It’s been almost a week since the Mariners announced their blockbuster trade with the Diamondbacks.
So much baseball put on my plate, amid so many distractions unrelated to baseball, I’m still trying to process the facts: Arizona got top-of-the-rotation pitcher Taijuan Walker and starting shortstop Ketel Marte. Seattle got shortstop Jean Segura and a pair of potentially productive prospects.
I got questions.
▪ What’s with the Thanksgiving Eve Surprise? The fourth Wednesday in November is the busiest travel day of the year. Announcing the deal the night before a major holiday makes me wonder if both teams were leery of fan backlash.
I doubt that was the case, but still: Was it not possible to keep a lid on the trade until, say, Friday? Better yet, how about Monday, after the dust has settled from an epic weekend of football?
▪ Is it too soon to give up on Walker? He’s only 24, and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2021. Age and contract-control issues are secondary to the reality Walker has the talent of an All-Star ace.
Granted, he’s about as dependable as a sub-pump during a flood, and the setbacks can be frustrating. But the glimpses of greatness remain titillating.
Take last season. On Sept. 3, facing the Angels at Safeco Field, Walker didn’t survive the first inning. He surrendered three home runs while recording two outs, the kind of performance that gave Sam Malone his nickname of “Mayday.”
A week and a half later, in a road game against the Angels, Walker threw a complete-game shutout, holding them to three hits. He struck out 11 and walked none.
We never knew which Taijuan we’d see, but with a 24-year old late-bloomer — he spent most of his high school career concentrating on basketball — the upside is quite more significant than the downside.
▪ Does general manager Jerry Dipoto believe starting pitching is overrated? The creative retooling of traditional bullpen roles became a hot topic during the playoffs, to the point some advanced-analytics proponents envisioned a day when 12-man staffs are more relevant than five-man rotations.
I’m not sold. The playoffs are a different animal, packed with win-or-go-home-for-the-winter consequences. The regular season, a six-month grind of 162 games, demands that starters pitch a chunk of innings.
Without Walker, the Mariners’ rotation looks shaky. Hisashi Iwakuma won 16 games in 2016, but he’s a 35-year old who was throwing 200 pitches a game as a 17-year old in Japan. Not much tread left on those tires.
Felix Hernandez has been challenged to produce a bounce-back season, and it’s doable, but King Felix is four years past his perfect-game prime, when he trolled through batting orders with one swing-and-miss pitch after another.
Beyond Iwakuma and Hernandez, the rotation spots belong to James Paxton, Nate Karns and Ariel Miranda. They’ve combined for 37 career victories.
Dipoto figures to seek a starter at the winter meetings next week, but the market is depressed, his intentions are no secret, and the Mariners’ farm system is not teeming with kids capable of arranging a significant trade.
▪ Considering the aforementioned headaches, was the trade worth it?
Some self-disclosure: I don’t watch the Diamondbacks on a regular basis, or even a once-a-month basis, so my evaluation of him is all about the numbers.
And yikes, what numbers. Among his league-leading 203 hits were 41 doubles, seven triples and 20 homers. He stole 33 bases, scored 102 runs, and finished with a .319 batting average.
Furthermore, he’s only 26, that age when baseball stars often transform into superstars. Segura at shortstop, alongside Robinson Cano at second base, gives the Mariners their most potent middle-infield duo in franchise history.
Be prepared for some last-at-bat, base-clearing shootouts in 2017, as the Mariners’ focus from run prevention turns to a more bold approach: Outscore ‘em.
An intriguing premise, conversation fodder at the dinner table, and now I appreciate the thinking behind the Thanksgiving Eve Surprise.
Extended families were gathered. Extended families agree on nothing.
Jerry Dipoto, bless him, did what he could to keep politics from turning turkey feasts into food fights.