The Year-End Break (Maybe)

December 23, 2015

It’s that time of year again, when most baseball offices close up shop until the new year.

We’ll be taking a blog break until January 4th unless the Mariners make any moves of note before then. As active as Jerry Dipoto has been, it seems likely he’ll do something during the holiday break. But if he doesn’t, we’re out until the first Monday in January.

Once the new year kicks in, we’ll start looking forward to spring training. The annual positional previews looking at which players going to Peoria might start the season in Tacoma will be a lot tougher to write this year, due to all of the new players. That will be the main blog project until spring training starts.

In the meantime, have a festive and safe holiday season. We’ll see you in January or whenever Dipoto pulls off another move – whichever comes first.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton suggests that the Mariners may sign reliever Ryan Cook. He also has some winter ball updates in this notebook.
  • Ryan Divish shared his thoughts on the Mariners payroll.
  • Two ex-Rainiers relievers have new teams: Logan Kensing signed with the Tigers, and Yoervis Medina was picked up on waivers by Pittsburgh.
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A Book Suggestion

December 21, 2015

It was a quiet weekend in the Mariners world – this is the brief portion of the calendar when many baseball people take some time off – so let’s do something different today: a book recommendation.

During an Amazon shopping spree I impulsively bought a slim little hardcover called “The Grind – Inside Baseball’s Endless Season,” by Washington Post baseball writer Barry Svrluga. Svrluga (note: I haven’t the foggiest idea how to pronounce that, and I have to look it up every time just to spell it) takes a unique look inside the game.

Utilizing his experience as a beat writer covering the 2014 Washington Nationals, Svrluga focuses on nine different people who are each part of the relentless day-after-day grind that is professional baseball.

The book includes chapters on the star everyday player, the reliever, the scout, and the team travel guy. You get a real behind-the-scenes look into what happens prior to the first pitch.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters called “The Wife” and “The Twenty-sixth Man.” The look at what a player’s wife goes through is illuminating, and here at the Triple-A level we know all about the 26th man who goes back-and-forth between the minor and majors several times in the same season.

The writing style is clean and direct, as you would expect from a newspaper reporter. Svrluga was granted a lot of inside access. I give this book two thumbs up, and it might make a nice gift for yourself or the other total baseball nut in your family.

Links:

Check back on Wednesday when we’ll lay out some future blog plans.


Iwakuma Is Back

December 18, 2015

The plan for today was to write about the minor league free agents recently signed by Seattle who will probably play for Tacoma this coming season. We’re still going to do that, but we got some surprising news late last night.

Straight out of nowhere, the Mariners re-signed veteran starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma – who was thought to be long gone.

A free agent after 2015, Iwakuma reportedly agreed to a three-year, $45 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. This happened right at the start of the Winter Meetings. The Mariners had hoped to re-sign Iwakuma, so this news was a bummer and it forced them to make a deal for a veteran starter – which they did, in the Carson SmithWade Miley trade.

But the Dodgers deal with Iwakuma was never completed. It turns out that something came up during Iwakuma’s physical that the Dodgers weren’t comfortable with.

Whatever it was, the Mariners are OK with it – because they swooped in and signed Iwakuma to a one-year deal which includes vesting options for two more years (based on innings pitched).

It’s a big get for the Mariners, who now have six established starting pitchers going into spring training. This gives them protection in the event of an injury.

To make room for Iwakuma on the 40-man roster, recently acquired outfielder Daniel Robertson was designated for assignment. We’ll have to wait and see if he clears waivers.

The team also officially announced the signing of five veteran minor league free agents. Each player is also invited to major league spring training.

Two of the players we already knew were in the mix: outfielder/first baseman Mike Baxter and utility infielder Ed Lucas.

The three new names are pitchers: left-handed starter Brad Mills, and right-handed relievers Blake Parker and Casey Coleman.

Mills knows his way around the Pacific Coast League: he’s pitched for Las Vegas, Salt Lake, Round Rock, and (for the last two years) Nashville. He’s made 130 career starts in the PCL – adding in another six outings in the International League and Mills has a 4.20 ERA in 136 Triple-A starts. Mills is a change-up artist and we’ll go ahead and pencil him into the Rainiers starting rotation.

Parker was terrific out of the Iowa Cubs bullpen from 2011-2014, riding the shuttle between Triple-A and the big leagues during the later three seasons. He pitched in just three games last year due to elbow problems, but if he’s back to full health he could not only help Tacoma but also compete for a spot in the Mariners bullpen.

Coleman is another former Cub who has pitched in 58 major league games – including 26 big league starts. As a swing man for Omaha last season, Coleman went 5-4, 4.92. Coleman provides more veteran pitching depth for the organization.

All five of these players have considerable major league experience, and all five are possible Tacoma players in April.

Even though these players are technically listed as “minor league free agents” they do get paid well, due to their extensive major league experience. Seattle has already signed six minor league free agents with MLB experience: the five above, plus pitcher Donn Roach. It appears that they are spending more money than usual on solid Triple-A depth pieces – which should help Tacoma field a better club.

This just in: left-hander Tyler Olson was traded this afternoon to the Dodgers for “a player to be named later or cash.” The 2015 Rainiers/Mariners reliever out of Gonzaga will get a new start with L.A. Their Triple-A club is in Oklahoma City.

Links:

  • Here is the news story on Hisashi Iwakuma re-signing.
  • The Times has a report on the five minor league signings.
  • Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs writes that Tony Zych is the Mariners secret weapon.
  • Former Rainiers and Mariners hitting coach Howard Johnson is going to manage the Class-A High Desert club for the Texas Rangers this season.
  • Speaking of the Rangers, they signed former Rainiers outfielder Justin Ruggiano to a one-year major league deal.
  • The Padres are taking a look at the oft-injured former Mariners and Rainiers pitcher Brandon Morrow.
  • In this important story for ESPN, Jim Caple correctly tabs Ichiro as baseball’s Yoda.
  • They’re playing minor league ice hockey outdoors at Sacramento’s Raley Field (link includes pictures).

Moves & A Prospect List

December 16, 2015

Today the Mariners made another roster move involving players who are likely to be in Tacoma next season, and we also had the first reputable Mariners Top Ten Prospects list come out.

First the roster move:

Seattle claimed RHP A.J. Schugel off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks, adding him to the 40-man roster. To make room, they designated LHP Tyler Olson for assignment.

Schugel is a starting pitcher who has worked in the PCL for both Salt Lake and Reno. He has really struggled at the Triple-A level, allowing 119 runs in 127.1 innings. Yikes. However: he pitched extremely well at Double-A last year, even earning a September call-up to Arizona where he pitched (as a reliever) in his first five major league games.

Olson is the Gonzaga product who had a terrific spring training last year, earning a spot on the Mariners opening day roster. He was optioned to Tacoma in May and spent the rest of the season with the Rainiers, working as both a starter and a reliever. He went 3-5, 4.47 for the Rainiers. We’ll have to wait and see if he gets through waivers.

Baseball Prospectus released its Seattle Mariners Top Ten Prospects List, which also serves as a review of the farm system. It’s the first link below, and it’s pretty depressing stuff.

No doubt about it, 2015 was not a good year for the Mariners farm system – surely one of the reasons for the regime change in the organization. Poor seasons by previously hyped hitting prospects were the biggest issues.

There are three players on the list who we’ll probably see in Tacoma in 2016: outfielder Boog Powell, first baseman D.J. Peterson, and starting pitcher Edwin Diaz.

Several outlets produce organizational top prospects lists. I’ll always link to the bigger ones here on the blog, but keep in mind that these are for entertainment purposes only. Even the most successful lists have far more misses than hits.

Links:

  • Baseball Prospectus’s post with full write-ups on the Mariners farm system is right here.
  • Bob Dutton has a post reacting to the BP prospect list.
  • Fangraphs reviewed the Mariners offseason (so far).
  • First baseman Andy Wilkins was briefly a member of the Mariners 40-man roster, but he got claimed off waivers by Texas. So apparently he won’t be playing in Tacoma next year after all.
  • In the PCL, Sacramento announced a new manager in former infielder Jose Alguacil. Our old pal Dwight Bernard returns as pitching coach.

M’s Add To Bullpen & Triple-A Depth

December 14, 2015

Over the weekend the Mariners made a few more moves to bolster the major league & Tacoma bullpens, and they added a veteran Triple-A infielder to the spring training mix.

The biggest move was officially announced this morning: the team signed submarining reliever Steve Cishek to a two-year major league contract.

Cishek is a former closer for the Miami Marlins who has 95 saves, including consecutive seasons of 34 and 39 saves in 2013-2014. Last season he struggled with Miami but then pitched quite well for St. Louis (2.31 ERA) after a trade deadline deal.

Mariners broadcasters can breathe a sigh of relief: the team doesn’t play San Francisco this season, so they are unlikely to have to deal with the Steve Cishek vs. Andrew Susac tongue twisting match-up.

To make room for Cishek on the 40-man roster, lefthander Rob Rasmussen was designated for assignment.

The Mariners announced that right-handed reliever Ryne Harper was the “player to be named later” they received from the Braves when they shipped Jose Ramirez to Atlanta.

Harper is a likely Tacoma Rainiers bullpen man this year: he posted a 1.87 ERA in 33 innings of relief for the Braves Double-A team last year. Harper was drafted in 2011 out of Austin Peay University – for you longtime fans, that’s the same school that produced George Sherrill, a very good Tacoma reliever who went on to have success in the big leagues.

Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto told the Mariners press corps at the Winter Meetings last week that he is signing some Triple-A veterans to help Tacoma and provide major league roster depth. One of them is infielder Ed Lucas.

Lucas is a 33-year-old utility infielder out of Dartmouth. He’s played in 163 major league games, all with Miami in 2013 and 2014 (he was a 31-year-old rookie when he got his first call-up). Last year Lucas spent the entire season with Round Rock, batting .316 with a .390 OBP.

Ed Lucas is a veteran of the PCL wars: he’s been playing at this level since 2008, donning the uniforms of Omaha, Salt Lake, New Orleans, Round Rock, and now probably Tacoma.

There will be more Ed Lucas types signed by Seattle. Quality depth on the Triple-A roster seems to be a concern of the new regime.

Links:


Blash & Bawcom Move On

December 10, 2015

Baseball held its annual Rule 5 Draft this morning to close out the Winter Meetings in Nashville, and the results hit the Tacoma Rainiers pretty hard. We lost two of our most popular players today.

Powerful outfielder Jabari Blash was selected in the major league portion of the draft by the Oakland A’s, who promptly traded him to San Diego. The Padres must keep Blash in the major leagues on the active 25-man roster all season long or else offer him back to the Mariners.

We had a hunch this might happen – I wrote about it a few weeks ago. It’s not going to be easy for Blash to stick with the Padres: they acquired four players via this draft, and it’s going to be tough for them to keep all four in the majors all season. This will be the most important spring training of Blash’s career.

What turned out to be a big morning for current and ex-Rainiers continued when reliever Logan Bawcom was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft.

The minor league phase works very differently from the major league Rule 5 Draft. It’s complicated – I’m not going into the details here because I don’t want to spend the rest of the week typing – but the short version is: the Dodgers have essentially bought Bawcom’s minor league contract. Unlike the major league Rule 5 Draft, there is no scenario in which Bawcom is returned to the Mariners. He’s Dodgers property and they can do what they please with him – which in all likelihood is an assignment to Triple-A Oklahoma City, not far from Bawcom’s Dallas-area home.

We’ll miss Bawcom on the mound – he pitched in 136 games for the Rainiers over the past three seasons, recording 29 saves – but we’ll really miss him as a human being.

Bawcom was honored along with Forrest Snow each of the last two seasons as the Rainiers community men of the year. Bawcom enjoyed doing all of the Rainiers outreach programs, whether it was visiting kids at Mary Bridge hospital or saying hi to troops at the military base or reading books to disadvantaged youth. He did all of these things while wearing a Rainiers jersey, representing the team in a positive light throughout the community.

Bawcom

Logan Bawcom fires a pitch at Cheney Stadium

But wait, there’s more.

The Mariners also lost former Rainiers Brian Moran and Julio Morban in the minor league phase.

A left-handed reliever, Moran pitched quite well for Tacoma in 2012 and 2013. Last year he was recovering from Tommy John surgery and pitched for Double-A Jackson. The Cleveland Indians selected him today; their Triple-A club is in Columbus.

Also on the move is the outfielder Morban, who saw limited action the last two seasons due to a variety of issues. Once a member of the Mariners 40-man roster, Morban is still only 23 years old. He’s moving with Bawcom to the Dodgers organization.

The Mariners added a relief pitcher in the minor league phase, grabbing RHP Isaac Sanchez from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sanchez had a 2.71 ERA in Class-A last year; he appears targeted for Double-A Jackson.

Another ex-Rainiers player on the move was Ji-Man Choi, who has had an eventful offseason. Choi was a free agent, so he signed a minor league deal a couple of weeks ago with Baltimore. But this morning he was drafted in the major league Rule 5 Draft by Los Angeles Angels, who have to keep him in the big leagues or else return him to Baltimore.

Links:

  • Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto says that the big moves are done. This is a nice recap from Bob Dutton which includes a projected roster.
  • Larry Stone has a column on how Dipoto has completely changed the cast of characters who will support the Mariners returning core.
  • Dutton has details on the Rule 5 Draft and also notes that the M’s have signed minor league middle infielder Benji Gonzalez. Gonzalez spent some time with El Paso last year and could possibly break camp with Tacoma.
  • Baseball America has every pick from today’s Rule 5 Draft, along with a note on each major league pick.
  • The best story I saw out of the Winter Meetings came about when a writer realized that his Uber driver was former major leaguer Floyd Youmans. Poignant stuff about being out of the game you love.

That’s it for the Winter Meetings, but there will still be plenty of Hot Stove League action for the rest of the winter.


More Trades! More Trades!

December 9, 2015

Dealin’ Dipoto was at it again, making two deals since early yesterday afternoon when I hit “publish” on the blog.

Last night he added right-handed reliever Evan Scribner from the Oakland A’s, giving up bullpen prospect Trey Cochran-Gill to get him.

Scribner is known for his curveball, which he has used often against the Rainiers while with Sacramento. Last year he spent the entire season in the majors with Oakland, posting a 4.35 ERA with some wild stats: in 60 innings he struck out 64 batters and walked only four. Four walks! But… he allowed 14 home runs. Should be noted that the 14 home runs were completely out of line with his career stats prior to 2015.

Cochran-Gill was a Mariners 17th round draft pick in 2014 out of Auburn. He pitched in one game for Tacoma last year, as a fill-in from the low minors when the Rainiers were short in the bullpen because of roster moves. Afterw his one Rainiers game he struggled with his control during an extended look at Double-A Jackson.

This morning the Mariners acquired the first baseman they were looking for: Adam Lind, from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Lind, 30, is a left-handed power hitter with one year left on his contract. He hit .277 with 20 homers and 87 RBI last year, while chipping in 32 doubles. He also posted a strong .360 on-base percentage and an .820 OPS.

Lind will play often for Seattle, though there may be an opening for Jesus Montero to make starts against left-handed pitchers. There has been some talk about that from Dipoto during his Nashville media briefings.

To get Lind, the Mariners gave up three teenage pitchers whom I know very little about: Carlos Herrera (18, played in Dominican Summer League last year), Daniel Missaki (19, was off to a good start for Low-A Clinton before needing Tommy John surgery), and Freddy Peralta (19, played in Arizona Rookie League last two years).

The Mariners had to make room for Lind on the 40-man roster, so they designated Andy Wilkins for assignment. Wilkins was just claimed off waivers exactly one week ago and now he can be claimed by any of the other 29 teams.

Links:

The meetings wrap up with the Rule 5 Draft tomorrow morning.