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???

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 2013 Seattle Mariners Will Not Make The Playoffs (Obviously)

Over the weekend, I wrote this.  It was a Glass Half Full (or, really, just a Glass Full) imagining of how the Seattle Mariners might make the playoffs ahead of schedule.  Of course, if you’re a Glass Half Empty guy like myself, “ahead of schedule” could be making the playoffs anytime in the next 20 years.

Today, ahead of Game 1 of 162, featuring Felix Hernandez against the Oakland Athletics, I’m writing the counter-argument.  The Wario to Saturday’s Mario.  The Darth Vader to Saturday’s Luke Skywalker.  The Van Halen with Gary Cherone to Saturday’s Van Halen with Diamond David Lee Roth.  Nobody wants to read about THESE Mariners when you could possibly have Saturday’s Mariners.  But, the stark reality is, if I’m putting my Smart Money down on one or the other, I’m putting it down on the Mariners NOT making the playoffs.  Because the Mariners making the playoffs is not the way the world works.

Let’s look at this realistically for a moment.  Justin Smoak is who we thought he was.  That’s going to be proven in this, his final season as a Mariner (or, at least, his final season as a Mariners starter).  The guy can be Mr. March and Mr. September all he wants.  But, he’s going to have to figure out a way to be Mr. April thru August too, if he’s going to make it.  I know he’s young, and we like to shield the young from the rigorous pressures of the Major Leagues, but at some point you have to prove that you can HANDLE some of those pressures.  You can’t be coddled forever!  Mike Trout is young, and he seemed to handle those same pressures pretty fucking well.  I’m not saying Smoak is on a similar talent level as Trout, but that’s neither here nor there.  Emotionally speaking, Trout is in another league.  Smoak is like an infant trying to cross the street in Frogger.  How about we grow the fuck up and start doing our jobs, huh?

I’m not nearly as down on Jesus Montero as I am with Smoak.  That’s probably because I haven’t been crushingly disappointed for quite as long.  Still, for a guy who was the centerpiece of the offseason prior to last season, it’s a little disconcerting to know that he’s simply a stopgap solution to our catching needs.  That is, until Mike Zunino arrives.  Essentially, I don’t give a flying fuck what Montero does behind the plate this year.  He could be the second coming of Rob Johnson for all I care.  This dude needs to hit, plain and simple.  The writing has never been more ON the wall:  Jesus Montero is our future full-time DH.  So, you know, I’d like to have a DH that hits .330 with 40 doubles and 30 homers.  If that’s all right with you.

I do still believe in the protection theory, and I do think that Morales and Morse were admirable pick-ups this past offseason.  But, how much can you expect, really?  Every time I see a ball hit his way, I’m going to wonder if THIS is the moment where Morse hurts himself and goes on the shelf.  I’m going to be an absolute trainwreck this first month of the season; it’s probably best I DON’T have cable.  There is no way in Hell that Morse stays healthy all season (that goes double for Guti, but I’m getting ahead of myself).  And when he is healthy, what have we got?  MAYBE a guy who’ll hit .270 (but don’t be surprised if he hits .230, because Seattle).  MAYBE a guy who will end up with 20-or-so home runs.  MAYBE a guy who will play in 100-or-so games.  Who’s going to make up that slack?  Guys like Ibanez and Bay?  Oh, great.

For the record, I think Ibanez is done.  I think this will prove to be his final season EVER.  Seattle is where old players go to die (Sexson, Vidro, Everett, Griffey, Wilkerson, Sweeney).  Ibanez had a reasonably productive season last year in part-time duty.  But, he still only hit .240.  As for his 19 home runs, we’re still talking about the band box that is Yankees Stadium.  14 of those 19 were hit at home.  Now, Safeco Field is his home.  I would expect that average to be a whole lot worse and I would expect those power numbers to approach zero.

As for Jason Bay, I give him two months, tops.  He’ll show why he was so expendable and so loathed in New York.  I would anticipate the likes of Eric Thames back in a Mariners uniform before too long.

Getting back to Morales, I think he is a legitimately good hitter.  He might be the best hitter on this team.  But, I still have to wonder how playing in Seattle is going to affect him.  I highly doubt he WANTS to be here.  He’s a professional, so he’s not going to make a big fuss.  But, to anyone who is holding out hope that he might choose to sign an extension with the Mariners, I would say, “Just put that idea to bed.”  No way.  No way in HELL he comes back to Seattle.  If he’s not traded at the deadline, then we are essentially resigning ourselves to getting nothing for the man as he walks at the end of the season.  And oh by the way, I would expect his numbers to take a drop as well.  He’s in Seattle now.  “When in Rome,” as they say.

Kyle Seager was a nice little story in 2012, but my concern is this:  what if that’s as good as it gets?  Dustin Ackley was a less-nice story in 2012, but again my concern is the same.  I think if you put these guys in Colorado, they might be All Stars.  But, in Seattle, I have to wonder.

As for Michael Saunders, I have a sinking suspicion that he’s going to revert back to his old ways.  Not hitting that outside pitch.  Striking out too much.  With a batting average around .200.  Everyone will make a big deal about him being in the leadoff spot being too great a challenge.  The team will bounce him up and down the lineup.  And by season’s end, he would have been benched long ago, but of course we’ll need him to cover center field because GUTI!

Chone Figgins was a disappointment because we all had these great expectations of him being a pest at or near the top of our lineup.  He ended up being one of those old players who comes to Seattle to die.  Franklin Gutierrez is a disappointment because of similar expectations.  But, he’s not a bad player.  His skills haven’t diminished!  At least, I don’t THINK they have.  Then again, what would I know?  I haven’t seen him play an extended stretch of pain-free baseball in quite some time.  Guti isn’t old, but he’s a player who has come to Seattle, where he might LITERALLY die.  Someone find the old witch who cursed him and drive a stake through her cold, black heart.

I actually kind of think Brendan Ryan is due for a rebound at the plate.  Unfortunately, I also kind of think Brendan Ryan is due for a serious injury that keeps him out for a few months.

Which is something I never did get into over the weekend.  Injuries.  Everyone gets ’em!  And you never anticipate ’em when you’re trying to predict what’s going to happen in a given season.  You can look at an older team and say, “Hey, these guys will probably hurt themselves!”  But, we’re not fortune tellers.  Someone (or some ones) on the Mariners will get hurt.  It’ll set the team back.  And their replacements will be terrible.  Or, they’ll get hurt, not tell anyone, try to play through the pain, and be WORSE than the already-terrible replacements.  So, there’s that.

***

In 2013, it’ll be Felix and hope for four days of rain.  OK, maybe it won’t be that bad, but still, there’s a lot to dislike.  Saunders will be decent at times, and he will be awful at times.  Iwakuma will be good at times, and kinda bad at times.  Beavan will start the season pretty well, but by June or July he will be down in Tacoma where he belongs.  Maurer is the ultimate wild card, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s demoted within the next four weeks (or just as soon as Erasmo Ramirez is ready).  I think Maurer will eventually return, but who knows how this will shake his confidence?

Here’s the thing, though.  If the Mariners DID make the playoffs, how could anyone POSSIBLY trust this pitching staff?  Yeah, we’ve got Felix, but any team we’d play in the post-season has their own version of Felix too!  And they will be pitching against the Mariners, which means his numbers will likely be BETTER than Felix’s!  Shit, the Mariners had Randy Johnson in 1997 leading the charge, and he wasn’t enough to even get us to a fifth game in the first round!  I wouldn’t exactly say it was his fault; but, then again, I wouldn’t say he was throwing any 1-hitters either.

Felix is great.  He’s my favorite all-time Mariner for a reason.  But, he’s not perfect.  A theoretical 2013 Mariners playoff team will have relied on his arm for 230+ innings ahead of any playoff game.  It wouldn’t shock me in the least to see him be mortal against a team like the Tigers or Yankees.  Especially when they have Verlander and Sabathia, who (especially Sabathia) have tended to dominate the M’s.

After Felix, your playoff rotation is fucked.  Like I alluded to over the weekend, if this team makes the playoffs, it will be because Brandon Maurer was our second-best pitcher.  It will be because he reached his potential (which is so much higher than the potential of Saunders, Iwakuma, Beavan, or Ramirez) and posted a ridiculous win/loss record.  But, at the same time, if he does that, he won’t be with us in the playoffs (because he’ll be shut down).  We’ll be stuck with cagey veterans like Saunders and Iwakuma.  They will get rocked.  We will likely be swept in the first round.

So, you know, it’s probably for the best that this team won’t make the playoffs.  Why suffer the embarrassment?

As for the bullpen, I do like it a lot.  From top to bottom, I think it can be one of the best in baseball.  But, Pryor could struggle with command.  Capps could struggle with command.  Luetge could get shelled.  Perez could get shelled.  From season to season, no numbers fluctuate so wildly as bullpen numbers.  You can be the same exact pitcher from season to season, with the same level of health and the same speed on your fastball.  But, for reasons unknown, you can dominate one year with a sub-2 ERA, and you can somewhat struggle the next, with a sub-5 ERA.  It’s insane.

As for the rest of the AL West, I do think the A’s are a flash in the pan.  I think the Rangers will hang in there for a possible Wild Card spot.  And, I think the Angels will run away with the division and win 100 games.  You know what else I think?  I think the rest of the division will feast upon the entrails of the Houston Astros (last night’s game against the Rangers notwithstanding), while I think the Mariners will actually manage a losing record against them.  Wouldn’t that be too perfect?  What’s one of the major storylines going into this season?  Everyone thinks the Mariners will have a better record than last year, and everyone thinks that’s because they get 19 games against the Astros.  Well, I’m here to tell you right now, the Mariners will go 9-10 against the Astros, and it’s going to be a dogfight to avoid last place in the division!

No.  No, I don’t really believe the Mariners will battle for 5th place.  In fact, I DO believe the Mariners will contend for some stretch of time this year and that they WILL end up over .500.  I think we’ll get to July 31st right in the middle of the fracas for a Wild Card spot and I think we will actually be BUYERS.  I really do.  Jackie Z has shown he’s willing to trade from a position of strength (starting pitching) to get what this team needs.  So, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another package of players a la the doomed Justin Upton deal going out for a big bat coming back in.  Or, shit, maybe the Mariners go out and get a veteran starting pitcher (not believing their young guys in Tacoma are ready for the leap).  These Mariners will ultimately fade in August (just in time for football season) and September will be entirely meaningless.

I’ve felt the way I feel right now prior to 2007 and 2009.  My outward expectations low, but inwardly thinking, “Hmm, maybe …”

When going into those seasons, my motto was, “Just keep it interesting.”  Just keep us all entertained through the summer.  I don’t need miracles!  I don’t necessarily need a playoff appearance.  Just … let me dream, beyond the month of May.  Give me good things to write about.  Make me wish I actually DID have cable TV.

That’s the way I feel about 2013.  I know that’s totally the kind of Seattle Loser Talk I normally condemn on this site, but the Mariners have broken me.  They have sucked my will to live for far too long, and I doubt there’s any coming back.  I’m a broken shell of a man whose innards have dried up and been replaced by sawdust.  Just entertain me.  Just make me forget the horror I’ve been forced to follow for most of the past decade.  That’s all I ask.  And it’s not a lot TO ask!

87-75.  That’s my number.  It’s actually kind of a high number, now that I think about all this ranting and raving I’ve been doing throughout the duration of this post, but that’s what I’m going with.  I think this bullpen will more than likely be the real deal – at least when it counts, in one-run games – and I think there will be just enough clutch hitting to make up for all the recent Mariners teams who have struggled with runners in scoring position.  It doesn’t make sense, but then again it doesn’t HAVE to make sense.  The Mariners will go 9-10 against the Astros, but they will still be in some form of contention for a Wild Card spot.  Because sometimes, that’s just the way it works.

And, really, it’s not all that far off from the 95 wins I predicted in my Fancy-Free post over the weekend.  So remember, as always, I’m a huge tool who has no idea what he’s talking about.

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?

Free Agent Watch: Mariners Sign Joe Saunders, Backup Catcher

One of these things happened a while ago, but I couldn’t be bothered to care.  The other is so damn new, it’s hardly more than a glimmer in Twitter’s rumor-mongering eye.  But, since the right people on Twitter are saying the right things – 1 year deal for Joe Saunders – I feel it’s strong enough to go with.

Kelly Shoppach is the catcher in the title of this post.  He’s been in the Bigs since 2005 (where he had a cup of coffee with the Red Sox), he has a career batting average of .226, he has played in over 100 games only once in his career (112 in 2008) and he managed a robust .261 average that season.  He’s a guy Eric Wedge had in Cleveland, he’s a veteran, he likely won’t be expected to play all that much (40-60 games, I would guess), and he’s a BACKUP catcher, so really, who cares?  He will struggle mightily on Wednesday and Sunday get-away games, BFD.

Keep your expectations low.  Keep them WAY low.  Like, imagine your already-low expectations for this upcoming Mariners season as a whole, and bury those expectations under the requisite 50-feet-of-crap necessary to not drive yourself crazy about how bad this guy is going to be on the few occasions he’s inserted into the starting lineup.  Then, if by the grace of Satan, Kelly Shoppach manages to scrape the edges of a .250 batting average, we can smirk, put our hands on our hips, and exclaim to absolutely no one, “Huh, what do you know?  This guy ISN’T a total waste of space!”

Joe Saunders is the Joe Saunders in the title of this post.  Say it aloud, “Joe Saunders”.  You don’t even need to see the guy play or know anything about his history in the Major Leagues; just saying his name aloud will give you all the knowledge you’ll ever need about this guy.  He has mediocrity oozing out of his pores like a pizza-faced teenager.  He has a career 4.15 ERA in 189 career starts and ALREADY I’M SNORING!

I hope you’re all happy.  You all bitched and you moaned about how boring and pointless Jason Vargas was (aww, who am I kidding; I was right there with you).  Now look at what we’ve got!  His older, whiter, pudgier, less lesbian-looking distant relative with just about the exact same skillset.  He’s like a left-handed version of Kevin Millwood on whatever the opposite of steroids would be (quaaludes, I guess).

On the plus side, he’s on a one-year deal.  Remember how that was the same plus side we had with Millwood?  Remember how that’s not really much of a plus side at all, because it still means we have to deal with this guy for one full season (which is one full season too many, if you ask me)?

Please, young talented starting pitchers in the Minors; please get elite quickly so we can stop signing these guys to 1-year deals!

The best and worst thing I can say about Joe Saunders is that he’s durable.  That’s essentially my point.  Yes, he will eat up innings and give you adequate performances.  But, yes, he will eat up innings and give us eternal adequacy.  Every five days, for the whole … fucking … season.

But, when you pit that against the alternative – a season’s worth of Hector Noesi giving up gopher balls on 0-2 counts – I guess I’ll have to take it, yeah?  Yeah, I guess I will.

Lord help this team if I have to come back and correct this post, lamenting a surprise 2nd season they’ve for-some-reason decided to tack on.

Keep this in mind as we head into Spring Training, as I’m sure I won’t be the only one to bring it up:

  • We replaced Vargas with Joe Saunders
  • We replaced Jaso with Kelly Shoppach
  • We replaced Jaso’s bat (as a DH) with Kendrys Morales’ bat (as a DH)
  • We replaced a revolving door in left field (Wells, Thames, Peguero, Robinson) with Raul Ibanez and Michael Saunders
  • We replaced Ichiro and another revolving door in right field with Mike Morse

Are we REALLY better than we were in 2012?  I, for one, am champing at the bit to dig into this team next week and find out for myself.

The Major Moves Of Jack Zduriencik

On October 22, 2008, Jack Zduriencik was hired by the Seattle Mariners to be their General Manager.  Here are the major player personnel moves the Mariners have made in that time.

For the 2009 Season:

12/3/2008 – Signed Russell Branyan to 1-year contract
12/10/2008 – Traded J.J. Putz, Jeremy Reed, Sean Green, and others for Jason Vargas, Franklin Gutierrez, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp and others.
1/20/2009 – Traded for David Aardsma
1/29/2009 – Signed Mike Sweeney to 1-year contract
2/18/2009 – Signed Ken Griffey Jr. to 1-year contract
7/29/2009 – Traded for Jack Wilson & Ian Snell

For the 2010 Season:

11/11/2009 – Re-Signed Ken Griffey Jr. to 1-year contract
12/8/2009 – Signed Chone Figgins to 4-year contract
12/16/2009 – Traded for Cliff Lee
12/18/2009 – Traded Carlos Silva for Milton Bradley
12/23/2009 – Traded Brandon Morrow for Brandon League
1/7/2010 – Traded for Casey Kotchman
1/21/2010 – Re-Signed Felix Hernandez to 5-year extension
1/29/2010 – Signed Eric Byrnes to 1-year contract
2/6/2010 – Re-Signed Erik Bedard to 1-year contract
2/12/2010 – Re-Signed Mike Sweeney to 1-year contract
6/27/2010 – Traded for Russell Branyan
7/9/2010 – Traded Cliff Lee & Mark Lowe for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan & others

For the 2011 Season:

12/2/2010 – Re-Signed Erik Bedard to 1-year contract
12/10/2010 – Signed Jack Cust to 1-year contract
12/12/2010 – Traded for Brendan Ryan
1/3/2011 – Signed Miguel Olivo to 2-year contract
1/10/2011 – Signed Adam Kennedy to 1-year contract
7/30/2011 – Traded Doug Fister for Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, & others
7/31/2011 – Traded Erik Bedard & others for Trayvon Robinson & others

For the 2012 Season:

11/27/2011 – Traded Josh Lueke for John Jaso
12/8/2011 – Claimed Lucas Luetge in Rule 5 Draft
12/21/2011 – Signed Munenori Kawasaki to 1-year contract
12/30/2011 – Signed George Sherrill to 1-year contract
1/5/2012 – Signed Hisashi Iwakuma to 1-year contract
1/18/2012 – Signed Oliver Perez to 1-year contract
1/23/2012 – Traded Michael Pineda & Jose Campos for Jesus Montero & Hector Noesi
1/24/2012 – Signed Kevin Millwood to 1-year contract
7/31/2012 – Traded Steve Delabar for Eric Thames.  Traded Brandon League for others

For the 2013 Season:

11/2/2012 – Re-Signed Hisashi Iwakuma to 2-3-year contract
11/3/2012 – Re-Signed Oliver Perez to a 1-year contract

These by no means comprise ALL of the moves, but if I tried to list ALL the moves I’d be here all fucking month.  These are the guys who, more or less, made some kind of an impact on the major league ballclub.  I left out anything related to the draft, because it’s not draft season and that’s not really the point of this post.

What has Jackie Z done to improve the Major League ballclub?

You can see on the timeline where it all went awry.  Just about all of his major moves before the 2009 season were solid gold!  And, of course, what happened in 2009?  The Mariners ended up with 85 wins and somehow found themselves contending to the last month (or so).  It was only natural to think, given a few tweaks here and there, the 2010 season could be pure magic.

So, what did Jackie Z do?  He brought out the whuppin’ stick.  Within a 10-day period, we had our first MAJOR major signing of the Jack Zduriencik era:  Chone Figgins, 4 years.  No one at the time thought that was a stupid idea.  Piggybacking on that, in the aforementioned 10-day period, we brought in Cliff Lee to have one of the better 1-2 punches of all baseball starting rotations; and THEN we traded the dead weight of Carlos Silva for a possible reclamation project in Milton Bradley!  Hell, a bag of turds would’ve been better than Carlos Silva, so either way, there’s no losing THAT deal, right?  To top off his offseson, Jackie Z traded for League (to bolster the back-end of our bullpen), Kotchman (to give us some defense and decent pop at first base), and re-signed Felix to a 5-year extension.

I mean, my GOD, if Jackie Z wanted me to suck his dick after that string of moves, I gladly would’ve closed my eyes and opened my mouth.  THIS is exactly what we’ve been missing out of our baseball GM all these years!  He was doing it, he was really doing it!  There could be no downside to these moves!

Except, Figgins turned to crap.  Kotchman continued being crap.  Bradley continued being crap.  Griffey fell off the map.  Cliff Lee was hurt for the first month of the season.  League was nothing special (and Morrow still might be for someone else).  Byrnes was a fucking disgrace to the game of baseball.  We eventually had to bring back Branyan in a mid-season trade (and even THAT couldn’t prevent our offense from being the worst in the modern era).  And, since we weren’t contending, there was no point in holding onto Cliff Lee; we traded him for what looks like utter shit and disappointment.

Every move for that 2010 season (save re-signing Felix) COMPLETELY backfired.  And yet, at the time, every move was completely defensible!  The only thing you could possibly argue is:  the Mariners didn’t go far ENOUGH.  Of course, that’s the story of this franchise (see:  1996-2003).

After that, the organization put a total and complete halt on trying to contend whatsoever.  Going into 2011, the Mariners signed two veterans at the minimum (Cust & Kennedy), traded for a defense-only shortstop (Ryan), and their only major signing was Olivo on a 2-year deal with an option for a 3rd (that has since been denied, because Olivo).  That was it!  Four guys!  One of which was released before season’s end!

2012 was no picnic either.  Three more veterans at the minimum (Millwood, Sherrill, Perez), a backup shortstop (Kawasaki) who was somehow worse at the plate than Ryan, a Japanese pitcher coming off a major shoulder injury (Iwakuma), a Rule 5 reliever (Luetge), a backup catcher who somehow turned into the cream of the crop (Jaso), and another backup catcher in trade (Montero) who will hopefully be a future designated hitter for years to come.

It’s been two straight years of sifting through a muddy river of shit hoping to find a few tiny flecks of gold.

Now, with enough money off the books, and with the fanbase completely up in arms over all the losing, the Mariners are ready to spend money and hopefully try to compete once again.

Which got me to thinking.  Well, this blog post by Geoff Baker got me to thinking.  The money quote:

Towards the end of the call, I asked Zduriencik about the Chone Figgins experience and whether it caused any hesitation for him going forward when it comes to this winter’s crop of free agents — especially when it comes to inking longer-term deals of more than three years. I wasn’t doing it to rub his face in the Figgins mess — which no one really could have seen imploding as badly as it did — but rather to gauge whether this current administration is prepared to go longer than three years on any deal this winter.

The two biggest free agent acquisitions of the Jack Zduriencik era (not counting Felix, since he was already under contract) before this offseason’s Iwakuma deal have been Chone Figgins (4 years, $36 million) and Miguel Olivo (2 years, $7 million).  That’s IT!  The rest of his moves have either been in trade or of the bottom-feeding veteran minimum variety.

Obviously, this has been by design.  The organization wanted to rid itself of burdensome contracts.  The organization wanted to let some of the young kids play, to see if a “youth movement” could jumpstart things.  But, also, the organization was patently unwilling to increase payroll for the types of free agents that were becoming available the last two offseasons.  Let’s call a spade a spade here; the Seattle Mariners were pushing the Reset Button on this whole thing and starting over from scratch.  I don’t mean that literally, of course; it’s not like they could just waive everyone they didn’t like and bring up all new guys.  But, essentially, the Reset Button is what they did.

Up until now, I would say that the Figgins contract had little to do with the Mariners’ overall plan (except, obviously, they needed to fill their third base position with a rookie).  I don’t think being gunshy about Figgins’ 4-year deal prevented the Mariners from signing other guys to long-term contracts.  I think it was all the reasons I stated above.  That having been said, though, if the Mariners don’t sign someone to a long-term contract THIS off-season … then I’d have to say the Figgins deal is weighing on them.

It would only be natural, after all.  I mean, who WOULDN’T be gunshy?!  From the day Jackie Z took this job, give me the names of the free agents who have worked out beyond even a decent first season?  Yeah, the answer you’re looking for is ZERO.  Hisashi Iwakuma would be the first, if he comes back in 2013 and does well (which is no guarantee, let me tell you).

So, yeah, they SHOULD be apprehensive!  They SHOULD do as much due diligence as humanly possible on this offseason’s free agent crop.  Because it’s fucking NASTY out there!  You’ve got lemons and land mines all OVER the place!

Seattle Mariners 2012 Postmortem, Part 2 (Pitchers)

See Part 1 HERE.

Some interesting similarities between 2011’s starters and 2012’s.  Obviously, the two constants were Felix and Vargas.  For no discernible reason whatsoever, both were remarkably better in 2012.  Felix’s ERA dropped from 3.47 to 3.06; Vargas’ ERA dropped from 4.25 to 3.85.  This is reflected in their records, as they combined for 3 more wins and 7 fewer losses.

As chance would have it, both will likely return for 2013.  Can we expect continued improvement?  Will there be regression?

Obviously, Felix is smack dab in the middle of his prime, so I would expect any worsening of his ERA to be completely random (or due to injury, knock on wood).  As for Vargas, I think he’s going to be a crapshoot for the rest of his career.  A dependable crapshoot, but a crapshoot nonetheless.  I do wonder, though, what he’ll look like without the security blanket of Safeco.

Vargas Home/Road splits in 2012:

  • Home:  98.2 IP, 2.74 ERA, .592 OPS against, 9 home runs allowed in 14 games
  • Road:  118.2 IP, 4.78 ERA, .809 OPS against, 26 home runs allowed in 19 games

Look, not for nothing, but if you were planning out your pitching rotation, and you had a guy like Vargas – with such EXTREME home/road splits – wouldn’t you try to do the math and figure out a way to maximize his home starts?  Just something to consider.

I’m told by people smarter than myself that giving up a shit-ton of home runs is kind of random, so that’s likely to improve next season.  Nevertheless, you’re talking about a flyball pitcher who is considerably worse on the road.  He gets knocked around!  He’s likely going to leave Seattle after next season and he’s likely going to struggle for the rest of his career (except for the few times he comes to Safeco to pitch against the Mariners, that is).

It’s pointless to complain about Vargas (besides, I’m not complaining anyway); just know that we’re stuck with him.  Of course, there’s talk of trying to extend him on a 2-3 year deal for a reasonable amount of money.  I wouldn’t be against it.  Granted, he’s not the sexiest thing in baseball cleats, but about half the time he gets the job done, and he eats up a lot of innings.  You know EXACTLY what you’re going to get from Vargas, so in that sense, it’s nice to have something you can rely on.

Plus, you know, it’s not like we’re asking Vargas to be anything more than he is.  After all, we DO have a number 1 pitcher.  And he just so happens to be the best, most fearsome pitcher in all of baseball.

It’s funny, because I can clearly remember when Randy Johnson was a player on the Seattle Mariners.  I can close my eyes and picture him with the hat and the jersey and the mullet, staring down the batter from behind his glove, going into his wind up, burying a slider in the dirt on a right-handed batter for another strikeout.  It’s all there in my memory bank.

What’s not there is the feeling I had watching him as an M’s fan.  That confidence, that swagger, knowing that we’d be in for an amazing show every time he took the mound.  Knowing that other teams feared facing him above all others.  Knowing the best left-handed batters in the game would actively boycott his starts.  It’s hard.  Even though I knew Randy was one of the best in the game, it’s hard to be over-confident when your team has never really won anything ever.

I do know the fear, though.  Of opposing pitchers.  Coming in here and absolutely DESTROYING the Mariners.  If I had to pick a pitcher in his prime who I feared above all others, it’s hands down Pedro Martinez when he was with Boston.  Good LORD!  Remember, we had some out-of-this-world offenses back in the day.  And he would come here and we’d be lucky to get AH run, let alone many runs required to beat a Pedro-backed Red Sox team.  In fact, every time he started against us, I’d wonder, “Is this the time he no-hits us?”

The numbers bear this out, by the way.  In 14 career games (seriously, it felt like 144), the M’s only hit .177 against him.  That’s the second-best batting average against of any team he ever faced.

Anyway, this isn’t a post about Pedro, but I just want you to keep him in mind.  Because every time Felix faces, oh I dunno, the Rays or the Twins (who have batted .188 and .191 respectively against Felix in his career), they look at Felix the way I looked at Pedro.  With fear and awe and frustration and sometimes murderous rage.

Felix is great.  He’s AMAZING!  I don’t care what anyone else says, he’s hands down the best pitcher in baseball.  If I’m lucky enough to see Felix stick with the Mariners through his entire career, I will die a happy man.  And in 2012, Felix got his first Perfect Game.  Remember that?  Remember all the warm fuzzies on that Wednesday afternoon back in August?  That event single-handedly made my 2012.  Considering we’re talking about a team that was going nowhere, at least I got SOMETHING to enjoy.  Something to look back on with extreme fondness.

Anyway, that’s Felix and Vargas.  That’s 40% of your 2012 starting rotation and 40% of your 2013 starting rotation.

You thought you were finished with Blake Beavan after 2011?  You thought, “Oh, he’s a long relief bullpen guy at best!  No way he cracks the rotation AGAIN!”

Well, you thought wrong, my friends.  Because not only was he back in the 2012 rotation, he made 11 more starts than in 2011!  And he gave us EXACTLY the same type of production.

Blake Beavan is who he is and that’s all he’s going to be, it appears.  A guy with an ERA in the 4.50-range.  A guy who strikes out approximately 4 batters per 9 innings pitched.  A guy who is always in or near the strike zone.  A guy who pitches to contact.  And a guy who doesn’t get enough groundball outs to be an effective pitcher in the American League.

You want the typical Beavan start?  Here it is:  6 IP, 3 ER, 7 hits, 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 1 HR, 101 pitches.  You want to see that 26 times in a season?  Be my guest.

Most M’s fans hope we’ve seen the last of Beavan in the rotation.  As it stands, three of the five spots are currently locked up in Felix, Vargas, and Iwakuma.  Many believe Erasmo is one solid & steady Spring Training away from locking down that 4th starter job.  Which just leaves ol’ number 5.  Without question, the Mariners are going to bring in a free agent or two to compete for that 5th spot.  Likewise, guys like Hultzen will get a crack (and even if he doesn’t win it outright, he’ll be heavily considered for a May or June call-up, if he dominates AAA as he should).

Have we seen the last of Beavan?  I’m going to say yes, because I’m tired of straddling this fence all the time.

Speaking of Iwakuma (was I?  speaking of him?), he’s back!  On a 2 or 3 year deal, depending on how well he does in those first two seasons.  This is most-excellent.  Iwakuma was a definite gem when he was allowed to start last season.  As a starter, over 16 games, he had an 8-4 record with a 2.65 ERA.  In 14 relief appearances to start the season, he had a 1-1 record with a 4.75 ERA.

First, it should be mentioned that Iwakuma had all of five appearances in the months of April and May.  For reasons that haven’t been fully explained, Iwakuma was buried in the bullpen and only allowed to pitch in the most controlled (or emergency) circumstances.  Either he wasn’t ready to pitch in the Majors, or the team didn’t believe in his stuff.  Either way, when thrust into a starter’s role, Iwakuma rewarded the team with a bevy of dominant performances.

Second, it should be mentioned that the primary reason Iwakuma got to start at all was because Hector Noesi is a thing.

There have been some extremely shitty starting pitchers for the Mariners over the years.  Scott Sanders comes immediately to mind; don’t ask me why.  Sterling Hitchcock was a real sore thumb.  I recall Paul Spoljaric getting some starts early on.  Ken Cloude, of course.  Good ol’ Mac Suzuki …

Anyway, without hyperbole, Hector Noesi completely out-shits them all!

The only reason he didn’t have the highest ERA on the team is because George Sherrill had a 27 ERA after two appearances before being lost for the season to injury.  Noesi was a complete and total waste, in every sense of the word.  And the frustrating thing?  Unlike those other stiffs I listed above, Noesi actually has STUFF!  He’s got a live fastball with lots of movement, he’s got some sick breaking stuff … I mean, if he could harness his own power, he could be a Top 20 pitcher in this league.

But, it’s absolutely a fact that he doesn’t have the mental capacity to succeed.  I mean, just look at his numbers in various counts.

I’m going to split this up.  I’ll give you Noesi’s numbers, and I’ll give you Felix’s numbers.  The guy Noesi was in 2012 vs. the guy Noesi should aspire to be.

  • BA against in an 0-0 count:  Noesi – .300, Felix – .403
  • BA against in an 0-1 count:  Noesi – .244, Felix – .310
  • BA against in an 0-2 count:  Noesi – .319, Felix – .101

I could go on and on, but you probably get the idea.  If you don’t hit Felix early in the count, odds are you’re not hitting him at all.  When Felix gets ahead of you in the count, you’re fucking doomed!  When Noesi gets ahead of you in the count, just sit on something in the middle of the plate, because THAT’S where he’s going to throw it!

And it’s not like the media didn’t make a huge deal about it during the first couple months of the season.  It was a nasty little trend that never went away.  It’s also not like the coaches didn’t harp on it in public and private, ad nauseam!  Noesi just, for whatever reason, couldn’t adjust his game.  Which leads me to believe he’s not ready mentally.  Which makes me question whether he ever will be.

I don’t think we have to worry about Noesi in 2013; he’s firmly in the Tacoma Rainiers camp.  That doesn’t mean we won’t have some other huge embarrassing failure clogging up our 2013 rotation; it just means it won’t be the SAME huge embarrassing failure.

Finally, to finish off this little spiel on 2012 starters, we had Kevin Millwood.  Somehow, we got a full season out of the guy, which is a shock considering he was always coming up with some minor malady or another.

I’m not going to kick the guy as he’s being shown the door – obvs, he won’t be back for 2013 – but he wasn’t great.  He wasn’t as bad as I thought going into the season either, though, so that’s something I guess.  I’m not overly upset that we were forced to watch him nearly every fifth day.  And, he gave me probably my second-favorite memory of the 2012 season:  the 6-pitcher no-hitter.

Hell, if it weren’t for his decomposing body, he probably would’ve stayed IN that game and eventually given up a hit!

So, good on you, Millwood.  You made it through another season.  Happy trails and I wish you good fortune in your future endeavors.

***

The bullpen was a definite bright spot, especially once we cleared out all the trash.

For as shitty as the Mariners have been over the past decade, they’ve still been blessed with some solid closing performances.  Tom Wilhelmsen kept the streak alive in 2012.

I don’t have a lot to say about the guy, except that he’s great.  Atomic fastball, crazy-sick curve ball, and he’s working on a change up.  He’s either going to be a bigtime trade chip this offseason, or he’s going to be a lockdown closer for us in 2013.  Either way, I’ll take it.

Other than the Bartender’s bossness, the major bullpen storyline was Brandon League totally falling apart, losing his closer’s job, then getting traded to the Dodgers for a couple guys who will probably never see the light of day in a Mariners uniform.

Just to beat this dead horse one more time:  we drafted Brandon Morrow over Tim Lincecum (obvious step down in talent, 2012 season notwithstanding).  THEN, we traded Morrow for League and another guy.  The other guy continues to struggle for us in the minors.  THEN, we traded League for two more guys who will struggle in the minors.  In short, we passed over Tim Lincecum and drafted NOBODY in the first round that season.  Thanks Bavasi.  Thanks Jackie Z.

League went on to play in 28 games for the Dodgers.  He had an ERA of 2.30, with 6 saves and a serious uptick in K’s per 9 innings (8.9, vs. the mid-6 area for the Mariners).  League was rewarded with a fairly massive 3-year extension (with a vesting option for a 4th, if he meets a quota of appearances) that could be worth, all told, upwards of $28.5 million over said 4 years.

For the record, I don’t think there’s any way that fourth year sees the light of day.  Enjoy your inconsistent ball of aggravation, Dodgers!

The Mariners also traded Steve Delabar in 2012, which brought us Eric Thames, so I’d say that’s a win.  Thames wasn’t superb, but he had his moments.  Delabar was just another fireballer who wasn’t in the long-term plans either way.

Lucas Luetge, however, IS very much in our long-term plans!  He was a Rule 5 guy we picked up and made our lefty specialist.  And what a lefty specialist he was!  It’s not often that Rule 5 guys stick with a team for a full season; but if they do, it’s likely because they’re bullpen guys.  Luetge wasn’t just buried, though.  He was put in some tough situations and made it through pretty much unscathed.  63 appearances (though, only 40.2 IP), 3.98 ERA, with 38 strikeouts and 24 walks.  Not bad for a guy who was in the minors the year before.

Luetge is a guy we throw in there late in games to mostly get just one guy out.  Furbush, however, is a lefty we throw in there to be dominant late in games.

Furbush was a starter we got in the Doug Fister trade.  He stunk as a starter in 2011, so he was converted into a reliever (or back into a reliever, as I believe he’s had experience in that role before).  Furbush as a reliever in 2012 was lights fucking out, so it’s nice to have him back as well in 2013.

Oliver Perez, as I wrote about a little while ago, was re-signed.  He’s our third left-hander in the bullpen.  He’s got a live fastball and produced at a high level in 2012 (2.12 ERA in 33 games).

To even things out, we’ve got fireballers in the form of Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps.  They combined for 44 games, struck out a ton of guys, and both had ERAs near 4.  2012 was their first season in the Big Leagues (not sure if they played in enough games to qualify as “rookies” or not), so we’ve got that going for us.

Rounding things out, we’ve got Shawn Kelley.  Another big fastball, another productive season.

The bullpen for 2013 looks amazing, I’m not gonna lie.  If we trade no one, here’s what it looks like in list form:

  • Tom Wilhelmsen – Closer
  • Shawn Kelley – Righty
  • Charlie Furbush – Lefty
  • Stephen Pryor – Righty
  • Oliver Perez – Lefty
  • Carter Capps – Righty
  • Lucas Luetge – Lefty Specialist

As I sit here looking at it, I’m wondering who our Long Man is going to be.  I’ve never known a team to have a bullpen of all 1-inning-or-less guys.  Seems to me someone will HAVE to be traded, or left behind in Tacoma.  We’ll see.

Obviously, Wilhelmsen is the proven talent, so he’ll probably be pretty easy to move.  Made even easier since it looks like we have two more closer types (Pryor & Capps) with longer team control.  Those two guys are probably more valuable (due to said team control), so it wouldn’t shock me to see one, or even both, of them go to help bring in a bat.  However, let’s not go crazy and trade all three, huh?  I’d like to try to get Felix over the 15-win mark at SOME point in the near future!

In short, there was a lot to like (or at least not a lot to hate) about the pitching in 2012.  With the young ‘uns in Double-A itching to get their opportunity, we’re an organization rich in pitching.  Obviously, some will be traded to bring in a bat (or bats).  Hold onto your nuts this offseason, it’s going to get mighty interesting.

Seattle Mariners 2012 Postmortem, Part 1 (Hitters)

Apparently, there’s only been a handful of things to talk about since the season ended:  Mariners reaction to the Arena Deal, Mariners jacking up season ticket prices, Mariners not winning any post-season awards, Mariners signing some particularly non-interesting free agents, and the Mariners talking about possibly sometime this offseason signing some yes-interesting free agents.

The Mariners’ post-season has been pretty much like the Mariners’ regular season:  mostly shitty.

So, fuck it, let’s dive right in.  The Seattle Mariners finished 75-87, which was a whopping 8-game improvement over 2011, and a 14-game improvement over bottoming out in 2010.  Remember how shitty 2010 was?  The team you just watched all spring and summer finished exactly 14 games better.

I don’t think anyone wants to re-hash 2010 all over again, so let’s leave that off the table for now.  For a moment, let’s take a look at how we got the 8-game improvement over 2011.  What changed?

Well, for starters, Miguel Olivo had 184 fewer plate appearances.  That’s a good start!  He had a .620 OPS in ’12 vs. a .641 OPS in ’11, but what’s important to remember is:  THOSE ARE BOTH TERRIBLE OPS’s!  Less of a shitty thing doing shitty things is a good thing.  Always remember that kids.

Where did the rest of those plate appearances go?  Well, a lot of them (361 to be exact) went to John Jaso, who had an .850 OPS.  Now, granted, we had kind of a 3-headed hydra locking down two positions (DH & Catcher) with Jaso, Olivo, and Montero (who had a .685 OPS), but as you can clearly see, John Jaso really saved this team a lot of embarrassment.  We had no one resembling Jaso in 2011, at any position, and if you look at the numbers, you can see that he was good for at least 3 of those wins all by himself.  And he did it in an essentially part-time role; dude didn’t play a lick in April, and not much more in May before being thrust into the game regularly thanks to Olivo’s injury (and Olivo’s overall shittiness).

You know what else helped?  Giving Chone Figgins 119 fewer plate appearances.  An already part-time player went down to almost nothing in 2012.  We tried giving him the leadoff spot, he started for the entire month of April, and what did he do?  He rewarded us with a second consecutive season of sub-.190 batting.  I know veterans like to complain about their pisspoor numbers by stating they don’t get to play enough to turn things around; well, you know what?  Earn it.  DESERVE it and we’ll let you play.  Remember when you were just starting out in the Majors and you had to earn your time?  Do it now.  Don’t expect it.  Don’t ask for it to be handed to you because you’ve been around forever.  Force the manager to play you by playing well.  That’s all I’ve got to say.

Everyone seems to think Figgins will be let go this offseason.  I’m not buying it until I see it’s already happened.  Every time someone has predicted Figgins’ release, what’s happened?  He’s remained.  If they were going to let him go, wouldn’t they have done it by now?  Wouldn’t they have done it during another last-place finish in 2012?  When the fans could’ve used a morale boost in the waning summer months?  Or immediately after the season, when fans were already on edge about ticket prices and Arena Deals?  What are they WAITING for?  Do they REALLY think they’re going to get another team to eat his 2013 salary?  That ship has sailed!  You know how everything in life is a risk?  Well, it’s time to take a risk; it might be the safest risk you’ve ever taken.  Drop Figgins.  Yes, he will likely get another chance with another team, with the risk being:  he will dramatically improve and rub it in all of our faces.  Don’t worry, he won’t improve.  He’s the worst.  He’s LITERALLY the worst Major League Baseball player.  I know, hindsight being what it is, that it’s fairly embarrassing to have signed a guy to such a large contract only to have him be completely worthless.  But, you don’t have to worry about any such embarrassment with him going on to great success elsewhere.  He won’t.  Trust me.

What else happened?  Carlos Peguero had about 100 fewer plate appearances.  And, of course, Jack Cust had 270 fewer plate appearances (hint:  he had 270 plate appearances in 2011).

But, enough with that.  My overall view:  the hitting was slightly better, the starting pitching held up reasonably well, and the bullpen was pretty lights out.  That’s how you improve by 8 games.  Now, the only question is:  how do we improve by another 20 and reach the playoffs?

***

Let’s look at some starters.  Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager both had full seasons.  They played some in 2011, but in 2012 they went wire-to-wire, holding down second and third base respectively.  How did they do?

Seager was a definite bright spot for this team.  He wasn’t amaze-balls or anything, but he was pleasant.  The line:  .259 BA, 35 doubles (led team), 20 homers (led team), 86 RBI (led team), .738 OPS.  Not bad, right?  Not bad for a guy’s first year in the majors.  He’s no Mike Trout, but then again who is (besides Mike Trout, obvs)?  If he can figure out a way to get that batting average to go up another 20 points or so, you’re talking about a VERY valuable piece to a team.  And remember all those clutch 2-out base hits with runners in scoring position?  Apparently, there were a lot.  And those were sure fun to watch.

Ackley, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment.  The line:  .226 BA, 22 doubles, 12 homers, 50 RBI, .622 OPS (Olivo-ian levels), and a whopping 124 strikeouts (2nd highest on team).  I mean, what can you say about Dustin Ackley’s 2012?  He had 292 more plate appearances than he did in 2011, yet he lost 144 points on his OPS.  That’s bad.  As a left-handed batter, he somehow managed to bat WORSE against righties!  He batted .215!  And, he was probably one of the few on the team who managed to bat BETTER in Safeco as opposed to on the road, so you can’t even use that as a valid excuse!

The only thing you can do with Ackley is write off 2012, hope he got some good experience out of the deal, and hope he improves dramatically in 2013.  He’s a #2 overall pick.  He can’t be this bad for this team to survive; he just can’t!  He needs to cut down on the strikeouts and bring up the walks in a big way.

Another certifiable black hole in our lineup was Justin Smoak.  Good fucking God.  The line:  .217 BA, 14 doubles, 19 homers, 51 RBI, .654 OPS.  I don’t know what to say.  We traded for him in 2010, gave him a cup of coffee in the second half, then let him start for the entire 2011 season.  Of course, he was injured for about half of that, but he had a strong close to his season, so we brought him back as a starter in 2012 (as if we had any choice, what with the purse strings being tightened each and every year since 2008).  We figured, “OK, when Smoak was healthy in 2011, he was good.  SURELY he’ll be good when he’s healthy in 2012!”

And, of course, he sucked.  He sucked so bad that the team had to send him down to Tacoma to work on some things.  The only reason he was brought back as early as he was is because Mike Carp couldn’t stay on the field without injuring himself.  So, Smoak was gone from July 24th thru August 13th.  He left with a .189 batting average.  He played regularly from August 14th thru the end of the month and finished August with a .190 batting average.  Lotta good that trip down south was.

He continued to tread water until September 15th, when he entered the day still batting .190.  From the 15th onward, Smoak went 25 for 63, good for a .397 batting average over 17 games, with 5 of his 14 doubles, 5 of his 19 homers, and 10 of his 51 RBI.  He raised his final batting average to a still-dreadful .217, but nevertheless, that’s a 27-point increase over the final 17 games.  When you play as much as Smoak did in 2012, that’s a fairly impressive hot streak.

What does it mean?  Obviously nothing.  If I could bank on having these types of torrid 17-game streaks multiple times throughout a season, then maybe I’d be a little more excited.  But, tacking just the one on at the end of a horrendous season is nothing to hang one’s hat on.  I mean, yeah, anything can happen.  But, is Smoak “figuring it out” at all likely?  Not really.

So, we’re 1 for 3 so far for 2012.  1 supposed building block for the future did well.  2 did not.  What about Jesus Montero?

Again, we’re talking about a guy who played in his first full Major League season.  I tend to give these guys a pass, especially if they managed to stay IN the Majors for the full season.  Montero was never sent down, but some thought he maybe should’ve been.

The line:  .260 BA, 20 doubles, 15 homers, 62 RBI, .685 OPS.  What I notice right away is that Montero didn’t have a whole lot of super highs or super lows.  Once his batting average kind of normalized around .260, it didn’t waver all that much.  He had a mid-season lull in July where he found himself in the .240s, then he kind of bounced back in August where he was briefly scraping the .270s, but for the most part he was right around .260 the whole time.  Again, for a first year player playing a full first year … not terrible.  You’d like to see some more walks, or if not that, at least a lot more power, but whatever, it was what it was, and what it was wasn’t the worst.

That isn’t to say he doesn’t have a lot to fix He has a lot to fix, though.  His Home/Road splits, for one, are an abomination.  His home OPS was .605; his road OPS was .768.  That’s CRAZY.  Obviously, you have to hope that bringing the fences in will help normalize some of that.  But, even still, that’s a huge psychological disadvantage he’s got swirling around in his head.

You like crazy splits?  How about this one:  vs. right handed pitchers, his OPS was .609; vs. lefties, his OPS was .830.  Against lefties, Montero is downright dominant!  The only problem is, he only bats about 1/3 of the time against lefties.  That means 2/3 of the time he’s pretty much worse than a replacement level player.

Nevertheless, I think you’d take the total package if he was a dominant force defensively.  Except, no, he’s not.  He was allowed to play in 56 games as a catcher vs. 78 as a DH.  As a defender, he was worse than replacement level.  He’s not projected to be a starting catcher in this league; he will either be a DH or a converted first baseman.  Either way, you’re talking about positions where you’d like some consistent thump in your bat.  A .685 OPS with a bunch of crazy splits just won’t cut it.  Yeah, when he’s facing lefties on the road (especially in Kansas City), he’s phenomenal!  But, we can’t afford to have Montero be a strict platoon guy.  We didn’t trade for him to play in 1/3 or 1/2 of the games.  We traded for him to play EVERY game, and to play well!  I’ll give him a pass for his first full season, but I hope I don’t have to wait too much longer for his bat to really explode.

Since we gave Seager a passing grade, I’ll give Montero a passing grade.  That gives us 2 out of 4 building blocks who played well.  With Brendan Ryan giving us the best defense in all of baseball (stupid Gold Gloves are STUPID), that rounds out the infield.  Brendan Ryan will give you nothing at the plate, but as long as he’s not counted upon to do anything but bat 9th, I think I’ll take it.

But, what of the outfield?

Well, for starters, we don’t have Ichiro to kick around anymore.  I liked the guy, but I’m glad we traded him and I’m glad he got to go to the playoffs and I’m glad he did really well for the Yankees, but I’m mostly glad the Yankees lost.  Ichiro finished his Mariners career with so many wonderful stats we can look back on fondly.  He will be a Hall of Famer, he will go in as a Mariner, and, you know, WHO KNOWS?  He managed 73 hits in 67 games with the Yankees in the regular season.  He now has 2,606 hits on his career.  And, for fuck’s sake, he’s fucking ICHIRO!  Who’s to say he can’t stick around with some team or another and get the 394 hits he so desperately desires?  I hope he does it!  Just not with the Mariners.  And I hope he gets that World Series Championship!  Just not with the Yankees.

The star of the outfield in 2012 was Michael Saunders.  If you asked me going into 2012, would Michael Saunders be worth a darn, I likely would’ve said, “Heck no!”  Funny thing about baseball, weird shit can happen (see:  Baltimore Orioles, Oakland A’s).  The line:  .247 BA, 31 doubles, 19 homers, 57 RBI, .738 OPS in 553 plate appearances.  OK, so it’s not the best line in the world.  But, when you look at his combined three seasons prior (.196 BA, 17 doubles, 12 homers, 45 RBI, .569 OPS in 635 plate appearances), you can see some real dramatic improvement!

The legend has it, in the offseason between 2011 & 2012, Saunders trained with Josh Bard’s brother (whose first name, legend has it, remains a mystery to all).  They worked on his mechanics, shortened his swing, and lo and be-fucking-hold, a miracle happened!  Saunders managed to stay in the Majors for a full season, and remained productive throughout!

As a centerfielder, you’ll take that line just about every year.  You’d like to see improvement, considering he is so young and everything, but with the defense he provides, you’ll take it.

As a corner outfielder, there’s a little something left to be desired.

I think in an ideal world, if we don’t bring in a bigtime free agent like Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher, then in 2013 you’d like to see Michael Saunders in left and Franklin Gutierrez in center.  Regardless of who you put in right, you’re looking at one of the better defensive outfields.

But, of course, who can count on that?  I’m talking about Guti, of course.  Who can count on him???  He has to be, by far, the most cursed athlete I’ve ever seen.  Which SUCKS DICK, because he’s one of the greatest defensive outfielders I think I’ve ever seen, Griffey included.  Every time we think Guti has turned a corner, BAM, he hits another brick wall that sidelines him.  He goes from IBS to a pec injury to a concussion from being hit with a baseball on a pick-off move to God knows what else!  Was there a groin or a knee or a shoulder or all three in there somewhere?  I’m pretty sure all that’s left for Guti is Bell’s Palsy, mange, and the fucking gout.  Something to look forward to in 2013.

Aside from Saunders, there was a huge revolving door in 2012.  Including Guti, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Eric Thames, Mike Carp, Peguero, and just a LITTLE bit of Alex Liddi.  I can’t say much about any of these cats.  Wells looks like a decent 4th outfielder, but the shine wears off quickly when you give him the everyday job.  Thames had some memorable moments, got doused with some shaving cream pies and such, but he’s no solution.  Robinson and Peguero have HUGE holes in their swings, which says nothing of their defensive liabilities (especially Peguero’s).  Carp should probably stay away from the outfield forever, because he’s terrible at it, and because he keeps getting hurt diving for balls he’ll never be able to reach on his own.

For the record, I like Carp, but this strikes me as a numbers game he’s not going to win.  If you can’t plug him in the outfield (which you really, really can’t), then you’ve got to make him a first baseman or a DH.  He was decent defensively at first, but let’s face it, this team has a lot invested in Justin Smoak.  Not only that, but first could also be a home for Montero in the future.  And finally, not for nothing, but I have to think first base is going to be a free agent or a trade priority this offseason we’re in right now.  I like Carp’s bat, but I have a sick feeling he’s going to make good on his promise with another team more willing to give him the everyday first baseman job.  In fact, 2012 could be the last we see of Carp in a Mariners uniform.

As a team, the Mariners were 27th in runs scored in the Major Leagues.  Dead last in the AL by a whopping 48 runs.  However, their 619 runs were 63 better than 2011!  And 106 better than 2010!  Oh, by the by, 619 runs for a season is fucking terrible, regardless of the era we’re in.

The Mariners were also dead last in the AL in batting average with .234.  For the record, Oakland was second-to-last with a .238 average, and they won the entire AL West; so at least there’s some semblance of hope.  Also for the record, .234 was dead last in all of baseball, even worse than Houston (Welcome Astros, 2013!).

And, of course, the Mariners were dead last in the AL in OPS.  By a HUGE margine (.665, next highest was Cleveland with .705).  And, no foolin’, that .665 OPS was also dead last in all of baseball.

Make no mistake, this offense in 2012 was horrible.

On the plus side:  Miguel Olivo’s option was NOT picked up!  He’s gone!  Gone for good!  That’s addition by subtraction if I’ve ever seen it.

On the down side:  there are no other prospects ready for a shot at the big time.  All Major League-ready prospects are up in the Major Leagues.  Unless we wheel and deal like crazy, you can pencil in the following gentlemen:

C – John Jaso (but probably only as a platoon)
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
3B – Kyle Seager
SS – Brendan Ryan
LF – Michael Saunders
CF – Franklin Gutierrez (until he gets injured, then Saunders slides over)
RF – ??
DH – Jesus Montero (with a possibility to play some catcher, but look for this team to bring in a third guy for the catching rotation, hopefully someone who is awesome at defense to round things out a bit in the later innings)

Obviously, this team will have to bring in an outfielder.  More than likely, they’ll have to bring in a couple.  Aside from a backup catcher, I think this team goes hard after either a first or a third baseman.  Nick Swisher is a guy people like because he can play both of the corner outfield spots as well as first base.  That gives a team a lot of flexibility in the event a Guti goes down, or a Smoak sucks cock.  Josh Hamilton is another guy people like because he’s got awesome-a powah.  I’ll reserve my thoughts on these guys and others as the rumor mill gets hotter.  Or if I have nothing else to write about.

For now, what we have is what we have, and what we have isn’t worth a shit.  This offseason needs improvement, it needs it from the batters, and it needs it in spades.

Sometime soon, I’ll finish my Part 2 about the pitchers of 2012.  I swear.