Aviators Launch Winter Meetings

December 10, 2018

The Winter Meetings are underway in Las Vegas, and the host team kicked off the proceedings by announcing their new name.

The Las Vegas 51s are no more. The new name of the team will be the Las Vegas Aviators, and they have a new logo as they move into their new ballpark with their new affiliation in April.

I like the name Aviators, and commend franchise leadership for not naming the team the Desert Hippos or something like that. The logo is… unique.

You can see the logo and read about the team’s new identity right here.

Links:

  • Ryan Divish has his Mariners Winter Meetings preview. He also is doing his rolling blog post for each day of the meetings, passing along rumors and news from around the game.
  • Ex-Rainiers and Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmson announced his retirement via an Instagram message (which you can see in Divish’s rolling blog post linked above). He had one of the more unusual careers of recent times, taking a five year hiatus while in the minors to see the world – and then reaching the majors and being successful afterwards.
  • The Mariners claimed former Salt Lake Bees infielder Kaleb Cowart off waivers from the Angels, and announced they are going to give him a chance to pitch and see if he can become a two-way player. Cowart is out of minor league options, so it is unclear how they will get this done. It’s interesting, though. Offensively, Cowart has been a good PCL player who hasn’t put it together in his big league opportunities.
  • The M’s lost a longtime upper-level front office member when the Los Angeles Dodgers hired away Assistant General Manager Jeff Kingston. Jeff visited Cheney Stadium often during his ten years with the Mariners and we wish him the best with his new club.
  • Former Mariners manager Lou Piniella finished one vote short of Hall of Fame induction, in a vote by the current iteration of the “Veteran’s Committee.” His next chance will come in 2021.
  • For more of a national look at what is going on at the Winter Meetings, try this ESPN page (looks like a decent round-up so far).

 

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Baseball’s Winter Meetings Open Sunday

December 8, 2018

A quick Saturday update for you, with the Winter Meetings getting underway tomorrow in Las Vegas.

I’ll be in Vegas during the meetings, but in a non-official capacity (i.e. for fun). However, I’ll keep you updated with any Mariners-related news from the meetings here on the blog. Posts will most likely be simple news round-ups… like this one!

Links:

  • We’ll start with the sad news: former Tacoma Rainiers infielder Luis Valbuena died in a car wreck in Venezuela on Thursday night. He played in 58 games for the Rainiers in 2008 (and a couple of games as an emergency fill-in in 2005), and then went on to a ten-year major league career. Former major leaguer Jose Castillo also perished in the crash, and ex-Rainiers third baseman Carlos Rivero survived it. It is believed to have been a case of foul play.
  • Seattle has reportedly signed left-handed pitcher Tommy Milone to a minor league contract. He has lots of big league experience – career stats.
  • National baseball writer Jon Heyman has an overview of where things stand with the Mariners. If you have been paying casual attention to the M’s offseason, this will get you caught up.
  • Ryan Divish interviewed some experts to see how the Mariners farm system currently stacks up.
  • Greg Johns writes that the Mariners will be looking for relief pitching at the Winter Meetings.
  • Robinson Cano played up to his contract during his time in Seattle, Larry Stone writes.
  • Former San Francisco Giants third baseman “Dirty Al” Gallagher has passed away. He was the first former major leaguer I encountered in my broadcasting career, when he was manager of the 1995 Bend Bandits of the independent Western League. Thanks for helping a young, green broadcaster, Al.
  • In the PCL, Las Vegas is getting its new ballpark and team president Don Logan has been named the league’s Executive of the Year.

Mariners Add To Farm – Will It Help Tacoma In 2019?

December 4, 2018

The Seattle Mariners announced two huge trades on Monday, sending established major league players to teams in the National League East in exchanges for prospects and salary relief.

Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz went to the New York Mets for major leaguers Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak, along with prospects Justin Dunn, Gerson Bautista and Jarred Kelenic.

Kelenic is seen as the key prospect in this trade, but one thing we won’t be doing is watching him at Cheney Stadium any time soon. Kelenic graduated from high school earlier this year and is just 19-years-old. If he has a successful, natural progression through the minor leagues he would reach Triple-A in late 2021 or 2022.

But the two pitchers in the deal could help the Rainiers this year.

Justin Dunn is a starting prospect with good velocity, and the Mets promoted him to Double-A fairly early last season. He made 15 starts for their Binghamton club, going 6-5 with a 4.22 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 89.2 innings pitched. It sounds like he’ll open the 2019 season with Double-A Arkansas, and hopefully he’ll get off to a good start there and earn a promotion to Tacoma during the season.

A hard-throwing reliever, Gerson Bautista pitched half of the 2018 season at the Triple-A level, for Las Vegas. He even pitched at Cheney Stadium once, on May 19 (the Rainiers whacked him around, scoring two runs in 2.1 innings). Bautista made his MLB debut in 2018, and could possibly win a major league bullpen job with a good spring training in March. But that’s a long time from now, and at this point it’s impossible to determine the makeup of the Mariners bullpen. If not with the Mariners, Bautista will be with Tacoma.

In the other deal, the Mariners sent Jean Segura, James Pazos and Juan Nicasio to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for major league first baseman Carlos Santana and former top shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford.

Crawford is coming off a disappointing and injury-riddled rookie season. I’m sure the Mariners are hoping that he shows well (and healthy) in spring training and wins the starting shortstop job. But he does have minor league options left, and if the M’s decide Crawford needs more of that proverbial minor league seasoning he’ll be here in Tacoma.

The two trades serve as a real blocker for Tacoma slugger Dan Vogelbach. Both Santana and Bruce are probably best suited as designated hitters, and Ryon Healy is still on the Mariners roster (at blog posting time), so there is no opening for Vogelbach. He is out of minor league options and must make the big league team out of spring training or else be exposed to waivers.

In a rebuild year, this seems like the perfect time to let Vogelbach DH every game and see what he can do. But the team has acquired players to block that opportunity, for now.

Links:

  • Here are the final stories with reaction from the players and Jerry Dipoto on the Robinson Cano trade and the Jean Segura deal.
  • The Mariners released pitcher Casey Lawrence to allow him to sign with a team in Japan. Lawrence has been very successful as a starting pitcher for Tacoma the last two years, but when he was called up to Seattle they moved him to long relief and he struggled in that role. Hopefully he’ll do well in Japan (while making a very nice living).
  • Seattle found its major league catcher by trading reliever Alex Colome to the Chicago White Sox for receiver Omar Narvaez.
  • Wise friend Larry Stone has an excellent column on the Mariners teardown-and-rebuild. One thing to add to the discussion: there is added pressure on the Mariners minor league player development department to instruct the incoming talent – especially at the lower levels of the farm system.
  • There are many stories on the Cano trade. Keith Law looks at the deal (ESPN+ required), with an emphasis on the prospects the Mariners received.
  • Also at ESPN+, Buster Olney reveals his take on the deal and suggests that Kyle Seager is the next to get moved. Personally, I think they should keep him and hope for a bounce-back season, and then decide what to do.
  • Baseball Prospectus has an analysis of the trade.
  • Fangraphs looks at the prospects that the Mariners added in the Cano trade, and Jeff Sullivan writes up the Segura deal making it clear that the Phillies were the only team truly interested in him.
  • The News Tribune attempts to track the Mariners roster.

Two Mariners Prospect Lists Released

November 29, 2018

It’s the Top Prospects Lists time of the offseason, as two of the three outlets I trust put out their Mariners Top Prospects lists this week.

One of them is free for all, and that is John Sickels list for Minor League Ball. Sickels has been researching and publishing these lists for over 20 years, formerly in books and now for free under the SB Nation umbrella. He has his own system of letter grades, which you should not gloss over at the top of the article. His Mariners list is right here.

Established in the early 1980s, Baseball America is the leader in the public distribution of minor league prospect news and rankings. They published their Mariners Top Ten this week, and the remainder of the Top Thirty will come out in book form later this winter.

Baseball America’s rankings are all behind a subscriber paywall. If you are a subscriber, you can find their Mariners Top Ten here, a chat about the farm system here, and a bonus ranking of the top prospects the Mariners have traded away.

The fact that the last list exists is what is so jarring about this new Mariners offseason approach. The article says that in three years under Jerry Dipoto the Mariners have traded away 55 minor league prospects. Now they are trying to acquire them. It’s a dramatic shift in philosophy.

Links:

  • Tacoma Rainiers outfielder Ian Miller is doing a lot of work this winter. After playing in the Arizona Fall League, Miller has migrated to the Culiacan club in the Mexican Winter League. He’s off to a good start for the Tomato Growers and received a mention in this winter ball round-up.
  • Ryan Divish tries to determine what Jerry Dipoto means when he says the Mariners are going to take a “step back” in 2019.
  • The internet has been flooded with completely made-up Robinson Cano trades the last few days. Fangraphs has a logic-based article on how to make a Cano trade work.
  • With Cano trade rumors ramping up more seriously today, Greg Johns posted a list of the ten biggest trades in Mariners history.
  • The Mariners added 21-year-old LHP Ricardo Sanchez, acquiring him from the Atlanta Braves who have a packed 40-man roster and couldn’t squeeze him on there. Sanchez pitched in Double-A this year and is a potential 2019 Tacoma Rainier.
  • The Mariners have signed former Round Rock reliever Tayler Scott to a minor league contract. He was pretty solid for the Express last year – here are his career stats. He’s attempting to be the first pitcher from South Africa to reach the majors.
  • From Baseball America’s Minor League Transactions we learn that 2018 Tacoma Rainiers third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean and top reliever Tyler Higgins have both signed with the San Diego Padres.
  • Good news: former Rainiers outfielder Leonys Martin was medically cleared to resume working out after overcoming a life-threatening bacterial illness.
  • It’s Hall of Fame election season, and many voters choose to make their ballots public. The Seattle Times has created an Edgar Martinez vote tracker.

Paxton Trade Reveals Mariners Direction

November 20, 2018

Big offseason news came our way yesterday afternoon, as the Mariners revealed their winter plan by trading star pitcher James Paxton to the New York Yankees for three minor league prospects.

Paxton had two years of club control left, and the Yankees will get him at his age 30 and 31 seasons.

The former Rainiers lefty has been very good when healthy over the last five years, going 41-26 with a 3.42 ERA in 102 career starts for the Mariners. His no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays this year was a career highlight. He’s also coming off his healthiest major league season: he made a career-high 28 starts in 2018.

The Mariners traded Paxton at peak value and added three players to the minor league system – two of whom are pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues.

Left-handed starter Justus Sheffield is considered the top prospect in the deal. The 22-year-old went 6-4 with a 2.46 ERA for Triple-A Scranton last year, striking out 84 batters in 88 innings pitched with 36 walks. He made his major league debut in September, appearing in three games as a reliever for the Yankees. He should open the 2019 season with either Tacoma or Seattle, pending how spring training goes.

Right-hander Erik Swanson also pitched at the Triple-A level last season, posting a 3.86 ERA in 13 starts for Scranton. His stat line is unusual in the pitcher-friendly league: the ERA is kind of high for the International League, and he allowed ten homers in just 72 innings… but he struck out 78 and walked only 14 batters. He’ll pitch the 2019 season at age 25, likely in the Tacoma starting rotation to open the year.

Outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams enjoyed a breakout season as a 23-year-old in the Advanced-A Florida State League during the 2018 campaign. He hit a career-high 17 home runs in just 90 games in the pitcher-friendly circuit, while batting .290 with a .356 on-base percentage. A left-handed hitter, he’ll probably start the coming season at Double-A Arkansas and hopefully we’ll see him here in Tacoma later on.

In interviews following the trade, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said that the club is taking a “step back” in 2019 with the hopes of improving the roster for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. He is making it sound like a brief restructuring of the team, and not a total tear-it-down rebuild. We’ll see if he continues to operate this way over the course of the winter – if he moves Mitch Haniger and Edwin Diaz, we have a total rebuild.

The Arizona Fall League ended this weekend, with the Mariners-fortified Peoria Javelinas winning the league championship. Former (and future?) Tacoma Rainiers manager Daren Brown piloted the club to the title.

Rainiers outfielder Ian Miller hit .246 with two homers in 57 at-bats for Peoria. Encouragingly, he drew 11 walks and posted a .368 on-base percentage. He didn’t run much, going 1-for-3 in stolen base attempts.

Today is the deadline to add eligible minor league players to the major league 40-man roster, protecting them from the Rule 5 Draft. At publish time, Seattle has added outfielder Braden Bishop and newly acquired pitcher Erik Swanson to the 40-man.

The team still has five open spots on its 40-man roster. Dipoto will probably be going on a waiver-claim frenzy to fill it up. We have seen this before – it usually results in a handful new Triple-A relief pitchers joining the organization.

Links:

  • Stories on the James Paxton trade: the Seattle Times news story by Ryan Divish, a column from Matt Calkins saying a trade had to be made, a “what the national media is saying” round-up, and Baseball America’s look at the prospects acquired by the Mariners.
  • Buster Olney of ESPN writes that the Mariners should trade everybody for prospects (subscription).
  • Here’s the story on the Arizona Fall League Championship Game, in which Atlanta Braves prospect Braxton Davidson hit a game-winning home run for Peoria and was injured in the celebration.
  • The Mariners signed right-handed reliever Ruben Alaniz to a major league contract, despite having never played in the majors previously. Alaniz pitched for Triple-A Durham last year.  He reportedly throws quite hard. He’ll go to major league spring training and has three option years remaining, so we may see quite a bit of him in Tacoma.
  • We have reports that the Mariners have signed veteran PCL infielder Orlando Calixte to a minor league contract. Calixte has spent the last two seasons with Sacramento, and played two years for Omaha prior to that. He’ll turn 27-years-old this winter. Calixte hit .270 with 11 homers for the River Cats in 2018.
  • In the big leagues, the M’s announced that Perry Hill is the new first base coach, and Chris Prieto will be the third base coach.
  • Former Mariners third baseman and future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre announced his retirement.
  • In the PCL, the Nashville Sounds changed their look to coincide with their new affiliation with the Texas Rangers. See some of the uniforms here.

 


M’s Acquire Three Potential Tacoma Players For 2019

November 15, 2018

It has been a wild and unpleasant week in Mariners news, as you surely know if you are a reader of this blog, but we actually have quite a few on-the-field baseball tidbits to pass along so let’s focus on those instead.

The Mariners have started working on their 2019 depth, which means they are acquiring players for the Tacoma roster. Lets get to those players and the rest of the links right now.

  • The Mariners signed minor league free agent Dylan Moore to a major league contract, adding him to the 40-man roster. Moore was in the Brewers system; he played a four-game series at Cheney Stadium in early August while with Colorado Springs. In that series he hit leadoff and played third base for the Sky Sox. It looks like he’ll compete for a major league utility role in spring training, and if that doesn’t work out we’ll have him in Tacoma. Here are his career stats.
  • The priceless Mariners Minors twitter account reports that the team signed catcher Austin Nola to a minor league contract. The brother of Phillies ace pitcher Aaron Nola, Austin caught for New Orleans last year after converting from the infield in 2017. He was famous in New Orleans for (almost) wearing a jersey with his name on the front and the back.
  • Mariners Minors also reports that the team signed second baseman Tim Lopes, who was originally a Mariners draft pick that got traded to Toronto in 2017. He hit .277 with 18 stolen bases (but without much power) in the pitcher-friendly International League last year – here are his career stats. He’s only 24 years old and there might be some upside here.
  • From Baseball America’s latest Minor League Transactions update, we learn that the M’s have re-signed reliever Ryan Garton on a minor league deal. Garton is a good reliever in the PCL when healthy, and he has had some successful stints in the majors as well.
  • The Rule 5 Draft is less than a month away, and the Mariners have to consider protecting eligible minor leaguers on the 40-man roster. The most likely additions according to USS Mariner are anticipated 2019 Tacoma outfielder Braden Bishop and reliever Art Warren, with catcher Joe DeCarlo a possibility.
  • Greg Johns has a story on potential replacements for Mike Zunino behind the plate.
  • USS Mariner has more on the Zunino trade and the latest developments surrounding it.
  • Mariners third base coach Scott Brosius decided not to return in 2019. We wish the former Tacoma Rainiers hitting coach the best in his next endeavour.
  • The M’s are hiring new coaches Tim Laker and Perry Hill.
  • Former Rainiers reliever Mark Lowe is attempting a comeback. He did not play in 2018.
  • Larry Stone caught up with former Mariners manager Lou Piniella, who finds himself on the Hall of Fame ballot in the latest incarnation of what we used to call the Veteran’s Committee. Hall expert Jay Jaffe looks at his candidacy (along with that of one of his former employers).
  • Forbes reports that T-Mobile has secured the new naming rights to (formerly) Safeco Field. The Mariners say we are a few weeks away from an official announcement.
  • Shoreline native Blake Snell won the AL Cy Young Award. The Everett Herald caught up with his high school coach in a fun story.

First Big Trade: Zunino To Tampa

November 8, 2018

The Mariners made their first major roster move of the offseason this morning, sending catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder Guillermo Heredia to Tampa in exchange for outfielder Mallex Smith.

There were prospects in the deal, too. Tampa received left-handed pitcher Michael Plassmeyer, and the Mariners received Class-A outfielder Jake Fraley.

It’s difficult to picture the Mariners without Zunino, but here we are. He has been through many ups and downs during his six years as the Mariners erstwhile starting catcher, and has had trips to Tacoma during five of the last six seasons.

A great guy, Zunino has never been bitter or moody in the clubhouse during his numerous stints with the Rainiers, trying to fix his swing. He’s a team leader and a great defensive catcher. The organization is going to miss that aspect of his game.

Mallex Smith figures to slot in to center field. He’s a speedster, a good defensive player, and he’s coming off his best offensive season at age 25.

As for the prospect, look for Fraley to open the season at Double-A Arkansas – we’ll see him in Tacoma down the road. He was a second round draft pick out of LSU in 2016, had an injury-filled 2017 season, and then got it going in the second half last year at Advanced Class-A. He hit .347 for Charlotte, not much power, reportedly plays good defense. He was a little old for the level (23 last year) because injuries wiped out most of 2017 and the first half of his 2018 season.

The Mariners now have a desperate need for a catcher. David Freitas is the only one on the 40-man roster. The two catchers who finished the year in Triple-A are gone: Cameron Rupp is now a free agent, and Garrett Kennedy was released after the season. There isn’t anyone in the organization ready to play in the big leagues, other than Freitas.

This was just the first step for Seattle. There will be many more.

Links: