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 MLB.com 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……

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…

 …

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…

 …

A difficult 2019 rookie season morphed Yusei Kikuchi into the most enigmatic player on the Seattle Mariners. Still, Kikuchi may be turning a corner this year. We’ll get to the improvements he’s been demonstrating in a moment. First, let’s quickly revisit his pitching record from last season.

As Mariners fans know all too well, Kikuchi was frustratingly inconsistent and mostly ineffective last year and the stats prove it – he ranked near the bottom in most categories. The following table helps put those struggles into perspective. Illustrated are the left-hander’s numbers, the MLB average for each statistic, plus his ranking among 108 pitchers facing 500-plus hitters in 2019. Statistically speaking, the baby was ugly.

Yusei Kikuchi’s 2019 Numbers

Despite underwhelming season numbers, Kikuchi occasionally managed to shine – 12 quality starts, including a complete-game shutout. Moreover, his 162.1 innings pitched ranked second on the Mariners behind Marco Gonzales (203). In retrospect, those sporadic flashes of brilliance had to be what GM Jerry Dipoto was expecting on a regular basis. Otherwise, why sign the Japanese hurler to a four-year/$56 million deal, which could potentially become a seven-year/$109 million commitment?

Improving Numbers

So, what suggests Kikuchi may be turning a corner this year? Let’s start with his conventional line. As we’ll see below, the 29-year-old is demonstrating significant improvement in many categories with the exception of ERA and walks.

Conventional Stats Looking Good

Despite the higher rate of walks allowed, Kikuchi is allowing fewer base runners. Moreover, he’s yet to surrender a home run. In 2019, susceptibility to the long ball was a significant issue for the eight-year veteran of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.

Kikuchi is also striking out more hitters than last year. It’s worth noting his 25.8-percent strikeout rate at this early stage of the season is nearly identical to the combined strikeout rate posted during his final three seasons in Japan (25.5).

Advanced metrics paint an even rosier picture of Kikuchi’s 2020 and help relieve the sting of his high ERA. First, he’s avoiding well-struck balls more often. His hard hit rate is down by 5.1-percent and he hasn’t given up a “barreled” ball in 2020. The Statcast range for barrels begins with an exit velocity of at least 98-MPH and a launch angle between 26-30 degrees. Last season, barreled balls produced a .816 and 1.446 wOBA in MLB.

Advanced Metrics Favor Yusei Even More

The decline in hard hit balls is a welcome sign. So is Kikuchi avoiding airborne damage thus far. His 57.5-percent ground ball rate is thirteenth highest in the majors among starting pitchers. What’s prompting the hefty jump in grounders this season? Apparently, a pitch Kikuchi didn’t use last year.

Kikuchi 2.0

Per Statcast, Kikuchi is throwing a cutter, which wasn’t in his 2019 repertoire. Essentially, it’s supplanted the curveball, which hasn’t appeared this year. Here’s a breakdown of his pitch usage rate, plus wOBA and ground ball rate for each pitch.

Kikuchi’s Pitch Utilization (2019 v 2020)

Not only has Kikuchi relied on a cutter more heavily than any other pitch, it’s producing a superb .218 wOBA. It’s also generating a 35-percent ground ball rate. That’s nearly two-thirds of all grounders produced by the sophomore in 2020.

A new pitch wasn’t the only upgrade Kikuchi made. It’s been widely reported he partnered with Driveline Baseball in the offseason to improve his mechanics and ultimately the overall effectiveness of his arsenal. Evidence of change was initially on display during Spring Training – a streamlined delivery with increased fastball velocity. What we’re also seeing now is a more aggressive Kikuchi, who’s making opposing hitters swing and miss more often.

Kikuchi’s 30.5-percent swing and miss rate (Whiff%) is top-30 in the majors this year. Conversely, his 20-percent rate was in the bottom-30 in 2019. For anyone wondering, Whiff% is the percentage of swings resulting in strikes. The following illustrates the Whiff% for each of Kikuchi’s pitches in 2019 and this year.

Yusei’s Climbing Whiff Rates

Assuming the new and improved Kikuchi is here to stay, it’s plausible he could become the most valuable pitcher on the staff this season. Some may consider suggesting he surpasses Gonzales as the Mariners’ top starter as blasphemy or just utter nonsense from a knucklehead like me. But why not?

If hitters continue driving the ball into the dirt against Kikuchi and the southpaw can dominate with swing and miss stuff, why couldn’t he become Seattle’s top gun? It’s a realistic possibility – at least to me it is.

Reality Check

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. It’s early and Kikuchi’s small body of work amounts to a teeny sample size – three starts and 15.1 innings to be exact. Yes, it would be premature to claim a star is born. A healthy amount of skepticism is understandable, especially after his disappointing rookie debut last year.

Still, what if Kikuchi has figured something out?

If so, he could be a fixture in the Mariners’ rotation when the team turns its corner. It certainly would be helpful to have a dominant Kikuchi and a reliable Gonzales leading the organization’s stable of young guns – Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Emerson Hancock, Brandon Williamson, and Isaiah Campbell.

Perhaps the Marco/Yusei tandem happens. All that’s needed is for Kikuchi to sustain his recent excellence.

I believe he can do it.

My Oh My……

Jarred Kelenic, Mariners scouting report

* In this podcast, the following players are mentioned: Jarred Kelenic, Kyle Lewis, Kyle Seager, Kendall Graveman, Justin Dunn, Evan White, Justus Sheffield, Shed Long, Nick Margevicius, Logan Gilbert, Dee Gordon, Chone Figgins, Austin Shenton Subscribe HERE for full episodes

Subscribe here for full episodes

Evan White, Taylor Williams, Joey Gerber, Mallex Smith, Daniel Vogelbach, Dan Altavilla, Dylan Moore, Tim Lopes, Kyle Seager, Jose Marmolejos, Taylor Guilbeau, Mike Trout, Taijuan Walker, Kendall Graveman, Yusei Kikuchi, Marco Gonzales, and Carl Edwards Jr., were all discussed in the full episode.

Kyle Lewis, Kyle Seager, Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop, Taijuan Walker, Yusei Kikuchi, Marco Gonzales, Logan Gilbert, Jarred Kelenic, Kendall Graveman, Mallex Smith, and Jose Marmolejos are all discussed in the full episode. Get all full episodes by subscribing here.

Click here to listen to the latest episode of Baseball Things Tim Lopes, Shed Long, Kyle Lewis, Daniel Vogelbach, Joey Gerber, Sam Delaplane, Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Kyle Lewis, Art Warren and Aaron Fletcher also discussed in the full episode.

Austin Nola was a 5th-round pick in 2012 by the Miami Marlins out of LSU, six spots behind Chris Taylor (Seattle), two behind Mallex Smith (Pittsburgh). He spent six years in the Marlins organization before the Mariners signed him as a minor league free agent following the 2018 season.

He played shortstop in college and was solid-average in the SEC for some good LSU teams. He batted .299/.420/.434 as a senior.

Nola is the older brother of Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola.

Draft Year Tools Grades
Hit: 45  Pwr: 40+ Run: 50  Throw: 55  Glove: 45+

Early in his pro career Nola stayed at shortstop primarily. He began to play a bit at second base and third base in Double-A Jacksonville in 2014 and 2015, but remained primarily in his natural spot. In 2016 he played just 32 of 110 games at SS, and 56 at second.

Following the ’16 season, the Marlins transitioned him to catcher, where he caught 75 games between AA and AAA in 2017, then caught 68 games in AAA in 2018. He split time between catcher and 1B in Triple-A Tacoma.

Once the Mariners summoned him last summer, he spent just just 38 2/3 innings for at catcher, as Tom Murphy and Omar Narvaez covered the position. Nola played 59 games at first base, 15 at second, four at third, and two in the outfield.

He spend all of the 2020 season at age 30.

Intro

Nola’s minor league results at the plate were at best a mixed bag, often showing a playable hit tool when he was older than the median competition, but success was limited. His contact rates were passable, and he drew walks at least nine percent of the time in all but one season. But the swing limited his damage to 15 career minor league home runs in more than 2,800 plate appearances through 2018.

At Triple-A Tacoma in 2019, Nola, albeit as an older player, smacked seven home runs and 15 doubles in just 55 games, slugging a career-best .520 while batting .327 with a .415 OBP.

He then played in 79 games in the big leagues and hit .269/.342/.454 with 10 homers.

Some of the power can be attributed to Nola’s strength. Once he moved from shortstop to catcher, he added good weight to his lower half. But Nola also made some swing adjustments that paid off in the form of more leverage without sacrificing zone coverage.

Nola’s 2019 half-season with the Mariners is interesting to look at in graph and table form, so let’s do that, courtesy Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball.

The Numbers

wOBA is weighted On Base Average, similarly-valued to wRC+ except it doesn’t adjust for park effects. In the short sample that was Nola’s 2019 in Seattle, he posted a .337 wOBA. The league average for catchers was .303. The league average for all positions was .320.

For the record, Nola’s wRC+ landed at 114, or 14% above the league average for the year.

Obviously, if Nola repeats his 2019 offensive output and can handle the catching duties, he’s a good player and a solid value despite his advanced age for a player with limited experience.

Sidebar: One thing to keep in mind with Nola’s age is the fact so little of his time has been spent in the crouch, so he’s far from the typical 30-year-old backstop, and he began 2020 with less than a year of service.

Nola hit the ball solidly last summer (34.5% hard hit rate), despite lacking impressive exit velocity numbers (87.4). There was almost certainly a bit of randomness to his success, but hitters that use the field the way he did tend to find grass more often.


Nola’s batted ball profile from 2019 shows a 19.3% line drive rate, 39.8% ground balls, 40.9% fly balls. 13.9% IFFB, 13.9% HR/FB, and impressively just 21.5% of the balls he put in play were considered softly struck.

Nola was very consistent in making solid contact, even if he wasn’t murdering baseballs like a middle-of-the-order power bat might.

In 2020, Nola may need to make a little more contact — 23.6% strikeout rate — not that such a rate is inherently poor or that he swing through a lot of pitches. Nola posted a 7.9% swinging strike rate, chased just 21% of the time and made contact on pitches in the zone 78.5% of the time he offered, all average to well above-average marks.

So why did he strike out nearly 24% of the time?

He took some hittable pitches early in counts, gave away a few too many strikes, and fouled off 46% of the four-seam fastballs he swung at over a 399-pitch sample, which is about 4% higher than the league average.

The Scouting Report

The scouting report says Nola tends to struggle with plus velocity at times, likely due to average bat speed, but when he’s aggressive on them early in counts he’ll hit for average or better power. He sees the ball well, too, which bodes well for him against average fastballs, and Nola showed an ability to stay back on soft stuff and drive them from gap to gap.

He will use most of the field with doubles power, and does a good job covering the zone with the barrel and spraying balls from line to line. His home-run power in the majors was pretty severely to his pull side, but he does create lift to right-center and right field with some authority, suggesting perhaps there’s enough pop in that direction to expect to see a few more long balls to that side over the course of a larger sample.

For 2020

For Nola to have a shot at repeating last year’s output, or coming close to it, he’s likely going to need marginal improvements in contact rate and performance versus above-average fastball velocity — which is about day-to-day game plan more than anything physical or swing-related.

Doing so will help him avoid so many two-strike counts — 136 of his PAs last season ended with a two-strike count, 56 of those when behind, 37 more when the count was even at 2-2, suggesting he saw a ton of pitcher’s pitches.

Nola batted .524 with a 1.143 slugging percentage on 1-1 counts, .467 with a 1.067 slugging percentage on 2-1 counts and .750 with a 1.000 slugging percentage on 3-1 counts. He didn’t have a ton of luck on the first pitch of the PA (.241 AVG) but he slugged .414 despite a .214 BABIP, suggesting that will even out a little bit.

Like any batter, Nola just need to get a little bit better in 2020 at getting pitches to hit and executing before he gets to unfavorable counts. 

As we examine Nola’s defensive prowess behind the plate in 2020, his bat remains in question, too. But what we saw a year ago was promising, as is the recent trend, where he mashed in Triple-A, hit well with some pop in the majors, and now has a chance to adjust to the adjustments and prove he possesses staying power beyond the Mariners’ rebuilding seasons.

Nola’s ability to play first base, third base, a little left field and even second base in a pinch could make him an ideal third catcher with the new 26-man roster rule, if he’s not a viable No. 2, which certainly is in play.…

It’s here. Opening Day has arrived for the 2020 Seattle Mariners. Nearly four months after originally planned, but here we are. The 2020 Mariners are likely to be both the same as last season and a lot different simultaneously. Like their 2019 brethren, they’re unlikely to win a lot of games. Unlike last year’s club, the ’20 team begins the season with a number of young players on the roster. It’s almost like the club is starting the season in September call-up form. Almost.

Friday in Houston at 6:10 PM PT it’s Marco Gonzales vs. Justin Verlander. The defending American League Champions. Jose Altuve. George Springer. Alex Bregman. Carlos Correa. Dusty Baker is the skipper and the front office has been overhauled as a result of Cheatgate, but the talent remains for the Astros, who enter the season a pretty sure bet to make another postseason run. So, what should be expected of the Mariners tonight, in this series, and this season? Let’s chat.

Marco Gonzales

Gonzales is the defacto No. 1 starter for Seattle but don’t let that qualification nor his substandard fastball velocity fool you. Gonzales can pitch. But this isn’t a good matchup for anyone, especially an arm relying on weak contact and aggressive hitters; Houston will make Gonzales work. 

But one thing I we might see from Gonzales in 2020 is a return to his 2017 velocity, perhaps behind a bit more usage of his four-seam fastball, a pitch he all but abandoned in 2019.

The left-hander’s sinker averaged 89.2 mph a year ago, down from 90.7 in 2018. His four-seamer, back in 2017 when he threw it more, averaged 92 mph. Gonzales does a lot of things to manipulate his fastball and basically has three of them, including the cutter — more on that in a second.

But looking to get ahead with sinkers and changeups, then in two-strike counts take a shot above the hands for a few more swings and misses sounds an awful lot like what I wrote about Kendal Graveman right here.

Gonzales didn’t do much of that in 2019 and after posting swinging-strike rates of 9.1 and 9.3, watched that mark dip to 7.9% a year ago.

Despite the sinker-changeup combo, Gonzales has never been a true ground ball pitcher, living in the 44-45% range the past two seasons — which was not due to the use of a sinker, since he induced a better rate of ground balls from his changeup and curveball. He doesn’t throw downhill and the movement isn’t sharp and late, not to mention at 89 mph allows hitters to measure it better than, say, Zack Britton‘s 96 mph sinker that’s also coming downhill.

Because he doesn’t induce ‘a lot’ of ground balls, Gonzales is left with two ways to get enough outs to stave off big innings and pitch deep into games: Strikeouts and weak-contact fly balls/pop ups.

His stuff doesn’t suggest a lot of the former, and the latter is a very dangerous venture, as we’ve learned over the years in Major League Baseball: Fly balls represent the one result which the pitcher — and the defense — have the least control over the result.

Gonzales, however, has proven skilled at limiting hard contact and he does it with changing speeds and working the entire strike zone.


As a result of said skill,. Gonzales has limited home runs the past two years to 11.3% and 9.3% (lowest rate in baseball among qualified pitchers) of the fly balls he allows. How truly sustainable that is remains to be seen, and the baseball itself has a lot to do with the results.

Since 2015, only Gio Gonzalez, a relatively similar pitcher, has a better HR/FB rate than the Mariners’ ace at 10.3% to Gonzales’ 10.4. That’s over 700 innings of data. I’d say it’s simply something Gonzales is good at and he’s likely to sustain that. Mostly anyway, since small samples are always a problem, and that’s all the 2020 season is.

But Gonzales is creative and makes adjustments from inning to inning, start to start, and certainly year to year, including with how often he uses a certain pitch:

Every year of his career thus far he’s made some kind of significant change — which isn’t all that uncommon, but it’s generally reserved for pitchers that struggle or reinvent themselves later in their career or due to injury.

Gonzales has to get to his changeup to continue his two-year run of a 3-4 win pitcher, and if he’s to make any kind of jump he’ll need more fastball value. Throwing more four-seamers could be the answer to both.

Evan White

We’ve talked a lot about White the past several months since the club recognized him as their version of Anthony Rizzo (a steady, leadership-type player whose floor they’re willing to live with and ceiling they’re willing to bet on) and extended him for six years.

But White will make his big-league debut Friday night and that’s a lot of fun. But it’s not just any debut. The 24-year-old’s first career plate appearance will be versus reigning Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, who care not one bit about a rookie’s feelings and is rarely off his game. Talk about an early litmus test.

My expectations for White this year are very similar to my expectations for Shed Long. The floor is high enough to think he’ll battle his way to respectable numbers. But White’s progress in creating more backspin and identifying pitches to pull has been quite remarkable since the middle of last season.

He’s also shown maturity in terms of pitch selection, suggesting he could reach whatever his ceiling is rather quickly. While that upside isn’t coming in 2020, we’ll probably going to see flashes.

I don’t know if it’s reasonable to think White can compete for Rookie of the Year honors, but I’d take the over on 20 extra-base hits, and if you haven’t seen him play first base you’re going to say “John Olerud” aloud a lot this year watching White in the field.  He’s truly remarkable there, making non-routine plays look not only routine but ho-hum easy.

The Pitching

Last year, the Mariners’ relief corps compiled the least fWAR in the American League (0.4), and ranked No. 12 in FIP, No. 14 in WPA, No. 12 in strikeouts per nine and No. 13 in HR/9. 
There’s not much reason outside small sample to believe anything different will transpire in 2020.

One popular question surrounding the Mariners this offseason was why not add more veterans the club can flip in trades, and while they did that with CJ Edwards, the Mariners are looking to give innings to young arms, even in the bullpen.

In addition to the arms that are on the roster now — the youngest being Anthony Misiewicz, Nick Margevicius, Taylor Guilbeau and Rule 5 pick Yohan Ramirez — we’re likely to see Art Warren, Sam Delaplane, Aaron Fletcher and Joey Gerber at some point. Warren is already on the 40-man and each of those four are on the 60-man Training Roster.

The rotation, as noted by Luke Arkins on the latest episode of Baseball Things, is vastly different than the one the club tossed out there a year ago in that every arm after Gonzales can touch at least 95 mph and sits 90-94 or better.

      • Taijuan Walker will sit 91-94 to go with a curveball, cutter,  and splitter.
      • Graveman is 91-95 (up to 97 with the four-seamer, up to 95 with two-seamer), with a slider, changeup and curveball.
      • Yusei Kikuchi is up to 96 to go with a slider, changeup and curveball.
      • Justin Dunn sits 91-94 and is up to 96 to set up a slider and developing changeup.
      • Justus Sheffiled is 91-93 (up to 95) with a slider and changeup.

A year ago, Mariners starters averaged 90.5 mph on the fastball, and that includes openers and the short starts Dunn received last September. That mark was last in the American League by 1.3 mph, and No. 30 in the big leagues. The Cubs averaged 90.7. Every other club’s rotation averaged 91.7 mph or better. The Mets led the league at 94.9, followed by the Rays at 94.5, the Reds and Astros at 94 and the White Sox at 93.9. The Mariners should at least jump into the middle of the pack in 2020 where clubs averaged 92.5-93 mph.…

While the 2020 season for the Seattle Mariners is all about development, moving the club closer to contention and doing it without sacrificing recently-created roster and payroll flexibility, there are some veterans — non-rookies, non-prospects — that warrant watching for specific reasons.

Here are six I’ll be watching closely, and why.

Taijuan Walker, RHP

Walker wasn’t signed simply in hopes he’d blow up and Jerry Dipoto could trade him… but that was one of the factors. The other is the possibility he mans a rotation spot in the early years of the Mariners’ next competitive window so the club can take its time with young arms. For that to be a possibility, however, four things have to happen.

One, Walker has to be healthy, but the right-hander is slated to start in Anaheim, so all is good on that front… knock on wood. Two, he has to stay healthy throughout the 2020 season. But he also has to pitch well, and if he does, (4) the Mariners would need to engage on a contract extension.

The problem with that is the cloud left by the short season. Even if Walker pitches well for 8-10 starts, it’s a small sample and difficult to make future, full-season decision based on 50-60 innings of work. I could see Walker getting another one-year deal, perhaps with some options attached.

Walker is 27 now (28 in August), and hits 94 mph with easy arm action after Tommy John surgery kept him almost all of last season. He features a four-seam fastball (91-95), a traditional curveball (74-77), hard splitter (86-90) and a cutter-slider (86-90).

At his best, Walker spots the fastball and cutter in on left-handed batters, expands the zone with the splitter and curveball and increases the usage of the cutter-slider versus right-handed batters. 

If he can do that in 2020, the Mariners may very well be into the idea of being back Walker for another run in 2021.


Kendall Graveman, RHP

Graveman, like Walker, is most likely a placeholder of sorts that holds down the fort until enough of the kids are ready to stake their claim, or frontline acquisitions push the rotation out through the bottom.

But unlike Walker, Graveman’s deal with the club includes a club option for 2021.

The right-hander looked very good in four frames at T-Mobile Park this week, touching 97 mph with a fresh four-seam offering, showing good run on the sinking two-seamer and flashing the cutter, slurve and changeup.

He’s 29 years old and missed most of 2018 and all of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s an interesting upside play, but he also brings both reliability — if healthy, of course — and a wealth of experience most of the Mariners current pitchers don’t have.

Graveman spent four years with the Oakland Athletics after debuting with the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s spent a lot of time around the likes of Edwin Jackson, Sonny Gray, Rich Hill, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, offering a wide variety of their own experiences.

But in 2019, while rehabbing, Graveman was with the Cubs where he had conversations with Mr. Old-School himself Kyle Hendricks, and was able to watch the likes of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish up close and on the daily.

Graveman has been a groundball guy in his career, entering 2020 with a career GB rate of nearly 52%, and posted a 55.2% mark in 2018.

The addition of a four-seamer to his repertoire may reduce the raw rates of ground balls he induces, but the trade-off may very well be more missed bats.

Graveman’s career strikeout rate is just 15%, or 5.77 per nine innings pitched and a career best of 7.1/9 two years ago. But 94-97 at the top of the zone in Major League Baseball these days is a swing-and-miss pitch when hitters are looking for the ball up.

And versus Graveman, that’s exactly what they’re doing because of the effectiveness of the sinker and changeup that work down in the zone.


Yusei Kikuchi, LHP

I’ve talked about Kikuchi a lot in the form of confidence, but I was hoping for the full season for him to work out any bumps in the road as he unveils a new delivery designed for more consistent release points and velocity.

Kikuchi, 29, sat 91-94 mph with his fastball last year, but has shown signs of a firmer version of the pitch, both in March and this month in Summer Camp. It’s not a high-spin pitch, so command and velocity matter more here.

His best swing-and-miss pitch is the slider (15.4% whiff), followed by the changeup (11.6% whiff) and when put in play, neither pitch is squared up with any regularity. But he had trouble getting to either pitch last season, often falling behind in counts and being forced to go to the fastball in the zone, a pitch that was pasted to the tune of a .623 slugging percentage. He also had to use the curveball too much, a pitch designed to steal strikes, rather than serve as a go-to.

Kikuchi proved durable last season, making every start and only being short-scripted once, despite making the transition to the MLB rotation schedule. He’s athletic and is very self-aware, a factor in development for pitchers of all ages in baseball these days.

We may not see a lot of it in 2020 because Kikuchi likely makes but 10 starts, but I expect fewer blow-ups and more signs he’s a legit mid-rotation starter.


J.P. Crawford, SS

While I’m not seeing significant changes to the swing I believe are absolutely necessary if Crawford is to hit for average with regularity, it’s clear the shortstop got a lot stronger over the winter, which may allow for his current swing to work a little better for him.

Crawford’s average exit velocity a year ago was 84.3 mph, a very pedestrian mark, but his launch angle wasn’t a suboptimal 11.2, even considering the fact he wasn’t consistently hitting the ball hard.

For comparison, Domingo Santana also posted a launch angle of 11.2 a year ago, but at an average of 89 mph off the bat. Somewhere around 103 mph is considered the mean value for home runs and around 90 mph for singles.

While it’s not exactly this simple, it remains pretty clear Crawford didn’t square it up enough in 2019 and strength can only go so far to remedy that.

Having said all that, the 25-year-old Crawford doesn’t swing and miss much (8.1%) and appears to be looking for fastball he can pull — judging by his spring and Summer Camp plate appearances — which could make a meaningful impact in his results.

The reason Crawford is so watch worthy in 2020 is he’s the only current option the club has at shortstop for the foreseeable future, including the first few years of the club’s competitive window. 

Noelvi Marte, the club’s top prospect at the position, is more likely to move to third base than stick at short, and is at least three years away, anyway.

But Crawford also brings relatively high floor for the position as a plus defender, and when his swing starts to create leverage there could be 12-16 homers available to him.


Kyle Seager, 3B

Seager’s next few years could go one of two ways

1. Play out his current contract as the starting 3B with the Mariners which runs through 2021 if he remains in Seattle.
2. Get traded to a club with a considerable amount of cash to help cover the majority of his $18 million 2021 salary and the $15 million option for 2022 that becomes the player’s choice if he’s dealt.

On the surface, one would think if Seager proves last July and August wasn’t a fluke just a result the club will see a little more of after he made swing adjustments that his chances to be trade skyrocket. And while that may be true — think of Seager, who will be 33 and 34, as a two-year, $20 million player, assuming Seattle includes about $13 million in cash.

If Seager shows he’s a 3-win player or better, that’s not only a tradeable commodity, it’s one with some sneaky value.

Again, he has to hit with consistency this summer for a trade to be possible.

But I’m buying the swing adjustments to the extent I think he gets back relatively close to where he was prior to his career year of 2016 when he batted .278/.359/.499 with 30 homers and 36 doubles. All those marks are career highs. Before that season, Seager was pushing through .250-.260 averages with OBPs in the .330s and slugging percentages in the .450s.

And he slugged .468 last season and posted a .321 OBP., so if all he does is repeat last summer’s triple-slash, it’s a viable regular — Seager posted 2.9 fWAR despite playing just 106 games.

But the trade part of Seager’s saga isn’t likely unless there’s consistency in 2020.


Tom Murphy, C

Murphy, who is starting the 2020 season on the IL with a fracture in his foot, is 29 and was very good last year in what some might call a BABIP year for the backstop.
He posted 3.2 fWAR and a 126 wRC+ on the strength of 18 homers and a .535 slugging percentage. 

He did bat .273 with a .324 on-base mark, both above league average and far exceeding the mean for catchers.

But it was a 76-game sample and Murphy’s batting average on balls in play was .340, which likely regresses some in 2020. But I’m not on the whole “he’s going to sink hard” wagon. Some hitters just produce more when they make contact than others. Good hitters have higher BABIPs. Domingo Santana, for example, boasts a .361 career BABIP in 1630 plate appearances. 

Murphy, like Santana, strikes out a lot, but when he puts the ball in play he hits it hard. Suggesting Murphy can hit .250 or better and continue to produce power is far from unreasonable. It’d be more surprising if he fell entirely off the planet this season.

The fact Murphy is 29 makes little different. He’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time after this season and a free agent after the 2023 season, which means he’s likely to be good enough and affordable for Seattle as they groom their next catcher, likely Cal Raleigh.

But he could also end up being solid trade bait, considering the dearth of catching in baseball.…