- The Mariners have announced that they’ve named Justin Hollander their director of baseball operations. The 37-year-old Hollander had previously worked with Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto with the Angels, and last year Hollander served as that organization’s director of player personnel.
The Mariners announced that catcher Steve Clevenger has been suspended without pay for the remainder of the season. Clevenger was the subject of a great deal of social media controversy yesterday following a pair of offensive, racially charged tweets.
“As soon as we became aware of the tweets posted by Steve yesterday we began to examine all of our options in regard to his standing on the team,” said GM Jerry Dipoto in the press release announcing the suspension. “Today we have informed him that he is suspended for the reminder of the season without pay.”
Clevenger, 30, was acquired in a lopsided offseason swap that sent Mark Trumbo to the Orioles in what amounted to a salary dump for the Mariners. Clevenger has been on the disabled list since late June to do a fractured hand and has appeared in just 22 games for the Mariners this year, batting .221/.303/.309 in 76 plate appearances. The former Cubs and Orioles backstop is a lifetime .227/.284/.324 hitter in 522 Major League plate appearances. The suspension will cost him about $28,000 — not an insignificant sum for a player that has yet to reach arbitration in his career — and it seems likely that it’s only a matter of time before the Mariners cut ties with him completely.
After joining the Mariners on a one-year, $5.5MM deal during the winter, left fielder Nori Aoki began the season in dreadful fashion. The former Brewer, Royal and Giant hit just .245/.323/.313 over his first 284 plate appearances, which led the Mariners to option him to Triple-A Tacoma on June 24. The demotion proved effective for Aoki, who returned to the majors in late July and has since slashed .317/.363/.468 in 136 trips to the plate. As a result, the Mariners hope Aoki sticks around in 2017, reports Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune.
“He’s been awesome,” said general manager Jerry Dipoto. “I don’t think he was ever out of our plans (for 2017). When we sent him to Triple-A, we explained to him that we were going to let him play. And whatever happens, happens.”
The Dipoto-led Mariners sent Aoki to the minors again in late August, but that trip only lasted 10 days and came on account of roster issues, per Dutton.
Whether Aoki is a Mariner in 2017 could come down to his player option. The soon-to-be 35-year-old needs another 60 PAs this season to trigger his $5MM option for next season, notes Dutton, who expects Aoki to see plenty of action during the final 15 games of the Mariners’ campaign as they try to overcome a three-game deficit in the American League wild-card race. Collecting 60 more plate trips could be difficult for Aoki, but it’s in his favor that Seattle is set to face plenty of right-handed pitchers, as Dutton writes. Aoki has slashed .292/.357/.413 and walked nearly as much as he has struck out (21 to 27) in 316 PAs versus righties this year.
“I’m doing a lot of things different,” Aoki said of his second-half success. “It’s not just one thing. I changed my bat. I changed my helmet. I changed the way I see the ball. I changed a lot of things.”
- With a group of talented, high-performing players on hand, the Mariners are “talking behind the scenes” about taking advantage of a window of contention, according to Heyman. That could position the club to strike out on the free agent market in search of a “complementary piece,” he says. There are several areas the team could target, but I wonder whether the time may be right to add a slugging first baseman; there are several available, and the team is set to lose its primary tandem of Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee to free agency.
The Braves have acquired right-hander Joe Wieland from the Mariners, reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter). MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets that the Mariners will receive cash in return. The 26-year-old Wieland was outrighted off Seattle’s 40-man roster (for the second time this season) in late August, so he won’t immediately require a 40-man spot from the Braves.
Wieland once looked like a potential back-of-the-rotation option for the Padres, logging a 4.55 ERA across his first five MLB starts on the heels of some promising minor league work in 2011-12, but he underwent Tommy John surgery shortly thereafter and struggled with his recovery before being traded to the Dodgers as part of the Matt Kemp blockbuster. Seattle acquired him this past offseason in exchange for minor league infielder Erick Mejia, but Wieland’s struggles became more pronounced than ever early in his Seattle tenure, and the Mariners outrighted him to Triple-A in early May.
Wieland opened the season with a dreadful 17.31 ERA through his first 13 1/3 innings, prompting that initial outright, but he actually recovered after that unthinkably poor start. From May 4 through Aug. 6, Wieland posted a 3.67 ERA with an 83-to-23 K/BB ratio in 90 2/3 Triple-A innings before having his contract once again selected to the Major League roster. He made one start for the Mariners at the big league level, surrendering six runs in five innings, before being optioned back to Triple-A and eventually outrighted off the 40-man a second time.
Per Bowman’s tweet above, he’ll provide the Braves’ Triple-A roster with some additional rotation depth throughout the remainder of the postseason. While he could potentially serve as rotation depth for the big league team as well, Wieland has enough Major League service time to elect free agency at season’s end if he’s not on the 40-man roster. In 52 2/3 MLB innings, Wieland has a 6.32 ERA with 6.7 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and a 40.6 percent ground-ball rate.
The Pirates have acquired southpaw Wade LeBlanc from the Mariners, the teams announced. Seattle will receive a player to be named later or cash considerations in the deal.
LeBlanc, 32, was outrighted after his fifty-inning big league run for the M’s this year. He worked to a 4.50 ERA in that span, with a useful 7.4 K/9 against 1.6 BB/9.
- The Mariners are likely to recall first base prospect Dan Vogelbach, whom they acquired in the trade that sent Mike Montgomery to the Cubs, per Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune (Twitter link). While Vogelbach didn’t hit quite as well as he did in the Cubs’ minor league system following the trade, he did slash .240/.402/.422 with the Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma, demonstrating a keen eye at the plate and some pop to go along with it. Vogelbach could factor into the picture for the Mariners at first base and/or DH next season, so getting a look at him over the final few weeks of the year, even if it’s in a limited capacity, should give the Seattle front office a chance to plan for the 2017 season.
Mariners manager Scott Servais doesn’t mind having extra players on his roster, but the way teams are allowed to use their call-ups following September roster expansion bothers him, Matt Pentz of the Seattle Times writes. With more tactical options available, managers can slow the pace of games by making large numbers of substitutions. “I just think you should determine your 25-man roster before the game starts and play the game,” says Servais. “The game just changes in September, and it shouldn’t change. You play a certain way for five months and the last month, you play differently and it’s just not right.” M’s utilityman Shawn O’Malley disagrees, saying that everyday players can use the extra bit of rest reinforcements can provide. “Maybe it does take a little bit longer, but at the end of the day, what’s 20 minutes?” he says. “Any time you can give guys that are playing 159 games a year a five-inning break, it benefits them.” Here’s more from Seattle.
- The Mariners have announced that reliever Tom Wilhelmsen has been activated from the 15-day DL. The righty has missed the past two weeks due to low back spasms. For the season, Wilhelmsen has posted a 7.02 ERA, 5.7 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 over 41 innings, but his performance has been much closer to his career norms since he returned to the Mariners organization in June after struggling in the early going with the Rangers.
- In other Mariners injury news, catcher Steve Clevenger’s season is over after the organization opted to end his rehab assignment at Double-A Jackson, Ryan Divish of the Times writes. Clevenger has experienced lingering elbow soreness. The Mariners placed him on the DL in late June with a separate injury, a hand fracture for which he had surgery. The 30-year-old Clevenger collected just 76 plate appearances in his first season in Seattle, batting .221/.303/.309 with one home run. That’s a stark contrast from the performance of Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo, for whom Seattle acquired Clevenger in a salary-shedding move. Clevenger will be eligible for arbitration after the season. With Chris Iannetta having a $4.25MM club option, the Mariners will have some decisions as they attempt to determine who, besides the hot-hitting Mike Zunino, will catch for them next season.
- August trade acquisition Ben Gamel will get a long look from the Mariners down the stretch, writes MLB.com’s Greg Johns. “We’re really going to look at those corner outfield spots against right-handed pitching,” manager Scott Servais said prior to tonight’s contest. “…I do think we owe an opportunity to find out what Ben Gamel can do. So he’s going to play.” Gamel has just one hit in 16 at-bats with Seattle so far, though he’s already delivered some highlight-reel defense. With Nori Aoki and Franklin Gutierrez set to hit free agency, there could potentially be some corner outfield at-bats for Gamel to win next season with a strong showing in September and in Spring Training.
The Mariners have outrighted southpaw Wade LeBlanc to Triple-A after he cleared waivers, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Seattle is also set to recall outfielder Nori Aoki tomorrow, per the report.
LeBlanc, 32, has provided the M’s with fifty frames of 4.50 ERA pitching on the year. He has been tagged with 14 home runs, but does carry a strong 4.56 K/BB ratio. LeBlanc threw quite well at Triple-A earlier in the year with the Blue Jays before he was dealt to Seattle, and he may well contribute at the major league level again down the stretch.
Aoki is another veteran who has bounced down to the minors, with the Mariners taking advantage of his remaining option year to keep their roster in order. His most recent trip to Triple-A occurred because the team was facing quite a few opposing southpaws, says Dutton, thus reducing the need for the left-handed hitter.
The 34-year-old Aoki had actually turned up his play quite a bit since his first demotion, so the Mariners will no doubt hope he can keep producing upon his return. Still, though, he may not have as robust a role when he comes back given the ongoing presence of Seth Smith and the team’s recent acquisition of Ben Gamel. Manager Scott Servais says he expects to lean heavily on the newcomer.
As Dutton explains, Aoki is not only playing to set himself up for next year but is also nearing some contract incentives. He is unlikely to reach the 480 plate appearances needed to trigger his vesting option, but is only 11 away from a $100K bonus at 400 plate appearances and can earn another $100K for every 25 PAs thereafter.