Next man up: Outfielder Tyler O’Neill, who hit 31 homers last year and has a career minor-league slugging percentage of .508? Traded to St. Louis. Catcher Alex Jackson, the No. 6 pick of the 2014 draft who slugged .480 last year? Traded to Atlanta. Nick Neidert, a second-round pick in 2015 who has a career 2.87 ERA? Traded to Miami. Ryan Yarbrough, who had a 3.43 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 157.1 innings last year in AAA? Traded to Tampa Bay. There’s more but you’ve probably noticed a trend. Baseball America ranked the Mariners’ farm system last in MLB and the team’s fans can thank GM Jerry Dipoto for that. He made a bad farm system worse. What’s left? Not much. Outfielder Braden Bishop hit .306, walked 60 times and stole 22 bases last year, but has eight home runs in three minor-league systems. That’s an OK month for O’Neill.
What he said: DiPoto: “”It wasn’t necessarily by design, but again, we have not done this with pandemonium in mind. We did it to build a team that can better support a winning core and we feel like we’ve built that.” What he meant: “Stop me before I trade again.”
Three reasons it will be a good year: 1. Seventeen Mariners started and 40 Mariners, if you include catcher Carlos Ruiz, pitched last year. Christian Bergman, who has a 5.58 career ERA, started eight games. Yovani Gallardo, who had a 5.72 ERA, made 22 starts and not because he deserved to. Tyler Cloyd, who last pitched in a major league game in 2013, pitched in one for the ’17 Mariners. Drew Smyly was acquired for the Rays for three players (including Yarbrough and outfielder Mallex Smith), didn’t pitch at all because of injury and left as a free agent. No team was as hard hit by injuries. Dipoto said the Mariners should have lost 100 games with the volume of pitching injuries. They might have if their staff was as good to begin with as he thought it was. 2. Nelson Cruz hit 39 homers last year, fewest since he hit 27 in an abbreviated 2013, but only because he hit 43, 44 and 40 in between; Cruz has hit 258 of his 323 career homers after his 30th birthday. Cruz was 34 when he signed a four-year contract with the Mariners. Since then he’s had three of his best seasons, and this year he’s playing for his next contract. 3. James Paxton was limited to 136 innings by injury, but his .602 OPS against would have ranked second in the AL and fourth in MLB if eligible. His 136 innings were a career high; if he can up it to 175, the Mariners will have the ace Felix Hernandez used to be.
Three reasons it won’t: 1. The Mariners were 15th in hitting, 15th in pitching last year. They were an average team. Some of that was injuries, but some of those hurt weren’t very good to begin with. Gallardo was a Mariner because Dipoto traded for him, not because he answered an ad on Craig’s list. 2. The Mariners might have found a way to restrain Dipoto from trading: there’s not much left to deal. There’s not much depth on the major-league roster or the minor-league system. It’s hard to deal when you have nothing valuable to offer. 3. The King may not be dead, but his career is ailing. Felix Hernandez pitched only 16 games last year and not well when he did: he had a 4.36 ERA and career-high .791 OPS against. It could be that Hernandez reverts back in a good way, but his ERA has risen in each of the last three seasons, and the workload might have finally diminished his performance. Hernandez pitched 200 innings for eight straight seasons and 190 in the two before them. He’s pitched 240 in the last two to a 4.01 ERA and allowed a homer every 6.2 innings, a bit off the homer every 9.1 innings he allowed previously. Hernandez will be 32 shortly after Opening Day; his 2,502.1 innings already rank 247th all-time and fifth among active pitchers. Consider that Justin Verlander, who’s three years and two months older than Hernandez and has the rep of carrying a heavy workload, has pitched just 42.2 more innings than Felix.
Team song: Frank Sinatra: I Wouldn’t Trade Christmas