Three moves for the Mariners

 The Seattle Mariners are a .500 club. Since starting 31-22 they’ve lost 25 of 39 and sit 8/5 games back of Texas and 3.5 behind Houston in the American League West. In the Wild Card hunt, the Mariners now are five full games back, a half-game behind Kansas City, two behind Detroit and that same 35 games behind the Astros.

Now what?

While the decision GM Jerry Dipoto and his staff have to make this summer is not yet at hand — it’s close, but they don’t have to decide whether or not to buy or sell for at least another week –there are moves that can be made from within the organization that may give the club a boost.

A few of the first kind are dependent on health. Lefty Charlie Furbush appears close to being activated and right-hander Nick Vincent isn’t far behind. Felix Hernandez is due to be activated Wednesday. Beyond that, there are three transactions that need to take place without a trade. Not that a trade or three wouldn’t be more ideal.

Daniel Robertson for Nori Aoki
Is this a significant move? No. But Aoki is better than Robertson at the plate and capable of streaks far superior to Robertson’s present upside. He’s also (as is Robertson) better defensively than Seth Smith or Nelson Cruz, even though he’s limited with some adventurous routes.

Best foot forward means the absolute best available and despite the small, incremental improvement Aoki brings over Robertson, not doing so at this stage is bad process.

Jesus Sucre to Triple-A Tacoma
Sucre is a good-enough defender but has virtually no chance to help at the plate. Both Rob Brantly and Mike Zunino at least have a shot to hit a ball hard 20 percent of the time or better.

When Zunino was sent back to Tacoma after one start and a few days in the majors filling in for the injured Steve Clevenger, Dipoto told the media it was to make sure Zunino played regularly, since the major-league All-Star break was just around the corner.

But here we are, the break is over and Zunino still is in Tacoma. I have two theories on this:

  • The Super Two threshold for Zunino is close enough that a week or two can make the difference between the former first-round pick being arbitration eligible after this season, and for three more years after this, rather than getting just three cracks at it starting after next season.
  • The Trade Deadline is August 1 (moved back a day so the in-game removal of players during games won’t be necessary) and Zunino is the single most asked about Mariners property not currently on the 25-man roster. If he’s called up and struggles for two weeks, clubs may see his future a bit more bleakly than if he remains in Tacoma raking Triple-A pitching with that one-start, two-homer game in the big leagues in his hip pocket. The latter is a sweet-tasting future of potential and promise. The former represents something closer to a reclamation project.

Either Tacoma catcher is the better bet right now. Make the move.

Leave Montgomery Alone
Mike Montgomery has made two starts while the club awaits The Return of the King and he’s been strong in both and should remain in the rotation.

When Hernandez is activated, the club will need to make a roster move. That move can be any number of arms, but it’s likely to be lefty starter Wade LeBlanc who starts Monday, or southpaw reliever David Rollins. LeBlanc is the likely move.

Keeping Montgomery in the rotation is another ‘best foot forward’ declaration.  When Taijuan Walker returns, presumably by months end, Montgomery still should remain in the rotation, even if it means going with a six-man rotation and six-man bullpen a few times through.

Other near-future moves

  • Adam Lind‘s leash is short, but until the club has a replacement — they currently do not — he’s not going anywhere. Lind still can be of great value to the club. Let me explain. He’s had six good weeks in just over three months. Maybe he won’t be what he was a year ago, which was a consistent threat versus right-handed pitching. All Lind needs to do, however, is have a solid 250 plate appearances between now and the end of the season. The rare OF-1B combo player that isn’t a defensive liability is a rare one, so it might be a better risk to let Dae-Ho Lee play everyday — and it is a risk; he’s not a good athlete, and bad-body players tend to wither with a full-time workload, particularly in the summer heat; and Lee is being exposed to the league more every time he steps to the plate. We’ve seen the power production fade of late — two home runs since June 11 — and without the punch Lee isn’t a big-league option — and see what happens.
  • Despite the presumed health of Furbush and Vincent, the Mariners’ bullpen lacks the lights-out strikeout attack at the back end, aside from Edwin Diaz, and usually-but-not-always Steve Cishek. Another one of these — perhaps one under club control beyond 2016 — changes the dynamic once the M’s offense hands the bullpen a lead.  Think Trevor May, Tyler Thornburg, Jeremy Jeffress.
  • Wade Miley is a mess mechanically, and it’s not noticeable in release-point charts because it’s about the lack of consistency as much as Miley not creating any downward break on his slider and perhaps that’s why he’s using this curveball less often. If he needs to find the white card in his locker, sending him to the disabled list again, so be it. He’s still throwing hard, he’s throwing strikes, but since he’s not Jamie Moyer with pinpoint command, he has to have his slider to pitch effectively inside to right-handed batters and especially to sweep a pitch away from lefties. He hasn’t had it much this season. Left-handed batters are batting .286 with a .667 slugging percentage off Miley’s slider this season after batting .223 with a .353 slugging percentage last season. Apparently, the two weeks Miley was on the disabled list in June and early July were spent playing Rocket League, not tweaking mechanics.
  • If the Mariners fade below Wild Card spot No. 5 and/or somewhere beyond their current five-game deficit by the time the club leaves Pittsburgh for Chicago, selling is certain to become more probable than buying. But the current front office,  the baseball people, and the incoming ownership group — and the outgoing group for that matter — are highly motivated to financially back Dipoto’s efforts at the trade deadline.  They’ll wait as long as they can before listening intently on Seth Smith, Nelson Cruz, Chris Iannetta and just about everyone else on the roster. Selling doesn’t mean a fire sale, however, and there are ways to buy while moving veterans for younger players. For those worried the Mariners don’t have the trade bait to do much: You said that in November, too, and the club landed pieces via the trade route; some didn’t work — Joaquin Benoit, for example, some did, namely Leonys Martin.
  • Cruz may be the most interesting piece the Mariners may considering ‘selling’ if they choose to go that route. Since he’s primarily a DH, the likely fits are the other 14 clubs in the American League. Let’s see… Boston has a DH. Baltimore has so many Mark Trumbo is playing right field. Texas has a need and may have room, considering Prince Fielder is rather useless, but GM Jon Daniels has similar to fish to fry as Dipoto — pitching, pitching, pitching. Houston only is any kind of fit if Evan Gattis is going to catch somewhat regularly, since his time in left field is more of a detriment to the Astros.  The Chicago White Sox are the club left that hasn’t received much production from the DH spot — .235/.318/.361 — and their ballpark figures to limit the damage Cruz’s bad defense can do. Keep an eye on the White Sox here.

 

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Jason A. Churchill

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