Free Agent Find- Josh Johnson

The Mariners have a dilemma on their hands. One that involves pitching. The team gave up the fifth most runs in baseball last season. They also finished in the statistical basement in categories such as WHIP, homeruns and wild pitches. A lot of that has to do with their starting pitchers, based on sheer workload compared to the bullpen.

The current starting rotation consists of Felix Hernandez, Hishashi Iwakuma, Joe Saunders, Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer.

Going forward, Hernandez and Iwakuma are the only real locks. Saunders could be kept around, but that’s a story for another time.

The dilemma that I alluded to earlier is this: Seattle needs to upgrade its starting pitching, but they don’t want to block the path of the Big Three. No, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish aren’t walking through that door, but James Paxton, Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker are.

Seattle could throw all three of them in the fire and use the rookies with their two All-Stars, but in all likelihood, not all of the pitchers will be ready. Hence the M’s need a stop-gap player.

Enter Josh Johnson.

The former Marlins’ Ace struggled in a Blue Jays uniform. In 16 starts north-of-the-border he posted a 2-8 record with an ERA of 6.20. Not only did his ERA balloon, he also gave up more homeruns in 16 starts than he gave up in nearly twice as many starts in his final year in Miami. The potential is still there. He posted 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings in his first year in the AL, his highest total since 2010 when he was an All-Star and received votes for the Cy Young (finished 5th) and MVP (25th).

Due to numerous variables, Johnson won’t garner as much free agent attention as other starting pitchers who are also out of contract. Part of that has to do with his down year. It also has to do with the moderately strong class of free agent starters. Matt Garza, AJ Burnett and Masahiro Tanaka headline the group with other names such as Ervin Santana, Hiroki Kuroda, Bartolo Colon and Ricky Nolasco sure to garner interest.

The underlying theme here is that Johnson could be had for cheap, relative to his value. Teams won’t necessarily be lined up around the block with money to offer him like they will/would for Tanaka or Garza. This could be a one-man gold mine for the Mariners.

Obviously Johnson isn’t going to be a long-term piece in Seattle. He won’t sign a long contract and the Mariners like their youngsters moving forward, but Johnson could be a very enticing fit in the Emerald City.

Put it this way, the Mariners sign Johnson, he regains some of the form that he lost from his Cy Young worthy years, and the Mariners sell high on him at the deadline in order to gain a young piece for the future.

Not only is Johnson an attractive option to sign and flip come deadline day, he also will improve the M’s pitching staff.  His 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings were higher than every M’s starting pitcher not named Hernandez. That’s 2.2 more than Maurer, 2.7 more than Harang and 3.8 more than Saunders. This is useful considering the fact that the M’s were an extremely poor defensive unit, no matter what advanced stat you use. To sum it up, that’s two to three more outs that Johnson didn’t expose his fielders to, outs that never left the batters’ box.

Who knows, maybe the M’s contend with a trio of Felix, Iwakuma and Johnson. Maybe they decide that they like Johnson and want to keep him long term. This could allow them to trade the lesser, in their opinion, of the Big Three in a package for an impact bat along the lines of what they tried to get with Justin Upton.

Josh Johnson, one man gold mine for the Mariners.

Potentially.

Previewing the Near Future of the Mariners/Astros Rivalry

In a rivalry, both teams need to win for it to be considered a rivalry. The Astros won on Tuesday night… Check that box. So it’s a rivalry, now I’m able to write about it.

The Mariners are a good team who should be a dark-horse contender for a wildcard spot. The Astros are a bad team who should be a contender for the number-one overall pick.

The Astros are a transitional team, littered with former top prospects who have yet to make the jump to being established big leaguers but still show potential. Plus there are some veterans on short-term deals looking to reestablish their major league careers.

The Astros stink. There are no two ways around it.

Seattle is much too good for Houston. The Mariners aren’t going to become world-beaters; they aren’t going to be one of the Yankees teams of old. They’re going to be the Mariners. One of the upsides to that is that they will play the newest member of the AL, the aforementioned Houston Astros.

The Astros are really bad…(Wait didn’t I just write this? That’s how bad Houston is folks; they cause brief short-term memory loss. Take that to the bank!)

The Mariners are much more talented than Houston (Doing it again, sorry. Slaps forehead. I guess Houston is that horrible?)

What I’m really trying to say is that if Houston and Seattle play 20 times, it wouldn’t shock anyone, even Emerald City haters (yes, apparently some people hate the lovely city of Seattle, oh the horror) to see the M’s win 15-17 times out of 20 against the ‘Stros.

The term “rivalry” is being brought into play not just for the sake of making this piece hold water, but also because it will be a rivalry.

Houston is where Seattle was as recently as a few years ago. (Fun fact, both teams have Erik Bedard! Look out, if the Angels flame out and have a fire sale in the next three years, Erik Bedard will be there.) The Astros have their one solid piece to build around (Jose Altuve), and they’re trying to figure it all out. The Astros will definitely be better over the long term. They may serve to bolster the win column for Seattle nowadays, but in a few years with some shrewd moves, Houston will be back to relevancy.

(Another fun fact I forgot to mention, Ronny Cedeno was/is on the really-bad-now-good-later Mariners of a few years yonder and the current Astros. He might be on the ashes of an Angels’ team after that fire sale with Bedard.)

I guess the most comparable situation here in recent memory is that of the Blue Jays of the late 2000’s and the Orioles of that time period. One team is a good team stuck in a tough division, and the other team, while stuck in the same tough division, is horrendous.

Seattle will win most of its games with Houston, but give it some patience (a few years) and the Astros will be providing you with bang for your buck at the old Safeco Field.

Hey, the A’s Did it, How About Us?

The Oakland Athletics had an extremely successful season last year. Maybe you didn’t notice. In a discussion where the A’s were probably relegated to the kiddy table, while big-boys Texas and Anaheim were supposed to contend for the division, the A’s won it. LA of Anaheim missed the playoffs all together, and Texas went out in a pretty unceremonious way against Baltimore in the new-fangled one-game playoff.

The team’s supposed strengths going into the season were pitching and, well, pitching. Albeit in an enormously large ball park where a game of cricket can be played down the right field and left field foul territories.

Oakland’s strength ended up being not only pitching, but also a tendency to hit home runs. And lots of them. The A’s were one of the better teams at the art of the long ball (7th in baseball last year.)

Last year as well, the A’s got the bulk of their power from their first base/ corner outfield/DH spots from a mix-matched group of role players and journeymen.

(Sensing a theme?) Continue reading