I’m So Ready For Julio Rodriguez To Dominate For The Mariners

Julio Rodriguez appears to be a consensus fifth in the American League MVP race according to Vegas (behind top guy Aaron Judge, then Juan Soto, Corey Seager, and Yordan Alvarez). It’s gotta be exciting for these guys, because Shohei Ohtani is in the National League now, so somebody else can finally win for a change!

Fangraphs has Julio seventh in all of baseball for projected WAR with 5.6. ZIPS has him third in all of baseball at 5.7 WAR. Pretty much wherever you go, there’s Julio, projected right there among the very best players in baseball.

This is interesting to me, because while Julio was clearly the best player on the Mariners last year, I wouldn’t say he had a GREAT season. He was definitely hotter than the sun in July and especially August, but other than that he had long stretches where he struggled, especially in the first half, but also down the stretch in September.

Now, clearly, a struggling Julio is A LOT different than a struggling Ty France, or a struggling Taylor Trammell (which is pretty much his entire career). Even when he’s having a tough time, he’s still awesome. He’s still a presence. He’s still a guy other teams have to fear. And, of course, he’s going to give you great defense regardless. He’s still going to play hard and make some moves when he does get on base. He’s going to find ways to contribute.

But, his slash line in 2023 was down across the board compared to his 2022 rookie season, which is why his WAR fell from 6.0 to 5.3. Again, still great! He finished 4th in MVP voting last year, but no one voted him higher than 3rd.

It takes quite a special season to win the MVP award. The Mariners have had exactly two MVPs in their history: Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997, and Ichiro in 2001. Griffey that year was the leader of the most fearsome offense baseball had seen since the ’27 Yankees. And Ichiro entered the Major Leagues like a house on fire, leading the team to a 116-win season. THIS is what I would like to see from Julio. And 2024 is no better time to make that happen.

There’s a lot of hype that the Mariners have improved their offense this year. I’m still in a “I’ll believe it when I see it” mode of thinking. Regardless, I would say no one is expecting these Mariners to blow the doors off of the 2023 variety. It’s all “cautious optimism” and probably a marginal step up.

If you want to see significant improvement from this team, it has to be twofold. First, the depth has to be stronger. The bottom of the order MUST be better. I’m not saying we have to be lights out 1 through 9 in the order, but we can’t have the bottom 4-5 batters completely stinking up the joint like they did for most of last year. If we can see some competence, if we can have more professional at-bats, if we can even just make better and more productive outs, I think it’ll make a world of difference.

But, even that hinges on the second part: we need our stars to be super.

We need J.P. to continue to dominate at the top of the order. We need Cal to continue being a power machine. We need our veterans – Garver, Haniger, Polanco – to step up when they’re healthy. Ideally, we need this Driveline experience to hit the jackpot with Ty France. And, more than anything, we need Julio to play at an MVP level. Not just good with some elite stretches, but consistently great throughout the year.

Even if it’s just the veterans playing AS good as they were last year, and some semblance of improvement from the bottom of the order, I think we could really make some hay with an MVP Julio.

That’s kind of what I’m banking on here, if I have any hope whatsoever of the Mariners making it back to the playoffs. I’m expecting the starters to be great. I’m expecting them to figure it out in the bullpen. But, I’m also expecting the offense to be a dud yet again, costing us winnable games and seeing us ultimately falling short of a wild card berth.

However, if we get MVP Julio? Then, I’ll be willing to suspend my disbelief. I’ll be willing to go all in on this team with its cheapskate ownership group. I’ll be willing to hope that we can somehow put it all together for a magical playoff run.

Now is the time! He had his Rookie of the Year campaign. He had his Sophomore Slump. Now, it’s time for the MVP trophy. Now, it’s time to take that next step into the stratosphere. Be the envy of everyone, and the face of baseball, as you were destined to be!

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

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

The King and his loyal subjects …

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

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

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

Let’s get back to Felix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Felix & Me …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Favorite Seattle-Based Athletes, Part 1

Ahh yes, we’re in one of those dead periods of the sports calendar (unless your team happens to be in the Super Bowl, or you’re super-jazzed by what they’re doing with the Pro Bowl nowadays); it’s a struggle to find things to write about. So, to kill some time, I thought I’d write about my favorite Seattle athletes, both college and pros.

These aren’t necessarily people who were born and/or raised in the Seattle area (although, they could be). These are people who played their respective sports – either in college or as professionals – in Seattle. We’re talking Seahawks, Mariners, Supersonics, and Huskies. For this exercise, I went through each team and picked my favorite five guys. I’ll write a little bit about each, then we’ll narrow it down to a top ten overall, then we’ll see if we’re able to rank those. I don’t expect this to be easy.

I should point out – for frame of reference – that I didn’t really start getting into sports until 1987 or 1988, with the 90’s being my heyday. I got into the Seahawks first, then the Sonics in the early 90’s, then the Mariners in 1995, and it wasn’t until I started going to UW in the fall of 1999 when I truly became a Husky fan. This isn’t a ranking of the All Time Best Seattle Athletes. These are just MY favorites. If they’re not your favorites, I don’t care. Go start your own blog; they’re not too hard to make.

Mariners

  • Felix Hernandez
  • Randy Johnson
  • Ken Griffey Jr.
  • Ichiro
  • Alex Rodriguez

Spoiler alert: Felix and Randy are making my Top 10, so I’ll write more about them later. It feels corny as hell to have Griffey in my top five favorite Mariners, but I don’t know how you leave him off. He balled out in the outfield, making insane catches and throws, and he was one of the best home run hitters of all time. You couldn’t take your eyes off of him when he was doing whatever it was he was doing, even if it was just chuckling with teammates in the dugout. I would say over time, the bloom came off the rose with Ichiro, but those first few years, he was a force of nature. You couldn’t believe what you were seeing out of this magnetic little guy, with his cannon of an arm, and his ability to beat out seemingly-routine grounders. Eventually, he became a slap-hitting singles guy who never dove for balls and whose arm stopped being challenged by baserunners. But, for a while there, he was all we had. A common theme going forward is going to be how tough I had it trying to pick a fifth favorite. Edgar was just boringly amazing. Buhner was certainly a terrific personality. And there were plenty of quietly-excellent guys around the turn of the century. But, A-Rod was a guy who could do it all, at least as long as he wore a Mariners uniform. Power, speed, defense (at the most premium defensive spot on the team), great eye, great average. We somehow brought in a guy who could legitimately push Griffey as the best player on the team. Say what you will about his exit from Seattle, but even then, it was fun to root against him on other teams.

Seahawks

  • Marshawn Lynch
  • Kam Chancellor
  • Steve Largent
  • Russell Wilson
  • Richard Sherman

Spoiler alert: Lynch, Kam, and Largent are all making my Top 10. The Seahawks were tough in a different way, because I could’ve gone 20 deep in this preliminary list; it was difficult to limit it to just five. Cortez Kennedy, Shaun Alexander, Matt Hasselbeck, Joey Galloway, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett, Ricky Watters, Brian Blades, Bobby Wagner, Michael Sinclair, Jacob Green, Lofa Tatupu, Walter Jones, Doug Baldwin. You could go on and on and on. But, in spite of recent schadenfreude, Russell Wilson was still a super fun quarterback to watch and root for on a weekly basis. In his prime, he would regularly pull our asses out of the fire late in games, and even late in plays as he’d avoid the pass rush in order to make some insane throw down field. Sherm ended up landing my fifth spot simply because of his personality. You could always tell what kind of shit he was talking even if he wasn’t mic’ed up on the field. If teams had the misfortune of trying to challenge him, they’d often find that plan thwarted real quick. Even later in his career – after quarterbacks by and large stopped throwing his way – it was always comforting knowing half the field was closed for business.

Supersonics

  • Shawn Kemp
  • Gary Payton
  • Detlef Schrempf
  • Sam Perkins
  • Nate McMillan

Spoiler alert: Kemp and Payton are in my Top 10. You’ll notice the top four listed here were the top four in minutes played in that amazing 1995/1996 season (and that all five were on that team in major roles). The fifth guy came down to Mac-10, Ray Allen, Dale Ellis, Hersey Hawkins, and Rashard Lewis, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Mr. Sonic. For a lot of reasons, but I’ll never forget how banged up he was in those Finals against the Bulls. Yet, he came back and played a critical role in our winning games four and five. I’ll always believe that a healthy Nate would’ve propelled us to the upset to end all upsets against those juggernaut Bulls. Detlef was a consummate pro and a perfect complement to Gary and Shawn’s theatrics. And Big Smooth – for that nickname alone – very nearly made my Top 10. Just a stud of a big man who drained threes like nobody’s business (at a time in league history where that was an extreme rarity, unlike today where it’s the norm).

Husky Basketball

  • Isaiah Thomas
  • Jon Brockman
  • Nate Robinson
  • Brandon Roy
  • Matisse Thybulle

Spoiler alert: only IT makes my Top 10 from here. If I had to pick a second, I’d go with Brockman, who was a great all-around forward under Romar. He got better every year in a complementary role, and as a senior really picked up and led this team in ways we wouldn’t have expected from him as a freshman. Nate Rob was super flashy and fun to watch. Roy probably had the best game of all of them, but was one of those boringly-excellent players (who, unfortunately, could never stay healthy as a pro). And Thybulle really got unlocked under Mike Hopkins, in probably the only good thing he’s done as a coach of the Huskies. Honorable mention goes to Terrell Brown, for being super fun to watch game-in and game-out last year.

Husky Football

  • Marques Tuiasosopo
  • Reggie Williams
  • John Ross
  • Budda Baker
  • Michael Penix

Spoiler alert: Tui and Reggie both made my Top 10. If there was a Top 11, John Ross would be in it. Nothing more fun than my friends and I screaming JOHN ROSS at the tops of our lungs whenever he corralled a 40+ yard bomb for a touchdown. My love for Budda Baker started when he flipped from the Ducks to the Huskies. Then, he proceeded to ball out for us for three of the best teams we’ve ever had, before becoming one of the pros I most wanted the Seahawks to draft. We let him go to the Cardinals and part of me has never forgiven them for it. Consider this the kiss of death for Penix’s 2023 season, as I’ve surely jinxed him. But, he might be the best and most pro-ready quarterback I’ve ever seen in a Husky uniform. As someone who stepped in right away this past season and led us to double-digit wins – including a bowl victory over the Longhorns – it’s a remarkable feat, even if he is a transfer. Penix obviously gets extra credit for choosing to return for a second season – when he easily could’ve gone pro and been at least a Day 2 draft pick, if not a sneaky first rounder – and of course for all the Big Penix Energy jokes my friends and I get to rattle off. If he parlays this into a conference title in 2023, I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s able to sneak into my Top 10 by this time next year.

Tomorrow: my top 10.

Have The Mariners Now Hit A New Low For This Season?

Losing 2 of 3 to the lowly Oakland A’s – a team everyone keeps telling me “isn’t even trying to win” – to drop to last place in the A.L. West at 18-27, tied for the fifth-worst record in all of baseball, sure does feel like Rock Bottom. I guess we could’ve been swept by those same A’s, but the season is still relatively early and we still have five more series to play against them.

I can kind of understand why we bring in these hitters – this year, it’s Jesse Winker, for instance – and they struggle right off the bat and also forevermore. Seattle’s a tough place to play. Odds are you’re far away from your home, or at least where you’d ideally rather be living (though, make no mistake, the few homegrown locals we manage to bring back here also struggle just the same). The ballpark – even with the fences brought in a few years back – is a tough place to hit, what with the marine layer knocking down potential homers and an outfield that’s decidedly unfriendly to doubles hitters. Then, there’s just the stigma of multiple decades of hitters coming here and sucking (save Nelson Cruz, who is a magical creature, and we damn well didn’t appreciate him enough when he was here), infecting the fragile psyches of guys ill-equipped for the mental rigors of wearing that Mariners uniform and being absorbed into our organization of utter mediocrity. It can be a lot. I don’t envy any hitter who is brought here against his will and forced to play for such dysfunction.

Same goes for hitting prospects we bring in here, who would be sure-fire All Stars for any other organization. They have all of the above, plus the indignity of having to “learn” from a collection of hitting coaches throughout all levels that are and always have been completely and totally inept at their jobs. Only the Mariners could fuck up a sure thing like Jared Kelenic. It is our destiny.

But, what I don’t understand is why certain pitchers come here and revert back into pumpkins. Robbie Ray was a legitimate free agent prize this past offseason, coming off of a Cy Young Award. How is he so hittable?! How is his stuff so pedestrian?! For someone with as much strikeout potential as he has, he seems to also dump a lot of meatballs right down the middle; it’s infuriating.

And yet, I’m supposed to sit here and feel glad because Julio Rodriguez looks like the real deal right out of the gate? Wow, I guess 1 out of 30 fucking hitting prospects isn’t bad, huh? Is this what it’s come to?

I’m NOT glad, because it’s not that hard to find one fucking stud prospect to be the face of your franchise. The Mariners ALWAYS have one stud. Before Julio, we had Felix. Before Felix, we had Ichiro. Before Ichiro, we had A-Rod and Edgar and Griffey (you know, all those teams you hear about ad nauseam, because that’s literally the only fucking time the Mariners were ever fucking good). Felix and Ichiro account for most of the last two decades, but what did we ever do to build winners around them? Jack Shit. We did a lot of half measures and panic deals when we thought we were close, only to fall short time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time again.

So, great, we have one stud again. Julio. Is he going to single-handedly win us a title? How’s Mike Trout doing down in Anaheim? Lots of playoff glory under his belt?

What’s most infuriating – as I’ve said before – is the fact that 2022 isn’t even all that important in the grand scheme of things. This year was supposed to be about further building up the young guys. Getting them experience, and getting them used to the rigors of facing other Major Leaguers. But, guys like Kelenic and Raleigh and Brash and Toro and on and on down the line are fucking SUCK-ING!

It’s also, not for nothing, kind of obnoxious that the bullpen is who we thought it was. Regression away from the unsustainable heights of 2021. Just so fucking predictable. If it’s something some dimwit like yours truly can easily warn you about ahead of time, it’s as fucking hack as it gets. I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised. But, the likes of Drew Steckenrider and Diego Castillo have turned me into some sort of prophet with their horseshit performances.

God damn this fucking team. God damn them for getting our hopes up and shitting the bed like so many Johnny Depp cocaine parties. It’s the end of May and I’m pissed off beyond all rationality, so in other words, right on time.

I fucking hate the Mariners. Why do we put ourselves through this?

Kyle Seager Was The Best Mariners Third Baseman Of All Time

When we’re doing an All Mariners Team – which is pretty fun to think about, now that I bring it up – you can pen in Kyle Seager as the third baseman (with all due respect to Mike Blowers). For shits n’ giggles, let’s run it down real quick:

  • Ichiro (RF)
  • Ken Griffey Jr. (CF)
  • Jay Buhner (LF)
  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Alex Rodriguez (SS)
  • Bret Boone (2B)
  • Alvin Davis (1B)
  • Dan Wilson (C)
  • Edgar Martinez (DH)

Not too far off from what I had back in 2012 (although, the more I think about it, the more I think Ichiro deserves the respect of having right field; plus, can you imagine Buhner’s arm throwing out guys from left?!). I’ll also say I was THIS CLOSE to putting Robinson Cano at second base, but I just couldn’t. Even though he signed that huge deal, he never really felt like a Mariner; he was always a New York guy.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there, because we’re talking about Kyle Seager today!

It was always assumed 2021 would be Kyle Seager’s last year here. Truth be told, he would’ve been traded a while back, but they built a poison pill into his contract that guaranteed his 2022 option would be paid in full upon completion of any trade. Given the way baseball inflation was going at the time of signing – prior to the 2015 season – and given the way Seager had played up until that point, an optimist might’ve assumed his 2022 option would be a bargain. But, that turned out to decidedly not be the case, and he became an albatross around Jerry Dipoto’s neck as we headed into the rebuild.

I’m somewhat conflicted about Kyle Seager. He was fun to root for from the very beginning, as a rookie in 2011. He got called up right around the same time as Dustin Ackley, and for half a year anyway, both of them looked like potential cornerstones to the franchise. Ackley quickly petered out from there, but Seager continued to improve. He wasn’t a natural third baseman, but that was where he ended up thanks to the Mariners’ hole at the spot, and Seager took advantage of the opportunity. Indeed, he got better every year through the 2016 season, before things took a turn for the worse.

In 2016 – the second year of his contract extension – he was a 6.9 WAR player who garnered a little bit of MVP attention. Two years removed from his only All Star appearance, and his only Gold Glove award, he slashed .278/.359/.499, with 30 homers, 36 doubles, and 99 RBI. It was the culmination of six straight years of improvement! Every year, I kept expecting a little more, and every year he kept delivering. Not only that, but his floor wasn’t bad either. Even with those 2016 numbers, I felt like he had potential for more.

Then, the dreaded infield shift became popularized and entrenched in the game of baseball. And, with Seager being such an extreme pull hitter, it decimated his offensive value. In 2017, he was a 2.5 WAR player; he would never see another WAR higher than that. In 2018, he really fell apart as a sub-1 WAR player; his slash line fell all the way to .221/.273/.400. Not only was he basically a replacement-level player, but he was never hurt and therefore in the lineup every single day! That changed in 2019, when he landed on the IL, but by then he started to figure out how to be productive as a pull hitter in a shifting world; he finished that season at 2.4 WAR that might’ve been higher had he been healthy all year.

Seager became something of a lightning rod of controversy in 2021, through no fault of his own really. The whole Kevin Mather thing put Seager’s final year under a microscope, as he called him overpaid, and essentially told the world what the organization feels about its best-ever third baseman: they didn’t want him. Seager, nevertheless, has always been the consummate professional, showing up everyday, mentoring young players, and being an all-around mainstay in the middle of an otherwise struggling lineup.

Seager in 2021 had arguably his best-ever power season, hitting a career-high 35 homers and 101 RBI. His slash line was pretty wretched – .212/.285/.438 – but he still salvaged a 2.0 WAR just by being so productive with his extra-base hits; he had 63 extra-base hits and 65 singles. Guys who hit for such a low average still have a place in this league if they can mash 35-plus homers a year – or 30-plus homers along with quality defense – so I would call Seager’s 2021 a success.

At the same time, I wouldn’t expect too many more successful seasons if he remained in a Mariners uniform. MAYBE one more year, but even then he could fall off the cliff in a hurry. I would expect Seager might be able to prolong his career elsewhere, in a more lefty-friendly environment. He’s always crushed it in the state of Texas, so that might be an option for him! But, I like the idea of Seager leaving Seattle on a high note.

For the most part, Kyle Seager was a great member of the Seattle Mariners. I’d rather he leave with us remembering him fondly, than us seeing him as an aging veteran who can barely hobble around the bases.

I would argue it’s also time to move on because I don’t think he wants to be here anymore. Rumors abound that he was the source behind a lot of angry quotes about the organization this year, especially after the Kendall Graveman deal. Granted, I think Dipoto has made it clear he didn’t want to keep Seager through the end of his contract, and probably did everything in his power to try to rid the team of him, so I don’t blame Seager one bit for feeling the way he does. The fact of the matter is, the Mariners never would’ve gotten anything in trade close to the value of what Seager still brought to a potential team. It made sense to keep him from that standpoint, but it also made sense to keep him because even though we were going Full Rebuild for the first time in forever, you still need veteran leadership to help guide players through the choppy waters as the talent level on the big league ballclub plummets. I would argue that kind of leadership was largely absent from the years of 2008-2013, and that could be a big reason why the Mariners never got off the ground in that time.

What I’m trying to say is that the Mariners got their money’s worth out of Kyle Seager, even if he never got to play in the post-season. I mean, shit, A LOT of Mariners failed to reach the playoffs, it’s not just a Seager problem. He just had the misfortune of succeeding in an inept, bumbling organization.

I don’t know what Seager’s legacy is other than the Greatest Mariners Third Baseman. He was never the flashy prospect of a King Felix. He was never at a Hall of Fame level of an Edgar Martinez. He was never a big worldwide household name like a Griffey or an Ichiro. He just quietly went about his business, day-in and day-out. In that sense, he should be my favorite type of player.

But, my big take-away is one of lost potential. In another era, Seager would’ve continued to blossom beyond his 2016-level of production. But, he could never fully recover from the shift. When I think of Kyle Seager, that’s what I think of: rolling over on a ground ball to a second baseman playing in shallow right field.

Kyle Seager had good, solid power. 242 homers, 309 doubles, 807 RBI, 704 runs scored. From a career slash line perspective, it’s not the worst: .251/.321/.442. But, there’s a big difference between the first half of his career, and the second half:

  • 2011-2016: .266/.334/.446, with a 119 OPS+
  • 2017-2021: .231/.304/.436, with a 103 OPS+

That later era, that’s when he was age 29-33; those are supposed to be your PRIME years as a professional baseball player! That’s when you’ve got all the experience and smarts in the world, while still being pretty much at your peak physically. When you think of someone like Nelson Cruz, he was just hitting his stride at age 33! Different body types and all of that, but it’s just frustrating is all.

You could argue Kyle Seager is one of the unluckiest baseball players in the history of the game. The advent and apex of the shift happened right as his prime got started, and it’ll likely be legislated out of the game not long after he hangs ’em up (they’re already working rules into the minor leagues that forces the infield to keep two players on either side of second base, while disallowing them to stand in the outfield). I mean, he’s made well over $100 million in his career – including a $2 million buyout coming his way for 2022 – so it’s a real World’s Smallest Violin type of “unlucky”. But, you get the idea.

That having been said, my fondness level for Seager is well over 50% compared to my disappointment, so I’ll always remember him as one of the Mariners greats. Eventually, cooler heads will prevail and he’ll enter the team’s hall of fame; he’ll be back in the fold and rightly celebrated for all of his accomplishments, throwing out a first pitch here and there, and conversing during game telecasts as we watch this team through the years. Until then, I wish him the best in his future endeavors. I hope he makes it back to the playoffs on another team (unless it’s the Astros; in that case, he can go straight to Hell).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Top Ten Biggest Seattle Sports Disappointments

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

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

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

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

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

#10 – Danny Hultzen (Mariners)

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

#9 – Justin Smoak (Mariners)

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

#8 – Aaron Curry (Seahawks)

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

#7 – Dustin Ackley (Mariners)

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

#6 – Chone Figgins (Mariners)

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

#5 – Percy Harvin (Seahawks)

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

#4 – Erik Bedard (Mariners)

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

#3 – Rick Mirer (Seahawks)

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

#2 – Jeff Cirillo (Mariners)

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

#1 – Vin Baker (Supersonics)

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

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

This Felix Hernandez Thing Feels Like It’s Going To Go Sour In A Hurry

This thing has been bad for a while now. Obviously, it stems from the simple fact that Felix Hernandez’s stuff just isn’t what it used to be. Part of that is overblown. People make it sound like Felix was throwing 94 mph smoke as recently as two years ago, but he hasn’t been THAT Felix for a while now. He wasn’t even THAT Felix when he won his Cy Young Award in 2010! Even then, he was barely scraping by on 91 or 92 mph fastballs, but his changeup was so unhittable that it didn’t even matter that there was hardly any difference in speeds between the two.

That’s what’s so frustrating about the narrative around Felix’s decline of late, that almost everyone gets wrong. It’s not the quality of his stuff that’s changed, it’s the accuracy behind it, and the simple fact that the book on him has been figured out. Lay off the changeup, because he rarely ever throws it for strikes. Wait him out on the fastball, then pound it into submission. He can get by on a pretty good curveball to make people look foolish a time or two, but eventually he’s going to run into a bad inning. It’s just a matter of getting him out of there before he can do too much damage to himself.

Maybe it starts with a bad call from the ump. A blown called third strike that keeps an at-bat alive, long enough to see that batter walk because Felix will do a lot out there, but give in isn’t one of them. He’s not going to throw you a 3-2 fastball in the zone when he can try to fool you with his bread n’ butter changeup. Only, like I said, guys aren’t falling for that line anymore.

Or maybe it starts with a booted ball in the infield. Felix does his job, gets them to hit it at someone, but Kyle Seager has it go off his glove. Seager seemingly makes that play 9 times out of 10, but for whatever reason, when Felix is on the mound, the ball finds a hole in his glove.

Maybe it’s a bloop that drops carefully into No Man’s Land. Maybe it’s a seeing-eye grounder up the middle past two diving middle infielders. Maybe it’s a line-drive rocket off of Felix’s hip. Or, maybe it’s a matter of Felix thinking he can steal a quick strike and get ahead in the count. Maybe the book on a certain hitter is that he always takes strike one in his first at bat of the game, except this time the batter flips the script and mashes that two-seamer for a 400-foot blast to left-center to lead off the game.

There’s no telling how exactly it’s going to happen, but it happens just about every single game now. The Unravelling. In the good ol’ days, Felix would find a way to bulldog his way to 6 or 7 innings, limiting the damage to just one or two early runs. Now, he’s lucky to finish his final inning without giving up a matching number of runs. He usually at least figures out a way to string some zeroes together, but there’s almost always that one crooked number that severs the artery and sends his performance to the morgue.

He can’t be trusted to be what he was. He’s reduced to being this team’s #5 starter. His streak of Opening Day starts is slated to end this year, with Marco Gonzales set to make the first start in Japan next week. We’re famously in the final year of his contract that sees him making $27 million, and at this point we probably shouldn’t even count on him seeing it through to the end.

Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais were brought in prior to the 2016 season and they’ve literally never seen Great Felix. He’s been good at times – mostly in that very first year – but never really great. Not like he was. In that sense – and many others – they don’t have the ties to Felix that we, the fans, do. Sure, it’s hard to move on from a local legend, not the least of which because he makes a prohibitive amount of money and has a full No Trade Clause. At this point, with the relationship as soured as it is on both sides, I’m sure he’d be as willing to waive that clause just as the team would be willing to take on whatever cash it would take to get him in another environment. You have to figure, the only reason why he’s still here isn’t some obligation to the type of fan who only clings to the old timers like he and Ichiro and the ghost of Ken Griffey Jr., but because no other team would have Felix in this current incarnation. MAYBE, if he flashes some of that old swagger for long enough in the early portion of this season, some playoff-starved team with pitching issues might take a flier on a rejuvenated vet. But, I wouldn’t count on it.

I can already see how this is going to end. It’s not with some triumphant return to glory. It’s not by the Mariners saving a few shekels or weaseling a low-level prospect away from another team. It’ll happen sometime in late April or early May. It’ll follow yet another disaster of a start. He won’t be offered a role in the bullpen; he certainly won’t transition into a full time closer like so many erstwhile greats before him. He won’t be granted a stint on the Injured List to clear his head or give some arm “injury” a chance to heal.

He’s going to be DFA’d.

He’ll be dropped to the wolves, he’ll find no takers for his salary as it’s currently constructed, and the Mariners will end up paying all but a pro-rated veteran’s minimum as some other also-ran gives him a change of scenery to see if there’s anything left in the tank. And the 33 year old baseball player will throw his first pitch for an organization outside of the Mariners’ purview since he turned 16 years of age. Think about THAT; he’s been with the Mariners’ organization longer than he HASN’T been with the Mariners’ organization. It’s going to be weird and depressing and ultimately a relief.

I hope he never leaves. But, failing that, I hope he leaves as soon as possible, finds success with another team, and gets his first-ever start in the post-season. I hope he finds a way to move on and I hope we find a way to move on. Regardless, I’ll be rooting for him every step of the way.

I’m a Felix Hernandez fan first, and a Mariners fan second. I’m one of a dying breed around these parts. I’ll cherish every moment like it’s my last, because at any moment it very well could be.

Coming To Terms With Felix Hernandez

In my continuing “Coming To Terms” series (we’ll see how long it goes, depending on how many more Mariners players emerge to disappoint), I’m taking a sad look at King Felix. Like Seager, Felix has gotten worse over the last few seasons:

  • 2015: 18-9, 3.53 ERA, 201.2 innings, 4.4 WAR, 8.52 K/9, .682 opposing OPS
  • 2016: 11-8, 3.82 ERA, 153.1 innings, 1.6 WAR, 7.16 K/9, .718 OPS
  • 2017: 6-5, 4.36 ERA, 86.2 innings, 0.8 WAR, 8.10 K/9, .791 OPS
  • 2018: 8-14, 5.55 ERA, 155.2 innings, -1.2 WAR, 7.23 K/9, .798 OPS

I mean, Jesus, there’s no sugarcoating this decline. He’s 33 years old in April and he’s heading into the final year of his contract, which accounts for over $27 million.

I can’t even begin to describe how much all of this bums me out. King Felix is far and away my favorite Seattle athlete and that’s REALLY saying something, because we’ve had some true greats. Steve Largent, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Marshawn Lynch, Cortez Kennedy, Walter Jones, Randy Johnson, Detlef Schrempf, Kam Chancellor, Ichiro. I would argue that Felix was just as great as any of those guys in his prime, plus the fact that he was loyal to this city when he had ABSOLUTELY no obligation just puts him over the top. The fact that he’s going to go his entire career in a Mariners uniform having never played in the post-season is really just too much. If there was ever a year for the Mariners to not totally Mariners things up, 2018 was it. That was his last – and really ONLY – chance, and we couldn’t give it to him.

I get the sense that most Mariners fans are done with him, which makes me sad. At this point, with the team not really contending for anything (and, indeed, a worse record only helps our draft prospects next year), this is when you WANT Felix here. He’s not capable of really carrying this team like he was in his prime, so I say hand him the ball every fifth day and take whatever comes. If it’s a rare good day, then relish it, as you never know when you’ll see his last quality start; if it’s a usual clunker, then that’s just another loss in the column toward a higher draft slot.

Given the way his career has gone, it feels impossible to hope for any sort of turnaround. If that was in him, we probably would’ve seen it by now. Just getting him through the whole season without a DL stint (or, I guess an IL stint?) would probably be the most we should hope for. I’ll never totally shut the door on some sort of Bartolo Colon-esque resurgence, but even then, you figure if the M’s have an opportunity to trade him to a contender for a late-season playoff push (with Felix’s blessing, of course), they’ll probably jump at it (taking on most of his salary nonetheless, because no team would pay much more than the minimum for his services). That’ll be a dark day for Seattle sports, but then again, you rarely see your superstars play exclusively for only one franchise anymore.

After this year, I suspect he’ll get a spring training invite elsewhere (the Marlins maybe?), while we sit around and squabble about his Hall of Fame prospects. Short of a dramatic career turnaround, those chances also seem pretty slim.