- Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano wasn’t his usual excellent self last year, but that has changed this season and he attributes it to regaining his health. Cano dealt with a parasite that attacked his system and sapped him of energy early in 2015 and then a hernia on each side of his abdominal area in the second half of the campaign. Cano underwent surgery on the two hernias last October. “Now that you’re healthy, you get to look back and see the difference,’’ Cano told Larry Stone of The Seattle Times. “After what I went through last year, thank God I’m healthy. I’m able to use my body and move left and right, back and forth. That’s everything.” The healthy Cano is now taking on a leadership role in Seattle, according to general manager Jerry Dipoto. “In addition to his incredible offensive contribution and great defense, Robby has been unbelievable for me, and for (manager) Scott (Servais), in helping to make a very difficult transition, with a lot of new faces, go so much quicker and easier,” he said. Shortstop Ketel Marte also praised the ex-Yankee, saying, “He’s been special to me. He tries to make me better every single day.”
Marte sprained his left thumb during the Mariners’ game against the Reds on Saturday and had to leave early, though X-rays came back negative. The switch-hitting Marte, 22, is in the midst of his second straight season serving as a capable option at short for the Mariners. In 167 plate appearances this year, Marte has hit .276/.307/.378 with five steals on seven attempts. During his first major league action last season, Marte batted .283/.351/.402 in 247 trips to the plate and swiped eight bags on 12 tries. All told, Marte has already been worth 2.2 fWAR in just 97 career games.
The 25-year-old Taylor has compiled a .294/.374/.464 line in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League this year after faring similarly well with Tacoma last season, but his big league career hasn’t been nearly as successful. Taylor, formerly a well-regarded prospect, has amassed 253 PAs with the Mariners and slashed an uninspiring .239/.296/.296.
Each year, the free-agent class is impacted by the performance of players with vesting options (as is the financial future of players with said provisions in their contract). For those unfamiliar with the option, a vesting option is typically a club option that can automatically trigger based on the player’s health and/or performance. Meeting pre-determined criteria for games played, innings pitched, plate appearances, etc. are the most common means of triggering vesting options, though as you’ll see below, there have been some more creative approaches to vesting options in the past as well.
We’ll check in on these players periodically throughout the season, and here’s the first look…
- Chris Iannetta: The Mariners hold a $4.25MM club option over Iannetta for the 2017 season, but that option can also vest at $6MM if Iannetta starts 100 games in 2016 and does not finish the season on the disabled list due to an injured hip, back or right elbow. Having started 30 of the Mariners’ first 39 games, Iannetta is on pace to clear the 100 start threshold with ease, and if he can continue to post an OPS in the mid-.700s, the Mariners probably won’t mind having him back for another season at that price. One factor that could throw a wrench into his playing time: Mike Zunino is demolishing Triple-A pitching thus far, batting .305/.357/.580, though the former first-round pick has cooled off considerably in the past two weeks.
- Kurt Suzuki: Another backstop with a $6MM vesting option, Suzuki needs to reach 485 plate appearances in 2016 for that option to trigger. The big 2014 first-half that earned Suzuki that extension never seemed sustainable, and he has batted just .242/.294/.330 since signing the deal. The Twins probably don’t want to see this one vest, as evidenced by the fact that he’s on pace for 349 plate appearances, which would be his lowest total since signing in Minnesota.
- Matt Holliday: The 36-year-old Holliday has a $17MM club option for the 2017 season that automatically vests if he places within the Top 10 of this season’s NL MVP voting. Holliday isn’t the hitter he once was, and even in his best years with the Cardinals, he (somewhat surprisingly) never landed inside the Top 10 in NL MVP voting. At 36 years of age and off to a good but unspectacular .250/.325/.485 start to the season, it seems safe to assume that his option won’t vest. The club will have the choice of exercising the option or paying Holliday a buyout of $1MM.
- Coco Crisp: Crisp, also 36, has a more complicated vesting option tacked onto his two-year, $22MM deal. The option is valued at $13MM and will automatically kick in if Crisp receives 550 plate appearances or appears in 130 games this season. The option initially could also have vested based on combined playing time from 2015-16 (1100 PAs from 2015-16 or 260 games from 2015-16), but Crisp spent most of the 2015 campaign on the DL, so he’ll have to hope to trigger the option based solely on his 2016 health. He’s appeared in 31 of Oakland’s 41 games and picked up 126 plate appearances, so he’s a bit shy of the pace for either threshold. Clearly, though, there’s still plenty of time to make up ground. He’s batting .234/.304/.405.
- Yusmeiro Petit: The one-year, $3MM contract signed by Petit this winter came with a $3MM club option ($500K buyout) that vests if Petit reaches 80 innings pitched. Petit has occupied a role similar to the one in which he thrived for a few years as a member of the Giants’ bullpen, and he’s picked up 21 innings through the Nationals’ first 40 games. If that pace holds, he’ll indeed clear 80 innings and see that salary lock in. With a 1.71 ERA and 3.28 FIP through his first 21 frames, the Nats probably wouldn’t mind that at all.
- CC Sabathia: The 35-year-old Sabathia’s vesting option is tied to the health of his shoulder. He’ll lock in a $25MM salary for the 2017 campaign if he doesn’t end the 2016 season on the DL due to a shoulder injury or spend 45+ days on the DL this year due to a shoulder injury. Sabathia is currently on the disabled list, but it’s due to a groin injury, so it doesn’t impact the option’s status. While he’s certainly no longer an ace, Sabathia did have a 3.81 ERA through his first five starts of the season, though his strikeout and walk numbers weren’t particularly encouraging.
It’s perhaps worth noting, as well, that both Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher had vesting options for the 2017 season worked into the four-year deals they originally signed with the Indians. However, with each player having been released from that contract and signing new deals (with the D-backs and Yankees, respectively), those options are no longer in play. (The lack of playing time for each player this season would’ve made them a non-issue anyhow.)
- The Bridgeport Bluefish have signed a pair of former big league hurlers, the club announced. Righty Blake Beavan and lefty Robert Carson will be joining the indy league club. Beavan, 27, owns a 4.61 ERA with 4.2 K/9 against 1.4 BB/9 over 293 MLB innings, all with the Mariners. The former first round pick pitched briefly at the Triple-A level last year for the Diamondbacks, but did not catch on with another organization after his mid-year release. Also 27, Carson appeared briefly in 2012 and 2013 with the Mets. He spent time with Bridgeport last year and had been pitching in Mexico early in 2016, with a 6.28 ERA over his 28 2/3 innings.
- Infielder Ed Lucas has been released by the Mariners, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports on Twitter. The 33-year-old had a nice season at Triple-A last year with the Rangers, but has only appeared in parts of two MLB campaigns — with the Marlins in 2013 and 2014. He was off to a .232/.265/.399 batting line in 147 plate appearances.
3:47pm: Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune tweets that the Mariners will receive cash instead of a PTBNL in the deal.
3:06pm: The Padres have struck a deal to acquire outfielder Jabari Blash from the Mariners, per an announcement from Seattle. A player to be named later or cash will return to the M’s in the deal.
Blash, of course, has spent much of the year playing at the major league level for the Friars after being selected in the winter’s Rule 5 draft. San Diego designated him for assignment recently, and Blash evidently cleared waivers and was offered back to his original organization — the Mariners, who had declined to protect him in the offseason by adding him to their 40-man.
Clearly, the Padres are more enamored of Blash’s future prospects than is his former team. The 26-year-old will head to Triple-A to attempt to refine his hitting, which wasn’t possible when San Diego controlled his Rule 5 rights.
Blash struggled to a .120/.241/.160 batting line with 13 strikeouts in his first 29 trips to the plate in the majors. But he showed some promise last year in the upper minors compiling a .271/.370/.576 slash in 476 plate appearances in the upper minors.
The Mariners are off to a 21-16 start and currently sit a half game back in the AL West, and Bob Nightengale of USA Today spoke to a number of players on the roster as well as general manager Jerry Dipoto about the club’s early surge. As Dipoto explained to to Nightengale, his focus during his first offseason as the Seattle GM was to restructure the roster without compromising the impressive core he inherited. “I learned there really is no such thing as rebuilding in the major leagues,” said Dipoto. “You can rebuild organizations, but you’re here to win at the big-league level. We wanted to rebuild and replenish our player development, but when you have Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez, and Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz, why would you ever rebuild?” Dipoto praised ownership for allowing him to pursue creative opportunities to turn the roster over and also stressed the importance of building a winning culture, not merely accumulating talent. Acquired in the offseason, left-hander Wade Miley explained to Nightengale that said vision has paid off. “This is the most fun I’ve ever had,” said Miley, who came over in the Carson Smith trade with the Red Sox. “Well, since I was 12.” Miley is just one of many new faces, though, as Nightengale points out that there are only eight holdovers from last year’s disappointing roster — a testament to Dipoto’s aggressive winter maneuverings.
More from the division…
- The Astros’ acquisition of Carlos Gomez hasn’t paid off as the club had hoped last summer, as he’s batted just .215/.266/.322 with Houston and dealt with multiple injuries. Despite the high-profile nature of the acquisition, GM Jeff Luhnow suggested today that Gomez’s leash is growing shorter. Via MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart (on Twitter): “I think he’s going to have to turn it around at some point, otherwise we’re not going to be able to continue to play him,” said Luhnow of his struggling center fielder. The timing of Gomez’s struggles is particularly problematic for him as an individual, as he’s slated to hit free agency at season’s end. Gomez entered the season second on MLBTR’s Free Agent Power Rankings but dropped to fifth on May 2 and is hitting just .122/.234/.195 since that writing.
- Athletics ace Sonny Gray has been shelled in his past three starts, yielding a total of 18 runs in 12 2/3 innings, but he tells MLB.com’s Jane Lee that he made a mechanical adjustment late in Sunday’s rough outing that he feels will halt the struggles. “I’ve constantly been leaving the ball up, and you can tell,” said Gray. “It was literally just a visual thing to get the ball back down, and you could tell there, when it’s back down, it’s got great life on it, and you start to see the swing and misses.” Catcher Stephen Vogt echoed that Gray’s movement and location were much better following an Evan Longoria home run, as Gray set down five of the final six he faced. Whether Gray has indeed righted the ship remains to be seen, though it’s worth noting that his velocity isn’t demonstrably worse than it at this time last season. Getting Gray back on track is paramount for an A’s club that currently sits at 16-22 — six games out of the division lead.
- Lee also writes that A’s manager Bob Melvin confirmed yesterday that Ryan Madson is indeed his closer — an arrangement that has appeared obvious for quite some time but hadn’t been explicitly stated by anyone with the club. Former closer Sean Doolittle had some struggles early in the season, but he’s bounced back with a 1.93 ERA and an 11-to-3 K/BB ratio in 9 1/3 innings since mid-April. That success notwithstanding, it seems the closer’s role is Madson’s job to lose at this point. “I think at this point in time, Madson is probably the guy we’re looking to,” said Melvin. Madson, who inked a three-year, $22MM deal with Oakland this offseason that caught many in the industry by surprise, has a 1.08 ERA through 16 2/3 innings, though he’s seen his strikeout, walk and ground-ball rates all trend in the wrong direction this season. (A reminder that those monitoring closer situations for fantasy baseball purposes can follow @closernews on Twitter, where we at MLBTR will keep you up to date on the latest ninth-inning news and trends.)
Tim Lincecum has yet to sign following last Friday’s showcase, which was attended by roughly two-thirds of the league, but a handful of reports today has at least eliminated a few teams from consideration. Per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter), both the Padres and Mariners are out of the mix on Lincecum at this point. While some San Diego fans speculated that the Friars’ claim of Hector Sanchez, who caught Lincecum during the pair’s San Francisco days, could be related, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune squashed that notion in relatively short order last night, tweeting that the Sanchez claim was unrelated to any pursuit of Lincecum and was instead merely about adding catching depth to the organization.
Beyond all of that, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro tweets that the Marlins, too, are unlikely to make a play for the right-hander at this time. Those reports join previous word out of Baltimore and Arizona that the Orioles and D-backs, respectively, aren’t expected to pursue Lincecum, either.
Rosenthal adds (Twitter link) that the Angels, Giants and White Sox currently have the most interest in Lincecum, which is the same list of clubs reported to be most intrigued this past weekend, with the notable exclusion of the D-backs. Per Rosenthal, no decision is close. Any of the three make sense as a landing spot, though Giants manager Bruce Bochy said last week that the club was only interested in a relief role for Lincecum, and fallen ace Matt Cain delivered a strong showing in his most recent start, by dominating the Blue Jays over eight innings. The Angels, meanwhile, picked up one arm yesterday by acquiring Jhoulys Chacin from the Braves, and while it’s hard to imagine that lone pickup leaving the Halos feeling like they have sufficient depth in the rotation in the wake of all the injuries they’ve incurred, it probably does curb some of the urgency to seek further rotation help.
As for the White Sox, they have some options to replace the recently released John Danks (former Oriole Miguel Gonzalez is getting the first crack at the fifth spot), but the rotation is suspect beyond Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon. Mat Latos started the year strong, but his lack of strikeouts and considerable fortune on balls in play made him a clear regression candidate through his first several starts, and the wheels have begun to come off as of late.
Amid the considerable Lincecum chatter, it seems worth addressing that it’s been five years since he posted an ERA south of 4.00 in a season, making it likelier that he stabilizes the back end of a rotation than emerges as a revitalized top-of-the-rotation force. Lincecum did post a 4.37 ERA and come within arm’s reach of 200 innings as recently as 2013 even while averaging 90.4 mph on his fastball, so there’s certainly reason to express optimism that he can help a club in 2016 with the aid of improved health. However, fans hoping for a return to the levels displayed in his Cy Young heyday are probably overreaching.
The new Mariners ownership group fronted is prepared to follow through on CEO John Stanton’s comments that “payroll matters” (made at the press conference announcing the ownership change) when the trade deadline approaches, reports Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, citing a pair of sources that are “intricately tied to the ownership group.” As Baker writes, former CEO Howard Lincoln was required to run all decisions by representatives from Nintendo of America prior to their sale of the majority stake of the club, and the result was often lackluster acquisitions. Even though the sale won’t be formalized until August, however, Nintendo isn’t likely to intervene with payroll matters at this point, and Lincoln, who remains involved in a lesser role, is said to be on board with increasing the payroll as necessary in order to augment a roster that has produced a first-place record through the season’s first 31 games.
- John McGrath of the Tacoma News Tribune argues that Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto should act quickly to sign right-hander Tim Lincecum, who threw for more than 20 teams on Friday of last week. While the Mariners don’t necessarily have an immediate rotation need, McGrath points out that several relievers are on the disabled list and adds that there are ominous signs surrounding Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Pitching injuries are commonplace throughout the league, of course, and adding Lincecum to serve as the next line of defense while working out of the bullpen in the short-term is a sensible play for Dipoto, McGrath opines. There’s logic behind everything McGrath writes, though if a club comes knocking with a firmer promise of a rotation spot, I can envision Lincecum preferring that even to signing with current first-place team that plays in his home town.
- Felix Hernandez has provided the Mariners with typically productive innings, but there’s some cause for real concern, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs writes. The veteran righty has seen his velocity steadily decline in years past, but now he’s experienced a sudden drop-off that’s left him sitting below 90 mph with his average fastball. Meanwhile, he’s also struggling to hit the zone. While Hernandez has thus far managed to generate plenty of soft contact, the 30-year-old certainly doesn’t look like the same pitcher he has been in years past. Whether he can continue to put up ace-like results remains to be seen.
The Mariners will be without right-hander Tony Zych for four to six weeks due to the rotator cuff tendinitis that landed him on the disabled list earlier this week, reports Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. When the Mariners originally announced his injury, Zych had yet to have a followup examination back in Seattle. Those tests have now taken place and produced the timeline for which Seattle will be without its quietly excellent setup man. In 30 1/3 innings since being promoted to the Majors last season, Zych has posted a 2.67 ERA, 12.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 with a 51.5 percent ground-ball rate. He’s also averaged 95.7 mph on his fastball and has the 14th-best K-BB% among MLB pitchers with a minimum of 30 innings thrown dating back to last season.