John Stanton, Seattle Mariners

Mariners fans have long been tired of the press for patience. And who can blame them? It’s been 20 years since their home team made the postseason, and 18 since it won 90 or more games. But when a group led by John Stanton purchased the Mariners in 2016 the deal brought new hope. Five years later and the short leash fans gave the new group is gone. And it should be. When Jerry Dipoto took over as GM and VP of Baseball Operations prior to the 2016 season, it was clear what needed to happen. The organization needed a rebuild. A foundational top to bottom, left to right, tear-it-down, build-it-up. The problem at the time was the roster was aging, expensive and had two mega contracts, which complicated starting a rebuild, and Stanton may not have liked the idea of spending, in the form of covering portions of contracts, to start over in 2016. So Dipoto and company began their tenure running the club in ‘do-what-you-with-what-you-have’ mode. And they did. It was a mediocre team at best at the time and continued to be the first two years. Once 2018 hit, a few things began to pan out and the team win 89 games. I’ve read a lot of criticism about the club’s decision to rebuild after winning 89 games. Some of the reasons I’ve heard and read include “they were an 89-win team, build on THAT,” and “if you can’t take an 89-win team and get to 95 from that you’re a terrible GM.” But the fact is, it was the perfect time to turn it over: Robinson Cano was 35, had half his $240 million contract remaining, and had just come off a suspension for testing positive for banned substances. But he performed well after the suspension, so if a team was willing to take on a good portion of the $120 million left, do it and don’t look back. Edwin Diaz had an elite, and unrepeatable, season as the club’s closer. He’d yet to hit arbitration status and there were four years left of contract control. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about relievers over the years, it’s their insane level of volatility. Feliz Hernandez’s contract had two more guaranteed years, rather than five (at the start of Dipoto’s tenure) The club was out from under the contract of Nelson Cruz after the ’18 season, too, which isn’t a reason to start a rebuild, and it wasn’t a hindrance to house the deal it was a bargain, but having Cruz, Cano, Kyle Seager, and Hernandez was a great hamper to rebuilding, and was actually a bit of an opportunity to see what the roster could do, despite having very little opportunity to go add significant pieces (see: near-empty farm system, available financial assets stretched to a top-10, $175M payroll. Waiting and trying to make the most of the 2018 roster with an aging Hernandez, Cano, and Seager pulling away from his prime, no farm system, no significant financial flexibility — seriously, that roster wasn’t one $15 million player away, it was two stars and three average players (maybe $50-60 million proven players) from being a 95-plus win team — would have been a disaster. They would have lost out on the chance to take advantage of Diaz’s career year — it’s still by far his best year and may always be that way — shed a large chunk of Cano’s remaining contract, maximize the value of James Paxton and Mike Zunino, who each had two years of control remaining (had it been four, keeping both may very well have made sense), and most of all rebuilding the foundation itself — the farm system. Passing on the opportunity to do any or all of the above would have been a fireable offense for any GM and a senseless preference for an ownership. It takes commitment and financial guts to approve such a plan. At the time, the ownership was worthy of applause. Well, that’s faded, if not gone altogether, and not solely because the club still isn’t winning — this season was always marked as the corner, not the year the team had a great chance to win — but because the ownership has done nothing but shoot itself in the foot, even since the rebuild began two and a half years ago. First, by acting like a corporation that doesn’t care enough about its employees, when they cut their pay because the team’s profits were hit by the pandemic, and let it impact their plans to build a winning team — more on that in a minute. That was an opportunity to stand out in a positive way, both in the community and among ownerships in baseball. Failed. Then came the Kevin Mather fiasco. Not only did the president of the baseball team make racist comments, which is bad enough all by itself, he spit on a very good and loyal player, and admitted the club was manipulating the service time of prospect Jarred Kelenic, a practice long deployed in Major League Baseball, but never one that was carelessly and braggadociosly stated to those outside an organization. Mather, at the time, was a minority owner on top of his president role. But rather than the club acting swiftly, removing Mather from the role, and starting the process of booting him from ownership, he was allowed to resign, and Stanton, in a press conference the following Monday after Mather’s comments on a Zoom call to the Bellevue Rotary club were made public, would not even answer the question of whether he would have fired Mather had he not resigned. The owner of the team did nothing to stand up for Julio Rodriguez, Seager, Kelenic, and at the end of the day, for a franchise that cannot afford further embarrassment. Perhaps Stanton lacks the ability to serve as the mouthpiece. I’ll grant him the benefit of the doubt there. But he’s the owner of the team. He can say whatever he wants whenever he wants, and he hasn’t been heard from in any meaningful capacity since. Not on the future of the on-field product, not on the Mather situation, not on further steps the organization has taken to create the right culture for people, including players. What we have learned in recent months is Mather, long before his appalling comments, meddled in baseball operations when he nixed original payroll plans for the 2020-21 offseason, leaving Dipoto to stand pat over the winter rather than start adding significant pieces to help the club turn the corner. Dipoto has been calling ’21, in his own words, the corner year since the rebuild began in November 2018, and here it is time to start executing toward that and Mather, the money guy, chose money, derailing Dipoto’s plans and essentially pushing the timeline backward. But this is on Stanton. It’s on Stanton for not sticking with his commitment to winning baseball, something he has said publicly on numerous occasions, and it’s on Stanton because he asked fans to be patient, and then, asked them for more time, because, well, money. No. Just… no. These are not the actions of a committed ownership. And now, to fans, Dipoto’s words ring hollow if he doesn’t deliver. If you’re Dipoto here, you’re not happy at all. We can argue all day about whether Dipoto can execute as successful a second half of the rebuild process as he has the first half, but none of it matters if the ownership doesn’t stick to its own commitments. Or we need to define the word ‘commitment’ to Mr. Stanton, just so we’re all clear. noun1. the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc. “the company’s commitment to quality” Ownership committing to winning, and staying committed, does not mean it has to spend until they win, or they’re not committed. It means being competitive with payroll. Taking risks when the club’s baseball people see an opportunity. It means thirsting for winning like the fans. And that was Stanton’s selling point as majority owner; he’s a fan. The man keeps score. The dude gets distracted at business meetings because he’s checking scores. True stories. However, the company, the Seattle Mariners, have broken their commitment at least once already under Stanton in terms of putting a winner on the field. Commitments don’t come with conditions. That’s why they’re commitments. After all that’s occurred the past three years — and really the past nine months — Stanton still has an opportunity to climb out of this as clean as Andy Dufresne. But rather than landing on a beach overlooking the blue of the Pacific, such commitment leads to what sports owners like more than anything — money. Literally, remaining committed to winning will make owners even more money. They just don’t want to take risks. That has to change. At the end of the day, the financial backing must be available to Dipoto to expect him to finish what he started. Immediately. Now. It’s difficult enough to build good baseball rosters. There are 29 other teams trying to beat you at the same game, after the same goals, after the same players. Some have committed owners. Those that don’t fail over and over. You know the teams on both ends of this equation: The Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, New York Yankees, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, and a few others, have been committed to winning over the last several years. Others are joining or rejoining the party. Most of those teams are winning or have won a lot in recent years. And commitment isn’t about splurging for $230 million payrolls every year, or ever. The Cardinals are consistently ranked between eighth and 14th in payroll. The Astros rank No. 5 this season and last, but have ranked eighth, ninth, and 17th during their run to World Series prominence. YEAR PAYROLL RANK 2022 $33.700M — 2021 $92.325M 25 2020 $112.751M 23 2019 $152.527M 14 2018 $170.971M 10 2017 $174.721M 12 2016 $171.340M 10 2015 $144.985M 13 Heck, the Mariners themselves were 12th in 2017, 10th a year later, and 13th in 2019. And while there’s no “get back to this number and it’s real commitment” it is “get back to the plan” and especially “let Jerry cook.” Put the plan, financially speaking, back in motion. Today. Not tomorrow. Today. If Dipoto (and his lieutenants) has proven anything to team ownership, it’s his ability to be trusted with payroll. He’s cleaned house, has proven adept at working markets with the best in baseball, and has proven he can identify talent, from the amateur ranks through long-time big leaguers. His efforts have protected this ownership’s financial risk for five-plus years now. Time to flip the script. Owners can drive their way to more money. They’re billionaires. They’ve done it before — they do it in their sleep. But owners have never steered teams to winning. Baseball people do that, and it’s time Stanton hands the reins back to his baseball people, led by Dipoto, and sit back and enjoy the ride like the rest of us. But things need to move in this direction quickly or even more fans are going to permanently jump ship. They don’t have another 20 years. They may not have another 20 minutes. And if Stanton doesn’t think Mariners fans will jump ship and hop on the bandwagon of other sports teams in the city with their heads, their hearts, and their wallets, or even toward a potential MLB franchise in Portland, he’s sorely mistaken. The ownership of this baseball team must step up. With their words, with their actions, and with their wallets. The opportunity to be different remains. It’s not too late. It’s never too late be better. To be the outlier in Major League Baseball. To be a place people want to work. To be a place players want to play. To be the team fans want to support. This ownership still has a chance to do right by Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic, and to honor the patience of the fan base, by sticking to their own commitment to winning. And there’s no time like the present.Go!

The past three weeks in Marinersland has been rough. The club was no-hit twice, is averaging 3.1 runs per game in May and allowing nearly six. While there’s no tipping the scales toward a playoff roster in 2021, the Seattle Mariners can and should pull off a few minor moves to improve the club’s ability to compete the rest of the season. Ty France is due back this week. I imagine the roster move there is Eric Campbell option or DFA, and France will play a lot of first base. In a week or so, Dylan Moore will be eligible to return, too, and if he’s ready as soon as he’s eligible, the roster move there is probably Jack Mayfield sent back to Triple-A Tacoma. Once Marco Gonzales returns, one of the relievers likely heads back to Triple-A. But here are four more moves the club can make in addition to getting healthy in order to eliminate some of the steep troughs in expected performance. 1. Call up C Cal Raleigh, option Jose Godoy The wait isn’t going to last much longer, and even if Raleigh comes up and hit .200/.260/.375, he’s an upgrade at the plate and behind it. Tom Murphy is a fine glove, and does some things defensively better than Raleigh at present, but the club’s top catching prospect is a switch hitter with above-average power from both sides — plus from the left — and projects to average on-base marks. This move costs the Mariners nothing. I’m totally OK with the club waiting for what they feel is the right time. They know this player better than anyone. But this ultimately is an easy move. 2. Trade for 2B Adam Frazier, DFA C/1B Jacob Nottingham Why Frazier, and what do the Mariners do with a healthy Moore after this acquisition? Answer: Play matchup. Frazier, who is No. 13 on my Mariners Trade Target Index available to Baseball Things subscribers, is under club control through next season. He’s 29 and a left-handed bat that makes consistent contact. His career slash is .279/.343/.418, but he’s having a career year right now at .339/.402/.471. He’s not going to sustain that, but helps the club get on base more and move runners ahead of him. He handles the bat well, is a good bunter, and a solid defensive second baseman. Frazier can spell Crawford at shortstop, as can Moore, and has nearly 1,000 innings of at least average defense in the outfield. Frazier and Moore have similar defensive profiles, but are opposites with the bat beyond handedness, and until Evan White is ready to return (more on that in a second), Moore and France can share first base and DH, while Moore also spells Kyle Seager at third, Mitch Haniger and Jarred Kelenic in the corners, Crawford at shortstop, as well as some starts at second base. Moore hit .265/.324/.618 May 7-18 before the IL stint, and appears to be much more likely to produce versus left-handed pitching. Frazier wouldn’t be FREE, but the cost here isn’t likely to be prohibitive, and he can help solidify the club’s infield for next season, as he carries a much more reliable set of offensive skills. Even with Shed Long set to start a rehab assignment, the club lacks stability at second base, and it’s time to start considering the floor on a position-by-position basis.  Luis Arraez is another option, but he’d be quite a bit pricier as there are four control years attached after 2021. A trio of Top 30 prospects — two in the top 20 — ought to get it done. By the way, Frazier came highly recommended in the 2013 Draft by scout Jeremy Booth: See his scouting report 3. Option 1B Evan White to Triple-A Tacoma How does this help the ‘floor’ of the current roster? Well, think about what we’ve done offensively with the additions of Raleigh and Frazier, and the return of France and Moore. White would have to replace someone on the 26-man. Let’s walk through this. The Mariners have been carrying 10 non-catcher position players, and probably will continue to do so, even after Gonzales returns from the IL. So we have the two catchers, Seager, Crawford, Moore, France, Frazier, Haniger, Kelenic and Kyle Lewis. That’s 10. One of those players is out if White returns to the active roster. What’s likely to happen beyond the scenario we’ve built here is White is activated and a player like Nottingham, Campbell, Mayfield, or Walton is optioned. But we’ve already done that, so we need a different solution. It just so happens this solution is better for player and club. White needs time in Triple-A, and he’s going to get some of that on a rehab assignment, but it should be extended beyond 20 days so he can fix his swing. 4. Trade for RHP Chris Stratton, option Yohan Ramirez This is another inexpensive addition that reduces the inflammatory nature of the pitching staff. Stratton throws strikes, limits walks, and is actually comparabale to Drew Steckenrider in ability to get outs, though at the moment Stratton’s strikeout rate of 24% is down from 29% a year ago. He is, however, avoiding the walk and home run better than ever. His contract is controllable through 2023, so its not a rental and he won’t be free. But the Pirates are going nowhere fast and a couple of potential future contributors should be good enough to grab the right-hander. Stratton, who also has experience starting in the majors, has made five two-inning appearances. He sits 92-94 mph with the fastball, has an average slider and curveball, plus an average changeup. With such an acquisition, the Mariners will have a decision to make when Casey Sadler is ready to return from the IL. Paul Sewald, JT Chargois, Erik Swanson are all potential options to head back to Tacoma. Ultimately, two of the three will shipped out since one is almost certain to go upon Gonzales’ return. Stratton’s price tag is probably similar to that of Frazier’s and he’s around as a quality middle reliever and spot starter through 2023. The above upgrades aren’t going to turn the current roster into a contender, but they solidify the roster both now and for the immediate future, and don’t mortagage but a few pennies of the future in the grand scheme.Go!

Kyle Lewis Seattle Mariners

As you might expect, the Seattle Mariners getting no-hit at home for a second time in two weeks has fans feeling a bit salty today. An understandable reaction, for sure. But please spare me the faux surprise about the Mariners’ lineup being unproductive at this stage of the season. The warning signs were there for everyone to see. Remember how much the Mariners’ lineup struggled to consistently produce last year? There were memorable moments and short-lived hot streaks. But run production ranked near the bottom of MLB in multiple categories. Fast forward to the present, a season marked by muted offense across the league. Once again, Seattle’s hitters are bringing up the rear. The stat currently creating the greatest stir on social media and with the local sports talk radio crowd is the Mariners’ .199 batting average. Bad news, your angst may skyrocket to new heights as the season progresses. The team is currently on pace to set a franchise-low in AVG. Yes, it’s only May. But Seattle has already been no-hit twice and waited late into games before avoiding a no-no on several other occasions. The threat of this offense being historically bad is real. Lowest AVG in Seattle Franchise History.199 (2021) .226 (2020) .233 (2011) .234 (2012) .236 (2010) Despite having a punch-less lineup in 2020, the Mariners didn’t add position players from outside the organization to their 40-man roster in the offseason. Sure, Mitch Haniger and Tom Murphy returned after missing last year. That’s an upgrade in a way. But did anyone seriously believe Haniger and Murphy would somehow ignite an offense that was so underwhelming in 2020? And let’s talk about the squad the Mariners have assembled this season. It can’t be overemphasized how inexperienced this group is. To see what I mean, check out the following table illustrating the career numbers of Seattle’s position players. Take note of how few have appeared in more than 162 big-league games. I know what some of you are thinking, batting average can fluctuate by season and era. Therefore, using the conventional stat for this conversation isn’t ideal. That’s true. Instead, let’s use OPS+ to discuss the overall effectiveness of Seattle’s hitters in 2021. League-average OPS+ is always 100. Regardless of which statistic you prefer staring at, the picture isn’t pretty. Of the 15 Seattle position players with plate appearances this season, only four have a career OPS+ above league-average – Haniger, Kyle Seager, Kyle Lewis, and Ty France. For anyone watching the Mariners on a regular basis, it’s become glaringly evident that the offense is effectively dead in the water whenever this foursome scuffles. Something to consider with Lewis and France – they remain unknown quantities despite their early success. Sure, Lewis won 2020 AL Rookie of the Year and France has hit at every level of his professional career. But neither player has appeared in 100 games in a season. Am I suggesting the duo will fail? Absolutely not. But it’s reasonable to expect each will struggle as their development continues in the bigs. We’ve already witnessed this with Lewis in 2020 and France before he went to the IL last week. Murphy and Dylan Moore are hovering near a career 100 OPS+, although neither has 200 games of big-league experience. Shortstop J.P. Crawford has more time in the majors, but it’s spread over five seasons. Moreover, a career 86 OPS+ suggests the Gold Glover has been a below-average run producer with the Phillies and now the Mariners. After this trio, we enter a black hole where everyone else is significantly worse than league-average and very green. Like it or not Mariners fans, your team is enduring the growing pains of an organization transitioning from tear-down mode to evaluating young players at the big-league level. To date, it’s been a slog for Evan White, Taylor Trammell, Luis Torrens, Jake Fraley, and Jarred Kelenic. Even the youngsters who’ve been productive – Lewis and France – have been inconsistent. And don’t forget slightly older, yet relatively inexperienced players like Crawford and Moore, who remain enigmas. Yes, some or all of these players could eventually form the foundation of a contending lineup. But that’s not the case right now. Using 20/20 hindsight, the Mariners should’ve obligated more financial resources in the offseason to help take pressure off younger players and provide added stability to the lineup. Other than Seager, who was a known quantity entering 2021? On some level, signing veteran free agents like Kolten Wong, César Hernández, and Jonathan Villar could’ve made sense. But management chose to avoid pursuing outside help. Now, we’re witnessing the consequences of their hot stove inaction. The default response for some fans is to place blame at the desk of GM Jerry Dipoto. Yes, Dipoto is the architect of the rebuild and ultimately responsible for its success or failure. But let’s face it, he’s never been shy when it comes to making moves designed to improve his ball club. On the other hand, the now-infamous comments of former team president Kevin Mather made it abundantly clear ownership was unwilling to spend last offseason. None of what I’ve suggested will go over well with many in the fan base and that’s okay. Fans should fan however they see fit. Having said that, the Mariners’ offense woes this season shouldn’t surprise anybody unless they haven’t been paying attention for the last two years. My Oh My….Go!

Jarred Kelenic, Mariners scouting report

Not long ago, I defended the Seattle Mariners’ handling of top prospect Jarred Kelenic. At the time, I suggested no one outside the organization truly knew whether Kelenic was MLB ready. Now, just six games and 29 plate appearance into his AAA career, the Mariners have reportedly decided the 21-year-old is ready for major-league action. OF Jarred Kelenic, the No. 3 prospect in baseball, is expected to be called up by the Mariners on Thursday, sources familiar with the situation tell ESPN. While things can obviously change, the plan is to promote Kelenic for the first game of Seattle’s home series vs. Cleveland. — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 11, 2021 Naturally, Mariners fans are buzzing. Who can blame them? Multiple prospect evaluation outlets, including Prospect Insider, rate Kelenic as one of baseball’s best young players. And let’s face it, the club’s sputtering offense needs help. Perhaps the left-handed hitter can provide the oomph the lineup needs. But there’s more. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times has breaking news. The Mariners’ top pitching prospect – Logan Gilbert – will also make his MLB debut the same night as Kelenic. The arrival of both players is certain to delight the team’s fan base. Logan Gilbert will start on Thursday night vs. Cleveland to open the homestand. — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) May 12, 2021 As exciting as it’ll be to see Kelenic and Gilbert in the majors, the timing of Kelenic’s promotion seems odd to me. Why didn’t the Mariners promote their top prospect at the start of the MLB season? Gilbert’s delay makes sense to me. After all, he didn’t pitch competitively last year and the team has been conservatively managing the workload of all starting pitchers. But why hold back Kelenic? Yes, I’m aware of service time manipulation and how former CEO Kevin Mather implied in January the Mariners were unduly influencing the debut dates of their top prospects, including Kelenic. I’m also familiar with the USA Today story chronicling Kelenic’s grievances with the team and GM Jerry Dipoto. Still, these PR disasters didn’t compel management to include the Wisconsin native on the Opening Day roster. So, what changed after just six AAA games against the same team? Obviously, only the team knows how it arrived at the decision to promote Kelenic this week. That said, I do fancy myself as a JeDi whisperer. So, I’ll take a shot at predicting how Dipoto and his surrogates spin the timing of Kelenic’s promotion to the media and fans. The answer to the “why now” question will be overly simple. The Mariners will suggest the totality of Kelenic’s MLB and MiLB Spring Training playing time and his brief stay in Tacoma provided the level of preparation a supremely talented player like Kelenic needs to be MLB ready. Plus, team officials will note the offense really needs the help. How did I arrive at this prediction? With great ease, actually. Dipoto subtly laid the groundwork for this message during the most recent episode of The Wheelhouse podcast hosted by broadcasters Aaron Goldsmith and Gary Hill Jr. Dipoto told listeners the organization’s top prospects played a 10-game “bridge” schedule facing other organization’s top young players in a co-op league until MiLB camp began. The goal was to get Kelenic, Cal Raleigh,  Julio Rodriguez and other top minor-leaguers 30-40 extra plate appearances rather than being idle until the start of camp. The sixth-year GM noted hitters accrued 100-125 plate appearances in April before the start of the regular season. Using JeDi math, Kelenic has close to 180 plate appearances this year, including Spring Training and AAA games. That’s probably enough for Dipoto and his staff to rationalize that the young outfielder’s performance in Arizona and Tacoma has told them he’s ready for prime time. As far as helping the offense, JeDi dropped a hint when talking to 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant last week. While referring to a potential Kelenic promotion, Dipoto stated, “It’s also in some part that it might add a spark to our offense if we give him that opportunity.” Will my prediction of how the Mariners will spin the Kelenic news? We’ll know within the next 24 hours. But does it actually matter why the organization is promoting Kelenic now? Not to me. Truthfully, we may never know the real story behind the team’s timeline for Kelenic and every other player in the its farm system and I’m okay with that. Yes, it’s interesting and cool to learn how prospects become big-leaguers. But it’s the Mariners’ business to run. It’s our choice whether to support that business. Personally, I’m elated with the news of Kelenic’s and Gilbert’s imminent arrival. Debate all you want about the timing of their promotions. I prefer to focus on the fact that the next phase of the Mariners’ rebuild has begun. It’s about time. My Oh My…Go!

The Seattle Mariners’ injury-plagued starting rotation is falling apart. Naturally, the staff’s early season woes have fans clamoring for the Mariners to promote top pitching prospect Logan Gilbert. It’s an understandable sentiment. After all, Jeff Passan of ESPN is reporting that Seattle’s top prospect – Jarred Kelenic – will make his MLB debut later this week. Kelenic’s arrival has the potential to give a much-needed spark to a lineup that’s unproductive by any measure. Maybe Gilbert could do the same thing for a rotation that’s reeling. Yes, Gilbert’s presence could provide an immediate boost to the rotation. He could also help a bullpen that’s been covering too many starts and innings lately. But it’ll take more than the Stetson alum to fix the rotation. Unfortunately, there’s a sabermetric red flag suggesting potential landmines await most of Seattle’s starters. I’m referring to Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA). Nerd Talk Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is an advanced metric that reflects on-field results by crediting a hitter for the manner he reaches base rather than simply treating all on-base events equally, as OBP does. A double is more valuable than a single, a home run is better than a double – you get the idea. Conversely, xwOBA uses quality of contact without the influence of defense to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. Think about it this way. Say Mike Trout mashes a screaming line drive and Mariners center fielder Kyle Lewis makes a stupendous play robbing Trout of an extra-base hit. The box score will say Trout made an out and his wOBA will decline accordingly. But the future Hall of Famer did everything right – it took a great play by Lewis to prevent a hit. For this reason, Trout’s xwOBA improves based on the quality of contact made (launch angle and exit velocity). So, how can we apply the wOBA-xwOBA relationship to Seattle’s rotation?   We can use the difference in wOBA and xwOBA to help us determine whether the actual stats of Mariner starters accurately reflect their ability to do what’s necessary to succeed in the majors. Specifically, avoid hard contact and walks while generating strikeouts. We used a similar methodology in the offseason to demonstrate how the expected stats of Yusei Kikuchi hinted his skill level was much better than his on-field results. Let’s do it again with the Mariners’ 2021 starting staff. wOBA-xwOBA Difference The following illustrates the wOBA and xwOBA of Seattle’s primary starters and the difference between both metrics. Just to reiterate, a negative wOBA-xwOBA for a pitcher suggests on-field results may be better than what should have happened based on quality of contact. The most negative wOBA-xwOBA belongs to Justin Dunn. The right-hander’s opponent .292 wOBA is below the MLB average (.308), which sounds like good news. It is to a degree, but his .355 xwOBA is a red flag. It ranks in the bottom 20-percent of 127 starters facing over 100 hitters this season. Considering the large gap between Dunn’s wOBA and xwOBA, it’s tough envisioning him being a viable starter in a contender’s rotation without significant improvement. Fortunately, the season and the native Long Islander are both young. There is time to improve. Before landing on the IL with a forearm strain, Marco Gonzales was off to an uncharacteristically poor start. Sure, it appeared the Gonzaga product was showing signs of breaking out of his early season funk before going down. But there’s no avoiding the reality his wOBA was ugly. So was his xwOBA, which ranks 124 of 127. A stunning development for Seattle’s Opening Day starter. The final pitcher with a significantly negative wOBA-xwOBA is Kikuchi. However, the native of Japan has been digging himself out of an early hole lately. Look at how his wOBA and xwOBA for the season has steadily dropped with each recent start. Based on his last three outings, Kikuchi is establishing himself as the anchor of the Mariners’ 2021 rotation. Yes, it’s a very small sample size spread over three weeks and way too early to make fiery declarations. But the southpaw’s improvement is certainly an encouraging development for a rotation desperate for encouraging developments. The wOBA of Justus Sheffield looked respectable until recently. Regrettably, it’s closed the gap on an xwOBA that’s been hovering around the .350 mark. This isn’t a good thing for the Tennessean or the Mariners. As with Dunn, Sheffield is young (he turns 25 this week) and still evolving. The least-heralded starter entering this season has been the staff’s most consistent arm. Chris Flexen has an xwOBA identical to Kikuchi’s, which is basically MLB-average for starters. Moreover, the right-hander’s .334 wOBA is higher than the league standard and above his xwOBA. This suggests to me that Flexen may be capable of delivering better results moving forward. What’s The Problem? Okay, we’ve identified xwOBA concerns with the starting staff. Now, let’s focus on potential issues facing each pitcher. Once again, the picture isn’t pretty. Our next table depicts stats I chose because they reflect factors influencing xwOBA – barrel, hard-hit, strikeout, and walk rates. Just to refresh, barreled balls have an ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle to create the best outcomes for hitters. Entering this week, the league was hitting .746 with a 1.318 wOBA on barreled balls. Hard-hit balls have an exit velocity of 95-plus MPH and have produced a .482 AVG and .609 wOBA this season. Bottom line: pitchers are trying to avoid barreled and hard-hit balls. Bad things happen when they struggle to do so. Quickly, we see areas needing improvement for each Seattle starter – some have more challenges than others. Dunn’s strikeout rate is slightly below average, as is the case with all but one of his rotation-mates. His barrel rate is a bit high too. That said, the biggest issue facing the Boston College alum is a 15.3-percent walk rate. Only José Quintana (17.4) of the Angels and John Gant of the Cardinals (17.4) are serving up free passes more often than Dunn among the 127 starters mentioned earlier. Across the board, Gonzales’ 2021 numbers have regressed from an outstanding 2020 campaign. Not only is his 9.1-percent walk rate well above last year (2.5-percent), hitters are routinely making very loud contact. Only four starters currently have a higher barrel rate than the crafty lefty. Plus, his 47.7-percent hard-hit rate is eighth highest among peers. Kikuchi’s hard contact numbers are in the red. But as noted already, his stats are trending in the right direction. His 22.7-percent strikeout rate doesn’t stand out when compared to league leaders Jacob deGrom (46.1-percent) and Gerrit Cole (40.2-percent). Still, Kikuchi does lead the staff in strikeouts and he’s managing to minimize damage caused by walks. The amount of hard contact allowed by Sheffield is just above league-average, which doesn’t look that bad. But he’s allowed too many barreled balls thus far. Last season, his barrel rate was 3.7-percent, which tied him with Sonny Gray for third lowest in the majors. Only Hyun Jin Ryu (3.2) and Max Fried (3.3) were better. Flexen misses the fewest bats among Seattle’s regular starters. Yet, he’s been stingy with free passes to opposing hitters. His 5-percent walk rate is top-20 among starters and ties him with former Mets teammate deGrom. Still, the California native’s hard-hit rate is an area worth keeping a watchful eye on. Moving Forward So, what lays ahead for the Mariners? Gilbert probably joins the club sooner than later, which will be both helpful and really fun. But most of his future rotation-mates must significantly improve for the starting staff to rebound this year. Kikuchi’s recent performance is cause for guarded optimism. So is Flexen’s emergence as a dependable rotation arm. But 35 games into the season, the rest of the current starting staff is enigmatic at best. Perhaps Gonzales’ IL stint is short-lived and he returns looking more like the 2020 version of himself than what we’ve seen from the 29-year-old this year. Maybe Sheffield and Dunn become more consistent performers. Still, expecting so much from so many is a big ask. Reality Check Even if management were to transition away from the 6-man rotation it currently embraces so energetically, the Mariners don’t appear to have enough arms to form a truly competitive rotation this year without acquiring upgrades from outside the organization. Realistically, the time for the front office to affect the outcome of the 2021 season was the offseason. So, unless the Mariners have mastered time travel, there’s no undoing the lack of improvements made to the major-league roster during the winter. And that’s okay. This season has always been about the Mariners assessing the MLB readiness of previously promoted players and introducing their best and brightest prospects to the majors. In that regard, the team is on track even with the big-league club languishing. Yes, losing never goes over well with fans. But failure and on-field struggles are harsh realities that every rebuilding club (and their fan base) must endure. Sorry Mariners fans. At least Jarred Kelenic is on the way. My Oh My…Go!

If you were especially excited for the 2021 pitching debuts of No. 3 prospect Emerson Hancock, No. 4 prospect Logan Gilbert, and No. 6 prospect George Kirby, I have four words for you: Those three have company. Gilbert looked very good Thursday in Tacoma, touching 97 MPH, flashing two big-league caliber breaking balls, and commanding it all very well. Hancock and Kirby has more abbreviated outings as they get ramped up as the season moves along, but both flashed in their outings; Hancock with velocity, Kirby with command. But Sam Carlson and Brandon Williamson have stolen the show in the first week of the 2021 MiLB campaign, at least in regard to Mariners pitching prospects. The right-handed Carlson, my No. 17 prospect to start the year, made his first appearance in 1,390 days. After being selected No. 55 overall in the 2017 MLB Draft, he took the mound a few times in the Arizona League for the club’s rookie club. When elbow pain sprouted early, he was shut down. Though the club and player hoped to avoid surgery with rest and rehab, he’d go under the knife in July, 2018 wiping out his entire 2018 and 2019 seasons. He was ready to go in 2020 before that season was killed by the pandemic. He was back on the mound in Modesto Saturday, and from my eyes, it went a little something like this. Fastball sat 92-94 mph, touched 95 at least once. The pitch showed life up and to arm side, and Stockton hitters weren’t picking it up in time to read it and make contact. Swings and misses and called strikes throughout the start with the fastball. He showed at least 50 command and 55 control of the pitch. Carlson threw two different breaking balls in this outing. The best one is an 81-83 mph slider with terrific depth and late two-plane break. He threw it at the back leg of left-handed batters and away from righties. It projects as a legit plus pitch with swing-and-miss ability. At times the fastball-slider combo was electric. He also threw a true curveball with mostly vertical break at 75-78 mph. It’s a new pitch for him, but he snapped off a few good ones in this start. It’s a big breaker with long-term potential. I’m not sure Carlson used the changeup in this one. I thought maybe I saw 1-2 but they very well could have been running fastballs. Carlson came to pro ball with a good feel for a firm changeup, so it’s been in his repertoire from Day 1. Carlson’s delivery was incredibly athletic in this outing, which wasn’t a surprise in the slightest because he’s a great athlete. He worked from the severe first-base side of the rubber and utilizes a portional windup, which is to say it’s a simple wind that looks more like he’s going from the stretch, a relatively popular choice these days. He stayed closed well and balanced his shoulder tilt with consistent rhythm. His leg kick was quick and aggressive, but not especially high. He gets the foot down in time in order to pronate his trunk to pull his upper body through with good back bend and leg drive without sacrificing vertical leverage. He finished pretty well out front, and at no point did his delivery unravel in his four innings of work. He pounded the strike zone consistently, rarely giving the hitter the count, and overmatched the Ports’ lineup. I was more impressed by Carlson in this start than any other pitching prospect that has made a start thus far, including Gilbert, and not just because it was Carlson’s first appearance in a game in nearly 1,400 days. It’s clear Carlson is healthy, well conditioned, and has been working on developing his pitches and mechanics while out rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He’s always looked the part of a big-leaguer, but Saturday the 6-foot-4, 215 pounder looked like you could suit him up to play for the Lakers, the Raiders, or the Dodgers. I’m not saying he’s looked like Jacob deGrom, and it’s just one start that lasted but four frames, but I couldn’t be more encouraged by what Carlson displayed in his return. IP H ER BB SO P S 4.0 2 0 1 7 65 44 The last time I saw Williamson, my No. 9 Mariners prospect, he was fresh out of TCU as the clubs 2nd-round pick back in 2019. He’s always had a four-pitch mix, but he’s developed his curveball quite a bit since then, and he showed off the good velocity in Saturday’s outing in Hillsboro. The 6-foot-6 lefty may remind some of former Mariners left-hander Matt Thornton in some ways. Both throw hard, both tall and lanky, both with good curveballs. Williamson gave up two hits in this game, both singles in the first inning, didn’t walk any of the 15 batters he faced and constantly overpowered the Hops lineup. I’m told he sat in the 92-95 mph range with his fastball, but hit 96, and he flashed an average or better curveball throughout — some with more shape than others — but he maintained arm speed and finished well on almost all of them. Williamson also showed a few changeups with good arm speed and some sink, and either a varied version of the curveball or a small handful of sliders. Right now his slider is behind the curveball, but has a chance to be a legit offering for him. This was the pitcher I was hoping to see two summers ago, but after getting through an entire college season, he wasn’t showing everything he had in his 15 2/3 innings for the Sox. Williamson hit a lot of spots with the fastball in this one, particularly away to both right-handed and left-handed batters. He begins by toeing the third-base side of the rubber, and creates deception with his front shoulder. He stayed on top well in this game, too, creating plane, and tagging the top of the zone and both sides of the plate consistently. The biggest knocks on Williamson entering the 2019 Draft included a lack of an out pitch and some bouts with control issues. But he repeated a clean delivery Saturday and it’s clear the curveball has grown a couple of ticks; at draft time I couldn’t find anyone who’d seen his curveball enough to have a strong opinion it. That’s changed already in just one start. Williamson just turned 23 and thanks to the lost 2020 season is just now getting his feet wet as a pro starter, but with stuff and command like he showed in this start he will see Double-A Arkansas this season and could be on track for a late-2022 or early 2023 MLB debut. IP H ER BB SO P S 4.0 2 0 0 9 67 45 Both Carlson and Williamson have a ways to go, but Saturday was as good a start as anyone could have asked for from both pitchers, and Mariners fans should be excited. Rivals, not so much. Gilbert looked very good in Triple-A … Hancock and Kirby will be unleashed more and more as the season progresses but looked fine … Adam Macko was terrific in his 2021 debut, as was Connor Phillips … the Mariners have Matt Brash looking more like a starter than appeared possible thanks to a calmer delivery with more balance … Taylor Dollard, the club’s 5th-round pick last June, was dominant in his debut … unheralded righty Josias De Los Santos was terrific in his first outing … and the Mariners have yet to unveil right-handers Juan Then and Isaiah Campbell, my No. 10 and 11 prospects.Go!

Kyle Seager Mariners

So, the Seattle Mariners finished the month of April 15-12. There were some ups and downs, including a month the bullpen was one of the best in baseball as the offense is among the league’s bottom third. Mariners April Win-Loss 2015-2019 2019: 18-142018: 16-112017: 11-152016: 13-102015: 10-12 There are a lot of ways to look at the first month of the season, but I hope some of the following numbers help tell the story from a little different angle. Below is a mix of team and player stats, some are positive, some are not. And there’s mostly no rhyme or reason to the order they are listed. The Mariners rank… 17th in runs scored per game (4.15) 13th in runs allowed per game (4.11) 28th in batting average (.211) 27th in on-base percentage (.291) 21st in slugging percentage (.375) 17th in home runs (30) 4th in doubles (46) 10th in stolen bases (13) 8th in batting average with runners on base (.255) 7th in slugging percentage with runners on base (.427) 3rd in batting average with runners in scoring position (.281) 2nd in slugging percentage with runners in scoring position (.516) 11th in batting average with RISP and two outs (.235) 5th in slugging percentage with RISP and two outs (.444) So, the team 11th in batting average w/RISP and fifth in slugging w/RISP is is 17th in runs scored. It’s as if the stats aren’t telling at all and should never be pushed as such an important part of a team’s chances to win games. It’s always been about getting on base, creating a lot of opportunities, and hitting for power. Always. 25th in batting average with two outs (.211) 22nd in on-base percentage with two outs (.299) 21st in slugging percentage with two outs (.362) 30th in batting average when leading off an inning (.184) 26th in on-base percentage when leading off an inning (.272) 19th in ERA (3.75) 16th in FIP (4.02) 28th in xFIP (4.51) 28th in pitcher strikeout rate (20.5%) 28th in starting pitcher strikeout rate (19.7%) 29th in relief pitcher strikeout rate (21.6%) 20th in pitcher walk rate (9.3%) 3rd in saves (8) 7th in starting pitcher innings (137.0) 14th in relief pitcher innings (95.2) 29th in starting pitcher xFIP (4.64) 21st in relief pitcher xFIP (4.32) 8th in relief pitcher LOB% Mariners relievers throw fewer fastballs than all but seven other clubs (49.7%)… They rank 9th-lowest in sliders thrown, 17th in cutters thrown, seventh in curveballs and eighth in changeups. Mariners starters ranks 23rd in fastball rate (45.7%), 13th in sliders, 7th in cutters, 10th in curveballs, 20th in changeups… Ty France ranks No. 14 in Sweet Spot rate (45.9%). Sweet Spot rate means the launch angle is between eight and 32 degrees, the angle at which nearly all hits travel off the bat. Kyle Seager is 28th in barrel rate (16.3%) and 67th average exit velocity (91.0 mph). Luis Torrens ranks 89th in average exit velocity at 90.4 mph. Taylor Trammell‘s 40.7% strikeout rate ranks 16th-highest. Tom Murphy‘s 36.5% ranks 27th-highest. Mitch Haniger;s 144 wRC+ is 19th in MLB among outfielders and 53rd overall. France ranks 27th in fWAR (1.0). Yusei Kikuchi‘s 30.2 innings is 28th in MLB, despite the fact most that rank ahead of him have made six starts to his five. Marco Gonzales‘ 91.4 mph average exit velocity is 6th-highest in MLB. Seattle’s 89.6 mph average exit velocity against is 7th-highest in baseball. The club’s allowed hard hit rate of 39.1% ranks 16th highest. The Mariners’ pitching staff induces chases on pitches out of the zone at a 31.1% clip, 11th-highest in MLB. The starters ranks 22nd (29.9%). The relievers rank 3rd at 32.9%. Mariners pitchers rank 30th in MLB in swinging strike rate at 9.5%, and 20th in called strike rate (16.5%). Both pitches are a sign of raw stuff and command. No team in baseball allows more contact on chased pitches (70.2%), or contact overall (79.7%). Seattle’s first-strike rate of 59.5% is 14th highest. Mariners batters rank 27th in average exit velocity (88.0 mph, tied with LAA, PIT), 19th in hard hit rate (38.6%), and 5th in hard hit rate (9.7%). Batting .219 on the first pitch, and slugging .406 on the first pitch, both worst in baseball. Batting .199 at home, worst in baseball. Seattle is batting just .160 when putting breaking balls in play. Amazingly, the Mariners are 3rd-best in baseball is laying off pitches above the zone (18.5%). 48.2% of the Mariners hits off starting pitchers have been for extra bases, the highest rate in baseball. 43.3% of the club’s hits for the season have gone for extra bases. 45.1% of Mariners hits with two strikes are of the extra-base variety, No. 3 in MLB. Mariners batters have hit against the shift 40% of the time this season, second-most in baseball (ATL, 41%). Seattle is slugging .509 in non-two strike counts, 3rd worst in MLB. Cincinnati leads the league at .670. Cleveland is worst at .473. In non-two strike counts, the Mariners have put 32% of their swings in play, 2nd-lowest in MLB. Mariners batters have chased just 24% of pitches out of the strike zone, 4th lowest in baseball, and just 11% of pitches out of the zone on the first pitch of plate appearances, 2nd-best in baseball. Seattle has scored first in 73% of their road games this season, 3rd-highest rate in MLB. Mariners batters have struck out on three pitches 55 times this season, tied for most in MLB. Eugenio Suarez ranks last (.034), Luis Arraez ranks No. 1 at .306. Mitch Haniger ranks 4th (.267). Hangier hits versus the shift 78% of the time so far. On inside pitches, Haniger owns a 55% ground ball rate. Vs. right-handed breaking balls, Haniger is slugging .611. On breaking balls away, Haniger has swung and missed 61% of the time, 8th-highest in MLB. He’s hitting .500 on fastballs away, however, 6th-best in baseball. Haniger is destroying lefties so far, as evidenced by his .800 slugging percentage against them. Oddly, lefty breaking balls have given him problems (87% whiff + foul rate). Dylan Moore is batting .085 with two strikes, 6th-worst in MLB. He’s put in play just 17% of his swings on fastballs, lowest in baseball. Tom Murphy has swung and missed on 44% of his total swings, incredibly just 7th-worst in MLB. Murphy’s home run to right-center field Friday night was a welcomed sight, since he’s pulling nearly 59% of the balls he puts in play, good for 13th-highest in MLB. Former Mariners catcher Mike Zunino leads baseball in pull rate at 72.7%. Catchers dominate this statistic. Of Kyle Seager’s 25 strikeouts this season, only three have come on fastballs. Seager’s 1.158 slugging percentage w/RISP leads all of baseball, as does his .450 well-hit average on pitches 95 mph or higher. Seager has kept the ball in the air versus righties this season (73% line drive+ fly ball). Seager’s ground ball rate on pitches on the outer portion of the plate is 30%, and his batting average on such pitches is just .103. Seager has swung and missed 54% of the time on breaking ball swings, and right-handed breaking balls are his nightmare (.062 average). 13 of Luis Torrens’ 16 strikeout have come on non-fastballs. Torrens is hitless in his last 16 at-bats vs. LHP. Ty France is batting .378 with a .622 with runners on base. France has hit ground balls on just 6% of elevated pitches so far this season, which makes David Fletcher‘s effort versus Chris Flexen Friday night seem remarkable. France has yet to hit a home run this season when ahead in the count. France is batting .455 with two outs (2nd best), and slugging 1.167 versus changeups. Opponents are batting .182 and slugging .281 off the bullpen, both best in MLB. Seattle has turned a double play on 45% of its opportunities, the 2nd-best rate in baseball (24 of 53). Mariners starters have allowed a league-high .346 OBP versus right-handed batters this season. Ljay Newsome has induced a 79% swing rate with two strikes this season, the best among relievers this season. With two strikes, Will Vest has allowed one extra-base hit. Yusei Kikuchi has held lefties to a .087/.125/.087 slash, which means not one single extra-base hit yet. Chris Flexen’s four-seamer has been battered when he elevates the pitch (.500 average, .786 slugging percentage). Kendall Graveman has not allowed an earned run in any of his nine appearances this season and has allowed just five of 36 batters faced to reach base. Opponents are slugging .061 off Graveman this season. Graveman’s 34% chase rate on fastballs in Top 10 among relievers. Opposing batters have swung and missed on half of Graveman’s sliders, and own a .067 average. Rafael Montero has dominated RHBs this season — .185/.290/.259, despite a career mark of .265/.361/.437. Montero’s fastball has held batters to a .111 slugging percentage, but a .647 slugging on everything else. J.P. Crawford‘s average exit velocity (83.5 mph) ranks 23rd among 24 qualified shortstops (Didi Gregorius, 83.2), and his hard hit rate of 25.4% ranks No. 20. He’s batting .375 on fastballs away and has whiffed on just 14% of his swings on pitches 95 mph or higher. Crawford is batting .500 in favorable counts, and has struck out just once in 13 PAs versus left-handed pitchers. His career rate entering May is 22.5%. Crawford has the 9th-lowest well-struck average on inside pitches this season at .067. He’s batting .133 and slugging .167 on inside pitches. Crawford’s line-drive rate is down 6% this season and his ground ball rate is up 8%. Seattle’s 7-4 win over the Angels Friday gave the club a positive run differential on the year of +1. They’re one of 15 with a positive differential to start the month of May. The Dodgers lead MLB at +34. The Tigers bring up the rear at -58. The Mariners are 8-7 on the road and 7-5 at home. Seattle is 10-10 vs teams .500 or better, the same record as the Padres. Houston is 13-7 in such games, including 5-2 versus Seattle. The Mariners are 8-3 in day games, 7-9 at night, 11-8 vs right-handed starters, 4-4 versus lefties. They’re 4-0 in Little League games, 7-4 in 1-run contests, 5-2 versus teams below .500. Through April, the Mariners have played the toughest schedule in the American League, tied with the Rockies for most difficult in all of baseball.Go!

Three weeks into the 2021 season, the Seattle Mariners have a respectable 13-10 win-loss record. But let’s face it, the Mariners aren’t as good as their record. I realize my dour assessment won’t sit well with fans, who have rosier outlook about the Mariners’ solid start than me. Maybe time proves me wrong, although I don’t think it will. If the team continues winning, that’s okay with me. But if Seattle actually does regress in the near future, that’s okay too. Please give me a chance to explain this seemingly warped rationale. First, let’s tackle what’s driving my skepticism about the Mariners’ early-season success. It comes down to one metric – xwOBA. It’s been my go-to stat for several years. Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) is determined by using both the amount of contact and quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) made by hitters. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. Therefore, we get a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. The current MLB-average xwOBA is .324. If my explanation doesn’t sway you, consider this. Players with a great xwOBA are among the best in the game. Look at the names topping the xwOBA list for hitters since the beginning of the 2020 season. Top hitter xwOBA (2020-21)Bryce Harper .480Juan Soto .479Freddie Freeman .454Ronald Acuña Jr. .447Mike Trout .441Fernando Tatís Jr. .423Corey Seager .422 We can deliberate about the order of the preceding list. But there’s no debate whether these players are among the best hitters in the game. That is a ringing endorsement of xwOBA from my perspective. When we turn our attention to starting pitchers with the lowest xwOBA, we again find the best and brightest atop the leaderboard. There’s a reasonable chance each league’s Cy Young Award winner is among the following pitchers. After all, both of last year’s awardees are listed below. Top starting pitcher xwOBA (2020-21)Trevor Bauer .231Corbin Burnes .232Jacob deGrom .236Gerrit Cole .254Shane Bieber .257 Hopefully, I’ve done enough to convince the doubters about the value of xwOBA as an evaluation tool. If not, they’ve probably departed this article by now anyway. For those sticking with me, thank you. Let’s use xwOBA to get a sense of how Mariner hitters are performing thus far. Lineup As you might have expected, the usual suspects are leading the lineup – Ty France, Kyle Seager, and Mitch Haniger. They form the top of the batting order and represent 47.8-percent of Seattle’s total hits. Top Mariner hitter xwOBA (2020)Ty France .397Kyle Seager, .383Sam Haggerty .382Mitch Haniger .362Kyle Lewis .351José Marmolejos .345MLB xwOBA .324Dylan Moore .281Evan White .271Taylor Trammell .255 Luis Torrens .249J.P. Crawford .248Tom Murphy .244 It’s worth noting Sam Haggerty, Kyle Lewis, and José Marmolejos are included on the preceding list despite not being everyday players since Opening Day. We know Lewis, who returned from the IL this week, is going to be a fixture in the lineup. But, barring unforeseen circumstances, Haggerty and Marmolejos will remain as supporting cast members. Still, it takes an entire roster to win ballgames, so I included the duo. Obviously, having just three hitters (France, Seager, and Haniger) creating so much of the team’s offense is an unsustainable model over the long haul. With one exception, I’m somewhat skeptical about the likelihood of the other players listed above being capable of stabilizing the offense over a full season. Lewis struggled during the second half of the truncated 2020 season. But as we noted over the winter, it’s reasonable to believe the Mercer product can be a valuable contributor to run production. After that, it gets squishy. Yes, Haggerty and Marmolejos have been great in small doses. But is it reasonable to expect they’ll sustain their early success over a complete season? Probably not. Perhaps the pair proves me wrong, which is just fine by me. I always root for players to succeed. Dylan Moore is probably a lot better than his current xwOBA or conventional slash line. But how much better? Entering his season, Moore had 441 career plate appearances spread over two seasons. The reasonable answer is we don’t know what the Central Florida alum’s ceiling is. Not yet, at least. It’s plausible that no minor-league baseball in 2020 and a late start to this year’s MiLB season have hurt the development of Evan White more than any current major-leaguer. With no safety net to fall back on last year or early this season, White has been forced to self-improve during big-league games. That seems awfully hard to do. Perhaps a brief stay in Tacoma would help the former Kentucky Wildcat hone his skills. Taylor Trammel has a boatload of promise. But he’s in the same predicament as White was last year. The 23-year-old Georgian must resolve his issues, while being a regular in a big-league lineup. I’m not suggesting Trammell or White need to go to the minors. Much smarter people than me will determine the best path for both players. But at least that option will be available to teams within a matter of weeks. After White and Trammell, who else stands out as potential rebound candidates? J.P. Crawford has been a marvel in the field. But he’s yet to blend his excellent contact skills with any semblance of extra-base power. As we noted in March, the 2021 season is critical to the 26-year-old’s development and his future with the Mariners. Both backstops – Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens – may improve offensively. But neither player has a proven record over a sustained period. The right-handed hitting Murphy (533 career plate appearances) has a history of below-average production against right-handed pitchers, although he’s thrived against southpaws. Prior to the start of the season, we noted Torrens (291 career plate appearances) had an excellent hard-hit rate with the Mariners last September. Perhaps more playing time would help the Venezuelan become more productive at the plate. Okay, now that I’ve cast a rather large shadow over the lineup, let’s get to the bad stuff. Rotation The injury bug hasn’t been kind to Seattle’s starters. Unfortunately, the Mariners lost James Paxton during the second inning of his first start earlier this month. That’s a difficult loss for the staff and for Paxton the person. Fellow left-hander Nick Margevicius has also landed on the IL with shoulder problems after consecutive starts where he just didn’t look right. Ironically, Margevicius had the best xwOBA (.325) among Mariner starters prior to his debacle in Boston over the weekend when manager Scott Servais had to pull the southpaw in the first inning. With the Rider product probably out for an extended period, the current top xwOBA spot is currently held by a seemingly unlikely candidate prior to the season – Chris Flexen. Mariners Rotation xwOBA (2021)Chris Flexen .332MLB SP xwOBA .332Nick Margevicius .353Justin Dunn .374Yusei Kikuchi .379Justus Sheffield .381Marco Gonzales .410 Flexen appears to be improving with each start, which is an encouraging development for both player and team. More good news, the xwOBA of Marco Gonzales continues to improve after consecutive solid outings. Another reason to be optimistic about the Gonzaga alum – a combined .301 xwOBA during the 2019-20 seasons. Justus Sheffield has demonstrated a knack of reaching the sixth inning, which certainly benefits the team. That said, his advanced metrics have been suboptimal this season. Still, a league-average .313 xwOBA during a rookie campaign in 2020 provides a measure of optimism the Tennessean will improve as the season progresses. With the final two rotations spots, there are more questions than answers. Justin Dunn doesn’t surrender a lot of hits, but oh those base on balls. The former Boston College Golden Eagle had a high walk rate last season and is surrendering too many free passes in 2021. Moreover, he had a similar xwOBA (.369) to this season’s .374 during 10 starts in 2020. Is it possible Dunn improves with time this season? Absolutely. Is it reasonable to expect a dramatic uptick? Not for me. Again, I hope I’m proven wrong. Ironically, Yusei Kikuchi had a great xwOBA last year. It was the primary reason I believed the lefty was better than his conventional stats suggested in 2020. Unfortunately, the native of Japan hasn’t pivoted to more success during the first month of the 2021 campaign. In fact, he’s regressed in some ways. With each difficult outing, it seems increasingly unlikely that the Mariners’ decision about Kikuchi’s club option will be a difficult one. Bullpen Fortunately and surprisingly, the bullpen has been the strength of the Mariners through their first 23 games. As is the case so many times in baseball, a strong bullpen doesn’t necessarily boast a bunch of household names. This certainly applies to Seattle’s current relief crew. Mariners Bullpen xwOBA (2021)Anthony Misiewicz .217Kendall Graveman .233Ljay Newsome .261Keynan Middleton .292Rafael Montero .297Will Vest .309Casey Sadler .310Drew Steckenrider .321MLB RP xwOBA .323 Every member of the bullpen who’s faced 20-plus hitters has an xwOBA below the league-average mark for relief pitchers. That’s impressive. Having this kind of quality depth has certainly made Servais’ job a bit easier during this very young season. Even if the bullpen loses Ljay Newsome and his .261 xwOBA to replace Margevicius in the rotation, there’s a lot to like about the relief corps assembled by GM Jerry Dipoto. Sure, it’s possible the team’s relievers collectively crater at some point. Obviously, health issues can derail any bullpen. But there’s no evidence to suggest the Mariners’ pen will collapse. That’s assuming Dipoto doesn’t trade his best relievers this summer. Sorry, not sorry. Finally Seattle fans should keep the faith even if my dire warnings of impending collapse become reality. Why? By the end of July, the major-league roster could look considerably different – and better – than it does right now. There’s help on the way. At some point in the near future, currently injured players like Jake Fraley and Shed Long should be available to return to the Mariners. That’s assuming neither player suffers a rehab setback. Although both Fraley and Long only have a combined 385 career plate appearances, the duo would represent fresh blood for Servais’ lineup and perhaps improved depth. In the coming months, the Mariners are likely to introduce top prospects Logan Gilbert, Cal Raleigh, and Jarred Kelenic to the majors. Perhaps these youngsters struggle as White and Trammell did. Still, each player represents an upgrade for Seattle over current options on the roster. So even if the kids stumble out of the gate, there’s a reasonable chance the Mariners will be better for having Gilbert, Raleigh, and Kelenic. So yes, I don’t like what might be waiting around the corner for the Mariners. But I believe there’s a reasonable chance this team will look different and be better by August. Will it be too late for the club to make a late run at a postseason spot? Maybe. But never say never. My Oh My…Go!

Thanks to a heralded crop of prospects and a big-league roster bursting with promise, optimism about the future of the Seattle Mariners is on the rise. Fans are beginning to believe the youngsters will eventually spearhead Seattle’s return to MLB relevance for the first time in nearly two decades. The national media has even begun taking notice of the scrappy squad from the Pacific Northwest. Still, everything isn’t as rosy with the youth movement as the Mariners’ respectable 8-5 start suggests. Unfortunately, the kid’s bats have been mostly dormant through the first two weeks of the season. It’s the Mariners’ oldest position players – Kyle Seager (33) and Mitch Haniger (30) – who are actually driving the team’s early success. A comparison of the pair’s combined production to their teammates underscores the importance of maintaining a veteran presence in a young lineup. Essentially, Seager and Haniger are the engines propelling the Mariners’ lineup right now. Yes, 26-year-old Ty France is hitting, as most team observers believed he would. The third-year player is slashing .271/.386/.438 with a 140 OPS+. But after France, there’s a shortage of good news stories regarding Seattle’s young hitters. To be clear, the early struggles of the Mariners’ inexperienced position players isn’t an indictment of the strategy of building a youthful, athletic roster employed by GM Jerry Dipoto. The organization’s rebuild is on the right track – even if the kids are scuffling at the moment. Still, the first two weeks of 2021 serve as a reminder that young players are likely to struggle, as they adjust to big-league competition. It’s part of the development process. That’s why the steadying influence of Seager and Haniger in the clubhouse and on the field is so vital to the kids. It gives them time to blossom into full-time major leaguers. Imagine for a moment that Seager and Haniger weren’t in the picture. The Mariners wouldn’t have a player with over 1,000 career plate appearances. In fact, the veteran duo has nearly twice as many career plate appearances (7,144) as the rest of the 40-man roster (3,880). As the following illustrates, the vast majority of position players have yet to reach the 500-plate appearance milestone. That’s not even a season’s worth of experience for a regular. Fortunately, Mariners fans don’t have to worry about life without Seager and Haniger. That’s assuming each player remains healthy and Dipoto doesn’t get the itch to trade the thirty-somethings this summer. Yes, all good things must come to an end. But resisting the urge to deal would be prudent – at least in 2021. Names like Taylor Trammell, Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Cal Raleigh, and Logan Gilbert dominate the conversation when we discuss the Mariners’ future. But only one of these promising players – Trammell – is in the majors. The 23-year-old has experienced several positives – a team-leading eight walks, crushing two home runs, and a few web gems in the field. Unfortunately, Trammell is leading the majors with an alarmingly high 45.7-percent strikeout rate. Moreover, he’s scuffled on the base paths. There’s a lot to like about the kid, but there’s plenty of room for growth too. And that’s why having leaders, such as Seager and Haniger in the lineup and Marco Gonzales on the pitching staff matters. Not only have these established players struggled during their careers, they’ve fought their way back to have success. Each can provide mentorship to Trammell and other youngsters that can’t be quantified by statistics – conventional or otherwise. Furthermore, proven veterans take pressure off the young guys by delivering results – like Seager and Haniger have thus far. The Mariners’ endgame is to create a competitive roster teeming with young, controllable players – that’s a good plan. But baseball is hard. The kids are already facing adversity and will continue to encounter it on the path leading Seattle back to postseason relevance. That’s why keeping a few veterans around to serve as guides is more important than ever to the kids and to the franchise’s long-term success. My Oh My…Go!

It’s not uncommon for Major League Baseball trades to remain unsettled for a long, long time. The exchange of talent often includes young players not destined for the majors for several years. It’s actually quite fascinating to follow as one trade becomes another, and another, and sometimes another. There are a number of moves Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has made the past three years that fall into the same category. Some seem to favor Seattle, a few definitely don’t. One of the many with a chance to have a very long story is the deal Dipoto struck with the Tampa Bay Rays on May 25, 2018, and a few stanzas already have been written. The Mariners, who finished 89-73 that season, were 30-20 when the trade was consummated. They were three games back of the Houston Astros in the American League West and had a two-game lead in the race for the No. 2 Wild Card, so Dipoto got creative. Seattle sent right-hander Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero to Tampa Bay in exchange for veteran outfielder Denard Span and right-handed reliever Alex Colome. Span went on to provide 0.9 rWAR for the Mariners in 94 games, thanks to a .272/.329/.435 triple-slash. Colome pitched in 47 games and went 5-0 with a 2.53 ERA and 49-13 K/BB ratio in 46.1 innings good for 1.4 rWAR. Span retired after the season, but Dipoto flipped Colome to the Chicago White Sox for catcher Omar Narvaez. Colome pitched for two seasons with the White Sox, but neither were of the quality of his time with Seattle, but that’s neither here nor there, and winning the trades is far from the point. Narvaez batted .278/.353/.460 in 132 games for the Mariners in 2019, a season valued at 2.2 rWAR. If you’re counting, that’s now 4.5 rWAR combined between the acquisitions. Following the 2019 season, Dipoto then sent Narvaez to the Milwaukee Brewers and Seattle received right-handed pitcher Adam Hill and the No. 64 overall selection in the 2020 MLB Draft, a competitive balance selection awarded to the Brewers. McLennan CC (TX) right-hander Connor Phillips ended up being the pick. Hill, 23, last pitched at Class-A Wisconsin in the Midwest League, primarily as a starter, but may be suited for Double-A Arkansas this season with a chance to move quickly as a reliever. Still, he’s probably a year from the majors. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Phillips regularly touched the mid-90s in short stints, has hit 98 mph as an amateur and a professional, and also offers a curveball and chanegup. He’ll turn 20 years of age May 4, likely just days before making his professional debut. He’s currently Prospect Insider’s No. 18 Mariners prospect. On the fastest of tracks to The Show, Phillips’ ETA is likely at least 2023. While the trade Dipoto made with the Rays sure looks like a winner now — Moore is not under contract with a big-league club, even on a minor league deal, and it’s highly unlikely Romero hits the majors before 2022, nor does it seem there’s much chance he proves the gem of the trade — the truth is we won’t know the final numbers of this trade, like so many others, for several years. And knowing how Dipoto operates, he’ll wait until just before the buzzer, then move Hill or Phillips for even more longer-term talent so we have to restart the clock. And maybe he’ll have a sense of humor about it all and keep doing so just to continue adding chapters to the story. After all, if that were to occur, it would mean Dipoto’s rosters are winning enough to earn a long stay at the top of the Mariners’ baseball operations department, which is something the Mariners and the club’s fans need far more than any number of Wins Above Replacement.Go!

Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners

Ty France will challenge Mitch Haniger for best hit tool and may hit more long balls than Kyle Lewis. Taylor Trammell is also a 60-grade runner but Haggerty might be closer to a 65, so he gets the nod. Trammell projects as an above-average to plus glove in left, but in CF he’s around average, maybe a little above, and his arm belongs in left. Justin Dunn‘s Cactus League slider would get the nod over Justus Sheffield‘s with a longer track record. At times, James Paxton‘s cutter is a plus pitch, as is Marco Gonzales‘. Kendall Graveman and Keynan Middleton throw a bit harder, but Montero’s fastball has more effective movement. Drew Steckenrider‘s slider flashes plus and if he’s more consistent with it can overtake Middleton for the best slider in the bullpen.Go!

Mitch Haniger Mariners

Will the Seattle Mariners contend in 2021? Probably not. But after the season, GM Jerry Dipoto will know what remains for Seattle to be a 2022 contender. Essentially, the Mariners are entering a season of discovery. The premise of waiting another year for postseason baseball in Seattle won’t go over well with a long-suffering fan base. But that’s the reality the Mariners face by Dipoto’s design. For proof, consider how the team performed last season and what’s been done to improve the roster since. Lean Lineup The Mariners’ run production ranked in the bottom-third of MLB in most categories. To that point, only two qualified hitters had an OPS+ above league-average – Kyle Lewis (126) and Kyle Seager (122). Lewis started the season on fire before slumping badly. Seager’s production also dipped in September, although his decline wasn’t as noticeable. Others had a strong OPS+, but with less playing time. Austin Nola (152 OPS+) was one of the Mariners’ best hitters before being traded to the Padres. Ty France (129), who joined Seattle in the same deal, performed well. So did Dylan Moore (139). On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. Therefore, a hitter with a 150 OPS+ was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average. Still, too many regulars delivered subpar production: J.P. Crawford (92 OPS+), Tim Lopes (80), Evan White (57), and Shed Long (50). Newcomer Luis Torrens (97) was just below average after joining the Mariners in September. A Promising Rotation The pitching staff’s overall numbers were awful thanks to an ineffective bullpen hamstrung by injuries. Conversely, the rotation demonstrated some promise. Starters combined for a .308 xwOBA tying for ninth lowest in MLB with Houston. Four Mariners had an xwOBA better than the league-average: Yusei Kikuchi (.279), Marco Gonzales (.291), and Justus Sheffield (.303), and Nick Margevicius (.301). Expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. MLB league-average xwOBA last year = .312 Still, everything wasn’t hunky-dory with the rotation. Although Kikuchi’s xwOBA was excellent, he experienced command and consistency troubles. A 4.34 ERA from Justin Dunn doesn’t sound bad. But a .369 xwOBA with a 15.7-percent walk rate is bad. No Relief For The Weary Two of the Mariners’ biggest 2020 bullpen additions – Carl Edwards Jr. and Yoshihisa Hirano – made just 18 combined appearances due to health. Worsening matters, too few relievers delivered value. Still, there were several notable performers. Anthony Misiewicz (.278 xwOBA) impressed as a rookie. So did fellow freshmen Yohan Ramírez (.305), on occasion. But his 21.3-percent walk rate was worst in the majors. With the exception of one outing, rookie swingman Ljay Newsome (.279) was good. So was journeyman Casey Sadler (.247). So, What Got Fixed? Not enough to contend. Dipoto chose to focus on two areas – retooling the bullpen and adding rotation depth. That’s it. No hitters from outside the organization were added to the 40-man roster. Two key bullpen arms came from AL West rivals. Rafael Montero via a trade with Texas and free agent Keynan Middleton from the Angels. Both pitchers underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018. Reliever Will Vest arrived via the Rule 5 draft. Finding Rule 5 picks to help in the bullpen is part of Dipoto’s playbook. In 2018, the Mariners drafted Brandon Brennan. A year later, Ramírez. Vest now gets an opportunity to follow suit. To bolster the rotation, Dipoto signed Chris Flexen, who spent 2020 with the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). In 116.2 innings, Flexen struck out 131 hitters against 30 walks. If the 26-year-old continues his KBO success in MLB, the Mariners have a solid starter under club control through 2026. Dipoto’s splashiest move was signing former Mariner and fan-favorite James Paxton. The southpaw spent two years with the Yankees after being dealt to the Bronx for Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Dom Thompson-Williams. So where does Dipoto’s offseason maneuvers leave the Mariners heading into 2021? Let’s discuss. Hope Is The Course Of Action With no external help coming, the Mariners are essentially counting on a young, unproven lineup taking the next step in its maturation. In a nutshell, hope is the plan for improving the offense this year. Look across the diamond to see what I mean. White is an elite defender at first base, but he must improve a .176/.252/.346 slash and a 41.6-percent strikeout rate. On a positive note, the 24-year-old’s hard-hit rate and a strong 30-game stretch last year suggests he could still rebound to be a foundational player in Seattle. After a breakout 2020, Moore is Seattle’s starting second baseman. That’s assuming the small sample of 38 games and 159 plate appearances qualifies as a season. Ironically, a year ago, the team hoisted the same status onto another player with about the same amount of experience as Moore’s. It didn’t go well. Long was anointed the 2020 Opening Day second baseman after a solid, but brief, 42-game/168 plate appearance audition in 2019. Unfortunately, his year went sideways due to a leg injury requiring season-ending surgery. Now, the 25-year-old seems to be an afterthought. That’s unfortunate and troubling. Crawford’s glove is outstanding, but his offensive profile remains unclear. The 26-year-old was adept at drawing walks and avoiding strikeouts leading to a .336 OBP. However, the team needs more extra base power from their shortstop. Seager begins his tenth season as the Mariners’ third baseman. The 33-year-old is the anchor of the infield and the organization itself. Lewis returns in center field after winning 2020 Rookie of the Year. Much like Lewis did during post-shutdown summer camp, prospect Taylor Trammell pleasantly surprised the Mariners in Spring Training. So much so, the 23-year-old will be Seattle’s Opening Day left fielder. Mitch Haniger is back in right field after several injuries sidelined him since June 2019. It’s plausible Haniger is Seattle’s best player in 2021. Starting catcher Tom Murphy also missed last season. In 2019, Murphy hit 18 home runs and .273/.324/.535 in 75 games. Still, the fact the right-handed hitter feasted on southpaw pitching, but not so much the other way (.653 OPS vs RHP; 1.103 vs LHP) bears watching. Torrens will share catching duties with Murphy. Last year, he hit .257/.325/.371, although the 24-year-old did have an impressive hard-hit rate. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the organization’s top catching prospect, Cal Raleigh, debuts this year. Ty France projects to be the primary designated hitter, although he’ll see time in the field too. Regardless of where France plays, his bat will be a staple in Seattle’s lineup. In 112 games spread over two seasons with the Padres and the Mariners, the San Diego State product has 17 doubles, 11 home runs, a .265/.326/.431 slash, and a 105 OPS+. The Starting 6.5 And The Other Guy Gonzales headlines a six-man rotation with Paxton, Kikuchi, Sheffield, Flexen, and Dunn behind him. Margevicius, who competed with Dunn for the final rotation spot, will be a reliever. That said, expect the 24-year-old to make starts. Perhaps he piggybacks with another starter during games this year. Injuries ruined Paxton’s 2020, which only advanced his injury-prone reputation. Still, the 32-year-old averaged 28 starts and 156 innings in 2018-19. Moreover, his .296 wOBA was twentieth best among starters during that span. In a six-man rotation, Big Maple making 24-28 starts with similar production would be perfect. We don’t know whether Flexen’s KBO performance carries over to MLB. But his 2.3 BB/9 in Korea is reminiscent to a 2.9 BB/9 in 122 minor-league appearances. Additionally, the right-hander’s 116.2 innings logged last season suggests he could handle a greater workload than other starters. Remember, Gonzales led Seattle with just 69.2 frames last year. Realistically, Dunn wouldn’t make a standard five-man rotation. Now, the 25-year-old must demonstrate he deserves to keep his gig by the time management deems top pitching prospect Logan Gilbert (the other guy) MLB-ready. More Relief, But How Much More? The bullpen definitely looks different and it should be improved. But how much better? The answer will figure heavily into the Mariner’s season record. Montero will close games. Getting the ball to Montero will be Kendall Graveman, Misiewicz, Middleton, Sadler, Vest, and Margevicius. Either Domingo Tapia or Drew Steckenrider will take the final bullpen spot. Sounds great, but this is an unproven group. Montero’s 95.8-MPH average fastball velocity last year was nearly 3-MPH higher than when he debuted in 2014. Yet, he remains an unknown quantity at closer. The same is true about Graveman, who has little relief experience (14.2 innings). Something else to monitor – Middleton’s walk rate. In his 19.2 innings since returning from TJ surgery, he’s walked 13 while striking out 17. Not a good ratio for high-leverage relievers. And the rest of the crew? They’re inexperienced and/or have yet to succeed in the majors. And That’s Where The Adventure Begins As noted at the outset, Dipoto will learn this season what he’ll need to do to make the Mariners a contender next year. But fans should expect a bumpy ride during the 2021 campaign, while the team learns lessons, both good and bad, about itself. Remember, few position players have significant major-league experience. Hence, the potential for turbulence as the season unfolds. Consider this: Seager has more career MLB plate appearances than the combined total of the eight hitters starting with the former North Carolina Tar Heel on Opening Day: Career MLB PA’s1B – Evan White (202 PA) 2B – Dylan Moore (441) SS – J.P. Crawford (853) 3B – Kyle Seager (5,534) LF – Taylor Trammell (0) CF – Kyle Lewis (317) RF – Mitch Haniger (1,499) DH – Ty France (356) C – Tom Murphy (491) We’ve seen flashes from Lewis, Moore, France, and Murphy. But will these players sustain their success over a long season? And let’s not forget Trammell will struggle too. So will eventual call-ups Raleigh and Jarred Kelenic. That’s a lot of uncertainty. There are reasons to be optimistic about the rotation too. But a wait-and-see approach is advisable. Gonzales has a reputation of consistently delivering quality outings. Who else on the starting staff can make this claim? Paxton can do it, when healthy. Sheffield may develop into that pitcher with more time. So may Kikuchi and Flexen, but they’ve yet to deliver consistent quality outings in MLB. In fact, only three starters have more than 20 career starts in the majors. Three! Career MLB StartsJames Paxton (136)Marco Gonzales (88)Yusei Kikuchi (41)Nick Margevicius (19)Justus Sheffield (17)Justin Dunn (14)Chris Flexen (11) With so much depending on 10-plus players demonstrating their potential this year, two basic outcomes await the Mariners. One is a surprisingly good year creating a postseason buzz in the Pacific Northwest. In that case, Dipoto likely acquires players in-season capable of elevating his club in 2021 and beyond. On the flip side, the Mariners end up closer to last place than a Wild Card berth. Then, they’re deadline sellers. That said, Dipoto doesn’t have many pending free agents to peddle. Any reliever performing well might be available. We’ve discussed Seager’s poison pill extension for 2022 ad nauseam, so we’ll move on. Alas, the most valued potential free agent would be a healthy Paxton performing up to his immense talent. Would Dipoto trade the big left-hander for a second time? If you don’t know the answer, ask Taijuan Walker. Regardless of where the Mariners finish this year, we’ll get to enjoy a preview of what awaits in 2022. That’s when young studs like Lewis, Sheffield, Trammell, Kelenic, Gilbert, Raleigh, and perhaps Julio Rodriguez will comprise over 25-percent of the team. And that’ll be the best part of the adventure this year – watching the Mariners’ young roster morphing into something special. My Oh My…Go!

With the 2021 MLB season days away, let’s have a little fun with predictions for the Seattle Mariners. Home Runs: Ty France, 33 Kyle Lewis has the best raw power on the roster but barring a better effort to get to his pull side and thanks to his penchant for swinging and missing he’s not likely to beat France at the long-ball game this season. Batting Average (qualified only): Mitch Haniger, .279 I think there are a small handful of players that could challenge Haniger, and there’s a chance Haniger doesn’t end up qualifying in a Mariners uniform, but he’s the safest bet among projected regulars to hit .270 or better. The only issue is if he’s traded he won’t qualify, at which point I’d pick France. OBP (qualified only): Haniger, .358 SLG (qualified only): France, .518 Haniger is also a big-time candidate here, too. Triples: Jarred Kelenic, 7 He’s not likely to start the season in the big leagues, but he’s a good bet to get 400-plus PAs and his combo of power and speed give him a chance to triple out quite well. Taylor Trammell is also a good bet to hit the gaps and leg out some three-baggers, as is Dylan Moore. J.P. Crawford had four triples in under 400 plate appearances in 2019, so keep an eye on him, too. Walks: Kyle Lewis, 64 I don’t expect his 14% walk rate to continue into 2021 but he’s always drawn 9-12% walks in the minors. Ten percent of 600 (PAs) is 60 and even in a mediocre-at-best lineup the top three regulars are likely to get at least that many trips to the plate. For context, Daniel Vogelbach led the Mariners in PAs in 2019 with 558, and he played in just 144 games, just 129 starts. If Lewis starts 145 games, he’s clearing 600 plate appearances easily. Strikeouts: Lewis, 144 This number could get out of hand, as he whiffed nearly 30% of the time a year ago, but I think if he struggles to such great lengths he’ll get time out of the lineup to work on things, which will limit the volume. For context, his 29.3% K rate over 242 PAs in 2020 resulted in 71 strikeouts. Stolen Bases: Dylan Moore, 22 We’re going to find out more about Moore in 2021 than all of 2020, but there are signs the on-base ability is legitimate (.358 OBP, 8.8% walks in 2020, 8.9%, and a +.94 OBP-AVG in 2019). He’s not a great athlete, but he has 55 speed and reads pitchers as well as anyone else on the roster. Moore swiped 23 bags in his first 441 PAs in the majors, which included 104 times landing at first base via single, error, HBP or walk. fWAR: Lewis, 3.9 He’s not a great CF glove, but he’s about average, and even if he hits .230-.240 he should post at least league-average on-base marks and hit 20-plus homers. As long as he stays healthy he’ll play 145-150 games and that’s a 3.5-win or better player, as a floor. Innings Pitched: Marco Gonzales, 164 I figure 27 or 28 starts, six innings per start — he averaged 6.3 a year ago — and that gets me beyond 160 for the year. Strikeouts: Yusei Kikuchi, 158 Paxton will have the best K% but the chances he remains with the team beyond July or stays healthy for 25-28 starts keep me off him as the leader here. Kikuchi fanned 24.2% of the batters he faced a year ago with a 12.1% swinging-strike rate, so he’s a solid bet to get to 150 or so. Walks: Chris Flexen, 68 Flexen can throw strikes, but his fastball value may struggle in the states and as a result, I fear he may nibble a bit. Certainly more so than Paxton, Gonzales, Kikuchi, Justus Sheffield, and the Justin Dunn we’ve seen this spring.  But he’s also more likely to get tp 140-150 innings than is Dunn, who I’d bet has the worst walk rate among the six starters. Saves: Rafael Montero, 31 Saves is a stupid stat — it’s super stupid and shouldn’t exist, and fantasy baseball is also stupid, so take that — but Montero is likely to get the vast majority of opportunities. If he stays with the club all year I think 30-plus is reasonable. Pitcher fWAR: Gonzales, 4.1 Gonzales was No. 13 among starting pitchers in MLB year ago with a 2.0 fWAR in just 10 starts, which prorates out to 5.4 wins above replacement, even when considering he’s likely only tally 27 or 28 starts. While pace isn’t the best way to project, it offers an idea of how reliable Gonzales is. The 29-year-old posted 3.7 fWAR in 2019 (34 starts) and 3.5 in 2018 (29 starts) suggesting 4.1 is anything but a stretch. First prospect called up to 26-man Roster after Opening Day: Joey Gerber, RHR This goes against my current Opening Day Roster projection, since I have Gerber on it, but I’m 33-33-33 in that prediction (Gerber-Swanson-Steckenrider), and if it’s not Gerber I think he forces his way up perhaps before the Triple-A schedule gets underway. First player traded from 40-man roster between Opening Day and July 31: Jake Fraley, OF Just a hunch that when Kelenic is summoned, they’ll need 40-man space in addition to the 26-man spot and whether Fraley is on the 26-man or not he could be moved via small trade to create space. How many games does Kelenic play in Tripe-A Tacoma?: 0 Would it surprise me if he plays in Tacoma? No. But I think there’s a pretty good chance he hangs at the ATS for a few weeks and joins the 26-man later in April before the minor league season even begins, so… Logan Gilbert MLB Games Started: 14 Over/Under 1.5 All-Star Selections: UNDER I could see a second Mariners player sneaking in if a youngster like Lewis wins a fan vote after a Haniger or France gets the initial nod, but other than that I don’t think the chances are good Seattle gets more than one. Next year and beyond, however… Over/Under 162 Home Runs: OVER They hit 60 a year ago in the 60-game season and will have Haniger back, France for the entire season, and likely add more power with their youth than they were running out there a year ago at 2B (Moore played mostly OF). Over/Under 131 Stolen Bases: UNDER I think Seattle will continue to run, but the pace they were on a year ago — nearly one per game — won’t continue over a full season. Over/Under 4.5 Trades Made involving 40-man roster members between Opening Day and July 31: UNDER I think the top three 40-man candidates starting the regular season are Haniger, Paxton, and Montero, with the national media’s mention of Seager being a bit obtuse without unpredictable contract restructure factors that are very, very rare in baseball.  Over/Under 72.5 Team Wins: OVER While it is indeed one more year where development is more important than scratching out every victory possible, the roster has more overall talent, fewer holes, more upside, and more depth this year than the club that won at a 73-win clip a year ago. I think on the low side, we’re looking at 70 wins or so. On the high side, this club could threaten .500, though the fact they aren’t likely at all to contend could rob them of key veterans in July that will hurt their chances to max out their win ability. I’d wager on 75 wins.  Go!

 Updated Saturday, March 27, 10:33 PM PT The club optioned out RHRs Joey Gerber and Erik Swanson Saturday, leaving the final spot in the bullpen to right-handers Drew Steckenrider and Domingo Tapia, officially. Both have performed well, but Tapia has made just two appearances in ‘A’ games to Steckenrider’s seven. Tapia is already on the 40-man, Steckenrider is not, but the official placement of Ken Giles on the 60-day IL will open a spot for the club. I would have gone with Gerber or Steckenrider here — but I thought Seattle would go with the younger player with more upside, the one they control for five more years, rather than the upside of selling Steckenrider at the deadline for little return. Tapia has options, so they’ll be able to call upon all three righties that lose out to Steckenrider, which is clearly the way the club is going. With the news Saturday that centerfielder Kyle Lewis is doubtful for Opening Day, I feel comfortable making the assumption he will see the IL and won’t be on the ODR. I’ve replaced him with the player whose name I hate typing, but this being the final roster projection, let’s pull no punches. With Lewis out, I expect Taylor Trammell to start in center on April 1, but do not believe Lewis’ situation impacts that of Jarred Kelenic at all. As you can see, I still see Justin Dunn over Nick Margevicius for the No. 6 spot in the rotation with the latter serving as the long man out of the bullpen. If it were my choice, considering the minor league season does not begin for an additional 33 days, I would do the same, but if Dunn struggles to get through five innings and continues to battle with control and command problems, I’m sending him to Triple-A in May. One thing not discussed much with Dunn these days — because there are so many other things to dissect — is his lack of a third pitch. Sure, he could go curveball and slider, but he does not have a pitch for left-handed batters, which puts a ton of pressure on his fastball command and the consistency of the slider that’s looked so good this spring.Go!

Dunn

We’re about a week and a half from Opening Day 2021 at T-Mobile Park when the Seattle Mariners host the San Francisco Giants. There remain just a few spots on the Mariners roster unsettled, at least from our perspective (the club may already know all 26). Here was my first projection. Let’s go through this for the second time this spring. ROTATIONMarco GonzalesJames PaxtonYusei KikuchiChris FlexenJustus SheffieldJustin Dunn I went with Dunn in the rotation over Margevicius because I think Seattle is seeing enough in the right-hander this spring to go back to the well and try to build on the improved stuff. What that specific decision also does is balance the rotation against the four lefties, and sends Margevicius to the bullpen to serve as its lone southpaw. BULLPENRafael MonteroKendall GravemanAnthony MisiewiczKeynan MiddletonCasey SadlerNick MargeviciusWill VestErik Swanson I think Vest, the Rule 5 pick, has done enough to make the club and essentially earn a longer look. How long that lasts should be performance-driven. At this point Yohan Ramirez has made one appearance in an “A” game in Arizona, hitting two batters and walking another. He needs to start the year in Triple-A Tacoma and work on the delivery. His raw stuff is legit, but he doesn’t fill the zone much. Middleton has struggled a bit, serving up five homers, but he does have a 6-1 K/BB ratio in five frames, and the stuff belongs. He also has a bit of a track record a few others in contention don’t. Aaron Fletcher has flashed big-league stuff but more consistent command of the fastball is necessary before he can be viewed as a reliable arm. Sadler has looked very good and is a strike-thrower to boot, something the club needs in the middle innings. Matt Magill has just three appearances, making it more difficult to project him to the ODR. Joey Gerber has looked better this month than most of his appearances last summer, including more velocity, recouped deception, and a better, sharper-breaking slider. Roenis Elias may have been on his way to making the team until his injury. JT Chargois still has a shot, but he hasn’t been used much yet, suggesting the Mariners already know he’s not part of the ODR, but Swanson’s spot is far from sewn up and could go in a lot of directions, including Chargois or Matt Magill. One potential hint on who the club may be viewing as a legitimate option is who is getting the innings this late in Cactus League play. Not just because they want those arms worked into form, but because those not part of the 26-man roster to start the season have another 33 days until their first game, and overworking them in big-league camp is a real problem. CATCHERSTom MurphyLuis Torrens INFIELDERSEvan WhiteDylan MooreJ.P. CrawfordKyle SeagerTy France Honestly, with Shed Long Jr. being held out of “A” games thus far, it’s a bit more difficult to find the right mix with the infield-outfield groups. I’d choose Jack Reinheimer or Braden Bishop for the final roster spot because the former can play shortstop some, offers a bit more offense right now than does Donovan Walton, and the latter is a 70 glove. Both bat right-handed, balancing the bench. But Reinheimer is not on the 40-man, the Mariners seem to think Jose Marmolejos is something he’s not — an outfielder and a major-league hitter — and Fraley has been given a longer look (so, that’s where I actually lean in projecting the ODR). Once Long is ready, it’s an easier projection, but as of March 21 we don’t have good info on when that might be. OUTFIELDERSMitch HanigerKyle LewisTaylor TrammellSam HaggertyJake Fraley There’s no reasonable explanation for a Mariners outfield without Trammell and/or Jarred Kelenic, and at this point, I lean Trammell between the two because of the time Kelenic missed with the knee injury and the lack of overall experience he has versus professional pitching. The truth is, both players are worthy, and if the Mariners were taking the best roster possible north with them to face the San Francisco Giants April 1, Kelenic would be on it. Haggerty’s ability to switch hit and handle second base gives him a great chance to make the club, and he’s actually found the barrel some this spring, worked counts and found the gap a few times. If the club needs a 40-man spot to make room for Kelenic, they’ve yet to officially place Ken Giles on the 60-day IL, per the team site. If they also need one for Reinheimer, Chargois, or Magill, I think the weakest holds on 40-man roster spots are right-hander Domingo Tapia, Walton, an additional 60-day IL case (Long?), or perhaps a minor trade involving a player that didn’t make the ODR, including Bishop and Fraley.Go!

J.P. Crawford Mariners

The Seattle Mariners face a big decision on J.P. Crawford, a Gold Glove defender yet to consistently produce at the plate. Is Crawford the team’s long-term answer at shortstop? Or, does Seattle pursue a more accomplished replacement at a position teeming with elite-level hitters? To be clear, Crawford isn’t a terrible hitter – far from it. As with his glove, there’s a lot to like about the 26-year-old from an offensive standpoint. The following illustrates areas where he excelled and the MLB average for each category. Crawford demonstrated superb plate discipline. He didn’t strikeout too often and walked at a league-average rate. Moreover, his swing and contact rates inside and outside (chase) the strike zone were better than average – top-20 in some cases. These accomplishments led to an OBP 14 points above average, which is certainly valuable to a lineup. Still, there’s been a longstanding concern regarding Crawford’s run production – a lack of power. A scouting report produced by MLB Pipeline discussed his light-hitting when he was at Class-AAA Lehigh Valley and a Top-100 prospect in 2017. Essentially, the California native’s batted balls have lacked the consistent explosiveness needed to regularly produce extra base hits. A great way to demonstrate this is with a modified form of my favorite advanced metric – xwOBA. Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. For this discussion, let’s consider Crawford’s xwOBA only on the balls when he made contact (xwOBACON). Doing so removes walks and strikeouts, which gives us a better idea on the potency of his batted balls. It turns out the Lakewood High School product’s .329 xwOBACON was well below league-average (.378) last year. In fact, he ranked 172nd of 184 hitters putting 100-plus balls in play (BIP). Crawford also placed low among his Seattle teammates with at least 50 BIP. Mariner xwOBACON Leaders:Evan White (.458)Ty France (.437)Dylan Moore (.433)Kyle Lewis (.432)José Marmolejos (.401)Kyle Seager (.364)Luis Torrens (.350)Tim Lopes (.331)J.P. Crawford (.329)Shed Long Jr. (.297)Dee Strange-Gordon (.262) When we view Crawford’s slugging prowess through the lens of more familiar conventional stats and advanced metrics, we receive confirmation of what xwOBACON has already told us – the pop in his bat was subpar. It wasn’t just in the home run department where Crawford trailed the league. His 4.7-percent extra-base hit percentage was well below the 7.0-percent MLB standard for 2020. Furthermore, the 16th overall pick of the 2013 draft recorded a .391 SLG in 2,645 minor-league plate appearances. In the majors, he owns a .359 SLG in 853 plate appearances. It’s worth noting adjustments resulting in a supercharged bat would likely lead to Crawford missing on swings more often than he does now. But trading some contact for added pop would be worth it assuming the outcome was more production. Ideally, a nice blend of quality and quantity would be preferred. Easier said than done, obviously. Ironically, another young Mariner experienced the exact opposite problem as Crawford did last year – Evan White. Seattle’s other 2020 Gold Glover struck balls extremely hard, but didn’t make contact often enough. Just for fun, I did a side-by-side comparison of the pair with each player’s glaring issues highlighted in red. Obviously, Seattle fans hope both Crawford and White take the next step in their development during the upcoming season. Both are young and have the potential to help form the core of a contending roster. Still, time may be running out for Crawford to influence his destiny with the Mariners. Next offseason, a relatively large class of premier shortstops are projected to hit the free agent market. Candidates potentially available to the Mariners and 29 other teams include Francisco Lindor, Javier Báez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story. All are All-Stars, several were Silver Slugger winners, two were MVP finalists. If Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto felt his young roster gelled in 2021 and was on the verge of something special, would he pursue any of these acclaimed shortstops next winter? Perhaps, but it likely depends on how the Mariners view Crawford. Despite the absence of a power stroke, it’s understandable why Philadelphia drafted him so high and how his potential intrigued Dipoto. He’s hard-working, athletic, a great defender, and demonstrates excellent plate discipline. With more power, Seattle would have an all-star caliber player. A less expensive, younger option than the stars of next year’s free agent class. That’s why the upcoming season will be pivotal in determining Crawford’s future with the Mariners. Sticking with him past 2021 means Dipoto bypasses a chance at signing Lindor, Correa, Seager, Story, or Báez to anchor the middle of his infield. To date, a compelling argument can’t be made for keeping Crawford rather than pursue one of these star shortstops. Then again, there’s a full 162-game season approaching. It’ll give Crawford the opportunity to demonstrate he should be Seattle’s shortstop of the future. If he can thrive at the plate this year, Dipoto’s decision next offseason will be an easy one. Otherwise, the Mariners will continue searching for an adequate, long-term replacement for Álex Rodríguez two decades after he left the Emerald City. My Oh My…Go!