Mariners Tidbit 13: Endy Chavez Go Bye Bye

In a surprising turn of events, the Mariners won’t be graced with a third straight year of Endy Chavez starting the season in Tacoma, followed by him getting called back up in time for the month of May.  Instead, he decided to opt out right now, to try to catch onto a bench elsewhere.

On the one hand, yeah, this is probably a good thing.  After all, with Weeks and Ruggiano figuring to get extensive playing time in platoons, and with Nelson Cruz getting his share of outfield appearances, it’s not like we’ve got all the room in the world for someone in Chavez who probably isn’t all that good.  He’s not really a threat on the basepaths; he’s not really all that great in the field; he can’t take a walk to save his life; he’s got no power.  In short, he’s probably best suited to be an emergency fill-in, and even then, you’d hope you could do better.

The hard truth is:  if we happen to lose so many players to injury that we have to pull from the minors just to field a roster, then I have to imagine James Jones is the first guy called up.  He’s young, he’s a whiz on the basepaths (so, he’s the ideal pinch runner late in games), he’s a solid defensive corner outfielder (and a so-so centerfielder in a pinch), he can hit to all fields (albeit, predominantly singles) and he’s got upside (at least, more upside than Chavez).

The Linus Van Pelt side of me who needs that security blanket is disappointed to see Endy Chavez go.  But, the more rational side of me knows we’re better off this way.  Whatever other part of me that’s left over questions just why in the hell would Chavez opt to leave the Mariners NOW, when we’re finally GOOD?!  I get that a professional likes to get that playing time in – and there HAS to be a desperate team out there looking for outfield depth.  But, at this point, if I’m Endy Chavez, I think I’m doing my best to try to get that ring.  Unless the Washington Nationals have expressed an interest that I’ve yet to hear about, seems to me you could do a lot worse than the 2015 Seattle Mariners.

But, who knows?  Maybe Chavez will be back.  Maybe he’ll get picked up by another team, start out in the minors like he does, and opt out after a month.  Or, maybe he’ll stink and get cut.  For some reason, I’m not totally convinced we’ve seen the last of Endy Chavez.

Mariners Tidbit 12: Fifth Starter Decided

And, shock of shocks, it’s Taijuan Walker.  He of the zero earned runs in 18 innings, with 19 strikeouts and a combined 10 hits & walks.  This was a guy on a mission to win a job by any means necessary and he did it!

What any of this means for the regular season is anybody’s guess.  If you could guarantee me right now Michael Pineda’s rookie numbers for Taijuan Walker, I’d take ‘em in a heartbeat.  I think the upside’s a little higher with Walker, actually, given his experience thus far, but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.  It may be unfair to expect dominant, #1 starter numbers out of Walker this year, but it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility.  He’s got the good fastball.  If he can control it, keep it around the strike zone, and have good control of his offspeed stuff out of the zone for whiffs, we could be looking at one of the keys to our season.

The Mariners have been pretty lucky to have quality starting pitching at the top part of the rotation with Felix and Iwakuma the last couple years.  Having two good/great starting pitchers will take you only so far.  It’s how those 3/4/5 pitchers do – especially in the 3/4 range – that will determine where your team is going to go.  If we believe the offense is what it is, and the bullpen is what it is (both consistently “good enough”), and as long as nothing shockingly negative happens to Felix & Iwakuma, then it’s easy to make the argument the two most important players on this team will be James Paxton and Taijuan Walker.  We’re only going as far as these two guys will take us.  If they take the next step and become competent Major League pitchers, then we should be in the running for the division, or at least a wild card spot.  If they fall apart, then we’re probably screwed unless we’re able to make a move at the deadline.

One week to go.  Let’s get it on.

Tracking The Last Five Years In Seattle Sports

If you look at the right sidebar on my main page, you’ll notice a few things.  I try to update and keep track of the teams that are in-season with their current records and their next scheduled games.  I’ve got a list of categories, if you’d rather just read about one particular team.  I’ve got links to my Twitter and Facebook pages.  And, below that, I’ve got a list of the last five years’ worth of records for each of the teams I cover on this blog.

From time to time, I’ll refer to this list.  Sometimes, I need to know exactly how many wins a certain team had in a specific recent year; sometimes, I just like to marvel at how long it’s been since a team has made the postseason.  I chose five years because I think that’s a good barometer as to where a team is headed.  You can take a quick glance and see if things are trending upward, downward, or in the case of Husky Football, maddeningly the same.

The first thing I notice is that the Seattle Supersonics have been missing from this list for quite some time.  Six-plus years, which is a fucking travesty.  Let’s get on this, NBA!  As for everyone else, let’s separate them by heading.

Husky Basketball

Clearly trending downward.  Once the Mariners make the playoffs this year, the Husky men’s basketball team will have the longest postseason drought in the area, which is just impossible to comprehend.

The great thing about looking back at just the last five years is, it’s usually a good indicator as to a coach’s job security.  Lorenzo Romar has just finished year 4 without an NCAA Tournament appearance.  Gotta figure one more of those and he’s out on his ass.

Husky Football

As I said before, clearly trending even.  2010 was our first year playing in a bowl game since we bottomed out in 2008.  At this point last year, you’d have an argument that the program was trending upward, but with 2014′s uneven performance – punctuated by the dud of a Cactus Bowl – I might even make the argument things are starting to go south.

The Huskies lose some really good players on defense to the NFL draft this year.  Compound that with their most experienced quarterback – Cyler Miles – stepping away from the team (maybe forever?), and I have to wonder where our wins are going to come from in conference play.  2015 is certainly going to be a step back, but hopefully it’s a productive step back, where we find a quality replacement at quarterback who’ll be ready to help this team pop in 2016.  There’s still reason for optimism, but it’s going to be difficult to see through the thick layer of shit that’s right in front of us.

Seattle Seahawks

Trending even, but it’s not like things could get much better than the 2013 season.  I’m not ready to proclaim the Seahawks on a downward trend – as we’ve still got the pieces in place for an extended run at Super Bowls – but it’s hard to say things are going to get much better.  Back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, one boneheaded playcall from winning them both, I’d say this team is still at its peak level of dominance.

Still, 2015 is a key pivot point in this organization’s trajectory.  Guys aren’t getting old, necessarily, but they’re getting older.  Combine that with three consecutive playoff runs for the pillars of this team and you’re talking a lot of mileage.  If we can’t figure out a way to re-stock our depth with this year’s draft (combined with the IR players from last year’s draft who’ve had a full year to acclimate to being a professional), things could start to get hairy in a hurry.  We’re always going to be great as long as our great players remain healthy; but how long this championship run lasts will depend on the quality of players who step up when the greats get hurt.

Seattle Mariners

Trending upward!  Hurrah!  Last year, we were one game out from a play-in game for the playoffs.  We dumped our crap – Smoak, Hart, Morales, Denorfia, Beavan, soon-to-be Ramirez – and what useful pieces we lost aren’t devastating to our overall outlook in 2015 (Saunders, Young, Maurer, Beimel).  The important thing is who we’ve brought in to replace them.  Nelson Cruz is a MAMMOTH upgrade at DH.  Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano should be moderate upgrades in the outfield (over Saunders and Jones, particularly).  Rickie Weeks could be a boon for our bench (over someone like Romero).  And, healthy seasons out of Walker and Paxton should alleviate some of the burden the team had to endure with the likes of Maurer, Beavan, and Ramirez (who were absolute disasters when they had to spot start last year).

Obviously, it’s a long season, and anything can happen.  But, it’s good to know that the Mariners have as good a shot as anyone to not only make the postseason, but win the whole thing.  If you think about it, this is a team BUILT for the playoffs.  Felix is the best pitcher in baseball.  Iwakuma is a rock solid #2.  Paxton and Walker both have the potential to be #1 or #2 pitchers.  Then, with the lineup, we’ve got a 3-4-5 that rivals any team’s with Cano-Cruz-Seager.  Combine that with enough role players around them who should keep this offense afloat in the lean times, and top it all off with a bullpen that could be in the top 5 in all of baseball, and you’ve got a team where it wouldn’t be crazy to see it go all the way.

The overall sports atmosphere in Seattle is one of Encouraging Optimism, which is a huge step up from Cautious Optimism (which is usually as high as things get around here).  The Seahawks obviously busted through the gates with their championship last year, but with the Mariners surging, we’re really in some glorious days.  Of course, it’s not perfect.  We’re probably looking at a total rebuild after next year’s Husky basketball team once again fails to make the Tourney.  But, in general, I’d say this is the best time to be a fan of Seattle sports teams.

Now, all we need is a clear plan to bring our Sonics back, and maybe a lead on an expansion hockey franchise, and we’ll be all set.

Mariners Tidbit 11: What’s Happ-ening?

You know who’s presumably got two thumbs and is in a no-win situation?  J.A. Happ.

After the Cruz signing, and probably the Seager extension, the trade for J.A. Happ has gotten the most pub in Seattle.  It makes sense – and in a way, even the trade makes sense – but I don’t think there’s any way this thing ends well for Happ in Seattle.

We’re all abundantly aware that Michael Saunders was the price to obtain Happ.  Saunders was deemed – by the organization – to be too much of an injury risk to keep around.  He promptly required knee surgery at the beginning of Spring Training this year, but it looks like he’ll nevertheless be ready for the start of the regular season.  For some reason, I doubt that’s the last time we’re going to hear about Saunders missing time or going under the knife.

Anyway, the fans were up in arms over the move.  We all saw what Saunders was capable of – when healthy – and it seemed like too much to give up for what we got in return.  Happ is a middle-of-the-road innings-eater in the same vein as Chris Young, Joe Saunders, Jeremy Bonderman, Aaron Harang, and Kevin Millwood, to name a few.  It seems like every year, the Mariners are in the market for one of these re-treads, and every year we get a new experience.  Chris Young was the epitome of Best Case Scenario and Jeremy Bonderman was probably at the opposite end of the spectrum.  You don’t bring these guys in and give them spots in your rotation for their upside, because at this point there IS no upside.  Chris Young was pretty solid last year, but he’s still far from the ideal (and, besides that, there’s a reason why it took him so long before he caught on with a ballclub).  You employ these guys as injury insurance, or as insurance against one of your younger (higher upside) pitchers not quite being ready for primetime.

Either way, no one WANTS to employ a J.A. Happ.  But, it makes good sense, if he can keep you in enough ballgames and give you something close to a .500 record in his starts.

Happ’s start to this spring has been less than ideal.  He’s made three starts and all he’s really accomplished is getting his pitch count up into the 80s.  Obviously, no one in his right mind should be focused to intently on the numbers one puts up in Spring Training, but it’s just more ammo to throw onto the fire in the case against Happ ever being a fan favorite.  What’s most important is what happens in the regular season, but what right do we have to be excited about his regular season performance, based on his past experience?

The hope – and probably the Best Case Scenario – with J.A. Happ is that he’s able to turn in a Safeco Joe-esque one-year career with the Mariners.  Puts up decent-to-good numbers at home, and is mostly a trainwreck on the road.  While it’s evident that these types of nothing pitchers are able to extend their careers by pitching half their games in Seattle, it’s still putting a Band Aid over a severed foot.  Eventually, they start struggling at home as well as on the road, and when that happens they’re effectively useless.

I’m calling it right now:  J.A. Happ will cause more harm than good.  The team will be well-served to demote him to the bullpen or DFA him altogether, because I have no doubt in my mind that he’s clearly the sixth best starting pitcher in this organization.  Hell, at this point I wonder if Erasmo Ramirez is even better than Happ!  Here’s to hoping the Mariners realize this before he costs us our shot at the postseason.

Mariners Tidbit 10: Down Goes Erasmo?

Speaking of foregone conclusions, it was really only a matter of time before we said goodbye to Erasmo Ramirez.  He was never going to pitch his way into the rotation, because the six guys ahead of him are just better pitchers.  In the same fashion, he was never going to pitch himself off of the team (at least, not in these Spring Training games), because he’s nothing more than an insurance policy against one of our better pitchers getting injured.

If we lost, say, a James Paxton for a few weeks/months, then MAYBE he could have out-duelled Roenis Elias, thereby sending Elias to Tacoma and allowing the Mariners organization to keep both pitchers, in the off-chance someone else gets injured.  But, it appears Paxton will indeed be ready for the opening day roster, and everyone else is so far healthy and able.

The Mariners have 12 more official Spring Training games.  Erasmo Ramirez pitched yesterday, giving up 4 runs (2 earned) in less than 2 innings.  He MIGHT have one more start left in him, but the writing is on the wall.  At this point, it’s only a matter of which team ends up grabbing him.  One would like to believe that he’s got at least SOME trade value, but how often do you ever see these roster casualties with no options left generate any sort of useful return?  The Mariners are holding none of the cards in this situation.  And, if Erasmo had any REAL value, wouldn’t the Mariners do everything in their power to keep him?

The fact of the matter is, Erasmo Ramirez is a AAA starting pitcher.  He’s a guy you wouldn’t necessarily mind having as a spot starter in the Bigs, but he’s never going to be a legit Major League starter you can count on to reliably eat innings and be effective.  If he was, he would’ve showed us something more than he has by now.  And, if it turns out he’s just a late bloomer, then God bless him, but it’s not going to be with the Mariners.

We can find another Erasmo Ramirez type, no problem.  It’s just unfortunate it was never able to work out here.

Real G’s Move In Silence Like Lasagna: Tahoe, Year Three

One year is a vacation.  Two years is a trend.  But, back-to-back-to-back years going to south Lake Tahoe for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament?  That shit’s a tradition!

I've yet to lose a futures bet and I don't plan on starting now ...

I’ve yet to lose a futures bet and I don’t plan on starting now …

The first year was actually a bachelor party, of which there is no written account.  Here’s what happened in year two; and damn, looking back on it, if I’d put $100 down on Felix to win the ERA title, I’d be sitting on another $800!

As it stands, my Robinson Cano bet came through with flying colors.  $550 to win $500, as he outlasted Adrian Beltre in total Hits, Home Runs & RBI.  The first thing I did after checking in to the Montbleu Casino & Resort was try to cash it in.  Of course, since the baseball season last year ended over 120 days ago, the sportsbook couldn’t honor my ticket.  Apparently, computers have limitless possibilities.  They hold the power to harness just about anything you could possibly imagine!  But, if you’re a sportsbook, computers apparently can’t hold ANY MORE BETTING INFORMATION after 120 days.  So, that’s fucking annoying.  Anyway, all hope is not lost.  I’m told if I simply mail in the ticket, they’ll mail me a check.  It’s not the way I wanted to do it, but I guess I don’t really have a choice in the matter.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts on the topic, I like to make at least one futures bet on my way out of Tahoe, just so I have something to look forward to.  Since sports gambling is illegal in Washington state and everything.  In my first Tahoe year, I put $100 on the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl at 7 to 1 odds.  When they beat the Denver Broncos, I was a happy camper in more ways than one.  Last year, I decided to up the ante with my Cano bet.  This year, not only did I up the ante again, but I upped the number of futures bets.  To wit:

  • Seattle Mariners Over 87 Wins, $110 to win $100
  • Seattle Mariners Win 2015 World Series, $100 at 14 to 1 odds
  • Seattle Seahawks Win Super Bowl, $100 at 6 to 1 odds
  • Most Regular Season Strikeouts For A MLB Pitcher Over 260.5, $550 to win $500

As you can tell, I’m banking on a Seattle Sports Renaissance the likes of which we’ve never come REMOTELY close to seeing.  The only one I really feel confident in winning is the strikeouts bet, but I was more confident when the number was 257.5 (what that bet means is:  I just need any pitcher in the Major Leagues to have 261 or more strikeouts by the end of the 2015 season.  Last year, two people achieved this feat – David Price with 271 and Corey Kluber with 269 – but I’m really banking on Max Scherzer’s move to the NL carrying a huge spike in his strikeouts.  Also, for the record, Felix ended last year with 248, which was a career high).

Thanks to last year’s horror show at the roulette table, where I lost $1,600 in the matter of a couple minutes, I decided to take a step back and gamble on other stuff.  My primary weapons ended up being sports bets and slot machines.  My first big wager of this year’s trip was $300 on Hampton +34.5 against Kentucky.  Just needed Hampton to lose by 34 points or less, and lo and behold they did just that!

I did most of my sports gambling on Friday.  Virginia was heavily favored over Belmont, so I took Belmont and the points and won.  Louisville was favored by 9 over UC Irvine.  I took the Cardinals and a bath on that one as they only managed to win by 2.  My big winner of the day ended up being North Dakota State vs. Gonzaga.  The Bulldogs were favored by 17.5, so I bet on the Bison to beat that spread.  Thanks to their crazy barrage of three pointers, I ended up winning that bet, and a parlay with Belmont.  I also won on a prop bet on Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer.  He needed to get over 22 combined points and rebounds to win me $100 and he CRUSHED IT.

My sports gambling on Saturday was the turd in this year’s punchbowl.  I took the OVER on total points in the Kentucky/Cincinnati game (I think it was around 123.5 points combined) and got nowhere near winning that one.  I took Ohio State +10 points against Arizona and they ended up losing by 15.  I slept in too late and missed my chance to bet the OVER on total points in the UCLA/UAB game (which I would’ve crushed).  And, for good measure, I bet on the Mariners to beat the Cubs with Felix on the mound and most of our regulars playing.  YES, it was a Cactus League game, but when in Rome, assholes!  Anyway, the Mariners lost 12-10 and I decided to cut myself off for the rest of the weekend on sports bets.

Luckily, my slot machine game was on point.  I hit a couple of good-sized Wheel of Fortune progressives, winning around $700 each time.  The last time – at about 2am on Saturday night – was the difference between a winning and losing weekend.  I pumped in $300 into the same machine, just waiting to hit one of the big spins.  It took a while, but I got mine.  I entered Tahoe with $2,500 and left Tahoe with $2,900.  Plus, my Cano bet from last year that I need to mail away for, plus the futures bets mentioned above.  All in all, one of my better gambling weekends.

For the record, I’m already locked in to Year Four.  I kinda sorta got suckered in to sitting through a 90 minute timeshare presentation next year, but I think I got a pretty good deal.  For $149, I get four nights and five days at the Montbleu Casino (which is where we always stay anyway).  The guy gave me $100 in what I can only describe as “fun money”.  Brown chips that could only be used on black jack or craps.  Since I don’t play craps, I took it over to black jack.  I would bet only with my brown chips.  If I won a hand, I’d put my winnings aside and let the brown chips ride.  If I lost, they took the brown chips and I’d bet more brown chips until I was out.  I ended up turning $100 in fun money into $125 in real money, so for all intents and purposes, I’m going to stay at the Montbleu next year for four nights for less than $25 (and a 90 minute timeshare presentation).  On top of all that, once I finish the presentation, I get a $100 Visa giftcard to use on whatever I want, so I might have happened upon the deal of the century (assuming, of course, there isn’t some hidden thing waiting to fuck me over).  Bottom line:  I’m 34 years old and I’ve never been involved in one of these things.  I feel like it’s a rite of passage in First World Problems to get suckered into a timeshare presentation at least one time in your life.

Now, it’s only a matter of sitting back and rooting on the home teams.  For the record, if I win my Mariners and Seahawks bets, I might just blow the whole blog up and start fresh with a brand new one.  Why do we put ourselves through this?  For the hundreds of gambling dollars coming our way, that’s why!!!

P.S.  Also, I feel like I need to put this down for the record, because it’s important to me and my people.  While in Tahoe, on Thursday, we retired to one of our hotel rooms to play some beer pong.  My friends and I like to partake in the occasional beer pong session – particularly during tailgate season – and I like to think we’re all pretty good at our favorite drinking pasttime.  Anyway, a buddy and myself were controlling the table.  About two or three games in, we took our first turn of the game against two fresh opponents (as is our right, as we had yet to lose).  In a 6-cup game, on our first shots, we nailed the same cup (which, according to our house rules, means they have to pull & drink three cups, as well as give us balls back for an immediate second turn).  They pulled all the interior cups, leaving us with the three corner cups and huge gaps between each one.  On the same turn, we each nailed the same cup to effectively end the contest.  Without the other team having a turn!  As we play with the troll rule, if you lose a game without ever making a cup, you have to sit under the table during the entirety of the next game.  My buddy and I ended up going undefeated on Thursday, and would go on to troll a second team not too long after.

I just thought you should know:  this was the single greatest achievement in beer pong in my entire life.  Go on about your business.

Mariners Tidbit 9: The Second Bullpen Lefty

The bullpen situation has been a moderately interesting one this spring, as it would seem the Mariners have too many good, young arms and not enough spots to fit them all.  Working from our closer on down, the locks going into this year would appear to be:

  • Fernando Rodney
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Yoervis Medina
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Charlie Furbush

With some really strong contenders in:

  • Dominic Leone
  • Carson Smith

Now, it appears that with James Paxton’s late start, and with the plethora of off-days gracing the calendar in April, the Mariners might go the first couple weeks with an 8-man bullpen.  If the seven guys I’ve listed above are all in, a good argument can be made that the 8th man would be another lefty.  While Furbush has been solid at times, he’s also been frighteningly inept at others.  He looks like a lock to make the team as far as I can tell, but should he be?

Tyler Olson got an invite this spring and has made the most of it.  He split time between A & AA last year as a starter and looked to be pretty effective.  These first couple weeks, he’s been a bullpen arm – going 6 innings across 4 appearances, giving up 0 runs and only 1 hit while striking out 8 – and with those numbers has made quite a name for himself.  I don’t know if the team is giving up on him being a starter, or is just so focused on the short term that we’re willing to stunt his growth in the bullpen right now, but either way he could be a great help to us this year.

David Rollins is our Rule 5 guy who ALSO hasn’t pitched beyond the AA level.  He’s appeared 5 times, going 5.1 innings, giving up 0 runs, 2 hits, and striking out 6.  I would argue that he’s got the edge over Olson just because if we don’t keep him on our 25-man roster, we have to give him back to Houston.

But, let’s look at it this way:  why not keep Olson and Rollins and say Fuck Off to Furbush?

That might be a little drastic – and a bit premature – but if I were running this team, I’d have Furbush on the shortest of leashes.  If he has options, my first priority would be to keep HIM in Tacoma and promote Olson and Rollins.  Guys are proving themselves at younger and younger ages nowadays, why couldn’t Olson & Rollins carry their share of the burden?

But, if Furbush doesn’t have any options (which, my hunch is, he doesn’t), then I suppose we’re beholden to keep him around, at least in the short term.  But, I’ll say this much:  to those of you who’d rather have Furbush around because he’s more experienced than two AA guys making the big leap to the Big Leagues, what has Furbush’s experience gotten him, exactly?  He’s the third-best lefty out of the bullpen in camp this year.  He’s the most prone to imploding and giving up the big inning.  He’s terrible at preventing inherited runners from scoring.  In short, you can’t count on the guy, because you never know if he’s going to be the guy hitting his spots and making batters look foolish, or the guy who grooves a meatball to a right-handed pinch hitter for a rocket double.

I’m going to be very upset if we lose out on Rollins just because Furbush has more Major League innings under his belt.  Luckily, for Rollins’ sake, Rafael Perez – the other veteran lefty bullpen option – has been dreadful.  Saying nothing of Joe Saunders, who’s as done as done can be.

Mariners Tidbit 8: The Short Stop Battle Has Been Decided

It wasn’t supposed to end in the second week of March, but that’s what happens when Chris Taylor gets hit by a pitch and fractures a bone in his wrist.

The Weatherman Is Dead!!!

The Weatherman Is Dead!!!

Word around the Internet makes it sound like Chris Taylor will be out until mid-to-late May, so that kinda sucks I guess.  My initial reaction is twofold:

  1. Pretty happy we didn’t trade away Brad Miller in our offseason moves
  2. Pretty happy we didn’t waive Willie Bloomquist to make room for a Miller/Taylor platoon

The first point is pretty obvious.  I think most of us were happy the team kept Miller (even when fans were gnashing their teeth about the Michael Saunders trade), because no one in his right mind believes either Miller or Taylor automatically DESERVES to be handed the starting short stop job.  This was always going to be a battle to be decided in Spring Training, and that’s the way it should’ve been.

It doesn’t even matter that we all believed Miller had the edge all along; it’s always better to have competition and to have someone driving you to be a better player.  I have no doubt Brad Miller is a better baseball player thanks to all the competition we’ve put on his plate the last year and change.  Now, whether that means he’s Major League-ready, day-in and day-out, is another thing.

The second point is probably a point of contention among the Willie Must Go crowd.  I think we’re all in agreement that a 2-year guaranteed deal was too much to give Willie before last season, but that’s what it took to land him, we did it, and it’s done.  2015 is the final year of that 2-year deal.  The only question about whether or not he’d have a spot on this 25-man roster saved for him boiled down to whether or not he recovered from his surgery.  It looks like he’s recovered, and so here he is.  To stay.

A good chunk of the fanbase thought we should waive Willie.  Makes sense, when you think about it.  Both Brad Miller and Chris Taylor are better at baseball than Willie is right now.  This team would be better off in 2015 keeping Miller & Taylor on the 25-man and cutting Willie in the process.  Miller & Taylor could play all the infield spots, Weeks is already slotted in as a backup first baseman, and we’ve got about six guys who can play in the outfield.

Well, now with Taylor going down, I guess a good chunk of the fanbase is going to have to walk back some of those Willie comments.  Look who’s all of a sudden very crucial to our Major League depth!  Look who’s now the only healthy Major League-ready backup short stop in the organization!  Willie Fucking Bloomquist doesn’t sound so bad now, does he???

Obviously, I’m not Willie’s biggest supporter or anything.  But, I always thought it was a longshot to kick him off the roster.  It’s not that I think his leadership presence is all that important.  I just think I’d rather have the loser of the Miller/Taylor battle get his work in as an everyday starter down in Tacoma until we need him.  Why keep the loser in the Majors, getting 1-2 days of work per week?  I’m no expert, but that feels like a good way to stunt a player’s growth.

So now, here we are.

Short Stop Battle Winner:  Brad Miller (a.k.a. Default)

In other news, Roenis Elias got the start yesterday and looked like his usual okay self.

Fifth Starter Battle Advantage:  Taijuan Walker

Tomorrow, or sometime soon, I’m going to get into this whole second lefty in the bullpen idea.  Here’s a sneak peek:  why is Charlie Furbush automatically guaranteed to be the FIRST lefty in the bullpen when he’s arguably the third or fourth best?

That’s All Folks: Husky Basketball Season Ends In Yet Another Defeat

The Huskies finished their 2014/2015 season with a 16-15 record, 5-14 in conference play (including the Pac-12 Tourney).  Yep, after starting the season 11-0 in non-conference play (including impressive wins over Oklahoma and San Diego State), the Huskies finished the season losing 15 of their last 20 games (many times in brutal fashion).

A lot went wrong this year, no doubt about it.  Robert Upshaw was kicked off the team.  Jernard Jarreau missed a bunch of games with injury.  Shawn Kemp Jr. missed a few games towards the end with injury.  NWG even had to miss a game, as well as a couple of minor role players.  It hasn’t been pretty.  We’ve been forced to play guys who have no business being on the same court as other major conference schools.

Naturally, though, our lack of success falls on the head coach, Lorenzo Romar.  It has to, we’re talking about four consecutive years without making the NCAA Tournament.  There’s too much talent out there to be this bad for this long.  At the same time, it’s not like the Pac-12 has been this huge powerhouse in the last four years.  It shouldn’t be THAT hard to be one of the best three teams in this conference.

You could say the team has been snakebitten by injuries in recent years, but if we’re putting all of our eggs in the Jernard Jarreau basket, then really, how good were our chances to begin with?  This year looked to be different, but you can see how the lack of depth is killing us.  As soon as we lost Upshaw, we immediately became the worst team in the conference.  We were able to cobble together a fairly strong starting five this year (I include Upshaw in that statement, even though he was relegated to being the 6th man; he still played starter’s minutes), but we had absolutely nothing going on with our bench.

The problem with Romar, as far as I can tell, is that while he’s a good recruiter, and a good leader, and a fine, upstanding role model; his gameday decision-making is a little suspect.  I’m not going to sit here and say the man doesn’t know what he’s doing – I think he did the best with what he had, as the roster fell apart around him – but you can’t help coming away from these games wondering what the plan was, or if there even WAS a plan.  His teams in recent years haven’t excelled at anything.  The defense has been routinely suspect; he seems to have given up on his old, tenacious style of swarming defense (either because he can’t find the right people to run it, or because it’s impossible to bring in quality basketball players on a foundation of defense, because all anyone ever wants to do is show off how well they can score).  The offense doesn’t appear to ever know what it wants to do.  Are we a running team?  Are we a half-court team?  Are we a high-post team?  Are we whatever the hell we were before we started running this high-post?

I would say, beyond the simple gameday stuff, the real menace has been in who he has recruited to come here, and his player development.  These are two aspects of Romar’s job description that tend to receive the most praise.  While he has nearly always struggled to recruit quality big men to UW, we’ve always had a quality guard or two.  I mean, just look at the track record of success of getting guys into the NBA; he’s not over here puttering on the fringes.  He’s bringing in bigtime talent and pushing them through to the show!

And, while that’s great for the star players, and it’s great for Romar’s reputation as a recruiter, it hasn’t translated to a whole lot of success on the college basketball court.  The coach and players get what they want, but what about the team?  Through last year, there have been ten players drafted into the NBA under Romar’s watch.  Upshaw is another talented player who figures to at least get a shot – even with his checkered past – and the jury is still out on whether NWG is a bona fide NBA player, but with his pedigree and hype, I bet he finds his way onto a roster.  Yet, with ALL this talent we’ve had grace this program, what do we have to show for it?  Three Sweet 16 appearances and that’s it.  In 13 seasons.

Romar’s best attribute has been his ability to mold players who are totally inept into quality Pac-10/12 players by the time they’re Seniors.  But, if his plan is to keep recruiting stud athletes, he’s going to have to do a better job of coaching players up in year 1.  Our return on investment is pretty much nil with these guys.  I mean, with all the first-year players we had on our team this year, not ONE was able to break out and at least be a somewhat competent role player?  For all intents and purposes, we were merely running a 6-man rotation, with a couple extra duds thrown in just to give guys some time to rest.

I know it’s an unfair example, but when you look at teams like Kentucky, they’re out there running full starting lineups of Freshmen and getting the job done.  Why is it that seemingly our Freshmen – even our highly-touted ones – consistently underwhelm in year 1?  I feel like that’s a problem that’s not getting enough play.  It’s all well and good if you bring in a 4-year guy, and he makes big leaps in production from year to year.  But, we need help immediately!  We need MORE than one dominant player per season if we’re going to go anywhere!

Anyway, say what you will, but the calls are getting louder now for Romar to be fired.  I’ve always been a pretty big defender of keeping him the last few years, but at this point I’m on the fence.  If I had to put a number on it, I’d say 51% of me wants him to stay and 49% thinks we should just cut ties now and move on.  This isn’t nearly the same as Tyrone Willingham, because he was a fucking loser from Day 1.  Romar at least has a history of being relatively successful with UW.  That has certainly bought enough goodwill to get him to this point, but I wonder if it’ll carry him on into next season.

The crux of the matter is next year’s recruiting class, which is one of the better classes in the country.  We’ve all been kind of focused on this being the start of a turnaround for the program, but part of me wonders if it will even matter.  Is Romar the coach to do it?  Does he have what it takes?  And, if the program does decide to cut ties, what will become of all the players who promised to come here?  Will they go elsewhere in the conference?  Will this be the start of another Dark Age for the program?

I will remind everyone that the Huskies are NOT some historically great basketball school.  Before Romar, we had some marginal success in the 80s.  Before that, we had a pretty good run in the early 50s.  Before that, we had a good run in the 20s & 30s.  But, it’s not like there’s some dynasty in the history of this program.  No one – especially incoming Freshman and transfer students – gives two shits about what the Huskies did multiple decades ago.

If we’re going to turn this program around – and not have it be a blind fluke – we’re either going to need to find a real amazing recruiter (someone who’s probably a little shady, like Kentucky’s head guy), or we’re going to have to find a coach with a scheme that’s unique and super-difficult to match up against.  Who’s the next Chip Kelly of college basketball?  That’s who I’m talking about!  If we don’t find that diamond in the rough, then it really won’t surprise me to see this program spinning its wheels for the next two decades or more.

The bottom line is, it’s fun to be a mid-major like Gonzaga who finds the perfect head coach who not only chooses to stay for decades, but is a great recruiter and a great tactician on gameday.  But, it’s also pretty fucking easy to be that school – with that unicorn of a coach, who consistently dominates in fledgling conferences like the WCC, when your conference competition is nothing – and make the NCAA Tourney year-in and year-out.  The Huskies are at a real disadvantage, because we play in a REAL conference, that’s more or less loaded with talent up and down the standings.  Here’s to hoping we find that unicorn of a head coach, because more often than not, any kind of good head coach will see the Huskies as a stepping-stone and certainly not a final destination.

I’ve said it repeatedly in the past:  I don’t want to get rid of Romar for just anyone.  He needs to be legitimately better, and ideally he’d be someone willing to stick around for the long term.  Failing that, replacing Romar just to have someone different is no way to run a basketball program.