(Here is today’s Mariner minor-league report).
The last thing you want to do as a baseball team is overreact to a bad stretch. But the Mariners have reached a point where a few moves are necessary not just as a knee-jerk way to shake things up in the middle of a slump, but as a realistic means to improve the team moving forward.
Tonight’s loss, a 12-0 rout to the Angels, was as ugly in its own way as the three agonizing walk-off defeats in Cleveland. At least the Mariners fought hard in those games and were in them until the end. Tonight, they were completely non-competitive, an outcome that was set into motion by a very poor start from Aaron Harang. He had missed his last start because of back stiffness, and now has had four poor starts out of six as a Mariner. His ERA climbed to 8.58. Harang seems like a great guy, but the team has little reason to endure his ups and downs for what might be at best a modest payoff down the road. Remember, Harang was brought here in somewhat of a desperation move when Blake Beavan got off to a rocky start.
It’s unfortunate that both Erasmo Ramirez and Danny Hultzen are hurt, and that James Paxton has been up and down. But the Mariners need to find some more stability at the back end of the rotation. As I’ve said before, Joe Saunders and his $6 million salary isn’t going anywhere, and it seems far more worthwhile to live with the inconsistency of a young pitcher with upside like Brandon Maurer while he learns what it takes to pitch in the major leagues. But they can’t afford another rollercoaster pitcher, so I would advocate replacing Harang with another veteran, Jeremy Bonderman. He has been building up his arm strength all year in Tacoma, and has pitched at least six innings in six straight starts. That includes an eight-inning gem in which he blanked Tucson on two hits on May 2. Overall, Bonderman has a 3.79 ERA in nine starts. Hey, he’s no sure thing either, but I’ll bet most fans are ready to try something new. If it doesn’t work, then you can go to Plan D (Beavan being Plan A, Harang Plan B, and Bonderman Plan C).
I’d also give strong consideration to making a move I’ve been advocating for awhile — elevating Nick Franklin from Tacoma. He’s hit a little bit of a rocky spell, batting just .222 over his last 10 games. But Franklin still has a .370 on-base percentage in that stretch, and is hitting .311 overall — down from .330, but still providing the promise of being an offensive improvement. I like the idea I heard from Matt Pitman tonight on the post-game show: Calling up Carlos Triunfel (.307) along with Franklin, and cutting loose Robert Andino — another good guy, but one who has hardly made himself indispensable with a .192 average and .500 OPS.
The accompanying move would be a tough one, but how about letting Dustin Ackley go down to Tacoma to try to find the stroke we saw when he first came up to Seattle, but has been largely absent since. Ackley is hitting .224/.284/.273, and that just doesn’t cut it more than one-fourth of the way through the season. I still believe in Ackley’s long-term potential, but perhaps a stint in Tacoma to work things out in a lower-pressure environment would be beneficial. Franklin’s ability to play shortstop at the major-league level has been questioned. This way, he could slide in at second base, and Triunfel could get some time there as well and share time at shortstop with Brendan Ryan, who right now is riding a hot bat. Even under .200, Ryan is worth keeping around for his glove, but it sure seems high time to see if the Mariners can get a needed offensive boost from Franklin and Triunfel. In the best-case scenario, Ackley would eventually push his way back into the Seattle lineup — a good problem to have, as the old saying goes.
The other move that is simply crying out to be made is for Jesus Montero to go down to Tacoma as well. He’s too often a detriment behind the plate, and for some reason his offense has fizzled as well. Montero was supposed to be a big-time power hitter; he has five extra-base-hits in 110 plate appearances. As Dave Cameron pointed out in a tweet, that’s fewer than Pete Kozma, the good-field, no-hit shortstop for the Cardinals. I’ll leave it up to the Mariners to decide if they want to continue working with Montero as a catcher; but even if the answer is yes, he should be doing it at Tacoma, so the Mariners can get a decent glove, and a better bat, to team with Kelly Shoppach behind the plate. Should that be Mike Zunino? He seems to have stabilized at the plate after enduring an extended slump that dropped his average under .200. Zunino is hitting .275 over his last 10 games and is back up to .220 overall. His OBP is just .290, but he does produce: seven homers and 35 RBIs with 10 doubles and two triples for a .496 slugging percentage (in a hitter-friendly league, granted). I’ll defer to the scouts on whether Zunino is ready (and I doubt he is, quite yet; the fact that the Super Two cutoff date is still a few weeks away might well be another factor keeping him in Tacoma for now). But at this point, Tacoma’s backup catcher, Jesus Sucre, would be a better option than Montero. He’s hitting .265 in 49 at-bats and is regarded as a solid defensive catcher.
If the Mariners made the moves I suggested — bringing in Bonderman, Franklin, Triunfel and Sucre, waiving Harang and Andino, sending down Ackley and Montero — they would need to clear one spot on the 40-man roster. Triunfel is already on the 40-man; Franklin, Bonderman and Sucre would have to be added. The departures of Harang and Andino would take care of two of the three spots, but a third opening would have to be created.
That’s an issue, but I daresay one that could be overcome. I’m curious to see if the Mariners, in the midst of their worst stretch of the season and in danger of watching their season disintegrate, agree that a shakeup is called for.