Ken Griffey Jr., Hall of Famer

I’ve made no secret about it:  I’m one of those insufferable assholes who originally jumped on the Seattle Mariners’ bandwagon during the closing few weeks of the 1995 season.  I would have been 14 years old at the time, which quite honestly is pretty late in the game, as far as getting into a new sport is concerned.  You normally develop those lifelong attachments to your sports teams in your childhood, in the 8-10 years old range.

Ken Griffey's grotesquely swollen jaw ...

Ken Griffey’s grotesquely swollen jaw …

At some point in the mid-to-late 80s (I want to say the 1987 range), I started getting into the Seahawks.  By 1988, I was on a 3 packs a week habit (football cards, Topps).  By 1989 and 1990, it was probably closer to 6 packs (Pro Set).  I joined my dad’s work’s NFL Pick ‘Em pool against all the adults and even won some weeks (at $5 per entry per week, that was a solid chunk of change for a kid under 10 years of age).  I was a football lifer, no doubt about it.

In 1993, I started getting heavily into the NBA and the Sonics.  So, maybe they were my gateway drug into other sports.  Regardless, baseball has always been my third sports love, and that’s probably the way it’s always going to be (even though I mostly ignore the NBA now and will continue to do so until Seattle gets a team again).

I was always aware of the Mariners existing, as a kid.  They were consistently losing, so I didn’t really see the point in paying attention.  I didn’t have a parent or other type of older person I looked up to who were baseball fans.  I come from a family of football fans, period.  Any other sports would have to be pursued on my own.

But, in 1995, the Mariners were surging in the standings, and drawing attention all across the nation.  FINALLY, Seattle had winning baseball, and the sports bandwagoners ate it up.

I was also generally aware of Ken Griffey Jr., but I don’t know if I could say he was a hero of mine or anything.  My first sports idol was Steve Largent.  My second and third were, in some order, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton.  By the time I started getting into the Mariners, Griffey was more national icon than simply a local superstar.  And, when I was that age, contrarian that I was in my know-it-all teens, I didn’t want to be some mope who went along with the crowd (even though that’s exactly who I was, jumping on the bandwagon when I did).  I was more of a Randy Johnson man, or a Jay Buhner man.

But, that’s not to say I disliked Griffey.  Indeed, I revered him as much as anyone in sports.  He was truly one of the best baseball players alive, and to have him on the Mariners was some sort of good fortune I just took for granted at the time.  With all the stars on the Sonics, and an all-time legend in Largent on the Seahawks, I just figured every team in every sport had at least one superstar and they always would.

Looking back on it now, I sort of wish I’d been a fan from the very beginning of his career.  It’s hard to appreciate the whole arc of his story, when I started somewhere in the middle.  By the time I was paying attention to Griffey, he was the best player on the planet.  So, all I’ve known of him has been the mythology, and the slow fall from grace.

I had about 4.25 good years as a fan of Ken Griffey Jr. before he forced his way out.  Obviously, there was the 1995 miracle finish that came JUST short of a World Series appearance.  At that point, we figured the sky was the limit for the Seattle Mariners, and there would be many MANY consecutive years of playoff appearances.  In 1996, we were cut down by Randy Johnson’s injury, and a pisspoor bullpen.  In 1997, we made it back to the playoffs, but we sold our soul to do it (the Lowe/Varitek trade & the Cruz trade).  And even then, we lost in the first round.  1998 & 1999 were essentially lost seasons, and the beginning of the end of those Mariners teams (it really started with the Tino Martinez trade, but continued with the Randy Johnson trade, and climaxed with the Griffey trade).

So much of being a Mariners fan is being jerked around by ownership and then hoping for the best.  It’s been that way since the very beginning.  In my formative years as a Mariners fan, it was endless penny-pinching by ownership.  We made all those trades in the mid-to-late 90s, one by one stripping this team of all its quality players and superstars, and yet there really wasn’t a noticeable penalty.  By 2000 and 2001, the Mariners were magically one of the best teams in baseball, and you can look at the guys we got in return from some of those trades (Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, Mike Cameron) as real building blocks in our rise to prominence.  Those teams didn’t have the flash that the mid-90s teams had, but they were solid, and they got the job done in the regular season.

Yet, you can point to losing Randy Johnson (who would go on to win multiple Cy Young Awards), Tino Martinez & Jeff Nelson (who would go on to win multiple World Series titles with the Yankees), Ken Griffey Jr. (who went on to have moderate, injury-plagued success with the Reds), and later Alex Rodriguez (who took the biggest contract offer he could get, which obviously would never come from this Mariners organization), as the reason why this team never achieved any playoff success whatsoever.

If we focused on building around our stars, instead of shipping them off for adequate role players, maybe we wouldn’t have had some of the regular season successes we had in the early 2000’s, but a team with Randy, Tino, Nelson, Griffey, and A-Rod is sure as shit built for post-season glory.  It’s easy to look back on it now and say, “It’s so simple!”  But, at the time, with the Mariners rocking and rolling for the most part, it was understandable to think the good times would only continue.

When news hit of Griffey demanding a trade, I honestly don’t remember how I felt.  Disappointment, mostly.  I don’t think I really understood what was happening or why it was happening.  We were fed the line of Griffey wanting to be closer to home, closer to family, but I don’t think I entirely bought it then, and I still don’t think I entirely buy it now.  This Mariners organization has always been kind of a mess.  The product on the field always should have had better results.  But, the people in charge of personnel kept screwing things up at every possible turn, and the owners didn’t have the fortitude or the mental capacity to reward their very best players with contracts commensurate to their value on the open market.  On the one hand, you can laud the organization for getting SOMETHING in return for some of these players they shipped off; but on the other hand, God dammit!

My disappointment with the Griffey situation soured a bit when it became public knowledge that he ONLY wanted to be traded to the Reds, which severely limited our ability to negotiate the best possible deal.  Then again, knowing this organization’s track record in major trades, it’s highly probable that whoever they would have traded Griffey to would have seen a return on par with the bust of the century.  I think I let that rage subside when the Mariners managed to improve (helped in large part by Mike Cameron being a fan favorite), while the Reds never really did much.  In the end, I would come to feel sorry for Griffey, as it seemed he could never stay on the field for any prolonged stretch.  He had one quality year on par with his Mariners numbers, in his very first season with the Reds.  After 2000, you’ll see large gaps in his playing time due to injury.  By the time he managed to stay healthy for a full year again, it was 2007, his last All Star season.  In 2008, he was traded to the White Sox for their playoff run (losing in the ALDS), only his third appearance in the post-season (the other two, obviously, being with the Mariners).

In 2009, Jackie Z brought Griffey back on as our primary DH.  It was a way to see if he could prolong his career, while at the same time a nice gesture for the fans.  No one really expected much out of him or the team, but the Mariners managed a winning record against all odds, and Griffey himself had a decent campaign (19 homers in 117 games).  It would be the perfect end to a Hall of Fame career … until everyone got cute and tried to capture lightning in a bottle twice.  2010 was a definite black mark for everyone involved.  On the last day of May, Griffey had one hitless pinch hit at-bat in the 9th inning of a 5-4 loss to the Twins in Safeco Field.  This came after sitting on the bench for a full week, which was probably a sign of things to come.  Instead of milking out the last sour drops of his career, Griffey chose to retire on the spot, driving home to Florida and letting the team know via a phone call on the road.

Being a fan of Griffey was never dull, I’ll say that.  As a Mariner, he was the face of Major League Baseball for a decade; that was pretty cool.  He put up some crazy, insane, cartoon numbers as a hitter; he made some crazy, insane, cartoon plays in the outfield.  He was, without question, the greatest baseball player I’ve ever seen, and probably will ever see.  He has my utmost respect as an athlete, and I’ll always look back fondly on his Mariners career.

One of the great things you can point to with Griffey is that he did it the right way.  Meaning, he didn’t cheat.  He didn’t prolong his career and boost his numbers by ingesting illegal or immoral pharmaceuticals.  Of course, we don’t know that for sure, but I’m not going to sit here and try to make the argument that he might have.  What we know is that his name has never come up in any implications on the topic.  He’s never had the aura of suspicion like Bonds, Clemons, and Sosa.  He’s also never outright admitted it, like McGwire, A-Rod, Palmeiro and the like.  We do know that he saw most of the latter half of his career on the DL, as opposed to someone like Bonds, who not only saw most of the latter half of his career in perfect health, but putting up bonkers numbers he never even approached in the first half of his career.  If Bonds had chosen to stay clean, he most likey wouldn’t have broken the home run record, and he most likely wouldn’t have stayed as healthy as he did.  But, he would have been a Hall of Famer, and a first-ballot Hall of Famer at that.  Instead, he cheated, and he’s likely never getting in.

With Griffey, you can simply give him the ol’ eye test.  Knowing what we know – that he was never implicated, that he never admitted to doing anything illicit, that he found himself on the DL more often than not in the second decade of his career – you can watch him age through the years and put a pretty firm assumption down that he wasn’t doing anything wrong.  Griffey aged like a baseball player of his calibre SHOULD age.  He didn’t suddenly put on 40 pounds of muscle and start hitting 50-70 homers a year in his late 30s.  He put on however many pounds of fat, and was left to his natural born gifts to push him through to his 23 years in the Major Leagues.  That’s what it means by doing it the “right way”.  That’s why he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and why he received the highest percentage of votes for a first year nominee in the history of the Hall of Fame (all but 3 voters selecting Griffey).  In an era where the cheaters outnumbered the clean, Griffey stayed clean and STILL crushed everything in his path.

I don’t have a particular Griffey-centric moment that stands out above all others, except obviously I do, and it’s of him scoring the go-ahead run from first base against the New York Yankees in the fifth game of the ALDS in 1995.  It’s that, and obviously, it’s that iconic picture of him underneath Bob Wolcott and all the other Mariners mobbing him at home plate.  I don’t totally think it’s fair, though, because they call that moment “The Double” because that’s really Edgar’s moment more than it is Griffey’s or anyone else’s.  If I had to pick a moment that was just Griffey’s, I don’t think I could.  Because my memory has gone to shit, and because – again – I wasn’t a fan until that stretch run in 1995.  I didn’t see him play with his dad and hit back-to-back homers with Ken Griffey Sr.  I didn’t see him blossom into the superstar he would become.  Hell, I didn’t even see him break his hand while making that catch against the wall that kept him out of the majority of the 1995 season!

You know what weirdly stands out?  It’s not even a particular moment, per se.  But, in 1996, the Mariners were playing out a string of meaningless games, with no chance of making the playoffs.  There was a series in Cleveland, and one of the games was rained out (another had to be pushed back to a Day/Night Doubleheader).  In one of the rainout games, Griffey hit a homer, but since it was rained out and never finished (and since it didn’t go past the 5th inning), the game never counted.  The game was never made up, because it wouldn’t have made a difference for either team’s placement in the standings (the Mariners were out of it, and the Indians were so far ahead in their division that it didn’t matter).  So, essentially, the Mariners only played 161 games in 1996.  And, as a result of that game being rained out, taking away one of his home runs, Ken Griffey Jr. finished the season one homer shy of his first 50-homer season.  I remember thinking how much that SUCKED, as reaching that 50-homer plateau was truly meaningful to me back then.  Obviously, Griffey would go on to have back-to-back 56-homer seasons the next two years, but how cool would it have been to see him with three straight 50-homer seasons?

Ehh, maybe less cool, knowing what we know about that era and all the insane homer totals that were inflated by a bunch of cheating tools.  Nevertheless, Ken Griffey Jr. is our shining beacon of hope in an otherwise dark period for Major League Baseball.

Is Dustin Ackley The Most Disappointing Draft Pick In Seattle Sports History?

Right off the bat, don’t talk to me about the Sounders, the Storm, or any other lesser sport I don’t care as much about.  This is a Seahawks/Sonics/Mariners discussion, so LAY OFF!

Also, we’re talking straight draft picks.  Believe me, I’m well aware of all the bad trades and free agent signings, as well as the draft picks we’ve traded away, but this is a look at the most disappointing players we’ve seen drafted in this city for those three professional franchises.  With that out of the way, let’s begin.

Dustin Ackley was taken with the #2 overall pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.  In 2008, the Seattle Mariners finished 61-101 for the right to pick #2 overall.  You may recall that, going into the final three games of the 2008 season, the Mariners were 58-101 and in line for the #1 overall pick.  The Washington Nationals, with three games to go, were 59-99.  So, what happened?  The Mariners swept the A’s and the Nationals got swept by the Phillies.  As such, the Nationals were graced with the #1 overall pick and the right to draft the hottest pitching prospect since Roger Clemens:  Stephen Strasburg.

You can say what you want about the injury-plagued start to Strasburg’s career, but you can’t deny he has elite stuff and you can’t deny he’s had three very good seasons from 2012-2014.  We don’t know where his career will take him – and obviously, with Mike Trout being selected by the Angels with the 25th overall pick, it’s not like he’s the best player in that draft – but one thing we do know is that he’s a HELLUVA lot better than Dustin Ackley will ever be.

We got screwed.  Dustin Ackley was supposed to be the clear best hitter and most Major League-ready player in that draft.  We were going to get an athletic guy who could play the outfield or various infield spots, and a mainstay in our lineup.  Your prototypical 2-hole hitter.  He was supposed to have a good eye, get on base at a fantastic clip, and even hit for a bit of power (mostly doubles, but the occasional homer), with just enough speed on the basepaths to keep everyone honest.

What we GOT was a guy with a poor eye at the plate, poor pitch selection, a noodle-arm, who rolls over on balls to the second or first baseman 80% of the time.  At a time (coming off of our attrocious 2008 season, continuing through our 2010 season where we were one of the worst offenses of all time), Ackley was supposed to breeze through the minors and give our lineup a boost.  Instead, he’s been spoken in the same breath as Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero WAY too often for comfort.

He sucks us in because he’s a #2-overall pick, and because he sometimes has these wonderful second halves to seasons that trick us into thinking he’s finally gotten everything figured out.  Then, he turns right back around the following spring and hits:

  • .200/.222/.341/.563, with 3 doubles, 3 homers, 7 RBI, and about 50,000 runners left on base in 30 games

This is his fifth year in the Major Leagues.  Here are his career numbers:  .243/.305/.365.  You have to wonder, if he doesn’t turn it around and I mean SOON, if this is his last chance with the Mariners.  I can’t imagine we go into 2016 with him as a starter, but I have to wonder if we go into 2016 with him even on the roster at all!

Does this make him the most disappointing draft pick in franchise history?  Well, let’s take a little look back.  Too soon to talk about Alex Jackson (2014) or D.J. Peterson (2013).  Mike Zunino was the 3rd overall pick in 2012; he’s been less than ideal at the plate.  But, he’s still probably too young (and at least hits for SOME power) to make a judgment.  Danny Hultzen was the 2nd overall pick in 2011 and has been severely injured for much of his career of late, so he has to be in the running, right?  Except, the thing is, he’s a pitcher, and the Mariners have been fairly flush with pitching in recent years since he was selected.  Hard to call him as much of a disappointment when we haven’t really needed to rely on him for anything.

Maybe we should take a look at what it means to be disappointing in a sports setting.  For starters, I feel like you have to be a first round pick.  These are the guys who – in theory – should be the closest to helping your team right away.  In baseball, you expect these guys to be on the fast track, to hit the Major Leagues in 2-4 years, depending on their development.  In football and basketball, depending on how deep your roster is, you expect these guys to contribute immediately, and in some instances even start for you immediately.  So, when they fail to live up to those reasonable expectations, they’re disappointments.  Obviously, the higher you draft them, the bigger the disappointments.

Going back, here are the rest of the Mariners’ top-10 draft picks through the years:

  • 2006 – Brandon Morrow (5)
  • 2005 – Jeff Clement (3)
  • 1995 – Jose Cruz Jr (3)
  • 1993 – Alex Rodriguez (1)
  • 1990 – Marc Newfield (6)
  • 1989 – Roger Salkeld (3)
  • 1987 – Ken Griffey Jr (1)
  • 1986 – Patrick Lennon (8)
  • 1985 – Mike Campbell (7)
  • 1984 – Bill Swift (2)
  • 1983 – Darrel Akerfelds (7)
  • 1981 – Mike Moore (1)
  • 1980 – Darnell Coles (6)
  • 1979 – Al Chambers (1)
  • 1978 – Tito Nanni (6)

Sure, Brandon Morrow was disappointing, but for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost, we should’ve taken UW’s Tim Lincecum instead.  Second, we kept dicking around with Morrow by starting off his career in the bullpen.  Third, we probably gave up on him and traded him away too soon (for Brandon League, who was an all-around disaster).  Ackley still has Morrow beat in the disappointment department.

Clement was disappointing, but I think we were all more disappointed in our front office moreso than the player.  That 2005 draft was FUCKING STACKED; 6 of the first 7 players selected have been All Stars (with Clement being the only dud), and 8 of the first 12 have played in an All Star Game.  Bill Bavasi at his finest!

Jose Cruz Jr was solid when he was a Mariner, then we traded him away for two shitty relievers, then he got really bad, and then he was gone.  Again, more disappointed in our front office for giving up on a quality prospect too soon.

A-Rod was disappointing because he was a greedy scumbag & soon-to-be cheater.  But, his level of play on the field was unmatched, so there’s no way I’m calling him a bigger disappointment than Ackley (also, yes, I would have taken the money and played for the Rangers, so eat me, he’s still a greedy fuck).

Anyone before A-Rod is out of my wheelhouse (aside from Griffey, of course, who was the single greatest draft pick in franchise history).  You can post your reasons in the comments as to why you think some of those old timers might be more disappointing than Dustin Ackley, but for now, I’m saying this with full confidence:  Dustin Ackley is the most disappointing draft pick in Mariners history.

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Let’s jump right into the Seattle Seahawks.  Who is their most disappointing first round draft pick?  Again, I’ll run through all the top 10 picks (even though I think we all have a pretty good idea who this is going to end up being):

  • 2010 – Russell Okung (6)
  • 2009 – Aaron Curry (4)
  • 2001 – Koren Robinson (9)
  • 1997 – Shawn Springs (3)
  • 1997 – Walter Jones (6)
  • 1995 – Joey Galloway (8)
  • 1994 – Sam Adams (8)
  • 1993 – Rick Mirer (2)
  • 1992 – Ray Roberts (10)
  • 1990 – Cortez Kennedy (3)
  • 1983 – Curt Warner (3)
  • 1982 – Jeff Bryant (6)
  • 1981 – Kenny Easley (4)
  • 1980 – Jacob Green (10)
  • 1978 – Keith Simpson (9)
  • 1976 – Steve Niehaus (2)

Not gonna lie to you, I’m not up on my Steve Niehaus or Keith Simpson knowledge, but let’s just assume they’re not the most disappointing draft picks in Seahawks history.  Green, Easley, and Bryant were mainstays of a dominant defense in the 1980s, so count them out.  Curt Warner was only disappointing because we didn’t use that pick to try to trade up for John Elway (or trade back to take one of the other amazing quarterbacks in that class).  Curt Warner the player was dynamic when he was healthy.

Cortez and Walter Jones are probably tied for the very best draft picks in Seahawks history, as both are Hall of Famers.  Ray Roberts was a solid offensive lineman in his career (if not specifically his Seahawks career).  Sam Adams was a fringe Hall of Famer for the Ravens, but had a nice and long career elsewhere (including Seattle for a few productive seasons).  Joey Galloway and Shawn Springs were studs who had their best years away from the northwest (but, again, were no slouches in a Seahawks uniform).  Okung has been a steady starter at left tackle (and a fine Walter Jones replacement when healthy) since he was a rookie.

For me, the disappointments come down to Aaron Curry, Koren Robinson, and Rick Mirer.  But, before I talk about this trio of Top 10 turds, let’s take a look at some honorable mentions from a little lower in the first round.

Lawrence Jackson was taken 28th overall.  He was supposed to come in and breathe life into our tepid pass rush.  Instead, he joined our team in 2008 as the franchise bottomed out, let Mike Holmgren walk, and eventually ushered in the Era of Good Feelings that has been Pete Carroll and John Schneider.  Oh yeah, and Jackson stunk the whole while and it wasn’t long before Carroll traded him away for scraps.

In 2006, the Seahawks selected Kelly Jennings with the 31st overall pick.  Coming off of our first-ever Super Bowl appearance, we were in desperate need of shoring up our secondary.  Kelly Jennings was no help in this regard.  While it’s hard to expect super-greatness out of your 31st overall draft pick, he was still a member of this team – and a starter at that – for far too long, leading us to suffer a barrage of long bombs over his outstretched midget arms.

In 2002, the Seahawks selected Jerramy Stevens 28th overall.  That’s all I need to say about this wretch.

In the 1987 NFL Supplemental Draft, the Seahawks took Brian Bosworth with what amounts to a first round draft pick.  He was subsequently given the largest contract in franchise history, and rewarded us with lackluster and often embarrassing play.  He was a better action movie star than a football player, and that’s REALLY not saying much.

But, let’s get back to our Top 3 disappointments from before.  I’m scratching off Koren Robinson, for starters.  Yes, he had the talent to be elite – and pissed it all away with addiction – but one has to wonder if he was even the right fit for this type of offense to begin with.  And, while he wasn’t spectacular, he was far from dreadful.  I’m giving him a pass.

This boils down to Aaron Curry and Rick Mirer.  You may recall with Aaron Curry, we were coming off of our dreadful 2008 season.  With the 4th overall pick, people were screaming for the Seahawks to take a quarterback.  With Matthew Stafford already off the board, and Mark Sanchez sitting there, the Seahawks opted to do the prudent thing:  take the “safest pick in the draft”.  Aaron Curry was an outside linebacker and – depending on who you talked to – was some mix of Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas.  We were going to pair him with Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill to have the best linebacking corps in the entire NFL.

Instead, he was slow to pick up the game mentally, slow to pick up the intricacies of his position, and just all-around slow on the field.  He did practically nothing for us, wound up being traded for a low-round draft pick, and was replaced on the field by a mid-round draft pick.  But, considering the Seahawks were bottoming out all over the roster, it’s hard to peg all of our troubles on Curry.  Even if he’d panned out as we’d hoped, he still would have been just a good player on a crappy team.

Rick Mirer, on the other hand, was supposed to save us.  In 1992, the Seahawks shared the worst record in the NFL with the New England Patriots at 2-14.  Thanks to our victory over those very same Patriots, they held the tie-breaker for the #1 overall pick.  As a result, they got to select the best quarterback of that class – Wazzu’s Drew Bledsoe – while we had to settle for Rick Mirer out of Notre Dame.

Mirer came out of the gate on fire, breaking many rookie quarterback records that would eventually be broken by Peyton Manning (the only time Rick Mirer should ever be mentioned in the same sentence as Peyton Manning, by the way).  He quickly either regressed or simply failed to develop, but either way, he SUUUUUUCKED thereafter.  Adding fuel to the fire of his disappointment, I recently was referred to this article (hat tip to Dave Krieg’s Strike Beard) that revealed there was an outside shot of the Seahawks getting Steve Young from the 49ers for the rights to allow the 49ers to draft Mirer to be Joe Montana’s heir apparent.  Isn’t THAT just the ultimate kick to the groin?  Doesn’t that make Rick Mirer the ultimate slam dunk most disappointing draft pick in Seahawks history?

I want to say yes, but RACING PAST THE PACK ON THE OUTSIDE, OUR DARK-HORSE CONTENDER:  1991’s 16th overall draft pick, Dan McGwire!

What’s the meaning of THIS?  Well, I’ll tell you:  the Seahawks brass was very high on the 6’8 towering suckferno, while Chuck Knox – easily our greatest head coach in franchise history to that point – wanted to select a little guy out of Southern Mississippi, the 6’2 Brett Favre.

Dan McGwire started all of five games with the Seahawks in four seasons.  Chuck Knox left the franchise after 1991, right before everything bottomed out in 1992.  As stated above, the Seahawks would use the #2 overall pick on yet another quarterback two years later, and the franchise overall would founder in mediocrity for a decade until Mike Holmgren turned things around.  All of this MAY have been avoided, if Chuck Knox had his way and we’d drafted a certain hall of famer who owns or owned just about every passing record in NFL history.

Most disappointing draft pick?  For all those reasons, I’m going with Dan McGwire by a nose over Rick Mirer (bottom line:  at least Mirer had ONE good season).

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In an effort to prevent this post from going beyond the 5,000 word mark, I’m going to give the abbreviated version of the Sonics’ most disappointing draft pick:  it doesn’t compare to what the Seahawks and Mariners have stacked against them.  Purely for disappointment’s sake, it’s disappointing to see Scottie Pippen’s name as our #5 overall draft pick in 1987 (he would be traded to the Bulls and replaced by Olden Polynice, but again, this isn’t a post about trades), but at least Pippen’s departure eventually led to Shawn Kemp’s rise.

The fact of the matter is, the Sonics – for the most part, until the last decade or so – were a well-run and successful organization (crazy, I know).  Our first round draft picks were generally low in the round, if we had them at all.  The high ones tended to pan out (Payton, #2 overall; McKey, #9 overall; McDaniel, #4 overall).  And, since once again I’m not all that familiar with all the old-timers, I’m not even going to go there and you can hash it out in the comments.

In an effort to save time, let’s just say the most disappointing draft pick in Seattle Sonics history is Robert Swift (#12 overall in 2004, when we were in DESPERATE need of a big man; he would be the first of three consecutive first round draft pick duds – Petro & Sene to follow – that would ultimately cost this franchise dearly).  Now, let’s call it a day and everyone agree that Robert Swift is nowhere NEAR as disappointing as Dan McGwire or Dustin Ackley.

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So, where do we land on all of this?  Is Dustin Ackley the most disappointing draft pick in Seattle sports history?

Welp, I’ve already discussed the cases for both he and Dan McGwire.  With Ackley, we’re still talking about an Incomplete.  We don’t know how his career is going to pan out, even if we have a pretty solid idea that he’s going to continue to be terrible.  With McGwire, we know how it panned out, and we know what we could’ve had with Favre.  McGwire FEELS like the more disappointing of the two, but before we give him the crown, we have to speculate on the ol’ butterfly effect.

Dan McGwire kept us from drafting Brett Favre (or, rather, the organization choosing to go with him over Knox’s preferred choice).  That’s the case, right in a nutshell.  So, we have to wonder:  how good could the Seahawks have been with Brett Favre at the helm?

Would Chuck Knox have stayed on past 1991?  Would the team have drafted appropriately around him?  It’s pretty safe to say that Brett Favre would’ve been great wherever he went, but how much of his career was molded by Mike Holmgren?  I wouldn’t call the Packers a bastion of a franchise when they traded for him, so it’s not like the team was great and then Favre appeared as the last piece of the puzzle.  He grew with that franchise to be one of the best in football.  Could that have rubbed off on the Seahawks?  Or, would our franchise bumbling have prevented Favre from being his very best?

I would argue that the Seahawks would’ve been rock solid throughout the 90s.  Much better than the string of .500 (or near-.500) records we were saddled with.  There was always talent on those 90s Seahawks teams, but we were ALWAYS missing out on the quarterback position.  Warren Moon had a couple good years, but that was at the tail end of his career, and he kept getting injured when we needed him most.  Every other quarterback we had in the 90s was terrible.

With Favre in Seattle, does Mike Holmgren become MIKE HOLMGREN in Green Bay?  Does he find another quarterback to mold and turn that franchise around?  I think it’s safe to say, Favre in Seattle means we never hire Holmgren later.  And, you have to wonder if we have the group in place that we have now.

Does Favre turn this franchise around before Ken Behring sells the team to Paul Allen?  Does he have a change of heart and decide to keep the Seahawks and keep them in Seattle?  Do we have what is now CenturyLink Field?  If Paul Allen isn’t the owner, we certainly don’t have our stadium in its current form; I’m sure it would look much different now.  And, I have to wonder if we have the Sounders either, for what it’s worth.

Ultimately, does Brett Favre lead the Seahawks to be world champions?  THAT, I’m not totally sure about.  It’s nice to think so, but you have to wonder how it happens.  How long does Chuck Knox stick around if we give him the quarterback he wants?  He was already getting up there in age by 1991; how many years does he stick around after that?  And, who becomes his replacement?  I would argue Tom Flores was the worst head coach we’ve ever had in Seahawks history; I don’t think he wins even with the mid-90s Cowboys.  Does he still replace Knox?  Do we grab someone else?

The point is:  there are SO MANY “what if’s” that go into the Brett Favre as a Seahawk scenario.  And, what I would argue is most important in all of this is:  if Brett Favre never leads us to a world championship (whether or not it’s his fault, or the fault of ownership, or just the players we saddled him with), then he is 100% not worth the trouble.  The way things actually happened – with the Seahawks winning it all in the 2013 season – made a lot of the previous suffering worth it.  That’s all that matters.

Now, if Brett Favre coming here means the Seahawks would’ve been a dynasty much earlier, then I think he is worth it and I think Dan McGwire wins the title of most disappointing draft pick.  Even if it means the team we have now (in this hypothetical universe) looks nothing like the team we have in our real, actual universe.

Ultimately, my gut tells me that even if the Seahawks had taken Brett Favre, and he’d turned into the franchise quarterback we waited SO LONG to get, I kinda doubt we ever would’ve won it all with him.  Too many variables.  We likely wouldn’t have had the type of hall of fame coaching staff that Holmgren assembled in Green Bay, and we likely wouldn’t have gotten the type of championship talent to put around Favre like they were able to do under Ron Wolf.  Let’s face it, for a lot of reasons, the Seahawks were just plain broken as a franchise in the 1990s.  It took all the tumult, the disaster of an owner, the mis-management of the general manager, the bumbling of the coaching staff, and the underperforming of the players to lead to Paul Allen, Mike Holmgren 2.0, Matt Hasselbeck and our success in the 2000s, the bottoming out in 2008 & 2009, and the foresight to bring in Pete Carroll and pairing him with John Schneider to finally turn this organization into a world-class sports franchise.

You COULD say that Dan McGwire was a big part in giving us all of this!  And, I must say, as a fan in my 30s, I’m certainly appreciating all of our good fortune MUCH more than I would have been as a fan in my teens in the 1990s.

Yes, Dustin Ackley is a disappointment.  Yes, there were truly great players taken after him (including the aforementioned Mike Trout).  And yes, he’s been a big part of all the sucking the Mariners have been a part of in his time in the Major Leagues.  He’s been given MANY more chances to start and play a huge part on this team, and he’s done JUST enough to keep earning those chances even though he’s never broken through to make good on all of his promise.  Dan McGwire, for as enraging as his selection was, was never much more than a longshot prospect.  His college career wasn’t some amazing slam dunk; we were picking him based on his size, his strong arm, and the fact that he “looked” like a starting quarterback.  These types of quarterbacks are selected in the first round every single year, and these types of quarterbacks end up falling well short of their potential every single year.

#2 overall Major League Baseball draft picks are supposed to be different.  At #2, you know you have the opportunity to draft that year’s very best pitcher or hitter.  In our case, we took the “best hitter”.  That guy isn’t supposed to continuously be as mediocre as Ackley has been.  Either he’s great, or he gets injured and we all sit around wondering “what if”.  Ackley has been nothing if not healthy, and he’s been sometimes intriguing, but most of all he’s been a complete failure.

The Mariners missed and missed big when they selected Dustin Ackley.  He not only prevented us from taking a better hitter, but he’s actively hurting us now with his sucking.  If he panned out – as the so-called best hitter in his class should have – we’d be looking at a monster lineup with him paired with Cano, Cruz, and Seager.  Instead, he’s one of our ever-growing cadre of black holes.  We can’t sit him, because we don’t have anyone better (depending on your opinion of Justin Ruggiano), we can’t trade him because we’ll get nothing in return, and we can’t cut him because – as I said before – we don’t have anyone better.  The bottom line in all of this is, while the Mariners are improving as a franchise, there are too many holes on this team for it to be a championship contender.  Dustin Ackley is a huge reason why there are as many holes as there are.  And, for that reason, I’m calling him our most disappointing draft pick in Seattle sports history.

Who Was The Last Mariners Draft Pick To Pan Out?

This is going to take a lot longer to write than I originally intended, but that’s because it’s going to take a lot longer to research than I originally intended.  If only there was one single place I could go to that comprised a list of every Mariners draft pick from the last 10-20 years Nevermind, I found it!

Anyway, in this exercise, I won’t be looking at Mariners draft picks who have panned out for other teams (because we foolishly traded them away, or didn’t draft them in the first place because we’re idiots).  I’m going to be looking at the last guy (or guys, if I’m able to find more than one) who were drafted in the amateur baseball draft (so, not international free agents, or prospects who we received from other teams) who also went on to become a quality player for the Seattle Mariners (without any detours to other teams).  Enough parenthetical remarks for you?  OK, let’s begin.

Safe to say:  no one from the 2012 draft has panned out.  But, it’s too early for that, so I can hardly hold it against the organization.

In 2011, we have Danny Hultzen and Brad Miller in Triple-A – they’re CLOSE, but not there yet.  2011 has also given us Carter Capps, who is currently in the Major League bullpen, but this is really his first full year in the Majors, so we can hardly call that panning out.

2010 saw us pick up Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Stephen Pryor, and Stefen Romero.  All appear to be on their way (in some way, shape, or form), but none have made it just yet.

2009.  Here we go.  It’s pretty safe to say, if you haven’t made it in the Bigs, you’re likely not a superstar.  The whole reason for this post is to lament the fact that Dustin Ackley – to date – has not panned out.  He was in the Majors for half of 2011 and was all right.  He was in the Majors for all of 2012 and was terrible.  And, until this past week, he was in the Majors for all of 2013 and was even worse.  He’s since been demoted to Tacoma, which makes it hard for me to believe that he’s going to be a winner.  Smarter people than myself keep telling me he’ll figure it out.  He does too many things well to NOT pan out.  But, let’s just say I’ve got my doubts.

Nick Franklin was the next pick in the 2009 draft and he’s just made his first Major League appearance this week, taking over for the aforementioned bust, Dustin Ackley.  Too soon to tell on this kid, but just yesterday he hit his first and second homers of his career.  If that isn’t a good sign, I don’t know what is.  Then again, I’ve been fooled before.

If I were being fair, I’d say Kyle Seager – third round pick in 2009 – has panned out.  He had a decent almost-half season in 2011 (.258/.312/.379), then he sort-of broke out in 2012 (.259/.316/.423) in his first full season in the Bigs, and this year he has looked even better (.274/.339/.458), but if I’m being honest I can’t put him there yet.  You know how our excuse for every struggling youngster is, “It’s Early.”  If it’s in the month of April or early-May and they’re struggling, everyone always says, “It’s Early.”  If they’re struggling as a rookie, or even as a second-year player, everyone always says, “It’s Early.”  Well, why can’t we say that on the flipside?  It’s EARLY.  He still has plenty of time to regress!  He still has plenty of time to suffer a run of debilitating injuries!  Now, in my heart of hearts, I don’t THINK Seager will be a bust.  I think he will be a fine Major Leaguer, and thus I think he will pan out.  But, right now?  I’m not counting my chickens by any means.

So, thus ends the Jackie Z era.  So far, we’ve got one guy who has kinda sorta panned out (fingers crossed, knock on wood).  Others may eventually pan out, but I wouldn’t say this is the greatest sign for a team that’s trying to get better via the draft.

The less said about 2008, the better.  I recognize one name who I saw at the Rainiers game a couple weeks ago, but he doesn’t strike me as anything special.  Brandon Maurer came from this draft, so he COULD pan out.  Then again, he was brought up too early this year (bypassing Triple-A) and struggled mightily because he’s not ready.  I’m certainly not counting him!

2007, again, just a terrible draft.  Phillippe Aumont was involved in that Cliff Lee trade.  Shawn Kelley was a so-so reliever who could never stay healthy and has since been traded to the Yankees.  Sigh.

Let’s see, 2006.  We have Brandon Morrow (traded to the Blue Jays, has been a decent starter), Chris Tillman (traded to the Orioles, has been a decent starter), Doug Fister (traded to the Tigers, has been a good starter).  Think a rotation with Felix, Iwakuma, Fister, Morrow, and Tillman would look good?  I NEED AN ADULT!  I NEED AN ADULT!

The rest of 2006 were stiffs, and Adam Moore.  Doug Fister panned out from this draft, but he panned out with the Detroit Fucking Tigers.

2005:  Good GOD, Lemon!  Jeff Clement!  That’s the only name I even recognize!  And he’s THE WORST!

2004 went Matt Tuiasosopo (bust), Rob Johnson (bust) and Mark Lowe (good, but no longer with the team).  Then, in the 11th round, a beacon of hope:  Michael Saunders.  He struggled from 2009-2011, but then he switched his batting stance and swing and made a jump in 2012.  Granted, he didn’t go from nothing to Superstar, but he went from nothing to All Right.  Thus far in 2013, he has regressed to his old form, which is a bad sign.  We were KINDA counting on Saunders to keep moving up in the world so we could feel confident that he’s a bona fide replacement for Franklin Gutierrez.  Now, who knows?  Bottom line, though, is that he has NOT panned out.

2003 is the Adam Jones draft.  I’ll move on.

2002 is the Bryan LaHair draft.  Who is Bryan LaHair, you ask?  You’re obviously not a Chicago Cubs fan, as he was an All Star in 2012.  Then again, he had a terrible second half and thus far has not played in the Majors in 2013.  I don’t know what to tell you.

In 2001, the Mariners drafted Michael Garciaparra in the first round.  Remember that guy?  I don’t either.

Nothing doing in 2000.  Ditto 1999 (unless you count Willie Bloomquist or J.J. Putz).  I like Putz as much as the next guy, but he had exactly two great seasons as the Mariners’ closer, was injury-riddled, and eventually shipped away.  I wouldn’t call a guy who was mostly a middling middle reliever someone who has panned out.

Nothing doing in 1998 (except for Matt Thornton, who panned out with the White Sox).  1997 was a little more interesting.  Our big first round pick, Ryan Anderson (The Little Unit) was a huge bust.  Joel Pineiro, from the 12th round, carved out a nice little career for himself.  But, the only problem with that is he was never really any damn good for the Mariners.  He was okay; he flashed a helluva lot of potential, but that potential was ultimately never realized, and for that I feel safe in saying he never panned out.  Standards:  I’ve got ’em.

1996 was the Gil Meche draft.  See:  Joel Pineiro.

1995 was the Jose Cruz Jr. draft.

1994 was the Jason Varitek draft.

And HERE we go!  1993, FINALLY.  Taken with the #1 overall pick by YOUR Seattle Mariners … Alex Rodriguez!  It’s been 20 drafts since the Mariners have selected someone who panned out FOR the Seattle Mariners!  In case you can’t tell, that’s an absolutely unconscionable amount of ineptitude.  Want to know why the Mariners have been mostly terrible for so long?  Look no fucking further.

Who’s to blame?  I’m sure the talent evaluators have to shoulder some of it.  But, the more I think about it, the more I think this organization needs a total and complete overhaul.  From top to bottom.  And I mean bottom.  These kids are playing for our minor league teams, participating in our minor league camps, and they are NOT turning into quality players for the Big League team!  That’s a problem!  That’s a problem with the coaching at the lowest levels of the organization, and maybe it’s time we started putting the responsibility on THEM!  I don’t know what the success rate is for other organizations – turning their draft picks into Major Leaguers – but the Mariners have to be at or near the bottom.  This is part of the culture of losing I’ve been railing against for so long, and it’s got to stop.

There’s no such thing as Good Enough.  If our kids are failing, it’s on the minor league coaches, plain and simple.  If I were Jackie Z and company, I’d be looking to fill some big holes down on the farm.

The Last Great Mariners Rebuild

The Seattle Mariners played their first season in 1977.  From 1977 through 1994, the Mariners were varying degrees of terrible.  Sometimes Two times, “terrible” came with a winning record (1991 & 1993), but no post-season appearance.  Then, in 1995, the Mariners broke on through with an AL West title and a legend was made.  People still talk about those 1995 Mariners in a reverential tone and for good reason.  Baseball fans in the northwest starving for the sweet taste of success finally had something to hang their hats on.

From 1995 through 2003, the Mariners were varying degrees of successful.  Those nine seasons saw the Mariners make the playoffs four times, winning three division titles.  Seven of those nine seasons saw the Mariners with winning records.  Two insanely good A’s teams prevented two 93-win Mariners teams from going to the playoffs four straight years from 2000-2003.  These were the good times.  Everything abruptly fell apart in 2004 and the team was blown up.

From 2004 through present day, the Mariners have returned to their varying degrees of terrible.  In the nine full seasons from 2004-2012, the Mariners have had a winning record twice.  They’ve finished last in the AL West seven times.  It’s been one rebuild after another, with no end in sight.  Just a continuation of the cycle of losing, ad infinitum.

Of course, if the Mariners could do it once, SURELY the Mariners can do it again.  It took until their 19th year of existence before the Mariners made the playoffs; if it feels hopeless now, just imagine what it must have felt like for Mariners fans in the early 1990s.  They say something about learning from history or being doomed to repeat it, but what if in this case we take a look at something that went RIGHT for the Mariners in their history and seeing if we can repeat THAT?

As fans, we have to believe that a turnaround is right around the corner.  I know I’m on here quite a bit, bitching about how nothing is ever going to get any better (because why would we think that?  What is trending well enough for us to deserve the luxury of hope?), but if I truly felt that way, why would I continue to follow this team?  I’m not a baseball fan, per se; I’m a Mariners fan.  I don’t sit around watching random baseball games in my spare time; I watch Mariners games.  If the Mariners moved to Oklahoma City, I would stop watching baseball, the same as I have stopped watching professional basketball.  If the Mariners had never existed, I never would have started watching baseball in the first place (you get the idea).  So, since it’s been established that I’m a Mariners fan, it should also be established that yes, I do hope they’re able to turn things around sooner rather than later.  I’m not 100% cynical.  I’m just beaten down and broken, but all that can change if a few things fucking broke right for the Mariners for once!

The one thing Jackie Z has done right in his tenure as general manager is:  he’s re-stocked the farm system with an abundance of talented prospects.  Of course, none of that talent (save Kyle Seager and a couple bullpen arms) has panned out at the Major League level, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

There is no “right way” to rebuild.  It’s a combination of youth and veterans.  It’s a combination of draft picks, trades, and free agent signings.  It’s a combination of luck, strategy, and luck again.  In an ideal world, your Major League roster would be riddled with your own draft picks still playing on rookie deals.  Every trade you made would work out splendidly for you and would tank for your trade partner.  Every free agent signing would be a “buy-low” situation where they immediately turned their careers around.

Or, if you like concrete examples:  every draft pick would be Ken Griffey Jr., every trade would net you Jay Buhner in return, and every free agent would be Bret Boone circa 2000/2001.

So, in an attempt to try and forget the miseries of our present-day situation, I’d like to go back to a simpler time where a team comprised of a mix of youth and veterans shocked the world by winning their very first division title in the most dramatic of fashions.  How was THAT team built?  What can we learn from how that team did what it did?  And how did that team evolve into the greatest regular season team in baseball history?

***

1995 Seattle Mariners

Rebuilds don’t happen overnight.  A lot of these guys were brought into the fold well before everything magically came together in 1995.  I’m not going to get into every single player, but I’ll go over the highlights.

Dan Wilson (catcher) was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1990 in the first round.  That was the same year Lou Pinella signed on to manage those very same Reds.  That was also the same year the Reds won the World Series and wrote Lou’s ticket as an elite baseball manager for the next couple decades.  Sweet Lou hitched his wagon to the Seattle Mariners in 1993 with the task of turning around the worst franchise in baseball.  Dan Wilson got his first taste of the majors in a September cup of coffee in 1992.  Wilson got some more playing time in 1993, but was then traded along with Bobby Ayala to be reunited with Pinella before the 1994 season.  Wilson played considerably in ’94, earned the starting job in ’95, and never looked back.

Tino Martinez (first base) was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1988 in the first round.  He received his cup of coffee in 1990 and didn’t play a whole lot in the Majors through 1991.  Martinez was mediocre (but played a lot more) from 1992-1994, then finally had his breakout season in 1995 (.293/.369/.551).

Joey Cora (second base) was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1985 in the first round.  Cora didn’t start earning regular playing time until after he’d been traded to the White Sox in 1991.  His numbers weren’t particularly impressive, but he was improving as he played regularly through the 1994 season.  Then, in April of 1995, Cora signed as a free agent with the Mariners.  In spite of what we choose to remember about Little Joey Cora, I think many of us forget just how productive he was as a Mariner.  From 1995 through August of 1998, Cora had a slash line of .293/.355/.406.  He was traded at the August trade deadline in 1998, then abruptly retired to go into coaching after the end of the season.

Mike Blowers (third base) was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1984 but did not sign.  He would go on to be drafted three more times before he finally signed with the Montreal Expos in 1986.  He would be traded to the Yankees in August of 1989, then traded to the Mariners in May of 1991.  Blowers originally broke into the Majors with the Yankees in 1989, but he wouldn’t become a starter in the Majors until 1993 with the Mariners.  He would go on to be traded by the Mariners after that historic 1995 season, but would later come back on one-year free agent deals in 1997 and again in 1999 before retiring after that 1999 season.

Ken Griffey Jr. (center field) was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners with the #1 overall pick in the 1987 draft.  He would become a starter in the 1989 season and would not look back.  In February of 2000, the Mariners would trade him to the Reds.  They brought him back as a free agent in February of 2009 before he retired in June of 2010.

Jay Buhner (right field) was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in January of 1984.  In December of that very same year, Buhner was traded to the Yankees.  Buhner got his cup of coffee with the Yankees in September of 1987, played a bit more in 1988, then was traded at that year’s deadline to the Seattle Mariners for Ken Phelps.  Buhner became an everyday player in 1991 and was a core piece of the Mariners’ offense for the next decade.

Edgar Martinez (designated hitter) signed as an amateur free agent with the Seattle Mariners in December of 1982.  He didn’t break into the Majors until 1987 and didn’t become an everyday player until 1990.  He would go on to become the greatest designated hitter in baseball history.

Randy Johnson (starting pitcher) was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1985 in the second round.  The Big Unit got his cup of coffee in September of 1988, making four starts.  He was traded in May of 1989 to the Seattle Mariners for Mark Langston.  He became an immediate starter for the Mariners and progressively got better until he broke out in 1993, coming in second in the AL Cy Young race.  Johnson would go on to win that award in 1995, leading the Mariners to their best playoff finish in franchise history.  He would go on to be dealt to the Astros at the 1998 trade deadline and never return.

I’ll spare you Tim Belcher‘s long history for the most part:  he was drafted in 1984 and kicked around with four different teams before he signed with the Reds in May of 1995, where he was promptly traded to the Mariners two weeks later without ever throwing a pitch for the Reds that season.  Belcher made 28 starts for the Mariners that season, going 10-12.  He would not be retained by the Mariners beyond 1995.

Chris Bosio (starting pitcher) was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982 in the second round.  He had a good career with the Brewers over 7 seasons, then signed with the Seattle Mariners as a free agent in December of 1992.  In 1993, Bosio pitched the second-ever Mariners no-hitter.  In 1995, Bosio started 31 games and went 10-8.  He hung around to start the 1996 season, struggled mightily, and retired at season’s end.

The Mariners traded for Andy Benes from the San Diego Padres at the July deadline in 1995.  He would go on to make 12 starts down the stretch, going 7-2.  He would sign a free agent deal with St. Louis before the 1996 season and would never be heard from again.

The bullpen was a piece of work, anchored by Bobby Ayala (came over in the Dan Wilson trade in 1993), who appeared in 63 games.  Norm Charlton was originally traded by the Reds to the Mariners prior to the 1993 season, but he would be injured, lose all of the 1994 season to injury, and eventually sign with the Phillies in 1995.  He was released by the Phillies in July of 1995 and signed on with the Mariners four days later.  Jeff Nelson was originally drafted by the Dodgers in 1984, but then was drafted by the Mariners from the Dodgers in something called a “minor league draft” in 1986.  He became a regular reliever in 1992 and was consistently productive thereafter.

That, more or less, is the 1995 Mariners.  Obviously, there were lots of bench players and fill-ins (Rich Amaral & Alex Diaz filling in admirably for an injured Junior), and a lot of players who were tried out as starters in the rotation, but the players I listed comprised the core.  Seven guys brought over in trade, three free agents, and four guys who were drafted by the Mariners (well, three guys and Edgar, who was an amateur free agent and played his entire career under the same organization).

1996 Seattle Mariners

With the base already in place, I shouldn’t have to keep re-hashing the core group that remains.  The first big misstep in what would become a long line of soul-crushing missteps by the organization came on December 7, 1995, when the Mariners traded Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson to the New York Yankees.  In return, they received a starting third baseman in Russ Davis, and a starting pitcher in Sterling Hitchcock.

Davis was the most error-prone third baseman I’ve ever seen.  He was supposed to make up for that with his bat, but in the four years he wore a Mariners uniform, he never surpassed 21 homers in a season, with a Mariners career slash line of .256/.309/.446.  Tino Martinez would go on to have an outstanding career with the Yankees, hitting 175 homers and 180 doubles over the next six seasons.  Jeff Nelson would go on to be a fabulous bullpen presence for the Yankees over the next five seasons, before returning as a free agent to the Mariners prior to the 2001 season.  Sterling Hitchcock, meanwhile, lasted one season with the Mariners (1996) where he sucked.  Then, he was traded to the Padres for Scott Sanders, who also sucked.  Sanders lasted one season with the Mariners (1997) before being traded for two guys who did nothing.  Suffice it to say, the Mariners lost the SHIT out of this trade.

All was not totally lost for this 1996 team, though.  The Mariners signed Paul Sorrento (first base) as a free agent before the season started.  Sorrento was an okay veteran who had played in 7 regular seasons with two different teams before coming to the Kingdome where he would mash the hell out of the ball for the 1996 and 1997 seasons.  We let him go after 1997 and he signed with Tampa Bay where he would finish out his career.

Alex Rodriguez (short stop) was drafted with the #1 overall pick by the Seattle Mariners in 1993.  He got his cup of coffee in 1994, and mostly rode the pine in 1995 before earning the everyday short stop job in 1996.  He would put up MVP-type numbers in this season, yet be denied his rightful honor thanks to the idiots who voted for the MVP award that season (they picked Juan Gonzalez of the Rangers who had a markedly inferior season).  A-Rod would be a Mariners favorite from 1996 through the 2000 season before taking the money and running to the Rangers in 2001.

Rich Amaral (left field) was signed as a free agent before the 1991 season before ever playing a game in the Majors.  Amaral earned a lot of playing time in 1995 after Griffey went down with injury that cost him a majority of the season.  As a reward for doing such a good job, Amaral earned the left field job in 1996.  He would go on to stick around (mostly as a bench player) through the 1998 season before signing as a free agent with the Orioles and ending his career in Baltimore.

So, the ’96 lineup had new additions Sorrento & Davis with holdovers in Amaral, A-Rod, Wilson, Cora, Griffey, Buhner, and Edgar.  Pretty fucking good … until you get to the pitching staff …

Hitchcock became the de facto pitching ace for this team after Randy Johnson went down in May with his back injury.  He would return in August as a reliever and never started a game for the Mariners the rest of the season.

Bob Wolcott was a Mariners draft pick from 1992 in the second round.  He made his first starts in the Majors in 1995 in August and earned himself a playoff roster spot that netted him the start in Game 1 of the ALCS (as the rotation had been spent just trying to get past the Yankees in five games of the ALDS).  From that ALCS victory, Wolcott earned himself a rotation spot in 1996.  He mostly underwhelmed.  He played one more season in Seattle (1997) and was lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the expansion draft of 1997.

Jamie Moyer was drafted back in 1984 by the Chicago Cubs.  He had played in 10 Major League seasons with five different teams (Cubs, Rangers, Cardinals, Orioles, Red Sox) before he was traded by the Red Sox to the Mariners at the 1996 deadline.  Moyer would go on to play 11 years with the Mariners and end up one of the best pitchers in team history.

Terry Mulholland, on the other hand, would NOT go down as one of the best pitchers in team history.  The 1996 Mariners were enjoying unprecedented offensive success, but injuries had throttled their pitching staff.  Mulholland, like Moyer, was a veteran of a million other teams before he was traded to the Mariners at the 1996 deadline.  He came in and did okay, but it would prove to be a fruitless endeavor as the Mariners – while above .500 – failed to make the playoffs.  Mulholland would never pitch for the Mariners beyond this season.

The primary bullpen addition (with Charlton and Ayala leading the way for the most part) was Michael Jackson.  He was another longtime vet who the Mariners brought in on a 1-year deal prior to the 1996 season.  He had pitched with the Mariners early in the 90s and was a quality arm in the bullpen who locked down the 8th inning and didn’t get nearly enough save opportunities.

1997 Seattle Mariners

The batting lineup was almost exactly the same in 1997.  Rich Amaral even enjoyed his usual 89 games of stellar fill-in duty.  The only major change in this year was the tantalizing tease that was Jose Cruz Jr.  He was drafted by the Mariners with the #3 overall pick in the 1995 draft and was brought up by the Mariners in 1997 to start in left field effective May 31st.  In his 49 games, Cruz had 12 homers and 12 doubles.  Along with Griffey and A-Rod, he was looking like another can’t-miss first round prospect who would go on to have a Hall of Fame type career.

Of course, this Mariners team couldn’t afford to live with their Pie in the Sky dreams of future glory; they had to strike NOW, while the iron was hot!  This was a good baseball team, with another massively impressive offense, and little in the way of pitching (especially bullpen pitching).

So, at the trade deadline, the Mariners made the two trades that will forever be a black mark on this organization.  On the same day, the Mariners sent Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek (two minor leaguers with incredible promise) to the Boston Red Sox for Heathcliff Slocumb.  Slocumb was immediately inserted into the closer’s role because Norm Charlton had officially hit the wall in his career.  The other trade was one Jose Cruz Jr., who was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric.  Both of those two were inserted into the regular bullpen rotation.  Timlin was okay, Spoljaric was a lefty and not that good.  This mishmash of a bullpen, with a surprising resurgence by Bobby Ayala, managed to get the job done enough to get the Mariners into the playoffs, but it was a hefty price to pay that ultimately never did pay off in a World Series Championship as intended.

Lost in the shuffle of the 1997 season was actually one of the better trades in Mariners history.  In October of 1996, the Mariners traded a bunch of scrubs to the Expos for Jeff Fassero.  He fit in quite nicely with our rotation stalwarts of Randy Johnson (back and better than ever from his injury-plagued 1996 season) and Jamie Moyer.  Fassero rounded out our Big Three for the 1997 & 1998 seasons before falling off the cliff in 1999 and being traded away to the Rangers.

The Mariners plugged in some draft picks (Lowe, pre-trade, and Ken Cloude) as well as some veterans (Dennis Martinez, signed as a free agent; and Omar Olivares, who was brought over when the team dealt Scott Sanders to the Tigers) into the back-end of their rotation, but no one really stuck.  For this season or long-term.

1998 Seattle Mariners

The primary addition to the starting lineup was David Segui (first base) who was signed as a free agent.  The team had let Paul Sorrento walk and needed some kind of production.  Segui was a solid, if unspectacular contributor who had a nice year and a half with the Mariners before being traded at the 1999 deadline.

The 1998 Mariners continued their revolving door at left field, with no one of import taking the bull by the horns.

The ’98 Mariners had what amounted to a stable starting rotation, shock of shocks.  After the Big Three, Ken Cloude was granted one of the final two spots.  He was drafted by the Mariners in the sixth round in 1993 and made his first Major League start in 1997.  He would start 30 games in 1998, but his ERA would be over 6 and he would go only 8-10.  Cloude was primarily a bullpen pitcher, with a few spot starts here and there in 1999, then his career would be over.

Grabbing the final rotation spot was veteran Bill Swift.  Swifty was drafted by the Mariners in the first round in 1984, but was traded away in 1991 and bounced around for a while before signing as a free agent in February of 1998.  He would go 11-9 with a 5.85 ERA in 1998 and then he would retire.

The 1998 Mariners were the first team of this era to end the season with a losing record.  I’ll be damned if I know how that’s possible with an offense this stacked, but let’s go ahead and start with Randy Johnson.  This was a contract year for him and he was pretty much blowing it.  He was 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA in his 23 starts before the trade deadline.  The Mariners as an organization had balked at the notion of re-signing him to a long-term extension, citing the 1996 season and his back injury as a reason to be cautious.  Tensions grew from there and by the trade deadline, the team knew it wasn’t going to be able to retain him beyond the season.  They felt they had to trade him to get some kind of value back in return.  So, he was dealt to the Astros (where he proceeded to dominate the shit out of the National League with a 10-1 record and a sub-2 ERA) for prospects.

One could also blame the 1998 misfortunes on the bullpen.  They managed only 31 saves as a unit, with Bobby Ayala returning to his absolute nadir (a 1-10 record with a 7.29 ERA and more blown saves – 9 – than regular saves – 8).  Ayala would be traded prior to the 1999 season and we would never have to see his punk-ass again.  Mike Timlin did an admirable job stepping up and doing what he could, but everyone else from Spoljaric to Slocumb to Bob Wells on down all stunk the joint up.  Our five primary bullpen guys went a combined 12-26; take from that what you will.  At least no more major trades were made that could blow up in our faces later.

1999 Seattle Mariners

A bit of a lineup shake-up here, with Joey Cora moving on and being replaced by David Bell (second base) who we received for Cora in a 1998 trade deadline deal with the Indians.  Bell would never wow you with his bat, but he was a solid infield glove man who would go on in subsequent seasons to lock down third base (and give us all a break from Russ Davis’ stone hands).

Of course, in 1999, Davis was still around.  As was Wilson, Segui, A-Rod, Griffey, Buhner, and Martinez.  The left field circus continued with Brian Hunter, who we received in trade from the Tigers for a couple of nobodies.  Hunter stunk at the plate, but stole 44 bases, so whatever.

The real shakedown happened, of course, with the pitching staff.  Freddy Garcia and John Halama, who we received in the Randy Johnson Trade, made their debuts with the organization in 1999.  Garcia, in fact, made his Major League debut with the Mariners.  Garcia was still a little raw as a rookie, but he was rock solid and would quickly go on to be this team’s ace.  Halama was another soft-tossing lefty in the Jamie Moyer mold.  He was okay in 1999 and would go on to be no better than okay going forward.

As I mentioned before, Jeff Fassero fell apart this season and was dealt away.  Gil Meche rounded out the rotation.  He was drafted in the first round in 1996 and immediately made an impression upon his first start that July.  Yes, it was a loss, and yes, his numbers weren’t very good.  But, he showed a live fastball, a wicked curve, and a whole lotta promise.  People were much higher on Meche than they were on Garcia, but either way, this looked like the beginning of a long run of quality starting baseball from our rotation.

The bullpen was re-tooled prior to the 1999 season, with Jose Mesa being signed on as the closer.  He would play two seasons in Seattle and would not be missed when he left.  Jose Paniagua was signed off of waivers in 1998, where he played in 18 games for the Mariners.  He got the bulk of the 8th inning work in 1999 and was a solid, live-arm guy who would never mature into a closer.

These Mariners also suffered through a sub-.500 season, with growing pains in the rotation (Meche, Halama, and Garcia all in their first full seasons) and Fassero completely losing it.  There just wasn’t enough pitching to hold together this team with all its hitting prowess.

2000 Seattle Mariners

While the first great Mariners rebuild came to fruition in the 1995 season, the last great Mariners rebuild reached its apex in 2000 and 2001.

The core players from that 1995 team that remained on the 2000 Mariners were:  Dan Wilson (catcher), Jay Buhner (right field), and Edgar Martinez (designated hitter).  Yes, A-Rod was on that ’95 team, but he was not a regular.  There’s been quite a bit of turnover leading us up to what would be the zenith for this franchise in 2000 and 2001.

John Olerud was a longtime veteran who signed prior to the 2000 season to replace David Segui (who replaced Paul Sorrento, who replaced Tino Martinez).  Olerud finished his career as a starter in a Mariners uniform, seeing his release in the middle of the 2004 crater of a season.  Olerud would finish his career as a part-time player with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Mark McLemore was another longtime veteran who signed prior to the 2000 season to be a utility player.  He found a home as a second baseman and caught fire as a super utility player in 2001, bouncing around from left field to third base to wherever else they needed him to play to give others days off.  McLemore stuck around through the 2003 season before leaving in free agency to play one final year in Oakland before retiring.

Mike Cameron (center field) was originally drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 1991 draft.  He played in all or parts of four seasons with the White Sox before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in November of 1998 for Paul Konerko.  He started for one season with the Reds before Ken Griffey Jr. demanded to be traded to Cincinnati and only Cincinnati after the 1999 season.  In return, the Mariners received Cameron (because they no longer needed a center fielder, thanks to Griffey being there), Brett Tomko, and two other guys.  Or, I guess you could say the Mariners received Cameron and three other guys, but that’s neither here nor there.

Mariners fans were a little salty about the whole Griffey thing, especially coming on the heels of the whole Randy Johnson thing (which, if you believe certain reports, is what caused Griffey to sour on the organization in the first place, since the Mariners were not taking care of the veterans who brought them all this success).  Mike Cameron helped fans get over Griffey by being a wizard in the field and not a total disaster at the plate.  He was actually quite productive in his four years with the Mariners.  Cameron left for greener pastures after the 2003 season, signing as a free agent with the Mets, but he will always be accepted as a Mariner for Life thanks to his efforts in Seattle.

The starting rotation featued a combination of six guys.  Aaron Sele signed as a free agent before the season and won 17 games.  Paul Abbott originally signed as a free agent with the Mariners before the 1997 season.  He was primarily a reliever with some spot-start duties.  In 2000, he was forced into action and produced admirably.  John Halama and Freddy Garcia (again, from the Randy Johnson trade) got their share of starts.  Jamie Moyer, the longest-tenured holdover from that trade in 1996, had an injury-plagued 2000 season.  And Gil Meche started off the season in the rotation before leaving with a dead arm in early July.  He would not pitch again in the Majors until the 2003 season.

Kaz Sasaki signed as a free agent from Japan prior to the season, immediately started closing, and won the Rookie of the Year award.  He was the first of back-to-back Japanese Rookies of the Year the Mariners would sign.  Sasaki played in four seasons, went to 2 All Star Games, saved 129 games (the franchise leader), and totally fell apart in 2003.  He would retire after that season and never played in the Majors again.

Jose Mesa and Jose Paniagua stuck on as middle relievers, but the biggest addition (arguably) was Arthur Rhodes, who signed as a free agent before the season.  In his initial tenure with the Mariners, across four seasons, he appeared in 276 games (never fewer than 66 appearances in a season) and had a 3.07 ERA.  He was the left-handed reliever we’d been looking for since 1995 and aside from a couple of nasty innings in the 2000 and 2001 American League Championship Series’ against the Yankees, he was arguably the best reliever this team has ever seen.

With that kind of turnover, the Mariners found the mysterious answer to the equation of how to make the playoffs.  The core had dwindled from what it was in 1995, but with pieces like Olerud, Cameron, Garcia, Rhodes, Moyer, and Sasaki, they had managed to climb that mountain once again.

2001 Seattle Mariners

In 2001, it would only get better.  116 wins, unheard of in the modern era.  There wasn’t a tremendous amount of turnover, but there were two very big names involved that would change the organization forever.

First, there was A-Rod accepting a 10-year, $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers.  He would go on to use steroids and become the most hated former Mariner the world has ever known.  In his place, the team started Carlos Guillen at short stop, who was another gem in what was a surprisingly decent trade for Randy Johnson.  How amazing is it that every piece we got back for Randy in 1998 ended up starting for the Mariners by 2001?  I would argue it’s pretty unheard of.

The other big move was signing Ichiro from Japan and making him our everyday right fielder.  By this point in his career, Jay Buhner was simply a part-time player and he graciously gave way to the incoming Ichiro, who set the world on fire in his rookie season, winning the ROY as well as the MVP award.

A little more under the radar was the Bret Boone signing.  We got him for pennies on the dollar and made him our second baseman.  In return, we got a near-MVP season out of him, and a stud second baseman through 2003 before starting his inevitable decline in 2004 and being traded away in the middle of the 2005 season.

Dan Wilson and Edgar Martinez were the only two holdovers from that 1995 team now, with David Bell continuing to man third base, and Mark McLemore platooning with Bell at third and with Al Martin in left field.  Al Martin was supposed to be our big deadline deal in July of 2000 to help bolster our outfield hitting.  He did no such thing and was a total bust.

Freddy Garcia finally made that next step as the ace of the staff in 2001.  Aaron Sele was still oddly productive (in the win/loss department, if not in the actual pitching department) as was Paul Abbott.  Jamie Moyer won 20 games to lead the team.  Our rotation was rounded out with Halama and Joel Pineiro, who was a 12th round draft pick by the Mariners in 1997.  Pineiro would earn full time starting duty in 2002, but would never pan out as we’d hoped.

The bullpen was almost exactly the same as in 2000, except we replaced the dud that was Jose Mesa with the newly signed Jeff Nelson, who was still awesome.  Norm Charlton even made a comeback and was somehow good again; I’m telling you, these 2001 Mariners could do no wrong!  Until the playoffs, that is.

2002 Seattle Mariners

The 2002 Mariners traded David Bell prior to the season because they had previously traded for the hot-hitting Jeff Cirillo from the Colorado Rockies for Jose Paniagua and others.  The hot-hitting Jeff Cirillo never showed up, though.  Instead, his nothing-hitting twin brother showed up and sucked my will to live.  Cirillo played two mediocre seasons before being dumped on the Padres prior to the 2004 season for batting donuts.

Other than the Cirillo hubbub, the starting lineup was pretty much intact, with McLemore earning the starting left field job.

The rotation took some hits, with Halama and Abbott stinking up the joint, when they managed to stay healthy.  Moyer, Garcia, and Pineiro locked down the top three spots, with James Baldwin – a veteran free agent signing – totally crapping the bed.  The rest of the starts were spread out over a bunch of different pitchers, no one of note worth mentioning.

Sasaki, Rhodes, and Nelson locked down the best three-man late innings bullpen unit in baseball, with Shigetoshi Hasegawa signing in free agency to make a good bullpen even better (picking up the slack from losing Paniagua).

As I said before, this team would win 93 games, but it actually managed to finish THIRD in the AL West, with Oakland winning 103 games and Anaheim winning 99 and taking the Wild Card.  That’s just a crusher any way you slice it; 93 games in most years would be enough to get you there!  Not in 2002.

2003 Seattle Mariners

After the 2002 season, Lou Pinella left for another opportunity, this time in Tampa, where he made his offseason home.  The Mariners signed on Bob Melvin and tried to keep the train a-rollin’ with most of the same crew attached.

Same infield:  Wilson, Olerud, Boone, Guillen, Cirillo.  Cammy and Ichiro were still here, along with Edgar Martinez.  New addition:  Randy Winn (left field) who was traded to us by Tampa.  Winn played two and a half years with the Mariners, and they were quality seasons for him, but ultimately he’s a forgotten man for a couple reasons.  He came on too late, without a playoff appearance to his name.  Also, let’s face it, we were spoiled as Mariners fans.  We’d been blessed with this cavalcade of elite power hitters and Winn was anything but.  He was a nice piece, but ultimately not enough to push us over the edge into the post-season.

2003 came with it the oddity of having the same five pitchers start all the games that season.  Again, we had Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, and Joel Pineiro.  Gil Meche returned from the wilderness of Injuryland to grab one of the final spots, with Ryan Franklin bringing up the rear.  Franklin was drafted by the Mariners in 1992, but didn’t sign until May of 1993.  He had his cup of coffee in 1999, then didn’t return to the Majors until 2001 out of the bullpen.  He had a few starts in 2002 and must have shown enough in Spring Training to win a job in 2003, because there he was.  Franklin was never what I would call “good” …

For as steady as our starting rotation was, the bullpen was a bit of a mess.  Sasaki became way too hittable and lost his closer’s job.  Rhodes was losing a bit on his fastball and his ERA suffered for it.  Nelson was still rock solid, and Hasegawa was dy-no-mite as the eventual closer replacement.  Julio Mateo was a bullpen regular with the Mariners after signing as an amateur free agent back in 1996 as a 19 year old, as was Rafael Soriano (also signed in 1996 as an amateur, though as a 16 year old).

In 2003, the A’s again won the AL West, though they only bested the Mariners by 3 games, winning 96.  The Mariners were 2 measly games back of Boston for the Wild Card, so once again they were all dressed up with nowhere to go.

The 2004 Mariners, I think seeing the writing on the wall, tried to reload by signing Raul Ibanez, Scott Spiezio, and Rich Aurilia, but it wouldn’t be enough.  Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone, and John Olerud all fell apart.  Dan Wilson was getting up there.  And the young pitching core of Garcia, Meche, Pineiro, and Franklin just weren’t panning out the way we’d all hoped.  The 2004 Mariners bottomed out with 63 wins and it was time to start all over again.

The only piece that would stick long term would be Ichiro, as even Jamie Moyer was traded in the middle of 2006 so he could go to a winner before he retired.  It’s been non-stop rebuilding ever since, and nothing thus far has worked for more than a season before falling apart again.  The 2013 Mariners are well on their way to a fourth place finish with the current regime led by Jackie Z on very thin ice.

What will the next great Mariners rebuild look like?  I haven’t a clue, but I doubt it looks very much like the team we’re watching right now.  Here’s to hoping the mojo returns soon, for the sake of my sanity and yours.

1997 Seattle Mariners: A Wasteland Of Unfulfilled Promise

The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes – Benjamin Disraeli

I don’t know who Benjamin Disraeli is, but I happened upon that quote just now and thought it perfectly encapsulates every halfway decent, contending Mariners team there’s ever been (and I thought it was a just pretentious-enough way to start a post like this).

The Seattle Mariners had some wildly talented teams between 1995 and 2003, but they were never SUCCESSFUL because they never took advantage of the opportunities they created.  The 1997 team is a great example.

You might be able to argue (and I might be willing to believe) that the 1995 Mariners – while sickeningly talented – were too raw and inexperienced to succeed in their first brush with greatness.  But, with this 1997 team, there was just no excuse!

The 1997 Mariners were like the 1995 Mariners on steroids (pun somewhat intended).  This team led the league with 925 runs scored, they broke the Major League record with 264 home runs, AND they seemingly shored up their starting pitching woes by bringing in a couple of veteran starters who were more-than-capable while our veterans in 1995 ultimately weren’t.

Before I get into the pitching, would you LOOK at this offense?

Ken Griffey Jr. – 56 homers, 34 doubles, 147 RBI, 125 runs scored, 1.028 OPS
Edgar Martinez – 28 homers, 35 doubles, 108 RBI, 104 runs scored, 1.009 OPS
Jay Buhner – 40 homers, 18 doubles, 109 RBI, 104 runs scored, .889 OPS
Alex Rodriguez – 23 homers, 40 doubles, 84 RBI, 100 runs scored, .846 OPS

I mean, it’s just up and down the damn lineup!  Anyone remember Paul Sorrento?  Even HE had 31 homers and 19 doubles!  Not counting left field (which was a wasteland of stop-gaps), 7 of our 8 regular hitters had an OPS over .800 (the lone guy under .800 was Dan Wilson, who in 1997 had himself 15 homes and 31 doubles)!  To put that in perspective, the 2011 Mariners only had one guy (Justin Smoak) who played in over 100 games have an OPS over .700!  Ruminate on THAT and tell me it doesn’t make you sick!  Five guys in 1997 scored over 100 runs each!  Three guys in 2011 scored over 50 runs each!

I could go on and on.  The point is, that 1997 lineup was fucking loaded like you wouldn’t believe.  No major injuries, no major slumps.  Just power, power, power til the cows came home.

On the pitching side, we had a legitimate Big Three going.  Randy Johnson bounced back from his lost 1996 season with a 20-4 record in 30 starts; good for 2nd in the Cy Young to Roger Clemons in spite of these numbers:  2.28 ERA, 213 innings pitched, 291 strikeouts, (12.3 K/9IP).  The team was 22-8 in his starts.  In those 6 no-decisions, 5 of them were Quality Starts that either got blown by the bullpen, or were shot by late-blossoming offense.  Either way, that’s pretty amazing (to look at Roger Clemons’ roided-out numbers from that year is an easy way to burst a blood vessel in my brain, so I’m not even going to go there).

Backing up The Big Unit, we had Jamie Moyer in his first full season as a Mariner (we traded for him at the deadline in 1996 for Darren Bragg – who? – exactly).  Moyer only went out and posted a 17-5 record with a 3.86 ERA.  No big deal.  And, as a legitimate third starter, we had Jeff Fassero, who we acquired from Montreal before the season for a big ol’ bag of nothing (admittedly, one of our more successful trades, until he fell apart in the 1999 season and we had to unload him).  Fassero ended up 16-9 with a 3.61 ERA.

Between our Big Three, they were 53-18.  The rest of the Mariners’ pitchers that year gave us a 37-54.  And boy did they earn every one of those 54 losses!

The 1997 season will always be remembered for one thing:  The Trade Deadline.  Specifically:  Jose Cruz Jr. for Mike Timlin & Paul Spoljaric, and Derek Lowe & Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb.  Not only were these trades two of the least popular (losing Cruz Jr. at the time, and losing Lowe & Varitek retroactively when we realized how great they’d become) and least successful, but you could argue that they didn’t make one lick of difference down the stretch.  All three were pretty pisspoor; and say what you will about Slocumb’s 10 saves in those final two months, I’ll remind you that he managed four losses in his short stint with us.

But, that goes to show you the absolute wreckage we were throwing out there late in games.  Norm Charlton was 3-8 with a 7+ ERA and was pretty much done for his career (and HE appeared in 71 games that season!).  Bobby Ayala was surprisingly effective with a sub-4 ERA, but he was a timebomb waiting to happen (and not in a good way).  We were throwing guys out there like Edwin Hurtado, Scott Sanders, Bob Wells, and Greg McCarthy … each limp dick worse than the last.  I’m telling you, I would’ve sold my SOUL for a repeat of our 1995 bullpen performance.  Saying nothing of what we would eventually accumulate at the turn of the century.

But, like I said, it didn’t really matter, because by the end of the season we were the best team in the AL West.  With THAT offense?  Oh yeah, you could’ve thrown six Steven A. Taylors out there and that team would’ve won 90 games.  I would lament the fact that we didn’t have shit at the back-end of our rotation, trying out guys like Bob Wolcott (until he was finally shut down come August for being totally worthless), Omar Olivares (in another deal that totally and completely backfired for this team), and Scott Sanders (who we got from San Diego for Sterling Hitchcock – who we got with Russ Davis for Tino Martinez & Jeff Nelson … think that 1997 team could’ve used Jeff Nelson?).  But, the truth of the matter is, the back end of our rotation isn’t why the 1997 Mariners ended up failing.  It never got to that point.

Even though the Mariners had the 2nd best record among the division winners, we got stuck playing the Number 1 seed Baltimore Orioles.  The Yankees, as it turned out, were 2 games worse than the Orioles, but they were the Wild Card and SHOULD have been the 4th seed.  The Cleveland Indians were the other division winner, but they had the worst record of them all, and by all rights should’ve been playing the Orioles, but that’s neither here nor there.  Leave it to Major League baseball to have a stupid rule that predetermines the playoff seeding (1997 would be the final year they did this, because DUH).

The Mariners won the division by beating the California Anaheim Angels on September 23rd, at a game – as chance would have it – that I attended.  I still have the scorecard and everything.  When Heathcliff Slocumb notched that final out, the Kingdome erupted like I’ve never heard it before.  The Mariners, after a year in the wilderness, were going BACK to the playoffs.  The Orioles, on the other hand, didn’t win their division until the 161st game of the season.  I don’t know if it made a lick of difference, but at least THIS time the Mariners would be able to set up their rotation so Randy Johnson would go twice in a five-game series (as opposed to 1995 where he started Game 3 and had to come in during Game 5 in an emergency relief situation).

The first game would be critical.  It was at home (the first two being at home before a theoretical three on the road), and our best guy was taking the mound.  So, of course the Mariners went up against the buzzsaw that was Mike Mussina.  He went seven strong innings, striking out 9 and giving up only 2 harmless runs.  The Big Unit, meanwhile, was very un-Unit like.  He got smacked around to the tune of 5 innings, 5 runs, 4 walks, and only 3 strikeouts.  The Orioles scored 8 runs in the 5th and 6th innings, with Mike Timlin & Paul Spoljaric taking the brunt of the punishment in the latter of the two innings.

The Mariners offense didn’t show up whatsoever.  7 total hits – 3 of them solo home runs – spread out over 5 innings.  Griffey was 0 for 4, Edgar was 1 for 4 … it was just a bad all-around effort as the Mariners lost 9-3.

With that turd behind us, Game 2 was now a Must Win.  Jamie Moyer had been solid all season, Scott Erickson was nothing to write home about.  So what happened?  Of COURSE the Mariners lost, again 9-3!  Moyer couldn’t even get through five innings, giving up 3 runs, and Bobby Ayala showed everyone why he was the most hated man in Seattle sports by getting drilled for the other 6 runs (in 1.1 innings).

And, once again, the Mariners’ offense was shut down.  9 hits, 7 left on base, 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position … just a BRUTAL stretch of games for the team with THE best offense in all of baseball.  AT HOME!

Which makes it a God damned miracle that the Mariners won game 3 at all.  At the time, I figured we were destined for a sweep.  I thought, of the three, Jeff Fassero was the LEAST likely to pull a game out.  But, he turned in quite the gutty performance:  136 pitches over 8 innings (because, seriously, would YOU trust that bullpen over a guy throwing that many pitches?), 1 earned run, 4 walks, but only 3 hits.  He kept them off-balance all game.  In fact, Lou left Fassero in there to start the 9th, but he walked a guy, which led to Heathcliff Slocumb coming in to make things interesting.

Fortunately for the M’s, they scored 2 in the top half of the 9th (thanks to back-to-back solo homers by Buhner and the red-hot Paul Sorrento) to pad their lead to 4-0.  So, when the Orioles bashed Slocumb around for two runs (one of them belonging to Fassero), it wasn’t a big deal.

FINALLY, the bats came out.  Granted, the Mariners only scored the 4 runs in their 4-2 victory, but they knocked Jimmy Key around for 8 hits in 4.2 innings.  We could’ve had a lot more (again, we were poor with runners in scoring position, only 1 for 7), but I wasn’t about to complain.  A win is a win, and THAT win meant that we’d see Randy Johnson again.

Mariners fans had opportunity to hope.  Yeah, we were down 2-1 in the series, with two more to be played in Baltimore.  But, we had The Big Unit on the hill again; you had to figure he’d bounce back from that poor effort in Game 1.  AND, you had to figure this offense was primed for a huge game.  We’d only scored 10 runs in the first three games; who’s to say we couldn’t score 10 in that fourth game alone?

Who’s to say?  I believe Mike Mussina was to say.  Once again, he shut us the fuck down, going 7 innings and giving up only 1 run.  Randy went the complete game in defeat, but it was to no avail as the Mariners lost 3-1.

This game was a clunker any way you slice it.  The Orioles jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, the Mariners got one back on a solo Edgar Martinez home run, the Orioles added another run in the 6th, and that was that.  The Mariners didn’t even get a hit after that 2nd inning!  That’s how bad this potent offense was in this deciding game!  The Orioles combined to give up 2 hits and 4 walks!

You get a big ol’ gold star if you knew that Rob Ducey was the other Mariner with a hit in that ballgame.

The Mariners as a team batted .218 with 11 runs scored and only 11 extra base hits.  This is a team that batted .280 in the regular season with 597 extra base hits (an average of over three and a half per game).

You kinda knew that the pitching would be suspect.  I don’t think anyone saw Randy Johnson’s Game 1 coming, but you figured with that bullpen, runs would NEED to be scored.  And when they didn’t come, this team had no answers.

I hate thinking about the What If’s, but I’ll be damned if they’re not there.  What If we played the Yankees instead of the Orioles?  Some teams are just a BAD matchup for you, and the Orioles were that for us.  The Yankees’ pitching wasn’t NEARLY as good as Baltimore’s that year.  Plus, with that 1995 meltdown still dogging them, you had to wonder if maybe the Mariners were a bad matchup for THEM.  Granted, had we beaten the Yankees, we would’ve ran headfirst into another great Indians team, but at least we could’ve scored some fucking runs on them!

The ultimate What If simply lies in the fact that the Mariners had such tremendous talent on that team.  How do you have that many superstars (A-Rod, Griffey, Randy, Edgar) and lose in the first round in four games?  How is that POSSIBLE?  Three guaranteed Hall of Famers and another borderline!  These mid-90s teams were like the 1920s Yankees for Seattle fans!  Every major player on that team will always be remembered fondly.  Every major player either has been or will be publicly celebrated as a hero.  And we sunk faster than a block of cement being hurled into a lake.

That 1997 team was it.  The ’98 Mariners – while still highly talented on offense – ended up third in the AL West.  That was the same year they traded a disgruntled Randy Johnson because we wouldn’t give him the contract extension he so richly deserved.  The ’99 Mariners were again insanely good on offense, but Jeff Fassero fell apart, John Halama was worthless, and some of the other young starters never matured into anything you could use on a Major League diamond.  After that, they traded Griffey, Buhner was just about done, and they had officially built the team around a guy in A-Rod who would leave for Texas in another year.

1997 was the end of an era for this Mariners team.  Granted, they would make it back to the playoffs in 2000, but they were hardly the same team.  1997 will always be remembered as a damn waste, and nothing more.  A damn waste of raw, unrivalled ability, the likes of which we will never see on this team ever again.

Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings

Editor’s NoteThis is the original blog post.  If you want to see the comprehensive list, click HERE.  I update the master list semi-regularly, whenever I can find the time.

You don’t become a city that’s gone 32 years (and counting) between professional sports championships without a little help along the way.  I don’t know everything there is to know about all the other cities with pro teams; hell, I don’t even know everything there is to know about Seattle’s sports history … but I have to figure we’re at least in the top two as far as player personnel incompetence is concerned.

The following is a timeline of all the botched trades, busted draft picks, and lousy free agent signings that have befallen this city, at least since I started becoming a sports fan.  I’m gonna throw this thing in the ol’ menu bar at the top and the plan is to update it continuously.  Obviously, it’ll never be complete, so I thoroughly encourage any suggestions.

April 28, 1987 – (Seahawks) – Brian Bosworth, 1st Round Supplemental Draft Pick:  the Seahawks went big on the defensive side of the ball in this draft, highlighted by the pick of Brian Bosworth out of Oklahoma at the end of the 1st round (I don’t know what happened to the Supplemental Round draft picks, so don’t look to me for an explanation here).  I don’t know what it says about Bosworth, but the Seahawks also went after the linebacker position right before and after The Boz, with Tony Woods and David Wyman.  It says all that needs to be said, however, that both of those guys would have better professional careers.  But, did either of those guys star in “Stone Cold“?  I think I rest my case.

April 23, 1988 – (Seahawks) – Undisclosed Draft Picks to Phoenix Cardinals for Kelly Stouffer:  it’s difficult to peg down exactly which picks we gave up to get this stiff, but rest assured that Kelly Stouffer was the beginning of the end for the Seahawks.  We got a taste of glory in the 80s under Chuck Knox, with Dave Krieg at the helm and Steve Largent breaking all the receiving records later to be broken by Jerry Rice.  But, as we looked to a new decade, it was apparent that Quarterback would be a position of need that we needed to fill.  Starting with Stouffer, culminating with Rick Mirer, and still unsettled until Matt Hasselbeck took charge late in the 2002 season, the Seahawks were a blind franchise in an unforgiving wilderness for the entirety of the 1990s.  All you need to know about Kelly Stouffer is that he held out his rookie season with the Cardinals due to a contract dispute.  Then, the Seahawks tried to trade local legend Kenny Easley to get him, except Easley couldn’t pass the physical due to failing kidneys.  We finally got our man, only to find out our man was good for a mere 2,333 yards in 22 games over 4 seasons, with 7 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.

April 21, 1991 – (Seahawks) – Dan McGwire, 1st Round Draft Pick:  17 picks later, the Atlanta Falcons would select future Hall of Famer Brett Favre.  Little known fact:  Seahawks head coach Chuck Knox WANTED to draft Brett Favre.  Unfortunately, the Seahawks brass couldn’t be bothered with such matters, instead finding McGwire’s 6 foot 8 inch frame to be simply irresistible.  Our “Quarterback of the Future” ended his Seahawks career after the 1994 season having thrown for 745 yards in 12 games with 2 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.

April 25, 1993 – (Seahawks) – Rick Mirer, 1st Round Draft Pick:  we’ll always remember this as our golden opportunity to grab Drew Bledsoe first overall.  Unfortunately, in week 3 of the 1992 season (on our way to a 2-14 finish), the Seahawks just HAD to go into New England and beat the Patriots 10-6 (who would also go on to finish 2-14).  The Pats had the Number 1 pick as a result, and we settled for Rick Mirer.  It should be noted that this was a particularly brutal year for incoming quarterbacks; though if we’d been a little patient, there was a 5th rounder by the name of Mark Brunell who was grabbed by the Packers and went on to bigger and better things with the Jaguars.  Rick Mirer, on the other hand, ended his 4-year Seahawks career with 41 touchdowns and 56 interceptions, getting worse each and every year.  On a positive note, one of the best trades in franchise history involved us unloading Mirer to the Bears for a first round pick we would use to trade up and get Shawn Springs.  So, it’s hard to hate on the guy TOO much.

December 10, 1993 – (Mariners) – Mike Hampton & Mike Felder to Houston Astros for Eric Anthony:  think Mike Hampton would’ve been a nice pitcher to have on all those pitching-starved teams of the late 90s?  No, I don’t remember Eric Anthony either.

December 20, 1993 – (Mariners) – Omar Vizquel to Cleveland Indians for Felix Fermin & Reggie Jefferson:  honestly, I don’t know WHAT we were thinking on this one.  But, just 10 days after we made Mike Hampton a throw-in to a deal, we gave up Little-O for the equivalent of TWO throw-ins.  Neither of whom would ever make a dent.  That’s a bad fortnight for the Seattle Mariners.

February 25, 1994 – (Seahawks) – Nate Odomes signs 4-year, $8.4 million deal:  I know the money doesn’t sound like a lot NOW, but back then that was a hefty price, especially for a cornerback.  But, Odomes was one of the best while he played for the Bills.  He was a Pro Bowler in ’92 and ’93, he had 19 interceptions from ’91-’93, and he was a guy other teams had to throw away from!  Then, a few months later, he blew out his knee in a charity basketball game, missed all of 1994.  THEN, he re-injured the same knee in training camp and missed all of 1995!  We had him for 2 seasons, he never played a down for us, and ended up walking away with $4+ million.  The long, lost, forgotten Seahawk Nate Odomes might go down as the worst free agent signing in team history.

December 7, 1995 – (Mariners) – Tino Martinez, Jim Mecir & Jeff Nelson to New York Yankees for Sterling Hitchcock & Russ Davis:  *sigh*.  So, we traded a first baseman in the beginning of his prime, and one of the best set-up men of the next DECADE for a couple of AAAA guys with huge flaws to their game.  Hitchcock would forever be a disappointment, and Russ Davis would go on to be one of the worst defensive third basemen I’ve ever seen.  I don’t care what anyone says, ultimately for what we gave away, this trade only rivals the Lowe/Varitek debacle for most completely idiotic in team history.

September 13, 1996 – (Mariners) – David Arias to Minnesota Twins for Dave Hollins:  we all know him as David Ortiz, and in 1996 we had him in our farm system.  I guess we all know what the Twins saw in him; too bad we didn’t see the same, otherwise maybe we wouldn’t have had this revolving door at first base and DH ever since Edgar and Olerud retired.

July 31, 1997 – (Mariners) – Derek Lowe & Jason Varitek to Boston Red Sox for Heathcliff Slocumb:  here we are, the mother of all bad trades.  Now, these two may not have been hall of famers, but they’re legends in Boston since they both helped to bring a world championship to town in 2004.  Meanwhile, Heathcliff Slocumb was the BEST we could do at the time?  We knew he was crap when we got him, yet HE was all we could get???  My fondest memory of Heathcliff Slocumb was when I was in the Kingdome as we clinched the AL West later that season.  My least fond memory of Heathcliff Slocumb was every time I saw a Red Sox game with Derek Lowe & Jason Varitek.

July 31, 1997 – (Mariners) – Jose Cruz Jr. to Toronto Blue Jays for Paul Spoljaric & Mike Timlin:  do you know what kind of disaster area the Seattle Mariners bullpen was in 1997?  It single-handedly caused Woody Woodward to lose his fucking mind at the trading deadline.  On the same day he would make the single worst Mariners trade ever, he also shipped off highly-touted prospect (probably the highest touting since A-Rod) for two pieces of dog meat.  On the one hand, could you blame him?  I mean, Norm Charlton and Bobby Ayala led the team in appearances that year with 71(!) apiece.  Of course, on the other hand, Woody Woodward was a huge dope on this day, a day that will live on in infamy.

2000 – (Seahawks) – Ahman Green & 5th Round Pick to Green Bay Packers for Fred Vinson & 6th Round Pick:  can’t seem to lock down an official date for this one, but figure it was sometime before April 16th in the year 2000.  The late-round picks were a wash; neither worked out for either team.  However, Fred Vinson was a total bust while Ahman Green would go on to lead the Packers in rushing.  Granted, we still had Shaun Alexander, but we still should’ve gotten more for such a stud.

July 31, 2000 – (Mariners) – John Mabry & Tom Davey to San Diego Padres for Al Martin:  this trade isn’t necessarily bad for the guys we gave away; neither meant all that much to me personally, nor did they go on to have outstanding careers after they left.  But, this trade was the epitome of the Pat Gillick era in Seattle.  Pat Gillick was a brilliant baseball man who did wonderful things in Toronto in the early 90s (2 World Series championships) and he would go on to do wonderful things in Philly (2008 title).  But, in Seattle, it wasn’t in the cards, and it was because of trades like this.  Or, more accurately, the LACK of trades period.  I don’t hate Al Martin because he sucked.  I hate Al Martin because he wasn’t someone better.  Pat Gillick needed to go out and get us a quality bat, consequences be damned.  Instead, he got Al Martin and in the year 2000, the Seattle Mariners went nowhere.

December 16, 2001 – (Mariners) – Brian Fuentes, Jose Paniagua & Denny Stark to Colorado Rockies for Jeff Cirillo:  a couple months after we finished the regular season with the most wins in the modern era, we felt it necessary to keep on tinkering.  Forget the fact we probably could’ve used a starting pitcher more; we had to go out and get Jeff Cirillo – a guy who had shown he could hit in Coors Field and nowhere else.  A guy who, in spite of playing in such a bandbox, had a career high of only 17 homers the year before he came here.  What happened next?  Well, we stuck him in Safeco Field and he hit .234 over two seasons.  Just one of many National Leaguers we’ve brought to the American League over the years who absolutely fell off the map.

April 20, 2002 – (Seahawks) – Jerramy Stevens, 1st Round Draft Pick:  a loaded draft for the tight end position … and the Seahawks got Public Enemy #1.  Jerramy Stevens was a bust because you could argue he was the biggest reason we lost Super Bowl XL (I know that’s what I would argue, anyway).  But, forget all that.  He’s a bust plain and simple because he probably had more God-given ability than any other tight end in that draft (with Jeremy Shockey and Daniel Graham going before him; Chris Baker and Randy McMichael going after him), yet he squandered it all away because he couldn’t stay out of trouble and had the work-ethic of a wino on skid row.  He’s the only Husky I’ll forever hate, and on this day the Seahawks made a tremendous mistake.

March 4, 2004 – (Seahawks) – Grant Wistrom signs 6-year, $33 million deal:  and out of that we got 3 seasons before biting the bullet and cutting him.  He “earned” $21 million in that time; for our trouble we got back a whopping 11.5 sacks.  Or, just a little under $2 million per sack.  This was a signing you could easily loathe from the beginning.  After it was all said and done, we traded in for a younger version of the white defensive end:  Patrick Kerney.  But, Wistrom was by FAR the worse of the two.

June 27, 2004 – (Mariners) – Freddy Garcia & Ben Davis to Chicago White Sox for Jeremy Reed, Mike Morse & Miguel Olivo:  it was the right time to trade the Chief, his stock would never be higher again and we were in the midst of a total organizational meltdown.  2004 was the beginning of a long slide into futility for the Mariners; what we needed at the time were some prospects who could come in and lift us back to prominence.  Olivo was supposed to be our catcher of the future, Reed was supposed to lock down left field for the next decade, and Mike Morse should’ve been a solid utility guy.  Instead, Olivo was (and still is) a dud, Reed never panned out, and Morse has always turned into a pumpkin whenever the calendar flips to April.

February 23, 2006 – (Seahawks) – Steve Hutchinson assigned Transition Tag:  this was the beginning of the end for Tim Ruskell.  The Seahawks saved a little less than $600,000 in cap room, but in the process initiated one of the most notorious swindles in recent memory.  One month later, Hutchinson would be a Minnesota Viking thanks to their Poison Pill-laced contract, and the Seahawks would descend into the abyss thanks to a below-average offensive line.  For a team that had just made its first Super Bowl thanks to that very amazing offensive line, losing Hutch would be heartbreaking.  And it would also lead to one of the more hilarious retaliatory signings ever.

March 20, 2006 – (Mariners) – Matt Thornton to Chicago White Sox for Joe Borchard:  an eye for talent:  Bill Bavasi lacked it.  Joe Borchard sounds like a name that would suck at baseball.  Matt Thornton, meanwhile, has been a pretty lockdown reliever for the Sox ever since.  Too bad he never made good on any of his promise while a Mariner.

March 24, 2006 – (Seahawks) – Nate Burleson signs 7-year, $49 million deal:  granted, it would turn out that Burleson never got anything approaching $49 million (that was the Poison Pill number we put on to rub it in Minnesota’s face), but essentially Burleson was a huge trade-down compared to what we lost in Steve Hutchinson.  It’s not an unforgivable signing; Nate was a highly productive return man and a moderately productive receiver.  But, we’ll never be able to separate Nate’s signing from Hutch’s loss.

June 30, 2006 – (Mariners) – Asdrubal Cabrera to Cleveland Indians for Eduardo Perez:  BAVASI!!!!  Hold on, it gets better …

July 26, 2006 – (Mariners) – Shin-Soo Choo to Cleveland Indians for Ben Broussard:  my best guess is that Bavasi was secretly on the Indians’ payroll in 2006.

September 11, 2006 – (Seahawks) – 1st Round Pick in 2007 to New England Patriots for Deion Branch:  the draft pick turned into Brandon Meriweather, who made two Pro Bowls.  Deion Branch signed a lucrative 6-year, $39 million contract with the Seahawks and proceeded to be a collosal disappointment until he was finally traded back to the Patriots in 2010 and everyone in Seattle rejoiced.  End result:  a 1st round pick for a 4th round pick, ye gods!

December 7, 2006 – (Mariners) – Rafael Soriano to Atlanta Braves for Horacio Ramirez:  just a stellar cap to a 2006 calendar year for Bill Bavasi.  Why he was allowed to run the club for the next season and a half is beyond me.

February 8, 2008 – (Mariners) – Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Kam Mickolio & Tony Butler to Baltimore Orioles for Erik Bedard:  at the time, I could defend this one; then we realized what we got in Erik Bedard.  So many injuries.  So many millions for nary a game played.  Somehow, Bedard is still here, but he’ll never be the guy who was worth five prospects.  Meanwhile, Adam Jones looks like he’s got a long, successful career in him.  Still, this isn’t the worst trade ever – as it’s said to be in many circles.  But, it’s pretty bad.

March 2, 2009 – (Seahawks) – T.J. Houshmandzadeh signs 5-year, $40 million deal:  and by September of 2010, T.J. Houshmandzadeh was cut.  What we’ll always remember about Housh are his 3 touchdowns over his lone season with the team, and of course, his tantrums and tirades over not getting the ball thrown his way enough.  Of course, there’s the $6+ million we paid him just to go away.  We signed him in hopes of getting a Number 1 receiver, failing to recognize his declining skills and utter inability to go down and catch the deep ball.  Live and learn, I guess.