Game 65, Angels at Mariners: Upton’s Revenge?

marc w · June 17, 2022 at 6:39 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Robbie Ray vs. Michael Lorenzen, 7:10pm

With the M’s offense struggling again, the M’s keep throwing things at the wall to see if any of them can hit. They’ve changed the batting order, they’ve shifted things at the bottom of the line-up, etc. Today, they’re trying something new. Kind of. The M’s have brought up Justin Upton, the free agent – still only 34 – who the Angels cut after spring training. He caught on with the M’s, as the Angels are still paying his salary, and today, he’ll join the team and start in left field. Can Upton recharge the offense? Eh, the odds are against it, but at this point, what’s the harm? He’s taking Sam Haggerty’s spot on the roster, and quite frankly, he’s going to be a better hitter than Haggerty (though a worse/more limited defender). He was rusty, and certainly wasn’t tearing it up in Tacoma, though of course we have 15 years of MLB performance against his few weeks in the PCL. But if this isn’t the end for Upton’s MLB time, it’s coming soon. We can just hope he uses the Angels’ dropping him as fuel, and hits a dinger or two against a lefty tonight. That’s likely how he can best be used: as a lefty-masher off the bench. That spot is generally held by Luis Torrens right now, esp. if he isn’t starting, and boooooy has it not worked out to have Torrens hit in late game situations against lefties. I’m fine trying something new.

I had kind of a hot take on Twitter last night that some may agree with, and some definitely do not. I feel like I need to lay out the case here in a bit more depth. What I said was that at this point, the idea that the M’s could become a pennant contender through player development is now dead, and further, that we can now close the book on the M’s being a PD super-org. Others pointed out that in short succession, the M’s had the 2020 Rookie of the Year, Logan Gilbert, Julio’s strong start, and now George Kirby. Sure, there were misfires, but any org that can turn signings and drafts into *this* actually IS having a ton of developmental success. It’s true!

But what I’m pointing out is that they’ve had all of that, and currently sit 28-36, and are the 11th-best team in the 15-team American League. I don’t think they are *bad* at player development, certainly not on the pitching side. But what they are NOT is so good that they essentially don’t need to do anything else. Talent gaps between them and the Astros, or Twins, or whoever you pick are only point in time measures that don’t reflect what’s going on below the MLB level. The problem with that is that it’s not clear the gaps are shrinking. The M’s have developed two great starters, and it certainly seems like Matt Brash will be back soon, AND they’ve got Julio. And they’re 28-36.

It’s not enough to be good. The problem is that because they believe in their own ability *so much*, they didn’t explore much in free agency (apart from tonight’s starter, of course). They continue to make minor moves, and even some of those have been amongst the crowning successes of the development coaches: Paul Sewald, Casey Sadler, or, going back a ways, Austin Adams. But the problem is those successes each have a counter-example of a player who looked pretty good who’s cratered here. Mallex Smith was a three-win player the year before he got to Seattle, and then he developed his way out of the big leagues. Dee Strange-Gordon was nearly a three-win player the year before the M’s acquired him, and spent three replacement-level years in Seattle. Luis Torrens was a decent hitter in 2020-21, but is…not right now. We don’t even need to go into Evan White. But Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, Shed Long. They’ve had so many players – from drafted prospects to near-MLB prospects developed elsewhere to guys with a lot or a little MLB time. Some worked out, a lot didn’t. Hey, bad luck happens to every team, and absolutely no one develops every single player. But it’s hard to look at this record – the whole record – and believe that the M’s are a developmental powerhouse.

I think the ramifications here are important. Does the team need to make a change? Yeah, I think so. But change what? I think the most important thing is to figure out what’s going on when development goes right, and what’s going on when you get these slips from Torrens or the disastrous starts from the likes of White and Taylor Trammell. As is, they seem less like the development stars like the Dodgers and Yankees, and more like the Detroit Tigers. Detroit’s done a great job with Tarik Skubal, and might get some points for Matthew Boyd’s development, but they’ve essentially struck out on offense. That might change with Spencer Torkelson (who’s struggled) and now Riley Greene (their top prospect, who was called up today). But as it stands, they don’t have a lot to show for what many credit as a top-flight development group *for pitchers.* They’ve had some go down with injuries, they’ve had some grow in the big leagues, they’ve spent a bit of money after a painful rebuild, and…it’s not enough.

So are the M’s doomed? No, of course not. Well…uh, whatever their “doom” status, it’s not my point here. The point is that they tried very hard to build the club through player development and trades for youngish talent before splashing out on Robbie Ray and Jesse Winker. That hasn’t worked, and the signs it might not were evident long before late-May of 2022. So, ok, you don’t have the Dodgers money or development. You don’t have the Rays savvy with development. You don’t have the Astros’ skill there. It’s going to take more in free agency. You might have to pay more, you might have some eye-wateringly high salaries on the back end of deals that may seem like wasted money. But you’ve got to do something differently.

1: Crawford, SS
2: France, 1B
3: Rodriguez, CF
4: Suarez, 3B
5: Winker, DH
6: Upton, LF
7: Frazier, 2B
8: Raleigh, C
9: Trammell, RF
SP: Ray

Angels’ starter Michael Lorenzen was once something of a two-way phenomenon, though nothing like his current teammate Shohei Ohtani. Lorenzen’s come to bat over 130 times, and owns a higher career OPS than many in the M’s line-up. It is just barely below JP Crawford’s career OPS, though of course accounting for park would tilt things in Crawford’s favor. He is not a “hits well for a pitcher” which is not even a thing that could give him an advantage anymore. But the Reds used to use him as an occasional pinch hitter, and after seeing several of the late-game PHs the M’s have used, uh…could we borrow Lorenzen from time to time?

Lorenzen throws a sinker, a four-seam, a change-up, a slider, a cutter, and his thrown two (2) curve balls. He’ll throw the kitchen sink. He doesn’t have the super high velo he had coming up as a reliever, but is averaging about 95 with his four seam. Despite the change and a deep repertoire, he’s still got very sizable platoon splits, so this may be a decent match-up for the M’s lefties. It’s less of an ideal match-up for Upton.


10 Responses to “Game 65, Angels at Mariners: Upton’s Revenge?”

  1. 3cardmonty on June 17th, 2022 7:03 pm

    It’s just indefensible that the payroll is about the same as last year. This was supposed to be the start of our window. The fact that they’re still churning through Haggertys and Uptons is a complete joke.

  2. bookbook on June 17th, 2022 10:05 pm

    Is Cal Raleigh emerging as a development success? Will Hancock and Brash become solid starters? Even given how poorly most top prospects are doing this year (Marte, Stoudt, et Al) I still believe in the PD theory of the Mariners. We’ve got nothing else to dream on…

  3. heyoka on June 18th, 2022 3:27 am

    The win streak has started.

  4. Stevemotivateir on June 18th, 2022 12:34 pm

    I’m going to rant a bit.

    I don’t know what to think of the developmental program. Are they (or were they) drafting the wrong players? One thing that kind of sticks out is that they’ve gotten virtually nothing from non-first round picks. Raleigh might be an exception, Arroyo is promising, and DeLoach is starting to get going in AA. But for the most part, the position-players outside of the first round have either been traded, or failed to impress. That wouldn’t be such a concern if they were hitting on first round picks (including those from other organizations), but we still haven’t seen much of Lewis or White–and may not get to see more. Trammell is in a small sample of success, Kelenic was probably asked to do too much with too little experience in the upper-minors…

    It’s not just that there’s a question about the organization’s ability to develop players, it’s that there seems to be pressure on the system to churn out major-leaguers–fast. Again, maybe part of it has to do with who they draft and where they come from (colleges without great developmental records, for example?). But one thing is certain: They can wait for internal options to fill in the holes.

    I don’t believe that free agents don’t want to come to Seattle because it’s a bad franchise or that there’s a fear careers die in the Northwest. I think it’s more that teams that are better poised for success and willing to offer more lucrative contracts are, understandably, more appealing.

    Long story short, I agree. They have to do things differently. Longer contracts with higher AAV’s, or a willingness to absorb a significant contract.

    It’s not like they can’t afford to. One of the selling points on the rebuild was that they would save money that would be allocated for future spending when the time was right. Is there a better time than now? Every significant hole could be addressed this coming offseason via free agency. Second base, the outfield, rotation…

    And even if they kept payroll at or below a reasonably 170m, they currently have 70m in guaranteed salaries & dead money, roughly 19-20m in arbitration-eligible players that should be retained, and pre-arb salaries would be a measly 3.6-5m.

    That’s about 93 million. That includes Winker’s 2023 contract; excludes Giles 9.5m option (500k buyout).

    So, if payroll was set at 170, they’d have around 77 million to spend. Without any other moves that could potentially reduce the current commitments, that 77m should be more than enough to land stars at multiple positions, and nobody should think that it would compromise Julio/Logan/Ty extensions.

    End of rant.

  5. Stevemotivateir on June 18th, 2022 4:15 pm

    But one thing is certain: They can wait for internal options to fill in the holes.

    Yeah…CAN’T wait.

  6. eponymous coward on June 19th, 2022 3:33 am

    The constituency Dipoto has to satisfy is (in effect) one person. So far there’s no indication that person has lost confidence.

    I’m already seeing “it’s cool, the kids like Julio and Gilbert are playing and performing, as long as that happens I don’t care about 2022” takes, which is just… (sigh) considering we haven’t produced anyone like Mike Trout (Julio’s not there yet), and you can see what that’s gotten the Angels for the last decade… yeah.

    Anyways, regarding your rant, this is basically where I have been for a while. The 2019-2021 off seasons could have been like the ones for Texas and Minnesota, giving us much more watchable baseball in 2020, adding salary. But no, we have to go with Jerry’s thoughts of being Tampa North.

  7. Stevemotivateir on June 19th, 2022 10:10 am

    They can’t have planned to be ‘Tampa North’, at least not initially. Really, if that were the case, it would have made zero sense to keep Marco or Haniger when they could have sold high on both at the time of the Great Seattle Fire Sale.

    But they may very well have pivoted from their initial plan. We heard Mathers boast about (dirty) organizational tactics, deflecting blame to the pandemic. I swear, if I hear Jerry Dipoto or John Stanton use the pandemic as a continued excuse publicly, whether as a lost season of critical development or as a financial hurdle, I will lose my scheiße. Statista states that the team’s revenue was 313m last season. That’s nearly the same as 2019’s 315m and just a tad lower than 2018’s 320m, which was an organizational record. They have money, and the TV deals with the Kraken, Sounders, Trailblazers, etc. are only increasing their revenue.

    There have been many unfulfilled promises that has nothing to do with the pandemic and they’ve done, or tried, just about everything they could to find minimal success (wild card ceiling) on the cheap. That, too, serves as a broken promise to date.

    They also vowed not to move any significant prospects, so if they’re going to keep their word–and hey, better late than never–they absolutely have to change their approach.

    Calling for a minimum budget of 170m shouldn’t sound outrageous and it most certainly isn’t unrealistic. They still wouldn’t even be a top-10 spender. This year 170m would be good for 12th place.

    I’ve always said that I don’t care how they get better, as long as they field a team that can legitimately contend. I still feel the same, it’s just harder to envision alternate paths that don’t involve elite prospects being sacrificed.

    Something has to give.

  8. bookbook on June 19th, 2022 1:44 pm

    I’m not going to argue about minimum budgets and the like. Whether I want to or not, my thoughts are now on 2023. I can see a solid rotation already, and more help potentially on the way (Hancock, Bryce Miller, maybe Dollard in a 5th starter/swingman role.

    I believe the bullpen will come back together.

    C, 1b, SS, 3b, CF should (continue to work. (Fingers crossed)

    There are varieties of hopes and dreams for the OF corners, none of which excite unless Kelenic suddenly finds his sea legs, or Winker reverts to form.

    Second base? There’s nothing in the majors, nothing in the minors, and not a lot of free agency hope, after all the good gets we’re gotten last year. Dylan Moore growing into a larger role is the most optimistic outcome for 2023. Which… would still probably be a minor hole.

    2021 screwed with our expectations, but I absolutely feel Jerry has to make the playoffs in 2023, and not scraping in as a 3rd wild card.

  9. Stevemotivateir on June 19th, 2022 6:54 pm

    Well, the budget floor has to be significant to properly address the needs for 2023 and beyond.

    And I would argue the bullpen is an area of need. They aren’t likely exercising Giles’ 9.5m option, Sadler’s readiness is still in question, and there’s no respectable lefty under control.

    Two pitchers, two outfielders, two infielders, and depth to boot.

    Definitely need a significant floor.

  10. eponymous coward on June 20th, 2022 1:18 am

    Jerry dumped salary efficiently enough during the “step back” that the A’s outspent the M’s in salary last year (and Tampa wasn’t far behind). Seems quite deliberate and obvious to me. Now we’re at the point where according to the Plan(tm), we can add dollars (and we did). The problem is we got Tampa North on salary for 2020-2021 but not even close on talent, and we’re still behind teams like Minnesota and Texas on spending and in the standings.

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