The Seattle Mariners went over their payroll budget in 2014 with a final tally of $107 million. At the outset of the offseason, GM Jack Zduriencik made it clear that the club wouldn’t be pulling back from that number. That sentiment was echoed by president Kevin Mather who said that the club would be doing what they could to add five or six wins to an 87-win season. We don’t know what the M’s total salary expenditure for 2015 will be until season’s end. But, after the signing of Rickie Weeks to a one-year deal, we can estimate that total to be around the $120 million mark — at least a 10 percent increase from 2014’s total. We do know that Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano represented approximately 52 percent of Seattle’s $92 million payroll, according to the Associate Press. With the increase in payroll for the upcoming season, and additions of several players, Seattle is looking at a much different distribution of payroll. In fact, several positions will see an increase in payroll space. The chart on the right shows an approximation of how the Mariners will distribute their payroll this year based on a projected Opening Day roster. These are the players that are included at each position: SP: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker/Roenis Elias RP: Fernando Rodney, Tom Wilhelmsen, Charlie Furbush, Dom Leone, Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquhar, Carson Smith, Lucas Luetge C: Mike Zunino 1B: Logan Morrison 2B: Robinson Cano 3B: Kyle Seager SS: Brad Miller LF: Dustin Ackley CF: Austin Jackson RF: Seth Smith DH: Nelson Cruz Bench: Rickie Weeks, Jesus Sucre, Willie Bloomquist, Justin Ruggiano, Chris Taylor The numbers shown are approximations, although now that Tom Wilhelmsen’s arbitration case is settled, we should have a pretty good idea as to what payroll will look like. For pre-arbitration guys I used a simple estimate of $500 thousand for first year, $600 thousand for second year, and $700 thousand for third year. This was done to give some separation between each service year. Typically most of these salaries will fall in the $500-to-600 thousand range depending on the team. I also ignored the potential outfield and shortstop platoons as, for these purposes, it’s simpler to have a designated starter for each position. Right now it would make sense for Smith and Ruggiano to platoon in right field. There’s also reason to believe Miller and Taylor will platoon at shortstop though one could seize the everyday job and the other starts at Triple-A. We also don’t know how much Weeks will be able to play in the outfield yet, but it’s conceivable he could end up in a platoon with Dustin Ackley in left field. One of Walker and Elias will take the No. 5 spot but will earn a very similar salary in 2015. Despite what may or may be going on with Bloomquist and his recovery, the assumption is that he will be on the bench. It is also unlikely the club utilizes an eight-man bullpen to start the year, but as there is an extra player on the bench factored in, I did the same with the bench. Danny Hultzen is owed $1.7 million for 2015, but he will start the year in the minors and go from there, so his salary is not included. So, without further ado and in pie chart form, the 2015 salary distribution for the Mariners. As we can see, the bulk of payroll is allotted to the starting rotation and second base which should not be a surprise. Felix and Cano, the team’s highest paid players, are due $24.86 million and $24 million in 2015 respectively. Seager, who signed a $100 million extension this winter, will receive just $4.5 million of it this year. What is interesting to note though, is that Cano’s contract no longer covers one quarter of the M’s payroll. In fact, after the club’s expenditures this offseason, he represents about 19 percent of total payroll. Approximately the same goes for Felix, meaning just under 40 percent is allotted to this two players — down from about 50 percent on Opening Day 2014. Without reading to much into this, we have proof that ownership is in fact committed to the club’s payroll. As mentioned off the top: payroll was said to be increasing, and we can clearly see that it has. Otherwise, the payroll is fairly evenly distributed. The catching and shortstop positions make up the smallest portions of the chart with all three of Zunino, Miller, and Taylor playing as pre-arbitration guys. Again, both shortstops may or may not start the season on the big league roster. In the following chart, we can see how the Mariners compare to the rest of the American League West in terms of payroll distribution by position. The same caveats used for the Mariners — playing time, pre-arbitration salaries, etc. — apply for the other four teams as well. A few things that I made note of: The division will spend very little on the catcher position. The Los Angeles Angels Chris Iannetta is the highest paid catcher and will earn $5.53 million in 2015. Left field is another position with minimal expenditure across the division except for Josh Hamilton. The slugger is due $25.4 million for the season but is currently rehabbing an injured shoulder and when he will be ready is still up in the air. The Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics project to have the smallest payrolls in the division, but have the highest portion of payroll allotted to the bullpen. The Astros signed Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek to lucrative deals this winter while the A’s acquired Tyler Clippard in a trade with the Washington Nationals. Based on the estimation, less than $1 million more has been spent on the rotation than the bullpen by the Athletics. With the pricey free agent acquisitions, the Astros are projected to spend more on their bullpen than rotation this year. The highest-paid first basemen in the division, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are both near the beginning of monster contracts that already appear to be albatrosses as both have battled significant injuries recently. The pair are expected to be healthy for Opening Day. After the signing of Rickie Weeks, the Mariners have the most payroll allotted to their bench — nearly double what the Astros, with the next highest amount, will spend this year. With more than one month until Opening Day, there’s still a chance that each of these teams adds to their payroll. *All salary information, aside from the noted pre-arbitration estimates, is from Baseball-Reference.
After falling one win short of a postseason berth in 2014, the Seattle Mariners have spent their off-season attempting to improve themselves in their two weakest areas; offensive production and the outfield. Adding outfielders Nelson Cruz, Justin Ruggiano, and Seth Smith during the off-season and Austin Jackson at last year’s trading deadline improves their offensive outlook and dramatically transforms the team’s outfield situation. By adding these players and turning the page on Michael Saunders, Corey Hart, and Abraham Almonte, the Mariners are certain to have two different starting outfielders and a different designated hitter on April 6th when they open the season against the Los Angeles Angels. The lone holdover from Opening Day 2014 appears to be left fielder Dustin Ackley. Ever since Ackley posted a .273/.348/.417 triple slash and hit a team-leading seven triples in just 90 games during his 2011 debut season, Mariners faithful have been waiting for the former North Carolina Tar Heel to become a mainstay in Seattle’s lineup. Unfortunately for the Mariners and the number two overall pick in the June 2009 Amateur Draft, he hasn’t approached those heights again. How much time is enough? Young players need experience, plus the patience and support of their organization to adjust to playing in the major leagues so they can eventually flourish. For example, Kyle Seager struggled during his 53 game debut in 2011, but has incrementally improved with each passing season and is now one of the best third baseman in either league. By 2,000 major league plate appearances, a player’s value and future role have normally become clear. This is not an iron clad rule, but 2,000 plate appearances is an appropriate time to have that conversation. For most of Seattle’s core of young position players, it’s too early to determine their long term value or role due to their relatively low amount of major league service time. It’s a challenging proposition for a team with designs on making their first postseason appearance since 2001; develop youngsters while attempting to contend. Among Seattle’s current crop of young players, Seager and Ackley have reached the 2,000 plate appearance mark with Logan Morrison quickly approaching that milestone. Consistently inconsistent While Morrison will eventually come under similar scrutiny, Ackley is a far more enigmatic figure in Seattle thanks to being a high draft selection, quickly ascending through Seattle’s minor league system, initially being successful in the majors, and subsequently struggling since 2012. My initial perception of Ackley was that he was a slow starter who performed much better in the second half of seasons; that’s not completely accurate. Although it’s true that his overall career numbers are better in the second half, he’s both struggled and flourished during the first and second half of different seasons. I believe that best way to describe his offensive production is “consistently inconsistent.” To better illustrate that point, I decided to use his month-by-month on-base plus slugging (OPS) because OPS is a metric that takes into account a player’s ability to make contact, their plate discipline, and their power. Although the league average for OPS fluctuates from year-to-year, the league-average hovers near .730. Fangraphs provides the following table as a reference for assessing a player’s performance based on their OPS. With the exception of his torrid 2011 debut season, Ackley has been limited to bursts of productivity surrounded by longer periods of ineffectiveness. Since the start of the 2012 season, he’s been significantly below the major league average for OPS in all but four months and has only been over league-average for two consecutive months once; July and August of 2014. Since 2012, his OPS has been below-average for each season. The .286 OPS for June 2013 is not a typo, but it’s important to note that he only played in three games in that month after spending most of the month at AAA-Tacoma in an attempt to regain his swing. The main reason for his quick return was an injury to outfielder Franklin Gutiérrez. Possible turning point? So, what changed and led to Ackley putting together his best OPS in consecutive months and best overall half-season since 2011? Perhaps, it was a change to his batting stance. Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill touched on mechanical adjustments made by the left-handed hitter in two July 2014 tweets. Watching a lot of Ackley PAs… He’s starting more closed now v. April-May. But also closer to plate. April 16 — pic.twitter.com/obLIEUEzHX — Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) July 26, 2014 My interpretation of those comments are that, thanks to the changes made at the plate, Ackley was able to handle middle-away pitches better by being closer to the plate and by closing his batting stance. The July 24 picture illustrates the changes, which may be the underlying reason for Ackley’s resurgence in July and August. More Ackley: Here is July 24 (you can see he’s more closed, closer to plate v April) pic.twitter.com/rupZ2rLHZE — Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) July 26, 2014 After July 15th, Ackley was 23rd in the American League (AL) in OPS for the remainder of the season, finishing ahead of teammates Cruz (25) and Seager (41). September swoon Despite his mid-season adjustments, Ackley’s performance fell off considerably in September when he posted a .149/.205/.299 triple slash during 18 games. One contributor to his September decline were bone spurs in his left ankle that hampered him and resulted in him missing four games. This isn’t the first time that Ackley has experienced problems with bone spurs; he had surgery to remove bone spurs after the 2012 season. At that time, it was believed that the spurs affected Ackley’s ability to push off at home plate and to run the bases. During this off-season, he visited an ankle specialist who made recommendations to the team on how to handle the situation going forward. Every indication from the team is that Ackley is physically ready to go and will be played frequently during Spring Training by manager Lloyd McClendon. The question that lingers going into 2015 is whether his September struggles were injury-induced or a regression back to previous consistency. 2015 role with Mariners The general consensus among fans and national pundits has been that Ackley will be Seattle’s Opening Day left fielder barring injury; that’s not necessarily certain though. During his January 17th Hot Stove Report podcast for 1090 The Fan, Jason discussed General Manager Jack Zduriencik’s comments about the left field position on the Steve Sandmeyer Show. Zduriencik stated that he and manager Lloyd McClendon plan to “put the best club on the field whatever that is.” “To say that anyone is on scholarship or somebody’s got something locked in, they’ve got to prove it in Spring Training.” — Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik on The Steve Sandmeyer Show To me, Zduriencik’s comments open the door to the possibly using Smith in left field against tough southpaws or even Ackley losing left field playing time to either Ruggiano or James Jones. I don’t McClendon will proclaim Ackley as his left fielder early in Spring Training as he did last February. There’s a clear benefit to using the left-handed hitting Smith over Ackley against southpaws. Smith’s 2014 OPS against left-handed pitchers was appreciably better than Ackley’s. Smith’s career OPS versus lefties is lower than Ackley’s, but the 32-year-old veteran has been far more productive and consistent than Ackley during his eight-year career. Conclusion With the exception of his 2011 debut season, Dustin Ackley has struggled to sustain long periods of average to above-average production and hasn’t matched the lofty expectations placed upon him after being selected one pick after Stephen Strasburg in the 2009 draft. If the soon-to-be 27-year-old doesn’t continue his 2014 second half performance into 2015, the team should transition in a new direction just as they did with first baseman Justin Smoak. After entering last season with 1942 plate appearances, Smoak was waived by Seattle after playing in 80 games and 276 plate appearances in 2014. If Ackley’s 2014 mechanical adjustments are a permanent fix, he’s best suited to be part of a left field platoon and play primarily against right-handed pitching. The thought of Ackley being a part-time player will disappoint many Seattle fans. However, being a platoon player gives him the best opportunity to repeat his 2.1 fWAR value and help the team contend for the AL West crown.
The deadline for teams and players to submit arbitration figures passed on Friday. The Seattle Mariners had six arbitration-eligible players for the 2015 season, three of them eligible for the first time. Three of the four projected regular outfielders, Austin Jackson, Dustin Ackley, and Justin Ruggiano, all agreed to new contracts as well as bullpen arm Charlie Furbush. Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen was the lone player who failed to reach an agreement prior to the deadline. Austin Jackson — One-year, $7.7 million Seattle’s starting centerfielder, acquired at last year’s trade deadline from the Detroit Tigers, received a decent raise from his $6 million 2014 salary. The soon-to-be 28-year old is coming off a down season and posted a 51 wRC+ after being acquired by the Mariners. He did add stability to a center field position that had been in flux but wasn’t able to produce as the leadoff hitter the club was hoping they acquired in exchange for displaced infielder Nick Franklin. Jackson is entering his walk year and will become a free agent at season’s end. The thought is that after a rough transition to the Pacific Northwest at midseason, he should be able to perform closer to his 2013 level in 2015. Although the right-hander typically boasts a high strikeout rate, he saw it increase by nearly five percent with Seattle. Regaining some of the power lost and improving plate discipline will be keys for success in 2015. Logan Morrison — One-year, $2.725 million; $25,000 bonus for 500 and 600 plate appearances The first baseman also picks up a nice raise from his $1.75 million salary in 2014 as a second-time arbitration eligible player. Morrison failed to clear the 100 games played mark for the third consecutive year as he once again struggled to stay healthy. He did manage to hit 20 doubles for the first time since 2011 and finished the year with a 110 wRC+, an improvement over recent first base production. With Justin Smoak out of the picture Morrison enters the year as the club’s starting first baseman with no real competition on the roster. The 27-year old hit well for stretches last year but missed extended periods of time. His second half performance, when he was finally healthy again, was more inspiring, but the jury is still out on whether or not Morrison can be an everyday first baseman. He’ll have to prove an ability to consistently perform from April through September this year. Dustin Ackley — One-year, $2.6 million; $50,000 bonus for 500 plate appearances Ackley cashed in on his first year of arbitration eligibility as a 26-year old. The former No. 2 overall pick continued his transition to the outfield and showed much improved range and instincts. Offensively it was a better season for Ackley as he finished with a wRC+ 10 points higher (97) than he produced in 2013 — thanks in large part to a red-hot stretch in July and August. The left-hander has become a competent defender in the outfield and likely has his focus set on making improvements at the plate. The remaining question is whether or not his bat can play consistently. For Ackley’s two great months in 2014, he also had two terrible months — the rest were about average. He is coming off a career-high 45 extra-base hits but needs to find a way to bump his batting average closer to the .273 mark he posted in his rookie season. Justin Ruggiano — One-year, $2.5 million; $20,000 bonus for 375 plate appearances The right-handed portion of the Mariners new right field platoon received a slight raise on the $2 million salary he earned last year as a member of the Chicago Cubs. This is Ruggiano’s second year as an arbitration eligible player. The power and speed numbers were down for the 32-year old in 2014 but he still finished the year with a 113 wRC+. Defensive metrics suggested he performed below average in the field last year, but he’s been a relatively competent defender throughout his career. The expectation for Ruggiano in 2015 is simple: continue to crush left-handed pitching. Whether or not manager Lloyd McLendon sticks to the traditional platoon with Seth Smith remains to be seen. But it’s likely that Smith will be the one to receive more playing time in either right or left field. Ruggiano holds a career 128 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and a 94 wRC+ against right-handed pitching. Charlie Furbush — One-year, $1.3 million The left-hander secured a raise on his $750,000 2014 salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Furbush posted a 3.61 ERA and career-best 2.80 FIP in 42 and 1/3 innings pitched across 67 appearances. The lefty specialist struck out 51 batters and walked just nine. Furbush is expected to assume the same role as lefty specialist in 2015. As it stands the 28-year old is the only southpaw currently slated to open the season in the bullpen. It’s likely that a second left-hander will be added to the pen out of Spring Training. Tom Wilhelmsen — Player submitted $2.2 million, club submitted $1.4 million The right-hander is the only player whom the Mariners were not able to agree to terms with prior to the deadline. Wilhelmsen posted a 2.27 ERA and a 3.74 FIP in 79 and 1/3 innings pitched. The Bartender regained form as one of the club’s most reliable relievers and regularly recorded more than three outs on any given night. If there was a downside to the 31-year old’s season it was some control issues — though his 4.08 walks per nine was only slightly higher than his career 3.99 mark. Like Furbush, Wilhelmsen will likely find himself in the same role this year. There had been some talk about possibly stretching out the right-hander in Spring Training to add to the starting pitching depth, but that talk has cooled. However, with Brandon Maurer no longer onboard, Wilhelmsen’s ability to pitch multiple innings of relief will become even more important to the club. The Mariners typically avoid arbitration hearings and we will likely see a deal reached somewhere in the middle of the two submissions in the coming weeks. The midpoint for the two sides is $1.8 million, which would make Wilhelmsen the club’s second-highest paid reliever behind Fernando Rodney. Arbitration hearings are scheduled to begin on February 2 and club’s can negotiate with a player until the second the hearing begins. With all but one of the arbitration numbers settled, we can estimate that the Mariners’ Opening Day payroll will fall around the $115 to $120 million mark depending on whether another addition or two is made. Seattle didn’t add Chris Young to the rotation until just prior to the start of the 2014 season. It’s possible the club will make a late depth move, possibly a veteran cut by another team, towards the end of the spring once again.
It’s a strange thing. Normally the first person that comes to mind when speaking of a professional sports organization is an iconic player or even coach. It rarely is an executive. But I guess that comes with the territory when one is portrayed by Brad Pitt on the big screen. There has been much talk with respect to what exactly the Oakland Athletics have been doing this offseason. Or more specifically, what is Billy Beane doing. Rebuilding? Retooling? Going for it, again? Recently at FanGraphs, prior to the Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar trade, Miles Wray offered his thoughts on what exactly the Athletics are trying to do this winter. He theorizes that instead of relying on superstars, the A’s are stocking their roster with as many players who project as league average or better as possible. It’s a play on the idea that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts. For context, a league average player is worth about 2.0 fWAR. Wray opines that Oakland may be of the mind that a lineup without any noticeable holes can make up for the lack of premier hitters. In discussing the A’s standing in the American League West after the Zobrist deal, I had a similar sentiment: The two infielders acquired today alongside [Brett] Lawrie and Ike Davis, who was acquired from the New York Mets, could make for an improved infield overall compared to last year. There is risk associated with all four new players … but it looks as if the departure of Donaldson won’t be felt quite as hard in terms of production. After seeing increases in payroll over the last several years, it’s possible that the A’s ownership group wanted to see total player salary decrease. That’s bad news for a club that’s already financially restricted due to it’s small market nature. There’s still plenty of time left in the offseason for Beane to throw another wrench into the mix so it can’t be said that this is his final strategy. Though it does make an awful lot of sense when you think about it. The Seattle Mariners finished the 2014 season one game behind the Athletics in the AL Wild Card race. This occurring after the A’s spent big on mid-season acquisitions of Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija. Certainly seeing a lack of success with the method of acquiring superstar-level players could inspire a GM to invest resources over multiple assets instead of the big fish. Last winter the Mariners added their big fish in Robinson Cano. Alongside Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager there’s plenty of star power on the team. With cornerstones to build around, the realistic goal for this winter was to patch holes with good players or find incremental upgrades. After all, Seattle received below average production from six different positions in 2014: catcher, first base, left field, center field, right field, and designated hitter. Several Mariners under performed last season but there were some obvious holes. So far Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith, and Justin Ruggiano have been brought aboard. It’s still possible that an addition is made to supplement the corner outfield spots as well as first base. Not to mention the fact a backup catcher is still needed. Alongside the A’s theorized goal of building a balanced roster let’s see how the Mariners roster stacks up in terms of projected production by position players. At the time of this writing reports indicate that the Athletics have agreed to deal Yunel Escobar to the Washington Nationals. But for the sake of this exercise, we will include him and his projection. The major disclaimer about these projected lineups is that we don’t know how the playing time is going to shake out yet. Chris Taylor very well could find himself at Triple-A to begin the year. What the job-share in right field between Smith and Ruggiano looks like also remains to be seen. But the specifics aren’t the focal point. The A’s utilize the platoon and player’s multi-position eligibility to their strengths. Craig Gentry is expected to spend some time in both left field and center field while Zobrist is expected to see most of his playing time between second base and shortstop, but is projected to make meaningful contributions in the corner outfield spots, too. If we make those allocations, we can begin to see that at practically every position, the Athletics project for at least 2.0 fWAR. Or, project as major league average at each of those positions if not well above average. In fact the only position that clearly projects below average, and it’s only by half a win, is at designated hitter. Ironically the A’s agreed to pay Billy Butler $30 million over the next three years to cover that position. On the Mariners side of things, the projections are similarly favorable. Mike Zunino, Austin Jackson, Cano, Seager, and the shortstop and right field platoons all project for 2.2 or more fWAR. In only three places the M’s project for below average production. At first base Logan Morrison projects for 1.8 fWAR. The big concern for him in 2015 will be health. When he was able to stay on the field in 2014, particularly in the second half, he was a fairly consistent performer. While nothing spectacular, and you’d certainly want to see better power numbers from your first baseman, a 110 wRC+ is not a bad thing. In left field Dustin Ackley projects for 1.9 fWAR. This is a position of concern for Seattle as what version of Ackley we will see in 2015 remains to be seen. He was an excellent No. 2 hitter at times last year but was also dormant for stretches. It’s possible that Smith sees some time in left field should Ackley struggle. As is the case with the Athletics, the Mariners newly-minted DH, Nelson Cruz, projects as below average at 1.5 fWAR. In terms of wins above replacement, designated hitters are penalized slightly not because they aren’t playing the field, but because there is some value in being able to defend at a replacement level. But Cruz was brought onboard to hit, and that’s all Seattle is worried about. If Cruz is indeed able to match his projection, it would still mark a marginal upgrade of 2.0-3.0 fWAR at the position compared to 2014. The Athletics lineup is projected to be very balanced, as it appears to have been designed to. Zobrist, Brett Lawrie, and Josh Reddick project to be very good players, but not Josh Donaldson-esque. Now, that isn’t to say having superstar players is a bad thing. The Athletics have simply chosen to value them differently than the Mariners have, for example, and that decision is likely resource-based. Seattle signed Robinson Cano to be a superstar. His paycheck is not just for being a premier player, it’s for being a face of the franchise as well. He’s a talking point and attraction. We could spend much more time discussing the other values that come with a superstar, and their importance to Seattle compared to Oakland, but for now we will not. Because the Athletics have had such a strange offseason, we’ve attempted to determine their formula or plan. At a closer glance, it does in fact, appear that the club has utilized the strategy that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts. Because the Mariners have invested in superstars like Cano and Seager, we know that their strategy is different. But upon comparing the two lineups, we do see some similarities. At the end of this past season we talked a lot about if the M’s could’ve gotten league average production from just one more position they would’ve been a playoff team. There’s significant value in the way the Athletics have constructed their roster. It certainly isn’t foolproof, and everything we’re saying is still hypothetical, but we can start to see how the changes should translate to the win column. The Mariners made a significant upgrade at DH this winter, filling arguably their biggest hole in 2014. The goal this winter was to add two everyday bats, and with the platoon of Smith and Ruggiano, it appears that goal has been met. Having Jackson man center field for an entire season should also count as an upgrade. Especially if he’s able to rebound. Seattle has, on paper, a reasonably balanced lineup — not quite as balanced as the Athletics are, but there isn’t an obvious hole. There is considerable risk with players like Ackley and Morrison, but you can only plan for risk. Adding an Allen Craig type of player who can play some first base and corner outfield would be ideal in alleviating some of the risk and improving depth. There’s still time for something like that to happen. The Mariners are entering 2015 with an improved lineup compared to the one that started Opening Day 2014. Typically that’s one way we determine whether or not an offseason was successful. There’s still time to go before Spring Training begins, but on paper, the depth of the Mariners lineup appears similar to the Athletics — the team that was one game better and playoff-worthy last year.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports notes that the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, and Seattle Mariners could all benefit by adding the home run power of Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. It’s difficult to imagine how the left-handed slugger would fit into the Seattle’s 2015-16 plans for several reasons. Payroll considerationsHoward has two more years remaining on his five-year/$125 million contract, plus a $10 million buyout for his $23 million club-option in 2017. His salary will be a major hurdle to any trade. Rosenthal suggests that Philadelphia would probably need to be willing to pay a significant amount of Howard’s remaining salary, so that his new team would obligated to pay him $7-10 million annually. Even at that reduced amount, bringing the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player to Seattle would be cost-prohibitive and an inefficient use of resources. The Mariners have demonstrated a willingness to increase their payroll, which could reach a team-record $120 million if the arbitration cases of eight eligible players adds an estimated $19 million, as expected. Next off-season will be even more challenging as the team will once again have eight arbitration-eligible players and everal key players eligible for free agency, including starting pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and J.A. Happ, closer Fernando Rodney, and center fielder Austin Jackson. Any money obligated to Howard would be better utilized on retaining the team’s own players and/or acquiring replacements. Durability and decline Prior to suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon during the 2011 National League Division Series, the 35-year-old slugger had averaged 153 games over six seasons. Since then, he’s missed the first half of 2012 while recovering from Achilles tendon surgery and then the second half of 2013 after undergoing surgery in July to repair a torn left meniscus. In 2014, Howard bounced back by playing in 153 games, although he endured the worst full-season performance of his 11-year career posting a .223/.310/.380 triple slash and striking out 190 times. Despite being far less productive at the plate, the three-time all-star did manage to hit 23 home runs, which was 30th best in the majors. Roster Fit Normally, adding a player as costly as Howard signals that the player will be an everyday contributor; there’s no place for the slugger in the projected Mariner’s 2015 daily lineup. The two most natural fits would be designated hitter and first base and neither is currently available. The team is obligating $57 million over the next four seasons to free agent slugger Nelson Cruz to be their primary designated hitter and Seattle already has a left-handed first baseman, Logan Morrison, who is eight years younger and much cheaper than the 2005 National League Rookie of the Year. The 27-year-old Mariners first baseman, provided more value to his team in 2014 with a 1.6 fWAR and only stands to make an estimated $2.6 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility. Conclusion Adding an aging left-handed slugger, who only can play positions occupied by better players would be a redundant move and an inefficient use of Seattle’s resources. Based on numerous interview comments during this off-season by Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik, he won’t negatively impact his long-term plan to keep the Mariners competitive for many seasons beyond 2015. Adding Ryan Howard would negatively the team’s roster and payroll flexibility. Thereby, he is not a fit for the Seattle Mariners.
For over five years, the Seattle Mariners’ offensive output has hampered the team from being considered competitive at the start of the regular season. Consequently, the organization has spent the past two years aggressively courting offensive player-makers capable of leading the team to their first postseason berth since 2001. The arrival of 2014 American League (AL) home run leader Nelson Cruz and the complimentary bats of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano should bolster the Mariners’ offense. But, will these acquisitions be enough to let Seattle emerge as a serious contender for the AL West division championship in 2015? Based on the team’s low offensive production over the last half-decade, there are several reasons for observers to have reservations. A history of offensive futility Since 2008, the Mariners have languished near the bottom of the AL in almost every offensive category. Despite the best efforts of the organization’s leadership, Seattle’s run production has remained stagnate with very little improvement over the past three years. Even the addition of perennial all-star Robinson Cano and the offensive emergence of Kyle Seager didn’t help propel the 2014 Mariners’ offensive output. They struggled in every element of run production; getting on base, advancing base runners, and driving in runners. Mariners 2014 Run Production vs American League Statistic SEA Rank AL Best AL Worst Runs 12 LAA TBR Hits 14 DET HOU Home Runs 10 BAL KCR Walks 14 OAK KCR Stolen Bases 8 KCR BAL AVG 13 DET HOU OBP 15 DET SEA SLG 12 DET TBR OPS 15 DET SEA Base running (BsR) 12 KCR CWS Weighted Stolen Bases (wSB) 9 KCR TEX Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) 12 DET TEX Getting on base is paramount Seattle has posted the worst on-base percentage (OBP) in the AL in the six out of the last seven years. Recently, league-average OBP has hovered near .320. Only three Mariners with more than 250 plate appearances surpassed that milestone in 2014; Cano (.382), Seager (.334), and Michael Saunders (334). Only Cano and Seager were full-time players and Saunders has since been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Mariners’ offensive challenges were not solely isolated to hitting the ball; they were 14th in the league in hits and walks. Mariners OBP (2009-2014) Year OBP League Avg AL Rank 2014 .300 .316 15 (last) 2013 .306 .320 13 2012 .296 .320 14 (last) 2011 .292 .323 14 (last) 2010 .298 .327 14 (last) 2009 .314 .336 14 (last) Adding Cruz, Smith, and Ruggiano is bound to help the team’s ability to create scoring opportunities. Yet, the level of improvement that these three players will deliver is unclear. Cruz posted a .333 OBP in 2014, which is on-par with the 2014 performance of Seager and Saunders. However, the 34-year-old slugger’s career OBP during 204 Safeco plate appearances is only .309. There’s no doubt that Cruz will dramatically improve the designated hitter position and even a sub-par 2015 by his standards would be a dramatic improvement over the ineffective production supplied by 2014 Mariner designated hitters. Smith, who recorded a .367 OBP while playing his home games in pitcher-friendly Petco Park, appears to be the most likely of the three to flourish in Seattle. The left-handed outfielder has a career .361 OBP during 61 plate appearances in Seattle. Ruggiano has only had exceeded 400 plate appearances once since debuting with Tampa in 2007 and possesses a league average .319 OBP. A potential Smith/Ruggiano right field platoon has the potential to be effective, although subtracting the Mariners’ third best position player (Saunders) lessens the benefit of adding this tandem. Driving the baseball Seattle was slightly better at slugging than getting on base, although they also underachieved in this category placing 12th in the AL in extra base hits. Cano and Seager led the team with a .454 slugging percentage (SLG) with Saunders close behind at .450. The only other teammates who met or exceeded .400 were Logan Morrison (.420) and Mike Zunino (.400). The Mariners will benefit from the arrival of Cruz’s .440 SLG at Safeco. Running the bases Team speed has not been a key element to Seattle’s offensive strategy. Fan Graphs’ base running metric (BsR) considers how many times a base runner has stolen a base, been caught stealing, took an extra base, and was thrown out while running the bases. The Mariners were 12th in BsR and finished near the middle of the pack in stolen bases. Outfielder James Jones accounted for 28 percent of the team’s stolen bases despite posting a sub-par .278 OBP. The 26-year-old speedster was effective at advancing himself on the bases when he was able to get on base, which was not often enough for him to be considered a dependable weapon. The Safeco effect Safeco Field, always considered to be one of the most pitcher-friendly stadiums in the majors with a reputation for suppressing right-handed power, is certainly a contributor to Seattle’s offensive woes. However, it’s possible for a team to flourish in Safeco. The most obvious example would be the 2001 Mariners team that led the league in multiple offensive categories. The 2002 and 2003 versions of the team also did well, proving that it’s possible to field a successful offense in the Emerald City. Since Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) adjusts for a stadium’s impact and permits comparison of a player’s offensive contribution, using wRC+ can help provide insight into the effectiveness of Seattle hitters. Of the 12 Mariners with more than 250 plate appearances in 2014, only four were above the league-average wRC+ of 100. This suggests that the Mariners’ recent offensive woes are more attributable to an insufficient number of productive hitters than the dimensions of Safeco Field. Fortunately, the wRC+ of Cruz (137), Smith (133), and Ruggiano (113) indicates that Seattle has acquired three player capable of improving the team’s offensive production. 2014 Mariners wRC+ (250 or more plate appearances) Player wRC+ Robinson Cano 136 Kyle Seager 126 Michael Saunders 126 Logan Morrison 110 League average 100 Dustin Ackley 97 Endy Chavez 97 Mike Zunino 86 Brad Miller 86 Austin Jackson 85 Justin Smoak 77 Corey Hart 70 James Jones 68 How did Seattle win so many games? Simply stated, the Mariners recorded their most wins since 2007 by having one of the most effective pitching staffs in the majors; perhaps the best. Seattle’s prolific pitching compensated for their low run production. A statistic that illustrates the relationship between the team’s run production and run prevention is run differential (runs scored – runs allowed). It’s important to note that run differential only totals the combined efforts of run creation and run prevention. The goal of every team is to outscore the opposition; how they accomplish this goal depends on the strengths and weaknesses of their roster. Mariners Run Differential (2009-2014) Year Runs/Gm Runs Allowed/Gm Run Diff/Gm Wins Runs/Game (AL) 2014 3.91 3.42 .49 87 13 2013 3.85 4.65 -.8 71 12 2012 3.82 4.02 -.18 75 14 (last) 2011 3.43 4.17 -.74 67 14 (last) 2010 3.17 4.31 -1.14 61 14 (last) 2009 3.95 4.27 -.32 85 14 (last) Recording a positive run differential for a season increases the likelihood of winning although having a run differential in the red doesn’t automatically doom a team’s season, nor does a possessing a positive differential guarantee winning. Look no further than the 2009 Mariners, who had a winning season and a negative run differential. More recently, the 2014 New York Yankees had a winning record and a negative differential, while the cross town rival Mets were in the black and only registered 79 wins. On the other hand, no team has made the postseason with a negative run differential since the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks. Run Prevention The Mariners’ were exceptional at preventing the opposition from scoring by being near the top of nearly every major pitching category and being adequate in other run prevention components, such as defensive runs saved (DRS) and the percentage of runners caught stealing (CS%). Where the Seattle’s offense suffered, the pitching staff shined. Mariner pitchers surrendered the fewest hits and runs in the league and faced the second fewest hitters while recording the lowest staff Earned Run Average (ERA) and opponent’s batting average (BAA). If opponents were fortunate enough to reach base, staff hurlers were third best at stranding them on-base. The bullpen was even more impressive leaving 80.7 percent of runners on-base; seven percent better than second place Kansas City. Mariners Run Prevention vs American League Statistic SEA Rank AL Best AL Worst Runs Allowed/Game 1 SEA MIN Fewest Hits Allowed 1 SEA MIN Fewest Walks Allowed 6 NYY CWS Opponent Batting Avg (BAA) 1 SEA MIN Opponent OBP 2 OAK MIN Runners Left On Base % 2 BAL MIN Runners Caught Stealing % 10 MIN NYY Defensive Runs Saved 6 DET CWS Conclusion Despite being straddled with a lackluster offense in 2014, the Seattle Mariners barely missed a postseason berth thanks to their outstanding pitching staff, which surrendered fewer runs than any Mariners staff has during the Safeco Field era. With that in mind, would the team be better served to use their remaining resources to secure a top or middle-of-the-rotation starter and/or add more depth to the bullpen? Essentially, reinforce their strength in order to overshadow their weakness. Exploring this option should be considered. Seattle has struggled with generating offense for over five years and adding Cruz, Smith, and Ruggiano are positive steps towards reversing that trend. However, these three new acquisitions combined with the yet-to-be-determined improvement of Brad Miller, Chris Taylor, Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, and Logan Morrison may not prevent the Mariners’ offense from hovering near the four runs-per-game mark and continue to be below league-average. Augmenting the roster with another average or slightly-above-average hitter would be beneficial, but probably not enough to propel the team into serious contention for the division championship. That’s why Seattle should consider adding more pitching, unless they plan to use their remaining resources to acquired an established all-star caliber offensive talent.
The Seattle Mariners fell tantalizingly short of making the 2014 postseason by just one game, which has led to high 2015 expectations by many in the national media and within the Mariners’ fan base. Many pundits and fans have hailed that the addition of slugger Nelson Cruz as the move that will get Seattle over the hump and into the postseason for the first time since 2001, while others believe that the team still needs one more bat to ensure contention. While Cruz will certainly help Seattle improve and adding another slugger is a need, the Mariners need to improve at numerous positions in 2015. Otherwise, they’ll be no better than a fringe contender. Reasons for optimism It’s easy to see why there’s a positive outlook by so many when you look at the Mariners’ standing amongst American League (AL) teams that had 85 or more wins. Seattle was sixth overall in the AL for team-total wins above replacement (WAR) only trailing the five teams that made the postseason. That’s great and can be attributed to the team’s strong pitching staff, outstanding performance by Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, and value delivered by the Brad Miller/Chris Taylor platoon at shortstop. WAR for 85+ Win AL Teams Team WAR Wins Los Angeles Angels (LAA) 46.8 98 Baltimore Orioles (BAL) 46.8 96 Oakland Athletics (OAK) 45.6 88 Detroit Tigers (DET) 41.5 90 Kansas City Royals (KCR) 40.5 89 Seattle Mariners (SEA) 39.5 87 Cleveland Indians (CLE) 38.2 85 Projecting Opening Day lineup If no more significant moves are made and barring injury, it’s very plausible that Seattle’s 2015 Opening Day lineup could be very similar to the starting lineup for the last game of the 2014 season. The team will definitely have new faces at designated hitter (DH) and in right field (RH). Other than shortstop where Miller could start in place of Taylor, everyone else may be the same. Does anyone believe that changing those two faces will make Seattle a serious contender? Mariners starting lineup on last day of 2014 season CF Austin Jackson LF Dustin Ackley 2B Robinson Cano DH Kendrys Morales/Nelson Cruz 3B Kyle Seager 1B Logan Morrison RF Michael Saunders/Justin Ruggiano C Mike Zunino SS Chris Taylor (Brad Miller could replace him) SP Felix Hernandez So, where does this team need to improve? Looking at a team’s WAR, by position, helps illuminate areas requiring improvement. In this article, WAR refers to the base-reference.com computation of a player’s value. The position value illustrated below incorporates every player who played that particular position during the 2014 season. The players’ contributions are pro-rated by the plate appearances (PA) they had while playing that position. For example, second base is calculated by including the values of Cano (630 PA), Willie Bloomquist (24), Nick Franklin (19), and Miller (15) who all played the position in 2014. Obviously, Cano’s value drive the positional value at second base. But, there are other positions such as first base, shortstop, and the outfield positions that had multiple players with significant playing time. Team WAR Value by Position (American League) RNK SP RP C 1B 2B 3B SS LF CF RF OF DH 1 DET 16.5 CLE 8.2 CLE 5.5 DET 4.9 SEA 6.1 TEX 7.4 LAA 3.8 KCR 6.5 LAA 7.6 OAK 4.6 LAA 14.1 DET 4.9 2 SEA 13.8 KCR 7.7 OAK 4.0 BAL 4.1 HOU 6.1 OAK 6.7 BAL 3.7 BAL 5.2 BAL 5.0 LAA 4.5 KCR 13.7 BAL 3.9 3 TBR 13.2 SEA 7.5 KCR 2.7 TOR 3.6 BOS 5.5 SEA 5.6 TOR 3.0 CLE 4.2 CHW 5.0 TOR 4.2 BAL 13.1 BOS 3.0 4 CLE 12.4 OAK 6.5 LAA 2.6 CHW 3.3 DET 5.4 MIN 3.9 CHW 3.0 NYY 3.7 TBR 4.8 BOS 3.0 OAK 10.2 TOR 2.7 5 KCR 12.3 NYY 6.0 CHW 2.5 BOS 3.0 MIN 5.3 BAL 3.5 CLE 2.6 DET 3.4 KCR 4.6 BAL 2.9 TBR 9.5 HOU 1.9 6 HOU 11.8 BAL 5.6 NYY 2.5 LAA 2.7 LAA 5.3 TBR 3.3 SEA 2.6 OAK 3.3 TEX 4.2 HOU 2.8 TOR 9.2 OAK 1.6 7 OAK 11.4 DET 5.3 HOU 2.4 OAK 1.8 TBR 2.6 NYY 3.3 KCR 2.4 TOR 3.3 NYY 3.8 KCR 2.6 NYY 8.0 LAA 1.4 8 LAA 10.9 BOS 4.8 MIN 2.0 NYY 1.6 NYY 1.9 TOR 2.0 MIN 2.1 TBR 2.8 MIN 3.2 TBR 1.9 BOS 7.4 TBR 1.3 9 TOR 10.7 TBR 4.3 BAL 1.8 TBR 1.5 TOR 1.6 CHW 1.6 HOU 1.8 LAA 2.0 CLE 3.1 DET 1.4 DET 7.0 MIN 0.8 10 CHW 9.8 MIN 4.1 TEX 1.6 CLE 1.0 BAL 1.1 CLE 1.6 OAK 1.2 BOS 2.0 HOU 2.8 SEA 1.1 HOU 6.4 CHW 0.8 11 NYY 8.8 TEX 3.7 DET 1.4 MIN 1.0 KCR 1.0 LAA 0.3 TEX 1.1 SEA 1.5 BOS 2.3 NYY 0.5 CLE 6.3 TEX 0.3 12 BAL 8.8 TOR 3.4 TOR 1.4 KCR 0.6 CLE 1.0 KCR 0.3 BOS 0.6 HOU 0.8 OAK 2.3 TEX 0.5 TEX 4.6 NYY -0.1 13 MIN 4.1 DET 2.3 SEA 0.7 SEA 0.3 OAK 0.5 BOS -0.6 TBR 0.6 TEX -0.1 DET 2.2 MIN -0.4 CHW 4.2 CLE -0.1 14 TEX 1.7 CHW 1.5 BOS 0.6 TEX -0.6 CHW 0.5 HOU -1.2 DET -0.1 CHW -0.1 TOR 1.7 CHW -0.7 SEA 3.0 SEA -0.2 15 BOS 0.8 HOU -2.4 TBR -1.1 HOU -1.3 TEX 0.5 DET -1.4 NYY -0.1 MIN -0.3 SEA 0.4 CLE -1.0 MIN 2.5 KCR -0.4 Avg 9.8 4.6 2.0 1.8 3.0 2.4 1.9 2.5 3.5 1.9 7.9 1.5 Where does Seattle need help? The Mariners were below the AL average at six out of nine non-pitching positions. In some cases, they were among the worst in the league. Does that mean that the Mariners need to make sweeping changes? No. But, Seattle will need to improve considerably to be a serious contender for the AL West title. Take a look at each position to see where there are opportunities to improve internally and where there is help needed from outside the organization. Catcher Seattle is content with going forward with Mike Zunino, who had the majority of plate appearances ((472) for the catcher position. Although his value was below league average, it’s important to note that the 23-year-old has only played in 279 major and minor league games since graduating from the University of Florida in 2012. The Mariners’ belief in their young receiver is well placed; Zunino struggled at the plate in 2014 while demonstrating impressive right-handed power and is a superb receiver. It’s realistic to expect that he will continue to add more value to the position in 2015. Zunino shared the position with John Buck, Humberto Quintero, and Jesus Sucre who provided minimal value to the position; the three backups provided a replacement level value of .2 WAR, with all of that coming from Sucre. Adding a better backup would help improve the position’s value, reduce risk if Zunino were to miss prolonged time due to injury, and ensure that the starting catcher doesn’t get worn down during the season. First baseLogan Morrison provided the most value (1.4 WAR) of all Mariner first basemen in 2014. Actually, he’s the only Mariner first baseman who had a positive value at the position. Once he supplanted Justin Smoak at first base, “Lo-Mo” posted an impressive .284/.341/.448 triple slash in the second half of the season. If he can stay healthy, it’s reasonable to assume that the position’s value will increase in 2015. Staying on the field has been a problem for Morrison during his five-year career; the most games he’s played were 123 in 2011. So, having a competent backup is a must. Left field Only the Minnesota Twin’s outfield ranked worse that the Mariners’ in 2014. In left field, Dustin Ackley provided near-starter 1.9 WAR after a strong second half delivering a .783 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). Despite his second half resurgence, Ackley’s .212/.255/.298 season record against left-hand pitching demonstrates that more help is needed. Center field After trading for center fielder Austin Jackson at the July 31st trading deadline, the Mariners had to be disappointed in his offensive performance during the postseason push. In Jackson’s defense, his .1 WAR for August and September was only a small part of Seattle’s lack of value in center field. James Jones and Abraham Almonte patrolled center field for 111 games and delivered a combined 0.0 WAR. Improvement in center field will hinge on Austin’s ability to bounce back although it should be noted that his 2014 WAR with the Detroit Tigers was a substitute level 1.7. Right field In right field, the Mariner who provided the most value was Michael Saunders, who was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for J. A. Happ. His 2.4 WAR value easily exceeded than the combined value of Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero (-1.1) who had a combined 281 plate appearances compared to Saunders’ (220) in right field. The addition of Justin Ruggiano is a positive step. But, it’s unlikely that his contributions will significantly improve outfield value unless he’s used in a platoon role. . Improving right field is an incomplete project for General Manage Jack Zduriencik. Designated hitter Adding Cruz instantly makes DH better. Even if he provides half of his 2014 value in 2015, he’ll be significantly better than the every 2014 Mariners’ DH combined. Holding strong in previous areas of strength Areas of strength in 2014 are not necessarily guaranteed to repeat in 2015. Barring injury, Cano and Seager should be safe to deliver excellence again. Also, shortstop should be better than last year assuming that the young tandem of Miller or Taylor continues to improve. The bullpen is in good shape too because most of their best arms are young. On the other hand, the young arms of the team’s starting rotation could add risk. Starting pitching In some circles, there’s a perception that Seattle has a deep starting pitching core. It’s true that the Mariners’ pitchers are talented and/or have tremendous upside. But, going into the season without adding more depth could come back haunt Seattle if any of their pitchers are lost due to injury; particularly Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Remember, Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer, Blake Beavan, and Tom Wilhelmsen started 14.8% of all Seattle Mariners’ games in 2014. The addition of J. A. Happ helps, but he has only pitched over 160 innings once in his career; 166 in 2009. Considering that Elias, Paxton, and Walker averaged a full inning/start less than King Felix and Kuma (5.65 vs. 6.67), adding another veteran pitcher who can eat innings would help take pressure off of the bullpen. Conclusion The Mariners will need improved value from Zunino, Morrison, Ackley, Jackson, their right fielder, and their young starting pitchers in 2015 if they want to contend for a playoff spot. But, Seattle isn’t ready to compete for the AL West title with their current roster, at least not without either marked improvements from 1-2 of the incumbent young players, or incremental improvements from a number of them. Getting more from catcher, first base, left/right field, and from the starting rotation is paramount for a team that wants to play deep into October. Final thought It’s important to note that Mariners pitchers and catchers don’t report until February 20th and the regular season doesn’t start until April 6th so there’s plenty of time left to upgrade. But, there’s a lot more to do before Opening Day.
The Toronto Blue Jays have claimed first baseman Justin Smoak off waivers from the Seattle Mariners both teams announced on Tuesday morning. Smoak was originally the key piece acquired by Seattle when they sent star hurler to the Texas Rangers in a 2010 trade. Smoak earned $2.6375 million in 2014 and was an obvious non-tender candidate this winter. However he was due a $150,000 buy-out on a $3.65 million club option for 2015 that was going to require a decision after the conclusion of the World Series. The Blue Jays will now be responsible for that buy-out should they decline his option. Smoak is entering his second season of arbitration and can be team controlled through 2016. The switch-hitter posted a .202/.275/.339 triple-slash in 276 plate appearances at the big league level in 2014. Smoak spent over one third of the season with Triple-A Tacoma where he posted a 138 wRC+ in 249 plate appearances. The 27-year old had spent parts of five seasons in the Mariners organization but the former first-round draft pick failed to meet expectations. Smoak owns a 94 wRC+ in 2218 career plate appearances, 1943 were which the M’s, and struggled with finding consistency in the batter’s box on a regular basis. Logan Morrison snatched the first base job from Smoak after returning from early season injuries and saw the bulk of the regular playing time. Smoak figured to be expendable after LoMo seized the job and the club used their final option on the former top prospect in 2014. Should the Blue Jays, or any other club, wish to send Smoak to Triple-A in 2015 the first baseman would have to pass through waivers first. There’s been rumors circulating that Toronto is interested in moving one of their first base/designated hitter types in left-hander Adam Lind who is also due a decision on his 2015 club option worth $7.5 million. It seems likely that Lind will be dealt in the near future after the acquisition of Smoak. Seattle opens a spot on their 40-man roster with Smoak out of the picture and are likely to add depth at first base during the offseason. They also saved the $150,000 buy-out on his club option that was a lock to be declined. It’s speculated that the Jays will decline the option and renegotiate a smaller deal. The final piece remaining from the Lee trade is starter Blake Beavan who has struggled with a myriad of shoulder issues and missed most of the 2014 season. As Smoak turns 28, it appears unlikely that he is going to make it as an everyday first baseman, however a change of scenery could reignite some of the power that still exists in his bat.
Many pundits had written off the Seattle Mariners before the 2014 season began. The rotation had several questions marks beyond Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and the lineup lacked much punch beyond newly acquired second baseman Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. Lloyd McLendon was the new manager in town after Eric Wedge called it quits with three games left in 2013, and reports about the dysfunction in the front office created some tension. The club did have a strong contingent of young players ready to make their marks, however the group assembled didn’t resemble a playoff squad come Opening Day. A .500 team maybe, but not a team that would finish one game out of a Wild Card spot and certainly not one that wasn’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs until the season’s final day. Was the club’s 87-75 record an accurate representation of the compilation of talent on the roster, or was it a classic case of a team that played over their heads? This is rather crucial question that needs to be answered. Not because the front office needs to know how many wins they should be chasing this winter, but because the Mariners likely will do just that. If they believe they’re 3-5 wins from October baseball, they’ll go get 3-5 wins in roster upgrades. If they believe they’re more like an 83-win team, they’ll chase after 7-10 victories. At least that’s been the track record, rather than doing everything possible to become as good as the club possibly can. So, what is GM Jack Zduriencik working with as the offseason begins? Seattle’s Pythagorean record was 91-71, four more wins than they actually collected. A team’s Pythagorean record compares their runs scored and allowed in an attempt to determine how many wins a team should have based on those two factors. The Mariners had a near-historic year in terms of run prevention and allowed the fewest runs in the league with 554. However, there was a serious lack of consistency in the run scoring department and the club’s 634 runs scored ranked 19th. BaseRuns credits the Mariners with an 86-76 record, one less win than their actual total. What do these advanced stats tell us about the M’s record? In essence, they suggest that Seattle’s 87 wins are a reasonable result based on the numbers of runs scored and allowed. In a way these systems help us better understand a team’s record in the same way that a pitcher’s FIP or xFIP relates to their ERA. It’s then up to us to dig deeper and try and see what else is under the surface. By now means does a Pythagorean record tell us a team’s true talent level. Seattle got their money’s worth when it came to superstars Felix and Cano. The King is in line for his second career Cy Young award and Cano capped off an All-Star season with a Gold Glove nomination. Hernandez had a markedly better season in 2014 than in previous years, but at age-28 he was primed for his beginning of his peak years. There’s also no doubt an improved team behind him and a winning record benefited the ace. The biggest knock on Cano this year was the lack of power displayed. His 14 home runs were the fewest he’s hit since 2008, though the confines of Safeco Field were expected to impact his total power output. Overall Cano had an excellent first year in the Emerald City and gave the club some much needed star power. The holes in the M’s lineup, however, were glaring. Seattle received -2.1 fWAR from their designated hitter position, second-worst in the league to the Cleveland Indians. That’s after the team took on a slumping Kendrys Morales in July that never recovered from sitting out the first three months of the year. The Corey Hart experiment wouldn’t pay off as the slugger battled health issues. As a unit, the Mariners’ outfield combined for the second lowest fWAR in all of baseball with 1.0. Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, and Abraham Almonte were the only outfielders to produce a positive fWAR. Ackley was absolutely the player that the Mariners envisioned when they made him a No. 2 overall selection in 2009 from July 1 on, but struggled early in the season. Saunders spent significant time on the disabled list, again, and lost playing time to Stefen Romero and Endy Chavez, regularly. Had the Canadian-born outfielder been healthy for more of the year, or at least played regularly when he was, he would’ve made up for some of the -1.5 fWAR Romero and Chris Denorfia cost the team. Even trade deadline acquisition Austin Jackson went cold as soon as he put on a Mariners uniform, and only showed a glimmer of the talent he displayed in Detroit. On the infield side of things, aside from Cano, Seattle saw continued growth from Seager who made his first All-Star appearance. The third baseman lead the club in home runs, RBI, and posted a higher fWAR than Cano at 5.5. Justin Smoak continued to flail in the batter’s box, but Logan Morrison, after getting healthy, took the first base job by storm and finished the year with a 110 wRC+ in 365 plate appearances. By fWAR, the Mariners got solid production out of Brad Miller and Chris Taylor at the shortstop position but most of that is due to the duo’s excellent defensive play. Miller struggled mightily at times with the bat and Taylor’s offensive numbers were inflated by a high BABIP. Mike Zunino had an excellent sophomore season behind the plate but struggled to produce consistent offense outside of the long ball. [pullquote]Of the batters acquired in the offseason and at the trade deadline, only Cano, Morrison, and Willie Bloomquist posted a positive fWAR. Morales, Jackson, Denorfia, Hart, Chavez, and John Buck were all below replacement value.[/pullquote] Aside from Cano, Seager, and to some extent Zunino, the M’s really could’ve gotten more production out of their infield. Some might argue Seager played over his head, but his production has been trending upward for the last few seasons. First base has been a black hole for years and is an obvious source of underachievement. The shortstop position is difficult to knock since the defensive play was so strong, but it’s fair to say that from an offensive standpoint the position underachieved. Seattle’s No. 2 starter, Iwakuma, had a solid campaign including the second-lowest walk rate among qualified pitchers at 1.06 per nine innings. However the right-hander was absent for the first month of the season recovering from a sprained finger. Rookie James Paxton posted a strong 3.28 FIP but was limited to just 13 starts after being sidelined with an oblique injury for more than three months. Top prospect Taijuan Walker was also expected to cement the second half of the rotation but struggled with consistency and shoulder inflammation and was limited to just five big league starts. Had the pair of rookies been healthy for even half of the season each, the rotation definitely would’ve been stronger. The one positive thing Walker’s preseason injury allowed was an opportunity for Roenis Elias to secure a spot in the rotation, and he did not disappoint. The 26-year old had yet to pitch above Double-A prior to this season and in 29 starts earned a 4.03 FIP, slightly higher than his 3.85 ERA. Elias was excellent at times this year, but showed signs of fatigue as the innings piled up and was eventually shut down in September with arm soreness. Veteran hurler Chris Young also had a resurgent 2014 after struggling with injuries the last several years. In 165 innings and 29 starts the right-hander posted a strong 3.65 ERA but finished with a 5.02 FIP after some struggles in September. Like Elias, he had run out of gas. In some ways the success of Elias and Young cancel out the lack of production that was expected from Paxton and Walker. With that, one could say that the M’s rotation performed approximately as expected, all told. Earlier in his career Young was a dependable starter but considering the uncertainty surrounding a guy who had thrown 100 innings in just one year in 2008, Seattle was likely hoping to milk five-to-ten decent starts out of Young if they were lucky. It’s fair to expect the best bullpen in baseball would have to overachieve to some extent, but the talent was there and the staff was strong from beginning to end. Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Charlie Furbush all had excellent seasons following solid 2013 campaigns. Brandon Maurer had a successful transition from starter to power reliever in the second half and posted a 1.85 FIP in 37 1/3 relief innings. Dominic Leone had a strong rookie season and solidified the middle relief corps. Even journeyman Joe Beimel had an outstanding season as a specialist posting a 2.20 ERA but it came with a 4.18 FIP which suggests that he did overachieve. Closer and free agent acquisition Fernando Rodney also had an impressive campaign, though not quite at the level of his career year in 2012. The enigmatic star performed as expect this year, racking up saves and strikeouts while providing plenty of drama in the process. It’s fair to say that the bullpen could be a big source of overachievement in 2014 considering that seemingly everything went right. Especially since the majority of the staff that contributed to the second-worst bullpen ERA in baseball last year returned to post the best mark in the majors. Every team has to deal with injuries while riding the wave of breakout and slumping players. The Mariners were no different in that regard. It’s hard to say how much of the team’s success can be attributed to the managing of McLendon and his staff, but we do know that their management of King Felix was a crucial aspect of his performance this year. Was 87 wins an overachievement for this edition of the Seattle Mariners? From the outset maybe, and there’s certainly an argument that they did, but at a closer glance the talent for a playoff club is there. The Kansas City Royals certainly have proved that a strong pitching staff and plus defence can take a team a long way, and many would agree that the Mariners pitching staff was even better than the American League champions. The fact that nobody expected Seattle to perform as well as they did shouldn’t be indicative of whether or not they overachieved. Some players had surprise seasons, some players performed poorly. There’s evidence that suggests that this team may have even underachieved since they received less than replacement level value out of several players. But that’s an argument for another day.
Each month at Prospect Insider we recognize a pair of Seattle Mariners — one pitcher and one batter — who have put up outstanding performances in the previous month. In August, Dustin Ackley and Hisashi Iwakuma took home the honours for Mariners of the month. Let’s take a look at if they were able to defend their titles in September. Logan Morrison, 1B — 83 PA, .342/.398/.645, 199 wRC+, .303 ISO, 8 2B, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 15 R September was a month to remember for LoMo who had a nice finish on what most would consider a disappointing season with the slow first-half performance and time lost due to injury. He’s been almost an entirely different player in the second-half however, and the Mariners finally received more than below average offensive output from their first baseman — something that was long overdue. Morrison hit the ball very well throughout the month and chipped in some very timely hits as well. The left-hander put up five of his 11 home runs on the season and showed glimpses of the 2011-edition LoMo that drove in 72 runs. His 1.042 OPS was by far his best of the season. Runner-UpRobinson Cano, 2B — 108 PA, .265/.333/.498, 103 wRC+, .133 ISO, 7 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 10 BB Felix Hernandez, SP — 6 GS, 2-1, 38 IP, 1.66 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 2.49 xFIP, 43 K, 11 BB After concerns about whether or not King Felix would be able to continue his strong season into the final month lingered throughout the year, the King answered his critics with the best September he’s pitched since 2010 when he won the AL Cy Young award. Aside from yielding eight runs, four earned, to the Toronto Blue Jays on the only occasion he failed to reach the fifth inning this year, Hernandez was dominant. He allowed just three earned runs in his other five starts and had shut out the Los Angeles Angels through five innings before being lifted after the Mariners were officially eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday. There’ll continue to be plenty of chatter regarding the King’s candidacy for the 2014 AL Cy Young award over the next several weeks. He captured the AL ERA crown with a 2.16 season mark and produced one of the most dominant stretches of starting pitching ever earlier in the year, setting a record with 16 straight starts of seven or more innings pitched and no more than two earned runs allowed. Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber figures to be Felix’s main competition for the award and is equally deserving after a breakout performance this year. Runner-UpTaijuan Walker, SP — 5 G, 2 GS, 1-1, 23 IP, 1.96 ERA, 2.18 FIP, 3.14 xFIP, 20 K, 5 BB, 0 HR
There’s been plenty of buzz surrounding the Baltimore Orioles the last several weeks as they’ve now clinched the American League East division for the first time since 1997, but recently chatter has turned towards slugger Chris Davis who was suspended for 25 games after a second positive test for Adderal. Davis has struggled to replicate his breakout 2013 season, but he still represents a key component of the Orioles’ batting order. Former Seattle Mariners special assistant to the general manager and current FanGraphs writer Tony Blengino attempted to determine what exactly went wrong for Davis in 2014 and in doing so left an interesting note from back when Davis was Texas Rangers property. “[Talking about 2009-11] During this period, I worked for the Seattle Mariners, and we had an opportunity to acquire Davis as part of the Cliff Lee deal. We may even have been able to acquire him in addition to Justin Smoak, but other players were instead added to the deal. In 2012, Davis finally experienced his major league breakthrough, but even that was nothing compared to his massive 2013 campaign.” As you may recall, the Mariners traded Cliff Lee to the Rangers on July 9, 2010 in exchange for Smoak, Blake Beavan, Matthew Lawson, and Josh Lueke. Texas also acquired reliever Mark Lowe and cash in the deal that took place seemingly moments after Lee was supposed to be heading to the Bronx in a deal for current Mariner Jesus Montero. Now, undoubtedly there are countless of these “what could have been” scenarios where Player X was almost traded to Team Y. Even within the Lee rumors we could find numerous examples of this type of thing. But occasionally a scenario slips through the cracks and offers a point of intrigue that makes an interesting question. And that question today is: what if Chris Davis was the Mariners first baseman? [pullquote]Smoak has now played in parts of five seasons for the Mariners and owns a .224/.309/.380 line with a 93 wRC+ in 2213 plate appearances. The fact the 27-year old has spent significant time at Triple-A in 2014 doesn’t bode well for his future with Seattle as he’ll be a non-tender candidate this winter.[/pullquote] Smoak was the centerpiece of the Lee deal and the trade presumably wasn’t going to happen without him. The M’s had long coveted the switch hitter who posted a .853 OPS at three minor league levels in 2009 after being selected No. 11 overall in the 2008 amateur draft. Beavan was the Rangers first round pick, No. 17 overall, in 2007 and was likely a key component of the deal as well. Lueke was a 16th round pick and Lawson was a 14th round pick from that same draft, though neither came with much fanfare. Davis entered the 2008 season ranked as the No. 65 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America but disappeared from the rankings. He was eventually traded to Baltimore along with Tommy Hunter in exchange for reliever Koji Uehara. Based on Blengino’s comments we know that the two clubs at least discussed including Davis in a deal but it’s unclear how much traction they got. We do know that talks accelerated after the Rangers upped their offer, which could mean that they offered Beavan instead of Davis for example, though that’s my own speculation with no supporting evidence. It’s also possible that the Rangers offered Davis to the M’s and they declined as they were in pursuit of the other players that eventually were included. What we absolutely don’t know is how Davis would’ve developed in Seattle’s system. Baltimore isn’t exactly renowned for their player development the same was the Tampa Bay Rays are, but they’re not at the very bottom of the barrel. It’s also likely that the Mariners would’ve given Smoak the same opportunities he ended up receiving which would have left little room for Davis to be part of their plans — though he did have some experience at third base. So, for the sake of this conversation, let’s say that Davis would perform exactly the same in blue and teal as he has since the Lee deal took place. In 2012 the Mariners employed Smoak and Mike Carp at first base and received a .216/.296/.359 line and an 86 wRC+ of production with an underwhelming -0.5 fWAR. Davis look a leap that year and posted a .270/.326/.501 line with a 121 wRC+ but was only worth 2.1 fWAR since he performed poorly defensively. The following year Kendrys Morales was added to the first base mix with Smoak as the primary starter, and that’s when Davis absolutely lit things up. The left-hander hit a league leading 53 home runs and his 168 wRC+ was the third best with only Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera posting a higher mark. And what about Smoak’s season? He actually had the best year of his career to date though his 111 wRC+ was miles below what Davis produced and 11 points more than average. I always find it ironic when the player deemed to be a deal-breaker in a certain trade struggles to become an average major leaguer while the player passed on becomes a superstar, even if it is only for one year. Certainly nobody could’ve predicted that kind of power outburst from Davis, the same way nobody expected Jose Bautista to blossom into a star after being acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays. Davis has had a down year by his standards in 2014, but for fun, let’s compare his production to what the Mariners have gotten out of their first basemen on the year. As expected, Davis has far outperformed Smoak, but it’s interesting to note that both Logan Morrison and Davis have the same wRC+ entering Tuesday night’s games. A lot of Davis’ value has come from the long ball, but he only has 16 total hits more than Morrison. Neither has a triple, but they both have 16 doubles. Both of their on-base percentages are the same and obviously Davis will have a higher slugging percentage given the number of homers under his belt. We can argue about the value of a run batted in, but certainly there’s little argument that Davis has had plenty more opportunity to drive in runs. We can also argue about the runs scored stat in this case too since the Orioles have had more consistency in their lineup than the M’s have had this year. Essentially, aside from the long ball, Morrison and Davis have been extremely similar hitters in terms of value. As we can see they also have the exact same wRC+ mark, and LoMo has over 200 plate appearances to make up the difference in hits between the two of them. Based on his seasons totals, we could expect Morrison to add approximately 50 hits — 10 of which would be doubles and five would be home runs — if we calculated out the difference in plate appearances, and presumably his wRC+ could end up being a couple points higher. Morrison will be payed just $1.75 million in 2014 compared to the $10.35 million salary Davis will have earned — minus about $1.6 million lost to suspension — so the Orioles are literally paying for home runs in this case. Although they certainly didn’t think that their slugger would fail to hit his weight (230 pounds) this year. On the defensive side of things Davis does have eight DRS at first while LoMo has none, but Morrison does have one DRS in right field — it’s a very small sample size — so considering the fact first base defence isn’t all that important, one could pose an argument that the Mariner first baseman actually has more value than Davis since he can somewhat competently play right field at times too. Factor in the difference in salaries and what investing $8 million elsewhere could do to your club — for the Mariners that’d constitute the salaries of Fernando Rodney and Joe Beimel — and there’s a point to be made that Morrison has been a more valuable asset than Davis this year. But the home runs and runs driven in do count for something, plus Davis has history on his side, so it’s unlikely we see that debate start any time soon. Nevertheless, it’s always interesting to think about what could have been, and especially interesting to see what one already has. The argument that adding a third left-handed bat to the lineup alongside Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, but for my money, I’ll take the three best hitters available regardless of if they’re right-handed, left-handed, or no-handed.
When the Seattle Mariners sent Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees in a four-player deal that netted promising young slugger Jesus Montero it appeared to be a win-win trade based on each club’s respective needs. The Yankees were in dire need of some, preferably young, pitching depth, and the Mariners were struggling to acquire and develop hitters. Many people around baseball, executives and writers alike, lauded both clubs for the deal since players held superstar potential. Fast forward two-and-a-half years later and the M’s are stuck in a difficult position: what should they do with Montero? The 24-year old has had two brief stints with the major league club so far in 2014 and in 17 plate appearances he’s managed four hits including one home run. Montero has actually put together a decent season during his time in Triple-A as he holds a .310/.374/.541 slash line with 15 home runs and a 133 wRC+ across 342 plate appearances. That stat package is a lot more indicative of what Seattle was hoping they were getting when they acquired the former catcher. Back in 2012, Montero’s first full major league season, he actually didn’t fare too badly with a .685 OPS in 553 plate appearances. By contrast, Justin Smoak had a .654 OPS that year and so far in 2014 he has a .630 OPS in 262 plate appearances for the M’s. Obviously it wasn’t the breakout campaign the club was hoping for from Montero, but he did manage a 132 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and played in 56 games at catcher. One of the biggest concerns for the right-hander at the time of his acquisition was where he would play. His bat was never in question and he was described as a pure hitter by many, but there was plenty of doubt surrounding whether or not he would last at catcher and a move to first base seemed inevitable — if a permanent move to designated hitter wasn’t already in the works. Montero’s 2013 was one to forget between the PED-suspension and suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee as there’s little doubt his development was significantly stalled. He then spent the offseason “eating”, in his own words, and left a poor taste in the mouth of many within the organization upon his arrival to Spring Training this year as his work ethic and desire to play the game were in serious question. Often times laziness and a bad attitude are a lethal combination for a player no matter the talent level. Whether he was over-frustrated with himself after the disaster that was 2013 or the steroids were a significant part of his success prior to that season remain to be seen. The same goes for his future in the Mariners organization. [pullquote]Montero was signed as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela by the New York Yankees on October 17, 2006.[/pullquote] It’s no secret that Seattle is in dire need of some offensive help and after losing the first two games of a four-game set with the Baltimore Orioles with just a single run scored, that need was underlined again. The armchair general managers of the M’s have been calling for the club to designate Corey Hart for assignment, who has had his own share of struggles this year, and call up Montero to fill his spot for some time now. Of course it’s not quite that simple considering that Hart is still owed a couple million dollars on the year and it’s not clear that Montero would actually be an upgrade on the veteran. Though many are of the opinion that anything would be an upgrade at this point. As currently constructed, there really isn’t a place on the big league roster for Montero even with Hart making consecutive starts at first base and right field. Logan Morrison is in the mix at first base and DH as well and Smoak is sitting at the top of the Triple-A depth chart. Even before the M’s reacquired Kendrys Morales from the Minnesota Twins this week there was hardly any room for Montero, now there is effectively zero. Of course Montero would be an option in the event of an injury, but he’d further limit an already fairly inflexible roster. Montero sits just shy of 1400 plate appearances at the Triple-A level and has a .291/.354/.500 line in four seasons there so it’s not as though he has all that much to prove in the minors. However it may be best for the 24-year old to stay put for the remainder of the year, at least until the roster expansion in September, given the situation with the big club and his 2013 season. Yes, Montero has been on a hot streak of late and has seven home runs in the past month, but consider that he’s benefitted from the very hitter-friendly confines of several Pacific Coast League cities such as Reno, Nevada during that stretch. He’s put up a .761 OPS at a much more pitcher-friendly Cheney Stadium in Tacoma so far this year compared to a 1.022 OPS on the road. Those numbers are also telling of his lack of success at Safeco compared to his slightly less lac of success on the road in the major leagues as well. Those suggesting the former Yankee could be valuable in a potential trade shouldn’t be surprised to hear that that is not the case. Sure, there’s probably a couple teams that would be willing to take a flier on Montero, as there’s almost always a team willing to take a chance on a former top prospect, but it’s unlikely the M’s could get anything aside from some cash considerations in return. For what it’s worth, Seattle probably is best off simply hanging on to Montero for another year and seeing what happens. It’s likely that one of Smoak and Morrison will no longer be with the organization after this season and both Morales and Hart will be free agents at season’s end as well, possibly leaving a spot open for Montero in 2015. There’s always the possibility that something clicks and he’s able to produce at the major league level, but that seems unlikely at this point. The answer to the opening question is that there really isn’t an ideal solution. The best course of action could be leaving Montero at Triple-A for the remainder of the season or it could be shipping him to another club for some batting practice baseballs and seeing if a change of scenery helps. Although when there’s legitimate character concerns about a player on top of the concerns about his play, there’s very rarely a happy ending. Sure, I’d love to see Montero come through and turn into an everyday slugger, but reality suggests that’s unlikely, and he also really isn’t any better than the options currently on the Mariners roster so until he puts up significant numbers at Cheney or Hart goes down again, don’t expect him back in Seattle any time soon.
To many, this weekend’s matchup against the Oakland Athletics was the biggest series of the season for the Seattle Mariners thus far. For Lloyd McClendon and the boys, it was probably heralded as nothing more than games 93, 94, and 95 of 162, all of which being important. Whatever you decide to call it, there’s little doubt that a series beginning with a matchup between King Felix Hernandez and Jeff Samardzija is bound to be a good one. The M’s would defeat the Athletics 3-2 and 6-2 on outstanding outings from Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma, but couldn’t complete the sweep on Sunday as they lost 4-1. Now, before we talk about the games themselves, I’d be remissed if I didn’t make mention of the incredible atmosphere that fell upon Safeco Field this weekend. Just under 100,000 made their way through the gates in total, including myself and 39,204 on Saturday alone — although I don’t know how much of a factor the Kuma bobblehead giveaway played in that. Maybe it’s finally set in that the Mariners are in fact, not a terrible baseball team, and people are starting to actually buy into it. I can’t remember the last time I was at a game where every single section was populated, or when the Seattle fan base was able to out-cheer the pesky A’s fans that always seem to show up in droves when Oakland comes to town — and I must say, I enjoyed it. Even the mood outside of the stadium on Saturday night was something I haven’t seen in an extremely long time. The M’s don’t have the Boston Strong mentality that encapsulated the Boston Red Sox fan base in 2013 and catapulted the club to a World Series title. Even the young players expected to play big roles this year like Taijuan Walker, Brad Miller, and James Paxton haven’t been able to provide what spark that many hoped would carry over from September of last year. Of course injuries derailed the seasons of the aforementioned pitchers, but aside from the addition of Robinson Cano, there wasn’t any major change to the Mariners personal heading into 2014 outside of the management team — which should be given due credit as well. But what the club has been doing is simply getting it done; any way they can. Guys like Chris Young and Joe Beimel having resurgent seasons and James Jones and Roenis Elias bursting onto the scene with key contributions have propelled this club to a 51-44 record — and people have rallied around that. Perhaps it all started with the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks reigniting Seattle as a sports city, or maybe people are starting to take my advice and attend at least one Felix start this year — more likely the former — but the most likely scenario is simple: people want to see winning teams. But I digress. On Friday night Felix continued his dominance and allowed just a pair of earned runs across eight innings of work in the victory. He did have a rocky start however, giving up both runs — one of which was a solo home run by Stephen Vogt — in the first inning, but settled down from there on and finished the night with nine strikeouts and just six hits allowed. The win gives the King 11 before the All-Star break for the first time in his career and his 2.12 earned run averaged eclipsed Randy Johnson‘s 2.20 mark for a new team record at the break. The offense managed to even things up quick by scoring a run in both the second and third innings — including a Logan Morrison solo shot — before Cano hit an RBI-double in the sixth to give the club the lead. Fernando Rodney would pitch a scoreless ninth which concluded with a strikeout of Nick Punto on a questionable pitch. He offered this gem of a quote after the game. Rodney was asked if the last pitch to Punto was a strike, his response: “All the pitches were strikes.” — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 12, 2014 Saturday night featured another strong pitching matchup between Iwakuma and A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez. In fact, the Japanese star would’ve earned a shutout on the night if it wasn’t for a two-out Brandon Moss home run in the top of the ninth. Otherwise it was nearly a perfect night for Seattle that featured a pair of home runs from All-Stars Kyle Seager and Robbie Cano and a double for Corey Hart that would lead to the first run of the game. The M’s managed to rack up a total of 14 hits on the night, but more importantly they managed to pick up three of those with runners in scoring position — something that seemed impossible at times during the previous series with the Minnesota Twins. It almost looked as if the M’s were more interested in their plans for the four-day break than Sunday’s matchup against Sonny Gray who, aside from an RBI-ground out from Cano in the first, shut the team out. Closer Sean Doolittle managed to neutralize the left-handed bats of Seager and Morrison en route to a four-out save. Cano and Seager led the sixth inning off with a pair of hits to give the M’s runners at the corners with no outs, but Cano would be left stranded at third in what would become the last real opportunity Seattle had to do some damage on the night. Veteran starter Chris Young gave the club six innings of work while allowing three earned runs and continues to be a dependable arm in the rotation. This was a classic 2014 Mariners game where the offense just wasn’t able to muster up anything of substance. The club was 0-for-5 on the night was runners in scoring position. All in all, the Mariners managed to take two of three from the best team in baseball, and that in itself should be worth celebrating to some extent. It’s always nice to go into the break on a winning note, but after a tough week prior to the serious, it was significant to see the M’s step up when it counted in games that provided the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere that this city has scene in years. Heading into the second half of the season, the boys in blue and teal sit seven games above .500 with a decent grip on a Wild Card berth. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
After spending almost seven weeks on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Corey Hart returned to the Seattle Mariners’ lineup on Friday night against the Chicago White Sox. In a corresponding roster move, the M’s designated veteran outfielder Cole Gillespie for assignment; he hit .254/.312/.324 in 78 plate appearances this year. In another move, they club opted to send first baseman Justin Smoak down to Triple-A Tacoma instead of having him rejoin the big league club, meaning Logan Morrison will continue to be the M’s regular first baseman. Smoak, like Hart, was on a rehab assignment that was set to conclude next week. This is where things could begin to get even more interesting for the Mariners. The July 31st non-waiver trade deadline is now less than four weeks away and the club has a hold on one of the two American League Wild Card slots. Seattle’s success this season has been largely due to the performance of their pitching staff — which has been one of the best in all of baseball. Up to this point, their offence has managed to provide enough, but the need for another bat has been painfully obvious since Spring Training. When the M’s took a one-year flier on Hart his winter, they were hoping to get something resembling the 2010-2012 Hart: a right-handed bat with 30-plus home run power. That in and of itself may have been wishful thinking considering the slugger didn’t play a game in 2013 after having surgery on both of his knees. So far this season Hart hasn’t provided much offensively. Sure, his five home runs this year are only one fewer than Robinson Cano has, but his .209 batting average in 156 plate appearances prior to hitting the disabled list is nowhere near his .273 career average. Even after the club added Hart, many believed that Seattle was still a bat short and it’s safe to say that Logan Morrison isn’t quite the substantial upgrade that was really needed. LoMo has been hitting better of late and with Brad Miller‘s resurgence at the plate over the last month, the lineup is definitely in a good spot for a timely upgrade in the outfield/designated hitter/first base department. A report from Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com yesterday suggested that Seattle would be willing to part with Brandon Maurer and another piece in a potential trade for Chicago White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo. This isn’t the first time that the M’s have been linked to the 25-year old, but it is the first time we’ve gotten word on what the potential cost of acquiring him would be. It would certainly make sense for the Mariners to deal from their reliever surplus and names like Maurer and Dominic Leone could be of interest to other teams. But a deal for a player like Viciedo would only make sense depending on who the other player involved would be, of course. Myself and many others have been impressed by Maurer’s first couple appearances out of the bullpen and he does have the makings of a potential future closer, but that shouldn’t make him untouchable. The question at hand would be if Viciedo specifically, is the player that would help the Mariners. Viciedo has mainly played right field this year for the White Sox, but has seen time in left as well, so hypothetically he would displace Dustin Ackley in left should he be acquired. It has to be noted though, that while Ackley is struggling mightily this year with the bat, he has been very sound defensively and has helped shore up an outfield that was downright terrible in the field at times last year. Viciedo isn’t even an average defender in the outfield and owns a -12.7 UZR in his outfield career. The athleticism of centerfielder James Jones could help offset some of the liability Viciedo would bring, but the downgrade that would take place defensively by replacing Ackley projects to be very noticeable, and possibly disastrous during a Chris Young start. That’s not to be a complete downer on Viciedo however, as he does carry something sorely needed by the M’s: right-handed pop. The Cuban outfielder has a career 88 wRC+ against left-handed pitching, but also has a career 90 wRC+ against right-handed pitching so he wouldn’t necessarily be acquired for the purposes of being utilized in a platoon situation. For what it’s worth, eight of his nine home runs this year have come against right-handed pitching. Remembering that Seattle does appear to have the financial flexibility to make a trade, it wasn’t all that long ago that they were deemed to be tapped out by the front office. Viciedo’s 2014 salary was just $2.8 million and he’s owed about half of that now so he would be a potential fit financially as well. It’s even possible that the club could pick up the outfielder as well as a starting pitcher with a low salary to provide some extra depth. I have a hard time seeing Hart get much action in the outfield for the remainder of the year, but there could be a plausible scenario where he spends some time at first base, which would open up the designated hitter spot for someone like Viciedo. Or, the club continues to play the matchup game and starts Ackley on nights when Young is pitching and brings him in to the game late as a defensive replacement. All that’s speculation on my part, however, and really it’d be ideal to take a week or two to evaluate Hart and see if Ackley can build off of a strong serious against the Houston Astros to begin July. But sitting back and hoping for the best is a terrible idea and something the Mariners must avoid. If Hart is able to return to his pre-knee surgery form then certainly the M’s could get away with making a small or medium upgrade to their offence with a guy like Viciedo. But there’s a very real possibility that he won’t and Seattle should be looking at a bigger fish anyway. Prospect Insider’s Jason Churchill compiled a list of potential trade targets for the Mariners, and on that list was Texas Rangers outfielder Alex Rios. The former Toronto Blue Jay would seemingly fit the Mariners perfectly — right-handed bat, a solid defensive outfielder, has plus speed, and is capable of hitting at Safeco. However, as Jason notes, it’s unknown at this point whether or not the Rangers will be willing to part with their outfielder as he has a $13.5 million club option for 2015. And if he is made available and ownership is willing to eat what’s left of the $12.5 million he’s due this year, he’d definitely cost more than a reliever and a secondary prospect. But that doesn’t mean the M’s don’t have the pieces to get a deal done. Realistically, Seattle needs a healthy, productive Hart and a secondary bat that they bring in from outside the organization to solidify the lineup. Does a healthy Hart and Viciedo take this lineup to another level? It’s unlikely. Does Hart and Rios? Probably. The Mariners can’t afford to stand pat now that the Oakland Athletics have made the first blockbuster of the summer by acquiring starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs for three top prospects. The A’s were one of the top teams in baseball to begin with and they just got a whole lot better. Seattle has an opportunity to make something out of Cano’s first year in blue and teal and what’s turning into an outstanding season from Felix Hernandez, and there’s no reason for them to waste it.
The Seattle Mariners hit the halfway point of the 2014 season over the weekend. The club currently is a Wild Card leader, 1.5 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals. The M’s have done it with pitching, improved defense and timely hitting. We can talk for days about how the lineup needs a few upgrades, but the task at hand is assessing what’s occurred thus far. Grades do not reflect a player’s value to the team the way Wins Above Replacement is designed, but solely to place an appraisal on the player’s performance considering his role and expectations. Starting Pitching: B+ Despite the loss of James Paxton after just two starts, Hisashi Iwakuma for seven and Taijuan Walker not available for the entire first half, the Mariners’ rotation has been solid, ranking No. 9 in the league in FIP and No. 2 in innings pitched. The unit figures to get better with the return of Walker and getting Iwakuma a full slate of starts. If Paxton returns healthy, too, the Mariners will boast one of the top rotations in the circuit, led by the American League’s No. 1 ace King Felix Hernandez, a legit 1A in Iwakuma and three live arms in Paxton, Walker and Roenis Elias. There’s depth with Chris Young and the club is rumored to be seeking a mid-rotation veteran such as Jason Hammel or Brandon McCarthy. Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer can serve as emergency options, but both are better suited for the bullpen in the interim. Felix Hernandez: A+ Hernandez has never been better and not many have. He’s paced to top 10 fWAR for the first time in the American League since Pedro Martinez in 1999 and leads or is among the top 5 in innings, K/BB, FIP, strikeout percentage, batting average against, WHIP and ground ball percentage. Also, Hernandez leads the league in HR/9. He’s been ultra efficient, throwing fewer than 100 pitches per start (96.4) yet averaging more than seven innings per outing. He’s on a run through Sunday that includes nine straight starts going at least seven innings and yielding two runs or fewer and he ended June 3-1 with a 1.22 ERA and 54-6 K/BB in 44 1/3 innings. The M’s ace has had the great changeup and curveball in most starts, has commanded his fastball and sinker consistently and he’s used his slider in the right situations. Opposing batters have not figured out the right-hander, and that’s because he has to make a mistake to get hurt and he hasn’t made many at all. The King should be the starter in the All-Star game if the timing works out for him, with his only real competitor in terms of performance being Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees. As good as Hernandez was in 2010 when he won the Cy Young, he’s been better in 2014. Not many believed that was all that possible, but nobody that knows anything about King Felix is all that surprised, either. Hisashi Iwakuma: A- Iwakuma has been very good, sans his last two starts that could be partially blamed on a sore neck. He’s been efficient as usual, but his splitter is being challenged by left-handed batters; they’re laying off it and forcing Iwakuma to either throw it in the zone or use something else. Expect more fastballs and curveballs to lefty bats in the coming starts. Iwakuma’s the perfect No. 2 starter behind Hernandez, leading into Elias, Paxton and Walker, if the club gets healthy enough to see such a rotation. He’s as unique as any right-hander in baseball in terms of his delivery, deception and stuff and his slider has been a better weapon this season than last, explaining his dominance over right-handed batters — .209/.241/.351. He’ll get back to his usual eight-inning self soon enough, warranting many of his third-place Cy Young votes from a year ago. Roenis Elias: B+ Elias has been more consistent and effective than anyone could have expected. Despite his age — 25 — he’s inexperienced in the states but his athleticism shouts every start and his pithcability is well beyond that of most rookies. Elias may own one of top few left-handed curveballs in the American League and his changeup is better now than in April. Fastball command is a focal point for the second half, as is the Cuban’s workload, which currently is paced for nearly 210 innings. I’d imagine the M’s will try and suppress his innings after the All-Star break, perhaps even skipping a few starts and spreading out his innings and limiting Elias to 180-190 for the year. Chris Young: B Like Elias, Young has performed beyond all expectations considering his history of shoulder problems. He’s doing it with angles, mixing his pitches and above-average command of his two breaking balls. Young, too, may be a candidate for some workload relief at some point after taking the ball 15 consecutive times through the rotation while tallying 91 1/3 innings and 1465 pitches along the way. The right-hander hasn’t thrown more than 1847 pitches in any season since 2007 and hasn’t surpassed the 115-inning mark since the same season. Erasmo Ramirez: D- The only thing stopping Ramirez from getting a straight ‘F’ is his last four outings. In those starts he’s failed to go deep into games, but he’s allowed just two earned runs in those 20 innings and has surrendered just one home run. He’s lost his above-average control, however, issuing 16 bases on balls in that span, and I’m still concerned that his dropped arm slot is ultimately a problem. The stuff has returned but Ramirez has always been a strike thrower. Until now. James Paxton: INCTaijuan Walker: INC Paxton has made just two starts — two very good ones — and Walker did not see the majors in the first half. Walker’s return inserts a fairly fresh arm into the rotation — he’s totaled just 30 2/3 innings on rehab — and if he’s on his game will be an easy, significant upgrade over what the Mariners had been getting from Ramirez and Maurer. Paxton may be on his way back, too, but both remain INCOMPLETES until they make numerous starts. Bullpen: A+ The Mariners relief corps led all of the American League in ERA (2.59), holds (45) and FIP (3.16) through the first half. They ranked No. 3 in K/BB percentage, No. 2 in strikeout rate and led the AL in LOB percentage at 80.3, perhaps the most critical job of middle relievers and setup arms. With Maurer joining the unit, at least for the short term, the club has four wipeout options to go to after the fifth inning. Fernando Rodney: A At times it’s like a ride at the state fair, but Rodney has done the job and then some. Never mind the saves (23), just look at the strikeout rate (27.1 percent) and FIP (2.44), as well as a strong LOB rate of 78.8 percent. He’s avoided the home run ball and induced nearly 50 percent ground balls. Rodney has lengthened the Mariners bullpen and allowed the club to go other premium arms in high leverage roles while never burning their last option. Danny Farquhar: B+ Farquhar has been good, yet not quite as dominant as he was after being called up last season. He’s still punching out batters at better than one per inning — 9.87/9 to be exact — but the walks still are up and the ground balls are down. He’s been terrific, however, stranding runners — 80.1 percent — and has introduced during the first half a more two-seamer heavy arsenal that figures to be better for him in the long run. For the record, that’s why his average fastball is down to 93.4 mph from the 94.6 he posted a year ago. When he throws the fastball, it’s more often the two-seam variety than the four-seam. Fewer walk-driven appearances get Farquhar an ‘A’ by season’s end and we’re likely to see him mix in the changeup a little more than the 2.2 percent usage over the first half. Dom Leone: A- Leone, who is similar to Farquhar in that he’s a fastball-cutter reliever, differs in the breaking ball — slider versus Farquhar’s curveball — and in what he attempts to do with his fastball. He’s sat 93-95 mph with his heater, often keeping it down and generating some ground balls. He doesn’t use his cutter as much as Farquhar, instead opting for more four-seamers, often above the 95 mph mark and up in the zone. He’s throwing strikes and has adapted well to being used a little more often this season in the majors than he ever was in the minors. Leone never was used on back-to-back days before Lloyd McClendon went to him two straight days in Houston in early May, and again in Oakland on the same road trip. In all, he’s done so on five occasions, failing twice, then doing the job the final three times. Yoervis Medina: A- Medina’s season numbers don’t tell the story of his first half all that well. He walked 12 batters in 22 innings through May but has issued but two in June while striking out seven in 7 2/3 innings. The slider has been sharp and he’s throwing his changeup here and there over his last few appearances, flashing another plus pitch. If Medina is able to command his fastball this way on a regular basis, he’s no longer just a seventh-inning arm. If the changeup becomes a real weapon with consistency on top of that, and we’re talking about a solid eight-inning reliever who can occasionally close. Tom Wilhelmsen: C+ Wilhelmsen’s work on his fastball command is coming along well, but while the bite is mostly back on his once-devastating curveball, he’s still inconsistent with it at its release point. He’s thrown more two-seam fastballs since early May and has even toyed with a cutter-slider at 86-88 mph. His change still is a pitch he’s throwing more than he needs to, in my estimation, but despite his 4.52 BB/9, the former closer has been a useful piece in the Mariners’ bullpen, often covering multiple innings. At times he shows glimpses of his former self, but just as often he’s allowing baserunners and remains susceptible to the home run ball when behind in the count. Brandon Maurer: INC It’s two outings, so remember the qualifier here, but Maurer has sat 94-96 mph, touching as high as 99 and showing his put-away slider at 88-91 and a solid changeup in those three innings, which were very similar to his short stint out of the bullpen in Tacoma before being recalled. Maurer hasn’t walked a batter in his new role, has fanned six of the 10 he’s faced and it hasn’t come against the San Diego Padres. He gets an incomplete grade for obvious reasons — he’d get an ‘F’ as a starter — but there’s a chance he receives an ‘A’ coming out of the bullpen if the club keeps him up beyond his current stint and status level. Joe Beimel: B Beimel is such a perfect fit in the M’s bullpen it’s laughable to compare him to any of the other arms, including the other southpaw. The veteran doesn’t strike out a lot of batters — just 15.4 percent of the batters he’s faced — and actually Beimel is walking more batters than the club would prefer at 3.16 per nine innings. But he hides the ball well, gets ground balls — 49.3 percent) and strands runners at a rate that suggests he’s an elite reliever (87.5 percent). Beimel hasn’t allowed a home run to anyone and left-handed batters have just seven hits and a walk in 48 plate appearances (.183). Furthermore, Beimel has yielded but two extra-base hits to lefties. Right-handed batters have managed a .313/.403/.404 line against him, however, which has been fairly typical of his career splits. Charlie Furbush: B+ Furbush has recovered from a poor first five weeks of the season to return to the dominant lefty he was a year ago. Since May 5, Furbush has allowed 10 hits in 15 frames, striking out 16 batters and issuing just two bases on balls. Opponents are batting just .189 off him in that span, and left-handed batters are just 4-for-30 off him since May 13. Furbush gets the added “+” for holding righties to a .240/.327/.396 line, making him useful in the middle innings beyond the left-on-left matchups. Lineup — Offense | Defense: C+ The Mariners are scoring but four runs per game, which is No. 11 in the American League, but Safeco Field is responsible for a little of that and the trends suggest the club has at least a shot to improve at the plate organically, largely with Brad Miller’s June turnaround and the signs that Logan Morrison may be an upgrade to either Corey Hart or Justin Smoak, if not both. There’s also the chance that Hart and/or Smoak can contribute better than they were, with Hart the more likely candidate to do so, particularly versus left-handed pitching. But the half is over and the grades for it stand alone. James Jones: C+ Jones has sacrificed some of his natural power for a shorter swing more engineered for contact. It’s showing in his .275 average, but he’s not drawing walks — just nine in over 200 plate appearances — and the power is pretty much nonexistent as suggested by his IsoP of .064. He’s played a sound center field and is a plus on the bases, however, and combined with his contact rates that have helped him produce something remotely passable at the top of the lineup, earning him a passing grade overall. Michael Saunders: B- Saunders would receive a B+ if he were able to stay healthy, in rhythm and producing consistently. Some of that wasn’t his fault or even the bad luck of an injury as McClendon sat him for the better part of April. Still, the 27-year-old has been a solid defender and baserunner and his .266/.310/.424 triple-slash is the third-best on the roster. He’s been even better on the road — .298/.330/.447 — and brings lineup versatility, as he’s capable of performing at the top or the bottom of the order. Robinson Cano: A- Despite a lack of ideal power as is standard of Cano’s game, he’s producing at the plate, defending and leading, and the value of his presence in the lineup everyday cannot be understated. Cano isn’t Safeco proof thus far, but he’s hit three of his five long balls in Seattle and the more those around him in the lineup produce the more power he’ll display. Kyle Seager: A- Seager is becoming a verb. Yes, a verb. The third baseman is batting .357/.425/.657 at Safeco Field this season and .277/.347/.490 overall. He ranks No. 2 among American League third basemen in home runs with 12, RBI with 55 and is No. 3 in on-base percentage. If clutch is your thing, Seager is batting .319/.380/.611 with runners in scoring position and .309/.380/.680 after the sixth inning. The dude is deserving of an all-star nod, and the love affair fans have with big names such as Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria shouldn’t keep him away from Target Field next month. Justin Smoak: D- Smoak’s saved from an ‘F’ grade because he plays above-average defense and most of all because he tried to play hurt since late April. That isn’t to say he would have been ‘good’ if he didn’t get hurt, but for a big guy like Smoak, a pulled quad is quite restricting at the plate. I still believe his ceiling as a hitter is a .240/.320/.430 type bat who is a decent bet to perform decently as a platoon hitter versus right-handed pitching, but he has to be graded on what he’s done at the plate through the first 81 games and that isn’t much. Corey Hart: INC Hart was pretty solid in April, posting a .337 on-base percentage and .453 slugging, then scuffled in May before succumbing to a hamstring pull that forced him to the disabled list six weeks ago. There’s more hope for Hart than for Smoak, but he’ll have to stay healthy if the M’s are going to benefit from his abilities to hit for power, get on base some and stabilize the lineup after Cano. Logan Morrison: INC Like Hart, Morrison hasn’t played enough — just 26 games — to grade him fairly, but his recent emergence is promising. After starting the year 3-for-20 then hitting the disabled list, Morrison is batting .258/.309/.484 with four home runs. There’s a track record of production under his name and he appears unfazed by Safeco Field where he’s batting .265/.315/.469 for the year. Brad Miller: C- Miller has flipped the table on his season, batting .302 since May 29, cleaning up his defense at shortstop and getting to a few balls some shortstops can’t. His season numbers remain ugly but he’s been solid for four weeks now and his peripherals support his continuing to produce, including better contact rates, more hits to center field and left field and the maintaining of his power as he improves his average and on-base marks. Mike Zunino: A Zunino is the youngest regular catcher in all of baseball and has proven he can hit for power, call a game, receive, block and throw at above-average levels. He ranks No. 1 in baseball in stealing strikes and No. 8 in giving away the least number of strikes. Hes also thrown out 15 runners attempting to steal a base. Yes, he strikes out a lot — 33.2 percent of his PAs — and he doesn’t walk — 4.0 percent — but the pop is real and growing and he’s irreplaceable behind the plate. Dustin Ackley: F Ackley appears to have taken fairly well to left field after a rough first few weeks of this season, but with the exception of a few solid weeks in April, Ackley has been as bad as he’s ever been. He went .221/.287/.395 in May and in June he actually got worse, posting a .173/.244/.227 line. He’s making contact more than ever and still walking at an acceptable 7.3 percent rate, but his line drive percentage is down to 17.2 and he’s hitting more fly balls, including infield pop ups. It remains my belief that until he’s willing and/or able to avoid opening up his front side so early and with such torque, he will not hit with any consistency. Endy Chavez: INC Chavez hasn’t been up long enough to grade, really, but like Jones the acceptable batting average is empty — no on-base percentage and no power — and he doesn’t bring the speed and defense element in the same fashion. Bench: D+ This group includes the backup catcher, a pair of right-handed hitting outfielder who do not play with any sort of regularity or consistency and the club’s utility player. The ‘D+’ grade is mostly due to usage, but it does include the poor performances of the group as a whole. Willie Bloomquist: C- Bloomquist is batting .275/.292/.353 in limited duty and he’s actually played an adequate second base, shortstop and third base — and occasional outfield — when asked to do so. He’s had a great June (.348/.375/.435) after an awful May (.172/.167/.310) but is a useful piece on the roster and appears to be settling into McClendon’s preferred role for him. John Buck: C- I believe Buck needs to play a little more the second half of the year so the club doesn’t burn out Zunino. Buck has started just 17 games at catcher despite being a decent enough receiver. This lack of time certainly has impacted his offensive production, which has always been limited to power and nothing in terms of on-base percentage. He has, however, drawn eight walks in 84 plate appearances this season, where Zunino has 11 in 254 trips to the batter’s box. Stefen Romero: D+ Again, this grade is blamed on the club’s usage of him as much as anything else. It’s difficult for any hitter to get his timing down when he starts just 29 games in three months, let alone when it’s a rookie. Romero can hit — perhaps not quite enough to warrant regular time in a corner outfield spot on a contending team, but he can hit. The M’s just optioned him to Tacoma where he will play everyday and likely see the big club later in the summer. Romero did show he can handle left and right field, however, going from downright bad a year ago to passable in April to closing in on fringe-average the last 30 innings or so. Cole Gillespie: C+ Gillespie has used his experience to find a way to produce in the same role Romero has struggled. The 30-year-old is batting .257/.316/.329 in 33 games and has managed a .364 OBP versus left-handed pitching, which is when McClendon would like to use him most. He’s an above-average runner and average defender in left or right and is making contact — just 13 whiffs in 77 plate appearances. He’s even swiped two bags and is working the count well — 4.22 pitches per plate appearance. Lloyd McClendon | Field Staff: PASS While it’s impossible to truly evaluate the performance of a manager, bench coach, pitching coach, hitting coach, et al, it’s quite clear the staff has hit the right buttons more often than not. The depth of their teachings, leadership and decisions has reached the rotation (Young, Elias) bullpen (Wilhelmsen, Medina, Furbush), and the regular lineup where the one can argue Miller is hitting now partly because of the manner in which the staff chose to manage him during his slump. Furthermore, losing streaks do not appear to faze this roster, despite their relative inexperience and an overall lack of offensive talent and production. Front Office: INC The personnel folks made their mark signing Cano, Rodney and Hart and flipping Carter Capps for Logan Morrison. Some of those have worked, some haven’t, at least not yet. But the addition of Chris Young has been huge, as has the call-up of Dom Leone when the M’s decided it was no longer worth waiting out Hector Noesi. The grade remains incomplete for the season, however, since all but one of those moves was made before the season began. Jack Zduriencik and his staff will earn their grade over the next 60 days, as the non-waiver (July 31) and waiver (August 31) trade deadlines come and go. Overall: B- The team has pitched well from first pitch to final out, played very solid defense and has hit well with runners in scoring position (.266/.330/.434). They’re also one of the top five clubs in the league at getting in a runner from third base and fewer than two outs. Doing both of the aforementioned things well helps make up for the fact that they place fewer runners in scoring position and they get fewer runners to third base with less than two outs than do most other clubs. Whether or not they can keep up that pace remains to be seen, but the roster isn’t going to get worse from here on out, it’s going to get better, even if Zduriencik and his staff are unable to add a significant piece by the trade deadlines. Remember back in February and March when all fans wanted from the Seattle Mariners in 2014 was to avoid being virtually eliminated by the All-Star break and to have some meaningful games in August and perhaps even September? When the city just begged for jokes about the club being historically awful for a decade would subside for once and that the sun just shine down on the Emerald City Nine just a little bit? It’s all happening. And it may not stop there.