Typically the majority of the jobs on a given big-league roster that are ‘open’ have a heavy favorite, and there are few ‘open’ job with which to begin. The Seattle Mariners’ roster is just about solved, but there are a few questions yet to be answered, including the following: Will the club carry a first-base platoon? as I have noted many times, it’s not a great idea, but if the club does carry one, there are several candidates in camp. Who will win the first-base platoon gig? The candidates are: Jesus Montero, Dae Ho Lee, Stefen Romero and Ed Lucas. Romero brings the versatility of having played second base, third base and the outfield in the minors. Who will serve as the utility infielder?Luis Sardinas and Shawn O’Malley are the two top candidates, with Chris Taylor also in the mix to some level. Who will win the No. 5 spot in the rotation? It appears the battle is between right-hander Nate Karns and lefty James Paxton. Both have options remaining, but the loser also could start the year in the bullpen. Below is the way-too-early-to-tell edition, but I’ll update this in two weeks, then again the day before the rosters are typically announced. Projected M’s 25-Man Roster: Way-Too-Early Edition Pos. Player B/T SP Felix Hernandez R/R SP Hisashi Iwakuma R/R SP Wade Miley L/L SP Taijuan Walker R/R SP Nathan Karns R/R RP Ryan Cook R/R RP Evan Scribner R/R RP Vidal Nuno L/L RP Tony Zych R/R RP Charlie Furbush L/L RP Joaquin Benoit R/R RP Steve Cishek R/R 1B Adam Lind L/L 2B Robinson Cano L/R 3B Kyle Seager L/R SS Ketel Marte S/R C Chris Iannetta R/R DH Nelson Cruz R/R OF Nori Aoki L/R OF Leonys Martin L/R OF Seth Smith L/L C Steve Clevenger L/R IF Shawn O’Malley S/R OF Franklin Gutierrez R/R 1B/DH Jesus Montero R/R
Felix Hernandez, RHP: 4FB, SNK, CB, CH, SL2015: 31 GS, 201.2 IP, 8.52 K/9, 2.59 BB/9, 56.2% GB, .288 BABIP, 3.72 FIP, 2.8 fWAR Felix Hernandez had his worst season in eight years in 2015, but still was very solid at the top of the Seattle Mariners’ rotation and despite the buzz about the 2,200 innings under his belt in his 10-plus seasons, the ace still averaged 92.1 mph on his fastball and his issues last season don’t appear to have been physical in nature. All this suggests 2015 is likely a bit of an anomaly, not the new norm. Don’t let people point to the workload and tell you Hernandez just isn’t what he once was without offering legitimate evidence. Age and workload don’t qualify. Zack Greinke is 32, has amassed nearly 2,100 big-league innings in the same timeframe, despite a few trips to the minors on rehab assignments, and Greinke hasn’t slowed much. Yes, Hernandez has had to reinvent himself into a command-and-feel pitcher, but still has the plus curveball to compliment the sinker and changeup. Hernandez’s command was spotty last season, however, and the changeup registered its lowest value since it became his best weapon in Year 3 of his career. Fly balls left the yard more — up to 15.3% in ‘15, career rate at 10.6 % — with random bad luck sharing the blame with the lack of ideal fastball command and the oft-absence of the good changeup. He’ll be 30 April 8, but there’s no strong evidence that Hernandez has slipped much and there’s a good chance he rebounds some in 2016. Don’t be surprised if he returns to Cy Young contention this season and makes 32 or more starts. And if the games in September are meaningful, expect big moments from King Felix in his attempt to take the mound in the postseason for the first time in his already-illustrious career. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP: 4FB, SNK, CB, SL, SPL2015: 20 GS, 129.2 IP, 7.70 K/9, 1.46 BB/9, 50.4% GB, .271 BABIP, 3.74 FIP, 1.8 fWAR Hisashi Iwakuma isn’t likely to make all 33 scheduled starts, but the 25-28 he does make will tease No. 2 starter results and increase the Mariners chances to win — over the alternative — significantly. He’s 35 in April, yet still displayed above-average secondary stuff to go with fringe-average velocity that all plays up due to plus command. Perhaps most importantly, Iwakuma’s contact authority still results in some ground balls — 50% in 2015, which is line with carer rates — and gets help from Safeco Field, and divisional rivals ballparks O.co in Oakland and Angel Stadium in Anaheim. The right-hander hasn’t lost anything off the fastball, but he is throwing the four-seamer less in favor of the sinking two-seamer. While there’s no reason to expect that to revert back, there is reason to believe his splitter usage could return to the 21-23 percent range if he’s commanding well early in counts. Iwakuma used his curveball more than ever in 2015, and with good results (.188 BAA, .313 SLG), so the veteran enters this season with a little different book on him than one year ago, which is advantage Iwakuma. Anything over 170 innings from Iwakuma is a gift to the M’s, but the club’s medical staff has worked minor miracles with Iwakuma before — see: 2012 — and it’s most important he’s available down the stretch if the club remains in contention. If he avoids the long stint on the disabled list,, the chances Seattle actually gets to that point improve quite dramatically. Taijuan Walker, RHP: 4FB, CB, CH, SL2015: 29 GS, 169.2 IP, 8.33 K/9, 2.12 BB/9, 38.6% GB, .291 BABIP, 4.07 FIP, 1.9 fWAR Taijuan Walker showed in larger glimpses last season that he can be dominant, using a plus fastball up to 97 mph with life above the batter’s hands and some sink down in the zone to set up a firm-but-promising split-change and a curveball that’s been up-and-down and has come with numerous grips. Walker added what he’s calling a slider, but has the look of a hard cutter, a pitch he mastered a few years ago in Triple-A but went away from to focus on his changeup. The biggest developments for Walker last season included health — not even a blip on the radar in this department — general control and the innings to which the health led. The right-hander issues walks to just 5.7 percent of the batters he faced, good for No. 11 among qualified starters in the American League, right behind Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel.. In the end, Walker took a fairly significant step forward and doing so again this season gets him into dangerous territory — for opponents, that is. In order to take that step, Walker’s curveball must become a bigger part of his arsenal, and the fastball command needs to take a step forward. Using his lower half better is a great idea in general, but it can only help him in each of the aforementioned areas. The 23-year-old also needs to execute a game plan more consistently so he can get through a lineup three times; eventually, the knob-high fastball will catch too much of the plate and big-league hitters will put the barrel on it and do damage. Being able to pitch backwards sometimes, attacking certain spots that expose a batter’s weakness and using more secondary offerings to do the same all are attributes of a frontline starter. That’s Walker’s target direction, and he could arrive in 2016. Wade Miley, LHP: 4FB, 2FB, SL, CB, CH2015: 32 GS, 193.2 IP, 6.83 K/9, 2.97 BB/9, 48.8% GB, .307 BABIP, 3.81 FIP, 2.6 fWAR Miley’s first season with Seattle will be his first in a ballpark that doesn’t severely favor hitters. This doesn’t always turn into marked cuts in opponents production for pitchers making such a move, but Miley may be different than the likes of J.A. Happ, et al, since he simply has better stuff, and more options if one of his offerings leaves him for a month. The 29-year-old left-hander pitches comfortably at 90-92 mph with both a two-seam and four-seam fastball,, but his slider is his most effective pitch since 2013 — .214 BAA, strikeouts in 34 % of the PAs that ended in a slider. He also throws a changeup that improved considerably last season when he was forced to throw it more to keep right-handed batters from trying pepper The Green Monster with 320-foot fly balls. Miley’s two-seamer has sink and can get some ground ball outs, but he does like to rasie the eye level of the hitter with his four-seamer at the top of the zone. Both fastballs have run in on right-handed batters.and Miley pitches from the third base side of the slab, creating an easier path in on righties. Miley’s one of those ho-hum looks; you watch start after start, never say ‘wow,’ rarely come away particularly impressed, but he makes 30-plus starts, keeps the ball in the yard and gets into sixth and seventh consistently. There’s not much more in the box than that, but he’s as reliable as it comes in terms of mid-rotation left-handers in the American League. Nate Karns, RHP: 4FB, 2FB, CB, CH2015: 27G/26GS, 147 IP, 8.88 K/9, 3.43 BB/9, 41.9% GB, .285 BABIP, 4.09 FIP, 1.5 fWAR Nate Karns, 28, had a strong first three months last season, struggled in August and missed almost all of September with forearm stiffness. If healthy to start 2016, he’s a good bet to build on his 147-inning performance and perhaps reach the 170-inning range for the Mariners. Karns always has been a power arm, but last season his changeup was average — plus at times — and he took some mphs off his curveball, adding more depth. Batters swung and missed more than 13 percent of the time on Karns’ curveball, which approaches the upper third among American League right-handers. There are reason to buy Karns as the power starter he was a year ago — 8.9 K/9, 23.4% of batters faced, and his entire professional career has been led by high whiff totals — but now there’s a book on Karns, whose fastball sits 90-93 mph, far from the type to get away with a lot of mistakes. Safeco Field and the marine layer should help some, but Karns likely will need an adjustment or two; veteran catcher Chris Iannetta is Karns’ best friend in this regard. Karns is more of a risk than the typical starting pitcher because he has a history of injuries, and on the worrisome side the forearm issue he suffered last summer can end with Tommy John surgery. Here’s where the club’s medical staff — which has a great track record — comes into play. Like Iwakuma, anything north of 150 innings is gravy, more than 170 is Christmas morning. James Paxton, LHP: 4FB, CB, CH, CUT2015: 13 GS, 67 IP, 7.52 K/9, 3.90 BB/9, 48.3% GB, .289 BABIP, 4.31 FIP, 0.5 fWAR James Paxton’s stuff is good enough to profile as a No. 3, perhaps even a No. 2 starter when the changeup is at its best. Unfortunately, Paxton’s delivery and tendency to find the disabled list the last two years hasn’t allowed for any of the explosive 95 mph fastballs or plus curveballs do much for him or his teammates. Beyond staying on the field, Paxton’s arm path is long, often creating a more difficult-to-repeat delivery, particularly in terms of release point. Stuff wise, the curveball flashes plus but he buries a lot of them in the dirt; he employs the spike curveball, otherwise known as a knuckle-curve, which includes digging the top of the finger or fingers into the ball, putting pressure on the ball with the fingernail. Paxton’s had issues keeping the fingernail from tearing away, adding to his issues staying active and on the mound. Ditching that grip on the curveball may be in order, but there’s no sign that’s in the plans, and Paxton still has yet to show he can command his fastball and changeup enough to back off the curveball usage without sacrificing effectiveness. He’s used a cutter-slider before, which could be a weapon for him again, but his first order of business is staying off the medical wagon. If he does that, he can finish off his development and add underrated value to the Mariners’ rotation. There’s more than just an off chance Paxton starts the season either in Triple-A Tacoma (more likely) or in the bullpen, since he’s probably No. 6 on the rotation depth chart. Mike Montgomery Rainiers” width=”300″ height=”238″ class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-7041″ />Mike Montgomery, LHP: 4FB, 2FB, CB, C, CUT/SL2015: 16 GS, 90 IP, 6.40 K/9, 3.70 BB/9, 51.2% GB, .290 BABIP, 4.67 FIP, 0.3 fWAR Montgomery is a fine back-end option for most clubs, including Seattle, which may not have a need for him, clouding his immediate future. He’s out of options, so Triple-A isn’t an option — there are multiple clubs that at any point in March would snatch him up and add him to the mix — leaving a trade or a role in the bullpen his most likely destiny. The left-hander is more of a command-and-feel southpaw, but not without stuff to get outs, including an average changeup that spikes plus and a mid-70s curveball he uses to change the pace and eye level. He’s dabbled some with a two-seamer and uses a cutter-slider, but primarily sits 90-92 mph with a four-seam fastball with some armside run, setting up his change and curve. Montgomery has to be efficient or his effectiveness dulls in higher pitch counts enough to shave off his ceiling at the No. 4 starter range, but staying healthy and continuing to build arm strength for deeper seasons should be his main goal in 2016. Vidal Nuno, LHP: 4FB, 2 FB CB, SL CH2015: 35G/10GS, 89 IP, 8.19 K/9, 2.22 BB/9, 42.2% GB, .296 BABIP, 4.42 FIP, 0.3 fWAR Nuno is a solid No. 5 starter that will start this season in a full-time relief role, where his stuff plays up a bit and the club can take advantage of his three pitches that are devastating to left-handed batters. As a starter, Nuno sits 88-90 mph with both a two-seamer and four-seamer, getting some fade and sink on the former and some upper-zone life on the latter. His bread and butter is a combination of command, change of speeds and deception in his delivery, which help his secondary offerings — mid-80s slider with tilt, 78-80 mph curveball with some depth and an average changeup — play up, particularly in shorter stints. If the M’s end up needing to dig as deep as most clubs do during the course of a season, Nuno will make a few starts in 2016, and if he’s literally the No. 8 starter in 2016, Seattle is in terrific shape. Brad Mills, LHP: 4FB, CUT/SL, CB, CH2015: 1GS, 5 IP, 1.80 K/9, 1.80 BB/9, 35% GB, .316 BABIP, 6.53 FIP, -0.1 fWAR Mills is a soft-tossing middle-relief type, but in an emergency has starting experience that suggest he can get through a lineup once or twice and still give the club a chance to win the game. Mills doesn’t throw very hard, and never has, sitting around 85 mph in 2015. He’ll throw an occasional cutter-slider in the low-80s to get in on right-handed batters, and his low-70s curveball is fringe-average, despite good shape. Mills’ changeup is where he draws Moyer-lite comparisons, but this kind of arsenal doesn’t play for more than a few innings, typically. Mills is a depth lefty much more likely to start 2016 in Triple-A or with another club, but could be a serviceable southpaw and a last-second rotation saver. Donn Roach, RHP: 4FB, 2FB/SNK, CUT, SPLIT, CB, CH2015: 1 GS, 3.1 IP, 2.70 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 68.8% GB, .500 BABIP, 3.43 FIP, 0.1 fWAR Roach, 26, has the kitchen sink in his holster, but his best offerings include a 72-76 mph curveball with two-plane break and a sinking two-seamer with natural gloveside run. He’ll sit 88-91 mph with his fastballs, occasionally cutting one in on a lefty to set up something away. The slider has been a quality pitch in the past, albeit inconsistent in both command and bite. Roach, like most rotation options beyond the initial projected five, is more likely to see time in Triple-A to start the season, but may be ahead of even Vidal Nuno on the depth chart since the southpaw likely will be entrenched in an important relief role. The right-handed Roach, a third-round pick in 2010 who played JC ball with Bryce Harper, has 17 games of big-league experience, including two starts, one for San Diego and one for the chicago Cubs a year ago. He’s not going to miss a lot of bats, but is another serviceable option if the club gets desperate for innings. Joe Wieland, RHP: FB, CB, CH, SL2015: 2 GS, 8.2 IP, 4.15 K/9, 5.19 BB/9, 38.7% GB, .276 BABIP, 6.94 FIP, -0.2 fWAR Joe Wieland might be a wild card for the bullpen as much as Ryan Cook, but has a starting background, including nine in the big leagues. The 26-year-old has a lively fastball despite average velocity in the 89-91 mph range, but he’s pitched comfortably at 90-93 before injuries (Tommy John in 2012, missed half of ‘12, all of 2013) slowed his development. Even in the minors Wieland never was a big strikeout artist, mostly due to two below-average breaking balls and an inconsistent and often-times flat changeup. In a relief role, the 80-82 mph slider may play up some and the fastball could build back toward 92-94, lending Wieland a few legitimate big-league weapons. He pitches from a high arm slot, creating downward plane and a better chance to keep the ball in the yard. This also bodes well for his curveball and changeup. If he’s starting games for the Mariners in 2016, it’ll mean one of two things: 1) Wieland has returned to form and significantly improved his curveball or slider, or 2) Seattle is awful. Even two injuries unlikely get the M’s all the way down to Wieland for starts without the latter taking place in March and April (in the minors). Adrian Sampson, RHP: 4FB, 2FB, SL, CH2015: (AAA) 28 GS, 162.2 IP, 6.79 K/9, 2.02 BB/9, .341 BABIP, 4.46 FIP Adrian Samspon was acquired in the trade with the Pittsburgh for lefty J.A. Happ last summer. The Skyline HS and Bellevue College product posses a solid-average fastball up to 94 mph, but typically pitches at 89-92 with some sink and armside run from a low three-quarter slot. The four-seamer will show life up in the zone. The slider flashes average at 83-86 mph and Sampson keeps it down well, assisting in keeping the ball on the ground, which is his M.O. with the fastball mix. His changeup is a bit firm at 86-88 but occasionally has shown a better velocity differential (83-85), which also shows more movement away from left-handed batters. It’s well below average, but isn’t a throw-away at this stage. Sampson needs to return to the minors and continue his work on command with the fastball, the changeup as a whole and perhaps more two-seam sinkers so he can carve out a nice little sinker-slider career for himself as a swing arm or No. 5 starter.
From what I’ve been able to determine, social media bestowed Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto with the nickname of “JeDi” while he was still working for the Los Angeles Angels. I wasn’t aware of this clever nod to the fictional characters in the “Star Wars” movie franchise until I noticed it on Twitter after his Seattle arrival. I have to admit that it did make me chuckle a bit. [pullquote]The lineup needs to be a little bit longer. The rotation needs to be a little bit deeper. The bullpen needs to have more layers than it presently has. — JeDi code [/pullquote] In honor of Dipoto’s sci-fi handle, I decided to explore the key components of his 2016 roster revitalization plan — the “JeDi code” — which was first announced when he was initially introduced in late September of last year. Have the master’s guiding principles gained a foothold within the organization or is there more work left to do? Lengthen the lineup Despite a second-half offensive surge, Seattle’s on-base percentage (OBP) ranked number-22 in the majors and lagged behind 10 National League teams that actually let their starting pitchers to swing a bat. As JeDi alluded to during his introductory presser, the lineup lacked “length” and was heavily dependent on the success of three core players — Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager. The team’s bottom-three lineup spots — not including pitchers — combined to rank number-29 in OBP last season. The top-two spots in the batting order weren’t much better, placing number-28. Only the middle of the lineup, which ranked eleventh in the majors, demonstrated any measure of effectiveness at the plate. When looking at the following table, which breaks down each spot in the batting order and its corresponding OBP ranking, it becomes very clear that Seattle’s lineup was “short” and inadequate. If a team could limit damage caused by the four middle spots in the order, their chances of beating the Mariners were much better. Seattle Mariners “Short” 2015 Lineup Split BA OBP SLG MLB OBP Rank Batting 1st .247 .307 .394 24 Batting 2nd .255 .312 .424 24 Batting 3rd .273 .326 .470 22 Batting 4th .314 .377 .542 2 Batting 5th .260 .333 .449 8 Batting 6th .249 .312 .396 13 Batting 7th .233 .298 .400 20 Batting 8th .196 .265 .296 27 Batting 9th .196 .250 .295 15 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 2/18/2016. From a roster standpoint, Dipoto has addressed this significant deficiency through several steps. First, he retained Franklin Gutierrez to be part of the team’s corner-outfield platoon. The oft-injured “Guiti” enjoyed a healthy 2015 and proved that he could still contribute at the plate, when his body doesn’t betray him. Another internal move that’s likely to help is the club’s decision to go with Ketel Marte as their starting shortstop. During his two-month debut with the team last year, the switch-hitter demonstrated a penchant for reaching base. Whether the 22-year-old can sustain a .359 OBP has yet to be determined, however his impressive 82-percent contact rate combined with his plus speed should at least translate to an OBP that surpasses league-average. When making deals this winter, JeDi placed a premium on acquiring hitters who had a history of being able to consistently reach base. Because of this new strategy, some of the players that the general manager inherited didn’t fit into his vision for the ball club. Two players who fell into category were slugger Mark Trumbo and first baseman Logan Morrison, both were used as trade chips this offseason New starting players with a history of on-base success include veterans Chris Iannetta, Adam Lind, and Nori Aoki. The only starting position player acquired who has struggled to consistently reach base during his big league career — Leonys Martin — is expected offset his offensive shortcomings with his superb glove. “A run saved is the same as a run scored” says the JeDi. Potential Opening Day Lineup w/Steamer Projections Batting Order Name AVG OBP SLG Batting 1st Nori Aoki .270 .332 .360 Batting 2nd Ketel Marte .269 .312 .356 Batting 3rd Robinson Cano .285 .344 .444 Batting 4th Nelson Cruz .255 .321 .476 Batting 5th Kyle Seager .265 .332 .443 Batting 6th Adam Lind .268 .342 .431 Batting 7th Seth Smith .248 .331 .408 Batting 8th Chris Iannetta .215 .323 .353 Batting 9th Leonys Martin .242 .293 .350 The team’s new players combined with holdovers Marte, Gutierrez, Cano, Cruz, Seager, and Seth Smith give the Mariners a much deeper, more diverse lineup going into 2016. Considering Seattle’s woeful offensive performances in recent years, these changes should help provide the team’s faithful with some measure of optimism as Opening Day approaches. Deepen the rotation JeDi’s first major trade helped address this element. He dealt Morrison, Brad Miller, and Danny Farquhar to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for hard-throwing starter Nate Karns and outfield prospect Boog Powell — another player with good on-base ability. Some may believe that what happened next during the rotation build was either karma or influenced by a cosmic power of some sort. When it appeared that the Mariners had lost fan-favorite Hisashi Iwakuma to the Los Angeles Dodgers, they struck a deal with the Boston Red Sox to acquire veteran starter Wade Miley and reliever Jonathan Aro for pitchers Carson Smith and Roenis Elias. Just a few weeks later, Iwakuma returned to the Mariners when his deal with Los Angeles fell through. It’s almost as if someone had played a mind trick on Dodgers management and told them that “Kuma” was “not the pitcher you’re looking for.” Perhaps, it was always the 34-year-old’s destiny to return the Emerald City. As Prospect Insider’s Tyler Carmont noted, Miley isn’t likely to fill the role of a number-two starter for Seattle, but he does provide value. The addition of both Miley and Karns, plus the retention of Iwakuma deepens a rotation that also has ace Felix Hernandez and the young trio of Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Mike Montgomery returning. Steamer projections illustrate a club with more — and better — rotation options than last year’s squad. Using the FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR) to compare value, Seattle’s starting staff provided 8.7 fWAR last season, which ranked 19th in the majors. The current cadre in Peoria projects to be at 14.5 fWAR during 2016. Steamer Projections for 2016 Rotation Options Name IP ERA FIP fWAR Felix Hernandez 221.0 3.18 3.12 5.0 Taijuan Walker 184.0 3.68 3.86 2.4 Wade Miley 175.0 4.00 4.04 1.9 Hisashi Iwakuma 168.0 3.44 3.57 2.8 Nate Karns 128.0 4.06 4.15 1.2 James Paxton 72.0 4.11 4.09 0.8 Vidal Nuno 9.0 3.39 3.72 0.1 Joe Wieland 9.0 3.80 3.98 0.1 Michael Montgomery 9.0 3.93 4.04 0.1 Total 977.0 3.66 3.73 14.5 Some may wonder why there are so many names on the list, but a team can never have enough starters or relievers. For example, the Mariners used ten starters last season, which was the major league average for 2015. That’s why you see names like Vidal Nuno, who has started and relieved in the big leagues, and Joe Wieland listed above. The club has also extended non-roster invites to Brad Mills and Donn Roach, who both have major league starting experience and provide additional fringe-depth. Add layers to bullpen As of today, the relief corps is definitely deeper compared to the unit that concluded last season. But, there are more layers of uncertainty than reliable depth. Until the bevy of new faces acquired by JeDi have an opportunity to prove themselves, doubts will remain. Last season, Mariners suffered due to reliever volatility. The club’s bullpen delivered a value of 1.1 fWAR. Only the relievers of Oakland Athletics, Detroit Tigers, Atlanta Braves, and Boston Red Sox were worse. If the Seattle’s relievers do not significantly exceed their Steamer projections, this year’s bullpen will only rank a few spots higher than the 2015 edition. Steamer projections for 2016 Bullpen Options Name IP LOB% ERA FIP fWAR Steve Cishek 65.0 72.4 % 3.85 3.91 0.3 Joaquin Benoit 65.0 75.6 % 3.41 3.72 0.5 Charlie Furbush 55.0 75.1 % 3.37 3.61 0.4 Tony Zych 55.0 74.4 % 3.41 3.62 0.3 Evan Scribner 45.0 76.4 % 3.11 3.30 0.3 Cody Martin 40.0 73.7 % 3.78 3.96 0.0 Vidal Nuno 35.0 76.0 % 3.39 3.72 0.0 Jonathan Aro 30.0 73.7 % 3.93 4.25 0.0 Justin De Fratus 25.0 71.5 % 4.27 4.47 0.0 Ryan Cook 20.0 72.6 % 3.87 4.04 0.0 David Rollins 15.0 74.0 % 3.55 3.78 0.0 Joe Wieland 10.0 73.3 % 3.80 3.98 0.0 Mayckol Guaipe 10.0 71.7 % 4.07 4.22 0.0 Danny Hultzen 10.0 69.5 % 4.74 4.50 0.0 Michael Montgomery 10.0 71.6 % 3.93 4.04 0.0 Joel Peralta 10.0 75.7 % 3.75 4.18 0.0 Total 481.0 74.2 % 3.58 3.81 1.8 Clearly, JeDi is counting on bounce back years from Charlie Furbush, who is returning after an injury-shortened season, several other holdovers, and imports Steve Cishek, Joaquin Benoit, Evan Scribner, Jonathan Aro, Cody Martin, Joel Peralta, Ryan Cook, and Justin De Fratus to provide enough depth. How important is bullpen depth? Even the World Series champion Kansas City Royals — known for having the best bullpen in the majors last season — used 14 pitchers who were relievers during at least 90-percent of their appearances. Last season’s league-average for relievers used was 17; Seattle used 19. Without readily available bullpen reserves, it’s highly improbable that any team can remain in contention during an arduous 162-game season. Obviously, quantity is nothing without quality. That’s why the Mariners’ pen will be an “unknown unknown” during the early stages of the regular season. Of the three elements that make up the “JeDi code,” this one is most likely to pull the team towards the dark side of losing baseball. Only time will tell what the future holds. Even with his immense foresight, JeDi cannot forecast the outcome of his bullpen dealings until after Opening Day. Fortunately, for the team and its playoff-starved fan base, all hope won’t be lost if my bullpen doubts prove to be correct. Prospect Insider writers have routinely noted that Dipoto has demonstrated a knack for fixing a bullpen during the regular season while still with the Angels. In 2014, he acquired star closer Huston Street, plus setup men Fernando Salas and Jason Grilli and his former club went on to 98-games that year. A new hope Since his arrival, the new Mariners’ general manager has been strongly advocating another principle that shouldn’t be overlooked — controlling the strike zone, which permits hitters and pitchers to better control their own destiny. The 47-year-old believes that the team that controls the count “generally wins the game.” This philosophy is an encouraging development for the Seattle Mariners, but may require time to take hold at all levels of the organization. Despite the new ideology espoused by Dipoto — new for the Mariners that is — and the positive changes he’s implemented, I still view this club as being on the fringe of contention as of late February. Although I maintain a measure of guarded optimism that the offense and rotation will be improved, I continue to remain wary of the Mariners bullpen. Some may find my lack of faith be disturbing, but it’s a bit too early in JeDi’s retooling process to have delusions of grandeur.
The Super Bowl is over and there’s less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers from the Seattle Mariners report to Peoria Sports Complex in sunny and warm Arizona. Needless to say, I’m eagerly awaiting the upcoming baseball season. If you’re reading this post, you probably feel the same way. You may be anxious like me to get the season going, but you’re probably not as fixated about the idea of the Mariners using a six-man rotation in 2016. No, you haven’t missed any breaking news from one of the outstanding beat writers who cover this ball club on a year-round basis. To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t even been a hint from team management that they’re entertaining the idea. Unfortunately, the concept of the Mariners employing a full-time sixth starter is embedded in my brain for some irrational reason. Hopefully, whatever is affecting me isn’t contagious. I first exhibited signs of this sixth-man fixation syndrome last July when the club’s season was unraveling and their young arms were on pace to run out of innings. At the time, I proposed numerous scenarios and strategies that would help the team navigate the remainder of the season. All of my hair-brained schemes included the use of a sixth starting pitcher. In retrospect, the idea didn’t make sense. Especially after the team traded J.A. Happ to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the non-waiver trading deadline and Paxton encountered a recurrence of issues with the index finger on his pitching hand. Despite the fact that I debunked my own proposal of using an added starter, I’m at it again. To be honest, I have a hard time envisioning a scenario that would require the Mariners using a full-time six-man rotation this season, but a lot’s changed with the organization since last season and I keep thinking about it. So, I’ve opted to re-explore the concept one more time to see if it makes sense in 2016 and, hopefully, end my fascination with this topic once and for all. Protecting our young Perhaps, the fact that the Mariners have so many inexperienced starters among rotation candidates is why I have sixth starter on the brain. After all, using an additional rotation piece could help reduce the burden on a club’s younger arms. How much could you reduce the workload? It depends on the methodology. Assuming an extra starter was used on a full-time basis for the entire season, each pitcher’s workload would be decreased by approximately six starts and 30-40 innings. That could be appealing since Walker, Karns, Paxton, and Montgomery are still in the developmental stages of their respective careers. Maybe I’m not sick after all. Maybe I’m the only sane person on the internet. We’ll see. Let’s take a look at the 2015 production and the career-highs for the Mariners’ least experienced starters. Perhaps, that will help shed light on whether the club would benefit from an extra starter. Seattle Mariners Young Guns Name 2015 MLB 2015 Minors/AFL 2015 Total Career High Career-high Year Taijuan Walker 169 0 169 169 2015 Nate Karns 147 0 147 157 * 2014 James Paxton 67 35 102 145 * 2013 Mike Montgomery 90 65 155 155 2015 * Majority of innings were in minors leagues At first blush, it does appear that the Mariners could benefit from having a supplemental starter. Walker, Montgomery, and Karns are coming off their first full season in the majors and each faced challenges last year. The club was forced to “shut down” both Walker and Montgomery before the season concluded when they reached a club-imposed innings limit. On the injury front, the Tampa Bay Rays ended Karns’ season in early September due to a forearm strain and repeated trips to the disabled list have undercut Paxton’s availability during the last two seasons. Managing the quartet’s workload going into 2016 will certainly be a priority for the Mariners going into 2016. But, does it require a six-man rotation? The answer to that question depends on each pitcher’s expected innings limit for the upcoming season. Projecting workload Last year, the old regime permitted Walker to go 49 additional innings past his 2014 tally. That translates to a 29-percent increase from one year to the next. Since there’s a new management team in place, we don’t know how the Mariners plan to regulate the utilization of their developing arms. If team leadership only knew how much sleep I’ve lost over this subject, they might share their plans with me. Since the Mariners aren’t likely to divulge their strategy with me during the current century, I’ve opted to use a projection system that rivals anything that might be found at FanGraphs – I added 30 innings to each starter’s 2016 totals, which equates to an increase between 18 and 29-percent for each hurler. Yes, I know. My “advanced” computations probably won’t lead to a Nobel Prize nomination for mathematics. But, I’m not trying to predict the future. I just want to get a ballpark figure on what to expect from these four young pitchers. Potential Workload Name 2015 Total 30-innings 2016 Increase Taijuan Walker 169 199 18% Nate Karns 147 177 20% James Paxton 102 132 29% Mike Montgomery 155 185 19% Assuming that each pitcher averages at least six innings per-start, they’d reach the 180-inning mark after 30 starts. At that point, Karns and Montgomery would be in the neighborhood of their “Arkins limit.” Naming a hypothetical limit after myself is an obvious sign that I’m either close to going over the edge of sanity or I write about baseball for Sports Illustrated. Okay, back to my folly. Based on the limits I’ve “imposed,” Walker would still have tread remaining on his tires by the end of the season. That’s a good thing, especially if the 23-year-old ascends to the next level in 2016 and becomes a future ace. If the right-hander does elevate his performance, he’d likely be in the Felix/Iwakuma territory of averaging 6.5 innings per-start. That would put him in the neighborhood of the 199-inning limit listed above. The pitcher who may not be permitted to reach 180 innings would be Paxton, who’s suffered injuries during the last two years and has never pitched more than 145 innings in any season during his professional career. After looking at the data, I don’t see a compelling case to use a six-man rotation solely for the purpose of managing the workload of the younger starters. If the Mariners are able to get 30 starts from both Walker and a combination of the rest, the club is probably having a very good season. That’s assuming the Felix, Kuma, and Miley are healthy and performing as expected. Even if a six-man rotation was needed to preserve young arms, there’s a factor that would likely preempt using such a strategy – on-field value. An undeniable cost Using a full-time sixth starter would lead to Seattle getting approximately 26-27 starts from Hernandez, rather than his typical 31-34. Would be resting “King Felix” really be worth it? Even my clouded mind can come to the conclusion of “no.” A quick review of the following Steamer projections for the Mariners found at FanGraphs suddenly makes a full-time six-man rotation far less appealing. FanGraphs Projections for Mariners Starters Name GS ERA FIP WAR Felix Hernandez 32 3.18 3.12 4.7 Hisashi Iwakuma 28 3.43 3.55 2.9 Wade Miley 29 3.99 4.04 1.9 Taijuan Walker 31 3.68 3.86 2.4 Nate Karns 23 4.06 4.15 1.3 James Paxton 13 4.11 4.09 0.8 Mike Montgomery 2 3.93 4.04 0.1 Vidal Nuno 2 3.39 3.72 0.3 Joe Wieland 2 3.80 3.99 0.1 By going to Felix, Kuma, Miley, and Walker less often, the Mariners would be counting on back-of-the-rotation types to deliver more value. I doubt that I could find anyone in the Pacific Northwest who believes that the club would better positioned to compete by having less of their top-four starters and more of Karns, Paxton, Montgomery, Vidal Nuno, and Joe Wieland. Preserve the King? I’ve often read and heard that Felix “wears down” at the end of seasons, although my eyeballs don’t see it the same way. If this perception was accurate, one could make a case that using a six-man rotation would have merit. At this point, this is my last best chance of proving to myself that I’m not needlessly fixating on this topic. When I look at Hernandez’s career monthly splits, it’s easy to understand how a casual onlooker could come to the conclusion that the 29-year-old loses steam at the end of the season. However, he hasn’t exactly “stunk up the joint” during September/October when his statistics are very similar to his career performance in each category. Felix Hernandez’s Career Splits Month AVG OBP SLG ERA Mar/Apr .218 .279 .320 2.48 May .269 .328 .404 3.98 June .229 .281 .325 2.88 July .234 .288 .338 2.65 August .238 .293 .368 3.31 Sept/Oct .243 .302 .356 3.35 Career .239 .295 .353 3.11 Perhaps, the notion that Felix falls apart in September is fueled by several bad outings rather than the totality of his performances. With the exception of 2011 and 2012, he’s actually done quite well during the last month of each season since 2009. As you can see below, the right-hander experienced a “bounce back” during the past three Septembers. Felix in September Year AVG OBP SLG ERA IP 2006 .263 .285 .441 4.45 191 2007 .258 .315 .348 3.35 190 2008 .305 .378 .435 4.41 200 2009 .193 .258 .257 1.52 238 2010 .154 .231 .238 1.64 249 2011 .330 .358 .476 5.18 233 2012 .346 .390 .471 6.62 232 2013 .200 .279 .283 3.78 204 2014 .185 .245 .281 1.66 236 2015 .210 .288 .403 2.86 201 I could see how some observers might associate Hernandez’s 2013 improvement with pitching his fewest innings since 2008. But, that logic doesn’t add up. If a lighter workload was the key for a better Felix, how can 2014 be explained when he pitched extremely well late in the season and finished a close second place in American Cy Young award voting? For anyone who believes that fewer regular starts for Felix would lead to a better rested ace for the postseason, I’d agree that he’d be more refreshed in October. But, there’s a better chance that he’ll be sitting his “fresh” body on the couch instead of standing on the mound at Safeco Field. Honestly, does anyone realistically expect this version of the Mariners reaching the playoffs without 30 or more starts from Felix? Finally Okay, I think I’m finally over my six-man rotation obsession. As they’re currently configured, the Mariners project to be on the fringe of contention in 2016 and may need to compete until the very last day of the season in order to make the postseason. With an outlook like that, the club will need more of Hernandez, Iwakuma, Miley, and Walker – not less. Still, Seattle will need to strike a balance to have success during the upcoming season. The team has only two proven workhorses on its roster – Hernandez and Miley. Plus, Iwakuma is entering his age-35 season and has only pitched more than 200 innings only three times during 15 professional seasons; once during his four years with the Mariners. After that, it’s Walker – who may be on the verge of taking the next step in his progression – and the rest of the gang. Strategically using a sixth starter during the course of the season may be the best approach for the Mariners. This methodology could include exploiting off-days and shuttling an extra starter between Tacoma and the big league club, when needed. Retaining a pitcher – like Montgomery or Nuno – who could be utilized out of the bullpen or as a spot starter would achieve the same goal. Using either the shuttle or reliever/starter approach would help the Mariners keep pitchers fresh while maximizing the value of the club’s best starters. These are far more realistic strategies than a full-time six-man rotation. Alright, I think that I’ve got this “six-man thing” out of my system for good. Now, I’m left with only one Mariners-related obsession – who’s going to be the Mariners’ right-handed back-up first baseman? I may be beyond help.
Plenty has been made about the remake of the Seattle Mariners rotation heading into 2016 and rightfully so. The 2015 edition had considerable upside, but ultimately disappointed. Seattle only had two qualified starters in terms of innings pitched, Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker, as injuries limited Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton. By ERA the rotation ranked 17th in the entire league and by fWAR it ranked 19th. Those aren’t the type of numbers that will end what is now the longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball. Unless it’s backed by a terrific offense and bullpen, but a fair share of ink has already been spilled on how those two areas hurt the 2015 Mariners. Needing some stability in the rotation, Wade Miley was acquired from the Boston Red Sox. Nate Karns was also acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays to bolster the back-end of the rotation. At the time of the Miley acquisition, it appeared that Seattle had finished tinkering with their rotation. General Manager Jerry Dipoto had even gone so far as to say he was “done” making significant additions. However, some skepticism over Iwakuma’s physical on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ behalf later, and the right-hander is back under contract for the 2016 season and under team control for the next three seasons. Currently, the Mariners 2016 rotation projects to include Felix, Iwakuma, Miley, Walker, and one of Paxton or Karns. As written by Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins, the Mariners undoubtedly will rely on arms beyond those that are in the Opening Day rotation to contribute to the starting staff. The following table shows pitchers that have made five or more starts for Seattle over the previous five seasons with my estimated projection for starters who will hold that distinction in 2016. Within the confines of this table we can get a glimpse of the natural evolution of the Mariners rotation. What’s interesting about a list like this is that we can begin to break down players by type. There’s the veteran, one-year contract guys: J.A. Happ, Chris Young, Joe Saunders, Jeremy Bonderman, and Kevin Millwood. There’s the prospects that didn’t cut it: Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, and Hector Noesi. There’s even the pitchers that were dealt for a bat: Jason Vargas, Michael Pineda, and Brandon Maurer. All told, I think the table of starters listed would resemble that of several teams. All teams have a collection of homegrown talent mixed with trade or free agent acquisitions and veteran filler of some kind. Beyond that though, we can see the evolution of a pitching rotation. King Felix is the established ace of the rotation and has remained a constant for Seattle beyond the group of five starters. We can also see that Iwakuma has become a mainstay in the rotation as well. This year though, Iwakuma takes the role as veteran on a one-year contract. Of course this case is much different than that of Happ or Young since Seattle is counting on the right-hander to be a No. 2 or 3 starter as opposed to back-end depth. There’s also the matter of Iwakuma having a pair of vesting and club options that could stretch the deal to three years. Most, if not all, of the great rotations have a pillar or two at the top that support the growth of the rotation among the inflow and outflow of pitchers. Perhaps more interesting than the year Millwood wore blue and teal — though his presence in the combined no-hitter is a great historical anecdote — before Safeco Joe took his place, is seeing the rise and fall of prospects through the years. Look at 2011 for example. That year Vasquez made seven starts but is still waiting for an opportunity to throw another major league pitch. Furbush, not a top-flite prospect either, hasn’t started a major league game since, though he has become a solid relief pitcher. Let’s throw another name into the mix: Erasmo Ramirez. Again, he wasn’t among the organization’s high-upside talent in recent years, but he was a prospect with some tools who toiled between the rotation, bullpen, and Triple-A for a few years before being dealt. Now in his place stands Montgomery who serves as some back-end depth for the moment. Should he fail to crack the Opening Day roster, and because he’s out of minor league options, he could find himself dealt for a similar starter who doesn’t fit his current club’s plans and has an existing option. Practically all organizations cycle through these kinds of starters hoping to find a diamond, or more often an above average season that they can cash in on the trade market or bide time with for a younger arm. After debuting in September 2013, Walker and Paxton were expected to become mainstays near the top of the rotation. That hasn’t exactly happened yet. Walker is coming off a solid season and appears primed for a potential breakout season. Paxton on the other hand, has struggled with health and finds himself competing for the fifth spot in the rotation instead of beginning the season in the No. 2 slot a la 2014. The examples of Walker and Paxton speak volumes to the evolution because the development of prospects make up such a big part of it. Teams devote significant resources into these players with the hope that they will headline their next championship team but can’t find a tangible reason for why that player is performing contrary to the skill set they possess. Walker and Paxton have the tools to be the No. 2 and No. 3 starters in a rotation, provided the Canadian lefty can develop a little more command. Do they get there at some point? Only time will tell. Ideally we see the next steps in both player’s evolution take place in 2016 as Walker continues to be a solid contributor and Paxton proves he can be one. One thing that we haven’t seen happen with the Mariners’ rotation over the past couple seasons is the development and influx of young talent. Don’t get me wrong, the discussion allotted to Walker and Paxton are warranted, but those two are about it. Roenis Elias was dealt as part of the Miley trade and had some upside. Michael Pineda was also a fine pitcher and Edwin Diaz could turn into the next big thing. But there’s always been the feeling that the rotation was a Felix Hernandez injury — and last year a Hisashi Iwakuma injury, it seemed — from falling apart. Last season the St. Louis Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright for the bulk of the season. However, despite an ace on the disabled list, the club still managed to win the NL Central with the likes of Lance Lynn, Carlos Martinez, and Michael Wacha — all homegrown and developed talent — stepping up to fill the void. The deal for John Lackey during the previous season helped too. The Mariners rotation is better-prepared for injuries this year than they were last, but is there a candidate to step up and fill a potential void left by a key starter? Montgomery had moments last season, but couldn’t sustain anything. Is Vidal Nuno the guy who takes a big step this year? Or maybe Karns? It’s unfair to expect the results of the new regime bringing large changes to the player development side of the organization right away. We won’t realistically be able to see the difference until several years have gone by, but all signs point to the future looking significantly brighter than it did a year ago. The Mariners do have talent in the lower minors, like Diaz, but they are still several years away from contributing to the big league roster. That will change as other players come in and some take steps forward, but it’s no secret that replenishing the minor league system, particularly at the upper levels, is a priority for Dipoto. This season will offer us a look at what the rotation stands to be in 2017 and 2018 as well. How do Miley and Karns fit? Where do Walker and Paxton go from here? Can Iwakuma stay healthy and pitch effectively? Is Felix able to continue being Felix. We’ll see. It’s important to remember that there is no formula to putting together a major league rotation. Even the World Series champion Kansas City Royals offered a rotation that included that same Chris Young alongside growing star Yordano Ventura, offseason signee Edinson Volquez, and trade deadline acquisition Johnny Cueto. Seattle has the ace and some interesting wild cards to see play out as the rotation begins another series in the evolutionary process.
After suffering through another losing season and extending their playoff drought to 14 year, Seattle Mariners management decided to hire Jerry Dipoto to be their general manager. Since taking over in late September, the 47-year-old has significantly altered the club’s approach towards scouting, player development, and coaching. While Dipoto’s initial actions are encouraging, the root cause to the Mariners’ underwhelming record is the fact that they didn’t have enough good players to compete last season. That’s the main reason behind Dipoto’s hiring and why he was the major’s most active general manager during his first five months on the job. With Spring Training just around the corner, now’s a good time to recap the Mariners’ hot stove progress to date. For the purposes of my review, I’ve decided to the examine the weaknesses identified by Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill in October. The areas mentioned by Jason are closely aligned to Dipoto’s public comments about the team’s shortcomings and the moves that he’s made. If you missed Jason’s piece, you can read it here. Starting Pitching The off-season started with a projected 2016 rotation of staff ace Felix Hernandez and a lot of uncertainty. That’s why Jason identified adding a number-two starter as a priority for the club. There were plenty of candidates behind King Felix – Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery. Yet, none were viewed as locks to make the rotation – or even be reliable. It didn’t take long for the club to start dealing. Dipoto’s first major trade shipped Logan Morrison, Brad Miller, and Danny Farquhar to the Tampa Bay Rays for the hard-throwing Nate Karns, lefty reliever C.J. Riefenhauser – since traded to Baltimore – and outfield prospect Boog Powell. Karns’ first full season in the big leagues came last year at the advanced age of 28. Despite the late arrival, he’s the kind of “swing and miss” pitcher that Dipoto wanted. One area of concern could be durability. As Jason noted in his analysis of the deal, it remains to be seen if Karns can handle a 190-200 inning workload. The next big change was the acquisition of southpaw Wade Miley, along with reliever Jonathan Aro, from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Elias and dynamic reliever Carson Smith. At the time of the deal, I assessed it as a step backwards. Basically, the trade weakened the already bad bullpen and didn’t add the number-two starter that Jason had identified as a need. That doesn’t mean that the trade is a bust. Prospect Insider’s analysis pointed out that several “high-ranking scouts that like Miley more than his numbers.” This deal works best for Seattle if the 29-year-old is a legitimate number-three from the onset of the season. It’s important to note that our analysis assumed Miley was the replacement for free agent Hisashi Iwakuma, who had agreed to contract terms with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Little did we know that “Kuma” would actually return to the Emerald City. When reports surfaced saying that Iwakuma failed his Los Angeles physical, Dipoto pounced on the opportunity to retain the fan favorite. The club Mariners signed Kuma to a three-year deal – with vesting options – which protects the team in the event that he breaks down from a physical standpoint. Here’s a potential Opening Day rotation compared to the 2015 version. I’ve included the 2015 fWAR for both groups of players and the 2016 Steamer fWAR projection for current Mariners. Potential Rotation 2015 Rotation Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR SP Felix Hernandez 2.8 4.7 Felix Hernandez 2.8 SP Wade Miley 2.6 2.1 Hisashi Iwakuma 1.8 SP Hisashi Iwakuma 1.8 2.9 James Paxton 0.5 SP Nate Karns 1.5 1.0 J.A. Happ 1.2 SP Taijuan Walker 1.9 2.4 Taijuan Walker 1.9 Totals 10.6 13.1 8.2 Mission accomplished? No. Going into Spring Training, the rotation looks to be Felix, Miley, Kuma, and Walker with Karns, Paxton, and Montgomery battling for the last rotation spot. The losers will likely go to Class-AAA Tacoma or be traded. That’s a good start, but there’s no clear number-two caliber pitcher behind King Felix. Bringing back Iwakuma excites fans and it’s true that he can be a number-two – when healthy. But, he’s coming off two consecutive injury-shortened seasons, has only started 30 or more games once in four years with Seattle, and is entering his age-35 season. Perhaps, Walker will rise to that position. But, he’ll need to be more consistent in 2016 to take the next step in his career become a future ace. Yes, the rotation is better with Karns, Miley, and the returning Iwakuma in the mix. But, it’s debatable whether it’s good enough to contend. Outfield Defense The Mariners’ outfield registered -45 defensive runs saved (DRS) – easily the worst in the majors last season. So, Dipoto aggressively made moves to upgrade the team’s outfield defense. To fix center field, the Mariners dealt popular reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, outfielder James Jones, and prospect Patrick Kivlehan to the Texas Rangers for Leonys Martin and reliever Anthony Bass – who subsequently signed to play next season in Japan. From Seattle’s perspective, Martin was the cornerstone of the deal. Despite having nearly half the playing time of his contemporaries, the 27-year-old was one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. His 15 DRS ranked third behind Gold Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier (42) and Lorenzo Cain (18) during last season. The signing of Nori Aoki to play a corner outfield spot also improved the defense. Aoki is a solid defender, although he’s known for taking poor routes on balls from time-to-time. Despite his occasional follies in the field, he’s a significantly better defender than any regular corner outfielder that Seattle has used in recent years. The retention of Franklin Gutierrez to platoon with fellow holdover Seth Smith solidifies left field. Health may have robbed “Guti” of his ability to be a dynamic center fielder, but he’s still good in a corner spot. Smith is the weakest defender of the outfield crew, although he’s not bad. He’s average or slightly below-average. Although Karns will reach Seattle first and Powell likely starts the season in Tacoma, the 23-year-old outfielder could have a bigger long-term impact. Powell brings a blend of speed, athleticism, defense and contact-style offense that Dipoto craves and he can play all three outfield positions. He’ll likely see action in Seattle during 2016. Mission accomplished? Yes. Last season, Smith was considered one of Seattle’s better outfielders. Now, he’s ranks last among teammates not named Nelson Cruz. That’s how much Dipoto has improved outfield since taking over – last year’s best is this year’s ‘worst.” There’s a residual benefit to adding so many defensively sound outfielders, who also can reach base consistently. Management won’t feel compelled to play Cruz in the field as often. Although many fans support his defensive abilities and believe he’s a better hitter when playing right field, the Mariners are better with Cruz as their designated hitter. Keeping “Boomstick” off the field and healthy will help preserve their star hitter. Bullpen This unit went from being superb in 2014 to being a complete disappointment last season. After dealing his club’s two best relievers, there wasn’t much left on Dipoto’s roster. So, he’s been in overdrive to find new relievers ever since. The most notable addition is Steve Cishek, who was signed to be the closer. Cishek was exceptional during 2013 and 2014, but regressed last year. The 29-year-old showed signs of improvement during the second half when he held hitters to a .206/.313/.299 slash. Despite the improved numbers, the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t value him enough to include him on their postseason roster last October. Prospect Insider assesses the side-arming righty as being better suited to be a set-up man than a closer for a contender. Another veteran newcomer is Joaquin Benoit, who’ll pitch the eighth inning. Benoit has been a durable setup man after missing the 2009 season with rotator cuff surgery. Since then, he’s logged over 60 innings in five of six years, including 67 last season. Jason explained why he liked the Benoit deal for the Mariners here. Not every face in the relief corps is new. Charlie Furbush returns after suffering a slight rotator cuff tear last season, plus Tony Zych and Vidal Nuno are holdovers who figure to play prominent roles during 2016. Mission accomplished? No. Losing Smith and Wilhelmsen put a decimated bullpen in a bigger hole and helped spark fan hostility and media skepticism. Steamer projections won’t inspire fans to a leap of faith either – last season’s original relievers provided approximately the same value that’s projected for the new guys assembled by Dipoto. Potential Bullpen 2015 Bullpen Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR CL Steve Cishek 0.0 0.0 Fernando Rodney -0.8 SU Joaquin Benoit 0.4 0.3 Carson Smith 2.1 RP Charlie Furbush 0.1 0.4 Charlie Furbush 0.1 RP Tony Zych 0.6 0.3 Tom Wilhelmsen 0.8 RP Evan Scribner -0.1 0.5 Yoervis Medina -0.1 RP Vidal Nuno 0.3 0.3 Danny Farquhar -0.2 RP Justin De Fratus -0.1 -0.1 Tyler Olson -0.4 Totals 1.2 1.7 1.5 With so many “unknown unknowns” in the bullpen, it’s tough to be optimistic in late January. Clearly, the club is banking on Furbush bouncing back and the Benoit and Cishek combo being able to anchor the back of the pen. But, it’s going to take on-field success to win over fans and skeptics alike. There is a silver lining though. If the club is in position to contend in July, Dipoto has demonstrated the propensity to fix a bullpen during a season, as he did with the 98-win Los Angeles Angels in 2014. During that season, he acquired star closer Huston Street, plus setup men Fernando Salas and Jason Grilli. Catcher At age 24, Mike Zunino is too young to be deemed a bust. Dipoto has repeatedly praised the catcher’s potential, which leaves the impression that he views the former number-three draft pick as a part of the team’s future. Defensively, he’s outstanding. However, his offense took a horrible turn last season when he posted a .174/.230/.300 slash during 386 plate appearances in 2015. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Zunino is likely to spend the entire 2016 season at Class-AAA Tacoma. As a result of Zunino’s struggles and the weak bat of Jesus Sucre, the Mariners added former Los Angeles Angel Chris Iannetta – who endured his own offensive struggles last season – and former Baltimore Oriole Steve Clevenger to form a new catching tandem for 2016. Mission accomplished? Yes. Iannetta, who will do the majority of the catching, is a good pitch-framer with proven on-base ability with the exception of last season. Clevenger is a capable backup and can also play first base in a pinch. Since Iannetta is only 32-years-old, it’s reasonable to expect that he can return to pre-2015 form. Regardless, the Iannetta/Clevenger duo is far superior to last season’s catching crew. Adding two new catchers affords Seattle the opportunity to place both Zunino and Sucre in Tacoma, if they chose to do so. This substantially improves the club’s organizational depth. Plus, it gives Zunino the opportunity to fix his swing and prove whether Dipoto is correct in believing that he’s part of the team’s future. Fringe Depth Dipoto has spoken often of adding layers of depth throughout the organization, like he did with the catcher position. Although fringe depth is easily overlooked by both fans and talking heads, it’s imperative to have both major and minor league reserves in order to contend. To get in front of the issue, Dipoto added 17 new players to 40-man roster with only four – Adam Lind, Aoki, Martin, Iannetta – slated as starting position players. The rest will provide rotation, bullpen, or bench depth for the either Seattle or Tacoma. Last season, the club didn’t have clear-cut options in the event of injury or lackluster performance, which led to an 86-loss season. Here’s what a notional Opening Day bench could look like and how it compares to last year’s reserves. Potential Bench 2015 Bench Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR C Steve Clevenger 0.0 0.4 Jesus Sucre -0.3 INF Chris Taylor -0.4 0.3 Willie Bloomquist -0.6 OF Franklin Gutierrez 2.3 0.6 Justin Ruggiano -0.1 OF Shawn O’Malley 0.1 0.0 Rickie Weeks -0.7 Totals 2.0 1.3 -1.7 Mission accomplished? Mostly. Building organizational depth is never ending process, but it’s clear that this year’s bench will be significantly better than the 2015 version. For example, Ketel Marte is seemingly destined to be the starting shortstop. Consequently, holdover Chris Taylor and import Luis Sardinas will vie for the reserve infielder spot with the loser likely to start the season with Tacoma. Also, Powell presents the Mariners with their best rookie outfield call-up option in years. These kind of options didn’t exist on Seattle’s roster a year ago. In addition to “splashy” moves, the Mariners have quietly added several non-roster invites who could potentially add to their depth. To date, those players include pitchers Casey Coleman, Brad Mills, Blake Parker, infielder Ed Lucas and outfielder Mike Baxter. Also, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reports that first baseman Gaby Sanchez has agreed with the Mariners on a minor league deal. Expect more names to be added during the next month. Final thoughts Having Cruz, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Felix to build around makes it easier for the Mariners to compete in 2016 without jeopardizing its future success or payroll flexibility. The “riskiest” contracts signed this winter are Cishek’s two-year deal and Iwakuma’s incentive-based contract. Neither will cripple the team’s future plans. While this bodes well for the team in the long-term, it’s hard to really know how well the Mariners will perform in 2016. Take a look at the projected Opening Day starters compared to last year’s group and you’ll see that this year’s lineup should perform better than 2015 version. But, is it good enough? Projected Starters 2015 Starters Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR 1B Adam Lind 2.2 1.5 Logan Morrison -0.2 2B Robinson Cano 2.1 3.5 Robinson Cano 2.1 SS Ketel Marte 1.7 1.8 Brad Miller 0.9 3B Kyle Seager 3.9 3.7 Kyle Seager 3.9 LF Nori Aoki 1.5 0.9 Dustin Ackley -0.6 CF Leonys Martin 0.5 1.2 Austin Jackson 2.3 RF Seth Smith 2.2 1.2 Seth Smith 2.2 DH Nelson Cruz 4.8 1.6 Nelson Cruz 4.8 C Chris Iannetta 0.5 1.7 Mike Zunino -0.5 Totals 19.4 17.1 14.9 Dipoto’s approach of building around core stars, while simultaneously giving the organization a major facelift makes sense. Whether that strategy leads to a winning campaign in 2016 remains to be seen. If the season started today, the Mariners are far better than the 76-win disappointment of 2015. But, their current rotation and bullpen can’t be considered ready to propel the club into contention. Right now, the Mariners are a “fringe contender” at best. The club is banking on players like Cano, Iwakuma, Paxton, Martin, Aoki, Iannetta, Cishek, Furbush and most of their relievers to rebound after a down season. If the majority of these ball players bounce back, the Mariners will be the sweethearts of baseball’s talking heads – much like the 2015 Houston Astros. If things don’t go as well as planned, they’ll be fighting to stay above the .500 mark. That assessment shouldn’t dishearten or irritate fans. After all, Opening Day isn’t until April and a lot can change between now and then. As I pointed out a few months ago, every 2015 playoff team wasn’t ready by Opening Day. Fans can also find comfort in knowing that their team’s general manager isn’t afraid to pivot from mistakes or address under-performance. If the Mariners are in contention by June or July, Dipoto has the wherewithal to add pieces – he’s done it before. If the club is out of the hunt, he can use next off-season to continue reshaping the organization and building the contender that Mariner fans so desperately crave.
Last night, Seattle Mariners fans received an unexpected and welcome surprise when general manager Jerry Dipoto announced that starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma would be returning to the team for the 2016 season. Yesterday was a tumultuous day for the 34-year-old starter and his fans. Earlier in the day, rumors were circulating that the Los Angels Dodgers were backing away from a three-year/$45 million deal with the right-handed free agent due to concerns with the results of his physical exam. By the end of the day, “Kuma” was back with the only major league team he’s known. The financial terms of the deal are unknown, but the team has announced that he’s under contract for next season with vesting options for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that Iwakuma can earn near to $45 million, if both seasons vest. He reportedly received a full no-trade clause too. While I’ve been lukewarm to the notion of bringing Iwakuma back to Seattle, the circumstances surrounding the veteran hurler’s return to the Emerald City have immediately improved the Mariners’ 2016 outlook in several ways. His presence instantly improves the rotation’s strength and depth, plus it helps deepen the bullpen – which is the club’s weakest link. Rotation strength Having a pitcher of Iwakuma’s caliber is always a good thing – as long it’s at the right price and risk is mitigated. His return has more impact now than it would’ve a month ago because Seattle added Wade Miley when it appeared that Iwakuma was signing with the Dodgers. Miley’s inclusion in the middle of the rotation helps alleviate Iwakuma durability concerns and pushes everyone down a notch on the depth chart. On the following table, I’ve listed the Mariners’ most prominent rotation candidates, as today. That’s important to note, because the roster is definitely a living, breathing document under Dipoto. Included are the FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR) and the Steamer fWAR projections for the candidates, plus the fWAR for the key starting pitchers from last season. Rotation Candidates Key 2015 Starters Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR Felix Hernandez 2.8 4.7 Felix Hernandez 2.8 Hisashi Iwakuma 1.8 2.9 Hisashi Iwakuma 1.8 Taijuan Walker 1.9 2.4 James Paxton 0.5 Wade Miley 2.6 1.9 J.A. Happ 1.2 Nate Karns 1.5 1.3 Taijuan Walker 1.9 James Paxton 0.5 0.8 Roenis Elias 0.6 Mike Montgomery 0.3 0.1 Mike Montgomery 0.3 Totals 11.4 14.1 9.1 As you can see, there are seven names in the mix and they project to add more five wins than last season’s top-seven starters. Based on the above projections, the rotation should be Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, Miley, and Nate Karns. If it were only that easy. The truth is the Mariners – and every team – will need more than five starters next season. Starting pitching depth A month ago, I pointed out that major league teams have averaged 10 starting pitchers-per-season since 2000, which is why pitching depth is a Mariners need. Even the best teams will need way more than five starters to survive the rigors of a 162-game season and a possible postseason run. Here’s a look at the number of starters used by each 2015 postseason team. # SPs Team(s) 16 Los Angeles Dodgers 13 Houston Astros 12 Texas Rangers / Toronto Blue Jays 10 Chicago Cubs / Kansas City Royals / New York Mets / New York Yankees 9 St. Louis Cardinals 8 Pittsburgh Pirates The Dodgers – who had two of the top-three Cy Young award vote-getters – used 16 starting pitchers on their way to winning the National League West division. The team that eventually beat them in the playoffs – the National League champion New York Mets – needed 10 starters, as did the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals. Guess who else used 10 starters last season? The Seattle Mariners. Seeing these numbers should help stymie the trade James Paxton and/or Mike Montgomery for the time being. It’s possible that Dipoto will move someone, but what’s the hurry? Trading Paxton now would be selling-low. Based on three months of observations, dealing from a position of weakness doesn’t seem to be a “Dipoto thing.” As far as Montgomery goes, a roster decision is pending on the southpaw. As I mentioned two days ago, he’s one of six Mariners out of options. The 26-year-old has to make the big league roster out of Spring Training or he has to pass through waivers before reassignment to Class-AAA Tacoma. There’s no doubt that Montgomery wouldn’t get through waivers. Barring injury, he’ll either be traded or make the roster as either a starter or reliever. No one can guarantee that Montgomery would be a fit in Seattle’s bullpen. He’s been primarily a starter throughout his professional career. But, but adding another lefty reliever into the bullpen discussion certainly can’t hurt. Plus, his trade value will increase when some team inevitably loses a starter to injury during Spring Training. Who knows, that team could be the Seattle Mariners. Having Montgomery – and whoever else loses out in the rotation battle – available to spot start would be beneficial. Remember how the Mariners needed last year’s rotation battle runner-up – Roenis Elias – and Montgomery when Paxton and Iwakuma went down? Back-of-the-rotation options matter for an organization that expects to make the postseason in 2016. For a recent example of starters helping the bullpen of contenders, look no further than the 2015 World Series. Three starting pitchers had a huge impact on the outcome of games – former Mariner Chris Young, Bartolo Colon, and Jonathon Niese. You can never have enough starting pitching. It’s reasonable to expect that two starting pitchers will miss time in 2016. I bet Dipoto is banking on it. Bullpen depth As Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish and Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill pointed out here Iwakuma’s presence improves the Mariners’ bullpen flexibility since Vidal Nuno has held left-handed batters to a .200/.268/.315 slash during his three-year career as a starter and reliever. Those numbers are very similar to projected set-up man Charlie Furbush, who has a career .203/.269/.269 against lefties. Nuno’s success against left-handed hitters could prove to be vital, especially if Furbush hasn’t fully recovered from the partial rotator cuff tear he suffered last season. It’s important to note that the southpaw is reported to be progressing well, but hasn’t started throwing yet. Conclusion The Mariners are better because Hisashi Iwakuma is back on their roster. I still have reservations about the back-end of the bullpen and its overall quality. However, I feel more comfortable calling the team a “fringe contender” now than I did yesterday. Being fringy isn’t exactly something to celebrate – but it’s only December and it’s better than what the Mariners were 24 hours ago.
After aggressively remodeling his club’s roster for the past three months, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto says that the team’s roster is essentially set for the beginning of Spring Training. Assuming for a moment that the 40-man roster remains intact between now and the start of Spring Training, the club will enter camp with six players who have no options remaining. This could set the stage for several tough roster-related choices by Dipoto and his staff. If these players don’t make the big league roster out of Peoria, they’d have to clear waivers before being assigned to Class-AAA Tacoma. That’s a risky proposition because most or all of them wouldn’t make through the waiver process before being snatched up by another club. Take a look at the six players to see what I mean. Mike Montgomery – starting pitcher The Mariners expect the 26-year-old to compete for a rotation spot. However, he’ll be the dark horse when pitchers and catchers report on February 19. Ahead of him are ace Felix Hernandez, newly acquired starters Wade Miley and Nate Karns, plus holdovers Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. After being exchanged for Erasmo Ramirez – who was ironically out of options – the southpaw got off to a good start after making his major league debut on June 2. Montgomery held opponents to a .191 batting average and threw two consecutive complete game shutouts during his first seven starts. Unfortunately for the rookie and the team, opponents hit .368 during his five final starts in August when he surrendered 21 earned runs in 19.1 innings. Perhaps, his late season decline was caused by his career-high 155.1 innings pitched. However, his walk and strikeout rates with Seattle weren’t much worse than what he posted during eight minor league seasons. It’s possible that we’ve seen the best that the southpaw has to offer and his destiny is in the bullpen. It’s too early to determine Montgomery’s future with certainty. But, barring injury or trade, he’ll face an uphill battle earning a spot in the Mariners’ rotation. His destiny may be to start the season in the bullpen with Seattle or be used as trade piece by Dipoto. Jesus Montero – first baseman/designated hitter Also age-26, the former catcher has endured a tumultuous three seasons after being dealt to the Mariners for pitcher Michael Pineda. After a decent first season with Seattle in 2012, he fell on hard times that were mostly self-induced. During the 2013-14 seasons, he performed poorly on the field, received a 50-game suspension due to his involvement with the Biogenesis performance enhancement scandal, arrived to Spring Training 40 pounds overweight, and was in an altercation with a roving scout during a rehab assignment game. Since then, Montero has turned his life around with the help of the Mariners organization. In 2015, he arrived to camp in the best shape of his life and with a new attitude. On the field, he posted an impressive .355/.398/.569 slash and hit 18 home runs during 98 games for Tacoma. However, his new approach may have come too late for the previous front office. Due to his previous struggles – and the acquisition of right-handed slugger Mark Trumbo – Montero was in low demand during the 2015 season. Even after his July 10 recall from Tacoma, he had just 116 plate appearances with the big league club during the remainder of the season. The new regime has outwardly endorsed Montero and Dipoto has called him as “an asset” to the organization. When referring to the right-handed slugger, the Mariners GM recently told MLB Radio that they were going to give him an opportunity to “win at bats at first base and DH.” That comment came shortly before the arrival of the left-handed hitting Adam Lind, who will be the team’s primary first baseman. Lind’s struggles against southpaws leaves the door open for a right-handed counterpart at first base. Could Montero be that player? Despite Dipoto saying all of the right things Montero, I can’t envision a scenario where he’ll get enough at bats to justify a spot on the Mariners 25-man roster. Let’s face the facts – he isn’t the kind of player the GM has been targeting in his deals. Montero doesn’t play another field position and he’s a power-first offensive player. More than likely, the Mariners will only have four reserve position players and that’s including a backup catcher. And no – Montero isn’t a catcher anymore. Ideally, the Mariners’ backup first baseman can play the outfield. If not, he’ll have to be capable of playing passable defense at another position. Remember, the new leadership has placed an emphasis on improving the team’s fielding and versatility. Montero doesn’t fit into that mold. Seattle will already be carrying two other players who will only play one position – Lind and catcher Chris Iannetta. If Montero were a third, the bench would consist of outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, backup catcher Steve Clevenger and one infielder. It’s true that both Lind and Iannetta have played other positions during their respective careers. Lind has played the outfield, but hasn’t done so since 2010. Iannetta has manned first and third base, although it’s been for three or fewer games during any given season. Both players are going to play one field position. Based on the strategy that the Mariners have been using to reboot their roster, they’ll want to have more versatile bench players. That’s why newly acquired Ed Lucas may be better positioned than Montero to make the team out of Peoria. The right-handed hitter can play all four infield positions, and has totaled nearly 900 innings playing corner outfield spots during his professional career. His hitter’s defensive versatility could potentially make him an asset. Moreover, he’s hammered left-handed pitching with a .330/.360/.469 slash during a very small sample-size of 179 plate appearances. Lucas may not be the eventual choice to make the team and may end up being minor league depth. But, a player with versatility similar to Lucas’ will have the edge over a less adaptable player – like Montero. When discussing Montero, Dipoto relayed to Tacoma News Tribune beat writer Bob Dutton that “He is out of options. So he’s going to be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make our club. One thing I can say is we do believe Jesus can hit. We’re going to find out if that fits for us.” Barring injury or trade, I believe that Dipoto will determine that Montero isn’t a fit. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the club or the player. Perhaps, the Mariners can add a piece to an area of weakness – like bullpen depth – by dealing Montero. Plus, the former highly-touted prospect may be best served by starting over with a new organization that has a spot for him. Montero has nothing else to prove in the minor leagues and deserves a shot after reinventing himself and turning his life around. Personally, I’m hoping that the guy gets the chance to succeed somewhere in the majors. Steve Clevenger – catcher Although the 29-year-old has only appeared in 148 big league games in five seasons, he has the best chance to make the club out of Peoria. Clevenger provides Seattle with much needed catching depth and is a better alternative to last year’s backup – Jesus Sucre. Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill pointed out here that Clevenger is a player who possesses good on-base abilities and is capable of playing more than one position– both are qualities that Dipoto values. In Clevenger’s case, he’s played first and third base during his professional career. This is another strike against Montero. Clevenger’s presence also permits the club’s former starting catcher – Mike Zunino – to spend the entire 2016 season at the Class-AAA level, if that’s what it takes to get his offensive development back on track. If the former Mariners’ former number-one draft pick figures it out sooner, Clevenger would likely be the odd man out. Anthony Bass, Evan Scribner, Justin De Fratus – relief pitchers All three players – who are new acquisitions – will vie for spots in the bullpen. Bass is the most versatile of the threesome. As Jason pointed out when the right-hander arrived from the Texas Rangers, he’s a “Swiss Army Knife” who can fill multiple roles including long-reliever or spot starter. This versatility gives the 28-year-old a leg up on his competition. Both Scribner and De Fratus will also compete for spots on the major league roster and are the type of “buy-low” players that Dipoto’s been adding during the offseason. Scribner demonstrated superb control of the strike zone in 2015 while striking out 64 hitters in 60 innings and only walking four. That’s an amazing strikeout-to-walk ratio. On the flip side, he was victimized by the long ball – he surrendered 14 home runs. De Fratus appears to be a victim of overuse last season. While with the Philadelphia Phillies, he logged 80 innings – second most by a reliever in 2015. Also, he had 26 multi-inning appearances last season – twice as many as in 2014. More than likely, De Fratus’ second-half decline was directly attributable to his heavy workload. Considering the current bullpen uncertainty, all three relievers have a good chance of making the relief squad out of Spring Training, although it’s important to note that Dipoto will continue to add more arms to the mix when an opportunity arises. Just today, he added reliever A.J. Schugel, who was designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks last week. There are two more details that need to be mentioned – Jerry Dipoto is always willing to make a that will help improve his roster and it’s only December 16. So, some of the “men without options” could be dealt prior to the beginning of Spring Training. In the end, all six players will land on a major league roster if they earn it. Whether that spot is with Seattle or another team will be determined by their performance, the competition, fate, or the trade market.
It’s that time of year again. No, not that time where we are questioning why the grocery store has been playing Christmas music for four weeks despite the fact December only just begun. That time when baseball free agency reaches it’s peak: the annual Winter Meetings. This year thousands of executives will meet in Nashville, Tennessee for four days starting on Monday, and ending on Thursday with the Rule 5 Draft. We don’t know exactly what will happen over those four days, but we do know that David Price, Zack Greinke, Jeff Samardzija, and John Lackey won’t be part of numerous transactions that will take place. As Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins recently discussed, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto didn’t wait for the first week of December to begin shaping his roster. Already, seven players have been acquired via trade, seven via free agency, and three via waivers. Coming into the offseason, the outfield and pitching staff figured to be the primary issues needing to be resolved as well as the catching situation. Dipoto would be the first to tell you that the current iteration of the Mariners is far from ready for Opening Day, but let’s take a look at what has already been accomplished through the offseason’s first month and what still needs to be done. Rotation: Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, Nate Karns, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery The only addition to the starting staff so far is Karns, who was the key piece coming back to Seattle in the multi-player deal that sent Brad Miller to the Tampa Bay Rays. Reportedly, the Mariners are ramping up their efforts to retain free agent Hisashi Iwakuma. Seattle is said to be the preference for the right-hander, but given the contracts given out free agents thus far, it’ll probably take a three-year guarantee and $45 million to get a deal done. I wouldn’t blame the Mariners for being uncomfortable with either of those numbers. However, after missing out on Greinke, I wouldn’t expect Iwakuma’s draft pick cost to be an issue for the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants. Regardless of Iwakuma’s situation, the Mariners need a No. 2 starter. Ideally, they get a No. 2 and a No. 3, which would allow Walker to start the year in the No. 4 slot. I wouldn’t expect Iwakuma to sign this week, but given how hot his market has become, it’s certainly possible. With Montgomery out of options, a couple depth pieces should also look to be added. Bullpen: Joaquin Benoit, Carson Smith, Charlie Furbush, Tony Zych, Anthony Bass, Vidal Nuno, David Rollins, Justin De Fratus, Rob Rasmussen Dipoto has already secured the eighth and ninth innings with the addition of Benoit. It’s not yet determined whether he or Smith will close, but the prevailing wisdom is that the veteran will begin the year in that role. Bass and De Fratus should fill the role in the pen left by the departed Tom Wilhelmsen and solidify things from the right side. Some work will need to be done on the left side though as Furbush recovers from surgery and Nuno will likely be in the mix for a back-end rotation spot. Rasmussen and Rollins offer some depth, but the club is without a shutdown lefty that most elite bullpens offer. Infield: Chris Iannetta, Steve Clevenger, Mike Zunino, Jesus Montero, Andy Wilkins, Robinson Cano, Ketel Marte, Kyle Seager, Luis Sardinas, Chris Taylor, Shawn O’Malley The catcher’s position that shortened the M’s lineup to eight spots throughout 2015 has been adequately restored with the additions of Iannetta and Clevenger. The pair will allow Zunino to start the year at No. 3 on the depth chart and be able to work his way back to the majors; an ideal situation. Wilkins and Sardinas join Taylor as infield depth. A bounce-back season from Cano, who’s currently recovering from hernia surgery, would represent a major upgrade on it’s own. With Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison dealt, the first base position currently rests in Montero’s lap. Dipoto has all but said the former top prospect won’t be the club’s Opening Day first baseman and is working to supplement the position via trade. If Trumbo hadn’t of been dealt, the infield would have presumably been set. With nothing having changed since then, that’s the only hole that needs to be filled within the base paths. Outfield: Seth Smith, Franklin Gutierrez, Leonys Martin, Nori Aoki, Boog Powell, Daniel Robertson In just a few weeks Seattle has a fresh outfield, with a couple familiar faces, that could run laps around the outfields constructed by the previous regime. Literally. Martin was a buy-low candidate after a rough season and will provide a huge boost in center field. Gutierrez was re-signed to platoon with the lone holdover, Smith, in one of the corners with the newly acquired Aoki in the other. Powell and Robertson provide depth that is stronger than what James Jones — who was non-tendered by the Texas Rangers — or Stefen Romero would offer. The constant in the Mariners outfield acquisitions: athleticism, defensive skills, and the ability to get on base. I would expect another outfielder to enter the picture as a depth piece, particularly if Seth Smith is dealt. Overall though, the outfield is positioned to be a plus for the Mariners in 2016. There wasn’t a Jason Heyward added, but it could easily be argued that all three spots have already been improved. Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz One of the biggest benefits of the outfield re-haul is that it leaves little room for Cruz to be anything but a DH. This is a win-win scenario. Now, I don’t think there’s any reason to restrict Cruz as a DH-only. I have no problem seeing him in the outfield once, maybe twice a week at most. As it stands Cruz is the fourth or fifth best option to play the field instead of the second or third as he was last year. And I’ll say it because it bears repeating: Cruz is not going to become a first basemen. He simply doesn’t possess the capabilities to do so regardless of any predispositions that playing first is a mindless task. Big picture, a lot of the heavy lifting is done. In speaking to Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, Dipoto expects at least one more trade to take place with multiple conversations having taken place or are ongoing. This makes sense as Dipoto suggests the club won’t be signing any marquee free agents this winter. Read: Chris Davis, most likely. I see the same two major needs that everyone else does right now: a No. 2 starter and a first baseman. A stronger left-handed presence in the bullpen should also be targeted. The fact that the outfield picture is all but solved — perhaps the most daunting task the new GM faced — is a huge plus. It’s been noted that Dipoto has yet to make a ‘signature’ move that will truly make the 2016 Mariners his team. With the presence of Felix, Cano, Cruz, and Seager there isn’t the need for more star power specifically. The current payroll situation likely doesn’t allow for another $20 million allocation. If I were to guess on a potential big move that could take place, and this is pure speculation, it would involve a young controllable starter. Probably not a Jose Fernandez type since, Walker aside, the M’s don’t really have the kind of bullets required. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a very fun next few days.
One of the first things mentioned by new Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto upon his hiring was how the club lacked general depth, particularly in the upper minors. Many clubs welcomed impact and contributing rookies to their rosters this past season. But Seattle’s inability to develop talent at the higher minor league levels during Jack Zduriencik’s tenure nearly left the Mariners out of the aptly named ‘year of the rookie’ in 2015. Ketel Marte and Carson Smith were major league contributors as rookies though Seattle didn’t have a Kris Bryant or a Noah Syndergaard waiting in the wings. Or even a Roberto Osuna for that matter. We knew that pieces surrounding the core would need to be augmented and practically all executives talk about a need for depth. There’s no secret: the Mariners are a team with holes. We saw how the offense fizzled behind a slumping Robinson Cano in the first half and the pitching staff was exposed throughout the season. When Mike Zunino struggled, there was no Plan B. Dipoto’s first deal as general manager, a six-player trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, took a step towards rebuilding the starting pitching depth. Nate Karns is coming off a 26-start rookie campaign but will turn just 28 in a few weeks. As Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill noted, Karns could start the season in the bullpen or in the back end of the rotation. In some ways he gives the M’s more flexibility with Vidal Nuno — both are rotation and bullpen candidates or one could be sent to Triple-A to get stretched out early in 2016. Nuno is likely a better fit in the bullpen, though. PI’s Luke Arkins recently covered the pitching needs in depth. Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are leading rotation candidates with Roenis Elias and Mike Montgomery next on the depth chart. Montgomery is out of options meaning he would be exposed to waivers if sent down but Elias can still be sent down. Beyond them the rotation depth In Tacoma is slim to none with Sam Gaviglio and Jordan Pries atop that list. Top pitching prospect Edwin Diaz is likely another year or more away from being major league ready. Smith has graduated to the big league squad and despite some struggles this past season, figures to start the year in a start-up role. C.J. Riefenhauser figures to take Danny Farquhar‘s spot in the bullpen, only from the left side, so no additional depth was added there. With Charlie Furbush recovering from a slight tear in his rotator cuff, the southpaw depth could be tested with David Rollins and Rob Rasmussen also in the picture. Tony Zych made his major league debut in September and in 13 appearances, including one start, he pitched a 2.04 FIP and 11.79 strikeouts per nine over 18 and 1/3 innings. He should have the inside track on one of the middle relief gigs. Mayckol Guaipe, J.C. Ramirez, and Jose Ramirez are other names to keep an eye on. None of the three have the upside of a Smith, for example, but do provide some bullpen depth. Cody Martin is also among the right-handed options after being picked up on a waiver claim. Over on the infield, Seattle is set at second and third base long-term. The trade of Brad Miller suggests the club is confident in Marte and his ability to be a starter. The 22-year-old had a strong debut producing a 112 wRC+ while offering solid and improving defense. Chris Taylor now finds himself No. 2 on the shortstop depth chart but struggled offensively in 2015. He’s hit well enough at Triple-A in recent memory, but at least offers a reliable glove in a key defensive position. Shawn O’Malley made a decent impression during his September cameo displaying on-base skills and picking up three stolen bases. Perhaps his best asset is his positional flexibility. Tyler Smith has also taken some steps forward and could become an option in the second half. D.J. Peterson appeared to be readying for show time one year ago, but it was a difficult year for the top prospect and he’ll likely begin 2016 at Triple-A. It’s a similar story for Patrick Kivlehan who had a slightly down year offensively in his first taste of Triple-A action. Both are nearing major league readiness and provide nice depth at the infield corners for the second half. And of course, there’s the perennial name squeezed between the major league and Triple-A depth charts, Jesus Montero. Behind the plate the story is the same as it was in 2015. Zunino may still need time in Triple-A to continue restructuring his swing and Jesus Sucre and John Hicks have proven that they aren’t offensively capable for the majors. It’s no secret that catching is a major concern for the Mariners. James Jones and Stefen Romero are joined by Boog Powell in the outfield depth chart. Powell has a shot at breaking camp as the club’s starting centerfielder given his contact and defensive skills but the other two should start the year in Tacoma at this point. Daniel Robertson was claimed off waivers from Dipoto’s previous employer, the Los Angeles Angels. The 30-year-old spent the majority of 2015 at Triple-A where he posted an underwhelming 83 wRC+ but has solid plate discipline skills. Ramon Flores, acquired from New York in the Dustin Ackley trade, had his 2015 season ended early with a compound fracture in his ankle and is worth keeping an eye on. The most glaring position of weakness for the Mariners is at catcher, but that’s nothing new. Around the infield Seattle appears to be in reasonable shape depth-wise. Dealing Miller hurts, but the addition of a veteran infielder would allow Taylor to potentially start the year at Triple-A, making the depth look better. The outfield is susceptible with Seth Smith being the only real major league caliber outfielder on the depth chart. Powell, Jones and Romero are considerations for the open spots as we speak, but if all three were to make the club, Flores and Robertson would make up the Triple-A depth. That could be scary. You always need more pitching depth so that much goes without saying. The bullpen was a major issue for Seattle in 2015 and with all the pieces dealt over the past year, is in need of a makeover. It’s hard to evaluate the starting pitching given how many question marks there are. A combination of Walker, Paxton, Karns, Nuno, Elias, and Montgomery figure to take two rotation spots and probably a couple bullpen spots as well. Not every position needs to have a bonafide starter or back-up caliber player at Triple-A, but the presence of legitimate options will be a welcomed change. Remember, it doesn’t take much for depth to appear. A couple solid minor league signings, a couple prospects taking a step forward, and a couple surprises can quickly change the tone in how we reference the players in Tacoma. It’d be unfair to expect Dipoto and his staff to fix every problem the M’s currently face in year one, but rebuilding the catching and outfield positions while stockpiling arms would be meaningful progress. The pitching staff already looks stronger than it did at season’s end. The first steps have already been taken with many more to come.
Just last week, Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill highlighted starting pitching and the bullpen as two deficiencies that the Mariners will need to address during the offseason. Jason opined that the team needed two pitchers to follow ace Felix Hernandez so that young arms Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, and Mike Montgomery could compete for the final two spots in the rotation with the losers being used as trade bait or needed depth. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto and Jason may share a brain because Dipoto made his first major deal yesterday and it involved adding pitching depth. Seattle acquired right-handed starting pitcher Nate Karns and southpaw reliever C.J. Riefenhauser – along with well-regarded outfield prospect Boog Powell – from the Tampa Bay Rays for shortstop Brad Miller, first baseman Logan Morrison, and reliever Danny Farquhar. Karns doesn’t fit the bill as a one of the starters that Jason referred to in his piece, but the 27-year-old adds much needed depth and you can never have enough starting pitching. Look no further than the Mariners 2015 season as proof. As the season opened, it seemed like the Mariners had plenty of starting pitching. Walker had won the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation and Elias was dispatched to Class-AAA Tacoma to serve as a back-up plan. Plus, the team had flipped Erasmo Ramirez for Montgomery adding more minor league depth. Then, the season began. Injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and Paxton limited them to 20 and 13 starts respectively. Plus, there were inning limits placed on Walker and Montgomery. On top of that, Walker, Elias, and J.A. Happ struggled with consistency and Happ was dealt at the trading deadline. All in all, the Mariners used 10 starters last season. 2015 Seattle Mariners Starting Pitchers Felix Hernandez Taijuan Walker Hisashi Iwakuma J.A. Happ James Paxton Roenis Elias Mike Montgomery Vidal Nuno Edgar Olmos Tony Zych All of this upheaval certainly made the stomachs of fans churn as the 2015 season unraveled. But, needing so many starting pitchers shouldn’t be considered a “Mariners thing.” History shows us that every team needs many more arms than their projected starting five to survive a 162-game season. Since the 2000 season, major league teams have used an average of 10 starting pitchers during each season. The lone team to use only five starters since then were the 2003 Mariners. That staff was comprised of Ryan Franklin, Freddy Garcia, Gil Meche, Jamie Moyer, and Joel Pineiro. Conversely, the 2006 Kansas City Royals, 2004 Texas Rangers, and 2003 Cincinnati Reds are tied for using the most starters in one season at 17. You may be thinking that those three teams couldn’t have been very good. That was my first thought. But, that’s not completely accurate. Yes, the Royals and Reds had losing records with the Kansas City losing 100 games. But, the 2003 Rangers won 89 games under manager Buck Showalter and only finished three games out of first place. So, what about this year? Let’s take a look at the ten postseason entrants to see how many starters they needed. # SPs Team(s) 16 Los Angeles Dodgers 13 Houston Astros 12 Texas Rangers / Toronto Blue Jays 10 Chicago Cubs / Kansas City Royals / New York Mets / New York Yankees 9 St. Louis Cardinals 8 Pittsburgh Pirates It may be a surprise to some of you that most of this year’s playoff teams were in double-digits with starting pitchers. Despite all of the fanfare that the New York Mets’ staff received during the postseason, they needed 10 starters to get through the season – just like their World Series opponent and the Mariners. Okay, so it’s clear that the Mariners will need more than five or six starters to make it through a six-month season and a potential postseason run. But, that’s only part of the challenge that awaits Mariners management. Look at how many relief pitchers that each playoff team used this year. Bear in mind that I’m only counting pitchers who pitched 100-percent of their innings as a reliever – starters used out of the bullpen or a reliever used as a spot starter are not included below. # RPs Team(s) 23 New York Yankees 19 Chicago Cubs / Texas Rangers 16 New York Mets / Toronto Blue Jays 15 Los Angeles Dodgers 14 St. Louis Cardinals / Kansas City Royals 13 Pittsburgh Pirates 11 Houston Astros Even the best teams needed lots of relief help to get through the season. That was the case in Seattle too. Mariners fans are well-versed on the club’s relief corps regression from 2014 excellence to 2015 unreliability. In total, the Mariners used 18 pitchers who appeared exclusively in the relief role. As with the starters, the need for bullpen depth can’t be overstated. Help can come from the trade market – like it did yesterday – or the waiver wire like right-hander Cody Martin who was picked from the Oakland Athletics last month. But, the competition is steep because every team is trying to augment their bullpen. There’s no guarantee that Martin will make the 25-man roster or even be with the Mariners organization when next season begins, but acquiring multiple arms – like Martin and Riefenhauser – increases the chances of building the major and minor league depth needed to compete well into the postseason. That’s why the minor leagues is the first place teams look for help. Unfortunately for the Mariners, that a bit’s of a challenge. Anyone familiar with the organization already knows that Seattle has lagged behind with player development in recent years. This has contributed to the club not having the necessary depth to properly react to injury or poor performance at the big league level. Both GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais have both touched on this during their introductory press conferences. A lack of minor league depth poses a challenge for any front office, especially a new one with many needs that go beyond pitching. Here’s a look at who’s available to the new regime on the Mariners 40-man roster. Free agents Iwakuma and Joe Beimel aren’t listed. Pitchers on Seattle Mariners 40-man Roster Felix Hernandez Carson Smith Mayckol Guaipe Jose Ramirez Taijuan Walker Vidal Nuno Charlie Furbush J.C. Ramirez Hisashi Iwakuma Edgar Olmos Nate Karns Cody Martin Roenis Elias James Paxton Edgar Olmos Danny Hultzen Mike Montgomery Tony Zych David Rollins C.J. Riefenhauser Tom Wilhelmsen Tyler Olson Rob Rasmussen When fans read that Seattle has added the likes of Martin, they should be encouraged that club is aggressively trying to add the depth needed to compete. Yes, it’s true that these minor moves aren’t sexy. But, they can be difference makers in a time of need. Most will not work out, but a few will. Last year, the Mariners added the likes of David Rollins, Beimel, Sam Gaviglio, Edgar Olmos, Joe Saunders during the offseason and then Vidal Nuno in the Mark Trumbo deal in early June and Rob Rasmussen, J.C Ramirez, and Jose Ramirez prior to the deadline. Some never pitched in the big leagues and others didn’t perform well with the Mariners. But, Beimel and Nuno made positive contributions in 2015. The challenge for the new Mariners front office will be balancing the need to add position player depth without compromising pitching depth. Assuming that the team Dipoto-Churchill mind-meld continues and Seattle adds two more starters to the rotation, the “excess” starters would be attractive commodities in the trade market and could help Dipoto fill-out needs at other positions. Whether the team opts to hold onto their depth or use it in the trade market will be one of the tougher choices facing Dipoto during his first year on the job. Holding on to Iwakuma would make it easier to dispatch a young arm in a deal. But, the return of “Kuma” isn’t certain. Regardless of what the Mariners GM decides, you can bank on the team needing much more pitching than the 12-13 hurlers who make the 2016 Opening Day 25-man roster. There’s no doubt that Dipoto is banking on it too.
The end of the World Series signals that the Hot Stove season is upon us. Free agency starts in a few days, the GM meetings follow next week, and the Winter Meetings are only a month away. The games may be over, but there’s no offseason for front offices – including the Seattle Mariners. As the Mariners ramp up their efforts to get better, baseball blogs will also be bustling with activity. There will be both analysis on potential deals and passionate reader reaction. In that vein, Hot Stove speculation can be entertaining, frustrating, or enlightening – sometimes all three at once depending on the source and the method of delivery. This year will be no different. Fans can expect a long list of players associated with the Mariners in trade rumors. But, most of these players won’t be playing for Seattle next year. Who cares though? There’s six months without baseball. So, talking about baseball trades, free agency, and prospects is the next best available option for a die-hard fan. One stark reality to consider when engaging in Hot Stove speculation is that it’s hard to know whether a newly added big leaguer will actually pay off. Will they be worth it or will they be a bust? Every fan knows what I’m talking about. Mariners fans can look at two deals separated by five years, but worlds apart in recouped value. It’s fair to say that most Mariners fan are happy that the team signed slugger Nelson Cruz during last offseason, although that wasn’t the case at the time of the all-star’s signing. Even fans who were happy that Cruz came to Seattle probably didn’t envision that he’d hit 40-plus home runs while playing half of his games at Safeco. Conversely, plenty of fans embraced the signing of infielder Chone Figgins when he arrived in Seattle before the 2010 season. Given the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, no fan likes the Figgins deal now. Unfortunately, baseball executives don’t have the benefit of a crystal ball. Since none of us can predict the future, I thought it’d be fun to look back at the most frequently mentioned players in Mariners trade rumors and Prospect Insider discussions and see how they did with their new teams in 2015. Did the Mariners hit or miss on “the ones that got away?” The ground rules I’ve used to look back are relatively straightforward. With the exception of Justin Upton and Mark Trumbo, I only focused on position players who changed addresses during the offseason and were either mentioned in a Prospect Insider piece or suggested by our readers. My reasoning for not discussing pitchers is that Seattle was never a serious player for notable pitchers, especially after trading for J.A. Happ. To help compare the offensive production of players, I decided to use the “slash” statistics of batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage. Any of these stats that were at-or-below league-average have been highlighted in yellow. League-averages for 2015 and every season can be found here at baseball-reference.com. First, let’s look at the most frequently mentioned Mariners trade targets from last offseason. The first two on the below table – Justin Upton and Matt Kemp – ended up as teammates with the San Diego Padres, while Yoenis Cespedes was traded twice since the completion of last season. First, he went to the Detroit Tigers who then sent him to the New York Mets at the July 31 trading deadline. Name PA Age Tm G H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Justin Upton 620 27 SDP 150 136 26 3 26 .251 .336 .454 .790 Matt Kemp 648 30 SDP 154 158 31 3 23 .265 .312 .443 .755 Jason Heyward 610 25 STL 154 160 33 4 13 .293 .359 .439 .797 Evan Gattis 604 28 HOU 153 139 20 11 27 .246 .285 .463 .748 Dexter Fowler 690 29 CHC 156 149 29 8 17 .250 .346 .411 .757 Yoenis Cespedes 676 29 TOT 159 184 42 6 35 .291 .328 .542 .870 Adam Lind 572 31 MIL 149 139 32 0 20 .277 .360 .460 .820 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used Generated 10/5/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Acquiring most of these players would have cost the Mariners a significant number of prospects. In Kemp’s case, Seattle would have needed to part with prospects – and maybe James Paxton or Taijuan Walker – plus assume his large salary that runs through 2019. Most of the remaining players – Upton, Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler, Adam Lind, and Cespedes – will be free agents in just a few days. The Houston Astros acquired Evan Gattis by trading three prospects who started the 2015 season ranked in the top-20 of the Atlanta Braves’ minor league system. Although getting Gattis wouldn’t have been as expensive as Kemp, adding a defensively limited power hitter with a career .296 on-base percentage would still have been costly for a Seattle organization that ended 2015 with very few top prospects above the Class-A level. Would it have made sense for the Mariners to part with important pieces like Paxton, Walker, or Hisashi Iwakuma or prospects like Ketel Marte, D.J. Peterson or Alex Jackson for one-year commitments from Upton, Heyward, Fowler, Lind, or Cespedes? Or players like Kemp and Gattis? Next up are free agents who changed teams, but didn’t sign with Seattle. Based on their 2015 records, I’d describe this group as “underwhelming” when compared to the trade targets. Most were at-or-below league-average in multiple offensive categories, although Nori Aoki had a positive offensive season and Russell Martin provided value at the plate and from behind it. Otherwise, this group was unimpressive in 2015. Name PA Age Tm G H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Alex Rios 411 34 KCR 105 98 22 2 4 .255 .287 .353 .640 Colby Rasmus 485 28 HOU 137 103 23 2 25 .238 .314 .475 .789 Hanley Ramirez 430 31 BOS 105 100 12 1 19 .249 .291 .426 .717 Russell Martin 507 32 TOR 129 106 23 2 23 .240 .329 .458 .787 Torii Hunter 567 39 MIN 139 125 22 0 22 .240 .293 .409 .702 Chase Headley 642 31 NYY 156 150 29 1 11 .259 .324 .369 .693 Jonny Gomes 262 34 TOT 95 48 9 0 7 .213 .313 .347 .660 Michael Cuddyer 408 36 NYM 117 98 18 1 10 .259 .309 .391 .699 Melky Cabrera 683 30 CHW 158 172 36 2 12 .273 .314 .394 .709 Billy Butler 601 29 OAK 151 135 28 1 15 .251 .323 .390 .713 Nori Aoki 392 33 SFG 93 102 12 3 5 .287 .353 .380 .733 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used Generated 10/5/2015. xxxxxxxxxxx Two international free agents received a great deal of attention at Prospect Insider. Cuban Yasmany Tomas and Jung Ho Kang from South Korea were widely sought after by many teams, although the Mariners weren’t mentioned as an interested party in national media reports. That didn’t stop discussions at PI though. Before his season-ending knee injury on September 17, Kang put up impressive numbers for the Pittsburgh Pirates while splitting his time between third base and shortstop. Although Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs is the front-runner for National League Rookie of the Year, the 28-year-old will certainly receive votes after a superb rookie campaign. Tomas, conversely, may have not lived up to the lofty expectations that comes with a six-year/$68.5 million dollar deal. But, his first season was hardly a bust and he’ll only be 25-years-old next season. Name PA Age Tm G H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Yasmany Tomas 426 24 ARI 118 111 19 3 9 .273 .305 .401 .707 Jung Ho Kang 467 28 PIT 126 121 24 2 15 .287 .355 .461 .816 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used Generated 10/5/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Seattle actually acquired a few players mentioned in PI pieces or by readers. The most notable was Cruz. The question going forward will be whether the 35-year-old can sustain his success for the next three seasons, while earning $14.25 million annually. The other key player added prior to the season was Seth Smith. Some may criticize Smith’s overall numbers, but he did his job – hit right-handed pitching. He hit 11 of his 12 home runs against righties with a slash of .255/.343/.458. His numbers were solid and he reinforced his reputation as a professional major league hitter. Overall, the Mariners did well with the Cruz and Smith deals – both provided value and met or exceeded expectations. Many may point to Trumbo’s second-half slash of .284/.343/.472 as reason for optimism going into 2016, but his season totals aren’t significantly better than his career .250/.300/.458 slash. Plus, the 29-year-old has yet to establish himself at a defensive position and will likely command over $9 million at arbitration. His best chance to remain in Seattle will be at first base, although it’s important to note that GM Jerry Dipoto has traded the right-handed slugger once before when they were both with the Los Angels Angels. Name Age Tm G PA H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Mark Trumbo 29 TOT 142 545 133 23 3 22 .262 .310 .449 .759 Seth Smith 32 SEA 136 452 98 31 5 12 .248 .330 .443 .773 Kendrys Morales 32 KCR 158 639 165 41 2 22 .290 .362 .485 .847 Nelson Cruz 34 SEA 152 655 178 22 1 44 .302 .369 .566 .936 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used Generated 10/5/2015. xxxxxxxxxxx I included Kendrys Morales with the new Mariners since he was the only significant position player to leave Seattle in 2014. The switch-hitter had a great season with the World Series champion Kansas City Royals and proved to be worth the Royals’ two-year/$17 million dollar investment. For those who are inclined to bemoan the fact that the Mariners didn’t resign Morales, it’s important to note that he didn’t want to remain in Seattle and was never a realistic option for Seattle. My takeaway from this ride down memory lane is that high profile Hot Stove targets tend to look better on paper than they’ll actually perform on the field. I’m not saying that fans shouldn’t speculate and pine for big name players. Heck, it’s fun to talk about this stuff! Just bear in mind that most won’t play at the level of Nelson Cruz. Regardless of who you think that the Mariners should get this offseason, please visit Prospect Insider often to get our latest analysis on players and acquisitions – plus let us know what you think in the comments section. Finally, six months without baseball makes the winter a bit colder. So, have fun with the Hot Stove season as we await Opening Day!
Tonight, Seattle Mariners’ starting pitcher James Paxton made his first rehab start with the Tacoma Rainiers since prematurely leaving his last start with the Mariners on May 28 with a strained tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand. Unfortunately for Rainiers fans, his night was very short – he didn’t get out of the first inning and departed after 36 pitches against the Memphis Redbirds. The good news is that he reported no health issues after his brief stint. When asked about his performance, the big left-hander indicated that he felt fine physically and had no issues with the finger. Also, he didn’t feel any fatigue related to the layoff or the hot and smoky conditions at Cheney Stadium. Overall, he was pleased with his performance although he admitted that he would have liked to have escaped the first inning. His goal for his next outing is to last longer and build upon tonight’s outing. The southpaw’s greatest challenge during his professional career has always been repeating his delivery – which is key to his command. He certainly struggled in that department tonight. Although he threw 61-percent of his pitches for strikes, he managed to walk a hitter and throw a wild pitch that landed several feet in front of home plate. Redbirds hitters were aggressive early in the count, but had a hard time getting around on his fastball – which ranged between 92-95 mph. Accordingly, they fouled-off numerous pitches, which Paxton acknowledged that the multiple foul balls played a big part in his early departure. Considering the frayed status of Seattle’s rotation, the team could use Paxton as soon as he’s ready – especially with teammates Taijuan Walker and Mike Montgomery approaching their innings limits for the season. Prior to sustaining his injury in late May, the 26-year-old had settled into a nice groove after a bumpy start to his 2015 season. In the six starts before the injury, he registered a superb 1.63 earned run average and .187 opponents batting average. That’s why the Mariners could really use his presence right now, Getting Paxton back would provide the Mariners rotation with a much needed boost during the last days of a disappointing 2015 season. Although the Mariners could desperately use him, it’s going to take time for Paxton to be ready for a major league return. Bear in mind that he’s essentially going through a second Spring Training after not facing live hitting for nearly three months. With that in mind, expect Paxton to make at least several more starts before he’s ready to rejoin the big league club. If he can stay on track, he should be back on the mound at Safeco Field sometime in September.
The hype-machine had been in full force for what turned out to be a disappointing 2014 season for Taijuan Walker. The former top prospect spent time on the disabled list with shoulder troubles and a prolonged stint at Triple-A while battling growing pains. All in all, Walker had a 2.61 ERA and a 3.68 FIP in the 38 innings he pitched in the big leagues. Entering 2015, Walker would beat out left-hander Roenis Elias for the final spot in the Seattle Mariners rotation during Spring Training — a spot he has maintained since. Through 22 starts and 129 innings pitched entering Tuesday night’s games, he owns a 4.67 ERA and a 4.22 FIP with a 3.71 K/BB ratio. While unspectacular, Walker has been one of the Mariners top pitchers this year — of course, this hasn’t been the same staff that was dominant last year. The right-hander is second on the club behind Felix Hernandez in innings pitched, strikeouts, and fWAR. His performance on the year is comparable to now former Mariner J.A. Happ with Walker posting better strikeout and walk rates and Happ posting better ground ball and home run rates. Looking beyond ERA or FIP, we can see that Walker has lessened the free passes — 2.37 walks per nine compared to 3.08 per nine at Triple-A last year — and is generating more swings and misses on his pitches. His 10.5 percent swinging strike rate is only a percentage point lower than that of King Felix. The biggest problem for the sophomore starter has been the long ball. His 21 home runs allowed are the most on the pitching staff. Some of that is likely due to the success opponents are having with hitting the fastball — Walker has allowed a .427 slugging percentage against and a .185 ISO against on the pitch this year. If we were to go by xFIP and normalize his home run per fly ball rate, we’d have a 3.73 number, almost a full run better than his ERA. Just by watching Walker pitch this year, you can see that several of the home runs given up are a result of him not getting the ball down to where catcher Mike Zunino has called for it. It’s not a problem without a fix, but is something that needs to be improved on. It’s important to remember that Walker is still only days away from his 23rd birthday. In his age-22 season with the Oakland Athletics, Mark Mulder posted a 5.44 ERA and a 5.27 FIP in 154 innings pitched. Jake Peavy posted a 4.11 ERA and a 4.99 FIP in 194 and 2/3 innings of work for his age-22 season. Really, this is meaningless trivia, but it’s the company Walker finds himself in with nine weeks to go in his age-22 season. Point being, it’s not unusual for talented arms to struggle some early in their careers. With an estimated eight starts to go in 2015, Walker very easily could finish the season around the 1.5 to 1.7 fWAR mark. A near league average performance from the 22-year-old starter should be considered nothing less than a solid season and stepping stone for the future. Remember, he’s making the major league minimum while veteran starters are getting paid north of $10 million for similar performances. Somewhat lost in the mix are the consequences of Walker’s overall workload, as pointed out by Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. While manager Lloyd McClendon hasn’t mentioned a set innings limit or plans to start skipping Walker, the situation will be closely monitored. Including a couple of Arizona Fall League appearances, the right-hander threw 129 and 1/3 innings in 2015 after pitching 156 and 1/3 innings in 2013. Of course, not all innings are made equal with the innings pitched against major league hitters taking a higher toll on pitchers than those thrown in the minors. Generally for younger pitchers you want to see the workload increase by around 30 innings per year to protect their arm. We famously saw this a few years ago when the Washington Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg prior to the end of the season and playoffs. Applying that 30-inning rule to Walker, we would expect to see his season conclude around the 160 inning mark, or in about five start’s time. If we add a little more weight to his 2013 innings total, we could probably push that estimation closer to the 175-inning mark. But then again, Seattle may choose to go the conservative route. We won’t know until that happens. In a season mired with poor performance and disappointment, Walker’s progression has been a bright spot. The biggest challenge moving forward appears to be limiting the home runs with improved command. A strong performance to finish the year, regardless of how many more innings he throws, should all but lock up a slot in the middle of the rotation for the right-hander next year. He isn’t the No. 2 starter we had hoped he’d become, yet, but he could blossom into a solid No. 3 as soon as 2016.
With the trade deadline only days away and the Seattle Mariners currently on the outside looking in, much space has been put towards dissecting what exactly the team should do this week. Should the M’s be sellers? Could they be buyers? Sitting 9.5 games back in the division and 6.5 games back of a wild card berth entering Tuesday’s games likely suggest the former more so than the latter. Whatever the case, getting a head start on filling holes for next season should be more important than attempting an incremental upgrade for the season’s final two months. There’s enough talent on the ball club that a hot stretch in August could put them back in the wild card race, but not enough performance to merit another acquisition to bolster the club in 2015 alone. The players most often discussed as being pieces to sell — Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ, Austin Jackson, Fernando Rodney, and Mark Lowe — are free agents. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill mentions Brad Miller and D.J. Peterson among other names that have been brought up in conversations. Starting with the rotation, the potential departures of Happ and Iwakuma open two spots. Despite his prolongued stint on the disabled list, Iwakuma has played the crucial role of No. 2 starter as recently as last year and has flashed glimpses of having his stuff back since returning. Happ has been excellent in the back-end of the rotation and owns a 3.77 FIP in 104 and 1/3 innings of work. Felix Hernandez isn’t going anywhere while Taijuan Walker should have one of next year’s rotation slots essentially locked up at this point. Both Mike Montgomery and Roenis Elias have had success in the big leagues this year and are solid options. James Paxton is still on the disabled list with an injured finger and a return doesn’t appear imminent. A rotation of Felix, Walker, Montgomery, Elias, and Paxton has plenty of upside, but none of the non-Felix pitchers really stand out. Walker could presumably take another step forward as a solid No. 3 starter but Elias and Montgomery project more as back-end guys. With the potential loss of Iwakuma, there will be a hole in the rotation, particularly in the No. 2 spot. A healthy and effective Paxton can fill that role, though he has thrown barely over 130 innings since Opening Day 2014 — the track record simply isn’t there. Seattle will need more out of what’s been a league average rotation this year and an additional veteran starter will be required as well as the usual depth. The bullpen has almost literally gone from first to worst. What was a strong point last year has been a weakness this year. Rodney has turned into a pumpkin — though he may have been tipping his pitches — while Tom Wilhelmsen and Danny Farquhar have taken their turns heading up and down the I-5. The Bartender has been better of late, though, and his peripherals suggest he’s outperforming his earned run average. The good news is that Carson Smith has adapted nicely to his role as closer and has been excellent. Vidal Nuno and Charlie Furbush are doing well enough in their roles. Gone are Yoervis Medina and Dominic Leone, dealt for Welington Castillo and Mark Trumbo respectively. The dealings of relievers for bats, including Brandon Maurer in the winter, have eaten away at the depth that existed in 2014. If Lowe leaves as a free agent, the Mariners will need to find eighth inning help, which never seems to come cheap in free agency. The bullpen likely needs an additional major league arm or two as well. It’s possible Nuno competes for a rotation spot but has otherwise worked out well enough in the bullpen. The infield picture is a little more clear with Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager both locked into long-term extensions. Seager is in the midst of another excellent season while Cano is enjoying a red-hot July and finally showing signs of life after a terrible first half. Miller is also having a solid season and has a firm grasp on the starting shortstop job with Chris Taylor still waiting in the wings. As has been the problem for more than a few years now, first base needs an upgrade. After showing progress with the bat last year, Logan Morrison holds an 87 wRC+ and has been replacement level. Mark Trumbo has been better recently, but his season performance is still below league average. Both players are under team control through 2016 so it’s unlikely Seattle seeks a significant upgrade, though there’s an argument that it’s still needed. Behind the plate Mike Zunino has still played solid defence and picked things up with the bat this past week, but has struggled to hit his weight throughout the season. A trip to Triple-A has been suggested as a potential antidote the struggles at the plate. He’s still only 24 and could very well be the catcher of the future still, but the team needs a second catcher capable of playing three times per week — that’s the real issue. Doing without is only hurting Zunino in the short and long-term. The outfield picture will become even less clear with Jackson set to depart. Seth Smith is under contract for another year and is enjoying an excellent season as a platoon bat in the corners. Nelson Cruz has played right field more than anyone is comfortable with and that will probably continue next year. If manager Lloyd McLendon is smart it won’t, but it’ll likely depend in part on his other options. Rickie Weeks and Justin Ruggiano were brought onboard to solidify a pair of outfield platoons but are no longer on the big league team. There’s an increasing chance that Seattle will move on from Dustin Ackley before next spring. Franklin Gutierrez has had a nice return but is likely best-served as one-half of a platoon. He’s a free agent at the end of the year, but it’s not difficult to envision him being kept in the fold beyond. Assuming Smith, Cruz, and Trumbo are returning and the others not, Seattle will need an outfielder capable of playing center field and another corner bat. Smith and Cruz can probably handle right field duties and Trumbo isn’t really an outfielder. Talk of turning Miller into a super utility player a la Ben Zobrist has cooled but there is a real possibility shortstop prospect Katel Marte could eventually convert to an outfielder. Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins was on hand to see Marte’s outfield debut for the Tacoma Rainiers and opined that the youngster is going to need time to make the defensive adjustments. By many accounts his bat is big league ready, but we probably won’t know how viable of an option he is until Spring Training. By my count, when constructing the 2016 edition of the Seattle Mariners there is at least one need in the rotation, a couple holes to fill in the bullpen, perhaps help at first base and definitely behind the plate, and two-thirds of the outfield will need to be revamped. Seattle lacks the type of players that command high prospect prices at the trade deadline which makes them a less traditional seller. There’s no reason to think that Jackson and Iwakuma couldn’t net a couple decent prospects — probably nothing that helps the M’s immediately. If neither player is part of the future plans, there’s no reason to let them walk for nothing when they could be traded for something. Even Happ would be an upgrade for a club in need of some short-term pitching help and you can’t forget about Lowe as a potential trade piece — teams are always looking for bullpen help this time of the year. It won’t be easy for the Mariners to admit defeat on a season that was riddled with expectations, but it’s not as though the window for a playoff berth has closed. The core of the club is in place long-term. But as we can see, there are several holes that need to be filled — some remaining from this past offseason. If possible, the Mariners should be looking to get a head start on filling those holes. Now is as good a time as any and selling the pieces that are about to become free agents can help solve potential problems in 2016 and down the road.
The Seattle Mariners share the worst record in the American League with the Boston Red Sox. They sit 11 games back in the loss column within their division and eight back in the loss column in the race for the No. 2 Wild Card. Those deficits are daunting enough, but piling on the fact they’d have to pass four teams in the west and at least 10 clubs in the Wild Card hunt strongly suggests a specific plan for the trade deadline.. With that deadline approaching, the club should be selling. Right? Maybe. There absolutely is a manner in which the M’s can buy and it’d be justified. How? There is more than one way to buy at the trade deadline. Here’s how: First of all, barring a nearly-lossless stretch over the next 10 days, paying for two-month rentals to fill holes makes zero sense for a club in the Mariners. To justify any semblance of buying this summer the Mariners have to acquire players that can help their slim-to-none chances in 2015, and most of all are under club control through next year (perhaps beyond) in an attempt to jump start the roster alterations necessary for next season’s club. The Mariners can buy and sell, too. They can move J.A. Happ — perhaps for a bullpen piece or a player that can help off the bench for a year and two months or more — and recall Roenis Elias and not miss a beat in the starting rotation. Austin Jackson can be traded to a contender that needs a more viable center field option. Again, perhaps a bullpen piece, part-time player or halfway decent prospect comes back. Filling Jackson’s shoes is more difficult. James Jones is not the answer in the field or at the plate. Neither is Dustin Ackley. Franklin Gutierrez cannot handle center regularly and cannot play everyday. The organization is without a viable option at the position, but in combination the drop-off in value may not be much, and Jackson still should be traded. The qualifying offer is going to be valued at more than $15 million this offseason. I’m not convinced Jackson gets a better deal than that, even if over a two-year deal, so the draft pick probably is not part of the valuation here. Certainly the same goes for Happ. Trading Hisashi Iwakuma is going to be tough. His health is a concern for clubs, but his performance is the biggest worry. The Mariners cannot tender the qualifying for Iwakuma due to a clause in his entry contract, however, so if the right-hander is not in the club’s plans for 2016 — or the team feels (or knows) Iwakuma will not be back on his own volition (either to look elsewhere for work in MLB or to go back to Japan to finish his career), trading him is the only logical option — since it’s the only way to extract any future value out of him. Who could the Mariners try to acquire that’s under contract beyond 2015? Lots of players. But first, it’s important to realize that high-impact players probably aren’t part of any summer additions, but not completely out of the question. Most of the big-name players available are rentals, and we’ve already established the trade cost for such rentals makes no sense for Seattle since there’s little chance it matters. Here are some names to consider with the chances Seattle could land said player if they targeted him. All are unlikely (all trades of specified targets are unlikely for any and every club).Carlos Gomez, CF: Low-FairBen Revere, CF: Fair-MediumMichael Brantley, LF: LowCameron Maybin, CF: FairMelky Cabrera, LF: LowYonder Alonso, 1B: Low-FairNick Hundley, C: LowJosh Reddick, OF: LowDerek Norris, C: LowRoberto Perez, C: Low-FairKen Giles, RHR: Low-FairJeremy Jeffress, RHR: Low-FairWill Smith, RHR: Low-FairCody Allen, RHR: Fair-MediumZach McAllister, RHR: Low-FairJay Bruce, RF: LowAdam Eaton, CF: Low-Fair Gomez will be pricey, even though he has just one year left on his deal, hasn’t had his best season and has been banged up a little bit. Bruce won’t come cheap, either, especially since he appears to be over the knee injury and is under club control for two more years after this at $25.5 million combined. Reddick is in the same boat as Gomez contract wise and is a better player than Bruce. Cabrera could be a buy-low situation, as he’s had a bad year. He’s below-average defensively, though, so is far from ideal since both Trumbo and Nelson Cruz remain on the roster. Maybin has had a very good year and expecting it continue may be asking too much, but if the price is right taking a shot on the skill set may make sense. He hasn’t been as good defensively as hoped over the past couple of years, however, which is certainly something to consider strongly. Michael Brantley is a solid left fielder that will hit for average and make contact. It’s a set of skills the Mariners are devoid. Brantley will not come cheap, however, especially considering he’s in his prime years and has a contract that runs through his option year of 2018 at reasonable rates — $25 million combined over the three seasons. Revere isn’t a great option to play everyday, but he’s solid with the glove, makes a ton of contact, runs well and is under club control for two more years. The one concern here is that Seattle might pay for an everyday player, both in trade cost and salary. Revere earns $4.1 million this season and is arbitration eligible after each of the next two seasons. He could net around $15 million combined, which is right around what Jackson received. Revere is benefiting from his Super Two status after the 2013 season, giving him four years of arbitration salaries. The relievers mentioned above all are under club control well beyond 2015. The cost may very well be prohibitive, as is with the catchers noted above. Trade assets are not absent in the organization. For the long-term, star-level player, perhaps the Mariners do not have the talent inventory, at least not without upsetting the current 25-man roster significantly (Taijuan Walker, Brad Miller, Mike Montgomery). But for average players, part-timers, answers in the bullpen? Sure they do, despite struggles to many of the club’s top bats in the farm system. Salary shouldn’t be a concern from the standpoint of where the club’s payroll sits, either. They are not out of money. Stop listening to anyone who suggests so. They may choose not to spend significantly more money during the season (or over the winter, too, I suppose), but suggesting they are simply out of payroll space is stupid since the club never has stated publicly what their cap is, if they even have one. And what we do have a sense of is they prefer a fluid, sliding payroll system where it covers multiple years, rather than having a single-season number to cap off the club’s spending on players. And out of money? No. Just…. no. The organization ingeniously negotiated an opt-out in their deal with Root Sports/ DirecTV several years back. That resulted in a renegotiation. That renegotiation ultimately produced a reported $2 billion deal over 17 years. If that report is correct — and there are whispers in some circles that it’s worth a lot more than that — the deal puts $117 million per year on average into the revenue stream. This is on top of improved attendance at the ballpark — over 29,000 per home date, up nearly 4,000 per date versus last season (caveat, 2014 was through 162 games in which the club was in the race throughout, that isn’t likely to be the case in 2015) — and increased TV ratings. Forbes’ Maury Brown wrote about the increase in MLB’s prime-time TV ratings last week. Those ratings — again, prime time only — are up significantly for Seattle. They are one of 10 MLB clubs beating broadcast and cable competition on television in their market. The Mariners’ ratings are up 10 percent over last year’s pre-break numbers. Yes, they increased payroll and spent $240 million on Robinson Cano, $58 million on Nelson Cruz and have Felix Hernandez signed to a deal worth $175 million total. The three are owed about $361 million after 2015. Cruz through 2018, Hernandez through 2019 and Cano through 2023. Still, however, that’s $361 million committed over several years. The club is pulling in revenues that far exceed that — $117 million per year on average from the RSN deal alone. The Mariners’ current position does not allow for a wise move that is a rental player. It also does not allow for a future-risking move such as trading Taijuan Walker and his five more years of control for anything short of a star player under control for at bare minimum two years after 2015. There are a lot of buy-and-sell scenarios, and there is indeed a sell-only scenario. There is exactly zero acceptable scenarios where the 2015 Seattle Mariners — unless the next 10 days produce at least eight victories and they gain marked ground on those in front of them — are aggressive buyers that add rental players, or fail to sell off pending free agents. Buying makes sense, but it should be a specific type of buy. Selling absolutely should be part of the approach, regardless of whether or not buying is. One concern many have, and understandable so, is that perhaps a change at GM is necessary and the current GM still holds the position that would have him doing the buying and selling. While it’d be ideal, if the club does end up making a move, to have the new GM make these trades, that’s 100 percent implausible and impossible. The only alternative to having Zduriencik make these trades is to fire him and hope one of his assistants, perhaps Jeff Kingston, is willing to stick around in the interim to make such trades. Standing pat isn’t an option. Let me repeat that: Standing pat is NOT an option. At the very least the pending free agents have to be traded. That is a must. Firing Zduriencik before the deadline probably isn’t the best timing. Selling off a few middling talents isn’t difficult. It’s not something Zduriencik can screw up to the point where it cripples the club. Even mediocre trade results are better than hanging onto the players and having no chance to net future value out of them. What’s understandable is the fright that races to the brain when imagining a job-saving approach at this year’s deadline by the club’s general manager. Couple things there: One, Zduriencik may very well not have any clue he’s not going to be back for 2016 — partly because he may actually be back. He received a “multi-year” extension last August and if the organization is giving him the behind-the-scenes vote of confidence, his approach likely remains business as usual, rather than freak-out mode. And I’m not sure Zduriencik would freak out and try some kind of over-the-top move, anyway. I was concerned about it a few months ago. I no longer get the sense this is very likely at all. And president Kevin Mather could put the cuffs on any deal he doesn’t feel right about, too, as can Howard Lincoln. Either way, the Mariners could buy as much as sell later this month. And as long as their eye is toward 2016 more than anything, the process is justifiable. The results? We’ll have to wait and see.