Cactus League Game 4, Mariners vs. Rockies – The Hot Stove Villains

marc w · March 4, 2021 at 11:31 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Justus Sheffield vs. Chi Chi Gonzales, 12:10pm (Radio on 710am delayed until 7:00pm; live radio available on

The Rockies have probably already sent Kevin Mather a thank you note, a bottle of wine, or some other gift. For a while there, everyone in the baseball world saw the Rockies trade of Nolan Arenado for a package centered around swingman Austin Gomber as the perfect example of everything wrong with baseball. Here was a team that managed to develop a power-hitting SS in Trevor Story, an all-world 3B in Arenado, and an All-Star CF in Charlie Blackmon. All were drafted and developed “home grown” players and formed a core that brought a lot of wins to Denver. But because they could never supplement that core with enough pitching, they struggled in 2019-20. Would they re-tool now that some of their massive bullpen free agent mistakes were off the books? Go after a Trevor Bauer or another free agent starter? Make a trade?

No, they decided that they didn’t have enough to trade and didn’t want to put good money after bad in free agency. Given that Arenado and Blackmon were long past their pre-arb years and had signed extensions, they saw themselves as selling high on over-valued assets. That is, the team that developed and witness Arenado flourish thought “ehhh, not exactly cheap anymore” and not only traded him for lottery tickets and a 6th starter, but *paid* St. Louis Arenado’s 2021 salary. It was, and remains, a perplexing move, and one I would never forget if I was a Rockies fan.

It was the kind of thing that seemed to highlight everything wrong with how players are valued: years of club control seemed to matter much more than what happened in those years, what each player is likely to actually produce. It seemed to be solely about reducing costs instead of bringing in new talent to replace a franchise cornerstone going out. Any time you trade an established star for prospects, you necessarily reduce your payroll. But by sending so much money and getting nowhere near the top prospects in a so-so Cardinals system, the Rockies didn’t seem to be attempting to retool as much as just cut the cord. To their franchise cornerstone. It remains baffling.

So think about their luck when after a week or two of absorbing the slings and arrows of baseball fans, Kevin Mather fires up zoom and speaks to the Bellevue Rotary Club. He, too, lamented that his experienced 3B/face of the franchise as “overpaid,” went on to cop to messing with Jarred Kelenic’s service time, and took potshots at Julio Rodriguez’s English skills. It remains one of the great unforced errors in modern baseball leadership, and it cost him his job. It also got the Rockies out of the headlines for a bit. Fans couldn’t understand the Arenado deal, a deal that didn’t save any money short term but made the Rockies a sure-fire bet to finish last. But Mather incensed MLB’s fans *and players* in ways we won’t fully understand until the next CBA is agreed upon.

It’s that sword hanging over the head of the club that we’re reminded of every time Jarred Kelenic does anything. Yesterday’s HR was particularly well-timed, as ESPN was in the process of interviewing Scott Servais, who said that prospects often show you when they’re ready. As I’ve said repeatedly, all attempts to re-frame Kelenic’s “readiness” for MLB as a baseball question, as something that will be evaluated by his skills/results, is a mistake, and an obvious attempt to conceal what Mather already explained. Kelenic is ready whenever he signs an extension, and the M’s admitted that last year…when they made Kelenic an extension offer.

I don’t know if the M’s will get hit with a grievance, or how the MLBPA and the owners will re-work the service time process, but thanks to Mather, everything’s in the open. It’s irreparably broken. A system the players had hoped would increase competition by enforcing a kind of parity instead rewarded gaming service time. An expanded playoffs didn’t make more teams willing to spend, it *reduced* the teams willing to spend. No one has any incentive to make a mediocre roster better, and a clear and obvious financial interest in making it worse. The M’s and Rockies have both showed why the system needs to change, and for that, I guess, we should thank them.

1: Crawford, SS
2: Haniger, RF
3: Seager, 3B
4: France, 2B
5: Murphy, C
6: White, 1B
7: Trammell, LF
8: Travis, DH
9: Bishop, CF
SP: Justus Sheffield

Chi Chi Gonzales was once the Texas Rangers first round pick out of Oral Roberts, the same school that produced Mariners #1 overall pick Mike Moore in 1981. Gonzales was known as a competitor, but has never missed any bats at the big league level. The righty throws a sinking four-seamer, a sinking…sinker, and a slider, change, and rare curve. Despite all of that sink, he’s a fly-ball pitcher, something that seems odd for a guy in Colorado. In fact, HRs haven’t been his big problem. It’s more that he has terrible command, producing sky-high walk rates, which combine with an inability to get guys to chase to result in tons of at-bats with men on. Because of the lack of whiffs, he struggles to strand them. He also happens to be the last starter I saw at a big league game, as I happened to catch his start against St. Louis in late 2019. He tossed a gem, Arenado homered, and the home fans went home happy.


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