Body Blows

marc w · January 24, 2020 at 4:20 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The M’s have made several minor personnel moves in the days surrounding their annual media day, but the biggest news involves a setback for perhaps their most important hitter, Mitch Haniger. Haniger’s season was shut down early following a :shivers: ruptured testicle. His rehab seemed to be fairly uneventful, but he felt something during a workout recently, and now requires core surgery that will keep him from baseball activities for 6-8 weeks. At a minimum, his spring training is probably shot, and as such, he’ll miss opening day. It’s not clear how much more than that he could miss, but hopefully not too much.

The larger question, of course, is what it does to his development. 2019 was an odd one, as his BABIP dropped and his strikeouts spiked during the first half of the year. But he made up for these shortcomings with additional power, likely boosted by the juiced baseball league-wide. The missed time and continued uncertainty around the ball make it hard to know what to expect from a hitter who was freakishly consistent in 2017-18 (when healthy). It’s not a coincidence that the M’s second-half swoon really kicked into high gear once Haniger left, and his presence in the line-up could make this season minimally tolerable, so hopefully we won’t hear anything more about setbacks or timetables from Mr. Haniger. This injury likely opens the door to Jake Fraley and Kyle Lewis in April. If Fraley can improve upon his rough introduction to MLB, that would certainly help the M’s sketchy depth, but on paper, it could make for something of a rough start to 2020.

The M’s addressed their *infield* depth by signing former Pirates prospect Alen Hanson to a minor league deal. I mentioned him on the blog once just to point out he was among the least-likely MLB first basemen I’d encountered since Miguel Cairo when he popped up playing 1B in Toronto last year. He hit .163/.229/.163 in a cup of coffee last year, and is a career .232/.266/.368 hitter in about 1 full season of work. It’s…it’s not a good slash line, friends. He came up as a slick-fielding shortstop, and would figure to offer a push to Dylan Moore or whomever at utility, but will likely hang out in Tacoma for at least a few months.

I’d say that the pick-up of Hanson’s a clear, consistent Dipoto move, similar to his acquisition of another ex-Giants SS, Kelby Tomlinson, last year. But if you really want an example of a move so obviously “Mariners” it almost needs to be written in northwest green writing, here you go: the M’s have acquired LHP Nick Margevicius, who’d been DFA’d by San Diego about a week ago. Margevicius is just 23, and made the Pads opening day roster last year, but struggled and was demoted after a few months of replacement-level pitching, mostly out of the rotation. Coming up through the San Diego system, he balanced a lack of real bat-missing stuff with very good control. As you might expect, that walk rate climbed in the big leagues, as hitters started knocking his fastball/slider/change/curve mix around, and forcing him towards the corners or off the plate. His straight four-seam fastball registers just 88 MPH, so Margevicius fits the template of the lefty junkballer that’s been catnip for this organization. After losing both Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone, Jerry Dipoto was probably itching for a replacement, and now he’s got one.

Of course, just because the M’s love the template doesn’t mean it’s been a real winner for them. Milone started well, but tailed off, and LeBlanc’s 2019 is probably best left undiscussed here. Margevicius offers youth and team control, and might improve with some instruction in the minors, or move to a swingman role once, say, Justin Dunn or Logan Gilbert is deemed ready. It’s not a bad pick-up at all, but I hope the M’s still hope to acquire another starting pitcher. Margevicius could stick around, but they could use a bit more experience in the rotation, and, if you’d permit me an editorial comment here, more velocity.

Margevicius’ slider looks like his best pitch, and he does something pretty good with it: he induces a lot of swings. In general, if batters are swinging and putting your breaking ball in play at higher rates than your fastball, you’re doing something right. The average exit velocity and production on bendy things are lower than the corresponding averages for fastballs, and it often means hitters are expanding the zone to stay alive – all of that’s to the good (from the pitcher’s point of view). He hasn’t really been able to limit the damage on that contact, but you can see the M’s thought process here. Last year, he had bizarre reverse splits, as lefties torched him. There’s no real reason that should continue, so he could benefit from some regression. At the same time, he’s struggled from the stretch and really struggled to miss bats, and at 88 MPH, there’s no real reason that should change in the future, though pitch design could presumably help.

I know many of you are sick of the cynicism surrounding the team, but there’s no way to look at the recent news and feel too confident. This team will rise or fall based on the development of players like Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodgriguez. The problem for fans here is that it’s doubtful either will play for the Seattle Mariners in 2020. There will be plenty of development in Seattle, and watching the likes of Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, and Logan Gilbert should be instructive (as well as JP Crawford and Shed Long). But the real story for the future M’s will be taking place in Arkansas. Meanwhile, the M’s rivals have restocked. Minnesota’s signing of Josh Donaldson helps build around a terrifying young core featuring one of the league’s intriguing infields. The Angels get a return to health from Shohei Ohtani and pair him with newly-acquired 3B Anthony Rendon. The Indians top three starters – Shane Bieber/Mike Clevinger/Carlos Carrasco – headline one of the best groups in baseball, with the possible exception of Tampa’s troika of Blake Snell/Tyler Glasnow/Charlie Morton. Let’s say the M’s OF teens are everything Dipoto hopes they can be. The M’s *still* need to close the gap between their current club and where their rivals are headed. Sure, the Astros will be worse than we once thought come 2021, but on paper, they’re still a lot better, and the good teams in the AL keep getting better. I believe in Julio Rodgriguez’s development, but something pretty major needs to change in order for the M’s to capitalize on it.


9 Responses to “Body Blows”

  1. eponymous coward on January 24th, 2020 7:29 pm

    Yeah, this is pretty much where I am at… a minor league org that’s not dragging at the bottom of MLB is nice, but not sufficient. As it stands we are basically being asked by DiPoto to let him have mulligans until years 6-7 of his coming in as the M’s GM. That’s an awful lot of rope and developmental time.

    At least they gave me some $10 baseball tickets so I don’t have to go to Tacoma to see a AAA team that’s affordable.

  2. Stevemotivateir on January 26th, 2020 10:27 am

    What more could you ask for going into year two of a rebuild? The farm is easily in the top 10 and it’s the only one in baseball with two top 11 prospects listed in Baseball America’s top 100 (5 overall).

    I agree that Seattle needs Kelenic and Rodriguez to work out. I would add Gilbert to the list. But all three are ahead of schedule and Seattle has almost nothing on the books after 2021, plus a number of other prospects that may be useful, if not regulars.

    Houston had to add multiple starters, outfielders, and catchers from the outside to get where they are. Seattle’s shopping list right now looks like it will include a couple of starters, a couple of infielders, and maybe a veteran reliever and catcher. Could be shorter, could be longer, but I fail to see any reason for excessive cynicism.

    2020 is going to suck. 2021 might not get off to the start fans are anticipating. But the long-term prognosis doesn’t look bad to me.

  3. Westside guy on January 27th, 2020 9:53 am

    Obviously Mitch Haniger needs to attend the Beltre School for Playing With A Ruptured Testicle (BSPWART).

    I’m assuming I’m not the only one who cringes at the mere mention of the phrase “ruptured testicle”.

  4. don52656 on January 29th, 2020 10:41 am

    The Astros really didn’t start tanking until 2011 when they hired Luhnow as GM. They had already lost 106 games in 2011 and followed that with 107 and 111 loss seasons before “only” losing 92 games in 2014. It wasn’t until 2017 that they finally evolved into a championship caliber team.

    The Astros had the #1 selection in the draft for three years in a row and had the #2 and #5 selection the year after that. The Mariners haven’t had a pick in the top 5 since 2014 and will still only draft #6 in 2020.

    If we were to admit that this “stepping back” is roughly following the Astros blueprint, then we are beginning year two of what was a 6-year process before reaching championship contender level, although to be fair, the Astros were at least close to playoff contention beginning in year 4.

    First, the over/under in Las Vegas for the Mariners this season is 67.5 wins. Given they won 68 last year, doesn’t it seem rather obvious that you would take the under? Have the Mariners already hit rock-bottom?

    Second, why would we think the Mariners front office can engineer a turnaround more quickly and more successfully than the Astros did? Even with selecting Correa/Springer/Bregman with their high draft picks, it took Houston four years from rock-bottom to championship contention. If we are still heading down toward rock-bottom, shouldn’t we expect that 2024-25 is the likely beginning of any championship-level contention?

  5. MKT on February 2nd, 2020 12:22 am

    “Second, why would we think the Mariners front office can engineer a turnaround more quickly and more successfully than the Astros did?”

    Precisely. I see no reason to believe that the Mariners will compete for the post-season in 2021.

    On the one hand, that’s a defense for the Mariner front office: fans should avoid unrealistic expectations. Junior was worth 3.3 WAR his rookie season and A-Rod and Edgar two took or three seasons of part-time major league play before they stuck for good. And we can only hope that the M’s prospects will achieve those levels.

    But on the other hand I’m not real confident that even waiting additional years will help the Ms make it into the playoffs. Due to this:

    “I know many of you are sick of the cynicism surrounding the team”

    I probably am a cynic rather than being sick of it. Forty-three years of following a franchise that can’t think it’s way out of a paper bag will do that to you (except for the nine seasons from 1995-2003 when the Ms were one of the better and more interesting franchises in MLB).

    So far, DiPoto’s attempted to boost marginal Ms rosters into the post-season; his moves weren’t terrible but they weren’t great and they weren’t successful. He’s now made the correct recognition that the Ms need to rebuild and he’s successfully acquired a number of prospects. But that’s the easy part; any of us could do that. The harder question is: has he picked the right prospects and can he develop them? It’s too early to know for sure or even had a really good guess. But DiPoto’s record so far doesn’t instill confidence that he’s more successful at trades, talent recognition, and talent development than his rivals in the AL west have been.

  6. LongDistance on February 2nd, 2020 12:43 am

    “…fans should avoid unrealistic expectations.” Response (mangling a Yogi Berra gem): You mean, now?

    … go m’s

  7. Sowulo on February 2nd, 2020 3:22 am

    If last year turns out to have been the M’s “bottom”, then they will be rebuilding from a MUCH higher position than Houston did. Houston was just bad, they were HISTORICALLY bad. Houston lost 119 games at their bottom–Seattle lost 94 last year. They had a much bigger mountain to climb to get back to respectability. I’m as big a cynic as anyone but let’s not get too carried away with the hyperbole. I’m guessing the M’s could hang around 70 wins this year and then, if the rooks start delivering, improvement is not too far out of the realm of possibility.

  8. don52656 on February 2nd, 2020 11:35 am

    Well….a few points regarding the “bottom.” First of all, Houston never lost 119 games at their bottom, that was Detroit. Houston’s worst season in 2013 included 111 losses, which is still a lot and below where the M’s were in 2019. I would propose though that the Mariners have not yet bottomed out, if you measure that by the regular season record. They won 68 games last year and I would challenge you to make the case that this year’s team will be better. It will certainly be younger, but offense, rotation, and bullpen will all be weaker to start 2020 than it was to start 2019, and only in defense should we expect an improvement. You’ve got rookies (or near-rookies) projected to start at 1B, 2B, LF, with two rookies penciled in for the rotation. Really, at what positions would you expect the 2020 Mariners to be better than the 2019 Mariners?

    And the division is tougher….if ZIPs projections are to be believed, the Angels on paper are a still a better team this year than the Mariners…even if you subtract Trout, Rendon, and Simmons from their lineup! Both Houston and LA have projections that beat ours at every position, in the rotation, and in the bullpen. The Oak/Tex projections aren’t out yet, but Oakland will still be much better than us and Texas has added Todd Frazier, Corey Kluber, and Kyle Gibson to a team that was 10 games better than us last year.

    I think it is much more likely that we win 60 or fewer games than we win 70 or more this season. Remember, Houston started tanking in 2011 and didn’t bottom out until 2013. The Mariners started tanking in 2019 and I don’t believe the bottom has happened already. This will be a long season, but perhaps it will be more interesting because we’ll be better able to see a bright, distant future. Let’s hope so, anyway.

  9. Lailoken on February 5th, 2020 5:22 pm

    Defense should be vastly improved. I would argue that the bullpen can be quite a bit better. We have already lost 22 relievers (including Festa for now) who pitched for the 2019 squad. They combined for -1.9 fWAR. We return 12 (not counting the two position players) & they combined for 2.2 fWAR. It hurts that Adams is going to miss most, if not all, of the first half. It also hurts that Sadzeck will likely miss the entire season though I think it’s cool we have the option to sneak him onto the 40-man in September since he accepted the outright to AAA. Edwards, Hirano, Ramirez, Cortes, Valdez, & Chen have been brought into the org. Not a gangbusters bunch but some potential upside, especially the first three. The minor league pile is huge too & I could see Edwards, Magill, Hirano, & Altavilla going out in midseason trades to clear the way for Adams, Delaplane, & whichever other relievers pitch their way into the bigs. I’m curious to see if Swanson gains some pitch velocity being exclusively a reliever. I expect Tuivailala will get some of his velocity back being further removed from injury.

    We lose 1.4 fWAR from 10 pitchers who started games that are no longer in the org. That too is pretty replaceable with Graveman, Sheffield, Dunn, Gilbert, & hopefully Walker taking on the majority of that workload. Kikuchi is an interesting test case for the developmental staff. He needs to tunnel his pitches better & find consistency. I’m of the opinion that coming stateside & the loss of his father both negatively impacted his ability to make in season adjustments. How much he improves is hard to gauge.

    As for the defense, I’m working on a fanpost for Lookout Landing. Let’s just say we won’t miss Santana, Narvaez, Beckham, & Healy. Fangraphs had our 2019 iteration pegged as the third worst defense in MLB & we were really close to being the second worst. Without a blackhole at catcher & full seasons for Seager, Crawford, & White we should have the biggest jump of any team in those rankings. The jury is still out on Long, Lewis, & Fraley whose sample sizes were small. Smith has the tools to turn his play around. One thing I am waiting to hear about is how the 2020 team is going to coach outfield defense. Prieto was let go & Mike Cameron is listed as a special assignment coach so I have no idea if he will get the lion’s share of those duties.

    The offense should take a small step back but I could easily see pitching & defense improving.

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