Month: December 2016

2016: A glass half full

If you’re a Seattle Mariners fan, it’s hard to see 2016 as anything but a glass half full. Yes, the team missed the playoffs-again.  But they were close.  They don’t show signs that 86 wins is the best they can do.  Yes, they continue to need more talent, particularly in the pitching department, but so do most of the teams out there.  They are young and inexperienced in the outfield corners, but young is how you also relieve their current financial picture of nine or so players eating up 80+% of the budget. Those young guys will just have to produce.  And yes I say that with my fingers crossed.

I did make some Mariners resolutions for 2016.  I did my best to take care of most of them.

  • I made it to two games.  In 2015 I only made it to one.  Yes I know that means I went from horrific to merely dreadful. Something to improve on for 2017. By the way both games I attended were terrifyingly bad games by the home team.  Still gives me the shakes to think about them.
  • I had my picture taken with Dave Niehaus at Fan Fest.  I will be returning to Fan Fest the weekend of January 28th.  You should do the same.
  • I did go sit in The King’s Court.  Mistake.  I go to games to watch them intently.  The others who sit in these seats go to games to do something else. I will not give it another try.

In any case, it’s time to move on from 2016 to 2017.  There’s no reason to believe that as long as G.M. Jerry Dipoto comes through with the promised pitching, this team shouldn’t be a few games better than last year. So here’s to Jerry, here’s to the M’s and here’s to you for following along with my scribblings.

Note: MLB.com and WordPress decided not to renew their agreement for 2017, so my blog has had to adopt a new theme instead of the baseball/Mariners theme of the past.  Sorry for the confusion, and a big Bronx cheer to the baseball business gods.

Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker and the Bud Selig Factor

For the past several years, Ryan Thibodaux of The Sporting News has compiled early voting for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.  With the number of voters down to about 400, it’s always interesting to see where the votes seem to be headed.  

By this morning, with 68 votes posted, Thibodaux has good news for those actively rooting for our favorite not-in-the-Hall Mariner, Edgar Martinez.  He is named on 64% of ballots.  Not at the 75% mark needed for induction, but with two years left on his eligibility, it is a very important move up for Martinez.  

For those playing along, Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker also show Jeff Bagwell (90%,) Tim Raines (89%,) Ivan Rodriguez (83%,) and Trevor Hoffman (76%) above the 75% threshold.  

However, Hall of Fame balloting this year has taken a turn since former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig easily won election to the Hall of Fame Executives Wing on December 5th.  Selig was named on 15 of 16 ballots to join former Atlanta GM John Schuerholz as the only two nominees chosen by voters on the Today’s Game Era ballot. 

This post is not really about that ballot, or about Selig’s accomplishments, which are many.  He presided over the disastrous 1994 baseball strike, but it was also on his watch that baseball marched its way from popular scorn to celebration, from annual revenues of $1.2 billion in 1992 to $11 billion today, from perpetual labor warfare to guaranteed labor peace until at least 2021 when the newly negotiated CBA expires. One can criticize Selig’s role int he strike, his shortening the 2002 All-Star game to an extra-inning tie, and that he often seemed to run the sport like the car-salesman that he is. But it is difficult to suggest he is undeserving of praise and recognition. 

So I will.  In December 2013, in one of the very first posts on this blog, after I cast my first Hall of Fame vote for IBWAA, I argued Bud Selig was complicit in stalling the long fight for PED testing in baseball, and because of that he was morally equivalent to a user.  As such I argued:  

Those who argue Major League Baseball is also responsible for the steroids era are right on.  Bud Selig turned a blind eye to steroid use for a decade, and despite his contributions to the game, which are considerable, he should be out too.

 

i believed at the time this was a stretch, and when his moment came, Selig would be elected and enter the Executives wing at Cooperstown, and that would be that. His selection was nearly unanimous. 

But actions have consequences, and one sees those in the Hall of Fame voting made public on Thibodaux’s Tracker.  As of this morning, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both strongly linked to steroid use, appear on 72% of ballots..  In 2016, Clemens and Bonds were 7th and 8th in balloting, named on 45.2 and 44.3 percent of ballots respectively.  So there is a clear change in voter’s behavior.  Why? 

Jim Litkke of AP and Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports both laid the responsibility directly at Selig’s induction

Passan writes:

Because this is the year it is changing, and Bud Selig is to blame. Seriously. It’s almost as if all of Selig’s slippery rhetoric on how baseball didn’t ride performance-enhancing drugs back to relevance after the strike was burbling in a big karmic fireball waiting to fire itself at just the right time.

Passan went on to interview Hall voters, including Philadelphia writer and voter, Kevin Cooney.  Cooney explained his vote for Bonds and Clemens for the first time in light of Selig’s election to the Hall. 

“When Bud was put in two weeks ago, my mindset changed,” said Cooney “If the commissioner of the steroid era was put into the HOF by a secret committee, then I couldn’t in good faith keep those two out any longer.”

Based on the voting we’ve seen so far, it seems pretty clear Clemens and Bonds are likely headed to Cooperstown.  Maybe not this year, but soon. However, it’s not clear the Selig effect has legs and has carried over to other players associated with PED’s. Sammy Sosa (15%,) Manny Ramirez (36%) and Gary Sheffield (11%) don’t seem to be getting much traction from the Selig election.  Perhaps Bonds and Clemens saving grace is they were likely ticketed for the Hall before their steroid revelations. 

Is this the end of Western Civilization as we know it, or the even the end of the Hall of Fame as a bastion of baseball excellence-something it’s never been, if we’re talking about character?  No. But I stand by my belief that casting a blind eye to PED use is a mistake, and may well open the door to future advances-pharmacological, biological and technological-it will be much harder to ignore in the near future. If the line isn’t steroid use, where is it? 

My 2017 Hall of Fame ballot

ibwaa-smyth

It’s that time of year again.  I am a member of the Internet Baseball Writers of America Association and I get to participate in their voting.  Just to be clear–I am not a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America who actually get to elect ballplayers to Cooperstown. Increasingly the IBWAA feels a bit like an alternative universe as guys get into a digital version of the HOF, but have their noses pressed up against the glass where it really counts-the place with the bronze plaques. So, in 2017, we find Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez safely inside our comfortable electronic Hall, while struggling to be rightly recognized by the the writers with real cachet.

Another interesting ballot this year, with some great additions.  Some are hall-worthy, most aren’t.  Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez are the most compelling  in terms of being Hall-worthy.  But, Mike Cameron, one of my very favorite Mariners, is also on the ballot, together with other talented guys who are honored simply by their presence on the list, including Derrick Lee, Orlando Cabrera, and Carlos Guillen.

I try to commit myself to doing a little research before making my vote. But I find myself relying on Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system which compares career WAR with peak WAR, and compares that to other players in the Hall. The system seems fair, and, of course, offers voters the opportunity to make exceptions where needed.

Last year I voted for Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, though they did not get enough votes to get in. Mussina received 43% of the vote in 2016. A look at his career doesn’t have any gaudy statistics. He never won a Cy Young Award, though he was in the top five six times.  Moose waited until his final season to win 20 games, though he won 19 twice and 18 three times. He pitched on some pretty good and pretty terrible Orioles teams, and in 2001 joined the Yankees, anchoring a pitching staff on a team I absolutely loathed. Though Mussina lacked the magic 300 wins counting numbers of recent inductees Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux, there is little question in my mind he belongs in the Hall. Mussina is 19th in career strikeouts, and 10th in Win Probability Added (WPA) for a pitcher, between Jim Palmer and John Smoltz. The Bill James Hall of Fame monitor ranks Mussina a 54, while an average right handed starting pitcher already in the Hall is a 50. The JAWS system ranks him a 63.8, while average Hall pitchers are 62.1. Mussina pitched in a very hitter friendly era. My vote for him is a no-brainer.

Curt Schilling is tougher because, since his retirement in 2007, he’s been an idiot, tweeting all kinds of stupidity, taking irresponsible business risks, getting himself fired from ESPN.  If there was a law against idiocy we wouldn’t be faced with certain orange-hued buffoons preparing to be the leader of the free world.  But that’s a different story. Schilling pitched for some awful Astros and Phillies teams before jumping in the showcase with Randy Johnson on the 2001 World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks.  His bloody sock performance for the Boston World Series winners in 2004 is the stuff of myth.  He was tough as nails, and his numbers show it. Schilling is another pitcher short of the 300 win threshold with only 216. He is 15th in career strikeouts with 3,116, 26th in career WAR for pitchers with, and 18th in WPA for pitchers between Tom Glavine and Clayton Kershaw (followed by HOFer Robin Roberts.) The Bill James Hall of Fame monitor ranks Schilling as a borderline candidate with a score of 46. JAWS is more friendly with a ranking of 64.5, against a 62.1 average HOFer. I will hold my nose and vote yes.

Trevor Hoffman is one of those guys I don’t feel ratings and comparisons work very well for. In general, Hall voting is not kind to relief pitchers, closers, especially. Though Hoffman retired as the major league leader in saves, he was quickly eclipsed by Mariano Rivera. He doesn’t have wins, he doesn’t have innings pitched, he didn’t lead the planet in SO/9. All he did was save 601 games at a time when a closer was a one inning guy at the end of a game. There is considerable debate today about the value of a game closing specialist and whether a team’s best reliever should be used more flexibly, during the time of greatest need rather than the ninth inning as the Indians did Andrew Miller in the World Series.  It’s fine to debate that for 2017, and I see that Jerry Dipoto is discussing that in regard to Edwin Diaz.  But from 1993 to 2010 the closer on the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers was a guy named Hoffman, and he didn’t determine is use.  And nobody in baseball did it better.  Okay, maybe Rivera, but his time his coming. I refuse to penalize a guy for being the best in his role, just as I won’t punish Edgar for being the best DH. However Hoffman does set a floor for my vote, and I’m not able to vote for Billy Wagner. And for the same reason I voted for Hoffman, I will reluctantly vote for Lee Smith in his 14h year of Hall eligibility.

Larry Walker makes his 7th appearance on the Hall ballot. And again I will cast my vote for the former Expo/Rockies outfielder. Like Edgar, Walker is a no-brainer. He was a fine hitter and superior defensive player early in his career. Bill James rates him as a 58 with 50 as an average Hall of Famer. JAWS finds him a more marginal candidate with 58.6 compared with 58.1 for an average HOF outfielder.

Ivan Rodriguez makes his first appearance on the ballot. I-Rod is honestly among the best catchers I can ever recall, offensively and defensive.  He ranks only behind Johnny Bench and Gary Carter in JAWS and WAR and slightly ahead of Carlton Fisk, all in the Hall. There is no concrete evidence linking Rodriguez to PEDS, a non-starter for me, simply the same dark rumors that plagued Mike Piazza and continue to dog Jeff Bagwell.  So, he has my vote.

That’s it for my ballot this year. There are some other interesting choices I didn’t make, but would consider for the future.  I’m on the fence about Gary Sheffield.  He certainly has some great hitting numbers, but was a terrible defensive player for years and years. He also has some lingering PED rumors that he did nothing to dispell. I’m not there yet, but not saying no.  The Bill James monitor likes Sheff a lot, the JAWS system, not so much.

I absolutely loved Vladimir Guerrero.  I had a chance to see him play at Olympic Stadium back in the day, and everything he hit was hard.  I always laughed while he launched bouncing pitches fair for hits and extra base hits.  His numbers aren’t quite there, but close.  He’s ahead of Hall outfielders Chuck Klein and Enos Slaughter, but behind non-Hall members Dwight Evans and Reggie Smith and WAR and JAWS. With his .318/.379/.553 career slash, with 449 career homers, it’s hard to say no, but I think it will take another year for me to decide.

Jorge Posada is another player I absolutely admired even though he played for the hated Yankees.  Kind of the low-side of a tweener with numbers better than John McGraw’s Roger Bresnahan and much loved and early paralyzed Dodger Roy Campanella.  But he is behind the bulk of HOF catchers including the more contemporary non-HOFers Bill Freehan and Ted Simmons.  I’d have to be convinced.

No I didn’t vote for the parade of PED users including newcomer Manny Ramirez. They can sort out the problems they’ve made for themselves.  Enjoy your money and your numbers, but no vote for a plaque from moi.

Which brings me to Mike Cameron.  I would love to give him an honorary vote. Cammie is one of my absolute favorite Mariners of all time. His numbers aren’t there, and in 2007 he tested positive for a stimulant.  But I still love his great relationship with Safeco fans and that he retired a Mariner and this:

See Jerry Run

This is Jerry Dipoto’s second season as the Mariners’ GM.  His first season was a flurry of trades, free agents and roster rotation that fundamentally changed the team.  The M’s didn’t quite get to the promised land.  Some of Jerry’s moves fizzled, but there is no denying there was considerable change in the big league team and the organization as the Mariners improved by 10 games and every minor league team made it to the playoffs.

The Cubs won their long-sought world championship on November 2, and Dipoto’s been off and running ever since. Not quite the tradin’ machine of 2015-16, but busy enough to keep things terrifically interesting.

Comin’-Clockwise from upper left: Jean Segura, Taylor Motter, Rob Whalen, Mitch Haniger, Chris Heston, Carlos Ruiz, Zac Curtis, Richie Schaffer, Mark Rzepczynski, Danny Valencia

I thought it might be fun just to keep track of everything he’s done in preparation for year two, because it’s easy to forget.

November 2-Mariners claim RHP Ryan Webber from Atlanta off waivers.

C Steven Barron, 2009 first round draft pick was released.   Another first round pick bites the dust.

November 3-The Mariners picked up the option on OF/DH hitter Seth Smith.

The M’s do not pick up the options on C. Chris Iannetta and Nori Aoki.  Aoki is signed by the Astros. Franklin Gutierrez, Drew Storen, Adam Lind, Iannetta and Dai-Ho Lee declare for free agency.

November 4-The Mariners assign  LHP Charlie Furbush, RHP Ryan Cook, and C Steve Clevenger to AAA Tacoma.  All decline their minor league assignments and opt for free-agency.

The M’s pick up left-handed pitcher Dean Kiekhefer of the Cardinals from waivers and added him to the 40-man roster.

November 7-The Mariners trade LHP Vidal Nuno to the Dodgers for C Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz will back up Mike Zunino, but in a recent interview Scott Servais explains the 38-year-old will play more than once a week.

November 9-Ryan Cook, injured all of 2016, changes his mind and signs a minor league contract.

November 12-Mariners trade AA RHP Paul Blackburn to the A’s for Danny Valencia. Valencia is a right-handed hitter who can play 1B, 3B, LF and RF. He is expected to platoon with left-handed 1B Dan Vogelbach

November 18-Mariners trade INF Dalton Kelley, RHP Andrew Kitteridge, and RHP Dylan Thompson to Tampa Bay for INF/OF Richie Schaffer and INF/OF Taylor Motter.

Mariners trade Zach Littell to the Yankees for LHP James Pazos

Mariners purchase the contracts of 1B D.J. Peterson, LHP Paul Fry and RHP Thyago Vieriera and add them to 40 man roster

RHP Tom Wilhelmsen designated for assignment. Stefan Romero is released.

Whew!

November 23-The Mariners trade 2010 first-round draft pick  RHP Taijuan Walker and 2B Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for SS Jean Segura, OF Mitch Haniger and LHP Zac Curtis.

Mariners designate pitcher (both hands) Pat Venditte for assignment. Will clear waivers December 1, and be outrighted to minor leagues.

Mariners designate RHP Ryan Weber for assignment. Will clear waivers December 2 and be outrighted to minor leagues.

November 28-Mariners trade 2014 first-r0und draft pick OF Alex Jackson and a player to be named later to Atlanta for RHP Rob Whalen and RHP Max Povse. The M’s pull off a first-round liquidation trifecta.

December 5-Mariners sign C Jesus Sucre to avoid arbitration and keep in the minors as a back up catcher.

Mariners sign former Twins/Dodgers free-agent RHP Casey Fien.

Mariners sign former Colorado RHP Christian Bergman to a minor league contract

Mariners designate RHP Dean Kiekhefer for assignment, and will be outrighted to minors.

December 6-Mariners sign former A’s/Nationals free-agent LHP Marc Rzepczynski

Mariners designate RHP Zach Lee for assignment.

December 7-Mariners trade a player to be named later to Giants for RHP Chris Heston.

INF/OF Richie Schaffer designated for assignment

December 9-Mariners send LHP Tyler Pike to Atlanta to complete the trade for Rob Whalen and Max Povse.  Pike pitched for High A Bakersfield in 2016.

Goin’-Clockwise from upper left: Adam Lind, Chris Iannetta, Tom Wilhelmsen, Taijuan Walker, Dae-Ho Lee, Alex Jackson, Steve Baron, Ketel Marte, Franklin Gutierrez, Nori Aoki.

Summing up

Things don’t stand still for very long in the Jerry DiPoto universe.

He’s made some important additions, obvious ones that the Mariners clearly needed.

  • A change at shortstop that should address some of Ketel Marte’s defensive issues at shortstop.  However, Jean Segura offers important offensive upgrades, including power, speed and on-base average, a real top of the order hitter the M’s haven’t had since Ichiro was traded.
  • The addition of  Danny Valencia’s proven right handed bat, together with enough defensive versatility and the ability to handle right-handed pitching to make him more than a platoon player.
  • A reliable back up catcher in Carlos Ruiz who offers defensive and offensive capability, and can be counted on to catch 45-60 games.
  • A quality left-handed reliever.  Though Rzepczinsky isn’t the power lefty like Brett Cecil or Boone Logan DiPoto coveted, he is a quality lefty on lefty guy.  Plus snagging Pazos from the Yankees offers the potential of the future power lefty.
  • Hey but what about that number three starter dude who will offer lots of innings?  Stay tuned, because I don’t think  it will stay this way for long.

While we remember the big deals to bag Segura and Haniger, or Valencia, or grabbing Scrabble from the free-agent pot, there is lots of churn to build pitching depth the Mariners simply didn’t have last year. Adding Heston and Whalen to Cody Martin gives the M’s a little more to work with if something goes sideways with the major league rotation.  The stack of Zach Lee, Ryan Webber, and Dean Kiekhefer got moved to the end of the line of available arms, but that’s three more guys to compete for jobs and at least add organizational depth. Though the pitching staff isn’t complete, it is definitely deeper than it was in 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re-evaluating the Mike Montgomery trade.

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Mike Montgomery shuts down the Mariners in a 12-1 Cubs victory 

July 20th we received the news the M’s traded lefty reliever Mike Montgomery and AAA starter Jordan Pries to the Cubs for 1B/DH Dan Vogelbach and AA starter Paul Blackburn.

I didn’t like the deal at the time.  I thought Montgomery was one of the few effective relievers on staff at the time of the trade, with a 2.34 ERA, a 7.9 K/9 rate and 2.6 BB/9 rate, a 58.8% ground ball rate at the time of the trade. He’d made two starts, and was effective against right and left handed hitters.

Yes, Montgomery was just a reliever, but on a team without a lot of guys in the bullpen that could be counted on, July 20th seemed like a dark day. Art Thiel at Sportspress Northwest wrote an October 5th column suggesting it was the trade that turned the M’s away from winning a playoff spot.

Montgomery went on to have a respectable finish to the season, though he didn’t prosper quite as much with the World Champions.  He pitched in a variety of roles, including five starts, and he saved the deciding game seven in what was arguably the greatest World Series game of all time. Joe Maddon seemed to be quite clear about Montgomery’s value to the Cubs going forward, possibly as a starter.

“Montgomery, I’m telling you man, this guy is a legitimate major league starter,” Maddon said. “He’s going to win a lot of major league baseball games. The big thing with him is we have to keep him on point, on task and have him understand how to utilize his stuff because his stuff is that good.”

So the M’s, limping through the rest of the season with questionable starting pitching and periodic explosions in their bullpen, parted with one of their most effective pitching pieces.

In return they received Dan Vogelbach and Paul Blackburn . Vogelbach is a heralded first base prospect who was blocked by the emergence of Anthony Rizzo, an All-Star and Gold Glove winner. An accomplished minor league hitter with exceptional on-base ability, he simply did not prosper in Tacoma. He arrived from Iowa City batting.318/.425/.505 with 16 home runs, and finished in Tacoma with a .240/.402/.422 and 7 home runs. Not terrible, but certainly not the numbers from the Cubs system.  In his handful of at-bats with the M’s after his September call-up, Vogelbach did not impress, but he did look good on rookie dress-up day.

mariners-rookie-dress-up-day
2016 Mariners rookie dress up day.  Dan Vogelbach as Chris Farley on far right. 

Vogelbach, at 6′ 0″ 250 lbs, is less than athletic.  He would likely make a better DH than first baseman, and is an immovable object on the basepaths. Though it’s clear he can get on base, it’s just as obvious the big Floridian has a limited skill set. He’ll need to hit with power, and improve his game around the bag to play regularly in the major leagues.

Paul Blackburn finished the season at Jackson with a combined 143.0 IP between Tennessee and Jackson.  Blackburn was 9-5 with a 3.27 ERA, striking out 99 with 35 walks and allowing 8 homers.  Respectable numbers, Blackburn figured as depth for the Mariners heading into the 2017 season.

danny-valencia
Danny Valencia celebrates a two-run homer with his Athletics teammates. 

But fate intervened when the Mariners traded Blackburn to the A’s for Danny Valencia. It feels like the Valencia trade has flown under the radar, when it has the potential to be a transforming addition to the Mariners offense.   A right-handed batter, Valencia played all over the field for the A’s last year. At first and third base, in left and right field, Valencia is not particularly accomplished at any of them defensively. But it is hard to ignore his 500+ PA’s of .287/.386/.446 with 40 extra base hits. Further, because Valencia doesn’t have a severe platoon split, he can stay in the game against right-handed pitching.

Valencia and new shortstop Jean Segura add a pair of right handed bats to what had been a lefty-dominated batting order insures there is additional lineup flexibility that includes lefties Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith and likely Ben Gamel and Vogelbach, but can also feature right handers Segura, Nelson Cruz, Mitch Haniger, Mike Zunino or Carlos Ruiz and Valencia.  The M’s have talked about insuring Valencia gets 500 at-bats, which is more possible due to his position flexibility.

Though I was not wild about the Montgomery trade when it was made, I’ve come around a bit, given the acquisition of Valencia.  I am still hesitant about giving Vogelbach a bundle of at-bats when he hasn’t really earned them. But, at least Valencia can fill in if he or Gamel stumbles.  The downside is Valencia is in his last year of team control, and will likely earn a raise from last year’s $3.15 million, before becoming a free agent next year.

Though parting with Montgomery and Blackburn weakened an already thin crop of pitchers, the addition of Valencia shouldn’t be under-estimated.  He is a veteran right-handed hitter with a record of success and should strengthen an already formidable Mariner lineup.  It’s up to Jerry to replace the guys he parted with.

 

The rich get richer, the M’s get . . . Heston

 

Adam Eaton, Mark Melancon, Chris Sale and Wade Davis are four players who won’t be in those spiffy Mariner blue jerseys in 2017. 

Busy winter meetings with  signings and trades left and right. Let me count the ways.

The Giants signed closer Mark Melancon after a season of serving as the new location for  Blown Saves R Us. Melancon saved 98 games for the Pirates and Nationals over the past two years.  He signed a record $62 million, four year deal, setting the bar for elite closers, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen to follow.

Tuesday the scene shifted to Boston, one of baseball’s richest franchises.  News in the morning the Red Sox traded stud infielder-in-waiting Yoan Moncada, right-handed pitchers, Michael Kopech and Victor Diaz, and outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe, all prospects, to the Chicago White Sox for top left-handed starter Chris Sale.  Sale joins a rotation that already featured Cy Young Award winners David Price and Rick Porcello. With Sale in the bag before noon, the Sox finished up at tea-time with the announcement they’d signed Texas first baseman Mitch Moreland. Not exactly the second coming of Big Papi, but always good for 20 dingers or more. Just write those Bostons in for the top spot in the AL East.

Today the baseball fans were reminded the Nationals were still in the major leagues when they acquired center fielder Adam Eaton from the White Sox.  The Sox must be flush with exciting young prospects as they are left with only Jose Abreu and Jose Quintana from the 2016 76-84 team.  Rumor has it Jerry Reinsdorf has contracted with the Budweiser Clydesdales pulling a wagon to play the outfield. The Nats get Eaton, one of the best center fielders in the game, in exchange for three top pitching prospects.

And just to keep in step with all the other winners, word today the World Champion Chicago Cubs traded extra outfielder Jorge Soler for death-dealing Royals closer Wade Davis. Whew, I was sure worried about the Cubs.

San Francisco, Boston and Washington are all recent division winners and in the case of the Giants, Royals and Cubs, made sojourns to the World Series. So the best teams get better.

The Mariners? They’ve made a lot of the right moves-a better shortstop, quality reserve catcher, added a versatile right-handed bat.  They got their bullpen lefty guy and added some depth to the rotation.  They are younger and more athletic in the outfield, and have added some competition for the utility bench position. Check, check, check, check.  If none of this seems earth-shattering, well, it is.  Anybody who looked at this lineup at the end of the season would see something like Segura, Smith, Cano, Cruz, Seager, Valencia, Zunino, Martin, and Gamel and know it was better offensively than last year’s lineup. And you’d have to figure out what to do with Vogelbach and Heredia/Haniger

But the team still really needs a mid-rotation starter. Lots of names bouncing around out there.  The rumors began with free-agent Doug Fister. Walking wounded Dodgers Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy were added to the list by Tacoma News Tribune writer Bob Dutton on Monday. With the trade of Sale to the Red Sox, pitchers Clay Buchholz, Steven Wright, and Drew Pomeranz surfaced as possibly available.  I’m holding out for Pomeranz, but things don’t usually work out my way.

chris-heston
The Mariners acquired right-hander Chris Heston from the San Francisco Giants today for a player to be named later. Despite his struggles last year, Heston had a decent 2015 campaign, including a no-hitter against the Mets.

Word today the M’s traded with the Giants to acquire right-handed starter Chris Heston for a player to be named later. The Giants were going to be forced to clear a roster spot for Melancon, with Heston likely designated, so hopefully the M’s don’t have to give up a lot. Heston had a decent 2015 debut, but a move to the bullpen, a severe oblique injury and ineffectiveness in 2016 forced him to spend most of his season in AAA. However, despite his struggles, Heston threw a no-hitter against the World Series bound New York Mets on June 9th, 2015. Utilityman Richie Schaffer, acquired in a deal with Tampa Bay on November 18th was DFA’ed to make room for Heston on the 40-man roster.

Dutton tweeted the M’s are still looking for that mid-rotation arm, and so am I. While Heston will add to that nearly-ready pile vying for the 5th spot in the rotation with Ariel Miranda, Nate Karns and Rob Whalen.  It’s clear the M’s are on the hunt for an affordable veteran arm who will give them innings this season-so scratch Tyson Ross off your list too.

Next up, Rumor Central: M’s show interest in Mark Trumbo, while shopping Old Dad Smith. I just can’t get enough.

 

Things left undone

jerry-dipoto

With Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings beginning today, Jerry Dipoto can look in the mirror, and say “Just a pitcher, just a pitcher.  I just need a pitcher . . . or two, maybe.”

It’s almost certain the Mariners can see their offense and agree  it’s better than the pretty good 2016 version.  With the addition of Danny Valencia at a multitude of potential positions, and adding Jean Segura, while subtracting Ketel Marte, should make the M’s stronger throughout their lineup.

Yes, there are question marks in the outfield, as Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, and Mitch Haniger vie for what amounts to a full time spot in left field, a platoon partner with Seth Smith, and a fourth outfield position. Some of those at-bats will also belong to Mr. Cruz and Mr. Valencia.  While each of the newcomers bring a questionable, unproven bat to the table, all three should improve an outfield that was much older and less defensively capable in 2016.A better defensive outfield makes a pitching staff better, period, the end.

While I’m not enamored of Dan Vogelbach who, in my view, proved nothing in Tacoma or Seattle to earn the left-handed at bats at first base, at least Valencia, who hits right handed pitching too, is there to scoop up at-bats as needed. The addition of Carlos Ruiz to back up catcher Mike Zunino gives veteran depth and quality defense at that position.

On Saturday the announcement came the Mariners signed left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski, also known as Scrabble, because no self-respecting writer of any kind really wants to type out his last name. He joins Zac Curtis, acquired in the Tai Walker trade with Arizona as potential lefties for the staff.  Rzepczynksi is very tough on left handed batters, but is not the power lefty Dipoto said he wanted, who could also work effectively against right-handed hitters. Curtis was not effective against left-handed hitting, allowing a .310/.459/.586 slash in an admittedly small sample size of 37 batters. Could Jerry search for another southpaw slinger for the bullpen?  Maybe, but doubtful

No, it’s going to come down bolstering the starting rotation.  The M’s have five starters in hand:

Felix Hernandez-IP 153.1; 11-8; ERA 3.82; FIP 4.63; WHIP 1.324; H9 8.1; HR9 1.1; BB9 3.8;  SO/W 1.88. These are the worst numbers of the King’s career and cause for concern.

Hisashi Iwakuma-IP 199.0; 16-12; ERA 4.12; FIP 4.27; WHIP 1.327; H9 9.9; HR9 1.3; BB9 2.1; SO/W 3.20-Though Iwakuma had a healthy year, this was, like the King’s, Iwakuma’s statistically worst year.

James Paxton-IP 121.0; 6-7; ERA 3.79; FIP 2.80; WHIP 1.306; H9 10.0; HR9 0.7; BB9 1.8; SO/W 4.88-Paxton rebuilt his delivery and found extra speed, but had difficulty staying on the mound. Statistically, the best of all Mariners starters in 2016.

Nate Karns-IP 94.1; 6-2; ERA 5.15; FIP 4.05; WHIP 1.485; H9 1.0; HR9 1.1; BB9 4.3; SO/W 2.24. Though Karns showed effectiveness in April, his accumulation of a mountain of baserunners led to short outings and ultimately his undoing.  A better Karns needs to emerge from his injury shortened 2016 to make this team.

Ariel Miranda-IP 56.0; 5-2; ERA 3.54; FIP 5.47; WHIP 1.089; H9 6.9; HR9 1.9; BB9 2.9; SO/W 2.22. Acquired for the self-demolishing Wade Miley in July, Miranda seemed to improve as the season wore on.  Definitely homer prone, the M’s may lean toward a bullpen role for Miranda.

In addition, the M’s have the Rob Whalen and Cody Martin on their 40 man roster.  They also designated starters Zach Lee and Dean Kiekhefer for assignment to clear space for Rzepczynski.

The starting rotation was the most disappointing piece of the 2016 season.  From June to August, a litany of injuries, inconsistency and ineffective outing made it impossible for the Mariners to put together a consistent, ascending, positive season. Unfortunately, less Tai Walker, the Mariners are faced with running the same five guys out there they had last summer. That’s not to say a bounce-back season by Felix, a more consistent season from Iwakuma, or an injury-free campaign from Paxton wouldn’t do the trick, but that’s a lot of die rolls coming up 7’s.

The Mariners need another veteran pitcher, especially if they follow through on moving Miranda to the bullpen, where there is need for more left-handed help, after dealing Vidal Nuno. The arms available in free agency, thinner than any within recent memory, becomes less by the day as the Dodger signed 36-year old, injury prone Rich Hill to a 3-year deal worth $48 million. Others available out there include Jason Hammel, Ivan Nova, Doug Fister, and the dreary line of the injury-plagued, including Derek Holland, Nathan Eovaldi and C.J. Wilson.

But remember, Trader Jerry likes to deal more than he likes laying out cash.  The opportunities are virtually limitless, except that Mr. Dipoto has little left to deal.  That would take any number of interesting possibilities off the table such as Chris Sale, Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi. That doesn’t mean Dipoto can’t work some magic, but likely it won’t be for top-drawer talent.

So it’s up to Jerry to work between that rock (little free agent talent available) and a hard place (little talent available to trade) in order to produce at least one veteran pitcher who can step into the middle of a pretty shaky rotation based on last year’s performance. But at least that seems to be all that’s left besides sweeping up any interesting leavings for depth.