Yesterday was an emotional day in my house. My wonderful wife – a lifelong Seattle Mariners fan – was so ecstatic over the selection of Ken Griffey Jr. into the baseball Hall of Fame. I was so happy for her, my father-in-law, and all of my Seattle friends who’ve rooted for the Mariners and “Junior” throughout the good and mostly bad years of the club’s existence.

Living with a passionate Mariners fan for the last five years has given me a deeper appreciation for “Junior” and his impact on the Emerald City. How passionate is she? I’m talking about a person who can actually recite – verbatim – Dave Niehaus’ call of Edgar Martinez’s famous double that scored Griffey and propelled the Mariners over the New York Yankees and into the 1995 American League Championship Series. How couldn’t I gain some perspective from a person so devoted?

Before yesterday’s announcement, the inclusion of Griffey into the Hall was a foregone conclusion. He’s loved and respected in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the country. His career was a never-ending highlight reel of heart-stopping plays that amazed both the casual observer and die-hard baseball fan. On top of that, he amassed the numbers to support his induction. There’s no doubt that Junior was an all-time great. The only drama going into yesterday was whether he’d earn unanimous selection. He didn’t reach that milestone, but he did tally the highest vote percentage ever.

Conversely, his fellow inductee – Mike Piazza – waited four years before receiving the good news that he had finally made it into the Hall. His road to Cooperstown was a bit bumpier due to unsubstantiated performance enhancing drug whispers and his reputation for being a below-average defensive catcher. Nevertheless, he merited selection. Since becoming a baseball writer, I’ve distanced myself from rooting for teams, but I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of emotion over Piazza’s selection. My feelings about Piazza were far different than what my wife was feeling for Junior because of an emotionally draining baseball game that occurred late in September 2001.

You see, I’m a born and raised New Yorker who left the Big Apple behind to join the Navy. Other than family and friends, the exploits of New York’s sports teams – especially the Mets – were my lifeline to home when I served, regardless of where I was in the world.

Through the years, I’ve maintained a very close relationship with several high school friends, who mostly joined New York City’s police or fire department after I left home. We grew up in the same town, were groomsmen in each others weddings, and traveled all over the country to watch sporting events together. To put it simply, we remain tight after all these years. That’s where a horrible Tuesday in September 2001 comes into the picture.

Like everyone else reading this, my life was given a tremendous, terrible jolt on September 11, 2001. Fortunately, my memories – although emotional – don’t involve the loss of a family member, friend, or colleague. Too many New Yorkers weren’t as lucky as me and still bear the pain from that fateful day.

We all have a 9/11 story and mine isn’t very exciting or special. I played an extremely minor role in getting fighter aircraft and Sailors deployed to a couple of aircraft carriers so we could defend the homeland, including my hometown. At the same time, I feared for my many friends and family in the New York metropolitan area. Like you, I had to come to grips with the tragedy thrust upon my hometown, western Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon while trying to function as a human being.

The days and weeks following 9/11 were just a blur, although there are several moments that will stick with me forever. I remember getting home that fateful night and finally letting myself watch the news. Obviously, I knew what had transpired. But, I had been in a compartmentalization mode so that I could function and do my job. People were counting on me just like I was counting on them. So, I didn’t fully grasp the human tragedy that was unfolding until I sat on that recliner in my living room. I found myself sitting there with tears rolling down my face as I heard the estimated number of NYPD and FDNY who were missing or presumed dead. The worst part for me was not knowing whether my dearest friends were dead or alive.

Luckily, they were all okay, although it took days to contact them because they were all so busy helping strangers and searching for their fellow first responders. Another lasting memory involves the morning that I drove to work and heard Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” on the radio. I don’t know why, but I suddenly felt like I had my “mojo” back. That’s the moment that my self doubt and fear turned to unwavering resolve.

Somehow, all of us pulled ourselves together and tried to go back to living our lives as President Bush had suggested. Naturally, that was easier than said than done. The mourning and the pain we felt went so very deep and profound. We were all heartbroken. But, we Americans are resilient and nothing was going to keep us down – even an attack on our home turf.

One element of the getting back to our lives involved things that helped distract us. It didn’t matter if it was David Letterman helping us laugh again or watching sports from around the country where so many gestures of patriotism and unity were taking place. None of these things would undo our national pain or help the families of victims get their loved ones back. But, we all needed an outlet so that we could feel normal for a little while.

For many New Yorkers –including me – the first healing distraction was the first major sporting event in New York City after 9/11, which happened to be a baseball game between the Mets and the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium.

In the days following the fall of the Twin Towers, Shea was used a staging area for relief workers. Now, the old ballpark in Flushing was going to be site of a different form or relief – a simple baseball game. Despite their fears and grief, over 41,000 fans decided to show up at Shea and root for the home team.

At the time, I lived in southeastern Virginia and normally couldn’t catch a Mets game on TV, unless it was aired nationally. On this particular night, the Mets were on TBS – the flagship station of the Braves. I have to admit that I never liked listening to the Atlanta broadcasters because I felt that they tended to be quite “homerish” when calling a game. This night, I didn’t care. I just wanted to see the special event that was going on in New York.

It was such an emotional night. Both players and fans were in tears during the singing of our national anthem – I remember the camera staying focused on Piazza as he struggled to contain his emotions. The Mets had foregone their normal ball caps to honor first responders by wearing hats with emblems from groups such as the NYPD, FDNY, Port Authority police, and other emergency services. The sight of heated rivals Bobby Valentine and Bobby Cox embracing prior to the game was surreal. It was such an emotionally wrought night for everyone involved, but it needed to happen. New York needed this and so did I.

To be honest, I don’t remember a lot of details from the game. I recall a sea of American flags and banners of support in the stands, plus Liza Minnelli sang “New York, New York” during the seventh inning stretch. Another lasting memory were the sound of bagpipes that echoed at the ballpark. In the weeks and months that followed 9/11, there were so many first responder funerals that had bagpipes at them. To this day, I still get emotional when I hear bagpipes, even when it’s at a happy occasion like a wedding.

Everything else is a blur, with the exception of Piazza’s encounter with Braves pitcher Steve Karsay – a Queens native who grew up a few miles from Shea Stadium. The Mets were losing 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth when Piazza crushed a Karsay pitch for a two-run homer that gave both the Mets and New York City the lead. The place went absolutely nuts, so did I. The last time I went so crazy about a play at Shea Stadium, a ground ball had just skipped under Billy Buckner’s legs in 1986. For those of you who haven’t seen the home run, you can see it it here.

I remember one of those “homer” TBS announcers – the late Skip Caray I believe– say something to the effect that New York deserved to win this game. Everyone was a New Yorker that night. The Mets did go onto win and so did the city. That’s when Mike Piazza became a Hall of Famer in my heart and mind.

Although he hit 427 home runs and holds the record for the most four baggers by a catcher, none were as meaningful as to me as that shot Piazza hit over the left-center field wall at Shea on September 21, 2001. Although it was just one moment in a meaningless game, Piazza embodied New York’s strength and resilience when both the city and I needed to be nudged back to some semblance of normalcy.

Like Griffey, Piazza compiled a highlight reel of plays that inspired teammates and thrilled fans. Certainly, Junior’s reel is longer and flashier than Piazza’s– that’s why he was a “slam dunk” selection yesterday. But, I doubt that any player can boast a moment as dramatic as Piazza’s game winning homer on that emotional Friday night in 2001. In the box score, his shot shows up as just another home run. But, it helped rejuvenate the city and me. Truly a Cooperstown moment from a true Hall of Famer.…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 …

StriplingLast Friday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers were leading the San Francisco Giants 2-0, with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning, when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts popped out of the visiting dugout to make a pitching change. The first-year manager had opted to remove his starter, Ross Stripling, and replace him with veteran reliever Chris Hatcher.

On most nights, observers wouldn’t have given much thought to Roberts’ move. Stripling was making his major league debut and had thrown 100 pitches; the most of his young professional career. Also, the right-hander, who is two years removed from Tommy John surgery, had never pitcher above Class-AA level until last Friday night.

Still, this wasn’t a typical rookie debut. For those of you who don’t know, Stripling hadn’t surrendered a hit during his 7.1 inning effort when his manager appeared to remove him from the game.

As one might expect, a debate erupted over Roberts’ decision to yank the 26-year-old, who appeared to have a chance to make history. Stripling could’ve been the first pitcher to record a no-hitter in his big league debut in over 100 years; someone named Bumpus Jones did it in 1892. Certainly, it would’ve been a special moment for both Stripling and Dodgers fans.

Personally, I believe that the Dodgers skipper acted appropriately. Friday night’s outing was Stripling’s longest since his injury, 100 pitches were the most he’d thrown at any professional level, and he just walked his fourth batter. The rookie hurler pitched just 11 innings in four Spring Training games with the big league club. His lone start was a five-inning outing when he threw 80 pitches versus the San Diego Padres on March 29.

It’s clear to me that the kid was at his limit and Roberts played it safe, as he would with any young starter. The only reason anyone cared about Stripling’s removal was the zero in the “hits” column.

Letting the Dodgers rookie pursue an individual achievement wouldn’t have been in the best interest of a team that already lacks starting pitching depth or their young right-hander. As FOX Sports Ken Rosenthal tweeted the following day, Stripling’s father was grateful that Roberts looked out for his son.

I’m sure a debate about the use of pitch counts and whether the Dodgers rookie manager made the right choice will rage on for a few more days. In the end, Roberts was right to pull Stripling. But, why does anyone care?

Yes, throwing a no-hitter is generally a big deal. Since 1920, there have been over 165,000 major league baseball games and there have been just 192 no-hitters thrown during that period. However, all of these performances weren’t masterpieces and didn’t deserve the instant fanfare that they received. The same applies to some potential no-hitters, like Stripling’s.

I’m not trying to be a killjoy, but I don’t understand the attention given to a potential no-hitter when the pitcher has allowed multiple base runners. In Stripling’s case, four Giants had already reached base, via the walk, by the time he departed the mound for the last time.

Let’s face it; Stripling’s performance wasn’t exactly epic. If he’d successfully thrown the no-hitter, the outing would be a part of major league history because he was making his major league debut. Not, because of a dominant presence on the mound. When I tweeted something similar over the weekend, I got push back — albeit cordial — from Twitter followers.

After thinking about it for a few days, I still don’t get the appeal of a potential no-hitter when the performance is pedestrian. Sure, if a pitcher is having his way with hitters, I’m all in and turning on the game. Otherwise, who cares if he’s walking multiple hitters?

A review of recent “no-nos” will show why I’m being so incredulous towards a no-hitter when it involves multiple base runners. Here are no-hitters tossed since 2001 when a pitcher surrendered at least four base on balls and struck out fewer than 10 batters.

Not So Fabulous No-Hitters
Player Date Tm Opp Rslt IP H BB SO Pit Str BF HBP GDP SB BK WP
Johan Santana 2012-06-01 NYM STL W 8-0 9.0 0 5 8 134 77 32 0 0 0 0 0
Francisco Liriano 2011-05-03 MIN CHW W 1-0 9.0 0 6 2 123 66 30 0 3 1 0 0
Edwin Jackson 2010-06-25 ARI TBR W 1-0 9.0 0 8 6 149 79 36 1 0 2 0 1
Ubaldo Jimenez 2010-04-17 COL ATL W 4-0 9.0 0 6 7 128 72 31 0 1 1 1 0
Anibal Sanchez 2006-09-06 FLA ARI W 2-0 9.0 0 4 6 103 67 31 0 1 0 0 0
Bud Smith 2001-09-03 STL SDP W 4-0 9.0 0 4 7 134 78 31 0 0 1 0 0
A.J. Burnett 2001-05-12 FLA SDP W 3-0 9.0 0 9 7 129 65 36 1 1 3 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/11/2016.

A.J. Burnett faced 36 batters, which is nine above the minimum of 27. He walked nine hitters and hit another. Edwin Jackson was similarly wild during his no-hit outing, walking more than he struck out. As you look at all seven of these performances, do any scream “history in the making?” Not to me. Many fellow New Yorkers may disagree with me when it comes to the first name on the list though.

Yes, I acknowledge that Johan Santana’s no-hit performance in June 2012 has a special meaning to New York Mets faithful. It’s the only no-no ever recorded in the franchise’s 55-year history. But, to be fair, it’s only in the record book thanks to a blown call by an umpire.

As Dayn Perry of CBS Sports noted at the time, St Louis Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran hit a ball over third base that hit the foul line and was clearly fair, although it was ruled a foul ball. If the same erroneous call occurred today, it wouldn’t survive an instant replay review and the Mets would still be without a no-hit performance.

Truthfully, if it weren’t for the emotional impact that his performance had on Mets fans, Santana’s marathon outing on that damp night at Citi Field would be better known for being the beginning of the of his superb career.

While Mets fans fondly remember the game and Santana has no misgivings, manager Terry Collins told Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated that he still regrets allowing the southpaw, who missed the previous season due to shoulder surgery, to throw 134 pitches.

Santana CollinsThe two-time Cy Young award winner only went past five innings during three of his next 10 starts before the team shut him down in August. During Spring Training 2013, Santana re-injured his shoulder; he hasn’t appeared in the big leagues since.

I understand that fandom interferes with objective thinking. Watching a pitcher be mobbed by his exuberant teammates after the last out of a no-hitter is both dramatic and exhilarating. Nevertheless, does anyone believe that they can make an unemotional argument that Santana’s, or any of the other “not so fabulous” no-hit performances, were better than the following efforts?

Dominant Some-Hit Performances
Player Date Tm Opp Rslt IP H BB SO Pit Str BF SB WP
Clayton Kershaw 2015-07-23 LAD NYM W 3-0 9.0 3 0 11 104 79 29 0 0
Madison Bumgarner 2014-08-26 SFG COL W 3-0 9.0 1 0 13 103 80 28 0 0
Josh Tomlin 2014-06-28 CLE SEA W 5-0 9.0 1 0 11 111 77 28 0 1
Jordan Zimmermann 2014-06-08 WSN SDP W 6-0 9.0 2 0 12 114 83 29 0 0
Shelby Miller 2013-05-10 STL COL W 3-0 9.0 1 0 13 113 84 28 1 0
James Shields 2012-07-31 TBR OAK W 8-0 9.0 3 0 11 98 66 29 0 0
Felix Hernandez 2012-07-14 SEA TEX W 7-0 9.0 3 0 12 107 74 29 0 1
Matt Cain 2012-04-13 SFG PIT W 5-0 9.0 1 0 11 106 73 28 0 0
Chris Capuano 2011-08-26 NYM ATL W 6-0 9.0 2 0 13 122 79 28 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/11/2016.

Each of the dominant performances listed above had fewer than four hits, no walks, and at least 11 strikeouts. All of these pitchers still managed to face no more than two extra batters. For me, all of these performances were far better than a no-hitter with multiple base runners. That’s why I don’t believe every no-hitter — or potential no-hitter — demands the same level of celebration or recognition.

Even if Ross Stripling had matched the obscure feat of a ballplayer named Bumpus from over a century ago and completed his debut with zero hits surrendered, I wouldn’t have been impressed due to the number of base runners he already allowed. But, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t impressed by the Dodgers rookie.

There are things in baseball that merit celebration, although they don’t show up in a box score. In Stripling’s case, I was already impressed that he’d completed a painstaking Tommy John rehab and earned the opportunity to toe the AT&T Park mound as a Dodgers starter. He didn’t need to finish Friday’s game to earn my respect; he already had it.…

Opening DayProspect 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.

FelixFor 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?

Colon HittingWhat’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.…

FelixThe Super Bowl is over and there’s less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers from the Seattle Mariners report to Peoria Sports Complex in sunny and warm Arizona. Needless to say, I’m eagerly awaiting the upcoming baseball season. If you’re reading this post, you probably feel the same way.

You may be anxious like me to get the season going, but you’re probably not as fixated about the idea of the Mariners using a six-man rotation in 2016. No, you haven’t missed any breaking news from one of the outstanding beat writers who cover this ball club on a year-round basis. To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t even been a hint from team management that they’re entertaining the idea.

Unfortunately, the concept of the Mariners employing a full-time sixth starter is embedded in my brain for some irrational reason. Hopefully, whatever is affecting me isn’t contagious.

I first exhibited signs of this sixth-man fixation syndrome last July when the club’s season was unraveling and their young arms were on pace to run out of innings. At the time, I proposed numerous scenarios and strategies that would help the team navigate the remainder of the season. All of my hair-brained schemes included the use of a sixth starting pitcher.

In retrospect, the idea didn’t make sense. Especially after the team traded J.A. Happ to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the non-waiver trading deadline and Paxton encountered a recurrence of issues with the index finger on his pitching hand. Despite the fact that I debunked my own proposal of using an added starter, I’m at it again.

To be honest, I have a hard time envisioning a scenario that would require the Mariners using a full-time six-man rotation this season, but a lot’s changed with the organization since last season and I keep thinking about it. So, I’ve opted to re-explore the concept one more time to see if it makes sense in 2016 and, hopefully, end my fascination with this topic once and for all.

Protecting our young
Perhaps, the fact that the Mariners have so many inexperienced starters among rotation candidates is why I have sixth starter on the brain. After all, using an additional rotation piece  could help reduce the burden on a club’s younger arms.

How much could you reduce the workload? It depends on the methodology. Assuming an extra starter was used on a full-time basis for the entire season, each pitcher’s workload would be decreased by approximately six starts and 30-40 innings. That could be appealing since Walker, Karns, Paxton, and Montgomery are still in the developmental stages of their respective careers. Maybe I’m not sick after all. Maybe I’m the only sane person on the internet. We’ll see.

Let’s take a look at the 2015 production and the career-highs for the Mariners’ least experienced starters. Perhaps, that will help shed light on whether the club would benefit from an extra starter.

   Seattle Mariners Young Guns
Name 2015 MLB
2015 Minors/AFL 2015 Total
Career High Career-high Year
Taijuan Walker 169 0 169 169 2015
Nate Karns 147 0 147    157 *
2014
James Paxton 67 35 102    145 *
2013
Mike Montgomery 90 65 155 155 2015
* Majority of innings were in minors leagues

At first blush, it does appear that the Mariners could benefit from having a supplemental starter. Walker, Montgomery, and Karns are coming off their first full season in the majors and each faced challenges last year. The club was forced to “shut down” both Walker and Montgomery before the season concluded when they reached a club-imposed innings limit.

On the injury front, the Tampa Bay Rays ended Karns’ season in early September due to a forearm strain and repeated trips to the disabled list have undercut Paxton’s availability during the last two seasons.

Managing the quartet’s workload going into 2016 will certainly be a priority for the Mariners going into 2016. But, does it require a six-man rotation? The answer to that question depends on each pitcher’s expected innings limit for the upcoming season.

Projecting workload
Last year, the old regime permitted Walker to go 49 additional innings past his 2014 tally. That translates to a 29-percent increase from one year to the next. Since there’s a new management team in place, we don’t know how the Mariners plan to regulate the utilization of their developing arms. If team leadership only knew how much sleep I’ve lost over this subject, they might share their plans with me.

Since the Mariners aren’t likely to divulge their strategy with me during the current century, I’ve opted to use a projection system that rivals anything that might be found at FanGraphs – I added 30 innings to each starter’s 2016 totals, which equates to an increase between 18 and 29-percent for each hurler.

Yes, I know. My “advanced” computations probably won’t lead to a Nobel Prize nomination for mathematics. But, I’m not trying to predict the future. I just want to get a ballpark figure on what to expect from these four young pitchers.

   Potential Workload
Name 2015 Total
30-innings 2016 Increase
Taijuan Walker 169 199 18%
Nate Karns 147 177 20%
James Paxton 102 132 29%
Mike Montgomery 155 185 19%

Assuming that each pitcher averages at least six innings per-start, they’d reach the 180-inning mark after 30 starts. At that point, Karns and Montgomery would be in the neighborhood of their “Arkins limit.” Naming a hypothetical limit after myself is an obvious sign that I’m either close to going over the edge of sanity or I write about baseball for Sports Illustrated. Okay, back to my folly.

Based on the limits I’ve “imposed,” Walker would still have tread remaining on his tires by the end of the season. That’s a good thing, especially if the 23-year-old ascends to the next level in 2016 and becomes a future ace. If the right-hander does elevate his performance, he’d likely be in the Felix/Iwakuma territory of averaging 6.5 innings per-start. That would put him in the neighborhood of the 199-inning limit listed above.

The pitcher who may not be permitted to reach 180 innings would be Paxton, who’s suffered injuries during the last two years and has never pitched more than 145 innings in any season during his professional career.

After looking at the data, I don’t see a compelling case to use a six-man rotation solely for the purpose of managing the workload of the younger starters. If the Mariners are able to get 30 starts from both Walker and a combination of the rest, the club is probably having a very good season. That’s assuming the Felix, Kuma, and Miley are healthy and performing as expected.

Even if a six-man rotation was needed to preserve young arms, there’s a factor that would likely preempt using such a strategy – on-field value.

An undeniable cost
Using a full-time sixth starter would lead to Seattle getting approximately 26-27 starts from Hernandez, rather than his typical 31-34. Would be resting “King Felix” really be worth it?

Even my clouded mind can come to the conclusion of “no.” A quick review of the following Steamer projections for the Mariners found at FanGraphs suddenly makes a full-time six-man rotation far less appealing.

  FanGraphs Projections for Mariners Starters
Name GS ERA FIP WAR
Felix Hernandez 32
3.18 3.12 4.7
Hisashi Iwakuma 28 3.43 3.55 2.9
Wade Miley 29 3.99 4.04 1.9
Taijuan Walker 31
3.68 3.86 2.4
Nate Karns 23 4.06 4.15 1.3
James Paxton 13
4.11 4.09 0.8
Mike Montgomery 2 3.93 4.04 0.1
Vidal Nuno
2 3.39 3.72 0.3
Joe Wieland 2 3.80 3.99  0.1

By going to Felix, Kuma, Miley, and Walker less often, the Mariners would be counting on back-of-the-rotation types to deliver more value. I doubt that I could find anyone in the Pacific Northwest who believes that the club would better positioned to compete by having less of their top-four starters and more of Karns, Paxton, Montgomery, Vidal Nuno, and Joe Wieland.

Preserve the King?
I’ve often read and heard that Felix “wears down” at the end of seasons, although my eyeballs don’t see it the same way. If this perception was accurate, one could make a case that using a six-man rotation would have merit. At this point, this is my last best chance of proving to myself that I’m not needlessly fixating on this topic.

When I look at Hernandez’s career monthly splits, it’s easy to understand how a casual onlooker could come to the conclusion that the 29-year-old loses steam at the end of the season. However, he hasn’t exactly “stunk up the joint” during September/October when his statistics are very similar to his career performance in each category.

   Felix Hernandez’s Career Splits
Month AVG OBP SLG ERA
Mar/Apr .218 .279 .320 2.48
May .269 .328 .404 3.98
June .229 .281 .325 2.88
July .234 .288 .338 2.65
August .238 .293 .368 3.31
Sept/Oct .243 .302 .356 3.35
Career .239 .295 .353 3.11

Perhaps, the notion that Felix falls apart in September is fueled by several bad outings rather than the totality of his performances. With the exception of 2011 and 2012, he’s actually done quite well during the last month of each season since 2009. As you can see below, the right-hander experienced a “bounce back” during the past three Septembers.

   Felix in September
Year AVG OBP SLG ERA IP
2006 .263 .285 .441 4.45 191
2007 .258 .315 .348 3.35 190
2008 .305 .378 .435 4.41 200
2009 .193 .258 .257 1.52 238
2010 .154 .231 .238 1.64 249
2011 .330 .358 .476 5.18 233
2012 .346 .390 .471 6.62 232
2013 .200 .279 .283 3.78 204
2014 .185 .245 .281 1.66 236
2015 .210 .288 .403 2.86 201

I could see how some observers might associate Hernandez’s 2013 improvement with pitching his fewest innings since 2008. But, that logic doesn’t add up. If a lighter workload was the key for a better Felix, how can 2014 be explained when he pitched extremely well late in the season and finished a close second place in American Cy Young award voting?

For anyone who believes that fewer regular starts for Felix would lead to a better rested ace for the postseason, I’d agree that he’d be more refreshed in October. But, there’s a better chance that he’ll be sitting his “fresh” body on the couch instead of standing on the mound at Safeco Field. Honestly, does anyone realistically expect this version of the Mariners reaching the playoffs without 30 or more starts from Felix?

Finally
Okay, I think I’m finally over my six-man rotation obsession. As they’re currently configured, the Mariners project to be on the fringe of contention in 2016 and may need to compete until the very last day of the season in order to make the postseason. With an outlook like that, the club will need more of Hernandez, Iwakuma, Miley, and Walker – not less.

Still, Seattle will need to strike a balance to have success during the upcoming season. The team has only two proven workhorses on its roster – Hernandez and Miley. Plus, Iwakuma is entering his age-35 season and has only pitched more than 200 innings only three times during 15 professional seasons; once during his four years with the Mariners. After that, it’s Walker – who may be on the verge of taking the next step in his progression – and the rest of the gang.

Strategically using a sixth starter during the course of the season may be the best approach for the Mariners. This methodology could include exploiting off-days and shuttling an extra starter between Tacoma and the big league club, when needed.

Retaining a pitcher – like Montgomery or Nuno – who could be utilized out of the bullpen or as a spot starter would achieve the same goal. Using either the shuttle or reliever/starter approach would help the Mariners keep pitchers fresh while maximizing the value of the club’s best starters. These are far more realistic strategies than a full-time six-man rotation.

Alright, I think that I’ve got this “six-man thing” out of my system for good. Now, I’m left with only one Mariners-related obsession – who’s going to be the Mariners’ right-handed back-up first baseman? I may be beyond help.…


 

 

This year’s crop of free agents is particularly deep with high-profile names like Zack Greinke, David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jason Heyward, and Justin Upton among the headliners. The first player in this group to sign with a team was Price, who agreed to a reported seven-year/$217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox just two days ago.

Price won’t be the only player who’ll hit the jackpot. The San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly in hot pursuit of Greinke. The former Dodger may not get a seven-year deal like Price because he’s a few years older. But, his potential contract is expected to have a higher annual average value (AAV) than Boston’s new ace. At least a few others will get longer commitments than Greinke though.

It might take seven years to secure the services of Cueto and Upton and it’s possible that it’ll take to a 10-year commitment to get Heyward, who will be 26-years old next season. Obviously, teams have money to spend, but is committing to a player for nearly a decade a wise strategy?

Unfortunately for teams and their respective fan bases, the majority of these long-term deals won’t help their team win a championship. By year-six, fans are more likely to suffer from buyer’s remorse than a hangover from overindulging at a World Series victory party. Bad long-term deals are almost as inevitable as death and taxes.

Sure, it’s a great day when a team presents their freshly signed player to the media and fans for the first time. He’ll strut out and model his new jersey and ball cap for the cameras and his smiling face with his new team colors will saturate the internet. During that introductory press conference, the newly imported star will likely explain why he chose his new team, while omitting the fact that his new employer was the highest bidder.

At the time, most fans won’t care if their team overbid for their new star or just outbid themselves. Their team spent the big bucks to get their man and that’s all that will matter. Naturally, the blogosphere will erupt and season ticket and team merchandise sales will escalate. But, how long will it be before the jubilation turns to frustration?

Big dollars, lots of years
Take a look at the 15 biggest major league contracts of all-time to see why fans could go from ecstatic to pessimistic just a few years after the big name signed with their team. The players highlighted in yellow have appeared in a World Series after signing their monster deals.

Player Current Age Tm Total Value (million)
Duration
Giancarlo Stanton 26 MIA $325 2015-27
Alex Rodriguez TEX $275 2008-17
Alex Rodriguez 40 NYY $252 2001-10
Miguel Cabrera 32 DET $248 2016-23
Albert Pujols 35 LAA $240 2012-21
Robinson Cano 32 SEA $240 2014-23
Joey Votto 32 CIN $225 2014-23
Clayton Kershaw 27 LAD $215 2014-20
Prince Fielder 31 DET $214 2012-20
Max Scherzer 31 WAS $210 2015-21
Derek Jeter (retired) 41 NYY $189 2001-10
Joe Mauer 32 MIN $184 2011-18
Mark Teixeira 35 NYY $180 2009-16
Justin Verlander 32 DET $180 2013-19
Felix Hernandez 29 SEA $175 2013-19

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On the surface, that may not seem that bad since so many of the above deals are relatively new. On the other hand, only three contracts – Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira – have helped a team win a World Series and that was the 2009 New York Yankees.

A couple of Detroit Tigers did appear in the Fall Classic during a losing effort – Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. Fielder was traded the Texas Rangers after being with the Tigers for just one season and appearing in the 2012 World Series loss to the San Francisco Giants. Cabrera is starting his second eight-year extension with Detroit.

There’s no doubt that Cabrera’s his first extension paid dividends for the Tigers. He’s a two-time league Most Valuable Player and a perennial Silver Slugger award winner. But, he’s age-33 next season and his current deal runs to at least 2023. Will he still be worth $32 million annually at age-40?

Ironically, the Tigers are one of two teams with players on the list that finished in last place in their division last season – the Cincinnati Reds is the other. They’re not the only teams that had big contract players and were unsuccessful in 2015.  The Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Angels, and Miami Marlins all underachieved last season.

Long-term deals can affect a team’s executive suite also. Six of the 10 clubs with players on the top-15 list have replaced their GM after their high-dollar signing(s). Spending an owner’s money can be risky business, depending on the outcome.

The Yankees or the Dodgers can afford to overpay – if they choose – and not overextend themselves financially. Conversely, Cincinnati’s signing of Joey Votto may have thrilled the masses when the deal was announced. Now, the team is reportedly ready to trade away major leaguers that they’re no longer willing or able to pay due to Votto’s increasing salary.

In 2015, Votto’s paycheck accounted for nearly 13-percent of the Reds’ payroll. Depending on offseason acquisitions, that could rise to nearly one-quarter of player salaries for next season. Plus, his pay continues to climb throughout the term of the contract. By the time that Cincinnati climbs back to relevance, their high paid star may no longer be a star, but he’ll still be high paid.

Sure, there’s still hope for the above organizations and I’m not trying to say that teams shouldn’t strike deals of seven years or longer. It comes down to making wise choices and understanding the risk being accepted.

Sometimes, it makes sense for a team to go all-in on signing a big name. Perhaps, ownership wants to make a statement on their commitment to winning or they’re in a “win now” mode. That’s why the Mariners signed Robinson Cano to an enormous contract.

Cano’s legacy with Seattle fans will hinge on whether the team wins a World Series during his tenure. If they don’t, his 10-year/$240 million deal will only cause angst among Mariners faithful. Especially, when he inevitably declines during the last five years of his contract.

Other times, winning isn’t the only priority. Creating goodwill by retaining a homegrown star who’s become an icon in the local community matters too. Examples of that practice would be the Mariners and New York Mets, who signed the face of their franchise to long-term extensions. Those players are Felix Hernandez and David Wright respectively.

“King Felix” is still at the top of his game. But, how long will that last? Yes, he’ll only be entering his 30-year-old season next year. However, his 2,262 innings pitched is third highest by any active pitcher since his debut in 2005. Who’s right behind him? C.C. Sabathia, James Shields, and Justin Verlander who all had a down year in 2015.

I’m not saying that the end is near for Hernandez. Every pitcher is different. But, seeing his peers struggle should give fans a reason to pause since he’s signed through at least 2019.

Wright is suffering from spinal stenosis and his long-term future is questionable. He’s under contract through 2020, which is his age-37 season. Fortunately for the cash-strapped Mets, his annual income drops from its current level of $20 million to $12 million during the last year of his deal

I grew up as a Mets fan and I’m married to a Mariners lifer, so I appreciate the reasoning behind both teams signing own stars. With that said, both players could fall into the “overpaid, under-performing ” category by the end of their deals.

Big dollar bats
Since the majority of the above contracts kicked-in during the last three years, I decided to look back at 12 current long-term deals that were signed in 2012 or earlier to see how they look with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. You’ll notice that there are a few familiar names already mentioned.

I focused on games played (G) to gauge durability and the “slash” statistics of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage to measure performance. Average games played for 2012-2015 and games played for last season that were below 120 have been highlighted in yellow. I did the same with below league-average slash stats. All league-averages for 2015 and every season can be found here at baseball-reference.com.

Player Age Tm Avg G (2012-2015) 2015 G PA 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG Term 2016 Salary
Adrian Gonzalez 33 LAD 158 156 643 33 0 28 .275 .350 .480 2012-18 $21.9M
Mark Teixeira 35 NYY 93 111 462 22 0 31 .255 .357 .548 2009-16 $23.1M
Albert Pujols 35 LAA 142 157 661 22 0 40 .244 .307 .480 2012-21 $25M
Alex Rodriguez 39 NYY 106 151 620 22 1 33 .250 .356 .486 2008-17 $21M
Prince Fielder 31 TEX 131 158 693 28 0 23 .305 .378 .463 2012-20 $24M
Joe Mauer 32 MIN 134 158 666 34 2 10 .265 .338 .380 2011-18 $23M
Matt Holliday 35 STL 132 73 277 16 1 4 .279 .394 .410 2010-16 $17M
Ryan Zimmerman 30 WSN 112 95 390 25 1 16 .249 .308 .465 2009-19 $14M
Matt Kemp 30 SDP 121 154 648 31 3 23 .265 .312 .443 2012-19 $21.8M
David Wright 32 NYM 110 38 174 7 0 5 .289 .379 .434 2014-20 $20M
Carl Crawford 33 LAD 80 69 193 9 2 4 .265 .304 .403 2011-17 $21.6M
Jayson Werth 36 WSN 111 88 378 16 1 12 .221 .302 .384 2011-17 $21M
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/14/2015.

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Several of the players listed above had “decent” years. But, the majority struggled with poor performance and/or injury in 2015. For some, their struggles started before last season.

Adrian Gonzalez continues to provide value, as did Teixeira. But, “Tex” only played in 111 games. Injuries have plagued the 35-year-old first baseman during the majority of his contract – he hasn’t played in more than 123 games since 2011. Teixeira isn’t alone when it comes to having injuries affect both playing time and performance.

Rodriguez averaged just 88 games-per-season between 2011 and 2013 due to hip issues. As a result of his physical limitations, he’s been restricted to the designated hitter position. “A-Rod” enjoyed a strong start to 2015 and his overall numbers look good. But, a closer look at his stats uncovers a paltry .191/.300/.377 slash during the last two months of the season.

Albert Pujols hasn’t missed much playing time during the last two seasons, but he’s been hampered by foot problems and is projected to miss the start of the 2016 season due to foot surgery. His overall numbers fell below expectations and were buoyed by a strong June. Like A-Rod, he struggled during the second half of 2015 with a .231/.288/.419 slash.

Losing playing time due to injury shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a curse unless it’s been a trend. For example, Fielder hadn’t missed a game in three consecutive seasons until he had neck surgery in 2014 and missed all but 42 games. He bounced back to play in 158 games in 2015 and was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year. Hopefully for the team and player, he’ll stay healthy through 2020 when he’s age-36 and earning $24 million annually.

Hired guns
Let’s turn our attention to starting pitchers where the list is much smaller. Until recently, clubs were very reluctant to go seven years or longer with a starter.

Since 2013, four pitchers have signed deals of seven years or greater – Masahiro Tanaka, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, and Justin Verlander. Only Tanaka’s signing wasn’t an extension deal with the player’s original club. Price’s signing suggests that some teams are willing to commit to elite free agent pitchers on the grandest scale.

Like with the position players, I reviewed starting pitchers with deals greater than seven years and signed in 2012 or prior. Only two pitchers fit the bill. Depending on your outlook, both could be viewed as either worthwhile or a bust.

Player Age Tm G GS CG Avg IP (2012-15) 2015 IP ERA FIP HR BA OBP SLG Term 2016 Salary
CC Sabathia 34 NYY 29 29 1 156 167.1 4.73 4.68 28 .285 .338 .458 2009-16 $25M
Matt Cain 30 SFG 13 11 0 139 60.2 5.79 5.54 12 .293 .352 .545 2010-17 $20M
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/14/2015.

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Sabathia started strongly with the Yankees by helping the team win the 2009 World Series and finishing in the top-four of Cy Young award voting during his first three seasons. Since then, he’s declined with each passing season. There are many fan bases that would accept the down years of Sabathia if it meant winning a championship. I’m not sure that Yankee fans feel that way though.

Perhaps, carrying the long-term deals for fading players like Teixeira, Rodriguez, Sabathia, and the recently retired Derek Jeter is the reason that the Bomber’s World Series chances have dimmed lately.

Similarly, Matt Cain initially did well after signing his long-term deal and has gone on to struggle in recent years. During the early years of his contract, his team was successful in the World Series. Unfortunately for the pitcher and his team, he’s suffered injuries that have restricted his innings during the last two seasons.

Some Giants fans may view the Cain deal as a waste, while others probably don’t mind. The fact that Cain pitched in two of their three victorious World Series has to help lessen any frustration.

Final thoughts
Signing an elite free agent can be a defining moment for a baseball organization. Sometimes it’s a good moment, more often it’s not. Especially, if a team ventured outside of it’s financial comfort-zone to seal the deal or went significantly above market value to get their man. The cold, hard truth is there’s no guarantee that signing the biggest name on the market will ever translate into a championship.

Fans who want to see a World Series championship parade in their town shouldn’t necessarily pine for the next Albert Pujols or Robinson Cano. They’d be better off hoping that their team’s GM takes a balanced approach between developing homegrown players and acquiring reasonably priced talent. It’s not sexy, but five of the last six World Series champs were built that way.

Ironically, the only big spender to win it all lately – the Red Sox in 2013 – just signed Price. It’ll be interesting to see if they can avoid the same fate of the other two most recent big-spending champions – the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. Both clubs have been weighed down by bloated contracts of aging players over the past half-decade.

History isn’t on Boston’s side. Death, taxes, bad long-term deals……

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 …

Just last week, Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill highlighted starting pitching and the bullpen as two deficiencies that the Mariners will need to address during the offseason. Jason opined that the team needed two pitchers to follow ace Felix Hernandez so that young arms Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, and Mike Montgomery could compete for the final two spots in the rotation with the losers being used as trade bait or needed depth.

Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto and Jason may share a brain because Dipoto made his first major deal yesterday and it involved adding pitching depth. Seattle acquired right-handed starting pitcher Nate Karns and southpaw reliever C.J. Riefenhauser – along with well-regarded outfield prospect Boog Powell – from the Tampa Bay Rays for shortstop Brad Miller, first baseman Logan Morrison, and reliever Danny Farquhar.

Karns doesn’t fit the bill as a one of the starters that Jason referred to in his piece, but the 27-year-old adds much needed depth and you can never have enough starting pitching. Look no further than the Mariners 2015 season as proof.

As the season opened, it seemed like the Mariners had plenty of starting pitching. Walker had won the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation and Elias was dispatched to Class-AAA Tacoma to serve as a back-up plan. Plus, the team had flipped Erasmo Ramirez for Montgomery adding more minor league depth. Then, the season began.

Injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and Paxton limited them to 20 and 13 starts respectively. Plus, there were inning limits placed on Walker and Montgomery. On top of that, Walker, Elias, and J.A. Happ struggled with consistency and Happ was dealt at the trading deadline. All in all, the Mariners used 10 starters last season.

2015 Seattle Mariners Starting Pitchers
Felix Hernandez Taijuan Walker Hisashi Iwakuma J.A. Happ James Paxton
Roenis Elias Mike Montgomery Vidal Nuno Edgar Olmos Tony Zych

All of this upheaval certainly made the stomachs of fans churn as the 2015 season unraveled. But, needing so many starting pitchers shouldn’t be considered a “Mariners thing.” History shows us that every team needs many more arms than their projected starting five to survive a 162-game season.

Since the 2000 season, major league teams have used an average of 10 starting pitchers during each season. The lone team to use only five starters since then were the 2003 Mariners. That staff was comprised of Ryan Franklin, Freddy Garcia, Gil Meche, Jamie Moyer, and Joel Pineiro.

Conversely, the 2006 Kansas City Royals, 2004 Texas Rangers, and 2003 Cincinnati Reds are tied for using the most starters in one season at 17. You may be thinking that those three teams couldn’t have been very good. That was my first thought. But, that’s not completely accurate.

Yes, the Royals and Reds had losing records with the Kansas City losing 100 games. But, the 2003 Rangers won 89 games under manager Buck Showalter and only finished three games out of first place.

So, what about this year? Let’s take a look at the ten postseason entrants to see how many starters they needed.

# SPs  Team(s)
16    Los Angeles Dodgers
13    Houston Astros
12    Texas Rangers     /   Toronto Blue Jays
10    Chicago Cubs      /    Kansas City Royals      /   New York Mets      /   New York Yankees   
9    St. Louis Cardinals
8    Pittsburgh Pirates

It may be a surprise to some of you that most of this year’s playoff teams were in double-digits with starting pitchers. Despite all of the fanfare that the New York Mets’ staff received during the postseason, they needed 10 starters to get through the season – just like their World Series opponent and the Mariners.

Okay, so it’s clear that the Mariners will need more than five or six starters to make it through a six-month season and a potential postseason run. But, that’s only part of the challenge that awaits Mariners management.

Look at how many relief pitchers that each playoff team used this year. Bear in mind that I’m only counting pitchers who pitched 100-percent of their innings as a reliever – starters used out of the bullpen or a reliever used as a spot starter are not included below.

# RPs  Team(s)
23    New York Yankees   
19    Chicago Cubs        /   Texas Rangers  
16    New York Mets    /   Toronto Blue Jays
15    Los Angeles Dodgers
14    St. Louis Cardinals   /   Kansas City Royals   
13    Pittsburgh Pirates
11    Houston Astros

Even the best teams needed lots of relief help to get through the season. That was the case in Seattle too. Mariners fans are well-versed on the club’s relief corps regression from 2014 excellence to 2015 unreliability. In total, the Mariners used 18 pitchers who appeared exclusively in the relief role. As with the starters, the need for bullpen depth can’t be overstated.

Help can come from the trade market – like it did yesterday – or the waiver wire like right-hander Cody Martin who was picked from the Oakland Athletics last month. But, the competition is steep because every team is trying to augment their bullpen.

There’s no guarantee that Martin will make the 25-man roster or even be with the Mariners organization when next season begins, but acquiring multiple arms – like Martin and Riefenhauser – increases the chances of building the major and minor league depth needed to compete well into the postseason. That’s why the minor leagues is the first place teams look for help. Unfortunately for the Mariners, that a bit’s of a challenge.

Anyone familiar with the organization already knows that Seattle has lagged behind with player development in recent years. This has contributed to the club not having the necessary depth to properly react to injury or poor performance at the big league level. Both GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais have both touched on this during their introductory press conferences.

A lack of minor league depth poses a challenge for any front office, especially a new one with many needs that go beyond pitching. Here’s a look at who’s available to the new regime on the Mariners 40-man roster. Free agents Iwakuma and Joe Beimel aren’t listed.

Pitchers on Seattle Mariners 40-man Roster
Felix Hernandez Carson Smith Mayckol Guaipe Jose Ramirez
Taijuan Walker Vidal Nuno Charlie Furbush
J.C. Ramirez
Hisashi Iwakuma Edgar Olmos Nate Karns
Cody Martin
Roenis Elias James Paxton Edgar Olmos
Danny Hultzen
Mike Montgomery Tony Zych David Rollins
 C.J. Riefenhauser
Tom Wilhelmsen Tyler Olson Rob Rasmussen  

When fans read that Seattle has added the likes of Martin, they should be encouraged that club is aggressively trying to add the depth needed to compete. Yes, it’s true that these minor moves aren’t sexy. But, they can be difference makers in a time of need. Most will not work out, but a few will.

Last year, the Mariners added the likes of David Rollins, Beimel, Sam Gaviglio, Edgar Olmos, Joe Saunders during the offseason and then Vidal Nuno in the Mark Trumbo deal in early June and Rob Rasmussen, J.C Ramirez, and Jose Ramirez prior to the deadline. Some never pitched in the big leagues and others didn’t perform well with the Mariners. But, Beimel and Nuno made positive contributions in 2015.

The challenge for the new Mariners front office will be balancing the need to add position player depth without compromising pitching depth. Assuming that the team Dipoto-Churchill mind-meld continues and Seattle adds two more starters to the rotation, the “excess” starters would be attractive commodities in the trade market and could help Dipoto fill-out needs at other positions.

Whether the team opts to hold onto their depth or use it in the trade market will be one of the tougher choices facing Dipoto during his first year on the job. Holding on to Iwakuma would make it easier to dispatch a young arm in a deal. But, the return of “Kuma” isn’t certain.

Regardless of what the Mariners GM decides, you can bank on the team needing much more pitching than the 12-13 hurlers who make the 2016 Opening Day 25-man roster. There’s no doubt that Dipoto is banking on it too.

 

A few days ago, Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports suggested that Yoenis Céspedes – based on his performance since being traded to New York Mets by the Detroit Tigers – could be a contender for National League Most Valuable Player (MVP). Since his article was published, several of Morosi’s peers have stoked the flames of the “Céspedes for MVP” fervor by rationalizing how a player with only 36 games with his new team could potentially be a serious MVP candidate.

Although I have the utmost respect for Morosi as writer and baseball person and I hold many of his co-conspirators in high regard, anyone who buys into this nonsense has succumbed to a notion based on lazy analysis.

I know those are strong words, especially when discussing a supposition made by someone I admire. But, no one Met has been the undisputed catalyst behind the team’s superb performance since late July. Yes, Céspedes has been phenomenal since arriving from the Motor City. But, he hasn’t been a one-man gang behind team’s surge – far from it.

The Mets’ push for their first division title since 2006 is being fueled by a compilation of players – including holdovers and new roster additions from several sources. The following table illustrates the performance of nine select Mets – including Céspedes – during the last 28 days. Players highlighted in yellow have been added onto the 25-man roster since late July.

Key Mets performers over last 28 days

Name G PA H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS
Yoenis Cespedes 24 116 35 5 3 13 .330 .388 .802 1.190
Travis d’Arnaud 20 84 23 7 0 6 .324 .417 .676 1.093
Michael Conforto 22 76 22 6 0 5 .324 .382 .632 1.014
Curtis Granderson 22 109 25 9 1 3 .284 .413 .511 .924
Michael Cuddyer 17 52 15 4 0 2 .319 .385 .532 .917
Wilmer Flores 21 76 23 4 0 5 .311 .329 .568 .897
Kelly Johnson 19 59 15 2 0 3 .278 .339 .481 .820
David Wright 13 64 16 1 0 2 .286 .375 .411 .786
Juan Uribe 19 64 11 5 0 2 .200 .313 .400 .713
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/10/2015.

Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe have bolstered the Mets’ bench since arriving from the Atlanta Braves just a week before Céspedes. Although their overall numbers with New York haven’t been spectacular, they’ve both provided big moments and helped cover for injured teammates Lucas Duda and David Wright.

Speaking of Wright, the Mets’ captain returned in late August after missing over four months due to spinal stenosis, providing both an emotional boost in the clubhouse and a positive bump on the field with superb third base defense and a a solid .286/.375/.411 slash at the plate.

Another Met who’s been a huge contributor since returning from the disabled list is catcher Travis d’Arnaud. During the month prior to his return, the club’s catchers had no home runs and a meager .525 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). In contrast, d’Arnaud’s 1.036 OPS is the best among major league catchers over the last 30 days.

Where would the Mets be without the 26-year-old’s presence behind the plate and with a bat in his hand? Probably the same place they’d be without Cespedes. Maybe both teammates could share the MVP award?

Not all of the team’s new contributors came from the trade market or the disabled list. Rookie Michael Conforto arrived from Class-AA Binghamton on July 24 and immediately lived up to the hype that surrounds a top-20 prospect with his six home runs and a .288/.367/.541 slash. It’s only fair to point out that the 22-year-old Seattle native has been used nearly exclusively against right-handed pitching with only 11 at-bats against southpaws.

Regardless of his platoon employment, Conforto has started in 30 games of 42 games and has been the team’s best offensive performer during the team’s victories – even better than Cespedes. It should be noted that the statistics on the following two tables encompass a player’s entire time with the Mets – not just since late July.

Performance during wins

Name G PA H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS
Michael Conforto 22 83 26 8 0 5 .361 .434 .681 1.114
Travis d’Arnaud 32 137 40 10 1 9 .325 .380 .642 1.022
Yoenis Cespedes 25 117 33 8 1 10 .300 .342 .664 1.006
Curtis Granderson 76 339 85 19 1 14 .296 .395 .516 .911
Kelly Johnson 20 70 19 4 0 5 .288 .329 .576 .904
Michael Cuddyer 55 211 63 12 1 7 .325 .379 .505 .884
Juan Uribe 23 72 15 5 0 3 .242 .347 .468 .815
Wilmer Flores 68 280 79 15 0 12 .297 .323 .489 .811
David Wright 15 72 19 0 0 2 .302 .389 .397 .786
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/10/2015.

If Céspedes was the only major addition that the Mets made since the end of July, suggesting the 29-year-old for NL MVP would seem more rational – assuming you could get past the notion of a league MVP playing just under 60 games in that league. But, Céspedes is one of several impact players that New York added via acquisition, minor league call-up, or the disabled list.

Certainly, Céspedes’ arrival has played an enormous role in the team’s superb win-loss record and his offensive output has helped propel the Mets to the top of the National League in runs scored, home runs, and OPS. Conversely, where would the Mets’ offense be without the contributions of d’Arnaud, Conforto, Wright, Johnson, and Uribe?

More than likely, the “Céspedes for MVP” fervor would have remained inside someone’s head and not provoked empty chatter on television, the radio, and the internet. Perhaps, an “Alderson for Executive of the Year”  conversation would be a more productive use of everyone’s time.…

The major league non-waiver trading deadline has passed and now, there’s time to reflect on the moves made by both buyers and sellers leading up to Friday’s 4 pm ET deadline. In Seattle – much to the chagrin of their fans – the under-performing Mariners are on track to miss the postseason for the fourteenth consecutive season. That’s why going into this week, Seattle was poised to be a seller with several veterans – Austin Jackson, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mark Trumbo, Fernando Rodney, Tom Wilhelmsen, Mark Lowe, Joe Beimel, J.A. Happ, and Dustin Ackley – who could have some degree of value to contenders.

Prior to this week, Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill suggested that Seattle should strategically trade major league talent – be buyers and sellers – in order to get an early start on making improvements for next year. The team did that to some degree this week by making three deals –- Ackley to the New York Yankees, Happ to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Lowe to the Toronto Blue Jays for prospects. Jason gives Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik a satisfactory grade for the moves he made, while giving the organization a failing grade for holding on to Iwakuma – their most valuable deadline commodity

The team’s moves acknowledges that they know that the season is lost and will further energize fans who’ve been debating on the approach that the Mariners should take to transform the themselves into contenders in 2016 and beyond. There’s an segment of the Mariners’ fan base that doesn’t agree with Jason – who has suggested a “remodeling” rather than a complete rebuild. They’d prefer to “blow up” the roster and start over from the ground up.

In the eyes of some, the term “rebuilding” equates to “blowing up” an organization at both the major and minor-league levels. In reality, there’s no “one size fits all” approach to getting a franchise back on track. Some teams need to go the “blow up” rebuilding way, while others can go via the “remodeling” route. So, which approach should the Mariners to use become a serious contender and not just a team that lingers on the fringe of contention?

I’m the son carpenter, so I tend to relate fixing a major league organization in the terms of home improvement. As with a home, re-doing a baseball franchise depends on its existing condition, desires of the owner, and financial flexibility. With that in mind, lets look at a few teams that used different approaches in order to become relevant once again.

Razing the foundation – Chicago Cubs
When Theo Epstein assumed the duties of President of Baseball Operations in 2011, the Cubs were coming off a 91-loss season and the roster consisted of aging, high-priced veterans who were under-performing and there wasn’t any immediate relief in their minor league system. Despite not winning a World Series in over a century, Cubs’ ownership was willing to accept a massive rebuild – which takes time – because Epstein and General Manager (GM) Jed Hoyer was to planned to build a sustainable winning organization.

To say that the Cubs “blew up” the roster is an understatement. Only one player – Starlin Castro – on the team’s current 25-man roster is a holdover from the previous regime. Chicago incrementally parted ways with major leaguers in order to maximize value and restock their minor league system. Players like Scott Hairston, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Jason Hammel, Jeff Samardzija, Andrew Cashner, Welington Castillo, and Sean Marshall have netted Chicago eight players who are currently on their big league roster – including Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, and Dexter Fowler.

Thanks to the combination of trades, amateur drafting, and amateur free agent signings, the Cubs have transformed their minor league system into one of the best in the majors. Their top six prospects – including recent call-up Kyle Schwarber – rank among the MLB.com top 100. Throw in draftee Kris Bryant – who debuted this year and is already an all-star – and Cuban free agent Jorge Soler and you can see that the Epstein/Hoyer tandem has built a strong foundation of young major leaguers and prospects to build around or use as trade commodities.

How Cubs Were Built
Draft
Int’l Amateur Free Agency Trades Rule 5/Waivers
2 2 13 14 0

The future looked bright going into this season, although most of the team’s bright minor league stars weren’t ready for the majors. So, the Cubs added a marquee free agent – Jon Lester – plus other prominent names such as Miguel Montero, Jason Hammel, David Ross, Rafael Soriano, and Jason Motte via free agency and trades in order to let their prospects continue their development and simultaneously field a competitive team in 2015. The Cubs’ strategy to supplement their core group of dynamic, young, players with inexpensive veterans has helped the team into playoff contention and – for the first time in years –the team playing on the north side of Chicago was relevant at the deadline .

Remodeling with a shoestring budget – New York Mets
After the 2010 season, the Mets hired Sandy Alderson was hired as their GM to help reinvigorate a franchise that lost its direction after appearing in the 2000 World Series and 2006 National League Championship. Like Epstein, Alderson had a proven record. Contrary to Epstein’s situation, Alderson inherited a minor league system that – entering this week – supplied 18 of the 37 players on their 25-man roster or on the disabled list. Many of those 18 names are familiar names.

Key Mets Inherited by Sandy Alderson
  David Wright
Matt Harvey Jacob deGrom
  Jon Niese
Lucas Duda Daniel Murphy
  Steven Matz Juan Lagares Wilmer Flores
  Bobby Parnell
Jeurys Familia Jenrry Mejia

With so many players already in place, there was no need to “blow up” the roster. So, Alderson built up the team’s foundation by shrewdly making several deals that have landed valued assets. As I discussed in June, the Mets acquired starting pitcher Zack Wheeler by flipping pending free agent Carlos Beltran at the 2011 trading deadline. Alderson then boldly traded the reigning Cy Young Award winner – R.A. Dickey – to the Toronto Blue Jays for starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard and catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who will be vital to their playoff aspirations during the remainder of this season and beyond.

Although the Mets play in a big market, they’ve maintained a small market budget during the Alderson era due to the reported financial hardship that their ownership has experienced. Accordingly, New York has strategically added several lower-tier veterans with relatively short contracts – Bartolo Colon, Curtis Granderson, and Michael Cuddyer. In the days leading up to Friday’s deadline, Alderson has continued to improve the team’s roster by adding veterans Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Tyler Clippard to help jump start the team’s offense and improve their bullpen. Now, the Mets are poised to play meaningful games in September.

A rebuilding team can amass talent in four different ways – amateur draft, international amateurs, international and major league free agency, and the trades market. The Cubs and Mets have used these options differently because one had a good foundation and one didn’t. Yet, they’ve arrived at the same position – contenders on July 31. There are other situations when patience is in low supply and teams want their rebuilding effort completed sooner than later. In those cases, a more aggressive approach may be applied.

Quick fixer-upper – San Diego Padres
When Padres GM A.J. Preller took over last August, he wasted little time in giving his roster a facelift. Unlike the Cubs and Mets – who took years to renovate – the Padres opted to make a series of headline-grabbing changes that immediately altered their appearance and the perception of the team, but they didn’t necessarily do much to reinforce their long-term infrastructure.

Preller traded for multiple recognizable names like Justin Upton, Melvin Upton Jr, Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Craig Kimbrel, and Will Middlebrooks, plus he signed starting pitcher James Shields to a four-year/$75 million deal. Of the 31 players on the 25-man roster or the disabled list, 14 weren’t with the team in 2014.

Noted Padres Added By A.J. Preller
 Matt Kemp
Justin Upton
Derek Norris
 James Shields
Craig Kimbrel
Wil Myers
 Shawn Kelley
Melvin Upton Jr.
Brandon Maurer
 Clint Barmes
Brandon Morrow

Acquiring big names created a groundswell of excitement, but it came at a cost – in both talent and dollars. San Diego parted ways with several of their highest-regarded young players – Dodgers’ starting catcher Yasmani Grandal – and two MLB.com top 100 prospects – Washington’s Trea Turner and Atlanta’s Matt Wisler. Moreover, another nine prospects traded are now top-30 prospects for the teams that they were traded to – Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Philadelphia Phillies. Only one of Padres prospects – outfielder Hunter Renfroe at number 37 – is in the MLB.com top-100 and he’s currently playing at Class-AA level.

The Padres’ win-now approach looks to have fallen short, although Preller’s hasn’t given up on 2015 – he added reliever Marc Rzepczynski and kept his pending free agents. It’s unclear how he’ll address his fixer-upper project after the season if the team doesn’t jump back into the race. I’m not going to second-guess the Padres’ GM because his turnaround effort isn’t over yet – he’s merely transitioning to another phase of the process. Hopefully for Preller, his rebuilding project won’t result in a condemnation by ownership and fans. Unlike San Diego’s improvement plan that tried to do a major refurbishment quickly, a winning team may have good curbside appeal and still need more improvements. 

Doing an add-on – Kansas City Royals
The defending American League champions had a great 2014, but GM Dayton Moore had his work cut out for him after game-seven of the October Classic – the team ace Shields, designated hitter Billy Butler, and outfielder Nori Aoki to free agency. Since the Royals are a small market team, they opted to not sign the threesome and decided to add lower-tier free agents.

Although the team’s offseason acquisitions have produced mixed results, the totality of the new players – combined with holdovers – have buoyed the team to the best record in the American League. Although the décor looked good, Kansas City entered July with a few issues that needed attention. Specifically, right-hander Yordano Ventura’s struggles after a breakout 2014 combined and the recent loss of southpaw Jason Vargas to season-ending elbow surgery left the starting rotation as an area needing improvement.

Key Changes to 2015 Kansas City Royals
  Notable Losses
 Notable Additions
  James Shields
 Edinson Volquez
  Billy Butler
 Kendrys Morales
  Nori Aoki  Alex Rios
  Raul Ibanez
 Chris Young
  Scott Downs
 Johnny Cueto
   Ben Zobrist

To make sure that his master plan didn’t lose momentum, Moore added a pitcher with game-one starter stuff – Johnny Cueto. Moreover, he added Ben Zobrist who can help at second base – where Omar Infante has struggled – or in the outfield, while injured all-star Alex Gordon recovers before an expected September return. Thanks to the team’s strong foundation of young players, the Royals have been able to quickly update their appearance and have gone from wild card wannabe to World Series contender in just one year.

Conclusion
The 2014 Mariners were better than most expected – including me, but they’ve regressed in 2015.  The Ackley, Happ, and Lowe deals signal that the team is ready to make changes. It’s true that multiple changes will be needed in the offseason, but the Mariners aren’t a “blow up” candidate. Unlike the 2011 Cubs, they have veteran and young players who can be either used as a foundation or flipped in deals to help reinforce that foundation.

Doing a massive purge in Seattle – if that was the correct choice – requires complete buy-in by the organization. That means that no Mariner would be untouchable – including fan favorites Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager who would reap the most value in trades. I don’t believe that most “blow up” proponents wants to see the departure of “King Felix” and Seager.

The Mariners would best served to “remodel” – as the Mets have done – by parlaying select veterans into future contributors, retaining key pieces, strategically adding veteran acquisitions and excelling at developing prospects. Seattle should also adopt the Cubs’ business practice of acquiring veterans – via trade and free agency – who can serve as bridges until their heralded prospects are truly ready. This would help the Mariners feeling compelled to rushing prospects like they’ve done with Ackley, Mike Zunino, and Brad Miller.

The team’s moves prior to the Friday’s deadline sets the stage for an interesting offseason for the Seattle Mariners. Player value won’t be the only element of the organization’s structure that will be scrutinized –- team ownership will have to evaluate their front office and decide whether to stick with the current leadership or make a change. As with any big remodeling job, the Mariners’ choice of overseeing foreman will be the most important factor in changing the Mariners’ on-field fortune. 

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

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

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

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

Good luck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bubble
Detroit
Cleveland
Atlanta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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