s? Here are my thoughts.

Young Players Emerge

This is a staple of rebuilding seasons and goes without saying. Nothing is more important this season than having young players improve and hopefully establish themselves as big leaguers. The difference between winning in 2021 or not could very well be JP Crawford and Domingo Santana demonstrating that they are capable professionals, and that starts sometime this season. While most of the young prospects won’t start the year in Seattle, plenty of them should make an appearance before the summer ends. Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, Blake Bishop, maybe even Evan White should see the majors, and if they can quickly show they belong, that will make the rebuild quicker and simpler.

The Mariners have plenty of young veterans who could establish themselves with a solid season. Santana is one of the most intriguing, as a guy with big time power who’s only a season removed from playing very well in the bigs. Mallex Smith and Omar Narvaez are other additions who have had offensive success, but need to show it again and improve their defense. Holdovers like Ryon Healy, Daniel Vogelbach, and Dan Altavilla need to rebound or demonstrate that they are capable of producing. That’s to say nothing of Kyle Seager, who, while out for a couple of months to start the year, needs a major rebound year to either become tradeable or hold down third again.

Trade The Veterans

You would think there are no veterans left, but there are some prime candidates to be moved if they can rebound. Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce are obvious, as potentially productive guys with big salaries. Dee Gordon is a prime candidate if he can rebound offensively. The biggest trade chip may end up being Hunter Strickland, if he can re-establish himself as a solid closer or set-up man. It still wouldn’t be a shock to see Haniger moved, but it will take a major return. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see anyone go, and if the Mariners can be creative to upgrade their talent, they should do it.

Add Talent

This will mostly come from trades, but there are other ways to find talent. The Mariners should maintain enough flexibility to bring in waiver claims or anyone else who might hit the open market. Every year, guys with talent are cut or can be had for next to nothing in trade. The Mariners are in a position to give players a shot if they want to.

Get Better in the Second Half

Improvement as the season progresses is a sign the young talent is coming together. It also provides some momentum going into the offseason and 2020, when Dipoto and company are hoping the team can start to contend.

Make the Baseball Entertaining

Baseball is usually more fun if your team is winning, and the Mariners aren’t likely to do a ton of that. Lately I’ve come to appreciate the ways players and teams can be fun regardless of the results. This team could be fun. The athleticism got an upgrade with Mallex Smith, and a healthy Dee Gordon might rebound and give a shot of energy with his speed and smile. The team still has some decent power, especially in Haniger and Santana and the 1B/DH guys. The pitching isn’t the most dominating bunch, but seeing Sheffield debut at some point will be fun to follow. All through the first part of spring training, the buzz around the team was how they seemed excited to be there and to have their chance. If that carries into the season, I think we’ll see it on the field, if not in the win column.

Watch The Minors

This is a whole other post, but the M’s farm system should be fun to follow for the first time in years. They’ve had the worst system in baseball recently, but have jumped to middle of the pack with all of their trades and some improved drafting the last couple of years. Tacoma will have some talent and is always a fun place to watch a game, but many of the top prospects will likely start in double-A or lower. Jarred Kelenick and Julio Rodriguez look like they’ll start next to each other in the outfield in low-A. They’re the two most prospects most likely to turn into superstars. Short of Marco Gonzales winning the Cy Young, or Mallex Smith morphing into Rickey Henderson, nothing is more important to the Mariners future than the farm system having a breakout year.

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Very little could happen this season that would shock me, which could be fun or could be terrible. At the very least, it’s nice to have some new faces to learn. Let us know what you’re watching for in the comments. Go Mariners!

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Mariners Moves Recap

It’s been a long time since we wrote anything on this blog, but I’ve wanted to bring it back for a while. I’m out of practice and have no idea if this will last, or if anyone will read it, but we’ll give it a shot. To any of you still subscribed to our posts or who stumble upon us, welcome back!

The Mariners conducted one of the wildest offseasons I’ve ever seen, as most probably know by now. While they certainly took a step back, the tone from spring training, and throughout a lot of the fan base, is pretty positive.

That comes largely from having new, young talent to follow. Youth is always invigorating. Unfortunately, youth doesn’t always turn into good players. I think this rebuild is worthwhile and unique, but whether it is successful or not will only be known for 2-4 years.

I’m hoping to put out a few posts to recap the offseason and put the rebuild into perspective before the season starts. Today is just a recap of all the moves they’ve made. I was going to rank them, but that got confusing, so I’ll just go in chronological order. I’m focusing mainly on the (many) trades. With all respect to Tim Beckham, Hunter Strickland, and the minor league contract guys, there’s not a lot of potential impact there. Strickland has a chance to be something again, but he’ll likely be traded if he reverts to being a solid closer or set up man.

Just a reminder, in case you’ve somehow missed it, the Mariners have stated their goal is to be competitive in 2020 or 2021. 2020 seems overly optimistic, but who knows. And as always with Jerry Dipoto, there will likely be a billion more moves in the next year or two, so this might all be irrelevant before long.

Mike Zunino for Mallex Smith

This trade started off the frenzy so long ago, I hardly remember it cost one of my favorite M’s to add Smith in center field. I’m as concerned about letting Zunino go as any other player this offseason. His upside is a perennial all star if his bat ever stabilizes at all, and even if it doesn’t, it’s hard to find a solid catcher. Still, it’s probably the right move at this point, given his ongoing offensive struggles. Mallex is a lightning bolt in the outfield and the kind of on-base and speed threat this team needs. The M’s also gave up Guillermo Heredia and young lefty Michael Plassmeyer, likely inconsequential losses, and got OF prospect Jake Fraley, who has turned heads this spring but is no sure bet.

The Paxton Trade

Entering the offseason, I expected a Paxton trade regardless of what else the team did. It never felt like Paxton would sign long term, or that he’d even be a guy the team would feel comfortable giving a big new deal. For all his talent, he never became the dominant, dependable ace that was expected. Nonetheless, he’s a huge loss and will be missed, for both his performance and personality. The return was LHP Justus Sheffield, RHP Erik Swanson, and OF Dom Thompson-Williams. Sheffield’s the prize, a guy with plenty of talent who could be a solid 2nd or 3rd starter, if he finds better command. He’s looked good this spring and should see Seattle this summer. Swanson has a lower ceiling but could be a dependable back-end starter or impact multi-inning reliever. He should also be in Seattle sometime this year. DTW is a lottery ticket, a great athlete without great results until this past year.

Colome for Narvaez (aka A New Catcher)

A somewhat forgotten move that could have as much impact as any. Alex Colome, while a big part of last year’s pen, was expendable. Omar Narvaez will be this year’s starting catcher. The polar opposite of Mike Zunino, Narvaez has great on base skills and a solid lefty bat. He’s okay controlling the running game, but is not the dominant receiver Zunino was. I could see him washing out if the bat regresses and his defense stagnates, but he also has a chance to become one of the better catchers in the league if he maintains his offense and improves a reasonable amount behind the plate.

Goodbye Cano and Diaz

For posterity, this move was Cano, Diaz and a lot of money to the Mets for OF Jarred Kelenic, RHP Justin Dunn, RH reliever Gerson Bautista, OF Jay Bruce, and RH reliever Anthony Swarzak. I’ll miss Cano, but moving that salary was a big deal. I’ll really miss Diaz, but trading him was an inevitability once they started down this road. Bruce and Swarzak are just veterans included to offset salaries, although they should play a role on this team and will hopefully bring in more prospects at midseason.

Thankfully, the rest of this trade is very fun. Kelenic has the highest ceiling of anyone they added. He’s an athletic center fielder with an advanced hitting approach for a teenager. The power’s not all the way there yet, but he’s the type of guy who usually adds it as he matures. He has all the tools and good personality, and if this offseason produces an eventual superstar, it’ll likely be him. Dunn is a former first rounder with lots of talent, but he hasn’t dominated yet. Some see a future as a dominating reliever, but he could be a middle of the rotation or better starter if he can put it together. Bautista is a flamethrowing reliever who hasn’t put it together yet, but should see Seattle this year. This is a good return, but they gave up a lot of talent to get it.

Segura for JP Crawford

This deal, which included Juan Nicasio and James Pazos going to the Phillies and Carlos Santana to Seattle, was the most puzzling of the offseason. It wasn’t a shock to see Segura go, but most expected a better return for an all star shortstop. Santana was largely a salary exchange (more on him in a minute), and Crawford was a prized shortstop prospect who underwhelmed in Philadelphia last year. There’s potential there for him to still become an above average starter, but there’s a greater likelihood that he never amounts to much. An interesting gamble, but one that shows Segura’s attitude issues may have sunk his value around the league much lower than fans could have imagined.

Santana for Edwin Encarnacion

This was a weird move that saw the Mariners exchanging expensive veteran 1B/DHs, and buying a draft pick in the process, if I remember right. I’m sure the Mariners thought they’d trade Encarnacion by now, but it looks like he’ll be on the team for a while, which isn’t a horrible thing. Hopefully he puts up a big first half and brings in a decent trade return.

Ben Gamel for Domingo Santana

An exchange of left fielders, this was the Mariners buying low on a guy with a ton of potential who had lost his spot with the Brewers. After a 30 homer season in 2017, Santana essentially got replaced by Christian Yelich and regressed last year. If he can rebound, he’ll be a huge steal. This is the kind of move that is either forgotten in two years, or is the foundation of a playoff contender. You have to get lucky at some point, and this seems a likely place for it to happen.

Hello Yusei Kikuchi!

This seems like the big win of the offseason. Kikuchi should be an immediate middle of the rotation starter, and could be more than that. The contract is favorable, with little risk for the M’s. He looks like a fan favorite and maybe the most likely addition to be a part of their next playoff team (if there ever is one).

Shed Long Becomes a Mariner (or Rainier)

This was a fairly minor move, but I’ll throw it on here because Shed has been one of the stars of training camp. The second baseman, who is also seeing time in the outfield and potentially third base, came from Cincinnati in what was essentially a three way deal, with the M’s sending OF prospect Josh Stowers to the Yankees. Stowers is an interesting prospect who could eventually make an impact, but Shed is closer to the majors, and the Mariners badly need infield depth. He has great offensive potential, especially for a second baseman, but his defense is still a work in progress. But the important thing here is that the Mariners now have a player named Shed.

So, there you go. Nothing like restarting a blog with 1500 words about guys who may never play for the terrible local baseball team. Go Mariners!

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Let’s Talk Some Mariners

The Mariners just pounded the Royals 7-0 to keep treading water in the AL West. Seems like the perfect time for a fake Q&A. As always, these are made up questions that no one has ever asked me.

Talk a little about the Mariners’ season so far.

That’s not a question.

Sorry. How has this season gone for the M’s?

That’s better. Not well. They quickly extinguished the World Series talk with a terrible start, and while they’ve been better at times, they’ve also been consistently inconsistent. Right now they’re six games under .500 and around 8 games back in the division.

What’s been the problem?

A little bit of everything. The pitching and defense were bad to start. The pitching has gotten good and the defense has been okay since, but the offense has been mostly bad all year. They’ve also been plagued by a lack of focus and general malaise that’s led to a lot of silly errors and a seeming lack of fight in certain games.

So what should they do? They probably need to switch out most of the team, right?

That’s the weird thing. There aren’t really that many holes now. Let’s break it down.

Cruz, Seager and Seth Smith have done exactly what was expected or more, as have J.A. Happ and Charlie Furbush on the pitching side. Austin Jackson and Logan Morrison started slow but have turned into solid bats since, although we’ll see if it lasts with Jackson. Brad Miller’s stats aren’t amazing, but he’s actually been one of the better shortstops in the league offensively, and his defense has been mostly solid. The starting rotation has been good to great, despite the occasional rough start. Felix has been spotty lately, but he should be fine going forward. The youngsters (ie Walker, Paxton, Elias, Montgomery) have had bad games, but have mostly been really good, especially since the middle of May or so. The bullpen has also stabilized. It’s not as good as last year’s incredible group, but it’s good enough.

That all sounds pretty good. So what’s the problem at this moment?

For the pitching, they could use another elite reliever or two, especially with Rodney out of the closer role. But that’s not a huge issue. The real problem is three black holes in the lineup and a worthless bench. Two of them, Zunino and Cano, aren’t going anywhere. Zunino is so valued defensively, and there is such a dearth of decent catchers, that the team will just live with a weak bat. If he could rebound just to last year’s numbers, that would be a huge addition. Cano seems to be turning things around a bit. His season-long slump is probably the largest contributor to the offensive issues.

The other hole is left field, where Dustin Ackley has been a complete failure. He had a great game tonight, so maybe he can build on that. Yeah, it’s probably not going to happen. The addition of Mark Trumbo has patched the problem slightly, but they could still use a good every day outfielder, or even a right-handed bat to platoon since Ruggiano and Weeks failed pretty miserably.

So what can they do? Is there help in the farm system?

Maybe, but not really.  Tacoma has some veterans who might help some. Guys like Franklin Gutierrez, Jesus Montero, and maybe even Stefen Romero are having solid seasons and might be able to help, but they all have issues too.  Guti is still Guti and is unable to play many games in a row. Scouts are still skeptical about Montero, and Romero was terrible in the bigs last year. Still, any one of them or a few others could come up and provide a boost for a month or more. There just aren’t any guarantees.

Trading Willie Bloomquist for Chris Taylor or even Ketel Marte (once he’s healthy) would be an immediate improvement, but they seem reluctant to move on from Willie. This squad could really use a top prospect promotion to provide some excitement and a short term boost, but there’s no one who fits that bill.

I though rebuilding the farm system was supposed to be Jack’s specialty?

It was, but most of the advanced talent has been promoted already. What’s left is young and/or struggling mightily. There’s still hope for the future but little help for the present.

Trades?

Hard to say. It’s a little early still, and the Mariners don’t have a lot of talent to trade. I’d be looking for a righty outfielder though, especially one who can get on base, along with a righty set up man and a backup catcher. No idea if they’ll find them, but that would be ideal.

People have started talking about firing McClendon and ZduriencikWould that help?

That’s a very different question for each guy. With McClendon, who knows. I’m always skeptical of manager changes being the answer, but something’s clearly not clicking with this team. I like Lloyd, but sometimes a new voice is the difference. He’s indicated the team is struggling with expectations, which isn’t really mark on the good side of his ledger. In short, I’d be fine with it either way.

With Jack, it’s a little more complicated, simply because changing general managers means a much bigger shakeup. It’s become clear that he struggles with building a complete team. He has a poor record in picking non-elite free agent hitters. And for all of his scouting accolades, his offensive prospects have mostly struggled in the minors and especially when reaching Seattle. On the plus side, he’s improved the talent significantly and demonstrated an ability to build a cheap and effective pitching staff. I could go either way on this one too. I think the Mariners could do much better than Zduriencik, but I’m profoundly skeptical that they actually would. Mariner management is anything but inspiring.

Just a hunch, but barring a good next month to put them into contention, I’d say one or both of them will be gone before the end of the season, and possibly very soon.

So, is the season basically over?

I would say no. The M’s really just need for people to start hitting like they have before. A really good hot streak or two by someone would help too. The pitching will keep them in nearly every game, especially with Iwakuma and Paxton eventually returning. This team just needs some kind of spark. I have no idea what it will be or if they’ll ever receive it, but the pieces are mostly there to be a solid team. Whether they can get back into contention depends on whether Houston and Texas come back to the pack, but I think they will.

The preseason hopes were clearly too high for this team. The M’s have good talent, but it’s (mostly) not elite. They were always a team who could work its way into the postseason and then hope for a hot streak to carry them to the World Series, like the Royals last year. It would have taken everything going right to be a juggernaut, and instead everything went wrong, at least to start the season. This is a better team than they’ve shown, and is pretty fun to watch when they’re on, but it’s anyone’s guess when or if it will click and they’ll turn into the winning team everyone expected.

-Matthew

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What’s Going On With UW Basketball?

The Washington Husky basketball team started last season 12-0, and while no one thought they were going remain undefeated for the season, a return to the NCAA tournament seemed likely.  Instead, they went 4-15 to finish their worst season in years. In the process, they lost their best player and pro prospect, C Robert Upshaw, when he was kicked off the team for an undisclosed rules violation. The horrid second half intensified the negative buzz starting to surround Lorenzo Romar’s tenure as head coach.

The offseason hasn’t been any less tumultuous. Remember all those players who made up that terrible team last season? They’re pretty much all gone. Mike Anderson and Shawn Kemp Jr. graduated. Gilles Dierickx and Darin Johnson moved on in transfers that weren’t too surprising. Nigel Williams-Goss’ and Jernard Jarreau’s transfers were more surprising. Even assistant coach TJ Otzelberger quit to go back to Iowa State. All that was left was Andrew Andrews, Donaven Dorsey and Quevyn Winters. In case you can’t count, that’s not even a starting line-up. It’s not even a very good three-on-three group.

The good news is this is not all bad news. While I doubt Romar was dying to lose Williams-Goss or Jarreau, it’s pretty clear he was aiming to gut this roster. The program had grown less talented, and it had simultaneously morphed away from the athletic, pressuring squads of Romar’s best years at UW.

Even in the midst of the terrible second half of the season, Romar was putting together what looks like his best recruiting class. In its original form, the class had six recruits, a group among the top three in the Pac-12 and the best in the country. It included three elite local kids, an elite California power forward, and a junior college big man to play immediately. That group of six had fans extremely excited and was a solid foundation for a rebuild. And then it kept getting better.

With all of the transfers, Romar found himself with plenty of roster space that he could, and eventually needed to, fill. First, there was an SEC big man transfer, Matthew Atewe, young with upside. He’ll likely have to sit out this year, but is petitioning for immediate eligibility. Whenever he plays, he should be an athletic big man, maybe not a star but the type of body UW has had in short supply of late. Next came local wing Dominic Green, who had been committed to Arizona State until they changed coaches and he asked to be released.

The real icing to this cake came last week with two separate announcements. The first was long-rumored but surely brought a smile to every fan’s face: former point guard Will Conroy had been hired as an assistant coach. To many, Conroy represents everything this program used to be but has lost. He’s a local boy who worked himself from a walk-on to the fringes of the NBA. He played tough defense, team basketball, and directed many of those great teams with Nate, Brandon and everyone else. He seems to be viewed as the all-time captain of Husky basketball  and brings tremendous respect and connections to the local Seattle basketball scene. There’s been a feeling amongst fans that UW’s coaching staff has gotten too nice, has lost its edge since Cameron Dollar left, and whether that’s true or not, Will Conroy brings plenty of edge.

The second piece of news came with the (likely) final piece of the recruiting class. Center Noah Dickerson had picked Florida over UW earlier, but when Billy Donovan left for an NBA job, Dickerson asked to be released as well. He visited UW last week and signed scholarship paperwork before he left to make himself a Husky. He brings size and a fairly polished low-post game. Another big man was the only thing the class was really missing, and Dickerson is a better player than anyone expected they would be able to find to fill that hole. His signing gives this class five of the top 100 incoming players in the country (according to Scout.com), with the 102nd ranked player thrown in for good measure. UW has never seen a class that is this deep and this good, and given the amount of roster turnover it took to get there, it likely never will again. Recruiting classes aren’t usually this big, and when they are, they tend to have a lot of filler.

So what does all that mean for the coming season? It’s hard to say, really. A return to the NCAA tournament would be tough but not impossible, or even unlikely. They should improve as the season goes, and if they can keep this group together for another year (likely, as there aren’t any real obvious one-and done candidates), the next year could be truly special. Whatever the season’s outcome, this group should bring a return to fun, high-paced, intense basketball. This group is extremely long and athletic, and once they get a little bit of experience under the drawstrings of their shorts, they should bring the program back to its glory days of pressuring defense and high-flying fast breaks. The 2015-’16 Huskies might not be recognizable, but that’s be a good thing after the last few seasons.

The Newcomers, in the order they committed: Continue reading

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Where One is Lost, More are Found

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I, with the baby in the backseat, were driving home to spend the weekend with my parents and see some friends and relatives. We got to talking about my grandma, who passed away some seven or eight years ago. There was no one quite like Grandma Long, a spunky lady who overflowed with wisdom, loved people and fun, and worked harder in her retirement than I will likely ever work in my life. Every loss leaves a hole, but some holes are bigger than others, and the void created when she was killed one night in a car accident was massive.

As we were saying we missed her, I realized, and said to Lisa, that it’s sad knowing Wyatt, my son, will never know her. That someone who was such a major part of my life will be known to my son only through stories is something I had never given much thought. Life moves on. Lord willing, he will know and love people I will never meet, but there are people and memories I wish could be part of his life as they are mine.

I had a similar thought yesterday in the Mariners team store. They had a collection of the new alternate jerseys with the usual suspects on the back: Cano, Felix, Cruz, Zunino. And there at the end of the row was Griffey’s #24, and I thought, with another tiny bit of sadness, “Wyatt will never see Ken Griffey Jr. play baseball.”

It’s surprising, when you stop to think about it, how short a baseball career is in the course of a life. My brother is about nine years younger than I am. At this point, we experience much together, because we are good friends but also because we are grown and finally at similar points in our lives. Still, that nine year gap distinctly changes memories. He was five when the ’95 Mariners made their playoff run. I frequently rave about Randy Johnson, but he has few memories of the Big Unit as a Mariner. His pitching hero, as a fellow lefty, was Jamie Moyer, about whom I’ve always been somewhat lukewarm, probably because of those Johnson memories. Nine years is not much between friends or brothers, but it’s half a career for the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time.

What is thrilling and restorative about sports is there is a new legend for every generation. I have Griffey and Randy and Edgar, and Jordan and Pedro and Vlad and Marques Tuiasosopo and so many others. But I grew up listening to my dad talk about Willie Mays and Sonny Sixkiller, whom I didn’t come close to seeing. We might miss a legend, but if we are lucky enough to live a long, full life, we will see many more.

I envy Wyatt those early years of fandom and discovery, which I’m long past and from which he’s still some years away. He has yet to make his first trips to Safeco and Husky Stadium. He gets to experience for the first time baseball and football and basketball, not to mention books and music and everything else that makes life wonderful. He spent his first months in the hospital, fighting to live, and it thrills my heart to know he will never remember those months, that I can bear those hard memories for him as a father so he can fill his memory with sunny days spent with those he loves.

I don’t know who Wyatt’s legends will be. He’s too young to really remember anything but the tail end of any current player’s career. Maybe Mike Zunino, who I’ve decided is his current favorite player, will still be around. The timeline could be about right for Alex Jackson or even maybe Taijaun Walker. He’ll be wearing a Felix jersey onesie tomorrow for opening day, and I hope he gets to half-remember a couple of his vintage seasons. Most likely, his sports and music heroes are currently teenage kids in the middle of nowhere, waiting to be drafted or get their big break.

Sports are regenerative, and I can only hope Wyatt’s legends are as great as mine were. I know they will be, because that is their nature; legends are made as much by our lives and memories as they are by their own greatness. I don’t know the names, and I don’t know where his life will take him, but I know he has so much ahead.

-Matthew

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