Selling High or Selling While High? Mariners Swap John Jaso for Mike Morse Because They Can.

John Jaso taught me how to smile again. (ELAINE THOMPSON/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE)

John Jaso taught me how to smile again. (ELAINE THOMPSON/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE)

“The Beard” is headed south while “The Beast” returns to his roots in the Pacific Northwest. 

In a three-way deal with Oakland and Washington, the Mariners sent catcher John Jaso to the Athletics in exchange for OF/1B Mike Morse, who spent the last four seasons with the Nationals after starting his career in Seattle from 2005-08.  

The move is certainly a head scratcher given the glut of 1B/DH/OF’s currently on the Mariners roster, but maybe positional redundancy is the new market inefficiency and Seattle is just outfoxing the rest of the league. Oh what’s the New York, you need an aging slugger who should never, ever play in the field? Too bad! We’ve got them all!

Losing Jaso hurts not just because he was the Mariners best hitter last year (.276/.395/.850) but also because he provided a number of highlights in an otherwise bleak 2012 season. Jaso was an easy guy to like; he had a great beard, he provided clutch hits, and he made us forget all about that Josh Lueke fiasco.

He wasn’t exactly the second coming of Johnny Bench defensively, but Seattle has been content to roll out catchers like Miguel Olivo, Rob Johnson, and Adam Moore over the past few seasons, so why the Mariners decided defense behind the plate was important all of a sudden is anyone’s guess. Jaso was under team control for the next three seasons, and despite his superb offensive performance in 2012, Seattle decided that his inability to hit lefties (in a very small sample) and the impending arrival of Mike Zunino was enough of an excuse to jettison a fan favorite.

In Morse, the Mariners get a player they once traded for Ryan Langerhans (LOL!) that developed into a productive slugger for Washington (64 HR from 2010-2012). Morse doesn’t draw many walks, strikes out a lot, and is a liability on the basepaths and in the outfield. As a designated hitter Morse would be a valuable asset for Seattle, but with that position likely filled by Kendrys Morales, he appears to be penciled in as the starting left fielder, which negates the majority of his value.

To his credit, Morse has said all the right things about his return to Seattle and  seems genuinely excited for a second chance with the Mariners. His power is good enough to play in any park and Safeco Field’s new dimensions might allow Morse to crack 25-30 longballs. Is one year of those home runs worth three years of Jaso’s advanced plate approach and high OBP?

And what happens to Raul Ibanez, who was brought in to spend time at 1B/DH/OF? Does he take time away from Michael Saunders in right and Justin Smoak at first or is he simply a waste of money and a roster spot?

No, this isn’t the worst move in franchise history. Neither was the signing of Ibanez, Jason Bay or Jeremy Bonderman, but taken together, they paint the picture of a front office that has lost its way.

You can’t keep treading water when Oakland, Texas, and Los Angeles are committed to contending for the playoffs every season. Seattle is going to start sinking…

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2013 Seattle Mariners New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are like receipts – nobody but squares keep ’em. That doesn’t stop millions of people from making them though, including your very own Seattle Mariners:

Carlos Peguero: Close eyes. Swing hard.

Eric Wedge: Bury Casper Wells even deeper on the bench. Stroke mustache more.

Casper Wells: Stare wistfully at field from dugout.

Michael Saunders: Capitalize on his nickname (“The Condor”) and start making bird noises when he hits home runs. Bacaw!

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will hurt forever."

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will hurt forever.”

Felix Hernandez: Two perfect games.

Kendry Morales: Introduce fellow Mariners’ hitters to the mystical powers of Jobu.

Hector Noesi: Stop reading the newspaper the day after a start because it always hurts his feelings.

Alex Liddi: Get picture of cat eating pizza onto front page of Reddit.

Brendan Ryan: Contribute on defense AND at the plate.

Charlie Furbush: Work up courage to ask teammates to stop making fun of his last name.

Dustin Ackley: Found out more about all this “fiscal cliff” hubbub.

Justin Smoak: Play terribly for Seattle. Get traded. Turn into star for new team.

Wow! That sure is a lot to look forward to! Opening Day can’t get here soon enough!

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.

Mariners Monthly Roundup: September/October “Free at Last” Edition.

AL West pitchers are quickly learning that second hand Smoak can be deadly.

Record: 9-21 (Overall 61-101)  

AL West Standings: Texas, Oakland, L.A., Seattle 

Top Hitter: Ichiro turned it up a notch in September (.342) to continue his extraordinary run of 200 hit seasons but it was a talented rookie who gave Mariners fans the most reasons to cheer in the season’s last month. First baseman Justin Smoak looked like the player we envisioned the team was getting the Cliff Lee trade, posting a line of .325/.400/.525 in September/October, including a string of three straight games with a home run. In a lineup utterly devoid of any power, a full season of Smoak will be just what the doctor ordered for 2011. 

Top Pitcher: Even if he doesn’t win the AL Cy Young Award (he does play on the West Coast after all) Felix Hernandez still  finished the season with a bang, posting a 3-2 record in September with a 1.64 ERA and only 20 hits allowed in 38 innings. Hernandez finished the year ranked first in innings, first in ERA, second in K’s, second in WHIP and third in complete games, and oh yeah, he’s still just 24-years-old. King Felix gave Mariners’ fans something to look forward to every five days and provided hope that things won’t be this bad forever. For all the flak that Jack Zduriencik has received this season (and deservedly so) we should be very thankful that he got Felix inked to a contract extension. Now let’s just hope we can get him some run support in 2011.

Biggest Surprise: After doing absolutely nothing at the plate all year long, Jose Lopez went bananas in a September game against Toronto, hitting three longballs and driving in four runs. Of course he did it at a time when the Mariners couldn’t trade him, instead just stealing time away from young players who needed major league at-bats. Thankfully, he jammed his finger shortly thereafter and was shut down for the rest of the season–if only that had happened in April.

Biggest Disappointment: Everyone except Felix and Ichiro.

Home Run Tracker: The Mariners finished the season with the same number of home runs (101) as losses. Woof!

Injuries: Matt Tuiasosopo and Ryan Langerhans both had surgery to remove bone chips from their elbows. Erik Bedard is on a steady diet of tough pills to prepare for next season, but no one’s holding their breath. It’s dangerous.

Lingering Questions: Why did I pay to go to five Mariners’ games this year? Why did anyone pay to go to any Mariners’ game this year? Will anyone miss Casey Kotchman or Jose Lopez? Did we just witness the worst offensive season in the history of baseball? How was Dave Niehaus able to keep his sanity in the broadcast booth? Will my heart ever recover? Can I ever love the M’s again? Do they even deserve a second chance? Who will be the manager next season?

October Schedule: HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAH!

Overall Grade: (D) The last month was as painful as any this season but at least Mariners’ fans got to watch Ichiro pass 200 hits and King Felix continue to dominate hitters at an otherworldly level. While the young kids (Cortes, Mangini, Halman, Varvaro, etc.) didn’t wow in their brief stunt with the big club, they gained invaluable major league experience and hopefully will help the Mariners gain some level of respectability in 2011. This month would have been graded an “F” but mercifully, it brought the season to a close. Let’s try to forget about 2010 as quickly as we can…

Deal With the Devil: Will Seattle Regret Not Trading Cliff Lee to the Yankees and What Is Josh Lueke’s Future in Seattle?

Will Josh Lueke ever be allowed to pitch for the Mariners? Should he be?

If you haven’t been paying attention to the Mariners lately (instead choosing to enjoy life and not indulge in masochistic urges) it’s likely that you missed the latest controversy surrounding the team–and it has nothing to do with play on the field.        

Flashback to July, when the Mariners had a deal in place to trade Cliff Lee to the New York Yankees for a package of prospects including top-hitting catcher Jesus Montero, only to nix the trade at the last-minute in order to take a “better” offer from division rival Texas. At the time it seemed like a major coup for the Seattle front office, as they acquired powerful switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak and a former first round pick in pitcher Blake Beaven. However, after the initial euphoria lifted, things quickly began to unravel.        

One of the lesser known players in the trade, reliever Josh Lueke, had been convicted of a horrific crime–one that the front office was apparently clueless about (despite the fact that a simple Google search would bring up the information from Lueke’s case). Team president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Jack Zduriencik both claimed not to know the extent of Lueke’s criminal record, even though former pitching coach Rick Adair said he told the front office everything he knew about Lueke on and off the field. This set off a back and forth between the Seattle front office (who claimed to have been misled by the Rangers) and Texas (who stated that Lueke’s background was common knowledge and that they had offered to take him back) and eventually led to the firing of professional scouting director Carmen Fusco, a personal hire of Zdurinciek and a 35-year baseball veteran. Selling Fusco as the scapegoat didn’t quell the controversy though, and serious questions continue to linger about the M’s front office and the future of Jack Zdurienciek in Seattle.   

There’s no denying that Lueke is a talented pitcher (5-2, 1.86 ERA and 94 K’s in 63 innings at three minor league stops in 2010) but there are plenty of questions surrounding the Mariners’ decisions making in the process and what Lueke’s role with the organization will be moving forward. Seattle certainly needs help in the bullpen (apologies to Chris Seddon and Jamey Wright) but is bringing aboard a pitcher with Lueke’s history worth the potential damage to the organization’s reputation–especially an organization that has been so outspoken about domestic violence? The team had a chance to call-up Lueke when rosters expanded but balked at the opportunity, likely due to the outrage surrounding the “discovery” of his crimes. Will the response of fans be any different if the Mariners wait until next season to promote Lueke?  

Despite the fact that Lueke has paid his debt to society (spending 40 days in jail), it doesn’t change what he’s done and it won’t change how he’s viewed by fans and the community. If the organization knew about his past and still completed the trade with Texas it’s clear that the Mariners puts winning above all else, and if that’s the case,  they had better start winning (maybe we could become the baseball version of the Cincinnati Bengals). If Seattle truly didn’t know about Lueke’s criminal record (highly, highly unlikely) then the organization still has a responsibility to be upfront with their fan base about the situation and act accordingly, even if that means trading away or cutting Lueke. The Mariners made a colossal P.R. mistake by bringing aboard Lueke and the organization needs to act fast in order to save face–this isn’t an issue that will just go away if it’s ignored. 

No matter how this issue plays out, it’s clear that the Seattle front office isn’t the model of perfection we though it was, and that Jack Zduriencik might not be the man to lead the Mariners back to the playoffs. This whole firestorm could have been avoided if Seattle had just followed through on their trade with New York, but it appears that by trying to burn the Yankees, the Mariners torched themselves. 

Only time will tell…

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: July “From Bad to Worse” Edition.

Michael Saunders is one of the few sources of hope in a dismal season.

Record: 6-22 (Overall 39-66)     

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

Top Hitter: With virtually the whole team slumping in the month it wasn’t difficult for second-year outfielder Michael Saunders to walk away as the best hitter in July. The 23-year-old began to show the potential that made him one of the Mariners most highly regarded prospects, hitting .279 with one HR and 6 RBI’s in the month. More importantly, Saunders flashed improved plate discipline with a 16/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, leading to a .380 OBP. He’s shown himself to be an above-average defensive player and if he can continue to develop as a hitter, Saunders should be a major part of Seattle’s rebuilding effort moving forward.     

Top Pitcher: Felix Hernandez picked up right where Cliff Lee left off in June, although thanks to an anemic Mariners’ offense, the King only won a single game in July despite a 2.54 ERA and 33 strikeouts against only 9 walks. Besides Erik Bedard Luke French Ryan Rowland-Smith Justin Vargas, Felix is the only sure thing on the Mariners’ staff right now, and the team will have plenty of holes to fill heading into 2010. This team would be completely unwatchable if not for the presence of King Felix.  

Biggest Surprise: Left for dead with the acquisitions of Justin Smoak and Russell Branyan, Casey Kotchman finally decided it was time to play like a big leaguer, hitting .318 with 4 HR’s and 10 RBI’s in the month. With Smoak currently in Triple-A and Branyan manning DH duties, Kotchman should see some significant playing time moving forward. He’s not part of the team’s future, but it would be nice to see him get a chance to play for another team–preferably in the division.    

Biggest Disappointment: Every player on the team not named Felix Hernandez. Also, I wish that Don Wakamatsu and Chone Figgins’ fight had escalated in a full-blown dugout brawl with Rob Johnson’s leg getting broken in the scrum. It’s little things like that which help keep interest up in a long season. And it’s been a loooooooooong season…   

Injuries: Erik Bedard (out for season–hypochondria); Milton Bradley (15-day DL–patellar tendonitis); Shawn Kelley (15-day DL–elbow inflammation); Ryan-Rowland Smith (15-day DL–overall awfulness–set to meet with Men at Work on Monday).   

Lingering Questions: Will the Mariners finish with the worst record in baseball? Will Ichiro be the only Mariner to finish the season hitting over .250? How long before the pitchers and hitters engage in a bloody civil war? Why do I keep watching if they bring me nothing but pain? Can Adam Moore possibly be worse than Rob Johnson? Should fans start showing up at the games with bags on their heads? 

August Schedule: 1 @ Minnesota; 3 vs. Texas; 3 vs. Kansas City; 3 vs. Oakland; 3 @ Cleveland; 3 @ Baltimore; 3 @ New York; 3 @ Boston; 3 vs. Minnesota; 2 vs. Los Angeles.     

Overall Grade: (F) I’m out of words to describe the abomination that is the Mariners, so this picture will have to do.