BY Art Thiel 04:00PM 03/27/2019

Thiel: Need reason to go to M’s game? Santana

We offer a guide to sorting the Mariners’ not-so-young newbies on the 2019 roster. If you’re willing to pay attention in a “step-back” year, Domingo Santana is your guy.

Domingo Santana could be the one new position player to have quick impact among the 2019 Mariners. / Milwaukee Brewers

To the Mariners’ more casual followers — whose numbers grew exponentially after news that the club was taking a “step back” from their torrid 21st century pace of one playoff season per generation — the easy assumption would be that the 2019 season has been given over to youngsters for development.

That view would be scored: E-fans.

The roster and lineup for Thursday’s home opener at T-Mobile Park against the Boston Red Sox (4:10 p.m., Root) are replete with mid-career or later guys. Nearly all of the well-regarded kids acquired during the off-season to eventually replace Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Edwin Diaz and others, who helped provide the most lackluster 89-win finish in club history, are in AAA Tacoma or lower in the minors.

The general plan is for the club to sit out the competitive festivities in 2019, then sprinkle in the ripening youth to make a contender . . . sometime.

It is the way of MLB these days, teams taking seasons off to accumulate powder for sustained explosions. Whether it works here is anyone’s guess.

But the Mariners have tried everything else in their 43 years, and managed only four playoff teams, so they have little to lose. A minimum of two million fans tend annually to show up anyway, for the pleasant summer evenings, beer, garlic fries and hitting on one another, so the outcomes upon the greensward are secondary.

By way of briefly sorting the roster confusion, we’re using here three categories: Long-termers, placeholders and tweeners.

Long-termers are players who have a chance to last slightly longer than the salutes in Tokyo for the final game of Ichiro. That might be a bad measurement tool, because the fans probably haven’t stopped cheering/wailing.

More realistically, they are players who seem to have multi-year futures with club. A bold assumption in view of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s preference for roster frenzy, but even rivers can be photographed with a sufficiently quick shutter speed.

Placeholders are veterans here for a paycheck and a chance to play well enough to get  traded by mid-season to a team for whom October is more than a run-up to Halloween.

Tweeners are guys who could go up, down or out.

Here’s a sorting, including the ages on Opening Day, of the 25-man roster the Mariners set Monday:

POSITION STARTERS

Long-termers  — RF Mitch Haniger, 28; CF Mallex Smith, 26; LF Domingo Santana, 26; 2B Dee Gordon, 31; 3B Kyle Seager (injured), 31

Placeholders —  1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion, 36; SS Tim Beckham, 29; C Omar Narvaez, 27

Tweeners — 1B/3B Ryon Healy, 27; 1B/DH Daniel Vogelbach, 26

RESERVES

Placeholders — C David Freitas, 30; OF Jay Bruce, 32 next week

Tweener — INF Dylan Moore, 27

STARTING PITCHERS

Long-termers — Marco Gonzales,  27; Yusei Kikuchi, 27; Mike Leake, 31

Placeholder — Felix Hernandez, 33 April 8

Tweener — Wade LeBlanc, 34

BULLPEN

Tweeners — Hunter Strickland, 30; Nick Rumbelow, 27; Cory Gearrin, 32; Roenis Elias, 30; Zac Rosscup, 30; Chasen Bradford, 29; Brandon Brennan, 27; Matt Festa, 26; Shawn Armstrong (injured), 28; Gerson Bautista (injured), 23; Anthony Swarzak (injured), 33; Sam Tuivailala (injured), 26

Noteworthy in this sorting is that every member of the bullpen seems to be a temp.

Hunter Strickland, a free-agent signee who pitched 45 games for San Francisco in 2018, is the nominal closer. But manager Scott Servais freely admits the bullpen is more mysterious than anti-matter. Only six — Elias, Bradford, Festa, Armstrong, Rumblelow and Tuivailala — spent time in Seattle last season.

“Bullpens are about roles, where do guys fit,” Servais told MLB.com Sunday. “I do think it’s plain to all of our guys, there aren’t going to be assigned roles, so to speak, other than we like Strickland to pitch the ninth inning. Other than that, it’s going to be pockets and match-ups where they fit. You’re hoping that a few of our young guys really step up.”

Hoping. There’s a lot of that going around the Mariners in 2019.

In the position-player personnel mash of newcomers, there appears one player who is more than merely a hope.

Santana is the immediate and potential long-term starter in left —  despite having never played there in his career — who in 371 MLB games displayed serious power and an above-average throwing arm.

Acquired in a December trade for LF Ben Gamel and minor league RHP Noah Zafolas from Milwaukee — where he lost playing time in 2018 when the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, the eventual National League MVP, and signed free agent Lorenzo Cain — Santana mostly killed it in spring training.

At 6-foot-5 and 235 ponds, Santana hit .400 with a Cactus League-high four homers and nine RBI and impressed Servais sufficiently to call him unique.

“He’s a big, hulking Dave Winfield-type,” Servais said Tuesday in his office before the final fake game, a 1-0 loss to San Diego. “He kind of looks bound up at the plate. But he’s got good bat speed, great strength and how he does it to produce power . . . he’s very unique.”

Unique? How?

“Having thrown him batting practice, I’ve never seen a guy hit a ball that high,” he said. “He hit a ball I thought was straight up, and it went out of the park. It’s hard to do at (T-Mobile) for a right-handed hitter to hit a ball out in right center. Really hard.

“Zunino had big power, Cruz was more line drive. Santana’s swing path is not the way you’d teach it, but he’s unbelievably strong, great eye-hand coordination, really good idea of the strike zone.

“He’s really happy where he’s at. He’s comfortable. He knows he’s going to play and has done a really good job in left field.”

If you’re looking to invest a little attention in a new Mariner who’s already paying the adult fare for a movie ticket, Santana is your guy. Or if you want to skip the show for awhile, that’s OK too. If the club can take a developmental year, so can you.

 


YourThoughts

  • 1coolguy

    6’5″? Just a BIG strike zone.
    I’ll save my money until I see real results, given what the ticket prices are. I’m in the “seeing is believing” crowd.

    • art thiel

      Judge has a 6-8 strike zone, and he does OK. Santana hit 30 HRs in 2017. When the M’s are 10 games up in the division on Labor Day, I’ll expect to see at the T-ball.

      • 1coolguy

        Spring training optimism Art? If the M’s are up by 10 games on Labor Day, I will commit to buy first row, third baseline seats on the home plate side! I hope I see you there.

    • Howard Wells

      “There’s nothing to see here, move along” “Elvis has left the building” :-)

      • art thiel

        Then again, they’re 2-0.

  • coug73

    Interesting writing style with this article. Thanks for the heads up on the players. I really know very little about the Mariners roster. Don’t get Root. Keep me informed.

    • Husky73

      Scrapiron Stinson doesn’t play for them anymore.

      • coug73

        I remember him.

      • art thiel

        Are you sure?

    • art thiel

      I’ve learned your hours are spent digging up pop lyrics and movie quotes.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Goin’ out on a limb. Houston wins the division.

    • art thiel

      Well done. I bet you had Mayweather over McGregor.

  • dingle

    “Or if you want to skip the show for awhile, that’s OK too. If the club can take a developmental year, so can you.”

    Classic. That pretty accurately describes how I’ll be regarding the Mariners this year. I’ll catch a game online here or there. If I’m in Seattle and the team is in town, I’ll go to the park. But like many other fans, if I have to choose between watching the Mariners and mowing the lawn, there’s a good chance my grass is going to be shorter.

    • art thiel

      No need to commit if the Mariners won’t.

  • Husky73

    It seems that this column is replete with gremlins, repeating paragraphs. Or, is it my computer? I’d like to talk with SS about “very unique.” It’s either unique, or not.

    • Steve Buckholdt

      The duplicate paragraphs were on my new HP computer too. I guess when the message is so compelling it is worth repeating.

    • DB

      Very funny. Or, is it either funny or not? Seriously, I think you are a writer in need of a forum (beyond the comments section). Your rant on the Mariners last fall was quite entertaining. Art seems to need a copy editor, and you clearly are the spelling/grammar police. Why don’t you volunteer to help and maybe he’ll let you submit a column once in a while?

      • art thiel

        Everyone needs a copy editor. I just need a bat to the temple for not checking sooner.

        • Howard Wells

          vampire bat or Angkor Wat temple?

      • Husky73

        DB… I think it’s funny or die. I am a rank amateur. However, this late in life I have found a mission in correcting there, their and they’re; its and it’s; as well as loose and lose. My English and journalism teacher, Mrs. Robeck, (class of 69) would expect and demand nothing less.

    • Ken S.

      I use a Linux powered PC, I’m seeing the same thing.

    • art thiel

      The duplicate content i fixed, but I can fix neither Servais nor Pete Carroll, both of whom continue to use adjectives with “unique.” I cringe every time.

      Time to censor.

  • jafabian

    Santana is looking like the real deal. If he isn’t pushed but allowed to slowly develop with the team he could have a solid season. I’ll happily take his 2017 season.

    • art thiel

      He’s ready now. No development needed, except for learning left field.

  • ReebHerb

    It will be just like any other year. Baseball is a good relaxing listen on the car radio. There are always stories and favorite players to follow. And then there is the intrigue. I feel Cano was part of the trigger for the step back. It isn’t too far fetched to believe his suspension cost the team three wins last year.

    • art thiel

      Cano’s trigger was the $24M he was owed for each of the next five years in his dotage. The PED bust didn’t help because it was so stupid, but money is the driver.

  • Alan Harrison

    A difficult read with all the repeating stuff, but overall, this will be the story of the Mariners this year. I’ll catch the same number of games as always – about 3 – and just enjoy my time at the ballpark. We haven’t been in the playoffs in 17 years, so it’s not as though things will be wholly different. The little things will be fun – Santana, an inevitable base stealing competition between Gordon and Smith (don’t wait for a sign – just go), and watching Mitch Haniger develop. Then the kid pitchers. Should still be fun, if overly pricey. Everett – coming up to see you a little more.

    • art thiel

      Don’t forget Tacoma. It’s where the 2020 future is. Presuming Dipoto’s acquisitions finally deliver.

    • art thiel

      Apologies to readers for the duplicate content. It’s fixed.

      The gremlin responsible has been ordered to rake the forest.

      • Husky73

        RAGA = Rake America Great Again

      • Scott McBride

        Gremlins are the stuff of Halloween. It’s gnomes that rake the forest. Especially in Finland

  • WestCoastBias79

    Cheney Stadium and Funko Field are both nice places to catch a game. If you’re watching minor league baseball, might as well pay minor league ticket/beer prices. There’s also the upside of the teams being competitive.

    • art thiel

      Spotless logic.

  • DM

    Well hopefully with Santana, we got something back from the swindling of the Pilots to Milwaukee. My hexes on Bud Selig for ruining my childhood already got us an all star game when their stadium wasn’t finished. Karma – she’s a bitch.