Kate Preusser is managing editor across the AL West pond over at Lookout Landing, where she writes about the Seattle Mariners. You can also find her work at Fangraphs, where she is resident for the month of March (here, here, and here) as well as on The Hardball Times. You can follow her on Twitter @1nceagain2zelda.
RS: What is it about the Seattle Mariners that seem to produce such a godly amount of baseball writing talent? (Dave Cameron, Jeff Sullivan, and now YOU!) Would you be in favor of replicating the franchise so there can be more Kates?
KP: Ah, buttering me up before you ask me about the Adam Jones trade, I see how it is. The Mariners are certainly overrepresented in national baseball writing--that list didn't even include Meg Rowley and Patrick Dubuque, among others. My theory is the team has been so miserable for so long that it's wrung some great writing out of its fanbase.
RS: Despite the despair, the Mariners have had some amazing players over the years. Who was/is your favorite one and why?
KP: Edgar Martinez is my alpha and omega with baseball. I became a passionate fan largely because of him--I admired him so much as a person, and as a player who was quietly spectacular among the highlight reel of playing with Griffey and Randy and all them. I think my life goal is to be quietly spectacular. When Edgar retired, I drifted away from baseball when I moved to the east coast, and I returned to Seattle just in time for him to become the new hitting coach, so we've had a very parallel journey, he and I.
RS: Given the M's are on the west coast, I'm sure you have a few players that don't get enough love. Who's the most underrated one?
KP: Thanks to the WBC, people are finding out about Edwin Díaz, but the 'pen has a few other power arms that deserve notice. Dan Altavilla is an unheralded kid out of Mercyhurst College who also made the jump from AA late last season, and Tony Zych has had some injury problems, but he's also a guy who can rush the ball up there. Both of them work in the high 90s with their fastballs and possess a wipeout slider. For starters, Andrew Moore, an Oregon State prospect, has drawn rave reviews from the pitching staff for his baseball IQ and ability to attack the zone, although prospect lists don't love him because he's...short? I guess? I wouldn't be surprised at all if he's up in Seattle this year, though.
But really, the answer to this question is Kyle Seager, because Kyle Seager is never given the credit he deserves, thanks to being on the west coast and playing a stacked position and his dumb brother. As much as people talk about him, it could--and should--be more. He's the Edgar Martinez of this Mariners team.
RS: In 2015, then-Angels GM Jerry Dipoto resigned to power struggles with Mike Scioscia. The latter proceeded to bungle the 2015 season while the former proceeded to accept a GM job with the division-rival Mariners. How does Dipoto compare to his predecessor, Jack Z? What is your assessment of Dipoto's tenure thus far?
KP: I wrote on this last week, but the impact Dipoto has had on the organizational culture is unprecedented. From all we've heard post-mortem about Jack Z, he made himself seem like an analytics expert only to later chase his white whale of right-handed power hitters while simultaneously shifting blame down the organizational chain when the team failed. So far, Dipoto has showed a transparency that was never a hallmark of the Jack Z era--he says what he's going to do, and he goes out and does it. It remains to be seen if Dipoto's vision will bear fruit, but there's at least a clearly articulated plan that covers everything from minor-league development to trade acquisitions. The process is good; hopefully the product will be, as well.
RS: With thirty-five offseason trades as of January 16, is Jerry Dipoto secretly Chris Traeger from Parks & Recreation? He was always wheeling and dealing when he was with us but this is a whole new level, even for him...
KP: Jerry and Chris share not just good looks but also a certain laser-like intensity, a mad gleam in their eyes when they get going. I wonder if Jerry ever stares at his reflection in the mirror and commands himself to STOP. TRADING. Nah, he probably doesn't. The thing is, Dipoto inherited a roster that was old and slow and a farm system full of fringey prospects, so he's spent some time rebuilding not only the club at the MLB level, but also the upper minors. Whereas last year was really focused on turning over the big club's roster, this year he's been working to build AAA depth so we don't get things like Joe Wieland starting games during a playoff race.
RS: Out of all his offseason trades, which do you feel is the best one?
KP: I think the blockbuster is the best one, the Segura/Haniger/Curtis for Walker/Marte. Segura is going to be a huge upgrade at a position that was an offensive black hole for the Mariners, and Haniger looks like a legit MLB hitter from what I've seen of him in spring training. It's a little hard to watch Walker striking out the world in spring training, but that's also sort of his MO. My favorite lowkey off-season move is a tie between picking up Chris Heston from the Giants for a PTBNL and flipping former top prospect Alex Jackson for pitchers Rob Whalen and Max Povse. Povse, a 6'8" righty, has looked really good this spring, throwing strikes and commanding the zone. Wait but I really like the Drew Smyly trade, too; he was my dream off-season target. There are too many to choose from!
RS: This might overlap with a previous question, but the narrative is that Dipoto is mortgaging the farm to win now, the same strategy he used during his early Angels tenure. Is this accurate and does it make sense for where the team's roster is at this point?
KP: I don't think that's accurate at all. It could be argued Jerry is mortgaging the lowest levels of the farm in order to acquire higher-minors prospects, but the fact that the Mariners retooled their roster as significantly as they did without giving up top prospects like Kyle Lewis, Tyler O'Neill, or Andrew Moore is a testament to his trade savvy. I know a lot of people regard trading Luiz Gohara as a mistake, but I've heard rumblings the team wasn't happy with his level of conditioning or work ethic. The same applies for Alex Jackson and Taijuan Walker — it's no coincidence that they're all not Mariners anymore.
RS: What's the biggest strength of this Mariners team?
KP: The leadership. Whether it's Dipoto, Servais, or Cruz and Canó in the clubhouse, there's a clear chain of communication and consistent messaging. Guys know what their role is and what they need to do to help the team win, and they're having fun with each other. The clubhouse is full of great personalities, too--Jarrod Dyson is a character, Leonys Martín is getting followed around by mariachi bands, Cruz and Canó are best friendship goals. If nothing else, I think the 2017 Mariners are poised to be one of the most entertaining teams in baseball.
RS: What's the biggest weakness of this Mariners team?
KP: The starting pitching. It's such a razor thin margin for success for Iwakuma, we're all still quietly panicking about Félix, and Yovani Gallardo is...well, he's Yovani Gallardo. Dipoto has built a ton of depth behind these guys, but depth is depth for a reason.
RS: The big kahuna: Will the M's end the longest playoff drought this year? What will their record be?
KP: The Mariners play in the stupid AL West, where the stupid Astros also play, as do the stupid stupid Rangers, so I'm not comfortable saying they will surely make the playoffs, unfortunately. I think this is an 88-win team, barring major injury. Will that be enough? Who knows.
RS: This one's not really a question, but how do I board this Mitch Haniger hype train? Asking for a friend (jk, I like riding trains. Trains are 100% coolio beans).
KP: (we actually have our graphics guy working on a Haniger hype train gif right now. I will send it over to you when it's done)
Update: It’s here!
You guys @TeeMil24 did it again (sorry it's a hair late for your birthday @JohnTrupin) pic.twitter.com/zjTUYAFOm1— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) March 27, 2017
Much thanks to Kate for being willing to do this and educating us on the Mariners and perhaps more importantly, the Mitch Haniger hype train.