Seattle Mariners postsMonday December 03, 2018
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.
Canó Faces Consequences?
Ken Rosenthal has a piece on The Athletic about off-season trade questions, including: Should Arizona trade Zack Greinke? How much research are the Yankees doing on Manny Machado anyway? And which execs are going to lead Baltimore into the future?
And what about Canó?
Yeah, what about Canó?
It's basically: Are the Mariners going to tear down and rebuild? Even if they do, suggests Rosenthal, who wants the scraps? Both Felix and Kyle Seager have big contracts and are in the midst of seemingly unstoppable downhill slides. Then there's Robinson Canó, who was busted for taking a banned PED-masking supplement, missed half the season, and still has another five years and $120 million on his contract. Not many teams want to pick that up, even with a boost/bribe from the M‘s.
More, the M’s just traded for Mallex Smith, a centerfielder, which means Dee Gordon's experimental season there might be at an end. But if he goes back to second, his natural spot, where does Canó go? To first base? Where he doesn't want to go?
Rosenthal ends the section on a surprisingly ominous, almost vindictive note:
Canó surely wants to salvage his legacy, but his path to Cooperstown might be as difficult to forge as his path out of Seattle. He made his choices. Now he faces the consequences.
My thought: What exactly are those consequences, Ken? Playing first base? Or just playing in Seattle?
2018 Mariners: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times
It's the final day of the regular season, and shockingly two details remain unironed: Who wins the NL West (Dodgers or Rockies?) and who wins the NL Central (Cubs or Brewers)? Meaning we‘ll get not one but two Game 163s tomorrow. Free baseball!
As for who won’t be continuing? For the 17th season in a row? Yeah, our Seattle Mariners. As was indicated by the crowd at Safeco Field on a lovely night last Thursday:
I‘ve never seen our section that empty.
If the fans didn’t show, neither did the Ms. Facing a bunch of Texas pitchers with ERAs over 6.00, we managed three hits:
- a single in the 2nd by Vogelbach (stranded at 1st)
- a single in the 6th by Gamel (erased on a DP)
- a single by Haniger in the 9th (stranded at 1st)
The closest we got to scoring was a two-out, two-base error on a grounder by Haniger in the 6th (after the DP). We never made it to 3rd base. Without errors, we never made it to 2nd base. Final: 2-zip, Texas. No bangs, barely a whimper.
That said, it wasn't a bad year. It was the lesser version of those classic ‘90s M’s ads: You gotta like these guys. And I did. We had personality. We had fun. Think Dee Gordon's Griffeyesque homerun on a chilly April, and Big Maple remaining zen-calm as an American Eagle landed on his shoulder during pregames in Minnesota. Then that May he had: striking out 16 A's in one start and pitching a no-hitter against Toronto in his native Canada in the next. Albert Pujols got his 3,000 hit at Safeco for the visiting Angels. Ichiro retired but gave us a final great defensive play, then stayed on as a good will ambassador and even joked around with new superstar Shohei Ohtani. In May, I took a friend from Australia to see her first baseball game, and in June a friend from China. Through it all, the M's kept winning. Edwin Diaz kept mowing ‘em down.
Those were the best of times. But there were worst-of-times intimations. Since 2014, King Felix’s crown has been slipping. Here are his ERAs, year by year: 2.14, 3.53, 3.82, and last year, 4.36. This year's 5.55—one off the mark of the devil—got him exiled to the bullpen for a period. Robinson Cano started off hot, but in the off-season he'd tested positive for PEDs (or a banned diuretic that rids the body of evidence of PEDs), and eventually he took his punishment: We lost him for half the season. Plus our run differential remained in negative territory. I had a conversation with my friend Jim in June or July, hashing this out. He was saying, “I don't like it, it's not going to last.” I was saying, “I didn't expect it, so this is a gift.” Both of us were right. He was righter.
On July 3, after beating the Angels 4-1 at Safeco, the M's were 55-31, 24 games over .500 and just 1/2 game back of the division-leading Houston Astros. They were the second, solid team in the wild-card hunt. Our long, local, postseasonless nightmare seemed over, possibly.
Since? 34-42. In the second half, we did well against the Astros (8-5), and held our own against the hard-charging A's (4-6) but got killed by, of all teams, NL West teams: 1-5 against Colorado and 0-4 against San Diego. We dropped 3 of 4 to Toronto. Overall, we were 6-14 against NL teams. Reverse those numbers, do better than 1-5 against the Yankees, and I'd be shelling out for playoff tickets.
Our best played by WAR was Mitch Haniger (6.0), followed by Jean Segura (4.2). You know who was third? Believe it or not, Cano (3.2), who missed 80 games. There's a problem right there. Fourth was Diaz (3.2), our closer, who was probably the most dominant player at his position in Major League Baseball. Nice to have one of those.
M's final mark was 89-73. Normally, that's enough to get you in. Next year. Again.