Mariners Tidbit 58: Jesus Montero Is Back … Hooray?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mariners Sign Nelson Cruz To A 4-Year Deal

4 years, $57 million.

That’s what it finally took to make Nelson Cruz a Mariner.  Of course, based on rumors leaked sometime in the past year, the Mariners could have had him much cheaper LAST offseason (based on his 1 year, $8 million deal with the Orioles, it could’ve been pennies on this year’s dollar), but there were concerns of him coming off of a steroids suspension (namely:  would he still have the same pop now that he’s clean?), and so ownership vetoed the deal.

Nelson Cruz was a guy nobody wanted last year, as far as Mariners fans are concerned.  I think that had more to do with his skillset, over concerns about his steroids use.  He’s a poor defensive outfielder and a poor baserunner.  He bats righty and relies mostly on his power, which is the antithesis of what Safeco Field and Seattle, Washington are all about.  The main thing that’s changed between last year and this year is that the Mariners are officially a contender.

Last year, we brought in Cano and a few other, smaller pieces.  We figured we were a better baseball team than in years past, but we had no idea how much better.  By season’s end, we were 1 game out of the playoffs.  If just a few things broke differently, we would have been in there and once you’re in there, who knows what’ll happen?  The Kansas City Royals made it and got to Game 7 of the World Series!

The best part is:  we know exactly what we need to thrive.  We need a big thumper of a bat to put in the lineup between Cano and Seager.  We need our DH position to not be a black hole for the first time since Edgar Martinez retired.  Well, now we’ve got that.

The size of the deal is a bit much, but if the Mariners are willing to spend it, who are we to complain?  It’s not our money, and frankly, I’m just happy they’re FINALLY opening up the ol’ wallet.  I don’t expect we’ll get our full money’s worth, but as long as we can get another good year or two out of him, it might all work out.

The real concern is – as it was last year after the Cano signing – is this it?  Is this the one big move the Mariners are going to make, and then they’ll just cut corners the rest of the way in hopes that Cruz is the final piece to the puzzle and not one of the final pieces (plural).  Or, in other words, does this signing cost us so much money that we could have used to pick up two cheaper, but arguably better pieces?

I suppose you have to take all the moves the Mariners make in context when you make your opinion on something.  Many people will never be on board with Nelson Cruz as a Mariner, no matter the cost or the benefits of having him in our lineup.  I’m willing to get behind this deal.

For starters, you can’t be afraid of every 4-year deal with an aging veteran.  They’re not all Chone Figgins; they’re not all going to immediately fall off the face of the Earth.  I’m going into this deal expecting him to be just about as good as he was last year, with diminishing returns every year after that.  By Year 3, this is probably an ugly deal.  By Year 4, Cruz is probably a catastrophe and getting benched on the reg for some facsimile of Carlos Peguero trying to make it out of Tacoma.  But, I don’t care about those last years; I just care about 2015.

Will Nelson Cruz help the Seattle Mariners win baseball games in 2015?  I think he will.  Therefore, I’m in favor of this signing.

Also, I’m going to be of the opinion that the Mariners aren’t finished building.  We’ve got another outfielder to sign or trade for.  If we can hit on that one, like I’m assuming we’ll have hit on with Cruz (at least for the first year), then this team can be really special.

For the record, if you can manage to keep the short-term outlook paramount in your mind, you won’t drive yourself crazy with this move.  Nelson Cruz WILL help us in 2015, I promise!  After that, and the Mariners win it all, the world will implode upon itself anyway and we won’t HAVE any other years of this deal to worry about, because we’ll all be dead!  There, don’t you feel better now?

Looking Back On The Bright Side Of The 2014 Seattle Mariners

As I grow older, I find that for the most part I’m capable of only two emotions:  apathetic and surly.  This certainly describes my disposition when it comes to the Mariners.  In my surlier moods, I’ll take a hard line and let everyone know that there are NO MORAL VICTORIES.  Either you win or you don’t; either you make the playoffs or you fail.  Those opinions are no less valid just because at times I find myself waffling over to the other side.

The fact of the matter is, when I sit back and apathetically look at The Season That Was, I can see the ways in which 2014 was a success.  Everyone needed this season.  The organization needed it, just to get everyone to stop breathing down their necks.  The players needed it, to show that it IS possible to be a winning ballclub and still play half your games in Seattle.  And, quite frankly, the fans needed it more than anyone.

Let’s face it, there has been a gloomy, dark cloud hanging over the Seattle Mariners for over a decade.  Obviously, everyone knows the last playoff appearance was in 2001.  Since that time – including 2014 – there have been five seasons where the Mariners finished with a winning record.  In 2002 & 2003, the Mariners were still really good, but they were surrounded by teams who were even better, and thus failed to make the playoffs.  Then, the Mariners fell off the cliff, but looked to make something of a comeback in 2007, when they were 88-74.  Of course, you were looking at a team that was 14 games over .500 with a negative run differential, who did remarkably well in 1-run games.  2007 proved to be a fluke, and as the Mariners went all-in with the Erik Bedard deal, everything fell apart in 2008 (and would continue to more-or-less fall apart for many years to come).

2009 would prove to be another even-flukier season, where the Mariners went 85-77, but had a much worse run differential.  Undoubtedly, the Mariners fell into a sinkhole of despair in 2010, from which they are only NOW climbing out of.

Ever since the end of that 2010 season – where we sort of went all-in again with the Cliff Lee deal and the Chone Figgins signing – this organization has been in the tank.  We were able to flip Cliff Lee mid-season, but that deal turned out to be the Justin Smoak disaster.  We would go on to flip Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero after the 2011 season, and from then on it’s been all about Building From Within.  Which, quite honestly, is what you have to do if you’re a losing ballclub and you’re not ready to spend New York Yankees-type money in free agency.

And, it hasn’t been easy!  Many of our first-wave youngsters have come up and failed miserably.  Smoak and Montero and Ackley have largely been disappointing (until Ackley’s second half this past season).  For every Kyle Seager that we’ve hit upon, there have been dozens of Carlos Pegueros.

Finally, as the 2013 season ended (with the Mariners finishing 71-91), the organization had apparently seen enough to finally open up their wallets.

There have been rumors of the Mariners being “in on” any number of big-money free agents over the last several seasons, from Josh Hamilton to Prince Fielder, but they finally settled on Robinson Cano (who, really, has the highest floor of any of these guys).  Why this was the right time, or he was the right player, only the Mariners can say, but it turned out to be a huge success in the first year.  At the time of signing, Cano instantly became the best position player on the team.  His performance in the 2014 season was right in line with those expectations.  He was our 3-hole hitter and he never let us down.

On top of that, Kyle Seager took that next step in his progression, finally becoming an All Star (and deservedly so).  His defense is stellar, the pop is still in his bat, his batting average isn’t ideal, but he’s becoming more consistent and less streaky.

Then, we had a number of smaller players picking up the slack at times.  Logan Morrison was a positive, once he got healthy and was placed in the everyday lineup at first base.  Dustin Ackley – as I mentioned before – had that torrid second half to cement his status as our 2-hole hitter.  Mike Zunino surpassed 20 homers and played quality defense.  Role players like Endy Chavez, Michael Saunders, and Chris Taylor all made big impacts.  While, at the same time, the bullpen was a force to be reckoned with; and for most of the year we had four really good starting pitchers with Felix, Kuma, Young, and Elias.  The hitting, for the most part, did just enough to get the job done; and our bullpen locked it down in the later innings.  That’s a recipe for winning baseball.  Specifically, a team that finished 87-75, a single game out of the Wild Card.

And, not for nothing, but a team that also had a +80 run differential.  With that run differential, you should theoretically be looking at a 91-win ballclub, so it can be argued that the Mariners were, in fact, a little UNLUCKY.

***

This is the part where I’m supposed to shift gears and tell you all the things that were wrong with the 2014 Mariners, but I don’t really have it in me.  We all know where the Mariners need to improve before 2015:

  • DH
  • Right Field

Beyond that, it’s a matter of the younger players continuing to improve.  It’s Ackley building off of his second half.  It’s one of the two short stops (Miller or Taylor) winning that job and not looking back.  It’s Austin Jackson figuring out how to hit again.  It’s LoMo staying healthy.  It’s the bullpen not regressing too far.  And, it’s leaning on our starting pitching once again to keep us in ballgames.

It’s consistency in all three phases.  Fewer times being shut out.  And, if we have to make trades to get the pieces we want, it’s all about not giving up too much from our areas of strength.  And, of course, it’s about the right kind of luck.

Like 2008 and 2010, the 2015 season could see the Mariners go right back into the tank if things go horribly wrong.  The difference between now and those last two winning seasons is:  we’ve got a better foundation.  We’re not coming off of a smoke & mirrors season where the Mariners SOMEHOW generated a winning record despite a negative run differential.  And, the only players we’re losing to free agency are players we probably won’t miss too much (I’m looking at you, Kendrys Morales).

As we watch the Royals return from the doldrums to make the World Series for the first time in almost 30 years, this offseason will surely bring about feelings of, “Why Not Us?”  Hell, if the Seahawks can win the Super Bowl, why can’t the Mariners get back to the fucking playoffs?

Now is the time for the Best Offseason Ever.  The buzz is starting to return to this team.  2014 saw an increase in attendance for the first time in a long time.  If we can land a big free agent, I’m pretty sure 2015 will be the most-anticipated baseball season in Seattle since the 1990s.

Mariners Sign Fernando Rodney To Be Their Closer For The Next Two Years

It’s been a little over seven weeks since the last time I wrote about the Mariners.  And they have been THE BEST seven weeks of my entire life!  Le sigh!

Of course, all good things have to come to an end, so let’s see if I can find my place in this offseason.

The last thing I wrote about was Franklin Gutierrez re-signing.  This took place during a period of relative activity in this Mariners offseason.  We hired our field manager in early November, and then nothing happened for a month, and then in December we had the blockbuster Robinson Cano signing, the Corey Hart signing, the Logan Morrison trade, all the talk about possibly trading Taijuan Walker (and/or others) for David Price, and then Guti.  Over a span of two weeks, we all got to be cautiously optimistic, while knowing there were still MANY more moves that needed to be made if this team TRULY wanted to contend, as opposed to making it appear like they wanted to contend.

Since Guti?  The Mariners were supposedly trying to sign that Masahiro Tanaka pitcher from Japan (he ended up signing with the Yankees).  The Mariners were possibly going to make Tony La Russa their president (they ended up, instead, going with someone in-house).  The Mariners signed a backup catcher in John Buck.  The Mariners signed starting pitcher Scott Baker to a minor league deal (with a guarantee only if he makes the Major League squad).  And Chuck Armstrong finally retired.  THAT is your Mariners news in a nutshell for the last seven weeks.  Oh, and to make room on the 40-man roster, the Mariners gave Carlos Peguero to the Royals for practically nothing.

What started out as a fantastic start to an offseason ended up being, pretty much, the ENTIRE offseason.  I do the heavy lifting so you don’t have to, my friends.

Which brings us to yesterday, where we learned Fernando Rodney signed a 2-year, $14 million deal.  His career has been spotty to say the least, he will be 37 years old by the time the season starts, and he’s really hanging his hat on one amazing season where he had 48 saves and a sub-1.00 ERA in 2012.  He was also pretty good last year, but I dunno.

He throws hard, he can be a little wild, and he’s prone to some pretty fucked up meltdowns.  Does he remind you of anyone?  Does he remind you of every closer the Mariners have had since the dawn of time?

Relievers tend to fluctuate from season-to-season, so it’s impossible to predict how well they’re going to do.  If we get Good Fernando Rodney, then we’ve just improved our bullpen a great deal.  We move a solid Danny Farquhar into the 8th inning role.  That pushes Yoervis Medina back into the earlier innings with Wilhelmsen, Furbush, and whoever else.  I’m pretty high on Farquhar’s abilities and predict he’ll be closing games again for this team before too long; but in the meantime if this means we have one of the best 8th inning guys in the A.L., then I’m okay with that.  All of our other bullpen guys could range from outstanding to out-of-baseball and it wouldn’t shock me, so I won’t be holding my breath anytime soon.

Right now, I put this move ahead of the Mariners signing Jose Mesa, but behind signing Arthur Rhodes (the first time).

Also, pitchers and catchers report on February 12th.  That’s right, next week.  God damn, the baseball season is too fucking long.

The Mariners Are Impossibly Thin, With No Depth

You want a reason for the Mariners to stand pat and not trade anybody in the next couple weeks?  This would be Reason #1.

The argument against trading people are many.  The veterans we have aren’t worth a whole helluva lot, which means we wouldn’t get anything back except for middling prospects (see:  Eric Thames, Trayvon Robinson, Casper Wells, etc.).  Right now, the Mariners are going good, and do you REALLY feel like messing with that just to bring back some tryout flunky who will probably be traded or waived within two years?

I’m as realistic as I can be right now; I know the Mariners aren’t playing for anything THIS season.  At best, I’m hoping they end up at or near .500; anything over that mark would be a huge bonus.  As such, I know that anybody we bring in via trade will be someone that likely WON’T help us and won’t make us any better, either this year or in the future.  They will be organizational filler.  I’m tired of organizational filler.  We’ve got an organization FILLED (!) with organizational filler!

Yes, the Mariners are going good right now, but things won’t always be this good.  There’s another lull right around the corner (probably).  How soon that lull arrives, or how debilitating that lull is to our chances of ultimately achieving that .500 goal, all depends on what happens at the Trade Deadline, and what happens with injuries going forward.  A good way to speed up that lull will be to trade away guys like Morales, Ibanez, Joe Saunders, or even Oliver Perez.  Tired of watching this new, exciting brand of Mariners baseball?  Yearning for the duds we’ve seen the past three seasons?  Then, start clamoring for the Mariners to make ill-advised moves.  I’ll be over here, ironically pounding the podium for the status quo (ironic because I’m usually with the rest of you, demanding trades at all costs for players who won’t be around next season anyway).

Concerned about the Mariners?  Then, be concerned about the status of our everyday lineup and our pitching rotation.  This team is thin.  The bench consists of guys like Henry Blanco, Jason Bay, Endy Chavez, and Brendan Ryan.  You don’t mind playing Blanco once or twice a week (at the most) because catchers need off days.  The rest you don’t mind seeing in the occasional spot-start, or as defensive replacements in later innings; but they’re not guys you want to see playing everyday.  We’ve been there, we’ve done that, it didn’t turn out well.

Also, are you looking to shake up the starting rotation?  Well, for starters (!!), no one is going to trade you a fucking thing for Aaron Harang, so just stop it.  STOP IT!  Felix is untouchable (of course) and Iwakuma isn’t going anywhere (we’ve still got him on a cost-effective basis for next year and most likely 2015 as well, on a team option at a reasonable price).  Erasmo Ramirez is someone you hope will be part of the future, so he’s out.  That just leaves Joe Saunders.

Tired of Joe Saunders?  Want to see the team trade him while his stock is high?  OK, I’ll bite.  You know that’s going to create a huge, Grand Canyon-sized hole in the middle of this rotation, right?  Anybody we get back will likely be some triple-A hitter of little value, or a pitching prospect who is not yet ready for the Majors.  That’s what teams in contention give you for guys like Joe Saunders.  They’re not going to give you some young stud you can throw immediately into the rotation; if they had that, they’d keep him and use him instead!  Without Joe Saunders in our rotation, that leaves some pretty sad options:  Blake Beavan (the leader in the clubhouse), Hector Noesi (who, as you can plainly see, is still terrible), James Paxton (who, despite some recent success, still probably isn’t ready for anything more than a September call-up and one or two starts), and that’s about it.  Danny Hultzen is injured and keeps suffering setbacks by the week; I’m putting my Smart Money on him being finished for the season.  Taijuan Walker JUST started pitching in Tacoma a couple weeks ago and is on a strict pitch count.  Even if we bring him up, he’s going to be shut down in about 45 innings or so (he has pitched 84 innings in AA and 21 innings in AAA; reports have him at around 150 innings for 2013 before being shut down).  What is that?  5-8 starts?  Whatever it is, his number of starts is going down by the week.  I’d eat my hat if he becomes Joe Saunders’ replacement.

Yeah, so Blake Beavan for Joe Saunders; that’s what you’re looking at.  Still gung-ho about ridding ourselves of this middle-of-the-road pitcher?  For my money, Saunders is a helluva lot better and more reliable than Beavan.  I’ve seen enough of Beavan to know I never want to see him again.

As for our bullpen, word on the street is Oliver Perez’s days are numbered.  He has the highest value, he’s not our closer anymore, and he’s likely gone after this season; why not, right?

Well, it’s true, Tom Wilhelmsen has seemed to regain his former position as the team’s closer, but does he really inspire a ton of confidence right now?  We’re all still waiting for his strikeout numbers to return; I have a feeling we’ll be waiting until the end of time.  Yoervis Medina has been a pleasant surprise in 35 games thus far.  Charlie Furbush has been used appropriately and has turned out some positive results.  But, after that, it gets pretty dicey.  The aforementioned Noesi is up here because it looks like the Mariners want to stretch Beavan back out to starting.  He’s a terrible pitcher, but he can eat up innings in a blowout, so there you go.  Lucas Luetge is back, but he still can’t get out right handed batters, so he’s usually only good for a third of an inning.  Capps has been sent down to Tacoma for getting torched too often.  Farquhar – after a promising start to his Major League career – has shown why he was so available in that Ichiro trade.  Bobby LaFromboise isn’t anyone I ever want to see again.  Stephen Pryor is working his way back from the 60-day DL and who knows if he will make it back before season’s end?  The other guys are in Tacoma for a reason.

This bullpen, in short, has Perez, Medina, an iffy Wilhelmsen, an iffy Furbush, and that’s it.  If you ask me, I’d like to see Perez stay here and help us win as many games as we can.  He, like everyone else trade-able on this roster, won’t garner much in return.

Getting back to our hitters – and our toothless bench – there isn’t much help on the horizon.  Mike Morse will probably be back pretty soon.  At which point, I guess he goes into a time-share with Ibanez?  Honestly, I don’t know what we do with Morse when he returns.  Ackley seems pretty entrenched in center, Michael Saunders is probably the team’s best defensive outfielder, and Ibanez has been hitting lefties just as good as he’s been hitting righties.  Does Morse’s return spell the end for Jason Bay?  His playing time has diminished to almost nothing since our current outfield incarnation has presented itself as viable.  Does Bay bring anything to the table, aside from being slightly better defensively?

Also, what does this team do if Guti returns?  Part of me hopes he NEVER returns, because what’s the point?  We would have to waive Endy Chavez.  Granted, Chavez isn’t good, but I like what he brings in a very part-time role.  He doesn’t walk, but he gets hits (singles, mostly) and plays solid defense.  As a defensive replacement for Ibanez, you have to like him on the team.  You know, if we waive him for Guti, some contender is going to snap him up and put him on their bench.  Then, a week later, Guti will get hurt again, and where are we?  Welcoming back Carlos Peguero, apparently.

The only guy currently on the 25-man roster I won’t actually miss is Jason Bay.  This team could conceivably also get rid of Brendan Ryan, because Nick Franklin is a serviceable back-up at short stop, and Ackley can always slot back over and play second base if needed.  Other than that, there’s nothing I want to see this team do in trades, nor is there anything I want to have happen as far as health is concerned.  Let us just ride this wave to its conclusion and make whatever moves we feel like making this offseason.

What To Expect From The Mariners In The Second Half Of 2013

At the end of June, the Mariners were 35-47.  They had just finished a homestand where they played 8 games in 10 days (with a 2-game Pittsburgh series sandwiched between two off days) and they went 3-5.  This was following a road trip where the Mariners lost another 4 of 7 games, which followed a home stand where they went 5-5.  Let’s face it, if this season’s ship was ever going to be righted, it was going to be in the month of June where they played 18 of 27 games at home and had a whopping three days off sprinkled in.  Instead, the Mariners finished June with an 11-16 record, and all hope was officially lost.

Then, the first two weeks of July happened.  I wouldn’t call June 30th the season’s low point (for that, you’d probably have to look at the end of Game 8 of that 8-Game Losing Streak back in May), but it was one of many low points that left this team at sort of a crossroads.  Would they play for the current season, in hopes of saving some high-level jobs?  Or, would they play for the future, in hopes of saving some high-level jobs?

As it turns out, there’s a way to do both, and it just might be working!

To kick off July, the Mariners won 2/3 in Texas and another 2/3 in Cincinnati.  In case you hadn’t heard, those are two very good baseball teams.  Riding that wave of euphoria, the Mariners came home and promptly lost 3/4 to the Red Sox.  Here’s where it gets wonky, though:  in that 4-game series, the Mariners scored 30 runs … IN SAFECO!  And, not for nothing, but I don’t think the new brought-in fences had much to do with it.  These were legitimate offensive numbers, and they were a long time coming.  Buoyed by this resurgent offense, the Mariners went out and swept the Angels in the three games leading up to the All Star Break, outscoring them 18-6.  In that homestand, the Mariners averaged nearly seven runs a game.

Let me say that again:  in that HOMEstand, the MARINERS averaged NEARLY seven RUNS a game.

So, where does that leave us now?  Two weeks later, after the Mariners struggled so profusely, with an 8-5 record in that span, suddenly there’s something resembling Buzz about these Mariners.  You could knock me over with a feather.

First, let’s go ahead and analyze this buzz.  I would argue that there wouldn’t be NEARLY the buzz if this team didn’t sweep the Angels.  If they were to have lost that last game on Sunday (which they very nearly did), this would be an entirely different discussion.  But, they did sweep the Angels, and it was their FIRST sweep of the season.  That’s significant.  Along with the fact that the first sweep immediately preceeded the All Star Break, we’ve had three full days to sit and digest what we’ve seen.  Obviously, what we’ve seen most recently takes precedence, as it’s freshest in our memories, so here we are.  Buzzed.

At this point, there’s a lot to like about this team, rather than just a lot to be hopeful about.  In season’s past, we would all hold out hope for guys like Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Eric Thames, Carlos Peguero, and of course bigger prospects like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Michael Saunders.  Ultimately, all of those guys would go on to brutally disappoint, rendering our hope as futile as it gets.

But, not the 2013 Mariners!  Right here, we’ve got something we can hold in our hand!  Hard, firm numbers, gently pulsating, exciting us to climax.  Guys like Brad Miller and Nick Franklin who are actually DOING something.  Not just sitting there with all the promise in the world, failing us at every turn.  Then, we’ve got guys like Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak absolutely tearing the cover off the ball … with their bats … because they hit the balls so hard the stitches come loose … I don’t get it either.  Anyway, we’ve got production, and not just from the usual gang of idiots!  It’s not ONLY Ibanez and Morales.  It’s the younger guys, FINALLY contributing.  And it feels like a million God damn dollars in here.

There’s nothing quite like the excitement you feel when your team finally turns the corner.  For the Seahawks, that happened in the middle of the 2011 season, when they improbably beat teams like Baltimore and the New York Giants.  Yeah, they finished that season 7-9, but you could see things coming together.  These Mariners, if they are indeed turning the corner, likely won’t finish much better, percentage-wise.  They currently sit 9 games under .500, which it seems like they’ve been hovering at this mark the whole damn season.  For the Mariners to reach .500, they would have to finish 38-29.  It’s not an impossible dream for this team, especially if they figured out how to bottle whatever it was they had the first two weeks of this month.  If the Mariners can get to .500, or very close to it, considering how they started this season, I would consider 2013 a success.  .500 would mean that the youngsters have continued to produce.  .500 would mean a winning record in the second half, which will hopefully mean continued winning in 2014.  .500 would mean that the Seattle Mariners have FINALLY turned the corner.

Of course, if they keep hovering around 9-12 games under .500 for the rest of the year, then you could probably make the argument that they turned the corner, only to run into another brick wall.  The last thing I want to see out of this team is the injury bug tearing through our core.  If they start dropping like flies and their numbers suffer accordingly, everyone will go into the offseason saying, “If it weren’t for their being injured, they would’ve had great seasons!”  Which, judging by how often we’ve used that line of logic the last half decade, is utter bullshit.

So, no injuries, get to .500, and have the young core be the primary reason for our second half success.  THAT’S what I expect from this team.  Continuing this winning streak by sweeping the Astros (series starting tomorrow) would be an excellent start.

Brad Miller, Come On Down!

Hopefully, after the Mariners started losing a bunch of games, you stopped holding out hope for the 2013 version of the team in its early-April form.  If you haven’t jumped off of that sinking ship, I’m happy to say there’s a brand spankin’ new bandwagon over here.  We’re all holding on for dear life on this bucket ride to Hell!

I don’t need to tell you that Brendan Ryan sucks at hitting.  He’s as bad a hitter as he is good at fielding.  Since he’s the best at fielding, obviously means that he’s the worst at hitting.  Actually, that’s probably not that far from the truth.

Remember those grab-bags you’d get upon leaving the Puyallup Fair as a kid?  Full of cheap plastic toys, a bottle of bubbles, maybe a noise-maker or something.  Yeah, they were terrible.  Well, every year, right around this time, we find a Mariners team bereft of success at the Major League level, reaching into its grab-bag of prospects down in Tacoma to try to bolster – if nothing else – fan interest.  Smoak and Ackley and Seager and Liddi and Peguero and Robinson and Thames and Tuiasosopo and now guys like Franklin and Zunino and Triunfel and Miller.  More often than not, what we pluck from the grab-bag is a little piece of shit toy we’re either going to break or throw away in short order, because they’re dumb or we get bored with them.  Every year, we churn through prospects like we’re grating a block of cheese.  Why should 2013 be any different?

There are arguments for all sides.  You’re rushing guys, you need to stop doing that!  Well, what does it mean to “rush” someone?  Everyone develops at their own pace.  And so on and so forth.  At this point, I’m willing to treat MLB prospects like they’re just one giant Meat Market.  It’s a numbers game, bitch!  Ask a hundred prospects for their digits and you’re bound to get 9 or 10 to say yes!

So far, the Mariners have succeeded in finding one home-grown guy:  Seager.  He, seemingly, was rushed up to the Bigs.  Thus far, through 28 games, we think we have a second success story in Nick Franklin.  He, seemingly, was given ample time to develop in the minors.

That’s it.  Two guys, MAYBE.  I mean, seriously Mariners, what are you using as pick-up lines?  It’s a numbers game at the Meat Market and you are getting SLAUGHTERED!

Christ, do I think Brad Miller will be worth a damn?  Who the fuck knows?  He can’t be any worse than Brendan Ryan … except he can, and if his being in the Mariners’ organization is any indication, he probably will.

This team is in a total free-fall right now.  It’s painful to watch, but then again, it’s starting to get exciting again.  And, if Miller and Zunino can figure their shit out over the next year and a half, we could have one fantastic infield (plus Justin Smoak) by 2015!  Which says nothing of the outfield.  Or the rotation (outside of Felix).  Or the bullpen.

If you didn’t slit your wrists at the probability of one and a half more years of mediocre-to-bad baseball, then congratulations!  You’re as numb and dead inside as the rest of us.

Oh yes, Georgie, they float.  They all float down here.  And when you’re down here, you’ll float too …

Sweet dreams …

The Last Five Years In Seattle Sports

2008 was the lowest point in Seattle sports.  It was our Absolute Zero.  Rock Bottom.  The total nadir of sports humanity!

It was the primary inspiration for the title of this website.  Take an already-crappy sports city, with practically no history of real success whatsoever, then rain down a million boulders while giving fans only a tiny umbrella to protect themselves.

We did NOT deserve this …

Well, we just finished the 2012 sports year with the 2012/2013 Husky basketball season coming to its conclusion.  As such, I have taken it upon myself to take a look back.  Five years ago, it was 2008; we were just getting started with the worst year ever.  How have things changed with our primary Seattle sports teams?

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners came off of a surprising 2007 campaign that saw them appearing to turn a corner.  Beltre, Ibanez, and Ichiro led the offense.  We hoped that a possible resurrection of Richie Sexson would bring about a further boost.  Two young guns up the middle – Lopez & Betancourt – were proof positive that what we were doing in our farm system wasn’t a complete joke.  Felix was coming into his own.  Losing Weaver & Horacio Ramirez was addition by subtraction.  You figured, with another quality starter, and another bat or two, and we’d be in business!

Well, we know what happened with 2008.  The Erik Bedard trade was a total and complete disaster (though, it went a long way towards the Orioles making their surprising playoff run in 2012).  The Mariners opted to let Jose Guillen walk and replaced him with the corpse of Brad Wilkerson.  Richie Sexson became a local pariah.  And, oh yeah, the other big pitching piece – Carlos Silva – was signed to the single-worst contract in recorded history.  You tack on little things – like J.J. Putz going from the greatest reliever in baseball in 2007, to an injured pile of crap in 2008 – and it all boils down to this team losing 101 games.  The first team with a payroll over $100 million to lose over 100 games.  Everyone was fired; it was brutal.

Enter Jackie Z, who could seemingly do no wrong at first.  He replaced Sexson with Russell Branyan – big upgrade.  He traded Putz for Franklin Gutierrez, who had an amazing season both in the field and at the plate.  We also ended up with Jason Vargas in that Putz deal, who came in and earned his way into the starting rotation.  He brought in Ken Griffey Jr., who wasn’t a total disaster as a DH.  In short, there was an immediate turnaround thanks to God knows what.  Good vibrations?  Luck?  I dunno.  But, this team improved 24 games over 2008 and contended well into the summer.  Everyone thought we’d struck gold!

Then, like some kind of sick fucking plague, every move Jackie Z made to help bolster the 2010 team turned to shit.  Chone Figgins was signed to a 4-year deal and immediately was the worst player in baseball.  Branyan was allowed to walk in favor of Casey Kotchman; Kotchman was terrible and Branyan was brought back in a panic-deal mid-season, because we had the most punch-less lineup in all of baseball history.  Silva was traded for Milton Bradley – which was a move of pure GENIUS until it turned out trading one cancer for another still leaves you on your deathbed.  Griffey was brought back, because HEY!, he hit 19 home runs the year before and it’s not like players suddenly lose all of their ability to swing a bat all at once or anything.

Mind you, just about everything Jackie Z did in anticipation of the 2010 season was believed to be the right thing.  Except for Griffey, but really, if we didn’t make the playoffs that season, it wasn’t going to be exclusively the fault of our elderly DH.  And, to a lesser extent, the Brandon League for Brandon Morrow trade was a bit questionable.  I mean, who trades a bona fide Major League starting prospect for an 8th inning reliever type? Nevertheless, this was a bold move looking to shore up our bullpen.

The cherry on top was the Cliff Lee trade.  We gave a bunch of Bavasi draft rejects to the Phillies for Cliff Lee in his final season.  At best, he’d be the starting pitcher to put us over the top.  At worst, we’d be a losing team and trade him at the deadline to the highest bidder for the best crop of prospects.

Like everything else that happened in 2010, even THIS ended up backfiring.  Cliff Lee came with a built-in contingency plan!  And he was traded for Justin Smoak – a disappointment to date – Blake Beavan – a less-than-adequate starting pitcher – and what has turned into a season’s worth of Michael Morse, a season’s worth of John Jaso, and a season’s worth of Josh Lueke.  There’s still time to turn around our fortunes, but unless Smoak figures out a miracle cure to his sucking ways, this has bust written all over it.

So, what happens when every single offseason (and in-season) move you make backfires?  You lose another 101 games, your franchise icon retires mid-season, your manager gets fired, and your GM is lucky to still have a job.

2010 was a wake-up call, both for fans and for the organization.  The last two times the Mariners had winning records – 2007 and 2009 – they immediately went out the very next offseason and tried to Win Now.  All the moves they made in hopes to Win Now were total disasters, so they had to come up with a new plan.  Either you keep riding this rollercoaster, firing your manager and/or GM every two seasons, or you start over from scratch.

Even though Jackie Z managed to bungle every Major League move known to man, he had still built up the minor leagues a fair amount.  With another high draft pick in his pocket, he put his head down and went to work.

The 2011 season was essentially given over to the kids.  Our major offseason moves included bringing in Miguel Olivo, Jack Cust, Adam Kennedy, Brendan Ryan, and handing over the starting rotation to guys like Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, and Blake Beavan.  In addition, Ackley, Seager, and Carp all got their feet wet; Peguero was given an inordinate amount of playing time for what he was actually bringing to the table.  Others, like Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Saunders, and Halman all got varying amounts of playing time.  2011 was Try-Out central in Seattle.  Throw a bunch of spaghetti noodles into a pot of boiling water, take them out and see which ones would stick to the wall.

2012 took it a step further.  The big free agent pick-ups consisted of Millwood, Iwakuma, and a backup shortstop in Kawasaki.  We traded away Pineda – our best pitching prospect – to bring in Jesus Montero, because we absolutely could not live with the same old offense we’d had the past two seasons.

What did 2011 and 2012 accomplish?  Moderate gains in the win/loss column (+6 wins in 2011, +8 wins in 2012), moderate gains in our offensive production, and a whole lot of salary coming off the books.  The Silva/Bradley money, the Ichiro money, the Olivo money, another season’s worth of the Figgins money.

Now, it’s 2013.  The Mariners brought in some big bats via trade – Morse & Morales for Jaso & Vargas respectively – and some veteran bats via free agency – Ibanez and Bay.  They re-signed Iwakuma (when they realized he’s actually a quality starter), brought in Joe Saunders (who will probably be terrible), and have given the back-end of the rotation over to youth (Maurer and Beavan).  The crown jewel of the 2012/2013 offseason was re-signing Felix through 2019.  That’s huge.  The Mariners may never make the post-season while he’s with us, but God damn it, if they do WATCH OUT.

There is reason for optimism five years after bottoming out in 2008, but we’re still in a Show Me stage.  I’ll believe it when I see it, and all that.  2013 is critical, because if they don’t show some significant improvement, I think a lot of people will be out on their asses again and we’ll be looking at ANOTHER rebuild.

Husky Football

The Huskies ended their 2007 season with a 4-9 record.  Their 2007 schedule was deemed by many to be the toughest schedule in the nation.  Tyrone Willingham was coming off of his third consecutive losing season (going 2-9 in 2005 and 5-7 in 2006), and many believed he should have been fired then and there.  I was one of those simple-minded folks who said we should give him ONE more chance.  Jake Locker had a full season under his belt, why not give Willingham an opportunity to turn things around with the guy he brought in as his quarterback?

Well, we kicked off 2008 by being trounced in Oregon (who would go on to finish 10-3).  Then, we lost by a single point at home to BYU (thanks to the infamous penalty flag thrown on Locker as he ran in for the would-be game-tying touchdown and tossed the ball over his shoulder … thank you Pac-10 referees for being so damn competent) on a missed extra point at the end of the game.  Then, we lost at home to Oklahoma (who would go on to lose to Florida in the BCS National Championship Game).

THEN, we lost our quarterback, our best player, and really our only GOOD player, in the Stanford game.  After that, with the likes of Ronnie Fouch at the helm, we proceeded to lose all the rest of our games (including a pathetic heartbreaker of an Apple Cup, 16-13 in overtime).

0-12.  Doesn’t get any worse than that.  Can only go up from there, right?

Willingham:  gone.  Sarkisian:  in.

The 2009 Huskies improved by 5 games.  There was a signature win at home over the then-#3 USC Trojans, 16-13 on a last-minute field goal.  There was a signature near-win the first game of the season at home against LSU.  Jake Locker took huge strides in his development as a passer.  Everything looked great for the future.

The 2010 Huskies weren’t all that much more improved than the 2009 team, but they managed to win six regular season games (winning out after starting 3-6, thanks to a soft schedule to finish things) and earned a bowl game against Nebraska.  Of course, they got killed by Nebraska, IN Husky Stadium, earlier that season.  But, in the rematch, this Husky team was totally reborn and they took it to the Cornhuskers, stifling them 19-7.

That led to somewhat higher expectations for 2011, but how high could we possibly make them?  Let’s face it, we’d lost our best player and were breaking in a new quarterback.  Our defense was still on the fritz, and we were still in a very tough conference with Oregon, Stanford, and USC.  Not to mention we had to go to Nebraska, where we most certainly got our shit kicked in.

2011 was a disappointment because there was no Signature Win.  In 2009 and 2010, we had victories over USC and Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.  In 2011, we barely squeaked by Eastern Washington in the first game.  We were absolutely terrorized by the aforementioned heavy hitters (losing the games to USC, Oregon, Stanford, and Nebraska by a combined 190-93).  In spite of losing ALL the games were were technically “supposed” to lose, we were still in line for a 1-game improvement over 2010.  That officially died when A. we went into Oregon State and lost (they ended the season with 3 wins) and B. we faced RGIII and the Baylor Bears and gave up 67 points on 777 yards of offense in losing by 11.

Back-to-back 7-6 seasons left a bitter taste in our mouths.  After storming the field against the Cornhuskers, we bent over and grabbed our ankles against the Bears.  2012 would SURELY be different, though.  We had a full season with Keith Price, he had surpassed our wildest expectations by throwing for over 3,000 yards with 33 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions.  How could 2012 NOT be a huge improvement?  On top of all that, we didn’t wait that extra season to see if Nick Holt could turn things around on defense.  We went out, brought in some heavy hitters at recruiting and defensive coaching, and nabbed some top prospects in the process.

Well, there was improvement.  The 2012 Huskies DID manage some signature wins against the likes of Stanford and Oregon State (both in the top 10 at the time we beat them), but they also fell completely flat against the likes of #3 LSU, #2 Oregon, and #11 USC.  In spite of yet another 3-game losing streak in the middle of the season, these Huskies were looking at possibly winning 8 or 9 games when all was said and done!

They were 7-4 (riding a 4-game winning streak) going into the Apple Cup in Pullman.  They had an 18-point lead going into the final quarter … so of COURSE they ended up blowing the game in overtime.  This ultimately led to the Huskies facing Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl and ending up – once again – 7-6.

In short, the Huskies went from 0-12 in 2008, to 5-7 in 2009, to 7-6 in 2010, 2011, and 2012.  No 7-6 record is created equal, obviously, but at the end of the day people don’t remember how you got there.  They just see where you were and shake their heads.

Keith Price showed all the promise in the world in 2011.  But, he lost all his major weapons (Kearse and Aguilar at receiver, Chris Polk at running back) and couldn’t recover in 2012.  In the Baylor bowl game, Price accounted for 7 touchdowns on offense and looked like the best quarterback on the field – even better than the Heisman Trophy winner and ultimate #2 overall draft pick.  However, in the Apple Cup and again in the Boise State bowl game, Price ended both with interceptions.  He was going into the 2013 season fighting for his job, but from all accounts he’s got it locked up after Spring Ball.  Nevertheless, I have to imagine he’s on a short leash.  We can’t suffer the kind of downgrade in production again.

At this point in Sark’s tenure, he’s got all his own guys now.  2013 is the year we’re expected to win and win consistently.  The non-conference schedule is relatively easy, and the conference schedule isn’t too bad either.  We’ve got veterans in all the right places, we’ve got some serious talent on defense for the first time since he got here, and Price has had a chance to gel with his offensive weapons.  2013 isn’t a Rose Bowl or Bust, but it’s close.  The Huskies have to at least be in the conversation.

I’m not gonna lie to you, beating the Ducks for the first time in eons would go a long way towards cementing Sark’s status as a legend ’round these parts.

Husky Basketball

The 2007/2008 Huskies were a definite low-point in the Romar era.  They finished the regular season 16-16, losing in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, and received the #1 seed in the College Basketball Invitational.  You know, that post-season tournament for the teams not even good enough for the N.I.T.

We lost.  To Valparaiso.

In 2008/2009, we brought in Isaiah Thomas and he was a firecracker right from the start.  We enjoyed Brockman’s senior season, and we rode that wave to a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament and a Round of 32 loss to 5-seed Purdue by two points.  More or less, it was a successful season, but once again it ended prematurely.

In 2009/2010, we had another senior leader taking to the forefront.  This time, it was Q-Pon, who averaged 19 and 7 per game in leading us to a Pac-10 Tournament victory, an 11-seed in the tournament, and upset wins over #6 Marquette (where he hit the clutch game winner) and #3 New Mexico.

Once again, though, the Romar-era Huskies couldn’t get past the Sweet 16.  This time, we lost to West Virginia, thanks to them totally having the length advantage on us.

In 2010/2011, we had our version of a Big 3 with Thomas, MBA, and Holiday.  The last two were seniors and Thomas was playing in what would be his final season.  We rode this squad to another Pac-10 Tournament victory (you all remember COLD BLOODED don’t you?).  This resulted in a 7-seed – our third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance – and a victory over 10-seed Georgia before losing in the Round of 32 to 2-seeded North Carolina (by only 3 points, but still).

The 2011/2012 season saw the emergence of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross.  Both were young, extremely talented, and irritatingly inconsistent.  Ross would disappear for minutes at a time.  Wroten had no jump shot whatsoever, so he had to fight for every single basket in the paint.  This team ended up winning the Pac-12 outright, but since the Pac-12 sucked dick that season, and since the Huskies lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, AND since they had no quality wins over ranked non-conference opponents, the Huskies were denied a fourth consecutive NCAA invite.  Instead, they locked down the #1-overall N.I.T. seeding and ran with it to the Final Four in New York City.  It ended with a loss to Minnesota, who would end up losing to eventual-champion Stanford the very next game.

The less said about the 2012/2013 season, the better.  Wroten and Ross both bolted for the NBA, and absolutely no one came in to replace them.  That’s what happens when you’re a good-not-great recruiter in a good-not-great university for basketball:  sometimes you DON’T bring in a player of quality and you suffer as a result.

Gaddy, Wilcox, Suggs, and N’Diaye were left to pick up the pieces.  This team was pretty solid on defense, but ultimately inept on offense, and now at least three of those guys are gone (with Wilcox having a difficult decision to make regarding his final year of eligibility).  The 2012/2013 Huskies didn’t beat a single ranked team, only beat three teams who ended up going to the NCAAs (Saint Louis, California, and Colorado), and wound up being a 6-seed in the N.I.T., where the subsequently got their shit kicked in at BYU.

What’s in store for 2013/2014?  Well, a solid incoming class with one McDonalds All American at point guard in Nigel Williams-Goss.  If Wilcox comes back, that gives us a veteran scoring presence (for the record, he’s a fool if he leaves; his past season was absolutely dreadful and injury-plagued).  If we can get anything from our young forwards, you could look at a team that surprises a lot of people.  Or, you could be looking at a third-straight N.I.T. bid.  If it’s the latter, I’m not so sure I’d be confident about my job security if I was Romar.

Seattle Supersonics

I won’t go into excruciating detail on this end.  We all know what the last five years have been like for the Sonics.  They went 20-62 in their final season in Seattle (after drafting Kevin Durant and bringing in one of the finest GMs in the game from the San Antonio organization).  They were given away by the city of Seattle, they struggled again the following season, and then they went to the playoffs four straight seasons (losing most recently in the Finals to the beloved Miami Heat).

Now, we’ve got an ownership group and an arena deal in place, and we’re fighting like crazy to steal the Kings from Sacramento.  If all goes according to plan, we will have pro basketball back in Seattle for the 2013/2014 season.  If it doesn’t, then this part of next year’s “Five Years” post is going to be REAL fucking depressing.

Seattle Seahawks

I’m saving the best for last because I can.  Because, honestly, it’s all a little too much and I can hardly believe it myself.  There is cautious optimism for the Mariners and their young core to turn things around.  There’s more confident optimism that the Husky football team will turn some heads this fall.  There’s hope that the Husky basketball team can somehow gel with their new incoming players and make an improbable Tourney run.  There’s delusions that the NBA will be back in Seattle this time next year.

But, that’s nothing.  There is outright SWAGGER for the Seattle Seahawks.  How did we get HERE?

In 2008, we went 4-12.  We had dicked around with Mike Holmgren, we signed on his replacement – Jim Mora Jr. – to be his defensive backs coach, and all the major veterans took a huge dump.  This was coming off of a 2007 season where the Seahawks once again won the division.  But, Shaun Alexander was released at the end, losing out to another injury.  So, Tim Ruskell opted to reload via free agency.  Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett were brought in to liven up the running game, but no dice.  Hasselbeck missed a bunch of games, Walter Jones tried surgery but wasn’t the same and was forced to retire at season’s end … it was just a mess.

In 2009, there was something of a fresh start expected with Mora.  T.J. Houshmandzadeh was brought in on a huge free agent deal, Aaron Curry was signed as our can’t-lose first round draft pick … in short, we were one of the oldest and least-talented teams in the NFL.  When all was said and done, these Seahawks improved by only 1 game and both Mora and Ruskell were fired.

2010 was the REAL fresh start.  Pete Carroll and John Schneider tag-teamed this roster from head to toe.  They traded for Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, and Charlie Whitehurst (hey, they can’t all be winners).  They got rid of Housh (taking a healthy bath in the cap hit) and later Deion Branch.  They brought in a rejuvinated Mike Williams who led the team in receiving.  They drafted Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, and Kam Chancellor.  They made hundreds upon hundreds of free agent moves, giving tryouts to anyone and everyone who they thought might be an upgrade.  They got significantly younger, and thanks to a piss-poor division, ended up making the playoffs with a 7-9 record.

Understand, this wasn’t a legitimate playoff team.  Yes, after two years in the wilderness, they found their way back to civilization, but it was totally phony!  The fact that we beat the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at Qwest Field is a travesty of common decency (though, it did provide us with the greatest NFL play ever, Beastmode’s Touchdown Scamper).  Our “Cinderella” run ended the following week in Chicago, and you had to wonder how long it would be before the Seahawks made the playoffs again.

The 2011 Seahawks were hamstrung by the NFL Lockout.  They fired their offensive coordinator and hired Darrell Bevell from Minnesota.  Which meant, if they stood any chance of competing in ANY games that season, they’d have to bring some people in who knew Bevell’s system.  This meant Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback.  They let Hasselbeck go with a cordial goodbye and handed the keys to the team over to Tarvar (without so much as a second look at Whitehurst, who was as bad as we all remember him being and then some).

Tarvar proved tough, but ultimately inept when the game was on the line.  Those 2011 Seahawks also finished the regular season 7-9 and weren’t given the benefit of a lousy NFC West to “earn” a home playoff game.

With a full offseason going into 2012, the Seahawks needed to make a change.  They’d drafted well, bringing in guys like Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright.  But, they needed a signal-caller with some zazz!  So, they signed Matt Flynn to a three-year deal, and they went out and drafted Russell Wilson in the third round.

People say if Wilson was just 2-3 inches taller, he would’ve been a Top 10 pick.  But, he’s not, so now he’s ours.

Wilson earned his opportunity to have an Open Competition in Training Camp.  This led to him wowing us in the Pre-Season, which ultimately led to him winning the job and running with it.  The 2012 Seahawks took it easy with him for the first few weeks, but once they knew he could handle himself, they opened things up.  This resulted in the Seahawks being the best team in football over the second half of the season.  Still, their early-season slip-ups meant that the 49ers won the division, relegating us to the fifth seed in the NFC.

We went into Washington and somehow came away with a victory.  Then, we went into Atlanta, gave them a 20-point lead, and somehow led in the game with 30 seconds to go.  That was choked away, but the message was sent.  It wasn’t, “Wait Until Next Year,” the way most fanbases say it, more resigned to their current fate as losers, sorely, bitterly hoping that things will turn around for them in short order.

No, this is, “Just you WAIT until next year, chickenfuckers!”  Because the 2013 Seahawks are a runaway train that has Super Bowl or Bust written all over them!

In five years, the Seahawks have gone from one of the oldest and worst teams in the NFL to one of the youngest and best teams.  In five years, the Seahawks have gone from bottom-feeders to would-be kings.  We fans are cashing in our 401Ks in anticipation of buying Super Bowl tickets in 2014.  It’s never been so clear and so positive in the city of Seattle.  They can single-handedly reverse the fortunes of this desolate sports city.  All they need to do is win.

What’s more, they’re spreading around the positivity.  People are stoked on the Mariners WAY more than they should be thanks to the good will generated by the Seahawks.  Sports fans have something to look forward to and spirits are bright.  This is carrying over to the other sports in hopes that the good vibes will roll on.

We’ll see.  If the Seahawks win it all, the Mariners contend for a playoff spot, the Huskies make a run at the Rose Bowl, the basketball Huskies make a run at the NCAA Tournament, and the Sonics return to Seattle, we could be talking about the greatest 5-year turnaround any sports city has ever seen.  Fingers crossed.

YOUR Seattle Mariners: 2013’s Best Team In All Of Baseball

You know, these guys are making it REALLY hard to remain level-headed …

Stupid. Just crazy fucking stupid …

Take a look at those numbers.  LOOK AT THEM!  First, click on the picture to make them bigger, then LOOK AT THOSE FUCKING THINGS!

I know you’re not supposed to say it, because it’s insensitive, but “Retarded” is the only word that comes to mind when I think about the Seattle Mariners 11 games into their 2013 Spring Training campaign.  10-1 (with the lone defeat in a charity game to start off the year), on a 10-game winning streak, with 24 homers (8 more than the number 2 team in baseball), 83 runs (2 more than the number 2 team in baseball), a .585 slugging percentage (68 points higher than the number 2 team in baseball), and a .951 OPS (47 points higher than the number 2 team in baseball).  On top of that, their 10 wins is 1 more than the number 2 team in baseball.  It is OUT OF CONTROL.

Now look, I know, okay?  I know we’re not supposed to look at the numbers, or concentrate on the numbers, or know the numbers even exist!  Spring Training is nothing more than guys trying to get their arms in shape for pitching and their eyes and arms in shape for batting.  That’s it.  If the numbers are great, then great.  If the numbers aren’t great, then who cares?

I get it.

But, here’s the deal.  A. I’m not there.  I’m not sitting there watching these games.  I’m not interviewing the players or the coaches.  All the info I get comes from beat writers and bloggers.  I’m relying on them to paint me the overall picture of what’s really going on.  Also, B. I’m not a scout.  So, even if I WAS there, watching the games, etc., I wouldn’t know a good swing from a bad swing anyway!

But, I can look at numbers and know what they represent.  And, right now, they represent something pretty outstanding.

Who are the guys we are concerned about?  Let’s start with Justin Smoak.  So far, he’s 8 for 16 with four extra-base hits (2 homers, 2 doubles), 2 walks and only 3 strikeouts.  He’s one of those guys working on a new swing that appears to be paying dividends.  Good on ya.

Moving on, Jesus Montero is 7 for 14, also with four extra-base hits (1 homer, 3 doubles), 1 walk and 3 strikeouts.  Raul Ibanez is 7 for 13 with five extra-base hits (2 homers, 3 doubles), 1 walk and 2 strikeouts.  Dustin Ackley is 4 for 10 with 1 extra-base hit (1 triple), 2 walks and 2 strikeouts.  Kendrys Morales is 5 for 14 with 1 extra-base hit (1 homer).  Mike Morse is 4 for 13 with 2 extra-base hits (1 homer, 1 double), 2 walks and 5 strikeouts.  And Franklin Gutierrez is 4 for 13 with 4 extra-base hits (3 homers, 1 double), 2 walks and 4 strikeouts.

So often, we dismiss Spring Training results, because so often we find our minor leaguers doing the bulk of the damage.  Well, in some respects, this year is no different (Carlos Peguero:  8 for 19, 5 extra-base hits – 3 homers, 2 doubles – 2 walks & 6 strikeouts), but for the most part, we’re looking at our Major Leaguers doing just as much damage if not moreso.  That’s promising!  It means nothing; they could all revert to pieces of crap come April 1st.  But, still!  Right now, it’s early March, so right now that’s promising!

Part of me never wants this Spring Training to end.  A much bigger part of me wants these Spring Training results to count towards the regular season, so we can have a big ol’ head start on the rest of our division.  The whole of me is genuinely excited to see what these Mariners will turn into when the clock strikes 6am and Bill Murray lifts his head from his pillow as “I Got You Babe” is playing on the clock radio.  Is 2013 going to be another shitty Groundhog Day, in an endless string of Groundhog Days for these Mariners?  Or, will we finally be greeted with a February 3rd and get to make out with Andie MacDowell?

Seattle Mariners Spring Training Preview

You can see yesterday’s Offseason Review here.  One-stop shopping for all the Seattle Mariners offseason moves of note (see what I did there with that “of note” … can’t pull the wool over the eyes of THIS guy).

So, to bring it back, this is the team the Seattle Mariners ended with in 2012 (the players in BOLD are no longer on the team going into 2013):

C – Jesus Montero
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
SS – Brendan Ryan
3B – Kyle Seager
LF – Casper Wells
CF – Michael Saunders
RF – Eric Thames
DH – John Jaso

C – Miguel Olivo
OF – Trayvon Robinson
INF – Munenori Kawasaki
Util – Chone Figgins

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Jason Vargas
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Kevin Millwood
  5. Blake Beavan

Closer – Tom Wilhelmsen
LRP – Oliver Perez
RRP – Josh Kinney
RRP – Stephen Pryor
LRP – Charlie Furbush
LRP – Lucas Luetge
Long Relief – Erasmo Ramirez

Obviously, the 2012 Mariners’ roster was ever-changing, so these aren’t concrete examples.  But, overall, in the 2nd half of last year, more often than not these are the players who played and those were the positions they played.  Give or take a Guti and Carp (when they were healthy) and a Shawn Kelley in the bullpen.

So, from the looks of things, we’re replacing at least seven guys on this roster (including our ENTIRE bench and 40% of our starting rotation).  But, obviously, those aren’t the only moves to be made.  You gotta figure aside from Pitching Staff Ace, everyone’s job is on the line.  Based on the offseason moves made to date, here’s what I’m seeing as our roster to start the 2013 season (changes from 2012 made in BOLD):

C – Jesus Montero
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
SS – Brendan Ryan
3B – Kyle Seager
LF – Michael Saunders
CF – Franklin Gutierrez
RF – Michael Morse
DH – Kendrys Morales

C – Kelly Shoppach
OF – Raul Ibanez
INF – Robert Andino
OF – Casper Wells

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Joe Saunders
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Jon Garland
  5. Erasmo Ramirez

Closer – Tom Wilhelmsen
LRP – Oliver Perez
RRP – Josh Kinney
RRP – Stephen Pryor
LRP – Charlie Furbush
LRP – Lucas Luetge
Long Relief – Blake Beavan

Obviously, I hold no sway in this deal.  Although, truth be told, if I had it my way and things break the way I hope they’ll break, this would be the starting 25 you’d see on Opening Day.

So, let’s go through it, position by position.

The first five players listed above, from Catcher – Montero down through our entire infield, is all the same.  Yes, it will be important for the moves the Mariners made to pan out if we’re hoping to shock the world and contend for a playoff spot in September; but if this team is ever going to pan out long-term, it’s going to be up to these five guys:  Montero, Smoak, Ackley, Seager, and Ryan.  Montero and Smoak are supposed to be our middle-of-the-order thumpers to drive in runs.  Thus far, they’ve been underwhelming.  Now, we’ll see if those “protection” theories hold any water (the thinking being:  if you have good, established hitters in your lineup, they will “protect” younger, inexperienced guys like Smoak and Montero, thereby allowing them to see better pitches because opposing pitchers are too worried about the veterans like Morse and Morales).  2013 is Make or Break for Jackie Z and it’s Make or Break for Montero and Smoak.  If they fail, Jackie Z is likely toast, Smoak is likely to be dealt for peanuts, and Montero will be relegated to a backup catcher role as Mike Zunino takes hold of the position for the next decade-plus.  If they succeed, then Jackie Z will likely be given an extension, Smoak will hold the fort at first base, and Montero will hold the fort at DH while Zunino takes over as full-time catcher anyway because he’s so great.

The bottom line:  we need Smoak and Montero to be good.  We need Seager to build upon his promising 2012.  We need Ackley to show why being picked #2 overall was a smart decision.  And we need Brendan Ryan to hit SOMETHING, because if he can be halfway competent, his defense makes him a superstar.

We need:  no more black holes!

Let’s move on to the outfield.  Michael Saunders played the full season in 2012 and made huge strides.  He primarily played in center because Guti once AGAIN couldn’t stay healthy.  Like Seager, it will be important for Saunders to build upon his promising 2012.  This organization has enough to worry about.  Let’s have Saunders not be one of those things.

Getting Guti back, healthy, and in center full time is akin to signing a bigtime free agent.  If we can just, for Christ’s sake!, get Guti back to where he was in 2009 before this nightmare run of maladies befell our beloved center fielder, then it’ll be an addition on par with the other big bats we brought in.

Morse, while a liability on defense, should be a steadying presence in the lineup.  Personally, I think these baseball intellectuals are giving WAY too much credence to defensive metrics they readily admit are flawed.  I don’t for one second believe Casper Wells is as good, much less better than Michael Morse as an overall baseball player.  His defense might be superior, but is it SO superior that it overwhelms the fact that Morse is a legitimate Major League hitter while Wells sucks dick except for a few brilliant spurts of prowess?  I say no.  Morse makes this team better than Wells and he makes this team better than all of the other jackasses we had in the corner outfield spots in 2012.

Morales is another legitimate Major League hitter that we can slide right into the #3 or #4 spot in the lineup.  With Morales and Morse as a one-two punch, we’re really giving other teams something to think about for the first time in YEARS.  More importantly, it pushes guys like Seager, Smoak, and Montero into less-stressful spots in the lineup, where they can worry about their own games, and not trying to carry this team on their backs.

As for the bench, I think we’re better across the board.  Shoppach has to be a step up from Olivo.  Ibanez essentially takes over as the veteran presence Chone Figgins occupied last year, only Ibanez should hopefully not be a complete waste of space.  Andino is an upgrade over Kawasaki.  The only question mark is the final outfield spot.  I’m predicting Casper Wells takes it over Jason Bay, because I just have zero confidence in that guy having anything left in the tank.  With Wells, you’re looking at a clear upgrade over Robinson, Thames, Carp, Peguero, and whoever else was our reserve outfielder in 2012.  Being the team’s 4th outfielder seems to be the role Casper Wells was born to play.  He can cover all the outfield positions and he’s not such a huge drop-off in offensive production when you play him sparingly (and against left-handed pitchers).

Here’s what our starting lineup could look like for much of the 2013 season:

  1. (L) – Dustin Ackley (2B)
  2. (L) – Kyle Seager (3B)
  3. (S) – Kendrys Morales (DH)
  4. (R) – Michael Morse (RF)
  5. (R) – Jesus Montero (C)
  6. (S) – Justin Smoak (1B)
  7. (R) – Franklin Gutierrez (CF)
  8. (L) – Michael Saunders (LF)
  9. (R) – Brendan Ryan (SS)

Doesn’t look too bad, right?  Again, this is all guess-work, but in an ideal world, if the Mariners are playing a 1-game playoff to get into the post-season, this is the lineup I’d like to see.  Against a tough right-handed pitcher, you can slide Saunders into center, and start Ibanez in left.  Late in games, you can put Wells in for Morse (or pinch-run him for Montero, Morales or Morse).  And on getaway games, you’re not losing a ton when you start Andino for Ryan, Shoppach for Montero, Ibanez for whoever, and Wells for whoever else.  You can give Seager and Ackley days off from playing the field by throwing them at DH once in a while.  Morales can always slide over to first base in a pinch, I’m assuming.  Lots of flexibility on this team.

More importantly, lots of production on this team, if things go the way we hope.  If Ackley improves and Seager at the very least doesn’t get any worse, you’re talking about a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup.  Morales and Morse are there to hit dingers, Montero and Smoak are down in the lineup where there’s less pressure on them.  And, at the end of our lineup, you’re not talking about 1/3 of our batters being a bottomless pit of despair!  While before we were trying to shoe-horn guys like Saunders and Guti into the upper third of the lineup, now we have the luxury to play them near the bottom, improving our production dramatically over guys like Thames, Trayvon Robinson, an everyday Casper Wells, and so on.  Saunders and Guti have the potential to be productive EVERY day, not every 10 days.  That’s big in my book.

I don’t want to alarm any of you.  If you’re on any heart medication or have a pacemaker, you may want to stop reading right now.  Don’t look now, but this offense MIGHT just be a league-average offense!  I KNOW, RIGHT?

If you want to know why so many people are picking the Mariners to be one of the “surprise” teams of 2013 a la Oakland and Baltimore of 2012, look no further.  Of course, by these very people declaring us a “surprise” team, they’ve effectively ruined the surprise and doomed us to a fate worse than Bill Simmons picking the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl.  I want you to keep that in mind as you don’t watch this team still playing in October.

One major reason to take a huge step back from all those post-season expectations is this team’s starting rotation.  At the top, we’re fine.  If Felix can give us his usual Cy Young-calibre pitching, we’ve got a huge leg-up over most other teams.  And, if Joe Saunders can continue to be Joe Saunders (and not Worse Joe Saunders), then we’ve effectively made up for the loss of Vargas and won’t miss much of a beat.

After those two, it gets a little … iffy.  Is Iwakuma the real deal, like he was in the second half of 2012?  Or, is he going to require another half-season to get his stuff up to snuff?  If we landed the real deal with Iwakuma, then I’ll tell you we’ve really got something here.  Felix, Saunders, and Iwakuma aren’t really on par with the best 1-2-3’s in the Major Leagues, but for the regular season they could be just enough to get the job done.  If those guys can give us 60 wins in their 90+ starts, then we’ve only got to manage somewhere around 30 wins across the other starters’ 60+ starts to be a legitimate candidate for post-season contention.

Well, when you put it that way …

The last two starters could be brutal, though.  I’m only pencilling Jon Garland into the rotation based on his prior performances; but that guy hasn’t pitched in a year and a half!  Erasmo Ramirez is only in my hypothetical rotation based on a handful of starts in June and again in September.  Ramirez had 4 starts in June where the M’s went 2-2 (his record being 0-2), his ERA was 4.58, and he averaged less than 5 innings per start.  Of course, a main reason for that average was his last start where he left injured in the 3rd inning and promptly went on the DL.  He only had 1 quality start out of those four, but MAN was it a quality start!  8 innings, 10 strikeouts, 1 earned run on 3 hits and a walk in a 1-0 loss to the A’s.  Upon his return from the DL, in a September call-up, Ramirez made 4 more starts.  The M’s were 1-3 in these games (his record being 1-1) and his ERA was only 2.96 in this stretch, as he averaged nearly 7 innings per start.

So, in reality, I’m basing Ramirez’s status in our 2013 rotation on five starts in 2012.  Not really the smartest way to go about predicting a roster, but then again, it’s not like I’m the only one.  Many smarter people than myself are also pencilling Ramirez into our rotation.

Which, when you think about it, could be the best thing for this team.  When you see these “surprise” teams jump out of the woodwork, what’s a general theme?  They USUALLY have one or two very young rotation guys who have breakout years.  What’s more likely?  A guy like Smoak or Ackley figures it out and takes the world by storm?  Or a pitcher like Ramirez (or Hultzen, or someone else) mowing people down out of nowhere?  You see it all the time with pitchers; why can’t Ramirez be that catalyst for us at the back-end of our rotation?

At which point, you’ve got an elite Felix Hernandez, a steady Joe Saunders, a solid Hisashi Iwakuma, and a breakout Erasmo Ramirez.  With Jon Garland as an innings eater who will give you a number of quality starts a la Kevin Millwood.  I’m not gonna lie to you, my heart just fluttered a little.

The more I think about it, if we can JUST squeeze the best out of this starting rotation, and if our hitters can do JUST enough to keep us in ballgames, this very well COULD be our year!  Because I don’t think you’re going to find many better bullpens – from top to bottom – than the one we have in Seattle this year.  It’s a shame we have to waste it on a team that will likely be treading water around .500, because in a couple years (when this team will theoretically be ready to make the big jump towards regular contention) this bullpen won’t be the same (and will likely price itself out of our range).

But, Wilhelmsen is a stud of the highest order.  Yet, if he fails, Carter Capps is waiting in the wings.  And if he fails, Stephen Pryor is another flame-thrower.  And if he fails, Oliver Perez can burn the strike zone from the left side.  And if HE fails … it goes on and on.  Furbush had an amazing 2012 out of the bullpen.  Kinney was solid, if unspectacular.  Luetge was a Rule 5 draft pick who stuck with the team as a left-handed specialist.  Beavan has always been an innings eater who will easily devour innings in a long relief role.

For the record, the likelihood of all those guys failing is pretty slim.  But, in my opinion, NONE of those guys will fail, and we will have the best lockdown bullpen in the American League.

How many 1-run games can the Mariners win?  Ultimately, that will tell the story as to whether or not this team makes the playoffs.  I know winning 1-run games isn’t really a sustainable model for building a championship contender, but every so often there are outliers.  The A’s last year were 11-5 in extra-innings games.  They were 25-18 in 1-run games.  The Orioles last year were a mind-boggling 16-2 in extra-innings games!  And they were 29-9 in 1-run games!

Meanwhile, the Mariners last year were 5-10 in extra-innings games and 25-28 in 1-run games.  Gotta figure out a way to turn those figures around.  Clutch hitting, quality starts, unbelievable bullpen pitching.  That’s the key.  With just enough late-game defense thrown in to keep everyone honest.

I’ll have an official Season Preview closer to our April 1st season debut in Oakland (where else?), once everything has been set in stone and we know just exactly what we can expect on Opening Night.  In the meantime, dare I say it?  There’s ACTUALLY some reasons for optimism in 2013?