On days when Felix pitches, Section 150 will be known as the King’s Court. Tickets will be specially priced at $30, and each ticket comes with a King Felix T-shirt. Tickets will be $34 when purchased on the day of the game. Tickets in that section are normally $40 ($45 for prime games). (link)
The Tampa Bay Rays today announced a new special seating section, dubbed “District K-9,” that will be available on Opening Day when 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner David Price starts at Tropicana Field vs. the Baltimore Orioles on April 2 at 3:10 p.m. (link)
All fans that purchase tickets in sections 201-208 on the dates that Darvish starts during the 2013 regular season will receive a complimentary KIA YUNIVERSE T-shirt and K-Card. The KIA YUNIVERSE T-shirts and K-Cards are yellow and black and will help create an enthusiastic rooting section on the dates of Darvish starts. (link)
As you know now, the Mariners picked up Henry Blanco and dumped Kelly Shoppach. Blanco was just dropped by the Blue Jays, and Shoppach’s going to go somewhere else, since I can’t imagine he’ll eventually report to Triple-A. It’s a weird move, in that it’s pretty lateral and it came out of nowhere and the Mariners are bad. But because the Mariners are bad, it doesn’t really matter what this means for 2013, and neither Blanco nor Shoppach are long-term assets. Pretty much every transaction leads to some sort of freakout. There’s no reason for a freakout over Henry Blanco or Kelly Shoppach.
What interests me most about this is a quote from Jack Zduriencik in the official press release:
“We had interest in Henry this off season,” Zduriencik said. “And recent circumstances developed allowing us to acquire Henry. We are pleased to be able to add him to our 25 man roster and look forward to his contributions.”
How that reads is that the Mariners wanted Blanco, but he wound up signing with Toronto, so the Mariners settled on Shoppach instead. Clearly, the Mariners prefer Blanco to Shoppach now, and it’s not like anything has changed about them in the last couple months. They’re still the same guys, so the Mariners would’ve preferred Blanco in the offseason.
If Blanco had just wanted to go to the Blue Jays instead, fine. The Blue Jays looked like they’d be a good team. But the Blue Jays signed Blanco to a non-guaranteed $750,000 contract in January. The Mariners signed Shoppach to a guaranteed $1.5 million contract in February, with an additional $500,000 in possible bonuses. It follows that the Mariners should’ve offered at least that much to Blanco, if not more. I don’t know what they actually did, but something is curious here. Did Blanco prefer the Blue Jays that much, that he would’ve turned down a lot more money and a roster and playing time guarantee? Why weren’t the Mariners able to get Blanco when they first wanted to? I suppose at the time of Blanco’s signing, the M’s still had John Jaso on the roster, and that might’ve complicated things, but if they really wanted Henry Blanco it seems like they could’ve found a way to get him, unless he just didn’t want to come. It’s weird. Whatever.
In terms of immediate performance, this move doesn’t matter. Blanco’s a worse hitter than Shoppach, but he’s a better defender, and these are aging backup catchers we’re talking about. Blanco is a lot more suited to a backup role than Shoppach is, and maybe Shoppach didn’t feel like being behind a rookie like Mike Zunino or a healthy Jesus Sucre. Because Blanco is coming up on 42, he doesn’t stand to have a direct impact on the future of the Mariners. The organizational hope is that he mentors Zunino and makes Zunino better from this point forward. That’s the whole idea, and Blanco has admitted as much already. He’s here to help another guy improve, and he’s better at that than Shoppach is, I guess. Zunino has a lot to learn about catching in the big leagues and Blanco has been doing it for a while. Zunino isn’t going to learn to hit from Henry Blanco, but I should hope he already knows that and won’t try.
Of course, Zunino’s defensive stuff is supposed to be his strength. Of course, the Mariners have actual coaches, and Eric Wedge was a catcher in his day. Of course, we don’t know if this is actually going to make a difference, because it’s basically like a smaller version of the Mariners signing Raul Ibanez for his leadership. Blanco’s been able to remain employed for a long time, but he’s bounced around a lot since 2008, so it’s not like anyone has found him of incredible value. Zunino might develop independent of Blanco, but the most important lesson is this doesn’t matter at all in the short term and there’s really no meaningful downside. If Blanco’s a little worse than Shoppach, so what? So actual what?
This does further suggest that Zunino’s here for good. If Blanco’s here to help mentor Zunino, then Zunino probably isn’t going back to Triple-A when Jesus Sucre heals up. That’s not a guarantee and even the team is probably going to be somewhat open-minded, depending on how Zunino looks, but it would be a surprise to me if Zunino were demoted down the line. This is the direction they’re going, and Zunino’s probably going to play a lot, ready or not. They think he’ll become ready. Maybe he will. Maybe with Blanco’s help!
As a teenager, Henry Blanco was a third baseman. He caught his first game as a professional in 1995. He made the move for good in 1996, after he debuted in the Dodgers organization in 1990. You see a lot of catchers move to other positions. You don’t often see it the other way around. That’s a thing about Henry Blanco you know now.
Joe Saunders vs. Tommy Milone, 7:05pm
With Erasmo Ramirez’s brilliant start last night capping a brilliant run on his rehab stint, the bottom three members of the M’s rotation have each got to be looking over their shoulders a bit. A guy like Jeremy Bonderman has no room for error, but he’s been solid in his last two starts. Aaron Harang has two CG shutouts recently, so he may be a bit safer. Joe Saunders may be safest, but that also means he could conceivably fetch something in trade – just not anything like a real prospect. He’s cheap and a name-brand starter (playoff experience!), and also not as good as Erasmo Ramirez. We’ll see.
The A’s feature several players that have made me look completely, unforgivably foolish in recent years. Last year, I mocked the fact that the A’s were going into opening day with a fly-ball starting pitcher throwing 87mph. More than that, they were so short on depth at 3B they took a so-so minor league catcher, gave him a new mitt and a ‘Go get ‘em’ and thought that counted as infield depth. The former was worth nearly 3 WAR last year as a perfectly serviceable starter who got more K’s than you might expect thanks to his plus change-up. The latter….well, the latter has a .378 wOBA and a .310/.377/.500 line while playing good defense at 3B. There’s a lesson in here for me, and it’s not just “stop making predictions and judgments about baseball players,” though the magnitude of my miss on Josh Donaldson makes me think about that from time to time. The lesson is: not every team is like the Seattle Mariners.
If you’re an M’s prospect with some flaws, those flaws will be exposed in the big leagues. That’s fine, that’s to be expected – MLB is really, really hard, and if the best players know an opponent’s weaknesses, they can exploit them. So, Carlos Peguero didn’t come up and become a selective hitter. Dustin Ackley didn’t start driving the ‘lefty strike’ to left field. Michael Saunders is still Michael Saunders. If the prospect had no real weaknesses (think Felix Hernandez, but A-Rod would work), then they’d succeed, but how many of those are there? I looked at the A’s line-up through the M’s prism. Huh, a lefty without much stuff but a good change? How many of those have the M’s had through the years, and how many of them have worked out (that’d be one). When the M’s have moved players around the diamond, or taken OK but not great MiLB hitters and tried to extract production from them, the results have been awful. But that’s not true everywhere. The Rangers get something from limited players, and the A’s are either able to utilize flawed players in an intelligent way (Brandon Moss, maybe John Jaso) or develop them into less-flawed players like Josh Donaldson. This is exactly what the M’s have needed to do to close the gap with the teams in the top half of this division, but instead the gap’s just as big. Josh Donaldson was a roughly average PCL catcher and now he’s better than Kyle Seager. Go M’s!
5: Morse (1b)
8: M. Saunders
SP: Joe Saunders
The M’s made a roster move today, because it’d been a few hours since the last one. Today, they DFA’d veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach to bring in even veteranier Henry Blanco. Blanco is 41, and will turn 42 this year, so Raul Ibanez is no longer the oldest Mariner. I…I don’t know what to say about this. Shoppach had been cold, but he’s essentially produced a typical Shoppach season. Lots of Ks, some walks, veteran grit behind the plate. It seems very, very odd to decide that the guy you brought in to do those things wasn’t the guy you wanted long term, but hey, if Blanco can be a better mentor to Mike Zunino, who is now unquestionably the starter, uh, OK. But it definitely underscores how rushed Zunino was. The veteran backstop they’d acquired in the spring would’ve been an OK mentor to Jesus Montero, but not to Zunino. I have no idea. Moving on.
Tom Wilhelmsen’s officially off the closer spot, reports Ryan Divish. Wedge will mix and match with Carter Capps and Oliver Perez. Sigh.
The short-season Northwest League kicks off tonight at 6:30, as the Everett Aquasox head to Spokane to take on the Indians (a Rangers club). Rigoberto Garcia starts for Everett, who also has SS Martin Peguero, OF Alfredo Morales and Phillips Castillo, and Kyle Seager’s younger brother Justin on the roster. CF James Zamarripa may be something of a sleeper. Gonzaga alum Tyler Olsen may start another game in the series. Everett’s Pat Dillon’s got the call at KRKO 1380. If you’re in Eastern Washington, it’ll be on KGA Spokane 1510.
Taijuan Walker’s starting right now for AA Jackson and Brandon Maurer’s throwing for Tacoma in Sacramento. Good night of minor league baseball.
|MARINERS (29-38)||ΔMs||ATHLETICS (41-27)||EDGE|
|HITTING (wOBA*)||-12.9 (18th)||-0.4||18.3 (8th)||Athletics|
|FIELDING (RBBIP)||-5.3 (21st)||1.9||16.4 (4th)||Athletics|
|ROTATION (xRA)||18.2 (6th)||5.5||14.2 (8th)||Mariners|
|BULLPEN (xRA)||4.1 (9th)||-1.5||2.3 (11th)||Mariners|
|OVERALL (RAA)||4.2 (14th)||5.5||51.2 (5th)||ATHLETICS|
A month ago, on May 15, the Athletics lost to the Rangers and fell to 20-22 on the season. They’ve gone 21-5 since then. They’re doing it again, the jerks.
I suppose seeing runs like that from teams like the Athletics fuels some hope for the Mariners to make such a run. However, if the Mariners did go 21-5 over their next stretch that would — which we must conclude is extremely unlikely — they would still only be on a 87-win pace. That would be contending for a playoff spot but certainly not looking like a lock. And don’t forget the awesome assumption here that the Mariners could pull off 21 wins in their next 26 games. Frankly, the A’s are a much better team.
Dustin Ackley has torn the cover off the ball since getting sent down to Tacoma, putting up a .479 wOBA in 16 games with the Rainiers. Reports have been good. He’s driven some extra base hits to left field. He’s apparently covering the plate and hitting balls on the outside half, and not just grounding them to second base. Even the outs are being hit hard.
Yesterday, Larry Stone talked to Brad Miller, and he asked about Ackley’s performance down there. Miller cited Ackley’s aggressiveness as one of the key reasons he’s doing well. Stone noted that the “Mariners wanted him to be more aggressive, and it sounds like he’s complying.”
About that. FanGraphs doesn’t have batted ball data for the minor leagues like we do for the majors because MLBAM doesn’t want to sell it to us, but there are a few sites out there who have set up code to scrape data from MILB.com’s Gameday logs, taking the play-by-play descriptions and even pitch-by-pitch notes and turning those into more in depth minor league numbers. One of these sites is Minor League Central, which has turned that data into a lot of the same numbers you can find for major leaguers on FanGraphs.
Here’s Dustin Ackley’s page at Minor League Central. Scroll down to the “pitches” section.
Accrording to this data — imperfect, most likely, but probably not entirely useless — Dustin Ackley is swinging at 30% of the pitches he’s been thrown in Tacoma. That’s less than he swung in Seattle. That’s less than he swung the last time he was in Tacoma. That’s less than Nick Franklin swung in Tacoma. In fact, of the 214 hitters who have gotten at least 75 plate appearances in the PCL this year, only one — someone I’ve never heard of named Connor Crumbliss — has swung less often than Dustin Ackley.
Without good zone data — and I don’t trust minor league zone data — we can’t know whether Ackley is being more aggressive at pitches on the outer half, or if he’s simply not swinging because minor league pitchers aren’t throwing him strikes, or if he’s just doing the same things he did in Seattle and having success. However, given that the PCL average swing rate is not that different from the major league average, and that many of his teammates in Tacoma are swinging more than 50% of the time, it seems unlikely that Ackley’s just faced a bunch of pitchers who can’t throw strikes, making the 30% swing rate mask the new aggressive approach he’s adopted.
More likely, Dustin Ackley is still Dustin Ackley. He’s always been a selective hitter, and it’s one of his best traits. The key has been for him to be selective with the right pitches. We don’t know if that’s happening in Tacoma or not, but I can say with some certainty that Dustin Ackley hasn’t revamped his swing decision process in Tacoma. If the Mariners really wanted him to become an aggressive hitter, they’re probably going to be disappointed when he comes back. That’s just not who he is.
Erasmo Ramirez just finished his third rehab assignment in Tacoma. It came in Las Vegas, a veritable hitter’s paradise. The park is so hitter friendly that the Rainiers have put up 11 runs and hit four homers in one inning. As a team, Vegas has an .825 OPS. You get the idea.
In that park, against that line-up, Erasmo Ramirez threw eight shutout innings, allowed just five hits, and struck out seven without walking anyone. This comes after his last start, which included seven shutout innings with five hits, one walk, and seven strikeouts, also against this same Las Vegas team. So, now, in four rehab starts (one at Double-A), Ramirez has allowed a grand total of four runs and has a 21/6 K/BB ratio in 25 2/3 innings. I think he might be okay.
My guess, though, is you’re probably not going to see Erasmo Ramirez in Seattle in the near future unless they decide to use him out of the bullpen, because Jeremy Bonderman has BABIP’d his way into two superficially decent starts. Throwing him out of the rotation after throwing eight shutout innings would look like poor form — and since Bonderman contemplated retiring after he didn’t make the club out of spring training, there’s a chance he might not take a bullpen assignment particularly well — even if it was against the Astros and Ramirez is the demonstrably better pitcher.
They could cut Aaron Harang instead, but again, he just threw a shutout against the Astros and has shown enough to not be on the chopping block. And they probably don’t want to dump Joe Saunders to make room for Ramirez when Bonderman could easily bomb out again or end up back on the DL, at which point they’d then be back to handing a job to Blake Beavan or Hector Noesi.
Ramirez is, when healthy, the clear pick for the Mariners #3 starter. Because of the timing of the Astros series, though, the organization probably won’t put him back in the rotation right now. He’s got nothing left to show at Tacoma, but the timing of Harang and Bonderman’s starts might just conspire to keep him there.
The next 10 games are against Oakland and Anaheim, though. Both teams can hit. I’d guess we’ll find out how long of a leash Bonderman’s start earned him. If he doesn’t show something in his next start, his replacement is ready.
Every single season, I talk myself into it. When I write those If It Goes Right pieces, they’re daydreams, they’re fantasies, but I mean them sincerely. Every single season, I imagine what it would take for the Mariners to go to the playoffs, and inevitably I conclude that it isn’t too far-fetched. It doesn’t matter what they look like in March, because no team is so bad it has zero probability, and I can’t imagine beginning a season feeling already hopeless. The season’s too long not to be buoyed by hope for at least a little while. How long is the season? Tom Wilhelmsen just melted down against the Astros last night. The Mariners lost for the 38th time out of 67 games. They will play another 95 games before they stop playing, unless they have a game rained out and the commissioner’s office mercifully decides it doesn’t need to be made up. See, the Mariners, they won’t be involved in any playoff races. Not this year, again.
The 2013 fantasy isn’t coming true. Neither are entirely too many of the sub-fantasies, the little things that could realistically go right that need to add up to have a big impact. That’s the thing about the big fantasy. The components aren’t insane when you break it down. It’s the probability that can be bonkers. Some things have broken right for this year’s Mariners, but not enough of them have, and Raul Ibanez leads the team in home runs. Ibanez also leads the team in slugging percentage, given a decent playing-time minimum. Ibanez just turned 41 years old. He is older than Garret Anderson, Carlos Delgado, Tony Clark, and Mike Hampton.
This isn’t like a damning-with-faint-praise situation. Ibanez doesn’t lead by default. He’s clobbered 13 dingers, one more than Mike Trout. He’s slugging .506. There were concerns that Ibanez might leave his power in New York after signing with Seattle. Instead, all he does is hit for extra bases. If this is a death rattle, it’s prolonged and it’s loud. It’s probably waking the neighbors.
Raul Ibanez has never done a thing to me, personally. I’ve never met him, and those who have seem to love him, to an individual. He’s certainly beloved in Seattle, and nobody has a single bad thing to say about his personality or his drive or his leadership. A few years back he got all defensive about his fielding numbers, but who wouldn’t have reacted the same way? Ibanez wasn’t a prospect, and he’s still playing and succeeding at 41, and he’s a hell of a story and a hell of a guy. There probably aren’t many better people in the game.
And I just can’t stand Ibanez’s success. Increasingly, it’s more trying, and while I’m not getting angry or visibly frustrated, I don’t celebrate the Raul Ibanez home runs. I roll my eyes. It’s unhealthy and I can’t help it and I feel like I need to explain myself because I know I’m not the only person who feels how I feel.
We’re all baseball fans, and as fans of a team, what we want is for the team to have good things happen. Extra-base hits and home runs are good things, and Ibanez has provided those. But, first, I can’t help but feel that it’s empty. What are the Mariners going to do this season? Not contend, no, that’s not in the cards. What are they playing for? Why should I care if they win or they lose? I want to believe the Mariners can be good, soon, and Raul Ibanez won’t be a part of that team. God willing. I don’t even know anymore.
And when Raul goes deep, I don’t understand why he’s the one who’s actually coming through. Why he’s one of the ones who’s delivering. Raul has 13 home runs. Jesus Montero is in Tacoma and hurt. Dustin Ackley is in Tacoma. Franklin Gutierrez is in Tacoma. Justin Smoak is in Tacoma. Michael Saunders should be in Tacoma, and probably will be soon. Brandon Maurer is in Tacoma. I’m encouraged by Kyle Seager and Nick Franklin, in that they look like contributors for the long-term future, but then Mike Zunino has some holes, and James Paxton has an ERA near 6, and Danny Hultzen is rehabbing from a shoulder injury, and Erasmo Ramirez is rehabbing from an elbow injury. So many things could’ve gone well to help set the Mariners up for a while. So few of them have, to date, but Raul has 13 home runs. It’s some sort of monkey’s-paw trickery, where we asked for better offense and the paw was like “you got it. wink” and we were like “did you just say ‘wink’?” and the paw was like “whatever.” Every Ibanez home run is a reminder that other players, players more important to the franchise, aren’t working out. Ibanez is working out.
And he’s not even really working out. You know Raul Ibanez’s current WAR? -0.2. That’s on FanGraphs. On Baseball-Reference, it’s -0.3. He was brought in to play sparingly and to provide leadership skills, and instead he’s playing a lot and the team doesn’t look like it has effective, difference-making leaders. For all the talk of Ibanez’s leadership, there was the closed-door meeting. For all the talk of Ibanez helping the young players, look at the young players. Franklin looks good, but he hasn’t been exposed to Ibanez very long. The home runs are another reminder of empty offense.
Which is a reminder of the front office’s warped priorities. Ibanez is kind of the state of things in a nutshell — he hits the ball far and he isn’t good enough at defense and he doesn’t walk and the overall result is not particularly good. They wanted home runs. The Mariners are middle of the pack in home runs. The Mariners, also, are mediocre, and it’s not just because of injuries. Michael Morse has a negative WAR, too. He might well get re-signed. He was the big splash, after all.
It’s not that I don’t like Raul Ibanez home runs, in isolation. But I don’t and can’t see them out of context. There are so many associated thoughts, so many of them negative, and Matthew and I talked about this in the last podcast. He feels the same way. When Raul hits one out of the yard, I just sit and think, “why this?” It would almost be less cruel if Ibanez were terrible. Maybe it would be less cruel, I don’t know. I just don’t know how to make myself feel good about something so short-term and pointless, when so much else has spiraled…not completely out of control, but almost. Jack Zduriencik asked for an extended timeline for his organizational rebuild. He took over toward the end of 2008.
I’m writing about this not to say that I’m right, that I have the right perspective. I think this might be a shitty perspective, because it’s turning something decently good into something undeniably rotten. Raul Ibanez is a Seattle Mariner, and he’s one of the guys hitting home runs, and that production is surprising, and so at least the season’s not a complete waste. Enjoy the day to day, enjoy the old local hero going out not with a whimper, but with a whole bunch of bangs. There’s no one right way to be a baseball fan, and lots of Mariners fans have been delighted by Raul’s productivity, and that’s fantastic. In some sense I admire those people. But I’m not one of them, and that much has become abundantly clear. My perspective is that Raul’s home runs are irritating by association, and it doesn’t feel right but it is what it is.
This might be a sign of taking baseball too seriously, of worrying too much about the big picture instead of just finding pleasure in each of the dozens of games, produced as entertainment. But what I want is a baseball team that’s sustainably entertaining. Raul Ibanez could’ve been a part of such a team in 2013. He’s sure not, though.
Jeremy Bonderman vs. Jordan Lyles, 7:10pm
I suppose we should be thankful. The M’s have become an *interesting* team to follow, not because of anything on the field (I’ll refer you to the pitching probables again), but because they’re sick of being bad and injured and boring, so they’re trying essentially everything they can to climb out of this hole. Their college CF-turned-2B is going to play LF tonight. Franklin Gutierrez is going to DH for Tacoma tonight, as his second rehab stint begins. Justin Smoak’s going to play tomorrow in the minors. The M’s are shuffling their 40-man almost daily, and they’re going to have to do more of it in the coming weeks. Their injured players are a bit less injured, and people are playing out of position. Jeremy Bonderman is pitching to Mike Zunino in Seattle, and Dustin Ackley is playing LF in Tacoma. Try to think of what you’d have said if you heard that sentence a year ago. Or a month ago.
The M’s appear to have signed several of their draft picks, and 1st rounder DJ Peterson’s in Seattle tonight taking BP. I’m sure we’ll hear from him on the broadcast.
1: Chavez, RF
2: Bay, LF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Ibanez, DH
5: Franklin, 2B
6: Zunino, C
7: Saunders, CF
8: Ryan, SS
9: Liddi, 1B
It’s not that I didn’t like Nick Franklin. I’ve thought of Franklin as a pretty good prospect all along, a guy capable of eventually helping an organization move forward. But for a super long time, I thought Franklin was obvious trade bait. For a long time, maybe he was obvious trade bait. Franklin wasn’t going to be able to be a long-term shortstop, and the Mariners already had this Dustin Ackley embedded at second. Franklin made the most sense as a guy who’d go away in order to bring back a different guy. But that supposed that Ackley wouldn’t be bad, and then Ackley was bad, and then Franklin became the Mariners’ second baseman, and now look where we are. This is, officially, happening:
Interesting Tacoma lineup today. Dustin Ackley in left field, OF instructor Brant Brown here to work with him.
— Mike Curto (@CurtoWorld) June 12, 2013
What this isn’t is a long-term strategy shift. The Mariners haven’t committed themselves to Franklin as the second baseman and to Ackley as an outfielder. Plans change as circumstances change, and that’s plainly evident from this very Ackley example. We don’t know what’s going to be going on a year from now. This is just an idea being put into execution.
But it’s pretty easy to interpret. Franklin has done well so far, and the Mariners like Brad Miller as a shortstop. The outfield, meanwhile, is threadbare, and Ackley had collegiate outfield experience before he had Tommy John surgery, from which he’s obviously recovered. People were wondering how the Mariners would find room for Ackley and Franklin at the same time, in the event Ackley got things fixed. Here’s your answer. Ackley might not be transitioning to the outfield full-time, but he’s at least going to increase his versatility so that he can play the outfield in a pinch. He’s done it, and while he won’t have a rocket-launcher arm, Ackley should be able to cover a lot of ground. That’s the important bit.
So now Ackley is in Tacoma working on his hitting and a new defensive position, while Jesus Montero is doing the same. For Ackley, at least, it should be somewhat familiar, so this shouldn’t be jarring, even if it’s been years. Ackley turned himself into a plus defensive second baseman so in that regard this might be questionable, but Franklin wasn’t going to become an outfielder himself, and Ackley could be good out there too. If the Mariners end up having to play Franklin at second and Ackley in left.
Which, yeah. Let’s not all get ahead of ourselves. Franklin hasn’t cemented himself as a quality big leaguer, and neither has Ackley. Franklin’s new and Ackley’s in the minors again after falling flat on his face. The ideal situation would be that Franklin and Ackley both succeed for a long time at these respective positions, but we can’t assume that, nor can we write off the possibility of a trade. Maybe Ackley scoots back to second. Maybe Ackley disappears, even though not long ago that would’ve been almost unthinkable.
Getting Ackley some reps in the outfield was a pretty obvious decision, and now it’s been made. Going forward, this could have pretty apparent implications. At present, consider that Dustin Ackley has been bumped off by Nick Franklin. Consider that, a year ago, Ackley was surpassed by Kyle Seager. In the positive light, Franklin has really emerged. In the negative light, Ackley sure is sinking. This could certainly work, but for a long time it would’ve been nuts to think it could come to this.
The Mariners could really use some outfielders. They might just have one, in an infielder. It’s worth trying. Why the hell not?
So you already know the Mariners promoted Mike Zunino from Tacoma. On the off chance you didn’t, I suppose this is a pretty casual way of breaking the news. Zunino arrived yesterday afternoon and it shouldn’t be long now before he makes his big-league debut. It’s exciting, because Zunino is a top prospect, and therefore this is another chance to see a top prospect blossom and drive home the point that the Mariners might actually be going somewhere. It’s easy to assume they’re lost and going in circles, given what’s happened with Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, and Dustin Ackley. Zunino could indicate direction.
Dave’s written about the move twice. It’s curious because of the timing. Zunino, at one point, was lighting the PCL on fire, but that was a while ago, and a lot of secondary pitches ago. Offensively, he’s been in an extended slump, and now he’s been given a promotion to a more challenging level. Now, in the past, the Mariners have talked about how they wanted to see a prospect dominate his level before promoting him. That’s an organizational statement, and Zunino most certainly hasn’t dominated Triple-A. But, that was Chris Gwynn talking, and Chris Gwynn doesn’t make the decisions. He only participates in the chat, and sometimes people might get overruled.
There was a quote from Jack Zduriencik. I spent an hour looking for it before giving up. I took that long because I wanted to copy and paste his exact words, and now I’m frustrated, but I don’t know what else to do. Somewhere over the past few weeks, Zduriencik said he wouldn’t deviate from the long-term organizational plan in response to short-term big-league roster needs. That is, he wouldn’t rush a prospect before his time just because the big club had a hole. This is the best I can do, and it’s from Eric Wedge, and it’s only a half-decent approximation:
“He’s where he needs to be right now,” Wedge said of Franklin. “He’s a young player. Needs to keep playing every day. It’s not just about hitting; it’s about every aspect of the game. We want him to be the most complete player he can be when he does get his opportunity.”
Zunino’s promotion is a response to a major-league need, for a catcher who isn’t whoever Brandon Bantz is. The Mariners have admitted that, and Zduriencik has admitted that Zunino’s timeline was sped up. This seems to be in direct opposition to what Zduriencik said earlier, and I wish so badly I could track that quote down. I guess you’ll just have to take it on faith. I swear it was there, unless I was dreaming a really ordinary dream.
In the past, the Mariners have suggested it was potentially dangerous to promote a prospect too soon. They claimed to have a policy against that, but they’ve hurried up some guys and Zunino is the latest. Of course every prospect should be treated on a case-by-case basis, but it’s not like the Mariners are claiming that Zunino is ready — they’ve acknowledged that he’s a work in progress. So there’s an inconsistency here, where either the Mariners think this is dangerous or they don’t. Jack Zduriencik:
“But when you look at we had an injury right now, there’s no harm in bringing him up. Let’s see where we’re at.”
“No harm.” If there’s no harm in rushing Zunino, what’s the harm in rushing anybody? What’s an acceptable degree of rushing? What would be too aggressive a rush? Brandon Maurer was promoted straight from Double-A. Zunino came from Triple-A, but he was struggling. Would the Mariners promote a position player from Double-A? Would they promote a guy from Single-A? What is the function of the minor leagues, and what is the function of the bigs?
I don’t really have a position here, because like with so many things, I don’t know enough. The fact of the matter is that we don’t know how much it matters when a prospect comes up too early. We don’t know what this could mean for Zunino’s future, or for anyone’s future, and as easy as it would be to suggest that struggles could be a career setback, one could alternatively claim that Zunino won’t learn to hit big leaguers against minor leaguers. To learn to beat the best you have to face the best, right? Where are the best, if not in the major leagues? Zunino’s career hasn’t been destroyed, presumably, by an aggressive promotion. We don’t even know if he’ll still be around once Jesus Sucre is healthy. Struggles could mean a demotion right back to Tacoma, and while one can’t ignore the fact that now Zunino is occupying a 40-man roster spot, that was going to happen soon regardless, and the roster casualty won’t be a great player.
So, in the big picture, this is a move I wouldn’t have made that I also don’t think is a horrible mistake. Zunino is one of the two best catchers in the organization right now, and they’ve decided he’s mature enough to handle the stress and the challenge. Defensively, he’s fine, and he’ll learn, and maybe he’ll run into a pitch or two. What’s most interesting to me is the thinking. According to the Mariners, Bantz came up under the assumption that Sucre was a day-to-day thing, but once Sucre went on the DL, the team had to think longer-term. I don’t understand why Bantz couldn’t have just screwed around for a couple weeks, since, whatever. Bantz isn’t a big-league ballplayer, but the Mariners are hardly a big-league ballclub. But suppose Wedge wanted better than that. Why not go get one of the discarded veteran backstops? Why not grab Chris Snyder or John Baker, or why not call up Jason Jaramillo since he’s somewhat experienced and a complete non-prospect? You might say it’s not that easy to swing a transaction. I’d counter that it can be, especially when you’re talking about nothing catchers that other teams don’t want. The Mariners made a conscious decision not to go that route. They chose, in this case, to speed up a prospect’s timeline, even though in the past they’ve said they didn’t want to do that.
That’s what makes this most interesting to me. That’s a part of why Dave sees this as an attempt to save jobs. If the Mariners got by with John Baker, no one would care. If Zunino impresses, well, Zunino was a Zduriencik get, and that would reflect well on the state of the system. Of course, if Zunino struggles, that won’t accomplish anything, but the Mariners could say it was a temporary response to a need, and then they’d have a better idea of what Zunino needs to work on. The downside here isn’t enormous, assuming Zunino isn’t prone to crippling self-doubt.
I don’t understand the inconsistency, is all. I don’t think Zunino is ready, and I don’t think he’ll be badly hurt by a bit of a slump against advanced competition. He’s a leadership sort, he’ll survive. What do the Mariners actually believe? Under what circumstances are they willing to compromise their beliefs? What we know is that Zunino is only up because of a desperate situation. What we don’t know is the extent of that desperation.