HOUSTON – The MLB trade deadline has now passed and the asking price for a weekly Twitter mailbag to be the final piece of someone’s baseball coverage was simply too high. You don’t move this sort of production without a major return.

Sources confirm that the Twitter mailbag will remain in the organization and the Times will make it part of the future and build around it. Credit goes to Ryan Divish, who was the first to report this situation.

And there is no truth to the reports that columnist Larry Stone was being aggressively shopped in a package that included Seahawks writer Bob Condotta in a blockbuster deal. Also the usage of “Told me” and “I asked” by journalists should be punishable under law.

As always these are real questions submitted by the players to be named later, also known as my Twitter followers.

Mariners Sunday Mailbag

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It’s hard to know what Kikuchi is or isn’t yet. Beyond his inconsistency on the field, he’s dealt with plenty of things off the field – adapting to a new culture, the death of his father and the birth of his first child.

It’s fair to call this first season a disappointment. He’s 4-8 with a 5.49 ERA in 23 starts. In 118 innings pitched, he’s struck out 84 and walked 38 while giving up a whopping 28 homers, tied for the most in baseball. He’s giving up 2.1 homers per nine innings. Yes, homers are up all over baseball due to the changed baseball. But his inconsistent command with his fastball and the spotty movement on his slider have been problems.

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He’s found that MLB hitters all have power. In Japan, teams might have three to four hitters that are true home run threats. In the majors, particularly the American League, the threat of a homer on a mistake pitch is there for every hitter. That kind of threat can make pitchers to try to force the ball onto the corners. And what we’ve seen is that his command with his pitches has not been good enough to do that on a consistent basis. Also Kikuchi was one of the harder throwers in Japan. Few lefties in Nippon Professional Baseball pitched with his sort of velocity. But he’s found out that in MLB, his stuff is relatively common.

It appears teams have also figured out some of his patterns and pitch choices. In Friday’s loss, Astros hitters spit on his slider out of the strike zone, refusing to chase. They knew he went to that pitch when he got ahead in counts and rarely threw for it strike. With his strikeout pitch nullified, he was forced back into the strike zone and was hit hard.  He does need to develop his changeup to be more a viable pitch to use against right-handed hitters. It’s a pitch that when executed properly has some downward movement away from them.

Given his maniacal work ethic, his attention to detail, his use of advanced technology and his willingness to adapt, I don’t necessarily believe this who he is as a pitcher. There should be growth from this first year to next year. That’s expected of any prospect after their first full season at the big-league level. Why should Kikuchi be any different? Yes, he’s older and pitched at a high level in Japan. But it’s clear that the difficulties of pitching at the MLB level have been an eye opener. The Mariners made it clear that this season was about development and adjustment for him. Next season should be vastly more telling about whether he will be a legitimate mid-rotation starter for this team or another failed acquisition by the Mariners.


It’s unlikely they’ll send him down this season. There’s 50 games left. He’s going to make a handful more starts and he has to learn to pitch at the big-league level. Going down to Tacoma isn’t going to provide the type of competition that he’s struggled with this season. From what I can tell, his confidence in himself isn’t shattered or even cracked. He seems more frustrated by his lack of success and inconsistency. But like most players, he’s also process driven with the belief that if he continues to prepare and work, he will find success. We’ve seen brief glimpses of it at times this season. The talent is certainly apparent. The execution has been sporadic at best.

Obviously, if he were to start next season and struggle, they would have to consider sending him down. But right now, they want to continue to work with him at the MLB level and continue his development.


People always use the over/under aspect when looking for a specific number. Vegas sets the over/under numbers in a way to generate maximum action on both sides. Like over/under 3,500 words for this mailbag. (Editor’s note: Over)

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Obviously they aren’t making the playoffs this year, and the streak will be extended 18 years. If you figure this rebuild process won’t yield true success until 2022, that’s 21 years.

Let’s add one year because they are the Mariners.  So set the over/under at 22 straight years.

I might still take the over on that.


Based on everything we’ve seen, I don’t see a rapid demise. They weakened the depth in their farm system by sending all those prospects for Zack Greinke, but not as much as it would hurt other organizations. They didn’t have to give up their two most talented prospects — Kyle Tucker or Forrest Whitley. There is some thought that free agency and the rising cost of their developed players will force some difficult decisions from a financial standpoint.

They were able to sign Alex Bregman to a five-year extension, but George Springer will be a free agent after the 2020 season and Carlos Correa will be a free agent after 2021. Can they keep both of them? They’ll likely lose Gerrit Cole to free agency after this season. But given how they seem to repair the careers of struggling but talented pitchers, is there any reason to think that Aaron Sanchez won’t regain his form in Houston? (Author’s note: this was written before Sanchez pitched Saturday night).

Will Justin Verlander and Jose Altuve continue to perform at high levels and avoid major injury in their late 30s? How will Greinke handle the new situation?

After committing to tanking for four seasons, the Astros have not only rebuilt their organization into a winner, but the people making the baseball decisions are smart enough to find ways to make it sustainable, perhaps not at the highest level of yearly World Series contender, but a level that the Mariners haven’t felt in two decades. They’ve been solid in drafting and development. It might not always resemble a juggernaut, but it’s also difficult to see it falling off a cliff.


I don’t think opposing team’s acquisitions should have a major effect on the Mariners’ timetable. The biggest impact on whether the Mariners will be good is the development of their slew of prospects and how well they adjust to the difficulties of playing at baseball’s highest level. Yes, the goal is to get to the Astros level to compete for a division title. But there’s a lot that needs to go right for that to even be considered a possibility.

Anyone that has been watching this closely should point to 2022 as a season where the Mariners should take a step forward – perhaps not playoffs, but playing a level of baseball that we haven’t seen this season.


Nobody as of now. They’ll use a four-man rotation. They won’t add a fifth starter until the series in Tampa. By then, I’d expect it to be Justus Sheffield.


Do you honestly think they’d allow someone like me into a front office position? I dislike people. I hate to wear dress clothes. I’m an irascible grouch. I have poor organizational management. I’m bad with numbers and data. And I also have attention-deficit issues. Does that sound like someone the Mariners should hire to work in the front office?

Well, maybe they should go with George Constanza philosophy and do the opposite of what they’ve always done with hiring personnel. But can they afford me?


I think any free agent they focus on will be on a one-year deal at most. And they will be guys looking to have bounce-back seasons or veteran guys on minor league deals with invites to big league spring training. We’ve seen this sort of bargain shopping this past offseason.

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Kyle Seager is part of the Mariners plans through 2021 if for no other reason than they can’t trade him. Another gentle reminder, Seager has a “poison pill” clause in his contract that changes a $15-plus million option for the 2022 season from a club option to a player option. So while Seager has two years and $37 million officially remaining on his deal with the Mariners, any club that trades for him would be forced to pick up that extra $15 million in 2022.

As for Shed Long, he’s played in 19 big league games and this was first season above the Class AA level. I don’t know that we really know who he is or isn’t as a player and whether he’s part of their future plans.


Mentioned this other day in the trade story, the Mariners are projecting to have a payroll of over $80 million without adding any pieces in the offseason. That includes the $23 million in owed salaries for Robinson Cano, Jay Bruce, Mike Leake and Edwin Encarnacion and another $48 million in guaranteed MLB contracts. Here’s a very useful link from Mariners’ fan Darrin Gossler, who meticulously updates this spreadsheet.


Here’s a quote from general manager Jerry Dipoto in his recent conference call on Wednesday: “We don’t expect to go into the offseason scouring the free-agent market at the top of the food chain.”

That doesn’t sound like a GM interested in dumping a bunch of money on Gerrit Cole or Madison Bumgarner or Yasiel Puig.

The Mariners are still in the embryonic stages of this rebuild. Yeah, they have lots of prospects, some of which are close to being big league ready, but not all will succeed immediately or completely. They won’t really know where they are at in this process till about midway through the 2021 season. So it doesn’t seem like adding free agents, which they would have to overpay to sign because of their location and losing, would be their best course of action for a team that will probably 90-plus games next year and might only start to come together in 2021.

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As for money freed up, it comes more useful after the 2020 season than after this season.


Well, Jon, he’s shown the ability to throw strikes, command his sinking fastball and not pitch like he did in Tacoma, which forced his demotion.

In nine starts with Class AA Arkansas, he’s 4-2 with a 1.64 ERA. He’s thrown 60 1/3 innings with 65 strikes and just 14 walks. Opponents have a .219 batting average with a .542 slugging percentage against him. Of the 840 pitches, he’s thrown 68 percent have been strikes.

Let’s compare that to his time with Tacoma, where he was 2-6 with a 6.87 ERA in 13 appearances. In 55 innings pitched, he had 48 strikeouts and 41 walks with a strike percentage under 60.

He’s been able to rediscover a confidence that was lost in the Pacific Coast League with their launching pad parks and use of MLB’s baseball, which is the equivalent of a superball. There are some scouts believed that he pitched too fine and tried to nibble on the corners to avoid the possibility of home runs instead of attacking early and getting ahead in counts.

I think the showing Arkansas warrants a return. This season is about development. The kid had struggles, took the demotion, pitched better and figured some things out. Do you want to punish him for the early struggles by not bringing him back up in a meaningless big league season? How does that help his development?

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I expect will see Sheffield make a start in the series vs. the Rays at T-Mobile Park.


There is no limit for players used by a team. Following the MLB debuts of Reggie McClain and Zac Grotz on Friday evening, the Mariners have now used 61 total players this season and 38 pitchers. The MLB record for most players used is 64 by the 2014 Rangers. Seattle hasn’t even gotten to September where the active roster expands to the 40-man roster.

So if they are 61 now, they are going to add outfielder Jake Fraley in the coming days along with lefty Taylor Guilbeau, who they recently acquired. They are expected to call-up right-handed pitcher Justin Dunn and outfielder Kyle Lewis in September. Lefty Ricardo Sanchez is also on the 40-man roster and could be brought up.

So that’s possibly 66 guys. Maybe toss in another pitcher or two, and you get to 68.

But I will say 69.

 


It seems like a plausible number. I’ve lost track of all the trades he’s made since he took over as general manager. But I would say it’s been a plethora of trades. If your gut says 20 percent of Dipoto’s trades were dead end, how does that compare with other general managers. Is it a similar rate of attrition?

It’s easy to get caught up in the Mariners’ moves without seeing that many other teams are making similar moves – perhaps not quite the volume. And what is their success rate? And how do you define success? Let’s say you trade a player for cash considerations of $100,000, and that player gives you three months of replacement level play at the MLB level before being DFA’d or moved.

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Isn’t that value on some level?


Legitimate questions are never annoying, unless they come from my friends on the staff. They will absolutely try to trade Dee Gordon and Domingo Santana this offseason. If they were were willing to shop them at the recent deadline then they are going to do it again once the World Series ends.

Gordon, 30, has one year remaining on his contract. He’s owed $13.5 million for next season with a $1 million buyout for a 2021 mutual option. With Shed Long possibly the heir apparent at second base, the Mariners would prefer to move Gordon to allow Long to work with J.P. Crawford and infield coach Perry Hill on a daily basis.

Given Gordon’s lost season that’s been derailed by nagging injuries, his value isn’t supremely high. The Mariners are going to have eat some money on his contract if they expect to move him. Teams aren’t going to pay that much for a second baseman that has had down years the past two seasons. If Seattle doesn’t find an optimal deal, they could start the season with Gordon as the second baseman and hopes he plays well enough to move him as a rental at some point during the 2020 season.

But any prospect return for him will be minimal.

The Mariners should try to capitalize on Santana’s bounce-back season and see if they can move him for some prospect return. While Santana has been productive, he reaches free agency after the 2021 season. That doesn’t really fit the Mariners’ step-back timeline of success. Given his age (26), his defensive issues and the passel of outfield prospects in the organization, he’s not necessarily a player Seattle is looking to offer an extension, even a short one.


It’s possible there could be changes, but usually teams have to make requests to MLB for significant uniform changes or color adjustments more than a year in advance. I don’t see the Mariners making another significant uniform change after adding the alternate Sunday uniforms a few years ago.

What is the saying: “Good teams win games and bad teams change uniforms.” Another season like this year, and there could be a uniform change in Seattle along with other changes.

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Hope you enjoyed Cheney Stadium. It really is a fantastic place to watch a baseball game, particularly when you have Summit Club tickets. Trust me on this. It’s also great environment for children though they kicked my off the swing sets and made me stop hitting bombs on the wiffleball field.

A quick glance at the Rainiers roster serves as a reminder of how many players I don’t know in this organization. Of that group – I would list outfielder Jake Fraley, infielder Shed Long, who is on the 7-day disabled list, left-handed pitcher Taylor Guilbeau and perhaps a few other pitchers as part of the future. A good portion of the rest of them are destined for minor league free agency. Some may return on minor league deals, but they are just guys stuck in that quadruple A limbo of being competent in Class AAA but not good enough to stick at the MLB level.


I’ve answered some form of this on multiple occasions. But realistically if Ian Miller was in the Mariners’ future plans, he would have already been on the 40-man roster and called up on different occasions given the Mariners injury issues. He’s been passed on the organizational depth chart by multiple players. It’s clear that the Mariners believe he is a fourth outfielder at best, which is a similar evaluation from opposing scouts. But teams need fourth outfielders with speed. Miller is a minor league free agent after this season. He’ll be with a new organization next season.


Given the roster turnover for the Mariners since general manager Jerry Dipoto has taken over, buying a jersey for any current player might not be a wise investment. But then again is a jersey a wise investment as an adult? I never have understood the jersey culture and people’s desire to wear them to games. Then again grown men bring their baseball gloves to games too.

But the basis of the question is whether Nola sticks around for next year and beyond. I wouldn’t have thought so when he was first called up. But his versatility is a huge bonus and he’s shown to be a better hitter than expected. He can play first base, second base, outfield and most importantly, catcher. That sort of flexibility kept Chris Gimenez around the big leagues for quite a long time. Even with Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy, keeping Nola and putting him at Tacoma to start next season isn’t a bad thing. You have a trusted player to call-up if needed.


I want it to be good. But it can’t possibly be good. I’m trying to think of any show that’s had a return after an extended absence that has been good. Also it really isn’t 90210 without Dylan McKay. And with the death of Luke Perry, the absence will be noticeable. But I will be watching to see which ones have had work done to their faces to look younger.

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I’d start with these:

  • Randy Rogers Band – my favorite group.
  • Turnpike Troubadours
  • Whiskey Myers
  • Hayes Carll
  • Tyler Childers
  • The Band of Heathens

Dale Phelps, who is now the executive editor at The News Tribune in Tacoma, is one of the reasons I have my job covering the Mariners. In college, I was an intern at the TNT in 2000 and Dale was the sports editor. And while I was a cocky punk that thought I was really good when I really wasn’t, he liked me for some reason.

A few years later when I was working at the Havre Daily News, I ran into him at an APSE convention and he remembered me. A year and half later, while I was covering Idaho State University sports for the Idaho State Journal, Dale asked me to apply for job as the prep coordinator at the TNT. I didn’t get that job. They instead hired me as a general assignment sports writer and it brought me back to the Puget Sound in 2006. He was patient and smart. He put up with mytemper tantrums, my desire to move up and cover bigger beats and unwillingness to wear pants and collared shirts. I remember tearing up the day I told him I was leaving for the Times. I felt like I was disappointing him. But if he doesn’t remember me from my time in Tacoma, I’m probably not in the business and riding a train in Montana.

As for an impact, I’ve never considered it. But to me, it’s simple … the job, the coverage isn’t about me. Never make yourself part of the story. It’s about the work — the reporting and the stories. My biggest reservation about the mailbag is having to use first person. So if I could somehow make it so a few less journalists use the phrases: “I asked,” or “Told me,” or “As I have reported,” well, then journalism would be a better place.


Ah, the old saying of my hometown. It was “Havre Has It.” To which people often said, yes, Havre has it, we aren’t sure what it is, but it’s probably cured with antibiotics.

Then the chamber of commerce changed the town slogan to “Havre, it’s the people.” Oddly, they did that after I moved out of town, which is probably logical. I’ve also seen it called “the Jewel of Hi-Line” and “Havre, Montana – an easy pace of life.”

I will never disparage my hometown. It’s an imperfect little place with brutal winters, mosquitoes the size of airplanes and a 25-mph speed limit in town. But I always felt safe and was blessed with opportunities. It’s home. It will always be home.

As Will Hoge sang in his song “Growing up around here”:

“Yeah I know someday/No matter how far I roam

Oh I’ll end up back this way/ And I’ll call this place home”