The Detroit Tigers have been the fortunate recipients of some of the best pitching baseball has had to offer over the last several years. Max Scherzer, the 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner, is one of three aces on the 2014 staff, but may end up donning different colors for the next chapter of his career. Scherzer is coming off another outstanding season with a 18-5 record in 220 and 1/3 innings pitched. Across 33 starts he posted a 3.15 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and 3.12 xFIP. His 10.29 strikeouts per nine placed him third highest among all major league pitchers and one spot higher than this year’s AL Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber. The right-hander yielded 18 home runs, tied for the lowest single season mark of his career. But what kind of free agent is Scherzer? Throws: RightAge: 31 on Jul. 27Service: 6.079Agent: Boras CorporationQualifying Offer: Yes Scouting Report Scherzer throws a fourseam fastball, changeup, slider, and curveball. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90’s with natural sink and his slider and changeup sit in the mid-80’s. His curveball sits a hair below 78 miles per hour. Scherzer pitches from a three-quarter arm slot that adds some deception to his pitches. The right-hander has seen decline in his average fastball velocity over the past three seasons, but his 93.99 miles per hour mark for 2014 is just slightly less than the 94.37 he averaged in his rookie season of 2008. Scherzer began using the curveball in 2012. The right-hander relies on the strikeout and it has provided the highest percentage of his outs over the last three seasons. Previously Scherzer was more of a ground ball pitcher but the addition of the curveball has lead to more swings and misses. For his career the former first-round pick has generated swings on 29.6 percent of pitches outside the zone and a 67.1 percent of pitches inside the zone. His career whiff rate is 11 percent and his balance between ground ball and fly outs has been fairly evenly distributed in recent years. The Upside Scherzer is an undisputed ace. His resume and skill set are among the best in baseball and he’s been consistent throughout his six full seasons in the majors. The right-hander has averaged more than a strikeout per innings during his career and is coming off his third consecutive season with ten-plus strikeouts per nine. Scherzer has the ability to regularly pitch deep into ballgames and lasted less than five innings on just one occasion during 2014. It’s easy to gush about the ace and the fact he isn’t a fireballer actually bodes well for the future. Scherzer relies more on movement and location when it comes to his fastball and isn’t overpowering at 94 miles per hour. Compare that to his teammate on the Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander who has seen his average fastball velocity drop for six straight years and struggled with arm fatigue and consistency in 2014. Scherzer’s profile suggests that he’ll be able to maintain his current level of play even as he turns the corner to the wrong side of 30. There’s also the fact that Scherzer has plenty of playoff experience and has proven an ability to handle the spotlight. In 12 playoff appearances, 10 starts, the right-hander has a 3.73 ERA and a 2.94 FIP in 62 and 2/3 innings pitched. The Downside Giving a pitcher who’s on the wrong side of 30 a nine-figure contract is a significant risk, even for one of Scherzer’s pedigree. He has thrown more than 21,000 pitches and 1239 and 1/3 innings since 2008, but has only eclipsed 200 innings in two seasons. Scherzer doesn’t have a particular issue with the walk, but his career 2.82 walkers per nine innings isn’t exactly low. Pitchers with high strikeout and walk rates tend to throw more pitches in higher-stress situations per start. Add in the playoff innings he’s thrown over the last four seasons and there are quite a few miles on his arm. Scherzer is going to command a six or seven-year deal with an average annual salary north of $24 million. He reportedly turned down a six-year $144 million extension offer from the Tigers back in March. The club then made a statement about the negotiations and painted a negative picture of their ace. Remember: this occurred one week before the season started. Why the club decided to make those comments is unknown, but it did put the wheels in motion for Scherzer to seek a different employer for 2015 and beyond. It’s become somewhat cliche, but with Scott Boras as his agent, Scherzer will not be an easy sign for any club. Not to suggest the super-agent devalues his clients to clubs, but he is known to play the waiting game and go above the general manager to negotiate a deal. He also is known for taking his clients all the way to free agency to maximize their payday, which lines up with Scherzer turning down the extension offer from the Tigers. All teams understand the process of signing a marquee free agent is timely. But at the same time, having to wait makes it difficult for a club that is talking to several players. Cost & Conclusion: Mariners Perspective The Seattle Mariners have an ace in Felix Hernandez and a bonafide No. 2 in Hisashi Iwakuma. There’s also James Paxton knocking on the door as a solid No. 3 starter and Taijuan Walker who despite struggling in 2014 still has a high ceiling. Add Roenis Elias to the mix and Seattle doesn’t really have a need in the rotation outside of a couple back-end options to add depth. Signing a pitcher like Scherzer makes any pitching staff better, but it could allow the Mariners to trade one of their young pitchers for a bat. Walker and Paxton have come up in various trade rumors over the last 14 months though it’s unclear whether GM Jack Zduriencik is willing to move one right now. As a young, controllable left-hander, Elias should draw trade interest as well if the club chooses to go that route. If the Mariners do move on of their young pitchers a rotation including Felix, Scherzer, Iwakuma, and Paxton/Walker figures to be the best in the AL West and possibly the entire American League. The temptation for putting together such a star-studded rotation has to be there, but given the team’s needs in the outfield, the money Scherzer would command is likely better spent elsewhere. It’s also worth noting that Iwakuma, who’s due $7 million in 2015, is a free agent after one more season and there haven’t been any reported extension talks between the two parties at this time. It’s possible those could come at a later date, but there’s no doubt that Kuma’s spring injury and decline in performance towards the end of the season are concerns for the club. Presuming the M’s are willing to add a third $20-plus million salary to their payroll, Scherzer could serve as an insurance policy for 2016 if Iwakuma leaves at season’s end. The goal for Seattle this winter is to get better — how and what they do to get there aren’t all that important. It’s obvious that offensive upgrades are part of this winter’s plan, but there’s nothing wrong with adding more to the run prevention side if the right bat isn’t available. Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune hasn’t heard anything to suggest the M’s are in on the top free agent starters, but it’s still very early in the process. Keep in mind that pitchers of Scherzer’s ilk, this year includes Jon Lester and James Shields, typically take their time with making a final decision and usually sign sometime during December once the Winter Meetings have taken place. Realistically the floor for Scherzer is set at six years and $144 million, the offer he declined from the Tigers in the spring. If Seattle wanted to get creative and make some changes, anything is possible — they have the money to spend. Would signing another pitcher to a deal in excess of $150 million be the best use of resources? Probably not. But the goal for this club is improving, and they are exploring every avenue they feel they can to do so.
Many pundits had written off the Seattle Mariners before the 2014 season began. The rotation had several questions marks beyond Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and the lineup lacked much punch beyond newly acquired second baseman Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. Lloyd McLendon was the new manager in town after Eric Wedge called it quits with three games left in 2013, and reports about the dysfunction in the front office created some tension. The club did have a strong contingent of young players ready to make their marks, however the group assembled didn’t resemble a playoff squad come Opening Day. A .500 team maybe, but not a team that would finish one game out of a Wild Card spot and certainly not one that wasn’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs until the season’s final day. Was the club’s 87-75 record an accurate representation of the compilation of talent on the roster, or was it a classic case of a team that played over their heads? This is rather crucial question that needs to be answered. Not because the front office needs to know how many wins they should be chasing this winter, but because the Mariners likely will do just that. If they believe they’re 3-5 wins from October baseball, they’ll go get 3-5 wins in roster upgrades. If they believe they’re more like an 83-win team, they’ll chase after 7-10 victories. At least that’s been the track record, rather than doing everything possible to become as good as the club possibly can. So, what is GM Jack Zduriencik working with as the offseason begins? Seattle’s Pythagorean record was 91-71, four more wins than they actually collected. A team’s Pythagorean record compares their runs scored and allowed in an attempt to determine how many wins a team should have based on those two factors. The Mariners had a near-historic year in terms of run prevention and allowed the fewest runs in the league with 554. However, there was a serious lack of consistency in the run scoring department and the club’s 634 runs scored ranked 19th. BaseRuns credits the Mariners with an 86-76 record, one less win than their actual total. What do these advanced stats tell us about the M’s record? In essence, they suggest that Seattle’s 87 wins are a reasonable result based on the numbers of runs scored and allowed. In a way these systems help us better understand a team’s record in the same way that a pitcher’s FIP or xFIP relates to their ERA. It’s then up to us to dig deeper and try and see what else is under the surface. By now means does a Pythagorean record tell us a team’s true talent level. Seattle got their money’s worth when it came to superstars Felix and Cano. The King is in line for his second career Cy Young award and Cano capped off an All-Star season with a Gold Glove nomination. Hernandez had a markedly better season in 2014 than in previous years, but at age-28 he was primed for his beginning of his peak years. There’s also no doubt an improved team behind him and a winning record benefited the ace. The biggest knock on Cano this year was the lack of power displayed. His 14 home runs were the fewest he’s hit since 2008, though the confines of Safeco Field were expected to impact his total power output. Overall Cano had an excellent first year in the Emerald City and gave the club some much needed star power. The holes in the M’s lineup, however, were glaring. Seattle received -2.1 fWAR from their designated hitter position, second-worst in the league to the Cleveland Indians. That’s after the team took on a slumping Kendrys Morales in July that never recovered from sitting out the first three months of the year. The Corey Hart experiment wouldn’t pay off as the slugger battled health issues. As a unit, the Mariners’ outfield combined for the second lowest fWAR in all of baseball with 1.0. Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, and Abraham Almonte were the only outfielders to produce a positive fWAR. Ackley was absolutely the player that the Mariners envisioned when they made him a No. 2 overall selection in 2009 from July 1 on, but struggled early in the season. Saunders spent significant time on the disabled list, again, and lost playing time to Stefen Romero and Endy Chavez, regularly. Had the Canadian-born outfielder been healthy for more of the year, or at least played regularly when he was, he would’ve made up for some of the -1.5 fWAR Romero and Chris Denorfia cost the team. Even trade deadline acquisition Austin Jackson went cold as soon as he put on a Mariners uniform, and only showed a glimmer of the talent he displayed in Detroit. On the infield side of things, aside from Cano, Seattle saw continued growth from Seager who made his first All-Star appearance. The third baseman lead the club in home runs, RBI, and posted a higher fWAR than Cano at 5.5. Justin Smoak continued to flail in the batter’s box, but Logan Morrison, after getting healthy, took the first base job by storm and finished the year with a 110 wRC+ in 365 plate appearances. By fWAR, the Mariners got solid production out of Brad Miller and Chris Taylor at the shortstop position but most of that is due to the duo’s excellent defensive play. Miller struggled mightily at times with the bat and Taylor’s offensive numbers were inflated by a high BABIP. Mike Zunino had an excellent sophomore season behind the plate but struggled to produce consistent offense outside of the long ball. [pullquote]Of the batters acquired in the offseason and at the trade deadline, only Cano, Morrison, and Willie Bloomquist posted a positive fWAR. Morales, Jackson, Denorfia, Hart, Chavez, and John Buck were all below replacement value.[/pullquote] Aside from Cano, Seager, and to some extent Zunino, the M’s really could’ve gotten more production out of their infield. Some might argue Seager played over his head, but his production has been trending upward for the last few seasons. First base has been a black hole for years and is an obvious source of underachievement. The shortstop position is difficult to knock since the defensive play was so strong, but it’s fair to say that from an offensive standpoint the position underachieved. Seattle’s No. 2 starter, Iwakuma, had a solid campaign including the second-lowest walk rate among qualified pitchers at 1.06 per nine innings. However the right-hander was absent for the first month of the season recovering from a sprained finger. Rookie James Paxton posted a strong 3.28 FIP but was limited to just 13 starts after being sidelined with an oblique injury for more than three months. Top prospect Taijuan Walker was also expected to cement the second half of the rotation but struggled with consistency and shoulder inflammation and was limited to just five big league starts. Had the pair of rookies been healthy for even half of the season each, the rotation definitely would’ve been stronger. The one positive thing Walker’s preseason injury allowed was an opportunity for Roenis Elias to secure a spot in the rotation, and he did not disappoint. The 26-year old had yet to pitch above Double-A prior to this season and in 29 starts earned a 4.03 FIP, slightly higher than his 3.85 ERA. Elias was excellent at times this year, but showed signs of fatigue as the innings piled up and was eventually shut down in September with arm soreness. Veteran hurler Chris Young also had a resurgent 2014 after struggling with injuries the last several years. In 165 innings and 29 starts the right-hander posted a strong 3.65 ERA but finished with a 5.02 FIP after some struggles in September. Like Elias, he had run out of gas. In some ways the success of Elias and Young cancel out the lack of production that was expected from Paxton and Walker. With that, one could say that the M’s rotation performed approximately as expected, all told. Earlier in his career Young was a dependable starter but considering the uncertainty surrounding a guy who had thrown 100 innings in just one year in 2008, Seattle was likely hoping to milk five-to-ten decent starts out of Young if they were lucky. It’s fair to expect the best bullpen in baseball would have to overachieve to some extent, but the talent was there and the staff was strong from beginning to end. Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Charlie Furbush all had excellent seasons following solid 2013 campaigns. Brandon Maurer had a successful transition from starter to power reliever in the second half and posted a 1.85 FIP in 37 1/3 relief innings. Dominic Leone had a strong rookie season and solidified the middle relief corps. Even journeyman Joe Beimel had an outstanding season as a specialist posting a 2.20 ERA but it came with a 4.18 FIP which suggests that he did overachieve. Closer and free agent acquisition Fernando Rodney also had an impressive campaign, though not quite at the level of his career year in 2012. The enigmatic star performed as expect this year, racking up saves and strikeouts while providing plenty of drama in the process. It’s fair to say that the bullpen could be a big source of overachievement in 2014 considering that seemingly everything went right. Especially since the majority of the staff that contributed to the second-worst bullpen ERA in baseball last year returned to post the best mark in the majors. Every team has to deal with injuries while riding the wave of breakout and slumping players. The Mariners were no different in that regard. It’s hard to say how much of the team’s success can be attributed to the managing of McLendon and his staff, but we do know that their management of King Felix was a crucial aspect of his performance this year. Was 87 wins an overachievement for this edition of the Seattle Mariners? From the outset maybe, and there’s certainly an argument that they did, but at a closer glance the talent for a playoff club is there. The Kansas City Royals certainly have proved that a strong pitching staff and plus defence can take a team a long way, and many would agree that the Mariners pitching staff was even better than the American League champions. The fact that nobody expected Seattle to perform as well as they did shouldn’t be indicative of whether or not they overachieved. Some players had surprise seasons, some players performed poorly. There’s evidence that suggests that this team may have even underachieved since they received less than replacement level value out of several players. But that’s an argument for another day.
It goes without saying: every starting pitcher, no matter how talented, is going to throw a clunker once in a while. Even the great Clayton Kershaw allowed seven earned runs in a May start against the Arizona Diamondbacks, though that’s really his only blemish in an otherwise terrific season. So, as good as Hisashi Iwakuma has been for the Seattle Mariners this year, there’s little doubt that one would be able to look back on the season as a whole and pick out a handful of starts in which the right-hander was less than stellar — which brings us to a conspicuous last two weeks of from the No. 2 starter. On Wednesday night, the Mariners lost a very winnable game to the Houston Astros who’ve been riding a hot streak of late. Normally with Kuma on the mound a victory seems easily within reach, as long as the bats don’t forget to show up. However in this contest, the bats didn’t provide much help and Iwakuma gave up four earned runs in four and one-third innings of work. A lack of offense on any given night has been a regularity for the 2014 Mariners — though they’ve become more consistent as the season has worn on — but a fourth-straight poor outing from the right-hander? It would appear that perhaps something isn’t quite right. Over his last four starts, Iwakuma has allowed 15 earned runs in 18 innings of work which includes an outing against the Washington Nationals in which he gave up three home runs, all solo shots — he had given up just 14 entering the game. His ERA over that period is a gaudy 7.50, but his 4.29 FIP and 2.96 xFIP suggest that he hasn’t performed as bad as his earned run average would suggest. That’s good news considering he only allowed four walks while striking out 18 batter during that stretch, and his 25 percent home run per fly ball rate is double the 12.1 percent rate he’s produced all season. Naturally, we start to wonder if there’s some cause of Iwakuma’s struggles over this period considering how dominant he had been prior. It doesn’t appear to be a mechanical thing and there’s no reason to believe that the starter is batting any type of injury aside from the regular fatigue that comes in to play through the course of an entire season. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill wondered on Twitter Wednesday night if Kuma had been throwing more splitters than usual, and thanks to this chart via BrooksBaseball, we can see that in fact, he has increased his usage of the splitter over his last four outings. Iwakuma has now made 25 starts on the year and averages a tick over 91 pitchers per start. Of those 91 pitches, just under 25 are splitters on an average basis. Make no qualms about it, Kuma is a sinkerball pitcher and thus has relied on it about 35 percent of the time in 2014. His splitter is used about 27 percent of the time and just 13 percent of his pitches are four-seam fastballs as well. In his last four starts — the period in question — the 33-year old has utilized his splitter 34, 22, 32, and 39 percent of the time respectively, three of those four numbers would be considered above average within the context of this season. Now, in Kuma’s August 14th start against Philadelphia he threw eight shutout innings and 27 percent of his pitches were splitters. On another instance during July against Oakland Iwakuma took a shutout into the ninth inning before yielding a two-run home run and used his splitter 26 percent of the time. There was also a start in June versus Texas in which the right-hander allowed one run in eight innings of work while relying on his splitter for 34 percent of his pitches — several percentage points higher than his season average. [pullquote]Iwakuma has mixed in a cutter at various points in the season for the first time in his career. He’s thrown it no more than six time during a single start and many it isn’t used at all. Kuma has also utilized his curveball less in 2014 than he has in the past.[/pullquote] The thing that makes a splitter effective is that during delivery, it should appear practically identical to the delivery of a four-seam fastball — the difference, obviously, is that the splitter will break several inches and in some instances be a couple ticks slower than the fastball. As mentioned, Iwakuma relies heavily on his sinker and on only three occasions this season thrown it fewer than 30 percent of the time. In the first half of the season Kuma was using his splitter about 26 percent of the time compared to 29 percent in the second half, so he had started to utilize it more frequently earlier than just this recent stretch. Although the reality is that on average it’s only a couple more times each outing that he’s actually throwing the pitch. It’s tough to really make much about a few starts worth of data in relation to why Iwakuma’s production numbers are down. For what it’s worth, in his first two years in the majors he threw a splitter approximately 22 percent of the time so the 27 percent usage thus far in 2014 is an increase, but it isn’t as if it’s significant. For context, out of every 100 pitches the right-hander throws, five more have been splitters in 2014 compared to 2013. Perhaps the more interesting factor, which Churchill also mentioned on Twitter, is Iwakuma’s use of his four-seam fastball. Naturally sinkerball-pitchers rely heavily on their sinker or a two-seam fastball, but it’s curious to note that the right-hander has thrown four-seamers just 13 percent of the time so far this year which is a fairly substantial drop from the 28 percent mark in 2013 and 30 percent mark in 2012. It’s common for pitchers to set up their splitter with a four-seamer since, as mentioned, the mechanics of both pitches are very similar. Perhaps Iwakuma’s decreasing fastball use is more concerning than his increased splitter use, but at the end of the day, we’re still dealing with too small a sample size to make much about. The decreasing fastball use is interesting because it’s occurred over a few years now, but it’s typical for pitchers to stick with what’s working. If Kuma feels his splitter is his best pitch on a certain night, naturally he’s going to stick with it. Same for his fastball, sinker, curve, or slider. But it’s rare that a pitcher cuts their four-seam usage by half within a year’s time. Whatever the case, Kuma has seen a spike in his BABIP over this four-start stretch — a .375 mark compared to the .284 he’s put up on the season. Could we point to the fact the right-hander has simply given up more hits and been slightly unlikely over the last couple weeks? Certainly. It’s not as though he’s had noticeable control problems and although his walk rate doubled in that period, it’s still the second lowest in all of baseball. Iwakuma will be fine as this appears to be no more than simply a rough patch. The use of his fastballs is fascinating, but it’s difficult to draw many conclusions without more data to crunch. For all we know, the right-hander could throw eight shutout innings while using his splitter 40 percent of the time during his next start.
Each month at Prospect Insider we recognize a pair of Seattle Mariners — one pitcher and one batter — who have put up outstanding performances in the previous month. In July, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Kyle Seager took home the honors for Mariners of the month. Let’s take a look at if they were able to defend their titles in August. Dustin Ackley, LF — 115 PA, .280/.325/.533, 142 wRC+, .252 ISO, 5 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 7 BB, 5 SB It seems as though Ackley is finally becoming the player the M’s thought they were getting when they drafted him with the No. 2 pick in the 2009 amateur draft. After a red-hot July Ackley continued to hit the ball well in August — albeit he did trade some OBP for some power compared to July — and provided some timely hitting during the Mariners’ ten-game winning streak. The 26-year old put together eight multi-hit games in August and finished the month with a five-game hitting streak. Over at Lookout Landing, Michael Barr has some insight into Ackley’s mechanical changes and the discernible difference between his first-half and second-half performances. Runner-UpRobinson Cano, 2B — 110 PA, .205/.400/.516, 154 wRC+, .211 ISO, 5 2B, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 12 BB, 2 SB Hisashi Iwakuma, SP — 6 GS, 4-1, 37 2/3 IP, 2.39 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 2.92 xFIP, 33 K, 4 BB, 5 HR During a month when staff ace Felix Hernandez struggled — and for the most part it’s been a rough streak for the entire rotation — the No. 2 starter, Iwakuma, stepped up and continued to fill some big innings. Removing a rough performance against the Boston Red Sox in which the right-hander allowed five earned runs in two and one-third innings of work, it’s been an impressive August for the native of Japan. Iwakuma went at least six innings in his other five starts and allowed more than one run in just one of those starts; the Washington Nationals tagged him for three runs on the weekend. It was a homer-heavy month, including three solo shots given up to the Nationals, but his totals for the season still read 17 home runs and 13 walks in 155 and 1/3 innings of work. Iwakuma is the only qualified starting pitcher to allow more home runs than walks on the year and the 50 earned runs he’s given up are the ninth fewest. Runner-UpYoervis Medina, RP — 11 G, 0-0, 10 1/3 IP, 0.87 ERA, 1.19 FIP, 2.04 xFIP, 16 K, 3 BB
For the first time in team history, the Seattle Mariners left Fenway Park after a sweep of the hometown Boston Red Sox. The Mariner offense continued to roll with another 20-run output in the series — a good sign after the team slumped through Philadelphia and managed to score just nine runs in total. But this series sweep of the Red Sox can and should be about more than just a relatively meaningless factoid; it was a showing of what good teams do. They find ways to win games. There’s no question that starting pitching has been a strength of the M’s this year, but the best start of the weekend belonged to Felix Hernandez who turned in a very underwhelming performance on Friday. The King was definitely off his game as he needed 116 pitches to get through just five and two-thirds innings of work and he allowed three runs for the first time since May 12 — it was also his second consecutive start in which he failed to complete six innings of work. The resurgent Chris Young also had his share of troubles on Saturday as he also allowed three runs in three and two-thirds innings while walking five batters. Keeping control of the strike zone has been troublesome for Young at times this season and he’s been forced to throw a lot of pitches, but a glance at his season-to-date suggests that this performance was an outlier, as was Felix’s. Finally on Sunday, the conclusion of the series, the M’s handed the ball to Hisashi Iwakuma but again, were forced to rely heavily on their bullpen to get through the day. Kuma didn’t finish the third inning after allowing five runs on six hits, including a three-run, 39-pitch first. It simply wasn’t a good day for the normally dependable No. 2 starter, but throughout the course of the season every starter is going to turn in an underwhelming performance or get beat around for an inning or two at a time. It just so happened that all three of the M’s starters had theirs on consecutive days. As it turned out, that wouldn’t be a problem. Firstly, the outstanding bullpen cast more than stepped up to the task over the weekend. The off-day on Thursday proved crucial as it allowed manager Lloyd McClendon to have a fresh set of relievers for the series opener. Brandon Maurer took over for Felix and along with Dominic Leone and Fernando Rodney, did not allow a run in three and one-third innings. It was a similar story on Saturday as the combination of Tom Wilhelmsen, Charlie Furbush, Danny Farquhar, and Yoervis Medina shut out the Red Sox for five and one-third innings. The Red Sox finally found a hole in the Mariners armour on Sunday as they managed to score a run on Furbush, but that was all they’d get in six and two-third innings against the best bullpen in baseball. That was 15 and 1/3 innings of bullpen pitching and just one run allowed. That’s good for a 0.59 ERA, or by a stretch of a comparison, a performance of similar proportions to a pair of starts by Clayton Kershaw. And the even crazier part is that this bullpen has been providing that kind of performance all year. [pullquote]The Mariners are now 168-227 against the Red Sox all-time and take the season series five games to one. That one loss came earlier in the season when Boston visited Seattle for a three-game set.[/pullquote] Despite being shut out for eight straight innings to begin the series, Seattle’s bats showed up in a big way on Friday night against Boston’s closer Koji Uehara, knocking in five runs. The rally started with Endy Chavez working a ten-pitch walk and finished with Dustin Ackley scoring all the way from first base on a Robinson Cano single. Now, one could point out that this was actually a poor showing by the M’s offense considering they were shut down for eight innings, but to put up a five-spot against one of the most dominant closers today isn’t something to make light of. Perhaps the most interesting part of this weekend’s series was that Cano only went 2-for-10 with a double, RBI, and run scored before leaving Sunday’s game after his second at bat with dizziness and possible flu symptoms. I mention that because as integral a part of this offense as Cano is, the rest of the club hasn’t had much difficultly finding ways to drive in runs when he isn’t and this series was no different. Good teams find ways to win even when a key contributor isn’t going 4-for-4 with two extra-base hits. Ackley continued his hot second half going 5-for-13 with two walks in the series. He hit his ninth home run of the season and added six runs batted in to his now career-high 54. Kyle Seager and Austin Jackson collected four hits each while Kendrys Morales and Logan Morrison each had three. Chris Taylor and Jesus Sucre also had a pair of hits apiece. The only Mariner to not register a hit over the weekend was Mike Zunino who recorded a single walk while striking out six times. It can’t go without being noted that the 2014 edition of the Red Sox is nowhere near as talented as the 2013 World Championship team was, but it’s not as if this is a completely pedestrian ball club — not to mention the fact Fenway Park is hardly visitor-friendly. Perhaps one could suggest that the Mariners should be able to sweep a team that’s 18 games below .500 and has long since turned their attention towards 2015. But, as we all know, it’s not quite that simple for Seattle. After all, they did lose two of three to the Philadelphia Phillies earlier in the week. August 22-24, 2014 will be remembered as the first time the Seattle Mariners swept the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park — a stat that will see mention during broadcasts in the future and provide practically no quantitative value. But I’d like to think that this weekend was another stepping stone for the Mariners. After all, rallies on the road have a funny way of uniting a club. And it’s not as if it was Felix and Cano carrying the team through the weekend, it really was a team effort. Seattle now has a one-game lead over the Detroit Tigers for the second Wild Card slot and will host the Texas Rangers for three games at home. Like Boston, the Rangers are a team that the Mariners should be capable of winning three games against, and we’ll know soon enough if this weekend was just another tantalizing performance or a sign of what could come over the final month of the season.
Each month at Prospect Insider we recognize a pair of Seattle Mariners — one pitcher and one batter — who have put up outstanding performances in the previous month. In June, Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager took home the honors for Mariners of the month. Let’s take a look at if either were able to defend their title in July. Hisashi Iwakuma, SP — 6 GS, 4-1, 42 2/3 IP, 2.32 ERA, 1.98 FIP, 2.76 xFIP, 39 K, 1 BBFelix Hernandez, SP — 5 GS, 1-1, 37 IP, 1.70 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 2.57 xFIP, 41 K, 9 BB Rarely does a Mariner pitcher outshine King Felix, but Iwakuma may have come close and for that reason, the pair will share the title of M’s pitcher of the month. Iwakuma was outstanding in July and he neared history when he did not issue a walk in five consecutive starts with a total of 35 and 2/3 innings straight. Cliff Lee holds the Mariner record of 38 straight walk-free innings, a mark he set back in 2010. Iwakuma pitched seven or more innings on five of the six occasions and would’ve had a complete game shutout on July 12th against the Oakland Athletics if not for a two-run home run given up with two outs. The 33-year did allow four earned runs in his start against the Baltimore Orioles last week, but otherwise did not allow more than two runs in his other July starts. [pullquote] Dustin Ackley is also worthy of some recognition as he’s been red-hot during July and his .365 batting average led the team.[/pullquote] Felix made history this month when he completed his 14th straight start of at least seven innings pitched and no more than two earned runs allowed, breaking the 13-straight start record set by Hall of Famer Tom Seaver back in 1971. The King didn’t pick up the win in that game however, and it’s all but certain he would’ve traded accomplishing that feat for a Mariner victory, because that’s the type of player he has always been. The 28-year old has now made 23 starts on the year and has pitched less than six innings just once. Kyle Seager, 3B — 109 PA, .303/.358/.495, 138 wRC+, .192 ISO, 5 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 12 RBI The first-time All-Star continued his solid season at the plate with 30 hits in July, including 10 games with multiple hits. He also managed to reach base in all but six games this past month while playing above average defence according to FanGraphs. The 26-year old lead the club with 12 runs batted in over the last 31 days and improved his team-leading total to 67 on the year. Seager added 1.1 fWAR in July to his 4.3 fWAR mark which is tops among all Mariner batters on the year. Runner-UpRobinson Cano, 2B — 108 PA, .354/.426/.490, 157 wRC+, .135 ISO, 8 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 3 SB
To many, this weekend’s matchup against the Oakland Athletics was the biggest series of the season for the Seattle Mariners thus far. For Lloyd McClendon and the boys, it was probably heralded as nothing more than games 93, 94, and 95 of 162, all of which being important. Whatever you decide to call it, there’s little doubt that a series beginning with a matchup between King Felix Hernandez and Jeff Samardzija is bound to be a good one. The M’s would defeat the Athletics 3-2 and 6-2 on outstanding outings from Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma, but couldn’t complete the sweep on Sunday as they lost 4-1. Now, before we talk about the games themselves, I’d be remissed if I didn’t make mention of the incredible atmosphere that fell upon Safeco Field this weekend. Just under 100,000 made their way through the gates in total, including myself and 39,204 on Saturday alone — although I don’t know how much of a factor the Kuma bobblehead giveaway played in that. Maybe it’s finally set in that the Mariners are in fact, not a terrible baseball team, and people are starting to actually buy into it. I can’t remember the last time I was at a game where every single section was populated, or when the Seattle fan base was able to out-cheer the pesky A’s fans that always seem to show up in droves when Oakland comes to town — and I must say, I enjoyed it. Even the mood outside of the stadium on Saturday night was something I haven’t seen in an extremely long time. The M’s don’t have the Boston Strong mentality that encapsulated the Boston Red Sox fan base in 2013 and catapulted the club to a World Series title. Even the young players expected to play big roles this year like Taijuan Walker, Brad Miller, and James Paxton haven’t been able to provide what spark that many hoped would carry over from September of last year. Of course injuries derailed the seasons of the aforementioned pitchers, but aside from the addition of Robinson Cano, there wasn’t any major change to the Mariners personal heading into 2014 outside of the management team — which should be given due credit as well. But what the club has been doing is simply getting it done; any way they can. Guys like Chris Young and Joe Beimel having resurgent seasons and James Jones and Roenis Elias bursting onto the scene with key contributions have propelled this club to a 51-44 record — and people have rallied around that. Perhaps it all started with the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks reigniting Seattle as a sports city, or maybe people are starting to take my advice and attend at least one Felix start this year — more likely the former — but the most likely scenario is simple: people want to see winning teams. But I digress. On Friday night Felix continued his dominance and allowed just a pair of earned runs across eight innings of work in the victory. He did have a rocky start however, giving up both runs — one of which was a solo home run by Stephen Vogt — in the first inning, but settled down from there on and finished the night with nine strikeouts and just six hits allowed. The win gives the King 11 before the All-Star break for the first time in his career and his 2.12 earned run averaged eclipsed Randy Johnson‘s 2.20 mark for a new team record at the break. The offense managed to even things up quick by scoring a run in both the second and third innings — including a Logan Morrison solo shot — before Cano hit an RBI-double in the sixth to give the club the lead. Fernando Rodney would pitch a scoreless ninth which concluded with a strikeout of Nick Punto on a questionable pitch. He offered this gem of a quote after the game. Rodney was asked if the last pitch to Punto was a strike, his response: “All the pitches were strikes.” — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 12, 2014 Saturday night featured another strong pitching matchup between Iwakuma and A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez. In fact, the Japanese star would’ve earned a shutout on the night if it wasn’t for a two-out Brandon Moss home run in the top of the ninth. Otherwise it was nearly a perfect night for Seattle that featured a pair of home runs from All-Stars Kyle Seager and Robbie Cano and a double for Corey Hart that would lead to the first run of the game. The M’s managed to rack up a total of 14 hits on the night, but more importantly they managed to pick up three of those with runners in scoring position — something that seemed impossible at times during the previous series with the Minnesota Twins. It almost looked as if the M’s were more interested in their plans for the four-day break than Sunday’s matchup against Sonny Gray who, aside from an RBI-ground out from Cano in the first, shut the team out. Closer Sean Doolittle managed to neutralize the left-handed bats of Seager and Morrison en route to a four-out save. Cano and Seager led the sixth inning off with a pair of hits to give the M’s runners at the corners with no outs, but Cano would be left stranded at third in what would become the last real opportunity Seattle had to do some damage on the night. Veteran starter Chris Young gave the club six innings of work while allowing three earned runs and continues to be a dependable arm in the rotation. This was a classic 2014 Mariners game where the offense just wasn’t able to muster up anything of substance. The club was 0-for-5 on the night was runners in scoring position. All in all, the Mariners managed to take two of three from the best team in baseball, and that in itself should be worth celebrating to some extent. It’s always nice to go into the break on a winning note, but after a tough week prior to the serious, it was significant to see the M’s step up when it counted in games that provided the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere that this city has scene in years. Heading into the second half of the season, the boys in blue and teal sit seven games above .500 with a decent grip on a Wild Card berth. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
The 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: INCTaijuan 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.
We’re starting a new feature here at Prospect Insider where we recognize a couple of outstanding performances by Seattle Mariner players in the previous month: one pitcher and one hitter. Without further ado, let’s take a look at a pair who’ve stood out among their teammates over the last 31 days, not that their excellence should be a surprise to anyone. Felix Hernandez, SP — 6 GS, 4-0, 42 2/3 IP, 2.74 ERA, 2.08 FIP, 2.90 xFIP, 36 K, 9 BB The King continued to be the crown jewel of the American League West after another solid month on the hill. Hernandez got off to a shaky start in May and it has since been discovered that he was dealing with an illness that likely hindered his performance to some degree. After giving up three runs, two earned, in five innings against the Houston Astros on May 2 — his shortest appearance of 2014 so far — Hernandez failed to record a strikeout during his 6 1/3 innings of work against the Oakland Athletics on May 7; the first time he started a game and didn’t strikeout a batter since August 19, 2008. It’s been uphill since for King Felix as he regained his health and won his next four starts while giving up just eight earned runs across 31 1/3 innings, and only one of those appearances was shorter than eight innings. In total Hernandez managed 36 strikeouts compared to just nine walks, and did not give up a home run. After a fabulous May, Felix has brought his production up to a 2.8 fWAR on the season, and is well on his way to matching or possibly exceeding last year’s 6.0 fWAR mark. Runner-UpHisashi Iwakuma, SP — 6 GS, 3-2, 43 2/3 IP, 3.09 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 3.11 xFIP, 29 K, 4 BB Robinson Cano, 2B — 117 PA, .355/.393/.458, 131 wRC+, 6 2B, 1 HR, 19 RBI Despite missing the last couple games of the month with a hand injury, Cano was a few home runs away from a spectacular performance across the board for the month of May. Dating back to April, the M’s prize free agent signee saw his 31-game streak of safely reaching base end on May 25 against the Astros. The second baseman was his usual self on the field and in the batter’s box, and even managed 14 multi-hit games over the past 31 days. If there was a knock on Cano’s May, it’d be the same one we’ve been hearing all year: the power hasn’t been there, yet. Of his 38 May hits, 30 of them were singles and just one was a home run — which brought his homer total on the year to a lofty two. Provided Cano is able to return to the lineup in the next couple days — he was a scratch in this afternoon’s victory as well — there’s no reason to have any concerns about Cano’s lack of power, especially when he’s getting on base at a near .400 clip. He’s also had no problem driving in runners either, and with Corey Hart on the disabled list and Justin Smoak being his usual self, he’s been a cornerstone of the Mariners’ offence; which is exactly what was expected of him when he was signed. Runner-UpMichael Saunders, OF — 100 PA, .318/.357/.477, 130 wRC+, 4 2B, 2 HR, 18 RBI
After posting a 9-4 record through the first two stretch of May, the Seattle Mariners find themselves on a four-game losing streak and have now lost six of their last eight games. Oddly enough, starting pitching hasn’t necessarily been their downfall over this current losing streak — the starting pitcher has gone at least seven innings in three of the four games — but it appears that further reinforcements could be on the way as injured starters James Paxton and Taijuan Walker are on the mend and getting closer to returning to major league action. Paxton, out since April 9 with a strained lat, pitched a two-inning simulated game — or what is essentially live batting practice — prior to the M’s tilt with the Minnesota Twins on Saturday afternoon. The left-hander threw 36 pitches in total and faced John Buck, Logan Morrison, Cole Gillespie, and Stefen Romero. Paxton said he felt fine after the session and reported no pain while pitching or thereafter. He’s tentatively slotted to throw a longer simulated game — likely four innings — on Tuesday, and the club will decide whether he’s ready for a rehab assignment or another simulated game is needed first afterwards. Walker on the other hand, has been battling a sore shoulder since February and it finally appears as though he’s back on track to make his first appearance of the 2014 season sooner than later after experiencing a setback in April. Shortly after Paxton completed his simulated game, the right-hander threw a 55-pitch bullpen session and is scheduled to throw a two-inning simulated game — the same as Paxton threw today — on Tuesday as well. The Seattle TImes’ Ryan Divish asked manager Lloyd McClendon if Paxton and Walker would head for rehab assignments after pitching two simulated games, the same sequence of teammate Hisashi Iwakuma during his rehabilitation earlier in the season. “I think Iwakuma was a little more advanced than these guys are,” McClendon said. “It was his finger not his arm. We’ll see how Paxton is as after this next one and go from there.” If all goes well for Paxton in his second simulated game, it’s possible he could embark on a rehab assignment and rejoin the rotation by the first week of June. It’s a potentially similar timetable for Walker, though he sits about a week or so behind Paxton in his rehab process. All things equal, the pair should be in the major league rotation once again by the time the club starts an eight-game home stand in the middle of June. In other rotation news, Brandon Maurer will have his next start skipped as Seattle has an off day on Monday. Felix Hernandez is expected to pitch in the series closer against the Twins tomorrow, while Iwakuma and Chris Young will start the club’s two games against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday and Wednesday. Roenis Elias is expected to take the mound on Thursday when the M’s open a four-game series with the Houston Astros. It’s possible that Maurer will also be the first rotation casualty when the the pair of top prospects return to the rotation from their respective injuries. In five starts this year, the right-hander has managed to pitch beyond the fifth inning on just one occasion and he’s allowed four or more earned runs in three of those five starts. Across his 24 innings pitched he holds a 6.00 ERA and a 4.21 FIP and although it’s a very small sample size to analyze, Maurer’s strikeout rate in 2014 is down by over two full punch outs compared to 2013 while his walk rate is up by two thirds of a point compared to last year. If not for the surprising performances of Elias and Young to start the year, it’s possible that Maurer would have more assurance of holding on to a rotation spot once Paxton and Walker return, however there’s still enough time for him to string a couple strong starts together and hold his spot, but that may be unlikely. Elias has already amassed a 0.6 fWAR this season in his first eight starts — third on the team to King Felix and Iwakuma — while Young has been able to pitch effectively beyond the sixth inning on a regular basis this year. Many have gushed at the possibility of the Mariners running a rotation of Hernandez, Iwakuma, Paxton, Walker, and Elias, and it’s entirely that dream could become a reality by this time next month.
After an 8-7 victory over the Houston Astros on Sunday, the Seattle Mariners suddenly find themselves with a 14-15 record and are just four games back in the American League West after winning seven of their last nine games. This is great news for the club after they were the losers of eight consecutive games leading up to the current stretch. In fact, the past ten days have in some ways been reminiscent of how the M’s started off the season with solid starting pitching and timely hitting. Third baseman Kyle Seager has been on a tear of late and brought his hit streak up to eight games after Sunday’s contest — a stretch in which he has hit all five of his home runs this season. Let’s take a look at what’s been going right for the Mariners of late. More Saunders, less Almonte It would appear that Seattle has found a new leadoff hitter, at least for the time being, as Michael Saunders made his fourth consecutive start on Sunday. The Condor has eight hits in 19 at-bats over those four games including a pair of doubles and four runs batted in. It’s been a strange season for Saunders who figured to have a starting job locked up prior to Spring Training but instead had been a spot starter and late inning defensive replacement heading into this past week. That appears to be a thing of the past however, as the now suddenly displaced Abraham Almonte has been sent down to Triple-A Tacoma. Almonte optioned to Tacoma. No corresponding move yet — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) May 4, 2014 James Jones is not in the line-up for Game 1 of the Rainiers doubleheader. Odds are that he joins the Mariners. — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) May 4, 2014 It’s been easy to knock on Almonte so far this season as he’s done little to prove he belongs in the big leagues, let alone be the starting centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the club. His .198/.248/.292 line with 40 strikeouts in 113 plate appearances was hardly an inspiring performance, but could suggest he was either trying too hard to produce or was simply overmatched in his position, or likely a combination of both. Still just 24, it’s easy to forget that Almonte only has 396 plate appearances at Triple-A under his belt, and a quick look at his minor league strikeout rates would suggest that this season’s 35.4 percent rate is slightly uncharacteristic. My thought would be that he simply needs a little more seasoning at the lower level to gain some confidence before facing major league pitching again. There is a train of thought that hitting Almonte near the bottom of the order could be a potential solution, but manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t seem terribly fond of that idea and if Almonte truly is overmatched right now, it isn’t really going to help much. Truth be told, Saunders still appears to be the best defensive outfielder on the roster and with Stefen Romero and Cole Gillespie still around, it’s easy to see how Almonte become the odd man out. Whatever the case may be, you can’t dislike the energy and enthusiasm the young outfielder brings to the table on a regular basis, and this definitely won’t be the last you hear of him. Iwakuma returns to the rotation After missing the first month of the season and nearly the entirety of Spring Training, Hisashi Iwakuma made his return to action on Saturday against the Astros. The right-hander lasted 6 2/3 innings and threw 81 pitches — 56 were for strikes. He did surrender four runs, all of which were earned, on six hits and one walk, but only two of those runs came prior to the seventh inning when Seattle began to unravel a little bit as a whole. He also struck out three Astros on the night, but more importantly, didn’t show too many signs of rust. Considering he made only one minor league start before rejoining the M’s, that has to be a positive take away moving forward. Iwakuma appeared poised on the mound and the only real defect I noticed was that his fastball was clocking in a few ticks lower than he averaged in 2013, but there’s minimal need to worry about that. Getting back into his regular routine and putting a few more starts under his belt will help get his arm strength back up to where it needs to be. One of the biggest positives from his first start is the fact that he was able to complete nearly seven innings of work in just 81 pitches. That sounds like a pitcher who hasn’t missed a beat. Cano continuing his pace Although he’s stuck at just one home run this season, Robinson Cano has been his regular self otherwise and has six runs batted in over his last four games. There is reason for some concern over his low power numbers at the moment — his 2014 ISO is just .081 while his career mark is .193 — but he could go on a Seager-like hot streak at any time and be sitting comfortably again statistically. Certainly playing 81 games at Safeco Field will hurt his overall power numbers to some degree, but until we have a few more months of information available, it’s tough to say just how much of a home field disadvantage is in play here. Even though he’s already made three errors this season, he’s made ten or more in five different seasons with the New York Yankees so it’s hardly a cause for concern. Instead, enjoy watching the best second baseman in baseball make almost any defensive play look routine. Young, Elias help steady rotation It may be a little surprising at first, but late spring pickup Chris Young has quietly put together a decent start to his first major league campaign since 2012. In his four starts this year, he’s gone at least 5 2/3 innings in three of them, and sports a 3.04 ERA across 23 2/3 innings pitched. His peripherals — a 5.47 FIP and a 6.28 xFIP — disagree with his low earned run average however, and it’s likely that his 14 walks compared to 13 strikeouts has something to do with that. A low strikeout rate and a high walk rate has been typical of Young throughout his career, although his 5.32 walks per nine innings pitched this year is well above his 3.50 career mark. Regardless, Seattle has won the last two games he’s started, and he’s yet to be credited with a loss this season. He’s finding a way to eat innings and giving the M’s chances to win games — that’s all you can ask for from the veteran. If you weren’t familiar with the name Roenis Elias prior to the 2014 season, you’re likely in the majority. The 25-year old left-hander has come almost out of nowhere, more specifically from the Double-A Jackson Generals, and has been rock solid in his first six major league starts. He’s pitched at least five innings in all of them and has allowed more than two runs just twice. In 35 innings overall, Elias owns a 3.09 ERA with a 3.94 FIP and a 3.83 xFIP. Like Young, he has struggled with the walk at times and has given out 16 free passes thus far, but he’s also managed to strike out 31 batters as well. It’ll be exciting to watch the rest of the season unfold for the promising young starter and just how much potential is still to be unlocked. Seattle heads to Oakland for three days including a double-header on Wednesday to make up for the game that was postponed on April 4. Young and Elias will take the hill for Monday and Tuesday’s games while Felix Hernandez will start one of Wednesday’s games and it’s believed Erasmo Ramirez will be called up to start the other.
It was an extraordinarily busy winter for the five clubs in the American League West. Each organization made significant moves, with all but the Los Angeles Angels spending big dollars to improve their respective rosters. Two of the biggest free agents — Robinson Cano and Shin-Soo Choo — joined the AL West and even the Houston Astros made noise spending some money and acquiring an impact centerfielder. Let’s take a look at what each club gained and lost over the winter, starting with the defending division champions. Oakland Athletics | 2013: 96-66 It was deja vu for the Athletics who were eliminated in the American League Division Series in five games by the Detroit Tigers for the second straight year. The A’s were lead by a deep pitching staff that combined for a 3.56 ERA, seventh best in baseball, and averaged 4.73 runs per game as one of the league’s top offences. Billy Beane has remained one of the smartest GM’s in the game and only time will tell if his latest efforts will pay off in winning a championship. Who’s In Jim Johnson, RP — 0.9 fWAR | Acquired via trade from Baltimore Orioles in exchange for 2B Jemile Weeks and a player to be named.Luke Gregerson, RP — 1.0 fWAREric O’Flaherty, RP — -0.1 fWAR | Signed two-year, $7 million dealScott Kazmir, SP — 2.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $22 million dealCraig Gentry, OF — 3.4 fWAR | Acquired via trade from Texas Rangers in exchange for OF Michael ChoiceSam Fuld, OF — -0.3 fWAR | Signed minor league contract Who’s Out Seth Smith, OF — 1.1 fWAR | Traded to San Diego Padres in exchange for RHP Luke GregersonGrant Balfour, RP — 0.6 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Tampa Bay RaysJerry Blevins, RP — 0.3 fWAR | Traded to Washington Nationals in exchanged for OF Billy BurnsPat Neshek, RP — -0.2 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with St. Louis CardinalsBartolo Colon, SP — 3.9 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with New York MetsBrett Anderson, SP/RP — 0.3 fWAR | Traded to Colorado Rockies in exchange for LHP Drew Pomeranz, RHP Chris Jensen and $2 million cashChris Young, OF — 0.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with New York MetsKurt Suzuki, C — 0.4 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Minnesota Twins 2014 In one of the offseason’s surprise moves, the Athletics acquired a reliever, Johnson, who will be paid $10 million this year; quite uncharacteristic for any small market team. The additions of Gregerson and O’Flaherty, who will return mid-season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, figure to give Oakland one of the best bullpens in the majors with Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle still aboard. The departure of Colon will hurt the rotation, but if Kazmir can build off his comeback year with the Cleveland Indians in 2013, they’ll have effectively replaced Colon with a pitcher still on the right side of 30. Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, and AJ Griffin return to the rotation while youngster Sonny Gray is expected to spend his first full season in the majors as well. Oakland’s lineup remained intact for the most part over the winter with Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, and Josh Reddick leading the charge again in 2014. Coco Crisp was re-signed and will also play an important role in the A’s lineup once again. Gentry, who is coming off of two solid seasons with the Rangers, has quickly become one of the better defensive outfielders in the game today and could play an important role this year. After sporting just less than a $62 million dollar payroll in 2013, the Athletics 2014 payroll is expected to land around $76 million or so with Cespedes and Johnson being the only players earning $10 million or more. Oakland projects to be a top team in the American League in 2014 and shouldn’t have a problem finding themselves in either the pennant race or at the very least, the Wild Card race when September roles around. Texas Rangers | 2013: 91-72 After consecutive losses in the World Series, the Rangers failed to reach the playoffs this past year for the first time since 2009. Texas featured a top ten offence again in 2013, averaging 4.48 runs per game and hitting 176 home runs, but you could say that once again, they were done in by their pitching last year; even though the Rangers managed the third lowest bullpen ERA in the bigs. They’ll have their work cut out for them if they plan on going the distance in 2014. Who’s In Prince Fielder, 1B — 2.2 fWARShin-Soo Choo, OF — 5.2 fWAR | Signed seven-year, $130 million dealJP Arencibia, C — -0.6 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1.8 million dealTommy Hanson, SP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2 million deal Who’s Out Ian Kinsler, 2B — 2.5 fWAR | Traded to Detroit Tigers in exchange for 1B Prince Fielder and $30 million cashNelson Cruz, OF — 1.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Baltimore OriolesAJ Pierzynski, C — 1.6 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Boston Red SoxMatt Garza, SP — 2.2 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Milwaukee BrewersJoe Nathan, RP — 2.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Detroit TigersLance Berkman, DH — -0.2 fWAR | RetiredCraig Gentry, OF — 3.4 fWAR 2014 It was a busy offseason for the Rangers who shipped their All-Star second baseman to the Detroit Tigers for a much needed power hitting compliment in the lineup aside Adrian Beltre. They also saw 130 million reasons to make Choo their leadoff hitter, another hole that needed filling, for the next several years to come. The veteran Pierzynski will be replaced at catcher with Arencibia and the returning Geovany Soto, who was re-signed back in November. Perhaps one of the biggest determinants in trading Kinsler was the fact it could open up an everyday spot for Jurickson Profar in the lineup, and he will line up at second base with Elvis Andrus. A dash of good health and consistent production should have the Ranger offence near the top of the league again in 2014. Nathan’s departure will hurt the bullpen to some extent, but Neftali Felix and Joakim Soria are still around to anchor the relief corps. The Rangers did almost nothing to add to a rotation that is susceptible behind ace Yu Darvish, and took a major hit now that Derek Holland expected to miss significant time with a knee injury. Both Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando are capable mid-rotation arms, but what can reasonably be expected from their acquisitions of Hanson, who struggled with injuries, and Joe Saunders, who struggled to be not completely awful, in 2013? If the rotation and bullpen are able to hold up and Darvish can put together another Cy Young calibre campaign, the high powered offence could be enough to land the Rangers back into the playoffs this year. Los Angeles Angels | 2-13: 78-84 Times have been tough in Disneyland as it’s now been four years without a playoff appearance for the Angels and believe it or not, Mike Trout isn’t quite good enough to single-handedly guide a team to a Wild Card berth. Despite injuries to key parts of their lineup, LA still managed to put up 4.52 runs per game which was good for seventh in all of baseball. It was the pitching staff that did them in however, as they combined for a 4.24 ERA, placing them near the bottom of the league. With the strength of the Athletics and Rangers, the Halos may have a spend another October watching from the sidelines. Who’s In David Freese, 3B — 0.3 fWARRaul Ibanez, OF/DH — 0.0 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.75 million dealTyler Skaggs, SP — 0.1 fWARHector Santiago, SP — 1.5 fWARJoe Smith, RP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed three-year, $15.75 million dealFernando Salas, RP — 0.0 fWAR Who’s Out Jason Vargas, SP — 1.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Kansas City RoyalsPeter Bourjos, OF — 1.1 fWAR | Traded to St. Louis Cardinals with OF Randal Grichuk in exchange for 3B David Freese and RHP Fernando SalasJerome Williams, SP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Houston AstrosTommy Hanson, SP — 0.4 fWARMark Trumbo, 1B/OF — 2.5 fWAR | Traded to Arizona Diamondbacks with player to be named later in three-team trade in exchange for LHP Hector Santiago (White Sox) and LHP Tyler Skaggs (Diamondbacks) 2014 It was a different offseason for the Angels than we’ve seen in recent years: they didn’t commit big dollars to a marquee free agent. Instead, they made a couple of trades that could work out nicely for the club. The signing of Smith will help shore up the bullpen alongside Ernesto Frieri and Kevin Jepsen, while Salas figures to contribute to the pen in 2014 as well. Although health is relatively important to any club with playoff aspirations, it wouldn’t be farfetched to say that once again, the Angels’ success this year will depend on whether or not Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton can stay healthy and produce like their former selves. Add Trout to those two, and the Angels have as good a 2-3-4 punch as any team in the league when they’re firing on all cylinders. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson will once again form a very solid but perhaps unspectacular duo at the top of the rotation. Never say never with the Angels, especially since they make an interesting dark horse to win the AL West, but they’re going to have some very stiff competition for a Wild Card spot this year. Seattle Mariners | 2013: 71-91 It’s been a long 13 years since Seattle last saw playoff action and they have managed just one season above .500 since 2008. Despite a Cy Young calibre season from Hisashi Iwakuma in 2013, Mariner pitching produced a combined 4.32 ERA, the fifth-highest in all of baseball, and their bullpen ERA of 4.58 was the second worst. Even with one of the top home run totals in the league, the offence floundered for 3.85 runs per game due to a poor .237 team batting average and a lack of on-base production. The M’s spent big on an All-Star this winter, but it looks like they’re still a couple pieces away from seriously returning to contention. Who’s In Robinson Cano, 2B — 6.0 fWAR | Signed 10-year, $240 million dealJohn Buck, C — 1.6 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1 million dealWillie Bloomquist, IF/OF — 0.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $5.8 million dealFernando Rodney, RP — 1.3 fWAR | Signed two-year, $14 million dealScott Baker, SP — 2.8 fWAR (2011) | Signed minor league dealLogan Morrison, 1B/OF — -0.6 fWARCorey Hart, OF/DH — 2.2 fWAR (2012) | Signed one-year, $5 million deal plus up to $8 million in incentive bonuses Who’s Out Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH — 1.2 fWAR | Remains a free agentRaul Ibanez, OF/DH — 0.0 fWARHenry Blanco, C — -0.5 fWAR | Signed minor league deal with Arizona DiamondbacksOliver Perez, RP — 0.8 fWAR | Signed two-year, $4.25 million deal with Arizona DiamondbacksCarter Capps, RP — -0.3 fWAR | Traded to Miami Marlins in exchange for 1B Logan MorrisonJoe Saunders, SP — 0.6 fWAR | Signed one-year deal with Texas Rangers 2014 The Mariners opened their pocketbooks and landed Cano, the best available free agent, at a cost just shy of a quarter of a billion dollars. It was a peculiar move given the fact Seattle hasn’t been all that good in recent memory, but perhaps the tide could be turning sooner than later. Felix Hernandez will once again lead a rotation riddled with slightly more uncertainty than expected now that Iwakuma and top prospect Taijuan Walker are expected to miss the start of the season with injuries. Baker, who signed an incentive-laden minor league deal this winter, suddenly becomes a very important name in camp with respect to the rotation. The only problem with that is it’s not 2009 anymore when Baker was a 3.9 fWAR pitcher and he’s thrown just 15 major league innings across the past two years. If he’s healthy, and early reports from camp indicate he is, he could end up being a vital part of the pitching staff this year and hopefully can produce like one. It’s also looking like James Paxton has all but locked up a rotation spot as well. Seattle’s bullpen got a much needed boost with Rodney signed on to be the club’s new closer, likely shifting Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen into set-up or seventh and eighth inning roles. After plenty of trade rumors circulating around the likes of David Price and Matt Kemp this winter, the M’s didn’t make the big splash nearly everyone was anticipating after Cano was signed. It was reported that club had reached the top of their budget, but could make an exception for another player if it was the right situation. If Hart is able to recover from the two knee surgeries that kept him out for the entire 2012 season he could end up being the much needed right-handed slugger in the lineup behind the All-Star second baseman. There’s also a possibility that Morales could be re-signed as well, but the M’s may prefer to hope he signs before the draft so they can receive a compensatory draft pick, which would then be the pick sacrificed for signing Cano. All in all, Seattle projects to fall short of the playoffs once again, but if a couple of prospects can breakout this year and another piece is added, they just might be in the hunt. Houston Astros | 2013: 51-111 When the Astros joined the American League West prior to the 2013 season, Mariners fans began to rejoice since they could nearly rest assured that their team was likely only doomed for second last in the division. Houston hasn’t sniffed playoff baseball since losing the World Series in four games back in 2005 and have put together a streak of three straight 100+ loss seasons while they’ve been in a total rebuild. Their pitching staff was the worst in baseball with a 4.79 ERA while their offence managed a meager 3.77 runs per game in 2013. It’ll be another season of development for the Astros in 2014, but the future is starting to get a little brighter for the club. Who’s In Scott Feldman, SP — 2.1 fWAR | Signed three-year, $30 million dealJerome Williams, SP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.1 million dealDexter Fowler, OF — 2.2 fWARJesse Crain, RP — 1.9 fWAR | Signed one-year, $3.25 million dealChad Qualls, RP — 0.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $6 million deal, plus 2016 optionMatt Albers, RP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.45 million deal, plus 2015 optionJesus Guzman, 1B/OF — 0.0 fWAR | Signed one-year, $1.3 million deal Who’s Out Erik Bedard, SP/RP — 1.4 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Tampa Bay RaysBrandon Barnes, OF — 1.0 fWAR | Traded to Colorado Rockies with RHP Jordan Lyles in exchange for CF Dexter Fowler and player to be named laterJordan Lyles, SP — 0.4 fWAR 2014 Years of futility in any sport will eventually garner a club enough high draft picks that, if developed effectively, can help make the team relevant again. The Astros have developed Jose Altuve and Jason Castro into a pair of solid lineup cornerstones recently, and there’s much more talent yet to come in the pipeline. Acquiring Fowler for a couple of replaceable players was a great move for the Astros, who also opened the bank account to sign Feldman to a three-year deal and provide a little more certainty to their young rotation. Perhaps the most important moves of this past winter were the additions of Crain, Qualls, and Albers to what was the worst bullpen in the league in 2013. Despite the improvements to the major league roster, Houston still projects as cellar dwellers in the AL West once again. They will have the first overall selection in the upcoming Rule IV Draft in June which should allow them to add another youngster to a top prospect list that includes the likes of Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, and George Springer. It’s reasonable to suggest that eventually the Astros will have obtained enough young talent to be competitive at some point in the next several years, but when that happens is anyone’s guess. The upcoming season is likely another write-off and 2015 only looks a little better at this point. Perhaps 2016? Whatever the case, Houston has plenty of exciting young players that should be reason for at least some optimism in 2014, and certainly the years to follow. *All player WAR’s shown are via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.
Official Cactus League games are now underway for the Seattle Mariners, but the fact there’s baseball once again is overshadowed by the news that it’s unlikely Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker will be healthy by Opening Day. Iwakuma sprained a tendon in his middle finger just before camp began and Walker has been shut down for seven days after experiencing discomfort in his right shoulder throughout camp. Both don’t figure to miss time beyond April, but if their respective injuries take longer to heal than expected, the Mariners could be in some serious rotation trouble. We already knew that Iwakuma would be out for at least the first couple weeks of the regular season, and on Friday it was revealed he must keep his finger in a splint for the next three weeks and should then be able to resume throwing. Manager Lloyd McClendon suggested it’ll take the All-Star around 20 innings of minor league action or simulated games to be ready to face major league hitters once again, and a couple weeks participating in a regular throwing program will be required to build up some arm strength first. Most were hoping Iwakuma would be slightly ahead of schedule after doing various throwing exercises without gripping a ball earlier in the week, but it appears that a mid to late April return to the rotation is the most likely outcome. It’s not time to completely panic yet, but concern is growing quick over what’s going on with Walker after Friday’s tests revealed inflammation in his throwing shoulder. The Mariners have down played the injury and suggested it’s nothing to be worried about, but it’s hard to remain calm when the same was said about Danny Hultzen last year. Perhaps it really is just a simple bout of soreness and Walker will be just fine in a weeks time, but many won’t be sleeping easy until he steps on to a mound again. The young righty is being optimistic about the setback however, and doesn’t plan on letting it affect him more than it has to. If there is a silver lining in any of this, it could be that Walker is prepared to deal with troubles from a mental standpoint, a trait not always found in young players. Should he be able to resume throwing next weekend, he’ll really only be a couple weeks behind schedule. Not ideal of course, but far from the end of the world. Suddenly Seattle’s lack of proven pitching depth has become even more magnified, especially when Randy Wolf‘s name is being mentioned as possible stopgap piece while Iwakuma and Walker get back to full strength. This concern isn’t new by any means and many agree that the M’s pitching staff doesn’t resemble that of a contender even in a best case scenario. The offseason signing of Scott Baker could almost be considered crucial now given the recent events. He made his first appearance if the spring today throwing two innings and allowing two to reach base. But pointless Spring Training stats aside, his early velocity is a definite positive. Scott Baker hitting 91 in the first inning against the Angels. That’s a good sign. #Mariners — Colin O’Keefe (@colinokeefe) March 1, 2014 Baker was a strong candidate to make the rotation out of camp anyways so long as he was healthy once again, but he could definitely start the year as the number three guy in the rotation depending on how the rest of camp goes. It’s still possible he pitches out of the bullpen at some point this year and the incentives in his contract are set up for both situations, but if his arm strength and durability allow him to pitch six or more effective innings every five days, he could be one of the best moves of the Mariners’ offseason. Seattle has off and on again been connected to free agent Ervin Santana given their lack of pitching depth and the difficulty that exists in acquiring decent pitching via trade without giving up too much in return. It’s easy to connect the dots and suggest the M’s should pick him up given the uncertainty in their rotation has only increased in the past month, but Santana seems content to wait for the deal he wants to sign. That’ll likely be in the four-year $50 million range that his free agent counterparts signed for, but with seemingly minimal interest, is there a chance he folds and accepts less? Maybe, but probably not. It wasn’t that long ago that Santana’s agents wanted $100 million for their client, but obviously that pipe dream was neither realistic or relevant once Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez signed their respective contracts. It’s not unreasonable for the right-hander to hold out for a four year deal and get it, the Toronto Blue Jays were rumored to have offered three years, but one has to think the likelihood decreases as the days go by. The Baltimore Orioles were reportedly interested before their free agent splurge, but they’re probably sitting back right now. The Colorado Rockies have kicked the tires a little bit recently but don’t seem overly interested. The New York Yankees were rumored to have some interest but haven’t been reportedly involved in a long time, and the Jays seem content to go with what they have at the moment. Seattle has always appeared to be a logical destination, and perhaps is the only remaining one at this point. So long as the budget allows for it, it’s probably not all that bad of an idea to sign Santana right now. Three years would be preferable, but a four-year pact worth $10-13 million annually isn’t really all that bad; especially given the fact Bronson Arroyo will make north of $10 million in each of the next two seasons. Personally, I don’t like the idea of signing Santana to a multi-year deal given his history, but I like it a lot more than Seattle being forced to rely on young arms like Brandon Maurer and Erasmo Ramirez once again. Nothing against the two, the M’s just need more certainty in their rotation heading into the year. It remains to be seen whether the Mariners have any more moves up their sleeves or not, but one thing is for certain: it never hurts to have extra pitching depth.
The Seattle Mariners held their 16th annual FanFest this past weekend and set a record with an attendance of 21,019 combined for the two days. The event offers a chance for fans to rub elbows with the players, wonder Safeco Field, and take part in various activities (zip line!). In keeping up with the trends, the Mariners had several players hit the social media booth to take questions from fans via Twitter. Newcomer Corey Hart was one of them, and offered an interesting answer to a question sent his way by yours truly. @tylercarmont They remind me a lot of the ’08 Milwaukee team. Young and exciting. #MarinersFF — Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) January 26, 2014 Hart’s comparison has some validity on the surface since the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers were relatively young and an exciting team to watch considering the explosive offence they put together. This year’s incarnation of the Mariners would be similar based solely on the fact there’s plenty of youth ready to break out, and any team that has the potential to lead the league in home runs and will send Felix Hernandez to the mound every fifth day is bound to bear some excitement. While the ’14 Mariners aren’t coming off of an 83-win season and probably need another year to see what some of their young guys can do, perhaps there’s more validity to Hart’s comment than meets the eye. The ’08 Brewers lineup featured two of today’s premier hitters entering their age 24 seasons, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, and the pair would combine for 71 home runs and 208 runs batted in on the year. Joining them in the lineup were Hart, JJ Hardy, and Mike Cameron, who all belted 20 or more dingers as well. Collectively the team finished third in the National League with 198 home runs, but finished twelfth in the NL with a combined .252 batting average. Braun would finish third in NL MVP voting that year and led the Brew Crew with his .285/.335/.553 line, although he has since admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, clouding his stats slightly to say the least. Perhaps Hart just might be on to something as the Mariners finished second in the American League with 188 home runs in 2013 led by Raul Ibanez (29 HR), Kendrys Morales (23), Kyle Seager (22), and Justin Smoak (20). However the team’s .237 batting average was last in the league and Morales’ .277 average led the team. Gone are Ibanez and Morales, but if Hart and fellow newcomer Logan Morrison are both able to stay healthy the entire year, it’s possible they could replace the production lost from the departed sluggers. Robinson Cano brings his career .309/.355/.504 line to the team as well as four consecutive finishes in the top six AL MVP voting. Currently the 2014 M’s are projected to hit 218 home runs according to Steamer, six more than the major league leading Baltimore Orioles hit last year, so the lineup will remain homer-heavy, which always carries some excitement. Cano, Hart, and Smoak are all projected to hit more than 20 long balls this year, and five others are projected to be over the thirteen mark as well. Having a homer-heavy lineup is obviously much more effective when a team can capitalize with runners on base; 19 of Ibanez’s 29 home runs last year were solo shots. The ’08 Brewers drove in 722 batters as a team compared to just 597 driven in by the ’13 Mariners. Steamer projects 683 runs batted in for this year, not only a marked improvement from last year but also a number that would’ve placed Seattle among the top ten teams in baseball last season. While the home run production is comparable between the two clubs, a key difference was that Milwaukee didn’t pay for their long ball with defence. Without dwelling on the misadventures of Ibanez, Mike Morse et all, UZR gave Seattle a defensive rating of -73.0. Ouch. The Brewers on the other hand, received a 15.9 UZR rating in 2008. Cano will help in this department, but the outfield looks almost abysmal defensively; especially if Michael Saunders spends much time in center. For what it’s worth, Seattle only stole 49 bases compared to 108 stolen by Milwaukee and Steamer only projects Saunders and Brad Miller to steal more than ten bases in the upcoming year. How important steals are is debatable, but the point being made is that the ’08 Brewers featured a much more rounded offensive than the ’14 Mariners project to field. The Brew Crew featured a steady yet unspectacular rotation until they acquired CC Sabathia in a July trade with the Indians that year. After the 22-year old Yovani Gallardo went down with injury, the staff anchored by Ben Sheets, Dave Bush, and Jeff Suppan helped combine for the National League’s second lowest ERA at 3.85. This was actually a very productive year for Sheets who had missed parts of 2007 and 2006 with injuries. In 198 1/3 innings pitched he posted a 3.09 ERA with a 3.38 FIP and 3.88 xFIP; good for 4.3 fWAR and bWAR. Sabathia was the real game changer for the rotation however, posting a sparkling 1.65 ERA in 17 starts, seven of which were complete games. His performance with the Brewers even garnered some National League Cy Young and MVP attention despite pitching half his season in the American League. Now, one would like to think that a pitching staff highlighted by King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma wouldn’t have one of the worst earned run averages in the AL, but that was the case in 2013. Only the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros had worse results than Seattle’s 4.32 ERA. Although Felix and Kuma only represented about 30 percent of the innings pitched by the staff, the other 70 percent was pretty ugly. Youngsters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton impressed in their September cameo appearances, and Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Charlie Furbush, and Oliver Perez were effective out of the bullpen. As it stands, the Mariners’ rotation features nearly zero certainty after the top two spots. Some incarnation of Walker, Paxton, Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez, and the newly signed Scott Baker figure to fill out the remaining three rotation spots. Much has been made about the height of Walker’s ceiling, and there’s a good chance Paxton becomes a productive starter down the line, but both are almost complete question marks for 2014 and probably best served starting the year at Triple-A. Maurer and Ramirez are still young and could develop into useful pieces, but unless they’ve improved tremendously this winter, there’s no reason to pencil them in for any more than a bullpen gig. A healthy Baker is a legitimate back end rotation guy, but that’s still to be determined as well. The Brewers did get something resembling a breakout year from Manny Parra in his first full big league season. After nine appearances in 2007, the then 25-year old posted a 4.39 ERA, 4.16 FIP, and 3.81 xFIP over 29 starts and 32 appearances. That would turn out to be his the most productive season of his career thus far, but at the cost of a league minimum salary, nobody was complaining about his performance in 2008. For what it’s worth, Paxton is entering his age 25 season and if he can contribute something resembling Parra’s 1.9 fWAR and contribute over the course of the entire season, that’d be huge for the club. Even when Gallardo went down with injury, the Brew Crew were able to get a decent result out of ten Seth McClung starts. If Walker or Paxton are unable to go for whatever reason, the Mariners’ rotation once again hinges on guys like Ramirez. I’d rather have McClung, thanks. Outside of Sabathia, Milwaukee’s rotation was regarded as far from flashy heading into the 2008 season. There was still some notable hype surrounding Gallardo who was the Brewers’ second round choice in the 2004 draft, though it was less than that associated with Walker currently. Sheets had dealt with injuries the previous two campaigns and Suppan and Bush had yet to established much consistency in their respective games. But, Milwaukee did enter the year with a set of fairly dependable arms and got a little bit of luck aside from the Gallardo injury. The Mariners’ projected 2014 rotation isn’t just a little bit of luck and health away from being Wild Card calibre. Obviously Hart comparing the 2014 Seattle Mariners to the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers wasn’t meant to be analyzed this much. His reasoning could be as simple as the fact that the Mariners are going to hit a lot of home runs this year and will feature several young players with the ability to be difference makers; both are attributes of exciting baseball. The Brewers would go on to lose in the National League Division Series in four games to the Philadelphia Phillies in ’08, a result that seems too far out of the Mariners’ reach at this point. Acquiring David Price would certainly help, but maybe the M’s should allocate most of their available resources to help the outfield and attempt to bring in a Bush or Suppan circa 2008 type of starter instead. Felix and Kuma offer enough star power at the top of the rotation to allow for a Bronson Arroyo to fit in the three spot until Walker or Paxton claim it as their own. Unless Ervin Santana falls into their lap, there’s not much left for free agent starters. All in all, the Mariners may just be in a similar position to where the Brewers were six years ago. A lot will have to go right for the club to be a legitimate playoff contender this year, but a strong step towards fielding a contending team in 2015 may be just as good of a result.
Often considered to be one of the slowest months in terms of meaningful major league transactions, January has seen plenty of them over the years. In fact, the Detroit Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a nine-year deal worth $214 million on January 25, 2012. This month we’ll see a decision from Masahiro Tanaka which will, hopefully, reignite the stagnant starting pitching market with plenty of multi-year deals; some of which won’t occur until February of course. Let’s take a look at some of the notable January transactions the Seattle Mariners have made over the last decade or so. January 16, 2013 — Seattle trades John Jaso to Oakland; Washington trades Mike Morse to Seattle; Oakland trades AJ Cole and Blake Treinen. In the Mariners’ eternal quest to stock home run bats last winter, they shipped their best hitter from the previous year for an outfielder who had only topped 20 home runs once in his career and was due to hit free agency following the season. In Morse’s defence, he did string together three decent seasons with the bat for the Nationals, and never was much of a fielder throughout his career. Injuries also played a role in his lack of production last year, but ultimately, Morse struggled mightily in his return to the Pacific Northwest, and was traded to Baltimore in August. Jaso missed some time with a concussion in his first year in Oakland, but still managed to produce 1.1 bWAR and 1.2 fWAR and is under team control for two more seasons. Both Cole and Treinen have yet to pitch in the majors for the Nationals. January 23, 2012 — Seattle trades Michael Pineda and Jose Campos to New York (AL) for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. At the time, the deal looked pretty darn good for both clubs; the Yanks got a young high upside arm and the M’s got a young high upside bat. Montero had a decent first year in a Mariners uniform hitting .260/.298/.386 with a 90 wRC+, but that now seems like a distant memory. This past year was one to forget for the 24-year old who not only struggled mightily in the majors, he was suspended for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, and dealt with injuries. He’ll likely get the 2014 season to figure things out at Triple-A and become a proper first baseman, but his top prospect potential is fading fast. Pineda has yet to throw a pitch in as a Yankee since a shoulder injury in Spring Training forced him to miss the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He did manage to start ten minor league games in 2013 however, and could see some major league time in ’14 although he’s no sure thing. Campos has to pitch above Single-A for the Yankees while Noesi has struggled in 134 innings pitched for the Mariners over the last two seasons. January 18, 2012 — Seattle signs Oliver Perez to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. At the time, Perez was 30-years old and had missed the entire 2011 season. Of course, a minor league contract bears little risk for a team, but in this case it turned out to be a great gamble. In 29 2/3 innings of work in 2012, the lefty managed a 2.12 ERA and a 2.93 FIP. Perez was resigned for the 2013 campaign for $1.5 million plus incentives and continued to be a solid contributor out of the bullpen. In 53 innings of work he posted a 3.74 ERA which was actually beaten by his peripherals; 3.26 FIP and 3.36 xFIP, good for 0.8 fWAR and 0.6 bWAR. The 32-year old remains unsigned at this time, and there’s still a possibility he resigns in Seattle for at least another year. January 5, 2012 — Seattle signs Hisashi Iwakuma to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million plus incentives. Not much needs to be said about how good of a pick up Iwakuma has been for the Mariners in just two seasons’ time. The Japanese import didn’t require a posting fee to sign in North America since he had already spent ten years in the JPL, and he had received interest from several major league teams before agreeing to wear blue and teal. It’s interesting to note that the Athletics had posted $19.1 million to negotiate with the right-hander the previous winter but talks didn’t materialize. Coming off of a third place finish in the AL Cy Young voting, Iwakuma will play a big role in any success Seattle has in 2014. His $7 million team option for 2015 is almost a lock to be pick up and he will then be arbitration eligible for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. January 20, 2009 — Seattle trades Fabian Williamson to Boston for David Aardsma. The Mariners bought low on Aardsma after he put up three disappointing seasons with three different clubs from 2006-2008. The righty tantalized teams with his ability to rack up strikeouts but did have difficulty with giving away free bags; his 4.29 BB/9 in 2009 was the lowest mark of his career. Aardsma took over the closer role in his first year with Seattle in which he saved 38 games with a 2.51 ERA and 3.01 FIP, good for 1.8 fWAR and 1.7 bWAR. He managed to carry some of that success into 2010 as he saved 31 games, but began to battle with injuries and would eventually miss almost all of the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He has since resurfaced with the New York Mets where he pitched 39 2/3 innings this past season. While he may have only been a two year wonder as a Mariner, his cost was minimal. Williamson was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2006 amateur draft by Seattle and has yet to pitch in the majors. January 26, 2005 — Seattle signs Yuniesky Betancourt as an amateur free agent. As odd as it may be to say it now, the Mariners actually did get a couple of serviceable seasons out of Betancourt when he first joined the club. The slick fielding shortstop impressed many with his glove work and defensive abilities early on, but was never much with the bat. In 2006, his first full major league season, he did manage to hit .289/.310/.370 with a 78 wRC+, good for 1.6 fWAR and 1.8 bWAR. One of the Cuban’s biggest drawbacks was his inability to draw a walk. The owner of a 3.17 percent walk rate in his five seasons in Seattle was only able to slightly improve over the next several seasons to his current career mark of 3.3 percent. Betancourt was dealt to Kansas City in 2009 for a pair of prospects including Dan Cortes, who at the time, was the Royals’ third best prospect according to Baseball America. Cortes managed to pitch just 16 innings for Seattle between 2010-11 however, and hasn’t appeared in the big leagues since. January 8, 2004 — Seattle trades Carlos Guillen to Detroit for Ramon Santiago and Juan Gonzalez, and no, it’s not that Juan Gonzalez. Yep. This one hurt. A lot. Guillen played in three All-Star games over the course of his eight year career with the Tigers, and posted three seasons with 19+ home runs and 85+ runs batted in. He also was good for 18.7 fWAR and 18.6 bWAR over that stretch with the Tigers and a trip to the 2006 World Series. Santiago managed just 27 games with the Mariners between 2004-05 and returned to Detroit prior to the 2006 season and has been with the team ever since. Gonzalez never played a game for the Mariners and was seen playing in Italy as recently as 2012. This deal will no doubt go down as one of the worst moves in Mariners’ history, but at least it allowed for a couple of good years out of Yuniesky Betancourt right? Yeah, I didn’t think you’d buy that one either.