With this morning’s Rule 5 Draft, the baseball winter meetings wrapped up.
I think it would be difficult to call Jerry DiPoto’s efforts anything less than productive. It’s just as difficult to know if they were successful, and we really won’t know until the team starts playing games for real. Though DiPoto has said he’s done with position players and the starting rotation, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were significant changes if opportunities came along and it didn’t involve A) long expensive contracts, B) trading younger, controllable (cheaper) contracts for older pricier contracts.
The one lesson I’ve learned about DiPoto is that he means it when he says he prefers trading and the waiver wire to using the free agent market. When Iwakuma was not re-signed, I think 9 out of 10 Mariner fans expected him to go out on the free agent market to sign Kazmir or Leake rather than trade for a starter. He showed us we were wrong. It has consequences good and bad, but more about that later.
Let’s see how it looks like the team is going to pencil out.
1B Adam Lind and a right-handed partner, possibly Jesus Montero, but he will have competition according to Scott Servais
2B Robinson Cano
SS Ketel Marte
3B Kyle Seager
LF Seth Smith/Franklin Gutierrez platoon
CF Leonys Martin
RF Nori Aoki/Nelson Cruz
DH Nelson Cruz and a host of others.
C Chris Ianetta, Steve Clevenger
Bench Utility player possibly from mix of Chris Taylor, Luis Sardicinas and Shawn O’Malley–or somebody else.
Cano, Seager, Cruz, Smith, Gutierrez and Marte return while everyone else is new. Newly acquired players are improvements defensively and, with exception of Martin are higher OBP/lower K guys than we’re used to. All the new guys are imperfect, and DiPoto is counting on a certain amount of bounce-back for many of them. Lots of ifs, but if they perform as hoped, this team fits more closely to DiPoto’s philosophy of more athletic, better defense, greater on base rates that plays better at Safeco. A super story about the improvement by these players in OBP over last year’s team by Jake Mailhot at Lookout Landing.
With the exception of Lind, the position group was largely formed before heading into the meetings. Most of the work in Nashville happened with the pitching staff.
Felix Hernandez RP
Wade Miley LP
Taijuan Walker RP
James Paxton LP
Nate Karns RP
So the rotation is complete. It’s not terrible, but probably not as good as the one that started 2015. I preferred Iwakuma, no getting around it. It’s not that I think Miley is a bad pitcher; I was actually impressed by an article written about him by Boston Globe scribe Nick Cafardo. It’s more the cost of acquiring him that concerns me. It isn’t just that the M’s gave up their best bullpen piece in Carson Smith, it’s the cost to an already thin starting staff. Roenis Elias was the Mariners’ insurance policy. If somebody went down, as Iwakuma did in 2014, and Iwakuma and Paxton did last year, Elias could fill in capabably if not always in a distinguished manner. The Mariners have no minor leaguers they can call on, as they did last year, and no Elias. I’m sure DiPoto will shovel up some minor league free agents and bottom of the barrel guys hoping for a comeback, but a rotation that is already questionable due to health and experience issues is also vulnerable. I would have rather seen a free-agent signing and have hung on to those guys.
Any number of others including casual passersby.
The bullpen is the least “made” area of the team. It has also had the most complete makeover. Only Furbush remains of the seven guys who took the field out of spring training in 2015. I guess it’s a scorched earth approach to what was a miserable failure. Like the other areas of the team, it is also assembled with the hope that a lot of guys like DeFratus and Scribner can get over what ailed them last year. DiPoto vowed to use the free agent market to improve the bullpen including major league and minor league free agents. I hope at least one of them will be a proven back of the bullpen kind of guy who can compete with Benoit to close games. I have a feeling I’m going to be disappointed. The most important thing to remember is that a reliever who is good one year can suck the next, and return to success the following year. My fingers are crossed.
There will be lots of criticism of this team, DiPoto, and inevitably Howard Lincoln and Kevin Mather. They avoided big name players and the contracts that come with them. They also avoided a total tear down of the team and starting over as the Royals, Astros and Cubs have done. When DiPoto was hired, he promised to retain a core he identified and build a new kind of team around them. It also meant not tying up a lot of salary in peripheral non-DiPoto guys. Hence, good-bye Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison. See ya later Tom Wilhelmsen. No contract for you Hisashi Iwakuma. The expectation that this team will vault to the top of the standings against the Rangers and the Angels is one that isn’t likely to be fulfilled in 2015, despite DiPoto’s statements to the contrary.
For this team to win, all kinds of things would have to break in their favor. No question that lots of hope and good luck is needed for these guys. I don’t think they’ll compete for the division title, but they should be better, .500ish, and will give fans a glimpse at DiPoto’s philosophy in action. The big park with a better outfield should help out the pitching, while better on base percentage and fewer strikeouts will help score more runs.
An awful lot of ifs on this team, but some guys I really want to root for. I’m excited to see Wade Miley’s intensity on the mound. I want to see Leonys Martin steal Prince Fielder’s home run and throw out Elvis Andrus going to third. I’m anxious to watch Evan Scribner pitch, sort of like waiting for the big car crash at Indianapolis on Memorial Day. At the very least, this team should be more fun to watch. A few more stolen bases, more success going from first to third, more guys who can score on a cheap fly ball. This is installment number one on JerryBall. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.