The Biggest Blunders In Seattle Sports History

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

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

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

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

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

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

#9 – The Deal To Trade Cliff Lee Away

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

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

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

#8 – Steve Hutchinson Transition Tag

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

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

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

#7 – The Erik Bedard Trade

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

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

#6 – The Lowe/Varitek Trade

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

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

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

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

#5 – Jim McIlvaine Signing

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

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

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

#4 – Randy Johnson Trade

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

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

#3 – Not Drafting Brett Favre

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

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

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

#2 – Not Properly Renovating Key Arena

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

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

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

#1 – Slant At The Goalline

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

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

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

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

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

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.

2012 Seattle Mariners 2-Month Review: April & May

And, you know, I guess March too.

I needed something to write about today.  Today just so happens to be a day on the calendar very close to the end of the month of May.  Ergo, a review of the first third of the season.

Officially, this is going to be kind of cheating because the stats I’m about to throw out will include yesterday’s game against the White Sox, but sue me, because I don’t feel like doing the math involved with eliminating yesterday’s contest.  Besides, I feel like yesterday is a pretty good sample of what the season has been so far for the Seattle Mariners.

I broke up my Season Preview into two parts:  Hitting & Pitching.  I’ll keep this as a single post, but first I’ll look at the hitting and try to refer back to my original work to see where things are going compared to my initial opinion of things.

And I’ll kick things off with Dustin Ackley.  He’s the one guy I was convinced we wouldn’t have to worry about on this team.  And, truth be told, I’m still not worried about him.  Though, let’s be honest, there’s certainly room for improvement.

His .254 batting average is third on the team.  In looking at the second part of that sentence – third on the team – you might think, “All right!  Not bad!”.  But, if you take your frame of reference outside of the Mariners’ Level of Hell we’ve been mired in for the past three seasons, then you’ll know that .254 is NOT an acceptable batting average.

Except for a lull in early April where he was as low as .231, Ackley has been right around his current average all season.  That’s not gonna work for me.  Ideally, he will find a way to improve by about 50 points between now and the end of the season.  Failing that, I would like to see him sit around .275 or so.  With the way he’s able to keep his OBP up, that should put a nice finishing boost on his overall OPS going into next season.  At that point, with a year & change under his belt in the Majors, I think we can expect that Ackley will have figured out all the adjustments he needs to figure out to be a .300 hitter for the bulk of his career.  Outlook:  bright.

Following Ackley, as he has in the batting order for so much of his baseball career since college, let’s look at the most pleasant surprise on this Mariners team:  Kyle Seager.

Seager leads the team in batting average with .283.  Now THAT is where you want to be at this point in your career!  And don’t let the fact that he looks like a male version of Punky Brewster fool you, this guy has a future in Major League Baseball!  He currently leads the team in OPS at .806, which is just … *sniff* … there are no words.  It’s so damn beautiful I could cry!  What?  No, I’m not crying right now!  There’s just something in my eye!

Also, Seager leads the team in RBI with 31.  That puts him in the Top 20 in the AL.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.

I was pretty high on Seager to start the season, putting him in my catagory of Guys We Have Reason To Hope Will Be Good.  That may have been jumping the gun a little bit, but for whatever reason I’ve always liked this guy.  He’s just a pure hitter, plain and simple.  He’ll never lead the league in power numbers, but he’ll be an important piece for this team for a long time.

Next on the list, I’ll discuss Jesus Montero.  This is his first full season in the Majors, so I don’t want to be too hard on the guy, but let’s just say he’s not There yet.  A .251 batting average, a most-unimpressive .294 OBP.  What’s keeping his OPS from being a total disgrace are his power numbers.  He’s second on the team in Homers with 7 and fifth on the team in doubles with 9.

Make no mistake, I’m not down on the guy at all!  He’s still learning how to be a regular catcher (not necessarily an “every-day” catcher because … Olivo), he’s still technically (I believe) a rookie, and there is still a LOT of promise in his bat.  The way he’s able to go the other way with power.  The way he’s occasionally able to rip mistakes down the left field line to keep pitchers honest.  I think he very well COULD be the next Edgar Martinez for this team.  But, Edgar wasn’t Edgar overnight.  I would still look for big things out of this guy in the coming seasons.  Let’s just get through this one healthy and with some semblance of momentum at the end.

Next, let’s take a look at the guy I’m (so far) most proud of on this team.  Justin Smoak.

This guy was getting KILLED in the press earlier this season, and for good reason.  As late as May 9th, Smoak was hitting .173 thanks to a 3 for 30 stretch to open up the month.  From there, over the next 21 games (of which he played in 19), Smoak has raised his average 65 points!  He’s had 6 homers in that stretch (compared to 3 in our first 33 games), 18 RBI (compared to 10 before), and he’s raised his OPS to a somewhat-respectable .688 (compared to a downright Figginsian .493 up until that point).

In short, Smoak has been on a tear.  And you know what I think?  I think this is just who he is gonna be.  He’s going to be a streaky player who is insanely hot for a month, and ice cold for a month.  What he’s got to take better control of is exactly HOW cold he gets.  He can’t be hitting .173 for very long and expect to retain his Major League status.  “Cold” for him needs to be around .225.  And “Hot” for him should start approaching .300 or .325.  It looks like he’s got his shit figured out so far, but I’ve been fooled by Smoak before.

One of the other more pleasant surprises this season (after Seager) has probably been Michael Saunders.  Granted, his .241 batting average isn’t lighting the world on fire.  But, he’s far from the total disaster he’s been the past three seasons in the Majors.  Hell, compare his numbers this year to last and you will see across-the-board improvement.

He played in 58 games last year; this year he has been in 51.  So far, his average is almost 100 points higher.  He has 13 doubles compared to 5 last year; 4 homers compared to 2; 16 RBI compared to 8; and he has already walked more as well as stolen more bases.  Whatever he did to improve his swing in the offseason has CLEARLY worked.

That having been said, what Michael Saunders has been over the first two months isn’t what you would consider to be a “starting calibre” outfielder.  I don’t care how good his defense has been.  But, at least he has shown he’s a bona fide Major League reserve outfielder.  He currently has probably another month or so before Franklin Gutierrez comes back from the DL.  In that month, I would REALLY like to see him make a push to improve that batting average and slugging percentage.  He could make Wedge’s life a lot more difficult if he’s able to make the push from Major League Reserve to Major League Starter.

Finally, I’m just going to run through a few other guys.  Alex Liddi has been nice to see.  He’s done some impressive things.  And I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the guy.  Mike Carp has had a tough go thus far, what with landing on the DL.  He’s sub-Mendoza right now, so he’s going to have to pick that up.  As it is, he’s losing significant playing time to Liddi (who isn’t even a natural outfielder, but the Mariners are trying to shoe-horn him into being one).  Olivo, Figgins, and Ryan have all been fucking disasters and I can’t wait until they’re all out of my life.  And, of course, Ichiro has been Ichiro (except for the fact that his batting average is about 50 points below his career average).  He’s still a starting-calibre guy for us, but he’s clearly at the end of his career.  Maybe one or two more years TOPS.  Here’s to hoping those lame duck seasons are in another city.

***

On the pitching side of things, I don’t have nearly as much to say.  That’s mostly because we’re talking about a group as a whole where most of them won’t even be on the roster next year, if not the year after.  Guys I expect to be gone after 2012 (if not sometime mid-season):  Kevin Millwood, Jason Vargas, Brandon League, Hisashi Iwakuma, George Sherrill, Steve Delabar.

And, when you look at the starters, I would expect to see four new guys behind Felix next season.  I think Beavan is destined for a long relief role (in which he will continue to Beavan his way through until the team finally gives up on him and trades him for scraps).  I think Noesi will be flipped in a trade (either as a throw-in, like he was in the Pineda deal, or for more scraps).  And I think we’re looking at the rise of the kids for 2013 (with probably one veteran signing a la Kevin Millwood, just to cover our asses).

But, I guess this is commentary for another time.  Right now, let’s look at the starters.

Felix has been Felix.  Yeah, he’s had some struggles of late, but he’s still Felix and I still expect him to turn things around.  He’s had some duds against the White Sox, Angels, Indians, and Yankees, but those are all really good teams.  Anyway, it’s June now.  This is traditionally the time where Felix turns on the ol’ Wiggum charm.  Moving on.

Vargas has been Vargas, in that he has – for the most part – been very good the first couple months of the season.  We’ll see if he turns back into a pumpkin as he has the previous two seasons.  His contract with whoever he signs with this offseason kinda depends on it.

Millwood has gone from being the fucking Holocaust in his first 6 starts (posting a 5.88 ERA in the process) to actually being a guy you can be proud of having in your starting rotation the last 4 starts (lowering said ERA to 3.56).  Including a 2-hitter in Colorado!  This gives me real hope that we can actually GET something for him come July 31st.  Fingers crossed this Renaissance continues!

Beavan … ugh.  I have absolutely nothing to say about Beavan.  Turn into Doug Fister already so we can trade you!

And Noesi.  This guy, I hate.  One could argue I haven’t given him a chance to win me over, but I could counter with:  what reason has HE given ME?  I don’t want to look at his pitch location, I don’t want to talk about whether or not he has been “unlucky”.  I want results.  I care about wins and losses and how many runs this guy has given up.  Give me the bottom line or get the FUCK off my team!  He leads the team in homers given up, he hardly strikes anybody out, he has no real command of his pitches so he has no idea where they’re going to end up.  The guy is a joke.  The Mariners have been cursed with guys like Noesi since the mid-90s.  Guys with plus fastballs, guys with lots of movement on their pitches, but for whatever reason, guys who can’t hack it on game day.  I want Noesi gone.  I want him gone yesterday.

As for our bullpen, the main story is obviously Brandon League blowing his way out of the closer’s job.  True, he’s had a rough go, and a rough go at the most inopportune time for him (when he’s about to be a free agent).  Likewise, it’s the most inopportune time for the Mariners as well, because we were looking to trade this guy at the deadline.  There’s still time, but for the time being he’s going to be working his way back to respectability in a set-up role.

As for the others, there’s been a lot to like about Wilhelmsen.  I don’t think he’s our “Closer of the Future” or anything, but his K/9IP rate is off the charts!  Luetge still hasn’t given up a run in 18 appearances (spanning a meager 11.1 innings), so it’s safe to say this Rule 5 guy has been a nice story for this team as our sometimes lefty specialist.  Furbush, after a quick sojourn to Triple A, has bounced back as another lefty arm in the bullpen with flying colors.  Delabar was recently sent down to Tacoma for giving up too many homers (and not getting enough right handers out in spite of the fact that he throws with his right hand), so we might not be seeing him for a while.  Iwakuma has appeared in 5 games even though he’s been on the team since Opening Day.  That says a LOT about what the team thinks about his abilities.  Then again, maybe they’re just saving him up to give him a bigger load in the second half of the season.

***

The Seattle Mariners ended the month of May with a 23-30 record.  We were tied for last in the AL West with the Oakland A’s.  We were 9 games back of Texas.  We were the 7th worst team in all of baseball.

There have been surprises here and there.  For instance, we’re 5-5 against the Rangers and 5-1 against the Tigers!  Of course, we’re also 1-4 against the Indians and got swept in our only series against the Angels, 4-0.  We’ve had a perfect game pitched against us and we’ve had a 7-game losing streak.

However, all that having been said, this team just FEELS better.  Even though as of the end of May in 2011 we were 27-26 and only 1.5 games out of first.  We’re hitting better (perfect game notwithstanding), we’re scoring more runs.  Hell, we put up 21 on the Rangers just a few days ago!

Obviously, this Mariners team isn’t going to contend for shit.  But, it’s not TOTALLY impossible for the Mariners in 2013 to make some noise.  Gets me all hard just thinking about it.

The Mariners’ Bullpen Is Not Very Good Right Now

I won’t go so far as to say it sucks quite yet, because I still have hope for some better results.  Some of that hope resides in Tacoma right now, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

  • Game 1 – Tom Wilhelmsen 2 innings of shutout ball; Brandon League 1 inning of shutout ball
  • Game 2 – Shawn Kelley .1 innings, 1 earned run, 1 home run; George Sherrill 0 innings, 1 earned run, 1 home run; Steve Delabar 1.1 innings, 1 earned run, 1 home run
  • Game 3 – Delabar 1.2 innings of shutout ball; Wilhelmsen 1 inning, 1 earned run; League 1 inning of shutout ball
  • Game 4 – Luetge .1 innings of shutout ball; Delabar .1 innings, 1 earned run, 1 home run; Wilhelmsen & League 1 inning of shutout ball each
  • Game 5 – Erasmo Ramirez 3 innings, 1 earned run, 1 home run; Delabar .2 innings of shutout ball; Sherrill 1.1 innings, 3 earned runs, 1 home run
  • Game 6 – Wilhelmsen 1.2 innings of shutout ball
  • Game 7 – Delabar .2 innings, 2 earned runs, 2 home runs; Luetge 1.1 innings of shutout ball; League 1 inning of shutout ball
  • Game 8 – Ramirez 1.1 innings, 1 earned run

At the top of the heap, we have League and Wilhelmsen who have combined for 9.2 innings of relief and 1 earned run.  Not far behind, there’s a goose egg for Luetge in his 1.2 innings of relief.

AND … there’s everyone else.  Kelley only had one game to prove that he “deserved” to be in Tacoma.  Sherrill has had two games and has the same ERA (27.00).  For all intents and purposes, Delabar isn’t that far behind with his 7.71 ERA over five games, considering he’s given up a whopping 4 home runs!  And, in looking at Ramirez, you just have to wonder if he’s ready.  I think in retrospect, it was probably a stupid idea to keep him on the Major League roster out of Spring Training.  Probably should’ve let him get some more confidence in Tacoma before destroying it with this Texas series.  Maybe “destroy” isn’t accurate, but he certainly didn’t do much to help this team in his two appearances except to eat up some innings.

If Delabar still has options, then it is irresponsible to keep him on the Major League roster.  He is getting HAMMERED out there, and it’s not just Texas!  But, even if it was, a reliever with his stuff shouldn’t be getting shelled like he has.  If he absolutely must remain on this team, then he’s the number 1 candidate to take a week or two off if I’ve ever seen one.  Give him the ol’ Jeff Gray treatment and bury him in that bullpen and maybe let Iwakuma get his feet wet.  He certainly can’t be any WORSE.

If it were up to me, I’d bite the bullet right this second.  Replace Delabar with Kelley and replace Ramirez with Furbush.  You can’t go around throwing games away this early in the season if you want to generate even one iota of fan interest.

Thus far, the bullpen has helped in costing us today’s game (Ramirez gave up the fourth Vargas run as well as his own), and the second Japan game.  The bullpen (or at least parts of it) has been monstrously bad in three others whose outcomes they didn’t affect.  It’s time to nip this right now, before things get too out of hand.

And I’ll tell you this for free, if Sherrill keeps getting pounded the way he has, then they better cut his over-the-hill ass asap!  I’m tired of watching his bullshit get turned around for moon-shots!

The Mariners Played More Baseball In Japan This Morning

The fuck?  Bartolo Colon???  Really???

Well, this didn't last long, did it?

That game was going swimmingly until the bottom of the seventh inning.  Mariners had a 1-0 lead, both offenses were being shut down so the game was going by super-quick.  Had I been so inclined, I could’ve taken a 90-minute nap after this thing ended!

Then the bullpen rode in on its shit-colored horse and ruined the hell out of my morning.

I can’t argue with the logic.  Eric Wedge got 6.1 solid innings out of Jason Vargas (2 hits, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts), there were a couple of right-handed bats coming up, why wouldn’t you bring in Shawn Kelley right there?  He gets a fielder’s choice, then serves up a slider down the middle of the plate for the go-ahead 2-run homer and that was that.

It made just as much sense to bring in George Sherrill after that.  A couple of left-handed bats, why wouldn’t you bring in your lefty specialist?  0 outs and 3 hits later (including a solo homer), Sherrill is out of the game and it’s Chinatown after that.

Using the bullpen was the smart move.  They just didn’t get it done, plain & simple.

Of course, maybe if this offense actually came to play, we would’ve had a different ballgame.  Justin Smoak had a solo homer to left and that was IT.  Montero & Olivo got their first hits of the season (both singles) and Saunders worked a walk.  That was the offense, those four guys.  Pathetic, that’s all I can say about that.  They made Bartolo Colon look like Felix Hernandez out there!

So, we’re 1-1.  In two games, during the regulation-portion of those games (i.e. the first 9 innings) the Mariners have scored a total of 2 runs, both on solo homers.  Suffice it to say, I’m SUPER excited about this team’s chances this year!

I can’t believe I woke up at 2am for this …

2012 Mariners Preview Part II: The Pitchers

FYI, this one isn’t going to be nearly as wordy as yesterday’s post.

While you could argue that my views on the hitters are marginally optimistic – I’m generally hopeful about five of our potential regulars, and not entirely against the idea of a couple others – my views on this season’s crop of pitchers is pretty darn negative.

Aside from Felix, of course.

I would like to point out, with 100% bias, that if I had my choice of any one starting pitcher in all of the Major Leagues, I would hands-down choose Felix over everyone else.  And I don’t necessarily think that’s too crazy!  His numbers are comparable to anyone else’s in baseball, he’s an insatiable innings glutton, and he’s got a winning personality that makes you glad he plays for your team (if you’re a Mariners fan, that is).  Not only that, but he’s easily the most coveted pitcher on or off the market; it makes me happy knowing the best teams out there want our guy, but they can’t have our guy!  Fuck you, Yankees!

Felix aside, though, YE GODS!  It’s a tremendous step down to our number two starter, Jason Vargas.  Now, I’m not as down on this guy as most Mariners fans are.  I will say that I don’t necessarily think he’s worth the money he’s getting this season (and I REALLY don’t think he’s going to be worth the money he will command on the open market next season).  But, it’s not like the Mariners were just going to cut ties with a guy who is a durable left-hander.  And it’s not like anyone was going to want to trade for him considering this was his last season of club control (and if they did trade for him, we wouldn’t have gotten squat for him anyway, so whatever).

Essentially, we were stuck with Vargas, we were stuck with his $5 million paycheck, and there’s nothing we could’ve done to change that so stop crying over spilled milk.

With Vargas, you’re going to get some games where he looks as dominant as they come (relatively speaking, for a guy who throws in the mid-to-high 80s), where he’ll shut out a few teams, give up only a handful of hits and striking out upwards of double-digits.  That’s when his change up is on and his fastball is located well.  You’re also going to get some games where he looks like he belongs in the Independent Leagues, where he’ll get shelled and won’t escape the third inning (or worse).  This is when his change up is dead and his fastball catches too much of the plate.  Both of these scenarios – the dominant and the inept – will be in the vast minority of his overall output.  In general, Vargas will go 6-7 innings and he’ll give up 2-4 earned runs.

If I had any memory at all, I’d track how many times he has a game in that exact range.  I guess we’ll see.

Vargas is the least sexy pitcher I’ve seen in ages.  Which makes him truly the epitome of the Seattle Mariners.

Then we’ve got Hector Noesi and Blake Beavan.  They make Jason Vargas look like Don Draper’s new wife.

Her.

I know enough about Blake Beavan to know that I’m not crazy about him.  I don’t despise the guy, but let’s just say I’m not looking forward to watching him make 30 starts this season.  He’s another low-90’s fastball right hander who’s certainly NOT as sweet as Doug Fister.  Whereas with Fister I saw potential in a guy who – with pinpoint command – could be great; with Beavan all I see is a 4.50 ERA.  For every great start he’ll give you five duds.

I know next-to-nothing about Noesi, so in that respect I guess he’s marginally more interesting than Beavan.  But, I’m sure as his own ERA hovers around 4.50, the novelty will wear off quickly.

And then there’s Kevin Millwood.  You know how the guys you hate the most tend to be the most durable?  Like they stay healthy just to spite you, while much more talented and enjoyable players (*cough* GUTI *cough cough*) can never seem to stay on the field long enough to live up to their vast potential.  That’s exactly what I’m looking forward to dreading with Kevin Millwood.  I guarantee you that while our younger phenoms (Ramirez, Hultzen, Paxton, Walker) are all dominating at their various levels of play, Kevin Millwood will not see one day of the Disabled List.  Bank on it.

Speaking of which, if there’s one thing to be hopeful about with the starting pitching of 2012, it’s that this will HOPEFULLY be the last season we’ll have to watch guys like Vargas, Beavan, Noesi, and Millwood infecting our starting rotation with their mediocrity.  If one thing absolutely needs to happen this season, it’s that our Big 4 (and Felix) need to stay healthy.  If two things need to happen, it’s that they also need to develop into Major League regulars.  I want 2013 to be the most exciting season ever; that’ll happen if the Big 4 make the jump to everyday Major League starters.

As for the bullpen, I like Brandon League.  I’ve said all along that I think the Mariners would be smart to sign League to a long-term extension.  He looks like he’s durable (in that he doesn’t have a crazy arm motion that’s going to put undue stress on his shoulder or elbow), he’s got a dominant sinking fastball that approaches 100 miles per hour, he’s got a devastating out-pitch in his split-fingered fastball, and he’s shown he’s got what it takes after the past two seasons of playing at a high level.

On the downside of Brandon League, he has that annual stretch of five-or-so games where he gets battered around by the Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles.  I say this season, we just leave him back in Seattle for that road trip.

A not-insignificant reason to sign League to an extension is this:  we gave up what could very well be a monster starting pitcher in Brandon Morrow for him.  It would be nice to not get totally hosed in that deal by losing the other Brandon.  Yeah, Morrow hasn’t exactly put it all together yet, but he’s shown enough flash with some of his dominant high-strikeout games to make me a believer that ONE DAY he will figure it out.  And he’ll be awesome for years thereafter.

After League, who the fuck knows?  Wilhelmsen looked pretty good last year once we brought him back up (after his miserable initial stint with the team), but will those great late-season appearances translate to him being the real deal in 2012?

We got George Sherrill back, so I guess that solves our problem in the bullpen from the left side.  Then again, does it?  He’s pretty old at this stage of his career.  Most fans believe he’s got at least one more season left in him; let’s hope so.  Not that it matters.  Sherrill isn’t exactly a long-term solution at the end of our bullpen (not that the phrase “long-term” ever really applies to bullpen guys, but that’s neither here nor there).

We’ve also got Shawn Kelley back from a seemingly never-ending string of injuries.  Who has confidence this guy has seen the last of his woes?  My bet is he’s back on the DL before the end of May.  Who wants action?

And, we’ve got other arms, but who really cares about those other arms.  A couple of nobodies and a dude in Iwakuma who couldn’t even beat out Blake Beavan for a starting job … hey, look out for these guys!

My Predictions For the 2012 Season

74-88, fourth place in the AL West.  I think our Team ERA will be in the bottom third of the American League.  I think our Runs Scored will be marginally better than last season’s (no more than 25 runs scored).  I think one of our major stars will suffer a season-ending injury (please not Felix, please not Felix, please not Felix).  That having been said, I think the Mariners will have one of the best records in Baseball in the month of September when all of our awesome starting prospects get called up and start mowing through the competition.

That’s that.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to bed early so I can wake up at 3am to watch a stupid fucking baseball game.

Seattle Mariners Roster Explosion 2012!!!

When I try to wrap my head around something, I like to make lists.  I like to listen to instrumental rock and I like to make lists.

So, without further ado …

For starters, let’s look at the 40-man.  You can see it all laid out here in an official capacity, but I would like to break it down thusly:

Guys Already Sent To The Minors:

  1. Danny Hultzen (SP – Left Handed)
  2. Yoervis Medina (SP – Right Handed)
  3. Mauricio Robles (RP – Left Handed)
  4. Francisco Martinez (3B – Right Handed)
  5. Carlos Truinfel (Inf – Right Handed)
  6. Johermyn Chavez (OF – Right Handed)
  7. Chih-Hsien Chiang (OF – Left Handed)
  8. Trayvon Robinson (OF – Switch Hitter)

Guys Destined For The Minors:

  1. Chance Ruffin (RP – Right Handed)
  2. Charlie Furbush (SP – Left Handed)
  3. Adam Moore (C – Right Handed)
  4. Alex Liddi (Inf – Right Handed)
  5. Carlos Peguero (OF – Left Handed)

Guys On The Disabled List Who Will Eventually Be In The Majors:

  1. Franklin Gutierrez (CF – Right Handed)

Now we’re getting somewhere!  Forget those 14 guys even exist, because they won’t matter until the season is well out of hand.

Now, how about we get to your Starting Nine, in what appears to be the order Eric Wedge will have them batting (at least initially):

  1. Chone Figgins (3B – Switch Hitter)
  2. Dustin Ackley (2B – Left Handed)
  3. Ichiro (RF – Left Handed)
  4. Justin Smoak (1B – Switch Hitter)
  5. Jesus Montero (DH – Right Handed)
  6. Mike Carp (LF – Left Handed)
  7. Miguel Olivo (C – Right Handed)
  8. Michael Saunders (CF – Left Handed)
  9. Brendan Ryan (SS – Right Handed)

Now, if I were convinced that these guys would be good, I’d say that’s one helluva lineup to post against a right handed pitcher.  But, I digress.  Those are your starting 9 to start the season, barring some fluke.

Guys Who Figure To Start The Season On The Bench:

  1. John Jaso (C – Left Handed)
  2. Munenori Kawasaki (Inf – Left Handed) (also:  not yet on the 40-man, but will be)
  3. Casper Wells (OF – Right Handed)
  4. Kyle Seager (Inf – Left Handed)

Assuming, of course, the team goes with a 4-man bench.  I’m also assuming that Casper Wells makes the team over Carlos Peguero (which, let’s be realistic, is the way it SHOULD be).  If Wells continues to struggle as he has in Spring Training, then when Guti comes back, it’ll be a matter of either Wells or Saunders going back down to Tacoma.  But, that’s an argument for another time.  This brings our 40-man total to 27.  Let’s look at the pitchers.

Starting Five:

  1. Felix Hernandez (Right Handed)
  2. Jason Vargas (Left Handed)
  3. Kevin Millwood (Right Handed) (also:  not yet on the 40-man, but will be)
  4. Blake Beavan (Right Handed)
  5. Hector Noesi (Right Handed)

So, it doesn’t really diversify all that much (4 righties & a lefty), but it’s what we’ve got, so we better get used to it.  I fully expect Millwood to be the 3rd starter, because I doubt very much that Wedge is going to keep on a veteran like Millwood and not put him right in the middle of the order.  Then again, who really cares?  The last four pitchers on this list inspire fear in exactly no one, so take my order with a grain of salt.

This brings us to our 7-man bullpen:

  1. Brandon League (Closer)
  2. George Sherrill (Left Handed)
  3. Tom Wilhelmsen (Right Handed)
  4. Lucas Luetge (Left Handed)
  5. Shawn Kelley (Right Handed)
  6. Steve Delabar (Right Handed)
  7. Hisashi Iwakuma (Right Handed)

Yeah, I guess we’ll see.  I think the bullpen might be the biggest wildcard on the team.  Who knows WHAT you’re going to get?

And at this point, you might be thinking, “Hey!  That’s only 39 guys!”  And you’d be right.  I don’t know if they need to right now or not, but if they had to they could always put Erasmo Ramirez on the 40-man to make things a little more complete.  Although, if he’s not on the 40-man now, and we’re past the point of the Rule 5 Draft, I don’t see why the Mariners have to go to all the trouble right now.  Seems like they could easily wait until the end of the season (or whenever he earns his way up to the Big Club) to add him to the 40-man.

Anyway, that’s it.  I feel better informed already!

Mariners 2011 Overview: Jason Vargas

We’re kinda running out of interesting Mariners from 2011 to talk about, so we’ll go ahead and make this the last one in the series.  Incidentally, this is also the least-interesting of those I’ve documented, so there you go.

A lot of Mariners fans have lumped Vargas in with League into the group of pitchers we’d be better off trading.  With each, we have only one more year of team control, and with each, we were looking at a huge pay raise (both of them in the $5 million range).  Sure as shit, earlier this week, Vargas and League got those huge pay raises, to the consternation of many, I’m sure.

Why pay $5 million for a closer when he’s on a team that’s destined to finish no better than 3rd in a division of four teams?  Well, for one, our bullpen is as big a question mark as any on this team.  And, even if there is no hope for postseason play in our immediate future, you still need to win ballgames.  For the good of the club, for the good of team morale, and for the good of not getting our entire GM staff fired and starting all over again.  League is as important as anyone in making sure we lock down those games we DO win.  And, don’t forget, it’s not like there’s this huge market out there for even elite-level closers like League.  What’s the point in trading him for some Triple-A scrub when we can squeeze one more season out of his arm and then get Type-A draft pick compensation when he ultimately signs for millions upon millions of dollars elsewhere?

I think most M’s fans understand this.  There’s just nothing we can do, unless we got rid of him solely to open up payroll, which I feel is pretty stupid because then who are you going to have closing games this season?  We’ve got nothing but rookies or young guys (and George Sherrill, who can’t get righties out to save his life).

What M’s fans have a harder time with, I think, is the re-signing of Jason Vargas.

They see a guy who throws in the high-80s, a guy who gives up a tremendous amount of homers, a guy who had a run of games in July and August that rivalled among the worst in all of baseball, a guy who seemingly ALWAYS turns back into a pumpkin after the All Star Break.  I can’t argue with any of that.  I can read the numbers.  I can recall what I witnessed with my own two eyes.  Jason Vargas, at his best, is no better than a Number 3 starter, but more often than not resembles a Number 5.  Paying upwards of $5 million for THAT seems pretty silly when you can get a guy making the minimum who will give you similar numbers.

The positives that Vargas gives you is that he’s kind of an innings eater.  He has started 63 games the past two years, with 393 innings pitched in that span.  He generally gives you a little better than a 2:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks, and last year at least he showed he can go deep into ball games.  Vargas, in 2011, had 4 complete games and 3 shutouts.  That’s up from 0 and 0 in his Mariners career up to that point.

So, at least we have that to look forward to.  In 2011, Jason Vargas SHOULD give us a pretty solid, sub-4 ERA first half.  Another interesting prospect to take away is Vargas’ September.  At a point in the season where you figure a guy like Vargas would be running on fumes, he surprisingly put up some solid numbers.  In his last four starts, he went 6 innings or more every time.  26.2 innings, 6 earned runs, 23 K’s vs. 5 BB’s, AND – maybe most importantly – only one home run allowed.  Was it all due to the Felix Twist?  Maybe.  Or maybe it was a coincidence that happened to work out, which happened to build up some confidence, which perpetuated the quality through the final game of the season.  Either way, I’m not ready to give up on Vargas yet.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t go out and give him Carlos Silva money any time soon.  If I’ve learned anything from Jason Vargas’ tenure with the Mariners, it’s that just about anyone can come in here and succeed as a starting pitcher, so long as he’s left handed and he has a decent change up.  If you try to tell me we couldn’t find one of those guys in the scrap heap each and every year until Safeco crumbles to the ground after eons of decay, I will punch you in the nose and call you a liar.

After losing Pineda, our starting rotation is in a little bit of flux.  No Pineda, no Fister, no Bedard.  Keeping Vargas around is probably one of the savvier moves we’ve made in this offseason.  He may not be a true Number 2 starter, but I bet you dollars to donuts he pops up after Felix in the rotation (to preserve that righty-lefty-righty thing managers love to do with their rotations).

Here’s what it looks like so far:

  1. Felix
  2. Vargas
  3. Iwakuma
  4. Noesi?
  5. Beavan? … Furbush? … Other?

The Most Boring Fucking Offseason In Mariners History … Until It Isn’t

Like, right now.

Bitchin' ...

So, after the 9,000th reliever signed to a minor league contract, I’d just about had it with this whole offseason.  Are you telling me, in the most pivotal offseason in Jack Zduriencik’s Major League career, he’s going to go down – not swinging – but desperately clutching his bat to his back shoulder as Strike Three blows past him?  All while we wait for a guy in Prince Fielder to make up his fucking mind sometime this century (when we know God damned well that he’s not going to settle for Seattle anyway).

This offseason has been, in two words:  fucking idiotic.  Our biggest move of the last three months is a tie between signing 34 year old lefty bullpen specialist (and ex-trade bait for Erik Bedard) George Sherrill and a trade for a backup catcher in John Jaso (in the process, losing out on ex-trade bait for Cliff Lee, Josh Lueke).

BUT, all of that changes on one bitter-ass cold Friday afternoon in mid-January!  Just when you think all is lost!  Just when you read Larry Stone’s blog and resign yourself to the cream of the crap in free agency (once Fielder finally signs with the Rangers)!  Just when you’re seriously considering forever giving up on the sport of baseball, because there’s no way your team is ever going to be interesting ever again!

The Mariners trade Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero.  Yeah, THAT Jesus Montero.

Pardon me while I go back and re-write my Justin Smoak post … Jesus Montero will be the second-coming of Babe Ruth!  He and Smoak will both be contending for RBI titles for the next decade!  Woo!

Snap judgments right now are going ballistic on the Mariners for trading away an All Star starting pitcher.  While that’s definitely true, you’re still talking about a guy who was remarkably worse in the 2nd half of last season.  His fastball had less on it, teams were able to figure him out and hit him around, his eye-popping performances were few and far between.  Was it due to his being a young, rookie pitcher in his first full season in the Majors?  Possibly.  Or maybe that’s a better reflection of who he is.

Let’s face it, starting pitchers are huge crapshoots.  Who’s to say, now that the AL has figured him out, they continue to make him look semi-worthless?  His fastball doesn’t have a tremendous amount of movement; his curveball is obviously devastating, but not necessarily against lefties.  And maybe he never develops an effective change up to be that dominant force in the AL like Felix is.  You don’t know!  What if 2011 was as good as it gets?

Here’s the rub:  the Mariners had zero hitting.  Jesus Montero looks like he’s going to be good-to-great, regardless of where he plays.  The Mariners have a surplus of pitching.  Safeco is the key ingredient to that; it makes guys like Jason Vargas into $5 million/year starting pitchers with a terrible fastball and a decent change.  In other words:  the Mariners are ALWAYS going to have good pitching.  It’s the exact opposite of the Kingdome days, where if you didn’t have a guy like Randy Johnson, then your ERA was likely to be in the 5’s.  In Safeco, you’ll have a 3 ERA where anywhere else in baseball that number would be a run or two higher.

I like the move.  Yeah, it’s going to make the Yankees absolutely sick … but then again, maybe it doesn’t.  If Pineda flames out into an average starter, then they’ve just been whamboozled.  As for the Mariners, the motto of the day is:

There’s more (pitching) where that came from.