The 2020 Mariners Are Giving People A Lot Of Hope For 2021

The best-case scenario for the 2020 Mariners would’ve been going 60-0 with the players we had on our original roster (without calling up any of our prized prospects), followed by a rampage through the playoffs and our first (of many) World Series titles; my second and third wishes – for the record, if there are any lamp-imprisoned genies out there reading this – would be a billion tax-free American dollars given to me through no criminal means, and my very own Perpetual Orgasm Machine that I’m able to plug into Matrix-style for my own nonstop indulgence.

Since we obviously didn’t reach that apex of baseball achievement, I’d have to say the 2020 Mariners season was a qualified success! I’ll rate it a 7 out of 10 batting doughnuts (you don’t rate baseball success on a scale of batting doughnuts?). Based on expectations as a long-suffering Mariners fan, though, I’d have to bump it up to an 8 out of 10.

There was every reason to expect the worst this year. Key guys getting injured. Potential stars failing to develop. Botched trades. Useless free agent signings. Listless or negative clubhouse chemistry compounded exponentially as losses mounted. The Mariners have been in some form of rebuild since plummeting back to Earth in 2004. You can say they’ve never really torn the franchise down to the studs until this time around – and I’m inclined to agree with you – but there’s also no one right way to rebuild a franchise. As it turns out, hindsight being what it is, we know that all the ways we’ve tried it over the last 16 years have been utter failures, largely due to the reasons listed at the top of this paragraph; we’ve seen it all and then some!

So, to have the relative success this team was able to achieve is pretty remarkable. For the first time in a VERY long time, there is reason for actual hope. This feels real! Not based on a mountain of lies and unsustainably-lucky performances. We finished 27-33, and even with the playoffs expanded to eight teams per league, we still failed to get there. Honestly, I think that’s great! We didn’t overachieve! Because let’s face it, the last time there was this much hype around a bad, yet-hopefully-rebuilding Mariners squad, we did overachieve (in 2007 and again in 2009) and were crushingly disappointed (in 2008 and again in 2010).

Our general managers in those eras made what now feels like panic moves, to bolster a house of cards and see if we could parlay unlikely success into a return to meaningful, post-season baseball. And, we ended up losing over 100 games in response both times, falling apart under the weight of too-high expectations.

That isn’t to say the Mariners should stand pat going into 2021; just stick to the plan. The plan all along was to strip away the rotting, dead wood, give our young prospects an opportunity to flourish, and then add on complementary, quality veterans to slingshot into the stratosphere. While a 60-game, COVID-shortened season isn’t the ideal form of development for our young guys, it’s better than nothing. And, you can argue they flourished all the same.

The M’s are in desperate need for young, cheap, homegrown stars (not necessarily draft picks or international free agent signings, but really anyone acquired to work their way through our minor league system). Kyle Seager was really the last one to stick in any sort of meaningful way, and he obviously has a ceiling to his level of production; before him you’re probably looking at King Felix. That’s NOT a lot of stars over the last 15 years, which makes the futility all the more understandable.

With the crop of youngsters we have on the team now, and the guys in the upper levels of the minors (who figure to be called up pretty early on in the 2021 season), there are a considerable number of candidates who could be stars for this team. That’s so exciting!

As a change of pace, I’m going to rank the top Mariners I’m most excited about, with a little blurb for each.

  1. Jarred Kelenic – We did it! We kept him in the minors for the entirety of the 2020 season! That buys us an extra year of club control, and if we keep him down there for the first month or so in 2021, that’ll earn us one MORE year. This is important, see, because he’s far and away the best prospect we’ve had in the organization since King Felix, the best position player prospect we’ve had since Adam Jones, and probably the best position player prospect who we’re not going to foolishly trade away since Alex Rodriguez! If it all breaks as it should, his floor should be as a perennial All Star, with his ceiling being an MVP-calibre superstar.
  2. Kyle Lewis – Our should-be Rookie of the Year, he’s really exceeded expectations both in his 2019 cup of coffee and his 2020 surge forward. Of course, in both instances, we saw some struggles; his final month of this season was a pretty collosal nightmare from a batting average perspective. But, he remained a tough out – with a resepctable on-base percentage throughout – and took a huge leap in his defense, in locking down the everyday centerfield job. You never root for someone to do poorly, of course, but I don’t think his end to the season was a bad thing. He’s not a finished product, that’s clear. That’s also really exciting, because we know what the floor is (and that’s a really good player); we have no idea what the ceiling is, though, which allows us to dream as big as we want!
  3. Evan White – On paper, his rookie season wasn’t all that good, but there are still promising signs of things to come. For starters, he’s already among the best defensive first basemen in baseball. That’s going to paper over a lot of things for someone who slashed only .179/.253/.352. Anecdotally, though, I think we all saw some good improvement with his approach at the plate. In 54 games, he hit 7 doubles and 8 homers; extrapolate that out for nearly a full season and you’re looking at a 20/20 player. As a rookie? I’ll take that. This was good, pain-free experience for a still-developing prospect; I know I’ve said this a lot over the years, but I really believe he’s only going to get better from here. When he makes contact, the ball really explodes off his bat! This isn’t a Justin Smoak/Warning Track Power sort of swing; he’s got some pop that will play at this level! He just needs to improve his eye at the plate and his contact rate; everything else will work itself out in the years ahead.
  4. Marco Gonzales – What a stud. Just an absolute horse for this team. Someone to lead a new generation of exciting pitchers both with his outstanding on-field performance and his in-clubhouse guidance. I’ll be honest, I forgot we already extended him through 2025, but now that I confirmed it (and at a pretty reasonable salary to boot), I’m even more thrilled! When the M’s originally acquired him from the Cardinals in 2017, I thought we were getting just another ho-hum, soft-tossing lefty who at best would translate to a #5 starter, but more likely fizzle out of baseball entirely. Boy am I happy to be so wrong! He has gotten better every year he’s been here, to the point where you can legitimately have him in the Cy Young conversation! I thought his 2018/2019 level of production was his peak – a 4 ERA type of guy who might give you 175-200 innings and keep you in most games – but what he was in 2020 was a legitimate … ALMOST ace. He’s so close! If he can do what he did this season over 30+ starts next year, then I’ll absolutely give him that mantle for as long as he’s still in Seattle.
  5. Mitch Haniger – Don’t think I forgot about you! You know what’s exciting? Having an All Star locked and loaded and ready to go (hopefully) in 2021. He’s still young, he’s still at the Arbitration level for two more seasons, he’s STARVING to be back on the diamond and among the greats in this league again (so you know motivation won’t be an issue), and he’s still talented in all the ways you want in a right fielder. Sure, he might be a little rusty at first, but he hasn’t irrevocably declined; he’s just had nagging, freak injuries. Injuries, mind you, that should fully heal and shouldn’t hamper his ability going forward. I’m under the assumption that – before too long – he’ll return to his 2018 level, where he was a 6-WAR type of player. This further helps matters because, while the Mariners do have a considerable glut in outfield talent, they don’t necessarily have to call them all up right away. We’ve got Haniger here to soften the blow! Also, with the DH spot up for grabs, if we do end up extending Haniger beyond 2022, he can always transition there and prolong his career that way.
  6. J.P. Crawford – Before the final series of the season – where he raised his batting average nearly 30 points in four games – I think there was a lot of consternation about Crawford’s 2020 season. To that I would say: this is the same guy who was hitting nearly .400 through July 31st; he’s streaky! In great and maddening ways! If you offered me .259/.335/.343 out of him every year, with the quality defense he plays at short stop, I think I’d take that and be happy. I don’t think anyone loves the idea of him being this team’s leadoff hitter – though, he was pretty great at working counts and looking at a lot of pitches this year – but as a bottom-of-the-order type of guy with plus-defense? Yes please! But, more importantly, he’s young enough that there’s still plenty of potential for him to get better as he gets used to playing at this level. I think he’s fine, and I’m happy to continue rooting for him.
  7. Justus Sheffield – There was a lot of concern for him as I’ve noted before, the bloom had come off the rose a little bit (even though he only just turned 24 this year). He was always going to start this season in the Majors and be given every opportunity to work his way through any growing pains. I think he came out of it wildly successful given my pre-season expectations! Six of his ten starts were of the quality variety, and I’d argue it would’ve been seven of ten had the manager left him in there longer in his final appearance of the season (there was no reason to push him, since we weren’t playing for anything, but he had plenty left in the tank). The fastball isn’t great, but his slider is phenomenal, and I thought his command improved tremendously from where it was in 2019. When we traded James Paxton to get him, we’d hoped we were getting a future ace; I don’t think that’s in the cards here. But, he can be a quality #2 or an elite #3 in a great rotation if he continues to progress.
  8. Ty France – He’s not the biggest name we got in the Austin Nola deal, but he’s the most Major League-ready bat, which is just what this team needs. The question remains: where does he belong? Is he a DH until Kyle Seager moves on? Does he take over at third base after that? Do we try to transition him over to second base? Do we shoehorn him into left field until Kelenic gets called up? Or, is he simply trade bait for someone else who has a more established defensive fit for this team? What I’m excited about is the fact that his production at the plate didn’t falter one bit in going from San Diego to Seattle. You never know what you’re going to get when you trade for someone; sometimes the transition causes them to press and try to do too much (leading to mistakes). His bat plays anywhere in the 2-6 range in the lineup – depending on who you’ve got around him – and it should continue to be productive as long as he’s here (under team control through the 2025 season).
  9. Dylan Moore – He’s your frontrunner for the starting second baseman job next year, but he too can play all over the field if you need him. This is VERY impressive for someone who appeared to be nothing more than a utility guy (at best) or a Quad-A level talent (at worst). We’ve seen TONS of Dylan Moore types who never took the next step into being an everyday starter, which is why his story is so special. He came into this season and really set all of our expectations on fire! His defense has DRASTICALLY improved since the beginning of 2019, and now his bat – particularly his power numbers – has taken that leap as well. He’s yet another diamond in the rough this team was able to pluck from obscurity who should be a valuable player on the roster, as well as a valuable trade chip if we need him to be.
  10. Tom Murphy / Luis Torrens – Let’s just lump both of our prospective catchers in here. This has long been a troubled position for the Mariners (as an organization with LOTS of trouble spots they’ve failed to properly fill over the years, that’s really saying something). It’s so reassuring that we not only have this spot 100% locked down in 2021, but for many years to come (with prospect Cal Raleigh knocking on the door of the Majors, who figures to be our regular starting catcher as soon as 2022 or 2023). Murphy, of course, spent 2020 injured, but he should return at full health (and to his quality 2019 form). This, fortunately, afforded us ample opportunity to get a good, long look at Torrens, who also came over from San Diego, and was really reliable in all facets of the catching game for the M’s.
  11. Justin Dunn – Our other big rookie starter getting a “full” season’s worth of experience didn’t have quite as promising of a year as Sheffield. He too has a rather disappointing fastball, but makes up for it with tons of movement. Which means that he didn’t give up very many hits (or even a ton of hard-hit balls), but he walked a bunch of dudes (31 in just over 45 innings). You wonder, if he is able to harness things and stay within the strike zone more, if that’ll translate to giving up more hits and extra-base hits. BUT, if he’s able to put it ALL together, he could be a really special guy. As it is, this was just a year to get his feet wet, and he did that, while staying healthy throughout. He’s worked his arm up, accounting for four quality starts out of ten, and now it’s time to take what he’s learned this year and advance things in 2021 and beyond. Once again – with Sheffield – he’ll be given every opportunity to walk out of Spring Training with a starting rotation job, which means he has a significant head start over the younger guys we’ve drafted in recent years, who are champing at the bit to make their marks in the Major Leagues.
  12. Yohan Ramirez – The bullpen was an unmitigated disaster in 2020, but Ramirez – the Rule 5 guy we got from the Cheating Astros’ organization – managed to not only stay up all year, but be probably our best overall reliever, as well as the guy most poised to be our Closer of the Future. He made 16 appearances, got 3 saves, and had the best ERA on the team (of guys who finished the season on the 25-man roster). He had 26 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, so he’s got electric stuff; but he also had 20 walks in that span, which means he’s yet to fully harness it. Bullpen is such a crapshoot, and we’ve probably got 20 guys right behind him who all have potential to be at least competent, so I don’t know if it makes a ton of sense to go crazy here. I’m just happy we came out of this season with ONE guy I like!

I could go on and on; there are a few pitchers in the minors I’m pretty excited about, but I know almost nothing about them, and I don’t know what exactly they were able to accomplish in Tacoma this year, without any real games happening (and facing the same Mariners prospects over and over). Many of them won’t be ready until 2022 at the earliest, and even the guys who are on the cusp will still likely have to start 2021 in the minors just to prove they’re ready to be called up.

But, if you just look at the guys I talked about here, 2021 looks like it could be quite fun. By midseason, Kelenic, Lewis, and Haniger could be our outfielders. Seager, Crawford, Moore, White, and Murphy/Torrens could be our infield, with Ty France as our DH (and any number of good-looking bench/utility guys behind them, like Jose Marmolejos, Sam Haggerty, Tim Lopes, and Shed Long). What do you think about this lineup?

  1. Dylan Moore (2B)
  2. Mitch Haniger (RF)
  3. Kyle Lewis (CF)
  4. Kyle Seager (3B)
  5. Ty France (DH)
  6. Evan White (1B)
  7. Jarred Kelenic (LF)
  8. Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)
  9. J.P. Crawford (SS)

Obviously, of course, Kelenic will eventually ascend toward the 2-4 range in the lineup, but as a rookie? Let’s give him a soft landing, at least until he’s worked through his inevitable struggles.

That’s a fun lineup, though, right?! Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais are already talking about the 2021 team contending for the playoffs – which is a good year (at least) earlier than most projections had us heading into this season – and that has to be a considerable reason why. Those guys can hit, defend, steal bases, get on base; everything you want! That’s a viable Major League everyday roster that can win a lot of ballgames.

On the pitching side of things, it’s a little more iffy. It sounds like we’re going to continue with a 6-man rotation, with four of the slots going to Marco, Justus Sheffield, Yusei Kikuchi, and Justin Dunn. Figure that Nick Margevicius and Ljay Newsome will compete for a fifth spot (with the other likely heading to the bullpen as a long reliever), and a sixth spot going to a free agent (maybe bring back Taijuan Walker, who was KILLING it in Toronto after we traded him; it’s a bummer that it doesn’t look like he got a chance to pitch in the playoffs, before they lost to the Rays). With all the money the Mariners have to spend, I have to imagine that whoever we sign in free agency will be of high quality. So, if you figure he’s at least on Marco’s level, that’s two high-quality starters at the top of the rotation, with two promising young guys in Sheffield & Dunn, and Kikuchi who will hopefully figure it out at some point (considering his pedigree in the Japanese league). Also, not for nothing, but Margevicius and Newsome both threw lots of strikes and consistently kept the M’s in ballgames, so I have no problem with either one of them.

It’s not a dominant rotation, but as long as guys don’t regress too bad, you can win a lot with them.

The bullpen is another matter, of course. You figure the M’s will also look to free agency here to shore it up, but I won’t be holding my breath. The variance from season to season when it comes to relievers makes them too unpredictable to project. It’s going to take a lot of luck – in finding the right guys, as well as helping our homegrown guys improve in their development – but if the Mariners somehow hit the lottery with their bullpen configuration, then 2021 could very well be the year we end the streak.

It could be the first year since 2001 that we make the post-season!

(it would also help if MLB kept the playoff format as is, with eight teams per league advancing, but that’s neither here nor there).

As I mentioned, every time I’ve left a season allowing myself to dream big about the future, the Mariners have fallen on their faces. This time DOES feel different, though. The foundation doesn’t seem like it’s being held together by 15 year old duct tape, with a leaking roof and spiders crawling all over the basement. The veterans are still in their primes, the young guys look poised to develop early, and if we can just catch a fucking BREAK for once, maybe there will be cause for real, legitimate celebration in 2021!

Or, you know, maybe everything falls apart again, the front office all gets fired after making all these promises of contention, panic moves – made in hopes to save their jobs – all bite us horrifically in the ass, and we’re left to do this all over again in another 5-10 years.

When I put it that way, when do the Seattle Kraken start playing?

The Biggest Blunders In Seattle Sports History

There’s always a reason to be disgruntled about what’s going on with sports in the Seattle area. We’re far from burdened with championship squads, unless the MLS or WNBA is your bag (which is fine if they are, but they’re just not mine). I don’t have a good handle on the breakdown, but essentially most sports fans complain about one of two things: something unfortunate happened to our team that’s outside of their control, or our team did something fucking stupid that effectively sabotaged all hope for success.

If we were talking about the former, I’d bring up something like Super Bowl XL (where I’ll go down to my dying breath contending we were jobbed by the refs at every turn), various good-looking trades that just didn’t pan out for a variety of reasons (Percy Harvin, Vin Baker, the deal to bring Cliff Lee in), or the countless injuries to promising young stars/prospects who could’ve been great had their bodies only held together (Franklin Gutierrez, Malik McDowell, Danny Hultzen, our entire secondary right before Super Bowl XL).

But, I’m talking about the blunders! The dumb-looking shit that was dumb-looking at the time and only proceeded to grow ever more mind-boggling with each passing year. It’s a rough sketch, but here are the top ten worst self-inflicted wounds I can think of in Seattle sports history.

#10 – We Want The Ball & We’re Gonna Score

You gotta have stakes in this thing, so any individual event has to come in the playoffs at a minimum. This one happened in the Wild Card round of the 2003 season. It’s not JUST that the Seahawks won the coin flip heading into overtime and Matt Hasselbeck made that unfortunate guarantee (indeed, I thought it was cool then, and I would gladly welcome such bravado anytime), but combine that with the fateful call.

Let’s go back: remember, this was back when the first score of overtime wins, regardless; so all we needed to do was get into field goal range. We got a first down and had the ball at our own 45 yard line. A stuffed run and an incompletion made it 3rd & 11. And, for some reason, Mike Holmgren decided to call a 5-wide receiver set. For some reason on top of that, Hasselbeck decided to throw the ball to our 5th receiver, Alex Bannister. For some reason on top of THAT, it was an out-pass – the easiest one to undercut and run back for a pick-six – that the receiver didn’t even get beyond the 11 yards needed for the first down! And, of course, not for nothing, but the pass was simply terribly thrown. The rest is history, and so began our continued demise whenever we play a playoff game in Lambeau Field.

#9 – The Deal To Trade Cliff Lee Away

It was supposed to be the epitome of a no-brainer. Cliff Lee was heading into the final year of his deal in 2010. At the time, he already had a Cy Young Award under his belt and was probably the best left-handed starting pitcher in the game. The Mariners traded three nobodies to the Phillies to bring Lee to Seattle and the plan was simple. The M’s were coming off of a winning season in 2009, and Lee – paired with a still-in-his-prime Felix Hernandez – was going to help push us over the top and back into playoff contention.

Unfortunately, Cliff Lee got injured in Spring Training, and didn’t make his first start until the last day of April. In spite of Lee going 7 shutout innings that day, the Mariners lost 2-0 to drop their record to 11-12 on the season. On July 9th, our record fell to 34-52, and it was clear no playoffs would be forthcoming. That’s okay! We had a backup plan if things fell apart in spectacular fashion (which they did, as we would go on to lose 101 games). Since Cliff Lee was so great – indeed, his numbers after two months with the Mariners were among the best of his entire career – his value should’ve been sky high for a pitching-needy team looking to cement their status as a championship contender.

But, we had Jackie Z at the helm, and our return – Justin Smoak and three other nobodies – was far from inspiring. This was supposed to jumpstart our big rebuild, and Smoak was supposed to be the centerpiece. Instead, we rode his wave of warning track power into mediocre season after mediocre season. You could throw any number of trades Jackie Z made for the Mariners on the list of greatest blunders, but I’m putting this one here because Cliff Lee was amazing, and we BLEW IT.

#8 – Steve Hutchinson Transition Tag

The Seahawks were riding high after their appearance in Super Bowl XL. The only thing we could do to screw it up was dick around with our best players.

Tim Ruskell’s seat in Hell is being kept warm for him by the resentment and hatred of thousands upon thousands of Seahawks fans. What a buffoon! The offensive line was not only the backbone of the Seahawks’ offense, but it was easily the best part of the entire team, anchored on the left side by two Hall of Famers: Walter Jones & Steve Hutchinson. Through them, we had an MVP in running back Shaun Alexander. Through them, a sixth-round quarterback was able to play at a Pro Bowl level. We had the money, we had the desire, and indeed we had NO ANSWER for Hutch’s replacement when he eventually signed the Vikings’ Poison Pill contract!

The hit to the Seahawks was immediate and obvious. Bottom line was: the Seahawks were never the same again, and didn’t make it back to the Super Bowl until the 2013 season (with an all-new regime and set of superstars at the helm).

#7 – The Erik Bedard Trade

There’s no need to clarify; we all know which Bedard trade I’m talking about. In February of 2008, we gave up Adam Jones (5-time All Star center fielder; NOPE, COULDN’T HAVE USED HIM!), Chris Tillman (an All Star starting pitcher who would go on to have a 38-16 record from 2012-2014; NOPE, COULDN’T HAVE USED HIM!), and George Sherrill (an All Star reliever who would save 52 games from 2008-2009; NOPE, COULDN’T HAVE USED HIM!), among two other stiffs.

What we got back in return was a starter in Bedard who – like Lee before him – was brought in to be paired with a still-in-his-prime Felix Hernandez, coming off of a winning 2007 season. Instead, we got a guy who could never really stay healthy, whose style constantly saw his pitch counts inflated early in games, which meant you could only count on him for about 5 innings per start at best. On top of that, there were rumors abound about how he didn’t really give a shit about baseball or winning and was just in it for the paycheck (more power to you, I guess). He sucked so hard, the Mariners couldn’t even flip him for any semblance of value, which meant Bedard had to go down with the sinking ship that is our Mariners existence. On the plus side, this was the final straw to getting Bill Bavasi fired (on the down side, see: Jackie Z)

#6 – The Lowe/Varitek Trade

Woody Woodward stumbled into a lot of success in his tenure as GM of the Mariners. To our dismay, he had no idea what to do with this team once we started reaching those heights.

The 1997 Mariners were a fun bunch. Tons of heavy hitters all up and down the lineup. Led by Randy Johnson, the starting pitching was good enough to take us all the way, assuming the hitters hit and the relievers didn’t totally shit the bed.

As you might have guessed, there was A LOT of bed shitting in 1997; worst year for bed shitting I’ve ever seen, if I’m being honest! Woody Woodward, not knowing what he was doing or how he could rectify the problem, made two of the worst panic-deals for three of the worst relief pitchers I can imagine. The absolute worst was sending Derek Lowe (a 2-time All Star who would go on to win 176 games in his 17-year career) and Jason Varitek (a 3-time All Star catcher for the Red Sox over 15 seasons) for Heathcliff Slocumb (a turd).

Like most of these deals, this one wasn’t helpful in the short term (the M’s would go on to lose in the first round of the playoffs) and it was an outright disaster in the long-term (we either could’ve had two great players for the next decade, or at least flipped them for better players/prospects).

#5 – Jim McIlvaine Signing

Really the beginning of the end of the great run of Supersonics teams of the 90’s. Almost immediately following our hard-fought defeat in the NBA Finals to the greatest team of all time in six games, the Sonics looked like a team that could easily run it back and re-join the Bulls the very next year. You could argue center was our weakest spot on a team riddled with strengths all the way up and down the roster. So, enter Jim McIlvaine – a guy who had done NOTHING to that point – on a 7-year, $33.6 million deal (which was a lot at the time, trust me). He had a whopping TWO years under his belt at that point, as a reserve on the Washington Bullets, where his big claim to fame was averaging a hair over 2 blocks per game the year before in just under 15 minutes per.

This ungodly amount of money – for a guy who’d proven nothing in his brief pro career – obviously angered a lot of players on the Sonics, particularly Shawn Kemp, who effectively forced his way off the team in a deal that would bring in Vin Baker. Now, you can argue both Kemp and Baker – particularly after the strike season – did a lot to damage their own careers as we headed into the new Willennium, so who’s to say what would’ve happened to the Sonics had we gone in a different direction?

All I know is, McIlvaine instantly became entrenched in the starting lineup his first year with us, averaging 18 of the most worthless minutes of each and every game he was in, bringing NOTHING to the table. He actively made the team worse with his play alone, regardless of what happened to the chemistry in the locker room (which is exceedingly important in the NBA, with how long the season is, and how many games they have to play). We ended up losing in 7 games to the Houston Rockets in the conference semifinals, and that was as good as it got for the rest of the decade.

#4 – Randy Johnson Trade

I did a deep dive on this a few years ago that you can check out (as chance would have it, a lot of these other blunders find their way into this piece!), but the bottom line is this: the Mariners were cheap, and Randy Johnson’s best years were still AHEAD of him.

Moreover, I would argue that while the value looked pretty good at the time – indeed, two starting pitchers and a starting infielder isn’t a bad return – the very best Mariners teams of 2000 & 2001 were in such desperate need for a true #1 ace, that Randy Johnson would’ve been perfect for those teams. I’m sorry, I like Freddy Garcia as much as the next guy, but he’s no Randy. Randy who would go on to win four Cy Young Awards from 1999-2002 (again, the years where the Mariners were playing the very best ball in franchise history); you don’t think he could’ve helped those teams get over the hump, and maybe even win a World Series title?

#3 – Not Drafting Brett Favre

Chuck Knox ran the Seahawks efficiently and to the best of his abilities from 1983-1991. You could argue he got more than anyone could’ve expected him to out of a bunch of ragtag guys, especially with at best a mediocre quarterback in Dave Krieg. When it finally came time to move on, Knox had one man in mind in the 1991 NFL Draft: Brett Favre. Ownership, however, refused to see it, and refused to listen to their legendary head coach, opting to go with Dan McGwire with the 16th overall pick (Favre would fall to the Falcons in the second round).

See, McGwire was 6’8. You know, that insanely crazy height that no NFL teams want, because it’s too damn tall to be an effective quarterback? If you don’t remember McGwire, you’re lucky; he was trash. Knox would leave the Seahawks following the 1991 season, and immediately we’d fall to such lows that we’d have to draft yet another dud in 1993 (Rick Mirer, with the #2 overall pick, after losing an opportunity to draft Drew Bledsoe). That went on to cost us the rest of the 90’s, before Mike Holmgren came to town and properly revived this franchise. Had we had Brett Favre? Who knows?! There’s an alternate universe out there where the Seahawks were one of the great teams of the 1990’s.

By that same token, there’s an alternate universe out there where we had to deal with Favre constantly threatening to retire, then return, then retire, and so on. So, maybe we lucked out in the long run?

#2 – Not Properly Renovating Key Arena

By the early 1990’s, the Seattle Center Coliseum was in shambles. Teams around the league were updating their own arenas and it was time for Seattle to join in. Unfortunately – even though this was set up prior to the Kingdome implosion being a twinkle in any of our eyes – the city and county ultimately went the cheap, tight-ass route in renovating the arena. By the time it re-opened in 1995 – while it was a fine place to enjoy a basketball game, from a fan perspective – it was already out-of-date by NBA standards, and apparently impossible to derive any sort of profit from, again by NBA standards.

Say what you will about the league, or about tax payers funding sports venues, but you can’t deny the fact that the Sonics were the first in this city to start the trend of venue renovations, and they fucking blew it HARD. By the time subsequent ownership groups demanded the funds for a proper NBA facility, the Seahawks and Mariners had already gotten brand new stadia. Considering it had been such a short time since the opening of Key Arena, combined with public fatigue over the matter, it’s not shocking in the slightest that the Sonics were shot down.

You could obviously argue the biggest blunder was selling the Sonics to Howard Schultz, or the Schultz Group buying the load of horseshit from the OKC people. But, all of that stems from the inferior building that was presented to the world ahead of the 1995 season. Had we just gotten THAT right, everything else would’ve fallen into proper order, and we’d still have our fucking basketball team. Instead, 25+ years later, we’re finally getting around to doing what we should’ve done then, and for our troubles we get the NHL instead. An okay consolation prize, but obviously not what I’d prefer.

#1 – Slant At The Goalline

It’s hard to top losing a fucking NBA franchise on the list of biggest sports blunders, but costing your team a championship in the most demoralizing way possible? Yeah, I’d say that qualifies.

I would hope, by now, that consensus has found its head when it comes to the decision to throw in that scenario. The Seahawks had one time out remaining, it was second down. Run it and fail, and we’ve got zero time outs and they know we’re throwing two consecutive times (considering how that play ended up, you can’t tell me it wasn’t on the docket for at least one of those possible attempts).

Long story short: throwing was the correct call. Throwing a fucking SLANT at the goalline, to a fourth receiver in Ricardo Lockette (shades of the Bannister play up top), was absolutely the biggest blunder in Seattle sports history.

If you’re going to throw a slant, throw it to Baldwin or Kearse! But, no, DON’T THROW A SLANT! Throw literally anything else! Throw a fade to Chris Matthews – who, to that point, had been carving up the Patriots’ defense – or shit, just throw the ball 30 yards out of bounds! Anything but that!

Okay, that’s all. I have to go lay down now. Where’s my fainting couch?!

Mariners Traded Alex Jackson For Two Starting Pitchers

I haven’t written about every single transaction the Mariners have made this offseason, because that would be crazy (there’ve been so many!).  If it’s just a move for depth, particularly in the minor leagues, I tend to not bother.  These sorts of players might get flipped again before they officially put on a Mariners uniform; if not, they’ll get a shot in Spring Training before likely spending the bulk of their seasons in Tacoma, only to be called up as injury replacements.  Or ineffectiveness replacements.  You get the idea.

For instance, the Mariners brought in lefty reliever James Pazos from the Yankees for some prospect.  Will he make an impact with the big club?  Who knows?

Then, you’ve got the two utility players we got from Tampa:  Taylor Motter and Richie Shaffer; are these guys going to make a difference?  I have no clue.

But, this trade here with Atlanta, this one might have legs.  Alex Jackson was the final first round draft pick of the Jackie Z era.  He’s yet to climb out of A-ball and looks to be yet another in a long line of duds the Mariners have drafted in the first round since Adam Jones back in 2003 (pending the careers of Taijuan Walker and Mike Zunino, but come on).  The only other first rounder we have left from the Jackie Z era is D.J. Peterson, who’s probably as good as gone later this offseason, if the right deal comes along.

Alex Jackson might eventually pan out, but I’ll just go ahead and say I have my doubts.  He was going to start this year in A-ball yet again, which means if he didn’t make significant strides this year, his value likely would have plummeted.  In which case, we’re talking about selling a guy at the peak of his value.  And, by all accounts, the Mariners were able to snag quite a haul.

Rob Whalen is a guy who’s most ready to compete for a starting spot in 2017’s rotation.  He doesn’t have much Major League experience, just getting a cup of coffee in 2016, but he has extensive experience in the upper minors, and has good numbers to boot.  He’s certainly nobody who deserves a guaranteed spot on the Major League roster, but he’s solid depth we can stash in Tacoma to start the season.  And, who knows, if he blows up in Spring Training, then all the better.

Max Povse is the other pitcher we got in the deal, and he’s the one everyone’s raving about.  He cracked AA last year, but he has a high ceiling with his awesome fastball.  He becomes one of the top pitching prospects in our entire system, which sounds awesome, but is probably a testament to how shitty our farm is right now.  He’ll likely start in AA again this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Tacoma by the time we reach the summer months.

It’s a nice little deal, but this doesn’t change anything when it comes to finding a replacement for Taijuan Walker.  This just sets us up to be better in the event of injuries, and allows us to come from a spot that’s a little less desperate on the pitching side of things.  Obviously, the off-season is still young, and we’ve got a long way to go before this roster is finalized.

Mariners Trade Mike Montgomery To Cubs For Dan Vogelbach

That’s the headline, anyway.  The Mariners also received minor league pitcher Paul Blackburn, and gave away minor league pitcher Jordan Pries.

When you think about the weird journey of Mike Montgomery – a former first round pick who couldn’t quite make the jump to the Bigs, traded to Seattle for Erasmo Ramirez of all people, coming into Spring Training this year without a spot on the team, then winning a bullpen role thanks to injuries and his own step forward in development – this really feels like the organization selling high on a middling prospect.

When I think about any trade, I think about the ceilings of all involved – particularly the stars of the trade.  What’s Mike Montgomery’s ceiling?  If his performance this year is any indication, he could be a back-of-the-rotation starter, or he could be a pretty solid reliever.  If he puts it all together?  Maybe he could become a #3 starter, but if that happens, we’re probably a ways away.  Fortunately for the Cubs, they’ll have lots of time to get to know him.  While I believe he’s out of options, Montgomery still has 2 years of team control over him, followed by 3 more arbitration years after that.  When you consider his salary this year is only $515,000, there is potentially GREAT value in this guy.  The Cubs just got a young, cost-controlled left-handed pitcher who can start, who can relieve, and who theoretically is still getting better.

Then again, he could just be who he is.  An okay lefty, with okay stuff, but not all that special.  He’ll have good years and bad years, he’ll eat up innings for you probably (if you stick him in the rotation), but he might very well be an underwhelming starter.  At which point, the Cubs traded away an even younger, more cost-controlled, potential middle-of-the-order bat, for a lefty long reliever who will most likely never close out your games.

From a Mariners perspective, losing Montgomery hurts way more in the short term.  In the long term, I don’t know how much I’d trust handing him a rotation spot.  I think we could do better, and I think it wouldn’t be that hard.  In the short term, though, I’m on record as saying he’s probably the third-best starter we have right now, considering Walker’s injury issues won’t be resolving until after the season ends (and it appears he’ll be playing through this foot issue until the offseason, when he has surgery to repair it), and he’s easily our second-best reliever.  When you figure the Mariners’ greatest need is, was, and will always be pitching for the rest of this season, it’s a lot to stomach.  In that sense, it almost DOES feel like the Mariners are being sellers.

Of course, I can’t really make a definitive claim on that score until I see what other moves the Mariners end up making.  This almost certainly will NOT be the only trade we see from the Mariners this year.

In return, we get this guy.  Dan Vogelbach.  A lot of people are saying he’s a left-handed hitting Billy Butler.  Technically, I suppose the kid can play first base, but it doesn’t sound like anyone really trusts him to stick there.  Which means his future likely rests at designated hitter (or, in some sort of rotation between the two).  The Mariners, as you know, already have a pretty awesome DH in Nelson Cruz.  But, since Cruz can ostensibly play right field, you justify the trade by telling everyone that, and downplaying how this hurts your outfield defense.  You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul one way or the other.  Either you struggle with first base defense, or you struggle with right field defense.  I don’t know what’s worse, but then again, I’ve never seen Vogelbach play.

The kid has a quality bat, though!  Where have we heard that before?  Oh, that’s right, with every single 1B/DH prospect Jackie Z brought in here!  But, while Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, Logan Morrison, and others were all pretty one-dimensional, Vogelbach’s bat looks like it can legitimately play at the Major League level.  Montero and LoMo were always prone to being handcuffed by same-handed pitchers; they also struggled to take a walk and avoid swinging at those low-and-away breaking balls.  Vogelbach appears to have a good grasp of the strike zone, and looks like he can hit both lefties and righties.  High walk rates and low strikeout rates are EXACTLY what I want to see out of a guy in AAA who is just itching to bust through in the Majors.

As I talked about yesterday, it would seem Adam Lind’s days are numbered with the team, just as he’s starting to really assert himself and become the player we all thought we were getting.  Part of me hopes that’s not necessarily the case, as part of me still holds out the delusion that the Mariners will be playing for something important in September, and he could be a big part of that.  Trading Lind would be another telltale sign of the Mariners being sellers, as you’re swapping out a trusted veteran on an upswing for a kid who’s never played at this level before.  Highly-rated prospect or not, Vogelbach is going to have some growing pains to start.  I almost hope he just stays in Tacoma until September call-ups, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Bat-First, or rather, Bat-Only players like Vogelbach tend to give me the willies.  If I knew without a doubt we’d be getting the next Edgar Martinez, and we’d just plug him into the DH role for the next 15 years, that’s one thing.  But, to be a valuable player in this league, when you’re not playing a defensive position, you REALLY need to hit the fuck out of the ball.  You need to put up crazy-high batting averages, get on base a lot, AND you need to consistently hit for power.  20-30 homers per year and 30-40 doubles per year.  If he comes here and is just sorta okay, but maybe hits .270, struggles against lefties, and is on the lower end of those power numbers, then what have you got?  A clogged artery in the middle of your hitting lineup completely blocking your roster flexibility – and one who needs a platoon partner to boot!

I’m not saying that’s what he’ll be, but these ARE the Seattle Mariners.  The same cursed franchise that drafts the greatest prospect we’ve seen around here since Adam Jones, in Kyle Lewis, who proceeds to tear up his knee one month into his professional career and is out for the year, if not longer.  Great.  I’m sure a massively fucked up knee won’t completely sap all his speed and athleticism …

Also kind of annoying about this Vogelbach move is that he also blocks some of our prospects coming up through the minors who are ALSO predominantly limited defensively, but have big swingin’ bats (I’m looking at you, D.J. Peterson).  Maybe this opens us up to other trade possibilities, though, particularly if Vogelbach makes it big in the Majors.

I have nothing to say about the swapped minor league pitchers.  Neither one looks like much of a promising prospect.  Regarding the main parts of the trade, I guess I’ll treat it like I treat every deal:  clench my buttocks and hope for the best.  It’s in the hands of the baseball gods now.  Or, I guess, to be more accurate, considering how these types of trades normally go for the Mariners, it’s in the hands of the baseball Satans.

Predictable Loss For The Mariners Is Predictable

Chris Tillman defeated us once again.  Adam Jones made some nice plays in the field, and Bill Bavasi is a cunt.

Edgar Martinez is a little TOO good at his job as hitting coach, what with the fact he somehow managed to turn Mark Trumbo into a viable offensive weapon (also doesn’t hurt he plays half his games in Baltimore).

Taijuan Walker struggled against a lineup that was probably always going to give him fits.  Luckily, we only play Baltimore once more this season, and it’ll be in Safeco.

Joel Peralta is fucking done.  Injured bullpen guys can’t get healthy fast enough.

The game was decided in the top of the 8th inning, when Cano, Cruz, and Seager loaded the bases with one out.  Dae-ho Lee struck out on a low-and-away fastball, and Iannetta grounded out to end the inning.  We were down by two runs, and it was then or never.  Turns out it was never.

Must be nice to be Baltimore, who only needs to get a lead into the 6th or 7th inning, before they let their league-leading bullpen smash everyone to bits.

Rubber match this morning.  If Walker struggled, it would stand to reason Karns might meet a similar fate.  Luckily, I’ll be at work and won’t have to watch.

Jack Zduriencik Is Gone

I remember June 16, 2008, like it was seven years and a few weeks ago.  We were in the middle of a year that would just get worse and worse and worse.  The Mariners, coming off of a winning 2007 campaign, revamped their starting rotation with the Erik Bedard trade and the Carlos Silva signing.  A would-be weakness for the team was bolstered by the addition of a second ace pitcher, and an innings eater who’d solidify the back-end of the rotation while pitching half his games in the spacious Safeco Field.

Those 2008 Mariners would go on to lose over 100 games, netting the #2 overall draft pick.  On June 16, 2008, Bill Bavasi was fired after four and a half miserable fucking seasons.  And we all rejoiced, for we all knew Bavasi was not only the face of Satan incarnate, but the most bumbling and inept motherfucker ever to be given the keys to a professional franchise (tell me I’m wrong, COME AT ME BRO; I will fight you to the death).  Every year of his reign was another chance to reload.  Re-BUILD?  What does that even MEAN?  The Mariners were coming off of their most fruitful seasons under Pat Gillick; but those veterans were all long dead and buried.  Bavasi made it his mission to bring in veteran after veteran to try to right the ship, at the expense of our entire farm system and anything else he could get his hands on.  He wasted money, he traded away superstars, and he brought us nothing but losses piled upon losses piled upon shit.

On October 22, 2008, the Mariners brought in Jack Zduriencik, and while we didn’t really know much about him, we knew he worked in the upper management in Milwaukee, for a Brewers organization on the rise.  He was responsible for that team bringing in some of its biggest stars, and was the first non-GM to win Executive of the Year in 2007.  This guy was a rising star in his own right, and it seemed like he’d fit into the GM world like a glove.

On August 28, 2015, the Mariners fired Jack Zduriencik.  He’d been at the helm for a little over 6 and a half seasons.  So, it was time.  He’d out-lasted his predecessor and really wasn’t all that much better at his job.

Bill Bavasi’s Mariners record:  322-395, .449 winning percentage
Jack Zduriencik’s Mariners record:  506-595, .460 winning percentage

Over time, the Bavasi regime has become known for the Erik Bedard/Adam Jones trade, and the dual trades to the Indians in 2006 giving them quality All Stars Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera for magic beans.  Those are desperate moves no GM would EVER live down.  The Zduriencik regime will ultimately go down for the Triad of Suck that was Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero.  The Mariners gave up some legitimately great capital to bring in those guys (2nd overall draft pick, Cliff Lee, and Michael Pineda, respectively) and they all blew up in Z’s face.

Considering Jackie Z’s extensive history in scouting for Major League Baseball, that makes his transgressions all the more galling.  He’d been here for over 6 years and all he had to show for his work was Kyle Seager.  Anyone he ever brought in who was worth a damn was either an established free agent (Cano, Cruz) or some scrub who’d previously washed out of baseball either via injury or ineffectiveness, only to make his comeback with us for an anomalous year or two (Chris Young, Mark Lowe, Tom Wilhelmsen, Joe Beimel).  I mean, will you LOOK at some of the bullshit that’s crossed our paths thanks to Jackie Z:

  • Dustin Ackley, draft pick
  • Chone Figgins, free agent
  • Eric Byrnes, free agent
  • Justin Smoak, trade
  • The Entire Doug Fister Trade, less Charlie Furbush (a sometimes-okay lefty specialist out of the bullpen)
  • Jesus Montero, trade
  • Brandon League, trade
  • Casey Kotchman, trade
  • Mike Morse for John Jaso
  • Logan Morrison for Carter Capps
  • Mark Trumbo for Welington Castillo
  • Mike Zunino, draft pick
  • Danny Hultzen, draft pick
  • Nick Franklin, draft pick
  • Corey Hart, free agent
  • Jason Bay, free agent
  • Joe Saunders, free agent
  • Hector Noesi, trade
  • Miguel Olivo, free agent
  • The Hitless Wonder That Is Brendan Ryan, trade
  • Jack Cust, free agent
  • Blake Beavan, trade
  • Milton Bradley, trade
  • Rob Johnson, trade(ish)

You could go on and on, and I know I’m just picking and choosing the most worthless piles of crap out there, but LOOK AT THAT LIST!  Look at all those miserable bastards that have contributed to nearly 600 losses the last 6+ seasons!  That’s Jack’s legacy!  Did he give away studs on par with Jones, Choo, Cabrera, Tillman and the like?  No.  But, he did get PENNY on the dollar out of stud trade chips like Cliff Lee, Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, Brandon Morrow, John Jaso, and Carter Capps.  He had three draft picks in the top 3 overall and we’ve yet to see any of them amount to anything more than somewhat quality defense.  After this year, it’s highly likely two of those three draft picks won’t even be in the organization, with Ackley traded, Hultzen an injured free agent who should probably retire, and Mike Zunino fighting for his life somewhere between Tacoma and Seattle.

Was he as destructive as Bill Bavasi?  No, he was not.  That’s why August 28, 2015, came and went a little bit differently than June 16, 2008.  I don’t feel quite the sense of elation as I did when Bavasi finally got the ax.  That was on par with the Wicked Witch of the West getting assassinated; this is more like Old Yeller taking a bullet out behind the house.  Could the Mariners afford to keep him in charge even one more year?  Absolutely not.  His rabies-infested mind would surely destroy us all; he NEEDED to be put down, for his sake as much as our own.

But, it’s not even like that.  I have no real affinity for Jackie Z; it’s not like I’m going to miss him now that he’s gone.  But, it’s still a bummer, because this isn’t supposed to be how it ended.  There was a lot of flawed decision-making when it comes to Jackie Z’s reign; but, there’s also a lot of moves where you could see why he thought the way he did.  A lot of moves that looked good on paper, and then that paper was set ablaze by a fucking cannon.  Guys like Smoak and Ackley and Figgins and Montero – they all came highly touted and having produced quite a bit in their careers up to the point they arrived in Seattle.

In fact, you could say 2015 was a perfect microcosm of the entire Jackie Z era.  There was hope – coming off of a year where the Mariners ended up 1 game out of the playoffs.  There was a smart signing – Nelson Cruz, MVP candidate in 2015.  There was flawed logic – trading away a professional catcher during Zunino’s worst year in the Bigs for a righty power bat who will never play well in Safeco (and who’s yet another DH who shouldn’t be playing out in the field to boot).  And there was a whole lot of bad luck – Cano’s shitty start to the season, Ackley turning back into a pumpkin after last year’s bonanza second half, the bullpen absolutely falling apart after being one of the best units in the American League last year.

Like him or hate him, it’s just sad.  This whole season has been depressing as shit!  Jackie Z getting the boot is just the cherry on top.

The worst part is:  what do we do going forward?  When Bavasi was fired, there was a clear thought process:  scrap everything and start over through the draft.  It only got muddled when the Mariners had a winning record in 2009; that shouldn’t have happened, and it set things back in a lot of ways.  The Mariners made “contending ballclub” moves when they should’ve stuck to the gameplan to keep rebuilding.  It backfired in 2010, meaning we wasted two good rebuilding years thinking we were worth a damn.  We started anew in 2011, built the club up into a winner in 2014, only to see it all bottom out yet again.  Unexpectedly.  Yet again.  But, maybe we should have expected it.  This city is cursed in a lot of ways, and it took one of the greatest football teams of all time to break that spell in 2013.

Now, like in 2008, the Mariners have no farm system.  But, they’ve got plenty good at the Major League level.  This team is far from great, but it’s also far from the worst.  Will the organization be able to find the right guy to come in here and put all the pieces in place?

No.

It won’t.

Because Howard Lincoln is still the man calling all the shots.

He’s an imbecile and he needs to go.

But, we’re stuck with him, and that’s why we’ll always be losers.

Mariners Tidbit 42: One of the Three Worst Trades in the Jackie Z Era Comes To Town

For your reference, here’s a link to all the worst Seattle sports trades, signings, and draft picks.  For your more specific reference, here’s a list of just the ones about the Mariners.

I split them up by GM, so go ahead and scroll down to the bottom of that second link.  There, you’ll find the Jackie Z Poo-Poo Platter of GM moves.  The most recent three trades listed have thus far defined his tenure as GM (in addition to the Dustin Ackley draft pick, and as we move along, most likely the Danny Hultzen pick as well).

The Cliff Lee Trade, the Doug Fister Trade, and now the Michael Pineda Trade.  Notable for the bullshit we received in return, but defined by the studs we gave away.  The only trades that have been more soul-crushing from an organizational standpoint have been the Erik Bedard Trade (losing out on a killer combo of Adam Jones & Chris Tillman), the Tino Martinez/Jeff Nelson Trade, and the Randy Johnson Trade (because you’ll never convince me it was a smart idea to give up on a future Hall of Famer who’d go on to win many multiple Cy Young Awards).  That’s a sextet of suck if I’ve ever seen it!

Cliff Lee begat Justin Smoak, which turned into nothing.  Doug Fister has only left us Charlie Furbush, lefty specialist out of the bullpen.  And Michael Pineda was turned into Fat Jesus Montero who is now Skinny Jesus Montero who is still learning how to play first base down in Tacoma and is therefore worthless until the Mariners either get something for him, or figure out a way to call him back up and properly use him.  At best, he’s probably only a bench/reserve pinch hitter type.

Meanwhile, Michael Pineda returns tonight to face Felix Hernandez.  Pineda, you may recall, had a shit-ton of injuries just as soon as he was traded away.  We all thought we REALLY worked one over on the smug ol’ Yankees.  Stole their power-hitting catcher prospect, gave them damaged goods; fine by me.  Pineda ended up missing two full seasons – 2012 & 2013 – before returning in 2014 only to get suspended and then injured again, ultimately losing about half of that season as well.  Finally healthy, and pine tar-free, Pineda has racked up some incredibly impressive numbers through the first two months of this year.  A 6-2 record, a sub-4 ERA, a 16 strikeout game (67 total strikeouts against only 5 walks); he’s every bit the stud the Yankees thought they were getting in 2012, it just took him a long while to get there.

There have been a lot of winding roads to this Pineda/Montero Trade, but I think we can officially call it in favor of the Yankees.  And, as such, tonight we get to watch a huge reminder of why the Mariners are a terribly-run and forever-snakebitten organization.

Happy Monday again.

The Case For Trading The Farm

Of course, when I say, “The Farm”, I’m only talking about a few guys.  Taijuan Walker, D.J. Peterson, Alex Jackson, and maybe two or three others.  When the average Mariners fan thinks of “The Farm”, that’s who they’re thinking about.  I don’t think anyone is going to give two shits if we can package the likes of Nick Franklin, Jesus Montero, or Erasmo Ramirez into a deal – and for good reason, because they likely wouldn’t fetch much anyway, because for as down as we are on these guys, the rest of baseball – the people in The Know – are even MORE down on these guys.

Nobody really wants to sell the farm.  We’re told from day 1 that the best franchises – regardless of sport – are those who draft and bring up their own stars.  That’s just the way it is.  And, as a result, fans get WAY too attached to the players in that organization.

But, what if I told you right now that by trading Walker, Peterson, and Jackson, the Mariners would bring in enough pieces to win the World Series in 2014?  I make no promises one way or the other going forward, but for at least 2014, the Mariners will be world champs.  Would you do it?

Some people would say no.  I happen to find that sick and absurd, because I would make that trade in a heartbeat!  The only problem with trades like these – where you’re a team in contention trading away young talent to the worst teams in hopes to rent a player for a few months and hopefully a playoff run – is that they backfire just as much as they work out.  Arguably, you could say they backfire way more – because only one team per year can win the World Series, and how many teams go out every season with the express goal of improving for that very championship?

And that’s just it.  No one can guarantee anything.  So, what if the Mariners and Rays work out some kind of deal that looks like:  Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, and Dominic Leone (and maybe another lesser player or two) for David Price and Ben Zobrist (and maybe another minor leaguer).  Would you do THAT trade?  That’s a lot of guaranteed years for two guys whose deals run out after 2014 (there is a team option for Zobrist, so he technically runs through 2015).  On the flipside, you’re giving the Mariners another ace pitcher and a rock solid #2 hitter who effectively ends Dustin Ackley’s career as an everyday starter.

I feel like that’s something of a realistic trade (I’m sorry, but the Rays aren’t going to accept Franklin, Ackley, Smoak, Montero, and Furbush for their two best players; I’M SORRY!), and a deal that helps both teams (one short term, one long term).  On the one hand, you could say the Mariners are getting ripped off in that deal.  The Rays would get a potential ace pitcher, a potential starting second baseman, a potential closer, and another prospect or two; and they’d only give up their current ace pitcher (who they won’t be able to re-sign after this year anyway, because they work on a shoe-string budget) and a jack-of-all-trades switch-hitter who otherwise (if they’d kept him) would be blocking a better prospect.

On the other hand, though, what if Taijuan Walker keeps getting injured and never makes it?  What if, instead of developing and refining his game, he continues to struggle with command issues for his whole (brief) career?  What if Nick Franklin is a dud, and Leone is only an okay reliever?  If that’s the case, even if the Mariners fail in their charge to win a World Series, I’d still call it a win for the Mariners.

The fact of the matter is, there are those two best-case scenarios for either team, and there are a million other variations in between.  You’ll never know unless the deal is made.

Those fans smarter than myself would bemoan the lost service time.  They’d complain (probably rightly so) that there’s no way in Hell that David Price will re-sign here after the season.  They’d love Zobrist, because he’s amazing, but they’d see his age (33) and make note of the fact that he might not be worth $7.5 million in 2015 (especially if his numbers this year continue what’s been something of a modest downward trend over the last year and a half).  Those smarter fans may be right, but you know what?  Part of me is kinda tired of waiting.  100% of me roots for the Seattle Mariners and not really its affiliates.  I don’t care if Seattle is considered as having one of the better minor league systems, because what I REALLY care about is how well the organization is doing at the Major League level.

Yes, I WOULD take 10 years of mediocrity if it meant a world championship.  I love the old Florida Marlins model of franchise ownership!  You’re telling me that group of morons were able to win not one, but TWO titles?  Where do I sign up?

Because, honestly, what would be the difference between that vast, savage hellscape and the one we’ve just emerged from between the years 2002-2013?

And yes, I trust Jack Z to make a smart trade for this organization like I trust him to drill into my skull without touching brain.  But, here’s the thing:  which deals does he get the most shit for?  The Smoak and Montero deals, of course.  Because they were unmitigated disasters.  Smoak and Montero were supposed to be high-upside studs and are instead steaming piles of manure.  It’s hard to say those deals backfired too much, because Cliff Lee was never going to re-sign with us at season’s end, and because Pineda has been injured and suspended more than he’s been healthy and contributing at the big league level.  But, here’s another doozy:  the Doug Fister trade.  That has netted us:  Charlie Furbush, a crappy left-handed reliever.  That one REALLY backfired, hard.

The point is:  Jackie Z doesn’t know shit about trading for prospects.  He’s been about as bad at it as anyone I’ve ever seen.  How he rose through the ranks in scouting is beyond me, because seemingly every trade he has made for prospects has totally tanked.  On the flipside, when he’s sending away prospects, he’s either been very lucky, or he knows what he’s doing.  There were all those losers we shipped off to get Cliff Lee here in the first place.  There was the Morrow deal (which kind of looks bad, until you see that Morrow has yet to throw 200 innings in a season, so it’s not like we gave up some true #1 starting pitcher).  There are probably some others, but nothing comes directly to mind, which means there’s no real nagging deal out there where I’m watching the likes of Adam Jones be awesome for another team.

If Jackie Z sees something in Taijuan Walker that leads him to believe Walker might not be as amazing as we all think he’s going to be, then I don’t really have a problem with shipping him off.  Just as long as we get some players coming back who will bring an immediate impact right away.  It’s not hard to look at David Price and Ben Zobrist and see a way they can help this team win.  Anything less … anything that brings with it a “who’s that?” from Mariners fans at large, and I’ll probably be irate.

Such is the thrill of contention in baseball!  Remember how we used to feel this way almost every year, from 1995 through 2003?  Remember how we’d talk about the trade deadline as a means to potentially make the team better NOW vs. in three years from now?  Remember all those years the Mariners “stood pat” and ended up either not making the playoffs, or losing prior to the World Series?  Conversely, remember all those years the Mariners traded away Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek and we still can’t fucking shut up about it?

It’s been one long bummer of a ride from the minute the Mariners set foot in Seattle lo those many decades ago.  But, as the Seahawks have taught us, it only takes one year to turn around a franchise’s fortunes.

This year COULD BE the year for the Mariners.  Of course, not as things stand right now; we’re at least two players away from serious contention for a championship.  Is it worth the potential cost of a future that might not even exist as we dream it?

I say yes, but that’s just the way I roll.  Instant gratification.  Give me a championship now and I can gnaw on that sucker for YEARS.  Do nothing, and that desire will only continue to gnaw at me, piece by piece, until I’m a broken husk of a man.

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.

2008: A Seattle Sports Apocalypse

Editor’s Note:  To read this blog post, click HERE.  It is one of Seattle Sports Hell’s “Featured Articles”.