Kendrys Returns

Kendrys Morales (wikimedia commons)
The Mariners made a trade today, acquiring Kendrys Morales from the Twins for Stephen Pryor. Morales, of course, played with the Mariners last year and then hung out in free agency forever since nobody wanted to sign him for big money and lose a draft pick, a scenario the Mariners forced when they extended Morales a qualifying offer.

I'm hoping there are some financial details yet to be reported in this trade, because without them, I don't like this deal.

Losing Stephen Pryor isn't a big deal at this point . The M's are flush with bullpen depth, and Pryor isn't the same since his major shoulder injury a couple years ago. He tops out around 94 or 95mph now and he used to flirt with triple digits. Pryor still has an MLB-caliber arm, and I hope he makes it back to the majors and sticks with someone for a while, but he is the exact type of player the M's should have been shopping around to take a chance on a hitter.

Where exactly will Kendrys Morales fit on this roster though? In 39 games he has been worth -0.9 WAR, and he is a limited defensive first basemen or DH at this point. He's essentially been a switch-hitting version of Corey Hart thus far, except worse.

What worries me most is the money involved though. Morales should make a little over $4 million the rest of the season. The Mariners may or may not have about $7-8 million of wiggle room, assuming they can use the money reserved for Corey Hart's performance bonuses. The Mariners just lost a bunch of their salary flexibility unless the Twins are picking up a bulk of Morales's salary (which could actually be happening but hasn't been reported; salary details often lag behind the news of players involved). I would be fine with that if Morales was an impact bat, but he isn't, or at least shouldn't be considered one.

The Mariners are gambling on Kendry's success last year and that his long free agency caused him to open up this season rusty. I could envision Kendry heating up and being a pleasant addition, but I'd like more than a low-upside gamble for half of the projected budget room the Mariners have. The Mariners could take a similar gamble to Morales by promoting Jesus Montero, except Montero would cost the Mariners absolutely nothing and might offer the M's more upside than Morales anyway.

I am struggling to see the value that Kendrys Morales adds which the Mariners didn't already have inside the organization. I suppose it is nice to see some move made as the offense sputter through July, but Kendrys is a highly unlikely savior.

The R Team

Jesus Montero (Wikimedia Commons)
The original name for this post was "Montero Musings," but after attending last night's 11-8 Rainiers victory I decided to expand the scope. I also considered a title involving the term "X-Factors" but decided that veered dangerously close to HOT SPORTS TAKE territory. However, The R Team wins if for no other reason than it makes me think of the A-Team theme song and intro.

On to the actual post now.

The Mariners find themselves in a legitimate pennant chase. They sport one of the better run differentials in baseball and have been in position for a wild card playoff spot for a while now. Their offense is borderline putrid but paired with an exquisite pitching staff, anchored by King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma, and buoyed by the best bullpen in baseball.

In other words, the Mariners are a team built to acquire someone at the trade deadline. They are good enough as-is to potentially make the playoffs, but have obvious holes where they could upgrade. The focus will (and should) be on who they could acquire and who they would give up.

I want to go under the radar for a little bit here, and outline some of the more creative options at the Mariners disposal. I make it to more Rainiers games than Mariner ones, and there have been some interesting developments in Tacoma. So, instead of making random theoretical trades up, I'll highlight some unsung heroes that could make surprising contributions if given the chance:

Todd Coffey and/or Logan Kensing

I'll lead off with a  pair of non-roster bullpen arms. The Mariners bullpen is the best in baseball and it's only gotten better with the recent emergence of Brandon Maurer. Behind the MLB bullpen is a pretty formidable Tacoma unit too. Some of the names are known - Stephen Pryor and Lucas Luetge have spent a little time in the majors this year, and Carson Smith isn't too far behind them (if behind them at all.) However, Coffey and Kensing shouldn't get lost in the shuffle.

Both Coffey and Kensing are veterans that have tasted success in the majors. Kensing topped out at 95mph multiple times in last night's Rainiers game and also throws a slider in the mid to upper 80s. Coffey features similar repertoire, though his fastball tends to top out around 91mph. Still, he struck out the side in the ninth inning last night, which was his second inning of work in the ballgame.

In my humble opinion, the Mariners bullpen situation is the most interesting puzzle piece the M's have as the deadline approaches. They clearly have an embarrassment of riches right now. Guys that would work the 7th and 8th innings on many staffs take care of middle relief in Seattle. However, given the M's offensive woes, their bullpen faces more high leverage situations than most teams. Their phenomenal bullpen is arguably the biggest key to their current success. The M's bullpen has a special ability to make small leads stick simply because they are filthy good from top to bottom.

I would be curious to know what kind of internal scouting reports the Mariners have on Kensing and Coffey though. They look to me like serviceable middle relievers. They could make a guy like Tom Wilhelmsen or Yoervis Medina expendable. There would be the problem of creating 40-man roster space for either of them, but that seems simple to solve to me - make a two-for-one trade. Packaging Medina with a guy like Stefen Romero could be a sneaky valuable package to a rebuilding team, given that that both players are under team control for a combined nine more seasons before they could hit the open market, and both come with some MLB experience (successful MLB experience in Medina's case). The presence of Kensing and Coffey would make me extremely comfortable considering such a deal.

Jesus Montero

I was down on Montero at the start of the season, to say the least. I made jokes and complaints at his expense given any sort of slight opening. I still encourage friends at Rainiers game to watch him try to run the bases. I haven't been kind to Montero, and I will come clean right here, right now: I gave up on him.

I am somewhere between curious about Montero and a full-fledged believer in him again though. He is white-hot at the moment, batting a whopping .464 in July with 14 extra-base hits, good for a 1.327 OPS (not a typo, I promise). Of course, this is a small sample size, and TNT writer John McGrath pointed out that Montero has enjoyed a string of lefties as of late. Still... a 1.327 OPS?!!

Moreover, it appears to me that Montero's recent hot streak corresponds with an adjustment he made in his batting stance. He starts wide open now - reminiscent of Jay Buhner, to give you an idea of how wide open we are talking about here - but quickly closes. It's worth noting that Montero has more extra bases hits in July than he had in May and June combined, and equally comforting to me is where those extra base hits go. They are up the middle, from left-center to right-center. He's regaining the hitting profile that made him an elite prospect when the Mariners acquired him.

Montero has hit home runs in both the last two Rainiers games I've been to. One was a line drive that I thought would get down for a double in right center, but it just kept going. The ball was out over the plate in the lower half of the strike zone, and Montero went with it and crushed it. The other was a home run to left center. This pitch was more on the inner half of the plate but had a similar vibe - it was a bit more towering, but again, just kept going and easily cleared the fence.

The only player on the Mariners roster who might have more raw power than Jesus Montero is the man he would logically replace, Corey Hart. Hart, to date, has posted a -0.9 WAR. Coincidentally, the increasing likelihood that Hart won't reach any of the incentives in his deal is why the Mariners might have $7-8 million of room in their budget to take on a salary at the trade deadline.

I wonder what kind of internal scouting reports the Mariners have on Jesus Montero at this point. I would be very tempted to release Corey Hart, which should guarantee that he doesn't reach any of the incentives, and replace him with Jesus Montero. If the M's get lucky, Montero could do a decent impression of Evan Gattis at the plate, plus the M's could go acquire an impact player with the added salary room.

Ty Kelly

The Rainiers fielded an intriguing lineup defensively last night. Ty Kelly started in right field. Granted, the Rainiers are very thin on outfielders right now, and Kelly has been a bit of a utility player all season because Chris Taylor and Nick Franklin get the bulk of playing time in the middle infield, but the start still seemed intentional to me. Kelly has played some third base and Rainiers utility player Leury Bonilla started there last night. Bonilla is a true utility player, as I have seen him play first base, third base, right field, and pitch. In fact, he has multiple pitching appearances the past three seasons. Nick Franklin also has a handful of starts in right field this season too, but he was at Kelly's "natural" position last night, second base. So, Kelly didn't have to start in right field, but he did.

Moreover, Kelly looked good in right field, at least last night. He took clean, efficient routes to balls, including a soft fly ball he had to charge hard in front of him, and rather hard hit line drive he had to sprint back on to make a nice running catch. However, his best play of the game came on a single, where he gunned a runner out trying to go from first to third. Kelly flashed a surprising arm - maybe not prototypical right field strength, but way better than I expected from a guy who has played second base for the most part, and the throw was right on the bag.

At the plate Kelly is a switch hitter with remarkable patience. He has more walks than strikeouts right now, which if that holds would be the fourth consecutive season he's pulled the uncommon trick. Kelly also has already established a new career high in home runs this season with 13.

It is no secret that the Mariners could use some offense, and the corner outfield spots are particularly weak spots on the roster. Kelly isn't on the 40-man roster right now, but I am a fan of his skill set. A switch-hitter with plate discipline and defensive versatility makes for a really nice bench piece, and on the Mariners, maybe a better starting option than some guys in the majors right now. Similar to the situation with guys like Coffey and Kensing, the presence of Ty Kelly would make me pursue deals where I collect a handful of young guys on my 40-man roster right now to get a quality rental player. It's a strategy that protects top prospects while improving the ball club noticeably right now.

Who knows what moves the Mariners are actually pursuing, considering, or have available to them. However, if they want to get better now and hold on to their top prospects, they will need to get creative. What makes the most sense to me is to offer multiple fringe-like guys with MLB experience on the roster right now while eating a bunch of salary. This approach could work surprisingly well if the Mariners believe in some of their non-roster guys in Tacoma. I, for one, see reasons that the Mariners should believe in some of their overlooked depth.

Buck Stops Here

John Buck (photo credit: gty.im/451446704 by Ed Zurga)
The Mariners designated John Buck for assignment after last night's exquisite 2-0  win against the Twins, where the pitching staff reasserted once again that they are in a dominant hot stretch as an entire unit. Buck's production can be rather easily replaced - he played in only 27 games so far this year and posted an OPS south of .600 with what many considered shaky defense at times. Still, the move surprised, and should be a surprise since it is not the best idea the Mariners have had this season.

Whenever a veteran sticks around without much production, reports surface of their "intangibles" and "leadership," because (at least in my opinion) it is up to us as fans to rationalize why an inferior player continues to occupy a spot in the Major Leagues. Buck, based on his age and production, fits in this category, and unsurprisingly news of such intangibles and leadership popped up once news broke. However, unlike most of these reports, there are concrete stories to back up Buck's influence beyond the baselines. Ultimately talent wins games, but I am a believer that talent performs best in supportive climates. Buck helped establish a climate that supported success.

This move, on the surface level, might make good sense. Prevailing wisdom predicts that Jesus Scure will take Buck's spot on the roster. Sucre, according to scouts, is a superior defensive catcher to Buck. Zunino keeps piling up innings at a quicker rate than most MLB catchers, which seems like a good way to wear him out in his first full MLB season, so finding someone to spell him more often is a good idea. If McClendon has been hesitant to use Buck because of defensive purposes, then by all means this decision makes some sense.

However, the timing feels awkward and unfortunate. The Mariners cut loose Buck on his birthday, immediately following a nice victory. What a buzzkill, to say the least. I am sure that McClendon, Zduriencik, and the whole front office knew that Buck was popular in the clubhouse. They must have understood how somber of a move this would be. Some of the heaviness seems so easy to avoid, too - why not DFA Buck today and announce simultaneously Sucre's promotion? That would have let the good mood linger last night. Also, only one day a year is Buck's birthday, meaning today is not his birthday, which is a plus.

The only rationale I can come up with for DFA'ing Buck postgame, without a corresponding move, is that the the team got to say goodbye to him and focus only on his departure. Perhaps the brief space provided between Buck's departure and Sucre's (assumed) arrival also allows enough space for the Mariners clubhouse to welcome Sucre with arms a bit more outstretched.

Whatever the reasoning, this small move feels like a significant insight into Lloyd McClendon and Jack Zduriencik's leadership. On the field this move does not look like much, which is why it seems so puzzling. If the Mariners feel better about one of their AAA catchers than John Buck, then they should pull the trigger like they just did. That's a good thing.

How they handled this move speaks volumes about how they treat the players as humans. Both McClendon and Zduriencik know the temperament of the clubhouse better than you or me, and I hope they know it well enough to handle this situation correctly. Ultimately, these are professional baseball players and they understand that the game is competitive, to the point that it is cutthroat at times. Establishing a culture where the best players get opportunities is good. However, establishing a culture where players are crassly cut loose is bad. The Buck could support either type of culture, at least from my perspective on the outside looking in. Here's hoping, from the inside, this feels more like a tough move emotionally, but a move that fits within the vision the players have of what it means to be a part of the Mariners.

My 2015 All Stars

The All Star rosters were announced today, and as usual there are arguments to be made for and against a handful of players on and not on the teams. This seems like a particularly questionable year, given the selections, with no good reason for why several odd decisions were made.

My rationale is rather simple. I make my rosters in three steps:
  1. Pick the best player at each position
  2. Pick the best player off of each team
  3. Fill in the remaining roster spots based on need and ability
It's really that simple, and not too hard to do with the 32-player All Star rosters these days. Without further ado, my rosters:

Starters
AL
NL
C
1B
2B
SS
3B
OF
OF
OF
DH   
Salvador Perez, KC
Miguel Cabrera, DET
Ian Kinsler, DET
Erick Aybar, LAA
Josh Donaldson, OAK      
Mike Trout, LAA
Alex Gordon, KC
Adam Jones, BAL
Jose Bautista, TOR
Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
Chase Utley, PHI
Troy Tulowitzki, COL
Todd Frazier, CIN
Giancarlo Stanton, MIA
Andrew McCutchen, PIT
Carlos Gomez, MIL
Yasiel Puig, LAD

Reserves

Edwin Encarnacion, DH, TOR  
Nelson Cruz, DH, BAL
Yan Gomes, C, CLE
Derek Norris, C, OAK
Jose Abreu, 1B, CHW
Joe Mauer, 1B, MIN
Jose Altuve, 2B, HOU
Alcides Escobar, SS, KC
Derek Jeter, SS, NYY
Kyle Seager, 3B, SEA
Lorenzo Cain, OF, KC
Yoenis Cespedes, OF, OAK

Devin Mesoraco, C, CIN
Yadier Molina, C, STL
Buster Posey, C, SF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, CHC
Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL
Dee Gordon, 2B, LAD
Daniel Murphy, 2B, NYM
Jhonny Peralta, SS, STL
Matt Carpenter, 3B, STL
Anthony Rendon, 3B, WAS
Billy Hamilton, OF, CIN
Hunter Pence, OF, SF
Justin Upton, OF, ATL

Pitching Staff

Yu Darvish, TEX
Sean Doolittle, OAK
Felix Hernandez, SEA
Corey Kluber, CLE
Jon Lester, BOS
Glen Perkins, MIN
David Price, TB
Chris Sale, CHW
Max Scherzer, DET
Masahiro Tanaka, NYY              
Koji Uehara, BOS
Madison Bumgarner, SF
Aroldis Chapman, CIN
Johnny Cueto, CIN
Clayton Kershaw, LAD
Craig Kimbrel, ATL
Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
Stephen Strasburg, WAS
Huston Street, SD
Adam Wainwright, STL
Jordan Zimmerman, WAS


In all I had 11 different selections in the AL and 10 in the NL, which strikes me as a larger amount than usual.

Some of the differences are driven by my belief that the All Star game is an exhibition - hence the selection of Joe Mauer*, for instance. There are several more deserving players based on production so far this season; however, I was down to the last spot on the AL roster and realized that this player isn't likely to play. Who else would receive such a warm and memorable ovation in Minnesota than Joe Mauer? Same goes for Derek Jeter. There are spots to manufacture warm moments on a 32-player roster designed for an exhibition game.

*Also, Mauer is on the DL. I would replace him with another Twin, Brian Dozier.

The other difference between me and the real rosters are the pitching staff sizes. I favor smaller ones (I went with 11 in the AL and 10 in the NL) because there are only so many innings to go around.  Although many good pitchers got left off both rosters, both hit the point where a handful of players were roughly equivalently good. The cream of the crop more or less made the squad.

I'll assume everyone agrees that these rosters are perfect unless someone speaks up in the comment section.

Rainiers Recap - 7/3/14, Reno 1, Tacoma 5

Skydivers entered the stadium pre-game. America!
I attended the Rainiers' annual Independence Day spectacular, and it was spectacular indeed! I also chose it as my annual game to take score at, simply to find out if I still remember how to score a baseball game. It turns out that I do, and armed with my score card, I'm capable of a nice little game recap.

Aces 1, Rainiers 5

Summary: This game was a cluster luck special, though the Rainiers gleefully accepted the good fortune. Tacoma, according to Mike Curto's recap, went 20 innings without scoring a run before breaking though in the sixth inning last night. Jordan Pries stranded base runners left and right throughout his seven innings of work, while his adversary for the Aces, Charles Brewer, proved largely untouchable until the fateful sixth inning. The Rainiers strung together six consecutive hits in the sixth inning, with the pivotal blow stuck by Ji-Man Choi, a bases-clearing double (sort of - Justin Smoak got thrown out at the plate, so only two runs scored despite the emptied bases). Abraham Almonte added a home run that appeared to land on the hill across the street right outside the right field fence in the eight inning, adding a finishing touch to the game and serving as a fitting prelude to the fireworks extravaganza that followed the Rainiers victory.

Game notes:

  • Jonathan Stewart, a current NFL running back for the Carolina Panthers, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He graduated from Timberline High School and obviously maintains a connection with his hometown roots. It is odd to see the best athlete on a professional field throw out a ceremonial pitch and do nothing else. The wonders of AAA baseball, particularly on one of the biggest nights of the year.
  • Jordan Pries makes the most of his talent thanks to his composure. Ultimately, his pitching line was pretty nice - 7 innings, 1 run, 6 hits, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts, 99 pitches. However, the line does not capture everything. Pries labored early on, throwing 18 pitches in the first inning and 25 in the second, where he also managed to wriggle out of a bases-loaded jam. His only clean 1-2-3 inning came in the third. He worked around a Chris Taylor error in the sixth. Pries had to deal with the stress of a very tight game too, given that the Rainiers did not score until the sixth inning. Pries topped out at 90mph, which is normal for him (I've seen him start a few times now), and if he threw a few miles an hour harder he would get way more buzz. His ability to manage his pitch count, continually strand base runners, and keep the Rainiers in the game until they broke through, was probably a bit lucky, but not all luck. Pries has high "pitchability" as scouts would say. He knows how to pitch.
  • Stephen Kohlscheen pitched the eighth inning for the Rainiers. This was my first chance to see him and I was interested to see him. He hasn't generated much buzz despite blitzing through the M's minor leagues with impressive numbers out of the bullpen. He worked a fairly clean eighth inning, allowing no hits or runs with a walk and a strikeout. The first thing that stands out about Kohlscheen is his height - he's listed at 6'6" and looks every bit that tall. His eighth inning enthralled me because I'm not entirely sure how he generates the results that he does. Kohlscheen doesn't throw particularly hard. He consistently hit 90mph, and occasionally touched 91 or 92 when he reached back for a little extra on his fastball. However, he generated a surprising number of swings and misses, and some batters looked late and uncomfortable in the batter's box. The best explanation I have is Kohlscheen's wind-up. He uses his height to his full advantage with a high arm slot, which creates an abnormally downward angle for the ball's path to home plate. Moreover, Kohlscheen appears to hide the ball well from batters by keeping his pitching arm low behind his back and plant leg most of the delivery. The first comp that came to mind as I watched him last night is current Mariners miracle-worker Chris Young.
  • Stephen Pryor worked the ninth inning for the Rainiers. He sat at 92mph early in counts with an easy delivery. However, the old flame-throwing Pryor seems to still be around, because once he got two strikes on a batter he dialed up to 95mph, again with a relatively easy delivery. He gave up a hard-hit double (that, by the way, probably gets caught by a better right fielder than Stefen Romero, who took a circuitous route before jumping up against the right field wall to try to catch it) but followed that with two strikeouts to finish off the Rainiers victory.
  • Nick Franklin extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a double in the middle of Tacoma's sixth-inning barrage.
    Jesus Montero (#40) didn't play in the
    game, but warmed up Jordan Pries a
    few times between innings.
  • Abe Almonte had a very promising night. He saw 10 total pitches in his first two at-bats before getting aggressive in his final two. He ended up with two hits, a solid single the opposite way to left field in the sixth inning (on the second pitch of the at-bat), and the aforementioned bomb he pulled to right field that led off the eighth inning. What also made the home run impressive to me is that it came on the first pitch of the at-bat, off of Kevin Munson, whom the Aces had just inserted into the game. This suggests to me that Almonte's confidence at the plate is on the rise. He went into that at-bat knowing he would swing if he saw a particular pitch - clearly, he got it, and did not miss it. He wasn't just swinging at anything thrown, as evidenced by his extended at-bats early in the game. Almonte has holes in his swing and must compensate for them with a disciplined approach at the plate. He exhibited great discipline in this contest.
  • Justin Smoak had an unassuming night at the plate. He went 1-4, collecting a single in the middle of Tacoma's sixth-inning outburst. The single in the sixth inning was easily his most impressive at-bat as it came on the eighth pitch in a 2-2 count.
  • Stefen Romero is too aggressive at the plate. He ended up with a single in the sixth inning on a hard-hit ground ball that just eluded the shortstop. He only saw seven pitches total in his three plate appearances on the night and did not make memorable contact.
  • Chris Taylor, despite an error on defense and a strikeout in the seventh inning, had a solid night overall. He got two singles, one to left field and one to right, along with a stolen base. He also did a solid job working counts, seeing 15 pitches total in his 4 plate appearances. The only plate appearance he saw less than four pitches was his sixth inning single, which he hit on the second pitch of the at-bat and got an RBI out of. At the time, that single tied the score at one. It turns out Taylor's single was the first of Tacoma's six consecutive hits in the sixth inning.
  • Xavier Avery deserves a shout-out. He went hitless on the night but was a pest. He only got three trips to the plate but saw 15 pitches. This is even more impressive given that he only saw one pitch in his second plate appearance, which he dropped down for a beautiful sacrifice bunt that moved Humberto Quintero to third base in the sixth inning (right before the Rainiers strung together six consecutive hits.) Avery lacks power but has good speed and does little things that at least make him an annoying out.
The Rainiers hit the road for a week before returning to Cheney July 11 for a quick three-game home stand against the Fresno Grizzlies before the AAA all-star break.