After a brief hibernation period, general manager Jerry Dipoto is back at it. Moments after dealing outfielder Seth Smith for starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, the Seattle Mariners had another deal completed. In comes speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson and to Kansas City goes starter Nate Karns.

As PI’s Luke Arkins wrote earlier, Gallardo offers the potential to improve the rotation but at a cost of an experienced outfield bat. It’s easy enough to look at Dyson as a direct replacement for Smith — and he technically is in 25 and 40-man roster terms — but he brings a different skill set to the table, one that is valued highly by Dipoto and company.

Dyson, a 50th-round pick in the 2006 draft, has spent his entire career in the Royals organization. The 32-year-old made his debut in 2010 but was most recently noted for his role in the Royals’ 2015 World Series championship as a late-inning pinch-runner extraordinaire and defensive replacement.

For his career, which amounts to 1539 plate appearances, the left-hander owns a .260/.325/.353 slash line with an 86 wRC+. He bested that line in 2016 posting a .278/.340/.388 line and a 94 wRC+ — a few ticks below league average for his position. However, speed and defense have always been and remain Dyson’s calling card.

Last season Dyson swiped 30 bags and has averaged just over 31 steals over the past four years. Defensive metrics have been rather fond of the outfielder, crediting him with 19 defensive runs saved last season. The defensive performance helped push Dyson over the 3.0 fWAR mark for the second time in the past three years.

Karns was originally acquired by the Mariners last winter in the multi-player deal that sent Brad Miller to the Tampa Bay Rays. He made 15 starts in 2016 and over 94 and 1/3 innings pitched, including a handful of relief outings, he posted a 5.15 ERA and a 4.05 FIP. His 9.64 strikeouts per nine were mixed with a rather ugly 4.29 walkers per nine innings pitched.

The right-hander missed a good portion of the season dealing with a back injury but the command issues were evident. Having just turned 29-years-old he’s not without upside, and the M’s had little pitching depth to work with after dealing Taijuan Walker, but he figured to be competing for the No. 5 spot in the rotation with Gallardo now on board.

It’s best to look at today’s deals as a whole — the Mariners deal Smith and Karns for Gallardo and Dyson. Arguably the pitching staff lost some upside in Karns but likely gained some floor given Gallardo’s track record as an innings-eater. Losing Smith and his career 112 wRC+ does weaken the lineup, but Dyson figures to make up for that offensive gap in two words: run prevention.

The stolen bases are one thing, but combining Dyson with Leonys Martin and Mitch Haniger figure to give the Mariners one of the best defensive outfields in baseball, perhaps the best. This follows Dipoto’s original plan of building a team that suits Safeco Field. There won’t be anymore sluggers lumbering around the outfield, except for when Nelson Cruz makes his cameos. Instead, more athleticism and runs saved on the other side of the ball will be present.

Defensive metrics can be tricky to decipher in small samples, but all three outfielders pass the eye test with flying colors. Moving Dyson to left field where he is expected to play regularly will hurt his value some as his speed and range will be limited. However, it will be a substantial improvement of Smith’s declining defensive abilities and perhaps more importantly, gives Seattle another legitimate option in center. Martin probably could’ve used a couple more days off last season.

The old adage of if you can’t score more runs, you’d best prevent them is at play here. Seattle did make a significant addition to the lineup with Jean Segura inserted at shortstop and the top of the lineup, but otherwise a similar offense will return in 2017. And expecting all three of Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Cruz to repeat their performances is foolish. They’re all great hitters, but some regression can be expected.

With a similar offense and a terrible class of free agent pitchers, it made sense for the Mariners to emphasize the value an improved defense brings. The thing about having a stronger outfield is that it can make a below-average rotation better. This may well be what Dipoto is counting on given the question marks existing in the rotation.

Given the current standing of the roster, we can estimate the the Mariners will roll out lineups that may resemble these in 2017:

Projected 2017 Lineups
vs. RHP vs. LHP
Jarrod Dyson Jean Segura
Jean Segura Danny Valencia
 Robinson Cano Robinson Cano
Nelson Cruz Nelson Cruz
Kyle Seager Kyle Seager
Mike Zunino Mike Zunino
Dan Vogelbach Mitch Haniger
Leonys Martin Leonys Martin
Ben Gamel Jarrod Dyson

We could quibble with how the lineups will round out or who hits in the No. 2 hole against lefties, but what we see here is a much more balanced lineup than in year’s past. There certainly projects to be enough power, but there’s finally a couple of legitimate leadoff options in Segura and Dyson.

The first base and right field platoons offer some upside and Valencia’s flexibility will be utilized in the corner spots. Depending on how the bench shakes out, there’s the ability to sit Martin or Dyson against a particularly difficult left-hander.

Losing Smith’s consistent bat and Karns’ upside hurts, but it’s hard to find an angle where for the purposes of 2017, the Mariners roster isn’t better today than it was yesterday. Some more pitching depth would be nice, but it appears that Dipoto finally has the outfield together that he wants.…

HERNANDEZ Since debuting as a 19-year-old in 2005, Mariners ace Felix Hernandez has witnessed a lot of losing in Seattle. From the day “King Felix” debuted until the end of last season, the Mariners have posted a dreadful 772-904 win-loss record.

During the King’s reign, the Mariners have zero postseason appearances and entered September with a realistic shot at postseason play just twice — 2007 and 2014.

Knowing that one of the best pitchers in the game — who opted to forgo free agency and stay in Seattle — has yet to toe the rubber during a postseason contest doesn’t sit well with Felix’s loyal subjects.

Fans lament that the Mariners have never surrounded Felix with a strong supporting cast. When you look at the team’s record, it’s hard to disagree. This season could be different though.

New boss, different results
Since arriving in Seattle last September, one of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s stated goals was to build a competitive team for 2016. The results, thus far, are encouraging — an impressive 21-13 record and first place in the American League West division.

Sure, it’s only May and the Mariners have played just 34 games. But, entering today, they’re off to the third-best start in the franchise’s 40-year history. In playoff-starved Seattle, this is cause for optimism in some circles.

Best 34-game Starts in Mariners History
Year 34-game record Season Record Final Standings Comments
2001 25-9 116-46 First Lost ALCS (4-1)
2002 24-10 93-69 Third
1997 21-13 90-72 First Lost LDS (3-1)
2003 21-13 93-69 Second 2 GB for Wild Card
2016 21-13 ? ? ?

Undoubtedly, there’s a lot of season remaining — 89-percent to be exact. Yet, it’s hard to ignore such a strong start by a club that hasn’t experienced playoff baseball since 2001. Could this finally be the year that Felix reaches the postseason? Perhaps. But, what if he’s incapable of pitching like a “King” anymore?

Is the end near?
The notion that Hernandez may no longer be capable of being “Felix-like” is a genuine concern among some fans. They fret that their King has developed chinks in his armor an can no longer perform like an elite-level starter. What exactly is fueling this worry?

Some talking heads cite Felix’s decreasing fastball velocity and his unusually high walk-rate as evidence that his reign is nearing an end. They believe that Hernandez’s 2178 innings pitched — most by any active major league pitcher since 2006 — is the reason behind the “un-Felix-like” start to 2016.

Hearing and reading this kind of analysis — the incomplete, lazy kind — over the airwaves and via the blogosphere has raised the anxiety level among some Seattle fans.

The King falling on his sword now would be a worst-case scenario for Mariners faithful two reasons. First, no one wants to see a star declining at the young age of 30, especially one as beloved as Felix.

On top of that, there’s a prevailing belief among fans and pundits that teams can’t seriously contend without an established ace. Therefore, no King equals no postseason this year.

Is it actually true that teams can’t win without an ace? Would the Mariners season be doomed if Felix doesn’t bounce back to his normal level of performance? I don’t believe so. Please allow me to demonstrate why I feel that way.

What’s an ace? 
There’s no clear-cut definition of what constitutes an ace. My definition is a starting pitcher who produces a value of four or more wins above replacement (WAR) during a season. In some years, 18 pitchers reach that mark. In others, it might be 22. Bottom line; my idea of an ace is a top-20-ish pitcher.

Now that I’ve established my standard, let’s look at several recent postseason contestants that didn’t have a pitcher who fit my +4 WAR criteria. To help illustrate each rotation’s depth, I included the top-five pitchers who started during at least 90-percent of their appearances.

Please note that players acquired in-season have an asterisk next to their name and their WAR is a season total — not just the value produced for their new team. Additionally, World Series winners are in yellow.

Postseason Teams Without Ace (2011-2015)
Team Year Wins 1 2 3 4 5
KCR 2015 95
Volquez (2.5) Young (2.5) Cueto (2.1) * Ventura (1.9) Duffy (1.5)
NYY 2015 87 Tanaka (3.0) Eovaldi (2.2) Severino (1.9) Pineda (1.7) Sabathia (1.0)
KCR 2014 89 Duffy (3.6) Shields (3.3) Ventura (3.2) Vargas (2.4) Guthrie (1.1)
BAL 2014 96 Tillman (2.4) Gonzalez (2.1) Norris (1.9) Chen (1.8) Gausman (1.0)
PIT 2014 88 Volquez (2.5) Liriano (1.6) Worley (1.6) Cole (1.2) Morton (0.4)
ATL 2013 96 Medlen (3.3) Teheran (3.2) Minor (3.1) Hudson (1.0) Hale (0.7)
CLE 2013 92 Masterson (3.4) Jimenez (2.7) Kluber (1.4) Salazar (1.2) Kazmir (1.1)
BAL 2012 93 Hammel (3.0) Chen (2.6) Tillman (1.6) Saunders (0.8) Britton (0.1)
MIL 2011 96 Marcum (3.0) Wolf (2.6) Gallardo (2.3) Greinke (1.5) Narveson (0.6)
STL 2011 90
Carpenter (3.5) Lohse (2.2) Garcia (0.7) Jackson (2.9) * Westbrook (-0.2)
* Deadline deal acquisition                  World Series champion

Who needs an ace?
As you can see, several very good teams didn’t have a top-shelf hurler on their staff, yet they found ways to win games. In some cases, many games. The Kansas City Royals are the best example.

The Royals’ success is proof that a team can reach the postseason, and even win the World Series, without an elite-level pitcher. It’s worth noting that they tried to add one at the trading deadline — Johnny Cueto. However, he didn’t deliver “ace-like” results during the remainder of the season. Yet, Kansas City won the Fall Classic.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that having an ace doesn’t matter. Given a choice, I would’ve taken the 2015 New York Mets’ rotation over the Royals’ staff. In the end though, Kansas City overcame the Mets’ superior starting pitching to win it all.

Why not the Mariners?
Let’s imagine for a moment that Felix has truly started his decline. I haven’t seen compelling proof that’s the case, but, let’s suspend reality for moment and imagine.

In the “Bizarro World” I just created, Hernandez delivers a 2.5-or-higher WAR — far below his career-norm. Could the Mariners compete with such a meager contribution from the former King? Of course.

Seattle has a rotation that’s deeper and better than several of the previously listed postseason clubs. Look at the previous and current value of the arms Dipoto has amassed for this season, including Mike Montgomery — who’s in the bullpen — and James Paxton at Class-AAA Tacoma.

Seattle Mariners Rotations (2014-2016)
Player 2013 2014 2015 2016
Felix Hernandez  5.2 6.8 4.4 0.6
Hisashi Iwakuma  7.0 2.5 2.4 0.3
Wade Miley 1.3 0.8 2.5 -0.2
Nate Karns -0.4 0.1 2.4 0.4
Taijuan Walker  0.1 0.9 1.1 0.3
James Paxton
1.1 1.4 0.6
Mike Montgomery 0.5 0.3 *
* Value accrued as reliever

Let’s assume that Taijuan Walker and Nate Karns surpass their 2015 value — a reasonable expectation for both pitchers. Plus, Wade Miley and Hisashi Iwakuma manage to deliver a combined value similar to last season’s total for the two pitchers. Why wouldn’t this rotation be competitive? It wouldn’t be great, but it’d be solid.

Obviously, there’s more to reaching the postseason than having a solid rotation. Otherwise, the Mariners wouldn’t be in the midst of a 14-season playoff drought. But, unlike other years, Seattle has a more balanced roster in place — thanks to Dipoto and his staff.

At the start of play today, the Mariners are above league-average in runs scored, playing solid defense, and their bullpen is a strength. With so much going right for the club, the rotation doesn’t have to be stellar — just solid. Having an ace would be nice, but not critical.

I have no idea whether Felix Hernandez’s best days are behind him. Perhaps, he’s adjusting to being on the wrong side of 30. Maybe, it’s just a case of dealing with an uncharacteristically slow start — no one outside of the Mariners organization knows for sure.

What I do know is that the roster assembled by Dipoto has the potential to contend, assuming it can avoid health complications and that the bullpen doesn’t crater. Those are big “ifs,” but the 47-year-old has demonstrated throughout his career that he’s capable of pivoting when faced with adversity.

Finally
Felix perfectoAlthough I had no rooting interest for the team he represented, I found great pleasure in watching Ray Bourque finally hoist the Stanley Cup at the end of his Hall of Fame career. Similarly, it was nice to see Peyton Manning go out on top after a storied career.

The same sentiment applies to Felix. Someone who’s been so great for so long deserves to perform on his sport’s biggest stage.

Perhaps, the Mariners will fall back in the standings and not contend by year’s end. Personally, I believe they can compete and end their league-leading postseason drought — if they can avoid the injury bug and the bullpen remains viable.

Regardless of how the season unfolds, Mariners fans should find some measure of solace in knowing that Felix no longer has to carry the club on his shoulders in order for them to win. One of these years — hopefully soon — his teammates will be the ones carrying him on their shoulders, as they celebrate winning the ultimate prize.

That would be a storybook ending fit for a King.…

With 30 games behind them, the Seattle Mariners sit atop the American League (AL) West division standings with an 18-12 win-loss record. That’s right; the club that’s failed to be relevant for most of the last decade is actually off to a quick start.

Every sophisticated baseball fan knows that a good record with less than 20-percent of the season completed means nothing — especially with the Mariners.

For those not familiar with Seattle’s plight, the situation has become so frustrating that having a winning record on Mother’s Day is newsworthy. After all, we’re talking about an organization that hasn’t started this strongly since 2003, when they were 19-11 in 2003. But, it gets worse.

Mariner fans have dealt with perceived ownership indifference, plus a great deal of losing and disappointment since the club’s inaugural season in 1977. Seattle has recorded just 12 winning seasons and hasn’t appeared in the postseason since their record 116-win season of 2001.

Reasons for optimism
With the bar set so low for so long, it’s understandable that many fans are taking a wait-and-see approach with this year’s edition of the Mariners. Yet, there’s something going on at Safeco Field that’s been a rare occurrence for quite some time. The home team is playing good, fundamental baseball and — more importantly — they’re winning games.

There are several reasons for Seattle’s early season emergence. First, their offense is averaging 4.47 runs-per-game, which is second best in the AL entering today. Moreover, their pitching staff is in the top-five of every significant pitching category. This blend of productive offense and superb pitching could lead the club to postseason contention, assuming it lasts.

Whether the Mariners can sustain their early season success will be determined later — much later. Nevertheless, it’s obvious that general manager Jerry Dipoto’s approach to building a competitive major league roster has yielded early positive returns.

Dipoto’s efforts to reconstruct his club’s roster haven’t been limited to just pitching and hitting though. He’s added “layers of depth” and athleticism to his 40-man roster. Plus, his many deals helped improve another weak link that’s been as troublesome as the club’s run scoring in recent years — defense.

See ball, catch ball
So, just how bad was the club’s fielding and how much has it improved at this very early stage of the season? To get a feel, let’s do a year-by year comparison of how the team’s defense ranked — by position — since the 2011 season using defensive runs saved (DRS) as our comparative metric. As you can see for yourself, the Mariners have struggled with reaching, catching, and throwing the ball for several years.

Seattle Mariners Defensive Rankings (Based on DRS)
Year Team C 1B 2B SS 3B RF CF LF OF
2011 15 27 15 4 1 16 21 15 21 21
2012  9 25 12 5 1 21 5 30 17 23
2013 30 30 26 17 15 24 27 30 30 30
2014 19 26 22 18 11 4 13 20 10 13
2015 29 11 26 26 23 15 26 30 25 30
2016 16 25 9 8 14 12 21 5 20 13

DR what?
For those not familiar with DRS, it quantifies a defensive player’s value by expressing how many runs they saved or lost their team compared to the average player at that position. For instance, +10 DRS recorded by a left fielder means that he was 10 runs better than the average left fielder. If you having a craving for more detailed information about DRS, I suggest reading this article found at FanGraphs.

[pullquote]“We see ourselves as a run-prevention club. You can create a lot of advantage playing good defense.” — Jerry Dipoto[/pullquote]

The fact that Seattle fielders have already shown signs of improvement shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the Mariners general manager since his arrival in the Emerald City. When talking to David Laurila of FanGraphs in mid-November, the 47-year-old executive characterized the team’s defense as “our biggest area in need of improvement.”

So, what changes occurred between since last season that’s improved the defensive outlook in Seattle? A combination of familiar faces and new names.

Fixing the outfield
First and foremost, the acquisition of Leonys Martin helped transform Seattle’s outfield defense from the worst in baseball to league-average during the early days of 2016.

When Dipoto acquired the 28-year-old from the Texas Rangers during the offseason, he told Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune “I think we get one of the premier defensive center fielders in baseball.” There’s no doubt that Martin is an elite defender. Defensive metrics prove it and so does the eyeball test.

Why did the Mariners center field defense rank so low last season? After all, the general perception was that Opening Day starter Austin Jackson was a good defender. There were two reasons — Jackson was closer to average, based on DRS, and the club didn’t have an adequate replacement to fill in for him.

There were two points during 2015 when Jackson wasn’t the everyday center fielder for the Mariners — when suffered an ankle sprain last May and after his trade to the Chicago Cubs on August 31. Both times, the Mariners utilized use below-average defenders in his stead.

Look at the players who manned center field last season and their respective DRS. If you were initially surprised to discover that Mariners center fielders ranked so poorly last season, the following breakdown — by player — may help you understand.

2015 Mariners Center Field Defense
Player  Games Innings DRS
Austin Jackson 107  899 -2
Brad Miller 20 146 -10
Dustin Ackley 21 139 -1
Shawn O’Malley 14 90 0.0
Justin Ruggiano 15 88 -6
James Jones 20 82 -5
Ketel Marte 2 14 -1
Stefen Romero 1 4 -1

This is where Martin helps make the entire outfield better. First, he’s a superior defender compared to Jackson. Consequently, he covers a lot of ground — a prerequisite for Dipoto during his search. Being able to cover a lot of real estate in spacious Safeco Field is especially critical because the corner outfield spots are better, but still below average.

While the combination of Nori Aoki, Franklin Gutierrez, Seth Smith, and Nelson Cruz represents a slight improvement in the corner outfield spots, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dipoto added an outfielder who can both hit and play good defense if the club finds itself in contention.

Better around the horn
A healthy Robinson Cano has already been a difference maker at second base. Yes, Cano will occasionally make have a mental lapse, like forgetting the number of outs. But, to date, his defense is far better than last season when he was suffering with a number of physical ailments.

Starting the season with Ketel Marte as the regular shortstop has proven beneficial to the Mariners. The 22-year-old has also suffered a few mental lapses, which are traceable back to his youth. However, he’s delivered the best shortstop defense since the days of Brendan Ryan. Marte isn’t an elite defender like Ryan. Nevertheless, he’s proven far better than recent shortstops.

[pullquote] “To win, you’ve got to pitch. To have good pitching, you’ve got to defend.” — Mariners manager Scott Servais [/pullquote]

At this early stage of the season, Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee have been better than the cast that patrolled first base last season — Logan Morrison, Jesus Montero, and Mark Trumbo. Lind has superior range to Lee, although the Korean import has proven to have good hands. This area is likely to be average, at best, as the season progresses.

Final thoughts
It’s too early to tell whether the Mariners defensive improvements — or their winning ways — can continue for an entire 162-game season. Yet, it’s encouraging to see the organization place a renewed emphasis on defense and immediately enjoy the benefits — albeit in small sample sizes – of adopting a more practical philosophy.

The Mariners defense has a long way to go before it becomes an elite unit — like the Kansas City Royals. However, if their defenders continue to be run-prevention assets — rather than liabilities — catching pennant fever in Seattle might be possible this season. Wouldn’t that be a welcomed change for Mariners faithful?

Cain slidingThe upcoming three-game series between the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Mariners gave me reason to pause for a moment and consider the trajectory of both ball clubs since the end of the 2014 season.

Seattle finished with just two fewer wins than the Royals, who went on to win the American League (AL) Championship before losing the World Series to the San Francisco Giants. After doing unexpectedly well in 2014, the Mariners and Royals entered last season with many pundits projecting a deep postseason run for both clubs.

Unfortunately, for Seattle fans, the Mariners never approached contention and fired their general manager before the season’s conclusion. Conversely, the Royals went on to savor October glory by winning their first Fall Classic victory since 1985 by defeating the team that I rooted for as a kid — the New York Mets.

From a standard statistical standpoint, the 2015 Royals offense is an enigma to me. Take a look at their AL rankings in various offensive categories and I’ll try to explain.

2015 Royals Offensive Rankings (AL)
Team Hits 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG Total Bases
KCR 1497 (2) 300 (2) 42 (4) 138 (14) 383 (15) 973 (15) .269 (3) .322 (7) .412 (8) 2298 (7)
Lge Avg 1411 278 31 176 470 1219 .255 .318 .412 2276
American League rankings in parenthesis

I’m not trying to portray the Royals offense as a mystery for the ages. However, their approach is unique. For example, they ranked near the bottom of the league in home runs, yet were above league-average for total bases. Additionally, Kansas City was the only team to finish in the top-five for batting average, but not on-base percentage (OBP). Their relatively low OBP is a result of having the fewest walks in the AL.

Despite going at their work differently, the Royals were successful at generating runs. Certainly, ranking near the top of the league in hits and having the fewest strikeouts helped fuel offense’s engine. Nevertheless, there’s another key offensive element that’s worth noting — speed.

I’m not talking about just stealing bases though. Yes, the Royals ranked number-two in that category last year. But, there’s more going on with this ball club than swiping bags. To be honest, it didn’t dawn on me until I was watching Kansas City take on the Mets on Opening Day. Once the light bulb went on, I couldn’t believe that I didn’t see it sooner.

During their contest with their World Series opponent, the Royals created four runs and won the game without an extra base hit. How did they do it? By excelling on the base paths when the ball is in play. Their aggressive — yet smart — base running approach has proven to be a profound difference maker for Kansas City during their current run of success.

Last season, the Royals posted the second-highest extra base taken percentage (XBT%) in the AL. For those wondering, extra base taken percentage represents how often a base runner advanced more than one base on a single and more than two bags on a double. At the other end of the spectrum, the Mariners were woeful at advancing on the base paths.

Let’s see just how bad Seattle base runners were last year by comparing them to the World Series champions. In addition to extra base taken percentage, I included each club’s success rate at scoring from first base on a double and from second base after a single.

2015 Royals/Mariners Base Running Comparisons
Team Runs/Gm SB SB% XBT% 1B to HP Double % 2B to HP Single %
KCR 4.47 (6)
104 (2)
75% (2)
44% (2)
44.1% (4) 69.9% (1)
SEA  4.05 (13)
 69 (11)
 61% (14)
 34% (15)
 21.2% (15)  50.7% (12)
American League rankings in parenthesis

Certainly, the Royals were superior to the Mariners in many ways last season. They had a superior bullpen, ranked near the top of the league defensively, and excelled at putting bat to ball. Seattle lagged well behind in all of these areas. Still, Kansas City’s ability to create runs with their feet gave them a distinct edge against their opponents.

When watching the Royals take on the Mariners at Safeco Field this weekend, watch how often a Kansas City player is able to take the extra base on a ball they or a teammate has put into play. It’s an approach could work for Seattle too.

Mariners’ general manager Jerry Dipoto has already started to move his roster in that direction by adding fleet-footed players like Leonys Martin, Nori Aoki, and Luis Sardinas during the offseason. The combination of these three players, plus a full season from Ketel Marte enhances his club’s ability to create more offense by having more players in the lineup who are capable of taking the extra base when a defender is slow to retrieve a ball or doesn’t have a strong throwing arm.

Acquiring quick players may be a foreign concept to many Pacific Northwest baseball fans, who’ve become used to the Mariners being more intent on adding sluggers. Those kind of players tend to be “station-to-station” runners, who generally clog the base paths. The new regime has definitely taken a fresh approach to roster building.

I’m not suggesting that Dipoto is attempting to create a west coast version of the Royals. But, he’s already on record saying that improving his roster’s athleticism and taking advantage of the Safeco Field dimensions are priorities. Adding the players that I’ve already mentioned accomplishes both goals and adds a new dimension to the Mariners offense — speed.

Whether the Mariners can be as successful as the Royals will be determined later, especially with so much uncertainty surrounding their bullpen. However, if the club is able to improve its extra base hit percentage from last season’s dreadful showing, Seattle will be rewarded with more runs-per-game and a higher win total. That’s why I say “Run Mariners! Run!”

 …

Rodney 2 At some stage of their baseball career, a relief pitcher was no longer viewed as starting pitcher material by an organization. Perhaps, they couldn’t consistently repeat their delivery, didn’t possess a viable third pitch, or had physical limitations due to their injury history.

These “flaws” can make it challenging to forecast the performance of many relievers, especially during stressful game situations. That’s why baseball analysts frequently use the term “volatility” when describing the inconsistent nature of relief pitching.

“Volatile” is certainly an appropriate way to describe Seattle Mariners relievers during the past two seasons. After being a strength in 2014, the club’s bullpen became one of the worst in the majors last year despite the fact that the cast of characters was largely the same.

I found the Mariners’ regression to be intriguing. What Mariners experienced the largest declines in performance and reliability? How did Seattle’s meltdown stack-up when compared to other teams? Has any team been able to stave off the volatility so often mentioned by baseball experts? How did the new batch of relievers that Seattle has imported this offseason do last year? With these questions on my mind, I set out to get answers. What I found will be considered enlightening and/or exasperating to many Mariner fans.

Weighing reliever contributions
In order to simplify the review process, I wanted to use a lone statistic to illustrate the impact that a reliever can have on winning games. It didn’t have to be a perfect, all-inclusive stat. Just something that would help me gauge a reliever’s effectiveness in tight situations. Fortunately for me, Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons recently noted that FanGraphs has long advocated using Win Probability Added (WPA) to weigh relievers.

I quickly realized that WPA was exactly what I had in mind; a cumulative metric that represents a hitter’s or pitcher’s impact on the win expectancy (WE) of his team during plate appearances over the span of a season. Players are proportionately credited or debited based on their actions and the scenario. For example, a home run in the bottom of the eighth inning will earn a hitter more credit and the pitcher a larger debit than a homer in the first.

Using WPA is especially helpful when looking at a reliever because the best relievers are used during the most crucial moments of a contest. Consequently, elite relievers will have a higher WPA than most starters, while less reliable or inexperienced relief pitchers will have a low or negative WPA. If you’d like to know more about win probability, David Appelman of FanGraphs provides an explanation and additional links to WPA explanations here.

How bad was it?
After having the sixth best bullpen WPA in 2014, the Mariners slipped to number-24 last season. To see who regressed and how much during that two-year span, let’s first look at the Seattle relievers who pitched at least five innings for the club in both 2014 and 2015. Very quickly, it becomes apparent who did well and who were the most “volatile” relievers.

Seattle Mariners Bullpen Comparison (2014-2015)
Name 2014 WPA
2015 WPA
Delta Comments
Fernando Rodney 1.5  -1.2
 -2.7
Traded
Carson Smith 0.4   2.2
  1.8
Traded
Charlie Furbush 0.1
  0.5
  0.4
On team — recovering from injury
Tom Wilhelmsen  1.9
  1.5
 -0.4
Traded
Yoervis Medina  0.0   0.6   0.6 Traded
Danny Farquhar
 1.8
 -1.9
 -3.7
Traded
Joe Beimel  0.7
-0.3
 -1.0
Free Agent
Dominic Leone
 0.4
-1.1
 -1.5
Traded

The only pitchers with a positive WPA in 2015 were the versatile Tom Wilhelmsen, rookie Carson Smith, the injured Charlie Furbush, and Yoervis Medina – who traded to the Chicago Cubs in May, Otherwise, the remaining 2014 holdovers were disappointments.

Clearly, the unreliability of Opening Day closer Fernando Rodney and middle-reliever Danny Farquhar played a huge role in the club’s slide. After bursting onto the scene in 2014 as a rookie, Dominic Leone was very ineffective during limited time with the Mariners last season.

To compound matters, Medina was traded to the Chicago Cubs in May in exchange for catcher Welington Castillo. Just 15 days later, Leone was sent with Castillo to the Arizona Diamondbacks for slugger Mark Trumbo and starter/reliever Vidal Nuno.

Misery loves company
The ebb and flow of relief pitcher performance isn’t a “same old Mariners” thing; it happens across the league in both a positive and negative manner. Take a look at the four bullpens that joined Seattle in taking the biggest step backwards in 2015.

Five Teams with Most Bullpen Regression (2014-2015)
Team 2014 WPA
2015 WPA
Delta
Oakland Athletics 1.7 -7.8 -9.5
Seattle Mariners 5.5 -1.3 -6.8
Atlanta Braves 1.8 -3.9 -5.7
Washington Nationals 4.4 -0.6 -5.0
Miami Marlins 0.8 -3.2 -4.0

Of the five teams listed above, only the Mariners and Washington Nationals were considered strong postseason contenders entering last season. Yet, both clubs were let down by their respective bullpens.

During this offseason, the rebuilding Atlanta Braves and enigmatic Miami Marlins have been relatively inactive in the reliever market. Conversely, the Oakland Athletics, Nationals, and the Mariners have been aggressively retooling their respective relief staffs.

The new guys
WPA isn’t a predictive metric and can’t be used quantify a player’s talent level. Nevertheless, I thought it’d be interesting to review how the Mariners’ bullpen candidates currently on their 40-man roster have improved/regressed over the last two seasons. Unfortunately for Mariner fans, the numbers won’t generate much enthusiasm.

Seattle Mariners Bullpen Candidates
Name 2014 WPA
2015 WPA
Steve Cishek  2.6 -2.8
Joaquin Benoit  2.8  1.2
Charlie Furbush  0.1  0.5
Tony Zych MiLB
 0.2
Evan Scribner  0.0 -1.4
Vidal Nuno -0.3 -0.2
Justin De Fratus  0.9 -1.2
Ryan Cook -0.3 -0.1
Cody Martin -1.0 -0.7
Mayckol Guaipe MiLB -1.0
David Rollins MiLB -0.4

It appears that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto is banking on reliever volatility and bounce back performances because his projected eighth inning set-up man – Joaquin Benoit – is the only current Mariner reliever who had a good 2015 season. Everyone else either had a down year or was a rookie in 2015.

Dipoto’s new closer – Steve Cishek – had the worst WPA among major league relievers in 2015. When Seattle signed the side-arming right-hander, Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill commented that the club would be “counting on him to get back to where he was the previous seasons.”

Seeing the win probability numbers for Cishek and the rest of the relief staff will likely infuriate fans, especially after watching the team’s two best relievers – Smith and Wilhelmsen – be used as trade chips during the offseason.

The above names won’t be the only candidates who could find themselves in the mix for a bullpen spot. As I mentioned earlier, there are times when a club determines that a starter would be more effective in a relief role; even if it were only on a temporary basis. Mike Montgomery – who is out of minor league options – could be a candidate for a left-handed reliever spot, if he doesn’t earn a rotation spot or isn’t traded.

Former number-two overall draft pick Danny Hultzen has been converted to a reliever after suffering several injury setbacks. He may not be in the mix on Opening Day, but doesn’t exclude him from being an option for the club later in the season.

The Mariners will also have non-roster camp invitees to help generate organizational depth. To date, the club has invited prospect Paul Fry, plus several pitchers with major league relief experience – Casey Coleman, Blake Parker, and Donn Roach. It’s worth noting that Roach may be viewed as rotation depth by the organization, but he does have relief experience. Also, right-hander Adrian Sampson, who finished the season with Tacoma has been invited to camp.

Seeing so many unfamiliar names and unproven performers may frustrate the Mariners fan base. But, there are plenty of examples of teams who’ve turned around their bullpen in just one offseason. It happens every year.

Comeback kids
Here’s a look at the five most improved bullpens from last season. Several of the ball clubs listed below had a far worse WPA in 2014 than Seattle’s tally from last season (-1.4) and went on to reach the postseason.

Five Most Improved Bullpens (2014-20015)
Team 2014 WPA
2015 WPA
Delta
Pittsburgh Pirates  3.7 11.8 8.1
Chicago White Sox -5.3  1.3 6.6
Arizona Diamondbacks -1.7  3.8 5.5
Texas Rangers -0.1  5.0 5.1
Houston Astros -4.6  0.5 5.1

The Pittsburgh Pirates made the biggest improvement last year and maintained the best WPA in the majors too. It’s worthwhile noting that their 2014 bullpen was also solid – their 2014 WPA would have ranked number-10 last season. The Pittsburgh relievers were good and then became much better.

Two of the Mariners’ divisional rivals – the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros – were on the list and reached the postseason. Despite their success last year, both clubs have added key relievers during the offseason. The Rangers added Wilhelmsen, while the Astros acquired closer Ken Giles from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Houston’s 0.5 WPA doesn’t seem that impressive on the surface, but their late season bullpen collapse (-2.0 WPA in September) is the reason for the low season total. Since WPA is cumulative throughout the season, a bad stretch can significantly influence the overall tally.

In the Astros’ case, their WPA was 2.4 on September 1. If their season ended on that day, they would have ranked tenth in the majors rather than where they finished the season – number-19. That explains their eagerness to strengthen the back-end of their bullpen with Giles.

Championship material
The Kansas City Royals have avoided dramatic swings in bullpen performance during recent years – they’ve sustained their success through four seasons. The following table identifies every Royals pitcher who was used exclusively as a reliever and pitched at least 30 innings for the club during that span. I’ve also included WPA ranking and the reliever’s combined salaries for each season.

It’s important to note that Luke Hochevar missed the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery. So, his 2014 salary of $5.21 million wasn’t included above. If Hochevar’s pay was included in the 2014 total, the 2015 jump in salaries wouldn’t appear as dramatic. Either way, it’s clear that the cost of maintaining a strong bullpen has become increasingly expensive for the Royals.

Although there are Royal relievers who’ve been with the team for several or all four seasons, names changed in each season. Going into 2016, Kansas City will experience more turnover. The club non-tendered former closer Greg Holland after he suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament last season. Plus, Ryan Madson and Franklin Morales became free agents when their deals expired. Just today, the club designated Louis Coleman for assignment after he spent most of 2015 with Class-AAA Omaha. The Royals’ primary offseason bullpen addition to date has been free agent Joakim Soria.

I’m sure some Seattle fans will see the amount of money that the Royals obligated for their bullpen and lament that the Mariners should follow suit. But, it’s not that simple. Two pitchers – Holland and Wade Davis – accounted for 61-percent of the $24.8 million used on relievers listed above.

The lone reliever with a long-term deal is Davis, who signed a six-year/$27.6 million contract when he was a starting pitcher with the Tampa Bay Rays. The only other multi-year deal for a reliever is Hochevar’s two-year contract. Both Davis’ and Hochevar’s pacts expire after next season. Everyone else is either arbitration-eligible or on a one-year contract. That means that the Royals can walk away from any of these pitchers – as they did with Holland – if they don’t perform or become injured.

Final thoughts
Obviously, the Royals enjoyed bullpen success by having talented relievers on their roster. However, the sustainability of that success is at least partially due to the fact that the organization hasn’t over-committed years or dollars to an individual reliever. That’s why amassing inexpensive, live-armed relief pitchers – who have minor league options remaining – makes sense for Seattle in 2016.

Optimally, relievers will provide value for the entire season. But, if a big leaguer under-performs or regresses, having replacement arms stockpiled at Class-AAA Tacoma will afford the Mariners the flexibility to interchange pitchers until they find a suitable substitute or while they wait for the demoted hurler to get back on track in Tacoma.

As Jason noted during a recent edition of the Sandmeyer and Churchill podcast, Dipoto and team president Ken Mather are intent on the team being “competitive” in 2016, but the club hasn’t taken a “win-now at any cost” approach that would jeopardize the organization’s future. By not over-committing resources to a veteran reliever in the offseason, Seattle has maintained the financial and roster flexibility to add talent from outside the organization – if they find themselves in a pennant race at-or-near the all-star break.

This practical approach won’t sit well with playoff-starved Mariner fans. Nevertheless, it’s a logical strategy for a ball club that’s trying to become viable, while restructuring their organization into a sustainable winner.

 

 …

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bubble
Detroit
Cleveland
Atlanta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Ace on the Market
With Bob Nightengale’s report that the Detroit Tigers are preparing to discuss trading ace left-hander David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

Price hitting the market could have an impact on the prices for other starters, especially Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels and Jeff Samardzija. I’m not sure if Price’s availability would increase or decrease the value of the others expected to be on the market, or perhaps do nothing. The first one to be moved could kinda-sorta set the market. Price could, however, take a team out of the market for one of the others, particularly the other rentals — Scott Kazmir, Cueto, Samardzija — and reduce the return their clubs ultimately receive.

For example, maybe the best chance for Chicago White Sox to max out on Samardzija’s value is to pit, say, the Dodgers, Cubs and Rangers against one another — just for example, not assuming interest or fit here. If the Cubs land price, not only does it remove a club from the bidding, it removes specific talents from the equation. It becomes a two-team bidding war, not three, and the potential asking price from the Cubs is deleted.

As for which clubs appears as fits for Price? Any contender this side of Washington could work. The Dodgers may prefer Hamels since he’s under club control beyond 2015 and Zack Greinke may opt out at season’s end. Clubs such as Tampa Bay may not have the inclination to add a little salary on top of the trade cost to reacquire their former ace and No. 1 pick. The Twins may be in the same boat. Some clubs may not be likely matches in terms of talent inventory, possibly including Baltimore and the Angels.

As for Cespedes, he could fit what the Angels would like to do offensively, though a left-handed stick makes more sense. They have been linked to Jay Bruce. Gerardo Parra is a better fit — less trade cost, no future commitment. The Halos reportedly prefer a hitter they can use beyond 2015, however.

If the Tigers are sellers, though, Price and Cespedes aren’t the lone potential pieces GM Dave Dombrowski could deal. Outfielder Rajai Davis, right-hander Joakim Soria and catcher Alex Avila could make sense to move, too. If they aren’t contending, there’s no point in holding tight to pending free agents. Avila’s father is one of Dombrowski’s assistants, so that situation may be handled differently than some others, but Avila could bring back a useful piece or two, especially considering the high cost of catching.

Shortstop Thoughts
Several clubs have been after help at shortstop since long before the season started. San Diego and the Mets are two examples. The Pirates, with the injuries to Jordy Mercer, Pedro Alvarez and Josh Harrison, now could use a third baseman or a shortstop.

It’s a difficult position to fill in Major league Baseball, and always has been. The Yankees, Dodgers, Nationals, Rays, Cubs and Orioles have received very little offense from the position.

The Dodgers could call on Corey Seager to help at the position and the Rays, Cubs and Orioles don’t appear to be in any hurry to go outside the organization. Baltimore just signed Everth Cabrera for some depth.

The Padres are not currently being thought of as buyers so any acquisition at shortstop has to be about 2016 and beyond. The Rangers would love to get rid of Elvis Andrus‘ contract, but it’s difficult to imagine that occurs. Perhaps a club is willing to take a piece of it, however.

Outside of Troy Tulowitzki, Jean Segura may be the best player on the shortstop market, all apologies to Alexei Ramirez, and tertiary names such as Jose Ramirez, Chris Taylor and Cliff Pennington have limited value, although Ramirez and Taylor bring club control and low salaries with them.

The shortstop situation — many clubs with a need, pretty much no club with a surplus of a shortstop capable of providing everyday value — begs the question: Would it behoove a club with a solid, under-club-control option at shortstop be wise to take advantage and make theirs available, even without another answer of their own? For teams not close to contention, this is absolutely a good idea — at least see what clubs might pay. For others, those contending now and those with even a chance to contend in 2016, not having a viable option after the current starter.makes it difficult, but still worth casting a net.

That includes clubs such as Miami with Adeiny Hechavarria, Seattle with Brad Miller and certainly the Cubs with Starlin Castro. You simply never know what a club may be willing to part with when a starting-quality shortstop with years of club control are on the hook.…

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

Chances Yasiel Puig is Traded
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, who is well-connected around baseball, writes there is growing belief in Los Angeles that Yasiel Puig is “losing popularity” with his teammates, per a league source. Cafardo suggests one possibility if the Dodgers look to move their right fielder may be Philadelphia and their ace, Cole Hamels. A trade centered on Puig-for-Hamels makes a lot of sense on the surface, since the Dodgers may be planning for life without Zack Greinke who may opt out after this season and the Phillies clearly want to get younger, more athletic and to perhaps reel in their payroll a bit.

But even though Puig isn’t having a great season — .274/.358/.435 in 45 games — the Dodgers don’t have a surplus in outfielders … at least not productive outfielders, anyway. Andre Ethier has rebounded and Joc Pederson has been very good but Carl Crawford has again struggled when he’s been available and neither Scott Van Slyke nor Alex Guerrero appear to be reliable everyday options; Van Slyke has trouble producing versus right-handed pitchers and Guerrero, also right-handed, is new to the outfield and has problems hitting right-handed pitching, too.

If Puig were to be traded, the Dodgers would have a bit of a hole to fill, albeit one that could be closed by adding a left-handed hitting platoon bat. Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Gerardo Parra may fit, as might Cleveland’s David Murphy, among others.

If I were the Phillies, however, I’m not sure I’d want Puig if he’s some kind of a clubhouse problem, and I’d focus on adding young arms before big-league players that may not be around when my club is again ready to compete.

Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman may prefer to avoid selling low on Puig and making a drastic alteration to his regular lineup, one that has, at times, struggled to produce runs consistently. The rotation may need a boost after this season, if Greinke leaves, but the Dodgers have been one of the better run-prevention clubs in the National League this season with one of the more effective starting staffs.

I’d bet Puig stays where he is this summer with the hopes from the Dodgers’ perspective that he has a big second half, helps the club win and improves his trade value for further consideration this coming offseason.

Angels, Bruce; Orioles, Upton
Jay Bruce is on the Angels’ radar, tweets Jon Morosi, and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The Reds, according to John Fay, are expected to discuss any player this side of Todd Frazier, including Bruce and the Halos have a need in the outfield.

Deadline deals are strange — sometimes a good trade doesn’t work out because all that has to occur to ruin it is the acquired player struggles for better part of two months. That also makes such trades risky. The question here, however, is more about what the Reds will require for Bruce, whether or not the Angels have it and whether or not they’re willing to part with it.

Same goes for Baltimore’s interest in Justin Upton, per Morosi. Upton, a two-month rental, isn’t as valuable so presumably he will cost a lot less in trade. The Orioles’ system is thin and has some injuries balking up their depth, but there’s a few players in that organization I’d trade Upton to take a chance on if I were Padres GM A.J. Preller. Baltimore may not be the best offer Preller gets, however, but the O’s can certainly compete in the Upton sweepstakes — if they want to.

For both Baltimore and Anaheim, there may be better options when cost is brought into the equation. Parra could be a fit for both, as might Ben Zobrist and Josh Reddick. Reddick likely will be more costly than any rental — since he’s not one — and may rival Bruce’s price tag, despite the differential in team control.

Mariners Idea
With each loss the Mariners get closer and closer to having no legitimate choice other to sell off their pending free agents, perhaps including Hisashi Iwakuma, who has had one bad start, one very good one and one OK outing since returning from the disabled list.

Lefty J.A. Happ, centerfielder Austin Jackson, relievers Fernando Rodney, Mark Lowe and Joe Beimel also will be free agents after the season. Neither Rodney nor Beimel are going to net much in return, of course — Rodney because he’s had an awful season and Beimel simply because he’s not a high-leverage arm — but Lowe may be worth something useful in the future, as might Happ, Jackson and Iwakuma.

I’m not suggesting any of the above are worth a return of a starting outfielder, top prospect at any position or anything like that, but there’s no reason one or more of them cannot help the Mariners rebuild their bullpen for 2016 and/or fill a bench hole or two.

The Mariners can be buyers in one sense, however: Focusing on acquiring players that fit 2016 and perhaps beyond. This season may not matter much, but getting a jump start on fixing some issues is not a bad thing.

The Mariners, in my opinion, should listen on Nelson Cruz (don’t believe for one second they will), Seth Smith, Mark Trumbo and Charlie Furbush, too. If not now, then over the winter. Exhausting all options is important when building an effective roster, even when it means discussing productive players to which you’d prefer to add. The Mariners need more team athleticism, and more specifically better outfield performance both offensively and defensively. Until that’s addressed successfully, they’ll be a team trying to win with one frontline starting pitcher in Felix Hernandez and the three-run homer. …

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

Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels?
In his latest video post at FOXSports.com, Ken Rosenthal notes that the market for Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels includes the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also adds that the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox have interest, too.

My first reaction was to think about a series in October that started with Kershaw, Greinke and Hamels on the mound for the Dodgers. Hamels hasn’t been terrific this season but he has been good. I’d put money on him having a stronger final two months than the 3.40 FIP he’s posted thus far.

But how do the Dodgers, or Cubs, Rangers and Red Sox get Hamels in their uniform for the next three-plus seasons? The Phillies feel no pressure to move their ace right now, so they will hold out for the right deal. Here’s what each club has to offer that Philadelphia may have request during negotiations. In no manner is the following a suggestion of a deal that either side would accept, nor does it imply Philly has interest in the specific player or the other club’s willingness to deal said player or players.

Dodgers
Corey Seager, SS/3B
Julio Urias, LHP
Hector Olivera, 2B
Jose De Leon, RHP
Grant Holmes, RHP
Alex Verdugo, CF
Zach Lee, RHP

Seager and Urias may be as close to untouchable as it gets for the Dodgers, probably in that order. De Leon, Olivera, Holems, et al, may not be enough to land Hamels, especially considering there are other clubs with young talent to offer the Phillies.

Mike Bolsinger, 27, may carry some value as a tertiary piece in a package for Hamels, but doing so would require the club to fill another spot in the rotation.

Cubs
Kyle Schwarber, C
Carl Edwards, Jr., RHP
Albert Almora, CF
Billy McKInney, LF
Gleyber Torres, SS
Dylan Cease, RHP
Duane Underwood, RHP
Carson Sands, RHP
Justin Steele, RHP
Jorge Soler, OF
Starlin Castro, SS
Jorge Baez, RHP

The Cubs appear to have so much depth that adding an arm like Hamels may never come back to hurt them even a little bit. The Phillies need everything, probably starting with pitching depth, suggesting at least one of Edwards, Jr., Cease, Underwood, and the like, may be necessary. I did not list Kris Bryant or Addison Russell because common sense says if the Cubs deal an infielder it will be Castro or perhaps Baez.

If Castro were to be traded, the general idea is that Bryant would play everyday at third, Baez would move to second and Russell would slide over to shortstop, his natural position, full time.

Castro may be involved if the Cubs and Padres get together on a deal for a quality starting pitcher with some club control left. Castro also could interest the

Red Sox
Mookie Betts, CF
Yoan Moncada, 2B
Javier Guerra, SS
Henry Owens, LHP
Blake Swihart, C
Manuel Margot, CF
Rafael Devers, 3B/OF

The Red Sox aren’t as deep as the Cubs or Dodgers but if they are willing to part with any two of the above, they’ll likely be able to pry Hamels away. Boston does not have depth in the starting pitching department down on the farm, so trading both Owens and fellow lefty Brian Johnson in the same four-player package may be asking a but much.

Betts and Swihart reportedly interest the Phillies greatly but whether or not the Red Sox will reconsider their availability remains doubtful, perhaps at best. Guerra hasn’t been the slick fielder he was expected to be just yet but despite contact issues he’s mashing in Class-A Greenville, showing more power — 31 extra-base hits in 73 games — than most anticipated. The Phillies don’t have a specific need for a shortstop with J.P. Crawford a top prospect and shoving his way toward a big-league debut, potentially next season, but adding high-end talent never is a bad idea.

A package including Guerra, Owens and Devers might be a tough one to turn down in the end.

Rangers
Joey Gallo, 3B/RF
Jorge Alfaro, C
Nomar Mazara, OF
Nick Williams, OF
Jake Thompson, RHP
Lewis Brinson, OF
Josh Morgan,2B
Elvis Andrus, SS

The Rangers have holes beyond their starting rotation, including one of the league’s worst offensive outfield collections and bullpen units. Texas may need three arms — two starters and a releiver — plus an addition to their lineup to project well enough to be in the race beyond mid-August. The Rangers probably shouldn’t have much interest in Hamels right now, particularly considering the likely haul in young talent. If Philly insists on a premium four-player package that includes Mazara or Alfaro plus Thompson, GM Jon Daniels probably, and understandably, backs down quickly.

Gallo and Alfaro should be off limits, in my opinion. Not 100 percent untouchable, but for the right to pay Hamels for three-plus seasons I would not include either player. Andrus is highly unlikely to be involved in a deal for Hamels unless a third club is involved.

In the end, I’m just not sure now is the right time for Daniels and the Rangers to pay big on a big-money pitcher. Sure they get him for three more years, yet stay away from the long-term risks of future free agents, but that kind of talent cost is prohibitive for the return.

Texas can go out and get better this month, but they don’t have to pay the hefty toll to do so. Not for a club 42-47 and fading fast with many more holes to fill for 2016.

If the Rangers wants to add high-level starting pitching, they can do so on the free agent market after the season. Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and company will hit free agency, and the Rangers will get back Yu Darvish at some point in 2016, plus should have a healthy Derek Holland. Martin Perez is back, the Rangers should supplement the rotation on top of that rather than rebuild it with Hamels.

Texas should be in the market for Tyson Ross, as are the Astros, per Dennis Lin. Ross won’t come at the cost — salary or trade talent — as Hamels and his ability to induce ground balls (62.9% in 2015), fits the home park.

James Shields is another alternative and one Padres GM A.J. Preller may prefer to move over Ross.

What About the White Sox and Indians as sellers?
They’re each 42-47, seven games out in the American League Central and 6.5 out of the No. 2 Wild Card spot. The White Sox have won six of 10, the Indians have lost six of 10. There’s a chance one or both could end up benefiting from selling a key piece or two rather than trying to add for a run this season.

The Sox have pending free agent Jeff Samardzija, a high-quality starting pitcher that may net them a nice return. Beyond that, catcher Geovany Soto, shortstop Alexei Ramirez and perhaps first baseman Adam LaRoche could be dangled before July 31.

Soto is on a 1-year deal while Ramirez’s contract carries a club option for next season at $10 million or a $1 million buyout. LaRoche will earn $13 million in 2016.

Most of Chicago’s offense has scuffled this season, including Ramirez who, entering Saturday’s game owed a paltry .237 wOBA and 43 wRC+. LaRoche, too, has struggled, particularly thus far in July — .132/.195/.184 with a nice thin wRC+ of 1. You read that correctly. Soto has been respectable at .318 wOBA and 98 wRC+. Worth noting that wOBA is park adjusted, wRC+ is not.

The Tribe has a lot of interesting pieces that, if GM Chris Antonetti decided to attempt a quick retool, may get the job done all by themselves. Corey Kluber is going nowhere, and it’s difficult to see any of the other young, inexpensive starters — Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar — being sent out in deals this month. Jason Kipnis is a centerpiece, as is rookie shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Outfielder Michael Brantley, however, does not scream ‘building block’ to me. He’s a very nice player without any major weakness in his game. But he’s 28, an average-at-best glove that all comes with a very reasonable price tag if $14 million over the next two seasons plus an option at $11 million or a $1 million buyout, suggesting he could be worth more in trade than if he remains on the roster, considering the lack of quality position players available.

Platoon bat David Murphy could help a contender down the stretch, same for Brandon Moss. Ryan Raburn is a nice bench option with a $3 million club option for 2016. Right-handed reliever Zach McAllister is good, cheap and a late-inning option that could fill a need for clubs such as Texas, Seattle, the Dodgers, Cubs and Twins.…

Gomez15Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Atlanta Braves Sale
The Braves started their rebuild over the offseason when they traded the likes of Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Evan Gattis and Justin Upton, among others. That trend likely will continue this month with names such as Juan Uribe, Cameron Maybin and Jim Johnson on the market. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski is being discussed, too.

Maybin is interesting because he’s having a solid year at the plate and can pass as a centerfielder. He’s due about $2.5 million the rest of 2015 and is set to earn $8 million next season. His 2017 option comes with a $1 million buyout or a $9 million salary.

Due to the lack of options in center these days, at least a dozen clubs should have some level of interest in Maybin, who shouldn’t cost much more than Austin Jackson did a year ago, a middle infielder with a chance to be a big-league regular, albeit with some risk attached (Nick Franklin).

Houston’s Buying
With zero chance they sell pieces, the Houston Astros are as firmly in the buyers line as any club in the American League right now. They need a starting pitcher or two, and if they were to land a Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija or cole Hamels, they may just grab the one and call up Mark Appel to shore things up on the back end. They have been linked to Mike Leake, too, however. Leake can get ground ball outs, which fits the Juice Box well, and he’s used to pitching in a hitter’s environment at the Great American Smallpark but has struggled at home in three of his last four seasons.

It’s difficult to see Jeff Luhnow whiffing at the deadline. The Astros are going to add a starting pitcher, perhaps two, and if a veteran first baseman falls in their lap, they may jump on that, too. The Astros are three games under .500 this season if you remove their 10-game winning streak, to lend an alternate idea how well they have played. But they aren’t going to fade into oblivion, especially if the rotation gets help. I still like the idea of Scott Kazmir for them, if the lefty is healthy, and if they find a way to get more offense from either their catchers or at first, this remains a dangerous team, a year or two before we thought they might be.

They have prospects to move, including Appel (who isn’t likely to be traded, but he certainly wouldn’t be on my untouchables list), outfielders Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips and Danry Vazquez, plus a crop of young arms that may be deep enough from which to trade to get the veteran they need. The Astros even have a couple of young shortstops they may not need to protect aggressively in Nolan Fontana, Joan Mauricio and Miguelangel Sierra.

You Can Go Get Him Now
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote Friday that the Brewers are “now showing a willingness to trade Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. Gomez, perhaps the best all-around centerfielder in baseball, is under contract through 2016. Segura, a capable a shortstop in the mold of Erick Aybar at the plate, could interest about 20 teams, with the dearth of shortstops available in baseball. The Mets come to mind, as do the Padres, though Segura’s bat isn’t a significant upgrade for either club. His defense is sound, though, and he’s under club control for three more years. He will be arbitration eligible this coming winter, but his 2016 salary is unlikely to be anything but a bargain, still.

Gomez could be the prize a contending team needs to get over the top. Imagine the right-handed hitting speedster roaming the pastures at Comerica Park or tipping the scales of the lineup for the Angels, who could move Mike Trout to left field, use Gomez at leadoff and keep their best hitter in the two or three spot rather than moving him around to attempt to spark things.

The price for Gomez isn’t going to be easy to reconcile for some clubs, but the chance to add elite speed and defense plus a legitimate option at the top of the batting order that could impact not one but two chances at the postseason probably is worth the risk in most cases.

What clubs like Seattle cannot afford to do is sell five years of Taijuan Walker for a year and two months of Gomez. I’m not convinced the Mariners can get Gomez any other way, however. Maybe over the winter such a deal can make more sense, but the M’s need Walker to be what he was for most of the final two months of the season’s first half if they want any shot to get back into the 2015 chase.

The Mets, Heyman notes, have Gomez on their radar. In a scenario where Gomez and a healthy Juan Lagares are available, I’m not sure who plays center, but again, Gomez’s presence changes the game in three ways for New York. How they acquire Gomez also is beyond me. They aren’t moving Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz is hurt and dealing Noah Syndergaard cancels out a good portion of the “getting better” part of adding a player like Gomez in the first place.

The Brewers have a chance to jump-start their retooling by trading Gomez, Segura and perhaps Jonathan Lucroy, but with so many buyers and so few sellers, I’d wager Gomez gets moved this summer and maybe the other two are dealt over the winter. Milwaukee needs a lot of things, but starting pitcher is atop that list for me. And not just mid-rotation arms. They need upside, near-ready types.…