Hey, we know him
Will Paxton and company doom the Yankees?
October 2, 2019
Now that the Wild Card slots are filled with the conclusion of the WC play-in games—good one in DC, dull one in Oakland—the playoffs can begin in earnest. As we tune in for the four League Division Series starting tomorrow, we may not know a lot about the teams playing; after all, we don't see those squads very often, a lot of their players are unknown quantities unless we're super-diehard baseball consumers. But some will be familiar because they used to be Mariners.
Back in the '80s, political columnist and Chicago Cubs fan Mike Royko postulated a surefire method of predicting the winner in any postseason matchup: the team with the fewest former Cubs on it would win. The stank of Cubness would tip the scales and doom the team with the most of it. Basing his thinking on the writing of another Chicago writer, Ron Berler, Royko maintained that no ex-Cubs is best, one is dicey, two is dangerous, and "when there are three [ex-Cubs], this horrible virus comes together and multiplies and becomes so powerful it makes the other players weak, nearsighted, addle-brained, slow-footed, and lacking in hand-eye coordination." He backed this up with the evidence of the time and more often than not it bore out.
Well, the Cubs are good these days and it's the Mariners that hold the distinction of being the most woeful franchise in Major League Baseball (18 years and counting since making the playoffs!). So, adapting Royko's theorem, who among the remaining teams has the most ex-Mariners, and will that doom them? See what you think.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS: The National League West champs still have 2017 and 2018 postseason hero Chris Taylor, who has become a super-utility type and logged innings at six positions this year (mostly shortstop and left field), isn't the everyday guy he was last year but still plays a lot. He last wore a Seattle uniform in 2016. In addition, LA has ex-Mariners Kristopher Negrón and Zac Rosscup, but neither of them will make the postseason roster.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS: The Wild Card Nats have plenty of players acquired from other teams, so, sure, they have a couple ex-Mariners. Reliever Fernando Rodney shot his phantom arrows into the sky after saving games for Seattle in 2014-2015 and bounced around a bit since; he signed with Washington in mid-season and threw a long-playing 331⁄3 (kids, ask your parents) decent innings for the Nats this season. Sitting with Rodney in the Washington bullpen is Hunter Strickland, who opened this season with the Mariners and almost immediately went on the injured list. The M's traded Strickland and fellow reliever Roenis Elías (who himself is now injured) to the Nats in July for three prospects, including current M Taylor Guilbeau.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: Technically, the only ex-Mariner on St. Louis' roster is reliever Dominic Leone. Leone didn't have a great year in 2019, but we may see him take the ball anyway. The M's traded Leone away in one of the most head-scratching deals in their history, packaging him with catcher Welington Castillo and two minor leaguers to the Diamondbacks for defensive liability Mark Trumbo and unremarkable reliever Vidal Nuño in 2015. The Cardinals also have outfielder Tyler O'Neill, who never suited up for Seattle but is an ex-Mariner farmhand, drafted by Seattle in 2013 and traded to St. Louis for Marco Gonzales in 2017. It was a great trade for the M's.
ATLANTA BRAVES: The only ex-Mariner among the NL East champions is reliever Anthony Swarzak, who pitched for Seattle this season after coming over from the Mets in the big Canó/Díaz trade. The M's unloaded him in May in a forgettable trade that was basically a giveaway and he handled 392⁄3 middling innings for Atlanta over the last four months of the season.
NEW YORK YANKEES: Five ex-Mariners could see playoff action as Yankees this year, none bigger than Big Maple himself, James Paxton. Traded away last fall for Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, and Dom Thompson-Williams, the 30-year-old Canadian southpaw will start Game 1 for New York against the Twins. Though he didn't perform like the Big Maple we know early in the year, he turned things around in the second half and went undefeated in August and September, 10-0 with a 2.51 ERA in 11 starts. Fellow pitchers J.A. Happ and Cory Gearrin are also ex-M's, Happ back in 2015 and Gearrin this year. Then there's outfielder Cameron Maybin, who spent a couple months as a Mariner in 2018 and caught on with the Yankees after both San Francisco and Cleveland cut him at the beginning of this season. And finally, DH/1B Edwin Encarnación, who played with Seattle in the first half of this year and was the AL leader in home runs when he was traded to the Yankees in June. Sine the trade, Double-E has spent a fair chunk of time on the injured list and is currently nursing a strained oblique, so his presence on the Division Series roster is yet to be determined.
MINNESOTA TWINS: You know him, you love him, he has more homers over the last four years than anyone, he's Nelson Cruz. Cruz left Seattle as a free agent after last season and put together a monster year in Minneapolis: a line of .311/.392/.639, 41 home runs, and 108 RBI despite missing some time with injury. He led the Twins in nearly everything (one RBI behind Eddie Rosario). Fellow ex-Mariner Michael Pineda is with the Twins, but he's suspended for PEDs. Also, ex-Seattle farmhand Zack Littel cracked the big leagues after winding up in the Twins' system in 2017 and had a fine rookie season this year in middle relief (6-0, 2.68 ERA in 37 innings).
TAMPA BAY RAYS: As one of Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto's favorite trading partners, the Rays have a lot of familiar faces. Catcher Mike Zunino lost his everyday job earlier this season but should still see some action in the ALDS; he had the kind of year you'd expect from Mike Zunino, batting under .200 and striking out over a third of the time but brilliant behind the plate. Outfielder Guillermo Heredia was left off the roster for the Wild Card game, but will likely be added for the ALDS; Heredia continued being the light-hitting, decent-fielding fifth outfielder type he was with the Mariners as a Ray. Closer Emilo Pagán has been terrific for Tampa Bay, notching 20 saves since taking over the ninth-inning duties; Pagán was the outgoing piece of one of Dipoto's worst deals, traded straight up for 1B/3B Ryon Healy. Zunino and Heredia were dealt away after last year for Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley. (Former Mariner minor-leaguers Andrew Kitteridge, Ji-man Choi, and Ryan Yarbrough are also Rays.)
HOUSTON ASTROS: The AL West juggernaut has but one former Mariner, starting pitcher Wade Miley. Miley pitched for Seattle in 2016, going 7-8 with a near-5.00 ERA, but this year with Houston has been solid at 14-6, 3.98. Other than him, there's just Michael Brantley, whose dad was a Mariner from 1986-1989, but let's not blame the son for the sins of the father.
So, by the Adapted Royko Theorem, the World Series will be between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves, each with not even one full season's worth of ex-Mariner cooties. And it doesn't look good for the Rays and Yankees to even advance past the LDS.
We'll see how it plays out.