Mariners Make Correct Move, DFA Willie Bloomquist

Seattle Mariners' Willie Bloomquist smiles in the dugout as he is congratulated after scoring against the New York Mets in the third inning of a baseball game Monday, July 21, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

While the club has not officially completed the transaction (as of July 2nd at 10:54), it appears utility man Willie Blomquist has been designated for assignment in favor of his younger, better counterpart Chris Taylor.

Mariner fans have been waiting quite some time for this move to take place. It’s not that anyone dislikes Willie B, but it’s been made obvious that he is no longer healthy/agile enough to do what he does, which is provide solid defense at multiple positions and pinch hit against left handers.

Chris Taylor may not provide a major offensive upgrade to Blomquist, he produced a wRC+ of 21 in 68 plate appearances this year, but he is a very capable defender, giving the team an option to rest Brad Miller from time to time.

Taylor’s role has not been made clear yet. Last time he was brought up, the team thought he could be the everyday short stop while moving Miller to the outfield. Based on the results, that does seem like a valid option anymore. Taylor may be used in the same utility man role that Blomquist was, or the team may opt to set up a platoon between Miller and Taylor. This could also be a way to showcase Taylor for a possible late July trade.

However they use Taylor, it is nice to see the Mariners going with the clearly better option over “veteran presence,” and hopefully this move will work out for both Taylor and the Mariners.

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Something Special

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We’ve had the privilege to watch Felix Hernandez for years now. He’s awesome. Everyone knows that. But Felix needs help. He can’t do it on his own. And for as long as he’s been “The King,” the Mariners have been looking for his prince.

First it was Erik Bedard. Then it was Cliff Lee. Most recently it’s been Hisashi Iwakuma, but injuries and inconsistenies have kept him from really being a legitimate number two.

When Jack Zduriencik took over as general manager back in 2009, he made it clear that he wanted to build this team around pitching and defense, with the center piece being Felix. He used the draft to stock pile a group of viable prospect arms, and now it seems our patience has finally paid off.

Over the last month, Taijuan Walker and Mike Montgomery have been incredible.   Their success has come to fruition over the past two nights against the San Diego Padres, and it seems like each of them have finally realized their once top prospect potential.

Montgomery took the mound Tuesday night and simply dominated. He threw a complete game shut out, allowing just one seventh inning base hit. The more impressive part is that it was his second complete game shutout in as many starts, after blanking the Kansas City Royals back on the 23rd.

In his brief, six start career, Montgomery has thrown 44.1 innings to the tune of a 1.62 ERA. Nobody thought this would be the type of production Seattle would get from a guy labeled as a busted prospect and traded for Erasmo Ramirez. Sure his 2.3% HR/FB and 83.7% LOB rates will regress eventually, and his overall numbers will fall back to earth, but this is what scouts thought he was capable of for years, and maybe the Mariners have struck gold purely by accident.

Following Tuesday nights 5-0 victory, Taijuan Walker took the hill to finish off the mini two game series. He picked up right where Montgomery left off, throwing six shutout innings, allowing just one hit, striking out seven and walking none. He only threw 76 pitches and likely could have finished off the complete game shutout, but Lloyd McClendon pulled him to stay on pace for his season innings cap.

At the beginning of the year, he was either walking guys or throwing fastballs right down the middle. It was hard to watch, as a loss was almost guaranteed every time he took the mound. But on May 29th, everything changed, and Wednesday afternoon’s stellar outing is just another in this incredible run Walker  is currently on.

In his last seven starts, Walker has a 1.91 ERA with 44 strikeouts and three walks in 42.1 innings. Opposing batters are have an abysmal .586 OPS against him. His walks have nearly disappeared, and it’s been a really, really long time since he’s given up a free pass.

Taijuan is finally starting to pitch like the guy everyone thought he could be as a prospect. His velocity is there. His stuff is there. And now his command is there. He’s lowered his pitcher slash line to 4.34/3.95/3.74, and his season numbers are starting to look quite respectable.

These past two games have me so excited, not only for the rest of this season, but for years to come. Both guys have had their fair share of struggles and doubters, but let’s not forget they were both consensus top 25 prospects and first round picks at one in their careers. This past month has shown us just how good they can be, and that one day, they may belong in the top tier of Major League pitchers.

Time will tell what the future holds for these two young pitchers. If they have truly realized their potential, the combination of Felix, Walker, and Montgomery will be something special.

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Iwakuma Closing in on Return, Tough Decision Looms

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The veteran duo of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma was supposed to help anchor a young Mariners’ pitching staff that the team could ride through October. Obviously Felix has Felixed this year, but Iwakuma has not shared in the good fortune so far in 2015.

The veteran right-hander gave up four earned runs in each of his first three starts of 2015, producing an ERA of 6.61. His velocity was way down and he was leaving pitches in the middle of the plate, resulting in a HR/FB of 27.8%, worst among all starting pitchers in 2015.

It was almost a relief to see him go down with a minor back injury the day following  his April 20th start in which he allowed four earned runs in 5.1 innings to the Houston Astros. This allowed Seattle the option to replace him with a more effective pitcher, and gave Iwakuma time to find his usual form.

In fact, Iwakuma’s velocity has already returned during his two rehab outings with Everett and Tacoma. He is back to working in the high-80s to low-90s, a large improvement from the beginning of the year.

In the two outings since the beginning his rehab assignment on June 20th, Iwakuma has thrown 7.2 innings, allowing only one run — a solo home run — and striking out seven. If he can return to be the same pitcher that produced two straight 3+ WAR seasons, he will have a huge impact on the stability of the Mariners’ rotation for the rest of the year.

Obviously, when Iwakuma returns to the rotation someone has to go. The only problem is, the Mariners starting rotation has been really good of late. When James Paxton went down in mid-May, the Seattle front office was thrashed for not accumulating enough starting pitching depth. But what was once a glaring weakness has become the team’s biggest strength almost out of nowhere. So as Iwakuma nears a return to Seattle’s rotation, who becomes the odd man out?

There was a time this season where you could look at the schedule and tally a loss every five days next to Taijuan Walker‘s name. However, in June, Walker has been absolutely phenomenal, posting an ERA of 2.36, K/9 of 9.44, and BB/9 of only 0.79. These stats don’t even include his May 29th start in which he threw eight scoreless innings, allowing only two hits while striking out eight. Walker has been incredibly good for seven straight starts, lowering his season ERA from 7.33 to 4.64.

Prior to this stretch of games, Walker would be the clear choice to send down to Tacoma in lieu of Iwakuma. Hell, that likely would’ve happened already, though for a different pitcher. But this sudden resurgence has more than secured himself a spot in rotation, and hopefully this is the beginning to a tremendous career.

Roenis Elias has had a season exactly opposite to Taijuan Walker. After taking over for Iwakuma on April 26th, Elias had a 2.79 ERA through his first nine starts. However, in two out of his last three starts, he has failed to make it out of the fourth inning, allowing seven earned runs in both outings. His next start has been pushed back a day from Wednesday to Thursday against Oakland, and he’ll need to prove he still belongs in the Major Leagues.

The reason Elias is in danger of losing his job, despite only having two rough outings so far this season, is the emergence of Mike Montgomery. His story is just awesome. After falling from the top prospect graces, Montgomery has bounced between systems before being acquired from the Rays for Erasmo Ramirez. After James Paxton went down at the end of May, Montgomery was called up to fill the gap before Iwakuma returned. But so far, the young lefty has been irreplaceable, with a 2.04 ERA and 22 strikeouts in his first five big league starts. It all came to fruition on Friday, when he threw a complete game shut out against the Kansas City Royals, the team that drafted him.

Montgomery goes tonight against the Oakland Athletics, which happens to align perfectly with Iwakuma. He’s been incredible so far in his brief stint with the club, but he’ll need to continue to be good in order to keep his spot in the rotation.

So what do the Mariners do? Obviously Felix isn’t going anywhere, and it appears both J.A. Happ and Taijuan Walker have strong holds on their roster spots. Iwakuma will pitch tonight in Tacoma, and it may be the last start he needs before returning to the club, meaning the earliest he can return is Sunday. If the decision were to be made now, Elias would likely be on his way down, but both he and Montgomery will have another turn through the rotation, meaning anything could happen.

If the club feels Iwakuma does not provide an upgrade over either of the two, they may elect to keep him on his rehab assignment (which extends past the All-Star break) until he proves he can be better. A six-man rotation is also not out of the question. No matter who goes down, the Mariners are in a great spot with the current state of their rotation, and having too many worthy pitchers is a good problem to have.

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This Team is Done* (*Probably), and What that Means

Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, left, yells at umpire Will Little after being ejected in the third inning of a baseball game Tuesday, June 2, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

“These eyes saw it. Austin Jackson was safe!”

Time for a reality check: We’re just shy of the 2015 midway point. And the Mariners are 8 games below .500; currently the 7th worst team in MLB.

Think about it, if they play .500 baseball for the remainder of the season—a big “if” at this point—the M’s still likely secure a protected Top 10 draft pick for 2016.

Now, I’m as bummed as anyone else about this team. I made bold predictions that they’d win the AL West. But if I remove my biases—and view this team like the Red Sox or the Rockies who have similar records—I’d profess that the smart thing to do is sell and rework the roster for 2016.

Some folks aren’t ready to admit this, I get it… I hope I’m wrong and the team gets red hot.

But back here in reality, there’s a more pressing question: If the M’s do wish to overhaul their roster for 2016, will they keep Jack Zduriencik in the drivers seat?

If left up to me, I’d say no. I’ve been pretty supportive of Zduriencik, but his results are damning. In 7 years here, Zduriencik has never fielded a respectable offense. His unwavering tendency to favor sluggers over on-base production is well-documented, and well ridiculed.

Yet if the Mariners do become deadline sellers—and Zduriencik is on his way out—doesn’t the ownership need to replace him before then? Like, soon?

We’ll leave the Zduriencik thoughts there. But as for selling, who would they move?

Austin Jackson, CF

Jackson is hitting, finally. He’s a free agent next year, making him worthless to this club if we don’t compete. He will see a Qualifying Offer, so he comes with a comp draft pick as well.  Honestly, I don’t see many obvious landing spots for him as a rental. Would any team offer us a prospect more enticing than a comp draft slot?

Hisashi Iwakuma, SP

Iwakuma’s health will be all the talk when he returns to the rotation in early July. If he looks good, I imagine many teams will be interested. His price tag is low, and he should warrant a Qualifying Offer/draft pick. Personally, I see the Dodgers all over this.

All Other Pitching Not Named Felix Hernandez or Carson Smith

Names like Mike Montgomery, Roenis Elias, J.A. Happ, Tom Wilhelmsen, Fernando Rodney (please!) would be available… Hard to imagine James Paxton or Taijuan Walker being traded mid-season, for the fact that they’ll demand MLB hitting talent in return, nothing a contender would give up… But otherwise, so much of this staff is available for the right return.

Logan Morrison, 1B

I see LoMo in a Cardinals uniform in August.

Dustin Ackley, OF

Smart contenders load up on defensive replacements and depth for the post-season. Ackley makes sense for the Yankees and maybe a few other clubs. Probably wouldn’t bring back much return. But personally I’d love to see him gone.

Of the other sexy names—Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano, & Brad Miller—none make much sense to trade. Various reasons, but mostly because the Mariners need a new approach with their supporting cast, not a new “core”.

We’ll see what happens. If the M’s turn it around in the near future, this post will look foolish. But I think the writing is on the wall… This team is flawed, and their record proves it.

And personally, instead of seeing 2015 carry out its mediocrity, I’d rather see this club make big changes: In the front office and by selling at the deadline.

Yes, 2015 went to hell. And so be it.

But if 2016 follows in the same footprints—led by this GM who refuses modern baseball theory—forget it.

I’ll become a Pirates fan.

Or something.

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Mercy: Week #12 Review

Cano Mask

“IT JUST CONTINUES!” – Dave Niehaus

Record:  34-42 (2-4);  4th in AL West, 9 GB

Who’s hot

Seth Smith has continued to quietly be one of the Mariners best and most consistent hitters. Over the last seven games, Smith is hitting .300/.364/.500 with a home run, two RBIs, and three runs scored. Smith has been one of the few pleasant surprises for this club, and it’s hard to imagine where they would be offensively without him.

Who’s not

Bar Seth Smith, the Mariners offense was putrid this past week. The team only scored 17 runs, even with a seven run breakout on Tuesday. Averaging less than 3 runs a game is not going to get it done, regardless of how good the pitching is. In fact, four of the key players on offense–Kyle Seager, Logan Morrison, Nelson Cruz, and Mark Trumbo–hit less than .200. And if you include Robinson Cano, all five of the Mariners’ supposed best hitters batted less than .220. You can blame Jack Zduriencik,  Lloyd McClendon, and the rest of the coaching staff all you want, but at some point the hitters need to step up.

Injury Updates

Hisashi Iwakuma is getting closer to returning, and he officially started his rehab assignment with the Tacoma Rainiers on Thursday. The right hander will make at least one rehab start on Tuesday, and the club will reevaluate him after that. It’s possible we could see Iwakuma back in the rotation in the next turn.

Roster Transactions

The Mariners called up veteran outfielder Franklin Gutierrez from Tacoma, optioning speedster James Jones in a corresponding move.

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Mariners Bringing Guti Back

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So handsome! So suave! Your mom’s favorite player is back in the lineup tonight!

The Mariners have finally made the much awaited decision to call up the instant nostalgia inducing outfielder known as Franklin Gutierrez. The man who once made opposing hitters fear going up the middle. The man who once gave us amazing Dave Niehaus sound bites. The man who once, single handedly, gave Jack Zduriencik the nickname of “Trader Jack”. That man is back in the Mariner’s lineup tonight, hitting second and playing left field. Rejoice!

Gutierrez has not played in a Major League game since September of 2013, and hasn’t played a full season of baseball since 2010. In fact, he did not even play professional baseball in America in 2014, taking the year off to evaluate his future.

The former Gold Glove center fielder has battled numerous health issues since his award winning campaign in 2010, and as a result, has been the butt of many “Glass Man Award” jokes among Mariner fans. Nobody ever really thought Guti would be playing baseball again, much less in the Major Leagues.

Gutierrez has earned a roster spot after posting a .317/.402/.500 slash line in 209 plate appearances with Tacoma this year. The delay was likely to see if he could be healthy consistently enough to be a reliable option off the bench.

It is important to note that Gutierrez will only be a role player with the club, as he is still suffering from nagging injuries, even on his healthiest of days. He is also no longer the defensive wizard he once was, and cannot play center field, limiting him to left field and designated hitter. That being said, the current revolving door of utility outfielders that has most recently seen James Jones enter and exit, leaves room for Gutierrez to prove he still has something left at the Major League level. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. But today we get to see a once fan favorite return to the club, and it is glorious!

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Will the Mariners Still Contend in 2015? 5 Thoughts


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The simple answer answer is— if they keep playing like this— no.

But the Mariners are averaging under 3 runs per game in June. And with this lineup, that simply can’t keep happening. I mean, can it? It’s no secret that the Mariners will need a nice hot streak or two (or three) to get back into contention. Maybe the likelihood isn’t high, but it’s not impossible.

Some thoughts….

1) Stop Coddling Robinson Cano

The heart of the order is supposed to create runs. Yes, we’re all befuddled with Cano’s deep slump. This is one of the game’s best hitters. What the hell?

But after 65 games, it’s time to deal with reality. Cano isn’t producing. Players who don’t produce move down the lineup. Bunching together your best hitters is the best way to score runs. And look, maybe if you take the pressure off Cano, he finds his groove….?

(Another thought, try batting Cano leadoff. Sounds funny, but Jason Kipnis was lost until they moved him to leadoff, and he’s been on fire ever since. Worth a shot.)

2) “Stay the Course” is Only Smart if You’re Playing Good Baseball

Mariners aren’t playing good baseball. Change the course. As far as I’m concerned, try anything. The saying is, throw the kitchen sink against the wall and see what sticks.

It’s refreshing to see Rickie Weeks gone and Fernando Rodney demoted. Logan Morrison batting leadoff has been surprisingly effective. Keep doing stuff like this. Move Cano up, or down. See what Kyle Seager does from the #3 slot. Or Seth Smith.

How about this for a lineup:

1) LoMo
2) Nelson Cruz
3) Seth Smith
4) Mark Trumbo
5) Kyle Seager
6) Austin Jackson
7) Brad Miller
8) Cano
9) Mike Zunino

Why not give it a look?

3) Issue A Moratorium on Swinging at Slop

Mariners are striking out a ton. And if you watch them play, you’ll see all the slop they swing at. This tweet from Churchill confirms our worst suspicions:

The M’s are “pressing”. I know it’s easy to be a spectator and complain, but this roster is full of veterans with good career showings. They need to play better baseball, and that starts with dictating the strike zone.

4) Hey Look, We Have Good Pitching!

Our #2 and #3 starters are on the DL, but the impact of losing Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton hasn’t much mattered. Roenis Elias and Mike Montgomery have pitched well. Also, since Rodney lost his closing gig and other struggling arms got sent down, the M’s pitching staff has been just fine. No complaints.

5) But Seriously, There’s Still Plenty of Season to Go

On July 25th of 2014, the Mariners were 3 games above .500…. Here’s the question, do you think the M’s can improve to 3 games over .500 in the next month and a half?

I do.

But the obvious conclusion: There’s no wiggle room left for this team. If they keep swinging at slop, keep running out the same lineups that don’t work, keep playing amateur baseball, then they are done.

Because in baseball, they say all players make constant adjustments. But will this team make adjustments? They sold themselves on a roster that looked great on paper. But it hasn’t worked out as planned. Star players slumped, while homegrown players took steps backwards.

Surely, if things heat up, we’ll see the Mariners quickly climb out of their hole.

But time is running out.

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