The Tigers have had much more success than the Seattle Mariners in recent years, but are just 13-18 against them since 2010. The two teams have given us some exciting moments during this span, including a 14-inning classic last April and Ryan Raburn's infamous home run assist in 2011.
1. The Mariners had one of their most exciting offseasons in recent memory this year, largely because of the Robinson Cano signing. Will the M's regret this 10 year, $240 million contract in a few years, or was this a necessary move for the franchise going forward?
They will almost definitely regret it at the end, and maybe even sooner than that. That's the nature of superstar contracts, wildly inflated and completely illogical. That said, I understand why Seattle did it. It has been difficult to get free agents to come to Seattle, and Cano was a statement signing when it happened, a note to current and future free agents that they were ready to play with the big boys. Unfortunately, they didn't do much of anything else, still ended up short of an increased payroll that they promised, and couldn't convince Nelson Cruz (or perhaps others) to join Cano in Seattle. Until the team starts consistently contending, it's going to be an uphill battle to get free agents here.
2. Speaking of Cano, he is off to a slow start by his lofty standards, but still leads the team with a [.790] OPS. Are you concerned about him at all? Who else needs to step up offensively?
Everyone is just waiting for Cano's power to show up, but now a third of the way through the season, it hasn't popped up. Both his home runs have come in Texas, and the second one could have been caught at the wall. Cano has always been a hitter who goes on completely dialed hitting rampages, so maybe the next one will contain some power, but there's definitely some warning signs. His ground ball rate has increased a significant amount, and his fly ball rate is at a career low. He's also carrying an inflated .361 BABIP, so with that profile, things might actually get worse before they get better, if he doesn't start driving the ball. Still, he has been so good for so long that it still seems premature to get more than a little concerned at this point. As far as who else needs to step up, it's everyone. This offense is terrible, and Kyle Seager is really the only other hitter getting the job done consistently. The shortstop hole is the biggest problem, as Brad Miller's complete collapse was entirely unforeseen, and Nick Franklin has struggled mightily in his time at the big league level this year. They may turn to prospect Chris Taylor, and were about to a few weeks ago until Taylor suffered a hand injury. He won't be back for weeks, so the Mariners have to just pray Miller stops trying to yank everything into right field.
3. Thankfully, the Tigers will miss Felix Hernandez this weekend. However, I still want to talk about him because he's incredible. He currently leads the majors in fWAR and is second in FIP. Has he changed anything this season to get even better, or is this just a particularly dominant stretch for King Felix?
The scary thing is, Felix is doing this while going through a stretch where he got a particularly nasty strain of the flu. He came out really flat several starts in a row, even managing to not strike a single batter out in one appearance. Felix is incredible. He's constantly morphing as his stuff changes, and former LL head honcho Jeff Sullivan wrote a great article this week about how Felix is choosing to use his off-speed stuff less as a knockout pitch, relying more on his fastball, even though it's decreased in velocity over the years. He's always learning how to get batters out in new ways, and he's an absolute joy to watch.
4. While they miss Hernandez, the Tigers will see Hisashi Iwakuma tonight. He missed the start of the season with an injury, but seems to be back on track through his first five starts. Can he repeat his amazing 2013 season? What made him so successful last year?
Iwakuma is a joy to watch himself, but for entirely different reasons. He isn't an emotional, overpowering pitcher like Felix, but his splitter is devastating and his command sets him apart. Batters just can't square up Iwakuma, and at this point, the sample of his MLB career has grown to the point where people should start treating him like a legit ace. His ERA over the past calendar year is lower than Felix's. He's just so consistent, and while he'll likely see some regression from last year, I don't see any reason why he can't post another ERA right at 3 or a little below it. As long as he has that splitter, he's going to be a very good pitcher for as long as he stays healthy.
5. Roenis Elias will start Sunday for the Mariners, and I'm willing to bet 90% of our readers have never heard his name. What can we expect from him? Is he a placeholder until Taijuan Walker is healthy and ready to contribute, or does he have a future with the Mariners?
I'm willing to bet 90% of Mariner fans didn't know his name before the year started either. Elias is an older prospect who made the leap directly from Double-A Jackson, where broadcaster Chris Harris raved about him last year. He's not a flamethrower, but he does have a nasty curve that dominates in stretches. It's all about command for Elias, especially in and around the strike zone. He has gone through some rough patches as of late, and a lot of that is due to him just leaving pitchers over the middle of the plate. With both Walker and Paxton having uncertain return timelines, Brandon Maurer will be the guy to get bumped from the rotation first, and then it might be Elias after that, but I'm not so sure. He seems like he has the makings of a solid 4/5 pitcher going forward, and I don't know if the Mariners will just stick Walker in the rotation like they would Paxton.
6. Earlier this month, the Red Sox signed Stephen Drew to a one year deal when it was clear that they were not going to get a compensatory draft pick after he declined a qualifying offer. Do you see the Mariners trying to work out a similar pro-rated deal for Kendrys Morales, or is the Drew situation unique because of Boston's injury problems?
I think if it was going to get done, it probably would have gotten done already. With the draft so close, anybody can offer Morales a contract without penalty soon, so what's another few weeks? Meanwhile, the Mariners have a huge black hole at DH, losing Corey Hart and Logan Morrison to injury, and the minors are devoid of anybody that can help. It's just about this ownership being cheap. While it didn't seem like Morales would be a fit when they signed Hart, Justin Smoak has been a disappointment yet again (really, can we call him that anymore? He is what he is.) and they just saved a ton of money by losing Hart. Hart had millions of dollars in incentives attached to plate appearances, and now it seems like he could be out past the All-Star break. The Mariners can afford Morales if they want him, but it's hardly the first time they've balked at spending money to make the team better. It does seem pretty unlikely that Morales is going to be the piece that makes or breaks the Mariners into the playoffs, though.
7. Our shortstops can't hit a lick, but it seems that you are having similar issues with Brad Miller and Nick Franklin. Who is more likely to keep the job going forward, and do you expect the Mariners to deal the other one?
I think the answer here is actually Chris Taylor, who was tearing it up in Triple A (along with Franklin) before he hurt a finger. Miller is completely lost at the plate and in the field, making ridiculous errors on routine plays. He's flying wide open on everything, trying to pull every single pitch, even if it's a foot outside. He has surprising power, but most of it came on balls that pitchers left in last year and in spring training, and he might have fallen in love with it. The same thing has happened to Nick Franklin, who has his own set of issues with plate mechanics. The Mariners don't seem convinced Franklin can play shortstop every day, but Miller isn't exactly running away with the job. Taylor isn't on the 40-man roster and that's what caused his delayed arrival, plus he has only been in Triple A for a short period of time. The Mariners aren't shy about rushing prospects though, and I do expect Taylor to get the job sometime in June or July if this doesn't improve.
8. How exhilarating is the Rodneycoaster? Sure makes ninth inning baseball fun, huh?
I like to think Rodney just aims at the catcher's torso, and wherever it ends up is good enough. He rarely hits his spots, but he's just so incredibly dirty that it usually doesn't matter. When he's dialed in, it's a blast to watch. When he isn't, it's maddening. He's very hard to hit though -- a blown save earlier this month had the first home run he had allowed in a year. A year! Rodney can seem like he's a lot worse than he actually is.
Once again, a big thank you to Scott for taking the time to answer a last second e-mail and answer our long-winded questions. You can read my responses to his questions here. Be sure to check out Lookout Landing for your Mariners needs all season long!