Felix Hernandez would be the first to admit that he didn’t perform as well as he wanted to in 2016. To varying degrees, the Seattle Mariners likely had similar thoughts about two of the other four spots of their rotation, James Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma aside. So as Felix spends the winter working to regain his crown, the Mariners have worked to shore up their rotation.

Without a lot of help available via free agency, the trade route figured to be the most likely source of rotation upgrades. As seen in his first year at the helm of baseball operations, general manager Jerry Dipoto prefers the trade route for patching holes anyway. However, there was one free agent starter who reportedly caught his eye: Jason Hammel.

The 34-year-old starter was cut by the Chicago Cubs after their World Series victory and remains a free agent as we move into February. It was a curious move as the Cubs didn’t appear to have an heir for the No. 5 spot and haven’t done much to secure one since.

The season-ending elbow injury leaves a damper on what was otherwise a reasonably good season for Hammel and has likely impacted his free agency. In 166 and 2/3 innings the right-hander posted a 3.83 ERA and a 4.48 FIP. His strikeout rate was a notch above his career average and his walk rate was right on par, but he did see an uptick in his home run rate, which could cause some concern.

The bigger concern though, has to be the impact of Hammel’s September collapse, injury-related or not. Over four starts he allowed 21 runs and 20 earned while giving up six home runs. That stretch inflated his ERA from 3.14 at the start of the month to the 3.83 he finished with. Hammel’s FIP didn’t see quite as dramatic a rise, moving from 4.26 to 4.48.

Several outlets had Hammel connected to the Mariners throughout the winter. The fit was obvious as Seattle needed rotation help and the 34-year-old has a recent track record of being a reliable back-end starter. Given the nature of his departure with Chicago, he lost some leverage in an otherwise paper-thin free agent market.

Having a change in agency over the winter didn’t help the right-hander either. It was reported talks broke down with the M’s around this time. Since then, Seattle went out and filled the empty spots in the rotation by acquiring Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo.

Smyly, 27, spent the last two-plus years in the rotation for the Tampa Bay Rays and dealt with some health issues in 2015. Acquired as a key piece in the trade that sent David Price to Detroit, the left-hander is coming off a career high 175 and 1/3 innings pitched. His 4.88 ERA and 4.49 FIP are uninspiring, but his strikeout and walk rates were fine and he should benefit from the move to Safeco and an improved outfield defense.

Gallardo, 31 in February, is coming off a rocky year in Baltimore where a decline in velocity factored into a diminished strikeout rate and an inflated walk rate. He posted a 5.42 ERA and a 5.04 FIP over 118 innings The brief period where he was a top arm for the Milwaukee Brewers is gone, but he’s only one year removed from a seven-year stretch as an average or better starter. He’s a prime bounce-back candidate and should also benefit from the park and outfield defense.

Here’s a look at how the three starters project to perform in 2017 via Steamer.

2017 Steamer Projections
Name GS IP ERA
FIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 OBA fWAR
Drew Smyly 29 168.0 3.93 4.11 8.39 2.62 1.30 .232 2.6
 Yovani Gallardo 24  135.0 4.48 4.55 6.41 3.39 1.13 .260 1.0
Jason Hammel 28 158.0  4.35 4.31  7.75 2.67 1.29 .258 1.7

Of the three, Smyly is the obvious exception, so the analysis really comes down to Gallardo and Hammel, who have some similarities. The first stat that stands out is the fWAR column where Hammel projects to be nearly one win better than Gallardo. We can attribute some of that to a better projected strikeout and walk rates over a slightly larger innings total. Hammel is projected to give up more home runs, but both have fly-ball tendencies.

Projection systems tend to favor recent performance and Hammel is the one coming off a better year. However, looking at the previous three years, we can see that their overall production has been similar. Gallardo has the virtue of being younger and holds a more consistent track record prior to last year, though.

Perhaps the most important question is what carries more risk: Gallardo’s diminished velocity or Hammel’s presumed diminished health? Seattle seemed more willing to gamble on the former regaining a step than the latter being healthy for Opening Day.

At this point., anything relating to Hammel’s health is speculation beyond his status at the end of the season and through the playoffs. Not many seem to buy the Cubs acknowledgement of his full health when he was released.

Also to be considered when looking at the two starters is the accompanying financial commitments. We don’t know for sure what Hammel wanted, or hoped for, in free agency. A one-year deal with incentives and maybe an option year would make sense. We do know that the M’s will pay Gallardo $11 million in 2017 and a $2 million buyout in 2018 if they decline a $13 million team option.

The status of Seth Smith and his $7 million contract seemed to play a role in all this. It’s been suggested that the ideal situation for Seattle would have been to deal Smith and the money owed for a minor leaguer and use the freed up cash for Hammel.

If the club saw similar potential in Gallardo and Hammel with the primary goal of dealing Smith’s contract, then it makes a lot of sense to take the route they did. Presuming full health, Hammel should be the better pitcher in 2017. But after viewing his medical records, the potential for a bounce-back season may have made Gallardo look just a little more appealing.

Without more information on Hammel’s health, it’s tough to really determine if the Mariners made the right call. Given the fact he’s still a free agent suggest it’s obvious Seattle isn’t the only team to have shied away.

Regardless, the deals made have helped bolster the starting staff. FanGraphs projects the rotation to land in the middle of the pack while ESPN’s Buster Olney has the M’s rotation cracking his top ten for 2017.

A lot of things still need to go right, but Seattle certainly made the right call in bolstering their starting pitching. That much we do know.…

The 2016 Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline came and went without the Seattle Mariners making a significant upgrade to their major league roster. That’s a surprise to most observers — including me — who expected first-year general manager (GM) Jerry Dipoto to be active during the hours and days leading up to today’s 1 p.m. deadline.

The most notable deal during this year’s “deadline season” happened yesterday when Seattle sent left-handed starter Wade Miley to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for a minor league starting pitcher. That’s not exactly the kind of action fans were expecting.

Why no other moves? Simply stated, the market didn’t permit any.

Dipoto explained to Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish that “the greatest opportunities we had were to sell off, and that’s just not something we were willing to do.” That’s a disappointing development for Seattle faithful. At the same time, it’s encouraging that the front office didn’t forsake their future for a slim chance at making the postseason this season.

Despite the disappointment felt by fans, Dipoto did make several moves that improve his ball club now and potentially in the future. Let’s look at them starting with yesterday’s transaction.

Miley to Baltimore Orioles for Ariel Miranda
In retrospect, the Mariners may never have acquired Miley from the Boston Red Sox, if they had known Hisashi Iwakuma would be returning to Seattle. At the time of the deal, “Kuma” was reportedly set to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Not knowing that Iwakuma’s deal with the Dodgers would fall through within a week, Dipoto did what anyone in his position would do — find a replacement. That led to the Mariners GM shipping reliever Carson Smith and starter Roenis Elias to Boston for Miley and minor league reliever Jonathan Aro.

The deal wasn’t optimal for the Mariners, who were exchanging two young pitchers with a combined 10 years of club control for three years of Miley — a slightly above-average performer — and Aro, who may never be anything more minor league depth.

Unfortunately, for the Mariners and Miley, he didn’t even deliver average value. Known for being an innings eater, the southpaw averaged just 5.9 innings-per-start with Seattle after averaging 6.2 since during his four previous seasons. That may not sound like a big difference, but the end result was the 29-year-old not completing the sixth inning in 32-percent of his starts — not exactly what you’d expect from an “innings eater.”

In recent starts, Miley did display some signs of improvement with a .243 opponents on-base percentage (OBP) and 2.79 earned run average (ERA) during his last 19.1 innings. Despite the uptick in productivity, Dipoto opted to deal the southpaw to Baltimore rather than wait to see if the former number-one pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks had actually turned a corner.

In return for Miley, the Mariners received the 27-year-old Miranda, who Dipoto views as “major league ready.” Currently assigned to Class-AAA Tacoma, the southpaw may eventually transition into another power arm out of the bullpen for Seattle. In the short-term though, he’ll likely see action with the big league club by taking Miley’s former spot in the rotation on Thursday.

Whether the Mariners should’ve moved or retained Miley is debatable, but there’s certainly going to be some measure of scrutiny on what Dipoto received from Baltimore, especially when the Tampa Bay Rays received considerably more for a pitcher similar to Miley in age, value, and cost — Matt Moore.

In exchange for Moore, Tampa Bay was able to acquire a young major league infielder — Matt Duffy — from the San Francisco Giants, plus two top-30 prospects from the Giants farm system. Although the Moore deal looks far more appealing on the surface, there may be underlying reasons why the Mariners couldn’t strike a similar deal. The most obvious one being money.

The Orioles were willing to pay all of Miley’s salary — just over $2 million for the remainder of this season, plus $8.75 million next year. As a result of Baltimore’s willingness to accept all of Miley’s salary, the Mariners had to settle for a lesser return.

My takeaway from yesterday’s deal is that Dipoto is willing to acknowledge, through his actions, when he’s made a mistake and that he’s more than willing to adjust course. That’s an encouraging development for an organization that’s historically been too slow or rigid to pivot when confronted with adversity.

Mike Montgomery / Jordan Pries to Chicago Cubs for Dan Vogelbach / Paul Blackburn
This is a deal that helped the Mariners get younger and deeper and may help them as early as this season. The key to the deal, from Seattle’s perspective, was Vogelbach. With three-time all-star Anthony Rizzo standing in his way, the 23-year-old first baseman didn’t have a future with Chicago.

The Cubs’ surplus at first base and need for pitching provided Seattle with an opportunity to pick up the left-handed slugger in exchange for Montgomery and Pries. As with Dipoto views Vogelbach as major league ready. If the Mariners opt to move past their current left-handed hitting first baseman — Adam Lind — in the coming weeks, Vogelbach could find himself first base for Seattle. If he doesn’t get his chance this year, he’s likely to enter Spring Training with an opportunity to win the first base job for 2017.

Blackburn, who’s been assigned to Class-AA Jackson, has the potential to be a back-end starter. The combination of Miranda and Blackburn means that the Mariners added two minor league starters closer to reaching the big leagues than nearly any other prospect in their minor league system.  That’s a factor that can’t be overlooked for an organization that started the season with one of the worst systems in the majors.

Recalling Edwin Diaz from Class-AA Jackson
Arguably, the Mariners’ biggest move was the promotion of the hard-throwing right-hander, who only converted from starter to reliever in mid-May. Since debuting with Seattle on June 6, Diaz has quickly ascended to the eighth inning setup role thanks to his 17.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate — highest among major league pitchers with 25 or more innings pitched.

It’s plausible that Diaz could move into the closer role, although it’s important to note that assigning the 22-year-old to close games doesn’t fix the bigger problem that the Mariners face — a shortage of high-leverage arms. For now, Steve Cishek remains the closer and Seattle’s bullpen continues to be the team’s weakest link.

Joaquin Benoit to the Toronto Blue Jays for Drew Storen
This was essentially a change of location move that will, hopefully, benefit both players and teams. Benoit, shut down twice this year due to shoulder issues, had lost his job as the team’s eighth inning setup man to Diaz.

Similarly, Storen has fallen on hard times since losing his closer job with the Washington Nationals after the club acquired Jonathan Papelbon at last year’s deadline. Once relegated to the setup role, the 28-year-old’s performance dropped off dramatically and he was dealt to the Blue Jays in the offseason. After vying with Roberto Osuna for Toronto’s closer job during Spring Training, Storen he found himself in the setup role and, once again, he failed to deliver.

Since becoming a Mariner, the right-hander has seen action in two relatively low-leverage appearances and delivered mixed results. In his Mariners debut, he pitched a clean sixth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 3-1 ballgame; however, he surrendered four runs the following inning. During last night’s game with the Cubs, he worked another clean sixth inning.

Free agent signing of Tom Wilhelmsen
Another change of location move involved the return of a familiar face. Wilhelmsen, who went to the Texas Rangers in the deal that brought Leonys Martin to Seattle, struggled with the Rangers and eventually became a free agent after refusing assignment to Class-AAA Round Rock. That opened the door for “The Bartender” to return to Seattle.

Since returning to the Emerald City, the big right-hander has rebounded nicely. Although it’s a small sample size, he’s held opposing hitters to a .278 OBP during his first 10 innings with the Mariners. Whether the 32-years-old can continue to sustain his rejuvenated performance remains to be seen. But, so far, the versatile reliever has been an asset for manager Scott Servais.

Player to be named later or cash to the Toronto Blue Jays for Wade LeBlanc
During the Mariners’ nosedive known as the month of June, the club suffered significant injury losses to their rotation. Among those lost were Felix Hernandez, Miley, Taijuan Walker, and Adrian Sampson — Miley’s replacement — for most or all of June.

In need of someone who could hold down a rotation spot — at least temporarily — Dipoto turned to LeBlanc, who was pitching for Class-AAA Syracuse in the Blue Jays system. In four starts, the southpaw has held opposing hitters to a .275 OBP. With the departure of Miley and the club still waiting for Walker to return, LeBlanc re-enters the rotation this week against the Red Sox.

Will this be the most memorable deal made by Dipoto during the deadline season? No. But, the Mariners GM deserves credit for finding a competent replacement player for virtually no cost.

Finally
There’s no doubt that the Mariners are a good team capable of finishing with a winning record. But, their big league roster lacks the necessary depth for them to be considered a serious contender. Does that mean they can’t make the postseason? No. But, their shallow bullpen and degraded rotation leave them at a severe disadvantage.

Sure, King Felix and Walker could return to form and Nick Vincent and Charlie Furbush may come back from injury to reinforce the bullpen. But, that’s a lot to hope for during the last two months of a season that’s seen so many things go wrong. Isn’t it?

 …

Dipoto MarinersFrom the moment Jerry Dipoto became general manager of the Seattle Mariners, he’s emphasized the need to build a roster capable of taking advantage of the expansive Safeco Field dimensions.

As I see it, the 48-year-old executive envisions a foundation of athletic and accomplished players, who are adept at reaching base and wreaking havoc through productive aggressiveness on the bases.

Equally important are outfield defenders who can run down balls in Safeco’s spacious outfield. In Dipoto’s world, a run save is as valuable as a run scored.

To be honest, I thought this season’s Opening Day roster was a massive upgrade over the 2015 version of the Mariners. I’ve been saying as much in previous Prospect Insider pieces and on Twitter. But, the more I think about it, the club has fallen short in a couple of those key areas targeted by Dipoto during the offseason.

This finally became glaringly clear to me in late June when watching the Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Mariners at Safeco. I was thoroughly impressed with the athleticism, speed, and on-base ability of the Pirates. So was Mike Salk of 710 ESPN Seattle, who took to Twitter to deliver his assessment of the visiting team’s roster.

The simple and straightforward comment from the co-host of the Brock and Salk Show hit the nail right on the head — Pittsburgh was better built for Safeco than the home team. This gave me the idea to dig into the Mariners’ home field suitability and look around the league for the teams best built for Safeco.

To get a better feel of where the Mariners stand this season, I decided to see where the team’s on-base ability, outfield defense, and base running ranked against the other 29 major league clubs. I also compared those rankings to last year’s to gauge Seattle’s improvement. Overall, the numbers weren’t encouraging.

Mariners MLB Rankings
Season On-Base Ability Outfield Defense (DRS)
Base Running
OBP BB% SO% OF LF CF RF BsR SB%
2015 22 14 25 30 25 30 26 29 29
2016 10 13 12 28 28 22 24 30 30

As you can see, the Mariners have significantly improved in just one area — reaching base. That’s clearly evident by their top-10 on-base percentage (OBP). Unfortunately, for the ball club and its fans, that’s the only area worth bragging about.

Based on defensive runs saved (DRS), Seattle’s outfield defense isn’t good enough. The addition of center fielder Leonys Martin was a step in the right direction. However, last season’s core of corner outfielders — Seth Smith, Nelson Cruz, and Franklin Gutierrez — remain on the roster.

The trio has combined to play 65-percent of all left and right field innings this season. Based on the defensive metrics, they’re all below-average fielders — as they were last season. This does not bode well for an organization trying to improve their outfield defense.

Nori Aoki was brought in to help the club’s outfield defense, team speed and on-base ability. To date, he’s under-performed in all three areas and finds himself playing for Class-AAA Tacoma as a result. Aoki will likely return to the big league club in the near future. Perhaps, he’ll get his season back on track and help the Mariners make a pennant push.

On the base paths, there’s only one way for me to put it — the baby is ugly. Seattle base runners have cost the team runs and continue to rank at the bottom of the league in both sabermetric and standard base running statistics.

BsR (Base Running) is a FanGraphs statistic that takes into account all aspects of base path action — stolen base success, taking extra bases, being thrown out while on base, etc. If you’ve been watching the Mariners over the last few seasons, their low standing doesn’t surprise you.

The same goes for stolen base percentage (SB%), which is the old-fashioned measurement of how successful a base runner has been at stealing bases. Not only is Seattle still at the bottom of the league, their 53-percent success rate is eight points lower than last season.

Now that I’ve established that the Mariners have a lot of work to do, let’s turn our attention to clubs that I believe are a far better fit for Safeco Field than the home team; based on on-base ability, outfield range, and team speed. Let’s start with the club mentioned by Mr. Salk.

Pittsburgh Pirates
As good as the Pirates look, their roster isn’t the best fit for Safeco among the clubs I plan to discuss. But, their stable of players exemplifies the type of players that fit the mold of what Dipoto has been publicly advocating, especially in the outfield.

The starting trio of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco form one of the most athletic starting outfields in the majors. Marte leads all major league left fielders in DRS and Polanco ranks tenth among right fielders. Defensive metrics don’t love McCutchen, which confounded me, until I spoke to Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill.

Jason pointed out that Marte/Polanco may be the best corner outfield combo in the majors and that they reach balls in the gaps their peers can’t. As a result, their defensive excellence could be creating the appearance that McCutchen has limited range. Even if McCutchen’s poor DRS accurately portrayed his defensive prowess, the Pirates total outfield is slightly above average, which is all that really matters for any club.

Pittsburgh’s offense is a deep unit that ended the first half of the season with the third best OBP in the big leagues. The club brags nine players — including the rehabbing Francisco Cervelli — with 150 or more plate appearance and an OBP above the league-average (.323). By comparison, the productive Mariners offense has five.

Team speed has been an important element in the Pittsburgh attack. Their base runners entered the all-star break tied with the Houston Astros for third most stolen bases (68) in the big leagues and the fifth best success rate — 76-percent. Leading the way for the Bucs is Marte, who entered the break with 30 swiped bags — second most in the majors.

The Pirates are certainly a better fit for Safeco than the current edition of the Mariners. But, there are two other rosters I like more. The next team has been better known for relying on offensive firepower — not speed, defense, and athleticism.

Boston Red Sox
Boston’s offense reached the all-star break leading the majors in OBP and slugging percentage. In years past, you might have assumed the long ball was the driving force behind their prolific slugging — not in 2016. This version of the Red Sox is only league-average at hitting home runs, but leads the league in doubles and top-10 in triples.

All things considered, the team’s outfield defense has fared well even though left field has been problematic due to injuries to Chris Young, Blake Swihart, and Brock Holt at one time or another. Thanks to the dynamic duo of center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and right fielder Mookie Betts and Holt, the Red Sox outfield ranks number-five in the majors in DRS.

The club’s success on the base paths — third in the majors in BsR — is another new wrinkle in Beantown. Leading the way are Betts, Bradley, and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Like the Pirates, the Red Sox are top-10 for stolen bases. More importantly, they have the highest success rate (86-percent) in the majors. That’s seven-percent better than the second best Cleveland Indians.

The Red Sox may play in the oldest ballpark in baseball, but they have a foundation of young, athletic ballplayers fueling their success in the outfield and throughout their lineup.

This season, the Red Sox have used 15 position players 28-years-old or younger. That’s tied for most in the majors. Among those players are Travis ShawChristian Vazquez, Bogaerts, Bradley, Betts, Swihart, and Holt. Yes, having young players doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. They have to be good AND young. That’s the case in Boston.

My favorite roster also plays in a ballpark opened before the start of World War I and employs Boston’s former general manager as their president of baseball operations.

Chicago Cubs
Yes, picking the team with the second best record in the majors isn’t exactly a tough choice. But, I didn’t pick the team with the best record — the San Francisco Giants — and the other teams I’ve discussed started the second half in third place. While the Cubs could win in any park, including Yellowstone, they’d be a great fit for Safeco thanks to their superb on-base skills, outfield defense, and overall athleticism.

Chicago’s long lineup is second best in the majors at reaching base. How long is that lineup? All but one of the 12 position players on the current 25-man roster are above league average in OBP. There’s no breathing room for opposing pitchers when it comes to facing the Cubs’ lineup.

Defensively, the team’s outfield ranks third in the big leagues. The best of the bunch — right fielder Jason Heyward — continues to be an elite-level defender with the second best DRS. The 26-year-old has also logged over 120 innings of center field duty this season.

Regular center fielder Dexter Fowler — currently on the disabled list — isn’t on par with his partner in right field. But, his contributions along with Heyward and Albert Almora, have the Cubs center field defense ranked tenth in the big leagues. Thanks to Kris Bryant, Chris Coghlan, and Almora, Chicago’s left field contingent is also top-10.

Although the North Siders are below league-average in stolen base proficiency, they rank number-five in BsR because they’re adept at taking the extra base, which proves there’s more to base running than just stealing bases.

As with the Red Sox, Chicago boasts a bevvy of young stars. Six key contributors are 26-years-old or younger — Anthony Rizzo (26), Addison Russell (22), Bryant (24) , Heyward (26), Javier Baez (23), and Jorge Soler (24) – currently recovering from a hamstring injury. That’s not counting Kyle Schwarber (23), who’s lost for the year due to knee surgery.

The Cubs style of play works in any park, but their position players would be the best fit for Seattle’s home field. They’re athletic, get on base at a high rate, and play superb defense. That brings us back to the Emerald City’s major league baseball club.

Seattle Mariners
Considering the roster that Dipoto started with last September, he’s done well at improving the club’s center field defense and their ability to reach base in less than a year. But, much more needs to be done to reach his stated goal of using the Safeco Field dimensions as an advantage. Getting younger would be a good first step.

Youthful rosters don’t necessarily guarantee success on the field. Look no further than the Minnesota Twins, who are great example of a young club with a terrible win-loss record. Also, not every young player is a great athlete — refer to Jesus Montero’s stay in Seattle.

Still, acquiring talented, young, and athletic players is the best way to build a sustainable home field advantage in Seattle. Having such players is the primary reason that the Red Sox and Cubs are better fits for Safeco — they each boast a half dozen or more quality players under age-27.

Conversely, the Mariners are tied with the New York Yankees for the oldest group of position players and have used just four under the age of 27 this season — Ketel Marte, Luis Sardinas, Chris Taylor, and Mike Zunino. Marte is the lone significant contributor, while Sardinas and Zunino have spent most of the season in Tacoma and Taylor is no longer with the organization.

Whether roster changes begin within the next two weeks or after the season, they’ll need to happen in order to turn Dipoto’s vision into reality for future seasons. That means more players born during the first term of the Clinton administration and fewer defensively challenged players like Gutierrez, Smith, and Cruz patrolling the outfield.

Can the Mariners accomplish such a turnover prior to next Opening Day? It seems unlikely considering the current state of their roster and minor league system. Until they do though, other clubs will continue to be a better fit for Safeco Field.…

CishekSEAWe all love the trade deadline. We all loves trades. They bring a different level of excitement to an otherwise long, drawn-out season. No team is immune to the trade deadline. Bad teams, great teams, those in the middle, they’re all part of the trade buzz and that starts about now for all of the aforementioned.

Tuesday, Julie DiCaro of 670 The Score in Chicago reported via Twitter the Mariners have been scouting the Chicago Cubs “at all levels.”

DiCaro added, via Twitter reply, whom the Cubs are apparently looking at on the Seattle roster:

The Mariners bats with power include Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Adam Lind, Franklin Gutierrez, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith and Dae-Ho Lee. Let’s scratch Lind and Lee from the discussion, since they’re 1B/DH types only and the Cubs have one of the best first basemen in the game. And since the National League doesn’t offer the designated hitter, let’s scratch Cruz, too; he’s a bad outfielder and the Cubs’ front office and field staff greatly value defense.

This leaves platoon bats such as Smith and Gutierrez and full-time centerfielder Martin. The Cubs have Dexter Fowler in center and while moving him to left field and inserting Martin in center makes the Cubs better, it’s unclear what Seattle could get out of moving Martin, who is under club control for two more seasons.

The same goes for Seager. It’s late June and the Mariners have to plan for buying and selling both but if they’re making significant moves right now, the result has to be somewhat lateral at worst; get younger and gain control years while maintaining the overall talent level can be done. Or perhaps a deal now helps GM Jerry Dipoto make a bigger splash in a few weeks where the overall net gain is greater.

Seager does make sense for the Cubs, too. Such a move pushes Bryant to left field regularly, where he’s an upgrade over Jorge Soler’s .223/.322/.377 triple-slash. What the Mariners could get back to make it worth their while is unclear.

Again, at this stage, dealing Seager for prospects is a sell job. The 38-38 Mariners have no business pulling the plug on their season right now, despite the intrigue of the Cubs’ farm system. Yes, Kyle Schwarber could be the starting first baseman next year. Yes, shortstop Gleyber Torres is a very good prospect and highly valuable. Neither does the Mariners any good on June 28, or anytime this season — unless they’re traded again.

Mariners fans shouldn’t worry too much about Seager being the bait here. Dipoto can read just like we can. Seager is 28 years old and along with Martin the youngest member of the core of the club. Cano is 33, Cruz 36, Smith 33, Gutierrez 33 and catcher Chris Iannetta 33. If the Mariners move Seager, it’s sensible to do so in a selling situation or over the offseason as part of a larger overhaul. The Mariners shouldn’t be looking to get older and they shouldn’t be looking to move their best prime core player for prospects, at least for another month.

Cano doesn’t make sense for the Cubs, either, since Ben Zobrist is a better defender and has performed very well at the plate — and Cano’s contract is, well, large. Smith doesn’t seem to fit all that well considering his defense is below average and the Cubs have Chris Coghlan filling such a role. Gutierrez might be of interest to the Cubs as a platoon partner for Coghlan, a left-handed batter, but Coghlan hasn’t hit enough in 2016 to suggest he should be playing four days a week. It seems Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would be after an everyday player.

So what in the world could the two sides be talking about in late June? It’s not inconceivable the conversations may have or will include any or all of the above. The best bet, in my opinion, is something a lot less flashy:

DiCaro also tweeted Tuesday the Cubs have been in talks with four American League clubs and have interest in Minnesota Twins reliever Fernando Abad, a right-hander.

The Mariners have right-handed relievers.

Fans may wonder why the Mariners would trade away quality relievers and the potential answers to that question include:

1. They wouldn’t.

2. They wouldn’t unless it’s part of a bigger package that nets them a starting pitcher that can help right away.

3. They wouldn’t at this point in the season and the non-routine scouting of the Cubs’ organization is actually closer to routine than not and in preparation for something later this summer.

You can bet the farm the Cubs aren’t the only system the Mariners are scouting more heavily than normal right now. It’s a club that could be in contention next month and looking to add, but it’s also one that could find themselves in position to sell, too.

It’s how middling clubs get better and set themselves up for more sustainable success. In a sell situation, we should hear about the Mariners shopping Cruz, Smith, Gutierrez, Iwakuma, Nick Vincent, Joaquin Benoit, Vidal Nuno, Steve Cishek, Martin, Iannetta, Lind… pretty much everybody. Felix Hernandez is off the table. See what the market may bare.

The Cubs’ greatest area of need is the bullpen. The club currently is carrying a 3.98 FIP and the eighth worst BB/( of any relief corps in baseball. Cishek, who is signed through next season, might be an interesting piece for the juggernaut Cubs. They may also see Nuno or Mike Montgomery as a significant upgrade to lefty Clayton Richard and even Travis Wood.

Seager, though, is among the few topics you make the other clubs broach.

If I had to wager, I’d bet the two sides don’t make a single trade of great substance with one another unless and until Seattle decides to sell.

If they decide to sell. If they get healthy and add a piece or two of their own to the pitching mix, the Mariners may find themselves in the thick of their own race to the postseason. At which point most or all of the above names will be off the table for prospect returns.…

The Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline is nearing and Seattle Mariners fans are anxious to see how general manager Jerry Dipoto handles the club’s roster during his first “deadline season” in Seattle. With that in mind, I’ve been doing “primers” for each American League (AL) West division club to see how the club’s rivals stack up as the August 1 trade deadline approaches.

In recent days, I’ve discussed each of Seattle’s divisional rivals — the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to the the Mariners.

As mentioned in the earlier pieces, the trade market is certain to fluctuate greatly during the next six weeks. Some teams will go on a hot streak and feel like they have a chance, while others will stumble. In the end, all will have to decide whether to buy or sell and how aggressive they should be in the market.

The Mariners fall into the category of a “stumbler” and are an excellent example of how quickly a team’s trajectory can veer off course. After posting a 30-11 win-loss record during the first two months, Seattle is 6-13 since. The club’s recent spate of misfortune has probably influenced the opinion of some fans on whether the Mariners should be buyers or sellers.

For the purpose of this primer, I’m going to assume that the Mariners will be buyers. A month from now, their season may look much differently. For now, they’re still above the .500 mark and still very much alive in the divisional and wild card race. First, let’s talk about how Seattle entered their June tailspin.

What happened?
As with any baseball team — or season — there’s no one “thing” that leads to failure. In the case of the Mariners though, there’s one segment of the roster that’s clearly under-performed during the rough patch known as the month of June — their pitching. Look at the following table to see what I mean.

Mariners Run Production vs. Run Prevention
Month RS/Gm RA/Gm
Total W-L
W-L (+4 Runs scored)
W-L (Under 4 Runs Scored)
April 4.3 3.3 13-10 9-1 4-9
May 5.6 4.1 17-11 16-4 1-7
June 4.8 5.5 6-13 6-5 0-8

As you can see, there’s been a downward trend in runs allowed (RA/Gm) during month of the season. It’s true that club’s offense isn’t as robust in June when compared to their monster May, but it’s still averaging 4.8 RS/Gm. That should be plenty to win the majority of games.

For further proof, look at Seattle’s win-loss record when they’ve scored four or more runs during each month of the season. In April and May, the Mariners combined to go 25-5 in those games. In June, however, they’re barely over .500. In fact, the ball club hasn’t won a game when they’ve scored three or less runs this month. It’s always tough to win when a team scores three or less, but 0-8?

The declining effectiveness of the pitching staff is the root cause to the club’s June swoon. So, what’s the problem with the Mariners staff?

The ugly baby
The most apparent problem with the Mariners’ staff is the is the health of their starters. Many pundits and fans point to losing ace Felix Hernandez to the disabled list (DL) as the turning point. To a degree that’s true, but it’s a bit more complex.

Sure, losing King Felix hurts. But, his replacement — James Paxton — has performed admirably in the King’s absence. Look at the numbers of Felix’s last four starts prior to his calf injury compared to Paxton’s. There are relatively the same.

Felix Hernandez vs. James Paxton (Last three starts)
Player IP H
ER SO
BB
HR
AVG
Felix Hernandez 26.1 23 11 24 8 3 .235
James Paxton
26 28 4 27 8 1 .285

Am I suggesting that Paxton can replace Felix on a long-term basis? Of course not. But, the southpaw isn’t the problem. In fact, he’s been one of the team’s better pitchers in June.

The true pain from Felix’s absence has to do with the subsequent loss of Wade Miley to the DL and the ongoing injury issues with Taijuan Walker. With Paxton subbing for the King, he wasn’t available to fill in for Miley or Walker. That forced the Mariners to turn to Adrian Sampson to take Miley’s most recent turn.

The uncertainty surrounding Walker and the tendonitis affecting his right Achilles region will force Seattle to look to another hurler for Walker’s next scheduled start on Friday. Options include Mike Montgomery, newly acquired Zach Lee, and possibly Vidal Nuno.

Obviously, losing two and possibly three starters would be a major setback for any team. But, it’s been worse for the Mariners. Why? The team was forced to rely more heavily on a bullpen that wasn’t a strength entering the season.

The following table illustrates how the percent of workload has been slowly shifting from the starters to relievers with each passing month. Not coincidentally, the club’s win-loss record has worsened as the bullpen worked more innings. In June, the ugly baby finally appeared.

Mariners Pitching Workload Distribution and Results
Month SP IP
SP %
SP FIP
RP IP
RP %
RP FIP
April 143 69% 3.78 64 31% 3.15
May 161.1 64% 4.30 90.4 36% 3.38
June 104 61% 4.20 67 39% 5.1

As you can see, relievers are inheriting a larger workload. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to deliver the results as a unit. I included their increasing fielding independent pitching (FIP) to make that point.

For those not familiar with FIP, it’s a metric that looks similar to earned run average (ERA), but only measures the outcomes that a pitcher can solely control — strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs. I’m not trying to be a “saber-geek,” but FIP takes out the luck and defense so we can just focus on the pitchers during this conversation. If you want to know more about FIP, you can’t read about it here at FanGraphs.

Before getting into what the Mariners can do to fix themselves during the season, let’s discuss a few harsh realities facing general manager Jerry Dipoto.

Reality check
Seattle has limited resources available to use on the trade market. Their minor league system isn’t barren. However, it started the season ranked number-28 by Keith Law of ESPN.com. Just one prospect — Alex Jackson — ranked in the MLB.com Top-100. He came in at number-85.

After this month’s draft, the club’s number-11 overall pick —  Kyle Lewis — catapulted to second in Seattle’s system, according to Prospect Insider — ahead of Jackson.

Top prospect Tyler O’Neill is a rising star. Should the club consider trading the 21-year-old now? If they did, they’d be selling low. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Yes, the Mariners have a few pieces to sell and that’s the problem — they have FEW pieces. Moving O’Neill, Jackson, or Mike Zunino would bring some value back to Seattle. But, Dipoto would be selling low. He’s more accustomed to buying low.

Does this mean that the Mariners won’t be able to wheel and deal? Of course not. But, they’ll be vying for pieces coveted by market competitors — such as the Astros, Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs — who have many more prospects to offer during negotiations.

Reality check (Part two)
Let’s be honest, the Mariners entered the season as a fringe-contender capable of winning more games than they lost, but not many more games.

Thanks to a strong first two months, fan and pundit expectations for the club have soared. Now, the Mariners are leveling out. What’s changed since the start of the season? Nothing. The team is the same fringe-contender with an underwhelming bullpen. In a way, Seattle is exactly where they should be — hovering near the .500 mark.

Does that mean that club should give up on the season? No. But, selling the farm — if they had one to sell — for a shot at a potential one-game playoff would be short-sighted and unreasonable, especially for a general manager in his first season with a new organization.

Now that I’ve depressed and angered fans throughout the Pacific Northwest, what can be done to improve the Mariners pitchers and the rest of their roster? If it were up to me, I’d take a measured approach that attacked the following areas in this order — bullpen, corner outfield, rotation.

Bullpen
The biggest challenge facing the Mariners — other than limited resources — is that nearly every contender will be looking for relief help. That doesn’t mean that Seattle can’t find help. But, they’ll be facing steep competition.

We already know that Dipoto is innovative and previously fixed the 2014 Angels bullpen — they won 98 games that year. His cornerstone acquisition in 2014 was closer Huston Street. Perhaps, a reunion could take place.

The 32-year-old recently completed a five-week stint on the DL due to a strained left oblique. Assuming that he returns to form and the Angels and Mariners are willing to deal with each other — big assumption — Street would quickly improve Seattle’s bullpen. He’s set to make $9 million next season with a $10 million team option or $1 million buyout for 2018.

Having Street available would permit the Mariners manager Scott Servais to push incumbent closer Steve Cishek to the eighth inning. By doing so, Joaquin Benoit could become Servais’ seventh inning option. Suddenly, the bullpen has a different feel to it with Nick Vincent and Edwin Diaz being the primary middle relief options.

I know what some of you are thinking. Why not snag a big fish like New York Yankees setup man Andrew Miller? It does sounds appealing. After all, he’s flat out better than any Mariners reliever. Jim Bowden of ESPN.com even suggested Miller as a best fit for the Mariners not long ago. But, I don’t agree.

Bowden mentions that the Yankees would want a “young starter or young middle-of-the-order bat” in return for Miller. Who exactly is that in the Mariners organization? The guys that they can’t afford to squander on a reliever.

The same applies to Miller’s teammate — Aroldis Chapman. Having a closer capable of throwing 100-mph would be great. But, Seattle will be competing with clubs who have more valuable pieces to dangle in front of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

All of this assumes that the Bronx Bombers will be sellers. Considering that they haven’t registered a losing season since 1992, I don’t expect them to become sellers until very near the deadline. Even if the Mariners had the resources, can they wait that long?

If snagging a closer isn’t a doable do, the club could acquire relievers, who could help preserve save opportunities for Cishek. Dipoto could turn either to rentals or longer term options. Personally, I’d prefer the latter option.

I’m not going to name every possibility option, but I’ll mention the type of players that could make sense. The first one is familiar to Mariners fans — Fernando Rodney. Seattle’s former closer has been dealing for the San Diego Padres, who hold a $2 million option for 2017 with a $400 thousand buyout. Rodney is likely to be in high demand. Would the new regime bring back the “Fernando Rodney Experience” back to the Emerald City?

Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times recently suggested several trade options to help the Mariners, including their bullpen. Among the names was David Hernandez of the Philadelphia Phillies. The right-hander is having a good year pitching in the seventh inning with 11.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings during 32 appearances entering today.

Divish also suggested Daniel Hudson of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hudson is serving as Arizona’s eighth inning setup man and has surrendered just .786 walks and hits-per-innings pitched. An intriguing factor with the 29-year-old — he was acquired by Dipoto during his first month as interim general manager of the Diamondbacks in July 2010.

Another player that the Mariners general manager is familiar with is Angels reliever Joe Smith, currently on the DL with a hamstring problem. Assuming he returns within a few weeks, Smith could be an option. The side-arm thrower wasn’t effective prior to his injury. If Smith proves to be back to his normal self, he’d be a good value as a middle-reliever.

If the Mariners wanted to expend more resources, there are options out there. Examples include Padres rookie Ryan Buchter, Arodys Vizcaino of the Atlanta Braves, and Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress of the Milwaukee Brewers. All are having good years and come with with multiple years of team control.

Several relievers under team control through just next year include John Axford and Fernando Rodriguez of the Athletics and Fernando Abad of the Minnesota Twins. Each player is have varying degrees of value. They’d cost more than a rental, but less than the players with multiple years previously mentioned.

Divish noted that Jeanmar Gomez of the Philadelphia Phillies as a possible fit. He’s the team’s closer and has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining. Gomez could help with the ninth inning or could take over the eighth inning.

Corner outfield
Mariners left fielder Norichika Aoki has been the target of fan scorn this season. The veteran has a league-average OBP of .322, but only 12 extra base hits coming into today. Plus, his outfield defense has been — at best — slightly below-average. Improving the left field spot, both offensively and defensively, may be a tall order.

Big names like Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, and Carlos Gonzalez could be available and are under team control for several years. Plus, there’s Carlos Beltran, who would be a rental. Each sounds sexy, but all have drawbacks.

Kemp is slashing .256/.274/.470 and owed nearly $64 million through the 2019 season — that’s not counting the $10.5 million that the Los Angeles Dodgers are chipping in. Even if the Padres were willing to pay some of Kemp’s contract, adding another regressing outfielder on the wrong side of age-30 would make zero sense.

Braun and Gonzalez are putting up good numbers, but the haul required to get them is realistically out of reach for the Mariners. Moreover, Braun is due to make over $80 million between now and the end of the 2020 season, when he’ll be 36 years-old. That doesn’t include the $15 million mutual option/$4 million for 2021. Getting older just doesn’t make sense.

Beltran would cost much less. But, when will the Yankees become sellers? Will they sell?

A lower profile name like Jon Jay of the Padres would make more sense. Yes, I’d rather see the team pick up a player with more control than Jay — he’s a free agent at the end of the season. However, he’s be a significant upgrade over Aoki. Entering today, the 31-year-old is slashing .296/.345/.407 slash and would present Servais with another center field option — if Leonys Martin were unavailable or needed a day off.

Tampa Bay Ray Steve Pearce would be an interesting option. Although he wouldn’t be a center field replacement. The versatile right-handed hitter has spent time at first base, second base, and both corner outfield spots during the last two seasons. Like Jay, he’ll be a free agent at season’s end.

Another potential corner outfield rental would be Josh Reddick of the Athletics. Reddick is currently on the DL due to a broken thumb, but he’s close to returning. Assuming that he’s back and healthy by the deadline, the 29-year-old would be a nice fit in right field.

Before his injury, the left-handed hitter was slashing .322/.394/.466, which were career highs. Even if he returned to his normal league-average numbers, he’d provide the Mariners with a better glove, arm, and bat.

Adding a right fielder, like Reddick, would actually help left field indirectly. Such a move would permit the Franklin Gutierrez/Seth Smith platoon to left field and significantly reduce the outfield time for Nelson Cruz. Essentially, adding one player would help both corner outfield spots.

Rotation
Here’s where I’m really going to get in trouble with Mariners fans. I recommend doing nothing with the rotation. At the most, make a minor deal late. Why do I feel that way?

To me, there’s no reason to use scarce resources on a starter. If there are any more significant issues with the starting staff, the Mariners aren’t likely to be serious contenders anyway. That probably doesn’t sit well with some Mariners faithful. But, it’s true.

As of today, Felix and Miley appear to be on track to return within the next month and there’s no indication that Walker’s problem is season ending. It’s quite possible all three could be back before or near the all-star break. Assuming that Seattle regains the trio without losing another starter, they’ll be in good shape with their starting pitching. Otherwise, there’s not much hope of postseason contention in 2016.

Finally
What I’ve presented is a plan for a team that’s two games over .500 entering today. For a club in that position, the best course of action would be to make incremental improvements to the roster without forsaking the future for a shot of instant gratification.

If the Mariners plummet during the next month, they’d be better served to consider being a seller at the deadline. Conversely, if they were soaring after the all-star break, leaning forward in a common sense way would be reasonable.

Fans don’t like to read or hear that kind of talk. But, it’s the best approach for a club that started the year as a fringe-contender.

AL West trade primer: Oakland Athletics

AL West trade primer: Los Angeles Angels

AL West trade primer: Houston Astros

AL West trade primer: Texas Rangers

Last June, I wrote a piece reflecting on several non-waiver deadline deals made in July 2011. My rationale for looking back so far was simple. Most of these trades involve prospects who are years away from reaching the majors — assuming they ever do.

Since I enjoyed picking away at those old trades last year, I thought I’d do it again and put several 2012 deadline deals under the microscope this time. There weren’t many sexy moves that year, but I chose a few that I found interesting. I hope that you will too.

Ryan Dempster for Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva
When the Texas Rangers dealt for Dempster, they were leading the American League (AL) West division and trying to earn a third consecutive World Series appearance. It’s hard to criticize the Rangers for making the deal. After losing two consecutive Fall Classics, they were willing to part with prospects to get over the hump.

Dempster pitched adequately during his 12 starts with Texas and became a free agent after the season. Unfortunately for the club though, the resurgent Oakland Athletics won the division and the Rangers lost the Wild Card game to the Baltimore Orioles.

The Chicago Cubs were at the other end of the spectrum. They were in the midst of a 101-loss season, which happened to be the first with Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations and Jed Hoyer as general manager. For them, trading soon-to-be free agent Dempster to get much needed prospects made complete sense.

At the time of the deal, Villanueva — a third baseman — was considered the centerpiece of the deal for the Cubs, but he has yet to reach the majors.

Although the 24-year-old ranks number-26 in Chicago’s stacked minor league system, he’s behind National League (NL) Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant on the depth chart. More importantly though, Villanueva suffered a fractured fibula in Spring Training and hasn’t played this season.

Hendricks has experienced better luck and landed in Chicago’s rotation as a full-time starter last season. This year, he’s off to a great start and currently ranks number-13 among NL starters, based on FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR).

David Carpenter, J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon for Joseph Musgrove, Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Carlos Perez, David Rollins, Asher Wojciechowski, and Kevin Comer
Another club in the midst of a massive rebuild — the Houston Astros — started trading away major league talent a year earlier when they dispatched Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn in deals to the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves respectively.

In 2012, new general manager Jeff Lunhow continued the trend started by his predecessor — Ed Wade — by shipping Happ and two veterans north of the border in an attempt to restock his decimated minor league system. Although ten players were involved in this deal, only a few panned out or provided value to either club.

Lyon, Cordero, and Francisco were gone — via trade or release — within three months. After the 2014 season, Perez was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for catcher Hank Conger, who was subsequently purchased by the Tampa Bay Rays last December.

Carpenter, along with manager John Farrell were sent to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Mike Aviles. Just four days later, Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes were sent packing to the Cleveland Indians for Esmil Rogers, who has since moved on from Toronto.

Rollins was a Rule 5 selection by the Seattle Mariners in December 2015 and currently plays with their Class-AAA affiliate. Wojciechowski was waived last month and subsequently picked up by the Miami Marlins. That leaves Happ, Comer, and Musgrove to discuss.

For Toronto, Happ was the centerpiece of the deal. The southpaw endured a tough run of injury problems with the Blue Jays, although he did provide value when healthy. In December 2014, the Jays swapped the veteran hurler Happ for outfielder Michael Saunders of the Mariners.

Happ must have enjoyed his stay in Canada because he returned to the team as a free agent last offseason after a brief stay in Pittsburgh last summer. Now, the Jays have both Happ and Saunders contributing to the big league club.

For the Astros, Comer hasn’t reached Class-AA yet and isn’t a top-30 prospect. However, Musgrove looks like he’ll eventually pay dividends for Houston. The 23-year-old is currently pitching at Class-AAA Fresno and projects to be a mid-rotation starter.

Zack Greinke for Johnny Hellweg, Ariel Pena and Jean Segura
If I didn’t cover this deal made by current Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, I’d probably lose my parking privileges at the Prospect Insider headquarters.

At the time of the trade, Dipoto was running the Los Angeles Angels. His ball club was just three games behind the first place Rangers and held the lead in the AL wildcard race. Unfortunately, for the Angels and Dipoto, the team didn’t make it to the postseason despite winning 89 games.

The Angels’ dance partner — the Milwaukee Brewers — were hopelessly out of contention and looking to acquire value for Greinke, who was set to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Of the three players the Brewers acquired, Segura was the best. In his first full season with the club, he made the 2013 NL All-Star team and posted an excellent .294/.329/.423 triple-slash. The following two seasons, though, he was an offensive disappointment and subsequently shipped off to the Arizona Diamondbacks in January.

Hellweg is now in the San Diego Padres organization after signing as a minor league free agent prior to this season, while Pena is still in the Brewers minor league system. Neither is on their respective club’s 40-man roster.

Although Segura provided mixed results while with Milwaukee, the club did garner some value when they traded him along with pitcher Tyler Wagner to Arizona for minor leaguer Isan Diaz, pitcher Chase Anderson, and veteran infielder Aaron Hill. This was, in essence, the second layer of the Greinke deal.

The 34-year-old Hill will be a free agent at the end of the season and is a likely deadline deal chip for general manager David Stearns. But, Anderson and Diaz have long-term value to Stearns’ organization.

Anderson is under team control for five more seasons and currently a member of their rotation, while Diaz — a 2014 second-round draft pick — currently ranks number-11 in Milwaukee’s minor league system.

Hunter Pence for  Seth Rosin, Nate Schierholtz and Tommy Joseph
Just a year after picking up Pence from the Astros, Philadelphia flipped him to the San Francisco Giants for three youngsters. He’d eventually sign an extension with San Francisco and is under contract through the 2018 season. Along the way, the 33-year-old helped his team win the 2012 and 2014 Fall Classic.

Rosin is no longer with the Phillies after his selection during the Rule 5 draft by the New York Mets in December 2013. He’s currently with Class-AAA El Paso in the San Diego Padres organization, but not on their 40-man roster. Schierholtz became a free agent after the season and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014.

From the Phillies’ perspective, Joseph was the key component of the deal. At the time, the right-handed hitter appeared to Philadelphia’s catcher of the future. Unfortunately, concussions derailed his career behind the plate. As a result, the team moved him to first base on a full-time basis. Now, the 24-year-old appears to be the heir apparent to veteran first baseman Ryan Howard.

Randy Choate and Hanley Ramirez for Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough
The Los Angeles Dodgers were hot on the heels of the Giants and their new ownership group wanted to make a splash by reaching the postseason for the first time in three seasons. So, they acquired Choate and Ramirez from the Miami Marlins. Unfortunately, for the club, San Francisco won it all and the Dodgers missed the playoffs altogether.

Although Choate left as a free agent after season, Ramirez proved to be an important contributor who helped the Dodgers reach the next two postseasons before he signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in November 2014.

As compensation for losing Ramirez, Los Angeles received a compensatory draft pick — number-35 overall — and selected Kyle Funkhouser from the University of Louisville. Unfortunately, for the Dodgers, Funkhouser didn’t sign and opted to return to school for his senior year.

For the Marlins, they recouped some value in the deal, although it was in a circuitous manner — like the Greinke deal.

McGough was waived in April, but Miami was able to flip Eovaldi with Domingo German and Garrett Jones to nab David Phelps and Martin Prado from the New York Yankees in December 2014. Phelps is the team’s eight-inning setup man and Prado is their starting third baseman.

Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez for Rob Brantly, Brian Flynn and Jacob Turner
In another “sell-mode” maneuver, Miami sent Infante and Sanchez to the win-now Detroit Tigers. This deal turned out to be lopsided in favor of Detroit.

The Marlins got little value out of the threesome they received. Turner was traded to the Cubs for minor leaguers Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer two years later. Arias is no longer playing professional baseball and the 26-year-old Bremer has yet to pitch above the Class-AA level.

Flynn was traded to the Kansas City Royals in November 2014 for Aaron Crow, who was granted free agency a year later. Brantly was eventually waived by the Marlins and the Chicago White Sox. He’s currently one of Dipoto’s layers of roster depth at Class-AAA Tacoma.

Conversely, Detroit did much better. Infante played well for the Tigers until he became a free agent after the 2013 season, while Sanchez finished fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting during his first full season and he’s still toeing the mound in the Motor City.

Ichiro Suzuki for Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell
This deal was a small one, but it did involve a future Hall of Famer and the Mariners. So, I thought I’d mention it.

Ichiro asked to be traded from the Emerald City and the organization obliged by sending him to New York. The former AL Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year helped the Yankees reach the postseason and played two more seasons with the club before moving on to the Marlins — his current team.

The 42-year-old is on-track to reach 3,000 hits this season and is certain to be a Mariners Hall of Fame member. Perhaps, his Cooperstown plaque will have him wearing a Seattle cap.

Seattle received fair value in return for Ichiro considering that he was 38-years-old and regressing. Although Mitchell was out of the Mariners system less than a year later and currently playing independent league ball, Farquhar helped the club for several seasons.

The right-hander was an asset out of the bullpen and even served as Seattle’s closer in the second half of 2013. During last offseason, Farquhar was part of a six-player deal with the Tampa Bay Rays that brought starting pitcher Nate Karns and outfield prospect Boog Powell to the Mariners.

Finally
Once again, my takeaway is that time is the best judge of deadline deals, not the instant gratification analysis certain to immediately follow after this year’s trades.

My advice to those following a team that deals for prospects next month is be patient and wait about four years before you make your final judgement. That’s easier said than done, but you’ll have a better idea on how your team actually fared. It might prevent your blood pressure from soaring in July too.

 …

Theo1We unveiled on the Sandmeyer and Churchill Podcast our 2016 predictions, but I thought I’d post them for future reference… you know, so you can make fun of even me when none of these come to fruition.

As for the Seattle Mariners, I think given the most likely outcomes in regression, rebounding, decline, incline and everything else, the club is an 83-win team.

Of course, things can happen beyond what’s reasonable to expect, such as some luck, unexpected health and perhaps a player or two performing above what seemed reasonable before the season. It can go the other way, too, though, but trades cannot be ruled out, either.

I don’t buy The Los Angeles Angels or the Mariners as year-long division contenders — maybe Wild Card — and the A’s may not be a 95-loss club but the roster isn’t very good with too few exceptions.

American League

West: Texas Rangers
While Yu Darvish will not be ready for the start of the season, I like what the Rangers’ starting rotation looks like from the get-go this year. Cole Hamels leads the staff with fellow lefty Martin Perez perhaps the starter most likely to take a large step forward.

Since Jeff Bannister was hired the Rangers’ focus has been balancing the offense with enough pitching and more defense. It worked in 2015 and it should work again in 2016. The most significant question may be the offense, with an aging, yet still good when he’s on the field Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus coming off two bad years at the plate and a Delino DeShields, Jr. with a book out on him now. Rougned Odor and Ian Desmond could render Andrus’ and DeShields’ potential struggles fairly meaningless, however.
Bannister proved very good tactically last year and without an inordinate number of injuries to key arms the Rangers’ floor might be 83-86 wins. I like them for 90-92 and the division crown.

Houston is the chic pick and could very well pick up where they left off a year ago, but it doesn’t always work out that way and the club already is seeing some injury issues pop up with DH/OF Evan Gattis, starting pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr. and catcher Max Stassi. If both Carlos Correa and George Springer explode offensively, though, they may blow the roof off the division.

I don’t buy The Los Angeles Angels or the Mariners as year-long division contenders — maybe Wild Card — and the A’s may not be a 95-loss club but the roster isn’t very good with too few exceptions.

Central: Detroit Tigers
I wanted to pick Cleveland like I did last year, but despite the loss of Dave Dombrowski to the Boston Red Sox the Tigers were able to spend more of their owner’s money to fill some gaps. Miguel Cabrera appears healthy to start the year after missing 43 games in 2015, as does right-hander Anibal Sanchez. Jordan Zimmermann gives Detroit a third strong starter in the rotation and there’s some upside on the back end with Daniel Norris.

Nick Castellanos is poised to take a step forward at the plate and in combination with the addition of Justin Upton in left field, the Tigers’ offense should soar once again.

The Kansas City Royals will again be tough to hurdle and in the end this may end up the most competitive division in baseball — not the best, necessarily — and if three teams are within a game or two of the lead with a few weeks to go it will be tough to bet against the defending champs.

East: Boston Red Sox
I could see any of three clubs winning the east — Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees included — but I like the Red Sox, who have the best blend of talent on the mound, ace through closer, and within their regular lineup. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts continue their push toward the league’s better performers, David Ortiz remains highly productive in the DH role and the Sox boast two outfielders in Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Rusney Castillo that could surprise some offensively as Bradley did the second half of 2015. The outfield defense is second to none.

What could derail the Red Sox? Injuries, of course, and they’ve had a lot of problems keeping their key players on the active roster the past few years, including Dustin Pedroia, who played just 93 games a year ago and he’s now 32 years of age.

I’m not sure the Blue Jays have the starting pitching some seem to believe they do; R.A. Dickey is not the Cy Young version of a few years ago, David Price‘s two-month stint is now in Boston and J.A. Happ is what he is — a No. 4 starter. Aaron Sanchez is moving from the bullpen to the rotation and if his transition is anything but a raging success from the get-go, the Blue Jays’ staff may only be fourth best in the division, ahead of only Baltimore. I love Marcus Stroman, but it’s probably a bit much to expect him to be the 230-inning ace that could propel the rotation into more rarefied air.

The Jays will again hit and now have Troy Tulowitzki to start the season, but he’s not a safe bet for 150 or more games and it’s reasonable to expect Josh Donaldson to take a small step backward, and the same goes for the 35-year-old Jose Bautista and the 33-year-old Edwin Encarnacion.

The Yankees need more luck with health than either Toronto or Boston and are older at key spots. I wouldn’t be shocked if they won the division, but it’ll take some undoing of their fiercest competition.

Wild Card 1: Kansas City Royals
Wild Card 2: Toronto Blue Jays

American League Champion: Texas Rangers

Most Valuable Player: Xander Bogaerts, SS — Boston Red Sox
It would be too easy to take Mike Trout or even Miguel Cabrera here, and the popular picks include Donaldson repeating or Baltimore’s Manny Machado, but Bogaerts is coming off a .320/.355/.421 season and there’s more power in the swing than the 20 homers he’s managed in nearly 1,300 big-league plate appearances to date. I could see 20-24 home runs, a few more doubles and the same above-average defense at shortstop. To win MVP with a .320/.370/.480 line, the defense, baserunning and overall value to a winning team have to be apparent, but since I also have the Red Sox winning their division the club’s most valuable player may be the MVP of the league, too.

Cy Young: Chris Sale, LHP — Chicago White Sox
Sale has been the game’s second-best starting pitcher since the 2013 season ended but this may be the year he stays off the disabled list and garners enough big-game opportunities to catch the eye of the voter. Sale is every bit as good as Price and Chris Archer, who’d be my next two choices in reverse order.

Rookie of the Year: Joey Gallo, 1B/3B — Texas Rangers
Most are picking Twins’ first baseman Byung-ho Park, who is 29 years old, but I’ll stick with a player that fits what I believe the nature of the ROY award should be and that’s young.

Gallo will strike out a lot, perhaps too much to have a 12-year career as a regular, but in Arlington 600 plate appearances may produce 35-40 home runs, too. Obviously, Gallo will start the season in the minors, but even 450 plate appearances may be enough to put up 25 homers or more.

Twins top prospect center fielder Byron Buxton, Tampa Bay lefty Blake Snell and Astros first baseman A.J. Reed are potential breakthrough rookies.

National League

West: San Francisco Giants
The popular pick here is the Los Angeles Dodgers but I like the Giants here after adding Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto to a rotation that already boasts Madison Bumgarner and gets Matt Cain back. The club also added Denard Span in center, moving Angel Pagan to left field where he’s likely to be a plus glove. The weak spot may be the middle relief and setup crew where Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo will handle the late innings. Skipper Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti have been masterful finding answers here, though, so I like the Giants to win 92-plus and take the NL West.

The Dodgers have as much upside as any team in baseball but it’s tough to pick them with injuries to Scott Kazmir, Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu already biting the club. They will have Corey Seager from the opener, upgrading one spot on the left side. My questions include Yasiel Puig‘s response to a poorer-than-expected 2015 and some clubhouse/off-field stuff surrounding his presence in L.A., and how will new manager Dave Roberts manage the bullpen up to closer Kenley Jansen?

Arizona added right-handers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller to their rotation, but news broke Friday night that star center fielder A.J. Pollock was to have surgery on a fractured elbow, sending expectations anywhere from nowhere to somewhere outside the top two in the west. I expect Arizona to pitch well for six or seven innings and even without Pollock should score enough runs, but can the bullpen step up?

Central: Chicago Cubs
I love the Cubs here, despite the presence of the still-dangerous Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals. The roster is loaded, they’re deep on the 40-man roster and have ample ammo to make impact deals if need be.

It’s the best starting eight in the league and they’ll hit for power, get on base, play enough defense and they will get very good starting pitching. I don’t like the bullpen much on the surface, but I suspect this is an area Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer address during the season.

The Cubs have three legit MVP candidates in Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo — although I don’t believe any will win it and only one of them likely finishes Top 5 — but it’s the secondary players that make the difference. Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist aren’t among the top three players on the roster. Neither is Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber. Neither is Miguel Montero.

I can’t say with confidence the Cubs will go to and/or win the World Series for the first time in four trillion years but I’d bet the farm they win this division by 8-10 games over two playoff-contending rivals.

The Pirates are a year away from challenging the Cubs, in my opinion, as some of their prospects get closer — such as right-hander Tyler Glasnow, shortstop Kevin Newman and first baseman Josh Bell.

East: New York Mets
I like the Mets here not because I believe their offense is magically what it was for two-plus months last summer but because the pitching is likely to be even better and offense won’t likely be as bad as it was prior to the all-star break last season.

Steven Matz is healthy and the Mets could get right-hander Zack Wheeler back at some point, perhaps combining with Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom to make up the best rotation in baseball, bar none. I did not like the Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera additions at second and short and the more Yoenis Cespedes plays center the better for the rest of the league, but Terry Collins has options and Juan Lagares still is available to clean up in the outfield if he can rebound at the plate some.

The Nationals are the most well-rounded team in the division but I’m not sold Dusty Baker will do anything in D.C. but accidentally try to purposely redrum the right arm of Stephen Strasburg, among others. Baker’s best skill, however, is building a cohesive clubhouse, which may very well be among the crucial missing links for the Nationals of late. Well, that and having a clue how to manage a game once it starts.

The rest of the east isn’t very good with Philly and Atlanta in full rebuild mode and the Marlins stuck in ‘let’s hope we’re good’ mode. Sigh. Please trade Giancarlo Stanton, Miami.

Wild Card 1: Pittsburgh Pirates
Wild Card 2: Washington Nationals

National League Champion: Chicago Cubs

Most Valuable Player: Bryce Harper, OF — Washington Nationals
This is chalk, but he may be the best player in baseball (even better than Trout, perhaps) by season’s end and he’s coming off one of the better years in recent memory when he posted a 9.5 fWAR and a .461 wOBA to lead all of MLB.

Paul Goldschmidt is a legitimate candidate, too, as is Bryant, who may hit 40 homers in 2016, and Andrew McCutchen.

Cy Young: Matt Harvey, RHP — New York Mets
Clayton Kershaw is the obvious pick but Harvey is building on a second half from 2015 (after missing 2014 with Tommy John surgery) where he posted the third-best FIP in the NL behind only Kershaw and eventual Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. If his blood clots prove to be a temporary distraction and he makes 33 starts, I like Harvey to sneak in and win the Cy Young this season.

Gerrit Cole, Greinke, deGrom and Bumgarner also deserve consideration.

Rookie of the Year: Steven Matz, RHP — New York Mets
Most will tab Seager here, but I like Matz to put up a strong 28-start season and take home the hardware. Kenta Maeda likely will garner some votes, too, and if Lucas Giolito gets enough innings he’ll win some people over in a hurry.

Nationals shortstop Trea Turner may be an ideal darkhorse, but a lot of his value is wrapped up in defense and baserunning (though he has a chance to post a league-average or better OBP).

World Series Champions: Chicago Cubs
It’s chalk, but they’re so good, deep, have assets and resources sitting around in their proverbial couch cushions… I don’t know what else to say. The Cubs are the best team on paper, have the makeup (front office, field staff, youth, veterans, speed, power, defense) to take full advantage of all the talent and are the best bet to win the World Series.

If it happens, Epstein will have carte blanche in two of the country’s greatest cities for having ended their respective curses.

Care for a _________ on the house, Mr. Epstein?…

There’s a groundswell of unease taking hold of Major League Baseball (MLB). Both executives and pundits alike are expressing concern that the league is facing a problem that, if not addressed, could jeopardize the integrity of the game and ultimately lead to a loss of fan confidence. When Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote about the sport’s dilemma in January, an unnamed team official stated, “I’ve never seen the game so messed up.”

What predicament could possibly be so troublesome that it would spur such pessimistic commentary from a baseball official? Believe it or not, tanking in baseball.

For the casual sports fan, “tanking” carries a negative connotation and is typically used to characterize a strategy to “tank” games or seasons by deliberately building a non-competitive roster. Essentially, lose today in order to have a brighter tomorrow.

Baseball’s “tankers”
Those who believe that tanking is “a thing” in MLB, generally point to a couple of organizations — the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs — as recent examples of clubs that tanked their way to the top.

After languishing at the bottom of the standings for several years, both teams started anew in 2011 by hiring new front office personnel who set out to overhaul their respective rosters. Five years later, Houston and Chicago are now poised to be serious postseason contenders in 2016 and beyond.

The success of the Astros and Cubs has helped ignite concerns that other clubs are now adopting the tactic of tanking. The teams most frequently referred to as “tankers” are the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, and Milwaukee Brewers. All of these organizations have been shedding payroll and trading veterans for prospects; each projects to do poorly during the upcoming season, according to FanGraphs projections.

Why the anxiety?
The heart of the matter is how the appearance of intentional losing could damage the reputation of MLB. Joel Sherman of the New York Post points out that baseball has vigorously worked to safeguard its integrity ever since the Black Sox Scandal. As Sherman notes, a key principle to protecting the league’s brand is advancing the expectation that every team is trying to win every game.

The integrity of baseball isn’t all that’s at stake, apparently. The simple pleasure of watching MLB games is at risk according to Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Gordon opined that the Cardinals try to win every year and that “Our National Pastime would be far more enjoyable if every other team shared that ambition.”

Based on the passionate outcry from these insiders and others, a casual observer might conclude that baseball is facing a new threat as ominous as the previously mentioned Black Sox Scandal, the lost 1994 postseason, or the steroid era. Fortunately for the sport and its fans, what’s going on in baseball is neither new, nor a threat to the game.

Not for nuthin’
I respect the writers I’ve mentioned, but the term “tanking” is hyperbolic click-bait that’s led to misplaced outrage. In reality, the types of overhauls performed in Houston and on the north side of Chicago aren’t new to MLB. Why is that so hard to see?

The Braves, Brewers, Phillies, and Reds have made the unpopular move of announcing to their faithful that are they’re in a rebuilding phase — that’s not tanking. By being upfront, these clubs aren’t impinging on the integrity of the game and they’re not permanently damaging their relationship with fans.

A review of league standings and playoff participants over the last decade points to something far more questionable than a few teams “blowing up” their rosters and starting over — prolonged inferior performance by teams not mentioned during tank-talk. Please, give me an opportunity to show you why I feel this way.

Clunking
Why haven’t the caretakers of the baseball’s reputation, who’ve decried the pitfalls of tanking, been equally vocal about the long postseason droughts of the Seattle Mariners, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox, and Colorado Rockies?

These “clunkers” have been out of serious contention for much longer than the accused tankers — several have failed to enact a clear-cut plan to become relevant again. Isn’t “clunking” worse for MLB than the “tanking” that’s allegedly going on?

If maintaining competitive balance and fostering credibility with baseball fans are truly key objectives for the guardians of the game, shouldn’t complicity mediocre organizations be the targets of more scrutiny? In a couple of cases, clunkers have produced an inferior on-field product for over a decade. Look at the postseason drought “leader board” to see what I mean.

Longest MLB Postseason Droughts
Years Team Last PO Appearance .500 or better seasons (since 2011) Est. 2016 Payroll
14 Seattle Mariners 2001 ALCS
One $141M
12 Miami Marlins 2003 World Series
Zero $64.4M
9 San Diego Padres 2006 NLDS
One $102.5M
7 Chicago White Sox 2008 ALDS
One $127M
6 Colorado Rockies 2009 NLDS
Zero $109.9M
5 Minnesota Twins 2010 ALDS
One $108.2M
4 Arizona Diamondbacks 2011 NLDS
Three $99.9M
4 Philadelphia Phillies 2011 NLDS
Two $101.5M
4 Milwaukee Brewers 2011 NLCS
Three $63.4M

It’s somewhat ironic that alleged tankers receive so much attention, although the Marlins blew up their roster after winning the 2003 World Series and haven’t been back to the postseason since.

Two of the current teams viewed as tankers — the Phillies and Brewers — have made a combined seven postseason appearances since the Marlins and Mariners last played October baseball — which was during the first presidential term of George W. Bush. Yet, the overhaul of the Phillies is more detrimental to the sport? I bet the baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest and south Florida would disagree.

One could contend that the Mariners and White Sox, unlike some of the team listed above, have been willing to spend money. That’s true. However, neither club has been able to buy a winning roster.

Then, there are the Padres and Rockies. Neither projects as contenders this year, nor do they appear to be heading towards a cure for their perpetual case of the doldrums. How can anyone be anxious about so-called tankers when so many other teams have been second-rate — or clunking — for so long?

How bad is it, really?
So, just how “messed up” is baseball right now? Based on the statements from the pundits, you’d expect to discover that the number of 90-loss and 100-loss teams has been steadily climbing, right? Well, not really.

A Decade of Losing
Year # of 90-loss teams 100-loss teams
2006 6 TBD/KCR
2007 8 None
2008 7 WSN/SEA
2009 7 WSN
2010 7 PIT/SEA
2011 9 HOU
2012 8 HOU/CHI
2013 6 HOU/MIA
2014 6 None
2015 7 None

The number of bad teams has remained relatively the same over the past decade. It’s also worthwhile noting that there hasn’t been a 100-loss team during the last two seasons. That’s the first time since 1999-2000 that MLB has gone two consecutive seasons without a 100-loss team. Perhaps, the sky isn’t falling.

With that said, I’m sure that seeing the above table further infuriates the fan bases of the Mariners and Marlins. They are the only two franchises listed that haven’t returned to the postseason since their last 100-loss season.

Everyone does it, right?
When discussing tanking, both Sherman and Gordon emphasized that it’s critical for MLB teams to present their best roster for the entire season. That’s a noble thought, but what about the clubs that start the season believing they have a shot at the playoffs until reality sets in?

At the start of last season, the Detroit Tigers were — once again — serious postseason contenders. When things didn’t work out as planned, the team opted to become “sellers” at the trade deadline. Detroit traded ace David Price, closer Joakim Soria, and star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to three postseason contenders.

On July 31, the Tigers were 3.5 games away from the second wild card berth with 58 games remaining. Yet, they traded away three of their best players. Why doesn’t that doesn’t that constitute a tank job? Where’s the outrage?

When Detroit signaled they were sacrificing 2015 in order to be better in the future. I don’t recall any writers or executives decrying the impact of their moves on the competitive balance of their remaining schedule. Yet, some pundits fretted when the Phillies traded away their ace — Cole Hamels — to the Texas Rangers at the same trading deadline?

To be fair, both Price, Soria, and Cespedes were about to become free agents, while Hamels is under contract until 2020. So, there’s a distinction between the players’ situations. Nevertheless, Detroit could’ve kept all three players, tried to win as many games during the remainder of 2015, and then attempt to retain all three. After all, they’re a “win-now” type of ball club. Right?

Instead, the Tigers opted to deal players and finish poorly and “earn” a top-10 protected draft choice, just like the Phillies.

The Boston Red Sox took a similar stance in 2014. The club dealt pitchers John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Jon Lester, Andrew Miller, outfielder Jonny Gomes and shortstop Stephen Drew at the deadline when they were hopelessly out of contention.

Yes, Boston picked up Cespedes, outfielder Allen Craig, and reliever Joe Kelly in the deals. However, didn’t the “Sawx” symbolically throw in the white towel for 2014 when they parted ways with their ace and their best reliever? Why wouldn’t that be tanking?

Some may argue that the Red Sox and Tigers are win-now teams, unlike to the tankers expected to sink to the bottom this year. That may be true, but Boston’s 2014 purge didn’t lead to a winning 2015.

What if Detroit suffers a similar fate and is out of contention by mid-July? Will they sell again? How many years does a team have to be a seller at the deadline before they’re a tanker?

Don’t get me wrong. The Tigers and Red Sox made wise choices by being sellers at the deadline. So did the Phillies in dealing Hamels. To me, these deals are all the same. Teams are taking advantage of an opportunity to improve their rosters for the future, even if it means not fielding the best roster possible for the current season.

One last thought on building the best roster possible for the entire season. If maintaining the highest level of quality on the field is paramount, why does the league permit their teams to dilute their major league rosters by expanding from 25 to 40 players on September 1?

Reality check
As for that executive who had never saw “the game more messed up,” I didn’t need to look back decades for examples of when baseball was less competitive. Try five years ago.

In 2011 — the year that the Astros and Cubs changed leadership and started their alleged tanking — the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise ended a 30-year playoff drought. The Nats weren’t alone in enduring postseason futility at that time. The Baltimore Orioles (14 years), Toronto Blue Jays (18 years), Pittsburgh Pirates (19 years), and Kansas City Royals (26 years) were still in the midst of their postseason droughts.

Since then, the Orioles, Pirates, Blue Jays, and the Royals have reached the postseason, just as the Astros and Cubs did in 2015. So, no, the game isn’t more messed up than ever.

Finally
Clearly, fans in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia aren’t ecstatic with the thought of watching their team plod through successive losing seasons. I’m sure that game attendance will suffer and fan patience will eventually wear thin.

At least teams that are attempting to kick-start themselves provide some measure of hope to their respective fan bases. It’s certainly a better alternative than what’s been transpiring in Seattle, Miami, Denver, San Diego, and the south side of Chicago.

Baseball teams mired in mediocrity for extensive periods will eventually see their fans migrate away and become infatuated with other options on the sports menu, such as NFL preseason or professional soccer. Seattle is an excellent case study of that phenomenon.

Only time will tell if teams, like the Mariners, can re-earn the trust of those who walked away or never became interested due their failure to be relevant for so long. When you look at it from that perspective, “tanking” for three to five years and then becoming a sustainable winner doesn’t seem so bad anymore, does it?

 

 

 

 

 

 …

 

Jerry Dipoto didn’t wait very long to make his first significant move as Seattle Mariners GM. His acquisition of right-hander Nate Karns, southpaw C.J. Riefenhauser and outfield prospect Boog Powell signals the start of what’s likely to be a busy offseason for the new GM. But, that doesn’t mean that Dipoto will completely overhaul his roster.

As Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill pointed out during his offseason primer, the Mariners 2015 roster was good enough to contend for postseason play. Obviously, things didn’t work out for Seattle, largely due to a lack of depth that prevented the club from overcoming injuries.

Despite the Mariners disappointing 2015, any team that starts star players like Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager and a stable of young arms like Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, and Mike Montgomery can become a contender in one offseason. That’s assuming the GM can infuse enough depth to survive the rigors of a 162-game season, plus a month of October baseball.

Even if Dipoto succeeds in building in needed depth in the minors and on the big league roster, the Mariners won’t be ready to win on Opening Day. Seattle will face in-season challenges – every team does. Even the best organizations have to go outside of their organization for help after the season starts. Look no further than last season’s final eight playoff teams to see what I mean.

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The two teams with the fewest moves were holdovers from the 2014 postseason and happen to be from the “Show Me State.” Both the World Series champion Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals each added just two players from their original group. The Cardinals added two role players, while the Royals were more aggressive by adding starting-level players Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto for their pennant push.

Conversely, the most active teams – the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays – didn’t appear in last year’s playoffs. Rangers GM Jon Daniels never lost faith in his team despite starting the season without ace Yu Darvish and rotation mate Martin Perez. To make matters worse, Derek Holland went on the disabled list after his first start of the year. It seemed like 2015 wouldn’t be the Rangers’ year, but Daniels was undeterred.

To the surprise of many, the Rangers GM added Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels, plus relievers Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson at the July 31 trading deadline. Some rationalized that adding Hamels might help Texas in 2015, but Daniels was actually looking towards 2016 when he’d have Darvish to pair up with the Philly southpaw. They were wrong.

Texas was seven games behind the first-place Houston Astros on the day they dealt for Hamels. The Rangers would go on a tear that helped them leap-frog the second place Los Angeles Angels and eventually catch Houston to win the American League West division. Daniels added several other players like former Ranger outfielder Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli. But, the Hamels deal has to be viewed as the point that the Rangers’ season turned around.

Toronto certainly made the biggest splash in July with the acquisitions of both Troy Tulowitzki and David Price in deadline deals. The “Tulo” deal was made even more dramatic because the Blue Jays included starting shortstop Jose Reyes in the trade package.

By being so aggressive, the Blue Jays made it clear to their fans and the rest of the baseball world that they intended to go deep into the postseason and they did just that by cutting down the New York Yankees’ six-game lead to win the American League East division and reaching the League Championship.

The New York Mets added four new players, but the deadline acquisition of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes certainly was the headline grabber. Cespedes’ performance didn’t warrant the MVP conversation that invaded blogs in August, but there’s no disputing that his performance played a big role in the Mets winning the National League East division.

It’s natural for fans to scream for these kind of deals when their team struggles out of the gate. Sure, several teams made major moves that changed the course of their respective seasons. But, that’s not the only way that playoff teams improved during the season.

The Mets made a splash with Cespedes. But, they also benefited greatly from minor league call-ups, as did the Chicago Cubs and Houston. Conversely, other teams – like Texas and Toronto – got relief from players returning from the disabled list.

It’s easy to overlook or forget about minor leaguers or players on the disabled list – out of sight, out of mind. But, minor call-up or players returning from injury can be difference makers.

Take a look at players who were either on the disabled list or in the minors on Opening Day, but went on to earn a postseason roster spot. There are some impressive names on this list, aren’t there?

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It’s easy to forget that Addison Russell wasn’t on the Opening Day roster. It’s tougher to forget that his teammate – Kris Bryant – started the season in the minors after his agent Scott Boras questioned why his client wasn’t going to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. Both players were tremendous additions, as was Kyle Schwarber. Does anyone think that the Cubs would have reached the National League Championship Series without these three players?

The Mets young starting pitchers were the foundation of the team’s first winning season since 2008, but it’s important to note that two starters – Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz – started games in the World Series despite the fact that they didn’t break camp with the team in April. It’s tough to imagine the Mets playing in the Fall Classic without Syndergaard and Matz.

The same applies for returning players from the disabled list. Daniels’ acquisition of Hamels was a great move, but where would Texas have been without Perez and Holland returning to the roster in July and August respectively? They probably wouldn’t have traveled to Toronto in October without those two. Having Marcus Stroman during the home stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs was a great boost for Toronto.

Getting significant value from rookies and players returning from the disabled list is akin to making a trade. When teams add rookies like the Cubs and Mets did, it’s essentially the equivalent to a mega-deal – only cheaper.

Okay, there’s a lot of moving parts need to come together during any successful playoff run. But, what about the Mariners going into 2016?

Seattle’s been behind the player development power curve for years, so you’re not going to see players like Syndergaard, Bryant, or Houston’s Carlos Correa as Seattle call-ups in 2016. It’s more likely that the club will derive their minor league depth via the offseason trade and waiver market with less-notable players like Riefenhauser, Powell, and pitcher Cody Martin. That increases the likelihood of having to make in-season adjustments.

It should be encouraging to Mariner fans that their new GM is well-versed with making in-season adjustments – just like this year’s postseason contestants. In 2012, he traded for pitcher Zack Greinke and he reloaded his bullpen by adding closer Huston Street and fellow reliever Jason Grilli, helping propel the Angels to a major league best 98-win season in 2014.

I’m not saying that the Mariners won’t be good on Opening Day, but their roster won’t be ready for the postseason – no major league roster will be. All teams encounter injuries and possible sub-par performance from players.

Last year’s best teams overcame those challenges, while the Mariners didn’t and that’s why they weren’t even a fringe contender. The fact that the Mariners now have a GM capable of adapting to misfortune improves the likelihood of the club ending their 14-year postseason drought.

 

 

 

 …

With the news breaking Friday morning that the Seattle Mariners parted ways with Jack Zduriencik we’ve already started to hear the names of possible replacements. It’s all speculation at this point, but retreads galore likely are littering your Twitter timeline, drawing eye rolls and even some ‘WTF’ replies. Understandably.

Team president and COO Kevin Mather stated publicly via press conference and radio interviews the club wants to find a new baseball guy before the offseason truly gets under way. Part of that is to make sure they don’t get beat to the punch on candidates, part of it is about hitting the offseason ready to go. It’s the only way to go about this these days.

Several other things Mather said Friday via the various outlets that struck me as interesting or somewhat important:

  • Despite giving Lloyd McClendon a sort of vote of confidence, the new GM will have the power to bring in his own field staff, including the manager. Mather will encourage but not force McClendon on the new GM
  • Mather believes the 25-man roster is fairly close to being good enough, though clearly there are holes to fill and admits his opinion may not be that of the baseball people he chooses in the end
  • Club prefers a GM that sees the roster is close enough not to suggest a tear-down, at least not heading into 2016.
  • Mather mentioned the GM’s front office staff more than once, strongly suggesting 1) that he, as the president and COO, understands the GM must have the right people in place around him and 2) perhaps Zduriencik did not. (He didn’t). Part of the draw of some candidates will be the people with which they are connected that can be brought in as part of the new regime. The GM can’t do everything.
  • The change is being made not based on 2015 and all its disappointment, but why the club is where it is, seven years after Zduriencik was hired. Mather stated directly the failures in player development. Yes, ultimately it’s about wins at the big-league level, but Mather clearly has people in baseball he;’s been talking to — I mentioned his familiarity with the FO in Minnesota and how he’s talked to them in the past, and he noted said relationship in his interview with Mike Salk and Brock Huard Friday morning.
  • Since Mather prefers not to rebuild, he expects a GM with experience, but if he’s open-minded enough about the process, he’ll interview several inexperienced candidates that won’t require allowance for a rebuild, nor see the immediate need for it, while demonstrating they are capable of adding to the current mix enough to project a winner.

Here are some names with which to start, but a few caveats:

  1. I don’t know most of these people personally. I derive their candidacy by leaning on those I do know in the game for their qualifications, plus what reports have been out there up to and through today’s news in terms of candidacy.
  2. You will hear good and bad about most or all of the following, almost all of which will be complete trash. Pick and choose who you trust on these kinds of matters.
  3. Included below are candidates I wouldn’t necessarily hire myself and that I don’t believe are good candidates, but they’ll be mentioned, so they go here, anyway.
  4. I do know some of these candidates, some better than others.
  5. These are listed in no particular order.
  6. I am not sure each of the names below are so eager to get a shot at GM that they’re willing to work under an ownership with a terrible track record of interfering and downright bufoonery, but there are only 30 GM gigs in the world, so …
  7. It’s also worth noting that Mather does appear to be leading the search there is always a chance the ownership is willing to budge on some things to get the right candidate to take the job.
  8. In no way is the following a suggestion that these are the names Seattle will interview or consider.
  9. There will be names below that never are mentioned, never interviewed or considered or even some that may not have interest or are hired elsewhere.

Jerry DiPoto: Former Angels GM
Having resigned from his GM post in Anaheim, DiPoto brings mixed reviews when I ask around — like most. He’s a former player that believes in scouting and analytics — and a blend of both that cannot be written in stone for even two seconds — and reportedly was the Mariners’ No. 2 choice in 2008 when the club hired Zduriencik.

He was an assistant in Arizona overseeing scouting and player development, scouted under Theo Epstein’s crew in Boston before that and now is serving as an extra set of eyes for the Red Sox, who just hired Dave Dombrowski to run the while kitchen. DiPoto could be a strong candidate for GM under Dombrowski.

Knowing what I know — which isn’t enough to make the kind of call the Mariners have to make — I’d find it difficult to hate the move if DiPoto was ultimately tabbed the new baseball executive in Seattle.

John Coppolella: Assistant GM, Atlanta Braves
Coppolella may be my personal favorite for the job, not because I have had many conversations with him but because he seems value exactly what the Mariners need; Detailed in terms of covering all the bases before making decisions, valuing greatly the assessments and work of those around him, no use of the ego in evaluating players or situations, high-impact passion for the game of baseball and winning, and he’s as short on confidence in his abilities as I am on Twitter snark. Which is to say not at all, sir.

Coppolella grew up in the New York Yankees organization, was a favorite of the late George Steinbrenner and in Atlanta has overseen the pro scouting department before essentially taking the helm of GM under president of baseball operations John Hart. He’s had the advantage of working with and under some of the most successful baseball executives in the game, including Brian Cashman, John Schuerholz and now Hart.

In my dealings with Coppolella, he’s never taken credit for anything, it’s always “we” or he deflects credit entirely. He’s adept in the area of statistical analysis, but player development is extremely high on his list, especially having worked with execs with tremendous track records in growing from within.

He was hired by Schuerholz, was a huge draw for Hart when he was contemplating taking the job and I have a feeling he sees eye-to-eye with Mather’s preference of not rebuilding right away, which I believe is the right approach.

If Coppolella were to be hired, the Mariners would be getting a GM with a sound plan, capable of adjusting said plan to accommodate the myriad situations that indeed will come up 12 months out of the year. The group that ultimately would land in Seattle to accompany him would likely be quite impressive. Coppolella’s network is as large as anyone’s and he’s as respected on and off the field as much or more than anyone I’ve ever asked about.

Jason McLeod: Director of Scouting & Player Development, Chicago Cubs
Having worked so much under Theo Epstein, one would think plenty has rubbed off on McLeod, who worked under Epstein in Boston before moving on with Jed Hoyer to San Diego, and then Chicago. I hear only great things about McLeods abilities to evaluate not only players at all levels, but his track record with development strategies, the draft and trade and free agent markets. There are some who believe Epstein’s success is wildly over-the-top because of Epstein himself, but there’s a reason he keeps winning, first in Boston and already in Chicago. The presence of Hoyer and McLeod clearly are critical.

Flatly put, McLeod is a winner, has an enormous network from which to choose his lieutenants and has witnessed absolute greatness from a winning standpoint for more than a decade.

McLeod should be high on the club’s list of candidates.

Erik Neander: V.P. of Baseball Operations, Tampa Bay Rays
Neander is among the many that run the Rays baseball operations department and one of a few Rays execs that could be legitimate candidates in Seattle.

Scott Sharp: Assistant GM, Kansas City Royals
Sharp has been among Dayton Moore’s top assistants as the Royals have ascended to the top of the American League behind pitching, speed and defense.

I don’t know tons about Sharp but in looking at the kind of players the Royals have shown they value most, it’s largely what Seattle doesn’t have an needs. Defense, speed, athleticism, multi-dimensional. And they’ve done it on a somewhat limited payroll.

Mike Chernoff: Assistant GM, Cleveland Indians
Ask one baseball exec about Chernoff and I get positive descriptions. Ask another and I get “meh” type replies. Ask yet another and I get “I don’t know, I’m not sure how much that front office really gets to do on their own.”

But anytime I inquire about candidates, Chernoff’s name comes up in conversation.

Thad Levine: Assistant GM, Texas Rangers
Billy Eppler: Assistant GM, New York Yankees
Dan O’Dowd: Former GM, Colorado Rockies
Ben Cherington: Former GM, Boston Red Sox
Charlie Kerfeld: Special assistant to the GM, Philadelphia Phillies
Dan Jennings: Manager & former GM Miami Marlins
Tony LaCava: V.P. Baseball Operations, Assistant GM, Toronto Blue Jays
Matt Arnold: Assistant GM, Tampa Bay Rays
Larry Beinfest: Former President Baseball Operations, Miami Marlins
Matt Klentak: Assistant GM, Los Angeles Angels
Kevin Towers: Former GM San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks & special assistant to GM, Cincinnati Reds
Damon Oppenheimer: Director of Scouting, New York Yankees

LaCava interviewed in 2008 and was my preference based on what I was told from those that know him. He’s a market analysis genius and has served the Jays well during his time, playing a large role in their current success. He’s probably as qualified for the job as any of the assistant types that will be mentioned and might have the ability to put together the best staff.

Levine has worked under a highly successful executive base in Texas with Nolan Ryan and John Daniels. Is typically among the top 8-10 as I ask around baseball about candidates that have yet to serve as full-time GM.

Jennings has a history in Seattle, having served as an area scout in the late 80s and eventually a crosschecker in 1995. He served as the Rays scouting director before moving onto the Marlins as a player personnel V.P. and assistant GM. He was named the Marlins’ GM in 2013 and took the field as the skipper earlier this season.

Kerfeld would be an interesting choice in style as he’s old school in the way he scouts in his present role but understands the necessity for a blend, and not simply when it’s convenient to implement. He’s a former pitcher who’s worked for years under Pat Gillick.

Arnold is thought to be as instinctive as it comes in baseball operations and with Neander served under Andrew Friedman, now of the Los Angeles Dodgers, during their run the past several years as a have-not beating the haves with consistency.

Beinfest, like Jennings, has history in Seattle having served as an assistant in the scouting and player development departments in the late 80s and through the 1999 season. I don’t see how Beinfest fits at all, but we’ve already seen his name linked to the club, which means little to nothing in the end.

Cherington is a puzzler for me. I don’t know him personally, but I don’t understand the attraction. Yes, he has a World Series title, and he did make some moves prior to the 2013 championship run that played a key role, but that roster was largely built by Epstein and sandwiched around the ring for Cherington is a last-place finish in 2012, another in 2014 and the roster he built for 2015 is headed for one more. I’m not suggesting he’d be a bad hire, but his track record suggests so and that speaks volumes in my book.

Names that may be bandied about that probably make so little sense that the Mariners won’t truly consider in the end include Ned Colleti, Kenny Williams, Jerry Walker.

Jeff Kingston, the interim GM in Seattle, is sharp, analytically inclined and always has come across to me as a no-nonsense type that’s all about getting it right and winning. The M’s will get a look at Kingston over the final month.…

The major league non-waiver trading deadline has passed and now, there’s time to reflect on the moves made by both buyers and sellers leading up to Friday’s 4 pm ET deadline. In Seattle – much to the chagrin of their fans – the under-performing Mariners are on track to miss the postseason for the fourteenth consecutive season. That’s why going into this week, Seattle was poised to be a seller with several veterans – Austin Jackson, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mark Trumbo, Fernando Rodney, Tom Wilhelmsen, Mark Lowe, Joe Beimel, J.A. Happ, and Dustin Ackley – who could have some degree of value to contenders.

Prior to this week, Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill suggested that Seattle should strategically trade major league talent – be buyers and sellers – in order to get an early start on making improvements for next year. The team did that to some degree this week by making three deals –- Ackley to the New York Yankees, Happ to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Lowe to the Toronto Blue Jays for prospects. Jason gives Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik a satisfactory grade for the moves he made, while giving the organization a failing grade for holding on to Iwakuma – their most valuable deadline commodity

The team’s moves acknowledges that they know that the season is lost and will further energize fans who’ve been debating on the approach that the Mariners should take to transform the themselves into contenders in 2016 and beyond. There’s an segment of the Mariners’ fan base that doesn’t agree with Jason – who has suggested a “remodeling” rather than a complete rebuild. They’d prefer to “blow up” the roster and start over from the ground up.

In the eyes of some, the term “rebuilding” equates to “blowing up” an organization at both the major and minor-league levels. In reality, there’s no “one size fits all” approach to getting a franchise back on track. Some teams need to go the “blow up” rebuilding way, while others can go via the “remodeling” route. So, which approach should the Mariners to use become a serious contender and not just a team that lingers on the fringe of contention?

I’m the son carpenter, so I tend to relate fixing a major league organization in the terms of home improvement. As with a home, re-doing a baseball franchise depends on its existing condition, desires of the owner, and financial flexibility. With that in mind, lets look at a few teams that used different approaches in order to become relevant once again.

Razing the foundation – Chicago Cubs
When Theo Epstein assumed the duties of President of Baseball Operations in 2011, the Cubs were coming off a 91-loss season and the roster consisted of aging, high-priced veterans who were under-performing and there wasn’t any immediate relief in their minor league system. Despite not winning a World Series in over a century, Cubs’ ownership was willing to accept a massive rebuild – which takes time – because Epstein and General Manager (GM) Jed Hoyer was to planned to build a sustainable winning organization.

To say that the Cubs “blew up” the roster is an understatement. Only one player – Starlin Castro – on the team’s current 25-man roster is a holdover from the previous regime. Chicago incrementally parted ways with major leaguers in order to maximize value and restock their minor league system. Players like Scott Hairston, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Jason Hammel, Jeff Samardzija, Andrew Cashner, Welington Castillo, and Sean Marshall have netted Chicago eight players who are currently on their big league roster – including Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, and Dexter Fowler.

Thanks to the combination of trades, amateur drafting, and amateur free agent signings, the Cubs have transformed their minor league system into one of the best in the majors. Their top six prospects – including recent call-up Kyle Schwarber – rank among the MLB.com top 100. Throw in draftee Kris Bryant – who debuted this year and is already an all-star – and Cuban free agent Jorge Soler and you can see that the Epstein/Hoyer tandem has built a strong foundation of young major leaguers and prospects to build around or use as trade commodities.

How Cubs Were Built
Draft
Int’l Amateur Free Agency Trades Rule 5/Waivers
2 2 13 14 0

The future looked bright going into this season, although most of the team’s bright minor league stars weren’t ready for the majors. So, the Cubs added a marquee free agent – Jon Lester – plus other prominent names such as Miguel Montero, Jason Hammel, David Ross, Rafael Soriano, and Jason Motte via free agency and trades in order to let their prospects continue their development and simultaneously field a competitive team in 2015. The Cubs’ strategy to supplement their core group of dynamic, young, players with inexpensive veterans has helped the team into playoff contention and – for the first time in years –the team playing on the north side of Chicago was relevant at the deadline .

Remodeling with a shoestring budget – New York Mets
After the 2010 season, the Mets hired Sandy Alderson was hired as their GM to help reinvigorate a franchise that lost its direction after appearing in the 2000 World Series and 2006 National League Championship. Like Epstein, Alderson had a proven record. Contrary to Epstein’s situation, Alderson inherited a minor league system that – entering this week – supplied 18 of the 37 players on their 25-man roster or on the disabled list. Many of those 18 names are familiar names.

Key Mets Inherited by Sandy Alderson
  David Wright
Matt Harvey Jacob deGrom
  Jon Niese
Lucas Duda Daniel Murphy
  Steven Matz Juan Lagares Wilmer Flores
  Bobby Parnell
Jeurys Familia Jenrry Mejia

With so many players already in place, there was no need to “blow up” the roster. So, Alderson built up the team’s foundation by shrewdly making several deals that have landed valued assets. As I discussed in June, the Mets acquired starting pitcher Zack Wheeler by flipping pending free agent Carlos Beltran at the 2011 trading deadline. Alderson then boldly traded the reigning Cy Young Award winner – R.A. Dickey – to the Toronto Blue Jays for starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard and catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who will be vital to their playoff aspirations during the remainder of this season and beyond.

Although the Mets play in a big market, they’ve maintained a small market budget during the Alderson era due to the reported financial hardship that their ownership has experienced. Accordingly, New York has strategically added several lower-tier veterans with relatively short contracts – Bartolo Colon, Curtis Granderson, and Michael Cuddyer. In the days leading up to Friday’s deadline, Alderson has continued to improve the team’s roster by adding veterans Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Tyler Clippard to help jump start the team’s offense and improve their bullpen. Now, the Mets are poised to play meaningful games in September.

A rebuilding team can amass talent in four different ways – amateur draft, international amateurs, international and major league free agency, and the trades market. The Cubs and Mets have used these options differently because one had a good foundation and one didn’t. Yet, they’ve arrived at the same position – contenders on July 31. There are other situations when patience is in low supply and teams want their rebuilding effort completed sooner than later. In those cases, a more aggressive approach may be applied.

Quick fixer-upper – San Diego Padres
When Padres GM A.J. Preller took over last August, he wasted little time in giving his roster a facelift. Unlike the Cubs and Mets – who took years to renovate – the Padres opted to make a series of headline-grabbing changes that immediately altered their appearance and the perception of the team, but they didn’t necessarily do much to reinforce their long-term infrastructure.

Preller traded for multiple recognizable names like Justin Upton, Melvin Upton Jr, Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Craig Kimbrel, and Will Middlebrooks, plus he signed starting pitcher James Shields to a four-year/$75 million deal. Of the 31 players on the 25-man roster or the disabled list, 14 weren’t with the team in 2014.

Noted Padres Added By A.J. Preller
 Matt Kemp
Justin Upton
Derek Norris
 James Shields
Craig Kimbrel
Wil Myers
 Shawn Kelley
Melvin Upton Jr.
Brandon Maurer
 Clint Barmes
Brandon Morrow

Acquiring big names created a groundswell of excitement, but it came at a cost – in both talent and dollars. San Diego parted ways with several of their highest-regarded young players – Dodgers’ starting catcher Yasmani Grandal – and two MLB.com top 100 prospects – Washington’s Trea Turner and Atlanta’s Matt Wisler. Moreover, another nine prospects traded are now top-30 prospects for the teams that they were traded to – Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Philadelphia Phillies. Only one of Padres prospects – outfielder Hunter Renfroe at number 37 – is in the MLB.com top-100 and he’s currently playing at Class-AA level.

The Padres’ win-now approach looks to have fallen short, although Preller’s hasn’t given up on 2015 – he added reliever Marc Rzepczynski and kept his pending free agents. It’s unclear how he’ll address his fixer-upper project after the season if the team doesn’t jump back into the race. I’m not going to second-guess the Padres’ GM because his turnaround effort isn’t over yet – he’s merely transitioning to another phase of the process. Hopefully for Preller, his rebuilding project won’t result in a condemnation by ownership and fans. Unlike San Diego’s improvement plan that tried to do a major refurbishment quickly, a winning team may have good curbside appeal and still need more improvements. 

Doing an add-on – Kansas City Royals
The defending American League champions had a great 2014, but GM Dayton Moore had his work cut out for him after game-seven of the October Classic – the team ace Shields, designated hitter Billy Butler, and outfielder Nori Aoki to free agency. Since the Royals are a small market team, they opted to not sign the threesome and decided to add lower-tier free agents.

Although the team’s offseason acquisitions have produced mixed results, the totality of the new players – combined with holdovers – have buoyed the team to the best record in the American League. Although the décor looked good, Kansas City entered July with a few issues that needed attention. Specifically, right-hander Yordano Ventura’s struggles after a breakout 2014 combined and the recent loss of southpaw Jason Vargas to season-ending elbow surgery left the starting rotation as an area needing improvement.

Key Changes to 2015 Kansas City Royals
  Notable Losses
 Notable Additions
  James Shields
 Edinson Volquez
  Billy Butler
 Kendrys Morales
  Nori Aoki  Alex Rios
  Raul Ibanez
 Chris Young
  Scott Downs
 Johnny Cueto
   Ben Zobrist

To make sure that his master plan didn’t lose momentum, Moore added a pitcher with game-one starter stuff – Johnny Cueto. Moreover, he added Ben Zobrist who can help at second base – where Omar Infante has struggled – or in the outfield, while injured all-star Alex Gordon recovers before an expected September return. Thanks to the team’s strong foundation of young players, the Royals have been able to quickly update their appearance and have gone from wild card wannabe to World Series contender in just one year.

Conclusion
The 2014 Mariners were better than most expected – including me, but they’ve regressed in 2015.  The Ackley, Happ, and Lowe deals signal that the team is ready to make changes. It’s true that multiple changes will be needed in the offseason, but the Mariners aren’t a “blow up” candidate. Unlike the 2011 Cubs, they have veteran and young players who can be either used as a foundation or flipped in deals to help reinforce that foundation.

Doing a massive purge in Seattle – if that was the correct choice – requires complete buy-in by the organization. That means that no Mariner would be untouchable – including fan favorites Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager who would reap the most value in trades. I don’t believe that most “blow up” proponents wants to see the departure of “King Felix” and Seager.

The Mariners would best served to “remodel” – as the Mets have done – by parlaying select veterans into future contributors, retaining key pieces, strategically adding veteran acquisitions and excelling at developing prospects. Seattle should also adopt the Cubs’ business practice of acquiring veterans – via trade and free agency – who can serve as bridges until their heralded prospects are truly ready. This would help the Mariners feeling compelled to rushing prospects like they’ve done with Ackley, Mike Zunino, and Brad Miller.

The team’s moves prior to the Friday’s deadline sets the stage for an interesting offseason for the Seattle Mariners. Player value won’t be the only element of the organization’s structure that will be scrutinized –- team ownership will have to evaluate their front office and decide whether to stick with the current leadership or make a change. As with any big remodeling job, the Mariners’ choice of overseeing foreman will be the most important factor in changing the Mariners’ on-field fortune. 

ChapmanEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Royals Going For It
The Kansas City Royals reportedly were close to acquiring right-hander Johnny Cueto Saturday night. The deal fell through due to an apparent lack of medical clearance for one of the players headed from Kansas City to Cincinnati in the deal. Even with the deal failing to go through, this news tell us the Royals are going for it.

Cueto, a legitimate No. 1 starter, is a two-month rental and the Royals went for it. Certainly they will continue to attempt to land such a piece, perhaps even Cueto still. With such aggressiveness at the forefront, one has to wonder if the club also will look to grab an outfielder. Alex Gordon is out for a few months, and while Alex Rios has swung the bat better in July, he may not be a trustworthy bat. Gordon likely will return for October but if there are any setbacks with his rehab the Royals could be down a hitter in the postseason.

Brewers’ Sale
Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweets that right-hander Mike Fiers has drawn trade interest, but adds that the club is trying to move Kyle Lohse and/or Matt Garza, instead.

Good luck.

Lohse and Garza started the year with a chance to create nice value, but neither have pitched well. Garza has $25 million guaranteed still on the books, too, with a vesting option based on games started and the avoidance of the disabled list worth $13 million or a $5 million buyout. Lohse is movable, perhaps even without cash going with him. Garza is not, unless a bad contract is coming back.

Garza has posted a 4.89 FIP while seeing his strikeout rates fall for the fourth straight season. He’s still throwing 91-94 mph with three offspeed pitches but his fastball is getting hit hard and his above-average slider and curveball have also dipped in effectiveness. He’s 32 in November and has not gone more than 163 1/3 innings since 2011.

Milwaukee, however, is expected to strongly consider offers for Carlos Gomez, who may net the club a future impact piece. Fiers, by the way, is a solid No. 3 starter with four more years of club control remaining. He will not be arbitration eligible until after the 2016 season.

Chapman, Kimbrel
Aroldis Chapman may or may not be traded this summer, but if he or Craig Kimbrel lands in Washington the Nationals will have even fewer excuses for an October failure than they have had in the past.

ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark tweeted Saturday that rival executives believe if Nats GM Mike Rizzo makes a move it will be a big one. Chapman or Craig Kimbrel would be pretty big. Either’s presence would push solid closer Drew Storen to the eighth inning.

The Padres and Reds aren’t contending and could jump start a busy offseason by maxing out their value this month, rather than reducing their value by hanging onto them for two more months. Expect both to be dealt, as A.J. Preller and Walt Jocketty get busy on a reload job.…

Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Cishek Deal Not A Market Setter
While Oakland’s haul in return for Scott Kazmir may indeed help set the market price for starting pitcher rentals this summer, the Steve Cishek acquisition by the St. Louis Cardinals won’t come close to doing so.

For one, Cishek, 29, has struggled this season. So much that at one point he was shipped back to Triple-A. His velocity is down a bit, he’s walking more batters and striking out fewer and simply allowing more hard hit baseballs. He’s also owed more than $2 million over the final two months of 2015.

Not only does the trade cost for Cishek — 25-year-old Class-AA reliever Kyle Barraclough — not set the market for closers, it likely doesn’t do so for setup men, either. He may very well end up a solid pick-up for the Cardinals, but we’ve yet to see a legitimate high-leverage reliever change teams, so we’ll have to wait until one does to get a sense of what the price is going to be for such arms.

Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Papelbon, Joakim Soria and Francisco Rodriguez are among the proven closer rumored to be somewhat available this month. Late-inning, setup or mid-level closer types that may be available include Brad Ziegler, Joaquin Benoit, Addison Reed, Jake McGee, Will Smith, Jim Johnson, Mark Lowe, Brad Boxberger, Jonathan Broxton and Shawn Kelley. The Red Sox, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, have received interest in Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara but there are no indications Boston will move either right-hander.

Who Needs CF Help?
Contenders that have not received much production from their centerfielders and could be on the lookout for some assistance there before the July 1 deadline:

St. Louis Cardinals: 76 wRC+, .279 wOBA
Peter Bourjos has taken away most of the playing time from Jon Jay and has been much more acceptable offensively with a .314 wOBA and 100 wRC+ supporting a solid .339 OBP.

With so little available on the market, the Cardinals do not appear likely at all to try and trade for a Cameron Maybin, Austin Jackson, Ben Revere or Rajai Davis.

Houston Astros: 76 wRC+, .280 wOBA
Jake Marisnick is a solid glove but at .229/.266/.367 and a .275 wOBA, the contending Astros could use a little more offense. But they also need corner-outfield help and it appears they’re more likely to get a decent player in that search.

San Francisco Giants: 86 wRC+, .286 wOBA
Angel Pagan has scuffled most of the season — .302 OBP, 277 wOBA, 79 wRC+ — and he’s not the glove he was three or four years back. The Giants may prefer to go after starting pitching — they have been linked to Mike Leake and might be a terrific fit for Hisashi Iwakuma if the Mariners end up selling — but center field is a weak spot without question. Pagan has hit left-handed pitching well in the small sample that is 102 plate appearances, suggesting perhaps a platoon partner might make more sense than attempting to land an everyday replacement. Revere is the ideal option in this case.

Tampa Bay Rays: 91 wRC+, .294 wOBA
Moving Kevin Kermeier to a corner or acquiring another centerfield-type defender and playing him left — even if the offensive output isn’t significant — may be the best way a surprise Rays club can get better without spending big in trade cost or salary. Of course, a healthy Desmond Jennings could change the approach and he’s on the comeback trail after knee surgery last month.

Catchers
Several clubs would like to add at least a No. 2 catcher, if not a split-advantage backstop or even a starting-quality option, but there’s not much available and the cost for those that are is quite steep.

Seattle, since trading Welington Castillo in the deal to land Mark Trumbo, has been one of those clubs. One of the clubs they spoke to requested a high-end prospect in exchange for a veteran backup catcher who will be a free agent after the season. The talks, apparently, dies right there.

Here are some catchers that may be discussed over the next week, and some of them perhaps beyond into the waiver deadline period in August:

Rene Rivera, Tampa Bay
Alex Avila, Detroit
A.J. Pierzynski, Atlanta
Stephen Vogt, Oakland
Nick Hundley, Colorado
Geovany Soto, White Sox
Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia
Brayan Pena, Cincinnati
Michael McKenry, Colorado

There aren’t a lot of clubs contending right now that are having significant issues behind the plate. Minnesota is getting a down year from Kurt Suzuki at the plate, Baltimore’s Matt Wieters hasn’t hit much yet and the Rays, who may end up selling instead, are getting nothing offensively from their group. Chris Ianetta’s poor year is hurting the Halos but they aren’t going to move on from him at this stage of the season while they lead the division.

Some have speculated the Padres may be willing to listen on Derek Norris, and if that is the case, like with Oakland and Vogt, clubs may come out of the woodwork to consider him.…

IwakumaIf Hisashi Iwakuma goes out in five days and pitches well again, the Seattle Mariners absolutely will have the opportunity to trade the right-hander to a contender, and the package Oakland received in exchange for Scott Kazmir could serve as a baseline for any deal Seattle makes involving the 34-year-old. This should increase the chances the club makes such a trade.

Iwakuma isn’t going to bring back the same level of package as Kazmir just did — he hasn;t been as good in 2015 and is even more of a concern to clubs in terms of his health, but Kazmir returned a potential future above-average everyday catcher in Jacob Nottingham plus a future back-end starter or reliever in Daniel Mengden.

Such a haul suggests Seattle could net something useful in return for Iwakuma, provided he doesn’t blow up next time out. He’ thrown the ball well three straight times out and despite giving up for homersin his first start off the disabled list, he did show something in that one, too. He’s struck out 18 in his last 20 2/3 innings, walked just four over that span and has induced a lot of ground balls outs. His four starts since being activated have been versus Detroit twice, the Yankees and a red-hot Angels club, too.

Iwakuma could be attractive to clubs that don’t like the asking price for Jeff Samardzija, David Price, Johnny Cueto and even Mike Leake. Those interested in Leake or other mid-rotation types could end up with a better deal and a better pitcher in Iwakuma, who has looked the part of a No. 2-3 type starter of late.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweeted earlier Thursday that indications are the Mariners are “hesitant to sell.”

Of course they are, because it tells the fan base that 2015 is a failed season, which doesn’t bode well for attendance, TV ratings or the job security of the general manager. It’s the right things to do, however, which is why the A’s went ahead and did so, even though starting play Thursday they were ahead of the Mariners in the standings.

Reports surfaced last week that Detroit, who sits several games ahead of Seattle, is exploring trading their own pending free agents such as ace David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. More evidence that a smart seller can take advantage of so clubs preferring to buy this summer.

Clubs that may see Iwakuma as ideal may include the Baltimore Orioles, who want to add a bat and perhaps a starter, too, but don’t have a lot of ammo to land both and as a result could get left in the cold for the bigger names. The Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals (who need multiple starting pitchers) and even San Francisco Giants also could see a reasonably-priced Iwakuma as a solid option.

Waiting to ‘make sure’ they’re out of the race before selling could cost the Mariners a chance to capitalize on the market. Doing so with Iwakuma and/or J.A. Happ is a ridiculous mistake, especially considering a perfectly capable Roenis Elias is awaiting a recall from Triple-A Tacoma. If the M’s get hot and somehow find themselves in the race in late September, it won’t be because of a negative value differential between Iwakuma (or Happ) and Elias. Not to mention there’s still a chance James Paxton makes it back at some point.…

"<strong/Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Advantage Sellers
Since there aren’t as many sellers as there are buyers those clubs ready to sell have a chance to take advantage of the market. The wisest of those clubs will sell aggressively if they get the opportunity. The Seattle Mariners could be one of those.

Even with David Price and Yoenis Cespedes added to the trade market, there still is a shortage. Some clubs that want to add to their rosters may not be able to do so because they either cannot afford or prefer not to part with the talent it takes to land Price, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija or Cole Hamels. Some clubs looking for starting pitching will prefer the mid-rotation, innings-eater type, or may even want an option to cover a spot in the rotation until an injured arm can return. J.A. Happ isn’t going to return much, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be advantageous to move him. This landscape may allow for the legit return necessary to bother pulling the trigger.

Teams that ultimately balk at the price for Mike Leake could look to Happ or Rangers righty Colby Lewis.

Teams looking for offense may run dry on options once Cespedes, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton and Ben Zobrist are moved. Mark Trumbo has some value. Like Happ, Trumbo isn’t bringing back anything earth shattering, but a piece that can help? No doubt.

The Mariners, though, will have to be aggressive in shopping their available players because they aren’t alone. The Padres, Red Sox, White Sox and Rockies have a similar opportunity, and at some point the buyers could run out. Timing is of the essence. Happ’s last start in a Mariners uniform should already have been made. Trumbo’s days should be numbered. Austin Jackson‘s .271/.311/.376 triple-slash since May 26 is just reasonable enough to poach a useful piece from a contender needing help in center field, too. Jackson could be more than just useful in a time share, as he’s hitting .275/.315/.464 versus lefties this season.

The St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins are two contenders that have not received much offense from their centerfielders. So little that Jackson would serve as an upgrade.

Trading Nelson Cruz
Trading Nelson Cruz might be a good idea for the Seattle Mariners. Maybe this summer, maybe over the winter. He’s had another fantastic season at the plate, his best in the big leagues. He’s owed $42 million over the next three years, which hardly is a burden — if he keeps hitting.

Cruz is 34 and probably isn’t going to be much more than a league average DH soon. The Mariners, who have had significant issues building a competitive offense, seemingly should cling to Cruz and keep building, and maybe that’s the right move in the end. But if trading Cruz can answer another question or two for 2016, dealing the slugger pushes the reset button a bit.

Cruz, though, is the James Shields of hitters. Teams were in no hurry to give him four years last offseason and their assessment of his value may not have changed enough to all of a sudden encourage them to take on the final three years of the contract plus trade talent to do so.

In theory, Seattle should trade Cruz and start anew over the winter, attempting to build a roster with more speed, defense, pitching and a bat or two that plays well at Safeco Field. Giving him away to cut payroll doesn’t make sense. If an offer comes along that helps the club get where they need to go, they should pull the trigger. The market for Cruz, however, may to dictate the Mariners keep Cruz.…

Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

The Mets and Ben Zobrist?
The New York Mets have been linked to Ben Zobrist, among other left-side infielders, but Tuesday Ken Rosenthal tweets that discussions have been set aside.

The Mets are in the thick of the races in the National League and need offense in the worst way. David Wright may not be back in 2015, Michael Cuddyer now is hurt and the lineup was down a bat or two even with those two healthy.

Zobrist could play some shortstop for the Mets, or he could slide into a corner outfield spot. He’s a rental that will likely interest a number of clubs. The Mets may need two acquisitions, however, perhaps a shortstop or third baseman plus an outfielder. Zobrist helps, but another addition to go along with him might put the Mets over the top. The problem is, the Mets, like a few other clubs in buy mode as the trade deadline nears — Orioles, Angels, for example — the Mets don’t have a ton of talents that make sense for them to part with for two-month answers. Their pitching is either hurt — Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler — or completely off limits — Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and there aren’t a ton of mid-level prospects in their system.

Finding at least one match may be doable, however, it’s the second one that’s difficult to see happening.

Where Zobrist lands is anyone’s guess, but it’s almost certain he gets moved. Several clubs could use him in a number of spots on the field and in the batting order, including the Yankees (2B, SS), Baltimore (OF), Angels (OF, 2B), Kansas City (OF, 2B), Mets (SS, OF), Pirates (SS), Dodgers (SS, OF).

My List of Sellers
Philadelphia
Milwaukee
Oakland
Seattle
Boston
Texas
Miami
Cincinnati
Arizona
Colorado
White Sox
Boston
San Diego

Oakland, Seattle, Boston, Texas, Arizona, San Diego and the White Sox have an outside shot to get white hot for the next 8-9 days and play themselves into buying. It doesn’t appear Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Miami and Colorado have even that kin of shot. TMany of the former seven clubs may look to buy for the future, including Texas, who continues to be linked to Cole Hamels.

Bubble
Detroit
Cleveland
Atlanta

The Tigers already have reportedly decided to field calls for Yoenis Cespedes and David Price, but at 46-47 and four games back in the American League Wild Card race, it’s tough to expect them have already decided to sell a few pending free agents and close up shop. Detroit may be the classic sell-buy combo club this month: Trade Cespedes and Price for players that can help them now as well as in the future.

Cleveland is the quintessential bubble team at 44-48, 5.5 games out in the Wild Card. A poor next nine games they could find themselves in a position to plan more for 2016 than worrying about this season. If they were to lose three or more games in the standings and perhaps even get pass by the Rangers and/or White Soxm for example, aggressively buying no longer makes much sense. The Indians don’t have the group of pending free agents some other potential sellers have, however, and they’re actually a talented team with a chance to win immediately, so we’re not talking about the big names here, and perhaps not even many of the smallers ones.

Atlanta is likely to sell, but if they were to find a way to close the Wild Card gap from six games to, say, 3-4 games, they may not be quite as aggressive in sell mode. Buying for this season appears to be the one thing the Braves won’t do, however, so they are as much sellers, really, as the top group.

Buyers
Kansas City
L.A. Angels
Houston
Baltimore
Toronto
Minnesota
Washington
St. Louis
L.A. Dodgers
Pittsburgh
Chicago Cubs
San Francisco
New York Mets

The Mets may have a tough time landing what they need, but they have the ammo to get at least one helpful deal done. The Royals likely will be looking for starting pitching and the Halos are linked to Jay Bruce, among other bats. Baltimore apparently is after another bat, but can someone get Buck Showalter a frontline starter, please? Chris Tillman isn’t a No. 1 — or a No. 2. Neither is… anyone else in that rotation.

The Blue Jays need pitching help, as do the Astros. The Twins may choose the dull route, but they aren’t selling off pieces as the current holder of the No. 2 Wild Card berth. The Nationals are loaded, but aren’t healthy, and shortstop Ian Desmond has been awful at shortstop. Maybe another bullpen arm is on Mike Rizzo’s radar.

The Cardinals don’t have any glaring needs, per se. On the surface it would seem they could use a frontline starter to fill in for Adam Wainwright, but Lance Lynn (.278 FIP, 9.67 K/9) has done that job nicely and Michael Wacha (3.20 FIP), John Lackey (3.5 FIP) and Carlos Martinez (3.51 FIP, 9.3 K/9) have been strong solidifying the starting five. With Jaime Garcia also out, howver, St. Louis could set out to acquire a mid-rotation option, perhaps as solid as Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake or Tyson Ross or as ordinary as J.A. Happ.

The impact move is Hamels, Johnny Cueto, David Price or Jeff Samardzija. A few potential under-the-radar targets include Hisashi Iwakuma, Andrew Cashner or John Danks. Yovani Gallardo, reportedly being shopped by the Rangers, could fit, too.

The club to watch here is the Cubs. They have the inventory to get just about any player, perhaps any two. With bait that for the right return could include Starlin Castro, Javier Baez or Jorge Soler, plus prospects such as Billy McKinney and Albert Almora, the North Siders can bully their way into trade discussions for any available player. There’s probably zero chance two of Castro-Baez-Soler is moved, and it’s unlikely but not out of the question that one of them is moved.

The Cubs could use a starting pitcher, a reliever and not a lot else. Dexter Fowler hasn’t been stellar in center field or at the plate, but unless it’s Carlos Gomez the center field market isn’t likely to help here, and Fowler is showing signs of life since the break.

The Giants are tough to figure out for me. Anyone?…