Springtime Storylines: Was the Mariners' offseason all that it was cracked up to be?

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Mariners logo.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The new-look Seattle Mariners


The
big question: Was the Mariners’ offseason all that it was cracked up to be
?

No, but that’s mostly because it was cracked up to be something monumentally-transforming by a lot of people and it really wasn’t. It was a good offseason, make no mistake about it, but this was a team that was still deeply flawed despite 2009’s improvement. Despite all of the good things that happened over the winter, none of them disposed of those flaws in any definitive way.

Adding Chone Figgins was great because he provides some serious on-base ability, and that’s an absolute good.  But even though his presence provides a great 1-2 punch with Ichiro, the 3-4-5 punch remains a real problem.  Casey Kotchman hitting third, Milton Bradley batting cleanup and (I guess) Ken Griffey hitting fifth does not exactly put fear into the hearts of the AL West.  Taking away Russell Branyan’s power from that lineup doesn’t help matters.  Putting it all together and you don’t have much of an improvement over a lineup that had severe problems scoring runs last year.

Likewise, Cliff Lee is a wonderful addition to the starting rotation, but again, 3-4-5 — Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Doug Fisterdon’t resemble the sorts of pitchers that are usually found on playoff-bound teams, which is what so many people assumed the Mariners would be as Jack Zduriencik pulled the levers this winter.  An OK group, especially if the defense holds up, but one that presented depth questions even before Cliff Lee’s abdominal injury.

This isn’t to say the Mariners didn’t have a great offseason. They did. It’s just that last year’s team probably overachieved a bit, there were a lot of holes to fill and it’s too much to expect them all to be filled in one winter.

So what else is going on?

  • Last year the story in Seattle was defense, defense defense. Can it be repeated? Defense is hard to predict and is often subject to random ebbs and flows, but my gut says yes, because it’s not like anyone who played good D for them last year was a fluke or anything.  Taking away Russell Branyan at first and adding Casey Kotchman is an upgrade. Having Jack Wilson at short all year is an upgrade. Lopez moving to third and Figgins taking over at second is a tad weird (and Adrian Beltre will certainly be missed), but I don’t see either guy having trouble handling their new positions. Milton Bradley in left could be an issue, but it’s not like he’s such a fixture that he won’t be substituted for quite often.
  • Not that Bradley will always be there, what with the inevitable
    suspensions and all. Which is really just a snarky way of saying we
    don’t know which Milton Bradley the Mariners are going to get.
    Mild-mannered and relatively good citizen Texas Ranger Bradley or the
    Chicago flameout?  The story we’ve heard all offseason is that the
    Seattle press is a lot less antagonistic than their Chicago counterparts
    and that if a man can just disappear anywhere it’s in Seattle. But
    Bradley hasn’t been particularly quiet this spring
    , and one wonders if he won’t find a way to continue the high drama in his new home.

  • Cliff Lee’s abdomen is obviously the big story of late spring for the Mariners. Lee had this type of an injury in Cleveland once.  The biggest problem wasn’t getting him back. It was that he had a hard time pitching effectively once he got back.  If Lee isn’t Lee once he heals, this team is going to be in a lot of trouble.
  • Though his stats weren’t anything special Dustin Ackley is turning heads at Mariners’ camp. The former outfielder-turned-first baseman-turned second baseman could be in Seattle this year. If he makes it, Figgins might go back to third and Lopez may be out altogether.

So how
are they gonna do?

This is not a Mariners’ team with a lot of margin for error. They have no reliable power threat. One of the two aces on which they’ve wagered so much is hurt.  They wouldn’t have to experience unprecedented bad luck in
order to go into the toilet.  I like the Mariners’ direction, but I don’t think
they’re heading to the playoffs this year.

Prediction: Third
place, AL West, followed by a series of highly unfair articles criticizing Jack Zduriencik for not doing enough to pull the team into contention.

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Julio Urias is on his way back to the majors

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 27:  Julio Urias #78 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the New York Mets during their game at Citi Field on May 27, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Dodgers 19-year-old rookie Julio Urias is coming back to the majors and Alex Wood is headed to the 15-day disabled list with left elbow soreness, Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reports. Urias will likely start Saturday against the Braves, which will mark his debut in front of the home crowd.

Urias made his major league debut on Friday against the Mets at Citi Field, but lasted only 2 2/3 innings. He yielded three runs on five hits and four walks with three strikeouts.

Urias came into the season rated as the Dodgers’ #1 prospect and the #2 overall prospect in baseball. Prior to his promotion, he had compiled a 1.10 ERA with 44 strikeouts and eight walks over 41 innings with Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Mookie Betts enjoys a three-homer game against the Orioles

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 31: Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox follows his three run homer against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 31, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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The Red Sox seem to have hit the jackpot on all of their young players so far this year. Jackie Bradley, Jr. just had a 29-game hitting streak snapped. Xander Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 24 games on Tuesday night. And Mookie Betts has been quite productive batting leadoff for the Red Sox this year, entering Tuesday with an even .800 OPS.

Betts, 23, hit 18 home runs in his first full season last year. With a three-homer night against the Orioles on Tuesday, he’s already up to 12 in 2016 with four months of season left. The first was of the solo variety, a line drive to center field off of Kevin Gausman in the first inning. Betts followed up in the third with a liner to left field for a three-run dinger off of Gausman. He made it three in the seventh, drilling a Dylan Bundy offering to right field.

Here’s video of homer number two:

Betts finished 3-for-5 as the Red Sox won 6-2 at Camden Yards.

The stats show the Pirates as an outlier in throwing “headhunter” pitches

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 5: Reliever Arquimedes Caminero #37 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh inning at Busch Stadium on September 5, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
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Last week at ESPN Sweetspot’s Inside the Zona, Ryan Morrison looked into the data and found that the Pirates stand out among the rest when it comes to throwing “headhunter” pitches. Those are defined as fastballs 3.2 feet or higher and 1.2 feet towards the batter from the center of the plate.

The research was prompted because Diamondbacks second baseman Jean Segura was hit in the helmet by Pirates reliever Arquimedes Caminero last Tuesday in the seventh inning. The next inning, Caminero hit shortstop Nick Ahmed in the jaw with a pitch and was instantly ejected.

Morrison illustrated the data in a nice chart, which you should check out. The Pirates have thrown 93 of those pitches, which is way more than any other team. The next closest team is the Reds at 68 pitches. The major league average is approximately 48 pitches.

The Pirates have had an organizational philosophy of pitching inside since at least 2013, as MLB.com’s Tom Singer quoted manager Clint Hurdle as saying, “We’re not trying to hurt people, just staying in with conviction.”

Morrison goes on to suggest that the Diamondbacks should have forfeited last Wednesday and Thursday’s games against the Pirates in protest, out of concern for their players’ safety. As it happened, the D-Backs lost both games anyway, suffering a series sweep. The two clubs don’t meet again this season.

D-Backs manager Chip Hale said after last Tuesday’s game that Caminero “shouldn’t be at this level”. Caminero responded to those comments today, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. “I’m actually glad you asked me about that,” Caminero said. “The only thing I’ve got to say about (Hale) is that he is a perfect manager. And he was a perfect player, too. That’s it. I know what I did wasn’t good, but it happens in baseball. I wasn’t trying to hit anyone.”

I realize I’m late on pointing out Morrison’s terrific article and the whole debacle between the two teams, but I felt it was worth highlighting.

Jose Bautista: “I’d be stupid to leave” Toronto

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 29: Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jayshits a two-run home run in the fifth inning during MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on May 29, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
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Also included in a recent report on Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista by Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated — along with his belief that Rougned Odor was the only bad guy in the May 15 debacle — was the slugger’s desire to remain a Blue Jay. Per Verducci, Bautista said, “I love the city. I’d be stupid to leave” Toronto.

Bautista, 35, is in the final year of a five-year, $65 million extension signed in February 2011. Back in November, the Jays exercised their 2016 club option for $14 million. Bautista isn’t willing to discuss contract details during the season, so the two sides will have to wait until at least October to come to an agreement.

Entering Tuesday’s game against the Yankees, Bautista is hitting .237/.371/.489 with 11 home runs, 37 RBI, and 40 walks, the latter of which leads the American League.