OAKLAND, Calif. — As the seagulls circle around Oakland Coliseum before Saturday’s game, a thought comes to mind: How many people will show up to T-Mobile Park next week with the Royals and Orioles coming to town? If you think the Mariners are bad, take a look at those two teams and what they’re doing this season. Do they have one player who would bring you to the ballpark? What’s the maximum amount you’d pay to watch those games?

It’s possible that the record for lowest attendance is set during that series. The record is 9,808 versus the Astros on September 9, 2013. The Mariners have a couple of big marketing plans, including the Lou-au night where free Hawaiian shirts are given away.

As always these are real questions from the well-meaning, but sometimes irrational folks that are my Twitter followers.

Mariners Sunday Mailbag

More

A quality question from a Twitter follower I know to be a questionable basketball player.

Danny Hultzen, LHP: One of the most genuine players I’ve ever covered. Following a start on April 19, 2013 with Class AAA Tacoma, he was on the verge of being called up to the big leagues. In front of GM Jack Zduriencik and several other Mariners front-office members, Hultzen tossed six innings, allowing two runs on three hits with two walks and five strikeouts against Fresno. His fastball was touching 94 mph and his changeup seemed unhittable. The Mariners were making plans to promote him by May 1.

Hultzen felt pain in his shoulder warming up for his next start and his career basically ended that day. It was followed by multiple surgeries and comebacks that failed. While fans will lament the failure of Hultzen to live up to his No. 2 overall pick status, people in and around the Mariners were heartbroken for the affable Hultzen, who attacked his rehab and recovery with passion while never complaining about the losing hand he’d been dealt.

Advertising

Jeff Clement, C: Bill Bavasi’s decision to switch plans a day before the 2005 draft and go with Clement over shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is one of the bigger mistakes of a tenure filled with some doozies. It became clear that Clement couldn’t catch at a big-league level, but there was some hope that his bat would still play and he’d move to designated hitter and part-time first baseman.

He mashed Class AAA pitching with Tacoma, but could never replicate that success at the MLB level. Another really nice guy who understood his catching limitations and never ran away from questions about it, he is one of few failed picks of that monster first-round class. In 75 games with the Mariners, he generated -0.3 WAR before being traded to the Pirates.

Dustin Ackley, IF/OF: The No. 2 overall pick in 2009 draft out of North Carolina. He was labeled the greatest hitter in NCAA history and drew comparisons to George Brett. I remember the euphoria when Ackley was called up on June 17, 2011. He got a hit in his first game and hit a homer off Vance Worley the next day. He put together a solid first season, slashing .273/.348/.417 with 16 doubles, three triples (he could really run), six homers and 36 RBI in 90 games. His future seemed bright.

He overreacted to struggles the next season and tried to revamp his swing before the 2013 season. It was a massive mistake. Ackley was always accountable to his failures, and I think I had a soft spot for him because I used to see him reading Cormac McCarthy and Malcolm Gladwell books in the clubhouse.


It could be Mike Leake. The Mariners have worked hard to trade him, but he has a full no-trade clause and he isn’t going to accept a trade to a situation that he doesn’t see as beneficial for his career or his family.


We never got an exact date for when the Mariners picked up that extra year of club control by keeping Crawford in Class AAA Tacoma at the start of the season. But they made the right business move if they believe he’s going to be their shortstop of the future.

Advertising

I will admit that I wasn’t particularly impressed with Crawford this spring. He was inconsistent at the plate and in the field. You could see some of the reasons why the Phillies decided to move on from a player who was once considered the top prospect in their organization.

But credit to Crawford. He worked hard on his fielding — specifically footwork issues that led to errant throws — with the help of Perry Hill. At the plate, he made a few minor adjustments and tried hard to maintain an approach that focuses on using the whole field by trying stay up the middle. It has led to some solid results. He’s got a .288/.347/.455 slash line with eight doubles, a homer and eight RBI in 18 games with the Mariners. More importantly, he brought some stability to shortstop after the Mariners endured the woefully inconsistent fielding of Tim Beckham for the first months of the season.

It was unfortunate timing that he suffered a sprained ankle when he was playing so well. But, he’s back and playing again. There are 88 games remaining in the season, and he’s going to be the starter at shortstop for 95 percent of them. It’s his chance to finally establish himself.

There really is no hurry to sign him to an extension. The Mariners can wait to see if his success is sustained beyond the immediate before deciding to make a commitment.

I take the same approach with dating.


If I had to say a name, it would probably be outfielder Jake Fraley near the end of the season. There were some in the organization that wanted to call him up when Braden Bishop was injured. Fraley has torn up Class AA level pitching. But a month with Class AAA Tacoma would be a useful barometer to see if he’s ready.

A reliever such as right-hander Wyatt Mills, or even lefty starter Ricardo Sanchez, who are pitching for Class AA Arkansas, are also possibilities.


Well, his time at designated hitter and his defense at first base will drag his WAR down significantly. Per FanGraphs, he’s currently got a 2.0 WAR. A year ago, Khris Davis and Nelson Cruz each generated 2.6 WAR playing predominantly designated hitter. Looking at that, I will put the over-under at 2.4 WAR. It’s reasonable to think that Vogelbach could produce a 3.0 WAR at his current hitting pace. It will be interesting to see how he’s used with Edwin Encarnacion traded and how much he faces left-handed pitching.


To quote the inimitable Frank Costanza: “What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for? He had 30 home runs and over 100 RBIs last year. He’s got a rocket for an arm. You don’t know what the hell you are doing!”

Technically, the Mariners acquired Shed Long from the Yankees. He was traded from the Reds to New York, and the Mariners sent outfielder Josh Stowers to the Yankees to get Long. So he was a Yankees prospect for a few minutes. But that’s probably not what you meant.

It’s unfair to lump Justus Sheffield into this since he’s only a 23-year-old that seems to have been rushed in his development. There’s still plenty of time to reach his potential. The left-handed pitcher he was traded for, James Paxton, also developed at a slower rate than most people expected. But once he figured out some simple mechanical issues, including his proper arm slot, everything clicked for him. That moment can still happen for Sheffield.

Obviously, the Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda trade is part of this question. That was a huge miss. The first time I saw Montero in person, I was stunned at how nonathletic he appeared, how bad he was at catcher and how entitled he seemed. I will give him credit for losing all that weight and trying to rebuild himself in the organization’s eyes after attacking a scout in the stands. But that was a huge miss in a trade considering they were giving up Pineda at peak value. To be fair, Pineda never replicated his All-Star season as a rookie and has dealt with a multitude of injury issues.

Looking back off memory, the best prospect from the Yankees that played well for the Mariners was probably Ben Gamel. Per Baseball Reference, Gamel accumulated 1.4 WAR in 262 games.

Advertising

Other Yankee “prospects” acquired in recent trades:

  • Danny Farquhar: 0.4 WAR in 155 games
  • James Pazos: 0.7 WAR in 119 games
  • Jesus Montero: -0.9 WAR in 208 games
  • Nick Rumbelow: -0.4 WAR in 16 games

There doesn’t appear to be a player that fits that description. Justus Sheffield has been demoted to Class AA Arkansas, and Erik Swanson is on the disabled list with a hamstring issue. Most of the roster is filled with what team’s label “Four A” players, who are solid at the Class AAA level but not good enough for success at the MLB level. I’d expect Dan Altavilla to be called up soon. The Mariners believe he fixed some things at Class AA Arkansas in terms of mechanics and mental approach on the mound. He has MLB talent, but he just hasn’t found a way to use it at the MLB level.


I don’t think I would I call Nola “a star.” He’s been a journeyman minor league player for most of his eight-year career. At age 29, he’s basically been organizational depth. But he is having an outstanding year with Class AAA Tacoma after being signed as a minor league free agent in the offseason. He’s got a .327/.415/.520 slash line with 15 doubles, a triple, seven homers and 37 RBI in 55 games for Tacoma.

As for the best position for the future, it would seem to be the outfield. Looking at the Mariners’ top 30 prospects per MLB Pipeline, seven are outfielders, including six in the top 15.

In order:

Jarred Kelenic, No. 2

Julio Rodriguez, No. 5

Kyle Lewis, No. 7

Braden Bishop, No. 11

Jake Fraley, No. 14

Dom Thompson-Williams, No. 15

Keegan McGovern, No. 27

Kelenic, 19, looks like the first true young star that the Mariners have had in their system since Alex Rodriguez. With his work ethic, baseball acumen and physical gifts, there are some scouts that believe he could be in the big leagues by age 21.

Rodriguez, 18, is a little less refined as a player than Kelenic, but he may have a higher ceiling in terms of power.

Lewis, who turns 24 on July 13, had his progress sidetracked with knee issues. But his physical tools are still there. He’s finally healthy enough to put everything together.

Advertising

Fraley, 24, was viewed by many as a throw-in player in the trade that sent Mike Zunino to the Rays. But he’s had a breakout season for Class AA Arkansas and is on the verge of a promotion to Class AAA Tacoma.


There are plenty of players to watch. The Travelers are loaded with a slew of the Mariners’ top prospects. Andy McKay, the organization’s director of player development, wanted to keep a core of those top players together similar to what the Royals did in the years before Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas broke out.

From the MLB Pipeline Top 30: Arkansas has right-hander Justin Dunn (No. 3), first baseman Evan White (No. 4), outfielders Kyle Lewis (No. 7), Jake Fraley (No. 14), Dom Thompson-Williams (No.15), right-handed relievers Wyatt Mills (No. 16), Art Warren (No. 20) and Sam Delaplane (No. 30) and lefty starter Ricardo Sanchez (No. 24).


I can’t imagine Hernandez and his ego would like that any better than being a reliever. But it’s also not his decision to make. He’s a nonfactor at this point. I don’t see him returning to the rotation until after the All-Star break.

In his first rehab start since going on the  injured list May 22 with a Grade 1 lat strain, Hernandez felt fatigue in his shoulder after throwing just 31 pitches and exited the game in the third inning. He’d thrown 23 pitches in the first two innings and looked healthy, per reports. Mariners manager Scott Servais didn’t have much information on the situation other than Hernandez telling the Tacoma training staff his shoulder just didn’t feel right as his pitch count continued to build. It wasn’t pain or discomfort, just an awkward feeling. He flew back to Seattle to have his shoulder looked at by team doctors.

If Hernandez is shut down for a few days before resuming a throwing program, he’s likely going to need another week to 10 days before pitching off the mound again. Once he’s cleared to resume his rehab stint, he will need at least two more starts before rejoining the rotation. That projects to right around the All-Star break at the earliest.

Advertising

The Mariners aren’t afraid to put him into the bullpen. But given their lack of starting depth, with the struggles of Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson and the controlled usage of Yusei Kikuchi, Hernandez’s return would be useful.

With the odds of being traded to a contender nonexistent, there could come a time where the organization simply decides to move on from one of the best pitcher in its history. Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto have no real connection with Hernandez, and he has no desire to build one. It’s why this will likely be his last season in a Mariners’ uniform with free agency looming.

It’s difficult to know what Hernandez’s motivation is to return from injury and join a team that’s destined to lose 90-plus games. But he should look at the second half of the season as an audition for other teams in hopes of being signed next season as a free agent. He likely won’t get more than an incentive-laden one-year deal, but pitching well would help change the growing perception of being an ineffective, oft-injured pitcher with too many miles on his arm.


They have a Shake Shack in the ballpark. That’s really all you need to know. You should get the Divish order of double shack burger, chicken shack, fries with melted cheese and a beer. I’m not fat. My mom says I’m husky.

The area around the ballpark is actually pretty nice. Lots of cool little bars and breweries to hit up before and after the game. A word of warning: The DC Metro is not reliable and the last train from the station is often before the game ends.

D.C. is a great city. Make sure you do all the museums and historical sites. I took my parents a few years ago and we logged about 10 miles a day walking. My dad is a Vietnam veteran and seeing him at the wall and doing etchings of his friends who were killed was emotional.

Advertising

I’m biased on this, but the Newseum was my favorite of the museums. My family loved it, especially the newspapers from the biggest news stories in history.

And since I’m a proud “little” for the Tony Kornheiser podcast, I recommend you go to his restaurant “Chatter.”


The only redeeming aspect of this concrete eyesore is the addition of the Food Truck Mafia to the championship plaza. That area is great before games and you can actually get decent food. But the rest of it? It’s just bad. The seating is so spread out and the massive foul territory keeps you farther away from the field. The amenities are not updated. It wasn’t always this way. Venerable columnist Larry Stone is fond of showing me old photos of the original coliseum, which was vastly different and more scenic before the Raiders came in and made bunch of changes.

Is it worse than the always-empty and mall-like atmosphere of Tropicana Field? It’s hard to say. On good days in Oakland, there is a decent crowd with some atmosphere. The drums and vuvuzelas can be a little much. But there is a such an artificial feeling inside the Trop, and they have their ushers ring cowbells to help generate noise.

I think Oakland will get a stadium before Tampa. The money and media market in the Bay Area is too important to Major League Baseball, even if the A’s are always the ugly step-sibling to the Giants. The Giants and former commissioner Bud Selig didn’t help the situation. They’ve been trying to find exact locations to build the and seemed to have settled on the Howard Terminal site or a rebuild at the current site. But any use of public funding has been rightfully met with resistance. Public funding of stadiums is an archaic concept and shouldn’t be pursued.

I hope Oakland gets the stadium situation figured out if for no other reason than it’s my shortest flight for a road trip.

Advertising

Is it worse than throwing a slant on the one-yard line?


I enjoy Crown Royal Reserved and Crown Royal XO which seem to be flavored with rainbows and dreams. But as for Crown Royal Apple, Crown Royal Peach and Crown Royal Maple, no, I prefer whiskey flavored whiskey.


The answer would always be the same: “I hate Christmas, especially the music.”


I haven’t been to either area in probably 15 years. Usually when I go back, I make my buddy who is a guide take me on the Missouri. We’ll also hit the Bitterroot. My plan this October is to hit the Blackfoot Reservation lakes.


That’s amusing. I could’ve asked if Washington was just a softball and crew school during the Tyrone Willingham and Steve Sarkisian eras.

I’m happy with Travis DeCuire and what he’s done with the basketball program. It’s been on a high level since Larry Krystkowiak was the head coach and he’s elevated. Montana was lucky to sign him to an extension.

Montana football went through a downturn due to poor decisions from the administration, worse coaching and other teams catching up to the Griz. Many people assumed that football would return to its dominance because Bobby Hauck came back to be the head coach. That may happen, but it will be vastly be more difficult than people think. The damage done in the previous years and the ascension of Eastern Washington, UC Davis and Weber State as perennial powers have changed the landscape of the conference. Also I need Montana State head coach Jeff Choate to get hired by a bigger program.


Having four conference opponents in the preseason Top 25 of the Football Championship Subdivision (two on the road) and a nonconference game against Oregon isn’t exactly ideal. I will say 8-4, but I want to go 7-5. I’m trying to be optimistic.

  • At South Dakota — Win
  • Vs. North Alabama — Win
  • At Oregon — Loss. Montana will get destroyed, but hopefully they can avoid major injuries.
  • Vs. Monmouth — Win
  • At UC Davis — Loss. Dan Hawkins has this program rolling.
  • Vs. Idaho State — Win.
  • At Sacramento State — Win. New head coach Troy Taylor scares me.
  • Vs. Eastern Washington — Loss. I plan to attend this game and will likely be angry postgame.
  • At Portland State — Win. The embarrassment of losing to PSU last year should be motivation.
  • Vs. Idaho — Win. Can’t lose to the inept athletic program in the country.
  • Vs. Weber State — Loss. This hurts to say.
  • At Montana State —  Win. I will never pick Montana to lose to MSU.