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.

If It Goes Half Right

1) The rain is starting to fall at Safeco Field, just like the forecast said. The last home game rained, too, but that was nine days ago. Somewhere in that span summer finally left. There’s no warmth in this rain. It is cold, oppressive; the kind we sat through all winter and spring. It feels like football and, indeed, the Seahawks just beat the Colts across the street, two days ago. It was the same day the Mariners finished up their season in Anaheim, with a 6-3 win. Cano and Haniger went deep, and Moore gutted out 7 innings, like he somehow did the whole second half.

The season is over, but I’m at Safeco Field, because there’s a baseball game today.

2) I’m stuck in line, a long line. A Black Friday kind of line. The kind of line that doesn’t make sense to be in. There must be something better to do with my time; some friend to go say hello to, a beer to find, batting practice to watch, signs to enjoy. I’m in a line that reaches its foolish length because there was something after all to what James Earl Jones said in Field of Dreams. I am wading in baseball’s magic waters and I, like seemingly everyone else here, know the only right thing to do today is to go say hi to Dave. I don’t mind the wait. Impatience melts away when you’re sure of your destination.

3) It doesn’t make sense, what Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz have done the past two and a half months. They are too old, and too gimpy, to have provided the ceaseless, daily impact they have in this second half. Signing these two men to play in Seattle was folly. Their ages, the amount of money they commanded, the years on those contracts. They should be albatrosses, dead weight. Baseball history is littered with contracts for players like Carlos Lee, Vernon Wells, Adrian Gonzalez, and Albert Pujols. Great players who were paid for past greatness, and never approached it again.

Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz are not those men. They are instead two of the finest players in the American League. They are All-Stars. They are the absolute, full stop, beginning and end of what drives the Mariners clubhouse. They are kind, smart, charitable, engaging, funny, and brilliantly talented. They have given us not just wins, and a game 163 at long last, they have given us a team to be proud to root for, win or lose. They are Mariner legends, without playing another day. I look forward to standing in line for their statues, too.

4) While standing in line, the moments pass by quickly in my head: Haniger’s walk off bomb against the Rangers, only one strike from defeat. I remember watching a late-inning double sink into left-center, only to have Jarrod Dyson streak into frame, running in that slow-appearing way that only truly fast people do. I can see Shae Simmons, all but forgotten, providing the desperately needed additional bullpen arm. There is Felix, these days so mortal, fighting through every single start. Once so mighty, still so proud, he would not allow himself to fade into oblivion. Not yet. Not this year.

As the rest of the American League continued its mediocrity only the Mariners, finally, were able to take advantage. Through good luck and good play they carved a 43-29 second half out of the muck and mire, and they won the Wild Card. To paraphrase a great man, sixteen long years of frustration, is over.

5) Was it worth it? Was it worth these sixteen years? Was it worth the Jeremy Reeds, and Carlos Silvas? Was it worth the Adam Jones trade, and LollaBlueza, and 2010? Was it worth Bill Bavasi, Rick White, Eric Wedge, Chone Figgins, Ryan Anderson, Danny Hultzen, Jeff Clement, Michael Garciaparra, and on?

The 2017 Mariners should have been sellers. The 2018 and 2019 team will be worse off because they did not. Was all the time spent, both in the past and now in the future, worth it for a hot few months, and a one game playoff against the Rays?

I don’t know the answer to that. Professional sports are a dumb investment of practically any resource we choose to assign to them. Money, time, emotion, etc. all flow from us in huge quantities, and there is no guarantee that anything worthwhile is ever coming back. This is not a sound decision, to be a sports fan. Perhaps, somehow, that’s part of the appeal.

6) I’m in my seat, finally, but there’s still plenty of time before first pitch. Everyone is here: Alvin Davis, Dan Wilson, Jamie Moyer, Randy Johnson, Bret Boone, and many others. Russell Wilson and a bunch of Seahawks are in a suite. Sitting in the front row are three tall reminders of childhood: Detlef Schrempf, Gary Payton, and Shawn Kemp. The Mariners, always hitting the PR notes perfectly, have Marilyn Niehaus throw out the first pitch to Junior. It’s raining at Safeco Field, and it’s cold, and it’s perfect. It’s family.

7) If the Mariners lose this game, their season is over, and their future remains cloudy. As a child I would never have thought twice about that, I would have just cheered. Time and understanding have slowly made that basic act more and more complicated. Sports are not that simple. Life, far less so. I’m pondering all this, still sitting in my seat, when the voice of Tom Hutyler begins to speak, but he’s quickly drowned out, as everyone already knows what to do.

My head snaps up, for one final glance at it all. I see 45,000 dots of yellow, each with their chest cavity ripped open and heart fully exposed, as though the simple act of naked vulnerability, of offering their very essence, can assure victory. They are so present, desperate for echoes of the past, that it might lead us to our future. The door to the bullpen opens, and he’s walking out: Old, less, ours, proud, regal, King.

The PA faintly echoes in my head; is it a directive, or a simple observation of what we already knew to do?

“All rise.”

Andrew Moore: The First Three Starts

Andrew Moore is one of the Mariners’ best stories of 2017. We should just get that out of the way. A PNW-born, slight, no-velo kid who starred at the region’s best baseball college, Moore is one of only a handful of 2015 draft picks to have already reached the major leagues. Most of the others (Andrew Benintendi, Alex Bregman, Dansby Swanson, etc.) are upper 1st round, consensus top prospect talents. What Moore and the Mariners have managed to do in successfully rocketing him to Seattle is a fine achievement, and we can all be happy about that.

The Mariners rotation is a disaster, and looks to be a disaster through at least the rest of the year. Moore is being asked to do more than he probably should, which is to arrive as a 23-year old rookie and shore up the rotation for a team that’s desperately trying to make the playoffs. With that in mind, even though it has only been three starts, let’s take a look see

CAVEAT ALERT: I am not a mechanics or pitching expert in any way, and if you want a place to learn the building blocks of Moore’s game I highly recommend reading Kate Preusser’s exhaustive breakdown here. I’m just here to do some Small Sample Size Sizin’ Up. So, through three starts, what has Moore done well?

Pacman, but innings 

In two of Moore’s three major league starts, he has managed to go at least seven innings. This sounds like low praise, but it’s not an easy thing, and in the context of the 2017 Mariners rotation, it’s rarified air. Here’s the leaderboard for starts of 7+ innings:

Ariel Miranda7
James Paxton5
Andrew Moore2
Christian Bergman (!)2

Moore’s economy of motion, very quick pace, and well-advertised ability to pound the strike zone is a huge plus for this team, which features one of the American League’s scariest bullpens. No, not like the Astros bullpen is scary, the other scary.

Swing the bat or walk (back to the dugout)

Going in tandem with the previous point is Moore’s almost total unwillingness to walk anyone. After his first 21 major league innings he has only walked two batters, or a BB% of 2.4. Of all pitchers with a minimum of 20 innings that puts Moore 4th, behind only Kenley Jansen, Noah Syndergaard, and Roberto Osuna.

This is, again, as advertised with Moore. He has never run a BB% higher than 6.5% as a professional, and was running a rate of 3.9% in Tacoma prior to his callup. The dude throws strikes, and then some strikes, and then more strikes. You gotta swing it.

Ok, that’s some good stuff to build off. Let’s look at the concerning parts

Oh lordy please miss some bats

Major league hitters are terrifying, earth-destroying, pitcher-swallowing demigods, sent to this planet from the cosmos with the sole purpose of reconfiguring our perception of the atrocities that can be committed to baseballs. As such, it’s really in a pitcher’s best interest to just have them not hit the ball altogether. Thus far, Moore is one of the worst in baseball at this.

Through three starts Moore’s K% is 12.2% 12.2! That is 12th worst in baseball, two spots better than the tanning corpse of Jered Weaver, and three places worse than poor, poor Hisashi Iwakuma. This is a concern I expect to alleviate at least partially. Moore will never be even a league average strikeout pitcher, but his current MLB rate is almost half what it was in Tacoma.

I certainly hope it rises, because after factoring in the annually increasing league-wide strikeout rate Moore’s inability to generate strikeouts starts to look a lot like, um, well, you all won’t like this comp I know.

 

 

 

 

I’m sorry. You can stop reading now.

 

 

 

 

Still here?

 

 

 

 

(Guy peeking out behind the building ASCII art)

 

 

 

 

Carlos Silva. It’s a lot like Carlos Silva. There, I said it. The thing with Silva, who actually scraped together a few 2+ fWAR seasons in Minnesota, despite striking out less than 10% of batters, is he ran above average to good groundball rates. And, well……

Bombs over Safeco

Andrew Moore’s inability to generate strikeouts is doubly concerning when we notice that over 70% of the balls hit off him are in the air. His GB% of 29.4% is 12th lowest in baseball, tied with AJ Griffin, and a few spots worse than Francisco Rodriguez. Here, Moore’s rates lineup with his minor league numbers very well. He has always allowed a very high number of fly balls, with a GB% under 35.0 in every level above A ball.

Not surprisingly, Moore has already allowed 5 home runs, and there has been plenty of hard contact hit foul or to the warning track in addition to that. The HR/FB% of 13.5 should theoretically decline, but allowing so many balls to get hit in the air is not a traditionally repeatable model for quality major league pitching.

Summary

Andrew Moore is smart, and probably knows everything I just said way better than I do. He knows his .188 BABIP is going to regress in the bad way. He knows his ERA of 3.86 is almost two runs worse than his FIP. He might even know his DRA is 6.34, which, yikes.

Moore is a tough, intelligent, savvy competitor. He has dedicated his life to gaining every bit of pitching skill out of his talent that he possibly can, and by all accounts has done so while remaining a grounded, humble, likable person who teammates adore. However, even with his ability to work deep in games, and refusal to walk batters, he will quickly need to show an ability to miss bats, or generate more groundballs.

It’s possible he could be an exception to the idea that a low strikeout, low groundball pitcher can succeed as a starting pitcher. Baseball’s greatness shines brightest when players gleam through the cracks in our ascertations and rigid stereotypes. However, I see no compelling reason to believe that at this time.

I have little doubt that Andrew Moore is one of the Mariners organization’s five best starting pitchers. He belongs in Seattle, even if that is partially due to the organization’s utter lack of MLB quality pitching depth. The primary concerns remain, however, and they are large enough to potentially overshadow everything else.

Without more strikeouts and/or fewer flyballs (which, again, could absolutely come. It’s three starts Nathan, you idiot) it’s very difficult to see Andrew Moore as anything greater than a useful, cheap backend starter at his very peak. To my admittedly layman’s eye, it’s hard to see much more than a Brian Bannister-style career.

As always, may I be wrong.

 

Gee Yair Mo

An uncomfortable truth is that, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s fun to play favorites. Watching someone, or something we’ve anointed with our favor succeed results in an intoxicating bouquet of pride, joy, and, truthfully, superiority. It’s easy to love your team’s greatest players, and we almost all do; Junior, Edgar, Felix, Ichiro, etc. But there is something special about picking a player before greatness, catching them before their rise. It’s personal, in a way rooting for superstars is not.

The 2017 Mariners are not a great team, but they are replete with fun players to root for. You could pick one of a group of 6-7 guys to ride with. I’ve made my choice, and it’s an intense, scrappy outfielder from the island of Cuba.

Guillermo Heredia

Experiencing Guillermo Heredia playing baseball is like watching George Bailey wildly running around Bedford Falls at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, telling everyone and everything Merry Christmas. He possesses the emotional equivalent of an exoskeleton, and watching everything he feels and experiences portrayed so visibly, at all times, is riveting.

Earlier this week, when Heredia saved Nick Vincent’s ass with a fantastic running grab in Los Angeles I announced, with my usual lack of thought or research, that of all the Mariners sudden bounty of quality outfielders, he is the one I would take for the next five years. That was a moment of mildly inebriated hubris, and as we now have this nice new place to serve for investigation, I went searching for some ACTUAL DATA, to determine just how dumb I was and am.

I can do a decent Fangraphs/BRef search like a normal baseball blogger, but for a player I love as much as Guillermo Heredia, I wanted to find some good stuff. As such I consulted with good friend Eric Blankenship, formerly of Lookout Landing, and as sharp a baseball mind as I personally know. Eric disappeared into the Matrix for a while and came back with an exhaustive look at how Heredia’s offensive profile comps with major leaguers past and present:

Well well, there are some might fine baseball players on this list. Angel Pagan would be a terrific career for Guillermo. Ditto, David DeJesus and few others. Heredia’s combination of quality plate control, and contact ability has worked very well for some very good players over the years. However, for Heredia to separate himself from the Timo Perez and Augie Ojedas of this list he needs to do two, mostly interconnected things better: He needs to hit the ball in the air more, and improve that ISO slugging.

Players like Heredia walk a very narrow path with their offensive profile. Little power and absolutely no power is one of the key differences between 2009 and 2010 Chone Figgins. The total absence of power means pitchers regard you with a total absence of fear, and you really want major league pitchers to feel some fear.

Guillermo’s slight frame, tendency to dive over the plate, and, to this author’s marginally trained eye, below average lower body torque limits his ability to hit home runs, even with the nonsense rabbit ball MLB is currently using. Still, the swing and contact ability are there for more than a singles slap hitter. A player with Heredia’s well-rounded skillset, speed, and defensive ability can be a quality starting outfielder on a good major league roster if he can hit 30+ doubles, and with his speed a few of those can be triples. That kind of contact should be, and I’d imagine is, the goal he and the team have set for him moving forward.

The offensive side of the game needs only to reach average to slightly above average levels, because by most accounts and data Heredia is a very good defensive outfielder. Fangraphs currently has him at +5 runs saved defensively, whereas the Total Zone Rating used by baseball-reference has him accruing 0.9 wins with glove alone in 2017. This serves as a good excuse to say hey holy shit y’all remember that time Guillermo Heredia sprinted backwards and, in the span of approximately a half second turned, found the ball, leaped, crashed into the wall, and robbed Andrelton Simmons of a home run?

ENHANCE

BASEBALL SHOCKED COBRA

BASEBALL SURRENDER COBRA

Guillermo Heredia’s story of defection, quality defense, and electrifyingly energetic playing style has made him one of my favorite 2017 Seattle Mariners. The path to a long, productive major league career exists, but more than likely he projects as a quality 4th outfielder, a role that easily makes him a Jerry Dipoto success story. However if I’m honest, from a front office perspective I would not, in fact, take him over all the Mariners other young outfielders. The road to stardom is simply too long and winding for a player with such a low offensive ceiling.

As a fan, however, I can do whatever I want, and that is this: I want to sit down, turn on my tv, and let this earnest, skilled, passionate man from Matanzas make me care about what he does every second he’s in the game. He’ll do that, as long as he wears a Mariners uniform, and probably well after.

(I am extremely grateful and indebted, again, to Eric Blankenship for his assistance in researching and compiling the data for this post, and talking through it with me.)

Welcome to Dome and Bedlam

Dome and Bedlam began in 2015 as a pressure valve. The daily work and stress of running a major team site in a sport with a game every day takes a toll, and so we decided to just let something rip. A podcast allows a freedom the written word does not, and there is joy in spontaneity and camaraderie.

After Nathan and David left Lookout Landing due to time constraints, this site was started as a sort of halfway house for recovering baseball bloggers. More than anything, it was a way to hold on to the most valuable thing any of us ever got out of baseball writing: A wealth of relationships with wonderful, hilarious, smart, and kind people. The continued development of those relationships, and our continued enjoyment creating and sharing things we like with each other and a small, loyal audience has led to what we are announcing today.

As the season has worn on, and the podcast and site have served their purpose as a depository for our free time and ramblings, the thought has remained that there may be room for something more. After a lot of discussion and (a little) planning we are thrilled to bring Dome and Bedlam into the world as a fully functional, living baseball blog, starting today.

While Dome and Bedlam started as the vision of three friends with a shared passion for baseball, and the podcast for now will remain largely Scott, David and myself, we are thrilled to welcome some good friends to the site, and can now feature something approximate to a fully staffed baseball website:

Scott Weber (@ScottyWeebs)
David Skiba (@SkibaScubaShop)
Nathan Bishop (@NathanHBishop)
Matt Ellis (@MatthiasEllis)
Andrew Rice (@Andrew_Rice)
Peter Woodburn (@Wernies)
Scott George (@ScottGeorge)

The underlying principle of Dome and Bedlam being as much for the authors as the reader has not changed. Click chasing and content grinding is not, and will never be our mission. This is a place for us to record when we have time, and write when inspired. If you are hankering for daily, in depth Mariner coverage, beloved stalwarts Lookout Landing and USS Mariner are both excellent sites that admirably fill that purpose.

This will be something different; a return to the days of independent blogging, with a high bar for content, a blend of old and new school baseball thought, a shitload of nonsense, and a posting schedule that first and foremost fits our availability and energy level. You will never see anything on Dome and Bedlam we are less than thrilled to share with you, because all content will be produced solely at the creator’s whim and availability.

If you’re still here, and if that sounds like something you’ll enjoy, welcome. You are our target audience, and we’re grateful for you. We can’t wait to get started. We hope you’ll make us a regular part of your reading routine, and you can follow us @DomeAndBedlam on Twitter.

Go Mariners, blah blah blah.

The Mariners Outfield Looks Rebuilt

The goal of a front office, per annum, is to win the World Series. From an elevated perspective, it is to build a top down system of acquiring and developing talent that leads to the best odds year in and year out of winning the World Series. By the end of 2017, the Mariners are exceedingly unlikely to achieve either of these goals.  Whether the Mariners squeak into the playoffs as a Wild Card, or miss the postseason for a sixteenth consecutive season, the season is most likely a short term failure.

Failure is a loaded term, and one with an undeservedly negative association. After all, as they say, baseball is The Game of Failure. Failure combined with the proper mindset leads to growth, better failure, and finally, success. While the Mariners are not yet the shining city on the hill for all of baseball to admire and aspire to be, the first half of 2017 has seen some notable improvement, from one of their longest running weaknesses.

APTOPIX Red Sox Mariners Baseball

The performance of the Mariner’s outfield this decade has, until recently, been an utter failure. Like a baseball Statue of Liberty other baseball teams have sent their Morses, their Trumbos, their Ricky Weeks’. If you have watched the team at all in past years this is far from revelatory, but to drive home the point here is the AL ranking of Mariner outfielders in fWAR every year this decade prior to 2017:

2010: 8th (6.6 fWAR)
2011: 14th (-1.3!!)
2012: 11th (3.9)
2013: 13th (0.8)
2014: 15th (1.7) (to hell with you, Austin Jackson)
2015: 6th (10.4)
2016: 4th (8.9)

There are some very low points there, along with that dreaded and familiar term Mariners fans know so well by now: A low ceiling. In fact 2015 stands as the only season of Mike Trout’s career that Mariner outfielders, combined, have accrued more fWAR than him (10.4 vs. 9.0).

So we have a sample of a lot of truly awful, with a smattering of average-slightly above average production.. I went looking to see if there was a common thread in the failures and, by and large, there sure was. Here is the average age of Mariner outfielders by year, minimum 100 plate appearances.

2010: 29.6 years
2011: 27.9
2012: 28.0
2013: 32.0
2014: 27.3
2015: 30.3
2016: 30.6

Let’s chart it!

Mariner OF 2010 2016

The data lines up well with what we’ve perceived over the years: The Mariners have been bad at developing positional talent, particularly outfielders. Whenever the team attempted to build a young outfield (Trayvon Robinson, Casper Wells, Mike Carp, etc) the position group’s production took a nose dive. With the mild exception of Michael Saunders it has only been through the acquisition of costly and/or aging talent from outside the organization (ex. Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith, Raul Ibanez) that the Mariners have managed to drag their outfield into competence.

It is in this way that Jerry Dipoto’s 2017 Mariners stand apart. The average age of Mariner outfielders this year is 27.6 years, and with a little more than half the season banked they are on pace for 12.1 fWAR. Granted the oldest, and most short term member of the group, Jarrod Dyson, leads them with 2.0 wins, but Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, and Mitch Haniger are all close behind, bunched up at 1.9, 1.2, and 1.4, respectively. Let’s update that chart to include 2017’s projected production:

Mariner OF 2010 2017

All three rookies (Haniger/Gamel/Heredia) are in the 25-26 age range, and potentially have room for further development and growth. I think the odds are against any of them regularly producing the 5+ wins of a true star, and Gamel and Haniger are due for some harsh BABIP regression. However, they have shown a consistent ability to produce quality at-bats, and feature acceptable to good walk rates, along with average to above average defense at all three outfield positions. They loosely share a well rounded skillset, with the ability to endure some dry offensive periods and still provide value in other ways on the field. It doesn’t feel unreasonable to think that each of them can be a 1.5-3 win player in upcoming seasons.

The potential windfall of pencilling in 4.5-9 wins from your young outfield is enormous due to the other benefit of young players: Club control! Between Haniger, Gamel, and Heredia the Mariners have an almost embarrassing eighteen years of club control, half of which is pre-arbitration, and thus at or near league minimum salary. Baseball’s screw-the-young-guy labor structure allows the team to absorb the expensive decline years of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Felix Hernandez while potentially making up the difference with an incredibly cheap, productive outfield.

Gamel catch

This, this is how you overcome years of criminally negligent and incompetent front offices. While Jerry Dipoto has been far from perfect, and the pitching side of the organization is still a barren wasteland where even small oasis of prospect competence has fans lapping at the water like dying men, his work in the outfield stands as his finest achievement in his first year and a half in Seattle. He has taken an organizational black hole, both at the major and minor league level, and filled it so quickly and efficiently that we haven’t even discussed the developing fail safe redundancies in the minors, aka Tyler O’Neill and Kyle Lewis.

We all hope the 2017 Mariners take advantage of a down American League, and find themselves in a playoff game in October. But regardless of this season’s outcome, the organization and the fanbase should remember the final goal, which is best in baseball levels of greatness, year in and year out. There are miles and miles between them and that destination, but a quick glance at outfields past shows many miles have already been traveled. Carry on, Jerry. Carry on.



The Mariners are Not Toast

On May 3rd, forty-seven games ago, I wrote that the Mariners were probably toast. They were 11-16, missing Felix Hernandez and Mitch Haniger, Edwin Diaz was a mess while still being their best bullpen arm, and the team did not (and still does not) have the talent resources on the farm to acquire help via trade.

Those things were true then, and I do not regret writing them. What is also true is that, despite losing Jean Segura (twice), Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, and doubtless a few others I’ve forgotten to injury the Mariners have managed to go 26-21 since, and after tonight’s 7-5 win over Justin Verlander and the Tigers, sit at 37-37.

Additionally, and crucial to the headline of this post, is that the American League has refused to run away from the Mariners while they spun their wheels and filled up punch cards at the local Group Health. While the Yankees and Red Sox are trading division leader/WC1, only the Twins and Rays sit a few games above .500 and the Mariners, and I am here to tell you despite their many flaws the Mariners major league roster is every bit as talented as those two teams.

It’s important to note that the Mariners are not by any stretch a lock or even a front runner for a playoff position at this point. Their Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds coming into today were 25.1%, somehow down from the 28.7% they were at when I condemned them to heck last month. They are still massively flawed, with little depth beyond the outfield, a bottom third (at best) major league rotation, and a bullpen that, while improved since April, is far from the league’s best.

This team, even if everyone stays healthy and Drew Smyly comes back and contributes at the levels expected in March, is not a team I would feel comfortable shooting for a playoff spot in most years. Only the AL’s parity and the benevolent gift of WC2 from His Holiness Allen Huber “Bud” Selig have given this team life. This is a confluence of good fortune, and one that does not come around often. With the 2nd Wild Card typically falling between 88-90 wins, likely a total well beyond this team’s capability, the possibility of only needing to win 85 games or so is as responsible as anything for the stay of their execution.

Still, the team deserves credit. They have not thrived, but they have survived. They have overcome their weaknesses, both built in and unexpectedly arisen. They have managed to build a roster and culture that has allowed Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, and Mitch Haniger to flourish, bringing the possibility of the most complete Mariner outfield in franchise history very much into focus. They have assembled, when healthy and when Mike Zunino has not been fed after midnight, as fearsome a 1-9 offense as there is in the American League.

Tomorrow, Andrew Moore makes his debut, and while I don’t believe he’s a budding star, I have little doubt he is better than many pitchers who have started games for the team this year. Friday, Felix Hernandez returns. A Paxton/Felix/Miranda/Moore/Gaviglio rotation is nowhere approximate to “good”, but if you’re optimistic and have had as much booze as I’ve had tonight you can squint and make it passable, particularly if your offense can casually score 6-7 runs any given night.

They are many things. They are unfinished, flawed, broken, old, exciting, tough, frustrating, confusing, persistent, and infuriating. But they are not, as I said most recently, toast.

On May 3rd I wrote this:

“To root for a team to overcome long odds is one of the most rewarding experiences we as fans can have.”

They have proved me wrong, by proving that correct.

To beating long odds, and the roar of the faithful when Nelson Cruz’s double found grass tonight.

GOMS

GOBIZ