Fun with Photoshop: Weeks Sauce

Weeks Sauce copy

Looking for something bland and past its expiration date to add to your lineup?

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R-O-D-N-E-Y Spells Relief: Mariners Ink Closer, Fashion Trendsetter, Archery Aficianado to Two-Year Deal.

465-lKhN5.St.84Wearing baseball caps sideways is dumber than wearing them backwards which is dumber than wearing the forwards which is dumber than baseball and baseball is pretty dumb.” -nbdyfcnsqnc (Nissan 350Z Forums)

New Seattle closer Fernando Rodney clearly doesn’t have any supporters in the Nissan owners’ community, but can the demonstrative reliever win over notoriously fickle Mariners fans?

He passes the most important prerequisite — not being Brandon League. *shudders*

The rest of Rodney’s antics, including his trademark bow-and-arrow save celebrations, will be easier for Mariners fans to tolerate if he pitches like he did in his breakout 2012 season.

Up to that point Rodney had been a middling reliever for nine seasons, only twice posting an ERA below 4.00 before signing with the Rays and recording a combined 85 saves in 2012-2013. He was nothing short of unhittable in his first year with Tampa Bay, posting a 0.60 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and a SO/BB of 5.07 while finishing 5th in the AL Cy Young balloting. Rodney regressed significantly in 2013 as he blew eight saves (compared to just two in 2012) and saw his WHIP soar to 1.335 — right in line with his career average.

The Mariners, who already have a closer in-house with better peripherals than Rodney and an affordable salary, decided that giving a 2 year/$24 million dollar contract to a soon to be 37-year-old reliever with two good seasons on his 11 year resume is exactly what they needed to climb out of the AL West cellar (oh hi Houston).

It’s possible that 37 and 38 are the new peak ages for relief pitchers, but it’s also possible that the current Seattle regime just doesn’t know how to build a winning ball club. How many games will Rodney even have the chance to close with a lineup full of question marks?

Not enough to earn $12 million a year. Not enough to earn $1 million a year. Certainly not enough to mollify Nissan owners.

Rodney would be a great final piece for a club on the cusp of contention. That team is not the Mariners, and at this rate, it may never be…

Hasta La Vista Viva Las Vargas: Mariners Swap Southpaw Jason Vargas for Angels’ Superflous Slugger Kendry Morales

Jason+Vargas+Seattle+Mariners+Photo+Day+-9ic30UeLq1lThe walls are moving in and Jason Vargas is moving out.

In a typical tight-lipped Jack Zduriencik move that developed seemingly out of thin air, the Seattle Mariners agreed today to ship their number two starter to the L.A. Angels in return for 1B/DH Kendry Morales.

Vargas has been a serviceable starter for the Mariners the last three seasons, averaging innings and posting ERA’s of 3.78, 4.25, and 3.85. He’s a gritty pitcher with good control, but his so-so stuff, gopheritis (35 home runs allowed in 2012), and increasing salary made him a likely target to be moved this off-season. Vargas has always been a pitcher who benefited from Safeco’s spacious dimensions (2.74 ERA at home vs. 4.78 ERA on the road last season) and with stadium alterations in place for the 2013 season, the Mariners likely sold Vargas while his value was at its peak.

Trading within the division isn’t a common occurrence, but the Angels needed a starting pitcher to round out their rotation and had a glut of 1B/DH players on their roster, making Morales expendable. The switch-hitting slugger posted a triple-slash of .273/.320/.467 in 2012 and added 26 2B, 22 HR, and 73 RBI in his first season back from a horrific injury suffered in 2012 against, you guessed it, the Seattle Mariners. Morales finished 5th in the AL MVP vote his last full season (2009) and finished 2012 strong, posting OPS’s of .900 in August and .829 in September/October.

While the trade makes sense for both sides (and both players are free agents after the season), it doesn’t come without some inherent risks. The Mariners are leaving a gaping void in their pitching staff behind Felix Hernandez, and will be counting on young players like Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beaven or James Paxton to produce at the big league level. Los Angeles is gambling that Vargas can produce away from the friendly confines of Safeco Field and that Morales won’t return to his pre-injury form.

Seattle’s net gain is somewhere close to zero in terms of WAR, but the team does add some desperately need offensive thump to the lineup, and may be setting themselves up for another move with Morales/Smoak/Montero all competing for plate appearance at first and DH.

The Mariners might not be a better team today than they were yesterday, but at least they’re a bit more interesting. That’s about all we can ask for…

Maligned Mariners Management Makes Move for Montero: Can Jesus Save Seattle’s Season?

Hopefully this card wasn't part of your retirement plan, because you know, he's a Mariner now.

Seattle Mariners fan(s) complained all winter long (with good reason–did you see the summer blockbuster, “2011: A Baseball Tragedy“?) about the lack of activity from the team’s front office, and now that a substantial and largely unexpected move (though Rob Lowe did tweet about it a few weeks ago) has been made, well, nobody knows quite how to feel.

On one hand, Seattle acquired a power-hitting catcher/DH in Jesus Montero who has long been considered one of the best power prospects in the minor leagues. On the flip side, the Mariners had to give up Michael Pineda, a towering right-hander who made the All-Star game in his first season and become a fan favorite for his sizzling fastball and gregarious personality.

So how does the trade rate on paper, and where does the move leave Seattle heading into the 2012 season?

If the Mariners organization has any strength (try to stifle your laughter), it’s their depth of pitching talent at both the major and minor league levels. Even with Pineda (and the second piece of the trade–Jose Campos) off to the Bronx, Seattle still boasts a farm system loaded with talented arms like Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Taijuan Walker who aren’t that far away from contributing for the Mariners. So while it was difficult to give up Pineda and his 1.099 WHIP and 9.1 K/9, Seattle has a much better chance of replacing him from within than it did of acquiring a free-agent hitter at a palatable rate.

What the Mariners boast in pitching however, is negated by a lineup (Seattle scored 299 fewer runs than Texas in 2011) often described as “more unwatchable than Norbit“. Enter Jesus Montero, a burly slugger who has elicited comparisons to Miguel Cabrera and Paul Konerko while posting a career .308/.366/.501 slash line in the minor leagues, and hitting .328 with four HR’s in 61 AB’s for the Yankees in September. There are legitimate concerns that Montero won’t be able to stay at catcher, but even so, it’s hard to imagine him hitting worse than the combination of Jack Cust/Adam Kennedy at DH.

Though Safeco is a tough environment for right-handed hitters (somewhere, in a dark room, Richie Sexson quietly weeps), scouts have raved about Montero’s ability to drive the ball to the opposite field, something that allowed Brett Boone to set a major-league record for HR’s by a second baseman in 2001. If Montero lives up to his sizable potential, it’s easy to get excited about a heart of the lineup that also features Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Mike Carp. It’s not exactly the 1927 Yankees, but it sure is better than anything Mariners fans have seen lately.

The other pieces of the trade, Hector Noesi to Seattle and Jose Campos to New York, benefit the M’s in the short term as Noesi can slide in as a fourth or fifth starter in 2012. Noesi has proven he can handle major league hitters in the treacherous AL East, but he doesn’t have the upside of Campos, who dominated the Northwest League in 2011 to the tune of a 2.32 ERA, 0.971 WHIP, and a ridiculous 6.54 K/BB ratio. Campos looks like another Pineda in the making, but is years away from contributing at the major league level, and when it comes to pitching prospects, there’s no such thing as a guarantee (remember Ryan Anderson).

The Mariners aren’t going to compete for the AL West crown in 2012, but if nothing else, this move makes them infinitely more watchable. A full season of Montero, Ackley, Carp, and the possible return to form of Justin Smoak gives M’s fans reasons to believe that the worst of times are behind. Heck, Seattle might even flirt with .500 in 2012 (although they’re far too shy to ask it on a date). It’s not the end of the long climb back to respectability, but it’s a start.

Go Mariners.

The Sweetest Thing: Seattle Mariners Now Frontrunners for 2011 World Series with Addition of Three Extra Home Games.

If Bono can't save the M's, who can?

Although Mariners’ fans still haven’t found what they’re looking for (a World Series title) their suffering may soon come to an end thanks to a very unlikely source…legendary rock and roll band U2.

Due to a scheduling conflict at Sun Life Stadium the Marlins vs. Mariners three-game series set for June 24-26 in Florida will be shifted to Safeco Field in order to accommodate U2’s “We’re So Much More Important Than Baseball” Tour.

The Mariners, a vastly superior team at home (35-46) compared to on the road (26-55), will look to cash in on three extra games at the friendly confines of Safeco. Most baseball experts switched their preseason predictions for the AL West upon learning of Seattle’s 84 home games with the Mariners as the clear-cut favorites in over 90 percent of Gallup Polls. ESPN’s Buster Olney explains why this seemingly minor move will have major ramifications for the rest of the league:

The Mariners are a team perfectly tailored for their home park (great pitching and an stellar offense) who will benefit greatly from their extra games in Safeco. Although the games are played with National League rules it will be the Mariners, not the Marlins, who will benefit from this move because it allows Seattle to insert a pitcher into their lineup rather than being dragged down by a designated ‘hitter’. We at the ESPN think tank conservatively estimate that the Mariners will win 80 of their 84 home games…throw in 20 or so wins on the road and you’ve got a team steamrolling into the playoffs with 100+ wins. If Seattle doesn’t win the World Series this year, I will forever relinquish my title as ‘Baseball’s Brightest Buster’. You heard it here first.”

Although the Mariners are attempting to draw attention from their newfound status as favorite by drumming up rumors of a Chone Figgins trade (who is far to valuable to ever consider moving*) it’s clear they won’t be able to hide forever. With Bono’s touch, 2011 will be as good as gold for Seattle…

*There’s a microscopic chance that comment is sarcastic.

The Kids Aren’t Alright: What’s Wrong With Michael Saunders?

Michael Saunders has been more inconsistent than my bowel movements after eating a Double Down.

When Ken Griffey Jr “retired” earlier this season, young left fielder Michael Saunders became my favorite player on the woebegone squad. What can I say—I’ve got a thing for lefties who spend their summer days flirting with the Mendoza Line.    

Though he wasn’t a top draft pick (11th round of the 2004 draft) Saunders combination of power and speed allowed him to move steadily through the Mariners’ farm system, reaching the majors last season to fill the void left by Raul Ibanez. Saunders struggled mightily in his first chance in the show (.221-0 HR’s-4 RBI’s-6 walks/40 strikeouts) as his long swing was exposed by big league pitchers. Still, at only 22, there was still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Saunders heading into 2010.    

Saunders’ role with the team was temporarily in question when the Mariners acquired Milton Bradley in the offseason to play left field and DH, but it didn’t take long for him to get the call from Tacoma when Bradley was neutralized with a variety of injuries and mental instability. Despite continued contact issues, Saunders flashed the power that made him such a highly regarded prospect, hitting seven home runs in 106 May and June at-bats for a power starved Mariners’ team. He even went deep twice against southpaws, highlighted by a go-ahead home run against Red Sox ace Jon Lester. While his slugging dipped in July, Saunders showed improved plate discipline, drawing 11 walks against 16 strikeouts and posting a .380 OBP for the month. It seemed that the light had come on for Saunders and he was on the verge of a breakout season. But then, just as suddenly as he found his groove, Saunders hit a wall. Literally.   

The Condor will have to continue to develop at the plate if he wants to help the Mariners back to the playoffs.

In an August game against the Texas Rangers, Saunders collided with the left field wall trying to keep a home run in the park, and injured the same shoulder that he had labrum surgery on earlier in his career. Though the injury wasn’t serious, Saunders was shelved for around two weeks before returning to the lineup on August 31st. Since that time, the Condor just hasn’t been able to take flight, hitting a paltry .161 in September with just one extra base hit in the month (he hasn’t hit a home run since July). Reports from the clubhouse seem to indicate that Saunders’ shoulder is feeling fine, so what does he have to do in order to stay an important piece in the Mariners’ rebuilding effort?   

Part of Saunders’ regression is due to bad luck, as he carries a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of just .267 on the season (last season his BABIP was .329, the league average is around .300). Saunders has the wheels to leg out base hits, but he hits too many pop ups (16% of his flyballs don’t leave the infield) and flyballs (0.57 groundballs for every 1 flyball) to utilize his speed. While part of the low BABIP is out of  Saunders’ control, he would benefit from a shorter, compact swing which would allow him to make more consistent, solid contact (his 16 percent career linedrive rate is well below the MLB average of 19%). A shorter swing would also allow Saunders more time to react to pitches, neutralizing his two biggest weaknesses (fastballs inside and breaking balls away) and giving him a better chance to hang in against lefties. 

Saunders certainly has the talent to become an above average left fielder (think .270-20 HR’s-70 RBI’s-20 SB’s) and I hope that the Mariners give him a chance to play full-time in 2011, because let’s face it, they probably won’t be contending for the AL West title anyway. Saunders needs to make some adjustments in order to raise his average and provide value to the Mariners at the plate (he’s already a solid defensive player), and the best way to do that is to get at-bats at the major league level (especially against left handers, so they won’t have to platoon him in the future). If the Mariners want to climb out of the cellar next season, it will be on the strength of young players like Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda and Saunders–the days of overpriced free-agents in Seattle are over. 

Mark my words, the Condor (and the M’s) will soar. Just not in 2010…

Mariners Monthly Roundup: August “Mediocrity Reigns” Edition.

 

Despite being surrounded by a bunch of yea-hoos, Ichiro has continued his indomitable march towards history.

Record: 12-14 (Overall 51-80)       

A.L. West Standings: Texas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle       

Top Hitter: After slumping below .250 in July, Ichiro rebounded to post a .307 average in August including a two home run game at Yankee Stadium (they were against Javier Vasquez however, so they don’t really count). Though Ichiro’s had a down season by his standards (on pace for career lows in HR’s, runs, triples and his second lowest OPS) the Mariners top-of-the-order mainstay is still on pace for a record 10th straight 200 hit season. In a season so wrought with disappointment, it’s nice to have someone to look forward to. Bless you Ichiro. Bless you.  

Top Pitcher: Who’d you think it was gonna be, Sean White? Felix Hernandez continued a dominant season with his best month of the year, posting a 3-2 record with 0.82 ERA, .137 batting average against and 51 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings. Despite suffering through some of the worst run support in baseball, King Felix has planted himself firmly in the Cy Young discussion by ranking 1st in innings, 2nd in ERA, 1st in K’s, 4th in WHIP and 3rd in complete games. Felix’s value to this team can’t be overstated–without him they would be utterly unwatchable. As is they’re just mostly unwatchable…  

Biggest Surprise:  Brandon League arrived in Seattle during the offseason in a controversial trade that sent talented but erratic starting pitcher Brandon Morrow to Toronto. The hard-throwing Hawaiian was supposed to be one of the best set-up men in all of baseball, but in the first half of the season he posted a 3.86 ERA and was responsible for many of the Mariners’ most painful defeats (“Oh, we’ve got a three run lead? I guess I’ll walk the bases loaded and then cough up a gopher ball). Since the All-Star break though, League has been in the zone, including August where he posted a 0.60 ERA in 15 innings. I’m not saying it was a good idea to trade Brandon Morrow, but it is nice to know that we weren’t entirely fleeced. Right? Right?  

Biggest Disappointment: Jose Lopez brings less to the table than Bob Cratchit. Why the Mariners are still giving at-bats to someone with a .605 OPS is beyond me, because Lopez has been a black hole all season long. There’s little doubt that he’ll be gone at the end of the season; why wait till then to give Matt Mangini or Matt Tuiasosopo a chance?  

Injuries: Erik Bedard (out for season–hypochondria); Milton Bradley (15-day DL–patellar tendonitis–underwent surgery August 17th); Shawn Kelley (15-day DL–elbow inflammation–appears headed for Tommy John surgery); Jack Wilson (out for season–hand surgery).  

Lingering Questions: If the Mariners win a game, and no one is watching, does it still count? Can Felix win a Cy Young with a losing record? Adam Moore can’t possibly be as bad as Rob Johnson, can he? What medication should I take for Mariners’ Season(al) Depression? 

September Schedule: 1 vs. Los Angeles, 4 vs. Cleveland, 3 @ Oakland, 3 @ Los Angeles, 3 vs. Boston, 3 vs. Texas, 3 @ Toronto, 3 @ Tampa Bay, 3 @ Texas, 1 vs. Oakland.  

Overall Grade: (C+) With new manager Darren Brown at the helm the Mariners weren’t completely awful in August, winning four series in a row before sputtering at the end of the month. Still, while the offense was marginally better than it had been, it was still the worst in baseball and made me question why I even bother to watch the M’s play.

Dave Niehaus, that’s why.