Aside from receiving key contributions from rookie pitchers in 2014, including top prospects Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, the Seattle Mariners also saw rookie hitters make serious contributions as well. Last year it was Mike Zunino and Brad Miller who played large roles, especially in the second half, for the team. Nick Franklin also saw the bulk of the middle infield innings as a rookie in 2013, but was finally dealt at the trade deadline after months of speculation. Jesus Sucre and Abraham Almonte would also make their big league debuts and eventually impact the 2014 edition of the Mariners. Seattle had five different rookie hitters step into the batters box in 2014. Let’s take a look at the impact each of them made during the season. Chris Taylor, 24, SS | 2013: High-A, 319 PA; Double-A, 300 PA | 2014: Triple-A, 346 PA; Called-up 7/25 Taylor was called up in July when Willie Bloomquist hit the disabled list with a knee injury requiring micro-fracture surgery. At the time of his call up, the 24-year old had a .894 OPS with a 133 wRC+ at Triple-A. The regular shortstop, Brad Miller, had struggled earlier in the season but had begun to show some signs of life in July. Taylor, a right-handed hitter, and Miller, a left-handed hitter, formed a natural platoon for the remainder of the season. Taylor’s high batting average is somewhat inflated due to a .398 BABIP, however he showed some maturity at the plate with a reasonable walk rate and eight of his 31 hits went for extra bases. Known for his stellar defence and strong throwing arm, Taylor was credited with four defensive runs saved this year although that was in just 365 innings of work. The Mariners fifth-round pick in 2012 accelerated through the minors, hitting well enough to prove that there’s more to him than just a glove-first shortstop. From Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill’s preseason PI Handbook: Taylor has exceeded the expectations of most observers … [with] … above-average instincts in all phases of the game, and provides some leadership-by-example along with the plus defence. Abraham Almonte, 25, OF | 2013: Double-A, 120 PA; Triple-A, 396 PA; MLB, 82 PA Almonte broke camp as the club’s starting centerfielder after essentially being handed the job before spring training even started. He also took the role of leadoff hitter to begin the year but struggled mightily in four weeks with the big league club. The 25-year old barely hit his weight at the top of the order and struck out at a rate approximately 15 percent higher than he posted in the minor leagues. The nearly doubled strikeout rate with little power to show for it presented a huge hole in the Seattle lineup. Almonte has been in the minors since 2007 so he isn’t raw, but he was overmatched in his first real taste of major league action. The outfielder would be traded to the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline with minor league pitcher Steve Kohlscheen in exchange for veteran Chris Denorfia. He would be sent to Triple-A, but was recalled by the Padres and posted a .682 OPS in 107 plate appearances. From Churchill’s preseason handbook: Almonte brings a much higher probability than … [others] … he is, however, limited in many areas and as a result comes with little upside. Jesus Sucre, 26, C | 2013: Triple-A, 95 PA; MLB, 29 PA | 2014: Triple-A, 181 PA; Called-up 7/8 Called-up in July after the Mariners cut ties with veteran back-up John Buck and assumed the role of Mike Zunino’s partner in crime. The 26-year old didn’t see much action however, making just 21 appearances in the following 12 weeks. Sucre got the call as Buck wasn’t able to provide enough defence in his back-up role and didn’t disappoint. What he didn’t do though, was hit. He picked up just 13 hits, two doubles, and didn’t walk once this year. Not that he was expected to be an offensive force, but with the team in a playoff race, it was hard to make up for the lack of offensive capabilities Sucre offered in an already susceptible lineup. Sucre did not crack Churchill’s preseason top-30 prospects list and doesn’t possess the upside of an everyday major league catcher. He does have noted defensive and pitch-framing skills and fits the mould of a major league back-up catcher, but he’ll need to find a way to get on base more often if he hopes to stick around much longer. James Jones, 26, OF | 2013: Double-A, 405 PA; Triple-A, 17 PA | 2014: Triple-A, 173 PA; Called-up 4/16, Optioned 8/1, Re-called 8/11, Optioned 8/17, Re-called 8/29 Jones relieved Almonte of his center field and leadoff hitter duties and performed well out of the gate. His debut month of May included a 105 wRC+ and a .709 OPS — a breath of fresh air from the production of Almonte. Jones continued to hit well into June and stole 12 bases during that month alone, one more than any other Mariner stole during the entire season. The comparisons to Juan Pierre were mostly deserved as Jones has a similar tall and skinny profile with the ability to steal, bunt, and hit for practically no power. The metrics did not like the 26-year old’s defence in center field however, giving him a -24.7 UZR/150 rating. After an unproductive July and the Mariners acquisition of Austin Jackson, Jones was sent down to Triple-A and eventually re-called permanently prior to September. He became a key asset for manager Lloyd McLendon as a pinch-runner supreme, and stole five more bases. Jones finished the year with 27 swiped bags, the most by a Mariner since Ichiro Suzuki stole 40 in 2011. From Churchill’s preseason handbook: Jones has a slightly-long swing, but good bat speed and chance to hit .270 with 20 homers. Defensively the arm is plus and then some, and he’s fringe-average in center while showing well above average in right field. Stefen Romero, 26, OF | 2013: Triple-A, 411 PA | 2014: Triple-A, 190 PA; Optioned 6/29, Re-called 7/17, Optioned 8/1, Re-called 9/1 Like Almonte, Romero cracked the roster out of spring training and saw regular time in right field in April and May. Even more so when Michael Saunders hit the disabled list the first time on the year. His 69 wRC+ in May was the highest he posted in any single month this year — he was overmatched by big league pitching from beginning to end. Of his 34 hits 11 were for extra bases so he did show some power. Romero posted a 166 wRC+ in 163 plate appearances this year so it’s possible he just wasn’t able to feel comfortable at the big league level. There was plenty of controversy as to why McLendon continuously sent Romero out in right field when the clearly superior option, Saunders, sat on the bench. Especially when the 26-year old showed nothing at the plate and was average in the field. Romero regularly went on four-to-five game hitless streaks while with the big league club and went 2-for-8 as a pinch-hitter with one of his three home runs on the year.. From Churchill’s preseason handbook: Romero is among the more MLB-ready bat and outfield options on the 40-man roster … [and] … is capable of hitting line drives from line to line and [shows] extra-base power to the right-center field gap. There wasn’t a Walker-esque position player set to crack the Mariners 2014 lineup as this class offered less upside than in 2013 with Miller and Zunino. Taylor has been a pleasant surprise and replaces the depth at shortstop that was lost when Franklin was dealt. Almonte was used to secure Denorfia, though the veteran failed to add much substance to the big league team in a limited role. Romero and Sucre are likely to be what they are now, a fourth outfielder and a back-up catcher, but Jones is definitely the most interesting player to watch given his speed. The jury’s still out on what the roles of the four rookies — Almonte is obviously excluded — will be in 2015 as they could be used as pieces in trades or upgraded upon. At the moment it appears likely that Taylor, Sucre, and Jones will have a shot at breaking camp with the Mariners next year.Go!

Nearly three months after hitting the disabled list with an oblique injury, it appears that outfielder Michael Saunders is set to make his return to the Seattle Mariners lineup. The 27-year old began a rehab assignment several weeks ago but stepped away from the process briefly when he was granted paternal leave for the birth of his daughter. Unfortunately after one of the happiest moments in the life of the Victoria native he contracted a viral infection that cost him two weeks and more than 10 pounds of body weight. However, all that appears to be in Saunders’ rearview mirror as it was reported Sunday that the outfielder was expected to be activated before Monday’s game against the Houston Astros. Saunders last appeared in the majors on July 10th and hit the disabled list with a .276/.327/.434 slash line and a 115 wRC+ which would all constitute career highs. His 1.7 fWAR in 65 games played is still the third-highest mark among Mariner position players, though that mark is now equaled by the resurgent Dustin Ackley who’s played a key role during the Canadian’s absence. Plain and simple, Saunders was a big part of the first couple months of the 2014 season and despite Seattle’s success over the last three months, his absence has been noticeable. Seattle did acquire some outfield depth when Chris Denorfia was added at the July 31st trade deadline, but the club has relied heavily on veteran Endy Chavez to fill the regular right field role. Even though Chavez has been precisely replacement value during 2014 — the fact he’s managed a 101 wRC+ should really be considered a plus considering his 76 career mark — he doesn’t play the strong brand of defence or offer the pop with the bat that Saunders does. So far on the year, and keep in mind the sample sizes are small, Saunders has been credited with 6 defensive runs saved while Chavez has cost the M’s two runs in the outfield. A net loss of 8 DRS can actually be substantial, especially when one considers that it equals the difference between having Kyle Seager and Matt Carpenter at third base. Of course there’s positional consideration in play among other factors with that example, but I digress. [pullquote]Arguably the biggest knock on Saunders lately has been his inability to stay healthy for an entire season. He has a strong arm, can play a solid right field, run the bases well, and has some pop in his bat without any real platoon split. He had already missed 20 games prior to the oblique injury, and should he return Monday, he can add roughly 50 more games to that total.[/pullquote] More often than not teams don’t carry much concern over a player who’s slightly below average in the field so long as their bat makes up for it, and vice versa. But the combination of Chavez and Stefen Romero that’ve covered more than two-thirds of the playing time in right field this season haven’t even been average offensively or defensively at the position. On the year the Mariners are getting a 90 wRC+ out of the right field position. Subtract the production Saunders has contributed and that number falls to 81. That may not be a significant gap, but when you consider the major difference on the defensive side of things and the fact Saunders also provides value on the base paths that the club’s other right fielders haven’t, one really begins to see how significant not having Saunders for the last three months has been. It also shows how much better this team would be had he remained healthy. Prior to the injury, the left-hander was hitting .296 in the leadoff spot and .327 in the No. 2 spot of the lineup, but those two spots have now been occupied by Austin Jackson and Ackley, and there’s no reason to suspect that’ll change any time soon. Since Robinson Cano, Seager, and Kendrys Morales fill the next three spots in the lineup, it allows the M’s to hit Saunders in the bottom half — a significant area of weakness for the club of late. And it gives them a legitimate option for the No. 2 spot if Ackley needs another day off during the last portion of the season. Consider that the No. 6 through No. 9 spot in the lineup went just 1-for-10 in Sunday’s shutout loss to the Texas Rangers. Having Saunders take three or four of those at bats should allow the club to generate more offense. Especially since Jackson had a pair of hits in the leadoff spot that could’ve hypothetically push a base runner into scoring position and potentially lead to a run, if not more. Of course it’s not quite that simple as that since pitchers and batters alike act differently in any given situation, but the old adage that getting runners on base will lead to runs applies in this situation. And with the difference in games sometimes being decided by a single run, it makes it all that more valuable. Is Saunders the difference in whether or not the Seattle Mariners are able to snap a 12-year postseason drought? Probably not, but how many other contenders can boast a significant September addition to their lineup? Look at the dividends the Oakland Athletics have received from their late acquisition of Adam Dunn. Saunders can easily provide similar value when one considers the entire skills package that he provides. Seattle has managed to get by just fine during Saunders’ absence and remain in the thick of the Wild Card race as the second week of September begins. Should the Detroit Tigers defeat the San Francisco Giants on Sunday night — they have a 6-1 lead as of this writing — the M’s will be down to a half-game lead on the second Wild Card spot but are now just two games behind the Athletics at the top of the Wild Card ladder. This is what a postseason push feels like. Enjoy it, Mariner fans, for it is well deserved.Go!

Rarely does Major League Baseball’s annual July 31st non-waiver trade deadline spark as much interest as it did today. In total there were 12 trades made and several significant pieces were moved in the process. Aces David Price and Jon Lester found new homes, the Boston Red Sox cleaned house, and the Seattle Mariners added a pair of outfielders to a club in need of an offensive boost. In a market barren of impact bats and overpriced assets, the Mariners played it safe, and smart. Chris Denorfia, acquired from the San Diego Padres for Abraham Almonte and a minor league reliever, may be a veteran on a down season, but he has hit left-handed pitching well throughout his career and is an upgrade on the current Seattle roster. Austin Jackson, acquired from the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade in which the M’s sent Nick Franklin to the Tampa Bay Rays, is a true centerfielder that’s capable of hitting at the top of a lineup. He represents a significant upgrade to the roster as is. Both players are now with the club Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune tweets, and are expected to be in the lineup tomorrow night when Seattle wraps up a three-game set with the Cleveland Indians. Now as always, the first question that usually comes to mind is who’s roster spots will the new imports take? Presumably Stefen Romero will be sent down to Triple-A as the club as already used an option on him for the year and he’s now managed a 52 wRC+ in 180 plate appearances with the big club. Romero is still just 25-years old and only had one full season of Triple-A experience under his belt before breaking camp with the team this spring. He’s received below average grades for both base running and fielding according to FanGraphs and his fWAR on the year is -1.0, meaning even having a replacement level player take his spot on the roster would be an improvement. The second most likely candidate to face the roster crunch is James Jones as Jackson is expected to take over regular center field duties. Jones, also 25, burst on the scene when he was called up at the end of April and posted an impressive 101 wRC+ in May while hitting at the top of the order. He started to slide in June with a 76 wRC+ for the month before seemingly imploding in July with just five hits and a walk in his last 12 games and 48 plate appearances. Jones’ defence has been a work in progress this year and he definitely had his struggles at times, but a trip down to Tacoma to work on his defence and try and figure his offensive issues out could be very beneficial. Jones could still factor into the team’s plans in 2015 as he’s shown the ability to succeed in the big leagues, but needs to improve his game as a whole first. The pair of veterans everybody’s been wanting to see disappear, Corey Hart and Endy Chavez, are perhaps the least likely to be removed from the active roster, at least for right now. Hart’s had his struggles this year, there’s no questioning that, and between missing the entire 2013 season as well as an extended stretch in the first half recovering from a hamstring injury, it’s really been a disappointing season for the slugger. His wRC+ is now down to 72 after an 0-for-4 performance in tonight’s win, but he has started in right field three games in a row now. He’s still owed at least $3 million for the year — depending on how his incentives play out — so cutting him would be simply an exercise in opening up a roster spot as the M’s wouldn’t save any money in the process. The move could still happen, but it doesn’t seem imminent, yet. Chavez has seen far more at bats this year than anybody expected and he doesn’t have much to show for it. Often hitting at the top of the order, the seasoned veteran owns a 74 wRC+ in 173 plate appearances. He’s been below average in right field, but he’s essentially provided replacement level value with a -0.2 fWAR. Chavez hasn’t actually been that awful in his second stint with the Mariners, but if he was utilized as a No. 4 outfielder instead of a regular contributor it’s likely he would’ve provided more value. The 36-year old would hit the waiver wire in the event the M’s decided to designate him for assignment and it appears unlikely he’d accept an assignment to Triple-A, but I suppose it is possible. Simply replacing Romero and Jones with Denorfia and Jackson stands to make a potentially significant improvement to the club, and if Chavez ends up as the odd man out when Michael Saunders returns — possibly in two or three weeks time — one could suggest that the M’s would finally have a decent group of outfielders together. Between Dustin Ackley, who’s been swinging the bat very well this month, Jackson, and Saunders the club has a set of very competent defensive outfielders with a couple of decent bats to make use of in Denorfia and Hart. [pullquote]Since rejoining the Mariners lineup on July 25th Morales has just one hit in 21 plate appearances with a pair of runs batted in and one walk. His wRC+ in that time is -41.[/pullquote] The acquisition of Kendrys Morales should weigh in to the review of the Mariners trade deadline success, and in exchange for the three bats acquired, the team gave up nothing off of the big league roster and nothing of real significance to the future. As I mentioned earlier, Franklin has all the talent to be a very good player but it just wasn’t going to work out in Seattle for him. Almonte is an okay depth piece but he’s replaceable, as is Stephen Pryor. The M’s received some flack from Jeff Passon of Yahoo! Sports for being involved in the Price trade but not coming up with the player they had coveted for so long and the additions they did make only brought them back to mediocrity. Let’s look at the facts: Seattle was lukewarm at best when it came to including Taijuan Walker in a deal of any kind and didn’t have another comparable player to Drew Smyly to include in the deal. If the M’s offered Franklin, a Smyly-type of pitcher, and a third high-upside prospect they would’ve landed Price. The pieces simply didn’t meet up for the Rays and M’s, and I don’t believe that’s for lack of effort. I do agree that the return for Price may look slightly on the lighter side, but it was likely still more than the M’s should’ve been comfortable dealing at this point in time. Remember, this wasn’t a club that was one piece away from being a World Series contender. This is a club that was a couple pieces away from even being a serious playoff contender down the stretch, and paying a premium price for Lester, or any other rental, just doesn’t make sense for this club. General manager Jack Zduriencik did well to turn Franklin, an asset who had no opening within the organization, into Jackson who fills several holes on the club and is controllable for the 2015 season as well. If that was the only move Jack Z made, I would’ve been happy with the day. Adding another bat, albeit low impact, only helps improve the club further. As will the returns of Saunders and James Paxton. Again, even getting back to mediocrity in right and center field is still a boost considering how outstanding the entire pitching staff has been. Think of all those times the M’s had an opportunity to cash in an extra run or two but came up empty. Having Denorfia take the place of Romero, for example, on even a handful of those spots could net the team some extra wins, or at the very least the extending of an inning to create a better chance for victory. Bottom line, Jackson and Denorfia make the current roster better. In terms of true impact bats, there really was nothing available. I’m surprised the Philadelphia Phillies weren’t able to move Marlon Byrd, though their asking price sounded totally unrealistic, and that the Texas Rangers held on to Alex Rios as well. I don’t blame Seattle for passing on the $16 million that would be owed to Byrd for the next two seasons following this one, but I’d be curious to know why Rios didn’t end up getting dealt. There were several reports of trade talks occurring, but the Rangers obviously didn’t get an offer that they deemed to be worthwhile. Yoenis Cespedes was dealt today, and he would’ve been a huge addition to the Mariners, but look at the context: the Oakland Athletics were able to bolster their rotation even further with Lester and Jonny Gomes makes for an interesting addition as well. Not to mention the A’s re-acquisition of defensive specialist Sam Fuld as well which will help offset the loss of this year’s Home Run Derby Champion. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the A’s were going to move Cespedes this winter regardless since they didn’t feel they could lock him up to a long term deal before he reaches free agency just over a year from now, and decided to cash in now. Not to say that Oakland would or would not deal Cespedes within the division, but the Mariners simply didn’t match up well with the A’s. Who on the club is comparable to Lester and could actually be given up? I suppose there’s an argument that Hisashi Iwakuma could be of similar value though he’s not as good as Lester, but there’d be no reason for the M’s to deal him. Aside from Cespedes, there wasn’t another high impact bat traded today. The Mariners got better without hurting the future. That’s the biggest thing to takeaway from today, in my opinion. Zduriencik didn’t collapse under the pressure he faced and overpay for a player like Price. One could argue that Jack Z should’ve made the flashy acquisition, but I have no problem with the pair of moves made today since they improve on players like Romero and Jones who’s contributions have been sub-par, as well as the Morales acquisition from earlier. Seattle still has a solid chance to grab a Wild Card slot, and today they were able to improve their chances while a team like the Toronto Blue Jays did not. It’s going to be a fun next two months.Go!

The Seattle Mariners hit the halfway point of the 2014 season over the weekend. The club currently is a Wild Card leader, 1.5 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals. The M’s have done it with pitching, improved defense and timely hitting. We can talk for days about how the lineup needs a few upgrades, but the task at hand is assessing what’s occurred thus far. Grades do not reflect a player’s value to the team the way Wins Above Replacement is designed, but solely to place an appraisal on the player’s performance considering his role and expectations. Starting Pitching: B+ Despite the loss of James Paxton after just two starts, Hisashi Iwakuma for seven and Taijuan Walker not available for the entire first half, the Mariners’ rotation has been solid, ranking No. 9 in the league in FIP and No. 2 in innings pitched. The unit figures to get better with the return of Walker and getting Iwakuma a full slate of starts. If Paxton returns healthy, too, the Mariners will boast one of the top rotations in the circuit, led by the American League’s No. 1 ace King Felix Hernandez, a legit 1A in Iwakuma and three live arms in Paxton, Walker and Roenis Elias. There’s depth with Chris Young and the club is rumored to be seeking a mid-rotation veteran such as Jason Hammel or Brandon McCarthy. Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer can serve as emergency options, but both are better suited for the bullpen in the interim. Felix Hernandez: A+ Hernandez has never been better and not many have. He’s paced to top 10 fWAR for the first time in the American League since Pedro Martinez in 1999 and leads or is among the top 5 in innings, K/BB, FIP, strikeout percentage, batting average against, WHIP and ground ball percentage. Also, Hernandez leads the league in HR/9. He’s been ultra efficient, throwing fewer than 100 pitches per start (96.4) yet averaging more than seven innings per outing. He’s on a run through Sunday that includes nine straight starts going at least seven innings and yielding two runs or fewer and he ended June 3-1 with a 1.22 ERA and 54-6 K/BB in 44 1/3 innings. The M’s ace has had the great changeup and curveball in most starts, has commanded his fastball and sinker consistently and he’s used his slider in the right situations. Opposing batters have not figured out the right-hander, and that’s because he has to make a mistake to get hurt and he hasn’t made many at all. The King should be the starter in the All-Star game if the timing works out for him, with his only real competitor in terms of performance being Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees. As good as Hernandez was in 2010 when he won the Cy Young, he’s been better in 2014. Not many believed that was all that possible, but nobody that knows anything about King Felix is all that surprised, either. Hisashi Iwakuma: A- Iwakuma has been very good, sans his last two starts that could be partially blamed on a sore neck. He’s been efficient as usual, but his splitter is being challenged by left-handed batters; they’re laying off it and forcing Iwakuma to either throw it in the zone or use something else. Expect more fastballs and curveballs to lefty bats in the coming starts. Iwakuma’s the perfect No. 2 starter behind Hernandez, leading into Elias, Paxton and Walker, if the club gets healthy enough to see such a rotation. He’s as unique as any right-hander in baseball in terms of his delivery, deception and stuff and his slider has been a better weapon this season than last, explaining his dominance over right-handed batters — .209/.241/.351. He’ll get back to his usual eight-inning self soon enough, warranting many of his third-place Cy Young votes from a year ago. Roenis Elias: B+ Elias has been more consistent and effective than anyone could have expected. Despite his age — 25 — he’s inexperienced in the states but his athleticism shouts every start and his pithcability is well beyond that of most rookies. Elias may own one of top few left-handed curveballs in the American League and his changeup is better now than in April. Fastball command is a focal point for the second half, as is the Cuban’s workload, which currently is paced for nearly 210 innings. I’d imagine the M’s will try and suppress his innings after the All-Star break, perhaps even skipping a few starts and spreading out his innings and limiting Elias to 180-190 for the year. Chris Young: B Like Elias, Young has performed beyond all expectations considering his history of shoulder problems. He’s doing it with angles, mixing his pitches and above-average command of his two breaking balls. Young, too, may be a candidate for some workload relief at some point after taking the ball 15 consecutive times through the rotation while tallying 91 1/3 innings and 1465 pitches along the way. The right-hander hasn’t thrown more than 1847 pitches in any season since 2007 and hasn’t surpassed the 115-inning mark since the same season. Erasmo Ramirez: D- The only thing stopping Ramirez from getting a straight ‘F’ is his last four outings. In those starts he’s failed to go deep into games, but he’s allowed just two earned runs in those 20 innings and has surrendered just one home run. He’s lost his above-average control, however, issuing 16 bases on balls in that span, and I’m still concerned that his dropped arm slot is ultimately a problem. The stuff has returned but Ramirez has always been a strike thrower. Until now. James Paxton: INCTaijuan Walker: INC Paxton has made just two starts — two very good ones — and Walker did not see the majors in the first half. Walker’s return inserts a fairly fresh arm into the rotation — he’s totaled just 30 2/3 innings on rehab — and if he’s on his game will be an easy, significant upgrade over what the Mariners had been getting from Ramirez and Maurer. Paxton may be on his way back, too, but both remain INCOMPLETES until they make numerous starts. Bullpen: A+ The Mariners relief corps led all of the American League in ERA (2.59), holds (45) and FIP (3.16) through the first half. They ranked No. 3 in K/BB percentage, No. 2 in strikeout rate and led the AL in LOB percentage at 80.3, perhaps the most critical job of middle relievers and setup arms. With Maurer joining the unit, at least for the short term, the club has four wipeout options to go to after the fifth inning. Fernando Rodney: A At times it’s like a ride at the state fair, but Rodney has done the job and then some. Never mind the saves (23), just look at the strikeout rate (27.1 percent) and FIP (2.44), as well as a strong LOB rate of 78.8 percent. He’s avoided the home run ball and induced nearly 50 percent ground balls. Rodney has lengthened the Mariners bullpen and allowed the club to go other premium arms in high leverage roles while never burning their last option. Danny Farquhar: B+ Farquhar has been good, yet not quite as dominant as he was after being called up last season. He’s still punching out batters at better than one per inning — 9.87/9 to be exact — but the walks still are up and the ground balls are down. He’s been terrific, however, stranding runners — 80.1 percent — and has introduced during the first half a more two-seamer heavy arsenal that figures to be better for him in the long run. For the record, that’s why his average fastball is down to 93.4 mph from the 94.6 he posted a year ago. When he throws the fastball, it’s more often the two-seam variety than the four-seam. Fewer walk-driven appearances get Farquhar an ‘A’ by season’s end and we’re likely to see him mix in the changeup a little more than the 2.2 percent usage over the first half. Dom Leone: A- Leone, who is similar to Farquhar in that he’s a fastball-cutter reliever, differs in the breaking ball — slider versus Farquhar’s curveball — and in what he attempts to do with his fastball. He’s sat 93-95 mph with his heater, often keeping it down and generating some ground balls. He doesn’t use his cutter as much as Farquhar, instead opting for more four-seamers, often above the 95 mph mark and up in the zone. He’s throwing strikes and has adapted well to being used a little more often this season in the majors than he ever was in the minors. Leone never was used on back-to-back days before Lloyd McClendon went to him two straight days in Houston in early May, and again in Oakland on the same road trip. In all, he’s done so on five occasions, failing twice, then doing the job the final three times. Yoervis Medina: A- Medina’s season numbers don’t tell the story of his first half all that well. He walked 12 batters in 22 innings through May but has issued but two in June while striking out seven in 7 2/3 innings. The slider has been sharp and he’s throwing his changeup here and there over his last few appearances, flashing another plus pitch. If Medina is able to command his fastball this way on a regular basis, he’s no longer just a seventh-inning arm. If the changeup becomes a real weapon with consistency on top of that, and we’re talking about a solid eight-inning reliever who can occasionally close. Tom Wilhelmsen: C+ Wilhelmsen’s work on his fastball command is coming along well, but while the bite is mostly back on his once-devastating curveball, he’s still inconsistent with it at its release point. He’s thrown more two-seam fastballs since early May and has even toyed with a cutter-slider at 86-88 mph. His change still is a pitch he’s throwing more than he needs to, in my estimation, but despite his 4.52 BB/9, the former closer has been a useful piece in the Mariners’ bullpen, often covering multiple innings. At times he shows glimpses of his former self, but just as often he’s allowing baserunners and remains susceptible to the home run ball when behind in the count. Brandon Maurer: INC It’s two outings, so remember the qualifier here, but Maurer has sat 94-96 mph, touching as high as 99 and showing his put-away slider at 88-91 and a solid changeup in those three innings, which were very similar to his short stint out of the bullpen in Tacoma before being recalled. Maurer hasn’t walked a batter in his new role, has fanned six of the 10 he’s faced and it hasn’t come against the San Diego Padres. He gets an incomplete grade for obvious reasons — he’d get an ‘F’ as a starter — but there’s a chance he receives an ‘A’ coming out of the bullpen if the club keeps him up beyond his current stint and status level. Joe Beimel: B Beimel is such a perfect fit in the M’s bullpen it’s laughable to compare him to any of the other arms, including the other southpaw. The veteran doesn’t strike out a lot of batters — just 15.4 percent of the batters he’s faced — and actually Beimel is walking more batters than the club would prefer at 3.16 per nine innings. But he hides the ball well, gets ground balls — 49.3 percent) and strands runners at a rate that suggests he’s an elite reliever (87.5 percent). Beimel hasn’t allowed a home run to anyone and left-handed batters have just seven hits and a walk in 48 plate appearances (.183). Furthermore, Beimel has yielded but two extra-base hits to lefties. Right-handed batters have managed a .313/.403/.404 line against him, however, which has been fairly typical of his career splits. Charlie Furbush: B+ Furbush has recovered from a poor first five weeks of the season to return to the dominant lefty he was a year ago. Since May 5, Furbush has allowed 10 hits in 15 frames, striking out 16 batters and issuing just two bases on balls. Opponents are batting just .189 off him in that span, and left-handed batters are just 4-for-30 off him since May 13. Furbush gets the added “+” for holding righties to a .240/.327/.396 line, making him useful in the middle innings beyond the left-on-left matchups. Lineup — Offense | Defense: C+ The Mariners are scoring but four runs per game, which is No. 11 in the American League, but Safeco Field is responsible for a little of that and the trends suggest the club has at least a shot to improve at the plate organically, largely with Brad Miller’s June turnaround and the signs that Logan Morrison may be an upgrade to either Corey Hart or Justin Smoak, if not both. There’s also the chance that Hart and/or Smoak can contribute better than they were, with Hart the more likely candidate to do so, particularly versus left-handed pitching. But the half is over and the grades for it stand alone. James Jones: C+ Jones has sacrificed some of his natural power for a shorter swing more engineered for contact. It’s showing in his .275 average, but he’s not drawing walks — just nine in over 200 plate appearances — and the power is pretty much nonexistent as suggested by his IsoP of .064. He’s played a sound center field and is a plus on the bases, however, and combined with his contact rates that have helped him produce something remotely passable at the top of the lineup, earning him a passing grade overall. Michael Saunders: B- Saunders would receive a B+ if he were able to stay healthy, in rhythm and producing consistently. Some of that wasn’t his fault or even the bad luck of an injury as McClendon sat him for the better part of April. Still, the 27-year-old has been a solid defender and baserunner and his .266/.310/.424 triple-slash is the third-best on the roster. He’s been even better on the road — .298/.330/.447 — and brings lineup versatility, as he’s capable of performing at the top or the bottom of the order. Robinson Cano: A- Despite a lack of ideal power as is standard of Cano’s game, he’s producing at the plate, defending and leading, and the value of his presence in the lineup everyday cannot be understated. Cano isn’t Safeco proof thus far, but he’s hit three of his five long balls in Seattle and the more those around him in the lineup produce the more power he’ll display. Kyle Seager: A- Seager is becoming a verb. Yes, a verb. The third baseman is batting .357/.425/.657 at Safeco Field this season and .277/.347/.490 overall. He ranks No. 2 among American League third basemen in home runs with 12, RBI with 55 and is No. 3 in on-base percentage. If clutch is your thing, Seager is batting .319/.380/.611 with runners in scoring position and .309/.380/.680 after the sixth inning. The dude is deserving of an all-star nod, and the love affair fans have with big names such as Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria shouldn’t keep him away from Target Field next month. Justin Smoak: D- Smoak’s saved from an ‘F’ grade because he plays above-average defense and most of all because he tried to play hurt since late April. That isn’t to say he would have been ‘good’ if he didn’t get hurt, but for a big guy like Smoak, a pulled quad is quite restricting at the plate. I still believe his ceiling as a hitter is a .240/.320/.430 type bat who is a decent bet to perform decently as a platoon hitter versus right-handed pitching, but he has to be graded on what he’s done at the plate through the first 81 games and that isn’t much. Corey Hart: INC Hart was pretty solid in April, posting a .337 on-base percentage and .453 slugging, then scuffled in May before succumbing to a hamstring pull that forced him to the disabled list six weeks ago. There’s more hope for Hart than for Smoak, but he’ll have to stay healthy if the M’s are going to benefit from his abilities to hit for power, get on base some and stabilize the lineup after Cano. Logan Morrison: INC Like Hart, Morrison hasn’t played enough — just 26 games — to grade him fairly, but his recent emergence is promising. After starting the year 3-for-20 then hitting the disabled list, Morrison is batting .258/.309/.484 with four home runs. There’s a track record of production under his name and he appears unfazed by Safeco Field where he’s batting .265/.315/.469 for the year. Brad Miller: C- Miller has flipped the table on his season, batting .302 since May 29, cleaning up his defense at shortstop and getting to a few balls some shortstops can’t. His season numbers remain ugly but he’s been solid for four weeks now and his peripherals support his continuing to produce, including better contact rates, more hits to center field and left field and the maintaining of his power as he improves his average and on-base marks. Mike Zunino: A Zunino is the youngest regular catcher in all of baseball and has proven he can hit for power, call a game, receive, block and throw at above-average levels. He ranks No. 1 in baseball in stealing strikes and No. 8 in giving away the least number of strikes. Hes also thrown out 15 runners attempting to steal a base. Yes, he strikes out a lot — 33.2 percent of his PAs — and he doesn’t walk — 4.0 percent — but the pop is real and growing and he’s irreplaceable behind the plate. Dustin Ackley: F Ackley appears to have taken fairly well to left field after a rough first few weeks of this season, but with the exception of a few solid weeks in April, Ackley has been as bad as he’s ever been. He went .221/.287/.395 in May and in June he actually got worse, posting a .173/.244/.227 line. He’s making contact more than ever and still walking at an acceptable 7.3 percent rate, but his line drive percentage is down to 17.2 and he’s hitting more fly balls, including infield pop ups. It remains my belief that until he’s willing and/or able to avoid opening up his front side so early and with such torque, he will not hit with any consistency. Endy Chavez: INC Chavez hasn’t been up long enough to grade, really, but like Jones the acceptable batting average is empty — no on-base percentage and no power — and he doesn’t bring the speed and defense element in the same fashion. Bench: D+ This group includes the backup catcher, a pair of right-handed hitting outfielder who do not play with any sort of regularity or consistency and the club’s utility player. The ‘D+’ grade is mostly due to usage, but it does include the poor performances of the group as a whole. Willie Bloomquist: C- Bloomquist is batting .275/.292/.353 in limited duty and he’s actually played an adequate second base, shortstop and third base — and occasional outfield — when asked to do so. He’s had a great June (.348/.375/.435) after an awful May (.172/.167/.310) but is a useful piece on the roster and appears to be settling into McClendon’s preferred role for him. John Buck: C- I believe Buck needs to play a little more the second half of the year so the club doesn’t burn out Zunino. Buck has started just 17 games at catcher despite being a decent enough receiver. This lack of time certainly has impacted his offensive production, which has always been limited to power and nothing in terms of on-base percentage. He has, however, drawn eight walks in 84 plate appearances this season, where Zunino has 11 in 254 trips to the batter’s box. Stefen Romero: D+ Again, this grade is blamed on the club’s usage of him as much as anything else. It’s difficult for any hitter to get his timing down when he starts just 29 games in three months, let alone when it’s a rookie. Romero can hit — perhaps not quite enough to warrant regular time in a corner outfield spot on a contending team, but he can hit. The M’s just optioned him to Tacoma where he will play everyday and likely see the big club later in the summer. Romero did show he can handle left and right field, however, going from downright bad a year ago to passable in April to closing in on fringe-average the last 30 innings or so. Cole Gillespie: C+ Gillespie has used his experience to find a way to produce in the same role Romero has struggled. The 30-year-old is batting .257/.316/.329 in 33 games and has managed a .364 OBP versus left-handed pitching, which is when McClendon would like to use him most. He’s an above-average runner and average defender in left or right and is making contact — just 13 whiffs in 77 plate appearances. He’s even swiped two bags and is working the count well — 4.22 pitches per plate appearance. Lloyd McClendon | Field Staff: PASS While it’s impossible to truly evaluate the performance of a manager, bench coach, pitching coach, hitting coach, et al, it’s quite clear the staff has hit the right buttons more often than not. The depth of their teachings, leadership and decisions has reached the rotation (Young, Elias) bullpen (Wilhelmsen, Medina, Furbush), and the regular lineup where the one can argue Miller is hitting now partly because of the manner in which the staff chose to manage him during his slump. Furthermore, losing streaks do not appear to faze this roster, despite their relative inexperience and an overall lack of offensive talent and production. Front Office: INC The personnel folks made their mark signing Cano, Rodney and Hart and flipping Carter Capps for Logan Morrison. Some of those have worked, some haven’t, at least not yet. But the addition of Chris Young has been huge, as has the call-up of Dom Leone when the M’s decided it was no longer worth waiting out Hector Noesi. The grade remains incomplete for the season, however, since all but one of those moves was made before the season began. Jack Zduriencik and his staff will earn their grade over the next 60 days, as the non-waiver (July 31) and waiver (August 31) trade deadlines come and go. Overall: B- The team has pitched well from first pitch to final out, played very solid defense and has hit well with runners in scoring position (.266/.330/.434). They’re also one of the top five clubs in the league at getting in a runner from third base and fewer than two outs. Doing both of the aforementioned things well helps make up for the fact that they place fewer runners in scoring position and they get fewer runners to third base with less than two outs than do most other clubs. Whether or not they can keep up that pace remains to be seen, but the roster isn’t going to get worse from here on out, it’s going to get better, even if Zduriencik and his staff are unable to add a significant piece by the trade deadlines. Remember back in February and March when all fans wanted from the Seattle Mariners in 2014 was to avoid being virtually eliminated by the All-Star break and to have some meaningful games in August and perhaps even September? When the city just begged for jokes about the club being historically awful for a decade would subside for once and that the sun just shine down on the Emerald City Nine just a little bit? It’s all happening. And it may not stop there.Go!

It’s official: Taijuan Walker will make his 2014 debut for the Seattle Mariners on Monday night when the club opens a three-game set against the Houston Astros. After Erasmo Ramirez was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma on Wednesday, the promotion of the M’s top prospect appeared to be imminent, but it was not confirmed by manager Lloyd McClendon until Sunday. Outfielder Stefen Romero was sent down in the corresponding roster move which means right-hander Brandon Maurer  will remain with the big club in his new bullpen role for the time being. Walker, 22 in August, was expected to start the year in the M’s rotation after a strong 2013 campaign split between Double-A and Triple-A and a trio of major league starts in September. However, the right-hander has been battling a myriad of shoulder issues since late February when an MRI revealed inflammation in his throwing shoulder, which McClendon described at the time as “nothing serious”. Obviously, as four months have passed without a major league start for the top prospect, the situation was very serious, but it looks like Walker has finally come back to full health and put those struggles behind him. The consensus was that Seattle would be in no hurry to promote their No. 1 prospect back to the big leagues after the club elected to option him to Triple-A upon his activation from the disabled list earlier in June instead of adding him to the major league roster. That move looks like it has paid off as Walker has allowed just four earned runs across 20 and 2/3 innings in his last three starts for the Rainiers including a complete-game shutout in his last outing. That shutout probably had more to do with Walker’s recall than Ramirez’s control issues did since the club appeared committed to ensuring their top prospect was completely ready for a return to major league action. Perhaps the brain trust had pencilled in another minor league start or two for the 21-year old in case things didn’t go quite so well for him during Wednesday’s start, but his dominating 109-pitch performance was likely enough for them to determine Walker’s next start should be against major league hitters. The Astros may not feature a plethora of All-Star calibre batsmen, but their lineup definitely isn’t as futile as it’s been in year’s past due with the like of Jose Altuve and George Springer now playing key roles. On the opposite end of the Walker call-up, Romero was optioned to Triple-A after an 0-for-3 performance in the M’s 3-0 win over the Cleveland Indians on Sunday. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill opined on Saturday that Seattle should keep the extra arm, Maurer, in the bullpen and send Romero down to make room for the impending call-up, and the move really does make sense. Although the M’s bullpen has actually thrown the seventh fewest innings in the majors entering Sunday’s games with 229, it certainly doesn’t hurt to keep the resurgent Maurer on board considering Felix Hernandez has now thrown 128 and 1/3 innings and Roenis Elias is at 104 and 2/3 innings and it’s not even the All-Star break yet. Not that there’s any reason to slow down Felix all that much at the moment since he’s been exceptionally dominant this year and has pitched eight or more innings on six occasions after one-hitting the Indians in eight innings on Sunday. But for the 25-year old Elias who threw only 130 innings in Double-A last year after 148 and 1/3 innings of work at Single-A High Desert in 2012, it’s possible the team may want to suppress his total innings this year around the 180 mark if at all possible — though that’s complete speculation on my part. Nevertheless, Maurer has certainly impressed in his first two relief appearances in which he has allowed just one hit in three innings while striking out six. He could also potentially serve as a long man in the bullpen for the moment as his previous experience as a starter should allow him to give the M’s three innings of relief work if it’s necessary. Again, that’s more speculation on my end. There’s really no reason to not give the experiment more time to see if Maurer can be an effective piece out of the bullpen for the club this year. Keeping the extra pitcher does leave the M’s with a short bench, but the quartet or John Buck, Cole Gillespie, Willie Bloomquist, and Endy Chavez are at the very least satisfactory for right now. Of course one of the four will find themselves in the lineup everyday while the designated hitter role remains vacant. For what it’s worth, both Corey Hart and Justin Smoak are currently on rehab assignments and could be ready for activation by the end of the coming week though nothing is certain just yet. Back to Romero, who returns to the minors after posting a  .196/.236/.324 line with a 53 wRC+ in 159 plate appearances so far this year in his first taste of major league action. He did manage to hit three home runs, six doubles, and two triples in that time, but he walked just four time compared to 40 strikeouts. As I’ve mentioned previously, the 25-year old appeared to be overmatched at the big league level at times and considering he only had 411 plate appearances at the Triple-A level prior to making the club out of Spring Training this year, it’s not entirely surprising since he wasn’t considered to be an exceptional talent. Romero did provide the M’s with a right-handed bat to balance a very left-handed heavy lineup, but he managed to hit just .204 with a 48 wRC+ in 98 plate appearances against left-handed pitching. Unfortunately the argument for keeping the former 12th-round draft pick with the big league club as a platoon option holds little ground as he actually hit slightly better against right-handed pitching: a .192 average with a 71 wRC+ and two of his three home runs on the year. Not much is lost for the young outfielder, however, who entered the year as the Mariners’ No. 12 best prospect according to Churchill in this year’s edition of the Prospect Insider Handbook. An excerpt from Jason’s scouting report on Romero: “His major league average bat speed works, but does limit him to medium power overall. He makes consistent contact and is best served at covering the plate and hitting liners to all fields.” Romero goes down to Tacoma to work the kinks out, and Taijuan Walker makes his long awaited season debut for the Seattle Mariners. The bullpen’s been strong, and although they could use another one in a bad way, the bats are coming around and the team boasts a plus-50 run differential which is one of the best in all of baseball. If the M’s rotation can get the boost that Walker can potentially add, and that needed bat comes into play, games in late August could be meaningful again for the first time in far too long.Go!

As we pass the midway mark of June, the Seattle Mariners still sit above the .500 mark despite a struggling offence and a pitching staff that’s held together by a couple of surprise performers. There should be some reinforcements on the way however, as Corey Hart and Michael Saunders appear close to being sent out on rehab assignments and Justin Smoak began his on Wednesday night. Starter Taijuan Walker looks like he’s nearly ready to make his season debut with the big club as well after being activated from the disabled list last week and sent to Tacoma. But, with every player activated from the disabled list or called up, another has to be removed from the active roster to make room. Let’s take a look at a few players who may find themselves on the outside looking in as others begin to make their returns. Stefen Romero — OF/DH The 25-year old outfielder seems like the most likely candidate to be sent down once Saunders returns now that Logan Morrison is back from injury. Romero is now the owner of a .197 batting average on the year after picking up a double on Tuesday, bringing his hit total up to 26. At times this year the right-hander has looked overmatched and considering the fact he only has 411 plate appearances at Triple-A under his belt, it could very well be true. Combine his lack of upper minor experience with the fact he’s mostly assumed the role of designated hitter when he’s been in the M’s lineup consistently, and there’s reason to believe he may simply be struggling with all the adjustments he’s had to make. As is the case with most young players, the chance to re-focus and play everyday at Triple-A for a while could be just what Romero needs, although he does possess the right-handed bat that manager Lloyd McClendon seems to covet for the M’s roster. Endy Chavez — OF The veteran joined Seattle for a second tour of duty this year, but probably hasn’t produced enough to justify keeping him on the roster for much longer. Perhaps the biggest factor in Chavez’s favour is that should the M’s decide he’s the odd man out, they would likely designate him for assignment and end up losing him unless he’s alright with being sent back down to Triple-A. Although letting the 36-year old go would hurt the M’s outfield depth slightly, they really wouldn’t be losing much. At this point in his career Chavez isn’t much more than a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch-runner, and his 47 wRC+ across 55 plate appearances this season provides clear evidence that his offensive abilities are all but gone. Not to take away from Chavez however, as he seems to be a fairly well respected guy in the clubhouse and has provided some timely contributions at the top of the lineup this year, but realistically his loss wouldn’t be decimating in the least. Jesus Montero — DH This could be an interesting case. We’ve all heard the drama that has surrounded Montero over the last year — from his Biogenesis suspension to his lack of conditioning entering Spring Training — but he has managed to put up a decent .270/.345/.455 line in 255 plate appearances with Tacoma and has already popped a home run since being recalled. He does have a career 134 wRC+ against left handed pitching, but he’s essentially limited to designated hitter duties and offers little if any value elsewhere. And does the team really want to carry two designated hitters once Hart is back on the roster? Well, at least the previous regime did. Nevertheless, Montero can still be optioned back to Tacoma and that appears to be a likely scenario barring an offensive outburst in the next week. Logan Morrison — 1B/OF/DH This is another interesting case as Morrison has only been back with the big league club for a week after a lengthy rehab assignment. He has 3 hits in 19 plate appearances since returning and his season line now sits at a paltry .146/.222/.244 but it’s hard to really make much of his 2014 season yet with only a 15 game sample size. I’d be surprised if LoMo was sent down to make room on the roster since he’s actually been hitting the ball fairly well in the past week — it seems like every night he’s hit a ball to the warning track — and it’s not as if Smoak and Romero have done enough to take all of the first base and DH at-bats away from Morrison. Erasmo Ramirez — SP It seems to be a forgone conclusion that once Walker is ready to make his return Ramirez will be sent back down to Triple-A. This much shouldn’t be a surprise however, as both Roenis Elias and Chris Young have done enough to hang on to their rotation spots at least until James Paxton is ready to return. Despite not giving up a run in his previous two starts, Ramirez’s ERA still sits at 5.27 and his FIP at 5.77 for the year. One could even argue that it was just by luck that Ramirez didn’t yield a run in those two starts as he walked a total of nine batters in the nine and two-thirds innings he pitched. Control issues have plagued the right-hander this season and he has only managed to last six or more innings in three of his nine starts. There’s still work to do for the 24-year old, and perhaps it’s not time to give up on him entirely, yet. For my money, Chavez and Romero will eventually find themselves as the odd ones out once Saunders and Smoak are back on the roster, and I’d also be willing to guess that it’ll be Montero getting sent down once Hart returns. I’m not convinced that the club has seen enough from Morrison yet and Cole Gillespie has actually been a decent fourth outfielder for the club this year. Although Gillespie hasn’t provided anything particularly special in his first year with Seattle, he does own an 81 wRC+ for the season and has been just slightly below average in the field and on the base paths according to FanGraphs. It’s probably in both parties’ best interest to have Romero see some time at Triple-A in the near future and like it was mentioned previously, losing Chavez isn’t all that big of a deal anyway. Romero does appear to have a skill set that could potentially become useful down the road or perhaps he could be a fill-in piece in a trade to acquire a bat or another starter. Whatever the case, sitting on the bench or going 0-for-4 when he does play isn’t beneficial for the young outfielder.Go!

The Seattle Mariners picked up journeyman outfielder and occasional first baseman Xavier Nady on a minor league deal on Tuesday according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. He became a free agent two weeks ago after being designated for assignment by the San Diego Padres who had signed him to a minor league deal prior to the start of the 2014 season. In 42 plate appearances with the Padres this year, Nady owns a .135/.238/.405 line and an 82 wRC+. He also has hit three home runs on the year, two of which came at the notoriously pitcher friendly Petco Park. The 35-year old has never been anything special as a hitter, but does have a 3.0 fWAR season under his belt when he hit .305/.357/.510 with 25 home runs in 2008 and a career 112 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. Nady spent the entire 2013 campaign in the minor leagues and hasn’t seen semi-regular major league action since 2011 when he was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. According to Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune, he’ll report to Triple-A Tacoma where the Mariners will presumably take some time to assess what he can provide to an offence that’s in need of a boost — especially on the right-handed side of things. It’s unfair to expect much out of Nady at this point in his career as he joins a new organization for the ninth time, but at least he provides another option on a very slim depth chart. Nady should represent an upgrade over Cole Gillespie on the major league roster as he’s proven to be the superior hitter in terms of both power and ability to get on base. Gillespie’s measly career 29 wRC+ against left-handed pitching has strongly limited the number of situations he’d potentially be useful in. Neither player offers much value on the defensive side of the ball, although UZR views Gillespie as an average defender in a limited 92 game sample for his career. Considering both players are essentially at the sample point on the organizational depth chart, one could argue that Gillespie, 29, has age on his side, but given Nady’s 104 career home runs and 99 wRC+, it’s easy to point to him as the superior option at the moment if the roster spot were to come down to a choice between the pair. For what it’s worth, both are right-handed hitters, making that a non-factor. On the other hand, the club has Stefen Romero sitting on the bench in the fifth outfielder/pinch-hitter role when he probably would be better served seeing regular playing time at Triple-A. The 25-year old now has 112 plate appearances on the season and his .194/.245/.320 line suggests he may be overmatched against major league pitching right now. Prior to tonight’s tilt with the Los Angels Angels, Romero had appeared in the designated hitter role for the past five games while Corey Hart has been on the disabled list and during that time he’s managed just a pair of hits; both came last Thursday against the Houston Astros. After a couple weeks away from game action it’s unlikely that Nady would be ready for the majors immediately and barring an emergency situation, the club will likely look to get him some at bats before potentially calling him up to take the place of one of the previously mentioned outfielders currently on the roster as. By no means does the signing mean anything’s inevitable — after all, the Padres did cut Nady loose for several reasons — but there’s definitely no harm in adding another piece that may be useful at some point down the road. In other news, pitcher James Paxton encountered a setback in his rehab process after an MRI revealed inflammation in his left shoulder on Tuesday after he felt sore the day after his minor league rehab start on Saturday. He’s expected to be shut down for the next week and the club will determine his next step at that point in time. Taijuan Walker is scheduled to start for the Tacoma Rainiers on Wednesday night and is slated to throw approximately 70-75 pitches according to Dutton. With Paxton’s setback, the pair of injured hurlers are approximately back on the same timeline after it looked like the left-hander was a step closer to a return before his setback — both pitchers could be back in the major league rotation around mid-June if everything goes well from here on out.Go!

Nearly one month after being sent down to Triple-A after a brief stint with the big league club, Nick Franklin finds himself back in a Seattle Mariner uniform once again after Corey Hart hit the disabled list. The top prospect has already managed to make his presence felt in the lineup during Tuesday’s 6-2 win over the Texas Rangers, going 2-3 with a run scored and a run batted in. The right-hander was also hit by a pitch and stole a base while taking Hart’s place as the designated hitter role. As we heard the last time Franklin was called up, if he’s going to stick around in the majors, he’s going to be playing often and sitting on the bench as little as possible. This time around, there probably won’t be much of a problem with slotting the youngster in the lineup everyday so long as he’s producing. Hart was officially placed on the disabled list Tuesday with a grade-two hamstring strain and is expected to be out for four to six weeks. It’s an unfortunate case for the right-hander who has seen some struggles so far during his tenure as a Mariner, but barring a setback, he should be able to return to the lineup by the All-Star break. Perhaps the optimist’s approach to the injury is that it finally allows Seattle an opportunity to bring up the the owner of a .376/.481/.633 minor league line this year and immediately place him into the lineup –more on Brad Miller and the shortstop situation shortly. Franklin is expected to see some time at shortstop, outfield, DH, and possibly second base if Robinson Cano is assuming designated hitter duties. Much has been made of Miller’s struggles so far in 2014, and many have called for Franklin’s call-up and a demotion for the incumbent to come in short order. The M’s seem willing to let their struggling shortstop try and work his way out of it — at least for a little while longer — but there’s no doubt that having Franklin on the active roster makes the possibility of Miller seeing less playing time and a possible demotion all that more realistic should the struggles continue. Certainly there’s the potential that Franklin’s presence alone could help Miller snap out of his funk considering his everyday job could be on the line here, and that’d be especially true of Franklin continues to hit. Miller currently has just two hits alongside five walks in his last seven games which should be considered a positive, but there’s no doubt that the pressure is rising as each day passes. How much longer Miller will hold on to the starting job is unknown at this point, but one has to wonder when the club’s breaking point is with him will be. He’s reportedly been doing all the right things as far as most can tell — extra batting practice, one-on-one time with hitting coach Howard Johnson, and taking extra reps at short — but things simply haven’t translated into on-field production. If it’s a case where the problem is between the ears, it only gets more difficult to diagnose the problem and find some sort of solution. But, it is easy to forget that the calendar has yet to strike June so there’s certainly plenty of time for Miller to figure things out and start playing like he was expected to when he won the job in the spring. Although the M’s have downplayed the possibility of transitioning Franklin into an everyday outfield role the same way they did with Dustin Ackley, it may be the most realistic long term solution if the club plans to keep him in blue and teal beyond this season. The 23-year old Franklin has made a handful of minor league appearances in the outfield this season and started a game in his previous big league cameo, so it’s likely he’ll have an opportunity to start there in the next week. There’s no reason to break up the combination of James Jones and Michael Saunders at the top of the order unless necessary — the pair are also the club’s best defensive outfielders — which makes it possible that Franklin could start in left field with Ackley taking designated hitter duties for the game. The M’s are starting a stretch of 16 consecutive games, so it’s definitely possible that Saunders or Jones could receive an off-day during that period in which Franklin could slot in. The last time Franklin was with the big league club he saw a start at second base with Cano as the club’s designated hitter so we can assume that’s a possibility over the next two weeks as well should the club wish to give their superstar a day off in the field. It’s also worth noting that the club still has Stefen Romero and Cole Gillespie on the roster so finding them some at bats here and there could be factors in how often Franklin plays as well. Of course Gillespie, 29, is essentially nothing more than organizational depth at this point and hasn’t produce very much in the opportunities he has gotten. Romero on the other hand has seen fairly regular playing time up to this point in the season and will likely get some time at DH during Hart’s absence as well given the glut of outfielders currently on the roster. In 29 games this season Romero owns a 67 wRC+ and has a pair of home runs under his belt, so his presence in the lineup isn’t likely a priority at this point. Whatever the case may be, it’ll be an interesting next couple of weeks as the M’s lineup sees more fluctuation than usual. Considering Miller reached base twice and scored a run on Tuesday his odds of starting on Wednesday  have probably increased — although nothing is certain just yet — but it’s conceivable that he makes a start in the infield within the next week. Manager Lloyd McClendon described Franklin as “not a typical DH” so penciling him in as the regular designated hitter at the moment would be premature, although it would cause the least disruption to the lineup. I would expect to see some sort of informal rotation through the DH spot over the next week or so as LMC feels out the best way to use his assortment of players and integrate Franklin into the lineup regularly. But it doesn’t appear to be as difficult to find the youngster plenty of opportunities to play this time around. It’s worth mentioning that Logan Morrison could be sent out on a rehab assignment as early as the end of the week and his impending return stands to crowd the roster further.Go!

Under GM Jack Zduriencik and scouting director Tom McNamara the Seattle Mariners have drafted well. Among the selections that have made some sort of contributions in the majors include starting third baseman Kyle Seager, regular left fielder Dustin Ackley, starting shortstop Brad Miller (No. 62, 2011) starting catcher Mike Zunino (No. 3, 2012), two frontline starting pitchers in James Paxton (Rd. 4, 2010) and Taijuan Walker (Comp A, No. 43, 2010), with Stefen Romero (Rd. 12, 2010) and Dom Leone (Rd. 16, 2012) also seeing big-league time. Others include Stephen Pryor (Rd. 5, 2010), Carter Capps (Rd. 3, 2011) and Nick Franklin, No. 27, 2009). You can certainly argue that Ackley hasn’t worked out — because he hasn’t — and that the injury to 2011 No. 2 overall pick Danny Hultzen mean those selections weren’t the wisest. Ackley, however, was the consensus No. 2 player in that draft. Overall, the M’s have put together a solid group of draft classes since Zduriencik and McNamara came aboard prior to the 2009 season. The Seager pick in Round 3 in 2009, among their better picks, is a fun story. As the club’s pick approached at No. 82 overall, the second pick in the round, McNamara asked his scouts in the draft room “where do we have Seager?!” One of the crosscheckers pointed and replied, “right here,” pointing to their board and saying “fifth round.” McNamara took a second to think and then said with confidence, “we’re taking him right here.” Now, picture the draft room at Safeco Field, much like the draft rooms shown on TV for the NFL Draft. After a pick, the group shakes hands, smiles widely, some high-five, even in the middle or later rounds. After McNamara announced Seager was the pick, he went looking for those celebratory high-fives. There weren’t any. He’d gone off the board and as a group they had Seager a fifth-round talent. He laughs about it now, since Seager has been a terrific value and reached the majors inside of two years since signing. That pick has certainly worked out well, and there are several similar choices, such as getting Walker at No. 43 in 2010, Romero in Round 12 and Paxton in Round 4 that same year. All are very good picks that appear to be huge values, especially considering where they were taken. What has not happened under this regime, however, is the drafting of a true star player. I’m not talking about a superstar, necessarily. How about a player that makes some All-Star teams and is above-average early in his career? They missed out on the chance to draft right-hander Stephen Strasburg and couldn’t reach for Mike Trout in ’09, did not have a pick until 43 in 2010, and went for the quicker return in 2011 with Hultzen — which obviously hasn’t worked out so well. Even if it had, and Hultzen was doing his thing, he’s not an ace and really never had the ace-type potential clubs generally prefer that high in a solid-to-good draft. Zunino, in terms of value, could be a star. In terms of raw production, however, the Mariners don’t have that guy anywhere in their organization, and they need to get that guy at No. 6 this June. Getting a future star doesn’t mean they have to take a high school position player. It doesn’t mean they have to take a hitter at all. If they select a pitcher, the end-result needs to be a No. 1 starter. A star. Whether it’s East Carolina right-hander Jeff Hoffman, Vanderbilt ace Tyler Beede or a prep arm such as Tyler Kolek or Brady Aiken, who are unlikely to get out of the top 3-4 picks, the M’s need to nail that pick. The 2014 draft class is solid, led by the prep pitching class followed by the college arms. Few college hitters will garner top-10 consideration sans a pre-draft deal that saves the club pool money. San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer, North Carolina State shortstop Trea Turner and Oregon State outfielder Michael Comforto are the top college position players in the class. The top high school hitter is Rancho Bernardo High School (Calif.) C/OF Alex Jackson, a right-handed hitter with power, strength and enough athleticism to handle right field if he has to forget about catching. Olympia High School (Fla.) shortstop Nick Gordon is another potential consideration. Whoever the pick is June 5, his timetable to the majors, risk, probability and even bonus expense — provided it’s within reason and doesn’t blow up the club’s entire draft — absolutely cannot be valued so much more than the player’s upside that the ‘safer’ pick is ultimately announced. The Mariners need a star-quality player out of their fourth top-10 pick in six drafts. The time to get the player that can help sooner was three years ago. I’m not suggesting anyone has done a poor job here — I have outlined above that they specifically have done well, but the players just haven’t turned out to be good enough, particularly when selecting this high. That isn’t to say they haven’t drafted the right players, at least for the most part. Player development in Seattle hasn’t exactly drawn rave reviews as I ask around about how they do things, and that staff has the job of teaching prospects how to play in the big leagues. It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that Ackley, among others, wasn’t handled properly by the minor league staffs. I’m not accusing anyone of anything of that nature. I’m merely suggesting it’s plausible. Either way, the end result has not been good enough. That has to stop if this organization is going anywhere under this ownership and this front office. Other organizations are getting stars; athletic shortstops (Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor) and outfielders (Byron Buxton, George Springer) who get on base, show some pop and profile as high-impact talents. Corner defenders who profile as legitimate middle-of-the-order hitters (Baez, Kris Bryant), or are already (Trout, Bryce Harper). It’s time for the M’s to join that club. Thus far, Walker has been McNamara’s only upside play early in the draft. They’re at the mercy of the top five picks in the draft, but there are more than five five future All-Star talents in this class. College or high school, hitter or pitcher. It doesn’t matter one single bit. Find a future all-star.Go!

The Seattle Mariners continued to tinker with their roster on Thursday after optioning Erasmo Ramirez and Nick Franklin to the minor leagues and selecting the contract of outfielder Cole Gillespie. Franklin’s demotion to Triple-A was essentially procedural as he saw just 18 plate appearances since being called up on April 16th, while Ramirez is set to start in his regularly scheduled spot on Sunday, but for the Hi-A High Desert Mavericks instead after struggling in his last three starts. The interesting piece to this puzzle is Gillespie who joins Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte, Stefen Romero, and Michael Saunders in what’s quickly turning into a crowded Mariner outfield. Gillespie, 29, was drafted in the third round of the 2006 amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, whom GM Jack Zduriencik was employed by at the time of the selection, and has since been a part of the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, and Chicago Cubs organizations. In 189 plate appearances between 2010 and 2013, the journeyman has put together a .225/.293/.337 line and a 65 wRC+. Although his major league stats are less than inspiring, he’s hit .364 with five home runs in his first 17 games of the year in Tacoma. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill had recently suggested Gillespie be called up, and the M’s could certainly use his hot bat right now. Where his bat will fit in the lineup however, is the tougher question. Gillespie is a RHB who doesn’t have a track record of mashing LHP. More of a reverse split guy. So, LMC will probably start him v LHP only — Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) April 24, 2014 Gillespie not a candidate for center field. — Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) April 24, 2014 Without the possibility of Gillespie starting in center field, it’s conceivable to suggest that he’ll split some time in right field with Romero and likely spell Ackley once in left field every now and then. He also fits the mould of a late inning pinch runner or defensive replacement in a game where Corey Hart starts in right field, for example. Like Jason said, he doesn’t hit left-handed pitching especially well — he’s hit at a .189 clip in 98 major league plate appearances — and owns a .266 average against right-handed pitching in 91 plate appearances. Both Romero and Gillespie are right-handed bats so the M’s quest for a balanced lineup continues. With Ackley firmly entrenched in left field as the everyday starter and manager Lloyd McClendon content to let Almonte play everyday in center, the combination of Romero, Gillespie, and Saunders will cover the right field duties unless Hart is able to step in. The club is still going slow with Hart’s return to the outfield, as they should, so the point of having that extra outfielder is far from moot. Either Gillespie or Romero could presumably DH if Hart is the starter on a given night with Saunders on the bench as a potential late inning replacement. It’s also possible that this current arrangement is simply temporary, especially if Hart is able to put another couple solid starts in the field together. Logan Morrison‘s return from the disabled list at the end of the month could require even further roster shuffling as well unless the club decides to send him down to Triple-A for a period of time. Perhaps the real point of contention is the fact that a player not named Almonte has yet to make a start in center field for the club this year. Obviously his status as the team’s leadoff hitter and lack of other alternatives has played some role in this, but the young outfielder has done very little to prove that he belongs in his given role just yet. He has just 19 hits and five walks in 94 plate appearances — good for a .213 batting average — and his 34.1 percent strikeout rate is the fourth highest in all of baseball. Aside from being awful leadoff hitter numbers, they really aren’t that good numbers for anywhere in the lineup unless the player is a defensive wizard, although the 24-year old does handle the outfield well enough. The seemingly obvious candidate to spell Almonte would be Saunders given his experience in center field, but he hasn’t produced much of anything so far this year and certainly not enough to spark the conversation of which one of the pair should be playing everyday. McClendon has gone on record saying that he believes the only way for Almonte to improve is to play everyday — that much is true — but is there anything wrong with sitting him once in a while and giving someone else the start? LMC was willing to sit Brad Miller when he was struggling and hasn’t shown this long of a leash with other players — look no further than Ramirez being sent down for a start — so there’s really no reason not to give this outfield logjam a little more fluidity by sitting Almonte here and there. There’s been little to suggest that Ackley should be the one to see less playing time since he’s hit the ball well this year and shown some encouraging signs that his bat has finally come around even though he has been hitless in his last four games. It’s possible that Gillespie will see a couple starts in left and spell the former second baseman in the coming week, but a return to the No. 8 spot in the batting order — a place he’s been comfortable in so far this season — could provide the spark needed to get the 26-year old producing like he was a few short weeks ago. Like Saunders, Romero hasn’t seen enough game action for us to really make an accurate determination on what his role with the club should be at this point in time; although I’m in the camp that believes he’d be best served playing everyday in Triple-A than sitting on the major league bench. He has five hits and one walk in 24 plate appearances and has started in seven of the club’s first 21 games. He’s a candidate to start at designated hitter on a day where Hart starts in right field as Saunders and possibly Gillespie would provide better defensive replacements for the late innings. One of the benefits of having a journeyman-type of player like Gillespie on the roster is that unlike a Nick Franklin, he doesn’t necessarily need to see regular at bats. The team also doesn’t have to worry about his development as a player that much either since he no longer falls under the description of a prospect and he’s shown essentially all that he has to offer a big league club. The 29-year old knows the type of role he’s entering with Seattle and will likely already have the right type of mindset to handle it. It will certainly be interesting to see how McClendon decides to balance his group of outfielders over the next week or two. The situation will only become murkier if Hart is in fact able to man right field regularly, but given the logjam of players available for the position, there’s absolutely no reason to rush it. Acquiring another bat is still a possibility but it appears unlikely at this point as the M’s don’t appear  interested in Kendrys Morales at the moment, and he seems content to wait until after the draft to sign his next contract. It appears that the only certainty in the Mariners’ outfield can be found in left and center field at the moment with the right field situation very up in the air. Hart does represent somewhat of an x-factor, but at the moment it wouldn’t be surprising to see the club go with whichever one of Saunders, Romero, and Gillespie that’s producing. And that’s exactly what they should be doing anyways. Seattle managed to end their losing streak with a win on Wednesday and will open a new series against the Texas Rangers on Friday night with Roenis Elias set to take the mound.Go!

It’s no secret that the Seattle Mariners have been stuck in a rut recently and after being swept this weekend by the Miami Marlins, it may be time to shake things up a little bit. Certainly the M’s would be in a better position at the moment if their rotation wasn’t decimated by injuries, but their .225 team batting average is the third worst in all of baseball and is nearly an equal cause for concern. Yes, there’s an awful lot of season to be played, but if Seattle still fancies themselves as contenders this year, now is as good a time as any to get the lineup some help while the rotation recovers. And that could still come in the form of a familiar face; Kendrys Morales. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill outlined several possible moves the Mariners could make to help the club in the immediate future and one of those suggestions was to option Logan Morrison to Triple-A, and sign Morales who remains a free agent. Of course this comes with two very important caveats: Corey Hart must be able to man right field four times a week and Morales must be willing to sign a one-year deal. Both factors are relative unknowns at this point, but one would have to think that the possibilities of both occurring do have some life. Hart started in right field this past Thursday and Sunday and after starting at first base on Friday, shifted to right field after Michael Saunders was pinch hit for. The 16 2/3 innings of action he’s seen in the outfield aren’t near enough to draw any legitimate conclusions from, but the fact that he’s actually looked decent out there is definitely an encouraging sign. Realistically it could take the M’s another month if not longer to make a determination on whether or not Hart’s knees can handle the outfield, and there’s no reason to take any course of action other than easing him back in slowly. After all, he was signed for his ability to hit a baseball, not necessarily his ability to catch one. With Hart seeing outfield time and Morrison not on the big league club like Jason suggested, there would be plenty of at-bats available for Morales who could DH when Hart plays the field and possibly see some time at first base when Hart is the designated hitter. As it stands Morrison is on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so the club would have to wait until after he’s activated to send him down anyways. His contributions have obviously been limited, but a quick comparison of his results after 18 team games this year to Morales’ first 18 last year show that there’s a strong likelihood than an upgrade could be made. Justin Smoak has cooled off of late, but thanks to a hot start has his overall numbers don’t look too bad and are relatively comparable to what Morales produced in last year’s sample. It’s unlikely to suggest that he would be removed from everyday duties anytime soon. In some ways Morales could conceivably replace Morrison, but of course it’s not quite a simple trade off since LoMo hasn’t been an everyday player and he’d be taking at-bats from other players as well. But it is easy to see the potential offensive upgrade that would come with bringing the free agent back into the fold and taking at-bats from players like LoMo. The second impediment to potentially signing Morales is what it has been all along; his agent, Scott Boras. Obviously an agent wants to get their client the best deal they can, but what the best possible deal is varies from player to player of course. The trend with Boras though, has been the bottom line dollar playing the most significant part of any deal so nobody should’ve been surprised when the party announced they were content to wait in order to get that best possible deal. But perhaps as the calendar turns to May, Morales gets a little anxious about getting back into a team’s everyday lineup and the concept of a “bridge” contract becomes more palpable. After all, he’s already guaranteed that he won’t be tied to draft pick compensation next winter since he will have signed after the season started. It really is unfortunate that Morales, and another Boras client Stephen Drew, are still without contracts since the draft pick compensation has seriously diminished their value to any interested club, especially since there are more than a few teams who could benefit from the addition of one or the other. However, now that the Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired Ike Davis — the Pirates were rumored to be a moderately serious suitor for the first baseman/designated hitter — would Boras really be able to get a multi-year deal for Morales even if he waits until after this June’s draft and is freed of draft pick compensation? It’s been reported that the Mariners had offered Morales a three-year deal worth $30 million last summer, and at the time it probably seemed likely he could top that offer once he hit the open market. But, considering the fact he’s all but limited to designated hitter duties, did Boras really anticipate a bidding war to break out for his services? Sure, Morales has been a capable defender at first base in the past and he is another year removed from the broken leg he suffered at the beginning of the 2010 season, but a team is could be taking a lot of risk if they are signing him to be their everyday first baseman. It’s really no different than the Mariners signing Hart to be their everyday right fielder, but they didn’t sign him for that purpose; the fact he may actually be able to play in the field is pure gravy at this point. Teams would be lining up to give David Ortiz a multi-year deal to be their designated hitter since he’s a legitimate game changer; Morales is not at that level. Throughout the offseason, and even after the Hart signing and Morrison trade, Seattle was considered to be the most logical landing spot for Morales. Perhaps they became even better suitors after adding the pair considering the team’s affinity for stockpiling designated hitter types and then deploying them regularly in the field. But after the Baltimore Orioles agreed to sign Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal worth just $8 million — remember, both he and Morales had rejected the one-year $14.1 million qualifying offer — many figured that a potential Morales deal would probably be of the same term but with a slightly higher dollar amount. And with the Orioles and now Pirates out of the picture, are there really any other options outside of Seattle? Barring an unforeseen injury, probably not. The question that has to follow pertains to whether or not the Mariners even have room for Morales on their roster at the moment. Let’s say Morales is reluctantly willing to accept a one-year deal worth the pro-rated portion of the $14.1 million qualifying offer to spend another year in the Pacific Northwest. Of course there’s still the question of whether or not ownership would allow the club to take on further payroll since this could all be a moot point if they say there’s no more cash to spend, but let’s remove that hurdle for right now. Although he has been working out regularly, he’ll need to spend at least a couple of weeks in extended spring training to get close to game speed, and will likely require an adjustment period at the major league level as well. Even if Morales was signed today, he’s probably three or four weeks away from actually producing something tangible for the club. If it’s in fact determined Hart can regularly spend time in the outfield, Morales should be able to slide nicely into the regular designated hitter slot. The next question to be asked is who takes the hit as the 25-man roster casualty? Jason suggested sending Morrison down to Tacoma and I’d agree with that since letting him get back to basics and gain some confidence could be beneficial and he still does have an option available. As does Stefen Romero who’s been used sparingly thus far and has seen little success at the major league level. The 25-year old would definitely benefit more by playing everyday in Tacoma instead of seeing pinch-hit duty and the occasional start. Another suggestion of Churchill’s was to send down Romero and call up Cole Gillespie, a 29-year old journeyman, who could fill Romero’s role of right-handed hitting outfielder and would have minimal downside. It would appear that both Romero and Morrison would be better served playing everyday in Triple-A as opposed to sitting on the bench and pinch-hitting late in games. Sending down Romero and calling up Gillespie doesn’t solve the 25-man roster issue however, so even if the pair were to trade places, adding Morales would require another roster move. Perhaps Michael Saunders, who’s become the odd man out in the outfield, could be dealt for pitching help. It’s very surprising to hear that Saunders has found himself in the fourth outfielder role after appearing to be a near lock to play everyday in the outfield just a few months ago. He hasn’t hit well in limited action this year, but does represent an upgrade defensively and on the base paths compared to what Romero and Abraham Almonte provide. That’s pure speculation on my part however and there’s no real benefit to selling low on Saunders right now. The club also doesn’t have the necessary depth to deal an outfielder right now anyways. Certainly there’s a scenario in which the club could fit Morales into the everyday lineup and there’s little doubt that he does represent an upgrade over some of what’s there now. His .280 career batting average would fit quite nicely in a lineup in dire need of a boost. Any kind of a boost. Players like Brad Miller and Kyle Seager will see their averages come around eventually and others will see their lines even out as the plate appearances add up, but the club is failing to score runs and that presents a huge problem when there’s only one proven starter currently in the rotation. A lot of stars will have to align for Morales to wear blue and teal again, and by stars I mean Hart’s knees and Boras’ contract demands, but it could still happen. The roster moves will likely sort them out — LoMo or Romero being sent down make the most sense — so it really is just a matter of patience on the Mariners’ part and seeing whether or not things might work out in the favour for once. A few more weeks and we should have an idea what the extent of Hart’s outfield abilities will this year and Morales’ camp might get a little more anxious about getting him playing time sooner rather than later. The 2014 Seattle Mariners can still be a .500 team as-is, but that extra bat would push the scales further in their favour and they could really use that right about now.Go!

After the offense exploded for 18 runs in the first series of the season, the Seattle Mariners’ bats have cooled of late scoring only 25 runs since, including three seperate occasions in which they were shut out. We’re barely halfway through April, and you’ve heard this a million and a half times by now, but it’s still early. The club is now 7-6 after Tuesday night’s loss to the Texas Rangers and remain second in the wide open American League West. There is some change in the air however, as Nick Franklin and James Jones have been called up from Triple-A Tacoma after Blake Beavan and Logan Morrison were placed on the disabled list. On the injury front, Beavan hits the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis in his shoulder and will fly back to Seattle to receive further treatment. The right-hander made his first start of the season on Tuesday but was limited to just four innings of work before being lifted. Apparently mentioned before the game that he was having trouble “getting loose” and struggled with maintaining his velocity last night. Morrison on the other hand, left Monday night’s game before the second inning after feeling tightness in his right hamstring. Prior to Tuesday night’s game, LoMo told manager Lloyd McClendon that he was able to hit but unable to run, so his 15-day DL stint is simply a matter of giving him time to return to 100 percent. There’s no doubt that the big news of the day is Franklin’s call up, and he’ll see game action tonight against the Rangers as the designated hitter. The top prospect is red hot at the moment — he’s put together a slash line of .395/.469/.744 in 11 games at Triple-A — and should provide a spark to the Seattle lineup that could use a bit of a boost right. As PI’s Jason A Churchill alluded to last night, it’s entirely possible Franklin could get regular at bats without taking away from the club’s regulars. Otherwise, as Jason and others have said, it’s a waste of time to have the youngster sitting on the major league bench when he could be playing everyday in the minor leagues. McClendon says Franklin will “move around.” Probably play second tomorrow with Cano at DH. Will play some SS, 3B and OF. — Bob Dutton (@ByBobDutton) April 16, 2014 After a hot start to the year, Brad Miller has cooled of late and has seen his average dip down to a .214 mark. It’s not as though Miller has completely fallen off the map however since he does have hits in four of the last five games. But the fact he has struck out in all but two of the club’s thirteen games this season and has only one walk to his name aren’t overly encouraging. Again, it’s still early, but if Franklin comes out hitting and the team is winning games with him in the lineup, it’s not inconceivable to suggest he could displace the incumbent Miller at shortstop if his struggles continue, but that’s jumping to too many conclusions far too fast. McClendon said Franklin could play some OF. He wasn’t too concerned about the lack of game experience — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) April 16, 2014 Although he didn’t see any time in the outfield in the minors this year, it seems as though the club is willing to throw him and out and see what happens. But so long as Michael Saunders isn’t starting regularly, the club could take advantage of Franklin’s bat for the first two thirds of the game before inserting Saunders to shore up the defensive side of things; similar to what they’ve done so far with Stefen Romero. Many have deemed Franklin’s future as a Mariner to be in the outfield, which is certainly still a possibility, but he still represents a very attractive trade piece. It’s unlikely it’s played a factor in the M’s decision to promote the young infielder, but maybe, and just maybe, the call-up could be a showcase of sorts for the top prospect considering the dire straits the rotation has found itself in. It’s no secret that the pitching staff could use some help now that James Paxton has joined Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker on the disabled list, and Franklin could still potentially net a quality young arm. That’s purely speculation on my part though based on what we were hearing in the spring. The trade rumor front has been quiet as it typically is this time of year, and it doesn’t sound as though there’s been much moving in the young infielder’s market. He definitely won’t immediately garner as much attention as Franklin will, but Jones could be one to watch as it’s expected he’ll be more of a situational player than a regular while he gets his first taste of major league action. McClendon said they called up Jones to use him in several ways – defense, pinch running and pinch hitting – with games in a NL park. — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) April 16, 2014 The outfielder has also had a solid start to the year hitting .310/.370/.405 in 11 games and provides another real option in center field. It’s no secret that Abraham Almonte hasn’t had the best of times so far in the season, remember he’s still just 24, but the Mariners seem married to the idea that he should be the club’s leadoff hitter for the conceivable future and it’s unlikely his status will change just yet. It’ll be an interesting next couple of weeks as the club works with several moving parts in the lineup, but for tonight, King Felix Hernandez goes up for his fourth straight win to start the 2014 campaign against Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers. Happy Felix Day!Go!

As the old saying goes, there’s never such a thing as too much the depth. A day after releasing both Endy Chavez and Humberto Quintero who were in camp on minor league deals, the Seattle Mariners re-signed both players to new minor league deals and they will stay within the organization according to Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. (Twitter links). Chavez, 36, appeared in 97 games for the Mariners in 2013 which marked his second stint with the club, the first coming back in 2009. The outfielder managed a -1.3 fWAR last year and figures to be no more than a veteran depth piece stashed at Triple-A Tacoma for the start of the season. He’s no longer the defensive player he once was, and his wheels on the base paths have slowed over the years as well. He did manage a .273/.328/.342 line in ’13 however, so there is a little life left in his bat. Quintero, 34, appeared in 22 games towards the end of the year in 2013 for Seattle and given the presence of John Buck on the roster, didn’t seem to have a real chance OF breaking camp with the club. He’ll begin the year with the Tacoma Rainiers and will likely be the No. 3 catcher on the M’s depth chart. Never much of a hitter, Quintero has been known for his solid defensive abilities behind the plate and has consistently been an above average defensive player throughout his career. Seattle obviously wanted to bring the pair back, but first released the veterans yesterday in order to avoid paying them each a $100 thousand retention bonus that was required if they were to be kept on the roster passed noon eastern today. The cut of Quintero seemed like more of a formality than anything else, but the cut of Chavez signalled that the M’s will likely be taking both Abraham Almonte and Stefen Romero north when Spring Training ends this weekend. Almonte didn’t have quite as strong a spring as many hoped, but he does posses the ability to play center field, something that the current roster is lacking of. Romero showed some promise with his bat over the past month with four home runs and 16 hits and appears to hold some of the right handed power Seattle desperately needs in the lineup. The release of starter Scott Baker was disappointing, but not shocking after the lefty struggled with control problems throughout the spring. Baker was signed to a minor league deal so he’ll receive no compensation from the Mariners for being cut, although it appears he’s close to agreeing to terms on a deal for the pitching depleted Texas Rangers. A story that’s made more waves than it should have was the release of Randy Wolf yesterday. The left-hander had a decent spring and was actually told he would be making the club’s 25-man roster but there was a condition: Seattle wanted him to sign a 45-day release waiver, which he declined. Had Wolf signed the clause, & Iwakuma came back before 45 days, M’s could have cut Wolf and not paid his full $1 mil salary for the season. — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) March 25, 2014 Apparently these happen more often than we hear about, but it no doubt caused some sour grapes for Wolf who felt the Mariners were trying to restructure the deal he agreed to in February and took offence to that. The starter would’ve made a $1 million salary for making the team, but the release waiver would allow Seattle to release him without paying him any of the guarantee, as Ryan Divish explains. Wolf: “The day should have started with a handshake and congratulations instead of a 24-hour feeling of licking a D cell battery.” — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) March 25, 2014 With Wolf and Baker now out of the picture, it appears as though the club will break camp with Roenis Elias and Erasmo Ramirez in the rotation alongside Felix Hernandez and James Paxton. The fifth spot, at least temporarily, will likely be handed to Blake Beavan who has not pitched well at all this spring and would probably be better off sorting out his stuff in Triple-A to start the year. But with very limited options, there really wasn’t many choices left to choose from. The progress of Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker has been steady and the pair should be able to join the rotation before the end of April, but at the moment, Seattle has literally zero pitching depth. It’s fair to say they could get by for a month or so with their current five-man set up, but what happens if Elias can’t make the jump from Double-A to the MLB? Or if Ramirez or Beavan’s struggles from last year carry over? For a team that was supposed to take the form of a contender this year, the extreme uncertainty in their Opening Day rotation says otherwise. Of course the club could have another move in the works to bring in another starter, possibly by way of a long awaited Nick Franklin trade, but nothing is imminent quite yet. Jason A. Churchill noted last night that the M’s were in on free agent pitcher Chris Young, but he’s not without his own set of concerns as well. The roster is starting to take shape and Opening Day is literally right around the corner. All the questions we have about this baseball club will be answered soon enough.Go!

The Seattle Mariners have long been searching for right-handed hitting and have clear and present need to improve their outfield crop. The Pittsburgh Pirates may have an answer. Maybe. Maybe not. The Pirates, reports Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune, are shopping outfielder Jose Tabata. The 25-year-old has had problems staying healthy, though we’re not talking about entire seasons spent on the disabled list. The former Yankees farmhand played 106 games a year ago, 103 in 2012 and 91 in 2011. In two of those seasons, however, Tabata has posted above-average on-base percentages of .349 and .342. He’s a fringy corner outfield defender, however, and doesn’t possess much power. Despite being right-handed, Tabata doesn’t handle left-handed pitching to the level a club would require to use him in a platoon, match-up scenario, and believe it or not none of the above is the biggest reason for the Mariners to pass on him. Jose Tabata vs. LHP As you can see below, Tabata is adequate versus left-handed pitching, but certainly hasn’t beaten up southpaws to any extent, suggesting he doesn’t fit as a platoon player. AVG OBP SLG BB% SO% wOBA LD% .258 .332 .403 9.0 13.1 .324 16.0 Tabata is owed $12.25 million over the next three years as the final half of a six-year deal he signed with the Pirates before the 2011 season. At more than $4 million per year, the Mariners would have to believe Tabata was going to be available for the entire six-month season and provide value that they don’t currently boast anywhere on the roster. The former is not true, since we already know Tabata has missed large chunks of each of the last three seasons. The latter isn’t necessarily true, either with Stefen Romero profiling as a similar talent and for far less financial commitment. Even if the Pirates were willing to chip in some cash to help pay Tabata’s salary, the payoff of such a deal, no matter the trade cost, is not apparent. One of the reasons the Pirates are looking to trade Tabata is that he’s out of minor league options. For Pittsburgh to send Tabata back to Triple-A Indianapolis, he would first have to clear waivers. With that contract, he may do so, but it’s difficult to believe he provides an upgrade for Seattle. There are a number of other out-of-options players that may interest Seattle if they become trade available. Among the outfielders is Michael Taylor of the Oakland Athletics, Moises Sierra of the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore’s Nolan Reimold. Again, however, none are clear-cut and significant upgrades to Romero, despite all of the above either possessing better physical tools (Taylor, Sierra) or having a higher profile as a young player (Reimold). Forget Romero’s spring performance. It’s a small sample size, is occurring in a hitter-friendly environment and he’s facing some sub par pitching and established pitchers who are working on their craft. Still, Romero has developed and performed in meaningful games in the upper minors and in the Arizona Fall League, displaying discipline, plate coverage, consistent abilities to track a breaking ball and hit line drives. He’s also learning left field and could very well be the best option for the team versus left-handed pitching right now. Here are a handful of players that aren’t out of options, necessarily, but may be available if they lose out on jobs on their respective teams, and Seattle may have some level of interest. None of the above, nor below, are necessarily linked to the M’s fielding offers for infielder Nick Franklin: Paul Maholm, LHP — Los Angeles DodgersJames McDonald, RHP — Chicago CubsRoss Detwiler, LHP — Washington Nationals (out of options)Edinson Volquez, RHP — Pittsburgh PiratesAlejandro De Aza, CF — Chicago White SoxGo!

This year, Prospect Insider decided to publish all ‘Preview Guide’ type material right here on the site, and we started doing that Monday with Chris Moran’s MLB Breakthrough Starting Pitcher Candidates. We’ll continue to add to that as the month continues. We’ll conclude that with two days of predictions, ending on Opening Day, March 31. The Prospect Insider Handbook, scouting and ranking the Seattle Mariners’ top prospects, however, is ready for your viewing, by clicking here. Most browsers will download the PDF automatically. As per usual, it’s in PDF form. Don’t forget to use the bookmarks to move around from player to player. Aside from the Top 30 rankings, there are full scouting reports, tools grades, MLB ETA and MLB Comps on the Top 10, and mini scouting reports on Nos. 11-30. Also included:Best ToolsOrganizational Depth Projected 2017 Lineup, Rotation, Bullpen Click here to access the 2014 Prospect Insider Handbook. Photo of Gabriel Guerrero by (Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB)Go!

The Seattle Mariners signed or acquired via trade three new lineup pieces over the offseason and while I think most agree that more is needed — whether that be Kendrys Morales in March or April or a pre-summer trade — the offense is better, on paper at least, than it was a year ago. While there are a lot of scenarios that makes sense, such as Kyle Seager batting anywhere from second to fourth or fifth, to the leadoff spot where Brad Miller and Abraham Almonte could both make some sense, here is one potential lineup versus right-handed starters and one versus left-handed starters. Almonte, who by no means has a roster spot sewn up just yet, could get some starts versus right-handed pitching — he’s a much stronger hitter from the left side — and there will likely be games, mostly versus southpaws where Corey Hart remains in right field, Almonte starts in center and Saunders plays left for Ackley or Saunders sits in favor of Ackley. That could occur just as much as Saunders in center versus lefties, with Almonte sitting and Ackley playing left. It’s truly a mix-and-match four-man rotation where ultimately the top performers earn the most starts. I like Seager in the No. 2 spot, but it could make some sense to use him down a few spots, too, depending on how well Ackley, Almonte and Saunders — the other candidates to bat in the top two spots — are swinging the bat. From the outset, it should be Miller-Seager batting 1-2, but Lloyd McClendon and Trent Jewett may decide otherwise. Projected M’s Lineup vs. RHP No. Player 1 Brad Miller, SS 2 Kyle Seager, 3B 3 Robinson Cano, 2B 4 Corey Hart, RF 5 Justin Smoak, 1B 6 Logan Morrison, DH 7 Michael Saunders, CF 8 Mike Zunino/John Buck C 9 Dustin Ackley, LF Projected M’s Lineup vs. LHP No. Player 1 Brad Miller, SS 2 Abraham Almonte, CF 3 Robinson Cano, 2B 4 Corey Hart, DH 5 Kyle Seager, 3B 6 Justin Smoak/Logan Morrison, 1B 7 Michael Saunders, RF 8 Mike Zunino/John Buck C 9 Dustin Ackley, LF As you can see, I’m by no means ready to anoint Almonte a regular and there’s no chance I pigeonhole Miller as a hitter that needs to be platooned, at least in terms of where he bats in the order, versus left-handed pitching. He was terrific versus southpaws in Tacoma last year and posted a better batting average and on-base percentage against them in the bigs than he did versus right-handers. Prior to 2013, he’s more than held his own versus lefties, and Almonte hasn’t had much success as a right-handed batter, anyway, suggesting that swap is rather insane. As I stated above, there are a lot of ways this can go, especially if Nick Franklin is traded for a piece the big club can use right away, or if Stefen Romero makes the 25-man roster somehow and is used versus left-handed pitching.Go!