“You Beat Me, Mountain!” – A Seattle Mariners preview

Homer Simpson: (::climbing the Murderhorn::) “Just a few feet more….

Homer: “I did it! I made it all the way to-

Homer: ::looks upward::

Homer: “Aw, crap! It just keeps going! I give up. You beat me, mountain!

When an 89-73 team decides to blow it up, one has to wonder, “Has this rebuilding fad gone even further after having already gone too far, or is there some sort of method to the madness?”

Both? I guess?

The 89 wins logged by the 2018 Mariners represented a high-water mark for the franchise over the past 15 years. And yet, they looked up and the AL West mountain just kept going and going. It extended past the eight additional wins it would have taken to tie the Oakland Athletics for the second wild card to a full fourteen-win deficit behind the juggernaut Astros. Dejected, the Mariners’ front office decided that this was the best the team was going to do and pressed the reset button.

That wasn’t entirely crazy of them. The Astros aren’t going anywhere, and regardless of whether one thinks the A’s can repeat their performance in 2019, the 2018 team was just about as good as their record. You can’t say the same thing for the Mariners, who finished 16 games over .500 despite being outscored by 34 runs on the season. By simple Pythagorean methods, their record was 77-85. More advanced measures like BaseRuns (81-81) and 3rd Order Wins (82-80) didn’t look upon them much more favorably. Simply put, the 2018 Mariners were quite lucky, and mediocre-at-best.

Other factors were in play as well. Two of the Mariners’ three best hitters per plate appearance in 2018 were pending free agent Nelson Cruz and 36-year-old Robinson Cano, who missed much of the season due to a PED suspension. A bottom-of-the-barrel farm system meant that the team would be unlikely to get much better from within. White Sox fans can empathize with this situation, as we saw in 2013 what happens when a mediocre team with aging players subs in Jeff Keppinger for Kevin Youkilis and basically stands pat. The Mariners’ situation wasn’t going to get better without change.

Fortunately, change is one thing that Jerry Dipoto does best. Over the course of the winter, Dipoto sold Cano, his two top relievers in Edwin Diaz and Alex Colome, de facto center fielder Guillermo Heredia, respectable bat Ben Gamel, starting catcher Mike Zunino, the team’s best starting pitcher in James Paxton, and standout shortstop Jean Segura. Of the team’s five most valuable position players in 2018, only All-Star right fielder Mitch Haniger remains. Haniger’s a force at the plate, but he’s surrounded by plenty of question marks in the lineup.

That leads us to a fun riddle called, “Who’s the Second-Best Hitter on the Mariners?” Is it 36-year-old Edwin Encarnacion, acquired after a series of salary-swap moves? Encarnacion’s OBP fell significantly last season, but he still belted 32 home runs. How about former White Sox Omar Narvaez? Perhaps it will be Brewers castoff Domingo Santana? Santana hit 30 homers in 2017 but suffered through shoulder issues last season that sapped his production and playing time; removed from Ryan Braun‘s shadow, he might find room to breathe in Seattle. Finally, could it be center fielder Mallex Smith, who enjoyed a breakout campaign last season by posting a .367 OBP and stealing 40 bases?

Only time will tell, but those have to be the most realistic candidates. Second baseman Dee Gordon‘s wheels used to make him a productive player, but he’s now 31 years old and not quite the burner he once was. That renders him an OBP sieve without any power. Third baseman Kyle Seager was a legitimate star as recently as 2016, but the 31-year-old’s walk and strikeout rates have been trending in the wrong direction, and he’s in great danger of entering the “smoldering husk” phase of his seven-year, $100 million deal that takes him through 2021. Seager’s out for awhile with a hand injury, and after some defensive shifting, his place in the lineup got filled by The Tattered Remains of Jay Bruce‘s Career. The Gaelic origins of the name “Ryon Healy” roughly translate to “undisciplined hulking beast.”

With Paxton’s departure, the rotation lacks a pitcher with true ace-like qualities. The holdover who had the strongest 2018 was Marco Gonzales, a command-and-control guy who took a step forward when he ditched his fourseam for a sinker/cutter mix. The lefty sits in the low 90s and won’t blow anyone away, but ours isn’t a fanbase that needs to be convinced that this profile can work. Mike Leake strikes out significantly fewer guys than Gonzales, which would yield tragic results if he didn’t somehow also walk fewer as well (balls-in-play fans rejoice!). The wild card in the rotation with some upside is 28-year-old Yusei Kikuchi, who’s making the jump from the Seibu Lions in Japan. Scouting reports love Kikuchi’s slider and most expect him to succeed, but it’s anyone’s guess how his arsenal will play in the states.

Brooks baseball clocked lefty Wade LeBlanc‘s hardest pitch in 2018 at 89.54 mph; when he’s not reaching back for that extra gas, he usually sits closer to 86. It’s a little amazing that the 34-year-old’s ERA started with a ‘3’ last season, and it probably won’t in 2019. The saddest part about the 2018 Mariners is probably that Felix Hernandez cratered hard in his age-32 season and we’ve probably seen the last of him as a cromulent major league starter before we had the opportunity to watch him in the postseason.


Despite clear issues with the starting rotation, it’s actually fair to wonder whether the post-blowup Mariners are even that bad. They’re unlikely to be a threat to make the postseason (even despite their very hot start) but there’s enough upside in the lineup to make the team competitive and draft outside of the top ten next summer. Even if they have to settle for the mid-70s win total for which they’re projected, and even if that comes with the knowledge that they have the longest standing playoff drought in baseball, Seattle fans can take solace in the facts that their farm system is no longer a contender for the league’s worst and that their payroll looks pretty clean after 2021.


Probable Starting Pitchers

Probable Lineup

  1. Mallex Smith – CF
  2. Mitch Haniger – RF
  3. Domingo Santana – LF
  4. Jay Bruce – 1B
  5. Edwin Encarnacion – DH
  6. Omar Narvaez – C
  7. Tim Beckham – SS
  8. Ryon Healy – 3B
  9. Dee Gordon – 2B


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Patrick Nolan
Patrick Nolan
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And here I thought this was an Oberyn Martell quote.


Fangraphs with draft pick surplus value. The Sox second round pick this year is worth ~$6.7m.

So if you’re one of those people who keeps bringing up draft pick penalties for free agent signings, please:
1. put down the owners’ water
2. stop


Clearly, the draft should end after the first round.


Dont let Jerry hear you. He already had that idea with the Bulls

karkovice squad

The Mariners rebuild is a lot harder to argue with especially when their payroll is still approaching $150m, even if $50m of that is heading off the books.

lil jimmy

Over 50 million of our payroll is heading off the books

lil jimmy

Having heard nice things, I watched” Mountains of the Moon” last night.
Bob Rafelson’s masterpiece. Find it. Watch it.