BY Art Thiel 02:45PM 06/16/2019

Thiel: Mariners continue to drill in a dry hole

Trade of Encarnacion gets Mariners another marginal prospect. It’s the way of the baseball world: Go Donner Party on the roster, and hope for spring.

Edwin Encarnacion and his invisible parrot have flown the Seattle coop. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Since the Mariners pitching staff was, entering Sunday, 26th in MLB in strikeouts (561), next to last in earned run average (5.49) and WHIP (1.47), and last in batting average against (.274), it is understandable that general manager Jerry Dipoto senses a bit of a deficiency there.

It was not surprising, then, that he sought from the New York Yankees RHP Juan Then, not for now, but for later. Even though Dipoto had him before.

Now that the word play is out of my system, I vow to tread that ground no more — at least until Then becomes now, which, at 6-1 and 155 pounds, is not likely soon.

Regarding actual baseball, Dipoto’s trade Saturday for a 19-year-old the Mariners signed at 16 from the Dominican Republic and traded to the Yankees in 2017, is the the way actual baseball is played these days. If a team is not contending at the top level, the prime directive is to go Donner Party on the current roster and hope for spring.

Whether a fan chooses to watch depends on one’s sensitivity regarding unpleasantness.

The cost was Edwin Encarnacion, who was leading the American League in home runs (21) and playing a remarkably acceptable first base. His age (36) and his contract ($21.6 million at season’s start) made him unacceptable, a short-timer for a tear-down team. But he lasted in Seattle longer in Seattle because Dipoto misread the marketplace.

Acquired in December from Cleveland as part of a three-way trade that sent Carlos Santana, picked up from Phildadelphia, to the Indians, the Mariners also added a competitive balance pick in the June draft and $5 million cash. (The pick became third-rounder RHP Isaiah Campbell out of the University of Arkansas, 76th overall.) The Mariners and Yankees reportedly have agreed to split the balance owed on Encarnacion’s contract, where the Mariners can apply the $5 million.

The hope of Dipoto and Encarnacion was to move the slugger to a contending  team in spring training for perhaps a top prospect or two, but it didn’t happen. Instead, Dipoto, despite Encarnacion’s 2.0 WAR and .888 OPS so far in an uptick season, settled well before the trade deadline for one guy who was No. 27 on the talent-rich Yankees’ prospect list created by MLB Pipeline.

Here is what the website wrote about Then:

MLB Pipeline scouting grades (20 is worst, 50 is average, 80 is best)

Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 40

The Yankees acquired Then (and lefty J.P. Mears) from the Mariners in November 2017 in return for Nick Rumbelow. Signed for $77,500 out of the Dominican Republic in 2016, Then has successfully navigated two years of rookie ball thanks to advanced pitchability. In his first season with his new organization, he led the Gulf Coast League in WHIP (0.98) and finished third in opponent average (.210). He was waiting to make his 2019 debut when he was sent back to the Mariners Saturday.

Then doesn’t miss a lot of bats with his 90-95 mph fastball because it’s fairly straight, though that allows him to command it better than most teenagers can. He also throws strikes with a change-up that’s advanced for his age. He has promising depth on his curve ball, which ranks as his third-best pitch yet has solid potential.

Then isn’t very physical, but he could make it as a No. 4 or 5 starter because he keeps his pitch counts down and limits his mistakes. He has a high floor, and it’s possible that he could develop a plus pitch or two as he matures. He probably won’t make his full-season minor league debut until 2020.

Naturally, manager Scott Servais was more optimistic.

“Juan is a great kid and his stuff has really jumped, velocity and breaking ball, we really like it,” Servais told reporters Saturday in Oakland, where the Mariners were bludgeoned 11-2 in a four-error goof-fest. “He has chance to be a starter. He’s a young pitcher that kind of fits in the mix of guys we just drafted. It’s a nice arm to bring back.”

Quite a mix. The club spent eight of their first 10 draft picks on pitchers. The Mariners are loading up on arms the way Gulf Coast residents buy toilet paper ahead of a category-5 hurricane.

Whether the stockpile proves helpful is unknowable. What is clear is that the tactic of taking on salaries/players temporarily to facilitate trades is not as fruitful as it once was. Teams tanking like the Mariners see the market shrinking because relatively few teams are in a middle class that can improve to playoff class during the season with a trade or two.

In an interview last week with ESPN 710 radio that foreshadowed the trade, Dipoto used the term “polar” to describe the haves and have-nots in the American League.

“It is a very polar league,” Dipoto said. “Part of what we are doing as a team (the “step-back”) is because of the way the American League in particular is stacked up. There are some dynamic teams right now, with the Rays and Yankees, to a degree the Red Sox as the defending champs, the Houston Astros, and the team that we just played, the Minnesota Twins, (who) might be better than all of them.

“Once you get past that layer in the American League, the gap widens considerably, and many of the teams at the top don’t have a lot of pressure on them, nor do they have a lot of holes to address.”

It remains a bit of a mystery how the Yankees believed they had a need at designated hitter. They need another slugger like a shark needs another tooth. But it doesn’t cost them much money, and the prospect surrendered is more or less return-to-sender.

Having recently unloaded another costly veteran, Jay Bruce, to the Phillies for a similar pittance, Dipoto figures the blue-light warehouse sale will continue until all that remains is mismatched shoes, left-handed catcher’s gloves and kids.

“I suspect, like we believed from the very start, that we will be active between now and the deadline,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a mass exodus, so to speak, because there just aren’t that many needs around the league. But we’re going to try to make efficient moves that maximize the potential return for our future.

“We do plan on continuing forward with the plan we put in place.”

Then likely is destined for short-season A ball at Everett. Unless of course, most of the Aquasox roster gets advanced shortly to T-ball Park. He can’t do much worse than the relievers they have now.

If the plan is to self-induce a hurricane, you can never have too much toilet paper.


  • woofer

    Then is not now. And now is not Then. If not exactly exciting or productive, it at least seems appropriate. The baseball gods continue to test the devotion of Mariners’ fans. We will surely be rewarded in some future life. Won’t we?

    • art thiel

      If you’re a believer in reincarnation, are you willing to come back as a Red Sox fan?

      • woofer

        Messing around with your psychic powers again? Unfair! As a small child— way back before MLB came west — I was first a devout Red Sox fan. Ted Williams was the greatest pure hitter in the history of the game.

  • Husky73

    Bruce is with the Phillies. The M’s have the worst defense in baseball, and the worst bullpen in Mariner history. This step back has turned into step off a cliff.

    • art thiel

      Thanks for the fix.

      You’re no help, however, jumping off the bandwagon.

      • Husky73

        Last year I was the Mariner Optimist, and I was rewarded with 89 wins. This year, in the first 15 games, I was the Mariner Alchemist (somehow, lead was being spun into gold). Since the free fall, I am now only left with counting how many times Mike Blowers says “miles an hour” in a broadcast.

        • art thiel

          How about “barrels it up”?

          • Husky73


          • Tian Biao

            how about ‘holy smokes’ and ‘my goodness’ by Rick Rizz?

          • Husky73

            The Rizzer gets a pass.

  • Steve Buckholdt

    This is another spot-on article, Art, about the Mariners latest “step back”. It must be difficult to write about the Mariners yet keep finding new expressions (drill in a dry hole) to describe the depths of their futility. One wonders how long ownership will stick with the

    so-called plan Dipoto has foisted on us long-suffering fans. I know it has not even been one year into the “plan”, but it sure is hard to get excited about this team anymore.

    • art thiel

      Ownership is on board with Dipoto. They gave him a three-year extension, and understand that 2019 is a throwaway.

      • Husky73

        I had high hopes for Stanton. My hopes were dashed with last year’s messy business. I cannot imagine that the owners of the Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees and Cardinals would EVER be on board with a step-back and a throw-away season. That is why those teams are perennial contenders. Meanwhile, the Mariners have been to the post season four times in 43 years, and never to the World Series. Other than the Piniella- Gillick years, ownership has settled.

  • Alan Harrison

    It’s a weird moment in M history, that’s for sure. I think if they’d have been able to get more for EE, they would have, but the deal wasn’t there. 1B is just a production of “Waiting for Evan,” absurd as that might sound.

    • art thiel

      He’s a rental for half a season who can DH and play first in an emergency. Still, Then is a modest at best prospect.

  • jafabian

    This deal wasn’t about getting a prospect as much as it is giving Vogelbach a chance to play every day, especially against lefties. Something he wouldn’t get when Healy returns. I do question if they couldn’t have gotten better from someone for the AL HR leader. And it’s difficult to see players like Encarnacion and Bruce leave when they seemed to be very positive influences within the clubhouse. I’m also surprised at how the Yankees continue to do business with the M’s despite getting the short end of the stick with Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda and Ken Phelps. ( Yes, I went there.)

    • art thiel

      Vogelbach deserves a full shot, given the investment. As far as the clubhouse, it doesn’t matter much because there has been and will be roster churn. It’s a temp position for this summer for 80 percent of them.

    • wabubba67

      The Yankees do fine in trades with us. Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson fir Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock. Even in the Pineda trade that you cited, Pineda had a much better career than Montero. Paxton will probably be better than Sheffield.

  • Chuck Henry

    Jack Z got a multi-year extension in 2011. Fallacy of sunk costs. However, owners have to give GM’s enough rope before they hang them or the disruption to the organization gets even worse. The whole rebuild thing in the way this is being done is trying to hit the big time in a few years an actually contend for World Series. The alternative is to be Billy Beane and field and entertaining product every year but really have no shot at winning it all. That works for Oakland but perhaps not needed here since Mariners draw fans enough during the summer to the nice stadium and they have TV contract. Mariner’s field is a nice safe place to get bombed with minimal chance of bar fight. Oakland plays in a cesspool where you can be easily murdered in your sleep watching A’s/Mariners game.

    • art thiel

      The plan is based on quality talent evals. Dipoto has done OK, not great. Not a lot of young AA-AAA talent that appears above MLB average. Dipoto at minimum gets this year and next to show definitive progress.

    • Husky73

      How would I like to be a Giants fan?…they won three World Series. I’m in.

  • Chuck Henry

    I can see why Servais was brought in, you need a good even keeled guy to navigate this situation without creating a team environment that nobody would come to town to play for, because once they have core talent, I guarantee you they will try to attract some major free agents , probably pitching to get over the hump. The trick is keep Scott off suicide watch in the interim.

    • art thiel

      Servais and Dipoto are in agreement on the plan. But Servais has to be accountable daily. It is wearing on him over 162.

  • Tian Biao

    damn, these guys really don’t care about the fans, do they? I mean, is a marginal prospect and a bit of salary savings worth more than the pleasure of watching a guy hit 40 home runs in a Seattle uniform? Don’t they feel any obligation to the folks who buy the tickets and watch the broadcasts? I can’t imagine Servais is very happy about this either.

  • Ken S.

    Here it is, game time, and I’m wondering if its even worth it to watch the M’s. Decisions, decisions…

  • Tman

    If then were now we’d have 8000 people crowding into the Kingdome to watch the Mariners play.

    • art thiel

      The 8,000 may be back this week for the Royals and O’s.

  • Effzee

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing that can save the Mariners is to first kill them, then bury them, then resurrect them as the Pilots.

    When the Sounders “came back,” they were called the Sounders. If the Sonics ever “come back,” they will be called the Sonics.

    The Mariners is a cursed name given to the expansion team we got after Selig stole the Pilots. I think the only solution is to bring back the name Pilots.


  • Pault

    Art, it is a rebuild! The Mariners were going nowhere. All the over paid and under performing veterans were just get older and worse. Dipoto need to do this. Sorry fans, but that’s what is the trends dictate. Getting younger will give us a new cheaper salary base for the future.