How’s Mariners’ reboot going?

 Since becoming the general manager of the Seattle Mariners, Jerry Dipoto has aggressively worked to transform the club’s roster. In just under three months, he’s added 16 players to the club’s 40-man roster. The 47-year-old’s moves have been greeted with a mixture of optimism, scorn, and indifference depending on the names of the players involved and fan’s perceived value of the individuals traded away and received.

For example, dispatching Carson Smith and Roenis Elias to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro and the signing of free agent catcher Chris Iannetta didn’t sit well with the Seattle faithful. Conversely, the addition of Nori Aoki via free agency was much better received. Despite the mixed reviews on Dipoto’s numerous transactions, the Mariners appear to be on track to be better next season.

It’s impossible to know with certainty how much value that Seattle’s new players –  or their holdovers – will provide in 2016. None of us can predict the future, although it can be fun trying to prognosticate. The next best thing to being a seer is using sabermetric projections, which can at least provide some insight into a team’s and player’s future performance.

With that in mind, I decided to compare Seattle’s potential Opening Day 25-man roster to the squad that started last season against the Los Angeles Angels on April 6 at Safeco Field. To help with the comparison, I opted to use Steamer wins above replacements (WAR) projections found here at FanGraphs. Since I’m using the the FanGraphs version of WAR, I’ll be referring to it as “fWAR” from this point going forward.

I understand that fWAR isn’t universally accepted as a reliable measure of a player’s performance by all fans and some in the media, but fWAR helps encapsulate a player’s total value into one statistic that includes base running, defense, and hitting.

fWAR isn’t a concrete measure like batting average or home runs. Rather, it’s an estimation of value that happens to be relatively accurate. Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt, and Joey Votto were the top five position players in 2015 – based on fWAR.  All of these players were in the top three of their respective league’s Most Valuable Player voting. That’s not a coincidence.

First, let’s look at the starting position players from Opening Day 2015 and the likely starting position players for next season. You’ll see that I’ve included the 2015 fWAR for both groups of players and the 2016 Steamer fWAR projection for the current Mariners. At the bottom of each column, I included totals.

   Projected Starters 2015 Starters
Pos
Name 2015 fWAR
2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR
1B Adam Lind  2.2  1.5 Logan Morrison -0.2
2B Robinson Cano  2.1  3.5 Robinson Cano  2.1
SS Ketel Marte  1.7  1.8 Brad Miller  0.9
3B Kyle Seager  3.9  3.7 Kyle Seager  3.9
LF Nori Aoki  1.5  0.9 Dustin Ackley -0.6
CF Leonys Martin  0.5  1.2 Austin Jackson  2.3
RF Seth Smith  2.2  1.2 Seth Smith  2.2
DH Nelson Cruz  4.8  1.6 Nelson Cruz  4.8
C Chris Iannetta  0.5  1.7 Mike Zunino -0.5
Totals 19.4 17.1                                    14.9

A few words of caution before going any further. The projections listed above are nothing more than estimates based on factors such as each player’s playing history and age. Moreover, they can’t predict injuries – like Robinson Cano’s abdominal issues or James Paxton’s finger tendon injury. Thereby, projections are imperfect by nature, especially for young players with a small sample size of appearances in the big leagues. But, it’s still fun to use them during the Hot Stove season.

Even though Steamer projections have Nelson Cruz tailing off considerably in 2016, the starting crew that Dipoto has assembled projects to outperform the 2015 squad. First base, left field, and catcher are clear upgrades – based on last season’s fWAR value. Plus, Cano is expected to continue his second-half turnaround from last season into next year.

The projected Opening Day bench also looks to provide more value in 2016, although that’s not a very high bar to get over. The 2015 bench was an absolute disappointment.

   Projected Bench 2015 Bench
Pos
Name 2015 fWAR
2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR
C Steve Clevenger   0.0  0.4 Jesus Sucre  -0.3
INF Chris Taylor  -0.4  0.3 Willie Bloomquist  -0.6
OF Franklin Gutierrez   2.3   0.6 Justin Ruggiano  -0.1
OF Shawn O’Malley   0.1  0.0 Rickie Weeks -0.7
Totals   2.0  1.3                                        -1.7

Since these are just projections, it’s possible that some of the names I’ve used won’t be with the club when it breaks camp next year. Barring injury, Franklin Gutierrez is the most certain to make the squad followed by Steve Clevenger. Regardless of who earns spots on the club’s bench, there’s a good chance that they’ll surpass the low value of last season’s Opening Day reserves. There’s no where to go, but up.

As with bench players, manager Scott Servais will have more options than the ones I’ve listed in the below starting rotation projection. For example, Mike Montgomery will be in the mix and it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibilities that Dipoto will acquire more arms to either compete in Peoria or provide depth after the season begins.

Dipoto might even trade one of the players I’ve projected to make the rotation. Heck, he might make a move before the end of the evening. But, as of December 13, these five players appear to be the best options for Seattle.

   Projected Rotation 2015 Rotation
Pos
Name 2015 fWAR
2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR
SP Felix Hernandez  2.8  4.7 Felix Hernandez  2.8
SP Wade Miley  2.6  2.1 Hisashi Iwakuma  1.8
SP James Paxton  1.5 1.3 James Paxton  0.5
SP Nate Karns  1.5  1.0 J.A. Happ  1.2
SP Taijuan Walker  1.9  2.4 Taijuan Walker  1.9
Totals  9.3 11.5                                       8.2

Of all of the deals made by the Mariners new GM, the Miley deal has been met with the most fan anger. That probably has more to do with departure of Carson Smith in the trade and the fact that Miley was chosen to replace fan-favorite Hisashi Iwakuma, who joined the Los Angeles Dodgers via free agency. If Miley had been a free agent acquisition by the Mariners, the resistance may have been more muted.

Fan sorrow aside, Miley provided provide more value to Boston than Iwakuma did to Seattle in 2015. Plus, Miley’s 2016 projected fWAR surpasses Iwakuma’s 2015 value. The combination of newcomers Miley and Nate Karns and the projected performance improvements of holdovers Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton are expected to help boost the club’s rotation value by over three wins next season.

After being a strength for the Mariners in 2014, the bullpen went through a season-long tailspin in 2015. Appearances by closer Fernando Rodney were so erratic that they were commonly referred to as the “Fernando Rodney Experience” on social media. The combination of Rodney’s inconsistency, the regression of Yoervis Medina and Danny Farquhar, and a season-ending injury to Charlie Furbish turned the bullpen into the club’s Achilles’ heel.

  Projected Bullpen 2015 Bullpen
Pos
Name 2015 fWAR
2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR
CL Steve Cishek   0.0  0.0 Fernando Rodney -0.8
SU Joaquin Benoit   0.4  0.3 Carson Smith  2.1
RP Charlie Furbush   0.1  0.4 Charlie Furbush  0.1
RP Anthony Bass   0.1  0.3 Tom Wilhelmsen  0.8
RP Evan Scribner  -0.1  0.5 Yoervis Medina -0.1
RP Vidal Nuno
  0.3 0.3 Danny Farquhar -0.2
RP Justin De Fratus  -0.1 -0.1  Tyler Olson -0.4
Totals    0.7  1.7                                         1.5

The trades of the team’s two best relievers – Tom Wilhelmsen and Smith – has led to a great deal of hostility from fans and skepticism from the media. Steamer projections won’t help inspire fans to a leap of faith either – last season’s original relief corps provided approximately the same value that’s predicted for new one assembled by Dipoto. It’s important to note that Smith provided the majority of that value though.

Clearly, Dipoto is expecting Furbush to bounce back from injury and that new acquisitions Joaquin Benoit and Steve Cishek will be able to anchor the back of the bullpen.

Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill assesses the side-arming Chisek as being better suited to be a set-up man rather than a closer for a contender. Jason goes on to point out that if the Mariners find themselves in position to contend in July, they could deal for a better option if neither Benoit nor Chisek demonstrate the ability to maintain their grip on the closer spot.

Fortunately for the team and its fans, it’s only mid-December and there’s still plenty of time for more pieces to be added to the rotation, bullpen, and even the bench. Jason identified several players here who could potentially help contribute to what the Dipoto attempting to accomplish during his roster reboot.

If the season started today, I’d project this team to be better than the 76-win unit that finished a distant fourth place last season. However, neither the Mariners’ rotation nor their bullpen is ready to propel the club into contention. They wouldn’t even qualify as a “fringe contender” at the moment.

 

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