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Designer Imposters: Matchmaking with the new Mariners

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Yes, we’ve seen a lot of old favorites depart, but as my mom used to tell me, there’s a lid for every pot, and there’s a bargain favorite out there for you

Tee Miller

After the disappointing finish to a once-promising 2018 season, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto pulled up stakes on his current aging roster and turned an eye towards the future of the team. Sadly, restructuring the club has meant several fan favorites have been dealt in order to build a young core and create more payroll flexibility. Admittedly, it’s hard to be invested in a team that doesn’t feature the blazing fastball of Edwin Díaz, the megawatt smile of Robinson Canó, or the Big Maple serving up “ehs” every five days. There’s a grieving process that has to take place, and of course no one can ever really take the place of beloved players like Nelson Cruz.

But sometimes when shopping off the bottom shelf, you find unexpected delights there. No, it’s not the same as your name brand items, but Captain Cuckoo’s Fruit Poofs have a specific charm all their own. As broke millennials and bargain hunters ourselves, the LL staff is here to help you identify which of the new Mariners to choose as your favorite. Think of it as the old Designer Imposters commercial: “If you liked ______ you’ll love*... _______”

*love may vary by weight and OBP, promises of love are not guaranteed, one love may or may not fit all

If you like Nick Vincent, you’ll love...Shawn Armstrong

Tee Miller

Do you dislike Fireball, both the liquor and the relief pitcher descriptor? If Nick Vincent’s particular brand of low-velocity, high-spin silliness was your jam, might I suggest transferring your affection to one Shawn Armstrong? The Mariners picked up Armstrong from Cleveland for 500k in international bonus money, which isn’t even actually money but the ability to spend money. But like an unexpectedly delicious five-dollar wine from Grocery Outlet, it’s time to stock up on shares of Shawn Armstrong.

Like Vincent, Armstrong was acquired from an organization that seemed to not be maximizing his particular set of skills. Armstrong throws significantly harder than his bearded counterpart, but with a similarly elite spin rate. Through working with the Mariners’ pitching staff to integrate more analytic data into his repertoire—Armstrong even bought a Rapsodo machine of his own to aid him in his off-season training—Armstrong has boosted his velocity and added depth to his hard breaking pitch (Brooks seems confused about whether or not it’s a slider or a curve, as the pitch has both significant horizontal and vertical break; Armstrong and the Mariners call it a curve). Armstrong’s stuff isn’t electric, but if your budget for wizardry is less Universal Studios and more Uncle Bob’s Wonderful World of Howie Porter, Armstrong is your man. -KP

If you liked Nelson Cruz (and curse you if you did not), you’ll love...Domingo Santana!

The loss of Nelson Cruz to free agency stings deeply and will continue to sting as he crushes dingers for ungrateful Twins fans who will never love him like we love him. BUT, do not despair completely, friends. Remember when Cruz could sort of play in the outfield in his younger days? Well, Domingo Santana can definitely play corner outfield spots AND occasionally hit a ball into the next county. Behold!

Yeah, that’s dead center off of basically the back wall of the dang stadium at Miller Park. This dude is strong, and there’s more where that came from (editor’s note, John Trupin has this link saved in his favorites under “Dreams”).

D-San (Dom-San? Santana D? Just Dom?) had a down year in 2018 and is your classic Jerry Dipoto buy-low bounce back kind of player, but he’s shown the goods and power and could fit in very nicely in this lineup during a “soft rebuild” kind of season. -ES

If you liked James Paxton, you’ll love...Yusei Kikuchi

Tee Miller

Look, I get it. James Paxton had his own cheering section, the Maple Grove, and was the only member of the Big 3 that enjoyed any sort of sustained success in the majors (the jury’s still out on Taijuan). To see him go was heartbreaking for many fans and the fact that he’s now a member of the Yankees is salt in an open wound.

Luckily, the Mariners have a ready-made replacement already in the fold. This time the pitcher isn’t from just across the northern border, he hails from all the way across the Pacific Ocean. While he probably won’t match the velocity Paxton was known for, Yusei Kikuchi did throw the fastest pitch by a left-handed pitcher in the NPB in 2017. And his killer slider? It’s good enough that you might even forget Paxton’s glorious curveball.

Plus, have you seen the cheering sections in Japan? The Maple Grove could stand to learn a thing or two from their counterparts in Japan. Wouldn’t it be great if the fans in Seattle embraced Kikuchi like they embraced Ichiro, Kaz Sasaki, Hisashi Iwakuma, and the rest of their Japanese compatriots. In many ways, Yusei Kikuchi is primed to fill that Paxton-sized hole in many of our hearts. -JM

If you liked Jean Segura, you’ll love...Tim Beckham

While rooting for Jean Segura throughout the last two seasons, did you find yourself often wishing he struck out a whole lot more frequently in exchange for occasionally running into the additional home run? Well then boy do I have the perfect product for you…

MLB had a massive sale on 2008 Number One Overall Pick Tim Beckham’s this offseason and being the bargain hunter that he is, Jerry Dipoto picked up the LAST ONE. Beckham will have to stave off the likes of Dylan Moore, J.P. Crawford & Co. as he lays claim to the opening day shortstop gig for the rebuilding Mariners.

Really, scooping up a guy who finished 2017 seventh in fWAR at the shortstop position--ahead of the likes of Xander Bogaerts, Javier Baez, and in fact Segura himself--for less than $2M because he underperformed in an injury-plagued season for the lowly Orioles in 2018 is quite a steal for the M’s. Particularly when a team is in rebuilding mode and taking chances on reclamation projects that in hopes of being able to flip them for future assets, you might as well buy multiple tickets, right?

Having been firmly middle-of-the-pack defensively at second, third, and shortstop throughout his entire major league career, his versatility actually makes a good case for him to stick on the club for the duration of 2019, even if in a reserve role once JP Crawford is cleared of service time concerns satisfyingly develops in Tacoma. Should Beckham’s bat prove to be lethal again in 2019, the 29-year-old could be a valuable early-season trade chip or continue to lock down the starting shortstop gig deeper into the season. Unfortunately for Beckham, the status of his season might have a lot more to do with how the organization’s shortstop-of-the-future performs than how he does himself. -TC

If you liked Mike Zunino, you’ll love...Omar Narváez

Tee Miller

Omar Narváez is never going to hit the ball eight thousand feet like Mike Zunino. He’s never going to be the best defensive catcher in the American League like Mike Zunino. He’s never going to get an entire month named after him, or inspire a nationally riffed-upon hashtag like Mike Zunino. I would also doubt he could pull of this look quite like Mike Zunino.

But, Narv Dog is also probably never going to make you tear your hair out like Mike Zunino! Or avoid walks as if they’re the plague, like Mike Zunino. It may take some time to fall head over feet for the new kid behind the plate, but I think you’ll eventually come around on him. Sure, Narváez represents another failed attempt at a homegrown catcher…

-MR

If you liked Juan Nicasio and James Pazos, you’ll love… Gerson Bautista

I know some of y’all are freaks and love that real high hard hit rate in your pitchers. Juan Nicasio arrived in Seattle looking like if the buff kangaroo (RIP) had taken up relief pitching. Sadly, disastrous results belying decent peripherals, diminished velocity, and a trick knee that turned soggy undercut Nicasio, and he will look to bounce back now in Philadelphia. Similarly, James Pazos demonstrated great promise in Seattle, but a drop in velocity and a peculiar refusal to utilize his offspeed pitches sunk Papa Paz.

Filling the hole of the two new Phillies is a former New York Mets reliever. Gerson Bautista has a specific quality that leads every report on him. The ball flies fast from his hand. Triple digits fast. The ball unfortunately can also fly faster right back past him, as Bautista’s repertoire is fastball first, second, and third.

The Mariners were able to help Pazos adjust his motion and get the most out of his serious talent in 2017, and 2018 started well before the peculiar drop in velocity. Between Dan Altavilla, Gerson Bautista, and Hunter Strickland, the Mariners’ bullpen will still have plenty of upper-90s heat. It’ll be up to them and the coaching staff to figure out the rest. ~JT