Game 139, Astros at Mariners

marc w · September 5, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

Ariel Miranda vs. Justin Verlander, 7:10pm

It’s not enough that the M’s can’t really compete with the Astros, or that they enter play tonight 15.5 games back of Houston in the AL West standings. No, tonight the M’s get to play host to Justin Verlander, who makes his debut as a member of the Astros rotation. It’s a twist of the knife not to the M’s fans who wanted the M’s to get JV instead – I don’t think it would’ve been a great move, and I’m not sure the M’s could’ve swung it – but to the front office, to see a divisional rival setting up their rotation and bullpen for playoff series, not a bid to make the wild card game. It’s September, and the M’s are on the periphery of the playoff race, and I should be happier about that, but 1) they’re miles and miles away from the Astros/Indians, and 2) there is ash literally falling from the sky like snow in much of the Northwest and the world just seems more tenuous and fraught than ever.

Ariel Miranda’s the only Mariner to make each start in the rotation. Normally, you’d hate that a guy with a FIP of *5.60* is Mr. Durability for the year, but then you’ve seen some of the M’s 6th-12th starter options. This is Houston’s *5th* game against Miranda this year, but hopefully they’ve forgotten him, as it’s been about 6 weeks since last they met. Miranda desperately needs to keep the ball in the park, but that may be harder than normal given the high gametime temperature today – the ball flies further in warmer weather.

Ex-TB Ray Ryan Garton threw an inning the other day, and while another righty 6th inning guy isn’t too noteworthy, the movement on his pitches looks interesting. He throws a cutter-ish four-seam fastball that actually has gloveside break of about 1″, and the most truly “12-6” curve I’ve seen.

Today, the M’s have recalled 1B Dan Vogelbach, who had a solid 2nd half in Tacoma, and they’ve also activated newly-acquired OF Jacob Hannemann, whom they just picked up off of waivers from the Cubs. Hannemann is your classic speed/defense guy; he’s struggled at the plate in the minors, but his defense boosted him to the back end of the Cubs top 30 prospect lists. He’s swiped nearly 30 bags this year, so he could have some value as a pinch runner down the stretch. But wait, you say: this sounds an awful like the profile of the two high-minors CF prospects the Mariners already have, and who greased the skids for the DFA of Leonys Martin: Ian Miller’s in AAA Tacoma and is more of a 40-50 stolen base threat kind of guy. And Braden Bishop makes more contact and plays brilliant defense, and he’s waiting for the Arizona Fall League to start. All of this is true, so it’s a bit odd, but I think the plan must be to get Bishop more experience against high-minors arms before throwing him to the wolves. Bishop isn’t in the same league as a baserunner as Hannemann and Miller, as well. Miller would make the most sense, but then he’s had a rough go of things in the PCL after starting off with a 12-game hitting streak. His walk rate’s fallen and when his BABIP dropped, it killed his batting value. Still, all of these players are plagued by a dearth of power – Miller’s problem is the most acute, while Hannemann is the best bet to run an ISO north of .100 (a low bar, I know). The problem is that Hannemann’s also the best bet to post an ugly K rate. Bishop would seem like the best option from that point of view, so then things like the timing of adding players to the 40-man comes into it. We’ll have to see how this plays out in the offseason, and if Miller gets added to the rotation or if Hannemann acts as the last-in, first-out guy on the 40-man, and yields his place to the next waiver claim Dipoto makes. Bishop’s probably the guy who’s most clearly in the team’s longer term plans, but it can’t feel good to see the club get a player very much like you and have that guy instantly move to the active roster in Seattle.

1: Segura, SS
2: Alonso, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Haniger, RF
7: Gamel, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Heredia, CF
SP: Miranda

Game 138, Astros at Mariners – Checking In On M’s Newest Pitchers

marc w · September 4, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Dallas Keuchel, 3:40pm

The M’s continue their homestand by hosting the first-place Astros. The Astros were in on several players at the deadline, and after failing to land any of them, made a big splash later in August by acquiring Justin Verlander and reliever Tyler Clippard, and then getting OF Cameron Maybin as well. Houston got off to a scorching start to the year, with Dallas Keuchel looking like he’d recaptured his Cy Young form from 2015, Lance McCullers was untouchable at times, and Chris Devenski was making a bid for a historic season out of the bullpen. Then things fell apart for a while: Keuchel hit the disabled list for a few months, McCullers was awful and then hit the DL (he hasn’t pitched in over a month, but he’ll be activated for this series), Devenski fell back to earth, and top prospect Francis Martes came up and struggled. It’s easy to say that the Astros depth saved them, as pitchers like Brad Peacock held the fort until the injured were ready to pitch again. But it’s worth noting that there was nothing spectacular about the depth that they’ve used: Brad Peacock’s preseason ZiPS projection was essentially identical to Christian Bergman’s, and worse than Max Povse’s. The story of the Astros’ rise isn’t just about high draft picks; Carlos Correa’s been great, but HE’S missed a bunch of time, too. Rather, it’s how much production they’ve squeezed out of the kinds of minor acquisitions that the M’s have made dozens of this year. Collin McHugh was a waiver claim. Peacock was a throw-in in a deal with the A’s. Jose Altuve was ignored by many because of his stature, Chris Devenski was a PTBNL, and Charlie Morton was signed to a two-year deal for a bit more than Marc Rzepczynski got. Their pro scouting group seems to know what it wants, and their player development staff seems to know how to turn those skills/attributes into MLB production. If I sound a bit jealous, I am.

The M’s seem to know what they want, but turning things like “fly balls, but not HRs” into on-the-ground production is hard. I’m sympathetic to the argument that ground ball pitchers are now costlier to acquire, but then I see a guy like Erasmo Ramirez, whom the M’s acquired for very little and who IS an effective GB% hurler. And as soon as he came to Seattle, the M’s seem intent on reducing his GB ability. I talked about the uptick in his four-seam usage back in mid-August, but with that month complete, we have a better idea of what’s it’s done to his batted ball profile: August saw his second-highest fly ball rate of any month since 2014. If the M’s wanted him to avoid GBs, then I guess job well done and all, but then it seems odd to lament the fact that ground ball pitchers cost more than you can afford. Erasmo’s change-up movement looks a bit different too, and less likely to get either whiffs or grounders, but I will say that sequencing a four-seam and change seems better than just sinkers/change-ups; the movement on them is too similar, and Erasmo’s velocity difference isn’t big enough.

Speaking of recent acquisitions, the M’s finally got to see RP Shae Simmons make his M’s debut in yesterday’s win. Lookout Landing’s John Trupin had a great article/interview with him that posted today, and he notes that Simmons’ command isn’t quite back to normal after his injury woes. Simmons throws his fastball very hard, at 95-98, and sat at 96+ yesterday. It’s always been a very odd duck – not a sinker thanks to very little horizontal movement, but with sinker-like “rise”. In all, I’d call it most similar to a cutter, but it’s not a textbook cutter, either. Whatever you call it, with sinking action and plus velocity, it looks pretty good. He pairs it with a slider in the mid-low 80s, and with his low release point, it moves an awful lot like Carson Smith’s, a point Trupin notes. He used to throw a split-change that looks like a great complement to his fastball, but he didn’t throw it yesterday – instead, he debuted a NEW pitch – an actual cutter that comes in about 6-7 MPH slower than the fastball, and has less vertical drop than the true slider. Compared to where Simmons was when he debuted in 2014, his fastball was even straighter and with more rise, and his slider was slower with more horizontal run. He seemed to be releasing the ball a bit higher, which may account for the movement on his fastball, but we’ll have to see more of him to know for sure.

1: Segura, SS
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Heredia, CF
9: Motter, LF
SP: Erasmoooo

Today’s the final day of the MiLB season; it hasn’t been a great one overall for the M’s, but Modesto’s first half qualifies them for the Cal League playoffs. Tacoma ends up their campaign in Las Vegas today, while Arkansas hosts NW Arkansas (who I swear they’ve played roughly half their games against), Modesto hosts Visalia, while Clinton’s in Burlington. Modesto’s the only affiliate to end with a better-than-.500 record.

Fittingly for a post titled like this one, the M’s have added a new pitcher since I began writing today. They picked up RHP Seth Frankoff off waivers from the Cubs, along with OF Jacob Hanneman. David Phelps has been moved to the 60-day DL, ending his season, and Zac Curtis has been DFA’d.

Game 137, Athletics at Mariners – Why Don’t they make the Entire SEASON Out of A’s Games?

marc w · September 3, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

Andrew Albers vs. Daniel Gossett, 1:10pm

By all accounts, yesterday’s Lookout Landing Night was a success, and I hear Jerry Dipoto was a gracious and funny panelist. Nathan Bishop was on the panel, and said that this was his big takeaway from the night: “this FO’s plan was absolutely built on a pre-flyball revolution model, and they’re still scrambling because of it.” That explains a lot, and it’s something we’ve talked a lot about on the blog – the fact that Safeco became a much, much more HR-friendly ballpark and then the entire league context changed as well. I completely understand being blindsided by the late-2015 dinger explosion, or the 2016 Gotterdingerung, when Safeco saw the most HRs of any park in baseball. It’s slightly *less* understandable to be taken aback by all the homers your pitching staff gives up in 2017, when the team’s response to 2016 was to attempt to become even more fly ball oriented. You understand it from a BABIP point of view, and getting Jarrod Dyson was key to that. But it’s also hard to claim to be surprised stocking up on low-strikeout, high-fly-ball pitchers would lead to a bunch of HRs flying out of Safeco field. We all witnessed 2016; what’s happened this year didn’t come out of nowhere.

I understand that low-HR, high-K pitchers are universally valued and may cost more in talent and dollars than the M’s want to spend, but as Bishop says, they’re not exorbitant if you develop them yourself. Further, I think the most important thing in the forensic analysis of 2017 isn’t fighting over how much bad luck the M’s had (the Angels and Mets had it much worse). Instead, it’s figuring out why the pitchers the M’s targeted or developed haven’t fared as well as their projections would’ve predicted. Why was Gallardo bad? What happened to Andrew Moore? Or Marco Gonzales (last night’s long relief gem excepted)? Why have Paul Blackburn and a host of the prospects the M’s traded away flourished? Whether the M’s shift their pitching strategy or not in light of the HR revolution is irrelevant if they still have trouble implementing it.

Daniel Gossett’s a low-K, high-HR-allowed pitcher with excellent control coming through the A’s system, but who’s been beaten to a pulp by the American League. If this sounds like Dillon Overton, I completely agree. The A’s had a ton of these guys in the past few years, from Overton to Daniel Mengden to Chris Smith. They’ve all faceplanted in MLB after varying degrees of success in the PCL (Mengden in particular was great for Nashville, but he’s been the worst in MLB). I guess it’s nice to see that this phenomenon isn’t limited to Mariners prospects.

1: Segura, SS
2: Alonso, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Haniger, RF
7: Gamel, LF
8: Heredia, CF
9: Ruiz, C
SP: Albers

Game 136, Athletics at Mariners – Roster Moves and Lookout Landing Night

marc w · September 2, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

Yovani Gallardo vs. Jharel Cotton, 6:10pm

As mentioned yesterday, the A’s offense hasn’t been too bad. They’re not great defensively, but they’ve hit the ball hard, and they’re doing it with a lot of homegrown young talent. The A’s are also 18 games under .500, which tells you something about their pitching staff. Sonny Gray was fine, but in a lost season, the A’s shipped him to New York to restock their farm system. Kendall Graveman started the year on fire, then got hurt and hasn’t been the same since. Andrew Triggs got off to a decent start, then needed hip surgery and was gone for the year. Jesse Hahn’s FIP is right where it was when he was an effective starter for Oakland back in 2015, but his ERA most certainly is not. Sean Manaea also started well, but, last night excepted, has been awful down the stretch. But perhaps the biggest difference between what was expected and what’s been delivered is in Jharel Cotton’s stat line.

Cotton came over in the Rich Hill trade from the Dodgers a year ago, a year after rising from the single-A Midwest League to the Pacific Coast League. Last year, the change-up specialist pitched well for Nashville after the trade, and then made 5 starts for Oakland that opened a lot of eyes. He walked just 4 in those 5 starts, and used his screwball-like change (it’s thrown at 78 MPH, the same as his curveball) to post very low BABIP rates. All of that led to a very good ERA, and while his FIP was higher (thanks to 4 HRs allowed), it wasn’t problematic. The A’s seemed to have acquired a useful middle of the rotation piece who’d be decent for years without commanding much in salary. So far, so Oakland. But instead, Cotton’s regressed in every possible way, with a FIP and ERA both well over 5. His K%’s down, and his walk rate’s soared, meaning his K-BB% has been nearly halved. His HR rate’s climbed even further, and he’s been especially bad with men on base.

His change-up’s still his best pitch, but it’s looking quite a bit worse this year. Batters had 1 single on the pitch in 2016, but they’ve knocked 9 XBHs off of it this year, and are slugging .462 on it. Perhaps worse, the A’s are doing what they seemingly always do, and are directing him to throw more sinkers and cutters. Those have come at the expense of his rising four-seam fastball at 93-94 and his change. There’s nothing wrong, theoretically, with using a cutter more against same-handed bats, but righties have hit well against it, and his sinker’s clearly still a work in progress. With a huge gap in vertical movement and velocity between his four-seam and change, Cotton seemed well positioned to either get whiffs or mis-hit contact. I get not wanting to show too much of the change and allow batters to sit on it, but Cotton’s far from the only Athletic who’s been given a pitch mix overhaul with questionable goals and results. It’s possible that the ultra-slow change was something of a trick pitch, and once batters learned to recognize it, they could feast on it. It’s possible that they’ve seen something in him that would make a sinker-heavy approach work well. But I’m suspicious.

1: Segura, SS
2: Alonso, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Haniger, RF
7: Gamel, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Dyson, CF
SP: Gallardo

With Jarrod Dyson back and rosters expanding, the M’s have made a bunch of roster moves over the past 48 hours. Leonys Martin didn’t make it through waivers a second time, and he’s been acquired by the Cubs, who’ve already brought him up to Chicago. The M’s continual shuffling of pitchers has resulted in a lot of outright assignments, as Christian Bergman was just outrighted for at least the second time. The M’s also tried to slip Sam Gaviglio through waivers, but like Martin, he didn’t make it; he’s been acquired by Kansas City.

Tacoma’s season ends on Monday, so the M’s will probably call up a few more players on Tuesday, but for today, they’ve brought up C Mike Marjama and RP Ryan Garton, both picked up in a late summer trade with Tampa, SP Andrew Moore (who’ll work out of the pen for now), and RP Shae Simmons, the intriguing reliever they got from Atlanta in the offseason and who was shut down in spring training. David Phelps is on the 10-day DL with an impingement in his elbow, which, I have to say, sounds really bad given it’s his second arm injury of the second half of the season.

Before the game tonight, the M’s are hosting Lookout Landing night with the current staff of the venerable M’s blog along with some previous writers who’ve gone on to other gigs. Nathan Bishop now writes over at Dome and Bedlam, while Colin O’Keefe and Jose Rivera were picked up by the Mariners themselves. GM Jerry Dipoto’s doing a Q and A so go ask some tough questions!

Game 135, Athletics at Mariners – Is This It?

marc w · September 1, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

Mike Leake vs. Sean Manaea, 7:10pm
Sorry for the delay!!

M’s fans get their first look at new Mariner Mike Leake, and it comes in an intradivisional game on a gorgeous night at Safeco. I mentioned Leake’s struggles in the second half of the season in the post on the trade, but Manaea’s having similar difficulties. On August 12th, he gave up 6 runs in just 1/3 of an inning, his 3rd straight start giving up 6 runs. His FIP in the second half is 5.51, and it’s coincided with a big drop in his strikeouts. Leake hasn’t been himself recently, but Manaea’s struggled at least as much. That tilts the odds in the M’s favor, which can help them re-start their on-again, off-again pursuit of the 2nd wildcard.

As some of you noted in comments on that Leake trade post, it really does seem like wildcard contention’s what this club’s built for. It’s an excellent point, and as much as Jerry Dipoto’s hands were tied with contracts, the minor league system, etc., it’s pretty clear that the M’s are not really attempting to become a juggernaut like the Astros, Cubs, Red Sox, Indians or whoever. Again, the M’s couldn’t really pull a White Sox or Braves-style rebuild because they didn’t really have much to sell. They couldn’t get 2-3 straight top-of-the-first-round draft picks either. They couldn’t play their top prospects, because they really didn’t have that many, and then decided to trade them all for some pitching help instead. This team, the 40-man roster, has been largely accumulated through mid- to low-level trades, and through long-term extensions and free agent deals. For a variety of reasons, there simply isn’t a Kris Bryant, a Rafael Devers/Mookie Betts, a Francisco Lindor, a Carlos Correa to build the NEXT great team around, and in that context, maybe it’s OK that they’re trying to muddle along and back their way into the playoffs for a couple of years. The question is when and how you pivot from that strategy and set about actually trying to compete with the Astros. The draft would be a good start, and evaluators have liked their work the past few years, and we could assess more of the player development staff’s work if Dipoto stopped trading everyone, but the point is it would take a pretty big change in how the club’s operated over the past couple of years. They’ve been willing to spend money, so maybe they build around a big free agent. But the timing of that’s really tough to pull off, and you’d like to have a homegrown group to complement whichever star you acquire. This season’s been kind of fun, and I think they can do something similar next year, maybe even more if Haniger stays healthy and Jean Segura recovers his first-half form, but a big change in approach and mindset is coming. It has to.

The A’s have been quietly building a pretty impressive farm system over the past year or two, and with 2017 already a lost cause, they’ve been able to play a lot of their youngsters in the second half. While top prospect Franklin Barreto face-planted and is now back in the PCL, Chad Pinder, Ryon Healy, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson have stabilized the A’s offense. In a neat inversion of Moneyball, they’re swinging for the fences and not appearing to care at all about plate discipline. Pinder and Healy have wRC+ figures of 100, meaning they’ve been league-average bats, and neither one has an OBP over .300. Chapman’s OBP is .308 and he’s been better than league average. Olson’s put up the best slash line, but his K rate is safely above 30%. These are not the Scott Hatteberg A’s – they’re Khris Davis’ team now. Sure, Boog Powell’s down there now, and he actually has a great walk rate. The A’s have a top-10 walk rate on the year, but much of that’s due to the work of veteran hitters, many of whom are gone: Yonder Alonso for one. Their team stats are pretty much the equal of the M’s – both clubs are right at league average overall. The fact that the A’s are hanging around that mark on the cheap, and with so many under 26-year-old bats, should give M’s fans pause. Yes, their pitching has been a shambles, and grades out worse than the M’s. But I would like to know why the A’s have gotten far more out of M’s cast-off Paul Blackburn than the M’s have from Yovani Gallardo, Marco Gonzales, and Adam Moore. Luck? Coaching? A more HR-suppressing ballpark?

1: Segura, SS
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Heredia, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Dyson, CF
SP: Leake

Welcome to Seattle, Mike! The future of the team aside, all of the warning signs aside, I hope you pitch out of your mind in the last month and keep the M’s in this race.

The M’s are sending 8 prospects to the Arizona Fall League that begins play in October. They are RPs Matt Festa, Art Warren and Darin Gillies; SP Max Povse; C/1B Joe DeCarlo; OFs Eric Filia, Braden Bishop and Kyle Lewis. Lewis is the top prospect of the group, while Povse could use a good re-set to his 2017 that started so brightly. DeCarlo can presumably work on his catching a bit more, though the M’s aren’t keeping him there full time with Modesto. The prospect with the best shot at opening some eyes and perhaps changing the industry consensus about him is Bishop, the speedy CF and ex-UW Husky. A slight uptick in his power production helped him in High A, but he’s been even better at AA, dropping his K rate and keeping his walk rate above 10%. Turning into a contact+defense poor-man’s-Jarrod-Dyson (Bishop’s defense is his calling card) would be huge for the M’s, and I hope he pulls it off. Fangraphs’ prospect guy Eric Longenhagen has some comments on the M’s and every other team’s prospects in this AFL round-up post.

Mariners Get Mike Leake + Some of Mike Leake’s Contract

marc w · August 30, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

The M’s are at the periphery of a playoff race, and faced perhaps the worst starting pitcher in the AL today. Their own starting pitcher re-took the “lead” for most HRs allowed, but thanks to the fact that they were facing a plainly not-MLB-quality opposing pitcher, they found themselves tied (despite the fact that their starter yielded *four* HRs). After yet another injury, the M’s gave the ball – in the late innings of a tie game – to Christian Bergman. The M’s need pitchers, and they pitchers capable of giving them decent innings that can give their overtaxed bullpen a break. Ideally, they’d find someone durable enough to make each start down the stretch. Today, the M’s accomplished those goals by trading for St. Louis starter Mike Leake. The cost in talent wasn’t huge; the M’s are sending glove-first SS Rayder Ascanio east. Instead, this is essentially a deal for taking on a large fraction of Mike Leake’s contract.

Mike Leake isn’t awful, and his contract wasn’t exactly a disaster. In two years for the Cardinals, Leake’s been average or above by fWAR, but a bit worse than that by RA9-based WAR. He had about $55 million left on a deal that runs through 2020, with a club option for 2021, and thus was set to earn an average of $17M plus over his next three seasons. Given the state of the game and the state of Mike Leake, that seems pretty fair, even if fans would prefer a contract of that size to go to players a bit more exciting than Leake. Leake’s struggled of late, but fundamentally, the reason the Cards sought salary relief here goes back to 2014.

In 2012, the Cards picked a high-floor pitcher in the first round of the MLB draft. Michael Wacha would make his debut in 2013, and he’s still a fixture in their rotation. The next year, the Cards took Gonzaga pitcher Marco Gonzales in the first round – another high-floor guy who pitched well for them a bit, then struggled with injuries, and then moved to Seattle in a deal you may have heard of. In 2014, though, the Cards had two first round picks and went for pitching with both of them. With the first, they took another college-trained, high-floor guy in Florida State’s Luke Weaver. With the second (technically in the competitiveness balance picks), they went with hard-throwing high schooler Jack Flaherty. Weaver’s torn through the minors striking out far more than the maximum allowable to retain “high floor” status; he made his MLB debut last year, and has been excellent in a handful of starts in the past few weeks. Weaver went 10-2 with a 2.55 ERA in AAA this year, and he’s 3-1 with 36 Ks in 29 IP for the Cardinals. There is nothing for him to do in the minors anymore. And he’s not alone. Flaherty, still just 21 years old, was 7-2 with an ERA under 2 in AA this year, so he moved up to AAA and was 7-2 with an ERA of 2.74. Some HRs pushed his FIP higher, but Flaherty’s got top-100 prospect pedigree and a plus fastball, and thus the Cards can dream on him. With the trade of Leake, the Cards have called up Flaherty to take his place in the rotation.

The Cardinals had no need to be tied to a fairly large contract for an average-ish pitcher, not with youngsters on the way up and not with Lance Lynn hitting free agency at the end of the year. The M’s, meanwhile, were perhaps the team most in need of a competent – not great, not even good, just competent – starting pitcher (with the possible exception of the Orioles, who continue to win despite a poor rotation). From a high level, the deal makes a lot of sense. Of course, even with pitching at a premium, no one would take on the entirety of Leake’s remaining contract. Instead, the Cards will send some cash with Leake, turning that $55 M in guaranteed money into something more like $36 M. Jerry Dipoto told the TNT’s Bob Dutton that they asked themselves, “If Mike Leake is a 30-year-old free agent (in the coming offseason), and we were able to achieve this deal with him, we would be comfortable signing him to that contract?” At 3 years and ~$12 M per year, they obviously thought so, and it’s hard to argue with them. This commitment is roughly the same amount they gave Hisashi Iwakuma this year, and with ‘Kuma unlikely to return, they could use a league-average pitcher to replace him. On a per-year basis, this is a bit more than they’re giving Yovani Gallardo this year, and Leake’s projected to be significantly better.

So this is a great deal, right? I completely understand it, but there’s one big warning sign here. In the past few months, Leake’s sinker – his primary fastball – has been noticeably slower. That’s coincided with a run of bad outings and a collapse of his strikeout rate. As a ground-ball guy, Leake’s never been about Ks, but as you might expect, his K rate and runs allowed are correlated. Moving to the AL would seem to push his K rate even lower; nearly 1/5th of his career strikeouts have come against opposing pitchers, and it’s more than 20% this season. As a ground ball guy, though, he may be able to keep the ball in the park, something the M’s legion of fly-ballers haven’t been able to do. If the M’s think this velo drop is just a blip, or something that could be remedied with an extra day of rest, then I get it. But if Leake’s durability is breaking down, then the M’s are on the hook for 3+ years of Leake’s decline phase.

That velo drop comes at an inopportune time, as the M’s still fancy their chances to get the 2nd wildcard. Unfortunately, Leake’s been much better in the first half over his career:

And more troubling, not all opponents are equally adept at hitting sinking fastballs – Leake’s bread and butter pitch. The best two teams in baseball at hitting sinkers/two-seamers? Houston and Texas, two teams who’ll play the M’s 13 times next month. Jeff’s recap notes that his expected wOBA has been nearly identical in 2015, 2016, and 2017 – right around .327 each year. But since July 1, it’s risen to .371, and now he won’t get to face pitchers anymore.

His change-up’s velocity is down even more than his sinker’s, and that may account for his vanishingly low K rate against lefties this year. He’s never really had big platoon splits before, so it’s hard to know what to make of that. He’s getting more sink on his pitches with the Cardinals than he did with the Reds, but that seems to be the result of a slight lowering of his release point. He throws a slider *and* a cutter, along with a curveball he uses sparingly. At just 30 years old, there’s a scenario where he ages gracefully and gives the M’s 2-3 WAR each year of the deal and helps stabilize a rotation that could desperately use it. As a pitcher, there’s also a scenario where he velo drop continues and he washes out due to injury.

Let’s be clear: the M’s have the money to take on a good chunk of Leake’s contract. I’ve said for a while that their commitment to Robinson Cano is no reason they can’t sign other players, something they’ve demonstrated by extending Jean Segura and now acquiring Leake. Because Gallardo/Iwakuma drop off the payroll next year, and because they likely won’t pay Drew Smyly either, they still have room to add, even apart from their large commitments to Cano, Felix, Seager, Cruz, and Leake. That’s good, as they’ve obviously got a number of holes to fill, but I think it’s clear that, given the state of the baseball business, the M’s are not hamstrung by these contracts. Once they got a decent chunk of money from St. Louis (and the Cards even kicked in $750,000 of international bonus pool money), the finances of the deal make sense. The key is Leake’s health and his transition to the AL. My guess is that this move doesn’t really change the math on the 2017 playoff race, and we’ll need to evaluate it after 2018.

Game 134, Mariners at Orioles

marc w · August 30, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

Ariel Miranda vs. Ubaldo Jimenez, 12:05pm

It’s getaway day in Baltimore, and I think the M’s are pretty happy to put this road trip behind them. The disappointment of the Yankees series has led to two awful games in Baltimore, and now the M’s are playing to avoid a sweep in a HR-friendly park behind a HR-friendly starting pitcher. Of course, the M’s line-up has to like seeing Ubaldo Jimenez’s name, too. Ariel Miranda’s currently tied for 3rd in baseball for most HRs given up in 2017, but Jimenez, despite pitching far fewer innings, is hot on his tail. Jimenez’s HR/9 rate ranks 3rd among all pitchers who’ve thrown at least 100 IP, while Miranda’s is 9th.

Jimenez’s career is a fascinating one, as he’s gone from ace to broken shell of his former self to respectable middle-of-the-rotation reclamation story and then back to one of the worst starting pitchers in the game. After the Lucas Sims game and Dylan Bundy’s utter dominance last night, I’m a bit gunshy about talking down an opposing starter, but…just look at Jimenez’s numbers: in 126 IP, Jimenez has an ERA of 6.57 and a FIP of 5.64. That FIP is the 2nd worst in the league, and would be second worst in each year since 2015. It would rate as the worst in 2014 or 2013. In recent years – James Shields a few years ago, or Derek Holland this year – we’ve seen pitchers give up an astonishing number of HRs, which pushes their FIP (and ERA) way up near 6. But Ubaldo combines a poor walk rate with a poor strand rate and drizzles it over his long-standing inability to keep the ball in the park. All of this means that, pace Shields or even Miranda, his FIP isn’t overstating his problems – it’s actually understating them.

The M’s playoff odds are down under 10%, and their wildcard odds now rank 8th in the AL, so I’m not sure how much to talk about must-win games, but if they want to jump back into things, they absolutely need to beat Ubaldo Jimenez today. Fangraphs’ game odds give Baltimore the edge, which is pretty remarkable, but if you can’t beat Jimenez a day after getting one-hit, maybe high-stakes baseball isn’t for you. Jimenez has been particularly hurt by lefties, despite the fact that his splitter’s a decent pitch against them. Like Miranda, the problem is that opposite-handed batters really see his fastball well. Since the start of the 2016 season, lefties are slugging .739 against his sinker, his primary fastball. Righties are slugging .465, which isn’t too bad. But all of the three true outcomes are cranked to 11 against lefties – he strikes more of them out, but also walks more, and gives dozens and dozens of dingers. Good match-up for the M’s lefties today.

1: Gamel, LF
2: Alonso, 1B
3: Cruz, DH
4: Cano, 2B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Haniger, RF
7: Zunino, C
8: Heredia, CF
9: Motter, SS
SP: Miranda

A day off for SS Jean Segura, who’s been in a tailspin for a few months now.

Max Povse wasn’t sharp in his start last night against Salt Lake, walking 3 and K’ing 1 in 3 IP (the Rainiers are giving their starting pitchers 3-4-5 IP per game these days) in an 8-1 loss. Evan Scribner made a rehab appearance, pitching one scoreless inning. Modesto and Arkansas both notched wins behind strong starts from Tyler Jackson and Bryan Evans, respectively. We’ll give Jackson the nod for start of the day thanks to his 8 Ks in 5 IP. Tommy Romero got his 4th win in the AZL, and the 20-year old now has a K:BB ratio of 51:15 in 43 1/3 IP.

In bigger news, the M’s just acquires SP Mike Leake from St. Louis for cash, SS Rayder Ascanio, plus international bonus pool slot money. More on this soon.

Game 133, Mariners at Orioles – What Does Success Look Like?

marc w · August 29, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Dylan Bundy, 4:05pm

Yesterday on twitter, prospect writer and friend of the blog Chris Crawford posted an intriguing poll question for M’s fans:

It’s a tough question, as everything depends on how you define a half dozen or so terms. To me, the season would be a success if the M’s identified players they want to build around or build with in ~3-4 years time. That is, who’s going to be supporting the M’s future playoff efforts once Cruz and :sniff: Felix are either gone or aren’t contributing anymore? Kyle Seager and Jean Segura will be around, so what we’re looking for are pre-FA talent that can reliably provide above-average production and thus help pry open another window of contention. Near the break, the M’s looked like they wouldn’t be a factor in the wildcard chase, as they headed into the All-Star break 4 games below .500 and in 4th place in the AL West. However, the M’s had *three* pre-arb outfielders who looked poise to contribute for years to come. Ben Gamel was hitting line drives everywhere and had accumulated 1.9 fWAR at the break. Mitch Haniger was at 1.4 despite missing time with an oblique injury; his slash line was .273/.376/.472. Guillermo Heredia’d played the least, as he yielded playing time to twice-DFA’d Leonys Martin, but he’d put up 0.5 WAR and looked like he could bring his batting line to league average, which is not bad at all for a CF acquired for peanuts.

What’s happened since then is essentially an inversion of what we saw back in mid-July. In the second half, Gamel’s been worth -0.2 fWAR, while Haniger’s somehow been worse (-0.4). Heredia keeps ticking along, adding another 0.3, but it’s a bit tougher to say that any one of them is *clearly* going to be a net positive in 3 years. Haniger’s been injured – twice – and thus I’d guess most M’s fans are still bullish on his future. Gamel’s lack of power (despite yesterday’s 3R shot to CF) may limit his future, given he’s limited to the corner OF spots. Meanwhile, the team’s lifted themselves back into contention, at least sporadically, and benefited from the general weakness of their competition. The M’s could end up with a very different, but still successful, season, though that’s looking less and less likely. But I might actually prefer the timeline in which the M’s continued to fade from contending in 2017, but saw Haniger/Gamel/Heredia become an intriguingly balanced/potent outfield.

With his HR yesterday, Adam Jones has now hit at least 25 HRs in each of the last 7 seasons. This isn’t a big shock for M’s fans who remember him hitting 25 at age 21 for Tacoma back in 2007, and no, I am NOT over it yet. I’ve talked at length about his growth from game to game and even AB to AB back then, and the way he improved his batting line – and power numbers in particular – from 2006 to 2007 exemplify that ability at a macro level. Of course, it came at a cost, as Jones’ K rate crept up a bit; not enough to be a huge red flag, and hey, his overall production and even his walk rate improved as well. But the famously K-averse Bavasi regime saw that and his 29%+ K rate in his two MLB call-ups and probably thought he’d K too much to be a regular contributor. Oops.

Instead, he pretty much immediately settled in as a high-contact hitter, with a K rate well below league average. No, his patience has never really developed, but a low-K, moderate-to-better-than-moderate power combination is a wonderful thing, especially at an up-the-middle defensive position. A lot of the credit for this goes to Jones himself, who stood out back in 2006-7 for his willingness (and aptitude) to learn. But some of it should probably go to the Orioles organization, who saw a red flag and respectfully lowered it. I was thinking about that as I perused the bonkers numbers that SS Tim Beckham’s put up in the month or so that he’s been a member of the O’s. Beckham’s average pop played up from the shortstop position, and it was an encouraging sign for a guy who put up a lot of sub-.100 ISOs in the minors. But in two nearly full years at the big league level, he was striking out in over 30% of his plate appearances. That level of Ks is tough to get around, and although he put up astonishingly high BABIPs, he was still a below-average hitter because of it. Since moving to Baltimore for a single-A right-hander, Beckham’s hitting .386/.407/.667. His K rate isn’t just below 30%, it’s below *20%* at 17.8, and he’s put up 1.8 fWAR in less than 30 games. Yes, yes, lots of players have hot streaks, but Beckham’s looked like a different player, and seems to have given himself the inside track at the starting SS job in Baltimore for the next few years.

These player development success stories on the position player side are balanced by the Orioles’ remarkable, historic, comprehensive failure to develop pitchers. It’s not about poor draft position, or a bad eye for talent. Jake Arrieta’s done fine for himself, and after washing out of the rotation, Zach Britton’s actually contributed some value to the O’s. But their record is dotted with seasons lost to injury, failures to develop, and washouts. Brian Matusz was a guy with advanced command, until he lost it all overnight. Radhames Liz could never find the strikezone. Hunter Harvey can’t stay on the mound. And today’s starter, Dylan Bundy, is a strange mix of injury woes and stunted development. It’s tough to overstate the hype around Bundy in mid-2012. After being drafted 4th overall out of high school, Bundy was pushed to full-season A ball in 2012 and made 8 starts, yielding 0 earned runs and striking out 40 and walking 2 in 30 IP. He’d continue up the ladder and actually make 2 appearances for Baltimore that year as a teenager. And then things started to go wrong. He missed 2013 with TJ surgery, and after making 9 appearances in the minors in 2014, he had a setback and missed nearly all of 2015 as well. Finally healthy, he pitched over 100 IP for Baltimore last year, and while his ERA was better than league average, a high FIP and so-so K rate suggested he wasn’t back to his old self, the guy who threw 95-97, had a great change and curve, and a slider/cutter that was his best pitch and that the O’s wouldn’t let him throw due to a perceived higher injury risk. He also bounced between the rotation and the bullpen, and averaged under 95 with his fastball.

This year, pitching exclusively from the rotation, his velocity’s down 2.5 MPH to 92+, and as a result, his K rate’s down again. It’s essentially tied with Ariel Miranda’s, which is ironic given that the pitching-starved O’s pretty much gave Miranda away to the M’s, the same way they gave away Arrieta, Matusz, and Parker Bridwell. Having already BEEN injured several times, it seems Bundy’s worn down the O’s player development group’s objections, and he’s now throwing his slider. Compared to last year, Bundy’s throwing fewer four-seamers, a few more sinkers, and a bunch of sliders – again, he threw precisely none of them last year. It’s a good pitch, like his change: it gets whiffs, it gives him a weapon against righties, and it helps boost his K rate now that his fastball’s not fooling anyone. HRs are still an issue, though, and they blunt his platoon advantage over righties. In his career, lefties strike out a lot less and walk more; that’s to be expected. But righties have hit for a bit more power… not enough to reverse his platoon splits, but enough that he’s not able to dominate them the way everyone expected back in 2012. It’s impossible to know what Bundy would’ve become in another org. His high school rival and fellow 1st-rounder that year Archie Bradley’s had his own developmental hiccups in a different org. But watching the O’s flail with pitchers for a decade has been compelling as an accident on the side of the highway. The M’s PD work over that time span is worthy of jeers too, and I’ve done my fair share of jeering. But maaaaan, the Orioles have struggled. The end result? This year’s birds rank 27th in MLB in pitching WAR, and their rotation sports a collective ERA of 5.55, worst in the AL by a mile.*

1: Segura, SS
2: Alonso, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, RF
7: Gamel, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Heredia, CF
SP: Erasmoooo

Max Povse starts for Tacoma at Cheney Stadium tonight. Go see the big fellow take on Salt Lake. Brian MacAfee (Everett), Tyler Jackson (Modesto) and Bryan Evans (Arkansas) are your other pitching probables in the system. The full season clubs lost their games last night, as did the AZL M’s, but Everett won 5-4 on their first walk-off of the year.

* Their FIP looks very similar to Seattle’s rotation total, and it’s easy to see why: their HR/9 are identical at 1.70, and while the O’s hurlers strike out a few more, they walk more, too. The one saving grace for the M’s is defense: the M’s can turn balls in play into outs (offer not valid in New York, apparently), while the O’s struggle. This was forecasted rather easily, as the O’s have had to play Mark Trumbo in the field a bunch, and got yet another 1B/DH/OF in Trey Mancini, another young hitter who’s developed nicely, but another guy without a real position with Chris Davis at 1B.

2017 Arizona Fall League Rosters Announced

Jay Yencich · August 29, 2017 · Filed Under Minor Leagues

It says something, either about my habits, or attitudes towards the present season, or suspect mental state that I would have already narrowed down probable dates for Arizona Fall League rosters to be released to this Wednesday. And hey, what do you know? Headlined by first-round pick of yesteryear, center fielder Kyle Lewis, the Mariners will be sending eight players to fall ball. Joining Lewis will be RHPs Matthew Festa, Darin Gillies, Max Povse, and Art Warren, catcher Joe DeCarlo, utility man Eric Filia, and center fielder Braden Bishop. You may notice here that the AFL roster selection rules seem to have changed because that’s a lot of Cal League representation, if not currently, then earlier in the year. They’ll also have Yoel Monzon as a pitching coach on the staff, presently the pitching coach for the Peoria Mariners. Heck, he may not even bother with cleaning out his locker.

Lewis is probably where most people would start out, and rightly so. The 22-year-old probably still holds onto his spot as the system’s top prospect on athletic potential alone, but if you know the name, then it’s likely you also have a grasp on the history: A collision at the plate due to the catcher blocking the lane– the same type of collision now banned in the majors– resulted in him blowing out his ACL as well as his medial and lateral meniscus. For a guy who was hoped to be a centerfielder, that’s a big blow. Lewis didn’t get game action until June and then almost immediately banged up his knee again trying to play all-out defense on a play, and then disappeared for a couple of weeks. For much of the season, he’s been locked into the DH position to curb any Chris Snelling-like tendencies to hurt himself doing too much, but between the injuries and limited on-field performances, we’re only just now hitting a sample size in Modesto equal to what he had in Everett. August has been a lackluster month for him in the box as well, with an OPS in the mid-.600s, even as he is finally getting an opportunity to run around and play in the outfield. There are really two cases to be made here, the one that hopes that Lewis stands a better chance of getting back on track with rest and time, and the other that wants to see sustained offensive development. That being said, I’m not too surprised to see him here.

The second-greatest prospect of intrigue would probably be Braden Bishop. The one thing about having Bishop and Lewis on the same roster is that if they end up in the same outfield, whatever pressures are on Lewis to defend are scaled back dramatically. Based on .gifs and minor league video I’ve seen, Braden Bishop has a tendency to play defense as if he’s the only outfielder on staff and will routinely come out of nowhere to make plays. People have talked about him as a potential Gold Glove out there, perhaps in the Kevin Pillar mold, but for much of the season what we’ve talked about is Bishop’s offense. In college, he was a slap hitter, and a slap hitter he remained starting out. This past year, he trained in the offseason with fellow former Husky Jake Lamb and appears to have gotten stronger and is coming at the plate with a different setup. Baseball Census has an excellent side-by-side comparison of his two seasons in the Cal League and it’s my opinion that Bishop has probably done more to solidify his prospect status this year than anyone else in the system. The beauty of his skill set is that he can add a lot of value with the glove alone, but any increase however incremental in his hitting abilities means more stretch-doubles and runs scored. I could see him contributing, maybe not next year, but 2019 seems like a reasonable estimate.

Between Bishop and Lewis, those are two prospects that you’re potentially going to have in the top five, locked for the top ten minimum. Where Povse slots may depend on your opinion of him and how he’s used, but he may be a top ten as well by some reckoning and will retain rookie status headed into 2018. One of the stories of earlier in the summer was that Jerry DiPoto had the clever idea that the Mariners bullpen needed a Chris Devenski, a guy who could do short to medium relief and fill in innings with strikeout potential. Povse was initially tabbed as that guy and fast-tracked into debuting in late-June. Of course, since then, the Mariners have seen the emergence of another pitcher who can fill a similar role in Emilio Pagan, who has not started games in the minor leagues at all. Taking the pressure off Povse to be that guy may be good, as he’s the 6’8″, long-limbed Tall Wall who has had some difficulty getting his mechanics in order. As a reliever, the need for extra pitches would be minimized, but the boom-and-bust of “some days he has it and some days he doesn’t” is magnified, and moreover the team needs starting pitching in a bad way at the moment. For Tacoma, Povse has made three of his last four appearances as a starter and the most recent two embody that intriguing potential of his and the accompanying risk. One outing was four and two-thirds frames of no-hit ball with a 7/1 K/BB, the next, four frames with two runs allowed on three hits, a hit batter, two walks, and four strikeouts. It’ll be hard not to take what role he’s used in the AFL as indicative of Something, but give precedence to what’s said about him.

After Povse, who has already pitched in the majors, Festa might be the next closest. Festa was the smaller of our D-II selections in the first ten rounds of last year, but the stuff is very much real and he tops out at 96 mph. The repertoire is also deep enough to handle multiple innings, but then this is one of multiple notes about him that really make you stop and look at his statline and think, “wait, what?” The 24-year-old has kind of been a sleeper due to age and expectations, but he’s thrown 66.2 innings in thirty-nine appearances and over that span has a 96/19 K/BB. No, those aren’t typos, that’s nearly a K and a half every inning and a walk maybe every three or more. Given all the other happenings in system, the Mariners have demonstrated remarkable restraint in not pushing him to double-A. Still, he’s one guy that I wouldn’t be surprised to see next season, even if ideally, we won’t have to make as many calls out that direction as we have this year.

Speaking of interesting statlines and modest draft profiles, we also have another recent (current, actually) Modesto Nut on the roster in Eric Filia. You may know the story here, but to refresh, he had taken some time away from school and came back to UCLA looking like a bonafide prospect. The slugging this year has been lower than where he was in Everett, but he remains very difficult to strike out and has only done so about every eleven ABs this season. This leaves him as the rare bird with a lop-sided K/BB at 42/63. While some players with elite plate discipline end up going on to develop power later in their careers, such has not yet been the case for Filia, who has fewer dingers in the Cal League than he did in the NWL and in far more plate appearances. Putting aside the offensive profile aspects, the eye-catcher here is his listing as an infielder. Filia has played the outfield corners in the past, but has been increasingly seeing time at first. While he does swing lefty, the fact that he throws right-handed opens up more options for him on the field as a utility player. If Filia manages to show as much defensive versatility as say, a Danny Valencia, or worst-case, first and the corners, that still opens up more options for him where the bat can continue to do what it does well, namely slap the ball around. He’s another guy who has a fun little Baseball Census profile, so give that a look as well.

Warren has served as an off-and-on closer for Nuts and also boasts about a K per inning in his pitching lines. Yet, the advanced metrics don’t like him all that much. Statcorner has him in the red with a nBB% of 11 and a K% of 24, and that helps to explain some of it, as does the fact that Warren gives up hits a bit more readily. I know I’ve been plugging them a bit in this post, but I think it’s deserved because I wouldn’t really know much about Warren had I not read yet another Baseball Census profile on him. The story is fairly similar to any other you’d expect to find in spring training: A changed diet, a changed workout regiment, BSohL. These would be platitudes without the results, which Warren has, having gone from a high-80s starter to a low-to-mid-90s reliever. Like Festa, the arsenal is deeper than average as well. I’m wanting to see better command before I’m totally comfortable with him as a potential contributor.

For DeCarlo… well, one more Modesto Nut, one more guy you can find info on online? DeCarlo’s was one of the Mariners-like picks that I had grown accustomed to in that he was a second selection as a big-bodied prep infielder who played short in the past but hey so did Jim Thome when he was in high school. In DeCarlo’s case, he’s been following the same track as fellow farmhand Marcus Littlewood, another kid drafted at short who had good instincts and not-great wheels until the organization decided to try him out as a backstop. And why convert one shortstop to the Tools of Ignorance when you could convert TWO? Part of this is representative of a dearth in organization depth spurring the move. DeCarlo doesn’t look great out there yet. In forty-six defensive games, eighteen passed balls and a 26% CS rate. Yet he’s also doing an entirely new thing and his offense, while suffering, has not cratered, with a loss in average almost entirely accounting for the drops in OBP, SLG, and OPS. What’s been good about DeCarlo as a minor leaguer is that, while he doesn’t have the tools to hit for high-average, he absolutely can take walks and hit for power now and then. The secondary averages, as such, have been solid despite a high-K rate. More reps can only help him, yet I don’t find myself thinking that he’s a risk to be Rule 5’d just yet because of the SSS and lack of time in the high minors. We’ll muse on that next year, depending on how he takes.

Our last but not least is Darin Gillies, which is one R and two Ls for your reference there. Gillies is not much written about, being the guy in the tenth round of 2015 whom they threw $10k at in the hopes of saving top ten pool money elsewhere. That being said, you wouldn’t expect him to be in double-A and holding his own, and yet he is. Gillies has been on an aggressive track, but it’s double-A that has presented something of a challenge for him. Whereas last year, he had a .186 combined average and a 75/18 K/BB through 66.2 innings, he’s now at a .229 average against and a 44/24 K/BB in 56.2 innings in double-A. That’s not as impressive, but again, our data is limited. We know he was at ASU and in and out of the bullpen for his four years there. We know that he threw 90 mph or so in HS. If nothing else, the AFL selects for the willing, but Gillies may be a guy that we soon have more data on, and more data is always welcome.

The season will commence on October 10th, as the Javelinas play a day game against the Desert Dogs.

Game 132, Mariners at Orioles – Are You Not Entertained?

marc w · August 28, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

Marco Gonzales vs. Chris Tillman, 4:05pm

Tonight’s game is a microcosm of baseball in the era of the 2nd wildcard. Two teams separated by a half-game and within 2 games of playoff position start pitchers coming in with ERAs in the 7’s, with FIPs to match. They’re starting because there aren’t better alternatives. Fans can scoreboard watch because there are a lot of wild card rivals to keep tabs on AND because it might honestly be more fun than keeping an eye on this particular score. The ugliness of the loss yesterday in the Bronx seems to have occasioned a lot of talk on twitter about the state of the M’s and their window to contend. Conceivably, the M’s could maintain this form of contention for years. The problem is, so can everyone: there are exactly 4 teams in the AL who AREN’T within 3 games of the playoffs right now. I asked this question in a convoluted way when the M’s last went in to Chicago, but I’ll be more direct today: is this enough? Are you happy with this? The M’s have very clearly NOT done an Astros/Cubs/White Sox/Braves/Padres tear-down, and thus they remain a very talented, somewhat enigmatic and graying team that gets to play for the 2nd wild card. A lot of the enjoyment of this season has hinged on that, and AL parity has spread this enjoyment to most fans of AL teams. But is that enough for you, as a fan?

There’s no right or wrong answer, and it’s entirely possible that the rebuild option was never on the table, either as the result of ownership diktat, or the realities of how the market would value much of what the M’s could’ve conceivably sold. Most long-term extensions close the door on getting back a ton in talent, and in any event, the M’s seem to like proven talent more than prospect lottery tickets. This – these sets of preferences and habits – has consequences, and we’ve seen it this year in the caliber of player that the M’s are capable of acquiring at the deadline or in the off-season. They simply can’t GET the Jose Quintanas and Sonny Grays, so Gonzales and Christian Bergman (just added back to the 40-man and called up to Seattle today) will have to do. Personally, I think those that think the M’s should’ve torn it down a bit more emphatically should be clear about what they’d hypothetically get in return. Trading Felix and Cano would be all but impossible. Nelson Cruz’s trade value would be hurt a bit by his age, lack of position (NL teams may be out) and the collapse of the market for bat-first guys, from Mark Trumbo to JD Martinez. The most intriguing option, and one talked about by Nathan Bishop, would’ve been trading Edwin Diaz this past offseason. The problem there was that his lack of track record may have hurt the return as much as his long period of pre-arb salary would’ve helped it. Huge, MiLB system-changing returns for relievers have come for guys with a bit more of a track record: Ken Giles, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller (the 2nd time), Aroldis Chapman. It also forecloses one way to squeeze more out of the rest of your talent, the way the Royals and Pirates did with their excellent bullpens.

That’s not to say that approach would’ve been wrong, just that it’s not completely up to the M’s whether to tear-it-down or incrementally add. Their rebuild options were very narrow and limited, perhaps at least as much as their options to add using a farm system that, outside of Tyler O’Neill, consisted of a lot of low-minors guys and a rehabbing Kyle Lewis. More than that, I’d love to see some signs that the M’s player development team helping a bunch of players take serious leaps forward. If the M’s are going to prioritize low-velo, command and control types, how many can avoid HRs and walks at the same time? If the M’s are going to rethink how they teach hitting, which players are utilizing the new pedagogy to destroy MiLB pitching? Catching up with the Astros seems far-fetched now, but it won’t happen through incremental adds like David Phelps. It wouldn’t have happened by selling off their sellable players, either, though. It won’t happen until the PD group gets within range of Houston’s. I’m not sure how to make that happen, but I hope someone knows, and is working on it.

Last year, when the M’s minor league system dominated the competition, it looked like that gap may be narrowing. In the first half of the season, when the M’s young OF ranked in the top 10 best in the league. Things look different now that the M’s OF ranks 29th in batting runs in the 2nd half. Like with the pitching staff, injuries have taken their toll, and as with everything, we’re all probably overreacting to the latest data. The M’s OFs haven’t completely forgotten how to hit, but I bring it up to say that the development of a young OF would go a long way to dispelling the doom and gloom about the M’s 2018 and beyond. Irrespective of what happens in the 2017 playoff chase, the M’s absolutely need to develop some cost-controlled player who can help the club after Nelson Cruz leaves. We thought we knew the identity of a few of them, and maybe they’re one hot streak from recovering their April-June form. Let’s hope so. Or maybe Marco Gonzales will go on a serious run starting tonight?

1: Segura, SS
2: Alonso, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, RF
7: Gamel, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Heredia, CF
SP: Gonzales

Let’s catch the ball today guys, whadda ya say?

This has all been depressing, and 5 errors in one inning in a crucial game will do that to a fan, so let’s add some *further* bad news. The Rainiers kick off a four-game set tonight at Cheney. These are the final 4 games of the home schedule for 2017. The summer of 2017, like our lives, is almost over. The only solution to ennui and paralyzed fear is to head to Cheney Stadium and check it out.

Aaron West, Steven Ridings, and Randy Bell are the probables lower in the system while Tacoma turns to good ol’ TBA as they take on Dustin Ackley, Ramon Flores and the rest of the Salt Lake Bees.

As mentioned above, Christian Bergman’s been added to the M’s roster, while Leonys Martin made it through waivers and is back with Tacoma. Dan Altavilla heads back to Tacoma to make room on the 25-man for Bergman. Jeanmar Gomez opted out of his MiLB contract in Tacoma.

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