As we move through the Spring Training, fans of Seattle’s professional baseball team have to deal with the fact that their team is tanking for 2021.
The team went through a tumultuous off-season that saw the M’s trade off most of their recognizable players for some of the more interesting prospects in baseball. General manager Jerry Dipoto did a good job of acquiring talent on the hot stove to fill up his farm system for the future, but that leaves the MLB roster in a tough spot. Because the prospects are a few years off, there’s going to be a lot of losing and bad baseball in our future for the next couple of seasons while mediocre veterans act as spot fillers on the roster.
So what do we watch for to make these next couple of seasons bearable while Dipoto’s rebuilding plan goes into effect, other than drink; we enjoy the fun storylines that we have, while trying to ignore the mounting losses as they pile-up. Here’s a quick look at what to expect as the Mariners tank in 2019
Look at these FNGs
In shipping off James Paxton, Robinson Cano, Eddie Diaz, and Jean Segura, Seattle pulled in a boat load of prospects that are going to continue to marinate in the minors for as long as possible (thanks service time). Just because you, probably, won’t see them at the MLB level this season doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to what they’re doing; because of these names are a major part of the future.
The biggest position player that Seattle acquired was Shed Long, he came over from New York in a deal for minor league outfielder Josh Stowers. Long was pretty good in 2018 with Cincinnati’s AA affiliate last season (a wRC+ of 120). It’s widely expected that Seattle’s new infielder will start the season at the AA level for this season, and if he continues to hit like that he should quickly move up to Tacoma. But don’t plan on seeing him in a Mariners uniform during the dog days of summer, and probably not in September…especially since the M’s want to take advantage of his athleticism.
On the bump, the M’s grabbed intriguing reliever Gerson Bautista from the Mets in the deal that shipped off Cano and Diaz. The right hander appeared in five games for New York and pitched in 4.1 innings while earning a FIP of 11.24 and struggling to keep runners off the bases; the good news is that he was significantly better in AAA against that competition. I would hope Bautista will start with the Rainiers to get his feet wet and regain his confidence, but I’m full expecting the reliever to get thrown into the bullpen mix for a few weeks at some point this year.
While Bautista and Long are the names to keep in mind, Dipoto acquired seven players under the age of 26 and most of those players are going to start the season in the minors. Some other names to keep an eye out for are JP Crawford (short stop), Justus Sheffield (starting pitcher), and Erik Swanson (starting pitcher).
Of this group, Sheffield is the one who has the best shot at seeing serious time in the majors. This team’s lack of starting depth is hampered Seattle’s playoff push over the last couple season; since the playoffs are out of the picture, and the 22-year old dominated Triple A last year, you should expect him to continue to dominate in Tacoma…that will lead to a call up whenever one of the team’s starters go down.
It’s Marco’s world, and the rest of the staff is just living in it
Until he hit the wall at the end of the season, Marco Gonzales was arguably the M’s best pitcher not named James Paxton. In 166.2 innings, the 27-year old walked less than 5% of batters while striking out nearly 22%. His ERA was deceptively high, which his FIP of 3.43 and xFIP of 3.59 show. There was a lot to be encouraged by from Gonzales as last season, but he’s going to make a huge step heading into ’19 as he’s now the most valuable pitcher left on the M’s roster…and therefore the heir apparent to the Big Maple.
If he can keep up with those improvements, he should fill in nicely for the Canadian. The Mariners need him to show off the potential that made him a first round pick in 2013; the third-year pitcher is a the key piece for the rotation this year.
But that doesn’t mean the M’s are going to use him as their workhorse, yet. You can expect them to continue to monitor his pitch count and inning usage throughout the year as they try to build up his arm strength after Tommy John surgery a few years ago. As the team move forward with their future plans, they cannot overwork their new ace just for shits and giggles this year.
The offense could be alright
Despite losing Robinson Cano and Jean Segura, the Mariners offense still looks like it could be efficient. Losing Segura is going to hurt this offense, let’s be crystal clear, but they should get more production out of first base than they have in a long time to balance out the loss of production.
One of the veterans that’s been brought in as a role filler is Edwin Encarnacion; Seattle’s front office is hoping that the 36 year old still has at least one good season in him and can improve his value at first base from last season (despite a 115 wRC+, Encarnacion was only worth one win). What’s worrying about the veteran is that there was a clear drop off between 2017 and ’18…if there’s a continued decline in production it could mark the end of his career.
If Kyle Seager can bounce back from his atrocious 2018, and Encarnacion maintains his level of production near last season’s…this offense could still be very productive. But if Seager continues to be an offensive black hole, and the 36 year old first baseman continues his end of the career decline; the offense is going to be just as rough to watch as its pitching staff.
Resist the temptation
The last time I can remember the Mariners proclaim that they were rebuilding was following the 101-loss 2008 season. Seattle brought back Ken Griffey Jr., we got some fun nostalgia and a Ichi was playing with one of his favorite players. That squad somehow defied their own performance (according to pythagorean record) and won 85 games; rebuilding went out the window and the team went in on winning it in 2009.
Seattle lost 101-games for the second time in three years.
If this squad exceeds expectations through the first half of the season, the team will not trade its new prospects for a shot at the second wildcard berth. There will not be any blockbuster trades to bring in top veteran talent in a push for this season. Every single move the M’s have made throughout the off season has been aimed at improving the farm system for 2021.
Kikuchi is interesting, but will be on an short leash
The most intriguing off-season get for Seattle was signing starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi to a three-year deal (with a club or player option for a fourth). He’s a talented starter from Japan that has promising stuff, but he’ll be on an innings limit as he adjust to the MLB and the Mariners are tanking.
In 163.2 innings last season, in Japan, Kikuchi struck out 8.4 batters per nine inning while only walking 2.5. Unfortunately the JPL doesn’t track too many advanced stats; but we do know that he posted an ERA of 3.08. But we don’t have a ton of stats to look at that present his performance…what we do have is these .GIFs of him pitching.
That’s one sexy curveball in the second .GIF and it’s going to be devastating for major leaguers. Especially if his fastball has the same level of movement on it that it’s had overseas.
It’s predicting time
We can say with relative confidence that this pitching staff has talent at the top of it, but very little depth. As the season moves along, injuries will cause this staff to collapse and become a major weakness for this roster at some point. But they’ll be some tantalizing performances from the young arms that make you believe in the future.
The offense is surprising question mark as its so dependent on one aging and one struggling veterans. If they struggle…the offense will struggle to score runs. Which will put more pressure on their paper thin pitching staff. It’s cause for concern.
I won’t give an exact record, but I’m fully expecting this team to win between 70 to 75-wins this season. The biggest prize will be seeing nearly all of their new found prospects in Triple A Tacoma and showing some sign of dominance. It will give the franchise, and its beleaguered fanbase, hope for the future.