What are the Mariners rebuilding?

They’re finally doing what we wanted right? Right!?

Since the signing of Robinson Cano in 2014 the Mariners have been caught in the middle. Their roster has been fun and competitive, but not elite. As the organization has entered season after season forever content to be as far from greatness as they were from failure, the clock kept ticking. As the the team’s core aged, the catastrophic state of the farm system only furthered the horror at the big league team’s inability to make the postseason, and ownership’s refusal to loosen the purse strings to help them do so. It has been a stressful, combative, and largely unenjoyable era.

So I’m happy to offer a belated congratulations to all Mariner fans: We did it! The Mariners are rebuilding. It took a season-long case of whiplash worthy of an immense court settlement, but Jerry Dipoto and friends have finally acquiesced to the inevitable. While Dipoto’s silicon valley thesaurus calls it a “step back” or “re-prioritizing” the decision to trade James Paxton and Mike Zunino for younger players signals, at long last, the Mariners’ acknowledgement that a change in course was necessary. We can quibble over whether Dipoto is the right man to lead a rebuild, or whether the talent returns thus far are sufficient. We can (and definitely should) point out that the necessity of a rebuild could be entirely avoided by an obscenely wealthy ownership group sinking consistent investment into on field talent, and committing fully to winning, but those are conversations for another day.

With Paxton and Zunino in New York and Tampa, respectively, Seattle finds itself already near the bottom of its barrel of valuable major league assets. This dearth is both why a rebuild is so necessary, and at least part of why the team has been so hesitant to get it underway. Outside of Mitch Haniger, who is the one current big leaguer with value I can see a clear case for retaining, the team is down to Jean Segura, Edwin Diaz, and Marco Gonzales.

That state of things is what has made the past 48 hours so distressing as a Mariner fan. While Segura rumors are indeed out there, the past two news cycles have been dominated not by the young talent the Mariners can acquire, but by the persistent and multiply-sourced rumors that the team is “desperate” to move Robinson Cano. Most concerning of all, is the thought that this desperation is sufficient for the team to package Diaz or a comparable talent with him. It is here, friends, we find ourselves with a booming “SAME OLD MARINERS” echoing from the back, and with good cause.

The idea of trading Robinson Cano is difficult to stomach. He is one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise. His acquisition in 2014 could have, and should have, heralded a new era, with the Mariners joining the game’s upper crust, as ownership continued to invest in the product on the field. Watching him play daily has been a constant joy. Outside of last year’s regrettable (and overly hand wrung over) PED suspension, he has been consistently great since the moment he arrived. He has been great, he is still great, and I imagine he’ll be great for a few more years. Still, with the course of the franchise’s next 2-3 years seemingly set and destined to continue the team’s comically long playoff absence, it is understandable why all parties might be ready to move on. Cano wants to win, and the Mariners have no urgent competitive need to spend $24 million a year for the last productive seasons of a player’s career. I get it. I hate it, but I get it.

ALL THAT BEING SAID, if the franchise is willing to neuter the substantial value in desperately needed young talent a player like Edwin Diaz can return by attaching him to a contract they no longer wish to pay, a contract that has zero negative impact on this team’s ability to win games now or in the future, then it says the Mariners are, at least in part, using this rebuild as a smokescreen to justify simply culling payroll to cull payroll. I want to be careful not to act as though this is something the team has actually done at this point. Rumors are rumors. But they do not spring out magically from the ground. Someone somewhere is leaking the idea. While it may not be someone connected to the Mariners, the team could easily enough squash the idea with public statement. They have not done so, and as such I feel comfortable believing it is a concept they are at least considering. This, to be blunt, is unacceptable, and should be loudly decried from every corner of the fanbase. I am pleased to see in some ways it already has been.

To newer fans it may seem rash to leap so readily to the call for torches and barricades, but consider the track record the organization has offered us over the present era. They have not made the playoffs. They have not committed the financial resources necessary to make not making the playoffs a statistical unlikelihood. They have bad mouthed and vilified Felix Hernandez, the most loyal player in team history, and one of its most beloved stars. It has come out that the team’s president and other members of the organization settled sexual harassment cases while with the org. The front office is in the midst of a scandal involving accusations of misogyny and racism that, at best, makes them look wholly incompetent. As the team looks to shed payroll they stand on the brink of a new naming rights deal for the taxpayer-funded stadium we built for them, a deal that will bring them many times more revenue than the previous deal with Safeco ever did. For anyone who has followed this team closely for any amount of time, the Mariners have offered us little rational choice but to assume the worst case scenario is also probably the most likely one.

It was three and a half years ago, the day Jack Zduriencik was fired, that I wrote about how tired the team had made me, and how concerning Kevin Mather’s spoken priorities were. As Jerry Dipoto’s era lurches onward, everything about the team speaks to an organization that places vastly more emphasis on process-oriented life hacks and trumpeted announcements of same, rather than simply trusting, believing in, and paying the talented men who produce the phenomenal level of baseball that made us all fans in the first place. The team is rebuilding at long last, but our experience with the Mariners tells us that we must watch carefully, and speak out quickly. Do they intend to rebuild their talent, or their profits?

 

The Denard Decision

D-Span has been a huge for the 2018 Mariners, which makes it sad to report he probably shouldn’t be retained

It’s September now, y’all, and the Mariners season is playing out one way or the other. Will they make the playoffs? Well heck, I dunno. Looking at all the smart math people’s numbers says it’s more than likely we’re all gonna spend October at the ol’ Adopt-A-Team Shelter again though. I’m a bad fan, but the A’s are looking mighty fine.

Anyway, with the end of the season looming it’s getting closer to TRANSACTION PLANNIN’, and here at Dome and Bedlam we believe in promptness! If you’re on time you’re late! If you’re early you’re on time! If you’re way early that means you’re super late for the last time! THAT’S FIVE LAPS SLACKERS HOP TO IT!

*****

The late May trade with Tampa Bay to acquire Alex Colome & Denard Span was one of Jerry Dipoto’s best moves of the past twelve months. That was true regardless of how both players performed as Mariners, but it has been nice that for once here in Seattle, good process produced good results. Colome has teamed up with The Divine Edwin Diaz to form one of baseball’s most lethal 8th/9th inning combinations, and Denard Span has hit better than anyone expected. Coming off 2016 and 2017, in which he checked in with a wRC+ of 94 and 100, respectively, Span’s offense is at a career high 123 wRC+ in 2018, and 129 since arriving in Seattle.

Late career offensive boosts, particularly ones that come from an increase in power (Dad strength is real y’all), are not unheard of. Hell, Nelson Cruz is the model of this very idea. However, they are not common, and counting on Span offsetting his clear and noticeable loss in defensive range by continuing to thwack dingers is a gamble, and not at the odds you want to take.

The merit to retaining Span on his $12 million mutual option is, in my view, further diminished given a few contextual factors. First is the 2018 rebound of Ben Gamel. Now I’ve notably been wrong about the Mariners young outfielders in the past, but after a Zunino-esque (Zuninian? Please help, linguists) second half in 2017, Gamel has rebounded nicely. He’s improved his walk rate, continued to be “fine” with the glove, and hit for just enough pop to keep pitchers honest. Overall, he’s played about like a two win outfielder. At 26, there’s the possibility of a little further development (cough SWINGPLANEDINGERZ cough), but if not, he still projects as a serviceable left fielder, a comparable level of production to Span projects at next year, at a fraction of the cost.

The second factor is the looming roster decisions facing this organization. Regardless of what you think the right direction is for this franchise, it would be a shock if they do anything after 2018 but attempt to take another run at the playoffs for 2019. Given that assumption, the team is in desperate need of a real centerfielder, at least one top of the rotation pitcher, and probably a catcher.

With our past experience both of the Jerry Dipoto Era, and the Mariners’ organizational practices at large, I think it’s fair to assume they won’t be throwing any huge free agent contracts to players this offseason. As such, every single dollar saved off potential luxuries, such as two major league left fielders, is needed to fill these very real and pressing holes in the big league roster. It’d be cool if there was some minor league depth in AA or AAA to help cheaply fill in those gaps. Guess what, pal, this is the Jerry Dipoto Mariners. Unless you want to see a tumbleweed in center field next year, the talent has to come from outside the organization.

Overall, the Denard Span acquisition has worked out beautifully both for the team and the player. Span is having his best season in years, and the Mariners and Jerry Dipoto have gotten a great return in a contending season, for giving up a few minor leaguers. There is a danger, though, of falling in love with the short-lived greatness of a player after trading for them. The Mariners have pressing needs elsewhere, and with D-Span unlikely to ever be this good again, it’s probably in the best interest of the team to let him get closer to his home in Florida, and spend that money on someone like, say, early career Denard Span.

Go M’s.

 

Mariners trade Moore for More Fun

CROOKED HAT BACK!?!?

With the Mariners off to a 29-20 start, and putting out the fire started by Robinson Cano’s suspension only to find twelve million dollars stashed in a safe behind a false wall, the team had to act. While the win/loss record is exactly what the most optimistic projections called for, the method and roster talent were that of the middling, .500-ish teams that SOME assholes (me) pegged them to be all year.

With half the American League existing in 2018 primarily as a feeding ground for any team that can stomach the thought of spending even one (1) American Dollar, the Mariners’ new financial flexibility gave them a chance to strike, and strike earlier in the season than is typically feasible. They have now done so.

From an objective baseball fan standpoint, this trade kind of stinks. It stinks that the Rays are such an abysmal franchise that saving even a couple million bucks by selling off a useful outfielder and above average to good closer for nothing more than Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero, baseball equivalents of a scratch ticket and a megamillions ticket, respectively, is something they are willing to do. Baseball is at its best when as many teams as possible are trying to win as many games as possible, and it’s a shame in 2018 that is not even close to a reality.

For Mariner fans desperate to watch their team in the playoffs this year, many for the very first time of their fandom? Hell, y’all, it’s hard to imagine a sweeter deal than the one they just turned. Colomé is about as consistent as an above average but non-elite relief arm can get, with three consecutive seasons between 1-2 fWAR. He’s off to another solid start this year too, and with Juan Nicasio’s struggles immediately becomes this team’s setup man, and second best reliever.

Denard Span’s skills actually profile as a left-handed version of the player I hope Guillermo Heredia becomes/is becoming. A patient hitter with the capability to play quality corner defense, he’s almost certainly an upgrade to Ben Gamel, who will become this team’s fourth outfielder (probably his most likely role in the major leagues)

Overall, the Mariners had obvious needs at both outfield and relief, and they have addressed both, before June, with zero cost to the team’s few real prospects, for only minor financial cost. Their biggest need was and still is starting pitching, but that is a scarce commodity that frankly I doubt they will be able to find without some sort of major sacrifice in either prospects (ha) or finances (double ha).

While this move doesn’t suddenly vault the Mariners from fringe Wild Card contender into territory with the league’s elite, it expands options and margin for error. If the team falters through their brutal June and finds itself out of playoff position come mid-July, I see it as unlikely they cannot, at minimum, recoup their talent investment by trading both players to another team. There appears, and as soon as I say this something will go disastrously wrong because I am me and the Mariners are them, to be very little downside potential to this transaction. Tommy Romero could become a real prospect and mid-rotation fixture in Tampa or wherever MLB blessedly releases the Rays to eventually, and Andrew Moore could become a number five starter. Either reaching anything close to that is a longshot, however.

If you’re a person who is sick and tired of the Mariners ceaselessly churning through any low minors player who shows a lick of promise in exchange for an extra 0.5-1 win in the present, well, I hear ya. For whatever reason the Mariners have never shown a serious, longterm approach to building a great farm, the one obvious way baseball gives for teams to build a winner outside of running a top-5 payroll every year. It’s a bit like watching an ostrich run away from a predator. “Wow that bird can run”, you might think, “But why doesn’t the dumb thing just use its wings and fly? That would be so much easier.” Well, reader, you are correct. But the ostrich is never going to fly, and you need to come to peace with that, and with the Mariners having the very, very worst farm system in the game. These are the unchangeable, immutable laws of being.

It’s a great day to be a Mariner fan in 2018. A fun start to the year got a boost which should help the team need less luck to keep from collapsing, and the talent cost was minimal, and likely deferred many years down the road. At some point the bill will come due for the Mariners’ lack of talent development, but it was never going to be a concern to this year’s team, or their general manager, who conspicuously doesn’t have a job after this year. This is a win now move, and the timing, price, and fit were damn near perfect. Good job Jerry.

Go M’s.

Episode 21 – RAMPOD

Happy Opening Day hey wait….. what day is it ?

Nothing will summon D&B Studios to life like terrible, terrible Mariners news and Robinson Cano being suspended for eighty games is terrible, terrible Mariners news.

0:00-44:00 DAVID had to go WORK by pouring his BEER at a LOCAL WATERING HOLE so it’s just Scott and Nathan. The duo talk the Robinson Cano suspension/injury, Dee Gordon returning to second base, the Mariners fun first forty games, and more. BONUS, we think you’ll be surprised by the off brand positive tone.

45:00-57:00 Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the debut of Hunkfilm Inc. We are not sorry, and incapable of shame.

As always you can subscribe and rate us on iTunes here. Additionally, we are now available on Google Play.

Thanks, as always, for listening. Please enjoy and Go M’s.

The Mariners Can Still Win The Offseason

It’s not too late baby, it’s not too late

In a world that seems increasingly able to spin news any which way it wants, it’s hard to figure out how to sell the Mariner’s offseason as anything short of a massive disappointment. Stuck with an aging core of stars, a thin farm, and an increasingly competitive division, the Mariners needed a decisive move towards contention in 2018, through the addition of major league stars in free agency, or 2021, through the sell off of their most valuable assets to replenish their farm system. Instead, the Mariners signed Juan Nicasio, and watched their coveted target Shohei Ohtani not only go elsewhere, but to the thrice-dammed Angels, their most bitter rival.

Please hold your applause.

In a typical baseball offseason, we would be near the finish line. The majority of stars would be off the market, a few holdouts and veterans looking to make a comeback would linger, and the Mariners would be stuck with a roster that both my back-of-napkin math and Fangraphs agree is about an 81-win team. But, this is not a typical baseball offseason. The combination of next year’s historically talented FA class, and baseball teams either full on colluding to depress wages or just thinking everyone else is colluding has led to a good old fashioned stand off, with no one seemingly willing to fire the first shot.

This has, potentially, created a good old fashioned market inefficiency, and one the Mariners can and should take advantage of. Baseball players want, and should get, every last dollar they can possibly extract from baseball owners, but they also want to know where they will play baseball, move their families, and live in 2018. While the dream of a Yu Darvish/Jake Arrieta top-shelf, huge money acquisition is probably still a fantasy, the Mariners are still a team with glaring holes in its rotation at every single level. From Lance Lynn to Bartolo Colon pitchers of every tier of talent and cost are available right now, waiting for someone to act.

On the most recent episode of The Wheelhouse, Jerry Dipoto’s official podcast, Dipoto stated that the team was focusing now on “who to invite to Spring Training”, implying that the team has moved on from the MLB free agency market. Typically executive speak should be taken as potential half truths, or smoke screens. Deception, bluffing, and coyness are all classic tactics of the free agency signing period. But in his third offseason we’ve seen enough to know that deception and bluffing are not the typical Dipoto way of doing business.

Jerry clearly feels confident and comfortable enough to be as open, honest, and transparent with the public as any baseball executive I can remember. Whether you feel that is a strength or a weakness is open to debate, but given the evidence we have to work with it’s reasonable to assume he’s telling the truth, and the team has no immediate plans to jump back into the FA market.

This is, in my opinion, a wild oversight. The Mariners are not selling, and if they aren’t selling they’re trying to compete. If they’re trying to compete they currently have a roster that is two full steps behind the Angels, and three to four behind the Astros. The grand vision for the offseason clearly went kablooey when the team failed to acquire Ohtani, but unique circumstances in this market may have allowed them an opportunity to sneak 2-4 precious wins through the backdoor while everyone else is sleeping.

If they can’t make it happen, fine. I can handle that. There exists no scenario I can foresee where the 2018 Mariners are anything but longshots for a playoff berth. However if they fail to act swiftly, and show the willingness to alter plans to fill glaring needs when the market potentially throws opportunities to do so into their laps, that shows not only a lack of execution, but a lack of vision. That I find unforgivable for, as you may have heard, the team that has the longest active playoffless streak in major North American sports.

That may sound harsh, and I’m clearly one of the bigger critics of the team and ownership currently regularly writing about the team. If I am wrong my request to the Mariners is the same as it has always been: Show me.

Shohei Ohtani signs with LAA Angels

The worst-possible outcome has happened. Let’s think about what that means.

In what is likely the worst-possible outcome for a Seattle Mariners team hoping to compete for a wildcard spot, Shohei Ohtani announced today he will sign with the LAA Angels. Following this announcement, and assuming the transaction gets the all-clear from the MLB FO, one thing is certain, the Angels are acquiring a potentially transcendent talent at the lowest possible risk.

Shohei Ohtani has yet to face an MLB hitter or an MLB arm, but if the scouting report holds true, he is a likely top-end starter with at least an average bat. If the hype is true, the Angels may have essentially just added a second Mike Trout at the cost of pre-arb Willie Bloomquist who can pitch and hit (imagine ’98 Pedro with Frank Thomas’ power). This sort of player has never really been in the conversation before, ever, in the MLB.

A million articles will be written about this move over the next few days and weeks and months, less about the impact on the Mariners, but let’s touch on this briefly. Ohtani arriving with an ALW rival is the worst-possible outcome for the Seattle Mariners in their current build. The M’s need pitching bad, needed the West to get worse, and need to spend all sorts of money in an inflated pitching market. This plays directly against their hand and in likely the largest way possible for a playoff appearance in 2018 and even worse in ’19.

The time has come to start to consider the current window shut and while Dipoto likely will not, and it is not the ONLY way out, the current MLB roster needs to be seriously evaluated for what other organizations may want in exchange for bolstering Seattle’s farm. Use the newly acquired international slot money to find the next generation of Mariners. It’s time to sell.

The new era of the Seattle Mariners should begin today, and while it isn’t the one we wanted, it’s the one we have.

 

Mariners acquire Dee Gordon, Ohtani Bucks

There. The stove is on. Are you happy?

As the holy scriptures say, shooters shoot. While at times he resembles me during the last five seconds of pop-a-shot at the local arcade, Jerry Dipoto’s time as General Manager of the Seattle Mariners has had one constant: A total lack of fear.

Here’s the trade, as it was announced: The Mariners are (from what I have heard) trading Nick Niedert, one of the very few arms in the minor leagues with anything remotely resembling major league potential, and two other as of yet unnamed minor leaguers for Marlins 2B Dee Gordon.

Now, wait. Second baseman Dee Gordon?!? The Mariners have a second baseman. He’s pretty good! Well, yeah, this is pretty crazy. Dee Gordon has appeared in 685 games in the field in his major league career. Every single one of them has been at 2B or SS. But from what I’ve been told the Mariners are going to try and convert him to centerfield. It’s a huge risk, and its outcome is impossible to predict.

I’m not going to try and forecast Gordon’s performance as a centerfielder here. Position changes, particularly mid-career are fraught with peril and unknowns. For now I’ll simply point out that one of the most important aspects of good outfield play is foot speed, and only three players in baseball ranked higher than Dee Gordon in raw foot speed last year. Not coincidentally, all three derive a large portion of their value from excellent outfield defense. Dee Gordon is one of the fastest baseball players alive and, while a huge unknown, the raw ingredients for a quality major league centerfielder should be there. Hopefully he’s aware of the situation, and amenable to it, because with Robinson Cano and Jean Segura locking down 2B/SS for the ~$38 million remaining on Gordon’s contract through 2020, there’s nowhere in this infield to put him.

It’s a risk, a big risk, but one with big upside both in on field performance, and potential savings. The Mariners had no realistic replacement for Jarrod Dyson coming into 2018. Without him the last two months of 2017 saw the outfield, as a whole, collapse. Mitch Haniger is an exciting player, who can play center in a pinch, but he should never be an everyday player there. Gordon’s speed allows for the possibility of not only another year with a plus glove in center, but without the financial outlay needed for a premium FA a la Lorenzo Cain. This, theoretically, allows the team the financial flexibility to spend liberally to fill other needs like STARTING PITCHING GET STARTING PITCHING JERRY DO IT.

The second, and potentially even more consequential portion of this trade is the addition of still more international slot money to dump on top of the head of Shohei Ohtani. Combined with the $1 million received from the Twins last night, in exchange for C David Banuelos, the Mariners have almost doubled the amount of money they can pay Ohtani. As of this second, that amount (roughly $3.6 million) is more than any other team.

No one, and I mean no one seems to have any idea what Ohtani is thinking, or what his priorities are. While an optimistic reading of this trade would be that Ohtani had agreed to come to Seattle pending them freeing up enough money to satisfy him, I’ve heard from sources that confirm something like that, and sources that claim that’s not the case. Like I said, no one knows a thing with certainty here.

However, this deal wouldn’t be made if the Mariners didn’t feel they were at least one of the “finalists of the finalists”. From, again, SOURCE, the Mariners left their meeting with Ohtani feeling confident in their ability to sway him. If an extra $1 million up front was what was needed to cement the agreement, and Ohtani does indeed come to Seattle, then this trade is a no questions asked win of the highest order for the franchise.

Should they eventually miss out, it’s going to suck. However, Dee Gordon successfully converting into a centerfielder should hypothetically allow the Mariners the flexibility to trade for as much talent as they gave up to acquire him, if It All Goes Wrong.

The farm is further decimated, but it was already decimated. While continuing to gut your future for a few seasons of Dee Gordon is a questionable move, Shohei Ohtani may have more WAR in his rookie year than every member of the Mariners farm does for their career. Combined. He is the rare commodity worth the risk, and despite my long held preference for a total rebuild, this is a path I can get behind. Hall of Fame talent is Hall of Fame talent.

It was clear before, but this makes it even more so: The Seattle Mariners are going for it in 2018. The addition of Dee Gordon and (cross fingers) Shohei Ohtani changes the face of the franchise moving forward. Additionally, the team should still theoretically have the payroll space to add another starting pitcher. It allows us to dream, and that is all we’ve ever really wanted.