*Players mentioned in this episode are Mitch Haniger, J.P. Crawford, Eduardo Escobar, George Springer, Dylan Moore, Michael Limoncelli, Ty France, Marwin Gonzalez, Robinson Cano, Yu Darvish, Max Roberts, Trevor Bauer, Luis Torrens, Dustin Ackley, Tim Lopes, Marco Gonzales, Cal Raleigh, Shed Long Jr., Jacob deGrom, Josh Harrison, Tom Murphy, Noelvi Marte, Juan Mercedes, Brad Miller, Evan White, Sam Carlson, Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager, Jeff McNeil, and DJ LeMahieu.

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The Seattle Mariners threatened to make the postseason for a short time in 2020, but came up short and finished 27-33 in what was Year 2 of Jerry Dipoto’s rebuild.

During the year, a lot of players came and went.

As one way to get ready for the offseason, here’s a look at every player on the 40-man roster as of October 2 with their roster, contract status, and service time.

For pitchers, click here.

CATCHERS (4)

Joe Hudson

G:
AVG:
.176
OBP:
.263
SLG:
.176
HR:
0
wRC+:
33
xwOBA :
.183
DRS:
-2
fWAR:
-0.1
EV:
82.1

SERVICE TIME: 1.106

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at lest 2026. Arbitration eligible after 2023 at the soonest. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Hudson will again enter the offseason as potential depth likely set for Triple-A Tacoma to open the 2021 season.


Tom Murphy

(60-IL)

SERVICE TIME: 3.092

CONTRACT: ARB1. No options remaining.

ROSTER: Murphy is expected to be 100% when pitchers and catchers report to camp in February. He’ll be the No. 1 catcher when the regular season begins, though it’s more of a timeshare scenario than a starter-backup.


Joseph Odom

G: 18
AVG:
.128
OBP:
.209
SLG:
.128
HR:
0
wRC+:
2
xwOBA:
.170
DRS:
1
fWAR:
-0.4
EV:
84.4

SERVICE TIME: 0.92

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Arbitration eligible after the 2023 season at the soonest. Two options remaining.

ROSTER:


Luis Torrens

G: 25
AVG:
 .247
OBP:
.325
SLG:
.371
HR:
1
wRC+:
96
xwOBA:
.305
DRS:
-5
fWAR:
-0.1
EV:
93

SERVICE TIME: 1.126

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. May qualify for Super Two status after 2021. No options remaining.

ROSTER:


INFIELDERS (11)

Shed Long Jr.

G: 34
AVG:
.171
OBP:
.242
SLG:
.291
HR:
3
wRC+:
50
xwOBA:
.242
DRS:
0
fWAR:
0.0
EV:
87.1

SERVICE TIME: 1.057

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. Arbitration eligible after the 2022 season at the soonest. One option remaining.

ROSTER: Long needs to hit, but did prove he can handle second base. His defensive versatility will likely become more crucial next season, and his 40-man roster spot is safe for the time being, but his 26-man spot is a bit shaky entering the offseason.


Kyle Seager

G: 60
AVG:
.241
OBP:
.355
SLG:
.433
HR:
9
wRC+:
118
xwOBA:
.352
DRS:
-5
fWAR:
1.5
EV:
89.2

SERVICE TIME: 9.085

CONTRACT: Has one year and $18 million remaining, plus a a $15 million option with a buyout amount to be determined.

ROSTER: Seager’s 40-man and 26-man roster spots are safe.


Dee Strange-Gordon

G: 33
AVG:
.200
OBP:
.268
SLG:
.213
HR:
0
wRC+:
42
xwOBA:
.256
DRS:
-3
fWAR:
-0.3
EV:
79.2

SERVICE TIME: 8.154

CONTRACT: Club options for 2021 at $14 million or a $1 million buyout.

ROSTER: Strange-Gordon has struggled mightily the past two seasons as his speed is being neutralized by shifting, and the Mariners are certainly going to move on from the veteran after three years in Seattle.


Donovan Walton

G: 5
AVG:
.154
OBP:
.214
SLG:
.231
HR:
0
wRC+:
25
xwOBA:
.216
DRS:
0
fWAR:
-0.1
EV:
81.2

SERVICE TIME: 0.098

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026.  Arbitration eligible after the 2023 season at the soonest. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Walton may be expendable with Lopes, Long, Haggerty, and Moore on the roster, plus another wave of multi-position utility defender closing in on the upper minors. The 40-man roster squeeze is coming for the Mariners. Walton is likely in the fence.


Evan White

G: 54
AVG:
.176
OBP:
.252
SLG:
.346
HR:
8
wRC+:
66
xwOBA:
.279
DRS:
7
fWAR:
-0.2
EV:
92.2

SERVICE TIME: 1.000

CONTRACT: Five years and $22.7 million remaining, plus $21 million in options for 2026 and 2027 combined. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: White’s roster spot is safe thanks to his long-term contract, and his role as the club’s starting first baseman is secure for the foreseeable future.


Dylan Moore

G: 38
AVG:
.255
OBP:
.358
SLG:
.496
HR: 8
wRC+:
139
xwOBA:
.343
DRS:
5
fWAR:
1.4
EV:
90.4

SERVICE TIME: 2.000

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2024. Arbitration eligible after 2021. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Moore likely enters 2021 with a starting spot within his grasp, likely second base. If he continues to perform at the plate well into next season, don’t be surprised if there’s a multi-year extension in the offing.


J.P. Crawford

G: 53
AVG:
.255
OBP:
.336
SLG:
.338
HR:
2
wRC+:
94
xwOBA:
.306
DRS:
6
fWAR:
1.1
EV: 
85.9

SERVICE TIME: 2.163

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2024. Super Two arbitration eligible this offseason. One option remaining.

ROSTER: Crawford is going to get at least the 2021 season to show he can produce better at the plate, and is defense allows him quite a bit of leeway, but once Year 3 of arbitration hits prior to the 2023 season, the price may start to be a significant factor.


Tim Lopes

G: 46
AVG:
.238
OBP:
.278
SLG:
.364
HR:
2
wRC+:
78
xwOBA:
.266
DRS:
-1
fWAR:
-0.1
EV:
87.1

SERVICE TIME: 1.069

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. Arbitration eligible after the 2022 season Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Lopes’ 26-man spot may be challenged by an offseason acquisition, though his 40-man spots is likely safe for the time being.


Sam Haggerty

G: 13
AVG:
.260
OBP:
.315
SLG:
.400
HR:
1
wRC+:
100
xwOBA:
.299
DRS:
1
fWAR:
0.4
EV:
90.6

SERVICE TIME: 0.074

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Arbitration eligible after 2023 at the soonest. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Seattle may end up choosing between Lopes, Haggerty and a veteran this offseason, and at some point relatively soon the Lopes-Haggerty-Walton trio will need to be sorted as 40-man roster spots become more precious.


Ty France

G: 23
AVG:
.302
OBP:
.362
SLG:
.453
HR:
2
wRC+:
129
xwOBA:
.343
DRS:
0
fWAR:
0.6
EV: 
85.6

SERVICE TIME: 1.089

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2025. Arbitration eligible after 2022. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: France is a shallow core player on the current 40-man and 26-man rosters.


OUTFIELDERS (6)

Braden Bishop

G: 12
AVG:
.167
OBP:
.242
SLG:
.233
HR:
0
wRC+:
37
xwOBA:
.222
DRS:
2
fWAR:
0.0
EV:
89.5

SERVICE TIME: 1.014

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. Arbitration eligible after 2022 at the soonest. One option remaining.

ROSTER: With the additions of Phillip Ervin and Jose Marmolejos, the expanded defensive profiles of Lopes, Moore, and Haggerty, and the inevitable arrival of Jarred Kelenic, Bishop’s 26-man prospects don’t look good for 2021. Furthermore, Bishop and Jake Fraley become dispensable from a 40-man standpoint before their arbitration years, so the pair is running out of time.

I do wonder if Seattle gives him a real shot at the left field gig out of the blocks instead of entering spring training without an actual competition. Bishop is a more natural fit as a fourth outfielder once Kelenic hits the majors since he’s a plus-plus glove, a plus runner and bats right-handed.


Phillip Ervin

G: 16
AVG:
.205
OBP:
.340
SLG:
.282
HR:
0
wRC+:
87
xwOBA:
.246
DRS:
.1
fWAR:
0.0
EV:
.85.4

SERVICE TIME: 2.110

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2024. Arbitration eligible after the 2021 season at the soonest. No options remaining.

ROSTER: While things can change this winter, Ervin enters the offseason as the seat warmer for Kelenic for the first few weeks of 2021. Once Kelenic is up, Ervin turns into a reserve, but keep an eye on a competition in March where Bishop may be a factor.


Jake Fraley

G: 7
AVG:
.154
OBP:
.241
SLG:
.269
HR:
0
wRC+:
45
xwOBA:
DRS:
1
fWAR:
-0.1
EV:
82.6

SERVICE TIME: 0.094

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Arbitration eligible after 2023 at the soonest. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Fraley is running out of opportunities, despite the fact the opportunities he’s received to this point have been few and far between. He’s unlikely to have a shot at the 26-man to open next season, and 2021 may be his last shot to find a long-term home on the 40-man.


Mitch Haniger (60-IL)


SERVICE TIME: 4.048

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2022. Arbitration eligible for the second time this winter. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Haniger’s roster spots are safe, though at the first sign of significant trade value, the 29-year-old is trade chum.


Kyle Lewis

G: 58
AVG:
.262
OBP:
.364
SLG:
.437
HR:
11
wRC+:
126
xwOBA:
.333
DRS:
-1
fWAR:
1.7
EV: 
88.5

SERVICE TIME: 1.020

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. Arbitration eligible after the 2022 season at the soonest. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Lewis represents the closest thing to a true all-star the Mariners possess. He’ll enter 2021 as the starting centerfielder and ultimately be flanked by Haniger and Kelenic.


Jose Marmolejos, DH/OF

G: 35
AVG:
.206
OBP:
.261
SLG:
.411
HR:
6
wRC+:
84
xwOBA:
.301
DRS:
-1
fWAR:
-0.3
EV:
90.4

SERVICE TIME: 1.061

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. Arbitration eligible after the 2022 season at the soonest. One option remaining.

ROSTER: Marmolejos is a placeholder until the Kelenics and Trammels pop. The biggest threat to his 26-man roster spot to open 2021 is Fraley, but his 40-man spot will be threatened next summer.…

The Seattle Mariners gave the Houston Astros a bit of a scare for the No. 2 spot in the American League West, but came up short and finished 27-33 in what was Year 2 of a total rebuild of the franchise.

Again this season, we saw a lot of players arrive, a lot of players depart, and some came and went so fast we didn’t get much of a look.

As one way to get ready for the offseason, here’s a look at every player on the 40-man roster as of October 2 with their roster, contract status, and service time.

For hitters, click here.

Marco Gonzales, LHP

GS: 11
IP: 69.2
FIP: 3.32
xFIP: 4.13
K%: 23.1
BB%: 2.5%
BAA: .222
fWAR: 2.0
WPA: 1.39

SERVICE TIME: 3.102

CONTRACT: Owed $30 million over the next four seasons, including $5.25 million in 2021.

ROSTER: Gonzales is the easiest arm on the roster to project for 2021. He’s a proven, consistent performer with almost no risk of falling off a cliff anytime soon.

The trade front isn’t likely to sweep away the left-hander anytime soon, either, despite the chance the league starts valuing command-and-feel starter more.


Justus Sheffield, LHP

GS: 10
IP: 55.1
FIP: 3.17
xFIP: 4.27
K%: 20.7
BB%: 8.6
BAA: .249
fWAR: 1.6
WPA: 0.70

SERVICE TIME: 1.053

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2025. Scheduled to become arbitration eligible following the 2022 season. Not in line for Super 2 status after 2021. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Sheffield is a sure thing for the Opening Day roster next spring and has earned a spot in the rotation for the foreseeable future. Where he’s slotted depends on what the club does over the winter with regard to starting pitching.


Yusei Kikuchi, LHP

GS: 9
IP: 47.0
FIP: 3.30
xFIP: 3.78
K%: 24.2
BB%: 10.3
BAA: .236
fWAR: 1.1
WPA: -0.20

ROSTER: Kikuchi has improved his status as a starter for 2021 and likely to start 2022 as well, but if the rotation gets full in ’22 all bets are off.

SERVICE TIME: 2.000

CONTRACT: Owed $31 million over the next two seasons. Through third day after 2021 World Series, Seattle has the right to exercise four one-year options at $16.5 million per. If they decline, player has two days to exercise a $13 million option for 2022.

The club is not picking up those options unless Kikuchi dazzles in ’21, and while I like the left-hander, it’s tough to see that level of production from him after the 41 MLB starts we’ve seen.


Justin Dunn, RHP

GS: 10
IP: 45.2
FIP: 6.54
xFIP: 6.23
K%: 19.2
BB%: 15.7
BAA: 188
fWAR: -0.3
WPA: -3.49

SERVICE TIME: 1.020

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2025. Scheduled to become arbitration eligible following the 2022 season. Not in line for potential Super 2 status after 2021. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Dunn carries high probability to open the 2021 season in the club’s rotation but it’s not out of the question they deem time in Triple-A Tacoma necessary, whether it be at the outset of the season or after showing more signs of struggle.

Command needs to improve, but the changeup is also a key for Dunn if he wishes to remain a viable rotation candidate. I do wonder if he might get back some velocity in ’21; Last summer he was 92-93 and touched 94-95 most starts in Double-A Arkansas.


Nick Margevicius, LHP

G/GS: 9/6
IP: 35.1
FIP:  4.51
xFIP: 4.53
K%: 21.8
BB%: 7.5
BAA: .257
fWAR: 0.4
WPA: -0.18

SERVICE TIME: 1.100

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2025. Scheduled to become arbitration eligible following the 2022 season. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Margevicius’ 40-man roster spot is safe, but his 26-man spot depends on what GM Jerry Dipoto decides to do this offseason and how the club plans to move forward with their pitching staff.

The step forward taken by Margevicius in 2020 makes him more than interesting moving forward, however, especially since the fastball and slider both took large steps forward, and at 24 years of age and built like Cliff Lee, maybe there’s more in the thank than the back-end arm we’ve seen so far.


Ljay Newsome, RHP

G/GS: 5/4
IP: 15.2
FIP: 5.73
xFIP: 4.99
K%: 13.2%
BB%: 1.5%
BAA: ..303
fWAR: 0.0
WPA: -0.01

ROSTER: Much like Margevicius but with less of a big-league resume, Newsome will have to battle for a 26-man spot next spring, and even if he makes it out of Peoria the young guns will be coming after his job in no time.

The stuff is rather ordinary on the surface — 89-92 mph four-seam fastball, curveball, changeup — but he’s thrown a cutter in the past and some kind of cutter-slider could help him pitch inside to left-handed batters and even steal a strike versus righties.

SERVICE TIME: 0.106

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Earliest arbitration eligible: after the 2023 season. Three options remaining.


Anthony Misiewicz, LHP

G: 21
IP: 20.0
FIP: 3.04
xFIP: 3.67
K%: 30.1
BB%: 7.2
BAA: .263
fWAR: 0.5
WPA: -0.08

SERVICE TIME: 1.000

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2025. Scheduled to become arbitration eligible following the 2022 season.

ROSTER: Misiewicz was my Mariners Reliever of the Year for being the most reliable from start to finish. But he didn’t lack impact, posting a 1.84 +WPA and a 30% strikeout rate.

The southpaw held LHBs to a .216/.256/.243 triple-slash and just one extra-base hit, but righties lit him up to the tune of .308/.386/.590 and seven extra-base hits. Misiewicz, however, is still learning how to use his cutter in on RHBs.

He’ll enter spring training with a great shot to break camp with the big club after his 2020 performance, but I’d like to see him get more value out of his curveball, a potential plus pitch that could help him versus hitters from both sides of the plate.


Kendall Graveman, RHP

G/GS: 11/2
IP: 18.2
FIP: 4.26
xFIP: 4.83
K%: 19.5
BB%: 10.4
BAA: .217
fWAR: 0.3
WPA: 0.03

SERVICE TIME: 5.078

CONTRACT: Club has $3.5 million option for 2021 that comes with a $500,000 buyout. Also arbitration eligible for the third time. One option remaining.

There are a handful of scenarios here for Graveman, and a few of them involve the Mariners. Seattle could pick up the option and be OK paying a reliever $3.5 million. They could pick up the option and try Graveman again in the rotation — which is where I think he belongs., just not in Seattle next season. The club also could decline the option and work out something else with Graveman via the arbitration process, presumably for a salary that better fits a relief pitcher with injury concerns.

ROSTER: If Graveman returns as a starting pitcher, it likely means the club doesn’t go out and look for another buy-low arm similar to the signing of Taijuan Walker over this past winter. With Gonzales, Kikuchi, Margevicius, Dunn, Newsome and eventually Logan Gilbert to fill up the rotation, adding Graveman to that group creates a bit of a crowd, which likely lends us some insight into the chances Graveman returns as a candidate for the rotation.

In relief, Graveman is a middle-innings arm — he is not a bona fide closer by any stretch. He gets some fastball value at 94-99 thanks to arm side run and sink , and he has a four-seam version in his back pocket if he’s looking to miss bats with velocity at the top of the zone.

The changeup is useful, though it may be too firm to be anything more than that. His cutter-slider is fringe-average as is his 79-82 mph curveball. It’s a lot of fringey stuff, despite the velocity, and the command is below average.

While 99 mph looks good out of the pen, there’s no swing-and-miss pitch to put away hitters, and the combo of stuff and command don’t bode well for consistency, suggesting a lot of ups and downs where he looks great one outing and not-so-great the next. The stuff is just too hittable, especially considering he’s using the sinker 72% of the time in relief outings.

As a starter he’s more inclined to use a mix, his ground ball tendencies are a lot more valuable, and having a short run where he gets hit hard is forgivable for a No. 4 starter looking to go five or six frames.


Yohan Ramirez, RHP

G: 16
IP: 20.2
FIP: 6.05
xFIP: 
K%: 27.7
BB%: 21.3
BAA: .129
fWAR: -0.2
WPA: 0.52

SERVICE TIME: 1.000

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2025. Schedule to hit arbitration after the 2022 season. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Ramirez pitched well enough to be among those with a legitimate chance to again break camp with the big club next spring.

The stuff is undeniable — 94-97 mph with late life and a 60-grade slider. He also has a 60-grade curveball at 75-78 mph if he ever wants to give hitters a bigger velocity differential.

Batters have a tough time squaring him up consistently, but he hasn’t thrown strikes to a level ever acceptable in the majors, and he’s yet to learn how to pitch to left-handed batters, which was his biggest problem all year.

He’ll be in the mix come spring training, but he has all three options left and the Mariners’ brass are likely to want to see him earn his spot now that the Rule 5 status has been lifted.

Perfect World, Ramirez turns into world beater Edwin Diaz 2.0. Most likely outcome? He’s a middle-relief arm that sometimes looks like that world beater, but just as often shows up doing a great rendition of the bad Fernando Rodney.


Brandon Brennan, RHP

G: 5
IP: 7.1
FIP: 6.87
xFIP: 5.96
K%: 21.2
BB%: 15.2
BAA: .250
fWAR: -0.1
WPA: -0.18

SERVICE TIME: 2.000

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2024. Schedule for arbitration eligibility following the 2021 season. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Brennan is an “in the mix” reliever with no guarantees..

The raw stuff is solid, including a sinker at 93-96 mph and a plus changeup, but his control has been poor and he’s had two extended stints on the IL — one each in 2019 and 2020. He also has a slider he rarely uses but began to bring out a bit more in five appearances this season.

While Seattle is still in “find answers to questions” mode, there are a lot of arms that need time and at some point — perhaps in 2021 — the experiments will begin to narrow down a bit as the Mariners path to winning nears and becomes clearer. When that happens, arms like Brennan will be out of chances.


Joey Gerber, RHP

G: 17
IP: 15.2
FIP: 4.40
xFIP: 5.67
K%: 9.7
BB%: 8.1
BAA: .232
fWAR: 0.1
WPA: -0.37

SERVICE TIME: 0.154

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until after the 2023 season, at the soonest.

ROSTER: Gerber is in the same boat as the rest of the relievers this season, but he has an advantage over Brennan and Ramirez, among others; he throws strikes.

His track record of pounding the zone dates back to college when he closed at Illinois, and he’s been up to 97 mph with deception.

Gerber’s slider hasn’t been very good this year, flattening out a lot and he seems to have lost some feel, but hitters aren’t lifting the ball much against him and there’s more velocity  in the fastball than what we’ve seen so far (93 mph).

Gerber has a leg up on the other relievers who remain unproven in the show, with more room to grow and control and command that already plays. But he’s going to have to miss more bats and the slider is likely key to that lock.


Yoshihisa Hirano, RHP

G: 13
IP: 12.1
FIP: 5.70
xFIP: 5.63
K%: 17.5
BB%: 12.5
BAA: .333
fWAR: -0.2
WPA: -0.14

SERVICE TIME: 3.000

CONTRACT: Free agent

ROSTER: Hirano signed a one-year deal with Seattle and missed half of the 60-game schedule. But he was more than serviceable, picking up two saves and getting through a scoreless outing in 7 of 9 appearances.

He doesn’t throw hard, but he finds the plate and the splitter is above average.

There’s a chance Hirano interests Seattle enough on another one-year deal, but likely only s a last resort.


Brady Lail, RHP

G: 7
IP: 15.0
FIP: 7.86
xFIP: 6.61
K%: 17.5
BB%: 12.7
BAA: .333
fWAR: -0.3
WPA: -0.58

SERVICE TIME: 0.116

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until after 2023 at the soonest. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Lail, 27, is among several middle relief options Seattle will have next spring. Typically, he pounds the zone with below-average velocity but some arm side movement and a plus curveball.

Lail’s issues with the long ball need to be addressed if he’s to break camp with a 26-man roster spot, and like so many others will have to throw more strikes.


Walker Lockett, RHP

G: 5
IP: 8.1
FIP: 4.39
xFIP: 5.15
K%: 8.3
BB%: 2.8
BAA: .343
fWAR: 0.0
WPA: -0.07

SERVICE TIME: 0.134

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Arbitration eligible after 2023 at the soonest. Out of options.

ROSTER: Lockett throws strikes but has rather ordinary stuff and if he makes it through the winter on the 40-man will have an uphill climb to make the club next spring.


Erik Swanson, RHP

G: 9
IP: 7.2
FIP: 7.50
xFIP: 4.92
K%: 24.3
BB%: 5.4
BAA: .333
fWAR: -0.3
WPA: -0.75

SERVICE TIME: 1.098

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2024. Arbitration eligible as early as 2023. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Swanson’s increased velocity help his case in 2021 — he went from 92-93 mph to averaging 95.6 and touching 99. He throws his changeup less in a relief role and his slider must improve if he’s to be more than up-and-down fodder.

He’ll likely enter camp with a real shot at a spot in the bullpen.


Casey Sadler, RHP

G: 7
IP: 9.2
FIP: 3.29
xFIP: 4.11
K%: 26.9
BB%: 11.5
BAA: .217
fWAR: 0.2
WPA: -0.33

SERVICE TIME: 2.000

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2024. Needs one more years of service to become arbitration eligible. Out of options.

ROSTER: Sadler, 30, has solid stuff, sitting 94-96 with the fastball and complementing with a cutter and curveball to give him three big-league pitches. He has a decent track record of throwing strikes, but struggled with control in New York and wasn’t a lot better with the Mariners.

If he remains on the 40-man he’ll get some looks in Peoria, but the club is going to add some proven veteran talent which may limit the open spots.


Matt Magill, RHP (60-IL)

G: 11
IP: 10.1
FIP: 6.56
xFIP: 5.02
K%: 24.4
BB%: 13.3
BAA: .231
fWAR: -0.2
WPA: -0.62

SERVICE TIME: 3.031

CONTRACT: ARB1, out of options

ROSTER: Magill started the season strong and served as the most reliable arm in the club’s bullpen, despite some bouts with control problems. It all caught up with him in the form of too many walks and too many long balls, but the makings of a legitimate middle reliever are there.

But he’s first-year arbitration eligible, which generally requires a raise into the seven-figure range. He ended the season on the IL with a shoulder problem, and then had surgery September 16, clouding the club’s decision to tender, despite the expectation he’ll be ready for spring training. At this point, I’d put it at 50-50, largely dependent on updated medicals, but a roster crunch could come into play as well.


Art Warren, RHP

SERVICE TIME: 0.020

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until at least 2023. Has two options remaining.

ROSTER: Warren didn’t pitch in the majors in 2020 after making his debut last summer, throwing six games and posting a 2.46 FIP over 5.1 innings.

The 27-year-old has a plus fastball up to 97 mph, a slider and power curveball, but none of the pitches stand out and he has yet to show he can command them well enough to suggest he might be a consistent go-to anytime soon.

As a result, Warren’s 40-man spot is not secure, especially considering the slew of arms pushing toward the majors, including Sam Delaplane, Wyatt Mills, Ian McKInney, Penn Murfee, Logan Gilbert, and others.


Taylor Guilbeau, LHP (60-IL)

G: 8
IP: 7.2
FIP: 4.76
xFIP: 6.77
K%: 8.3
BB%: 16.7
BAA: .267
fWAR: 0.0
WPA: 0.04

SERVICE TIME: 1.028

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. Arbitration eligible as early as 2022. He has two options remaining.

ROSTER: Guilbeau looked like an entirely different pitcher this season versus last. After the trade last summer, Guilbeau sat 93-97 mph with a plus changeup. He struggled to touch 91 this season and the changeup, and a slider he used more in 2020 than last season, were fringy at best.

When he’s right, the lefty is a legit option in the bullpen for 2021. We’ll see which version shows up in February, but he ended the season on the 60-day IL.


CJ Edwards, RHP (60-IL)

G: 5
IP: 4.2
FIP: 1.26
xFIP: 2.92
K%: 35.3
BB%: 5.9
BAA: .125
fWAR: 0.2
WPA: 0.35

SERVICE TIME: 4.098

CONTRACT: ARB2

ROSTER: Edwards ended the 2020 season on the IL with a forearm issue, but if the prognosis remains promising, tendering the right-hander isn’t out of the question. After making a pro-rated $950,000 this past season, Edwards could earn seven figures next season, which will be a factor in the club’s decision.


Seth Frankoff, RHP

G: 2
IP: 2.2
FIP: 5.44
xFIP: 11.23
K%: 0.0
BB%: 12.5%
BAA: .429
fWAR: 0.0
WPA: -0.20

SERVICE TIME: 0.058

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Earliest arbitration eligibility is 2023. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Frankoff isn’t likely to last the winter on the 40-man roster, but may earn an NRI next spring.


Aaron Fletcher, LHP

G: 6
IP: 4.1
FIP: 9.19
xFIP: 7.97
K%: 24.1
BB%: 24.1
BAA: .350
fWAR: -0.1
WPA: -0.19

SERVICE TIME: 0.050

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until at least 2023. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Fletcher’s 40-man spot is probably fairly safe, being a 24-year-old with two options left.


Nestor Cortes Jr., LHP (60-IL)

G/GS: 5/1
IP: 7.2
FIP: 14.41
xFIP: 7.25
K%: 18.2
BB%: 13.6
BAA: .333
fWAR: -0.6
WPA: -0.71

SERVICE TIME: 1.139

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. May be Super two eligible after 2021. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Cortes struggled in his few appearances in 2020 but may have value as a long reliever and swing starter if healthy. He spent the final month of the season on the IL with an elbow issue, however, suggesting his roster status is anything but safe.


Gerson Bautista, RHP (60-IL)

SERVICE TIME: 0.120

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until after the 2023 season at the soonest. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Bautista, now 25, struggled in 2019 — both at Triple-A Tacoma and in eight appearances in the majors — and spent 2020 on the IL with an elbow issue.

Bautista could very well be among those exposed to waivers as the club adds players to the organization over the next six months, and as early as November.


Andres Munoz, RHP (60-IL)

SERVICE TIME: 0.080

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until after the 2023 season as the soonest. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Munoz, who came over in the August 31 trade with the San Diego Padres in exchange for Austin Nola, is rehabbing from March Tommy John surgery, which may mean he’s unable to pitch until as late as June, 2021.

But his roster spot is safe, thanks to relatively high upside as a high-leverage reliever. When healthy, the 21-year-old lives 98-101 mph and has touched as high as 104 mph. He also has a slider and has been known to alter grips on the heater to generate horizontal run to both sides of the plate.


Ian Hamilton, RHP

SERVICE TIME: 0.089

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until after the 2023 season at the soonest. Two option remaining.

ROSTER: Skyview High School’s Hamilton, 25, made his MLB debut in 2018 and has 14 games — 12 innings — of big-league experience. His entire pro career has come in a relief role after he made 15 starts for Washington State in 2016.

He’s a fastball (93-96 mph), slider, changeup right-hander and the slider is his best offering. In his limited time in the majors he’s had problems with the base on balls and his minor league record is spotty. But he’s athletic and the live arm give him a shot.…

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……

*Players mentioned in this episode are Mitch Haniger, Justin Dunn, J.P. Crawford, Ty France, Jean Segura, David Fletcher, Albert Pujols, Chris Taylor, Justus Sheffield, Julio Rodriguez, Mookie Betts, Marco Gonzales, Shed Long Jr., Mike Trout, Nick Markakis, Sixto Sanchez, Jarred Kelenic, Luis Torrens, Jose Marmolejos, Evan White, Kyle Lewis, and Logan Gilbert.

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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.…

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……

*Players mentioned in this episode are Braden Bishop, Mitch Haniger, Justin Dunn, Juan Then, J.P. Crawford, Dylan Moore, Ty France, Jake Fraley, Luis Torrens, Jonathan Clase, Julio Rodriguez, Marco Gonzales, Cal Raleigh, Royce Lewis, Shed Long Jr., Emerson Hancock, Jack Flaherty, Jarred Kelenic, Tom Murphy, George Kirby, Taylor Trammell, George Feliz, Andres Munoz, Zach DeLoach, Kyle Lewis, and Logan Gilbert.

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Jarred Kelenic, Mariners scouting report

*Players discussed in this episode are Braden Bishop, Dylan Moore, Emerson Hancock, George Kirby, Jake Fraley, Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Justin Dunn, Justus Sheffield, Kyle Lewis, Kyle Seager, Ljay Newsome, Logan Gilbert, Marco Gonzales, Nick Margevicius, Phil Ervin, Sam Haggerty, Shed Long Jr., Taylor Trammell, Tim Lopes, Ty France, Wander Franco, and Xander Bogaerts

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Yeah, so, the Seattle Mariners are in contention in the American League by way of finishing No. 2 in the West. Entering play Monday, the Houston Astros held a 1.5 games lead on Seattle, which essentially extends to 2.5 games because the defending division champs already have clinched the tiebreaker: head-to-head.

But the burning questions, plural, surrounds top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert.

1) Should the Mariners call up one or both to enhance their chances to catch Houston?

2) If they do, what are the service time ramifications?

3) Should those ramifications even matter?

Should Seattle Summon Kelenic, Gilbert?

This is a question only the Mariners can answer. Why? Because they are the only ones to have laid eyes on these players all year with any regularity.

One can easily take a leap on Gilbert being more likely to help than one or more of the current arms residing in the big-league bullpen. He was close enough when 2019 concluded and the club admitted their original plan for the right-hander this season included a summer call-up.

But we don’t know a thing about how things have gone at the Alternate Training Site in Tacoma. At least not the kind of stuff we’d need to even begin to make an assessment on how ready he might be to help a club in some role.

Again, though, it’s reasonable to believe in Gilbert more than, say, Seth Frankoff or Aaron Fletcher. If only it was as simple as believing based on others being bad and how things were trending a year ago, the last time Gilbert pitched in a game.

With Kelenic, it’s more difficult to reasonably suggest he’s ready beyond guessing, which is what some have done the past few weeks. Unfortunately, “well, he was in Double-A last year and has hit like 5 or 6 homers in Tacoma this summer” doesn’t qualify as practical evidence.

My argument for calling up both players centers on how easy it would be to protect them from some kind of developmental disaster.

Gilbert doesn’t have to be asked to go five or six innings. Use him out of the bullpen a few times.

Kelenic doesn’t need to be asked to hit in the top 6 in the lineup and play center field daily. Use him in favorable matchups (versus right-handed pitchers), bat him seventh or lower and if the test looks rough early, curb his usage even further.

The range of potential results for both players in the majors extends from one end to the other. Both could struggle mightily in the short stint, or they could both be very good, or somewhere in between.

If handled properly, I don’t feel there’s a lot of developmental risk if the task proves to be a bit much for them right now.

The Mariners are asking the same thing from inferior talents, and have all year, and it hasn’t worked. The minuscule downside doesn’t scare me at all.

What are the Service Time Ramifications?

There seems to be some confusion on how service time works, so let me start with some basics.

First, players require 172 days to earn one year of service. Those 172 days can come all in one season or over parts of multiple seasons.

Second, most MLB seasons are 184-187 days long, but players are maxed at 172 days. If a players earns service time for the entire season, they receive 172 days, not the pure number of days in the season. Yes, it’s dumb.

For 2020, players are receiving prorated service time. For every day they spend on the 2020 roster, it means 2.8 days of credited service. This means if Kelenic or Gilbert were called up and spent 10 days with the big club it would count as 28 days of service.

The impact of those 28 days, just for example, are as follows:

  • Both would start 2021 needing just 144 days to earn a full year of service.
  • The potential for eventual Super 2 arbitration status must be considered. Super 2 status is a when a player ranks in the top 22 percent (in service time) of all players with less than three but more than two years of service. These players get a fourth year of arbitration starting a year sooner.

If both Kelenic and Gilbert earned 28 days of service in 2020, in order to hold them off from ending 2021 with a full year to their ledger — which means they get to arbitration and free agency sooner — Seattle would have to hold both players out for 45 days or more next season, suggesting a mid-to-late May call-up.

If neither player gets a day in 2020, the club can wait as few as 14 days (depending on the exact length of the 2021 season).

For the record, the Super 2 number is usually around two years and 120-135 days, though last season it was just 2.115.

It would relatively easy to manipulate both arbitration and free-agent service time concerns for both Kelenic and Gilbert if they received 25-30 days of service for 2020. It may, however, disrupt the club’s roster plans if that is the case, and if GM Jerry Dipoto and staff decide not to make the move, that may be a significant factor.

Should Service Time Even be a Consideration Right Now?

Yes.

If a big part of the club’s long-term plan includes starting fresh in 2021 with the players in question, it does matter, because not being able to do so right smack in the middle of a rebuild and right in the middle of offseason planning (yes, right now is the middle) is a pretty major issue.

While the counterargument of “yes, but you have a chance to get to the postseason” carries a little bit of weight, let’s hash that out for a second here.

It’s a small chance at the postseason regardless of who does or does not get called up this month. That matters. It’s also a very, very small sample for which these players would theoretically be upgrades. Entering Monday, Seattle has 16 games remaining.

For context, the best player on the planet has been worth 1.3 wins over replacement to lead all of baseball over the last 16 games. Even if we assume the players Kelenic and/or Gilbert replaced were worth, say, a quarter-win below replacement level for those 16 games, that still requires the call-up to be worth as much as a top-10 player to make a difference.

Of course WAR can’t account for the little things; a catch Kelenic makes that Phillip Ervin or Dylan Moore doesn’t. a batter Gilbert gets out that Fletcher or Frankoff may not. Those events, with specific context, are worth more than WAR accounts for in the grand scheme.

So, yes, service time should matter. But it shouldn’t be the deciding factor in anything. Almost ever. There rare occasions when waiting a day or two more may serve the club down the road.

As far as options go, there is an impact.

There’s a great chance Kelenic starts 2021 in Tacoma regardless of what happens the final few weeks this season, call-up or not, perform or not. There’s also a chance Gilbert does, too. Not as good a chance as Kelenic, perhaps, but it’s there. If the two are called up this month, it means being added to the 40-man roster, which in turn means if they are optioned to the minors next year, even just prior to the season opening, it burns an option.

It’s my opinion, however, options aren’t much of a concern in this situation. Players get three option years (or four in super-rare scenarios when a player has less than five season of pro experience — majors and minors — and hasn’t been on a pro roster for 90 days or more in any on season, and hasn’t posted a 60-30 active roster/IL split in any one season), so it’d be an upset if Kelenic or Gilbert ran into option issues down the road.

In the End

The Mariners are in no position to rush a prospect. There will be no need to start either player on the Opening Day Roster next spring, and it very well could benefit both from spending six or eight weeks in Triple-A.

But there’s no reason to hold off on 2020 because of 2021. So if the Mariners believe 30-40 PAs and some outfield time from Kelenic helps them compete better to finish things this season, he should be called up for 10-14 days.

If the club believes Gilbert has a better chance to get some outs than Frankoff, Fletcher or Brady Lail, he should be summoned, too.

It may not make a difference in their chase of the Astros. Both players could play well and Seattle still may come up short. Both players could struggle, too

But the same way the sample may not be long enough to make a meaningful difference on the club’s chances to make up 2.5 games, it’s also not enough to damage these players’ futures.

Kelenic is probably at a point now similar to where Evan White was to start 2020. He’s struggled, but the club keeps running him out there. Gilbert is probably close to where Justin Dunn was in March, and he, too, has shown he can handle it and keeps getting starts, despite struggles.

This is a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario for the Mariners, and it’s not wrong to hold the players back.

But not only does the upside outweigh the risk (development, service time, offseason & 2021 planning), I think the most likely outcome does, too.…

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…

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