A Surprise

Shocking news today as Mariner pitcher Yusei Kikuchi turned down $13 million and is taking a chance on himself.

It was long assumed the Mariners would turn down the four-year option on the Japanese lefty, but it was also presumed he would exercise his one-year player option.

What this does for Seattle is open some more money for them to spend. They couldn’t have expected they would have $13 million from the Kikuchi deal. He will certainly get less on the open market, at least on a per year basis.

The one downside, if you could call it that, is that there is one less starting pitcher in the Mariners arsenal. There was a time when Kikuchi was effective, and whether the league figured him out, or the crackdown on substances brought him back to where he was, the success was short lived.

Kikuchi’s struggles this year is one of the reasons Seattle fell short in the unlikely push for a playoff spot, though I do wish him success wherever he goes next.

And I’m happy he helped the Mariners free up some money. I don’t know what kind of pitcher $13 million gets you, but it should be a far sight better than Kikuchi’s inconsistencies.

Regular Season Record is pointless?

The Atlanta Braves were just crowned the World Champions for 2021, and as problematic as some of the aspects of their organization is, it did show me one thing; just get to the playoffs.

There is consternation from time to time about regular season records of teams that make the playoffs if they are successful. The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, or locally, the 2010 Seahawks.

The Braves won two fewer games than the Mariners this season. But, they were lucky in that the NL East was a mess, they won the division and were hot at the right time.’

That’s good news for Seattle Mariners fans, because I could argue that they could be a team that is competitive enough throughout the season that with the right trade deadline addition, and maybe the debut of Julio Rodriguez, they could get hot going into October.

That means, even if they win 88 games, finish second in the AL West behind Houston, but are good enough to win a wild card, they just need to play well for a month and a few long-standing records of ineptitude could be broken in 2022.

Is it likely? Oh, probably not. One would think the Yankees will spend whatever it takes to be competitive. The White Sox have a great young nucleus, though a lot of questions to answer this offseason. And Houston, even if they don’t re-sign Carlos Correa, should still be pretty good with Altuve, Bregman and Kyle Tucker.

But just get in, and if you’re playing well in October, it could be a very special season.

What next for Seattle

I was perusing MLB.com’s list of the top 25 free agents for this upcoming offseason, and trying to find fits for the Mariners.

They could use many of these players, but what fills an open position on the roster, and what fits with their philosophy of a younger team that can contend continuously.

Another thing to consider is possible qualifying offers. For example, a player like Corey Seager could cost not only money but a hefty draft pick while Kris Bryant would not.

Here’s what I see as possibilities for the upcoming offseason.

Marcus Semien (2B for Seattle): An unbelievable year for Semien in which he will likely get some MVP votes and wind up as a top-5 finisher for the award. The M’s will likely have to pay handsomely for Semien, and it is all but guaranteed that he will not match, much less approach his 2021 numbers, but he would fit in at 2B immediately and provide some much needed offensive help to a thin lineup. A deal with Semien will likely look bad on the back end, much like Robinson Cano’s but ultimately this would be a massive upgrade and either move Abraham Toro to 3rd, where he’s more comfortable, or to a utility type where he might be most valuable.

Michael Conforto (CF): Now, with Conforto, you would run into the same problem as with Jarred Kelenic, playing out of position, but he might be willing to take a prove-it contract and he’s also a Northwest kid who grew up near Seattle. I’m not saying he’d take a hometown discount, but the overpay to get him to play here might not be as extreme. Your defense at a premium position does not get better with Conforto, but hopefully he would re-find some of his offensive prowess to even things out and lengthen the M’s lineup. Plus, he’ll be a lot cheaper than Starling Marte while also being younger.

Marcus Stroman (P): There are a lot sexier pitchers on the market, but it’s tough to see a Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander coming to Seattle for anything less than a vast overpay, and I just don’t want to necessarily take the chance on Carlos Rodon or Noah Syndergaard. Stroman will match the Seattle philosophy or “Own the Zone!” He’s not much of a walker, and will need his defense to play well behind him, but Seattle can make that work, though likely not at all positions. He has also been mostly durable outside of the 2018 season, so there isn’t quite the injury risk there. He wouldn’t come in to be the ace, and even if James Paxton re-signs, he won’t be ready Opening Day. Stroman is a good fit.

Those are three I’d like see signed. It doesn’t feel like it would break the bank, and maybe with a good trade or two to complement these moves, it would make the team a serious playoff contender.

So Long!

Shed Long Jr. opted for free agency instead of a demotion to AAA.

Surprising to no one, it looks like there really wasn’t a path for him to regular time with Seattle, and he might not have the warmest feelings about the organization. I don’t think there’s a specific instance, but his allowed time for success seemed shorter than for others.

Long was acquired in 2019 from the Yankees as part of a larger move that saw Sonny Gray head to Cincinnati.

It was once thought that he had a potential future at 2B, or a corner outfield spot, and that the bat would play. That turned out not to be the case, but he was a great representative of the team and did work hard.

All said, the M’s will likely be looking to upgrade at 2B this year, possibly Marcus Semien? And their outfield depth, outside of center field, is not a major concern. So, Long is off to hopefully greener pastures and we’ll be left with what seemed like promise in 2019 but ultimately fizzled out.

He is only 26, so there’s still a possibility for him to unlock some of that offensive potential, but in all likelihood, he ends up a super utility type in the NL. That might be where he fits best.

Seager, Yes or No

Kyle Seager is at a crossroads with the Mariners, and while no expects the team to pick up his contract, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t come back as a free agent at a more manageable cost, but what that would be a good idea?

Reasons why I would bring Seager back:

  1. He’s a natural leader for this team, and you can tell by how he was sent off on Sunday that this team loves him. For a young team that’s looking to get back to the playoffs in 2022, you can never have enough of those kinds of players. The M’s will (likely) have Mitch Haniger and J.P. Crawford, but one more wouldn’t be a bad idea.
  2. The power numbers were the best of his career. He hit 35 home runs, knocked in 101 with a 2.0 fWAR. Slowing down? It wouldn’t appear so, even at 33.
  3. If you can get him to a manageable deal, that gives you a gold glove caliber defender at 3B and with Ty France looking like a capable 1B, you would have three excellent defenders around the infield and would have one less position to fill.

Reasons why I would pass on Seager

  1. That batting average. My goodness. I thought things would get better after he stopped messing with his swing when they started shifting him like crazy, but that would be incorrect. He also struck out 161 times, the most ever for him by far. It doesn’t portend to another big offensive season.
  2. Maybe 2021 is his peak. While he might not fall off a cliff, it is hard to imagine he would be able to even approach those numbers again. So, if he hits .220 with just 20 HRs and 75 RBI, is that palatable?
  3. This is the dumbest reason I have, but they said their goodbye. That lost home game allowed Scott Servais to give Kyle his goodbye moment. Nothing will top that, even if he does come back. It might seem anticlimatic if we do it all over again in 2023, well, unless he walks a World Series win or something.

No one expects Seattle to re-sign Seager, but that doesn’t mean the option shouldn’t be explored.

Mariners 2021: Success or failure?

A disappointing series loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim ended the playoff hopes of the M’s and extended the longest playoff drought in the four major U.S. sports to 20 years.

I was at Sunday’s game, and while the home team didn’t offer much in the way of hope, the crowd was electric and cheered the games that could impact Seattle’s future. But still, 44,000+ gave up a Sunday viewing a Seahawks game to attend the Mariners! I mean, how cool is that?!?

But now the look back. Was the hope of a playoff push enough for a fanbase that has waited 20 years to get back with only faint highlights over that time.

There seems to be two camps of thought, one, playoffs or bust, it doesn’t matter preseason expectations or excitement, you didn’t make the playoffs, you had a disappointing season. OR, based on where the team was thought to be, and the fact that they made us care, that is more than was hoped in the preseason.

I definitely fall in the latter category. I mean, think about it. This was a team that many experts thought would lose 90 games. And that was before James Paxton was lost for the year after just a handful of pitches. And that’s just one of the many injuries that plagued the team.

I know they weren’t “supposed” to have 90 wins. Their run differential, but here’s the thing about that. If you lose 15-1, how many games do you lose? Last I checked, one. Managers will approach blowouts very differently than games that are close, so it’s hard to get all that worked up.

There are a lot of issues this team needs to address in the offseason, particularly now as 2022, if it happens, will be a playoff or bust season. Anything short would be a massive disappointment. But there are a lot of things to like about what the 2021 team did and what the future holds if it contains a pretty decent turnover on the infield and pitching staff.

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