It’s summer in Seattle and the Mariners are in the middle of another depressing season. I actually think they have the pieces to turn it around and finish near the .500 range, if their luck would ever turn. I’m also starting to think this might be one of those years where nothing goes right. Regardless, when the offense is this bad, they’re hard to watch.
So once again, I find myself paying more attention to the Mariners’ minor leaguers, the one place where the outlook for Jack Zduriencik’s Mariners is always hopeful. Betweens call-ups, promotions and the draft, a lot has happened lately.
Franklin, Zunino to Seattle
This is old news now, but there’s a little data that’s worth discussing. Franklin has been quite solid. He’s at .277/.362/.494, which would be pretty phenomenal if he could maintain it. His defense looks prettier than Dustin Ackley’s but isn’t as consistently reliable, at least to my eyes. Zunino is showing some of the expected struggles with the bat, hitting below .200 with corresponding power and on-base numbers. His power is consistently apparent, but he’s not quite squaring up the ball well enough to get it out. I don’t see anything that makes me worried for his future, although I wonder how long they’d let him struggle before they’d send him down. His defense is excellent, and I imagine it will keep him in Seattle for quite some time. While it’s far too early to say definitively, both look like line-up regulars for years to come.
Ackley, Others to Return Soon?
Since going down to Tacoma, Dustin Ackley has been hitting around .400, with OBA and Slugging % around .500. He’s done everything they could ask, including spending most of his time in the outfield. That isn’t necessarily a permanent move, but it gives him an avenue back to Seattle for this season. Rumors are he’s working on some mechanical fixes, including shortening his stride. True or not, I’d expect to see him back around the all-star break, if not sooner. Continue reading →
I’m mostly going to talk about tomorrow’s MLB draft, but there are a few things I should mention first:
It seems pesky injuries are hitting the Mariners harder than usual this year. The latest casualty is catcher Jesus Sucre, who was hit on the back of his hand by a backswing last night. Nothing’s broken, but he’ll be out at least a few days. Sucre’s been okay, and better than that defensively, since taking Jesus Montero’s roster spot, but he’s no huge loss. The only problem is the M’s had no other catchers on the 40-man roster, since Montero just suffered a knee injury and is out for a month or more. They promoted Triple-A back-up Brandon Bantz, who will be around for a week at most and may not even see the field. Again, no big deal, just a bit of a headache for the M’s to figure out.
To open a 40-man roster spot for Bantz, Franklin Gutierrez was placed on the 60-day disabled list. That’s retroactive to when he first went on the DL, but it still feels tantamount to the Mariners giving up on Guti. I’m sure we’ll see him the second half of the season, and he might even get our hopes up again, but I see no way he’s around next year, even at a near-minimum salary. Having Guti on the roster means compensating in too many other ways, and it’s just not worth it. You have to be able to count on players to stay on the field for longer than a week. It’s a shame, because he still has mountains of talent, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.
On a brighter note, Nick Franklin has been a revelation as Dustin Ackley’s replacement at second base. He actually looks a lot like Ackley did when he first came up, with a great eye and a swing that delivers a lot of contact and surprising power. He looks better at second, which is nothing against Ackley, who was extremely solid there. In only a week, Franklin has done enough to generate talk about whether Ackley will ever get a chance to reclaim his spot. Those talks are fair, but also remember that Ackley was quite good for a half a season before falling apart last year. You just never know.
The Mariners have struggled before this Chicago series, but I’m actually feeling a little optimistic. The worst part of the schedule is over, and the offense has crept up to league average and is still improving. More importantly, there’s hope on the horizon for the biggest weakness: the back of the rotation. I’m okay with Joe Saunders, and Aaron Harang I can live with for the moment. That fifth spot is a killer, though. Luckily, Erasmo Ramirez could return within a couple of weeks, and if he has his form back he could immediately become the staff’s third best starter. Danny Hultzen has started throwing again, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up around the all star break. Keep your fingers crossed, but the options are slowly improving.
The MLB draft starts tomorrow, which most baseball fans are probably not even aware of. I personally love the draft, but it understandably gets less attention than it’s basketball and football counterparts. Most of the players are unknown, and they generally won’t make the majors for 3-4 years, if at all. I like following it because I can completely release my judgement of the picks and just trust in the Mariners. Trust in the Mariners? Am I crazy, you ask? The Mariners are actually quite good at drafting. Since Zduriencik and Tom McNamara, the amateur scouting director, took over, the Mariners’ farm system has gone from maybe the worst in baseball to top two or three, almost solely on the strength of their drafts. We can debate another day on why some of those draftees are failing in the majors, but getting players into the system hasn’t been the problem.
After choosing Mike Zunino third overall last year, the Mariners are picking 12th tomorrow, which is good and bad for all the usual reasons. It’s hard to know who they’ll take that far down the draft, and the Mariners are one of the more unpredictable teams anyway. I’ll list a few potential names below. Just remember that no matter who they pick, don’t get worked up. They know much more about these guys than any of us do. You can treat the Mariners drafting like we treat the Seahawks drafting: it can be surprising and you might wish they had done something different, but they’ve earned a pretty high level of trust at this point. That said, here are a few names:
DJ Peterson is one of the best bats in the draft, and maybe the most advanced. A college third baseman at New Mexico, he’ll likely move to first or DH but should have plenty of bat to still be a threat there. The comparison I’ve seen most is to Kansas City’s Billy Butler. Peterson is probably my top choice of guys who could realistically be available, but I’m not sure he’ll make it to them.
Hunter Renfroe is a college outfielder who is getting a lot of buzz lately. He’s athletic enough to be solid in a corner and has plenty of power. Someone mentioned Jay Buhner as a comparison. The Mariners are low on outfield prospects and Renfroe is probably the best one they might have a shot at.
Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier are both outfielders from Georgia and the two best high school position prospects in the draft. Both will likely go before the Mariners pick, but there’s a chance one could slip. I’d be thrilled with either.
JP Crawford, a high school shortstop, is the only shortstop considered a first rounder. I gather he’s not elite with the glove but could be above-average. The bat is solid. He’s expected to go right around the Mariners’ pick. Not sure how I feel about Crawford, but it’s always good to have shortstops around.
Reese McGuire is a high schooler, and he also happens to go to school minutes away from where I’m writing this, at Kentwood High. He’s a catcher who projects to be solid with the bat and quite good with the glove. He was going to the Mariners in a lot of earlier mock drafts, but I think most now believe he’ll be gone by then. I’d be fine with that. He sounds like a good prospect and it’s fun to add local kids, but I’m not crazy about high school catchers, especially with Zunino and others in the system already.
That’s probably enough names for now. I didn’t mention any pitchers, because I didn’t feel like it. A pitcher pick wouldn’t surprise though. Watch especially for high schooler Phil Bickford and his big fastball, or Ryan Stanek, whom the Mariners previously picked but couldn’t sign away from college.
One year ago I asked your reaction following Prince signing in Detroit. One year later, I’m curious what your take is on Josh Hamilton signing with a division foe, for nearly $100 million less than Prince got.
This is my 5th installment in a series of posts I’ve done recapping and forecasting the Mariners Rebuilding Process, since Jack Z took over as GM. You can find the prior posts here: Years 1 and 2Year 3Year 4
Let’s recap the 5 year rebuild plan I laid out in October 2008.
2009, Year 1: Shed dead weight, Begin overhauling the farm Summary:Traded Putz for Guti, Carp, Vargas, and managed to get rid of Silva, Betancourt, and Johjima, while also using 3 of first 5 picks on Ackley, Franklin, Seager. Grade: A+
2010, Year 2: Shed dead weight, Continue building the farm (and lock up Felix) Summary:Signed Griffey and Sweeney, locked up Felix and acquired Cliff Lee, then swapped him for Smoak. Could have done without the Morrow trade and of course the Figgins contract. Selected Walker, Paxton, Pryor in rounds 1, 4, 5. Grade: B-
2011, Year 3: Bring the youth up, Evaluate potential, Acquire more young talent Summary:Hired Wedge, traded for Brendan Ryan, picked up Wilhelmson at a local bar, and signed low cost vets such as Cust, Olivo, Kennedy. Fielded an even mix of youth and vets, but loads of young talent in the pipeline for the first time in forever. At the deadline traded Fister for Furbush and Wells. Hultzen chosen with #2 pick. Grade: B
2012, Year 4: continue youth movement, achieve .500 record Summary:Swapped Pineda for Montero and made some shrewd acquistions in Jaso, Iwakuma, Luetge, Millwood, Perez, then saw a young roster come up 6 games short of .500, while improving by 8 games from prior season. Picked Mike Zunino #3 overall. Grade: A
2013, Year 5: add 1-2 big pieces, contend for playoffs Summary: Thus far we’ve seen a few low cost signings in Bay, Ibanez, Bonderman, and a 1 for 1 swap of Vargas-Morales. Grade: ???
I’ve said this before, but in 4 1/2 years on the job, Bill Bavasi set this organization back 5 years, minimum. Last year I stated
“For the first time on Jack’s watch, I think the on field W/L record is important. .500 ball is a reasonable expectation this year, which would be a welcomed site for our eyes.”
Well, The M’s flirted with .500 in 2012 and showed noticeable improvement, albeit without much offense yet again. Entering year 5 the talk of laying the foundation and replenishing the system should be over, and playoff contention ought to be close. Zduriencik has said as much if you’ve heard any of his recent interviews.
If the blueprint holds form, the M’s will be adding 1-2 big pieces this offseason, and assembling a playoff capable team in 2013. This sounds great but it is nearly January and almost all the big name free agents have signed elsewhere, and the only acquisitions Seattle has made are Robert Andino, Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, and a swap of Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales. Not exactly blockbuster moves capable of propelling the M’s from 75 wins into contention. I suppose the big moves we hoped for are still possible if Jack can, for example, land Justin Upton and Michael Bourn, and add a veteran pitcher to round out the rotation. That would certainly be a competitive team, but is that the best route to take?
Given how the AL West is shaping up, it may be best to hang onto the prospects, add a couple decent pieces, and shoot for a respectable 80-85 wins in 2013, while waiting until next year to make the big splash. I don’t see a scenario, at this point, for the M’s to overtake Texas or Anaheim in 2013, and probably not Oakland either. So why go all in? I’m not suggesting Seattle give up any hopes they had for next year, just because the division rivals are pulling away, but I don’t want the M’s to mortgage the future to field a better team next year, but one that cannot be sustained.
Keeping a positive trajectory is crucial next year, seeing an improved offense is also important, but that’s about all we can reasonably expect in 2013. This puts real contention off until next year, and adds a year to the original 5 year blueprint, but taking the path that leads to sustained success is what is most important. We’ve seen the Washington Nationals do this, and Tampa Bay also, and with much less money. It may not be popular, given the fractured fan base, plummeting attendance, and a decade of bad baseball, but Seattle has never given a player a $100 million contract, and unless it is a Felix extension, I don’t see it happening for at least another year. And surprisingly, I’m fine with that.
Last time we met, Dan was talking about how the Mariners pulled off a minor miracle in Texas. Since then, nothing too exciting has happened. The club did what we expected (maybe even hoped for them to do). With that being said, I think we all have different feelings about the team right now. I’m encouraged because the team won the games they were supposed to and that’s with the bats not being close to where they’ll finish the season (although, how many times have we said that in the last few years). Dan is slightly happy with the team but can’t get over Miguel Olivo’s inept play. They’re the team Matthew thought they’d be but he’s still annoyed about seeing his 3rd abysmal home opener in a row. Joe? He’s trying to hunt down Chuck Armstrong and make him write a letter that says if Seattle doesn’t have an NBA team within a year that he has to sell the Mariners immediately.* So, with all of those different opinions in mind I’ll try to write a quick review of the Oakland series and a preview of the next one.
* I don’t actually know if that’s how any of them are feeling. It is a fairly educated guess except for the part about Joe. That’s what Joe wants to be doing, not what he is doing.
The Mariners took 2 of 3 from Oakland this weekend and won’t play them again until late June. Some people think that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing for entertainment reasons. For winning purposes, this is a terrible thing.
On Friday night the M’s lost to Oakland 4-0. I’ve heard the pre-game ceremonies were classy, as usual. The video of the boy stealing 2nd base and finding his dad home from Afghanistan is touching and extremely well done by the organization. Otherwise, it couldn’t have gone worse for the home team. This is three years in a row that Seattle has played a terrible game in their home opener. The stadium also had their debit/credit card system break down and could only accept cash for a large portion of the game. These things happen but it was an unfortunate night for it to happen. Otherwise, Felix looked pretty good. His groundball rates still aren’t where they usually are but they progressed as the game went on so lets hope that trend continues. I still think he’s perfectly fine. The offense disappeared so there’s nothing to recap there.
On Saturday nights game, it was the Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi show. Also, I guess it was the Michael Pineda show because without him the Mariners wouldn’t have those guys. Maybe anytime Jesus or Hector do anything good the Mariners should flash Pineda’s picture on the big screen with the word “THANKS” written across it. Or they could do that with the Yankee logo instead. That’d be cool. It could be done for all trades even. I’d laugh, along with 3 other people in the stadium. Anyway, Noesi pitched 8 shutout innings with 6 K’s. When he came over, it seemed like he’d be a fastball/slider guy but it’s easy to see his 2nd best pitch is his change-up. His fastball velocity is good and I think he’s going to be just fine after that rough, first outing in Texas. Jesus hit his first home run as a Mariner and added a double just for kicks. His home run was a shot to straight-away center showing off his power. The guy can hit and he’s only going to show off more power as the year goes on. He also looked good defensively behind the plate.
On Sunday, it was the Cliff Lee trade that paid off. Justin Smoak homered. Blake Beavan pitched pretty well. John Jaso sat on the bench (he’s a product of this Lee trade if you pay close attention. Josh Lueke for John Jaso!). Those were the storylines but Brendan Ryan homered and Ichiro doubled home the winning run. It’s good to see those guys do things.
So all in all, it was a successful weekend. These are the series that the Mariners have to win and they did. Sure, a sweep would be nice but we can’t really complain about a series win.
Some actual thoughts instead of a recap and a preview after the jump.
Almost. It’s almost game time. On the weirdest opening morning ever, Andrew and I are hanging out, watching the underrated classic Orange County, with The Sandlot on deck. I hope the Mariners never have another 3 AM opening game, but it’s kind of like the Alamo Bowl was: not particularly pleasant, but pretty fun and well worth the memory.
So, what to expect from these Mariners? The playoffs aren’t impossible, but they’re pretty unlikely. It would take almost everyone developing like you would dream, Ichiro and other veterans having huge comeback years, and probably a lot of luck on top of it. Stranger things have happened, but I’m not betting on it. Call 81 wins the more reasonable goal. Even that might be wishful thinking, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
This will really be a season about watching for signs of hope for the future. Ideally this year would provide a couple of guys who can be counted on as future franchise cornerstones, a veteran or two taking a step forward, and the emergence of new prospects to replace those who are now or will shortly be in the big leagues.
More specifically, here’s a few things I’d love to see:
Justin Smoak hitting the ball (and staying healthy). The future Mariners offense looks much better now than it did a year ago, but it still has questions. Ackley and Montero are reasonably sure things given their inexperience, but few others fit that description. If Smoak can consistently flash his talent, he becomes a third middle of the order guy and makes the offense much easier to build.
Ichiro bouncing back. I love Ichiro. I hope he goes back to his pre-2011 level and gets a contract extension and reaches 3,000 hits in Seattle. Don’t know if it’ll happen, but I’m hoping.
One of the outfielders emerging from the pile. The most likely bet here is that Mike Carp solidifies himself as a viable outfielder who can hit, but I’m personally hoping Michael Saunders can do something. Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Franklin Gutierrez: any of you can take this opportunity to do something.
I’d really love for Chone Figgins to not be on the team in August. That would mean they’ve either bit the bullet and released him, or he’s played well enough to be traded. I’m good with either. Sorry, Chone, but I’m just tired of watching you.
It’ll be great when/if the trifecta of Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker make their debuts, but I’ll be watching before that to see if Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan or Erasmo Ramirez can make an impression. Pitchers flame out and get hurt, so banking on three prospects is always risky. The Mariners need to develop some depth.
It’s been a long time since we’ve had one of those bullpens of death like the 2001 team or the Padres always seem to have. I don’t expect this year’s team to change that, but I would love to see a few young relievers emerge to move them in that direction.
So that’s mostly it. A few of those things happen, the M’s score a few more runs, and we get some good memories, and I’ll be fairly satisfied with this year. Not saying I wouldn’t love a surprise run for that 2nd wild card spot, but if I’m trying to be realistic, there are worse things than a young team with lots to prove. Like a team of Miguel Batista, Carlos Silva and Jose Vidro. That is not a fun team. This can be so much better than that.
While Seattle is alternating between snow and sun, the Mariners are already a few weeks into spring training in Peoria, Arizona. Talking to people and reading different thoughts about this year’s team, it seems there are two predominant reactions. For those who are fans but don’t necessarily get deep into following the team, there’s a lack of knowledge and sometimes interest. And who can really blame them? If you don’t care that much about the offseason stuff, the onfield play has given no reason for hope. These people also tend to blame almost everything on Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln, but that’s a different issue.
The second reaction is that even the people who know this team well aren’t sure what to expect. Part of that is natural, as the Mariners have a lot of guys who could rebound significantly, as well as a plethora of young players who could improve dramatically. None of that is certain, though, so outside of Felix, this is a tough team to predict. I think another factor in the uncertainty is that this is a team unlike any Mariners fans have seen in some time. It’s legitimately build on solid young talent. There are some veterans, but they’re either young, like Felix, or will not likely be here long, like Ichiro and Miguel Olivo. The core of this team is young. The last time I remember that being the case is probably back in the early and mid 90’s. They’ve had quality prospects since then, although many haven’t panned out, but those kids were joining veteran-dominated teams.
Now the focus is squarely on the Ackleys and Smoaks and Monteros, and it’s a little hard to know what to expect. This year should start to indicate who will be part of the team longterm and who won’t cut it, but until then, there is plenty of room for knowledgeable fans to disagree on what to expect in 2012. Young teams are unpredictable, and most of us haven’t watched one on a daily basis in a long time.
Just for fun and as a general catchup for those who haven’t been paying a lot of attention to spring training, here’s a little fake Q & A post. If you have real questions, put them in the comments and we’ll give you any thoughts we have. People’s real questions would be more fun to answer than these ones I’m making up!
Any big stories so far?
The biggest has probably been Franklin Gutierrez. This was good at first, as he reported in great shape and seemingly fully recovered from his GI issues of last season. All anyone could talk about was how great he looked, and then he went and hit a homer off Felix in an early intrasquad game. Unfortunately, a couple of days later he tore a pectoral muscle, which sounds terrible, and he will be out at least 4 weeks before he does anything baseball related. Don’t expect him back before May. In fact, if you want to be safe, don’t expect him back at all. He should come back at some point, but given his recent struggles, it seems smarter to just keep the hopes as low as possible and then get excited if he suddenly does return and play well. Continue reading →
Unlike NCAA sports, pro sports don’t come out with pre-season 1st and 2nd teams, but if the AL West had its pre-season team, this is how I think it would shake out. My selection process looks at last year’s performance as well as potential this upcoming year, and often I use the sabermetric WAR to break ties. Some of the picks are obvious (Pujols), and others are less obvious (DH), so of course I’d love to hear your thoughts too.
A quick analysis shows that Texas is the class of the division, with more 1st team selections than the rest of the west combined. Anaheim has good 2nd tier depth, solid pitching, and balance. Texas and Anaheim each have 8 1st or 2nd team selections of the possible 10 positional categories, and of the 14 pitching spots, a whopping 11 are Rangers (6) and Angels (5). The M’s are a distant 3rd, but a ways ahead of the re-building A’s, who are loaded with average players but no star power whatsoever.
I wanted to take this chart one step further, and visually quantify the separation between teams based on these picks. To do so, I’ve simply awarded 2 points for a 1st team selection, and 1 point for a 2nd team selection. Here’s how it shakes out on a bar graph.
This has been a weird offseason for Your Seattle Mariners, but it’s surprisingly almost over. Pitchers and catchers report to Arizona in a few weeks, with the season just over two months away. Actually, since the Mariners open the season in Japan, their season starts a couple of weeks early. Yes, the season opener will be at like 3:00 in the morning on the other side of the International Date Line. Plan your lives accordingly.
Anyway, if you haven’t been paying attention or haven’t stopped to think about what the team looks like, I’ll try to help you out with a little fake Q & A. I’m making up the questions and I probably won’t have any answers, so don’t expect too much, but this will still be a pretty good time.
Who’s new this year?
Well, Jesus Montero’s the big one. More on him in a minute. Then there’s John Jaso, the mediocre young catcher acquired from Tampa Bay, who could actually be a pretty big upgrade. Not a lot after that. There are a bunch of relievers who may or may not make the team. More importantly, the Japanese pipeline is back open, with Hisashi Iwakuma likely to join the rotation and Ichiro’s workout buddy Munenori Kawasaki vying for a backup infield spot. Iwakuma could be pretty good. Kawasaki is good with the glove but unlikely to hit, so that’s nothing new. They just signed Kevin Millwood for rotation depth as well. Continue reading →