Tag Archives: Felix Hernandez

Cano, Cruz, Hernandez – What To Do, What To Do

So here we have the three most prominent and important players currently on the Seattle Mariners.

Of the three, only Nelson Cruz is performing at an acceptable level.  Robinson Cano is in the midst of an 80 game suspension and has become a disappointment to both his team and Seattle Mariner fans.  Felix Hernandez is a ghost of what he once was, a seasonal potential Cy Young Award pitcher.

There is going to be a lot of talk of what to do when Robinson Cano returns from his suspension.  Just how much can he contribute in a 6-week stretch to perhaps get the Mariners to the playoffs for the first time since 2001?  If he does help a lot, we lose his bat for the post season since he won’t be eligible.  And if he doesn’t he takes away critical at-bats from players the Mariners will have to lean on during the stretch run and the aforementioned playoffs.

There will also be a lot of talk of what to do after this year.  I suppose an optimist can view that what the Mariners have is a “happy” problem.  I’m not so sure.

Here is what I think is the best to do for this year and beyond for Cano, Cruz and Hernandez:

Robinson Cano

Robinson Cano started 2018 decently enough before his suspension.  The 6′, 210 lbs. was hitting .287 with 4 home runs and 23 RBI’s as well as playing 2B as smooth as anyone.

But right now, he isn’t the best 2nd baseman on the team.  That honor goes to Dee Gordon who, despite starting out in centerfield, transitioned perfectly back to a position in which he was a two-time All Star.  Granted, Gordon will need some days off and to have a player the caliber of Cano is fantastic.

But even if Cano goes on some sort of tear at the plate, the Mariners can’t keep Cano at 2nd because he can’t play in the playoffs.  Gordon will need to keep playing to prepare for the playoffs.

So that means Cano becomes a sub…but only at three spots:  2nd base, first base and designated hitter.

No problem with Cano playing 2nd or being the DH.  But he has never played first base in a major league game.  It shouldn’t be a problem for him though as he is a fine athlete.   But there are nuances at first that he needs to be aware of such as holding the runner, going to a different cut-off position, knowing when to stretch to help the infielders get a much needed out and the most obvious, searching for the bag on ground balls.

Ryan Healy has played a pretty good first base for the Mariners and has contributed decently at the plate, hitting .240 with 18 home runs and driving in 46.  As with Gordon, Healy will need some days off and Cano is a luxury to have.  However, I haven’t seen any news of him working out at first base and having a player learn a position on the fly during a playoff run isn’t a good idea even with the caliber of Cano.

Which leaves the third spot he can play:  Designated Hitter

Now you take the bat away from the Mariners most consistent and dangerous hitter, Nelson Cruz.

Cano and Cruz are pretty close statistically since 2015.

Since 2015 Age Avg. Hits HR RBI SLG %
Nelson Cruz 37 0.286 584 148 372 0.552
Robinson Cano 35 0.288 563 87 293 0.468

I guess the question would be is who do you want at the plate at the most critical junctions?  I’d take Nellie because he slows everything down at the most critical times.  With Cano, too often he strikes out, rolls a lazy grounder to second or flies out.  Nellie may get out but he always hits the ball hard.

The only luxury that Manager Scott Servias has is that Nellie is right-handed and Cano hits from the left side.  But there is no way I’d only use Nellie with left-handed pitching.

So what to do with Cano starting in 2019?  Not going to be able to trade him as is contract is too huge.  Mariners would have to pay him to play elsewhere and get little in return.  And if they release him, he still gets paid as his contract is guaranteed.

The most obvious choice would be move him to first providing Cruz signs next year.  But then you lose Ryan Healy who will be only 27 next year, has proven he can come up with some big hits as well as play a good first base at a fraction of the cost.  However, you could get a pitcher of value for Healy in a trade but in my estimation, you lose a superior first baseman over Cano…and with Cano a decade older, he will most likely start declining in production at the plate.

As stated before, Dee Gordon is the best 2nd baseman on the team.  He is six years younger than Cano, has far better range and has the knack for coming up with spectacular plays.  As far as offensive output, Gordon contributes way differently than Cano.  He steals bases and scores runs…he is a prototypical lead-off hitter whereas Cano is a typical 3-hole hitter who drives him in.

The edge goes to Gordon as the 2nd baseman for the Mariners based solely on his defensive skills and the fact he is six years younger than Cano.

Sorry folks, Robinson Cano’s days at 2nd base are over.

If Cruz does not sign next year, Cano becomes the DH, case closed.  But in my opinion, if the Mariners don’t sign Cruz, they are out of their fricking minds.

So Cano will either be the starting first baseman or the designated hitter for the next five years.

Nelson Cruz

Granted, Cruz is 37 years old.  But he has kept himself in fantastic shape and has remained consistent at the plate since joining the Mariners in 2015.

He is the most clutch hitter the Mariners have had since Edgar Martinez.  And don’t think that Cruz hasn’t picked the best designated hitter on the planet for all he’s worth.

Nelson Cruz is always prepared.  His exercise regime is borderline neurotic.  Check out this story from the Seattle Times for insight on his workouts:  Nelson Cruz Workouts.

The only blight on Cruz’s remarkable career was a 50 game suspension for his connection with the Biogenisis PED scandal in his last year with the Texas Rangers which also involved Alex Rodrigues and Jesus Montero.  Cruz has never tested positive for PED and accepted a 50 game suspension in lieu of a 100 game suspension after MLB had threatened to out him.

What is not generally known is that for the most part, the reason was medical and not a way to increase performance.  In 2012, Cruz had lost about 40 lbs. with no explanation.  Doctors couldn’t find out what was going on until they had discovered a parasite and doctor’s prescribed steroids to resolve the issue.  The full story can be found here, courtesy of the Seattle Times:  Cruz PED Suspension

Outside of that one “transgression,”  Cruz has been an exemplary player and teammate.  The Mariners would do well to sign him to a two-year contract and let him finish his career as a Mariner.

Unfortunately, if that occurs, Ryan Healy will be the odd man out as Cano would most likely become the everyday first baseman.

Felix Hernandez

One thing that almost everyone can agree upon is that Felix Hernandez is not the pitcher he once was.

I know that both GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais have said that Felix is a vital part of the Seattle Mariners.  However, I think that is more for Felix’s benefit than it is for us fans.

Everyone lays some importance to statistics and I agree that they tell part of the story.  For instance, from 2005-2014, Felix complied a 125-92 record with a 3.10 ERA.  And he pitched for some pretty awful Seattle Mariner teams, most notably the 2010 season where the Mariners lost 101 games and the 2011 team that posted a 67-95 record.

Place Hernandez with the Boston Red Sox in that same time frame and everyone would be talking about Hernandez as a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.  He probably would have won 20 games at least 3 times and been in the post season within the first 3 seasons of his career.

But if there is one redeeming quality about Hernandez is the loyalty that he has shown the Mariners and they rewarded him in 2013 with a 7 year, $175 million dollar contract.  He has never wanted to be with any other team other than the Mariners and, at the time, it was one of the best things the Mariners could have done.

The only thing that the Mariners haven’t done for him is get him to the post season, something he could have easily accomplished since most likely, if had decided to go elsewhere, it would have been with a contender.

Felix’s contract is up next year.  And quite honestly, he is no longer the ace of the staff.  That belongs to James Paxton who has deferred to King Felix and rightfully so.

In fact, if the Mariners do re-sign him, it would have to be at a reduced rate and he would have to accept that he might be, at best, a number 3 or 4 starter.

No one can discount that Felix has given the Mariners everything he’s had for the past 14 years.  But at age 32, he is starting to break down and has had trouble getting out of the first inning of games.  He is not the strike-out artist that he once was (Side note here:  To all those in the King’s Court, please stop yelling “K,K,K,K” every time he get’s 2 strikes on a batter.  It only encourages him to do something he can no longer do:  Blow a fastball past a hitter) and has resisted changing his ways in order to extend his career.

Both Felix and Seattle Mariners fans need to face reality.  Felix is, at best, a number 3 starter.  And with the extension given Wade LeBlanc, I see the starting rotation for next year to be:

  1. James Paxton
  2. Marco Gonzales
  3. Felix Hernandez
  4. Wade LeBlanc
  5. Mike Leake

Even if the Mariners let him walk away, there is no way he’ll be the Ace of the staff again.

Seattle Mariners have some tough choices when Cano comes back from his suspension and ever tougher ones starting in 2019.

Let’s hope they make the right choices.

 

Seattle Mariners – Let’s Play GM

The Seattle Mariners head in to the All-Star break with more questions than answers.

To be fair, I don’t think the Mariner offense is the major issue with the current situation the Mariners find themselves in.

Seattle ranks 4th in the American League in batting average, hitting at a very respectable .264.  They are 5th in runs scored with 427 which is just under 5 runs per game.  Mariners are also 5th in RBI’s with 405 and have done a pretty good job with on base percentage coming in at number seven, with a .750 average.

I see pitching being the biggest issue.  Yes, I know the Mariners staff has been devastated with injuries in the first half.  James Paxton missed most of May, Felix Hernandez missed all of May and most of June, Hisashi Iwakuma has only pitched in six games this year and Drew Smyly, who the Mariners targeted in a trade with Tampa Bay, is pretty much gone for the season.

It’s time to blow up the starting rotation:

Felix Hernandez:  Keep

Felix is no longer the pitcher that he once was.  His current ERA of 5.04 is almost two runs higher than his career 3.19.  He can still be a very effective pitcher but he is no longer the ace of the staff.  At best, he is your #3 in the rotation.

At 31 years of age, The King still as a lot left in his tank but only if he can adjust to pitching to contact.  I think the Mariner fans, in order to support him, should put all of those K cards in a scrap book and stop the chants of “K!, K!, K!, K!” every time he gets two strikes on a batter.  He wants to give the fans what they want but realistically, I doubt we’re ever going to see Felix reach double digit strikeout figures in a game.

He’ll need to stop nibbling at the corners, hoping batters chase pitches because he no longer has that devastating fastball to blow by them.  He needs to become a more efficient pitcher, getting batters to hit ground balls and let his defense get the outs.  He doesn’t have to be “The Man” anymore.

James Paxton:  Keep

The Big Maple is the Mariners ace of the future.  And the future is now.

Paxton has all the makings to be the ace of this team:  A four-seam fastball that comes in at 96 mph (he has occasionally hit 100 mph), he also relies on a curveball and  cutter.  He also has in his repertoire, a change-up and slider to use if he needs to.

When he is on his game, it doesn’t make a difference what type of hitter he is facing.  With excellent control down in the strike-zone, batters either give up on the pitch or just helplessly flail at it.

At some point in his career, Paxton will have a no-hitter.  It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

Hisashi Iwakuma:  Release

When the Mariners first got Iwakuma, it was a great move.  He has given Seattle some great years.  Never a strikeout pitcher, Iwakuma is a right-handed version of a “crafty left-hander.”

But Kuma is 36 years old and with nearly 2,500 innings under his belt (combined innings pitching in Japan and with the Mariners), he is out of gas.

Mariners need to give Kuma his  outright release after the year is over.  He isn’t going to be worth much on the trade market and I don’t think there will be many teams looking to take a chance on an oft-injured pitcher with the kind of mileage he has on his arm.

Andrew Moore:  Keep

I like the way Moore handles himself on the mound.  He is an efficient pitcher and eats up innings, rarely taxing himself.  He isn’t going to overpower hitters, his fastball tops out at 92 mph.

But he has good control of the strike zone with all of his pitches which in addition to his fastball, are slider, curveball and change-up.

He is a fly-ball pitcher which in some ballparks, can get him into trouble.  But with the stuff he has, he can be a good pitcher at the bottom of the rotation.

Ariel Miranda:  Trade

I know that Miranda has been a pretty good pitcher for Seattle in 2017 and that he has shown flashes of brilliance at times.  But the one thing that keeps him from earning a permanent spot is the fact that he will allow other teams to have  a big inning.

I don’t think that’s going to change and Seattle would be wise to trade him after the 2017 season while he has some good value.  He is 7-4 right now and has been a pleasant surprise and teams are always looking for left-handers.

However, if the Mariners decide to keep him, he can be a good # 5 starter.  He isn’t a power pitcher (fastball comes in at 92) and doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters.  Right now, the left-hander relies mainly on his fastball, cutter and change-up.  If he wants to have more success, I think he needs to use his slider more as it is a very effective ground ball pitch for him.  He doesn’t use it often enough.

If he can incorporate that slider, I think it will mitigate the big innings that bite him from time to time.

Drew Smyly:  Jury is Out

Smyly underwent Tommy John surgery July 6, 2017 to repair his right elbow.

If the surgery is successful, the Mariners just may have a number 2 pitcher.  Problem is, we may not know until 2019 since the recovery can take 12-15 months.  Another unknown is that we don’t know what kind of pitcher Smyly will be.

Starting in 2018, the Mariners will have 3 starters:  Paxton, Hernandez and Moore.  They will need to get another top of the rotation pitcher to follow Paxton and # 5 starter to eat up innings.

Right now, the Mariners farm system doesn’t give them a lot of options despite the fact over the first half of the season, we’ve seen a lot of pitchers come in:  Chase De Jong, Christian Bergman, Dillon Overton, Rob Whalen, Chris Heston and Ryan Weber to name a few.  And while these pitchers have gained valuable major league experience, they aren’t ready yet.  Most of them need at least another year in the minors before making the jump.

So that means looking to free agency.  And the Mariners have not had the best of luck in that area but the situation leaves little choice.

Best Free Agent Options:

Yu Darvish, Texas

Darvish has had some good success in while playing in Texas.  He is 30 years old and still can be a very effective pitcher.  He has a good four-seam fastball that comes in at 95mph with good movement.  Add to that his slider and cutter and Darvish can be a dominating pitcher at times and when he uses his change-up, hitters swing and miss more often than not.

Darvish would be a very good fit as the number 2 starter behind Paxton.

Brett Anderson, Chicago Cubs

Anderson has spent most of career with the Oakland A’s and since 2014, he has pitched for 3 teams over the past 4 seasons.

Anderson is a groundball pitcher.  His fastball and slider generates an above average number of ground balls and with the Mariner defense, it will keep him and the team in a lot of games.

He can eat a lot of innings and would be a good bottom of the rotation pitcher.

I doubt the Mariners will go thru the slew of injuries they did in 2017.  But changes need to be made and the most important is to accept the fact that Hernandez isn’t the ace of the team anymore.

The offense will under go some changes but for the most part, it has been pretty good.  Of course they have shown to go into funks but that is expected over the course of the season.

But of the starting rotation can stay healthy, then the bullpen can be used as it needs to be.  Edwin Diaz will come out of 2017 learning a lot about himself and it will only make him a better closer in 2018 and beyond.

Seattle Mariners may not make it this year but if they can shore up the starting pitching for the next couple of years, they will contend and end the playoff draught that has been plaguing them since 2001.

 

 

Seattle Mariners – Do Not Even Think About Trading Edwin Diaz.

Future Closer of Seattle Mairners
Future Closer of Seattle Mairners

Every time I see Edwin Diaz enter a game, I get the chills.  His stuff is absolutely electric and at 22 years of age, has the savvy poise of a seasoned veteran.

Since being called up from AA Ball, Diaz has appeared in 21 games, pitch 21.2 innings and struck out 44 batters.  That’s about an average of striking out 2 batters an inning.  He reminds me of Mariano Rivera, the great Yankee closer.  Not in style as Diaz has one all his own.  His fastball his in the 98 – 100 mph range and has thrown 101 mph.  Even  more devastating his slider which has become a very effective out pitch for him.

He reminds me of Rivera in the fact that he could tell a batter what pitch was coming, where it’s going to be placed and the batter still wouldn’t be able to hit it.

So here is a message to GM Jerry Dipoto:  Mark Edwin Diaz as untouchable…do not trade him even if Mike Trout is available.  Do not lose him to free agency and do not even think about changing his style.

Mariners have a history of letting players go that have gone on to have great success on other teams:  Adam Jones to Baltimore, Randy Johnson to Houston (who went on to win 2 Cy Young awards and a World Series ring with Arizona), Jason Varitek to Boston and, as much as I hate to say it, Alex Rodriguez to the Rangers then to the Yankees.

The Mariners have had some special players…Alvin Davis, Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson and of course, the soon to be Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. who in my opinion, is one of the best players to have ever played the game.

Felix Hernandez is also a special player and the Mariners owe it to him to keep Diaz in a Mariner uniform as I see him as the closer of the future.  And not just for a couple of seasons.  This kid has the stuff to be an elite closer for at least a decade.

Granted, he isn’t always going to be able to throw 100+ mph pitches…his awareness of that is evident of his developing a devastating slider now while he can hit 100+ fastballs.  At some point, I wouldn’t doubt that he develops a cutter like Rivera that would be just as knee-bending as his slider and mystifying as his fastball.

Dipoto talks about building for the future.  With current stars of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Felix, the Mariners have an exciting core group on the rise in players like Leonys Martin, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino and Ketel Marte.

Let’s peak into the future, say 2018, just as a pitching staff:

Starting rotation:  Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Nick Neidert, Luis Gohara.

Closer: Edwin Diaz

I don’t know how to address the rest of the bullpen since set-up pitchers and long-relievers are always in a state of flux.  But I do see the starting rotation being pretty close to that and Edwin Diaz, the Electric One, being the closer who could average 40-45 saves per season.

While this season may not shape up to what we hoped it would be, the future is in good hands.  And future leads will be protected by one Edwin Diaz.

 

 

Seattle Mariners – Frustrating But Talented

Can This Be The Season?

Mariners won last night on a 3-run homer by designated hitter Adam Lind.  Lind’s walk-off homer is the fourth time the Mariner’s have done that, leading the majors in that category.

The win takes some of the sting out of the horrific month of June which put’s them at 7-14 for the month and for the first time since April 23rd, at .500 for the season.

Granted, we all know that teams will go thru some rough patches and this version of the Mariners does at least, for the most part, stay in games unlike last year, where if the opposing team got any kind of lead, they folded up like a cheap tent.

Injuries haven’t helped matters much with starters Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and Wade Miley out for extensive periods of time.  And the fact that the rest of the staff, sans Hisashi Iwakuma, can’t get past the 5th inning, which depletes the bullpen and in turn, have been battered around by opposing teams.

There are signs of hope though.  James Paxton seems to have found a groove and with his new arm slot location, has been hitting in the 95-98 mph on his fastball, occasionally hitting 100 mph to go along with a good curveball and slider.

Last night’s starting pitcher, Wade LeBlanc just recently traded for the infamous “player to be named later” was thrust into the starting rotation.  The left-hander channeled a favorite Mariner icon, one Jamie Moyer with a quality change-up and pin-point control, holding the Cardinals to zero runs, three hits and one walk in six innings.

The Mariners did there best to give back the game in the eight inning when the Cardinals scored three runs without the benefit of a hit.  Relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit did the most damage, walking the lead-off hitter and then promptly hitting the next one, and then walking the next two to force in a run that tied the game.

Next was the debut of Donn Roach but I can’t blame him for giving up the two runs.  He did what he was supposed to do and that was to induce the Cardinal’s Matt Holliday to hit the ball on the ground.  But the normally sure-handed Mariner 3rd baseman Kyle Seager misjudged the 103 mph grounder for an error and off it went into left field allowing two runs to score.

But baseball is a funny game and more often than not, it allows for players to amend any screw-ups they may have made.  Seager came back by hitting a double and Dae-Ho Lee, the Mariners most pleasant surprise this season, worked Cardinal closer Trevor Rosenthal for a walk, setting up Adam Lind’s heroics in the ninth.

Here are some things we can take away about the Mariners during this nasty stretch:

  • Seventh best hitting team in the American League with a .259 team batting average.
  • Second in the American League in runs scored with 359.
  • Second in the American League in home runs with 110.
  • Second in the American League in RBI with 347.
  • Fourth in the American League with a .326 OPB percentage
  • Fourth in the American League with a .437 slugging percentage
  • Second in the American League pitching staff with 630 strikeouts of opposing batters
  • Second in American League with an ERA of 3.78 runs per game

Newsflash:  Despite recent play, this team is pretty good.

Right now the Mariners are banged up but still in contention for a Wild Card spot.  And with some luck (and hopefully the Texas Rangers go into a spin late), they might even have a shot at winning the American League West title.

What I hope happens when Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and Wade Miley return from their injuries is that they keep James Paxton in the rotation and send Nathan Karns down to the minors to figure out how to get past five innings.

So down the stretch, the Mariners starting rotation would be:

  • Hernandez
  • Iwakuma
  • Paxton
  • Walker
  • Miley

Keep Wade LeBlanc for long relief and spot starts.

With the exception of Walker (and I think that it’s a short term issue), all of the starters have the ability to go at least seven innings each time they pitch.  Now you have an effective bullpen that only needs to work 3 innings a game instead of 5 or sometimes 6.  That can only make the bullpen that much more effective.

Mariners are going to be OK….they have too much talent to be out of it right now.

Beer Thinker Prediction – Seattle Mariners Win 93 Games

Seattle Baseball

On Monday, the Seattle Mariners open their 2015 season against the Los Angles Angels of Anaheim.  It’s really the first time in many years that I am officially excited to see how this team does.

Last year, with expectations low, a new manager and one very high-profile free agent signing of Robinson Cano, many predictions were the Mariners would finish no better than .500 with yet another season of no playoff hopes.

Manager Lloyd McClendon, newly hired from the Detroit Tigers staff, had other thoughts.  I’m pretty sure he endeared himself to Mariner fans when he stood up for Robinson Cano when a Yankee official commented on Cano’s hustle.  “What’s he doing talking about my player?” has to go down as the best response to the uncalled criticism.  It was almost Piniella-esque!

With the guidance of McClendon and the leadership of Cano, the Mariners came within one win of getting into the playoffs.  Felix Hernandez had a record setting year and Kyle Seager proved himself to be one of the best all-around third baseman in the league with some great defense and clutch hitting.

You have to think the Mariners are going to do better this year.   They finally have an official big-bopper in the #4 spot in Nelson Cruz and the line-up is pretty much set.  I have concerns over the lead-off spot as well as getting offense from the shortstop position.  Defensively, the Mariners are going to be one of the better defensive teams in the majors.

I was listening to the Danny, Dave and Moore show on ESPN’s 710 Sports in Seattle on the way home from work.  They were doing a segment on bold predictions for the Mariners.  It got me to thinking just how many games the Mariners will win this year.

Jim Moore’s prediction is they will win 100 games this year.  Personally I think that’s a bit far-fetched but you got to admire Moore’s spunk.

Mariners went 87-75 last season and were in the playoff hunt until the last day of the season.  With the pitching they have and a much more dependable lineup, I think the Mariners will go 93-69.

As for other predictions, such as the number of home runs Cruz will hit or if Felix will win 20 games, I don’t really want to go there.

What I want to see is that the Mariners play good, solid baseball, score more runs than the other team and get into the playoffs.

If Nelson Cruz hits only 20 home runs but gets 120 RBI’s, I’m fine with that.  In fact, if Cruz, Cano, Seager and Mike Zunino all get 20 home runs each and drive in at least 80 runs each, I’d be more than happy with that production.  And it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that could occur.

I believe this team is going to be special this year.  With 3 bona-fide superstars in Cano, Cruz and Felix along with some superstars in the making such as Seager, Zunino, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, the Mariners have few weak spots.  Add to that players in supporting roles in Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson and Danny Farquhar only makes them a solid and deeply talented team.

They still need to play the games and with McClendon, he won’t allow them to get to full of themselves nor let them wallow when things aren’t going well.

93-69 has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Go Mariners!