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Checking in with the Mariners’ ghosts of 1st base past

Several former M’s 1st basemen still hold jobs around the league. Let’s see how they’re doing.

Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays
Hey big head
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

The curse of 1st base has haunted Seattle for years. The last above-average season for the Mariners at 1B came from Russell Branyan in 2009. The last truly great season from the position came in 2005, when newly acquired Richie Sexson put up a 4-win season with a .263/.369/.541 slash, 39 homers, and a 144 wRC+. So far, Daniel Vogelbach is in AAA again and Danny Valencia, while hitting well since his disastrous first week, has not turned heads. We’ve taken somewhat serious and somewhat less serious looks at the dearth of offensive productivity in the past decade, but life did not stop in those moribund seasons. Many of the Mariners’ former first basemen still haunt the plains of Major League Baseball. 18 “active” players have played 1B while a member of the Seattle Mariners at any point in their career, so I decided to check in on how they’re doing this year.

“Still a Professional” Division

Player Age Current Team/Level (Org) 1B Games as a Mariner 2017 wRC+ 2017 PAs
Player Age Current Team/Level (Org) 1B Games as a Mariner 2017 wRC+ 2017 PAs
Dae-Ho Lee 34 Lotte Giants/Korean Baseball Organization 79 N/A 132
Jesus Montero 27 Norfolk Tides/AAA (BAL) 27 N/A 0
Dustin Ackley 29 Salt Lake Bees/AAA (LAA) 12 103 119
Alex Liddi 28 Toros de Tijuana/Mexican League 11 138 132
Matt Tuiasosopo 30 Gwinnett Braves/AAA (ATL) 8 83 110
Josh Wilson 36 Round Rock Express/AAA (TEX) 3 132 50

The first group contains three Top-100 picks, a former top prospect in baseball, and two power hitters from places not known for power hitters. Pedigrees are hard to truly ruin, and unsurprisingly, Dae-Ho Lee and Alex Liddi are the only ones of this group who is not in an MLB organization. Lee is living well, to be sure, having signed a four-year, $12.9 million deal with the Lotte Giants. He has a .378/.477/.613 line that might inspire longing for some fans. Maybe it’s justified, but I think the return home was best for the Mariners and Lee. From a statement on his decision, Lee seemed content.

"I strived hard to achieve my dream in the United States and I achieved it. My last wish has been returning to Lotte Giants and winning the championship with my teammates."

Go Dae-Ho.

Alex Liddi was another foreign import who has performed well internationally this year, albeit nearby in the AAA-equivalent Mexican League. Liddi’s solid hitting this year follows up an exciting display in the World Baseball Classic for Team Italy, where he played 3B and hit home runs in a quarter of his at-bats. Jesús Montero recording just 27 games at 1B in his Mariners career surprised me, but his current situation does not. Montero is currently serving a 50-game suspension after testing positive for dimethylbutylamine, or “Dime Time” as it is known to me now, as of this moment.

Dustin Ackley is attempting to resurrect his career after his body continued to fall apart with the Yankees last year. He had a fiery hot start in AAA that has since cooled. He’s played mostly 2B in Salt Lake, but with all the injuries the Angels have had, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Ackley’s versatility earn him a call up sometime this year. Matt Tuiasosopo and Josh Wilson are six years apart in age but their roles are similar at this point. Neither has shown the chops to be an MLB player in years, with their collective most recent MLB hit coming in 2015. Both are utility guys, however, and Wilson, who was picked nine spots ahead of Willie Bloomquist in the 3rd round of the 1999 draft, knows his role. After a strong season as a teammate of Micah Owings on the independent York Revolution, Wilson outlined his role with Texas and Round Rock.

"As someone in my position, as a guy (in the majors) on the bench you are not there to contribute every day. My role is to bring the energy I can bring every day and whenever I can get into the game. Give what you have and contribute when the opportunities arise. Whether the team is 30 games above .500 or 30 games below, my role and attitude stays the same."

While I’m glad to see this group still working, they seem unlikely to make a major impact at the MLB-level again.

Clinging to that Roster Spot Division

Player Age Current Team 1B Games as a Mariner 2017 wRC+ 2017 PAs
Player Age Current Team 1B Games as a Mariner 2017 wRC+ 2017 PAs
Mike Morse 35 Giants 10 35 19
Luis Sardiñas 23 Padres 3 14 39
Chris Giménez 34 Twins 2 106 37

The most disappointing fact I discovered in this section was that Mike Morse has never pitched in a professional baseball game. Since being acquired from the White Sox, along with Miguel Olivo and Jeremy Reed, for Ben Davis and Freddy Garcia, Morse’s 13-year career has been as fascinating as any can be. He received at least one MVP vote in 2011 and has also never produced another season over 1.0 fWAR. He’s still got some power, but his fragility and strikeout rate make him one of the league’s worst 1Bs at this point. His division mate, Luis Sardiñas, suffers from almost the exact opposite set of issues. He’s young, yes, but already with his fourth organization. He entered the season in competition with Erick Aybar for the starting shortstop spot and lost. While Aybar has been brutal (68 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR), Luis has been no better. He has outpitched Aybar, at least.

Chris Giménez is the third player here, and the least tenured former first baseman, with just two games played there as a Mariner. As the Twins’ backup catcher, Giménez has also found himself filling in around the diamond, with time at 1st base, 3rd base, and two separate relief pitching performances, in which he has been perfect thus far.

The Twins are 15-14 and have had Chris Giménez pitch twice. Baseball is the best/worst.

Blue Jays Division

Player Age Current Team 1B Games as a Mariner 2017 wRC+ 2017 PAs
Player Age Current Team 1B Games as a Mariner 2017 wRC+ 2017 PAs
Justin Smoak 30 Blue Jays 453 104 105
Kendrys Morales 33 Blue Jays 45 97 130

Mariners’ fans might not recognize 2017 Justin Smoak’s process, though the end results appear to be about what we became accustomed to. Smoak’s plate discipline was a legit skill, and he’s posted an above-average BB% every year of his career. He’s fallen off a cliff with his walk rate so far this year, at a Ketel-esque 3.8%, but he’s also upped his power as a trade-off, it appears, with a .210 ISO as well as a .470 slugging percentage that would match his career high. For all that power though, when Smoak is not doubling or homering he’s not doing much, and his 104 wRC+ reflects the meh we’ve come to expect. Kendrys Morales had a two-homer game this weekend to dramatically adjust the appearance of his season, but his profile is almost identical to Smoak’s. Decent power, no walks, and even worse defense as he’s become a near full-time DH. So far not so good for the man who just signed a 3-year, $33 million contract this offseason.

Hello! Hello? Hell-oh god no Divison

Player Age Current Team 1B Games as a Mariner 2017 wRC+ 2017 PAs
Player Age Current Team 1B Games as a Mariner 2017 wRC+ 2017 PAs
Logan Morrison 29 Rays 207 150 110
Adam Lind 33 Nationals 94 138 37
Mark Trumbo 31 Orioles 22 63 129

Three men known for hitting the ball incredibly hard grace the final division of former Mariners. Two have done so this year, with Adam Lind and Mark Trumbo finding themselves 11th and 23rd in the league in average exit velocity, respectively. Lind hit the ball hard last year but could not avoid striking out, leading to one of the worst seasons of his career. This year, working more often as a pinch-hitter, he’s faced better matchups and been able to capitalize. His .281 ISO and 8.1% K% are a testament to the benefits of being able to hit in more controlled situations. Trumbo, who sits just behind Taylor Motter in the exit velocity leaderboards, has struggled with a similar issue to what we’ve seen from Leonys Martín this year - poor launch angle. While his hard hit rate is down, it’s still impressive. The launch angle struggles are surprising considering Trumbo’s acknowledged awareness of how his success is tied to fly ball generation. Moreover, as Nick Cicere of Camden Chat investigated here, Trumbo is missing good pitches to hit.

A man who is not missing good pitches to hit is Logan Morrison. LoMo is tied for 35th in the league in “barrels” with other men with bats like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Miguel Cabrera. He’s easily been the best player on this list, as a man who consistently hit the ball hard in Seattle has so far been able to get under many lasers and send them out of the stadium. Not only is Morrison tied for 9th in the AL in homers, his OBP is over 100 points over his batting average, and his 12.7% BB% is among the league’s best as well. After years of almosts, this finally looks like the year of LoMo.

Current Mariners Division

Player Age Current Team 1B Games as a Mariner 2017 wRC+ 2017 PAs
Player Age Current Team 1B Games as a Mariner 2017 wRC+ 2017 PAs
Danny Valencia 32 Mariners 24 87 106
Daniel Vogelbach 24 Rainiers 6 42 17
Mike Freeman 29 Mariners 3 21 23
Taylor Motter 27 Mariners 3 134 86

And finally, the Mariners themselves. I won’t go into too much detail here, since some have been picked over thoroughly and some will be soon. Danny Valencia had a -3 wRC+ from Opening Day (April 3rd) through April 11th, with a .143/.184/.171 line in 38 PAs. Since then he had a 137 wRC+, as of May 8th, and posted a .274/.338/.500 line in 68 PAs. Taylor Motter has continued to put up good plate appearances, and should probably still continue to see at-bats against RHPs. Mike Freeman probably should not be a pinch-hitter. Daniel Vogelbach has his MLB numbers listed, but he’s continued to hit solidly in Tacoma. If Valencia and Motter can continue the solid play of the last month and avoid the first week, then he’ll receive plenty of time to get tuned up. The curse of 1st base has been harsher in years past, and there is still hope of breaking free. Goodness, though, what I wouldn’t give for a cup of 2017 LoMo.