This is likely my last post of the year, unless I absolutely tear my hair out over Hall of Fame voting. No, I’d like to end the year on a high note and talk about the Mariner player who made the team so much more watchable during what can only be termed a crappy year. That player is Nelson Cruz.
When Nellie was signed by Jack Zdurencik in 2014, I was at best ambiguous. Cruz was an aging slugger, one year removed from the Biogenesis scandal. He’d hit 40 homers in Baltimore’s bandbox of a ballpark (sorry, I say this with all the admiration I can possibly muster,) but he also struck out 140 times. He had the 9% walk rate and the 20.7% K rate, but there was something about the righthanded wRC+ of 137 that just grabbed my eye. And, of course, he was Zdurencik’s wet dream. Right handed hitter with power. But he was also on the wrong side of 34, and how long might the good times last?
I was wrong, wrong as I could be. There is no player I’ve enjoyed watching more than Nelson Cruz the past three years. Yes, he still strikes out too much. But if chicks dig the long ball, they must be in ecstasy when the Boomstick is hot. In 2017 Cruz was shy one homer from hitting forty in each of his first three season as a Mariner.
One thing I clearly overlooked was how tough the man is. First, he is just a huge dude. Baseball Reference has him listed at 6’2″ 230 lbs, but he seems so much bigger. Maybe not Aaron Judge big, but he’s a freak, no Cruz seems maybe two inches taller. I loved his effort in the outfield his first couple of years, even though he was a pulled hamstring or a disastrous collision away from being out of the lineup. I also loved his effort on the bases, with all the previous conditions applied. But even as a DH, it is clear Cruz plays hurt. Remember the September series in Minnesota 2016, with the M’s barely hanging on to Wild Card contention, and Cruz screaming in pain with a wrist injury after every swing? Boomstick tallied four homers in that series and the M’s took two out of three. It’s clear Cruz had times when he was struggling with injuries during the 2017 season. Hell, every Mariner player did, but Nellie played in 155 games, just as he did in 2016.
In 2017 Nelson Cruz won the Edgar Marinez Award for best DH. In each of his three years as a Mariner he’s gotten MVP votes. This year, his home runs were down, his average was about the median for his three Seattle years, but he led the league in RBI’s with 119, a career high, by settling for singles sacrifice flies to drive in runs, and raising his walk rate to highest for a full season at 10.9 percent.
But most of all I was impressed with Nelson Cruz the teammate, and Nelson Cruz the person. Every new Mariner talks about the clubhouse and how positive their experience is, and frequently mentions Cruz and his co-agitator Robinson Cano and their role in keeping things light but accountable. Cruz also gave a pair or wonderful interviews to ESPN’s Marly Rivera about his experience as a Domincan player making the change to the United States. I’ll never forget how much the stories on May 9th and June 24th humanized him. And then his antics at the All-Star game, the selfie with umpire Joe West. It just doesn’t get any better.
I may be just a sentimental old fool, but I am impressed with players who not only play great on the field, but do something more. Cruz’s contribution to baseball academies in the Dominican Republic are legendary. It is no surprise to me that he organized pre-spring practice in Florida during the Winter Meetings and that he singled out new centerfielder Dee Gordon to take part.
There hasn’t been a lot of Mariner team success to celebrate the past three years. But what little we’ve enjoyed, Nelson Cruz has been a big part of. This is the final year of his four year deal. He’ll be 38 on July 1st. Despite the fact that he seems ageless, it’s hard to imagine the M’s bringing the Boomstick back. It’s just as hard to imagine the Mariners without him, but 2018 is probably the end.
Happy new year Nelson, and new year M’s fans. My fingers are crossed for 2018, as always.
It’s that time of year when the baseball press submits their ballots to the Baseball Hall of Fame for induction candidates. This year the ballot is clogged with plenty of new candidates to go with the those who are carried over from previous years. The two obvious new candidates who, barring a disaster of some kind, that will be elected are Atlanta’s excellent third baseman Chipper Jones and the traveled slugger Jim Thome and his 609 career home runs.
At this writing, with 118 votes or 28.4% of the vote tallied on Ryan Thibadeaux’s awesome Hall of Fame Tracker there some clear winners and not-so-winning in the voting.
Here are some quick positive results to report
Chipper Jones–98.3% of votes cast. Not a surprise. It shows all is right with the world
Jim Thome –95.8% of votes cast. Shows what 609 homers can buy you. Again not a shock
Vladimir Guerrero–94.9% of votes cast. Vlady missed election last year by 15 votes. He’s gotten 19 new votes and is a shoo-in at this point. Good on him. Can’t think of too many more fun players to watch performing at his level.
Trevor Hoffman–78.8% of the vote. Hoffman was five new votes short of election last year. He’s gotten eight new ones but lost three. Seems to have gotten what he needs, but closer voting is volatile and it’s best not to count chickens before they’re hatched.
Larry Walker-40.7% of votes cast. No, in his ninth year on the ballot Walker likely hasn’t moved much closer to the Hall’s 75%. But he’s received 19 new votes. with likely more to come. Walker’s vote in 2017 was 21.9% of the vote.
Mike Mussina–70.3% of votes cast. Last year Moose received 51.8% of the vote. So progress. Still think he was a good pitcher on some lousy Orioles teams before moving to the Yankees and the big time. He’ll get in, just not this year.
Curt Schilling–67.8% of votes cast. Schilling got 45.0% of the vote last year. Fewer Schilling eruptions on Twitter this year and more votes for the hall. Is there a correlation? Ummmmm–maybe?
Omar Vizquel–26.3% of votes cast. Omar’s first year on the ballot. Started out of the gate really fast, but his support has fallen off quickly. But he’s gotten enough to remain on the ballot for next year and he can make his case that he is a defensive whiz that is Hall-worthy.
Scott Rolen–9.3%–Rolen was a wonderful third baseman who also had some great years at the plate. He has a ratings by Bill James, Jay Jaffe and fWAR that should leave him in the Hall conversation. Still needs ten more votes to remain on the ballot for 2019. If he fell off in his first year, that would be a shame.
The Steroid Era
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens–71.2% and 72.0% respectively. Bonds and Clemens have done well this year. I think the observation that they were Hall-worthy before their drug use resonates with many voters. I don’t believe they’ll get in this year, but do think they will be voted in before 2022 when their eligibility would expire. I remain resistant to this argument, but at least it makes logical sense.
Manny Ramirez–28.8% of votes cast. Manny’s votes are up slightly from 2017. Support for this serial drug user AFTER MLB instituted its drug policy in 2006 is beyond me. Votes for Manny represent a contempt for any kind of MLB rules–just let in Pete, Shoeless Joe, all eight of the Black Sox, and throw in Hal Chase for good measure.
The Edgar–80.5% of votes cast. The Edgar vote is the one that really matters to me. The percentage is good, but it was as high as 86% a week ago. He has 15 new votes, and is getting the returning vote. He hasn’t gotten a new vote in quite a while and he needs 60 more (and no losses) to gain induction. I don’t believe it will happen this year and I’m pessimistic about next year. Bummed.
My IBWAA Vote
I cast eight votes on the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America ballot. It’s a fun exercise that allows fifteen votes. We’ve already elected Valdimir Guerrero and Edgar Martinez, so they don’t appear. I cast votes for the following players:
No, it doesn’t count, but it is an honor to participate in the activity.
Let’s take Jerry Dipoto’s word that he isn’t making any significant adds to Your Seattle Mariners for the coming season. Maybe some relief pieces on minor league contracts, some waiver wire signings, still need a back-up catcher, but expect nothing major. The team you see is the team you got.
The first thing I gotta say is, this is not a bad team. On paper, the rotation is not strong, but it’s certainly serviceable. It’s not Houston Astros or Boston Red Sox good, but they should keep the team in games, assuming there are no extenuating. circumstances.The bullpen is likewise serviceable, maybe even good. The addition of Juan Nicasio helps, the subtraction of Emilio Pagan hurts. They are at least middle of the pack decent, but not a dominant shut-down group, though they did that for at least a month or two in 2017. The strength of the team should be on offense with the addition of Dee Gordon, but important pieces of the puzzle continue to age, and keeping them all more than just ambulatory becomes more difficult with each passing day.
I know my previous post was a downer, and sounded hopeless. On reflection, I am excited about the start of the 2018 season as I am about the beginning of any baseball season. Do I think the M’s will win their way into the playoffs? I think they have a pretty tough road ahead, with the Angels and Yankees both so improved. It seems to me the M’s have a very narrow window and a lot of things will have to break right for them to win the 90+ games it will likely take to win a Wild Card spot. But it certainly won’t require simultaneous meteor strikes on the other 14 American League cities to pull it off. Maybe just 11 or so.
No, I think there are three key factors to the M’s winning in 2018.
1. James Paxton must take the next step
There is little question that James Paxton, with deference to Felix Hernandez, is the current royalty in the Mariners starting rotation. Since 2015, we’ve seen his time on the field increase from 67.0 innings to 121.0 innings in 2016 to a career high innings to 136.0 innings in 2017. Over that same three year span all of his important peripherals have improved: ERA, ERA+, FIP, xFIP, WHIP, all of them at elite levels. His K/9 of 10.3 and HR/9 in 2017 were career bests, and though his walk levels were up a bit last year his K/BB ratio of 4.22 is still excellent.
Paxton made 24 starts in 2017. In those games he pitched 6.0 innings or more in 14 them. Of the remaining games, he definitely had a tough June after his May stint on the disabled list. Likewise, September was not so good after an August stay on the DL. Paxton is a really big man who thrives when all his mechanics are aligned, and when he is out of sync, struggles. Time on the DL costs the Mariners starts, and the four or so in the wake of his return mess with his mechanical momentum.
If the Mariners are to have a shot at winning, Paxton must take the next step and pitch a full season. For me, a full season is a minimum 30 starts and a minimum 180 innings. Even with time away, Paxton was one of the best starters in the American League, His FIP of 2.61 was good for 3rd in the American League, and his 3.9 WAR tied for 10th (Baseball Reference) IF he’d had enough innings to count in the final tallies. Paxton has the stuff to pitch effectively against the Chris Sales, Cory Klubers, and Dallas Keuchels, the aces of the American League. The Mariners need a full season of the real James Paxton.
Honorable Mention: Felix Hernandez. Let’s be clear, I believe the King’s glory days of 2009, 2010, and 2014 are likely gone. But if he wanted to surprise me, that would be good. No, I’m hoping for a return to 2015. Not a great year by Felix standards, but 31 starts for 201.2 IP, 108 ERA+, 3.72 FIP, 8.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9. Yes, I’d definitely take that.
2016 was a tough year for injuries, but paled in comparison to 2017’s utter shitshow. We could go through lists. If you want a real glimpse at all the Mariners transactions, take a look at the list of ESPN’s team transactions But just to illustrate the depth of their injury issues I’ll share the most illustrative examples I can remember.
May was the most devastating month for the Mariners litany of wounds. Evan Marshall was an April waiver claim from Arizona after Drew Smyly was placed on the disabled list. He threw relief in five mostly forgettable games in April, and was summoned in to a May 5th extra inning game against Texas and collapsed with a severe hamstring injury and had to be helped off the field. Ryan Weber was a November 2016 waiver claim who began the season in Tacoma. He was pressed into the rotation on May 13th after the failure of various Chris Hestons, Dillon Overtons, and Chase DeJongs to provide the depth General Manager Jerry Dipoto promised. Weber pitched into the fourth allowing one run against Toronto, when he walked off the field with an arm injury. Even the injury emergency call-ups were injured.
Baseball is a sport, a demanding athletic contest in which highly skilled athletes are pushing their bodies to their limits to pitch, catch, throw and hit those little bitty balls. If you doubt this, check out the still photos of pitchers as they throw and their impossible arm angles, or watch Ben Gamel run into the wall down the left field line at Safeco Field. The Mariners can chalk their two year run of injuries up to the breaks of the game, or their turn, karma or whatever. But for the M’s to compete this year they must be healthier. More guys have to get rest. Perhaps the most disturbing injury news out of Mariners camp was news that CF Guillermo Heredia suffered multiple dislocations of his non-throwing shoulder finally resulting in off-season surgery. That he kept playing through this condition is appalling.
Perhaps the addition of Dr. Lorena Martin as Director of High Performance will have an impact on keeping players healthier. But injuries, whether the serious pitching kind, bumps and bruises, strains and pulls are just part of this game. The M’s simply must have fewer of them.
3. Offense Needs to Party like it’s 2016
Three reasons the M’s offense might improve in 2018-Mike Zunino, Dee Gordon and Mitch Haniger.
The Mariners made a lot of position changes in 2017, swapping out their shortstop, their outfield and their perennial search for an adequate first base combo. The result was an offense that was within a tick or so of league average up or down for many important stats. Some were downright bad. Contrast that with 2016 when the Mariners were in the upper half of the league for most offensive statistics, most importantly runs scored. In 2017 the M’s scored 750 runs for 7th in the league, but in 2016 their 768 runs scored was good enough for 3rd. The 2016 team walked more, hit more home runs, and had a higher slugging percentage. Add to this a qualitative improvement in the American League with scoring up a little over 4% and the M’s definitely took a step backwards.
The M’s made some choices after 2016 that definitely impacted their run scoring ability. They went with a younger, athletic outfield that hit fewer homers than the Seth Smith/Franklin Gutierrez-led teams. They opted for Danny Valencia rather than the Adam Lind/Dae Ho Lee combo at first. They also made a choice for an upgrade at shortstop with Jean Segura in place of Ketel Marte. None quite worked out the way they were intended, but, with the exception of Valencia, none was really a failure.
Injuries played an important role in the M’s offensive development. Leading the pack was Segura who only played 125 games due to a couple of trips to the DL. An ankle injury also robbed him of much of his speed, which the Mariners were counting on to bust loose their moribund base running for 2017. Two trips to the DL also cost the Mariners 66 games worth of Mitch Haniger, who started the season hot as a laser cannon, but suffered an oblique strain and was later hit in the face with a pitched ball. Haniger struggled after his trips to the DL, but finally recovered his spring form in September.
Two of the Mariners core, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, never approached their 2016 numbers.
In 2016 Cano slashed .298/.350/.533 with 39 homers, good for 7.3 WAR. In 2016 Robbie was down to .280/.338/.453 with 23 dingers and only 3.4 WAR.
Likewise Seager struggled with .249/.323/.450 and 27 homers for 2.5 WAR in 2017, compared to his career best .278/.359/.499 with 30 homer good for 6.9 WAR in 2016.
Cano and Seager have been better and let’s hope they are in 2018. But there are other reasons to hope for more scoring in 2018. Catcher Mike Zunino finally delivered on his potential in the second half of the season. The addition of Dee Gordon offers another player with high batting average and a history of leading the National League in stolen bases.
Even with the addition of Gordon, however, the M’s must end their string of leading the galaxy in base-running numbskullery.. Scott Servais promised in his end-of-year overview it would improve, and so it must. A healthy Segura and the addition of Gordon really offer the M’s some opportunity to wreak havoc on the basepaths, and that should also improve the offense.
So there you have it, three pathways to improvement and possibly a playoff berth for the 2018 Mariners. All are fraught with danger, but certainly not impossible. My fingers are already crossed.
Home from the winter meetings, Jerry Dipoto met with the press and declared his tinkering with the major league roster is done. Signing reliever Juan Nicasio and adding first baseman Mike Ford as a Rule 5 draftee will fill the 40 man roster.
After I stopped crying and then laughing hysterically, I simply dropped my head and decided one of two things. 1) Dipoto is foolin’ and there is still a deal for a starting pitching in the gloamin’. 2) The Mariners are running up the white flag on the 2018 season.
Dipoto went on to confirm earlier statements about the adoption of a “wolfpack” pitching strategy that requires a more even distribution of innings between starting staff and bullpen.
There is a growing groundswell of fan dissatisfaction with the Mariners off-season moves. Trading reliever Emilio Pagan for first baseman Ryon Healy. Allowing starting pitcher Andrew Albers his release to play in Japan. Touting the depth of a pitching staff that was riddled with varying degrees of injuries and ineffectiveness, while letting others get away is simply mystifying.
But the truly wacky piece I don’t understand is that we should be satisfied with what Dipoto has done. I will credit him this, he did act last year to shore up a pitching staff that had every reason to be disastrous, and stabilized it with additions of Leake, Ramirez and Albers. They also added Gonzales and brought up Moore, who were notably less successful. So Jerry runs out the rotation of Paxton, The King, Leake, Ramirez and some competition between between the remaining Gonzales, Miranda and Moore at number five.
But that makes an erroneous assumption right from the start. Paxton and Felix have NOT demonstrated they are healthy or effective enough to assume those number one and two roles. In 2016 Paxton made 20 starts for 120 innings, in 2017 it was 24 starts for 134 innings. In neither season did he pitch enough to qualify for the ERA title (180 innings,) which should be a minimum mark for a staff ace.. When he was healthy, Paxton pitched very well, but number one needs to be a horse, a thoroughbred, someone you can count on, not a Shetland pony. In 2016 he missed the entire months of April and May. In 2017 Paxton made two trips to the DL in May and August. When he’s healthy and pitching regularly, James Paxton is as good as anybody. When he’s not available, he’s just a very tall guy with a beard on the bench.
Felix is not the Felix we like to remember. We remember him as the guy who finished second in Cy Young balloting in 2009, won it in 2010, was jobbed out the award in 2014. He pitched more than 200 innings from 2008-15. The King had an ERA+ of more than 120 from 2008-14 except for 2011 and three times met or exceeded 170. That was the King that wowed the crowds, built the King’s Court; that was the King that signed the highly lucrative extension through 2019 that makes him the highest paid player on a team full of highly paid Mariners. And I don’t begrudge him a penny of it. But Felix doesn’t pitch like that King anymore. After never making fewer than 31 starts from 2006-15, the past two years it was 26 and 16 respectively. Not very good ones. K rates and velocity have declined. Walk rates and dinger rates have increased. Felix pitched only 153.1 innings in 2016, a paltry 86.2 innings last year.
There is so much more to share, but most importantly, Jerry Dipoto has Felix marked in at number two in red ink. Like Paxton, we can hope, but based on recent memory there is no reason to believe Felix will be healthy, or that he will even approach his past glory years. Bottom line is this, if Paxton and/or Felix goes down, Leake, Ramirez and combo five all move into their places in the rotation. Assuming THEY all stay healthy. Assuming THEY are effective. To say the starting rotation is eight or nine deep is silly; eight or nine of what deep?
There is a terrific realignment taking place in the American League. Houston has emerged as a head and shoulders front runner in the West. Boston is still the likely favorite in the East. Cleveland is much the best team in the Central. The last few years the two wild cards were up for grabs, so teams like Seattle, maybe capable of winning 85 or so, could compete down to the wire. But the emergence of New York’s young players and their off-season trade for Giancarlo Stanton gives the Yankees, a 2017 wild card team, a leg up competing with Boston, and a very likely WC winner in 2018. Angels GM Billy Eppler shot out of the hot stove gate by resigning outfielder Justin Upton to a contract, and their good fortune has only improved since then. Shohei Ohtani signed with the Angels, and the Eppler traded for veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler and shorstop Zack Cozart who will move to third. Mike Trout, the best player in the game, now has a real team playing around him. The only thing that should keep the Angels from a real shot at the second wild card is their own habitually broken pitching staff.
I give Dipoto credit for a lot of things. He’s added lots of younger pieces to a less young Mariners core. This team is much more athletic than the 2016 team. The Dee Gordon trade was inspired, if a bit risky. Gordon and a healthy Segura should be a lot of fun to watch. I acknowledge his efforts to rebuild the rotation mid-season in 2017. But I am not impressed with his management of pitching resources. Wade Miley? Nate Karns? Yovanni Gallardo? The conga line of AAA and AAAA pitchers that were supposed to be last year’s depth? And with this rotation being held together with chewing gum, paper clips and bits of wire, suggesting there is no need to get more?
C’mon Jerry, I know when I’m being sold. Jack Zdurencik did it every year of his tenure. This pitching staff is not good enough to win anything of consequence, barring some sort of miracle. You may be able to convince yourself, but I don’t think the fan base is buying.
It is worth your time, if you’ve read this far, to take a look at Dipoto’s interviews with Shannon Drayer of MySports NW on December 15th and Larry Stone of the Seattle Times on December 14th. Both offer a glimpse inside his thinking,
As with every other Mariners fan, I’ve been following the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes with great hope and trepidation. We know that General Manager Jerry Dipoto and company presented to the Japanese star and his representative on Tuesday, but little else. The Cone of Silence has descended over the proceedings, and we don’t even have an idea who was in the Seattle entourage, let alone what the big guy might be thinking.
But the sludge-like stream that is driving the Hot Stove League seems to be breaking loose a bit. The Angels signed Braves refugee prospect Kevin Maitan. Trade rumors regarding Giancarlo Stanton are heating up. The Rangers signed reliever Mike Minor today, after reaching a deal with starter Doug Fister last week. The Cubs inked pitcher Tyler Chatwood to a three year contract. News tonight that Detroit is nearing a deal for Astros starter Mike Fiers.
And then there is the perfectly weird as former major leaguer and disgraced steroid user Rafael Palmeiro announced he would attempt a major-league comeback. Palmeiro faces some important challenges. The first is that he is 53, not exactly a spring chicken. The second is that he is an idiot. My last memory of him is waving his finger at members of Congress assuring them he is clean. Within months he tested positive for PED’s . What a dope.
However, for many of us, the winter baseball market is constipated, and today Dipoto provided the enema. Just as I was heading out the door right after school ended to a student staffing, MLBTradeRumors announced the M’s traded for Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon.
Just to be clear, Dee Gordon is not chopped liver. In 2017 he slashed .308/.341/.375, leading the NL with 60 stolen bases while scoring 114 runs. Gordon provides the Mariner with a top of the order hitter with great base-running talent. In 2015 Gordon led the league in hitting with a .330 average, and led the league in hits and stolen bases. Gordon received MVP votes in 2014 and 2015.
But things are not perfect. In 2016 Gordon was suspended for 90 games for a positive PED test. His game isn’t perfect either. Though he is a hitting machine, he isn’t much of a walker. Only 25 walks in 695 plate appearances last year. Gordon doesn’t strike out a ton, but enough to be noticed, 93 K’s in 2017.
Most noticeable is that Dee Gordon plays second base. That’s a position that is the property of one Robinson Cano, future Hall of Famer. Cano stakes his claim each year with a contract worth $24 million. With outfield experience in only 13 winter league games in his career, major and minor league, Dipoto annointed Gordon as the M’s 2018 center fielder.
Unquestionably, Gordon is a fine athlete, swift of foot, but outfield, let alone center field, is not an easy position to just slide into. While this doesn’t sink to the level of some of Jack Zdurencik’s moves to the outfield, Mike Morse, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, anybody? It will take some time for Gordon to figure it out.
According to MLB.com The Mariners will take on Gordon’s contract, which with three years guaranteed for a total of $37.9 million and a fourth year with an automatic $14 million if certain playing incentives are met. It isn’t a cheapie. Definitely costs more than bringing back Jarrod Dyson, but the offensive ceiling is higher even if the defense is unknown. It’s a big savings to signing Lorenzo Cain, who is likely to earn $80 million over five years.
It also cost the Mariners minor league pitcher Nick Neidert. Neidert was recently rated the Mariners number two prospect, and their best pitching prospect. He is accompanied by infielder Christopher Torres, and Class A pitcher Robert Duggar. In addition to Gordon, the M’s receive a million dollars in international bonus money they can throw at Ohtani.
This deal represents pretty out-of the-box thinking by Dipoto, and it’s hard not to like it. He could have re-signed Dyson, but the former Mariner is three years older than Gordon, and age and experience, don’t always play well in baseball when your chief attribute is speed. He could have thrown cash at Cain, but hanging on to money to address the M’s pitching woes is a smart move. Make no doubt about it, Gordon is a really good hitter who brings a lot to a Mariners team of poor base runners, and that don’t use their speed wisely. Hitting with Jean Segura in front of Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz should be pretty interesting.
It’s a great trade, if it works. If Gordon adjusts to an outfield move, and is able to play the position, all is well. He began his career as a shortstop, and made himself into a gold glove second baseman, so he is certainly capable of adaptation. An example of a similar success story is Delino DeShields, Jr., who went from being a pretty decent second baseman, to being a pretty good center fielder, good enough to knock Leonys Martin out of his starting job. But it took a year, for DeShields to figure it out going from a -5.7 UZR in 2015, to a 3.9 UZR in 2016. If the M’s are forced to play Gordon in a corner outfield position, he’ll be a pretty light hitting LF/RF in an outfield that is already pretty light hitting.
That Gordon is open to the change makes it all that much better. Gordon, in an interview after the trade confessed his surprise at the deal, but acknowledged the important role Cano has on the team. Most importantly, he had no doubt he could make the move to center.
“I’ll be fine. I consider myself a fast learner and I want to help this team win. Gordon said”
So I confess to a little finger crossing, due to my role as many-times burned Mariners fan. But this was a creative solution to answer one of the team’s most pressing needs, a center fielder with excellent offensive skills.
The M’s were busy Wednesday, following their meeting with Shohei Ohtani and his representatives on Tuesday. They traded minor league catcher David Banuelos to Minnesota for a international bonus money, a cool million dollars, to further sweeten the pot to entice the Japanese star to sign in the Emerald City. We’ll see if that works. Banuelos was rated 10th on the M’s prospect list, which is comparatively weak.
Ohtani has now met with all seven of the finalists he is considering signing with. Now it will simply come down to decision-making and an announcement. The Mariners have emerged as a favorite to sign Ohtani, so the collective breath of Mariners fans is held until something happens.
Meanwhile, ballots are beginning to trickle in to Ryan Thibodeaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker. There are currently 27 public ballots and one anonymous ballot, so 28 or 6.6% of the votes likely to be cast.
The good news is that Edgar Martinez has 21 of those votes, or 78.6% of this very small sample. Last year Thibodeaux was able to share 314 of the ballots or 71% of the vote. Remember that Edgar’s vote in the public ballots was about five percent higher than that not shared. In any case, there is a long way to go.
Breaking down this vote, even though it is early is interesting. Here are a few things I’ve observed:
A pretty persistent criticism in the voting is that writers don’t vote for enough hall-worthy candidates. In the early count, the number of votes per ballot is 8.93 (though Jim Livingston just submitted a ballot with only two votes.) This represents a significant increase from last year’s 8.43, and 2016’s 8.23. That’s a good thing–unless there are more Bill Livingstons out there. Note–Livingston only checked Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel. An Indian lover and someone who needn’t have a vote in the future. He left his contact information blank. Pity
Though the numbers have subsided recently, there definitely seems to be an uptick toward Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Clemens was all of the first 21 ballots. He hasn’t been on one since and sits at 75%. Bonds has 19 votes and 67.9%. Again, early in the process, but will be interesting to see if this pattern continues.
The big winner so far is Jim Thome with 100% on the ballots thus far. Chipper Jones is at 92.9%, Vladimir Guerrero is 89.3% and Trevor Hoffman is at 78.6%. Together with Edgar and Clemens, they are the only nominees that are at the qualifying mark.
Mike Mussina has 64.3%, Curt Schilling is at 57.1%, and Vizquel is at 53.6%. They are the only other candidates above 50%. For both Mussina and Schilling, the early votes represent an increase in support over 2017.
Johnny Damon and Johan Santana are currently being shut out with zero votes.
More to come, I’m sure, as the votes trickle in and Ohtani continues his big tease.
It’s Hall of Fame voting time again. Fifteen ballots are in and they hosted on Ryan Thibodeaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker. Ryan includes a tremendous amount of information on this Excel spreadsheet, and a look shows things are already interesting. Not to get too excited, these represent only 3.5% of the 416 votes that will be cast by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
While tallying the totals of who got the most votes and if any of the nominees can get into the Hall, is always exciting, concerns about voting and how it is done remains an on-going conversation in the sports world. Last year, members of the BBWAA voted to make all ballots public. Unfortunately the Hall board of directors nixed the idea. Last year, about 56% of hall votes were public.
The ballot was released last month. There are some quality sure-things for this year’s vote, as well as some interesting candidates likely to make things messier for our favorite former Seattle Mariner DH.
Chipper Jones-Atlanta-3B. Chipper is a no-brainer who had a fine career on some really good Braves teams. He has 14 votes and 93.3%
Jim Thome-1b/DH-Thome hit 612 home runs over a 22 year career. One would think he’s a shoo-in, but given his time at DH and playing during the steroids era, who knows. So far Thome is running the table with 15 votes
Last Year’s Leftovers
Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman just missed on the 2017 ballot. With Hoffman missing by just five votes, and Guerrero receiving 71.7% of the 75% of the votes needed for induction, my guess is they slide in with Chipper and Thome. Currently Hoffman has 12 votes for 80%. Vlad has 14 votes for 93.3%
The Black Sheep
Last year boosted voting for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. They are unarguably two of the greatest players the game produced, and very likely PED users. Their vote percentages went from 45.2-54.1% for Clemens and 44.3-53.8% for Bonds. My guess is their vote totals will continue trending upward with eventual election to the Hall. Both have five more years of eligibility, so plenty of time for those totals to creep up to 75. Today Clemens has all 15 votes, while Bonds has 13 for 86.7%. Not my choice, but it has a feeling of inevitability.
Scrambling for footing
Pitchers Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling continue to hang around the 50% mark with 51.8% and 45.0% respectively. Both were great, why they aren’t being rewarded for their on-field performance rather than dinged for their Twitter escapades (Schilling!!!) is beyond me. However they both have time to put together a push. Mussina currently has 11 votes for 73.3%, and Mr. Bloody Sock has nine for 60%
The New Guys
There are some intriguing new adds to the ballot. They are guys who aren’t locks to get in, but could make a case in a long campaign for votes. First up as Scott Rolen who was a wonderful third baseman for many teams over many years. He has attracted three votes for 20%. Former Mariner shortstop Omar Vizquel, with a very long playing career, is on the ballot. He’ll have to make his way in with Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio as a defensive whiz. He currently has seven votes for 46.7%. Last on the list is Johan Santana, who for about eight years was one of the best pitchers in baseball. He’s gotten zero, nada, nothing, 0%
The Edgar Factor
I follow this closely for Edgar Martinez, in his ninth year of eligibility, and thus has to receive a 75% vote by 2019. Just for a snapshot, he currently has 12 votes for 80% and only needs 300 more for election. He has received four new voters so far, but he will need many more for election. He hasn’t lost any voters.
I’ll post more as time goes on. My IBWAA ballot arrived yesterday and I will let you know how I voted for the Hall in our alternative universe.
With this third year of off-season activity by Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto, we’re used to seeing a kind of hyperactivity that led the M’s to the most trades in the major leagues over the past two seasons. Though the M’s have made three deals, and likely lead the majors in 2017-18 off-season deals, things really haven’t gotten started.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself and what we really need to start with is what the Mariners need to do to improve for the coming season. These aren’t improvements that will necessarily put them in the division race, or win a World Series, but it might get them back in the conversation about a Wild Card spot.
The first, and most obvious concern, is pitching, particularly starting pitching. Virtually the entire 2017 spring training starting rotation ended up on the DL or was sequestered due to ineffectiveness at one point or another last year. That’s Drew Smyly, Hisashi Iwakuma, Felix Hernandez and James Paxton on the DL for prolonged, or season-ending periods. Yovani Gallardo and Ariel Miranda were both benched for ineffectiveness. A parade of AAA pitchers took turn getting pounded, or at least showing dramatic levels of inconsistency until September kind of settled out with a rotation that looked like this:
Erasmo Ramirez RHP
Andrew Albers LHP
Marco Gonzales LHP
Andrew Moore RHP
Mike Leake RHP .
They were joined by Hernandez and Paxton as they struggled to get into mlb game shape.
Though the group that finished the season offered stability, nobody can be content that this is a group that can be effective and stay healthy for an entire season. I was pleasantly surprised by Ramirez and Leake. Moore is still very young and should not be asked to do too much. Gonzales is still recovering from TJ surgery. I’m not a great believer that Albers at age 31 has discovered the fountain of effectiveness (but I’m a big Jamie Moyer fan, so who knows.)
I no longer believe that James Paxton has the makings of an ace because he simply can’t stay on the field. His 24 starts and 136.0 innings pitched were the most of his career, but he still had two stints on the DL There is no question that the big Canadian was very effective when healthy, but when your team can’t count on you to take the ball every fifth day, you’re not the Big Maple, just the big Question Mark.
King Felix’s crown is looking pretty droopy these days. He just completed his second consecutive year with fewer than 200 innings, or in this new era of pitching, a second consecutive year of under 180 innings to qualify for the ERA crown. And let’s just cut to the chase. Since 2014 when he should have won a Cy Young Award, Felix has been in a tailspin. It could be that his arm is simply cooked. 2,502.1 innings will do that. It could be that it is a combination of knowing the stuff he has today and not quite being able to use it effectively. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, until he shows us otherwise, Felix Hernandez is not a pitcher the Mariners can count on for regular solid performances. Too many baserunners allowed, too many homers, not enough effective innings. (God, it pains me to write this.)
It’s unclear where Ariel Miranda fits into the picture. Will he contend for a thstarting spot, where he was fairly effective until June. Or does his leap into bad after June make him a candidate for the bullpen or a trade piece?
Dipoto has suggested this team doesn’t need much more pitching. I think Dipoto is a really smart guy and that he’s pulling our collective leg. His intensity around possibly acquiring Shohei Otani demonstrates that acquiring at unique talent, one that can pitch, is crucial. And I can’t believe there isn’t a plan B to acquire more pitching, and not of the bargain basement variety. This team needs a horse, and they don’t have one.
The only starting pitcher the M’s have added to their team at the time of this writing is Hisashi Iwakuma, still gamely rehabbing his shoulder. He is signed to a minor league contract.
This is a spot the M’s seem to have filled, trading RHP Emilio Pagan and infielder Alexander Campos to the Athletics for righty-hitting Ryon Healy.
Healy will be 26 when the season begins, and has had one full year in the bigs. The good news-Healy hit 25 home runs and is a 1.0 WAR player. Last year’s first base duo, Danny Valencia and Yonder Alonso combined for -.6 WAR. Healy also doesn’t suffer from the big platoon splits that has plagued numerous Mariners first basemen. He shouldn’t need a partner, freeing up a roster spot.
The bad–the man can strike out with the best of them (142,) walks rarely (3.8%), and isn’t much of a defender. Oh, and the other thing, he’s cheap and controllable, two of Jerry’s three mantras. Maybe hitting coach Edgar Martinez can help out with strikeouts and on base percentage, maybe not. But Healy is under team control for the next five years and at the major league minimum salary, allows the M’s to funnel money to pitching or other areas that need addressing.
Like . . . Centerfield.
The Mariners lost Jarrod Dyson to free agency, which leaves them Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia from the 2017 roster. Dyson left a big mark on the team, offering elite level defense and speed on the basepaths. Dyson was among my favorite players on last year’s team. A late season injury to Dyson left Haniger and Heredia to play center, though the latter also succumbed to a shoulder injury.
Look, the Mariners made some big improvements in the outfield for 2017. All three of the players above are 26 or younger. They are better defenders than the 2016 outfield trio of Nori Aoki, Seth Smith and Leonys Martin. Their ceiling is still not clear. But Heredia struggled, perhaps the result of fighting a season long battle with shoulder dislocation. Haniger spent two unwanted vacations on the DL. Gamel, after leading the league in batting for a stretch into June, fell off a statistical cliff until bottoming out in September. It’s clear the Mariners need another outfielder, and especially a centerfielder.
With free agent starting pitching at a premium, and a need to make a splash, perhaps this is where the M’s put their splash cash. They could bring back Jarrod Dyson, platooning him with a healthy Heredia. Dyson, as a part time player was never costly, but after having a solid season, if a little light with the stick, will command real money. Not sure how much, but more than the $2.6 million they paid in 2017 when they spirited him away from the Royals
But maybe they go all in the M’s back up the armored car to a vault marked Lorenzo Cain. The Royals centerfielder is entering his age 32 season and will command a pile of cash from some lucky suitor. Cain is a brilliant defender, with good speed. and a solid stick, though with limited power. His 2017 slash was .300/.363/.440 with 15 dingers. MLB trade rumors project his future earnings at four years for $70 million. That’s a lot for a guy who is getting on. You’re betting on health and a very slow decline of speed skills. But if Jerry isn’t going to chase Yu Darvish, this is still a way to dramatically improve the team in exchange for cash money.
A reserve catcher
Don’t know if the Mike Zunino that finished 2017 is the real deal, or not, but I’m thinking we are seeing the true Z. Hopefully he can allay everybody’s fears in March and April, rather than waiting to show us what he has in July. In any case, the M’s will need a backup dude to keep our shiny penny from wearing down. Chooch Ruiz hasn’t retired, but I’m thinking its a good year to try someone else, preferably a someone not named Tuffy.
The Really Big Unknown
Looming over all the inaction is the league holding its collective breath as Shohei Ohtani decides where he will end up. Because money really isn’t an issue, the M’s have as good a shot as anybody. But clearly, the team that is able to successfully lure Ohtani will likely have to have a chance at winning, and be able to offer the young superstar at bats as well as innings pitched. What might that look like in Seattle? It might mean outfield innings for Nelson Cruz and his aging knees. It might mean taking at-bats away from young Mr. Healy. I can’t say I’m against picking up the multi-talented youngster, but it certainly would make things interesting.