"<strongThroughout his tenure as general manager of the Seattle Mariners, Jack Zduriencik has attempted to acquire hitters able to succeed in the pitcher friendly realm of Safeco Field. Often these players are bat-first corner outfield, first base types who are best served as a designated hitter. The term ‘one-dimensional’ encapsulates said player quite well. Some were bought low on, some came at sticker price.

A few of the moves made were questionable from the beginning, with serious concerns arising from the value given up for what was on the return end. The odd one actually worked out.

Mark Trumbo — Acquired via trade with Arizona Diamondbacks in six-player deal
With the offense struggling, Zduriencik made the first big splash of the season when he acquired Trumbo and Vidal Nuno in exchange for Dominic Leone, Welington Castillo, Gabby Guerrero and Jack Reinheimer. In his first three big league seasons, Trumbo belted 29, 32 and 34 home runs while playing decent defence at first and poor defence in the corner outfield. The 29-year old is coming off an injury-plagued 2014 season in which he appeared in 88 games posting a career-low 91 wRC+ and a career-low .180 ISO.

So far it’s been a slow start to his Mariner career, but Trumbo has shown some signs of encouragement in the final week of the first half. He owns a .581 OPS since the trade, entering Sunday’s game, after finishing June with a -5 wRC+. Obviously this trade has several pieces in play, but the center piece of it all is Trumbo, who is a slugging first base, corner outfield type who’s likely best utilized at DH. He owns a career .298 OBP, doesn’t walk a whole lot and strikes out a quarter of the time. His acquisition brought a sense of inevitability instead of an upgrade.

Nelson Cruz — Signed four-year, $57 million free agent deal
After an offseason of back-and-forth about what really happened in winter 2013-2014, the M’s finally added the slugger to the fold this past winter. Only problem is he was coming off an MLB-high 40 home run performance and you best believe Seattle was going to pay sticker price. He was a decent defender early in his career but isn’t exactly graceful in the field and nearly all of his value comes from the bat. He can handle his own though if he’s only partially used in the field and primarily as the DH.

So far in 2015 Cruz has spent more time in the outfield than many are comfortable with, but he has delivered a .308/.373/.546 slash line with 21 home runs — the walk rate is a tick above his career mark as well. His first half performance was good enough to result in a starting gig at this year’s All-Star Game. The last couple years of his deal are probably going to look as bad as everyone figured, but for now, Cruz is living up to his end of the bargain with his bat.

Rickie Weeks — Signed one-year, $2 million free agent deal
The 11-year big league veteran was an interesting pick-up for the M’s late in the winter and at a very inexpensive price. For the bulk of his career, Weeks had been an above average hitting second baseman with average to slightly below defensive skills. He belted 70 home runs between 2010 and 2012 and he’s regularly had a walk rate around 10 percent. However his career 23.5 percent strikeout rate more resembles that of a slugger.

With Robinson Cano manning second base, Weeks transitioned to left field to form a platoon with Dustin Ackley. That would ultimately be a failure. The athletic 32-year old wasn’t a lost cause in the field, but he didn’t look great either. In 95 plate appearances he mustered a .167/.263/.250 slash line with a 51 wRC+. Not only was he transitioning to a new position, but from an everyday guy to a part-time player who pinch-hit frequently which can sometimes be a daunting task. Finding a groove with the bat didn’t happen. Weeks was released by Seattle on June 21.

Logan Morrison — Acquired via trade with Miami Marlins in exchange for RP Carter Capps
LoMo is your classic prospect who succeeded for a few years in the minors, struggled for a couple years in the majors and then received a change of scenery two winters ago. With Justin Smoak flailing as a major league first baseman, the M’s acquired Morrison to give them another option at first, right field, and you guessed it, DH. The 27-year old missed some time with injury in 2014, but managed a 110 wRC+ and supplanted Smoak — now a Toronto Blue Jay — as the everyday first baseman.

The left-hander continues to show signs that he’s capable of another 23 home run season akin to his first full season in the big leagues back in 2011. There’s been some experimentation with using LoMo in the leadoff spot and he finishes the first half with a .229/.300/.385 slash line. Morrison’s being regarded as a good defensive first baseman but the metrics suggest he’s below average. His days in the outfield are done and with a career 108 wRC+ in over 2100 plate appearances, it appears that the M’s have an average, occasionally better, first baseman. Morrison is under club control through 2016.

Corey Hart — Signed one-year, $6 million plus incentives free agent contract
Acquired on the same day as Morrison, the pair are often mentioned in conversation together. The two-time 30 home run hitter was brought aboard as the right-handed slugger to bat behind the newly signed Cano. It was a risky move as Hart missed the entirety of the 2013 season after undergoing double knee surgery. Sure enough he struggled throughout the 2014 season while battling unrelated injuries. Ultimately he would finish with a 70 wRC+ and six home runs in 255 plate appearances.

This move was lauded at the time as a low-risk, high-reward bargain. In a different context this probably would have been a shrewd move. However this was the follow-up to the Cano signing and the ‘protection’ that would hit behind the superstar. Truthfully, it was too much risk betting Hart would be able to resemble his former self one-year removed from surgery without a real clean-up hitter. For what it’s worth, he’s not having all that much success this year as a part-time player for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Jesus Montero — Acquired via four-player deal with the New York Yankees
The Mariners were struggling to sign free agent hitters. The Yankees were struggling to develop young pitchers. Both clubs figured they would solve each other’s problems with New York sending Montero to Seattle and Michael Pineda going the other way. Montero entered the 2011 season as the No. 3 ranked prospect in baseball, but few thought the right-handed slugger would last more than a few more years behind the plate — the value his bat provided was amplified by the scarcity at the catching position. The critics were right.

Montero had some struggles in his first full big league season finishing the 2012 season with a 90 wRC+ and then it all went downhill. Underperformance, injuries, weight issues, a PED suspension and an incident involving a scout and an ice cream sandwich made up the following two years. But, a seemingly revitalized Montero showed up to camp this year after undergoing a significant weight loss. The results have followed as he’s posted an .868 OPS at Triple-A this year and was selected to the All-Star team.

The former top prospect was re-called from Tacoma and made his season debut on Friday. In three games he’s 1-for-7 with a pair of walks and a run driven in.

Justin Smoak — Acquired in six-player deal with Texas Rangers
The former blue chip prospect was the centrepiece of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Texas. Ironically enough, Seattle reportedly had a deal with the Yankees that would’ve netted them Montero in exchange for the ace but pulled out once Smoak become available. The switch-hitter was hyped for his bat and regularly hit for high averages in his early minor league career, but was never the power-hitting slugger that some had hoped he’d be. He played parts of five seasons for the Mariners and only finished two seasons with a wRC+ above league average (100).

Despite being regarded as a solid defensive first baseman, and the metrics suggest he’s average on the field, there simply wasn’t enough offensive production to warrant starting the former top prospect. He was supplanted at the position last summer by Morrison and dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays over the winter. The trade has done him well as the 28-year-old is having a very good year in a more limited role for the Jays and owns a 128 wRC+ in 147 plate appearances.

Michael Morse — Acquired in three-team trade in exchange for C/DH John Jaso
Prior to the 2013 season Seattle brought Morse back into the fold for a second tenure — he debuted with the M’s in 2005 and remained in the system into 2009. He was coming off a solid offensive season with the Washington Nationals posting a 113 wRC+. As the team’s everyday right fielder in 2013 he posted a 92 wRC+ with 13 home runs before being dealt to the Baltimore Orioles at the end of August. He was due to depart as a free agent after a disappointing year.

Jaso was actually coming off a career year in 2012 with a 143 wRC+ and producing 2.6 fWAR as a part-time catcher and DH. At the time the move was described as typical of Zduriencik, dealing a well-rounded asset for a slugger who couldn’t play defence. Jaso posted a .394 OBP in 2012, Morse finished 2013 with a .270 OBP. For what it’s worth, Jaso has struggled with injuries since the deal and is now in the Tampa Bay organization.

Jack Cust — Signed to a one-year, $2.5 million free agent contact
Despite the fact he resembled the prototypical designated hitter acquired during the Zduriencik tenure, Cust actually had above average OBP skills and was a walk-accumulating machine. The left-hander actually performed close to league average offensively in 67 games as a Mariner in 2011, but after hitting just three home runs, he was released in early August.

The signing was quite reasonable given Cust’s skill set, but he should have been brought on as a part-time player instead of the No. 4 hitter on Opening Day.

Jason Bay — Signed to a one-year, $1 million plus incentives free agent contract
This move I was a fan of given the low-risk nature and me being a fan of Bay during his years in Pittsburgh and Boston. Unfortunately the right-hander was never the same after signing a four-year, $66 million with the New York Mets. He struggled with concussion issues and his contract was mutually terminated with money deferred. No longer the well-rounded player of years past, Bay offered minimal value in the field and little on the base paths entering 2013. He still had some pop in his bat though and was useful against left-handers.

Little harm was done with the move as Bay posted a 94 wRC+ and produced -0.2 fWAR in 236 plate appearances before being designated for assignment. He would be released in early August and has unofficially retired since then.

Raul Ibanez — Signed one-year, $2.8 million free agent contract
The signing marked Ibanez’s third tour of duty with the M’s in 2013. He previously was with the club from 1996-to-2000 and 2004-to-2008. At age 41, Ibanez nearly made history by belting 29 home runs, but was also tasked with regularly playing left field throughout the season. Hitting solo home runs was about all the left-hander did for the Mariners that year, though, as his defensive shortcomings resulted in a 0.1 fWAR for the season. Though his 102 wRC+ would likely be a welcome addition to this year’s incarnation of the club.

Seth Smith, acquired via trade with San Diego Padres in exchange for reliever Brandon Maurer, follows the trend of dealing a reliever for a bat, but unlike many of the other bats acquired, Smith is well-rounded in the box and isn’t a slouch defensively. That’s not to suggest he’s anything special in the field, though he was credited with 6 DRS in 2014. He’s more capable of being an average major league outfielder, which given many of the names who have roamed Safeco Field in the past few years, is a plus.

It is interesting to note that, reportedly, Seattle had an opportunity this winter to acquire Jackie Bradley Jr. from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for reliever Charlie Furbush. Bradley Jr. doesn’t resemble the Jack Z type of player at all: he’s athletic, plus in the outfield and is strong on the bases. Only problem is that he doesn’t hit, and while his skills would upgrade the Mariners outfield defense, the problem to be solved over the winter was finding more runs. Not to suggest the trade should have been accepted if it was in fact offered as Bradley Jr. has a career 50 wRC+ and Smith has been a pleasant addition.

All told, there’s plenty of evidence to show that Jack Zduriencik has targeted these bat-first corner outfielders who should be a DH. But at the same time, his biggest expenditure, Robinson Cano, is a true five-tool player despite the fact he hasn’t shown the same power output. Other exceptions would include Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez who were excellent athletes.…

Walker
A few days ago, I had to calm down a frustrated life-long Seattle Mariners fan who was frustrated by the team’s slow start. I felt like the Kevin Bacon character from the movie “Animal House” when he’s performing crowd control at a parade and tells the masses to “remain calm, all is well.” Yes, it’s certainly possible that the Mariners could underachieve and be a disappointment. But, after just 15 games of a 162-game baseball season, it’s way too early to panic about the Mariners or any other team in the majors.

Nonetheless, a groundswell of social-media angst has developed after the Mariners registered only six wins during their first 15 games. A slow start during the first half-month of a season that’s nearly six-months long has created a furor among some fans who are wondering if the team will be “the same old Mariners” that hasn’t appeared in the postseason for over a decade.

Considering the high expectations being placed on this team, it’s understandable if new fans are a bit anxious about Seattle’s slow start. After all, the Mariners came excruciatingly close to making the postseason in 2014 and they’ve aggressively upgraded their offense in order to overcome their most glaring weakness of the 2014 season – inadequate run production. Longtime Mariners fans are all too familiar with the fact that their team – along with Montreal/Washington – are one of only two Major League Baseball franchises to never appear in a World Series. Yet, they’ve faithfully stuck with the team despite no postseason appearances since 2001. The combination of pent-up frustrations, high expectations, and a slow start by the team have led to a somewhat frustrated baseball fan-base in the third week of April.

The standings
With all of that said, take a look at where the Mariners stood after their first 15 games in 2014 and compare it to this year’s start. For me, it’s easy to see that the factors that compelled many to project Seattle as a World Series contender haven’t changed – especially after just two weeks.
Current AL West Standings
The first thing that becomes apparent is that the standings mean nothing after 15 games. Seattle isn’t the only team to have a less-than-ideal start to the 2015 season. They are just two games behind the American League (AL) West division-leading Houston Astros and only two games separate the entire division. Considering how things started last season, no team in the division should be too high or too low about their 2015 start.

At the 15-game point of last season – April 17 – the Oakland Athletics were off to a very hot start and the Texas Rangers also had a winning record. By the end of the season, the Rangers had self-destructed from injuries and were cellar-dwellers, while Oakland experienced an epic second-half collapse and barely reached the postseason with Seattle breathing down their neck. Here’s a reason to remain calm – the 2015 Mariners only have one less win than last year and that team was in the midst of an eight game losing streak.
April 2014 standings
The team finally ended the streak on April 23 when Kyle Seager hit two home runs, including a walk-off three-run shot in the bottom of the ninth against Houston. Afterwards, Seattle started its climb back towards eventual playoff contention. This year’s team has a far superior roster to the 2014 version, although it’s true that some elements of the roster have underachieved. But, there’s been no red-flags that would justify the concerns being expressed by some fans. No team has run away with the division, like the 1984 Detroit Tigers, and only one team even has a winning record. Yes, this fact should give Mariners fans a reason to believe that all is well.

Pitching
For many people, it was a foregone conclusion that the team’s strength in 2014 – pitching – would continue to be the foundation of the team’s success in 2015. After all, the team still has their ace – Felix Hernandez – and Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker are all healthy after having injury issues during 2014. Plus, the team added newcomer J.A. Happ to give the rotation veteran depth to complement the young arms of Paxton and Walker.
Pitching Staff Comparison
When the Mariners traded for Happ, many viewed the veteran southpaw as nothing more than a number-five starter who might not even make the rotation. After a rough Spring Training, that opinion continued to prevail with some pundits and fans who continued to clamor for the team to drop Happ from the rotation in favor of fellow southpaw Roenis Elias. Happ made the rotation and, after three starts, the perception of the lefty has shifted drastically.

Thus far, the 32-year-old has pitched the most innings and has been the most consistent starter in the rotation. More than likely, Happ’s numbers will normalize to his career averages as the season progresses. But, the team has been fortunate to have the veteran hurler during the early stages of the season. The troubling aspect for the rotation has been the inconsistent performances of Iwakuma, Paxton, and Walker. Each entered the season with a different set of expectations, while all suffering from a common challenge – struggling with their command.

Iwakuma was viewed as the number-two starter behind King Felix, but he’s struggled in each of his starts. After a solid 2014, Paxton was expected to advance and eventually replace “Kuma” as the number-two starter in the rotation, while Walker earned his spot in the rotation during a superb Spring Training when he beat out Elias for the final spot in the rotation. Certainly, the Mariners will need more from this threesome to be serious contenders. Since all three pitchers appear to be healthy and only need to work out the bugs in their individual deliveries, I don’t see any reason for concern after only three starts. Harken back to the early stages of 2014 when the Mariners had to rely on a group that included Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer, and Blake Beavan – Seattle’s rotation has a far better outlook than they did at this time last year. Relievers

Another factor in the high expectations for Mariners’ staff is the fact that the team had one of the best bullpens in 2014 and had all of their key contributors returning with a few new potent arms added to the mix to help augment the holdovers. According to social media, the bullpen is a weakness, although I believe that it’s quite the opposite – the bullpen has been performing well. Granted, there have been a few lapses and it’s true that closer Fernando Rodney and fellow reliever Danny Farquhar have struggled in a few of their outings. But, the pen has worked nearly 11 extra innings and has virtually the same number of walks and hits-per-innings pitched (WHIP) as in 2014.

The Mariners’ bullpen ended last season with a 1.15 WHIP and there are signs that this year’s squad will see their WHIP to decline significantly as the season progresses and their innings pitched increases. My optimism is based on the superb performances from rookie Carson Smith and sophomore Dominic Leone, plus Rodney seems to have re-discovered his command during his last three outings. Lastly, I expect that Farquhar will get back on track in the near future. He, like every other Mariner pitcher who has struggled, is healthy and only needs to improve his command. The only area of concern for me is the increased workload of the bullpen as the rotation works through their issues.

Offense
Despite the dramatic home runs and offensive performance of Nelson Cruz, this year’s team offense has actually scored three fewer runs than the 2014 version. At this point last year, Corey Hart led the team with four home runs, although it should be noted that he would only two more homers during the remainder of the season.
Offense Comparison

The team’s batting average is up in 2015, but the sample size is so small to that it really has no bearing at this time. But, there are two positive signs that the Mariners could potentially be more productive in 2015– they’re walking more and striking out much less. That’s an encouraging development for a team that’s been offensively challenged during recent seasons. Let’s look at several players who’ve received a great deal of positive and negative attention during the young season.

First, Cruz has quickly demonstrated that is that he’s not just a slugger – he’s a professional right-handed hitter who has demonstrated that he can be productive at Safeco Field. Certainly, he’s not going to continue to hit at the torrid pace that resulted in his selection as AL Player of the Week for last week. But, he’s poised to be a solid cleanup hitter throughout the season and that’s something that the Mariners have sorely missed in recent years. 2015 OffenseCatcher Mike Zunino has struggled at the plate during the first 15 games and has even looked lost at times. But, he’s shown signs of improving during the last few games and could be snapping out of his funk. If he’s still striking out 38-percent of his plate appearances at Memorial Day, there will be reason for concern – not now though.

Another holdover from 2014 – first baseman Logan Morrison – has struggled out of the chute this season. But, he had issues during the start of last season too. At the start of 2014, he was spending time in the outfield, designated hitter, and first base and wasn’t an everyday player like he is in 2015. The 27-year-old has been hitting the ball hard, but directly at fielders who are shifting to defend his tendency to pull the ball. Going forward, he’ll need to prove that he can beat the shift and be a dependable offensive first baseman. Like Zunino, there’s no need to be concerned until June.

Outlook
There’s no disputing that the Mariners and their fans would have preferred that the team avoided a slow start. But, every team goes through a 6-9 stretch at some point during the season. The key for Seattle will be turning around their fortunes in the next six weeks. Last year’s Mariners started slowly and ended up competing until the last day of the season. Considering that the team that eventually led the majors in wins during 2014 – the Los Angeles Angels – had a losing record after 15 games, I’m convinced that – barring injury – the Mariners will be fine in 2015. This year’s roster is far superior and built to win now.

If the team continues to stumble, I suppose that I could end-up suffering the same fate of Bacon’s “Animal House” character – being trampled during the mass hysteria. Nothing that I’ve seen in the last two weeks has me concerned about a possible trampling – the Mariners will be fine.…

Dustin Ackley, John Jaso

After falling one win short of a postseason berth in 2014, the Seattle Mariners have spent their off-season attempting to improve themselves in their two weakest areas; offensive production and the outfield. Adding outfielders Nelson Cruz, Justin Ruggiano, and Seth Smith during the off-season and Austin Jackson at last year’s trading deadline improves their offensive outlook and  dramatically transforms the team’s outfield situation.

By adding these players and turning the page on Michael Saunders, Corey Hart, and Abraham Almonte, the Mariners are certain to have two different starting outfielders and a different designated hitter on April 6th when they open the season against the Los Angeles Angels. The lone holdover from Opening Day 2014 appears to be left fielder Dustin Ackley.

Ever since Ackley posted a .273/.348/.417 triple slash and hit a team-leading seven triples in just 90 games during his 2011 debut season, Mariners faithful have been waiting for the former North Carolina Tar Heel to become a mainstay in Seattle’s lineup. Unfortunately for the Mariners and the number two overall pick in the June 2009 Amateur Draft, he hasn’t approached those heights again.

How much time is enough?
Young players need experience, plus the patience and support of their organization to adjust to playing in the major leagues so they can eventually flourish. For example, Kyle Seager struggled during his 53 game debut in 2011, but has incrementally improved with each passing season and is now one of the best third baseman in either league. By 2,000 major league plate appearances, a player’s value and future role have normally become clear. This is not an iron clad rule, but 2,000 plate appearances is an appropriate time to have that conversation.

For most of Seattle’s core of young position players, it’s too early to determine their long term value or role due to their relatively low amount of major league service time. It’s a challenging proposition for a team with designs on making their first postseason appearance since 2001; develop youngsters while attempting to contend. Among Seattle’s current crop of young players, Seager and Ackley have reached the 2,000 plate appearance mark with Logan Morrison quickly approaching that milestone.

Position Players

Consistently inconsistent
While Morrison will eventually come under similar scrutiny, Ackley is a far more enigmatic figure in Seattle thanks to being a high draft selection, quickly ascending through Seattle’s minor league system, initially being successful in the majors, and subsequently struggling since 2012. My initial perception of Ackley was that he was a slow starter who performed much better in the second half of seasons; that’s not completely accurate. Although it’s true that his overall career numbers are better in the second half, he’s both struggled and flourished during the first and second half of different seasons. I believe that best way to describe his offensive production is “consistently inconsistent.”

To better illustrate that point, I decided to use his month-by-month on-base plus slugging (OPS) because OPS is a metric that takes into account a player’s ability to make contact, their plate discipline, and their power. Although the league average for OPS fluctuates from year-to-year, the league-average hovers near .730. Fangraphs provides the following table as a reference for assessing a player’s performance based on their OPS.

OPS Ratings

With the exception of his torrid 2011 debut season, Ackley has been limited to bursts of productivity surrounded by longer periods of ineffectiveness. Since the start of the 2012 season, he’s been significantly below the major league average for OPS in all but four months and has only been over league-average for two consecutive months once; July and August of 2014. Since 2012, his OPS has been below-average for each season.

Ackley career OPS

The .286 OPS for June 2013 is not a typo, but it’s important to note that he only played in three games in that month after spending most of the month at AAA-Tacoma in an attempt to regain his swing. The main reason for his quick return was an injury to outfielder Franklin Gutiérrez.

Possible turning point?
So, what changed and led to Ackley putting together his best OPS in consecutive months and best overall half-season since 2011? Perhaps, it was a change to his batting stance. Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill touched on mechanical adjustments made by the left-handed hitter in two July 2014 tweets.

My interpretation of those comments are that, thanks to the changes made at the plate, Ackley was able to handle middle-away pitches better by being closer to the plate and by closing his batting stance. The July 24 picture illustrates the changes, which may be the underlying reason for Ackley’s resurgence in July and August.

After July 15th, Ackley was 23rd in the American League (AL) in OPS for the remainder of the season, finishing ahead of teammates Cruz (25) and Seager (41).

September swoon
Despite his mid-season adjustments, Ackley’s performance fell off considerably in September when he posted a .149/.205/.299 triple slash during 18 games. One contributor to his September decline were bone spurs in his left ankle that hampered him and resulted in him missing four games. This isn’t the first time that Ackley has experienced problems with bone spurs; he had surgery to remove bone spurs after the 2012 season. At that time, it was believed that the spurs affected Ackley’s ability to push off at home plate and to run the bases.

During this off-season, he visited an ankle specialist who made recommendations to the team on how to handle the situation going forward. Every indication from the team is that Ackley is physically ready to go and will be played frequently during Spring Training by manager Lloyd McClendon. The question that lingers going into 2015 is whether his September struggles were injury-induced or a regression back to previous consistency.

2015 role with Mariners
The general consensus among fans and national pundits has been that Ackley will be Seattle’s Opening Day left fielder barring injury; that’s not necessarily certain though. During his January 17th Hot Stove Report podcast for 1090 The Fan, Jason discussed General Manager Jack Zduriencik’s comments about the left field position on the Steve Sandmeyer Show. Zduriencik stated that he and manager Lloyd McClendon plan to “put the best club on the field whatever that is.”

“To say that anyone is on scholarship or somebody’s got something locked in, they’ve got to prove it in Spring Training.”
— Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik on The Steve Sandmeyer Show

To me, Zduriencik’s comments open the door to the possibly using Smith in left field against tough southpaws or even Ackley losing left field playing time to either Ruggiano or James Jones. I don’t McClendon will proclaim Ackley as his left fielder early in Spring Training as he did last February.

There’s a clear benefit to using the left-handed hitting Smith over Ackley against southpaws. Smith’s 2014 OPS against left-handed pitchers was appreciably better than Ackley’s. Smith’s career OPS versus lefties is lower than Ackley’s, but the 32-year-old veteran has been far more productive and consistent than Ackley during his eight-year career.

Smith-Ackley OPS vs LHP

Conclusion
With the exception of his 2011 debut season, Dustin Ackley has struggled to sustain long periods of average to above-average production and hasn’t matched the lofty expectations placed upon him after being selected one pick after Stephen Strasburg in the 2009 draft. If the soon-to-be 27-year-old doesn’t continue his 2014 second half performance into 2015, the team should transition in a new direction just as they did with first baseman Justin Smoak. After entering last season with 1942 plate appearances, Smoak was waived by Seattle after playing in 80 games and 276 plate appearances in 2014.

If Ackley’s 2014 mechanical adjustments are a permanent fix, he’s best suited to be part of a left field platoon and play primarily against right-handed pitching. The thought of Ackley being a part-time player will disappoint many Seattle fans. However, being a platoon player gives him the best opportunity to repeat his 2.1 fWAR value and help the team contend for the AL West crown.

 

 

 …

Jack ZduriencikRarely does Major League Baseball’s annual July 31st non-waiver trade deadline spark as much interest as it did today. In total there were 12 trades made and several significant pieces were moved in the process. Aces David Price and Jon Lester found new homes, the Boston Red Sox cleaned house, and the Seattle Mariners added a pair of outfielders to a club in need of an offensive boost. In a market barren of impact bats and overpriced assets, the Mariners played it safe, and smart.

Chris Denorfia, acquired from the San Diego Padres for Abraham Almonte and a minor league reliever, may be a veteran on a down season, but he has hit left-handed pitching well throughout his career and is an upgrade on the current Seattle roster. Austin Jackson, acquired from the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade in which the M’s sent Nick Franklin to the Tampa Bay Rays, is a true centerfielder that’s capable of hitting at the top of a lineup. He represents a significant upgrade to the roster as is.

Both players are now with the club Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune tweets, and are expected to be in the lineup tomorrow night when Seattle wraps up a three-game set with the Cleveland Indians. Now as always, the first question that usually comes to mind is who’s roster spots will the new imports take?

Presumably Stefen Romero will be sent down to Triple-A as the club as already used an option on him for the year and he’s now managed a 52 wRC+ in 180 plate appearances with the big club. Romero is still just 25-years old and only had one full season of Triple-A experience under his belt before breaking camp with the team this spring. He’s received below average grades for both base running and fielding according to FanGraphs and his fWAR on the year is -1.0, meaning even having a replacement level player take his spot on the roster would be an improvement.

The second most likely candidate to face the roster crunch is James Jones as Jackson is expected to take over regular center field duties. Jones, also 25, burst on the scene when he was called up at the end of April and posted an impressive 101 wRC+ in May while hitting at the top of the order. He started to slide in June with a 76 wRC+ for the month before seemingly imploding in July with just five hits and a walk in his last 12 games and 48 plate appearances. Jones’ defence has been a work in progress this year and he definitely had his struggles at times, but a trip down to Tacoma to work on his defence and try and figure his offensive issues out could be very beneficial. Jones could still factor into the team’s plans in 2015 as he’s shown the ability to succeed in the big leagues, but needs to improve his game as a whole first.

The pair of veterans everybody’s been wanting to see disappear, Corey Hart and Endy Chavez, are perhaps the least likely to be removed from the active roster, at least for right now. Hart’s had his struggles this year, there’s no questioning that, and between missing the entire 2013 season as well as an extended stretch in the first half recovering from a hamstring injury, it’s really been a disappointing season for the slugger. His wRC+ is now down to 72 after an 0-for-4 performance in tonight’s win, but he has started in right field three games in a row now. He’s still owed at least $3 million for the year — depending on how his incentives play out — so cutting him would be simply an exercise in opening up a roster spot as the M’s wouldn’t save any money in the process. The move could still happen, but it doesn’t seem imminent, yet.

Chavez has seen far more at bats this year than anybody expected and he doesn’t have much to show for it. Often hitting at the top of the order, the seasoned veteran owns a 74 wRC+ in 173 plate appearances. He’s been below average in right field, but he’s essentially provided replacement level value with a -0.2 fWAR. Chavez hasn’t actually been that awful in his second stint with the Mariners, but if he was utilized as a No. 4 outfielder instead of a regular contributor it’s likely he would’ve provided more value. The 36-year old would hit the waiver wire in the event the M’s decided to designate him for assignment and it appears unlikely he’d accept an assignment to Triple-A, but I suppose it is possible.

Simply replacing Romero and Jones with Denorfia and Jackson stands to make a potentially significant improvement to the club, and if Chavez ends up as the odd man out when Michael Saunders returns — possibly in two or three weeks time — one could suggest that the M’s would finally have a decent group of outfielders together. Between Dustin Ackley, who’s been swinging the bat very well this month, Jackson, and Saunders the club has a set of very competent defensive outfielders with a couple of decent bats to make use of in Denorfia and Hart.

[pullquote]Since rejoining the Mariners lineup on July 25th Morales has just one hit in 21 plate appearances with a pair of runs batted in and one walk. His wRC+ in that time is -41.[/pullquote]

The acquisition of Kendrys Morales should weigh in to the review of the Mariners trade deadline success, and in exchange for the three bats acquired, the team gave up nothing off of the big league roster and nothing of real significance to the future. As I mentioned earlier, Franklin has all the talent to be a very good player but it just wasn’t going to work out in Seattle for him. Almonte is an okay depth piece but he’s replaceable, as is Stephen Pryor.

The M’s received some flack from Jeff Passon of Yahoo! Sports for being involved in the Price trade but not coming up with the player they had coveted for so long and the additions they did make only brought them back to mediocrity. Let’s look at the facts: Seattle was lukewarm at best when it came to including Taijuan Walker in a deal of any kind and didn’t have another comparable player to Drew Smyly to include in the deal. If the M’s offered Franklin, a Smyly-type of pitcher, and a third high-upside prospect they would’ve landed Price. The pieces simply didn’t meet up for the Rays and M’s, and I don’t believe that’s for lack of effort.

I do agree that the return for Price may look slightly on the lighter side, but it was likely still more than the M’s should’ve been comfortable dealing at this point in time. Remember, this wasn’t a club that was one piece away from being a World Series contender. This is a club that was a couple pieces away from even being a serious playoff contender down the stretch, and paying a premium price for Lester, or any other rental, just doesn’t make sense for this club. General manager Jack Zduriencik did well to turn Franklin, an asset who had no opening within the organization, into Jackson who fills several holes on the club and is controllable for the 2015 season as well. If that was the only move Jack Z made, I would’ve been happy with the day. Adding another bat, albeit low impact, only helps improve the club further. As will the returns of Saunders and James Paxton.

Again, even getting back to mediocrity in right and center field is still a boost considering how outstanding the entire pitching staff has been. Think of all those times the M’s had an opportunity to cash in an extra run or two but came up empty. Having Denorfia take the place of Romero, for example, on even a handful of those spots could net the team some extra wins, or at the very least the extending of an inning to create a better chance for victory. Bottom line, Jackson and Denorfia make the current roster better.

In terms of true impact bats, there really was nothing available. I’m surprised the Philadelphia Phillies weren’t able to move Marlon Byrd, though their asking price sounded totally unrealistic, and that the Texas Rangers held on to Alex Rios as well. I don’t blame Seattle for passing on the $16 million that would be owed to Byrd for the next two seasons following this one, but I’d be curious to know why Rios didn’t end up getting dealt. There were several reports of trade talks occurring, but the Rangers obviously didn’t get an offer that they deemed to be worthwhile.

Yoenis Cespedes was dealt today, and he would’ve been a huge addition to the Mariners, but look at the context: the Oakland Athletics were able to bolster their rotation even further with Lester and Jonny Gomes makes for an interesting addition as well. Not to mention the A’s re-acquisition of defensive specialist Sam Fuld as well which will help offset the loss of this year’s Home Run Derby Champion. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the A’s were going to move Cespedes this winter regardless since they didn’t feel they could lock him up to a long term deal before he reaches free agency just over a year from now, and decided to cash in now.

Not to say that Oakland would or would not deal Cespedes within the division, but the Mariners simply didn’t match up well with the A’s. Who on the club is comparable to Lester and could actually be given up? I suppose there’s an argument that Hisashi Iwakuma could be of similar value though he’s not as good as Lester, but there’d be no reason for the M’s to deal him. Aside from Cespedes, there wasn’t another high impact bat traded today.

The Mariners got better without hurting the future. That’s the biggest thing to takeaway from today, in my opinion. Zduriencik didn’t collapse under the pressure he faced and overpay for a player like Price. One could argue that Jack Z should’ve made the flashy acquisition, but I have no problem with the pair of moves made today since they improve on players like Romero and Jones who’s contributions have been sub-par, as well as the Morales acquisition from earlier.

Seattle still has a solid chance to grab a Wild Card slot, and today they were able to improve their chances while a team like the Toronto Blue Jays did not. It’s going to be a fun next two months.…

jesus monteroWhen the Seattle Mariners sent Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees in a four-player deal that netted promising young slugger Jesus Montero it appeared to be a win-win trade based on each club’s respective needs. The Yankees were in dire need of some, preferably young, pitching depth, and the Mariners were struggling to acquire and develop hitters. Many people around baseball, executives and writers alike, lauded both clubs for the deal since players held superstar potential. Fast forward two-and-a-half years later and the M’s are stuck in a difficult position: what should they do with Montero?

The 24-year old has had two brief stints with the major league club so far in 2014 and in 17 plate appearances he’s managed four hits including one home run. Montero has actually put together a decent season during his time in Triple-A as he holds a .310/.374/.541 slash line with 15 home runs and a 133 wRC+ across 342 plate appearances. That stat package is a lot more indicative of what Seattle was hoping they were getting when they acquired the former catcher.

Back in 2012, Montero’s first full major league season, he actually didn’t fare too badly with a .685 OPS in 553 plate appearances. By contrast, Justin Smoak had a .654 OPS that year and so far in 2014 he has a .630 OPS in 262 plate appearances for the M’s. Obviously it wasn’t the breakout campaign the club was hoping for from Montero, but he did manage a 132 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and played in 56 games at catcher. One of the biggest concerns for the right-hander at the time of his acquisition was where he would play. His bat was never in question and he was described as a pure hitter by many, but there was plenty of doubt surrounding whether or not he would last at catcher and a move to first base seemed inevitable — if a permanent move to designated hitter wasn’t already in the works.

Montero’s 2013 was one to forget between the PED-suspension and suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee as there’s little doubt his development was significantly stalled. He then spent the offseason “eating”, in his own words, and left a poor taste in the mouth of many within the organization upon his arrival to Spring Training this year as his work ethic and desire to play the game were in serious question. Often times laziness and a bad attitude are a lethal combination for a player no matter the talent level. Whether he was over-frustrated with himself after the disaster that was 2013 or the steroids were a significant part of his success prior to that season remain to be seen. The same goes for his future in the Mariners organization.

[pullquote]Montero was signed as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela by the New York Yankees on October 17, 2006.[/pullquote]

It’s no secret that Seattle is in dire need of some offensive help and after losing the first two games of a four-game set with the Baltimore Orioles with just a single run scored, that need was underlined again. The armchair general managers of the M’s have been calling for the club to designate Corey Hart for assignment, who has had his own share of struggles this year, and call up Montero to fill his spot for some time now. Of course it’s not quite that simple considering that Hart is still owed a couple million dollars on the year and it’s not clear that Montero would actually be an upgrade on the veteran. Though many are of the opinion that anything would be an upgrade at this point.

As currently constructed, there really isn’t a place on the big league roster for Montero even with Hart making consecutive starts at first base and right field. Logan Morrison is in the mix at first base and DH as well and Smoak is sitting at the top of the Triple-A depth chart. Even before the M’s reacquired Kendrys Morales from the Minnesota Twins this week there was hardly any room for Montero, now there is effectively zero. Of course Montero would be an option in the event of an injury, but he’d further limit an already fairly inflexible roster.

Montero sits just shy of 1400 plate appearances at the Triple-A level and has a .291/.354/.500 line in four seasons there so it’s not as though he has all that much to prove in the minors. However it may be best for the 24-year old to stay put for the remainder of the year, at least until the roster expansion in September, given the situation with the big club and his 2013 season.

Yes, Montero has been on a hot streak of late and has seven home runs in the past month, but consider that he’s benefitted from the very hitter-friendly confines of several Pacific Coast League cities such as Reno, Nevada during that stretch. He’s put up a .761 OPS at a much more pitcher-friendly Cheney Stadium in Tacoma so far this year compared to a 1.022 OPS on the road. Those numbers are also telling of his lack of success at Safeco compared to his slightly less lac of success on the road in the major leagues as well.

Those suggesting the former Yankee could be valuable in a potential trade shouldn’t be surprised to hear that that is not the case. Sure, there’s probably a couple teams that would be willing to take a flier on Montero, as there’s almost always a team willing to take a chance on a former top prospect, but it’s unlikely the M’s could get anything aside from some cash considerations in return. For what it’s worth, Seattle probably is best off simply hanging on to Montero for another year and seeing what happens.

It’s likely that one of Smoak and Morrison will no longer be with the organization after this season and both Morales and Hart will be free agents at season’s end as well, possibly leaving a spot open for Montero in 2015. There’s always the possibility that something clicks and he’s able to produce at the major league level, but that seems unlikely at this point.

The answer to the opening question is that there really isn’t an ideal solution. The best course of action could be leaving Montero at Triple-A for the remainder of the season or it could be shipping him to another club for some batting practice baseballs and seeing if a change of scenery helps. Although when there’s legitimate character concerns about a player on top of the concerns about his play, there’s very rarely a happy ending.

Sure, I’d love to see Montero come through and turn into an everyday slugger, but reality suggests that’s unlikely, and he also really isn’t any better than the options currently on the Mariners roster so until he puts up significant numbers at Cheney or Hart goes down again, don’t expect him back in Seattle any time soon.…

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Tampa Bay RaysAlthough we’re still two weeks away from the July non-waiver trade deadline, as expected, the trade rumors picked up in a big way yesterday with reports that the Seattle Mariners have been engaged in talks with the Tampa Bay Rays over the past few weeks. Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported on Twitter that the M’s and Rays have been discussing a deal that would send super-utility player Ben Zobrist and ace starter David Price to the Emerald City. Seattle has been connected to Price since the offseason and it’s been widely rumored that the Rays are ready to move their top starter in the right deal.

Shortly after Morosi reported the trade talks, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports came out to say that the M’s have actually been focussed on Zobrist and rather trade talks could expand to include Price. It’s no surprise to hear that Nick Franklin is reportedly involved on the Mariners end of things as the Rays reportedly had interest in the young infielder back in February. In between the updates from Morosi and Heyman, Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill tweeted this interesting bit as well.

Zobrist’s name has come up more frequently in trade rumors the last little while as his club finds itself 9.5 games out of a playoff spot and have occupied the basement of the American League’s East division for much of the season. The 33-year old has what the Mariners need in a bad way: right-handed pop. Zobrist has hit 20 or more home runs in three of the past five seasons and offers an extreme amount of versatility — he’s been a plus defender in right field and at second base according to UZR, and is also capable of providing adequate play in the other outfield spots as well as shortstop and third base. He could also chip in at first base, but hasn’t seen action there since 2010 and presumably the M’s would prefer to use him to plug an outfield hole or take over at short should Brad Miller struggle.

[pullquote]Ben Zobrist, a switch hitter, boasts a career .285/.357/358 triple-slash at Safeco Field and is batting .352/.420/.511 versus left-handed pitching in 2014.[/pullquote]

Corey Hart has yet to provide the right-handed punch to the lineup and even if he does, the club could still stand to add another bat. Zobrist is in the midst of a down year of sorts with a .266/.352/.401 line, but his 117 wRC+ is right on pace with his career mark of 118. He is a classic line drive hitter that shouldn’t be harmed too much by the confines of Safeco Field. He also owns a 12.2 percent career walk rate compared to a 15.9 strikeout rate which would be benefit to the lineup. Zobrist isn’t a huge base stealer — his highest total of 24 was back in 2010 — but he does offer slightly above average wheels on the base paths that can get you an extra base or two when it counts.

On the financial side of things, Zobrist is owed just $7 million for the 2014 season and will make $7.5 million in 2015 before his club can elect to exercise a $7.5 million option for 2016, or pay a $500 thousand buyout. This type of deal is in line with the reports that suggested general manager Jack Zduriencik has the flexibility to make a moderately significant addition to the club. Whether or not ownership has or is willing to also approve the addition of what’s left on Price’s $14 million deal for 2014 and the upwards of $20 million he could command next season remains to be seen.

Now, one key thing to remember is that Tampa Bay doesn’t yet believe they are out of the playoff race. The Rays have been playing better of late, but it still seems unlikely they could make a serious playoff push this year — they have just 11 games before the trade deadline to determine whether or not they should sell. Of course it’s entirely possible that the Rays hold off until the offseason to move either Price or Zobrist, but one could easily make the argument that the pair’s respective value will never be higher than it is right now, especially with Price only under control for one more season before he hits free agency.

Back in the winter the Rays were stuck on acquiring top prospect Taijuan Walker in any potential deal for Price, which the M’s balked at. However, in a new report today from Heyman, it sounds as though the inclusion of Walker could be the deciding factor in whether or not Seattle gets Price. Heyman also confirms that the M’s are talking about a package deal including both Price and Zobrist, and notes that Miller is very much on the table in a potential deal. The fact the club is even willing to discuss their top prospect’s inclusion in a deal could suggest that they’ve become more willing — if only ever so slightly — to deal him in the right situation.

The landscape has obviously changed in many ways since January, especially with the M’s very much in playoff contention heading into the second half and needed a serious boost for the stretch drive, but perhaps the question now turns to exactly where Walker’s trade value sits at the moment. It was expected that the 21-year old would break camp in the big league rotation and contribute, but after some shoulder issues flared up early in Spring Training, Walker has only just gotten healthy enough to make a couple of major league starts prior to the break and is currently working things out at Triple-A. How much the Oakland Athletics dealing of top prospect Addison Russell and others for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel will affect the M’s talks regarding Price, but it’s been reported that the A’s offered Russell in a package for Price and were turned down.

It’s unlikely that anyone will question whether or not Walker still has the talent to be a No. 1 starter after the injury, but now there’s an increased risk added to the already anemic nature of pitching prospects. Not to suggest I’m down of Walker, and I still believe it’d be a mistake to sell low on the youngster, but given the surprise success of Roenis Elias — though he has struggled lately — and rehabbing James Paxton who is feeling no ill-effects after his first start in almost four months, it’s perhaps slightly more palpable to see Walker go in a deal, especially if the return is a pair of superstar-type players.

If it’s a given that Walker would have to be included in any deal involving Price, it’s equally likely that Franklin would be going the other way in a potential deal for Zobrist. Franklin could offer some of the positional versatility that Zobrist does and obviously his bat isn’t as polished yet, but he will be owed close to the league minimum for the next couple of years before hitting arbitration and that would be very enticing for the perennially cash-strapped Rays.

The next question then becomes what else would the M’s have to part with to get a done for either deal or both? Top prospect D.J. Peterson‘s name has come up recently, but he’s progressing very well in the minors right now — currently with Double-A Jackson — and in the last line of the Heyman article it says Peterson is very unlikely to move unless “it was a really big deal”. Price and Zobrist sound like a big deal to me, but the cost of two of the organization’s best prospects could be a little rich for Seattle. Heyman notes in today’s report that the Rays are in fact interested in Peterson and Paxton as well.

It’s expected that the M’s will use some of their bullpen depth to facilitate a potential deal with any one of Danny Farquhar, Brandon Maurer, or Tom Wilhelmsen could hold some reasonable valuable. Other major league ready players such as Stefen Romero, Abraham Almonte, and Erasmo Ramirez could be included as well. Another name off of the active roster, James Jones, has been rumored to be potentially involved as well despite the fact Seattle views him as their centerfielder of the future as well. And there’s always the possibility that Dustin Ackley could be moved as well and Heyman hears that plenty of teams have been asking. It’s also possible that other highly touted prospects such as Luiz Gohara, Edwin Diaz, Austin Wilson, and Chris Taylor could be discussed as well.

The book has been well-written on Price over the last couple months and what he can bring to any rotation — a true ace capable of going the distance each time out — and certainly he would represent an upgrade for the M’s rotation, especially when one considers the trifecta of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Price. That’s without even mentioning the boost to the offence that Zobrist would provide.

At the very least, it’s good to know that the club is at least in strong pursuit of different options including Marlon Byrd — which PI’s Alex Carson examined yesterday — and isn’t afraid of making “the big one”. As the second half begins the Mariners still hold a two and a half game lead on the second AL Wild Card slot and the division isn’t quite out of reach yet, but the M’s now have an opportunity to do something that it looked liked they weren’t going to prior to the start of the season: make the first year of Robinson Cano’s mega-deal count.…

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v New York YankeesThe New York Yankees dipped into the trade market on Sunday and acquired veteran starter Brandon McCarthy from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for 26-year old starter Vidal Nuno. To make room on both the 40-man and active roster, the Yankees designated outfielder Alfonso Soriano for assignment. The 38-year old has struggled this season, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggests that the Seattle Mariners would be a logical landing spot for the former All-Star due to his ability to still hit lefties. The M’s struggles against left-handed pitching have been well documented this season and they’re reportedly looking to acquire a bat to bolster an offense that managed just four hits against Hector Noesi and the Chicago White Sox on Sunday — so why not?

To start, Soriano is in the final year of the 8-year, $136 million mega-deal he signed with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2007 season and is owed $18 million for the 2014 campaign. However the Cubs are covering $13 million of the cost and the Yankees are responsible for the remaining $5 million. If the M’s — or any club — were to claim Soriano, they’d be responsible for the remainder of his 2014 salary, but if they wait until he is hypothetically released, they can pick him up for a pro-rated portion of the major league minimum, which would amount to about $200 thousand.

So should Soriano be released, which seems the most likely scenario to occur in the next ten days, the cost of acquiring him shouldn’t be prohibitive for the Mariners. That can be considered good news since other trade options such as Alex Rios and Marlon Byrd still have several million dollars left on their respective contracts. Now, adding some payroll shouldn’t be a problem and Howard Lincoln has gone on record saying that the M’s have room to make an acquisition, but considering the limited financial flexibility that has come into play in recent months it’s likely a very complex situation. Attendance has been up at Safeco Field compared to last year, but we shouldn’t necessarily assume that that equals more cash being made available for payroll purposes.

Although Soriano has a measly .221/.244/.367 line and 61 wRC+ in 238 plate appearances this season, he has hit better against left-handed pitching posting an 81  wRC+. For his career, the former Texas Ranger is a .270/.319/.500 hitter and has hammered lefties to the tune of a 124 wRC+. Of his 391 career home runs, 101 of them have come against southpaws in half the number of plate appearances he’s had against right-handed pitching. There isn’t much to suggest he’s a better second half hitter than first half, although he did go on a bit of a tear for the last two months of the 2013 season after being acquired by the Yankees. It’s worth noting that considering his age and injury history he may require extra rest here and there throughout the remainder of the season to keep him fresh.

Back to the point of the 38-year old’s age potentially being a factor in his decline. He’s essentially split his time this season between designated hitter and left or right field for the Yankees so he wouldn’t necessarily require daily use of the DH spot. Considering UZR hasn’t hated his outfield performance — especially over the last several seasons — and he posted a 11.9 rating in 2012, there shouldn’t be too much concern over what he can still do in the field. He finished 2013 with a 7.0 rating and so far this season has received a -4.1 rating. He certainly would be a defensive downgrade from Dustin Ackley in left, but he wouldn’t be anywhere near as bad as Dayan Viciedo — another name being tossed around in trade rumors — would be.

Of course Corey Hart has been activated off of the disabled list and is back in his regular role as the Mariners’ designated hitter, but given his injury history it’s no guarantee that he’ll last through the rest of the season anyways. Given Ackley’s struggles and Hart likely needed regular rest, there’s probably a scenario where Soriano would fit. At the very least the M’s could have a solid right-handed bat available on the bench depending on what lineup starts that day.

Is Soriano the perfect option? No, but he does offer some upside at a potentially very small cost. Sherman also mentions in his post that his former teammate Robinson Cano could vouch for how great of a teammate he is, and the Dominican native would likely be welcome in the clubhouse that has several Dominican natives present.

There’s definitely some intrigue with the two-time Yankee, especially considering the fact he helped propel the Yankees to an 85-win 2013 campaign, but that club was still 6.5 games shy of a playoff berth. Obviously the best part about picking up Soriano is that it can be done for just money so the risk is very minimal, but it’s very possible the club could wind up losing Endy Chavez who would likely become the odd man out.

That’s not to say Chavez is irreplaceable and should be the deciding factor, but he does have the ability to hit leadoff,run the bases well, and play the outfield more regularly than Soriano would likely be able to. A tradeoff of the two outfielders is an interesting preposition, but that’s simply my own speculation that Chavez would have to be cut if Soriano comes in. It’s equally likely that the club sends down a reliever in such a scenario.

So, Soriano can hit left-handers, can somewhat play the outfield, comes cheap, and could fit the roster without too much re-shuffling. I can see why Sherman would make the connection between Seattle and Soriano, but it’s very possible the M’s would prefer to target a younger player to upgrade their lineup not just in 2014, but 2015 as well. That can lead to the question of who’d be the better fit between Soriano and Viciedo, especially since acquiring Viciedo could cost Seattle a reliever and a prospect. Again, that’s simply more speculation.

Overall the fit appears to be there for the veteran outfielder, but it remains to be seen if the Mariners’ management team feels the same way. It’s possible a club could work out a deal for Soriano, but considering his salary, it’s unlikely a team would be willing to give up something of value in return. Even if the Yankees were to eat the remaining salary — his salary minus the portion of the major league minimum would be covered by the Yankees and Cubs in the event he’s released — it’s unlikely they’d be able to get even a marginally interesting prospect back.

Should Soriano reach free agency and is interested in continuing his career, the M’s should definitely take a look. He’s no Alex Rios, but he definitely could provide a needed right-handed boost to a struggling Seattle offense..…

corey hartAfter spending almost seven weeks on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Corey Hart returned to the Seattle Mariners’ lineup on Friday night against the Chicago White Sox. In a corresponding roster move, the M’s designated veteran outfielder Cole Gillespie for assignment; he hit .254/.312/.324 in 78 plate appearances this year. In another move, they club opted to send first baseman Justin Smoak down to Triple-A Tacoma instead of having him rejoin the big league club, meaning Logan Morrison will continue to be the M’s regular first baseman. Smoak, like Hart, was on a rehab assignment that was set to conclude next week.

This is where things could begin to get even more interesting for the Mariners. The July 31st non-waiver trade deadline is now less than four weeks away and the club has a hold on one of the two American League Wild Card slots. Seattle’s success this season has been largely due to the performance of their pitching staff — which has been one of the best in all of baseball. Up to this point, their offence has managed to provide enough, but the need for another bat has been painfully obvious since Spring Training.

When the M’s took a one-year flier on Hart his winter, they were hoping to get something resembling the 2010-2012 Hart: a right-handed bat with 30-plus home run power. That in and of itself may have been wishful thinking considering the slugger didn’t play a game in 2013 after having surgery on both of his knees. So far this season Hart hasn’t provided much offensively. Sure, his five home runs this year are only one fewer than Robinson Cano has, but his .209 batting average in 156 plate appearances prior to hitting the disabled list is nowhere near his .273 career average.

Even after the club added Hart, many believed that Seattle was still a bat short and it’s safe to say that Logan Morrison isn’t quite the substantial upgrade that was really needed. LoMo has been hitting better of late and with Brad Miller‘s resurgence at the plate over the last month, the lineup is definitely in a good spot for a timely upgrade in the outfield/designated hitter/first base department.

A report from Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com yesterday suggested that Seattle would be willing to part with Brandon Maurer and another piece in a potential trade for Chicago White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo. This isn’t the first time that the M’s have been linked to the 25-year old, but it is the first time we’ve gotten word on what the potential cost of acquiring him would be.

It would certainly make sense for the Mariners to deal from their reliever surplus and names like Maurer and Dominic Leone could be of interest to other teams. But a deal for a player like Viciedo would only make sense depending on who the other player involved would be, of course. Myself and many others have been impressed by Maurer’s first couple appearances out of the bullpen and he does have the makings of a potential future closer, but that shouldn’t make him untouchable. The question at hand would be if Viciedo specifically, is the player that would help the Mariners.

Viciedo has mainly played right field this year for the White Sox, but has seen time in left as well, so hypothetically he would displace Dustin Ackley in left should he be acquired. It has to be noted though, that while Ackley is struggling mightily this year with the bat, he has been very sound defensively and has helped shore up an outfield that was downright terrible in the field at times last year. Viciedo isn’t even an average defender in the outfield and owns a -12.7 UZR in his outfield career. The athleticism of centerfielder James Jones could help offset some of the liability Viciedo would bring, but the downgrade that would take place defensively by replacing Ackley projects to be very noticeable, and possibly disastrous during a Chris Young start.

That’s not to be a complete downer on Viciedo however, as he does carry something sorely needed by the M’s: right-handed pop. The Cuban outfielder has a career 88 wRC+ against left-handed pitching, but also has a career 90 wRC+ against right-handed pitching so he wouldn’t necessarily be acquired for the purposes of being utilized in a platoon situation. For what it’s worth, eight of his nine home runs this year have come against right-handed pitching.

Remembering that Seattle does appear to have the financial flexibility to make a trade, it wasn’t all that long ago that they were deemed to be tapped out by the front office. Viciedo’s 2014 salary was just $2.8 million and he’s owed about half of that now so he would be a potential fit financially as well. It’s even possible that the club could pick up the outfielder as well as a starting pitcher with a low salary to provide some extra depth.

I have a hard time seeing Hart get much action in the outfield for the remainder of the year, but there could be a plausible scenario where he spends some time at first base, which would open up the designated hitter spot for someone like Viciedo. Or, the club continues to play the matchup game and starts Ackley on nights when Young is pitching and brings him in to the game late as a defensive replacement.

All that’s speculation on my part, however, and really it’d be ideal to take a week or two to evaluate Hart and see if Ackley can build off of a strong serious against the Houston Astros to begin July. But sitting back and hoping for the best is a terrible idea and something the Mariners must avoid.

If Hart is able to return to his pre-knee surgery form then certainly the M’s could get away with making a small or medium upgrade to their offence with a guy like Viciedo. But there’s a very real possibility that he won’t and Seattle should be looking at a bigger fish anyway.

Prospect Insider’s Jason Churchill compiled a list of potential trade targets for the Mariners, and on that list was Texas Rangers outfielder Alex Rios. The former Toronto Blue Jay would seemingly fit the Mariners perfectly — right-handed bat, a solid defensive outfielder, has plus speed, and is capable of hitting at Safeco. However, as Jason notes, it’s unknown at this point whether or not the Rangers will be willing to part with their outfielder as he has a $13.5 million club option for 2015. And if he is made available and ownership is willing to eat what’s left of the $12.5 million he’s due this year, he’d definitely cost more than a reliever and a secondary prospect.

But that doesn’t mean the M’s don’t have the pieces to get a deal done.

Realistically, Seattle needs a healthy, productive Hart and a secondary bat that they bring in from outside the organization to solidify the lineup. Does a healthy Hart and Viciedo take this lineup to another level? It’s unlikely. Does Hart and Rios? Probably.

The Mariners can’t afford to stand pat now that the Oakland Athletics have made the first blockbuster of the summer by acquiring starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs for three top prospects. The A’s were one of the top teams in baseball to begin with and they just got a whole lot better.

Seattle has an opportunity to make something out of Cano’s first year in blue and teal and what’s turning into an outstanding season from Felix Hernandez, and there’s no reason for them to waste it.…

Lloyd McClendonThe Seattle Mariners hit the halfway point of the 2014 season over the weekend. The club currently is a Wild Card leader, 1.5 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals.

The M’s have done it with pitching, improved defense and timely hitting. We can talk for days about how the lineup needs a few upgrades, but the task at hand is assessing what’s occurred thus far.

Grades do not reflect a player’s value to the team the way Wins Above Replacement is designed, but solely to place an appraisal on the player’s performance considering his role and expectations.

Starting Pitching: B+
Despite the loss of James Paxton after just two starts, Hisashi Iwakuma for seven and Taijuan Walker not available for the entire first half, the Mariners’ rotation has been solid, ranking No. 9 in the league in FIP and No. 2 in innings pitched.

The unit figures to get better with the return of Walker and getting Iwakuma a full slate of starts. If Paxton returns healthy, too, the Mariners will boast one of the top rotations in the circuit, led by the American League’s No. 1 ace King Felix Hernandez, a legit 1A in Iwakuma and three live arms in Paxton, Walker and Roenis Elias. There’s depth with Chris Young and the club is rumored to be seeking a mid-rotation veteran such as Jason Hammel or Brandon McCarthy.

Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer can serve as emergency options, but both are better suited for the bullpen in the interim.

Felix Hernandez: A+
Hernandez has never been better and not many have. He’s paced to top 10 fWAR for the first time in the American League since Pedro Martinez in 1999 and leads or is among the top 5 in innings, K/BB, FIP, strikeout percentage, batting average against, WHIP and ground ball percentage. Also, Hernandez leads the league in HR/9.

He’s been ultra efficient, throwing fewer than 100 pitches per start (96.4) yet averaging more than seven innings per outing. He’s on a run through Sunday that includes nine straight starts going at least seven innings and yielding two runs or fewer and he ended June 3-1 with a 1.22 ERA and 54-6 K/BB in 44 1/3 innings.

The M’s ace has had the great changeup and curveball in most starts, has commanded his fastball and sinker consistently and he’s used his slider in the right situations. Opposing batters have not figured out the right-hander, and that’s because he has to make a mistake to get hurt and he hasn’t made many at all. The King should be the starter in the All-Star game if the timing works out for him, with his only real competitor in terms of performance being Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees.

As good as Hernandez was in 2010 when he won the Cy Young, he’s been better in 2014. Not many believed that was all that possible, but nobody that knows anything about King Felix is all that surprised, either.

Hisashi Iwakuma: A-
Iwakuma has been very good, sans his last two starts that could be partially blamed on a sore neck. He’s been efficient as usual, but his splitter is being challenged by left-handed batters; they’re laying off it and forcing Iwakuma to either throw it in the zone or use something else. Expect more fastballs and curveballs to lefty bats in the coming starts.

Iwakuma’s the perfect No. 2 starter behind Hernandez, leading into Elias, Paxton and Walker, if the club gets healthy enough to see such a rotation. He’s as unique as any right-hander in baseball in terms of his delivery, deception and stuff and his slider has been a better weapon this season than last, explaining his dominance over right-handed batters — .209/.241/.351.

He’ll get back to his usual eight-inning self soon enough, warranting many of his third-place Cy Young votes from a year ago.

Roenis Elias: B+
Elias has been more consistent and effective than anyone could have expected. Despite his age — 25 — he’s inexperienced in the states but his athleticism shouts every start and his pithcability is well beyond that of most rookies.

Elias may own one of top few left-handed curveballs in the American League and his changeup is better now than in April. Fastball command is a focal point for the second half, as is the Cuban’s workload, which currently is paced for nearly 210 innings. I’d imagine the M’s will try and suppress his innings after the All-Star break, perhaps even skipping a few starts and spreading out his innings and limiting Elias to 180-190 for the year.

Chris Young: B
Like Elias, Young has performed beyond all expectations considering his history of shoulder problems. He’s doing it with angles, mixing his pitches and above-average command of his two breaking balls.

Young, too, may be a candidate for some workload relief at some point after taking the ball 15 consecutive times through the rotation while tallying 91 1/3 innings and 1465 pitches along the way.

The right-hander hasn’t thrown more than 1847 pitches in any season since 2007 and hasn’t surpassed the 115-inning mark since the same season.

Erasmo Ramirez: D-
The only thing stopping Ramirez from getting a straight ‘F’ is his last four outings. In those starts he’s failed to go deep into games, but he’s allowed just two earned runs in those 20 innings and has surrendered just one home run.

He’s lost his above-average control, however, issuing 16 bases on balls in that span, and I’m still concerned that his dropped arm slot is ultimately a problem. The stuff has returned but Ramirez has always been a strike thrower. Until now.

James Paxton: INC
Taijuan Walker: INC
Paxton has made just two starts — two very good ones — and Walker did not see the majors in the first half. Walker’s return inserts a fairly fresh arm into the rotation — he’s totaled just 30 2/3 innings on rehab — and if he’s on his game will be an easy, significant upgrade over what the Mariners had been getting from Ramirez and Maurer.

Paxton may be on his way back, too, but both remain INCOMPLETES until they make numerous starts.

Bullpen: A+
The Mariners relief corps led all of the American League in ERA (2.59), holds (45) and FIP (3.16) through the first half. They ranked No. 3 in K/BB percentage, No. 2 in strikeout rate and led the AL in LOB percentage at 80.3, perhaps the most critical job of middle relievers and setup arms.

With Maurer joining the unit, at least for the short term, the club has four wipeout options to go to after the fifth inning.

Fernando Rodney: A
At times it’s like a ride at the state fair, but Rodney has done the job and then some. Never mind the saves (23), just look at the strikeout rate (27.1 percent) and FIP (2.44), as well as a strong LOB rate of 78.8 percent.

He’s avoided the home run ball and induced nearly 50 percent ground balls. Rodney has lengthened the Mariners bullpen and allowed the club to go other premium arms in high leverage roles while never burning their last option.

Danny Farquhar: B+
Farquhar has been good, yet not quite as dominant as he was after being called up last season. He’s still punching out batters at better than one per inning — 9.87/9 to be exact — but the walks still are up and the ground balls
are down. He’s been terrific, however, stranding runners — 80.1 percent — and has introduced during the first half a more two-seamer heavy arsenal that figures to be better for him in the long run.

For the record, that’s why his average fastball is down to 93.4 mph from the 94.6 he posted a year ago. When he throws the fastball, it’s more often the two-seam variety than the four-seam.

Fewer walk-driven appearances get Farquhar an ‘A’ by season’s end and we’re likely to see him mix in the changeup a little more than the 2.2 percent usage over the first half.

Dom Leone: A-
Leone, who is similar to Farquhar in that he’s a fastball-cutter reliever, differs in the breaking ball — slider versus Farquhar’s curveball — and in what he attempts to do with his fastball.

He’s sat 93-95 mph with his heater, often keeping it down and generating some ground balls. He doesn’t use his cutter as much as Farquhar, instead opting for more four-seamers, often above the 95 mph mark and up in the zone.

He’s throwing strikes and has adapted well to being used a little more often this season in the majors than he ever was in the minors. Leone never was used on back-to-back days before Lloyd McClendon went to him two straight days in Houston in early May, and again in Oakland on the same road trip. In all, he’s done so on five occasions, failing twice, then doing the job the final three times.

Yoervis Medina: A-
Medina’s season numbers don’t tell the story of his first half all that well. He walked 12 batters in 22 innings through May but has issued but two in June while striking out seven in 7 2/3 innings. The slider has been sharp and he’s throwing his changeup here and there over his last few appearances, flashing another plus pitch.

If Medina is able to command his fastball this way on a regular basis, he’s no longer just a seventh-inning arm. If the changeup becomes a real weapon with consistency on top of that, and we’re talking about a solid eight-inning reliever who can occasionally close.

Tom Wilhelmsen: C+
Wilhelmsen’s work on his fastball command is coming along well, but while the bite is mostly back on his once-devastating curveball, he’s still inconsistent with it at its release point.

He’s thrown more two-seam fastballs since early May and has even toyed with a cutter-slider at 86-88 mph. His change still is a pitch he’s throwing more than he needs to, in my estimation, but despite his 4.52 BB/9, the former closer has been a useful piece in the Mariners’ bullpen, often covering multiple innings.

At times he shows glimpses of his former self, but just as often he’s allowing baserunners and remains susceptible to the home run ball when behind in the count.

Brandon Maurer: INC
It’s two outings, so remember the qualifier here, but Maurer has sat 94-96 mph, touching as high as 99 and showing his put-away slider at 88-91 and a solid changeup
in those three innings, which were very similar to his short stint out of the bullpen in Tacoma before being recalled.

Maurer hasn’t walked a batter in his new role, has fanned six of the 10 he’s faced and it hasn’t come against the San Diego Padres. He gets an incomplete grade for obvious reasons — he’d get an ‘F’ as a starter — but there’s a chance he receives an ‘A’ coming out of the bullpen if the club keeps him up beyond his current stint and status level.

Joe Beimel: B
Beimel is such a perfect fit in the M’s bullpen it’s laughable to compare him to any of the other arms, including the other southpaw.

The veteran doesn’t strike out a lot of batters — just 15.4 percent of the batters he’s faced — and actually Beimel is walking more batters than the club would prefer at 3.16 per nine innings. But he hides the ball well, gets ground balls — 49.3 percent) and strands runners at a rate that suggests he’s an elite reliever (87.5 percent).

Beimel hasn’t allowed a home run to anyone and left-handed batters have just seven hits and a walk in 48 plate appearances (.183). Furthermore, Beimel has yielded but two extra-base hits to lefties.

Right-handed batters have managed a .313/.403/.404 line against him, however, which has been fairly typical of his career splits.

Charlie Furbush: B+
Furbush has recovered from a poor first five weeks of the season to return to the dominant lefty he was a year ago. Since May 5, Furbush has allowed 10 hits in 15 frames, striking out 16 batters and issuing just two bases on balls.

Opponents are batting just .189 off him in that span, and left-handed batters are just 4-for-30 off him since May 13. Furbush gets the added “+” for holding righties to a .240/.327/.396 line, making him useful in the middle innings beyond the left-on-left matchups.

Lineup — Offense | Defense: C+
The Mariners are scoring but four runs per game, which is No. 11 in the American League, but Safeco Field is responsible for a little of that and the trends suggest the club has at least a shot to improve at the plate organically, largely with Brad Miller’s June turnaround and the signs that Logan Morrison may be an upgrade to either Corey Hart or Justin Smoak, if not both.

There’s also the chance that Hart and/or Smoak can contribute better than they were, with Hart the more likely candidate to do so, particularly versus left-handed pitching. But the half is over and the grades for it stand alone.

James Jones: C+
Jones has sacrificed some of his natural power for a shorter swing more engineered for contact. It’s showing in his .275 average, but he’s not drawing walks — just nine in over 200 plate appearances — and the power is pretty much nonexistent as suggested by his IsoP of .064.

He’s played a sound center field and is a plus on the bases, however, and combined with his contact rates that have helped him produce something remotely passable at the top of the lineup, earning him a passing grade overall.

Michael Saunders: B-
Saunders would receive a B+ if he were able to stay healthy, in rhythm and producing consistently. Some of that wasn’t his fault or even the bad luck of an injury as McClendon sat him for the better part of April.

Still, the 27-year-old has been a solid defender and baserunner and his .266/.310/.424 triple-slash is the third-best on the roster. He’s been even better on the road — .298/.330/.447 — and brings lineup versatility, as he’s capable of performing at the top or the bottom of the order.

Robinson Cano: A-
Despite a lack of ideal power as is standard of Cano’s game, he’s producing at the plate, defending and leading, and the value of his presence in the lineup everyday cannot be understated.

Cano isn’t Safeco proof thus far, but he’s hit three of his five long balls in Seattle and the more those around him in the lineup produce the more power he’ll display.

Kyle Seager: A-
Seager is becoming a verb. Yes, a verb. The third baseman is batting .357/.425/.657 at Safeco Field this season and .277/.347/.490 overall. He ranks No. 2 among American League third basemen in home runs with 12, RBI with 55 and is No. 3 in on-base percentage.

If clutch is your thing, Seager is batting .319/.380/.611 with runners in scoring position and .309/.380/.680 after the sixth inning.

The dude is deserving of an all-star nod, and the love affair fans have with big names such as Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria shouldn’t keep him away from Target Field next month.

Justin Smoak: D-
Smoak’s saved from an ‘F’ grade because he plays above-average defense and most of all because he tried to play hurt since late April. That isn’t to say he would have been ‘good’ if he didn’t get hurt, but for a big guy like Smoak, a pulled quad is quite restricting at the plate.

I still believe his ceiling as a hitter is a .240/.320/.430 type bat who is a decent bet to perform decently as a platoon hitter versus right-handed pitching, but he has to be graded on what he’s done at the plate through the first 81 games and that isn’t much.

Corey Hart: INC
Hart was pretty solid in April, posting a .337 on-base percentage and .453 slugging, then scuffled in May before succumbing to a hamstring pull that forced him to the disabled list six weeks ago.

There’s more hope for Hart than for Smoak, but he’ll have to stay healthy if the M’s are going to benefit from his abilities to hit for power, get on base some and stabilize the lineup after Cano.

Logan Morrison: INC
Like Hart, Morrison hasn’t played enough — just 26 games — to grade him fairly, but his recent emergence is promising.

After starting the year 3-for-20 then hitting the disabled list, Morrison is batting .258/.309/.484 with four home runs. There’s a track record of production under his name and he appears unfazed by Safeco Field where he’s batting .265/.315/.469 for the year.

Brad Miller: C-
Miller has flipped the table on his season, batting .302 since May 29, cleaning up his defense at shortstop and getting to a few balls some shortstops can’t.

His season numbers remain ugly but he’s been solid for four weeks now and his peripherals support his continuing to produce, including better contact rates, more hits to center field and left field and the maintaining of his power as he improves his average and on-base marks.

Mike Zunino: A
Zunino is the youngest regular catcher in all of baseball and has proven he can hit for power, call a game, receive, block and throw at above-average levels.

He ranks No. 1 in baseball in stealing strikes and No. 8 in giving away the least number of strikes. Hes also thrown out 15 runners attempting to steal a base.

Yes, he strikes out a lot — 33.2 percent of his PAs — and he doesn’t walk — 4.0 percent — but the pop is real and growing and he’s irreplaceable behind the plate.

Dustin Ackley: F
Ackley appears to have taken fairly well to left field after a rough first few weeks of this season, but with the exception of a few solid weeks in April, Ackley has been as bad as he’s ever been.

He went .221/.287/.395 in May and in June he actually got worse, posting a .173/.244/.227 line. He’s making contact more than ever and still walking at an acceptable 7.3 percent rate, but his line drive percentage is down to 17.2 and he’s hitting more fly balls, including infield pop ups.

It remains my belief that until he’s willing and/or able to avoid opening up his front side so early and with such torque, he will not hit with any consistency.

Endy Chavez: INC
Chavez hasn’t been up long enough to grade, really, but like Jones the acceptable batting average is empty — no on-base percentage and no power — and he doesn’t bring the speed and defense element in the same fashion.

Bench: D+
This group includes the backup catcher, a pair of right-handed hitting outfielder who do not play with any sort of regularity or consistency and the club’s utility player. The ‘D+’ grade is mostly due to usage, but it does include the poor performances of the group as a whole.

Willie Bloomquist: C-
Bloomquist is batting .275/.292/.353 in limited duty and he’s actually played an adequate second base, shortstop and third base — and occasional outfield — when asked to do so.

He’s had a great June (.348/.375/.435) after an awful May (.172/.167/.310) but is a useful piece on the roster and appears to be settling into McClendon’s preferred role for him.

John Buck: C-
I believe Buck needs to play a little more the second half of the year so the club doesn’t burn out Zunino. Buck has started just 17 games at catcher despite being a decent enough receiver.

This lack of time certainly has impacted his offensive production, which has always been limited to power and nothing in terms of on-base percentage. He has, however, drawn eight walks in 84 plate appearances this season, where Zunino has 11 in 254 trips to the batter’s box.

Stefen Romero: D+
Again, this grade is blamed on the club’s usage of him as much as anything else. It’s difficult for any hitter to get his timing down when he starts just 29 games in three months, let alone when it’s a rookie.

Romero can hit — perhaps not quite enough to warrant regular time in a corner outfield spot on a contending team, but he can hit. The M’s just optioned him to Tacoma where he will play everyday and likely see the big club later in the summer.

Romero did show he can handle left and right field, however, going from downright bad a year ago to passable in April to closing in on fringe-average the last 30 innings or so.

Cole Gillespie: C+
Gillespie has used his experience to find a way to produce in the same role Romero has struggled. The 30-year-old is batting .257/.316/.329 in 33 games and has managed a .364 OBP versus left-handed pitching, which is when McClendon would like to use him most.

He’s an above-average runner and average defender in left or right and is making contact — just 13 whiffs in 77 plate appearances. He’s even swiped two bags and is working the count well — 4.22 pitches per plate appearance.

Lloyd McClendon | Field Staff: PASS
While it’s impossible to truly evaluate the performance of a manager, bench coach, pitching coach, hitting coach, et al, it’s quite clear the staff has hit the right buttons more often than not.

The depth of their teachings, leadership and decisions has reached the rotation (Young, Elias) bullpen (Wilhelmsen, Medina, Furbush), and the regular lineup where the one can argue Miller is hitting now partly because of the manner in which the staff chose to manage him during his slump.

Furthermore, losing streaks do not appear to faze this roster, despite their relative inexperience and an overall lack of offensive talent and production.

Front Office: INC
The personnel folks made their mark signing Cano, Rodney and Hart and flipping Carter Capps for Logan Morrison. Some of those have worked, some haven’t, at least not yet. But the addition of Chris Young has been huge, as has the call-up of Dom Leone when the M’s decided it was no longer worth waiting out Hector Noesi.

The grade remains incomplete for the season, however, since all but one of those moves was made before the season began.

Jack Zduriencik and his staff will earn their grade over the next 60 days, as the non-waiver (July 31) and waiver (August 31) trade deadlines come and go.

Overall: B-
The team has pitched well from first pitch to final out, played very solid defense and has hit well with runners in scoring position (.266/.330/.434). They’re also one of the top five clubs in the league at getting in a runner from third base and fewer than two outs. Doing both of the aforementioned things well helps make up for the fact that they place fewer runners in scoring position and they get fewer runners to third base with less than two outs than do most other clubs.

Whether or not they can keep up that pace remains to be seen, but the roster isn’t going to get worse from here on out, it’s going to get better, even if Zduriencik and his staff are unable to add a significant piece by the trade deadlines.

Remember back in February and March when all fans wanted from the Seattle Mariners in 2014 was to avoid being virtually eliminated by the All-Star break and to have some meaningful games in August and perhaps even September? When the city just begged for jokes about the club being historically awful for a decade would subside for once and that the sun just shine down on the Emerald City Nine just a little bit?

It’s all happening. And it may not stop there.…

stefen romeroAs we pass the midway mark of June, the Seattle Mariners still sit above the .500 mark despite a struggling offence and a pitching staff that’s held together by a couple of surprise performers. There should be some reinforcements on the way however, as Corey Hart and Michael Saunders appear close to being sent out on rehab assignments and Justin Smoak began his on Wednesday night. Starter Taijuan Walker looks like he’s nearly ready to make his season debut with the big club as well after being activated from the disabled list last week and sent to Tacoma. But, with every player activated from the disabled list or called up, another has to be removed from the active roster to make room. Let’s take a look at a few players who may find themselves on the outside looking in as others begin to make their returns.

Stefen Romero — OF/DH
The 25-year old outfielder seems like the most likely candidate to be sent down once Saunders returns now that Logan Morrison is back from injury. Romero is now the owner of a .197 batting average on the year after picking up a double on Tuesday, bringing his hit total up to 26. At times this year the right-hander has looked overmatched and considering the fact he only has 411 plate appearances at Triple-A under his belt, it could very well be true. Combine his lack of upper minor experience with the fact he’s mostly assumed the role of designated hitter when he’s been in the M’s lineup consistently, and there’s reason to believe he may simply be struggling with all the adjustments he’s had to make. As is the case with most young players, the chance to re-focus and play everyday at Triple-A for a while could be just what Romero needs, although he does possess the right-handed bat that manager Lloyd McClendon seems to covet for the M’s roster.

Endy Chavez — OF
The veteran joined Seattle for a second tour of duty this year, but probably hasn’t produced enough to justify keeping him on the roster for much longer. Perhaps the biggest factor in Chavez’s favour is that should the M’s decide he’s the odd man out, they would likely designate him for assignment and end up losing him unless he’s alright with being sent back down to Triple-A. Although letting the 36-year old go would hurt the M’s outfield depth slightly, they really wouldn’t be losing much. At this point in his career Chavez isn’t much more than a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch-runner, and his 47 wRC+ across 55 plate appearances this season provides clear evidence that his offensive abilities are all but gone. Not to take away from Chavez however, as he seems to be a fairly well respected guy in the clubhouse and has provided some timely contributions at the top of the lineup this year, but realistically his loss wouldn’t be decimating in the least.

Jesus Montero — DH
This could be an interesting case. We’ve all heard the drama that has surrounded Montero over the last year — from his Biogenesis suspension to his lack of conditioning entering Spring Training — but he has managed to put up a decent .270/.345/.455 line in 255 plate appearances with Tacoma and has already popped a home run since being recalled. He does have a career 134 wRC+ against left handed pitching, but he’s essentially limited to designated hitter duties and offers little if any value elsewhere. And does the team really want to carry two designated hitters once Hart is back on the roster? Well, at least the previous regime did. Nevertheless, Montero can still be optioned back to Tacoma and that appears to be a likely scenario barring an offensive outburst in the next week.

Logan Morrison — 1B/OF/DH
This is another interesting case as Morrison has only been back with the big league club for a week after a lengthy rehab assignment. He has 3 hits in 19 plate appearances since returning and his season line now sits at a paltry .146/.222/.244 but it’s hard to really make much of his 2014 season yet with only a 15 game sample size. I’d be surprised if LoMo was sent down to make room on the roster since he’s actually been hitting the ball fairly well in the past week — it seems like every night he’s hit a ball to the warning track — and it’s not as if Smoak and Romero have done enough to take all of the first base and DH at-bats away from Morrison.

Erasmo Ramirez — SP
It seems to be a forgone conclusion that once Walker is ready to make his return Ramirez will be sent back down to Triple-A. This much shouldn’t be a surprise however, as both Roenis Elias and Chris Young have done enough to hang on to their rotation spots at least until James Paxton is ready to return. Despite not giving up a run in his previous two starts, Ramirez’s ERA still sits at 5.27 and his FIP at 5.77 for the year. One could even argue that it was just by luck that Ramirez didn’t yield a run in those two starts as he walked a total of nine batters in the nine and two-thirds innings he pitched. Control issues have plagued the right-hander this season and he has only managed to last six or more innings in three of his nine starts. There’s still work to do for the 24-year old, and perhaps it’s not time to give up on him entirely, yet.

For my money, Chavez and Romero will eventually find themselves as the odd ones out once Saunders and Smoak are back on the roster, and I’d also be willing to guess that it’ll be Montero getting sent down once Hart returns. I’m not convinced that the club has seen enough from Morrison yet and Cole Gillespie has actually been a decent fourth outfielder for the club this year. Although Gillespie hasn’t provided anything particularly special in his first year with Seattle, he does own an 81 wRC+ for the season and has been just slightly below average in the field and on the base paths according to FanGraphs.

It’s probably in both parties’ best interest to have Romero see some time at Triple-A in the near future and like it was mentioned previously, losing Chavez isn’t all that big of a deal anyway. Romero does appear to have a skill set that could potentially become useful down the road or perhaps he could be a fill-in piece in a trade to acquire a bat or another starter. Whatever the case, sitting on the bench or going 0-for-4 when he does play isn’t beneficial for the young outfielder.…

The start of Major League Baseball’s 2014 amateur draft brings a sense of excitement and exuberance to the hundreds of hopefuls who have dreamt about hearing their favourite team call their name from the podium, but this year there’s no doubt the draft brings a sense of relief to a particular slugger still looking for a job: Kendrys Morales. The soon to be 31-year old is now free of the draft pick compensation that has presumably prevented him from signing the lucrative free agent contract that he sought at the beginning of last winter. Teams like the Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers, and Kansas City Royals are rumored to still be interested in acquiring the designated hitter, so it seems as though it’s only a matter of time — possibly just days — until an agreement is reached and announced.

As Spring Training began in February, Morales’ agent Scott Boras made it well known that his client would be willing to wait until after the draft to sign the right deal. And by right, they likely meant most lucrative. As the season began, and stretched into May and June, Boras maintained that stance and we now know that that wasn’t a bluff. It’s also been reported that Morales turned down a three-year contract extension offer from Seattle last summer, and of course, he declined the one-year $14.1 million qualifying offer. It’s easy to debate whether or not the right decisions were made on those two offers, especially with what we know now, but presuming Morales signs within the next week or so and is ready for game action by the end of June, he will be a player that has missed the first three months of the 2014 campaign.

The most obvious situational comparison here is a player returning from a major injury of some sort and requiring an adjustment period to get back to the level of production that they are capable of. An alternative comparison is the case of Stephen Drew who ended up re-signing with the Boston Red Sox in May and is working his way back to game shape after missing the first two months of the season. Seeing what he’s able to produce upon his return to the big leagues could offer some point of reference for what Morales can be expected to provide on his potential return. The reality of the situation is that Morales will be a player that’s approximately nine months removed from playing, and will require a possibly significant adjustment period. If he were to sign tomorrow, it’d be fair to suggest one wouldn’t see him playing for the signing team until the end of June, or in about three or four weeks time.

On to the latest report on the Morales situation in which Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com lists the Brewers, Mariners, and a mystery team as the favourites to land the free agent. The Brewers are currently sitting atop the National League Central and the trio of Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, and Jonathan Lucroy have anchored the offence that has scored the tenth most runs in all of baseball this year. First base has been an area of weakness for the club however, as the regular starter Lyle Overbay has produced just a 65 wRC+ so far this season. It’s easy to see the potential fit here provided the club is willing to play Morales at first everyday, so depending on where the asking price currently sits, this match definitely could make sense.

Certainly the M’s lineup could use a boost given the injuries to Corey Hart and Logan Morrison and lack of production from the shortstop position, but the reports of the club having little to no payroll flexibility appear to be the biggest obstacle between a potential reunion. Seattle has been finding ways to win with the likes of Endy Chavez and Cole Gillespie in the lineup of late — the M’s enter Friday with a five-game win streak — but there’s reason to think that continued success with these players playing regular roles in unsustainable. Without going into a lot more detail or specifics, it’s obvious that adding a piece like Morales to the lineup could push the team to the next level — that much has been known for a long time.

It’s possible that Seattle would like to see if Morrison still has anything to add to the major league team this year before making a move on Morales. The 26-year old is currently rehabbing with Triple-A Tacoma and should be able to return to the big club sooner than later. Hart has been recovering well from his injury but is likely another month away from a return barring any further setbacks. It’s also worth mentioning that Cole Gillespie may be in line for a few more at bats after a couple solid starts in the past week.

Seattle and Milwaukee both sit around the same place offensively right now as the Brewers have 254 runs scored on the year compared to the 247 scored by the Mariners and could both use an upgrade in the lineup at the first base position. It’s also interesting to note that the Mariner offence hasn’t been reliant on the long ball like it was in 2013; their 48 total home runs is the twelfth fewest in the league.

While the mystery team in Heyman’s report is anybody’s guess, it’s fair to presume that the Yankees could still be involved given injuries to Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, but they’ve asked Morales to wait while they assess their players’ health according to Heyman. Money doesn’t appear to be an issue for New York, although finding playing time for Morales could be given the fact that the designated hitter role is being split between Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, and Derek Jeter as well as the pair of injured hitters. But, as with the Brewers, if the Yankees believe Morales can handle fairly regular time in the field, then finding playing time for everyone shouldn’t be much of an issue until the injured players return and muddy the roster picture.

There’s really nothing all that new on the Kendrys Morales situation aside from where the potentially interested clubs sit in terms of need at this point in the season and if Heyman’s mystery team turns out to be a factor in any way. But with the draft pick compensation out of the way, expect the rumors surrounding the designated hitter to heat up over the weekend. All three of the Yankees, Brewers, and Mariners make sense in some ways, but there’s still no clear suitor that stands out above the rest at the moment.

If the Mariners deeply desired a reunion with Morales they could get creative with a potential contract by signing him to a one-year deal with a low base salary with an option for next year that carries a significant buyout to make up for the low base salary. Or they could sign him to a two-year deal — it’s mentioned in the Heyman article that a multi-year deal is still a possibility — with a lesser salary in year one, and a much larger salary in year two. But without knowing exactly how the Mariners’ payroll budget works it’s all just speculation on my part. Some clubs count buyouts to the previous year’s budget, some count them towards the following year. There are several possibilities.

Bottom line: does Seattle need to sign Morales? I wouldn’t say they need to, but the club is very much in the playoff race right now and an addition to the lineup could go a long way in ensuring they stay in the race throughout the summer. There’s no question that inserting a quality hitter behind the trio of James Jones, Michael Saunders, and Robinson Cano at the top of the order could pay major dividends. If I was Jack Zduriencik I wouldn’t be rushing to make a deal happen this week, but knowing that Morales has been growing impatient and possibly inclined to jump at the next club to show some serious interest in acquiring his services, it wouldn’t hurt take discussions to a more serious level if the budget allows for another medium-sized contract.

There’s nothing to be gained by not signing Morales at this point now that the draft is underway, but if Seattle ends up a couple games short at the end of the year, they may regret not making more out of this opportunity.…

nickfranklinNearly one month after being sent down to Triple-A after a brief stint with the big league club, Nick Franklin finds himself back in a Seattle Mariner uniform once again after Corey Hart hit the disabled list. The top prospect has already managed to make his presence felt in the lineup during Tuesday’s 6-2 win over the Texas Rangers, going 2-3 with a run scored and a run batted in. The right-hander was also hit by a pitch and stole a base while taking Hart’s place as the designated hitter role. As we heard the last time Franklin was called up, if he’s going to stick around in the majors, he’s going to be playing often and sitting on the bench as little as possible. This time around, there probably won’t be much of a problem with slotting the youngster in the lineup everyday so long as he’s producing.

Hart was officially placed on the disabled list Tuesday with a grade-two hamstring strain and is expected to be out for four to six weeks. It’s an unfortunate case for the right-hander who has seen some struggles so far during his tenure as a Mariner, but barring a setback, he should be able to return to the lineup by the All-Star break. Perhaps the optimist’s approach to the injury is that it finally allows Seattle an opportunity to bring up the the owner of a .376/.481/.633 minor league line this year and immediately place him into the lineup –more on Brad Miller and the shortstop situation shortly. Franklin is expected to see some time at shortstop, outfield, DH, and possibly second base if Robinson Cano is assuming designated hitter duties.

Much has been made of Miller’s struggles so far in 2014, and many have called for Franklin’s call-up and a demotion for the incumbent to come in short order. The M’s seem willing to let their struggling shortstop try and work his way out of it — at least for a little while longer — but there’s no doubt that having Franklin on the active roster makes the possibility of Miller seeing less playing time and a possible demotion all that more realistic should the struggles continue. Certainly there’s the potential that Franklin’s presence alone could help Miller snap out of his funk considering his everyday job could be on the line here, and that’d be especially true of Franklin continues to hit. Miller currently has just two hits alongside five walks in his last seven games which should be considered a positive, but there’s no doubt that the pressure is rising as each day passes.

How much longer Miller will hold on to the starting job is unknown at this point, but one has to wonder when the club’s breaking point is with him will be. He’s reportedly been doing all the right things as far as most can tell — extra batting practice, one-on-one time with hitting coach Howard Johnson, and taking extra reps at short — but things simply haven’t translated into on-field production. If it’s a case where the problem is between the ears, it only gets more difficult to diagnose the problem and find some sort of solution. But, it is easy to forget that the calendar has yet to strike June so there’s certainly plenty of time for Miller to figure things out and start playing like he was expected to when he won the job in the spring.

Although the M’s have downplayed the possibility of transitioning Franklin into an everyday outfield role the same way they did with Dustin Ackley, it may be the most realistic long term solution if the club plans to keep him in blue and teal beyond this season. The 23-year old Franklin has made a handful of minor league appearances in the outfield this season and started a game in his previous big league cameo, so it’s likely he’ll have an opportunity to start there in the next week. There’s no reason to break up the combination of James Jones and Michael Saunders at the top of the order unless necessary — the pair are also the club’s best defensive outfielders — which makes it possible that Franklin could start in left field with Ackley taking designated hitter duties for the game. The M’s are starting a stretch of 16 consecutive games, so it’s definitely possible that Saunders or Jones could receive an off-day during that period in which Franklin could slot in.

The last time Franklin was with the big league club he saw a start at second base with Cano as the club’s designated hitter so we can assume that’s a possibility over the next two weeks as well should the club wish to give their superstar a day off in the field.

It’s also worth noting that the club still has Stefen Romero and Cole Gillespie on the roster so finding them some at bats here and there could be factors in how often Franklin plays as well. Of course Gillespie, 29, is essentially nothing more than organizational depth at this point and hasn’t produce very much in the opportunities he has gotten. Romero on the other hand has seen fairly regular playing time up to this point in the season and will likely get some time at DH during Hart’s absence as well given the glut of outfielders currently on the roster. In 29 games this season Romero owns a 67 wRC+ and has a pair of home runs under his belt, so his presence in the lineup isn’t likely a priority at this point.

Whatever the case may be, it’ll be an interesting next couple of weeks as the M’s lineup sees more fluctuation than usual. Considering Miller reached base twice and scored a run on Tuesday his odds of starting on Wednesday  have probably increased — although nothing is certain just yet — but it’s conceivable that he makes a start in the infield within the next week. Manager Lloyd McClendon described Franklin as “not a typical DH” so penciling him in as the regular designated hitter at the moment would be premature, although it would cause the least disruption to the lineup.

I would expect to see some sort of informal rotation through the DH spot over the next week or so as LMC feels out the best way to use his assortment of players and integrate Franklin into the lineup regularly. But it doesn’t appear to be as difficult to find the youngster plenty of opportunities to play this time around. It’s worth mentioning that Logan Morrison could be sent out on a rehab assignment as early as the end of the week and his impending return stands to crowd the roster further.…

Seattle Mariners v Oakland AthleticsSeattle Mariners DH/RF Corey Hart may be headed for the disabled list with a sore hamstring. If that occurs, the club will have a few options to replace the veteran on the 25-man roster. The obvious one is Nick Franklin, who has played a few innings in the outfield in Triple-A Tacoma lately, but that decision is not as cut and dry and it would be in normal scenarios.

Franklin was pulled from a game on the Rainiers recent road trip after making a mental mistake in the field, then didn’t start the following day. He then played right field, but now is considered day-to-day with a minor back injury. If he’s fine, he’ll be the call-up, and likely get time in the outfield, but can also spell Brad Miller at shortstop, a move that may have been coming soon, anyway.

There are other options, however, including Logan Morrison, but it doesn’t appear Morrison will be able to avoid a rehab stint, which means he’s not going to be the immediate choice to replace Hart. Jesus Montero could also garner some consideration, and if Franklin is the immediate move, Montero may be on the short list if the M’s make the move with Miller in the coming days.

The bigger question beyond the initial roster move is who Lloyd McClendon chooses to bat cleanup for this team in Hart’s absence. Hart has been scuffling fierce since the first three weeks of the season, so his injury may actually help the team in the short term. Ultimately Hart should be productive enough to warrant time in the lineup. Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager are the obvious candidates, and the better bet is on the switch-hitting Smoak, and it’s probably the right choice, considering the team’s lack of options.

This conversation also warrants the mentioning of Kendrys Morales, who remains a free agent and is all but certain to sign after the draft that takes place June 5-7. At that point Morales will not be tied to draft-pick compensation, but that also means the Mariners will not receive a pick if Morales signs with another team. That pick, however, would have become the sacrifice for signing Robinson Cano. As of now, the M’s are set to lose their second-round pick.

Franklin should be able to replace what Hart was giving the club offensively, even if he struggles, and will provide more value in the field and on the bases. Fact is, however, a healthy Hart or not, this team needs to make at least one move for a bat or the efforts of Cano, and to a lesser extent Michael Saunders and James Jones ahead of him, will go for naught.…

When the Seattle Mariners signed Robinson Cano this winter, one of the questions that came to mind was who would hit behind him in the batting order. Whether you buy into the concept of lineup protection or not, it was pretty clear the Seattle was indeed lacking the big bat that most teams employ in the No. 4 spot in the lineup. With Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, and Mike Morse out of the picture, Justin Smoak was the lone in-house option remaining at the time of Cano’s signing..

There was no doubt that Seattle needed to acquire at least a pair of bats to replace the departed Morales and Ibanez, so the M’s took a chance and signed Corey Hart who was coming off of double knee surgery to a one-year deal as a potential source of protection for the newly signed Cano. It’s still far too early to draw any conclusions on Hart’s season, but there’s no doubt that his production hasn’t been anything special. At least not yet.

So far this season Hart has 26 hits in 134 plate appearances and holds a .218/.306/.378 line — good for a 92 wRC+ in 31 games prior to Monday’s tilt with the Tampa Bay Rays. All three categories are well below the Kentucky native’s career line of .274/.333/.487 and 116 wRC+. He has nine walks against 24 strikeouts this year, but does have five home runs and 15 runs batted in under his belt. The 32-year old’s .160 ISO is well below his career mark of .213, and it also needs to be noted that so far this year his BABIP sits at a paltry .233 compared to his .310 career mark.
Hart BA per monthA glance at Hart’s career would tell you that the right-hander isn’t necessarily a slow starter — he holds a .272 career batting average for March and April. So far in 2014 however, he’s hit just .240 in that same time period. Now, considering the fact that Hart missed the entire 2013 season, it’d be fair to suggest that the rust hadn’t worn off yet and he was still trying to get his timing down — which is common for the average player in the early parts of a season let alone one coming off of major surgeries. That could provide an explanation, but Hart finished the period with five home runs and 9 runs batted in which are fairly consistent with his career numbers for March and April — though his RBI total for this year’s period is a tad low.

Also, at the start of the 2011 season, Hart missed the first 22 games with an oblique muscle strain and faired poorly in the few games he ended up playing in April. There isn’t a big enough sample size to make any inferences from — and he also hit just fine in May that year — so it could be more coincidence than anything else. The conclusion that we can draw from this however, is that it’s very likely Hart is dealing with getting into a groove.

Going back to 2011 for another moment, Hart missed 22 games and after his first month of the season, was back to his usual self. Heading into 2014, he had missed 162 games and conceivably could use at least a month’s time to start feeling comfortable again. It’s unfair to suggest that there’s any correlation between the two seasons without further research being done, but it’s reasonable to believe that a player coming off of an injury will need an adjustment period, especially in a case where the player is coming off of major surgery on both knees.

I’m no expert on hitting mechanics, but any major lower body injury is bound to have an effect on a player’s ability to feel comfortable in the batter’s box. Take Albert Pujols last year for example — he was dealing with plantar fasciitis and posted the worst statistical season of his career before being shut down in August to undergo surgery. There was little doubt that Pujols was in plenty of discomfort while trying to hit last year and that it played a huge role in his lack of production. Perhaps there’s a possibility that as Hart took part in Spring Training games he wasn’t entirely comfortable hitting yet and that adjustment period stretched into the regular season. Keep in mind that there isn’t any active evidence of this being reality, it’s simply my own hypothesizing of several assumptions.

So, if we are to attribute some of Hart’s struggles to missing an entire year of games and having to adjust and get back in the game, it’s possible that other factors could be in play such as adjusting to life with a new team, a new manager, and becoming a full-time designated hitter could be other factors to consider. I’m not trying to make excuses for a professional, but there’s always an adjustment to be made when changing positions and teams — although that generally takes place in the spring. I’m of the mindset that if any of these factors are in play, their effects are very minimal. By now Hart’s likely made the necessary adjustments needed for full-time designated hitter duty and is passed being the new guy.

It’s also possible that playing at Safeco Field has hindered his production to some extent, but the sample size is still far too small given the number of road games compared to road games Seattle has played so far in this young season.

While it’s tough to pinpoint any specific reasoning for Corey Hart’s slow start to the year, it appears as though the most likely scenario is that he’s fallen victim to bad luck — his BABIP entering Monday night’s game is .233 compared to his career .310 mark. The right-hander hasn’t been striking out at an abnormal rate and there haven’t been any reports of a particular injury hindering him either. Keep in mind that a player’s batting average on balls in play has a lot to do with luck and opposition defence. If you watched the entirety of the Sunday afternoon game between the Mariners and the Kansas City Royals, you saw Cano hit the ball hard four times but finish the day with just one hit because three of the drives were right at infielders. If the defenders were positioned differently, it’s plausible that Cano could’ve had multiple hits that game.

The third factor factoring into a player’s BABIP is a change in talent level, but given the fact that it looks like Hart’s been seeing the ball well and hitting it hard, it’s tough to say that he’s seen any noticeable regression in his overall talent level. Now, if he was striking out in 40 percent of his plate appearances or unable to drive the ball out of the infield, then there is enough reason to be concerned about whether he’s become a fraction of the hitter he was previously. Hart does have just four doubles so far on the season and only nine extra base hits — that would explain the very low slugging percentage — so there may be room for modest concern, but given the low BABIP, it’s likely only a matter of time until a few more start falling in for hits for the slugger.

So, what can one make about Hart’s slow start? Honestly, still nothing. It’s early enough in the season that Hart could go on a 20 for 40 run over the next ten games and see his batting average jump from .218 to .264; a number more in line with what you’d expect from Hart based on his career thus far. All in all, the right-hander is still on pace for a 25 home run and 75 runs batted in season, which is reasonable production given the fact that Hart lost the entire 2013 season and his career highs in home runs and runs batted in, 31 and 102 respectively, came in 2010. He’s guaranteed just $6 million for the 2014 season and has $7 million available in incentives which could bring the total value of the contract to $13 million.

For comparison’s sake, if Hart were to keep up his current rate of production he’d likely finish the year with similar value to what Raul Ibanez provided Seattle with last year. The former Mariner signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels worth $2.5 million in the offseason.

Like we’ve said all along, it’s still far too early to make heads or tails out of Hart’s season, or any player for that matter. It only takes a solid week at the plate for a player’s stat line to see a drastic improvement at this time of the year, and something tells me that we haven’t seen everything that Hart will have to offer the Mariners this year just yet.…

cole gillespieThe Seattle Mariners continued to tinker with their roster on Thursday after optioning Erasmo Ramirez and Nick Franklin to the minor leagues and selecting the contract of outfielder Cole Gillespie. Franklin’s demotion to Triple-A was essentially procedural as he saw just 18 plate appearances since being called up on April 16th, while Ramirez is set to start in his regularly scheduled spot on Sunday, but for the Hi-A High Desert Mavericks instead after struggling in his last three starts. The interesting piece to this puzzle is Gillespie who joins Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte, Stefen Romero, and Michael Saunders in what’s quickly turning into a crowded Mariner outfield.

Gillespie, 29, was drafted in the third round of the 2006 amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, whom GM Jack Zduriencik was employed by at the time of the selection, and has since been a part of the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, and Chicago Cubs organizations. In 189 plate appearances between 2010 and 2013, the journeyman has put together a .225/.293/.337 line and a 65 wRC+. Although his major league stats are less than inspiring, he’s hit .364 with five home runs in his first 17 games of the year in Tacoma. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill had recently suggested Gillespie be called up, and the M’s could certainly use his hot bat right now. Where his bat will fit in the lineup however, is the tougher question.

Without the possibility of Gillespie starting in center field, it’s conceivable to suggest that he’ll split some time in right field with Romero and likely spell Ackley once in left field every now and then. He also fits the mould of a late inning pinch runner or defensive replacement in a game where Corey Hart starts in right field, for example. Like Jason said, he doesn’t hit left-handed pitching especially well — he’s hit at a .189 clip in 98 major league plate appearances — and owns a .266 average against right-handed pitching in 91 plate appearances. Both Romero and Gillespie are right-handed bats so the M’s quest for a balanced lineup continues.

With Ackley firmly entrenched in left field as the everyday starter and manager Lloyd McClendon content to let Almonte play everyday in center, the combination of Romero, Gillespie, and Saunders will cover the right field duties unless Hart is able to step in. The club is still going slow with Hart’s return to the outfield, as they should, so the point of having that extra outfielder is far from moot. Either Gillespie or Romero could presumably DH if Hart is the starter on a given night with Saunders on the bench as a potential late inning replacement. It’s also possible that this current arrangement is simply temporary, especially if Hart is able to put another couple solid starts in the field together. Logan Morrison‘s return from the disabled list at the end of the month could require even further roster shuffling as well unless the club decides to send him down to Triple-A for a period of time.

Perhaps the real point of contention is the fact that a player not named Almonte has yet to make a start in center field for the club this year. Obviously his status as the team’s leadoff hitter and lack of other alternatives has played some role in this, but the young outfielder has done very little to prove that he belongs in his given role just yet. He has just 19 hits and five walks in 94 plate appearances — good for a .213 batting average — and his 34.1 percent strikeout rate is the fourth highest in all of baseball. Aside from being awful leadoff hitter numbers, they really aren’t that good numbers for anywhere in the lineup unless the player is a defensive wizard, although the 24-year old does handle the outfield well enough.

The seemingly obvious candidate to spell Almonte would be Saunders given his experience in center field, but he hasn’t produced much of anything so far this year and certainly not enough to spark the conversation of which one of the pair should be playing everyday. McClendon has gone on record saying that he believes the only way for Almonte to improve is to play everyday — that much is true — but is there anything wrong with sitting him once in a while and giving someone else the start? LMC was willing to sit Brad Miller when he was struggling and hasn’t shown this long of a leash with other players — look no further than Ramirez being sent down for a start — so there’s really no reason not to give this outfield logjam a little more fluidity by sitting Almonte here and there.

There’s been little to suggest that Ackley should be the one to see less playing time since he’s hit the ball well this year and shown some encouraging signs that his bat has finally come around even though he has been hitless in his last four games. It’s possible that Gillespie will see a couple starts in left and spell the former second baseman in the coming week, but a return to the No. 8 spot in the batting order — a place he’s been comfortable in so far this season — could provide the spark needed to get the 26-year old producing like he was a few short weeks ago.

Like Saunders, Romero hasn’t seen enough game action for us to really make an accurate determination on what his role with the club should be at this point in time; although I’m in the camp that believes he’d be best served playing everyday in Triple-A than sitting on the major league bench. He has five hits and one walk in 24 plate appearances and has started in seven of the club’s first 21 games. He’s a candidate to start at designated hitter on a day where Hart starts in right field as Saunders and possibly Gillespie would provide better defensive replacements for the late innings.

One of the benefits of having a journeyman-type of player like Gillespie on the roster is that unlike a Nick Franklin, he doesn’t necessarily need to see regular at bats. The team also doesn’t have to worry about his development as a player that much either since he no longer falls under the description of a prospect and he’s shown essentially all that he has to offer a big league club. The 29-year old knows the type of role he’s entering with Seattle and will likely already have the right type of mindset to handle it.

It will certainly be interesting to see how McClendon decides to balance his group of outfielders over the next week or two. The situation will only become murkier if Hart is in fact able to man right field regularly, but given the logjam of players available for the position, there’s absolutely no reason to rush it. Acquiring another bat is still a possibility but it appears unlikely at this point as the M’s don’t appear  interested in Kendrys Morales at the moment, and he seems content to wait until after the draft to sign his next contract.

It appears that the only certainty in the Mariners’ outfield can be found in left and center field at the moment with the right field situation very up in the air. Hart does represent somewhat of an x-factor, but at the moment it wouldn’t be surprising to see the club go with whichever one of Saunders, Romero, and Gillespie that’s producing. And that’s exactly what they should be doing anyways.

Seattle managed to end their losing streak with a win on Wednesday and will open a new series against the Texas Rangers on Friday night with Roenis Elias set to take the mound.…

Seattle Mariners v Oakland AthleticsIt’s no secret that the Seattle Mariners have been stuck in a rut recently and after being swept this weekend by the Miami Marlins, it may be time to shake things up a little bit. Certainly the M’s would be in a better position at the moment if their rotation wasn’t decimated by injuries, but their .225 team batting average is the third worst in all of baseball and is nearly an equal cause for concern. Yes, there’s an awful lot of season to be played, but if Seattle still fancies themselves as contenders this year, now is as good a time as any to get the lineup some help while the rotation recovers. And that could still come in the form of a familiar face; Kendrys Morales.

Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill outlined several possible moves the Mariners could make to help the club in the immediate future and one of those suggestions was to option Logan Morrison to Triple-A, and sign Morales who remains a free agent. Of course this comes with two very important caveats: Corey Hart must be able to man right field four times a week and Morales must be willing to sign a one-year deal. Both factors are relative unknowns at this point, but one would have to think that the possibilities of both occurring do have some life.

Hart started in right field this past Thursday and Sunday and after starting at first base on Friday, shifted to right field after Michael Saunders was pinch hit for. The 16 2/3 innings of action he’s seen in the outfield aren’t near enough to draw any legitimate conclusions from, but the fact that he’s actually looked decent out there is definitely an encouraging sign. Realistically it could take the M’s another month if not longer to make a determination on whether or not Hart’s knees can handle the outfield, and there’s no reason to take any course of action other than easing him back in slowly. After all, he was signed for his ability to hit a baseball, not necessarily his ability to catch one.

With Hart seeing outfield time and Morrison not on the big league club like Jason suggested, there would be plenty of at-bats available for Morales who could DH when Hart plays the field and possibly see some time at first base when Hart is the designated hitter. As it stands Morrison is on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so the club would have to wait until after he’s activated to send him down anyways. His contributions have obviously been limited, but a quick comparison of his results after 18 team games this year to Morales’ first 18 last year show that there’s a strong likelihood than an upgrade could be made. Justin Smoak has cooled off of late, but thanks to a hot start has his overall numbers don’t look too bad and are relatively comparable to what Morales produced in last year’s sample. It’s unlikely to suggest that he would be removed from everyday duties anytime soon.

Morales 18 games

In some ways Morales could conceivably replace Morrison, but of course it’s not quite a simple trade off since LoMo hasn’t been an everyday player and he’d be taking at-bats from other players as well. But it is easy to see the potential offensive upgrade that would come with bringing the free agent back into the fold and taking at-bats from players like LoMo.

The second impediment to potentially signing Morales is what it has been all along; his agent, Scott Boras. Obviously an agent wants to get their client the best deal they can, but what the best possible deal is varies from player to player of course. The trend with Boras though, has been the bottom line dollar playing the most significant part of any deal so nobody should’ve been surprised when the party announced they were content to wait in order to get that best possible deal. But perhaps as the calendar turns to May, Morales gets a little anxious about getting back into a team’s everyday lineup and the concept of a “bridge” contract becomes more palpable. After all, he’s already guaranteed that he won’t be tied to draft pick compensation next winter since he will have signed after the season started.

It really is unfortunate that Morales, and another Boras client Stephen Drew, are still without contracts since the draft pick compensation has seriously diminished their value to any interested club, especially since there are more than a few teams who could benefit from the addition of one or the other. However, now that the Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired Ike Davis — the Pirates were rumored to be a moderately serious suitor for the first baseman/designated hitter — would Boras really be able to get a multi-year deal for Morales even if he waits until after this June’s draft and is freed of draft pick compensation?

It’s been reported that the Mariners had offered Morales a three-year deal worth $30 million last summer, and at the time it probably seemed likely he could top that offer once he hit the open market. But, considering the fact he’s all but limited to designated hitter duties, did Boras really anticipate a bidding war to break out for his services? Sure, Morales has been a capable defender at first base in the past and he is another year removed from the broken leg he suffered at the beginning of the 2010 season, but a team is could be taking a lot of risk if they are signing him to be their everyday first baseman. It’s really no different than the Mariners signing Hart to be their everyday right fielder, but they didn’t sign him for that purpose; the fact he may actually be able to play in the field is pure gravy at this point. Teams would be lining up to give David Ortiz a multi-year deal to be their designated hitter since he’s a legitimate game changer; Morales is not at that level.

Throughout the offseason, and even after the Hart signing and Morrison trade, Seattle was considered to be the most logical landing spot for Morales. Perhaps they became even better suitors after adding the pair considering the team’s affinity for stockpiling designated hitter types and then deploying them regularly in the field. But after the Baltimore Orioles agreed to sign Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal worth just $8 million — remember, both he and Morales had rejected the one-year $14.1 million qualifying offer — many figured that a potential Morales deal would probably be of the same term but with a slightly higher dollar amount. And with the Orioles and now Pirates out of the picture, are there really any other options outside of Seattle? Barring an unforeseen injury, probably not.

The question that has to follow pertains to whether or not the Mariners even have room for Morales on their roster at the moment. Let’s say Morales is reluctantly willing to accept a one-year deal worth the pro-rated portion of the $14.1 million qualifying offer to spend another year in the Pacific Northwest. Of course there’s still the question of whether or not ownership would allow the club to take on further payroll since this could all be a moot point if they say there’s no more cash to spend, but let’s remove that hurdle for right now. Although he has been working out regularly, he’ll need to spend at least a couple of weeks in extended spring training to get close to game speed, and will likely require an adjustment period at the major league level as well. Even if Morales was signed today, he’s probably three or four weeks away from actually producing something tangible for the club.

If it’s in fact determined Hart can regularly spend time in the outfield, Morales should be able to slide nicely into the regular designated hitter slot. The next question to be asked is who takes the hit as the 25-man roster casualty? Jason suggested sending Morrison down to Tacoma and I’d agree with that since letting him get back to basics and gain some confidence could be beneficial and he still does have an option available. As does Stefen Romero who’s been used sparingly thus far and has seen little success at the major league level. The 25-year old would definitely benefit more by playing everyday in Tacoma instead of seeing pinch-hit duty and the occasional start.

Another suggestion of Churchill’s was to send down Romero and call up Cole Gillespie, a 29-year old journeyman, who could fill Romero’s role of right-handed hitting outfielder and would have minimal downside. It would appear that both Romero and Morrison would be better served playing everyday in Triple-A as opposed to sitting on the bench and pinch-hitting late in games. Sending down Romero and calling up Gillespie doesn’t solve the 25-man roster issue however, so even if the pair were to trade places, adding Morales would require another roster move.

Perhaps Michael Saunders, who’s become the odd man out in the outfield, could be dealt for pitching help. It’s very surprising to hear that Saunders has found himself in the fourth outfielder role after appearing to be a near lock to play everyday in the outfield just a few months ago. He hasn’t hit well in limited action this year, but does represent an upgrade defensively and on the base paths compared to what Romero and Abraham Almonte provide. That’s pure speculation on my part however and there’s no real benefit to selling low on Saunders right now. The club also doesn’t have the necessary depth to deal an outfielder right now anyways.

Certainly there’s a scenario in which the club could fit Morales into the everyday lineup and there’s little doubt that he does represent an upgrade over some of what’s there now. His .280 career batting average would fit quite nicely in a lineup in dire need of a boost. Any kind of a boost. Players like Brad Miller and Kyle Seager will see their averages come around eventually and others will see their lines even out as the plate appearances add up, but the club is failing to score runs and that presents a huge problem when there’s only one proven starter currently in the rotation.

A lot of stars will have to align for Morales to wear blue and teal again, and by stars I mean Hart’s knees and Boras’ contract demands, but it could still happen. The roster moves will likely sort them out — LoMo or Romero being sent down make the most sense — so it really is just a matter of patience on the Mariners’ part and seeing whether or not things might work out in the favour for once.

A few more weeks and we should have an idea what the extent of Hart’s outfield abilities will this year and Morales’ camp might get a little more anxious about getting him playing time sooner rather than later. The 2014 Seattle Mariners can still be a .500 team as-is, but that extra bat would push the scales further in their favour and they could really use that right about now.…