Seattle Mariners postsFriday May 31, 2019
The Sad History of the Mariners First-Round Draft Picks This Century
Read ‘em and weep.
In honor of MLB draft day next Monday, a bit of trivia. This century, 28 of the 30 Major League teams have managed to draft a player in the first round who has gone on to become an All-Star at some point in their career—either for that team or another team.
Any guesses as to the two teams that haven’t done this? Yes, Mariners fans, one of them is our Seattle Mariners. The other is the San Diego Padres. No wonder we’re natural rivals.
The blame on our end can begin with Hall-of-Fame GM Pat Gillick, who, during his tenure, kept giving up first-round picks as compensation for signing high-quality free agents like John Olerud, Jeff Nelson and, OK, Greg Colbrunn. Indeed, in four of the first five years of the century, the Ms didn’t have a first-round pick. And the one year we did, we went with John Mayberry Jr. ... who didn’t sign with us.
That’s the first part of the M's story of first-round failure. The second part is more heart-wrenching, since there’s no compensation in the form of a John Olerud. It’s just a tale of incompetence.
First, you’ve got to admire the talent in the 2005 draft. All but one of the top seven picks became All-Stars—including Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki. The one pick who didn’t become an All-Star was, of course, ours: Jeff Clement, who went third overall. He retired in 2012 with a career .218/.277/.371 slash line and negative WAR.
Was 2006 worse? With the fifth overall pick, we went with Brandon Morrow, who, yes, is having a resurgent career in his 30s in the NL. Since 2015, he’s appeared in 103 games, tossed 123 innings, and has a 2.04 ERA with a 112-28 strikeout-walk ratio. He’s now the Cubs closer with 22 saves this season. He might even become an All-Star and relieve us of this ignominy. So how is this pick worse? Because of who was chosen immediately after him, meaning who the M's passed on: Clayton Kershaw (7th), Tim Lincecum (10th) and Max Scherzer (11th).
And the hits kept coming. In 2007, we chose Phillippe Aumont. In 2010, we traded him and in 2015 he retired with negative WAR. In 2008, we grabbed Josh Fields. In 2011, we traded him and from 2017-18 he pitched well for the Dodgers; after being cut by two teams this spring he’s currently with the Rangers triple-A club.
With the second overall pick in 2009, we went with Dustin Ackley. Twenty-three picks later, the Angels nabbed a guy named Mike Trout. Etc.
The third part of the story, what’s happened this decade, is a work in progress, since it takes a while to develop talent, then it takes a while for that talent to be recognized. But some teams have already managed to do this. Here's a comparison between the Houston Astros' first-round picks this decade and ours. All-Stars are highlighted—as if they needed to be:
|2010||D. DeShields Jr.||4.4||n/a *||0|
|2011||George Springer||21.1||Danny Hultzen||0|
|2012||Carlos Correa||20||Mike Zunino||7.8|
|2013||Mark Appel||0||D.J. Peterson||0|
|2014||Brady Aiken||0||Alex Jackson||-0.3|
|2015||Alex Bregman||15.3||n/a **||0|
* Lost first-round pick for signing Chone Figgins ***
** Lost first-round pick for signing Nelson Cruz
*** You heard me: Chone Figgins
None of our picks are in the Mariners organizaiton anymore, while Springer, Correa and Bregman are the heart of the World Champion Houston Astros. By ESPN’s recent rankings, they are the 37th, 27th, and sixth best players in baseball.
So which team has picked the most first-round All-Stars this century? That would be the Kansas City Royals, with six, including Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, all of whom helped that benighted franchise to a pennant in 2014 and a World Series title in 2015. Next up is the San Francisco Giants with five, including Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner, all of whom helped that franchise, which hadn't won a World Series since The “Say Hey” Kid was running down fly balls in the Polo Grounds, win three titles in five years.
My tabulation of first-round All-Stars, by the way, doesn’t include supplemental first-rounders—the guys beyond the first 30. If it did, yes, hallelujah, the Mariners would have picked an All-Star. Ready? Adam Jones in 2003. Who of course never played for us.
One hopes we’re doing better with Jerry DiPoto—rather than Bill Bavasi or Jack Zduriencik—as GM. Wasn’t he, after all, with the Angels when they drafted Mike Trout in 2009? Actually, no. He didn’t join that club until fall 2011, and, under his tenure, the team lost its first-round picks in both 2012 and 2013 by signing, respectively, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Then they went with Sean Newcomb in 2014 (3.7 WAR after 2+ years with the Braves) and Taylor Ward in 2015 (negative WAR after limited action with the Angels). Then DiPoto got the boot, and in September 2015 we got him. He's now in the process of rebuilding our team.
How have his first-rounders done so far? It’s early:
- 2016: OF Kyle Lewis is with AA Arkansas, where he’s hitting .211/.316/.325
- 2017: 1B Evan White is with AA Arkansas, where he’s hitting .234/.323/.324
- 2018: RHP Logan Gilbert was the opening day starter for West Virginia Power before being promoted to A+ Modest Nuts, where he’s 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA
For those interested, here are this century's first-round All-Stars and the teams that chose them:
|Royals||6||Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Aaron Crow|
|Astros||5||Jason Castro, Mike Foltynewicz, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman|
|D-Backs||5||Carlos Quentin, Justin Upton, Max Scherzer, A.J. Pollock, Trevor Bauer|
|Giants||5||Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Joe Panik|
|Brewers||4||Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun, Jeremy Jeffress|
|Nationals||4||Chad Cordero, Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper|
|Reds||4||Jay Bruce, Devin Mesoraco, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal|
|Angels||3||Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver, Mike Trout|
|Athletics||3||Nick Swisher, Sonny Gray, Addison Russell|
|Cubs||3||Mark Prior, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant|
|Dodgers||3||Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager|
|Marlins||3||Adrian Gonzalez, Christian Yelich, Jose Fernandez|
|Mets||3||Scott Kazmir, Matt Harvey, Michael Conforto|
|Orioles||3||Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado|
|Phillies||3||Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola|
|Pirates||3||Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole|
|Blue Jays||2||Aaron Hill, Ricky Romero|
|Braves||2||Adam Wainwright, Jason Heyward|
|Cards||2||Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha|
|Indians||2||Drew Pomeranz, Francisco Lindor|
|Rangers||2||Mark Teixeira, Justin Smoak|
|Rays||2||Evan Longoria, David Price|
|Tigers||2||Justin Verlander, Andrew Miller|
|Twins||2||Joe Mauer, Glen Perkins,|
|Red Sox||1||Jacoby Ellsbury|
|White Sox||1||Chris Sale|
Monday, the Mariners get the 20th overall pick. In 2020, it’ll be much, much higher.
Edgar Martinez Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame
The patient man, patiently waiting his turn.
“Thank you, sir.”
He had to wait 10 years, often with low vote totals, before a push of SABRmetric dudes, the Mariners organization and its fans, and, maybe most importantly, the pitchers who faced him—who kept calling him the toughest hitter they ever faced—all of those forces finally woke up enough old, tired baseball writers and pushed Edgar Martinez over the 75% mark and into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
YES!! About fucking time!
And Edgar's response when Jack O‘Connell, secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA, phoned to tell him the good news?
“Thank you. Thank you, sir. Appreciate the call.”
Oh my god. So Edgar. So, so Edgar.
It seems appropriate that he’s going in with three pitchers—two first-ballot guys, with one, Mariano Rivera, Mo, the first player ever to be elected to the Hall unanimously—since he owned pitchers for so long. It's like Bruce Lee needing to fight three guys because he's Bruce Lee. Even with these pitchers, who are, you know, Hall of Famers, here's what Edgar did against them:
- Mike Mussina: .307/.337/.627 (83 PA)
- Roy Halladay: .444/.474/.722 (19 PA)
- Mariano Rivera: .579/.652/.1.053 (23 PA)
The national headlines are all about Mo, of course, but that's par for the course for Edgar. He spent a career overshadowed by others, in a west-coast city that often played while the east coast slept, so many people didn't know. Hell, the Mariners didn't even know. I‘ve written about this before. When Edgar was called up for his first cup of coffee in September 1987, after hitting .329 in Triple-A Calgary, director of player development Bill Haywood said this to The Seattle Times:
“His glove is his strength. Hitting over .300 is a pleasant surprise.”
Again: That was the director of player development.
The next year, Edgar led the PCL with a .363 batting average and was awarded another cup of coffee. The Ms turned him into a yo-yo. Up and down, up and down. In 1990, Bill James wrote, “What a sad story this one is. ... Martinez has wasted about three years when he could have been helping the team.” And even then, even when it was so obvious to Bill James, the M’s didn't know. In spring 1990, manager Jim Lefebvre bragged about his new starting third baseman to The Seattle Times:
“I think Darnell Coles is going to surprise a lot of people. He knows there is no one in the wings, just Edgar Martinez to back him up. I think it is time for him to realize that he belongs at third, because to play that position you have to be an athlete. And Darnell Coles is an athlete.”
Again: That was the Mariners manager.
Yes, I‘ve written about this before. Yes, I’m repeating myself. But it's still amazing to me: “No one in the wings.” That's how the M's thought of him. That's how much they didn't know.
Hell, I didn't know, either. In that 2004 piece, I got it wrong, too. I wrote:
All but one of the .300/.400/.500 guys are in the Hall of Fame ... So does this means Edgar will go into the Hall of Fame? Probably not. His percentages are out of sight but his raw numbers aren't high enough to justify making him the first DH to be enshrined. If only he'd been able to play a few more good seasons. If only he'd been brought up earlier. If only Bill James had been running the team.
Although, in a way, I was right with the “first DH” comment. Because he's not. Frank Thomas played more than half his games at DH and he was enshrined in 2014. And it was after that that Edgar's numbers began to rise. He went from 27% to 43% to 58 to 70. He kept chipping away. He kept fouling off pitches. Yesterday, he went in with 85%. Another testament to patience. A rare instance of good coming to the good who wait.
The news was overshadowed a bit nationally but Seattle went nuts. We‘re flying the 11 flag atop the Space Needle. We’re lighting up the 520 bridge. He's our second Hall of Famer but favorite son. Edgar never complained and he never left. He just kept doing the work. And for that, Seattle, and the Pacific Northwest, have one thing to say to him.
Thank you, sir.
Killing Our Little Darlings: Cano, Diaz to Mets
“Nah, no garlic fries but Fuku's loaded fries. Trust me, it's worth it.”
This is what I wrote last March for the 2018 Grand Salami player profile on young Edwin Diaz:
He’s so close to being elite, isn’t he? He’s young, lean, throws in the triple digits. If you rank least season’s 30 top relievers by saves, Diaz comes in 15th in innings pitched (15), tied for 19th in blown saves (5) and tied for 8th in saves (34). Meaning he’s right in the middle for opportunities, at the higher end for succeeding at those opportunities, and at the lower end for screwing them up. All good. He’s eighth in strikeouts (89) and tied for 9th in hits given up (44)—great numbers given his IP. Yet among these relievers, his WHIP (1.15) is 16th and his ERA (3.27) is 19th. What’s the problem?
The problem is the thing that comes back to haunt us: walks. His 32 free passes last season is more than all of these relievers save two (AJ Ramos and Corey Knebel). Homeruns are also an issue: He gave up 10 last year. But the biggest problem, oddly, may be that so-called pitchers’ paradise he calls home: Safeco Field. On the road, Diaz threw 36.1 innings, gave up 13 hits, 14 walks and two homers. His batting average against was .106 and his ERA was 1.24. But at the Safe, he wasn’t: 29.2 IP, 31 hits, 18 walks, and eight homers. That’s a .265 batting average against and a 5.76 ERA. Aberration? Anomaly? Probably. We’ll find out more this year.
The M’s have never had a great reliever. At best we’ve had a guy who made us cheer one season and groan the next: Mike Schooler, Bobby Ayala, Norm Charlton, Kasuhiro Sasaki, J.J. Putz, Fernando Rodney. Put it this way: If Diaz simply keeps repeating his 2017 performance, he’ll be the all-time Mariners saves leader by June 2020.
Then what happened? Then he became elite. He became the best closer in baseball, with a league-leading 57 saves in 73.1 IP, 124 Ks against a shockingly low 17Ks, a 1.96 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP. He led closers in almost every category. He was an All-Star, finished 8th in Cy Young voting and 18th in MVP voting. From the beginning of the season to the end, he was just lights out.
Plus: He was only 20 saves away from tying the all-time Mariners saves record (129, Kasuhiro Sasaki). Did I say June 2020? June 2019, more like it!
The rumors started last week and they kept solidifying until it was all but a done deal. Today the deal was done: Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and cash to the New York Mets for five players. The Mariners organization apparently looked around, decided we weren't going to beat the young upstart Houston Astros anytime soon, and decided to start anew—the way the Astros themselves did back in 2012/13. Initially we had a few untouchables in the lineup, including Diaz and Mitch Haniger. But to unload Cano and his expensive, long-term deal, we had to let the Mets grab one of those untouchables. There's a phrase in writing, “You have to kill your little darlings,” meaning you have to cut sentences and paragraphs you love if they don't fit in with the overall. That's kind of what Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners did here. Diaz fit in with the overall, of trying to win it all in, say, 2023, but to engage this plan they had to give him up. They had to kill our little darling.
I get what they‘re doing, but—and this is a big but, a Sir Mix-A-Lot-sized but—I don’t know if I trust this organization to do it right. Before this off-season, we had the worst farm system in Major League Baseball, by some rankings, and that takes a lot of bad decisions over the years. Is this one of those? Was the Paxton deal? We draft lousy, our trades are iffy, our longterm contracts quickly become albatrosses, and when we do find a diamond in the rough, a guy we scouted and drafted and signed and brought up through our system, who throws 100-mph fastballs and 90-mph sliders with poise, and who, in only his third season, ties Bobby Thigpen for the second-most saves in a single season in baseball history, well, we can't even keep him around long enough to break out pathetic team record for saves.
And what did we get in return?
- outfielder Jay Bruce, who is signed to two more years at $14 mil each, will be 32 in early April, and had a -0.4 WAR last season.
- reliever Anthony Swarzak, 33, signed to one more season at $8.15 mil, and who had a 6.15 ERA and another -0.4 WAR last season. So far that's -0.8 WAR we‘ve picked up.
- right-hander Gerson Bautista, 23, who pitched a bit in mid-April and the end of May before being sent back to the minors. Small sample size: 5 games, 4.1 IP, 12.46 ERA, -0.3 WAR. Still counting at home? -1.1 WAR now.
- right-hander Justin Dunn, also 23, who hasn’t pitched above AA ball, where, last season, he went 605 with a 4.22 ERA.
- And finally, the main possible upside, outfielder Jarred Kelenic, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft and a potential five-tool player.
So that's -1.1 WAR and two maybes. All because we can't draft well and five years ago we oversigned for Cano.
I'm going to miss Cano. I was against his signing and I'm against his firing. Yes, PEDs last year. He still hit over .300. He's fun to watch. I like him. I like both of them. I get the feeling we're killing our little darlings needlessly—when the rest of our prose sucks.
Cano to Go?
Will we still see this in spring?
Three of the last four players to reach 3,000 hits were Seattle Mariners. Key word: were. They either were drafted by and made their names as Mariners (A-Rod), spent their rocky prime years with us (Adrian Beltre), or will forever be identified with the team (Ichiro). But none of them actually reached 3,000 hits as a Seattle Mariner:
- Alex Rodriguez had accumulated 966 hits when he left us after the 2000 season for a massive free agency deal with Texas that the team (and he) soon regretted. (He hit his 3,000th, a homer, in 2015 as a Yankee.)
- Ichiro had 2,533 hits when we traded him mid-2012 to the hated New York Yankees. (He hit his 3,000th, a triple, in 2016 as a Miami Marlin).
- When Adrian Beltre desperately left Safeco Field after his prime middling years with us, he was at exactly 1700 hits. (He hit his 3,000th, a double, in 2017 as a Texas Ranger.)
I bring all this up because apparently the Mariners are shopping Robinson Cano, who still has five years left on his massive 10-year deal, and I assume all the no-trade clauses that go with high-end free agent signings. I was against signing Cano back in December 2013—nice thing about a blog: You have evidence—but I‘ve also loved having him on the team. The very thing that bugged Yankees fans—his looseness, which they took as laziness—I’ve loved. The nonchalance most players display he's able to turn up to 11. He makes tough plays look easy, and he makes routine plays look as if he could do them in his sleep; as if he were bored halfway through. Yeah, this. Got this. Man, I'm already in the dugout.
And beyond his banned-substance suspension, and his acid-reflux slump in 2015, he's done as well or better than I thought he would: .296/.353/.472. 23.6 WAR.
But now comes the tough part—the final five years. Ages 36 through 40 at $24 mil a pop. When a player hits a cliff, it's usually not pretty. So if the Mariners could unload him for the worst years of the deal, that would be an unexpected boon. Depending, of course, on how much we have to pay to unload him.
Drawbacks? For now, he's still good (.303/.374/.471 last year). And barring disaster, or more PED-inspired longterm suspensions, he has a good chance at 3,000 hits. He's 530 short, at 2,470, and for a full season as a Mariner he's never had fewer than 166. Last year, despite being suspended for half the season, he came through with 94 hits. I could see him getting his 3,000th in 2021 or ‘22.
I know it’s a small thing, but the Mariners have never had someone in their uni get his 3,000th. I'd assumed, given the size of his contract, he would be the one.
Paxton Trade: Passable or Pox?
The eagle has landed, but the M's just traded Tranquility Base.
I keep going back and forth on the Seattle Mariners trading ace James Paxton to the hated New York Yankees.
- He's 30, and prone to injury, and one assumes after 30 it's a downhill slide.
- He just turned 30—November 6. And he actually pitched more the older he's gotten. Via The Athletic:
- Season IP SO
2016 121 117
2017 136 156
2018 160.1 208
- Sure, but, per Art Thiel, he hasn't exactly been a win machine. His career win total after six seasons in the bigs? 41. His season high? 12, in 2017. Here's an amazing stat from Thiel: “Paxton has 52 fewer career wins than rotation mate Mike Leake, also 30.” Yikes!
- C‘mon, you know M’s fans had way more confidence when Paxton stepped on the mound than when Leake did. Plus wins are your dad's pitching stat. Other stats like ERA (3.42 career) and K/BB rate (617/168) matter more.
- Well, at least it's a direction for the M‘s. It’s an obvious strategy. They‘re saying, “Yeah, it’s not going to happen next year, kids. We‘re trading for the future.”
- Well, “It’s not going to happen next year, kids” is certainly something M's fans are used to.
- I know: longest active playoff drought in Major League Baseball. That's why we gotta shake things up!
- So we can get nauseous? Plus I liked Paxton. He was Big Maple: a tall, quiet, kinda goofy Canadian who pitched a no-hitter on Canadian soil, struck out 16 Athletics, and remained cool as a cucumber and tall as a tree when a pre-game ceremony in Minnesota went awry and an eagle landed on his shoulder. All of these are among my favorite moments from this past season.
- Which was just another season we didn't make the playoffs. And it's not going to get better in 2019.
- It will for the Yankees. Don't you rememember your rule? Never trade with the New York Yankees. Never never never. You never help them. Never! See: Tino/Nellie for Sterlling/Russ.
- See: Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps.
- Ancient history. What about Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero?
- What about it? I don't think anyone came out on top there.
- Really? Pineda won 31 games for the Yankees.
- And he lost 31 games for them.
- But he accumulated 6.4 WAR.
- WAR schmore. You‘re nickel-and-diming.
- Please. You know what Montero’s total WAR with the Mariners was? -0.9. That's a minus. In four seasons.
- The trade was a wash.
- In which we got cleaned.
- Oh, so clever.
- You should try it some time.
- Fuck you.
- Fuck you!
Bottom line: My heart is bummed, my head says going young is good if the deals are smart. The proviso is the issue. The M's haven't exactly been smart this century. Corey Brock's piece on the trade includes this sad paragraph:
Since 1998, Seattle has drafted and developed only two players who have a WAR (wins above replacement) of 10.0 or higher with the club: Seager (27.9) and Paxton (10.9). That’s by far the lowest mark among teams in the American League West, and certainly a contributing factor as to why the Mariners have not advanced to the postseason since 2001.
Jimmy, we hardly knew ye. I'd wish you well, but ... Yankees.