As the dog days of August set in and the lack of air conditioning in many homes in the Puget Sound becomes a temporary regret, remember that we are probably two weeks away from 65-degree highs, daily rain of various strengths and overnight lows in the mid 40s. Baseball and meteorology, the Twitter Mailbag is all about versatility. But there will be no succumbing to this marathon grind. Finishing strong is a must with only about six of these left in the season.
As always, these are real questions submitted by the collection of make-good people and misanthropes that are my Twitter followers.
Ah, yes, the Mount Rushmore question. A favorite of sports-talk radio, social media and sports-bar debates to choose the four most important people for any collective.
It can lead to vigorous and passionate arguments. As a bartender, I once had to break up a fight over the Mount Rushmore of Montana high-school basketball players. For the record that’s: Wayne Estes, Larry Krystkowiak, Elvis Old Bull and Larry Pretty Weasel.
My Mount Rushmore of loathsome Mariners I’ve covered: Chone Figgins, Jeremy Reed, Casey Kotchman and Danny Valencia.
As to Tim’s question, it seems like there are four simple choices given the Mariners’ history of success or lack thereof when it comes to postseason accomplishments. This is a nonfan’s take on the choices:
Ken Griffey Jr.: He changed the perception of the franchise while also making the game cool to a generation of young fans. Think about the number of kids that emulated Griffey with their hats backward and that upright batting stance. The Mariners had some good players in the organization when he debuted in 1989, but he took the team to a different level. It was clear from the day he was drafted that he was a generational talent and the franchise’s first true superstar. Imagine if George Argyros would’ve made the front office draft Mike Harkey like he wanted to do.
Edgar Martinez: Junior might have been the most talented player in Mariners history, but Martinez is the most beloved. Besides producing numbers that earned him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame, there is an attachment and devotion to Martinez from Mariners fans that no other player in this franchise’s history can claim. He was signed, developed, blossomed, stayed and ended his career in Seattle. His humble personality and blue-collar work ethic were things that fans identified with and adored.
Ichiro: In the aftermath of Alex Rodriguez’s departure, Ichiro emerged in 2001 and captured the imagination of baseball with a record-setting team that changed baseball in Seattle. He was different from anything fans had seen before and had an aura of mystery around him. He won the Rookie of the Year and MVP in 2001 and totaled in 2,542 of his 3,089 MLB hits in a Mariners uniform. In the footsteps of Griffey, a player he admired, he became synonymous with the Mariners and brought an increased international audience to the team that few teams could claim.
Felix Hernandez: The last few years have been suboptimal, and it’s led to a vocal portion of the fan base turning against the pitcher once dubbed King Felix. To be fair, the injuries and the inconsistency of the past four seasons have been frustrating for all parties involved. And there will always be a question of what could have been for Hernandez. The Mariners failed to put a quality team around him in his prime. When they finally put a playoff-level team around him in the recent years, he wasn’t good enough to carry the Mariners into the postseason. Still, he always believed that the Mariners could win a World Series, and he wanted to be a part of that. He could have left for free agency or forced his way out for good reasons on multiple occasions, but the organization, the city and the fan base mattered to him.
The sarcastic jerk in me wanted to say “use him as an opener.” But this is a relatively serious subject.
The assumption is that Hernandez, if healthy, would return to the starting rotation as the No. 5 starter, taking the place of Mike Leake. Yes, the Mariners plan to bring up prospects Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn in the final month of the season. But they will also be moving toward their innings limit for the season, as will rookie Yusei Kikuchi. There are innings and starts available for Hernandez to try to end a lost 2019 season on a positive note.
Sure, there is a ceremonial quality to all of this. And there isn’t anything wrong with that. He still matters to a large portion of the fan base, and they’d like the opportunity to see him pitch at least once or twice before he makes a necessary split from the only organization he’s ever known. This all feels like a married couple that knows it’s over and are ready for it be done, but they are just waiting for the last child to graduate from high school before getting the divorce.
Hernandez isn’t part of the plan going forward. He hopes to pitch for another team next season. It seems likely that he’ll have to sign a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training or a minimal one-year MLB contract that’s heavily laden with incentives. At this point, it can’t be about money for Hernandez. He’s made enough of that in his career. It should be about opportunity and fit.
The first year that I traveled with the team was 2008. I was young, arrogant, ill-informed and not necessarily prepared to do the job on a full-time basis. And the team that welcomed me was filled with underachieving malcontents and jerks that became the first team with a payroll over $100 million to lose 100 games. Unlike this year where the team was stepping back, that team was going for it. That’s why they traded Erik Bedard, who became one of the poster boys for that team’s failure and disinterest.
The 2015 and 2017 Mariners teams were enjoyable to cover despite their failures. They weren’t bad losing teams, but they definitely underachieved at a high level considering their rosters and expectations. That 2017 team was gutted by injuries, using 40 pitchers in a season.
This season has been enjoyable and will likely be in the final months of the season when some of the young kids get called up.
So there are more than a few questions being answered here. Scott Servais was a director of player development in Texas and had success with a talented group of prospects. Only parts of that experience can translate to his role as manager. The communication aspect and the concept of overseeing and organizing an array of managers and coaches throughout a system to have a coherent message and teaching plan would be useful. Guess I’m not sure what you are looking to define development from just watching games.
Servais’ role in developing at this level is setting an expectation level of self accountability when it comes to preparing every day. The coaches and staff need to provide every opportunity for improvement while implementing new techniques and information from analytics and data collection. The addition of support staff for advanced scouting, hitting and pitching analysts are part of that growth. He’s started daily mandatory hitter and pitcher meetings a few seasons ago which past managers didn’t do. There is an expectation of effort to a player’s preparation that has been set in place for the big league club, but it supposed to be followed at all levels of the organization.
Daren Brown is a quality minor league manager and one of my favorite people in the organization. But he manages his coaches and makes sure similar expectations of work and preparation are maintained in Tacoma. That’s the bulk of his “teaching.”
As for Joe Girardi, there are reasons for his departure from the Yankees. He disliked the Yankees front office having so much input into his daily work and the push for analytical-based decisions in terms of starting lineups, pitcher usage and defensive alignments. The Yankees didn’t like feeling they had to force things upon him. They also disliked how he handled players in the clubhouse and the lack of connectivity with them.
That doesn’t fit how most organizations are operating now, including the Mariners. They want some level of cohesiveness from the front office to the field manager while maintaining a constant communication level with players about the process in place. It will be interesting to see where Girardi ends up. He is going to want a decent salary — also not a Mariners deal — and a lot of control in his situation.
They will certainly look at offers for Mallex Smith, because that’s what they do, but they still have to fill out the outfield to start the 2020 season. Assuming that Jake Fraley or Kyle Lewis will be ready to be everyday outfielders on the opening day roster might be overly optimistic since, well, they’ve never played in a single big league game. Braden Bishop also has minimal major league experience and has never been projected as an every day player.
If they were to trade Santana this offseason, then the need to retain Smith increases. There are a slew of outfielders that they could probably sign to a one-year bounce-back deal to serve as placeholders until the prospects to arrive. But Smith is entering his first year of arbitration eligibility, so he should be relatively affordable. Given his inconsistencies this season, his trade value has decreased. But he could be a part of a package of players in a trade. Seattle could also start the season with him on the roster and move him at next year’s deadline if they feel Fraley, Lewis or even Jarred Kelenic deserves his spot.
Let me tell you the story of a guy named Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes. On opening day of the 1994 season, Rhodes started as the Cubs center fielder, and he hit three homers off Dwight Gooden. It captured the imagination of a young Ryan Divish, who was skipping a college class that day and watching on WGN. After that he had an irrational love for Rhodes, who hit just five more homers and finished the season with a .234 batting average. He washed out of MLB and ended up having a great career in Japan.
As for a team that started 13-2 and ended up with a losing record, it’s difficult to find on Baseball Reference. Last season, the Diamondbacks started 12-4 and won 82 games. Looking at the first 25 games, where the Mariners were 16-9, is a little easier to assess. The 1912 Reds started off the season 20-5 and finished 75-78. The 2011 Marlins started 16-9 and finished 72-90. The 1995 Phillies also started 16-9 and finished 69-75.
The Mariners are running a platoon with Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy at catcher. Narvaez sits when there is a lefty starter or a lefty bulk pitcher. He has just 64 plate appearances versus lefties this season. Murphy was also Mike Leake’s personal catcher.
Well since Pat Gillick is in the Baseball Hall of Fame that would be a difficult body of work to achieve for any general manager. As for the comparison between Dipoto and Jack Zduriencik, the biggest difference is that Dipoto seems to have a more of a consistent philosophy in the types of players that he wants to bring in to the organization whether it’s via trades, so many damn trades, draft picks or free agents. He likes athleticism, speed and tools, if possible.
Zduriencik didn’t have that identity. He talked about pitching and run prevention early in his tenure. When that failed to achieve results, he shifted to a focus on power bats, which given the way then Safeco Field played, might not have been a good plan.
A Mariner executive once complained that Zduriencik was too reactionary to the team’s previous 15 games and was willing to make decisions based off that. Dipoto is supposedly more pragmatic when it comes to these decisions. But once he makes a decision to do a deal, he isn’t often swayed.
I don’t think you can judge Dipoto’s full body of work for another year or two. He’s been blessed with the ability to reset the roster and organization. Zduriencik never had that ability under the previous ownership group. They had a tepid, toe-in-the-water commitment — “We want to be good. But we want to do so within reason.”
This is something that the Mariners have been discussing for a while now and will continue to do so leading up to September roster expansion. Do they want to start his service time and option clock before it is required?
Does Ryon Healy being done for the season with hip surgery influence it? He could be a candidate to be non-tendered next season.
After suffering a concussion on a ground ball off the face and going on the injured list for a week, White has been tearing it up since his return. He has six hits in four games, including three homers. He hit a pair of mammoth homers Friday night. For the season, he has a .294/.341/.505 slash line with 12 doubles, two triples, 16 homers and 50 RBI while playing perhaps the best defense of any first baseman in all of minor league baseball.
White is the first baseman of the future. He will probably start next season in Tacoma and be up by midseason. Could giving him some games in September help his development? The Mariners will have a lot of 40-man roster maneuvering to do this offseason. They have to decide on whether putting White on there is in the best interest of his development and their plan.
Yes, the Mariners have plenty of outfield depth. Jarred Kelenic is the jewel of the farm system. But to assume that a player with Lewis’ potential doesn’t have a place in the organization because of the performances of Kelenic and Jake Fraley would be illogical. You don’t know that they will reach expectations in the big leagues.
The leap from the minors to MLB has humbled a multitude of top prospects and many in the Mariners’ system. Some scouts don’t believe Fraley will be an everyday player, but more of a platoon player or extra outfielder. Realistically, two seasons from now you could have an outfield of Kyle Lewis in left, Jarred Kelenic in center and Mitch Haniger in right with Fraley coming off the bench and Julio Rodriguez in AAA preparing to be called up.
Baseball has a way of eliminating an organization’s surplus of players at a position through injury, attrition or failure.
Strikes matter and his strike percentage with Class AA Arkansas is 68 percent. His strike percentage in Tacoma and his one start in Seattle was 58 percent. That difference is massive in terms of getting ahead in counts and pitch efficiency. His biggest issue was fastball command or lack of it. It goes beyond the alarming 15.6 percent walk rate. Command is more than throwing strikes. It’s throwing the ball where you want it go. He wasn’t able to do that.
The new ball probably had something to do with it. When it’s hit in the air, it often goes out in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. You get afraid of contact and pitching into the strike zone. It leaves you nibbling on the edges. And if your command isn’t precise, well, it’s not a strike, you are behind and the trouble begins. The new ball’s inconsistency with spin on breaking pitches is also an issue that could’ve affected him.
Well, you are only getting back as much as a team is willing to give up. And to be fair, in talking with people from other organizations, teams weren’t going to give up much for Mike Leake, Edwin Encarnacion or Jay Bruce.
Labeling the players beyond Jarred Kelenic and J.P. Crawford as nothing special seems a bit premature since few of them have reached the big leagues yet.
And trying to project off minor league stats and a few grainy videos seems illogical. Not every prospect is going to be an All-Star, and teams realize that more than fans do. Getting a prospect to the MLB level, keeping them there beyond one season and getting production at even a replacement level is a massive accomplishment.
Also, characterizing what Justus Sheffield is or isn’t at age 23 seems a bit premature. The pitcher he was acquired for, James Paxton, had similar things said about him. He didn’t really put everything together until age 27.
Using MLB Pipeline’s Top 30, here’s a look at who they’ve gotten back in the step-back moves and their top-30 ranking.
- OF Jarred Kelenic, No. 1
- RHP Justin Dunn, No. 5
- OF Jake Fraley, No. 8
- LHP Justus Sheffield, No. 9
- RHP Isaiah Campbell, No. 11
- IF Shed Long, No. 15
- RHP Juan Then, No. 16
- LHP Taylor Guilbeau, No. 22
- LHP Ricardo Sanchez, No. 24
- OF Dom Thompson-Williams, No. 25
- LHP Aaron Fletcher, No. 27
Not all of them will be good MLB players. Some might not make the big leagues, but the accumulation of talent is important for depth. To be fair, nobody thought Kyle Seager was “special” as an early prospect. He was projected as a backup infielder, and he became an All-Star. Edwin Diaz was never considered a “special” prospect when he was a starter. The Mariners converted him to a reliever and he became “special.”
Dislike? It’s a little higher than that. I dislike extra-inning games, bars that have TVs turned to old movies and not live sports, a certain local coffee company and 100 percent cotton shirts. I hate I-5 traffic, salads for meals, Twitter and, yes, Christmas.
I’ve listed my reasons before for hating the holiday, and I’ve found I’m not alone in my beliefs. I’d sit through your power point presentation and still not be convinced, and if it included Christmas music, I’m getting up, smashing the computer and walking out.
It’s not a high bar to climb, and judging my by friends, I’d feel confident. But I won’t go that far. I will say I’m the best looking person on The Seattle Times sports staff.
And it’s not even close since Bud Withers retired.
Look, I may speak nostalgically of my hometown and how it brings me peace and shaped me forever. But it also doesn’t get above zero most days in January. San Diego is a fantastic little slice of heaven with its climate, beaches, beer and food (Try the Ocean Beach Noodlehouse). It’s an expensive heaven, but as an old customer told me once during my bartending days: “It’s better to live rich than die rich, my young friend.”