Who’s on First?

First Base

Though it feels like we’ve been elbow-deep in the Hot Stove League for months now, things are just warming up as we head for the Winter Meetings Dec. 6-10 in Nashville. It’s hard to know exactly what GM Jerry DiPoto and his staff will get done, or try to get done, during their sojourn in Music City. They’ve looked at the outfield, deepened pitching both in the rotation and the bullpen, and they’ve found at least a temporary solution at catcher.

But first base is another big question mark. The Mariners ended the season with bushels of first basemen, and the list of likely candidates been narrowed a bit. Logan Morrison‘s trade to Tampa Bay leaves fewer contenders for the job, but the question remains whether they are the right guys for DiPoto’s philosophy.

Mark Trumbo has to be considered the leading candidate for the first base job if the Mariners don’t look outside the organization for another answer.  Trumbo came to the M’s with pitcher Vidal Nuno in a trade with the Diamondbacks that sent catcher Welington Castillo and pitcher Dominic Leone to Arizona on June 3rd.

Mark Trumbo

Seattle Mariners’ Mark Trumbo in action in a baseball game Friday, June 19, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Trumbo has lots of complications, including cost, contract status and performance.

He’s in his last year of arbitration eligibility. Last year Trumbo made $6.9 million, which seems like a lot for your basic 1.1 WAR player.  But last season’s cost of a win was about $8 million. Projected arbitration costs for the big right-hander in 2016 are estimated north of $9 million, and the cost of a win are also likely to increase.  2011-2013 Trumbo had season of 1.8, 2.2, and 2.4 WAR, so strictly by the numbers, his projected salary wouldn’t be out of line, but on a team with a fair number of big contracts, the M’s might have to make some choices in order to fill their other holes.

With his last year of arbitration, Trumbo will be a free agent at the end of the 2016 season.  Unless he has a breakout year, it’s hard to imagine the M’s hang on to him past this season.  Perhaps with Kivlehan in Tacoma, and D.J. Peterson likewise heading north, the Mariners will think of 2016 as the bridge to a younger more controllable player.

But really it all comes down to performance. The Mariners haven’t had a quality above league average performance at first base since Russell Branyan in 2009. Yes, we’ve had glimmers from Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison, but neither put together a solid season of good. But the same could be said of Mark Trumbo. He finished last season with a combined .263/.310/.449 slash and 108 wRC+.  His first month with the Mariners was absolutely terrible, with hitting only .134 with one home run in June.  But he hit much better than his season average for the rest of the year. Trumbo will hit his home runs, but he is also a veritable strikeout machine; his 24.2% K rate is pretty much in line with his career numbers and adds to a long list of high-strikeout Mariner hitters.  Though he is wretchedly terrible in the outfield, Trumbo is somewhat above league average defensively at first base.

All in all, it’s easy for me to see Trumbo gone, either as part of a trade or simply non-tendered to get back some working cash.  But I could just as easily see him as the starting first baseman for the Mariners on Opening Day.


Jesus Montero

Jesus Montero was the dream that shattered into a million pieces.  Sent to Seattle by the Yankees prior to the 2012 season for pitcher Michael Pineda, it seemed the M’s got the better part of the deal. Pineda spent two years dealing with arm miseries and Montero was touted as one of the best right-handed hitting prospects in baseball. Montero got 553 at bats in 2012, and he wasn’t terrible at the plate, at least not Mike Zunino terrible.

You know the rest–out of shape, torn meniscus, Biogenesis PED suspension, ice cream sandwich tossing, and finally a degree of redemption as Montero reported to spring training in 2015 in the best shape of his life.  He was rewarded with a superb minor league season batting .355/.398/.569 in Tacoma.  Though he also had 116 plate appearances with Seattle, they were less successful: .223/.250/.411.  Though Steamer projects somewhat higher for Montero in 2016.

If the Mariners decide to jettison Trumbo, could Montero be a guy who could take over at first base?  Maybe, but it’s a crap shoot.

Montero hasn’t approached his minor league offensive numbers in the majors. He has minimal time playing the position at the major league level, and defensively last year he penciled out as a below average first baseman.  The sample size is very small.  Perhaps for a year that’s good enough.  Based on his outstanding AAA numbers, and that he’s out of minor league options, perhaps the best thing to do is deal Montero while his successes are fresh in everybody’s mind.  Montero is one of those guys I’d love to see do well, and given his struggles he’s definitely a feel-good story.  But somehow I have a hard time seeing this happen.

Robinson Cano

Cano 3

Fascinating story by Luke Arkins at Prospect Insider Nov. 29th about the inevitability of a move to first base for Robinson Cano.  Citing his defensive decline last year, Arkins suggests the M’s begin to play Cano at first sooner rather than later, allowing the left-handed All-Star some games as the Mariners prepare for Trumbo’s departure after this year. While recognizing that 2015 was an illness and injury-plagued season for Cano, it does also confront that unfortunate reality that he is on the wrong side of 30, and the Mariners should be considering a soft landing for him sooner rather than later, an idea shared by Tacoma News Tribune writer Bob Dutton.

Maybe, but not likely for more than a handful of games this year. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see number 22 over at first base well before the expiration date on his contract.

D.J. Peterson

D.J. Peterson

I’m just going to put it right out now that I’m not big on D.J. Peterson.  First round pick in the 2013 draft, is another one of Jack Zdurencik’s all or nothing guys. He was a terrible third baseman and has been a first baseman chiefly as an afterthought.  He’s likely going to be in Tacoma, and could be called up in an emergency, but he also strikes me as one of those guys who doesn’t fit DiPoto’s model and could be traded.

Somebody Else

There are a fair number of free agent first basemen available, though none that jump right out and say sign me.  DiPoto, if he feels like first base is a priority could make a trade for a first baseman.  Honestly, unless a deal reaches out and grabs him by the neck, I think it’s likely to be Trumbo.  That means he’ll be traded next week.

Take it easy fellah, it’s just a rumor


Say this for Jerry DiPoto.  He certainly knows how to keep you on your toes. After a big trade with Tampa, another with San Diego, a third with Texas and a key free-agent signing Monday, all in the month of November, the man stays busy.  Don’t close your eyes, you might miss something important.

So when I was looking at MLB Trade Rumors for like the 50th time yesterday, and at 6:55 PST it was announced the M’s and Marlins were considering a trade of a pitcher-maybe James Paxton-for outfielder Marcell Ozuna, sleepy me woke right up.  Ozuna had a great 2014 year, was injured, had 1-36 stretch and was sent to get fixed in the minor leagues which he called “jail” and landed in owner Jeffrey Loria’s doghouse.

Subsequent updates made the status of these rumors, followed closely by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, shall we say quite muddy. At one point it sounded like a deal could involve multiple players and the Mariners wouldn’t include Taijuan Walker in a deal. The lack of updates today doesn’t mean a potential deal is off, but it sounds like there is lots of talking to do–including the Marlins listening to offers from other teams. It does sound like Ozuna is likely trade bait for some young cost-controlled pitching.

Upon hearing all this I went back and forth between MLBTR and the Seattle Mariners Facebook page, a fan page just to gauge fan interest.  The range of reaction was amazing.  Some clearly wanted to wait and see who the Mariners were offering, while others immediately upped the ante to include Jose Fernandez, Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton in the deal-always for Roenis Elias, Jesus Montero and members of the coaching staff.

I’m not suggesting this trade isn’t happening, or couldn’t happen, that it could involve Ozuna or more than Ozuna. But it is just another conversation about players that every team will have throughout the Hot Stove League and in to Spring Training.  It’s what teams have always done.  It’s just that so many more people are listening and writing about it that we jump out of our skin whenever we hear something about the Home Towne Team.  Remember, rumors are just lies by another name.

But there is some real news to share:

Danny Hultzen cleared waivers and will rejoin the Rainiers in Tacoma, according to Greg Johns.

Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs has a pretty interesting breakdown of what James Paxton can do to improve the effectiveness of his fastball.

USS Mariner’s take on Chris Iannetta’s signing and why it’s such a good deal for the Mariners.

Finally, Nathan Bishop‘s article at Lookout Landing on the considerations the M’s are likely taking about whether to acquire a right fielder and what to do with Nelson Cruz is interesting and thoughtful–and a lot like my own. And they’re probably driving a lot of this activity around Marcell Ozuna, dammit!



M’s sign Chris Ianetta


On November 11th, MLB Trade Rumors announced the Mariners were close to a deal for free agent catcher Chris Iannetta.  Then darkness.  No more announcements.  No posts announcing M’s and Ianetta nearly almost sign deal.  Just silence.

It was clear the M’s were going to do something at catcher. They desperately needed to.  Mike Zunino’s struggles are well documented, missing the last month of the season to work on his offensive woes in Arizona, not even the Arizona Fall League to practice in.  The host of backstops were no help.  Though a good defender, Jesus Sucre is not a good enough hitter to buy the time needed to work with Zunino.  John Hicks and Steve Barron lack experience and skill.

The news today that Chris Iannetta signed a one year deal with the Mariners is a relief.  Coming off a sub-par offensive year, there is no reason to believe Ianetta cannot rebound from his .188/.293/.335, 80 wRC+2015 season. (Which is significantly better than any other Mariner catcher in 2015.) However, his career average is much higher with a .231/.351/405 slash, numbers he exceeded in 2014. Iannetta is also a solid defender, with excellent framing skills, even better than Zunino’s according to StatCorner.

So what does this mean for Zunino?  In the short term, it clearly means he’s lost his starting job.  It was clear from comments DiPoto made to Ryan Divish that the starting job belongs to Iannetta. Signed to a one-year deal with a club option for 2017 for a scant $4.5 million, this is a low risk signing.

More importantly, it buys the Mariners some time to make a real run at developing Mike Zunino. Rushed to the majors in 2013, well before he was ready, Zunino has shown himself capable of handling a pitching staff, is a capable pitch framer, reduced the rate of passed balls, everything he needs to do but hit at the big league level.  If this move allows time to find out if their young former first round draft pick can learn to hit at the big league level.  It’s clear from DiPoto’s comments to Divish, Zunino still factors into the Mariners plans for 2016.

“Whether it be a time-share or a backup catcher, Mike is going to be in position to win some of that playing time.”

To make room for Iannetta on the 40-man roster, catcher John Hicks was designated for assignment.

No the Mariners didn’t sign Matt Wieters, or trade for Jonathan Lucroy, but this is a sensible move that provides a competent, veteran player at a very important position.  It also let’s them get their own house in order, providing time to develop and assess a very valuable component in their organization.  A Plan A and a Plan B.  Nice.

Tidying up the 40-man roster

Friday was the deadline for setting the 40-man roster.  It’s a really important deadline–teams must determine which of their players in the minor league they will subject to Rule 5 scrutiny, and who they will protect.  The Mariners made a flurry of moves.

Among the most visible was designating Danny Hultzen for assignment.  We know Danny’s story well. Drafted number 2 in the 2011 draft ahead of the injury-prone Anthony Rendon, General Manager Jack Zdurencik saw the University of Virginia star on a quick track to the major leagues.  Unfortunately a series of shoulder surgeries and recovery setbacks have kept the lefty from any meaningful pitching for the past two years.  If Hultzen is not claimed by another team, the Mariners will send him to the minors, according to a report by Greg Johns.

The Mariners also made a trade, sending outfielder Ramon Flores to the Brewers for infielder 22-year old infielder Luis Sardinas.  Sad to see Flores go.  Acquired in the Dustin Ackley trade from New York, he was tearing it up in Tacoma before he slipped on wet turf at Cheney Stadium and suffered a severely broken ankle.  I thought he might fit well in Jerry DiPoto’s new outfield, perhaps as a platoon mate for Nelson Cruz in right field or as a player off the bench. But, out of options, the Mariners hands were forced, and off to Sudsville he goes. The M’s get in return a no-hit, good glove infielder who can play shortstop, second and third.  Infield depth is a good thing, but it makes me wonder about Chris Taylor‘s spot in the organization.

The DFA and the trade left two spots on the 40 man roster for minor leaguers Patrick Kivlehan and Boog Powell.  Kivlehan was chosen in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.  I hesitantly characterize him as a typical Zdurencik player–a bat with no position.  Kivlehan was clearly more athletic than the Alex Liddis and Vinnie Catricalas, having played football and baseball at Rutgers, but with a position listed as first, third and outfield, one has to wonder if he is more than another “guy with a bat and glove” man. Boog Powell is the highly considered (perhaps overly optimistically) outfielder who came over in the Brad Miller trade with Tampa Bay.

A brief history of Mariner centerfielders 1999-2016


Tuesday the Mariners acquired outfielder Leonys Martin from the Texas Rangers, sending right-handed reliever Tom Wilhelmsen back to Arlington.  They also picked up righty Anthony Bass and surrendered OF James Jones.

But there’s little question the cheers you heard in Marinerland was for Martin.  Though it is unclear how much offense Martin can bring to the team, there is little question he fills GM Jerry DiPoto’s search for athletic outfielders who are very good defenders and can play a big part of run prevention in Safeco Field.

Martin will be the latest, and among the most heralded of center fielders to assume position 8 at Safeco.  In 1999 Ken Griffey Jr. was the of first them, playing half his games in the Kingdome and half at “The Safe”  The Mariners were pitching-lite in ’99 and struggled to a 79-83 finish.  Junior slashed .285/.384/.576 with a league-leading 48 home runs.  1999 was several years before the stats community had in place the defensive metrics used to measure effectiveness in the field.  Though we’ve always accepted that Junior was the greatest defender since Superman, remembering his home run-robbing play against Jesse Barfield in 1990 and his notorious”Spiderman” catch at the Kingdome wall off Kevin Bass in May 1995 that broke his wrist.  But a reexamination of his defensive prowess, has revealed Junior to be less than superhuman.  1999 was a poor defensive year for Griffey.   The negative defensive ratings would plague Junior throughout his career in Cincinnati.

Ken Griffey, Jr.        Slash                          Defensive Rating  (Total Zone)

1999                             .284/.384/. 576          -13 runs above average

As the off-season approached Junior revealed, after 10 seasons as the M’s everyday centerfielder, he wanted a trade closer to his Cincinnati home,  AND that ultimately he would ONLY accept a trade to Cincinnati.  Pissed me off. The Reds had the Mariners over a barrel, and in the end the M’s were able to garner four players for Junior:  Right-handed starter Brett Tomko, outfielder Mike Cameron, reliever Jake Meyer, and infielder Antonio Perez.  Tomko never found success with the Mariners, Meyer and Perez never played at Safeco.

But Cammie, was something special. Mike Cameron was arguably the best center fielder ever to play for the Mariners at Safeco. He walked into his first home season having to somehow fill in for the Mariners own departed God and promptly robbed Derek Jeter of a home run. Statistically Cameron was spectacular.  Though he lacked Junior’s bat and his strong arm, Cameron’s UZR for 2002 and 2003 of 11.4 and 19.2 respectively.  In his four years with the M’s Cammie was always good for about 20 homers and the same number of steals-and a 100+ strikeouts.

Mike Cameron           Slash                   Defensive Rating

2000                               .267/.365/.438   Total Zone  2 runs saved AA

2001                                .267/.353/.480   Total Zone  11 runs saved AA

2002                                .239/.340/.442   UZR  11.2 runs AA

2003                                .253/.344/.431     UZR  19.2 runs AA  DRS 11

Tired of all the K’s, and not really realizing what he had, new G.M. Bill Bavasi didn’t tender Cameron a contract for 2004 and moved left fielder Randy Winn over to center for the season. For those too young to remember, Winn came over from Tampa Bay after Lou Piniella fled the aging Mariners to be close to his family in Florida.  Winn was compensation for that move. Manager Bob Melvin’s 63-99 team boasted Ichiro in right, Winn in center and the less than nimble Raul Ibanez in left.

Randy Winn      Slash                             Defensive Rating

2004                     .286/.346/.427             UZR  6.7 runs AA  DRS  8

Unfortunately, Winn moved on after  2004 and the M’s entered a dark period of change and inconsistent performance. Jeremy Reed, received as part of the trade for pitcher Freddie Garcia was supposed to be the Mariners center fielder for the future.  In 2005, Reed looked like he might be the real deal.  Though he was a light hitter, Reed was a very good fielder.  But 2005 was Reed’s only good year.  His time with the Mariners was filled with a litany of injuries and time split between the bench and Tacoma. 2006 saw center field divided between Reed, Ichiro, Jamal Strong and Willie Bloomquist version 1.1, though Reed got the vast majority of innings.

Jeremy Reed     Slash                        Defensive Rating

2005                    .253/.322.352           UZR 13.6  runs AA  DRS 9

Mariners Center Fielders                Defensive Rating

2006                    .242/.312/.334          UZR 9.2 runs AA   DRS  10

In 2007, a year the M’s went an improbable 88-74, Bavasi and manager Mike Hargrove moved an unhappy Ichiro Suzuki to center while center fielder of the future Adam Jones spent his final year developing in Tacoma. Ichiro defensive ratings were respectable, but nowhere near his superlative numbers in right field. Though he got additional time in center in 2008, the experiment was over–and in a sense so was the media’s love affair with Ichiro.  Increasingly the word out of the Mariners camp was that their star was inflexible and selfish, far more about his numbers than helping his team win.

Ichiro Suzuki         Slash                             Defensive Ratings

2007                         .351/.396/.431                UZR 5.3 runs AA  DRS 4

2008 was supposed to be the year of Adam Jones, instead it was a disaster.  Jones and half of the Mariners pitching prospects were traded to the Orioles for lefty ace wannabe Eric Bedard.  Jones is still a star in Camden Yards and Bedard pitched a less than scintillating 81 innings for the M’s.  Bill Bavasi was toast and manager John McLaren ran the Fantastic Four of Reed, Ichiro, Wladimir Balentien and Bloomquist out to center in a return engagement of mediocrity.

Mariners Center Fielders                  Defensive Ratings

2008         Slash .279/.334/.361                            UZR 3.2 runs AA  DRS -3

2009 was Jack Zdurencik’s first year. His first off-season move was a creative three team deal in which he parlayed closer J.J. Putz, Reed, reliever Sean Green and Luis Valbuena  into a pile of players including pitcher Jason Vargas, and outfielders Endy Chavez and a young, shiny Franklin Gutierrez.  Guti played such a spectacular center field, broadcaster Dave Niehaus resurrected the 19th century baseball nickname “Death to Flying Things” and applied it to the budding Mariners star. Guti displayed one of the finest center field performances in the new stat era,  and  the M’s signed him to a four year deal. The team was set for a long time to come.

Some teams are built bad, some teams play bad, and some are simply cursed.  There was something wrong with Franklin Gutierrez.  He suffered through a series of well-documented injuries, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Ankylosing Spondylitis.  His problems began in 2010 and continued through 2014 when he was effectively out of baseball, and the M’s were out of luck in center field. He played a full season in 2010, half a year in 2011, and scraps in 2012-13. His performance declined with his playing time.

Franklin Gutierrez   Slash                                 Defensive Ratings

2009     629 PA           .283/.339/.425                   UZR 31 runs AA     DRS 32

2010     629 PA            .245/.303/.363                   UZR 5.9 runs AA   DRS 0

2011      344 PA            .224/.261/.273                   UZR 16.0 runs AA DRS 10

2012      163 PA            .260/.309/420                    UZR -8.8 runs AA DRS -4

2013       151 PA             .248/.303/.503                  UZR  -3.3 runs AA  DRS -3

A litany of impostors filled in for the banged up Gutierrez: Ryan Langerhans, Chone FigginsEndy Chavez, Michael SaundersAbraham Almonte, James JonesDustin Ackley even Jason Bay took turns patrolling Safeco’s vast center field. Few were very good, and some, ahem Mr. Bay, were awful.  But most weren’t suited for the role, and should never have been put there in the first place.

Mariners Centerfielders                                    Defensive Ratings

2011                               .199/.251/.279                  UZR 8 runs AA  DRS -1

2012                               .250/.307/.429                 UZR -13.7 runs AA  DRS -20

2013                               .251/.309/.378                 UZR -24.9 runs AA  DRS -34

2014                               .234/.269/.290                UZR -9.1 runs AA     DRS -6

When the Mariners picked up Austin Jackson in a three way deal with the Tigers and Marlins at the deadline 2014, I nodded my approval.  A veteran center fielder was, at last in the M’s clubhouse.  But when he hit well below his career numbers and put up poor defensive numbers, there were a great many doubters.  When 2015 began Jackson’s troubles at the plate continued, but he made adjustments, turned in a respectable 97 OPS+ and was above average in the field

Austin Jackson        Slash                                         Defensive Ratings

2014                            .229/.267/.260                       UZR -8.6 runs AA DRS 0

2015                            .272/.312/.387                         UZR  7.5 runs AA  DRS -1

When Zdurencik traded away Jackson in one of his last official acts as GM it left the M’s without a legitimate center fielder.  Folks filled in-James Jones, Brad Miller, and Shawn O’Malley-but as center fielders go they were vile. With Miller’s trade to Tampa Bay it was clear a candidate wasn’t going to come from in-house. So, trades being GM Jerry DiPoto’s preference, it wasn’t a surprise to see him deal for Martin.

Here’s a quick look at Martin’s career stats, which will be somewhat better than his abbreviated injury-plagued season.

Leonys Martin      Slash                                            Defensive Ratings

Career                    .255/.305/.361                            UZR 10.3 runs AA  DRS 13

Look, as you can see, the Mariners have had some decent to excellent center fielders during the Safeco years.  And honestly, for a park this big, a superior defensive center fielder is a requirement to succeed at home. Martin’s range and throwing arm aren’t in question.  He’s shown his ability in Arlington.  If he can hit enough to stay in the lineup-without the pressure to lead off-he’ll be an important addition to this team.








Out of Options: The Bus Stops Here

Ramon Flores celebrates after homering for the Tacoma Rainiers.  Flores, an outfielder, is out of minor league options, posing important questions to Mariner managment.

Ramon Flores celebrates after homering for the Tacoma Rainiers. Flores, an outfielder, is out of minor league options, posing important questions to Mariner management.

As the Mariners begin to assemble their 40-man roster and ultimately their big league club heading to, through and out of spring training, they will be mindful of this group of players who are out of minor league options.  By baseball’s rules they can refuse to accept a minor league assignment and become free agents. It’s an interesting list that include the following.

  • OF Ramon Flores
  • LHP Lucas Luetge
  • LHP Danny Hultzen
  • 1B/DH Jesus Montero
  • LHP Mike Montgomery
  • LHP Edgar Olmos
  • RHP Jose Ramirez

Some of these players are potentially quite valuable to the M’s, but making room for them may be difficult.

Ramon Flores-Flores is a talented outfielder, though likely a fourth outfielder on many teams. Flores came over from the Yankees in the Dustin Ackley trade, and was immediately impressive in Tacoma.  In his cup of coffee with the Yanks Flores penciled out as a plus defender.  He lacks power.  Steamer projects Flores as .261/.327/.396.  In an organization with few outfield options, Flores seems like a keeper.  Of course nothing is that easy.  Flores suffered a nasty ankle injury in August and it’s unclear if he’ll be ready for spring training.  The signing of Franklin Gutierrez to platoon with Seth Smith may suck up an the extra outfield spot, or perhaps Flores can play himself on to the roster.  Flores is a potentially valuable piece the M’s would hate to lose.

Danny HultzenThe former first round draft choice (2011) is in his second year of recovery from catastrophic shoulder surgery.  His comeback effort in 2015 was pulled after only 8 innings pitched.  It’s unclear whether Hultzen will continue with his efforts to return to the field, or how the M’s figure into his future.

Lucas Luetgewas acquired from Milwaukee in the 2011 Rule 5 draft.  Pretty much your basic LOOGY, Luetge has had difficulty staying on the major league roster after his 2012 season.  The M’s have plenty of Luetge-like minor league options in David Rollins, Rob Rasmussen and the recently acquired C.J. Riefenhofer–hopefully more effective ones.  It seems unlikely the M’s would bring him back.

Jesus Montero-Montero is a player emblematic of the Zdurencik regime.  Pitcher Michael Pineda, penciled in as a regular in the Yankees rotation was traded for Montero one of baseball’s best-rated right-handed hitting prospects.  Without delving into the minutiae of Montero’s checkered past, the former catcher had a tremendous minor league season in Tacoma in 2015, but didn’t quite put it altogether in his 116 Mariner plate appearances.  With the trade of Logan Morrison, the two most likely players to replace LoMo at first base are Mark Trumbo and his $9+ million salary, or Montero.  It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Montero gets one last chance to show all the early hype was justified.

Mike Montgomery-Montgomery was called up for his first major league start June 2nd, when James Paxton went on the DL.  His first seven starts were absolutely tremendous, but the league seemed to catch up with him in his remaining nine starts.  One wonders if Montgomery has a little more to work on before becoming something special, or if he is simply a AAAA pitcher.  I feel the M’s need a little more time to find out the real answer, and they just don’t have any more time. It is clear the M’s will need pitching depth, but if they are counting on Montgomery clearing waivers, I just don’t think that’s likely.

Edgar Olmos-Olmos was a 2014 waiver claim from the Marlins.  He pitched 14 innings worth of bad baseball for the Mariners, including a pair of starts August 30 and September 4th.  They weren’t good.  Olmos just isn’t a very good pitcher.  Edgar, the bus is waiting for you.

Jose Ramirez-Ramirez is the other minor leaguer that came over from the Yankees in the Ackley deal.  Amazing, two minor league players with only one year of eligibility left. Nice work Jack. In this case, Flores is the more desirable of the two.  Ramirez is a hard throwing righty wild in and out of the strike zone.  With 7.2 innings in the 2015 season split between New York and Seattle, Ramirez walked 10, allowed 15 hits and 14 earned runs.  No homers though.  Jose I think your bus is here.

It seems clear that some of these seven players the Mariners won’t miss. Others, like Flores, Montero and Montgomery will get a very long look.  The M’s clearly have needs in the rotation and in the outfield.  First base is problematic, and unless I’m way off base that position will be filled by Trumbo or Montero, as the M’s expend resources trying to get more athletic in the outfield and add pitching depth.  It will take some careful scouting and roster juggling to insure these fragile resources aren’t wasted.

What have we learned about the Jerry DiPoto and the 2016 Mariners?

If you want to get a look inside the head of Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto, take a look at this article by David Laurila on FanGraphs.  It’s a great read and emphasizes a bit more specifically the things we’ve already heard in interviews: the use of analytics in roster construction and how they will contribute to developing a run-prevention strategy, and a little bit of a look at how it might differ from the 2008-9 Jack Zdurencik/Tony Blengino model.  This is must read stuff.

And we’re seeing practical evidence of this in the rumors and activity we see coming out of the annual GM meetings.  There are no rumors the M’s are in on the big free agents available with or without qualifying offers.  There is no discussion of a big bat.

Rather the rumors have swirled around potential trade partners as the Mariners seem to have dangled James Paxton for bait. The lure is for the centerfielder the M’s need.  The names: Peter Bourjos of the Cardinals, Leonys Martin of the Rangers, or Jackie Bradley, Jr. of the Red Sox.  The big name is Yankee Brett Gardner.  All are good defenders, though Gardner offers more offensively. My guess is nothing happens until Hisashi Iwakuma’s future is known, because losing Paxton blows another big hole in the rotation.

But there’s been action too.  Last week, sneaking in as a stealth acquisition, the M’s picked up outfielder Dan Robertson off the waiver wire.  The diminutive Angel may not amount to much, but in an organization without outfielders, he offers a little bit of insurance in the event of injury.

Yesterday the M’s announced they’d re-signed Franklin Gutierrez.  I could hear the clearing from the corner of Edgar and Dave all the way to Cheney Stadium and out to South Hill.  Today Bob Dutton tweeted DiPoto’s confirmation that Seth Smith and Guti would form the much expected platoon.  I could not be happier.

And today the M’s announced a trade with the Padres for 38 year-old right handed reliever Joaquin Benoit for a pair of young players in the low minor leagues.  He’s been pretty darned effective from the back end of the bullpen and has closer experience if needed. Benoit’s pretty costly at $7.5 million, but he also offers a modicum of stability.  And the Mariners may not be done with the bullpen.

Look we’re still pretty early in the Hot Stove League.  The Mariners still are unsettled in their rotation with Iwakuma or suitable replacement unsigned.  But the addition of Nate Karns is a great first step.  They’ve bolstered the bullpen with Benoit.  And they haven’t deviated from DiPoto’s stated philosophy of run prevention.  So far so good.

Young, Athletic and Controllable: What will it mean for 2016?

Is Boog Powell the Mariners centerfielder of the future?  If so when?

Is Boog Powell the Mariners centerfielder of the future? If so when?

After Thursday’s shot across baseball’s bow, and the first transaction of the season, the Mariners made a qualifying offer to starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.  Friday was the deadline for qualifying offers, and twenty major leaguers received them.  Players receiving QO’s can accept the offer, valued at $15.8 million for a one year deal, or reject it and pursue free agency.  Check MLBTradeRumors, for more explanation of this process.

Jerry DiPoto identified re-signing Iwakuma as a must do for the off season.  No player has ever accepted a qualifying offer since their implementation in 2013, but this could be a year when it happens.  Orioles catcher Matt Wieters received a QO, and with two injury-filled seasons behind him, and the offer carrying the burden of loss of highest available draft pick to a team that signs him, Wieters might choose to sign for a year rather than face a depressed free agent market.

I could see Iwakuma making the same choice.  Two consecutive seasons with significant time on the DL, as well as his age, 34, and the draft choice penalty all undermine his free agent value. Throw in the fact that Seattle really wants to keep him, he’s planted roots in the city, and maybe he snaps up the deal. Players must accept or reject qualifying offers within a week, so we should know Iwakuma’s intent soon.

Of the players receiving qualifying offers, the most interesting to the Mariners are K.C. outfielder Alex Gordon, Cubs OF Dexter Fowler, Cardinals OF Jason Heyward, Astros OF Colby Rasmus, Nationals SP Jordan Zimmerman, and Orioles SP Wei-yin Chen.  I would be utterly shocked if the M’s chased a player with a qualifying offer this year.  Their draft pick is unprotected, they gave up their first round pick for Nelson Cruz last year, and the cupboard is bare in their farm system.

The way forward for the Mariners seems less clear to me than I thought it did a few days ago.  And the trade didn’t help things much. Picking up Karns in a trade seems like a good thing.  Re-signing Iwakuma is a no-brainer–assuming it happens (on the other hand it’s somebody else’s brain, not mine.) Assuming Iwakuma’s re-signing, the rotation will be done.  There are still big outfield holes, the M’s still need to fill out a bullpen, and make some decisions about catching.  This team doesn’t have a dependable closer. The question is, how do the Mariners fill them?

The M’s sent one of their best trading chips in Brad Miller to Tampa.  DiPoto, in explaining the deal talked about acquiring young, controllable and athletic players.  He seems to have done that. His 12+ minute interview on Thursday with Danny, O’Neill, Dave Wyman and Jim Moore on 710ESPN shares his rationale for the deal.  Definitely worth a listen. He also identifies a number of players in addition to Logan Morrison and Brad Miller as “surplus.”  The list includes Mark Trumbo, Seth Smith, and Nelson Cruz.  Could these guys be traded too?  And if so for what pieces?

DiPoto also explains his commitment to young and controllable.  Makes perfect sense.  Young players with low salaries keeps the team constantly replenishing its talent while looking at more established and costly veterans to finish off a team.  The last few years the M’s have painted themselves into a bit of a salary corner with big contracts for Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager and Cruz.  Smith and Trumbo are also costly.

What’s more, the cheaper, cost-controlled pieces haven’t emerged to become key parts of the team.  Think of guys the Mariners gave up on or traded away because they didn’t work out here-Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Erasmo Ramirez, Abraham Almonte, Justin Smoak, Yoervis Medina, Dominic Leone, Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor, Brandon Maurer. Mike Zunino is another player teetering on the edge. All were pretty young and pretty cheap and all were Mariner properties when Lloyd McClendon became manager in 2013. All should be contributing to the next wave of Mariner success-but they aren’t To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson–the tree of victory must periodically be refreshed with the blood of young, athletic and controllable talent–unless you have the ridiculously bloated budget of the Dodgers.

But the M’s don’t have much of that handy at the moment.  Are they willing to sign veteran relievers, who are cheap.  Will they continue to play Nelson Cruz in right field because they can’t afford/aren’t willing to sign another right fielder?  Will they sign a veteran centerfielder, like Denard Span (or someone else-I’m a Span fan,) because Boog Powell won’t be ready by April, if at all in 2016?

Most importantly, does the wide range of Mariner needs, as well as a new guiding philosophy make it impossible for the M’s to rapidly become as competitive as they seemed to be in 2014?  Do they have to succeed in spite of the their big veteran contracts or will having their big bats and experienced arms be what gets them over the top?  It seems clear to me DiPoto doesn’t want to spend piles of cash on more veterans until that young nucleus is in place and that players like Tai Walker, Nate Karns, Ketel Marte, and yes, Boog Powell are a part of that.  I think he’s asking for a lot of grace from Mariners fans, though he hasn’t said as much.

Lots of questions, and the answers are all purely speculative.  It will be interesting to see what’s next for Mariners moves.  But that’s what makes this time of year so much fun.

It Didn’t Take Long to Start the Fun: M’s Make Six-Player Deal with Rays

I was sitting at my computer at my desk at school on a deadline night, hoping it could magically be 10:00.  As I was reading my umpteenth article on MyNorthwest.com about the travails of the Seahawks and how they might finish the season, with their ninth game ten days away  due to the bye week, a red headline flashed across the screen.  “Breaking-Mariners send Brad Miller, Logan Morrison to Tampa Bay in six player trade.”

Well interesting.  In fact Miller and Morrison were dealt along with relief pitcher Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay for pitchers Nathan Karns and C.J. Riefenhauser and minor league outfielder Herschel “Boog” Powell.  Karns threw 147 innings in 26 starts, with a 3.67 ERA, and an ERA+ of 107.  Record of 7-5, so you can get your trad stats fix. He’s four years older than Tai Walker, and his numbers aren’t as impressive.  Lefty Riefenhauser was used primarily as a reliever.  Seventeen pretty unproductive big league appearances, though his last seven appearances were scoreless.  Powell was the Rays’ #13 organizational prospect, plays CF and has not made a big league appearance.  He pencils in as someone who walks more than strikes out and plays good defense.

What does it all mean?  The M’s get a starting pitcher who is still learning at the major league level, a bullpen piece, and an outfielder who may help them.  Importantly, all of them are cost controlled, and mostly they parted with Miller. Morrison was going to cost $4 millionish in arbitration and maybe even non-tendered, Farquhar simply didn’t have it at all in 2015.  So the M’s give up Miller and some not terribly valuable pieces for some not terribly experienced, but potentially valuable pieces.  It’s likely this deal can only be judged against other moves that DiPoto makes.

The M’s do move some salary.  In addition to Morrison’s considerable salary, Miller and Farquhar were both slated for their first year of arbitration.  So the deal likely clears $6-7million from the books providing some flexibility in the M’s salary picture, and M’s get three players that may or may not be helpful, cost controlled for a long time, making very little cash.

What may be encouraging is that DiPoto fired the opening shot in the Hot Stove Leagues.  Hopefully he does the same to fill in some of the other big holes–starting pitching, bullpen, outfield and whatever he may be thinking at

The Keys to Winning at Safeco Field: Run Prevention

1. David Price, 2. Zach Greinke, 3. Johnny Cueto

There’s lots of shoulder shrugging out there in Marinerland. The GM is hired.  Scott Servais is in the fold.  Staffs are being filled out and re-shuffled on the field and in the front office. But Mariners fans really want to know how the new regime will take a 2016 team, one that failed so miserably in 2015, after being so close in 2014, and get it to the Promised Land-the playoffs.

4. John Lackey, 5. J.A. Happ, 6. Jordan Zimmerman

I’m sure Jerry DiPoto has already discussed philosophy and strategy with his new colleagues going forward.  My guess is there is already a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C in place.  Most teams have these, though Jack Zdurencik always had a plan largely grounded in sunshine, lollipops, the odd unicorn and fairy godmothers.  DiPoto and manager Scott Servais made comments about winning at Safeco, and to do that, it seems to me the Mariners have to focus more resources on pitching and defense-run prevention.

7. Wei-Yin Chin, 8.  Jeff Samardzija, 9. Colby Lewis

Last year, the Mariners pitching staff was bad.  We’re not used to saying it or hearing it, but Mariners pitching was in the bottom third in the big leagues. Especially coming off an exceptional 2014, that was disconcerting. But just to illustrate how lousy the 2015 team was compared to 2014, let’s have a quick look.

Stat                                          2014                                   2015

Runs Allowed                           554 (1st)                            726 (20th)

ERA                                         3.17 (1st)                            4.16 (22nd)

WHIP                                       1.17 (tied 3rd)                     1.31 (tied 16th)

BABIP                                      .275 (2nd)                           .298 (tied 12th highest)

xFIP                                          3.57 (tied 5th lowest)          .399 (tied 13th lowest)

BLSV/SO/SV%                         12/63/80.95% (3rd)             24/69/65.22% (22nd)

10. Bartolo Colon, 11. Yovani Gallardo, 12. Scott Kazmir

In 2014 the Seattle Mariners were within one game of the playoffs, in 2015 the were ten games out of the second wild card, and 12 games behind the division leading Rangers. As the M’s begin counting their chips and determine how to allot them in the offseason through trades, free agent signings and waiver acquisitions, a blind man could see the pitching has to improve IF they truly plan to compete for the playoffs with this current core of players.

13. Mark Buehrle, 14. Mike Pelfrey, 15. Marco Estrada

The trios of names appearing are lists of free agent starting pitchers available.  Beginning with David Price, the highest rated pitcher on the market rated by WAR.  The lists follow down to number 20.  Assuming the M’s start with the following guys on their roster-Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Roenis Elias-in order to compete the M’s likely need two guys off this list if they want to upgrade their rotation to be competitive for a pennant race in 2016.

16. Hisashi Iwakuma, 17. Brett Anderson, 18.  Mike Leake, 19.  Mat Latos, 20. Rich Hill

Re-signing Iwakuma is a no brainer.  It just depends how much the M’s are willing to dip into their pile of available cash to sign another guy. We’ve seen in 2014 and 2015 there will be injuries on pitching staffs.  The key is being prepared to deal with them.  Iwakuma and Paxton both spent time on the DL in 2014 and 2015.  Walker was also injured in 2014.  Answering the call with Mike Montgomery, Vidal Nuno, and Edgar didn’t cut it.  If the M’s want to win, they’ll have to spend the money–because certainly good pitchers, left-  and right-handed are available. It will unquestionable cost money, and buckets of it–but that’s baseball.  Unfortunately, for the best of the pitchers, they’ll also likely carry a qualifying offer as well–so signing them will cost the M’s their first round draft pick.  For a team whose farm system needs a reboot, that’s a lot to ask.

  1. Darren O’Day, 2. Mark Lowe, 3. Shawn Kelley, 4. Ryan Madson, 5. Brad Ziegler, 6. Chad Qualls, 7. Matt Albers, 8. Burke Badenhoop, 9. Carlos Villanueva, 10. Blaine Boyer, 11. Tyler Clippard, 12. Matt Belisle.

But firming up the starting rotation is not going to be enough.  The Mariners will have to improve their bullpen, which went from one of the very best to one of the very worst. I don’t think the slash stats demonstrate how terrible they were, allowing the most walk-off hits in the major leagues. Who the Mariners would actually keep in their coven of arsonists is hard to predict, but the most likely suspects are Carson Smith, Tom Wilhelmsen, Vidal Nuno and Charlie Furbush. Rebuilding the bullpen is a matter of the highest priority.  Those above, are the highest ranked right handed relievers available.

  1. Tony Sipp, 2. Antonio Bastardo, 3. Oliver Perez, 4. Manny Para, 5. Matt Thornton, 6. J.P. Howell

These are the top six lefties available.  The M’s have a pile of young gas-can wielding southpaws-Rob Rasmussen, David Rollins, Tyler Olsen-gives me the willies. Again, the players are out there to bolster the pen if the Mariners make them a priority.

Having an improved pitching staff is the most obvious front line in run prevention.  But team defense is also an important part of the conversation.  How bad was the Mariners defense?  They ranked 28th in defensive runs saves with -43.7. Outfield defense is very problematic for the Mariners.  This gives you an idea of the Mariners outfield defense. Of the returning players, only Seth Smith has a positive UZR rating. The rest are all bad, some really bad. Some can be attributed to Sean O’Malley and Brad Miller playing a new position, especially center field. But it’s clear the M’s must upgrade their outfield defense if they hope to support the work of their pitching staff AND take advantage of spacious Safeco Field.

There are certainly players available who are great outfielders and good offensive players too. Yoenis Cespedes and Jason Heyward are ranked 1 and 2 respectively among available free agents, and both can play center field.  But the M’s will likely have to choose between superior pitching or a high priced offensive player.  I look for them to pick up a strong center fielder, and letting Miller and O’Malley duke it out for a corner outfield spot–or perhaps picking up a young player in a trade without a clear path to a starting job.  But I don’t look for a star to shine in Safeco Field’s center field.

I know there are those who believe the road to winning is to pick up Chris Davis, Cespedes and call it good. That’s the same ol’, same ol’. It won’t win at Safeco. A team can’t simply hope to bludgeon its opponents to death.  We are in an age of pitching dominance, and the Mariners have to catch that wave. The Royals have demonstrated it’s possible to win without hitting tons of home runs on a team with good starting pitching, a brilliant bullpen and superb defense. The Mariners and their fans would do well to consider these factors as the season moves to a conclusion and the beginning of the Hot Stove League.


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