For the Seattle Mariners, the month of May has been quite an adventure.
One minute they seemed keen on pushing their way toward the top of the division. Then before you knew it, they ran into trouble and have, since this past weekend, sunk like a stone back toward the bottom of the AL West.
With a record of 20-27 through end of day Wednesday, the M's find themselves sitting dead smack in the middle of the division unsure of what direction they're headed.
Oddly enough, win or lose this spring, the Mariners have yet to generate the sort of chatter fans have grown accustomed to in recent years. Perhaps the fact that ace Felix Hernandez is off the market this year has kept the rumor mill quiet?
While it's comforting to know that Felix should be staying put this season, there are a few topics I feel are worth keeping an eye on along with the rumors and speculation surrounding them.
The first will be a discussion debating the long-term prospects of one of the more pleasant surprises for the M's this season. The second deals with a critical upcoming deadline involving a veteran currently at Triple-A. Another will debate the future of a hot youngster still in the minors, and the final topic will cover the upcoming MLB draft in which the team will have the No. 12 overall pick.
So, let's check out the latest news and rumors.
The future of Hisashi Iwakuma is up for debate, and there seems to be two schools of thought at work here.
Earlier this week, Brent Stecker over at MyNorthwest.com cobbled together the thoughts of USS Mariner's Dave Cameron and ESPN baseball analyst Jim Bowden, who both believe that trading Iwakuma could be the right move for the M's.
From a long-term perspective, Cameron questions the wisdom of whether the M's can keep him by stating:
I don't know if I see the organization wanting to give Iwakuma the kind of money he is going to get in a couple of years. Are the Mariners going to want to be in a position where they are signing Iwakuma to a long-term deal with the young pitching coming?
Meanwhile, Sean Quinton at the Seattlepi.com wants to keep Iwakuma and counters Cameron by offering his passionate plea:
Simply put, game-changing talent is difficult to find in baseball. And though sometimes it makes sense for teams to maximize resources by trading proven talent for prospects, the Mariners have been playing that game for far too long.
With more illustrious pitching prospects on the way to Seattle, now isn’t the time to wholesale a proven arm. If guys like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton live up to their hype, the Mariners have a chance to begin adding without subtracting. It’s their best chance to win now.
“Iwakuma’s gonna give you a better shot to win than anything you’re going to be able to get back in return, at least for the next couple of years,” baseball analyst Jim Bowden told 710 ESPN Seattle last week. “Keep an open mind, but I also think Iwakuma can be a very helpful part of this team making the playoffs over the next couple of years.”
If forced to pick a side for the moment, I'm inclined to take a seat on the fence with Bowden given the fact that Iwakuma has looked quite solid thus far, and I think it is a bit premature to start packing his bags.
Of course, that's easier said that done for M's general manager Jack Zduriencik, who I'd imagine will start to get phone calls in the coming weeks for Iwakuma, especially if the team continues to struggle.
So what should Jack Z do in the meantime?
First, I'd talk to Iwakuma.
Make sure that after committing himself to the organization—not once, but twice in two years after having moved all the way from Japan—he along with his family is comfortable with the team trading him.
Perhaps it seems ridiculous on some levels to grant Iwakuma that courtesy, but it would be the proper thing to do. Keep in mind that Iwakuma had a comfortable life/career in Japan prior to arriving in Seattle. Having given that life up to take a chance and play in the US is no small move, hence the reason I was willing to give him a pass for the better part of last season as he adjusted to life both on and off the field.
Fortunately for the Mariners, their patience has paid off and what we are seeing now from Iwakuma is downright amazing.
Meanwhile, if he is open to making the move, then step two is simple—Jack Z goes out and gets a legitimate hitter, preferably an outfielder, in return.
If not, I'd prefer the M's keep Iwakuma for at least another year rather than end up with another Casper Wells or Eric Thames to take up space on the 40-man roster.
My guess is that unless those two points are properly addressed, Iwakuma will likely be staying in Seattle.
While the debate over Iwakuma will likely carry on for the next few weeks, the Mariners may need to make a move regarding another pitcher much, much sooner.
According to Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors, it would appear that the veteran starter Jeremy Bonderman's opt-out date is rapidly approaching:
Bonderman's opt-out date is June 1, tweets ESPN's Buster Olney. Still just 30 years of age, Bonderman has been solid for Triple-A Tacoma. He's pitched to a 3.70 ERA, 5.4 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in eight starts spanning 48 2/3 innings. Olney feels Bonderman will opt out if he's not called up in the next couple of weeks, and I'm inclined to agree.
It's a shame this deadline isn't July 1 to give the M's a little more time and perspective on the matter, but in fairness to Bonderman, I'd imagine he'd appreciate an answer within the next week.
Should the M's promote him?
You could argue that beyond Felix Hernandez and Iwakuma the M's have room for him in their starting rotation, but I can't picture the team giving up on either Joe Saunders or Aaron Harang in spite of their less-than-inspiring efforts this season.
At the same time, rookie Brandon Maurer's outing on Wednesday once again showed he might be better off spending some time in the minors this season after giving up seven earned runs in three innings against the Los Angeles Angels.
Would I be shocked if the M's gave Bonderman a shot and sent Maurer to Tacoma?
Not really, but I also could picture the M's letting Bonderman walk.
Either way, stayed tuned.
Here's a fun question that has everyone voicing a strong opinion, "What should the Mariners do with hot prospect Nick Franklin?"
Should they promote him, trade him or keep him stashed away at Triple-A Tacoma?
According to my fellow colleague Todd Pheifer at Bleacher Report, it's time the M's promote the youngster:
Let the Nick Franklin era begin, assuming there will be a Nick Franklin era. Based on what the Mariners have in the minors, there could be a few guys that are slated to eventually take over at shortstop.
In the short term, the Mariners need to make a move. Brendan Ryan is a great defender, and a terrible hitter. Robert Andino is not as good on defense, and only slightly better on offense.
Dave Cameron at USS Mariner, however, counters that argument with his analysis of what all three players bring to the table while concluding:
I know it’s frustrating to watch Ryan and Andino make outs, and having a complete offensive black hole at the bottom of the line-up is the kind of thing that makes you think that anything would be better than the status quo. But, in this case, I think the Mariners have made the correct evaluation. Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino aren’t this bad at the plate, and the offensive gap between their current tandem going forward — the only time period that matters — and what Franklin would provide in the future isn’t nearly as large as you might think.
While I love Todd's passion, I'm inclined to go with Dave's brains here and suggest the M's keep Franklin at Tacoma, while giving Carlos Triunfel another shot with the M's during the coming weeks.
It's not that I believe Triunfel has a higher ceiling so much as I'd rather avoid exposing Franklin to major league pitching and/or sticking him at shortstop enough times to potentially diminish any trade value this summer.
At the end of the day, though, I get the feeling that whatever the M's decide to do with Franklin, it will likely be the wrong move in a few years' time. I can just as easily see him becoming a bust in Seattle or flourishing elsewhere.
Speaking of a player who might be ready for a promotion, how about Mike Zunino?
Last year, the Mariners drafted Zunino third overall. So far, he has met just about every expectation anyone could have hoped for having made it all the way to Triple-A Tacoma in less than one year after joining the organization.
Could the M's find another first-round gem?
This year, the team has the No. 12 overall pick, but there still may be a few decent options available.
Sports Illustrated's Dave Perkin in his latest mock draft has the Mariners selecting University of New Mexico first baseman/third baseman D.J. Peterson, while John Sickels at SBNation.com has the team opting for local high school catcher Reese McGuire as a long-term prospect.
As you may have gathered already, most mock drafts have the M's selecting a hitter, but Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com actually has Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek slotted at No. 12 in his latest.
To me, the MLB draft is arguably the biggest crapshoot of all the major pro sports drafts.
Therefore, I'd be happy to see the Mariners simply take the best talent available with each and every pick they make in roughly two weeks' time, because honestly, you never know how a player will develop over time.
Meanwhile, on a somewhat related note, I'm pleased to see that the M's recently signed another young pitching prospect from Brazil by the name of Daniel Missaki who pitched in this year's WBC, according to Baseball America.
On the surface it may not seem like much, but for an organization in desperate need of finding talent, I appreciate the fact that the M's are intrepid enough to expand their search beyond the more obvious and well-traveled sources in the world.
I know I initially mentioned four topics at the beginning of this article, but on Wednesday, FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal penned a piece questioning whether the M's are headed for a breakthrough or a letdown.
It's a fair question to ask, but I'm not entirely sure the answer is that simple.
If I had to venture a guess, I'd say the team was neutrally buoyant.
Unfortunately, the M's aren't scuba diving; they're playing baseball but can neither sink nor swim in any particular direction this season.
Of course, veterans Mike Morse and Raul Ibanez see things differently, as they explained to Rosenthal:
“We’ve got talent out the wazoo,” right fielder Michael Morse said, referring only to the current major league roster. “Now it’s just putting it together, finding ways to win.
“We’re in a good spot. We’re the underdogs of the division, the team people forget about. But that series with Cleveland — we fought them. It was a boxing match. I don’t think any other team would have fought them as hard.”
Added left fielder Raul Ibanez, “I think this team is on the verge of really good stuff happening. Going for the kill when you have it — that’s a process. But we’re really close. There is a lot of fight in here — a lot of fight.”
As much as I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt, I feel like I've seen and heard this kind of talk for years now.
"Good times, right around the corner...trust us!"
The characters may change, but it's the same tired plot year after year. Although in this case with Morse and Ibanez, would this count as a sequel of sorts?
Friday night, the M's are scheduled to take on first-place Texas to start a five-game homestand, but will they show up?
I will be curious to find out, but don't expect me to hold my breath. It's not even June and I'm already thinking about the Seahawks' upcoming season and finding myself more and more interested in the Sounders with each passing day.
It's sad to think that I don't even understand soccer beyond the basic fundamentals, yet would consider that a better use of my time than obsessing over a baseball team that can't even keep the simplest of promises by merely being entertaining.
That's what I find so vexing about the Mariners at the moment. It's not the wins and losses, but the mere fact the collection of players before us inspires such indifference.
Where are there signs of tangible progress?
What can be said of the players we had hoped would mature this season?
Perhaps I'm missing something?
I'm sure Mike Morse and Raul Ibanez would say so, but I'd prefer if the likes of Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak or Jesus Montero could prove me wrong instead.
Actions speak louder than words, gentlemen; it's time to get cracking.