Walker Does His Best To One-Up Paxton

Teams can fall a little too in love with their prospects (unless you’re a new GM and those prospects were brought in by the previous regime).  They tend to over-value them in trade negotiations, and give them countless chances they wouldn’t otherwise give free agents on team-friendly, short-term deals.  Fans, well, what’s bigger and more all-encompassing than “love”, because that’s what they’ve got for their team’s prospects.  Shut up!  The Angels should be so lucky to trade us Mike Trout for Stefen Romero!  And so on and so forth.

It’s with good reason, though, as prospects are little nuggets of hope.  With established veterans, you pretty much know what they are, and you pay accordingly.  We’re all aware of the ceilings of guys like Cano, Cruz, and Aoki.  But, with prospects – guys just starting to get their feet wet, all the way up to guys with some experience, but haven’t entrenched themselves in the Bigs – the sky is the limit.  Most of the time, prospects fizzle out.  Sometimes, guys bust through into established roles in the Major Leagues.  And, every once in a great while, guys will hit it big, and it’s in this case where you – as a fan – are so desperate to get in on the ground floor.

Prospects who hit it big are cost-effective superstars, essential to a team’s chances in having a long, sustained run of success.  Even though there’s no salary cap in the MLB, you can’t literally bring in 25 free agents to fill out your roster and expect to win every year.  You need cheap guys under team control to round out your squad, and fill in around them with free agent veterans and the like.

For so many years under Bavasi and Zduriencik, the model failed.  Prospects never developed, and veterans came in and took dumps all over our hearts.  For every winning season, there were at least three losing seasons, and ultimately the model needed a total revamp.

This year, the Mariners seem to have the right mix of veterans, and now they’re starting to see some real potential and production out of their prospects.  There are still plenty of growing pains, but if we can work through those over the course of the next couple months, we might be in for a fun stretch of baseball this fall.

The prime area I’m talking about here is in the starting rotation.  Walker, Karns, and now Paxton, are essentially still prospects, in that I don’t believe any of them have reached their ceilings.  We’re going to need them to pop if we expect to remain in contention, and hopes have never been higher.

Remember the Big 4 of Walker, Paxton, Hultzen, and Maurer?  Remember how they were all together, kicking ass in the minor leagues, and we all pointed to the future of the Mariners’ starting rotation as being in the conversation with those Braves teams of the 1990s?  Well, such is baseball, Hultzen is all but out of the game, Maurer has been converted to a full-time reliever (in another organization, no less), Paxton has spent the majority of his career injured (and the majority of this season in Tacoma), and Walker is still trying to figure out how to transition from a guy who throws electric stuff into an actual pitcher.

Remember the original wave of hotshot pitching prospects the Mariners over-valued, around the turn of the century?  Headed by a still-young Freddy Garcia, we had Gil Meche, Ryan Anderson, Joel Pineiro, and to a lesser extent, Ryan Franklin.  Remember what happened with that group?  Garcia was an okay ace-type pitcher (but far from an elite, Randy Johnson type).  Meche flashed early potential before suffering arm problems, then was sort of mediocre before leaving in free agency.  Ryan Anderson never made the leap to the Bigs, thanks to injuries and general ineffectiveness (the hype of him being touted as “The Little Unit” or whatever trite comparison to Randy Johnson probably didn’t help much either).  Pineiro also flashed a lot of early potential before regressing to mediocre (and then bouncing around the league as a starter/reliever for the later years in his career).  And Franklin had a nice little assortment of pitches, but none of them were top shelf, and he spent the majority of his Mariners career being mediocre before converting to a reliever full time and having a lot of great success in the National League.  The claim to fame for this group is that 4/5 of them (Garcia, Meche, Pineiro, and Franklin) combined with Jamie Moyer in 2003 to be the only starting 5-man rotation in my lifetime, in all of Major League Baseball, to make every single start for a team in a season.  While it amounted to 93 wins (on the back of a still-awesome offense), it didn’t lead to a playoff spot, nor any sustained success going forward (as the Mariners, in 2004, would win 30 fewer games).

So, with that in mind, I don’t want to sit here and make this out to be more than it is.  Hell, earlier this week, I was just bitching about each and every one of these starting pitchers for their recent failures.  But, on the heels of Paxton’s eye-opening performance on Monday, Walker came out last night and pitched 8 shutout innings, with 0 walks and only 3 hits (all singles).  Considering Walker’s been as culpable as any of our starters for this team’s recent struggles, it was nice to see him bounce back against a pretty solid Indians team.

Moreover, don’t think I didn’t notice the timing in all of this.  Granted, the broadcast mentioned a “Get Your Shit Together, Or Else” meeting between the pitching coach and all the starters recently, but I like to think there’s a little friendly rivalry going on between Walker and Paxton, the last two standing from that notorious Big 4.  Walker is a fiery, competitive guy, who wants so desperately to be great.  But, he doesn’t have any peers on this team.  Felix, Iwakuma, and Miley are all veterans.  Karns is new to the team, even if he’s in a similar boat experience-wise.  But, Karns hasn’t had to endure the hardships of a go-nowhere organization like Walker.  Paxton, however, does have that in common.  Paxton is Walker’s true peer and true rival (even though, I highly doubt they’re actually enemies).  There was a lot of heat on Paxton after his most recent start, and I’m sure it didn’t sit well with Walker – who had a tremendous amount of heat on him coming into this season, from local as well as national media types.

I’m not saying I necessarily predicted this or anything.  But, after watching last night’s game, I don’t know how I could’ve missed it.  Walker looked like a man possessed.  We’ve seen him nibble and get too cute with his offspeed stuff, trying to find an appropriate mix-and-match system that works for him, with frequently middling results.  We’ve also seen him snap back into Default-Taijuan mode, where he pumps teams with a crazy percentage of fastballs, controlling the strike zone, and using his overpowering arm to win a game.  But, last night’s game was something else.  He looked like he wanted to throw baseballs THROUGH the opposing team’s bats.  He was focused, in control, and utterly dominant.

Now, if only he could do this every time out, we’d be in business.

Will Paxton’s presence be the spark that keeps Walker on his toes and his head in the game?  Will they together push one another into new realms of greatness we haven’t seen from either guy to date in their careers?  Will Karns take a look at what’s going on and say, “Hey fellas!  Wait up!”?  Will Miley’s shaved-off beard take 99% of the blame for his prior struggles this season, or 100% of the blame?  As you can see, I have no idea how to end this thing, so I’m just going to stop … here.

Trying To Talk Myself Into The Mariners

Been a little light on content the last couple of weeks.  February, amirite?  If February isn’t the God damned worst month of the year, then you live in the Southern Hemisphere and can go fuck yourselves.

I don’t know if it’s the seasonal affective disorder, mono, my nerdlinger allergies, or the cancer slowly eating away at my immune system, but I’ve been watching a lot of movies, listening to a lot of Sigur Rós, and catching up on some much-needed sleep while I slog through work week after work week, desperately holding out until the time where I can see the sun before I get to work in the morning.  This post-NFL hangover has hit me harder than I thought, and I think it’s because I know what I’ve got to look forward to for the next six months until football season kicks off again.

No, I’m not dying.  Like the American black bear, this is just my body trying to will itself into a hibernation state.  Because who in God’s name wants to be awake for the 2014 Mariners season?

You know, contrary to popular belief, I don’t ENJOY shitting all over the Mariners all the time.  If I had it my way, the Mariners would be one of the dominant teams in baseball every year.  Of course, if I had it my way, I’d throw out the entire ownership group and the entire minor league leadership cadre.  Because this organization doesn’t know shit about building a proper baseball franchise, and those cunts down in the minors don’t know shit about coaching up the players they’ve got.  Do you think it’s a coincidence that the same teams have been winning on a near-constant basis for the last two decades?  New York, Boston, Atlanta, St. Louis … they have deep pockets, they know how to build from within, and some of them manage both.  Even when they have a down year like Boston did in 2012, they just come right back the next season and win it all.  It’s not luck!  Those people know what they’re doing, and they take advantage of the teams that don’t.  Like the team we see before us.

Look at me.  I’m over 350 words into this thing and it’s been nothing but negativity; God I’m a miserable prick.  This is supposed to be a post about hope!

Part of my problem is, I don’t really know what a winning team looks like anymore, so my expectations are all out of whack.  Even when the Mariners used to be good, their offenses were so unbelievably amazing that they’re always the benchmark I use to define success.  But, this is a new steroids-free era of baseball, so I’ve got to scale that back a little bit.  Yet, when you look at the Red Sox of last year, of their nine hitters who played in over 100 games, all nine had an on-base percentage of .333 or over.  I don’t know how that ranks, but it sounds pretty amazing to me.  If you look at the A’s of last year, among hitters who played in 100 games, only four had an OBP of .333 or more.  Granted, 100 games and .333 are just arbitrary numbers, and they’re not even that IMPRESSIVE in the grand scheme of things (it shouldn’t be as difficult as it is to get on base in a third of your plate appearances).  Yet, the Mariners of last year had three guys who managed that feat:  Seager, Morales, and Justin Smoak of all people.

I like looking at the A’s as an example, because they kind of came out of nowhere two years ago, and yet here they are:  two-time AL West champs.  They strike me as the most-balanced team in the AL and they’re doing all this with a team that is far from star-laden.  I’m no hardcore baseball guy by any means; I’m just your average Joe Mariners Fan who only watches the A’s (or anyone else for that matter) when they play the team I root for.  Gun to my head:  I’m only naming one guy on that team right now (unless Kurt Suzuki is still a thing) and I need Google to help me spell his name (Yoenis Cespedes).

So, what do the Mariners need to do to be the A’s?  Well, they need one really good, Cy Young-type starter and one very good innings eater.  If you believe Felix and Iwakuma can be those two guys (like Colon and A.J. Griffin were last year), then we’re already ahead of the game.  Of course, they round out their rotation with three other pretty solid dudes, and right now that’s a huge question mark for the Mariners.

Best bet:  James Paxton comes out lighting the world on fire, Erasmo Ramirez figures out how to not get knocked around the yard constantly, and Taijuan Walker isn’t completely shut down with these early-season arm problems he’s having.  If you want the Mariners to be like the A’s, then we’ve got to get TONS of production out of our young arms.

I’m just going to put this out there, because it’s GOING to happen:  Taijuan Walker is going to spend the bulk of 2014 on the Danny Hultzen Injury Train.  So, don’t get your hopes up.  We could have traded him for just about anything, but we didn’t, and now we’re looking at a spectacular flame-out in the making.  Remember when we kept holding out for Ryan Anderson?  Year after year, we kept telling ourselves that if he could only stay healthy, he was going to put it all together?  Yeah, this is that.  Only more devastating, because we were REALLY counting on this kid to be Felix 2.0.

Getting back to the positive side of things, we’re going to need a bullpen.  We have to bank on Fernando Rodney saving the vast majority of his appearances.  No more two week long meltdowns.  Not if we expect to contend for the division like the A’s.  We also have to bank on the rest of the bullpen fluctuating wildly to the positive.  You know how bullpen arms tend to be awesome one year, then terrible the next without any rhyme or reason?  Well, we need one of those things to swing the other way.  A lot of these young arms got some serious experience last year, for whatever that’s worth.  Here’s to hoping the most important bullpen pieces have their shit figured out.

Finally, I’m not saying we need to be the 2013 Red Sox or anything, but our hitters have to be better than they’ve been.  Instead of guys hitting in the .220’s and .230’s, we need more guys hitting in the .260’s and .270’s.

Cano and Seager I have no worries about.  Those guys are our rocks.  They can hit anywhere and they WILL hit.

Oddly enough, I’m really warming up to Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders.  I don’t like them to be big producers with home runs (and I CERTAINLY don’t think they’ll be leading the league in doubles any time soon ever), but I do like guys who can raise their on-base percentage by nearly 100 points over their batting averages because they’ve got good eyes at the plate.  If they can finish the season with even a batting average in the .250s instead of the .230s, with the way they’re able to get on base via the walk, I think you’re looking at a couple of very productive individuals.

It gets a little dicey after that.  Brad Miller needs to be walking more.  Dustin Ackley needs to be walking A LOT more.  Mike Zunino needs to be less helpless at the plate and stop swinging at so many pitches out of the zone.  Corey Hart needs to prove he can stay healthy and play over 100 games.  I don’t know what Logan Morrison is, but it’d be nice if he was something instead of nothing.  And, for the record, I still think we need Kendrys Morales as our DH.  Give him a 2-year deal already!  For fuck’s sake …

If you gave me a lineup that looks something like this:

  1. Brad Miller – SS
  2. Corey Hart – RF
  3. Robinson Cano – 2B
  4. Kendrys Morales – DH
  5. Kyle Seager – 3B
  6. Justin Smoak – 1B
  7. Michael Saunders – CF
  8. Ackley/LoMo – LF
  9. Mike Zunino – C

I’d be moderately excited.  Until they inevitably started to disappoint out of the gate.  While the back end of our rotation sputters and our bullpen fails to hold the infrequent leads Felix is able to afford them.  God, I hate baseball so much.  I would trade all of the fond memories of this team from 1995-2001 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-style – if it meant that I had the Sonics back.

Mariners Sign Robinson Cano, Have My Attention

Earlier this week, I asked a buddy if he thought there was anything the Mariners could do to get him excited about the future of the Mariners.  Our swift consensus was:  no, the Mariners are hopeless (utterly, utterly hopeless) and that’s that.

At the time, of course, I believed there was exactly a 0% chance they’d actually manage to land the white whale that is Robinson Cano (10 years, $240 million, just announced today).  All of the talk surrounded names like Nelson Cruz (who is still out there, lurking), Willie Bloomquist (who was just signed recently); and about all the names we could never even dream of getting, because why would they come to a non-stop loser like the Mariners?

In short, I was as depressed as I’ve been since 2008, and it didn’t help that the Huskies lost their head coach (more on that development later).

And now look at what’s happened!  The Mariners got Cano to come out here and they fucking SIGNED HIM!

We, as Mariners fans, have been so conditioned to look at “the future” (because “the present” is so fucking miserable), that you can’t help but look at the deal and think, “Yeesh, that’s a lot of years and a lot of money.  What are we going to do in 2021 when Cano’s bat is legally pronounced dead, he can no longer play in the field, and we’re paying $24 million for a poor man’s Jose Vidro circa 2008?  Have we learned NOTHING from the Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder deals?”

And, I’ll admit:  that’s a legitimate concern that won’t be going away anytime soon.  As with any deal (and, really, anything in life), it can all fall apart in an instant.  Robinson Cano can come here and immediately start batting .265 for the rest of his career.  He could also tear an ACL or a labrum and be out for extensive periods of time (after a career to this point that has seen him be ruggedly healthy).  Anything.  Anything can happen.  And we can focus on all of that now, lamenting on all the What If’s until the cows come home … or, we can just be fans.

Just be a fan!  For one day, put down your analytical cap.  Remember what sports used to be like when you were 10 years old.  If you were a Mariners fan in the late 80s, remember what it felt like when the Mariners brought Griffey up to the Majors.  Sure, there were probably people who worried, “Is it too soon?”  But, for the most part, there was nothing but excitement from the naive fans.  Fans who only wanted someone too root for!  Some reason to care about this fucking team.

We have 10 years with Robinson Cano.  There will be PLENTY of time to obsess about what his contract means in the grand scheme of things.  We can piss and moan about what an albatross he is if-and-when he actually becomes an albatross!

For now?  Guess what!  The Mariners just signed the #1 single greatest, bestest, most amazingest free agent in all of baseball!  They opened up their wallet and instead of the usual cloud of dust and a couple of moths, out fell real, actual MONEY!  That they used to buy a person!  To play baseball in the city of Seattle!  With the hopes of making this team BETTER!  Now!  Not soon, not sometime in the future, not Someday … NOW!

Granted, Robinson Cano by himself isn’t going to change this from a 90-loss team into a 90-win team.  But, as countless others have pointed out:  there’s more where that came from.  There’s more money, there’s more trades, and there’s a whole lotta openings on this team!  No longer do we have to be concerned with The Kids somehow figuring it the fuck out.  No longer do we have to surround said Kids with over-the-hill assholes who have no business playing the field and only provide one type of benefit (dingers).  Now, we can get the talent we need to succeed.

And this is so much better than what the Royals did last year, because the Royals last year brought in relatively SHITTY players!  At least, when compared to Robinson Fucking Cano!

Going forward, this is what we have to look forward to:

  • 2B – Robinson Cano
  • 3B – Kyle Seager

Sure, there are others.  We have Brad Miller who’s pretty good (we hope).  We have Zunino who will probably share time with another veteran catcher.  We have others …

But, we’ve got those two!  2/9 of our lineup is set in stone!  And they’re real, legitimate baseball players!  Guys who can contend for All Star appearances!

On our pitching staff, we have these shining beacons of hope:

  • Felix Hernandez
  • Hisashi Iwakuma

Again, it’s only two guys, but look at them!  Aren’t they glorious?  When you take this foundation of 4 guys and you look at what we have available with regards to money to spend and prospects to trade away, it’s pretty exciting to think about what the Mariners could do to fill out the rest of our 25-man team.

People like Shin Soo Choo, Mike Napoli, and Carlos Beltran by themselves don’t really give me the throbbingest of boners.  But, when you pile them all together and know that we’ve got that foundation of Cano/Seager/Felix/Kuma, now you’re talking.

And, while we’re at it:  I say fuck it, let’s trade Taijuan Walker for David Price!  You’ve never heard me say anything like that before – and in the future, if it turns out to bust on us, I’ll deny having ever said it – but why the fuck not?  Everyone always talks about how starting pitchers are the most volatile of all baseball prospects, what with their proneness to arm injuries.  There’s no guarantee that Walker is going to be the Next Felix!  We thought The Little Unit was going to be the next Big Unit, and look at where that got us!  Not every deal is the Erik Bedard deal.  Sometimes, you trade away your best prospect and he turns out to be nothing (or nothing special, anyway).

If we’re truly in a win-now situation, then here’s the thing:  you can’t afford to wait for Taijuan Walker to develop.  Especially not when you have an opportunity to bring in a second Ace to go with Felix, the best pitcher in all the land!  Walker, if he’s even able to crack a starting rotation this season, is likely to be a 5-innings-and-done type of guy.  He’ll be on horrendous pitch counts and innings counts, and if you’re playing it safe (which is the smart thing to do with a guy like Walker), then you have to figure Walker is at least a year or two away from really unleashing his arm to its full potential.

Let the Rays deal with that bullshit.  Sure, they may reap the rewards of a future All Star.  But, we could also reap the rewards of re-signing David Price to a nice, fat contract extension.  We have the money, anyway!

And that’s why we’re better than the Royals.  Because they got Shields (who sucks) and we can get Price (who is awesome).

I’m not ready to give myself back over to the Mariners fully just yet.  They’ve danced on my emotions for too long.  But, this Robinson Cano signing is a helluva start.  You had me on the brink, Mariners.  The brink of renouncing the game of baseball altogether.  With this signing, it’s like you called out my name, and against my better judgment I’m turning around to see you holding flowers, chocolates, and a “Please Forgive Me” balloon.  In my mind, I know better than to try to take you back.  But, the heart wants what the heart wants.  I hope I don’t live to regret this.

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.

2000 Seattle Mariners: The Team That Time Forgot

Is it just me, or is this 2000 team one of the more forgettable Mariners teams?  Considering this is only one of FOUR Mariners teams to make the playoffs, I would say that’s a ridiculous statement.  But, you have to admit, it’s easily overshadowed by the other three.  The 1995 team is, of course, the be-all end-all of baseball teams.  The 1997 team still had all that star power (and all of that unresolved promise).  And the 2001 team CLEARLY overshadows the 2000 squad because of its 116 regular season wins (and its 4 post-season wins).

The 2000 team actually had better success than the 2001 team; it lost to the Yankees in 6 games while the 2001 Mariners lost in 5.  But, for whatever reason, the 2000 Mariners feels like a poorly-written, unfunny sequel to a movie that didn’t need to be made in the first place (and the 2000 team came FIRST!).

For those of you who have trouble remembering the 2000 Mariners, I’ll give you a couple of names that will hopefully jog your memory:  Al Martin and Arthur Rhodes (it would be a LONG couple of post-seasons for Mr. Rhodes).

You can’t talk about the 2000 Mariners without first talking about the Oakland A’s.  They were a team on the rise, thanks to Billy Beane and his bullshit.  In 1998, they were a bottom-feeder in the AL West.  In 1999, they leap-frogged the Angels and Mariners to nab a winning record and 2nd place in the AL West.  Maybe we should’ve suspected something there; sure, those ’99 A’s missed out on the Wild Card by 7 games, but clearly they were doing something special down there.  Those 2000 A’s finally figured it all out; not-so-coincidentally, this was Barry Zito’s first Major League season.  And the reign of The Big Three was born.

The 2000 Mariners, much like the 2001 Mariners, were built for the regular season.  We had A-Rod & Edgar in their primes, we had a very-productive John Olerud locking down first base, we had Jay Buhner in the downswing of his career, and we had a nice glut of complementary players to round out our roster.  On the pitching side of things, I don’t think I can say anything about Aaron Sele, Jamie Moyer, Paul Abbott, or John Halama that you don’t already know.  Those were nice players at the time, but there wasn’t an ace amongst ’em.  Freddy Garcia – in his 2nd Major League season after the Randy Johnson trade – could’ve been that guy for us (and, indeed he was in the post-season), but he was still quite young and he ended up missing two months to injury in May & June which had to have set him back some.  We also could’ve had Gil Meche – also in his 2nd Major League season, and starting for us out of Spring Training – be that guy for us, but he ended up losing his season to an arm injury at the end of June.

So, there we were.  Four months of Freddy Garcia and full seasons out of four soft-tossing righties & lefties.  That could easily be made up by a quality bullpen, right?

Well, as chance would have it, there was this 32 year old rookie out of Japan named Kazuhiro Sasaki who – if I’m not mistaken – was Japan’s saves leader at the time of his signing.  Boy did HE show up in the nick of time!  Because the rest of this ‘pen was an absolute BALLSACK!  Of course, it didn’t require much to steal the closer job from Jose Mesa (chickenfucker), but since this was the Mariners, it’s not like we could just cut Joe Table free (not the Mariners:  the cheapest winning franchise in Major League Baseball).  So, of course Mesa got his 66 appearances.  As did Jose Paniagua (who actually wasn’t totally worthless this season), and Arthur Rhodes (who pretty much did what he was supposed to do until the ALCS).

This bullpen was by no means stellar, but they did help us to 91 wins.  91 wins, by the by, was the same number of wins as the Oakland A’s, but apparently they had this crazy tiebreaker known as “Head-to-Head Matchup”.  Since the A’s were 9-4 against the Mariners in the regular season, the A’s never had to play their make-up game, and thus were awarded the AL West title (while the Mariners were awarded the Wild Card).

It could’ve been different!  The Mariners were leading in the AL West by a season-high 7 games after the game on August 11th.  We were 69-47, then proceeded to lose our next 8 games, clinging to a 2-game advantage over the A’s.  In fact, during that stretch, we went 3-15 before we sort of levelled off.  However, never at any point did we lose our lead in the AL West, which is God damned mind-boggling.

We had a 3-game lead over the A’s going into a 4-game series starting on September 21st.  We were 10 games away from clinching!  So, of course the A’s won the first three games to pull to a tie, before the Mariners somehow took that fourth game 3-2.  The A’s had 7 games remaining (against the Angels & Rangers) and went 6-1.  The Mariners had 6 games remaining (against the same teams, in reverse order) and went 4-2.

And THAT, my friends, is how you go from a 3-game lead with 10 games to play, to losing your division by 0.5 games.

The Big, Bad Yankees, meanwhile, had the regular season’s 5th best record (losing 15 of their final 18 regular season games, if you can believe that).  But, they won the AL East and you could easily make the case that, while the Mariners were built for the Regular Season, the Yankees were built for the post-season and were just trying anything in their power to make it in.  The Chicago White Sox ended up having the BEST record in the American League.  One would think, if you were going by record, that the best team would play the worst team in the first round of the playoffs, but MLB has always had this rule about teams in the same division not playing one another.  Ergo, the White Sox were forced to play the Mariners and the A’s had to play the Yankees.

You gotta wonder how things would’ve been different.  For instance, Orlando Hernandez was fucking Mariner kryptonite (as Freddy Garcia was Yankee kryptonite) in that ALCS.  What would’ve happened if we won the AL West, faced the Yankees in the first round, and DIDN’T have to face El Duque twice in the same series?  Hell, what would’ve happened had we won the AL West and actually had Home Field Advantage EVER?  Maybe some of those David Justice extra-base hits would’ve been long flyball outs.

Of course, it could’ve ended with a similar amount of heartbreak.  I don’t think the White Sox were very good in 2000; the A’s would’ve made mincemeat with ’em in a 5-game series.  Remember that 9-4 record the A’s were lording over us; I could’ve easily seen them sweeping us away in that ALCS.

Anyway, as I alluded to, the Mariners beat the White Sox pretty handily in the ALDS, 3 games to 0.

The first game was damned exciting, though.  Freddy Garcia could seemingly do no right, but he left in that 4th inning with the Mariners only down 4-3.  The bullpen put things on lockdown while the Mariner bats finally came alive in the 7th inning.  Bone started us off with a walk, followed by a David Bell double (Bone to third).  Al Martin promptly came up to pinch hit and was worthless.  Mark McLemore, however, walked to load the bases with only one out.  Stan Javier – a solid contributer off the bench – ended up striking out looking.  But, that just meant White Sox Killer Mike Cameron could come in to save the day!

Actually, he just got a single to tie it (David Bell was thrown out at home, but who could fault him for aggressiveness in such a situation), but that carried us into extra innings where in the 10th, back-to-back homers by Edgar and Olerud gave us a 3-run advantage that would seal the deal.

Game 2 was also in Comiskey as the Seattle Mariners Seattle Mariners’d their way to another 3-run victory.  This time, Paul Abbott got the best of Mike Sirotka, and the Mariners’ bullpen was again flawless over 3.1 innings.  As the game was tied 2-2, Buhner hit a solo homer in the 4th, A-Rod scored Rickey Henderson on a groundout (thanks to Rickey’s walk, his sacrifice to 2nd, and his steal of 3rd … just what we brought him onto this team to do) in the 5th, and Cammy hit an RBI single in the 9th.

With Games 3 & potentially 4 in Safeco, and the Mariners having a 2-0 series lead, things never felt better for Mariners fans.  The A’s and Yankees were locked into a grudge match that would surely go all 5 games … what more could you ask for?  Ordinarily, this would be the point where the Mariners would lose their final three games to really twist the knife into the hearts of Mariners fans everywhere.  But, as chance would have it, NOT THIS TIME!

Game 3 was an absolute BEAUT!  That is, if you like low-scoring pitchers’ duels.  Aaron Sele vs. James Baldwin.  Sele went 7.1 innings of 1-run ball, Baldwin went 6 innings of 1-run ball.  Neither were all that impressive, but they managed – for the most part – to keep the offenses off the bases.  It was 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th when Olerud led us off with an infield single that was poorly thrown by the pitcher, which allowed Olerud to scamper over to 2nd base.  Mr. Henderson promptly pinch-ran as Stan Javier bunted him over to third base with 1 out.  David Bell was walked (I want to say intentionally, to set up the double play), which led to Carlos Guillen’s iconic bunt single to score a hard-charging Henderson from third.  Game over!  M’s win!  M’s win!

Granted, it’s not The Double or anything, but don’t forget:  this was only the second time in team history where the Mariners won a playoff series.  Watching that M’s team jump around the field in triumph still gives me chills to this day.

That was October 6th.  The A’s & Yankees did indeed go the full five games, so their series ended on October 8th.  It was truly a back-and-forth affair:  the A’s took Game 1, handling Roger Clemens; the Yankees took the next two, with El Duque continuing his fucking mastery of all things holding bats; the A’s came back to absolutely CRUSH Roger Clemens in Game 4; but it was not to be as the Yankees thumped the A’s in the final game to take the series.

Where did that leave things?  The ALCS started on October 10th.  On the one hand:  fuck, the Yankees have been playing this whole time while the Mariners have been sitting around tugging at their own wieners for four days.  On the other hand:  the Mariners were “rested” while the Yankees were “tired”.  I tend to not buy that crap, because look at it logistically:  both teams have played nearly 170 games that matter (not taking into account a month’s worth of Spring Training games).  “Rested” and “Tired” are the most relative terms you’re ever going to see in the realm of sports.

One thing, in theory, the Mariners had going for them is that they had their starters lined up exactly how they wanted them.  Garcia, Halama (because Moyer was lost for the rest of the post-season to injury), Sele, and if necessary, Abbott.  Meanwhile, the Yankees had to run Denny Neagle out there in Game 1.

Let me just say this about Game 1:  Neagle wasn’t terrible!  He did give up 2 runs and take the loss, but he still got his team into the 6th inning with a chance to win.  Freddy was just that much better, going 6.2 innings of shutout ball.  Our bullpen remained on lockdown, and that was the end of that:  a 2-0 victory in Game 1.

At this point in our Mariners post-season, our bullpen had thrown 14.0 innings across 4 games.  They gave up 0 runs in those four games, all victories.  I would like to keep that in mind as we go forward:  it LOOKED like not only was this team unstoppable, but that this bullpen was getting hot at the right time.

I would also like to point out that while we were working our magic, Ken Griffey Jr. was sitting at his home in Orlando watching us on television.  His Reds ended the season 10 games behind division-winning St. Louis.  Also, Randy Johnson was on his ass in his home, as his Arizona Diamondbacks ended their season 12 games behind the San Francisco Giants.  We were doing ALL of this with smoke & mirrors & A-Rod & Edgar!  This 2000 Mariners team was truly a blessing in disguise.

But, oh how much better they could’ve been.

Remember those two names I told you should jog your memory?  Al Martin was a lot of things – a reserve outfielder, a left-handed bat, a worthless pile of crap – but he was NOTHING if he wasn’t our little Scapegoat.

It wasn’t his fault.  First of all, it’s not like we gave up some studs to bring him in here (in other words, this wasn’t Woody Woodward in the 1997 season trying to bolster a nothing bullpen).  We traded John Mabry (who I hated anyway) and Tom Davey (who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup if you offered me a million dollars) at the Trade Deadline to the Padres to get him.  For the Padres, in 93 games, he hit .306 with decent power (13 doubles, 11 homers).  Could a guy like that help us out from the left side of the plate in Safeco?  Sure, why not?  Did he?  His numbers with the Mariners:

42 games, .231 average, 2 doubles, 4 homers, 31 strikeouts, .678 OPS.

Those are GREAT numbers, if you’re talking about the 2010 and 2011 Mariners (well, not great, but at least they blend in nicely), but not for the 2000 Mariners who REALLY needed a big bat to pull them through the dog days and into the playoffs.

So, yeah, Al Martin was a scapegoat because he was terrible in a Mariners uniform, but he was also a scapegoat for the organization’s front office shortcomings.

It’s difficult to say who’s more at fault:  the owners for not opening up their wallets at the trade deadline to let Gillick trade for someone of quality; or Gillick himself for being so God damned unwilling to trade any of our top-tier prospect talent.  I’ll tell you this much:  we could’ve gotten a fucking king’s ransom had we traded guys like Gil Meche (before he went down with injury), Joel Pineiro, or Ryan Anderson.

Now, would the 2000 Steven A. Taylor have flipped his shit at the thought of trading our future like that?  Abso-fucking-lutely!  That’s simply because I saw how our trades back in 1997 were working out so well for other teams!  If we didn’t screw the damn pooch back then, maybe we would’ve been more willing in 2000 to trade top prospects for top talent!  The Steven A. Taylor with hindsight on his side can clearly see we were a few pieces away from winning it all in both 2000 and 2001.  Maybe one of those guys nets us a bonafide Number 1 starter to go along with Garcia.  Maybe another one of those guys gets us the kind of bat we needed down the stretch to put us over the top.  MAYBE we also get some bullpen relief in the form of a left-hander who won’t implode at the first sight of pinstripes!

Of course, while we’re playing the What If game, what if this team hadn’t been so stingy and had decided to keep Randy Johnson as he was entering the Cy Young bonanza phase of his career with the Diamondbacks?  What if by this small gesture, Ken Griffey Jr. wouldn’t have thought so poorly of the organization that he forced his trade to the Reds (because, I’m telling you, don’t believe that crap about him wanting to be closer to his family; he saw this team selling off its best assets – Randy, Tino, Jeff Nelson, etc. – and getting next-to-nothing back in return)?  Wouldn’t Randy and Griffey (and Tino and Nelson) have been AMAZING on this 2000 team?

Everyone likes to look back on the 2000 & 2001 teams as the embodiment of “Fuck You” to greedy assholes like Griffey, Randy & A-Rod.  But, if this Mariners team had been willing to take care of its stars, maybe these 2000 & 2001 teams would’ve been championship-winning.

But, whatever.  You can’t change the past.  And, as of October 11, 2000, the Mariners had a 1-0 ALCS lead over the Yankees.  And, in Game 2, these same Mariners had a 1-0 lead over those Yankees going into the bottom of the 8th inning.  This was 1995 all over again!  The Yankees couldn’t break the spell we had over them!  A 2-0 series lead going back to Safeco was 6 outs away!

Enter Arthur Rhodes.  David Justice leads off with a double.  Bernie Williams follows with a game-tying RBI single.  It might as well have been two pitches; before we could blink, the game was tied.  And it was all downhill from there.  Tino Martinez singles, Jorge Posada singles in Williams for the 2-1 lead.  Paul O’Neill hits a deep fly to score Tino.  1 out.  3-1 Yankees.

Enter Jose Mesa.  Luis Sojo singles, Posada is thrown out trying to steal home.  2 outs, still 3-1 Yankees.  Jose Vizcaino then doubled to score Sojo.  Then, a passed ball moves Vizcaino over to 3rd before he’s scored by a Chuck Knoblauch single.  Derek Jeter jacks a home run to make it 7-1 Yankees before David Justice – who led off the inning – mercifully flew out to center.

Just like that, the demons had been slain.  The Yankees – behind 8 strong innings from El Duque (who would’ve been their third or fourth starter had their rotation been set properly) – took back control of the series.  Yes, it was still tied 1-1, but you couldn’t help but think that this 8th inning implosion was the straw breaking the camel’s back on our season.

Game 3 was just a crusher.  An 8-2 defeat behind Aaron Sele’s Turning Back Into A Pumpkin Act.  He went 4 innings, gave up 4 runs (off of 9 hits, two of which were home runs), and our bullpen gave up the other 4 runs as it too found the clock had struck midnight.

Game 4 is where we needed to right the ship.  Unfortunately, we ran into the buzzsaw that was Roger Clemens at the height of his alleged steroids prime.  He tossed what has stood as one of the very finest post-season performances of any pitcher in Major League Baseball history.  9 innings, 1 hit (thank you Al Martin … ow, my pride), 2 walks, and 15 strikeouts.

I don’t even know what to say.  As I sit here right now, I’m impossibly angry and depressed all at the same time, and this was over 11 years ago!  Fucking Roger Piece Of Shit Clemens.  I’ll never forget how I felt on that night because I still feel that way to this day.  This was the same feeling I had back in 1996 when the Sonics lost Game 3 in the Finals to the Bulls to go down 0-3 in the series.  You’re SO CLOSE to what you want more than anything else in the world, but there’s this thing called Mount Everest standing there in your way.

The Mariners were down 3-1 in the series, losers of three straight including two at home.  The final home game took place the very next day and all I can say is thank Christ for Freddy Garcia (or, more accurately, thank Christ for Denny Neagle).  We won that game 5-2 in a very Mariners-type of fashion.  Our bullpen returned to fight the good fight, giving up 0 runs over the final 4 innings.  And we got some timely hitting out of our best hitters (A-Rod, Edgar & Olerud).  Nevertheless, you couldn’t help but feel that doom was right around the corner.

Game 6, two days later, in Yankee Stadium.  Once again, we had to face El Duque.  THIS time, however, our bats came to play.  Unfortunately, this time, so did theirs.

We jumped out to a 2-0 lead thanks to back-to-back RBI doubles in the first inning by A-Rod & Edgar.  The lead was extended to 4-0 thanks to a 2-run bomb off the bat of Carlos Guillen in the 4th.  Hey HEY!  This isn’t so bad!  Maybe we WILL see a 7th game!  Halama is coasting, our offense is on fire, El Duque is showing his age (what was it, like 50?).

Of course, promptly in the bottom of the 4th, Halama gave them three runs right back before he was relieved by Brett Tomko (he thinks he’s people).  This score stood for a while.  It was nail-biting time, to be sure, but there was still a chance.  9 outs away from a Game 7.

Bottom of the 7th inning.  Jose Paniagua relieves a surprisingly-effective Tomko.  He immediately gives up a single, then a sacrifice bunt, then another single.  1 out, runners on the corners, Mariners hanging onto a 4-3 lead.  Lou Pinella comes out of the dugout & points towards the bullpen with his left arm.

Enter Arthur Rhodes.  Boy, doesn’t THIS sound familiar?

Annnnnnnd:  David Justice, 3-run homer.  Fuck.  A single, double, intentional walk, and 2-RBI single later, he’s replaced by Jose Mesa (is this a re-run?  Where’s the TV Guide?!).  Joe Table let another run slide across home plate and there you have it.  A tailor-made 6-run inning late in the game for the fucking Yankees.

The Mariners managed to make it a little interesting in the top of the 8th with a solo homer by A-Rod, followed by a 2-RBI double by McLemore, but Mariano Rivera was in there, and it was shut-down time.  In the top of the 9th, the Mariners had a single by A-Rod to put the tying run at the plate in Edgar Martinez, but this wasn’t 1995 and this wasn’t Jack McDowell on the mound.  A 6-3 put-out ended the game in regulation.

A 6-3 put-out ended our season.

We’d come so far, we played so well, but a couple of monster innings punctuated by David Justice facing Arthur Rhodes sealed our fate.  That’s all it takes.  Sometimes, it’s just that one small factor that dictates your entire season.

The Mariners would come back bigger and beefier than ever the following season, but as both you and I know, the results were ultimately the same.  Ending in humiliating defeat, as so many other Seattle playoff seasons have ended.

Why I’m Still Looking Forward To Baseball Season, In Spite Of All Of This

Remember how, before the 2010 season, the Mariners traded for Cliff Lee and everything was exciting?  This past off-season was like opening a heart-shaped box of chocolates and finding a big ol’ turd.

A backup catcher, a bunch of relievers, a starter from Japan, and a backup short stop from Japan.  Until the Mariners made the big splash of trading away a flashy starting pitcher for a hopefully-successful catcher/DH, the Mariners arguably did more to bolster their triple A affiliate than they did their Major League club.

Then, we get the harsh reality that the Mariners – after losing nearly 200 games the past two seasons – are looking to severely cut payroll for the 2012 season; throwing out the time-worn adage, “It Takes Money To Make Money” in favor of the wordier, less fan-friendly, “Be Enough Of A Tight-Fisted Prick & It Doesn’t Matter How Few Tickets You Sell To Regular Season Games, Because Fuck You … To Make Money.”

In spite of all of this, I’m taking a page out of my blogger-brethren:  Baseball Is Better Than No Baseball.

I don’t usually go in for these hokey, Give Thanks For What You’ve Got types of posts, but if nothing else, I’m going to talk MYSELF into this season if it’s the last thing I do.  Yes, we all know the odds of the Mariners making the playoffs in 2012 are slim-to-none, but the fact remains that I’m GOING to watch these games, I’m GOING to listen to them on the radio, and I’m GOING to follow this team in print.  It can’t all be in vain, it just can’t!  If I truly believed there was no point to the 2012 season, then why should I even bother following this team?

So, for the next few paragraphs, this down-and-out Mariners fan is going to look on the bright side.

Reason To Live (for Mariners baseball) #1 – Felix Hernandez

I’m still on the fence as to whether or not I want to attend any Mariners games this season, which is saying a lot because just a year ago I was contemplating buying a 16-game plan.  I LOVE going to baseball games, even if the Safeco crowd tends to give me moron aneurysms; but why in the hell should I spend any money on this team that has proven it’s unwilling to spend any money to entertain us fans with a quality product?

Well, Felix Hernandez is that reason.  He looks so good throwing a baseball, I’d suck his daddy’s dick I’d look on approvingly from a legal distance.  You’ve got to take the time to appreciate greatness when it peaks.  Felix has been peaking these last two seasons and I don’t see any reason why that should stop now.

Reason To Live (for Mariners baseball) #2 – Justin Smoak & Franklin Gutierrez

Bet you would’ve thought I’d have some other guys ranked higher, but you’d be wrong.  Because I’m ALWAYS a sucker for “Best Shape Of My Life” stories.

You know how they go:  guy has a down year, looks a little sluggish, maybe spends some time on the DL, then he goes into the offseason with his job in jeopardy.  Instead of resting on his laurels and fat contract, he takes the bull by the horns, gets himself in the “best shape of his life” and comes into Spring Training (or Training Camp, or whatever depending on the sport you play) looking like a million bucks and ready to dominate once again!

Yeah, that's me, taking the bull by the horns. It's how I handle business. It's a metaphor.

This year, we’ve got two guys in Smoak & Guti who fill the quota.  Of course, the “Best Shape Of My Life” guys are pretty hit or miss.  Remember LenDale White when he gave up tequila, or Carlos Silva when – in lieu of actual diet or exercise – took up yoga with his hippie girlfriend?  Remember how they came back to their respective teams just as respectively worthless as ever?  BUT, then again there was last year with Mike Carp.  He was charged with getting fit so he could transition to playing Left Field, and he really did that Bull By The Horns metaphor proud!

See, where so many people fall flat with the “Best Shape Of My Life” comeback is, more often than not, they only decide to get in great shape after their skills have already started to decline to the point where they now NEED to be in shape.  So, not only is it a slap in the face (because, ostensibly, you have to figure these players – if they were in the best shape of their lives back when they were in their PRIME – could have been so much better!), but it’s also a huge waste of time, because instead of being a worthless pile of crap, you’re now a worthless pile of physically fit crap.  Regardless, I’m still plugging my nose whenever I’m around you.

However, in the case of Guti and Smoak (as with Carp), you are talking about guys who are (hopefully) closer to the beginning of their careers than the end.  Getting into the Best Shape Of Their Lives at this point in their careers can ONLY be a plus!

Especially when we’re talking about Guti.  Because all along – ever since we learned of this IBS he’s been suffering with – we’ve always said, “As soon as he gets his illness figured out, and packs a few pounds back on, he will be back to his glory days in no time!”  I still stand behind that statement, and I can’t wait to see him prove me right this season.

Reason To Live (for Mariners baseball) #3 – Other Young Guys

I’m just going to lump all the rest into this section for obvious reasons.  Will Dustin Ackley continue to show why he was taken #2 overall?  Will Jesus Montero justify why he was worth Michael Pineda?  Will Seager, Wells, Carp, and the rest of the guys who ultimately get a shot with the big club make strides in becoming bona fide Major Leaguers?  Will we see some surprises come out of nowhere to make a big impact on the Mariners?

Likewise, will the Big Three pitching prospects – Walker, Hultzen, and Paxton – get to show what they’re made of later this season?  Remember when the Mariners had another highly-lauded Big Three of Gil Meche, Joel Pinero, and Ryan Anderson?  Remember how THAT turned out?  Will Walker, Hultzen, and Paxton be just like those guys, or will they actually be, you know, good?  To think about all the trades we could’ve made with that prior Big Three … it makes my stomach turn.  Hopefully, holding onto this trio of talent doesn’t bite us in the ass like it did a decade ago.

Reason To Live (for Mariners baseball) #4 – Ichiro & Chone Figgins

Yes, I know, you think I’m batshit crazy for listing these two guys, but hear me out!

I’m not exactly thrilled with Ichiro after last season, but there ARE some interesting storylines about him right now.  First is:  he might not be batting first anymore.  That may not mean a whole lot as far as Wins & Losses are concerned, but it’s interesting nonetheless.  I can’t remember him EVER hitting anywhere else in the lineup.  That novelty alone will be pretty cool … at least for the first couple weeks of the season.

Second:  you’ve got the very real possibility that this is his final season in a Mariners uniform.  Say what you will about the guy, but he’s a Mariners Hall of Famer – and he’s probably also a Major League Hall of Famer.  Many people (myself included) think this SHOULD be his final season – he’s overpaid and he’s now under-producing.  But, that doesn’t mean you can’t take this season to truly appreciate all the things he’s done for us.

As for Chone Figgins, I’m mostly hoping that by him batting leadoff, he gets his mojo back and builds up some semblance of trade value so we can ship him off without eating the entirety of his fucking contract!  Not that I’m hoping to do the cheapskate Mariners’ front office any favors by saving them money, but if he were to prove to be an asset in the Major Leagues, who knows?  Maybe we get a good prospect back or something, in addition to not eating that salary.  It’s the best we can hope for.

The least we can hope for is:  he’s not the total fucking disaster he’s been the past two seasons.  I guess we’ll see.

For the record, the most we can dread is:  he IS the total fucking disaster he’s been the past two seasons, but the team won’t stop trotting him out there night after night, until they’re finally forced to cut him, where he lands on the Angels and helps lead them to a World Series championship by hitting the game-winning grand slam (off of Felix Hernandez, who was foolishly traded for some magic beans to the Houston Astros, who will be an AL West rival starting in 2013).  Moving on.

Reason To Live (for Mariners baseball) #5 – Ron Fairly

Seriously, Mariners, get him on some more games this season!  Give Fake Ron Fairly some more ammo on Twitter!