BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 02/14/2017

Thiel: Reasons to like, dislike Mariners’ chances

Mariners spring training is underway with multiple storylines, some to like, some not so much. But was it really necessary to mess with Poseidon, the Greek god of bad baseball teams?

Poseidon, a power-hitting right-handed bat from Athens, could be a formidable adversary this season for the Mariners.

Bookmaker Bovada in Las Vegas set the line Nov. 3 for the Mariners to win the 2017 World Series at 25/1. Updated odds this week show Seattle slipped to 33/1, which is a four-way tie for 13th with Baltimore, Kansas City and Detroit. As you may recall, only 10 MLB teams make the post-season.

Spring training is starting just this week, and already the Mariners are backsliding.

That doesn’t seem fair. Then again, for a team 15 years gone from the playoffs, respect is more elusive than a valentine from Charles Oakley to Knicks owner James Dolan.

Even though Jerry Dipoto generally won praise in his first year as general manager for creating a 10-game improvement to 86 wins — he predicted a mid-80s finish in spring training — the position-player roster was pickled with single-year temps (Adam Lind, Dae-Ho Lee, Chris Iannetta, Nori Aoki) and a club-record 31 pitchers, some of whom weren’t around long enough to say that they got smarter by staying in a Holiday Inn Express hotel.

For Scott Servais, who never managed at any level before getting the Mariners gig, the bewildering churn made him into Margaret Dumont when Groucho Marx introduced himself: “Hello, I must be going now.”

From a franchise management standpoint, it must be said that the club is out of excuses for the first time in nearly 20 years. No Howard Lincoln. No Chuck Armstrong. No mid-market revenue palaver (the 2016 payroll was a club-record $154 million, and the execs could still light cigars with $100 bills).

They have a new/old owner, John Stanton, who’s fully engaged but not so full of himself that he’s pulling an Arte Moreno.

Lots of things to like. And dislike.

Three best reasons for optimism

The bullpen is no longer a League of Ordinary Gentlemen — Since none of its members are Fernando Rodney or Mayckol Guiape (journalists will charge his parents with felony misnaming), bonus points are already granted.

Bullpens are almost always a crapshoot, and Dipoto blew on a lot of dice last season. This time, there are no final-fumes guys like Joaquin Benoit and Joel Peralta. Instead, they have guys with full tanks, starting with closer phenom Edwin Diaz, whose June 4 call-up from AA was Dipoto’s boldest, best move of the season. Diaz is hardly a finished product, but if his slider is as dominant as his 100-mph fastball, it won’t matter much.

The pen has three competent guys back from long stays on the 2016 disabled list in Tony Zych, Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook. Steve Cishek will be back probably by early April after rehabbing from hip surgery.

Add a steady holdover, Nick Vincent, plus another good-looking rookie called up from AA in September, Dan Altavilla, and the Mariners have seven guys they know from last season, even if Vincent is the only one among them on the 2016 opening day roster.

But feel free to rue the trade-deadline day in July that Dipoto traded away Mike Montgomery to what became the world champion Cubs.

Baserunning will no longer resemble an upright piano going down five flights of stairs — Funny as it was, Korean slugger Lee’s attempt to run the bases was something that children should never see. The Mariners stole 56 bases, fourth-fewest in MLB, evidence of the single-biggest skill bust in Dipoto’s roster.

The additions via trade of Jarrod Dyson from Kansas City and rookie Mitch Haniger from Arizona add speed on the basepaths and the outfield.  Dyson, longtime fourth outfielder with the Royals, is booked to start in left and hit leadoff, and Haniger will start in right. Along with CF Leonys Martin, the Mariners finally have an athletic outfield that should win a handful of games purely on catching balls in gaps and down the lines that are still rolling from last season.

The long regional nightmare at shortstop is over — The Mariners have given MLB everything at short from Alex Rodriguez, arguably the game’s most complete player (go ahead, argue) to Mario Mendoza, for whom the Mendoza Line was named, for all the players who started nearly entire seasons despite hitting .200 or worse.

In the past 10 years, the Mariners have deployed in their opening-day lineup Yuniesky Betancourt (a four-year starter), Jack Wilson, Brendan Ryan (a three-year starter), Brad Miller and Ketel Marte. None were terrible, some had singular gifts, but none moved the Mariners toward contention.

Jean Segura does that. Arriving with Haniger in the trade that sent Taijuan Walker and Marte to the D-backs, he had a 5.7 WAR and is the best position-player arrival since Cano. Barring injury, the Cano/Segura/Kyle Seager infield trio is one of the best in MLB.

Three best reasons for pessimism

Fifi iffy — The Mariners have committed half the payroll,  more than $76 million, to four players: Felix Hernandez ($26.9 million), Robinson Cano ($24M), Nelson Cruz ($14.3M) and Seager ($11M). Lopsided payrolls are not unusual in MLB, but the guys pulling the large coin have to perform at least to their career averages, or the rest of the lineup is forced to over-compensate for skills none have.

Hernandez, based purely on hard miles driven, is the most likely of the four to be the flat tire. At 31 in April with more than 2,400 MLB innings, Hernandez had multiple episodes of falling off the edge of the earth in 2016. He simply lost command of his pitches, and that was before he injured his calf and missed seven weeks.

Reports are that he has undergone rigorous workouts in the off-season. Dipoto and Servais have been equally rigorous in defending the staff ace and local hero.  Then again, what else could all three have done or said?

Hernandez can still be a good pitcher, but don’t expect him to summon his old self but a few times this season. That leaves Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton to carry a load they’ve never carried in the majors. Newcomers Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo are upgrades from Wade Miley and Nathan Karns, but not enough to fill the void of acelessness.

Year five of the trials of Mike Zunino  — The catcher of the future/present looked good upon his 2016 return from a seasonal start in AAA Tacoma, then reverted to old batting habits in the final six weeks. He’s still an above average defender and pitcher handler, but there’s a reason the Mariners wanted a stout veteran backup in 38-year-old Carlos Ruiz.

To see Zunino in the Dustin Ackley/Justin Smoak/Jesus Montero dustbin of failed potential would be agonizing.

The trident in the resurrected logo is pointing down, not up — A warning, Mariners: Do not mess with Poseidon. The Greek god of the sea did not take well to misuse of his weapon in the club’s first use of the logo from 1977-86.

“I believe in the baseball gods, and I don’t mess with anybody’s gods,” former Mariners catcher (1982-83) Rick Sweet said. “Because who knows which gods really do have power and which gods don’t? That’s why I don’t mess with the baseball gods.”

After 15 years without playoffs, and zero World Series appearances, there is no need for a maritime community to mock the cosmos.

Still wonder why the bookies changed the odds after the logo was revealed?

 


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YourThoughts

  • Gary

    It is going to take more than a year to rebuild this shipwreck, at least the hammer and lots of nails are at work here. They just need to use less bent nails.

    • lee cousins

      Sounds like you hit your thumb a few times, there’s always baseball.

      • art thiel

        Actually, I like the bent-nails analogy.

    • art thiel

      One off-season is enough to turn things around, but Felix has to be more than average.

  • 1coolguy

    Fools gold. Believe it when I see it.

    • art thiel

      After 15 years, you’re entitled to skepticism.

  • David Michel

    Catcher and first base are still real areas of concern. Hopefully Felix will bounce back, and Iwokuma can have one more good year in him. Paxton is a question mark too, but he has so much potential, he can be dominating.

    • art thiel

      Very few teams are complete at the beginning of spring training. The benchmark is whether the new guys are worth four more wins than last year’s many-armed group.

  • lee cousins

    I think that what might get overlooked here is everyone else has gotten better in this division, and even though the Angeles and A’s our not regarded very high they are good enough to beat you on any given day. Like most teams we will have are ups and downs and this will also determine how things turn out, nobody can say with any certainy how this all plays out. The good thing is Dipoto’s team has plenty of backups which is an area you can feel good about now to play the game…………play ball.

    • art thiel

      Astros and Rangers are both 90+ win teams. Don’t think M’s are quite there.

      • lee cousins

        Hey, Art if the M’s are not a 90+ team their very close, something else though,.. somewhere along the way if those who are engaged in the race they will fill their needs through acquisition, Now this may change the dynamics of a team it maybe enough to put them over the top but before we even get that far I look for trader Jerry to make other trades before this spring training is even over ..so meanwhile this is not set in stone just yet a- lot to be discovered yet.

  • Tman

    It’s a really nice stadium.

  • Tman

    What is the rate of recidivism from Rehab?

    • art thiel

      Depends on the person and the surgery.

  • Dick/Johnson

    Entertaining read.
    Your stiletto was wielded mirthfully.

    • art thiel

      And happy Valentine’s Day to you.

  • Tian Biao

    great read, thanks! . . . baseball is finally on the way. ps maybe the M’s should sign that Poseidon fella – he looks pretty menacing. But he might want to leave the turtle at home: we’ve had enough of those circling the bases these past few years. (at least, I think that’s a turtle? in his left hand?)

    • art thiel

      Can’t quite tell if it looks like Dae-Ho Lee.

      Thanks for the good words.

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  • Al Wasser

    I wish I were as optimistic about this bulllpen as you (and many others) seem to be. Diaz was dazzling last year, but let’s see how he handles an entire season. And with that many pitchers returning from injury/surgery, there are bound to be setbacks, as we find out that Cishek also had microfracture surgery. There is also a basically untested outfield and first-base combo. That’s a whole bunch of question marks.

    • art thiel

      My bad: Left out lefty reliever and 8-year vet Marc Walter Rzepczynski. 31, a key acquisition. It may have been a spelling block on my part.

      http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/rzepcma01.shtml

      Let’s all practice together the pronunciation:

      zep-CHIN-skee

      zep-CHIN-skee

      zep-CHIN-skee

      • Al Wasser

        Go with the nickname: Scrabble

  • woofer

    OK, this is how we amuse ourselves in the dismal doldrums between the Stupor Bowl and the commencement of March Madness. The end of winter blahs. Just trying to get through. Gonzaga is number one but nobody much cares because they will exit again at the Sweet Sixteen level. No love for beating up on Santa Clara and Mazola Merrymount.

    Spring training not yet here but in the dark recesses the idea of it is beginning to stir. Obligatory annual references to Mario Mendoza. Isn’t there yet a Vegas line on how many times Tuffy Go Swish will strike out? A new legend in the making? Only time will tell. Maybe this really will be Zunino’s break-out year.

    • Jamo57

      Getting through winter doldrums would be so much easier with a winter major league sports franchise or two in Seattle. But alas, the Ms don’t want us to have such mental health resources available in Seattle. Rather than parse the tea leaves for how the Ms will disappoint this year, that leaves letter of intent day, waiting for the NFL draft, and marveling on sunset approaching 6 pm as my meager means of surviving our winters. LOL.

      • woofer

        Good points all. Thanks.

      • art thiel

        Your chosen therapies are so much cheaper than alcohol or drugs.

        • Jamo57

          Or going to sporting events at an arena I guess. LOL

      • TheOriginalDonald

        If only Bettman moved the Fishsticks to Seattle

        • Jamo57

          The Coyotes may be in play. Their Tempe arena deal fell through. But my attitude is “wake me when it’s over” nowadays.

    • art thiel

      Well, it must be interesting, or you wouldn’t have written, eh, woofer?

      • woofer

        Well….I agree it’s absolutely fascinating when compared to the bleak alternatives. That was the point. It’s either this or Trump 24/7. No place to hide.

        • art thiel

          And guess what? It’s just beginning.

  • Paul Harmening

    I’m late on this read, so writing to myself probably.

    So glad to get baseball back on the map. NFL toilets been stopped up way to long. “Oh than stank” !

    Best quote of post is the shortstop observation…ARod to Mendoza line.

    And, as always, we are still all wondering why the bookies do as they do. Only Art Thiel and Jim Moore, both good buds of the late PI wonder about the bookies. I take it you guys didn’t get rich from sports journalism salaries. I still miss the paper boy landing that early morning roll of PI print on my doorstep.

    • art thiel

      Actually, I think there are one or two more people than me who wonder about the bookies. There’s a reason casinos can afford to build 40-story hotels.

      • TheOriginalDonald

        Until Agent Orange came around there WERE no non-profit casinos

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