There’s Noesi Way Out: Mariners DFA Struggling Reliever

Yesterday’s game was yet another painful chapter in the book of Hector Noesi.

It turned out to the be last.

The Mariners found themselves locked in a 2-2 extra inning tie against the Athletics with a chance to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 1985. The offense had struggled all night but the pitching staff held Oakland in check despite the best efforts of home plate umpire Sean Barber. Seattle needed to hold the A’s off the board in the bottom of the 12th for a chance to extend their early season perfection, but manager Lloyd McClendon decided it was time to wave the white flag.

The white flag named Hector Noesi.

Instead of turning to $8 million closer Fernando Rodney, Noesi was summoned from the bullpen, and two pitches later, the game was over. It didn’t come as a surprise to Seattle fans who have been watching him serve up home runs since 2012, but it was apparently the final straw for GM Jack Zduriencik (can’t we just fire him already so I don’t have to spell his last name anymore). Noesi, along with Jesus Montero, was a part of the ill-fated trade of Michael Pineda to the Yankees.

The trade looked awful for both sides the past two years but now Pineda is poised to return to the New York rotation while Montero is just, well, really fat. That left Noesi as the only salvageable piece of the deal, which is probably way Zduriencik didn’t cut him long ago. No general manager wants to admit they made a mistake and boy was this a doozy!

Noesi ends his Mariners career with a 2-14 record, 6.13 ERA and approximately zero fans in the Pacific Northwest.

So rejoice Mariners fans, the long nightmare of Hector Noesi is finally over. Just don’t get too excited; the man who kept him well past his expiration date is still in charge…

 

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Meme of the Moment: Success Kid


The Future’s So Bright I’ve Got to Wear SPF 15: A Largely Uneducated Look at the Seattle Mariners’ Top Ten Prospects (Part II).

The cupboards aren’t bare but there isn’t much to look at. Here are the Mariners’ top five prospects according to Baseball America:

5. Guillermo Pimentel–OF–(.250-6 HR’s-31 RBI’s-5 SB’s-.276 OBP-.727 OPS): Guillermo Pimentel was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 at the tender age of 16 for $2 million dollars (I made $7.56/hour at age 16 so I can certainly relate) and was considered by many scouts to be one of the best international bats available at the time. Pimentel has an advanced approach at the plate for a teenager and his compact swing and power potential gives him one of the highest ceilings of any Mariners’ prospect. Though he struggled in his first season of pro ball (58 K’s/5 walks) Pimentel just turned 18 and has plenty of time to develop into a top-tier hitter for the Mariners. He doesn’t project to be any better than average defensively, but if his bat is as good as advertised, Pimentel could become the middle of the order threat that has long been absent from Seattle.  

4. Taijuan Walker–SP–(1 win-1.29 ERA-9 K’s/3 BB’s-0.74 WHIP): The Mariners’ lone first round pick in 2010 (43rd overall), Taijuan Walker is a live-armed 6’5″ pitcher out of Yucaipa High School in California. Walker pitched sparingly until his senior year of high school (where he was also a star in basketball, averaging 21 points and 15 rebounds per game) but his plus fastball and developing curveball could one day vault him to the front of Seattle’s rotation. The tall right-hander has a smooth delivery and the potential to add more velocity as he fills out his frame. Walker is still quite a few years away from the majors, but in the mean time, he gives the Mariners a sizable advantage in pickup basketball games. Finally, something they can win…

3. Nick Franklin–SS–(.283-23 HR’s-65 RBI’s-25 SB’s-.354 OBP-.841 OPS): A first round pick out of high school in 2009, Nick Franklin burst onto the scene last year with a 20 HR/20 SB season in the pitcher friendly Midwest League (it was the third most HR’s ever by a teenager in the MWL). Franklin is a well-balanced player with above-average skills across the board who could continue to develop more power at the plate as he fills out his lean 6’1″ frame. The confident almost cocky Franklin is a natural leader with a high baseball I.Q. and intangibles reminiscent of Derek Jeter. If Franklin can stick at shortstop he could be in Seattle as soon as 2012,= with an outside shot at a September call-up this season. The Mariners left many baseball experts scratching their heads when they selected Franklin in the first round back in 2009; now the same experts are wondering how so many other teams missed the boat on a future all-star.

2. Michael Pineda–SP–(11 wins-3.36 ERA-154 K’s/34 BB’s-1.11 WHIP): Largely unheralded coming into the 2010 season Michael Pineda ended the year as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. Signed out of the Dominican Republic at age 17, Pineda has progressed steadily through the Mariners’ system, posting high strikeout totals while maintaining a low walk rate. The tall, slender righty has an advanced repertoire consisting of a mid-to-high 90’s fastball, slider, cutter and changeup. There are some concerns about the health of Pineda’s elbow (he was limited to just 47 innings in 2009) which leads some scouts to believe that his future may be as a closer, although the Mariners intend to keep him as a starter for as long as possible. Pineda could likely do with some more seasoning in Triple-A, but unless you know something I don’t about Jamey Wright, he’ll likely start the year as Seattle’s fifth starter. There will be some ups and downs for Pineda in 2011, but the kid has got some serious talent, and will be a star by the time I learn how to properly use commas.

1. Dustin Ackley–2B–(.267-7 HR’s-51 RBI’s-10 SB’s-.368 OBP-.775 OPS): Owner of the sweetest swing in minor league baseball Dustin Ackley looks poised to step out of Stephen Strasburg’s shadow (though not a night goes by where I don’t dream of a King Felix/Strasburg starting rotation) and into MLB’s spotlight in 2011. Though his first year in the minors proved to be a bit rocky, Ackley showed marked improvement throughout the season, capped off by an amazing performance in the Arizona Fall League (.424-4 HR’s-19 RBI’s-5 SB’s-1.338 OPS in 66 at-bats for the Peoria Javelinas). Ackley was rated by B.A. as having the best speed and contact skills in the M’s organization and if his doubles continue to turn into home runs he has the all tools to become a perennial 20-20 player for the Mariners (see Chase Utley Lite–all the great flavor, none of the guilt). The Mariners’ second baseman of the future likely won’t start the year in Seattle in order to delay his service clock (giving the M’s an extra year of team control) but Ackley should be in the Emerald City by the end of May or beginning of June…just in time for the team to be eliminated from the playoffs.

So there’s that…

The Future’s So Bright I’ve Got to Wear SPF 15: A Largely Uneducated Look at the Seattle Mariners’ Top Ten Prospects (Part 1).

Dan Cortes knows karate, Latin and how to throw gas.

When Bill Bavasi left Seattle the Mariners’ farm system was thinner than the spread at Oliver Twist’s orphanage. After years of bad drafting (Jeff Clement over Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki) and even worse trades (that whole Erik Bedard thing) the Mariners were devoid of talent at both the major and minor league levels. With the arrival of Jack Zduriencik as general manager the organization has worked tirelessly to restock their farm system, and though there is still quite a bit of catching up to do, the Mariners finally have some players capable of making a positive impact at the major league level. Without further ado, here’s a look at Seattle’s top 10 prospects for 2011:

10. Dan Cortes–RP–(9 wins-5.23 ERA-98 K’s/57 BB’s-1.53 WHIP): Dan Cortes was traded to Seattle from Kansas City for Yuniesky Betancourt in one of the best deals of the Zduriencik tenure, and since the organization moved him from starter to reliever, Cortes has been on the fast track to the bigs. Cortes got a cup of coffee (cream, no sugar) with Seattle in 2010 and though he continues to struggle with command his triple digit fastball has many penciling in Cortes as the Mariners’ closer of the future. He’ll likely start the year pitching in the 7th and 8th innings but with David Aardsma on his way out it won’t be long before Cortes will be closing out wins for the M’s…even if that’s only once a week or so.

9. Kyle Seager–2B/3B–(.345-14 HR’s-74 RBI’s-13 SB’s-.419 OBP-.921 OPS): A teammate of fellow Top 10 prospect Dustin Ackley at North Carolina, Kyle “The Silver Bullet” Seager enjoyed a breakout season in 2010, posting a stellar .921 OPS in 557 AB’s at Single-A High Desert (the whole league is a hitter’s haven, so take his numbers with a grain of salt). Seager is an extremely patient hitter (a trait long absent from the Mariners’ lineup) but he’s blocked in the organization at second base by Ackley and his lack of power doesn’t play well at third base. He’s an intriguing prospect for a talent starved organization, but unless his slugging improves or he shifts to shortstop, Seager is likely headed for a role as a utility man with a solid left-handed bat off the bench.

8. Marcus Littlewood–SS–(N/A): Despite the difficulty of growing up with a last name tailor-made for teasing (one can imagine it didn’t make things easy with the ladies either) Marcus Littlewood proved worthy of the challenge, playing for Team USA in high school before being drafted by the Mariners in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft. The switch-hitting shortstop out of Florida was rated as one of the best defensive players in the draft but there are concerns that his lack of foot speed will eventually move Littlewood to the hot corner. At the plate he flashes good bat speed but limited pop, although some scouts feel that Littlewood will add power as he continues to grow. Littlewood is talented enough defensively that he’ll eventually be a utility man in the Majors but the development of his bat will determine whether or not he becomes a full-time player.

7. Johermyn Chavez–OF–(.315-32 HR’s-96 RBI’s-.387 OBP-.964 OPS): The lesser known piece of the Brandon Morrow for Brandon League swap (slaps forehead) Chavez is now the only hope of the Mariners have of avoiding another embarrassing and lopsided trade that drives them deeper into the AL West cellar (there’s a strong chance they’ll finish 5th in a four team division next season). Tabbed by B.A. as having the best power and best outfield arm in the system, Chavez had a monster season at the plate in 2010, slugging 32 longballs and chipping in 96 RBI’s. However, Chavez did play at one of the most hitter-friendly parks in all of minor league baseball and his 52/131 walk-to-strikeout ratio raises some red flags about his ability to adjust to off-speed pitching. At this point, Chavez looks like the rich man’s version of Greg Halman, and he’ll have to continue to develop his strike zone discipline if he wants to be a major part of the Mariners’ plans moving forward.

6. Mauricio Robles–SP–(9 wins-3.99 ERA-154 K’s/71 BB’s-1.35 WHIP): Mauricio Robles came to Seattle via the Jarrod Washburn trade and has quickly developed into the team’s top left-handed pitching prospect (he’s got a framed certificate in his den to prove it). Though Robles is listed at just 5’9″ he’s one of the hardest throwing pitchers in the organization with a fastball topping out in the mid-to-high 90’s and an emerging changeup and curveball. Robles clearly has the stuff to get hitters out (9.8 K’s/9 innings in 2010) but his lack of control (4.5 walks/9 innings) may eventually force a shift to the bullpen. Regardless of where the organization feels Robles fits best, the young fireballer has a shot to join the big league club in 2011, and could become the shutdown lefty that the Mariners have been without since Arthur Rhodes and his bling left town.

Stay tuned for the Mariners’ Top 5 prospects coming soon!

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…

Wak Blocked: Mariners Fire Second-Year Manager Don Wakamatsu; Admit That Season Isn’t Exactly Going As Planned.

Though Wakamatsu took the fall, no one in the organization is without blame.

Though the writing had been on the wall for months, yesterday’s firing of manager Don Wakamatsu still came as a surprise from an organization that had come to reward mediocrity over the last decade.  

With the team in a free fall and showing no signs of improvement, GM Jack Zduriencik decided that Wakamatsu was no longer the right man for the job, and showed his hand-picked manager the door.  

The Mariners entered Monday night with a record of 42-70, the third worst in baseball, after a busy offseason that brought hope of a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. With virtually every player on the team underperforming Wakamatsu never really had a chance to succeed (it is a Seattle sports team after all). Wakamastu wasn’t without blame though;  his questionable handling of the bullpen and inability to get maximum effort out of the team made the lame duck manager a perfect scapegoat for the M’s numerous shortcomings.  

Triple-A manager Darren “Aw Shucks” Brown will replace Wakamatsu for the remainder of the season, though with the current squad, he’s probably not expected to do anything more than shake out the roster and try to figure out which pieces hold value moving into 2011 (so long Jose Lopez, Milton Bradley, Rob Johnson, etc). It would behoove Brown to manage with a bit more evident passion than Wakamatsu, whose Zen-like persona made him appear like an apathetic captain at the helm of a sinking ship.  

It’s unfortunate that a classy manager like Wakamatsu had to be fired after just two seasons because of poor front office decisions, but it was apparent from his run-ins with Ken Griffey Jr., Milton Bradley, Michael Lohan and Chone Figgins that he no longer had the respect of his players. 

He’s not the only one whose lost respect this season–Seattle’s front office and ownership are also on thin ice with M’s fans after putting one of the sorriest teams on the field in the organization’s storied history. 

If more changes aren’t made soon, Wakamatsu won’t be the only one looking for work this offseason…