The Sounders have MLS Cups. The Mariners have the Offseason MaiLLbags. Maybe not a fair comparison, but it’s what we got! And on that note, please pass on any additional questions for the next MaiLLbag in the comments section here.
I’ve never really followed minor leaguers, so I don’t know what is typical. What does a major league bound player’s timeline look like and when should we start seeing some of our future stars in Seattle? — @okelleykm (Twitter)
Grant: Great question! First off, one of the best ways to follow the minors is to make a trip to see them in person — if you’re ever in Everett or Tacoma during the season, you can get cheap tickets and up-close access. Highly recommend.
Getting back to your original question, the timelines can really vary depending on where the player is coming from. Players coming out of college will often move quicker through the minors (something like 2-3 years in the minors), while players coming out of high school or signed as international amateurs can take longer (think 3-5 years). But at the end of the day, if players keep performing at a high level, they’ll move quickly — see Rodriguez, Julio. Players like Jarred Kelenic could easily make their major league debut at the end of this season, or the beginning of next year; meanwhile, guys like Adam Macko, who was drafted out of high school this past year, will take much longer than that. Other than Kyle Lewis, I’d bet you’ll start seeing most of the Mariners’ future starting around September 2020, with most of the contributors coming during the 2021 & 2022 seasons.
Previous Mariners regimes have been criticized for rushing prospects to the bigs before they’re ready, so while it’s painful to wait and suffer through mediocre seasons, I’d rather give our young stars the time they need to properly develop.
Who are some minor league prospects you guys see making the team out of Spring Training? I’ve seen Sam Delaplane pitch and he seems like the real deal. — Ben K. (Facebook)
John: Depends on how you define this. Justin Dunn has a good shot at an Opening Day rotation spot, but could also start in AAA and then move up soon after a la Erik Swanson (ideally more successfully). He’s debuted already, of course, as have Shed Long, Jake Fraley, Kyle Lewis, and even Donnie Walton. My guess is that Long and Fraley break camp with the team, with Dunn, Lewis, and Walton in AAA, though there’s been mention that Lewis has a spot locked up. I anticipate LHP Aaron Fletcher could make the bullpen, as could Delaplane, but what works against them is that there’s no obligation to add them to the 40-man roster yet. In the position player group, the only threat is Evan White, who looked closer to ready than Kyle Lewis last year (but had no impending 40-man roster obligation!). Cal Raleigh is at least a year or two off, and Kelenic, while brilliant, will start in AA most likely.
Assuming that Kelenic shows up this spring like Dolph Lundgren in Rocky 4, will the Mariners’ OF be Haniger/Kelenic/Fraley, or will Mitch Haniger not be a Mariner in 2020? — Joseph M. (Facebook)
Eric: If Mitch Haniger isn’t a Mariner in 2020, it’s either due to injury or because someone fucked up. Much to everyone’s chagrin, it turns out the 2018 offseason was the time to deal ol’ Mitch. That statement, of course, doesn’t help anyone and I apologize, but the truth hurts. Mitch has a lot of work to do to build his value back up and prove he’s overcome his insanely unfortunate testicular injury, but I honestly believe he can do it. I don’t know if he’ll ever get back to his 2018 value level, but I think he’s far more valuable playing the outfield in 2020 for the Mariners than he would be in any trade at this point.
But, to address the first part of your question, yes, Jarred Kelenic would absolutely need to have the “I must break you” of all Spring Trainings to make the team out of camp. As much as I believe in the strapping young lad, I would just rather see him crush AA/AAA for half a season at least before seeing him in the majors. There is absolutely no rush.
John: I agree with all Eric’s points, and I’ll also note that while Trader Jerry is not going to shy away from a deal, they put a good deal of worth on Haniger as a role model for the young guys. There’s definitely a point where they would make a deal, but given a 50/50 situation I think Mitch sticks around a la Freddie Freeman in Atlanta.
If the Mariners were the 2nd highest payroll in baseball next year, would they make the playoffs? — @dawescott (Twitter)
Grant: Ooooh, interesting question. Per Spotrac, the second-highest payroll in baseball last year was the Yankees at $223 million. The same source puts the Mariners at $97.2 million currently committed. Let’s say the team will have another $15 million or so in arbitration contracts (going off MLB Trade Rumors projections). What would the Mariners spend the rest of their $111 million on? Let’s go with the combination of Anthony Rendon (~$30m), Gerrit Cole (~$32m), Stephen Strasburg (~$30m), and Howie Kendrick (~$8m). That still gives you about $11 million to spend on filling out the rest of the roster.
Voila! You’ve got a dynamic starting rotation (Cole/Strasburg/Marco Gonzales/Yusei Kikuchi/Justus Sheffield) and a lineup with two more plus hitters and Shed Long as a super utility guy. If Dipoto can work some bullpen magic...I think that team could make the playoffs.
Of course, all these deals would end up totaling something like $600m+ in guaranteed contracts, and there’s no way ownership would pull the trigger on that. But it’s fun to dream!
Which Mariners do you see being traded? — @J_Snyder16 (Twitter)
Tim: Is it cheating to say Domingo and Dee? Probably. I’ll go a little further and say that I don’t think Jake Fraley opens 2020 in the Mariners organization, which would bum me the heck out because I think he’s real fun to root for. I just think he may end up odd man out in an outfield with Mitch Haniger, Kyle Lewis, and others, shipped off as a package for some pitching.
John: Tim’s answers are the likeliest ones. I will add a blanket “whichever reliever(s) look really good thru June”, e.g. Art Warren.
Grant: I mean...this is Jerry Dipoto we’re talking about. I wouldn’t be shocked to see any member of the MLB roster traded this offseason. But I do think Domingo Santana is likeliest to head out, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Daniel Vogelbach join him on the trading block.
What are your feelings on Scott Servais as the manager charged with finishing the development of the M’s young core? Is he the manager of the next playoff roster? What does he need to show you next season to convince you he can be? — Jaysen F. (Twitter)
Eric: I feel fine about Scott Servais (whoa, easy there with the takes, Sanford). I think he’s gotten better at bullpen management, especially in regard to the “riding the hot hand” thing. It seems like the relationship between Servais and Jerry Dipoto is still very strong, so barring some kind of falling out or absolutely disastrous 2020 season, I definitely do see Servais being the manager during this team’s next contention window. I would like to see the bullpen management continue to improve, and the real test of that will probably be in 2021 and beyond during must-win games. I don’t know, I’m pretty ambivalent about modern day baseball managers in terms of their actual impact on the outcomes of games. I do, however, believe in the impact they can have on team morale when the manager shows he is out there getting his players’ backs when particularly egregious calls happen. Servais may just be eternally too damn Midwestern to get more than just “ALL RIGHT, I’VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF THIS BULL HOCKEY, MISTER” type of mad during a game, which usually leads to less-than-volcanic ejections, but he seems to know when to pick his spots.
John: Servais is miserable as an avatar of fan emotion. The value he’s shown has been in trusting veterans to lead things and communicating ideas on behalf of the front office. As a tactician he strikes me as underwhelming, particularly due to his occasional knack for wearing out certain veteran relievers who earn his trust. Still, he’s only had the options the rosters have provided for him, and I’m not sure who I would’ve trusted from 2017-18 beyond Nick Vincent and Edwin Díaz. I am wary, however, of if he is a particularly effective communicator. The Mariners have had a couple fairly notable internal conflicts in his tenure - Jean Segura and Dee Gordon, and the Félix Hernández saga - which he was unable to head off. That’s not to say he’s responsible, or even that anyone could have done something better, but the truth is the lack of clarity on his day-to-day role shields him from much criticism (or credit).
What’s the one book you’d make mandatory reading for all staff and players in the farm system? — Isabelle M. (Twitter)
Eric: “Ball Four” for the history aspect and also so they can see how not to act as ballplayers in 2020.
Tim: I would 100% welcome the chance to get Daniel Vogelbach and Yusei Kikuchi’s thoughts on The Brothers Karamazov.
Kate: The Mariners already read a lot of books, which is great, but it appears that none of those books are by women, which is less great. In keeping with their study of mindfulness, I would like to assign Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or, failing that, the poems of Mary Oliver, which are generally short and accessible, but inspire an appreciation of the surrounding world.
What do you think we can expect from Sam Carlson in 2020? Do you think he can recapture that prospect excitement he had after the draft? — Rocco M. (Twitter)
Eric: All of us at LL are pulling for Sam to make some progress in 2020. We had hopes we’d see him in Everett at the end of 2019, but his rehab from TJ seemed to not be quite on track for that. So, we’re assuming it’s time for Sam to grip it and rip it in 2020 and barring any injury setbacks or prolonged rehab, I can only assume he’ll start in West Virginia. But, the truth is we really don’t know his arm’s status at this point. I will say as a follower of Sam on IG since draft day that Sam has shown increased maturity over the last year or so from a social media standpoint and appears to have dealt with the adversity of major surgery pretty well. In my humble opinion, I think that experience will serve him well in his career
What factors or metrics will you be using to judge whether the MLB club has a “successful” 2020 season? — David N. (Twitter)
John: This will be an article (perhaps several) before the offseason is through, but I’ll take an initial swing here. Win-loss record, while not central, will matter to me. Or, at least, the underlying factors that feed wins and losses will matter, e.g. if they’re scoring a lot and not allowing much but keep blowing games with a bad bullpen I’ll be happier than losing with poor offense/defense and pitching.
The individual development of players is what I am hoping for here most of all, however. I want to see Kikuchi/Sheffield/Dunn working 5-6 quality innings per start at least by midseason. I’d like to see at least two of Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop, and/or Kyle Lewis get significant time to play and showcase MLB quality profiles. I’d like to see J.P. Crawford and Shed Long sustain consistency at the plate, particularly with plate discipline and, for Crawford, spraying the ball and keeping his swing short. And, vitally, it will matter a great deal that the positive steps on the farm - Kelenic, Rodríguez, Gilbert, White, Newsome, Kirby, Delaplane, Clase, Marte, etc. - build on their success. A lot has gone well so far for Seattle, but the biggest (and worthiest) critiques are that they have very little room for error because of how much is tied up in a few players. More pop-up prospects like Newsome last year to fill in the gaps may be the difference between a flawed redux of 2014-2018 and a deeper, more sustainable contender.
Kate: I won’t be looking at win-loss record at all, as painful as that might be. The Angels are going to shovel money at Gerrit Cole, call up Jo Adell, and try to make a run at it, Texas will be under some pressure to have a good inaugural year at their fatuous new stadium, and the A’s and Astros will be good again (the A’s, having added Luzardo and Puk, might be better). I fully expect the Mariners to wind up at the bottom of the AL West again, not necessarily because they’ve played poorly but because of the teams they have to play the most often. What I will be looking for, as John notes, is individual benchmarks. In an upcoming article--maybe our 40 in 40 series?--we’ll be laying out what we think each player needs to accomplish this season, and we’ll be monitoring that over the course of the year.
Why are outfielders like Ozuna being linked with the club? Don’t the M’s have a plethora of up-and-coming OF’s already? — Lee S. (Twitter)
Tim: Because the content gods demand sacrifice? Honestly, someone threw it out there and I’m sure the Mariners checked in on Ozuna, and you can cast that as “interest”, but I wouldn’t expect anything more on that front, especially now that he has a qualifying offer attached to him.
With regard to the broader point about pursuing outfielders, I agree that the Mariners have a lot of options, but that’s not the same thing as proven contributors. I’m a strong believer in the “upgrade wherever you can” mode of building, and if you can get a guy with the track record Ozuna has in the outfield for a fair price, I think you take it almost without regard to what you have. The sole exception might be if you’re the Angels, who have Mike Trout, Justin Upton, and überprospect Jo Adell all but set to start the season in their outfield--leading to them declining a very reasonable option on Kole Calhoun, as they just likely won’t have at-bats to make him worth the price. The Mariners…. do not have that. What do you do if you go sign Ozuna and find prospects blocked? Trade them for pitching. Duh.
Grant: Yeah, I agree with Tim. Basically, if you could sign Ozuna for “fair market value,” he might not make much sense as a signing. But if you could get him for less than he’s projected to produce — or if the other available free agents would all cost much more than “fair market value” — then you can add him and be a little creative on the trade market. Which, if I recall correctly, is something that Jerry Dipoto is known to do from time to time.
As M’s fans, we focus a lot on our own development and window of contention, but does the rest of the AL look like? Specifically, the goal is to win the division, so how does our window compare to the rest of the AL West? — Abraham A. (Twitter)
John: Depends who you ask (so long as you only ask us, and never anyone else, as you should)! My feeling is that 2020 will be a race between Houston and Oakland, as I just don’t think Anaheim has the depth or the financial gumption to get themselves in contention until Pujols and Upton are gone. Texas may try to spend big but they are thoroughly stuck in between at the moment. Oakland has a bunch of intriguing young players at the big league level right now, but unless they decide to start spending money on their team, they will likely have to move Matt Chapman in a year or two a la Josh Donaldson, not to mention Marcus Semien being a free agent after 2020. SO… for complete goofiness, I’ll throw out a few years of divisional predictions.
2020: Houston, Oakland, Anaheim, Texas, Seattle
2021: Houston, Anaheim, Seattle, Texas, Oakland
2022: Seattle, Houston, Oakland, Anaheim, Texas
^I refuse to be held to this once this winter plays out, but Oakland essentially has all their best talent at the big league level now, and much of who is young right now is pitchers, which is always a risk. Texas could go huge and add Rendon this year, but they are just without star power in the short and long term. Houston… may be able to keep whipping stars out of the ether, but their financial commitments are sizable, and their farm is running low on impact talent. Anaheim has a couple young wunderkinds in Ohtani and Jo Adell in their farm, but both have to be elite and healthy, in addition to Anaheim signing at least Gerrit Cole this winter to get them within Houston’s echelon. I think 2022 is a reasonable expectation for Seattle to be in it, but the AL West likely won’t have any total duds at that point unless things go TERRIBLY in Texas or Anaheim.
What do you think of the idea to reduce the number of minor league teams? — @olybessey (Twitter)
Eric: I think it sucks, to be quite honest. Minor league baseball is awesome and entire little industries are built around the teams that operate in small towns across the country. I don’t see the benefit of just shutting down a bunch of teams and causing thousands of people to lose seasonal jobs. How about they just pay minor leaguers better instead?
John: I too am opposed. There is undoubtedly something to the case that the current system lacks some efficiency for MLB development, but in terms of spreading the popularity and availability of the sport there’s no doubt MiLB does a ton of the work MLB has increasingly been unwilling to do. It is under $10 to go to a plurality at minimum of MiLB parks and see a game, often making it accessible to families and folks who are either geographically or financially boxed out of consistent MLB attendance.
Which current Major League player does Julio Rodriguez compare to? Who are the under the radar pitchers we should look for in Spring training? — Matthew C. (Twitter)
Tim: Julio’s best comp is definitely a mashup of Ken Griffey Jr.’s smile, Juan Soto’s personality, Mike Trout’s bat, and Vlad Guerrero’s arm. Oh, you said current. Just Mike Trout, then. The under the radar pitcher in spring training will be Gerrit Cole in a surprising and disturbingly lifelike Tanner Roark skinsuit. And he would have got away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling GMs!
Eric: ^Wow, Tim.
John: Something about Julio that is very important to remember is that the kid is just a gigantic human being. There just aren’t that many 6’4+ position players in baseball. 2019 Trey Mancini is a decent start, though that undersells Julio’s athleticism, and I think he has an edge in bat speed too. Mancini has a similarly simple leg kick that nonetheless gets to barreling the ball all over the park. I think Julio can handle the field more gracefully, so if you just add a bit of speed and a dang cannon of an arm that is perhaps what you could hope to envision.
Grant: TREY MANCINI?!?!?!?!?
Kate: Yeah, John, I’m going to need you to step away from the Google doc. Typical tall person, obsessed with height. It’s difficult to find a comp for Julio because he is an outlier in a lot of ways; he’s big, but he’s still pretty fast; he hits for power, but he will also take his walks; and I think we’re still finding out about how the defense plays stateside. And he’s not just tall; he’s built. You could comp him size-wise to Mancini or Bellinger, but he’s way more muscular than either of those guys. It’s funny he recently dressed up as a unicorn with a bunch of other prospects, because he is kind of a unicorn. Our unicorn.