From what I’ve been able to determine, social media bestowed Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto with the nickname of “JeDi” while he was still working for the Los Angeles Angels. I wasn’t aware of this clever nod to the fictional characters in the “Star Wars” movie franchise until I noticed it on Twitter after his Seattle arrival. I have to admit that it did make me chuckle a bit. [pullquote]The lineup needs to be a little bit longer. The rotation needs to be a little bit deeper. The bullpen needs to have more layers than it presently has. — JeDi code [/pullquote] In honor of Dipoto’s sci-fi handle, I decided to explore the key components of his 2016 roster revitalization plan — the “JeDi code” — which was first announced when he was initially introduced in late September of last year. Have the master’s guiding principles gained a foothold within the organization or is there more work left to do? Lengthen the lineup Despite a second-half offensive surge, Seattle’s on-base percentage (OBP) ranked number-22 in the majors and lagged behind 10 National League teams that actually let their starting pitchers to swing a bat. As JeDi alluded to during his introductory presser, the lineup lacked “length” and was heavily dependent on the success of three core players — Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager. The team’s bottom-three lineup spots — not including pitchers — combined to rank number-29 in OBP last season. The top-two spots in the batting order weren’t much better, placing number-28. Only the middle of the lineup, which ranked eleventh in the majors, demonstrated any measure of effectiveness at the plate. When looking at the following table, which breaks down each spot in the batting order and its corresponding OBP ranking, it becomes very clear that Seattle’s lineup was “short” and inadequate. If a team could limit damage caused by the four middle spots in the order, their chances of beating the Mariners were much better. Seattle Mariners “Short” 2015 Lineup Split BA OBP SLG MLB OBP Rank Batting 1st .247 .307 .394 24 Batting 2nd .255 .312 .424 24 Batting 3rd .273 .326 .470 22 Batting 4th .314 .377 .542 2 Batting 5th .260 .333 .449 8 Batting 6th .249 .312 .396 13 Batting 7th .233 .298 .400 20 Batting 8th .196 .265 .296 27 Batting 9th .196 .250 .295 15 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 2/18/2016. From a roster standpoint, Dipoto has addressed this significant deficiency through several steps. First, he retained Franklin Gutierrez to be part of the team’s corner-outfield platoon. The oft-injured “Guiti” enjoyed a healthy 2015 and proved that he could still contribute at the plate, when his body doesn’t betray him. Another internal move that’s likely to help is the club’s decision to go with Ketel Marte as their starting shortstop. During his two-month debut with the team last year, the switch-hitter demonstrated a penchant for reaching base. Whether the 22-year-old can sustain a .359 OBP has yet to be determined, however his impressive 82-percent contact rate combined with his plus speed should at least translate to an OBP that surpasses league-average. When making deals this winter, JeDi placed a premium on acquiring hitters who had a history of being able to consistently reach base. Because of this new strategy, some of the players that the general manager inherited didn’t fit into his vision for the ball club. Two players who fell into category were slugger Mark Trumbo and first baseman Logan Morrison, both were used as trade chips this offseason New starting players with a history of on-base success include veterans Chris Iannetta, Adam Lind, and Nori Aoki. The only starting position player acquired who has struggled to consistently reach base during his big league career — Leonys Martin — is expected offset his offensive shortcomings with his superb glove. “A run saved is the same as a run scored” says the JeDi. Potential Opening Day Lineup w/Steamer Projections Batting Order Name AVG OBP SLG Batting 1st Nori Aoki .270 .332 .360 Batting 2nd Ketel Marte .269 .312 .356 Batting 3rd Robinson Cano .285 .344 .444 Batting 4th Nelson Cruz .255 .321 .476 Batting 5th Kyle Seager .265 .332 .443 Batting 6th Adam Lind .268 .342 .431 Batting 7th Seth Smith .248 .331 .408 Batting 8th Chris Iannetta .215 .323 .353 Batting 9th Leonys Martin .242 .293 .350 The team’s new players combined with holdovers Marte, Gutierrez, Cano, Cruz, Seager, and Seth Smith give the Mariners a much deeper, more diverse lineup going into 2016. Considering Seattle’s woeful offensive performances in recent years, these changes should help provide the team’s faithful with some measure of optimism as Opening Day approaches. Deepen the rotation JeDi’s first major trade helped address this element. He dealt Morrison, Brad Miller, and Danny Farquhar to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for hard-throwing starter Nate Karns and outfield prospect Boog Powell — another player with good on-base ability. Some may believe that what happened next during the rotation build was either karma or influenced by a cosmic power of some sort. When it appeared that the Mariners had lost fan-favorite Hisashi Iwakuma to the Los Angeles Dodgers, they struck a deal with the Boston Red Sox to acquire veteran starter Wade Miley and reliever Jonathan Aro for pitchers Carson Smith and Roenis Elias. Just a few weeks later, Iwakuma returned to the Mariners when his deal with Los Angeles fell through. It’s almost as if someone had played a mind trick on Dodgers management and told them that “Kuma” was “not the pitcher you’re looking for.” Perhaps, it was always the 34-year-old’s destiny to return the Emerald City. As Prospect Insider’s Tyler Carmont noted, Miley isn’t likely to fill the role of a number-two starter for Seattle, but he does provide value. The addition of both Miley and Karns, plus the retention of Iwakuma deepens a rotation that also has ace Felix Hernandez and the young trio of Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Mike Montgomery returning. Steamer projections illustrate a club with more — and better — rotation options than last year’s squad. Using the FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR) to compare value, Seattle’s starting staff provided 8.7 fWAR last season, which ranked 19th in the majors. The current cadre in Peoria projects to be at 14.5 fWAR during 2016. Steamer Projections for 2016 Rotation Options Name IP ERA FIP fWAR Felix Hernandez 221.0 3.18 3.12 5.0 Taijuan Walker 184.0 3.68 3.86 2.4 Wade Miley 175.0 4.00 4.04 1.9 Hisashi Iwakuma 168.0 3.44 3.57 2.8 Nate Karns 128.0 4.06 4.15 1.2 James Paxton 72.0 4.11 4.09 0.8 Vidal Nuno 9.0 3.39 3.72 0.1 Joe Wieland 9.0 3.80 3.98 0.1 Michael Montgomery 9.0 3.93 4.04 0.1 Total 977.0 3.66 3.73 14.5 Some may wonder why there are so many names on the list, but a team can never have enough starters or relievers. For example, the Mariners used ten starters last season, which was the major league average for 2015. That’s why you see names like Vidal Nuno, who has started and relieved in the big leagues, and Joe Wieland listed above. The club has also extended non-roster invites to Brad Mills and Donn Roach, who both have major league starting experience and provide additional fringe-depth. Add layers to bullpen As of today, the relief corps is definitely deeper compared to the unit that concluded last season. But, there are more layers of uncertainty than reliable depth. Until the bevy of new faces acquired by JeDi have an opportunity to prove themselves, doubts will remain. Last season, Mariners suffered due to reliever volatility. The club’s bullpen delivered a value of 1.1 fWAR. Only the relievers of Oakland Athletics, Detroit Tigers, Atlanta Braves, and Boston Red Sox were worse. If the Seattle’s relievers do not significantly exceed their Steamer projections, this year’s bullpen will only rank a few spots higher than the 2015 edition. Steamer projections for 2016 Bullpen Options Name IP LOB% ERA FIP fWAR Steve Cishek 65.0 72.4 % 3.85 3.91 0.3 Joaquin Benoit 65.0 75.6 % 3.41 3.72 0.5 Charlie Furbush 55.0 75.1 % 3.37 3.61 0.4 Tony Zych 55.0 74.4 % 3.41 3.62 0.3 Evan Scribner 45.0 76.4 % 3.11 3.30 0.3 Cody Martin 40.0 73.7 % 3.78 3.96 0.0 Vidal Nuno 35.0 76.0 % 3.39 3.72 0.0 Jonathan Aro 30.0 73.7 % 3.93 4.25 0.0 Justin De Fratus 25.0 71.5 % 4.27 4.47 0.0 Ryan Cook 20.0 72.6 % 3.87 4.04 0.0 David Rollins 15.0 74.0 % 3.55 3.78 0.0 Joe Wieland 10.0 73.3 % 3.80 3.98 0.0 Mayckol Guaipe 10.0 71.7 % 4.07 4.22 0.0 Danny Hultzen 10.0 69.5 % 4.74 4.50 0.0 Michael Montgomery 10.0 71.6 % 3.93 4.04 0.0 Joel Peralta 10.0 75.7 % 3.75 4.18 0.0 Total 481.0 74.2 % 3.58 3.81 1.8 Clearly, JeDi is counting on bounce back years from Charlie Furbush, who is returning after an injury-shortened season, several other holdovers, and imports Steve Cishek, Joaquin Benoit, Evan Scribner, Jonathan Aro, Cody Martin, Joel Peralta, Ryan Cook, and Justin De Fratus to provide enough depth. How important is bullpen depth? Even the World Series champion Kansas City Royals — known for having the best bullpen in the majors last season — used 14 pitchers who were relievers during at least 90-percent of their appearances. Last season’s league-average for relievers used was 17; Seattle used 19. Without readily available bullpen reserves, it’s highly improbable that any team can remain in contention during an arduous 162-game season. Obviously, quantity is nothing without quality. That’s why the Mariners’ pen will be an “unknown unknown” during the early stages of the regular season. Of the three elements that make up the “JeDi code,” this one is most likely to pull the team towards the dark side of losing baseball. Only time will tell what the future holds. Even with his immense foresight, JeDi cannot forecast the outcome of his bullpen dealings until after Opening Day. Fortunately, for the team and its playoff-starved fan base, all hope won’t be lost if my bullpen doubts prove to be correct. Prospect Insider writers have routinely noted that Dipoto has demonstrated a knack for fixing a bullpen during the regular season while still with the Angels. In 2014, he acquired star closer Huston Street, plus setup men Fernando Salas and Jason Grilli and his former club went on to 98-games that year. A new hope Since his arrival, the new Mariners’ general manager has been strongly advocating another principle that shouldn’t be overlooked — controlling the strike zone, which permits hitters and pitchers to better control their own destiny. The 47-year-old believes that the team that controls the count “generally wins the game.” This philosophy is an encouraging development for the Seattle Mariners, but may require time to take hold at all levels of the organization. Despite the new ideology espoused by Dipoto — new for the Mariners that is — and the positive changes he’s implemented, I still view this club as being on the fringe of contention as of late February. Although I maintain a measure of guarded optimism that the offense and rotation will be improved, I continue to remain wary of the Mariners bullpen. Some may find my lack of faith be disturbing, but it’s a bit too early in JeDi’s retooling process to have delusions of grandeur.
New Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has repeatedly discussed adding “layers of depth” to his organization roster since taking over the club’s baseball operations four months ago. Accordingly, he’s added 17 new players to the club’s 40-man roster and extended Spring Training invites to over a dozen non-roster players. Despite Dipoto’s hectic pace, he didn’t throw out the baby out with the bathwater. The 47-year-old retained 23 players from the Jack Zduriencik era for good reason; his best players were already with the team when he became general manager. Take a look. Jack Zduriencik Holdovers Key Position Players Key Rotation Players Rotation Candidates Bullpen Bench Candidates Robinson Cano Felix Hernandez Taijuan Walker Charlie Furbush Jesus Montero Nelson Cruz Hisashi Iwakuma James Paxton Vidal Nuno Chris Taylor Kyle Seager Mike Montgomery David Rollins Stefen Romero Ketel Marte Mayckol Guaipe Shawn O’Malley Franklin Gutierrez Mike Zunino Seth Smith Jesus Sucre (injured) Steve Baron Three Zduriencik holdovers intrigue me more than the rest – Jesus Montero, Chris Taylor, and Stefen Romero. At some point during their respective careers with the organization, each player was poised to contribute at the major league level. Now, they’re facing career uncertainty. Jesus Montero – first base/designated hitter Since arriving from the New York Yankees in exchange for starting pitcher Michael Pineda, the 26-year-old has been an enigma. After posting respectable numbers during his rookie season in 2012, he’s suffered many self-induced setbacks. Following his first year in the Emerald City, Montero regressed on the field, suffered a knee injury, earned a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, arrived to Spring Training out of shape, and was involved in a confrontation with a roving scout during a rehab assignment. The former highly touted prospect’s outlook with the ball club was no longer bright. With so much uncertainty surrounding his future, Montero transformed himself with the help and support of the Mariners organization. He arrived to 2015 Spring Training with a new attitude and in great physical shape. The new-look Jesus Montero produced an impressive .355/.398/.569 slash and 18 home runs during 98 games with Tacoma, rekindling the notion that he still might be able to contribute as a big leaguer. Entering Spring Training this year, Montero finds himself vying to be the Mariners’ right-handed complement to starting first baseman Adam Lind. When referring to the former catcher in December, Dipoto told MLB Radio in that the team would to give the slugger a chance to “win at bats at first base and DH.” Barring injury or trade, Montero doesn’t appear to be a fit with Seattle because he doesn’t play another position on the field. That’s a challenge for a team that’s likely to carry only four bench players. Two of those spots will be taken by Franklin Gutierrez and the backup catcher. That leaves room for an infielder who can play shortstop and someone who can play first base and preferably another position. For those wondering, Montero doesn’t catch anymore. To compound matters, the former Yankee doesn’t have any remaining minor league options. Therefore, he has to make the Mariners’ Opening Day roster or clear waivers before returning to Tacoma. It’s unlikely that he’d get through waivers without another team claiming him. The only other alternative would be to trade the slugger, as the Mariners did with pitcher Erasmo Ramirez when he was out of options and not going to make the team last March. Chris Taylor – shortstop/second base The 25-year-old performed well enough during his 2014 debut with Seattle to force a starting shortstop competition with Brad Miller during Spring Training last year. Unfortunately, the contest ended prematurely when the former fifth-round draft pick suffered a broken bone in his wrist after just nine Cactus League games. When Taylor was ready to return to game action just a month later, he started with Tacoma. The right-handed hitter produced at a torrid pace until he joined Seattle in early May. The former Virginia Cavalier started 19 games with the club during the initial stages of the “Brad Miller super-utility player” science project, but he struggled at the plate with a paltry .159/.221/.206 slash and returned to the minors after just four weeks with the Mariners. Despite the Seattle setback, Taylor responded well with a .300/.391/.429 slash during 396 plate appearances as a Rainier. The right-handed batter has hit at every minor league stop and has proven that he possesses average-or-better defensive skills. Despite his superb minor league performance, Taylor is no longer the first choice to succeed the since-traded Miller as the Mariners’ starting shortstop. In late-July, the Mariners promoted shortstop prospect Ketel Marte to the majors. The youngster thoroughly impressed team observers with his composure at the plate and his better-than-expected defensive play during the last third of the season. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the 22-year-old appears to have the inside track to the starting shortstop job. With Marte seemingly entrenched at shortstop and Robinson Cano expected to play second base for a few more seasons, the likelihood of Taylor getting an opportunity to start for Seattle is diminishing. Now, Taylor is left vying with Luis Sardinas, Shawn O’Malley, and several non-roster invites for the utility infielder spot on the roster. That’s a sharp decline for a player who was in the hunt for a starting role just 11 months ago. Stefen Romero – corner outfield/first base The former Oregon State Beaver earned a spot on Seattle’s 2014 Opening Day roster, but his bat didn’t respond well to inconsistent playing time. He slashed .196/.236/.324 during 159 plate appearances and was eventually demoted in June. Since then, Romero hasn’t received another significant chance with the Mariners, except for being a September call-up for two consecutive years. [pullquote]We’ve talked about Stefen Romero as an internal candidate for a role on our club. That could include some first base to take the load off Adam and it could also benefit from having a sixth outfielder who’s capable of a number of spots. — Jerry Dipoto[/pullquote] Although Romero became an afterthought for the former regime, Dipoto is on record suggesting that the 27-year-old will get a look at being the platoon relief for Lind. That’s a big step for a player with just three professional starts at first base. Assuming that he can handle the position, Romero offers a versatile, right-handed alternative who can capably play both corner outfield spots, and fill in at second and third base in an emergency. What’s next? If they can’t win a spot on the 25-man roster, Taylor and Romero have a minor league option remaining and can serve as “layers of depth” at Tacoma. For Montero, his course is different and hinges on the club’s philosophy towards bench players. If the Mariners are willing to carry a one-position backup to cover first base, he has a chance of making the ball club. Otherwise, barring unforeseen circumstances, his days with Seattle are dwindling. Assuming that Montero doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he still has value as a trade chip. Granted, the return wouldn’t be as nearly as impressive as a young Michael Pineda. Nevertheless, new management can’t undo past transactions; only move on and make the club better. Finally Witnessing how the expectations for Montero, Taylor, and Romero spiraled downward after they reached “the show” is a stark reminder that getting to the big leagues and then actually succeeding is a formidable challenge. Whether these players, and others, would’ve enjoyed more success with a different management team or another organization is irrelevant at this point. For me, the only topic that’s worth discussing is whether Montero, Taylor, and Romero can succeed in the majors after struggling during their earlier auditions. That’s why I’ll be keeping a close eye on this trio’s progress in Peoria.
After suffering through another losing season and extending their playoff drought to 14 year, Seattle Mariners management decided to hire Jerry Dipoto to be their general manager. Since taking over in late September, the 47-year-old has significantly altered the club’s approach towards scouting, player development, and coaching. While Dipoto’s initial actions are encouraging, the root cause to the Mariners’ underwhelming record is the fact that they didn’t have enough good players to compete last season. That’s the main reason behind Dipoto’s hiring and why he was the major’s most active general manager during his first five months on the job. With Spring Training just around the corner, now’s a good time to recap the Mariners’ hot stove progress to date. For the purposes of my review, I’ve decided to the examine the weaknesses identified by Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill in October. The areas mentioned by Jason are closely aligned to Dipoto’s public comments about the team’s shortcomings and the moves that he’s made. If you missed Jason’s piece, you can read it here. Starting Pitching The off-season started with a projected 2016 rotation of staff ace Felix Hernandez and a lot of uncertainty. That’s why Jason identified adding a number-two starter as a priority for the club. There were plenty of candidates behind King Felix – Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery. Yet, none were viewed as locks to make the rotation – or even be reliable. It didn’t take long for the club to start dealing. Dipoto’s first major trade shipped Logan Morrison, Brad Miller, and Danny Farquhar to the Tampa Bay Rays for the hard-throwing Nate Karns, lefty reliever C.J. Riefenhauser – since traded to Baltimore – and outfield prospect Boog Powell. Karns’ first full season in the big leagues came last year at the advanced age of 28. Despite the late arrival, he’s the kind of “swing and miss” pitcher that Dipoto wanted. One area of concern could be durability. As Jason noted in his analysis of the deal, it remains to be seen if Karns can handle a 190-200 inning workload. The next big change was the acquisition of southpaw Wade Miley, along with reliever Jonathan Aro, from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Elias and dynamic reliever Carson Smith. At the time of the deal, I assessed it as a step backwards. Basically, the trade weakened the already bad bullpen and didn’t add the number-two starter that Jason had identified as a need. That doesn’t mean that the trade is a bust. Prospect Insider’s analysis pointed out that several “high-ranking scouts that like Miley more than his numbers.” This deal works best for Seattle if the 29-year-old is a legitimate number-three from the onset of the season. It’s important to note that our analysis assumed Miley was the replacement for free agent Hisashi Iwakuma, who had agreed to contract terms with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Little did we know that “Kuma” would actually return to the Emerald City. When reports surfaced saying that Iwakuma failed his Los Angeles physical, Dipoto pounced on the opportunity to retain the fan favorite. The club Mariners signed Kuma to a three-year deal – with vesting options – which protects the team in the event that he breaks down from a physical standpoint. Here’s a potential Opening Day rotation compared to the 2015 version. I’ve included the 2015 fWAR for both groups of players and the 2016 Steamer fWAR projection for current Mariners. Potential Rotation 2015 Rotation Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR SP Felix Hernandez 2.8 4.7 Felix Hernandez 2.8 SP Wade Miley 2.6 2.1 Hisashi Iwakuma 1.8 SP Hisashi Iwakuma 1.8 2.9 James Paxton 0.5 SP Nate Karns 1.5 1.0 J.A. Happ 1.2 SP Taijuan Walker 1.9 2.4 Taijuan Walker 1.9 Totals 10.6 13.1 8.2 Mission accomplished? No. Going into Spring Training, the rotation looks to be Felix, Miley, Kuma, and Walker with Karns, Paxton, and Montgomery battling for the last rotation spot. The losers will likely go to Class-AAA Tacoma or be traded. That’s a good start, but there’s no clear number-two caliber pitcher behind King Felix. Bringing back Iwakuma excites fans and it’s true that he can be a number-two – when healthy. But, he’s coming off two consecutive injury-shortened seasons, has only started 30 or more games once in four years with Seattle, and is entering his age-35 season. Perhaps, Walker will rise to that position. But, he’ll need to be more consistent in 2016 to take the next step in his career become a future ace. Yes, the rotation is better with Karns, Miley, and the returning Iwakuma in the mix. But, it’s debatable whether it’s good enough to contend. Outfield Defense The Mariners’ outfield registered -45 defensive runs saved (DRS) – easily the worst in the majors last season. So, Dipoto aggressively made moves to upgrade the team’s outfield defense. To fix center field, the Mariners dealt popular reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, outfielder James Jones, and prospect Patrick Kivlehan to the Texas Rangers for Leonys Martin and reliever Anthony Bass – who subsequently signed to play next season in Japan. From Seattle’s perspective, Martin was the cornerstone of the deal. Despite having nearly half the playing time of his contemporaries, the 27-year-old was one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. His 15 DRS ranked third behind Gold Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier (42) and Lorenzo Cain (18) during last season. The signing of Nori Aoki to play a corner outfield spot also improved the defense. Aoki is a solid defender, although he’s known for taking poor routes on balls from time-to-time. Despite his occasional follies in the field, he’s a significantly better defender than any regular corner outfielder that Seattle has used in recent years. The retention of Franklin Gutierrez to platoon with fellow holdover Seth Smith solidifies left field. Health may have robbed “Guti” of his ability to be a dynamic center fielder, but he’s still good in a corner spot. Smith is the weakest defender of the outfield crew, although he’s not bad. He’s average or slightly below-average. Although Karns will reach Seattle first and Powell likely starts the season in Tacoma, the 23-year-old outfielder could have a bigger long-term impact. Powell brings a blend of speed, athleticism, defense and contact-style offense that Dipoto craves and he can play all three outfield positions. He’ll likely see action in Seattle during 2016. Mission accomplished? Yes. Last season, Smith was considered one of Seattle’s better outfielders. Now, he’s ranks last among teammates not named Nelson Cruz. That’s how much Dipoto has improved outfield since taking over – last year’s best is this year’s ‘worst.” There’s a residual benefit to adding so many defensively sound outfielders, who also can reach base consistently. Management won’t feel compelled to play Cruz in the field as often. Although many fans support his defensive abilities and believe he’s a better hitter when playing right field, the Mariners are better with Cruz as their designated hitter. Keeping “Boomstick” off the field and healthy will help preserve their star hitter. Bullpen This unit went from being superb in 2014 to being a complete disappointment last season. After dealing his club’s two best relievers, there wasn’t much left on Dipoto’s roster. So, he’s been in overdrive to find new relievers ever since. The most notable addition is Steve Cishek, who was signed to be the closer. Cishek was exceptional during 2013 and 2014, but regressed last year. The 29-year-old showed signs of improvement during the second half when he held hitters to a .206/.313/.299 slash. Despite the improved numbers, the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t value him enough to include him on their postseason roster last October. Prospect Insider assesses the side-arming righty as being better suited to be a set-up man than a closer for a contender. Another veteran newcomer is Joaquin Benoit, who’ll pitch the eighth inning. Benoit has been a durable setup man after missing the 2009 season with rotator cuff surgery. Since then, he’s logged over 60 innings in five of six years, including 67 last season. Jason explained why he liked the Benoit deal for the Mariners here. Not every face in the relief corps is new. Charlie Furbush returns after suffering a slight rotator cuff tear last season, plus Tony Zych and Vidal Nuno are holdovers who figure to play prominent roles during 2016. Mission accomplished? No. Losing Smith and Wilhelmsen put a decimated bullpen in a bigger hole and helped spark fan hostility and media skepticism. Steamer projections won’t inspire fans to a leap of faith either – last season’s original relievers provided approximately the same value that’s projected for the new guys assembled by Dipoto. Potential Bullpen 2015 Bullpen Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR CL Steve Cishek 0.0 0.0 Fernando Rodney -0.8 SU Joaquin Benoit 0.4 0.3 Carson Smith 2.1 RP Charlie Furbush 0.1 0.4 Charlie Furbush 0.1 RP Tony Zych 0.6 0.3 Tom Wilhelmsen 0.8 RP Evan Scribner -0.1 0.5 Yoervis Medina -0.1 RP Vidal Nuno 0.3 0.3 Danny Farquhar -0.2 RP Justin De Fratus -0.1 -0.1 Tyler Olson -0.4 Totals 1.2 1.7 1.5 With so many “unknown unknowns” in the bullpen, it’s tough to be optimistic in late January. Clearly, the club is banking on Furbush bouncing back and the Benoit and Cishek combo being able to anchor the back of the pen. But, it’s going to take on-field success to win over fans and skeptics alike. There is a silver lining though. If the club is in position to contend in July, Dipoto has demonstrated the propensity to fix a bullpen during a season, as he did with the 98-win Los Angeles Angels in 2014. During that season, he acquired star closer Huston Street, plus setup men Fernando Salas and Jason Grilli. Catcher At age 24, Mike Zunino is too young to be deemed a bust. Dipoto has repeatedly praised the catcher’s potential, which leaves the impression that he views the former number-three draft pick as a part of the team’s future. Defensively, he’s outstanding. However, his offense took a horrible turn last season when he posted a .174/.230/.300 slash during 386 plate appearances in 2015. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Zunino is likely to spend the entire 2016 season at Class-AAA Tacoma. As a result of Zunino’s struggles and the weak bat of Jesus Sucre, the Mariners added former Los Angeles Angel Chris Iannetta – who endured his own offensive struggles last season – and former Baltimore Oriole Steve Clevenger to form a new catching tandem for 2016. Mission accomplished? Yes. Iannetta, who will do the majority of the catching, is a good pitch-framer with proven on-base ability with the exception of last season. Clevenger is a capable backup and can also play first base in a pinch. Since Iannetta is only 32-years-old, it’s reasonable to expect that he can return to pre-2015 form. Regardless, the Iannetta/Clevenger duo is far superior to last season’s catching crew. Adding two new catchers affords Seattle the opportunity to place both Zunino and Sucre in Tacoma, if they chose to do so. This substantially improves the club’s organizational depth. Plus, it gives Zunino the opportunity to fix his swing and prove whether Dipoto is correct in believing that he’s part of the team’s future. Fringe Depth Dipoto has spoken often of adding layers of depth throughout the organization, like he did with the catcher position. Although fringe depth is easily overlooked by both fans and talking heads, it’s imperative to have both major and minor league reserves in order to contend. To get in front of the issue, Dipoto added 17 new players to 40-man roster with only four – Adam Lind, Aoki, Martin, Iannetta – slated as starting position players. The rest will provide rotation, bullpen, or bench depth for the either Seattle or Tacoma. Last season, the club didn’t have clear-cut options in the event of injury or lackluster performance, which led to an 86-loss season. Here’s what a notional Opening Day bench could look like and how it compares to last year’s reserves. Potential Bench 2015 Bench Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR C Steve Clevenger 0.0 0.4 Jesus Sucre -0.3 INF Chris Taylor -0.4 0.3 Willie Bloomquist -0.6 OF Franklin Gutierrez 2.3 0.6 Justin Ruggiano -0.1 OF Shawn O’Malley 0.1 0.0 Rickie Weeks -0.7 Totals 2.0 1.3 -1.7 Mission accomplished? Mostly. Building organizational depth is never ending process, but it’s clear that this year’s bench will be significantly better than the 2015 version. For example, Ketel Marte is seemingly destined to be the starting shortstop. Consequently, holdover Chris Taylor and import Luis Sardinas will vie for the reserve infielder spot with the loser likely to start the season with Tacoma. Also, Powell presents the Mariners with their best rookie outfield call-up option in years. These kind of options didn’t exist on Seattle’s roster a year ago. In addition to “splashy” moves, the Mariners have quietly added several non-roster invites who could potentially add to their depth. To date, those players include pitchers Casey Coleman, Brad Mills, Blake Parker, infielder Ed Lucas and outfielder Mike Baxter. Also, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reports that first baseman Gaby Sanchez has agreed with the Mariners on a minor league deal. Expect more names to be added during the next month. Final thoughts Having Cruz, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Felix to build around makes it easier for the Mariners to compete in 2016 without jeopardizing its future success or payroll flexibility. The “riskiest” contracts signed this winter are Cishek’s two-year deal and Iwakuma’s incentive-based contract. Neither will cripple the team’s future plans. While this bodes well for the team in the long-term, it’s hard to really know how well the Mariners will perform in 2016. Take a look at the projected Opening Day starters compared to last year’s group and you’ll see that this year’s lineup should perform better than 2015 version. But, is it good enough? Projected Starters 2015 Starters Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR 1B Adam Lind 2.2 1.5 Logan Morrison -0.2 2B Robinson Cano 2.1 3.5 Robinson Cano 2.1 SS Ketel Marte 1.7 1.8 Brad Miller 0.9 3B Kyle Seager 3.9 3.7 Kyle Seager 3.9 LF Nori Aoki 1.5 0.9 Dustin Ackley -0.6 CF Leonys Martin 0.5 1.2 Austin Jackson 2.3 RF Seth Smith 2.2 1.2 Seth Smith 2.2 DH Nelson Cruz 4.8 1.6 Nelson Cruz 4.8 C Chris Iannetta 0.5 1.7 Mike Zunino -0.5 Totals 19.4 17.1 14.9 Dipoto’s approach of building around core stars, while simultaneously giving the organization a major facelift makes sense. Whether that strategy leads to a winning campaign in 2016 remains to be seen. If the season started today, the Mariners are far better than the 76-win disappointment of 2015. But, their current rotation and bullpen can’t be considered ready to propel the club into contention. Right now, the Mariners are a “fringe contender” at best. The club is banking on players like Cano, Iwakuma, Paxton, Martin, Aoki, Iannetta, Cishek, Furbush and most of their relievers to rebound after a down season. If the majority of these ball players bounce back, the Mariners will be the sweethearts of baseball’s talking heads – much like the 2015 Houston Astros. If things don’t go as well as planned, they’ll be fighting to stay above the .500 mark. That assessment shouldn’t dishearten or irritate fans. After all, Opening Day isn’t until April and a lot can change between now and then. As I pointed out a few months ago, every 2015 playoff team wasn’t ready by Opening Day. Fans can also find comfort in knowing that their team’s general manager isn’t afraid to pivot from mistakes or address under-performance. If the Mariners are in contention by June or July, Dipoto has the wherewithal to add pieces – he’s done it before. If the club is out of the hunt, he can use next off-season to continue reshaping the organization and building the contender that Mariner fans so desperately crave.
Earlier this week, I wrote a piece about the Seattle Mariners’ reboot of their roster and – to the chagrin of some Mariners faithful – I concluded that the current roster had not ascended to the level of “fringe contender.” My doom and gloom rationale was primarily driven by the club’s lack of proven depth in the bullpen and rotation. I just don’t believe that Seattle’s current cadre of pitchers is ready to catapult the Mariners to the next level. The club is making sound moves to address their pitching, but I’m not ready to buy-in. It’s that simple. The fact that I’m down on the Mariners’ pitching doesn’t mean that I think that new general manager Jerry Dipoto is doing a bad job or that the Mariners are on the wrong track – quite the opposite. He’s done an impressive job of turning over the roster after some national pundits said it would take over a year to transform the club. The 47-year-old executive didn’t see it that way. In just three months, Dipoto has added 18 new players to the organization’s 40-man roster and he’s not done yet. He’ll undoubtedly continue to amass players who’ll compete to make the Opening Day roster or provide depth at Class-AAA Tacoma. There are reasons to feel optimistic about the club’s direction. The most obvious to me is the projected length of their lineup. That’s right, I actually like something about the Mariners. From an offensive perspective, their projected Opening Day lineup is far superior to anything that they’ve put on the field in recent years. I’m not the only person who’s arrived at the same conclusion. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill noted during the most recent edition of the Sandmeyer and Churchill podcast that Dipoto has done a great job of lengthening his lineup and adding more hitters with on-base ability. To gauge the Mariners’ improvement, I decided to do a side-by-side comparison of Seattle’s 2015 production for each lineup spot and the 2016 Steamer projections for the nine players expected to fill those spots in the order. If you’d like to read more about Steamer, you can find it here at FanGraphs. Before looking at the stats, I feel compelled to acknowledge that projections are nothing more than estimates based on factors such as each player’s playing history and age. No one can predict injuries or exactly when an aging player will fall off the proverbial cliff. It’s also important to note that the likelihood of a projection being correct increases substantially when there’s a larger sample-size available. Robinson Cano’s Steamer projection is more credible because it’s based on the results of an 11-year career, while Ketel Marte has played just 57 major league games. Projections are imperfect by nature, but can be fun to discuss in mid-December. Take it from personal experience, they can spark very animated Twitter conversations. Okay, let’s look at the numbers. 2015 Mariners Lineup 2016 Projections Spot in Order HR AVG OBP SLG OPS Name HR AVG OBP SLG OPS 1st 18 .247 .307 .394 .702 Nori Aoki 6 .270 .332 .360 .691 2nd 22 .255 .312 .424 .736 Ketel Marte 5 .269 .312 .356 .667 3rd 33 .273 .326 .470 .796 Robinson Cano 18 .285 .344 .444 .787 4th 36 .314 .377 .542 .919 Nelson Cruz 32 .255 .321 .476 .797 5th 26 .260 .333 .449 .782 Kyle Seager 22 .265 .332 .443 .774 6th 20 .249 .312 .396 .708 Adam Lind 17 .269 .343 .431 .774 7th 23 .233 .298 .400 .698 Seth Smith 11 .248 .331 .408 .739 8th 9 .196 .265 .296 .561 Chris Iannetta 9 .215 .324 .354 .677 9th 11 .196 .250 .295 .546 Leonys Martin 8 .242 .293 .350 .643 Overall, the lineup is considerably better than the 2015 version, even though Steamer has Nelson Cruz tailing off considerably. It’s reasonable to expect “Boomstick” to decline since he’ll be age-36 next July. Not long ago, I discussed his eventual decline and my suggestion on how to preserve the slugger. Whether Cruz drops off as much as projected is debatable and certain to initiate one of those “animated” Twitter salvos I referred to earlier. Regardless of how Cruz performs in 2016, he’ll have a much stronger supporting cast around him. It won’t be just Cano and Kyle Seager like last year. The last four spots in the 2015 lineup became a black hole that killed many rallies and the top of the order wasn’t much better. In 2016, number six/seven/eight spots project to be above league-average with Adam Lind, Seth Smith, and Chris Iannetta respectively. Leonys Martin’s projected .295 on-base percentage in the nine hole is sub-par, but still far better than last year’s production. One aspect of the offense that’s likely to decline is home run power. The heart of the order should provide similar power since the same three players are returning. But, the rest of the order projects to lag behind 2015 totals. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the lineup gets on base as often as projected. Power is good, but men on base increases the potency of that power. Bear in mind that 31 of Cruz’s 44 home runs were solo shots. Last season, he had just 287 plate appearances with at least one runner on base. That’s a measly 43-percent and indicative of the Mariners’ poor on-base performance. Imagine how much better the offense could have been if there were men on base 50-percent of the time? The Mariners lineup projects to reach base more often and theoretically score at a better rate than last season. Does that mean that the team’s lineup is good enough? That depends. For me, the best answer for me is that Seattle’s lineup is much improved, but it’s “to be determined” whether the lineup will be good enough to contend. That will depend on father time. The majority of Seattle’s lineup is on the wrong side of 30, which means that most of their key guys have entered their post-prime seasons. It’s tough to determine with certainty when they’ll start to decline or the rate of their decline. Only Seager and Martin are in their prime years and the lone player under 25-years-old – Marte – has been in the big leagues for a whopping two months. So, he’s still an unknown factor. Perhaps, I’m sounding like the doom and gloom guy again. But, I really do believe that Mariners fans have reasons for optimism even if it seems like there’s a dark cloud hanging over my keyboard. If this renovated lineup performs at career norms and stays healthy, it’s good enough to contend. Whether the team can actually contend will depend on their pitching depth. If that’s not addressed, they won’t ascend to the fringe contender level.
Since becoming the general manager of the Seattle Mariners, Jerry Dipoto has aggressively worked to transform the club’s roster. In just under three months, he’s added 16 players to the club’s 40-man roster. The 47-year-old’s moves have been greeted with a mixture of optimism, scorn, and indifference depending on the names of the players involved and fan’s perceived value of the individuals traded away and received. For example, dispatching Carson Smith and Roenis Elias to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro and the signing of free agent catcher Chris Iannetta didn’t sit well with the Seattle faithful. Conversely, the addition of Nori Aoki via free agency was much better received. Despite the mixed reviews on Dipoto’s numerous transactions, the Mariners appear to be on track to be better next season. It’s impossible to know with certainty how much value that Seattle’s new players – or their holdovers – will provide in 2016. None of us can predict the future, although it can be fun trying to prognosticate. The next best thing to being a seer is using sabermetric projections, which can at least provide some insight into a team’s and player’s future performance. With that in mind, I decided to compare Seattle’s potential Opening Day 25-man roster to the squad that started last season against the Los Angeles Angels on April 6 at Safeco Field. To help with the comparison, I opted to use Steamer wins above replacements (WAR) projections found here at FanGraphs. Since I’m using the the FanGraphs version of WAR, I’ll be referring to it as “fWAR” from this point going forward. I understand that fWAR isn’t universally accepted as a reliable measure of a player’s performance by all fans and some in the media, but fWAR helps encapsulate a player’s total value into one statistic that includes base running, defense, and hitting. fWAR isn’t a concrete measure like batting average or home runs. Rather, it’s an estimation of value that happens to be relatively accurate. Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt, and Joey Votto were the top five position players in 2015 – based on fWAR. All of these players were in the top three of their respective league’s Most Valuable Player voting. That’s not a coincidence. First, let’s look at the starting position players from Opening Day 2015 and the likely starting position players for next season. You’ll see that I’ve included the 2015 fWAR for both groups of players and the 2016 Steamer fWAR projection for the current Mariners. At the bottom of each column, I included totals. Projected Starters 2015 Starters Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR 1B Adam Lind 2.2 1.5 Logan Morrison -0.2 2B Robinson Cano 2.1 3.5 Robinson Cano 2.1 SS Ketel Marte 1.7 1.8 Brad Miller 0.9 3B Kyle Seager 3.9 3.7 Kyle Seager 3.9 LF Nori Aoki 1.5 0.9 Dustin Ackley -0.6 CF Leonys Martin 0.5 1.2 Austin Jackson 2.3 RF Seth Smith 2.2 1.2 Seth Smith 2.2 DH Nelson Cruz 4.8 1.6 Nelson Cruz 4.8 C Chris Iannetta 0.5 1.7 Mike Zunino -0.5 Totals 19.4 17.1 14.9 A few words of caution before going any further. The projections listed above are nothing more than estimates based on factors such as each player’s playing history and age. Moreover, they can’t predict injuries – like Robinson Cano’s abdominal issues or James Paxton’s finger tendon injury. Thereby, projections are imperfect by nature, especially for young players with a small sample size of appearances in the big leagues. But, it’s still fun to use them during the Hot Stove season. Even though Steamer projections have Nelson Cruz tailing off considerably in 2016, the starting crew that Dipoto has assembled projects to outperform the 2015 squad. First base, left field, and catcher are clear upgrades – based on last season’s fWAR value. Plus, Cano is expected to continue his second-half turnaround from last season into next year. The projected Opening Day bench also looks to provide more value in 2016, although that’s not a very high bar to get over. The 2015 bench was an absolute disappointment. Projected Bench 2015 Bench Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR C Steve Clevenger 0.0 0.4 Jesus Sucre -0.3 INF Chris Taylor -0.4 0.3 Willie Bloomquist -0.6 OF Franklin Gutierrez 2.3 0.6 Justin Ruggiano -0.1 OF Shawn O’Malley 0.1 0.0 Rickie Weeks -0.7 Totals 2.0 1.3 -1.7 Since these are just projections, it’s possible that some of the names I’ve used won’t be with the club when it breaks camp next year. Barring injury, Franklin Gutierrez is the most certain to make the squad followed by Steve Clevenger. Regardless of who earns spots on the club’s bench, there’s a good chance that they’ll surpass the low value of last season’s Opening Day reserves. There’s no where to go, but up. As with bench players, manager Scott Servais will have more options than the ones I’ve listed in the below starting rotation projection. For example, Mike Montgomery will be in the mix and it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibilities that Dipoto will acquire more arms to either compete in Peoria or provide depth after the season begins. Dipoto might even trade one of the players I’ve projected to make the rotation. Heck, he might make a move before the end of the evening. But, as of December 13, these five players appear to be the best options for Seattle. Projected Rotation 2015 Rotation Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR SP Felix Hernandez 2.8 4.7 Felix Hernandez 2.8 SP Wade Miley 2.6 2.1 Hisashi Iwakuma 1.8 SP James Paxton 1.5 1.3 James Paxton 0.5 SP Nate Karns 1.5 1.0 J.A. Happ 1.2 SP Taijuan Walker 1.9 2.4 Taijuan Walker 1.9 Totals 9.3 11.5 8.2 Of all of the deals made by the Mariners new GM, the Miley deal has been met with the most fan anger. That probably has more to do with departure of Carson Smith in the trade and the fact that Miley was chosen to replace fan-favorite Hisashi Iwakuma, who joined the Los Angeles Dodgers via free agency. If Miley had been a free agent acquisition by the Mariners, the resistance may have been more muted. Fan sorrow aside, Miley provided provide more value to Boston than Iwakuma did to Seattle in 2015. Plus, Miley’s 2016 projected fWAR surpasses Iwakuma’s 2015 value. The combination of newcomers Miley and Nate Karns and the projected performance improvements of holdovers Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton are expected to help boost the club’s rotation value by over three wins next season. After being a strength for the Mariners in 2014, the bullpen went through a season-long tailspin in 2015. Appearances by closer Fernando Rodney were so erratic that they were commonly referred to as the “Fernando Rodney Experience” on social media. The combination of Rodney’s inconsistency, the regression of Yoervis Medina and Danny Farquhar, and a season-ending injury to Charlie Furbish turned the bullpen into the club’s Achilles’ heel. Projected Bullpen 2015 Bullpen Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR CL Steve Cishek 0.0 0.0 Fernando Rodney -0.8 SU Joaquin Benoit 0.4 0.3 Carson Smith 2.1 RP Charlie Furbush 0.1 0.4 Charlie Furbush 0.1 RP Anthony Bass 0.1 0.3 Tom Wilhelmsen 0.8 RP Evan Scribner -0.1 0.5 Yoervis Medina -0.1 RP Vidal Nuno 0.3 0.3 Danny Farquhar -0.2 RP Justin De Fratus -0.1 -0.1 Tyler Olson -0.4 Totals 0.7 1.7 1.5 The trades of the team’s two best relievers – Tom Wilhelmsen and Smith – has led to a great deal of hostility from fans and skepticism from the media. Steamer projections won’t help inspire fans to a leap of faith either – last season’s original relief corps provided approximately the same value that’s predicted for new one assembled by Dipoto. It’s important to note that Smith provided the majority of that value though. Clearly, Dipoto is expecting Furbush to bounce back from injury and that new acquisitions Joaquin Benoit and Steve Cishek will be able to anchor the back of the bullpen. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill assesses the side-arming Chisek as being better suited to be a set-up man rather than a closer for a contender. Jason goes on to point out that if the Mariners find themselves in position to contend in July, they could deal for a better option if neither Benoit nor Chisek demonstrate the ability to maintain their grip on the closer spot. Fortunately for the team and its fans, it’s only mid-December and there’s still plenty of time for more pieces to be added to the rotation, bullpen, and even the bench. Jason identified several players here who could potentially help contribute to what the Dipoto attempting to accomplish during his roster reboot. If the season started today, I’d project this team to be better than the 76-win unit that finished a distant fourth place last season. However, neither the Mariners’ rotation nor their bullpen is ready to propel the club into contention. They wouldn’t even qualify as a “fringe contender” at the moment.
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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 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. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 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. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 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…
December 1, 2015 will be known less for the trade that sent Mark Trumbo to the Baltimore Orioles, and entirely for David Price agreeing to take his talents to Beantown. But, it does mark week five of new general manager Jerry Dipoto‘s reconstruction of the Seattle Mariners. In the deal, the Orioles receive a presumed replacement for free agent slugger Chris Davis and left-handed reliever C.J. Riefenhauser. The Mariners receive Steve Clevenger, a catcher most notably known for being the other player the Chicago Cubs sent to Baltimore in the Jake Arrieta trade two summers ago. In Clevenger, Seattle adds some much needed major league calibre catching depth. The 29-year-old owns a 64 wRC+ in 446 career plate appearances, which is more than triple Jesus Sucre‘s career mark. Clevenger has hit well at Triple-A and posted a very respectable .287/.314/.426 slash line in 105 plate appearances for the O’s this past season. Clevenger has posted solid walk and strikeout rates throughout his minor league career and has also spent time at first and third base. You may be tired of hiring it by now — or perhaps it’s a breath of fresh air after the carousel of all-hit sluggers — but this is exactly the type of player Dipoto has targeted. On paper the left-hander will sit No. 2 to recent acquisition Chris Iannetta, which should push Opening Day catcher Mike Zunino to Triple-A. With two capable catchers now on the roster, the Mariners can allow their former first-round pick to spend the entire 2016 season in the minors to work on his hitting if it’s necessary. Flexibility. In Trumbo Baltimore gains a career .300 OBP first baseman — don’t pretend he’s still an outfielder — with the capacity for 30 home runs. He only hit 13 in four months with the M’s, but the combined 96 home runs between 2011 and 2013 is still tantalizing. Riefenhauser was acquired as part of the deal that sent Brad Miller to the Tampa Bay Rays and figured to be part of the bullpen competition come spring. Overall the Mariners are dealing a player who resembled a middle of the order bat perhaps more in reputation than performance. I thought he would have made a solid No. 5 or 6 hitter behind the triumvirate of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager. But the resurgence of Franklin Gutierrez‘ power likely made the decision to deal Trumbo easier, if only slightly. Most importantly, this trade gives the Mariners what Dipoto has sought: flexibility. In his final round of salary arbitration before reaching free agency, the 29-year-old Trumbo was due approximately $9 million. Reportedly the Orioles tried to get Seattle to cover some of his projected salary, but were unsuccessful. This could be where the addition of Riefenhauser was required. Clevenger will play for the league minimum in 2016 and given that the position was going to cost the Mariners at least that much anyway, one could argue that the club has the entirety of Trumbo’s projected salary cleared for spending elsewhere. Now’s as good a time as any to mention that there’s no evidence to suggest the Mariners needed to move Trumbo’s salary due to budgetary restrictions. So let’s just leave that topic be. One area that newly found money could be spent is on starting pitching. As evidenced in free agent contracts given out to Price and former Mariner J.A. Happ, there’s a lot of money to be had if you are a free agent starter. As it stands, the M’s are not reported to be close to locking up Hisashi Iwakuma for 2016 and beyond. There were some rumblings the team was willing to go two years and $20-24 million in a deal. As has been stated in this space previously, there’s reason for Iwakuma to ask for three years and get it. And if not three years, a yearly salary more closely resembling the $15.8 million qualifying offer he declined. It’s conceivable that a couple of the saved millions could be allotted to Iwakuma or an equivalent starter. While talks with the right-hander continue, the Mariners will need to turn some attention towards who will play first base. The answer to that question is unlikely to come from within the organization. While I’d love to see a team rewarded for giving Jesus Montero a legitimate chance at winning a starting job in Spring Training, I don’t see it happening here. If he’s still on the club come March, there’s no reason not to give him a shot at making the team, but there’s still much to be proved. D.J. Peterson is slated to begin 2016 at Triple-A and could earn a second-half call-up with a strong start to the season. Otherwise the pickings are slim. And no, Cano will not be the Mariners first baseman in 2016. But as Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins eloquently wrote, it’s a sensible possibility for the near future. I don’t believe Chris Davis is a realistic option for this club despite the potential fit. Three players on contracts paying north of $20 million each per year doesn’t work. Unless, payroll were to increase by a proportional amount, which is still unlikely. Mike Napoli is an interesting free agent fit. The recently-turned 34-year-old is coming off a down year and has some injury concerns, but his career 125 wRC+ would play. Otherwise the free agent market offers Justin Morneau and Steve Pearce, who aren’t regulars, and Ike Davis who was non-tendered by the Oakland Athletics today. Davis hasn’t lived up to the hype that surrounded him while coming up in the New York Mets organization, but hits right-handers well and could be paired with a lefty-masher. The Chicago White Sox would probably love to deal Adam LaRoche and the $13 million remaining on his deal, but the left-hander is coming off his worst year since an injury-shortened 2011. Adam Lind could be a more suitable option with one-year and $8 million owed to him for 2016. He posted a 116 wRC+ with Milwaukee in 2015 but has a massive career platoon split: 130 wRC+ against right-handers and 54 wRC+ against left-handers. Conceivably the Brewers would be after pitching, or anything that would help, but it may not be in Seattle’s best interest to give up a controllable starter for half of a first base platoon. I have previously plead my case for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Scott Van Slyke, and he could still be a fit now. The Dodgers are again likely to move an outfielder and Van Slyke is capable of handling all three outfield positions as well as first base. He has a career .337 OBP and 120 wRC+ but has yet to be a starter for a full season. Picking up a back-up catcher is nice, but essentially the Mariners gave up a fringy reliever to rid themselves of the money potentially owed to Trumbo. If you remove Trumbo from the mix, since he could have been non-tendered anyway, the deal is Riefenhauser for Clevenger or a swapping of spare parts that fit needs. My takeaway is that there was a very small market for Trumbo. There were reports that the Colorado Rockies were interested for a few moments — imagine that power in Coors field — but they were the only other team connected to the slugger. I don’t see how the Mariners are better today than they were yesterday, but we won’t be able to judge this deal fairly until the money saved is spent. What they are today is more flexible, which has been Dipoto’s mandate thus far.
There’s been a lot written about Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano lately. First, there was the hyperbolic rant of a fired coach that spurred a media frenzy. A few days later, the New York tabloids speculated that he’s not happy in Seattle and would welcome a return to the Yankees. Since those reports surfaced, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto and Cano’s agent have both shot down the notion that the veteran wants out of Seattle Now that both player and club are publicly on the same page, should the Mariners consider moving their all-star second baseman? I’m not talking about a trade. Rather, a relocation to another position on the playing field. Specifically, first base. I’m sure that some will criticize the suggestion of moving a two-time Gold Glove second baseman who’s played all but one fielding inning at that position during 11 seasons. If now isn’t a good time to ask, when should the question be posed? Considering Cano will be entering his age-33 season, wouldn’t it behoove the team to at least contemplate a transition plan for their most expensive player? Doing so might help keep him healthy and productive until his contract expires, plus improve the team’s second base defense. It’s true that the Mariners’ second baseman has been very durable, averaging 159 games-per-season since 2007. But, the six-time all-star is on the wrong side of 30 and bound to show signs of decline during the latter years of his 10-year/$240 million deal. It’s possible that his defense is already showing signs of decline. During his first two seasons with Seattle, Cano posted a combined -9 DRS and ranked 13 of 15 qualified second basemen in that category. The eyeball test says that Cano has superb hands and a strong, accurate arm. He makes it look easy on the balls that he reaches. But, does the reduced DRS signal that his range is decreasing? To be fair to Cano, he had zero DRS in 2014 and actually accumulated the -9 last season while suffering with stomach issues and a sports hernia. Hopefully for the team and player, his health issues were the prime reason for his below-average DRS in 2015 and he’ll bounce back next year. But, what if he doesn’t improve in 2016 and last season was actually a preview of what’s to come? Cano – who’ll be age-40 during his final season with Seattle in 2023 – wouldn’t be the first to be a regular second baseman at that advanced age, but several historical comparisons suggest that his fielding will continue to decline and be a detriment to his team. Take a look at two Hall of Famers and a Hall-eligible player who were everyday second basemen during the latter years of their respective careers. Even in their late thirties, Craig Biggio, Jeff Kent, and Joe Morgan were still capable of contributing at the plate. But, the defensive prowess of the trio had declined significantly. Player From To G PA H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Joe Morgan 1982 1984 373 1496 316 60 5 36 .256 .377 .401 .778 Craig Biggio 2004 2006 456 1958 469 120 1 71 .265 .323 .454 .777 Jeff Kent 2006 2008 372 1509 391 86 5 46 .292 .363 .466 .829 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used Generated 11/29/2015. xx Biggio registered -32 DRS during his last three seasons, while Kent was at -40. Advanced fielding metrics weren’t available when Morgan played. But, two standard fielding statistics shed light on his decline. The Hall of Famer’s fielding percentages during his final two seasons were below his 22-year career average, plus he totaled 27 errors in those years after having 30 miscues in the four previous seasons. The decline of Biggio, Morgan, and Kent doesn’t mean that Cano will fade as badly in the field. But, he’s human and bound to falloff at some point between now and 2023. So, wouldn’t it be prudent for the Mariners to at least explore the option of moving Cano in 2016? Let’s just suppose for a moment that Seattle relocated their star second baseman next year. It’s not likely, but doing so would make it easier to part ways with Mark Trumbo, who’s expected to make an estimated $9.1 million in 2016 and will be a free agent at the end of next season. Trading the slugger would not only give the Mariners a more athletic player at first base, but also give the team added payroll flexibility to address other roster needs. Moving Cano to first base would also present the Mariners with the option to shift shortstop Ketel Marte to second base and assign a more consistent fielder to play shortstop. Yes, I know that Marte had a great run during his brief stay in Seattle last year. But, his throwing has been suspect throughout his professional career and he’d likely become a superior fielding second baseman. Prospect Insider Executive Editor Jason A. Churchill briefly discussed the possibility of moving Marte to second base during the 2015 prospect rankings. The 22-year-old has played second base at each level of his professional career, including in Seattle. So, he has experience. If the team did opt to change Marte’s position, Chris Taylor could be an internal option to man shortstop or the club could look outside the organization. I’m not necessarily advocating that Cano become Seattle’s full-time first baseman in 2016 or even moving Marte next season. But, it’s worth considering. Perhaps, having Cano play 15-20 games at first base next season is worth trying, especially if his defensive metrics don’t bounce back like his offense did during the second half of 2015. Changes may not occur in 2016, but Dipoto is a disciple of sabermetrics and isn’t likely to accept below-average fielding from the second base position for the next eight seasons, regardless of the stature of the player manning the position. Starting to transition Robinson Cano to first base makes sense to me. Perhaps, the Mariners GM will eventually agree.
When starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma declined the Seattle Mariners’ qualifying offer of one-year for $15.8 million, it became clear that the team would be forced to compete with other major league clubs to bring the starting pitcher back to Seattle. The fact that the right-hander declined the offer comes to no surprise to most. It’s been widely reported that Iwakuma is looking for a multi-year deal. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has made it clear that retaining Iwakuma is an offseason priority for his club and reportedly, the veteran hurler wants to stay in Seattle. Keeping “Kuma” in the Emerald City should be a lock, right? Maybe. Much to the chagrin of some fans, Dipoto may be reluctant to offer Iwakuma the three-year deal that he’s reportedly seeking. Evidently, Seattle has offered a two-year contract with a vesting option for a third season. Another hurdle in keeping Iwakuma is the fact that he may have several suitors other than the Mariners. Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press tweeted that the Detroit Tigers were interested in the 34-year-old. Some teams may view Kuma as a less expensive alternative to top-tier free agents like Zack Greinke, David Price, or Johnny Cueto. If a market builds for Iwakuma, the Mariners could refrain from overpaying or over-obligating for the all-star starter. The advantage that Seattle has on their side is the qualifying offer. If Iwakuma signs with another team, Seattle would receive a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds of the 2016 amateur draft. Any team that signs Iwakuma would have to their surrender first-round pick for the 2016 draft unless the team holds one of the first 10 picks. Those teams would lose their second-round pick instead. Unfortunately for the Mariners and their fans, the Tigers own the number-nine overall pick. So, they’re legitimate competition for Iwakuma. Here is the entire first round draft order, plus the compensatory picks for next year’s draft. Losing Iwakuma would be a blow to the Mariners offseason plans, but it’s important to keep his value in perspective. Let’s look at his major league numbers. Year Age Tm W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 2012 31 SEA 9 5 3.16 30 16 0 0 125.1 4.35 1.277 8.4 1.2 3.1 7.3 2013 ★ 32 SEA 14 6 2.66 33 33 0 0 219.2 3.44 1.006 7.3 1.0 1.7 7.6 2014 33 SEA 15 9 3.52 28 28 0 0 179.0 3.25 1.050 8.4 1.0 1.1 7.7 2015 34 SEA 9 5 3.54 20 20 1 1 129.2 3.74 1.064 8.1 1.2 1.5 7.7 AL (4 yrs) 47 25 3.17 111 97 1 1 653.2 3.62 1.082 8.0 1.1 1.7 7.6 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 11/15/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx The 2013 season was the veteran right-hander’s first season as a full-time starter and it was by far his best season with the Mariners. Iwakuma started in 33 games and pitched a career-high 219 innings on his way to finishing third in Cy Young award voting. Unfortunately, the 2014 season didn’t get off to a good start when he reported to Spring Training with a strained tendon in his right middle finger. After missing the first month of the season, he pitched like his 2013 self until September when he struggled during his last five starts when the team was trying to make the postseason. Perhaps, the lack of Cactus League prep affected Iwakuma during the home stretch of the season or perhaps the veteran merely had a “rough patch” as Prospect Insider’s Tyler Carmont described it at the time. This past season, Iwakuma started poorly with three sub-par starts before going on the disabled list with a right lat strain after his April 20 start. However, he bounced back nicely after returning in in July by pitching 100 innings during the second half of the season and throwing a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles on August 12. All-in-all, Iwakuma has been a valuable pitcher during his stay in Seattle and he’s demonstrated the ability to be a number-two starter. However, he’ll be 35-years-old next season and is coming off two injury-shortened seasons. A team that intends to contend can’t rely on him to be their number-two starter entering 2016. A more realistic projection for Iwakuma going forward would be as a number-four starter. Sure, it’s possible that Iwakuma will have a great season next year. But, is it reasonable for a team to commit three years to an aging pitcher who’s only pitched over 200 innings once during his major league career and only twice in 11 seasons in Japan? Naturally, fans would like to see one of their favorites to return, but that’s not how winners are built. If there were a younger player available to sign, shouldn’t the Mariners explore that option? If the team is going to be forced to obligate three years to a pitcher, wouldn’t it make sense to obligate those years and dollars to a free agent like Mike Leake rather than Iwakuma? Here are the 27-year-old’s numbers since Iwakuma arrived in Seattle in 2012. Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS CG SHO IP FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 2012 24 CIN 8 9 .471 4.58 30 30 2 0 179.0 4.42 1.352 10.1 1.3 2.1 5.8 2013 25 CIN 14 7 .667 3.37 31 31 0 0 192.1 4.04 1.253 9.0 1.0 2.2 5.7 2014 26 CIN 11 13 .458 3.70 33 33 0 0 214.1 3.88 1.246 9.1 1.0 2.1 6.9 2015 27 TOT 11 10 .524 3.70 30 30 2 1 192.0 4.20 1.161 8.2 1.0 2.3 5.6 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 11/15/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx The right-hander isn’t in the class of elite pitchers like Price or Greinke, but he’d be a nice fit as a replacement for Iwakuma. It’s true that Leake’s numbers aren’t at the same level of Iwakuma’s. However, his stuff should play well at Safeco Field and – thanks to his age – there’s a better chance that he’d be worth his asking price than Iwakuma, even if that means a five-year commitment. Leake isn’t the only player who could help the Mariners fill out their rotation instead of committing three years to Iwakuma. Former Mariner Doug Fister – also a free agent – would also make more sense. Like Kuma, Fister has experienced availability issues in recent years and would likely cost a team less in dollars and years. Bear in mind that signing Iwakuma to a third year would mean that the Mariners would paying a 38-year-old starting pitcher $13-15 million in 2018 when Nelson Cruz will be approaching the same age and earning similar money, plus a 35-year-old Robinson Cano will be banking $24 million. Does paying approximately $52 million to three players – who are over the age of 35 – sound like a business model for sustainable success? Retaining Hisashi Iwakuma for two years is an acceptable risk. Otherwise, there are other options – via free agency and trade – who would be more cost efficient than Iwakuma and just as effective or even better in 2016 and beyond.
I’m not a native of Seattle and I only moved to Washington in early 2009. So, the most vivid highs and lows in the history of the Seattle Mariners aren’t embedded into my psyche like they are for so many Pacific Northwesters. The team’s trade of Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez’s departure via free agency, and the infamous late inning melt downs of Bobby Ayala don’t make my blood boil just like the Mariners’ historic 116-win season isn’t the first thing that I recall about the 2001 baseball season. Perhaps, that’s why I was indifferent to the June hiring of former Mariner great Edgar Martinez to be the club’s hitting coach. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Edgar should already be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Moreover, my wife is a life-long Mariners fan and she’s thoroughly briefed me on his importance to the franchise and its fan base. Even if I wasn’t married to a die-hard Mariners and Edgar fan, it’s not hard to figure out what he means to the local community. Considering that the 52-year-old has a Safeco Field cafe named after him and there’s a street outside the stadium bearing his name, it’s pretty clear that Edgar is a Seattle fixture. Regardless of his stature with fans, his Hall of Fame worthiness, and my bride’s passion for “Gar,” I’ve remained ambivalent to the hiring. There’s no disputing that Seattle hitters performed much better after the all-star break, which commenced shortly after Edgar’s hiring on June 20. The club had more hits, slugged more home runs, and walked more often despite having fewer at-bats in the second half. Plus, they had significantly better triple-slash numbers. That’s why it’s understandable if a casual observer linked the team’s resurgence with the five-time Silver Slugger award winner’s arrival. Yes, the numbers show that the Mariners’ offense was far superior after Edgar arrived. But, should the credit go the team’s new hitting coach or was it something else? Split AB R H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS 1st Half 2993 312 705 130 14 93 245 713 .236 .296 .382 .678 2nd Half 2551 344 674 132 8 105 233 623 .264 .328 .446 .773 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 10/7/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxOut with the old As the Mariners’ bats sputtered during the early months of the 2015 season, former GM Jack Zduriencik tried his best to tweak the 25-man roster prior to the July 31 trading deadline in hopes of jump-starting the team’s ineffective offense. Most notably, he parted ways with three players – Willie Bloomquist, Justin Ruggiano, and Rickie Weeks – via the designation for assignment (DFA) process. All three were gone by July 6. Shortly thereafter, Austin Jackson and Dustin Ackley were traded away to postseason contenders. Name G AB H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Austin Jackson 107 419 114 18 3 8 .272 .312 .387 .699 Justin Ruggiano 36 70 15 4 0 2 .214 .321 .357 .678 Dustin Ackley 85 186 40 8 1 6 .215 .270 .366 .635 Rickie Weeks 37 84 14 1 0 2 .167 .263 .250 .513 Willie Bloomquist 35 69 11 1 0 0 .159 .194 .174 .368 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 10/8/2015. xxxxxxxxxxx With the exception of Jackson, the group performed woefully at the plate. Even with Jackson’s league-average level of production included, these former Mariners produced a combined .234/.279/.328 triple-slash while accounting for 28-percent of the team’s first-half at-bats. Replacing these five players with better options played a pivotal role in boosting the team’s production at the plate. In with the new Four players – Franklin Gutierrez, Ketel Marte, Mark Trumbo, and Jesus Montero – were the key position player additions to the major league squad in 2015. They joined the Mariners at different times, but their arrival helped usher out the five players previously mentioned. The “new guys” accounted for 33-percent of the team’s second half at-bats and their .269/336/481 slash helped rejuvenate an offense that scored the second fewest runs scored in the American League during the first half. Conversely, Seattle ranked number-five in runs scored during the second half. Name G AB H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Franklin Gutierrez 59 171 50 11 0 15 .292 .354 .620 .974 Ketel Marte 57 219 62 14 3 2 .283 .351 .402 .753 Mark Trumbo 96 334 88 13 0 13 .263 .316 .419 .735 Jesus Montero 38 112 25 6 0 5 .223 .250 .411 .661 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 10/8/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxx Of the four new players, Trumbo was the only big league regular when Edgar arrived. During his first month with Seattle, the slugger was terrible with a .151/.184/.205 slash and one home run. Fortunately for the 29-year-old slugger and the Mariners, he bounced back by slugging 12 homers and posting a .295/.351/.479 slash for the remainder of the season. Couldn’t Trumbo’s resurgence be a by-product of Edgar? Sure, but I’m not ready to say Trumbo’s bounce back was due to his new hitting coach because the right-handed power hitter is known to be a streaky hitter. A comparison of his 2015 totals to his career averages illustrates that he didn’t do much more than perform at his career norms. Mark Trumbo 2015 vs. career averages Year Tm G PA H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS 2015 TOT 142 545 133 23 3 22 36 132 .262 .310 .449 .759 162 Game Avg. 162 648 150 28 2 31 42 161 .250 .300 .458 .758 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 10/8/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxStrong finishers Another factor in the Mariners’ rebound was the second-half turnaround of two of Trumbo’s teammates – Robinson Cano and Brad Miller. Cano was easily the most disappointing Mariner during the first half. He was under-performing in most offensive categories and wasn’t contributing at the level expected for a player who earns $24 million annually. By now, it’s well known that the 32-year-old struggled with stomach-related issues earlier in the season. Since opening up about his health struggles in early July and getting his gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) under control, the six-time all-star – like Trumbo – “flicked the switch” and began delivering outstanding numbers after July 1. Name G PA H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Robinson Cano 70 305 92 11 1 15 .331 .387 .540 .926 Brad Miller 60 203 49 9 1 3 .274 .338 .385 .724 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 10/10/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Miller’s defensive struggles at shortstop made the 25-year-old the one of the more scrutinized Mariners during the 2015 season. But, his fielding miscues were exaggerated as were his alleged issues with the bat. Miller was a good – although inconsistent – offensive contributor. Like Seager and Cruz, he had two bad months. In Miller’s case, it was May and July. Interestingly, he struggled most during the same two months in 2014 before finishing strongly with Howard Johnson as his hitting coach. Steady performers There were a couple of Mariners who played at relatively the same level throughout the season – Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. Imagine how bad the first-half offense would have been without this duo? Cruz was the team’s big free agent signing last offseason and he performed well above the expectations of many in 2015 and will likely receive votes for American League Most Valuable Player award. He won’t win the award, but he certainly was the Mariners’ best offensive performer. Name G PA H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Nelson Cruz 65 293 77 9 0 23 .294 .365 .592 .957 Kyle Seager 73 330 79 18 0 14 .264 .327 .465 .792 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 10/10/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Seager was – once again – a strong presence in Seattle’s line-up. The 27-year-old performed near his career averages despite June and August struggles. Like Cruz, Seager could be counted on to play virtually every day; he only missed one game in 2015. Thanks to Cruz and Seager, the Mariners had two hitters who stabilized the lineup, while accounting for 22-percent of the team’s at-bats in 2015. Help needed Although I was unmoved by Edgar’s hiring and contend that his presence wasn’t the reason for the offense’s strong second half, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that his expertise isn’t needed. There are several Mariners who could learn from the two-time batting champion – if the players are willing to listen and learn. When Edgar assumed the role as the Mariners’ hitting coach, the player most mentioned as a candidate for reclamation was the team’s catcher – Mike Zunino. The right-handed hitter is a superb defender behind the plate who possesses immense power with the bat. Unfortunately for him and the team, he struggled mightily throughout 2015 and became a boo-bird target. How bad was it for Zunino in 2015? Former manager Lloyd McClendon opted to have a player with above-average extra base power sacrifice bunt 10 times, which tied him for sixth most in the American League. Yes, Zunino’s former skipper would rather have him bunt despite the fact that he could “run into” a ball and easily hit it over 400 feet. On the surface, it initially appeared that the 24-year-old was turning a corner under the tutelage of his new hitting mentor after he hit .222 in July. Another sign of how bad it was for Zunino in 2015 – a .222 batting average for a month created optimism. Mike Zunino monthly splits Split G PA H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS April/March 22 70 8 1 0 2 3 6 27 .129 .214 .242 .456 May 22 81 18 5 0 5 12 2 29 .237 .275 .500 .775 June 25 86 10 0 0 2 3 8 31 .130 .212 .208 .420 July 25 89 18 5 0 1 8 2 25 .222 .256 .321 .577 August 18 60 7 0 0 1 2 3 20 .130 .175 .185 .361 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 10/8/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx The former Florida Gator’s improvement didn’t last though. In late August, Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish described via Twitter just how badly Zunino had regressed. The next day, the power hitting receiver was demoted to Class-AAA Tacoma and he didn’t return when rosters expanded on September 1. In retrospect, May turned out to be Zunino’s best month when he had a better batting average and far superior slugging percentage. Perhaps, Edgar’s guidance will take hold with the young backstop in 2016. Another underachieving Seattle regular who could use Edgar’s help is first baseman Logan Morrison. The 28-year-old started off very poorly in April, although he showed signs of returning to form during May and June. Regrettably, the combination of a bruised thumb and Montero’s arrival significantly reduced his second-half playing time at first base. Morrison did bounce back in September and made sure to give his hitting coach credit when he told Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Seattle “Shoot, I have a new swing. He’s been trying to get me to do this for like a month now.” Only time will tell if “LoMo” can sustain the improvement he enjoyed during the last month of the regular season. Logan Morrison monthly splits Split G PA H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS April/March 21 80 15 1 0 1 .197 .238 .250 .488 May 28 116 27 3 2 5 .273 .379 .495 .874 June 26 107 25 3 1 3 .253 .308 .394 .702 July 21 80 9 0 0 3 .129 .225 .257 .482 August 22 55 10 5 0 1 .204 .278 .367 .645 Sept/Oct 28 73 17 3 0 4 .266 .342 .500 .842 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 10/8/2015. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Two others who spent time with Seattle this season who could benefit from Edgar’s expertise are infielders Marte and Chris Taylor. Although Marte hit the ground running in Seattle, “Gar” may be able to help the switch-hitter with his hand placement, which is different from each side of the plate. Like Marte, the right-handed hitting Taylor could also benefit to changes with his hands. Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill noted in August that Taylor’s “hitch in his swing makes him late on good velocity and perhaps later than is ideal on offspeed stuff.” Coincidentally, hand placement is something that Edgar emphasizes. During a wide-ranging conversation about hitting, the seven-time all-star told David Laurila of FanGraphs.com that “how you position your hands is important.” Marte and Taylor are just two examples of young Mariners who can learn from the Mariners icon. Finally Edgar Martinez has been a positive influence on the team’s hitters – Morrison’s comments reinforce that point. But, that doesn’t mean that the greatest designated hitter in the history of the game was the impetus behind the Mariners’ second-half offensive surge. Even Edgar acknowledged the difficulty with hitters making in-season changes when he told Laurila “breaking a habit is difficult and it takes time. It’s hard to make an adjustment like that – a bigger adjustment – in the middle of the season.” His own words appear to confirm that the Mariners’ second half had more to do with the players than their guru. At best, all a coach can hope to do is maximize a player’s potential. Edgar isn’t going to turn Zunino into Buster Posey. On the other hand, it’s plausible that Edgar might be able to kick-start the three-year major leaguer’s career before it’s too late. That, in itself, would be an impressive feat. Having the time to work with Zunino, Marte, Taylor, and other youngsters when there aren’t any games will help because, as Edgar puts it, “it’s not easy to make a change, because they’ve done the same thing for so long.” Fortunately for Edgar fans and the Mariners, he’s been afforded the opportunity the stay with the club as their hitting coach despite the fact that they have a new manager in Scott Servais. GM Jerry Dipoto has made it clear that improving as a player is a career-long process and not just a minor-league function when he stated that “player development at the major-league level is never ending.” Who better to help usher in young hitters than a should-be Hall of Famer who has the designated hitter named after him? Having Edgar around the batting cage, in the clubhouse, and in the dugout will certainly help the Mariners’ offense in 2016. However, Dipoto getting better hitters will help the offense much more than any coach could – even if their name is Edgar Martinez.
It’s still September, so expecting a blockbuster trade or even a major decision right away is asking too much. We could hear about decisions on Lloyd McClendon and some other scouting and player development changes in the next few days to few weeks, but we’re probably a month or more away from any significant player decisions by new Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto. Some already are speculating a blockbuster deal involving Robinson Cano or Nelson Cruz to start off Dipoto’s tenure in Seattle. Don’t count on it. Not only are trades difficult to make, but president Kevin Mather stated all along that he doesn’t believe any kind of immediate tear down is necessary and it might be difficult for Dipoto to convince Mather and the ownership that trading Cruz or Cano isn’t just that — even though dealing one of them isn’t necessarily a sign of the club going all fire sale this offseason. I’d shop Cruz, too. I fully expect the first official player moves to be minor, but once November hits I think three moves are more likely than anything else: Hisashi Iwakuma This, clearly, will be mandated to some level by ownership, and it’s a deal everyone expects to get done rather easily. We’re probably talking about a two-year deal, or at least something short-term that is more than merely a one-year deal for the right-hander. Mark Trumbo, Seth Smith Trumbo has been solid since his first-month struggles after the Mariners acquired the slugger. He batted .134/.165/.183 in June but .318/.356/.447 in July, .263/.345/.566 in August and through Monday was batting .305/.360/.463 in September. Dipoto has traded Trumbo once already, but the reason it could happen again include Trumbo’s one-dimensional value, lack of fit for the ballpark and a projected arbitration-generated salary for 2016 that could land in the $8.5-9.5 million range. It’s a number the Mariners certainly can handle, but if Dipoto is looking to reallocate payroll to other areas, there’s an opportunity here. Smith, who has had a solid season, too, is in the same boat, though his contract is for $7.5 million guaranteed in 2016 with a 2017 option. Don’t be shocked if both are moved, especially if Dipoto sees Miller as an outfield option. Pitching If Dipoto has been watching — and we know he has been, the dude is a junkie — he’s seen a lot of legitimate offensive performances over the past three-plus months. Beyond Cruz, Cano, Trumbo and Kyle Seager, Ketel Marte and Brad Miller have been consistent contributors. and even Jesus Montero has flashed a bit. The offense, generally speaking, no longer survives as the club’s most glaring weakness. It’s the run prevention that hasn’t done its job, and that starts with the pitching staff. There will be trade candidates, free agents and reclamation projects available. Expect Dipoto to jump into this market early, well beyond re-signing Iwakuma. The bullpen needs to be rebuilt, the rotation needs at least one No. 3 starter and perhaps a veteran innings eater, too. The outfield defense will get better under Dipoto, and probably immediately, but loading up on arms is unquestionably going to be something the new regime attacks aggressively. Surprises? I’m not saying Cruz won’t be traded, but it’s very unlikely, at least early in the offseason. But I could see a few surprise moves taking place, perhaps even trading Miller and/or right-hander Taijuan Walker. Walker may never be more valuable with five years of service remaining and now a solid 29-start campaign (3.83 FIP) under his belt. I warn fans not be shocked, either, if the Mariners’ pursuit of starting pitching doesn’t reach the elite names including Johnny Cueto, David Price and Zack Greinke. I don’t expect the club to land any of them, necessarily, but I don’t believe the club is simply done with large contracts, either. I’ll discuss specific targets during the World Series.
With the trade deadline only days away and the Seattle Mariners currently on the outside looking in, much space has been put towards dissecting what exactly the team should do this week. Should the M’s be sellers? Could they be buyers? Sitting 9.5 games back in the division and 6.5 games back of a wild card berth entering Tuesday’s games likely suggest the former more so than the latter. Whatever the case, getting a head start on filling holes for next season should be more important than attempting an incremental upgrade for the season’s final two months. There’s enough talent on the ball club that a hot stretch in August could put them back in the wild card race, but not enough performance to merit another acquisition to bolster the club in 2015 alone. The players most often discussed as being pieces to sell — Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ, Austin Jackson, Fernando Rodney, and Mark Lowe — are free agents. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill mentions Brad Miller and D.J. Peterson among other names that have been brought up in conversations. Starting with the rotation, the potential departures of Happ and Iwakuma open two spots. Despite his prolongued stint on the disabled list, Iwakuma has played the crucial role of No. 2 starter as recently as last year and has flashed glimpses of having his stuff back since returning. Happ has been excellent in the back-end of the rotation and owns a 3.77 FIP in 104 and 1/3 innings of work. Felix Hernandez isn’t going anywhere while Taijuan Walker should have one of next year’s rotation slots essentially locked up at this point. Both Mike Montgomery and Roenis Elias have had success in the big leagues this year and are solid options. James Paxton is still on the disabled list with an injured finger and a return doesn’t appear imminent. A rotation of Felix, Walker, Montgomery, Elias, and Paxton has plenty of upside, but none of the non-Felix pitchers really stand out. Walker could presumably take another step forward as a solid No. 3 starter but Elias and Montgomery project more as back-end guys. With the potential loss of Iwakuma, there will be a hole in the rotation, particularly in the No. 2 spot. A healthy and effective Paxton can fill that role, though he has thrown barely over 130 innings since Opening Day 2014 — the track record simply isn’t there. Seattle will need more out of what’s been a league average rotation this year and an additional veteran starter will be required as well as the usual depth. The bullpen has almost literally gone from first to worst. What was a strong point last year has been a weakness this year. Rodney has turned into a pumpkin — though he may have been tipping his pitches — while Tom Wilhelmsen and Danny Farquhar have taken their turns heading up and down the I-5. The Bartender has been better of late, though, and his peripherals suggest he’s outperforming his earned run average. The good news is that Carson Smith has adapted nicely to his role as closer and has been excellent. Vidal Nuno and Charlie Furbush are doing well enough in their roles. Gone are Yoervis Medina and Dominic Leone, dealt for Welington Castillo and Mark Trumbo respectively. The dealings of relievers for bats, including Brandon Maurer in the winter, have eaten away at the depth that existed in 2014. If Lowe leaves as a free agent, the Mariners will need to find eighth inning help, which never seems to come cheap in free agency. The bullpen likely needs an additional major league arm or two as well. It’s possible Nuno competes for a rotation spot but has otherwise worked out well enough in the bullpen. The infield picture is a little more clear with Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager both locked into long-term extensions. Seager is in the midst of another excellent season while Cano is enjoying a red-hot July and finally showing signs of life after a terrible first half. Miller is also having a solid season and has a firm grasp on the starting shortstop job with Chris Taylor still waiting in the wings. As has been the problem for more than a few years now, first base needs an upgrade. After showing progress with the bat last year, Logan Morrison holds an 87 wRC+ and has been replacement level. Mark Trumbo has been better recently, but his season performance is still below league average. Both players are under team control through 2016 so it’s unlikely Seattle seeks a significant upgrade, though there’s an argument that it’s still needed. Behind the plate Mike Zunino has still played solid defence and picked things up with the bat this past week, but has struggled to hit his weight throughout the season. A trip to Triple-A has been suggested as a potential antidote the struggles at the plate. He’s still only 24 and could very well be the catcher of the future still, but the team needs a second catcher capable of playing three times per week — that’s the real issue. Doing without is only hurting Zunino in the short and long-term. The outfield picture will become even less clear with Jackson set to depart. Seth Smith is under contract for another year and is enjoying an excellent season as a platoon bat in the corners. Nelson Cruz has played right field more than anyone is comfortable with and that will probably continue next year. If manager Lloyd McLendon is smart it won’t, but it’ll likely depend in part on his other options. Rickie Weeks and Justin Ruggiano were brought onboard to solidify a pair of outfield platoons but are no longer on the big league team. There’s an increasing chance that Seattle will move on from Dustin Ackley before next spring. Franklin Gutierrez has had a nice return but is likely best-served as one-half of a platoon. He’s a free agent at the end of the year, but it’s not difficult to envision him being kept in the fold beyond. Assuming Smith, Cruz, and Trumbo are returning and the others not, Seattle will need an outfielder capable of playing center field and another corner bat. Smith and Cruz can probably handle right field duties and Trumbo isn’t really an outfielder. Talk of turning Miller into a super utility player a la Ben Zobrist has cooled but there is a real possibility shortstop prospect Katel Marte could eventually convert to an outfielder. Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins was on hand to see Marte’s outfield debut for the Tacoma Rainiers and opined that the youngster is going to need time to make the defensive adjustments. By many accounts his bat is big league ready, but we probably won’t know how viable of an option he is until Spring Training. By my count, when constructing the 2016 edition of the Seattle Mariners there is at least one need in the rotation, a couple holes to fill in the bullpen, perhaps help at first base and definitely behind the plate, and two-thirds of the outfield will need to be revamped. Seattle lacks the type of players that command high prospect prices at the trade deadline which makes them a less traditional seller. There’s no reason to think that Jackson and Iwakuma couldn’t net a couple decent prospects — probably nothing that helps the M’s immediately. If neither player is part of the future plans, there’s no reason to let them walk for nothing when they could be traded for something. Even Happ would be an upgrade for a club in need of some short-term pitching help and you can’t forget about Lowe as a potential trade piece — teams are always looking for bullpen help this time of the year. It won’t be easy for the Mariners to admit defeat on a season that was riddled with expectations, but it’s not as though the window for a playoff berth has closed. The core of the club is in place long-term. But as we can see, there are several holes that need to be filled — some remaining from this past offseason. If possible, the Mariners should be looking to get a head start on filling those holes. Now is as good a time as any and selling the pieces that are about to become free agents can help solve potential problems in 2016 and down the road.
The Seattle Mariners’ disappointing season has prompted some fans to call for the promotion of players from the Class-AAA Tacoma Rainiers to see if they can help the team salvage 2015. Fans are also anxious to see if any of these players have the potential to contribute in 2016 and beyond. In recent weeks, a popular veteran – Franklin Gutiérrez – returned to Seattle from Tacoma and one of the organization’s most enigmatic players – Jesús Montero made a brief visit with the Mariners before returning to the Rainiers. Based on the warm fan reaction he’s received at Safeco Field, fans are happy to have “Guti” back. Based on social media, I think that it’s fair to say that many Mariners faithful would have liked to see a longer audition for Montero and – perhaps – that will still happen in 2015. There’s another Rainier who fans are anxious to see in Seattle –infielder Ketel Marte. Prospect Insider has mentioned the 21-year-old’s on field potential (OFP) often. Just over a year ago, PI’s founder –Jason A. Churchill – discussed the ascension of the 21-year-old switch-hitting infielder and his potential in great detail. As Jason chronicled, Marte has established himself as an offensive table-setter. His speed and contact-hitting ability – both currently in short demand in Seattle – would be a welcome addition at the top of the Mariners lineup. Entering yesterday’s game, Prospect Insider’s number-two Mariners prospect had a .315/.359/.403 slash with the Rainiers. His 17 stolen bases coming into yesterday’s game ranked him number-eight in the Pacific Coast League despite the fact that he missed about six weeks with a broken thumb. The most intriguing aspect of Marte’s professional progression is the fact that he played in center field for the first time in his professional career last Thursday night and that this may be his quickest route to the majors. As Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish recently pointed out in a tweet, scouts and and some Mariners personnel believe that Marte doesn’t project as a major league shortstop. The other position Marte has played in the minors – second base – is occupied in Seattle by Robinson Canó. Opposing scouts and even some people within the Mariners have said that Marte doesn’t project as a MLB level shortstop. — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 24, 2015 With Cano entrenched at second base, exploring other options with a speedster like Marte is a logical progression for an organization that has no center field prospects close to being major league ready. Jason alluded to the possibility of Marte moving to center field earlier this month in his mid-season prospect rankings. Last night, I had the opportunity to witness Marte play in person for the first time against the Fresno Grizzlies at Cheney Stadium. Anytime you go to a game to watch a specific player, there’s a chance that he won’t see much action in the field and that’s the part of Marte’s game that interested me most. Luckily for me, several balls with varying degrees of difficulty were hit his way throughout the game. Early in the game, Marte seemed to have no issues with balls that were hit to his left and right, but he did misplay two balls that were hit directly at him after the stadium lights had taken full effect. On both occasions, he lost balls in the lights. One ball landed about 20 feet behind him, while the other fell about the same distance in front him. Unfortunately for Tacoma and their new center fielder, both miscues led to Fresno runs. I didn’t get to see how his throwing ability, which was inconsistent at shortstop and the primary reason he doesn’t project as a major league starter at that position. He did throw out a runner who tried to advance from second to third base on the misplayed ball that landed in front of him. On the offensive front, the switch-hitter has struggled at the plate recently batting .227 in his ten previous games. But, he extended a modest five game hitting streak with a single in the first inning. Afterwards, he promptly stole second base and then scored easily on a Jesus Montero double. For the night, he had two singles – one from each side of the plate – and a stolen base in five at-bats. This is not the first time that the Mariners have moved a shortstop to center field. In 2005, Seattle made the same move with Adam Jones, who is now an all-star patrolling center field for the Baltimore Orioles. Jones’ permanent transition started in the Arizona Fall League prior to his debut at Class AAA-level. Before Marte changed positions, he had spent about 75-percent of his 433 professional games playing shortstop and the remainder patrolling second base. That’s about 160 more minor league games than Jones had as a shortstop before switching. If Seattle plans to make Marte’s move to center field permanent, having him play in the Arizona Fall League this year would make a great deal of sense since there are just over 40 remaining on Tacoma’s schedule. To give you a little perspective, Jones played 179 games in center field before debuting in the majors. One game is too small of a sample size to make a coherent assessment on any player – let alone a shortstop transitioning to center field with a whopping three games of experience at the position. That’s why I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to watch the young speedster at his new position. I believe that he possesses the athleticism and skill set required to improve after last night’s difficulties and flourish in center field, but only more playing time will determine if I’m correct. In the interim, Mariners fans will just have to wait patiently for the potential that Ketel Marte may eventually deliver in Seattle.
It doesn’t take a sabermetric analyst to tell you that Robinson Cano had a terrible first half of the 2015 season. His lack of appearance at this year’s Mid-Summer Classic can tell you a portion of the story on its own. The perennial All-Star has been exactly replacement level this season based on fWAR. His bWAR is a tad more forgiving at 0.4, but the point of the matter is simple: the Seattle Mariners did not pay $24 million for a replacement level player. There have been several excellent articles written about Cano’s first-half struggles. Some aimed at pointing to an age-related decline likely being a factor in 32-year-old’s slump while others have been perplexed at how Cano simply isn’t getting results despite having one of the best hardest-hit rates in baseball. As Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill recently pointed out, Cano has hit 97 balls at a rate of 95 MPH or better this season. That’s more than Mike Trout or Albert Pujols, the latter partaking in a late-career resurgence at the plate. Cano’s hit rate on those pitches is almost 15 percent lower than Trout’s, though, and if he had another 15 extra-base hits on the year, his overall performance would look much better. The second baseman’s power numbers dropped dramatically in his first year at Safeco, but his wRC+ was only slightly less in 2014 than in 2013 at 136 and 142 respectively. Cano’s home and road splits tell a different story however as he posted better OPS, ISO, wRC+, wOBA and extra-base hit numbers at home than on the road. He did hit nine home runs on the road as opposed to five at home. Looking at Cano’s batted ball data there isn’t anything in particular that stands out in 2015 compared to last year. Keep in mind we are still dealing with a smaller sample size for the current year. There are two things worth noting though. As mentioned, Cano is hitting more than his fair share of balls hard and at a 6.2 percent rate higher than last year. Typically, hard-hit balls result in base hits. At least, the idea is that if one hits a ball really hard, a fielder won’t be able to make an out. But making a blanket statement like that suggest that there’s a strong correlation between a high batting average and high hard hit rates. There is a stronger correlation between a higher batting average and a high contact rate. That’s how players such as Buster Posey have so much success: they don’t swing and miss much, and when they swing, they make it count. Cano has actually been swinging at slightly fewer pitchers outside of the zone and slightly more at pitches that are in the zone. One concern is that he’s making contact on about five percent fewer pitches overall — he’s also swinging and missing at about two percent more pitches as well, with both marks in comparison to last year’s numbers. The bigger concern though, is that the second baseman has seen his walk and strikeout rates go in opposite directions this year. His walk-rate is down from 9.2 percent to 4.6 percent while is strikeout rate is up from 10.2 percent to 17.3 percent. Plate discipline skills tend to improve with age, but Cano’s have deteriorated fast. In fact, he’s been noticeably bad in at-bats throughout the season. Cano has been pitched around less with Nelson Cruz hitting behind him and has even admitted throughout the year that he’s been seeing better pitches to hit than last year. He just hasn’t been hitting them. It certainly doesn’t help when your BABIP is down from .335 to .290. Cano’s career mark is .322 so last year’s mark may be a bit high. But we actually can attribute some of his failure’s this year to bad luck. If his BABIP is even 15 percentage points higher, his slash line could look a lot better. Another thing Cano hasn’t been doing as much this year is hitting the ball the other way. He seemed to make a living last year of dumping a pitch off the plate into left field after working a count. His opposite field rate is about nine percent less in 2015, still nearly seven percent less than his career mark. This could be a result of pitcher’s making an adjustment to him. After all, that’s how Cano excelled last year: adjusting to how he was being pitched. I wouldn’t expect that Robbie is simply failing to make adjustments. His track record would strongly suggest otherwise and is why many have tried to point to his true talent level as reason for optimism in the second half. A rather alarming stat is how bad Cano has struggled with hitting the fastball. He has historically produced a wFB (weighted fastball runs above average) around 10 during his career. That number in 2015 is -2.9. Pointing only to the fastball struggles is misleading as he’s been down against off-speed stuff as well, but the last time Cano hit fastballs that poorly was in 2008 with a -16 wFB. His 2008 season shares an oddly specific commonality to the first-half of 2015: he produced exactly 0.0 fWAR. There are actually a few similarities between the two season beyond wins above replacement — not to suggest WAR is the be-all-end-all, but it tends to paint a decent picture. Cano’s wRC+ in 2008 was 86, one point higher than it was entering Friday’s games. His BABIP was a career-low .283, not too dissimilar from the first-half .290 mark. However, his slash line was better across the board, particularly in terms of batting average and slugging percentage. That was also the last year he hit fewer than 20 home runs before 2014 with 14, identical to last year’s number. That’s about the pace he’s at now after two long balls on Saturday, but hitting home runs, or lack thereof, isn’t the issue at hand. Few were complaining last year when Cano was reaching base nearly 40 percent of the time. It’s when he’s not picking up hits or walks the lack of power production becomes further magnified. The good news is that Cano has historically performed better in the second half of the season based on his career number. The problem is that hasn’t been the case in any of the previous three seasons. It was the case, though, in 2008. His wRC+ nearly doubled in the second half. If we are to believe that this season is an anomaly in the same vein as 2008, then there obvious reason for optimism. After all, we know Cano is better than he has performed. Recently, Cano admitted that he has been battling a stomach virus since October that he thought had been treated. He goes so far as to say that he’s been sapped of energy and also mentions the loss of his grandfather as having impacted his performance. It’s often easy to forget that these high-performance athletes are humans, too, and considering the combination of health problems — both mental and physical in this case — alongside heavy expectations, there could be very human reasons behind Cano’s first-half performance. Unearthing some more information on what the second baseman is struggling with physically could be useful, but for now there’s not really any way to gain anything meaningful to quantify the effects. The truth of the matter remains simple: what Cano will be in the second half and beyond is still unclear. I’m of the opinion that he will rebound some and we’ll see his wRC+ finish around 100, or league average. Asking him to improve his wRC+ by 10-to-12 points shouldn’t be unreasonable. Potential good news for 2016: Cano finished 2009 with a 3.6 fWAR in 2009 after his replacement level 2008. Meaning, he figured it out. The difference is that he wasn’t dealing with an energy-draining health issue. He’s also 32 going on 33 instead of 25 going on 26. Only time will tell. Perhaps the All-Star break was the needed rest for the star to recover some. We’ll have to see if his performance changes over the next week or two. Maybe the remedy is a 15-day stint on the disabled list for simple rest and recovery. There’s a very good chance that Cano will return to something resembling his former self. Whether it’s in the second half or next season. Though another six WAR season may be beyond his reach. The problem is that in the time the Mariners spend waiting on Cano over the next couple weeks, it may be too late to save the 2015 season.
You can find exit velocity — miles per hour off the bat — in a lot of places, including Statcast via MLB.com. I used some of those resources, including PitchfX, to answer a question I had. We often hear and read about exit velocity, usually on home runs. But sometimes balls hit very hard do not leave the yard or even land for hits. I wondered how often balls that leave the bat at certain velocities do indeed fall for hits. Rather than search and calculate for the entire league over multiple seasons, I focused on the Seattle Mariners and the pre-break 2015 season. I also added the same data for two star right-handed batters and two star left-handed batters, for comparison’s sake. Hit Percentage on Exit Velocity at 95 mph or higherRobinson Cano: 46 hits on 97 balls hit 95 mph or higher (47.4 %)Kyle Seager: 42 of 74 (56.8 %)Nelson Cruz: 48 of 96 (50 %)Dustin Ackley: 24 of 51 (47.1 %)Austin Jackson: 23 of 55 (41.8 %)Brad Miller: 36 of 68 (52.9 %)Mark Trumbo (SEA only): 8 of 20 (40 %)Seth Smith: 36 of 59 (61 %)Mike Zunino: 22 of 41 (53.7 %)Logan Morrison: 32 of 86 (37.2 %) For comparison:Mike Trout: 60 of 94 (63.8 %)Albert Pujols: 49 of 94 (52.1 %)Stephen Vogt: 31 of 53 (58.4 %)Joey Votto: 42 of 73 (57.5 %) Hit Percentage on Exit Velocity at 90 mph or higherRobinson Cano: 49 of 111 (44.1 %)Kyle Seager: 53 of 112 (47.3 %)Nelson Cruz:55 of 93 (59.1 %)Dustin Ackley: 25 of 67 (37.3 %)Austin Jackson: 26 of 72 (36.1 %)Brad Miller: 37 of 80 (46.2 %)Mark Trumbo (SEA only): 11 of 30 (36.7 %)Seth Smith: 40 of 74 (54 %)Mike Zunino: 25 of 53 (47.2 %)Logan Morrison: 39 of 113 (37.2 %) For comparison:Mike Trout: 63 of 115 (54.8 %)Albert Pujols: 54 of 129 (41.9 %)Stephen Vogt: 39 of 79 (58.4 %)Joey Votto: 47 of 96 (49.0 %) Ackley ranks No. 16 in Major League Baseball with an average exit velocity on all hits of 93.5 mph. Morrison ranks No. 41 in the same category at 92.1 mph. Cano, Seager and Cruz are not ranked in the top 50. What I don’t have the answers to are questions such as “at what velocity most struck in Major League Baseball do balls end up as hits?” and “exactly why does one player with the same exit velocity statistics, totals, hit percentage, average, etc., produce at a drastically lesser level”? What we do know, partly due to data such as the above, is the more often balls are hit hard (if hard is 90 mph or higher) the more likely a batter is to get a hit of some kind. We also know that Logan Morrison is either incredibly unlucky, or he hits too many of his hard-hit balls on the ground and into the shift. I think it’s a little of both, more of the latter than the former.
Throughout his tenure as general manager of the Seattle Mariners, Jack Zduriencik has attempted to acquire hitters able to succeed in the pitcher friendly realm of Safeco Field. Often these players are bat-first corner outfield, first base types who are best served as a designated hitter. The term ‘one-dimensional’ encapsulates said player quite well. Some were bought low on, some came at sticker price. A few of the moves made were questionable from the beginning, with serious concerns arising from the value given up for what was on the return end. The odd one actually worked out. Mark Trumbo — Acquired via trade with Arizona Diamondbacks in six-player deal With the offense struggling, Zduriencik made the first big splash of the season when he acquired Trumbo and Vidal Nuno in exchange for Dominic Leone, Welington Castillo, Gabby Guerrero and Jack Reinheimer. In his first three big league seasons, Trumbo belted 29, 32 and 34 home runs while playing decent defence at first and poor defence in the corner outfield. The 29-year old is coming off an injury-plagued 2014 season in which he appeared in 88 games posting a career-low 91 wRC+ and a career-low .180 ISO. So far it’s been a slow start to his Mariner career, but Trumbo has shown some signs of encouragement in the final week of the first half. He owns a .581 OPS since the trade, entering Sunday’s game, after finishing June with a -5 wRC+. Obviously this trade has several pieces in play, but the center piece of it all is Trumbo, who is a slugging first base, corner outfield type who’s likely best utilized at DH. He owns a career .298 OBP, doesn’t walk a whole lot and strikes out a quarter of the time. His acquisition brought a sense of inevitability instead of an upgrade. Nelson Cruz — Signed four-year, $57 million free agent deal After an offseason of back-and-forth about what really happened in winter 2013-2014, the M’s finally added the slugger to the fold this past winter. Only problem is he was coming off an MLB-high 40 home run performance and you best believe Seattle was going to pay sticker price. He was a decent defender early in his career but isn’t exactly graceful in the field and nearly all of his value comes from the bat. He can handle his own though if he’s only partially used in the field and primarily as the DH. So far in 2015 Cruz has spent more time in the outfield than many are comfortable with, but he has delivered a .308/.373/.546 slash line with 21 home runs — the walk rate is a tick above his career mark as well. His first half performance was good enough to result in a starting gig at this year’s All-Star Game. The last couple years of his deal are probably going to look as bad as everyone figured, but for now, Cruz is living up to his end of the bargain with his bat. Rickie Weeks — Signed one-year, $2 million free agent deal The 11-year big league veteran was an interesting pick-up for the M’s late in the winter and at a very inexpensive price. For the bulk of his career, Weeks had been an above average hitting second baseman with average to slightly below defensive skills. He belted 70 home runs between 2010 and 2012 and he’s regularly had a walk rate around 10 percent. However his career 23.5 percent strikeout rate more resembles that of a slugger. With Robinson Cano manning second base, Weeks transitioned to left field to form a platoon with Dustin Ackley. That would ultimately be a failure. The athletic 32-year old wasn’t a lost cause in the field, but he didn’t look great either. In 95 plate appearances he mustered a .167/.263/.250 slash line with a 51 wRC+. Not only was he transitioning to a new position, but from an everyday guy to a part-time player who pinch-hit frequently which can sometimes be a daunting task. Finding a groove with the bat didn’t happen. Weeks was released by Seattle on June 21. Logan Morrison — Acquired via trade with Miami Marlins in exchange for RP Carter Capps LoMo is your classic prospect who succeeded for a few years in the minors, struggled for a couple years in the majors and then received a change of scenery two winters ago. With Justin Smoak flailing as a major league first baseman, the M’s acquired Morrison to give them another option at first, right field, and you guessed it, DH. The 27-year old missed some time with injury in 2014, but managed a 110 wRC+ and supplanted Smoak — now a Toronto Blue Jay — as the everyday first baseman. The left-hander continues to show signs that he’s capable of another 23 home run season akin to his first full season in the big leagues back in 2011. There’s been some experimentation with using LoMo in the leadoff spot and he finishes the first half with a .229/.300/.385 slash line. Morrison’s being regarded as a good defensive first baseman but the metrics suggest he’s below average. His days in the outfield are done and with a career 108 wRC+ in over 2100 plate appearances, it appears that the M’s have an average, occasionally better, first baseman. Morrison is under club control through 2016. Corey Hart — Signed one-year, $6 million plus incentives free agent contract Acquired on the same day as Morrison, the pair are often mentioned in conversation together. The two-time 30 home run hitter was brought aboard as the right-handed slugger to bat behind the newly signed Cano. It was a risky move as Hart missed the entirety of the 2013 season after undergoing double knee surgery. Sure enough he struggled throughout the 2014 season while battling unrelated injuries. Ultimately he would finish with a 70 wRC+ and six home runs in 255 plate appearances. This move was lauded at the time as a low-risk, high-reward bargain. In a different context this probably would have been a shrewd move. However this was the follow-up to the Cano signing and the ‘protection’ that would hit behind the superstar. Truthfully, it was too much risk betting Hart would be able to resemble his former self one-year removed from surgery without a real clean-up hitter. For what it’s worth, he’s not having all that much success this year as a part-time player for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jesus Montero — Acquired via four-player deal with the New York Yankees The Mariners were struggling to sign free agent hitters. The Yankees were struggling to develop young pitchers. Both clubs figured they would solve each other’s problems with New York sending Montero to Seattle and Michael Pineda going the other way. Montero entered the 2011 season as the No. 3 ranked prospect in baseball, but few thought the right-handed slugger would last more than a few more years behind the plate — the value his bat provided was amplified by the scarcity at the catching position. The critics were right. Montero had some struggles in his first full big league season finishing the 2012 season with a 90 wRC+ and then it all went downhill. Underperformance, injuries, weight issues, a PED suspension and an incident involving a scout and an ice cream sandwich made up the following two years. But, a seemingly revitalized Montero showed up to camp this year after undergoing a significant weight loss. The results have followed as he’s posted an .868 OPS at Triple-A this year and was selected to the All-Star team. The former top prospect was re-called from Tacoma and made his season debut on Friday. In three games he’s 1-for-7 with a pair of walks and a run driven in. Justin Smoak — Acquired in six-player deal with Texas Rangers The former blue chip prospect was the centrepiece of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Texas. Ironically enough, Seattle reportedly had a deal with the Yankees that would’ve netted them Montero in exchange for the ace but pulled out once Smoak become available. The switch-hitter was hyped for his bat and regularly hit for high averages in his early minor league career, but was never the power-hitting slugger that some had hoped he’d be. He played parts of five seasons for the Mariners and only finished two seasons with a wRC+ above league average (100). Despite being regarded as a solid defensive first baseman, and the metrics suggest he’s average on the field, there simply wasn’t enough offensive production to warrant starting the former top prospect. He was supplanted at the position last summer by Morrison and dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays over the winter. The trade has done him well as the 28-year-old is having a very good year in a more limited role for the Jays and owns a 128 wRC+ in 147 plate appearances. Michael Morse — Acquired in three-team trade in exchange for C/DH John Jaso Prior to the 2013 season Seattle brought Morse back into the fold for a second tenure — he debuted with the M’s in 2005 and remained in the system into 2009. He was coming off a solid offensive season with the Washington Nationals posting a 113 wRC+. As the team’s everyday right fielder in 2013 he posted a 92 wRC+ with 13 home runs before being dealt to the Baltimore Orioles at the end of August. He was due to depart as a free agent after a disappointing year. Jaso was actually coming off a career year in 2012 with a 143 wRC+ and producing 2.6 fWAR as a part-time catcher and DH. At the time the move was described as typical of Zduriencik, dealing a well-rounded asset for a slugger who couldn’t play defence. Jaso posted a .394 OBP in 2012, Morse finished 2013 with a .270 OBP. For what it’s worth, Jaso has struggled with injuries since the deal and is now in the Tampa Bay organization. Jack Cust — Signed to a one-year, $2.5 million free agent contact Despite the fact he resembled the prototypical designated hitter acquired during the Zduriencik tenure, Cust actually had above average OBP skills and was a walk-accumulating machine. The left-hander actually performed close to league average offensively in 67 games as a Mariner in 2011, but after hitting just three home runs, he was released in early August. The signing was quite reasonable given Cust’s skill set, but he should have been brought on as a part-time player instead of the No. 4 hitter on Opening Day. Jason Bay — Signed to a one-year, $1 million plus incentives free agent contract This move I was a fan of given the low-risk nature and me being a fan of Bay during his years in Pittsburgh and Boston. Unfortunately the right-hander was never the same after signing a four-year, $66 million with the New York Mets. He struggled with concussion issues and his contract was mutually terminated with money deferred. No longer the well-rounded player of years past, Bay offered minimal value in the field and little on the base paths entering 2013. He still had some pop in his bat though and was useful against left-handers. Little harm was done with the move as Bay posted a 94 wRC+ and produced -0.2 fWAR in 236 plate appearances before being designated for assignment. He would be released in early August and has unofficially retired since then. Raul Ibanez — Signed one-year, $2.8 million free agent contract The signing marked Ibanez’s third tour of duty with the M’s in 2013. He previously was with the club from 1996-to-2000 and 2004-to-2008. At age 41, Ibanez nearly made history by belting 29 home runs, but was also tasked with regularly playing left field throughout the season. Hitting solo home runs was about all the left-hander did for the Mariners that year, though, as his defensive shortcomings resulted in a 0.1 fWAR for the season. Though his 102 wRC+ would likely be a welcome addition to this year’s incarnation of the club. Seth Smith, acquired via trade with San Diego Padres in exchange for reliever Brandon Maurer, follows the trend of dealing a reliever for a bat, but unlike many of the other bats acquired, Smith is well-rounded in the box and isn’t a slouch defensively. That’s not to suggest he’s anything special in the field, though he was credited with 6 DRS in 2014. He’s more capable of being an average major league outfielder, which given many of the names who have roamed Safeco Field in the past few years, is a plus. It is interesting to note that, reportedly, Seattle had an opportunity this winter to acquire Jackie Bradley Jr. from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for reliever Charlie Furbush. Bradley Jr. doesn’t resemble the Jack Z type of player at all: he’s athletic, plus in the outfield and is strong on the bases. Only problem is that he doesn’t hit, and while his skills would upgrade the Mariners outfield defense, the problem to be solved over the winter was finding more runs. Not to suggest the trade should have been accepted if it was in fact offered as Bradley Jr. has a career 50 wRC+ and Smith has been a pleasant addition. All told, there’s plenty of evidence to show that Jack Zduriencik has targeted these bat-first corner outfielders who should be a DH. But at the same time, his biggest expenditure, Robinson Cano, is a true five-tool player despite the fact he hasn’t shown the same power output. Other exceptions would include Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez who were excellent athletes.