Happy Pitchers and Catchers! The verse/verse/chorus of the early baseball season revolves around the core tenants of Arizona: Men stretching in sunshine OH MY GOD SUNSHINE AND WARMTH WINTER IS NOT ETERNAL, crappy cell phone pictures of men stretching in sunshine, and anxiety over players showing up to camp hurt.
The Mariners, of course the Mariners, started out 2018 with bad news on that final front, as erstwhile starting first baseman and shave ice YouTube sensation Ryon Healy popped into Peoria with the news that his hand had a bone spur.
The surgery to remove that bone spur is expected to keep Healy from doing baseball-y things for 4-6 weeks, which puts the well-coiffed lad back in game action right around if not shortly after Opening Day.
It’s a frustrating start to Spring, after a frustrating offseason, but in and of itself it doesn’t look to have much an impact on the Mariners’ season. Missing Spring Training can and will require Healy to ramp up to speed quicker than normal, and he will indeed go a long period of time without swinging a baseball bat. That’s concerning, particularly for a player who gets most of his value out of swinging that bat.
Importantly, though, Ryon Healy at peak health was never projected to be particularly good in 2018. ZiPS has him at a positively Lind-ian -0.1 fWAR, while PECOTA pegs him just shy of a win. Any overwrought reactions to Healy’s injury are born through a combination of the Mariners, largely absent any offseason moves of actual consequence, having spent the winter touting Healy as one of their major acquisitions to an increasingly and bizarrely trusting fanbase, and the fact that the depth behind Healy is Mike Ford, a 25-year old with zero MLB plate appearances, and only 25 games above AA, and Daniel Vogelbach, who is not a first baseman.
Now, Mike Ford is an intriguing pickup, and exactly the kind of potential sneaky value Dipoto has specialized in in Seattle. See Ben Gamel, Nick Vincent, and on. If you want an Applebee’s steak at Denny’s prices, Jerry Dipoto is your kind of general manager. But for a team whose best/most expensive players creak with age, going into Opening Day with Mike Ford as your starting first baseman presents an unacceptable and unreasonable risk. Ford could very well finish 2018 as a better/more exciting/more fun baseball player than Ryon Healy, but it’s important to note that the lion’s share of reason for that is because being better than Ryon Healy is not a particularly high hurdle to clear.
Spring Training now figures to be a battle between Mike Ford and Daniel Vogelbach for the starting first base spot out of camp. I would put my money on Ford, as Vogelbach’s defense continues to be, erm, not good. Importantly, and primarily, the team shows no interest in bringing in, say, Lucas Duda or Logan Morrison, available free agents with major league track records who could allow the team to build depth, something they still lack to a comical degree at almost every position.
The insistence on standing pat with the way things are will be challenged and thrown into stark relief every time a player is lost to injury. And while it’s fair to assume that won’t happen as often in 2018 as it did in 2017 make no mistake, it will happen plenty, regardless of how Dr. Lorena Martin and her admittedly interesting high performance program do this year.
For a team that has repeatedly insisted its commitment to winning, it’s hard to figure out why the Mariners don’t at least seem to be trying to find some free agent bargains a la Duda, Eduardo Nunez (how is Taylor Motter on this roster?), and etc. However, for a team that knows 2018 is largely about shuffling deck chairs while keeping up appearances, whether to cynically depress wages and maximize profits, or to position itself for a run at next year’s monstrous free agent class, it makes sense to run out a roster where losing a one-win first baseman for Spring Training stands as major news.
The Mariners are one of those two franchises, and every day we get closer and closer to knowing which one.