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.
According to Greg Johns at MLB.com “Dipoto feels James Paxton, Felix Hernandez. Mike Leake and Erasmo Ramirez are a solid top four, with Ariel Miranda, Marco Gonzales and Andrew Moore competing for the fifth spot. Leake, Ramirez and Gonzales all were acquired by trade in the final two months last season when the club was beset by injuries”
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,