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.

 

Why the Mariners must win 3 of 4 in Toronto

The Mariners have seven games left to win a wild card spot and are 1.5 behind Kansas City and 2 behind Oakland. Still time, but the numbers indicate Seattle in a September slump with no signs of a reversal.

In the month of September Oakland is 7-12, but have an ERA of 3.08. Kansas City is 10-9 with a 3.27. The Mariners who had strong pitching all season, the best in baseball, are 10-10 with an ERA of 3.81.  The M’s high ERA is attributed to the following pitchers, Hisashi Iwakuma 9.35; Yoervis Medina 9.00; Chris Young 8.59; and Fernando Rodney 5.63. Between them they have a 1-8 record. The way the rotation is set up Iwakuma, Paxton, and King Felix are slated to pitch at home against the Angels in the last series of the season.

If the Mariners are to make any headway they must win three of four in Toronto. Paxton, Felix, Walker, and Young will start.

But there is more than Pitching that is troublesome for the Mariners as their hitting is also in a slump. Kansas City is hitting .252; Seattle  .221; and Oakland .220. The culprits this  month for Seattle are Dustin Ackley .116; Chris Denorfia .148; Kendrys Morales .169; Chris Taylor .185; and. . . I could go on, but lets us say that Logan Morrison  is batting .320 Robinson Cano .293; Endy Chavez .292 then it drops to .268 for Brad Miller and .264 for Kyle Seager.

Oakland, though 7-12 in the month, leads Seattle by two games with seven to play. Seattle plays better on the road, but are 3-4 after playing at Los Angeles and Houston.  Kansas City is playing the best of the three wild card contenders and they travel to Cleveland to play four, one a suspended game, and the Indians are only 3.5 behind the Royals for a wild card so they have incentive to win. Oakland hosts Los Angeles and Mariner fans will be rooting for the Angels, which might be a first.

That is why Seattle needs to win 3 of 4 against Toronto. It is a good time to make a strong showing with Oakland in a slump, battling Los Angeles; and with Kansas City playing a Cleveland, a team eager to get in the race.

What Mariners must do to win a wild card spot.

A look at the remaining schedule of the Seattle Mariners, Oakland A’s, and Kansas City Royals could indicate how things will play out. The won-lost records, home and away, given below are before Wednesday nights game.

Oakland is hosting the Phillies the 19th-21st while Seattle is at Houston and Kansas City is hosting the Tigers.  It looks good for Oakland as they are 45-28 at home and the Phillies are 33-40 on the road. It also looks good for Seattle as they have the best road record in baseball at 43-29 and Houston at home is 36-40. Detroit and Kansas City are battling for both a division title and a wild card. It will be a tough series for both. Kansas City at home is 40-36, but the Tigers are 43-34 on the road.

Oakland will then play the Angels in a four game series at home and while the Angels have the division title I don’t think they will let up on the A’s. The Angels have a winning record on the road. Kansas City will be at Cleveland to finish a suspended game preceding the first game of the series in what essentially is a four game series. Meanwhile Seattle will be in Toronto for a four game set. Seattle fans should send brooms to the Angels and Indians hoping for a couple of sweeps. These four game series should be the key games that decide who wins the wild card slot.

The season wraps up with Oakland playing three at Texas and Seattle hosting the Angels. The A’s have a definite advantage here as the Mariners do not play well at home and the Angels could be going to the World Series if they get past the Orioles. It would be best for the M’s if they have things wrapped up before this series, but that is unlikely. Kansas City finishes at Chicago and the White Sox are having a bad season.

Seattle has lost six of eight and with Oakland playing the majority of their games at home and Kansas City playing an easier schedule, if the Mariners do not rev up their engine and kick into a higher gear they will be docking the Good Ship Mariner before the post season.

Will Iwakuma’s pitching slump sink Mariners

In his last five starts Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle’s reliable number 2 starter, has been un-Kuma like. In 21  1/3 innings he has allowed 22 runs. That is a 9.28 ERA. Ironically, in those five games in which his ERA has gone from 2.57 to 3.42, he won two, lost one. That says more about the Mariners offense in getting enough runs to get Iwakuma the wins, showing that wins and losses do not tell the entire story about a pitcher.

His start against the Angels in Los Angeles was odd in that he retired the first eight batters before walking the number nine batter Navarro, then a single, another walk, and Pujols knocks in three. Kuma gets charged with 7 runs in 3.1 innings. This is not Iwakuma, this is Brandon Maurer in April, this is Erasmo Ramirez anytime, this is Aaron Harang in 2013, Joel Saunders in 2013. 

Iwakuma has walked 18 batters the entire season, but 5 have come in the last 13 innings. Iwakuma’s  slump is coming at the worst time as he needed to stop the skid that has seen Seattle lose five of their last six as they fight for a world card spot with 13 games to play. If his slump continues there will be no post season for Seattle. And because Kansas City rallied against the White Sox, the Mariners are two games back of the Royals for the final wild card spot.

Mike Blowers, Mariners TV analyst, says Iwakuma’s pitches are too high in the strike zone, that he must get his pitches lower where he is effective. That could be a mechanical problem or it could be the long season is taking a toll. True he has only started 25 games for Seattle, not making his first start until May 3rd because of an injury, so he should not be tired. But should not does not mean he isn’t.

But if the Royals stay hot and the Mariners offense continues to struggle, Seattle’s playoff hopes could be shipwrecked this weekend. Then Iwakuma’s next start may not matter. Seattle has scored three runs in three games. Pitchers need runs to work with especially slumping ones.

 

Despite losing series to Houston good news for Mariners

It is not good to lose two out of three to Houston at home when you are in a wild card race, but the Mariners did just that. For some reason Houston plays Seattle tough, especially against Hisashi Iwakuma. But all is not lost-pardon the pun.

Detroit an Oakland both lost so Seattle did not lose any ground, but there is even better news beginning Monday.

On Monday Seattle begins their last road trip and it is eleven games. Four against the Angels, three against the dreaded Astros, and four against the Blue Jays. That is good because the Mariners win on the road and lose at home It is a strange anomaly that defies baseball logic, but there it is. At home the Mariners are 37-38, but on the road they are amazing, and it is an amazing record of 42-28. That is a .600 winning percentage on the road. Who does that?

Today the Mariners have a day off before hosting Oakland for the weekend. Seattle needs to win two of three before hitting the road. They play Oakland well and Oakland has struggled of late, but that is scary because you expect them to snap out of it. The Oakland series is like a playoff series as both teams are battling for a wild card spot, so these games are huge.

So if Seattle can take two games before hitting the road they will be 81-67 heading into LA. If they can win 6.6-which is .600 percentage they would be the first to have a fraction of a win, so let’s downgrade to six wins. That is 87 wins heading into the last series of the season at home against those Angels, who are anything but. Being optimistic give the Mariners seven road wins and that is 88 with three to go.

If somehow Seattle and go 11-6 in their last 17 games that would give them 90 wins and most probably a wild card game. Even 10-7 might do it.

The countdown begins Friday at Safeco versus the A’s.

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