Marte 2In early May, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto made his feelings clear regarding his starting shortstop when told “Danny, Dave and Moore” of 710 ESPN Seattle “I’ve said from the day I got here, maybe the most surprising player of those that I was fortunate enough to inherit is Ketel Marte.”

Dipoto had good reasons for heaping praise on Marte. After a sluggish start to the season, the 22-year-old had a .303 batting average and .328 on-base percentage (OBP) on May 10, plus his defense had significantly improved.

It looked as if the Mariners had finally found something they had been lacking in recent seasons — a legitimate leadoff hitter. Then, the rest of the season happened.

Since those heady days in mid-May, Marte has struggled to reach base on a consistent basis and currently owns a .292 OBP. How bad is it going for the native Dominican? The only Mariners regular who reaches base less often is first baseman Adam Lind.

What’s the root cause of Marte’s problems? I’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s look at a leading indicator of his on-base woes — a low walk percentage (BB%).

Ketel Marte’s On Base Success
Year Teams BA
OBP
BB %
 2013  High Desert/Clinton .295 .322 3.8%
 2014 Jackson/Tacoma .304 .335 4.8%
 2015 AZL/Jackson/Tacoma .321 .366 7.0%
 2015  Seattle .283 .351 9.7%
 2016 Seattle .263 .292 4.1%

As you can see, Marte’s BB% had been increasing at each level of his professional career, until this year. Now, his declining walk rate is torpedoing his 2016 OBP.

Marte is a great example of why batting average is a limited, yet overused metric. The switch-hitter is batting .263 — about league-average for shortstops. But, his anemic OBP isn’t not good enough for any position in the lineup, let alone the leadoff spot.

What can the Mariners Opening Day shortstop do to get back on track? Do a better job of controlling the zone. It’s something that Marte has a history of doing.

In 2014, Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill noted Marte “understands the strike zone, handles the bat very well and, again, can run.” Dipoto even remarked his young player possesses “good zone judgment” during his May interview with the 710 crew.

So, what happened to Ketel Marte?

The sample sizes are small, but a comparison of Marte’s rookie season to this year reveals increased aggressiveness at the plate in 2016. Take a look for yourself.

Ketel Marte’s Plate Discipline
Year PA Pit/PA 1st Pitch Swinging O-Swing Z-Swing O-Contact Z-Contact
Pull Cent Oppo
2015 249 3.82 16.9% 26.6% 62.7%  69.3% 88.4% 39.4% 35% 25.6%
2016 317 3.78 25.8%  32% 66.5%  73.3% 89% 44.2% 30.9% 24.9%
O — Outside Strike Zone                                   Z — Inside Strike Zone

I’ve highlighted four stats that caught my eye and illustrate a change in Marte’s strategy at the plate. Most prominently, he’s swinging at the first pitch 8.9-percent more often than last season. That in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, he’s also chasing balls outside the strike zone (O-Swing) at a higher rate.

Could his expanded strike zone be responsible for the youngster walking less frequently, pulling the ball (Pull) more often, and hitting fewer balls up the middle (Cent) this season? Absolutely.

I’m not suggesting that Marte shouldn’t be aggressive at the plate. Quite the opposite. But, he’s widened his zone without delivering a positive outcome in the form of a higher OBP. Rather, the opposite has occurred.

In all fairness, it’s worth noting that Marte has endured two stints on the disabled list this season, including 20 missed games due to mononucleosis. Two extended absences certainly do not help a young player.

Also, Marte doesn’t turn 23-years-old until October and is only 135 games and 566 plate appearances into his big league career. There’s still plenty of time for him to develop into an everyday major leaguer.

On the other hand, the immediate issue for the Mariners is whether they can wait for their shortstop to find himself while they compete for the postseason with just six weeks remaining in the season.

It’s possible that Marte and the team would be better off if he were able to refresh his skills during an assignment to Class-AAA Tacoma — much like Mike Zunino and James Paxton did earlier this season and what Taijuan Walker is currently undergoing. Sending Marte to Tacoma wouldn’t be easy though.

The Mariners don’t have an adequate replacement available on their 40-man roster. Luis Sardinas appeared to be that option at the beginning of the season, but he’s been designated for assignment. Shawn O’Malley is an adequate fill-in, but he’s not an optimal choice to be the everyday shortstop for a postseason contender.

Another option would be to acquire an established shortstop in order to give Marte more time to develop. Perhaps, that’s why the Mariners were reportedly interested in picking up Zack Cozart of the Cincinnati Reds at the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline.

The presence of Cozart —  or another established shortstop — would present Dipoto with an opportunity to send Marte to Tacoma and not risk this season’s playoff hopes. Conceivably, the 48-year-old executive could still snag someone before August 31. But, there are no guarantees.

Without a suitable replacement, the Mariners will likely stick with Marte as their everyday shortstop and hope he can better control the zone in the midst of a postseason push.

That’s not a best-case scenario for the team or the player.…

Much to the chagrin of Seattle Mariners fans, their team was relatively inactive at Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. Certainly, watching two consecutive late-inning losses to the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, while other contenders improved their major league rosters didn’t help their morale either.

It’s not as if the Mariners season is over because they didn’t make any big moves. They remain relatively close in wild card race. Plus, they’re eight games behind the division-leading Texas Rangers with seven contests remaining with Texas. Plus, they’re just 2.5 games behind the second-place Houston Astros.

There is hope. But, I get it. Fans would’ve liked to have seen more action. Me too.

Frankly, I felt the Mariners needed to do more before 1 p.m. on Monday to become more than a fringe contender. But, the club didn’t do more and has 57 games remaining to end the longest current postseason drought in major league baseball.

Certainly, to play meaningful October baseball, Seattle will have to play better than they have to date. That means that the Mariners will have to do well against their division rivals — 63-percent of their remaining schedule is against the American League (AL) West.

With that in mind, I thought it’d be fun to delve into the “deadline season” maneuvers by Seattle’s four division rivals. Each club had a unique approach. There was a buyer, a holder, a sellout r, and a rudderless shipper. Let’s start with the buyer.

Texas Rangers
Most pundits classified the club as a deadline “winner.” I’m not as enthusiastic though. Don’t get me wrong. They did improve their roster and I’ve seen Texas as the team to beat in the AL West since the beginning of the season; I still feel that way. However, they solidified an already strong lineup and remained exposed to risk from a bigger need — their shallow rotation.

It’s not as if general manager (GM) Jon Daniels didn’t try to upgrade his starting staff.  But, the market was thin and he understandably didn’t want to overpay for one of the many ordinary arms on the market, such as Andrew Cashner, Drew Pomeranz, Hector Santiago, or the injured Rich Hill. Can you blame him?

Multiple reports suggested Texas was interested in top-shelf starters Chris Sale and Jose Quintana of the Chicago White Sox. But, they were unable to acquire either hurler. We’ll never whether the Rangers didn’t want to meet Chicago’s demands, or if the duo were actually available.

For whatever reason, Daniels couldn’t secure another starter for his rotation. So, he did the next best thing for his club. He upgraded the team’s offense and added a back-end reliever to his struggling bullpen.

The Rangers aggressively sought out and attained two proven offensive players — catcher Jonathan Lucroy and outfielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran — who are certain to ensure that the club’s offense remains prolific.

The duo will help with more than the club’s run-production though. Lucroy’s game calling and defensive skills behind the plate will benefit Rangers pitchers and Beltran adds another clubhouse leader with postseason experience.

Daniels addressed his roster’s weakest link by landing Milwaukee Brewers closer Jeremy Jeffress in the same deal that brought Lucroy to Arlington. Texas relievers rank last in the American League —  according to the Fangraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR), They’ve also allowed the most home runs and registered the fewest strikeouts-per-nine innings of any bullpen in the majors.

Jeffress isn’t a marquee name like Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller and he’s not a swing-and-miss type like Chapman or Miller. But, he’s surrendered just two home runs in 44 innings of work this season and has a proven track record in high-leverage situations.

Adding Jeffress into the late-inning mix with hard-throwers Sam Dyson and Matt Bush certainly improves the Rangers’ chances of holding on to leads late in games. The issue is whether their starting staff can hold leads to hand over to their improved bullpen.

At the top of the rotation, the Rangers are in decent shape with co-aces Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, plus southpaw Martin Perez. But, the back-end isn’t proven or reliable.

The injury losses of Derek Holland and Colby Lewis have forced the Rangers to turn to Lucas Harrell — recently acquired from the Atlanta Braves — and A.J. Griffin to round out the rotation. The question for Texas is whether the duo can provide enough quality innings until Holland and Lewis from the disabled list (DL), assuming they arrive back on schedule or at all.

Holland has been on the DL with shoulder soreness since late June and is closest to returning. He’s scheduled to start a rehab assignment on Friday. It’s worth noting that this is the southpaw’s third consecutive season with DL time and that he’s only started 29 games since the start of the 2014 season.

Lewis has also been out since late June with a strained lat muscle. As Mariners fans know, recovery from that injury is a slow process. Seattle relievers Ryan Cook and Evan Scribner have been on the DL with lat strains since Spring Training and neither pitcher has an estimated return date. In Lewis’ case, he’s currently doing a long toss program with no formal return date.

If it sounds like I’m nitpicking the Rangers — I am. They’re a legitimate World Series contender intent on winning it all. I’m just not certain that their rotation is good enough.

Houston Astros
Unlike their cross-state rivals, the Astros were “holders” and remained relatively inactive at the deadline. Their biggest moves were recalling rookie infielder Alex Bregman from the minors and signing Cuban free agent Yulieski Gurriel.

Bregman — the number-two overall pick during the 2015 amateur draft — was primarily a shortstop during his brief stay in the minors. But, the Astros have that position covered for the foreseeable future with 2015 National League Rookie of the League Carlos Correa.

With shortstop unavailable and the team in need of an offensive spark, the Astros slid the 22-year-old over to third base. Unfortunately, for Houston and Bregman, he’s struggling mightily with just one hit in his first 34 major league plate appearances.

The 32-year-old Gurriel, viewed as a major league ready, will likely join the Astros after completing a short stay in the minors to re-hone his baseball skills. The right-handed hitter has played at second and third base, plus shortstop in the past. Perhaps, he’ll relieve Bregman when ready, permitting the rookie to resume his development in the minors.

The only deadline trades made by Houston GM Jeff Luhnow shipped relievers Scott Feldman to the Toronto Blue Jays and Josh Fields to the Los Angeles Dodgers for prospects. Both pitchers weren’t that effective in the Astros’ superb bullpen and deemed expendable.

The lack of movement by Houston spurred many analysts to portray the club as deadline “losers,” but I can understand the organization’s reluctance to make “win-now” blockbuster deals. Their roster is more flawed than their win-loss record suggests.

In early July, I noted that Houston’s strong June was driven by the scorching bats of several hitters who were overachieving. Specifically, Luis Valbuena, Carlos Gomez, Marwin Gonzalez, Jason Castro, and Colby Rasmus, who were all dramatically above their career on-base percentage (OBP) in June.

Based on the reasonable assumption that the majority of these players’ numbers would normalize, I suggested during the Mariners mid-season report that Houston’s record would level out. That’s exactly what’s happened. The Astros had a 13-12 win-loss record in July and their OBP plummeted from number-two in the AL during June to eleventh best last month.

What happened to those super-hot June performers? Other than Valbuena, who’s currently on the DL, every other player’s OBP is below the .270 mark since July 1.

Yes, Houston’s core is outstanding. But, their lineup lacks depth and needs several pieces to improve as a unit. With that in mind, their front office wasn’t willing to forsake their future by overpaying at the deadline. Rather, they opted to be holders and ride out the season with their current cast of characters. To be honest, I don’t blame them.

Oakland Athletics
Led by president of baseball operations Billy Beane and GM David Forst, the Athletics have been masterful at orchestrating deals as both buyers and sellers during previous years. This time, they were in the latter category.

In early June, Oakland sent utility-man Chris Coghlan to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for infielder Arismendy Alcantara. The 24-year-old Alcantara was a top-100 prospect as recently as 2014, but he’s struggled during limited big league auditions. Despite his early problems in the majors, the switch-hitter is a good fielder who possesses home run power and stolen base speed. Plus, he has the athleticism to play second base, shortstop, and center field.

The club’s big sell job dispatched outfielder Josh Reddick and starting pitcher Rich Hill to the Los Angeles Dodgers for three prospects. The most notable being Grant Holmes, a 20-year-old right-handed starter who ranks number-82 on the MLB.com top-100 prospect list. Selected by the Dodgers with the number-22 overall pick during the 2014 amateur draft, Holmes projects as a mid-rotation starter.

Oakland also picked up Frankie Montas. The 23-year-old is a hard-throwing starter capable of topping 100-MPH on the radar gun. His issues have been command on the mound and weight control on the scales. It’s possible that the right-hander will eventually transition to reliever. Currently, Montas isn’t playing due to a stress reaction in the rib area where he had offseason surgery. As a result, he’s not likely to pitch again this season.

The third prospect acquired is 24-year-old Jharel Cotton, who projects to be either a mid-rotation starter. With that said, his 5-foot-11 frame may lead Oakland to transition the U. S. Virgin Island-born hurler into a reliever.

The Athletics also traded outfielder Billy Burns to the Kansas City Royals for Brett Eibner. The right-handed hitter is a former second-round pick, who’s endured numerous injuries in the minors. But, he’s blossomed during his last two seasons at Class-AAA level. Eibner made his major league debut in late-May as an injury replacement for center fielder Lorenzo Cain and slashed .231/.286/.423 during 85 plate appearances before returning to the minors upon Cain’s return from the DL.

Although this is a seemingly minor deal, it’s possible that 27-year-old Eibner could be a late-bloomer now that injury issues are behind him. Oakland retains club control over the outfielder through the 2022 season.

Los Angeles Angels
This is an organization in a difficult predicament. They desperately need to upgrade their minor league system — ranked worst in baseball. But, they have few appealing assets on their major league roster. Their most valuable piece — Mike Trout — is a generational talent who isn’t going anywhere.

Still, the team did have opportunities to improve as Monday’s trade deadline approached, but their strategy was peculiar — at least to me.

The club’s biggest deal sent southpaw starter Hector Santiago and minor league reliever Alan Busenitz to the Minnesota Twins for 26-year-old pitching prospect Alex Meyer and 33-year-old starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco. It’s incomprehensible to me that Los Angeles exchanged Santiago for Nolasco.

Yes, the Twins are picking up a significant chunk of Nolasco’s salary for this year and next. But, he hasn’t been good for some time — 5.44 ERA during 56 career starts with the Twins dating back to 2014 — and is five years older than Santiago.

Clearly, the key to this deal for the Angels is Meyer — a 6-foot-9 hard-throwing right-hander, who’s struggled with command throughout his professional career and has been dealing with shoulder problems for most of this season. Before his health issues, Minnesota had converted the number-23 overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft to a reliever.

That’s right; Los Angeles dealt a starting pitcher, who was an all-star last season and under team control for one more year, for a struggling 33-year-old starter and a 26-year-old pitcher with command issues and shoulder problems. How does that make sense?

The team’s only other move saw reliever Joe Smith going to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Class-A pitcher Jesus Castillo. In this case, the Angels were simply moving a rental player. Since Smith hadn’t been effective as in years past, his value diminished in the trade market. In return for their submarine tossing reliever, Los Angeles picked up the 20-years-old Castillo.

Smith may have been the club’s only healthy player with an expiring contract. But, there were several players under team control past this season who could’ve been moved and brought value back to the Angels. Yet, GM Billy Eppler chose to stand pat.

A prime trade candidate was third baseman Yunel Escobar. Los Angeles holds a $7 million club option for next season with a $1 million buyout. Considering that Escobar has been productive at the plate — .322/.370/.411 — and relatively affordable, it’s hard to fathom that the Angels couldn’t find a dance partner interested in the 33-year-old.

Reliever Cam Bedrosian is a player who had to be in high demand and could’ve returned value to the organization. The son of former major league reliever Steve Bedrosian is under team control until 2022 and has been highly effective — 11.5 strikeouts-per-nine innings — as the eighth inning set up man for manager Mike Scioscia.

With the trade of Smith and closer Huston Street going to the DL, Bedrosian has assumed the closer role in Anaheim. Wouldn’t it have made sense for the Angels to start retooling their system by moving the 24-year-old?

Another trade piece could’ve been starter Matt Shoemaker. Granted, the club’s rotation has been so decimated by injury that moving a starting pitcher in-season might have been difficult. But, considering what the Tampa Bay Rays received from the San Francisco Giants for Matt Moore — major league third baseman Matt Duffy and two top-30 prospects from the Giants farm system — it’s plausible that the Angels could’ve found similar or more value for Shoemaker.

Admittedly, moving right fielder Kole Calhoun would be a tough pill to swallow. After all, the 28-year-old is slashing .275/.354/.415. Other than Trout, he’s the club’s best position player and under team control through the end of the 2019 season.

On the other hand, how do the Angels plan to be competitive by 2019?

Considering the current state of the Angels’ minor league system, it’s unlikely it’ll be able to provide significant relief within the next three seasons. Plus the Angels will enter 2019 with a 27-year-old Mike Trout with one year remaining on his contract and a 39-year-old Albert Pujols with two left on his deal. Both men will be making a combined $62 million. Under these circumstances, I fail to see a road map to success for the Angels.

So, Seattle Mariners fans. There is a glimmer of hope for your team’s playoff expectancy. The two teams in front of you in the AL West standings have played better, but have flawed rosters too. It’s going to come down to which teams are best positioned to overcome their flaws.

In my mind, the Rangers continue to be in the driver’s seat. But, their starting staff could be their undoing in the divisional race or postseason. Plus, the Astros are struggling enough to be caught by Seattle.

For the Mariners to leapfrog Houston and — gasp — Texas, they’d need a few breaks along the way. Most importantly, they’d need their starting staff to regain its early season form and avoid injury to their core position players. That’s a lot to hope for with less than two months remaining in the system. But, at least there’s hope Mariners fans.…

The 2016 Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline came and went without the Seattle Mariners making a significant upgrade to their major league roster. That’s a surprise to most observers — including me — who expected first-year general manager (GM) Jerry Dipoto to be active during the hours and days leading up to today’s 1 p.m. deadline.

The most notable deal during this year’s “deadline season” happened yesterday when Seattle sent left-handed starter Wade Miley to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for a minor league starting pitcher. That’s not exactly the kind of action fans were expecting.

Why no other moves? Simply stated, the market didn’t permit any.

Dipoto explained to Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish that “the greatest opportunities we had were to sell off, and that’s just not something we were willing to do.” That’s a disappointing development for Seattle faithful. At the same time, it’s encouraging that the front office didn’t forsake their future for a slim chance at making the postseason this season.

Despite the disappointment felt by fans, Dipoto did make several moves that improve his ball club now and potentially in the future. Let’s look at them starting with yesterday’s transaction.

Miley to Baltimore Orioles for Ariel Miranda
In retrospect, the Mariners may never have acquired Miley from the Boston Red Sox, if they had known Hisashi Iwakuma would be returning to Seattle. At the time of the deal, “Kuma” was reportedly set to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Not knowing that Iwakuma’s deal with the Dodgers would fall through within a week, Dipoto did what anyone in his position would do — find a replacement. That led to the Mariners GM shipping reliever Carson Smith and starter Roenis Elias to Boston for Miley and minor league reliever Jonathan Aro.

The deal wasn’t optimal for the Mariners, who were exchanging two young pitchers with a combined 10 years of club control for three years of Miley — a slightly above-average performer — and Aro, who may never be anything more minor league depth.

Unfortunately, for the Mariners and Miley, he didn’t even deliver average value. Known for being an innings eater, the southpaw averaged just 5.9 innings-per-start with Seattle after averaging 6.2 since during his four previous seasons. That may not sound like a big difference, but the end result was the 29-year-old not completing the sixth inning in 32-percent of his starts — not exactly what you’d expect from an “innings eater.”

In recent starts, Miley did display some signs of improvement with a .243 opponents on-base percentage (OBP) and 2.79 earned run average (ERA) during his last 19.1 innings. Despite the uptick in productivity, Dipoto opted to deal the southpaw to Baltimore rather than wait to see if the former number-one pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks had actually turned a corner.

In return for Miley, the Mariners received the 27-year-old Miranda, who Dipoto views as “major league ready.” Currently assigned to Class-AAA Tacoma, the southpaw may eventually transition into another power arm out of the bullpen for Seattle. In the short-term though, he’ll likely see action with the big league club by taking Miley’s former spot in the rotation on Thursday.

Whether the Mariners should’ve moved or retained Miley is debatable, but there’s certainly going to be some measure of scrutiny on what Dipoto received from Baltimore, especially when the Tampa Bay Rays received considerably more for a pitcher similar to Miley in age, value, and cost — Matt Moore.

In exchange for Moore, Tampa Bay was able to acquire a young major league infielder — Matt Duffy — from the San Francisco Giants, plus two top-30 prospects from the Giants farm system. Although the Moore deal looks far more appealing on the surface, there may be underlying reasons why the Mariners couldn’t strike a similar deal. The most obvious one being money.

The Orioles were willing to pay all of Miley’s salary — just over $2 million for the remainder of this season, plus $8.75 million next year. As a result of Baltimore’s willingness to accept all of Miley’s salary, the Mariners had to settle for a lesser return.

My takeaway from yesterday’s deal is that Dipoto is willing to acknowledge, through his actions, when he’s made a mistake and that he’s more than willing to adjust course. That’s an encouraging development for an organization that’s historically been too slow or rigid to pivot when confronted with adversity.

Mike Montgomery / Jordan Pries to Chicago Cubs for Dan Vogelbach / Paul Blackburn
This is a deal that helped the Mariners get younger and deeper and may help them as early as this season. The key to the deal, from Seattle’s perspective, was Vogelbach. With three-time all-star Anthony Rizzo standing in his way, the 23-year-old first baseman didn’t have a future with Chicago.

The Cubs’ surplus at first base and need for pitching provided Seattle with an opportunity to pick up the left-handed slugger in exchange for Montgomery and Pries. As with Dipoto views Vogelbach as major league ready. If the Mariners opt to move past their current left-handed hitting first baseman — Adam Lind — in the coming weeks, Vogelbach could find himself first base for Seattle. If he doesn’t get his chance this year, he’s likely to enter Spring Training with an opportunity to win the first base job for 2017.

Blackburn, who’s been assigned to Class-AA Jackson, has the potential to be a back-end starter. The combination of Miranda and Blackburn means that the Mariners added two minor league starters closer to reaching the big leagues than nearly any other prospect in their minor league system.  That’s a factor that can’t be overlooked for an organization that started the season with one of the worst systems in the majors.

Recalling Edwin Diaz from Class-AA Jackson
Arguably, the Mariners’ biggest move was the promotion of the hard-throwing right-hander, who only converted from starter to reliever in mid-May. Since debuting with Seattle on June 6, Diaz has quickly ascended to the eighth inning setup role thanks to his 17.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate — highest among major league pitchers with 25 or more innings pitched.

It’s plausible that Diaz could move into the closer role, although it’s important to note that assigning the 22-year-old to close games doesn’t fix the bigger problem that the Mariners face — a shortage of high-leverage arms. For now, Steve Cishek remains the closer and Seattle’s bullpen continues to be the team’s weakest link.

Joaquin Benoit to the Toronto Blue Jays for Drew Storen
This was essentially a change of location move that will, hopefully, benefit both players and teams. Benoit, shut down twice this year due to shoulder issues, had lost his job as the team’s eighth inning setup man to Diaz.

Similarly, Storen has fallen on hard times since losing his closer job with the Washington Nationals after the club acquired Jonathan Papelbon at last year’s deadline. Once relegated to the setup role, the 28-year-old’s performance dropped off dramatically and he was dealt to the Blue Jays in the offseason. After vying with Roberto Osuna for Toronto’s closer job during Spring Training, Storen he found himself in the setup role and, once again, he failed to deliver.

Since becoming a Mariner, the right-hander has seen action in two relatively low-leverage appearances and delivered mixed results. In his Mariners debut, he pitched a clean sixth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 3-1 ballgame; however, he surrendered four runs the following inning. During last night’s game with the Cubs, he worked another clean sixth inning.

Free agent signing of Tom Wilhelmsen
Another change of location move involved the return of a familiar face. Wilhelmsen, who went to the Texas Rangers in the deal that brought Leonys Martin to Seattle, struggled with the Rangers and eventually became a free agent after refusing assignment to Class-AAA Round Rock. That opened the door for “The Bartender” to return to Seattle.

Since returning to the Emerald City, the big right-hander has rebounded nicely. Although it’s a small sample size, he’s held opposing hitters to a .278 OBP during his first 10 innings with the Mariners. Whether the 32-years-old can continue to sustain his rejuvenated performance remains to be seen. But, so far, the versatile reliever has been an asset for manager Scott Servais.

Player to be named later or cash to the Toronto Blue Jays for Wade LeBlanc
During the Mariners’ nosedive known as the month of June, the club suffered significant injury losses to their rotation. Among those lost were Felix Hernandez, Miley, Taijuan Walker, and Adrian Sampson — Miley’s replacement — for most or all of June.

In need of someone who could hold down a rotation spot — at least temporarily — Dipoto turned to LeBlanc, who was pitching for Class-AAA Syracuse in the Blue Jays system. In four starts, the southpaw has held opposing hitters to a .275 OBP. With the departure of Miley and the club still waiting for Walker to return, LeBlanc re-enters the rotation this week against the Red Sox.

Will this be the most memorable deal made by Dipoto during the deadline season? No. But, the Mariners GM deserves credit for finding a competent replacement player for virtually no cost.

Finally
There’s no doubt that the Mariners are a good team capable of finishing with a winning record. But, their big league roster lacks the necessary depth for them to be considered a serious contender. Does that mean they can’t make the postseason? No. But, their shallow bullpen and degraded rotation leave them at a severe disadvantage.

Sure, King Felix and Walker could return to form and Nick Vincent and Charlie Furbush may come back from injury to reinforce the bullpen. But, that’s a lot to hope for during the last two months of a season that’s seen so many things go wrong. Isn’t it?

 …

storenSaying the bullpen has been revamped over the past week may not be entirely accurate, but the Seattle Mariners continued to shuffle the deck Tuesday night. Mike Montgomery and now Joaquin Benoit are out and former All-Star closer Drew Storen is coming in after being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays along with cash considerations in exchange for Benoit. The cash included is reported to be the difference between the two reliever’s salaries. Both relievers are free agents at the end of the year.

Benoit was an offseason addition to the bullpen and expected to fill the eight inning role vacated by Carson Smith. Despite an improved month of July, the right-hander still posted a 5.18 ERA and a 4.95 FIP over 24 and 1/3 innings of work. His 10.36 strikeouts per nine innings were better than his career mark of 8.94, but it was the accompanying 5.55 walks per nine that caused issues. His 13.8 percent whiff rate was down a couple ticks from the past couple seasons but was still above his career mark of 13.0 percent.

The velocity was still there for the 39-year-old, averaging 94-to-95 miles per hour on his fastball. The problem was that he often didn’t know where it was going. Benoit was only able to produce a clean outing in seven of his 26 appearances. He didn’t have to be perfect, but more was expected from the seasoned veteran.

Edwin Diaz and his gaudy 17.47 strikeout rate have taken over eighth inning and higher leverage duties and have done exceedingly well.

The Blue Jays are getting a reliever who in terms of raw stuff is performing well enough. he’s still missing bats and striking hitters out. But they are hoping that a change of scenery will be rejuvenating, similar to the case of Jason Grilli who was acquired earlier in the year.

On the Mariners end, they receive a struggling reliever with a home run issue. In 33 and 1/3 innings pitched Storen HAS posted a 6.21 ERA and a 5.00 FIP due in large part to a career-high 17.6 percent home run per fly ball rate — that number is more than double Storen’s career mark. The good news is that his 8.64 strikeout and 2.70 walk rates are basically right on the right-hander’s career marks so it doesn’t appear to be a command issue at first glance.

The biggest issue surrounding Storen’s troubles is not an unusual one: his velocity has declined. After previously hitting 95-to-96 MPH regularly leading up to the 2016 season, the 28-year-old has found his fastball sitting in the 93-to-94 MPH range. I mention his age there because it’s odd for a pitcher who should be in his prime to have such a sharp decline. Usually this would be due to injury, but there hasn’t been any apparent ailments.

The decline in velocity has caused Storen’s hard-hit rate to spike to 39.8 percent. His soft contact rate sits at a measly 12.0 percent. Everything he’s been throwing has been hit hard. And if you’re wondering how much of a difference that relatively small decline in velocity can make, just look to the top of the Mariners rotation and the struggles that Felix Hernandez has had dealing with his reduced velocity.

Is Storen fixable? His age and solid strikeout and walk rates would suggest so. Pitching at Safeco Field instead of the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre should also help some. But until he can get that velocity back up a couple ticks, or learn how to rely on his breaking pitches, he’ll be in tough to have much success.

For anyone wondering how the Mariners could simultaneously buy and sell in the time leading up to the trade deadline, this is an example. They are selling Benoit, a veteran reliever, to a contending team that’s looking to bolster a playoff-caliber pitching staff. They are buying Storen, a former All-Star closer, to aid the relief corps in the middle innings. Technically they are both buying and selling low here, but it paints a picture.

Are the Mariners better today than they were before the trade? It’s hard to say. You like Storen’s upside because he’s been a solid reliever up to this point and has ten years on Benoit. But you also liked Benoit for his track record and experience, though that was seven months ago.

This could be a trade where a change of scenery helps both pitchers. Or both could continue to struggle. Storen was designated for assignment after all and Benoit’s numbers don’t differ much from Joel Peralta‘s when he was cut loose.

Seattle gets another guy with closing experience, which could help if they decide to deal Steve Cishek who’s name has come up in a few rumors. Otherwise Storen is another middle reliever with a home run problem who you hope can be fixed with a couple minor changes.

It’s far from an exciting trade, and the net result may not produce a clear upgrade, but the Mariners are betting on Storen’s upside and youth. That’s usually a bet teams are willing to take.…

What seemed impossible just a month ago could now be reality. Contending teams reportedly have expressed interest in Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Wade Miley. According to Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune, scouts from several clubs are likely to attend Miley’s start against the Toronto Blue Jays tomorrow. Essentially, the left-hander’s start sets up as a showcase for potential buyers.

Why was trade interest in the 29-year-old so improbable just a month ago? Results, or lack thereof.

Just four weeks ago, Miley was coming off the disabled list (DL) due to a sore shoulder and hadn’t been effective prior to his injury. His numbers since returning to the rotation haven’t been inspiring either — four starts, 22.1 innings pitched, 5.64 earned run average (ERA) and a .333 opponents batting average.

So, why would teams be interested in Miley? It’s simple. The starting pitcher market is very lean. Sure, there are a lot of names being bandied about by national media outlets, but the market isn’t as flush when you dig into the performance or cost of the players most frequently mentioned names. Take a look.

Potential Starting Pitching Trade Targets
Player WAR Age Tm
GS IP ERA FIP HR BA OBP SLG Earliest Free Agent 2017 Salary (millions)
Julio Teheran 4.0 25 ATL 20 129.2 2.71 3.75 16 .203 .256 .345 2020* $6.3
Ubaldo Jimenez -1.5 32 BAL 17 81.2 7.38 4.88 10 .320 .408 .484 2018 $13.5
Jose Quintana 3.1 27 CHW 19 123.2 3.13 3.52 13 .238 .290 .378 2019* $7.0
Chris Sale 3.2 27 CHW 19 133.0 3.18 3.69 17 .216 .270 .358 2018* $12.0
Hector Santiago 0.7 28 LAA 20 110.1 4.32 4.91 18 .233 .315 .417 2018 Arb-3
Matt Shoemaker 1.3 29 LAA 19 112.2 3.99 3.29 13 .264 .302 .420 2021 Arb-1
Jimmy Nelson 2.0 27 MIL 20 119.0 3.40 4.70 13 .248 .340 .391 2021 Pre-Arb
Ervin Santana 1.7 33 MIN 18 105.1 3.93 4.02 12 .264 .310 .410 2019 $13.5
Michael Pineda 0.1 27 NYY 19 106.1 5.25 3.88 18 .270 .320 .484 2018 Arb-3
CC Sabathia 1.3 35 NYY 17 100.1 4.04 3.88 7 .256 .332 .355 2018** $25.0
Sonny Gray 0.0 26 OAK 18 101.2 5.49 4.66 15 .283 .343 .476 2020 Arb-1
Rich Hill 3.0 36 OAK 14 76.0 2.25 2.53 2 .201 .293 .266 2017 Free Agent
Jeremy Hellickson 1.7 29 PHI 20 119.2 3.84 4.21 19 .247 .294 .455 2017 Free Agent
Andrew Cashner -0.4 29 SDP 15 73.1 4.79 4.77 11 .269 .342 .477 2017 Free Agent
Tyson Ross -0.3 29 SDP 1 5.1 11.81 2.95 0 .375 .444 .542 2018 Arb-3
Wade Miley -0.0 29 SEA 17 99.0 5.36 5.01 17 .291 .346 .483 2018* $8.97
Drew Smyly -0.6 27 TBR 18 105.1 5.64 4.51 21 .278 .324 .493 2019 Arb-2
Matt Moore 1.1 27 TBR 20 123.1 4.31 4.56 20 .254 .312 .416 2018 $7.0
Jake Odorizzi 1.7 26 TBR 21 118.2 4.10 4.14 18 .248 .300 .426 2020 Arb-1
 * Team option for extra years                                                 ** Vesting option for next season
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/23/2016.

The most notable names on the preceding list are Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Julio Teheran. But, there are questions about their actual availability and certainly their cost would be prohibitive. According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Chicago White Sox have already turned down a “king’s ransom” for Sale. Since he’s been scratched from tonight’s start, he may actually be on the move after all. Apparently, someone is offering more than a king’s and queen’s ransom.

Another option for contenders could be lower tier pitchers, who are controllable and relatively low paid. Names like Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, Matt Shoemaker, and Jimmy Nelson are all rumored to be available. The price wouldn’t be on the same level as Sale, Quintana, or Teheran. But, getting players of this ilk won’t come cheaply either, especially in a weak market.

Buyers could look to rental players like Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson, and Andrew Cashner. Hill is easily the best of the bunch and will command a higher price than Hellickson and Cashner. This trio — or other impending free agents — can be attractive to win-now teams. But, why wouldn’t clubs interested in rentals at least kick the tires on a pitcher like Wade Miley?

Miley told Dutton “I made a few adjustments,” which he believes led to his solid 6 and 1/3-inning/three-run performance against the White Sox on July 19. If the former first-round draft choice of the Arizona Diamondbacks has truly turned a page, teams may look at him as a cheaper option than the upper tier and rental arms on the market.

Obviously, Miley won’t anchor a rotation or carry a club on his back like Sale could, but the southpaw could represent a solid addition for a contender looking to deepen their rotation. That’s assuming that his “adjustments” are permanent. Hence tomorrow’s showcase.

There’s only one problem with shipping Miley to a contender needing to reinforce its rotation for a postseason push — he already plays for one of those contenders. Certainly, some Mariners fans would gleefully welcome sending Miley away. On the other hand, he’d be a valuable asset, if his performance down the stretch resembles his career norms.

If the Mariners opted to move Miley, they could turn to Nathan Karns or Wade LeBlanc as replacements. Plus, the club is expecting to upgrade their rotation when Taijuan Walker returns from the DL in early August.

Still, moving a proven performer with a track record of durability is a risky proposition for a team on the fringe of contention, unless it was one in a series of deals that would lead to getting another experienced pitcher. Otherwise, moving Miley could imperil Seattle’s playoff hopes.

With that said, this week’s Mike Montgomery deal proves that general manager Jerry Dipoto is willing to pull the trigger on a deal whenever it’ll help his club now and in the future. He knew that he was selling high with Montgomery and was able to add slugger Dan Vogelbach, who may contribute this season and certainly in the future, and Class-AA starter Paul Blackburn.

Perhaps, Dipoto will find a market for Miley too, especially if he performs well during tomorrow’s outing at the Rogers Centre. What a difference a month can make.…

Last week, history was made for both the Seattle Mariners and their weary fans. First, the best player to ever don a Mariners uniform – Ken Griffey Jr. – was selected for induction into the baseball’s Hall of Fame with the highest vote percentage ever recorded during the Hall’s 80-year history.

Then, the club unexpectedly announced that “Junior” would be the first Mariner to have his uniform number retired. From this point forward, no one will ever wear the number 24 at any level within the organization.

Although I didn’t live in the Pacific Northwest at the time, I’d like to believe that such great news would help fans let go of any lingering bitterness over the trade that sent Junior to the Cincinnati Reds before the 2000 season. Fan strife over the departure of a sports icon is understandable.

Like I said, I’m not from the local area. But, I’ve seen icons leave my hometown too. During my youth, I endured the trade of Tom Seaver by the New York Mets to those same Reds, plus I witnessed the New York Nets’ sale of basketball icon Julius “Dr. J.” Irving to the Philadelphia 76ers. Seeing Seaver leave hurt, a lot.

With that said, fan reaction to trades involving icons can differ from city-to-city and can be largely dependent on a number of factors, including the talent and personality of the player and how they were perceived by fans. Since I wasn’t around to experience the departure of Junior, I performed a very unscientific survey in order to better appreciate how fans felt when Griffey left town.

Who did I canvas during my survey? My wonderful wife, my in-laws, Seattle friends, people at Starbucks – it is Seattle after all – and finally bartenders and patrons at my favorite watering hole. Plus, I listened to what local sports media personalities had to say on the subject and – naturally – I read social media comments.

My informal fact-finding mission left me with the impression that fans remain divided on who was at fault for Griffey leaving town. Some fans blame the organization for brokering the move and not doing enough to keep Junior.

Others put the onus on the player and his agent for forcing a deal out of town. That group tends to be incensed by public comments that Cincinnati was the only city that he’d waive his no-trade rights for, which effectively reduced the Mariners’ leverage during trade negotiations with the Reds.

Regardless of where people come down on this touchy and emotional issue, the Mariners actually dealt Griffey at the right time.

Yes. Endorsing the idea of trading the Mariners’ most beloved player is going to cause a seismic-type reaction throughout the Pacific Northwest similar to the one registered when I recently defended Jack Zduriencik. As with my defense of the former Mariners general manager, I believe that I can make a credible argument supporting the Griffey trade. This time, it’s an open and shut case.

That may be difficult for some fans to digest. However, when emotion is taken out of the equation, statistical analysis proves that the team and Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick made the correct choice to move their best known and most gifted player after the 1999 season.

Before presenting the rationale that I believe supports my contention, I should first establish Griffey’s value during the seasons leading up to his exit from the Emerald City. Doing so helps demonstrate Junior’s greatness, while simultaneously justifying the fan outrage that accompanied his departure.

Here are the top-10 players from the time Griffey debuted as a 19-year-old in 1989 until his departure for Cincinnati – based on Baseball Reference’s wins above replacement (WAR). Clearly, he was one of the very best players in the game during this 11-year span and on a Hall of Fame trajectory when he left Seattle.

Top-10 Position Players (1989-1999)
Rk Player WAR Age G PA H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Barry Bonds 87.9 24-34 1593 6825 1622 333 48 380 .296 .426 .583 1.009
2 Ken Griffey 70.6 19-29 1535 6688 1742 320 30 398 .299 .380 .569 .948
3 Jeff Bagwell 56.7 23-31 1317 5800 1447 314 21 263 .304 .416 .545 .961
4 Barry Larkin 56.2 25-35 1390 5898 1558 283 55 141 .305 .387 .465 .852
5 Craig Biggio 55.6 23-33 1649 7305 1842 383 37 149 .294 .383 .438 .821
6 Frank Thomas 52.7 22-31 1371 6092 1564 317 10 301 .320 .440 .573 1.013
7 Edgar Martinez 52.1 26-36 1360 5785 1533 363 12 198 .319 .427 .524 .950
8 Rafael Palmeiro 52.1 24-34 1682 7313 1901 366 27 336 .297 .373 .520 .893
9 Cal Ripken 51.3 28-38 1637 7060 1755 335 20 219 .276 .338 .438 .777
10 Roberto Alomar 49.9 21-31 1579 6972 1862 348 52 142 .307 .379 .452 .830
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/10/2016.

Only one player – also the son of a former major league player –  provided more value to his ball club than Griffey during those 11 seasons. Barry Bonds had a higher WAR, but Junior outpaced him in hits and home runs despite having played in 58 fewer games.

The vast majority of the players listed above have either been enshrined at Cooperstown or should be honored by the Hall. Perhaps, Junior’s former teammate – Edgar Martinez – will join the ranks of the inducted during his last three years of eligibility. From a dispassionate numbers-based perspective, Edgar’s offensive excellence makes the case that his legacy needs to be reconsidered by voters.

There’s no doubt that Junior was one of the best all-round players of his or any era. Not only that, he was the preeminent center fielder during the years leading up to his departure from Seattle. Take a look at his offensive production during the four seasons prior to the Cincinnati trade, which validates his standing among his peers. When compared to other top center fielders during that time-frame, he provided significantly more value. Again, it’s easy to see why fans were so disappointed to see him go.

Top-5 Center Fielders (1996-1999)
Rk Player WAR Age G PA H 2B 3B HR SB BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Ken Griffey 30.3 26-29 618 2768 703 119 11 209 75 .294 .381 .615 .996
2 Kenny Lofton 21.9 29-32 550 2559 683 114 22 38 181 .308 .387 .430 .817
3 Bernie Williams 20.2 27-30 558 2507 706 119 24 101 56 .328 .414 .547 .961
4 Ray Lankford 20.1 29-32 558 2303 572 141 13 98 96 .291 .387 .526 .912
5 Brady Anderson 17.9 32-35 583 2649 614 132 20 110 96 .278 .389 .505 .893
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/11/2016.

So far, I’ve done a better job of making a case against a Griffey trade. But, I still maintain that the Mariners made their deal with the Reds at the right time.

Yes, it’s true that Junior was one of the two best players in all of baseball – an all-time great. However, he had already peaked by the time of the trade. During his first 10 seasons in Seattle, Griffey averaged 6.6 WAR. But, his value decreased to 4.9 during his final season with the club. Unfortunately for the superstar, he’d only surpass that level of value one more time during the second half of his career.

Don’t get me wrong, Griffey was still very good in 1999. He, once again, won Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards and garnered MVP votes. Both he and Edgar were tied for the twentieth highest WAR that season. Heck, imagine if the 2015 Mariners had a center fielder valued at 4.9 WAR?

If Griffey was on last year’s club, he would’ve ranked second only to Nelson Cruz and just ahead of Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez in value. Not only that, Junior’s 4.9 WAR would have ranked number-nine among major league center fielders in 2015. Nevertheless, his decline was imminent.

Griffey’s best season with the Reds was his first in the Queen City when he finished 2000 with a strong .271/.387/.556 triple slash, plus 40 home runs and 5.5 WAR. Although he’d be invited to two more all-star games after his first year in Cincinnati, he’d never again attain all-star level value in terms of WAR.

Take a look at Griffey’s production from his first four seasons with the Reds and you’ll see that his standing among his peers had dropped considerably despite the fact that he was still relatively young.

Top-5 Center Fielders (2000-2003)
Rk Player WAR Age G PA H 2B 3B HR SB BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Jim Edmonds 24.8 30-33 583 2358 578 126 5 139 20 .297 .407 .581 .988
2 Andruw Jones 24.5 23-26 632 2740 669 123 10 141 44 .275 .346 .507 .853
3 Darin Erstad 18.5 26-29 531 2410 645 109 12 48 84 .295 .348 .421 .769
4 Mike Cameron 18.3 27-30 610 2528 554 115 19 87 106 .256 .350 .448 .798
5 Carlos Beltran 17.4 23-26 556 2417 615 105 33 86 120 .286 .355 .486 .841
16 Ken Griffey 7.9 30-33 379 1481 338 62 6 83 10 .271 .374 .530 .904
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/10/2016.

Certainly, Reds officials weren’t concerned about any degradation in Griffey’s performance in Seattle when they traded for him and signed him to a nine-year/$116.5 million extension. I’m sure that the club expected to get at least five good years from Junior and win a championship. Unfortunately for both the player and the organization, neither happened..

After being arguably being the best player of the twentieth century’s last decade, Griffey was mid-pack performer – at best – during the new millennium. Clearly, his decline was driven by injuries and the lack of availability that followed.

For the Reds, the only winning season they had with Junior was his first with the team when they won 85 games in 2000. They averaged 74 wins for the remaining seven full seasons that he was in Cincinnati.

I chose to show Griffey’s first four seasons in Cincinnati on the preceding table so I could compare Griffey to the best player that the Mariners received in exchange for the future Hall of Famer– Mike Cameron.

Although the club received four players for Junior, only Cameron provided Seattle with tangible value during his time with the team. The player affectionately known as “Cammy” proved to be more than capable of filling the defensive void in center field created by Griffey’s departure. Plus, he delivered something during his four-year tour in Seattle that Junior couldn’t match during the same time-frame in Cincinnati – availability.

When Cammy arrived in Seattle, he was just three years younger than Griffey. Yet, between 2000 and 2003, he played in 231 more games and delivered 10.3 more WAR than his predecessor. He even hit one more home run, although that’s more indicative of Griffey’s lost playing time than Cameron’s power. Cammy wasn’t the only center fielder who outperformed Griffey. As the preceding table illustrated, his WAR ranked number-16 among big league center fielders.

The sad reality is that the injury bug and father time started to erode his unmatched gifts and diminish his availability after he arrived in Cincinnati. During his eight complete seasons with the Reds, Griffey averaged just 102 games-per-season after averaging 146 with Seattle when the strike-shortened 1994 season is excluded. Unfortunately, the player who was referred to as “The Kid” when he first arrived on the scene had been betrayed by his aging body.

Obviously, no one could’ve projected the dramatic decline of Junior’s generational talent. Unfortunately, health issues prematurely robbed this all-time great of his ability to consistently produce and wow fans throughout the majors.

Some may argue that the turf in Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium was the main culprit behind Junior’s rapid descent and he would’ve stayed healthier and if he stayed in Seattle. Those who subscribe to that theory may go a step further and say that a healthy Griffey would have put the 2001 Mariners over the top and propelled the team to its first World Series appearance and — gasp — a championship. That’s a slippery slope though.

If Seattle had found a way to retain Junior’s services, there’s a distinct possibility that the club wouldn’t have signed Ichiro Suzuki prior to their record-setting 2001 season. Would the Mariners have won 116 games without the player who won a batting title, the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, and a Gold Glove that year? I guess we’ll never know.

What we do know is that the record book says that Ichiro earned all of the accolades I just listed and Junior delivered starter-level 1.9 WAR, while playing in just 111 games for the 70-win Reds during that memorable season. The bottom line is that Gillick made the deal at the right time, whether he planned it that way or not.

Although I firmly believe that statistical analysis demonstrates that the Griffey trade was perfectly timed from Seattle’s perspective, I sympathize with those who were so disappointed by his departure in 2000. After all, loving baseball and its players isn’t all about the stats.

Hopefully, Mariner fans can take some solace in the fact that Junior reached Cooperstown thanks to those 11 special years in the Pacific Northwest and not what followed afterwards. That’s why he’s the first player to enter the Hall of Fame as a Mariner and why he’s still so beloved in Seattle.

Dipoto MarinersFrom the moment Jerry Dipoto became general manager of the Seattle Mariners, he’s emphasized the need to build a roster capable of taking advantage of the expansive Safeco Field dimensions.

As I see it, the 48-year-old executive envisions a foundation of athletic and accomplished players, who are adept at reaching base and wreaking havoc through productive aggressiveness on the bases.

Equally important are outfield defenders who can run down balls in Safeco’s spacious outfield. In Dipoto’s world, a run save is as valuable as a run scored.

To be honest, I thought this season’s Opening Day roster was a massive upgrade over the 2015 version of the Mariners. I’ve been saying as much in previous Prospect Insider pieces and on Twitter. But, the more I think about it, the club has fallen short in a couple of those key areas targeted by Dipoto during the offseason.

This finally became glaringly clear to me in late June when watching the Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Mariners at Safeco. I was thoroughly impressed with the athleticism, speed, and on-base ability of the Pirates. So was Mike Salk of 710 ESPN Seattle, who took to Twitter to deliver his assessment of the visiting team’s roster.

The simple and straightforward comment from the co-host of the Brock and Salk Show hit the nail right on the head — Pittsburgh was better built for Safeco than the home team. This gave me the idea to dig into the Mariners’ home field suitability and look around the league for the teams best built for Safeco.

To get a better feel of where the Mariners stand this season, I decided to see where the team’s on-base ability, outfield defense, and base running ranked against the other 29 major league clubs. I also compared those rankings to last year’s to gauge Seattle’s improvement. Overall, the numbers weren’t encouraging.

Mariners MLB Rankings
Season On-Base Ability Outfield Defense (DRS)
Base Running
OBP BB% SO% OF LF CF RF BsR SB%
2015 22 14 25 30 25 30 26 29 29
2016 10 13 12 28 28 22 24 30 30

As you can see, the Mariners have significantly improved in just one area — reaching base. That’s clearly evident by their top-10 on-base percentage (OBP). Unfortunately, for the ball club and its fans, that’s the only area worth bragging about.

Based on defensive runs saved (DRS), Seattle’s outfield defense isn’t good enough. The addition of center fielder Leonys Martin was a step in the right direction. However, last season’s core of corner outfielders — Seth Smith, Nelson Cruz, and Franklin Gutierrez — remain on the roster.

The trio has combined to play 65-percent of all left and right field innings this season. Based on the defensive metrics, they’re all below-average fielders — as they were last season. This does not bode well for an organization trying to improve their outfield defense.

Nori Aoki was brought in to help the club’s outfield defense, team speed and on-base ability. To date, he’s under-performed in all three areas and finds himself playing for Class-AAA Tacoma as a result. Aoki will likely return to the big league club in the near future. Perhaps, he’ll get his season back on track and help the Mariners make a pennant push.

On the base paths, there’s only one way for me to put it — the baby is ugly. Seattle base runners have cost the team runs and continue to rank at the bottom of the league in both sabermetric and standard base running statistics.

BsR (Base Running) is a FanGraphs statistic that takes into account all aspects of base path action — stolen base success, taking extra bases, being thrown out while on base, etc. If you’ve been watching the Mariners over the last few seasons, their low standing doesn’t surprise you.

The same goes for stolen base percentage (SB%), which is the old-fashioned measurement of how successful a base runner has been at stealing bases. Not only is Seattle still at the bottom of the league, their 53-percent success rate is eight points lower than last season.

Now that I’ve established that the Mariners have a lot of work to do, let’s turn our attention to clubs that I believe are a far better fit for Safeco Field than the home team; based on on-base ability, outfield range, and team speed. Let’s start with the club mentioned by Mr. Salk.

Pittsburgh Pirates
As good as the Pirates look, their roster isn’t the best fit for Safeco among the clubs I plan to discuss. But, their stable of players exemplifies the type of players that fit the mold of what Dipoto has been publicly advocating, especially in the outfield.

The starting trio of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco form one of the most athletic starting outfields in the majors. Marte leads all major league left fielders in DRS and Polanco ranks tenth among right fielders. Defensive metrics don’t love McCutchen, which confounded me, until I spoke to Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill.

Jason pointed out that Marte/Polanco may be the best corner outfield combo in the majors and that they reach balls in the gaps their peers can’t. As a result, their defensive excellence could be creating the appearance that McCutchen has limited range. Even if McCutchen’s poor DRS accurately portrayed his defensive prowess, the Pirates total outfield is slightly above average, which is all that really matters for any club.

Pittsburgh’s offense is a deep unit that ended the first half of the season with the third best OBP in the big leagues. The club brags nine players — including the rehabbing Francisco Cervelli — with 150 or more plate appearance and an OBP above the league-average (.323). By comparison, the productive Mariners offense has five.

Team speed has been an important element in the Pittsburgh attack. Their base runners entered the all-star break tied with the Houston Astros for third most stolen bases (68) in the big leagues and the fifth best success rate — 76-percent. Leading the way for the Bucs is Marte, who entered the break with 30 swiped bags — second most in the majors.

The Pirates are certainly a better fit for Safeco than the current edition of the Mariners. But, there are two other rosters I like more. The next team has been better known for relying on offensive firepower — not speed, defense, and athleticism.

Boston Red Sox
Boston’s offense reached the all-star break leading the majors in OBP and slugging percentage. In years past, you might have assumed the long ball was the driving force behind their prolific slugging — not in 2016. This version of the Red Sox is only league-average at hitting home runs, but leads the league in doubles and top-10 in triples.

All things considered, the team’s outfield defense has fared well even though left field has been problematic due to injuries to Chris Young, Blake Swihart, and Brock Holt at one time or another. Thanks to the dynamic duo of center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and right fielder Mookie Betts and Holt, the Red Sox outfield ranks number-five in the majors in DRS.

The club’s success on the base paths — third in the majors in BsR — is another new wrinkle in Beantown. Leading the way are Betts, Bradley, and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Like the Pirates, the Red Sox are top-10 for stolen bases. More importantly, they have the highest success rate (86-percent) in the majors. That’s seven-percent better than the second best Cleveland Indians.

The Red Sox may play in the oldest ballpark in baseball, but they have a foundation of young, athletic ballplayers fueling their success in the outfield and throughout their lineup.

This season, the Red Sox have used 15 position players 28-years-old or younger. That’s tied for most in the majors. Among those players are Travis ShawChristian Vazquez, Bogaerts, Bradley, Betts, Swihart, and Holt. Yes, having young players doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. They have to be good AND young. That’s the case in Boston.

My favorite roster also plays in a ballpark opened before the start of World War I and employs Boston’s former general manager as their president of baseball operations.

Chicago Cubs
Yes, picking the team with the second best record in the majors isn’t exactly a tough choice. But, I didn’t pick the team with the best record — the San Francisco Giants — and the other teams I’ve discussed started the second half in third place. While the Cubs could win in any park, including Yellowstone, they’d be a great fit for Safeco thanks to their superb on-base skills, outfield defense, and overall athleticism.

Chicago’s long lineup is second best in the majors at reaching base. How long is that lineup? All but one of the 12 position players on the current 25-man roster are above league average in OBP. There’s no breathing room for opposing pitchers when it comes to facing the Cubs’ lineup.

Defensively, the team’s outfield ranks third in the big leagues. The best of the bunch — right fielder Jason Heyward — continues to be an elite-level defender with the second best DRS. The 26-year-old has also logged over 120 innings of center field duty this season.

Regular center fielder Dexter Fowler — currently on the disabled list — isn’t on par with his partner in right field. But, his contributions along with Heyward and Albert Almora, have the Cubs center field defense ranked tenth in the big leagues. Thanks to Kris Bryant, Chris Coghlan, and Almora, Chicago’s left field contingent is also top-10.

Although the North Siders are below league-average in stolen base proficiency, they rank number-five in BsR because they’re adept at taking the extra base, which proves there’s more to base running than just stealing bases.

As with the Red Sox, Chicago boasts a bevvy of young stars. Six key contributors are 26-years-old or younger — Anthony Rizzo (26), Addison Russell (22), Bryant (24) , Heyward (26), Javier Baez (23), and Jorge Soler (24) – currently recovering from a hamstring injury. That’s not counting Kyle Schwarber (23), who’s lost for the year due to knee surgery.

The Cubs style of play works in any park, but their position players would be the best fit for Seattle’s home field. They’re athletic, get on base at a high rate, and play superb defense. That brings us back to the Emerald City’s major league baseball club.

Seattle Mariners
Considering the roster that Dipoto started with last September, he’s done well at improving the club’s center field defense and their ability to reach base in less than a year. But, much more needs to be done to reach his stated goal of using the Safeco Field dimensions as an advantage. Getting younger would be a good first step.

Youthful rosters don’t necessarily guarantee success on the field. Look no further than the Minnesota Twins, who are great example of a young club with a terrible win-loss record. Also, not every young player is a great athlete — refer to Jesus Montero’s stay in Seattle.

Still, acquiring talented, young, and athletic players is the best way to build a sustainable home field advantage in Seattle. Having such players is the primary reason that the Red Sox and Cubs are better fits for Safeco — they each boast a half dozen or more quality players under age-27.

Conversely, the Mariners are tied with the New York Yankees for the oldest group of position players and have used just four under the age of 27 this season — Ketel Marte, Luis Sardinas, Chris Taylor, and Mike Zunino. Marte is the lone significant contributor, while Sardinas and Zunino have spent most of the season in Tacoma and Taylor is no longer with the organization.

Whether roster changes begin within the next two weeks or after the season, they’ll need to happen in order to turn Dipoto’s vision into reality for future seasons. That means more players born during the first term of the Clinton administration and fewer defensively challenged players like Gutierrez, Smith, and Cruz patrolling the outfield.

Can the Mariners accomplish such a turnover prior to next Opening Day? It seems unlikely considering the current state of their roster and minor league system. Until they do though, other clubs will continue to be a better fit for Safeco Field.…

Cruz 2Seattle Mariners management must be ecstatic about the performance of Nelson Cruz since he signed with the ball club prior to the 2015 season. During his first year with the team, “Boomstick” slashed .302/.369/.566 slash, hit 44 home runs and was a Silver Slugger award winner. This season, he is — once again — an offensive force for Seattle.

Cruz’s superb play at the advanced age of 36 presents an interesting dilemma for the Mariners. Should they consider trading the slugger now to maximize his trade value?

Yes, it’s unlikely that the Mariners will deal Cruz during this season, especially if they believe they’re in contention. But, Seattle’s play over the last six weeks certainly leaves the door open to the possibility that club will be a seller prior to August 1 non-waiver trade deadline.

If that’s the case, why not trade Cruz now? Waiting until the offseason is certainly an option. But, his value will never be higher than it is right now. My suggestion of moving the star player now, or even in the offseason, is likely to make some Mariners fans see red. However, there are compelling reasons to deal the star slugger. The first one is his age.

No one can predict when Cruz — or any player over 35 — will deteriorate and lose significant value. The 12-year veteran has proven to be durable in recent years, playing over 150 games in each the last two seasons and he’s on track to do so again. But, it’s inevitable that his skills will begin to erode.

Am I saying that it’s a certainty that Boomstick will see his performance or health will fall of the proverbial cliff during the last two years of his contract? No. it’s possible that he’ll continue to perform, and be available, at a relatively high level. If he did so, he wouldn’t be alone.

Former Mariner Adrian Beltre (age-37) continues to pad his Hall of Fame resume with the Texas Rangers and the performance of Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (40) has been phenomenal during his farewell tour. Victor Martinez (37), Carlos Beltran (39), and Jayson Werth (37) are more examples of players defying age with good seasons at the plate.

On the flip side, Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Howard — all the same age as Cruz — have seen their respective production plummet due to age and/or injury. What if Cruz’s career takes a downward swing like this trio? Wouldn’t it be wise for Dipoto to avoid the risk of a fading Boomstick by dealing him now?

Even if Cruz can stiff-arm Father Time for a few more years, he’s no longer an asset in the field. Of all of the players I’ve mentioned thus far, Beltre is the only one who continues to excel with his glove. The defensive metrics for the remaining players suggests they’re below-average or worse fielders.

The Mariners could opt to make Cruz a full-time designated hitter like Ortiz and Martinez. I’ve advocated such a move in the past to preserve Cruz’s body. But, that brings me to the second reason for moving the four-time all-star. He’s not a good fit on a Jerry Dipoto roster.

Ever since arriving in Seattle, Dipoto has been attempting to improve his club’s outfield defense and create a more athletic, versatile roster. A full-time designated hitter and/or a below-average outfielder doesn’t help the 48-year-old executive achieve those goals. Couldn’t I argue that Dipoto’s philosophy led to the Mark Trumbo trade?

True, Trumbo has yet to prove he can be as consistently productive as Cruz. But, there are similarities in their style of play — both are above average power hitters with limited athleticism and below-average defensive skills. When Dipoto shipped Trumbo to the Baltimore Orioles last offseason, it was the second time he traded the slugger. If I’m right, why wouldn’t he consider dealing Boomstick too?

There are reasons to wait until the offseason to move Cruz. First and foremost, the club may not be convinced that they’re out of contention by the end of the month. Barring a complete meltdown or unforeseen injury setbacks, the Mariners may find themselves tantalizingly on the fringe of contention.

Cruz’s contract presents a few challenges too. He has a limited no-trade clause to eight teams. After this season, the clause expires giving the club more available trade partners. Also, delaying a trade until the offseason avoids the inevitable blow back from fans who haven’t sniffed the postseason since 2001.

On the other hand, Boomstick is set to make $28.5 million during the next two seasons and, as Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill suggested during last week’s Sandmeyer and Churchill podcast, clubs desperate to win now may be willing to absorb the slugger’s salary and assume the risk that he’ll age right before their eyes.

Do I think that the Mariners will move Nelson Cruz during the next two weeks? It’s not very likely. But, they should certainly consider it.

Even if Seattle makes the postseason, I suspect management will consider dismantling the roster and starting anew with players who better fit the Dipoto mold. Moving Cruz when his value is at its highest would be a good first step. There’s certainly a case to do so, even if it upsets fans.…

Dipoto MarinersSince arriving in Seattle, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has proven to be an aggressive deal maker. Thanks to his efforts, the Mariners are on the edge of contention as the club approaches the all-star break.

A winning record during the first week of July has been a rare occurrence in Seattle. So, naturally, fans want the front office to aggressively pursue upgrades in the trade market. They’re tired of the franchise’s 14-season playoff drought, which happens to be the longest current streak of futility in the majors.

With that fan excitement in mind, Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill published a series of comprehensive pieces that identify potential — and realistic — trade targets who could help the Mariners get over the playoff hump. If you haven’t already read his superb analysis, you can find it here.

Undoubtedly, Seattle needs to make moves similar to the ones suggested by Jason. Otherwise, they won’t be playing October baseball this year. They need help with their starting staff and bullpen, plus another another corner outfielder.

That’s a lot of holes to fill, especially for an organization with a minor-league system than ranked in the bottom 10-percent of the majors prior to the start of the season. What happens if Dipoto can’t satisfy all of his roster needs with big moves because he doesn’t have enough trade chips? That’s a distinct possibility.

Making big deadline deals sounds so easy. But, the Mariners won’t be operating in a vacuum. They’ll be competing against many clubs with far superior farm systems. It may turn out that Dipoto will have to load the majority of his bait into one deal. He may only get one big fish in return. Then what?

As I pondered the possibility that the Mariners may have to go big AND search the discount rack, I came up with novel idea on how to search for lower-tier players who could help the team. The moves I’m talking won’t excite fans, but could improve the roster nonetheless.

Instead of simply scouring stat sheets for players who could help the Mariners, I decided to narrow my search for players who share a common history with Dipoto. Not following me? Please let me explain.

Last offseason, the Mariners added no less than 14 players who previously crossed paths with their general manager in other organizations. Not all of these players have made an impact for Seattle or are even with the club anymore. But, a few have made their presence known.

The two most notable examples of players with Dipoto are catcher Chris Iannetta and starter Wade Miley. Iannetta was in the Colorado Rockies system when Dipoto was working in their organization. The 48-year-old executive must have liked what he saw while with Colorado. His first trade as Los Angeles Angels general manager was acquiring Iannetta from the Rockies. In Seattle, Dipoto’s first free agent signing from outside of the organization was the 33-year-old catcher.

Dipoto DiamondbacksIn Miley’s case, Dipoto was Director of Player Personnel for the Arizona Diamondbacks when the left-hander was a first round selection of the organization during the 2008 amateur draft. Years later, he reunited with the southpaw by acquiring him up in a deal with the Boston Red Sox.

The most recent deal with a Dipoto connection involved starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc, picked up in a minor deal from the Toronto Blue Jays just two weeks ago. Entering today, this move looks like a stroke of genius. Perhaps, the southpaw won’t sustain his initial success — he struggled today. But, adding LeBlanc was a low-risk maneuver, which was easier to execute thanks to the fact that Dipoto — and manager Scott Servais — were familiar with the 31-year-old.

The trio I’ve mentioned aren’t the only ones who share a past with their general manager. Here are all of the players who’ve passed through the Mariners organization since Dipoto took the helm in September. Some are no longer around, while others are with the big-league club or playing with Class-AAA Tacoma. It’s worth noting that Shawn O’Malley was with Seattle prior to the new general manager taking over.

Former Dipoto Acquaintances
Chris Iannetta Wade Miley Wade LeBlanc Shawn O’Malley Dan Robertson
Donn Roach * Kevin Munson * Brad Mills * Jarrett Grube * Evan Scribner **
Ryan Cook ** Efren Navarro *** Ed Lucas *** A.J. Schugel *** Charles Brewer ***
* AAA Tacoma          ** DL           *** No longer with organization

So, what exactly will be I be looking for? Obviously, a previous association with the Mariners general manager is a must. Otherwise, they’ll be less notable — and less expensive players — capable of filling a need or shoring up the club’s depth in Seattle or Tacoma.

I focused on the positions previously mentioned, although I did include a middle infielder. Also, all of the players identified play with clubs that, in my estimation, are no longer contenders. My friends in western Pennsylvania may not agree though.

Matt Joyce, OF — Pittsburgh Pirates
Acquired by Dipoto in December 2014, the 31-year-old corner outfielder is having a solid year for the Pirates and owns a career .340 on-base percentage (OBP) during nine seasons. Joyce is succeeding against southpaws this year, but his career .188 batting average against lefties suggests he’s better suited for a left/right platoon. The veteran is a free agent at the end of this season.

Gordon Beckham, INF — Atlanta Braves
Some may wonder why I’d list an infielder. If you’re leaning forward, why not try to improve the bench? Beckham, who Dipoto previously acquired as a rental player during the Angels’ stretch run in 2014, has split his time between second base, third base, and shortstop this season. Having someone who entered today with a .284/.382/.442 triple-slash would be a significant offensive upgrade, especially if Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, or Ketel Marte were lost for a few days.

A.J. Schugel, RP — Pittsburgh Pirates
Here’s a name that might register with some Seattle fans. Last December, the Mariners selected Schugel when he was waived by the Diamondbacks, but they let him go just a month later in order to make room for starter Joe Wieland. The 27-year-old was an Angels draft selection before Dipoto’s watch and traded to Arizona in 2013 as part of the deal that sent former Mariner Mark Trumbo to the Diamondbacks.

Schugel has done well as a middle reliever with Pittsburgh this season. To date, the right-hander has recorded a fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 3.02, while holding opponents to a .221 batting average. The rookie has also proven that he can go more than an inning — he has seven appearances of two or more innings.  Whether the Pirates will be in a hurry to deal Schugel is debatable. He’s under team control through the 2021 season and the club hasn’t waved the white flag just yet.

Daniel Hudson, RP — Arizona Diamondbacks
When Dipoto was interim general manager in Arizona in 2010, he acquired Hudson from the Chicago White Sox. Still with Arizona, the 29-year-old is set to be a free agent at the end of the season and serving as setup man to closer Brad Ziegler. Hudson held opposing hitters to a .130 batting average during his first 30 appearances this season, although he’s stumbled recently, allowing two or more runs in four of his last six outings. Currently on bereavement leave, the right-hander has expressed a desire to stay with Arizona past this season. Perhaps, seeing the familiar face of the guy who brought him to the Diamondbacks might ease a transition to the Emerald City.

Mike Morin/Cam Bedrosian, RP — Los Angeles Angels
This duo of young right-handers are holdovers from the Dipoto years. Bedrosian was a first-round selection of the previous regime and Morin was a round-13 pick during Dipoto’s first draft with Los Angeles. The 24-year-old Bedrosian has displayed more electric stuff than his teammate, while the 25-year-old Morin has been a versatile performer capable of pitching more than one inning.

Morin is under team control through 2020 and Bedrosian through 2022. Picking up either won’t come as cheaply as a rental. But, considering the lack of depth in the Angels system, moving these young hurlers would present Los Angeles with an opportunity to improve their minor league depth.

Buddy Boshers, RP — Minnesota Twins
After leaving the Angels system after the 2014 season, the southpaw played Independent League ball last season before signing a minor league deal with Minnesota last December. Currently assigned to Class-AAA Rochester, Boshers struck out 14 and walked two during 13 innings of work with the Twins this season. Would he provide an immediate jolt to the Mariners’ bullpen? No. But, adding minor league depth would be a wise choice for a club making a postseason push.

Blaine Boyer, RP — Milwaukee Brewers
The right-hander, who turns 35 next week, is the oldest of the players on my list. The 10-year-veteran has primarily pitched middle relief for the Brewers this year and represents another depth-driven acquisition.

As noted in the Prospect Insider mid-season review of the Mariners’ roster, an area that could potentially plague the club is center field depth. When Leonys Martin spent two weeks on the disabled list earlier in the season, it was painfully evident that Seattle didn’t have a major league ready replacement.

With that in mind, I identified two candidates who could fill in, if needed. Perhaps, Dipoto wouldn’t pull the trigger on either player before the non-waiver deadline. But, both could serve as a low-cost emergency center fielder and defensive replacements in the corner spots.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF — Milwaukee Brewers
The 28-year-old’s association with Dipoto was a brief one in Los Angeles — purchased from the New York Mets, waived a month later, and claimed by the Mets. Nieuwenhuis has primarily played center field for the Brewers this season, but has experience in both corner outfield spots. His batting average is a paltry .216 batting average, but he’s been league-average at getting on base this season. The left-handed hitter is eligible for arbitration for the first time after the season.

Peter Bourjos, OF — Philadelphia Phillies
The right-handed hitter spent the first four years of his career with the Angels, until some guy named Trout took over in center field. In 2013, Dipoto shipped him to the St. Louis Cardinals, who waived him last offseason. Bourjos — a free agent after the season — is slashing a respectable .277/.315/.427 in the City of Brotherly Love. But, that’s the result of a torrid June after struggling during the first two months of the season.

Understandably, my quirky list of trade targets isn’t exactly sexy. Fans would prefer to think about major names, such as Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, or Andrew Miller. Those kind of players are frequently mentioned during national media speculation surrounding the Mariners. But, those kind of discussions will likely turn out to be nothing more than idle chatter.

I suspect that Dipoto will acquire at least one player similar to those suggested by Churchill, and he’ll add a few smaller pieces — like I’ve suggested. Maybe, he won’t have a shared history with them. But, they’ll be of the same ilk. I’d also expect the Mariners to use Tacoma to fill in any remaining gaps.

This measured approach would permit the Mariners to make a serious run at the postseason, despite having a limited amount of valuable trade chips at their disposal. With that said, breaking up the band in the offseason may be the best course of action for Dipoto, even if he snaps his club’s dreaded 14-year drought.…

Lee Lineup“When the unexpected becomes the expected, strange becomes familiar.”Jason A. Churchill | May 20, 2016

Forty games into the 2016 season, hopes and expectations were soaring for the Seattle Mariners. Then, unexpectedly, one of the best teams in Major League Baseball (MLB) became one of the worst in the span of just six weeks. The team that could do no wrong suddenly couldn’t catch a break.

What exactly caused the Mariners’ downward spiral? Can the team get back on track and compete for a postseason berth? Considering the team’s struggles, how is rookie manager Scott Servais handling the adversity? We’ll get to all that in the Mid-Season Report Series, starting with the AL West standings and trends. Plus, a look at the club’s ability to generate offense.

First, here are our Mariners mid-season award winners:

MVP
Arkins: Robinson Cano, 2B
Churchill: Cano

Cy Young
Arkins: Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP
Churchill: Iwakuma

Defensive MVP
Arkins: Leonys Martin, CF
Churchill: Martin

Surprise
Arkins: Dae-Ho Lee, 1B
Churchill: Lee

Next, our league mid-season award winners:

AL MVP
Arkins: Jose Altuve
Churchill: Altuve

NL MVP
Arkins: Clayton Kershaw
Churchill: Kershaw

AL Cy Young
Arkins: Chris Sale
Churchill: Corey Kluber

NL Cy Young
Arkins: Kershaw
Churchill: Kershaw

AL ROY
Arkins: Nomar Mazara
Churchill: Mazara

NL ROY
Arkins: Corey Seager
Churchill: Seager

AL MOY
Arkins: Buck Showalter
Churchill: Showalter

NL MOY
Arkins: Bruce Bochy
Churchill: Bochy

Standings and Trends
The American League (AL) West division standings have shifted dramatically since our first-quarter review, when the Texas Rangers and Mariners were the only clubs with winning records and the Houston Astros were cellar dwellers thanks to an abysmal April. Here’s where the division stands at the midway point of the Mariners’ season.
AL West Standings
Tm W L GB Strk R RA vWest Home Road last10 last20 last30
TEX 52 30 L 1 4.9 4.4 26-13 28-12 24-18 6-4 14-6 21-9
HOU 43 38 8.5 L 1 4.6 4.2 16-16 23-16 20-22 8-2 14-6 21-9
SEA 42 39 9.5 W 3 4.9 4.3 15-19 21-20 21-19 6-4 8-12 12-18
OAK 35 46 16.5 L 3 4.2 4.9 14-18 17-25 18-21 6-4 10-10 13-17
LAA 33 48 18.5 W 1 4.4 4.8 15-20 16-26 17-22 2-8 7-13 10-20
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/3/2016.

Back in May, I suggested that the division’s contenders and also-rans would be more apparent by the season’s midway point and that’s certainly turned out to be true. Both Texas and Houston flew by Seattle in the standings in June, while the Mariners have struggled to remain relevant.

The Rangers have continued to win despite losing three starters to the disabled list (DL) within the last 30 days — co-ace Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Colby Lewis. Credit for the club’s resiliency goes to the strong performances of co-ace Cole Hamelsfellow starter Martin Perezand their torrid offense — ranked number-four in runs scored during June.

The Texas bullpen was middle-of-the-pack in the AL during June, which is actually an improvement over its first quarter stature. Sam Dyson has done relatively well since assuming the closer role from incumbent Shawn Tolleson. But, the club only has one “swing and miss” arm in the ‘pen — former shortstop and number-one overall draft pick Matt Bush, who wasn’t even a reliever or in professional baseball a year ago. This is an area ripe for an upgrade prior to the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline.

At the end of the first quarter, I referred to the Astros as “the most enigmatic team in the AL West.” Since then, only the Rangers have won more games than Houston in the AL.

The Astros flourished despite the ongoing struggles of reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, who has seen his fielding independent pitching (FIP) and earned run average (ERA) skyrocket this season. Sophomore Lance McCullers has been the rotation’s best performer after getting a late start to the season due to shoulder soreness, while the rest of the staff has kept their team in games.

The key to Houston’s resurgence has been several extremely hot bats. In June, the club ranked second in the AL in on-base percentage (OBP), thanks to hot stretches by Luis Valbuena, Carlos Gomez, Marwin Gonzalez, Jason Castro, and Colby Rasmus. It’s highly unlikely that this group can sustain their recent uptick since all are performing well above their career averages.

Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics have become the also-rans thanks to a barrage of significant injuries. The only questions remaining for these clubs this season is how soon will they become sellers and who are they willing to move in deals?

Although Texas is certain to cool off, they continue to be the best team in the AL West. Making the club even more formidable is the fact that, as noted in the Rangers deadline deal preview, general manager Jon Daniels possesses the assets and resourcefulness to be a major player in the trade market.

Whether Houston can sustain their current trajectory with a less-than-optimal ace and a streaky supporting cast behind young stars Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer is debatable. Still, general manager Jeff Luhnow has also proven that he’s willing to wheel and deal at the trading deadline.

Despite the recent struggles of the Mariners and the June bounces of the Rangers and Astros, I expect the division race to tighten as the season progresses. A lot can change within the span of six weeks. Just ask fans in Houston and Seattle. Now, let’s turn our attention to the team from the Emerald City.

Offense
Although the Mariners struggled to win games during the last six weeks, offense hasn’t been the problem. A comparison between Seattle’s MLB run production rankings at the first-quarter mark and the midway point of the season demonstrates that point.

Mariners MLB Run Production Rankings
Year Runs/Gm BB% SO% BA OBP SLG
1st QTR
7 14 11 17 16 10
Midway 6 11 8 12 10 6

Run production has remained essentially the same in league rankings and the team actually scored slightly more runs since the start of the second quarter. So, what’s working for the club? A lot. Let’s start with the heart of the batting order inherited by general manager Jerry Dipoto.

Robinson Cano continues to demonstrate that last year’s sub-par performance was actually due to health issues and not age-related regression. Kyle Seager is on track to hit 20-plus home runs and repeat his career .263/.329/.440 triple-slash. Finally, Nelson Cruz has avoided the decline that many — including me — had predicted for the 36-year-old.

The main stars aren’t the only contributors this season. New supporting cast members Adam Lind, Leonys Martin, Dae-Ho Lee, and Chris Iannetta have improved the offense to varying degrees. They’ve blended nicely with the heart of the order, plus holdovers Seth Smith, Ketel Marte, and Franklin Gutierrez to create a consistently productive lineup.

In the offseason, Dipoto placed a strong emphasis on lengthening the club’s everyday lineup and improving the roster’s on-base ability in order to withstand a slumping player — or players. Overall, his plan has worked. But, that doesn’t mean that everything has gone as well as conceived.

Take a look at how the OBP of each position ranks against the rest of the AL. Although there are mostly bright spots, a few areas of concern do exist.

Mariners OBP Rankings (by Position)
Position OBP League OBP (Position) AL Rank
C .321 .293 2
1B .306 .326 12
2B .358 .331 3
3B .346 .330 4
SS .292 .316 12
LF .321 .324 11
CF .316 .327 8
RF .331 .343 12
DH .380 .325 2
PH .312 .295 8

At shortstop, Marte has been effective at making contact. But, his OBP has tanked due to an extremely low 3.4 walk rate that ranks in the bottom-10 among qualified major league hitters. Since returning from the DL on June 6, the switch-hitter has been even worse (2.1-percent).

Fortunately, for the Mariners and Marte, there’s a good chance he’ll fix his on-base woes. The switch-hitter posted a 9.7-percent rate with Seattle during the second half of last year and 7.5-percent during parts of two seasons with Class-AAA Tacoma. Getting the 22-year-old back on track would provide a significant boost to the offense and provide Servais with another option to leadoff.

Both corner outfield positions under-performed during the first half. As a result, Dipoto shook up the roster by optioning left fielder Nori Aoki to Tacoma on June 24. The 34-year-old had battled inconsistency at the plate all season, particularly against left-handed pitching.

Considering Aoki’s career success against southpaws — .360 OBP — his struggles come as a surprise. This year, the left-handed hitter posted an anemic .244 OBP during 87 plate appearances against lefties. In Aoki’s place, the club is using Gutierrez and Smith in both corners spots, plus Cruz is getting more playing time in right field.

Aoki’s demotion not only affects the outfield. His absence changes the status quo at first base and designated hitter. When Cruz is patrolling right field, one of the members of the first base platoon — either Lind or Lee — is getting the opportunity to be the designated hitter, while the other plays first base.

Getting both Lind and Lee more consistent playing time may improve both players’ offensive numbers. Lind has been performing well below his career slash numbers and is sitting at .236/.266/.421 through the end of June. His struggles have spurred fan outcry for more playing time for Lee. Now, they’re getting their wish.

Lee has certainly created a swirl of excitement with his bat and his contagious smile. But, some observers believe that Servais’ shrewd use of Lee has helped obscure flaws in the the rookie’s game. In another six weeks, we’ll know whether that’s true and if Lind can salvage his season. For now though, management seems content to stick with their first base platoon setup.

Unlike recent seasons, the Mariners aren’t overly reliant on one or two hitters in order to score runs. Now, it’s a collaborative effort that’s been highly productive. That’s certainly a deviation from the norm in Seattle.

“When the unexpected becomes the expected, strange becomes familiar.”Jason A. Churchill | May 20, 2016

WalkerForty games into the 2016 season, hopes and expectations were soaring for the Seattle Mariners. Then, unexpectedly, one of the best teams in Major League Baseball (MLB) became one of the worst in the span of just six weeks. The team that could do no wrong suddenly couldn’t catch a break.

What exactly caused the Mariners’ downward spiral? Can the team get back on track and compete for a postseason berth? Considering the team’s struggles, how is rookie manager Scott Servais handling the adversity? We’ll get to all that in the Mid-Season Report Series, continuing with the starting rotation and bullpen. Both units have suffered significant hard knocks during the past six weeks.

Starting rotation
Thanks to a spate of injuries, the starting staff quickly went from a strength to a liability within the span of a month. Since May 27, the Mariners have seen Felix Hernandez, Wade Miley, and Adrian Sampson — Miley’s replacement — head to the disabled list (DL). Moreover, Taijuan Walker missed starts due to tendonitis in his Achilles tendon region.

To compound matters, a pair of starters regressed during the second quarter. Miley was ineffective in his four starts prior to his trip to the DL — 20.2 innings pitched, 17 earned runs, 26 hits, and 11 walks. Plus, the southpaw didn’t look any better when he returned on June 29 — five earned runs and just four innings pitched.

Our first quarter report Cy Young selection — Nathan Karns — struggled so much that he was assigned to the bullpen last week. The right-hander hadn’t pitched past the fifth inning during his five starts in June, compiling a 7.33 earned run average during that stretch.

The bad news doesn’t stop there. It gets worse. Sampson suffered a season-ending elbow injury during warmups prior to his second start. In total, the Mariners replaced five starting pitchers within the span of a month.

The upheaval created by the rapid loss of arms left Seattle reeling throughout June. To see how far the entire pitching staff nosedived, look at the following table that illustrates their increasing ineffectiveness with each passing month.

Seattle’s Fading Starting Staff
Month Starts of +6 IP RA/Gm *
Total W-L
W-L (+4 RS)
W-L (3 or fewer RS)
April 17 3.3 13-10 9-1 4-9
May 18 4.1 17-11 16-4 1-7
June 13 5.3 10-18 10-7 0-11
 * RA/Gm includes runs permitted by bullpen

With Hernandez, Miley, and Walker unavailable, Seattle starters were completing the sixth less often, forcing the bullpen to cover more innings. Ultimately, the Mariners staff surrendered more runs (RA/Gm) and the team saw a dramatic uptick in losses in June.

Even though the club suffered significant misfortune in June, it’s plausible that the staff can get back on track before the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline. First, Hisashi Iwakuma has consistently gone deep into games and James Paxton has done a good job of replacing Hernandez in the rotation.

Furthermore, Walker appears to be healthy and veteran Wade LeBlanc has performed well during his first two starts with the team. Whether LeBlanc can sustain his crafty success remains to be seen. But, he’s been a revelation thus far.

If all of Seattle’s starters are healthy again and if they’re all performing as expected — two big “ifs” — they’ll be able to construct a competitive rotation from a pool that includes Felix, Kuma, Paxton, Walker, Miley, LeBlanc, and possibly Karns. On the other hand, it’s going to be a long summer in the Emerald City, if the Mariners rotation doesn’t improve during the second half.

Bullpen
June really was a perfect storm for the Mariners. The devolving rotation pushed an already suspect bullpen to the breaking point. In the end, the relief corps was unable to keep the team afloat. The following table illustrates just how much extra slack the relievers picked up as the season progressed.

Mariners Pitching Workload Distribution and Results
Month SP IP
SP %
SP FIP
RP IP
RP %
RP FIP
April 143 69% 3.78 64 31% 3.15
May 161.1 64% 4.30 90.4 36% 3.38
June 152.2 61% 4.36 98.1 39% 4.90

After the first month of the season, relievers were covering 31-percent of the workload and the bullpen performed well, as evidenced by their 3.15 fielding independent pitching (FIP). By June though, relief pitchers were covering eight-percent more workload and their FIP ballooned to 4.90 — worst in the AL last month. The Mariners can’t contend unless these numbers improve.

Although the bullpen has struggled recently, there have been several bright spots. Rookie Edwin Diaz made the jump from Class-AA starter to major league reliever in less than a month. To date, he’s fanned over 40-percent of the batters he’s faced and is now getting the opportunity to pitch in higher-leverage situations.

Steve Cishek has done well as the team’s closer and looks to stay in the job barring injury or a string of very bad outings. Mike Montgomery has adapted well to bullpen duty since transitioning from a starter in Spring Training and leads the club with 15 multiple-inning relief appearances at the midway point of the season.

Nick Vincent was proving to be an asset before heading to the DL last week with a sore back and Vidal Nuno has been a versatile performer who even made an emergency start when Sampson went down during his pregame warmup.

One reliever who hasn’t been doing well lately is eighth inning setup man Joaquin Benoit. The 38-year-old has already been shutdown twice for shoulder problems — once in Spring Training and once during the season. Plus, his hard contact rate jumped to 43-percent in June after averaging 25-percent for the first two months of the season. Benoit will have to improve quickly or the club will have to find someone else to be the bridge to Cishek.

Speaking of making changes, general manager Jerry Dipoto has been creatively attempting to improve his relief staff. He’s been shuffling pitchers between Class-AAA Tacoma and Seattle on a regular basis and parting ways with ineffective hurlers, when necessary. Moreover, the organization’s idea to convert Diaz into a reliever looks like a stroke of genius thus far.

The move of Karns to relief is intriguing because it presents the potential of having another effective power arm in the bullpen. Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill explains here how this could help both pitcher and ball club. Time will tell if the right-hander can flourish as a reliever.

Dipoto even added a player he traded away in the offseason — Tom Wilhelmsen. Whether “The Bartender” can return to his pre-trade form with is unknown. But, once again, the opportunity to add another effective power exists.

Despite the shrewd maneuvers made by Dipoto, it’s unlikely that the current crop of relievers can succeed, unless the starting staff gets healthy. Even then, more bullpen help may needed to keep the Mariners competitive throughout the season.…

Seff“When the unexpected becomes the expected, strange becomes familiar.”Jason A. Churchill | May 20, 2016

Forty games into the 2016 season, hopes and expectations were soaring for the Seattle Mariners. Then, unexpectedly, one of the best teams in Major League Baseball (MLB) became one of the worst in the span of just six weeks. The team that could do no wrong suddenly couldn’t catch a break.

What exactly caused the Mariners’ downward spiral? Can the team get back on track and compete for a postseason berth? Considering the team’s struggles, how is rookie manager Scott Servais handling the adversity? We’ll get to all that in the Mid-Season Report Series, continuing with the bench, the impact of injuries, and analysis of the overall roster.

Bench
Seattle reserves have been an asset during the first half of the season. Two platoons in particular — Adam Lind/Dae-Ho Lee at first base and Seth Smith/Franklin Gutierrez in the corner outfield spots — have delivered positive results for the offense.

Utilityman Shawn O’Malley is the club’s primary backup at shortstop and center field on the 25-man roster, but not viewed as a long-term replacement at either position. Luis Sardinas — currently assigned to Class-AAA Tacoma — performed adequately as an injury replacement for shortstop Ketel Marte when he was lost to the disabled list (DL) for two weeks.

Sardinas remains the organization’s first option to stand in for middle infielders lost for more than a few days. The 23-year-old has occasionally played the outfield while in Tacoma. Once he’s demonstrated proficiency there, the team could opt to have him replace O’Malley on the big league roster.

Prior to his recent injury, Steve Clevenger was providing timely hits during his  weekly starts as understudy to catcher Chris Iannetta. For the time being, Mike Zunino is the team’s new reserve backstop, although it’s unclear if he’ll start more often than Clevenger did or stay in Seattle through the rest if the season. It’s possible that the team adds Rob Brantly to the 40-man roster and sends the former first round draft pick back to Tacoma.

Before being optioned to Tacoma, Nori Aoki was the regular left fielder and was called upon to stand in for center fielder Leonys Martin when he spent two weeks on the DL. Although the 34-year-old’s glove wasn’t atrocious, he’s not an elite-level defender — like Martin. As a result, he wasn’t able to mitigate the below-average range of Seattle’s corner outfielders. In retrospect, the loss of Martin diminished the Mariners’ defense at all three outfield spots.

Injury Impact
After going relatively unscathed during the first six weeks of the season, the list of injured players has grown considerably since May 21. Here’s a complete tally of Mariners affected by injury this year.

Mariners Injuries
Player Position Injury Status
 Jesus Sucre C Right leg surgery On rehab assignment
Tony Zych RP Right rotator cuff tendinitis 60-day DL
Charlie Furbush RP  Left shoulder tightness  Throwing from a mound
Evan Scribner RP Strained lat muscle 60-day DL
Ryan Cook RP Strained lat muscle 60-day DL
Wade Miley SP Shoulder discomfort Back in action
Felix Hernandez SP  Calf strain Preparing for rehab assignment
Adrian Sampson SP  Right flexor bundle strain 60-day DL
Ketel Marte SS  Sprained thumb  Back in action
Leonys Martin CF  Strained hamstring  Back in action
Taijuan Walker SP Right foot tendinitis  Back in action
Steve Clevenger C Broken hand 15-day DL
Nick Vincent RP Mid-back strain 15-day DL

As covered in the mid-season rotation and bullpen report, the starting staff was decimated by the injury bug last month. With a little luck, all five of the Mariners original 2016 starters will be back shortly after the all-star break when Felix Hernandez returns.

The return of relievers Charlie Furbush, Evan Scribner, and Ryan Cook — all out since Spring Training — would be a welcomed development. Furbush appears closest to returning to Seattle since he’s finally throwing off a mound again. Still, he’s already suffered several setbacks along the way. Considering the nature of each player’s injury and their slow recovery times, expectations for the trio have to remain low until they finally toe a mound in a real game.

Roster Analysis
The offensive output by the Lind/Lee platoon overshadows the versatility lost by having a pair of one-position players sharing the same position. Optimally, a more versatile player who could handle a bat and fill-in at several spots — first base, middle infield, or outfield — would be better for the team. But, there hasn’t been any indication that the Mariners plan to break up their dynamic first base duo.

Aoki was dispatched to Tacoma after struggling against left-handed pitching during the first half of the season. If he can’t improve against southpaws, it’s unlikely that the left-handed hitter returns to Seattle as a full-time player.

Losing Martin to the DL exposed the organization’s razor-thin depth at center field. Currently, only four players in the organization have any major league experience at the position — Martin, Aoki, O’Malley, and Stefen Romero. Only Martin is good at fielding the position though.

Prior to the season, Boog Powell appeared to be to be on track to cover for an injured Martin. Yet, the Mariners turned to Aoki when their center fielder went down; a clear indicator that Powell wasn’t ready. Now, it doesn’t matter. The 23-year-old is out for the remainder of this year and the start of the 2017 season due to an 80-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs.

Tacoma’s new center fielder — Guillermo Heredia — may eventually be an option depending on the circumstances. The Cuban signed with Seattle as a free agent in February and his defensive prowess is major league ready. Whether he’ll be able to consistently hit big league pitching is uncertain.

If Martin were to go down for an extended period, general manager Jerry Dipoto would likely go outside of the organization to find a player with big league experience to patrol center field.

For corner outfield spots, Romero remains a viable option in Tacoma. The 27-year-old did play some first base during the early stages of the season, but played there just once in June.

If the Mariners continue to remain relevant in the postseason conversation, Dipoto will likely focus on adding bullpen help, a versatile outfielder who can hit, and another starting pitcher. But, as I mentioned in the team’s deadline deal preview, Seattle has limited trade chips at their disposal.

Conversely, the first-year general manager could become a seller prior to the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline, if his team can’t stay in the hunt. That’s highly probable if the rotation doesn’t regain its early season effectiveness after King Felix returns from the DL. Within a few weeks we’ll know which direction Dipoto decided to go.…

CishekSEAWe all love the trade deadline. We all loves trades. They bring a different level of excitement to an otherwise long, drawn-out season. No team is immune to the trade deadline. Bad teams, great teams, those in the middle, they’re all part of the trade buzz and that starts about now for all of the aforementioned.

Tuesday, Julie DiCaro of 670 The Score in Chicago reported via Twitter the Mariners have been scouting the Chicago Cubs “at all levels.”

DiCaro added, via Twitter reply, whom the Cubs are apparently looking at on the Seattle roster:

The Mariners bats with power include Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Adam Lind, Franklin Gutierrez, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith and Dae-Ho Lee. Let’s scratch Lind and Lee from the discussion, since they’re 1B/DH types only and the Cubs have one of the best first basemen in the game. And since the National League doesn’t offer the designated hitter, let’s scratch Cruz, too; he’s a bad outfielder and the Cubs’ front office and field staff greatly value defense.

This leaves platoon bats such as Smith and Gutierrez and full-time centerfielder Martin. The Cubs have Dexter Fowler in center and while moving him to left field and inserting Martin in center makes the Cubs better, it’s unclear what Seattle could get out of moving Martin, who is under club control for two more seasons.

The same goes for Seager. It’s late June and the Mariners have to plan for buying and selling both but if they’re making significant moves right now, the result has to be somewhat lateral at worst; get younger and gain control years while maintaining the overall talent level can be done. Or perhaps a deal now helps GM Jerry Dipoto make a bigger splash in a few weeks where the overall net gain is greater.

Seager does make sense for the Cubs, too. Such a move pushes Bryant to left field regularly, where he’s an upgrade over Jorge Soler’s .223/.322/.377 triple-slash. What the Mariners could get back to make it worth their while is unclear.

Again, at this stage, dealing Seager for prospects is a sell job. The 38-38 Mariners have no business pulling the plug on their season right now, despite the intrigue of the Cubs’ farm system. Yes, Kyle Schwarber could be the starting first baseman next year. Yes, shortstop Gleyber Torres is a very good prospect and highly valuable. Neither does the Mariners any good on June 28, or anytime this season — unless they’re traded again.

Mariners fans shouldn’t worry too much about Seager being the bait here. Dipoto can read just like we can. Seager is 28 years old and along with Martin the youngest member of the core of the club. Cano is 33, Cruz 36, Smith 33, Gutierrez 33 and catcher Chris Iannetta 33. If the Mariners move Seager, it’s sensible to do so in a selling situation or over the offseason as part of a larger overhaul. The Mariners shouldn’t be looking to get older and they shouldn’t be looking to move their best prime core player for prospects, at least for another month.

Cano doesn’t make sense for the Cubs, either, since Ben Zobrist is a better defender and has performed very well at the plate — and Cano’s contract is, well, large. Smith doesn’t seem to fit all that well considering his defense is below average and the Cubs have Chris Coghlan filling such a role. Gutierrez might be of interest to the Cubs as a platoon partner for Coghlan, a left-handed batter, but Coghlan hasn’t hit enough in 2016 to suggest he should be playing four days a week. It seems Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would be after an everyday player.

So what in the world could the two sides be talking about in late June? It’s not inconceivable the conversations may have or will include any or all of the above. The best bet, in my opinion, is something a lot less flashy:

DiCaro also tweeted Tuesday the Cubs have been in talks with four American League clubs and have interest in Minnesota Twins reliever Fernando Abad, a right-hander.

The Mariners have right-handed relievers.

Fans may wonder why the Mariners would trade away quality relievers and the potential answers to that question include:

1. They wouldn’t.

2. They wouldn’t unless it’s part of a bigger package that nets them a starting pitcher that can help right away.

3. They wouldn’t at this point in the season and the non-routine scouting of the Cubs’ organization is actually closer to routine than not and in preparation for something later this summer.

You can bet the farm the Cubs aren’t the only system the Mariners are scouting more heavily than normal right now. It’s a club that could be in contention next month and looking to add, but it’s also one that could find themselves in position to sell, too.

It’s how middling clubs get better and set themselves up for more sustainable success. In a sell situation, we should hear about the Mariners shopping Cruz, Smith, Gutierrez, Iwakuma, Nick Vincent, Joaquin Benoit, Vidal Nuno, Steve Cishek, Martin, Iannetta, Lind… pretty much everybody. Felix Hernandez is off the table. See what the market may bare.

The Cubs’ greatest area of need is the bullpen. The club currently is carrying a 3.98 FIP and the eighth worst BB/( of any relief corps in baseball. Cishek, who is signed through next season, might be an interesting piece for the juggernaut Cubs. They may also see Nuno or Mike Montgomery as a significant upgrade to lefty Clayton Richard and even Travis Wood.

Seager, though, is among the few topics you make the other clubs broach.

If I had to wager, I’d bet the two sides don’t make a single trade of great substance with one another unless and until Seattle decides to sell.

If they decide to sell. If they get healthy and add a piece or two of their own to the pitching mix, the Mariners may find themselves in the thick of their own race to the postseason. At which point most or all of the above names will be off the table for prospect returns.…

The Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline is nearing and Seattle Mariners fans are anxious to see how general manager Jerry Dipoto handles the club’s roster during his first “deadline season” in Seattle. With that in mind, I’ve been doing “primers” for each American League (AL) West division club to see how the club’s rivals stack up as the August 1 trade deadline approaches.

In recent days, I’ve discussed each of Seattle’s divisional rivals — the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to the the Mariners.

As mentioned in the earlier pieces, the trade market is certain to fluctuate greatly during the next six weeks. Some teams will go on a hot streak and feel like they have a chance, while others will stumble. In the end, all will have to decide whether to buy or sell and how aggressive they should be in the market.

The Mariners fall into the category of a “stumbler” and are an excellent example of how quickly a team’s trajectory can veer off course. After posting a 30-11 win-loss record during the first two months, Seattle is 6-13 since. The club’s recent spate of misfortune has probably influenced the opinion of some fans on whether the Mariners should be buyers or sellers.

For the purpose of this primer, I’m going to assume that the Mariners will be buyers. A month from now, their season may look much differently. For now, they’re still above the .500 mark and still very much alive in the divisional and wild card race. First, let’s talk about how Seattle entered their June tailspin.

What happened?
As with any baseball team — or season — there’s no one “thing” that leads to failure. In the case of the Mariners though, there’s one segment of the roster that’s clearly under-performed during the rough patch known as the month of June — their pitching. Look at the following table to see what I mean.

Mariners Run Production vs. Run Prevention
Month RS/Gm RA/Gm
Total W-L
W-L (+4 Runs scored)
W-L (Under 4 Runs Scored)
April 4.3 3.3 13-10 9-1 4-9
May 5.6 4.1 17-11 16-4 1-7
June 4.8 5.5 6-13 6-5 0-8

As you can see, there’s been a downward trend in runs allowed (RA/Gm) during month of the season. It’s true that club’s offense isn’t as robust in June when compared to their monster May, but it’s still averaging 4.8 RS/Gm. That should be plenty to win the majority of games.

For further proof, look at Seattle’s win-loss record when they’ve scored four or more runs during each month of the season. In April and May, the Mariners combined to go 25-5 in those games. In June, however, they’re barely over .500. In fact, the ball club hasn’t won a game when they’ve scored three or less runs this month. It’s always tough to win when a team scores three or less, but 0-8?

The declining effectiveness of the pitching staff is the root cause to the club’s June swoon. So, what’s the problem with the Mariners staff?

The ugly baby
The most apparent problem with the Mariners’ staff is the is the health of their starters. Many pundits and fans point to losing ace Felix Hernandez to the disabled list (DL) as the turning point. To a degree that’s true, but it’s a bit more complex.

Sure, losing King Felix hurts. But, his replacement — James Paxton — has performed admirably in the King’s absence. Look at the numbers of Felix’s last four starts prior to his calf injury compared to Paxton’s. There are relatively the same.

Felix Hernandez vs. James Paxton (Last three starts)
Player IP H
ER SO
BB
HR
AVG
Felix Hernandez 26.1 23 11 24 8 3 .235
James Paxton
26 28 4 27 8 1 .285

Am I suggesting that Paxton can replace Felix on a long-term basis? Of course not. But, the southpaw isn’t the problem. In fact, he’s been one of the team’s better pitchers in June.

The true pain from Felix’s absence has to do with the subsequent loss of Wade Miley to the DL and the ongoing injury issues with Taijuan Walker. With Paxton subbing for the King, he wasn’t available to fill in for Miley or Walker. That forced the Mariners to turn to Adrian Sampson to take Miley’s most recent turn.

The uncertainty surrounding Walker and the tendonitis affecting his right Achilles region will force Seattle to look to another hurler for Walker’s next scheduled start on Friday. Options include Mike Montgomery, newly acquired Zach Lee, and possibly Vidal Nuno.

Obviously, losing two and possibly three starters would be a major setback for any team. But, it’s been worse for the Mariners. Why? The team was forced to rely more heavily on a bullpen that wasn’t a strength entering the season.

The following table illustrates how the percent of workload has been slowly shifting from the starters to relievers with each passing month. Not coincidentally, the club’s win-loss record has worsened as the bullpen worked more innings. In June, the ugly baby finally appeared.

Mariners Pitching Workload Distribution and Results
Month SP IP
SP %
SP FIP
RP IP
RP %
RP FIP
April 143 69% 3.78 64 31% 3.15
May 161.1 64% 4.30 90.4 36% 3.38
June 104 61% 4.20 67 39% 5.1

As you can see, relievers are inheriting a larger workload. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to deliver the results as a unit. I included their increasing fielding independent pitching (FIP) to make that point.

For those not familiar with FIP, it’s a metric that looks similar to earned run average (ERA), but only measures the outcomes that a pitcher can solely control — strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs. I’m not trying to be a “saber-geek,” but FIP takes out the luck and defense so we can just focus on the pitchers during this conversation. If you want to know more about FIP, you can’t read about it here at FanGraphs.

Before getting into what the Mariners can do to fix themselves during the season, let’s discuss a few harsh realities facing general manager Jerry Dipoto.

Reality check
Seattle has limited resources available to use on the trade market. Their minor league system isn’t barren. However, it started the season ranked number-28 by Keith Law of ESPN.com. Just one prospect — Alex Jackson — ranked in the MLB.com Top-100. He came in at number-85.

After this month’s draft, the club’s number-11 overall pick —  Kyle Lewis — catapulted to second in Seattle’s system, according to Prospect Insider — ahead of Jackson.

Top prospect Tyler O’Neill is a rising star. Should the club consider trading the 21-year-old now? If they did, they’d be selling low. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Yes, the Mariners have a few pieces to sell and that’s the problem — they have FEW pieces. Moving O’Neill, Jackson, or Mike Zunino would bring some value back to Seattle. But, Dipoto would be selling low. He’s more accustomed to buying low.

Does this mean that the Mariners won’t be able to wheel and deal? Of course not. But, they’ll be vying for pieces coveted by market competitors — such as the Astros, Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs — who have many more prospects to offer during negotiations.

Reality check (Part two)
Let’s be honest, the Mariners entered the season as a fringe-contender capable of winning more games than they lost, but not many more games.

Thanks to a strong first two months, fan and pundit expectations for the club have soared. Now, the Mariners are leveling out. What’s changed since the start of the season? Nothing. The team is the same fringe-contender with an underwhelming bullpen. In a way, Seattle is exactly where they should be — hovering near the .500 mark.

Does that mean that club should give up on the season? No. But, selling the farm — if they had one to sell — for a shot at a potential one-game playoff would be short-sighted and unreasonable, especially for a general manager in his first season with a new organization.

Now that I’ve depressed and angered fans throughout the Pacific Northwest, what can be done to improve the Mariners pitchers and the rest of their roster? If it were up to me, I’d take a measured approach that attacked the following areas in this order — bullpen, corner outfield, rotation.

Bullpen
The biggest challenge facing the Mariners — other than limited resources — is that nearly every contender will be looking for relief help. That doesn’t mean that Seattle can’t find help. But, they’ll be facing steep competition.

We already know that Dipoto is innovative and previously fixed the 2014 Angels bullpen — they won 98 games that year. His cornerstone acquisition in 2014 was closer Huston Street. Perhaps, a reunion could take place.

The 32-year-old recently completed a five-week stint on the DL due to a strained left oblique. Assuming that he returns to form and the Angels and Mariners are willing to deal with each other — big assumption — Street would quickly improve Seattle’s bullpen. He’s set to make $9 million next season with a $10 million team option or $1 million buyout for 2018.

Having Street available would permit the Mariners manager Scott Servais to push incumbent closer Steve Cishek to the eighth inning. By doing so, Joaquin Benoit could become Servais’ seventh inning option. Suddenly, the bullpen has a different feel to it with Nick Vincent and Edwin Diaz being the primary middle relief options.

I know what some of you are thinking. Why not snag a big fish like New York Yankees setup man Andrew Miller? It does sounds appealing. After all, he’s flat out better than any Mariners reliever. Jim Bowden of ESPN.com even suggested Miller as a best fit for the Mariners not long ago. But, I don’t agree.

Bowden mentions that the Yankees would want a “young starter or young middle-of-the-order bat” in return for Miller. Who exactly is that in the Mariners organization? The guys that they can’t afford to squander on a reliever.

The same applies to Miller’s teammate — Aroldis Chapman. Having a closer capable of throwing 100-mph would be great. But, Seattle will be competing with clubs who have more valuable pieces to dangle in front of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

All of this assumes that the Bronx Bombers will be sellers. Considering that they haven’t registered a losing season since 1992, I don’t expect them to become sellers until very near the deadline. Even if the Mariners had the resources, can they wait that long?

If snagging a closer isn’t a doable do, the club could acquire relievers, who could help preserve save opportunities for Cishek. Dipoto could turn either to rentals or longer term options. Personally, I’d prefer the latter option.

I’m not going to name every possibility option, but I’ll mention the type of players that could make sense. The first one is familiar to Mariners fans — Fernando Rodney. Seattle’s former closer has been dealing for the San Diego Padres, who hold a $2 million option for 2017 with a $400 thousand buyout. Rodney is likely to be in high demand. Would the new regime bring back the “Fernando Rodney Experience” back to the Emerald City?

Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times recently suggested several trade options to help the Mariners, including their bullpen. Among the names was David Hernandez of the Philadelphia Phillies. The right-hander is having a good year pitching in the seventh inning with 11.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings during 32 appearances entering today.

Divish also suggested Daniel Hudson of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hudson is serving as Arizona’s eighth inning setup man and has surrendered just .786 walks and hits-per-innings pitched. An intriguing factor with the 29-year-old — he was acquired by Dipoto during his first month as interim general manager of the Diamondbacks in July 2010.

Another player that the Mariners general manager is familiar with is Angels reliever Joe Smith, currently on the DL with a hamstring problem. Assuming he returns within a few weeks, Smith could be an option. The side-arm thrower wasn’t effective prior to his injury. If Smith proves to be back to his normal self, he’d be a good value as a middle-reliever.

If the Mariners wanted to expend more resources, there are options out there. Examples include Padres rookie Ryan Buchter, Arodys Vizcaino of the Atlanta Braves, and Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress of the Milwaukee Brewers. All are having good years and come with with multiple years of team control.

Several relievers under team control through just next year include John Axford and Fernando Rodriguez of the Athletics and Fernando Abad of the Minnesota Twins. Each player is have varying degrees of value. They’d cost more than a rental, but less than the players with multiple years previously mentioned.

Divish noted that Jeanmar Gomez of the Philadelphia Phillies as a possible fit. He’s the team’s closer and has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining. Gomez could help with the ninth inning or could take over the eighth inning.

Corner outfield
Mariners left fielder Norichika Aoki has been the target of fan scorn this season. The veteran has a league-average OBP of .322, but only 12 extra base hits coming into today. Plus, his outfield defense has been — at best — slightly below-average. Improving the left field spot, both offensively and defensively, may be a tall order.

Big names like Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, and Carlos Gonzalez could be available and are under team control for several years. Plus, there’s Carlos Beltran, who would be a rental. Each sounds sexy, but all have drawbacks.

Kemp is slashing .256/.274/.470 and owed nearly $64 million through the 2019 season — that’s not counting the $10.5 million that the Los Angeles Dodgers are chipping in. Even if the Padres were willing to pay some of Kemp’s contract, adding another regressing outfielder on the wrong side of age-30 would make zero sense.

Braun and Gonzalez are putting up good numbers, but the haul required to get them is realistically out of reach for the Mariners. Moreover, Braun is due to make over $80 million between now and the end of the 2020 season, when he’ll be 36 years-old. That doesn’t include the $15 million mutual option/$4 million for 2021. Getting older just doesn’t make sense.

Beltran would cost much less. But, when will the Yankees become sellers? Will they sell?

A lower profile name like Jon Jay of the Padres would make more sense. Yes, I’d rather see the team pick up a player with more control than Jay — he’s a free agent at the end of the season. However, he’s be a significant upgrade over Aoki. Entering today, the 31-year-old is slashing .296/.345/.407 slash and would present Servais with another center field option — if Leonys Martin were unavailable or needed a day off.

Tampa Bay Ray Steve Pearce would be an interesting option. Although he wouldn’t be a center field replacement. The versatile right-handed hitter has spent time at first base, second base, and both corner outfield spots during the last two seasons. Like Jay, he’ll be a free agent at season’s end.

Another potential corner outfield rental would be Josh Reddick of the Athletics. Reddick is currently on the DL due to a broken thumb, but he’s close to returning. Assuming that he’s back and healthy by the deadline, the 29-year-old would be a nice fit in right field.

Before his injury, the left-handed hitter was slashing .322/.394/.466, which were career highs. Even if he returned to his normal league-average numbers, he’d provide the Mariners with a better glove, arm, and bat.

Adding a right fielder, like Reddick, would actually help left field indirectly. Such a move would permit the Franklin Gutierrez/Seth Smith platoon to left field and significantly reduce the outfield time for Nelson Cruz. Essentially, adding one player would help both corner outfield spots.

Rotation
Here’s where I’m really going to get in trouble with Mariners fans. I recommend doing nothing with the rotation. At the most, make a minor deal late. Why do I feel that way?

To me, there’s no reason to use scarce resources on a starter. If there are any more significant issues with the starting staff, the Mariners aren’t likely to be serious contenders anyway. That probably doesn’t sit well with some Mariners faithful. But, it’s true.

As of today, Felix and Miley appear to be on track to return within the next month and there’s no indication that Walker’s problem is season ending. It’s quite possible all three could be back before or near the all-star break. Assuming that Seattle regains the trio without losing another starter, they’ll be in good shape with their starting pitching. Otherwise, there’s not much hope of postseason contention in 2016.

Finally
What I’ve presented is a plan for a team that’s two games over .500 entering today. For a club in that position, the best course of action would be to make incremental improvements to the roster without forsaking the future for a shot of instant gratification.

If the Mariners plummet during the next month, they’d be better served to consider being a seller at the deadline. Conversely, if they were soaring after the all-star break, leaning forward in a common sense way would be reasonable.

Fans don’t like to read or hear that kind of talk. But, it’s the best approach for a club that started the year as a fringe-contender.

AL West trade primer: Oakland Athletics

AL West trade primer: Los Angeles Angels

AL West trade primer: Houston Astros

AL West trade primer: Texas Rangers

The Major League Baseball (MLB) non-waiver trading deadline is barreling down upon us and Seattle Mariners fans are anxious to see what general manager Jerry Dipoto does with the club’s roster during his first “deadline season” with the Mariners.

With that in mind, I thought I’d provide a primer for each club in the American League (AL) West division to see where the Mariners and their divisional roster stand as the August 1 trade deadline approaches.

A word of caution though, the trade market will fluctuate greatly during the next six weeks. Injuries, poor individual performances, and changes in the standings will determine who will be the buyers and sellers in the deadline derby. Moreover, these factors will influence the aggressiveness of all parties involved in the market.

So far, I’ve discussed the Oakland Athletics,  Los Angeles Angels, and Houston Astros. Let’s turn our attention to the Texas Rangers.

After being swept by the Athletics on May 18, the defending division champions went on a 23-6 tear and currently possess the best record in the AL and a commanding 8.5 game lead over the Mariners in the AL West. With so much going right, the Rangers appear ready to make a deep postseason run and possibly win the first World Series in franchise history. That’s why they’re likely to be active players in the deadline deal market.

The roster spots that Texas attempts to improve will partially depend on the recovery of players currently on the disabled list (DL) and the production of several position players.

The most glaring injury snag involves starting pitcher Yu Darvish, who looked impressive after missing last season due to Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately, for the club and the 29-year-old, he returned to the 15-day DL with neck and shoulder tightness after only three starts.

Although he’s eligible to return this week, Darvish has yet to throw from a mound. His status has to be the key planning factor for the club’s front office as the deadline approaches.

Reliever and Seattle native Keone Kela had surgery to remove elbow bone spurs in April and hopes to return by the all-star break. Assuming there are no setbacks, getting the 23-year-old back would be a boost to a bullpen that currently ranks in the bottom third of the AL.

On the field, center fielder Delino DeShields, first baseman Mitch Moreland, and designated hitter Prince Fielder have performed well below expectations in 2016.

During his rookie season in 2015, DeShields took over the center field job from current Mariner Leonys Martin and flourished in the lead-off spot with a .344 on-base percentage (OBP) and 25 stolen bases. This year, however, the 23-year-old struggled at the plate during the first five weeks of the season. As a result, he’s currently playing at Class-AAA Round Rock. Perhaps, his stay in the minors will help DeShields regain his form so he can help the ball club during their pennant push.

Moreland has also been scuffling at the plate with his batting average and OBP hovering 20 points below his career norms. Fortunately, for the veteran and Texas, Moreland’s bat has shown of life of late — he’s slashing .361/.410/.861 during the last two weeks. If the left-handed hitter can’t sustain his improvement, the Rangers may first look to other options within the organization to improve first base production.

This season, the Rangers have used Ryan RuaJurickson Profar, and top prospect Joey Gallo at first base on a limited basis. All are inexperienced at the position and it’s possible none of them would be the solution, if Texas opted to make a change.

The biggest drop in performance belongs to Fielder. At the start of today’s action, the Rangers designated hitter is slashing .200/.269/.310 with just five home runs after winning the AL Comeback Player of the Year award last season. Complicating matters for the Rangers is the fact that he’s owed approximately $110 million through the 2020 season — his age-36 season.

Despite the offensive struggles of Fielder and Moreland, the Rangers have flourished thanks to their long lineup and the emergence of former shortstop Ian Desmond in center field, Rookie of the Year candidate Nomar Mazara in right field, and Profar. All three men have helped fill gaps caused by injury, suspension, and poor performance. But, there’s still work to be done with this roster, if the club wants to return to the Fall Classic.

Although adding depth to the relief corps was a priority for general manager Jon Daniels during the offseason, the club’s bullpen has been a weak link. The unit has been better lately, but it’s currently not good enough for a serious postseason contender.

Daniels’ biggest bullpen acquisition — Tom Wilhelmsen — struggled during the first 10 weeks of the season and is no longer with the organization after refusing a minor league assignment. Another new addition, Tony Barnette hasn’t performed well during his debut season in MLB. Used primarily as a middle reliever, opponents are batting .315 against the Federal Way, Washington native in 27 games.

The back-end of the bullpen has been a concern too. Manager Jeff Banister removed Shawn Tolleson from the closer role due to ineffectiveness and inserted Sam Dyson. To date, the hard-throwing right-hander has been effective, while holding opponents to a .206/.270/.265 slash in June. With that said, adding a front-line closer would permit the team to move Dyson back into the setup role and immediately deepen the bullpen as a result.

New York Yankees relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman are possible options for the Rangers. Either could be season-changers for the ball club. However, it’s important to note that the Yankees haven’t waved the white flag to concede the season. Furthermore, this team hasn’t posted a losing record since 1992. Becoming a seller will be a rapid departure from the norm for the organization and its fans.

The starting staff has been solid, but a serious World Series contender could use another strong arm at the top of the rotation, especially with questions about Darvish’s recovery.

A player who could interest Daniels is starting pitcher Julio Teheran of the Atlanta Braves. A few weeks ago, Jim Bowden of ESPN concluded that the 25-year-old could be the most coveted pitcher at the trade deadline. Although I suggested that the right-hander would be a good fit for the Boston Red Sox or Toronto Blue Jays, he’d be make sense for the Rangers too.

Teheran is owed a relatively low $25.3 million through the end of the 2019 season with a $12 million club option for 2020, his age-29 season, and he’s performing at a high-level — number-seven among National League (NL) starting pitchers in wins above replacement (WAR).

The Braves don’t have to rush to trade their star pitcher and could opt to hold him until the offseason, or just keep him. With such an advantage, they’ll be able to ask for a lot of value in return and Texas could certainly meet their needs, if they want to.

Perhaps, the Rangers will pursue Athletics starter Rich Hill, who is a free agent at the end of the season and have much lower price tag. If Hill is healthy — he’s currently on the 15-DL with a mild groin strain — he’ll be a hot commodity in the trade market.

Trade rumors have linked Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy and the Rangers, but I suspect that the organization is more likely use its available chips to address other areas of concern first.

To date, the Rangers’ backstops — Bryan Holaday, Bobby Wilson, Robinson Chirinos, and Brett Nicholas — have done a nice job at holding down the position. The quartet has delivered reasonable offensive performance and value — .254/.309/.458 slash and the seventh highest WAR in the majors from the catcher position.

If Daniels wants to make a blockbuster to fill any of his needs, as he did by acquiring Hamels last year, he has the pieces to do so. The Rangers have a deep minor league system, which ranks number-nine in the majors, according to Keith Law of ESPN, and boasts four players on the MLB.com Top-100 prospect list.

The Hamels deal was a significant game-changer for both Philadelphia and Texas. The Phillies picked up three MLB.com Top-100 prospects — Jorge Alfaro, Jake Thompson, and Nick Williams — plus, pitchers Alec Asher and Jerad Eickhoff, currently pitching near the top of the rotation. Conversely, the Rangers landed a top starting pitcher and a reliever — Jake Diekman — both under team control through at least the 2018 season.

Would Texas be willing to make another mega-deal? Sure, but I suspect the haul would have to include controllable players — not just rentals — just like last year. Regardless of the Rangers’ approach, it’s certain that they’ll improve their roster between now and the deadline. Whether division rivals are willing to keep pace with them remains to be seen.

AL West trade primer: Oakland Athletics

AL West trade primer: Los Angeles Angels

AL West trade primer: Houston Astros

The Major League Baseball (MLB) non-waiver trading deadline is barreling down upon us and Seattle Mariners fans are anxious to see what general manager Jerry Dipoto does with the club’s roster during his first “deadline season” with the Mariners.

With that in mind, I thought I’d provide a primer for each club in the American League (AL) West division to see where the Mariners and their divisional rivals stand as the August 1 trade deadline approaches.

A word of caution though, the trade market will fluctuate greatly during the next six weeks. Injuries, poor individual performances, and changes in the standings will determine who will be the buyers and sellers in the deadline derby. Moreover, these factors will influence the aggressiveness of all parties involved in the market.

So far, I’ve discussed the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels. Let’s turn our attention to the Houston Astros.

The start of the last two seasons couldn’t have been any different for the Astros. Last year, the club started out by logging a 15-7 win-loss record in April, which was good enough to give them a four game lead in the division. This year though, Houston stumbled out of the gate and found themselves sitting in last place with a 7-17 record and seven games behind the division-leading Texas Rangers when April ended.

Despite early setbacks, team management preached patience and it looks like they were right. Since the end of April, Houston has posted a 26-19 record — fourth best in the AL. Yet, when you look at their statistics, it’s tough to comprehend how they’re doing it.

Yes, they have a young core comprised of three of the brightest young stars in baseball — Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa. However, the team’s overall offense hasn’t been good all season.

The stats aren’t much better during the last month, when they’ve climbed back to wild card relevance. Astros hitters rank near the bottom of the AL in runs scored, batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage.

Yet, the club finds themselves closing in on the .500 mark. How have they done it?

Beyond the young studs I’ve already mentioned, Houston’s bullpen has been the best in the AL during the last month. Their relief corps leads the AL in fielding independent pitching (FIP), has surrendered the fewest walks allowed and struck out the most hitters. Moreover, they lead the majors in the FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR).

Standouts in the ‘pen include Will Harris — selected off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014 — and Michael Feliz. Harris has stepped into replace Luke Gregerson as the team’s closer and has emerged as one of the best relievers in the majors in 2016. The 22-year-old Feliz has solidified the club’s middle relief and the highly heralded Ken Giles, the former closer for the Philadelphia Phillies, has contributed too.

So, what’s not working in Houston? Let’s start with a rotation that’s been okay, but not great.

Staff ace Dallas Keuchel has struggled to regain his 2015 AL Cy Young Award form. To date, the southpaw’s walk and extra base hit rates have climbed from last season, as has his FIP.

Lance McCullers, who started the season late due to shoulder soreness experienced during Spring Training, has been productive. However, he’s never pitched over 160 innings in a season and could run out of innings by season’s end.

Former Seattle Mariner Doug Fister, Collin McHugh, and Mike Fiers have contributed to the rotation and have pitched well during the last month. Still, the starting staff may not be good enough to get Houston to the next level, which would be a deep postseason run. That’s especially true if Keuchel doesn’t return to his 2015 form.

Catcher is another area that’s not a strength. Jason Castro started the season as the Astros’ number-one backstop on the depth chart, but the team opted to send designated hitter — and former Atlanta Braves catcher — Evan Gattis to the minor leagues for a week in May so that he could reacquaint himself with the tools of ignorance and help behind the plate.

To date, Gattis has been splitting time between catcher and designated hitter. Finding a full-time replacement behind the plate makes sense, if the club can find someone who’s affordable and better than their current options.

First base and third base are two other positions that haven’t been productive to date. The Astros rank in the bottom third of the AL in most offensive and defensive categories for both positions.

Tyler White has been the primary first baseman, but he’s struggled at the plate and was sent to the minor leagues yesterday. Ideally, the Astros would prefer to have top-prospect A.J. Reed take over.

Unfortunately, for the Astros, the player who comes in at number-35 on the MLB.com Top-100 prospect rankings hasn’t been hitting well at Class-AAA Fresno. As of this writing, the Reed has a .252/.342/.485 triple-slash and doesn’t appear ready.

For now, Marwin Gonzalez will get the majority of playing time at first base. The switch-hitter has spent time at both corner infield positions and has slashed .259/.301/.400 this season, which is similar to his career averages.

Luis Valbuena has been the primary third baseman, although he’s played some first base. The left-handed hitter’s slash numbers are league-average, but don’t rank favorably against his peers. Of the 25 major league qualified third baseman, he ranks in the bottom 20-percent of every slash category.

Some bloggers have suggested that Houston has an internal option available for third base — Alex Bregman, currently playing at Class-AA Corpus Christi. While the notion of the number-two overall pick in the 2015 draft debuting in the majors makes for a fascinating story, it may not be in the cards.

Bregman is still at Class-AA level though. Even last year’s AL Rookie of the Year — Correa — spent time at Class-AAA, although it was just 24 games. Perhaps, the organization will leap frog the MLB.com number-18 overall prospect to the majors. But, he’s only played eight games at third base this season and only twice during this month, including yesterday.

That doesn’t mean that there’s no chance that Bregman doesn’t debut with the Astros before September 1 call-ups. He could be an injury replacement for Correa, if there was a need. On the other hand, if management feels that their hitting prospect is ready, they could have him leap frog Class-AAA and ship him directly to the majors in order to improve their run production.

Another option could be Houston turning to Colin Moran, who is currently playing for Class-AAA Fresno and the number-six prospect in their organization. Moran was with the Astros for six games in May and was slashing .289/.352/.410 with Class-AAA Fresno coming into yesterday’s play.

Considering the status of the Astros’ current roster and their standing in the AL West, how general manager Jeff Luhnow approaches the deadline is intriguing to me. Does he buy or sell?

Luhnow has been aggressive in both roles since taking over in 2011. Last season, he added starting pitchers Mike Fiers and Scott Kazmir and center fielder Carlos Gomez. In the past, he’s dealt veterans to pick up prospects and reinforce his system

The Astros general manager could take the same approach as last year and pursue upgrades for the weak areas that I’ve mentioned, especially if his team continues to win. Still, Houston has many holes to fill. Attempting to satisfy all of them, via the trade market, presents the risk of negatively affecting the organization’s long-term plans.

The Astros minor league system is still strong. But, Luhnow had to part with multiple prospects to pick up Gomez, Giles, Fiers, and Kazmir during the last 12 months. Will the 50-year-old baseball executive be willing to sell more of his farm to make a run this year?

Another factor to consider is the impending free agency of Castro, Fister, outfielder Colby Rasmus, and reliever Scott Feldman. Perhaps, Houston attempts to recoup value given away last summer by being a seller this year.

Assuming that Houston continues to play well and doesn’t suffer significant injuries, I expect they’ll will act as a buyer. Perhaps, they’ll part ways with a few prospective free agents to shuffle their roster. But, only if those moves don’t affect their competitiveness this season.

Why am I so certain that the Astros will lean forward? The current level of parity in the AL — eight teams are within six games of the wild card — gives every team near the .500 mark at the deadline a chance to earn a wild card berth. Plus, reaching the playoffs is addictive.

Last year, Houston ended a decade-long postseason drought and it’s doubtful they’d squander a chance to return to October play in order to preserve their minor league system. That’s assuming they continue to win between now and the deadline.

I’m not suggesting that Luhnow should give away his club’s future — he won’t. Rather, I expect that he’ll protect his organization’s future, while trying to win now. Playoff windows can quickly close and not reopen for a long time. Luhnow knows that, so do Mariners fans.

AL West trade primer: Oakland Athletics

AL West trade primer: Los Angeles Angels