Day 2-The Thrill is Gone

Mike Zunino injury

I spent most of Friday walking around school with a big smile on face.  That despite the fact the yearbook and newspaper are both on deadline and I’m suffering from insomnia.  Basking in the afterglow of Thursday’s 2-1 win over Cory Kluber and the Indians was just too much.

I kept thinking about tonight’s match-up between James Paxton and Carlos Carrasco.  Our ace against their number two guy.  It’s a chance to throw down a series win right here.

One win does a lot to you.  I mean we beat the Indians that won 102 games last year.  We beat Kluber-Cy Young Award winning Kluber.  Maybe the M’s are better than we thought.  Maybe we don’t stink.  Maybe we aren’t mediocre.  Maybe we can make the playoffs.

However, staying late on a Friday night with my newspaper students, I began scrolling through MLB Trade Rumors and the first headline I saw was “Mike Zunino Placed on DL with Oblique Strain.”  Gah!

In the M’s are predicted to score buckets of run department, this is not good news.  The severity of the strain wasn’t reported, but the good news is he is only on the 10-day DL.  He’s eligible to come off the disabled list after the San Francisco series–if he’s ready.  But these injuries are stubborn.  Ben Gamel was projected to be 4-6 weeks with his injury and that now seems long.  Mitch Haniger was out for six weeks last summer.

In any case, the job is now Mike Marjama’s.  He was Scott Servais’ game MVP on Thursday, surviving his right hand injury when struck by Edgar Encarnacion’s bat in the second inning.  Despite obvious pain, he stayed in the game and received great praise from Felix Hernandez for his game plan, and has the respect of the pitching staff.  On the other hand, I don’t expect him to hit .250 with 30 home runs.

This is why we can’t have nice things. Like a playoff spot.

Go M’s

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The King, The Boomstick and Sugar

Felix 2018

If you didn’t have an opportunity to catch last night’s Mariners 2-1 win over the Cleveland Indians in the season opener, that’s really all you’d need to know. That the M’s won over reigning Cy Young winner Cory Kluber, made it that much more remarkable.

Quite simply, Felix Hernandez came out in the first inning and retired the Tribe on 11 pitches and set the tone for a game that would be his to win.  The King went 5.1 innings on 83 pitches, allowed no runs on two hits, struck out four and walked two. In the game on a limited pitch count, Felix showed he could pitch in a new way.  Fingers crossed for start number two.

Cory Kluber is not an easy early season draw.  So when Robinson Cano singled in the first inning, Nelson Cruz followed with an ambush of a first-pitch cutter that stayed in the middle of the plate.  The big man stroked a majestic mortar shot into the left-center seats 411 feet away.  Mariners lead 2-0.

The M’s remained stayed ahead running out platoons of relievers to fill in after Felix left to a standing ovation in the sixth.  Dan Altavilla got Jose Ramirez to ground into a double play after Jason Kipness walked.  The seventh inning was more challenging as the Indians dinked and dunked a couple of hits around a Lonnie Chisenhall double, scoring a run, cutting the M’s lead to 2-1, but Nick Vincent eventually escaped.  Juan Nicasio pitched a perfect eighth.

The ninth inning, I wouldn’t exactly call magical, I would suggest it was stomach churning.  Closer Edwin Diaz came on to wrap things up and promptly struck out Yonder Alonso.  But he hit Edgar Encarnacion on the hand, and balked pinch-runner Rajai Davis to second. Diaz followed by hitting Chisenhall, so tying and go-ahead runners on base with one out. Davis stole third.  The air began to come out of the balloon. But Diaz struck out Yan Gomes and Tyler Naquin to put a point on the evening.  M’s win.

The Good

Felix Hernandez-He may not be the King we remember, but he showed he can still get the job done.  He did, at times throw a lot of pitches.  23 in the second inning wiped out much hope of him getting through the sixth inning. But he was good, and he looked nasty, depending more on a great curve than I can remember.

Nelson Cruz-Cruz didn’t play much during Spring Training, nursing a quad injury which was clearly evident during a ground out in his second at bat.  But when he gets solid bat on the ball contact he sure is nasty.  The news of his decline is, at least for one night, premature.

Mitch Haniger-Another guy who didn’t play a lot in the Cactus League due to the injury.  Haniger was 3-3 against one of the toughest pitchers in the American League.

The Bullpen-Notwithstanding Diaz’s struggle with command, the bullpen threw 2.2 innings, allowing only one run.

The Not-So-Good

Dee Gordon’s Oops-We were all wondering when Dee Gordon would have an outfield “moment” due to his lack of experience.  He got it out of the way early, taking a step back on a ball into the left field/center field/shortstop triangle of dropped balls. during the sixth inning. It fell in for a single.  There will be more, but I think he’ll be fine.

Ahem, Edwin Diaz-Lots was made about Diaz’s new approach to his game.  Maybe it was opening-day jitters, maybe it was just a tough night.  Here’s hoping the next forty or so saves are a bit easier to come by.

But honestly, I’m just bitchin’.  It was a great game.  The M’s managed just enough offense to win.  The pitching was just good enough to hold off a really good Indians team, going with a great starter in Kluber.  Let’s do it again Saturday.

Go M’s.

 

Some Opening Day Thoughts

Mariners 2018

I’m waiting for the regular season start in about 30 minutes.  Who are these Mariners and how good, or bad, are they?  I guess we’re about to find out.

I am excited about the beginning about the season.  It’s baseball; I love baseball. And these are my Mariners, and win or lose, soar or stink, I will always love them, like a repeatedly rebuffed lover, who just can’t figure out what he needs to do to make them love me back.

Here’s what I’m anxious to see:

Felix and Marco

Tonight we’ll see if Felix Hernandez is a different pitcher.  He’s an emotional guy, there will be a sell-out, emotional crowd.  Will see a new Felix.  Will he pitch to contact, be economical with his pitches, or will he reach for a strike-em out fastball he no longer has? An effective Felix is critical, but equally important is a healthy Felix.

Jerry Dipoto traded away highly considered prospect Tyler O’Neil for Marco Gonzalez in 2017.  Honestly, I didn’t think much of Gonzalez.  But, further removed from Tommy John surgery, Gonzalez has looked great. Yes, it’s only Spring Training, but if he can be the guy he’s seemed, with a good fastball, cutter and slider, he will be a very welcome surprise for a pitching staff that isn’t very highly thought of.

The Offense

Everyone has lamented the weakness of the starting rotation and praised the quality of the Mariners lineup from top to bottom. Last season the M’s scored 750 runs, fewer than 2016, and seventh in the American League.  They’re going to need to score more if they have any hope of making the playoffs. There are lots of players on this team who could be difference makers at the plate.  But I’m putting my money on Dee Gordon and Jean Segura to bust things loose, and drive pitchers crazy.  That would be the most entertaining option.

Healy vs. Vogelbach

For the next two weeks I’ll be playing close attention to the performance of first baseman Ryon Healy compared to first baseman Daniel Vogelbach.  Healy was injured through much of spring training, while Vogelbach simply exploded and had one of the best spring training performances in the last decade of the Cactus League. Both players came over in trades of valuable pitchers and my hope is the man who plays best before the M’s need a fifth starter will be the one who sticks with the team. I hope Vogelbach gets enough of an opportunity to show whether he can hit consistently at the major league level or not.

How do I think this team will do?  I’m not super hopeful.  I’m thinking anything north of .500 is good.  Making the playoffs is possible, but a long shot. There are just too many good teams at the top of the AL.

Felix is getting ready to throw his first pitch.  Time to go.

Go M’s

 

It’s Getting To Be That Time

Daniel Vogelbach

The regular season opens March 29th.  That’s a mere week from Thursday.  It’s not clear the stars have all aligned for the Mariners roster.  Certainly things were complicated by the long line of walking wounded.

Here’s what we think we know at this point

Rotation-James Paxton, Mike Leake, almost certainly Marco Gonzales, likely Felix.  Though the M’s will only carry four starters to begin the season, due to the schedule, Erasmo Ramirez’ spot will have to be filled by someone.  I’m guessing Ariel Miranda.

Bullpen-Edwin Diaz, Juan Nicasio, Nick Vincent, Mark Rzepczynski, James Pazos, David Phelps and two more guys from Dan Altavilla, Casey Lawrence, and Shawn Armstrong. I’m leaning toward Altavilla and Lawrence. An eight man relief staff.

Outfield-Though Ben Gamel is progressing with his oblique injury, the M’s won’t rush him.  They will likely carry only four outfielders, all comments regarding Ichiro to the contrary.  Ichiro Suzuki, Dee Gordon, Ryan Haniger, and Guillermo Heredia.

Infield-Ryon Healy, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Jean Segura.

Designated Hitter-Nelson Cruz

Catchers–Mike Zunino, Mike Marjama

On The Bubble

Utility infielder–Andrew Romine, Gordon Beckham and Taylor Motter have all had great camps.  I would have given the nod to Romine ten days ago because of his versatility and performance at the plate. But he was caught up in the epidemic of injuries the M’s suffered through.  My pick is Motter.  He has also had a very good spring, can play outfield and infield which gives him the edge over Beckham.

Daniel Vogelbach–The first baseman/DH has had a fabulous spring, slashing .400/.518/.867 with six doubles and four homers during camp.  Everyone from writers to Scott Servais noted his looser demeanor.  He’s just more comfortable in his skin, and is doing the things the M’s thought he would do when they traded for him in 2016.  But the M’s are committed to Ryon Healy at 1B and Nelson Cruz isn’t going anywhere. What to do with Vogelbach?  He may have a role with the M’s until they add that fifth starter according to  MySports NW.  But after that, who knows?

My Take

What a yawner.  Little has happened during the warm up to the regular season to excite me.  Some players have had interesting springs–notably Gonzales and Casey Lawrence on the pitching side, Dee Gordon in the field, and Kyle Seager and Vogelbach at the plate. But the litany of injuries, and the lack of action by the M’s haven’t exactly primed my pump.

Honestly, it’s been tough to watch the Twins make late additions to their teams, while the M’s sit on their hands, suffer injuries, cross their fingers and hope for the best. Especially given the Twins were a wild card team last year.  Maybe it will all work out, but the 2018 pre-season hasn’t inspired me. This doesn’t look like a team that will fare well against a very good Cleveland team in the opening series. I’m hoping I’m wrong.

Go M’s.

 

 

 

Early Impressions of spring training.

spring training

It’s still early in spring training.  The Cactus League is underway, with the M’s at 5-5-1 at this writing.  Most importantly, opening day is looming a scant three weeks away on March 29th.

So what have we learned so far?

First and foremost, the Mariners are struggling with health. Early in camp, Before camp was underway, newly acquired first baseman Ryon Healy had surgery to deal with a bone spur in his wrist.  Healy should return by the end of spring training.  Whether this is enough to get him ready for the season opener against Cleveland is debatable. Soon after, news that number four starter Erasmo Ramirez suffered a lat strain.  Tough news for a thin Mariner corps of starting pitching.  He has not yet been scheduled to return to the mound, and being ready in time for the beginning of the season seems highly problematic at this point.

But wait, there’s more.  Outfielder Mitch Haniger was held out for a hand injury.  Nelson Cruz was hit on the hand by a pitched ball in a Cactus League game.  Felix Hernandez seemed to dodge death when he was hit just below the elbow by a line drive.  News today that Ben Gamel suffered an oblique strain and will be out 4-6 weeks.

This is a lot of news that isn’t so good.

But that doesn’t mean there is only bad coming out of Peoria.  Marco Gonzales, competing for the fifth starter job, has had two outings worth five innings.  He’s looked very good, employing the cutter he couldn’t use last year, moving the ball around and striking out eight while walking only one. Dan Altavilla seems to have overcome whatever was bothering him in 2017, looking great in his three outings.

In the field there isn’t a lot to get excited about. But there is a legitimate competition for the utility infield spot.  Despite his lustrous locks and occasional power outbursts, Taylor Motter is getting serious challenges from both Andrew Romine and Gordon Beckham. It’s important not to put too much stock in spring training numbers, but Romine and Beckham have both had key moments in these early days of spring, when the regulars don’t play as much.

With Healy on the shelf, Tacoma stalwart Daniel Vogelbach and Rule 5 draftee Mike Ford are both getting a long look at first base.  My own view is that’s great.  Vogelbach, the key component of the Mike Montgomery trade in 2016, hasn’t had much opportunity to show what he’s got to the big league staff.  So far he’s doing his part.  Ford has shown his plate discipline, though his fully laced hitting-shoes don’t seem to have done their magic yet. Very small sample sizes for both players, but it’s good to see them getting a legit look.

News today the M’s are talking to Ichiro Suzuki’s agent.  With Gamel out and Haniger’s hand tweaked, the M’s clearly need an extra guy.  Even with Guillermo Heredia making an early return from his off-season shoulder surgery, they are still light at least one outfielder.  Not sure if a 44-year old player with little power or inclination to take a walk is the answer, but he does have a connection to the Mariners of old.  It was 17 years ago that a much-younger Ichiro won the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards.  Frankly, I’d rather be looking forward for a solution to the outfield vacancy instead of the the Mariners’ past.

Not sure we are any closer to finding any answers to the Mariners problems-Paxton taking the next step, team health, and an improved offense. Maybe it’s too early to know, but the signs aren’t there yet. Too early to panic, but certainly not enough to excite me either.

Cactus League opens: what I’m looking for

2018 spring training.

Today the M’s open their spring training games against their Peoria rivals, the San Diego Padres.  The M’s will be on the radio at noon.  Sadly, I’ll be teaching my sophomores about the New Deal.

I always look forward to the Cactus League games because, dang it, it’s baseball.  But this year I have a certain amount of trepidation, because actually playing the game always carries some risks, namely injury.  Even before today’s opener, number four starter Erasmo is out with a lat strain, and his availability for the March 29 season opener is in question.  Newly acquired first baseman is out after undergoing surgery to move a floating bone spur in his hand.  His status for the regular season is likewise ?

For Ramirez, it is has driven my much closer to the–Jerry should do something for the rotation school of thought.  Did you know the average mlb team used 11.2 starters during the regular season in 2017? The mean number, the most common number of starters used in the season was 11, used by eight teams. 23 teams used starters in double figures.  Of those that did not are Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Colorado, and the San Francisco-so a mix of good and bad teams.

That said, the M’s rotation and currently conceived includes James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake, Ramirez, Marco Gonzalez, Ariel Miranda, and Andrew Moore.  That’s seven guys, with one already wounded. Getting past that you’re looking at pitchers who either aren’t ready or have failed spectacularly-Christian Bergman, Max Povse, Rob Whalen, Chase DeJong. That’s eleven guys.  If you go past that you get crickets. It would be foolish not to add to this underwhelming collection of arms.

That said there are some important things to watch for:

Numero uno on my list is the play of Mike Ford and Dan Vogelbach.  With Healy out for nearly all of the Peoria warm-ups, it’s an opportunity for Ford, a Rule Five draft pick to show what he has.  Ford is the opposite of Healy.  He’s a first baseman without a lot of pop, but is an on-base machine.  I tend to like guys who can keep an inning alive without a ton of strikeouts, but I’m clearly in a minority.  I’m pulling for Vogelbach to have a great spring and show us the Mike Montgomery trade was not a clossal freakin’ mistake. But I’m not holding my breath.  In fairness however, the big guy hasn’t had much of a shot in his limited trip to the big leagues, and I’m hoping he can make a definitive case for remaining on the 40 man roster.

Though he won’t pitch today, I’m excited to see what Marco Gonzalez brings to the table without limitations to his pitches.  Will he be better throwing his cutter?  He better be, because he is the odds-on favorite for the fifth starter spot

What do the speedy Dee Gordon and Jean Segura give the Mariners at the top of the order. Do they get on enough to make pitchers crazy, and have the speed to score on mistakes?

Can the Mariners cut down on TOOTBLANS, and end their base-running woes.  What will Scott Servais do to them if they haven’t?

Those are some things that I’m looking for.

Note: At press time, game over M’s defeat their stadium rivals 3-2.  Gordon and Segura did their job. Kyle Seager doubled in Segura. Vogelbach doubled. The pitching crew of Miranda, Moore, James Pazos, Christian Bergman, Shawn Armstrong, and Dan Altavilla held on for the win. Four baserunning mistakes-yikes and double yikes. But at least it’s baseball and March 29th is that much closer.

 

 

Shipwreck: A Dipoto deal that didn’t work

The free agent market is heating up slightly.  News that Yu Darvish signed with the Cubs is good for him and good for the game. Lots of lesser players are signing as well, but the rest of the big names-Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb and others are still unemployed.

An interesting name popped up yesterday on MLB Trade Rumors. Shae Simmons was signing a deal with the Cubs.  You may remember Simmons as a reliever traded to Seattle from Atlanta on January 11, 2017.  The Mariners granted Simmons free agency in December. He’s partnered in Mariner trade history with Drew Smyly who also was acquired by trade from Tampa Bay on January 11, 2017, and is also now a Cub.  So two players acquired by the Mariners same day are now wearing Cubbie blue, and are linked together in a pair of deals that go together.

They were costly deals that never worked out and I would argue they are among the worst deals in Mariner history.  Not quite Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb bad, or Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio, Chris Tillman and Tony Butler for Erik Bedard horrendous, but it will be remembered with the worst of them.

Let’s recall the details of this swap. The M’s began by trading minor league pitchers Thomas Burrows and Luiz Gohara to the Braves for reliever Shae Simmons and minor league outfielder Mallex Smith. The same day Dipoto traded 17 year old infielder Carlos Vargas, minor league starter Ryan Yarbrough and Smith to Tampa Bay for Smyly.

Here’s what the M’s got in this deal.  Smyly was signed to a two year deal with the Rays, and would have been part of the Mariners through the 2018 season.  He went off to the WBC during spring training in 2017, and had a great outing.  Came back to camp with a “soggy arm” and never made it back out on the mound for the Mariners. He went through TJ surgery and was granted free agency on December 1st along with Simmons. Smyly’s injury was the first of a plague of pitching injuries that effectively de-railed the Mariners season. He’ll also be the poster boy for manager concerns about allowing their best pitchers to throw in a high stress situation before they are physically ready in the 2021 World Baseball Classic.

Simmons was the other player the Mariners held on to after the dust cleared on January 11th.  He is considered a right-handed reliever with a power arm the M’s coveted.  Long on potential but short on major-league experience. Simmons also never made it out of spring training, developing significant arm/shoulder problems.  He eventually pitched in nine September games for the M’s, allowing virtually nothing through his first six appearances and getting absolutely shelled in his last game. Scheduled to make $700K in 2018, the M’s mysteriously non-tendered him.

So the M’s completed virtually a three team deal to acquire Smyly and Simmons, and between the two of them got 7.2 innings out of Simmons. What did the Mariners give up?

Tampa Bay received Mallex Smith and Ryan Yarbrough.  Smith is a 24 year-old speed and defense outfielder.  He managed a .270/.328/.355 slash in 81 games with 16 stolen bases in Tampa.  He was also a superior defender with 12 Defensive Runs Saved in his half season of work.   His performance is very mindful of Jarrod Dyson.  Smith is expected to step in for All-Star Center Fielder Kevin Kiermaier if the Rays trade him.

Yarbrough is a 26 year old lefty starter who is ranked 27th in Tampa’s highly regarded farm system.  Last year he made 26 starts with a 3.43 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and  1.163 WHIP.  Yarbrough is envisioned as a back of the rotation starter.  He’d probably look good in Mariner blue.

Atlanta’s farm system is ranked #1 by Baseball America.  Luiz Gohara is ranked as their number six prospect. The hard throwing lefty pitched 29.1 innings for the Braves in 2017 or about four times as many innings as Smyly and Simmons combined. Writer David O’Brien of the Atlanta Constitution Journal expects him to break into the Braves rotation in 2018.

Thomas Burroughs didn’t quite make the Baseball America Top 20 Atlanta prospects, more of an honorable mention.  But he did make the MLB.com top 30 for Atlanta.  For a team that is virtually without significant infield prospects trading Burroughs without a significant return hurts.

This is a trade that just didn’t work. Smyly and Simmons are gone, and so are the armload of prospects traded for them.  Imagine if the M’s hadn’t traded Mallex Smith. They might not have made the deal for Jarrod Dyson, and still had Nate Karns. They wouldn’t have needed Dee Gordon and could have held on to his $9 million salary.  They also would have kept Nick Neidert, their best pitching prospect heading into 2018.  Or they could have forgotten the whole deal and held on to Gohara and Yarbrough, both of whom might be challenging for a starting role today.

Jerry’s made lots of deals.  There have been some really good ones. I like the trade for Segura and Haninger.  I like the Gordon trade.  But there are some that haven’t worked out at all, including the Chris Taylor trade; Mike Montgomery to the Cubs for Paul Blackburn and Daniel Vogelbach,  and this one.

I was listening to the Baseball America podcast with Carlos Collazo and Kyle Glaser analyzing the Mariners farm system.  You may recall it is ranked the worst in the majors. It is a fairly sympathetic look at what Jerry Dipoto has done to improve the big league club.  But among the comments is a recognition that Dipoto has also traded 13 pitching prospects over the past two years, which has seriously depleted the farm.  It’s a great listen–30 minutes during your morning commute. Glaser was highly complimentary of the entire organization including farm executives and scouting.

But it’s the drive to get into the playoffs that has forced trades that weaken the farm system and left no margin for error, like the injury to Smyly.

This trade continued the trend and essentially got nothing back. At least in the bad Slocumb and Bedard trades we got some bad innings out of the deal. We didn’t even get that in this trade.  I like Dipoto’s boldness, but the man has made some costly mistakes, and this is one of them.