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Series Preview: five questions with Lookout Landing

Chicago White Sox v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

As the season continues, we continue chatting with our sister sites about the Twins’ upcoming opponents. With the Seattle Mariners in town for the home opener, that means Lookout Landing is on deck, and stepping up to represent them is Matthew Roberson, who you can also find at FanGraphs—so you know he’s a smart baseball dude. Thanks again for answering, Matthew, and as always, my answers to his questions will be eventually linked in this space.

1. For those of us who didn’t pay a lot of attention to non-divisional teams this winter, can you catch us up real quick on the big moves the Mariners made? Who do you think was a good signing, and/or who was a bad signing?

Calling any of the Mariners’ offseason moves “big’’ is a bit of a stretch, but Jerry Dipoto still Jerry Dipoto’d, even if it was a bit tame. The move that got fans most excited was undoubtedly the James Paxton reunion. Paxton is back with the Mariners on a one-year, $8.5 million deal. Minnesota fans may remember Paxton from Game 1 of the 2019 ALDS, when he struck out eight Twins in 4.2 innings, but Mariner fans will always remember him for being one of our guys.

You have to understand, it is very rare for a player to actually embrace the Seattle Mariners franchise. When you think about it logically, this makes sense. The Mariners are historically bad, physically distant from the rest of the league, and almost never a free agent destination. Part of the reason Paxton genuinely loves it here has to be because of his Pacific Northwest roots. While those roots are in Canada, his native Ladner, British Columbia is actually closer to Seattle than Portland is. Spiritually, the Blue Jays are probably his hometown team, but regionally, the M’s are his home.

I think Paxton was a good signing. The team needed a starting pitcher, and I think fans were ready for an established veteran rather than another 23-year-old project. The signing also seemed like the front office acknowledging that the fans needed something to cheer for, which I have no problem with. It’s not like they went out and got Jamie Moyer again. Paxton can still pitch. Naturally, he got injured in his first start of the season, leaving Tuesday night’s game with “elbow discomfort” in his throwing arm. Doctors say rooting for the Seattle Mariners is one of the dumbest things a person can do.

I’m not sure the Mariners really made any bad signings this winter. The main problem was that they didn’t do more. There was a lot of chatter about Kolten Wong, who would have fit perfectly at second base and the top of the lineup, but instead the Mariners ended up with relievers Keynan Middleton, Rafael Montero, and Will Vest. It’s too early for me to make any decisive calls on those guys, but I imagine you’ll see all of them in this upcoming series. Middleton and his blue dreadlocks were last seen giving up a mammoth grand slam to José Abreu. Montero blew a save in the first game of the year, allowing the first batter he ever faced as a Mariner to hit a game-tying home run. Vest has looked good, though.

Chris Flexen is kind of interesting too. The Mariners signed him out of Korea, and he spun five scoreless innings in his first start. You can learn more about Flexen in this article by our staff writer Michael Ajeto.

2. I’m sure you guys are sick of talking about it, but what has been the fallout of the comments made by Kevin Mather? Do you think that will have a long-term impact on your organization, or is it something the players will move on from?

I have no idea what you’re talking about.

No, in all seriousness, it was a dark day for a franchise that doesn’t need any more dark days. Everyone with connections to the organization kept echoing the same thing: they were surprised that Mather didn’t embarrass the organization sooner. Apparently he had a reputation for freely sharing his thoughts, even when it was clear as day that he should shut up. Things became easier to stomach when Mather resigned, for sure, but the main thing that eased my own personal ills was that the players let it roll off their backs.

Marco Gonzales said something to the effect of Mather’s comments being unifying, and mentioned that a common enemy is sometimes exactly what a team needs. The fallout is already over, in my opinion, which was basically just the Mariners getting windmill dunked on for a few days.

Listen, it was no fun as a fan, and it certainly wasn’t any fun to cover as a writer. But as soon as the regular season began, I wasn’t thinking about Kevin Mather anymore. Not to keep plugging Lookout Landing stuff, but if you want more of an idea of what the fanbase was thinking when the news actually broke, you can listen to our podcast with Ryan Divish. It’s over two hours of us talking to Ryan (who has covered the Mariners at the Seattle Times since the mid-2000s) about the greater issues surrounding the club, both caused by Mather and beyond.

3. Relatedly, no Jarred Kelenic for opening day seemed a little bold. Was that just a service time move, or were there other issues? When do you think he comes up, and what impact do you think he has?

The consensus around Kelenic is basically that he’s too big to fail, both literally and figuratively. The kid has never met a bicep curl he didn’t like, and it doesn’t seem crazy to say he was probably one of the ten most polished hitters at Mariners Spring Training. It’s easy to infer that him not making the roster was a service time thing, mainly because Kevin Mather said so himself, but we also have to remember that Kelenic is just 21 years old and has made 751 plate appearances in the minors, only 92 of which have been above High-A. He’s going to be really good, Mariner fans think he will be really good, and most importantly, Jarred Kelenic knows he’s going to be really good. We just have to be patient.

My guess is we see him around mid-May. Rookie of the Year doesn’t seem out of the question, especially because I imagine he’ll get a decent amount of playing time, but there will definitely be a learning curve for someone this infantile. For Twins fans wondering what type of player he is, Steve Finley and Jim Edmonds comparisons get thrown around a lot, though his actual swing reminds me more of Mark Teixeira.

4. Ichiro, guys. That’s the whole question. Not really, though. My predecessor at this site was a huge Ichiro fan, as are most people who love baseball, so we’ve paid special attention to him for years. What is your perspective on his retirement and his legacy as a Mariner and a baseball player in general?

If anyone – particularly a Mariner fan – ever said anything negative about Ichiro, I would see to it that they lived a life full of anguish.

The Mariners have kind of had this weird thing ever since Griffey left, where their superstar hitters were sort of aloof and mysterious. Ichiro was the best example of this, but Edgar Martinez was that way as well, and even Robinson Canó sort of avoided the spotlight while he was here. Again, part of that may be because he never truly wanted to play in Seattle, but that’s a whole other conversation. You’re seeing now how great Nelson Cruz’s personality is. He’s sort of the opposite of Ichiro, in that Nellie is very expressive and warm, while Ichiro was famously stoic and cold, at least in front of the cameras.

Ichiro is absolutely on the Mount Rushmore of Mariners. His legacy should be very simple and plain: he is one of the best hitters to ever pick up a bat. Nowadays, he’s still pretty involved in the organization. He was all over Spring Training, often throwing batting practice and sitting in the dugout for nearly every game. There was one day on the back fields where he and Mike Cameron (also an advisor or something for the team) even stepped into the box for live at-bats.

The last thing I’ll say about Ichiro is this. His Hall of Fame speech will be the funniest anyone has ever made.

5. What can we expect from the Mariners in this series? Anything we should know about the probable pitchers? Any good storylines we should follow?

You should know that the Mariners are not a very good team. At present, they probably have about 2.5 actual good hitters in the lineup, as Kyle Lewis still has not played due to a bone bruise on his surgically-repaired knee. I fully expect the Twins to win the first two games on the backs of José Berríos and Mariner legend Michael Pineda, and I’ll call Sunday’s game a toss-up since Matt Shoemaker doesn’t really scare me.

The Mariners are, at least, throwing their most interesting starters. Marco Gonzales will get the first game, and he’s secretly been one of the best pitchers in the American League for a few years now, to the point that the underrated narrative is becoming very tired. At some point you have to acknowledge that if a guy has been “underrated” for three years, he’s actually just regular good. Expect a lot of cutters under the hands and curveballs on the outside corner to the Twins’ right-handed boppers.

Yusei Kikuchi is scheduled to follow him on Saturday. Kikuchi is the biggest free agent acquisition of the Dipoto era, and he’s been very ehhh in his time in Seattle, which is just a nice way of saying disappointing. This is an enormous season for the Japanese hurler, as the Mariners have a team option on him after the year. That option is worth $66 million over four years, which frankly Kikuchi has done nothing to deserve. He needs to pitch his butt off to convince any team, let alone the rebuilding Mariners, to shell out that much cash. Then you get Flexen on Sunday, who I mentioned spent last year in the KBO. His first start was against the Giants, so this will be his first true challenge. My favorite thing about Flexen so far is that he wears #77.

6. Anything else you want to tell Twins fans?

Yes, I’m rooting for the White Sox to win the division, but I also hope y’all can finally get a playoff win. Your drought is a horse of a different color, but as someone who has their own strained relationship with the playoffs, I know how much this stuff sucks. That, and please don’t let anything bad happen to Byron Buxton. Those are my parting thoughts.