When Brad Miller was in the middle of his absurdly long slump, I was looking for anything that indicated that change might be right around the corner. I found myself getting encouraged by hard line-outs on 3-2 pitches, or even any deep count that didn’t end in a strikeout. Any moment could be the moment he remembered that he was supposed to be pretty decent at hitting a baseball, and then do so for an extended period of time.
The final time I thought “this might be the turning point” came on May 27. Miller went 0-2 with two walks in that game. that performance raised his awful .473 OPS to a nearly-equally awful .476. I just didn’t want to believe that Miller could possibly be as bad as he had been to that point. This was a guy who had destroyed every level of the minors, was an above-average hitter while playing decent shortstop in the minors, and most importantly, a guy whose name differs from my own by just two letters. He just had to be good.
Justin Smoak has now amassed 2,183 career plate appearances. That’s kind of a lot. So at this point, we should have an idea of what Justin Smoak is as a hitter. At 27-years-old, Smoak is entering his athletic prime and the years that a hitter generally peaks. Things started decently for Smoak in 2014, and it looked like he might finally become something other than a black hole in the lineup. After a not-horrible 2013 in which Smoak hit .238/.334/.412, it would have been easy to see Smoak’s solid start–he was hitting .246/.307/.442 as recently as May 12th–as a sign that he was taking the next step. Sure, the walks weren’t there yet, but that was the one aspect of Smoak’s offensive game that he has always been pretty good at. It would make sense that he’d begin to start taking more walks, which he has done: In the 88 plate appearances since his solid start, Smoak has taken 10 walks in 88 plate appearances, an 11.4% rate. The problem, unfortunately, is everything else.
The Mariners have been treading water the past couple weeks, largely because of surprisingly decent pitching. The club’s problem, for what is probably the seventy-eighth consecutive season, is the offense. The Mariners have a .234/.299/.365 batting line right now, which gives them the third lowest OPS in baseball. Remove the black holes of Brad Miller and what Abraham Almonte did before being sent to Tacoma, and they’re still hitting just .246/.308/.382 against the American League average of .253/.322/.395. Even after removing their two worst bats this year, the Mariners have still been a slightly below average offensive team. Lots of voices are calling for the Mariners to sign Kendrys Morales to help with their offensive woes, but I think the boost the Mariners are looking for could come from Tacoma’s non-prospect, on-base machine, Ty Kelly.
If you watched last night’s Mariner game, a 3-2 loss to the Oakland A’s in 12 innings, you likely noticed that home plate umpire Sean Barber was really, really bad. This was his first major league game behind the dish calling balls and strikes–he is a replacement umpire filling in for Tim McClelland, who is going to miss the 2014 season with a back injury. So, like it or not, Barber is probably here to stay, at least for the 2014 season. Still, if this is a “tweener” AAA/MLB umpire, I’d hate to see the guys that aren’t on the short list to get major league work.
Hear me out…
Thierry is one of the most prolific goal scorers of our generation, and of all time. Now I am not comparing the quality of Thierry
Henry to Lamar Neagle, in no offense to Lamar because I doubt Henry is any good at FIFA and Lamar is the champ. I’m talking about the role that Lamar can play for this team.
With nine official goals last year in all competitions while splitting time between wide midfielder and striker, Lamar became a quality finisher and valued strike partner to Obafemi Martins. Neagle averaged a goal every two games when playing as a striker and has real chemistry with a lot of his teammates. His best piece of quality is running at defenders with the option to cut inside and either shoot or play the ball off to a teammate and continue his run.
Lamar is selected to spend most of his time on the left side of the formation, and should be given the freedom to bound forward and combine with Oba and others. Lamar is very good in the air, and is very strong when thumping around with center backs. I think Lamar is an underrated passer in the final third, and has that creative side to him which you don’t really see with other players in the league.
Henry spent significant amounts of time on the left hand side of the formation for both Arsenal and FC Barcelona, while creating and finishing some of the most outstanding goals I have ever seen. Remember that loan spell in 2012 back with Arsenal in the F.A. Cup against Leeds? Classic Henry.
I truly believe Lamar has something in his play that is starting to slowly show to be something special. Whether it be a clutch goal at the right time, or a string of great performances, there will be a moment where Lamar will be celebrating with his Washington born teammate DeAndre Yedlin, while Sounders supporters and fans go crazy. Lets hope Lamar continues with consistent playing time, and wait for THAT moment.
Perhaps the best episode of West Coast Bias to date, I was able to land perhaps the best slew of guests in the show’s short history. First up is 710 ESPN Seattle’s Tom Wassell talking Seahawks and Mariners with me. Then, I managed to get a few minutes of Seattle Times Reporter Geoff Baker’s time to get a more inside perspective on the M’s. Geoff is followed by fellow West Coast Bias blogger Jordon Grangruth talking about the Sounders’ hot start. Other topics are Kyle Seager’s 2014 projection, and WSU Baseball. Listen below!
Late last night, it appeared that the best defensive lineman from the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks was headed to Chicago to play football with his brother. It makes sense–after all, they were presumably one of two teams offering more money, and as you may remember, Bennett famously said that there were no home-town discounts because “This isn’t Costco.”
Well, apparently it is Costco, because Bennett inked a four-year, $28.5 million deal with the Seahawks today, with $16 million in guarantees. That’s significantly less than Vikings DE Everson Griffen’s recent five-year, $42.5 million deal with $20 million in guarantees. Bennett is three years older than Griffen, but his production is also significantly greater.
It’s odd to see Bennett receive nearly $1.5 million less per season than Griffen, given what Bennett did last season. He may have had just 8.5 sacks, a respectable-but-not-outstanding total, but that is more impressive when considering that Bennett played just 57% of the snaps on defense. Bennett wasn’t even technically a starter in 2013. Now, he’ll probably start at the 5-technique DE spot that Red Bryant occupied last year.
The run defense will likely suffer because of this, but Bennett may have been the second-best run defender at the end position to Bryant last season, so it’s not a huge drop-off. Bennett’s ability as a pass rusher should more than make up for any losses in run defense. In nickel situations, expect to see him slide inside to DT, where he’s even more disruptive. He generates interior pass rush, which is much rarer than outside pass rush. His versatility gives the Seahawks lots of flexibility–he’ll put pressure on opposing quarterbacks no matter where he lines up. This allows the Seahawks to use situational run-stuffers when Bennett is on the outside, and pure speed rushers when Bennett is shifted inside.
Multiple reports say that Bennett’s deal will count $4m against the salary cap in 2014. The Seahawks had roughly $14m in cap space available before signing Bennett, so this leaves them about $10m to re-sign Golden Tate and extend Earl Thomas. It’s possible that the release of Chris Clemons will follow Bennett’s re-signing. Cutting Clemons will save the Seahawks $7.5 million in cap space, and now that Bennett is in the fold, Clemons is expendable.
Michael Bennett was probably the Seahawks’ #1 priority this off-season. Extending Thomas is more important, but before those negotiations could begin, the Seahawks had to know where that money would be coming from. With Bennett back in the fold, the Seahawks are probably going to have to get creative if they want to bring back Tate and fit an extension for Thomas into the budget. The Seahawks have retained their most disruptive defensive lineman. With Bennett taken care of, the other dominoes should start to fall soon, perhaps as soon as the start of the unrestricted free agent period that begins tomorrow at 1 p.m.