The M’s Make Some Minor Personnel Moves That No One Cares Much About

marc w · April 23, 2018 at 5:05 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

What could possibly take away from the M’s winning a road series against a divisional rival?

The M’s spent yesterday trying to explain that optioning Guillermo Heredia to AAA while keeping left-handed Ichiro backing up left-handed Ben Gamel was made for baseball reasons. Many M’s fans, and many M’s beat writers, disagreed, saying instead that the move was made to appease ownership’s desire to hold on to a franchise icon, on-field results be damned. At this stage in their respective careers, there’s essentially no getting around the fact that Heredia is a better ballplayer than Ichiro. I say that as an unabashed Ichiro fanboy, the kind of person that, if the motives attributed to ownership are true, would be the target market for this nostalgic-if-self-defeating move. Ichiro’s power, always limited, is all but gone, and you’re left hoping for singles.

Ichiro has clearly changed since he was traded, but so has Safeco Field. The alleys that once helped turn line drives into extra base hits have been chopped down across the board, and it’s now much more of an all-or-nothing park: hit it over the fence, or suffer. Ichiro is not a guy who does a whole lot of the former, and is now doing more of the latter than any of us are comfortable with. This log jam was coming, and the result illustrates how difficult it can be to juggle position player battles now that pitchers make up so much of the roster – Scott Servais seemed to indicate they may have sent a pitcher down when Erasmo Ramirez was recalled, but decided not to when James Paxton had a short start; this suggests that Heredia’s active roster spot could’ve been saved by Paxton going a few more IPs, or a few balls in play getting converted to outs, which is kind of ridiculous when you think about it. But of course *all* of this is ridiculous. Whatever the reason, the M’s have now made their team a bit worse: they’ve reduced platoon advantages on the bench, and the club’s defensive ability is lower as a result of banishing a solid glove.

I can imagine Ichiro (and the club) arguing that he hasn’t been given enough of an opportunity to perform, and thus pointing to his small sample performance gap vis a vis Heredia shouldn’t count for much. I can imagine the M’s FO wanting to believe that, but struggling to fully commit. They may have made some sort of commitment to Ichiro when he signed, too; at the very least, I doubt they came out and said that unless X or Y happens, you’ll be released when Ben Gamel is healthy. Whatever they agreed to, the M’s are now in the position of having to defend keeping a former superstar to fans who both love said superstar and also see it as a questionable move. The parallels to 2010 are getting harder to ignore.

What’s also harder to ignore is that the club simply isn’t quite built to compete in the new AL West, and while the Heredia move certainly doesn’t help, keeping Heredia wouldn’t change that sad fact. The M’s have played about as well as any of us could expect, yet find themselves not only behind the juggernaut that is the Houston Astros, but comfortably behind the Angels, too. The M’s have had a better start than Oakland, but they’re going to have to worry about holding off the upstart A’s as well, particularly if they get their starting pitching sorted out.

The M’s are in a soft part of their schedule, with a series kicking off tonight in Chicago. They handled the Texas Rangers, and now get to face the reeling White Sox, whose in-full-swing rebuild is taking perhaps a bit longer than fans looking across town at the Cubs would like. To take full advantage, and to remove protecting the bullpen as an excuse for some self-inflicted wounding, the M’s starting pitchers need to step up. Mike Leake’s been one of the most dependable, but his peripherals have gone crazy this year. Leake was so effective in Seattle last September because he essentially walked nobody – just 2 in 5 starts. He’s walked 10 in his 4 starts this year, and his K rates haven’t increased. Perhaps more bizarrely, Mike Leake – sinkerballing ground ball guy – is now a fly-ball pitcher, with a FB% that’s soared by 16 percentage points in the early going.

Leake has essentially remade himself, with a vastly different pitch mix featuring far fewer sinkers and more cutters, change-ups and a few more curves. Given that, you might expect some differences in batted ball and swing profiles, but they’re simply not what you’d expect. His change and cutter have traditionally been ground ball pitches too, and they remain so. The problem is that his sinker – now 1 MPH slower than last year – isn’t generating grounders anymore. It’s weird. Batters have responded to his blizzard of non-sinkers by swinging much less. They still swing at his sinker, and as usual, they make contact with it. It’s just that it’s now getting elevated. This hasn’t really hurt him; his strand rate is high and his HR rate is normal. He’s logged some good innings for the M’s. It’s just that he looks nothing like the guy who came in last season.

Today’s line-up for a 5:10pm start:
1: Gordon, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Haniger, RF
7: Vogelbach, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Gamel, LF
SP: Leake

To give themselves more RP depth, the M’s re-acquired lefty Roenis Elias from Boston for a PTBNL or cash. Elias was the throw-in in the Carson Smith/Wade Miley deal that pretty much all parties would like to disavow, though the Sox could still benefit from a healthy Smith. Elias and Boston never clicked, and he pitched just 8 IP total for them in the two years since the trade. He’s largely pitched for Pawtucket, and not terribly well. That said, this was a guy who gave the M’s two very solid seasons as the 5th starter, and gives the M’s some needed depth.

Clinton has won 6 in a row, and lead their division in the MWL; they’ve got the 2nd best record in the 16-team league. Oliver Jaskie faces off with Wisconsin’s Alec Bettinger tonight.

Modesto, on the other end of things, is currently 8th in the 8-team California League. The Nuts are off tonight.

Arkansas is 2nd in their division, and 5th overall in the 10-team Texas League. Chase de Jong leads the Travs against Tulsa tonight.

Tacoma is 2nd in their division, and 7th in the 16-team Pacific Coast League. The Rainiers beat Sacramento 4-1 today in the third battle (already) between Rob Whalen and ex-M’s prospect Tyler Herb. Whalen K’d 9 in 6 1/3 solid innings


3 Responses to “The M’s Make Some Minor Personnel Moves That No One Cares Much About”

  1. Westside guy on April 23rd, 2018 5:35 pm

    Ugh, down 5-0 already. I think I’m going to tune out for a while and (probably momentarily) check back in around the 7th.

  2. mrakbaseball on April 23rd, 2018 5:51 pm

    Leake has sprung a leak. I miss 2017 Leake.

  3. Grayfox3d on April 23rd, 2018 6:24 pm

    Well I was going to watch the game, guess I’ll just continue to work instead, its much more fun.

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