Tag: Seattle Mariners

Michael Saunders

Michael Saunders will not be ready for Opening Day

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Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders was making steady enough progress in his return from knee surgery that reports about him possibly being ready for Opening Day began surfacing, but manager John Gibbons shut that down today.

Gibbons told Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com that Saunders will not be ready for Opening Day and will begin the season on the disabled list. At the time of the surgery the initial timetable had Saunders missing most of the first half, so returning at any point in April would still be a major boost for Toronto.

Saunders was acquired from the Mariners in exchange for left-hander J.A. Happ in December and will be the Blue Jays’ starting left fielder once he’s healthy. Last season he hit .273 with eight homers and a .791 OPS in 78 games.

Taijuan Walker has thrown 18 scoreless innings this spring

taijuan walker getty

After an injury wrecked 2014 season the Mariners chose not to hand a rotation spot to Taijuan Walker, making the 22-year-old former top prospect compete for a gig.

Presumably he’s done enough to get the job, throwing 18 scoreless innings with a 19/4 K/BB ratio, including six shutout innings against the Cubs yesterday.

Walker also has a 2.89 ERA in 53 career innings for the Mariners–which is just enough to make him ineligible for prospect lists and the Rookie of the Year award–and has always dominated in the minors.

It’s a year later than expected, but it looks like Walker is ready to make a big impact in Seattle. And he’s still just 22.

2015 Preview: San Diego Padres

A J Preller, Bud Black, Justin Upton, Derek Norris, Will Middlebrooks, Wil Myers

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 2015 season. Next up: The San Diego Padres.

The Big Question: Who are these guys and what have they done with the Padres?

A.J. Preller was hired as the Padres general manager last August and he went into the offseason with a plan. Prior to the winter meetings, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Padres were “aggressively looking for hitters who can help them contend for (the) NL West title immediately.” The report drew some laughs, as it seemed incredibly ambitious and even unrealistic for a team which ranked last in pretty much every major offensive category last season while finishing under .500 for the fourth straight year. We quickly learned that he wasn’t messing around.

The biggest changes came in the outfield, with trades for Justin Upton (from the Braves), Matt Kemp (from the division rival Dodgers), and Wil Myers (in a three-team deal with the Rays and Nationals), but Preller also acquired 2014 All-Star catcher Derek Norris from the Athletics. There’s something to be said for not being loyal to the players you inherit from a previous regime. As a new GM, Preller was uniquely positioned for this rapid and unexpected overhaul. The cherry on top of their offseason was signing James Shields to a four-year, $75 million contract in early February. Joaquin Benoit’s $15.5 million deal was the franchise’s previous record guarantee to a free agent, so this is some uncharted territory we’re dealing with here. The Padres also threw money at some low-risk, high-reward types for their rotation with Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow. Despite all the activity, the Padres’ payroll isn’t going to be much higher than what it was last year. It helps that the Dodgers are paying nearly all of Kemp’s salary for this season.

Pitching was already a strength for the Padres, partially due to their home ballpark, but the addition of Shields makes them even better. He can now slot into the No. 1 spot while Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, and Tyson Ross all move down a peg. Odrisamer Despaigne held his own during his first season in the majors last year and should do fine as a fifth starter if Morrow and/or Johnson don’t pan out. Outfield defense is a concern, particularly in center field with Myers, but the Padres are hoping that what the trio does on offense offsets the deficiencies in the field.

Who knows if this is going to work out. Kemp is an injury risk and maybe all those innings finally catch up to Shields. Maybe Myers doesn’t bounce back and Upton (an impending free agent) becomes a trade candidate by midseason. But the Padres are trying something here and that’s pretty exciting. It’s always fun to be in San Diego, but even more so right now.

What else is going on?

  • It’s pretty remarkable that the Padres were able to make all of these moves and still managed to keep arguably three of their best prospects, right-hander Matt Wisler, outfielder Hunter Renfroe, and catcher Austin Hedges. I guess you could throw Rymer Liriano into that mix, as well. So they didn’t completely sell out their future this winter. You could also say that they still have the flexibility to make another big move if they really want to go for broke. Cole Hamels, perhaps?
  • My goodness, something has to give with these extra outfielders. The Padres dealt Seth Smith to the Mariners over the winter, but they still have basically their projected starting outfield from a couple of years ago — Cameron Maybin, Will Venable, and Carlos Quentin — under contract. Liriano also saw time at the major league level last year. Quentin could get hurt by the time I finish writing this sentence, but one would think we’ll see a trade soon to clear this logjam.
  • While right-handed sluggers Upton, Kemp, and Myers could put up big numbers in that outfield, the infield is another matter altogether. It’s a glaring weakness. Jedd Gyorko showed some potential during his rookie season in 2013, but he’s coming off a down year and he’s surrounded by the likes of Yonder Alonso, Alexi Amarista, Will Middlebrooks, Yangervis Solarte, Tommy Medica, and Clint Barmes. Not the most inspiring group. Perhaps Alonso or Middlebrooks can surprise, but that would require a leap of faith. This infield would be more interesting if they managed to outbid the Dodgers for Hector Olivera, but that ship has sailed.
  • With the additions of Upton, Kemp, Myers, Shields, and Norris, it’s easy to overlook the work that Preller did with his bullpen. Brandon Maurer came over in the Smith deal with the Mariners while Shawn Kelley was acquired from the Yankees for minor league right-hander Johnny Barbato. Both are intriguing potential late-inning arms. Padres manager Bud Black has a handful of interesting alternatives for the closer role if Benoit goes down at some point. I wouldn’t rule that possibility out, as Benoit will be 38 later this year and dealt with some shoulder issues down the stretch last year.
  • Saying “if he can stay healthy” should be obvious with any pitcher, but that’s especially the case with Cashner. The 28-year-old has flashed frontline potential at times, with a 2.96 ERA across 51 career starts, but he was limited to just 19 starts last season with elbow and shoulder issues and has never thrown more than 175 innings in a season before. This rotation has some questions — even Ross was shut down after a career-high 195 2/3 innings last year due to muscle soreness in his right forearm — but if things break right, they could be one of the best groups in the National League.

Prediction: I think it’s going to be close with the Giants, but what the heck, I’ll drink the offseason Kool-Aid. Second place, NL West and the second Wild Card spot.

2015 Preview: Oakland Athletics

Bob Melvin

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 2015 season. Next up: The Oakland Athletics.

The Big Question: Can the A’s reshuffled roster put them in the playoffs for the fourth straight year?

When I was assigned the A’s preview by that jerkwad who assigns the team previews around here, I gotta tell ya, I was a bit concerned. As a team that cruised for months and then collapsed, the A’s were already the sort of team that is the hardest to predict. Then they went and reshuffled the roster this past winter and who in the heck knows what to think? If I had any hair I’d be tearing it out by now.

But then I remembered: the A’s do this kind of crap all the time. Really, they do.

They have been to the playoffs three years in a row, but they’ve done it a bit differently each time. Last year we were asking whether they could survive without Jarrod Parker and Grant Balfour. Heading into 2012 they were the odds-on favorite to be the worst team in the AL West and all they did was win 94 games after shipping out Trevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey, Gio Gonzalez, Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus and bringing in Yoenis Cespedes, Bartolo Colon, Seth Smith, Jonny Gomes, Parker, Josh Reddick and Brad Peacock. Nothing is as constant as change in the Oakland A’s clubhouse. And, at least in recent years, the change hasn’t mattered because the same GM is running the show who has seemingly always run the show. And while no one would ever choose to deal with the particular constraints Billy Beane has to deal with, he has literally been written into a history as a guy who mixes and matches whatever is on hand and somehow always makes it work. Or usually makes it work. He certainly makes it work a lot better with Bob Melvin than he did before. The both of them are just good at putting seemingly disparate pieces together.

So you look at the 2015 A’s, who have lost Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Derek Norris, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, John Jaso and a ton of other guys and who have brought in Ike Davis Ben Zobrist, Jesse Hahn, Billy Butler, Brett Lawrie, Marcus Semien and a ton of other guys and you could totally, reasonably say “damn, this is a mess.” Or, you could realize that the A’s have shuffled the deck like this almost every offseason, that absolutely no one has had a great handle on what the A’s would do from year-to-year the past several seasons and that, lo and behold, they are usually in the playoffs come October and that, maybe, they’ll be just dandy.

I don’t know if they’ll suck or be dandy. I have to answer that Big Question above with “I have no idea.” But neither do most of you. In some ways this makes them among the most interesting teams in baseball this and every year. But what I won’t do, and what no one else should do, is to lazily say “the A’s blew the team up” this past winter and conclude that they’re rebuilding or that they’re toast or something. Because it’s not been the case in recent years, and you sort of have to trust what Beane and company are doing until it stops working, don’t you?

What else is going on?

  • As for the brass tacks of the various parts of this team, it’s fair to say that the rotation will be pretty good. Certainly at the top, as Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir return. Beyond that there are a lot of question marks, but a LOT of arms who could potentially answer them. Drew Pomeranz, Jesse Chavez and Jesse Hahn will likely be the first three up behind Gray and Kazmir, and all three were above-average starters last year. Waiting in the wings is Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin and Chris Bassitt. Or maybe Graveman makes it. He’s started four games this spring and has allowed only one earned run. And hell, Barry frickin’ Zito is still banging around. The point is that there is a good bit of quality and depth here, even if the younger dudes are unproven.
  • Lineups? Who needs a set lineup? The A’s haven’t had one in a long time. Sure, they’ve had regulars, but in the past couple of years I’d guess that Bob Melvin has ran out a good one hundred different lineup combinations each season. You do things like that when you have, like, three catchers who can hit. Or, like this year, you have Ben Zobrist who is the player most likely to pull a Bugs Bunny and play all nine positions in a single game. Coco Crisp starts in left, but he could see time in center if things don’t go right. Craig Gentry can likewise play anywhere. The infield is far more unsettled — almost a complete turnover from 2014 — but Zobrist gives them flexibility. Ike Davis and Brett Lawrie are most famous for their status as disappointments, but you don’t become a disappointment without first having promise. If either of these guys even play up to close to their level of potential, the offense could be a huge strength here.
  • Billy Butler is probably the most “famous” import on this year’s club. And his best years — particularly in the power department — seem to be behind him. But he’s actually an improvement over what the A’s trotted out at DH last season. They probably overpaid for him, but the A’s don’t overpay too often. When they do, it’s because they had a big need. And at DH they had a big need.
  • In the pen, Sean Doolittle will get a late start to the year, but he’s expected to be healthy soon and around for most of the season. Tyler Clippard cost Yunel Escobar and will make a lot of money for a setup guy this season, but see above about overpaying for a need. There is a lot of depth here too as many of those guys mentioned above in the rotation section could see time in the bullpen too. As could the aforementioned Barry frickin’ Zito. Flexibility is the key with this club. In every single aspect. One might even say that flexibility is . . . the new inefficiency?

Prediction: With great uncertainty comes great excitement. And fear. And with great flexibility comes potentially great comprises. This A’s team could break in any number of ways. They have the potential to suck or be great. And as recent history in the pre-season prediction business has shown us, teams who are hard to figure in March tend to be way better than the ones who have a set narrative.

But I’m still gonna hedge and say Third Place, American League West. And fully expect to be wrong in one direction or the other.

Kris Bryant homered twice again

Kris Bryant

Cubs third base prospect Kris Bryant hit another pair of home runs on Saturday in Cactus League play against the Mariners, giving him eight in 10 spring games — by far the most among all hitters. Jose Bautista, Michael Cuddyer, J.D. Martinez, and Steve Pearce are tied for second with four each.

Bryant hit a two-run home run in the first inning off of Felix Hernandez, then went yard again in the fourth inning with a three-run shot off of Kevin Correia. He also walked in the third inning. It wasn’t even Bryant’s first multi-homer game of the spring — he hit two against the Angels on March 12 as well.

The Cubs planned to have Bryant start the season in the minors, but his performance this spring may be forcing their hand. If Bryant does indeed start at Triple-A, Mike Olt would handle third base in the interim.