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 Last Five Years In Seattle Sports

2008 was the lowest point in Seattle sports.  It was our Absolute Zero.  Rock Bottom.  The total nadir of sports humanity!

It was the primary inspiration for the title of this website.  Take an already-crappy sports city, with practically no history of real success whatsoever, then rain down a million boulders while giving fans only a tiny umbrella to protect themselves.

We did NOT deserve this …

Well, we just finished the 2012 sports year with the 2012/2013 Husky basketball season coming to its conclusion.  As such, I have taken it upon myself to take a look back.  Five years ago, it was 2008; we were just getting started with the worst year ever.  How have things changed with our primary Seattle sports teams?

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners came off of a surprising 2007 campaign that saw them appearing to turn a corner.  Beltre, Ibanez, and Ichiro led the offense.  We hoped that a possible resurrection of Richie Sexson would bring about a further boost.  Two young guns up the middle – Lopez & Betancourt – were proof positive that what we were doing in our farm system wasn’t a complete joke.  Felix was coming into his own.  Losing Weaver & Horacio Ramirez was addition by subtraction.  You figured, with another quality starter, and another bat or two, and we’d be in business!

Well, we know what happened with 2008.  The Erik Bedard trade was a total and complete disaster (though, it went a long way towards the Orioles making their surprising playoff run in 2012).  The Mariners opted to let Jose Guillen walk and replaced him with the corpse of Brad Wilkerson.  Richie Sexson became a local pariah.  And, oh yeah, the other big pitching piece – Carlos Silva – was signed to the single-worst contract in recorded history.  You tack on little things – like J.J. Putz going from the greatest reliever in baseball in 2007, to an injured pile of crap in 2008 – and it all boils down to this team losing 101 games.  The first team with a payroll over $100 million to lose over 100 games.  Everyone was fired; it was brutal.

Enter Jackie Z, who could seemingly do no wrong at first.  He replaced Sexson with Russell Branyan – big upgrade.  He traded Putz for Franklin Gutierrez, who had an amazing season both in the field and at the plate.  We also ended up with Jason Vargas in that Putz deal, who came in and earned his way into the starting rotation.  He brought in Ken Griffey Jr., who wasn’t a total disaster as a DH.  In short, there was an immediate turnaround thanks to God knows what.  Good vibrations?  Luck?  I dunno.  But, this team improved 24 games over 2008 and contended well into the summer.  Everyone thought we’d struck gold!

Then, like some kind of sick fucking plague, every move Jackie Z made to help bolster the 2010 team turned to shit.  Chone Figgins was signed to a 4-year deal and immediately was the worst player in baseball.  Branyan was allowed to walk in favor of Casey Kotchman; Kotchman was terrible and Branyan was brought back in a panic-deal mid-season, because we had the most punch-less lineup in all of baseball history.  Silva was traded for Milton Bradley – which was a move of pure GENIUS until it turned out trading one cancer for another still leaves you on your deathbed.  Griffey was brought back, because HEY!, he hit 19 home runs the year before and it’s not like players suddenly lose all of their ability to swing a bat all at once or anything.

Mind you, just about everything Jackie Z did in anticipation of the 2010 season was believed to be the right thing.  Except for Griffey, but really, if we didn’t make the playoffs that season, it wasn’t going to be exclusively the fault of our elderly DH.  And, to a lesser extent, the Brandon League for Brandon Morrow trade was a bit questionable.  I mean, who trades a bona fide Major League starting prospect for an 8th inning reliever type? Nevertheless, this was a bold move looking to shore up our bullpen.

The cherry on top was the Cliff Lee trade.  We gave a bunch of Bavasi draft rejects to the Phillies for Cliff Lee in his final season.  At best, he’d be the starting pitcher to put us over the top.  At worst, we’d be a losing team and trade him at the deadline to the highest bidder for the best crop of prospects.

Like everything else that happened in 2010, even THIS ended up backfiring.  Cliff Lee came with a built-in contingency plan!  And he was traded for Justin Smoak – a disappointment to date – Blake Beavan – a less-than-adequate starting pitcher – and what has turned into a season’s worth of Michael Morse, a season’s worth of John Jaso, and a season’s worth of Josh Lueke.  There’s still time to turn around our fortunes, but unless Smoak figures out a miracle cure to his sucking ways, this has bust written all over it.

So, what happens when every single offseason (and in-season) move you make backfires?  You lose another 101 games, your franchise icon retires mid-season, your manager gets fired, and your GM is lucky to still have a job.

2010 was a wake-up call, both for fans and for the organization.  The last two times the Mariners had winning records – 2007 and 2009 – they immediately went out the very next offseason and tried to Win Now.  All the moves they made in hopes to Win Now were total disasters, so they had to come up with a new plan.  Either you keep riding this rollercoaster, firing your manager and/or GM every two seasons, or you start over from scratch.

Even though Jackie Z managed to bungle every Major League move known to man, he had still built up the minor leagues a fair amount.  With another high draft pick in his pocket, he put his head down and went to work.

The 2011 season was essentially given over to the kids.  Our major offseason moves included bringing in Miguel Olivo, Jack Cust, Adam Kennedy, Brendan Ryan, and handing over the starting rotation to guys like Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, and Blake Beavan.  In addition, Ackley, Seager, and Carp all got their feet wet; Peguero was given an inordinate amount of playing time for what he was actually bringing to the table.  Others, like Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Saunders, and Halman all got varying amounts of playing time.  2011 was Try-Out central in Seattle.  Throw a bunch of spaghetti noodles into a pot of boiling water, take them out and see which ones would stick to the wall.

2012 took it a step further.  The big free agent pick-ups consisted of Millwood, Iwakuma, and a backup shortstop in Kawasaki.  We traded away Pineda – our best pitching prospect – to bring in Jesus Montero, because we absolutely could not live with the same old offense we’d had the past two seasons.

What did 2011 and 2012 accomplish?  Moderate gains in the win/loss column (+6 wins in 2011, +8 wins in 2012), moderate gains in our offensive production, and a whole lot of salary coming off the books.  The Silva/Bradley money, the Ichiro money, the Olivo money, another season’s worth of the Figgins money.

Now, it’s 2013.  The Mariners brought in some big bats via trade – Morse & Morales for Jaso & Vargas respectively – and some veteran bats via free agency – Ibanez and Bay.  They re-signed Iwakuma (when they realized he’s actually a quality starter), brought in Joe Saunders (who will probably be terrible), and have given the back-end of the rotation over to youth (Maurer and Beavan).  The crown jewel of the 2012/2013 offseason was re-signing Felix through 2019.  That’s huge.  The Mariners may never make the post-season while he’s with us, but God damn it, if they do WATCH OUT.

There is reason for optimism five years after bottoming out in 2008, but we’re still in a Show Me stage.  I’ll believe it when I see it, and all that.  2013 is critical, because if they don’t show some significant improvement, I think a lot of people will be out on their asses again and we’ll be looking at ANOTHER rebuild.

Husky Football

The Huskies ended their 2007 season with a 4-9 record.  Their 2007 schedule was deemed by many to be the toughest schedule in the nation.  Tyrone Willingham was coming off of his third consecutive losing season (going 2-9 in 2005 and 5-7 in 2006), and many believed he should have been fired then and there.  I was one of those simple-minded folks who said we should give him ONE more chance.  Jake Locker had a full season under his belt, why not give Willingham an opportunity to turn things around with the guy he brought in as his quarterback?

Well, we kicked off 2008 by being trounced in Oregon (who would go on to finish 10-3).  Then, we lost by a single point at home to BYU (thanks to the infamous penalty flag thrown on Locker as he ran in for the would-be game-tying touchdown and tossed the ball over his shoulder … thank you Pac-10 referees for being so damn competent) on a missed extra point at the end of the game.  Then, we lost at home to Oklahoma (who would go on to lose to Florida in the BCS National Championship Game).

THEN, we lost our quarterback, our best player, and really our only GOOD player, in the Stanford game.  After that, with the likes of Ronnie Fouch at the helm, we proceeded to lose all the rest of our games (including a pathetic heartbreaker of an Apple Cup, 16-13 in overtime).

0-12.  Doesn’t get any worse than that.  Can only go up from there, right?

Willingham:  gone.  Sarkisian:  in.

The 2009 Huskies improved by 5 games.  There was a signature win at home over the then-#3 USC Trojans, 16-13 on a last-minute field goal.  There was a signature near-win the first game of the season at home against LSU.  Jake Locker took huge strides in his development as a passer.  Everything looked great for the future.

The 2010 Huskies weren’t all that much more improved than the 2009 team, but they managed to win six regular season games (winning out after starting 3-6, thanks to a soft schedule to finish things) and earned a bowl game against Nebraska.  Of course, they got killed by Nebraska, IN Husky Stadium, earlier that season.  But, in the rematch, this Husky team was totally reborn and they took it to the Cornhuskers, stifling them 19-7.

That led to somewhat higher expectations for 2011, but how high could we possibly make them?  Let’s face it, we’d lost our best player and were breaking in a new quarterback.  Our defense was still on the fritz, and we were still in a very tough conference with Oregon, Stanford, and USC.  Not to mention we had to go to Nebraska, where we most certainly got our shit kicked in.

2011 was a disappointment because there was no Signature Win.  In 2009 and 2010, we had victories over USC and Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.  In 2011, we barely squeaked by Eastern Washington in the first game.  We were absolutely terrorized by the aforementioned heavy hitters (losing the games to USC, Oregon, Stanford, and Nebraska by a combined 190-93).  In spite of losing ALL the games were were technically “supposed” to lose, we were still in line for a 1-game improvement over 2010.  That officially died when A. we went into Oregon State and lost (they ended the season with 3 wins) and B. we faced RGIII and the Baylor Bears and gave up 67 points on 777 yards of offense in losing by 11.

Back-to-back 7-6 seasons left a bitter taste in our mouths.  After storming the field against the Cornhuskers, we bent over and grabbed our ankles against the Bears.  2012 would SURELY be different, though.  We had a full season with Keith Price, he had surpassed our wildest expectations by throwing for over 3,000 yards with 33 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions.  How could 2012 NOT be a huge improvement?  On top of all that, we didn’t wait that extra season to see if Nick Holt could turn things around on defense.  We went out, brought in some heavy hitters at recruiting and defensive coaching, and nabbed some top prospects in the process.

Well, there was improvement.  The 2012 Huskies DID manage some signature wins against the likes of Stanford and Oregon State (both in the top 10 at the time we beat them), but they also fell completely flat against the likes of #3 LSU, #2 Oregon, and #11 USC.  In spite of yet another 3-game losing streak in the middle of the season, these Huskies were looking at possibly winning 8 or 9 games when all was said and done!

They were 7-4 (riding a 4-game winning streak) going into the Apple Cup in Pullman.  They had an 18-point lead going into the final quarter … so of COURSE they ended up blowing the game in overtime.  This ultimately led to the Huskies facing Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl and ending up – once again – 7-6.

In short, the Huskies went from 0-12 in 2008, to 5-7 in 2009, to 7-6 in 2010, 2011, and 2012.  No 7-6 record is created equal, obviously, but at the end of the day people don’t remember how you got there.  They just see where you were and shake their heads.

Keith Price showed all the promise in the world in 2011.  But, he lost all his major weapons (Kearse and Aguilar at receiver, Chris Polk at running back) and couldn’t recover in 2012.  In the Baylor bowl game, Price accounted for 7 touchdowns on offense and looked like the best quarterback on the field – even better than the Heisman Trophy winner and ultimate #2 overall draft pick.  However, in the Apple Cup and again in the Boise State bowl game, Price ended both with interceptions.  He was going into the 2013 season fighting for his job, but from all accounts he’s got it locked up after Spring Ball.  Nevertheless, I have to imagine he’s on a short leash.  We can’t suffer the kind of downgrade in production again.

At this point in Sark’s tenure, he’s got all his own guys now.  2013 is the year we’re expected to win and win consistently.  The non-conference schedule is relatively easy, and the conference schedule isn’t too bad either.  We’ve got veterans in all the right places, we’ve got some serious talent on defense for the first time since he got here, and Price has had a chance to gel with his offensive weapons.  2013 isn’t a Rose Bowl or Bust, but it’s close.  The Huskies have to at least be in the conversation.

I’m not gonna lie to you, beating the Ducks for the first time in eons would go a long way towards cementing Sark’s status as a legend ’round these parts.

Husky Basketball

The 2007/2008 Huskies were a definite low-point in the Romar era.  They finished the regular season 16-16, losing in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, and received the #1 seed in the College Basketball Invitational.  You know, that post-season tournament for the teams not even good enough for the N.I.T.

We lost.  To Valparaiso.

In 2008/2009, we brought in Isaiah Thomas and he was a firecracker right from the start.  We enjoyed Brockman’s senior season, and we rode that wave to a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament and a Round of 32 loss to 5-seed Purdue by two points.  More or less, it was a successful season, but once again it ended prematurely.

In 2009/2010, we had another senior leader taking to the forefront.  This time, it was Q-Pon, who averaged 19 and 7 per game in leading us to a Pac-10 Tournament victory, an 11-seed in the tournament, and upset wins over #6 Marquette (where he hit the clutch game winner) and #3 New Mexico.

Once again, though, the Romar-era Huskies couldn’t get past the Sweet 16.  This time, we lost to West Virginia, thanks to them totally having the length advantage on us.

In 2010/2011, we had our version of a Big 3 with Thomas, MBA, and Holiday.  The last two were seniors and Thomas was playing in what would be his final season.  We rode this squad to another Pac-10 Tournament victory (you all remember COLD BLOODED don’t you?).  This resulted in a 7-seed – our third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance – and a victory over 10-seed Georgia before losing in the Round of 32 to 2-seeded North Carolina (by only 3 points, but still).

The 2011/2012 season saw the emergence of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross.  Both were young, extremely talented, and irritatingly inconsistent.  Ross would disappear for minutes at a time.  Wroten had no jump shot whatsoever, so he had to fight for every single basket in the paint.  This team ended up winning the Pac-12 outright, but since the Pac-12 sucked dick that season, and since the Huskies lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, AND since they had no quality wins over ranked non-conference opponents, the Huskies were denied a fourth consecutive NCAA invite.  Instead, they locked down the #1-overall N.I.T. seeding and ran with it to the Final Four in New York City.  It ended with a loss to Minnesota, who would end up losing to eventual-champion Stanford the very next game.

The less said about the 2012/2013 season, the better.  Wroten and Ross both bolted for the NBA, and absolutely no one came in to replace them.  That’s what happens when you’re a good-not-great recruiter in a good-not-great university for basketball:  sometimes you DON’T bring in a player of quality and you suffer as a result.

Gaddy, Wilcox, Suggs, and N’Diaye were left to pick up the pieces.  This team was pretty solid on defense, but ultimately inept on offense, and now at least three of those guys are gone (with Wilcox having a difficult decision to make regarding his final year of eligibility).  The 2012/2013 Huskies didn’t beat a single ranked team, only beat three teams who ended up going to the NCAAs (Saint Louis, California, and Colorado), and wound up being a 6-seed in the N.I.T., where the subsequently got their shit kicked in at BYU.

What’s in store for 2013/2014?  Well, a solid incoming class with one McDonalds All American at point guard in Nigel Williams-Goss.  If Wilcox comes back, that gives us a veteran scoring presence (for the record, he’s a fool if he leaves; his past season was absolutely dreadful and injury-plagued).  If we can get anything from our young forwards, you could look at a team that surprises a lot of people.  Or, you could be looking at a third-straight N.I.T. bid.  If it’s the latter, I’m not so sure I’d be confident about my job security if I was Romar.

Seattle Supersonics

I won’t go into excruciating detail on this end.  We all know what the last five years have been like for the Sonics.  They went 20-62 in their final season in Seattle (after drafting Kevin Durant and bringing in one of the finest GMs in the game from the San Antonio organization).  They were given away by the city of Seattle, they struggled again the following season, and then they went to the playoffs four straight seasons (losing most recently in the Finals to the beloved Miami Heat).

Now, we’ve got an ownership group and an arena deal in place, and we’re fighting like crazy to steal the Kings from Sacramento.  If all goes according to plan, we will have pro basketball back in Seattle for the 2013/2014 season.  If it doesn’t, then this part of next year’s “Five Years” post is going to be REAL fucking depressing.

Seattle Seahawks

I’m saving the best for last because I can.  Because, honestly, it’s all a little too much and I can hardly believe it myself.  There is cautious optimism for the Mariners and their young core to turn things around.  There’s more confident optimism that the Husky football team will turn some heads this fall.  There’s hope that the Husky basketball team can somehow gel with their new incoming players and make an improbable Tourney run.  There’s delusions that the NBA will be back in Seattle this time next year.

But, that’s nothing.  There is outright SWAGGER for the Seattle Seahawks.  How did we get HERE?

In 2008, we went 4-12.  We had dicked around with Mike Holmgren, we signed on his replacement – Jim Mora Jr. – to be his defensive backs coach, and all the major veterans took a huge dump.  This was coming off of a 2007 season where the Seahawks once again won the division.  But, Shaun Alexander was released at the end, losing out to another injury.  So, Tim Ruskell opted to reload via free agency.  Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett were brought in to liven up the running game, but no dice.  Hasselbeck missed a bunch of games, Walter Jones tried surgery but wasn’t the same and was forced to retire at season’s end … it was just a mess.

In 2009, there was something of a fresh start expected with Mora.  T.J. Houshmandzadeh was brought in on a huge free agent deal, Aaron Curry was signed as our can’t-lose first round draft pick … in short, we were one of the oldest and least-talented teams in the NFL.  When all was said and done, these Seahawks improved by only 1 game and both Mora and Ruskell were fired.

2010 was the REAL fresh start.  Pete Carroll and John Schneider tag-teamed this roster from head to toe.  They traded for Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, and Charlie Whitehurst (hey, they can’t all be winners).  They got rid of Housh (taking a healthy bath in the cap hit) and later Deion Branch.  They brought in a rejuvinated Mike Williams who led the team in receiving.  They drafted Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, and Kam Chancellor.  They made hundreds upon hundreds of free agent moves, giving tryouts to anyone and everyone who they thought might be an upgrade.  They got significantly younger, and thanks to a piss-poor division, ended up making the playoffs with a 7-9 record.

Understand, this wasn’t a legitimate playoff team.  Yes, after two years in the wilderness, they found their way back to civilization, but it was totally phony!  The fact that we beat the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at Qwest Field is a travesty of common decency (though, it did provide us with the greatest NFL play ever, Beastmode’s Touchdown Scamper).  Our “Cinderella” run ended the following week in Chicago, and you had to wonder how long it would be before the Seahawks made the playoffs again.

The 2011 Seahawks were hamstrung by the NFL Lockout.  They fired their offensive coordinator and hired Darrell Bevell from Minnesota.  Which meant, if they stood any chance of competing in ANY games that season, they’d have to bring some people in who knew Bevell’s system.  This meant Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback.  They let Hasselbeck go with a cordial goodbye and handed the keys to the team over to Tarvar (without so much as a second look at Whitehurst, who was as bad as we all remember him being and then some).

Tarvar proved tough, but ultimately inept when the game was on the line.  Those 2011 Seahawks also finished the regular season 7-9 and weren’t given the benefit of a lousy NFC West to “earn” a home playoff game.

With a full offseason going into 2012, the Seahawks needed to make a change.  They’d drafted well, bringing in guys like Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright.  But, they needed a signal-caller with some zazz!  So, they signed Matt Flynn to a three-year deal, and they went out and drafted Russell Wilson in the third round.

People say if Wilson was just 2-3 inches taller, he would’ve been a Top 10 pick.  But, he’s not, so now he’s ours.

Wilson earned his opportunity to have an Open Competition in Training Camp.  This led to him wowing us in the Pre-Season, which ultimately led to him winning the job and running with it.  The 2012 Seahawks took it easy with him for the first few weeks, but once they knew he could handle himself, they opened things up.  This resulted in the Seahawks being the best team in football over the second half of the season.  Still, their early-season slip-ups meant that the 49ers won the division, relegating us to the fifth seed in the NFC.

We went into Washington and somehow came away with a victory.  Then, we went into Atlanta, gave them a 20-point lead, and somehow led in the game with 30 seconds to go.  That was choked away, but the message was sent.  It wasn’t, “Wait Until Next Year,” the way most fanbases say it, more resigned to their current fate as losers, sorely, bitterly hoping that things will turn around for them in short order.

No, this is, “Just you WAIT until next year, chickenfuckers!”  Because the 2013 Seahawks are a runaway train that has Super Bowl or Bust written all over them!

In five years, the Seahawks have gone from one of the oldest and worst teams in the NFL to one of the youngest and best teams.  In five years, the Seahawks have gone from bottom-feeders to would-be kings.  We fans are cashing in our 401Ks in anticipation of buying Super Bowl tickets in 2014.  It’s never been so clear and so positive in the city of Seattle.  They can single-handedly reverse the fortunes of this desolate sports city.  All they need to do is win.

What’s more, they’re spreading around the positivity.  People are stoked on the Mariners WAY more than they should be thanks to the good will generated by the Seahawks.  Sports fans have something to look forward to and spirits are bright.  This is carrying over to the other sports in hopes that the good vibes will roll on.

We’ll see.  If the Seahawks win it all, the Mariners contend for a playoff spot, the Huskies make a run at the Rose Bowl, the basketball Huskies make a run at the NCAA Tournament, and the Sonics return to Seattle, we could be talking about the greatest 5-year turnaround any sports city has ever seen.  Fingers crossed.

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

Like, right now.

Bitchin' ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Seattle Mariners’ 94 Million Dollar Question

What’s the deal with the Mariners in this free agency period?  Not a whole lot, at the moment.  Aside from some minor deals that have been forgotten as soon as they happened, we’re playing the Waiting Game like a lot of other teams in the Majors not named the Angels or the Marlins.

I got to thinking about the salary cap today – as is often the case when I read a particularly scathing Geoff Baker post about how the owners of the Blue Jays ruined baseball for the city of Toronto this past decade, especially when he talks about these teams in baseball being run by multi-billion dollar corporations who have beyond the means to afford players such as Prince Fielder, if they really wanted to field a competative baseball team – and it got me to wondering about how the Mariners are spending their money.  Of course, I realize there isn’t an enforced “salary cap” in Major League Baseball, but for all intents and purposes, the Seattle Mariners have a self-imposed salary cap, and that cap is anything but impressive.

For the past two seasons, the estimated value of that cap is $94 million.  That’s how much money the Mariners organization has been willing to spend on its roster.  Which is pretty much middle-of-the-road in baseball.  Surely, there are teams spending well under that figure; surely, there are teams spending well over that figure.  $94 million.

I like to think about “worth” when it comes to players and their salaries.  I’ve stated before that I don’t think any single player is WORTH $25 million; but that doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t think the elites should make that kind of money.  If I had my druthers, every Major League team would have at least one $25 million guy (instead of the very best teams having 3 or 4 of them); it would mean that every team would have a guy who can do the impossible.  I refer to the following Comic Book Guy quote as a source of amusement:

Inspired by the most logical race in the universe, the Vulcans, breeding will be permitted once every 7 years.  For many of you, this will mean much less breeding. For me, much, much more.

Since this type of socialist utopia does not exist in baseball, I’ve decided to break things down another way.

All too often, teams will over-spend on certain positions where it doesn’t make sense.  When I speak of these teams, I’m not talking about the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Phillies or any of these other teams with bountiful salaries who are consistently on the cusp of a World Series title and just need that one extra stud to push them over the line.  No, instead I’m talking about these teams who are consistently rebuilding, trotting out mediocre lineup after mediocre lineup, firing GM and field manager after GM and field manager.  These are the teams where, once every five years, they find themselves finally rid of the last batch of oppressive contracts and underperforming players.  Where they have a bunch of money coming off the books and decide to make a big splash or two in Free Agency (only to pay for the wrong guys, starting the cycle of sucktitude all over again).

These are the teams where you always find yourselves saying, “Why did they sign HIM?  And for HOW much?”

If only there was a list, or a set of guidelines to follow when signing players.  Well, I’ve taken it upon myself to be the guy to create this list!  For all those other teams with $94 million payrolls out there.  I’ve assigned the following values to each of the positions for the Mariners.

Catcher:  $3 million
1st Base:  $25 million
2nd Base:  $3 million
3rd Base:  $5 million
Short Stop:  $2 million
Starting Outfield:  $15 million (combined)
Designated Hitter:  $5 million

Starter 1:  $20 million
Starter 2:  $5 million
Starter 3:  $2 million
Starters 4 & 5:  $1 million (combined)

Bullpen (6-7 guys):  $5 million (combined)
Bench (4-5 guys):  $3 million (combined)

Total:  $94 million

Now, for the most part, the Mariners are okay.  The key to this type of roster is finding some value at the back-end of your rotation and a LOT of value in your bullpen.  For a team like the Mariners, who are forced to pinch their pennies, you can’t afford to pay – for instance – your closer upwards of $5 million.  Which means, unfortunately, you can’t afford Brandon League.  He strikes me as the type of guy they should’ve signed to a long-term deal BEFORE last season, before he made an All Star team and his perceived value went through the roof.  In arbitration, League will easily make $5 million this season, which means he shouldn’t be on my team.

As far as the good elements though, we’re paying our catcher just a tick over 3 mil, but we’re paying our 2nd baseman a tick under 3 mil.  Our starting short stop is slightly under 2 mil, and we’ve got Smoak making the league minimum wherever he’s set to play.  Felix is our $20 million man, Vargas is our $5 million man, and Pineda is making the minimum (really, as a #2 starter).  We could sign a veteran for 2-3 million and still get by with another starter making the minimum as our 5th guy.  And everyone besides League will be making the league minimum for our bullpen.

Where you’ll notice we’re struggling is in our bench.  Slated at $3 million in my list above, we’re $6 million OVER budget just by Chone Figgins alone!  Yeah, the rest of the guys on our bench will be making the minimum, but Christ!  $9 million is more than we should be paying our STARTING third baseman!

You’ll also notice we’re paying upwards of $24 million for an outfield consisting of Ichiro, Guti, and League Minimum Guy (Carp, Wells, Robinson, etc.).  That’s too much.  If the Mariners want to be a team that houses a $25 million guy like Fielder, they can’t be spending the same amount in their outfield (unless that $25 million guy IS an outfielder; Ichiro, obviously, is not that guy).

And that’s pretty much why the Mariners have been where they have been these last few years.  We’ve been paying the wrong people TOO much money!  Figgins is making $9 million when he SHOULD be making $0.  Ichiro is making $18 million when he should be making, at most, $3-5 million.  He’s certainly not giving us $18 million worth of Major League production!  Not with his walk rate, his lack of power, his declining bat speed, and his declining defense.  Singles-slapping leadoff hitters aren’t supposed to make $18 million.  We would be wise to send him packing after the 2012 season.

A realistic ideal team for the Mariners in 2011 would look like this:

Olivo:  ~ $3 million
Fielder:  $25 million
Ackley:  ~ $3 million
Seager:  (League Minimum)
Ryan:  ~ $2 million
Starting Outfield:  ~ $19 million (combined)
Smoak:  (League Minimum)

Felix:  $20 million
Vargas:  $5 million
Free Agent:  $2 million
Pineda & Other In-House Young Guy:  $1 million (combined)

Bullpen Without League (6-7 guys):  $5 million (combined)
Bench Without Figgins (4-5 guys):  $8 million

That has us signing Fielder, trading away Guti and replacing him with a league minimum guy, signing a cheap veteran starting pitcher (preferably a lefty who can use the park’s dimensions to his advantage), trading League and implementing Wilhelmsen or some other young buck as our closer, and trading away Figgins while still paying around $6 million of his $9 million salary.  That’s got us somewhere in the ballpark of $94 million, but it still honestly has us with a lot more holes than I would like in our lineup.  Which would look like this:

1. Ichiro
2. Ackley
3. Carp (LF)
4. Fielder
5. Smoak (DH)
6. Olivo
7. Wells (CF)
8. Ryan
9. Seager

To win with that lineup, you have to hope that Ichiro doesn’t fall off the face of the Earth even more than he did in 2011.  You have to hope Ackley reaches near elite status in Season 2.  You have to hope Carp’s 2011 wasn’t a total aberration.  You have to hope Smoak’s struggles in 2011 were legitimately because of his hand injuries and his personal issues.  And you have to hope the bottom of that lineup isn’t totally and completely useless.  Which means Seager HAS to be ready to be an everyday player that doesn’t hit below .200.

Then, of course, there’s the other truly scary aspect of that team:  the bullpen.  We already traded Lueke in this offseason, so there’s a potential impact arm for the back of our ‘pen, gone.  We still have Wilhelmsen, but honestly can we count on him for a full season?  It took him SO long in 2011 to figure his shit out!  And the rest of that bunch leaves me absolutely petrified.  They’re wild, inconsistent, home-run-giving-up machines waiting to happen.  If our starters don’t carry the lion’s share of the innings, I would be expecting a lot of bad endings to games.

But, that’s if THAT happens.  And I truly doubt that’s the team we will end up with.  Either way, though, it’s sure to be a frustrating 2012.  I’m sure by the month of May I’ll be rooting for the End of the World over having to watch another Mariners debacle.

A Mid-August Look At The Mariners’ Youth Movement

With the start of football season, the Mariners just haven’t been all that interesting, so my posts on the team have been unsurprisingly less frequent.  However, of late, the Mariners have produced some exciting moments from a batch of our younger guys getting a late-season showcase.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  This is August.  This is a team far from contention.  We’ve seen this before; we’ll reserve our judgment for next year.  Let’s see if they can continue to produce when the games, the at bats, the pitches actually mean something.

I hear you.  How many times have we seen a pitcher come on like gangbusters in September, only to suck to high heaven the following spring?  How many hitters have made a name for themselves with their late-season call up, only to have that name erased forever when shit was on the line?  But, I will say this:  I’d rather have guys produce now than the alternative (being:  not producing at all).  Do quality at bats & innings pitched guarantee success in the following season?  No, of course not.  But, at least they open the door to possibility.  To hope.

I’m going to give an overview of a few of the more exciting players who’ve made an impact of late.  Let’s start with the pitchers, since they’re actually the less interesting of the two sides.

Dan Cortes – Did you know this guy has one of the lowest ERAs on the team?  You wouldn’t think so, by reading all the blogs around the city.  Of course, we’re talking about 8 measly innings pitched, but still.  All I ever hear about the guy is how he walks the world, but truth be told he’s only walked 3 guys.  What’s probably the most disturbing is that he’s struck out 0.  It’s too early to tell if the guy is going to be a major bullpen threat next year, but he’s shown so far in his few outings that he can go multiple innings, he can keep guys off base, and he’s even induced more groundball outs than flyball outs.  If he can keep it up, and have an awesome Spring, you could be looking at a trusted 6th/7th inning guy.

Tom Wilhelmsen – In my opinion, a guy who has no business being on a major league roster right now.  Granted, he’s got a live arm, but he’s too damn wild and ineffective.  He’s given up 12 walks vs. 10 strikeouts, he’s got an ERA in the mid-6 range, and he doesn’t appear to be making any progress.  For every decent outing, he’s got an absolute disaster right around the corner.  My best case scenario for this guy:  manage to somehow not kill the rest of his trade value over the next month and a half, then package him with some other prospects for a quality bat.  He’s a guy I wouldn’t mind losing, even if his is a story heart warming.

Josh Lueke – Glad we traded for this guy, glad we kept him glad he’s gotten a chance to show what he can do after his abomination of an April.  Don’t let the 8.44 ERA fool you; he was over 17 when he was originally sent down to Tacoma after his first 8 appearances.  The guy couldn’t do anything right, the velocity on his fastball was disturbingly low, and he was just getting pounded left and right.  Ever since his mid-July call-up, he’s pitched 9.2 innings and given up only 3 runs (with 7 strikeouts vs. 2 walks).  He’s too young to be closing games in the Majors, but one day he could be the man.  It’s nice having him around on his way up (as I imagine his trip back down the ladder of success will be a quick & painful one).

Charlie Furbush – The jury isn’t just out on this guy; the jury has yet to be selected!  He’s started 3 games for us, relieved in another.  He’s had a good start (5 innings, 1 run), a terrible start (4 innings, 7 runs, 6 earned), and a great start (7 innings, 1 run, against the Red Sox of all teams).  Sure, there’s promise, but promises are made to be broken.  The upside is:  he becomes a left-handed Doug Fister (i.e.  he’s a capable innings-eater who doesn’t strike anybody out, but also doesn’t walk the world).  If all he becomes is the left-handed Doug Fister, then we’ve pretty much come away from that trade ahead, since there are three other guys involved with the deal (not counting Pauley, who nobody in their right mind will ever miss).  If he fails in his charge to become the left-haded Doug Fister, then who cares?  Doug Fisters are a dime a dozen (you’ll never know how it pains me to say that, as I was actually a pretty big Doug Fister fan while he was here).

Blake Beavan – Here’s another guy with limited upside.  Essentially, we want him to be the right-handed Doug Fister (or, just Doug Fister).  At first, you had to LOVE what you saw out of the kid.  6 consecutive quality starts to kick off his career (including a couple of impressive performances down in Anaheim, going 14.1 innings over 2 starts, giving up 3 earned runs).  He has since backed those games up with a couple of real clunkers (11.1 innings, 11 runs, 6 home runs against Boston & Toronto).  That’s not going to cut it.  He’s got to find a way to be a little more spectacular in his wins and a little less like Chinese Water Torture in his losses.  I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in this guy right now, but I don’t think there’s any pitcher I’m more interested in seeing down the stretch.  Can he bounce back?  Will he flame out like the Challenger Explosion?

Now, to the hitters (in an effort to not bum everyone out, I’ve decided to leave Justin Smoak off this list).

Trayvon Robinson – Talk about an exciting debut!  The kid has flashed some serious glove, some serious power, and some serious consistency.  He’s 9 for 36 so far with 4 doubles and a homer.  Of course, in his 10 appearances he’s struck out 14 times with only 1 walk (so, in that sense, he’s just like Halman, Peguero, and all the rest of our high-strikeout AAA bashers).  People in the know seem to have higher hopes about Robinson in spite of these K’s, so who knows?  What I want to see out of him more than anything else is a batting average that doesn’t plummet to Figginsian levels with steady playing time.  All of these guys seem to start out ablaze, then a month goes by and it’s like they’ve been hit with a dozen fire extinguishers.

Casper Wells – Before the trade, Wells was hitting .257 with 4 homers, a .323 OBP, and a .451 slugging percentage in 113 at bats spread out over the first four months.  Since the trade, Wells is hitting .326 with 5 homers (including a homer in 4 consecutive games), a .413 OBP, and a .652 slugging percentage in 46 at bats.  Sure, a smaller sample size, but it could also be a testament to what the guy can do when given a chance to compete for a starting spot (and given a chance to play everyday).  A lot to like about the guy’s results, but I question if he can do it over the long haul.  For the moment, though, he’s making the Fister trade look like a fucking blockbuster.

Mike Carp – This guy is easily my favorite story of the year.  Not Pineda, not Ackley, not Wedge shaving off his moustache, not even the cutting of Milton Bradley.  Here’s a guy who looked like nothing more than a AAA also-ran.  Someone with not enough power for the power positions (left field, first base, DH) and not enough skill for the skill positions where we’re hurting the most (third base, short stop, catcher).  Essentially, he was a baseball player without a position.  No matter where you put him, he would ultimately never live up to the ideal.

Then, something happened.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the guy took a few dozen massive doses of steroids, but I’m pretty darn certain that’s not the case.  Simply put, the guy turned into a wild, uncaged animal for our Rainiers.  As guys like Peguero and Halman kept all the Major League playing time for themselves (and doing a poor job at it to boot), Carp quietly went about his business of being the Osama Bin Laden of the PCL (terrorizing, he was terrorizing them).  Finally, in early June, the Mariners had no choice.  They HAD to bring the guy up.

And, I don’t want to say he struggled, but he certainly wasn’t the hitter he was in Tacoma.  He had a .200 batting average with 2 doubles and 0 homers in 35 at bats … okay, so he struggled!  He still had enough walks to keep his OBP at .333.  When he was sent back down in early July, I was convinced that was it for the Mike Carp era.  It proved once and for all that Carp was indeed nothing more than a AAA also-ran.

Then, he was called back up.  And all of a sudden, he started dominating.  They gave him an everyday job and let him take his lumps.  As a result, Carp has rewarded the team with .371 batting average over his last 105 at bats.  He’s hit 6 homers, 6 doubles, and a triple.  He’s slugging .619 over this span to give himself an absolute Ruthian OPS.

You know why he’s my favorite story of the year?  Because he reminds me so much of Edgar.  A guy who toiled in the minors well into his 20s, then finally got a shot on some bad teams.  Once he had a regular opportunity to bat, he ran away with it, winning batting titles and the hearts of the Pacific Northwest.  Who’s to say Carp couldn’t do the same thing as our DH of the future?

I implore Mariners executives:  don’t go out and buy another past-his-prime designated hitter in the hopes that he’ll rebound to his 2-years-ago self.  2 years in baseball years might as well be 2 decades when you’re old.  Mike Carp is here now, he’s inexpensive, and he’s poised to tear the cover off the ball for years to come!

Dustin Ackley – This kid is just amazing.  There’s nothing else to say about him.  I have no concerns whatsoever that he’s going to regress next year.  I fully expect him to have a Wade Boggs type career for the next decade-plus.  Even when he’s struggling (like he has in August, with a .241 batting average), he’s still awesome (a .379 on-base percentage in that very same span).  On the year, he has 25 walks vs. 35 strikeouts.  He’s hit 5 homers, 5 triples, and 11 doubles; I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome that is for a second baseman.  In seriously not that many years, he’s going to go down as the best second baseman the Mariners have ever seen (with apologies to Harold Reynolds).  I love you Dustin Ackley.  So very damn much!

Talkin’ Tacoma Rainiers

I’m not gonna lie to you, this post is more for me than it is for you.  There are tons of other sites (probably) that can give you some real quality Rainiers analysis.  So, go there for the hard-hitting whathaveyou.

If you’re like me, you live in Tacoma and almost never end up getting out to a Rainiers game even though, every year before the season starts, you and your friends talk about “getting out to a few games this summer”.  Then, summer arrives, and you never think to head over to Cheney.

Also, if you’re like me, you find minor league baseball to be an enjoyable experience when you DO go to a game … but you don’t really follow the teams all that closely.  Aside from a few players touted as “up & coming”, you just don’t give too much of a shit.

However, with all the players who’ve made it up to the big ballclub, and with the player or players soon to come, I thought I’d take a look at the Tacoma Rainiers.

The Rainiers currently stand in 3rd place in the Pacific North Division (with a 28-35 record), 9 games behind the first place Reno Aces.  The two teams appear to be pretty comparable in their pitching (Tacoma is 12th in the PCL in ERA, Reno is 13th), but there looks to be a hitting discrepancy (with Reno 2nd in batting average and Tacoma 10th).  Obviously, this doesn’t tell the whole story, because the Rainiers are in the top 5 in both Home Runs and Runs Scored, so really I don’t know what to tell you.

From what I understand, the new park configurations make it tremendously easier to hit home runs to both left and right field (the high center field wall remains from Old Cheney Stadium), which probably explains why Tacoma is so much more improved in their power numbers.  And, why the ERA is so high.

Here’s all you really need to know about the pitching:  just hope and pray that none of the Mariners’ starters get injured.  Luke French – the odd man out of the rotation coming out of Spring Training once Pineda won a spot on the team – has been truly awful this year.  He’s got a 6.16 ERA and has given up 18 home runs in 13 games started.  Chaz Roe – who we got for Jose Lopez in the trade with the Rockies – has a worse ERA and an 0-5 record.  Blake Beavan – who we got in the Cliff Lee Trade – appears to be the best of the three, but his ERA is still 4.76 and he too looks like he’s nowhere near ready to break in with the big club.

The other notable names include Nate Robertson.  He’s been bad thus far, coming back from injury, but he’s only made two starts, so the book is still out on him.  In the bullpen, it looks like Josh Lueke has bounced back nicely with his return to triple-A.  He’s got a 3.33 ERA in 17 appearances.  Dan Cortes, on the other hand, has a 5.21 ERA in 15 appearances.  He’s got good strikeout numbers, but he’s being hit around quite a bit.  In other words, he’s probably a year away at least.

On the hitting side of things, I’m seeing a lot of really good numbers (a testament to the fact that so many of these guys have already been called up).  Dustin Ackley is batting .291 after a horrendous start to the season.  He’s got 9 homers and 16 doubles, and he’s walking considerably more than he’s striking out.  Ackley will be Seattle’s starting second baseman before the month of June is over, I guarantee it.

Other familiar names include Matt Tuiasosopo and Ryan Langerhans.  Tui looks like he’s struggling mightily with his .236 batting average.  Factor in that he’s playing primarily at first base, with his paltry power numbers (7 homers, 10 doubles), and I think you’re looking at a guy who’s not long for this organization.  I anticipate when his contract expires, it will not be renewed.  As for Langerhans, he’s playing just like you’d expect Langerhans to play.  In a pinch, he’ll be back with the Mariners this year (“pinch” being:  multiple injuries to our outfielders).

You might be wondering how Michael Saunders has been doing since being sent down.  Well, in 8 games, he’s batting .343 with 8 RBI, a homer, and a double.  That sounds about right:  kills triple-A pitching, sucks in the Majors.

Mike Wilson, you probably remember (if you were paying attention).  He actually played with the Mariners this year in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it one-month stint.  In that month, he got into 8 games even though we were told that Left Field would be a strict platoon between him and Carlos Peguero.  Granted, we ran into an inordinate number of right-handed pitchers, but still.  I remember some instances where Wilson could’ve pinch hit or something and was instead left riding pine.  I guess he didn’t make enough of an early impression with Wedge.  Anyway, Wilson’s leading the team in batting and has 4 hits in 3 games since being sent back down.

Real quick:  Josh Bard is doing good at catcher (of course, not good enough to be called up because he’s an everyday guy and Gimenez – the Mariners’ current backup catcher – isn’t an everyday guy); Matt Mangini is also doing good, but he’s coming back from injury.  Alex Liddi still has some major power at the third base position – something the Mariners are SORELY lacking – but he’s remarkably struck out 81 times in 61 games.  So, he’s still got some seasoning to do.

All in all, it’s nice to see there’s some talent down in Tacoma, but aside from Ackley, I don’t think there’s too many guys left down there who you’d want to count on with the Mariners.  However, if you’re looking to go see an entertaining, high-scoring ballgame (something you won’t get in Seattle), based on these numbers I would highly recommend going to a Rainiers game.

I REALLY gotta get out to a few games this summer.

More Reasons To Love Cliff Lee

**Note to Readers:  I’m scheduling this for Saturday morning because I’ll be busy all day golfing, gambling, and having titties rubbed in my face.  A.K.A. just your average, run-of-the-mill Saturday, bitchez.

**Also, Note to Readers:  I went to the Friday Mariners game/Ichiro Hit-Counter Bobblehead Doll Night.  I’ll have a full report for you on Sunday.  And since I’ll be hungover as all Hell, I’m sure it’ll be a Pulitzer Prize worthy screed.

On with the show.

On back-to-back days from the Seattle Times Baseball Duo – Larry Stone & Geoff Baker – we got blog posts talking about where we are with the Cliff Lee Trade today in relation to other teams who traded Cliff Lee.  Apparently, the Mariners are capable of being Number 1 at SOMETHING besides breaking my heart.  We are the best at trading Cliff Lee (which, fun fact, ALSO breaks my heart!).

So, being the Creature of Original Thinking that I am, I thought I’d chime in on the matter (or, you know, gush about my most favorite man-crush of all time).

The Cleveland Indians were the first to trade Cliff Lee, back in July of 2009.  At this point, whoever traded for Mr. Lee would be getting 1 year and 2 months of his services.  Or, to put it another way, they would be getting Mr. Lee for up to 2 full pennant chases.  One might think, considering they’d have over a full year of his services, that this would be the deal with the best batch of prospects.

But Lo! This is the rough and treacherous road of trading sure things for prospects.  According to Stone, Cleveland has thus far received a big bag of crab-apples for their Ace.  They got a back-end starter (who may or may not improve to be a front-end starter), a backup catcher, a AAA third baseman who couldn’t beat out Jack Hannahan of all people, and a reliever still stuck in A-ball.

That’s rough.  But maybe not quite as rough as the next team.

Philly got doubley screwed with their Cliff Lee dealings.  They went to the World Series, but eventually lost.  THEN, they traded him to the Mariners before the 2010 season for a AA starter, a AA reliever, and a AA outfielder with off-field drug and on-field injury issues.  Probably ONE of those guys will pan out, and wouldn’t you know it:  odds are that guy will be the reliever.

In short, the Phillies lost the World Series and traded an Ace starter for a potential Ace reliever (in a few years).  THEN, they failed to make the World Series without Cliff Lee, only to re-sign him in free agency anyway.  Fans over there have to be pulling their hair out on that one.  What’s more important, having a dominant starting rotation in 2010 (and potentially winning it all), or giving away 2010 and getting a relief pitcher in return?

Pretty brutal.  The baseball gods apparently don’t like it when you trade guys like Cliff Lee.  Guys like Cliff Lee should be appreciated!  Treasured!  Not tossed aside for the potential Next Big Thing!

Well, if the gods are planning on smiting the Mariners, it’ll most certainly be the most cruel smiting of the three.

We picked up Mr. Lee with a full-fledged contingency plan in place:  stay in contention and ride the Cliff Lee Train into the playoffs, or fall hopelessly out of contention and trade him away to a team IN contention for a buttload of Major League-ready prospects.  Smart move, especially considering the paltry package we gave up.

Well, we danced with the Yankees, but we went home and fucked the Rangers last July.  And so far … so good.

Justin Smoak is, as I’ve said before, Awesome.  Aaron Laffey (a guy we got from Cleveland for some future has-been named Matt Lawson, who we got from Texas in this Cliff Lee trade), is currently tearing it up in our bullpen as a long-relief lefty.  Josh Lueke started in our bullpen only to have meltdown-after-meltdown (on the plus side, he’s looking like his old self with the Rainiers since he went down, so maybe this was only a temporary blip).  And Blake Beavan is currently starting for Tacoma and could be a future back-end of the rotation starter for the Mariners (or some other team if we decide to flip him).  You can find all their stats in Baker’s post, if you’re feeling frisky.

In short, we win.  And, if Smoak continues to do what he’s doing for the duration of his many years with the Mariners, not only will we have won the Cliff Lee Trade Sweepstakes, but we also won’t have to worry about whatever Jesus Montero does in HIS Major League career (who, I’ll remind you, is the Yankee prospect we turned down in favor of Smoak).

God, isn’t Cliff Lee great, you guys?  Just that many more reasons to love this man!

Mariners Keep Winning, Now 2 Games from .500

I don’t want to alarm anybody here, but the Mariners are now 14-16.  To put that in perspective, we’re still in last place, but in the AL West that means we’re 2 games behind both Texas and Anaheim (and 1 game behind Oakland).

I swear to Christ, if the Mariners do one of the following – sweep this series and get to .500, move completely out of last place, or eventually just get to .500 – I am putting a God damned standings widget over there on the right side of the page and keeping it there all year!

This is the type of AL West everyone expected LAST year.  Instead, we got Texas running away with it, only to choke when it mattered most, but I digress.

The star of last night’s game is the rejuvenated Erik Bedard!  After throwing 33 pitches in the first inning, he settled down to go 7 strong (and, oddly enough, not giving up his first hit until the 6th inning).  That’s two games in a row where he’s gone 7; dare I say we’ve got the pitcher we were expecting in 2008?  If so, don’t look now, but that’s three high-quality starting pitchers to throw at the league …

Let’s breeze through the rest of the kudos:

Justin Smoak is a GOD right now.  3 for 4 last night with a double and 2 RBI.  This just continues to shine a light on my man crush that is Cliff Lee.  Without him, none of this would’ve been possible!

Don’t look now, but Jack Cust has his average up to .205 … I’m not saying that’s acceptable, but he’s no longer the worst guy on team.  For the record, it’s your turn to make the leap into the .200’s Brendan Ryan.

Unrelated to yesterday’s game:  Happy Rookie Of The Month, Michael Pineda!  Five more of those and you’ve got yourself a ROY.

Brandon League is 8 for 8 in save opportunities.  I don’t know what’s more surprising through May 3rd:  Brandon League is perfect, or Brandon League has actually had 8 save opportunities.

I haven’t seen Chris Ray in practically forever.  Whenever I’m able to write that sentence, you know it’s been a good day.  In fact, we haven’t seen ANY of the dregs of our bullpen lately!  No Ray, no Lueke (who’s now in Tacoma anyway), no Cortes (who was called up for Lueke), no Wilhelmsen.  Just a steady diet of Jamey Wright, Aaron Laffey, and David Pauley (who got the win last night).  FINALLY, a manager who’s not afraid to sit the struggling pitchers we all hate!  I think I’m falling in love with you, Eric Wedge.

Mariners: Back To The Grind

In the last 7 days, I missed 7 games.  In the last 7 days, I missed 3 wins; it’s not quite the best stretch of Mariner baseball over a 7-day period, but it’s damn close.  In the last 7 days, I missed back-to-back shutouts!  That hurt.  That hurt deep down, where I’m tender like a woman.  And, to further make matters worse, I missed a game where the Mariners scored 13 runs and just totally dominated from opening pitch to final out.

First of all, prediction:  the Mariners will never match or surpass 13 runs the rest of this year.

Secondly, in spite of all the awesome that happened this week, I’m still glad I did it and everyone should look for it to happen again in late May.

The reasons why should be clear.  Yes, if the Mariners went 3-4 (in every 7-game stretch) the rest of the way, they might actually be halfway respectable.  But there’s no way in HELL they’re going to keep up that pace.  See:  the final 2 Oakland games this weekend.  Or, for that matter, see:  5 of the 7 games last week!

For the official record, I’m going to define “Run Support” from now on as:  scoring 4 or more runs in a 9-inning game.  That’s support.  If your starting pitcher gives up more than 4 runs, then by definition he’s not “Keeping Us In The Game”. 

Well, the Mariners managed exactly 4 runs in the Pineda shutout (and, of course, they clobbered home 13 runs against Detroit).  But, every other game last week, the Mariners went 3 or less!  On the season, the Mariners have scored 3 or less 15 out of 23 games. 

To keep things balanced, that whole “Keeping Us In The Game” thing isn’t really working out either.  In 12 of 23 games, we’ve given up 5 runs or more.  For this team, that’s suicide, plain and simple.

One of those suicide bombers, Josh Lueke, has finally been let out of the noose he’s been hanging himself with all month.  He made 8 appearances this month and has been a total trainwreck in half of them.  Here are the reasons why his Major League ERA now stands at 17.05:

  • 0.2 IP, 4 ER
  • 0.1 IP, 1 ER
  • 0.1 IP, 4 ER
  • 1.0 IP, 3 ER

If you took out his other four appearances where he somehow managed to not give up a run, and JUST counted his ERA from those four appearances, he’d have a whopping 46.29 ERA.  That’s … that’s perfect.

In his place, Dan Cortes returns.  The same Dan Cortes who couldn’t settle down enough in Spring Training to keep a job on the club.  I guess we’ll see.  If he hasn’t lost his fastball like Lueke has, I’ll likely be content.  If he’s the second coming of Joe Table, then we’ve got a problem.

In happy news as I end this:  NO GAME TODAY!  What did I ever do to deserve an 8th Mariner-free day?