Through 51 games, the Mariners are 25-26. In 2013, the Mariners were 22-29 through 51 games. There’s reasons to be hopeful for the future, and there’s reasons to be discouraged about the future. The Mariners so far are what we thought they were as a whole, but there have been surprises and there have been disappointments.
Before the season, I wanted Michael Saunders to be gone. Coming off somewhat of a “meh” season, I just wanted to cut our losses with him and throw playing time at someone who probably didn’t deserve it, like Stefen Romero or Abraham Almonte. After having to watch Stefen Romero, Cole Gillespie, and Abraham Almonte, I’m going to borrow Lloyd McClendon’s term of endearment for Chris Young and refer to Michael Saunders as a godsend for this team. He hasn’t been spectacular, in fact, he’s been just a tad better than last year in almost every category besides batting average (which is way up). Now that he’s (somehow only) 27, Michael Saunders is not exactly the #2 prospect we once thought he was in 2008 and 2009. The beauty of that is that we can now accept him for his flaws and deficiencies and embrace what he brings to the team. What exactly is that? A relatively high strikeout rate (which is down exactly 7% from last season), decent power and speed, and below average defense in center field and average/above average defense in the corners. Not only that, but he’s not Cole Gillespie, Abraham Almonte, or Stefen Romero!
In center field, we started the year with Abraham Almonte. After a spectacular year in Tacoma, he fell into a leadoff role in the big leagues. He started off the year with a bang, hustling and hitting and being somewhat of an overzealous player on the bases and field in general. He was exciting! Then fast forward a couple weeks and man was he terrible. It seemed as if Lloyd would never take him out of the leadoff role. Enter speedster James Jones. Just like Saunders, he hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s gotten on base almost every single game, and he’s a huge upgrade over Almonte. He hustles and plays solid defense.
Dustin Ackley has disappointed up to this season, like too many Mariners, after a very productive rookie season. Looking at his PITCHf/x Plate Discipline numbers on FanGraphs, or even his walk and strikeout rates, not much has changed other than his results as a hitter. Not that dingers are representative of a good player, but Ackley has matched his 2013 home run total (113 games) in just 46 games. Not only that, but his ISO is up from .089 to .157, SLG% up from .341 to .412, wOBA from .296 to .316, and his wRC+ from 84 to 99. His average and on base percentage are nearly identical to his 2013 numbers, so what’s changed? Well he’s matched his 2013 home run and triple total, and he’s on pace to rival the amount of doubles he hit his rookie year. He’s been one of Seattle’s more productive hitters. This year has been labeled by many, including unidentified scouts, to be the year that Dustin Ackley breaks out as a hitter. There have been some people who speculate Ackley will hit for a .300 average.
I put Robinson Cano under this category because I’ve seen way too much bitching about how Cano hasn’t hit enough dingers. Despite the low power numbers, Cano is still getting on base at a normal rate. There’s not much to be said here. Cano rocks.
Not only has Brad Miller been bad, but he’s been quite the possibly the worst hitter in the MLB. Currently, he ranks dead last among qualified hitters in wRC+, SLG%, and AVG. He is currently the 14th least valuable player in the MLB, according to WAR, besting players like Prince Fielder, Carlos Gonzalez, Nick Swisher, Billy Butler, and Dominic Brown. Last year, “besting players like Prince Fielder, Carlos Gonzalez, Nick Swisher, Billy Butler, and Dominic Brown” would have been cool! Now it’s very uncool. Lloyd has said that the problems Brad has been struggling with are problems that won’t be fixed by going to AAA and hitting the crap out of those pitchers. So for the time being, it seems as if Brad Miller is here to stay. After Miller, the Mariners have very limited options. Nick Franklin isn’t good enough defensively to hold down the job permanently, and Willie Bloomquist isn’t good enough at anything to hold down any starting job in general. At this point, Miller is a deadweight in the lineup and he’s holding back the team from realizing their potential. I’m pretty confident he’ll figure it out at some point, but he’s not showing many signs of turning it around. Miller has four base hits to his name this month, and he’s bringing those problems along with him to the field.
James Paxton has pitched just two times, while Taijuan Walker has yet to step on the mound for the Mariners this season. Once (if) the duo return, the Mariners will be sporting a rotation of Felix, Kuma, Paxton, Walker, and probably Elias or Young. Before the season, the rotation was ranked 7th in the MLB, accounting for the injuries of Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, and Brandon Maurer. Since then Walker and Iwakuma have had setbacks, and Maurer has seemingly imploded in the 5th inning every single game he’s started. Somehow, the Mariners have managed to stay afloat due to the emergence of Chris Young and Roenis Elias. While FIP pretty much hates the shit out of Chris Young, he’s managed to sport a 3.30 ERA, and Elias has been the second most valuable pitcher as of yet with a 0.8 WAR.
For starters, the return of James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Corey Hart, and Logan Morrison will help alleviate the pain. The Mariners are ranked 15th in pitcher WAR and 26th in offensive WAR, so the offense is obviously the main problem that a struggling Corey Hart or unproven Logan Morrison certainly couldn’t solve completely. Within the organization, possible callups are Ty Kelly, LoMo at some point, Chris Taylor, and Jesus Montero. Ty Kelly was the lone player acquired in the Eric Thames trade. Although he has displayed very little power, he gets on base at a ridiculously high rate and walks more than he strikes out. He’s seen as a non-prospect and doesn’t really have a position, especially with Cano blocking him, but if he keeps hitting like he is then he’ll find his way into the lineup. Logan Morrison’s 2010 and 2011 seasons were a glimpse of how good he can be, but he has yet to stay healthy and produce for an entire season. Jesus Montero has looked much better in AAA, but still doesn’t look like the player that the Mariners traded for. Only 24 years old, I’m not very interested in a Jesus Montero callup this season unless we manage to make the playoffs. I’m a big believer in letting prospects get very comfortable at every level for a lengthy amount of time before calling them up (which the Mariners are awful at). For this very reason, I do not think Chris Taylor should be called up. Although Taylor has hit at every level, he’s only a year removed from A+ and AA ball and he has only spent 35 games in AAA.
The Mariners are somewhat limited in what they can do, particularly since they don’t want to spend money because they either don’t have it or don’t want to. Kendrys Morales could be a decent fit, but rivals execs have said that the M’s have signaled they don’t have the cash. Xavier Nady officially agreed to a minor league deal today, but he hasn’t been even a league average hitter or player since 2008. The Mariners will make do with what they have and likely finish a couple games within .500 depending on injuries. We’ll be hard to watch, and we’ll be exciting to watch. With a team this young, some inconsistency should be expected. The arrival of Paxton and Walker should mean lots of preventing runs, but it also doesn’t mean scoring runs, which is the bigger problem. Going into the season we knew what we were getting into. We knew it was risky to be playing so many young players, but with big risks comes big rewards.
– Michael Ajeto