The Mariners held their annual Pre-Spring Training Media Luncheon yesterday, and as usual there was quite a bit of information to get us looking forward to the start of another baseball season.
This year’s event was geared more toward the major league team than recent years. Sometimes in the past they have brought a top prospect to speak, or there has been discussion about prospects who might be close to Seattle (and likely Tacoma players), but this year there was little of that.
The most discussed prospect was outfielder Kyle Lewis and his recovery from knee surgery, which has not gone as smoothly as hoped. The M’s 2016 first round draft pick’s status is kind of vague right now, with new Director of High Performance Lorena Martin reporting that Lewis is “undergoing lots of physical therapy,” and farm director Andy McKay only saying “I hope he gets to a position where he can play consistently this year.” That’s unlikely to be Tacoma, seeing how he hasn’t played a full season of Class-A ball yet.
There was little discussion of potential Rainiers players, with the exception of possible pitchers Andrew Moore and Ariel Miranda. General Manager Jerry Dipoto made it sound like four big league starting rotation spots are locked up (Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Mike Leake, and Erasmo Ramirez), with the No. 5 spot going to one of Marco Gonzales, Miranda, or Moore. Gonzales is out of minor league options which gives him a leg up.
Speaking of pitching, you couldn’t help but notice that there is the big difference in opinion of the Mariners starting rotation between Dipoto and the general public. Dipoto likes the rotation, he believes the excessive injuries from last season are in the past, and he believes it’s an above-average rotation by current MLB standards. Baseball fans I speak with around town have a very different opinion. Hopefully, Jerry is right.
Both McKay and Dipoto defended the Mariners farm system, which Baseball America recently ranked the worst in MLB.
McKay said that Mariners minor leaguers have been coveted by other organizations – as seen by all of the trades – and that his coaches are getting interviews for promotions with other teams. McKay added he doesn’t consider player rankings, preferring to look at every player as a prospect and help them improve on the field.
Dipoto pointed out that several players who would be ranked as prospects were forced into major league action last year and graduated from prospect lists (Moore, Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, Mitch Haniger). He added that trading prospects to bring in major league players has hurt the Mariners in the rankings.
In response to a question about the slow major league offseason and all of the players still available as free agents, Dipoto delivered a whopper: “You could argue that there is more competition to get the No. 1 pick in the draft than there is to win World Series.”
That appears to be a true statement, and one that reflects on MLB’s biggest problem right now: too many teams are ‘tanking’ and starting four-year plans to lose in order to get top draft picks and try to become the next Cubs and Astros – winners of the last two World Series. Only major changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement can prevent this from being a permanent trend. The current CBA doesn’t expire until after the 2021 season, so get ready for more tanking.
To be clear, Dipoto and the Mariners are firmly in the “trying to win the World Series” group for now. The key will be finding a way to improve the team from middle-third of the 30 teams to upper-third under the current conditions.
Away from the majors, Mariners Chairman John Stanton announced a new community program called On BASE (Baseball And Softball Everywhere) with the goal of making baseball and softball accessible to all kids by providing fields and equipment. Included is a partnership with Metro Parks Tacoma supporting elementary school baseball and softball programs. They say the Tacoma arm of the program will reach about 2,400 kids. Good stuff!
Unfortunately, Edgar Martinez did not gain enough votes to be elected to the Hall of Fame this cycle. However, he made enough headway for us to be confident that he’ll achieve election next year in his tenth and final year on the ballot. That’s not a sure thing, but it looks promising.
Speaking with Mariners personnel yesterday, it was learned that the vote was close enough that both the Mariners and the Hall of Fame itself were prepared if he had received enough votes – including being ready for the media deluge and a quick flight to New York. However, he fell 20 votes shy and will have to hope for a better outcome next time.