John Trupin, deputy managing editor at Lookout Landing, joined me to discuss the Seattle Mariners in what has been a tumultuous season thus far for both clubs. Entering play today, both clubs have won four games and lost nearly twice as many games. Both the Angels and Mariners, obviously, are in substantially different places in their timelines and we thought it would be nice to have a check-in on the state of the two teams in this Q&A.
John has been enlightening us on the Mariners from before Seattle started rebuilding, and that’s a long time! You can find his terrific content at Lookout Landing, Amazin Avenue, and occassionally at other prestigious outlets, too. Follow him on Twitter @JohnTrupin.
You can find the other half of this over at Lookout Landing, where I answer John’s burning questions.
1. What’s Kraken?
John Trupin: BOOO THIS MAN. Look, I’m as excited as the next person to learn to love hockey now that my hometown finally has a team. That they have exceptional logos and uniforms is an extra boon. Am I upset their alternate, Space-Needle-as-an-anchor logo supplanted an alternate logo I wanted the Mariners to create for years? A bit! But even if the Seattle Sockeyes fade into a distant memory, as the kids say, let’s do that hockey.
2. The Mariners are almost two years into their rebuild, having parted ways with James Paxton, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, and Edwin Díaz. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
JT: There is light, no doubt, but whether it’s the end of the tunnel or just the headlights of a train passing the other way isn’t quite clear yet. The club is ahead of where I thought they’d be developmentally on the farm, with a pair of outfielders in Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez opening eyes and an array of college starters like first rounders Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, and now Emerson Hancock seemingly on the path to the bigs in the next few seasons. I don’t love that their rebuild has prioritized pitchers over position players on draft day, but things look promising in the next couple seasons. The key, regrettably, is that now that the Mariners have cleared their payroll commitments to almost nothing in the coming seasons, will they spend (or even have good players to spend on) in free agency to add star power where they lack it?
3. The Angels and Mariners both drafted first basemen with top selections in recent memory, with the former taking Matt Thaiss (16th overall, in ’16) and the latter taking Evan White (17th overall, in ’17). White’s fielding is phenomenal. What can fans expect of his bat?
JT: Some loud contact and a lot of learning. Since draft day, the M’s have talked up White’s power potential as exceeding his numbers, because of elite exit velocities despite a flatter, line drives and grounders-heavy swing. Longtime Angels fans may remember the dinger-crushing park effects of Dickey-Stephens Park, home of the AA-Arkansas Travelers. Last year, in a full season at AA-Arkansas, White hit 13 dingers and ran a .940 OPS away from DSP, and just a .718 OPS with 5 homers at his cavernous, windy, muggy Little Rock home. Like Thaiss, White’s future is tied to the success of adjustments the club has encouraged in his swing, lowering his hands pre-pitch to encourage more loft. Eventually, the Mariners (and I) expect White to be an average or better hitter, supplementing his exceptional glovework, but this year has appropriately looked like the start of a sharp learning curve. He’ll strike out an average amount, walk a bit less than most 1Bs, and have to make more of his contact to thrive.
4. Kyle Lewis, another top M’s prospect, is currently rocking a 197 wRC+ but striking out 40% of the time. How should he be characterized as a player?
JT: What’s better than mercurial but worse than dynamic? Kyle Lewis is closer to the latter, but it’s hard to know exactly what he is because we’ve… never seen him like this. Well, never isn’t right, but since his entire knee was shredded by a catcher blocking the plate in Everett following a dominant college career. Lewis is well aware of his profile, and he’s displayed enough power and discipline that he should run around a double-digit walk rate, which helps his floor. The challenge for him is making enough contact on the ball in the zone to succeed, because a 40% strikeout rate… ain’t gonna cut it, and pitchers have started challenging him with their best heat over the plate. If Lewis keeps handling his diet of off-speed and challenge heat (with a little bit of wine) he’ll make a dandy little career for himself. If not, well, we saw what Domingo Santana’s trajectory has been.
5. How does the shortened season affect the Mariners compared to other teams?
JT: I don’t think any team is well-served by it (maybe the Pirates), but it’s definitely more an inconvenience for the M’s than it is debilitating like it might feel for teams more committed to immediate contention. Seattle had four expiring contracts coming into 2020: backup 2B/OF Dee Gordon and three reclamation project free agents in RHP Taijuan Walker, RHP Carl Edwards Jr., and RHP Yoshihisa Hirano. They’ve added a fourth reclamation option in RHP Bryan Shaw in season, who has been horrific. And… that’s the list. Seattle’s main task in 2020 was getting as much evaluation and development time for their prospects in the high minors and at the big league level. Lewis, White, SS J.P. Crawford, 2B Shed Long Jr., LHP Justus Sheffield, and RHP Justin Dunn were set to get their first full seasons in the bigs. Kelenic and Gilbert were expected to debut at some point midseason. Guys like Yusei Kikuchi and Kendall Graveman were hoping to establish themselves as impact starters worth planning around.
Instead, while Seattle has stacked as many of their top prospects as they could fit (the top 14 by MLB Pipeline are all present in the 60 player pool) into their current roster, many of the integral parts of their rebuild will not get a full season of work, and the club has already begun adjusting their language around a competitive timeline, away from “late-2020/early 2021” and more towards a slightly longer view.
6. Much ado has been made over the years pitting GMs Jerry Dipoto and Billy Eppler against each other. Now that there has been more time to see the effects of each’s moves, what do you make of that discussion?
JT: I love this component of the rivalry almost as much as anything the players do themselves. Mariners fans were definitely fearful of Dipoto being trusted to helm the “stepback” as he termed it following the 2018 season. However, through good hires (and some bad ones) they’ve put together a player development group that has gotten national praise for improving pitchers and made an array of trades that have given them a core to hopefully build around in the next few years. The Canó/Díaz-Kelenic/Dunn led trade will be the one that defines Dipoto in Seattle [Ed. Note: a remarkable Tyler O’Neill for Marco Gonzales swap, too!], and between better luck/scouting and changes to the qualifying offer rules that used to strip teams of 1st round picks, his FO has drafted better in Seattle than in Anaheim. When I think of Eppler’s tenure, I think there are a series of immense successes – Andrelton Simmons trade, wooing Ohtani, Trout’s second extension, drafting Adell, signing Rendon – that have somehow not managed to correlate to contention. The clubs are inverted reflections of one another, in a sense, having been near-mirrors as recently as 2018. LAA’s focus on acquiring immensely toolsy prospects and hoping to mold them, like Adell, into star-level talents is an excellent foil to the Mariners’ steadfast commitment to only drafting
college playerscollege pitchers guys who were extremely good in the Cape Cod League. I don’t know which club is going to come out ahead first, but with both clubs building outfields out of immensely hyped talents, I don’t expect the rivalry to dissipate at all.