6/2 One Game Preview: Seattle Mariners

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Thanks to a rainout on April 30th, the Mariners are back in the Bronx for one night only. The Yankees and Mariners are making up that postponed game tonight, on what should have been an off-day. Seattle did win the two other games in the series back in April.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Mariners just took two straight from the Tigers but have still lost five of their last eight overall. They played in Seattle yesterday afternoon and had to fly in overnight for this game. They leave for Atlanta later tonight. That must suck. Overall, the Mariners are 28-28 with a +13 run differential on the season, which has them sitting in fourth place in the top heavy AL West.

Offense
At 4.07 runs per game with a team 83 wRC+, manager Lloyd McClendon’s squad is comfortably below-average offensively. They are without 1B Logan Morrison (8 wRC+) and DH Corey Hart (82 wRC+), who are on the disabled list with knee and hamstring problems, respectively. Neither will be back tonight. 2B Robinson Cano (115 wRC+) has not played the last three games due to a bruised hand after being jammed by a pitch. If he doesn’t play tonight, then it must be a really bad bruise. I can’t imagine Robbie will pass up an opportunity to torch his old team.

3B Kyle Seager (125 wRC+) has been the team’s best hitter on a rate basis this year, and that is especially true right now with Cano banged up. OF Michael Saunders (109 wRC+) and OF James Jones (107 wRC+ in limited time) are the only other hitters who have been even average for Seattle. 1B Justin Smoak (88 wRC+) and OF Dustin Ackley (85 wRC+) continue to be monumental disappointments, as is SS Brad Miller (42 wRC+). Miller might legitimately be the worst regular player in baseball. It’s amazing he’s not back in Triple-A yet.

Aside from that group, the Mariners are trotting out C Mike Zunino (88 wRC+) and IF Nick Franklin (-1 wRC+ in limited time) fairly regularly right now. OF Stefen Romero (56 wRC+) plays against lefties, OF Cole Gillespie (88 wRC+ in limited time) plays against righties, and UTIL Willie Bloomquist (53 wRC+ in limited time) is the veteran bench guy every team loves to have. C John Buck (65 wRC+) is the backup catcher and OF Endy Chavez (79 wRC+) the designated “holy moly he’s still in baseball?” guy.

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
(Tom Pennington/Getty)

Pitching Matchup: RHP David Phelps (vs. SEA) vs. RHP Felix Hernandez (vs. NYY)
One game series and of course it’s Felix. How could it not be? The rainout pushed the 28-year-old Hernandez out of the series in New York, but I guess the Yankees can’t escape him that easily. Felix has been superb this season, as usual, with a 2.57 ERA (2.23 FIP) in 12 starts and 84 innings. Lots of strikeouts (8.89 K/9 and 24.8 K%), lots of grounders (51.7%), few walks (1.71 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%), fewer homers (0.32 HR/9 and 5.9% HR/FB). Definition of elite. He also has a bit of a reverse split this year — righties have a .271 wOBA while lefties have a .248 wOBA — but still, he’s good against everyone. Felix has probably the nastiest stuff in the game, with a low-90s fastball that runs back in on righties, an upper-80s changeup that falls off the table, an unhittable mid-80s slider, and knee-buckling low-80s curveball. Every positive pitching adjective in the book applies to this guy.

Bullpen Status
Left-hander Roenis Elias threw a complete game shutout against the Tigers yesterday, so McClendon’s bullpen got a nice day of rest. Closer RHP Fernando Rodney (3.02 FIP) is the anchor and he has been a high-wire act all season. Every time I watch him he’s putting the tying run on base. RHP Yoervis Medina (4.07 FIP) and former Yankees farmhand RHP Danny Farquhar (2.76 FIP) are the primary setup men. Farquhar went to Seattle in the Ichiro Suzuki trade.

LHP Charlie Furbush (4.09 FIP) and LHP Joe Beimel (2.95 FIP) are the team’s two lefties while RHP Dominic Leone (3.24 FIP) and RHP Tom Wilhelmsen (3.97 FIP) handle pretty much all other situations. Outside of David Robertson, who has thrown a ton of pitches the last two days, the Yankees’ bullpen should be in good shape behind Phelps tonight. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for recent reliever usage, then check out USS Mariner and Lookout Landing for everything you need to know about the Mariners over the next like, ten hours or so.

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4/29-5/1 Series Preview: Seattle Mariners

Don't worry Robbie, I'm sure the Yankees will find someone else to fill that extra spot in Monument Park. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Don’t worry Robbie, I’m sure the Yankees will put that extra spot in Monument Park to good use. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

For the first time in his career, Robinson Cano will be a visiting player in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees’ best player from 2010-13 returns to New York this week after leaving the team for the greener pastures of Seattle and the Mariners over the winter. The Bombers made his a strong offer but the M’s blew it right out of the water. Such is life. This will be kinda weird.

What Have They Done Lately?
As expected, the Mariners are still terrible even with Cano. They did just take two of three from the Rangers but have won just four of their last 13 games overall. At 10-14 with a -8 run differential, the only thing keeping Seattle out of the AL West cellar is the Astros.

Offense
Both in terms of runs per game (3.85) and wRC+ (79), the Mariners have been one of the worst offensive teams in baseball this season. It’s kind of amazing Cano left the 2013 Yankees (85 wRC+) for a team that is somehow worse offensively. Anyway, Seattle’s only injured position player is 1B/OF/DH Logan Morrison (hamstring), who won’t be coming off the DL this series.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Just like last season, 3B Kyle Seager (123 wRC+) has been the Mariners best position player in the early going. Cano (100 wRC+) is off to a slow start, but come on, you know as well as I do that he’s going to rake before long. 1B/DH Corey Hart (117 wRC+) has been productive around miscellaneous nagging injuries and 1B Justin Smoak (101 wRC+) continues to do just enough to keep people interested. This season it was a huge opening series against the Angels. Eventually they’ll move on.

C Mike Zunino (91 wRC+) has a ton of power but his 21/1 K/BB is pretty funny. Others like OF Dustin Ackley (74 wRC+), SS Brad Miller (46 wRC+), OF Michael Saunders (66 wRC+), and former Yankees farmhand OF Abe Almonte (53 wRC+) have been predictably awful. Almonte was the guy the Yankees traded for Shawn Kelley. OF Stefan Romero (64 wRC+), OF Cole Gillespie (-15 wRC+), UTIL Willie Bloomquist (30 wRC+), and backup C John Buck (54 wRC+) fill out the bench.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday: LHP CC Sabathia (vs. SEA) vs. RHP Chris Young (vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
When Randy Wolf made the Mariners out of Spring Training but opted out of his contract because the team tried to re-negotiate the terms (true story), the club picked up the 35-year-old Young. The 6-foot-10 right-hander has a 3.50 ERA (5.25 FIP) in 18 innings across three starts and one relief appearance this year, walking (5.50 BB/9 and 14.3 BB%) more batters than he’s struck out (5.00 K/9 and 13.0 K%). He also continues to be one the most extreme fly ball pitchers in baseball (25.0% grounders). That’s been true his entire career. His reverse split — righties has a .341 wOBA, lefties a .307 wOBA — is a sample size issue and not consistent with the rest of his career. Young is a pure two-pitch pitcher these days, throwing a mid-80s fastball about 75% of the time and filling in the gaps with upper-70s sliders. He survives because of his funky delivery, which hides the ball very well.

(Marc Serota/Getty)
(Marc Serota/Getty)

Wednesday: RHP David Phelps (vs. SEA) vs. LHP Roenis Elias (No vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Elias, 25, defected from Cuba a few years ago and made the rotation in Spring Training (despite never pitching above Double-A) thanks to the Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker injuries. He has a 3.54 ERA (4.12 FIP) in 28 innings across five starts, pairing a strong ground ball rate (50.6%) with mediocre at best strikeout (6.75 K/9 and 18.1 K%) and walk (4.50 BB/9 and 12.1 BB%) rates. Righties (.332 wOBA) have hit him harder than lefties (.299 wOBA) in his brief MLB career. Elias uses a low-90s fastball to set up his mid-80s changeup and upper-70s curveball, both of which are quality offerings. Since no one on the Yankees has ever faced him before, Elias has the element of surprise working in his favor this week.

Thursday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. SEA) vs. RHP Felix Hernandez (vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
You didn’t think the Yankees would get through a series against Seattle and not face Felix, did you? You should know better by now. The King is as good as ever this year, with a 2.40 ERA (2.41 FIP) in six starts and 41.1 innings. His peripherals are, as the kids say, stupid good: 10.23 K/9 (28.7 K%), 1.52 BB/9 (4.3 BB%), and 47.7% grounders. That’ll work just fine. He also has a tiny platoon split, so left or right, it doesn’t matter. Felix, 28, probably has the nastiest stuff in the game, starting with a low-90s fastball that runs back in on righties. His upper-80s changeup is unhittable, his mid-80s slider is unhittable, and his low-80s curveball is unhittable. It’s all unhittable. The guy is a video game. Felix’s career numbers against the Yankees aren’t as ridiculous as you might expect but they’re still excellent. In an age in which Clayton Kershaw and Jose Fernandez are all the pitching rage, Hernandez is every bit as good as those guys and he’s been doing it a lot longer.

Farquhar. (Thomas B. Shea/Getty)
Farquhar. (Thomas B. Shea/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Like the Yankees, the Mariners were off on Monday, so new manager Lloyd McClendon’s bullpen is pretty fresh. RHP Fernando Rodney (2.72 FIP) is the closer and remains a high-wire act. Former Yankees farmhand RHP Danny Farquhar (2.75 FIP) and RHP Tom Wilhelmsen (5.38 FIP) have been his primary setup men. Farquhar is one of the guys the Bombers traded to Seattle for Ichiro Suzuki a few years ago.

McClendon has three lefties in his bullpen: LHP Joe Beimel (3.18 FIP), LHP Charlie Furbush (4.46 FIP), and LHP Lucas Luetge (9.51 FIP). RHP Dominic Leone (3.58 FIP) and RHP Yoervis Medina (5.47 FIP) fill out the rest of the eight-man relief crew. The schedule has allowed them to use a four-man rotation the last turn or two, so they’ve been carrying the extra reliever in the meantime. That’ll change next weekend. For the status of the Yankees bullpen, check out our Bullpen Workload page. For the latest and greatest on the Mariners, check out USS Mariner and Lookout Landing.

Report: Astros, Mariners among teams interested in Eduardo Nunez

(Stacy Revere/Getty)
(Stacy Revere/Getty)

The Yankees designated Eduardo Nunez for assignment on Tuesday, giving them ten days to trade him, release him, or slip him through waivers. That is down to eight days now, and considering the waiver process takes three days, it’s really more like five days. This situation could be resolved before the start of next week.

According to Marly Rivera, the Astros and Mariners* are among the teams with interest in Nunez. The middle infield bar is pretty low around the league right now, especially at shortstop, so I figured there would be some interest. That the Yankees couldn’t work out a trade before designating him suggests interest isn’t that high though. For what it’s worth, George King hears Nunez is expected to wind up elsewhere, either through a trade or waivers.

* As you surely remember, the Mariners wanted Nunez as part of the failed Cliff Lee trade a few years ago, so their interest now is not surprising.

Since he’s been designated for assignment, Nunez has pretty much zero trade value. He had very little trade value before being removed from the 40-man roster, but this clinches it. The Yankees forced their own hand with the move and other teams know they have to move him. That’s the way the DFA game has been and always will be. If they were to ship him to the Astros or Mariners, the likely return would be a nondescript non-40-man minor leaguer, cash, or a player to be named later. Don’t get your hopes up.

Nunez, 26, has hit .267/.313/.379 (86 wRC+) in parts of four seasons, in a league where the average shortstop put up a … wait for it … 86 wRC+ from 2010-13. His offense isn’t the problem, especially since he can steal bases on top of the league average-ish production. The issue has been and always be his defense, which hasn’t improved after years and years of work. This has been a career long problem and his career started in 2005.

The Yankees are short on shortstops right now, especially with Brendan Ryan hurt. Derek Jeter appears to be healthy and is moving fine in the field, but at age 39, he’s not someone who can play the position day after day. Joe Girardi‘s going to mix in some DH days every once in a while. He has to. Dean Anna is the backup shortstop, Yangervis Solarte the emergency backup, and the Triple-A starter is Carmen Angelini according to Chad Jennings. (Addison Maruszak was released yesterday according to Donnie Collins.) The 25-year-old Angelini had a 73 wRC+ at Double-A Trenton last year, so yeah.

Even though his defense is nightmarish, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Nunez slipped through waivers and went to Triple-A (he can’t elect free agency since it would be his first outright assignment), at least until Ryan returns. The Astros and Mariners and whoever else probably won’t give up anything of value for him in a trade, so keeping Nunez around as an emergency backup plan is better than losing him for nothing. Especially with no shortstop at Triple-A. If he doesn’t stick around, they’ll have to find someone just like him to stash in the minors.

King: Mariners scouting David Phelps

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to George King, the Mariners had a scout on hand to watch David Phelps‘ second spring start last night. He got hit around pretty hard but held the Orioles to only one run in 2.2 innings, striking out two and walking one. Phelps is currently competing for the fifth starter spot, though Joe Girardi confirmed he will make the team in some capacity.

The Mariners have been hit hard by injuries this spring. Co-ace Hisashi Iwakuma is sidelined with a finger sprain and top prospect Taijuan Walker is dealing with a shoulder problem. Manager Lloyd McClendon confirmed both guys will open the season on the DL, leaving the team with Erasmo Ramirez, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer, and Scott Baker behind Felix Hernandez. Their need for another arm is obvious.

Seattle’s top trade chip is infielder Nick Franklin, who was pushed into trade chip status by the Robinson Cano signing. The 23-year-old switch-hitter hit .225/.303/.382 (90 wRC+) with 12 homers, six steals, and a 27.4% strikeout rate in his 412 plate appearance MLB debut last season. His defense is shaky — he’s already moved off short and is error prone at second — and more than a few people think he’ll have to drop switch-hitting and stick to batting lefty down the road. Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he “profiles as a solid regular who could play in a few All-Star Games” before last season.

Franklin. (Presswire)
Franklin. (Presswire)

The Yankees desperately need a young infielder and Franklin certainly fits the bill even though I’m not his biggest fan. I’d trade four five years of Phelps for six years of Franklin in a heartbeat, but I suspect the Mariners are going to want another piece or two. Both the Mets and Rays have been talking to Seattle about Franklin — Tampa was reportedly on the verge of the deal, but then Jeremy Hellickson got hurt and they were reluctant to sacrifice pitching depth — so there is plenty of competition.

Of the various fifth starter candidates, the 27-year-old Phelps feels like the safest bet to be a productive big leaguer in 2014. In order to deal him, I think the Yankees would have to feel pretty good about Michael Pineda heading into the season and/or be open to signing a low-cost pitcher (Jeff Niemann? Jeff Karstens?) to replace the depth. Given their pitching situation, I’m guessing the Mariners would like to get a deal done sooner rather than later. That could work to New York’s advantage in trade talks.

In other news, King says both the White Sox and Brewers also had scouts on hand for last night’s game. Both clubs are looking for catching depth, something the Yankees can spare. Chicago has some infield depth to offer and we’ve already heard the Yankees will monitor Rickie Weeks this spring. Given the infield situation, the Yankees could swap Phelps+ for Franklin and a catcher for Weeks or one of the ChiSox infielders (or one of the Diamondbacks infielders). It doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other.

It’s official: Cano’s a Mariner

Just in case you were hoping things would fall apart at the last moment, the Mariners have officially announced the signing of Robinson Cano. The press conference is later this evening and will probably be on MLB Network, if you’re interested. Here’s a photo of him in Mariners garb. “I want to thank all my fans in New York for an amazing nine years. It was truly an honor to play for you,” said Cano is a statement.

The Yankees receive a supplemental first round pick for Cano, but it will be forfeited once the Carlos Beltran deal is official. It’s been real, Robbie.

Sunday Shorts: Cano vs. Girardi, Yanks’ Spending, Cano’s New Home

(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Just a few weeks ago, friend of RAB Jack Moore wrote an article at The Score about the potentially boring hot stove, not only this season, but for future seasons. His overall point remains strong:

The shift to buying out multiple free agent years in long-term extensions for young stars has led to fewer and fewer young stars hitting the free agent market in their 20s. The advent of the second wild card has led more and more teams to believe they can contend, leading to fewer fire sales.

Thankfully, the hot stove has remained interesting, at least this off-season, thanks to teams acting early and aggressively. Moore might be correct in the long run; he’ll certainly be right come mid-December, when all those free agents are off the board and teams are pretty set. But for the last few weeks we’ve seen a peak of hot stove activity, and nearly every moment has been enjoyable — which seems a good transition into the first short.

Cano didn’t like Girardi?

The Yankees are clearly sold on Joe Girardi at the helm. They’ve now twice extended his contract after hiring him in 2008, the latest a four-year deal that could bring Girardi’s tenure to a decade. It makes sense, then, that the Yankees wouldn’t aggressively approach a free agent who has a known problem with the manager.

According to a George King report, Robinson Cano was no fan of Girardi.

According to three people who know Cano, he didn’t enjoy playing for manager Joe Girardi and that may have factored into the decision, though the Mariners giving him $60 million more than the Yankees offered ($175 million) likely had more to do with him leaving.

“Robbie didn’t like batting second, he wanted to bat in the middle of the order,” one person said. “The Yankees wanted him second because that was best for the team. He wanted to hit in the middle of the order to drive in runs [to increase his value].”

This could just be sour grapes; we do see that kind of behavior frequently from Boston writers when players leave the Red Sox. After all, if Cano batted lower in the order he might not have driven in any more runs. It’s not as though the Yanks were awash in players who could get on base for Cano.

(For what it’s worth, Cano did hit .308/.396/.560 in 182 PA batting second.)

Money won the day, no doubt. But perhaps Cano’s displeasure with Girardi was one among many reasons the Yankees declined to increase their offer beyond seven years and $175 million.

Spending spree

Despite losing Cano, the Yankees have spent lavishly so far this off-season. To be exact: $299 million on Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Hiroki Kuroda, and Carlos Beltran. I’ve seen fans and media alike questioning how the Yankees spent so much on these players, particularly Ellsbury, and didn’t go the extra mile of five for Cano. There is certainly some sense to their spending, as wunderkind Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish notes:

In other words, the Yankees eschewed re-signing their star in order to spread money among many different positions of need. That number will look a lot different by the end of December, since the Yankees have plenty of remaining needs. But their overall strategy remains clear: don’t get caught up in too-long contracts and spread the wealth. You can disagree about its effectiveness, but it’s nice to see that they have a plan, because…

Dysfunctional Seattle

This article by Geoff Baker has made its rounds, so perhaps you’ve seen it. If not, it’s an eye-opening look into the Seattle front office. They’re painted as arrogant fools who surround themselves with yes-men, rather than people whose dissenting opinions could help the team make stronger, more informed decisions. Given Seattle’s woes in the last few years, including their lack of success with young players, it comes as little surprise that the front office has its issues.

(The article actually goes well with the book I’m currently reading.)

Baker talks to only former employees, so the story would probably look better if the other side told its half. Still, that Baker got two former employees to talk on the record is pretty remarkable in today’s environment of anonymous hatchet jobs. The Seattle organization seems to be the polar opposite of the Cardinals, which you can read about in this Q&A at FanGraphs.

Pondering the Robinson Cano fiasco

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

I couldn’t help but laugh at the Mariners after their ten-year, $240M offer to Robinson Cano.  That’s such an obscene amount of money for a guy already in his thirties – granted, he is the best at what he does and is arguably one of the top five players currently playing in the game.  Plus, according to pundits, the Mariners organization felt that it was necessary to make a huge splash this offseason as their team has been idling in irrelevancy for several years now.  Well, they certainly accomplished their goal of making a big splash.

Still, I can’t help but wonder whether the Mariners overestimated what would it would take to sign Cano.  If the best Yankees offer was locked in at $175M as it evidently was — not to mention the fact that Cano was apparently feeling a bit snubbed due the team taking a hard stance with him after the Jacoby Ellsbury signing– I wonder if the Mariners could have stood their ground with a $200M deal and overcome whatever shortcomings their location presumably has.  After all, that’d still be a $25M dollar difference between their offer and that of New York’s.  Maybe Cano prefers playing in NY so much that he is willing to dismiss twenty-five million reasons not to go to Seattle.  Then again, that’s a lot of money so maybe he wouldn’t have been able to resist.

In any event, if the Mariners honestly got the vibe that $200M wouldn’t get it done for them, they probably could have upped the ante to $225 and locked in there.  By that point, there’d be a $50M gap between them and New York, assuming the Yanks didn’t change their mind and offer more which it seems like they were unwilling to do.  I’m not sure how many folks would be able to turn down an offer that was that much more lucrative than another.  The Yanks did Seattle a huge favor by stalling out around $175M and never really giving a super strong impression to Cano’s camp that they’d be willing to bridge the gap between what they were offering and what Cano was asking for.  Maybe it’s an incorrect impression, but it never appeared as though the Mariners were willing to let Cano consider just how much better their initial offer already was to NY’s.  It was as if their great offer was immediately not good enough despite the fact that there wasn’t another offer even remotely close.  If $50M additional dollars doesn’t blow Cano away, maybe that would have been a strong indication that the cost isn’t worth the reward.

Instead, Seattle basically caved in overnight from what was already an excellent offer, and was content to bid against themselves even further. The Mariners increased their offer to ten years, $240M.  Well, congrats, to them.  They obtained Robbie’s services by outbidding the next highest bid by $65M!  Not only does this strike me as a severe overpay, but it was probably an unnecessary one.  Regardless of how Cano’s camp values his abilities, the fact is, at the end of the day he’s only worth as much as teams are willing to pay.  Hypothetically, if the Mariners offered nine years, $225M, they’d still be showing a really strong interest him.  They’d still be blowing New York’s offer out of the water, and I imagine they’d still have a strong chance of winning the bidding with a $50M dollar difference.

To Seattle’s credit, they now employ the best free agent available.  The problem for them now is that their team, as it currently stands, still stinks.  Even if Cano adds ten wins to their record single handedly, which is a stretch of the imagination, I don’t think that’s enough to make them a contender.  They still have a lot of work to do to become relevant again, especially if they want to try and compete during Cano’s prime years.  Along the same lines, as much as I would have loved to see Cano in pinstripes for the remainder of his career, I don’t regret for a second the Yankees not making a counter offer that extreme.  Letting him go was a no brainer at that point.