ANAHEIM, Calif. — While the players rested and relaxed over the All-Star break, the weekly Twitter mailbag was still sticking to the grind of the season, staying true to its routine, interacting with followers to finish strong in the second “half” of the season.
After Saturday, the Mariners will have 66 games remaining in this “step-back” season. What they make of them will be interesting, but the mailbag will capitalize on the opportunity with continued snark and smarts when possible.
As always, these are real questions submitted by the mixture of hell raisers, holy rollers and helpful souls that comprise my Twitter followers.
Hey, Finch — as I say that in a Steve Stiffler voice and chuckle at the memorable scenes from American Pie for a few moments — I have sort of answered the question before. But perhaps not in a fashion that was memorable to readers.
It’s difficult to believe the long-term vision of this team is focused in one specific direction since so many factors such as injuries or poor performance can provide detours.
Coming into the season, the Mariners preached that left-hander Marco Gonzales and outfielder Mitch Haniger were foundation-level pieces to retooling of the roster.
But given Gonzales’ uneven performance in 2019 and Haniger’s slow start filled with strikeouts and now his injury issues, do they view those players differently? Maybe you don’t view them as players that you can trust to carry this process forward. Perhaps there is more value in trading them now for additional talent than carrying them into the next few seasons.
A good organization continually evaluates its players and their place within the system.
Santana somehow falls into that odd purgatory of being good enough to help the team in the future but flawed enough in terms of performance, club control and age to be moved while his value might be highest.
He comes into Saturday with a .283/.352/.492 slash line with 19 doubles, a triple, 18 homers and 63 RBI. From an offensive standpoint, Santana has been better than expected. Yes, he leads the American League in strikeouts with 118. But he has legit power and has shown a knack for hitting with runners in scoring position. The Mariners love his approach to driving the ball to the opposite field with power.
Of course there is his defense, which has bordered between terrible and embarrassing for much of the season. He leads all MLB outfielders with 12 errors, which is a ridiculous number considering the runner-up has five. The seeming indifference during the first few months of the season has been a frustrating aspect for the Mariners.
A move back to right field has brought fewer mistakes, but most opposing scouts believe he’s still well below average in right and a liability in close games.
Santana turns 27 on Aug 5. He is in his first year of arbitration eligibility and is making $1.95 million this season. That figure will almost certainly double going into next season, which would still be a bargain considering his offensive production. The Mariners have him for two more years of club control. So he’ll be a free agent after the 2021 season.
Regardless of what the Mariners believe, this “step-back” process doesn’t seem to be trending toward yielding optimal results until the 2022 season.
So do you try and extend a clearly flawed player, whose best position is probably designated hitter, on a team-friendly deal? You have to take Daniel Vogelbach into consideration in this scenario. The Mariners have club control over him through the 2023 season. He doesn’t reach arbitration eligibility until the 2021 season.
The Mariners should certainly listen to any offers for Santana as the trade deadline nears. His low arbitration numbers could also provide value for a team in need of a right-handed bat that are flirting with the luxury tax. They can shop him all offseason as well, pushing the club control and low arbitration expectation to teams.
Given his flaws on defense, his limited position viability and the way the team is projecting for the future, there is no reason to make any sort of long-term commitment to him. There are too many other factors in play to do that.
Then again, I’m probably not the person to ask about any form of long-term commitment.
I don’t really know that general manager Jerry Dipoto would listen to what I say when it comes to the Mariners. If he did, they’d have Willians Astudillo on the team and would never wear those teal uniforms.
I’m wondering about your request as it assumes that the Mariners would move Omar Narvaez and that catching prospect Cal Raleigh will be ready for the big leagues in two years.
The idea of Narvaez being traded isn’t far-fetched if for no other reason than Dipoto is his general manager and is willing to trade any player.
Narvaez has been better than expected from a power standpoint. Coming into Saturday, he’s got a .292/.336/.482 slash line with seven doubles, 14 homers and 36 RBI. He’s one of the five most-productive hitting catchers in baseball, per FanGraphs Offensive rating. Obviously, his defense is not at a similar level. The Mariners knew that when they acquired him and believe it can improve to be adequate. Narvaez is in his final year of making the MLB minimum. He’ll be arbitration eligible for the next three seasons. He will be 31 when he reaches his first year of free agency.
The Mariners are quite comfortable with Tom Murphy as a the platoon-mate with Narvaez, and they don’t have to rush Raleigh. Catchers usually take a little longer to develop. Raleigh was always considered an advanced offensive catcher with lagging defense. While scouts say his defense has improved, there are aspects to his conditioning that also need to improve.
He’s destroying Cal League pitching for High-A Modesto. Since June 1, Raleigh has a .311/.391/.681 line with five doubles, 13 homers and 34 RBI. A call-up to Class AA Arkansas is going to happen soon.
That’s a pretty fast track for a catcher selected in the 2018 draft and just 22 years old. Even if he finishes at the AA level this season, Raleigh’s projection to the big leagues might not be until mid-2021 at the earliest. The expectations on defense will increase significantly. But the Mariners love his makeup and leadership qualities.
Remember Mike Zunino was on a similar trajectory when the Mariners rushed him to the big leagues, and it was a costly mistake. This regime won’t make the same mistake with Raleigh.
Two years from now, Narvaez will still be the primary catcher. Three years from now, Raleigh might not need to be platooned.
Felix Hernandez has been away from the whole process this season because of his shoulder issue. He’s been on the injured list since May 12.
When you are on the IL, there is often a disconnect because you aren’t usually traveling with the team and participating in all aspects. Your days are spent in the training room or the weight room rehabbing and on the bench as a spectator for home games.
He knows this is his last season with the Mariners. Neither side wants to the relationship to continue. I think he’s made his peace with it. If you think about it, Hernandez has dealt with plenty of seasons like this in his career. They’ve had only five winnings seasons since he made his debut in 2005, and in only three of those seasons did they even think of the postseason in September.
Seager also had a similar disconnect by starting the season on the injured list and not returning until the end of May. Like Hernandez, he didn’t get to completely experience that abysmal stretch of baseball after the 13-2 start, and he’s experienced plenty of lost seasons with this franchise since making his debut in 2011. He’s only played for three winning teams.
He knows he’s unlikely to be traded given his contract and the poison pill clause that changes a $15 million option in 2022 from a club option to a player option. This is world and really all he can do is embrace it. His struggles since his return from the injured list are frustrating. And he’s been putting in extensive work to get them fixed. There has been a large amount of fan dissatisfaction with Seager’s performance. It pales in comparison to his own personal disappointment.
Perhaps the worst thing that Dipoto could’ve done was to put on any sort of time frame on this “step-back.” Yes, the times he talked about it early in the process it was a loose deadline with references to being competitive by the end of 2020 or 2021. Never give people a deadline they can hold you to keeping in the future. If only newspapers worked that way.
With so much of the Mariners’ talent still at the Class AA level or below, and the stumbles of Justus Sheffield this season, the possibility of putting together a large portion of their future roster by mid-2020 is in doubt. It would be more measured to project the bulk of their young talent to be on the roster by the 2021 season with perhaps Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert joining the team by then.
It would also be prudent to give that group time at the MLB level to have success, fail, adjust and grow while learning to win together.
So maybe by 2022 that group starts together and really puts it together in 2023.
The Royals would be a good example. From 2011 to 2013, the group of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez played together, going from 71-72 wins to 86 wins in 2013. By 2014 they were in the World Series.
Just getting the talent on the field together won’t be enough for the Mariners. It will need to grow together, fail together and learn together. It’s a reason why they’ve kept so many of the players together at Class AA Arkansas this season. Unlike the Royals, the Mariners should have the financial capability to supplement those young players with free agents to help expedite that process. The decisions on how to spend the money that they have saved by ridding themselves of the obligations to Robinson Cano and Jean Segura will be vital to this rebuild.
Well, Jake Fraley, Kyle Lewis and Justin Dunn will all have to be put on the 40-man roster this offseason to protect them against the Rule 5 draft. I’d expect the Mariners to put all three on the 40-man and bring them up as September call-ups. With the possibility of using the full 40-man roster in future Septembers in doubt, the Mariners should and will take advantage of this opportunity this season.
Fraley could be up sooner than September depending on the MLB trade deadline. In fact, that may be the time to expect him to get moved up. Shed Long, if healthy, will also be moved up.
As mentioned earlier, it seems as if Cal Raleigh and along with talented right-handed pitcher Logan Gilbert will get promotions to Class AA Arkansas soon. Gilbert was considered advanced when he was taken in the first round of the 2018 draft. A move to the Texas League will force him to pitch more than just overwhelming hitters in the Cal League.
I thought it was over at the All-Star break. I really don’t know why he’s still with the Mariners other than they aren’t ready to bring up Fraley and don’t want to promote someone else. Williamson has a .187/.282/.307 slash line with three homers and 10 RBIs. When you see him in person and watch him workout pregame, you understand why the Mariners took a chance on him. There are tools. But it’s become clear that this working.
Ian Miller will be a minor league free agent after this season and has been passed by multiple prospects on the depth chart. And that may be a reason for the Mariners’ reticence. They have a glut of young outfielders coming and Miller isn’t likely to return to the organization, so why promote him? He’s been solid this season for Tacoma. In 81 games, he’s posted a .283/.348/.459 line with 25 doubles, four triples, seven homers and 42 RBIs with 24 stolen bases. He’s projected as a fourth outfielder by most scouts. The decision to bring in Williamson happened quick. He was supposed to go to Tacoma, but the issues with Mitch Haniger and Braden Bishop happened quickly and the M’s turned to a guy with some MLB experience who could serve as a placeholder with some pop until Fraley was ready.
But the production from left field has been abysmal. With neither Haniger nor Bishop expected to return any time soon, the Mariners could just as easily try Miller, Jaycob Brugman or John Andreoli there as temporary fill-ins until they believe Fraley is ready.
The Mariners aren’t really in a position where they are dealing away prospects for veterans just yet. As mentioned above, this process isn’t going to happen next year or maybe even 2021. Lewis is going to play his first full season as a professional because of past injuries. That’s an accomplishment and something to build upon and also something real for the Mariners to evaluate.
There is no reason to move him when his value is low unless he’s part of a package where you know you are getting a high-level MLB ready player in return. Next season will be seminal in Lewis’ development. He’ll have a full year and will turn 25 in July. I’d expect him to start in Class AAA Tacoma. If he continues to build and progress, then perhaps he factors into your big league outfield plans by the end of the season. Yes, the Mariners have lots of outfielders and outfield prospects, but logical regression and attrition tells you they won’t all make it at once. Baseball has a way of working these things out.
As a writer, my experience is different than fans. Ballparks are working environments and that factors into my likes and dislikes.
For example, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are important places in baseball history. You can just feel the nostalgia when you are in those stadiums. Chicago and Boston are great cities, and the areas around each stadium pregame and postgame are fantastic.
But from a job standpoint, they are miserable with awful working environments, minimal space or convenience in the press box and clubhouse. Most MLB writers will point to Seattle as one of their top-five trips. They love the city, the summer climate, the proximity of the field to downtown and the spacious press box, optimal working environment and the helpful Mariners’ PR staff. Obviously, I can’t use Seattle as a favorite trip though my commute from Tacoma can make it feel like a road trip at times.
My favorite stadiums and trips based on the city, the park, the setup around the park and convenience:
- Petco Park in San Diego: It’s the best trip in all of baseball. The city, the weather, the stadium, the Gas Lamp district and The Tin Fish for shrimp tacos. Trust me on this.
- PNC Park in Pittsburgh: The backdrop behind the outfield is one of the best in baseball and it’s walkable to Primanti Bros. and places with ice cold Yuengling that stay open postgame.
- Target Field in Minneapolis: This might be one of the more underrated trips in all of baseball. It’s in a downtown area that’s walkable to the stadium. The stadium has great sight lines and access. Surly Brewing Co., the Loon Cafe and lunch at Hell’s Kitchen.
- Coors Field in Denver: The area around stadium is everything that SoDo should be before games and after but isn’t. Their version of the “The Pen” is on the third deck in right field. While it still has a “bro” problem, it’s massive place and people actually watch the game. A stop at Falling Rock Brewery postgame is a must.
- Oracle Park in San Francisco: Best press-box view in baseball and an unbelievable place to watch a game. Be warned, it’s not cheap to go to a game and there is no place to park.
Honorable mention: Miller Park in Milwaukee (brats and more brats), Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City (Boulevard beer, BBQ in the city and water falls), Minute Maid Park in Houston (climate controlled to avoid the shirt-ruining heat, an improved downtown areaa and two Shake Shacks in five blocks).
Technically, Nathan didn’t pay me to appear on the podcast. The fine folks at The Masonry provided me with one quality beer. They would’ve provided more if I could’ve stayed longer, but trivia was calling. That was my first time there, and it’s definitely a cool place that I’d go back to if I ever spent time in the city.
Talking about the Mariners and my experiences covering the team to help raise money for Seattle Children’s Hospital seems like a necessary responsibility even if it means commuting from Tacoma to The Masonry at Fremont while taking a detour to The Masonry on Queen Anne (damn you, Siri, figure it out) all around 5 o’clock traffic.
While I’m not a fan of the Mariners, I do have a healthy respect for a large portion of the fanbase and an understanding of their frustration with organization.
In the end, we are talking about baseball while trying to generate support for something vastly more important. If I can’t make time do that, then I should probably find a different job.
I know I should say “The Godfather.” And I love that movie and its sequel. But my favorite is “Casino.” If I come across it when I’m at home watching TV, one of my TVs (yes, I have two in my living room because I’m a child) will always remain on it … as long as it’s the unedited version.
The combination of Robert DeNiro as Sam “Ace” Rothstein and Joe Pesci as Nicky Santoro set in the wild days of early Las Vegas is hypnotic. I think I would like old Las Vegas a little more than current Las Vegas. Not sure if I would survive old Vegas.
Casino, the first two Godfather movies, Goodfellas, Miller’s Crossing, Reservoir Dogs and Road to Perdition and In Bruges.
And I will now be going on a movie marathon.
I would rather live in a 1972 Airstream trailer in Two Dot, Mont., than reside in a mansion in Boz Angeles and be near the university that I refuse to name.