Can You Win Your Next Pennant With...
Hitter focus, dept.
One of SSI's favorite characterizations is, "Can you win your next pennant with X in a primary role?"  Willie Bloomquist does not make the cut, which is why he's a backup (or not on the 25-man) of our future pennant winner.  Felix probably slides in under the cut line.  Of course, when we WIN our first pennant in a few weeks this whole list will be wrong ;-) but for argument's sake: how do we look near the regular-season end to the best baseball team Seattle has fielded in a decade?
Let's do it by position.  First, the lineup:
- Mike Zunino (RH). Mike broke the Mariner record for home runs by a catcher while hitting below the Mendoza line.  More than 50% of his hits went for extra bases, which is obscene. Brian McCann is on an $85 million contract and didn't give the Yankees more than Mike gave us.  He's a great framer of pitches, had the best pitching staff in all of baseball (to which he contributed quite a lot), and the few hits he does get spin the scoreboard.  He's 4th on the team in ribbies, 7 behind our resurgent Ackley and 21(!) ahead of Miller. Zunino plates runs
He might be all-or-nothing at the plate, but he's every day with his pitchers and his defense, and his ability to stop changeups and spike curves in the dirt lets Paxton and Felix throw him the craziest stuff in their arsenal and know that he'll protect them. He's 23 years old still, y'know - Varitek wasn't anything til he was 27.  Dude's ahead of the curve.
- Jesus Sucre (RH). I like Sucre.  He's all defense-and-singles, but I still like him.  I don't like him as a 100-game starter should something happen to Zunino.  We don't have any good backup plans for Mike, so if somebody breaks his hand with a foul tip or he injures a groin, we're in trouble.  Let's not have that happen, huh?
Verdict: Homers and doubles and pitch-framing, oh my.  He's a keeper, and he's only gonna get better.
First Base: 
- Logan Morrison (LH). LoMo's .702 season OPS and 101 OPS+ don't make him a winner at first base, but you have to decide whether you think that's who he is. I think the bigger park hurts him (his numbers took a dive in the Marlins new digs too), but he's changing how he hits (highest LD% of his career).  And he's taking them out of his GB%, not his flyballs, so fly-ball homers are still happening.  His second half #s put him at a 114 OPS+ thanks to Safeco's park effects, and with a BABIP still a couple ticks under .300.  That's about what we're looking for, right? Tino Martinez posted a 112 OPS+ career.  I would take Tino for a couple seasons.
Of course, Logan can't stay healthy, so we need a good backup 1B - and he can't really play other positions. Morrison was bad in limited DH time, as one might expect from an NL player, and the OF gives him the rhino-on-roller-skates look too many times. The health risk makes it hard for me to count on his upside, but luckily we have him under club control for 2 more years.  He can be a piece, but a 500 AB starter-type piece?  I'm not sold yet, even though I'm in his corner.
Verdict: Don't count those chickens early... but keep watching em anyway.
- Justin Smoak (Switch). Take LoMo's profile. Now, subtract some hits (Justin has never hit over .240, Logan has only once hit under it), add a few strikeouts, keep the walks the same (this year is an outlier, but Smoak and LoMo have identical walk rates for their career), drop some XBHs and speed on the basepaths and voila! Smoak has arrived - for what that's worth.  He's not much healthier than Logan. He has good hands at 1B but Morrison has been pretty good there this year too. Every caveat about LoMo is a Smoak one, only moreso - and Smoak isn't showing any ability to get better.  I think he'll probably hit decently in a smaller park, but since we don't have one of those he's basically killing us.  He's 2000 ABs into his big-league career with no sign of an uptick.  It'll almost certainly happen elsewhere.
Verdict: There's a raven gently tapping, tapping at his chamber door.
- Corey Hart (RH). He's still on the team?  Man did he have a terrible year.  250 PAs, an OPS of .580.  Abraham Almonte posted a .540.  Injury woes, recovery woes... it was a lot of woe.  He's still just 32, but Sexson was another 6'6 righty who fell apart at the same age, and WASN'T coming back off multiple knee surgeries.  Would I expect Hart to play a major role in any future pennant contender?  Nope.  Best of luck to the guy, though.  I like him, and based on past history leaving Seattle should bring him all kinds of success.
Verdict: Alas, poor Corey. A fellow of infinite jest and most excellent fancy... but it's not to be.
Second Base: 
- Robinson Cano (LH).  I think he'll do, in a pinch.  I mean, until something better comes along.  Robbie is currently tied with Gar for the 17th-best WAR season for a hitter in Ms history (B-Ref figures). Griffey has 6 seasons up there, Gar has 4 (including #17, and as a DH no less), A-Rod has 3, Ichiro has 2, Boone and Guti both have one (Guti's being the dubious fielding variety)... and then Cano. He can stay a while.  When he's 40 and making $24 MILLION bucks it'll hurt a little - but our Title banner fluttering in the rafters will help console us.
Verdict: Wouldn't kick him outta bed for eating crackers.
Third Base:
- Kyle Seager (LH).  Extend him NOW.  Lock him up NOW.  I wanted to do it before the season, and it probably cost the Ms a pretty penny not to do it.  But at 26, he's hitting like Evan Longoria and showing up as the 2nd bat the lineup needs every night. Among 3B since 2012, he has the second most extra-base hits to only future HOFer Adrian Beltre, who plays in a park the size of my front yard. Longoria, Donaldson and Carpenter are all eating his dust. His WAR, the last 3 years (again, B-Ref): 2.8, 3.7, 5.7.  And he's in the lineup every day (third year in a row he'll have played in 155+ games). Pay the man.  We need him.
Verdict: One a scale of one to moron, how dumb do you have to be not to say yes?
- Brad Miller (LH)
- Chris Taylor (RH)
I'm gonna talk about them together.  Brad is the lefty, bat-first SS who has made himself much better with the glove than I thought he'd have any right to be.  He's also fixed some of his college swing problems.  He's a work in progress, but even with this year's .212/ .281/ .353 /.634 line he's got an 82 OPS+ and 1.3 WAR to show for his 400 PAs. An 80 OPS+ is survivable at short.  Miller's ceiling with a bat is (in theory) much, much higher.
But then there's Chris, who was mostly a glove-man in college with a simple and cute little rotational swing - that works surprisingly well in the pros with wood bats. .290/ .360/ .360/ .720, gap power, plus speed, good eye. He's a righty who can hit righties, and while he won't challenge the bleachers like Miller can, he has shown that he likes hitting into the gaps.  It's Brad's job to lose but Chris is a good player.  Maybe he'll get a chance to play some 3B this offseason so he can give Seager a few more days off next year.  
As a SS, we've combined for a 94 sOPS+ relative to the league.  Previous years, in order: 83, 59(!), 90, 65, 65.  This is the best offensive showing for the shortstop position we've had in years. I know SS platoons aren't really thing, but I will seriously cut the first person who tries to trade either dude (unless it's for a masher, I guess).  Let it play out! 
Verdict: Give at least one of em the chance, maybe both. They're worth way more than two in the bush, that's for sure.
Left Field:
- Dustin Ackley (LH).  Dustin, you magnificent, hairy, inscrutable beast.  I don't care that squirrels are peeking out of that beard during your at-bats, nor that girls swoon at your purty blue eyes as they stare longingly out into space.  .280/ .320/ .500/ .820 in the second half is a beautiful thing.  Your home runs are short, your doubles are crisp, and you are using the whole field again.  A slap-homer away, just wristed out over the wall, followed by a pull homer you wrap your bat around for?  Just lovely.
Can Beardley keep hitting like this? I thought he'd turned a corner in the second half of last year, but then he regressed.  He's back to hitting like he did in college, when I thought he was Mark Grace with sprinter speed on the base paths.  Sooner or later he has to get off the NASCAR track and stop going around in circles - keep this pattern and ditch the horrible first-half one.  Mark Grace in LF would be just fine.  We might need him back at 1B too - but I like that Lloyd left him out there to work on his fielding and comfort level, and Dustin found both.  Now he needs to keep it.  The walks will come as pitchers start to fear him, but he's got to keep punishing them until they do. 
Ackley has Boras as an agent, though.  He's ours for 3 more years, but as the time gets close, I could see that being the difference between Dustin staying and leaving, even if he stays this kind of batter. We'll see.
Verdict: Tentatively yes. Half-seasons in 3 of his 4 years say it's in him. Just needs to keep it out. 
Center Field:
- James Jones (LH)
- Austin Jackson (RH)
Quick, which one is the late-20s vet and which is the rook?
A: 326 PAs, .252/ .280/ .313/ .592, 12BB:66K, 9 doubles and 5 triples
B: 197 PAs, .246/ .279/ .283/ .563, 9BB:48K, 5 doubles and 1 triple
A is Jones, B is Jackson.  Now, Jackson had quite a fine career in Detroit, but for the Mariners Jones has had more of an impact.  Jackson is a good base-stealer himself, but Jones is simply better.  We have Austin Jackson for one more year after this one before he's a free agent, so: do you hope for the RH guy with the 105 OPS+ (ie, Guti's best year) to come back once he gets used to his surroundings, or do you bet on the lefty's learning curve even though that further unbalances your offense?
Right now, I don't feel comfortable with either.  Jones is a great pinch-runner and 4th/5th outfielder, but breaking balls destroy the kid and that's an unfortunate place to be.  Jackson's free-agent season should make him the logical choice - but only for next year.  Don't think I want to pay him as a 4-WAR player come 2016.  We'll see.  Center field is not a position we have readily available in the minors, either.
Verdict: Nope nopers.  That said, it's CF. Any reasonable gains by Jones or comeback by Jackson make for easy acceptance at a major glove position.
Right Field:
- Saunders (LH).  He'd be fine - if he could stay healthy.  He's had one year with more than 500 PAs, and while his 107 OPS+ over the last 3 seasons looks pretty good, especially for a Mariner - it doesn't help if he's sitting on the bench.
He can steal bases, play good RF defense, fill in for CF in a pinch, but he's not a corner masher.  He's not gonna ISO .200+ without some improvement, he can't play all his games in center, and the last thing we need him doing is diving for balls and going on the DL. I guess you could say I like him, but I don't trust him.
At this point, I like him as a 4th OF to split CF next year with Jackson against RHP, and to let Dustin play a little 1B or DH to keep his bone spur issue under control.  Getting 350 quality ABs from Saunders would be a plus - and the third-most of his career. Lloyd is familiar with how to run an NL team.  I know he loves his big bullpen stocked with amazing pitchers, but he might have to sacrifice one to get some flexibility in his hitters and save some of them for the stretch run.
Verdict: a piece... but not a starting piece.
Designated Hitter:
- Kendrys Morales (Switch).  The job description is in the job title. If you can't hit, you don't belong here.  Yet the Ms have had horrible luck filling this bat-first position.  They brought back one of their only recent successes, Kendrys, but because he spent the previous 9 months smoking cigars and eating Ho-Hos he seems pretty unfit for the position.  There's no way I would pay him again next year, not on what is likely to be his last contract (and therefore an excuse to spend his last years eating more Ho-Hos).  But who WOULD we pay?  Butler might be available, but otherwise? Willingham is 36. Cuddyer is 36 and coming off a broken shoulder blade. Hart is Hart. Morse will never return after the doctor snafu.  Pablo Sandoval maybe, but he's never done it.  V-Mart is 35 and gonna want Cruz-type money, as is Cruz.
Whoever we get, it isn't likely that Kendrys is that guy.  With shifts being employed ever-more, and his propensity to hit into rally-killing DPs like he's getting paid for it, he's not the long-term solution.  He might be better than this year, but I'm not betting multiple years to find out, not for a guy in his shape with his issues. 
Verdict: Anybody but.
So the overall Verdict?
Cano, Seager, Zunino and Ackley are your core, probably in that order.
Miller, Taylor, Saunders and LoMo are all good to have on the team as they can split duties if things go wrong.
Jones and Jackson are likely bandaids, but livable ones.
And we need a DH and a RF, preferably right-handed - just like the last 10 years.
In the minors, Kivlehan and DJ Peterson are both RH, both in AA, both top hitting prospects who can DH, play 1B or some OF. In no universe do I bet my 2015 AL West crown on those guys making a flawless transition to the bigs.  Maybe Kivlehan can Matt-Carpenter a parachute drop into the bigs - but Matt had a year in AAA first.
For Spring of 2015, we'd better get some outside help.  That said... 4 core guys and a handful of quality role-players have given us 6 or 7 covered positions for the next few years.  I feel like I can almost see our upcoming sets of banners, especially given our pitching staff.  I'll get to that later, if I can find the time.  Hopefully the Ms keep us busy on this season for a while longer, yeah?



I think we're gong to see Kivlehan or Deej getting significant MLB AB's next year.  We need two RH bats (still) and we're probably only going to buy one.
The mistake wth Seager was (indeed) not extending him AS SOON AS THE SEASON WAS OVER LAST YEAR.  His downside was as a near All-Star 2B.  Now we will pay a few million more...but we have to get it done.  
And Saunders as a 4th OF was always his best role.  
There is something incredibly weird about Ackley.  There is no "average" Ackley.  He's terrible or really good.  
But he's ours for at least 1.5 seasons.  And, as I always said, his value is in his pop.  He's not a OBP guy.  I like it when he thinks yard on inside stuff.  
All that said, he may have his  best years elsewhere.  
And Zunino is really good.  He hits homers.  He is a very nice receiver.  He plays everyday.  In many ways he's an old-school type catcher.  I said Gary Carter was where he might end up.  Doc guessed Lance Parrish.  That may well be the better guess....but that's pretty good. 


about it is if and when you get to the pitching staff there are like 15 pitchers on the roster that you can say yes we could win a pennant with this guy. There really aren't any pitchers that you would say no. Amazing. Kind of looks like Scott Van Slyke would fit the bill for being the right handed platoon partner for 1B, RF and DH.


Cuz the staff has been flat-out amazing, and how do you pick and choose?  I mean, of the guys we HAVE I might vote Medina off the island cuz I don't trust him... but that doesn't make him a BAD reliever.  That's basically like voting Jeff Nelson off the island, if Nellie needed a couple days between appearances to stay rested and at full nastiness.
Who votes Jeff Nelson off the island?  So yeah.  Pitchers might happen, but basically - I don't have a lot of gripes with the 125 ERA+ staff, y'know?  Chris Young isn't gonna be here and we're gonna dump Erasmo. Beimel is 49 years old so we'll need another lefty. I'm not comfortable with Rodney but with stellar setup man I can live with that "problem."
And everybody even minorly important is either under club control or contract with the team next year.  The staff sets up very well - allowing for health, obviously.  They just need a bit more run support and we'll be scary.
Could use a bit in these last few games too...


Is that, while he's only 27 and just two years removed from a 5 win season, he's also a guy who Dave Dombrowski was willing to give up. And, the inexplicable Fister dump aside, Dumbrowski has a an incredibly good track record with this stuff. While it doesn't prove anything by itself it isn't a great sign that Detroit was willing to move him at all.


Peterson and Kivelhan specifically.
Kivelhan has needed about a hundred and fifty at bats at every level to adjust and, really, should be given every opportunity to be brought along slowly.
Peterson, for all the hype, was fairly mediocre in AA last year. And was straight up bad after returning from his wrist injury.
It feels like the M's have been way quick promoting guys to fill the myriad black holes they've had over the past few years. It's understandable, but Ackley, Miller, Seager even Taylor have all shot through the majors incredibly aggressively to varying degrees of success. And that's without talking about Zunino who I worry has been permanently broken by his meteroric rise.
The team is a little better now and can better afford to wait a bit on its prospects in hopes of easing their transition to the majors a bit more. I hope we start to see Jack pump the breaks on these guys now and let them have a second trip through the Pcl, let the league adjust to them and make them adjust to the adjustments rather than promoting everybody at the first sign they might conceivably help the big league club.
Realistically, the M's should be good enough going into the off season that they've got a better plan than "hope Patrick Kivelhan can rake" for a right handed DH/LF/1b.
Jesus Montero would solve a lot of problems on this team if he shows up in shape and the team's willing to give him a shot. *sigh*
Has anybody seen Kivelhan play the outfield? By all accounts he's a pretty bad third baseman, but it seems like a guy with his athletic background ought to be able to hold his own in left. Or is that a pipe dream?


I like both guys, as I said, but you can't make them The Plan. If DJ or Kivlehan can get a cup of coffee next September, or be an injury fill-in after the ASB, then fine.  But as part of Plan A coming out of Spring Training? No chance.  We've bee rushing everyone and few of the hitters have been able to handle it.  I'm with you on Zunino - we didn't do him any favors.  And for somebody like Kivlehan who has barely seen any decent breaking balls, I want him to take a good long gander at some in AAA from experienced pitchers.  I know he can hit a fastball.  I don't want him to be unprepared to hit anything else.
As for Pat's defense - yes, I've seen him play a little outfield.  Not a ton... but he gets good jumps and runs well, and with his defensive-back skills it's not like we're asking a guy with concrete shoes to chase down balls out there.  He can run.  He's been tracking balls all his life - just differently-shaped ones.  It's not a rough transition, and he's got a good arm (the gun is not the reason third base isn't good for him).  
He's a Brian Jordan type of player, and I'd like to see him in the OF instead of at 1B.  If he's Ackley's replacement eventually, fine.  We have Kivlehan, Austin Wilson, Tank O'Neill, Alex Jackson and others vying for corner OF spots over the next few years.  Kivlehan is closest... but I'm not expecting his arrival until 2016 full-time.
Let's take it a bit slower.  I know Jack trusts his draftees more than other people, but rushing them is hurting them. I don't care how great they look and how ready they might appear - leave the cake in the oven til the timer goes off.  And stop opening the oven door while you're at it.
Also - no more Montero.  He's done.  Get a different righty hitter.  And at DH it can't be the lefty Choi, who needs another full season to try to find out where his power went (hopefully not down the drain with the rest of his PEDs).
We're about out of internal hitting options for Spring of 2015.  Don't count on Romero or any of the rest.  FIND a real hitter, maybe two, and then if and when the kids are ready they can fight it out.  Right now they ain't ready.


I'm too lazy to look up who said that first. But I think it's relevant to this discussion.
Do the Mariner's have warts? Of course. And so does every other team in the Majors right now. There is no dominant team. But how exactly do we get better?
The thing I like about these discussions, anywhere on the Internet, is the point at which people start proposing solutions to current 'problems'. Most of those solutions on most sites (unlike here) are preposterous. They tend to fall into a few scenarios, as far as I have seen:
1) trade a bunch of our problems for someone else's superstar
2) fire the manager
3) fire the GM
4) pay whatever it takes to sign free agent X
5) bring up the rookies
It doesn't matter that 95% of everything that's proposed is patently ridiculous on one or more levels. At least it forces a real world comparison with what a team already has. Just saying, "I think we absolutely need a new (xxx)" doesn't help. When a solution is proposed in the form of an actual alternative player, then it starts to get productive...because it takes the discussion closer to the world where the GMs actually operate.
We've got all winter to discuss that. And I'm still too deep into this last week to give it too much thought.
But off the top of my head, knowing I'll be in a distinct minority, I'm perfectly fine with our current starting lineup--minus the DH options. Over the last 100 games we're 56-44. Over the full year to date, that winning percentage would put us 5th best in all of baseball. In the second half, our WOBA doesn't look great--92--but it's better than playoff contenders Oakland, Milwaukee, the Yankees, Atlanta and the Royals--and of course, quite a few others. Can we name hitters who we think will be better next year for what they've learned this year? I know I can.
My vote is to build on what we've got--not start replacing pieces that don't look 'good enough' in the abstract--but might look just fine when you consider the real world alternatives.
I really like this team.
(P.S. And that goes double for LoMo, who I think is already clearly the third best hitter on the team.)


One of these days, we might gain the ability to modify our blogrolls.  :-)   Until then, Dr. D will just have to poach sections for his own articles.  Paragraph by paragraph.
Plan A can be 4-youngsters-to-make-1, can't it?  Provided that you've got more than two other hitters in your lineup Opening Day. 

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