Inbox: Is Mariners' long-term plan on track?

Beat reporter Greg Johns answers fans' questions

September 9th, 2019

What is your take on how the Mariners’ rebuild is looking so far and how do you see the development for the future?
-- Bobby J., New Orleans

I think the answer to that lies almost entirely in how that future does develop, as the present season certainly isn’t pretty -- and, in all honesty, not even that relevant, given that many of the current players don’t figure to be large pieces of the long-term plan.

This season has identified J.P. Crawford as a capable shortstop of the future and uncovered several nice surprises, like catcher Tom Murphy, versatile utility man Austin Nola and potential quality relievers like Sam Tuivailala, Austin Adams and Brandon Brennan.

Marco Gonzales has had a solid season, but Mitch Haniger's health was a definite setback, and questions remain about other potential building blocks at the big league level like Yusei Kikuchi, Daniel Vogelbach, Mallex Smith, Domingo Santana and Omar Narvaez. Each of those players need to be more consistent or, in the case of Santana and Narvaez, better on the defensive end, as they continue their development.

But most of the excitement this year occurred in the Minor Leagues, and that seemed to be a huge positive. The Mariners simply have to hit on far more of those young prospects than in the past, and we won’t know how that works out for a year or two, or more. Bottom line, there’s still a lot of work to be done and a lot of faith to be placed in the young nucleus of prospects coming through the system.

In looking ahead, I'm not sure there's much to be done this winter. Give me some reason not to crawl in a cave and sleep until March.
-- Butch W., Olympia, Wash.

You really think general manager Jerry Dipoto is going to be quiet all winter? I’d agree there will be fewer blockbuster moves this offseason, given there aren’t guys like Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Jean Segura and Mike Zunino to trade for prospects. But that doesn’t mean Dipoto will sit still. A lot has been learned this season about how the newcomers fit and which areas need help.

I suspect there’ll be plenty of moves made again this offseason to fill holes for the short term in some spots where the prospects aren’t quite ready, so we may see guys brought in on one-year deals or players like Murphy, Nola, Adams and others given an opportunity to thrive. And veterans who might have more immediate value to a contending team -- guys like Dee Gordon, Santana, Smith, etc. -- could certainly be dealt for prospects with longer windows of opportunity.

How much of a role will Triple-A Tacoma play in prospect development in the coming years? We’ve seen Justus Sheffield jump over that level. Will the Mariners treat Logan Gilbert, George Kirby and Justin Dunn the same way? Or Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Kyle Lewis and other position prospects?
-- Anthony D., Chicago

It’s not uncommon for pitchers to jump from Double-A to the big leagues, Diaz being a prime example. Sheffield was a somewhat different case this year because he -- like many pitchers -- struggled in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, where the livelier balls combined with the number of small ballparks to create havoc both for pitchers and the scouts trying to evaluate them.

Much will depend on whether there is some re-adjustment made to the balls that are used next year or beyond. Nearly twice as many home runs were hit at Triple-A this year as in 2018. If the environment causes pitchers to get overly cautious or change their approach in an attempt to avoid the long-ball assault, many top prospects will be kept in Double-A.

But when it comes to hitters, there’s no reason to skip the normal Triple-A evolution, and I’m sure all the Mariners’ top position prospects will be given time in Tacoma along the way.

Do you think Dipoto is giving any serious thought to designating Felix Hernandez for assignment after the next homestand? He'll get the start on Ichiro's night this Saturday, which would be a good way to send him off.
-- Jarred P., Bellevue, Wash.

No, I don't see that happening at this late date. Struggling veterans are sometimes DFA’d earlier in the year to create needed openings on the 25-man roster, but that isn’t a factor in September with the expanded rosters. If they don’t want to start Hernandez, they could simply take him out of the rotation and still keep him on the roster.

But from all indications, the plan is to let Hernandez pitch his way to the finish line, which means three last starts in a Mariners uniform, as long as he’s healthy. It’s not like the wins or losses are going to make or break the season at this point, and Hernandez -- one of the most loyal and iconic players in franchise history -- deserves that opportunity if he wants it, in my opinion.

As it stands, Hernandez would face the White Sox, Orioles and A's, so no more Astros on his plate.