“When the unexpected becomes the expected, strange becomes familiar.” — Jason A. Churchill | May 20, 2016 At the halfway point of the 2016 season, the rotation of the Seattle Mariners was in disarray and their bullpen ineffective. It looked as if the Seattle’s season was quickly slipping away, especially after going 10-18 during the month of June. Then, the calendar turned to July and the Mariners slowly regained their footing and crawled back into the contention with just over 40 games remaining. So, how did the Mariners reverse course? Can they continue to build off their recent success and finally snap the longest current postseason drought in major league baseball? What role did manager Scott Servais play in the team’s rebound? We’ll get to all that in the Third Quarter Report Series, continuing with the starting rotation and bullpen. Starting rotation Over the last month, Mariner starters have provided something that the club desperately lacked during their June tailspin — more innings pitched from the rotation. How much better has the rotation been lately? During Seattle’s 28 games in June, starting pitchers logged 152.2 innings. That’s an average of 5.4 innings-per-start. Conversely, the rotation pitched 171.2 innings in the first 28 games after the all-start break for an average of 6.1 innings. Those extra innings certainly helped the bullpen get back on their collective feet until reinforcements arrived. But, the ability of the club’s starters to go deep into games also mattered in the win-loss column. Look at how the starting staff’s effectiveness influenced the team’s ability to win low-scoring games. Seattle’s Rejuvenated Starting Staff Month Starts of +6 IP RA/Gm * Total W-L W-L (+4 RS) W-L (3 or fewer RS) IP/GS April 17 3.3 13-10 9-1 4-9 6.2 May 18 4.1 17-11 16-4 1-7 5.8 June 13 5.3 10-18 10-7 0-11 5.4 July 14 4.8 12-12 8-2 3-10 5.8 August 9 3.0 11-3 6-0 5-3 6.4 * RA/Gm includes runs permitted by bullpen Since the start of July, the Mariners have won eight games when they scored three or less runs. That’s more than the first three months combined. This success in low-scoring contests is directly attributable to a rotation that’s been routinely pitching through the sixth inning and an improved bullpen, which I’ll get to in a moment. So, who turned around the rotation? Although Felix Hernandez deserves credit for his performance since returning to the active roster on July 20, he’s not the only one who’s been logging the innings recently — far from it. Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Wade LeBlanc, and Felix have combined for an average of 6.4 innings during their first 21 starts of the second half. Plus, Wade Miley went six or more innings during three starts prior to being traded and Ariel Miranda — the player Seattle received for Miley — went six innings during his Mariners debut. While the starting staff has been performing superbly over the last 30 days, there’s one significant concern hanging over the rotation as the club enters the home stretch — depth. The departure of Miley combined with the demotion of an under-performing Taijuan Walker leaves the rotation woefully thin. That’s clearly on display this week with Paxton going to the disabled list (DL) yesterday and Cody Martin thrust into a starting role. Optimally, the Mariners would prefer to have Paxton and Walker pitching every fifth game with the big league club, permitting LeBlanc to round out the rotation. In the interim, they’ll field a rotation with Felix, Kuma, LeBlanc, Miranda, Martin, and possibly Joe Wieland — he took Walker’s start last week. The club could recall Walker to help, but that would contradict their stated goal of giving the 24-year-old an opportunity to re-harness his immense potential. Until he demonstrates he can go deeper into games, Walker doesn’t necessarily provide a better option than Miranda, Martin, or Wieland. Here’s another illustration of how going deep into games has affected the workload and effectiveness of Seattle’s relief staff. Mariners Pitching Workload Distribution (Thru Aug 16) Month SP IP SP % SP FIP RP IP RP% RP FIP April 143 69% 3.78 64 31% 3.15 May 161.1 64% 4.30 90.4 36% 3.38 June 152.2 61% 4.36 98.1 39% 4.90 July 140 66% 4.52 72.2 34% 4.10 August 89.2 67% 4.13 43.7 33% 3.14 As the rotation picked up its fair share, the bullpen’s effectiveness returned to its April levels. This is made evident by the bullpen’s improved fielding independent pitching (FIP) in July and August, when their workload declined. That’s not to say that the newfound success of the relief corps is solely dependent on the starting staff going deeper into games. Yet, when the rotation sunk during the disaster known as June, the bullpen was sucked under by the resultant whirlpool of overuse. Let’s turn our attention to a bullpen that has made a complete turnaround thanks to the shrewd maneuvers of general manager Jerry Dipoto. Bullpen The most influential and notable change to the relief corps has been the transformation of Edwin Diaz from Class-AA starting pitcher in May to major league closer by the end of July. Through his first 32 games of his brief major league career, Diaz has the highest strikeouts-per-nine innings of any pitcher with 30 or more innings pitched this season. Rookie of the Year talk may be a bit premature, but the 22-year-old is certain to garner votes, especially if he helps propel the Mariners into the postseason. As great as Diaz has been, he’s not the only one who’s made a difference lately. Let’s discuss several other upgrades that have been working for Seattle as this week’s play began. Since returning from the Texas Rangers in late June, Tom Wilhelmsen has held opposing hitters to a .267 on-base percentage during his first 18 appearances and now finds himself as Servais’ go-to guy during high-leverage situations prior to the ninth inning. With the exception of last night’s difficulties against the Los Angeles Angels, Arquimedes Caminero has done well since arriving from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The issue going forward is whether he can sustain his strong start with Seattle. If he can, the 29-year-old’s presence provides the club with another effective high-powered arm. Drew Storen is another new arrival who has performed well during his small sample size stay in Seattle. The right-hander came over from the Toronto Blue Jays in a “change of location” deal that shipped Joaquin Benoit out of the Emerald City. After a bad first appearance with Seattle, Storen has been superb holding opponents to a .226 batting average. Although he generally goes unheralded, Vidal Nuno has been a solid and versatile performer for the Mariners. The southpaw has pitched two or more innings on ten occasions is the club’s emergency starter in the bullpen. The recent return of Nick Vincent from the DL has also provides a boost to the relief corps. In his first four appearances after returning, the 30-year-old struck out four and walked none in 3.2 innings. Unfortunately, he surrendered a game-tying home run to Albert Pujols last night. Last night’s mistake notwithstanding, if Vincent can stay on track and return to pre-injury form, he provides the club with yet another high-leverage option. Suddenly, the back-end of the bullpen has much more length. Yes, the bullpen has quickly become a bright spot, but reliever volatility is a never-ending challenge for managers and team executives. Caminero and Storen have looked impressive. However, both pitchers are performing well above what they were doing with their former clubs. Will they be able to sustain their newfound success? Conversely, will they regress to their previous numbers? In addition, the Mariners are in uncharted territory with Diaz. His workload and health will under close observation as the club finds itself getting deeper into the pennant race. Fortunately, more help may be on the way. Steve Cishek should return from the DL in the near future. His presence would be a welcome addition as either a right-handed specialist or a back-end option. Moreover, injured relievers Tony Zych and Evan Scribner are rehabbing and could help the team in September. Finally The bullpen has been a strength for the Mariners during the past month, but the club needs to continue to field a competitive rotation during the homestretch. Otherwise, a repeat of the 2014 season is possible. For those who don’t recall, Seattle missed an opportunity to play their way into the 2014 wildcard competition by one game. One of the key reasons they fell short was a lack of starters in September, when they shutdown starters Chris Young and Roenis Elias due to health concerns. With no other reasonable options available, then-manager Lloyd McClendon opted to start Wilhelmsen on September 25. Running out of starting pitching with a week remaining in the season isn’t conducive to reaching the postseason. That’s why the Mariners will need Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Paxton available and ineffective during the last six weeks of the season. If not, the club could be reliving history during the last lap of an otherwise exciting baseball season in the Emerald City.
“When the unexpected becomes the expected, strange becomes familiar.” — Jason A. Churchill | May 20, 2016 At the halfway point of the 2016 season, the rotation of the Seattle Mariners was in disarray and their bullpen ineffective. It looked as if the Seattle’s season was quickly slipping away, especially after going 10-18 during the month of June. Then, the calendar turned to July and the Mariners slowly regained their footing and crawled back into the contention with just over 40 games remaining. So, how did the Mariners reverse course? Can they continue to build off their recent success and finally snap the longest current postseason drought in major league baseball? What role did manager Scott Servais play in the team’s rebound? We’ll get to all that in the Third Quarter Report Series, starting with the AL West standings and trends. Plus, a look at the club’s ability to generate offense. First, here are our Mariners third quarter award winners: MVPArkins: Nelson Cruz, DHChurchill: Kyle Seager. 3B Cy YoungArkins: Hisashi Iwakuma, RHPChurchill: James Paxton, LHP Defensive MVPArkins: Mike Zunino, CChurchill: Seager SurpriseArkins: Shawn O’Malley, UTLChurchill: Tom Wilhelmsen, RHP Standings and Trends During the mid-season report, we suggested the American League (AL) West division standings would tighten and that’s exactly what’s happened. Here are the AL West standings as of today. AL West Standings (As of August 17) Tm W L W-L% GB R RA last10 last20 last30 TEX 71 50 .587 — 4.7 4.6 7-3 13-7 17-13 SEA 63 55 .534 6.5 4.7 4.3 8-2 13-7 19-11 HOU 61 58 .513 9.0 4.5 4.1 4-6 7-13 13-17 OAK 52 68 .433 18.5 4.0 4.8 4-6 7-13 13-17 LAA 50 69 .420 20.0 4.5 4.8 1-9 6-14 13-17 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 8/17/2016. While the Mariners deserve credit for their torrid August, the primary reason they’ve been able to climb back into the AL West race is the mediocre play of the teams in front of them in the standings. During July, Seattle gained two games on the division leading Texas Rangers and lost just half a game to the Houston Astros despite posting a 12-12 win-loss record. The following table illustrates how AL West teams have fared since the start of the third quarter of the season on July 3. AL West Standings (Since July 3rd) Tm W L GB R RA SEA 20 16 — 143 152 TEX 19 19 2.0 157 197 HOU 18 19 2.5 160 145 LAA 17 20 3.5 176 174 OAK 17 21 4.0 137 176 For the Rangers, their success down the homestretch will be heavily dependent on run prevention. The club knows how to score runs, but has a -40 run differential since July 3. What’s the specific problem? Their rotation. Since losing starters Derek Holland and Colby Lewis to injury in late June, Texas has been unable to find suitable substitutes. As you’d expect, Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels have performed well. But, the rest of the staff entered this week with a combined earned run average (ERA) since the all-star break. There is hope for the Rangers though. Holland could be back as early as the end of this week, while Lewis may return to the rotation by the end of this month or early September. Without these two hurlers, or adequate substitutes, the club’s hold on the AL West division lead will be tenuous. The challenge facing the Rangers’ cross-state divisional rivals is exactly the opposite. The Houston Astros remain relevant thanks to their pitching, while being hamstrung by run production. I know. Houston’s 160 runs scored since July 3 is second best in the division. But, a closer look at their record reveals they’ve scored two or fewer runs in 18 of those games — nearly half of their third quarter. Thanks to their strong pitching, the Astros managed to win four of those lose scoring games. However, the offense will have to be more robust for the club to remain in contention. What’s the offense’s biggest problem? Reaching base. While Houston has a superb young core of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer, only one other regular — Luis Valbuena — has an on-base percentage (OBP) above league-average and he’s on the disabled list (DL). It’s tough to generate offense without men on base. Like the Mariners, Houston was relatively inactive at the August 1 trade deadline. Unless general manager Jeff Luhnow makes external additions prior to August 31, his club’s best hope for an offensive upgrade will come from within — heralded prospect Alex Bregman and Cuban free agent Yulieski Gurriel. Bregman has scuffled since his major league debut on July 25 and Gurriel’s major league debut is being delays because he needs more seasoning in the minors that expected. If both players can find their mojo in the near-term, the Astros immediately become a far more formidable opponent for the Rangers and Mariners during the last 4o games of the season. Assuming no club makes a significant addition to their respective roster, the Rangers continue to be the class of the AL West division. But, their banged up rotation leaves them vulnerable to a club capable of seizing the moment. With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to the Mariners and their run production. Offense As Prospect Insider Jason A. Churchill noted during the Reign Man Edition of the Sandmeyer and Churchill podcast, it doesn’t really matter how the Mariners scores runs as long as they continue to do so. The club entered the week averaging 4.66 runs scored-per-game — sixth best in the AL. While Jason is spot-on with his assessment, several notable Mariners are struggling at plate. Let’s look at some of the hitter who were struggling as this week began. The first base platoon of Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee hasn’t been as productive in month. Despite the early season surge of Lee during limited appearances and Lind’s late-inning heroics, the duo is batting a combined .207 since July 1. Lind is slashing .268/.333/.439 with two home runs during the small sample size known as August. Perhaps, he’s on the brink of turning around the worst season of his 11-year career. Two DL stints have reduced the availability of shortstop Ketel Marte. But, his struggles at the plate appear to have more to do with an expanding strike zone than injury or illness. The challenge for Mariners management during the last six weeks of the season will be balancing their young shortstop’s professional development with their postseason aspirations, especially with no clear-cut upgrade available on the 40-man roster. Another scuffling regular is center fielder Leonys Martin. Coming into this week, he had a .223/.279/.325 triple-slash since returning from the DL on June 6. Martin does provide value even when isn’t hitting though. He’s still the best defender they’ve had in center field since Franklin Gutierrez. Speaking of Guti, he’s been particularly strong against left-handed pitching. But, the 33-year-old tailed off in July with a .189/.318/.297 slash and one home run during 44 plate appearances in July. Fortunately, it appears that he’s returning to form in August. It’s worth noting that Gutierrez has played in 73 games this season — his most since 2011. That’s a credit to his hard work and devotion and the team’s willingness to adjust his playing time depending on his chronic health issues. In the end, both parties have reaped the rewards of their collaboration. The all-star break didn’t seem to help Gutierrez’s platoon mate, Seth Smith. After slashing .364/.400/.727 and hitting four home runs during the first 10 games of July, the left-handed hitter is batting just .192 with no home runs since the resumption of play on July 15. Considering Smith’s veteran status and professional approach, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. But, it’s worth mentioning that his second-half offensive production has dropped considerably during the last four seasons. Another corner outfielder, Nori Aoki is a somewhat enigmatic presence. After struggling greatly against southpaws, the club optioned the 34-year-old to Tacoma in late June. Since his July 20 recall, he’s been the primary leadoff man against right-handed pitching and performed relatively well. Would management prefer to have a better option than Aoki? Probably. But, there are no proven replacements ready to wrest playing time away from the five-year veteran. Chris Iannetta isn’t having a good season offensively, but that’s not as worrisome when discussing the backstop position. The 33-year-old has performed admirably while serving as a stopgap until Mike Zunino was ready to return to the big league club. Now, Iannetta is an excellent insurance in case of injury or a Zunino regression. Speaking of Zunino, the 25-year-old is one of several Mariners who’ve helped buoy the club’s offense despite the struggles of the players I’ve just mentioned. Thanks to his improved methodology at the plate and his superior defensive prowess, Zunino has effectively become the club’s starting catcher since returning from Class-AAA Tacoma on July 20. The time spent in Tacoma has certainly helped the right-handed hitter, who currently owns a .392 OBP. The most impressive element of Zunino’s offensive game is his walk rate, which was 11.4-percent after Sunday’s game. That’s nearly four points higher than the major league average and six points above his career norm. Is Zunino’s production a mall sample size? Yes. But, it’s an encouraging development. General manager Jerry Dipoto chose to build his 2016 offense around three position players — Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager — and it’s proving to be a wise decision. The trio has missed a combined six games this season and have used their bats to propel the club’s offense throughout the season. At the conclusion of play on Sunday, the threesome was slashing a combined .289/.351/.518 with 23 home runs since July 3. While it must be reassuring for Servais to have his core players available nearly every day, the club’s recent playoff push would likely stall if any of them were to enter a prolonged slump or be out of the lineup for an extended period. The sky isn’t falling in the Emerald City, but better performances from the Mariners’ veterans would go a long way in helping the club sustain their recent winning ways. Otherwise, it’s going to be a white-knuckle ride for the rest of the season.
Much to the chagrin of Seattle Mariners fans, their team was relatively inactive at Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. Certainly, watching two consecutive late-inning losses to the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, while other contenders improved their major league rosters didn’t help their morale either. It’s not as if the Mariners season is over because they didn’t make any big moves. They remain relatively close in wild card race. Plus, they’re eight games behind the division-leading Texas Rangers with seven contests remaining with Texas. Plus, they’re just 2.5 games behind the second-place Houston Astros. There is hope. But, I get it. Fans would’ve liked to have seen more action. Me too. Frankly, I felt the Mariners needed to do more before 1 p.m. on Monday to become more than a fringe contender. But, the club didn’t do more and has 57 games remaining to end the longest current postseason drought in major league baseball. Certainly, to play meaningful October baseball, Seattle will have to play better than they have to date. That means that the Mariners will have to do well against their division rivals — 63-percent of their remaining schedule is against the American League (AL) West. With that in mind, I thought it’d be fun to delve into the “deadline season” maneuvers by Seattle’s four division rivals. Each club had a unique approach. There was a buyer, a holder, a sellout r, and a rudderless shipper. Let’s start with the buyer. Texas Rangers Most pundits classified the club as a deadline “winner.” I’m not as enthusiastic though. Don’t get me wrong. They did improve their roster and I’ve seen Texas as the team to beat in the AL West since the beginning of the season; I still feel that way. However, they solidified an already strong lineup and remained exposed to risk from a bigger need — their shallow rotation. It’s not as if general manager (GM) Jon Daniels didn’t try to upgrade his starting staff. But, the market was thin and he understandably didn’t want to overpay for one of the many ordinary arms on the market, such as Andrew Cashner, Drew Pomeranz, Hector Santiago, or the injured Rich Hill. Can you blame him? Multiple reports suggested Texas was interested in top-shelf starters Chris Sale and Jose Quintana of the Chicago White Sox. But, they were unable to acquire either hurler. We’ll never whether the Rangers didn’t want to meet Chicago’s demands, or if the duo were actually available. For whatever reason, Daniels couldn’t secure another starter for his rotation. So, he did the next best thing for his club. He upgraded the team’s offense and added a back-end reliever to his struggling bullpen. The Rangers aggressively sought out and attained two proven offensive players — catcher Jonathan Lucroy and outfielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran — who are certain to ensure that the club’s offense remains prolific. The duo will help with more than the club’s run-production though. Lucroy’s game calling and defensive skills behind the plate will benefit Rangers pitchers and Beltran adds another clubhouse leader with postseason experience. Daniels addressed his roster’s weakest link by landing Milwaukee Brewers closer Jeremy Jeffress in the same deal that brought Lucroy to Arlington. Texas relievers rank last in the American League — according to the Fangraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR), They’ve also allowed the most home runs and registered the fewest strikeouts-per-nine innings of any bullpen in the majors. Jeffress isn’t a marquee name like Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller and he’s not a swing-and-miss type like Chapman or Miller. But, he’s surrendered just two home runs in 44 innings of work this season and has a proven track record in high-leverage situations. Adding Jeffress into the late-inning mix with hard-throwers Sam Dyson and Matt Bush certainly improves the Rangers’ chances of holding on to leads late in games. The issue is whether their starting staff can hold leads to hand over to their improved bullpen. At the top of the rotation, the Rangers are in decent shape with co-aces Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, plus southpaw Martin Perez. But, the back-end isn’t proven or reliable. The injury losses of Derek Holland and Colby Lewis have forced the Rangers to turn to Lucas Harrell — recently acquired from the Atlanta Braves — and A.J. Griffin to round out the rotation. The question for Texas is whether the duo can provide enough quality innings until Holland and Lewis from the disabled list (DL), assuming they arrive back on schedule or at all. Holland has been on the DL with shoulder soreness since late June and is closest to returning. He’s scheduled to start a rehab assignment on Friday. It’s worth noting that this is the southpaw’s third consecutive season with DL time and that he’s only started 29 games since the start of the 2014 season. Lewis has also been out since late June with a strained lat muscle. As Mariners fans know, recovery from that injury is a slow process. Seattle relievers Ryan Cook and Evan Scribner have been on the DL with lat strains since Spring Training and neither pitcher has an estimated return date. In Lewis’ case, he’s currently doing a long toss program with no formal return date. If it sounds like I’m nitpicking the Rangers — I am. They’re a legitimate World Series contender intent on winning it all. I’m just not certain that their rotation is good enough. Houston Astros Unlike their cross-state rivals, the Astros were “holders” and remained relatively inactive at the deadline. Their biggest moves were recalling rookie infielder Alex Bregman from the minors and signing Cuban free agent Yulieski Gurriel. Bregman — the number-two overall pick during the 2015 amateur draft — was primarily a shortstop during his brief stay in the minors. But, the Astros have that position covered for the foreseeable future with 2015 National League Rookie of the League Carlos Correa. With shortstop unavailable and the team in need of an offensive spark, the Astros slid the 22-year-old over to third base. Unfortunately, for Houston and Bregman, he’s struggling mightily with just one hit in his first 34 major league plate appearances. The 32-year-old Gurriel, viewed as a major league ready, will likely join the Astros after completing a short stay in the minors to re-hone his baseball skills. The right-handed hitter has played at second and third base, plus shortstop in the past. Perhaps, he’ll relieve Bregman when ready, permitting the rookie to resume his development in the minors. The only deadline trades made by Houston GM Jeff Luhnow shipped relievers Scott Feldman to the Toronto Blue Jays and Josh Fields to the Los Angeles Dodgers for prospects. Both pitchers weren’t that effective in the Astros’ superb bullpen and deemed expendable. The lack of movement by Houston spurred many analysts to portray the club as deadline “losers,” but I can understand the organization’s reluctance to make “win-now” blockbuster deals. Their roster is more flawed than their win-loss record suggests. In early July, I noted that Houston’s strong June was driven by the scorching bats of several hitters who were overachieving. Specifically, Luis Valbuena, Carlos Gomez, Marwin Gonzalez, Jason Castro, and Colby Rasmus, who were all dramatically above their career on-base percentage (OBP) in June. Based on the reasonable assumption that the majority of these players’ numbers would normalize, I suggested during the Mariners mid-season report that Houston’s record would level out. That’s exactly what’s happened. The Astros had a 13-12 win-loss record in July and their OBP plummeted from number-two in the AL during June to eleventh best last month. What happened to those super-hot June performers? Other than Valbuena, who’s currently on the DL, every other player’s OBP is below the .270 mark since July 1. Yes, Houston’s core is outstanding. But, their lineup lacks depth and needs several pieces to improve as a unit. With that in mind, their front office wasn’t willing to forsake their future by overpaying at the deadline. Rather, they opted to be holders and ride out the season with their current cast of characters. To be honest, I don’t blame them. Oakland Athletics Led by president of baseball operations Billy Beane and GM David Forst, the Athletics have been masterful at orchestrating deals as both buyers and sellers during previous years. This time, they were in the latter category. In early June, Oakland sent utility-man Chris Coghlan to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for infielder Arismendy Alcantara. The 24-year-old Alcantara was a top-100 prospect as recently as 2014, but he’s struggled during limited big league auditions. Despite his early problems in the majors, the switch-hitter is a good fielder who possesses home run power and stolen base speed. Plus, he has the athleticism to play second base, shortstop, and center field. The club’s big sell job dispatched outfielder Josh Reddick and starting pitcher Rich Hill to the Los Angeles Dodgers for three prospects. The most notable being Grant Holmes, a 20-year-old right-handed starter who ranks number-82 on the MLB.com top-100 prospect list. Selected by the Dodgers with the number-22 overall pick during the 2014 amateur draft, Holmes projects as a mid-rotation starter. Oakland also picked up Frankie Montas. The 23-year-old is a hard-throwing starter capable of topping 100-MPH on the radar gun. His issues have been command on the mound and weight control on the scales. It’s possible that the right-hander will eventually transition to reliever. Currently, Montas isn’t playing due to a stress reaction in the rib area where he had offseason surgery. As a result, he’s not likely to pitch again this season. The third prospect acquired is 24-year-old Jharel Cotton, who projects to be either a mid-rotation starter. With that said, his 5-foot-11 frame may lead Oakland to transition the U. S. Virgin Island-born hurler into a reliever. The Athletics also traded outfielder Billy Burns to the Kansas City Royals for Brett Eibner. The right-handed hitter is a former second-round pick, who’s endured numerous injuries in the minors. But, he’s blossomed during his last two seasons at Class-AAA level. Eibner made his major league debut in late-May as an injury replacement for center fielder Lorenzo Cain and slashed .231/.286/.423 during 85 plate appearances before returning to the minors upon Cain’s return from the DL. Although this is a seemingly minor deal, it’s possible that 27-year-old Eibner could be a late-bloomer now that injury issues are behind him. Oakland retains club control over the outfielder through the 2022 season. Los Angeles Angels This is an organization in a difficult predicament. They desperately need to upgrade their minor league system — ranked worst in baseball. But, they have few appealing assets on their major league roster. Their most valuable piece — Mike Trout — is a generational talent who isn’t going anywhere. Still, the team did have opportunities to improve as Monday’s trade deadline approached, but their strategy was peculiar — at least to me. The club’s biggest deal sent southpaw starter Hector Santiago and minor league reliever Alan Busenitz to the Minnesota Twins for 26-year-old pitching prospect Alex Meyer and 33-year-old starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco. It’s incomprehensible to me that Los Angeles exchanged Santiago for Nolasco. Yes, the Twins are picking up a significant chunk of Nolasco’s salary for this year and next. But, he hasn’t been good for some time — 5.44 ERA during 56 career starts with the Twins dating back to 2014 — and is five years older than Santiago. Clearly, the key to this deal for the Angels is Meyer — a 6-foot-9 hard-throwing right-hander, who’s struggled with command throughout his professional career and has been dealing with shoulder problems for most of this season. Before his health issues, Minnesota had converted the number-23 overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft to a reliever. That’s right; Los Angeles dealt a starting pitcher, who was an all-star last season and under team control for one more year, for a struggling 33-year-old starter and a 26-year-old pitcher with command issues and shoulder problems. How does that make sense? The team’s only other move saw reliever Joe Smith going to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Class-A pitcher Jesus Castillo. In this case, the Angels were simply moving a rental player. Since Smith hadn’t been effective as in years past, his value diminished in the trade market. In return for their submarine tossing reliever, Los Angeles picked up the 20-years-old Castillo. Smith may have been the club’s only healthy player with an expiring contract. But, there were several players under team control past this season who could’ve been moved and brought value back to the Angels. Yet, GM Billy Eppler chose to stand pat. A prime trade candidate was third baseman Yunel Escobar. Los Angeles holds a $7 million club option for next season with a $1 million buyout. Considering that Escobar has been productive at the plate — .322/.370/.411 — and relatively affordable, it’s hard to fathom that the Angels couldn’t find a dance partner interested in the 33-year-old. Reliever Cam Bedrosian is a player who had to be in high demand and could’ve returned value to the organization. The son of former major league reliever Steve Bedrosian is under team control until 2022 and has been highly effective — 11.5 strikeouts-per-nine innings — as the eighth inning set up man for manager Mike Scioscia. With the trade of Smith and closer Huston Street going to the DL, Bedrosian has assumed the closer role in Anaheim. Wouldn’t it have made sense for the Angels to start retooling their system by moving the 24-year-old? Another trade piece could’ve been starter Matt Shoemaker. Granted, the club’s rotation has been so decimated by injury that moving a starting pitcher in-season might have been difficult. But, considering what the Tampa Bay Rays received from the San Francisco Giants for Matt Moore — major league third baseman Matt Duffy and two top-30 prospects from the Giants farm system — it’s plausible that the Angels could’ve found similar or more value for Shoemaker. Admittedly, moving right fielder Kole Calhoun would be a tough pill to swallow. After all, the 28-year-old is slashing .275/.354/.415. Other than Trout, he’s the club’s best position player and under team control through the end of the 2019 season. On the other hand, how do the Angels plan to be competitive by 2019? Considering the current state of the Angels’ minor league system, it’s unlikely it’ll be able to provide significant relief within the next three seasons. Plus the Angels will enter 2019 with a 27-year-old Mike Trout with one year remaining on his contract and a 39-year-old Albert Pujols with two left on his deal. Both men will be making a combined $62 million. Under these circumstances, I fail to see a road map to success for the Angels. So, Seattle Mariners fans. There is a glimmer of hope for your team’s playoff expectancy. The two teams in front of you in the AL West standings have played better, but have flawed rosters too. It’s going to come down to which teams are best positioned to overcome their flaws. In my mind, the Rangers continue to be in the driver’s seat. But, their starting staff could be their undoing in the divisional race or postseason. Plus, the Astros are struggling enough to be caught by Seattle. For the Mariners to leapfrog Houston and — gasp — Texas, they’d need a few breaks along the way. Most importantly, they’d need their starting staff to regain its early season form and avoid injury to their core position players. That’s a lot to hope for with less than two months remaining in the system. But, at least there’s hope Mariners fans.
Since arriving in Seattle, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has proven to be an aggressive deal maker. Thanks to his efforts, the Mariners are on the edge of contention as the club approaches the all-star break. A winning record during the first week of July has been a rare occurrence in Seattle. So, naturally, fans want the front office to aggressively pursue upgrades in the trade market. They’re tired of the franchise’s 14-season playoff drought, which happens to be the longest current streak of futility in the majors. With that fan excitement in mind, Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill published a series of comprehensive pieces that identify potential — and realistic — trade targets who could help the Mariners get over the playoff hump. If you haven’t already read his superb analysis, you can find it here. Undoubtedly, Seattle needs to make moves similar to the ones suggested by Jason. Otherwise, they won’t be playing October baseball this year. They need help with their starting staff and bullpen, plus another another corner outfielder. That’s a lot of holes to fill, especially for an organization with a minor-league system than ranked in the bottom 10-percent of the majors prior to the start of the season. What happens if Dipoto can’t satisfy all of his roster needs with big moves because he doesn’t have enough trade chips? That’s a distinct possibility. Making big deadline deals sounds so easy. But, the Mariners won’t be operating in a vacuum. They’ll be competing against many clubs with far superior farm systems. It may turn out that Dipoto will have to load the majority of his bait into one deal. He may only get one big fish in return. Then what? As I pondered the possibility that the Mariners may have to go big AND search the discount rack, I came up with novel idea on how to search for lower-tier players who could help the team. The moves I’m talking won’t excite fans, but could improve the roster nonetheless. Instead of simply scouring stat sheets for players who could help the Mariners, I decided to narrow my search for players who share a common history with Dipoto. Not following me? Please let me explain. Last offseason, the Mariners added no less than 14 players who previously crossed paths with their general manager in other organizations. Not all of these players have made an impact for Seattle or are even with the club anymore. But, a few have made their presence known. The two most notable examples of players with Dipoto are catcher Chris Iannetta and starter Wade Miley. Iannetta was in the Colorado Rockies system when Dipoto was working in their organization. The 48-year-old executive must have liked what he saw while with Colorado. His first trade as Los Angeles Angels general manager was acquiring Iannetta from the Rockies. In Seattle, Dipoto’s first free agent signing from outside of the organization was the 33-year-old catcher. In Miley’s case, Dipoto was Director of Player Personnel for the Arizona Diamondbacks when the left-hander was a first round selection of the organization during the 2008 amateur draft. Years later, he reunited with the southpaw by acquiring him up in a deal with the Boston Red Sox. The most recent deal with a Dipoto connection involved starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc, picked up in a minor deal from the Toronto Blue Jays just two weeks ago. Entering today, this move looks like a stroke of genius. Perhaps, the southpaw won’t sustain his initial success — he struggled today. But, adding LeBlanc was a low-risk maneuver, which was easier to execute thanks to the fact that Dipoto — and manager Scott Servais — were familiar with the 31-year-old. The trio I’ve mentioned aren’t the only ones who share a past with their general manager. Here are all of the players who’ve passed through the Mariners organization since Dipoto took the helm in September. Some are no longer around, while others are with the big-league club or playing with Class-AAA Tacoma. It’s worth noting that Shawn O’Malley was with Seattle prior to the new general manager taking over. Former Dipoto Acquaintances Chris Iannetta Wade Miley Wade LeBlanc Shawn O’Malley Dan Robertson Donn Roach * Kevin Munson * Brad Mills * Jarrett Grube * Evan Scribner ** Ryan Cook ** Efren Navarro *** Ed Lucas *** A.J. Schugel *** Charles Brewer *** * AAA Tacoma ** DL *** No longer with organization So, what exactly will be I be looking for? Obviously, a previous association with the Mariners general manager is a must. Otherwise, they’ll be less notable — and less expensive players — capable of filling a need or shoring up the club’s depth in Seattle or Tacoma. I focused on the positions previously mentioned, although I did include a middle infielder. Also, all of the players identified play with clubs that, in my estimation, are no longer contenders. My friends in western Pennsylvania may not agree though. Matt Joyce, OF — Pittsburgh Pirates Acquired by Dipoto in December 2014, the 31-year-old corner outfielder is having a solid year for the Pirates and owns a career .340 on-base percentage (OBP) during nine seasons. Joyce is succeeding against southpaws this year, but his career .188 batting average against lefties suggests he’s better suited for a left/right platoon. The veteran is a free agent at the end of this season. Gordon Beckham, INF — Atlanta Braves Some may wonder why I’d list an infielder. If you’re leaning forward, why not try to improve the bench? Beckham, who Dipoto previously acquired as a rental player during the Angels’ stretch run in 2014, has split his time between second base, third base, and shortstop this season. Having someone who entered today with a .284/.382/.442 triple-slash would be a significant offensive upgrade, especially if Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, or Ketel Marte were lost for a few days. A.J. Schugel, RP — Pittsburgh Pirates Here’s a name that might register with some Seattle fans. Last December, the Mariners selected Schugel when he was waived by the Diamondbacks, but they let him go just a month later in order to make room for starter Joe Wieland. The 27-year-old was an Angels draft selection before Dipoto’s watch and traded to Arizona in 2013 as part of the deal that sent former Mariner Mark Trumbo to the Diamondbacks. Schugel has done well as a middle reliever with Pittsburgh this season. To date, the right-hander has recorded a fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 3.02, while holding opponents to a .221 batting average. The rookie has also proven that he can go more than an inning — he has seven appearances of two or more innings. Whether the Pirates will be in a hurry to deal Schugel is debatable. He’s under team control through the 2021 season and the club hasn’t waved the white flag just yet. Daniel Hudson, RP — Arizona Diamondbacks When Dipoto was interim general manager in Arizona in 2010, he acquired Hudson from the Chicago White Sox. Still with Arizona, the 29-year-old is set to be a free agent at the end of the season and serving as setup man to closer Brad Ziegler. Hudson held opposing hitters to a .130 batting average during his first 30 appearances this season, although he’s stumbled recently, allowing two or more runs in four of his last six outings. Currently on bereavement leave, the right-hander has expressed a desire to stay with Arizona past this season. Perhaps, seeing the familiar face of the guy who brought him to the Diamondbacks might ease a transition to the Emerald City. Mike Morin/Cam Bedrosian, RP — Los Angeles Angels This duo of young right-handers are holdovers from the Dipoto years. Bedrosian was a first-round selection of the previous regime and Morin was a round-13 pick during Dipoto’s first draft with Los Angeles. The 24-year-old Bedrosian has displayed more electric stuff than his teammate, while the 25-year-old Morin has been a versatile performer capable of pitching more than one inning. Morin is under team control through 2020 and Bedrosian through 2022. Picking up either won’t come as cheaply as a rental. But, considering the lack of depth in the Angels system, moving these young hurlers would present Los Angeles with an opportunity to improve their minor league depth. Buddy Boshers, RP — Minnesota Twins After leaving the Angels system after the 2014 season, the southpaw played Independent League ball last season before signing a minor league deal with Minnesota last December. Currently assigned to Class-AAA Rochester, Boshers struck out 14 and walked two during 13 innings of work with the Twins this season. Would he provide an immediate jolt to the Mariners’ bullpen? No. But, adding minor league depth would be a wise choice for a club making a postseason push. Blaine Boyer, RP — Milwaukee Brewers The right-hander, who turns 35 next week, is the oldest of the players on my list. The 10-year-veteran has primarily pitched middle relief for the Brewers this year and represents another depth-driven acquisition. As noted in the Prospect Insider mid-season review of the Mariners’ roster, an area that could potentially plague the club is center field depth. When Leonys Martin spent two weeks on the disabled list earlier in the season, it was painfully evident that Seattle didn’t have a major league ready replacement. With that in mind, I identified two candidates who could fill in, if needed. Perhaps, Dipoto wouldn’t pull the trigger on either player before the non-waiver deadline. But, both could serve as a low-cost emergency center fielder and defensive replacements in the corner spots. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF — Milwaukee Brewers The 28-year-old’s association with Dipoto was a brief one in Los Angeles — purchased from the New York Mets, waived a month later, and claimed by the Mets. Nieuwenhuis has primarily played center field for the Brewers this season, but has experience in both corner outfield spots. His batting average is a paltry .216 batting average, but he’s been league-average at getting on base this season. The left-handed hitter is eligible for arbitration for the first time after the season. Peter Bourjos, OF — Philadelphia Phillies The right-handed hitter spent the first four years of his career with the Angels, until some guy named Trout took over in center field. In 2013, Dipoto shipped him to the St. Louis Cardinals, who waived him last offseason. Bourjos — a free agent after the season — is slashing a respectable .277/.315/.427 in the City of Brotherly Love. But, that’s the result of a torrid June after struggling during the first two months of the season. Understandably, my quirky list of trade targets isn’t exactly sexy. Fans would prefer to think about major names, such as Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, or Andrew Miller. Those kind of players are frequently mentioned during national media speculation surrounding the Mariners. But, those kind of discussions will likely turn out to be nothing more than idle chatter. I suspect that Dipoto will acquire at least one player similar to those suggested by Churchill, and he’ll add a few smaller pieces — like I’ve suggested. Maybe, he won’t have a shared history with them. But, they’ll be of the same ilk. I’d also expect the Mariners to use Tacoma to fill in any remaining gaps. This measured approach would permit the Mariners to make a serious run at the postseason, despite having a limited amount of valuable trade chips at their disposal. With that said, breaking up the band in the offseason may be the best course of action for Dipoto, even if he snaps his club’s dreaded 14-year drought.
“When the unexpected becomes the expected, strange becomes familiar.” — Jason A. Churchill | May 20, 2016 Forty games into the 2016 season, hopes and expectations were soaring for the Seattle Mariners. Then, unexpectedly, one of the best teams in Major League Baseball (MLB) became one of the worst in the span of just six weeks. The team that could do no wrong suddenly couldn’t catch a break. What exactly caused the Mariners’ downward spiral? Can the team get back on track and compete for a postseason berth? Considering the team’s struggles, how is rookie manager Scott Servais handling the adversity? We’ll get to all that in the Mid-Season Report Series, starting with the AL West standings and trends. Plus, a look at the club’s ability to generate offense. First, here are our Mariners mid-season award winners: MVPArkins: Robinson Cano, 2BChurchill: Cano Cy YoungArkins: Hisashi Iwakuma, RHPChurchill: Iwakuma Defensive MVPArkins: Leonys Martin, CFChurchill: Martin SurpriseArkins: Dae-Ho Lee, 1BChurchill: Lee Next, our league mid-season award winners: AL MVP Arkins: Jose Altuve Churchill: Altuve NL MVP Arkins: Clayton Kershaw Churchill: Kershaw AL Cy Young Arkins: Chris Sale Churchill: Corey Kluber NL Cy Young Arkins: Kershaw Churchill: Kershaw AL ROY Arkins: Nomar Mazara Churchill: Mazara NL ROY Arkins: Corey Seager Churchill: Seager AL MOY Arkins: Buck Showalter Churchill: Showalter NL MOY Arkins: Bruce Bochy Churchill: Bochy Standings and Trends The American League (AL) West division standings have shifted dramatically since our first-quarter review, when the Texas Rangers and Mariners were the only clubs with winning records and the Houston Astros were cellar dwellers thanks to an abysmal April. Here’s where the division stands at the midway point of the Mariners’ season. AL West Standings Tm W L GB Strk R RA vWest Home Road last10 last20 last30 TEX 52 30 — L 1 4.9 4.4 26-13 28-12 24-18 6-4 14-6 21-9 HOU 43 38 8.5 L 1 4.6 4.2 16-16 23-16 20-22 8-2 14-6 21-9 SEA 42 39 9.5 W 3 4.9 4.3 15-19 21-20 21-19 6-4 8-12 12-18 OAK 35 46 16.5 L 3 4.2 4.9 14-18 17-25 18-21 6-4 10-10 13-17 LAA 33 48 18.5 W 1 4.4 4.8 15-20 16-26 17-22 2-8 7-13 10-20 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 7/3/2016. Back in May, I suggested that the division’s contenders and also-rans would be more apparent by the season’s midway point and that’s certainly turned out to be true. Both Texas and Houston flew by Seattle in the standings in June, while the Mariners have struggled to remain relevant. The Rangers have continued to win despite losing three starters to the disabled list (DL) within the last 30 days — co-ace Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Colby Lewis. Credit for the club’s resiliency goes to the strong performances of co-ace Cole Hamels, fellow starter Martin Perez, and their torrid offense — ranked number-four in runs scored during June. The Texas bullpen was middle-of-the-pack in the AL during June, which is actually an improvement over its first quarter stature. Sam Dyson has done relatively well since assuming the closer role from incumbent Shawn Tolleson. But, the club only has one “swing and miss” arm in the ‘pen — former shortstop and number-one overall draft pick Matt Bush, who wasn’t even a reliever or in professional baseball a year ago. This is an area ripe for an upgrade prior to the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline. At the end of the first quarter, I referred to the Astros as “the most enigmatic team in the AL West.” Since then, only the Rangers have won more games than Houston in the AL. The Astros flourished despite the ongoing struggles of reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, who has seen his fielding independent pitching (FIP) and earned run average (ERA) skyrocket this season. Sophomore Lance McCullers has been the rotation’s best performer after getting a late start to the season due to shoulder soreness, while the rest of the staff has kept their team in games. The key to Houston’s resurgence has been several extremely hot bats. In June, the club ranked second in the AL in on-base percentage (OBP), thanks to hot stretches by Luis Valbuena, Carlos Gomez, Marwin Gonzalez, Jason Castro, and Colby Rasmus. It’s highly unlikely that this group can sustain their recent uptick since all are performing well above their career averages. Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics have become the also-rans thanks to a barrage of significant injuries. The only questions remaining for these clubs this season is how soon will they become sellers and who are they willing to move in deals? Although Texas is certain to cool off, they continue to be the best team in the AL West. Making the club even more formidable is the fact that, as noted in the Rangers deadline deal preview, general manager Jon Daniels possesses the assets and resourcefulness to be a major player in the trade market. Whether Houston can sustain their current trajectory with a less-than-optimal ace and a streaky supporting cast behind young stars Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer is debatable. Still, general manager Jeff Luhnow has also proven that he’s willing to wheel and deal at the trading deadline. Despite the recent struggles of the Mariners and the June bounces of the Rangers and Astros, I expect the division race to tighten as the season progresses. A lot can change within the span of six weeks. Just ask fans in Houston and Seattle. Now, let’s turn our attention to the team from the Emerald City. Offense Although the Mariners struggled to win games during the last six weeks, offense hasn’t been the problem. A comparison between Seattle’s MLB run production rankings at the first-quarter mark and the midway point of the season demonstrates that point. Mariners MLB Run Production Rankings Year Runs/Gm BB% SO% BA OBP SLG 1st QTR 7 14 11 17 16 10 Midway 6 11 8 12 10 6 Run production has remained essentially the same in league rankings and the team actually scored slightly more runs since the start of the second quarter. So, what’s working for the club? A lot. Let’s start with the heart of the batting order inherited by general manager Jerry Dipoto. Robinson Cano continues to demonstrate that last year’s sub-par performance was actually due to health issues and not age-related regression. Kyle Seager is on track to hit 20-plus home runs and repeat his career .263/.329/.440 triple-slash. Finally, Nelson Cruz has avoided the decline that many — including me — had predicted for the 36-year-old. The main stars aren’t the only contributors this season. New supporting cast members Adam Lind, Leonys Martin, Dae-Ho Lee, and Chris Iannetta have improved the offense to varying degrees. They’ve blended nicely with the heart of the order, plus holdovers Seth Smith, Ketel Marte, and Franklin Gutierrez to create a consistently productive lineup. In the offseason, Dipoto placed a strong emphasis on lengthening the club’s everyday lineup and improving the roster’s on-base ability in order to withstand a slumping player — or players. Overall, his plan has worked. But, that doesn’t mean that everything has gone as well as conceived. Take a look at how the OBP of each position ranks against the rest of the AL. Although there are mostly bright spots, a few areas of concern do exist. Mariners OBP Rankings (by Position) Position OBP League OBP (Position) AL Rank C .321 .293 2 1B .306 .326 12 2B .358 .331 3 3B .346 .330 4 SS .292 .316 12 LF .321 .324 11 CF .316 .327 8 RF .331 .343 12 DH .380 .325 2 PH .312 .295 8 At shortstop, Marte has been effective at making contact. But, his OBP has tanked due to an extremely low 3.4 walk rate that ranks in the bottom-10 among qualified major league hitters. Since returning from the DL on June 6, the switch-hitter has been even worse (2.1-percent). Fortunately, for the Mariners and Marte, there’s a good chance he’ll fix his on-base woes. The switch-hitter posted a 9.7-percent rate with Seattle during the second half of last year and 7.5-percent during parts of two seasons with Class-AAA Tacoma. Getting the 22-year-old back on track would provide a significant boost to the offense and provide Servais with another option to leadoff. Both corner outfield positions under-performed during the first half. As a result, Dipoto shook up the roster by optioning left fielder Nori Aoki to Tacoma on June 24. The 34-year-old had battled inconsistency at the plate all season, particularly against left-handed pitching. Considering Aoki’s career success against southpaws — .360 OBP — his struggles come as a surprise. This year, the left-handed hitter posted an anemic .244 OBP during 87 plate appearances against lefties. In Aoki’s place, the club is using Gutierrez and Smith in both corners spots, plus Cruz is getting more playing time in right field. Aoki’s demotion not only affects the outfield. His absence changes the status quo at first base and designated hitter. When Cruz is patrolling right field, one of the members of the first base platoon — either Lind or Lee — is getting the opportunity to be the designated hitter, while the other plays first base. Getting both Lind and Lee more consistent playing time may improve both players’ offensive numbers. Lind has been performing well below his career slash numbers and is sitting at .236/.266/.421 through the end of June. His struggles have spurred fan outcry for more playing time for Lee. Now, they’re getting their wish. Lee has certainly created a swirl of excitement with his bat and his contagious smile. But, some observers believe that Servais’ shrewd use of Lee has helped obscure flaws in the the rookie’s game. In another six weeks, we’ll know whether that’s true and if Lind can salvage his season. For now though, management seems content to stick with their first base platoon setup. Unlike recent seasons, the Mariners aren’t overly reliant on one or two hitters in order to score runs. Now, it’s a collaborative effort that’s been highly productive. That’s certainly a deviation from the norm in Seattle.
The Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline is nearing and Seattle Mariners fans are anxious to see how general manager Jerry Dipoto handles the club’s roster during his first “deadline season” in Seattle. With that in mind, I’ve been doing “primers” for each American League (AL) West division club to see how the club’s rivals stack up as the August 1 trade deadline approaches. In recent days, I’ve discussed each of Seattle’s divisional rivals — the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to the the Mariners. As mentioned in the earlier pieces, the trade market is certain to fluctuate greatly during the next six weeks. Some teams will go on a hot streak and feel like they have a chance, while others will stumble. In the end, all will have to decide whether to buy or sell and how aggressive they should be in the market. The Mariners fall into the category of a “stumbler” and are an excellent example of how quickly a team’s trajectory can veer off course. After posting a 30-11 win-loss record during the first two months, Seattle is 6-13 since. The club’s recent spate of misfortune has probably influenced the opinion of some fans on whether the Mariners should be buyers or sellers. For the purpose of this primer, I’m going to assume that the Mariners will be buyers. A month from now, their season may look much differently. For now, they’re still above the .500 mark and still very much alive in the divisional and wild card race. First, let’s talk about how Seattle entered their June tailspin. What happened? As with any baseball team — or season — there’s no one “thing” that leads to failure. In the case of the Mariners though, there’s one segment of the roster that’s clearly under-performed during the rough patch known as the month of June — their pitching. Look at the following table to see what I mean. Mariners Run Production vs. Run Prevention Month RS/Gm RA/Gm Total W-L W-L (+4 Runs scored) W-L (Under 4 Runs Scored) April 4.3 3.3 13-10 9-1 4-9 May 5.6 4.1 17-11 16-4 1-7 June 4.8 5.5 6-13 6-5 0-8 As you can see, there’s been a downward trend in runs allowed (RA/Gm) during month of the season. It’s true that club’s offense isn’t as robust in June when compared to their monster May, but it’s still averaging 4.8 RS/Gm. That should be plenty to win the majority of games. For further proof, look at Seattle’s win-loss record when they’ve scored four or more runs during each month of the season. In April and May, the Mariners combined to go 25-5 in those games. In June, however, they’re barely over .500. In fact, the ball club hasn’t won a game when they’ve scored three or less runs this month. It’s always tough to win when a team scores three or less, but 0-8? The declining effectiveness of the pitching staff is the root cause to the club’s June swoon. So, what’s the problem with the Mariners staff? The ugly baby The most apparent problem with the Mariners’ staff is the is the health of their starters. Many pundits and fans point to losing ace Felix Hernandez to the disabled list (DL) as the turning point. To a degree that’s true, but it’s a bit more complex. Sure, losing King Felix hurts. But, his replacement — James Paxton — has performed admirably in the King’s absence. Look at the numbers of Felix’s last four starts prior to his calf injury compared to Paxton’s. There are relatively the same. Felix Hernandez vs. James Paxton (Last three starts) Player IP H ER SO BB HR AVG Felix Hernandez 26.1 23 11 24 8 3 .235 James Paxton 26 28 4 27 8 1 .285 Am I suggesting that Paxton can replace Felix on a long-term basis? Of course not. But, the southpaw isn’t the problem. In fact, he’s been one of the team’s better pitchers in June. The true pain from Felix’s absence has to do with the subsequent loss of Wade Miley to the DL and the ongoing injury issues with Taijuan Walker. With Paxton subbing for the King, he wasn’t available to fill in for Miley or Walker. That forced the Mariners to turn to Adrian Sampson to take Miley’s most recent turn. The uncertainty surrounding Walker and the tendonitis affecting his right Achilles region will force Seattle to look to another hurler for Walker’s next scheduled start on Friday. Options include Mike Montgomery, newly acquired Zach Lee, and possibly Vidal Nuno. Obviously, losing two and possibly three starters would be a major setback for any team. But, it’s been worse for the Mariners. Why? The team was forced to rely more heavily on a bullpen that wasn’t a strength entering the season. The following table illustrates how the percent of workload has been slowly shifting from the starters to relievers with each passing month. Not coincidentally, the club’s win-loss record has worsened as the bullpen worked more innings. In June, the ugly baby finally appeared. Mariners Pitching Workload Distribution and Results Month SP IP SP % SP FIP RP IP RP % RP FIP April 143 69% 3.78 64 31% 3.15 May 161.1 64% 4.30 90.4 36% 3.38 June 104 61% 4.20 67 39% 5.1 As you can see, relievers are inheriting a larger workload. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to deliver the results as a unit. I included their increasing fielding independent pitching (FIP) to make that point. For those not familiar with FIP, it’s a metric that looks similar to earned run average (ERA), but only measures the outcomes that a pitcher can solely control — strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs. I’m not trying to be a “saber-geek,” but FIP takes out the luck and defense so we can just focus on the pitchers during this conversation. If you want to know more about FIP, you can’t read about it here at FanGraphs. Before getting into what the Mariners can do to fix themselves during the season, let’s discuss a few harsh realities facing general manager Jerry Dipoto. Reality check Seattle has limited resources available to use on the trade market. Their minor league system isn’t barren. However, it started the season ranked number-28 by Keith Law of ESPN.com. Just one prospect — Alex Jackson — ranked in the MLB.com Top-100. He came in at number-85. After this month’s draft, the club’s number-11 overall pick — Kyle Lewis — catapulted to second in Seattle’s system, according to Prospect Insider — ahead of Jackson. Top prospect Tyler O’Neill is a rising star. Should the club consider trading the 21-year-old now? If they did, they’d be selling low. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, the Mariners have a few pieces to sell and that’s the problem — they have FEW pieces. Moving O’Neill, Jackson, or Mike Zunino would bring some value back to Seattle. But, Dipoto would be selling low. He’s more accustomed to buying low. Does this mean that the Mariners won’t be able to wheel and deal? Of course not. But, they’ll be vying for pieces coveted by market competitors — such as the Astros, Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs — who have many more prospects to offer during negotiations. Reality check (Part two) Let’s be honest, the Mariners entered the season as a fringe-contender capable of winning more games than they lost, but not many more games. Thanks to a strong first two months, fan and pundit expectations for the club have soared. Now, the Mariners are leveling out. What’s changed since the start of the season? Nothing. The team is the same fringe-contender with an underwhelming bullpen. In a way, Seattle is exactly where they should be — hovering near the .500 mark. Does that mean that club should give up on the season? No. But, selling the farm — if they had one to sell — for a shot at a potential one-game playoff would be short-sighted and unreasonable, especially for a general manager in his first season with a new organization. Now that I’ve depressed and angered fans throughout the Pacific Northwest, what can be done to improve the Mariners pitchers and the rest of their roster? If it were up to me, I’d take a measured approach that attacked the following areas in this order — bullpen, corner outfield, rotation. Bullpen The biggest challenge facing the Mariners — other than limited resources — is that nearly every contender will be looking for relief help. That doesn’t mean that Seattle can’t find help. But, they’ll be facing steep competition. We already know that Dipoto is innovative and previously fixed the 2014 Angels bullpen — they won 98 games that year. His cornerstone acquisition in 2014 was closer Huston Street. Perhaps, a reunion could take place. The 32-year-old recently completed a five-week stint on the DL due to a strained left oblique. Assuming that he returns to form and the Angels and Mariners are willing to deal with each other — big assumption — Street would quickly improve Seattle’s bullpen. He’s set to make $9 million next season with a $10 million team option or $1 million buyout for 2018. Having Street available would permit the Mariners manager Scott Servais to push incumbent closer Steve Cishek to the eighth inning. By doing so, Joaquin Benoit could become Servais’ seventh inning option. Suddenly, the bullpen has a different feel to it with Nick Vincent and Edwin Diaz being the primary middle relief options. I know what some of you are thinking. Why not snag a big fish like New York Yankees setup man Andrew Miller? It does sounds appealing. After all, he’s flat out better than any Mariners reliever. Jim Bowden of ESPN.com even suggested Miller as a best fit for the Mariners not long ago. But, I don’t agree. Bowden mentions that the Yankees would want a “young starter or young middle-of-the-order bat” in return for Miller. Who exactly is that in the Mariners organization? The guys that they can’t afford to squander on a reliever. The same applies to Miller’s teammate — Aroldis Chapman. Having a closer capable of throwing 100-mph would be great. But, Seattle will be competing with clubs who have more valuable pieces to dangle in front of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. All of this assumes that the Bronx Bombers will be sellers. Considering that they haven’t registered a losing season since 1992, I don’t expect them to become sellers until very near the deadline. Even if the Mariners had the resources, can they wait that long? If snagging a closer isn’t a doable do, the club could acquire relievers, who could help preserve save opportunities for Cishek. Dipoto could turn either to rentals or longer term options. Personally, I’d prefer the latter option. I’m not going to name every possibility option, but I’ll mention the type of players that could make sense. The first one is familiar to Mariners fans — Fernando Rodney. Seattle’s former closer has been dealing for the San Diego Padres, who hold a $2 million option for 2017 with a $400 thousand buyout. Rodney is likely to be in high demand. Would the new regime bring back the “Fernando Rodney Experience” back to the Emerald City? Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times recently suggested several trade options to help the Mariners, including their bullpen. Among the names was David Hernandez of the Philadelphia Phillies. The right-hander is having a good year pitching in the seventh inning with 11.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings during 32 appearances entering today. Divish also suggested Daniel Hudson of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hudson is serving as Arizona’s eighth inning setup man and has surrendered just .786 walks and hits-per-innings pitched. An intriguing factor with the 29-year-old — he was acquired by Dipoto during his first month as interim general manager of the Diamondbacks in July 2010. Another player that the Mariners general manager is familiar with is Angels reliever Joe Smith, currently on the DL with a hamstring problem. Assuming he returns within a few weeks, Smith could be an option. The side-arm thrower wasn’t effective prior to his injury. If Smith proves to be back to his normal self, he’d be a good value as a middle-reliever. If the Mariners wanted to expend more resources, there are options out there. Examples include Padres rookie Ryan Buchter, Arodys Vizcaino of the Atlanta Braves, and Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress of the Milwaukee Brewers. All are having good years and come with with multiple years of team control. Several relievers under team control through just next year include John Axford and Fernando Rodriguez of the Athletics and Fernando Abad of the Minnesota Twins. Each player is have varying degrees of value. They’d cost more than a rental, but less than the players with multiple years previously mentioned. Divish noted that Jeanmar Gomez of the Philadelphia Phillies as a possible fit. He’s the team’s closer and has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining. Gomez could help with the ninth inning or could take over the eighth inning. Corner outfield Mariners left fielder Norichika Aoki has been the target of fan scorn this season. The veteran has a league-average OBP of .322, but only 12 extra base hits coming into today. Plus, his outfield defense has been — at best — slightly below-average. Improving the left field spot, both offensively and defensively, may be a tall order. Big names like Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, and Carlos Gonzalez could be available and are under team control for several years. Plus, there’s Carlos Beltran, who would be a rental. Each sounds sexy, but all have drawbacks. Kemp is slashing .256/.274/.470 and owed nearly $64 million through the 2019 season — that’s not counting the $10.5 million that the Los Angeles Dodgers are chipping in. Even if the Padres were willing to pay some of Kemp’s contract, adding another regressing outfielder on the wrong side of age-30 would make zero sense. Braun and Gonzalez are putting up good numbers, but the haul required to get them is realistically out of reach for the Mariners. Moreover, Braun is due to make over $80 million between now and the end of the 2020 season, when he’ll be 36 years-old. That doesn’t include the $15 million mutual option/$4 million for 2021. Getting older just doesn’t make sense. Beltran would cost much less. But, when will the Yankees become sellers? Will they sell? A lower profile name like Jon Jay of the Padres would make more sense. Yes, I’d rather see the team pick up a player with more control than Jay — he’s a free agent at the end of the season. However, he’s be a significant upgrade over Aoki. Entering today, the 31-year-old is slashing .296/.345/.407 slash and would present Servais with another center field option — if Leonys Martin were unavailable or needed a day off. Tampa Bay Ray Steve Pearce would be an interesting option. Although he wouldn’t be a center field replacement. The versatile right-handed hitter has spent time at first base, second base, and both corner outfield spots during the last two seasons. Like Jay, he’ll be a free agent at season’s end. Another potential corner outfield rental would be Josh Reddick of the Athletics. Reddick is currently on the DL due to a broken thumb, but he’s close to returning. Assuming that he’s back and healthy by the deadline, the 29-year-old would be a nice fit in right field. Before his injury, the left-handed hitter was slashing .322/.394/.466, which were career highs. Even if he returned to his normal league-average numbers, he’d provide the Mariners with a better glove, arm, and bat. Adding a right fielder, like Reddick, would actually help left field indirectly. Such a move would permit the Franklin Gutierrez/Seth Smith platoon to left field and significantly reduce the outfield time for Nelson Cruz. Essentially, adding one player would help both corner outfield spots. Rotation Here’s where I’m really going to get in trouble with Mariners fans. I recommend doing nothing with the rotation. At the most, make a minor deal late. Why do I feel that way? To me, there’s no reason to use scarce resources on a starter. If there are any more significant issues with the starting staff, the Mariners aren’t likely to be serious contenders anyway. That probably doesn’t sit well with some Mariners faithful. But, it’s true. As of today, Felix and Miley appear to be on track to return within the next month and there’s no indication that Walker’s problem is season ending. It’s quite possible all three could be back before or near the all-star break. Assuming that Seattle regains the trio without losing another starter, they’ll be in good shape with their starting pitching. Otherwise, there’s not much hope of postseason contention in 2016. Finally What I’ve presented is a plan for a team that’s two games over .500 entering today. For a club in that position, the best course of action would be to make incremental improvements to the roster without forsaking the future for a shot of instant gratification. If the Mariners plummet during the next month, they’d be better served to consider being a seller at the deadline. Conversely, if they were soaring after the all-star break, leaning forward in a common sense way would be reasonable. Fans don’t like to read or hear that kind of talk. But, it’s the best approach for a club that started the year as a fringe-contender. AL West trade primer: Oakland Athletics AL West trade primer: Los Angeles Angels AL West trade primer: Houston Astros AL West trade primer: Texas Rangers
The Major League Baseball (MLB) non-waiver trading deadline is barreling down upon us and Seattle Mariners fans are anxious to see what general manager Jerry Dipoto does with the club’s roster during his first “deadline season” with the Mariners. With that in mind, I thought I’d provide a primer for each club in the American League (AL) West division to see where the Mariners and their divisional rivals stand as the August 1 trade deadline approaches. A word of caution though, the trade market will fluctuate greatly during the next six weeks. Injuries, poor individual performances, and changes in the standings will determine who will be the buyers and sellers in the deadline derby. Moreover, these factors will influence the aggressiveness of all parties involved in the market. My first piece focused on the Oakland Athletics. Let’s turn our attention to the Los Angeles Angels. In 2015, the Angels remained in postseason contention until the last day of the season, but this year hasn’t been nearly successful. As of this writing, the club is sitting nine games under .500 and 13.5 games behind the division leading Texas Rangers. Despite what appears to be an obvious sell situation, it’s hard to know if owner Arte Moreno, who is viewed as a “win now” type owner, will permit general manager Billy Eppler to wheel and deal as a seller before the deadline season ends. For the purposes of this primer, I’m going to assume that Moreno gives Eppler the green light to move players and shift their sights to 2017 and beyond. Doing so would be a wise strategy for an organization with a minor league system that ranked last in the majors at the start of the season, according to Keith Law of ESPN.com. Even though the club’s roster has been undermined by injury and ineffectiveness, there are a few nuggets that the Angels could move. After missing nearly all of May due to injury, closer Huston Street has returned and has been performing well. The right-hander is set to make $9 million next season with a $10 million team option or $1 million buyout for 2018. Nearly every contender will be looking to improve its bullpen and a quality reliever with closer experience — like Street — will be in high demand. Moving the 32-year-old now would present the Angels with an opportunity to maximize the value of a valuable trade chip. Several other relievers could be marketable prior to the deadline, although health and performance will drive their actual trade value. Fernando Salas is a middle-relief option with setup experience. The right-hander is a free agent after the season and wouldn’t cost much. The same is true with Joe Smith, who is currently on the disabled list (DL) with a hamstring problem. Assuming that Smith returns within a few weeks, he would have some measure of value. The 32-year-old wasn’t effective prior to his injury. Perhaps, his hammy issues were the root cause of his problems. If Smith were on his game, he’d present a low-cost middle-relief option for a contender. Veteran reliever Al Alburquerque is another name that may surface in trade speculation. The 30-year-old recently joined the club from Class-AAA Salt Lake. He’s owed $1.1 million this year and has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining. A positon player who could attract interest is third baseman Yunel Escobar, who’s having a good year. The 33-year-old would help a contender looking to improve at the hot corner or add depth at shortstop. Escobar can become a free agent at season’s end, but the Angels hold a $7 million option for 2017 with a $1 million buyout. An intriguing trade chip could be right fielder Kole Calhoun. He’s also a superb defender with 20-plus home run power and having the best season of his five-year career. The 28-year-old is still in his arbitration years and under team control through the 2019 season. All of these factors make Calhoun appealing to other clubs, but they make him valuable to the Angels too. Still, moving Calhoun would bring an influx of much-needed young talent into the Angels organization. Doing so would signal that the Angels aren’t expecting to compete in 2017. Whether such a strategy is acceptable to ownership is unknown. Los Angeles has several starting pitchers who might interest clubs, although their value varies greatly. At the low end, Jered Weaver hasn’t been that effective and has seen his fastball velocity consistently decline in recent years. To complicate matters, the 33-year-old is making $20 million this year and is a free agent at the end of the season. In the near future, Weaver may become a reliever. He says that he’s okay with the potential move. Perhaps, a team would take a chance on the right-hander as a low-risk option to boost their bullpen. If such a deal were made, the Angels wouldn’t see much in return and would likely be on the hook for most of his salary. Hence, the low-risk appeal to other clubs. Considering the state of their rotation, it’s not likely that the club would entertain dealing Hector Santiago. Although he’s having a down year, the southpaw was an all-star last season and the club will be losing Weaver and the injured C.J. Wilson to free agency. Moreover, Garrett Richards is on the 60-day DL. Dealing Santiago, who is making $5 million this season and has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining, would be another sign that the Angels were looking past 2017. There is another starting pitcher to discuss. He’s getting ready to return to the majors and could have value in the trade market — assuming he can still perform. I’m talking about Renton, Washington native Tim Lincecum, who makes his Angels debut against the Athletics today. The two-time former National League Cy Young Award winner has been recovering from hip surgery and wants to prove he can still perform as a starting pitching. Lincecum is under contract on pro-rated $2.5 million deal with several performance bonuses for the remainder of this season. Assuming that the 32-year-old proves he can still bring it between now and the deadline — big assumption — he’d be a low-risk/possibly high-reward target of contenders. There are many “ifs” with Lincecum and with all of the potential trade chips mentioned. If you haven’t noticed, the majority of the names that I’ve mentioned throughout this review are on the wrong side of age-30 and losing value quickly. If Eppler can acquire some talent — any talent — from his potential free agents, he’d be wise to do so. The Angels are in a difficult situation. The best two players on their 25-man roster are Calhoun and Mike Trout. I’ve already discussed Calhoun and Eppler is already on record saying that there’s no way they’re trading the best player in baseball. There aren’t many appealing options for the ball club that plays in Anaheim. The actions taken by management in the coming weeks should provide a better understanding of the club’s trajectory for 2017 and beyond. Unfortunately, for Angels fans, it looks like it’s going to be a bumpy ride. AL West trade primer: Oakland Athletics
Last June, I wrote a piece reflecting on several non-waiver deadline deals made in July 2011. My rationale for looking back so far was simple. Most of these trades involve prospects who are years away from reaching the majors — assuming they ever do. Since I enjoyed picking away at those old trades last year, I thought I’d do it again and put several 2012 deadline deals under the microscope this time. There weren’t many sexy moves that year, but I chose a few that I found interesting. I hope that you will too. Ryan Dempster for Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva When the Texas Rangers dealt for Dempster, they were leading the American League (AL) West division and trying to earn a third consecutive World Series appearance. It’s hard to criticize the Rangers for making the deal. After losing two consecutive Fall Classics, they were willing to part with prospects to get over the hump. Dempster pitched adequately during his 12 starts with Texas and became a free agent after the season. Unfortunately for the club though, the resurgent Oakland Athletics won the division and the Rangers lost the Wild Card game to the Baltimore Orioles. The Chicago Cubs were at the other end of the spectrum. They were in the midst of a 101-loss season, which happened to be the first with Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations and Jed Hoyer as general manager. For them, trading soon-to-be free agent Dempster to get much needed prospects made complete sense. At the time of the deal, Villanueva — a third baseman — was considered the centerpiece of the deal for the Cubs, but he has yet to reach the majors. Although the 24-year-old ranks number-26 in Chicago’s stacked minor league system, he’s behind National League (NL) Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant on the depth chart. More importantly though, Villanueva suffered a fractured fibula in Spring Training and hasn’t played this season. Hendricks has experienced better luck and landed in Chicago’s rotation as a full-time starter last season. This year, he’s off to a great start and currently ranks number-13 among NL starters, based on FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR). David Carpenter, J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon for Joseph Musgrove, Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Carlos Perez, David Rollins, Asher Wojciechowski, and Kevin Comer Another club in the midst of a massive rebuild — the Houston Astros — started trading away major league talent a year earlier when they dispatched Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn in deals to the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves respectively. In 2012, new general manager Jeff Lunhow continued the trend started by his predecessor — Ed Wade — by shipping Happ and two veterans north of the border in an attempt to restock his decimated minor league system. Although ten players were involved in this deal, only a few panned out or provided value to either club. Lyon, Cordero, and Francisco were gone — via trade or release — within three months. After the 2014 season, Perez was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for catcher Hank Conger, who was subsequently purchased by the Tampa Bay Rays last December. Carpenter, along with manager John Farrell were sent to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Mike Aviles. Just four days later, Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes were sent packing to the Cleveland Indians for Esmil Rogers, who has since moved on from Toronto. Rollins was a Rule 5 selection by the Seattle Mariners in December 2015 and currently plays with their Class-AAA affiliate. Wojciechowski was waived last month and subsequently picked up by the Miami Marlins. That leaves Happ, Comer, and Musgrove to discuss. For Toronto, Happ was the centerpiece of the deal. The southpaw endured a tough run of injury problems with the Blue Jays, although he did provide value when healthy. In December 2014, the Jays swapped the veteran hurler Happ for outfielder Michael Saunders of the Mariners. Happ must have enjoyed his stay in Canada because he returned to the team as a free agent last offseason after a brief stay in Pittsburgh last summer. Now, the Jays have both Happ and Saunders contributing to the big league club. For the Astros, Comer hasn’t reached Class-AA yet and isn’t a top-30 prospect. However, Musgrove looks like he’ll eventually pay dividends for Houston. The 23-year-old is currently pitching at Class-AAA Fresno and projects to be a mid-rotation starter. Zack Greinke for Johnny Hellweg, Ariel Pena and Jean Segura If I didn’t cover this deal made by current Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, I’d probably lose my parking privileges at the Prospect Insider headquarters. At the time of the trade, Dipoto was running the Los Angeles Angels. His ball club was just three games behind the first place Rangers and held the lead in the AL wildcard race. Unfortunately, for the Angels and Dipoto, the team didn’t make it to the postseason despite winning 89 games. The Angels’ dance partner — the Milwaukee Brewers — were hopelessly out of contention and looking to acquire value for Greinke, who was set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Of the three players the Brewers acquired, Segura was the best. In his first full season with the club, he made the 2013 NL All-Star team and posted an excellent .294/.329/.423 triple-slash. The following two seasons, though, he was an offensive disappointment and subsequently shipped off to the Arizona Diamondbacks in January. Hellweg is now in the San Diego Padres organization after signing as a minor league free agent prior to this season, while Pena is still in the Brewers minor league system. Neither is on their respective club’s 40-man roster. Although Segura provided mixed results while with Milwaukee, the club did garner some value when they traded him along with pitcher Tyler Wagner to Arizona for minor leaguer Isan Diaz, pitcher Chase Anderson, and veteran infielder Aaron Hill. This was, in essence, the second layer of the Greinke deal. The 34-year-old Hill will be a free agent at the end of the season and is a likely deadline deal chip for general manager David Stearns. But, Anderson and Diaz have long-term value to Stearns’ organization. Anderson is under team control for five more seasons and currently a member of their rotation, while Diaz — a 2014 second-round draft pick — currently ranks number-11 in Milwaukee’s minor league system. Hunter Pence for Seth Rosin, Nate Schierholtz and Tommy Joseph Just a year after picking up Pence from the Astros, Philadelphia flipped him to the San Francisco Giants for three youngsters. He’d eventually sign an extension with San Francisco and is under contract through the 2018 season. Along the way, the 33-year-old helped his team win the 2012 and 2014 Fall Classic. Rosin is no longer with the Phillies after his selection during the Rule 5 draft by the New York Mets in December 2013. He’s currently with Class-AAA El Paso in the San Diego Padres organization, but not on their 40-man roster. Schierholtz became a free agent after the season and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014. From the Phillies’ perspective, Joseph was the key component of the deal. At the time, the right-handed hitter appeared to Philadelphia’s catcher of the future. Unfortunately, concussions derailed his career behind the plate. As a result, the team moved him to first base on a full-time basis. Now, the 24-year-old appears to be the heir apparent to veteran first baseman Ryan Howard. Randy Choate and Hanley Ramirez for Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough The Los Angeles Dodgers were hot on the heels of the Giants and their new ownership group wanted to make a splash by reaching the postseason for the first time in three seasons. So, they acquired Choate and Ramirez from the Miami Marlins. Unfortunately, for the club, San Francisco won it all and the Dodgers missed the playoffs altogether. Although Choate left as a free agent after season, Ramirez proved to be an important contributor who helped the Dodgers reach the next two postseasons before he signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in November 2014. As compensation for losing Ramirez, Los Angeles received a compensatory draft pick — number-35 overall — and selected Kyle Funkhouser from the University of Louisville. Unfortunately, for the Dodgers, Funkhouser didn’t sign and opted to return to school for his senior year. For the Marlins, they recouped some value in the deal, although it was in a circuitous manner — like the Greinke deal. McGough was waived in April, but Miami was able to flip Eovaldi with Domingo German and Garrett Jones to nab David Phelps and Martin Prado from the New York Yankees in December 2014. Phelps is the team’s eight-inning setup man and Prado is their starting third baseman. Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez for Rob Brantly, Brian Flynn and Jacob Turner In another “sell-mode” maneuver, Miami sent Infante and Sanchez to the win-now Detroit Tigers. This deal turned out to be lopsided in favor of Detroit. The Marlins got little value out of the threesome they received. Turner was traded to the Cubs for minor leaguers Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer two years later. Arias is no longer playing professional baseball and the 26-year-old Bremer has yet to pitch above the Class-AA level. Flynn was traded to the Kansas City Royals in November 2014 for Aaron Crow, who was granted free agency a year later. Brantly was eventually waived by the Marlins and the Chicago White Sox. He’s currently one of Dipoto’s layers of roster depth at Class-AAA Tacoma. Conversely, Detroit did much better. Infante played well for the Tigers until he became a free agent after the 2013 season, while Sanchez finished fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting during his first full season and he’s still toeing the mound in the Motor City. Ichiro Suzuki for Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell This deal was a small one, but it did involve a future Hall of Famer and the Mariners. So, I thought I’d mention it. Ichiro asked to be traded from the Emerald City and the organization obliged by sending him to New York. The former AL Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year helped the Yankees reach the postseason and played two more seasons with the club before moving on to the Marlins — his current team. The 42-year-old is on-track to reach 3,000 hits this season and is certain to be a Mariners Hall of Fame member. Perhaps, his Cooperstown plaque will have him wearing a Seattle cap. Seattle received fair value in return for Ichiro considering that he was 38-years-old and regressing. Although Mitchell was out of the Mariners system less than a year later and currently playing independent league ball, Farquhar helped the club for several seasons. The right-hander was an asset out of the bullpen and even served as Seattle’s closer in the second half of 2013. During last offseason, Farquhar was part of a six-player deal with the Tampa Bay Rays that brought starting pitcher Nate Karns and outfield prospect Boog Powell to the Mariners. Finally Once again, my takeaway is that time is the best judge of deadline deals, not the instant gratification analysis certain to immediately follow after this year’s trades. My advice to those following a team that deals for prospects next month is be patient and wait about four years before you make your final judgement. That’s easier said than done, but you’ll have a better idea on how your team actually fared. It might prevent your blood pressure from soaring in July too.
Last week, Jim Bowden of ESPN and the MLB Radio Network published a list of the 30 best players who could be on the move prior to the August 1 non-waiver trading deadline and where he thinks those players fit best. For some, it’s a tad early to be discussing deals when the deadline is still two months away. Bowden realizes that too and refers to his list as “my first take of the year” on players who could be dealt. Yet, some fans — and writers — find it fun to speculate on deals that may never occur. For those not familiar with Bowden, he’s served as general manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals and has a ton of contacts in the baseball industry. For Seattle Mariners fans, he’s the guy who sent Mike Cameron and others to Seattle in exchange for Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. Personally, I think the market is still immature. At this early stage of the season, there a plenty of clubs on the fringe of contention. Therefore, finding a partner willing to “sell” may be difficult to do, unless the club is currently in a rebuilding phase. Still, there are those dying to discuss deals. To help satisfy the appetite of those hungry for trade talk, I’m going to discuss 14 players Bowden suggested as “best fits” for American League ball clubs. Enjoy. Julio Teheran , SP, Atlanta Braves Bowden: Boston Red Sox Bowden points out in his piece that Teheran could be the most coveted pitcher at the deadline. The right-hander is owed a relatively low $25.3 million through the end of the 2019 season with a $12 million club option for 2020, his age-29 season. Not only is the Braves hurler affordable, he’s performing well. Teheran has gone seven or more innings in six of his first 11 starts, his wins above replacement (WAR) ranks number-15 among major league starters, and his 2.77 earned run average (ERA) puts him in the same neighborhood with such familiar names as Marco Estrada, Felix Hernandez, Stephen Strasburg, and Jose Fernandez. The Red Sox certainly would be a good fit for Teheran, but another club to keep an eye on is the Toronto Blue Jays. If Toronto opts to make another postseason push at this year’s deadline, adding another starting pitcher could be in the cards. The Blue Jays staff has been performing relatively well, but the club has already acknowledged that starter Aaron Sanchez will end up the bullpen due to an innings limit — he’s never pitched over 133 innings as a professional. Toronto has a new front office in place and they may be more reluctant with parting with prospects, as they did to get David Price last year. Although Teheran is not an elite pitcher like Price, he would be under team control for at least three more seasons, unlike Price who departed as a free agent at the end of last season. Teheran may be the most sought after starting pitcher as Bowden suggests, but the Braves will have the upper hand in negotiations. With so much time remaining on his contract, Atlanta doesn’t have to rush to deal their star pitcher. They could opt to deal him in the offseason — when more suitors may be interested — or retain him to anchor their rotation. Rich Hill, SP, Oakland Athletics Bowden: Kansas City Royals Seattle fans are very familiar with 36-year-old. Hill held the Mariners to just one run in 14 innings while striking out 16 and walking just one batter. It’s not just the Mariners. He’s held all opposing hitters to a .207 batting average. If the Athletics don’t climb back into the playoff picture, they’ll likely trade several players — including Hill. Any contender looking to boost their rotation will have interest in the 12-year-veteran. Unlike Teheran, Hill is a “rental player,” who’ll be a free agent at season’s end. For that reason, the southpaw who’s making $6 million this season won’t be as costly to acquire as the Braves’ top starter. If Teheran isn’t available or too expensive for contenders, Hill instantly becomes the most attractive starter in the trade market. With that kind of negotiating advantage, it’s hard to believe that the Athletics would retain the pending free agent past August 1, if they continue to have a losing record. As with Teheran, Hill could fill the void in Toronto’s rotation once Sanchez moves to the bullpen. Another interested party could be the Red Sox. Hill has already had two tours of duty with Boston, including last year when he resurrected his big league career after starting the season pitching for Class-AAA Syracuse and the Independent League Long Island Ducks. It’s worth noting that Hill suffered a “real mild groin strain,” according to manager Bob Melvin, during yesterday’s contest against the Detroit Tigers. Assuming this injury causes no setbacks; his trade value should remain unchanged. James Shields, SP, San Diego Padres Bowden: Detroit Tigers “Big Game James” is an intriguing trade candidate. He’s no longer a number-one starter, although he’s having a solid year with the Padres. But, his contract limits his trade value. The right-hander is making $21 million this season and makes the same amount during the next two seasons. There’s also a $16 million option for 2019 — his age-37 season– with a $2 million buyout. In total, Shields stands to make at least $44 million between now and 2019, unless he opts out of his contract after this season. That’s the second challenge with Shields’ contract — enticing a team to trade for a player who could potentially walk after this season. Considering that he had to wait so long to find a team during his last free agency — he didn’t sign until February 11, 2015 with the Padres — he may not want to test the market again. On the other hand, this year’s free agent market is very thin for starting pitching. Clubs can find workarounds to challenges like Shields’ opt out, but it requires two amenable partners and a player willing to go along. That usually means the player has to get something in return for passing on his opt out. As mentioned by Bowden, the Tigers make sense. So do the Red Sox. Both clubs have previously demonstrated a willingness to spend and could use a durable middle-of-the-rotation type — like Shields. Another team to watch will be the Chicago White Sox. Jon Heyman of MLB Network has reported that the Chicago White Sox have shown interest in the right-hander. As I alluded to at the onset, Shields’ contract will be an issue — even for ball clubs with deep pockets. To move the veteran starter, the Padres may have to include money to help offset his steep salary or expect to receive very little in return. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Milwaukee Brewers Bowden: Tampa Bay Rays The seven-year veteran turns 30 next month and the Brewers hold a relatively cheap $5.25 million club option on Lucroy for the 2017 season. So, any club acquiring the services of the right-handed hitter for about a year and a half. Obviously, Milwaukee will be looking for prospects as they continue to rebuild. However, I’m not sure that the cash-strapped Rays would be willing to part ways with top prospects for an 18-month addition, who could be the team’s third highest player in 2017. The Tigers, on the other hand, are more aggressive when it comes to making “win-now” deals and they aren’t getting much production from the catcher position. Once again, Boston makes sense too. Derek Norris, C, Padres Bowden: Rays/Houston Astros Coming into today’s action, Shield’s battery mate had a .182/.238/.338 triple-slash — significantly below his career norms, although it’s important to note that offense from the catcher position is secondary. The major league batting average for catchers stands at .234. It’s worth noting that Norris has experience at first base and a career .286/.359/.479 triple-slash against southpaws. The 27-year-old is making $2.9 million this year and is arbitration-eligible for the next two seasons, which may scare off clubs on a tight budget, unless they’re looking for a starting backstop. Once again, it’s hard for me to fathom the Rays being interested in adding payroll and parting with prospects to get a catcher who doesn’t necessarily represent a significant upgrade at the position. The Astros are already experimenting with Evan Gattis at the catcher spot. Whether Houston would be amenable to acquiring Norris at the deadline would come down to their long-term plans for Gattis and their position in the standings. If the Astros’ record improves and opt to move Gattis out of the catcher spot, they might be more inclined to go after Lucroy than Norris. After all, Milwaukee and Houston have a history as trade partners. Last July, the Astros picked up Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers in exchange for prospects. Other trade possibilities could become reality, if a contender suffers an injury at the catcher spot. Norris would be a good addition for a contender who needs an injury fill-in or wants to add more depth to the position. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH, Blue Jays Bowden: Chicago White Sox Another potential rental player is Encarnacion, who’s making $10 million this season. The 33-year-old is off to a sluggish start, as is his team. Bowden also suggested teammate Jose Bautista as a best fit with the Chicago Cubs. It’s too early to tell whether Toronto will buy or sell — they have a 26-26 win-loss record entering today. However, Encarnacion to the White Sox makes sense, assuming his numbers improve. Otherwise, the “South-Siders” would be better to look for other options or stick with current designated hitter Avisail Garcia, who’s posted better slash numbers than Encarnacion. If I was forced to place a wager, I’d bet that both Encarnacion and Bautista won’t be traded by the deadline. Both players are popular with fans and it’s unlikely that the Blue Jays will completely fall out of the postseason race by August 1. Carlos Gonzalez, RF/LF, Colorado Rockies Bowden: Red Sox When considering the production of Colorado players, the “Coors Field affect” has to enter the conversation. Gonzalez’s slash numbers are considerably lower when playing on the road, plus he’s making $17 million this season and due to make $20 million in 2017. Moving “CarGo” this season would be a wise move for the rebuilding Rockies. Bowden suggested catcher Blake Swihart as a possible trade target from the Red Sox. However, getting arms would be a wise move for a club that’s struggled to entice elite free agent pitchers to come to Denver. Gonzalez is a good player, not a superstar. Nevertheless, he’d be a considerable grade in left field for the Red Sox. Another destination that would make sense — from a baseball perspective — would be the Washington Nationals, who are getting very little production from a 37-year-old left fielder Jayson Werth. From a business perspective, making the deal might be difficult. Werth will make $21 million next year, while Gonzalez will be earning $20 million. Werth, like CarGo will be a free agent after next season. But, I have an idea. Perhaps, both teams could swap their high-paid players and the Nationals could throw in a few top-shelf pitching prospects to make the deal worthwhile for Colorado. That’s probably the wackiest trade proposal I’ve ever concocted. However, both teams would get something they need. The Nationals get instantaneous help in their lineup for this year and next without disrupting their budget, while the Rockies get a few top prospects along with Werth, who makes approximately the same salary as CarGo. Colorado did something similar last year when they traded Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for highly paid shortstop Jose Reyes, reliever Miguel Castro, top-100 pitching prospect Jeff Hoffman and fellow minor leaguer Jesus Tinoco. There’s probably no chance that this happens, but it was fun hatching that hair-brained that scheme. Okay, back to reality. Josh Reddick, RF, Athletics Bowden: Royals The A’s right fielder was off to a great start before fracturing his left thumb, while sliding into second base. Fortunately, for Reddick and Oakland, he’s projected to return by the end of June. Like Hill, the eight-year veteran is a free agent at the end of the season and a likely trade chip, assuming Oakland can’t climb back into the postseason race. Bowden projected that the Athletics would trade Reddick back to where he began his career — Boston. With that said, he’d be a nice fit with the Seattle Mariners from an offensive and defensive standpoint. The 29-year-old is a solid defender with one of the best arms in the game. I don’t know if executive vice president Billy Beane and general manager David Forst would be willing to make a deal with a division rival during the season, but Reddick would be a nice addition for the Mariners. It’s important to note that a hand injury can slow a hitter’s return to productiveness. I have no insight into the extent of Reddick’s injury, but his effectiveness at the plate bears watching after he returns. Certainly, possible suitors will be doing just that. Yasiel Puig, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers Bowden: Royals/Athletics Just 25-years-old, Puig has already produced an extensive highlight reel during four-year career. At other times though, he’s looked disinterested leading him to run afoul of managers and teammates. To top it off, his production numbers have declined in each of the last three seasons. Despite the Dodger’s apparent frustration with Puig’s distinctive personality, the team could be reluctant to part ways with their mercurial outfielder. Trading him now would require the club to sell low with a player who has tremendous upside and is owed a relatively low $17.5 million for the next two seasons. Perhaps, the change of scenery suggested by Bowden would be best. However, the Dodgers’ outfield production has been below league-average, which leads me to believe that they’d have to be blown away to part with their potentially best outfielder during a season when they’re trying to contend. If the situation in Los Angeles has truly become untenable, the same actors — White Sox, Red Sox, and Tigers — may be willing to take a chance on Puig. Melvin Upton Jr, LF/RF, Padres Bowden: White Sox The older brother of Detroit Tigers outfielder Justin Upton has experienced a nice bounce back after several down seasons with both the Padres and Braves. Bowden suggests that the 31-year-old would be an upgrade over current White Sox center fielder Austin Jackson, although I don’t necessarily agree. Upton’s current triple-slash of .258/.323/.416 is slightly better than Jackson’s slash, but that’s a small sample size. Over the past three seasons, Jackson’s production has been better. Trading for a player on the wrong side of 30, who is two years older than the incumbent is, and set to make $16.5 million next year doesn’t add up. For the Padres to move Upton, they’d likely have to help pay a good chunk of his salary or expect to receive little in return. Otherwise, I can’t see a contender dealing for his league-average production and exorbitant salary. Andrew Miller, RP, New York Yankees Bowden: Seattle Mariners The big left-hander has been thoroughly dominant. Currently the setup man for closer Aroldis Chapman, Miller would be closing for most teams in the majors. There’s a big assumption with this suggestion by Bowden — the Yankees will be sellers. Considering the club hasn’t had a losing season since 1992, it’s tough for me to picture general manager Brian Cashman dealing the reliever this season. If I’m wrong and Cashman opts to move veterans to help the future, snagging the 31-year-old — who’s making $9 million annually through 2018 — will be costly. The Yankees could simply opt to hold onto Miller, deal him in the offseason, or retain him to be their closer — if they opted to trade or not re-sign Chapman instead. Bowden sees the Mariners as the best fit for Miller. There’s no doubt that the southpaw would significantly improve the back-end of Seattle’s bullpen, but does using so many resources and expending that much payroll to get one player sound like something that general manager Jerry Dipoto would do? His brief history in Seattle leads me to say “no.” If Seattle is in contention, they’ll need to add more than one arm to the ‘pen, plus another corner outfielder. Using a significant amount of resources to acquire Miller — or any high profile player — would make it difficult for the club to get those additional pieces. Perhaps, Cashman moves Chapman if he thinks he can grab a few pieces that could help his club this year and in the future. In the end though, I expect that both Miller and Chapman will end their season wearing Yankee pinstripes. Fernando Rodney, RP, Padres Bowden: Blue Jays Seattle fans are probably rolling their eyes right now. After all, during his stay in Seattle, they dubbed Rodney’s relief appearances as the “Fernando Rodney Experience” due to the volatile nature of his outings. During this season in San Diego though, the 39-year-old has done a nice job of resurrecting his career after losing the Mariners closer job last year. Not only is Rodney performing well, he’s affordable and comes with a low financial risk. He’s making $1.6 million this season and the Padres hold a $2 million team option for 2017, with a $400 thousand buyout. Picking up the charismatic right-hander would be a good move for any contender looking to reinforce their bullpen depth, including the Seattle Mariners. My ears are already burning after that comment. Joe Smith, RP, Los Angeles Angels Bowden: Tigers The side-arming reliever is a free agent after the season and has been filling in as the Angels closer during the absence of Huston Street. Adding Smith should help bolster the bullpen of any contender, although it’s worth noting that the 32-year-old’s home run and walk rates are up and his strike out rate has decreased during this young season. As a rental setup man, who’s not performing below career norms, Smith shouldn’t command a high price tag. Assuming that there’s no trade embargo going on between Dipoto and his former club, Smith would be another potential option for the Mariners. Certainly, Dipoto is familiar with his former pitcher and the general manager has demonstrated an interest in bringing former players from his days in Los Angeles and Phoenix. Then again, he’s familiar with Street too. Arodys Vizcaino, RP, Braves Bowden: Blue Jays Trading a closer from one of the worst clubs in the majors makes sense. However, when he’s having a great season, is only 25-years-old, and under team control through the 2019 season, there’s no rush in moving him. As with Teheran, the Braves would likely make a deal if they get a great offer. Alternatively, they can just wait until the offseason when there may be more suitors interested in their top reliever. Final thoughts While it’s fun and interesting to talk deadline deals on Memorial Day, a lot can change between now and August 1. Perhaps, the White Sox continue their free fall in the standings and the Mariners tank too. Maybe, the Toronto Blue Jays will catch fire as they did last year. There’s also the possibility of injuries affecting sellers — as with Reddick and Hill — or buyers who lose a key player. Still, I get it. Trade speculation is entertaining to many baseball fans. As the trade deadline gets closer, Prospect Insider will be providing ongoing analysis of potential and actual deals involving the Mariners and other major league clubs. It’s going to be a fun summer.
One of the biggest complaints that Seattle Mariners fans had with the Jack Zduriencik era — other than the multiple losing seasons — was the inability of the organization to produce top-notch prospects despite owning a top-three selection in three of the first four Major League Baseball (MLB) amateur drafts of Zduriencik’s tenure. Whether draftees Dustin Ackley, Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, Danny Hultzen, Nick Franklin, and Chris Taylor and acquired prospects Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero were bad choices or improperly developed is a debate that still rages on in Seattle. In the end, all that’s certain is that the Mariners’ lack of success in the draft — and the standings — ultimately cost Zduriencik his job. When the draft gets underway on June 9, the Mariners will have a new general manager — Jerry Dipoto — at the helm for the first time in seven years. The 47-year-old inherits a minor league system that currently ranks number-28 — per Keith Law of ESPN.com — and continues to be a cause of fan angst. New GM Jerry Dipoto has the unenviable task of keeping the big league club competitive while trying to restock the fallen system. — Keith Law of ESPN. With that in mind, I thought it might be both fun and informative to review the draft record of Dipoto’s former club — the Los Angeles Angels — during his tenure as their general manager. At first blush, the impression isn’t good. In the eyes of many Angels fans, Dipoto was a failure at the draft. They point to the fact the organization has zero prospects in the MLB.com top-100 prospect listing. Plus, Law rates the club’s system as the worst in the majors. From a distance, it appears that Dipoto wrecked the Angels minor league system — that’s what the blogosphere contends. Should the disappointing Angels system be a red flag for Mariners fans? Let’s dig into the Angels draft history to find out. For starters Since Dipoto joined the Angels in October 2011 and departed in July 2015, he was present for just four MLB amateur drafts, which brings up a point to consider as we review draft selections. Unless we’re going to venture through a wormhole to the future, enough time hasn’t elapsed to judge the overall success – or lack thereof — for any MLB team’s 2012 draft. Please let me explain. As of this week, only 69 players drafted in 2012 have spent any time in the big leagues. When I say “any,” I mean enough time to at least have a plate appearance or toe the mound. As you’d expect, even fewer players — 24 in total — have reached the majors from the 2013 and 2014 draft classes and no one from last year’s draft has even had a cup of coffee in “the show.” Although most 2012 draftees haven’t broken through, there are recognizable names who’ve already spent time on a major league roster. A close look at the following list may help you identify the first significant challenge that Dipoto and his staff faced as they attempted to acquire top-level talent. Notable Players Drafted in 2012 Rnd OvPck Tm Name Pos WAR 1 1 Astros Carlos Correa (minors) SS 4.4 1 2 Twins Byron Buxton (minors) OF 0.4 1 3 Mariners Mike Zunino (minors) C 0.1 1 4 Orioles Kevin Gausman (minors) RHP 2.0 1 9 Marlins Andrew Heaney (minors) LHP 1.3 1 11 Athletics Addison Russell (minors) SS 3.6 1 18 Dodgers Corey Seager (minors) SS 2.1 1 19 Cardinals via Angels Michael Wacha (minors) RHP 5.9 1 22 Blue Jays Marcus Stroman (minors) RHP 3.2 1s 36 Cardinals Stephen Piscotty (minors) 3B 1.7 1s 39 Rangers Joey Gallo (minors) 3B 0.4 1s 41 Astros Lance McCullers (minors) RHP 2.4 2 85 Braves Alex Wood (minors) LHP 6.9 6 213 Diamondbacks Jake Lamb (minors) 3B 2.1 18 568 Giants Matt Duffy (minors) SS 4.4 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 4/19/2016. Certainly, there are several superb players on the list, including 2015 American League Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa. However, with the exception of just a few of the names, nearly all of the players were selected early in the draft. This is the initial problem that Dipoto faced during his first two years as Angels general manager; his club didn’t have a first round pick. Hamstrung from the start In 2012, the Angels lost their first round pick after signing free agent Albert Pujols. As the preceding table illustrates, the St. Louis Cardinals selected starting pitcher Michael Wacha with the number-19 overall selection, which would’ve belonged to the Angels if they hadn’t signed Pujols. Essentially, the Cardinals exchanged Pujols for Wacha. Not only did the Angels lack a first round pick during Dipoto’s first year on the job, they also forfeited their second round slot by signing free agent starting pitcher C.J. Wilson. When the team finally chose a player in the third round, they selected right-handed pitcher R.J. Alvarez with the number-114 overall draft choice. By that point, all but two of the players listed above were off the draft board. The following year, the Angels lost their first round choice after signing outfielder Josh Hamilton to an ill-fated free agent deal. Consequently, the club didn’t select until the second round — number-59 overall. Unfortunately, for both player and team, the draftee selected — pitcher Hunter Green from Warren East high school in Bowling Green, Kentucky — just retired due to chronic back problems. On the surface, drafting later may not seem like a big deal; it is though. Of the 76 players in the MLB.com top-100 who were selected via the draft — the remaining were amateur free agents — 89-percent were either a first or a second round selection. The early rounds matter. Obviously, it’s not just drafting early that helps an organization. As the Green injury demonstrates, unforeseen circumstances can influence the success of a draft class. However, Dipoto’s Angels started at a major disadvantage during his first two years at the helm. Another factor that comes into play when considering the Angels’ draft record during the Dipoto years was the use of minor leaguers as trade chips. Some may argue that the club should’ve been more cautious when dealing away prospects. But, it’s never that simple. Let’s make a deal Every owner wants to win, but some want it more than others do. Those kind of owners don’t care what it takes to get to the postseason, especially, after they’ve seen their team thrive in the playoffs. Certainly, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno falls into the “win now” category. General managers who work for such an owner face the uphill battle of winning right now, while trying to build a controllable, cost-effective foundation for the future. Undoubtedly, Dipoto performed this balancing act throughout his stay in Los Angeles. Although he didn’t trade away any franchise studs when trying to put his team over the top, Dipoto did have to dig into his already shallow minor league talent pool to get needed help for the big league club. His most prominent deal included the very first draft choice of his tenure. In July 2014, the Angels dealt Alverez, along with Taylor Lindsey, Elliot Morris, and Jose Rondon, to the San Diego Padres for closer Huston Street and fellow reliever Trevor Gott. Here’s a look at all of the players drafted during the Dipoto regime, who were subsequently flipped in trades. It’s worth noting that several of the deals happened after he left the organization last July. Dipoto Draft Picks Dealt by LAA Date Prospect Traded To Comments Traded For Comments Jun 2013 Kyle Johnson NYM Class-AA Collin Cowgill Purch by CLE (Dec 2015) Jul 2014 R.J. Alvarez SDP Traded to OAK Huston Street Current LAA closer Taylor Lindsey Class-AA Trevor Gott Traded for Yunel Escobar Elliot Morris AZL Padres Jose Rondon #5 SDP Nov 2014 Mark Sappington TBR Class-AAA Cesar Ramos Free agent (2015) July 2015 Eric Stamets CLE Class-AA David Murphy Free agent (2015) Nov 2015 Sean Newcomb ATL #19 MLB Andrelton Simmons LAA starting SS Chris Ellis #14 ATL Jose Briceno Class-A+ Jan 2016 Kody Eaves DET Class-AA Jefry Marte Class-AA It’s tough to argue with Dipoto’s rationale for trading away minor leaguers for a proven commodity like Street. I suspect that most Angels fans don’t have a problem with this deal since the club went on to win 98 games after acquiring their new closer. Nevertheless, the trade didn’t help the organization’s woefully thin minor league depth. One transaction that did raise eyebrows was made after Dipoto’s departure from Anaheim. The Angels’ new front office dealt the first player drafted in the first round by Dipoto’s regime — Sean Newcomb — and fellow prospect Chris Ellis, along with veteran shortstop Erick Aybar to the Atlanta Braves for Andrelton Simmons and minor league catcher Jose Briceno. The Angels got a starting shortstop — Simmons — who’s under team control through the 2020 season. However, they traded away their two top prospects to land the offensively challenged Simmons. While the 26-year-old is an elite defender, his addition — combined with Aybar’s departure — didn’t improve an offense that ranked near the bottom of the American League last year. Time will determine whether dealing Newcomb and Ellis for Simmons was a wise move by the Angels. But, there’s no denying that the trade weakened an already diminished system. Hitting rock bottom As I peel back the Angels’ draft history, it’s clear that the poor standing of the Angels’ minor league isn’t a case of simply doing a bad job of drafting the right players. That’s a factor, but it’s far more complex. Team ownership spearheaded the signings of several high-priced, overvalued free agents at the cost of payroll flexibility and high-round draft picks. Simultaneously, both Dipoto and new Angels general manager Billy Eppler traded away some of the organization’s future to acquire major league ready talent. I’m not trying to absolve Dipoto of blame for the moves and draft selections made by the Angels under his stewardship. In the end, he was the man at the top and the buck stops with him. On the other hand, he wasn’t able to employ his baseball philosophy during nearly four years in Anaheim, while he’s already done so with Seattle in just seven months ago. Turning the page With the Mariners, Dipoto has complete control over all baseball and personnel moves. As a result, he’s been able bring in his own people and choose who to retain from the Zduriencik regime. Conversely, he inherited field manager Mike Scioscia and scouting director Ric Wilson in Los Angeles. The history between Dipoto and Scioscia is well chronicled and doesn’t merit repeating. In the case of Wilson though, it’s worth noting that the scouting director is the person who actually runs the draft for an organization — not the general manager. That’s not to say that Dipoto wasn’t involved in the selection process. Of course, he was involved. However, a general manager has to rely on the scouting director and his staff to do the “heavy lifting” when it comes to actually going out and seeing potential draftees in person on multiple occasions. In Seattle, the scouting director is Tom McNamara — a Zduriencik holdover. Finally Dipoto’s tenure with the Angels reminds me of an incomplete novel. The author had a vision, but his publisher didn’t give him enough time or artistic liberty. Consequently, he didn’t get to write the final chapter. In Seattle, ownership will give Dipoto the opportunity to do a rewrite, on his terms, so he can see his story through to its natural conclusion. Whether Dipoto produces an epic tale that leaves Mariners fans wanting more or he delivers a clunker destined for the discount rack will be determined later. In the interim, I’d suggest that Mariners faithful consider two things. First, don’t be surprised if Dipoto opts to deal young players to improve his ball club, assuming that the Mariners are in contention at the all-star break. He did it with the Angels and he’s already shown a willingness to part with minor leaguers such as Enyel De Los Santos, Nelson Ward, and Patrick Kivlehan in order to beef up his club’s 2016 roster. In addition, it’s likely that we won’t see 2016 draftees at the big league level for another four to six years. That’s the typical time it takes prospects to reach the majors. That means that the next President of the United States will be running for re-election before we have any idea on how well Dipoto’s organization has performed in the draft. If the Mariners general manager is still with Seattle in six years, there’s a good chance that fans will be satisfied with the organization’s draft and player development reputation, plus their win-loss record. Otherwise, they’ll be commiserating with Angels fans and looking for another author to write that non-fiction tale about October baseball set in Seattle.
Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill fearlessly shared his forecast for 2016 yesterday. So, I figured that I should I join the fray and add my projections for the new season, although mine are more likely to end up in either the “fearful” or “foolish” categories. Since Jason skillfully covered the standard stuff — playoff teams and awards winners — I decided to do something a little different. Perhaps, offbeat or quirky in the eyes of some. I’m going to avoid projecting the winners of awards and pennants. Instead, I’ll make several Seattle Mariners predictions and a few random projections about the rest of the league. Some of my choices will be safe bets. Hence, the use of the term “fearful.” The rest have a decent chance to land in the “foolish” category. Regardless of how my projections turns out, it’ll be fun to look back at the end of the season to see how I did. It’ll either be fun for me when I’m crowing about how smart I am, or you’ll be provided with more opportunities to remind me how dumb my predictions turned out to be. Without further ado, let’s get going. The King will reign on Opening Day I’m not exactly going out on a limb with this one. Felix Hernandez has a 6-0 record with a 1.49 earned run average (ERA) on Opening Day. Still, I wanted to include this one because it’s tied into a larger issue; Spring Training stats are irrelevant. Felix, once again, posted so-so results with a 0-2 win-loss record and 4.11 ERA and, once again, some fans were sounding the alarm on social media. In mid-February, I discussed the annual madness that goes on when a player either overachieves or stumbles down in Peoria. Yet, the insanity continues. For those of you don’t remember, “King Felix” had a 10.22 ERA in Cactus League play last year, while Taijuan Walker was lights out during his audition for the fifth starter spot. Look how things turned out for both hurlers after the real games started. Hernandez was outstanding during last season’s opener and Walker struggled until Memorial Day. Walker may become the eventual heir to the King’s thrown. However, his 2015 Spring Training numbers didn’t foreshadow his early-season difficulties or Felix’s regular season success. Again, Spring Training results mean nothing and that’s why I’m taking the easy path on my first prediction; the King reigns supreme on Opening Day. If he doesn’t, I guess I’ll be considered the court jester. The Mariners will use at least ten starting pitchers This isn’t a very bold prediction either. Yet, it’s worth reiterating that the starting five in April rarely makes it through the entire season without needing reinforcements. Actually, the 2003 Mariners were the last major league team to use just five starters during a season. That’s why the “Nate Karns or James Paxton for fifth starter” discussion during Spring Training won’t matter by the end of the season. Paxton, Mike Montgomery, Vidal Nuno, and a few others are likely to start games for the Mariners in 2016. I opted to predict ten starters because that’s been the major league average for ball clubs during recent seasons and that’s how many starting pitchers that the Mariners and both World Series participants — the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals — used last season. The fewest starters used was eight by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who still felt compelled to add a starting pitcher — former Mariner J.A. Happ — at the trade deadline last season. Boomstick will lose some boom It’s not exactly courageous to predict that Nelson Cruz — who’ll be his age-36 by the end of the season — will slow down. Some fans won’t agree with me, but I covered my reasoning in great detail yesterday when I discussed if the Mariners could survive a predicted swoon by their star slugger. Fans will blame Cruz’s decline on playing DH In 2015, “Boomstick” played 80 games in right field and 72 as the Mariners designated hitter. Most observers expect that he’ll spend considerably less time in the outfield compared to his first year in Seattle or during any point in his 11-year major league career. If my prediction about a Cruz regression pans out, a segment of Mariners faithful will protest that his reduced playing time in the field will be the true reason for his decline. They’ll even back it up with career splits that illustrate that he’s always been a better hitter when used as a fielder. Nelson Cruz’s 2015 Splits Split G PA H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS as RF 80 346 105 11 0 31 31 78 .337 .402 .670 1.072 as DH 72 309 73 11 1 13 28 86 .263 .333 .450 .783 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 4/3/2016. There’s no disputing that there was a sizeable production split between Cruz’s outfield and designated hitter time during 2015. But, it’s a small sample-size that doesn’t distinguish the fact that 32 of his 72 games at designated hitter came when he was hobbled with injuries in June and September — his two worst statistical months during last season. Is it possible that Boomstick struggles in his new role? Sure. But, I’d be more inclined to chalk up any difficulties to age-related regression, injuries, or just an old-fashioned slump. Even if Cruz stumbles out of the gate, he’ll have a good role model and mentor at his disposal — hitting coach Edgar Martinez. After all, the award that annually recognizes the best designated hitter in baseball is named after Edgar. Okay, onto a few non-Mariners items. Let’s see how I do at making predictions about other teams and baseball related issues. The Yankees will have a winning record Perhaps, the Bronx Bombers will fall below the .500 mark this season. But, they haven’t registered a losing record since 1992 and I have no reason to believe that the streak will end in 2016. The Mets will have a better record than the Yankees This one has little meaning outside of the New York metropolitan area. Nevertheless, I grew up a Mets fan and I haven’t had many opportunities to say that the Mets are better than the Yankees. Therefore, I’m saying it now and it’s not just some deep-seeded resentment speaking. The “Amazins” have a far superior starting staff — maybe the best in baseball — plus a decent offense and defense to support it. The Bombers, on the other hand, are not nearly as deep and play in a much more competitive division. The Yanks will have a winning season; they just won’t be as good as the Mets. Boy that felt good! Minnesota stalls The Twins are chock full of young talent that’s either on their big league roster or very close to reaching the majors. However, this is a ball club that overachieved last season when they finished with an 83-79 win-loss record. From a statistical standpoint, they shouldn’t have been in contention for the second wild card spot going into the last full week of the season. Yet, they were. Minnesota had the worst team on-base percentage in the American League, and they were also near the bottom of the league in batting average and slugging percentage. Twins hitters weren’t very good against right-handed pitching — which constitutes approximately 80-percent of the league — and mid-pack when facing southpaws. Their pitching was similarly pedestrian and was either below league-average or at the bottom of the league in most significant categories. So, how did they do it? This may make some Twins fans see red, but luck? The offensive category that Minnesota excelled at is my least favorite statistic, batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP). Last year, I tried my best to debunk RISP and the notion that the metric indicates whether a play is or isn’t “clutch.” Yet, baseball broadcasters and pundits continue to refer to this small-sample size statistic as if it were reliable, or predictive in nature. With that said, I don’t think that the Twins will take a huge step backwards. But, I expect that their 2015 RISP luck has run out. Fallen Angels Anytime you look at the Mariners’ woeful rankings for offensive production in 2015, you’ll find Anaheim lingering nearby in every category. The former club of Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto didn’t have a potent offense last year and the new front office didn’t do much in the offseason to improve their chances for 2016. It’s true that they have one of the best players on the planet in Mike Trout, but who’s going to get on base so Trout can drive them home? When I discussed how the runs batted in (RBI) stat had no value in early January, I pointed to the fact that, among the nine players with 40 or more home runs last season, Trout had the fewest runners on base when he came to the plate. What’s the use of having a player of Trout’s ilk if the players in front of him in the batting order can’t get on base? Assuming that Anaheim’s rotation continues to be near league-average as they were last season, it’s tough envisioning them scoring enough to win as many games as last year. They’ll finish closer to the bottom of the division than the top in 2016. The Diamondbacks won’t take the next step This pick isn’t much of a reach either, at least in my mind. Though it’ll probably upset the team’s fan base. There’s no doubt that the Diamondbacks made several splashy moves during the offseason. But, I don’t see how trading away the number-one overall pick from the 2015 amateur draft (Dansby Swanson) and an outstanding defensive outfielder (Ender Inciarte) for starting pitcher Shelby Miller, plus overpaying (six-years/$206.5 million) to 32-year-old ace Zack Greinke actually helps Arizona in 2016 and beyond. Yes, their starting pitching will be significantly better and they have one of the most underrated and best hitters in the game — Paul Goldschmidt — in their lineup. But, I don’t see it being enough to win the National League (NL) West division and winning a wild card berth will be a challenge with some many good teams in the NL East and Central divisions. Unfortunately, for Arizona and baseball, A.J. Pollock will be lost for three months due to a broken elbow. Losing a budding star like Pollock leads into a conversation about ownership’s willingness or ability to add salary and make in-season roster adjustments. According to information available at Baseball Prospectus, the Diamondbacks have exceeded their current 2016 payroll projection of $91 million only once during their club’s history. Will management make the necessary moves or will the Greinke deal hamstring the team’s ability to improve? I suspect it will. Letting pitchers hit will continue to be a dumb Other than the entertainment value of watching a Bartolo Colon helmet swirl, what’s the point in having pitchers continuing to make plate appearances? What’s the result of letting pitchers hit? More pinch-hit appearances and fewer runs scored, which leads to less fun. Only five NL teams scored over the major league average of 4.25 runs-per-game in 2015, while major league pinch hitters batted .218 last season. This doesn’t make for compelling baseball, ever. As comedian/writer Larry David might say while during his most recognizable political impersonation, “Enough is enough!” There’s still hope at the All-star break Even if your team is struggling at the midway point of the season, there is hope. Look at how many first place teams from the last five all-star breaks didn’t win their division or completely missed the postseason. First Place Teams at the All-Star Break Year AL East AL Central AL West NL East NL Central NL West 2015 NYY KCR LAA WSN STL LAD 2014 BAL DET OAK WSN MIL LAD 2013 BOS DET OAK ATL STL ARI 2012 NYY CHW TEX WSN PIT LAD 2011 BOS DET TEX PHI MIL SFG Finished as a Wild Card Missed the postseason Some old guy will spout off about something Another former player will likely follow in the steps of Goose Gossage and gripe about Bryce Harper or other players who don’t “respect the game.” For the old-timer, the bat flip is sacrilegious. Today’s fans and players don’t see it that way. That “get off my lawn” guy will echo Gossage’s sentiments. As I noted in a recent “N4N” piece, complaining about the kids is rite of passage for the older generation. As an “old guy” myself, I can’t say that I like everything that Millennials do on the field. But, who cares? It’s baseball played by young men, not people eligible for Social Security. Besides, nothing that the younger generation of ball players do will ever bother me as much as Washington state drivers who loiter in the passing lane of highways. Alright, enough of the old guy speak. Let’s close this out with a few more Mariners related items. The Mariners bullpen will be better than last year This projection isn’t exactly hard to envision either. With the exception of Carson Smith, the 2015 relief corps was a complete disappointment. Yes, the current group may not inspire confidence. But, I expect it’ll still be better than last year’s group. No where to go, but up, for Seattle’s relief corps. Jerry Dipoto won’t stand pat Second easiest prediction ever; the easiest one comes later. During his first offseason with the Mariners, Dipoto added 12 new players to his club’s 25-man roster, including two starting pitchers, his closer and eighth inning set-up man, and four starting position players. The 47-year-old’s aggressiveness is another reason to believe that the team’s bullpen will be better in 2016. Dipoto won’t rest if his relievers are collectively tanking, especially if the Mariners are have a reasonable chance to make a postseason run at the all-star break. Based on his busy offseason and his stated willingness to pivot when things don’t work out, Dipoto should keep the Prospect Insider staff busy during the regular season. The Mariners will have a winning record I’m not saying they’ll be in the postseason. But, I do believe that the Mariners are — at least — six wins better than last season when they finished with a 76-86 win-loss record. So yes, I do expect his club will have a winning record during the first year of the Dipoto/Servais regime. As Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times noted, Dipoto feels the same way and expects to enter the season with a chance of winning 85-86 games. As the new general manager said, “We built the roster with the idea to get into the mid-80s.” Whether the Mariners have a realistic shot to contend will likely come down to their overall health, how the revamped bullpen performs, and how well Dipoto pivots during adversity. Regardless, the team should crack the 81-win barrier in 2016. Finally…Seattle will rejoice when Junior goes to Cooperstown This is the easiest prediction I’ve ever made. Ken Griffey Jr. made baseball and Mariners history when he was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in January. First, the best player to wear a Mariners uniform justifiably earned the highest vote percentage ever recorded during the Hall’s 80-year history. Then, the club unexpectedly announced that “Junior” would be the first Mariners player to have his uniform number retired. From this point forward, no one will ever wear the number “24” at any level within the Mariners organization. Regardless of how the Mariners do during the 2016 season, Seattle will celebrate on July 24, when Griffey formally enters Cooperstown, and during “Ken Griffey Jr. Weekend” at Safeco Field on August 5-7, when his jersey is officially retired. At least I know that I’ll get one 2016 prediction right.
Payroll is always a hot topic among Major League Baseball teams and as we get closer to Opening Day, the needle starts to settle on what dollar amount each team will allocate. Of course moves will happen during the season and many teams leave room in their budget for just that occurrence, so the Opening Day number is anything but a final tally. With Ian Desmond now a member of the Texas Rangers for 2016, we can expect any further free agent signings to be of the low-level variety after an extended free agency signing period comes to an end. That brings us to the Seattle Mariners where the first offseason under a new regime brought significant change to the ball club. About this time last year I analyzed how the Mariners would distribute payroll by position. Unsurprisingly the rotation, featuring Felix Hernandez, and second base, featuring Robinson Cano, took up the largest allocations and combined for just under 40 percent of the team’s nearly $125 million payroll. That percentage stands to shrink again in 2016 as the Mariners Opening Day payroll is projected to be around $140 million — a consecutive increase. The following table shows the players that have been included for each position for this exercise, and more or less are expected to fill the 25-man roster for Seattle. A few estimations were done on my part for the last few roster spots available. 2016 Salaries by Position Position Salary Player(s) SP $40,230,000 Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton/Nate Karns RP $16,908,000 Joaquin Benoit, Steve Cishek, Charlie Furbush, Ryan Cook, Evan Scribner, Justin De Fratus, Vidal Nuno C $4,250,000 Chris Iannetta 1B $8,000,000 Adam Lind 2B $24,000,000 Robinson Cano 3B $8,000,000 Kyle Seager SS $600,000 Ketel Marte LF $5,500,000 Nori Aoki CF $4,150,000 Leonys Martin RF $6,750,000 Seth Smith DH $14,250,000 Nelson Cruz Bench $3,850,000 Franklin Gutierrez, Steve Clevenger, Shawn O’Malley, Jesus Montero Total $136,488,000 All contract information used comes from Baseball-Reference. For pre-arbitration players I used the following scale: first-year players receive $550 thousand, second-year players receive $600 thousand, and third-year players receive $650 thousand. Typically pre-arbitration players will earn a salary in this range or slightly higher. But a the case where a player is set to earn more than $650 thousand but less than $1 million won’t be all that noticeable in the bigger picture. Remembering that this is an estimate, the 25-man roster here totals $136.488 million for the year’s payroll. This number is not inclusive since it doesn’t reflect the salaries of other players that are on the 40-man roster. Of this projection the bullpen is most likely to have a different shape by the time Spring Training is over as both Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook are out with lat injuries. It’s also possible that Dae-Ho Lee beats out Jesus Montero as a platoon bat. And it isn’t a given that Shawn O’Malley makes the team either. Chris Taylor and Luis Sardinas are in the mix too. The salaries for the other candidates won’t differ substantially from who is shown as making the team, so for our purposes here, this will work. With the same names and numbers from the above table, we now see how the Mariners have distributed payroll for the 2016 season in visual form. As mentioned, second base and Cano still make up the biggest portion of the distribution among position players, though that percentage has decreased a tick as payroll has grown. Seager, signed to a seven-year contract extension prior to the 2015 season, enters year-two of the deal and his salary will continue to rise over the next couple seasons. Felix and his $25.86 million salary tops the club and accounts for just over half of the total allocation for the rotation. Compared to last year, more dollars have been invested into the bullpen, catching, and first base. This is consistent with the offseason acquisitions of Benoit and Cishek in the bullpen, Iannetta at catcher, and Lind at first base. Since Mark Trumbo was a midseason acquisition his salary was not reflected in the 2015 edition that took place prior to the season. The distribution across the outfield is similar to last year’s as Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson combined to earn just over $10 million while the newly acquired Aoki and Martin along with a raise to Smith will eat up all of that. Seattle will have the advantage of Marte and several pitchers playing in their pre-arbitration years and earning less than $1 million. This appears to be a slightly more veteran ball club compared to last year with the likes of Iannetta and Aoki taking the places of Mike Zunino, who is likely ticketed for Triple-A, and Ackley, who was dealt to the New York Yankees last summer. Interestingly enough, the Mariners will again distribute 42 percent of their payroll to pitching. For 2016, 30 percent will go to the rotation and 12 percent will go to the bullpen while in 2015, 32 percent went to the rotation and 10 percent went to the bullpen. There isn’t too much to be taken away from this exercise, but we can add some context by showing how the Mariners’ spending compares to the rest of the American League West division, as shown in the following chart. The same caveats used for the Mariners — playing time, pre-arbitration salaries, etc. — apply for the other four teams as well. Here are a few things that I made note of: Josh Hamilton: the embattled outfielder will likely start the season on the disabled list, but when he does return, he stands to come off the bench for the Texas Rangers. Hamilton’s salary creates a misleading distribution of the Rangers bench situation since they are actually only paying a couple million dollars of his salary with the Los Angeles Angels on the hook for the rest. The Oakland Athletics beefed up their bullpen this winter with the likes of Ryan Madson, John Axford, and Liam Hendriks and have allotted almost $7 million more to their bullpen than rotation. The Houston Astros are in a similar position with several high-priced relievers remaining on the roster after a strong contending year. Part of the reason the A’s and Astros have more invested in their bullpens than rotations is due to the pre-arbitration salaries for pitchers such as Sonny Gray, Jesse Hahn, Lance McCullers, and Collin McHugh. The investment the A’s have made into their rotation is in the form of two free agent contracts to starters Henderson Alvarez and Rich Hill. Alvarez is recovering from shoulder surgery and could join the team in May while Hill is looking for a healthy, bounce-back season. As was the case last year, the division is distributing very little to the catching position. The M’s Iannetta is now the second-highest paid catcher in the division with the Astros Jason Castro set to earn $5 million. The Rangers have invested heavily in a handful of players at five positions in Cole Hamels, Prince Fielder, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, and Shin-Soo Choo with three positions receiving relatively little investment. The only position the Mariners are clearly spending more at than their division rivals is second base. The A’s have a somewhat interesting roster puzzle with Coco Crisp and Chris Coghlan expected to start on the bench but combining to earn almost $16 million. You’d have to think president Billy Beane has another trick up his sleeve somewhere.
There are many ‘Under 25′ or ’25 and Under’ player rankings to go along with the farm system rankings put out by Keith Law, MLB.com and Baseball America. A good number of the sites covering prospects offer such a ’25 and Under’ type list, apparently in attempt to better evaluate where each club is in terms of young talent. Not Prospect Insider. Why? I’ll explain. For starters, the age of 25, or any other age one might choose as the cut-off, is 100 percent arbitrary. Why not 27? Why not 23? Second, There are much more significant cut-off criterion than age, or even rookie status when attempting to determine the long-term status of an organization, and since the mere presence of these ‘Under 25′ types suggest an attempt to take the analysis deeper than the farm, let’s go yet one step further, and with more meaning. Let me explain that, too. Baseball teams do not benefit specifically from having as many good and/or promising players 25 years of age and under as possible. They benefit from having as many good and/or promising players under club control for as long as possible, and good+cheap+now is more valuable than any other combination. No matter how good a club’s up-to-25’s are, if they’ve accrued three or more years of service time, or happen to qualify for Super 2 arbitration status, they start to dent the organization’s financial flexibility, often impacting immediate or future plans. If a player broke into the big leagues at 22 years of age and stayed there, he’d be arbitration eligible after his age 24 season, making his age-25 season one under an arbitration salary — which almost always hits seven figures. When clubs look to rebuild — such as the Atlanta Braves the past two seasons — they do not seek players of specific ages to go with certain levels of abilities. They seek controllable talents, sprinkled across all levels of experience levels and statuses. Many played all of 2015 in the minors. Most of those will do so again in 2016. Others have four-to-six years of club control attached. Rather than having to immediately write payroll checks for seven figures on several players, the Braves will pay their young big-league talents the league minimum for up to three full seasons. This is how they’ll be able to extend the contracts of key players heading toward free agency or perhaps even splurge on an impact free agent or two as they approach legitimate contention in the National League East. It’s also how they’ll entice other clubs to part with what they desire in order to complete their roster. The same idea is why the Houston Astros are so dangerous right now — a threat to win it all for the next three or more season. Carlos Correa, George Springer, Lance McCullers and company will make peanuts for at least two more years, barring contract extensions, which only come at the club’s discretion. The age of the player is arbitrary. His rookie status is meaningless. This is what makes the Nathan Karns trade a potential gem for the Mariners; he’s 28, yes, but has just one year of service on the ledger. The right-hander may be entering his prime years while the club is required to pay him only the league minimum for both 2016 and 2017, his age 28 and 29 seasons. Here are the AL West’s top players who have yet to qualify for arbitration, heading into the 2016 season. Below that is a group of players in Year 1 of arbitration, which typically are very affordable stages for the club. Add the following groups to the farm system rankings of your choice and that combo is a better representation of where each club is in terms of housing the necessary young talent to put forth its best foot for the longer-term future — beyond 2016. The overall organization ‘ranking’ may not change much when implementing pre-arbitration talents, but clubs only can house 25 players on the big-league roster, 40 on the reserve list and players run out of options. The difference between the clubs is more opportunities to mitigate cost. Front office mistakes reduce such an advantage. After the Mariners’ groups are those of the other four clubs in the American League West, for comparison. Of course, the financial situation of each club matters when trying to determine what their chances at long-term success may be, so keep that in mind. Pre-Arbitration Player Pos. Service Nathan Karns RHP 1.033 Taijuan Walker RHP 1.142 James Paxton LHP 2.027 Ketel Marte SS 0.066 Mike Montgomery LHP 0.089 Jesus Montero 1B/DH 1.167 Chris Taylor SS 0.139 Mike Zunino C 2.084 Vidal Nuno LHP 2.015 Stefen Romero OF 0.170 Steve Clevenger C 2.123 Luis Sardinas SS 0.143 It’s worth noting a player such as Mike Zunino is far from guaranteed to earn the nearly-year of service he needs to hit arbitration status after this coming season. Taijuan Walker is likely to hit Super Two status after 2016 — as you can see, he’s paced to end this coming year with two years, 142 days of service time. After the 2015 season, the Super Two cut-off was two years, 130 days, a mark Clevenger missed by just seven days of service. Keep in mind that if James Paxton doesn’t win a spot in the starting rotation this spring, there’s a great chance he starts the season in Triple-A Tacoma. He enters 2016 needing almost a full season in the majors — 145 days, to be exact — to reach three years of service. He needs just 105 days of or so to join Walker in Super Two status, however, if we assume the cut-off repeats at two years, 130 days (it typically is different every season, however). In order for Paxton to miss out on arbitration after this season he’ll need to spend more than two full months in Triple-A, not counting rehab assignment time. Mike Montgomery and Jesus Montero are out of options, but if the latter makes the club out of spring training and spends most of the season in the big leagues, arbitration likely will be part of his offseason, too. First-year Arbitration Player Pos. ’16 $ Leonys Martin CF $4.15m Evan Scribner RHP $807,500 Steve Clevenger, clearly, will get to arbitration status after this season, needing but a week or two to get there. Karns is set for two more full seasons of club-controlled contracts with no chance to get to arbitration until after the 2017 season. Evan Scribner was a Super Two qualifier this season, but remains affordable at under $1 million for 2016. Leonys Martin was a rather pricey first-year arbitration qualifier and a poor 2016 likely means a non-tender scenario for the center fielder next winter. The Texas Rangers rank between No. 6 and No. 10, depending on who you ask, but we can add the following to their future chances to sustain the success they started a year ago. Pre-Arbitration Player Pos. Service Rougned Odor 2B 1.121 Sam Freeman LHP 2.050 Nick Martinez RHP 1.143 Delino DeShields, Jr. SS 1.000 Keone Kela LHP 1.000 Rougned Odor is a rather key name here, as is Delino DeShields, Jr., since both were big parts of the club’s success in 2015. The pair’s value, while earning just league-minimum salaries, is especially critical with other large contracts on the books, including Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels and Prince Fielder. Once Odor, for example, gets expensive, Fielder’s deal will be nearing expiration. First-year Arbitration Player Pos. ’16 $ Shawn Tolleson RHP $3.275m Jake Diekman LHP $1.255m Tanner Scheppers RHP $900,000 Jurickson Profar SS $605,000 Sam Dyson RHP CC For Texas, this group may be more important, since their best bullpen arm, Shawn Tolleson, and a potentially-terrific trade chip in Jurickson Profar, remains relatively cheap. Profar’s health is a major concern at this point, but if such injuries would have occurred in 2018, instead, Profar might be in non-tender territory. The Rangers can afford to sit back and hope for another year or two, which could pay off big, considering Profar’s immense talent. The Los Angeles Angels ranked near the bottom of everyone’s list, topping out at No. 26 and bottom out at, well, the bottom. Their list of controlled contracts and first-year arbitration players isn’t impressive, either. At press time, the club was rumored to be near acquiring former Seattle Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders, who is a first-year arbitration player. Pre-Arbitration Player Pos. Service Matt Shoemaker RHP 1.166 Tyler Skaggs LHP 2.066 C.J. Cron 1B/DH 1.110 Mike Morin RHP 1.137 Cory Rasmus RHP 1.155 Johnny Giavotella 2B 2.055 Tyler Skaggs could be the key player here. The lefty has a chance to be a reliable No. 2 or No. 3 starter, but is coming off Tommy John surgery and may not reach such status in 2016, but there appears to be a good shot he nets the service time to hit arbitration status. He’ll likely remain super cheap into 2017, however. C.J. Cron being a cheap, useful bat — especially with Albert Pujols’ current health situation — is a pretty big deal for the Angels, who remain nearly $30 million from the luxury tax threshold for 2016 but did not go out and add insurance for their incumbents. Cory Rasmus, Mike Morin and Johnny Giavotella are role players who have some value as long they’re not making much money. First-year Arbitration Player Pos. ’16 $ Kole Calhoun RF $3.4m Kole Calhoun reached Super Two status after last season and is one of the Angels’ best players — probably No. 2 behind Mike Trout — and is a value at $3.4 million for 2016. It may be on Damon Oppenheimer’s to-do list to seek controllable players — there’s no doubt it is — but doing so without return value is difficult and certainly will test the first-time general manager’s ability to get deals done with creativity. The Oakland Athletics are in a unique position; they’re lacking in talent down on the farm, sitting at No. 18 in Keith Law’s Org Rankings, and having but a small handful of controllable talents that figure to be key cogs in whatever machine they’re looking to build. Pre-Arbitration Player Pos. Service Khris Davis OF 2.104 Liam Hendriks RHP 2.038 Sonny Gray RHP 2.061 Stephen Vogt C 2.084 Josh Phegley C 1.114 Marcus Semien SS 1.118 Kendall Graveman LHP 1.014 Chris Bassitt RHP 0.127 Jesse Hahn RHP 1.086 Billy Burns OF 1.020 Mark Canha OF/1B 1.000 There are two pieces of good news, however. First, Sonny Gray and Stephen Vogt are two of Oakland’s club-controlled players that aren’t yet earning arbitration dollars in 2016. Second, the A’s have but $34.7 million on the books for 2017 and just $13.7 million on the books for 2018. This strong suggests the financial flexibility to cover most or all of Gray’s arbitration years, and perhaps even a free agent year or two. Marcus Semien is a big value here, too, manning the shortstop position with some upside at the plate, all for the league minimum. The A’s haven’t a single first-year arbitration player, though, and as shown above many of their key pre-arb players will hit arbitration status after 2016. The Houston Astros are in the best shape of any club in the division, even when it goes beyond the farm system itself. Their strong rookie class of 2015 — Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers, Jr. leading the way — puts them in a great spot for years to come, but the Astros are in good shape at all levels of service time. Pre-Arbitration Player Pos. Service Carlos Correa SS 0.119 Lance McCullers RHP 0.139 Ken Giles RHP 1.113 Collin McHugh RHP 2.085 Brad Peacock LHP 2.124 Will Harris RHP 2.102 George Springer SS 1.166 Mike Fiers RHP 2.085 Jake Marisnick OF 1.145 Matt Duffy 3B 1.059 Dan Straily RHP 1.126 Preston Tucker SS 0.150 Three of the Astros best six players reside in 0-3 territory, an impressive roster set for GM Jeff Luhnow and staff. One cam make an argument that 10 of the club’s 15 best players will earn less than $6 million in 2016, with five of them earning less than $1 million. Not only is the Houston farm system still solid enough — No. 17 by Law — despite graduation several over the past two seasons, but their list of 0-3s and first-year arbitration players is as impressive as it gets in Major League Baseball, and Luhnow added to that over the winter in the form of closer Ken Giles. First-year Arbitration Player Pos. ’16 $ Dallas Keuchel LHP $7.25m Josh Fields RHP $900,000 The one area that may get a bit difficult for Houston is with Dallas Keuchel, whose first-year arbitration salary broke a record for pitchers. His Cy Young Award didn’t hurt, but the Astros may not be in a position to compete with Keuchel’s future market. The onus will be on Luhnow to continue to find starting pitching so he can trade Keuchel — if they prefer not to pony up the big dollars to keep him. His 2017 salary projects north of $10 million — perhaps somewhere in the $12-13 million range — with another bump to the $17-18 million or higher likely heading into 2018. The other controllable assets on the roster make it plausible for the Astros to keep such a salary, however, so don’t expect a break-up of this ultra-young group in H-town. In the end, 0-3s and first-year arbitration talent is a continuation of the poor farm system for the Angels, but the Astros get a significant boost from the 17th-best farm system, suggesting long-term success as well as the immediate chance to win. The Rangers’ top-10 farm system doesn’t get a huge lift from their 0-3s or first-year arbitration eligibles, but there’s enough there to maintain the optimism moving forward beyond the next two seasons. The Mariners have some upside in their 0-3s that isn’t present in a bottom-quarter farm system, thanks to Walker, Paxton, Karns and Marte, lifting their overall future outlook a full step or two. Walker’s solid final three months to 2015 lend an extra half-step, too, since we could be talking about a No. 2 or No. 3 starter this season.
After suffering through another losing season and extending their playoff drought to 14 year, Seattle Mariners management decided to hire Jerry Dipoto to be their general manager. Since taking over in late September, the 47-year-old has significantly altered the club’s approach towards scouting, player development, and coaching. While Dipoto’s initial actions are encouraging, the root cause to the Mariners’ underwhelming record is the fact that they didn’t have enough good players to compete last season. That’s the main reason behind Dipoto’s hiring and why he was the major’s most active general manager during his first five months on the job. With Spring Training just around the corner, now’s a good time to recap the Mariners’ hot stove progress to date. For the purposes of my review, I’ve decided to the examine the weaknesses identified by Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill in October. The areas mentioned by Jason are closely aligned to Dipoto’s public comments about the team’s shortcomings and the moves that he’s made. If you missed Jason’s piece, you can read it here. Starting Pitching The off-season started with a projected 2016 rotation of staff ace Felix Hernandez and a lot of uncertainty. That’s why Jason identified adding a number-two starter as a priority for the club. There were plenty of candidates behind King Felix – Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery. Yet, none were viewed as locks to make the rotation – or even be reliable. It didn’t take long for the club to start dealing. Dipoto’s first major trade shipped Logan Morrison, Brad Miller, and Danny Farquhar to the Tampa Bay Rays for the hard-throwing Nate Karns, lefty reliever C.J. Riefenhauser – since traded to Baltimore – and outfield prospect Boog Powell. Karns’ first full season in the big leagues came last year at the advanced age of 28. Despite the late arrival, he’s the kind of “swing and miss” pitcher that Dipoto wanted. One area of concern could be durability. As Jason noted in his analysis of the deal, it remains to be seen if Karns can handle a 190-200 inning workload. The next big change was the acquisition of southpaw Wade Miley, along with reliever Jonathan Aro, from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Elias and dynamic reliever Carson Smith. At the time of the deal, I assessed it as a step backwards. Basically, the trade weakened the already bad bullpen and didn’t add the number-two starter that Jason had identified as a need. That doesn’t mean that the trade is a bust. Prospect Insider’s analysis pointed out that several “high-ranking scouts that like Miley more than his numbers.” This deal works best for Seattle if the 29-year-old is a legitimate number-three from the onset of the season. It’s important to note that our analysis assumed Miley was the replacement for free agent Hisashi Iwakuma, who had agreed to contract terms with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Little did we know that “Kuma” would actually return to the Emerald City. When reports surfaced saying that Iwakuma failed his Los Angeles physical, Dipoto pounced on the opportunity to retain the fan favorite. The club Mariners signed Kuma to a three-year deal – with vesting options – which protects the team in the event that he breaks down from a physical standpoint. Here’s a potential Opening Day rotation compared to the 2015 version. I’ve included the 2015 fWAR for both groups of players and the 2016 Steamer fWAR projection for current Mariners. Potential Rotation 2015 Rotation Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR SP Felix Hernandez 2.8 4.7 Felix Hernandez 2.8 SP Wade Miley 2.6 2.1 Hisashi Iwakuma 1.8 SP Hisashi Iwakuma 1.8 2.9 James Paxton 0.5 SP Nate Karns 1.5 1.0 J.A. Happ 1.2 SP Taijuan Walker 1.9 2.4 Taijuan Walker 1.9 Totals 10.6 13.1 8.2 Mission accomplished? No. Going into Spring Training, the rotation looks to be Felix, Miley, Kuma, and Walker with Karns, Paxton, and Montgomery battling for the last rotation spot. The losers will likely go to Class-AAA Tacoma or be traded. That’s a good start, but there’s no clear number-two caliber pitcher behind King Felix. Bringing back Iwakuma excites fans and it’s true that he can be a number-two – when healthy. But, he’s coming off two consecutive injury-shortened seasons, has only started 30 or more games once in four years with Seattle, and is entering his age-35 season. Perhaps, Walker will rise to that position. But, he’ll need to be more consistent in 2016 to take the next step in his career become a future ace. Yes, the rotation is better with Karns, Miley, and the returning Iwakuma in the mix. But, it’s debatable whether it’s good enough to contend. Outfield Defense The Mariners’ outfield registered -45 defensive runs saved (DRS) – easily the worst in the majors last season. So, Dipoto aggressively made moves to upgrade the team’s outfield defense. To fix center field, the Mariners dealt popular reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, outfielder James Jones, and prospect Patrick Kivlehan to the Texas Rangers for Leonys Martin and reliever Anthony Bass – who subsequently signed to play next season in Japan. From Seattle’s perspective, Martin was the cornerstone of the deal. Despite having nearly half the playing time of his contemporaries, the 27-year-old was one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. His 15 DRS ranked third behind Gold Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier (42) and Lorenzo Cain (18) during last season. The signing of Nori Aoki to play a corner outfield spot also improved the defense. Aoki is a solid defender, although he’s known for taking poor routes on balls from time-to-time. Despite his occasional follies in the field, he’s a significantly better defender than any regular corner outfielder that Seattle has used in recent years. The retention of Franklin Gutierrez to platoon with fellow holdover Seth Smith solidifies left field. Health may have robbed “Guti” of his ability to be a dynamic center fielder, but he’s still good in a corner spot. Smith is the weakest defender of the outfield crew, although he’s not bad. He’s average or slightly below-average. Although Karns will reach Seattle first and Powell likely starts the season in Tacoma, the 23-year-old outfielder could have a bigger long-term impact. Powell brings a blend of speed, athleticism, defense and contact-style offense that Dipoto craves and he can play all three outfield positions. He’ll likely see action in Seattle during 2016. Mission accomplished? Yes. Last season, Smith was considered one of Seattle’s better outfielders. Now, he’s ranks last among teammates not named Nelson Cruz. That’s how much Dipoto has improved outfield since taking over – last year’s best is this year’s ‘worst.” There’s a residual benefit to adding so many defensively sound outfielders, who also can reach base consistently. Management won’t feel compelled to play Cruz in the field as often. Although many fans support his defensive abilities and believe he’s a better hitter when playing right field, the Mariners are better with Cruz as their designated hitter. Keeping “Boomstick” off the field and healthy will help preserve their star hitter. Bullpen This unit went from being superb in 2014 to being a complete disappointment last season. After dealing his club’s two best relievers, there wasn’t much left on Dipoto’s roster. So, he’s been in overdrive to find new relievers ever since. The most notable addition is Steve Cishek, who was signed to be the closer. Cishek was exceptional during 2013 and 2014, but regressed last year. The 29-year-old showed signs of improvement during the second half when he held hitters to a .206/.313/.299 slash. Despite the improved numbers, the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t value him enough to include him on their postseason roster last October. Prospect Insider assesses the side-arming righty as being better suited to be a set-up man than a closer for a contender. Another veteran newcomer is Joaquin Benoit, who’ll pitch the eighth inning. Benoit has been a durable setup man after missing the 2009 season with rotator cuff surgery. Since then, he’s logged over 60 innings in five of six years, including 67 last season. Jason explained why he liked the Benoit deal for the Mariners here. Not every face in the relief corps is new. Charlie Furbush returns after suffering a slight rotator cuff tear last season, plus Tony Zych and Vidal Nuno are holdovers who figure to play prominent roles during 2016. Mission accomplished? No. Losing Smith and Wilhelmsen put a decimated bullpen in a bigger hole and helped spark fan hostility and media skepticism. Steamer projections won’t inspire fans to a leap of faith either – last season’s original relievers provided approximately the same value that’s projected for the new guys assembled by Dipoto. Potential Bullpen 2015 Bullpen Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR CL Steve Cishek 0.0 0.0 Fernando Rodney -0.8 SU Joaquin Benoit 0.4 0.3 Carson Smith 2.1 RP Charlie Furbush 0.1 0.4 Charlie Furbush 0.1 RP Tony Zych 0.6 0.3 Tom Wilhelmsen 0.8 RP Evan Scribner -0.1 0.5 Yoervis Medina -0.1 RP Vidal Nuno 0.3 0.3 Danny Farquhar -0.2 RP Justin De Fratus -0.1 -0.1 Tyler Olson -0.4 Totals 1.2 1.7 1.5 With so many “unknown unknowns” in the bullpen, it’s tough to be optimistic in late January. Clearly, the club is banking on Furbush bouncing back and the Benoit and Cishek combo being able to anchor the back of the pen. But, it’s going to take on-field success to win over fans and skeptics alike. There is a silver lining though. If the club is in position to contend in July, Dipoto has demonstrated the propensity to fix a bullpen during a season, as he did with the 98-win Los Angeles Angels in 2014. During that season, he acquired star closer Huston Street, plus setup men Fernando Salas and Jason Grilli. Catcher At age 24, Mike Zunino is too young to be deemed a bust. Dipoto has repeatedly praised the catcher’s potential, which leaves the impression that he views the former number-three draft pick as a part of the team’s future. Defensively, he’s outstanding. However, his offense took a horrible turn last season when he posted a .174/.230/.300 slash during 386 plate appearances in 2015. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Zunino is likely to spend the entire 2016 season at Class-AAA Tacoma. As a result of Zunino’s struggles and the weak bat of Jesus Sucre, the Mariners added former Los Angeles Angel Chris Iannetta – who endured his own offensive struggles last season – and former Baltimore Oriole Steve Clevenger to form a new catching tandem for 2016. Mission accomplished? Yes. Iannetta, who will do the majority of the catching, is a good pitch-framer with proven on-base ability with the exception of last season. Clevenger is a capable backup and can also play first base in a pinch. Since Iannetta is only 32-years-old, it’s reasonable to expect that he can return to pre-2015 form. Regardless, the Iannetta/Clevenger duo is far superior to last season’s catching crew. Adding two new catchers affords Seattle the opportunity to place both Zunino and Sucre in Tacoma, if they chose to do so. This substantially improves the club’s organizational depth. Plus, it gives Zunino the opportunity to fix his swing and prove whether Dipoto is correct in believing that he’s part of the team’s future. Fringe Depth Dipoto has spoken often of adding layers of depth throughout the organization, like he did with the catcher position. Although fringe depth is easily overlooked by both fans and talking heads, it’s imperative to have both major and minor league reserves in order to contend. To get in front of the issue, Dipoto added 17 new players to 40-man roster with only four – Adam Lind, Aoki, Martin, Iannetta – slated as starting position players. The rest will provide rotation, bullpen, or bench depth for the either Seattle or Tacoma. Last season, the club didn’t have clear-cut options in the event of injury or lackluster performance, which led to an 86-loss season. Here’s what a notional Opening Day bench could look like and how it compares to last year’s reserves. Potential Bench 2015 Bench Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR C Steve Clevenger 0.0 0.4 Jesus Sucre -0.3 INF Chris Taylor -0.4 0.3 Willie Bloomquist -0.6 OF Franklin Gutierrez 2.3 0.6 Justin Ruggiano -0.1 OF Shawn O’Malley 0.1 0.0 Rickie Weeks -0.7 Totals 2.0 1.3 -1.7 Mission accomplished? Mostly. Building organizational depth is never ending process, but it’s clear that this year’s bench will be significantly better than the 2015 version. For example, Ketel Marte is seemingly destined to be the starting shortstop. Consequently, holdover Chris Taylor and import Luis Sardinas will vie for the reserve infielder spot with the loser likely to start the season with Tacoma. Also, Powell presents the Mariners with their best rookie outfield call-up option in years. These kind of options didn’t exist on Seattle’s roster a year ago. In addition to “splashy” moves, the Mariners have quietly added several non-roster invites who could potentially add to their depth. To date, those players include pitchers Casey Coleman, Brad Mills, Blake Parker, infielder Ed Lucas and outfielder Mike Baxter. Also, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reports that first baseman Gaby Sanchez has agreed with the Mariners on a minor league deal. Expect more names to be added during the next month. Final thoughts Having Cruz, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Felix to build around makes it easier for the Mariners to compete in 2016 without jeopardizing its future success or payroll flexibility. The “riskiest” contracts signed this winter are Cishek’s two-year deal and Iwakuma’s incentive-based contract. Neither will cripple the team’s future plans. While this bodes well for the team in the long-term, it’s hard to really know how well the Mariners will perform in 2016. Take a look at the projected Opening Day starters compared to last year’s group and you’ll see that this year’s lineup should perform better than 2015 version. But, is it good enough? Projected Starters 2015 Starters Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR 1B Adam Lind 2.2 1.5 Logan Morrison -0.2 2B Robinson Cano 2.1 3.5 Robinson Cano 2.1 SS Ketel Marte 1.7 1.8 Brad Miller 0.9 3B Kyle Seager 3.9 3.7 Kyle Seager 3.9 LF Nori Aoki 1.5 0.9 Dustin Ackley -0.6 CF Leonys Martin 0.5 1.2 Austin Jackson 2.3 RF Seth Smith 2.2 1.2 Seth Smith 2.2 DH Nelson Cruz 4.8 1.6 Nelson Cruz 4.8 C Chris Iannetta 0.5 1.7 Mike Zunino -0.5 Totals 19.4 17.1 14.9 Dipoto’s approach of building around core stars, while simultaneously giving the organization a major facelift makes sense. Whether that strategy leads to a winning campaign in 2016 remains to be seen. If the season started today, the Mariners are far better than the 76-win disappointment of 2015. But, their current rotation and bullpen can’t be considered ready to propel the club into contention. Right now, the Mariners are a “fringe contender” at best. The club is banking on players like Cano, Iwakuma, Paxton, Martin, Aoki, Iannetta, Cishek, Furbush and most of their relievers to rebound after a down season. If the majority of these ball players bounce back, the Mariners will be the sweethearts of baseball’s talking heads – much like the 2015 Houston Astros. If things don’t go as well as planned, they’ll be fighting to stay above the .500 mark. That assessment shouldn’t dishearten or irritate fans. After all, Opening Day isn’t until April and a lot can change between now and then. As I pointed out a few months ago, every 2015 playoff team wasn’t ready by Opening Day. Fans can also find comfort in knowing that their team’s general manager isn’t afraid to pivot from mistakes or address under-performance. If the Mariners are in contention by June or July, Dipoto has the wherewithal to add pieces – he’s done it before. If the club is out of the hunt, he can use next off-season to continue reshaping the organization and building the contender that Mariner fans so desperately crave.
Last season was a forgettable one for Seattle Mariner fans who were forced to watch the American League (AL) West division standings turned upside down in a way that didn’t result in their team reaching the postseason. The two worst teams of 2014 reached the postseason and the two teams that had reached the postseason the season prior took a step backwards. At the same time, the Mariners – who were projected to be a World Series contender – ended up losing 86 games. This abrupt change of fortune made for an exciting baseball season, plus helped set the stage for an interesting Hot Stove season. As with every off-season, priorities vary between teams as will their respective approach to address weaknesses and/or accentuate areas of strength. With pitchers and catchers set to report next month, it’s about time to review what the Mariners’ rivals have done to improve their rosters so far. It’s important to emphasize the “so far” because there’s still time for deals to happen, especially with several high-impact free agents still on the market. For each team, you’ll see a payroll projection from baseball-reference.com. The numbers will become more firm after the arbitration process has run its course. For those interested in specifics, MLB Trade Rumors provides arbitration estimates that are widely used by numerous baseball sites, including Baseball Reference and Prospect Insider, which can be found here. Next, up is each organization’s needs at the end of last season – based on projected free agent losses and areas of weakness. After that, there’s some background information on each club, a summary of their moves to date, and what’s left to be done before the teams break camp for the regular season. Houston Astros Estimated payroll: $88.9M Needs: 1B/ LF/SP/RP The massive roster reclamation undertaken by Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow propelled the team into the playoff picture much sooner than most observers had predicted. Houston led the division for most of the season before falling on hard times in September. Despite their late season setback, Houston managed to beat the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card game and extend the World Series champion Kansas City Royals to five games before bowing out in the Divisional Series. It’s reasonable to anticipate that last year’s rapid improvement and high expectations for 2016 will lead to a groundswell of fan support in 2016. What’s unknown is club owner Jim Crane’s willingness to provide Luhnow with more payroll flexibility. Player salaries have incrementally increased over the past few seasons from a league-low $26 million in 2013 to approximately $72 million last season. Although the team’s payroll will increase again, it’s projected to remain in the bottom third of the league despite the fact they franchise is based in the fourth largest city in the United States. Off-season action: Thanks to the bevvy of young talent that Luhnow and his predecessor – Ed Wade – have amassed and the fact that they were able to retain a couple of key free agents, the Astros haven’t made dramatic changes to their roster. In fact, they’ve added the fewest new major league players of any club in the AL West. The club’s biggest move was picking up closer Ken Giles from the Philadelphia Phillies. Giles’ arrival permits Houston to make former closer Luke Gregerson their eighth inning set-up man. Another move that helped bolster their bullpen was their retention of southpaw Tony Sipp, who was in high demand on the free agent market. The Astros filled their left field hole when Colby Rasmus became the first player to ever accept a qualifying offer. As with the Giles deal, keeping their own player improves their overall by keeping Jake Marisnick and prospect Preston Tucker waiting in the wings. What’s next? It appears that the Astros plan to use Evan Gattis as their primary designated hitter and rely on former top prospect Jon Singleton at first base after the club non-tendered Chris Carter. The team would be well-served to either acquire a full-time first baseman or at least someone provide depth at the position. Since Chris Davis has opted to stay in Baltimore, the market for first baseman has thinned out considerably. Justin Morneau can still play, but his concussion history makes him a risk. Another option would be Steve Pearce who can play first base or in a corner outfield spot. That kind of versatility is always a plus for any organization, especially if the team carries eight relievers and only has three bench players – including a catcher. Based on market availability, the club may be best served to look for a trade partner. As far as the rotation, adding a solid starter like Texas native Yovani Gallardo – who’s made 30 or more starts in seven consecutive seasons – would help provide depth and an innings eater for the Astros. Another option could be former Mariner Doug Fister who hasn’t been as durable, but would come with a lower price tag. Fortunately for the team, the main pieces of their roster are relatively inexpensive and the lineup should improve simply by having AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa and fellow rookie Lance McCullers for an entire season as long as they avoid a sophomore letdown. Also, healthy production from outfielders Carlos Gomez and George Springer for an entire season provides an instant improvement. With that said, the areas that I just noted need to improve in order for the club to get ahead in the competitive AL West. Peter Gammons of the Gammons Daily noted yesterday that three different baseball executives have told him that they believe that free agent Yoenis Cespedes could end up in Houston. Certainly, the Astros could afford the 30-year-old outfielder from a financial standpoint, especially with so many young stars under team control for the foreseeable future. However, the club would likely need to move one of their outfielders or Gattis to make room for the right-handed slugger on their roster. Oakland Athletics Estimated payroll: $83.1M Needs: 1B/2B/SP/RP The Athletics are attempting to get back on track after a disastrous last place finish. Oakland fans were forced to watch their team finish with 68 wins, while former Athletic Josh Donaldson – who was traded last off-season – won the AL Most Valuable Player and helped the Toronto Blue Jays reach the AL Championship Series. The fact that the club has demonstrated a willingness to deal a budding superstar, like Donaldson, has led to speculation that the A’s might do something similar with ace Sonny Gray. After all, the 26-year-old would bring a significant return. Team vice president Billy Beane recently told MLB Radio that he doesn’t intend to trade their star hurler and best player. The right-hander has a 2.88 earned run average (ERA) in 74 career starts and is under team control through the 2019 season. That’s right, the pitcher who finished third in last season’s AL Cy Young award voting will earn the league minimum in 2016. If Beane changes his mind, he won’t have trouble finding potential trade partners. Off-season action: Since the cash-strapped club is never in the market for a upper-tier free agents and management is currently unwilling to part with their staff ace, the Athletics are more inclined to assume risk and make unconventional acquisitions like free agent starting pitcher Henderson Alvarez, who was signed to a one-year $4.25 million deal. Alvarez, who was non-tendered by the Miami Marlins after having shoulder surgery last summer, will open the season on the disabled list. However, he’s only entering his age-27 season and will be under team control through 2017. Another reclamation project is southpaw Rich Hill. The 35-year-old – who’s been a reliever for the majority of his 11-year career – will be starter for the Oakland in 2016. Both Alvarez and Hill present different kinds of risks for the club. Time will only tell if either gamble pays off for the Athletics. To upgrade second base, the club obtained infielder Jed Lowrie from the Astros, which prompted them to ship Brett Lawrie to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for minor league pitchers Jeffrey Wendelken and Zack Erwin – a fourth round pick in the 2015 Major League Baseball Amateur draft. I’m sure that some Oakland fans feel a sense of irony in seeing Lawrie leave just one season after being part of the package received for Donaldson. At first base, the A’s acquired Yonder Alonso in a trade with the San Diego Padres. The left-handed hitter represents a significant upgrade at the plate over Ike Davis and is viewed as a good defender. Alonso will likely pair with the right-handed hitting Mark Canha to form a first base platoon when Canha isn’t playing in the outfield. Oakland aggressively addressed their bullpen needs by adding relievers Ryan Madson, Liam Hendriks, John Axford, and Marc Rzepczynski. The team hopes that these four veterans – plus a healthy Sean Doolittle – will help reinvigorate a relief corps that permitted an AL-worst 34-percent of inherited runners to score last season. What’s next? With the trade of righty Jesse Chavez for Hendriks, Manager Bob Melvin will have to rely upon Hill and youngsters Jesse Hahn, Chris Bassitt, Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin and Aaron Brooks to form a rotation behind Gray. Jarrod Parker could also be in the mix after missing the past two seasons due to arm surgery. Teams with higher operating budgets would have the payroll flexibility to address their rotation needs by going after a lower-tier free agent starter like Gallardo, or even Fister. Perhaps, the market will drive down the price on one of the remaining free agents. If the club stands pat with the current roster, a lot of things have to go just right for Oakland to contend in 2016. Los Angeles Angels Estimated payroll: $167.7M Needs: C/3B/LF/more offense The Angels remained in postseason contention until the last day of the 2015 season, but fell short to Houston for the second wild card spot. The abrupt mid-season departure of former general manager Jerry Dipoto provided an opportunity for the Angels to redo their front office and assess their roster with a fresh set of eyes. New general manager Billy Eppler inherits a roster weighed down by the $45 million that veterans Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson will be earning in 2016. Plus, the team is on the hook to pay former Angel Josh Hamilton $26.4 million, although he’s playing for the Texas Rangers. In total, the Halos have over $70 million obligated to four players who are either in decline or playing for a divisional rival. To compound matters, owner Arte Moreno is on record saying that he’s reluctant to go over the luxury tax threshold of $189 million. As a result, the team hasn’t been active in an big-ticket free agents. Off-season action: Shortly after taking over the baseball operations, Eppler pulled off his first significant deal by getting shortstop Andrelton Simmons and minor league player Jose Briceno from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for shortstop Erick Aybar and pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. Adding a defensive stalwart like Simmons is a plus for the Angels. But, it came at the cost of two prospects and didn’t address an area viewed as an urgent need – shortstop. Newcomb is a potential top-end starter, who is ranked in the top-20 among all major league prospects and number-two in the Braves system. Filling a more urgent hole in a deal would have beneficial for the Angels’ 2016 outlook. The remaining moves made by the Angels were low cost additions. With the departure of last year’s third baseman – David Freese – via free agency, the club acquired Yunel Escobar from the Washington Nationals in exchange for reliever Trevor Gott and minor leaguer Michael Brady. Newly acquired Geovany Soto is expected to pair with youngster Carlos Perez to form the Angels’ catching tandem. Plus, free agent Cliff Pennington can play second base, shortstop and third base and some outfield, if needed. What’s next? Although Eppler has stated that he believes Moreno would approve exceeding the luxury tax mark for the right player, the team has yet to find that player and make a significant upgrade at any position from an offensive standpoint. The area that desperately needs that “right player” is left field. For a club that ranked number-25 in on-base percentage last season, upgrading the position with an established offensive player would be a step in the right direction towards reinvigorating the club’s offense. Currently, the club has arguably the best player in the game – Mike Trout – in center field and Gold Glover Kole Calhoun manning right field. Calhoun has pop in his bat, but his batting average and on-base percentage are just league-average. That leaves a potential tandem of Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry to man left field. Other outfielders currently on the team’s 40-man roster include Todd Cunningham, Efren Navarro and minor leaguer Rafael Ortega. If the Angels can’t find more offensive punch from their outfield, 2016 could be another year of the club’s offense being Mike Trout and eight other guys. Three free agent outfielders who would be an immediate upgrade be Cespedes, Dexter Fowler and Justin Upton. But, it comes back to the same thing – ownership’s reluctance to go over the luxury tax mark. Perhaps, they can sign a lower tier free agent like Austin Jackson or Denard Span. Neither is a perfect fit, but would present better options than what’s on the current 40-man roster. Texas Rangers Estimated payroll: $144.2M Needs: C/SP/RP The defending AL West division champions were forced to take a broken road to postseason contention last year. First, the club lost ace Yu Darvish to Tommy John elbow surgery in Spring Training. To make matters worse, the club was forced to go without the services of fellow starters Derek Holland and Martin Perez for the first half of the season. Throw in the uncertainty surrounding slugger Prince Fielder – who was returning from neck surgery – and the Rangers 2015 outlook appeared bleak. While most observers didn’t expect Texas to be a contender after their run of bad fortune with their rotation, general manager Jon Daniels never waved the proverbial white flag. He continued to look for opportunities to improve his roster for 2015 and beyond throughout the season. He first reacquired former Ranger Hamilton from the Angels after he wore out his welcome in Anaheim. Hamilton’s contributions proved to be limited. But, Daniels made his most significant moves in July when he traded for Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels and added relievers Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson to bolster his bullpen. Fortunately for Daniels and his ball club, the Rangers were able to ride out their early misfortune. Holland and Perez returned after the all-star break, Fielder earned American League Comeback Player of the Year honors, and Hamels helped the club make a late surge to pass the Astros and Angels to win the division. Now, the club is poised to compete for the postseason again. Off-season action: To a degree, Daniels got an early start with his off-season shopping when he picked up Hamels, Diekman, and Dyson last July. The club’s major hot stove move was trading outfielder Leonys Martin and pitcher Anthony Bass to the Mariners in exchange for reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, outfielder James Jones, and prospect Patrick Kivlehan. The key to this deal for Texas was adding the hard-throwing and versatile Wilhelmsen to buoy their bullpen, which now brags a core of closer Shawn Tolleson, Diekman, Dyson, sophomore Keone Kela, and their newest addition from Seattle. The Rangers also signed former Mariners outfielder Justin Ruggiano – who rakes against left-handed pitching – to boost outfield depth and possibly be a back-up first baseman. Ruggiano also provides the team with some insurance in case Hamilton encounters performance or availability issues. Although the fan favorite is expected to be a regular contributor, Hamilton underwent another knee procedure this off-season and has struggled to stay healthy. The silver lining for Rangers’ management is that the Angels are paying the majority of his salary. So, the team won’t be fiscally constrained if they need to move past the former league MVP. Despite the speculation that the club wouldn’t retain their arbitration-eligible catchers – Chris Gimenez and Robinson Chirinos – both players are still on the roster. Gimenez would appear to be the low-hanging fruit if another option were to be found. He had a strong 2015, however, his .255/.330/.490 slash in a small-sample size of 113 plate appearances were well above career averages. What’s next? The team appears to be satisfied with going to the Cactus League with Darvish and Hamels serving as co-aces and having Holland, Perez, Colby Lewis, Nick Martinez, and Chi Chi Gonzalez competing for the final three rotation spots. Top prospect – third baseman Joey Gallo – wowed fans with his tape measure home runs after being called up to fill in for the injured Adrian Beltre last season, but his high strikeout rate landed him back in Class-AAA ball after Beltre returned. The team began playing the young slugger in left field last season and could permanently transition him to the outfield, especially if reports are correct that the club is working on extension for the seemingly ageless Beltre. It’s also possible that Gallo could be an injury replacement at first or third base. It’s possible that Daniels will, once again, wait until the regular season to further upgrade his roster. One potential trade chip – shortstop Jurickson Profar – could be in high demand if he proves that he’s ready to play the field after two shoulder surgeries and a long recovery. It’s unlikely that Daniels would be willing to move the former number-one overall prospect in the majors when his value is so low. It’s more probably that he’ll hold onto Profar until he regains his form either with the big league club or at Class-AAA ball. Final thoughts It’s important to note once again that there’s still time for deals to be made, especially with several high-profile and many lower-tier free agents still on the market. Position players like Cespedes, Upton, and Dexter Fowler would make sense for more than one AL West club, if the price was right. The same could be said about Gallardo or Fister. Every one of these clubs will continue to attempt to add major league talent, plus extend minor league invites to players in order to create more depth opportunities, especially with relievers and starting pitchers. Even after the season starts, there’s still time to make additions to the roster. Just look at the 2015 Rangers and their in-season maneuvering if you’re looking for a blueprint on how to upgrade on the fly. Later this week, I’ll cover the Mariners’ very active Hot Stove effort to upgrade their roster and brighten their 2016 outlook.