Rashida Jones once said, “Just because a situation is grim doesn’t mean you don’t have every right to smile.”
This tender morsel of warmth might as well be tattooed on two of the Mariners’ biggest and best smilers: Ryon Healy and Dan Altavilla. Injuries limited both of their 2019 seasons, much to the chagrin of smile-deprived fans and orthodontists everywhere. Instead of getting a chance to rebound from their frustrating 2018 campaigns, both Healy and Altavilla had their Chip Skylark-looking-ass faces tethered to the training table. Something tells me that even when getting depressing news about their physical setbacks, both of the smiley boys managed to keep their trademark smiles plastered on.
Just look at their tiny glowing face bones shining forever bright and try to imagine either of these guys feeling down.
As their pearly whites light the way toward 2020, Healy and Altavilla find themselves in somewhat precarious situations. Healy is now a free agent, and even worse, a free agent who’s been worth -1.0 WAR over the past two seasons and hardly even got to audition for a new contract during his walk year. In just 47 games before hip and back troubles felled him, Healy hit an undesirable .237/.289/.456 with 40 strikeouts to just 13 walks. While the first base market is paper thin (José Abreu stands head and shoulders above the rest, and the White Sox gave him a qualifying offer), it still seems like Healy’s headlight smile may have a hard time finding a new garage.
Altavilla, on the other hand, is now the second-longest tenured Mariner on the 40-man roster and one of the last remnants of the Jack Z era. Since being drafted by Zduriencik in 2014, Altavilla has been largely erratic. In his first full season with the big-league club in 2017, Diesel Dan struck out a quarter of the hitters he faced thanks to a blazing fastball, but a high volume of walks reversed a lot of his good efforts. That season is still the most we’ve seen of Altavilla in a Mariner uniform.
2018 brought a nasty forearm injury and only 20.2 MLB innings, in which he walked 17.7% of the hitters forced to stare directly into the sunlight radiating from his gums. These numbers from a stunted season made Altavilla one of just six pitchers with a walk rate at 17% or higher in at least 20 innings. More distressingly, it also started an unfortunate string of injuries culminating in the elbow issues that came up in July. Luckily, he was able to avoid Tommy John surgery, but the future is still a bit murky for the man who once nutmegged a hitter in a Spring Training game.
Even with their statistical struggles, Healy and Altavilla are both league leaders in teeth wattage and looking like Lego men. That has to count for something, right? In all seriousness, Healy’s struggles will add another footnote to the Mariners’ horrendous history with first basemen, and Altavilla looks dangerously close to entering Remember That Guy? territory.
There is almost no chance we see Healy play for the Mariners again. The lasting memories of his two years in Seattle, apart from his spellbinding positivity, will be his reactions during James Paxton’s no-hitter and utterly bizarre day-night splits. Lookout Landing wishes him nothing but the best in a future hopefully full of bear hugs and first pumps and completely devoid of darkness.
Altavilla, on the other hand, should have every chance to compete for a reliever spot in 2020. Seattle stands to have another bland stew of pitchers simmering in the bullpen, and Altavilla can, at the very least, add some meat. In trying to parse which of the relievers will last beyond this season, Altavilla probably falls between the Austin Adams, Brandon Brennan, Sam Tuivailala “We’ve Liked What We’ve Seen” tier and the Matt Festa, Zac Grotz, Reggie McClain “Seat Fillers at an Award Show” group. When rebuilding a team from the ground up, the bullpen doesn’t require the same attention as the starting rotation or position players, so agonizing over every Altavilla outing is probably unwise. Obviously it would be great if he can stay healthy, log an entire season of strikeouts and striking grins, and wriggle his way into the organization’s good graces. If not, it might sadly be time to cut bait with the muscular man from Mercyhurst.