Game 151, Rangers at Mariners – What Now?

marc w · September 19, 2017 at 5:05 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Mike Leake vs. Martin Perez, 7:10pm

A rematch of the game back on the 13th in Arlington, tonight’s pitching match-up pits sinkerballer Mike Leake against lefty Martin Perez. Perez and Leake remain low K pitchers, but they get a fair number of groundouts and thus avoid huge HRs-allowed totals. Perez walks too many, however, while Leake doesn’t, and that makes Leake better.

Leake’s been great since joining the M’s, marking a rare improvement for a player upon joining the club. His durability makes the 2018 rotation look noticeably better, too. Taking on a portion of his contract essentially gets the M’s a do-over for the Drew Smyly acquisition; Smyly’s in his last year of arb next year, but given the late date of his TJ, it’s hard to see the M’s tendering him an offer. Paxton/Felix/Leake isn’t a world-beating top 3, especially given Paxton’s injury history, but it’s also much better than what the M’s have had to throw out there this season, as the M’s top three in terms of number of starts were Ariel Miranda, Yovani Gallardo and Paxton. Andrew Moore looks like he’s improving, but it still seems like something’s missing in approach. The M’s have given up the 4th-most HRs in baseball this year, the same as they did last year. The Tacoma Rainiers gave up the most HRs of any team in any classification of the affiliated minors, and they – like the M’s – play in a nominal pitcher’s park. Avoiding the long ball is going to be critical if the M’s want their pitching staff to push them over the top.

The thinking this year, of course, was that the pitching just needed to be OK – the position players were going to be the engine of the club, though they’d do it a bit differently. It worked for a while, as the M’s OF defense kept BABIP low (partially mitigating the HR barrage), and the bats were better than anticipated, racking up about 4 runs over average. As engines go, you’d prefer a bit more displacement, but at least they were above average, and they were fairly efficient, too – scoring more runs than base runs would’ve predicted. But in the second half, they’re far below average, pulling the season total below 0, and there simply isn’t any help left in the system. The Rainiers were one of the best hitting clubs in the minors, but much of that production came from guys who are already gone (Leonys Martin, Boog Powell, Tyler O’Neill) or already struggling in the majors (Taylor Motter). The M’s have selected two position players that have made it to Seattle since the 2010 draft: Mike Zunino and the unforgettable Tyler Smith, who was DFA’d after 16 at-bats this year (admit it: you’d forgotten). A huge chunk of recent draft picks has already left the org in order to win in 2017, so this number may not move a whole lot in the next few years (though Braden Bishop’s progress is very encouraging, and hooray for Kyle Lewis).

This looks like a colossal failure of player development, and while that WAS the story for much of this time period, I don’t think we know as much about the Dipoto era. This isn’t an exoneration of the group, but it’s an acknowledgement that they haven’t really had much of a chance. This is the downside of the relentless churning the front office did in the minors, picking up tons and tons of minor league vets and shifting players here and there throughout the year. It’s hard to work on development in an environment like that, and while that doesn’t completely get them off the hook, it’s a mitigating circumstance. The problem is that this year could’ve been critical in developing or identifying depth – for both pitchers and position players – for 2018. Due to injuries and a complete inability to stand pat, the M’s essentially had a lost year in PD. That’s going to limit their options going forward.

The M’s have a lot of needs next year, and they need to triage them well. Starting pitching’s way up there, of course, but they need a new 1B and a new OF as well. Trading O’Neill was easier when the M’s thought they had three cost-controlled OFs in Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia and Mitch Haniger. But since then, Gamel’s hitting .224/.259/.367 and Heredia’s hit .233/.307/.327. These two had issues with isolated power which seemed to be addressed at times in the first half, but those concerns are back and can’t be ignored. The M’s need to take some pressure off these two by bringing in another OF. Would Jarrod Dyson want to return, or will he try his luck on the open market? Will the M’s go for Camerin Maybin instead? The free agent OFs aren’t great, but the M’s need to find someone. 1B is a bit more interesting, as they both retain a “prospect” who plays that position and have watched the market for 1Bs absolutely crater. I’m not sure what Yonder Alonso will get, but whatever it is, the M’s can afford it. If Dave’s right and Jose Bautista won’t scare up any offers, you could see him taking a cheap one-year deal, too. All of which puts a bit more pressure on Dan Vogelbach, who simply needs to start hitting at the big league level, and he can’t do that from the bench. If we get one thing out of the last 11 games, I hope it’s 30-40 Vogelbach PAs. My fear is that he won’t get any until the M’s are mathematically eliminated.

There may not be enough time to settle the debate on whether Vogelbach’s a big leaguer, but they can re-start their examination. Then, Dipoto’s going to need to get creative to bring in a starter or two and an OF. But after a few moves, the M’s are going to need to pump the brakes a bit. They need to figure out what they have and what they need in the medium term, and it’s just harder to do that when you’re swapping out pretty much every pitcher in the system. They need to see if their vaunted development processes are working, or if they need to go study the Astros a bit more. They need to see if their first couple of draft classes adapt to their methods any better than the last few of Zduriencik’s cohorts. They need to do this, because while they can compete in 2018, it starts to look somewhat bleak after that. There’s a lot of salary coming off the books in the next few years, but there’s also some production leaving, too. The M’s will have some flexibility, but as they’ve learned, you can’t compete with the Astros/Indians if you’re not developing comparable talent.

1: Segura, SS
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Heredia, CF
9: Gamel, LF
SP: Leake


2 Responses to “Game 151, Rangers at Mariners – What Now?”

  1. msfanmike on September 19th, 2017 7:57 pm

    This is a really good article … and Vogelbach is not a big leaguer, although I wouldn’t mind seeing him get 30-40 at bats the remainder of the year – for the entertainment value they would surely provide. But only if we get to see him play defense, too.

  2. mrakbaseball on September 19th, 2017 8:01 pm

    I don’t need or want to see 30-40 Vogelbach plate appearances this last stretch of the season.

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