The case for Tom Wilhelmsen as the Mariners’ All-Star

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It won’t be Ichiro. It might not be King Felix. Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times believes that Tom Wilhelmsen should be the Mariners’ lone All-Star this year.

It’d sure be a nice story if it comes to fruition. Wilhelmsen, originally a seventh-round pick of the Brewers in 2002, was suspended in 2004 after twice testing positive for marijuana and decided to quit baseball prior to the start of the 2005 season. He spent the next five years as a bartender before attempting a comeback with the Mariners in 2010. He made his major league debut a year ago, and he took over as Seattle’s closer this season with Brandon League struggling.

Wilhelmsen currently has a 2.84 ERA and five saves, numbers that hardly scream All-Star. However, he’s working on a string of 14 2/3 scoreless innings, and he has 47 strikeouts in 38 innings on the season.

Felix Hernandez has to be the odds-on favorite to be the Mariners’ All-Star. He hasn’t been at his best this season, but he is the superstar and he has his ERA down to 3.36 now. There’s also another bullpen option besides Wilhelmsen: left-hander Charlie Furbush has a 2.01 ERA and an incredible 0.57 WHIP in his 31 1/3 innings of relief work. He’s struck out 39 and walked just five this season.

On offense, the only possibilities are Kyle Seager (.258/.315/.457, 10 HR, 45 RBI) and Michael Saunders (.267/.330/.442, 8 HR, 12 SB), neither of whom would be close to making the team on merit.

So, why not Wilhelmsen? He’d be the nicest story of the group, and with the way he’s throwing now, he’d be a fine choice to try to get a tough righty out late in the game.

Players are waking up and getting ready to fight

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There’s this idea out there that the owners have been eating the players’ lunch at the bargaining table in recent years because the players are, generally, rich and happy and maybe don’t care about a lot of the stuff the previous couple of generations of players did. There is probably some degree of truth to that. The difference between a good deal and a bad deal, in both collective bargaining and on the free agent market, is way less dire now than it used to be and thus the urgency may not have been there over the past several years the way it was in 1981 or 1994.

But it goes too far to say that such a mindset is universal among players. Or that it’s a mindset which, even among those who hold it, will always persist. Players may not have been as vigilant about labor matters over the past several years as they used to be, but they’re not idiots and, at some point, the owners are gonna push ’em too far and they’ll respond.

As we find ourselves in the second straight offseason in which teams simply don’t seem all too keen on signing free agents, it’s starting to happen already.

Earlier this week Dallas Keuchel tweeted out some things critical of the current market and teams’ approach to it (and took another swipe today). This afternoon Giants third baseman Evan Longoria chimed in on Instagram, posting a picture of Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and saying the following:

We are less then a month from the start of spring and once again some of our games biggest starts remain unsigned. Such a shame. It’s seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents. As fans, why should “value” for your team even be a consideration? It’s not your money, it’s money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of. Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team. And as players we need to stand strong for what we believe we are worth and continue to fight for the rights we have fought for time and time again.

Most of that is common sense, the sort of which we’ve been arguing for around here for some time. Fans should care about good players and winning baseball games, not whether or not their front office can get a great bargain for its own sake. It may be interesting to talk about payroll and salaries and wins/$, but the point of baseball is to win, right? When so many teams seem rather uninterested in that, it’s a problem that all of the interesting analytical insights can’t really make up for.

The second part is worth keeping your eyes on. Maybe players have not been on a war footing the likes of which their predecessors were in the 1970s through the 1990s, but it doesn’t mean they won’t get back there if pushed. As is abundantly clear, the owners are pushing. Salaries are dropping in both an absolute sense and, especially, compared to baseball’s revenues. Players are getting a smaller piece of the pie than they have in a while and ownership seems quite pleased to see that continue.

If players are saying stuff like this publicly, it means that players are talking about it amongst themselves privately. The last two years have likely served as quite a wakeup call for them, and they seem to be waking up. Evan Longoria is. Dallas Keuchel is. So are some others. If current trends continue, more and more will wake up.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2021 season. What happens over the rest of this offseason and the next two is going to determine the mood of the players. The mood of the players, in turn, is going to dictate the tenor of negotiations. If they were to begin right now, those negotiations would be very, very rocky.