The Long Shadow of the Randy Johnson Trade

I moved this to my Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings heading HERE.

Random Week 13 Mariners Thoughts

Last week, the Mariners went 4-2.  The week before, it was 5-2.  In this critical stretch of games leading up to the All Star Break, the Mariners have gone 18-10 in their last 28 games.  We currently hold the 4th-best record in the American League, we hold the 2nd spot in the Wild Card standings by 1.5 games (over both KC & Baltimore), yet we’re still a full two games behind the Angels and 7.5 games behind the A’s.

This American League West is pretty fucking good this year.  I daresay it’s the NFC West of baseball divisions.

The Mariners crushed the Red Sox in the first two games last week, winning by a combined 20-5.  In the finale, Boston jumped out to a good lead, but we still managed to come back and pull within one run, with runners on base in the bottom of the ninth before our fortunes ran out.  Nevertheless, we came right back and took 2 of 3 from Cleveland, featuring a solid Chris Young performance, a night where the Mariners’ bats failed to show up to the ballpark, and an afternoon where Felix was absolutely masterful.  Cleveland 1-hit us on Saturday; we 1-hit them on Sunday.  Anything you can do, we can do better, because we’re the Seattle Mariners, so fuck you!

In roster transaction news, Erasmo Ramirez was sent down to eventually make way for Taijuan Walker.  As it happened, the Mariners replaced Ramirez with Brandon Maurer.  Maurer the starter is a suck-ass who doesn’t deserve legitimate playing time beyond the AAA level.  Maurer the reliever is a dominant force who can throw 99mph, has control of a wicked change up, and still has that slider that does so well against righties (and, apparently, a 93mph cut-fastball, which sounds ridiculous, but is true).  I’m not sure I want to see Maurer the reliever ever leave this team!  Can we keep him here forever?  Can he one day be our future closer?  Please?

Towards the end of the week, Jesus Montero was indeed demoted for Michael Saunders.  No surprise there.  Over the weekend, Saunders started three times and went 3 for 11, with a double and 2 runs scored.  Nice to have you back, Michael.

Then, after the game on Sunday, it was announced that Stefen Romero is finally being relieved of his duties.  Thank God.  I mean, I don’t hate the kid or anything, but he’s obviously still got a lot to work on.  He certainly has the potential to be a solid line drive hitting machine, but he’s got to figure out a plan when going into at bats.  And he needs to improve his pitch recognition.  Few more walks couldn’t hurt either.

It’s assumed Taijuan Walker is going to replace Romero on the roster, which is interesting, because that means Maurer is still here for the time being.  Maybe it’s only a matter of time (say, until Justin Smoak is ready to return).  Either way, it would be wise to take advantage of Maurer’s services while we still have him here.  An 8-man bullpen is a nice luxury, but not a luxury you can afford long term.  Not with the likes of John Buck as your DH.

Don’t look now, but it appears that the Mariners have a position of strength from which they can trade.  It’ll be interesting if we can ship off a couple of young bullpen arms for a bat.  At the very least, it beats the alternative of trading away starting pitching, which is at a premium for us right now.

Taijuan Walker goes tonight.  It would be nice if he’s good right out of the gate.  Then, I wouldn’t have to worry about the Mariners trading for one of the Cubs’ starting pitchers, when it’s so obvious to everyone in the world that the Mariners need help with their hitting.  I know everyone fears the day when Chris Young turns into a pumpkin, but I feel like even a few more bad games out of him over the second half of the season won’t make much of a difference, especially if Walker is the real deal.

The Mariners have now played 82 games.  Yesterday was technically the first game of the second half of the season.  2009 was the last time we were this good (at least, as far as record is concerned), when we finished 85-77.  Those Mariners ended up 10 games out of the Wild Card and 12 games out in the division.  Those Mariners also had a -52 run differential and only had that winning record thanks to insane luck in close games.  There wasn’t any 17-game losing streak like there was in 2011 (when the Mariners sort of contended through the first three months of the season), but there just weren’t the pieces in place to push that 2009 team over the top.  If you’ll recall, the only moves the Mariners made in the run-up to the July 31st Trade Deadline that year was:

  • A trade for Jack Hannahan (a bench infielder who made zero impact at the plate)
  • A trade for Jack Wilson & Ian Snell (a defense-only short stop and a crap starting pitcher)
  • The trading of Wladimir Balentien & Jarrod Washburn for prospects (prospects who turned out to be absolutely nothing)

We can’t make that mistake again this year.  There is a clear need:  hitting.  There are guys we can trade who aren’t Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.  I’m not asking the Mariners to bring me Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout, for crying out loud!  Just bring me someone who is better than Corey Hart or Justin Smoak or Dustin Ackley.  It can’t be THAT hard.

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!

The Mariners Most Likely Won’t Lose 100 Games This Year

The Seattle Mariners currently sit at 62-87.  Doing the math (or better yet, just doing the counting), I see that the Mariners have only 13 games left in the season.  We would have to lose every game the rest of the way to get to 100 losses.

Our magic number is 1!

I don’t suppose that’s a magic number in the sense most people are familiar with magic numbers in sports, but for the Mariners, 1 win will make all the difference.

Look at it:  we came into this season with lower than low expectations.  Anyone who predicted a .500 season, or anything close to a .500 season is a God damn moron, there I said it!  Yeah, I’m talking to YOU!  All you blogs, all you sports writers and beat reporters and national pundits!  You all had the Mariners in the 70-win range when you had NO REASON for it!  And you M’s fans, forget about it!  You’re fucking CRAZY!

Regression.  That’s all you got?  Certain players had outrageously bad seasons and SURELY they couldn’t replicate the badness back-to-back!  Bullshit, of course they could!  And, in many cases, they did.  Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Jack Cust, Jack Wilson, Michael Saunders; ALL of those guys followed up bad seasons with even worse seasons.  Compound that with the fact that Ichiro took a huge dive, Justin Smoak went on an extended slump (that is, when he wasn’t out with injury), Miguel Olivo is a walking Golden Sombrero …

I didn’t intend for this to be a 2011 Retrospective.  There will be plenty of time for that in the off-season.  This is a call-out to all the people who predicted this team would be better than it actually is.

And, for a while there, they were looking pretty damn good and I was looking pretty damn foolish.  For a while, the Mariners were at or above .500.  They were in contention for the AL West, their starting pitching was off-the-charts good, and their bullpen was doing things (Jamey Wright, David Pauley) that nobody in his right mind EVER could have expected.  Then, that 17-game losing streak happened.  I guess that’s one case where regression actually makes sense.

You know what I predicted for this year?  “Record Prediction:  65-97.  AL West Finish:  4th Place.  Draft Pick in 2012:  4.”  I’m EERILY fucking close to all of those things hitting right on the nose.  Look at my post HERE (and trust that I didn’t go back later and adjust it).

To hit my record, the Mariners have to go 3-10.  Look at the schedule!  6 games against the Rangers (fighting hard with Anaheim for the division), 3 games in Minnesota, another game in Cleveland, and 3 games at home vs. Oakland.  It’s not the most difficult schedule in the world, but 3-10 is VERY much on the table!

Currently, the Mariners are drafting 4th by a half game (San Diego is tied with us in the loss column, with one more in the win column) and by one and a half games (Baltimore has 1 extra loss, 2 fewer wins).  Should we go 3-10, as I predicted, I would say 4th is a stone cold lock (if not a lock for an even better draft slot).

And, obviously, the Mariners are last in the AL West.  By a whopping 5.5 games.  This one is a done deal.

Anyway, before I got all sidetracked on your idiotic predictions, I was talking about how 1 win will make all the difference.  And it will!  The psychological disgust involved with seeing triple-digits in the loss column is overpowering.  It’s a stench so foul, it will haunt you in your nightmares!  It’s the kind of thing that gets GMs and field managers unnecessarily fired.

I’ve said all along, while I thought the Mariners would be terrible, I still want to see Jackie Z retained.  That’s still true.  It’s a lot easier on management (I mean upper management here, the guys who hire and fire guys like Jackie Z) to NOT fire someone if they’ve got fewer than 100 losses.

However, a GM who has proceeded over a team with back-to-back 100-loss seasons … that’s a bitter fucking horse pill to swallow.  And I understand Z has already been signed to an extension, but first of all, who really expects contracts to ever be honored (even in Baseball where everything is guaranteed)?  Secondly, back-to-back 100-loss seasons is only going to serve in additional pressure on our already-beleaguered GM.

I don’t need Z suffering the ill effects of Armstrong & Lincoln breathing fire down his neck, whispering in his ear, “You gotta win now!  We gotta get more asses in those seats!”  That’s the kind of pressure that makes a guy panic in his wheelings and dealings.  Signing guys he wouldn’t normally sign because they’re a big name who might attract a few hundred more season ticket holders; trading away blue-chip prospects for guys who will help us in the interim, but won’t help us in the long run.

Look, I’m not one of those guys who says, “Don’t trade ANYBODY,” and keeps talking about the farm system like it’s some magical fairyland that produces nothing but top-notch Major Leaguers.  I understand not ALL of our prospects will pan out; I understand that we need to make trades to bring in guys to help the big ballclub (as opposed to the other way around; trading Major Leaguers to help the farm).  But, I just don’t want Z making the wrong deals, or deals he will later come to regret, simply because there’s this pressure on him to Win Now Or Else.

The Mariners winning 1 more game will go a long way toward helping that.  99 is better than 100.  Yeah, it’s just 1 game, but the distance between those numbers is a country mile wide.

The Answer To A Question Nobody Asked: Kyle Seager

So, everybody, can we PLEASE stop with all of this?  The guys we bring up from Tacoma are most likely NOT going to be the savior of this offense.  Have we learned nothing from Mike Carp?  Yeah, he got on base a little bit, but overall his impact was pretty much nil!

Oh, don’t mind me.  I’m just irritable.  This whole “youth movement” thing would be a lot easier to swallow if this team were in last place in the AL.  Instead, all of this contending has put a bug in my ear.  A stupid, irrational bug that whispers, “Psst, we could do it.  We could be the 2010 San Francisco Giants.  This pitching is good enough to take us all the way.”

Of course, that may or may not be true, but what are we supposed to do about it?  It’s not like we can trade for all the replacements we need.  Third base, left field, center field, designated hitter … all of these positions in our batting order are black holes of death.  And first base, catcher, and short stop aren’t far behind.  I mean, unless we want to give up our two best young players – Ackley & Pineda – there’s no way we’re filling those holes in mid-season deal(s).

Instead, all we can do is stick with the plan.  Play the kids.  And so guys like Kyle Seager are brought up WELL before they’re ripe.  Except, they’re not brought up for the right reasons.  We’re told they’re here to gain valuable Major League experience, but in reality they’re here to “Save The Offense”.  They’re placed on a team hovering around .500, hovering close-enough to first place in the AL West, and they’re expected to be world-beaters right out of the box.

It ain’t right!

The truth is, I don’t know if Kyle Seager is ready to be up here or not.  My point is:  he doesn’t DESERVE to be up here to begin with.  And bringing him up here because he had a hot 2-week start to his Triple-A career isn’t doing him any favors.  Here’s what’s going to happen:  he’ll get some semi-regular playing time, he’ll stink to high heaven, and he’ll be back in Tacoma one month from today.  Really, where he belongs.

July isn’t the month you go full-retard with the youth movement.  July is the month you play the veterans you hope to unload.  I mean, that’s just Baseball 101 right there.  Jack Cust should be our everyday designated hitter, Jack Wilson should be sprayed across all infield positions to highlight his versatility, and Chone Figgins should be perched atop the dugout with a “Free” sign strapped around his neck.

Play ’em & trade ’em, Wedge & Z.  Spare me this youth movement until August when I can officially stop caring.

How Much Shuffling Is Too Much Shuffling?

The Mariners’ offense is pretty inept.  STOP THE PRESSES, I get it.  But they appear to be more inept than normal lately, because the pitching in the month of June – for the most part – has been rock solid.  Kicking away those games in Washington, losing again last night, falling below .500, and getting passed by the Angels in the standings have put a huge damper on what’s been an otherwise delightful season, given our expectations.

People say that baseball is mostly a mental game (they try to quantify that with some kind of percentage, but I just don’t see the point).  I’ve never really understood this, but maybe that’s because I was never much of a baseball player.  It would seem to me, regardless of where you are in the lineup, your job is to get hits and push runners home.  Your placement in the batting order isn’t necessarily a reflection of what’s expected of you so much as an assessment of what you’ve accomplished up to this point in your career.  Ichiro bats first because, thus far in his tenure in the Major Leagues, he’s been good at getting on base.  Jack Wilson bats towards the bottom because he’s not quite so good.  But, that doesn’t mean his job is any different than Ichiro’s; he’s still expected to get on base and help the team score.

Therefore, the “pressure” a player may feel by batting in the top four or five spots is based on nothing more than what others in the game of baseball have traditionally done in those spots.  Yes, there’s more expected of you if you’re batting cleanup, but that’s only because you’ve shown in the past that you’ve been able to do what it takes to get the job done.

So, my question is:  why does someone who was once an awesome hitter toward the bottom of the order start to struggle now that he’s been placed higher in that same lineup?  I mean, after all, other teams have seen what you did before; they know what you’re capable of.  If you were still down there, being awesome, they’d pitch to you the same way they are now.

It goes back to that mental thing.  Players rarely, if ever, admit that the pressure starts to get to them, but how else do you explain it?

Perhaps “pressure” isn’t the right word.  Perhaps it has more to do with a comfort level.  “Knowing your role” as they like to say.  We talk about it all the time when it comes to bullpens, but that makes sense because they don’t play every day.  Different guys are used in different situations; and yeah, you have to be ready at a moment’s notice no matter what, but it’s got to be nice to know that if your team has a lead, there’s a set order of guys used.  You can better prepare yourself mentally for your job as the later innings approach.

I would think, to a degree, the same would apply to position players.  Everyday players know that they’re going to play most every day.  Platoon guys can look ahead to who’s the starting pitcher for the other team and know they’ll most likely be in there on those days.  In that sense, I would say Eric Wedge has done a very good job.  His communication skills have been lauded far and wide this season, and his consistency with his convictions has been top notch.

Except, of course, when it comes to writing out the lineups.  Aside from Ichiro, spots 2 through 9 have been shuffled on a near-constant basis.  The other day was notable for the beat writers because it was the first time (all year?) in at least a very long time that Wedge has used the same lineup two days in a row.  If you buy all this mental mumbo jumbo, then you’d have to conclude that this practice can be quite damaging to a player.  Again, I don’t get it; my thought on the matter boils down to:  Just Hit The Ball, Stupid.  But, I’m not a baseball player, so what do I know?

What I WILL argue, however, is:  What’s the point of all this shuffling anyway?  If it means so much to the players (who, again, will never admit it), then why don’t you just leave the lineup alone for a while?  Is it REALLY going to “jumpstart” someone like Peguero or Halman by moving them all around in the lineup?  Unlikely!  So, just pick a spot and put them there.  Feel free to adjust your lineup depending on whether or not a righty or a lefty is starting, but after that STOP MOVING PEOPLE AROUND.

This is your offense, Eric Wedge.  For better or for worse.  Until we’re able to infuse it with fresh talent, these guys are who you’ve got.  So quit jerking everyone around and settle on a starting nine already!  Shuffling them all up and down the lineup isn’t going to make them better hitters.  It’s just going to give them complexes.  I’d rather have the players comfortable, so some of this mental torment can be lifted and we can see what they can really do.

Here’s a hint:  not much.

Damn You Kids, Get Off My Lawn!

Anybody else glad it’s Friday?  This road trip this week has just been the WORST.

As our batting average with runners in scoring position slogs back down toward its .215 norm, I’m constantly reminded that this is a team in flux.  It seems like a million years ago that Jack Wilson was our starting, everyday 2nd baseman.  Now he’s lucky to get 2 games a week.  The breath of fresh air that has been every other incoming outfielder has really done wonders for making me forget that Milton Bradley ever existed.  And wasn’t it cute back when Chone Figgins batted second in our lineup and was an everyday player?  Awww.

It’s been a slow, gradual churn, but here we are.  The Youth Movement in full effect.  Mike Carp is DHing, Greg Halman and Carlos Peguero are running down balls in the outfield, Justin Smoak has seemingly locked down first base for a while, Dustin Ackley is something like a week or two (tops) from being in the Majors, Michael Pineda is working miracles with a 100-pitch-count-limit.

The ranks of the Triple-A are infiltrating our big ballclub!  That’s a good thing, obviously, for two reasons.  First, you always want to see what you have in your farm system.  Generating Major League ball players from within is the primary objective for any organization that wants to be a winner.  Especially for a team that’s been as bad as the Mariners in the last decade.  You NEED guys to fill your holes (huh huh), and by season’s end, if a few holes still remain:  well, now you know what to go after in free agency.

Incidentally, the second reason why the Youth Movement is a good thing is more for the fans:  we get sick and tired of watching the same overpaid veterans suck dick night in and night out.  If we’re going to lose anyway, we’d rather lose with the young’uns with the hope that over time they’ll get better and replace the veteran losers we loathe so much.

The Youth Movement is also a bad thing, though.  VERY bad.  Guys just starting out, trying to make it in the Major Leagues … they’re not Major Leaguers!  They’re Triple-A guys getting a shot.  It takes time and success to prove you belong in the Major Leagues.  The kids will get time, sure.  No one was banking on contending in 2011 anyway.  But the longer they fail, the likelier it’ll prove they really don’t belong. 

Let’s face it, unless your name is Ichiro, you’re not going to make the jump to the Major Leagues and hit .300.  It’s just not gonna happen.  You’re GOING to struggle, you’re GOING to bat around Mendoza, you’re GOING to strike out with men on base and the pitch in the dirt.  It’s just going to happen.  The same qualities that got you INTO the Majors – usually “hitting the fastball real hard” – are the same qualities that will make you look foolish when you run into pitcher after pitcher with quality curveballs.

This Youth Movement makes me yearn now more than ever for quality baseball veterans to hit like the back of their baseball cards.  We’re going to be playing anywhere from 3-5 kids a night who are all going to have a few good days mixed in with a lot more bad days.  We NEED guys like Ichiro, Figgins, Ryan, Olivo, and Gutierrez to pick up the slack.  And, not that it matters much beyond this year, but it would be nice if Kennedy kept his hot streak going (and, for that matter, it would be nice if Cust didn’t totally blow ass all the time).

Once the second half of this season starts, I fully expect the notion of “contending” to be a thing of the recent past.  At that point, it’ll be a full-blown Youth Explosion.  Be that as it may, I’m still not ready to watch the kind of crappy baseball I had to endure last year.  To avoid this, one of two things needs to happen:  either the kids all come together and start blowing everyone away, or the veterans get their shit together and start carrying this team like veterans are supposed to do.

If we get neither, then look out.  It could get real ugly real quick in Marinerland.  The Youth Movement is sexy and new, but it’s also unreliable and inconsistent.

M’s Keep Winning; Top Of The Order Keeps Sucking

What a strange month.  The Mariners have been kicking ass and taking names, but not in the way you’d expect.

Ichiro, Figgins, and Smoak have all been God-awful in the month of May.  For Figgins, I don’t think anyone is too surprised; May has traditionally been his worst month before he starts to catch fire.  But, I don’t think anyone saw this kind of futility coming from Ichiro or Justin Smoak though.

May has always been Ichiro’s best month.  It’s when he throws off the shackles of his April doldrums and slashes his way to a monster season.  Thus far in May of 2011, however, Ichiro is batting just .213 with exactly 3 extra-base hits.  With three games remaining, Ichiro only has 20 hits on the month.  Unless he pulls together some multi hit games and in a hurry, I won’t help but be concerned for the safety of his 200-hits streak.  His previous low in monthly hit totals (not counting 2009 when he only got 19 hits in April because he started the season on the DL and only played in 14 games) was 25 (happened twice, including the 2002 season when he had a real scare, finishing with only 208 hits).  This isn’t the Ichiro we’ve known and loved in the Month of May!  He’s historically a .352 hitter this month!

As for Figgins, what can I tell you?  He’s batting .176 on the month, his overall batting average is back below the Mendoza line (AGAIN), and Wedge won’t stop hitting him in the 2-hole.  I’m not saying you HAVE to bench the guy, but for Christ’s sake, BAT HIM NINTH!  You wouldn’t let Michael Saunders stay in the 2-hole with these kinds of numbers; just because Figgins is a veteran, it shouldn’t make a difference.  You put the guys best capable to handle the top of the lineup IN the top of the lineup, without question.  Leaving him there to struggle isn’t doing the team a bit of good.  Putting him ninth just might be the fire lit under his ass to initiate a hitting streak and a promotion back to his old slot.

Part of the struggles for Justin Smoak this month might be directly related to the fact that Ichiro and Figgins are mired in career-worst slumps, but that’s mostly going to relate to his RBI production.  It speaks nothing of the fact that since May 6th, Smoak’s batting average has fallen nearly 60 points.  Which, fun fact, ALMOST coincides with Smoak’s promotion to the 3rd spot in the lineup (his first game in the 3-hole was May 10th, 2 games after that May 6th high point).  Since batting third, Smoak’s average is .197 (12 for 61), with only a single multi-hit game.

I TOLD YOU, WEDGE!  I told you to leave well-enough alone!  But NO, you just COULDN’T let Smoak play a full season in the 5-hole; you just HAD to tinker with things!  Now look at us!  Look at poor Smoaky there!  He’s MISERABLE!  He’s got only 6 walks against his 19 strikeouts as our Number 3 Hitter (that’s more strikeouts than he had in all of April).  Pitchers are giving him nothing to hit (because there’s no one on in front of him, and nobody any good behind him), and he’s pressing because of all the added pressure of being a 3-hole hitter!  PUT HIM BACK TO FIVE!

It’s tough enough for a young player like Smoak just to crack the Big Leagues and prove that he belongs here permanently.  Putting the added pressure of being our most-important hitter isn’t something he needs or deserves.  Let him get his feet wet in the safe, comforting bosom of the 5-hole.  Let the vets absorb all that goes with being in the 3-spot.

The Mariners won’t keep winning with the bottom of the lineup giving us all the production.  They need Figgins 9th, and they need Smoak 5th, or this could turn sour in a hurry.

***

And just so people don’t get the wrong idea – that I’m all about complaining without offering any potential solutions – here’s what I think we should do with our order:

  1. Ichiro
  2. Kennedy/Ryan
  3. Gutierrez
  4. Cust
  5. Smoak
  6. Olivo
  7. Peguero/M. Wilson
  8. J. Wilson/Ryan
  9. Figgins

To clarify what this means:  When Kennedy starts at second base, put him in the 2-hole and drop Ryan to 8th.  When Jack Wilson starts at second base, put him 8th and bump Ryan up to 2nd.  Regardless, there’s no excuse for Kennedy to EVER bat cleanup (which he’s done quite a few times this year), there’s no reason for Olivo to EVER bat higher than 6th, and I think Guti is far enough along with his return to the team that he can easily handle the spotlight that is batting 3rd.  And, as for Cust, well, maybe I’m a big ol’ softy, but I think I’m coming around on that lovable scamp.  After all, his double last night in the 12th inning against the greatest closer of all time to put a runner at 3rd base with less than 2 outs was a thing of beauty.

Managers Serve A Purpose … Sometimes

Most of the time, managers of baseball teams don’t really have a whole lot to do.  You write out the day’s lineup – which is usually the same every day – you let the pitcher pitch, and you take the pitcher out when you feel that he’s done.  Aside from that and the occasional team meeting whenever you’ve fallen on hard times, I don’t really see the baseball manager doing a whole lot.

Until, that is, you get into games like we had here last night.  That’s when you get down to the REAL baseball decisions.  Like Pinch Runners, Pinch Hitters, matching up your bullpen to the other team’s batters, hits & runs.  We had it all yesterday!  And I’m going to highlight just a few that made all the difference for the Mariners in their comeback win last night.

The first one’s probably the simplest move of them all, but it’s the move most managers hate to do:  pinch hit for the catcher (because, you know, you’re screwed if your second catcher gets injured and it goes to extra innings).  In the 8th inning, Chris Gimenez was due up with two runners on.  Thanks to our 6-man bullpen, we now have an amazing number of bench players ready to be thrown in at a moment’s notice.  So, enter Adam Kennedy, who is quickly endearing himself to this Mariners fanbase as the anti-Eric Byrnes.  You know, a guy who tries just as hard, but actually manages to SUCCEED once in a while.  Anyway, Adam Kennedy singled to bring the game back to 7-5; we would go on to make it 7-6 before the eighth inning was over.

The second move by Wedge was a little more radical.  In the top of the 9th, still down a run, Justin Smoak led off the inning with a single.  Now, this isn’t the first time he’s pinch ran for Smoak, but it’s always playing with fire because if you succeed and tie the game, and it goes into extras (as it did yesterday), then you’ve just taken out your best hitter.  And, for this team, that means your only legitimate threat to end the game with one swing of the bat.  It’s risky.  Fortunately, Michael Saunders was able to swipe the biggest base of his life, and with two outs, Carlos Peguero – THE ROOKIE SENSATION – knocked him in to tie the game.

Those were two moves that paid off bigtime.  Those were two moves, also, that are pretty much no-lose moves.  Nobody’s going to second guess pinch hitting for Gimenez or pinch running for Smoak.  You’re playing the odds, and in this instance the odds paid off.

The final move was NOT made by Eric Wedge, but by Ron Gardenhire of the Twins.  This one had me shaking my head, but I wasn’t going to protest.  He made a dumb move, plain and simple.  And it cost him the game.

In the top of the 10th inning, Jack Wilson led off with a single.  After flailing miserably at two bunt attempts, Miguel Olivo roped a single into centerfield to put runners on first & second.  Ichiro, bunt master that he is, sacrificed them over to second & third.  With Chone Figgins entering the batter’s box, Ron Gardenhire had a decision to make.  By intentionally walking Figgins, Gardenhire made the WRONG decision.

It’s like he’s never heard of the Mariners offense before!  Has he NOT seen Figgins at the plate the last season and a third?  Figgins is pretty worthless.  The odds of Figgins hitting it out of the infield was practically zero.  Yes, by putting him on you’re setting up the double play, but you’re not taking into account the fact that Luis Rodriguez has done nothing the past two years but lift fly balls to the outfield.

Which is what he did last night, sacrificing in the game winning run.  Just stupid.  I was convinced Figgins would roll one over to the second baseman.

Now THAT is the type of move everyone can second guess!  I hope the Minnesota media gave Gardenhire the business for that one.

Helluva game, though.  The Mariners had a 4-1 lead – including Jack Cust’s first ever Mariners home run in the first inning – then the Twins roared back to make it 7-4 (thanks to Jim Thome’s two rockets), and finally the Mariners got to their bullpen for the win.  Meanwhile, Jason Vargas did indeed break the streak of starters going 7+ innings and giving up 2 or less runs.  Walks & homers, what did I tell you yesterday?  He walked 4 guys, gave up 2 bombs, and left before the end of the 5th inning having given up 5 earned runs.

The streak of wins continues, though.  Let’s see some more of that good stuff.

Putrid Padres No Match For Magnificent Mariners

The only thing I love more than sweeps are consecutive sweeps.

This one was as convincing as they come.  San Deigo was outscored 14-2.  They managed only 1 earned run the whole weekend!  We struck them out 35 times!  Our starters never failed to go less than 7 innings per!

I could go on and on, but you know what?  I just want to savor this feeling.  The Mariners haven’t been this good in a LONG time.  Granted, it’s probably just another good streak – to be immediately followed by another very bad streak – but you can’t argue that this team hasn’t been MUCH improved since the first couple weeks of the season.  If you gave us back those three blown saves – games we really SHOULD have won – we’d be in first place in the AL West right now and have the 4th best record in the AL.

We’re not that far away.  It helps that we’re facing some REALLY substandard teams.

I’ll get into the starters a little more in depth tomorrow – obviously they’ve been the crux of this whole run over the last week – but you can’t argue that the offense hasn’t done its job, at least in the San Diego series.  In each game, the offense jumped out to a 2nd inning lead, and in each game we played add-on.  For pitchers who are currently DEALING, that’s a nice load off the ol’ mind.

Miguel Olivo had 5 hits, 5 runs scored, an RBI, and his first stolen base of the season.  Brendan Ryan ALSO managed 5 hits to go along with 3 runs and 4 RBI.  And our young left field platoon?  Forget about it!  Peguero and Mike Wilson combined for 5 hits (including a triple and 2 doubles), 1 run and 5 more RBI.

Plain and simple, this was a series where the bottom of the order carried the load.  Not counting the pitchers batting in a National League park, the 6, 7, & 8 hitters dominated:

  • Game 1 (Olivo, Peguero, Ryan):  5 for 11 (2 doubles, triple, homer), 3 runs scored, 4 RBI
  • Game 2 (Ryan, M. Wilson, J. Wilson):  5 for 9 (double), 3 runs scored, 3 RBI
  • Game 3 (Peguero/Guti, Ryan, Saunders):  6 for 14 (2 doubles), 1 run scored, 5 RBI

That amounts to half of our runs scored and 12 of 14 runs batted in!  Outstanding!

It seems like I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but there’s a lot to like about this team.  Flawless starting pitching, a solid-if-unspectacular bullpen, young guys producing in key situations.  We’ve got a Cy Young pitcher readying his run towards a repeat, a potential (and very probable) AL Rookie Of The Year, an up-and-coming middle of the order bat at first base, and some solid slugging out of left field (literally!).  It all adds up to the Mariners being 1.5 games out of first place.  Not too shabby.