We're a week into baseball season. There have been injuries, mixed results from Felix Hernandez and added excitement in the leadoff spot. The Mariners are 3-3, and beat writer Ryan Divish is here to answer your questions.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Mariners’ season is now a week old. And there’s been a lot to take in from those six games. Two key players — Mike Zunino and Nelson Cruz — are already on the disabled list with injuries, including one from a failure to properly negotiate the dugout stairs. Felix Hernandez has made two starts with two very different results. His first was an example of what he could be going forward while his second was a reminder of what he’s been for much of the last two seasons. Dee Gordon has been outstanding. And the offense when it isn’t leaving a small village of runners on base is solid.
But there are still more questions than answer from this small sample size of the season. In that spirit, we decided to answer a few questions from Mariners fans. All of these questions were solicited from the eclectic and sometimes frightening mix of personalities that are my Twitter followers.
I’ve written more words about an eagle in the last day than I will for the rest of my life. And that story seems to have generated more interest than anything I’ve written in quite a while, which leaves me feeling like that eagle handler was feeling on Thursday at Target Field.
The Mariners aren’t cursed by a witch or a supernatural entity. I consulted Dr. Peter Venkman, a notable scientist and a professional paranormal investigator, on the situation and he said there is no such issue. Though he would not rule out a curse from the upside down trident worn on the spring training hats. Five to one says those hats won’t be coming back next spring.
In all seriousness, many fans are angrily blaming or mocking Dr. Lorena Martin, the Mariners’ new director of high performance, for the rash of injuries this spring. That’s illogical and a little unfair. Perhaps general manager Jerry Dipoto was too optimistic and over-gushed about her immediate impact, which he has been known to do with things.
Realistically, Martin’s impact, whatever it may be, won’t be felt immediately. It’s about building in a process and implementing changes that over time should yield the results that were touted. Also a few the Mariners injuries — Felix Hernandez and Marco Gonzales getting hit by line drives, Cruz falling down the stairs and Andrew Romine popping his shoulder out of socket — are out of her control.
The Mariners also have old guys. And old guys deal with injury issues more often, even with proper preparation. They have 13 players age 30 or older on the current roster. Unless Ponce De Leon was actually right and Martin somehow found his map to the Fountain of Youth, there will be more injuries this season.
Speaking of injuries …
So I went back and listened to Dipoto’s session with the media after the Phelps injury and he didn’t really phrase it that way. Perhaps, he said it on his podcast episode. Admittedly, I’m not a diehard listener to it. He did say that they were going to target relievers for depth on their 40-man roster and beyond, so that would come in the form of waiver claims or perhaps a signing a free agent to a minor league contract.
To be fair, there is no replacing David Phelps and what he would have meant to the bullpen, at least not right now at this point in the season. Phelps was an experienced and effective power reliever that was capable of getting strikeouts and working more than one inning if needed. The only pitcher that would’ve been similar to his skillset in the organization is Juan Nicasio.
The Mariners plan was to have Phelps and Nicasio as set-up men for Edwin Diaz with Marc Rzepczynski able to work in with them if there was a left-on-left situation. That would mean that Nick Vincent and Dan Altavilla would work in less leverage situations.
Unfortunately, the Mariners will never really know what could’ve been with a full contingent in pitchers in their bullpen. Phelps pitched a total 8 1/3 innings for them.
As for in-house candidates, there are some power arms, but how much impact they could have is uncertain. Nick Rumbelow is still dealing with nerve issues in his neck and is not throwing. Ryan Cook, Mike Morin and Erik Goeddel all have MLB experience and will be in Tacoma. None of the three are on the 40-man roster.
Warren, who is in Class AA Arkansas’ bullpen, certainly has the potential to be a guy to help later in the season. He struggled in his last few Cactus League outings. His fastball velocity had dipped and the Mariners believed it was fatigue. Seattle’s other top relief prospect Matt Festa is still dealing with injury issues and is not on a minor league roster.
With it being this early in the season, the odds of the Mariners acquiring an impact reliever are slim. Teams aren’t looking to get rid of useful pitchers a week into the season. It’s something they could visit perhaps in midseason, if they had the right prospects to trade.
Speaking of minor league prospects …
Mariners fans should be very concerned. Look, Dipoto and Mariners director of player development Andy McKay can disagree with the farm system rankings of Baseball America, ESPN’s Keith Law, Fangraphs and other sites that have them as worst or close to the worst system in baseball. They’ve made some valid points on how they rankings are measured or even why rankings matter.
It’s about talent and the Mariners system is lacking in it. We’re talking elite talent. Yes, plenty of can’t-miss prospects miss. Jesus Montero anyone? But the Mariners are short on them.
The Mariners single-best prospect is outfielder Kyle Lewis. And if you talk to any talent evaluator, they will tell you that Lewis is a future big leaguer and possible all-star. But the knee issues that have stemmed from that fluke play where his knee exploded on a slide into home have not allowed him to stay on the field. His development didn’t just hit a speed bump. It veered on Clark Griswold-level detour.
Following a second surgery, he’s hoping to be back on the field in May. But if not for the injuries, Lewis would be playing in Class AA this season and eying a possible September call-up.
The Mariners’ best starting pitching prospect — right-hander Sam Carlson — was drafted last year, which isn’t a good hint of the level of the rest of starting pitching in the organization prior. Carlson pitched in two games in the Arizona rookie league before being shut down with elbow issues. There was some concern Tommy John surgery may needed eventually.
People scoff at the notion of the “Big 3” of James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen. Were they unfairly hyped by some media folks and also by the Mariners at the behest of former GM Jack Zduriencik? Definitely. But Paxton and Walker are legit big league starters with Paxton’s potential to be an ace still there. Right now, the Mariners don’t have Big 3 or even a Big 1 in the organization.
Shameless plug alert: That’s a conundrum that I’ve discussed with Larry Stone often on our Extra Innings podcast at the Seattle Times.
Ichiro is a hall of fame player. But right now, he’s not more productive than a healthy Ben Gamel. Father Time is undefeated in the era of clean baseball and Ichiro can’t win.
The Mariners want to carry eight relievers. That’s been their plan all along. They wanted to have a shortened bench, which is a reason they targeted the ultra-versatile Andrew Romine, who can play anywhere and is also a switch hitter.
They can’t carry five outfielders and Nelson Cruz on a roster. So you have Gamel, Dee Gordon and Mitch Haniger as your every day guys. That leaves Ichiro and Guillermo Heredia. Would the Mariners honestly send Heredia, who is their best overall defensive outfielder, to Class AAA Tacoma to keep Ichiro on the roster? That would make no sense. Did the Mariners have some sort of agreement when they brought Ichiro back about a possible retirement or release to avoid an uncomfortable Griffey goodbye? Based on everything we’ve seen from Ichiro, it doesn’t seem that way. He believes he’s here to stay.
It’s one thing to be respectful to the past, but when part of your past is not making the postseason for 16 years, you don’t want to keep repeating it.