An Offseason Plan: The Road Goes Ever On

All we have to decide is what to do with the team that is given us

In the introduction to this three-part series I stated that the Mariners are “at a crossroads.” The MLB roster is too old, expensive, and declining to reap the prospect harvest necessary for a quick rebuild. There’s also not quite enough talent on hand to realistically compete for a 2018 playoff spot without further, massive financial commitment from ownership.

The first two parts of this series set out to examine high-reaching paths on the outer edges of possibility. I said it in those posts but I’ll say it again, for emphasis: The Mariners are not committing to a full rebuild prior to 2019 at the earliest, and they aren’t blowing payroll out beyond the luxury tax , as their recent acquisition of High Prince of Whelm Ryon Healy can attest. Between these two extreme routes lies the deep, wide valley of realistic possibility. This post’s purpose is to venture down into that valley, and see what we find.

I’m going to break up the previous pattern of this series to look first at what I think Jerry Dipoto’s vision for this offseason may entail, at least the major beats, before humbly offering my own vision for a realistic 2018 roster. The response to this series has been very positive, and for those of you who stick with us during our dry spells, and offer encouragement for our little blog, know you have my deep, deep appreciation. Having people engage your writing, especially on a topic I love as much as baseball, is a dream come true for me personally.

Ok, gratefulness and framework out of the way. Onward.

Dipoto-620

The Presumed Dipoto Plan

Jerry Dipoto is not a dumb man, and he does not run a bad Major League front office. Whatever Dipoto’s public face and stated beliefs are, he almost certainly is much, much more attuned to the precarious situation he and the roster find themselves heading into 2018 than I am. I’m sure he falls asleep every night fantasizing about a $250 million dollar payroll that allows him to scoop up every needed free agent around, but he knows that won’t happen. Realistically, the Mariners headed into this offseason with two glaringly obvious opportunities to improve, and one lesser one: Starting pitching, first base, and center field.

Acquiring the middling but cheap Ryon Healy makes it clear that Dipoto has set his sites on starting pitching, and the recent trading of Thyago Veiera for international slot money further makes clear what the long-presumed number one priority of the Mariners’ winter is:

Sign RHP Shohei Othani. Somehow. Someway.

I won’t bother going into the details of Ohtani here. If you’re reading this you know all about him. He’s Japan’s Babe Ruth, but the cool hipster Boston Red Sox Babe Ruth; swatting dingers and hanging out in the outfield on the days he’s not breathing hellfire 60’6″ from home plate. While it’s almost certain that Othani could never live up to the hype surrounding him, his age (23) coupled with the absurdly low cost to acquire and pay for his first few years in MLB makes him the dream acquisition of the offseason for many teams.

It’s hard to overstate how important acquiring Ohtani is to the Mariners assembling a playoff contending roster for 2018. If he’s 80-90% of the hype then the team has acquired a legitimate number two starting pitcher for relative peanuts, not just for next year but years afterwards. Should he be allowed to hit as well? The team has little to no place to put him, and the injury risk and lack of recent precedent makes it logistically an unwise, and unlikely idea. However, if Ohtani can be swayed by promises of even 5-10 PA a week then the Mariners are not in a position to be picky. You can’t pay him what he’s worth, but you can give him what he wants. You have to. Nothing else about this offseason works without him. If you must, let Ohtani hit.

Sign RHP Yu Darvish to a 6 year, $175 million dollar contract

The sole cross-alignment of my “spend to the hilt” plan and here, I think the Mariners have every intention of making a huge offer to the enormously talented right-hander.

Unless a team is capable of re-capturing the magic of last decade’s Rays, a low-budget model that has had less and less success as the analytical playing field has evened over time, massive contracts in baseball are simply part of doing business. While I’m sure Mariner ownership would prefer to wait until the Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez contracts are fully off the books before making another huge commitment, the contention window demands action now. Darvish’s age (31) and spotty injury history are a concern, but he has top 3-5 in all of baseball stuff, and can dominate a game in ways few can.

Put together, a rotation of Darvish-Paxton-Ohtani-Leake-Hernandez has the makings of the best in the division, and the best in franchise history. It turns a huge organizational weakness into a massive asset. It’s a table flipping, landscape altering pair of moves.

Timing of these two acquisitions is crucial, and may be very difficult. Acquiring Darvish without also acquiring Ohtani is simply a half-measure; an exciting but insufficient improvement. If Ohtani signs with another team, I would encourage and expect Dipoto to steer clear of the sort of contract that Darvish will command. Of course signing Darvish early may, may just be the tipping point to convincing Ohtani to come to Seattle. It’s an impossible quandary. Don’t you wish you were a major league general manager?

Add OF depth

This fucking guy

I was tempted to repeat “re-sign Jarrod Dyson” here, but given that Dyson is almost certainly seeking top dollar for his last realistic major payday I’m concerned that the Mariners will simply not have the money to retain the speedy center fielder.

While Jerry Dipoto is talking about Mitch Haniger being the team’s every day center fielder on Opening Day, that not only feels like a miscasting of the promising Haniger’s skillset, but fails to take into account his thus far fragile health. The team needs a center fielder, and Braden Bishop, fun though he his, isn’t a part of a contending team in 2018. Realistically this feels like a classic Dipoto Trade situation, although I remain hopeful that a fully-recovered Guillermo Heredia can provide enough with his bat to be an asset at the position.

Should the team fail to acquire Darvish or another, comparably high-priced starting pitcher, the idea of shifting the money to Lorenzo Cain, to potentially lock down center in a way the team hasn’t had since Mike Cameron is a very realistic one. Either way, bolstering the outfield is necessary.

***

There are dozens of other possibilities and permutations to the ones I’ve outlined above. (As we speak Dipoto is currently roaming the streets of Mercer Island, trading a handful change for its equivalent in various foreign currencies. They’re just so different and new and, and, and shiny, you see.) There’s no firmly pinning down a manic entity like Jerry Dipoto. But for better or worse the 2018 roster is largely set. There are only so many things he can do without drastically altering the franchise, and he has shown no interest in doing that in his time as Mariner GM. He has been building TO this moment, not trying to avoid it, and I don’t expect him to alter course now.

Dan 2

Nathan Bishop, Seattle Mariner General Manager

For the Mariners to make the playoffs in 2018 many things will have to go right, and the potential downside to another expensive failure are massive. I’ve hammered on this but I’ll repeat it: The Mariners, heading into year three of Jerry Dipoto’s regime, still have arguably a bottom five farm system in the game. They will, at some point, need to address this with painful sacrifices, be it international bonuses, trading from the major league roster, or most likely a combination of the two.

Rather than commit to another massive contract to Yu Darvish, and make the inevitable rebuild even more challenging and difficult, an attempt at constructing a reliever heavy, potentially off-loadable roster that retains a modicum of upside may represent the wisest path forward. Rather than drastically alter course, or double down, the most advisable course of action is for the Mariners to let their current hand ride, give or take a few minor additions. As such:

Sign Shohei Ohtani

For all the reasons I stated above. Ohtani costs, in major league terms, nothing, and his age potentially helps lay the foundational keystone for the next great Mariners team. Nothing about this changes. He is the fulcrum of the entire offseason, but in this scenario failing to acquire him (a very, very realistic possibility) is endurable.

Sign RHP Brandon Morrow to a 2 year, $14 million dollar deal

I am, admittedly, very uncomfortable trying to anticipate the reliever market, and hohohoho does this name bring back some memories, but here we are.

The idea, loosely, is to replicate the 2014 Bullpen of Death that helped an otherwise mediocre roster get within a game of the wild card. The Mariners bullpen, 2017 performance aside, is underratedly filled with potentially lethal relievers. In Edwin Diaz, David Phelps, Dan Altavilla, James Pazos, and Nick Vincent, Seattle has a collection of arms you can squint and see having a great 2018, whether from recent track record or high velocity potential.

Depending on a bullpen to carry a team is needing a 17+ on a D20 saving throw, but the potential upside allows the team to keep its flexibility while helping relieve the pressure on what would, even with Ohtani, be a thin, injury prone, and average-ish starting rotation.

Brandon Morrow was nothing short of excellent with the Dodgers in 2017, and while a multi-year deal for relievers is generally considered a no-no, his high velocity stuff allows for visions of the Mariners locking down practically all games they lead after five with a succession of pitchers throwing 97+ MPH fastballs. Imagine the 2017 Yankees, but minus Aaron Judge. And Gary Sanchez. Ugh, I hate the Yankees.

Various Jerry Dipoto Style Acquisitions

Honestly, I’m not going to bother trying to lay this out. The team needs to churn a few spots; backup catcher, INF depth, OF depth. Depth. You get the idea. This is where Jerry thrives and I have no doubt he can figure a way to get fungible talent for 97 cents on the dollar while rounding out the roster.

The Rationale

While ticking every box of the Dipoto Plan above makes the Mariners a legitimate playoff contender, the one thing we all want, the likelihood of it happening is, um, not high. The Mariners need to attract two of the five or so most desirable available talents, and arguably the top two pitchers, to come to Seattle. This in a market where other teams looking for the same talent include, but are not limited to, the Cubs and Dodgers, two of baseball’s premiere organizations. It’s a huge challenge facing Dipoto.

In lieu of that unlikely outcome building the bullpen allows for a limit in financial commitment, while offsetting the team’s rotation, which would be still the weakest part of this roster. Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager will need to regain their 2016 form, and Mike Zunino will need to hold onto his 2017 gains. Mitch Haniger will need to stay healthy, and James Paxton and Felix Hernandez need to limit their missed starts.

A lot needs to go right, but the same can be said for all but the very best, most expensive, deepest rosters. While the chances are maybe 1 in 5 or so, a roster like this has potential 90-win upside, something that hasn’t happened in Seattle since 2003.

In the relatively likely case that injury, age, and under-performance conspire with the Astros to make 2018 another lost season, a bullpen-heavy roster with no new longterm commitments still allows the team the flexability to sell, should they see it as prudent. I do not have data to back this up but I would argue that no position sees its value bubble at the trade deadline more than quality bullpen arms. Nothing about this plan keeps another middling Mariner team from trading James Paxton, Edwin Diaz, David Phelps, even Kyle Seager, and kicking off the long-looming rebuild.

I admit I find the plan, to be blunt, annoying. The Mariners seemingly are willing to spend through the nose to avoid being truly terrible, but never seem able to endure the commitment necessary to build something truly great. Having 75-85 win talent year after year after year is an exhausting experience. I am ready for change, be it spending what is necessary for excellence, or enduring the losing necessary to build a farm capable of same. However, the reality is the Mariners as an organization are simply not ready to walk down either path for 2018.

Headed into the last year of his contract I have little doubt that Jerry Dipoto is operating under a playoffs or bust mandate, but without the financial flexibility to maximize those odds. As such, I advise he swing for the moon on a potential generational acquisition in Shohei Ohtani, and otherwise build around the possibility of a deadly, high-heat bullpen, and let it ride. With some good fortune, it may just work, and there’s no franchise more overdue for some good fortune than your Seattle Mariners.

Pax Happy 2

 

 

 

An Offseason Plan: Paying the Price

Push in those chips

“I think it has been difficult for us to make clear that our No. 1 objective is to get this team into the World Series,” he says.

-Howard Lincoln – Mariners CEO December 12, 2004

(Part I of this series is found here)

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the unfairness of history. The judgments of our actions and our character are never enough on their own merit. All our words and actions seem to do is provide another data point for historians to compare us to other, better, more accomplished people.

In our living days we exist within the daily inheritance left us by our forebearers. People learn, and they remember. Whatever titles, responsibilities, or privileges we accrue through time we wear as mantle, laden by the words and deeds of all those who shared those accolades throughout time. It’s a lot more than one human can counteract on their own.

“The goal has always been to go to the World Series,”

Chuck Armstrong – Mariners President, January 23rd, 2014

It’s not fair to compare John Stanton and Howard Lincoln, Pat Gillick and Jerry Dipoto. In 2002, when Lincoln and Lou Piniella were getting in shouting matches at the trade deadline, Dipoto was in his first year in a front office, working with Dan O’Dowd in Denver. Populist rabble-rousing instinct is to label Stanton as just another billionaire suit, but to do so risks falling into much of the diminishing thought and language so easily found in our present times.

John Ellis

The Mariners’ current leadership has, in the grand measure of it, very little connection to its past. But telling fans not to draw that connection is an impossible task. When the Mariners lost in 2005, and 2006, and 1985, and 1998, and 1979, and on and on and on the current executives weren’t here. But we were.

We Mariners fans have lived through Carl Everett, and Carlos Silva. We have endured 2010, and Bill Plummer. We have witnessed the wasting away of the career of Felix Hernandez, of a core of inner circle hall of famers that couldn’t even make it to a World Series.

It’s not fair that we hold the sins of previous front offices against the current one. But it’s not fair we have spent four decades of fandom and support with zero World Series appearances, and the sport’s longest playoff drought to show for it. Maybe when there’s unfairness for everyone, there’s fairness for all.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians

The Plan

With all early indications this offseason the Mariners will attempt to make 2018 a contending season, simply rounding out the fringes of the roster will not do. 2014-2017 represents the window of opportunity for the core of Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and (starting in 2015) Nelson Cruz to push this team to the postseason. Counting on those four at their current ages and coming off 2017 production levels to drive a 90+ win team is foolish wishcasting. The team needs additions, and core ones.

Most obviously the starting rotation, despite encouraging Septembers from trade acquisitions Erasmo Ramirez and Mike Leake, is in desperate need. While one can hope that Jerry Dipoto’s ceaseless back-end rotation arm churn turns up the next Charlie Morton, planning on it is, again, foolish. As such:

Sign RHP Yu Darvish to a 6 year, $175 million dollar contract

The 31-year old Darvish is, in many ways, a right-handed James Paxton. Featuring plus-plus stuff, a checkered injury history, and the ability to dominate and disappoint in equal measure, Darvish represents the clearest and most direct path to acquire another ace-like talent. His age and aforementioned injury history makes a huge, long term contract a difficult one to commit to, but this is the cost of attempting to contend without any help from your own minor league system. Darvish’s peak is as high as any pitcher in the game. He is a foundational, landscape-altering acquisition for 2018.

Acquire RHP Shohei Otani

Otani’s posting is filled with unknowns. I’ve written about this already, but no one knows exactly why he may choose to forego $100+ million to come to MLB now, rather than wait for unrestricted free agency in two years, when he would still only be 25. What we do know is that his talent, and the initially low financial cost to acquire represents an opportunity that all 30 major league franchises should be interested in pursuing. It’s going to take a recruiting push that would make an SEC football program blush, but if the Mariners could land him a top three of Paxton-Darvish-Otani would anchor probably the best, and deepest rotation in franchise history.

Sign 1B/DH Carlos Santana to a 4 year, $68 million dollar contract

In the real world of budgets signing Santana, or any position player, to this kind of contract probably puts the Mariners completely out on acquiring an ace pitcher through free agency; but this plan is about being “all-in”, and acquiring Santana’s bat in addition to the above moves would indeed be a Parade at Edgar and Dave kind of acquisition. Santana’s excellent plate discipline, and switch-hitting more than compensates for a so-so glove at first base, and moving beyond next year, he can easily transition to DH to replace Nelson Cruz once his contract expires.

Re-sign CF Jarrod Dyson to a 2 year, $20 million dollar contract 

Baseball writing has a fun way of making you look dumb. This past summer I wrote that the Guillermo Heredia, Ben Gamel, and Mitch Haniger outfield looked like one ready to lead this franchise forward. Well, Heredia collapsed, Gamel’s BABIP regression could reveal him as nothing more than a fringe major leaguer, and Haniger needs to show the ability to stay healthy and productive.

Dyson’s bat is far from an asset, but coupled with baserunning and exceptional centerfield defense he is a very useful player, and at a position the Mariners have suddenly, and once again, very little depth.

While other moves will clearly need to be done (hello Kirk Nieuwenhuis!) to round out the roster, Jerry Dipoto has shown finding slightly below average roster filler is not a problem for him. None of these acquisitions prevent Dipoto’s maniacal churning from pressing onward, ever onward, ceaselessly beating away at the mania of inactivity.

Otani2

The 2018 Outlook

The addition of three all-star level talents realistically adds somewhere between 8-12 wins to the 2018 Mariners. If you feel like 2017’s 78 wins was a bit below the team’s true talent then it would appear this is a roster capable of producing only the franchise’s sixth 90-win team in forty-one years.

Even with these acquisitions, however, significant risk remains. The overall organizational lack of depth will put this team on a tight rope for the entire season. Mike Zunino’s breakout needs to hold, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and James Paxton need to remain healthy and productive, and the Edwin Diaz Coin needs to land on heads a fair amount of the time.

Without compelling, young talent above the high minors any holes in the roster will be difficult to fill at the trade deadline. Any significant time missed by any of the team’s stars will lead to a glaring loss of production. Even after hypothetically winning the offseason in a way that no Mariner team has ever done, this still stands as a very rickety, rapidly aging, top-heavy organization.

Still, this would stand as one of the most talented rosters the Mariners have ever assembled, and certainly the most talented since the 2003 team won 93 games. At their best they are absolutely a pennant and World Series contender.* That’s something we all want, and something that has recently felt very, very far away.

*Also, did we mention the payroll? It’s going to require an astronomical commitment from the Mariners’ ownership; we’re talking $200 million, luxury-tax approaching, Dodgers/Yankees/Red Sox/Cubs levels of spending to assemble this roster. Just consider it a Fan Tax guys, part of our win-redistribution program for all these decades of bumbling around.

The Rationale

“The fact that there are comments about this ownership and leadership group not caring about winning, but caring about making money, it’s patently false,”

-John Stanton – Mariners CEO, November 4th, 2016

The Mariners, as a franchise, are excellence-averse. In their 40 years of existence they have won 90 or more games only five times. Four of those were consecutively achieved from 2000-2003, literally the only period of time the Mariners resembled anything close to a “good” organization.

John Stanton

Many, many times many, many men have assured us that the Mariners primary goal is to make it to a World Series. But over the long arc of history results matter more than words. The fact is that too often the Mariners have come into a season with a best case scenario of simply squeaking into a Wild Card spot, a level of achievement that in some franchises gets the manager fired.

The team has made it clear they have no intention of rebuilding through the acquisition of young talent, my preferred path to building a consistent winner. As such, with the farm system unlikely to produce a star-level major leaguer prior to 2020 at the earliest, the only way up is by digging down into the pocketbook and signing the talent necessary to show us that, indeed, winning at the highest level is the burning, first priority of the entire franchise.

If ownership is unwilling to show the patience, planning, and competence to build a sustainable winner, then winning now through maniacal spending is the fastest and surest route to success. I’ve often wondered how I’d have felt about being a fan of the 1997 Marlins, who maxed out payroll for an aging roster of stars, only to sell them all off before the rings were even handed out, but I’m willing to give it a try.

If ownership does not spend as necessary, or put a rebuild plan into place soon in a manner that shows clear vision and action for the short and medium term, the next time John Stanton gives an interview and claims the World Series to be this franchise’s driving ambition will be weighed against all the times we’ve heard that before, and the final judgment will not be kind. But it will be fair.

Darryl P. Skeeby: Or How I Came To Love The Bat

If you don’t read this you probably still play Pokemon GO.

The truth, huh? Alright, I’ll start with the truth, but truth can be a tricky thing when you’re face to face with a bull gator and nothing betwixt you and a bony dinner but the home-made poultice of orange-rind and cinnamon that Momma P. made for warding off the spirits. If you want the truth, it’s simple – Ol’ Darryl was knee deep in his evenin’ pastrami and egg sandwich when my pager went off.

Beep. Beep. Bop. Boop. Boop.

That’s how you always know it’s gonna be a good one. That late-night buzz. I know what’s coming next, I do.

A ring-a-ding-a-ling and what do you know, a familiar number flashes across the screen of my brand new Apple Watch, a gift from my Cousin Gus. A voice I know all too well, low and severe, like a riptide on the Snake River, cuts through the late-night air of my penthouse Motel 5 room,”Darryl, we need you.”

If I had a nickel for every time I heard it, well, I’d be one Dapper Dan. Which is to say, I’d have enough to purchase a can of pomade.

“What’s the skinny, Jules?”

Julia Peffercorn is the toughest chief investigator I have ever had the displeasure of knowing. Sure, most elevated to the position have some sort of chip, or bag of chips, on their shoulder, but her chip was more a whole plate of nachos. She never took “No,” for an answer, and never tried my herbal tea mix that I promised her would knock a possum out a tree at midday sun.

“Someone stole Griffey’s bat.”

It was then I knew that trouble was afoot. Steeped deep in my stories and a long cup of the self-same herbal tea mix I just described, I knew it had to be mere minutes past 10:37PM. The time for perfect crime. Quickly, I reached for my notebook.

Flipping through important sketches of 3D cubes I had made while waiting to get a hold of a real person at Comcast (I don’t trust robots) and a grocery list for the butler detailing the seven different beans I needed to make Mama Skeeby’s Famous Bean Salad for weekend supper, I came to my List of Lists.

Yes, dear reader, any detective worth their salt and pepper has a good, old-fashioned List of Lists. In there are all the learnings of a life hard-lived. I have pros and cons on purchasing a yellow car, hats and their proper occasions, different uses for paisley, and a whole sublist of lists containing best chili recipes. Having so many lists, I finally got to the one I was looking for: Reasons for Stealing A Bat.

What follows are trade secrets on motives for stealing a bat:

  • Researching origins of mammalian flight
  • Vampire breeding
  • Echolocation – I think that speaks for itself
  • Infect enemies with rabies
  • Too many insects in a room
  • Lonely – if you’re all alone a bat would be a fine pet, I suppose

The rest of the list has been redacted due to the explicit nature of the content and the potential of compromising Deep Cover friends. I still care for you, Barney. I called Julia back, certain I knew exactly who did this: Daniel Paul Valencia.

The motive was obvious. Who could more clearly be trying to master echolocation in order to find the strike zone again? Who could be more concerned with mammalian flight than a man in his mid 30’s looking to regain strength to “fly” across the outfield grass. Lean in closer, dear reader, and let me show you exactly how I know it was him.

In the Spanish League of soccer, known to the cosmopolitans amongst us as “La Liga”, the team representing the beautiful and cultured city of Valencia Spain has the following mascot:

Valencia

A bat, indeed, Daniel.

Full of culture and dreams of tapas, I call Julia.

“Ken Griffey Junior’s bat from the statue, you idiot. I swear to G-”

I quickly hang up, I cannot take her scorn. Embarrassed, I return to my List of Lists. This time, quickly searching for a list I made when I was a younger man, playing semi-pro ball in the lesser-known Cape Halibut League. Oh, the fish and chips we’d have. Simply sublime it was in those days. Lost in visions of lemon wedges and tartars, that’s when sleep became me.

I arose the next day with renewed strength and ambition. After a particular dream I called Julia again, sure that my night terrors had given me the answer to the case at hand. Ready to prove my worth to the investigator who just hours before had scoffed at me.

“Julia, I kn-”

“Darryl, let me stop you right there. We caught the vandal and the bat has been safely returned. We’ve had enough of your help on this case.”

Sensing this for the cover up I knew it to be, I pleaded with her for one more consideration. Sure that there was no chance they had apprehended the real criminal, I played my cards.

“The man you’re looking for is Daniel Paul Valencia, former first baseman of the Seattle Mariners.”

She waited a beat, released a short chuckle, “How do you figure, Mr. Skeeby?”

“The answer is quite obvious, Julia.”

I waited a pregnant pause.

“He still needs a bat.”

 

 

Extend Jerry Dipoto

Wait, aren’t you the pessimist blog?

With the end of another playoff-less season, the accompanying tours of shame by the various members of the Mariners front office and ownership are well underway. Last week it was Jerry Dipoto, putting his hand on the Bible and swearing before God and Country to uphold an offseason of clean living, and minimal transactions. This week, it’s new CEO John Stanton’s turn, offering an emphatic support of Dipoto’s front office in an article by Greg Johns, of MLB dot com:

“I’m completely supportive of Jerry and thrilled with the job he’s done and the way he’s addressed the adversity and overcome it, in many respects,” Stanton said. “I’m all in on Jerry and enthusiastic about what he’s done.”

In the theater of public relations, this is very much following the steps on the dance card. The team isn’t going to change over the front office after two seasons, one a qualified success, and the other easily hand waved as a mere “setback”. However, thanks to a recent article from national writer, Arby’s enthusiast, and general menche Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, we have some TREMENDOUS NUGGETUDE that Jerry Dipoto’s contract is set to expire after the upcoming season.

Now, let’s back up here, and all agree to some basic things:

1) It is now clear, if he accepted a 3-year contract, that Jerry Dipoto’s primary, secondary, and perhaps even tertiary mandates were to end the organization’s playoff drought as quickly as possible, no matter what the cost.

2) Despite disagreeing with plenty of moves, my and many of my colleagues’ issues with Dipoto’s time as General Manager have had more to do with the decision to try and maximize the current window, rather than the granular details of how he has gone about that. Broadly speaking, we’re aiming at different targets, not arguing flight paths.

3) All but the most blindly optimistic Mariner fan would likely acquiesce that any scenario that involves the 2018 Mariners competing for more than a Wild Card spot, and an ~85 win season, involves a series of extreme outliers.

Now, if we can agree on these three points the problem begins to come into focus. The Mariners are taking their head personnel executive, the man who will be in charge of another draft, and another trade deadline, into a contract year, seemingly with a win-or-else mandate, for a season that appears to have a low probability of success. This represents a failure to acknowledge the current power structure of the American League; where Houston, New York, Boston, and even Cleveland appear to return very strong rosters for 2018. Additionally, any executive with a soon to expire contract, looking to save his job by turning a 95th percentile outcome into a 90th percentile outcome by further savaging tomorrow for today, is gonna take one look at the handle in his office labeled “YOLO” and yank on it without a second thought.

So, this is all preamble to my main, badly buried lede: For the sake of 2018 AND 2019 and beyond, the Mariners should sign Jerry Dipoto to a 2-3 year extension before he makes even one more transaction. The cult of personality surrounding Dipoto as a baseball messiah never made sense, and is finally beginning to deflate, but by a fair and objective analysis he appears to be, at minimum, the organization’s best general manger since Pat Gillick. I know, I know, the lowest of bars, cleared.

Still, having been fortunate enough to talk to Dipoto on a few occasions, and through observing him work closely over the past two seasons, I believe him to be a smart, forward-thinking man with good communication skills, and the ability to manage the people below him to the degree that his overall vision for the franchise doesn’t fall into chaotic disrepair. At minimum, he deserves a chance to draft and develop for more than two seasons to see if Kyle Lewis, Sam Carlson, Evan White, etc. blossom into the kind of franchise-altering talents this team so desperately needs.

By extending Dipoto now, the Mariners allow his plan the stability necessary to look beyond 2018, key for not only Dipoto himself but for all the minor league coaches, scouts, and talent developers tasked with implementing a coherent, consistent program that regularly turns out major league talent in Seattle. The lack of coherence can have a cascading effect, with the stress of unknown job security leading to potential suffering of performance, damaging press leaks, and talent loss as employees jump ship for a seemingly more stable situation.

Crucially, extending Dipoto does not in fact commit the team to another 3-4 years of Jerry Dipoto. General Manager salaries are difficult to find, but with Theo Epstein making reportedly around $10 million dollars, it’s hard to believe Dipoto earns even half that. The risk of eating $10-15 million, should Dipoto’s regime tank and a change clearly becomes necessary is something, but its far from prohibitive in the world of professional baseball.

Jerry Dipoto was brought in to win now, and in 2016 he got very close. Despite the belief here that the best course of action is to build for the future, it is clear that ownership wants to break this damn losing streak in 2018, come hell or high water. That mandate is not inherently reflective of Dipoto’s ability as general manager. He has thus far gone to great pains in fact to NOT further saddle the organization with long-term commitments to older players and should be commended. Allowing him to work in a contract year where decisions made could be felt for years to come (hello, Erik Bedard trade) brings too great a temptation to sacrifice the future for a small chance at glory.

Whatever 2018 brings, Jerry Dipoto deserves the opportunity to transition the franchise to its next phase. For him, and for the franchise, an extension as soon as possible is the best thing to do. So, let’s do it.

 

Jerry Dipoto presents: Return of Erasmo

It’s late-July and I’ve started to do that thing where I’m worrying about Summer someday ending. The same is true for MLB teams all over this nation, and for their respective executives and managers. It’s high-time for big moves to make a splash, one last chance at summer romance, and maybe by the end of the whole thing we’ll have some great memories to embellish and share with our friends when school starts back up again. In a transaction that is sure to move the “swoon” barometer approximately one tick towards “hard swoon” and then another tick back towards “hard pass”, Jerry Dipoto traded Steve Cishek for former-now-again Mariner Erasmo Ramirez. I always hate when I start thinking about Fall again.

Acquiring Erasmo Ramirez has a million different angles that I can think of but let’s start with the obvious one. If the Seattle Mariners are going to Do The Damn Thing they need live arms that can throw strikes that are not in turn hit over a fence. This is not necessarily what Erasmo Ramirez is in 2017, but he has run out a GB% slightly above league-average this year in 69 nicely pitched innings. Ground balls are something the Mariners are rather good at dealing with. This site would like to put itself forward as a pro-grounders blog. Erasmo is, however, also running HR/9 and HR/FB numbers that are both slightly above league-average, so really what the M’s received is someone who is a bit better than league-average (his FIP agrees). But just barely.

What has to be said is that the acquisition of David Phelps clearly made Jerry feel comfortable in giving up a ~late-inning bullpen piece to potentially stabilize an often frightening rotation. This may or may not prove to be prudent, but this was certainly not a case of dealing from a position of strength. The bullpen has recently felt more stable, but the idea of Phelps-Cishek-Diaz as all potential shutdown arms at the back end of a close game felt a lot better, stuff-wise, than Phelps-(insert like four names)-Diaz does now. The Mariners are a bat-first team and it is 2017. Wake up, Sheeple.

It’s also hard to say, and I’m sure by the time I hit ‘publish’ this will be foolish because some quote will have come out from the front office, exactly how Ramirez fits into the 25-man. Does he straight swap out Moore or Gallardo? Does he immediately move to the bullpen as a three-inning swing arm? Does he convert to an 8th inning guy and blow 99 mph fastballs under the chin? I’d bet against at least one of those.

It feels mostly like a lateral move for this season. While Erasmo has eight starts in 2017, he certainly isn’t a massive upgrade over Moore or Gallardo. The same problems are there, really. Stuff that can be thrown for strikes, but maybe too many strikes. The Big Inning being the downfall, or being bled to death by spreading four dingers over six innings. While the cost is relatively low in giving up a bullpen arm with only three months left on his contract (plus $1M), in exchange for an arm with 2.5 years of club-control, it has to be said that the Mariners kinda already had this arm before 2017 began in the form of Vidal Nuno. Vidal was, of course, flipped for Carlos Ruiz to shore up a backup catcher position after Jerry decided to let Chris Iannetta walk. It all just feels lateral, maybe almost revisionist, to go get a league-average swing arm in late-July.

There is another angle here that expands beyond 2017, though. With acquisitions like this and David Phelps, Dipoto could be pre-empting a 2018 trade market that should value swing arms. Erasmo’s 2015 season is well-behind him at this point, and maybe he is a guy that steals a couple wins by locking down the 6th and 7th for the Mariners in August, but this could also be a play to acquire future value for the 2018 season. It could also just really do nothing.

It’s Summer – go have some fun, you knuckleheads.

M’s Acquire Bullpen (P)Help(s)

David-Phelps

Before reading this, I apologize if I go full redundancy in here if you’ve listened to the latest podcast. Last night while recording, I jammed my stick in the mud and essentially advocated for the Mariners to stay put outside of making a move almost identical to the one they just made, trading for RH reliever David Phelps from the Miami Marlins. Phelps is a converted starter/swingman, spending the first four years of his career averaging 90mph on his heater, all while being a perfectly fine, but middling major league player. After his conversion, Phelps saw his average velocity jump into the 93-94 range, with the latter being his number this year. He’s throwing harder than ever, and while he’s taken a step back from his big 2016 breakout season, he’s still been a quality arm.

Phelps was outstanding in relief for the Marlins last year, and he even managed to duck back in and start five games for the Marlins in August, and they were pretty damn good starts too – allowing a .563 OPS against, but also averaging less than 5 innings a start. There was no real stretch period for his transition, and he hopped back into the bullpen in September and crushed it, only allowing 5 hits across his 8 innings while striking out 13.

This year, Phelps hasn’t been quite as good, though the results are still solid. He’s never been a man of great control, and that’s continued into this year. He’s still missing bats, but at a lesser rate (9.77 K/9, down from 11.84 in ‘16). The xFIP has landed at 3.74, and his resulting contribution to the Marlins has been a perfectly fine 0.3 WAR.

From a fit perspective, it’d be hard to find somebody who makes more sense than Phelps. He’s been durable during his career, and he’s shown the ability to get “rubbery”, i.e.  throw multiple innings when asked without much consequence immediately following. The velocity is still rising, and he’s under club control for 2018 as well. At 30, he’s right in that dry-aging meaty part of the curve. Phelps has no discernable red flags, and he comes to the Mariners filling their greatest (black) hole – people who can throw baseballs.

There will be clamoring that Phelps isn’t the starter the team needs, and while that’s true, the Mariners also cannot make a playoff push while throwing Edwin Diaz and Nick Vincent every single time they play a close game they’re on track to win. Diaz has thrown his damn arm off lately, and while he’s been Jekyll instead of Hyde lately (that’s the good one, right?), it’s more than likely that he’s going to hit another valley before the season is over, leaving the team void of quality late-inning options. Phelps is a classic late-inning power arm, and while he hasn’t been awesome this season, they paid a price that represents that dip.

The ol’ rumor mill stated that the Marlins weren’t in love with the Mariners farm system, and well, yeah. The centerpiece from the M’s teenage wasteland is Brayan Hernandez, that not-so-small Venezuelan child the Mariners paid a pretty penny for back in 2014. Hernandez is 19 now, and isn’t doing much of anything in Everett. He remains a long-term project with some amount of unknown upside, but at best he’s still three years away from contributing to a major league team in any fashion. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that even somebody Ben Gamel could be a free agent before Hernandez ever dons an MLB uniform. He is, kindly put, a project who hasn’t shown any signs of translating tools into production.

The other arms lost are Brandon Miller, Pablo Lopez, and Lukas Schiraldi. The latter two are having horrible seasons in Modesto and will be lucky to ever make an MLB roster, and while Miller is doing fine in Clinton, his odds are still poor at best. Lopez and Miller both appear in the middle of the Mariners top 30 prospect list on MLB.com, but make no mistake, these players would not be similarly placed in an average farm system. Their loss should not be deeply lamented – outside of some unforeseen breakout, which could happen to anyone, there isn’t an MLB arm in the bunch. They are, more than anything else, throw-ins and lottery tickets to complete this deal.

Maybe this is a tiny bit of an overpay considering Phelps’ step back and Hernandez’s unknown upside/tools combo, but it fits just fine into a win-now strategy without much damage to the limited farm system. Phelps’ 2018 control give the M’s a chance to try him as a starter again to see if the velocity sticks, or they can flip him right back around for their own batch of lottery tickets that Dipoto likes. We’ll see how this affects the rotation, but Gallardo could move back into the #5 slot and Sam Gaviglio, who is decidedly not a MLB pitcher, could head back to AAA. Either way, Phelps slots in nicely as a late-inning option, especially as a person who can throw two innings when the bullpen is gassed. The Mariners have to win a lot of games to make the playoffs, and they’ll need an arm like Phelps to help carry the load.