What will Seattle’s bullpen look like in 2015

Seattle’s 2014 bullpen had an ERA of 2.59, an improvement of nearly two runs over their dreadful 4.58 bullpen ERA in 2013. It was the fourth best one year improvement in the last 20 years. Not only was the 2.59 ERA the best in baseball it was the sixth best since 1973 when the DH infected the American League.

But how will the bullpen look in 2015?

Joe Beimel an important situational lefty has pitched for seven teams and is a free agent. He had a 2.20 ERA for the M’s in 45 innings and is only 37, which for a lefty reliever is like 31 in right handed years. Another lefty, Charlie Furbush, who was 1-5 with a 3.61 ERA, is in first year of arbitration so his contract will be negotiated. The other lefty Lucas Luetge pitched 9 innings giving up 5 runs and is not eligible for arbitration.

Danny Farquhar 3-1, 2.66 with 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings is not eligible for arbitration until next season. The same is true for Dominic Leone, 8-2, 2.17. Yoervis Medina in two years as the setup man in the 8th inning has a 2.81 ERA. He is illegible for arbitration in 2016. He may be pushed for the setup job by last season’s rookie surprise Carson Smith. He only pitched 8.1 innings, but had 10 strikeouts, walking three and giving up two hits. A small sample to be sure, but he has the arm the Mariners love and he threw strikes.

Tom Wilhelmsen had a bounce back year, his ERA improving from 4.12 to 2.17 and in 79.1 innings only gave up 47 hits. He is arbitration eligible. And of course Fernando Rodney who led the majors with 48 saves is returning.

On paper it looks like the bullpen could be intact with all those young arms, but even if all are signed and none traded, do not expect the same numbers. relief pitchers frequently have up and down years, some fall out of favor and are traded away or sent to the minors. Seattle has a lot of good young arms and that means they may have to part with one or two if they make a trade as teams always need bullpen help and that is Seattle’s strength. But I would hesitate to think twice about giving up more than two, in fact I would part with one. Too much promise in that pen and that’s no bull.

Seattle’s new pitcher goes against their philosophy

The Mariners recently signed 25-year old Cuban pitcher Misael Siverio to a minor league contract. The Mariners like big, tall, hard throwing monsters with strong arms. Siverio is 5’9.” In the team photo he sill be  seated in front with the bat boy. His uniform will have to be altered by somebody in the clubhouse; or perhaps an extra large from the boys department. Of course Danny Farquhar is 5’9″ and did pretty well last season. Maybe the Mariners are trending to shorter pitchers.

In baseball size does not matter. So who is this guy?

He is a lefty and southpaws are welcome on every team. He pitched 153 games in Cuba, 75 were starts and had 3.24 ERA. Last season he pitched in the Mexican League. Six starts, striking out 36, walking 10 and finished with 3-1 record.

There was a time, not so long ago, that it was difficult for Cuban players to defect. But now it seems every year there are two or three leaving Cuba. Siverio defected in Iowa when the Cuban national team was playing college all-stars in 2013.

I don’t know the Mariners plans for him, but I am guessing they may use him in relief. Most likely he will begin in the minor leagues, but at least Roenis Elias has a fellow countryman to talk pitching with during spring training.

Though he is not on the 40-man roster and at the moment is destined for the minors, the roster could change because of trades or free agency. Things will look different by February. The Mariners have been rumored in many trades and interest in free agents, but rumors are just that. For now the Mariners are quiet on the Elliot Bay front.

There is a big difference between pitching for Cuba and the major leagues. For now Siverio is a prospect to watch. 

Inside Kyle Seager’s Gold Glove

Kyle Seager had a Defensive Index Reading of 17.9, third best in the American League, trailing left fielder Alex Gordon at 19.9, and the leader, another third baseman, Josh Donaldson of the dreaded Oakland A’s who came in with a 21.2 rating.

So what is this rating and why does it matter for Gold Gloves. First it is based on a SABR formula. The definition according to their website is “The SABR Defensive Index draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts. The three metrics representing batted ball data include Defensive Runs Saved from Baseball Info Solutions, Ultimate Zone Rating developed by noted sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman, and Runs Effectively Defended based on STATS Zone Rating and built by SABR Defensive Committee member Chris Dial. The two metrics included in the SDI originating from play-by-play data are Defensive Regression Analysis, created by committee member Michael Humphreys, and Total Zone Rating.”

I hope that clears things up.

The rating, in its second year of use,  accounts for 25% of the votes for a Gold Glove winner, the balance coming from managers and coaches. It is important because the award has often been a joke when managers and coaches were the only voters. Consider that in 1999 when Rafael Palmiero won his third consecutive Gold Glove he played at first base for only 28 games, spending the rest of the time as DH. So this rating system offers a check and balance to a severely flawed system where offense influenced voters more than defense, or at least votes based on past reputation. Defense, for some reason, had not gotten the respect it deserved.  

Donaldson, with the better rating, still finished behind Seager for the Gold Glove, who perhaps got more votes from managers and coaches, along with his .981 fielding percentage which led the league. Kyle made 8 errors in 422 chances and his fielding percentage was the 10th for third baseman best since 1948. He is the second Gold Glove third baseman the Mariners have had. Or have you forgotten Adrian Beltre already.

For Kyle 17.9 and .981 are gold numbers.

 

What will Seattle do with Carlos Rivero

Ten days ago Seattle claimed Carlos Rivero off waivers from the Red Sox. He bats right handed and hit .571 for the Red Sox in 2014 at the age of 26. Of course he had only 7 at bats, but hit 2 doubles and a homer. So who is he?

He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Cleveland Indians in 2005 out of Venezuela. He stayed in their minor leagues until November of 2010 when the Phillies claimed in on waivers. One year to the day the Washington Nationals claimed on waivers and two years later was granted free agency. A month later in 2013 the Red Sox claimed him. Now he is a Mariner. That is five organizations at the age of 26.

He has played 999 minor league games which sounds like a career minor leaguer if it were not for his age. He certainly has experience. His minor league career average is .262, but hit.303 for Syracuse in 2012 with 10 homers, 64 RBI’s. In 2013 he split time between Syracuse (.233) and Hartford in the Double A Eastern League (.253). In 31 games in 2014 for Portland in the Eastern League he hit .214 and in Triple A Pawtucket hit .286 in 74 games.

He is not a home run hitter-69 in 999 games-nor a base stealer-16 of 31 career attempts, but what he does is play a variety of positions. First base-26 games; third base-381 with 69 errors; shortstop 537-with 113 errors; and outfield 58, but only one in right field indicating he may not have a strong arm. 

The point is he may be a younger version of Willie Bloomquist. Next season Willie will be 38 and is coming off an injury that limited him to 47 games. Rivero could be back up insurance should Willie have a bad spring, or he decides to retire, or is released. It is a move with nothing to lose and every position on every team needs a back up plan and Rivero may be the backup plan for a utility player. Then again he could be released if Seattle needs to clear a spot on their 40 man roster. Welcome to the life of an average minor leaguer.

 

Seattle may move two minor league stars to outfield

Seattle  has two minor league infielders who may be patrolling the Mariner outfield in the next two years. One is 22 year old third baseman D.J. Peterson, who has also been playing some games at first as a possible  replacement to Justin Smoak. But with Logan Morrison having an outstanding September at first and Kyle  Seager an all-star at third, it has been hinted that Peterson could see outfield duty in the minors next season. Peterson hit .297 with 31 homers and 111 RBI’s in Double A last year. Peterson likely will begin season at Double A or in Tacoma.

Peterson shared Mariners minor league co-player of the year with another infielder, Jordy Lara,  who also may be moved to the outfield. Lara, a 23 year old from the Dominican Republic played for High Desert in the California League where he played first base, hitting .337 with 26 homers and 104 RBI’s. Of course he may still continue to play first, but the Mariners are not sure where he ends up. They like to tinker with minor league players depending on what the big league club’s needs may be in the future.

The Mariners have no plans on moving 20 year old shortstop Ketel Marte, another Dominican, who has played so well, he finished at Tacoma where he played 19 games. At Double A he stole 29 bases and the Mariners see him as a top of the order player.

The Mariners do have a good outfield prospect. He is 20 year old Gaby Guerrero who hit .297 for High Desert in the California League with 18 homers 97 RBI’s, and 18 steals. 

There is another wave of young bats coming on the horizon for the Mariners and opportunities are there in the outfield for Peterson, Lara, and Guerrero. Whethe at first for either Peterson or Lara, or the outfield, these are three names to watch.

 

Why Seattle is willing to trade Taijuan Walker

The 2015 edition of the Seattle Mariners starting rotation has many to choose from. It starts with King Felix, under contract through 2019. Hisashi Iwakuma has a club option for 2015 and the Mariners will pick that up. They have three young pitchers in Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Roenis Elias. That is five and next season, finally at full health is Danny Hultzen, a left handed pitcher and former number one pick of Seattle. That is six and I am not counting Erasmo Ramirez who is out of options and his 2014 performance indicates he will not return. And though Chris Young would be welcomed back by me at any rate, he is a free agent and the Mariners have not indicated he fits into their 2015 plans.

Mariner GM, Jack Zduriencik has said he wants another starting pitcher. With six to choose from the question is why. The answer is that they have four young pitchers and young pitchers are unproven, even with the brief success of Paxton and Walker, there is no real track record.

The indications are one or two of the young pitchers will be packaged for a big right handed bat. A lot of fans would like to see the Marlins Giancarlo Stanton and his home run hitting bats in a Mariner dugout and there will be talk, by fans, radio talking heads, and others to create buzz. But the odds say no. If you had Stanton, why trade him when you can build around him. So lets leave Stanton alone. If the Mariners want to sell the farm so be it, but I look for something more realistic.

If the Mariners trade a youthful arm or two for some young bats, then a starting pitcher will come from the free agent market. A partial list of those available according to Baseball Prospectus are John Lester, Max Scherzer, Ryan Vogelsong, James Shields and Brandon McCarthy. A couple of pitchers with options are Dan Haren and Johnny Cueto. These are on my short list. There are others to choose from, but these arms are a good starting point.

There are more options on the free agent market for pitchers than hitters, thus it seems a pitcher, like Walker, whom the Mariners previously offered to Arizona for Justin Upton, could be traded.

 

The Mariners 2015 outfield will see changes

The Seattle Mariner outfield is more questionable than their infield for 2015.

Austin Jackson hit a mere .229 with no homers and 14 rbis after coming over from Detroit in a trade. He did steal 11 bases, decent for a leadoff man, but he also struck out 26% of the time, not good for a leadoff hitter. He is under contract for one year so he is likely to man center in 2015, perhaps to tutor James Jones who was 27 of 28 in stolen bases in 108 games and is a great weapon if his hitting becomes consistent and his outfield play improves, thus the Jackson mentorship.

Left and right field have questions. Dustin Ackley finished with a .245 average, 14 homers and 65 rbis. He hit .365 in July after a terrible start, then .280 in August, but .149 in September. The Mariners still do not know who the real Dustin Ackley is. He is eligible for arbitration and it will be interesting to see how the negotiations go. If he gets a one year deal that means this is the year to prove who he is. Another mediocre year and he will be gone.  Michael Saunders has hit .231 in 551 games for Seattle, his best year was 2012 when he hit .247 with 19 homers and 65 rbis. He will be 29 next season and like Ackley is eligible for arbitration. Both bat left handed and the Mariners are seeking a bat from the right side.

One free agent who looks good-on the surface-is Michael Cuddyer who hit .332 last season with 10 homers and .331, but in only 49 games. The year before he hit .331 with 20 homers and 84 rbis. But he will be 36 next season and those statistics are misleading for he played in Colorado where the hits just keep on coming. He spent most of his career in Minnesota hitting between .236 and .284.

The Mariners may be best served by making a trade for a right handed bat, but I am not inclined to offer  who or for whom, because any trade proposal is wishful thinking,  and pure fantasy speculation.

But do not be surprised with trades as the Mariners came within one game of the playoffs and the time for developing is over and the time to make a move is now. They need to take the next step forward, staying put will no longer do.

 

A look at the Mariners 2015 infield; who’s in, who’s out

Other than pitching the Seattle Mariners infield was a strong suit in 2014 and will again in 2015. Robinson Cano, though tailing off in September, finished with a .314 average, 14 homers, and 82 RBI’s.  His home run production dropped, but consider he spent his previous years in the band box of Yankee Stadium, a home run haven. While 100 RBI’s would be nice, consider the one and two slots in the order fluctuated greatly, with Abraham Almonte,  James Jones, and then Austin Jackson batting leadoff and none were proficient at getting on base. The same was true of the number two slot until Dustin Ackley finally settled in.

Kyle Seager at third is also a sure thing with a .268 average, 26 home runs, and 96 RBI’s. He also works extremely hard on his defense, certainly a Gold Glove caliber candidate. One of those SABR mathematicians calculated this summer that the A’s John Donaldson was the best defensive third baseman in the American League and Seager was second.

I am including Mike Zunino among the infielders because I can. He is also a lock despite a .199 average. He hit 22 homers with 60 RBI’s and those numbers along with his ability to handle pitchers, call a game, and block pitches will keep him in the lineup. As long as his hitting improves he should be behind the plate for quite some time.

Now we get to the open positions at first and short. Justin Smoak is unlikely to return. His lack of production speaks for itself. In 2014 .202 with 7 homers and 30 RBI’s in 80 games. He lost his job to Logan Morrison. He is scheduled to make $3,650,000 in 2015, but the Mariners can buy out his contract for $150,000. The Mariners have the buyout option since he did not reach 525 plate appearances.

Morrison who signed a one year contract in the previous offseason is still under Mariner control, though he is arbitration eligible, and will not be a free agent until 2017. He hit .262 with 11 homers and 38 rbis in 99 games. Five of his homers and 11 of his RBI;s came in September when he hit .342. His main job for now is to man first base until D.J. Peterson, the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year is ready. That could be sometime in 2015,

Shortstop is up for grabs between Chris Taylor, a right handed batter-which the Mariners need-hitting .287 in 136 at bats, but no homers and only 9 RBI’s and Brad Miller, .221-10-36. It could be a spring training completion, though Mariner Manager Lloyd McClendon has hinted that Miller could be a super sub. It is also very possible that one could be packaged with a relief pitcher and a young pitcher for a strong right handed bat.

What Seattle needs is a DH. Corey Hart is already gone and Kendrys Morales most likely will be as well. One switch hitter on the free agent market is the Tigers Victor Martinez who hit .335 with 32 homers (career high) and 103 RBI’s.  And he can play first base if needed. His last contract was 4 years and $50 million. He will be 36 next season. If he wants 4 years what is the price and will the Mariners be willing to pay. The Mariners have said the payroll will increase, but how much?

Stay tuned for an interesting off season as Jack pursues both a bat or two and a starting pitcher. Next blog we’ll look at the outfield.

Why Mariner fans should be happy

Putting words ‘happy’ and ‘Mariner fan’ together is an unlikely a pairing as Obama and republican endorsement. It doesn’t sound right, it is unbelievable, it does not follow, there is no such thing. Mariner fans were happy in 2001 when Seattle won 116 games. Yes children that really did happen, it is not a fairy tale.

But the 2014 Mariners down the stretch did what they had to do. Granted they stumbled on the road where they had success, granted that James Paxton and King Felix had back to back pitching disasters. But the team rebounded winning their last four games, including a sweep of the Angels, the same team they swept at the start of the season. They fell one game short of playing the A’s for a wild card spot.

Bill Russell, Hall of Fame Boston Celtic legend, once made a statement that is true. I will paraphrase because it is an old quote, but one I have never forgot the meaning of. No matter how a team loses at the end of the game, the ‘what if’ game can not be played over the closing minutes. The reason he correctly said is that there are plays in the first quarter, the second quarter, and in the third that could have turned the game. It is wrong to selectively look at the closing minutes. A game is one or lost in its entirety.

So it is for a season. What if Paxton and Felix had won those games does not matter, nor what if Fernando Rodney did not walk four batters in the 10th inning against Oakland in September, giving the A’s that one win that got them the wild card. It does not work because both Seattle and Oakland can play the larger ‘what if’ game over the entire season.

The larger picture is the Mariners, whom nobody expected to win 87 games, were playing a meaningful game on the last day of the season. They won. But so did Oakland. I repeat, the 162nd game of the season meant something and they won. For once the Mariners season was not over in May or June. It was a fun ride and they should be even better next season. More on that in coming blogs.

For now Mariner fans should be happy and that is not an oxymoron.

Mariners wild card shipwrecked in Toronto

It is not officially over, but it is only a matter of a couple of days before the bell tolls on the Mariners post season shot. The Good Ship Mariner crashed in Toronto’s Rogers Centre in two very unlikely games.

Felix Hernandez had his worst outing of the season, a very unlikely Felix performance, going 4.2 innings, 7 hits, 3 walks, and 8 runs. It came the night after James Paxton had the worst outing of his career, pitching just 2.2 innings, 7 hits, 6 walks, 9 runs, 8 of which were earned. In fact the best pitching staff in the game has allowed 42 runs in the last four games. They are no longer the best, for to be the best you must win when it counts and the Mariners pitchers, both starters and relievers, have failed to do that.

After beating Houston at home on September 8th to go 15 games over .500 at 79-64, the Mariners have gone 4-10. They still have five to play, but they show no signs of getting things turned around.

Manger Lloyd McClendon suggested Paxton’s poor, make that miserable, outing was because the Canadian was pitching in his native country for the first time. He felt the stress of pitching in a wild card race along with the stress of pitching before his fellow countrymen affected his concentration.

But what about the veteran King Felix?

Mariner broadcaster Mike Blowers suggested that after the home run to tie the game 2-2, that Felix, knowing how hard it has been for the Mariners to score runs, tried to be too cautious and lost aggressiveness.

There will be many theories, including the familiar “Same old Mariners” or they choked, folding under the pressure, or just pick out the usual cliché. The players will deny it. But what I have noticed is that when spring training rolls around they will be more honest about this collapse.

The good news is that even if they lose their last five games they will finish above .500. Nobody predicted in March they would finish above .500. But I still think the M’s have one or two wins in them before the Good Ship Mariner undergoes an autopsy.

 

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