The Hot Stove season should be exciting for Seattle Mariners fans. The club is primed to be active in the marketplace following its thrilling 90-win campaign. The future of baseball looks bright in the Emerald City. That said, I have a warning for wannabe general managers concocting potential trade scenarios for the Mariners. Don’t be too eager to part with starting pitching prospects. I know. The Mariners have a pitching-rich farm system – one of the best in MLB. But teams can never have enough starting pitching. For those who think I’m being overly cautious, I present you the 2020 World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Facing possible elimination on its home field in Game 5 of the NLCS, the Dodgers went with an opener – reliever Joe Kelly. Not an ideal situation for any club. Especially one with such a rich postseason pedigree. That’s not meant to be a slight directed at Kelly, who is a superb pitcher. But you would think that the organization viewed by many as the best in baseball could muster an actual starting pitcher for the most important game of its season. But there was Kelly, giving it his best until suffering an injury after registering just two outs into the first inning. The Dodgers don’t just have deep pockets. The team’s minor league system consistently churns out players capable of contributing at the big-league level. Yet, despite all these resources, manager Dave Roberts needed to rely on a relief pitcher to start a must-win postseason game. So, what went wrong? It turns out a lot. On Opening Day, the Dodgers were in great shape. The starting rotation boasted Cy Young Award winners Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Bauer, Cy Young contender Walker Buehler, and young studs Julio Urías and Dustin May. And that doesn’t even include former Cy Young winner David Price and swingman Tony Gonsolin in the bullpen. An impressive bunch. In the end though, it wasn’t enough. Not even close. All told, the Dodgers needed 19 starters, including openers, to get through 162 games. Dodgers Starters In 2021Clayton Kershaw – Two IL stints with elbow injuryTrevor Bauer – Placed on restricted list in early JulyWalker Buehler – Made 33 startsJulio Urías – Made 32 startsDustin May – Tommy John surgery after five startsTony Gonsolin – Two IL stints with shoulder inflammationMax Scherzer – Acquired in JulyDavid Price – SwingmanMitch White – Rookie/Spot starterCorey Knebel – RelieverJustin Bruihl – RelieverGarrett Cleavinger – Reliever/On IL with strained obliqueVictor Gonzalez  – RelieverBrusdar Graterol – RelieverJosiah Gray – Prospect sent to Nationals in Scherzer dealJimmy Nelson – Reliever/On IL with elbow discomfortDarien Núñez  – RelieverJake Reed – RelieverEdwin Uceta – Reliever As you might expect, the Dodgers tried their best to shore up the starting staff once the unplanned losses began to pile up. In July, the team acquired three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (along with infielder Trea Turner) and Royals starter Danny Duffy. It also signed free agent Cole Hamels in early August. Scherzer was Scherzer, but the other guys didn’t pan out. At the time of the deal, Duffy was on Kansas City’s IL with a left flexor strain. But the desperate Dodgers were willing to take a chance on the southpaw returning to help during the stretch drive. Unfortunately, he never appeared in a game with his new club. Similarly, Hamels never suited up as a Dodger due to shoulder discomfort. As you can see below, the Dodgers weren’t the only club to struggle with filling rotation spots. In fact, the league-average for starters used this year was 14. And that brings us to the Mariners, a club needing 15 starters to get through the season. Considering the number of arms Seattle used in 2021, it’s no surprise that President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto identified starting pitching as an area needing help this offseason. Mariners Starters In 2021Marco Gonzales – One month on IL with flexor strainYusei Kikuchi – Pulled from rotation due to ineffectivenessJames Paxton – IL/Tommy John surgeryChris Flexen – Made 31 startsJustus Sheffield – IL with forearm strain/moved to bullpenJustin Dunn – IL/shoulder strainLogan Gilbert – Called up in May from AAANick Margevicius – IL for thoracic outlet syndrome surgeryLjay Newsome – Spot starter/IL with elbow discomfortTyler Anderson – July acquisitionHéctor Santiago – Long reliever/Suspended for PED useDarren McCaughan – Spot starter from AAARobert Dugger – Spot starter/DFAKeynan Middleton – Reliever/DFAErik Swanson – Reliever Bringing back fan-favorite James Paxton was risky due to his injury history. But who expected “Big Maple” would be lost for the season just 21 pitches into his Seattle reunion? That Opening Day starter Marco Gonzales would miss a month? That Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield would both regress and spend part of the season on the IL? Or that the Mariners would burn through its in-house depth by June? The answer is no one could project such misfortune for the Mariners, Dodgers, or any ballclub. That’s why rotational depth matters. Hence the adage that controllable starting pitching is baseball’s rarest commodity. Am I saying the Mariners should never trade starting pitching prospects? Of course not. But dealing away promising arms, particularly those close to being MLB-ready, is a risky proposition. Something to consider as you form your opinion on this point, Dipoto routinely stated during the season that AA pitchers were just a phone call away from the majors. Considering the number of starters used by the Mariners in 2021, it’s highly likely that some of the best arms in the team’s system will earn call-ups from Class-AA Arkansas next season. Notable AA Starters For SEA In 2021George KirbyEmerson HancockMatt BrashBrandon WilliamsonLevi Stoudt In 2021, the Mariners had a 2-8 record in games using an opener. Imagine the possibilities if manager Scott Servais had better options to start those 10 games. Maybe Servais’ squad manages to steal a few more wins by relying on one or more of the hot prospects listed above. Maybe a young gun, or guns, from Arkansas mitigates the damage when Yusei Kikuchi drove into a second-half ditch. Maybe the Mariners’ postseason drought would’ve ended earlier this month. Having said all that, the Mariners trading starting pitching prospects is inevitable. Doing so absolutely makes sense to land a franchise-changing player. On the other hand, dealing high-caliber talent for instant gratification could haunt the organization and its postseason-starved fan base for a long time. So, next time you hear or read someone advocating trades involving the names of pitching prospects like Brandon Williamson, Levi Stoudt, or Emerson Hancock for a notable name, remember how a lack of rotational depth almost torpedoed the Mariners’ season in 2021. If that’s not sobering enough for you, just think about Joe Kelly starting Game 5 of the 2021 NLCS for the Dodgers. My Oh My…Go!

When the Seattle Mariners traded reliever Kendall Graveman to the Houston Astros on July 27, the players’ reaction was unmistakable. Apoplectic would best describe the mood in the clubhouse. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reported Graveman’s departure stirred uncharacteristically emotional responses from players. Some were too broken up to discuss the trade of the popular clubhouse leader, although several did speak out. Those who did lashed out at management. “It never changes. They don’t care about winning. How do you trade him and say you care about winning? And you trade him to Houston? It never changes.” – Anonymous Mariner after Graveman deal A vocal segment of fans took to Twitter to echo the players’ view that the organization was not truly committed to winning. For them, it was the “same ole Mariners” all over again. A predictable response considering Seattle last appeared in the postseason in 2001. Critics of the deal also believed the return for Graveman was underwhelming and served as proof that management was not sincere about its stated desire to compete. Seattle received Abraham Toro and Joe Smith for Graveman and maligned reliever Rafael Montero, who had been designated for assignment. For the embittered fan, that was not enough for the club’s top relief arm.   Toro was an unproven 24-year-old unable to break into Houston’s extremely talented infield. Perhaps he could help the Mariners in the future with the emphasis placed on the word “perhaps.” The 37-year-old Smith was enduring the worst season of his 14-year career as a member of Houston’s bullpen. This was not the kind of deal Seattle fans wanted the club to make in July. Far from it.  Much to the dismay of already exasperated fans, the Mariners traded a third reliever before the MLB trade deadline expired on July 30. This time, it was the versatile JT Chargois heading to Tampa Bay with prospect and Puget Sound native Austin Shenton for Rays closer Diego Castillo. All told, Graveman, Montero, and Chargois were former Mariners with Smith and Castillo joining Seattle. To some, this upheaval downgraded the bullpen making the team significantly less competitive. And who did the legion of the frustrated blame for these perplexing deadline deals? Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto. A natural reaction considering Dipoto was the architect of the rebuild that triggered the massive roster turnover that had been ongoing since late-2018. But was the outrage directed at the 53-year-old executive over the Graveman and Chargois trades justified? I do not believe so. Upon Further Review Yes, the Graveman trade was a shocker, particularly its timing. Just a day prior to the deal, Seattle rebounded from a seven-run deficit to beat Houston in dramatic fashion at T-Mobile Park – a game Graveman pitched in. Less than 24 hours later, he was suiting up in the visiting clubhouse – for the hated division-rival Astros of all teams! Still, the passage of time provides us with the opportunity for renewed perspective. The following illustrates the combined production that Seattle received from its two new relievers since the trade deadline and the corresponding numbers for the three former Mariners after leaving the Emerald City. Also on display, the MLB averages for relief pitchers from July 30 until the end of the regular season. The former and new relief arms outperformed league averages in all but two categories with combination of Smith and Castillo generally being better than their predecessors. Not by a large margin, although it is obvious that that the new guys did not drag down the bullpen or the team. In fact, the numbers suggest relief pitching remained a strength for the Mariners during the final third of the season when it counted most. The revamped bullpen played a pivotal role in writing the success story that was the Mariners’ 2021 season. The team registered an AL West division-best 35-24 record following the deadline and remained in the wild race until game-162. Yes, Seattle fell short in the end. But not before winning 90 games. A win tally no one outside of the clubhouse believed was possible. And The Other Guy? The big get for the Mariners in the Graveman deal was Toro, who did not thrill fans with his second base defense and lack of power. Still, we should not lose sight of the fact that the Canadian had appeared in just 90 MLB games before joining Seattle. He is a work in progress. As far as his defense goes, it is important to note that Toro had just 20 games of professional experience at second base prior to becoming a Mariner. Perhaps he slides over to the more familiar third base next season. It is true that Toro’s bat did not have much pop. But the switch-hitter did demonstrate great bat-to-ball skills and tremendous plate discipline. He also delivered better production than what Seattle had received from the second base position prior to his arrival. Whether Toro will be a long-term starter in the Mariners’ infield is a conversation for another time. But his presence provided a much-needed boost to Seattle’s lineup during the final months of the season. Even if he did not hit for power. Last Words As outsiders, we have no clue how the Graveman trade affected player morale. But the numbers are clear. His departure was not the catastrophe players and fans believed it would be. To be fair, criticism of the Mariners for shipping Graveman out of town was not isolated to the Pacific Northwest. At least one prominent talking head was also sour on the deal in July. Deadline winner heading into the big day today: Dodgers (obvious reasons and they are working on more big things). Deadline loser: Mariners (who traded their beloved and dominant closer, killing the team’s mojo at a time the players had something special going) — Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 30, 2021 Realistically, the trade that fans and Jon Heyman hated in July was not so bad after all. Especially when we consider the totality of Seattle’s bullpen moves at the deadline and the team’s overall success. In the end, clubhouse chemistry survived the Kendall Graveman deal. So did the Mariners’ season. My Oh My…Go!

Fans of the Seattle Mariners became very familiar with the band of unheralded relievers that propelled the team into postseason contention this year. Perhaps a few east coast pundits even took notice of Seattle’s bullpen along the way. Names like Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, Diego Castillo, Casey Sadler, and Anthony Misiewicz anchored a Mariners bullpen comprised mostly of youngsters and journeymen that was better than good. They were among baseball’s best.  Sure, the Rafael Montero and Keynan Middleton experiments did not pan out, nor did Rule 5 draftee Will Vest. Trading key relievers Kendall Graveman and JT Chargois in July certainly did nothing to improve clubhouse or fan base morale. But in the end, the bullpen provided manager Scott Servais with a distinct tactical advantage over opposing clubs throughout the season. Whether you prefer conventional statistics or new-age metrics, Seattle’s bullpen was significantly better than the 2020 version that was arguably one of the worst in MLB. In fact, it was top-10 in multiple statistical categories. As you might expect, several surprising relievers blossomed for the Mariners. Players who were revelations to the team, its fan base, and the baseball establishment. None was bigger than Sewald. Sewald went from a Mets castoff in 2020 to a high-leverage arm in Seattle a year later. Only two pitchers with 60-plus innings this season bested his 39.4% strikeout rate – Jacob deGrom (45.1%) and Liam Hendriks (42.3%). Impressive for a reliever with a 23.5% strikeout rate in four previous seasons. Another good news story was Sadler, a waiver claim arriving in the Emerald City from the Cubs in September 2020. Sadler did not allow a run in his final 29 appearances, which was the longest streak of its kind this season. The basis for such success was the 31-year-old’s knack for avoiding quality contact, which was reflected in a .242 xwOBA that was ninth best in the majors among relievers facing at least 100 hitters in 2021. Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should have happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) does not influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. MLB league-average xwOBA = .314 The third prominent member of Seattle’s posse of misfit relievers was Steckenrider. The 30-year-old spent three seasons with Miami, but did not appear in a game with the team in 2020. This year, he led Mariners relievers with 67.2 innings and was Servais’ most called upon arm in the ninth inning (24 games). Sewald was second with 18 appearances. Other relievers contributing to the Mariners’ late postseason push included Joe Smith, Yohan Ramirez, Matt Andriese, Erik Swanson, Sean Doolittle, Justus Sheffield, and rookies Wyatt Mills and Andrés Muñoz. Together, they helped form one of the best bullpens in franchise history. Really. Better Than Most Okay. I am not trying to persuade anyone into believing the 2021 Mariners’ bullpen was the “best ever” in team history. Comparing contemporary bullpens to those from bygone eras can be challenging. Reliever utilization has drastically changed since the Mariners first debuted in 1977. Particularly with an increased emphasis being placed on specialized relievers since the team’s inaugural season and the recent trend of “bullpening” across MLB. Still, this year’s group does compare well to previous editions. The 2021 bullpen did not have stars such as Edwin Díaz, Fernando Rodney, Kazuhiro Sasaki, J.J. Putz, or Bobby Ayala at the ready to close out games. Yet, the 7.0 fWAR accrued by its potpourri of relief arms set a franchise record. This seems good and special. I was kidding about Bobby Ayala. That was a test to see if you were paying attention. So, how did the Mariners reap so much value from a bullpen short on recognizable names or established performers? Success Under Duress Simple. Servais maximized his bullpen’s effectiveness by masterfully juggling relievers to setup the best matchups, regardless of inning. This helps explain why Seattle was the only team with three relievers recording 10 or more saves in 2021 – Graveman, Sewald, and Steckenrider. Eighteen clubs had one or none. Since the Mariners’ skipper did not use traditional thinking when deploying relievers, we should not rely on conventional statistics to discuss the impact of his bullpen management. A better option would be a metric that attempts to quantify a player’s influence on their team’s success. Win Probability Added (WPA) credits or debits pitchers and hitters based on how the outcome of a plate appearance affects the chances of their team winning. For example, a late-inning home run in a close game earns a hitter more credit and the pitcher a larger debit than a homer in the first inning or in a blowout. Using WPA is particularly helpful when discussing relief pitching. The best relievers are most often entrusted with safeguarding their team’s interests in the most crucial moments of a game. It is why elite relief arms can have a higher WPA than most starters. Conversely, less reliable or inexperienced relievers will have a low or negative WPA. The Mariners boasted three pitchers with a top-20 WPA among relievers – Graveman, Steckenrider, and Sewald. Two of them landed in the top-10. Essentially, Servais skillfully placed relievers in the best position to succeed and they delivered positive results much more often than not. As a result, Seattle’s relief arms combined for a 7.71 WPA, which was fourth highest in the majors. The three clubs ahead of the Mariners owned the best win-loss records in baseball – the Giants, Dodgers, and Rays.  Sounds like Manager of the Year material to me. Can They Do It Again? The main relievers with the Mariners at season’s end remain under club control for 2022 with the exception of Smith. That sounds like good news. But can the same cast of characters repeat its success next year? Ah, the question on everyone’s mind. Reliever volatility is a term often bandied about for good reason. Predicting how a reliever, or a bullpen, will perform from one year to the next can be problematic. In the Mariners’ case, a few issues are worth of mention as the offseason begins. Most notably, the team’s breakout performer. As wonderful as Sewald was this season, there were noteworthy blemishes on the stat sheet. The right-hander was adept at missing bats. But when opponents did make contact, it was the damaging type more often than preferred. Among 306 relief pitchers allowing at least 100 batted balls this season, Sewald’s 12.6% barrel rate was eleventh highest. Barrels are batted balls with the ideal blend of launch angle and exit velocity. In 2021, MLB hitters had a .772 AVG and 2.591 SLG on barreled balls. Also, 84% of all home runs were barrels. In the same vein, Sewald allowed six home runs in September after surrendering four dingers in his four previous months. Perhaps fatigue spurred late-season longball struggles. The San Diego alum pitched just six innings with New York last year. In 2021, he logged over 11 times that much with Seattle and Class-AAA Tacoma, including an AL-leading 32.1 frames following the MLB trade deadline. Misiewicz also struggled with well-struck balls. Opponents had a 44.9% hard hit rate against him, which led Mariners relievers allowing 100-plus batted balls. The Michigan State product also saw his opponent AVG skyrocket from .219 in July to .351 in September with his in-zone swing and miss rate cratering from 19.6% to just 5% during the same span. Is the sky falling with Sewald and Misiewicz? No. Seattle’s relievers were pushed hard late in the season. It is possible all that is needed is down time to recover from a heavy workload. Still, Sewald and Misiewicz were vital to the team’s success. Significant regression in 2022 could potentially have a negative impact on the bullpen. Help Is On The Way Despite any potential concerns with Sewald, Misiewicz or any other holdover from the 2021 bullpen, it is important to note new names will be added to the high-leverage mix next season. The power arms of Ken Giles and Muñoz, both coming off Tommy John surgery, project to be ready for Spring Training. Assuming good health, both should help depressurize the backend of the 2022 bullpen. Even if the bullpen unexpectedly falters, President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto and his staff have demonstrated the agility to pivot when the situation dictates. So, there is no need for concern in October. Besides, the Mariners will once again have Scott Servais getting the most out of his bullpen in 2022. That is a good thing. My Oh My…Go!

Remaining in the AL Wild Card chase until the final day of the season energized the Seattle Mariners fan base in a way rarely seen in the last two decades. So much so, fans are believing that 2022 will be the year the Mariners finally become a legitimate threat to win the AL West division championship. That is an exciting proposition. But there is an unavoidable truth that could potentially scuttle such lofty expectations. Even at its best, the Mariners’ starting rotation did not approach the excellence delivered by the starting staffs of baseball’s best teams – not even close. Yes, that sounds harsh. But it is true. Efficient And Effective Before addressing my assertion any further, we should first establish when the Mariners’ starting staff was actually at its best. That is not hard to do. The rotation reached peak performance following the arrival of Tyler Anderson on July 30. From that point moving forward, Seattle’s starting pitching was both efficient and effective. Anderson’s presence provided something the rotation sorely lacked before his arrival – stability. Injuries and ineffectiveness forced manager Scott Servais to use 14 starters prior to the 31-year-old joining the team. Afterwards, Servais only needed five starters for the final two months of the season. Although the overall improvement of the rotation isn’t solely attributable to Anderson, his veteran presence and consistency on the mound played a pivotal role in the staff’s renaissance. Particularly with Yusei Kikuchi struggling in the second half of the season. Kikuchi was the team’s lone All-Star game representative – a richly deserved honor. Unfortunately, his season went sideways following his first July start. For the remainder of the year, the 30-year-old labored to deliver competitive outings just when the Mariners needed him most. Servais subsequently sidelined the southpaw for the final week of the season. Rounding out the starting five along with Anderson and Kikuchi were Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen, and rookie Logan Gilbert. All three delivered their best efforts down the home stretch. After struggling during the first half of the season and missing the month of May due to a flexor strain, Gonzales regained his form during the final two months of the season posting a .274 xwOBA, which was top-15 among his peers. When the Mariners needed him most, the Gonzaga alum demonstrated the mettle of a champion. 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 = .314 Little did we know in Spring Training that signing Flexen out of the KBO would be a coup for President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto and his staff. The 27-year-old was the team’s most consistent arm and the only Seattle pitcher from the Opening Day roster to make every scheduled start. All told, Flexen pitched 179.2 innings – seventh most logged by an AL starter in 2021. An impressive accomplishment considering the Mariners used a six-man rotation until late-June. When Gilbert debuted in May, he was the organization’s top pitching prospect. It was not always smooth sailing for the 24-year-old, although he demonstrated growth as the season progressed. By September, the Stetson product was arguably the best starter on the staff. Logan Gilbert’s September Stats And Team Ranking2.70 ERA (1st) 3.59 FIP (1st) 23.0 SO% (1st) 5.9 BB% (1st) 1.02 WHIP (2nd) .205 AVG (2nd) 0.7 fWAR (1st) During the last two months of the season, Gonzales, Flexen, Anderson, and Gilbert formed a reliable starting four. As a result, the Mariners were able to compete for the postseason until game-162. So, why my concern? Nice, But Not Great The upgraded version of the Mariners’ rotation was a nice story – for a fringe contender. Not so much for a team trying to be great with its focus on winning the World Series The following helps illustrate the statistical gap between Seattle’s rotation at its peak and the starting staffs of the clubs with the three best records in the AL and NL – the Giants, Dodgers, Rays, Astros, Brewers, and White Sox. This is the level of excellence the Mariners should be striving to attain. Other than walk rate, the revamped Mariners rotation trailed our “Big Six” by a significant amount. Realistically, Seattle starters were collectively average-ish when the going was good. Value Added? When the FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR) is used to gauge Servais’ starters, we receive the same message that the preceding table delivered. The rotation’s difference-makers were good, but not elite. The highest ranked Mariner with 110-plus innings was Flexen (3.0 fWAR) at number-39. Starter fWAR and MLB RankingsChris Flexen – 3.0 fWAR (39)Logan Gilbert – 2.2 fWAR (53)Tyler Anderson – 2.2 fWAR (56)*Yusei Kikuchi – 1.1 fWAR (82)Marco Gonzales – 0.6 fWAR (95) * Includes Anderson’s time with Pittsburgh Once again, we are confronted with the reality that the Mariners will need better production from its 2022 rotation to become serious contenders for the AL West division title. Remember, the World Series is the endgame – not flirtation with a wild card berth. But The Kids… Some fans will suggest help is on the way from Seattle’s stacked farm system. The organization does have a bevy of young arms seemingly ready to make the jump from Double-A to the majors. The most recognizable names being Matt Brash, Emerson Hancock, George Kirby, Levi Stoudt, and Brandon Williamson. Still, that is a lot of youth and uncertainty to bank on heading into a regular season. Particularly for a club wanting to compete at the highest level. To be clear, I am not suggesting these young guns will not contribute in 2022. But expecting great things upon arrival is fraught with risk. Remember, Gilbert endured struggles before finding his groove in September. Looking Ahead How the Mariners choose to construct the 2022 rotation will certainly be central to Hot Stove speculation. Will the front office stick with the 2021 gang and wait for the kids to arrive? Will adding more veteran depth be the plan instead? Could acquiring a top-shelf arm be the priority? Regardless of the strategy management employs, the Mariners should begin next season with a more robust and dependable starting staff than the 2021 Opening Day version. This is a good thing. How good depends on what Dipoto and crew do to improve the starting rotation during the offseason. I suspect it will be a busy winter at the corner of Edgar & Dave. My Oh My…Go!

As astutely and accurately demonstrated here by Luke Arkins, the Seattle Mariners struggled to score runs with any reasonable consistency in 2021, and it led to an inordinate — and ultimately unsustainable — rate of close games the club’s bullpen and ‘clutch’ hitting was asked to win. To continue building the roster’s ability to win games, raise the ceiling and reduce the number of games the club is relying on magic, GM Jerry Dipoto has to do just that to his lineup. Today, let’s take a look at the possibilities, but let me say this before we dive into it all: I think just about anything short of elite contracts — long-term, $200 million-plus deals — is in play, including good free agents and significant trades that cost young talent. Also, there are no untouchables. Not on the 26-man roster, not down on the farm. Having said that, it’s highly, highly unlikely Dipoto ends up moving top prospect Julio Rodriguez, or even right-hander George Kirby, the club’s top pitching prospect in over 15 years. I believe anything else is on the table, even if unlikely to come to fruition. Let’s get started. First off, the club isn’t really set at any one position on the field. It may seems like first base is all taken care of with Ty France and perhaps eventually Evan White, but there’s flexibility there, too. It may seem like the outfield is all set and even soon-to-be crowded, but there are question marks all over the position group, including Mitch Haniger‘s defense, Kyle Lewis‘ bat and ability to stay healthy, as well as the development of Jarred Kelenic, and bench depth. Abraham Toro may be the starting third baseman next season. He may be the starter at second. He also could be a regular in the lineup as an everyday-type multi-position player in the mold of Marwin Gonzalez. Keep that in mind. The club obviously needs more production from the infield, though, and I feel like some fans are looking at Toro’s final 2021 numbers and thinking “we need better than this.” While that’s true, it’s a mistake to assume that’s just what Toro is. He’s barely 25 and this season was his first extended shot at big-league pitching. There are a lot of traits he’s displayed that suggest above-average offensive output is in his future. Just like we all know Kelenic has more to offer than his grossly sub par 2021 triple-slash, the same is true for Toro. The club also is not set at catcher, where Tom Murphy is solid yet unspectacular defensively and struggles to produce with the bat, and Cal Raleigh is just getting his feet wet in the majors. Luis Torrens appears set to be treated more like a bat than a potential oft-option behind the dish, so, this position is not set and settled for 2022. Trading Murphy as a tertiary piece in a trade package and adding a more established veteran, or simply pairing a new-addition veteran with Murphy and allowing Raleigh to start 2022 in Triple-A should absolutely be on the table, and I’ll address that below. One more note: There will be names not mentioned that make sense. Again, just about everything is plausible. The combination of potential offensive acquisitions spans as wide as ever for the Mariners. Free agents, trades, and development will all be part of the club’s improvement at the plate in 2022. We just don’t know exactly how that acquisition pie will be sliced. Here we go: Free Agents There’s going to be chatter about the shortstop market until they all sign, but unless one of them wants to go with a one-year, reestablish deal, Seattle shouldn’t engage much. These are likely to land in the elite range, especially Carlos Correa and Corey Seager. Javier Baez is a fine player, but he and Trevor Story both come with a lot more risk for offensive performance than truly elite players should. I’m not sure anyone else, at this stage if things, can be remotely dismissed as a legitimate target for the Mariners. Kris Bryant, 3BThere’s no reason Bryant shouldn’t be on the initial list for Seattle, though there are a lot of reasons to believe this isn’t a target likely to become reality. First, he’s 30 and isn’t going to want to pass on his only shot to make a bundle, so we’re probably talking about at least five guaranteed years, and possibly 6-8. He can handle third base, but also play a passable left or right field, aiding in a club’s flexibility. But Bryant also has a say. Seattle, inherently, has its deterrents, both geographically and as an organization. Sometimes money talks, but clubs have to pick their spots when they simply offer more than everyone else, and Bryant isn’t that player. In fact, that kind of free agent doesn’t exist this winter at all. Marcus Semien, 2B/3BSemien had a huge 2021 and is going to get paid accordingly. Defensively, there’s no reason to believe he can’t still play an average shortstop and if he finds a club that agrees he’s going to price himself out of a lot of places, including Toronto and Seattle. He’s 31, which is a concern on the back end, so anything beyond four years guaranteed is too much of a value squeeze for me, especially considering Semien is selling high and is not likely to ever repeat his 2021 performance. But the lack of market stability — we really don’t know yet how aggressive the market will be; we don’t know how many clubs are going to be willing to spend significant dollars this winter — suggests a chance Semien’s market remains reasonable. We shall see. Nick Castellanos, OFCastellanos is certain to opt out of his deal with the Cincinnati Reds that would pay him $16 million in 2022. He’ll be 30 before the start of the ’22 season and isn’t a very good glove, but the bat is big and plays in any ballpark. I’d be surprised if he has to settle for fewer than four years and $100 million. Michael Conforto, OFConforto has typically hit when healthy, though 2021 has been uneven for him. He’s not yet 29, is a Redmond High School product, and there is room for outfielders, plural, on the Mariners’ roster. Conforto may see an opportunity to come home on a one-year deal, have big season and head back out on the market for a longer-term contract next winter. This is one of my favorite potential targets. J.D. Martinez, Nelson Cruz, Jorge Soler, DHAll three can hit and the first two have long track records. Adding a pure DH to the roster is a bit messy for Seattle with France and Mitch Haniger possibly warranting time there, depending on the makeup of the rest of the roster. Soler can fake it in right field a bit, however, if that becomes important. A DH like one of these three could still fit as one of the final pieces of the offensive puzzle for 2022. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dipoto express interest in Cruz or Soler. Kyle Schwarber, OF/1B/DHSchwarber has been a man without a position his entire career, but while he’s below-average in the outfield, he’s not awful, and he’s starting to learn first base this season with Boston. The fit may appear a little murky at this point, but like the DHs above, there are scenarios where it shakes out a Schwarber fit with the Mariners. He’s the kind of bat they really like, so if they get beyond the defensively stuff he’s certainly a hitter to track this offseason. Starling Marte, CFMarte had a very good 2021, but isn’t the free agent some seem to think he is. He’s 33 with declining centerfield defense, and anything more than two years guaranteed feels like an unnecessary risk. But the bat, and the defense, may play well enough to warrant genuine interest on a short-term basis. Personally, I feel like Marte will be overpaid in years and AAV. Chris Taylor, 2BTaylor, now 31, has thrived in the Dodgers’ lineup and plays average or better defense at multiple positions, including left field, second base, and third base, and is playable at shortstop and center field, at least for now. I question how well the bat plays moving forward, and how different he might be pitched if not surrounded by stars, so outside of a similar situation I think Taylor is going to be overrated and overpaid. Having said that, he fits, in theory, because there is hitting ability there, and his defensive versatility is highly valuable. Mark Canha, OFCanha had a down 2021 and isn’t a middle of the order bat, but if he’s the low-hanging fruit to help solidify the roster amidst more significant acquisitions, he could be a very good fit on a one-year deal, perhaps keeping the seat warm for a younger bat. Perhaps the key here is Canha’s ability to play some center field, even though it’s not ideal he’s the everyday answer there. Yan Gomes, Christian Vazquez CGomes is a solid-average defender with some punch in his bat — .252/.301/.421 in 2021 — and at 34 is likely headed for a short-term deal this winter. Vazquez is likely to stay in Boston, but he’s an ideal timeshare backstop likely available on a short-term contract. He’s one year off a 115 wRC+ season and two years removed from a 23-HR campaign. Tommy Pham, OFPham, 34 by the time next season starts, had a strange but still productive 2021, and if used as a fourth outfielder still brings good value on a one-year contract. He’s fringe-average defensively, but has average pop, draws walks, and still runs fairly well. He makes contact at an above-average rate, suggesting a chance to bounce back from hitting .229. If Pham, or someone like him, is replacing Dylan Moore, for example, they’re doing it right.Brad Miller, 1B/3B/OFMiller, another former Mariners draftee on the list, has produced 127, 120 and 105 wRC+ marks the past three seasons, despite ordinary batting averages. He has good power from the left side, draws walks, and plays a passable second base and third base, has experience at first base where he’s at least average, and is passable in short stints in left or right field. Freddy Galvis, UTGalvis is a very good utility infielder with defense that fits at second, short, and third, and there’s a little punch in the bat from both sides of the plate. He’d be an average security blanket for the infield spots, led by defense and his ability to make consistent contact at the plate. Jonathan Villar, UTVillar had borderline starter numbers in 2021, but should not be paid like one. Let me repeat: Villar should not be paid like starting-caliber player. The 30-year-old warrants a one-year, stop-gap contract that also fits into utility range, since ideally your regulars are all better hitters with longer futures in the organization. Villar, however, is very interest for Seattle, who may not find two significant upgrades on the infield and could instead bring in one major infield upgrade plus a one-year insurance policy to Toro’s development, knowing Villar can play a satisfactory second, short, and third, and has shown some promise in occasional stints in the outfield over the years. How his market develops will be very interesting after he posted a 105 wRC+ for the Mets this season. Avisail Garcia, OFOne of the more underrated free agents is Garcia, who at 30 just batted .262/.330/.490 with 29 homers for the Milwaukee Brewers, and plays a very solid right field. If Seattle gets to point where moving Haniger to DH — or to another team — becomes a realistic possibility — Garcia could slide into RF, and then move to DH once Rodriguez is ready to take over for the long haul. I’m curious to see where Garcia’s market lands, too. He’s been solid, but it seems like it’s possible he may not be able to do better than two or three years. AJ Pollock, LF — Los Angeles DodgersPollock may opt out of the final two years and $21 million of his deal with the Dodgers, and if he does, toss him into the free agent pile. In fact, it might surprise many if he doesn’t opt out, considering it comes with a $5 million buyout and the market likely gets him the $16 million difference, and then some. He’s not a center field option except in a pinch, but he’s fine in left, and went 131 and 137 wRC+ the last two seasons. He hits lefties better than righties, but produced in 2021 against both. If he’s 2/3 of a timeshare, Pollock makes tons of sense for a contender that needs outfield help, Seattle included. If he doesn’t opt out, there’s a chance the Dodgers dangle him in trade and with a palatable contract there likely will be a taker or two. As long as he’s not the best bat added to the mix, Pollock could make some sense for Seattle in the big picture. Michael A. Taylor, CFThe Mariners need help in center field to improve the defense and perhaps cover for the unavailability of Kyle Lewis (knee), who either may not be able to play center regularly, at all, or the club may choose to make the ask of Lewis a little less-demanding by using him less in the field at all and giving him some DH time. In any case, Taylor, a terrific defender, makes a lot of sense. His overall numbers at the plate aren’t inspiring — .244/.297/.356, 77 wRC+ — but he’s a part-time player who was overexposed by the Royals. Taylor has hit lefties in his career toa .261/.311/.421 clip, and this past season popped a .295/.344/.424 sash against them (110 wRC+). OTHERS: Andrew McCutchen, OF; Eddie Rosario, OF; Adam Duvall, OF; Kevin Pillar, OF; Manny Pina, C, plus unexpected option declines. Trades Seattle isn’t going to stop making sensible trades, including those that appear aggressive in nature, as they move closer toward consistent contention than they have experienced in two decades. It’s plausible the club makes an assertive prospect-for-big-leaguer move this winter that includes one of the club’s better young talents. The farm system is not only in good shape, but it’s growing in depth at a rapid pace, and I’ll reiterate my belief it hasn’t peaked, which means more high-end talent is on its way. Proven plus-level talent costs big, just ask the Blue Jays, who traded two top 40 prospects for eight months of Jose Berrios this past summer, and if the Mariners want to take a significant next step the free-agent route can’t stand alone. Look around. How were the Dodgers built? Lots of homegrown, but they traded for Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Max Scherzer. The Astros traded for Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. The Red Sox traded for Chris Sale, and paid dearly in the form of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. The White Sox traded a 24-year-old starting second baseman for Craig Kimbrel. And we all know what the Padres have given up to land Blake Snell, Austin Nola, among others. I have spent  a lot of time the past 20 years helping demonstrate the value of prospects to fans of the Seattle Mariners, and I stand by every word. But I also have reminded everyone who’d listen that trades aren’t about what you give up, it’s about what you get in return. Trading top prospects is a tough decision, and like every other move made in baseball, it’s a wager. There are no guarantees. Dipoto, Justin Hollander and the rest of the baseball folks in the organization are charged with taking the best shots available, and at the right time. Sometimes big trades hurt a bit. Be prepared. That kind of trade is on the table this winter. Jose Ramirez, 3B — Cleveland GuardiansRamirez is a bit of a pipe dream unless and until Cleveland gives indications they’re looking to retool. He’s just now 29, a plus defender at third and a well above-average bat that has toyed with MVP-caliber production since 2017. But Ramirez is signed to a team-friendly deal that extends through the 2023 season, so Cleveland can make another go of it to start 2022, and consider moving Ramirez over the summer. They did make a mistake with Francisco Lindor in hanging onto him too long before trading him, but if Cleveland wants to actually spend big to retain Ramirez there’s no need to trade him at all, but when was the last time that franchise paid big for anyone? And if they’re not going to pay him the $30-40 million a year for 5-plus seasons he’s worth, trading him now makes a lot more sense to waiting for next winter when the club is backed into a corner and gets pennies on the dollar —  just like they did with Lindor. The trade cost would be significant for two years of Ramirez, and there certainly would be numerous clubs interested, namely the Yankees, Dodgers, Blue Jays (especially if they don’t re-up with Semien), Red Sox, Braves, Reds, Phillies, Mets, Tigers, and, yes, the Mariners. Jorge Polanco, Luiz Arraez, 2B — Minnesota TwinsAfter the Twins failed to extend centerfielder Byron Buxton this past summer and traded ace Jose Berrios to Toronto, it’s fair to wonder if Buxton is next on the move, and if Polanco and/or Arraez might be right behind him. Arraez has a second-base bat, bringing a career .313/.374/.403 slash into the offseason. He’s around average defensively and doesn’t make an impact with his legs. His lack of power makes him more of a secondary-level target for a club like Seattle looking for major upgrades, and it’s fair to wonder if Arraez makes any sense at all with Abraham Toro in the fold, despite being a proven bat versus Toro’s raw status. Polanco, however, is a different animal. He’s one of the more underrated hitters in baseball after posting his second wRC+ of 120 or better in each of the last two full seasons. Polanco can manage at shortstop but is a better fit at second and has been solid-average there in 1,000 innings — most of that this past season. But we may be seeing the start of the switch hitter’s prime at the plate, which may warrant a move to third base, too, allowing for more flexibility for a potentially-acquiring club. He’s 28, has 59 homers over his last 1400 at-bats, and has never struck out more the 18.6% rate he posted in 2018, despite a more aggressive approach that has undoubtedly played a role in the growth of his power. Polanco is an above-average runner, and equally dangerous from both sides of the plate. Josh Donaldson, 3B — Minnesota TwinsDonaldson will be 36 this winter, but is still productive, even if he’s not the star bat he once was. At his age, however, and with his history, injuries are a concern, as is the $50 million guaranteed he’s owed through the 2023 season. Any trade out of Minnesota is bound to come with cash, or be a swap of contracts. I present Yusei Kikuchi, who may exercise his $13 million player option. Just a passing thought. There are all kinds of possibilities for the Twins and Mariners to connect on trades. Arraez and Donaldson? Polanco? Polanco and Donaldson? Just one of them? I don’t, however, love the idea of Buxton, in case you’re wondering, because high-profile players with one year remaining tend to cost 25-40% more than that one year is worth. Eugenio Suarez, 3B — Cincinnati RedsSuarez had a bad year at the plate — .198/.286/.428 — but still hit 31 homers and was a monster in September/October — .370/.460/.808, 220 wRC+. He’s fringe-average defensively at third — though he spent nearly 300 innings at shortstop this season. He’s 30, signed through 2024 with a club option for 2025 that if exercised would pay him $48 million over the next four seasons. A bargain, as long as Suarez gets most of his swagger back. He was a four-win player three straight seasons prior to the weirdness that was 2020. A pair of scouts believe Suarez’s conditioning may be part of the problem, but there are lots of reasons to believe he can get back the majority of his mojo, including barrel rate, hard-hit rate, a 100-point drop in batting average on balls in play. Considering there are other players on the roster Seattle might have interest in this winter (stay tuned), Suarez may come up in talks. Brandon Lowe, 2B/3B — Tampa Bay RaysConsidering all the infield talent in the Rays’ system and how the club operates with veterans, Lowe could be available this winter. At 27, he’s coming off a career year that resulted in a .247/.340/.523, 39 homer season. He’s fringy defensively at second, and with the bat exploding I wonder if third base is at all an option, despite an average arm. He’ll swing and miss (27% in 2021), but he’ll also walk (11.1%), and his contract carries him through 2024 at $18 million total, with two club options worth a total of $22 million for 2025-26. If the Rays are willing to discuss Lowe, Seattle should be interested, especially if they think he can handle third base on top of second, giving them even more alignment options with their bats. Bryan Reynolds, OF — Pittsburgh Pirates Reynolds may be as sought after as any player on the trade market this winter if the Pirates make him available. He’s coming off a 142 wRC+ season at age 26, and will not qualify for free agency until after the 2025 season. The Pirates absolutely should start adding around Reynolds, a switch-hitting outfielder some believe could win a batting title in his prime. But who knows what the Pirates will try to do, if anything, so Reynolds remains a topic of trade conversation. Defensively, Reynolds is passable in center for now but belongs in left thanks to a below-average throwing arm and range. If Pittsburgh decides to talk trade with Reynolds, it’s not going to be cheap, despite the fact he’s not a long-term centerfielder. As I stated above, just about anything is on the table, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone how creative and sometimes off-the-radar this club goes on a regular basis. So when Dipoto and friends do just that, don’t fret. They’ve proven they know what they’re doing.Go!

Mitch Haniger Mariners

Most baseball observers, including me, thought the rebuilding Seattle Mariners would finish 2021 with a losing record. Guess what? We were wrong. I mean really wrong. Seattle remained in wild card contention until game-162 finishing the season with a 90-72 record. By exceeding everyone’s expectations except their own, this fun club created a positive vibe not experienced by its fan base for nearly 20 years. Having said that, there are reasons for concern regarding the sustainability of the Mariners’ surprising success. If it appears I am trying to remove the shine from a fun season, that is not my intent. The Mariners had a tremendous year thanks to a galvanized group of players with unwavering belief in themselves. But what is the point of taking a victory lap when the ultimate prize of a World Series title remains so far out of reach? To remain on the path to championship glory, the Mariners must confront their deficiencies. No area on the team’s roster was more deficient than run production. Brother, Can Ya Spare A Run? Anyone watching the Mariners on a regular basis is familiar with the team’s struggles to plate runs on a consistent basis. The month of May was particularly rough when Seattle was no-hit twice and scored an AL-worst 96 runs in 28 contests. The lineup rebounded with 125 runs in June, although generating offense remained a challenge for the rest of the season. By the numbers, Seattle’s run production ranked near the bottom of MLB in several categories. Perhaps most unsettling for Mariners fans moving forward, this year’s production was eerily similar to 2020 levels. A stat worthy of further scrutiny is on-base percentage (OBP), which ranked 28th in MLB. Only the Marlins and Rangers were less proficient at reaching base than the Mariners. Think about that for a moment. All but one of 15 NL teams that regularly allow pitchers to hit were more proficient at getting men on base than a Seattle lineup routinely using a designated hitter. To that point, the team’s broadcasts often highlighted the Mariners’ success with runners in scoring position (RISP). It is true that Seattle hitters were top-10 in AVG and OPS with RISP. But only 23.6% of the team’s plate appearances occurred with RISP, which was 28th worst in the majors. Essentially, the lineup did not create enough run scoring opportunities to flourish. So, what was the problem? How many of you remember Jacob Nottingham? Too Short For Comfort Nottingham’s stint with the Mariners was brief, but unique. The team claimed him off waivers from the Brewers on April 28 only to have Milwaukee purchase his contract four days later. On May 20, Seattle claimed the 26-year-old off waivers again. This time, he played in 10 games, including eight starts at first base and designated hitter before the Mariners designated him for assignment. Overall, Nottingham had 31 plate appearances with Seattle tallying one home run with a .111 AVG and 30 OPS+. In the big scheme of things, this does not seem like a big deal for a club with 6,000-plus plate appearance this year. But it was. The 2021 Mariners had too many Jacob Nottinghams. Well-below average run producers, who weighed down the lineup. The totality of their ineffectiveness made it difficult for the team to generate multi-run innings or extend rallies. For the purpose of our conversation, a well-below average run producers had an OPS+ below 90. 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. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average. Other well-below average Mariner hitters included Dillon Thomas, Eric Campbell, Braden Bishop, Kevin Padlo, and Jack Mayfield. They, along with Nottingham, combined for 102 plate appearances this year – just two less than Evan White. Mariners With A Sub-90 OPS+Jake BauersBraden BishopEric CampbellJose GodoySam HaggertyJarred KelenicShed LongJose MarmolejosJack MayfieldDylan MooreTom MurphyJacob NottinghamKevin PadloCal RaleighDillon ThomasTaylor TrammellDonovan WaltonEvan White All told, the Mariners used 18 non-pitchers possessing an OPS+ under 90, which led the AL. Some of these players were temps like the names previously mentioned. But Taylor Trammell and Jake Bauers had 178 and 202 plate appearances, respectively. Furthermore, Jarred Kelenic, Dylan Moore, and Tom Murphy each topped 300. In the end, these 18 hitters accounted for 37.4% of Seattle’s total plate appearances this season. That is a staggering amount. Aiming High While every roster has offensively-challenged players, the best teams do not provide as many opportunities to these type of hitters as the Mariners did in 2021. To demonstrate this point, I compared Seattle to the three AL division winners – the Astros, Rays, and White Sox. If you are wondering why the comparison of the Mariners to the three AL division winners, the answer is simple. This is the level of success the organization craves. Forget about the volatility of a Wild Card game. Beginning the postseason in the Division Series significantly improves the likelihood of reaching the World Series. So, how exactly did the 18 Mariners with a sub-90 OPS+ influence the team’s run production effort? The easiest way to illustrate the impact these players had is to do a side-by-side comparison with the eight Mariners above our 90 OPS+ threshold – J.P. Crawford, Ty France, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Kyle Lewis, Luis Torrens, Jake Fraley, and Abraham Toro. It turns out that our “Bad 18” placed a significant drag on the offense compared to their productive teammates. Moreover, their combined production fell far below the league standards for conventional stats like AVG, OBP, and SLG. To be a serious contender in 2022 and beyond, the Mariners must find ways to minimize the number of ineffective hitters eating up plate appearances. President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto and his staff will likely adjust course in the offseason to upgrade the offense. That said, the answers to questions regarding a long-time Mariner and several key youngsters will affect the front office’s approach towards lengthening the lineup. Questions, Questions It seems unlikely Seager remains with the only club he’s known. If the North Carolina product and the Mariners do part ways as expected, the team will have to fill the power void created by Seager’s departure. During the past five full seasons, not counting 2020, he averaged 31 doubles, 27 home runs, and a .450 SLG. That’s a lot of pop to replace. Not having Lewis for most of 2021 certainly hurt Seattle’s run production effort. The 2020 AL Rookie of the Year was lost for the season on May 31 due to knee surgery. Considering the Mercer alum suffered a major injury to the same knee and needed several years to regain his form, it is reasonable to wonder whether he will be ready for the start of the 2022 campaign. After a tumultuous start to his MLB career in May-June, Kelenic enjoyed a September surge that helped propel the Mariners into contention. Still, the 22-year-old must demonstrate he can sustain his recent success over a full season. The team is probably counting on him to do so, which is understandable considering his prospect pedigree. That said, prolonged bouts of ineffectiveness from the Wisconsin native could significantly hinder run production in 2022. Catching prospect Cal Raleigh also encountered troubles at the plate. Considering the relatively small sample size of his 2021 season, the 24-year-old’s numbers have little bearing on his long-term outlook. However, caution is advisable regarding how much the switch-hitter may contribute with his bat next year. Raising The Floor Realistically, Crawford, Haniger, and France provide the start of a foundation. Kelenic likely continues the growth he demonstrated late this season, which is a good thing. Furthermore, Raleigh figures to be the everyday catcher, while Toro probably gets a long look at whatever infield position the team settles on. After that, Dipoto and company could go in many directions to shore up the roster. Regardless of the strategy employed by the front office, the end result must raise the floor of the offense well above the 2021 version. If the Mariners experience another season with nearly 40% of its plate appearances going to unproductive hitters, the organization will not take the next step on its journey towards winning the Fall Classic. Instead, the longest active postseason drought in North America will reach its 21st year and essentially erase all the goodwill the current club cultivated. That is an outcome nobody wants to see become reality. Not Dipoto and certainly not a Mariners fan base that chose to believe when no one else did in 2021. My Oh My…Go!

If the Seattle Mariners fall short of the postseason, which is a distinct possibility, there will be spirited debate within the team’s fan base over the success of the Mariners’ 2021 season. A topic likely to generate much less deliberation is the identity of the team’s best hitter. Most fans will agree Ty France has earned that distinction. But what if France could eventually become more for the Mariners? Ty France, future MVP? At this point, some of you are probably thinking that I’ve lost all sense of reality. Undoubtedly a result of too many statistic-themed tweets by me over a long baseball season. Yes, France ascending to an MVP-caliber performer may seem like a far-fetched idea. After all, the San Diego State alum’s production numbers from his brief career are nice. But they don’t necessarily suggest greatness. Being the most productive bat for the offensively-challenged Mariners makes France extremely valuable to his team, not MVP-worthy in 2021. But we’re talking about the future. Could the 27-year-old eventually be an MVP candidate? Obviously, we can’t predict the future. So, I decided to have fun with my question by seeking out players with similar numbers to France’s. Maybe I’d discover a few stars or even an MVP. It turns out the search identified several notable names. I even stumbled over a comparison that might make the heads of some Seattle fans explode. Remember Mariners faithful, this is an exercise in fun. We’re not trying to actually trying to predict France’s trajectory or label him better than any of the names we’re about to discuss. As illustrated in the preceding table, France has played in 245 games since debuting with the Padres in 2019. He has hit 27 home runs and 44 doubles with a .278/.347/.437 slash-line, and a 117 OPS+. With this in mind, I established a search criterion of right-handed hitters from ages 23 to 27 with 200-300 career games played in their first three seasons. Performance-wise, the emphasis was on hitters with an OPS+ between 110 and 130. 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. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average. Okay, here is the initial wave of names, sorted by OPS+. Please note, this list isn’t all inclusive – just a fun sample. As you review the table, bear in mind the number of games and plate appearances for each player can vary greatly. Our roster includes two active players – Lourdes Gurriel Jr. of the Blue Jays and Ramón Laureano of the A’s. Both began this season as key contributors to their respective clubs. It’s important to note that Laureano is currently serving an 80-game suspension for PED use. Long-time A’s catcher Terry Steinbach played 14 MLB seasons and was a three-time All Star. He even appeared on an MVP ballot in his last season with Oakland in 1996. Just to be clear, the Minnesotan finished 21 of 21 in voting. Chris Shelton delivered good production during his first three campaigns with the Tigers. After the 2006 season, Detroit dealt the former Utah Ute to the Rangers. He’d spend 2007 in the minors before playing with Texas in 2008. Shelton’s big-league career came to a close the following season with the Mariners at the age of 29. Infielder John Valentin spent 10 of his 11 seasons with the Red Sox. The Mineola, New York native’s best season was 1995 when he earned the only Silver Slugger Award of his career and finished ninth in AL MVP voting with Boston. Joe Charboneau is an interesting story. He debuted with Cleveland in 1980 and was AL Rookie of the Year after hitting 23 home runs and slashing .289/.358/.488 in 131 games. Unfortunately, the right-handed hitting outfielder dealt with a back injury prior to his sophomore campaign and never regained his productive form. Charboneau was out of the majors after just three seasons. The final player in our initial salvo hails from a baseball family – Moises Alou. Although Alou would eventually play 17 seasons, his career started unevenly. He debuted with the Pirates in 1990 and was subsequently traded to the Expos that same season. Then, his 1991 was lost to injury. A year later, Alou finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting to Eric Karros of the Dodgers. His father Felipe Alou would also become manager of Montreal that year. The younger Alou would win earn two Silver Sluggers and be an MVP finalist twice, finishing third in voting in 1994 and 1998. Of the players we’ve discussed thus far, Alou came closest to winning an MVP award. Having said that, two players from my search actually took home the hardware. Let’s discuss. An MVP From Decades Ago Before France was born, a player posted similar numbers to the Mariners’ current first baseman before eventually earning NL MVP with the Giants in 1989. His name is Kevin Mitchell. Note: Twenty-two plate appearances from Mitchell’s age-22 season (1984) are included even though they fell outside of the ages 23 to 27 criteria. This didn’t noticeably alter the preceding numbers. When Mitchell’s career began in earnest with the 1986 World Series champion Mets, he patrolled both corner infield spots, shortstop, and also spent time in the outfield. Despite not having a full-time position, the native of San Diego, California finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Todd Worrell and runner-up Robby Thompson. A Contemporary MVP Okay, I found a player from over three decades ago with similar numbers to France’s. Some of you may prefer someone who’s played since the internet became a thing. Fine, I have a name for you – Josh Donaldson, 2015 AL MVP. Donaldson debuted with the A’s in 2010. However, he’d spend all of 2011 and part of 2012 in the minors before sticking for good. By the end of the 2013 campaign, the Auburn alum was a top-5 finisher in MVP voting. Two years later, his first with the Blue Jays, he was AL MVP. A Hall of Famer? Alright Mariners fans, it’s brain detonation time. Out of curiosity, I compared France to the young career of Edgar Martinez. Since Edgar didn’t play 100 games in a season until his fourth year in the majors, I bent the rules to improve the comp’s fun differential. As a result, the following contrasts France’s first three campaigns to the Hall of Famer’s first four. Don’t stare too hard at the double and home run tallies since France has 71 more plate appearances than Martinez did. But each player’s OPS+ is almost identical, which suggests similar production. Does this mean we should anticipate a Ty France statue adjacent to monuments to Edgar, Ken Griffey Jr., and Ichiro outside T-Mobile Park in about 20 years? No. This conversation has been a fun diversion, not thoughtful analysis. But, Seriously Realistically, France’s career has a bright outlook. It’s true Charboneau and Shelton struggled to repeat their early success. But the remaining players we discussed enjoyed long MLB careers. Barring injury, the 34th round pick of the Padres in the 2015 draft should remain a productive hitter for well over a decade. Who knows? Maybe France eventually elevates his game to an MVP-level in the future. How cool would that be? Even if France doesn’t soar to the same heights as Mitchell and Donaldson (or Edgar), what we’ve seen from him in 2021 suggests he’s now a foundational player for the Mariners. Yes. I suspect the best is yet to come for Ty France. And hopefully, the Mariners too. My Oh My…Go!

Marco Gonzales Mariners

Although the odds don’t favor the Seattle Mariners, the team remains in the AL Wild Card race with about three weeks left in the regular season. Perhaps it’s a bit premature to have this conversation. But I thought it’d be fun to discuss the players on Seattle’s current roster, who’ve previously competed in the playoffs. So, how many Mariners actually have postseason experience? The answer is not many. Just six Mariners know what’s it like to appear in a playoff game. Nearly all are pitchers; only one was on the club’s roster at the beginning of the season. Marco Gonzales Seattle’s Opening Day starter made six postseason relief appearances as a rookie for the Cardinals in 2014. Gonzales initially blanked the Dodgers in three games during the NLDS and did the same in his first two confrontations with the Giants in the NLCS. Unfortunately, San Francisco plated three runs off the Gonzaga product in Game 4. If the Mariners somehow pull off the unexpected this year, Gonzales would be a prime candidate along with Chris Flexen to start the AL Wild Card game or Game 1 of an ALDS series. Tyler Anderson Anderson allowed two runs during an inning of relief for the Rockies in the 2017 NL Wild Card game against Arizona. A year later, he enjoyed a much better showing in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Brewers. The former Oregon Duck surrendered just one run in a six-inning effort, although the Brew Crew ultimately prevailed with a 4-0 victory over Colorado. Based on Anderson’s superb performance since joining the Mariners in late-July, he’s already cemented a postseason rotation spot for Seattle manager Scott Servais. Abraham Toro The lone position player on our list was on the Astros’ postseason roster last year. That said, Toro had just one plate appearance in the ALCS against the Rays. The Canadian drew a walk as a pinch hitter for catcher Martin Maldonado. Since the Mariners acquired Toro from the Astros on July 27, he’s been the team’s everyday second baseman and delivered at the plate. The switch-hitter would be a core contributor in Servais’ postseason lineups. Joe Smith It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that the oldest player on the Mariners’ roster boasts a well-rounded postseason résumé. Since 2013, Smith has appeared in 18 playoff games with the Indians, Angels, and Astros. Overall, the 37-year-old has performed well with a 0.786 WHIP in 14 innings. Although the side-arming Smith wouldn’t be a late-inning option for the Mariners, he projects to be a valuable member of any potential Seattle postseason bullpen. Diego Castillo After pitching for the Rays in the 2019 and 2020 postseasons, including last year’s World Series, Castillo is a proven commodity in high-leverage situations. The native of the Dominican Republic has allowed a total of three runs in 14 playoff appearances. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Castillo would be a top option for Servais in late-inning situations. Sean Doolittle Doolittle has made 20 playoff appearances with Oakland and Washington dating back to 2012. His shining moment came in the 2019 Fall Classic when he registered a save and didn’t allow a run in three relief appearances for the World Series champion Nationals against the Astros. Considering his time with Seattle is a small sample, Doolittle may have to demonstrate he deserves a spot on a postseason roster over the next three weeks. Since joining the team on August 27, opponents are batting .375 against the Virginia alum in five appearances. Eye On October If the Mariners happen to dramatically grab a Wild Card berth this year, it’s likely their opponent will possess far more postseason experience than the upstarts from the Pacific Northwest. That said, teams can succeed in October without a playoff-tested roster. The 2014 Royals reached the World Series despite having just four players who had previously appeared in the postseason – Wade Davis, Omar Infante, Jayson Nix, and James Shields. In the end, what really matters is having a roster with the talent to compete when the lights are brightest in October. Does this description apply to the 2021 Mariners? We won’t know for a few more weeks. In the interim, I suggest enjoying the ride. Getting to watch the hometown team play relevant baseball games in September is a treat worth savoring. It’s certainly better than the alternative. My Oh My…Go!

I’ve noticed something in particular this season down on the farm for the Seattle Mariners. Before players are promoted, they’ve performed at a high level for an extended period of time. While that may not sound especially notable, it is in this context: Previous regimes promoted players despite showing at the lower level they had a ways to go. Matt Tuiasosopo and Mike Zunino are two that stand out among a long list. And I don’t just mean statistically. There are times the numbers may not look great but the player has shown he’s ready for more. Conversely, there are times the numbers, at least some of them, look good, yet others don’t and the aggressive developmental approach backfires. The current player development formula in Seattle seems to cover all the bases, and errs on the cautious side, if anything, despite the fact we’ve seen young-for-the-level players promoted. Among the many oddities in the minors that may confuse fans when looking at numbers comes with the difference in hitting approaches down in rookie ball or even some in Low-A, versus the higher levels. Kids in the lowest levels tend to struggle versus offspeed stuff so they don’t swing at it much, hoping it’s out of the zone. Pitchers, also of the lesser-experienced variety, often don’t command their offspeed stuff as well, so the result often is a pitcher with lackluster overall statistics, despite acceptable or even very strong execution. And for pitcher who do locate well, they throw a lot of breaking balls out of the zone on purpose, because that’s what you do to get swings and misses, but instead end up falling behind in counts or allowing hitters back into them, despite executing perfectly. In High-A or Double-A, hitters can handle more of the offspeed stuff, and know if they just take those pitches pitchers will dominate them. Why does this matter? Statistics don’t tell the development story many think they do. Julio Rodriguez, OF Rodriguez’s season has included two breaks to play for his home country in the Olympics, but there is nothing about his performance to suggest he’s been distracted. He’s not hitting for a ton of power, but that appears to be more of a sign of maturity than anything else; he’s not being given a lot to hit, and it taking the singles and walks and not trying to pull or lift everything. Rodriguez has clearly been focused on swinging at strikes and hitting the ball hard without too much specific intent. The result has been a lot of hard-hit balls from line to line, and a hit-over-power game plan that’s working. The long balls will come more naturally, and that’s an offensive advantage Rodriguez has always had over everyone else in the system. He has his own mechanical tweaks to make, however, which is why it’s not surprising at all the Mariners didn’t ship their top prospect to Triple-A or even the big leagues. He’s still an above-average runner who gets out of the box quickly, especially for a bigger player with 70 raw power. He’s also still just 20 years of age, suggesting as he continues to fill out physically, he’ll lose a half step or so and land in the average range in terms of foot speed, and outfield range. He’s shown very good baserunning instincts, including an ability to take advantage of minor league batteries. The arm is plus to plus-plus, and Rodriguez has cleaned up a lot of loose ends — hitting the cutoff man, throwing to the right base, not taking chances in key situations, et al — since his days in the DSL. In August, Rodriguez played just 15 games for Double-A Arkansas, but batted .407/.529/.519. He walked 13 times and struck out on just six occasions in nearly 70 plate appearances. He’s among the best prospects in baseball and on a journey that certainly lands him in the majors sometime in 2022. The Franchise is coming, folks. George Kirby, RHP Kirby has been outstanding in 2021, and while his August in Arkansas consisted of three shorter starts (by design), one of them turning up lame (4 ER, 3 BB, 1 IP), I’ll reiterate my comments on Twitter from last month: Kirby is a better pitching prospect right now than Logan Gilbert ever was, and Gilbert was pretty good and has bright future ahead of him. Why? Kirby is 94-98 every time out and always touches the upper range, and has two legit breaking balls led by a plus slider. His changeup is already useful and flashes average, and his general control is plus. Despite not being quite the phenom prospect King Felix was, Kirby is in Felix territory in one aspect: From here on out it’s really as simple as watering him and watching him grow. He’s on the path. For the season, Kirby has made 13 starts and covered 57 innings. He’s allowed 46 hits, walked 12 batters and struck out 70. He’s RP1 in the system right now, carrying No. 2 upside and a high mid-rotation floor, likely seeing the majors sometime next season and sticking in 2023. Noelvi Marte, SS I’m still firmly on the ‘3B’ side of Marte’s ultimate defensive landing spot, but one significant piece of info I’m taking from his defensive development is the simple fact he worked very hard at it and got a lot better. Playing on the dirt, whether it be at third or short, requires a lot of the same skills; lateral movement, arm strength and accuracy, quick release, clean transfers, throwing off balance. Showing he can do a lot of that and eliminate mistakes is enormous. Marte had a tough July at the plate — .219/.270/.316 — but rebounded in August, batting .287/.412/.553 with 18 walks and 19 strikeouts in 115 PAs. For the season he’s at .271/.368/.462, and will not turn 20 years of age until October 16. He’ll get a few weeks in Everett to complete his season and likely start there next April. His timeline hasn’t necessarily changed as a result of his performance this season, mostly because it was difficult to place one on him after no 2020 and only seeing the stat line from the DSL in 2019. He’s acclimated very well and is now getting some Manny Machado comps as he’s grown and filled out, and it’s not as crazy as some might think. The power is legitimate 65 raw, and he’s showing developing tools that allow him to hit with increasing consistency.  The adjustments he made this summer bode well for his future. If you’re an opposing pitcher that’s in or will eventually land in the High-A West league, here’s some advice: Tread carefully. Matt Brash, RHPWe’ve talked a lot about Brash on Baseball Things, and he’s a constant topic on Twitter, and that’s because despite his lack of prototypical size (6-1, 180), and despite the concerns about the delivery, he’s done nothing but dominate all season. In fact, Brash, 23, has been better in eight starts at Double-A Arkansas than in 10 outings for High-A Everett. Since the promotion, he’s logged 44 innings and allowed just eight earned runs on 22 hits. He’s walked 16 — which is a little high — but he’s punched out 69 batters. For the year, Brash has 131 strikeouts in 86.1 innings — 37% of batters faced. He will lose his release point occasionally, explaining the walks and the good-not-great 62% strike rate, but he’s been nearly unhittable at times and has the best present stuff of any arm in the organization, including the big leagues. The fastball is firmly 94-98 mph with run and ride and some deception thanks to his bend and three-quarter arm slot.  His slider is just pure filth with late two-plane break, and it appears he either varies the velo on it or throws an actual curveball that he can throw for strikes, too. His changeup is inconsistent, but far from a project pitch; in his August 19 outing when he no-hit Frisco for 6.1 innings and fanned 11 in seven frames, he threw a handful of projectable changeups with some arm side run and sink, and let me explain something here: In any role, if Brash is 94-98 with a 65 slider and either an average curveball or changeup, he’s going to beat good lineups. If he has both of the latter pair, he’s going to destroy them. Brash made four starts in August, allowing three earned runs in 23.1 innings. He walked nine and struck out 37. He’ll need to clean up the spotty control, but the stuff is flat out wicked and rivals that of anyone else in all of the minors. If he can find a way to stay in the rotation, I don’t know what the right ceiling projection is, but I lean No. 1. There’s just more risk here than with some of the other arms in the system, so until he answers those questions he’ll be ranked a little lower than Kirby, Emerson Hancock for me. Brandon Williamson, LHP Williamson has had a very good year and was the first of the arms to move from High-A to Double-A. He’s thrown strikes fairly consistently all season (64% strikes thrown, 32 walks in 87 innings), and his stuff has improved across the board. His difference maker is the fastball, with deception and high spin, he generates swings and misses 91-94 mph. But at times in his amateur and pro career, the left-hander has flashed 95-97 mph heat, and anywhere 94-plus the pitch has been devastating to minor league bats. His slider has proven a real weapon versus lefties this season and he’s shown enough with the changeup to maintain legitimate four-pitch status. His curveball is plus at times, landing firmly in the above-average range, and can be used effectively versus both lefties and righties, and in any count thanks to good command. I don’t see a frontline ceiling unless the velocity ticks up and is consistently 94-plus, but there’s a quality mid-rotation arm here that is still developing from stuff to command, and it’s impossible not to like the foundation he’s built on deception, fastball value, and pitch mix. Williamson was dirty in August, logging 20.2 innings and yielding just three earned runs on eight hits. He posted a 34-9 K/BB ratio in four starts. There certainly is a chance he hits the majors next season, but I don’t think he’s on the fast track, and I don’t think he’s an ideal candidate to transition into the majors through a relief-first path, which theoretically gets arms to the majors quicker, at least in many cases. Connor Phillips, RHP Phillips is a legitimate prospect on the mound being underrated by many in the industry. Kudos to Seattle for seeing the upside on him in last year’s draft and taking the chance he can start or develop into a high-leverage reliever. The raw stuff is undeniable, starting with a fastball into the 95-99 mph range, showing life up in the zone and some run in on right-handed batters. He has two breaking balls, the best of which is a slider that has flashed plus and more typically dwells in the average to above-average range. But it’s projectable and potentially a true strikeout pitch for the right-hander, who pairs the pitch with his four-seamer very well. He added a curveball, a relatively new pitch for him, and it flashes some promise but needs to be sharper, and his changeup remains below average but occasionally looks more than useful for him. There’s a legit chance at a three-pitch mix here, and four isn’t out of the realm of legitimate possibility. What is in question is his control and command. Phillips has issued 44 walks in 72 inning, and the contact data on his stuff strongly suggests throwing more strikes will benefit him greatly, even more than most arms. He’s allowed the least barrels among any pitcher in the Low-A circuit, minimum 50 innings pitched, and just one home run in 322 batters faced. Opponents have slugged just .288 off him this season. He’s a physical arm, listed at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds but looks more like 215, and there’s above-average athleticism, lending confidence he can fine-tune his mechanics and throw more strikes. Starters that can pitch effectively in the zone have an advantage over those that cannot, and Phillips may be one of those thanks to his fastball, both in terms of velocity and movement, and he’s had 14 or more whiffs in a game five times, including 17 in his last outing and 22 back in May. Best part about Phillips’ development is this is just Year 1, and he won’t turn 21 years of age until May. Milkar Perez, 3BPerez, who was just promoted to Low-A Modesto, is a bat-first, fringe-defender listed as a third baseman, but his profile is led by above-average raw power that projects to grow as he does. Thus far he has shown a solid line-drive swing, but he has expanded the zone a little often and his contact rates suffered a bit as a result, but has a track record of avoiding the chase. He’s just 19 — he’s exactly the same age as Marte, down to the day — and hit for average in the rookie league, but 10 doubles and a sub-.400 slugging percentage is all he has to show in the power department. If Perez can’t stick at third base, power is going to have to be a big part of his game or at this stage of his experience I wouldn’t think much of his zero home runs in 145 at-bats. I do wonder if moving to right field is a possibility; He’s not a great athlete but has a terrific arm and if he has issues managing at the hot corner, right would seem like a spot to at least consider, even with a lack of foot speed. Either way he’s a bat that needs to rake pretty big to play regularly, but I’ve seen 10-15 home run projections on him that I think should be ignored. There’s bat speed to back up more than that, he just needs to develop the kind of swing that to get to it and that takes time. Perez’s .313/.430/.391 slash in August was noteworthy, and now we’ll get to see him give the former Cal League a go. Alberto Rodriguez, OFRodriguez, the return for Taijuan Walker last summer from the Toronto Blue Jays, struggled for the first 5-6 weeks of the season, but since June 17 went .343/.400/.547 with 24 doubles, three triples, and eight homers. Lots of barrel and a strikeout rate under 18% over that span, too. No wonder the club thought Everett was where he should end the season. He’s a sturdily-built left-handed stick with above-average raw power and hit tools. He throws pretty well and has average range, but is limited to a corner spot. The Mariners like the bat speed and bat-to-ball skills and so far Rodriguez is rewarding them. He’s 21 in October and has a shot to reach Double-A next summer. He worked to get into better shape after last season and more of that is probably needed if he wants a chance to play everyday. Starlin Aguilar, 3BAguilar has played 35 games down in the Dominican Summer League, looking a lot like Perez, with whom he shared a lot of similarities, both physically and in terms of tools. Aguilar, however, has a raw power advantage, and therefore an upside advantage, too. But there’s as much or risk in his profile because of the lack of full confidence he sticks at third base long-term, hence the chance he’s a bat without a position. But the scouting report also suggests a better-than-Perez chance he hits enough for first base, so while he comes with a little more risk right now, the upside evens out the comparison between the two, which is how I’ve been ranking them. Edryn Rodriguez, 2BRodriguez is not a name that gets much play because he wasn’t one of the bigger signings. But he has been one of the better performance this summer in the DSL. He hit .296/.415/.537 in August and has fared well enough at second base defensively to leave him there and see what happens. He’s not a great athlete but a solid one, and if he has to move to left field it puts more pressure on his bat, but despite his lack of stature — listed at 5-9, 150 pounds, though these sizes are often off 5-15% in weight — he’s finding the barrel a lot and has a chance for average power. Rodriguez is just 18 with hopes to crack the ACL or better next season, thanks to a very strong performance with the bat in 2021. Tyler Driver, RHPDriver, 20, has pitched at three stops this season, mostly in rookie ball after being the club’s 18th-round pick in 2019. He’s a right-hander out of Cary, North Carolina who has worked a ton on adding strength to his 6-foot-2 frame. He’s still listed at 185, but appears to have creeped closer to 200, and after some uneven outings in the rookie league has shown out a few times of late. Perhaps one of the victims of what I discussed in the lede regarding breaking balls and inexperience hitters, Driver’s numbers were uninspiring in Arizona, despite four scoreless multi-inning efforts with clean lines, and more strikeouts than innings pitched. But in a spot start in place of Levi Stoudt in Double-A Arkansas on a day he arrived just hours before game time, Driver put together his best professional start. He went six innings, allowing six hits and an earned run, walking one and striking out seven. His fastball is low 90s, but he mixes in a lot of two-seamers with above-average run and some sink, and a changeup that pairs with it very well. His slider is above-average and works off either of the first two pitches. I’m not sure what Driver is moving forward, but he’s taken the developmental approach to his career, which bodes well for the end-result, and his pitchability and improved stuff suggest a big-league profile of some sort. And Driver, in many circles, is just an org arm, and I get that assessment of him. He’s just betting on himself with work, and the physical tools and pitches are there to outperform that eval. Arms grow on trees in this organization, it seems. NEW: Top 5 It’s the final monthly prospect report of the season, but I thought it’d be a good time to unveil a new part of this piece, which will continue next season. A top 5. It can be anything from Top 5 at a position group, top 5 of a specific tool, top 5 performance, whatever jumps out at me for the month. This month: Top 5 pure relievers in the farm system. By pure reliever I mean an arm either currently pitching in the role that isn’t being developed as a starter, or a recent draftee with heavy expectations a relief role is his future. 5. Luis Curvelo, RHP Curvelo, 20, is into the upper 90s with an average to above-average slider, and has posted 74 strikeouts and 17 walks in 51.1 innings this season, his first in full-season ball.4. Ray Kerr, LHP Kerr is 95-100 mph, and occasionally has hit 102, setting up an above-average slider. He’s athletic, repeats his delivery, and is throwing more strikes than ever since his promotion to Triple-A Tacoma last month. Expect Kerr to be at least a fringe piece of the bullpen conversation in spring training, and one of the first call-ups during the season.3. Yohan Ramirez, RHP Ramirez is still more than 10 innings from prospect graduation, but he may be turning a corner when it comes to harnessing his plus stuff. More strikes, fewer walks, similar strikeout rates, and it’s all adding up to more success in the majors.2. Bryan Woo, RHP Woo, who had UCL surgery and won’t pitch until mid-to-late 2022, has been up to 98 mp with a plus breaker, and projects as a potential back-end bullpen arm. He threw strikes at Cal Poly — 15 walks in his final 45 innings, and just eight in his 28 frames in 2021 — to suggest effective control in short stints.1. Andres Munoz, RHP Velocity is a big part of Munoz’s game. He’s been up to 104 mph and regularly sat 99-101 in his big-league stint before falling to elbow surgery.Go!

Yusei Kukuchi Mariners

The rebuilding Seattle Mariners are flirting with playoff contention in late-August, which was totally unexpected. The odds don’t favor the Mariners. But a late-season rebound by All-Star Yusei Kikuchi is essential to the team having any chance of pulling off a September surprise. Since the Midsummer Classic, Kikuchi hasn’t performed like an All-Star with a 6.46 ERA in eight starts and opponents hitting .298 against him. So, what’s gone wrong with his All-Star season? A lot, recently. Meh, All-Star, And Yikes! Kikuchi’s season can be broken into three distinct phases. The first encompasses his initial four starts, which could be described as “meh.” During this span, he was inconsistent and often hit hard. So much so, some Mariners fans were questioning whether the left-hander would ever become a standout starter for the team. What followed next was the fun phase, an 11-game span that began with a strong outing against the Astros on April 29 and continued through July 1. For just over two months, Kikuchi was among the best pitchers in baseball. This stretch is why he earned his first All-Star selection. That brings us to the current phase – Kikuchi’s nine starts after his July 1 outing. This period has fans saying “yikes,” among other things. It’s also the impetus for this piece – my third about the native of Japan since last season. So, what’s changed since Kikuchi’s best phase of the season? Again, the answer is a lot. Diminished Fastball Velocity Mariners manager Scott Servais has stressed during the season that Kikuchi establishing his four-seam fastball early in games was paramount to his success. Servais’ sentiment resonates once we notice how the 30-year-old’s average four-seam velocity peaked during the All-Star phase of his season. Is Kikuchi’s recent drop in fastball velocity cause for concern? On the surface, the answer may appear to be no. After all, we’re a talking about a decline of 1.6 MPH between April-July and now. Then again, when we look at how often Kikuchi’s fastball has cracked the 95 MPH barrier during the different phases of the season, we discover something worth discussing. The following illustrates how frequently Kikuchi four-seam fastballs were 95 MPH or greater in games. Also included, the regularity that his four-seamers reached or exceeded 95 MPH in the first inning. Remember Servais’ emphasis on flashing a quality fastball early. Why Kikuchi is reaching 95 MPH less often is unclear. But the numbers suggest the effectiveness of his four-seamer has diminished along with its velocity since June. Ironically, he’s thrown the pitch more frequently during his recent rough patch than when he was building his All-Star résumé. During Kikuchi’s All-Star surge, the opponent AVG and strikeout rate on his four-seam fastball were third best among 80 pitchers throwing 300-plus four-seamers. Conversely, hitters have a .294 AVG against him ever since, which is 16th highest within his peer group. Trouble With The Cutter? Obviously, Kikuchi throwing more four-seamers since early July means he’s altered the frequency of other pitches. Although there have been more changeups and fewer sliders lately, the most dramatic development has been cut-fastball usage – a 13.8% decline since July 7. As with the drop in fastball velocity, the sudden aversion to the cut fastball is unclear to this dopey blogger. That said, a review of Kikuchi’s stats underscores the important result his cutter often produces – ground balls. This season, the league is hitting .239 and slugging .264 on ground balls. Kikuchi’s success with grounders is even better – .179 AVG and .200 SLG. As you probably expected by now, his ground ball rate has waxed and waned throughout the season. This is where Kikuchi’s cut-fastball re-enters the picture. His cutter has been a ground ball generator since he first debuted the pitch last season. In fact, it had the highest ground ball rate of any cutter thrown at least 100 times in 2020. Highest Cutter Ground Ball Rate (2020):Yusei Kikuchi – 29.1%Josh Tomlin – 28.8%Nathan Eovaldi – 25%Yu Darvish – 19.8%Corbin Burnes – 17.6% This season, Kikuchi’s 27% cut-fastball ground ball rate is second best in the majors behind Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes. Unfortunately, Kikuchi’s cutter has been generating fewer grounders lately. While Kikuchi’s 21.1% ground ball rate off the cutter ranks second-best among peers, the 10% reduction from April-June is counterproductive. Especially when you consider opponents are hitting just .148 on cutter-generated grounders during the Japanese hurler’s recent struggles. Something else to consider regarding the Kikuchi cutter/ground ball dynamic. His teammates have his back when hitters put the ball on the ground. Seattle defenders have produced 10 outs above average (OAA) when Kikuchi is on the mound. That’s ties him for the second highest OOA accrued behind any pitcher with Houston’s Framber Valdez. Only Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals (20 OOA) can boast better support from his defense. Again, I can’t tell Kikuchi (or any human) how to improve their four-seam fastball velocity. Nor do I have the knowledge or standing to suggest he simply throw more cutters. But it’s obvious that the success of these two pitches are vital to the lefty’s repertoire and overall productivity. Falling Spin Rate Since it’s the year of sticky stuff, we have to discuss spin rate. Especially after Kikuchi’s name appeared in a New York Times article last month discussing individuals with the greatest drop in spin rate since the MLB-mandated inspections of pitchers for foreign substances during games. The Times piece focused on fastball spin. However, I compiled a table illustrating Kikuchi’s monthly average spin rate for each weapon in his arsenal. There was a decline of at least 200 RPM for each pitch with the change-up (-414 RPM) decreasing most since April. To be clear, I’m not suggesting Kikuchi’s higher spin rates were the result of applying foreign substances to baseballs. After all, the MLB sticky stuff crackdown began on June 15. He had a 1.37 ERA and held hitters to a .167 AVG in his next three starts after rule enforcement began in earnest. Moreover, his three opponents were postseason contenders – the White Sox, Rays, and Blue Jays. It’s also worth noting Kikuchi did see some variance in average spin rates in 2019. The deltas weren’t nearly as extreme as this year. Additionally, his change-up actually gained spin during his rookie season. Is there any relevant correlation between Kikuchi’s declining spin rates in 2019 and 2021? I’m not sure. But I wanted to provide the data for your consumption. Give Me A Break? The Mariners began the season with a six-man rotation and continued the practice until late-June. Naturally, I’ve wondered whether the change to a five-man rotation had a negative effect on Kikuchi. It’s one of those questions a nerd like me won’t be able to answer. But we can at least see what the numbers tell us. I grappled with how to best display the differences between the five- and six-man rotations and finally settled on comparing the average days of rest between starts. Please note, the early-season numbers for Tyler Anderson reflect his time with the Pirates. The second column illustrates his stint with Seattle. Clearly, Kikuchi and his rotation-mates are all working on less rest. Has the change affected anyone in a positive or negative manner? Hard to tell. Marco Gonzales has rallied in a big way since a forgettable first-half. Chris Flexen has continued to remain his consistent self. Meanwhile, Logan Gilbert and Kikuchi have each experienced a rough July and August. Is there any proof of a correlation between the change in rest days and their recent skids? Nothing definitive. We know Gonzales prefers the five-man rotation. He’s made that abundantly clear in the past. Yes, Gilbert has been struggling more recently. But he’s a rookie. Therefore, his difficulties may be nothing more than growing pains. And what about Kikuchi? The effect of shifting to a five-man rotation on Kikuchi is something the Mariners are far more equipped to address than someone writing a blog. Having said that, he’s never delivered consistently good results as a member of a five-man rotation since joining the team. Seattle used a five-man rotation during Kikuchi’s rough rookie season in 2019. Last year, advanced metrics suggested he was performing better than many believed, but the team used six starters. This season, Kikuchi was at his best during the period the Mariners used a six-man rotation. Catchers Didn’t Matter I quickly explored whether Kikuchi performances varied noticeably with different catchers. Since encountering his recent troubles, two players have served as battery-mates – Tom Murphy and rookie Cal Raleigh. Results-wise, there isn’t a glaring difference between Kikuchi’s stats whether Murphy or Raleigh is catching. Yes, there’s been a higher rate of walks and fewer strikeouts with Murphy behind the plate. Nevertheless, overall production numbers have been bad regardless of backstop. What Next? Perhaps Kikuchi begins leaning more heavily on his cutter again. He did just that with 50.8% cutter utilization and 40% ground ball rates in his August 26 start. Maybe the third-year major-leaguer cracks the code on his reduced fastball velocity. If these things were to happen, the Mariners would have a far better shot at reaching the postseason this year. If Kikuchi doesn’t get back on track, Seattle’s decision regarding the four-year option the club holds on his contract becomes academic. Justifying a long-term commitment would be difficult. Yes, Kikuchi does have value. But his 2021 stats are average-ish, at best. Teams typically don’t commit four-years and $66 million to a 30-something with these kind of numbers and a history of inconsistency. Having said all that, Kikuchi still has an opportunity to rebound, deliver All-Star level results, and help his team vie for the postseason. But time is running out for both the player and the Mariners. If Kikuchi can make a positive and long-lasting impact beginning with his next start, it’s possible the 2021 season can be salvaged for the Mariners, the team’s fans, and ultimately Kikuchi. Otherwise, his days may be numbered in the Emerald City. That would be unfortunate. My Oh My…Go!

Jerry Dipoto has made a lot of trades since being hired as the general manager of the club prior to the 2016 season. Some have been very good. Some have been awful. Some of the good trades have been even swaps. There are a handful of deals we’ll have to wait a little longer to determine its ultimate results. We’ve yet to see the kind of trades Dipoto will have to make to get the team from trending up to playoff contender, but we’ve seen everything else. Here are the worst, best, and some in between. But these are not ranked. I’ll let you do that. WORST SS Chris Taylor to Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Zach Lee: June 19, 2016 Taylor still had six full seasons of club control remaining at the time of the trade. Lee, a former top prospect, never pitched for the Mariners and has been toiling around in the minors with mixed results in the Rays, Mets, and Diamondbacks organizations since his eight innings with the Padres in 2017. Taylor, who hits free agency this offseason, has been worth 14.8 fWAR, including a 4.8 fWAR season in 2017, his first full season with the Dodgers. This trade serves as the worst of Dipoto’s Mariners career, at least so far. There are some contenders, however. RHP Freddy Peralta, RHP Daniel Missaki, IF Carlos Herrera to Milwaukee for 1B Adam Lind: December 9, 2015 Peralta spent 2014 in rookieball . Lind had one year of control left. The Brewers developed Peralta into the majors in 2018 where he’s been serviceable as a reliever and spot starter, and in 2021 he’s been terrific in 19 starts. He’s on his way to a 4-win season and the Brewers control his contract for two more seasons. LHP Ryan Yarbrough, SS Carlos Vargas to Tamp Bay for Drew LHP Smyly: January 11, 2017 While this one is totally fine in process, it just didn’t work out since Smyly never was healthy for Seattle. Yarbrough has been a useful arm for Tampa Bay since 2018, tallying 5.7 fWAR, including 2.7 in 141.2 innings in 2019 and 1.2 in 114 innings this season. The Rays control his contract for two more seasons. Smyly was coming off Tommy John but ended up missing a second full season in 2018 and hit free agency that winter. RHP Pablo Lopez, OF Brayan Hernandez, RHP Lukas Schiraldi to Miami for RHP David Phelps: June 20, 2017 This one is the top contender to the Lee-Taylor trade, especially with Phelps pitching just 10 games for the Mariners and then requiring surgery that would force him out of 2018 entirely. Hernandez and Schiraldi are out of affiliated baseball, and while the 25-year-old Lopez was below league average over his first two big-league seasons he has been particularly good this season for the Marlins, with two more seasons of club control remaining. RHP Emilio Pagan, IF Alexander Campos to Oakland for 1B Ryon Healy: November 15, 2017 Healy struggled to hit for average for one-plus seasons and was DFA’d after an injury-riddled 2019. He did hit 31 homers in 180 games for Seattle, and Campos is still in Low-A ball at 21, but Pagan has been a madly inexpensive and useful middle reliever — better than that at times —  for the A’s and Padres. RHP JP Sears, RHP Juan Then to New York Yankees for RHP Nick Rumbelow: November 18, 2017 Rumbelow is now out of baseball and struggled to throw strikes in 16 games for Seattle in 2018-19. Sears, now 25, is in Double-A for the Yankees pitching well, but no path to consistent big-league opportunities. Then, who was 17 at the time of the trade, was good in 11 starts for the Yankees rookie club in 2018 before being reacquired by the Mariners a year later. RHP Nick Neidert, RHP Robert Dugger, SS Chris Torres to Miami for 2B Dee Strange-Gordon & $1M international slot money: December 7, 2017 While this trade certainly goes down as a loss, it was a very worthy wager to make at the time, since the reason Dipoto made it was to acquire as much slot money as possible in attempt to land Shohei Ohtani. Torres is out of affiliated ball, Dugger struggled in the big leagues for the Fish and is now back with the Mariners, and Neidert has been knocked around in 10 games in the majors. 1B Logan Morrison, IF Brad Miller, RHP Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay for RHP Nate Karns, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, OF Boog Powell: November 5, 2015 While I understood this trade at the time, I didn’t like it because I didn’t see the upside in Powell or Riefenhauser. Miller gave Tampa 2.3 fWAR and a 30-homer season, Morrison posted 3.7 fWAR for the Rays led by a 3.2-win 2017 season. Farquhar struggled in Tampa but Powell, Karns, nor Riefenhauser gave Seattle anything, the latter never throwing a pitch in the organization. Did this trade hurt the club’s future? No, and it actually saveda bit of salary. But it didn’t help the present, either. While Dipoto was simply looking for hidden value and it was worth the risk of the upside of the players going out, getting no long-term pieces in return makes this one a clear loss. BEST RHP Austin Adams, C Austin Nola, RHP Dan Altavilla to San Diego for RHP Andres Munoz, 1B Ty France, C Luis Torrens, OF Taylor Trammell: August 31, 2020 Ah yes, this is the deal when Dipoto took AJ Preller to the woodshed and gave him a whoopin’. Apparently one he asked for, too. France is already a 120 wRC+ bat with more on the way and four years of club control after 2021, and Luis Torrens has refined his game after early-season struggles. Trammell has flashed but struggled overall in the majors, but is just 23 and has added more power potential to his profile. Munoz may make his Mariners debut in September and has HLR potential. The Padres side of this? Well, early it’s been rough. Nola hit just .217/.314/.383 in 18 games after the trade last season, and has played in just 24 games this season, batting .222/.354/.317. Altavilla has made just two appearances this season for having Tommy John surgery in June. He was solid in 8.2 innings last September. Adams has been just OK in 47 games in 2021, posting 0.4 fWAR. He didn’t pitch for Seattle last season prior to the trade and managed just four innings after the deal. The Padres need Nola to give them value over the next four years, but even if he does it’s not likely San Diego justifies the trade package in isolation. RHR Taylor Williams to San Diego for RHP Matt Brash: August 31, 2020 Woodshed. Williams, who is now on the 60-day IL with a knee injury, made one appearance last season for the Padres, then five more this season before he got hurt. But even we assume he was an average middle reliever, Brash’s development this season as a potential mid-rotation starter makes this an easy and significant win for the Mariners. RHP Kendall Graveman, RHP Rafael Montero to Houston for 2B Abraham Toro, RHP Joe Smith: July 30, 2021 Yep, that’s right, this is a coup for the Mariners. I expect Graveman to be good for the Astros for two months and perhaps into October, and I hope and believe they have a good chance to get more out of Rafael Montero — Brent Strom is as good a pitching coach as there is, and Montero has had success in the majors. But, Graveman hits free agency after the season — at which time if they feel like it Seattle can get involved, just like they could if they hadn’t traded him — and Toro looks the part of an everyday bat that can handle second base, a position the Mariners lack internal options. Toro also comes with control through 2025, with team-friendly salaries all the way there, which allows the club to spend money and trade assets on another bat or two, and impact starting pitching. Smith is a rental throw-in, but he’s off to a good start and might be able to hold onto his roster spot the rest of the year. This is a no-brainer win for the Mariners regardless of what Graveman does or when he does it. DH Edwin Encarnacion, cash to New York Yankees for RHP Juan Then: June 15, 2019 The Mariners righted a wrong when they traded Then for Rumbelow two years prior, and Then is developing in High-A this summer, showing mid-90s heat and an above-average slider. He may be a reliever long-term, but he’s added strength to his frame and may hold in a starting role. Encarnacion was pretty good for the Yankees — .249/.325/.531 with 13 homers in 44 games — but Seattle gets a very good arm with a chance to help for several years, and even if it’s entirely out of the bullpen this is a victory deal for Dipoto. LHP Nick Wells, cash to Washington for RHP Austin Adams: May 4, 2019 This one speaks for itself. Adams helped the club get the France-led package from the Padres the following August and Wells, now 25, is pitching in relief in Triple-A for the Nationals. RHP Jesus Ozoria to San Francisco for C Tom Murphy: March 29, 2019 Ozoria, 23, is out of affiliated baseball. Murphy posted 3.2 fWAR in 2019, missed all of 2020 with a knee injury and has been worth a win in 2021 despite a terribly slow start at the plate. He’s under club control for two more seasons, and if he finishes strong at the plate may be a valuable trade piece for the Mariners this winter. 1B Carlos Santana, $6M to Cleveland for $5M, DH Edwin Encarnacion: December 13, 2018 This deal, part of a three-teamer with Tampa, is an extension of the deal that follows in this list, turned into Juan Then, so … SS Jean Segura, LHP James Pazos, RHP Juan Nicasio to Philadelphia for SS J.P. Crawford, 1B Carlos Santana: December 3, 2018 In addition to the Segura-Crawford portion of this transaction, it led to the deal that led to the deal that landed Juan Then. Segura has been fine for the Phillies, posting 5.5 fWAR through August 2. He has two years of control remaining, including a team option for 2023. Crawford has compiled 4.0 fWAR through August 2, and the Mariners control his contract for three more seasons and far more team-friendly costs than Segura. Pazos and Nicasio gave the Phillies next-to-nothing. Nicasio was worth 0.5 fWAR in 2019 and is now on MLB’s restricted list for what’s listed as ‘personal reasons’ after seeing time with the Rangers in 2020. Pazos never pitched for the Phillies. RHP Tommy Romero, RHP Andrew Moore to Tampa Bay for LF Denard Span, RHP Alex Colome: May 26, 2018 Moore struggled in Tampa, came back to Seattle and struggled there and the last time he was seen in pro ball was in one appearance for Class-A Lakeland in the Tigers organization. Romero, now 24, made his way to Triple-A earlier this season, but has so far stalled there in two subpar starts. Still a chance he helps the Rays in some capacity. Span hit .272/.329/.435 for the Mariners for four-plus months and worth a win over replacement. Colome was worth nearly a half a win out of the bullpen and then was trade for Omar Narvaez, who posted 1.8 fWAR for the Mariners in 2019 and was then traded for Adam Hilland Connor Phillips. Phillips is my No. 11 prospect. 2B Robinson Cano, RHP Edwin Diaz, cash to New York Mets for OF Jarred Kelenic, RHP Justin Dunn, RHP Anthony Swarzak, OF Jay Bruce, RHP Gerson Bautista: December 3, 2018 Woodshed. It was an unfair fight, but Brodie Van Wagenen picked it. The Mets covered about half of Cano’s remaining money ($120 million total) and has received 2.6 fWAR from Diaz, and 2.0 fWAR from Cano for their troubles. Even in all his struggles, Dunn has been worth 0.3 fWAR, and Kelenic is just getting started — so far it’s been a struggled, but he just turned 22 and we all know the direction this is headed, regardless of where the kid lands in terms of ceiling. The Mariners released Gerson Bautista, and Swarzak struggled before he was traded to the Braves for Jessie Biddle. The Mets can’t win this deal no matter what Diaz does for them, because essentially, they paid big freight in talent and took on huge money of a risky player in age and availability to do it. For the record, Cano still is owed $48 million over the next two seasons, and $40.5 of that is owed by the Mets. The Mariners, in taking back Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak, paid most of their portion of Cano’s money up front. Woodshed. Alex Colome to Chicago White Sox for Omar Narvaez: November 30, 2018 Colome had one year left and was set to make more than $7 million, a figure that made no sense for Seattle to carry in 2019, Year 1 of the big rebuild. Colome essentially turned into Adam Hill and Connor Phillips. Win. SS Rayder Ascanio to St. Louis for RHP Mike Leake, cash, international slot money: August 30, 2017 Ascanio is in Triple-A for the Cardinals, batting .197/.266/.346 and age 25. He’s a fringe minor leaguer at this point. Leake was worth 1.2 fWAR in five starts in September, 2017, and 2.3 fWAR in 2018. He struggled in 2019, but was still worth 1.3 fWAR in 22 starts before being traded to Arizona to be close to family. While Leake was far from an impact acquisition, the Mariners received $15 million cash from St. Louis to help cover the remainder of his salary. Zero risk, medium reward. Win. Cash to San Diego for RHP Nick Vincent: March 30, 2016 Vincent was acquired for essentially nothing and posted 2.7 fWAR at league minimum salaries for three seasons in Seattle. There were times he was their best reliever. IN BETWEEN There are also several deals that appear to be fairly even for now , including the trade that sent James Paxton to the Yankees. Justus Sheffield has yet to get on track, though he still has time. Erik Swanson is now a full-time reliever. Paxton gave the Yankees 3.8 fWAR in two seasons — 3.5 of that in Year 1. Sheffield and Swanson each have four more seasons to provide value, but so far, considering salary — the Yankees paid Paxton $21 million — this is basically a wash so far, with a chance to turn in Seattle’s favor. The deal that swapped two seasons of C Mike Zunino, OF Guillero Heredia and LHP Michael Plassmeyer for OFs Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley might appear a steal for the Rays, but in those two years Zunino hit 13 homers in 118 games and batted .161/.233/.323 and 0.3 fWAR. Zunino’s 2021 season was purchased via free agency. Heredia was worth 0.3 fWAR in 89 games. Plassmeyer never pitched for the Rays, but was traded this season for RHP Matt Wisler, who has been great, posting 0.8 fWAR in 20 games. Wisler has one more year of club control, and is the Rays last hope to gain value of the original trade. Smith didn’t help Seattle at all (-0.6 fWAR) over two years, but after intermittent stints worth nearly -1.0 fWAR, Fraley is rolling up value and is now a net 0.2 and counting. Fraley’s club control runs through 2026. The November 2016 trade that sent RHP Taijuan Walker and SS Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for SS Jean Segura, OF Mitch Haniger, and RHP Zac Curtus is edge Seattle at this point, but not a wide margin. That could change, however, in either direction. Marte has one more season of organic control remaining has given Arizona 12.0 fWAR thus far. Walker got hurt and ended his Snakes career with 32 starts and 2.6 fWAR. To date, Walker and Marte have cost the D-Backs $26.9 million, including the entirety of Marte’s 2021 salary. Seattle, however, did well, too, getting 6.6 fWAR from Segura in two seasons, paying Segura $15.8 million total, whole netting 10.3 fWAR for $7.1 million. That’s 16.9 fWAR at $22.9 million versus Arizona’s 14.6 fWAR at $26.9 million. But wait. Seattle traded Segura to the Philadelphia Phillies in a deal that returned JP. Crawford. Crawford’s 4.0 fWAR through August 2 at $3.2 million, we’re already at $26.1 million and 20.0 fWAR for the Mariners. Marte’s two remaining seasons in Arizona have to be awfully good to catch the Mariners in this trade, and because Haniger has a year left and Crawford has three, it’s difficult seeing this ending up remotely close. But it’s far from a blowout, and injuries (Walker’s TJ, Haniger’s core issues and Marte’s injuries this season) have impacted the results. Another one worth keeping an eye on in the trade that sent OF Tyler O’Neill to the St. Louis Cardinals for LHP Marco Gonzales. O’Neill has had a great year in 2021, posting 2.2 fWAR, getting him up to 4.0 fWAR in parts of four season in the Cardinals organization. O’Neill is under control for three more seasons after 2021. Gonzales, however, has a large head start. He’s posted 9.5 fWAR for the Mariners since the trade, and has two more organic control seasons remaining after 2021. We’ll see on this one, but O’Neill is going to have to be awfully good to make this a race. I don’t see it.Go!

It’s been a tumultuous week for the Seattle Mariners and GM Jerry Dipoto. After Seattle overcame an early 7-0 deficit in thrilling fashion to defeat the division-leading Houston Astros on Monday, Dipoto dealt closer Kendall Graveman to those same Astros the following day. In the deal’s aftermath, Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish reported the clubhouse wasn’t happy with the front office. Neither was a fan base energized by the scrappy Mariners having the third best record (32-21) in the AL since May 27. Afterwards, Dipoto acknowledged the impact of dealing Graveman could have on team chemistry. But the sixth-year GM suggested to beat writer Daniel Kramer that subsequent moves during the week would add context to the Graveman trade. “It probably doesn’t [make sense] as a standalone, but it’s part of a context that I believe is going to be an ongoing story over the next couple of days,” – GM Jerry Dipoto With the MLB trade deadline now behind us, let’s consider whether Dipoto actually improved his team. Did his words ring true when the dust settled? The best place to begin our conversation is the area that had the most urgent need – starting pitching. Rotation Trading for at least one starter was necessary for the Mariners to have any chance of reaching the postseason. The lone rotation arm added was veteran Tyler Anderson, acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for minor-leaguers Carter Bins and Joaquin Tejada. The 31-year-old is a free agent after the season. Anderson isn’t a marquee name and his average-ish numbers may not wow Mariners fans. But the Nevada native represents an upgrade to a starting staff ranking in the bottom-third of the majors in multiple categories despite good seasons from Yusei Kikuchi, Chris Flexen, and rookie Logan Gilbert. Anderson has been relatively successful at remaining in games this year, which has been a problem for the backend of Seattle’s rotation. He’s completed the fifth inning in all of his 18 starts and has tossed six-plus frames in eight outings. Overall, the former Oregon Duck is averaging 5.7 innings/start with seven quality starts. To date, only Kikuchi (6.1 innings/start, 12 quality starts) and Flexen (5.7 IP/start, 9 QS) have been more dependable than Anderson this season. The left-hander has certainly delivered positive results more consistently than young starters Justin Dunn (4.6 IP/start, zero QS) and Justus Sheffield (4.7 IP/start, 3 QS) did before they succumbed to injury. Although Anderson’s production is bound to help the embattled Mariners rotation, one aspect of his game worth monitoring is his dramatic platoon splits this season. Right-handed hitting opponents have a .805 OPS against the southpaw compared to .484 with lefty bats in the box. The addition of Anderson could potentially permit the Mariners to use a six-man rotation when either Dunn or Sheffield becomes available. Then again, the team could use one or both pitchers out of the bullpen or send them to the minors. Current RotationYusei KikuchiChris FlexenLogan GilbertMarco GonzalesTyler Anderson It’s worth noting the Mariners signed right-hander Asher Wojciechowski to a minor-league contract this week. Wojciechowski will serve as depth and another emergency option for the team. The 32-year-old currently isn’t on Seattle’s 40-man roster. Other potential rotation optionsDarren McCaughan (AAA)Robert Dugger (AAA)Asher Wojciechowski (AAA)Justin Dunn (IL)Justus Sheffield (IL) Having Anderson should also help the Mariners avoid using a spot starter or have a bullpen day. The team has a 2-8 record in games not started by core rotation arms or their replacements. Bullpen Dipoto shook up his bullpen in a big way by trading Graveman and fellow reliever Rafael Montero to Houston. In return, Seattle received infielder Abraham Toro and veteran relief arm Joe Smith. From a performance aspect, Graveman was a formidable late-inning arm. That said, his availability seemed spotty at times. This is likely due to a benign bone tumor on his cervical spine. With Seattle, the 30-year-old pitched with zero or one day of rest 11 times this season, which was 37% of his 30 appearances. Compared to recognizable, that’s a relatively low frequency. Percent of Appearances By Closers on 0-1 Day RestMark Melancon – 55%Josh Hader – 55%Aroldis Chapman – 51%Liam Hendriks – 50%Craig Kimbrel – 49%Edwin Díaz – 49%Kendall Graveman – 37% Personally, I’m in awe of Graveman’s resolve to gut through a spinal tumor that’s probably difficult to manage from a pain/discomfort aspect. Still, there’s a value to being available that can’t be overlooked when discussing a reliever’s importance to a bullpen. The 37-year-old Smith is a pending free agent with a reputation for being a clubhouse leader, which is plus. Moreover, the 14-year-veteran has postseason experience from tours with Cleveland and Houston. That’s a qualification few Seattle pitchers possess. It’ll be interesting to see how manager Scott Servais employs Smith, who opted out of 2020 due to COVID-19. The side-armer was struggling with Houston with opponents batting .376 against him. That said, his .320 xwOBA, which is near league-average, suggests the potential for better results. Furthermore, his 3.8% walk rate is top-10 among relievers with 20-plus innings this season. Still, Smith’s 16% strikeout rate is down over six points compared to 2019 and bottom-20 among relievers. Another troubling indicator – a 26.8% line drive rate that’s eight points higher than his previous campaign. It’s also important to note that the Wright State alum missed most of June due to right elbow discomfort. The second bullpen piece Dipoto added was Tampa Bay Rays closer Diego Castillo in exchange for reliever JT Chargois and minor-leaguer Austin Shenton. In Castillo, the Mariners get a power arm capable of replacing Graveman. Across the board, the 27-year-old is putting up premium numbers. This year, Castillo has demonstrated noticeable improvement in preventing free passes. The right-hander’s 6.9% walk rate is significantly lower than his 12.4% mark from last season. On the availability front, 46% of his 37 appearances have come on zero or one day of rest. Overall, Graveman and Castillo have been similar this year. But there are two notable differences for me. The availability piece I’ve been harping on. Plus, Graveman is a pending free agent. Castillo remains under club control through the 2024 season. This matters to a fringe contender intent on becoming a sustainable winner. Castillo also possess something that hopefully matters to the Mariners at some point – experience on baseball’s brightest stage. The Dominican has logged 14 appearances and 16.1 innings in postseason games since 2019, including last year’s World Series. How Servais uses Castillo remains to be seen. Sometimes, using the best bullpen arm in the eighth inning against the teeth of an opponent’s lineup is the best move. That said, I envision Castillo closing games most often with Paul Sewald and Drew Steckenrider serving as alternates. Other high-leverage arms include Erik Swanson, Casey Sadler, and Anthony Misiewicz. It’s important to note that reliever Héctor Santiago received an 80-game suspension for PED use this week. The 10-year veteran was putting together a very nice season for Seattle after not pitching in the majors in 2020. His ability to throw multiple innings will be missed. Lineup For the Mariners, getting Toro was the key to the Graveman deal. As late as 2019, the 24-year-old was a top-5 prospect in Houston’s system. But over the last half-decade, young infielders in the Astros organization have been blocked by All-Stars or established players. Toro has primarily been a third baseman, although he has experience at first and second base and has even made 15 minor-league starts as a catcher. During brief auditions with the Astros since 2019, the switch-hitter had a .193/.276/.350 slash-line with a 69 OPS+ in 308 plate appearances. Overall, he’s been more productive from the left side of the plate with a .677 OPS compared to .528 as a right-handed hitter. It’s likely Toro spends most of his time at second base this season. Perhaps the native of Longueuil, Canada , who is under club control through 2025, eventually replaces veteran Kyle Seager. That’s assuming the team doesn’t exercise its 2022 option on Seager. If the former North Carolina Tar Heel stays, Toro could potentially remain at second base. On the surface, adding Toro appears more about his new team’s long-term plans than this season. Still, it’s important to not discount his potential value to the Mainers’ lineup in 2021. Seattle’s second base production ranks near the bottom of the majors in multiple categories. It’s possible he changes that for the better. Stats & MLB Rank of Seattle’s Second Baseman 28.9 SO% (28th) 7.5 BB% (17th) .209 AVG (29th) .275 OBP (29th) .362 SLG (24th) .279 wOBA (28th) .277 xwOBA (29th) 79 wRC+ (28th) I’m not proclaiming Toro as a savior for the Mariners’ offensive challenges at second base. However, he does have a .219/.297/.439 triple-slash with a 105 wRC+ and a 16.4% strikeout rate this season. Not eye-popping numbers, but better than what the team has received from the second base position in 2021. Well? Are the Mariners a better team since Dipoto made his statement on Monday? Yes. But the improvement is relatively small and nowhere near what many fans and some media members were expecting. Overall, the rotation is better with Anderson. Whether his arrival is a difference-maker is debatable. Still, if his presence can help prevent early blowout deficits caused by other starters or bullpen days, that’s value added. Castillo essentially replaces Graveman at the back of the bullpen. But time will tell how other bullpen moves affect the Mariners’ season. Will the advanced metrics prove true with Smith rebounding in the second half or will he be a liability? How does the team replace Chargois and Santiago? In the long run, Toro likely becomes the best addition made before the deadline. Later in the week, Dipoto told Danny and Gallant of 710 ESPN Seattle that Toro is yet another 20-something blocked from playing time in another organization only to be snatched up by the Mariners. So far, this strategy has resulted in the arrival of Mitch Haniger,  J.P. Crawford, Ty France, and Luis Torrens. Maybe the Canadian is Dipoto’s next success story. Essentially, the Mariners made incremental improvements by being buyers and sellers prior to the deadline. This won’t sit well with a segment of fans wanting the team to be aggressive at the deadline. But what was the alternative? Go all in and pay a premium in prospect equity for recognizable rental players? That would be tantamount to front office malpractice. Perhaps it’s been lost in the club’s messaging, but the 2021 season was always about the Mariners assessing and developing young players. Dipoto and his staff were never going to waver from their established plan. Moving forward, the key to making Seattle a legitimate contender will be the organization’s spending posture this offseason. That’s right. It’s time for Mariners ownership to step up. Otherwise, we’ll be talking about the front office making a few interesting acquisitions 12 months from now that aren’t designed to put the club over the top. My Oh My…Go!

News that the Seattle Mariners were pursuing Adam Frazier before the All-Star landed with the San Diego Padres provides a glimmer of hope to Mariners fans. Their team appears willing to add difference makers prior to Friday’s MLB trade deadline. Still, a key detail from the Frazier trade reveals a challenge facing Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto this week. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reports the Mariners were willing to absorb all of Frazier’s salary for this season to acquire him from the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, Pittsburgh preferred sending enough money to the Padres to cover most or all of the veteran’s 2021 salary. Mariners also made offer for Adam Frazier and did not ask Pirates to put cash in deal, sources tell @TheAthletic. Pirates sent $1.4M to Padres in part because they value Marcano highly. If he evolves into Frazier type, Pirates get six years of him for 1-plus of Frazier. — Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 25, 2021 Why would the low-revenue Pirates be willing to help with Frazier’s pay? By doing so, Pittsburgh was able to receive better prospect value from the Padres than what Seattle was willing to deal. Essentially, the Mariners were attempting to avoid a higher prospect price by offering to take on the Mississippi State alum’s salary. That brings us to the challenge facing Dipoto with the trade deadline looming. How does Dipoto improve his current roster without jeopardizing his organization’s future? It’s no secret the Mariners have one of the better farm systems in MLB. Therefore, dealing promising young minor leaguers is inevitable. But becoming a free spender with his team’s prospect equity could potentially sink everything Dipoto and his staff have accomplished since beginning to rebuild the organization after the 2018 campaign. Granted, Frazier is having a great season. He would’ve immediately helped the Mariners at a position of need – second base. But how much of its future should a team trade away for a 29-year-old having career year, who’s under club control for just one more season? From Dipoto’s perspective, the Padres’ asking prices exceeded what he was willing to pay. Considering Seattle’s tenuous position in the AL Wild Card standings and the fact the team is fully committed to its rebuild, the sixth-year GM probably made the right choice regarding Frazier. The front office taking a balanced approach during deadline season should please Mariners fans. Still, achieving both goals – making the 2021 postseason and preserving the future – would be the preferred outcome for all involved. Wouldn’t you agree? My Oh My…Go!

Even the most patient Seattle Mariners fan must be questioning the team’s use of reliever Rafael Montero in high-leverage situations. That’s the exact circumstance Montero faced against the A’s last night. The end result – two runs surrendered in the eighth inning of a game that Seattle was trailing by a run and eventually lost 4-1. So, why is Mariners manager Scott Servais turning to Montero late in a key game against a division rival? It’s a legitimate question. After all, Montero’s conventional and advanced stats verify what we’ve been witnessing with our eyeballs – he’s been regressing with each passing month. Even an ardent believer in Montero’s stuff like me was perplexed by Servais’ decision to hand the ball to his enigmatic reliever in last night’s game. Since the rationale for using Montero escaped my pea-brain, I did what I always do when I can’t solve a baseball mystery. I turned to Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill. A quick chat with Jason enlightened me to an obvious issue with Seattle’s bullpen that’s in plain sight for all of us to see. Reliever utilization can be problematic for the Mariners when closer Kendall Graveman isn’t available. By now, most Mariners fans are aware that Graveman has a benign tumor on his cervical spine that led to his conversion from a starter to a reliever last year. A consequence of the tumor is the right-hander isn’t available as often as other arms in Seattle’s bullpen. Graveman has pitched on 0-1 days rest less frequently (33.3-percent) than only one other Seattle reliever appearing in 20-plus games this year – Keynan Middleton. Think about it for a moment. Any time Graveman isn’t available to pitch the ninth inning or any high-leverage situation, Servais must lean on other arms in the bullpen to get the job done. So, why didn’t the sixth-year manager do exactly that last night and steer away from Montero? Reasonable question until we review Servais’ options. He had already used JT Chargois and Drew Steckenrider prior to Montero and Anthony Misiewicz pitched the ninth inning. Assuming Middleton and Erik Swanson weren’t available because they pitched the day prior, the skipper was short on alternatives last night. There was Paul Sewald, who Servais may have been holding in reserve for a save situation. Then again, he could’ve turned to Héctor Santiago. Oh, that’s right, Santiago’s roster spot is open because he’s serving a ridiculous 10-game suspension. Realistically, Servais didn’t have any other options, assuming Graveman was unavailable. To those fans screaming that the Mariners should just get rid of Montero, I hear you. Maybe that happens today or in the near future. But there appear to be few viable replacements waiting in the wings. Perhaps Casey Sadler, who’s about ready to return from the IL, is the answer. But prior to his injury, Sadler pitched on 0-1 days rest in 28.5-percent of his games – less often than Graveman and Middleton. Considering Sadler has been sidelined with shoulder inflammation since April 30, it’s possible the team takes it slowly with the 31-year-old when he does return. Other than Yohan Ramirez, there isn’t a clear-cut replacement on the 40-man roster. And even if the team replaced Montero with Ramirez or Sadler, doing so doesn’t solve the bigger problem facing the Mariners – having high-leverage relievers, who aren’t available on a more frequent basis. No, I’m not blaming Montero’s ineffectiveness on Graveman, Middleton, or even Sadler. He’s the root cause of his problems. But having several relievers unable to throw on 0-1 days rest as often as their peers leads to suboptimal matchups – like last night’s game. If the Mariners had a full complement of relievers capable of going on short rest, keeping a project like Montero on the major-league roster would be more practical than it is now. A large segment of fans would argue that the veteran of seven seasons isn’t worth the trouble. I disagree. Montero’s Statcast profile illustrates the potential that I believe he possesses. I suspect the team’s analytics department and coaching staff may agree with me to some degree. I know. Potential doesn’t win ballgames and that’s a big deal for the Mariners and the fan base right now. But cutting ties with Montero won’t address the team’s bigger issue and could make matters worse without a suitable replacement to fill the void created by his absence. Let’s not forget that Seattle has already parted ways with another workhorse – Will Vest. The combined loss of Vest and Montero, who’ve accounted for 21-percent of the team’s relief innings this year, will only make Servais’ already tough job even more challenging. Realistically, jettisoning Montero would provide instant gratification for fans. But doing so won’t necessarily make the Mariners better at a critical time in their schedule. Only help from outside the organization can do that. My Oh My…Go!

Bob Melvin Oakland Athletics

Few people expected the Seattle Mariners to remain in the postseason conversation well into July. But here we are with the Mariners tantalizingly close to the second Wild Card spot. Yes, a lot can change between now and game-162 – Seattle knows this better than many fan bases. But let’s face it. Watching the rebuilding club flirt with the possibility of earning a playoff berth has been a blast. With the MLB trade deadline about a week away, now seems like a good time to size up the competition standing between the Mariners and returning to the postseason for the first time since 2001. All told, there are six teams that aren’t division leaders with a reasonable chance of keeping Seattle out of the playoffs. Let’s start with the two clubs currently in the Wild Card spots. Tampa Bay Rays Not only do the defending AL champions hold the top Wild Card spot, they’re closing in on the AL East division-leading Red Sox. Tampa Bay also has a recent history of success with the fifth best winning percentage (.589) in MLB since 2018 with two postseason berths to its credit. The Rays experienced a rough June with a 12-14 record, including a four-game sweep at the hands of the Mariners in Seattle. As a consequence of the team’s struggles, it went from the best record in the majors on Memorial Day to the first Wild Card spot in July. Still, manager Kevin Cash has guided his squad to a 10-5 record this month. Tampa Bay’s lineup is long with six players boasting an OPS+ over 100, which is the league-average mark. As a result, the team ranks eighth in MLB with 4.89 runs scored/game. Defensively, the Rays have 48 defensive runs saved (DRS) – second most in MLB. Losing top starter Tyler Glasnow to injury last month certainly didn’t help. Since the right-hander went down with a flexor strain and partial UCL tear on June 14, the starting staff’s ERA has ballooned to 5.16, which ranks 25th in MLB. Prior to Glasnow’s injury, the rotation had a 3.49, good enough for eighth best. There is some hope that Glasnow rejoins the team later in the season. Still, hope is not a course of action. Fortunately, for the Rays, the team has Cash at the helm. The seventh-year manager has a history of weaving together his rotation and bullpen in a manner that delivers positive results despite having a staff full of lesser-known names. Another factor favoring Tampa Bay, the front office has a knack for making in-season moves that yield positive outcomes. In 2020, it was a relative unknown – Randy Arozarena. According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, the Rays are aiming higher this year. BREAKING: The Tampa Bay Rays are finalizing a deal to acquire slugger Nelson Cruz from the Minnesota Twins, sources tell ESPN. — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 22, 2021 Oakland A’s Oakland is an interesting club considering it has a .500 record when playing the AL East and AL West. Yet, its flourished with a 21-9 record against the AL Central and NL opponents. As with the Rays, the A’s have a deep lineup with six players having an above-average OPS+. But the team is mid-pack in multiple categories such as OBP, SLG, OPS+, and the most important stat – runs scored. Moreover, the designated hitter position’s .696 OPS ranks 12th in the AL. It’s worth noting Oakland does generate extra base hits and is top-10 in home runs and doubles. The starting rotation doesn’t have a marquee name, but is effective nonetheless. Oakland starters have a 3.64 ERA this season, which is eighth best in the majors. Leading the way are Chris Bassitt, rookie James Kaprielian, Cole Irvin, and Sean Manaea. As usual, the bullpen has been a strength that’s been well-managed by skipper Bob Melvin. Having said that, adding another reliever or two would benefit the team down the stretch giving it a better shot of going deeper into the postseason. Prior to Passan’s report, there had been a lot of speculation that Nelson Cruz would be a perfect fit for Oakland. He would’ve been, although there’s one issue that should never be overlooked with the A’s – finances. Cruz is owed approximately $4 million for the final two months of the season. That doesn’t seem like a lot of money for an MLB team. But it may be with this organization. In the offseason, Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported that after the A’s declined to make the $18.9 million qualifying offer to longtime shortstop Marcus Semien, the team suggested a one-year/$12.5 million contract to Semien with $10 million deferred in 10 one-year installments of $1 million. Oakland also signed reliever Trevor Rosenthal to a one-year/$11 million backloaded deal with the reliever receiving $3 million in both 2021 and 2022 and $5 million in 2023. Toronto Blue Jays Only the Astros and Dodgers are plating more runs than Toronto’s prolific offense, which is averaging 5.2 runs scored/game. To that point, Blue Jays hitters collectively rank top-three in home runs, AVG, SLG, and OPS+. On the other hand, the pitching staff has been far less dynamic. That’s not to say the Blue Jays’ staff is bad. But the rotation and bullpen are closer to league-average than leaders of the pack. The starting staff is headlined by veteran Robbie Ray, who’s having an excellent season. Behind Ray are fellow southpaws Hyun Jin Ryu and Steven Matz with their league-average production and an inconsistent Ross Stripling in the fourth spot. After that, it gets a bit squishy. The bullpen is similar – decent results without standout performers. There’s also an unknown regarding the remainder of the Blue Jays’ season that could tip the scales for or against the club during the stretch run – its home field. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Blue Jays have played their home games in Dunedin, Florida and Buffalo, New York this season. But the club finally gets to head back to Toronto in about a week. How will playing in the Rogers Centre affect the Blue Jays’ offense? Perhaps the new home surroundings won’t impact Toronto’s run-scoring machine. But it’s worth noting that the team has boasted a combined .837 OPS in Florida and New York compared to .732 on the road. For those wondering, the pitching staff’s ERA has been relatively similar at home and on the road. Regardless of park factors, adding rotation and bullpen help prior to the deadline would be the best course of action for the Blue Jays. New York Yankees It’s been a rough season for the Bronx Bombers with injuries playing a big role in the club’s struggles this year. Notable names currently on the IL include Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela, Clint Frazier, plus starter Corey Kluber and a plethora of relievers. Coincidentally, the Yankees had the same 12-14 record in June as division-rival Tampa Bay with New York also playing better in July (9-5). Since the All-Star break, the team has consecutive series wins over the Mariners, Houston, Boston, and Philadelphia. Still, the Yankees must play better within their own division to have a chance of returning to the postseason for a fifth consecutive season. The Bombers are 31-19 against AL Central, AL West, and NL teams. But even after taking two of three from the Red Sox, New York is only 19-25 versus the AL East. Assuming the Yankees continue playing well this month, the team may choose to lean forward at the deadline to improve its postseason chances. As with every club, rotation help has to be a top priority. Adding another bat would also benefit the hobbled roster. A name bandied around often is Texas’ Joey Gallo. The slugger would certainly represent an upgrade to the lineup. Not only that, the Gold Glove right fielder has demonstrated in the past he can play any outfield position and first base. Cleveland Indians Cleveland has an uphill battle ahead of it. The team ranks in the bottom-third of MLB in AVG and OBP with its short lineup having just three hitters posting an OPS+ over 100. As always, pitching is the engine that propels Cleveland’s success. Unfortunately, injuries and ineffectiveness have negatively impacted the starting staff with 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale currently on the IL. That said, the bullpen remains a viable weapon for manager Terry Francona. Although Cleveland plays in the weak AL Central division, payroll restrictions probably prevent the club from making up ground in the standings. Last offseason, the front office dealt Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco for financial reasons. This suggests it’s more likely this team moves veteran contracts than acquire them. Los Angeles Angels Although the Mariners have recently enjoyed success against the Angels, we shouldn’t discount this club over the final two months of the season. Especially with Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Justin Upton eventually returning from the IL. That’s tantamount to acquiring a few extra hitters at the deadline without having to make a trade. Still, the Angels’ postseason aspirations will hinge on the starting rotation – not their bats. Everyone is aware that Shohei Ohtani is having an MVP-caliber season. But Ohtani isn’t alone. Rookie Patrick Sandoval has been excellent and veteran Alex Cobb is proving to be a stabilizing presence. On the other hand, Opening Day rotation members Dylan Bundy and Jose Quintana are now in the bullpen due to poor performances and Andrew Heaney has also struggled. Backing up the rotation are several interesting relief arms. Most notably, closer Raisel Iglesias. But the Halos’ bullpen lacks depth and now includes banished starters Bundy and Quintana. Considering the Angels’ position in the standings, it’s plausible the team sells at the deadline. Yes, I could be dead wrong. But the Halos have 12 pending free agents, including Cobb, Heaney, Bundy, Quintana, shortstop José Iglesias, catcher Kurt Suzuki, and relievers Alex Claudio, Tony Watson, and Steve Cishek. This month would be a great opportunity for GM Perry Minasian to begin reloading for 2022 and beyond. Looking Ahead For me, the postseason chances of the six teams we’ve discussed and the Mariners fall in the following order: Rays A’s Yankees Blue Jays Mariners Angels Cleveland Many of the blemishes affecting the clubs we’ve discussed also apply to the Mariners. Seattle’s lineup is short, the roster has been plagued by injuries, and the starting rotation has delivered suboptimal results. Even during the team’s hot stretch since Memorial Day, its offense ranks in the bottom-third of MLB in many categories. Obviously, a lot can change by the last day of the season. Especially with clubs having an opportunity to improve via trade this month. However, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto remains steadfastly committed to the organization’s rebuild process. Therefore, adding big-ticket difference makers by the deadline doesn’t seem likely. Even if Dipoto were willing to throw caution to the wind, ownership likely prevents the sixth-year GM from acquiring the salaries of established players. It’s the same challenge facing the front offices of Oakland and Cleveland, although Seattle is a significantly larger market than those cities. Then again, the Mariners’ current roster could simply prove naysayers like me wrong by playing its way into the postseason. After all, you can’t argue with results – even when underlying metrics suggest there should’ve been a different outcome. My Oh My…Go!

The Seattle Mariners 2021 Draft class is developing into a very nice haul. It’s expected their top three picks all will sign, and through Monday had officially signed 14 of their top 20 selections for under $1.6 million, or 18.6% of their bonus pool of $8.526 million. No. 12 overall pick Harry Ford is expected to sign for exactly slot at $4.3664 million, which takes the total remaining to $2.78 million and four players left unsigned. The slot value for second-round pick Edwin Arroyo (No, 48 overall) is $1.5436 million, which would leave about $1.23 million to sign third-round pick Michael Morales, 11th-round pick Will Fleming, 19th-round pick Charlie Welch, and 20th rounder Troy Taylor. I was told over the weekend Welch, a catcher from Arkansas, had come to terms with the Mariners, but the bonus remains unknown at this stage. Arroyo could be an under-slot signing, though it may not be a significantly lower number. If it’s exactly slot for the shortstop, Morales can get done, but there’s a chance Fleming and Taylor will not. The Mariners can go over their bonus pool by up to 4.99% without risking the forfeiture of future picks (they’d pay a 75% tax on the overage) if they choose. Arroyo’s or Morales’ number, once we learn it, will be telling in terms of whether or signing each remaining selection is realistic. Here are some scouting notes on each of the signed players, including Welch, even though he’s not official just yet. Charlie Welch, C — Arkansas (19) Welch is best known for his late-game, late-season heroics at the plate, but his future largely depends on his ability behind the dish. He didn’t start much and is known as “Dr. Pinch Hitter”, but “the bat speed plays,” and there’s athleticism on which to build a defensive foundation. He struggled overall two years ago on the Cape after his freshman season, but flashed power and showed patience at the plate. Riley Davis, RHP — Alabama-Birmingham (18) Davis projects as a middle reliever with average stuff and command, up to 93 mph with a sweeping slider from a deceptive low arm slot. There are some delivery questions, which if answered, could suggest upside. Jimmy Kingsbury, RHP — Villanova (17) Good athlete with a fastball that’s creeped into the mid-90s at times and a slider that in short stints flashes above average. Jimmy Joyce, RHP — Hofstra (16) Up to 94 mph and comfortable sitting 89-91, Joyce employs a long arm path and some less-than-ideal overall mechanics, but the data on his fastball (vertical approach angle) suggest fastball potential. Joyce doesn’t bring any physical projection to pro ball, but everything else suggests a chance at a big-league package, likely out of the bullpen. Cole Barr, 3B — Indiana (15) Barr has a plus arm that fits anywhere on the diamond, but he’s limited to third base and potentially a corner outfield spot if the bat plays. He has some pop, but has work to do in order to generate better contact rates. Andrew Moore, RHP — Chipola (14) Moore looks the part of a big-league arm, and he’s flashed a plus to plus-plus fastball up to 99 mph with data to back it up, namely big-time vertical life. His slider has flashed as a swing-and-miss pitch and projects well in a relief role where it can play off the huge velocity and fastball value. Ben Ramirez, 3B — USC (13) Ramirez’s best tool is above average raw power generated with good leverage. It’s almost exclusively pull power, however, and there are legitimate and long-term concerns about his ability to make consistent contact and hit for average. “Maybe he’s kind of like Brad Miller after he fights through early-career struggles and finds a role,” said one area scout. Corey Rosier, OF — UNC Greensboro (12) Rosier is a good athlete with one of the better eyes at the plate among mid-major bats in the entire class. He projects to below-average power but has produced extra-base pop in games. His defensive skills and footspeed suggest a solid chance to stay in center. “Nothing blows you away but he does a lot of things well enough to notice. He has good instincts everywhere. I could see him as a fourth outfielder, like a Marvin Benard.” Jordan Jackson, RHP — Georgia Southern (10) He’s only 88-91 now, but at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds carries projection into a Mariners system that has found ways to add significant velocity to arms with far less projectable frames. There’s a 40-grade slider and 30-grade changeup in the repertoire, but this is a piece of clay, and the Mariners may start from scratch. Spencer Packard, OF — Campbell (9) Packard is a corner outfielder with a seasoned hit tool driven by a natural line-drive swing and good plate coverage. The bat speed here is fringe-average, however, and he’s an average runner, so a ton is riding on his ability to identify pitches, make great swing decisions and post high contact rates. James Parker, SS — Clemson (8) Parker is one of the interesting players from the club’s 10 Day-2 selections. He can handle shortstop right now and has the arm to stick, but the intrigue is in the quick, whippy swing that generated average power this past spring. “It’s a little tougher to see the bat playing regularly,” said an area scout, “but the spikes in performance make an impact so there’s a place to start. I like him at second, and his arm could play in a utility role, which may be a safer place to project him offensively, anyway.” Colin Davis, OF — Wofford (7) “He’s gamer with instincts and a high-energy approach,” said one crosschecker. “There’s strength there and some athleticism, but the swing needs a lot of work, which could take time… Defensively I don’t mind him in center, maybe I’m a little high on him in the field.” Bryan Woo, RHP — Cal Poly (6) Woo is a physical right-hander with easy velocity into the mid-90s, and scouts believe there may very well be more there. He’s learned to use his lower half better, but there’s room for a more athletic kick and drive. The breaking ball is a projectable tight slider that works well with his four-seamer that rides in on right-handed batters when he finishes well out front. He’s almost certainly a bullpen arm, and Woo won’t pitch until next summer after April Tommy John, but the velocity potential offers a chance to move quickly once the slider settles. Andy Thomas, C — Baylor (5) “I don’t love his chances back there,” a checker said of Thomas’ ability behind the plate. “But the bat? There might be something there.” Thomas’ power exploded in 2021 versus good competition, showing good bat speed. Mechanically, there are some issues with how he uses his hands and how that might impact his ability to make enough contact in pro ball. Bryce Miller, RHP — Texas A&M (4) Miller is my favorite Day-2 pick. He’s flashed velocity into the 95-97 mph range, and up to 98 as a reliever, but in a starting tole impressed this spring holding his 92-94 mph velocity deep into games, and still showing he can get to 97 on occasion. There are two breaking balls here, led by a projectable curveball, and his changeup has a chance thanks to good arm speed. “Quality arm with a solid floor as a bulk reliever, but he’s new to full-time rotation work. It’s too bad he didn’t have another year there (A&M), he might have ended up a lot higher (in next year’s draft).” I like Miller’s athleticism and loose arm, and even average control gives him a shot to be a No. 4 starter. Michael Morales, RHP — East Pennsboro HS (Pa.) “The kid can pitch,” said a former GM and special assistant. “He may just be scratching the surface. I had him up to 92 and mostly 88-89… easy… movement… and he gets more from it with arm action. I was comfortable writing him up as a future 3-4 based . I put a late-2nd (round grade) on him.” If you watch video on Morales you may get some Logan Gilbert vibes (not a comp) with his arm action and deception, and despite lacking prototypical size (he’s 6-foot-2, 200 pounds), the fastball projects well long-term. Add to that the Mariners’ penchant for adding velocity and it also feels like a prep edition of the George Kirby selection in 2019. He settled in at 88-90 most starts, but scouts have seen him 92-93 for stretches, and there’s a clear path to more, suggesting a mid-rotation ceiling. Edwin Arroyo, SS — Central Pointe Christian Academy (Fla.) Arroyo is a switch hitter with more upside as a lefty, including a chance for average power down the road, but he enters the system an athlete with a plus arm and defensive chops at shortstop who needs experience and work at the plate. The swing path needs some help staying true, and while he’s not a burner he’s an above-average runner with some bat control and great hands. You have to dream a bit, and Arroyo is a long-term prospect, but the reward could be an above-average shortstop with a 50-grade bat, not far off that of current Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford, with Asdrubal Cabrera upside. Harry Ford, C — North Cobb HS (Ga.) Ford boasts above-average tools across the board, including 60-grade speed, throw and defense, power that stretches to at least plus, and a present hit tool with a clean route to hitting for plenty of average. Once you push aside the inherent risk that comes with prep catchers and evaluate Ford as a bat and athlete, the picture starts to look clearer. In other words, Ford is a unicorn. His physical tools suggest several potential defensive options, including center field and second base, but if I had to bet right now I’d wager third base or catcher. Ford ranks No. 5 in my prospect rankings and has as much chance to shoot to No. 1in the next year-plus as anyone in the system. Projecting 2023 I just thought this would be a fun exercise, but there must be rules, so here they are: 1. No free agents. We know there will be some, but predicting them is a loser’s game, so we’ll stay away for the purpose of painting a potential future picture or three. 2. No trades. Same reason. 3. My prospect rankings and all that goes into them — upside and floor, risk and probability — the current big-league roster, and each player’s contract situation produces the portraits below. I will take only reasonable liberties, such as tendering arbitration contracts and exercising team options. Emerson Hancock should be knocking on the door at this point, too, and if he breaks through it the Mariners have a nice problem of ‘too many starters.’ If Kikuchi doesn’t look the part over the final two months, his four-year option becomes highly questionable again, which puts his team control in some doubt. Brandon Williamson and Matt Brash are currently pacing ahead of Kirby and Hancock in terms of ETA , and may beat the higher-ranked pair to the majors, but one or both could land in the bullpen ultimately, or simply be displaced late in ’22 or early in ’23 by their more talented org mates. In two years, Andres Munoz, Brash, Williamson, Justin Dunn, Justus Sheffield, Levi Stoudt, and Isaiah Campbell could litter the bullpen.Go!