The Definitive Mount Rushmore For Seattle Sports

That’s a bold proclamation, but I’m a bold individual.

Mount Rushmores:
Tuesday:  Seattle Sports Announcers
Wednesday:  Seattle Head Coaches/Managers
Thursday:  Mariners, Supersonics, & Seahawks (past & present)

It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports.  I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me.  But, a blogger’s job is never done!  Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam.  Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.

We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right?  Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of 80’s Heavy Metal Bands?  Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, and Motley Crue, and come at me bro if you think I’m wrong because I’ll fight this whole fucking town!

Today, it’s all on my shoulders to select the Mount Rushmore for Seattle sports.  It’s a daunting task, to say the least.  Am I man enough for it?  I dunno, probably not, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

So, I suppose to do this right, there have to be some parameters.  Obviously, they have to be great at their sport; Hall of Fame level.  There’s an element beyond that, though; one that transcends their own personal greatness.  Popularity is certainly a part of it, not just in Seattle, but across America and around the world, but I’d be remiss if I put too much emphasis on their notoriety.  I think it matters not just that they were great on their respective teams, but great when compared to others in the history of the game and position they played.

For instance, Steve Largent is my favorite football player of all time, and at the time of his retirement he was the best the game had ever seen.  But, now?  Largent is 18th in the NFL in total yards, surpassed by the likes of Henry Ellard (played 2 more seasons, is not in the HOF), Andre Johnson (who is good, but does he strike you as transcendant?), and Reggie Wayne (who had one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Peyton Manning throwing to him; of COURSE he has more yards!).  I’m just saying that the greatness of the wide receiver position has been deminished in the wake of the NFL turning into a passing league.  I mean, Terrell Owens has the second-most receiving yards of all time (behind the great Jerry Rice) and he’s still struggling to make it into the HOF!  I don’t care about his reputation or his attitude or whatever; 20 years ago, if he’d retired with the most yards in NFL history, he would’ve been a first ballot enshrinee.

Also, look at someone like Felix Hernandez; my favorite player of all time.  Yeah, he’s great, and he’s in my Mariners Mount Rushmore, but compared to some of the greatest pitchers of all time, Felix is just another guy.  Maybe in another era, with the stuff he has, he would’ve put up numbers commensurate to some of the all timers, but he’s in the era he’s in, and it knocks him back accordingly.  You have to go above and beyond in these situations if you want to make my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore.

In an effort to make this easier on myself, let’s knock out a couple of really obvious ones.

At the top, in the pole position of my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore, I have Ken Griffey Jr.

Absolute no-brainer.  22 years in Major League Baseball, 13 years in Seattle, at the absolute peak of his powers and popularity.  #1 overall draft pick by the Mariners in 1987, in his first 11 years with the organization he made the All Star team 10 times.  10 Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Sluggers, and was the American League MVP in 1997.  He hit 417 of his 630 home runs with the Mariners.  He took the team to its first two playoff appearances in the history of the franchise.  He led the A.L. in homers 4 times and in RBI once.  He’s in the Mariners’ Hall of Fame, is the only actual Mariner to have his number retired, was a member of the MLB All-Century Team, and was the highest vote-getter in MLB Hall of Fame history in his first year of eligibility.  HE WAS THE MOST POPULAR ATHLETE ON THE PLANET!  He’s 6th on the all time home run list, and if you discount the cheaters that are Bonds and A-Rod, he’s truly in rare company (Aaron, Ruth, and Mays, are you KIDDING me?).

That’s what I mean.  Ken Griffey Jr. is the definition of a Mount Rushmore-type player.  He’s the greatest athlete the city of Seattle has ever seen and might be the greatest we will EVER see.  Anyone alive who got to see him play in his prime should thank their lucky stars.

At my #2 spot in my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore, I have Gary Payton.

Again, I think this one is a no-brainer.  18 seasons in the NBA, 13 seasons in Seattle, again at the absolute peak of his powers and popularity.  #2 overall draft pick by the Supersonics in 1990, in his Seattle years he made the All Star team 9 times.  2 All-NBA first teams, 5 second teams, and 2 third teams.  He was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1996, as well as the steals leader the same year.  He is 4th all time in NBA history in steals with 2,445 (behind Michael Jordan, Jason Kidd, and a million miles behind John Stockton).  He’s also 8th all time in NBA history in assists with 8,966 (among the likes of Stockton, Kidd, Nash, Mark Jackson, Magic, Oscar, and Isiah).  When you’re talking true point guards, you’re talking the best of the best, and GP is right there.  He was always a defensive force, but his offense didn’t really start to take off until his fifth season in the league; yet he still managed to score 21,813 points, which is good for 31st all time, just ahead of Larry Bird, and just behind Clyde Drexler.

Again, we’re talking about some of the greatest players to ever put on a jersey and play the game of basketball!  I don’t know if people necessarily think of GP the way they think of Griffey, because Griffey might be the best or second-best centerfielder of all time; whereas there are a bunch of great point guards who are as good or even better.  But, I’m here to tell you that there really aren’t that many.

Guys like Stockton and Kidd played great defense and dished it out like no one else, but their offensive games were largely lacking.  They couldn’t take over a game and back down an opposing guard like GP could.  Nash and Iverson were awesome scorers, but they weren’t as suffocating on defense as GP would be.  Honestly, I think the only people in Gary’s league are Magic, Isiah, and maybe Oscar (but, I’ll be honest here, all three of those guys were either a little or a lot before my time, and I didn’t get to see them play in their primes).  Anyway, I’m talking about COMPLETE point guards, guys who played on both sides of the ball and did it damn well on both ends.  Not to mention from 1995 through 2003, Gary averaged over 38 minutes per game.

The only shame of it all is that he played in the opposite conference from Michael Jordan, and only got to face off against MJ the one time in the NBA Finals.  I think if those guys were in the same division and had to go against one another 4 times a year plus every year in the playoffs, it would’ve been one of the truly great rivalries in NBA history.  As it stands, Gary really didn’t have anyone who was his direct rival.  He was already established when Kobe was a young pup.  Kidd and Stockton were never much to speak of on the offensive side of the ball, so they never really challenged him at that end.  All the best scoring guards during Gary’s prime were in the East, or they were past their primes when Gary was in his.  That Finals series in 1996 was one for the ages, though.  It’s just too bad it was the first for that group in Seattle; I think the severity of the situation got to them mentally.  For the Bulls, it was old hat; just another business trip.  I think if the Sonics had gotten theirs in 1994 (like they SHOULD have), by 1996 it would’ve been like two equally fierce titans going against one another.  What could have been.

***

With the easy half of our Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore out of the way, now we get to the more difficult decisions.

For starters, where are the Seahawks?  I’m pretty sure you can’t have one of these without throwing a Seahawk on there, so let’s get cracking.

As I wrote about yesterday, there are currently 4 Seahawks in the NFL Hall of Fame (with this year’s induction of Kenny Easley).  So, yeah, a lot to choose from here.  At the top, I talked about Steve Largent a little bit, and I still stand behind that.  I think his candidacy for this list is pretty lacking, when you consider his current place in NFL history, which I very much believe applies here.

When you look at the rest of the Hall of Famers, I think one name clearly stands out, and that name is Walter Jones, my third choice for the Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore.

There aren’t really a ton of stats I can sit here and pull up to show Big Walt’s greatness; it’s not like the NFL keeps track of “pancakes” as an official stat (BTW tho, they absolutely SHOULD).  Jones made 9 Pro Bowls, was First Team All Pro 4 times, and Second Team twice.  He was on the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s.  He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and has had his #71 retired by the Seahawks.

If you want to get a little deeper, in trying to compare him to the other greats in NFL history, that’s a little trickier.  Pro Football Reference has their “Approximate Value” stat that tries to equalize things across all positions, and gives your career a numerical value accordingly.  Across all positions, in the entirety of NFL history, Jones is currently tied for 150th, which – when you think about how many players there have been – is pretty astounding.  I did the research, and there are only 26 offensive linemen ahead of him on that list, but the vast majority of them are either guards or centers.  Among just the left tackles, there are only 6 ahead of Walter Jones:  Anthony Munoz, Lomas Brown, Willie Roaf, Mike Kenn, Gary Zimmerman, and Orlando Pace.  Four of those guys are Hall of Famers, and the other two (Brown and Kenn) just played forever.  So, yeah, I’d say that’s pretty good company.

Anecdotally, Walter Jones IS one of the greatest left tackles in NFL history.  The combination of speed, size, technique, power, durability, raw talent; it’s something we probably will never see around here ever again.  It’s ultimately the durability issue that cost him the end of his career, as injuries and surgeries became too much and cut it short, but he’s also a guy who was able to play through a lot of pain and injuries and keep up his high level of play.  He may not be the force of nature, popularity-wise, that Griffey or even Payton were, but his talent and standing among the greats at his position relative to the history of the game more than makes up for it.  As such, Big Walt is my #3.

***

Which leads us to our Abraham Lincoln spot on the mountain.  Who is my #4?

The fact that this is far and away the most difficult choice for me ultimately leads me to believe that whoever I choose is not long for this spot.  I’m a firm believer in the Smell Test, or the Eyeball Test, or whatever you want to call it.  Is a guy a Hall of Famer?  That should be obvious; it shouldn’t take much more than 10 seconds to decide.  Either he is or he isn’t.  Obviously, there are people on the bubble who need arguments in their favor (*cough* EDGAR *cough*), but for me it’s a lot more simple.  Yes, Edgar is a Hall of Famer; NEXT!

But, I don’t really have a solid #4, which means my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore is sitting atop a pretty shaky foundation.  There are certainly guys in the running.  Edgar Martinez, for instance, would be a fine choice; but can I include a guy who’s not even in the MLB Hall of Fame (yet)?  Same goes for someone like Jack Sikma (who absolutely should be a basketball hall of famer).  There are plenty of former Sonics and Seahawks who ARE in their respective halls of fame, so it doesn’t seem totally fair.  On top of that, can you rank any of these other guys as among the greatest at their positions all time?

My actual belief is that the #4 player on my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore is currently playing for the Seattle Seahawks.  But, since his career hasn’t ended yet, is it really appropriate to put him on there now?  Frankly, I think we’re another 7 years of quality play out of Earl Thomas from him being the guy.  If he can keep it up, and manage to stay healthy, he will go down as one of the most talented and important free safeties in the history of the NFL, with this Seahawks defense going down as one of the elite defenses in the history of the NFL.  As I wrote about yesterday, he’s the straw that stirs the drink; others may come and go, play or be injured, but the constant is Earl Thomas.  And, most importantly, we got a clear and obvious look at what this defense is without him, in the final 5 regular season games and 2 playoff games last year:  it’s not pretty.

So, I WANT to put Earl in here, but I just can’t.  What if injuries plague him from here on out and cut his career short?  Well, that opens the door for Richard Sherman, who is already the greatest cornerback in franchise history and already has made a name for himself among the greatest to ever play the game.  He needs some longevity to go with that to be Mount Rushmore-worthy, and the biggest question here is:  will he play out the duration of his career in Seattle?  There are obvious, serious doubts there too.

Which takes me to Russell Wilson.  What if he plays another 15 years for Seattle, and leads us to another 2-3 Super Bowls?  Doesn’t he HAVE to be the #4 on my Mount Rushmore, simply for the fact that he’s the most popular, recognizable figure on this team, at its most important position?

So, you see the bind I’m in.  All three of those guys are worthy, but all three of them need to put on some more years before they can be taken seriously among the top three on this list.

Where do I go from here?  While I acknowledge all of the above is true, I refuse to put “Placeholder” as my #4, so I’ve gotta make a choice.  To me, I think it has to come down to a couple of names:  Cortez Kennedy and Ichiro.

The Tez falls a few points below Big Walt on the ol’ Approximate Value scale, but I’m not going to go through and count the number of defensive tackles ahead of him.  Here’s what I’ve got:  11 year career, all with Seattle.  First round draft pick, #3 overall.  8 Pro Bowls, 3 First Team All-Pros, 2 Second Teams.  NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992.  NFL 1990s All-Decade Team.  His number 96 is retired, and he’s in the NFL Hall of Fame.  Unfortunately, he got saddled on a lot of bad and mediocre teams, so the 2-time College Football National Champion only made one NFL playoff appearance (losing in the Wild Card round).  In my estimation, Tez ranks among the best all time at what he did, which was an all-around defensive tackle who could both rush the passer and defend against the run.  His sack numbers are impressive – particularly when you consider the number of double-teams he had to face – but his total tackle numbers are even MORE impressive.  I mean, he had 3 seasons where he averaged over 70 tackles per year!  As a DT!  Those are linebacker and safety numbers!

Then, there’s Ichiro.  He’s not in the MLB Hall of Fame, but that’s only because he’s STILL playing, at the age of 43.  Here’s a guy who spent 9 years in Japan before coming over to Seattle.  From age 18-26 (where, for a lot of people, he’d be working his way through the minors and getting into his prime at the Major League level), his numbers are essentially rendered irrelevant by a lot of baseball fans.  He nevertheless, as a pro starting at the age of 27, has managed to get over 3,000 hits, 2,533 of which were in a Mariners uniform.

Let’s get into it:  he was with the Mariners for 12 seasons.  An All Star his first 10 years (including All Star Game MVP in 2007).  A Gold Glover his first 10 years.  A Silver Slugger 3 times.  A Fielding Bible Award winner 3 times.  American League batting champion twice.  In 2001, he was the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in the A.L.  He also led the league in stolen bases that year.  He also had over 200 hits in his first 10 years, and set the single-season record for hits with 262 in 2004.  Like Tez, Ichiro was saddled with some pretty bad Mariners teams after the 2003 season.  Yet, he stuck around and remained true to the organization long after he could’ve gone to any number of teams to play for a contender.

If you want to talk about popularity – particularly on a global scale – Ichiro sits up there with Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime.  Even across America, he was the face of the Seattle Mariners for a decade!  He was a dominant force at the top of the lineup, and he was equally as great at his defense in right field.  He stole bases, he kept the opposing team’s running game in check, and if he were in a better-run organization, he could’ve done even MORE with his offensive numbers.

Is he among the greatest outfielders of all time?  That’s a little tougher to nail down.  He wasn’t like a Griffey or a Mays; Ichiro’s game is speed and singles (among other things).  I think he ranks up there among the greats at his defense, and among the greatest all time leadoff hitters.  I think he’s the greatest Japanese-born baseball player of all time, which is not an insignificant feat.  And, I think when you tack on the fact that some of his prime years were spent in the inferior Japanese leagues, you have to wonder what could’ve been had he gotten to America sooner.

All of that considered, that’s why I’m making Ichiro my #4 on my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore.

So, what do you think?  Griffey, Payton, Jones, Ichiro.  With a very strong likelihood that my future #4 will be someone on this current Seahawks team.  Maybe in another decade I’ll come back and write a new one of these for shits and giggles.

James Paxton Is The Greatest Pitcher Alive

8 innings of 2-hit, 1-walk shutout ball to throw on the pile.  21 innings of 8-hit, 4-walk shutout ball to start the season.  9 more strikeouts to give him 22 on the season.

As Childish Gambino said, “Don’t be mad because I’m doing me better than you’re doing you.”

This was quite the enjoyable game.  Paxton was dealing, but really there was good pitching on both sides, outside of one half inning, where the Mariners scored all five of their runs in winning this thing 5-0.

One out into the bottom of the sixth, Mitch Haniger got it going with a single to left.  He’s got that batting average WAY up, check the slash line:  .292/.393/.542.  Cano got on via an error by the short stop, and Cruz walked to load ’em up.  That brought up Seager, whose power numbers are still lacking, but everything else is starting to climb up to respectability.  He mashed a single into right to score two runs, which knocked out the Rangers’ starter.  Taylor Motter stepped to the plate, flowing mane of hair rustling ever so gently under his batting helmet.  Earlier this week, he had that 3-double game against the Astros and followed it up the very next night with another double and a homer.  Well, he wasn’t able to get any extra-base hits off of Texas on Friday (just a run of the mill single, frowny-face), but I’ll be damned if he didn’t get right back on the horse with a 3-run homer to put the nail in the coffin!

Taylor Motter is hitting .333.  He’s getting on base at a near-.400 clip.  But, his slugging is – get this – .810!  I didn’t realize, when we acquired this utility infielder from the Rays, that we’d be getting the second coming of Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds, but when you’re talking about an .810 slugging percentage, those are the two guys who have ever done that over a full season!  Now listen, obviously I have no delusions of this guy slugging .810 for us all year, that would be clinically insane.  But, what this blog post presupposes is … maybe he will?

The rest of the Mariners didn’t do much of anything else last night, but I don’t care about that.  All I want is all of Haniger’s and Motter’s at bats run on a loop, forever and ever.

I will say that we got a good 9th inning out of Nick Vincent.  Credit where it’s due, he shut the Rangers down before they could even THINK of mounting a comeback.

On the flipside, the M’s went 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position.  I’m starting to keep a log of everyone’s totals in this category because this team is driving me fucking crazy, and I’ve got some hard data for you.  The Mariners as a team are hitting .157 on the year with RISP.  If you figure league average is somewhere around .250, obviously the Mariners have a ways to go just to get back up to average.  Given the track record of the players we know about, and given how special guys like Haniger and Motter have been in the early going, you’d expect our average with RISP will go up in a hurry, and good times will be right around the corner.

Well, we’ll see.  It’s interesting that the M’s are struggling with RISP even in their wins.  In the 4 wins, the Mariners are hitting 9 for 44 with RISP (.205), which means in the losses, you can really point to a lack of clutch hitting, as their average with RISP falls to .125, with the majority of our losses coming to the Astros, ergo the Astros are skewing our numbers in a big way.

You won’t be surprised at who is sucking our collective wills to live the most in this category.  Valencia is 1 for 10, Martin is 0 for 11, and Zunino is a whopping 1 for 15!  It might shock you that Cruz is also up there, at 2 for 13, which is unacceptable for a cleanup hitter.  But, truth be told, no one is great.  Cano has had the most opportunities and he’s only hitting .250, so pretty much everyone can get a lot more clutch for this team, if it expects to go to the playoffs.

Winning a series is nice.  First series win of the season is under our belt, just 12 games into the season.  But, this feels like it needs to be a sweep, so go out there this afternoon and get the job done!

The Mariners Drafted Kyle Lewis & Joe Rizzo

I’m not a huge draftnik in general, and specifically with baseball I don’t know if I could care any less than I already do.  I don’t follow college baseball, I sure as SHIT don’t follow high school baseball, I’m not a scout, and trying to project what teenagers will become in 3-8 years sounds like a futile and pointless exercise.

I pay attention one day a year, and that’s Day 1 of the draft, and by “pay attention” I mean:  I happen to be on Twitter and notice the beat writers talking about it.  Then, I click on links they offer, read what people have to say, and that’s the basis for my knowledge on the subject.  Pretty neat, huh?

In years past, the Mariners have drafted the following in the first round:

  • 2015 –
  • 2014 – Alex Jackson (OF)
  • 2013 – D.J. Peterson (3B – converted to 1B)
  • 2012 – Mike Zunino (C)
  • 2011 – Danny Hultzen (SP)
  • 2010 – Taijuan Walker (SP)
  • 2009 – Dustin Ackley (OF – converted to 2B – converted to OF)
  • 2009 – Nick Franklin (SS)
  • 2009 – Steve Baron (C)

As you can see, a real Who’s Who of garbage (and Taijuan Walker).  To be honest, I forgot all about Steve Baron, but he’s a no-bat defensive catcher who makes Jesus Sucre look like Babe Ruth at the plate.  Nick Franklin is in the Tampa Bay organization and is still trying to break on through into becoming a regular big leaguer.  Dustin Ackley is The Most Disappointing Man In The World.  Taijuan you all know and love.  Hultzen is one of a long line of safe Jackie Z draft picks, who was supposedly the most “Major League-ready” pitcher, but whose bevy of arm injuries has killed his career.  The jury is still out on Peterson and Jackson; but Peterson was drafted for his bat and his power, and has yet to really impress with either on a regular basis; and Jackson is mired in single-A ball, appearing to be on nobody’s fast track to the Majors.

This year, with the 11th overall pick, the Mariners selected Kyle Lewis, an outfielder out of Mercer University.  He’s 6’4, he bats and throws right-handed, his position for now is in centerfield, but some project him to be a corner outfield guy.  He played basketball and baseball in high school, and only dedicated himself exclusively to baseball relatively late in his amateur career.  He went to Mercer as a project, busted out as a Sophomore, and was “College Player of the Year” as a Junior this year.  In 61 games this season, he hit 20 homers while putting up a slash line of .395/.535/.731, while also walking a whopping 66 times.  So, he’s got the power, he’s got the plate discipline, his swing is apparently a little long and wonky, but they can work on that with him after he signs, he’s rangy, with good but not great speed, and has a nice arm.  His high leg kick is apparently a concern, which could mean he’s in for a lot of strikeouts when paired with that swing.  So, it’ll be imperative that he smooths all that out if he wants to make it to the Bigs someday.  One would think, as he continues to round out as a pro and puts on some more muscle, he won’t necessarily need that leg kick to generate the power he’s accustomed to.  If that clicks for him, he could be a monster.  I’m seeing comparisons ranging from Jason Heyward to Mike Cameron.

From what I’ve read, I like the pick, but then again I’d probably be saying that no matter who the Mariners went with at the 11th overall spot.  Lewis had been considered by many to be a Top 10 pick, with some people ranking him as high as the third overall selection.  The Mariners themselves thought they didn’t have a chance at him when they scouted him initially, so for them it was a nice, pleasant surprise.  I mostly like that he’s a high upside player.  Granted, he could make it to Tacoma and promptly flame out like so many Quad-A outfielders we’ve gotten to that point in recent years.  But, if he figures it all out, he could be a superstar in this league.  Here’s to hoping he’s got the focus, and the organization has the people around him to make that a reality.

The farm system, right now, is pretty dire.  I don’t think there’s a single person in AAA, for instance, who projects to be an everyday Major Leaguer (maybe a bullpen guy or something, but the rest of those guys seem to have hit their ceilings).  There’s some good-looking talent in AA right now, but you figure you’re still at least a couple years away (at best) from seeing them produce in a Mariners uniform.  Beyond that, who knows?  So, when I see the Mariners have drafted a centerfielder, I don’t really pay attention to specific “needs” at the big league level.  Since these guys don’t generally make an impact for many years after they’re drafted, it’s not like football where you see holes and you draft guys to fill those holes; in 5 years, or whatever, when Kyle Lewis is ready to get his shot at the Major Leagues, will there be a hole in centerfield?  Probably, but you can’t think that way as a fan.  From a farm system perspective, there are holes EVERYWHERE, at all levels!  The draft is the crappiest of crapshoots, particularly in baseball.  Bringing in talent, regardless of position, is what’s important right now.

Especially since, when you think about it, the Mariners are currently in contention, and might be robbing from that farm system to try to bring in big leaguers to help us win right now.  Obviously, we just drafted Kyle Lewis, so he isn’t going anywhere.  But, guys above him, in AA and AAA, might be shipped off.  So, replacing those guys with incoming draft picks – and having some of those draft picks actually pan out – is going to be pretty important.

Which brings me to the Mariners’ second round pick, Joe Rizzo.  He’s a high schooler with a nice swing, who appears to be pretty polished at the plate, and raw literally everywhere else.  He’s not as athletic as you like – particularly for a third baseman – which is why everyone is already projecting him to move anywhere from left field to first base.  Considering that’s more or less what they were talking about when the Mariners drafted D.J. Peterson, I’m not super-thrilled with these descriptions.  I mean, who was the last guy they talked about in these terms, who actually panned out in a big way in the Majors?  Seriously, I’m asking, because as I said before, I don’t follow the draft all that closely!

For what it’s worth, they said similar things about Dustin Ackley as well (although, his bat was more highly regarded, thus the #2 overall draft slot).  Guys who hit well in college and high school, who don’t have an established defensive position, aren’t really options in my mind.  Yeah, they may be good to go from a hitting perspective, but that just means they’re going to put all their energy into either learning a new defensive position, or trying to refine the position they came up with.  Either way, all that focus on the defensive side of the ball – which is VERY important – will inevitably take away from them becoming a professional hitter, at which point you’ve got a player who isn’t good defensively, who also hasn’t made any strides at the plate, and all that promise they had coming in will have been squandered.

Look for Joe Rizzo to be absolutely nothing for the Mariners one day.  I hope he proves me wrong, but I seriously doubt it.

At least with Kyle Lewis, you’ve got athleticism, and some built-in defensive ability, to go with his excellence at the plate, so all he has to do is refine and mature, as opposed to essentially starting all over as a professional.

Baseball can be really discouraging.  Baseball prospects are generally at the top of that pyramid.  Now you can see why I rarely try to put any energy into focusing on the minor leagues.

Detroit Saves The Mariners About $214 Million By Signing Prince Fielder

In my wildest dreams, if I thought the Mariners were going to add an additional $100 million in payroll this year and going forward, I would’ve gladly welcomed them to spend $250 million of that on Prince Fielder for the next decade.  However, if you’re talking about adding $100 million to your payroll, you’re essentially willing to put down Fuck You money on your 25-man roster (i.e.  you’re able to say Fuck You to any player who eventually under-performs his contract due to age, fitness, or mental decline by replacing him with the next $250 million man that comes along in free agency).

Since it’s obvious the Mariners were never going to do that, then signing Prince Fielder for that much money is clinically insane.  Having Fuck You money means you’re in control, and if the player wants to keep his position, he’s going to have to live up to the numbers that got him that much money in the first place.  But, forking over a full quarter (or more) of your team’s salary to 1/25th of the roster essentially gives HIM all the power.  It lets a guy like Prince Fielder slack off like he’s some naturally-gifted Babe Ruth who can turn it on whenever he wants.

I fully expect Prince Fielder, after this contract, to be on the DL no less than 5 times in the next 5 seasons.  At least one time for something really serious that knocks him on the 60-day DL.  After that, I expect him to bat no better than .250 for the remaining four seasons, with his home run and RBI production to decline every year (until eventually, in year 7 or 8, he’s traded for another team’s aging contract bust).

At this point, as a Mariner fan, who has suffered free agent bust after free agent bust, I would rather take my chances with the youth.  If we’re not going to pony up the Fuck You money required to win big in the Majors, we might as well save our money and spend it on our up-and-coming prospects when they finally hit free agency.  At least then, if they’re worth the big payday, we’ll know they can handle the confines of Safeco Field.

Believe you me, when Felix is up for a new deal in a few years, we’ll want to have all that cabbage we saved on a soon-to-be worthless Prince Fielder.  Trust me.

The Most Boring Fucking Offseason In Mariners History … Until It Isn’t

Like, right now.

Bitchin' ...

So, after the 9,000th reliever signed to a minor league contract, I’d just about had it with this whole offseason.  Are you telling me, in the most pivotal offseason in Jack Zduriencik’s Major League career, he’s going to go down – not swinging – but desperately clutching his bat to his back shoulder as Strike Three blows past him?  All while we wait for a guy in Prince Fielder to make up his fucking mind sometime this century (when we know God damned well that he’s not going to settle for Seattle anyway).

This offseason has been, in two words:  fucking idiotic.  Our biggest move of the last three months is a tie between signing 34 year old lefty bullpen specialist (and ex-trade bait for Erik Bedard) George Sherrill and a trade for a backup catcher in John Jaso (in the process, losing out on ex-trade bait for Cliff Lee, Josh Lueke).

BUT, all of that changes on one bitter-ass cold Friday afternoon in mid-January!  Just when you think all is lost!  Just when you read Larry Stone’s blog and resign yourself to the cream of the crap in free agency (once Fielder finally signs with the Rangers)!  Just when you’re seriously considering forever giving up on the sport of baseball, because there’s no way your team is ever going to be interesting ever again!

The Mariners trade Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero.  Yeah, THAT Jesus Montero.

Pardon me while I go back and re-write my Justin Smoak post … Jesus Montero will be the second-coming of Babe Ruth!  He and Smoak will both be contending for RBI titles for the next decade!  Woo!

Snap judgments right now are going ballistic on the Mariners for trading away an All Star starting pitcher.  While that’s definitely true, you’re still talking about a guy who was remarkably worse in the 2nd half of last season.  His fastball had less on it, teams were able to figure him out and hit him around, his eye-popping performances were few and far between.  Was it due to his being a young, rookie pitcher in his first full season in the Majors?  Possibly.  Or maybe that’s a better reflection of who he is.

Let’s face it, starting pitchers are huge crapshoots.  Who’s to say, now that the AL has figured him out, they continue to make him look semi-worthless?  His fastball doesn’t have a tremendous amount of movement; his curveball is obviously devastating, but not necessarily against lefties.  And maybe he never develops an effective change up to be that dominant force in the AL like Felix is.  You don’t know!  What if 2011 was as good as it gets?

Here’s the rub:  the Mariners had zero hitting.  Jesus Montero looks like he’s going to be good-to-great, regardless of where he plays.  The Mariners have a surplus of pitching.  Safeco is the key ingredient to that; it makes guys like Jason Vargas into $5 million/year starting pitchers with a terrible fastball and a decent change.  In other words:  the Mariners are ALWAYS going to have good pitching.  It’s the exact opposite of the Kingdome days, where if you didn’t have a guy like Randy Johnson, then your ERA was likely to be in the 5’s.  In Safeco, you’ll have a 3 ERA where anywhere else in baseball that number would be a run or two higher.

I like the move.  Yeah, it’s going to make the Yankees absolutely sick … but then again, maybe it doesn’t.  If Pineda flames out into an average starter, then they’ve just been whamboozled.  As for the Mariners, the motto of the day is:

There’s more (pitching) where that came from.

Is This The End Of Guti?

I wrote this on August 2nd of 2011.  Going into that day, he was batting .195 with 7 extra base hits and only 1 home run.  He missed the first month and a half with his intestinal disorder, then he had just a HORRENDOUS two and a half months at the plate as he tried to regain his strength and stamina for Major League Baseball.

I wrote that plea on August 2nd, then he proceeded to bat .297 for the rest of the month, with 6 doubles.  By no means are those Ruthian numbers, but it was a sign of life from a guy struggling just to stay above water.  He played in 4 more games in September before he was shut down with an oblique strain, which admittedly isn’t great for the cause.

Part of me still believes in Guti.  Part of me dreads that we’ll trade him and another team is going to reap the rewards of a .300 hitter who’s also the best defensive centerfielder in the game.  That same part of me dreads that we’re going to give him up for pennies on the dollar because our trading partner will be buying low on a high-upside guy who has proven to be an effective player in the Big Leagues.

Look, I understand the deck is stacked against him.  He’s got that intestinal condition and who knows if/when THAT is going to flare up again!  He’s already slight of build, so you have to wonder if this oblique strain isn’t a byproduct of him potentially being injury-prone.  He’s shown in every season he’s been in the Big Leagues that he fades down the stretch (another possible byproduct of him being so damn frail?).  And, to top it all off, he’s going to be earning a healthy paycheck the next two years; a healthy paycheck that could be better used to put towards someone like Prince Fielder, perhaps.

If your endgame is to throw wheelbarrows full of money at someone like Prince Fielder, then I guess you have no choice.  You can’t afford to be paying someone like Guti upwards of $7 million per season if he’s going to give you what he’s given you the past two seasons.  You’re better served paying the minimum to someone like Trayvon Robinson, who will – in all likelihood – give you exactly what you’ve gotten from Guti.

But, I dunno.  I dunno because I’ve seen what Guti is capable of at his best.  In April of 2010, he was absolutely CARRYING this team.  Batting .326, 8 extra-base hits, 13 RBI … I know it’s a small sample, but his numbers didn’t start dropping dramatically until the summer, when it was evident he was affected by his condition.

I don’t think we’re going to have Guti for much longer; I think it’s a terrible longshot for him to even show up for Spring Training.  It’s too bad, but that’s the business aspect of this game.  You can’t do what he’s done at the plate – regardless of any physical ailments – while making the money he’s made and believe you’re going to stick with that team.  Still, I’m a fan of Guti’s.  I’m a fan of anyone who’s an elite defensive genius, but I thought Guti was special.  I still DO think he’s special.

And I think he’ll reveal to his next team all of those gifts that drew in the fans from Seattle.  He may not be an MVP-calibre All Star, but I could see him being a very-effective piece to a World Series champion.

Justin Smoak Is Awesome

Just another 3 for 4 night, that’s all.  A homer, a double, no big deal.

Except, HEY, it is a big deal!  I can’t remember the last time we had a guy who we could count on to get us the big hits when we needed them.

Oh sure, every once in a while a guy like Adrian Beltre would have a big game.  Maybe once in a blue moon someone like Jack Wilson would squeak a couple doubles down the line within the same 9-inning stretch.  But to have a guy, right smack dab in the middle of the order, who isn’t afraid of the spotlight, who isn’t over-burdened by the pressure of playing on a light-hitting ballclub, who doesn’t chase ever single fucking low-and-away change up the other team throws … I mean, it’s extraordinary!

I’m not gonna lie to you, I’m tired of that guy.  The Jose Lopez, Miguel Olivo, Michael Saunders, Richie Sexson, Russell Branyan type.  No eye for pitches, swinging out of their shoes to try to rope the ball out of the yard, ultimately the most predictable hitters who’ve ever lived.  If they’re not aggressively going after first-pitch fastballs (which, for some reason, they NEVER are), then they automatically fall behind in the count and pull a Serrano from Major League:

Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straightball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid. I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats. I offer him cigar, rum. He will come.

Justin Smoak, on the other hand, looks like a capable fucking human being!  He’s NOT over-anxious at the plate.  He lets the pitcher come to him and then HE dictates what’s going to happen.  I’m telling you, if you’re able to lay off that bendy shit, you’re going to look a MILLION times better with a bat in your hand.

I mean, you’d think if you were playing the game long enough, you’d be able to recognize what a pitch looks like when it’s about to fall out of the strike zone!

The best part of this month and change is being able to see Smoak emerge before our very eyes; from a kid struggling to make the transition from AAA to the major leagues, to a man absolutely crushing the ball off of AL pitchers.

He has 28 hits this year in 89 at-bats.  13 of those 28 hits (ALMOST HALF!!!1) are extra-base hits (8 doubles, 5 homers).  He’s also got 15 walks to only 21 strikeouts.  Add it all up and you know what you’ve got?  A .983 OPS, which I don’t need to tell you is fucking outstanding.  That’s a Babe Ruthian OPS right there!

I really hope he keeps it up.  And, shit, I hope the team keeps it up too!  We’ve got nothing but good things in Marinerland the last couple weeks; enjoy it.  I SAID ENJOY IT, MOTHERFUCKERS!  Get out to the ballpark and take in a game once in a while, Christ!

Kid Griffey: Welcome To Your Destiny

I’m a baseball fan who’s mostly favored the pitching side of things. But, if I had to pick a favorite player, I’d probably be an Edgar or a Bone man.

But, favorites have nothing to do with this. Because we’re talking about the Greatest Mariner of All Time (and yeah, one of my favorite players too), Ken Griffey Jr.

There’s not a lot of ways to go with this story that hasn’t already been done. Greatest Mariner, Most Popular Seattle Athlete (possibly even Best Seattle Athlete, but I might be reserving that one for Walter Jones), Best Baseball Player of the 1990s, Greatest Swing of All Time … and a seemingly infinite list of “One of’s”. As in: One of the Best Baseball Players of All Time, One of the Best Centerfielders of All Time, One of the Greatest Home Run Hitters of All Time.

That’s all great, and you can read about it HERE among other places, but there’s one thing no one else in Major League Baseball can take from him. He’s the Greatest Player in the Steroids Era.

Where others had to cheat to get an edge, Griffey was a natural. One might argue that Bonds was a natural too, but he just (definitely allegedly) cheated because he’s an egomaniac. As a fan, that’s something we’ll always hold as a badge of honor: we got to root for a player with integrity. He may have fallen short in Home Runs, total hits, and RBI, but I’d rather root for the 5th Best Home Run Hitter who was honest than the Best Home Run Hitter who juiced (knowingly or unknowingly, it’s still cheating; admit it you scumbag!).

And you know, while I’m at it, I know a lot of old timers like to say those All Time Greats like Ruth and Aaron and Mays had it tougher because they played in fewer games and in bigger stadia … but I would argue that the players of today (and especially in the era of Griffey’s prime, when testes were shrivelled and bacne was rampant) are facing a quality of pitcher that’s MUCH better than those of the 20s, 50s, and 70s. I mean, say what you will about expansion, but today’s athletes are unquestionably more athletic than those of yester-century.

Here, take a quick look at the All Time Stats of an All Time Great:

630 Home Runs
2781 Hits
1836 RBI
524 Doubles
1662 Runs
1312 Walks (vs. 1779 Strike Outs)
.284 Batting Average (in 9801 At Bats)
.370 On-Base Percentage
.538 Slugging Percentage
.908 On-Base + Slugging Percentage
2671 Games (over 22 Seasons)

The one major regret of any champion is that he was never ACTUALLY a champion. He deserved better. 1996 will go down as one of the all time Lost Seasons of any major league baseball team (well, except for 1994’s strike-shortened season when the Mariners were rolling). ’96, if you’ll recall, was a few months removed from one of the best Mariners seasons of all time. The Season That Saved Baseball In Seattle. Refuse To Lose and all that, with the Yankees series won in unbelievably exciting fashion in 5 games (also known as The Double). The Mariners were on a roll, even though they lost out in the ALCS to Cleveland, 1996 was the year we were going to step out into the forefront as contenders. Then, our ace, Randy Johnson, had his back go out on him and we lost him for the majority of the year. Players like Bob Wells came in and filled in admirably, but that team couldn’t crack the playoffs, and we never really came all that close to the World Series again. Yeah, we hit the playoffs in 1997, but we lost in the ALDS to the fucking Orioles and that was it for Kid Griffey, the Mariners, and the Post Season.

To think of all that offense we had in the mid to late 90s, and we couldn’t put together a decent fucking pitching staff to make ONE World Series run? We couldn’t have just drop-kicked the farm to put a bullpen in place that might not entirely melt down in the face of no pressure?

It’s sickening, but it’s certainly not Griffey’s fault. He did absolutely everything he could; and if he REALLY wanted to, he could’ve attached himself to a more natural contender. But, that wasn’t Griffey’s style. Besides, he hated the fucking Yankees, which might be the most endearing quality about him, even more loveable than that million dollar smile. He played a bunch of years for the team that drafted him and he played a bunch of years for the hometown team he grew up rooting for.

To Griffey, the joy of baseball was in the experience. It wasn’t necessarily the records or the pennants. It was the experience, the lifestyle, the camaraderie, the fans, and the fun.

To Mariner fans, the joy of baseball was Kid Griffey. We’re all better for having witnessed the greatest baseball player of the last quarter century.