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Ranking the Mariners Best August Acquisitions

Come with me on a trip through the transaction wires and box scores of yore and not so yore to discover players that gave our teams a boost in their quest of the playoffs, mediocrity, or well, some of these seasons, who can really tell what the goal was?

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Vince Coleman doing Vince Coleman things, like stealing bases.

Ah, August. The worst month to endure, but the month with the best name. August. The dog days of summer when the heat persists with annoying redundancy. We’re all a little sleepy from the sun’s unrelenting assault upon us. Baseball season has been well-established as a fact in our lives, far from the chilly excitement of Opening Day, but distant enough from October that we repeat platitudes like, “There’s still a lot of baseball left.”

July 31st is the theoretical trade deadline. July is when you expect the blockbuster trades and the big names skipping across the transaction wire. So when July sleepily rolls into August, we are reminded once again that July 31st was only the non-waiver trade deadline. Deals can happen and players, like summer fruit, are still ripe for picking.

Last week, the Lookout Landing podcast mentioned Vince Coleman back in 1995. He was an August pickup for the stretch run that year. I remember him fondly, stealing bases and being fun, in the way that fast players are. I started to wonder where he ranked among other players acquired in August.

I looked at every single transaction the Mariners have made in their history during the month of August. I pulled out the acquired players who also appeared that season. For ranking purposes, I only looked at position players who had appeared in at least 20 games and pitchers who had either appeared in at least 15 games or pitched 15 innings that season. I used bWAR for ranking purposes; among position players the Top 4 stay exactly the same using bWAR and fWAR. Among pitchers, the rankings changed. I chose bWAR because I feel like it more accurately represents what the pitcher did for the portion of their season with the Mariners.

For the eighth month of the year, here is my definitive ranking of the Top 8 August Acquisitions, divided between positions players and pitchers.

Batters Who Were Not Broken Ladders:

1. Hard Hittin’ Mark Whiten – 1996, 40 games, 1.7 bWAR

By nearly all measures, Mark Whiten is the best player the Mariners brought on board in August, and he is the best by quite a bit. Coming to town complete with a nickname that features alliteration and internal rhyming, there was a tremendous amount of excitement when he was traded from the Atlanta Braves for Roger Blanco (a starting pitcher who never saw Major League action). In 1993 while with the St. Louis Cardinals he hit four home runs in a game, a feat that wouldn’t be repeated until Mike Cameron did it in 2002.

In his first game with the Mariners, on August 16th, Whiten hit a pinch-hit home run at Yankee Stadium. Going into that game, the Mariners were 7 games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West and 3 games out of a Wild Card spot behind the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles. That night, the Mariners beat the eventual World Champions 6-5 and stoked the hopes of another late-season run at the division title.

Hard Hittin’ Mark Whiten would belt 12 home runs and drive in 33 runs during his 40 games as a Mariner. The Mariners would finish the season 4.5 games out of first and 2.5 games behind the Orioles for the Wild Card. But Whiten did what he could to help the Mariners reach the playoffs, including hitting a walk-off grand slam against the Orioles on August 29th:

(In the midst of praising him for his contributions on the field, I feel obligated to note that the following season, while with the New York Yankees, Whiten was arrested for sexual assault.)

2. Dave Hollins – 1996, 28 games, 1.1 bWAR

Poor Dave Hollins is probably best remembered as the guy the Mariners got in exchange for David Ortiz (who then went by David Arias and was released at the end of 2002 by the Twins, so it’s not like the Mariners were the only club to pass him over). Considered one of the worst trades in Mariners history, it also gave us one of the best August acquisitions because baseball is weird.

1996 was a rough year for Mariner injuries. The team lost Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr, Chris Bosio, Bobby Ayala, Tim Davis, and Russ Davis for significant amounts of time. Third baseman Russ Davis broke his leg in early June chasing down a foul pop-up. He was initially expected to be out 6-8 weeks, but ended up missing the rest of the season. Andy Sheets was called up to take his place, but in the midst of a poor season in which he hit .191, the team looked for a replacement. They found it in Dave Hollins, promising a Player To Be Named Later to Minnesota in exchange for his services for the remainder of the season.

Hollins, who incidentally had been traded for Mark Whiten at the July 1995 trade deadline, played his first game with the Mariners on the night Whiten hit the walk-off grand slam. Hollins arrived at the Kingdome in the 3rd inning and pinch hit in the 6th, underlining how desperate the ‘96 Mariners were for help. In that 6th inning at-bat, he fouled the first pitch off his chin and needed seven stitches. He overcame that rough first night and would go on to hit .350 with an on-base percentage of .438 in the final month of the season.

The 1996 Mariners ended up with 85 wins, finishing out of the playoffs. Would keeping David Ortiz and developing him into the first baseman of the future have been a better course than trading him for a rent-a-player? Yes, of course. However, being a Mariners fan is not about getting the best players.

3. Roberto Kelly – 1997, 30 games, 1.1 bWAR

The Mariners hooked up with the Twins for another August deal a year later. Despite needing relief pitching like Seattle needs rain in August, they acquired another left fielder because the 90s Mariners couldn’t get enough of left fielders. Once a Yankee Superstar in Waiting, Kelly was traded to the Cincinnati Reds following his 1992 All-Star Season for Paul O’Neill. He bounced from the Reds to the Braves to the Expos and to the Dodgers in trades before signing as a free agent with Minnesota, just to get the boot there, too.

Kelly may have been easy to dismiss on a team of prodigious sluggers, but he held his own, putting up a 119 WRC+ in the regular season with the Mariners. His biggest contributions came in their brief postseason appearance. He hit three doubles and drove one run in a series that is starkly painful for the lack of offense, although the Mariners did make it to the postseason that year before being bounced by Baltimore in the ALDS.

4. Ken Griffey – 1990, 21 games, 0.9 bWAR

His first-ballot Hall of Fame son was in his second season with the Mariners when Senior un-retired so he could join him in Seattle. The Reds decided he was done in mid-August and Griffey initially chose to retire, but learned he wouldn’t be able to sign with the Mariners if he chose that option. So, the Reds released him and he was able to pass through waivers. On August 31st, 1990 Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. became the first father and son to take the field at the same time:

Ken Griffey Sr. was a pretty good player in his own right. He played 19 seasons in the Major Leagues. He was a three-time All-Star and two-time World Series winner. Despite his other career accomplishments, following the game on August 31st he said, “This is the pinnacle for me, something I’m very proud of. You can talk about the ‘76 batting race, the two World Series I played in and the All-Star Games I played in. But this is No. 1. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

A couple weeks later on September 14th, this would happen:

On September 21st, Senior experienced that moment every parent knows is coming, but dreads anyway: when your kid steals a catch from you:

Warm and fuzzy highlights aside, Ken Griffey was a great August pickup. He put up a 171 WRC+ and a 1.2 WPA in 21 games. The 1990 Seattle Mariners finished with a record of 77-85 and a cool 26 games out of first place, so Griffey’s vibrant end of season performance did not push the team toward a playoff berth, but they were still 5 seasons away from that anyway. These highlights of father and son playing together were a jolt of fun, and I like to think they contributed to the success of the 1991 season, when the Mariners finished with a record above .500 for the first time in their 15 year history.

Pitchers Who Were Not Belly Itchers:

1. Mike Leake – 2017, 32 IP, 1 bWAR

The number one best pitcher picked up in August is our very own Mike Leake. It will come as no surprise to anyone that August transactions have picked up significantly since Jerry Dipoto came on board. Mike Leake is the best of the 10 players Dipoto has acquired in August who played for the team that same season (compared to 20 players for all other GMs combined).

Leake was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals, following teammate Marco Gonzales to the Emerald City. Both have pitched better than anyone expected at the time. Leake recorded quality starts in 4 of his 5 outings last September. He only walked 2 batters and allowed 1 home run, while striking out 27. He is one of only two pitchers acquired in August to have a positive WPA at 0.59 (the other is Ryan Garton, also acquired last year and still with the organization in Tacoma, with a WPA of 0.33 in a Mariners uniform).

Leake wasn’t able to help push the injury-riddled 2017 Mariners to a playoff berth, but he and Gonzales were largely acquired to help with 2018, and so far they’ve done that, with a combined bWAR of about 4. There’s nothing about Leake that is particularly spectacular, but after living through decades of Mariners pitching, boring-but-competent is welcome and appreciated.

2. Steve Ontiveros – 1993, 18 IP, 0.8 bWAR

Steve Ontiveros, not to be confused the other Steve Ontiveros who played in the 70s, is an interesting pitcher. He bounced between bullpens and starting rotations in Oakland and Philadelphia before being traded to the Mariners in August 1993. He would go on to win the ERA crown in 1994 and become an All-Star in 1995 for the Oakland Athletics, oddly morphing, briefly, into one of the best starting pitchers in the league.

But hearkening back to 1993, he was a good arm out of the bullpen for the Mariners in their second-ever .500 season. He appeared in 14 games pitching 18 innings and only giving up 2 earned runs. Not a bad late-season bullpen pickup.

3. Andrew Albers – 2017, 41 IP, 0.3 bWAR

Another Jerry Dipoto acquisition, Andrew Albers come to Seattle via Atlanta last August. No one quite knew what to expect, but he was a pleasant surprise in the starting rotation and out of the bullpen. The Saskatchewan native was quickly dubbed Little Maple and followed in Big Maple’s footsteps by keeping the Mariners in some semblance of a playoff race.

Albers appeared in 9 games, making 6 starts and throwing 41 innings. Like Leake, he wasn’t spectacular. He was proficient, and a surprise boost to a team that was forced into giving the lion’s share of innings to homer-prone Ariel Miranda and disaster-prone Yovani Gallardo. And it was a fun bit of success for a pitcher who has never found a lasting home.

4. Armando Benitez – 2003, 14.1 IP, 0.3 bWAR

When the Mariners acquired Armando Benitez from the Yankees in 2003 (three weeks after trading for him), I immediately thought of this, for which Benitez received an 8 game suspension:

(Benitez also plunked Tino Martinez when Tino was with the Mariners during a game in 1995, following an Edgar Martinez grand slam.)

Benitez was an All-Star that season with the New York Mets, saving 21 games. He had a reputation for blowing important games and a history of inconsistency, which the Metropolitans were happy to pass on to the cross-town Yankees. When Jeff Nelson became available, the Yankees were likewise happy to ship Benitez across the country for their former set-up guy.

The Mariners lost Kazuhiro Sasaki to a fractured rib in June and Shigetoshi Hasegawa assumed closing responsibilities for the team. It was speculated that Benitez would step into the closer’s role, but he did not record a single save with the Mariners.

The 2003 Mariners, despite winning 93 games, finished 3 games behind the Oakland Athletics in the division and 2 behind the Red Sox for the Wild Card.

The Full List of Position Players

I hear you asking, “You led with Vince Coleman, how can you not mention where he ranks?” I will tell you that based on baseball feelings alone I expected him to top the list. Unfortunately, he comes in tied with David Bell for sixth with a 0.3 bWAR. Here’s the full list for you to peruse and argue about in the comments:

Some fun notes on the position players:

  • Three backup catchers played 5 games each (Mike Marjama, Pat Borders, and Rick Wilkins). They all managed to earn WRC+ over 100, so even though it’s an extremely small sample size, it’s a positive small sample.
  • The other backup catcher, Chris Widger, didn’t fare quite so well. In 12 plate appearances he only managed 1 hit. But, it was a home run so he at least he got to run around the bases.
  • Clearly the worst August acquisition was Rey Quinones, a shortstop who came over in the Dave Henderson trade. You probably don’t need to do much googling to learn that this trade always makes lists of the worst Mariners trades.

The Full List of Pitchers

The Mariners have acquired fewer pitchers than position players in August.

Some fun notes on the pitchers:

  • Paul Mitchell is the first ever August acquisition in Mariners history, so remember him for your next Mariners-themed trivia night.
  • Tim Leary won a Silver Slugger award with the Dodgers in 1988. He had a WRC+ of 76, which would have been better than 9 position players on the 1992 Mariners.
  • Wayne Twitchell was the Mariner’s second August pickup. Seems like they had a pattern in the 70s with Mitchell and Twitchell. Twitchell was a Portland, OR native and attended the same high school as Dale Murphy. In 2006, he was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.

The dog days of summer are upon us, and if Dipoto stays true to pattern we will see some new faces at Safeco Field later this month.