Luis Torrens Mariners

The use of defensive shifts is an increasingly contentious topic among MLB fans. Many of whom believe shifts limit action and therefore suck the fun out of baseball. It’s an understandable sentiment also shared by some members of the media covering the sport. Their solution to the shift problem is simple – ban them. Despite the recent groundswell of support for doing away with shifts, I continue to resist the notion of placing restrictions on the defensive countermeasure. For me, nothing about shifts is straightforward. Therefore, taking decisive action without a clear understanding of whether doing so will improve a situation is impractical. Ironically, much of what I’ll be showing you will seemingly justify regulating shifts. Nevertheless, the basis for my refusing to jump onboard the “ban the shift” bandwagon should become clear by the end. Perhaps you won’t agree with me – that’s okay. Respectful discourse and sharing of ideas can generate reasonable recommendations and sustainable solutions. What’s a shift? Intuitively, we know the purpose of defensive shifting is to put fielders in the best position to record outs. Thanks to advanced metrics and cutting-edge technology, clubs can accurately determine the tendencies of individual hitters and then devise a strategy that positions the defense for the greatest chance of success. Think about it. If there were an 80-percent likelihood that a batter hits a ball to a specific zone of the field, why wouldn’t teams consider setting its defense accordingly? Wouldn’t you at least be tempted to gamble with such favorable odds at a Vegas casino? So what exactly is a shift? For our conversation, I’ll be using the Baseball Savant definition, plus two other basic shift-related terms: Standard alignment: All four infielders standing in their traditional spots. Shift: The three or more infielders positioned to the same side of second base. This extreme alignment is the impetus for our conversation. Strategic shift: One player out of position. Example: the second baseman moving into right field. Guarding the lines against doubles, playing the infield in, or at double play depth fall within the standard alignment category. If you want to learn about more about Statcast’s shift classification, you can find information here. We won’t be discussing the use of a fourth outfielder because this defensive oddity is rarely used. Last year, teams used four outfielders 115 times – 0.2-percent of all plate appearances. The two players seeing the tactic most often were Cavan Biggio (24 plate appearances) and former Mariner Justin Smoak (14). Moving forward, the focus will be on the standard alignment and the shift only. Clubs used the strategic shift accounted on less than 10-percent of plays last year, plus it’s essentially a modified standard alignment. Besides, it’s extreme shift causing the stir. Now, let’s turn our attention to shift-related numbers. Shifts are up, but not as much some believe. Teams employed a shift during 34-percent of all plate appearances last season. That’s a steep increase since the beginning of the Statcast era in 2015. Despite this huge increase, extreme shifts were in place for a minority of all plays. The standard alignment remained the most used at 52.1-percent. Lefties see way more shifts. The focus of our conversation is on the entire league. But it’s worth noting left-handed hitters faced shifts much more often than their right-handed hitting counterparts did. MLB – 34-percent LHH – 50-percent RHH – 21.7-percent The universal DH created more shifts. The jump in shifts between 2019 and 2020 may have been less dramatic without the universal designated hitter last year. In 2019, NL pitchers and designated hitters faced a shift during 185 plate appearances – just 0.39-percent of all shifts employed in the majors. In 2020, NL DH plate appearances accounted for six percent of all shifts. Slightly more than half of the 8.6-percent climb in shifts from 2019 to last year was attributable to the universal DH. Therefore, MLB may see a noticeable drop in shifts in 2021. The count matters. It’s become routine during MLB games. Pitcher throws a pitch; the infielders realign their position afterwards. Yes, that’s right. Teams literally determine whether to shift based on the ball-strike count. Even someone like me, who’s averse to restricting shifts, has to admit the aesthetic awkwardness of infielders constantly repositioning is a tedious feature of today’s game. Shifts may affect the amount of balls put in play. One reason I’ve previously railed against curtailing defensive shifts is the recent decline in balls in play. Since 2015, balls in play (BIP) have incrementally dropped from 70.9-percent to 66.3-percent last year. How could shifts affect that? Well, research for this piece led me to realize the BIP rate with shifts deployed was lower than with standard alignments. The anti-shift faction may see this discrepancy as proof of the negative influence extreme shifting has on game action. However, nothing about this subject is straightforward. Since 2015, BIP has decreased by 2.7-percent when shifts were in use. On the other hand, drop during standard alignments is larger (3.9-percent). My takeaway, shifts influence batter and pitcher behavior on some level. However, defensive positioning isn’t the only factor affecting the dip in BIP. Shifts also influences batted balls. We’re also seeing changes in how batters are hitting balls. The following illustrates the rates for the four types of batted ball classifications Statcast uses – fly balls, pop-ups, line drives, and ground balls. We see evidence shifts lead to batters hitting more fly balls and fewer grounders. Is that a bad thing? How are shifts affecting stats? We now know batted balls are decreasing and hitters are putting more balls in the air. How does that translate to player stats? There are obvious changes, plus a few surprises. Please note all rates expressed below are per/plate appearance. Counter to what opponents believe; the shift hasn’t led to a large increase in strikeouts. The difference between shifts and standard alignment last season was rather small – one percent. We’ll return to the strikeout issue later. A stat some shift-haters use as proof of the damage the shift does is batting average. It’s true AVG was considerably lower for batters facing a shift. However, OBP was slightly higher with SLG even better. There was also a notable uptick in home runs and walks. Once again, we encounter numbers suggesting pitchers and hitters behave differently when teams deploy shifts. Base runners remains unchanged.    The preceding table illustrated a noteworthy decline in hits and AVG. This ignites the concern shifts disproportionately limit the number of men on the base paths. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. The following illustrates the percent of all plate appearances with a runner on base. Despite a steep climb in defensive shifts since 2015, the amount of men on base with a hitter at the plate remained stable. Again, nothing about shifts is straightforward. Shifts alone didn’t increase strikeouts and homers. We’ve already noted the jump in home runs and strikeouts with shifts in place last season. However, this increase isn’t solely attributable to shifts. Both were climbing long before teams began embracing shifts. To demonstrate this, I put together the following table illustrating the dramatic rise in home run and strikeout rates over the past five decades. It’s amazing how strikeouts have nearly doubled since the Seventies. I’m sure none of us was surprised to see the spike in home runs during the Nineties. Yet, strikeouts didn’t appreciably increase during the decade dominated by steroid use. This changed with the new millennium. Some teams shift a lot more than others do. MLB had a 34-percent shift rate in 2020. However, shift usage varied greatly between teams. Maybe the level of disdain a fan feel towards the shift depends on their favorite club’s approach. Considering the large delta between the World Series champion Dodgers and the Braves, perhaps the league finds a middle ground on shift usage without help from MLB rule-makers. Then again, maybe not. What about the Mariners? This piece is focusing on MLB, but I thought I’d quickly mention the Mariners since Prospect Insider’s primary reader base hails from the Pacific Northwest. As we saw above, the Mariners were mid-pack with their overall defensive shifting. However, Seattle used shifts more aggressively against lefty hitters ranking fourth highest in the majors behind the Dodgers (77%), Tigers (74%), and Reds (72.1%). Conversely, Mariner hitters faced a shift in 26.8-percent of their plate appearances. Here are the individual rates for prominent players from last year’s squad: Kyle Seager – 76.5%J.P. Crawford – 39.7%Evan White – 16.9%Dylan Moore – 7.9%Ty France – 7.2%Luis Torrens – 5.1%Kyle Lewis – 3.7% Please note the numbers for France and Torrens include their time with the Padres last year. Among 193 players with at least 150 plate appearances, Seager’s 76.5-percent shift rate ranked 19th highest in the majors. At the other end of the spectrum, Lewis ranked 178th. What should be done? The shift is aesthetically unpleasing. Therefore, it’s an easy target for people trying to identify what’s wrong with baseball. Yet, it remains unclear to me whether banning shifts would improve the game from an entertainment/excitement perspective. Yes, singles will increase. But we’ve seen the number of runners on the base paths probably won’t change much. There may be fewer home runs, although that’s not a certainty based on decades-long trends we discussed. Limiting or banning shifts won’t fix baseball’s “strikeout problem.” We should remember hitters from this era believe it’s more helpful to their team from a run production standpoint to strikeout than hit a grounder into a double play. They’re not wrong. Even if MLB banned shifts, would hitters abandon trying to put balls in the air? Remember, slugging gets players paid – not hitting singles. At some point, restrictive measures on shifts might make sense. But not right now for me. That said, I do have a compromise suggestion that could potentially curtail extreme shifting without direct intervention by MLB. Perhaps instituting a 20-second pitch clock, like the one the minor leagues already use, would have the second order effect of limiting the constant re-shifting between pitches. That’s something I’d support. MLB wouldn’t be dictating how teams deployed defenders. However, the time crunch between pitches may compel clubs to re-position less often. In the end, this may lead to less shifts league-wide. As I said earlier, I’m okay with people disagreeing with my rationale. But please consider this whenever debating about baseball. Our views about the game probably depend on the era we became fans, so our opinions can vary drastically. Even when we disagree, we still share a common bond – an affection for the game. With that in mind, I’ll continue listening to others’ ideas with an open mind – even if I don’t initially agree with them. Maybe I’ll learn something new. My Oh My… [tipjarwp id=”2″]Go!

When I was 10-years-old, my family was vacationing in the Catskill Mountains. While there, I plead with my Dad to take me to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which was relatively nearby. He finally relented and we made the trek to sleepy Cooperstown, New York. When we got to the Hall, there were so much to see, so much to learn. I fell in love with baseball that day. Still, one thought never entering that kid’s mind on that beautiful summer day: “I wonder who decided that these players deserved plaques.” Oh, how times have changed. Many years later, baseball fans are now laser-focused on the annual election of new Hall of Famers and the people filling out the ballots – not the Hall itself. The drama surrounding the ballot grows with each passing year. Also on the rise, animosity directed towards the process and the actual electors. There’s always been energetic, sometimes heated, debate on whether ballplayers merited inclusion in the sport’s very exclusive Hall of Fame. This type of banter used to be fun – at least I thought so. Not anymore. Vitriol weaponized by social media, particularly Twitter, has supplanted healthy discourse. Instead of using stats and anecdotes to make a player’s case, people are more apt to hurl insults and profanities – many times anonymously. It’s natural to want our favorite stars to achieve Cooperstown immortality. However, an increasing number of vocal fans equate Hall induction as validation of their team, their city, their fandom. That’s a peculiar correlation when you think about it. Perhaps a personal connection to a particular player and his accomplishments explains the passion displayed by fans. Still, nothing justifies the acrimonious behavior we witness in the months leading up to the Hall announcement each January. Candidates for baseball’s highest honor earned that distinction through hard work and a decade or more of sustained superior performance – not by playing in front of a specific fan base. Another factor fueling the Hall vote drama is the reality baseball writers are unintentionally becoming part of the story. That’s not good. I’m not suggesting the group electing Hall of Famers, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), is responsible for the discord choking the fun out of debating Hall candidacies. Then again, writers publishing their ballot choices for public consumption well before the official announcement in January does add to the drama. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out the theatrics on display in this short docudrama produced by MLB Network. Acclaimed scribe Tom Verducci serves as leading man with his ballot appearing in a supporting role. Academy Awards, he we come. “The weight of history in your hands is heavy.” Tom Verducci takes you through his @baseballhall ballot… and the honor and responsibility that comes with it. — MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) January 26, 2021 “The weight of history in your hands is heavy.” Are you kidding me? It’s a ballot used to select players for inclusion in a museum – albeit an exclusive one. Imagine the effort it must have taken Verducci to vote in our most recent federal, state, and local elections. You know, the elections with actual consequence. I’m not trying to single out Verducci, who has forgotten more about writing than I could ever hope to know. He’s the best of the best. But Verducci’s peers are increasingly injecting themselves into the story by publicizing their ballot selections prior to the official results announcement. Casting an even bigger spotlight on the process is the meticulous vote tracking undertaken annually by Ryan Thibodaux and his staff. Fans, the media, and even candidates can now monitor the progress of vote tallies from the time writers begin announcing their choices in early December until the official announcement a month later. Therefore, we basically know who will or won’t gain entry into the Hall before selections are made public. But is that a good thing? I’m not sure anymore. Perhaps Hall of Fame voting should be remain under a veil of secrecy until the official announcement. I realize that won’t be a popular sentiment with many of you. However, BBWAA members don’t divulge their choices for annual awards such as the Cy Young Award, Most Valuable Player, and Rookie of the Year. Wouldn’t it make sense to enact the same policy for baseball’s most prestigious honor? Will not disclosing Hall of Fame ballots until after the official announcement put an end to the on-line antagonism? No, of course not. Doing so likely generates a different set of controversies. However, the duration of hostilities should be much shorter, as it is with other major sports’ Hall of Fames. It’s probably a pie in the sky thought. But placing a renewed emphasis on the Hall’s mission, not the annual slugfest over the player vote, might reduce tensions. At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I’d like to point out the official name of that wonderful place in upstate New York is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It isn’t simply a place to hang plaques celebrating baseball’s greatest players. So why the emphasis on just one section? The Hall of Fame’s mission is to preserve the sport’s history, honor excellence within the game and make a connection between the generations of people who enjoy baseball. Likewise the institution functions as three entities under one roof with a museum, the actual Hall of Fame and a research library. – Official HOF mission statement The museum celebrates so many aspects of the sport and those who played it, including many who’ll never be a Hall of Famer. Exhibits highlight topics such as the trials and tribulations of Black ballplayers, growth of the sport in Latino and Asian countries, and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. There are two permanent exhibits dedicated to a pair of American icons – Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron – plus memorabilia from the game’s biggest moments throughout its century-plus history. You can learn about the many records held in high esteem by fans young and old. The Hall also pays homage to the people who have brought the games into our homes – writers and announcers. So yeah, it’s not just about very small number of players enshrined in the plaque gallery. Although I wouldn’t recommend doing so, you could skip the wing with plaques altogether and still have a wonderful time at baseball’s Hall of Fame. To learn more about what the Hall offers to fans and students through its museum and education programs, visit its website. Perhaps focusing on the history of the Hall and baseball itself won’t resonate with the masses. Fine, call me a curmudgeon. But the current situation regarding the selection of Hall of Famers feels untenable.  Just to be clear. When it comes to selecting players for the Hall of Fame, the BBWAA is the best choice for the job. Are the writers perfect? No. Who is? That said, they’ve done extremely well at selecting the right players. Still, the too public nature of the Hall selection process and the drama that’s increasingly consuming it are unhealthy for the sport. It’s draining the fun out of something that should be celebratory. And what is baseball without fun? I don’t want to know. My Oh My… [tipjarwp id=”2″]Go!

Marco Gonzales Mariners

While some Seattle Mariners fans are content with the grinding pace of the team’s rebuild, a vocal segment of its fan base is not. They want results now. It’s been nearly two decades since the Mariners appeared in the postseason and they’re tired of it. Enough is enough! Personally, I support the disciplined approach GM Jerry Dipoto and his staff are employing. That said; I understand and respect both side’s point of view. More so now after reading articles by Brent Stecker, editor of and Dave “The Groz” Grosby, host emeritus of 710 ESPN Seattle. Brent preaches staying the course. Don’t rush young players, retain prized prospects, build from within, add premium talent from outside only when ready to contend. Naturally, long-suffering Mariners fans weary from years of mediocrity, who’ve grown accustomed to shifting their attention to the Seahawks in August, disagree. That’s where Groz enters the conversation. Groz believes the Mariners should act now. He’s not suggesting Dipoto should scrap the team’s ongoing rebuild. Instead, do something – anything – to excite the fan base before it’s too late. As Groz astutely notes, the Seattle sports market is highly competitive and likely to become more so moving forward. There’s the Seahawks, who’ve seemingly taken up permanent residence in the minds of local fans. Both the Sounders and Storm have earned their niche in the Emerald City thanks to their sustained superior performance. And then there’s the new kids on the block – the Kraken. In my mind’s eye, Seattle’s NHL entrant is the biggest threat to discretionary income currently spent on the local baseball team. The other franchises have already carved out their slice of the pie. But the Mariners’ lightweight status in MLB combined with diminishing fan interest leaves them vulnerable. Particularly to an incursion by a new and exciting organization determined to succeed immediately. Sure, there will always be “die-hard” Mariners fans. But we shouldn’t ignore the reality that college-age natives of the Pacific Northwest have zero recollection of the team’s last postseason appearance. They don’t remember “The Double” because they weren’t alive when it happened. Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Jay Buhner were their parents’ favorite players. The best Mariner of their generation – Félix Hernández – is no longer here. They want something new and they want it now. That’s why those growing increasingly impatient with the rebuild’s pace are pining for top prospects Jarred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert, Cal Raleigh, Julio Rodriguez, Taylor Trammell, and even 19-year-old Noelvi Marte. After witnessing what 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis just did, they want more of that and less of what’s been going on at T-Mobile Park lately – losing. That brings us back to the Mariners’ current situation. Should Dipoto and crew remain laser-focused on their strategy regardless of fan blowback and the looming competition from Climate Pledge Arena? Would abandoning the rebuild for a win-now approach be better for business? I have a third option likely to resonate with some of you, but not others. What if the Mariners listened to both Brent and Groz instead? Continue developing the kids, as Brent suggests. But heed Groz’s warning. Add free agent talent capable of energizing the fan base this year and contributing for several more seasons. I’m not talking about premium free agents like Trevor Bauer or J.T. Realmuto, although that would be fun. Why not target an established name with recent success, not a reclamation project. How about former Yankee Masahiro Tanaka? I recently suggested Tanaka as a potential candidate to stabilize the Mariners’ young rotation as the club attempts to take the next step. The right-hander represents a veteran presence still capable of delivering results. Essentially, he could serve as a bridge to the organization’s heralded up-and-coming arms – Gilbert, George Kirby, Emerson Hancock, Juan Then, Sam Carlson, and Brandon Williamson. Former Mariner Taijuan Walker or Jake Odorizzi could serve a similar purpose, although neither possess the cache Tanaka does. In the end, the specific names may not matter as much as the team simply making a good faith gesture to reward fans for remaining patient. While my idea would buoy the team near-term, it wouldn’t necessarily guarantee a winning season in 2021. Still, it’d deliver the much needed dose of excitement Groz and so many others want and deserve. Moreover, this approach provides something Mariners fans are desperately craving – hope. Of course, the impatient among us will demand much more than what I’m proposing. I get that. But consider this stark reality. Even if Dipoto traded for Blake Snell and Francisco Lindor this offseason, the Mariners would still begin 2021 as a fringe contender – that’s it. The Mariners organization is deep with young, promising talent. Some of it arrived last season and more is on the way. But what the current team lacks more than anything right now is certainty. It’ll take a lot more than Snell and Lindor to change that. Other than Marco Gonzales, how much confidence do you have in the rest of the current roster? Although Lewis appears on a path to becoming a historically good Mariner, it’s plausible he takes a step back or at least stumbles a bit in 2021. Remember, the Mercer product’s career is a whopping 76 games since debuting in September 2019. Does Evan White take a big step forward or do we see more of the great glove, inconsistent bat on display in 2020? Like Lewis, White has very little MLB experience – just 54 contests. There’s a reason for both hope and concern with the Kentucky alum. Sure, he may flourish. But what if he doesn’t? The same applies to others projected to be in the Mariners’ starting lineup. Tom Murphy will be back after missing last year. But what is he, actually? The native New Yorker has 491 career plate appearances. Gold Glove shortstop J.P. Crawford has an 82 OPS+ through 218 games. Dylan Moore hits the ball really hard and may turn out to be a diamond in the rough. Ty France looks like he can hit anytime anywhere. But can the duo sustain previous short-lived successes over a full 162-game season? Perhaps, but it’s worth noting Crawford has more career plate appearances than Moore and France do combined. Justus Sheffield is another good news story from last year. Can he elevate to the next level in 2021? The 24-year-old seems primed to do so, but he too lacks a long record of success in the majors. And what about Yusei Kikuchi? It’s make-or-break time for the southpaw. Where does Kyle Seager stand entering the final year of his contract and possibly his Mariners career? Will he be a strong presence in the middle of the team’s lineup? Or does he end up leaving Seattle simply remembered as the last remnant of previous failed regime? Just to be clear, pointing out obvious blemishes and concerns with the 2021 roster doesn’t mean I’m souring on the Mainers’ direction. Quite the opposite. However, a lot has to go the team’s way for big strides – and a postseason berth – to become reality this year. Now, a word of caution for the fans okay with sticking with the kids until they develop. Sorry folks, they’re all not going to pan out. Consider for a moment the Astros, a team that blew up its franchise and started from scratch. The end product was a championship and a half-decade of dominance. Yet, not everything went as planned with their rebuild. It’s true Houston developed stars like José Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and Lance McCullers Jr. But, as Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill recently noted, the same farm system yielded far less noteworthy names – Jake Marisnick, Hank Conger, A.J. Reed, Jason Castro, Matt Dominguez, Jordan Lyles and Jared Cosart. Haven’t heard of all of these players? That’s my point. Brent noted in his piece that rebuilds require optimism and that’s true. Thus far, Dipoto and ownership have demonstrated tremendous optimism and an inordinate amount of organizational discipline. That is something the Mariners have never displayed until now. It would be a shame to scuttle such a promising future for a possible whiff of fleeting success. And let’s talk about that infamous postseason drought for a moment. Dipoto can’t undo nearly two decades of mediocrity and disappointment. His tasking is to overcome prior misfires and transform the organization. At the moment, it appears he’s on the right track and should be permitted to continue. Even if the Mariners eventually reach the World Series or…gasp…actually win it, doing so won’t rewrite the team’s history. There will always be that long, barren period of organizational malaise and dysfunction in the record book. Sorry Seattle, nothing will ever erase that. The most logical method to achieve what Mariners fans are clamoring for – a true contender – is continuing on the course set by Dipoto. But giving Mariners faithful something substantive to hold on to until the franchise begins to turn a corner isn’t too much to ask for. Is it? I don’t think so. My Oh My…Go!

Kyle Lewis

Considering he’s reigning AL Rookie of the Year, it’s understandable why some fans may view Kyle Lewis as a future Seattle Mariners star. But is that a fair assessment so early in a young player’s career? Is Lewis a future Mariners star or something else? Just so that we’re clear, I’m not suggesting Lewis can’t be a centerpiece on Seattle’s roster when the club eventually exits from its rebuild phase. Just that we temper expectations for the Georgian until he gains more big-league experience. Only then can we assess what he’ll actually be for the Mariners. Remember, his MLB career to date consists of an 18-game September call-up in 2019 and 58 contests during a pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign – 76 games. That’s it. I realize suggesting anything but stardom for Lewis is tantamount to blasphemy in the eyes of some Seattle fans. Particularly, after the Seahawks just treated them to another early and disappointing playoff exit – sorry 12’s. Still, a closer look at the Mercer product’s season exposes volatility worth discussing. Stone Cold Finish By mid-August, Lewis established himself as a front-runner for the Rookie of the Year award. He was easily the best player on the Mariners leading the team in every significant offensive category through its first 30 games. Not only that, he paced the majors in OBP and was top-5 in wOBA, wRC+, and fWAR. Then, the bottom fell out. In the second half of the Mariners’ truncated season, Lewis’ offensive production cratered. The right-handed hitter’s batting average was worst in the majors, while his slugging and strikeout percentages were bottom-5. Another troublesome indicator; a sudden inability to make sufficient contact. After the Mariners’ thirtieth contest, 208 hitters attempted at least 150 swings. Only two had a higher whiff rate than Lewis. Whiff rate is the percentage of misses on swing attempts. Other notable names on the leaderboard include highly touted Angels prospect Jo Adell, teammate Evan White and AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Luis Robert. Highest Whiff Rates After August 24thBobby Dalbec – 46.2% (BOS)Adalberto Mondesi – 42.7% (KCR)Kyle Lewis – 42.5% (SEA)Willy Adames – 42.2% (KCR)Jo Adell – 41.8% (LAA)Jorge Alfaro – 41.7% (MIA)Miguel Sanó – 39.9% (MIN)Gregory Polanco – 39.2% (PIT)Keston Hiura – 38.2% (MIL)Brandon Lowe – 38% (TBR)Franmil Reyes – 37.85% (CLE)Matt Olson – 37.4% (OAK)Evan White – 36.8% (SEA)Javier Báez – 36.5% (CHC)Luis Robert – 36.4% (CWS) We know current players are far more comfortable with striking out than their predecessors from previous generations. However, making adequate contact still matters and Lewis struggled to do just that for half a season, albeit a shortened one. Evan White Had A Better Second Half When we recently White’s 2020 season, the term used to describe his conventional stat line was “ugly.” For this reason, suggesting he was better than Lewis at any point of the 2020 season may initially come across as a form of comedy. It’s not. The Gold Glove first baseman’s overall production during the Mariners’ final 30 games wasn’t noteworthy – not even close. Yet, his numbers ranked ahead of the 2020 Rookie of the Year’s in nearly every category. As you can see for yourself, the bats of neither Lewis nor White were particularly productive during Seattle’s final 30 games. Lewis did manage to walk at a good clip during his prolonged slump. This helps reconcile the large gap between his AVG and OBP. White Was Also Better In 2019 Since the 2020 was so short, I decided to do another comparison between Lewis and White. This time, their 2019 season stats with Class-AA Arkansas. Some of you may be surprised to learn White was more productive at the plate than Lewis. In fact, the Kentucky alum’s .488 SLG as a Traveler was fifth highest among 131 AA players with 400-plus plate appearances. I have to admit that I previously missed that tidbit. Thanks to FanGraphs, we can quickly determine how minor leaguers stacked up against their peers across MiLB in multiple categories, included several advance metrics. Since a 100 wRC+ is always the league-average, White’s 132 wRC+ tells us he was 32-percent better than the average AA hitter was in 2019. Lewis was above average also, but not nearly as much at 109. It’s important to note I’m not suggesting White will be a more productive major-league hitter than Lewis. I’m only highlighting the disparity between their 2019 production levels and the subsequent similarity of their stats during the final 30 games of the 2020 season. For me, these factors establish the need to wait on more mature data before evaluating either player’s outlook. Reality Check Okay, I’ve demonstrated that Lewis struggled for half of the 2020 season, which may or may not be cause for concern. Perhaps some of you are now wondering whether he’s destined to suffer from the dreaded sophomore jinx in 2021. Although such an outcome is plausible, there are a few things to consider before you consider abandoning the USS Kyle Lewis. Teeny Tiny Sample I’ve said this so many times during the offseason I’ve lost count. Whenever we find ourselves fixated on 2020 stats, we have to remember an important reality. Last season constituted just 37-percent of a normal campaign. Therefore, treating a 60-game slate during a pandemic the same way as a normal year would be unwise. A Work In Progress We should bear in mind the combined major-league experience of Lewis and White is just 130 games. That’s a recurring theme with the Mariners. Only three Seattle hitters on its 40-man roster have more than 500 career plate appearances with any team in the majors. Career MLB Plate Appearances By Current MarinersKyle Seager (5,534)Mitch Haniger (1,499)J.P. Crawford (853)Tom Murphy (491)Dylan Moore (441)Ty France (356)Kyle Lewis (317)Shed Long (296)Luis Torrens (233)Evan White (202)José Marmolejos (115)Braden Bishop (94)Jake Fraley (70)Sam Haggerty (58)Donovan Walton (33) For added perspective, consider this. The longest tenured Mariner – Kyle Seager – has more career plate appearances than the combined total (5,058) of the remaining position players on the team’s current roster. So yeah, we should give the kids a chance before passing judgement on them. Lewis Hits To All Fields A common solution fans suggest to combat defensive shifts is for players to “hit it where they ain’t.” Easier said than done in an era where so many pitchers thrown over 95-mph. Still, Lewis proved capable of spraying the ball around the field last year. Of the 88 players with 50-plus hits, only three had a higher percentage of balls hit straightaway or to the opposite field than Lewis. Highest % of Straightaway & Opposite Field HitsRaimel Tapia – 83.1% (COL)Jackie Bradley Jr. – 81.5% (BOS)D.J. LeMahieu – 80.3% (NYY)Kyle Lewis – 79.6% (SEA)Alec Bohm – 79.6% (PHI)Juan Soto – 77.8% (WSN)César Hernández – 75.8% (CLE)Nelson Cruz – 75% (MIN)Víctor Reyes – 75% (DET)Travis d’Arnaud – 71.7% (ATL) The names you see above are an impressive lot. Included are both league batting champions, four Silver Slugger awards, and a player Mike Petriello of recently compared to a young version of the greatest hitter ever – Ted Williams. Lewis didn’t just slap the ball around the field for singles or doubles as we remember future Hall of Famer Ichiro doing. It turns out most of his home runs were hit straightaway or were opposite fielders. Last year, 68 other players and Lewis hit at least 10 home runs. Only four had a higher percentage of straightaway and “oppo” dingers than Seattle’s center fielder. Highest % of Straightaway & Opposite Field Home RunsJuan Soto – 84.6% (WSN)Dansby Swanson – 80% (ATL)Nick Castellanos – 78.6% (CIN)Eloy Jiménez – 78.6% (CWS)Kyle Lewis – 72.7% (SEA)Ronald Acuña Jr. – 71.4% (ATL)D.J. LeMahieu – 70% (NYY)Keston Hiura – 69.2% (MIL)Teoscar Hernández – 68.8% (TOR)Trea Turner – 66.7% (WSN)Christian Yelich – 66.7% (MIL) Considering so many notable names surround Lewis on our previous two lists, there’s a reasonable chance he can enjoy success in the majors. Improved Strikeout & Walk Rates We all remember Lewis bursting onto the scene in September 2019 with five doubles and six home runs in just 18 games. That said; he also had a 38.7-percent strikeout rate. Only Eric Hosmer (39.6) of the Padres and Toronto’s Teoscar Hernández (39) struck out more frequently that month. Despite the initial spike during his MLB debut, Lewis’ strikeout rate returned to a more normal (at least for him) level in 2020. While Lewis’ 2020 strikeout rate aligned with previous career norms, he did demonstrate significant improvement at earning free passes with a career-high 14-percent walk rate. Even when his strikeouts soared late last season, he still managed to draw walks at a 13.7 walk rate. Good enough for top-30 in the majors and well above league-average (9.2-percent). This is promising. Finally Imagine for a moment we flipped Lewis’ 2020 season splits. Instead of enjoying a torrid start, a stumble out of the gate occurred before a superb finish. Would he have won the Rookie of the Year award? Maybe, maybe not. Does it matter? For Mariners fans seeking recognition and validation for their team’s players, the answer is yes. However, Lewis would be the same player with or without the award. A potential foundational piece deserving more time to develop into the hitter he’s destined to be; whatever that is. For now, I suggest enjoying the sight of Lewis, White, and so many other of Seattle’s youngsters as they develop before our eyes. As Jason A. Churchill deftly noted recently, some Mariner prospects won’t develop as quickly as the team needs. Others will never fulfill the promise their prospect rankings once suggested was possible. In Lewis’ case, seeing his numbers plummet at the end of the 2020 campaign should give us pause. Especially when you consider his 2019 MiLB stats lagged behind White’s, who struggled mightily this year. Having said that, I do feel a degree of optimism that he puts his rough ending behind him and to good use as a learning opportunity. Assuming he continues to have a discerning eye at the plate, keeps his strikeouts at a reasonable level, and uses all fields, Lewis will be a valued contributor to the Mariners. But will he be a star? Time will tell. Considering what he overcame to reach the majors, I won’t bet against Kyle Lewis – ever. Instead, I’ll be rooting for him. My Oh My…Go!

Evan White was arguably baseball’s best defensive first baseman in 2020. Regrettably, his offensive production was the polar opposite. These contrasting realities have a segment of the Seattle Mariners’ fan base wondering whether White can become a foundational piece for the rebuilding franchise. Fan apprehension about White is understandable. It’s hard to ignore a .176 AVG, which was the lowest among qualified hitters this year. Other than slugging eight home runs, all of the rookie’s numbers were significantly below MLB averages. Still, we should remember White’s ugly stat line was merely a short introduction to a bigger story yet to be written. With this in mind, let’s consider the former Kentucky Wildcat’s brief 54-game audition by reviewing several key points about his debut campaign. Some are good, or at least encouraging. Others are really bad, but need to be covered. Let’s start with the worst one. Historically High Strikeout Rate White’s 41.6-percent strikeout rate was second only to Miguel Sanó of the Twins in 2020, but it gets worse. The duo didn’t just pace the majors this year. They produced the two highest strikeout rates of any qualified hitter in MLB history. Highest Strikeout Rates EverMiguel Sanó – 43.9% (2020)Evan White – 41.6% (2020)Chris Davis – 37.2% (2017)Joey Gallo – 36.8% (2017)Chris Davis – 36.8% (2018)Chris Carter – 36.2% (2013)Willy Adames – 36.1% (2020)Joey Gallo – 35.9% (2018)Mark Reynolds – 35.4% (2010)Joey Gallo – 35% (2020) Another indicator of White’s struggles was the high number of multiple-strikeout games. Even for a rookie, the right-handed hitter struck out at a near-record pace. Only Sanó and Javier Báez of the Cubs had more two-plus strikeout performances in their first 54 career games. Most Two-Strikeout Games in First 54 Career ContestsMiguel Sanó – 30 (2015)Javier Báez – 30 (2014)Evan White – 26 (2020)Austin Riley – 25 (2019)Pat Burrell – 25 (2000) To be fair, White isn’t not alone in rapidly achieving a significant number of two-strikeout games. Stars such as Giancarlo Stanton (23), Trevor Story (22), George Springer (22), Kris Bryant (22), and Fernando Tatís Jr. (21) were relatively close to White’s total after their first 54 contests. Not Enough Contact Although White struck out at a record-setting pace, he wasn’t a free-swinger. Check out his plate discipline numbers found at Baseball Savant. Included are MLB averages for each category. Among hitters facing 750-plus pitches, White’s 43.8-percent swing rate ranked just ninety-first. Notable hitters swinging more often included Corey Seager, José Abreu, Freddie Freeman,  D.J. LeMahieu, Bryce Harper, Trevor Story, Manny Machado, Nelson Cruz, and Tatís. Similarly, the Mariners’ first baseman wasn’t hyper-aggressive by chasing balls outside the strike zone. Although White wasn’t a free-swinger, his contact rates inside and outside of the strike zone were significantly lower than MLB averages. As a result, the Ohio native’s 38-percent whiff rate fell in the fourth percentile meaning 96-percent of hitters were better. Whiff rate is the percent of misses on attempted swings. The perfect storm of White’s below average swing aggression and low contact rates led to him putting just 12-percent of pitches he saw into play, which was one of the lowest rates among qualified hitters this year. Lowest Percentage of Balls Put in PlayMiguel Sanó – 11%Christian Yelich – 11.3%Ronald Acuña Jr. – 11.4%Joey Gallo – 11.9%Niko Goodrum – 11.9%Gary Sánchez – 11.9%Evan White – 12%Yasmani Grandal – 12.2%Gregory Polanco – 12.6%Ryan McMahon – 12.7% A subset of White’s contact issues was the number of times he struck out on a called strike. On 253 occasions, the Lincoln High School product faced a two-strike. Once again, he led the majors in an inauspicious category by hearing a called strike three on 10.3-percent of those pitches. Now that we’ve discussed the really bad stuff, let’s look at factors suggesting White can improve upon his extremely difficult rookie campaign. Great Hard Hit Rate In November 2019, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto told David Laurila of FanGraphs that White had the second highest exit velocity in Seattle’s minor league system behind only 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis. This year, the 24-year-old validated Dipoto’s confidence with a 52.5-percent hard hit rate, which ranked thirteenth among qualified hitters. Hard hit rate is the percent of batted balls with an exit velocity greater than or equal to 95-MPH. The following list, which includes White, includes several of baseball’s biggest stars. Top Hard Hit RatesFernando Tatís Jr. (62.2%)Travis d’Arnaud (57.8%)Miguel Sanó (57.3%)Ronald Acuña Jr. (57%)Corey Seager (55.9%)Eloy Jiménez (55.7%)Christian Yelich (55.6%)Mike Trout (55.1%)Marcell Ozuna (54.4%)Freddie Freeman (54.2%)José Abreu (53.3%)Teoscar Hernández (53.1%)Evan White (52.5%)Juan Soto (51.6%)Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (50.8%) Another indicator of White’s ability to produce well-struck balls was a 14.1-percent barrel rate, which placed him twenty-sixth among 257 qualified hitters. In 2020, MLB barreled balls averaged a 104.5-MPH exit velocity producing a .797 AVG and 1.373 wOBA. Moreover, 81.5-percent of all home runs in 2020 were barreled balls. Obviously, White’s proficiency at creating hard contact would be more beneficial if he put bat-to-ball more often. While his 14.1-percent barrel/batted ball sounds impressive, he had a more pedestrian 6.9-percent barrel/plate appearance ratio that ranked seventy-third in the majors and behind teammates Dylan Moore (8.2%), José Marmolejos (7.8%), and Seager (7.3%). Leading the majors was Fernando Tatís Jr. at 12.5-percent rate. Other Rookies Had Strikeout Woes Several other notable freshmen have recorded excessively high strikeout rates in recent years – Joey Gallo (46.3%) of the Rangers in 2015, current Mariner Tom Murphy (45.8%) with the Rockies in 2018, and Javier Báez (41.5%) as a Cub in 2014. Moreover, celebrated Angels prospect Jo Adell (41.7%) struck out as often as White did this year. Perhaps the most recognizable rookie with a super-high strikeout rate was Aaron Judge. Although he’d be the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year, Judge had a 44.2-percent strikeout rate at the end of the 2016 campaign. That’s the highest strikeout rate ever recorded by a player with 90-plus plate appearances during the final two months of any season. Since then, the Yankees slugger’s strikeout rate hovers around 30-percent. If you’re wondering why we didn’t discuss the high strikeout rates of Gallo, Murphy, Báez, and Judge earlier, they didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Thanks to COVID-19, White did this season with just 202 plate appearances. Just for fun, I compared White’s 2020 to the debut years of Judge and Báez. Coincidentally, their stat lines are from the final two months of the season indicated. Obviously, we’re talking about three completely different players. That said; both Judge and Báez have gone on to be an MVP runner-up after extremely high strikeout rates during their initial debuts. Perhaps knowing this fosters some measure of patience among Mariners fans concerned about White. Am I predicting White is a future MVP candidate? No, but the achievements of Judge and Báez suggests it’s too early to typecast White. No History Of Strikeouts Problems In 2019, there were 686 minor leaguers with 400-plus plate appearances. White’s 23-percent strikeout rate with Class-AA Arkansas ranked 303rd within this group. Furthermore, his overall career MiLB strikeout rate was 20.4-percent – very different from this year. Considering the large gap between White’s strikeout rates in the majors and minors, let’s review the MLB/MiLB strikeout and walk rates of the high-strikeout rookies we’ve been discussing. In every case, players struggling out of the gate eventually improved greatly once they gained MLB experience. With this in mind, please note White and Adell debuted less professional experience than anyone in our group. Each had just over 1,000 MiLB plate appearances prior to reaching the show. Could it be all the duo needs is more time to establish themselves as big-league hitters? A Respectable Six Weeks White’s overall offensive production numbers were undeniably bad. The again, he did manage to cobble together an encouraging 30-game span within the season (August 12 – September 21). During this time, his stat line was average-ish. During White’s decent six weeks, his .468 SLG led the team, while only Lewis (7) had more home runs. Similarly, the AL Rookie of the Year was the only Mariner with a higher wOBA (.337) than White, who also paced Seattle with a 15.1% barrel rate. Yes, I’m cherry picking. However, 30 games was half the regular season and 55.6-percent of White’s MLB experience. Again, maybe all time is what he needs to prove his value to the team. The Contract Isn’t A Big Deal When the Mariners signed White to a six-year/$24 million extension in November 2013, the news caught the attention of the baseball world. Per Baseball Prospectus, the deal was the largest contract awarded to a U.S. player, who hadn’t played above Double-A. Naturally, the contract received scrutiny from fans, local media members, and several scribes on the national stage. During the season, Jon Heyman of MLB Network mentioned White’s deal in a tweet that riled some Seattle fans. Evan White is said to be a great kid and he’s obviously a really good defender, but to give $24M to someone who’s only played Double-A and hadn’t proven he could hit a breaking ball was a bit of a risk. He should be OK but is currently batting .114. — Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) August 15, 2020 Some Mariners fans came to White’s defense by attacking Heyman, although it’s important to note his comments were accurate. The 2017 first round pick was hitting .114 at the time and it’s true signing a player with just four games at Triple-A to a six-year deal is risky. The issue for the Mariners is how much risk the team is actually assuming. I believe the correct answer is not much. Let’s explore White’s contract through its six guaranteed years and the three club options afterwards. The following illustrates his projected annual salary and the running total throughout the deal. All contract data is courtesy of Sportac. In baseball terms, White’s pro-rated $481,481 salary this year was low. Assuming there’s a full 162-game slate in 2021, he’ll receive $1.3 million. Among the 23 first baseman with guaranteed contracts, White ranks last just behind former teammate Daniel Vogelbach ($1.4 million). Even at its guaranteed peak in 2025, White’s $8 million salary currently ranks twelfth among his positional peers. Per Sportac, the current average pay for a first baseman next season is $5,826,987. He won’t exceed that threshold until 2024 – not exactly a budget buster. On that note, let’s not forget the Mariners are paying the Mets $3.75 million in each of the next two seasons so Robinson Canó plays in Queens instead of the Emerald City. Even if White doesn’t develop into a centerpiece on the Mariners’ roster, his salary won’t deter the club from acquiring other major league talent. His paycheck would be a nothing-burger for a serious postseason contender willing to spend up to its market size. Reality Check The Mariners expected White to struggle this year and he most certainly did. Perhaps management would’ve dispatched him to Class-AAA Tacoma to re-cage himself, if there had been a minor-league season. That opportunity didn’t exist, so he learned on the job taking his lumps as a major leaguer. Enduring such adversity can potentially be a good thing. Realistically, White doesn’t have to be great at the plate to be valuable to the Mariners; average would be acceptable. Remember, his 7 DRS led the majors in 2020. Not only that, just two first basemen – Matt Olson (23) and Christian Walker (10) – had a higher combined DRS for the 2019-20 campaigns than White’s tally for this year. And average is exactly what we saw from White during the 30-game period we discussed. Similar productivity sustained over a full season is all Seattle needs for the Gold Glover to be a foundational piece for the team. Otherwise, he’ll be just another in a long line of Mariner busts at first base. Personally, I’m banking on White being much better than average next year and that he’ll become a cornerstone player for the Mariners. He hits the ball extremely hard and it’s highly likely his strikeouts drop significantly with additional MLB seasoning. Perhaps, someday, fans will consider Evan White the best first baseman in Mariners franchise history. After such a turbulent debut, wouldn’t that be something? My Oh My…    Go!

No unit on the Seattle Mariners’ roster improved more this year than its starting rotation. Could the same staff lead the Mariners to the postseason in 2021? As preposterous as the notion may sound to some of you, I believe such a reality is achievable. What’s driving my seemingly over-optimistic assessment? Several factors favoring the Mariners heading into next season. Let’s discuss. Quality Performers Through the lens of xwOBA, we can get a sense of a pitcher’s ability to avoid quality contact and prevent base runners – two factors crucial to being successful. A particularly helpful aspect of xwOBA is defense and the official scorer have no influence. In Seattle’s case, the rotation had a combined .308 xwOBA this year – ninth lowest in MLB and below the .314 MLB average starting pitchers. Not every outing was a success; there were clunkers. Nevertheless, manager Scott Servais received quality performances from his starting staff more often than the rotations of several postseason participants delivered this year. A closer look reveals four Mariners facing at least 130 hitters as a starter had an xwOBA below the league average: Yusei Kikuchi, (.279), Marco Gonzales (.291), Nick Margevicius (.301), and Justus Sheffield (.303). Impressive considering most clubs with at least four starters meeting our 130-plus hitter/below league-average xwOBA criteria qualified for October baseball. It’s not surprising to see the Dodgers leading the pack with five starters – Clayton Kershaw (.263), Tony Gonsolin (.264), Julio Urías (.282), Walker Buehler (.283), and Dustin May (.304). All five return next year, plus 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price is set to rejoin the team after opting out this year due to COVID concerns. The Rays boasted Tyler Glasnow (.263), Charlie Morton (.293), Blake Snell (.295), and former Mariner prospect Ryan Yarbrough (.309). Complementing the starting staff was one of the best bullpens in baseball. We saw plenty of Tampa Bay’s dynamic and versatile group of relievers in the postseason. Perhaps we saw them too soon in Game 6 of the World Series. That’s a conversation for another day. Cleveland was led by 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber (.242), Zach Plesac (.274), Carlos Carrasco (.289), and Aaron Civale (.310). Just falling short of inclusion was top prospect Triston McKenzie (.289) with 127 hitter faced. The team was so deep in starting pitching, management was comfortable with trading Mike Clevinger to San Diego in late August. In the Bronx, the Yankees rolled out Gerrit Cole (.262), J.A. Happ (.270), Jordan Montgomery (.292), and Masahiro Tanaka (.297). It’s worth noting rookie Deivi García just missed qualifying for our list with a .315 xwOBA. New York will be relying on 21-year-old to help to fill the void created by the potential free agent departures of Happ and Tanaka. Two surprises- at least to me – were the Reds and Marlins. Both teams managed to qualify for the postseason with identical 31-29 records despite subpar run production. Only the Pirates and Rangers scored less than Cincinnati’s 4.05 runs/game. The Fish weren’t much better (4.38 runs/game). So how did these two clubs qualify for October baseball? Quality starting pitching, of course. The Reds boasted NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer (.219), Luis Castillo (.260), Tyler Mahle (.268), and Sonny Gray (.270). Supporting the rotation was a top-10 bullpen. Despite the 2020 success, the team faces the unenviable reality of losing Bauer to free agency. Miami’s rotation was very young and very good. Leading the way, rookie Sixto Sánchez (262) followed by Pablo López (.270), Trevor Rogers (.278), and Sandy Alcantara (.298). All were 24-or-younger this year. Unlike Cincinnati, the Marlins’ bullpen was a weak spot for NL Manager of the Year Don Mattingly. The two clubs not reaching the postseason despite having four pitchers meeting our criteria were the Phillies and Mariners. Philadelphia’s main rotation contributors were Zach Eflin (.270), Aaron Nola (.274), Zack Wheeler (.284), and Vince Velasquez (.295). The club also had a prolific offense that averaged over five runs scored/game. However, its bullpen was among the worst in baseball as was its defense. Prospect Insider readers are well aware of Seattle’s shortcomings this year. Unlike the Phillies, defense was a strong suit with two Gold Glovers in the infield. However, the bullpen was wildly inconsistent and unreliable. Furthermore, the lineup delivered below-average production (4.23 runs scored/game and a 91 OPS+). The 2020 seasons of the Phillies and Mariners demonstrate it takes more than good starting pitching to earn a playoff berth. Look no further than the Braves, Cubs, Padres, and Blue Jays for proof. Each team had either one or two pitchers meeting the 130-plus hitter/below league-average xwOBA criteria and still reached the postseason. Still, I’d prefer being in the position of the Mariners over clubs without a solid core of starting pitchers to build around. As I’ve written before, premium, controllable starting pitching is the rarest of commodities in baseball. Room For Growth It’s plausible Gonzales, Kikuchi, Sheffield, and Margevicius are better next year. That’s an exciting proposition for the still-rebuilding Mariners. Gonzales doesn’t fit into the mold of a prototypical staff ace, but the left-hander was top-20 in the majors in multiple categories including ERA, WHIP, BB%, SO/W, and innings pitched. Moreover, his .291 xwOBA was among the 30 lowest among MLB starters this year. There’s no reason to believe the 28-year-old Gonzaga alum can’t continue improving his mastery on the mound well into his thirties. I recently wrote that advanced metrics suggest there’s a realistic path to greater success for Kikuchi. Yes, the 29-year-old’s conventional stats were underwhelming. But his team-leading .279 xwOBA is hard for me to ignore. The talent is there. All Kikuchi has to do is put it all together in 2021. Just a season after the Mariners demoted him to Class-AA Arkansas due to control issues, Sheffield emerged as a cornerstone in the rotation. Considering he’s just 24-years-old, it’s reasonable to expect the best is yet to come for the southpaw. Margevicius, who experienced a bumpy MLB debut with the Padres in 2019, appeared to find his comfort zone in Seattle this year. How he fits into the club’s long-term plans remains unknown. But the 24-year-old former Rider Bronc demonstrated during his 2020 audition he possesses the ability to deliver quality from the back of the rotation. Potential Help From Within There are several young arms in the organization, who may prove capable of complementing or even supplanting the quartet we’ve discussing. The most notable names are Justin Dunn, Ljay Newsome, and Logan Gilbert. For now though, they remain unknown commodities with potential heading into next season. Dunn’s 4.34 ERA during 10 starts this year doesn’t look that bad for a rookie. Moreover, opponents hit .189 against him, which was the eleventh lowest AVG among starters this year. However, Statcast paints a different picture. The Boston College product rated poorly across the board, particularly in elements affecting xwOBA – exit velocity, plus strikeout, walk, and barrel percentages. Still, Dunn will be entering his age-25 season and may simply need more time to blossom in the majors. After all, he never pitched above AA before joining the Mariners as a September call-up in 2019. That said; it’s possible the team eventually transitions the right-hander to the bullpen. It’s worth noting Jason A. Churchill suggested this possibility in his 2020 Prospect Rankings. Churchill commented Dunn’s fastball velocity could tick up to the 95-99-MPH range as a reliever, while his slider may rival Edwin Díaz’s. As Corey Brock of the Athletic noted in January, Newsome benefited from the Mariners’ “Gas Camp” prior to the 2019 season. The right-hander’s fastball velocity prior to attending averaged 88-MPH. In 15 innings with Seattle this year, his velo was at 91.4-MPH. The Maryland native isn’t a “swing and miss” type, although he doesn’t surrender free passes often. In 2019, his 2.7-percent walk rate was lowest among 436 minor leaguers throwing 100-plus innings. With Seattle, he walked one of 68 batters faced. Gilbert is the organization’s top pitching prospect and probably would’ve debuted sometime during the 2020 season, if the pandemic shutdown minor-league baseball this year. Perhaps the 23-year-old joins the Mariners next season and makes an impact as Sánchez did with the Marlins. Then again, Gilbert could initially struggle facing big league hitters similar to the way Sheffield did. Another potential contributor to the rotation could be Chris Flexen, who the Mariners reportedly signed to a two-year deal last week. In 68 innings spread over three seasons with the Mets, Flexen walked more hitters (54) than he struck out (49). However, the 25-year-old started games in Korea this year striking out 132 and walking just 30 in 116.2 innings. More Postseason Opportunities MLB commissioner Rob Manfred prefers continuing an expanded postseason format in 2021. Previous comments from Manfred suggest something less than the 16 teams making the playoffs in 2020, but more than the usual 10 reaching October prior this year. The logical outcome is either a 12 or 14-team bracket. Assuming Manfred gets his way, there will be more paths leading to the postseason in 2021 than prior to the pandemic. This bodes well for a club like the Mariners that’s trying to pivot from rebuild-mode to relevance. Looking To 2021 Despite the rosy picture I’ve been painting, there are potential landmines that could stall the Mariners’ postseason aspirations next year. Obviously, run production must improve. More importantly, GM Jerry Dipoto needs to acquire quality late-inning relief arms capable of depressurizing the bullpen for the team’s younger relievers. Regression by Kikuchi, Sheffield, or Margevicius is a potential obstacle. So is Gilbert stumbling out of the gate. One way Dipoto could mitigate risk would be adding an established starter. Specifically, a postseason-tested veteran capable of stabilizing a staff comprised of mostly young or inexperienced arms. Not long ago, we discussed eight potential candidates Dipoto could consider. Assuming the Mariners confront these issues head on, the rotation can lead a Seattle march back to the postseason for the first time since 2001. Perhaps vying for the AL West division title, as Dipoto has suggested, would be a bridge too far. But a Wild Card berth would be fine at this point. Wouldn’t you agree? My Oh My….Go!

Improving the bullpen is an obvious offseason priority for the Seattle Mariners. But adding a veteran rotation arm is likely on the agenda of GM Jerry Dipoto also. The New Jersey native said as much in September. During the most recent edition of The Wheelhouse podcast, Dipoto told hosts Aaron Goldsmith and Gary Hill Jr. the team would look to add another starting pitcher via free agency or trade. He then noted such a player wouldn’t necessarily be on the young side. As the conversation progressed, Dipoto cited the current Padres as a club the Mariners could soon resemble in terms of quickly rising in the standings. San Diego went from last place in 2019 to the postseason this year. JeDi then mentioned the 1991 Braves as another example of a cellar dweller rapidly bursting on the playoff scene. Atlanta went from having the worst record in 1990 to reaching the World Series the following year. Driving the club’s turnaround, a core of talented young players beginning to gel as a unit. Most notably: David Justice, Ron Gant, Mark Wohlers, Mike Stanton, Steve Avery, and future Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. Complementing the Braves’ youngsters were productive veterans acquired by the team, who were capable of leading and stabilizing a youthful roster. Two players specifically mentioned by Dipoto were starting pitcher Charlie Leibrandt and third baseman Terry Pendleton. “There’s a time when you go add your Charlie Leibrandt and your Terry Pendleton.” – Jerry Dipoto Clearly, Dipoto believes now is the time to add a stabilizing veteran presence to the rotation. Someone “who’s been down that road before,” as he put it to Goldsmith and Hill. In his mind, such a move would help increase the Mariners’ chances of competing for the postseason next year. “We are going to go out and add that veteran presence and stabilizing force that we think can put our team in a position to contend in our division next year.” – Jerry Dipoto on his rotation Linking those powerhouse Atlanta teams to a potential upstart Mariners squad is fun, although maybe a bit of a stretch at this point. Still, I have to admit my interest is piqued. Who might be Dipoto’s Charlie Leibrandt? To take a stab at answering my query, I compiled a list of potential candidates based on Dipoto’s comments and the state of the market nearly three decades after those “worst to first” Braves rose to prominence. Since it’s been a few days since Leibrandt played in the majors, let’s quickly refresh on his three seasons with Atlanta. The Braves acquired Leibrandt via trade prior to the 1990 season and then re-signed him as a free agent a year later. His presence helped give Smoltz, Glavine, and Avery time to establish themselves as big-league starters. Making $1.83 million in 1991, Leibrandt was Atlanta’s highest paid pitcher. In fact, he earned over $600 thousand more than the young trio did combined. It was money well spent. The Miami of Ohio product’s 4.5 bWAR was eighth best in the NL. Glavine (8.5) led the majors with Smoltz (5.4) and Avery (5.2) rounding out the top-5 in the Senior Circuit. Although Dipoto mentioned the Mariners could find their Leibrandt via trade or free agency, I chose to focus solely on candidate currently not under another club’s control. A word of caution, this isn’t an all-inclusive list. You won’t see Trevor Bauer. Instead, with one exception, we’ll be talking about thirty-something pitchers with potentially something still left in the tank. Furthermore, none has a qualifying offer attached to them. It’s also worth mentioning the Mariners’ plan of using a six-man rotation may not appeal to some free agent starters, particularly those looking to sign a “prove it” deal and re-enter free agency after the 2021 campaign. Then again, a six-man staff may potentially appeal to a pitcher with an injury history or someone returning from an injury in 2020. On that note, two candidates missed most of this year. You’ll see their 2019 stats illustrated. Garrett Richards – RHP On one hand, Dipoto is familiar with Richards. His best seasons were 2014-15 – the final years of Dipoto’s tenure as Angels GM. Then again, those best years were over a half-decade ago. Unfortunately, injuries have plagued Richards throughout his career. As a result, he’s made 30 starts just once in 10 big-league seasons. Matters worsened for the former Oklahoma Sooner when he underwent Tommy John surgery during the summer of 2018. This year was Richards’ first “full” season back on the mound since the surgery. He posted a respectable .315 xwOBA in 14 appearances, including 10 starts, for San Diego. In a way, was Richards the Friars’ Charlie Leibrandt this year? It’s plausible undergoing TJ surgery helps Richards put his long injury history behind him and propels him to a strong second act to his career. If that’s the case, being in a six-man rotation with the Mariners in 2021 could prove beneficial to both player and team. Mike Fiers – RHP Fiers’ numbers won’t blow anyone away. His 14.4-percent strikeout rate in 2020 was a career-low, while his .320 xwOBA was league-average. Still, the veteran has been a dependable performer during his 10-year career. From 2015 through 2019, Fiers averaged 30 starts and 172 innings. This year, the Floridian completed at least six innings in six of his 11 outings with Oakland. For context, only Marco Gonzales (7) had more on the Mariners with Justus Sheffield also finishing with six. Adding another arm capable of providing length, like Fiers, would help take pressure off the young rotation and its supporting bullpen. Adam Wainwright – RHP Wainwright is in the twilight of his career, but he put together a solid 2020 campaign as a 38-year-old. Originally a first round pick of the Braves in 2000, the Georgian eventually made his MLB debut with the Cardinals in 2005 and remained with the team until now. Considering his longevity in the Midwest, would Wainwright consider a move from St. Louis to the Pacific Northwest in 2021? If the answer is yes, perhaps Dipoto can woo Wainwright to the Emerald City. Adding a three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glover with a postseason pedigree could help such a young rotation. The 2010 NL Cy Young Award runner-up has 15 playoff starts with 109 innings pitched. As a rookie, he notched a save in the deciding games of the 2006 NLCS and World Series. Sounds like someone “who’s been down that road before” to me. J.A. Happ – LHP The former Mariner doesn’t have a lengthy history with the team – the previous regime traded him after a half-season in 2015. But a reunion would certainly benefit Seattle, especially if Happ repeats his 2020 production. Happ’s .270 xwOBA ranked twenty-fifth among pitchers facing 150-plus hitters this season and bested all Seattle starters this year. He’s also proven durable throughout his career. Between 2014 and 2019, the Northwestern product averaged 29 starts and 168 innings annually. José Quintana – LHP This year totaled four outings and 10 innings for Quintana. Hence, the 2019 stats on the preceding table. The left-hander’s problems started with thumb surgery prior to the season opener due to a dishwashing injury. He returned in late August with a pair of relief appearances to build up arm strength before developing lat inflammation. Assuming the lat inflammation isn’t a precursor of bad things to come, Quintana can help the Mariners. Before this year, he averaged 32 starts annually dating back to 2013, while his career .317 xwOBA is league-average. Essentially, the Colombian won’t be the main attraction in a rotation. But he’s a veteran capable of solidifying a starting staff. Taijuan Walker – RHP The 2010 first round pick holds the dubious distinction of being traded twice by Dipoto. First in November 2016 in a deal bringing Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura from Arizona to Seattle. Then, this August he joined the Blue Jays in a swap for minor leaguer Alberto Rodriguez. Could three times be a charm for Walker and the Mariners? Walker’s 2.70 ERA looks impressive, although his 4.87 expected ERA (based on launch angle and exit velocity) doesn’t paint the same rosy picture. Furthermore, his .325 xwOBA was basically league-average – he’s never had an xwOBA below .320. Unlike previous candidates, the Yucaipa High School product has never made 30 starts in a season and has topped 150 innings just twice (2017 in Arizona and 2015 with Seattle). Still, 2020 was Walker’s first season since undergoing Tommy John surgery early in the 2018 campaign and experiencing shoulder issues during his recovery last year. It’s reasonable to expect he’ll be better in 2021. How much better is the question potential suitors will have to determine. For the Mariners, Walker is a known commodity. Management has previously suggested he was a good fit with the club’s cadre of developing young arms. That said; does his production warrant a multi-year deal? Assuming good health, I would say yes. Jake Odorizzi – RHP This year was an injury-plagued disaster for Odorizzi. First came a back injury, followed by an abdominal injury from being struck by a line drive, and then a blister in September. Overall, he made four starts and logged 13.2 innings with a 6.12 ERA. Still, 2020 was probably an outlier. During the six seasons leading up to 2020, Odorizzi averaged 30 starts and 165 innings. Moreover, he’s just a year removed from an All-Star campaign with the 2019 AL Central division champion Twins. The Illinois native’s .304 xwOBA would’ve led all Mariners starters, including Gonzales (.315). To be clear, nothing on the back of Odorizzi’s baseball card suggests he’s an ace. Among the 204 starters facing at least 1,000 hitters since the Statcast era beginning in 2015, his .324 xwOBA is middle of the pack. But he could serve as the stable presence Dipoto craves. Masahiro Tanaka – RHP Perhaps Tanaka eventually re-signs with the Yankees. But let’s assume he and New York don’t come to terms on a new pact. In that case, he’d be a tremendous get for the Mariners. In 2014, Tanaka was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. To date, he hasn’t needed the usual fix for such an injury – Tommy John surgery. Certainly, his elbow would require close scrutiny by any potential buyer’s medical team. Still, the native of Japan has been a model of consistency and durability. Among starters throwing 1,000-plus innings since Tanaka’s 2014 debut, only Clayton Kershaw (4.3-percent) and Mike Leake (4.7-percent) have a lower walk rate than Tanaka’s 4.8-percent. During 2016-19, he averaged 30 starts and 179 innings annually. Is Tanaka a front line starter? Perhaps not, but he’d offer the Mariners an experienced starter possessing pinpoint control and postseason experience. Finally Our list included two left-handers – Happ and Quintana. In 2020, the Mariners 208.2 innings from lefty starters. That was most in the majors with Oakland trailing them by 85 innings. Currently, the team has four projected southpaw starters – Gonzales, Sheffield, Yusei Kikuchi, and Nick Margevicius. Will Dipoto want to add another lefty to starting staff? We don’t know the answer to that question. Perhaps the Mariners aren’t concerned about the number of left-handers in the rotation, although I suspect they do. Then again, having too much of anything isn’t necessarily a problem in December. A lot can change between now and Opening Day, particularly with a GM proficient at making trades. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing any of the names on our list joining the Mariners for 2021. But my top choices would be Tanaka, Odorizzi, or Walker. Each potentially provides an opportunity to stabilize the club’s rotation and deliver positive results for Seattle in 2021 and hopefully beyond. If Dipoto succeeds at adding a pitcher of Leibrandt’s ilk, will his team eventually develop into a juggernaut like the Braves of the Nineties?  Time will tell. For now, the Mariners simply reaching the postseason for the first time since 2001 would suffice for its playoff-starved fan base. My Oh My…Go!

This year was going to be different for Seattle Mariners starter Yusei Kikuchi. At least that’s what we thought heading into the regular season. Revamped mechanics, increased fastball velocity, and a new pitch fueled expectations he’d rebound from a frustrating rookie season. Instead, Kikuchi remained an enigma. Why Kikuchi continued to be a mystery after two MLB campaigns is perplexing. Before arriving in the Emerald City, the talented 29-year-old performed well during eight seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). That said, past successes are irrelevant at this point. How he performs in 2021 will determine his long-term future with Seattle. You see, an expensive decision awaits Kikuchi and the Mariners after next season. Money Matters Kikuchi, who receives $16.5 million next year, has a unique set of contract clauses. Per Baseball Prospectus, the Mariners must determine within three days after the 2021 World Series whether to exercise their option on Kikuchi. Normally, options cover one year. However, his includes four years through the 2025 season. It’s a take it or leave it deal for the team – nothing or all four years valued at $66 million. But there’s more. If Seattle declines its option, Kikuchi has until five days after the Fall Classic to exercise a player option for 2022 paying him $14.5 million dollars. If both parties decline their respective options, he becomes a free agent. With so much resting on how Kikuchi performs next year, let’s dig into his 2020 stats and attempt to determine why such a talented arm under-performed expectations for a second consecutive season. Strides Were Made, But… It’s not as if Kikuchi’s numbers were horrible. Other than ERA and walk rate, his stat line actually showed considerable improvement. Encouraging numbers aside, anyone watching Kikuchi’s nine starts know they were an assortment of underwhelming outings with a few strong performances mixed in. After a difficult season debut, he rebounded with a 6-inning, 9-strikeout outing. Then came his next two starts – a combined 10.1 innings, nine earned runs, eight strikeouts, and five walks. Hence, the term “enigma.” At this point, fan frustration with Kikuchi is understandable. Some may see a 5-plus ERA for a second consecutive season and wonder how such an inconsistent performer became the second highest paid Mariner behind Kyle Seager and the most expensive free agent signing during the 5-year tenure of GM Jerry Dipoto. Difficulties With RISP Kikuchi’s splits indicate a significant reduction in positive outcomes with men on base (MOB). More specifically, runners in scoring position (RISP). It’s worth noting avoiding damage with RISP is problematic for any pitcher. The MLB-average ERA for this situation was 12.22. Still, Kikuchi’s 22.41 ERA was the highest among 87 pitchers facing at least 45 hitters with RISP. Obviously, Kikuchi’s dreadful numbers with RISP are worth exploring, particularly when you consider those 47 plate appearances represented 22.6-percent of the total batters he faced in 2020. However, assessing him solely with conventional stats, like ERA, would be unwise. His High ERA Is Deceptive ERA isn’t an ideal measurement of a pitcher’s performance or talent since defense and ultimately the official scorekeeper can affect it in a good or bad way. Let’s review a pair of instances when questionable glove work and scorekeeping negatively affected Kikuchi’s ERA. The first play in the following video is a ball put in play by Houston’s Alex Bregman, which drove in José Altuve from first base. Bregman received credit for a double and an RBI, although left fielder Tim Lopes probably should’ve caught the ball for the third out of the inning. After the Bregman double, we see another questionable two-bagger leading to an earned run. This time, Arizona’s Eduardo Escobar hits a fly ball with an 82.3-MPH exit velocity to Mariners right fielder Phillip Ervin, who misplays it allowing Josh Rojas to advance from second to third base with Escobar taking second base. Next, notorious Mariners killer Kole Calhoun drives in Rojas with a sacrifice fly increasing Kikuchi’s ERA. The play sequence in Arizona was particularly disappointing. Kikuchi induced poor contact, which is normally a good thing. But the results were unfavorable. Expected Stats Looked Better Considering the misleading nature of ERA, let’s use an expected stat to assess Kikuchi. These advanced metrics tell us what should’ve happened to batted balls based on exit velocity and launch angle. More importantly, they remove the influence of defense (good or bad) and the scorekeeper from the equation. For example, the expected batting average (xAVG) of Bregman’s batted ball was .200 – Escobar’s was even lower (.020). Yet, the box score says both players hit a double that improved their AVG, OBP, SLG, and wOBA. Okay, let’s compare Kikuchi’s wOBA to his expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA). Doing so may help us better understand his difficulties with RISP. As expected, Kikuchi’s wOBA with RISP was dreadful. But take a look at his xwOBA, which remained stable regardless of base runner situation. The large positive delta between Kikuchi’s wOBA and xwOBA signals he didn’t fare as well as anticipated. In fact, his wOBA-xwOBA difference with RISP was one of the largest in the majors in 2020. Only Adrian Houser (.114) of the Brewers and Rick Porcello (.096) of the Mets were ahead of Kikuchi. Note: Unless otherwise stated, comps refer to the 96 pitchers throwing 750-plus pitches as a starter in 2020. Bad Luck? Before discussing Kikuchi further, let’s quickly cover Statcast’s six categories of contact quality. Three favor hitters: Barrels, Solid Contact, and Flares/Burners. Pitchers prefer the others, which are types of poor contact: Weak, Under, and Topped. Barrels are the most lethal batted balls. They generally have an exit velocity of at least 98-MPH and a launch angle between 26-30 degrees. The vast majority of home runs are barrels. Solid contact just misses the launch angle/exit velocity range of barrels, but produces excellent results also. Just over 12-percent of homers hit in 2020 were off solid contact. The last favorable category for hitters – flares and burners – occurs when the hitter misses the launch angle or exit velocity necessary for barrels or solid contact. Nevertheless, hitters reach base at a high rate on flares/burners. Statcast defines “weak” contact as balls with an exit velocity under 60-MPH. “Topped” balls typically lead to unproductive grounders. Balls hit “under” create fly balls with predominantly poor results, although 132 home runs fell into this category this year. Now, let’s apply this knowledge to Kikuchi. A review of opponents’ success with RISP when facing Kikuchi reveals his numbers resemble MLB norms with the exception of two types of poor contact – Under and Topped. The following compares his combined stats for these two categories to MLB averages. Despite inducing significantly more poor contact than the MLB norm, Kikuchi’s wOBA was dramatically higher. Only Oakland’s Sean Manaea (.168) had a higher wOBA-xwOBA delta. Kikuchi’s high .323 wOBA on poor contact feels like bad luck that would’ve normalized over a full season. For evidence, consider 2019. The highest wOBA with RISP among pitchers throwing 2,000-plus pitches last year was Jorge López (.227). And Kikuchi? He had a .165 wOBA. I’m not suggesting Kikuchi’s uneven 2020 is simply a byproduct of misfortune. However, it’s reasonable to expect he would’ve enjoyed much more success on poor contact over the span of a normal 162-game season. Having said that, there is another factor worthy of scrutiny when he’s facing RISP – free passes. He Didn’t Always Attack The Zone Kikuchi’s 17-percent walk rate with RISP was fifth highest in the majors behind Cincinnati’s Sonny Gray (20.8), Pittsburgh’s J.T. Brubaker (20.5) and Chad Kuhl (17.1), and San Francisco’s Johnny Cueto (17.7). Since this is much higher than Kikuchi’s 10.3-percent walk rate for the season, I examined his willingness to throw strikes depending on baserunner situations. The following provides the percentage of pitches Kikuchi threw within Statcast’s Game Day (GD) strike zone during the situations we’ve been discussing. It’s important to remember pitches within the GD strike zone are occasionally balls. Why? Umpiring, catcher framing, and ahem…umpiring. This year, 29 starters threw at least 50-percent of their total pitches within the GD zone – Kikuchi was one of them. So were fellow Mariners Marco Gonzales (53.7) and Justus Sheffield (50) and former teammate Taijuan Walker. Other notable names in this group: Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Julio Urías, Kyle Hendricks, Tyler Glasnow, Lance Lynn, Dinelson Lamet, Luis Castillo, and Lucas Giolito. All are good pitchers. With a runner on first base only, Kikuchi seemed particularly aggressive. Only Urías (69.2-percent) threw strikes more often than Kikuchi did (63.3). With RISP, over half (17) of our group remained at at-or-above 50-percent. Conversely, Kikuchi’s 43-percent strike rate was the lowest. Not every pitcher must throw a high percentage of their pitches in the zone to succeed. AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber threw just 40.5-percent of his pitches within the GD zone, which ranked last in our original group of 96. Still, Kikuchi threw over half of his pitches in the strike zone in all situations except with RISP. Unless avoiding the strike zone was by design, this seems relevant. Strike One Was Elusive A potential area Kikuchi may need to address next season is throwing strike one. The first pitch to 49.5-percent of the 194 batters he faced this year was a ball. Among 133 starters facing at least 150 hitters, only rookies Cristian Javier (53.3) of Houston and Kris Bubic (52.0) of the Royals offered a 0-0 ball at a higher rate than Kikuchi. For context, Gonzales was best on the Mariners with 35-percent. But there’s more. It turns out Kikuchi threw a ball during 45.3-percent of all no-strike counts (0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0), which was highest in the majors. Not a preferred result considering pitchers are generally more successful when ahead in the count. Here’s a not-so-fun fact. Eight of the 20 walks Kikuchi issued this year happened with RISP – half of them on a 3-0 count with RISP. For the season, he surrendered six total walks on a 3-0 count. Yes, it’s a small sample size. However, losing a hitter on a 3-0 count six times in nine games seems excessive. It turns out it was. Last year, he allowed five walks on a 3-0 count in 32 starts. Fastball Command Was Sketchy Every pitcher throws “waste” pitches, offerings well outside the strike zone. Some pitchers produce multiple swings and misses on wasted pitches – not Kikuchi. He induced just one swing and miss from 69 wasted pitches. The vast majority (68.1-percent) of Kikuchi’s wasted pitches fell into Statcast’s “fastball” category – the four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cut fastball, and sinker. That’s the highest rate among 123 starters throwing 50-plus waste pitches. This sketchy fastball command was apparent during the no-strike counts we just discussed. It turns out 24.6-percent of Kikuchi’s wasted pitches were four-seamers thrown during no-strike counts. That’s the second highest rate recorded by any starter other than 22-year-old Cardinals rookie Johan Oviedo (33.3-percent). This seems suboptimal. Austin Nola Seemed To Help We know a catcher’s framing skills influence ball and strike calls. Moreover, their blocking ability factors into a pitcher’s willingness to throw pitches likely to break into the dirt, especially with a runner on third base. With this in mind, I wanted to see whether Kikuchi performed differently based on the receiver behind the plate. It appears Kikuchi performed best with Austin Nola. The former LSU Tiger caught three of the lefty’s first five starts in 2020 before the Mariners traded him to the Padres in late August. Kikuchi’s walk and strikeout rates were noticeably better with Nola behind the plate compared to Seattle’s other three backstops this year – Luis Torrens, Joseph Odom, and Joe Hudson. Still, Kikuchi’s xwOBA was good when Torrens was his battery-mate. With Odom, he was just below league-average, which isn’t bad. Hudson caught him just once, so let’s just set that outing aside. Is it possible Kikuchi was more comfortable with Nola as his catcher? Sure, but it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the fact 2020 was a small nine-start sample. He was fine with Torrens with the exception of the change in walk and strikeout rates. Perhaps a full Spring Training of the duo working together elevates their success as a battery. Finally If Dipoto is serious about the Mariners contending next season, the team will need a consistently effective Yusei Kikuchi. After all, the team probably won’t acquire premium starting pitching this offseason. Moreover, expecting one of the organization’s talented young arms to step into such a crucial role, as a rookie, would be a bridge too far. Assuming Kikuchi’s 2021 results more closely resemble his 2020 expected stats, he can elevate Seattle’s rotation. Imagine an effective and productive top-3 consisting of Gonzales, Sheffield, and Kikuchi. They would be a formidable match for AL West rivals. Kikuchi has the talent to make such a scenario reality. Better success on poor contact is inevitable. However, he’ll need to throw more first-pitch strikes, improve his fastball command, and remain aggressive in the strike zone with RISP. All he has to do is execute – easier said than done. If Kikuchi improves on these elements, the Mariners’ decision on his contract becomes far more complex. Dipoto would probably say he’d prefer that kind of tough call. Then again, another season of inconsistency from the enigmatic southpaw makes the team’s choice a no-brainer. My Oh My…Go!

Whether it’s conventional stats or advanced metrics, numbers matter in baseball. For this reason, I cherry-picked a few Seattle Mariners stats to discuss. The numbers you’ll see won’t paint a complete picture, but they may help shape expectations for the Hot Stove season and the 2021 Mariners. At the very least, these stats should foster a conversation about baseball, which is always fun. 60 Regular season games played by all but two teams. Considering there’s an ongoing pandemic, that’s an impressive feat. I was highly skeptical about MLB pulling it off. But they did and I happily admit being wrong. Something to consider when discussing 2020. The season was a small sample size and we should remember this moving forward. After all, a player’s or team’s stats from any 60-game span within a normal 162-game schedule may not be representative of the final product. .428 The combined winning percentage of the Astros, Angels, and Rangers. Perhaps the underwhelming performances of Seattle’s division rivals compelled Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto to say he believes his team could compete for the postseason in 2021. 27-33 The Mariners’ record this year. The team struggled early going 8-19 through August 20 and appeared destined to contend for the number-one overall pick in the 2021 draft. Yet, manager Scott Servais and his squad rebounded with a 19-14 record afterwards. It’s worth noting Seattle’s 2020 record closely resembles where the team stood through its first 60 games last year (25-35). That group enjoyed a torrid 13-2 start before plummeting to the AL West cellar. 10 The number of AL teams the Mariners didn’t face in 2020. Why does this matter? We don’t know how Seattle would’ve fared against some of the best teams in the league – the Rays, Yankees, Twins, Indians, and White Sox. Sure, the Mariners would’ve played these clubs just 6-7 times each. But competing in a larger field would’ve provided us with a better sense for where the rebuilding team stands. This is especially pertinent considering Seattle played in arguably the weakest division in MLB. 22 Mariner rookies used in 2020. That’s more than any team with the Marlins (21), Cardinals (19), and Astros (19) trailing close behind. Unlike Seattle, those clubs reached the postseason. Several of the names listed above, including Kyle Lewis, Justus Sheffield, and Justin Dunn, debuted before the 2020 season, but retained their rookie status heading into this year. The steady stream of rookies with more on the way in 2021 signals the youth movement is in overdrive. 26.6 While we’re talking youth, the average age of Mariner pitchers per Baseball Reference was 26.6-years-old tying the team with Detroit for youngest in the majors. The Nationals were oldest at 30.8 years. Seattle’s most youthful pitchers were in their age-23 seasons – rookies Ljay Newsome and Joey Gerber. The staff’s graybeard was 36-year-old Yoshihisa Hirano. Mariner hitters also averaged 26.6 years, which was third lowest behind Toronto (25.9) and Baltimore (26.3). The youngest position players were in their age-24 season – Luis Torrens, Shed Long, Evan White, and likely AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis. At 32, Dee Strange-Gordon and Kyle Seager were the team’s senior citizens. 9 The Mariners’ ranking for total Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in 2020. An impressive jump for a club that was number-29 a year ago. DRS captures a player’s overall defensive performance by accounting for various aspects of their game – errors, range, outfielder arm and home run stealing ability, middle-infielder double plays, plus catcher stolen base prevention, pitch framing, and blocking. Seattle’s best defenders were first baseman Evan White and shortstop J.P. Crawford – both tallied seven DRS this season. White led all qualified MLB first basemen, while Crawford finished in a tie with Houston’s Carlos Correa for second place behind Dansby Swanson (9) of Atlanta. Overall, things are looking up from a defensive standpoint. That said; 2021 will be a transition year for the club as it introduces new players and determines the best position for several versatile holdovers. Expect early growing pains, which is okay for a club looking to the future. .308 The expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) of Seattle’s starting rotation, which was thirteenth best in MLB. We know xwOBA relies on quality of contact (launch angle and exit velocity) and strikeouts and walks. Good pitchers have a positive influence over these elements. In the Mariners’ case, three starters who faced 150-plus batters had an xwOBA better than the league-average for starters (.314) – Yusei Kikuchi (.279), Marco Gonzales (.291), and Justus Sheffield (.303). Furthermore, Nick Margevicius (.301) fell short of our 150-hitter criteria by one plate appearance. Obviously, there’s room for improvement. Kikuchi managed to lead in xwOBA, yet his 5.17 ERA was worst on the starting staff. This is particularly troubling considering the relatively solid defense behind him. Moreover, Dunn posted a more respectable 4.34 ERA, but his .356 xwOBA ranked in the bottom 10-percent among MLB starters. Despite these issues, the Mariners have established a foundation to build upon this offseason and in the future. 2.5 Since baseball integrated in 1947, only 10 pitchers qualifying for the ERA title have recorded a lower walk rate than Gonzales’ 2.5-percent this year. The lowest was Carlos Silva at 1.2-percent with the 2005 Twins. It’s worth noting Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs had the same walk rate as Marco. Neither pitcher throws hard, yet both manage to succeed in an era when throwing over 95-MPH is commonplace. 208.2 Innings pitched by Seattle’s left-handed starting pitchers – tops in the majors with Oakland (123.2) a distant second. The main southpaw starters were Gonzales, Kikuchi, Sheffield, and Margevicius with Nestor Cortes Jr. making a 0.1 inning special guest appearance. 6 The number of pitchers in the Mariners’ 2020 rotation and most likely next year’s too. Although a 6-man rotation mitigates workload, it comes at a competitive cost. Over a full 162-game schedule, the best pitchers on a 6-man staff will start 5-6 fewer games than a 5-man crew. Can the Mariners contend with less of Gonzales and Sheffield in 2021? .332 The rotation was a good news story, but the bullpen was not. Seattle relievers collectively had a .332 xwOBA. Only three teams were worse – the Phillies (.347), Marlins (.349), and Rockies (.355). Although the bullpen ranked poorly, several relievers managers to stand out. Rookie Anthony Misiewicz made his mark with a .278 xwOBA and should figure prominently with the Mariners next year. Rule 5 draft pick Yohan Ramírez recorded a .305 xwOBA despite inconsistent command and control. Opponents hit .130 against Ramírez – fourth lowest in the majors. However, his MLB-worst 21.3-percent walk rate produced a .351 OBP that ranked 264 of 323 big-league pitchers. The bullpen did improve with a .316 xwOBA in September. Waiver-claim Casey Sadler (.247) performed well as did freshman Joey Gerber (.318) and Kendall Graveman (.310). Graveman began the season in the rotation until a benign bone tumor in his neck prompted a bullpen role. How he fits into Seattle’s future plans is unclear. There’s a $3.5 million club option for 2021, but that may be too pricey considering the 29-year-old’s recent injury history and unproven record as a reliever. Regardless of the outcome of Graveman’s situation, the bullpen needs an influx of dynamic arms. Especially if Dipoto is serious about contending for a postseason berth. 91 The Mariners’ On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) this year. OPS+ normalizes On-base Plus Slugging percentage by accounting for factors such as league, ballpark, and era. League-average is always 100. Therefore, a player or team with a 120 OPS+ is 20-percent above average. In Seattle’s case, a 91 OPS+ tells us the offense was nine-percent below average. It also ranked twentieth in the majors. Historically, the Mariners have posted a lower OPS+ just nine times in 44 seasons. If you prefer conventional numbers, the team’s .226 batting average was its lowest ever. Furthermore, their OBP and SLG were among the 10 lowest in franchise history. The current Mariners had just three players with 150-plus plate appearances with the team and an OPS+ over 100 – Dylan Moore (139), Lewis (126), and Seager (122). Only seven teams had fewer than three. Note: Ty France had a combined 133 OPS+ with the Mariners and Padres. The player France was traded for – Austin Nola – had a 152 OPS with Seattle. 60 (Again) Only four clubs hit fewer home runs than the Mariners’ 60 dingers this year. It’s worth noting the top eight clubs in home runs reached the postseason. To be clear, it’s possible to play October baseball without hitting a ton of home runs. Cleveland and St. Louis ranked behind the Mariners, yet those clubs reached the playoffs. Still, teams hitting the most home runs in postseason games this year have emerged victorious nearly every time. 50 Stolen bases by the Mariners this year. Only the Padres (55) and Marlins (51) swiped more bags. Seattle’s stolen base tally actually exceeded the team’s totals during 112 games in 1994 and a full 162-game slate in 2013. Moore led the team with 12 swiped bags tying him for fourth most in the majors. 18.6 Yeah, this one is irrelevant, although it seemed fun. The average home run trot time for Sam Haggerty was 18.6 seconds. Yes, Haggerty had just one dinger. But only Andrew Stevenson (17.3 seconds) of the Nationals and Brandon Nimmo (17.8 seconds) of the Mets were faster than the former New Mexico Lobo. At 28 seconds, Baltimore’s Pedro Severino had the slowest trot in MLB. 3 Current Mariners with guaranteed contracts for the 2021 season – Seager ($18.5 million), Kikuchi ($17 million), and Gonzales ($5.25 million). Two others have club options, but Seattle may choose to move on. Graveman and Strange-Gordon. Why does this matter? The Mariners will have the financial flexibility to add talent, if management decides to do so this offseason. Publicly, Dipoto seems inclined to continue evaluating his cadre of youngsters and hold off on adding premium talent for now. 95 The MLB Pipeline ranking of George Kirby – the final prospect in the Mariners organization to appear on the outlet’s Top-100 list. Joining Kirby are Seattle prospects Jarred Kelenic (9), Julio Rodriguez (15), Emerson Hancock (30), Logan Gilbert (35), and Taylor Trammell (51). Having so many top prospects is certainly a good thing for the Mariners. But becoming a sustainable winner will inevitably require help from outside the organization. Perhaps Dipoto inevitably trades some of these notable names to add reinforcements. 19 That brings us to our final entry. Yeah, you know what this signifies. It’s the number of years the Mariners have gone without a postseason appearance. This one needs to go away, right? Yes, of course it does.Go!

Throughout this topsy-turvy season, there were encouraging signs for the rebuilding Seattle Mariners. Sure, the Mariners didn’t snap their 19-year postseason drought, a disappointing reality considering half the league earned a playoff spot. But playing October baseball was never the goal for 2020. Instead, Mariners management opted to sacrifice “the now” to build a sustainable contender – something Pacific Northwest baseball fans haven’t witnessed this century. So what were those encouraging signs? Some were obvious, others more subtle. Productive First Rounders For two-plus decades, the Mariners were underachievers when it came to drafting and developing prospects. Prior to the arrival of GM Jerry Dipoto, the team was particularly inept in the first round. The most prominent first rounders selected by Seattle this century were Adam Jones and Taijuan Walker – that’s it. Now though, the organization appears to have a cohesive scouting and development strategy. For proof, look no further than the first player drafted during the Dipoto era – Kyle Lewis. Not only did the Mariners shrewdly select Lewis with the eleventh overall pick in 2016, the team helped him recover from a devastating knee injury suffered the same year. Now, the Mercer alum is the front-runner for this 2020 AL Rookie of the Year. Yes, Lewis deserves all the credit for having the tireless work ethic and steadfast perseverance needed to overcome a potentially career-altering setback. But his ascent to the head of the 2020 rookie class with Seattle may not have been possible under previous regimes. Lewis isn’t the only first rounder making his presence known. Evan White appears to be the long-term answer at first base – a position long devoid of value for the Mariners. Yes, White must improve his hitting. But after leading all first basemen in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), we know his Gold Glove caliber defense is for real. The next impact first rounder on the horizon is Logan Gilbert. If it weren’t for the pandemic, Gilbert probably joins the Mariners in 2020. Perhaps the club delays the 23-year-old’s MLB debut at the onset of next season. But barring unforeseen circumstance, he’ll be be part of the rotation by the All-Star break. Marco Was Marco Once again, Opening Day starter Marco Gonzales was the anchor of the Mariners’ fledgling rotation. The left-hander’s numbers weren’t sexy. But the former Gonzaga Bulldog continued to improve, as he did in 2019. Marco’s 2019 and 2020 Production More importantly, Gonzales emerged as a team leader – particularly within the pitching staff. During in-game interviews on team broadcasts, young starters Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, Nick Margevicius, and Ljay Newsome routinely cited Marco’s methodical preparation and aggressive approach on the mound as characteristics to emulate. Being an example for the kids is an intangible that won’t show up on the back of Gonzales’ baseball card. But this quality is invaluable to a club striving to build around front-line starting pitching. Justus Was Served Of all the young Mariners on this year’s roster, Sheffield’s growth was most impressive – at least it was to me. Sure, Lewis is the presumptive Rookie of the Year. But Sheffield demonstrated significant progress after a turbulent 2019. Justus Sheffield’s 2020 Numbers Even when Sheffield didn’t have his best stuff, he continued battling and usually delivered strong outings for manager Scott Servais. The “quality start” stat can be misleading due to its reliance on earned runs, but the Tennessee native making quality starts in six of 10 outings suggests he’s secured a spot in Seattle’s rotation of the future. Defense As A Core Competency One of the more memorable highlights from the Mariners’ 2020 season was Lewis making a catch reminiscent to one once made by Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. That said; there are signs Seattle’s defense has improved far beyond one highlight reel catch. The following table illustrates where Seattle’s combined DRS at each position ranked in MLB in each of the last two seasons. Highlighted in red are positions with significant improvement in 2020. Mariners DRS Rankings 2019 v 2020 Whether it was an influx of new personnel or a greater emphasis on fundamentals, Mariner defenders played more cleanly in 2020 and the numbers agree. We already noted White rates among the best defensive first baseman in baseball, as a rookie. Meanwhile J.P. Crawford finished the season ranked fourth at shortstop – a position deep with top-shelf defenders. In center field, Lewis was mid-pack at another elite defensive position. It’s worth noting the 25-year-old spent more time playing corner outfield spots than center field with Class-AA Arkansas last year. In fact, his 56 starts/478.2 innings in center field with the Mariners in 2020 represents his highest season total of his professional career. While there was an everyday center fielder, multiple players held down the corners. Dylan Moore and Braden Bishop delivered plus-defense. Other contributors included Dee Strange-Gordon, Jake Fraley, Shed Long, Tim Lopes, Jose Marmolejos, Phil Ervin, and Mallex Smith. Some were better than others, none were atrocious. That’s an important distinction from recent outfield rotations – athletic contributors with better defensive value. Despite the good news, there remains room for improvement. Although the third base defense of Kyle Seager often receives positive attention on the air and from fans, the metrics didn’t favor the former North Carolina Tar Heel’s work. His -6 DRS placed him near the bottom among third basemen. Still, Seager did rank sixth among his peers in 2019. Perhaps he rebounds next season. Catcher ranked poorly, but that’s understandable. After Tom Murphy went down with a foot fracture in summer camp, the team spent the season cobbling together a backstop rotation with Austin Nola, Joe Odom, Joe Hudson, and Luis Torrens. As of today, Murphy and Torrens project to be the Opening Day catching tandem with top prospect Cal Raleigh waiting in the wings. Murphy was a strong defender last season, while evaluators speak positively about the work of both Torrens and Raleigh behind the plate. The M’s Are Good Bargain Shoppers Dipoto and his crew have a knack for discovering players with value after other clubs discard them. Prior to the 2019 season, the Mariners signed Moore, a minor-league free agent, to a major-league contract. The 28-year-old struggled last season in a part-time role. However, he flourished this year when given the opportunity to play on an everyday basis at multiple positions. Moore started games at every infield and outfield position in 2020 and led the team in stolen bases, OBP, SLG and OPS+. Perhaps the team chooses to find a permanent spot on the field for the University of Central Florida product, such as third or second base. Another option is to morph him into a Ben Zobrist type, a super-utility man with offensive upside. Nola was another diamond in the rough discovered by the Mariners. Unlike Moore, the former LSU Tiger was an instant hit last season with 10 home runs and a .269/.342/.454 slash-line in 79 games. He too was flexible playing both corner infield spots, second base, and catcher during his rookie campaign. This year, Nola was the Mariners’ primary catcher after Murphy went down. At least until Dipoto dealt the 30-year-old to the Padres in August for top-100 prospect Taylor Trammell, Ty France, Andrés Muñoz, and Torrens. Quite an impressive haul for a player with 108 games of MLB experience with Seattle. Fans tend to focus on marquee acquisitions. However, Nola and Moore are examples of low-profile additions capable of helping a team trying to build a championship roster. Perhaps, this year’s less heralded pickups – Jose Marmolejos, Phillip Ervin, and Sam Haggerty – eventually deliver similar value for the Mariners either on the diamond or in the trade market. A Willingness To Move On Ever since taking over as GM of the Mariners in September 2015, Dipoto has repeatedly stated he’s willing to admit mistakes and turn the page when necessary. This year, he proved true to his word Dipoto traded minor-leaguer Jordan Pries and Mike Montgomery to the Cubs to get Daniel Vogelbach and Paul Blackburn from the Cubs in a 2016 deadline deal. The Mariners hoped Vogelbach’s hit tool would make him a central figure in their lineup for years to come. But that never happened with the exception of a brief period last season. As a result, the team designated him for assignment before trading him to the Blue Jays in August. After a breakout season with the Rays, Seattle picked up Mallex Smith along with Jake Fraley in exchange for Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia, and minor-leaguer Michael Plassmeyer from Tampa Bay. As with Vogelbach, Smith didn’t live up to expectations. The Mariners outrighted him to Class-AAA Tacoma in September. Dipoto’s willingness to acknowledge mistakes is crucial for a club intent on integrating many youngsters into its 2021 roster. Some of these players may not work out, but we now know JeDi has the capacity to act appropriately. That’s encouraging. Management Stayed The Course Dipoto and his organization stuck with the game plan with their leading prospects – Gilbert and Jarred Kelenic. Even when a whiff of the postseason was present in mid-September. Sure, the Mariners could’ve called up both Gilbert and Kelenic in an attempt to end their postseason drought. Perhaps one or both players would’ve helped, but the team chose to be patient leaving the duo and the rest of the kids in Tacoma. Management also avoided the temptation of switching to a five-man rotation down the home stretch. Doing so would’ve permitted the club’s best pitchers to make 1-2 extra starts and instantly increase the odds of overtaking the hapless Astros for second place in the AL West. Instead, the Mariners remained disciplined putting player development and health ahead of being the eighth best team in the AL. Wait Til Next Year We saw a lot of good things from young and new players, such as Sheffield, Moore, and White. But others teased us in short bursts with their talent and promise. Next year, we’ll seem more of them and that’s going to be fun. Rule 5 pickup Yohan Ramirez struggled with his command and control at times, but his stuff is so tantalizingly good. Imagine Ramirez’s dynamic arsenal and the 100-mph velocity of new acquisition Andrés Muñoz becoming a lethal combo at the back-end of Seattle’s bullpen. Perhaps as soon as late next year. We recently learned Long was dealing with an injured leg since March. Serious enough to undergo surgery after the season. This likely explains why the 25-year-old under-performed at the plate. It’ll be fun to see how a healthy Shed rebounds next year. I’m rooting for him. There were several other 25-or-younger arms presenting flashes of promise – Nick Margevicius, Ljay Newsome, Anthony Misiewicz, and Joey Gerber. Their progress next season will be must-see also. Although he didn’t play this year, we should take a moment to acknowledge Mitch Haniger. After being out since June 2019 due to injuries, Haniger projects to be healthy by next season. If that’s the case, he’ll be the regular right fielder. Haniger will be entering his age-30 season in 2021 and a year from free agency. If he performs at his former All-Star level, Dipoto could deal him prior to next season’s trade deadline. By then, Trammell may be ready to take over. Speaking of debuting prospects, Kelenic and Gilbert almost certainly join the Mariners. That’s assuming both players remain healthy and don’t set off red flags from a developmental standpoint. There’s also a chance we’ll see Raleigh and starters George Kirby and Emerson Hancock too. Yes, a lot can change between now and next September. But how exciting is the notion of seeing all these youngsters next year? Very exciting. Time To Compete? The truncated season and no minor-league baseball undoubtedly had a negative effective on the Mariners’ deep pool of prospects. That’s why it wouldn’t have been a surprise if management downplayed expectations for next year. But that’s not what happened. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports Dipoto believes his club could contend in 2021. “I think we’re in a really nice position for ’21. “And our goal would be to go out there and contend for a playoff spot. And I don’t think that’s an unrealistic goal.” – Jerry Dipoto Sounds like a lofty goal for a club finishing 2020 with a .450 winning percentage and a flawed roster. Then again, the encouraging signs we’ve discussed suggest there’s a chance the Mariners can be far better ball next year. Perhaps a few key veteran additions and a bunch of kids stepping up is all the team needs to do something special. Yes, a lot has to go right for a club likely to enter next season with one of the youngest rosters in the big-leagues. Then again, there are so many encouraging signs suggesting it’s a doable do – especially in an AL West division hurtling towards a recession. Wouldn’t it be apropos for the Mariners to end the longest postseason drought in professional sports on the 20-year anniversary of the team’s most successful season? Seems like poetic justice to me. My Oh My…Go!

The 2020 Major League Baseball season didn’t go as any club planned, but from the perspective of the Seattle Mariners, all things considered, it went quite well. Young players received valuable time and showed why they were worthy of it, the club continued to its collections of young, controllable talent, and the Mariners even won more games, 27, than just about anyone thought was a good bet when the season started in July. With every season, long or short, comes superlatives. Here the best season-long performances in a handful of categories, courtesy Luke Arkins and Jason A. Churchill. MVP Churchill: Marco Gonzales, LHP Gonzales wasn’t just a steady performer, he was consistently good in 2020 and raised the bar for the young arms pitching behind him in the rotation. Gonzales went at least five innings in all but one start — the first one in which he went 4.1 at Houston — and pitched into the seventh six times in 11 starts. Furthermore, Gonzales led baseball with a 2.5% walk rate and finished in the top 20 in BAA (.222) and FIP (3.32), and No. 26 in xFIP (4.13). Arkins: Marco Gonzales, LHP It’d be tough to say anyone else on the Mariners was more valuable than Gonzales was this season. A fun fact about Marco’s extremely low walk rate. It was the seventh lowest BB-rate recorded by a pitcher qualified for the ERA title since baseball integrated in 1947. Rookie of the Year Churchill: Kyle Lewis, CF The easiest choice, since Lewis now is the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award in the American League. But Lewis put together a very strong 60-game run, including average defense in center. At the plate, his ability to use the whole field helped him maximize batted ball success and hide some of his zone deficiencies (top of the zone), but there’s a ton on which to build for 2021. Perhaps the most promising aspect of Lewis’ season is the K-BB rate evening out by the 25-year-old cutting the whiffs some and increasing his bases on balls. Very early in 2021 we’re likely to see an outfield alignment of Lewis in center, Jarred Kelenic in left and Mitch Haniger in right, with a Phillip Ervin-Jose Marmolejos timeshare filling the gap until Kelenic arrives. Arkins: It’ll be a massive upset if Lewis isn’t AL Rookie of the Year. For this reason, he’s the obvious choice for this category. The logical alternative would be Justus Sheffield, who probably nets a few votes in ROY balloting. Although Lewis didn’t project as the regular center fielder in March, he was the team’s starter and rated as an average-to-plus defender. Impressive considering the Mercer alum’s 56 starts in center field this year were a career-high as a professional. Barring unforeseen circumstances, K-Lew continues patrolling center field for the Mariners in 2021. Reliever of the Year Churchill: Anthony Misiewicz, LHR Misiewicz led the team in appearances (21) and was second in relief innings (20.0). He was consistent all year, posting a 3.04 FIP, and 3.67 xFIP. Opponents hit just .100 against his fastball (1-for-10), but his cutter and curveball underperformed considering the advanced data on both pitches. The data, including high spin rates, suggest there’s more to come for Misiewicz in a continued middle-relief role in 2021. Arkins: Casey Sadler, RHP My first choice would’ve been Misiewicz, but I don’t want to parrot Jason in every category. Sadler performed well after the Mariners claimed him off waivers in early September. During the last month of the season, the 30-year-old tossed 10 innings leading Seattle relievers with 12 strikeouts and a .247 xwOBA. Yes, Sadler’s month in Seattle was a micro-sample. But he’s a five-year veteran coming off a good 2019 campaign with the Rays and Dodgers. Perhaps the Oklahoman can help stabilize a 2021 bullpen likely to be chock full of young relievers – like Misiewicz. Defensive Player of the Year Churchill: J.P. Crawford, SS I imagine many would vote quite a bit for Lewis and Evan White, but shortstop is a critical position defensively and Crawford is among the tops in the game. He posted +6 DRS, No. 4 among MLB shortstops and No. 2 in the American League. He also ranked No. 9 in Outs Above Average and led all MLB shortstops in Out of Zone plays made (62, tied with Javier Baez). In fact, no player at any position made more Out of Zone plays than Crawford. Arkins: Evan White, 1B Crawford was superb at a position rife with elite-level gloves and is deserving of recognition for his defensive prowess. Nevertheless, I’m going with White, who’s one of the best first baseman I’ve ever seen. Whether White wins the Gold Glove as a rookie is unclear, but he was the top defensive first baseman based on Defensive Runs Saved. Only last year’s AL Gold Glover at first base, Matt Olson, leads the former Kentucky Wildcat when we review Statcast’s Outs Above Average. Best Newcomer Churchill: Nick Margevicius, LHP Margevicius made 10 appearances, seven starts, and was more than serviceable, posting a league average FIP and xFIP. The southpaw went at least five innings in five starts, went six in three of them and showed a better fastball — 89-91 mph — than in years past when he sat 86-88. He’ll need to avoid the barrel a bit better to take another step or two in 2021, but using his slider more might help (.174 BAA, no XBH), and he’s just 24 years old with some physical projection left. Arkins: Ty France, INF Where France plays in the field moving forward isn’t clear, but his bat will ensure he gets regular playing opportunities. During combined time with the Padres and Seattle this year, the right-handed hitter slashed .305/.368/.468 with a 133 OPS+ in 43 games. Evaluators often compare France to another multi-position player named Ty from San Diego – Ty Wigginton. Sounds good considering Wigginton played 12 big-league seasons, could hit, and shared a similar position profile to France’s. Perhaps France is a bench player or morphs into a regular in the infield or as a designated hitter. Either way, having a player with the former San Diego State Aztec’s positional versatility and hitting ability will benefit a championship-caliber roster. Breakthrough Player of the Year (non-Rookie) Churchill: Dylan Moore, UT Moore went from worst player on the roster to one of the best in a year and his future with the club may include ‘Opening Day 2B’ next spring. Moore’s line drive rate jumped 9% and he got to his pull side better without selling out to the extreme. He cut his strikeouts from 33% to 27% and maintained a solid walk rate at 8.8%. But the two things that make Moore so interesting include how hard he hits the ball consistently (77th percentile exit velocity, 89th percentile barrel rate) and his defensive versatility. He’s not a long-term option at shortstop, but he can handle it, and he projects as average or better at second base, third base and now right field, too. It’s the closest thing to Ben Zobrist the Mariners have had since Mark McLemore in 2001, and this version has power. Arkins: Yusei Kikuchi, LHP Yes, Kikuchi was inconsistent this year. But the southpaw made big strides over his 2019 rookie campaign. Kikuchi’s .279 xwOBA led the Mariners rotation and was top-30 among MLB starters. Since xwOBA reflects quality and quantity of contact, it’s clear the Japanese import has the talent to be a valuable contributor to Seattle’s starting staff. Still, Kikuchi does have work to do. The 29-year-old seemed like a different pitcher with runners on base and the stats back that up. When bases were empty, opponents had a .251 wOBA against him – twelfth best among MLB starters. Conversely, his wOBA with men on base was .355, which ranked in the bottom 20-percent. Prospect Development of the Year Churchill: Justus Sheffield, LHP Lewis is a legitimate choice here, as is Austin Nola, but because Sheffield’s developments in 2020 bring a higher floor and less risk for the future –and he’s still with the club — I’m going with the left-hander. Sheffield made 10 starts, led all MLB rookie pitchers in fWAR (1.5) and went six or more innings in six outings — including seven innings twice. The lefty reduced his barrel rate to 3.7% (91st percentile) — the switch from a four-seamer to a two-seam sinker did exactly what the club had hoped, limiting the damage on hard-hit balls. In addition, Sheffield’s command took a large step forward, and his general ability to throw strikes improved, too, as he went from 10.7% walks to 8.6%. The command improvement allowed Sheffield to go to his slider more in favorable counts, and the results are remarkable. In 2019, opponents hit .302 with a .491 slugging percentage off his slider. In 2020, Sheffield flipped the script, holding opposing batters to a .192 average and .219 slugging with the slide piece. The same can be said about his changeup to a large degree. Sheffield lacks the big ceiling, but has reduced the risk in his performance, suggesting he’s destined for a mid-rotation role for the foreseeable future. Arkins: Ljay Newsome, RHP Mariners “Gas Camp” helped Newsome increase his four-seam fastball velocity to a 91.4-MPH average. But bringing the heat isn’t Newsome’s specialty — avoiding free passes is. We already noted Gonzales had a historically good walk rate; Newsome’s was better (1.5%) albeit over a span of just 15.1 innings. So what does Newsome become? Perhaps he’ll be a back-end starter. Then again, the Mariners’ 2015 twenty-sixth round pick could morph into a long reliever/swingman. Either role potentially makes him a valued contributor on a team that believes it could contend in the AL West next year. Flash Player of the Year Churchill: Yohan Ramirez, RHR I thought about Luis Torrens here, but the sample was too small. Ramirez has terrific raw stuff, including a fastball up to 98 mph and a plus slider. He’s shown a plus curveball in the past and the makings of a changeup, but in a relief role stuck with a two-pitch attack. He was dominant at times, but he walked 21.3% of the batters he faced, pitching himself into trouble at a high rate. But after allowing three earned runs August 7 versus Colorado, Ramirez allowed two earned runs on four hits over his final 11 appearances. As a Rule 5 pick he had to remain on the active roster (or IL) for the entire 2020 season, but the club is now free to option the right-hander as they see fit. At his best, Ramirez sits 94-98 mph and pitches effectively in high-leverage situations, but there will have to be mechanical fixes if he wants to avoid the minors to start next season. Arkins: Luis Torrens, C Evaluators generally believe Torrens’ is a glove-first backstop with a bat good enough to keep him in the majors. Ironically, he proved better with his bat and struggled defensively with Seattle. To be fair, the 24-year-old only joined the team on August 31 and had to learn a new pitching staff on the fly. For now, Torrens projects as a backup. Then again, something similar was said about two other Mariners backstops — Tom Murphy and Nola. Heading into next year, it’ll be fun seeing where the Venezuelan’s talent takes him and how the team integrates him into the catching mix with Murphy and top prospect Cal Raleigh.Go!

Deciding postseason berths after just 60 games feels so wrong. It’s akin to deciding medal winners 10 miles into an Olympic Marathon. Then again, we all know why MLB shortened the regular season to about 35-percent of its normal length. There are far more important things than baseball going on in our world. Since we were limited to a small sample size of baseball, I wanted to find a way to contrast what we saw in 2020 to last year. I decided to use a straightforward approach – compare team’s 2019 records through 60 games to this season’s final standings. Will this exercise prove anything? Not really, but we may be able to add a smidge of perspective to the weirdest MLB season ever. To simplify the process, I segregated the 30 clubs into three basic categories: improved; relatively the same; fell on their sword. Movin’ On Up Leading the way in our first section are four teams heading to the playoffs after being a rebuild project just a year ago. Perhaps the success of these organizations will be a source of encouragement for Mariners fans anxiously awaiting Seattle’s long overdue return to the MLB postseason. Much of the success enjoyed by the Blue Jays, Padres, Marlins, and White Sox is attributable to emerging young stars, who were either homegrown or acquired via trade. Despite a return to the postseason, all four clubs will require upgrades in the offseason to continue their ascent. Still, how satisfying must it be for fans of these teams to see positive results? It’s worth noting Toronto didn’t languish in mediocrity as long as the other cities did. The Blue Jays played in consecutive ALCS in 2015-16, although the team went into a tailspin afterwards. That said; the others waited over a decade prior to returning to the postseason in 2020. The White Sox last made a playoff appearance in the 2008 ALDS against the subsequent AL Champion Rays. Similarly, the Padres last saw postseason action in the 2006 NLDS in a losing effort to the eventual World Series champion Cardinals. Then, there’s Miami. The Marlins last played meaningful October baseball in 2003 when they beat the Yankees in the World Series. Before reaching the Fall Classic, the Fish had to get past the Cubs in an NLCS best remembered for the infamous “Steve Bartman incident” at Wrigley Field. Ironically, the two teams square off against each other in the Windy City this week. Although the Orioles and Royals were once again bottom-feeders, each team showed signs of improvement over their atrocious 19-41 records in 2019. That’s good, right? Same Ole Story Next up, our largest subset. Teams posting similar records in 2019 and 2020. Doing so was a good thing for some clubs – not so much for others. The Dodgers remain the model of consistency after winning an eighth consecutive NL West division title. Whether you love or hate them, there’s no denying the Yankees epitomize sustained superior performance. The last time the Bronx Bombers posted a losing record was 1992 – George H.W. Bush was in the White House. The remaining 2019 postseason clubs made the cut again with the exception of the Nationals. As most of you know, Washington scuffled out of the gate last year before going on to win the World Series. At one point, manager Dave Martinez seemed destined to lose his job before his club rebounded. The Cubs were the lone club with an identical record in both years. Ironically, Chicago didn’t get into the playoffs last year. Yet, the North Siders are the 2020 NL Central division champions. Staying in the division, the Reds were comparable to their 2019 record. That said; Cincinnati looked like a team that would’ve flourished over a full regular season – their pitching was that good. Two teams entered the season with playoff aspirations but fell on their faces – the Mets and Angels. Last year, the Amazin’s started slowly, but were 46-26 after the All-Star break and remained relevant into September. Conversely, the Halos were mediocre early and only worsened as the season progressed – much like 2020. Three rebuilding clubs – the Giants, Tigers, and Mariners – took noticeably different approaches in 2020 despite posting similar records to last year. San Francisco’s roster remained laden with veterans this year, which kept them in the hunt for a postseason berth until the final day. Realistically, this team probably wins 75 games and finishes well out of contention in a full 162-game season. The Tigers took an aggressive approach with their roster opting to debut several of their top prospects during the truncated season without regard to the impact doing so would have on player service time. Conversely, the Mariners were conservative choosing to delay the MLB debuts of their best and brightest youngsters at least until 2021. Time will tell which team had the better strategy – my money is on Seattle. Fallin’ Down Our last group is a collection of rebuilding organizations and several that should seriously consider initiating a roster makeover. The once mighty Astros were mediocre at best this year. The only reason they’re playing in October for a fourth consecutive year is the expanded eight-team postseason field in effect for 2020. Another key factor favoring Houston – playing in the awful AL West division. With a normal 162-game slate, the ‘Stros would’ve been fortunate to finish with a .500 record. Another team benefiting from the larger playoff field is Milwaukee. Sure, it’s possible the Brewers would’ve rebounded over a full season. On the other hand, they didn’t look like a sustainable contender this year. While the Pirates and Red Sox committed to rebuilding, the remaining organizations outwardly appeared intent on competing this year – they all fizzled. It’s plausible we’ll see several of these teams make changes at the general manager and field manager positions – perhaps both. Unlike Martinez with the Nationals last year, these folks will be losing their respective jobs based on their record after 60 games. Seems a bit harsh. Then again, it’s 2020 – what else would you expect? My Oh My…Go!

The MLB playoff brackets are finally set. So, I decided to have fun by compiling power rankings for the 16 teams with a shot at winning the World Series. These aren’t predictions – just assessments of how I view these clubs heading into the oddest postseason of all time. Realistically, it’s conceivable a Cinderella gets hot and goes deep into October or even wins the Fall Classic. This is particularly true for a playoff tourney with teams playing 3-game series in the first round – we’re bound to see a few upsets along the way. First up, the prohibitive favorite to win it all. 1. Los Angeles Dodgers The winner of eight straight NL West titles finished the regular season with the best record in MLB thanks to being top-3 in both run production and run prevention. Heading into October, the Dodgers’ talented and deep pitching staff should be a difference-maker during early postseason rounds with no off-days. Perhaps this year is the first time since 1988 the World Series trophy returns to Los Angeles. The roster certainly favors such an outcome. 2. Tampa Bay Rays The organization with one of the lowest payrolls is primed to be a disruptive force. The Rays aren’t great at any one thing, but the team is top-10 in hitting, pitching, and defense. That’s a good blend heading into postseason, especially with an innovative tactician like Kevin Cash at the helm. To a degree, Cash and his crews are already battle-tested after going 21-9 against teams with winning records this season. 3. Minnesota Twins Run production fell off after the Twins set the MLB record for most home runs last season, although ageless Nelson Cruz continued destroying baseballs as did Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, and Miguel Sano. Offsetting the downturn in offense, a solid starting staff led by probable Cy Young finalist Kenta Maeda and a deep bullpen relying on Taylor Rogers, Matt Wisler, Tyler Clippard, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May, and Sergio Romo. Minnesota certainly has a strong chance of representing the AL in the World Series. 4. Cleveland Indians If pitching is truly key to going deep into the postseason, Cleveland is also be a strong contender for the AL pennant. The offense ranked in the bottom-third of MLB, but the team has one of the best and deepest rotations in baseball headlined by AL Cy Young front runner Shane Bieber. Again, starting staffs with length should be vital during compressed playoff series – the Tribe certainly has that box checked. 5. San Diego Padres Recent injuries to starters Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet are concerning, especially if one or both pitchers aren’t available for the playoffs. Then again, San Diego’s super-charged offense and strong relief pitching could help keep the club competitive. Will that be enough to propel the Friars back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1998? Tough to envision it without an effective Clevinger and/or Lamet rejoining the team. 6. Oakland Athletics The A’s are tough to gauge. They were dominant within the dreadful AL West, but a pedestrian 10-10 against the more competitive NL West. Oakland’s offense and starting rotation were average, but the bullpen stood out as one of baseball’s best. An added edge for the team – veteran skipper Bob Melvin making the most of his roster. Assuming Melvin’s squad generates enough run production to the get the ball to the bullpen with a lead, the AL West division champions are championship material. 7. Chicago Cubs The Cubs pack a powerful one-two punch with Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks atop the rotation. Joining in on the fun with strong Septembers were veteran Jon Lester and Alec Mills, who tossed a no-hitter. Even a bullpen that struggled early has been reliable during the stretch run. Still, the lineup is below average in every significant offensive category, including the most important of all – runs scored. 8. New York Yankees The offense is potent thanks to the bats of DJ LeMahieu, Luke Voit, Clint Frazier, Gio Urshela, Aaron Hicks, Gleyber Torres and 36-year-old Brett Gardner. Plus, Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, and J.A. Happ form a very respectable top-of-the-rotation. Nevertheless, the Yankees’ once-formidable bullpen has been less-than-ordinary lately. A troubling development for an organization that believes there is only one acceptable outcome for any season – a World Series win. 9. Cincinnati Reds The Reds barely made the tournament, but they’re the type of opponent high seeds probably prefer avoiding. Why?  A dynamic rotation with a top-three of NL Cy Young front-runner Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray. Shoring up the rear – a versatile bullpen with closer Raisel Iglesias, Archie Bradley, Lucas Sims, Amir Garrett, Tejay Antone, and Michael Lorenzen. The issue most likely to slow Cincinnati’s roll in October – an underachieving offense averaging just 4.05 runs/game. 10. Atlanta Braves The Braves led the majors in runs scored with Freddie Freeman having an MVP-worthy season, but the team’s success moving forward hinges on an injury-decimated rotation. Max Fried is a Cy Young candidate and rookie Ian Anderson has been superb. After that, it gets squishy. Atlanta does have a solid bullpen headed by veteran closer Mark Melancon, although it may not be enough to drive deep into the postseason. 11. Chicago White Sox The White Sox were top-5 in offense and run prevention with a fun roster featuring both youth and experience. The rotation was solid with Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, and Dylan Cease, while the bullpen led by closer Alex Colome was a strength. The most fascinating Chicago reliever – 2020 first round pick Garrett Crochet, who typically tops 100-MPH on the radar gun. One concern – the Sox finished the season 2-8, which includes a 4-game sweep by Cleveland. 12. Toronto Blue Jays Deadline pickup Taijuan Walker performed well along with staff ace Hyun Jin Ryu, but the rest of the Blue Jays’ rotation struggled in September. Moreover, the bullpen wasn’t particular good down the stretch. This doesn’t bode well for a club that backed into a postseason berth that wouldn’t normally be available. 13. St. Louis Cardinals A COVID-19 outbreak wreaked havoc on the Cardinals’ schedule, but the team powered through to reach the postseason. St. Louis defenders were among the best in MLB with the most defensive runs saved (DRS). But the offense ranked in the bottom-third of MLB and the pitching staff doesn’t rate much better. That’s not going to work in a frenetic postseason tourney. 14. Miami Marlins The surprising Marlins overcame an even more disastrous COVID outbreak than the Redbirds to earn a playoff berth for the first time since they won the 2003 World Series. The Fish don’t appear to be built for a deep postseason run, but their stable of young rotation arms that includes Sixto Sanchez, Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez could make them a difficult early round opponent. The future is bright in Miami. 15. Houston Astros Oh, how far the defending AL champions have fallen. Houston limps into the postseason thanks to a second place finish in the underwhelming AL West. Give manager Dusty Baker credit for keeping the club moving forward, but the end is looming for a once-formidable franchise. 16. Milwaukee Brewers Pitching has been a strength with Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes at the top of the rotation and Josh Hader, Brent Suter, and rookie Devin Williams the marquee arms in a power bullpen. Unfortunately, Burnes just went down with an oblique strain and likely misses the postseason. Adding to the Brewers’ woes – well below-average run production. This eleventh hour qualifier appears destined for an early exit. Looking Ahead In a few weeks, my power rankings will probably look awful with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Then again, who cares? We were lucky to have an MLB season to watch or debate about. I’m okay with being roasted for my rankings. Bring on the postseason.  Go!

The Seattle Mariners probably won’t reach the postseason for a nineteenth consecutive year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to continue watching the team in September. No, I’m not kidding. Sure, the Seahawks will start their season soon and, as usual, they project to be a playoff team. Perhaps even a Super Bowl contender. Still, I suggest Seattle sports fans make time for their baseball too – even if it finishes the month on a losing note. If you’ve been paying attention since the Mariners began rebuilding in late 2018, you know the team’s present state was never important to management – especially during this wacky year. In reality, constructing a long-term sustainable winner is the priority. With that in mind, here are my reasons to keep watching Seattle baseball during the stretch run of the regular season. Check Out The New Guys Last weekend, the Mariners dealt Austin Nola with Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla to the Padres in exchange for minor-leaguer Taylor Trammell, Ty France, Andrés Muñoz and Luis Torrens. Trammel is joining the team’s alternate training site in Tacoma, while Muñoz continues recovering from Tommy John surgery. But France and Torrens have joined the big-league club and will likely see extensive action. Ty France During his brief MLB career, France has made starts at each corner infield spot and second base. He even tossed two innings of relief for San Diego. It’s unclear where in the field the Mariners will use the former San Diego State Aztec. However, manager Scott Servais has stated his newest infielder will receive plenty of opportunities to hit this month. Short-term, it’s not that important where France plays. Perhaps he’ll evolve into the heir apparent behind Kyle Seager, who has a year remaining on his contract. It’s possible the 26-year-old serves as competition for Shed Long at second base heading into next season. Then again, some analysts have made comparisons of France to former major leaguers Ty Wigginton and Ben Zobrist. Both Wigginton and Zobrist were multi-position players with good bats. Maybe France’s value to the Mariners inevitably develops in a similar fashion. For now, we’ll have the opportunity to evaluate his right-handed bat and positional versatility with our own eyes. Luis Torrens The Padres acquired Torrens from the Reds after Cincinnati poached him from the Yankees during the 2016 Rule 5 draft. To retain the Venezuelan, he had to remain on San Diego’s MLB roster serving as an understudy to starting catcher Austin Hedges for the entire 2017 campaign. Afterwards, the Friars sent him back to the minors to continue his development. Torrens projects to be Seattle’s main catcher in September, although the 24-year-old likely serves as a backup to the currently injured Tom Murphy in 2021. But you never know. At the beginning of last season, how many Mariners fans had heard of Austin Nola? Last weekend serves as a reminder that GM Jerry Dipoto and his staff aren’t shy when it comes to leaning forward in the trade market when an opportunity presents itself. Perhaps Murphy is the next Seattle catcher moved at the trade deadline. Watching For Strong Finishes There may be just a few of them, but several Mariners are having great seasons. Shouldn’t we be tuning in to see how they close out the season? I think so. Kyle Lewis During his September call-up last year, Lewis clobbered six home runs in 18 games thrilling Mariners fans. By doing so, the Mercer product set high expectations for 2020 – he certainly hasn’t disappointed. Heading into this month, Lewis is competing for AL Rookie of the Year with highly touted White Sox prospect Luis Robert. In the end, who wins this prestigious award likely comes down to who has the best September. If both players perform well this month, the determining factor may be the stats individual voters decide to rely on. Lewis has a distinct edge in old-school AVG and he’s significantly more successful at reaching base than Robert. Moreover, the Mariners center fielder has a superior OPS+. Conversely, Robert’s power bat has been more evident with more home runs and a higher SLG. When it comes to WAR, the Baseball Reference (bWAR) and FanGraphs (fWAR) versions are too close to say either player is delivering more value to their team. It’s possible the standings will influence a segment of voters. Some scribes may justify selecting Robert over Lewis because the White Sox are in the thick of the AL Central race, while Seattle isn’t likely to reach the postseason. Considering the tight nature of the race, Seattle fans should maintain a vigilant watch on their team and Lewis to see if he can create a distinct statistical lead over Robert by season’s end. After all, wouldn’t it be fun if the top rookie of an otherwise dreary year were a Mariner? I believe so. J.P. Crawford The Mariners shortstop started hot before cooling off considerably. But the 25-year-old’s bat reignited during the recent road trip. The following illustrates those three periods. When Crawford struggled during games 11-28, his strikeout rate doubled to 22.5-percent compared to the initial 10 contests. As you can see from his xwOBA, his quality of contact also declined significantly. With 23 games remaining in the regular season, we should want to know which version of the Californian will be on display. It’s important to note the stats we’re using to discuss Crawford and every other player are small sample sizes of bizarro baseball season, which is essentially a small sample itself. Having said that, one takeaway to consider is the former first rounder’s ability to earn free passes. Even during his worst stretch, Crawford still maintained a 8.8-percent walk rate, which is slightly above league-average. Being able to reach base even during a slump is a key attribute a top-of-the-order hitter must possess. Kyle Seager Although Seager is having his best season since 2016, some fans expected or hoped the Mariners would deal former North Carolina Tar Heel at the trade deadline. Much to their chagrin, he’s still here. On the 2020 Mariners, Seager is the second best player on the team behind Lewis. With a month to go, I want to see if he can finish the season on a high note. Doing so might compel other clubs to express more interest in acquiring the 32-year-old during the offseason. Personally, I’d prefer Dipoto holding onto the team’s longest-tenured player for the final guaranteed year of his contract. Rooting For Rebounds On the flip side, there are three young hitters, who’ve struggled during the abbreviated season. It’ll be interesting to see how they perform with a month to go. Naturally, we should tune in to cheer them on. Evan White By now, everyone knows the Mariners signed White to a six-year/$24 million extension in the offseason despite the fact he had just four games of AAA experience. During the first few weeks of the season, it was glaringly apparent the 24-year-old played at Class-AA Arkansas last year. In his first 20 games and 77 plate appearances, White slashed a paltry .113/.169/.197 with one home run and 47.8-percent strikeout rate. The slick-fielding first baseman often looked over-matched at the plate and appeared increasingly frustrated by his struggles. Then came the rebound. During his next 11 contests, White has hit .273/.351/.697 with four home runs. Granted, it’s a small sample and his strikeout rate remains too high (35.1-percent). Still, even during his worst struggles, there was one positive indicator he could turn things around – hard contact. Despite White’s propensity to swing and miss too often, the former Kentucky Wildcat’s bat makes a lot of noise when it does make contact. His 56.9-percent hard hit rate trails only Fernando Tatis Jr. (64.5), Eloy Jiménez (57.8), Miguel Sanó (57.6), and Corey Seager (57.3). Again, there’s work to be done. White needs to cut down on the strikeouts to take advantage of his ability to strike the ball hard. Nevertheless, the fact he’s dusted himself off and is still standing is an encouraging development. Whether the Mariners’ 2017 first round pick can continue to bring the heat with his bat this month is a good reason to remain engaged – at least it is for me. Jake Fraley A thumb injury ended Fraley’s 2019 major-league debut with the Mariners prematurely. Making matters worse, the LSU product has yet to find his footing this season. He’s hitting just .174/.269/.304 after failing to make the roster out of Summer Camp, which was a bit of a surprise. Still, Fraley is just 25-years-old and coming off a strong 2019 minor-league campaign. Assuming he gets playing time, September would be a prime opportunity to demonstrate he deserves to be part of the club’s 2021 outfield rotation. Doing so sooner than later would be preferable considering the team now has Trammell and fellow top-100 outfield prospects Jared Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez advancing through its pipeline. Shed Long Jr. Prospect evaluators have always expressed confidence in Long’s hit tool. Only his long-term position in the field was uncertain. Ironically, the Mariners installed the 25-year-old as their regular second baseman prior to Spring Training and his bat has been dormant for most of the season. Not only has the Alabaman struggled at the plate, he appears to be tentative in the field. Perhaps more reps at second base is all that’s needed. After all, Long was initially drafted as a catcher by the Reds and spent more time at third base and in left field with the Mariners than at second base last year. One area of concern is Long’s 27.9-percent strikeout rate, which is second highest behind White among Mariners with 100-plus plate appearances. That’s a four-point jump from last season. On a positive note, Shed did hit two home runs in his last five games. Maybe those dingers are an indicator of things to come for Long in September. But it’s plausible his struggles this season costs him playing time. Especially with the arrival of France and the return of Dylan Moore from the IL. I’ll be watching to see how it pans out for all three players. Growth In The Rotation We knew Marco Gonzales would be the anchor of the starting rotation. Essentially, the Gonzaga product is the bulldog of the pitching staff – see what I did there. After Marco, there were no sure things entering the season. Yet, we’ve witnessed the starting staff exhibit signs of growth in August. Whether it can continue that positive trend into September is important for a franchise attempting to make top-shelf starting pitching a cornerstone of its identity. The following illustrates the starting staff’s numbers to date, sorted by expected on-base average (xwOBA). The overall numbers of several individuals may not seem impressive. But the starting staff’s .317 xwOBA is fourth best in the majors behind Cleveland (.303), Cincinnati (.305), and Philadelphia (.315). Impressive considering the inexperience of Seattle’s starting six. Ljay Newsome Newsome just joined the rotation, so we can’t reasonably evaluate the rookie’s performance. Still, we can glean from his 2019 minor-league numbers that he doesn’t like handing out free passes. The Maryland native’s 2.4-percent walk rate and 9.94 SO/BB were the best in all of the minors last year. Although the sample size is minuscule, Newsome is off to a good start with the Mariners. In seven innings, he’s struck out five and walked no one. Obviously, the 23-year-old will eventually give up a base on balls. But wouldn’t it be fun if it didn’t happen in 2020? Yusei Kikuchi As most fans know, Kikuchi’s rookie season was a tough slog. A 5.48 ERA that was second worst in the majors just behind Rick Porcello (5.52) and a .344 xwOBA wasn’t much better – bottom 10-percent among MLB starters. This season though, there have been signs the southpaw has turned a corner even though his ERA remains ugly. Per Statcast, hitters have made “poor” contact on 69.1-percent of batted balls against Kikuchi. That’s eighth highest among starting pitchers. Moreover, opponents have a .191 AVG on those balls. Another sign Kikuchi is making progress is his .302 xwOBA, which ties him with Gonzales for best in the rotation. Furthermore, the Japanese import has surrendered just one home run in five starts. In 2019, he permitted multiple homers in 12 outings. Kikuchi taking the next step in his development is critical for financial purposes also. The 29-year-old must decide by the fifth day after the 2021 World Series whether to exercise a $13 million player option for the following season. Simultaneously, the Mariners must determine whether to exercise the first of four one-year $16 million club options that run through the 2025 season. Depending on how Kikuchi performs between now and the end of next season, he could be a free agent after 2022 or a key contributor with the Mariners when the team projects to be a serious contender in 2023. Nick Margevicius Margevicius made the Opening Day roster as a member of the bullpen, but joined the rotation when Kendall Graveman went down with an injury. After tossing 3.1 shutout innings in his first start, the Rider University alum pitched 17.1 innings in his next three starts allowing eight earned runs, 17 hits, and three walks, while striking out 15. Much like Newsome, it’s too early to tell what Margevicius might do. That’s why it’s worth paying attention to the 24-year-old down the home stretch. Justus Sheffield Sheffield struggled in his first two starts – eight runs, eight hits, and six walks allowed against seven strikeouts in 7.2 innings. Since then, the left-hander has been delivering the kind of production the Mariners expected when they shipped James Paxton to the Yankees to acquire him. In Sheffield’s next three starts encompassing 18 innings, he struck out 16, walked two, and allowed just two earned runs. Plus, he went six innings in each outing. Still, the Tennessean did absorb some punches in his most recent outing against the Angels – six earned runs, four walks, and the first home run allowed this season. His last start notwithstanding, Sheffield appears more comfortable as a major-league pitcher. If that’s the case, it’ll become increasingly evident during the lefty’s final starts in 2020. Justin Dunn The Freeport, New York native entered the season as the least experienced starter on the staff and it showed early. Therefore, there are good and not-so-much results to discuss. Dunn’s 13.8-percent walk rate this season is third highest among starters with 20-plus innings. Only Robbie Ray (20.1) and Spencer Turnbull (15.1) are worse than the former Boston College Eagle. Moreover, he’s surrendered five home runs in 27 innings. On the other hand, Dunn’s 67.9-percent “poor” contact rate is fourteenth best in the majors among starters. Not only that, opponents are hitting just .057 on those balls. The box score also highlights Dunn’s inconsistent season thus far. The right-hander logged just nine innings in three starts. Yet, he also has three quality starts, including a pair of six shutout inning affairs in his last two outings. Despite the unevenness of his performances, it’s evident Dunn possesses a great deal of upside. The challenge he faces is having to put it all together at the big-league level. Perhaps it’s unfair that Dunn didn’t get a chance to hone his skills at AAA, but 2020 has been unforgiving in so many ways. That said; the New Yorker is making the best of the situation and not wasting the opportunity to prove he belongs. That’s why I’ll be watching him in September. What Will Yohan Ramírez Do? There’s no getting around the fact the bullpen has been bad this season. But I have to admit, I can’t turn away from the TV when Ramírez is pitching. The 25-year-old is an intriguing figure with a dynamic arm, although his command and control have been volatile at times. As Mike Petriello of noted last month, Ramírez had the eighth highest strikeout rate among minor league pitchers with 100-plus innings last year. Unfortunately, the native of the Dominican Republic had the highest walk rate to go with it. Basically, it’s what we’ve seen from him this season too. With the Mariners, Ramírez’s 35.6-percent strikeout rate is slightly better than his minor-league rate and good enough to place him in the top-30 among big-league relievers this year. Unfortunately, his 23.7-percent walk rate is the worst in the majors. Then again, opponents have a .114 AVG against Ramírez – tops among Mariners pitchers and ninth best among relievers. If he can harness his electric stuff, the righty could be a key piece in the team’s bullpen when the club is ready to contend. With the departure of Altavilla and Williams, Ramírez could potentially get more opportunities to pitch in high-leverage situations this month. Sure, the 2019 Rule 5 pick from the Astros could crash and burn a few times. Then again, he can be dazzling, which makes it tough to turn away when he’s on the mound. Will We See Logan Gilbert? The masses have been pining for the arrival of Kelenic, but it seems unlikely he’s going to appear in 2020. You know, service time and all that stuff. If I were going to bet on the arrival of a top prospect from Tacoma this season, I’d place money on Gilbert getting the call. To me, Gilbert is the prospect best positioned to join the Mariners this month. Perhaps the club prefers to have the Stetson alum begin 2021 with Class-AAA, which was the initial plan for this year before the pandemic shutdown. Assuming management is pleased with his development at the alternate training site; why not expose him to major league hitters this month? The answer is probably the same as it is with Kelenic. Although no team will never admit it, starting the service time clock is a big deal. Particularly for a club like the Mariners that isn’t likely to contend next year. I’m not justifying the practice, just acknowledging the reality of the situation. Still, seeing Gilbert pitch at T-Mobile Park this month would be fun. The 23-year-old would represent a preview of what we may see from the Mariners in 2022-23 – when Seattle could begin becoming a baseball town again. Yes, I know. Go Hawks and all that stuff. But baseball remains the best sport. My Oh My…Go!

When it comes to communicating about their team, Jerry Dipoto of the Seattle Mariners may be the most forthcoming GM in MLB. Yet, some struggle to see what’s obvious to me – Dipoto’s actions normally align with his words. Then again, I do fancy myself as a “JeDi whisperer.” I’m being somewhat tongue-in-cheek referring to myself in such a manner. But I do believe it’s not hard to understand the direction Dipoto wants to take his team or how he’ll act in the trade market. The key to being a JeDi whisperer is listening closely to what he’s saying without any preconceived notions. Let’s consider several comments made by the fifth-year GM regarding 2020. Let The Kids Play After the 2019 season, Dipoto repeatedly stated the Mariners would preserve opportunities for the club’s youngsters to play. The following quote from Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Seattle is representative of what the Virginia Commonwealth alum professed throughout the offseason.  We’re growing a young core and I guess by virtue of what that requires, we have to give them the opportunity to play.” – Jerry Dipoto And that’s exactly what the Mariners have done. Management labeled Shed Long as the team’s everyday second baseman before the season began despite the presence of veteran incumbent Dee Gordon. Although Long has struggled and Gordon is still with the team, the Mariners haven’t wavered and continue playing the 25-year-old. Emphasis on letting the kids play explains why the Mariners made short-term acquisitions to the rotation in the offseason. The team didn’t want to block development of its young arms – Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, Nick Margevicius, and Ljay Newsome. Granted, Margevicius and Newsome weren’t starters at the start of the season. But Dipoto turned to the kids instead of looking for veteran help when Kendall Graveman went down with an injury and after he traded Taijuan Walker. That’s been the recurring theme during this wacky 2020 campaign. Substitute scuffling youngsters or injured players with young, unproven replacements. The underlying goal – advance the development of the kids and assess them at the big-league level. It’s why players like Braden Bishop, Jose Marmolejos, Sam Haggerty, Joe Hudson, and Joseph Odom received the call to replace an injured Tom Murphy and Dylan Moore, a struggling Mallex Smith and Daniel Vogelbach, and a traded Austin Nola. Youth Movement Continues During a recent team broadcast on ROOT Sports, Dipoto stated, “We’re going to get younger as the season goes.” A seemingly bold comment considering the Mariners entered this year with the youngest roster in MLB. Once again, JeDi backed up his words with action. First, the absence of Walker (27) and Graveman (29) provided opportunities for Margevicius (24) and Newsome (23). Then came the seven-player trade brokered by Dipoto over the weekend. The Mariners dealt a 30-year-old Nola with relievers Dan Altavilla (27) and Austin Adams (29) to the Padres for a quartet of prospects who are 26-or-younger – outfielder Taylor Trammell, infielder Ty France, pitcher Andrés Muñoz and catcher Luis Torrens. Seattle got even younger, while increasing the talent and depth in an already well-regarded farm system. Once he clears the Mariners’ COVID-19 intake process, the 24-year-old Torrens likely receives the majority of playing time behind the plate in September. Similarly, France will also join his new club after COVID screening. Where he plays long-term isn’t as clear, but Dipoto does believe the 26-year-old can be regular middle-of-the-order bat. Down the road, Trammel (22) may form an outfield rotation with Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, and Julio Rodriguez. The youngest new Mariner – Muñoz – is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery That said; Dipoto noted during today’s game broadcast that he views the 21-year-old right-hander as a potential future closer.  Keeping Marco National pundits and fans bandied about the name of Mariners Opening Day starter Marco Gonzales leading up to the trade deadline. However, I never felt dealing Marco was going to happen. Why the confidence? As we discussed after the June draft, Dipoto places a high value on premium quality starting pitching. The notion of the New Jersey native dealing away a proven major league arm his club just signed to an extension was preposterous to me. Could the Mariners trade Gonzales in the future? It’s certainly a possibility, but I don’t see Dipoto’s loosening his grip on the team’s controllable starters until he and his staff better understand what they have down on the farm. I’ve maintained this opinion since hearing Dipoto reiterate the importance of starting pitching to Danny, Dave, and Moore in July 2017. At the time, the 52-year-old executive referred to the market as the “pitching store,” which is rarely open and always has high asking prices. Sure, it’s cool having a stable of first round picks moving through the system. But these talented youngsters will remain unknowns until proving otherwise at the big-league level. For this reason, I can’t seeing Dipoto peddling Marco at the pitching store anytime soon.  And Kyle Seager? When asked about the status of Kyle Seager during a recent conversation on the Danny & Gallant Show, Dipoto said “we’re going to hold on to him and see where it takes us from here.” Yet, Mariners Twitter continued to formulate potential Seager trade scenarios until today’s deadline. Now, I’m not saying Dipoto won’t trade Seager between now and the end of next season when his contract expires. But it was clear to this JeDi whisperer the Mariners were keeping the 32-year-old third baseman through the 2020 season. Perhaps the team considers moving Seager this coming offseason or during the 2021 campaign, assuming there’s a suitor willing to take on the “poison pill” player option in his contract that activates if Seattle trades the former All-Star. After all, France has experience at both corner infield spots and second base. With the team already committed to Evan White at first base and Long currently holding down second base, the San Diego State alum could potentially fill a void left in the aftermath of a Seager trade. What’s Next? The Mariners will continue introducing us to more young players this season, although I don’t expect we’ll see Kelenic this year. I know this disappoints some fans, but Dipoto has subtly suggested as much when asked about the highly touted prospect. Sure, Dipoto’s approach means the club will have a terrible win-loss record this year. But so what? The endgame was always about getting the kids playing time and that’s exactly what has transpired. Again, this shouldn’t be a surprise – Dipoto has consistently reiterated the future mattered more to him than current results in 2019-20.  Moving forward, I suggest taking in every word Dipoto says during his frequent media availability sessions and on his Wheelhouse podcast. Then, digest them with an open mind. He’s likely to divulge what’s next for the Mariners. Or you could simply ask me – I’m always happy to talk baseball and the ways of the JeDi with you. My Oh My…  Go!

It’s surreal writing about MLB deadline deals less than a month into the regular season. Yet, surreal may best describe the year that is 2020. Having said that, the August 31 trade deadline is quickly approaching. So let’s discuss Seattle Mariners who may be on the move. Seattle fans are accustomed to GM Jerry Dipoto being active near the deadline. Notable Mariners recently acquired via summer deals include Marco Gonzales and Daniel Vogelbach. Still, this year is different and it’s not just the fact MLB is playing games during a pandemic.   More than any time in recent club history, the Mariners are emphasizing player development over winning games – they are letting the kids play. To make room for the youngsters, the front office has already moved nearly all of its established veterans. Those remaining aren’t likely to command a substantial price on the trade market. Now, that doesn’t mean Dipoto won’t be swapping players. The 52-year-old executive has a reputation as an innovative dealmaker. On the other hand, the likelihood of a headline-grabbing trade happening seems remote, at best. Still, what fun would it be if we didn’t chat about players, who fans may see as trade assets? After all, talking about baseball is always fun. So, let’s have some fun and discuss commonly mentioned names on the Mariners’ roster. Dee Gordon With the Mariners committed to Shed Long and J.P. Crawford as their regular middle-infield, Gordon’s playing opportunities have diminished. The 32-year-old has appeared in approximately two-thirds of the team’s games with left field being his primary position. He’s also appeared at shortstop and second base to spot Crawford and Long. Gordon is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, although there’s a $14 million club option for 2021 with a $1 million buyout. Considering Seminole Community College product’s age and limited playing time this year, it’s unlikely the Mariners exercise the option. Still, the left-handed hitter could potentially appeal to other clubs even if he’s no longer a fit on Seattle’s roster. Although Gordon is off to a slow start at the plate, his troubles may simply be due to reduced playing time. Even if his bat weren’t to heat up with another team, he can still contribute with his fleet feet and positional versatility. The former batting champion’s 28 ft/sec sprint speed doesn’t technically quality as elite-level, but he’s still above average on the bases. Plus, he’s a professional in every respect. Whether the Mariners actually desire to move Gordon or buyers pursue him isn’t clear. However, the 10-year veteran and former Gold Glove winner is a clubhouse leader capable of improving a contender’s roster. Taijuan Walker The returning fan-favorite is pitching well for the club that picked him in the first round pick of the 2010 draft. Walker has made quality starts in two of his first four outings and his .314 xwOBA is significantly better than the current league-average for starters (.333). Impressive for a pitcher who missed nearly all of 2018-19 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Considering his early success, I suspect many Mariners fans prefer the club retaining Walker to help usher in the expected influx of young arms from the minors. Having the 28-year-old along with Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi to mentor the kids seems reasonable. It does, assuming the player agrees. Perhaps Walker prefers testing free agency and the Mariners know this or the team simply wants to move forward without the right-hander in their rotation. If either is true, he could be on the move later this month. Mallex Smith Smith got off to a rough start in 2019 and he’s struggling once again this season. In 39 plate appearances spanning 11 games, the 27-year-old is slashing a paltry .135/.179/.189 with 2 doubles, 2 stolen bases, and 11 strikeouts. With highly touted outfield prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez on the horizon and Kyle Lewis having a breakout season, Smith doesn’t appear to have a place with the Mariners’ long-term plans. Especially when you consider he enters his second year of arbitration eligibility in 2021.  Perhaps trying to find a new home by the end of August benefits both team and player. Still, Smith’s poor start and difficulties last year may reduce interest in the Santa Fe Community College alum from potential suitors. Utility Guys Tim Lopes and Dylan Moore have made their presence known in a positive way during the first-third of the season. Perhaps the Mariners consider moving one or both to a contender looking for depth and versatility since rosters will remain at 28 players for the regular and postseason.  As you can see below, Lopes and Moore have played all across the diamond since 2018. Games At Each Position Since 2018 (MiLB & MLB) Between the two, Moore has demonstrated more positional versatility. He’s also having the better offensive season. The University of Central Florida product is slashing .313/.377/.646 with a team-leading four home runs. The 26-year-old Lopes hit the ground running at the start of the season, but he’s cooled lately (.255/.309/.392). Still, the Californian slashed a solid .270/.359/.360 in 128 plate appearances during his rookie campaign last year. Some buyers may prefer Lopes and Moore to Gordon due to their youth and significantly lower financial cost. Moreover, both would remain under club control at least through the 2024 season. Still, neither possesses the experience nor the pedigree of Gordon. It’s important to emphasize Lopes and Moore won’t recoup significant value on the market. However, it’s unlikely both stick with the team moving into next year. Dealing one or both now may make sense. Any Reliever It’s reasonable to expect any able-bodied reliever, who’s performing well is a trade candidate.  The key phrases to consider are “able-bodied” and “performing well.” After all, the bullpen is bottom-4 in the majors in xwOBA (.378), HR/9 (1.95), WHIP (1.53), ERA (6.78), FIP (6.16), and fWAR (-1.1). Matt Magill, Taylor Williams, and Anthony Misiewicz have experienced some success. However, Magill and Williams are outperforming career norms and Misiewicz is a rookie. The demand pulse for such players is likely to be relatively low. Among more established relievers, there is no good news. During his time in Cleveland, Bryan Shaw would’ve been a great pickup. Unfortunately, the innings-eater struggled in 2018-19 with the Rockies. So much so Colorado cut him loose even though they’re on the hook for most of his pro-rated $9 million salary this year and a $2 million buyout for 2021. In theory, Seattle’s best relievers and potentially most valuable trade chips are on the IL. Offseason acquisition Yoshihisa Hirano has yet to debut with the club after contracting COVID-19. He’s reported to the alternate training site in Tacoma to face live hitters before joinng the Mariners. Hirano has late-inning experience and will be a free agent after the season. If healthy and pitching well, the right-hander would be a logical target for contenders, Perhaps the 36-year-old returns prior to the deadline and demonstrates he can help clubs making a postseason push.  Carl Edwards Jr. suffered a forearm strain late last week, but the injury isn’t considered too serious and he should return this season. Prior to going down, the right-hander was the Mariners’ best reliever. Also a pending free agent, he would’ve been an appealing option for clubs wanting to add a late-inning power arm. Austin Adams was arguably the team’s best reliever last year. Unfortunately, the 29-year-old suffered an ACL injury in late-September and has yet to appear this season. Assuming he’s fully recovered and throwing well, it’s plausible clubs may pursue the University of South Florida alum. As with Hirano and Edwards, his return date and effectiveness afterwards will determine his trade value. The Other Guys Frustrated fans often want their team to move on from perceived under-performers. Sometimes it happens, but expecting the Mariners to make a trade and receive much in return will only lead to disappointment. One such player is Daniel Vogelbach. The team’s lone 2019 All-Star is slashing just .119/.275/.286 this year. Vogelbach continues to walk at a high rate (17.6-percent), but the Mariners reportedly prefer he’d take a more aggressive approach at the plate. If the 27-year-old isn’t productive with his bat, there is no upside – he’s a slow runner and a below-average defender. Complicating matters, Vogey has no minor-league options remaining.   Conversely, Dan Altavilla has never been able to cobble together a strong season despite elite-level fastball velocity. Altavilla is once again struggling to maintain a foothold in Seattle’s bullpen. Considering he too doesn’t have any options remaining and is arbitration-eligible next year, his future with the team is cloudy. That brings us down to our last player. Kyle Seager The longest-tenured Mariner is often the most maligned by Seattle fans on social media. Why the heat? The primary beef seems to be Seager’s salary, which has averaged $19.3 million annually since 2018. In the minds of the disgruntled, the 32-year-old hasn’t lived up to the hefty paycheck. Ironically, it’s a stipulation in the former All-Star’s seven-year/$100 million contract that makes trading him problematic. Seager is set to earn $18 million in 2021, the final guaranteed year of his contract. However, a “poison pill” clause noted by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic makes dealing the former Gold Glover difficult. If traded, a $15 million club option for 2022 morphs into a player option. For this reason, dealing the former North Carolina Tar Heel doesn’t make financial sense. Some may suggest the Mariners should simply “eat” a large part of Seager’s pay to facilitate a deal. It’s a practice the club used when trading veterans Mike Leake, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jay Bruce last season. But there’s a difference. Seattle saved money despite paying a significant portion of each player’s salary. The same applies to the deal shipping Robinson Canó to the Mets. Doing the same with a potential Seager trade seems unlikely. To see what I mean, look at the following table. It illustrates three basic options the Mariners could pursue with Seager – retain him for 2021, retain for 2021 and exercise the $15 million club option for 2022, trade him. For each, you’ll see the projected total salary the 10-season veteran would receive. Three Potential Seager Scenarios Let’s assume the Mariners keep Seager to play out the final year of his contract. The total financial cost maxes out at approximately $21.5 million – his 2021 salary and a buyout for 2022 estimated to be nothing up to $3 million. Under what circumstances could the team possibly trade Seager, have the poison pill clause activate, and save money?  Furthermore, the Twitter-verse rationale cited most often for dealing Seager is to acquire prospects. To recoup such value, the Mariners need to take on a lot of salary and pay more than the $21.5 million just mentioned.   Let’s assume for a moment the Mariners are willing to absorb a high percentage of the money owed to Seager to make a deal. What exactly is a thirty-something third baseman going to command on the market? Probably not a lot. Yes, Seager is having a great season. But teams are increasingly reluctant to part with prospects. Especially for aging veteran position players. In the end, I suspect the Mariners retain Seager and that’s just fine with me. Teammates young and old often identify him as a clubhouse leader, which matters to a team with a roster chock full of youngsters. Moreover, the organization doesn’t have anyone ready to take over at third base, so he’s not blocking the development of any prospect. Finally, there’s a reasonable chance Seager enters the Mariners Hall of Famer. He’s accruing career numbers that place him in the same company as several of the most beloved players in franchise history. Plus he’s the best third baseman in the franchise’s 44-year history. Why screw up the end of his Seattle career to make a deal that won’t have a lasting impact on the team’s trajectory? Perhaps I’m wrong and Dipoto finds a way to check the financial and prospect blocks I’ve cited and executes a deal for Seager. He and his staff are certainly much smarter and more resourceful than me. On the other hand, I’m okay with seeing Seager patrol the hot corner for the Mariners on Opening Day next year. I’d also be cool with Kyle Seager still being in a Mariners uniform in 2022. My Oh My…  Go!