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2017 Preview: Seattle Mariners

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Seattle Mariners.

The first rule of snapping playoff droughts is: You do not talk about snapping playoff droughts. The second rule of snapping playoff droughts is: You do not talk about snapping playoff droughts.

For the uninitiated, we’re now up to 15 years in which the Mariners have failed to contend for a championship title. The highlight reel of their 1995 and 2001 playoff runs has worn thin; so, too, have the slogans and promises of the nine managers and four general managers who have cycled through the franchise during their 15-year drought.

That all could change under the direction of general manager Jerry Dipoto, who is approaching his third year at the helm of the Mariners’ organization after making the most single-year offseason trades in club history. In February, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince estimated Dipoto’s totals had reached 13 trades involving 36 players since the start of the 2016-17 offseason. “Go back to when [Dipoto] arrived in Seattle at the tail end of the 2015 season,” Castrovince writes, “and it’s 37 swaps involving 95 players.”

That’s an insane number of players to be moving around, especially when a team is leaning toward playoff contention rather than a fire sale, and you have to hope that Dipoto has a reason for the high-stakes shuffling.

One possible reason? There’s an expiration date on Seattle’s most treasured veterans, including Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, even Hisashi Iwakuma. Hernandez hasn’t received a Cy Young award in seven years, hasn’t tossed a perfect game in five years, and hasn’t maintained an ERA below 3.00 in three years. Iwakuma nearly crested 200 innings for the second time in his career, but his good health and durability was punished by a career-worst 1.3 HR/9, 6.6 SO/9 and 4.12 ERA. As expected, Cano, Cruz and Seager all turned out solid performance at the plate, and but it’s the hazards that come with aging and inevitable decline that exert pressure on Dipoto and the rest of the Mariners to deliver a postseason finish sooner rather than later.

Dipoto’s machinations have, for the most part, been both team- and fan-friendly this offseason. He didn’t move any major contracts or trade away any familiar faces on the Mariners roster, choosing instead to excise fringe players and adding short-term depth where it was needed. He reinforced a rotation of Hernandez, Iwakuma and James Paxton with right-handers Yovani Gallardo, Chris Heston, Max Povse and Rob Whalen and left-hander Drew Smyly. The bullpen received right-handers Shae Simmons, Dan Altavilla and lefty Marc Rzepczynski, the latter of whom inked a two-year, $11 million deal, while Carlos Ruiz gave the Mariners another option behind the plate. Jarrod Dyson was thrown into the outfield mix alongside Leonys Martin and Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura took over for Ketel Marte at short, and infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia lined up behind Dan Vogelbach at first base, where he later won the starting role.

It’s enough to make your head spin, but the takeaway is simple enough. Investing in younger, cheaper players provides the Mariners with enough defense and athleticism to compete for a postseason berth without the drawbacks of weighty contracts and long-term commitments. If the experiment doesn’t pan out as expected, there’s nothing to stop Dipoto from making another dozen trades during next year’s offseason and restarting the whole process.

As with any roster overhaul, there’s no predicting how much the Mariners of 2017 will improve on their 2016 counterparts. The starting rotation still leaves much to be desired, and without productive turnarounds from Hernandez and Iwakuma, even the cavernous maw of Safeco Field won’t be able to stave off another collapse. James Paxton and Drew Smyly, while not rotation headliners, project to be the most stable of the bunch so far.

The bullpen profiles a little better, notwithstanding Steve Cishek’s lengthy recovery from hip surgery this winter, Ariel Miranda’s demotion to Triple-A Tacoma and the unexpected forearm issues that cropped up in Shae SImmons’ right arm. At one point, manager Scott Servais said he was considering an eight-man bullpen featuring Edwin Diaz, Dan Altavilla, Casey Fien, Marc Rzepczynski, Nick Vincent and Evan Scribner, though the details have yet to be worked out before the team opens their season on Monday.

While some kinks still need to be worked out among the Mariners’ pitching staff, their offense and defense look sharper than they have in years. According to FanGraphs, Dipoto invested in some pretty sizable upgrades with Jarrod Dyson, Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura and backup outfielder Ben Gamel, enough to make them the most improved outfield defense in the league.

It’s plausible that the 2017 Mariners have improved as a whole. It’s also plausible that all of Dipoto’s frenzied offseason moves were more focused and premeditated than they appeared. It’s even plausible that the tinkering and trimming and restructuring of the Mariners’ defense could attract a heftier win-loss record and a participation trophy — heck, even a championship title — in this year’s postseason.

But you didn’t hear it here. The first rule of playoff droughts, after all, is that we don’t talk about them until they’re finally, mercifully snapped.

Prediction: 2nd place in AL West.*

(Note from Craig: I did the Rangers preview and picked them to be in second place. I did so without coordinating with Ashley on where she’d place the M’s because, let’s face it, details are not my strong suit. Upon reading the preview above and thinking harder I’m probably leaning more toward the Rangers coming in third to be honest, but I won’t change either preview because taking predictions seriously is pointless. We’ll all just check back in October and see who was right. Ashley was probably right). 

Noah Syndergaard is concerned about climate change

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Mets starter Noah Syndergaard has been on the disabled list for most of the season so it’s not like “sticking to baseball” is an option for him. The man has a lot of time on his hands. And, given that he’s from Texas, he is obviously paying attention to the flooding and destruction brought by Hurricane Harvey and its fellow storms in recent weeks.

Last night the self-described “Texan Republican” voiced concern over something a lot of Republicans don’t tend to talk about much openly: climate change and the Paris Agreement:

The existence of Karma and its alleged effects are above my pay grade, but the other part he’s talking about is the Trump Administration’s decision, announced at the beginning of June, to pull out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement on climate change mitigation. Withdrawal from it was something Trump campaigned on in 2016 on the basis that “The Paris accord will undermine the economy,” and “put us at a permanent disadvantage.” The effective date for withdrawal is 2020, which Syndergaard presumably knows, thus the reference to Karma.

Trump and Syndergaard are certainly entitled to their views on all of that. It’s worth noting that climate experts and notable think tanks like the Brookings Institution strongly disagree with Trump’s position with respect to tradeoffs and impacts, both economic and environmental. At the same time it’s difficult to find much strong sentiment in favor of pulling out of the Paris Agreement outside of conservative political outlets, who tend to find themselves in the distinct minority when it comes to climate change policy.

I’m not sure what a poll of baseball players would reveal about their collective views on the matter, but we now have at least one datapoint.

 

Video: Luis Perdomo and Wil Myers made a fantastic play last night

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There are a lot of things we dislike about instant replay. The delays. The way in which it has turned that little millisecond in which a player bounces off the bag on a slide into a reviewable thing. The silliness of making it a game involving a finite number of manager challenges. It’s not a perfect system, obviously.

But it’s worth it’s doing what it’s designed to do and correcting thing when a play is called wrong on the field. That’s especially true when it’s a great play like the one Luis Perdomo and Wil Myers of the Padres made in last night’s game against the Dbacks.

Perdomo — channeling Mark Buehrle – deflected a grounder off his leg but recovered and flipped it to first baseman Wil Myers, who stretched to get the out. The first base ump called the runner safe. Understandably, I think, as in real time it really did look like Myers came off the bag. If the play happened before replay there may have been a half-assed argument about it, but no one would rave about an injustice being done. On review, however, Myers’ stretch was shown to have been effective and Perdomo’s flip vindicated.

Nice play all around: