The M’s and Being Honest – Cactus League Game 1

marc w · February 22, 2019 at 5:13 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The Cactus League “season” will once again attempt to begin shortly with the M’s taking on the A’s. Yesterday’s contest made through 1 1/2 innings before being called off. Unlike in the last few years, though, the M’s are – by their own admission – not really attempting to make the playoffs this year. This is their step-back campaign, and as much as that should take the pressure off of the club, I think we’re beginning an absolutely critical year for the franchise and the game.

Put aside the strategic arguments for the step-back. The fact that Dallas Keuchel and Bryce Harper and any number of really good players remain unsigned as almost-real baseball begins is remarkable. It’s only possible because so few teams are actively trying to get better, or rather, actively trying to use free agency to get better.

Isn’t that good, though? Why not focus on development? After years of lambasting teams for ill-considered free agent splurges (Carlos Lee, where have you gone?), NOW the nerds are mad that teams stopped making them? Well, yes. The lack of a free agent market is just a sign that winning and revenue don’t line up anymore. The league and teams are arguing that payroll doesn’t align with winning percentage, and that’s sort of true. But the bigger problem is on the revenue side: it doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t matter who you roll out there, you can still make out like a bandit. We used to worry about inefficient methods of building a winner. Now, more than half the league isn’t terribly interested in trying at all.

This is not to say that the M’s were wrong to move on from their old core. Rather that there’s nothing about Keuchel, to say nothing of Harper, that doesn’t align with their own professed contention window. Does that mean they should go sign them now? I don’t know, but they should give it serious thought.

The M’s have overhauled their player development, and that’s a very welcome sign. But any honest accounting of this would say that they remain a ways behind the likes of Houston and perhaps even Anaheim. No one really knows how quickly this sort of thing can change, and maybe it’s not such a big problem. But one of the things they talked up in the past was the benefit of having a Nelson Cruz around for the youngsters to emulate. Their pitching development needed a ton of work, and hopefully they’re far down that path, but I would imagine Keuchel could help with that effort just by being around. I would love for Keuchel and Felix to talk sinkers for an hour a week, and with the M’s focus on throwing four-seamers up in the zone (as heard on this week’s Hot Stove podcast), guys like Justus Sheffield with some natural sink on their fastball might benefit from picking the brain of a guy like Keuchel. Ah well.

To fire off another cynical note in what’s supposed to be a happy day, I’d just note that in an environment where even FAs in their mid-20s struggled to latch on with a team, the M’s are building around late-bloomers and injury-delayed players. Mitch Haniger will be 32 when he hits free agency, as will Marco Gonzales. If things go right, Justin Dunn and Jake Fraley wouldn’t debut until they were at least 24. The pressure’s now off the team to sign extensions or lock up a chunk of prime-year production for a lot of these guys. Sure, they’ve also got Justus Sheffield (who won’t turn 23 until May) and JP Crawford (24, with over 1 year of service time) as big returns in their off-season deals, but if they play in AAA for a month or so, then the M’s could get an extra year of control.

The M’s faced the A’s today in Peoria that threatened more rain, but turned mostly sunny by the end of the game. The pitchers were very effective, with Mike Leake going 2 IP, Zac Rosscup, Shawn Armstrong, Dan Altavilla, Justin Dunn, Chase Bradford, and Ruben Alaniz keeping the A’s scoreless until the 9th, when the enigmatic Nick Rumbelow gave up a meaningless dinger in the M’s 8-1 win. Mitch Haniger homered, Ichiro singled and knocked in 2, and Kyle Seager went 2-2. Tito Polo made an acrobatic catch in CF, and Tim Lopes doubled off of top prospect Jesus Luzardo, too. If the game’s remembered for anything, though, it may be the debut of the pitch clock, the pace of play innovation that’s rolling out in MLB this year. Fans of the minors have seen them for a few years.


2 Responses to “The M’s and Being Honest – Cactus League Game 1”

  1. Stevemotivateir on February 23rd, 2019 7:27 am

    Though I’m open to the idea of preparing for the future now, much like we saw with the Kikuchi signing, it’s hard to see a player like Keuchel brought in simply because of the cost and likeliness of him not being a true front line starter in a year or two. Harper even less so, given the potential for Santana, Haniger, Kelenic, Rodriguez, and even Lewis in the near future.

    It would be great to see a catcher that could help mentor and guide these young and new pitchers. I wouldn’t object to an established infielder, either. Maybe next off season we’ll see another significant addition through free agency?

  2. turin07 on February 27th, 2019 6:56 pm

    I don’t consider the Ms building around Mitch Haniger.

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