Iwakuma To The Rainiers? It’s Possible.

November 28, 2017

The Mariners announced on Monday that they have re-signed free agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma to a minor league contract, with an invitation to major league spring training.

Iwakuma was limited to just six major league starts last year because of a shoulder injury which eventually required surgery in late September. All we know about his health at this point is that he told the Japanese media he hopes to be ready for the start of the coming season.

This deal is a smart one for the Mariners, who will be able to see how Iwakuma looks once he’s able to pitch again, and determine if he can help the major league club without having to pay out a lot of guaranteed money.

He’s always been effective when on the mound for Seattle. Iwakuma turns 37-years-old this April, and he has a lifetime major league record of 63-39 with a 3.42 ERA. He doesn’t rely on velocity to get hitters out, so his chances of rebounding from shoulder surgery seem a little better than most.

This is a minor league contract, so there is a chance Iwakuma pitches for the Rainiers next year. The logical way that would happen: if he’s still rebuilding arm strength by the time the season starts, and isn’t quite ready for the majors but looks promising during spring training. In that scenario, you could picture Iwakuma in the Rainiers rotation for a few turns at the beginning of the season.

On the other hand, if a healthy Iwakuma pitches poorly in spring training and doesn’t look like he’ll help the big club in 2018, I doubt he’ll pitch for Tacoma.

Is it the end of the line for Iwakuma, or can he pull off a comeback? It will be something to keep an eye on in March.

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Mariners Prospects Shine In Fall League

November 22, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving! Let’s clean up some recent Mariners news before we clean our plates.

The Arizona Fall League ended earlier this week, and a Mariners prospect was one of the top performers in the circuit.

Outfielder/first baseman Eric Filia hit up a storm in the desert, batting .408 with a .483 on-base percentage while slugging .605. He reached base safely in all 23 games he played in, and finished runner-up to Atlanta Braves mega prospect Ronald Acuna for league MVP.

Filia hits for contact, draws walks, and has doubles power. He’s a career .337 hitter in the low minors, and is expected to open the 2018 season with Double-A Arkansas.

As an older prospect – Filia has a very unique background, which brought him to professional baseball late (read about it here) – the Mariners may move Filia to Triple-A quickly next year if he hits well early in the season at Arkansas. Assuming he isn’t traded for a relief pitcher during the offseason.

Max Povse pitched well in the Arizona Fall League after returning to his natural role as a starting pitcher.

His final numbers don’t jump off the screen – 1-2 with a 4.61 ERA in six starts – but he improved as the season went on, culminating with a six inning, one run start in his final outing.

Another Mariner in the Arizona Fall League who had a big showing was reliever Art Warren.

A right-hander who turns 25 in March, Warren did not allow a run in nine appearances, covering 11 innings. He struck out 12 and walked four, and allowed only five hits.

Warren spent all of last season at Class-A Modesto, but he could be a quick climber through the upper levels of the farm system in 2018.

As expected, the Mariners did not protect any Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects prior to the deadline. This is due to a lack of young talent in the upper levels of the farm system, a situation created by all of the trades of prospects for major league and Triple-A players over the last two years.

Speedy outfielder Ian Miller was the most likely candidate to be protected, but the Mariners elected to keep a handful 40-man roster spots open for waiver claims and free agent signings. We’ll have to wait and see if Miller gets selected in the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings next month.

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It’s Trading Season. Guess Who Went First?

November 16, 2017

It’s always trading season for Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, who made the first deal of the GM Meetings last night, and then followed it up with another trade this morning.

The first deal filled the Mariners hole at first base. Seattle acquired Ryon Healy from the Oakland A’s, giving up former Rainiers reliever Emilio Pagan and infield prospect Alexander Campos.

Healy replaces Danny Valencia and Yonder Alonso in the Mariners lineup. Both of those first baseman are currently free agents – and interestingly, both former Oakland A’s players. The Mariners last three first basemen have all been acquired from Oakland. Current A’s first baseman Matt Olson should start shopping for a condo in Seattle.

Healy is young and has power, hitting .271 with 25 homers this year. He has less than two years of major league time and can’t become a free agent until 2023.

You know about Pagan, who broke into the majors this season and fared quite well as a rookie. He looks like he could have a nice major league career and we wish him the best with the A’s.

Campos is a wild card – he hasn’t even landed on U.S. soil yet. The 17-year-old hit .290 in the Dominican Summer League this year.

This morning, the M’s traded hard-throwing reliever Thyago Vieira to the Chicago White Sox for $500,000 in international slot money, which is kind of confusing but might be quite meaningful.

Teams are only allowed to spend X-amount of money each year on international players who are under the age of 25. The amount is different from team to team, depending on standings and market size, etc. There are tough penalties for spending over the allotment.

Normally this international money is spent on teenage kids from the Dominican and Venezuela, or one of the Cuban players who manages to get out. But there is a big fish in this particular ocean right now: Shohei Ohtani, who is expected to become available next week.

Ohtani’s signing bonus is going to come from this pool of money. According to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, today’s trade increased the Mariners cap that they can pay Ohtani to $1,557,500.

If the Mariners are unable to successfully recruit Ohtani, they can spend the money on talented teenagers from the Dominican and Venezuela – or maybe Brazil, where they once found Thyago Vieira.

Links:

  • The Seattle Times has stories on the two trades: the Ryon Healy deal is right here, and you can read about the Thyago Vieira trade here.
  • The Mariners have added to the major league coaching staff, hiring former pitcher Jim Brower as Assistant Coach. It’s interesting that they hired a pitching coach in this role when it went to a hitting-oriented coach (Scott Brosius) last year.
  • Seattle is going to sign some pitchers who are currently minor league free agents. Fangraphs has notes on the top ten available pitchers. I like No. 2 on the list a lot – he looked really good against the Rainiers.
  • The Pacific Coast League released the entire 2018 schedule, with all game times, in this .pdf file because that is exactly what you need on November 16th. We’ll have some complaints comments about the new schedule in a future blog post.

 


Mariners Add Veteran Outfielder On Triple-A Deal

November 14, 2017

A SB Nation reporter says that the Mariners have signed outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis to a minor league contract – much to the chagrin of our PR guy Brett, who will have to spell that all of the time.

Nieuwenhuis has played all or parts of six major league seasons, with the New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers. He’s been a reserve outfielder in the majors. He has some power and is a good defensive player, but he hits for a low average and strikes out a lot. In recent seasons he has been drawing a lot of walks, helping his OBP and bringing extra value.

In the Pacific Coast League, Nieuwenhuis has played for both Las Vegas (2013-15) and Colorado Springs (2017).

This year the 30-year-old Nieuwenhuis appeared in 84 games for Colorado Springs, hitting .244 with a .366 on-base percentage. He hit four home runs in 205 at-bats, which was a surprisingly low total for him (he hit 13 homers in the majors for Milwaukee in 2016, in 335 at-bats).

I suspect the Mariners appreciate the fact that Nieuwenhuis can play all three outfield positions, as well as his major league experience. Nieuwenhuis will go to spring training and compete for the fourth or fifth outfielder spot, with a season-opening assignment in Tacoma a strong possibility.

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Mariners Minor League Free Agents Revealed; Two Rainiers Re-Sign For 2018

November 8, 2017

Some team news to pass along today, as we have the list of free agents and news of a couple of veteran players re-signing with the Mariners.

Baseball America released its list of minor league free agents. Here are the Mariners players who elected free agency:

Seattle Mariners (36)
RHP: Jonathan Aro (AAA) | Ralston Cash (AA) | Tyler Cloyd (AAA) | Justin De Fratus (AA) | Ronald Dominguez (Lo A) | Bryan Evans (AA) | Ryne Harper (AAA) | Ryan Kelly (AA) | Tyler Knigge (AA) | Casey Lawrence (AAA) | Evan Marshall (AAA) | Brian McAfee (SS) | Micah Owings (AA) | Blake Perry (AA) | Fabian Roman (SS) | Dylan Unsworth (AA) | Aaron West (AA)
LHP: Aronny Cruz (DSL) | Kyle Hunter (AA) | Dean Kiekhefer (AAA) | Ashur Tolliver (AA)
C: Nevin Ashley (AAA) | Steven Baron (AA) | Alexander Capriata (AAA) | Marcus Littlewood (AA) | Tyler Marlette (AA) | Arturo Nieto (Hi A) | Yojhan Quevedo (Lo A)
1B: Ryan Casteel (AA)
2B: Rafael Fernandez (Hi A) | Shawn O’Malley (AAA) | Nelson Ward (AA) | Gianfranco Wawoe (Hi A)
SS: Joey Wong (AAA)
OF: Willie Argo (AA) | Kyle Waldrop (AAA)

Minor leaguers can become free agents if they are not on the major league 40-man roster and they have over six years of minor league service.

With 36 free agents, the Mariners have far more than any other team. The Marlins came closest, with 30. The M’s were forced to add many veteran minor league players during the season because of lost players due to 40-man roster manipulation and trades (we should probably just call that ‘Dipotoism’).

The complete list of 572 minor league free agents, sorted by team, can be found here.

Two members of the 2017 Rainiers who should be on that list are not because the Mariners have already re-signed them.

Veteran catcher Tuffy Gosewisch has re-upped with the Mariners, and figures to be part of Tacoma’s catching mix in 2018.

Also re-signing is utility man Danny Muno, who hit well for the Rainiers last year.

These signings were  listed among several others in Baseball America’s Minor League Transactions. Another player of note for Rainiers fans is pitcher Lindsey Caughel, who spent the entire 2017 season at Double-A Arkansas and could appear for Tacoma next year.

Former major league star Roy Halladay passed away in a plane crash yesterday. He was one of the most influential people in the sport; players were crushed by the news. I found Marc Webster’s post on Halladay to be a good one.

The Mariners are hiring a Baseball Analytics Intern. Dust off your resume and send it in!


2018 Rainiers Get A Shortstop

November 7, 2017

Looks like we have a player for the 2018 Tacoma Rainiers: shortstop Zach Vincej.

Vincej appeared in his first nine major league games last year for the Reds, going 1-for-9 at the plate. He spent the majority of the season playing for Triple-A Louisville, where he hit .270 with three homers and developed a reputation as having a smooth glove.

The Mariners acquired Vincej when he was claimed off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds last week, and then outrighted to Tacoma today. Since he doesn’t yet have six years of minor league experience, he’s not eligible for free agency.

He’s 26-years-old, was drafted out of Pepperdine in the 37th round in 2012, and has spent his entire career in the Reds organization until the past few days.

How do you pronounce Vincej? I read that it’s “Vince-ee,” but of course we’ll double-check with him when we meet him in the spring.

This fills a big hole the Rainiers had in the offseason. Actually, it was a big hole in the regular season after Tyler Smith was let go. Take a look:

2017 Tacoma Shortstops

  • Tyler Smith (79 games) – DFA’d, now with Texas Rangers
  • Taylor Motter (19 games) – with Mariners
  • Ryan Jackson (15 games) – released
  • Shawn O’Malley (8 games) – DFA’d, currently a free agent
  • Joey Wong (5 games) – currently a free agent
  • Eugene Helder (5 games) – Class-A player who filled in
  • Zach Shank (4 games) – not really a shortstop but made a couple of starts
  • Gordon Beckham (3 games) – currently a free agent
  • Rayder Ascanio (3 games) – traded to Cardinals in Mike Leake deal
  • Kevin Santa (2 games) – Class-A player who filled in*

There is nobody to promote from Double-A. Wong was the shortstop there, and he was promoted to Tacoma for the final week of the season and is now a free agent.

With Motter likely to remain in Seattle as the utility man, that leaves no holdovers to play shortstop for Tacoma. As this point, Vincej is our shortstop for 2018.

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*Santa only played in away games and never met Rhubarb the Reindeer.


Astros, Free Agents, Sounders & Kyle Lewis

November 2, 2017

Congratulations to the Houston Astros organization, winners of the 2017 World Series.

As a baseball fan, I found the series to be entertaining all the way through. In fact, this was a great October for baseball – most of the other playoff series were outstanding as well.

Now the offseason begins, and front offices will go to work to improve their teams for next year.

Today the Mariners announced their major league free agents. Hisashi Iwakuma, Yovani Gallardo, Yonder Alonso, Jarrod Dyson, Gordon Beckham, Carlos Ruiz, and Danny Valenica are free to sign with any team.

The Mariners needs in the offseason are a first baseman, an outfielder who can play center, and all of the pitchers they can find.

Here in Tacoma we had some big non-baseball news last night.

The Tacoma Rainiers and Seattle Sounders announced that the S2 team will play its home games at Cheney Stadium, starting this coming March. Cheney will house the team as plans to build a 5,000-seat soccer stadium in Tacoma continue to develop.

The to-be-named S2 team is the top feeder club of the major league Sounders, just like the Rainiers are the top affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. It’s the same basic deal: the Sounders will provide the players to the Tacoma team and run the on-field side, while the Rainiers front office will handle the business of marketing the team and operating the stadium experience. I like to think the Rainiers front office is really good at this, and it should work out well for soccer fans in Tacoma.

The conversion of the field back-and-forth from baseball to soccer will be a challenge for the Cheney Stadium grounds crew. The Rainiers front office has studied this and learned from other ballparks that host both baseball and soccer, including Yankee Stadium.

The article in The News Tribune covers some of the questions about how soccer will look at Cheney Stadium – you can read it right here.

In addition, Matt Driscoll has a story on the long-range plans for soccer in Tacoma.

The Mariners have pulled top prospect Kyle Lewis out of the Arizona Fall League after just two games, causing further concern about the outfielder’s health.

This is the third time that Lewis has stopped playing in games, due to ongoing knee discomfort.

The Mariners first round pick in 2016 suffered a major injury to his right knee while playing for the Everett Aqua Sox on July 19, 2016. The knee had to be surgically rebuilt, with a long rehabilitation process.

He tried to come back in June, 2017. He played in two games for Class-A Modesto before it was decided that he needed more time to rehabilitate. He sat out for two weeks, then re-started his rehabilitation in the Arizona Rookie League.

After some starts and stops in the Arizona Rookie League, Lewis rejoined Modesto on July 20 and played consistently until the end of the California League season. He was used as a designated hitter at first, but started to see regular time in center field at the end of the season.

That was all really encouraging, and the M’s announced Lewis would play in the Arizona Fall League.

But Lewis did not immediately report to the Arizona Fall League, with the Mariners announcing he was back on a rehabilitation program. He eventually reported to the league, played in two games, and was shut down by the Mariners for further rehabilitation.

This progression is unusual and concerning, but according to this report from Shannon Drayer Lewis has had an MRI that came back clean. Hopefully a winter of further rehabilitation can prepare Lewis for everyday play in 2018.

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