Reasonable Expectations For The 2016 Mariners

WORLD SERIES OR SUCK MY TITS BABY, WOOOOOO!!!

It’s been a whirlwind whatever amount of time since the new GM, Jerry Dipoto, took over, what with all the trades and signings and whatnot.  A TON of turnover up and down the roster, as well as up and down the organization.  So often, we get all caught up in the excitement of talking about new players, that we automatically associate New with Improved.  I mean, let’s face it, the advertising world has conditioned us to this effect.  Digiorno Pizza got a new pizza sauce recipe:  NEW & IMPROVED!  Except, while it was new, the flavor was a huge downgrade and their product tasted like shit, so they eventually switched back to the old recipe and the world rejoiced.

The truth of the matter is, sometimes New means Improved, and sometimes you end up with the PR nightmare of New Coke (or, that’s just what the Coca Cola company wants you to think, you sheeple).  The point is, change for the sake of change doesn’t mean this Mariners team is going to be any better than prior Mariners teams.

Then again, when you factor in how crummy this team was, could it really hurt to trim off the excess fat and replace it with literally anything else?

In many ways, particularly with the lineup and the outfield defense, we’re talking about Addition By Subtraction.  LoMo, Trumbo, and Zunino are great places to start.  Last year, LoMo flashed a quality glove at first base, but his production at the plate was pathetic; he’s gone, replaced by Adam Lind, who should be a steady presence at the plate, and good enough at the bag.  Trumbo was forced into a regular outfield starting role, because he was deemed marginally better than Dustin Ackley.  The outfield is probably the last place you want to see Trumbo, especially if that outfield is in Safeco Field.  Then, you gotta tack on his horrific start once he was traded over here, and regardless of how hot his season finished, he’s too streaky to be depended upon.  He’s also gone, replaced by let’s say Nori Aoki, a quality leadoff hitter and a significant upgrade in our corner defense.  Then, with Zunino, you’re talking about a guy ahead of his years defensively, but he was the blackest of black holes offensively.  He’s still in the organization, but he’s going to get his cuts down in Tacoma to hopefully build up some confidence and build up some better habits at the plate.  Replacing him with even a Replacement Level hitter like Iannetta should be a huge upgrade in our overall offense.

Gone are other young guys like Ackley and Miller, who were more Promising Hopefuls than Professionals You Could Rely On.  Gone are worthless veterans like Rickie Weeks, Justin Ruggiano, and Willie Bloomquist.  All of these moves are upgrades just by not having them on our team anymore!  This is truly a professional lineup that should get the job done day-in and day-out.  If we had this offense back in 2014, when our pitching was studly, we’d be talking about a World Series contender.

See, the problem with all this change – which I alluded to above – is that we as fans get seduced by all the improvements that we fail to recognize the weaknesses.  Or, we choose to see the weaknesses as potential strengths, if such and such breaks in our favor.  The fact of the matter is, the pitching is going to be a real issue in 2016, and our depth at the Major League level is already razor thin, so should injuries crop up (as they do for literally every single team), we may be in serious trouble.

The one problem with the lineup that I’ve neglected to this point is its reliance upon platoons.  The aforementioned Adam Lind, for instance, is GREAT against righties.  But, he’s absolutely awful against left-handed pitchers.  That presents a problem that the team is tentatively looking to rectify by platooning him with Jesus Montero (who is pretty solid against lefties, but struggles mightily against righties).  What happens if one of those guys gets injured?  What happens, particularly, if Lind gets injured (since there are more right-handed pitchers in the game than lefties)?  Then, we’re stuck with Montero as our everyday first baseman, and our production from that position at the plate plummets.

Same deal in the outfield.  We’ve got a Seth Smith/Franklin Gutierrez platoon.  Guti is a walking nightmare of maladies.  Last year, he was fortunate, as the team was in a position to give him the time he needed between games to recover.  But, he’s on a Major League deal; we can’t just send him to Tacoma or whatever, without putting him on the DL.  So, what happens if Seth Smith has a serious injury that keeps him out for a few months?  What was once a strength (our outfield defense) will now require the presence of Nelson Cruz to just get by!

You get the idea.  This thing goes on and on.  Even at the catcher position, we’ve got a righty and a lefty, which will only encourage the team to pursue a platoon sitch there too.  I know platoons are the wave of the future – and really, they make good sense, and should prolong some careers of guys with radical platoon splits – but when the shit hits the fan, you’re sort of left with your dick in your hand.

As for the pitching, I’ve gone over that repeatedly in recent weeks.  It’s scary.  After Felix, you need a lot of things to break right:

  • Will Taijuan Walker improve upon a decent – but far from great – rookie season?
  • Will Taijuan Walker manage to stay healthy again for a full season?
  • Will James Paxton manage to stay healthy for longer than a couple months?
  • Will Wade Miley’s numbers improve with the move to Safeco Field?
  • Will Wade Miley be good enough on the road to not be a total Joe Saunders?
  • Will Nathan Karns resemble the second coming of Erik Bedard in a good way (strong stuff, bulldog on the mound, stiffens with runners on); or will he resemble the second coming of Erik Bedard in a bad way (5 inning limit, arm problems, poor interviewee leading all of us to listen to the constant bitching of local Seattle media)?

Then, there’s the bullpen, which is a complete unknown.  After Joaquin Benoit (who has been a rock his entire career), it’s all cause for concern:

  • Who’s going to be the closer?
  • Will this team even employ a traditional closer?
  • Who’s our next-best reliever after Benoit?
  • Will Furbush continue his strong 2015, or revert to his inconsistent 2014?
  • Will Zych make good on his lights-out cup of coffee last season?
  • Will Evan Scribner continue to have issues with giving up home runs?
  • Will Jonathan Aro be the second coming of Evan Scribner, home run problem and all?
  • Will this apparent trend toward bullpen pitchers with lackluster velocity on their fastballs be the death of us all?

If I had to reach down into my gut, to see what it says about this team’s chances in 2016, I’d say the starting rotation is a little more promising than the bullpen.  I think the ‘pen has the chance to be one of the worst we’ve ever seen.  Mid-90s bad.  Bobby Ayala bad.  And the worst part?  I fear that this starting rotation will probably put a lot of strain on the bullpen by throwing short games.  Walker, Paxton, and Karns will all have their games where they can’t get past the 5th inning.  Miley is a total wild card, who could range from 2 innings to 8 innings.  That’s going to put a lot of stress on the King to get the job done in his starts.

I want to go off the deep end.  I want to jump to the head of the parade and pronounce this team as a true contender.  I want to like all these moves and champion the new GM as a guy who finally GETS it.  But, if I’m being honest, I think he’s just morphed this team into a different kind of sub-.500 team.  One that may hit better, score more runs.  But, in the end, a team that will blow a lot of leads late.  The question is:  how clutch are these hitters?  It’s an impossible metric to track, of course.  But, if this team is going to somehow hang in there and fight for a Wild Card spot, it’s going to have to somehow manufacture a crazy win/loss record in 1-run games and in walk-off/extra innings games.

Which is just another way of saying, I’ll have to see it to believe it.  I’ll have to see this team play well before I believe this team will continue to play well.

A Pre-Thanksgiving Look At The Changes To The Mariners’ Roster

There’s not much going on this week, is there?  The Husky basketball team has a major tournament in the Bahamas (and is playing Gonzaga for the first time since 2006); the Apple Cup lands on Black Friday once again; the Seahawks are playing for the opportunity to be over .500 for the first time in 2015; and, of course, there’s that major national holiday where we celebrate how we screwed over all the Native Americans celebrate “giving thanks” or some bullshit like that.

Anyway, fuck all that, because I’m writing about the Mariners.  We’ve seen a lot of change in a very short time, which got me to wondering how our team shapes up compared to last year’s disappointment.  So, let’s go down the line, starting with the everyday nine:

Catcher:  2016 – Iannetta, 2015 – Zunino
First Base:  2016 – Trumbo, 2015 – Morrison
Second Base:  Cano
Third Base:  Seager
Short Stop:  2016 – Marte, 2015 – Miller / Taylor / Marte
Left Field:  2016 – Smith/Guti?, 2015 – Ackley
Center Field:  2016 – Martin, 2015 – Jackson
Right Field:  2016 – TBD / Trumbo / Cruz, 2015 – Smith, Cruz
Designated Hitter:  2016 – Cruz, 2015 – Cruz / Various

The only three “guaranteed” holdovers (I put that in quotes, because you never really know what a new GM will do in these first few months of total power, before it’s slowly stripped away from him by management as his mistakes pile up) figure to be Cano, Cruz, and Seager.  Cruz figures to get the majority of his playing time at DH (God willing), but you can’t completely rule out him playing some right field.  Nevertheless, this team is in desperate need of an everyday solution to our right field problem (or at least a rock-solid left-handed platoon option who isn’t named Boog Powell).

Iannetta looks to be a step up from Zunino.  Trumbo figures to be a lateral move compared to LoMo (worse on defense, probably more consistent at the plate).  A Seth Smith/Franklin Gutierrez platoon in left would be a HUGE upgrade over Ackley, should they both manage to stay healthy.  Leonys Martin figures to be better defensively than A-Jax, as well as a better baserunner (how many times did we watch Jackson try to steal and get tagged out by a million miles?), but the jury is seriously out as to whether or not Martin can hit in Safeco.  It looked like Jackson was starting to get the hang of it in 2015, but I feel like Martin brings more upside and is an all-around improvement at the position.  Finally, we’ll see what we get out of a full season of Ketel Marte at short stop.  He might be a step down initially, but hopefully he’ll blossom into a quality starter in time.

Now, onto the starting rotation, where things are still a little up in the air:

1.  Felix Hernandez
2.  2016 – Iwakuma?, 2015 – Iwakuma
3.  Taijuan Walker
4.  2016 – Karns, 2015 – Happ / Elias
5.  2016 – Paxton / Elias, 2015 – Paxton / Montgomery / Nuno

Felix and Taijuan are the primary holdovers; they’re not going anywhere, for obvious reasons.  Hisashi Iwakuma turned down the Mariners’ qualifying offer of $15.8 million for next year in hopes of getting a longer-term deal.  There’s still a very good chance he signs with the Mariners; the qualifying offer was more of a way to discourage any other teams from signing him (as they would lose their first unprotected draft pick).  For what it’s worth, the GM sounds really eager to bring him back.  I’m a little lukewarm on the deal, but I don’t see a whole lotta better options out there.  Iwakuma has been good when healthy, but he’s prone to give up the long ball.  Beyond that, his most consistent attribute is getting himself injured and missing large chunks of season.  Honestly, I don’t think I want him on anything more than a 2-year deal, maybe with an option for a third year if he reaches certain Staying-Off-Of-The-DL benchmarks.

The back-end of the rotation looks like it’s going to be a zoo once again for the Mariners.  Paxton is an obvious choice, but he’s even more injury prone than Iwakuma.  Nathan Karns, our big return chip in the Brad Miller deal, looks to have a spot locked up; so if Iwakuma returns, that appears to be four spots on lockdown.  Vying for that fifth spot will be a bevy of underwhelming candidates, including Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery, and Vidal Nuno (though I still think he’s better suited as a long relief man in the bullpen).  Since Paxton is the likeliest candidate to win the spot out of Spring Training, it’s good to know we’ve got experienced options in Elias, Montgomery, and the like.  I’m certain we’ll need them.

As for how the back-end will fare, it’s tough to say.  My initial reaction is that they couldn’t be any worse than J.A. Happ, but I could be full of shit with that statement.  I’ve never seen Karns pitch!  I’ve seen the other guys, and they weren’t all that much better than Happ.  So, who knows?  Also, you gotta figure the team will go out and look for a cheap veteran to throw onto the pile.  If said veteran does well in Spring Training, we could be looking at another underwhelming half-year of a guy who doesn’t belong in the league anymore.

Regarding the potential bullpen, I don’t REALLY even want to go there, but here’s what I’ve got at this early point in the offseason:

Closer:  2016 – Benoit, 2015 – Rodney
8th Inning:  Carson Smith
7th Inning:  2016 – Zych?, 2015 – Wilhelmsen
Lefty #1:  Charlie Furbush
Lefty #2:  2016 – Riefenhauser?, 2015 – Beimel
Long:  2016 – Nuno?, 2015 – Nuno
Misc Relief:  2016 – Bass?, 2015 – Farquhar, Lowe, Others

Joaquin Benoit doesn’t have a ton of experience closing, but he does have a ton of experience being a boss reliever.  One would think his bossness would translate quite well from the 8th to the 9th inning.  Besides, Carson Smith is still young, and was getting kind of abused in the closer’s role last year (mostly by lefties); his natural spot in the bullpen should be the primary set-up man, facing mostly right-handed hitters.  Beyond those two guys, and Charlie Furbush (assuming he gets healthy in time), the rest of the bullpen is a total crapshoot.  Tony Zych looked pretty solid in his September call-up, so I’m sure he’ll get a shot at winning a spot.  We just traded for C.J. Riefenhauser, so I’m sure he’ll get every opportunity to win that second lefty spot (but, if he fails, we’ve got about four more on the 40-man roster who could supplant him).  I want to make Vidal Nuno a lock for the long relief/spot starter role, but you never know.  And, for that 7th bullpen spot (should we keep 7 guys in the bullpen), I have no fucking idea.  The guy who gets that spot probably isn’t even on this team right now.  I just put Bass up there because he was acquired in a recent trade, so I’m sure he’s going to get every chance to wow the team in Spring.

The bench is even more pointless to try to predict right now, but I’ll give it a whirl.  Figure our starting 9 (including “TBD” in right field; and for the purposes of this exercise, making Seth Smith the “starting” left fielder), plus 5 starting pitchers, plus 7 relievers, that leaves 4 bench spots:

Catcher:  2016 – Zunino, 2015 – Sucre
Corner Outfield:  Franklin Gutierrez
Infielder:  2016 – Luis Sardinas?, 2015 – Bloomquist/Taylor
Outfield:  2016 – Powell/O’Malley?, 2015 – Weeks/Ruggiano/Others

Right off the bat, Zunino is a huge upgrade over Sucre.  Guti’s taking up a spot on the roster, which necessitates a fifth outfielder to cover us in the likely event that Guti needs some extra days of rest to deal with whatever is nagging at him.  Boog Powell appears to be ready for a shot at the bigs.  Shawn O’Malley had a cup of coffee in September and really impressed everyone with his hustle, so you gotta figure he has a shot if nothing else changes about the roster.  Either one of those guys, you gotta figure, is better than Rickie Weeks, just defensively alone!  Finally, we say goodbye to Willie Bloomquist (hopefully for the last time), and we say hello to Luis Sardinas, who the Mariners just acquired from Milwaukee for a minor leaguer.  Sardinas has experience at all the infield positions, he’s played sparingly in the Majors the last two years, and he’s VERY young (will turn 23 years old next May).  He’s going to have to prove he can hit at least a little bit at the Big League level, because he’s got Chris Taylor who can also play all the infield spots, and has a similar amount of experience (but an additional two years of age).

Pointless exercise, or a fun way to waste time?  You decide!  Or don’t, I don’t care.  Tomorrow’s Turkey Day!

Mariners Tidbit 58: Jesus Montero Is Back … Hooray?

Driving down to Tacoma yesterday afternoon for my weekly summer bowling league, I found myself flipping through the three local sports radio shows as the story was breaking:  the Mariners called up Jesus Montero.  We would go on to find out that J.A. Happ apparently still has options, and since he won’t be starting between now and the All Star Break, we used his option to get him off of our 25-man roster for a couple weeks.  He’ll be eligible to return just as soon as we need him, which I would assume is somewhere around July 20th or 21st.

Surprisingly, with news of Montero’s return – and likely impending implementation over the weekend, as we face a run on lefty starters – the tenor of the discussion wasn’t, “Yawn, who cares?”  I was catching a whiff of unbridled enthusiasm!  For a player whose career Major League numbers with the Seattle Mariners look like this:

  • .251/.291/.378/.669, 19 homers, 73 RBI across 680 plate appearances

That’s right around 1 full season’s worth of plate appearances, spread out over three mediocre years.  Last year, he played in all of 6 games in the middle of endless controversy.  Since he was traded for Michael Pineda, Montero has proven to be the following:

  • A terrible defensive catcher
  • Terrible at taking a walk or working a count
  • Terrible at hitting right handed pitching
  • A slow, lazy tub of goo who only in this past offseason managed to get his fitness to where it needs to be
  • A steroids user
  • Not a fan of ice cream sandwiches
  • Terrible at hitting any type of breaking ball or offspeed pitch
  • Strikeout-prone
  • A symbol of all that has gone wrong in the Jack Zduriencik era

In short, Jesus Montero – the Seattle Mariner – has been a complete and utter disaster from the start.  Why would ANYONE think even for a moment that his being called up is going to matter one iota?

  • .332/.370/.529/.899, 15 homers, 68 RBI across 368 plate appearances

Those are his numbers this year while playing in Tacoma.  By all accounts, he’s maintained the weight loss, he’s quicker and more athletic; hell, he’s even managed to somehow hit FIVE triples!  He’s been mashing as a combo DH/1B this year, while at the same time nearly everyone on the Major League roster has struggled at hitting.  Nelson Cruz started off insanely hot, but has cooled off in the last month-plus.  Robinson Cano is going through his worst-ever season in the bigs.  Mark Trumbo appears to be yet another bust.  Weeks and Ruggiano are gone.  I guess what I’m trying to say is:  can you BLAME Mariners fans for thinking that Montero couldn’t POSSIBLY be worse than what we already have?

Yes.  Yes, I can.  Because, YOU FAT BLOATED IDIOT, how many times are we going to go through this?  The solution to all of our problems doesn’t lie in the roster of the Tacoma Fucking Rainiers!  Guys like Jesus Montero, and Carlos Peguero, and Alex Liddi, and Mike Wilson, and Wladimir Balentien, and James Jones, and Stefen Romero, and Abe Almonte, and Carlos Triunfel, and Matt Tuiasosopo, and Casper Wells, and Trayvon Robinson, and Eric Thames, and Adam Moore, and Matt Mangini will ALWAYS do well in Tacoma, because they’re as close as it comes to being bona fide Major League hitters without actually BEING Major League hitters.  They do well down there, they get called up with all this fanfare – invariably because they’re filling a roster spot vacated by a do-nothing turd – and they promptly do their best impression of a do-nothing turd!

And, unlike most of those other guys – when they made their first appearances with the big league ballclub – we KNOW what Jesus Montero can do in the Majors; we’ve seen it firsthand!  Doesn’t mean someone like Montero couldn’t make it as a bench player or a platoon guy on another team; shit, even Bryan LaHair was an All Star one year for the Cubs.  But, it’s beyond idiotic to believe Montero is going to be that valuable player HERE.  For the Seattle Mariners.  Playing half their games in Safeco Field.

I know it’s fun to dream.  I know it’s fun to look at Montero’s relatively skinny frame, point to how he was once a VERY highly rated prospect, and fantasize about how he may be one of the rare late bloomers who turns his career around without the all-important change of scenery.  But, let’s get fucking real, huh?  Could we just once not get suckered into a belief that Jesus Montero will be worth a damn?  Can we PLEASE just live in the now???

Mariners Tidbit 57: Mark Lowe Has Been A Godsend

There haven’t been many pleasant surprises in this disaster of a season.  The list of unpleasant surprises (or, maybe more accurately, “Unpleasant I Should Have Seen This Coming’s”) is seemingly endless:

  • Cano
  • Ackley
  • Ruggiano
  • Weeks
  • Trumbo
  • Sucre
  • Zunino
  • Iwakuma
  • Paxton
  • Farquhar
  • Leone
  • Wilhelmsen
  • Medina
  • Rodney

You can practically field a full team with all the guys who’ve sucked for us!  But, the real pleasant surprises have been few and far between.

  • Montgomery
  • Cruz through the first two months
  • Sucre the relief pitcher
  • Mark Lowe

Everyone else is pretty much as expected.  Maybe I should’ve expected worse out of guys like Ackley, Zunino, and the like, but I’m a foolish, foolish man.  Constantly suckered in by promise.

Mark Lowe, though, is one of the good ones.  He was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training and I really didn’t have much hope for him sticking around.  Shows what I know.  He did make it onto the Tacoma roster, pitched well for a month, and was called up to Seattle in early May.  Since then, he’s merely pitched 26 innings across 26 games, giving up 2 earned runs, walking 10 and striking out 34.  He’s got that life on his fastball – throwing anywhere from 95-97 mph – and most importantly he’s got command.  He’s easily been one of the best – if not THE best – relievers on this team (he’s at least in the top 2 with Carson Smith), and it’s showing with how the team has used him.

Early on, he was being used in early innings, in blowouts, and in close losing efforts.  Now, he’s one of the main set-up guys with Smith and Rodney (depending on who’s closing that particular night).  With the likes of Furbush and Beimel locking things down from the left side, and with Rodney’s recent improvement (last night’s blown save notwithstanding), the Mariners ALMOST have a top notch bullpen.  Those last two spots are really up for grabs at this point, with a rotating cast of characters trying and failing to get the job done.  But, it’s nice to know we don’t have to worry about someone like Lowe.

In games we’re winning late, we shouldn’t have much problem locking down the save (again, depending on which version of Rodney we get).  A big reason behind that is Mark Lowe returning to form.  He might be pitching his way toward a raise next year – and as such, might be out of our price range for 2016 – but it’s nice to see SOMETHING go right in this year that has gone so wrong.

Mariners Tidbit 47: Jack Zduriencik Needs To Be Fired

You’re a fucking retard if you think the Seattle Mariners are making the playoffs this year.  Yes, I’m talking to you, on June 15th:  you’re a retard if you think there’s any way this team is going to right the ship.  7.5 games behind first place; 4th place overall in the A.L. West.  13th fucking place in the American League – meaning we’d have to pass over EIGHT teams just to get to a play-in game – it’s over.  RETARDS!  It’s over.

You know how I know it’s over?  Because this team’s roster is a fucking joke.  The defense is a joke, the hitting is a joke, and the pitching – God bless ’em – just isn’t good enough to overcome the shitty defense and even shittier hitting.

And Jackie Z is the man behind all of it.  He’s had his chances.  He’s MORE than had his share of chances.  The organization would’ve been justified in letting him go after the 2010 season, and yet here we are.  He’s not the sloppy, back-alley abortion that Bill Bavasi was; Jackie Z didn’t completely gut our farm system in some pathetic Win Now maneuver. Jackie Z is terrible in completely new and fresh ways, but make no mistake, he IS terrible at what he does.

At best, with any trade he makes, we have to hope that both teams end up frustrated and unhappy.  Jackie Z is NEVER going to pull the wool over the eyes of another GM.  But, if the guy we get in return can manage to suck just as much as the players we send away, then it’s a victorious trade for Trader Jack.  What was the best deal he ever made?  It was the Vargas/Guti/Putz trade with the Indians and Mets way back when, and look at how well that worked out long term!  Vargas was a solid starter, who we traded away for a season’s worth of Kendrys Morales; Guti was a solid starter until his body completely broke down; and the guys we gave away didn’t totally murder us in the deal.  That’s unquestionably the BEST trade Jackie Z has ever made in his time with the Mariners!

Getting back to the roster construction, just look at this team.  It’s like the guy read “Moneyball” and proceeded to rip out the pages, one at a time, and wipe his ass with each and every one of them.  Anyone who even has a remote ability to work a count and take a walk might as well be screaming the N-word at the top of his lungs while every media outlet in the world is recording, because the Mariners under Jackie Z can’t get rid of these guys fast enough!  John Jaso is the primary example here, but I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.  The point is, this team hasn’t really even TRIED to bring in well-rounded hitters outside of overpaying for Robinson Cano, and look at how great he’s been in just his second season here.

The Mariners have the most myopic front office in the league.  Where have the Mariners struggled?  Right handed dingers!  So, they bring in Nelson Cruz, Rickie Weeks, Mark Trumbo, and they get rid of Justin Ruggiano because he doesn’t hit ENOUGH dingers, regardless of the fact that he’s one of the few hitters on this team who can work a Major League count.  If you’re taking walks and not hitting dingers, YOU’RE OFF THE TEAM!

And therefore, when this team hits dingers, it tends to do well.  When this team hits no dingers, it gets shut out by the likes of the fucking Astros two times in three days.  I mean, just look at these guys!

Austin Jackson – a good-enough role player on a stacked team, but no one you really want at the top of your order.

Seth Smith – another good-enough role player who probably shouldn’t be playing every day, and certainly someone else you don’t need at the top of your order.

Robinson Cano – Good player, probably not $24 million per year good.  But, beggars can’t be choosers.

Nelson Cruz – Good at dingers!  Not going to win you any Triple Crowns any time soon.  Should never be playing in the outfield.

Kyle Seager – Good all-around baseball player.  Literally the only one cultivated by the Jackie Z regime.

Logan Morrison – His slumps make him look like the worst hitter on the planet.  His hot streaks make him look like he belongs for a breathtaking short burst of time.  Better defensively at first base than any of us thought; should never play the outfield.

Dustin Ackley – The Most Disappointing Man In The World.  Can’t hit, can’t work a count (probably because the Jackie Z regime drilled that skill out of him in the name of dingers as soon as he was drafted), is okay defensively but has a terrible throwing arm, so he’s not really a guy you want to have out there because everyone is going to run on him.

Brad Miller – Doesn’t hit enough, is pretty good defensively, but still makes mind-boggling mistakes from time to time.

Mike Zunino – Doesn’t hit enough (but at least he hits a few dingers!), is pretty good defensively, and is playing almost every single day because this team’s backup catcher is literally the worst.

Mark Trumbo – Dingers, and that’s it.

Jackie Z has been a disaster almost the entire time he’s been the Mariners’ GM, except the team lucked into a couple of winning seasons during his tenure that’s allowed him to keep his job in spite of the fact that we’ve burned through three managers and are well on our way to burning through our fourth in Lloyd McClendon.  You don’t have to fire Jackie Z today, you don’t have to fire him tomorrow.  But, you should probably rein him in on any deadline deals that don’t involve shedding salary, and you absolutely MUST fire him by the time the season ends.

The old fucks who run the Mariners need to bring in someone younger and smarter than Jackie Z.  Someone who is willing to think outside the box (and get rid of LMC in favor of a manager who thinks the same way).  2015 better be the last fucking year we’re stuck with Jackie Z blowing smoke up our asses.

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.

***

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.

Mariners Tidbit 31: Making Roster Moves

When you start your season this crappy, heads must roll.  Not important heads; minor heads.  Heads you won’t necessarily miss.

Yoervis Medina has been sent down to Tacoma, as has Tyler Olson.  Medina doesn’t strike me as being all that different than his last two seasons in the Majors, maybe a small uptick in wildness.  He’s got 7 walks to 9 strikeouts, so there’s probably your culprit considering his 3.00 ERA.  Honestly, I wouldn’t expect him to be gone for too long, as he’ll probably be the first one called up in the event of another injury to a bullpen arm.

Olson’s demotion makes a little more sense.  He has been wildly ineffective since making the club out of Spring Training.  Considering he’s yet to play any games in AAA, it would make some sense to keep him working regularly while at the same time taking some of the pressure off of his plate.

In their place, Joe Beimel and Mark Lowe return to the ballclub.  With Beimel, I suppose we’re hoping to catch lightning in a bottle twice.  With Lowe, I have no idea.  His fastball is a shell of its former self, so he better have good control and he better have a decent out-pitch.  He’s given up 1 run in 9 innings (with 11 strikeouts) down in Tacoma, so at least that’s a good sign.

On the offensive side, Austin Jackson goes on the DL with an ankle sprain.  We’re all hopeful that he won’t be out too long.  In his place, Justin Ruggiano will get the bulk of the starts in center, so at least we’ll get a nice extended look at what he has to offer.  Let’s hope it’s something in the way of quality at bats, because things are looking ugly.

Chris Taylor gets the call up, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, except I guess it means he’s the starting short stop for now, while Brad Miller gets to play that “rover” we all anticipated would be a possibility.  I don’t totally know what that’s going to entail.  It’s not like you’re going to sit Seager or Cano all that often.  Doesn’t make much sense to play him at first base, since LoMo is also a lefty (and he’s also starting to heat up finally).  The only other place for him is in the outfield, which means we have to get him ready to play Major League outfield by giving him practice reps before games.  That sounds … frightening.  Then again, can he be any worse than Weeks?

I don’t see a lot in the way of improvement with this roster shakeup, but sometimes a shakeup for the sake of making a shakeup is exactly what a team needs.  What does that even mean?  I have no idea either.  The world doesn’t exactly make a whole lotta sense when the Astros are 7 games up in first place.

The Year The Mariners Make It Back To The Playoffs

The 2014 Mariners finished the final two months of the season with a 31-22 record.  The team fell into a nice little routine, once all the kinks were worked out.  Logan Morrison officially supplanted Justin Smoak at first base.  Dustin Ackley looked more comfortable at the plate.  Felix Hernandez had a Cy Young-ish season.  The bullpen was the best in the American League.  You could point to any number of reasons why those Mariners ultimately failed, but never forget that as it stood, those Mariners were only one game away from a shot at the post-season.

Every year, at least since I’ve started this blog, I’ve gone into each Mariners season looking for reasons why the team might succeed.  If THIS and THIS and THIS and THIS happens, our best case scenario is:  the Mariners make the playoffs.  Usually, whatever THIS stood for was something huge.  Like, if the starting pitching holds up, and if the bullpen is lights out, and if all of our young players make big leaps forward in progress, and if the best players on the other teams in our division get injured, then MAYBE the Mariners would be good.  It was always a fantasy, where I ended every preview article with some variation of:  just keep me interested until football season, that’s all I ask.

Then, 2014 happened.  Robinson Cano provided us with a real middle-of-the-order presence.  Kyle Seager continued to progress into the All Star we all knew he could be.  Felix had another Felix-like year and the bullpen WAS lights out!  We still couldn’t fill in that DH spot to save our lives, and the offense in general was just inconsistent enough to keep us out of post-season action.  But, we were right there.  One or two moves away.

Those moves ended up being Nelson Cruz, a right field platoon, and a different veteran starter to hopefully lock down the back of our rotation.  Considering right field and DH were easily our worst two positions on the team last year, and in the early going, the fifth starter was a circus, you couldn’t have asked for a more efficient offseason from a front office perspective.  Everything else pretty much stays the same, which in this case isn’t the worst thing in the world.

The fact of the matter is, going into 2015, instead of searching far and wide for reasons why the Mariners might be good, I’ve found myself searching far and wide for reasons why the Mariners might fall short.  Will the bullpen regress back to 2013 levels of frustration?  Will key players get injured and miss the majority of the season?  Will our younger players fall apart as so many have before them?  These are the questions I’ve got floating around my head, but if I take a step back, forget I’ve been a Mariners fan for these last 10+ years of futility, and look at the whole situation with a fresh perspective, then I have to admit that what I’m looking at right now is a very good baseball team.  A playoff baseball team!  And these are the reasons why:

  • Felix Hernandez is the best right handed pitcher in baseball.  He has more than paid his dues with this organization, and now the organization looks like it’s FINALLY paying him back.  There have been years where we looked forward to a potentially contending season out of the Mariners, but this is easily the best team we’ve ever put around the King.  We’re coming off of an authentic winning season, he just got snubbed a little bit for the Cy Young Award, and now we’re better than ever:  you’re telling me Felix won’t be jacked up for 2015?  I think it’s possible he’s even better than before!
  • The bullpen is back.  We’ve got so many good, young arms behind Fernando Rodney that we’ve got legit Major Leaguers starting off the season in AAA.  Last year, they were the best in the league; if we can keep them somewhere around the Top 5 bullpens in the A.L., I think that’s more than enough to push us into the 90-win range.
  • The 3-4-5 spots in our lineup rival anyone in baseball.  Cano-Cruz-Seager, should they stay healthy, will be filling out the stat sheets on a regular basis.  We should be looking at anywhere from 60-70 homers, 250-270 RBI, and lots of hero moments as they come through in the clutch.
  • There are still regulars on this team who can get even better.  Specifically, I’m looking at Mike Zunino.  He’s super young and just starting his second full season behind the plate.  Now that he’s more or less acclimated with the pitching staff, and what it takes to be a superb defensive catcher, he can work on his bat.  He may not yet be the perennial All Star we all think he’ll be, but I’m looking forward to a big step forward in his pitch recognition and overall production at the plate.
  • I also think Ackley has something to prove – as he’s staring down the barrel of a platoon in the early going.  I’m a little dubious on Rickie Weeks carrying over his hot spring into the chilly April air of Seattle.  Here’s to hoping Ackley carries over his second half of 2014.
  • Logan Morrison needs to prove he can stay healthy and play 140-150 games, so why not have it be this year?  If you think about it, 2015 is really his last chance at being an everyday player.  If he misses half the season, I’m sure he’ll be relegated to a bench role for the duration of his career.
  • Brad Miller is another guy who could be a wonderful surprise.  If he does what he did last September – and not so much what he did last April – we could be in for a real boost at the bottom of our lineup.
  • The rest of our rotation behind King Felix has a lot of promise.  Hisashi Iwakuma has, for the most part in his Major League career, been a VERY effective starter.  He hit the skids late last season, but his entire 2013 season was rock solid.  He’s also in the last year of his deal, so I’m sure there’ll be a little extra juice in his appearances.  Walker and Paxton won spots in the rotation and are looking to jumpstart their careers.  One day, they’ll be multi-millionaires many times over; to be able to get strong production out of them while they make peanuts is a big reason why this team will be successful.  J.A. Happ is our bottom-of-the-rotation innings eater who we’re banking on being successful in Safeco.  He’s essentially fighting for his career too.  If he can’t make it in Seattle, what hope does he have of making it anywhere else?
  • Lloyd McClendan & Jack Zduriencik are not fucking around.  Dominic Leone had a shitstorm of a Spring Training one year removed from dominating at the Major League level as a rookie.  So, what happens?  Any other year, he would’ve had his 25-man roster spot warmed for him; but not this year.  This year, he gets to work out some things in Tacoma, as the guy who had the better spring takes his place.  Roenis Elias also had a phenomenal rookie season last year.  This year?  He was automatically placed into a dogfight with Taijuan Walker, which he ultimately lost.  LMC did everything in his power to downplay Walker’s outstanding spring – as he didn’t give up an earned run until the final week – when in years past, he might have been puffing him up.  There’s definitely an air of seriousness to what’s going on.  We are IN a pennant race, and the fucking season hasn’t started yet!  But, that’s the mindset you have to have.  Most of the players on the team – especially those brought up through the organization – haven’t been in this situation yet.  Well, they’ve been getting a hard and fast lesson thus far:  it’s do or die.  If you don’t produce, the Mariners have no problem replacing you with someone who will.  This isn’t about getting guys experience and preparing them for future seasons.  This is about 2015.

It’s that last bullet point that gets me most excited.  We all figured someone like J.A. Happ would be slotted in as the #3 starter, just given his experience alone.  But, no; the Mariners have him in the 5-hole.  Happ has more or less had a rotten spring.  While I understand the rationale for giving him a spot in the rotation – injuries always happen, we needed the depth – I can see straight away that he’s not going to have the long leash we all expected.  If he flubs up the month of April, and we aren’t beset with injuries to other starters, it wouldn’t shock me in the least to see him DFA’d (or mysteriously placed on the DL) as the team brings back Elias.

The biggest positive I have about this team is that there aren’t the holes that there were in years past.  There are potential problem areas – as there are with all teams – but there aren’t outright holes, guys you KNOW are going to be terrible.  Here’s the lineup:

  1. Austin Jackson (CF)
  2. Seth Smith / Justin Ruggiano (RF)
  3. Robbie Cano (2B)
  4. Nelson Cruz (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Logan Morrison / Willie Bloomquist (1B)
  7. Dustin Ackley / Rickie Weeks (LF)
  8. Mike Zunino / Jesus Sucre (C)
  9. Brad Miller (SS)

I could see A-Jax bounce back; it’s not impossible!  I could see the Smith/Ruggiano platoon being very effective.  I could see LoMo magically remain healthy.  I could see Ackley continue to improve as he gets more comfortable with his position.  And, I could see Miller reach that high ceiling we all dreamed he might.  If it all clicks and falls into place, this team could be a 100-win monster.  If certain players struggle, or if we run into a few DL stints here and there, I think we’re still looking at an 85-win minimum, with room to grow depending on luck and how well our pitching staff holds up.

I don’t think we’re in for a torrid start.  I’d be happy with an April that gets us to or a little above .500.  The thing with 2015 though, is if enough players are able to carry over their hot spring numbers, these Mariners have a better chance than any of the last 10+ Mariners teams of jumping out of the gate on fire.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see them win around 20 games in the first month, but I don’t think that’s mandatory for us to have a division-winning season.

I don’t really have a good handle on the other teams in the A.L. West.  The Rangers will probably be terrible.  I think the Astros and A’s will duke it out for the 3rd place spot.  And, I think Anaheim will be our primary foe.  I’d like to believe that the Mariners are a little more balanced.  I think the Angels might be a tad more top-heavy with some of their elite players, but if you look at us and them, 1-25, I think the Mariners are getting more bang for their buck.

Ultimately, I see a 95-67 record out of the Mariners in 2015.  To put it one way, that amounts to the Mariners winning approximately 16 games per month.  You’re telling me the 2015 Seattle Mariners can’t go 16-11 every single month?  That seems BEYOND reasonable!

I’ve got the Mariners just squeaking the division away from Anaheim, bumping them down to the Wild Card.  And, not for nothing, but I like this Mariners team to make a deep run in the post-season.  Oh yes, this is really, FINALLY happening.

The season starts in a few hours.  Who’s ready?

Mariners Tidbit 15: We Have A 25-Man Roster

UPDATE 4/3/2015:  And, forget almost nothing of what I said below; Dominic Leone will be starting the season in Tacoma while Carson Smith gets called back up …

Mostly, it’s who you’d think.  The rotation:

  1. King Felix
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. James Paxton
  4. J.A. Happ
  5. Taijuan Walker

The bullpen:

  • Fernando Rodney
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Yoervis Medina
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Dominic Leone
  • Tyler Olson

The Starting Nine:

  1. Austin Jackson (CF)
  2. Seth Smith (RF)
  3. Robbie Cano (2B)
  4. Nelson Cruz (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Logan Morrison (1B)
  7. Dustin Ackley (LF)
  8. Mike Zunino (C)
  9. Brad Miller (SS)

The Bench:

  • Jesus Sucre (C)
  • Rickie Weeks (INF/OF)
  • Willie Bloomquist (INF)
  • Justin Ruggiano (OF)

Considering Taijuan Walker was the favorite to make the rotation since before Spring Training even started, hard to find a surprise there.

There’s a moderate surprise with the bullpen.  We were all wondering if the team would go with an 8-man or 7-man bullpen.  Carson Smith made a huge splash in September of last year, leading us all to believe he’d be a shoo-in for the final 25 this year.  But, an underwhelming spring apparently did him in (even though you could argue Leone has been an absolute trainwreck in 9 appearances, giving up 10 earned runs in 7 innings).

The big surprise ends up being the seventh man in the bullpen, lefty Tyler Olson.  He has yet to give up an earned run in 10 appearances, striking out 15 in 12.2 innings.  He makes the jump from AA and gives us a little Furbush insurance (who has been his usual awful self this spring).

No shocks in the lineup; this thing was nailed down the minute we signed Rickie Weeks.  Once Bloomquist proved he’s back and 100% healthy, the only question was whether the team would go with Sucre or the veteran John Baker.  Considering this is Zunino’s team, and he’s ready to grab the bull by the ol’ horns, I don’t see any point in having a veteran backup just for the sake of having a veteran backup.  Sucre is the better defender, they’re probably both equally terrible with a bat in their hands, so when in doubt, go with the better defender.

Obviously, no 25-man roster is going to stay the same for the full season.  Players will get hurt, players will be sent down to Tacoma, players might even get cut.  But, the bulk of what you see above is what should lead this team to its first playoff appearance since 2001.

I may or may not do a proper season preview ahead of Monday’s opener, but I’ve yet to miss one in the last however many years and I’m not about to start missing them now.

Mariners Tidbit 13: Endy Chavez Go Bye Bye

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

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

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

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

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