After pretty much the worst possible result in a four-game set in Cleveland, the 20-25 Mariners return west to play two games in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels (17-27) have struggled mightily in 2013, and lost three of four at Safeco Field a few weeks ago. Before the game, here are some news and notes to digest.
Harang back on the mound
Aaron Harang will toe the rubber tonight for the first time since May 7, after he missed his last start with back stiffness. Harang had strung together consecutive quality starts for the first time in 2013 in his two previous starts. Hector Noesi made the start for him in New York last Thursday and helped the Mariners to a victory. It was the Mariners most recent win. Harang, 1-4 with a 7.30 ERA, is still seeking his first road win of 2013.
Smoak quietly surging
With so many other offensive weapons garnering attention for the Mariners this year, Justin Smoak has flown under the radar. His .252 batting average with three homers and eight RBI don’t jump off the page, but he’s been hot lately. He has a five-game hittting streak, has reached base in 14 consecutive contests and hit two home runs this weekend, both in late game situations. His on-base percentage is solid as well (.366) and he has a 2-t0-3 walks to strikeouts ratio, way up from his sub-1-to-2 ratio from 2012. The Mariners have to stick with Smoak as their future at first.
Here are some interesting numbers from the Mariners’ game notes press release today:
- Tom Wilhelmsen has not allowed a hit to a right-handed batter in 2013. Righties are 0-for-31 against the Bartender.
- Raul Ibanez has six home runs in the last eight games he’s played. Because, you know, he’s Raul.
- The Mariners rotation is tied for the American League lead in quality starts with 26, despite having just one this weekend (Brandon Maurer).
- Brendan Ryan has raised his batting average 66 points to .178 with a 9-for-25 clip on the current road trip. He hit his first home run on Saturday.
- The Mariners rank last in the league with a .213 batting average with runners in scoring position in 2013. They hit .190 with RISP on the road.
Brandon Maurer takes on Jerome Williams at 7:05 PT.
Tomorrow is opening day for the Mariners, and you should be PUMPED! The team is undeniably moving in the right direction. This year will be another step forward for Seattle, and they may even surprise some people. I don’t usually like giving super bold predictions, so here is a quick list of somewhat bold predictions I am making for the Mariners this year.
Brendan Ryan hits .270
Ryan literally didn’t hit his own weight in 2012, but that’s not how it has always been. In his first full season in the major leagues, Ryan hit .292 with a .332 BABIP. Sure, the BABIP is a bit high, but it certainly is no indication of a future .194 hitter like he was in 2012. One of the big differences between the Ryan of 2012 and previous years was that he had no luck getting hits from ground balls. His average on line drives was also low which indicates a bit of unluckiness which is supported by his measly .244 BABIP over the season. Common logic tells us that his average will rise back to the mid .200’s. In theory, his adjusted hitting mechanics will cut down on his strikeout rate which has climbed for each of the last two seasons, and his removed bone spur should help him as well. Once you take all these things into consideration, a .270 average from Ryan seems possible.
Blake Beavan doesn’t last the full season in the rotation
If you read my last article, you know that I don’t think much of Blake Beavan. When I look at him, I see a pitcher who pitches to contact but doesn’t know how to get groundballs and doesn’t know how to avoid barrels. His stuff isn’t good enough to bail him out when he makes mistakes, and he tends to make a lot of mistakes. With Erasmo Ramirez, Jeremy Bonderman, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton all sitting in AAA close to being prepared to pitch in Seattle, I don’t see the Mariners giving Beavan a whole lot of slack this season.
The Mariners are within 4 games of division lead in September
This somewhat bold prediction is derived from a gut feeling more than anything else. My main support for this ascertain is a simple, “why not?” The Mariners are a solid team that, with a little extra production, could win 85 games this year, and the division probably doesn’t have a team good enough to run away with the AL West crown unless the Angels’ rotation over performs. Saying that the Mariners will win the division is a bit too bold for me, but saying that they will be the hunt down the stretch is just somewhat bold enough for my liking.
Michael Saunders has a 25/25 year
Last year, Saunders hit 19 homeruns and stole 21 bases. In 2013, he will likely get more at bats and will probably have much better protection in the batting order. Assuming that he continues to progress as a player, a 25/25 year for Saunders would be a bit surprising but certainly not unrealistic.
King Felix wins his second Cy Young award
Again, why not? There is no doubt that Felix Hernandez has good enough stuff to win the Cy Young, and this year his numbers should get a little help from the games he will pitch against the Astros instead of the Angels. The improved offense should provide a few more wins which will give him some extra votes. Seattle’s stellar defense should also help his case. Even with the fences moving in, Safeco won’t be easy on batters and Felix’ numbers outside of Safeco have never been much worse than at home. In fact, he has allowed more homeruns at home than on the road in several different seasons. The dimensions shouldn’t have a significant impact of the King.
Franklin Gutierrez gets traded
The pieces match up for a trade like this happening. It’s his last year under contract, the Mariners could use to dump his salary, he doesn’t seem to be in the organization’s future, and he could fetch a decent return. It’s a perfect situation for Seattle. It’s not often that a gold glove caliber centerfielder gets traded, but if it is going to happen this summer, it will probably happen to Guti.
Mike Zunino makes his major league debut before the all star break
Zunino has thrived in every level of competition he has seen thus far. He will start 2013 on the doorstep of the major leagues, and with nothing more than a defensively inept catcher standing between him and a major league starting job, it doesn’t seem like he’ll have to wait very long to get his major league debut. Prior to the all star break may be a bit optimistic, but it is doable. His ETA will also vary based upon a few other players.
Smoak has a .800 OPS
It seems a bit unrealistic, doesn’t it? Let me lay out a scenario for you. Justin Smoak will replicate his typical walk rate of about 10% while finally posting a somewhat respectable BABIP. With a tad bit of luck, his OBP should sit around .350 in this scenario. In order to achieve his .800 OPS he will need to slug .450. This is a stretch for Smoak, but we know he has made some changes at the plate. If his Spring Training is any indication of his future, a .450 slugging percentage could just barely be in reach. He hit as many doubles in spring training as he did in five months in 2012. If Chris Johnson can reach a .450 SLG%, Smoak should be able to.
The team ERA drops
Considering that Hector Noesi won’t be pitching every five days in 2013, this somewhat bold prediction looks pretty good. I prefer Joe Saunders to Jason Vargas and I think Iwakuma will improve in his sophomore year. With some added experience in the bullpen, the team ERA is prone to drop in 2013.
The season attendance reaches 2,500,000 fans
The club has received a minor facelift, the ballpark has seen some remodeling, the promotions are stellar, and the weather appears to be wonderful; there is no reason why 2,500,000 fans shouldn’t enter Safeco Field for the first time since 2007. Get out and watch some games!
Happy baseball season!
A few weeks ago, the annual Mariner commercials came out. If you haven’t seen them yet, I would highly recommend you take a look here. As usual, they were quite funny, and they taught us some things like where Tom Wilhelmsen gets his cookies and where Kyle Seager finds his inner peace. However, there may be a few more important observations we can take away from the advertisements.
One thing we can look at is who was not featured in a commercial. The team doesn’t want to use players that they think will leave the team during the season, because otherwise they will have to stop running a commercial in July after the player in it is traded. A couple significant players were not used in this year’s batch of ads. The most notable were Kendrys Morales, Justin Smoak, Franklin Gutierrez, and Hisashi Iwakuma.
Kendrys Morales is on the last year of his contract with the Mariners, so the lack of his presence in a commercial seems to indicate that he may be put on the trading block before the trade deadline. Taking him out of the lineup would provide a plethora of possibilities for other guys like Liddi, Thames, Wells, Bay, Peguero, or even prospects like Zunino or Franklin.
Perhaps if Smoak has a good first half, the Mariners will see Morales as an unnecessary piece for the Mariners and try to swap him for some value at a different position.
That transitions us to our next player who got left out of the advertisements: Justin Smoak. Although Smoak has been named the starter at first base, the fact that he wasn’t used in an ad seems to say that his long term place on this team is not secure. As I wrote a while back, I believe the Mariners are giving Smoak his final chance, and that they won’t be afraid to part ways with him if he doesn’t produce. The commercials this year seem to support that assertion.
Another notable player who failed to make an appearance in the commercials this year is Franklin Gutierrez. This is the last guaranteed year on his contract, but he has a club option for next year. Because of this, we may see Guti traded to a contending team before the trade deadline. His skill sets could make him very valuable to a club like the Yankees, Orioles, Cardinals, or Rangers that have plenty of offense but could use a gold glove caliber center fielder to help their outfield. There is also a chance that the Mariners left him out due to injury concerns, since he seems to be unable to go a month without some type of setback.
Hisashi Iwakuma is the final key player that failed to be featured in a 2013 advertisement. It is quite possible that the language barrier prevented him from participating in a commercial. It doesn’t seem like he would be a likely guy to go on the trade block since he inked a two year contract with the club last year, but he probably will have some trade value; more so than any other Mariner starter besides Felix, at least. Perhaps if some combination of the big four is knocking on the door of the big leagues, Seattle will feel comfortable moving Iwakuma at the deadline.
Probable third starter, Joe Saunders, also didn’t appear in an ad, but this is not surprising since he has essentially no name recognition or marketability in Seattle and is only on a one year contract.
Before putting too much stock in who did and didn’t appear in a 2013 commercial, remember that other factors could have caused players not to participate. Perhaps they don’t feel comfortable in front of the camera, didn’t have the time, or maybe the marketing department just didn’t have an ad that they would fit in to. Regardless, these are just a few things from the commercials to keep in mind as we look towards the season.
We are still a month out from opening day, but twenty six year-old Justin Smoak has already been named the starting first baseman for the Mariners by Manager Eric Wedge. This decision was made despite Smoak’s constant struggles over the last three years. It is also a bit strange considering the other players that are competing with him for spots in the lineup. Let’s take a look at what this decision by Wedge really means.
In 2012, Smoak’s numbers were a great disappointment. His WAR, slugging percentage, and wRC+ were each the third worst among major league first basemen, and his OBP was worst among first basemen. Over the offseason, the team added players such as Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, and Raul Ibanez who seemed to make Smoak a less appealing option. Yet why would Wedge give him the starting job before spring training was even in full swing?
I think that Wedge is giving Smoak one last chance to be a productive major leaguer. There is no doubt that he has talent. He was a first round pick and a top 25 prospect in baseball two years in a row. Regardless of talent, the Mariner organization can’t continue to sit around and wait for Smoak to possibly figure out how to hit MLB pitching. It’s time for the team to move forward at the first base position, and Justin’s output at the beginning of the year will decide whether they move forward with him in the lineup or without him.
Wedge is putting Smoak over the fire. He’s pushing him out of the boat to see if he will sink or swim. No more waiting games for the prospect we traded Cliff Lee for. No. Either he produces or he doesn’t have a job anymore.
I think this is a good thing for Seattle for a couple reasons. First, it will force Smoak to succeed. Many different approaches have been taken to the first baseman’s development, but none have seemed to work. Lots of time has been devoted to his progression, but the time is up, and the ball is in Smoak’s court now. Nobody is going to argue that Seattle didn’t give him a fair chance.
If Justin doesn’t hit, it will open up a spot for a first baseman, designated hitter or outfielder. Perhaps this could be Liddi’s chance to start on an everyday basis. Maybe now is the time to give Peguero another extended look in the majors. If Zunino tears up the Pacific Coast League for the first few months, this could be his opportunity to catch while Montero takes DH duties. Whether Smoak comes through or not, there will probably be a good outcome for Seattle.
So far this spring, Justin Smoak has hit very well. He is 7 for 12 at the plate and also has two doubles and two homeruns. In addition, some of his hits have come off of some good pitchers. Today he doubled off Matt Cain, and he has already homered off John Axford.
While spring training performance is not a trustworthy indicator of future success, the fact that Smoak is thriving in Arizona is encouraging. Regardless of whether or not his production rolls over to the regular season, it is time for him to either sink or swim.
I honestly cannot believe I am writing this. If you asked me as little as a month ago what I thought about Justin Smoak‘s future, I’d have told you he is done. Officially a bust, and should not get any more second, or fifth, chances.
But, Smoak’s play in September gave me hope again. Now, something similar happened earlier in the year as well when he heated up and won AL Player of the Week. Look how that turned out. However, he was SO GOOD this past month that I think he at least earned the right to battle for the spot. In my opinion though, we should not bring in any significant player to replace him at 1st, at least not now.
First, let’s analyze Smoak’s final month of the season. In 24 games, Smoak put up an astounding .427 wOBA, and 181 wRC+, along with 5 homers and 6 doubles. He only had 7 doubles total for the whole rest of the year. For those of you who don’t know, that 181 wRC+ means that he created 81% more runs than the average player. For reference, Mike Trout led the MLB in that category at 175.
Now obviously Smoak could never sustain anything close to that, but the fact that he was able to do it for a respectable amount of time is encouraging. And for some reason, I am letting one month over shadow the whole rest of his disappointing career.
That being said, Smoak’s resurgence isn’t the only reason I don’t want us to bring in a big name, long term 1st basemen. The more significant reason is because I think that is where Jesus Montero will play long term. To start the year, he and Jaso will most likely share time between catcher and DH. However it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw catching prospect Mike Zunino at some point later in the year. He tore through the minors this year, and made it all the way to AA in about half a season in the minors. When he comes up, assuming Jaso plays how he did this year (or at least better than Smoak), Zunino would catch, with Jaso moving to DH. This would then shift Jesus to 1st, and knock Smoak to the bench.
If we have a big name guy come in to play first, one of Montero or Jaso gets moved to the bench. With Smoak however, he and Jaso would be having a battle for who keeps their job. This ensures that the best player is out there. If we were to go out and spend money/prospects on someone like Justin Morneau, then Jaso could lose playing time depsite hitting well.
The time to go after a 1st basemen would be during or after next season, and only if one of Montero, Jaso or Zunino show that they aren’t worthy of an everyday spot in the lineup, and we feel we need an upgrade.
So what happens if Smoak does finally figure it out, and there becomes one more person than positions? I guess at that point we could consider trading one of them in order to fill a different spot on the team. The chances of that are slim however.
The odds are against Smoak, that’s obvious. He has had many chances to prove himself, and hasn’t been able to do so. But the potential he once had, and the flashes of brilliance we have seen give me hope that maybe he can and will figure it out. But this is it for me. One more shot. If he fails to play well enough (.330 wOBA, 110 wRC+?), then it is time to move on. I no longer expect the .275 average, .350 wOBA, 130 wRC+, 25 home runs that I once did. At this point, I would be very happen if he even came close to that. Let’s hope he surprises me, and figures out whatever it is he needs to figure out.
After reading Dave Cameron’s piece on Justin Smoak at USSMariner, and after being inspired by Jeff Sullivan’s animated Smoak GIFs at Fangraphs, I thought I might add a little touch to the conversation. For anyone just joining the conversation, Smoak has done this since September 1st:
1.063 OPS, 4 doubles, 5 homeruns, 12% BB, 13.3% K rate.
Obviously, the first thing out of anyone’s mouth around here is “small sample size.” And anyone is right to question the small sample size. But I think there’s something here. I started playing around with GIFs, and I think this is a telling one. These are the pitches against righties that Smoak has swung at before September versus during September:
Swing rates stabilize the fastest, and it doesn’t appear that Smoak’s plate discipline has changed all that much. He’s still being pitched low and away-ish, and there are still similar proportions of swings both in and out of the strike zone. Through Sullivan and Shannon Drayer, we have reason to believe that Smoak has changed something in his swing, specifically from the left side. But choosing which pitches to swing at isn’t one of those things.
Texas Leaguers tells me that he’s actually swinging a little more often against righties now, and that his whiff rate has dropped only marginally. So I’m not seeing a change in plate discipline, but that kinda makes sense. It’s hard to stop swinging at bad pitches overnight. You know what’s probably easier to change? Your bat, and maybe a tweak in your swing. Smoak was supposedly working on his swing down at Tacoma, and Shannon Drayer wrote that Smoak started using a lighter bat against righties. And guess what has changed…his distribution of contact. In the last month, Smoak has a sizzling 32% line drive rate as compared so a sub-20% season to date. In that same month—known as September—Smoak has hit just 2 popups out of 56 fair or playable balls (3.6%). That’s compared to 20 popups out of 299 such balls through August (6.7%). With 5 dingers to go with all those line drives, Smoak has made better contact during September, much of which has been played with that lighter bat.
On their own, as Sullivan notes, these changes aren’t enough statistically to suggest that a new Justin Smoak has emerged. However, when we know that Smoak has altered something major in his approach—like say, his swing and his bat—then these statistical improvements hold more weight as evidence for some real improvement.
This is not to say that the Mariners shouldn’t look for first base alternatives. It’s always better to have two good players than one at first base. But maybe we can hold out some more hope that Smoak is one of them.
If you had asked me two years ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell you that Justin Smoak would be the Mariner’s all-star first baseman by 2013. It’s unbelievable how things change, isn’t it?
The man that was supposedly a future all-star first baseman has done absolutely nothing in a Mariner uniform. He even whiffed his way into AAA this year. Smoak’s struggles have created a vacancy at first base as well.
So, who is the first baseman of the future?
Call me crazy, but I think Smoak deserves a little more time. Not much time, but a little. Essentially, I think that he gets Spring Training and a few months of next year to prove that he is a better option than anyone else. There is simply too much potential and too much value in him to give up on him now. Switch hitting first baseman with plus gloves don’t come around very often. Smoak knows that his career is on the line, and he might be able to make a few adjustments and pull a move like Michael Saunders did this spring.
A lot of people, including myself, had given up on Saunders, but he has turned in a solid season. I think that we should give Smoak an opportunity to turn around his career in a similar way.
In all likelihood, Smoak will not figure out how to hit over the course of an offseason which means that it will be time to look for better answers. There are a few options from within the organization including Mike Carp, Alex Liddi, Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Luis Antonio Jimenez, Vinnie Catricala, Rich Poythress, and Taylor Ard.
I’m not sure what we can expect from Carp. Following an impressive 2011 campaign, Carp has hardly produced and has been constantly bogged down by injuries.
Liddi, who is just 24 years old, has flashed power in his stints in Seattll. Through 144 professional at bats, Liddi has 6
homeruns which averages out to a homerun every 24 at bats. That’s not fantastic, but that should give you a 20-25 homerun season with a starting job. Liddi’s real problem is his strikeouts. While his plate selection and ability to make contact have improved with experience, he still has a contact% of 69.2% and K% of 36.8 in limited time with the big club in 2012.
As soon as Mike Zunino is a catcher, there is a decent chance that Jesus Montero will no longer be given catching duties. When this happens, he will have to either move to DH or first base. Montero could be a good fit at first considering that his bat will profile well there.
Dustin Ackley is another potential first baseman who is already in the system. I would prefer to see Ackley at second since his bat doesn’t provide enough pop to be a good offensive first baseman. Nevertheless, he is a solid last resort.
At the ripe age of 30, Luis Antonio Jimenez could also receive consideration for the MLB job. After demolishing AAA pitching this year, he earned a place on the 40-man roster and a September call-up. Sure, his glove isn’t anything to write home about, but his bat speed and natural power is impressive. I believe that his ability to hit for power is similar to that of Carlos Peguero. The difference between the two players is that Jimenez can actually put the ball in play. Jimenez’ 18.1% K% in AAA isn’t great, but it’s acceptable if you can get good power production in return, and his ISO in AAA was not a big step down from Peguero. The 30 year-old also had a higher OBP and wRC+ than the Peguero. Jimenez becoming the first baseman for the Mariners is certainly a long shot, but it’s also an idea to keep in the back of your mind.
At this time last year, I was convinced that Vinnie Catricala would be a starter on the Mariners in 2013 or 2014, but his 2012 campaign in AAA saw his batting average and OBP drop around 120 points and his SLG% nearly get cut in half from his 60 game stint in AA the previous year. Even worse, his wRC+ went from 184 in AA to 65 in AAA. This drop off is certainly discouraging, but he certainly should not be given up on yet. If “Cat the Bat” can create an assemblance to his 2011 minor league season, he will be a legitimate option at first base in Seattle. He could also play at third base, left field, or right field as well. Last spring training, Catricala challenged for a MLB roster spot, so perhaps he will do the same this year.
Rich Poythress and Taylor Ard were both high level draft picks that play first base as well. Both of them are a ways from being major league caliber hitters, but they are still names to remember in the long run.
Seattle could also look outside of the organization for a first baseman. There are several options which have been discussed in several different articles on this blog, but some of those names are Billy Butler, Ike Davis, Nick Swisher, or Justin Morneau. I am not hugely in favor of dumping lots of money or prospects on anyone right now, but Billy Butler and Ike Davis, who are 26 and 25 years old respectively, could be good trade acquisitions for the right price.
As JJ said in this article, he expected that acquireing Butler would take, “LHP James Paxton, OF/3B Vinnie Catricala or SS Brad Miller, and Erasmo Ramirez and/or Stephen Pryor for Butler and a reliever/AAA throw in.” I’m not willing to give up that much, especially since Butler will end up being a DH. If there was a way to avoid trading Paxton, I would be in, but I don’t think that that is possible.
Baseball’s waiver period is a strange, often confusing process. The trade deadline is a tumultuous storm of chaos and the last minute changing of uniforms. Historically, the waiver period then becomes the calm after the storm; most teams make a few ripples and maybe a wave or two, but the worst is behind them. The whole process is just a mess. A players must of course pass through waivers in order to be traded. However a team can claim that player before he actually makes it through. That team may actually want the player, or perhaps they may just attempting to block a rival team from acquiring him. The team who posted the player may pull him back, but then that players cannot be placed on waivers again, unless they are being released. It’s the proverbial case of who blinks first, adding a whole new layer of complication to the game.
Recent waiver periods have awakened a whole new system. Recently, we have seen the likes of Alex Rios go claimed, with the Blue Jays just letting him slip away without any deal taking place. This season the Dodgers and Red Sox performed a blockbuster bigger than anything completed during the initial trade period. The waiver period is evolving and the Mariners may have attempted to involve themselves in the changing times.
Recently the Minnesota Twins placed Justin Morneau into the waiver stream. It couldn’t have taken very long for a team to attempt a claim on the slugging first baseman. It’s not at all far fetched to believe that the Seattle Mariners could be that unidentified team.
First base has been nothing short of a complete failure for the Mariners this season. Justin Smoak is no longer teetering on the edge of being a bust, he is one. Even after demoting him to AAA after struggling for the entire first half, Smoak hasn’t learned a thing, hitting a flimsy .167 with 7 K’s and 5′s walks. Fill-ins haven’t provided much in the way of offense either–between a struggling Ackley and a injury prone Mike Carp. The Mariners only internal option at first appears to be in the form of Jesus Montero, whom will have to prove he can at least play passable defense. The organization is truly void of a natural first base option.
The Mariners have a need to fill, which is where Morneau comes in. Morneau is a prime candidate to find a new home this offseason as the Twins look to reload and rebuild. With the Mariners continuing to makes strides and build upon the foundations set by Jack Zduriencik, they find themselves in a prime position to make a push in the next coming seasons. The team has flooded itself with league average, replacement level players. They have put themselves in an excellent position to insert one or two impact bats in order to push this team into a pennant race. Morneau qualifies as one of those impact bats and as a left handed hitter, his power fits well into the confines of SafeCo field.
Morneau fits too perfectly into Seattle’s plans, and by attempting to acquire the first basemen this season, he earns a trial period to become comfortable with his new surroundings. There is no evidence to support that it was Seattle who placed a claim on the Twins product, however with only a few teams with a worse record than the Mariners, and few of those teams in need of a first basemen, it seems to make sense that it was our very own hometown nine that placed the claim. Even though the Twins pulled him back, the Mariners may again attempt this sort of move again during the offseason.
The Mariners figure to make big changes in 2013 as they attempt to fit themselves into the playoff picture. The 2012 team has a few of the right pieces to carry into next season, but a few tweaks will still be necessary in order to really transform this team into a playoff contender. The organization will undoubtedly make more than a few moves that come straight out of the twilight zone, as fans have become more than accustomed to since the Zduriencik administration has taken over.
Regardless of the moves that will or won’t be made, it’s important to be aware of the fans climate going into the offseason. Fans opinions don’t usually factor into the front office decision making process, however that doesn’t mean there isn’t an interest in the fans opinion. There is no team, no money, no ballpark without the fans. So understanding that your opinion matters, but isn’t critical to the future of the Seattle Mariners organization, here at Sodo Mojo, we have a few polls for you rito peruse.
Dependent on the statistics you value, there aren’t many positions that don’t require an upgrade. Some of those upgrade will come within, and the other will obviously have to come from outside the organization. So without further ado…
Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.
When the Mariners acquired Justin Smoak as the center piece to the Cliff Lee deal, they believed they were shoring up the not-so-hot-corner for the next decade. Smoak was everything the Mariners could ask for, a switch hitting power hitter who had received zealous comparisons to Mark Texiera. The deal was the right move to make, Smoak was an untouchable prospect on nearly every teams radar. Everyone wanted him.
As things often do in Mariners Universe, it didn’t work out as planned. Smoak has flashed brief stints of the ability and talent that Zduriencik believed he was getting, but when his entire body of work is reviewed as an overall entity, it has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. Smoak has been the worst everyday 1st basemen in the league, and it’s not even close. The Mariners didn’t even gamble, and they still lost.
The organization is teetering on the edge of calling it quits with regards to the former gem of the Cliff Lee spoils. His recent demotion to AAA is still being paraded as a temporary*, though his performance hasn’t exactly inspired anyone to believe such a thing. Carp has taken over first base duties in Smoak’s absence, and while his performance has been an upgrade it still isn’t representative of an everyday, productive, Major League first baseman. On top of Carp’s interrupted performance, he has found it extraordinarily difficult to stay off the Disabled List this season. The Mariners haven’t found the answer between Carp and Smoak, and they now have many routes they are going to have to explore.
Davis brings a bit of a mixed bag to the table. The power is legitimate but, so are his strikeout issues. His struggles this season have stemmed mostly from a low BABIP. Rumors have begun to swirl that the Mets aren’t comfortable moving forward to Davis as their future 1st baseman, making him a prime target for acquisition this offseason. Davis isn’t what most would categorize as a super star, but affordable and above league average, that certainly describes this potential offseason addition.
I wouldn’t say the Royals are actively trying to move Butler, I wouldn’t say they wouldn’t move him either. Butler unlIke Davis is coming at a premium. He is in the midst of a career best season, and his age fits perfectly into the Royals future plans. A few concerns come to mind with Butler as well. One, as mentioned earlier, is cost. He isn’t going to come cheap and the Mariners may have to deal someone they are uncomfortable parting with in order to acquire the Royals first baseman. Second is Butler’s primary hand. Right handed pull hitters don’t fair well in the thick marine air of SafeCo and coming to Seattle would zap a large portion of his power.
Obviously the Mariners will take a look at sure fire studs such as Freddie Freeman, Carlos Santana, or Paul Goldschmidt, but just because you shop for a Lamborghini, doesn’t that you wish to bury yourself in debt in order to own it.
Internal options becomes a bit more complicated. Seattle doesn’t have a complete first base prospect awaiting in the wings at the moment. That was Smoak’s role to fill. However the organization does have a few pieces they can shift around in hopes of creating a permanent option.
Many forget that when Ackley was originally drafted he was playing 1st base for his college squad. He started out his collegiate career as a center fielder, but finished it at 1st due to Tommy John Surgery. We’ve seen Dustin man the position a few times this season and it hasn’t been a complete disaster, but he doesn’t exactly fit the mold of what you are looking for in the position either. Ackley is a temporary fix at best, and eventually the Mariners would have to find someone else to play the position. I do believe however that Ackley fits the CF mold perfectly… but that is a whole post in itself.
The Mariners pretty much explained to the world that Jesus Montero was not the catcher of the future when they drafted Mike Zunino. I’m not suggesting that they drafted from a position of need, but I am saying that if they wanted a pitcher instead, they could have had one. Montero has been taking ground balls at first all season long, and while the manager insist he isn’t ready, he is going to have to get into the field eventually. When the games don’t matter… I can’t picture a better time. Montero isn’t left handed, which puts him at a minor disadvantage, but I see no reason why he can’t play there and be at the very least average.
He recent stretch of injuries may have bought him one more season of auditions. Carp’s 2011 still has many hooked and interested. Carp certainly isn’t the worst option in the world, but a return to near 2011 form would be necessary in order to justify putting him in the lineup day in and day out. His 2012 has been near impossible to evaluate, which may buy him a shot in 2o13.
Of course you still have Smoak who is still technically an option, but I’m doubtful the Mariners are going to stand pat at 1st this offseason and allow Smoak to be the teams “best” option over there at first. Then again the organization has had a hard time admitting bust, just look at Chone Figgins who is still here, so Smoak may still have a lengthy leash. 1st base is now a bit of an enigma and one that the Mariners puzzle solvers are going to have to figure out. The winter meetings ought to be fun this year.
* The Mariners have recalled Smoak placing Carp on the DL with strained left groin
In the twenty games Justin Smoak has played in AAA Tacoma since being demoted, he has shown little improvement. He has hit .242 with no homeruns and a 19.5 K%. With the exception of his impressive .390 OBP, Smoak has been completely unimpressive during his minor league stint.
Despite Smoak’s struggles, he has stumbled upon another chance in Seattle due to an injury to Mike Carp. Because of the open spot, Smoak has been recalled to the Mariners where he will try to turn around the .189 batting average he had when he left Seattle for the first time.
Although undeserved, the next few weeks could be Smoak’s last chance with Seattle. His performance may determine his future in the Mariner organization. Smoak’s contract with the team will expire at the end of the season, and if he doesn’t show signs of improvement, the Mariners may choose to move on without the Smoakamotive at first base.
As for Carp, he has suffered from a strained left groin and has been placed on the 15 day DL with expectations to return later this month.
If Smoak has some success in Seattle, expect the Mariners to either demote Carp or an outfielder, likely Trayvon Robinson, once Carp recovers. If Smoak doesn’t earn his spot, expect him to be sent down to Tacoma again.
For Justin Smoak, this has been a huge break and a lucky opportunity. Let’s see if he takes advantage of it.
The all star break is always a good time to stop and evaluate a season. It’s easy to just see at the 36-51 record and call it a bad season, but let’s look at the specific goods and bads from the season thus far. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many goods, so I will start with them.
Felix (most of the time)
Other than June, when he posted a 4.45 ERA, Felix has been phenomenal. Our only all star has an ERA of 2.67. Sure, his fastball hasn’t lit up radar guns like he used to, but Felix is still a great pitcher with electric stuff. I wouldn’t worry about our king.
Wells and Saunders
Going into the season, most people didn’t want to give Michael Saunders a chance, but a Franklin Gutierrez injury opened up a spot for Saunders, and he has done well. His 20.9 line drive rate has far exceeded previous seasons, and his .320 BABIP has been stellar as well. Saunders has also tacked on eight homeruns and thirteen stolen bases.
Wells started off slow, but since heating up in July, he has hit .340 with three homeruns in 20 games. He has also been one of the few guys who have hit better at home than on the road. Both Saunders and Wells have performed beyond expectations, and will hopefully continue to do so in the second half of the year.
Justin Smoak’s month of May
Smoak’s year has been very discouraging, but the month of May was bright. In that month, he hit .255 with six homeruns and eighteen rbis. A year at this pace would amount to 36 long balls and 108 runs batted in. May was the only month that I felt we were seeing what Smoak is actually capable of. I know the other two months of the season for Smoak was abysmal, but at least we have seen a glimpse of Smoak’s capability.
Jaso came over from Tampa in return for a AAA reliever in Josh Lueke, but he has turned out to be much better than a seventh reliever. He has provided a solid bat off the bench and also a good option behind the dish. He is hitting .267 in 135 at bats, has drove in 21 runs, and has nearly as many walks as strikeouts. Considering what the M’s gave up for Jaso, he has been a quite pleasant surprise.
The struggles of Brandon League forced Tom Wilhelmson into the closer role where he has excelled. In 39 appearences, the former bartender has earned a 2.44 ERA, seven saves, and seven holds. His curveball has also provided some comical reactions from batters.
Furbush and Leutge
Furbush didn’t start on the major league roster, but when the lefty got his chance, he turned into a reliable option in the bullpen. In 36.2 innings of work, the southpaw has posted a 2.21 ERA, .148 opponent average and, more impressively, a .818 WHIP. Unlike most Mariner pitchers who excel at home and struggle on the road, batters are hitting just .114 off of Furbush in visiting ballparks.
Luetge’s role in the bullpen this year has been very specific, and he has become an excellent lefty specialist. Left-handed batters are hitting just .140 off of Luetge this season. 52 lefty batters have stepped into the box against Luetge, and only six batters have gotten hits off of him, none of which were extra-base hits, while sixteen have struck out.
The Big 3
The trio of young prospects have had a great first half of the year, and Hultzen and Walker were both invited to the MLB Futures game where they each made appearances. In AA, the three have posted a 16-10 record and ERAs of 1.19, 4.50, and 3.46. They each have also struck out an average of more than one batter per inning. Hultzen has been the only arm to be promoted to AAA Tacoma, but the other two aren’t far behind.
Time to take a look at the countless bads of this season.
It didn’t matter if Ichiro was batting third or first, he hardly hit at all. His .288 OBP was miserable and he didn’t show any of the power that Wedge had hoped to see in the middle of the order. There is nothing more to say than that Ichiro’s 2012 campaign has been a major disappointment.
As discussed earlier, Justin Smoak had a phenomenal month of May in which he showed the ability that Jack Z thought he was getting in the Cliff Lee deal. However, the other two months of the year have been discouraging. In March, April, and May, Smoak has batted a mere .171 with 5 long balls and 14 rbis. That’s production deserving of a demotion to AAA. If the Smoakamotive doesn’t figure out his swing in the second half of the season, he will quickly find himself out of a spot in the future of the organization.
Beavan and Noesi
2012 is the first full season for each of these two young pitchers. They each earned spots in the starting rotation out of spring training, but they have each had horrible first halves and have been sent back to AAA. Beavan’s ERA was 5.92 until he was demoted to Tacoma. He also had an average of 1.73 homeruns per game which is a shocking number considering how many games he pitched in Safeco Field.
Noesi’s record this year is 2-11. He has lost eleven games in seventeen starts. While this can be blamed on Seattle’s inadequate offense, Noesi has still had a miserable season. His ERA is fifth to worst in baseball, his FIP is worst, xFIP third to worst, and HR/9 the worst as well. Just consider that; a pitcher who has the luxury of throwing in Safeco Field has given up homeruns more consistently than any other pitcher in baseball. THAT’S EMBARRASSING. That’s Hector Noesi.
Ackley set high expectations for himself hitting .273 in his rookie season, but his sophomore campaign has been drastically worse. His average has dropped 40 points, his OBP 37 points, and his slugging percentage has dropped 92 points. Even Ackley’s line drive rate has also fallen a bit. Unlike Smoak, Ackley has plenty of time to become a good hitter, but this year has certainly been a major setback in the course of his career.
The injury bug has been everywhere in the Mariner’s locker room. It started in the spring training with Franklin Gutierez and continued in the opening series when Mike Carp went down. Even the young players like Stephen Pryor and Erasmo Ramirez have been struck by injuries. Kevin Millwood was pulled from a game in which he was throwing a no-hitter due to a muscle strain.
Mike Carp (when healthy)
Carp has only been able to play in 32 games because of injuries, but when he has played, he has been horrible. His average is just .157, he has struck out in over a quarter of his at bats, and his LD% is 15.5%. The only good thing about Carp’s season at the plate has been his 14.3% walk rate which has escalated his OBP to just two points below Ichiro’s.
In 2011, League was an all-star closer. In 2012, he has been a save blowing machine. He has blown six saves and has five losses in 39 appearances. Not only has League lost several games for the Mariners, but he has erased a once great trade value.
Here are just a few of the highs and lows of the first half of the season. I may have forced a few of the goods and ignored many of the bads, but sometimes you have to do that as a Mariner fan. Let’s hope we have more good things to talk about when the season ends.
Tags: Blake Beavan, Brandon League, Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Danny Hultzen, dustin ackley, featured, Felix Hernandez, Franklin Gutierez, Hector Noesi, Ichiro, james paxton, John Jaso, justin smoak, kevin millwood, Lucas Luetge, Mariners General, Michael Saunders, Mike Carp, Popular, taijuan walker, Tom Wilhelmson
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