OAKLAND – The Mariners are now one-third of the way into the 2019 season, having played their 54th game, losing to the A’s. That means there are still 108 games left in the season. So if the first few months have felt long, well, you better dig in or press eject. The Twitter mailbag is just hitting its stride. The grind is real. Though it does make one wonder what the tone of the questions will be if this downward spiral continues.
As always these are real questions submitted by collection of malcontents, misfits and Mariners fans that makeup my Twitter followers.
To be perfectly honest, no, the franchise’s success or lack thereof has no personal impact on me. There are many things about the job that cause emotional, mental or physical fatigue, but the Mariners’ success relative to their win-loss record or even their on-field play has little do with it.
It’s something that I’ve explained often on Twitter and possibly once or twice in the mailbag, but beat writers aren’t fans of the team they cover. It’s the ethics of it. You should be impartial and unbiased to do the job properly. To be honest, it’s not as difficult as it might seem. It helps that I didn’t have any particular attachment to the Mariners growing up, other than thinking Ken Griffey Jr. was just about the greatest thing to ever step on a baseball field. But who didn’t?
The more you do this job, you lose the capability of being a fan of a baseball team or just about any team. You start looking at everything differently. There’s a level of pragmatism that overtakes emotional reaction. You sort of enjoy the games for what they are and not how they end up.
If you think of it logically, should the team’s success or failure dictate my level of passion or professionalism for the job? The goal is to consistently provide readers with the insight and information of the team. Obviously, the stories have a different tone and direction given how the team is doing.
I don’t know if the Mariners are the worst franchise in baseball. Obviously, if you use postseason appearances as the only criteria, then, yes, they are the worst. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2001 and have the longest active drought in major professional sports. But I’d also judge this by the investment into the team, the fanbase, the city and other aspects.
The new Marlins ownership has gutted their franchise, alienating fans and people in the organization while getting relatively minimal return for trading Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, J.T. Realmuto and Dee Gordon. And that still might be an improvement over the club’s previous ownership group. They are a non-entity in their market and doing everything possible to make it worse. Yes, they’ve won two World Series, while the Mariners haven’t even made the World Series and Miami’s last postseason appearance was in 2003, which is more recent than Seattle. Since then, the Marlins have just four winning seasons and have never won more than 87 games. Their last winning season was in 2009.
Before their three-year stretch of the playoff seasons in 2013-15, the Pirates went 20 years without the playoffs or a winning record while investing minimal money into their product. Is that worse than the Mariners 18 years?
The Mariners have invested plenty of money and tried to win. I just don’t think they’ve always had the best people and plans to do it. People often say, they don’t care about winning. I think they do. But I’m not sure they’ve always understood what it takes to achieve it. The step-back plan of the new regime seemed logical and necessary. But will they be able to achieve their stated goal? Are they the right people to make it succeed? It’s a little too early to tell.
A season by nature can’t feel like Groundhog Day. Since one is a collection of days versus, well, one day. They’ve all been different to me. Maybe they all end the same with me watching the postseason on television, but that cliché about the journey being more important than the destination holds some truth. The games, the players and the stories all change – some years more than others. And while that movie is brilliant and Bill Murray is fantastic, the usage of it as metaphor or simile to something like sports detracts from the genius of the storyline.
Beyond the ethics and semantics of my job and the relative distinction of the Mariners’ place in the baseball landscape, there is the fact that my career goal was to be a sports writer or a lottery winner. How many people get the career they wanted? Still waiting on that lottery deal though. I’m covering a Major League Baseball team, getting 81 home games at one of the best parks in all of baseball, traveling around the country to watch baseball (cough, Marriott points and frequent flier miles, cough), living in an area of the country that I prefer and interacting with you fine folks on Twitter. That’s not bad for a kid from Havre, Montana.
Realistically, there’s a first-place team in the Astros and followed a collective mess of four teams behind them. The A’s and Rangers have been on a bit of a run and are trying to pull away from the Mariners and Angels. But it’s difficult to see that happening. The current version of the A’s doesn’t have the same level of lockdown, dominant bullpen of a year ago.
But to answer your question, the Mariners would still be around third or fourth place. The injuries to Kyle Seager, Hunter Strickland, Wade LeBlanc, Felix Hernandez and Dee Gordon have certainly had a negative impact on the team’s success. But Strickland’s presence doesn’t solidify a bullpen that has lack of depth, experience and talent. The constant shuffle of middling middle relievers would’ve continued.
A healthy Seager and Gordon for all of the games certainly raises the level of defense in the infield. But it doesn’t stop the errors at shortstop or the mistakes in the outfield from happening.
The difference of those players being healthy is probably four to five games at most, but not enough to push them to a level to contend with the Astros.
Those rumors were curious and not necessarily coming from the Rays. Based on multiple conversations with sources, Encarnacion was never really a consideration for Tampa. The Rays targeted Nelson Cruz, but they weren’t as interested in Encarnacion. It’s a similar situation with the Astros, who were also interested in signing Cruz as a free agent. The Mariners shopped Encarnacion to both teams in the offseason with no success.
The Mariners and Rays have done about 25 trades in the last three seasons. So if Tampa had any real interest in adding Encarnacion, he’d be wearing a Rays uniform.
Given that Encarnacion was owed $20 million this season with a $5 million buyout for his option, that’s not exactly a Rays-type of investment. They also felt that Cruz was a better overall hitter over the past few seasons with Encarnacion seeming to trend downward. The Astros were willing to try a DH by committee for the first half of the season to see what the production would be like before making a change.
Obviously the interest could grow if Encarnacion continues to put up numbers and a team suffers an injury. The Mariners are purposely playing him at first base to build a market for National League teams. To be fair, he’s been an adequate first baseman. But his appeal would be higher to American League teams.
As for the return, that could be contingent on how much of the money owed to Encarnacion the Mariners are willing to pay. The more they pay, the better the prospect. When they shopped him to the Astros, they were supposedly asking for one of Houston’s compensatory draft picks in the deal.
It’s likely that Encarnacion will get moved by the deadline. But unless he gets unbelievably hot or a team gets extremely desperate due to an injury, the return won’t be that great because the market figures to be limited.
Much like Encarnacion, Vogelbach’s trade market is severely limited. Most teams view him only a designated hitter and an emergency fill-in at first base. And based on the roster set-up of teams in the American League and the number of teams actually trying to win, that limits it even more. The prospect return for a player without a true position other than designated hitter is reduced.
The Mariners would be wise to keep Vogelbach moving forward. With several players off the current roster expected to be gone by the end of the season or even midseason, the playing time crunch will be lessened. They’ve waited this long for him to blossom, why move on without major prospect return?
As for an extension, it would be wise to see if this continues for the remainder of this season and all of next season before even considering it. Vogelbach is under team control for next season and will make the minimum. His first of three years of arbitration begins in 2021. He won’t be a free agent until after the 2023 season and he’ll be age 31. So the Mariners have time to figure out if Vogelbach’s production is real and sustainable and worthy of an extension. If Vogelbach continues to mash at a high level, then his arbitration projections might make the Mariners consider a smaller extension to buy out the last year and maybe the first and second year of free agency. But there is no reason to make that determination or commitment now.
These little rituals are often highly personal moments and not for public consumption. So while I’ve been told what it is, it’s not fair to share with people. It’s something he should make public on his own.
Well, it has to improve the overall defense from your level of “laughably pathetic” to at least pathetic. Seager has suffered some defensive regression since his Gold Glove season in 2014. A few issues with his footwork led to some uncharacteristic errors on balls going to his left. Those struggles crested with 22 errors in 2016. The last two seasons he’s had 14 errors each. Fangraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating had him as above average while Defensive Runs Saved wasn’t as kind. But beyond numbers, he’s a better third baseman than Ryon Healy, who worked hard to be capable there.
But Seager doesn’t play shortstop or outfield where the bulk of the fielding mistakes have come this season. With J.P. Crawford taking over at shortstop, the rate of errors should decrease. Tim Beckham struggled there as the starter. Looking at the current roster, the outfield will still be a concern unless Domingo Santana, Mallex Smith and Jay Bruce somehow magically transform into capable defensive players.
The Twins and Rays would certainly be teams to consider watching. Both teams seem like postseason contenders and play a type of baseball that is easy to enjoy. And they aren’t typical juggernauts like the Yankees, Red Sod and Dodgers. Minnesota was the fastest team to hit 100 homers this season and they have a collection of outstanding young players that aren’t well-known to the average fan, but very talented. Watching Byron Buxton play center field is quite enjoyable. The Twins also have Nelson Cruz, who is one of the best human beings to put on a Mariners uniform.
The Rays are doing it with unbelievable pitching. Shorewood High School alum Blake Snell’s starts are now becoming a must watch. Plus there are so many former Mariners on the Rays, it would be like cheering for the Mariners anyway.
Manager Scott Servais won’t commit to when just yet. Though I suspect he knows the date and just hasn’t announced it. Issues with the Mariners roster and the lack of players with minor league options certainly factor into it. It’s why Servais doesn’t make the decision on his own. It’s made in concert with general manager Jerry Dipoto and the baseball operations staff. Servais did say before Saturday’s game that the one-inning start would be coming soon for Kikuchi. This is just a guess, but Kikuchi will make another normal start on Thursday vs. the Angels and then have a one-inning outing in the start after that vs. the Rangers.
Well, the simplest reasons are that Cory Gearrin’s struggles came very early in the season and he signed a one-year contract for $1.4 million while Shawn Armstrong was making the league minimum. While $1.4 million isn’t an overwhelming amount of money for a MLB franchise, it is enough to give you more opportunities than someone who makes the minimum.
Gearrin wasn’t good early, but it would’ve been illogical to designate him for assignment and end up paying the entire contract while he became a free agent and went to another team. Even if he had cleared waivers, he had enough service time to refuse being outrighted to Tacoma and become a free agent while retaining his full salary.
Armstrong was out of options and the Mariners hoped that given his oblique injury and the struggles that followed he might clear waivers so they could outright him to Class AAA Tacoma and keep him in the organization. It’s a bit of roster roulette that happens with players on the fringe of the 25- and 40-man rosters. Armstrong has certainly shown that he can be effective as a reliever, but never over a sustained period of time. There are plenty of relievers like that who will become available over the course of a season. And the Mariners will probably look at possibly acquiring all of them.
It probably doesn’t greatly prolong his timeline. I didn’t think he’d join the rotation full time until mid-season. Though had he been pitching at a more consistent level, he might have been inserted into the Mariners rotation with Felix Hernandez on the injured list.
The walks 29 in 44 innings are a concern. Sheffield’s fastball command has been inconsistent at best for much of the season. If you can’t be efficient in Class AAA Tacoma, it’s difficult to imagine being efficient at the MLB level with more disciplined hitters. It was evident in Sheffield’s one appearance with the Mariners this season. Rangers hitters saw that his command was spotty and forced him to throw 75 pitches in three innings.
The bright spot is his most recent outing vs. Fresno. His command was much better and he worked seven innings, allowing one run on one hit with a walk and two strikeouts. That’s an encouraging outing that he needs to build upon. It’s important to remember that the Mariners are managing the workload of not just Kikuchi, but Sheffield and Erik Swanson. And it’s much easier to do in the minor leagues, which was all part of the initial plan going into the season. With the exception of piggy-backing off of Kikuchi’s starts, the Mariners would prefer not to bounce Sheffield back and forth from the big leagues to Triple A based on his performance. They want him to put him into the rotation and leave him there. He has to show that he’s ready for that responsibility.
It seems unlikely that Kelenic stays with Low-A West Virginia all season. After an absolutely torrid run that had Mariners fans drooling and unrealistically dreaming of Kelenic starting in center field next season, he has cooled off slightly. Kelenic posted a .352/.444/.656 slash line with 14 doubles, a triple, seven homers, 18 RBIs, 19 walks and six stolen bases over his first 32 games.
Over his last 14 games, he’s got a .200/.267/.345 line with a triple, two homers, five RBIs, four walks and 14 strikeouts. It’s not a dramatic fall. But more indicative to the ups and downs of the season. His approach at the plate and his commitment to daily work has impressed the Mariners. Barring an injury or a catastrophic slump, he’ll probably be with High-A Modesto by July 1 and finish the season with the Nuts.
The American League is all Vladimir Guerrero Jr. all the time. After a slow start, he’s starting to crush homers. And the hype surrounding him will only grow as the season progresses and he continues to play well. Yusei Kikuchi might have the best chance to challenge him. But the Mariners’ poor defense and bullpen has cost him wins. And while win-loss record is a sham of a stat for several reasons, it’s still a crutch that some voters use in determining pitcher success.
The National League race is much more interesting. Mets slugger Pete Alonso is getting plenty of attention. He has 17 homers and a .600 slugging percentage coming into Saturday. Padres pitcher Chris Paddack is 4-2 with a 1.93 ERA in nine starts this season with 56 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings pitched. Paddack has been dominant at times. But as the season progresses, the Padres will look to control his usage and limit his innings which could hurt his chances. Paddack’s teammate, Fernando Tatis Jr., is also a contender though an ankle injury landed him on the injured list.
Well, since I live in Tacoma, I should say the Rainiers. But they really just have the best hats in all of minor league baseball. The “R” hat is clean, simple and classic. So many of the minor league hats are just gaudy debacles. Then again, I never understood why people leave the stickers on their hats and don’t bend the bill a little.
Yeah, I’m old.
Here’s a quick Top 5:
1. New Orleans Babycakes – I don’t really know the meaning of the mascot, nor do I care. The hats that feature a baby with a crown are fantastic.
2. Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs – One of their alternates hats has bacon as its logo. Bacon is delicious.
3. Hillsboro Hops – Hops are a major component of good beer. I like good beer.
4. Hartford Yard Goats – While the mascot is a goat, it’s a reference to an engine in a train yard. My dad worked in a Burlington Northern train yard.
5. Fort Wayne Tin Caps – It’s an apple with a tin pot hat similar to Johnny Appleseed. That works for me.
Honorable mention: Modesto Nuts, Richmond Flying Squirrels
It seems that Tom Hardy has a gift for playing characters with interesting speaking styles – Solomons, Forrest Bondurant, Bane and the Kray Brothers – none that can be replicated. So I am not going to even attempt it.
But to answer your question – it’s the Randy Rogers Band and it’s not even close. Eli Young Band’s most popular song, “Even if it breaks your heart,” was written by Will Hoge and Eric Paslay. Randy Rogers Band has stuck closer to its Texas roots and writes the majority of its own songs. The band’s collection of quality songs is vastly more superior to the Eli Young Band. RRB is Mike Trout and Eli Young Band is Chone Figgins.