The happiest Mariners employee Sunday afternoon was Daniel Vogelbach. The most gratified employee had to be general manager Jerry Dipoto, who had taken three years of grief for acquiring Vogelbach at the cost of Mike Montgomery, a versatile starter/reliever who helped the Chicago Cubs win the 2016 World Series.
The midseason swap was puzzling, because the Mariners at the time were short on pitching and didn’t need a first baseman/DH with a beer-keg body who couldn’t play defense.
Dipoto was resolute.
“He rakes,” Dipoto told the Seattle Times. “He rakes everywhere he’s ever been. He’s an elite strike-zone controller with well above-average power. He has absolutely tormented right-hand pitching, especially this year.”
He raked everywhere, it seemed, except the majors.
In eight MLB games in 2016, 16 in 2017 and 37 in 2018, Vogelbach was a Mendoza Line warrior (.197 with four home runs), a guy who fit the classic 4A profile of minor league dominance and major league diminishment.
Then Sunday, he became, at 26, an American League All-Star.
A year after he was sent down to AAA Tacoma five times.
Cue the Gloria Gaynor chorus of I Will Survive.
“Being an All-Star was never really something in the back of my mind in those times,” Vogelbach told reporters Sunday in Houston, where the Astros completed a three-game sweep of the Mariners with a 6-1 win. “Just trying to get an opportunity to play was No. 1. I want to prove (the Mariners) right for giving me the opportunity.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet. I don’t think it will until you are there.”
Since the rules of the All-Star Game — this year July 9 in Cleveland (4:30 p.m., FOX) — mandate that each club be represented, the Mariners, in their teardown year absent Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, Edwin Diaz and James Paxton, had to have somebody. Dipoto was not allowed to trade away the automatic berth for a reliever with a 6.00 ERA.
That doesn’t mean that Vogelbach was merely a token.
In 51 games as DH and 28 games as 1B/PH base or pinch hitter, the six-foot, 250-pounder leads all designated hitters as of Sunday in on-base percentage (.384) and OPS (.919) after hitting 20 home runs and drawing 56 walks, the latter also most among DHs.
Vogelbach is one of three Mariners 26 and under to hit 20 home runs before the All-Star break, joining Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. To put the those three in the same sentence stretches the limits of the sports imagination.
While it’s well underst0od that learning how to hit major league pitching comes soon for few and later for most — Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez being the poster child, delayed until 27 for a full-time job — the impatience among media and fans for instant gratification, especially for players added at midseason, is relentless.
“It just really makes you realize you just have to keep pushing,” Vogelbach said. “There were a lot of questions last year about whether I’d ever get an opportunity. I just tried to stay as positive as I can and just continue to perform at whatever level I’m at.”
After shedding Cruz and Cano, and this year Edwin Encarcacion and Jay Bruce, coupled with an injury to Ryon Healy, the Mariners had no reason not to give Vogelbach the plate appearances to get down his timing and upgrade his knowledge of pitchers.
He’s still well below average as a fielder, but the Mariners will have others for that. Dipoto gets a gold star for patience.
“The left-handed offense that Dan Vogelbach brings at some point in 2016 and then for the years beyond was really too appealing to pass up,” Dipoto said after the trade. “There’s no specific ETA for his arrival here. But we just feel like the long-term value he brings us, he’s ready to play in the big leagues today. Whether he fits on our roster today is a different matter. But what he brings us long term is too good to walk away from.”
Meanwhile, Montgomery is still a reliever with the Cubs, having given up 16 earned runs in 23.2 innings this season with a 1.9 WHIP. Chicago GM Theo Epstein was asked during the Cubs’ visit to Seattle in May if he had tried the Vogey Hoagy, the new sandwich at T-ball Park.
“No,” Epstein said. “I’ve got the Monty World Series ring.”
The thunderdunk on Dipoto resonated around baseball. Dipto still has to wear it, but the final words are yet to be uttered.