The Heartbreak of the First Half with the Seattle Mariners

As a Mariners fan, I tend to run one of two ways:  Angry & Bitter or Desperate & Depressed.  Consider this post part of the latter.

Everyone’s doing their Mid-Season assessments of the Mariners, and a line from Larry Stone’s blog post caught my eye:

… my confidence is waning — or, at least, my confidence that the turnaround is going to happen with this foundation. And if not, well, then a lot of rebuilding time has been squandered.

Now, I know Jackie Z came here before the 2009 season, and so technically you could say the “rebuild” started then.  But, really, what you’re saying is that the rebuild started at the lowest levels of the minors.  For the Major League club, we were still saddled with a lot of aging veterans and stop-gap solutions.  The rebuild didn’t REALLY start until last year, the 2011 season.  But, even then, aside from Smoak, you’re talking about the rebuild starting with the second half of the 2011 season.

Essentially, we are one year into the official rebuild.  So, is that really a lot of rebuilding time squandered?

There is no doubt about it, Justin Smoak has been an unbelievable disaster since he got here.  It’s too bad we weren’t able to snooker the Rangers out of one of their actual stud hitters in the Cliff Lee deal, but that’s neither here nor there.  At least we’re not watching Cliff Lee dominate us within our same division.

But, I don’t think you can call the rebuild a failure at this point based solely on Justin Smoak.  Is he a big piece?  You’re damn right he’s a big piece!  Even though we got Cliff Lee for table scraps (and essentially flipped him for more table scraps), Cliff Lee was the most-prized starting pitcher of the 2010 trade deadline.  He eventually helped the Rangers get to their first World Series, which is no small feat (even if they did end up losing).  That needs to get you something in return that’s MORE than what Justin Smoak has been able to give us.

When Smoak came here in 2010, he played in 30 games and had an OPS of .694.  He was given the keys to the first base job for the entirety of the 2011 season and raised that OPS to .719.  FYI:  a .719 OPS still isn’t great.  At all.  BUT, he was injured for a big chunk of time, so we all thought he could come back in 2012 and look like the player he was in April, or September (when he was healthy again).  Instead, in 2012, Smoak has regressed to unforeseen lows, with a batting average barely over the Mendoza line and an OPS of .606.  Yeah, he leads the Mariners in home runs, but he leads them with 11 because the Mariners are pathetic at hitting (and at hitting home runs).

If Smoak has a second half that isn’t DRASTICALLY better than this first half, then it’s safe to say he’s officially a bust and it’ll be time to scrap him in favor of some other solution.

So, that sucks.

Another major part of our rebuild is Dustin Ackley.  #2 overall draft pick who rocketed his way through the minors and received a second-half call-up in 2011.  He showed lots and lots of promise last year in 90 games, but this year he has taken a step back and hasn’t really figured out how to adjust to how pitchers have already adjusted to him.  The panic button hasn’t been pushed like it has on Smoak, but let’s just say his .240/.321/.338/.659 slash line isn’t what you want out of a #2 overall draft pick.  You don’t pick a 6-hole hitter that high, is what I’m trying to say.

The other major concern with the rebuild is Jesus Montero.  He’s doing just a hair better than Ackley, and he too is in his first full Major League season.  Again, I don’t know if anyone is panicking, but his June numbers (3 doubles, 1 homer, 1 RBI, .580 OPS) aren’t inspiring a whole lot of confidence.

I would like to say that it’s still early yet.  That the Mariners have a lot of players experiencing their first full seasons in the Majors.  That you just gotta have faith that they’re going to figure it out.  But, it’s hard, because they’ve been so damned miserable lately.

If this core group of players all fail across the board, if they turn out to be – at best – utility players and – at worst – property of Japanese baseball teams, then I don’t know what the Hell.  It’s not like the Mariners have a whole lot of hitting studs in the minors.  It’s not like ownership will be willing to spend any money whatsoever.  And it’s not like our trades have inspired all that much immediate confidence.

What sucks is, there IS potential.  There’s potential all over the place!  Montero and Ackley have been productive in spurts.  Seager had been fairly steady before the month of June dropped his average under .250 again.  Casper Wells seems to be catching on in the outfield, but it’s been a struggle to find a place to play him with Ichiro, Saunders, and Guti taking up space.  John Jaso has been a sight for sore eyes, but HE can’t seem to get any regular playing time with two other catchers on this roster and the futile task of playing Smoak everyday to get him turned around.

You know what I’d like to see some day?  This team:

C – Montero
1B – Jaso
2B – Ackley
3B – Seager
SS – Ryan
LF – Saunders
CF – Guti
RF – Wells
DH – a healthy Mike Carp

That’s not me saying I want Ichiro and Smoak benched for the rest of the season.  Lord knows I’ve been about as big an Ichiro supporter as there can be in the land of the blogs.  I’m just saying that Ichiro should probably only be playing 4-5 days a week.  Give two games to Wells in right field (when Guti is able to come back from his concussion) per week.  It’s time to start playing HIM every day (either in right, left, or DH), because he could very well be our starting right fielder in 2013.

As far as Smoak is concerned, it’s probably time to start a time-share with him too.  If Mike Carp is ever able to return, I wouldn’t mind seeing him get in there a little more.  Wedge gave him a starting job last season and Carp ran with it.  This year, he injured his shoulder in the first game of the season and we haven’t seen much of him since.  It’s time to change that.  Let’s get a first base platoon going with him and Smoak.

And I’m just going to say this in one sentence:  cut Chone Figgins already!

On the pitching side of things, the major Mariners talking point has been the bullpen.  Indeed, the bullpen has been absolutely fantastic, but I’m not going to sit here and sugarcoat everything like that makes up for the fact that this team can’t hit, and the majority of its starters can’t keep us in games long enough for our hitters to not hit.

I would gladly trade every trade-able relief pitcher we have both on this team and in the Minors for either one solid #2-type starter or a bona fide middle-of-the-order bat.  Do I love what Wilhelmsen has done?  Absolutely.  Would I like to see what Furbush could do if stretched back into a starter?  Of course.  But, you are never going to build your team around a lockdown bullpen.  A lockdown bullpen is a luxury GOOD teams can afford, once they’ve figured out a way to plug all their other holes.  Holding on to these pieces makes absolutely zero sense and they seriously need to be traded yesterday!

On paper, and on the field, the first half for this Mariners team has been a disappointment.  But, I have to believe that SOMETHING is going on.  They can’t ALL be busts.  I won’t sit here and say that this rebuilding time has been squandered … mostly because I don’t WANT to believe it.  Because, deep down, I know in my heart that this time really HAS been squandered and we’re secretly rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates West.

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