Are the Seattle Mariners Rebuilding?

Image from Mariners Blog.

Traditionally, teams that win 89 games in the previous season don’t typically become sellers in the following offseason. Those types of teams are a few players away from solidifying a roster that has a chance to make a deep run into the playoffs. The Seattle Mariners may disagree with that notion, and it isn’t because of their roster. They play in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. The Astro’s (103-59) and the Athletics (97-65) each went to the playoffs last season, and neither team shows any sign of being on the decline.

According to the CGMs Statistical Power Rankings, the Astro’s were the most talented team and the Athletics were the seventh best team in baseball last year. The Mariners were respectably ranked 13th, but competition in the American League was fierce and as talented as the Mariners roster was going into the offseason, they were still on the outside looking in going into the 2019 season. The Mariners were in need of a top of the rotation starting pitcher (to replace a declining Felix Hernandez), a middle reliever to bridge to Edwin Diaz (now a Met) and another high-powered outfield bat to help bridge the gap between themselves and the rest of the AL West. As a middle-market team, the Mariners had little change of luring a top free agent, and instead would need to orchestrate a plus-version of Moneyball to compete with a dominant Astro’s team, and an Athletics team run by a man that can only be described as a sorcerer in Billy Beane.

The Mariners had three options:

  1. Become buyers in the offseason and spend money (which they may not have, they paid $157,000,000 for their roster) on free agents, or trade for bonafide MLBers by mortgaging what little talent they had left in their already depleted farm system.
  2. They could sell off some of their more expensive chips, and attempt to maintain their roster’s integrity by acquiring younger players while trying to outlast the dominance of the Astros at the expense of the immediate.
  3. Blow it up, sell off their pieces, reload their farm system, and wait three to five years for Houston to hit the cliff.

From what we can tell, the Mariners are exercising option two. In the last week, they made what will likely be the biggest trade in the offseason, sending the MLB’s best closer in RHP Edwin Diaz, who posted 57 saves, a .79 WHIP and a 1.96 ERA to the New York Mets along with 13-year veteran 2B Robinson Cano. Cano, coming off an 80-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, hit .303 last year and was serviceable at second base, but is still owed half of the 10-year $240M contract he signed with the Mariners. In return, the Mariners received a compliment of young and veteran players from the Mets. The deal was headlined by fifth overall pick OF Jarred Kelenic, who projects as a top 50 MLB prospect without ever having stepped in a professional batters box, and is joined by another top 100 prospect in RHP Justin Dunn who is still a year or two away from the bigs, but is a candidate for a training camp invite. The Mariners also received three MLB-ready players in OF Jay Bruce, RHP Anthony Swarzak, and RHP Gerson Bautista. Bruce had a rough 2018 campaign, but has a lot of pop in his bat, a plus arm, and is one of the best clubhouse personalities in baseball. Bautista projects as a plus reliever and has good “stuff” that should keep him around in the league for a long time. Swarzak is a veteran middle reliever who should immediately fill the 7th inning role for the M’s despite a down 2018 season.

1_x1chaSo4rZMKs14GMdcqDA

The trade accomplished a few important things for the Ms:

  1. It replenished their weak farm system with three young prospects that project as starting to all-star caliber players.
  2. It dumped the contract of 2B Robinson Cano who was still owed $120M.
  3. It brought in serviceable talent at multiple positions.

The Mariners continued making moves a few days later by trading their leadoff hitter and two-time all-star, SS Jean Segura along with RHP Juan Nicasio and LHP James Pazos to the Phillies. Segura, the 28-year old breakout star who the Mariners acquired in a trade with D-backs hit .302 in his two years with the Mariners. In return, the Mariners received 1B Carlos Santana-who posted a career-low batting average (.229) and OPS (.766)-and Phillies former top prospect, SS J.P. Crawford. Although Crawford has maintained himself as a top 50 prospect since 2013, his MLB service time has been forgettable.  He’s hit .214 in 225 plate appearances and struck out 59 times over that span. What he did manage to do well was flash what may be the best glove in baseball along with posting a respectable .333 OBP.  I have doubts that he will become a better player than Segura has become, but he’s young and the Mariners could be the change of scenery and the fresh start he needs.

The salary dump of Cano and Segura should help the Mariners sign a few players to fill some gaps over the next few years, but what these trade really do for the franchise is cement the next five years at a few positions. Dunn, Kelenic, Crawford, and Bautista should be in a Mariners uniform for a long time to come. The Mariners may not be better than they were Yesterday, but playing in the AL West all but guarantees that for the next few years, their ceiling is the wild card. Mariner fans should be pleased with the trades, despite giving up Segura and Diaz. If J.P. Crawford and Jared Kelenic can live up to their potential, it’s going to be a fun team to watch down the road.

Commentary: Five Bold Predictions One Week into the MLB Season

1. An Angel will win the MVP award and he won’t be named Mike Trout. This prediction may not seem as bold as it did when I had originally made it before the regular season, but I’m doubling down. Shoani Othani will win the MVP and AL Rookie of the Year Award. He’s off to a blistering start and has been key to the Angels’ early success. He throws high 90’s and touches 100, hits to all fields, has one of the highest exit velocities in all of baseball, and the best part is, he’s fun to watch. He has to come down to earth at some point in time, but I can’t stand when people disregard the early part of the season. Every game and every at-bat counts. You can’t take those Angels wins away from them, and chances are, you can’t stop watching Shoani Othani. With any new player, I get concerned about what happens when scouting reports get fully developed. People will find a way to get him out, batters will figure out what he’s throwing, but until then, he will continue to rake and sit guys down.

2. Both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton will hit more than 50 home runs. This might not come as a huge shock either, but let’s not act like hitting 50 homers is an easy task, each of these guys did it last year, but that doesn’t mean they will have similar production this year. Already Stanton is having serious problems at the plate. He’s on a record-setting pace for strikeouts during the early stretch of the season. He’s already struck out 23 times, one less than Roger Marris did during the entire 1968 season when he 310 ABs. Comparisons throughout generations are difficult, as the game has changed dramatically and launch angle and fly balls are more valued from hitters than they were in the past, but Stanton looks different than he did last year. There have been analysts that have broken down his swing mechanics and the results are telling. He’s shortened his stride at the plate and opens his hips differently than he did in previous years. This causes two problems, first, he won’t be able to hit the high and tight fastball as effectively as he has in previous years, and second, he will not be able to hit effectively to all fields, making him a more one-dimensional hitter. That being said, I fully expect a professional hitter playing for a team with the resources like the Yankees to get himself sorted out. Stanton is coming from Miami to New York, and the ballpark dynamics couldn’t be more different. I expect a few more of Stanton’s deep flyouts in Miami turn into pole hugging home runs over the short fences at Yankee Stadium.

3. The New York Mets will head to the postseason after winning only 70 games last season. The Mets had a historical injury prone 2017 season which saw 20 players have 28 different DL stints.  Those injuries came to key pieces of the Mets roster. OF Yoenis Cespedes spent 80 days on the DL, SP Noah Syndergaard spent 145 days on the DL with an arm injury, SP Matt Harvey spent 79 days, SP Steven Matz spent 113 days,CP Jeurys Familia spent 106 days and OF Michael Conforto spent 48 days on the DL with a freak shoulder injury that occurred when he swung his bat. This season, the Mets are entering the year health, and with the additions of veteran 3B Todd Frazier replacing injured David Wright, 1B Adrian Gonzalez as the bridge to top prospect 1B Dominic Smith, and the return of slugger OF Jay Bruce, the team is poised to take advantage of a weak NL East. The Nationals are their biggest schedule hurdle, but the Mets traditionally have played well against the NL East favorites, already sweeping them once this year, and could feasibly make a run at a Wild Card spot. I still expect the Nationals to win the division, even with their early struggles, but if the Mets stay healthy and their bullpen continues to be among the best in the MLB, then they have every opportunity to make a postseason run. They have three long arms in their bullpen that can bridge the middle innings and both Seth Lugo and Robert Gsselman have been lights out so far.

4. Chris Sale will win the AL Cy Young and Max Scherzer will win the NL Cy Young Award. At this point Scherzer is like Meryl Streep at the Oscars, everyone knows he’s in going to be one of the top two candidates, and it comes as no surprise at this point. Every fifth day you get to watch something special. Scherzer threw over 200 innings (in the National League) and had a 2.51 ERA last season. This year, the 33-year old is off to a hot start, he has a .90 ERA and has struck out 27 batters through 20 innings pitched. Sale, similarly tallied over 200 innings last season and held a respectable 2.90 ERA. This year, he has a 1.06 ERA through 17 innings and has struck out 23 batters. These two are the most dominant arms in the sport and continue to be durable and consistent. So long as they remain healthy, there’s nothing to stop their Cy Young bid.

5. The Texas Rangers will be must-see TV, at least every fifth day. Bartolo Colon and Adrian Beltre in the same dugout. They have more fun playing the game of baseball than anyone else. If you happen to catch the Rangers play some interleague baseball there’s a chance you can see a unicorn. https://www.mlb.com/video/must-c-colons-first-home-run/c-671207583

Commentary: Facebook to Broadcast 25 MLB Games: Mets-Phillies Game Today at 1PM

At 1pm the Mets-Phillies game will air exclusively on Facebook. This will be the first MLB game exclusively broadcasted on a social media platform. The move stems from an MLB initiative to expand viewership and attract a younger audience. The MLB has long struggled to captivate younger fans and has lagged behind the NFL and NBA viewership in recent years. The long average game time (3:05), long season (162 games), and slow pace of play have been attributed to the games viewership stagnation. To Major League Baseball’s credit, while the NFL has seen a drastic decline in its viewership over the past couple years, the MLB has not seen their decline at the same rate. Locally broadcasted games have remained relatively steady and some markets have shown growth, but the MLB continues to struggle with younger audiences, and their nationally televised broadcasts continue to pull comparatively weak ratings. Further contributing to the MLB’s problem, in a new trend, stadium attendance was down last season, but the MLB is actively trying to fix their problem, by introducing rules to improve the pace of play and shorten the game.

Facebook is one of the most heavily trafficked websites, and the social media platform caters to an audience that the MLB is trying to access. By exposing a younger viewership to baseball they may have the opportunity to slowly expand their fanbase and ensure the future of the sport at the same time. Over the next two months, Facebook has the broadcasting rights to nine MLB games, all mid-week afternoon games, and will broadcast a total of 25 games throughout the entire season. The Facebook broadcasts will be produced by the MLB Network and the games are accessible on any web-enabled streaming device from Facebook’s Watch MLB Live page. One feature of the broadcast is that it will be largely interactive, with the MLB Network team leveraging the social media platform to bring their audience into the game. Their goal is to engage with as much of the social media conversation as practicable without hindering the call of the game. Today’s broadcast will act as a barometer for the MLB and may prompt future investment in exploring social media as a broadcasting service to expand their audience.

Fans new to baseball will experience a good NL East matchup during today’s Mets-Phillies game which will showcase the aces of each pitching staff, Noah Syndergaard, and Aaron Nola. Both had strong outings in their season openers, Syndergaard struck out 10 batters, and Nola threw five shutout innings in only 68 pitches before being controversially pulled in a game that the Phillies eventually lost. Wins in the NL East have been hard to come by, and both teams are in a sprint to avoid an early chase of the division-leading Washington Nationals.

To watch today’s broadcast visit: https://www.facebook.com/MLBLiveGames/ 

Photo Credit: Newsweek