Tempering Expectations For This Mariners Rebuild

What interests me most about the game of baseball is the long game. In football, you’ve got rosters twice the size of a baseball team, yet we see it every year: teams going from worst to first. You can turn around a football team in one offseason! But, in baseball, it takes seemingly forever (and, for an organization like the Mariners, LITERALLY forever).

I did a big, long post about the first successful Mariners rebuild. I originally wrote that in 2013, when we all were hopeful that we were in the middle of the next successful Mariners rebuild. There were so many moves made between the nadir of this franchise (2008) and the next time you could legitimately say the Mariners were in contention for the post-season (2014, when we finished 87-75, just 1 game back of a Wild Card spot) that it truly boggles the mind.

That rebuild was ultimately a failure. It produced three winning seasons between 2014 and 2018, and zero playoff appearances. Following last year’s collapse, Jerry Dipoto made a bunch of moves to jettison veterans and infuse the farm system with prospects. Our veteran holdovers include names like Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc, Roenis Elias, Dan Altavilla, and Dan Vogelbach; most (if not all) of those players will not be on this team the next time it reaches the post-season.

So, we’re stuck rooting for prospects. Rooting for potential. Rooting for the young guys to step up and prove themselves not just worthy of Major League roster spots, but ultimately good enough to get this team back to the playoffs one day (ideally one day very soon). Jerry Dipoto is staking his reputation and his job on these players. If it all falls apart like it did last time, he, Scott Servais, and a bunch of other very smart baseball men will be looking for employment elsewhere.

As I noted, we’ve been through this before. So, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

See, it can be fun and exciting knowing your team is out of it before the season even begins. First, there’s no expectations, so any on-field success you see is all gravy. Then, of course, there’s the factor of the unknown. New, young players you’ve never seen before are ALWAYS more interesting than old veterans who’ve been around for years. We pretty much know what guys like Seager, Healy, Felix, and Leake are; there’s nothing to learn about those guys. So, we pin all our hopes and dreams on the prospects. We want to see them in a Major League uniform right this minute, to pump them full of experience with the hopes that they’ll pan out immediately. This can lead to guys getting called up too early (a la Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Matt Tuiasosopo, etc.) or guys just being huge disappointments.

Let’s start with the 2008 season, the aforementioned nadir. That team lost 101 games and we were all miserable. Successful players like Felix, Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez, Jose Lopez, and even Yuniesky Betancourt were no match for the suck-asses that were Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro, Jeremy Reed, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, Erik Bedard, and so on. General Manager Bill Bavasi was fired, and The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild was on!

2009 proved to be a welcome surprise. Franklin Gutierrez was brought over in a trade, as was Jason Vargas (Doug Fister was one of the rare Bavasi draft picks that stuck in the org and actually panned out). Ichiro was still Ichiro! Russell Branyan and David Aardsma were quality pick-ups. Even the return of Ken Griffey Jr. for a victory lap proved valuable. That 85-win season led everyone (but the stat geeks, who knew those wins were on a shaky foundation) to believe we were way ahead of the curve on this rebuild. So much so that Jackie Z decided to make a big push to go for it in 2010.

We traded for Cliff Lee! We got rid of Carlos Silva and brought back a useful piece in Milton Bradley! Our young core of starters (Felix, Vargas, and Fister) were bolstered with key bullpen additions like Brandon League, Jamey Wright, and Sean White. So, what happened? The team fell apart (ultimately losing another 101 games; in hindsight, a second go-around with Old Griffey proved disasterous) and shipped off anyone of value for prospects. Lee was flipped for Justin Smoak (among others). Our high draft pick was used on a pitcher who got hurt so many times he never made the Bigs. And The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild 2.0 was on.

2011 was a key year for the rebuild, as the team REALLY went for it this time. Taking a stroll through that roster is long and arduous. Ichiro, Miguel Olivo, Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, and Adam Kennedy were the veteran everyday players; Felix, Vargas, Bedard, and Fister were still holding down the rotation (though Fister would be swapped for a bunch of nobodies at the deadline; yet another example of a trade that totally backfired for the Mariners); and League, Wright, and David Pauley (among others) were the steady influences in the bullpen. But, the young guys were the stars of the show. 2008 first rounder Dustin Ackley was called up midseason, as was Kyle Seager. Justin Smoak was handed the first base job. Guti started his slow descent into an injured adulthood. Then, there were guys like Michael Saunders, Greg Halman, Alex Liddi, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Chris Gimenez, Carlos Peguero, Adam Moore, Mike Wilson and more. On the pitching side of things, Michael Pineda was an All Star, but then there were guys like Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush (remember when he was a starting pitcher?), a younger Tom Wilhelmsen, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes, Chance Ruffin, and Shawn Kelley.

Those were all the players we hung our hats on. How many of them actually panned out? You can count them on one hand. How many of them panned out for the Seattle Mariners? That number is even smaller.

2012 saw the influx of guys like Jesus Montero (swapped for Michael Pineda), Hector Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez, Lucas Luetge, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, and John Jaso. They were paired with the holdovers like Smoak, Seager, Ackley, Felix, Vargas, Ichiro (starting his decline) and Figgins (at the end of his miserable Mariners career).

Then, there’s 2013, with prospects like Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino (a year after being drafted), Brandon Maurer, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. Veterans like Kendrys Morales, Endy Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, Jason Bay, Jeremy Bonderman, and Hisashi Iwakuma saw extensive playing time, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. The old guys didn’t do enough (and most were gone in short order), and the young guys (predictably) never panned out for this team.

So, please, keep all these duds in mind as we go forward. You’re going to hear A LOT of new names you’re not familiar with in 2019 and 2020. The team is going to tout these players as The Future; don’t believe ’em. The vast majority of these players will be more in a long line of losers that help to keep the Seattle Mariners out of the post-season.

Some guys will be promising, only to fall flat on their asses the following year when expectations are raised and other teams learn how to handle them. Some guys will be promising only to suffer devastating injuries that hinders their development. Some of those injured guys will be brought back too soon, only to struggle and lose their confidence. Some guys will just flat-out stink from the get-go. One, maybe two guys, will be okay. But, they won’t be enough. They’ll just embolden this organization to spend a bunch of money when the time “feels right”. At that point, some flashy veterans will be brought in to supplement our future “rising stars” and we’ll go through the process of “contending (for a wild card spot)” all over again.

The Mariners are never going to be the Astros or Cubs or Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers. They’re closer to the Athletics and Rays than anything else, just a Major League farm club for better-run organizations. The tremendous amount of luck required to turn us into one of those truly good teams isn’t ingrained in the city of Seattle and its sports teams. The best we can hope for is competent mediocrity.

The best we’re going to get is just outside, looking in.

The Long Shadow of the Randy Johnson Trade

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

Jack Zduriencik Is Gone

I remember June 16, 2008, like it was seven years and a few weeks ago.  We were in the middle of a year that would just get worse and worse and worse.  The Mariners, coming off of a winning 2007 campaign, revamped their starting rotation with the Erik Bedard trade and the Carlos Silva signing.  A would-be weakness for the team was bolstered by the addition of a second ace pitcher, and an innings eater who’d solidify the back-end of the rotation while pitching half his games in the spacious Safeco Field.

Those 2008 Mariners would go on to lose over 100 games, netting the #2 overall draft pick.  On June 16, 2008, Bill Bavasi was fired after four and a half miserable fucking seasons.  And we all rejoiced, for we all knew Bavasi was not only the face of Satan incarnate, but the most bumbling and inept motherfucker ever to be given the keys to a professional franchise (tell me I’m wrong, COME AT ME BRO; I will fight you to the death).  Every year of his reign was another chance to reload.  Re-BUILD?  What does that even MEAN?  The Mariners were coming off of their most fruitful seasons under Pat Gillick; but those veterans were all long dead and buried.  Bavasi made it his mission to bring in veteran after veteran to try to right the ship, at the expense of our entire farm system and anything else he could get his hands on.  He wasted money, he traded away superstars, and he brought us nothing but losses piled upon losses piled upon shit.

On October 22, 2008, the Mariners brought in Jack Zduriencik, and while we didn’t really know much about him, we knew he worked in the upper management in Milwaukee, for a Brewers organization on the rise.  He was responsible for that team bringing in some of its biggest stars, and was the first non-GM to win Executive of the Year in 2007.  This guy was a rising star in his own right, and it seemed like he’d fit into the GM world like a glove.

On August 28, 2015, the Mariners fired Jack Zduriencik.  He’d been at the helm for a little over 6 and a half seasons.  So, it was time.  He’d out-lasted his predecessor and really wasn’t all that much better at his job.

Bill Bavasi’s Mariners record:  322-395, .449 winning percentage
Jack Zduriencik’s Mariners record:  506-595, .460 winning percentage

Over time, the Bavasi regime has become known for the Erik Bedard/Adam Jones trade, and the dual trades to the Indians in 2006 giving them quality All Stars Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera for magic beans.  Those are desperate moves no GM would EVER live down.  The Zduriencik regime will ultimately go down for the Triad of Suck that was Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero.  The Mariners gave up some legitimately great capital to bring in those guys (2nd overall draft pick, Cliff Lee, and Michael Pineda, respectively) and they all blew up in Z’s face.

Considering Jackie Z’s extensive history in scouting for Major League Baseball, that makes his transgressions all the more galling.  He’d been here for over 6 years and all he had to show for his work was Kyle Seager.  Anyone he ever brought in who was worth a damn was either an established free agent (Cano, Cruz) or some scrub who’d previously washed out of baseball either via injury or ineffectiveness, only to make his comeback with us for an anomalous year or two (Chris Young, Mark Lowe, Tom Wilhelmsen, Joe Beimel).  I mean, will you LOOK at some of the bullshit that’s crossed our paths thanks to Jackie Z:

  • Dustin Ackley, draft pick
  • Chone Figgins, free agent
  • Eric Byrnes, free agent
  • Justin Smoak, trade
  • The Entire Doug Fister Trade, less Charlie Furbush (a sometimes-okay lefty specialist out of the bullpen)
  • Jesus Montero, trade
  • Brandon League, trade
  • Casey Kotchman, trade
  • Mike Morse for John Jaso
  • Logan Morrison for Carter Capps
  • Mark Trumbo for Welington Castillo
  • Mike Zunino, draft pick
  • Danny Hultzen, draft pick
  • Nick Franklin, draft pick
  • Corey Hart, free agent
  • Jason Bay, free agent
  • Joe Saunders, free agent
  • Hector Noesi, trade
  • Miguel Olivo, free agent
  • The Hitless Wonder That Is Brendan Ryan, trade
  • Jack Cust, free agent
  • Blake Beavan, trade
  • Milton Bradley, trade
  • Rob Johnson, trade(ish)

You could go on and on, and I know I’m just picking and choosing the most worthless piles of crap out there, but LOOK AT THAT LIST!  Look at all those miserable bastards that have contributed to nearly 600 losses the last 6+ seasons!  That’s Jack’s legacy!  Did he give away studs on par with Jones, Choo, Cabrera, Tillman and the like?  No.  But, he did get PENNY on the dollar out of stud trade chips like Cliff Lee, Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, Brandon Morrow, John Jaso, and Carter Capps.  He had three draft picks in the top 3 overall and we’ve yet to see any of them amount to anything more than somewhat quality defense.  After this year, it’s highly likely two of those three draft picks won’t even be in the organization, with Ackley traded, Hultzen an injured free agent who should probably retire, and Mike Zunino fighting for his life somewhere between Tacoma and Seattle.

Was he as destructive as Bill Bavasi?  No, he was not.  That’s why August 28, 2015, came and went a little bit differently than June 16, 2008.  I don’t feel quite the sense of elation as I did when Bavasi finally got the ax.  That was on par with the Wicked Witch of the West getting assassinated; this is more like Old Yeller taking a bullet out behind the house.  Could the Mariners afford to keep him in charge even one more year?  Absolutely not.  His rabies-infested mind would surely destroy us all; he NEEDED to be put down, for his sake as much as our own.

But, it’s not even like that.  I have no real affinity for Jackie Z; it’s not like I’m going to miss him now that he’s gone.  But, it’s still a bummer, because this isn’t supposed to be how it ended.  There was a lot of flawed decision-making when it comes to Jackie Z’s reign; but, there’s also a lot of moves where you could see why he thought the way he did.  A lot of moves that looked good on paper, and then that paper was set ablaze by a fucking cannon.  Guys like Smoak and Ackley and Figgins and Montero – they all came highly touted and having produced quite a bit in their careers up to the point they arrived in Seattle.

In fact, you could say 2015 was a perfect microcosm of the entire Jackie Z era.  There was hope – coming off of a year where the Mariners ended up 1 game out of the playoffs.  There was a smart signing – Nelson Cruz, MVP candidate in 2015.  There was flawed logic – trading away a professional catcher during Zunino’s worst year in the Bigs for a righty power bat who will never play well in Safeco (and who’s yet another DH who shouldn’t be playing out in the field to boot).  And there was a whole lot of bad luck – Cano’s shitty start to the season, Ackley turning back into a pumpkin after last year’s bonanza second half, the bullpen absolutely falling apart after being one of the best units in the American League last year.

Like him or hate him, it’s just sad.  This whole season has been depressing as shit!  Jackie Z getting the boot is just the cherry on top.

The worst part is:  what do we do going forward?  When Bavasi was fired, there was a clear thought process:  scrap everything and start over through the draft.  It only got muddled when the Mariners had a winning record in 2009; that shouldn’t have happened, and it set things back in a lot of ways.  The Mariners made “contending ballclub” moves when they should’ve stuck to the gameplan to keep rebuilding.  It backfired in 2010, meaning we wasted two good rebuilding years thinking we were worth a damn.  We started anew in 2011, built the club up into a winner in 2014, only to see it all bottom out yet again.  Unexpectedly.  Yet again.  But, maybe we should have expected it.  This city is cursed in a lot of ways, and it took one of the greatest football teams of all time to break that spell in 2013.

Now, like in 2008, the Mariners have no farm system.  But, they’ve got plenty good at the Major League level.  This team is far from great, but it’s also far from the worst.  Will the organization be able to find the right guy to come in here and put all the pieces in place?

No.

It won’t.

Because Howard Lincoln is still the man calling all the shots.

He’s an imbecile and he needs to go.

But, we’re stuck with him, and that’s why we’ll always be losers.

Mariners Tidbit 47: Jack Zduriencik Needs To Be Fired

You’re a fucking retard if you think the Seattle Mariners are making the playoffs this year.  Yes, I’m talking to you, on June 15th:  you’re a retard if you think there’s any way this team is going to right the ship.  7.5 games behind first place; 4th place overall in the A.L. West.  13th fucking place in the American League – meaning we’d have to pass over EIGHT teams just to get to a play-in game – it’s over.  RETARDS!  It’s over.

You know how I know it’s over?  Because this team’s roster is a fucking joke.  The defense is a joke, the hitting is a joke, and the pitching – God bless ’em – just isn’t good enough to overcome the shitty defense and even shittier hitting.

And Jackie Z is the man behind all of it.  He’s had his chances.  He’s MORE than had his share of chances.  The organization would’ve been justified in letting him go after the 2010 season, and yet here we are.  He’s not the sloppy, back-alley abortion that Bill Bavasi was; Jackie Z didn’t completely gut our farm system in some pathetic Win Now maneuver. Jackie Z is terrible in completely new and fresh ways, but make no mistake, he IS terrible at what he does.

At best, with any trade he makes, we have to hope that both teams end up frustrated and unhappy.  Jackie Z is NEVER going to pull the wool over the eyes of another GM.  But, if the guy we get in return can manage to suck just as much as the players we send away, then it’s a victorious trade for Trader Jack.  What was the best deal he ever made?  It was the Vargas/Guti/Putz trade with the Indians and Mets way back when, and look at how well that worked out long term!  Vargas was a solid starter, who we traded away for a season’s worth of Kendrys Morales; Guti was a solid starter until his body completely broke down; and the guys we gave away didn’t totally murder us in the deal.  That’s unquestionably the BEST trade Jackie Z has ever made in his time with the Mariners!

Getting back to the roster construction, just look at this team.  It’s like the guy read “Moneyball” and proceeded to rip out the pages, one at a time, and wipe his ass with each and every one of them.  Anyone who even has a remote ability to work a count and take a walk might as well be screaming the N-word at the top of his lungs while every media outlet in the world is recording, because the Mariners under Jackie Z can’t get rid of these guys fast enough!  John Jaso is the primary example here, but I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.  The point is, this team hasn’t really even TRIED to bring in well-rounded hitters outside of overpaying for Robinson Cano, and look at how great he’s been in just his second season here.

The Mariners have the most myopic front office in the league.  Where have the Mariners struggled?  Right handed dingers!  So, they bring in Nelson Cruz, Rickie Weeks, Mark Trumbo, and they get rid of Justin Ruggiano because he doesn’t hit ENOUGH dingers, regardless of the fact that he’s one of the few hitters on this team who can work a Major League count.  If you’re taking walks and not hitting dingers, YOU’RE OFF THE TEAM!

And therefore, when this team hits dingers, it tends to do well.  When this team hits no dingers, it gets shut out by the likes of the fucking Astros two times in three days.  I mean, just look at these guys!

Austin Jackson – a good-enough role player on a stacked team, but no one you really want at the top of your order.

Seth Smith – another good-enough role player who probably shouldn’t be playing every day, and certainly someone else you don’t need at the top of your order.

Robinson Cano – Good player, probably not $24 million per year good.  But, beggars can’t be choosers.

Nelson Cruz – Good at dingers!  Not going to win you any Triple Crowns any time soon.  Should never be playing in the outfield.

Kyle Seager – Good all-around baseball player.  Literally the only one cultivated by the Jackie Z regime.

Logan Morrison – His slumps make him look like the worst hitter on the planet.  His hot streaks make him look like he belongs for a breathtaking short burst of time.  Better defensively at first base than any of us thought; should never play the outfield.

Dustin Ackley – The Most Disappointing Man In The World.  Can’t hit, can’t work a count (probably because the Jackie Z regime drilled that skill out of him in the name of dingers as soon as he was drafted), is okay defensively but has a terrible throwing arm, so he’s not really a guy you want to have out there because everyone is going to run on him.

Brad Miller – Doesn’t hit enough, is pretty good defensively, but still makes mind-boggling mistakes from time to time.

Mike Zunino – Doesn’t hit enough (but at least he hits a few dingers!), is pretty good defensively, and is playing almost every single day because this team’s backup catcher is literally the worst.

Mark Trumbo – Dingers, and that’s it.

Jackie Z has been a disaster almost the entire time he’s been the Mariners’ GM, except the team lucked into a couple of winning seasons during his tenure that’s allowed him to keep his job in spite of the fact that we’ve burned through three managers and are well on our way to burning through our fourth in Lloyd McClendon.  You don’t have to fire Jackie Z today, you don’t have to fire him tomorrow.  But, you should probably rein him in on any deadline deals that don’t involve shedding salary, and you absolutely MUST fire him by the time the season ends.

The old fucks who run the Mariners need to bring in someone younger and smarter than Jackie Z.  Someone who is willing to think outside the box (and get rid of LMC in favor of a manager who thinks the same way).  2015 better be the last fucking year we’re stuck with Jackie Z blowing smoke up our asses.

Mariners Tidbit 25: Team Hitting

A quick look at the superficial stats shows the Mariners are VERY middle-of-the-pack in the American League.  What, not impressed?  Well, you SHOULD be!  I can’t remember the last time the Mariners weren’t last or next-to-last in the usual hitting categories!

  • Batting Average:  6th in the A.L. (.247)
  • On-Base Percentage:  still terrible, but shockingly 9th in the A.L. (.300)
  • Slugging:  7th (.403)
  • OPS:  7th (.703)
  • Home Runs:  4th (19)
  • Total Bases:  7th (206)
  • Strikeouts:  4th fewest (!)
  • Walks:  2nd fewest (frowny face)

I’m sure you’ve noticed what I’ve noticed, but I’m going to recap it anyway.  Nelson Cruz has easily been the best hitter on the team, and he owns just about every category they make.  Cano and Seager have picked it up to be their usual great selves.  Brad Miller has had about the exact opposite of his 2014 April (in that he’s actually been quite good).  Austin Jackson hasn’t been total death (and even managed to muscle out his first homer as a Mariner).  Seth Smith has been the second coming of John Jaso, and is the only one able to truly work a count to his advantage.  Dustin Ackley has been spotty, but useful, and has come up big a time or two.

The only real pieces of dead weight have been LoMo and Zunino (not counting our bench, which has thus far underperformed, but what do you really expect from a bench?).  You can argue LoMo has been INCREDIBLY unlucky with hard hit balls hit right at people.  To that end, you gotta figure his numbers will pick up.  One good LoMo hot streak will put him right where he’s always been (which still isn’t ideal, but at least isn’t a black hole).  Then again, I can’t remember the last time I’ve talked about a guy being THIS unlucky.  It seems like we’ve been saying this his whole Mariner career!  Who IS LoMo, really?  He’s a guy with mostly warning track power, a consummate pull hitter who couldn’t beat the shift to save his life, and someone who should probably walk more, but obviously doesn’t.

THE GUY HAS ZERO EXTRA BASE HITS, THREE WEEKS INTO THE SEASON!

I mean, what is that?  Mike Zunino has been the absolute worst, most lost player at the plate this year by a thousand miles and he still has a couple homers and a double to his credit.  I’m not super convinced that it’ll ever click for him at the plate, but I suppose that’s not the worst thing in the world.  Jay Buhner struck out a million times and was only a .254 hitter in his career, but he’s still one of the best power hitters we’ve ever had.  I feel like if you put Zunino in the Kingdome, he’d have Jay Buhner’s hitting career.  The fact that he’s stuck in Safeco is automatically going to reduce his numbers pretty drastically; but, if I can get 25-30 homers out of him per year, I’m all right with that.

In short, this is an offense that can get the job done.  If Mike Zunino is your worst everyday batter, you can have worse problems.  I’ll take my worst batter who will still mash a ball 450 feet on occasion and play solid defensive catcher.  Everyone else will be/should be fine.

Now, just got to get that pitching warmed up, and you might see a team go on a nice little run.

Justin Smoak Is A Toronto Blue Jay

When I started this blog, however many moons ago, one of my primary objectives was to highlight all the ways the city of Seattle has been fucked over by underperforming and incompetent sports teams.  This was prior to the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl, obviously, and since I was born AFTER the Supersonics won the title in ’79, there had been no real champions in my lifetime (caveat:  I was not a Husky fan until I went to the University in 1999).  If this blog is remembered for anything, I would hope it’s for my ongoing collection of Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings (see the menu bar at the top of the page; you can sort by professional team, as well as view the master list without all of my rambling commentary on each deal).  It is truly my pride and joy.  My muse, my flame.  I certainly don’t give it the attention it deserves; I should really be updating it more as we run across these shitty deals and after these drafts sink in.  But, I try to be fair above all else, and let a deal play out before I deem it a failure.

Today, October 30, 2014, I updated those pages for the first time in over a year.  Again, I certainly could have added this one sooner, but with Justin Smoak this week getting picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays, I officially added The Cliff Lee Deal to the annals of Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings.

I feel like, at this point in the post, you should be imagining very prosperous music with lots of horns and drums playing loudly for all to hear.

(also, with less fanfare, I finally got around to adding the Michael Pineda Deal; I’m telling you, this page is like my neglected wife whose nether regions I’ve finally tended to for the first time in ages)

What can you say about Justin Smoak?  The term “Of The Future” is bandied about quite a bit around losing baseball clubs.  When you’re rebuilding, you’re really looking to solidify your team one position at a time.  Once you lock something down, then you can move on to other areas of need.  On July 9, 2010, Justin Smoak immediately became the Seattle Mariners’ First Baseman Of The Future.  It was a glorious time to be alive, except not really.

After a somewhat successful run in 2009 where the Mariners had a winning record, but fell oh so short of the post-season, we thought we were just a guy or two away from going that extra mile.  Cliff Lee, we hoped, was one of those guys.  After the abject failure of Erik Bedard in 2008 (who was still on the team, as it stood), Cliff Lee was a certainty.  A slam dunk.  A Cy Young candidate to go with our other Cy Young Candidate, Felix Hernandez (who, as chances would have it, went on to WIN that Cy Young award that very same year).

Then, of course, Cliff Lee got hurt in Spring Training and missed a month of 2010.  By the time he returned, we were effectively out of the race; it wasn’t all his fault, the team was flawed from the start.  Nevertheless, by mid-season, we were looking for trading partners to flip our greatest non-Felix asset.  There were many suitors, but there could only be one trade.

When you think of The Cliff Lee Deal, you don’t think of the one we made prior to 2010 to GET him.  Those guys we gave to the Phillies were losers!  Draftees of the prior regime who would go on to do nothing for the teams that acquired them (“teams” being the Mariners, Phillies, and whoever else they would play for).  That was, objectively, a GREAT deal by Jackie Z.  One of his best, if I may be so bold, sir!

No, the Cliff Lee Deal that we all think about is the one that brought in Justin Smoak, among others.  Others being some guy, an alleged date raping reliever, and a AAA starter.  Those guys don’t really matter.  Yes, the reliever was flipped for John Jaso, a useful bat who also played catcher; but he was never appreciated for what he was, so the Mariners ended up giving him away to the A’s where he has gone on to help them to multiple post-season berths.  Jaso begat the return of Mike Morse, who had one injury-filled season with the Mariners before hitting the go-ahead RBI in last night’s Game 7 of the World Series for the San Francisco Giants (he may have done other stuff between those two events, but I don’t care to know what that stuff was).

Justin Smoak was the cheese of The Cliff Lee Deal, and boy did he stink!

Four seasons and change, nearly 2,000 at bats, 158 extra-base hits, a .224/.309/.380 batting line.  Good for a whopping 1.3 WAR.  No, not per season, but in his entire Mariners career.  The only positives he brought to the table were:  his low salary figure, and his pretty-good defense (at a position where defense isn’t really a priority).

Our “First Baseman Of The Future” played in 496 games with the Seattle Mariners.  He earned $4,065,600 ($2.6 million of that coming in 2014, where he played in all of 80 games en route to losing his job to LoMo), and he was set to earn approximately $3.65 million in 2015 in arbitration if the Mariners opted to retain him (with a buy-out of $150,000).

Again, this is how wacky the salary structure is in Major League Baseball:  he was set to get a RAISE for next year, even though he lost his job and played in less than half of the games in 2014 due to injury and ineffectiveness.  Only in fucking America …

Luckily, the Mariners realized the error in their ways and cut ties.  Even luckier still, the Blue Jays decided to claim him, thereby saving the Mariners $150K.

Do I begrudge the Mariners for giving him all of those chances?  No.  I lament the deal in the first place.  You’d like to get a reasonable player in return for someone of Cliff Lee’s calibre.  But, when you’re talking about the Mariners of 2010-2013, you’re talking about teams who were MUCH more than a Justin Smoak away from contending.  This team had so many holes to fill.  Yes, they could have gone out and blew dozens of millions of dollars to try to bring in a first baseman in free agency, but by the time this team was actually ready to contend, that first baseman likely would’ve been on the downside of his career anyway.  Besides, it’s not so easy to just get guys to come here willingly.  Safeco Field SUCKS for hitters.  Seattle is where you go to watch your career die.

So, we HAD to see what Smoak could do.  He’d run into stretches of great competence and we’d always wonder, “Could he keep it up for a full year?  Could THIS be the turning point, where it clicks and he starts to get it?”  Ultimately:  no.  He couldn’t keep it up for a full year.  This was NOT the turning point.  And he never got it.  Maybe, with a better stadium situation in Toronto, where it’s easier to hit for extra bases, he can turn his career around.  But, it was never going to turn around in Seattle.

Ultimately, we’re all going to remember Justin Smoak as the butt of our jokes and scorn.  The few-and-far-between Smoak Bombs.  The Smoakamotive.  That Mariners commercial where he punched down a tree to make his own bat or something.  I’ll always marvel at the sheer volume of Warning Track Fly Balls.  I’ll always shake my head and sigh at the number of times I snookered myself into believing he was ready to turn a corner at any moment.  Taking any positive as a sign of his potential to break out.  I mean, at one time he was a highly-regarded prospect!  You don’t reach that status for no reason!  In the end, he probably doesn’t have what it takes to hack it, and won’t be long for this league.

For the record, I could seriously see him raking over in Japan if he ever decides to go that way.

Justin Smoak was a failure we won’t soon forget.  Hell, he was one of the primary reasons why Jackie Z almost lost his job!  He’s definitely #1 in the All Time Jackie Z Worst Personnel Moves list, even above Figgins and Montero if you can believe it.  But, in the end, he seemed like a good enough guy who tried his hardest to live up to what we all hoped he’d be.  He never struck me as a guy who pouted or was a distraction like some other players I’d rather not point out again.  He was legitimately one of the good guys on this team that has underachieved for so long.  I won’t go so far as say that he will be missed.  I’ll just say that it would’ve been nice if he would’ve lived up to all the hype.

Part of me hopes he turns it around in Toronto.  He very well could be one of those Change of Scenery guys, but I highly doubt it.  Besides, the rest of me would be quite annoyed if he did turn it around.  Because then, he’d be just another ex-Mariner doing it for someone else when he sure as shit couldn’t do it for us.

Mariners Trade Stephen Pryor For Kendrys Morales

You know, I really don’t understand these fucking people who don’t like the trade for Kendrys Morales.  Let’s look at the deal in a vacuum:  who did we give up and who did we get?

Well, we gave up a relief pitcher.  A relief pitcher coming off of lat surgery.  A relief pitcher whose fastball has lost anywhere from 6-8 miles per hour.  A relief pitcher who wasn’t even in the big leagues!

If you look at the hierarchy of young relievers on rookie deals in the Mariners organization, I think you’d start with the guys currently in the Majors.  Brandon Maurer, right now, has the highest upside – though he’s been a reliever for a very short time.  Dom Leone has a lot of upside as well.  You’ve got Farquhar, who could be closing games right this second, if Fernando Rodney wasn’t here.  Wilhelmsen and Medina sort of round things out.  All have been very good in their relief roles, which is why all of them are with the Mariners right now.

AND WE DIDN’T HAVE TO GIVE UP ANY OF THEM!

I’ve kind of had this feeling for a while – and I think many others have as well – that Brandon Maurer could be a really solid trade chip.  A throw-in to sweeten a deal to bring back a hitter.  Right now, of all the players I worry about the Mariners trading (of all the players the Mariners would conceivably trade, so in other words, excluding Felix and anyone else who’s currently All Star calibre), Maurer is probably number 2 on that list behind D.J. Peterson.  I legit think Maurer can be a closer in this league.  Not only that, I think he can be one of the BEST closers.  With that live fastball, and with his command of the slider and changeup, the sky is the limit.  And, after next year, when Rodney’s contract expires, look who we’ll have to slide right in there, into that closer role!

We didn’t have to give up Maurer or anyone else on our big league club to bring in Morales.  We gave up a guy coming back from a pretty serious surgery, who may never again regain his fastball.  Without that fastball, Stephen Pryor is about as valuable as I would be to your pitching staff, and I’m barely scraping 60mph on the gun at Safeco!

Any reasonable person couldn’t POSSIBLY be mad with what we gave up.  Yes, there’s a CHANCE that Pryor regains his form, but there’s also a chance they name me the next Queen of fucking England.  Anything can happen, quit letting your opinion be swayed by fucking hypotheticals!

What we got in return is a guy we’re all pretty familiar with.  Maybe that’s the issue.  Maybe people are more turned on by the unknown.  Like Josh Willingham, for instance.  Some dude who sucks in the outfield, who strikes out a lot, and who’s barely over .200.  Forgive me if I don’t share your enthusiasm for yet another aging, lanky white power bat whose best days are CLEARLY behind him.

FUCK JOSH WILLINGHAM!  I’ll take Kendrys Morales any fucking day over Josh Willingham!

And you want to know why?  It’s not because Morales provides any value defensively or on the basepaths (he doesn’t).  He’s a DH, plain and simple; it’s criminal to play him in the field, because you’d risk re-injuring him again.  No, I want Kendrys Morales here for one simple reason:  he can hit at Safeco Field.

Shove your small sample sizes RIGHT UP YOUR ASS!  I don’t want to hear it!  Last year, he batted .277/.336/.449.  I know those aren’t the best numbers ever, but for this team, they’re pretty fucking good.  They’re a SHITLOAD better than Corey Hart, for what it’s worth.  Corey Hart who’s currently batting .214/.295/.332.  Fuck Hart’s prior production, because this is what he’s doing now, and there’s no guarantee that his numbers are going to regress back up to where he’s been in his career.  Sometimes, people are just done, and there’s nothing to regress back to.  Corey Hart is done and that’s that.

And, I know what you’re thinking:  look at Morales’ numbers this year.  Fine.  They’re not good.  But, don’t forget that tonight’s game will be only his 40th of the season (and don’t be so selective; if you want to look at Hart’s prior production at the plate, you MUST look at Morales, who actually PLAYED THE GAME OF BASEBALL IN 2013).  Don’t forget that Morales is just coming off of a 12-game hitting streak, featuring six doubles in the last two weeks.  Corey Hart has exactly 2 doubles since his return from the DL.  HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR YOU TO GET YOUR TIMING BACK?  You’re a fucking baseball player!  Most good players come back from the DL and hit the ground running.  Corey Hart is a wheezing fucking gasbag.

I fully expect Kendrys Morales’ numbers to improve dramatically.  Getting back to my point before, you want to see his numbers in Safeco Field?

In 117 games, across 473 plate appearances, he’s got:  .287/.340/.498 with 35 doubles, 19 homers, with only 79 strikeouts.

All too often, the Mariners bring guys in and they immediately become terrible.  Prospects who tear shit up at every level suddenly enter Safeco Field and they’re the worst.  Free agent signings who would probably be GREAT somewhere else – like Baltimore – find that Seattle is their last Major League stop.

Make no mistake, it’s all in their heads.  Only the truly great, and the strong of will, are able to conquer the mythical beast that is the spooky Marine Layer of Safeco Field.  And Kendrys Morales is one of those heroes.

Look, assholes who don’t like this trade, we were getting zilch from our DH position.  Now, we’re probably going to get SOMETHING.  No, it’s not an outfielder.  No, he’s not John Jaso.  Sorry.  John Jaso is gone and he’s never coming back; get over it.  Morales doesn’t walk, doesn’t play defense, doesn’t run well.  But, he hits a fucking baseball!  At this point, I will settle for that.

Make no mistake, we can’t stop here.  Remember in the offseason, when the Mariners signed Robbie Cano and everyone was like, “I love it!  Now, don’t stop here; keep filling holes!”  And then remember how the Mariners pretty much stopped there?  Remember how the Mariners half-assed the rest of their off-season duties by bringing in LoMo and the aforementioned Corey Hart?  Yeah, we can’t repeat that mistake again.

Kendrys Morales is a nice START.  But, we need more.  Anything from one to three outfielders, as well as a starting pitcher.  By this time next week, I better be looking at a totally different lineup!

For shits and giggles, though, here’s an ideal look at what the Mariners look like with Morales:

  1. Jones (CF)
  2. Seager (3B)
  3. Cano (2B)
  4. Morales (DH)
  5. LoMo (1B)
  6. Zunino (C)
  7. Ackley (LF)
  8. Chavez (RF)
  9. Miller/Taylor (SS)

For what it’s worth, I know the Mariners won’t bat Seager in the 2-hole.  Lloyd is hell-bent on Morales as our cleanup hitter, which pushes Seager back to the 5-spot.  Which means lots more Chavez/Jones as the 1/2 hitters.  If you LITERALLY set a table the way Chavez & Jones set a table in a baseball lineup, all the plates and glasses would be broken, and there would be a big, steaming turd pile for a centerpiece.

How Exactly Is Percy Harvin A Bust?

Some busts, you can see coming a mile away.  Trading for a third string quarterback in Charlie Whitehurst and letting him compete for a starting job … SEEMED like a bust of a move.  A lot of smart people were on top of the bust of a trade that was Mike Morse for John Jaso.  Most everyone was glad when the Mariners missed out on Josh Hamilton, because we could see his decline coming a mile away.  Nevertheless, that move still has a chance to work out for the Angels.  Because determining who is a bust is all relative to how long he’s under contract.

It was easy to write off Mike Morse after the first couple months as an injury-prone, homers-or-nothing type of hitter AND a bust.  Josh Hamilton still has four more years to turn things around, though, whereas Morse was just on the 1-year deal.  Now, one would argue that if you’re paying gallons upon gallons of money to a guy, it’s fair to expect him to be a stud from the get-go.  I guess I buy that.  But, here’s where things differ with Percy Harvin.

The Seahawks gave up a first rounder (the 25th overall pick that the Vikings used on a cornerback who has started only five games), a seventh rounder, and a 2014 third rounder.  Now, considering the state the Seahawks are in, it’s very likely that the 25th overall pick in the 2013 draft wouldn’t have made much of an impact on this year’s squad.  That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t develop into something down the road … but keep that thought in mind.  The seventh rounder, we’re not about to sweat around these parts.  The third rounder next year?  We all thought, at the time, that was the icing on the cake for the Vikings and a bit of a blow for the Seahawks.  We’ll never know exactly how losing three draft picks will affect the depth on this team, but if any effects are felt at all, they won’t be for the next few years.  That’s how good the depth we have now truly is.

So, we gave up ALL of that, and got back Percy Harvin in return.  Percy Harvin, who has played in one game (at a fraction of his normal snaps) and has since remained injured as he’s trying to come back from that hip surgery.  If he never plays football again, then yes, this would be the all-time greatest bust in the history of sports.  However, even if he never plays another down THIS SEASON, he could still manage to make up for his lost 2013, since he’s signed for another five seasons.

And, I know you’re going to throw his landmark contract in my face, but remember:  in 2013, Harvin is only making $2.5 million.  That’s a drop in the bucket!  Yes, he’s due to see a huge increase next year, but that’s next year.  I believe the worst-case scenario for Percy Harvin is he’s done for the year, but he comes back completely healthy next year and does his thing.  And if he does, he will cease to be a bust!

That assumes he doesn’t suffer another early season-ending injury, or a rash of regular, partial-season injuries, but who can predict that?  No one, so what’s the point of bringing it up?  He could play the rest of his career and never miss a game; you don’t know!

So, national media, shut your bitch mouths.  Let this thing play out.  If, in a couple years, Harvin looks bust-worthy, then I’ll be right there banging the drum with you.  But, in the middle of his FIRST YEAR here?  Come on, man …

The Shitshow That Was The 2013 Seattle Mariners, Part I: Pitching

When you end up with a season like the Mariners just finished, you blame it on one thing:  lack of a plan.

Tell me, where was the plan?  The team swapped Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales, the team swapped John Jaso for Mike Morse, and the team filled in the empty spaces with a lot of filler bullshit.  You could argue that the team at least tried something different with the hitting.  It opted to trade defense for home runs, but at least they did SOMETHING.  You can yell and scream until you’re blue in the face about how that’s a pretty crappy idea, but think about it this way:  if the team didn’t try to make it all about the dingers – if they went super defensive and super OBP on us – would it have made any difference whatsoever?

I argue it would not have made one bit of difference.  Because this team totally crapped the bed when it came to pitching.

Remember when Jon Garland was almost our 4th/5th starter?  That was a thing that almost happened.  In Spring Training, we were banking on him to make this big comeback from injury to carry the load at the back-end of our rotation.  We weren’t totally sold on him, and he had an opt-out clause, so when push came to shove Garland moved on and started 12 games for the Rockies before being released.  But HE was almost in our rotation.  Think about that!  We could have had Saunders, Garland, Harang, and Bonderman all starting games for us this year!

As it stands, just having Saunders, Harang, and Bonderman was bad enough, but what were you going to do?  As I said before, the Mariners decided to totally and completely neglect the pitching side of things.

Yes, you can count on Felix to be your Ace.  Yes, you could see good things coming from Iwakuma.  Maybe not as good as he actually turned out to be, but I was never worried that he was going to take a huge step back either.  After that?  We all figured Joe Saunders would be Vargas-lite, but he was so much WORSE.  I don’t care why he was worse, I just know that he only had 13 quality starts out of 32.  That’s terrible.  You want your #3 starter to be better than 50% with their quality starts (I’d say at least 20 of 32) and he was nowhere near that.  More often than not, Joe Saunders gave this team NO CHANCE to win in his starts.  That’s a guy who started for us all year.

After that, we had hopes that our younger guys would step up.  But, of course, Erasmo Ramirez came out of the gates injured and didn’t make it back until around the All Star Break (and even when he returned, he was pretty mediocre).  We were hopeful that Danny Hultzen could crack the bigs somewhere around mid-season, but he pitched in all of 6 games in Triple-A before being shut down with shoulder problems.  Brandon Maurer did make the team after an otherworldly Spring Training (making the jump straight from Double-A), but he proved to be totally ineffective in getting left-handed bats out and had to go down to Tacoma for further seasoning.  Taijuan Walker wasn’t ready to pitch in the Majors until September.  Ditto James Paxton.  And Beavan and Noesi further proved they are never going to be Major League starters.

As you can plainly see, the kids were not up to the task for one reason or another.  So, we had to bring up Bonderman when Maurer finally pitched his way to the minors.  We had to panic-trade for Harang when Beavan did the same.  Neither of these veterans lasted to September, because neither of these veterans had any fucking business being in the Major Leagues at this point in their careers.

In short, our starting rotation was a total joke.  Yeah, our top two guys were as good as any other team’s top two guys; but our bottom three were arguably the worst in all of baseball.  Regardless of who was plugged in there (9 other guys started games for the Mariners aside from Felix & Kuma), they were all the fucking worst!

And, when you combine a trainwreck of a starting rotation with the most volatile bullpen in the game, it’s pretty easy to see why the Mariners lost another 91 games.

The team had a 65% save percentage.  23 of 66 total save opportunities were blown.  Oddly enough, the team was NOT led in blown saves by erstwhile closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who was 24 of 29 in save opportunities.  He blew his fifth game by mid-June, was given a couple weeks off of closing duties, pitching in middle relief, then picked right back up again with a fairly solid July before absolutely going to shit in August.  The team sent him to Tacoma to work on some things, and after he returned he lost his job for good.

The team turned to Danny Farquhar, who had an excellent strike out percentage, but he wasn’t without his faults.  He ended up finishing the season as our closer, and saved 16 of 20 games.  Still, you have to wonder if you can count on him at all going forward.

The rest of the bullpen was full of hit-or-miss guys.  Oliver Perez and Yoervis Medina, for the most parts, were solid.  Furbush was okay at times and the plague at other times.  Stephen Pryor pitched in seven games before he was lost for the year.  Carter Capps – my predicted pick as best bullpen guy going into the season – also couldn’t get lefties out, in spite of his rocket fastball.  The rest of the Triple-A garbage the team brought up and plugged in throughout the year isn’t even worth mentioning.

The bullpen led baseball in strikeouts, and that’s about it.  They were either lockdown, or they were walking the world and giving away games.  There was very little in-between, and as mentioned above, it was about 65/35 as to whether you’d see Angel Bullpen or Devil Bullpen.

I’ll get into the future prospects of the pitching staff in Friday’s post, so I’ll save my opinions on what they should do (who they should keep, who they should get rid of, etc.).  My overall impression of this team is that it failed, horribly.  That’s nothing new.  But, as opposed to years past – where the pitching was often a strength – this year, the Mariners failed in a 50/50 split.  50% of why the Mariners were bad was because of the pitching, and 50% of why they were bad was because of everything else.  You’re not going to make the playoffs with two good starters and a bullpen that saves games 65% of the time.  Not unless you hit a ton like the 1997 Mariners.  But, as I’ll get to tomorrow, this team was FAR from the ’97 Mariners, in spite of the fact that they tried to hit homers like ’em.

Shoot Me Now: The Mariners Are Still Terrible, August 2013 Edition

12-16.  That’s what the Mariners were in August.  And it took three consecutive wins in Houston to close it out to GET to 12 wins.

This is a bad, boring baseball team.  The shine has worn off of the rookies and the only thing left to look forward to is this team getting rid of more veterans and playing more rookies.

Aaron Harang is finally gone, so that’s a relief.  Mike Morse is also gone, which saves us $1 million.  For a while there, I was trying to give the organization the benefit of the doubt on the Morse/Jaso trade, but now as I read those words I understand how foolish they are.  Why should I EVER give this organization the benefit of the doubt?  They’re TERRIBLE!  They make terrible decisions on a yearly basis!  I should have known as soon as the Mariners did anything, it would be the wrong move.

Taijuan Walker is in the Majors, so that’s fun.  He got a win in his first-ever start and will likely get a couple more before he’s shut down and replaced by someone far less interesting.

Dustin Ackley finished the month on something of a tear.  He finished July batting .215 and finished August batting .258 (going .390/.420/.597 in the month with 6 doubles, 2 triples, and 2 homers).  What does it mean?  We probably won’t know until next year.  Between Ackley and Smoak both turning into less-embarrassing versions of their formerly-terrible selves, I may have to re-think a lot of things going into 2014.

Conversely, Nick Franklin has looked pretty awful of late, so you had to figure that was coming.

King Felix has had a few rocky outings in the past month, which really means very little outside of the Cy Young race (which, let’s face it, is probably out of his range by now anyway).

Look, the bottom line in all of this is that the month of August, 2013, is officially the month where I checked out.  I haven’t watched a full game played by this team in quite some time and to be honest with you, that doesn’t bother me one bit.  I DVR’d Taijuan Walker’s first start because he’s the last interesting thing about the 2013 Mariners.  It’s football season, and this website is going to be All Seahawks All The Time (And Some Huskies) because nobody wants to read about a 4th place baseball team.  And because I don’t want to write about a 4th place baseball team.

So, check back in next month when – SPOILER ALERT – the Mariners will still have been terrible.