You know, for a while there, I was ALMOST excited about this upcoming season. I know, I’m a God-damned sucker, and I sucker myself into this team every fucking season. You know, every season there’s at least ONE surprise team! Maybe this is the year underperforming veterans bounce back and young prospects shock the world! MAYBE, if we get lucky in enough 1-run games, we can stay competitive through the summer …
I know it’s retarded, but it’s hard to watch the numbers some of these guys are putting up and NOT think, “Well, maybe.”
- Kyle Seager batting .350 with 3 homers and 3 doubles.
- Michael Saunders batting .324 with 1 homer and 4 doubles.
- Jesus Montero batting .306 with 2 homers and 3 doubles.
- Alex Liddi batting .429 with 1 homer and 7 doubles.
- Vinnie Catricala batting .313 with 2 homers and 1 double.
- Ichiro batting .400 with 2 homers and 2 doubles.
- Justin Smoak batting .393 with 3 doubles and more walks than strikeouts.
Pardon the double-negative, but these are not UNimpressive numbers. It’s just that, as everyone knows, you HAVE to take Spring numbers with a huge grain of salt. Like, a grain the size of Mt. Rainier. History is absolutely RIDDLED with the stories of guys who did well in Spring Training, only to fall on their asses when the games started to count.
Which is generally what sets baseball apart from most every other sport. Take football, for instance. If a rookie comes into Training Camp and blows away the competition, he’ll likely make the team as a starter (or at least as a guy who plays regularly, if he’s not blocked by an All Pro or something). That rookie who did so well in Training Camp is GENERALLY going to do pretty well when he plays in the regular season. All young players make mistakes, but in football the good ones will generally do more good than harm.
In Baseball, it’s pretty much the opposite. Even in the case of Michael Pineda, you’re talking about a guy who ripped through the minor leagues before he got his first taste. And even IF you’re a guy who has dominated at the lower levels, that’s absolutely no guarantee of future success at The Show. Baseball is the biggest crapshoot of them all. Which is why guys like me still get suckered in every now and then. But, ultimately, it’s a crapshoot where there’s no winner (if you’re a fan of the Seattle Mariners, that is).
The Mariners get a lot of praise for building this team “The Right Way.” I tend to be of the opinion that there IS no “right way” except the way that wins you a World Series. But, I suppose there is a “Wrong Way”, and the main proponent of that wrong way was Bill Bavasi. NOTHING that guy did ever worked out! Yeah, there’s something to be said for spending money like the Yankees and the Red Sox (mainly: “Why don’t the Seattle Mariners spend money like the Yankees and the Red Sox?”), but the apologists have a point when they say it doesn’t matter HOW much money you spend if you’re spending it on the wrong people. Fat, bloated contracts given to fat, bloated losers will generally make your team the laughing stock of the entire league. I get that!
Here’s where the Mariners will ultimately lose me forever. I get that the Mariners have a plan in place right now: they’re building through drafts and shrewd trades for prospects, in hopes that enough of them hit big so we can build around them with some proven veterans when the iron is hot. In that sense, yeah, cut your salary if you have to and give all the playing time to your young (and cheap) talent. But, when that talent starts to blossom into All Stars, the Mariners better be ready to pay the piper. Because if this is going to be one of those Kansas City Royals/Pittsburgh Pirates deals where we’re constantly trading away our talent when it comes time to sign them to long-term deals, then that’ll be that. I won’t root for a team that’s essentially a farm club for other, bigger Major League teams more willing to spend money to make money.
Having a plan is fine, but every plan has to have a conclusion it’s trying to reach. Spending as little as possible (while your direct rivals are spending what it takes to get the job done) and while aspiring to be nothing more than a .500 ballclub is NOT a plan. Don’t forget that.
So, where are the Mariners at with their plan right now?
Oh, Christ, I don’t know. Based on last year’s numbers, I’d say we’re proper fucked! But, I suppose it would be more constructive if we broke the hitters down into catagories.
The only hitter on this team we have a good reason to be confident about right now is Dustin Ackley. On the one hand, that’s IT? One guy? But, on the other hand, that’s great! We’ve at least got AH guy we can hang our fucking hats on! That’s more than we could say the past three seasons. He’s going to hit for a good average, he’s going to get on base at a great clip, and he’s going to hit for enough power to be one of the most productive guys at his position. Considering that position is Second Base, I’d say that’s a good start. Gonna need about eight more guys at the other positions to really feel good about this team, but at least we can say Second Base is locked down. There are plenty of guys on this team I will worry about; Dustin Ackley I can thankfully take for granted.
Guys We Have Reason To Hope Will Be Good
These are guys on the next tier down. We THINK they’ll be good for us, but we just need to see them prove it. Near the top of this realm, we have guys like Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak, and Ichiro. I know, one of these things is not like the other, but hear me out. With Montero, you’ve got a guy who’s got the best stroke we’ve seen since Edgar Martinez. If he were to actually BE Edgar Martinez and give us Edgar’s career, I think we’d all be more than thrilled with the transaction. Not only is this guy highly regarded as a prospect, but he’s a guy you HAVE to be considering for Rookie of the Year (if ROY were like the Heisman Race and mostly decided upon pre-season). The only thing is, he hasn’t done it yet. Crazy things happen. If Montero gives us a solid rookie campaign (with no injuries), then he goes right to the top of The Keepers list before next season.
Justin Smoak’s a little different in that he’s had some Major League experience. He had what amounted to a full season at the Big League level last year (in that he was never sent down to AAA for a lack of productivity) even if he missed some time due to injury. I think we’re all pretty confident in the guy – after all, we both dealt Cliff Lee and spurned the Yankees to get him – and he has shown flashes of being a very good hitter at this level. Now, it’s time for him to put it all together. A full season, no injuries, no personal life disasters. With Smoak at first base, Montero potentially at catcher, and Ackley at second base, you’re talking about a great little core of guys with which to build your team around.
Before I get to Ichiro, I’m going to throw another name into this mix, as a guy I’m ultimately confident will turn out to be a fantastic hitter for the Mariners. Kyle Seager. The thing with Seager is, yeah, I think he’s going to be awesome, but where is he going to play? With Seager, you’re basically getting another Ackley (in that they’ve got a little bit of pop in their bats, but neither of them are going to put up mind-blowing power numbers). If he were to take over for Brendan Ryan next year at Short Stop, then yeah, I guess that’d be great. But, does Seager have the defensive capabilities to man the toughest position in the field? Or do you sacrifice a traditional power position like Third Base on a guy who’s not going to give you traditional power numbers? Given the willingness to bring in a guy like Figgins, I’d say Jackie Z is willing to make that sacrifice. Personally, I’d be okay with giving up a little defensive range at Short Stop if it meant we actually had a third baseman worth his weight, but I guess that’s an argument for another day. In the meantime, if Seager shows he’s got what it takes, the Mariners will HAVE to find room for him somewhere. And that’s always a good problem to have.
Finally, Ichiro. I have him lumped in with these up-and-comers not because I’m looking for a reason to re-sign him to a three-year extension at season’s end. I’m talking about Ichiro exclusively in the 2012 sense. He’s coming off of a bad year, no question about it. This is the first off-season where we’ve had Ichiro as anything but a Sure Bet. Indeed, he’s now a question mark. As in: Is Ichiro finished, question mark?
One thing I don’t think we have to worry about is Ichiro’s speed. Has he lost a step? I dunno, maybe he’s lost AH step, but the guy still had 40 stolen bases in 47 opportunites (an 85% success rate, which is far from his worst season in that regard). He was picked off at the same rate he’s always been picked off (6 in each of the last two seasons). In fact, pretty much across the board his baserunning numbers are level. If he’s in decline, or has “lost a step”, the numbers aren’t bearing that out.
The number people like to point to when they remark that Ichiro has lost a step is his 42 infield hits, which is down considerably from the past two seasons (63 in 2009, 64 in 2010). Had Ichiro had twenty more infield hits in 2011, he would’ve easily cleared his 200-hits goal and maybe this talk about Ichiro being finished could be delayed another season or two. But, I’ve got to ask a couple of questions: 1. how much of the number of infield hits you get is attributed to luck? It seems like a flukey BABIP kind of thing that will go your way one season and go against you the next. If Ichiro hits some of those groundouts a few inches further away from the short stop, then some of those groundouts become hits. After all, Ichiro has had comparable seasons where he’s hit in the 40s in infield hits (and those were years where he still had 200 overall hits).
Question 2: how much of the number of infield hits Ichiro got (or didn’t get) in 2011 was a result of the opponents being extra aggressive defensively? After all, with our historically bad offense, why wouldn’t the other team try to take away some of Ichiro’s infield hits? If they play a step or two in (or towards a certain base, depending on how the pitcher is going to pitch him) and it succeeds, then great, Ichiro is out. If their aggressive defense fails, then damn, Ichiro is on base. But, that’s still okay because even if he steals second and third base, it’s not like the Mariners have anyone who can hit him home (regardless of whether there are less than two outs or not).
I have Ichiro in this catagory because I have a better-than-average feeling that he can bounce back from a down season. With his work ethic and his distinct skillset, if anyone is going to bounce back, it’s Ichiro. If only for one season.
Guys We Hope MAYBE Will Figure It Out
Here, we have players who – most likely – will turn out to be underachievers. .225 hitters with lots of strikeouts and double plays hit into. Frustrating fuckers given chance after chance, with little-to-no payoff. In essence, this catagory is tailor-made for Michael Saunders. The only reason he’s not in a far-worse catagory is because the guy has all the damn tools! He SHOULD be GOOD! He plays great centerfield defense, he’s shown he has power and speed on the basepaths. But, his long, slow swing makes him an easy target for the pitcher who can hit that low-and-away spot in the strikezone (and for those who can hit that lower and more away spot out of the strikezone).
But, Michael Saunders isn’t alone. I’m putting Mike Carp in here as well, because I just don’t know. Yeah, he was one of our best hitters last season, but that really isn’t saying much. Will his modest success carry over (and hopefully blossom) into 2012? Or, is Mike Carp essentially who we thought he was? He’s not a traditional left fielder, so if it turns out he’s an absolute disaster with the glove, then that reduces his value tenfold. Because Montero is going to get the bulk of the DH at-bats in his rookie campaign. But, even if Montero was the catcher and Carp the DH, Carp’s kind of production isn’t really what you’re looking for in a one-dimensional player. Finally, do we really know if he can hit left handed pitching? If not, then that’s another hit to his value. Yeah, if Carp puts it all together, he could be GREAT. But, if he doesn’t, then he’s just another platoon outfielder who will inevitably be relegated to the bench in favor of a better player who can do it every day.
Guys Who We Know Of What To Expect
That’s not a good thing. This is the Tarvaris Jackson of baseball player catagories. We have the rest of our starting nine in here. Guys like Brendan Ryan. He’ll bat you .250 (almost exclusively singles) and he’ll give you great defense (when he’s healthy). That’s it.
Or Miguel Olivo. He’ll bat you anywhere from .230 to .250, he’ll swing for the fences at will (which means he’ll give you around 20 dingers), he’ll strike out a ton, and he’ll almost never get a walk. And he’ll play a piss-poor backstop with his passed balls and all the wild pitches he should’ve knocked down in front of him.
Or, *shudder*, Chone Figgins. He’ll get you around .190, he’ll lead the team in Safeco Field boos, and he’ll make just enough errors and poor throws to make you wonder what anyone ever saw in his defense.
Guys Who We Just Have No Fucking Clue
This is where the rest of our bench resides. John Jaso, Casper Wells, and Munenori Kawasaki. Who the fuck knows? They’re bench (or, at best, platoon) guys, so really, who cares? Throw in the rest of the AAA rabble like Peguero and Liddi and Wilson and Catricala and Trayvon Robinson while you’re at it. I don’t know and you don’t know what they’re going to do, so let’s just leave it at that.
Oh, and I guess we can throw Guti into this mix as well. Will he EVER be healthy? Stay tuned for the most frustrating show in Seattle sports!
Tomorrow, I’ll try to muster up a preview about the pitchers, but I’m not gonna lie to you, tomorrow’s going to be a busy day in Seattle Sports World.