As the last out was made of the Mariners’ 5-3 win over the Rockies, the roof of T-Mobile Park slowly began to open, eventually bringing in the late afternoon sunshine that bathed the right-field stands in warmth.
There in the third deck of right field, where the sun shined brightest and longest, above the Hit It Here Cafe and the suites that sit above it, is the spot where Daniel Vogelbach deposited a majestic home run on May 27 last season. He was just the third player to ever hit a ball into that third deck in the stadium’s history. Boston’s Mo Vaughn was the first back in 1999, depositing a Gil Meche pitch there. Nearly two years later, on Aug. 7, 2001, Toronto’s Carlos Delgado put a ball up in the third deck off Arthur Rhodes.
At the time, the prodigious blast only added to the growing phenomenon that was Vogelbach, a home-run hitter who drew comparisons to Chris Farley and Kyle Schwarber, and the social-media moniker of “Large Adult Son.” At that point, he’d hit 15 “Vogel-bombs” and driven in 32 runs in 40 games and was on his way to making the American League All-Star Game.
But it appears that version of Vogelbach is a wistful memory. And his time with the organization, or at least on the team’s active roster, could be ending in the near future.
Given his struggles that started in the middle of last season, continued through the interrupted spring training and resumed during summer camp where he looked noticeably heavier and out of sync, multiple MLB sources have said the Mariners have had discussions about Vogelbach’s future with the organization. A resolution could come within the next few days or weeks in this shortened 60-game season.
Vogelbach came back from baseball’s shutdown about 20 pounds heavier, per sources. His rusty-looking swing and reduced bat speed were met with frustration from the organization, which wondered what he did during those months.
Multiple opposing MLB scouts have long felt that Vogelbach will eventually need to trim down and find greater swing and core flexibility as pitchers have been able to beat him with fastballs under his hands.
His showing Sunday was indicative of how the Mariners have reached this tipping point. Vogelbach went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. With the Mariners holding a 2-0 lead in the seventh inning and desperate for insurance runs for their beleaguered bullpen, Vogelbach came to the plate with runners on second and third and no outs. He swung at a first-pitch slider from a tiring German Marquez, the Rockies starter, and hit a weak ground ball to first base that didn’t allow a run to score. Standing near the top step of the dugout, M’s manager Scott Servais dropped his head and gave it a shake in disgust.
In the eighth inning, Vogelbach came to the plate with Rockies reliever Tyler Kinley in disarray, having hit Dylan Moore and walked Kyle Lewis and Kyle Seager to load the bases with one out. Kinley had thrown 17 pitches and only four strikes at that point. Vogelbach had another chance to provide some additional insurance that was needed.
Kinley fed him a diet of all sliders — seven total. Vogelbach laid off the first two out of the zone, swung and missed at a 2-0 slider, fouled off a 2-1 slider, watched a slider in the dirt, fouled off another slider and then swung and missed badly on a 3-2 slider.
He walked slowly back to the dugout. Dejection had replaced anger.
If the Mariners needed further proof in their decision-making process, this didn’t help Vogelbach.
In 12 games this season, Vogelbach has a .088/.176/.262 slash line with just three hits in 34 at-bats with a homer and two RBI, eight walks and nine strikeouts.
But these issues started last season when teams, specifically opposing pitchers, started to adjust to his hot start at the plate. They found some holes in his swing and an approach they could expose. Once one team does it, others will follow.
Vogelbach slashed .244/.379/.519 with 11 doubles, 20 homers and 48 RBI over the first three months (79 games played) of the season. From July 1 to the end of the season (65 games played), he posted a .162/.290/.338 line with six doubles, 10 homers, 28 RBI, 36 walks and 78 strikeouts. The strikeout numbers were alarming.
This year, the Mariners had planned to limit his exposure against left-handed pitching when possible. He posted a .161/.288/.315 slash line with four doubles, five homers, 17 RBI, 20 walks and 40 strikeouts against lefties last year.
Given his limitations on defense, and with Evan White taking over at first base and several utility players on the active roster, Vogelbach’s role has been reduced to a platoon designated hitter.
In so many ways, he doesn’t fit the Mariners’ organizational philosophy other than his willingness to work the count. You can overlook the fact that he’s only a DH if he produces at the plate and provides the power this team is lacking. But he hasn’t been doing that for an extended time period. And when/if the roster goes back to 26 players next season, do you carry a part-time DH on it?
From a contract standpoint, Vogelbach makes the MLB minimum this year and next year. He’s out of minor-league options. So if the Mariners take him off the active roster, he’d have to be designated for assignment. If he clears waivers, they could outright him to the alternate training site in Tacoma and keep him in the organization.
The Mariners could use Vogelbach’s spot on the roster to bring back either Jake Fraley or Braden Bishop and use the DH spot to get one of the infielders they’ve been using in the outfield to get their at-bats. When catcher Tom Murphy gets healthy, they could use him or Austin Nola at the DH spot and even carry a third catcher.
But right now, this isn’t working for the Mariners or Vogelbach. He isn’t the only player whose future with the organization is being discussed. Outfielder Mallex Smith, who didn’t play Sunday, has essentially lost his starting job in center to Lewis and daily playing time to utility players Moore, Dee Gordon and Tim Lopes in the outfield.
He has a .135/.179/.189 slash line with five hits in 37 at-bats with two doubles, three RBI, two walks and 11 strikeouts while playing below-average defense in right field. He could also be on the way out.
Some of these roster decisions would’ve seemed more logical around the Aug. 31 trade deadline. But the lack of production and with no real future role in the organization’s rebuild plan could force the process to the now.