Seattle Mariners postsWednesday November 21, 2018
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 something M's fans are totally 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.
Let Me Into the Ballgame, Let Me In With the Crowd
What wonders awaited.
Here's a quick story about long, post-9/11 baseball lines.
My wife and I and a friend stayed over in southern Washington for an engagement party Saturday night. Since no one wanted the long slog up I-5 on a traffic-congested Sunday afternoon, and since I had tix to the Sunday afternoon Mariners/Dodgers game, with Clayton Kershaw on the mound, I suggested leaving early. We did. And despite a brief jam in Tacoma—the land of the perpetual freeway construction project—it took us just three hours. We were back in Seattle at 10:30 AM—plenty of time for the 1:10 start.
But were the Mariners ready for us?
It didn't seem like it. The lines outside the gates were worse than around Tacoma. It was a mob scene. Recently I‘ve begun to use the Mariners Team Store entrance on 1st Avenue, and yes, that line was shorter—100, 150 people maybe—so we got in it. And waited. And waited. We arrived around 12:40 and didn’t get through the security checkpoint and into the building until after the game had started. Meaning it took us more time moving those 100 feet than it did driving from Tacoma to Seattle.
Thankfully, after all that hassle, we were able to buy $12.50 beers, and, surrounded by Dodgers fans, watch as the M's fell behind 5-0 in the 1st, on their way to losing 12-1, all beneath hazy, wildfire-ravaged skies and air quality unhealthier than Beijing.
Maybe that's why they kept us from trying to enter. Maybe they thought they were doing us a favor.
Qing gei wo mai yixie huasheng he Cracker Jacks
Dee sports the sleeveless, untucked and backwards cap look. 很好看。
So I took my Chinese teacher to the Seattle Mariners game last Saturday. She’s heading back to China in August, had never seen a baseball game, and how can you let someone leave the states without at least one game? Plus there’s the whole Confucian thing. When I lived in Taiwan, and I was out with Chinese peers, they wouldn’t let me buy anything. I heard this over and over again:
It can translated a thousand ways, but this is the gist: “To have friends come from far away, isn’t that a joy?” I.e., Be a good host, damnit.
This was my third attempt in the last few years to explain the game to someone from another country. I should be getting better at it but ... no. Most team sports are metaphors for war: You have a rectangular field, a goal on either side, and an object of some kind. The point is to get that object into your opponent’s goal more often than they get it into yours before time expires. Easy.
Baseball’s different and I always struggle about where to begin. In the future, this wouldn’t be a bad place:
The goal of the game is to make it around the bases before making an out, and the team that does this the most times wins.
But I didn’t do that on Saturday. I began with the outs, and the three main ways to make an out: ground ball, fly ball, strikeout. Strikeout was the most difficult, beause it led to “ball” and “strike zone” and what happens when you don’t swing. Not to mention “foul ball.” I didn’t even get into the whole “foul ball with two strikes” thing. Good god.
As I explained all of this, positing an imaginary batter making an out and returning to the dugout, my teacher said, “And he’s gone from the game.”
“No ...” I began, but was already imagining what baseball would be like if this were true.
Beyond the game’s uniqueness: two things got in the way of better explanations: 1) the language barrier (her English was good but not like a native speaker, while my Chinese is beginning level); and 2) Safeco’s loudspeakers and constant music and announcements. It's so loud it makes it difficult to hold a conversation, let alone explain the game to someone from another country who’s never seen it. My throat was raw by the second inning.
Oh, a third thing got in the way: It was “Turn Ahead the Clock” Night at Safeco: the Mariners wore their “futuristic” unis with cut-off sleeves and crazy colors and logos. The entire game was centered around this. A robot delivered the rosin bag, the National Anthem singer had Spock ears, and the PA announcer sounded like Majel Barret’s computer voice on “Star Trek”: Occupying second quadrant, digit 9, Dee Gordon. “Normally,” I explained to my teacher, “we’d hear, ‘Playing second base, number 9...’ So this is just a kind of play off of that.” Things got even tougher when I said the whole concept of Turn Ahead the Clock nights was a parody of Turn Back the Clock nights, in which players from both teams wear the uniforms from, say, 50 years earlier. 为什么？she asked. Why do they do that? And that led to a talk about nostalgia: people wanting to see what they saw when they were young.
The M’s were playing the Royals—hapless again after a few years as one of baseball’s best and most fun teams—but it began poorly for our starting pitcher, Felix Hernandez. He gave up a single, a single, then a homerun. Three batters, three runs. Ouch. Then he settled in. The Mariners came back with a run in the bottom of the first, and after I pointed this out on the scoreboard above the left-field wall, my teacher said, “So the Royals win that round.”
Um ... Kind of.
In the end, she got to see quite a game. M's hit for the cycle: Ryon Healey homered in the second to tie it up, Ben Gamel tripled in the same inning to put us ahead, and Denard Span doubled in the third to pad the lead. Singles were spread out all over, but that's all they'd need. Edwin Diaz closed the door in the ninth and the M's won the future, 6-4. My teacher also got a free cap. It's brick-red rather than traditonal blue but that's probably better: red is a lucky color in China.