It’s Been A While Since The Mariners Haven’t Had A Third Baseman

By and large, Mariners fans have been spoiled through the years, in this one very specific area. Third baseman is a weird spot on a team. It’s one of the few true power positions, but it also requires a level of athleticism and defensive ability to where you can’t just throw any old hulk over there. He’d get eaten alive by too many hot shot grounders. That’s what seemingly makes it one of the toughest spots on the team to fill. You need that athleticism, you need a strong arm, and you ideally would also have some semblance of extra base-hitting ability.

With second base, you can hide athletic infielders who don’t have the arm or the pop. With first base, obviously they’re almost exclusively lacking in athleticism, but they generally come with more power. A competent third baseman who has all three facets of the game is kind of a unicorn! And yet, with few exceptions, the Mariners have been pretty well stocked at the position dating back to the mid 90s (and maybe beyond).

Eugenio Suarez, Kyle Seager before him, then there was Adrian Beltre, David Bell, Russ Davis, Mike Blowers, and way back in the day, a young and fit Edgar Martinez.

The last time we didn’t really have much of anything at third base, you have to go back to 2010 and the first half of 2011. That’s when we had a year of Jose Lopez, and half a year of Chone Figgins (before Seager got the call-up and promptly took over). I don’t know if you remember those days, but they were terrible! And, unless something huge happens soon, I think 2024 is going to look a lot like those days.

I don’t care what anyone says, Luis Urias stinks! Even at his very best, in 2021, he had a 112 OPS+, which is better than average, but by no means great. Josh Rojas appears to be his platoon partner over there – at least, on paper – but he’s only valuable if he’s hitting for a high average. Neither one has extreme power numbers; Urias is probably better than Rojas in that regard, but I can’t imagine – as a righty – he’s going to have much success hitting in Seattle.

Who else are we looking at? Maybe Dylan Moore, maybe Sam Haggerty; the usual suspects of suck.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the moment the Mariners traded Suarez, they were punting on the third base spot. Not that I have tremendous confidence Suarez will bounce back in 2024, but I have WAY more confidence in that than I do the Mariners having a competent third baseman currently on their roster.

If we don’t see the third base spot hitting in the bottom third of the order, it’ll be both a surprise and probably a total breach of judgment. Just be prepared for a humongous black hole in that spot.

It’s frustrating to know this now, and it’s not even Spring Training yet. If the Mariners somehow hang around contention, they MIGHT make a deadline deal for an actual third baseman. But, they could save us a lot of headaches by just doing a deal with someone NOW! Let’s get ahead of it, before we’re all booing every single third baseman we see.

The Mariners Treated Us To The Ultimate King Felix Weekend, Losing 2 Of 3 Through No Fault Of The Starting Pitching

Felix Hernandez was honored by the Seattle Mariners with an induction into the team’s Hall of Fame over the weekend. Of course, you know I had to be there.

The King and his loyal subjects …

It’s weirdly comforting to see the 2023 Mariners aren’t all that different from those M’s teams of 2005-2019.

Let’s get the baseball part out of the way, because as the title states, the Mariners lost 2 of 3, and they did it in the most Mariners way possible. Just to ramp up expectations that much more, the M’s came out on fire on Friday to win their 8th in a row, by a score of 9-2. You scoff, but I still say they should’ve figured out a way to save some of those runs for the next two days!

Saturday and Sunday were both extra innings nailbiters. Saturday was the big Hall of Fame induction ceremony day, which meant it was the MOST Mariners evening when it came to honoring Felix, right down to George Kirby pitching 9 shutout innings, only for our closer to blow it in the 10th. Sunday’s pitching performance wasn’t quite as impressive, but the game was still tied 2-2 in the 9th, with Munoz once again giving up a late run to potentially suck on the loss, only for Dominic Canzone to bail him out with a game-tying homer. But, then we opted to let Trent Thornton pitch to an impressive lefty – who had just robbed us of a homer in the previous inning – instead of walking him and setting up the double play. He gave up a 2-run bomb, and that was that. 5-3.

Let’s get back to Felix.

Everyone falls all over themselves praising the Mariners for how they handle these events. I dunno, I think they’re on cruise control at this point, though there were some nice touches. My main gripe was the fact that not only were John Stanton and Chuck Armstrong in attendance, but Stanton took it upon himself to handle the bulk of the talking, after Rick Rizzs did his usual stellar job introducing everyone. Why is Stanton even there at all? Why does he have to be on the field? Why is anyone from the front office on the field? No one wants to hear from these guys. No one cares what these guys have to say. No one is THERE for these guys! We’re there for Felix, and the other stars who stopped by to honor him. We’re not there to listen to John Stanton in his extreme monotone drone on and on.

It’s especially poorly-timed coming just two weeks after a trade deadline where this team did pretty much nothing. They CERTAINLY weren’t going to add to the payroll. Now we have to sit there and listen to the representative of this tight-fisted ownership group talk at us? I don’t blame the fans for wanting to boo! But, the Mariners’ organization shouldn’t have put us in that uncomfortable position.

This is what these billionaires don’t get: we don’t like you. Unless you lead this organization to a championship, stay your ass in the shadows. It’s not safe for you out among the rabble. If you get in front of a podium, we’re going to boo the shit out of you. Stanton, to his credit, never stopped talking to let the boos take hold. Keeping the focus strictly on Felix was the smart move, because we can’t rightly boo our hero, now can we? But, nothing that Stanton said couldn’t have been said by Rizzs. We LIKE Rizzs! More importantly, he gets paid to speak for a living! He has tone and inflection in his voice! Stanton should’ve felt lucky to be sitting on the same field as someone as great as Felix, but he had no business whatsoever getting behind a plugged-in microphone and verbally holding us hostage for 10 minutes.

It was cool to see who showed up. Edgar and Dan, of course. Ichiro, naturally. Then Jaime Moyer of all people! What a treat! And the big get: Ken Griffey Jr. What a great guy! The best all-time Mariner coming to help induct the second-best all-time Mariner. The surprise of the event was having Adrian Beltre give his congratulations via video, and then stop the show by walking out onto the field to give Felix a big ol’ bear hug. Just outstanding!

So, as I alluded to, I didn’t go to the game on Friday. They weren’t giving anything away, as far as I can tell, and the big event was a fireworks show afterwards. No thanks. But, I made it a point to go to both Saturday and Sunday’s games.

I ended up stopping by Sluggers around 3pm for a couple beers before meeting up with some friends. We got into the stadium in plenty of time to get more beverages and sit in our seats for the ceremony. We had seats in the 300 level near the Lookout Landing bar in the far corner, but unfortunately it was reserved for a private party, so we couldn’t partake of their services. Instead, we opted to be the oldest guys in The Pen for the last few innings, which was … an experience.

I went with my fiance for the Sunday game. Even though we got to the stadium prior to the gates opening, my hopes of getting the bobblehead were initially dashed thanks to the crazy lines to get inside. People were wrapped around like it was still Saturday night! So, we went to an outdoor bar next to the Seahawks’ stadium and sat outside until the lines died down. To my surprise, when we got in they still had some bobbleheads left over! Which was nice, because I was dreading having to go on eBay and buy one at an inflated mark-up.

It was super fun to see Felix again, and to celebrate his brilliant Mariners career. It’s one of the shames of our collective sports experiences that he never got a chance to start in the post-season, but I’ll always cherish the fact that he was always a Mariner, and that I got to enjoy his excellence every five days for so many years.

Felix & Me …

My Least-Favorite Seattle-Based Athletes, Part 2: My Top (or Bottom) 10

We got Part 1 in yesterday; now it’s time for the thrilling conclusion.

I don’t know how you’re supposed to do a ranking of your least-favorite things. I guess it makes the most sense to say that #1 is my VERY LEAST favorite athlete and go from there. So, here it is:

  1. Richie Sexson
  2. Chone Figgins
  3. Kendall Gill
  4. Jim McIlvaine
  5. Jesus Montero
  6. Jerramy Stevens
  7. Carlos Silva
  8. Kelly Jennings
  9. Justin Smoak
  10. Spencer Hawes

In the 2006/2007 season, I didn’t have a lot of experience following college basketball. My first brush with Husky basketball came in 1998, when Bob Bender’s squad had a heartbreaking loss to UConn in the Sweet Sixteen. If I remember correctly, one of our teachers brought a TV into the classroom and we got to see the end of the game live. Anyway, I didn’t really keep in touch with the Dawgs until the Lorenzo Romar era. So, my expectations were a little warped. Romar led the Huskies to the NCAA Tournament three years in a row by the time the 2006/2007 season came around. I thought that’s just how it goes! The Huskies are great at basketball now and will be for the rest of my life! Sure, we lost Brandon Roy, Bobby Jones, and Jamaal Williams, but we were coming off of back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances, and we’d just brought in a 5-star center in Spencer Hawes. Of course the good times would continue to roll! Him and Brockman and Q-Pon, let’s go! Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Hawes was a considerable disappointment, averaging only 15 points per game, and not even leading the team in rebounds. We finished a mediocre 19-13, with no post-season basketball to be played, and then he left for the NBA. In 2007/2008, we went on to finish with a losing record before picking back up again in 2008/2009. Anyway, I’ve never cared much for One & Done players since that point. They’ve never worked out for the Huskies, anyway. Hawes was my first experience with that, and in many ways the least impressive of the bunch.

Justin Smoak was just a boil on my ass, man. We had something great. For one brief, shining half-season, we had the incomparable Cliff Lee in a Mariners uniform. Of all the guys who played for a Seattle organization for just over two months (he, unfortunately, missed most of his April in 2010 to an injury), Cliff Lee is my favorite. I still look back fondly at those 13 starts. Those 13 glorious starts where it was Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, in their primes, in the same rotation. It was a perfect situation: we traded for Lee heading into 2010. It was the final year of his deal. Either he’d help push us into playoff contention, or – what actually happened – he’d play well and we’d get to flip him to a pitching-needy team at the deadline for franchise-altering prospects. It was made all the more perfect because the guys we gave up to get him were total duds, so this was an opportunity for a true, can’t-miss fleecing of some poor, hapless MLB team. That team ended up being the Texas Rangers, and the biggest prize coming back in return was Justin Smoak. We no longer call it “Warning Track Power” anymore ’round these parts; instead, we call it Justin Smoak Power. The only thing he brought to the table was a decent eye at the plate. But, we got none of the power we were expecting, none of the batting average we were expecting, and maybe some okay first base defense, but you can literally throw anyone in at first base and get by, so whatever. Of course, to add insult to injury, Smoak went to Toronto and briefly played like an All Star, hitting 38 homers one year.

Kelly Jennings was a first round draft pick in 2006, the year after our first Super Bowl run. I don’t know what the front office saw in him, but I consider that the beginning of the end of that particular era of Seahawks football (if not that, then the Hutch Poison Pill debacle, but I believe both happened in the same offseason). Jennings fucking sucked, man. I also don’t know what the coaching staff saw in him, but he kept starting for us year after year, and year after year he continuously got burned. What’s worse is that he was remarkably healthy, when everyone around him would go down from time to time. Unlucky! Two career interceptions in 91 games. Five miserable seasons in a Seahawks uniform, followed by one in Cincinnati, and then he was rightfully out of the league. I don’t know how Pete Carroll let him play for us that first year here, but in retrospect we were able to get Clinton McDonald for him in trade, so at least there was a silver lining.

The whole Carlos Silva thing I put more on the front office. Why would you EVER give that guy a 4-year $48 million deal? Even by today’s standards, that’s a bad contract. But, it was downright unforgivable in 2008. Nevertheless, we were coming off of a surprisingly-competent 2007 season, and say what you want about Silva, but he was an innings eater and a groundball specialist in his career to that point. Pair him with Safeco Field and it should’ve been at least passable. But, it was a fucking nightmare from the jump. He ate more shit in that 2008 season than I’ve ever seen. Thankfully, his 2009 season was mostly lost to injury, and then we managed to trade him for someone else’s problem (in this case, Milton Bradley from the Cubs, who was just as much of a cancer in the Mariners’ uniform as he was for them). Silva never figured out how to pitch, struggling through 2010 before his career ended. What’s worse, we still had to pay him a combined $9 million over those final two seasons, even though he wasn’t playing for us. Just a disaster.

I don’t remember much about Jerramy Stevens’ tenure with the Huskies, other than it was frought with criminal activity. Maybe some drunken driving? Didn’t he plow his car into a building or something? I dunno, maybe those are all allegations. Anyway, my lasting memory of him in a Seahawks uniform is essentially guaranteeing a victory in Super Bowl XL, followed by having one of the shittiest games I’ve ever seen. I literally jumped for joy at one point when I thought he’d made a big catch downfield – to the point where I accidentially punched a hole in the ceiling of our rental – only to slump in my chair in defeat when I saw that he dropped it. That’s what you got with Stevens. You thought you were getting greatness, but he’d figure out a way to let you down. It didn’t help that we also blew a first round pick on him; I wasn’t sad when we let him walk.

Remember when I said that you can throw literally anyone in there at first base and get by defensively? Someone go and tell Jesus Montero that, because he was so inept physically that he couldn’t even manage that simple task. We all suspected – when we traded away our second ace in Michael Pineda to bolster our offense – that Montero probably wouldn’t stick at catcher. But, God damn, we had no idea how useless he actually was! This was one of the highest-rated prospects in all of Major League Baseball at one point! He was a can’t-miss offensive threat, with power to all fields … except when he came to Seattle and fell on his fucking face. The low point was when a coach or a scout – monitoring him in a minor league stint – sent him an ice cream sandwich (a crack about his lack of physical fitness, no doubt) IN the actual dugout, only for Montero to find him in the stands and presumably start brawling with him (I don’t remember all the details, nor do I care to look it up). His career ended after 38 Major League games in 2015; no other team bothered to elevate him above the AAA level after that.

I’ve already talked about Jim McIlvaine ad nauseam, but he was the beginning of the end for the great Supersonics run of the early-to-mid 90’s. We signed him to a fat 7-year contract even though he did nothing but be tall. He gave us nothing that we couldn’t have gotten from some 7-foot scrub off the streets. Fans hated him from the jump – clearly seeing what the organization could not – and Shawn Kemp resented the fact that this loser was making more money. As a result, Kemp forced his way out of Seattle, and we were all worse off as a result. We literally could’ve just brought back all the guys from 1996 and been better off in 1997; instead, we had to tinker, and it bit us in the ass. The Sonics would go on making dumb fucking decisions for the rest of their time in existence, including selling to the Starbucks guy, followed by selling to a group of Oklahomans who were openly looking to move the franchise before the ink was dry on the deal.

Of course, Jim McIlvaine wasn’t the start of the Sonics making boneheaded moves. They brought Kendall Gill in prior to the 1993 season. His claim to fame is being on two VERY underachieving Supersonics teams that each lost in the first round, including the first number 1 seed to ever lose to an 8 seed. He didn’t come close to being the offensive weapon he was the previous two years in Charlotte, and as a result, we never quite had our proper fourth option offensively when we needed him most (not until Hersey Hawkins joined up and filled that void. Oh, don’t get me wrong, Gill THOUGHT he was a stud offensively, but he shot like shit, .317 from 3-point range his first year, and only improved to .368 the second year. Also, if I recall correctly, he never got along with Gary Payton either, which is an OBVIOUS red flag. Fuck him.

Chone Figgins came over in the same offseason when we traded for Cliff Lee. I was riding high praising this organization for their shrewd moves. Who knew they’d all fucking backfire?! I never wrote a formal blog post on his signing – I was still in my infancy as far as regular sports blogging was concerned – but I remember distinctly being thrilled. He seemed like the perfect guy to play in Seattle. He was a jack of all trades for the Angels in his career, playing all over the field. He always hit for a high average, so even though power was hard to come by in this part of the country, that didn’t matter because that wasn’t his game. His game was to be an on-base machine behind Ichiro in the lineup, setting the tables for the rest of our hitters to have a field day with all the RBIs they’d be generating. AND, he was coming off of his very best season as a pro, so he should’ve been smack dab in the prime of his life. At the very least, his skills should’ve sustained, so even as he declined, it should’ve been a long, slow decline. Instead, he fell off a cliff as soon as he started here. It makes no sense! He couldn’t do fucking anything except cash his checks. While I unfortunately don’t have a blog post about his signing here, I do have a pretty funny one right after he was released that you can check out. It pretty much sums up my feelings about a guy who was also a clubhouse cancer.

“Richie Sexson Sucks.” I used to have a LiveJournal, and for a while there in 2007, the start of every title was “Richie Sexson Sucks” followed by whatever it is I wanted to write about that day. Sometimes it was about him, sometimes it had nothing to do with him. But, he DID suck that year, and I felt the need to let everyone know about it as much as humanly possible. We had to suffer over half of a whole fucking year with his .205 average and his severe drop-off in power. Then, he came back in 2008 and was even worse, to the point where we released him that July. He was brought in the same time as Adrian Beltre, as part of our mid-2000’s spending spree under Bill Bavasi; that did NOT bear any fruit. The lowlight of his career was throwing a helmet or a bat or something at a pitcher who didn’t even hit him. If he wasn’t already a joke, he was after that. He wasn’t the first hometown guy I hated, but he was the guy I hated the most for a period of time. I couldn’t get over the fact that we kept running him out there every day! Granted, I didn’t fully grasp how money works in baseball, other than knowing fully-guaranteed contracts were fucking dumb. If you suck, teams should be able to cut you, especially if we’re a ways into your contract. No one epitomizes the sports contract albatross quite like Richie Sexson. Big Sexy my ass!

I’m Over The Huge Mega-Deal In Free Agency For The Mariners

Being a fan of the Mariners from 2005-2018 is the baseball fan equivalent of being a Vietnam War veteran. I’m still having flashbacks. There are any number of terrible free agent signings both within that period and outside of that period (for the purposes of this post, when I talk about free agents, I’m talking exclusively about the outside free agents we’ve signed to come to Seattle, not the guys who were Mariners that we then re-signed once they hit free agency), but from 2005-2018, I think the four biggest marquee free agent signings we all know and love are Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz.

Cruz, admittedly, is an absolute success story, the likes of which is rare and beautiful. On the opposite end of the spectrum, hearing the name Richie Sexson again makes me want to shut my eyes and never look at the Seattle Mariners ever again. When in reality, it was more of a mixed bag, with his power numbers holding up for two seasons, before he fell off a cliff.

Beltre, I feel like, gets more kudos than … whatever the opposite of kudos are, because his defense was elite, because he was best friends with King Felix, and because he settled into a role that was fairly reliable. However, he came here off of a 2004 season with the Dodgers where he finished 2nd in MVP voting. We came into it expecting 48 homers per year, and got far FAR less. As for Cano, I think we all had fair expectations for what that was. 10 years, $24 million per year. We expected about half of those years to be good, and half of those years to be in severe overpaid decline. And that’s pretty much what we got (with the silver lining that maybe we got a good trade out of the whole thing, depending on what Kelenic ends up turning into). But, regardless, it sucks that you’re investing in someone for a decade, knowing full well that half of those years will be miserable failures (only able to get out from under it by taking advantage of a know-nothing GM).

The point of my bringing those players up in this context is the fact that paying huge sums in free agency doesn’t come with a great success rate. You can say that about trades, you can say that about drafts, you can say that about lower-priced free agents. But, obviously, the cost is far less for everything else. But, when you make a huge splash in free agency, the expectation is that those players will not only come in and make an immediate impact, but they’ll be the cornerstones of your franchise. They’ll put you over the top. If you were a losing organization, they’ll turn you into playoff contenders; if you were already playoff contenders, then they’ll turn you into championship contenders.

Every year in the baseball offseason, the biggest storylines revolve around the Hot Stove. Those elite players who’ve hit free agency are the most talked-about. And, teams like the Mariners – who have relatively low payrolls, who are also coming off of a playoff run – are often expected to be big players in those sweepstakes. And the fans ALWAYS get mad when the Mariners opt to sit out the top tiers of free agency.

It doesn’t make sense, for a variety of reasons. For starters, if you just look at the history of the Seattle Mariners, they don’t make huge splashes in free agency in these situations. If you think about the four players I discussed above, those were all situations where we were trying to bail out a sinking ship. We were never in a position to bolster a team from good to great in that period. The last time the Mariners were great, they largely built up the roster in response to losing other major stars (Randy, Griffey, A-Rod), going with less-heralded all stars over those supernovas.

The other big reason why free agency doesn’t make sense is that it really ties you down to one or two major decisions. The reason why building from within is preferred over the alternative is because you have more information. You’re extending guys who have already had success here. For a team playing half its games in Seattle, that means everything. We see over and over again players come here and struggle, with the ballpark, the climate, the distance away from their offseason homes, whathaveyou. It doesn’t matter if they’re power hitters, line drive hitters, or speedy bloop hitters. So, literally anyone you bring here is a coin flip at best; why would you want to tie yourself down for 5-10 years on someone if you don’t even know if they can succeed here? If you trade for someone and they stink, you can get out of it in a year or two without major financial repercussions. Free agents have their money fully guaranteed.

I would also argue – even with the very best players – there’s a reason why they reached free agency. Aaron Judge was your 2022 American League MVP. He broke the A.L. record for home runs. He’s one of the top three most popular players in all of baseball. The Yankees have all the money and revenue in the world. If they REALLY wanted to avoid all this, if they REALLY wanted him to stick around long term, they would’ve already worked out an extension. As we saw with Julio Rodriguez, as the Angels did with Mike Trout, as countless other teams have done with their super-duper-stars, when you want someone to stick around, you figure out how to get it done before they hit free agency.

I’d be curious to know the success rate of players who sign the top 5-10 free agent contracts every year. How often are those players just as good or better than they were prior to signing? And how long before they decline? How often do those players decline right away, or within a season or two? I remember lots of horror stories from the first half of 2022, when the bulk of the uber-free agents were all struggling with their new teams. There’s a chance Aaron Judge signs a contract somewhere else and is just as good as he was with the Yankees. But, there’s a much BETTER chance he signs somewhere and is worse. But that team is stuck paying him an insane amount of money, and guaranteeing him a spot in their everyday lineup, which is the ultimate double whammy.

I don’t need that. Honestly, I don’t need that ever again. I’d rather the Mariners pay their home-grown guys. I’d rather we trade for players nearing the end of their initial contract, who are incentivized to play hard to try to earn more money. I like the way this team has been built. I don’t want them to suddenly change course and start chasing the huge names, only to have those players struggle and waste all of our time.

Frankly, I’m glad that’s the plan. It’s hard enough to get everything right with your own guys. Evan White’s contract looks like a mini-disaster at the moment. J.P. Crawford seems to have more value as a team leader and chemistry guy than he does with his bat. So, I don’t understand how we EVER get things right with outside free agency. That just seems like the crapshoot to end all crapshoots.

The Mariners Were Swept In The First Half Of The Home & Home Series With The Dodgers

Ways to lose: the M’s have found a few.

I just wrote, on Monday, about how with teams like these Mariners, sometimes the offense will be great & the pitching will be bad, and sometimes the offense will go in the tank when the pitching is good. Then, as if I conjured it out of thin air, it came to be over the last two games.

How does a Monday evening slugfest sound to you? Justin Dunn had another hard go of it, managing to make it only two innings while giving up six runs. In his defense, Corey Seager tried to break all of his ribs with a line drive in the second at-bat of the game, and after that apparently Dunn couldn’t throw his slider (I’m assuming his best pitch?) without pain.

Miraculously, the bats picked him up, and for a while there had the Mariners in line for a potential victory! Moore, Lewis, Seager, Nola, and White all had multiple hits; one of those hits (apiece) were home runs for Lewis and Seager, and both of those hits were home runs for White (who, again, is putting up more quality at-bats of late). The Mariners were down 6-2 after two innings, but held an 8-6 lead going into the bottom of the seventh.

Then, in walked Matt Magill – one of the few bullpen arms whose praises I’ve sung in this space – who had yet to give up a run all season. He got two outs in this one, but five runs came across to break his scoreless streak. We got one more run in the eighth, but it wasn’t to be, as the Dodgers held on 11-9.

Out of sight, out of mind, though! Yesterday was a new day! Our ace, Marco Gonzales, was on the hill, and he was truly pitching like an ace this time around. In 100-degree Los Angeles heat, he went 7 innings (throwing 102 pitches), giving up 1 run on 5 hits and 0 walks, while tying his career high with 9 strikeouts! Simply and truly remarkable, with just a teeny, tiny hiccup of a jam in the sixth that he was able to pitch his way out of. He also, not for nothing, got some defensive help in this one, with a superb sprinting catch in the outfield by Kyle Lewis – leaping up and catching the ball as it would’ve hit the top of the wall for at least a double – as well as an exciting double play started by J.P. Crawford – who gobbled up a ground ball in the shift, tagged the runner trying to go to second, then rocketed a throw to first to end the inning. Again – and thankfully – some of the high-end kids continue to impress, giving me hope for the future of this organization.

But, the Mariners didn’t score until the top of the seventh, and even then only managed a single run. It didn’t feel like – when I watched this one almost all the way through – there were too many chances for the M’s to score, but it turns out there were plenty, as we went 0/7 with runners in scoring position. In that seventh, Austin Nola was up with runners on second and third and nobody out, and the ump rung him up on just an AWFUL called third strike, which really felt like a back-breaker. I would love to visit the universe where this game happened and his at-bat was handled properly (preferably by Robot Umps, of course), because I feel like he at least had a single in him – if not a walk to load the bases and put even more pressure on the Dodgers’ bullpen – but what can you do? Tim Lopes grounded out into a fielder’s choice RBI, but that was all she wrote.

In a 1-1 tie heading into the eighth inning, Scott Servais – for some reason – handed the ball to Dan Altavilla. While I agree, it’s better to give him a clean inning instead of having him come in with inherited runners, I’m wondering what he has EVER done in his career to deserve this level of trust? This is his fifth year with the Mariners; five years of Major League appearances. In all that time, he’s never been able to stick for a full season, often being sent down to the minors to continue working on his mechanics, or dealing with injuries. I can’t fault him for getting hurt, but in spite of a fastball that can hit 99mph, he has in no way, shape, or form managed to improve. The only reason he’s up here now, I’m sure, is because we just don’t have anyone who’s better; the rest of the bullpen is just as much of a disaster (he’s also still on a cheap, rookie deal, and I can’t imagine he has too many more option years left). So, in that sense, maybe it was just his “turn” and it doesn’t matter who Servais throws out there in the eighth inning of a tie game. But, whatever the case may be, it was frustrating to see Altavilla out there, and it was frustrating watching him gag away the game while throwing 29 pitches to get three outs. If anything, I guess I’m surprised he only gave up the one run, and we only lost 2-1.

As I feared, this brings our losing streak to seven games, with both the Dodgers and Mariners now flying up to Seattle for another two-game set here. We shot our wad with a 9-run scoring outburst, and we made as good a use as we could’ve hoped for with our ace, so breaking this streak seems outside the realm of probability in the next two days. We’re 7-18 with a -50 run differential (only the Red Sox are worse at -52). We’re still in line for the third overall draft pick (with the Red Sox taking over the top spot and the Pirates falling to second; though based on winning percentage you’d want to flip those two teams).

In more lighthearted news, ESPN just rated the Mariners as the third-most cursed franchise in the Major Leagues. Even that, somehow, feels like an insult; how are we not number one?! The only team to have never been to a World Series feels about as cursed as you can get. With only four post-season appearances in our history – dating back to 1977 – I dunno. It’s more than just the 2001 team winning 116 games and losing in the ALCS, I can tell you that. A franchise that had Griffey, Edgar, Randy, and A-Rod (four surefire Hall of Famers, if A-Rod wasn’t a steroid user who spent the bulk of his playing career being totally and completely unlikable to fans, players, and media alike) managed to do nothing. That same franchise who would go on to have Ichiro, Felix, Beltre, Cano, and Cruz likewise … nada. There have been lots of great players who’ve come through this moribund franchise over the years. If that’s not the makings of an all-time curse … I dunno, give it another decade, I’m sure ESPN will come around.

The Top Ten Biggest Seattle Sports Disappointments

It’s a cloudy-ass day in July and we haven’t had any sports that I give a shit about in over three months, so why not kick off the month with a big ball of negativity?!

Once again, in the absence of any decent sports news, I take inspiration from the Brock & Salk podcast, where one of the listeners asked the question of who is on your Seattle sports Mount Rushmore for biggest disappointments? I’m clearly unable to limit my disgust to just four individuals, so you get a Top Ten from me (with an extra Honorable Mention – FREE OF CHARGE – because these disappointments are like my babies, I can’t leave any of them out!).

Being a Sports Disappointment is obviously a nebulous concept with lots of different definitions, so here’s mine (for the sake of today’s argument): these are people who we expected to be great when they came here, and ultimately totally sucked. How they got here is irrelevant, so I’m not factoring in (as heavily) if it was a lopsided trade, a high draft pick, or an inflated contract (with the basis that all of these players were terrible for their respective Seattle sports teams, one would assume a poor trade, draft slot, or contract is a given anyway). Similarly, this can’t be based on someone else that our team passed on in the draft, because there would be inherent disappointment already built into that selection.

Malik McDowell, for instance, doesn’t qualify for this list. He’s certainly one of the most damaging draft picks of the last decade for the Seahawks, but as a second rounder, I don’t think expectations were astronomical that he’d be anything truly amazing. Likewise, trading away Scottie Pippen for Olden Polynice doesn’t qualify, because I would like to think most people noted that right away to be a terrible deal, and as such I can’t imagine there were great expectations for ol’ #0.

Without further ado, let’s get to our Honorable Mention: Jesus Montero. The Mariners traded for the former #1 overall baseball prospect early in 2012 from the Yankees. Given Michael Pineda’s career since he left Seattle, this is one of those infamous Lose/Lose deals. Nevertheless, the next ten guys I talk about must’ve been REALLY bad, because Montero was as mediocre as it gets. The main reason why he’s on the outside looking in is because by the time he came to Seattle, there was already a building consensus that he wasn’t long for the catcher position. He just didn’t have the build, the skills, nor the presence with the pitching staff for his defense to measure up. The hope was that maybe he could land at first base with some practice, but ultimately I think most saw him as a future DH. Regardless of that, there was NO QUESTION that his bat would be what provided the bulk of his value, and when you’re talking about those Mariners squads from 2008-2013, a hulking power bat from the right side of the plate was our white whale. Montero was SUPPOSED to be our cleanup hitter for the next decade; instead he hasn’t been in the Majors since 2015, and is more known for his ice cream sandwich fight than his “prowess” on the baseball diamond.

#10 – Danny Hultzen (Mariners)

This is the only real draft bust on the list (not to say there aren’t some REALLY BAD draft picks going forward, but at least those guys played a little bit!). Hultzen was a #2 overall draft pick, considered to be the safest starting pitcher prospect of the 2011 draft, and appeared to be on the fast track to make it to the Major Leagues within 2-3 years. Even if there was a question of his stuff – and his high-ceiling/ace potential – if his arm injuries didn’t totally derail him, we WOULD HAVE seen him pitch for the Mariners relatively early in his career. We’ll never know how disappointing that might’ve been, but I remember being really high on this guy when we got him, and it’s one of the great What If’s in recent Mariners history.

#9 – Justin Smoak (Mariners)

He’s sort of in that Jesus Montero realm, in that he was formerly a very highly-rated prospect, with the bloom starting to come off the rose by the time the M’s were able to acquire him. Oddly enough, when we made the deal in 2010, it’s reported that the Mariners turned down a proposed offer from the Yankees which would’ve included Montero! What did we do to get so lucky as to end up with BOTH when all was said and done?! Again, we’re talking about the Dead Ball Mariners of 2008-2013 or so; Smoak was really the first bite at the apple of trying to turn around our moribund offense. Switch-hitter with power, elite first base defense, good eye at the plate, and a proven minor league track record to hit for average, get on base at a high clip, and impress with his power to all fields. That ended up translating to the Bigs as Warning Track Power, someone who couldn’t really hit from the right side at all, a very LOW batting average, and someone who would consistently roll over on pitches instead of hitting to all fields as advertised. While his defense played, and he had an okay eye for taking walks, he also struck out a ton and didn’t start figuring out how to play at this level until he left for Toronto, where he was an All Star in 2017 (with 22+ homers in the last three seasons, the high being 38 in that aforementioned All Star season).

#8 – Aaron Curry (Seahawks)

As a #4 overall draft pick in 2009, you can certainly point to any number of linebackers taken after him and lament Tim Ruskell’s poor decision-making. BUT! I said we’re not doing that here! So, instead let’s just look at the situation at the time: the Seahawks were coming off of a pretty abysmal 2008 season where the defense just had NOTHING going for it. The offense looked like it MIGHT be salvagable with our aging veterans, but the defense needed an injection of youth and explosiveness. Curry was famously the “safest” pick off the board, as someone who could come in, play right away, and play at a high level. Even then, though, his game started getting picked apart pretty quickly. We soon learned there wasn’t much of a pass-rushing threat to his game, which made him ostensibly a coverage linebacker. The Seahawks have long prided themselves on quality linebacker play, so that checks out. Except, as it turned out, Curry couldn’t even do THAT well! He did, in fact, nothing well, and two years later we traded him to the Raiders in the middle of the 2011 season for draft picks (one of which would turn out to be J.R. Sweezy, which wasn’t too shabby of a return, all things considered).

#7 – Dustin Ackley (Mariners)

Speaking of #2 overall draft picks, welcome to the first pick of the Jack Zduriencik Era in 2009! I wrote pretty extensively on the topic of Dustin Ackley over the years, to the point where the rest of my list today SERIOUSLY conflicts with that post I just linked to. But, I would argue the parameters of the argument today are a little different. I’m trying to eliminate all outside factors and just focus on the players themselves. Yes, Ackley was VERY disappointing! He was supposed to be a guy who hit for a very high average, with enough pop/speed/defense to make him a regular All Star for his Major League career. Instead, he was middling at best and hasn’t cracked a Major League roster since 2016. I would also put part of the blame on the Mariners’ front office, as they continuously dicked around with him. He was a primo first baseman in college, with some experience in the outfield. What did we do? We made him a second baseman, which almost certainly stunted his development. Then, when that failed, we tried to make him a centerfielder, even though he really didn’t have the range or ability to cover that much ground (especially in Safeco Field at the time). And yet, the bat never showed up in Seattle, so that’s ultimately why he’s such a disappointment.

#6 – Chone Figgins (Mariners)

You really, REALLY hate to see it! This was the first big free agent bust of the Jack Zduriencik Era: four years, $36 million in December of 2009. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was for this signing! By this point, we’d long realized that Safeco Field – with its configuration, and with our Marine Layer in Seattle – would be death to home run hitters. Guys like Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson, among others, tried and ultimately failed to replicate their prior glories in Seattle. But, Figgins was the opposite of that! He was an undersized Jack-Of-All-Trades type of Swiss Army Knife you could plug in at nearly EVERY position on the field, with zero power hype to speak of whatsoever! And, most importantly, he’d hit for the Angels in a big way (.291 average & .363 on-base percentage in Anaheim across 8 seasons before signing with the Mariners). Slot him in at third base (his preferred position) and at the top of your batting lineup, and watch him hit .300 and steal 40+ bases! He somehow reached that stolen base plateau in his first year here, but his average dropped about 40 points overnight. He couldn’t get along with the Mariners’ management (and, presumably, some of the players) and was deemed the very worst signing of Jack Zduriencik’s career. Smarter baseball people than myself probably saw all this coming, but I’ll admit it was a rude awakening for me.

#5 – Percy Harvin (Seahawks)

If this were a list of my own personal Most Loathed Seattle Sports Athletes, Harvin would probably rank higher. I have no problem invoking his name among the greatest all-time Seahawks blunders because he is SO unlikable (the peak being him punching out Golden Tate before our Super Bowl victory in the 2013 season). Why he doesn’t rank higher here is the fact that we DID win that Super Bowl (mostly in spite of him), on top of the fact that I think most of us realized – when the deal was made – that it was too high a price to pay for ANYONE, even with his ability (at the time). Still, he had proven in his career with the Vikings to be a lethal gadget player on offense, and one of the best return men in the Special Teams department. While we could see the cost in draft picks and contract compensation was stratospheric, it was hard not to dream big about what this offense could be with Harvin in the fold. Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, AND Percy Harvin?! Come on! And, then he immediately got injured upon arrival, and didn’t really end up making any impact whatsoever until we reached the Super Bowl. The highlight of his Seahawks career was the kickoff return for a touchdown against the Broncos. Some thought he deserved consideration for the Super Bowl MVP, but we were already up 22-0 at the time, so I mean. The bottom line is, Harvin dogged it in 2014 – taking himself out of games, refusing to play through anything more than a hangnail – and was traded in the middle of the season for whatever we could get. So much wasted money and potential.

#4 – Erik Bedard (Mariners)

Everyone points to the lopsided deal – that sent the Orioles a ton of quality baseball players – but the true crime is just how bad Bedard became as soon as he got here! He was a bona fide Ace-type pitcher for Baltimore – so much so that he was deemed to be the #1 over Felix Hernandez in his first year here – and the expectation was that our rotation would lead us back to the playoffs with Bedard in the fold. Instead, he was a consummate Five-And-Dive artist who both stunk AND couldn’t stay healthy. Why he’s not higher on this list is because all of those Mariners teams were VERY terrible and would have been regardless, with our without Bedard. Still a bitter pill to swallow.

#3 – Rick Mirer (Seahawks)

The bigger disappointment here is the fact that the Seahawks had the #2 pick at all, and not the #1 (which would’ve guaranteed us Drew Bledsoe). In that Dustin Ackley piece, I had Dan McGwire among the biggest draft pick disappointments in Seattle sports history, but that largely hinged on who we DIDN’T get in that draft – namely: Brett Favre – but I don’t think anyone REALLY expected greatness out of McGwire (except for the inept Seahawks ownership group at the time). Rick Mirer, on the other hand, was very highly regarded. Even if he wasn’t the ideal QB of that draft, he wasn’t supposed to be a bad fall-back option. But, he was worse than anyone could’ve possibly imagined. He nearly destroyed my standing as a Seahawks fan for the rest of the 1990’s! The saving grace for Mirer is the fact that we were able to flip him for a first round draft pick in 1997.

#2 – Jeff Cirillo (Mariners)

I just remember LOVING this deal so much! In December of 2001 – coming off of the Mariners’ 116-win campaign – we were looking at one of the most complete teams in the Major Leagues. One of our main weak spots was third base, where we employed the pedestrian David Bell. Cirillo, on the other hand, had a remarkable 10-year career to that point with the Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies, where he hit over .300, had an on-base percentage over .450, hardly ever struck out, and played a quality third base! I mean, on a team with Ichiro, Boone, Olerud, Edgar, Cameron, Wilson, Guillen, McLemore, and the rest, Cirillo was only going to put us MORE over the top! That’s when we got our first big taste of what happens when guys come over from Colorado: the thin air they play in made hitting at home a breeze. Meanwhile, in Seattle, even for someone like Cirillo – who wasn’t a natural power hitter by any means – it seems like Safeco just got in everyone’s heads if nothing else. He hit for a miserable .234 across two partial seasons, and his on-base percentage plummeted to a ridiculous .295! To add insult to injury, those two seasons coincided with two of the most frustrating years to be a Mariners fan, where both teams won 93 games, yet failed to make the playoffs because baseball is dumb and only had one Wild Card team at the time. To add even more insult to even more injury, we traded him away in early 2004 and got essentially nothing back in return.

#1 – Vin Baker (Supersonics)

You don’t see a lot of Sonics on this list, because for the most part – until the bitter end – we were a pretty well-run organization. Sure, you can point to the litany of failed centers we drafted in the 2000’s, but I would argue most fans saw through those duds the minute their names were called. Similarly, everyone wondered why someone like Jim McIlvaine was given such a high-money contract, so to be “disappointed” would mean you’d have to have high expectations for someone who had hardly done anything in his career to that point! Vin Baker, on the other hand, was a multi-year All Star in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks. I almost didn’t want to include Baker on this list, because for some reason I have memories of more good times than actually existed. The truth of the matter is – upon trading for him when Shawn Kemp forced his way out in a 3-team deal, justifiably, because McIlvaine – the Sonics only enjoyed ONE quality year out of Baker. The first year here, the 1997/1998 season, when he maintained his All Star streak and led the Sonics to a semifinals appearance in George Karl’s last go-around in Seattle.

He then immediately fell off the cliff. The strike-shortened season saw Baker’s alcoholism creep in, resulting in a ballooning of his weight that drastically reduced his effectiveness on the court. For some reason, in spite of his fall-off, the Sonics rewarded him with a 7-year, $86 million deal. Yet, he was never the same, with three increasingly-mediocre seasons to follow before we were able to trade him to the Celtics for a bunch of role players. There’s a lot of unfair resentment towards Baker for tanking his career the way he did, but I think mostly people just feel sorry for him. No one in Seattle wanted to see Shawn Kemp leave; indeed Wally Walker & Co. did a remarkable job of destroying a championship-calibre squad. But, I can’t tell you how happy I was that we were able to get Baker here initially! His game – if maybe not his personality – fit this team PERFECTLY! He had a better post-up game than Kemp, could shoot from long range better than Kemp, and overall you didn’t have to worry about the ups & downs. Baker was a steady 20/10 type of guy when he got here, night-in and night-out. Which makes his post-1998 years SO disappointing! His wasn’t the type of game that should’ve deteriorated so quickly. Kemp’s game was more raw athleticism; Baker’s game was fundamental basketball prowess. Yet, when it’s all said and done, two of the great basketball tragedies to come out of that lockout season were Baker and Kemp, both succumbing to being out of shape and never ultimately recovering.

Of Course The Mariners Can’t Even Tank Properly!

I returned from my big Clusterfest weekend dismayed to find the Mariners have gone on a little run of late, winning 5 of 6, including 3 of 4 against the very worst team in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles.

The Mariners are 36-47, which is still hilarious when you factor in our infamous 13-2 start to the season. But, it’s also ridiculously close to .500, particularly when you consider how bad this team has looked for the majority of this season. The Orioles – on the other hand – are a whopping 22-57! They’re doing everything within their power to lose and lose often; the Mariners, on the other hand, still seem to be straddling the fence.

Always and forever on the fence.

I guess it should be noted that there’s no one way to (re)build a franchise, but I think I can take a stab at it, based on who’s currently leading the way in the standings in 2019. Up in the top half of the league, we’re talking about a bunch of teams who were bad for a spell, drafted well, developed their stars, and when it was time to compete, beefed up their team salary with free agents and/or trade acquisitions to put them over the top. That’s not a tried & true formula for every single team; I don’t remember the Yankees or Red Sox really bottoming out, and likewise I don’t recall the Rays or Athletics ever spending ANY money ever. But, the point is, you never see teams middling their way to the top, which is what the Mariners are trying to do and it’s what they’ve done since their inception back in the 70’s.

Once the Mariners got REALLY bad in 2004, they should’ve immediately reversed course, dumped everyone, and gone for a full rebuild. Instead, heading into the 2005 season, the Mariners dropped huge gobs of money into the pockets of Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre (massive overpays for both, as Beltre never approached his 2004 season with the Dodgers, and Sexson was a gigantic drain for this franchise by the time his contract expired in 2008) and the rest is history.

The Mariners have been really unlucky in the last two decades to boot. In years where they were supposed to be bad, they competed out of nowhere; in years where they were supposed to be competitive, they’ve generally flatlined. It’s hard to want to stick to a plan when expectations are defied so often. I mean, what do you do when you resign yourself to sucking, only to find yourself in the thick of breaking a generational playoff-less streak?

But, it’s that very mode of thinking that’s torpedoed this franchise. Not having the wherewithal and the guts to stick with a plan. It’s why this team has churned through managers like a rabid dog with a T-bone steak. It’s why general managers have made panic move after panic move, forever in a reactive position based seemingly on emotions and the whims of an erratic ownership group.

If you look at the top half of baseball, there are the usual suspects, but then there are teams like the Twins, Astros, Indians, Braves, Cubs, Rangers, Brewers, Phillies, and Rockies. Teams clearly trending in the right direction, and teams who underwent massive rebuilds in recent years. Those teams used to be DREADFUL, and now they’re among the best. You don’t HAVE to be the Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers to compete at a high level; you just need to be smart and have a plan and GOD DAMMIT STICK TO THAT PLAN.

Okay. So, let’s say the Mariners finally have a plan. Let’s say 2019 is the first true rebuild in God knows how long. It’s still not the kind of rebuild I believe this team needs, nor is it even a rebuild that makes any sense. “Stepping back” in 2019 to be in contention by (hopefully) 2021 just isn’t realistic. Not when you’re talking about needing to fill 10/12 spots on a Major League pitching staff, including 100% of the bullpen. Not when you’re talking about a dearth of quality pitching in the high minors. Not when you JUST spent an inordinate amount of draft picks this year on replenishing your pitching (when those guys won’t be ready for the Bigs until 2022 at the VERY earliest).

The Mariners believe they currently roster – at the Major League level – players who will be part of the “Next Great Mariners Team”. Guys like Haniger, Gonzales, and Kikuchi. Maybe guys like Vogelbach, Santana, Narvaez, Mallex Smith, and J.P. Crawford. I’ll tell you right now, every single one of those guys have considerable flaws to their games, so you tell me: will the Mariners be competitive by 2021 or 2022? If so, how many of those players will still be on this roster?

The M’s are still the 6th worst team in baseball at the time of this writing, but there are at least 5 teams just ahead of them that will be vying for a Top 10 draft pick by season’s end. At this point, the Orioles, Royals, Tigers, Blue Jays, and Marlins all look like locks to make the Bottom 5 (our only hope is that the Orioles/Jays & Royals/Tigers are in the same divisions, so they play one another 19 times this year). Meanwhile, with how well the hitting has been at times, I could easily see the Mariners slide outside of the Top 10, at which point winning is doing more harm than good.

Then again, it’s not necessarily where you draft, but rather how you develop. That’s the biggest key to success in baseball, over everything else. Based on that, I’m just wasting my words on this team, because the Mariners have to rank among the worst in the game at development. You can hang bad luck on a few players, but the overwhelming majority of Mariners prospects have been just plain bad.

Tempering Expectations For This Mariners Rebuild

What interests me most about the game of baseball is the long game. In football, you’ve got rosters twice the size of a baseball team, yet we see it every year: teams going from worst to first. You can turn around a football team in one offseason! But, in baseball, it takes seemingly forever (and, for an organization like the Mariners, LITERALLY forever).

I did a big, long post about the first successful Mariners rebuild. I originally wrote that in 2013, when we all were hopeful that we were in the middle of the next successful Mariners rebuild. There were so many moves made between the nadir of this franchise (2008) and the next time you could legitimately say the Mariners were in contention for the post-season (2014, when we finished 87-75, just 1 game back of a Wild Card spot) that it truly boggles the mind.

That rebuild was ultimately a failure. It produced three winning seasons between 2014 and 2018, and zero playoff appearances. Following last year’s collapse, Jerry Dipoto made a bunch of moves to jettison veterans and infuse the farm system with prospects. Our veteran holdovers include names like Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc, Roenis Elias, Dan Altavilla, and Dan Vogelbach; most (if not all) of those players will not be on this team the next time it reaches the post-season.

So, we’re stuck rooting for prospects. Rooting for potential. Rooting for the young guys to step up and prove themselves not just worthy of Major League roster spots, but ultimately good enough to get this team back to the playoffs one day (ideally one day very soon). Jerry Dipoto is staking his reputation and his job on these players. If it all falls apart like it did last time, he, Scott Servais, and a bunch of other very smart baseball men will be looking for employment elsewhere.

As I noted, we’ve been through this before. So, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

See, it can be fun and exciting knowing your team is out of it before the season even begins. First, there’s no expectations, so any on-field success you see is all gravy. Then, of course, there’s the factor of the unknown. New, young players you’ve never seen before are ALWAYS more interesting than old veterans who’ve been around for years. We pretty much know what guys like Seager, Healy, Felix, and Leake are; there’s nothing to learn about those guys. So, we pin all our hopes and dreams on the prospects. We want to see them in a Major League uniform right this minute, to pump them full of experience with the hopes that they’ll pan out immediately. This can lead to guys getting called up too early (a la Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Matt Tuiasosopo, etc.) or guys just being huge disappointments.

Let’s start with the 2008 season, the aforementioned nadir. That team lost 101 games and we were all miserable. Successful players like Felix, Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez, Jose Lopez, and even Yuniesky Betancourt were no match for the suck-asses that were Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro, Jeremy Reed, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, Erik Bedard, and so on. General Manager Bill Bavasi was fired, and The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild was on!

2009 proved to be a welcome surprise. Franklin Gutierrez was brought over in a trade, as was Jason Vargas (Doug Fister was one of the rare Bavasi draft picks that stuck in the org and actually panned out). Ichiro was still Ichiro! Russell Branyan and David Aardsma were quality pick-ups. Even the return of Ken Griffey Jr. for a victory lap proved valuable. That 85-win season led everyone (but the stat geeks, who knew those wins were on a shaky foundation) to believe we were way ahead of the curve on this rebuild. So much so that Jackie Z decided to make a big push to go for it in 2010.

We traded for Cliff Lee! We got rid of Carlos Silva and brought back a useful piece in Milton Bradley! Our young core of starters (Felix, Vargas, and Fister) were bolstered with key bullpen additions like Brandon League, Jamey Wright, and Sean White. So, what happened? The team fell apart (ultimately losing another 101 games; in hindsight, a second go-around with Old Griffey proved disasterous) and shipped off anyone of value for prospects. Lee was flipped for Justin Smoak (among others). Our high draft pick was used on a pitcher who got hurt so many times he never made the Bigs. And The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild 2.0 was on.

2011 was a key year for the rebuild, as the team REALLY went for it this time. Taking a stroll through that roster is long and arduous. Ichiro, Miguel Olivo, Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, and Adam Kennedy were the veteran everyday players; Felix, Vargas, Bedard, and Fister were still holding down the rotation (though Fister would be swapped for a bunch of nobodies at the deadline; yet another example of a trade that totally backfired for the Mariners); and League, Wright, and David Pauley (among others) were the steady influences in the bullpen. But, the young guys were the stars of the show. 2008 first rounder Dustin Ackley was called up midseason, as was Kyle Seager. Justin Smoak was handed the first base job. Guti started his slow descent into an injured adulthood. Then, there were guys like Michael Saunders, Greg Halman, Alex Liddi, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Chris Gimenez, Carlos Peguero, Adam Moore, Mike Wilson and more. On the pitching side of things, Michael Pineda was an All Star, but then there were guys like Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush (remember when he was a starting pitcher?), a younger Tom Wilhelmsen, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes, Chance Ruffin, and Shawn Kelley.

Those were all the players we hung our hats on. How many of them actually panned out? You can count them on one hand. How many of them panned out for the Seattle Mariners? That number is even smaller.

2012 saw the influx of guys like Jesus Montero (swapped for Michael Pineda), Hector Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez, Lucas Luetge, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, and John Jaso. They were paired with the holdovers like Smoak, Seager, Ackley, Felix, Vargas, Ichiro (starting his decline) and Figgins (at the end of his miserable Mariners career).

Then, there’s 2013, with prospects like Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino (a year after being drafted), Brandon Maurer, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. Veterans like Kendrys Morales, Endy Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, Jason Bay, Jeremy Bonderman, and Hisashi Iwakuma saw extensive playing time, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. The old guys didn’t do enough (and most were gone in short order), and the young guys (predictably) never panned out for this team.

So, please, keep all these duds in mind as we go forward. You’re going to hear A LOT of new names you’re not familiar with in 2019 and 2020. The team is going to tout these players as The Future; don’t believe ’em. The vast majority of these players will be more in a long line of losers that help to keep the Seattle Mariners out of the post-season.

Some guys will be promising, only to fall flat on their asses the following year when expectations are raised and other teams learn how to handle them. Some guys will be promising only to suffer devastating injuries that hinders their development. Some of those injured guys will be brought back too soon, only to struggle and lose their confidence. Some guys will just flat-out stink from the get-go. One, maybe two guys, will be okay. But, they won’t be enough. They’ll just embolden this organization to spend a bunch of money when the time “feels right”. At that point, some flashy veterans will be brought in to supplement our future “rising stars” and we’ll go through the process of “contending (for a wild card spot)” all over again.

The Mariners are never going to be the Astros or Cubs or Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers. They’re closer to the Athletics and Rays than anything else, just a Major League farm club for better-run organizations. The tremendous amount of luck required to turn us into one of those truly good teams isn’t ingrained in the city of Seattle and its sports teams. The best we can hope for is competent mediocrity.

The best we’re going to get is just outside, looking in.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Jean Segura

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

On first glance, it feels like this name should be higher on the list, but when you consider he’s the first position player after the Big Three, it feels a little more appropriate.

For what it’s worth, I feel like we’re in good hands with Cano, Cruz, and Seager.  It would be pretty crippling if one or more of those guys got significantly injured or otherwise underperformed in 2017, but if I had to put money on it, I’d say we’ll be okay with those guys.  It’s with Segura – and some of our other new guys brought in to bring even more stability to this offense – that I start to really worry.

Last year, I’d say the Mariners’ offense was slightly above average.  It was good enough to get the job done, had the pitching also been up to the task.  With great pitching, last year’s team could have been a World Series contender, but that’s neither here nor there.  This year’s offense I’m projecting to be even better!  We just need the pitching to not fall apart and we should remain in contention for the full season; halfway decent pitching should be enough to get us over the hump.

I feel that way because with the addition of Segura – who we received in trade for Taijuan Walker – it looks like our Big Three has morphed into a Big Four.  Obviously, there are other additions to this team that I’m factoring into my overall opinion, but Segura is the biggest piece; hence why I’m so worried.

Segura has had four full seasons in the Major Leagues, but he only has the one great one.  Granted, for a change, his great season was last year – which makes him one of the few incoming players we’re NOT trying to bank on a bounceback performance – but still, the fact that we traded one of our biggest assets to get him is a real gamble on our part!

He hit 20 homers last year; his previous high was 12 (he also had seasons with 5 and 6 homers).  He hit 41 doubles last year; his previous high was 20 (with seasons of 14 and 16).  His slash line last year was .319/.368/.499/.867; his previous best season was in 2013 when he slashed .294/.329/.423/.752 (with his 2014 and 2015 seasons being pretty unremarkable in this department as well).  Now, if you sat me down and GUARANTEED me we’d get his exact 2013 production (with the aforementioned 20 doubles and 12 homers), or we could roll the dice to see if he could replicate his breakout season of 2016 (or, God forbid, actually improve upon it), I think I would shake your hand and take those 2013 numbers all day every day.  Because those numbers are LEAPS AND BOUNDS better than what we got out of Ketel Marte (who also went over to Arizona in this trade), and most other short stops we’ve had around here, since the A-Rod days.  However, my concern is – due to the perceived Seattle Mariners curse – he reverts even further and gives us those crappy numbers from 2014 or 2015.  It would be just so Mariners to give up two young, cheap, cost-controlled potential superstars for a guy who had one great season and then went right back to being a pumpkin.

I know they’re different circumstances, and different players, but I’m catching a big Adrian Beltre vibe off of this move.  Recall Beltre had the best season of his career the year before the Mariners signed him to a huge deal; then he reverted right back to his old numbers or worse.  Sure, his Hall of Fame defense made up for a lot of that – and if Segura gives us that type of defense (which, signs point to Probably Not), then fine – but it was still a case of a team paying for recent past performance and getting bit in the ass.

All that having been said, there are some encouraging parts to this thing.  Like I got into a little bit above, I think regardless of what we get, it’s a step up from Ketel Marte.  Marte is a fringe guy right now and might never develop into anything.  If he does, he’s probably a couple-two-three years away from being a bona fide regular MLB player.  For a team like the 2017 Mariners, in obvious Win-Now Mode, you can’t waste your time spinning your wheels trying to develop someone like Marte, who – for all the good he has in him – makes too many mental and physical mistakes to be a net positive.  With Segura, you’ve got a productive, veteran guy you can slot somewhere in the top of your order.  He’s also a guy I’m pretty confident can get on base at a good clip, which slides right into my next plus:  he’s speedy.  122 stolen bases the last four years.  With some of the speedy outfield guys we’ve got that can slot next to him in the lineup, it’s pretty alluring with the likes of Cano, Cruz, and Seager lined up behind them.  Segura, if nothing else, should score around or over 100 runs if nothing else, so long as he stays healthy.

And, hey, not to dump on Marte too much, but Segura’s defense should be good enough that he doesn’t give you a lot of the boneheaded throws and whatnot.

I’m not sold on Segura until I see him in some regular season action, but I’m better-than-50% confident he’ll be a quality player for this team, and I think that really bodes well for the offense and this team’s overall chances.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Kyle Seager

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Kyle Seager has been a rock since he arrived.  But, a rock that continues to push itself and improve over the years.  2016 was the best year of his career, and the scary thing is that he still has lots of room to improve.

I like Seager.  He might not be my favorite Mariner of all time, but he’s quickly rising through the ranks.  His defense is solid, but I wouldn’t consider him a natural like Adrian Beltre.  His at bats aren’t really Appointment Television (unless it’s the bottom of the 9th or later and we’re looking at a situation where he can tie it or win us the ballgame).  He’s not some hyper-specimen sent to us from the Baseball Gods to reinvent the National Pasttime.

But, he’s really, really good.  And, in that sense, he might be one of the rarest of players.  Most guys go through prolonged slumps; Kyle Seager mostly avoids these (particularly after the month of April).  Most guys have down years, thanks to one significant injury, many multiple nagging injuries, or simple blind bad luck; Kyle Seager is the same as he ever was, when he’s not actively improving.  It’s uncanny!  He’s the one guy I never have to worry about!  So, let’s throw a few more gasoline bombs onto this jinx fire and see if we can’t get him injured in Spring Training.

You know what’s crazy?  Kyle Seager is 29 years old; he could still be at least as productive as he is now for another 10 years, easily!  He could go down as the greatest all-around career-Mariner in the history of the franchise!  When you package the defense, the power, the improving batting average and on-base percentage, the fact that he plays third base – which is one of the tougher spots to fill and fill well – and wrap it all up in a guy who plays every day and doesn’t really fall off regardless of who’s pitching against him, and we’re talking about a guy who is going to go down as one of the most valuable players we’ve ever seen.

In 2017, he’s the third in our crucial Big Three.  We need Kyle Seager to keep being Kyle Seager.  And, if he wants to find a way to be even better than he was in 2016, we might be talking about a guy in the American League MVP conversation.  Granted, he’s a long shot, but it’s not impossible.