The Mariners Lost The Series To The Angels

This was kind of a big deal:  the first series of the year against REALLY your primary rival for the Wild Card.  You figure there are three teams in the A.L. East who are vying for two spots – a division winner and that other Wild Card spot – you figure there’s only one team coming out of the A.L. Central (unless one of the sub-Indians teams goes on a real hot streak), you figure the Astros are eventually going to separate themselves as the clearcut winner of the A.L. West, and it’s going to be a 2-team race for 1 spot between the Mariners and Angels.  If that all proves true, and we figure the Mariners are going to struggle mightily against the Astros, and beat up on most of the lesser teams around baseball, then the measure of the 2018 season is going to come down to how we play against the Angels.  This was, as I said, the first look at how we’d fare against them, and honestly it wasn’t pretty.

Shohei Ohtani was always going to dominate the Mariners.  If you’ve followed the Mariners for any period of time, that was completely obvious to you, because why wouldn’t he?  It’s a guy we all wanted, a guy we thought might want to come here throughout the courtship, and a guy who ultimately not only spurned us, but spurned us for a division rival.  This was – while not a 1 to 1 complete match – A-Rod going to the Rangers all over again.  This was every major prospect we traded away.  This was every guy who stunk for the Mariners and ended up being amazing somewhere else the very next year.  All of that, all rolled into one guy who’s both an amazing hitter and a guy who can throw upwards of 100 miles per hour, while having just the most devastating off-speed pitches in baseball.  There was never a chance he WOULDN’T kick our asses, in spite of some early-season struggles with command or whatever.  That was never going to come into play; he was always going to throw 6+ innings and quite frankly we were LUCKY to get the 2 runs off of him that we got.  I wrote off that Sunday game as a loss the second I saw confirmation he was going to be the starter.  The fact that we lost 8-2 is very disappointing, but I won’t say I was surprised by the number of runs we gave up either.  Felix just isn’t going to be very good against the better offenses of this league, so when the guys aren’t hitting for him, those games are going to be pretty ugly more often than not.

I was much more disappointed in the 5-0 drubbing on Friday.  Mike Leake didn’t look like anything special and the offense was just overwhelmed.  Midway through the game on Saturday – when the Mariners were losing 1-0 and looking similarly overwhelmed offensively – I thought there was a legitimate chance (with Ohtani going the next day) that the Mariners would not only be swept at home, but completely SHUT OUT in a 3-game series, which would have to be up there all-time on the futility list.

I was at the game on Friday and ended up leaving early, which was the appropriate thing to do.  I got my Han Seago bobblehead, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a bobblehead, so I’m happy.  I was also at the game on Saturday, and thank Christ the Mariners started piling on some runs, because I would’ve been pretty distraught if I would’ve paid to watch two demoralizing defeats in a row.

It was 90’s Night on Saturday, and while we got there too late (or went in through the wrong entrance) to get the James Paxton Fanny Pack that I wanted, it’s probably for the best.  Do I really need one more Mariners thing I’m never going to use?  That’s awkward to display?  No thanks.  Losing out on the bobblehead would’ve been far worse.

Anyway, they played like it was the 1990s, as the Mariners hit a bunch (winning 9-8 in 11 innings) and got some really shoddy pitching (particularly from the bullpen, as our top two guys did everything in their power to give this one away).  I had a feeling before the start of the game that it would be high scoring, and even predicted there’d be more than 12 combined runs scored, but I never could’ve imagined the way it happened.  For starters, as I said before, it was 1-0 into the sixth inning.  The Angels hit a 3-run jack to ensure Marco Gonzales wouldn’t survive a 6-inning start totally unscathed.  Down 4-0, that’s when the Mariners embarked upon the big comeback.  There were 2 runs in the bottom of the sixth, then another 4 more in the eighth to take a 2-run lead into the ninth.  That’s when all hell broke loose.

With two outs, Mike Trout hit a double off of Edwin Diaz, and with two strikes, Justin Upton hit a game-tying 2-run home run for Diaz’s first blown save of the year.  Juan Nicasio came in for the 10th and gave up a go-ahead run, followed by the Mariners tying it up in the bottom half of the inning on a single and a throwing error.  Newcomer Erik Goeddel gave up another go-ahead run in the 11th, but this time the Mariners were able to walk it off thanks to an RBI double by Seager and a game-winning single by Healy.

It was one of the more improbable victories you’re ever going to see, and if there’s ANY reason for optimism based on this series, that’s what you’d point to:  this team’s fight.  This team’s elite hitting.  But, overall, the starting pitching was pretty miserable all three games, and the bullpen has proven over this past week that you’re not going to be able to rely upon them 100% of the time.  They’ve shown cracks.  There’s still only 2 guys you can REALLY count upon, and even those guys aren’t perfect.  The more they struggle, the more this team is going to struggle, and the less likely this team will break the playoff drought.

The Mariners went 1-2 against the Angels in this series, and they were MUCH closer to being 0-3 than they were 2-1.  If that continues throughout the season, and we end up somewhere around 6-13 or so against them, that’s ultimately going to be the deciding factor in whether we reach the Wild Card or not.  Anything worse than 9-10 against the Angels is a guaranteed No Playoffs For The Mariners; anything around .500 and we have a shot if we get lucky; anything 11-8 or better and I’ll go on record as saying that’s good enough to get the Mariners in.

So, the question is:  can they do that?  Based on what I saw this weekend, I don’t think so.  Based on what these teams are right now, on paper, if nothing significantly changes, I don’t think the Mariners will be better than the Angels, and I ultimately believe they’ll be maybe 2-3 games out of the Wild Card when the season ends.  Take that or what it’s worth.  It’s still early, there’s a lot that can happen.  I’ll say this:  I don’t think the Angels are DRAMATICALLY better than the Mariners.  I think they’ll have their ups & downs just like we will; they’ll have series where they look like crap too.  But, in the head-to-head matchups, I don’t think we match up well with them, and I think that’s ultimately what’s going to torpedo this season.

It Was Absolutely Okay For Jarrod Dyson To Bunt To Break Up The Perfect Game

Don’t come in here with your macho headgames; this is baseball – ostensibly a kid’s game – there are no points for winning or losing with honor.  To put it another way, you’re no more or less of a man for bunting to get on base as you are clubbing a ball into the outfield.

The unwritten rules of baseball are among the stupidest things in all of sports.  Chief among them is this concept that you shouldn’t try to bunt to break up a perfect game or a no-hitter.  And I’m not buying this whole “grey area” that people are trying to amend to this thing.  What’s the difference between the first batter of a game bunting for a base hit, followed by the pitcher getting 27 consecutive outs, and the last batter of a game bunting for a base hit to break up a perfecto?

The job of a hitter in baseball is to help in the facilitation of scoring runs, by any means necessary.  Obviously, in a close game, people feel it’s perhaps more justified to bunt to break up the no-no than if it were, say, 10-0 in the bottom of the ninth.  But, you know what?  This isn’t Brett Favre giving Michael Strahan a record-breaking sack; as the opposing hitter, you don’t have to lay down and die just so someone else can make history.  If speed is a big part of your game – the way you make your LIVING, by the way – then obviously the bunt is always going to be on the table.  And, if the opposing defense is going to give you this HUGE opening in front of first base – with Miguel Cabrera playing insanely deep against someone known to bunt from time to time – then it’s absolutely your right to do so.  First inning, sixth inning, or last inning.  Having someone throw a perfect game on you in your own stadium?  That’s embarrassing!  Way more embarrassing than the temporary “shame” of bunting to get a hit; even if it’s 10-0 in the bottom of the ninth.

Last night, Justin Verlander was rolling.  He’s usually been really good against the Mariners throughout his career, but this was another level.  16 guys put down to start off the game; 6 of the first 9 hitters struck out and 9 of the first 15.  Good life on his fastball, good movement on his breaking pitches, outstanding command.  It really did look like it was going to take a miracle just to get a guy on base.  I’ll admit, I almost went to bed after the fourth or fifth inning.  I turned the game off, I picked up a book to do some pre-bedtime reading, and right before I considered shuffling off to bed, I checked Twitter.

By this point, the Mariners were down 4-0.  James Paxton looked moderately better than he did last time, but by no means his usual dominant self from before the injury.  With the way Verlander was going, there was just no way this Mariners team could come back!

But, I checked Twitter maybe 30 seconds after the bunt, and immediately flipped over to the game.  I saw Zunino walk, I saw Segura bloop a single in no man’s land that the short stop somehow overran, I saw Gamel continue his torrid June with an RBI single to center, and I saw Robbie Cano strike out.

For what it’s worth, that was a great Cano at bat, but an even-better Verlander sequence.  That strike three was, as Aaron Goldsmith described, vicious.  Unhittable.  But, I also saw a Cano in that at bat who looked remarkably dialed in.  He was JUUUUST missing, but his timing was getting awfully close.  Close enough that it would only be a matter of time before he started making a huge impact offensively.

That put the M’s at two outs in the inning, though, with only 1 run to show for their rally.  Forget the bunt, forget the perfect game and all that, the Mariners had an opportunity here!  But, they couldn’t let having men on second and third – with the heart of their lineup at the plate – go by without scoring more than just the 1 run.  Thankfully, Nelson Cruz got ahold of a curveball and roped it into left field.  To my horror, it looked like Justin Upton might come up with the diving catch to rip our collective guts out, but he came up empty and the Mariners got to within 4-3, with three full innings left to play (and knocked Verlander out of the game in the process).

Mitch Haniger – dropped to 7th in the lineup, with the return of Jean Segura from the DL (the Mariners opted to keep Ben Gamel’s .350+ batting average in the 2-hole, at least against righties, and at least for the time being) – led off the seventh with solo blast to tie the game.  With the Tigers’ bullpen sucking all ass around town, this thing felt attainable!  They got a couple quick outs, but then the rally train started chugging down the tracks again.

Segura walked and Gamel singled to set the table for Cano.  Yep, that Cano.  The one who, quite frankly, hasn’t been all that good lately.  Coming into the game, he had all of 2 extra-base hits in the month of June, and I don’t know if he’s been all that right since he went on the DL back in May.  Obviously, he’s getting his hits, and he’s playing through some pain, and you commend him for that, but he hasn’t been that dynamic superstar we’ve seen him be, at least for the last few weeks.

But, he was due, and he made good on that by lining a double into the gap in right-center field to score Segura and Gamel and give the Mariners an improbable 2-run lead.  Cruz would subsequently single in Cano to give the M’s a 3-run cushion, and the damage was done.

Of course, I don’t know if the Mariners would’ve been able to salvage this game without some excellent bullpen work.  Tony Zych came into the game in relief of Paxton, with 1 out and 2 on.  They’d JUST scored two runs to give them their 4-run lead.  But, Zych not only shut them down, he went another inning on top of it without giving up a run.  Then, after finally getting a day off the night before, Nick Vincent kept the Tigers off the scoreboard in the eighth.  And, in a somewhat questionable move, Scott Servais opted to throw Edwin Diaz out there for a fourth consecutive day.  He looked a little wild, and grooved a solo homer to Ian Kinsler; things got really interesting when Cabrera walked to the plate with a runner on first in a 7-5 ballgame.  Cabrera is always an MVP-type threat – even if he’s not having that sort of season this year – but that’s not what really terrified me.  I was worried what would happen if Cabrera simply singled or walked or otherwise got on base for J.D. Martinez, because HE’S the real killer on that team right now.

Honestly, if Cabrera would’ve gotten on base, I would’ve chosen to walk Martinez.  If I’m being REALLY honest?  I might have intentionally walked both of those guys to load the bases for Justin Upton; but I guess that’s why they don’t pay me the big bucks to manage a Major League Baseball team (yes, THAT is the reason).

Instead, Diaz worked ahead in the count to Cabrera, and got him to roll over on one to short stop to end the game.

I’m not gonna lie to you, that game was one for the ages.  An Instant Classic, at least from a Mariners perspective.  I have no idea what it’ll all mean in the grand scheme of things, but isn’t it funny how it took all of that for the Mariners to get back to .500 again, this time at 37-37?

Isn’t it ALSO funny that in today’s slot in the rotation, we were due to start Yovani Gallardo?  Our WORST starting pitcher?

Well, it’s like Dipoto and Company knew I’d be freaking out today, because we’ve got moves!

The first, I’ve already alluded to:  Jean Segura returned, with Tyler Smith going back to Tacoma.  Thanks for the memories Smith, but your services will no longer be required.

The second was an absolute shocker:  hotshot prospect Andrew Moore was called up, with Christian Bergman being sent down (and Tyler Cloyd being DFA’d to make room on the 40-man).  I talked about it yesterday, and it looks like the Mariners and I were simpatico on the whole Bergman vs. Gaviglio argument, because Gaviglio keeps his spot in the rotation (set to start this Saturday) at least until Iwakuma returns from his rehab assignment.

Andrew Moore was a second round pick in 2015, and one of the top prospects in the Mariners’ farm system.  He apparently throws in the low-90s, but has great command of the strike zone, doesn’t walk many guys, and has excelled at every level.  In his first professional season, he dominated in Everett.  In 2016, he split time between high-A ball and AA.  Then, this year, he appeared in 6 games in AA before being promoted to AAA.  He appeared in 8 games in Tacoma and now he’s here.  Not only is he here, but his Major League career is getting STARTED.  He’s not up for a spot start, or to help out in the bullpen in long relief like most of these jokers we’ve brought up from Tacoma; Andrew Moore is getting the start TONIGHT, in place of one Yovani Gallardo.

SQUEE!!!

Sorry, not sorry, but once I realized he last started for Tacoma last Thursday, I was able to put 2+2 together and come to the hypothesis that he was going to take Gallardo’s job.  Bergman goes to Tacoma, because apparently he was always going to go to Tacoma regardless, but if my hypothesis holds true, the Mariners will hold onto Gallardo through tonight’s game – in case Moore’s jitters get the better of him and he’s overwhelmed by the Tigers – and then they’ll DFA him when they officially bring Felix back onto the roster.

In other words, unless something crazy happens, we officially have one more day with Yovani Gallardo in our lives.

And I know what you’re thinking, sour grapes and all.  Normally, I don’t root for people to lose their jobs, but he’ll be fine.  He’s a fucking multi-millionaire who will DEFINITELY get another shot with some other team.  So, don’t cry for Gallardo; it’s what’s best for everyone.

I mean, this has to be what’s happening, right?  They’ve already officially named Gaviglio the starter for Saturday; I don’t think they’re just going to change their minds and send him down when Felix returns on Friday.  The only other move is to keep Gallardo in the bullpen and send someone like Altavilla down to continue to work on his game.  At this point, I’d say it’s 50/50 between those two things, but I’ll say this:  if Gallardo’s main problem has been giving up too many runs early in games (18 of the 54 runs he’s given up this year – or a full 33% – have been in the first innings of his starts; he’s got a first inning ERA of nearly 11!), what makes you think we can trust him in a relief role?  As a reliever, you have to be able to shut guys down RIGHT AWAY!  There isn’t time to have one big inning, settle into a game, and make it up by throwing 4-5 shutout innings after that.

So, I dunno.  All I know is I’m going to the game tonight with my brochachos and I have the good fortune of witnessing Andrew Moore’s Major League debut and NOT Yovani Gallardo’s final start in a Mariners uniform.  Yep, I’m pretty pumped.

The Mariners Played Past Midnight, Rewarded The Insane Who Stayed Up So Late

I’m not gonna lie to you, it wasn’t looking good last night.  Wade LeBlanc just didn’t have it (certainly a byproduct of the Tigers absolutely destroying soft-tossing left-handed pitching), barely made it through 5 innings while giving up 4 runs, and the offense was sputtering.  Down 3-0, I tuned into the horror show that was the fourth inning.  Cano doubled to lead off the inning and Cruz tripled him in (any competent outfielder would’ve caught that ball for an out, but that’s neither here nor there) to get one back.  With no outs, Dae-ho Lee and Kyle Seager both proceeded to fly out to center, neither of which were deep enough to allow Cruz to tag up (apparently, although it sure seemed like he could’ve scored on Lee’s ball).  Once we officially Iannetta’d up that scoring opportunity, stranding Cruz at third base, I wouldn’t have blamed myself or any of you for changing the channel or just going to bed extra early.  Gotta get that beauty sleep for the Guns N’ Roses show on Friday!

I did, indeed, dip in and out of the game, thanks to various distractions.  I was down a mid-90s Aphex Twin worm hole on YouTube when Kyle Seager bashed his game-tying 3-run home run in the bottom of the 8th, but I was more or less glued to the TV from the 9th inning on.  Every strike out!  Every man left on base!  Every time a guy swung for the fences instead of just trying to get on base and string some hits together!  I was there!  On my couch!  Ready to drop this game like a bad habit at the first sign of danger!

The bullpen, to its credit, was phenomenal.  I can’t keep track of all the roster moves this team has made over the last couple months, so I really don’t know who’s injured, who’s in Tacoma, who’s been picked up by other teams, and apparently how many people we actually have in our bullpen at the moment!  Somewhere in there, in between the trade for Arquimedes Caminero (2 scoreless last night), and the return of Nick Vincent from the DL (1 scoreless, in his first action since June 26th), the Mariners were working with a 6-man bullpen as of yesterday.  That will surely change today – since all 6 of them pitched last night, 1-2 innings each – but all 6 of those guys need to be commended for throwing a combined 9 shutout innings.  Most remarkable of all was probably Tom Wilhelmsen in the 14th, who allowed the bases to be loaded with only 1 out, before somehow getting out of the inning unscathed.  It would be foolish to expect every single member of the bullpen to be ON in the same game, but to see him fight back and get out of trouble was a nice little boost in the 11pm hour.

I won’t lump Ariel Miranda in with the rest of the bullpen, because he was actually slotted to be Friday’s starter in Oakland.  He may still start that day anyway, as yesterday was a regular bullpen day for him, but he sure as shit wasn’t sharp last night.  It might be a coincidence that the Tigers scored all of their runs against the only left-handed pitchers we opted to use Hi Vidal Nuno!, but they seemed to blast Miranda with relative ease, leading me to think they probably hit lefties pretty well over in Detroit.  Granted, Victor Martinez – who hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the 15th – hits everyone well, from both sides of the plate.  But, the next batter had a sharp single to center, followed by 2 line outs to help Miranda get out of the inning.  The fact that Miranda gave up only the one run was probably the best case scenario.

Which brought us to the bottom of the 15th.  The Tigers, in all of that insanity, managed to preserve their closer all that way!  Francisco Rodriguez is a longtime veteran with 418 career saves.  And, by the numbers, it looks like he’s having another rock solid season this year, with 32 saves against only (now) 3 blown saves (after last night’s game).  But, SPOILER ALERT:  the Mariners apparently handle this guy pretty well (I was going to look for the exact numbers, but Baseball Reference is shitting the bed on his splits page right now).  No matter, because last night is all that I care about.  And, in the bottom of the 15th, with one out, Cruz walked, Lind dropped a single into right field (a byproduct of the outfielders playing so deep to “take away the double”), and Seager went the other way with a single-turned-double thanks to an outfield bobble.

THAT, right there, is exactly what I was looking for.  They don’t all have to be walk-off home runs!  Them shits is hard to hit!  But, get you some walks and some singles going, and now you’ve got the pitcher in trouble.  Now, you’ve got the pitcher throwing many multiple pressure pitches.  And, if you find the right guy on the right day, it’s only a matter of time before he succumbs to the pressure and gives you something good to hit.  In this scenario, of course, you have to look at that pitch to Seager – fat, juicy, right in the middle of the plate.  The fact that he went the other way with it – when everyone expects him to pull the ball at all times – was the cherry on top.

The MVP of the game probably goes to Justin Upton on that bobble of Seager’s hit.  If he doesn’t botch-toe that thing, I highly doubt Lind gets to third base.  It’s impossible to know what would’ve happened had he come up with it cleanly, but in this hypothetical scenario, it’s likely Zunino doesn’t get the game winning hit, and he’s followed by Leonys Martin who struck out a whopping 5 times in 6 official at bats (what comes after Golden Sombrero, btw?).  BUT, thanks to Upton, Lind DID get to third base, and all it took was a Zunino sac fly to center – this time, thankfully, deep enough to test the dude’s arm – to bring home the winning run and let us all go to bed early (Wednesday morning).  Shit, if it weren’t for Upton, they might still be playing baseball and I might literally be dead by my own hands!

As I noted above, today the Mariners are certain to make a move for bullpen help.  It’s also the final game in the series, with King Felix on the mound.  I’m sure he’s going to INTEND to bring his A-Game, and try to go at least 8 innings tonight, but he’s been a little dodgy since his return from the DL, so I don’t think it’s something we can depend upon.  However, if he does return to form, tonight would be the perfect time.  Save the bullpen, with an off-day/travel day tomorrow, followed by 20 games in a row.  They’re all important, they’re all must-win, but winning tonight would be extra special.

Still: Kam Chancellor Is A Seattle Seahawk

There are levels of fanfare with any given sports team transaction.  At the top of the list is signing a superstar, best-at-his-position free agent right at the beginning of his prime.  That’s, you know, if you’re a good team or on the cusp of being a good team already.  Otherwise, you’ll take just a half a notch below that level, which is:  having the #1 pick and drafting the next Peyton Manning.

New players are usually going to trump existing players on the excitement factor.  When people think about the most recent Mariners off-season, they think of Mike Morse, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, and Jason Bay.  They also think about the ones that got away like Justin Upton, Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Mike Napoli and the like.  Then, after being reminded about it, they remember that one Felix Hernandez was re-signed to a long extension.  He’s the best player on the team!  And his extension is almost an afterthought!

Now, recall that Iwakuma was also signed to an extension.  Mind. Blown.

When you’re a fan of a good team, or just a regular team with good players, you tend to want to lock up your guys.  The guys who make the team good; especially if they’re draft picks.  You’re invested!  You’re invested because Seattle is all they’ve ever known, because you’ve been watching them for a few years, and because you like to rub it in the faces of everyone else.  Oh yeah, WE drafted this Pro Bowler in the 5th round, because we’re smarter than you!  And by the way, YOU can’t have him!

It’s a little more satisfying when you’re talking about Felix Hernandez, and you’re thumbing your nose at the New York Yankees, but there’s not really a New York Yankees equivalent in the NFL.  Nevertheless, these are the good times.  This is a good thing that happened, and it often goes overlooked when taken in the big picture.

When people think about this offseason for the Seahawks, they’re going to think of Percy Harvin, our defensive line free agents, Antoine Winfield, trading away Matt Flynn, and maybe at the end of it all they’ll remember, “That’s right, we also re-signed Kam to a 4-year extension!”

Even though, arguably, this is the most important deal of them all.  Most people would point to Percy Harvin, but I’m not so sure.  Yeah, Harvin’s deal was more costly.  It got more press.  But, in the long run, there’s a lot to like about the Kam deal.

It’s vital to take care of your guys.  We’ve got a SHITLOAD of guys on this team to extend in the next few years.  Locking down Kam at a reasonable rate now not only sets a nice precedent (guys seeing other guys being taken care of, they’re more apt to expect a similar conclusion), but it sets a reasonable rate.  We didn’t just sell the farm to extend Kam; we brought him back for $17 million guaranteed, spread out over the next five years.  Which, I’m sure if worse came to worse, we could restructure in three.

It just feels … right.  Don’t you feel a little more at ease than you did at this time yesterday?  Getting guys extended before they hit the open market is one of my favorite things in sports.  Right up there with building your football team through the offensive and defensive lines.  I’m so satisfied right now, I think I could use a cigarette!

The 2013 Seattle Mariners Will Not Make The Playoffs (Obviously)

Over the weekend, I wrote this.  It was a Glass Half Full (or, really, just a Glass Full) imagining of how the Seattle Mariners might make the playoffs ahead of schedule.  Of course, if you’re a Glass Half Empty guy like myself, “ahead of schedule” could be making the playoffs anytime in the next 20 years.

Today, ahead of Game 1 of 162, featuring Felix Hernandez against the Oakland Athletics, I’m writing the counter-argument.  The Wario to Saturday’s Mario.  The Darth Vader to Saturday’s Luke Skywalker.  The Van Halen with Gary Cherone to Saturday’s Van Halen with Diamond David Lee Roth.  Nobody wants to read about THESE Mariners when you could possibly have Saturday’s Mariners.  But, the stark reality is, if I’m putting my Smart Money down on one or the other, I’m putting it down on the Mariners NOT making the playoffs.  Because the Mariners making the playoffs is not the way the world works.

Let’s look at this realistically for a moment.  Justin Smoak is who we thought he was.  That’s going to be proven in this, his final season as a Mariner (or, at least, his final season as a Mariners starter).  The guy can be Mr. March and Mr. September all he wants.  But, he’s going to have to figure out a way to be Mr. April thru August too, if he’s going to make it.  I know he’s young, and we like to shield the young from the rigorous pressures of the Major Leagues, but at some point you have to prove that you can HANDLE some of those pressures.  You can’t be coddled forever!  Mike Trout is young, and he seemed to handle those same pressures pretty fucking well.  I’m not saying Smoak is on a similar talent level as Trout, but that’s neither here nor there.  Emotionally speaking, Trout is in another league.  Smoak is like an infant trying to cross the street in Frogger.  How about we grow the fuck up and start doing our jobs, huh?

I’m not nearly as down on Jesus Montero as I am with Smoak.  That’s probably because I haven’t been crushingly disappointed for quite as long.  Still, for a guy who was the centerpiece of the offseason prior to last season, it’s a little disconcerting to know that he’s simply a stopgap solution to our catching needs.  That is, until Mike Zunino arrives.  Essentially, I don’t give a flying fuck what Montero does behind the plate this year.  He could be the second coming of Rob Johnson for all I care.  This dude needs to hit, plain and simple.  The writing has never been more ON the wall:  Jesus Montero is our future full-time DH.  So, you know, I’d like to have a DH that hits .330 with 40 doubles and 30 homers.  If that’s all right with you.

I do still believe in the protection theory, and I do think that Morales and Morse were admirable pick-ups this past offseason.  But, how much can you expect, really?  Every time I see a ball hit his way, I’m going to wonder if THIS is the moment where Morse hurts himself and goes on the shelf.  I’m going to be an absolute trainwreck this first month of the season; it’s probably best I DON’T have cable.  There is no way in Hell that Morse stays healthy all season (that goes double for Guti, but I’m getting ahead of myself).  And when he is healthy, what have we got?  MAYBE a guy who’ll hit .270 (but don’t be surprised if he hits .230, because Seattle).  MAYBE a guy who will end up with 20-or-so home runs.  MAYBE a guy who will play in 100-or-so games.  Who’s going to make up that slack?  Guys like Ibanez and Bay?  Oh, great.

For the record, I think Ibanez is done.  I think this will prove to be his final season EVER.  Seattle is where old players go to die (Sexson, Vidro, Everett, Griffey, Wilkerson, Sweeney).  Ibanez had a reasonably productive season last year in part-time duty.  But, he still only hit .240.  As for his 19 home runs, we’re still talking about the band box that is Yankees Stadium.  14 of those 19 were hit at home.  Now, Safeco Field is his home.  I would expect that average to be a whole lot worse and I would expect those power numbers to approach zero.

As for Jason Bay, I give him two months, tops.  He’ll show why he was so expendable and so loathed in New York.  I would anticipate the likes of Eric Thames back in a Mariners uniform before too long.

Getting back to Morales, I think he is a legitimately good hitter.  He might be the best hitter on this team.  But, I still have to wonder how playing in Seattle is going to affect him.  I highly doubt he WANTS to be here.  He’s a professional, so he’s not going to make a big fuss.  But, to anyone who is holding out hope that he might choose to sign an extension with the Mariners, I would say, “Just put that idea to bed.”  No way.  No way in HELL he comes back to Seattle.  If he’s not traded at the deadline, then we are essentially resigning ourselves to getting nothing for the man as he walks at the end of the season.  And oh by the way, I would expect his numbers to take a drop as well.  He’s in Seattle now.  “When in Rome,” as they say.

Kyle Seager was a nice little story in 2012, but my concern is this:  what if that’s as good as it gets?  Dustin Ackley was a less-nice story in 2012, but again my concern is the same.  I think if you put these guys in Colorado, they might be All Stars.  But, in Seattle, I have to wonder.

As for Michael Saunders, I have a sinking suspicion that he’s going to revert back to his old ways.  Not hitting that outside pitch.  Striking out too much.  With a batting average around .200.  Everyone will make a big deal about him being in the leadoff spot being too great a challenge.  The team will bounce him up and down the lineup.  And by season’s end, he would have been benched long ago, but of course we’ll need him to cover center field because GUTI!

Chone Figgins was a disappointment because we all had these great expectations of him being a pest at or near the top of our lineup.  He ended up being one of those old players who comes to Seattle to die.  Franklin Gutierrez is a disappointment because of similar expectations.  But, he’s not a bad player.  His skills haven’t diminished!  At least, I don’t THINK they have.  Then again, what would I know?  I haven’t seen him play an extended stretch of pain-free baseball in quite some time.  Guti isn’t old, but he’s a player who has come to Seattle, where he might LITERALLY die.  Someone find the old witch who cursed him and drive a stake through her cold, black heart.

I actually kind of think Brendan Ryan is due for a rebound at the plate.  Unfortunately, I also kind of think Brendan Ryan is due for a serious injury that keeps him out for a few months.

Which is something I never did get into over the weekend.  Injuries.  Everyone gets ’em!  And you never anticipate ’em when you’re trying to predict what’s going to happen in a given season.  You can look at an older team and say, “Hey, these guys will probably hurt themselves!”  But, we’re not fortune tellers.  Someone (or some ones) on the Mariners will get hurt.  It’ll set the team back.  And their replacements will be terrible.  Or, they’ll get hurt, not tell anyone, try to play through the pain, and be WORSE than the already-terrible replacements.  So, there’s that.

***

In 2013, it’ll be Felix and hope for four days of rain.  OK, maybe it won’t be that bad, but still, there’s a lot to dislike.  Saunders will be decent at times, and he will be awful at times.  Iwakuma will be good at times, and kinda bad at times.  Beavan will start the season pretty well, but by June or July he will be down in Tacoma where he belongs.  Maurer is the ultimate wild card, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s demoted within the next four weeks (or just as soon as Erasmo Ramirez is ready).  I think Maurer will eventually return, but who knows how this will shake his confidence?

Here’s the thing, though.  If the Mariners DID make the playoffs, how could anyone POSSIBLY trust this pitching staff?  Yeah, we’ve got Felix, but any team we’d play in the post-season has their own version of Felix too!  And they will be pitching against the Mariners, which means his numbers will likely be BETTER than Felix’s!  Shit, the Mariners had Randy Johnson in 1997 leading the charge, and he wasn’t enough to even get us to a fifth game in the first round!  I wouldn’t exactly say it was his fault; but, then again, I wouldn’t say he was throwing any 1-hitters either.

Felix is great.  He’s my favorite all-time Mariner for a reason.  But, he’s not perfect.  A theoretical 2013 Mariners playoff team will have relied on his arm for 230+ innings ahead of any playoff game.  It wouldn’t shock me in the least to see him be mortal against a team like the Tigers or Yankees.  Especially when they have Verlander and Sabathia, who (especially Sabathia) have tended to dominate the M’s.

After Felix, your playoff rotation is fucked.  Like I alluded to over the weekend, if this team makes the playoffs, it will be because Brandon Maurer was our second-best pitcher.  It will be because he reached his potential (which is so much higher than the potential of Saunders, Iwakuma, Beavan, or Ramirez) and posted a ridiculous win/loss record.  But, at the same time, if he does that, he won’t be with us in the playoffs (because he’ll be shut down).  We’ll be stuck with cagey veterans like Saunders and Iwakuma.  They will get rocked.  We will likely be swept in the first round.

So, you know, it’s probably for the best that this team won’t make the playoffs.  Why suffer the embarrassment?

As for the bullpen, I do like it a lot.  From top to bottom, I think it can be one of the best in baseball.  But, Pryor could struggle with command.  Capps could struggle with command.  Luetge could get shelled.  Perez could get shelled.  From season to season, no numbers fluctuate so wildly as bullpen numbers.  You can be the same exact pitcher from season to season, with the same level of health and the same speed on your fastball.  But, for reasons unknown, you can dominate one year with a sub-2 ERA, and you can somewhat struggle the next, with a sub-5 ERA.  It’s insane.

As for the rest of the AL West, I do think the A’s are a flash in the pan.  I think the Rangers will hang in there for a possible Wild Card spot.  And, I think the Angels will run away with the division and win 100 games.  You know what else I think?  I think the rest of the division will feast upon the entrails of the Houston Astros (last night’s game against the Rangers notwithstanding), while I think the Mariners will actually manage a losing record against them.  Wouldn’t that be too perfect?  What’s one of the major storylines going into this season?  Everyone thinks the Mariners will have a better record than last year, and everyone thinks that’s because they get 19 games against the Astros.  Well, I’m here to tell you right now, the Mariners will go 9-10 against the Astros, and it’s going to be a dogfight to avoid last place in the division!

No.  No, I don’t really believe the Mariners will battle for 5th place.  In fact, I DO believe the Mariners will contend for some stretch of time this year and that they WILL end up over .500.  I think we’ll get to July 31st right in the middle of the fracas for a Wild Card spot and I think we will actually be BUYERS.  I really do.  Jackie Z has shown he’s willing to trade from a position of strength (starting pitching) to get what this team needs.  So, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another package of players a la the doomed Justin Upton deal going out for a big bat coming back in.  Or, shit, maybe the Mariners go out and get a veteran starting pitcher (not believing their young guys in Tacoma are ready for the leap).  These Mariners will ultimately fade in August (just in time for football season) and September will be entirely meaningless.

I’ve felt the way I feel right now prior to 2007 and 2009.  My outward expectations low, but inwardly thinking, “Hmm, maybe …”

When going into those seasons, my motto was, “Just keep it interesting.”  Just keep us all entertained through the summer.  I don’t need miracles!  I don’t necessarily need a playoff appearance.  Just … let me dream, beyond the month of May.  Give me good things to write about.  Make me wish I actually DID have cable TV.

That’s the way I feel about 2013.  I know that’s totally the kind of Seattle Loser Talk I normally condemn on this site, but the Mariners have broken me.  They have sucked my will to live for far too long, and I doubt there’s any coming back.  I’m a broken shell of a man whose innards have dried up and been replaced by sawdust.  Just entertain me.  Just make me forget the horror I’ve been forced to follow for most of the past decade.  That’s all I ask.  And it’s not a lot TO ask!

87-75.  That’s my number.  It’s actually kind of a high number, now that I think about all this ranting and raving I’ve been doing throughout the duration of this post, but that’s what I’m going with.  I think this bullpen will more than likely be the real deal – at least when it counts, in one-run games – and I think there will be just enough clutch hitting to make up for all the recent Mariners teams who have struggled with runners in scoring position.  It doesn’t make sense, but then again it doesn’t HAVE to make sense.  The Mariners will go 9-10 against the Astros, but they will still be in some form of contention for a Wild Card spot.  Because sometimes, that’s just the way it works.

And, really, it’s not all that far off from the 95 wins I predicted in my Fancy-Free post over the weekend.  So remember, as always, I’m a huge tool who has no idea what he’s talking about.

Brandon Maurer Cracks The Opening Week Starting Rotation

In short:  I’m for it.

Boom.  Post finished.

OK, not so fast.  I guess I’ll throw some weight behind this argument a little bit.  What we’re talking about here is a situation where there were two open spots in the rotation.  Originally, there were five guys realistically in the running:  Jon Garland, Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, Jeremy Bonderman, and Brandon Maurer.  Coming into Spring Training, everyone believed Bonderman was one of the longest shots simply because he’s older, he’s coming off an injury, he hasn’t pitched in a while, and even when he WAS healthy, he wasn’t that good.  But, you know, you sign him to a minor league deal, you throw a pittance at him, you invite him to camp, and you see what he can do.

Garland, in my opinion, was the biggest lock of the group.  Granted, he too was coming off of a major injury and a major layoff from pitching, but he struck me as a guy who was a little farther along in his recovery (having almost pitched last season before shutting himself down as a precautionary measure) and he was a guy with a better track record of success.  Aside from this one injury, he’d had a nice career eating up innings and doing just enough on the field to make himself useful.

In between those two extremes, you had three younger guys of varying Major League experience (ranging from Some to None), all with minor league options.  You could make the argument for any of those guys to start the season in Tacoma.  Beavan could’ve used more time in the minors to work on his new delivery.  Ramirez could’ve used more time to work on his secondary pitches.  Maurer could’ve used more seasoning, especially considering he has never even pitched in triple-A (let alone the Majors).  Of the three, Beavan has the most experience in the Majors, but he also has the lowest upside.  Maurer has no experience, but he has the highest upside; so the argument for starting him in Tacoma is probably even stronger because you’d delay starting his service time and have an extra year’s worth of team control at a reasonable-to-cheap salary.

But, you know, say what you will about the Seattle Mariners:  they don’t run their organization worrying about things like “service time” and “team control”.  Which is weird, because I’ve been killing this team for YEARS now for being so tight-fisted with their money and throwing away season after season in the name of lowering payroll (under the guise of “rebuilding” and “doing things the right way”).  But, they did it with Michael Pineda in 2011 and they’re doing it now, in 2013, with Brandon Maurer.

That isn’t to say they’re rushing these guys to the Majors.  In 2011, the Mariners had alternatives to Pineda, just as this year they have had alternatives to Maurer.  However, the sticky situation with Garland opting out of his deal last week, combined with Ramirez’s arm strength issues, pretty much made this a no-brainer.  Yeah, Maurer has pitched amazingly this spring, but it feels to me that this is more out of default than it is because he stormed onto the scene a la Pineda.

In 2011, all anyone could talk about was Pineda’s stuff.  His extreme fastball and his wicked curve.  He was a dynamo and it would’ve been an absolute crime to leave him off of the Major League roster.  This year … I mean, I guess some people talk about Maurer’s stuff.  But, it’s more in conjunction with his poise, his command, and his depth of arsenal.  Guy’s got four pitches and he can throw them in any count AND THAT’S GREAT.  But, does he have a 98 mile per hour fastball and gigantic hands that make the baseball look like a golf ball?

What I’m getting at is:  there isn’t quite the buzz surrounding Maurer that there was when Pineda cracked the team.  More than anything, that probably dates back to hype and expectations.  People were talking about Pineda in Seattle when he was an infant.  Maurer’s hype has been mired behind The Big Three of Hultzen, Paxton, and Walker.  Maurer – through his play last year (where he pitched in 24 AA games and generated 117 strikeouts in 137.2 innings, earning Pitcher of the Year honors in the Southern League) – worked his way into fans reluctantly re-dubbing them The Big Four, but even then no one really took him as seriously as the other three (or even Pineda, for that matter, when he was Mariners property).  Think about how you felt when the Mariners were trying to trade for Justin Upton and reports were coming out that one of The Big Three was being offered.  You weren’t sitting there wringing your hands, worrying about losing Brandon Maurer to the Diamondbacks, were you?

But, who knows?  Maybe you SHOULD have been concerned.  Because here he is, at the top of the mountain as the dust settles on this starting rotation race.  And I, for one, can’t wait to see how it shakes out.  Like many of you, I’d rather see the young guy with the serious upside in the Majors over a guy like Garland or Bonderman – neither of whom have any future with this team.  Yeah, Maurer will be on a strict pitch limit (a la Pineda in 2011).  Yeah, if the Mariners find themselves in contention in September, we will all be talking about how the M’s are planning on shutting Maurer down pretty soon (a la Strasburg with the Nationals).  And yeah, if Maurer sticks, we’re talking about losing a year’s worth of team control.  But, in the long run, I think this is really going to be worth our while.

Get the kid’s feet wet now, when we’re still not realistically expected to challenge for anything in the American League.  Get him that rookie experience now, so when next year comes around and the Mariners are looking to do even MORE damage, we won’t have to worry about Maurer’s pitch counts as much.  We won’t have to worry about shutting him down after five months.  Obviously, we’ll still be bringing him along slowly on the innings pitched front, but it won’t be as severe.  If we find ourselves in contention in 2014, and Maurer is leading the charge, we won’t lose him for any playoff run.

I know this is a lot of Big Think coming from a guy who generally believes this team is going to suck balls (until they show me otherwise) for years and years to come.  But, for entertainment’s sake, I’m GLAD we didn’t retain the Kevin Millwood type.  I’m GLAD the rookie gets a chance to prove himself.  And if he goes out and does the job, maybe that’ll give this organization more confidence going into next year.  They’ll be able to trust OTHER rookies.  They won’t have to bother with the runaround of giving aging, washed-up veterans minor league deals with Spring Training invites.  They won’t have to be so concerned with a “veteran presence” and they can, instead, just go with the best players available – regardless of age or Major League experience.

There’s a lot riding on this kid’s shoulders.  But, based on his Spring Training (2 runs in 20 innings, with 6 walks and 22 strikeouts), he has certainly earned it.

Free Agent Watch: Squee! Mariners Extend Felix Hernandez

They lop off the remaining two years of the deal (2013, 2014, $20 million per) and they tack on 7 years at $25 million per (running through the end of the 2019 season, for a total of $175 million).

This isn’t Josh Hamilton.  This isn’t Nick Swisher.  This isn’t Michael Bourn or Justin Upton or whoever the hell else is out there (or was out there).

This is better.

This doesn’t solve our current need for another starting pitcher for 2013.  This doesn’t automatically make our minor league pitching studs ready for prime time.  In fact, this really doesn’t change a thing about the 2013 team whatsoever!

But, this is still the greatest thing, by far, the Seattle Mariners have accomplished in their pre-2013 offseason.  Fret not, I’m planning to blow it all out with a Season Preview in the next week or so, so I’ll try to not completely spoil my appetite on this topic.  But, when you’re talking about the best moves of an offseason, and at the top of the list is a guy you traded for (Morales) who is only on a 1-year deal … and by moving a starting pitcher (Vargas), you might have actually hurt your team as much as you just helped it … I would say that offseason deserves a big, fat F.

With Felix in the fold for an additional five seasons on top of the two seasons we originally had him, it turns a nothing-offseason into a something-offseason.  We’re looking at like a C-minus.

When I know more about where the last remaining big free agents end up (and when we finally see what the Mariners plan to do about the back-end of their rotation that isn’t Hector Noesi), I’ll come back with a full preview.  Until then:  REJOICE!  Felix is here, he isn’t going anywhere!

Free Agent Watch: There Are No Free Agents, There Is Only Zuul

The Dodgers signed Zack Greinke, the Reds traded for Shin-Soo Choo, the Angels have now signed Josh Hamilton to 5 years, $125 million.

The Mariners have signed Jason Bay.

I’m not going to sit here and kill the Mariners for not giving truckloads of money to Greinke or Hamilton, just as I’m not going to kill them for not trading away truckloads of prospects for Choo or Justin Upton.  As with any deal, you have to consider the risk/reward factor.  If you’re a team that’s a piece or two away from legitimately contending for a championship (unlike those 2008 or 2010 Mariners teams, coming off winning records in 2007 and 2009 respectively), then it’s okay to assume a little more risk in trading away the farm for an impact bat.  Especially if that impact bat will reward you with getting over that hump.

Unfortunately, the Mariners aren’t a piece or two away.  They’re about 9 or 10 pieces away.  EVERYONE on the team, except for a select few, sucked last year.  Of course, we’re not going to overhaul a team like this just because Ackley and Smoak had down years; you’re going to give them another chance and hope they improve.  That having been said, it would be pointless to trade away all those farm animals we’ve cultivated just to bring in one guy.  That’s risking EVERYTHING, with the reward being … what?  1/9 of your offense?  Just so we can start all over trying to re-stock our farm system?  No thank you.  And what happens if that one bat is a bust?  Then, we’re royally fucked once again.

As far as I’m concerned, trading prospects for other prospects is a risky venture.  Robbing Peter (our wealth of pitching in the upper Minor Leagues) to pay Paul (our dearth of hitting at the lower Major Leagues) doesn’t exactly give me the biggest boner in the world.  Everyone talks about the Mariners and their minor league pitching like we’ve got it growing on trees, when really we’ve just got a small handful of guys.  And each of them struggled in the second half of last season, so who knows if even THEY will pan out?

The fact of the matter is, they’re prospects.  And if you’re trying to trade prospects for legitimate Big League Bats, you’re going to need to trade A FUCK-TON of prospects to get what you’re looking for.  Prospects flame out all the time!  That’s just the nature of the beast.  But, they don’t ALWAYS flame out.  Sometimes, they turn into All Stars.  At which point, you really regret your decisions when you trade away All Stars and you get benchwarmers in return.

Again, that’s the risk.  There’s also the matter of value.  We, obviously, value our prospects a lot more than other teams.  We know them, we’ve grown with them, and we’re also tainted because they’re ours and we want so desperately for them to be good.  Other teams don’t have that kind of attachment.  Likewise, other teams aren’t trying to help us out.  They want theirs.  They want to take as many prospects away from us as humanly possible.  What would be the incentive for them to just give away proven bats with team-control?  That’s why it takes five guys to bring back one good guy.  And if that one good guy turns into Erik Bedard, while a number of the other guys turn into All Stars, that’s how people lose their jobs.

People talk about trading prospects like it’s just this easy thing to do.  That Jackie Z can wrinkle his nose and make a trade appear out of thin air.  But, really, at this point we’re talking about a team (The Seattle Mariners) who isn’t even REMOTELY on the cusp of contending.  It will take three or four additions, and a lot of improvement by guys already on the team, to make the Mariners into a playoff contender.  So, trading the farm for one impact bat is out.  At this point, if I’m in charge, I’m only comfortable with something along the lines of last year’s Pineda for Montero swap.  A one-for-one type of deal that brings back seemingly equal value.  A high-end pitcher prospect for a high-end hitter prospect.

Of course, that still leaves us with Free Agency.

Free Agency.  Man, talk about a losing proposition!

For starters, the best free agents almost NEVER see the light of day!  If you’re smart, and you’ve got a hot-shot young stud still under team control, you’ll extend them out beyond the point where their rookie deal ends (like with the way the Mariners extended Felix).  And, if that player just so happens to be the face of your franchise, at the end of THAT deal, you’ll extend them again.  Because you have to reward your very best players, no matter the cost.

You extend them through what you believe to be their primes.  Once they’ve reached the end of their extension, you should have a good idea on whether or not they’re on the downside of their careers.  At which point, even though they’re on the downside, if they were ever any good, they’re probably coming off of a really great season.  That’s when you’re talking about a guy who wants one final HUGE contract.  It’s at THAT point, you let them test the waters.  See:  Albert Pujols.

In other words, you’re pretty much guaranteed to NOT get any kind of return on investment.  You’re left with a worthless, dried out old husk of a player making too much money.  For every Vladimir Guerrero In His Prime who lands in Anaheim and continues to dominate, there are a million Josh Hamiltons (or Richie Sexsons) out there who are overpriced, will give you 1-2 good seasons, and then completely fall off the face of the Earth.

Unless you’re getting a guy at the end of his rookie deal, who is either just starting his prime or is still on his way up, you’re likely not getting your money’s worth on any big free agent deal.

That’s why, going after Josh Hamilton (when he’s coming off of a season – and especially a second half – where he struggled with his contact rate) and giving him 5 years is insane.  Unless you’re an organization that will be willing to throw more money on top of the problem in 2-3 years when Hamilton finally wears down.  That’s why giving Prince Fielder that super-long contract is equally insane.  You’re telling me that tub of lard is still going to be worth all that money in his final years?  I’ll believe it when I see it.

The very biggest contracts should only go to the guys who are home grown superstars.  They’ve played with you, they’ve won for you, they deserve a nice reward.  Poaching superstar free agents is a great way to kill your franchise.  They have nothing invested with you; they just picked you because you gave them the most money.  They’re hired guns!  The fans don’t know them, except from what little they’ve seen on Sportscenter.  New fans and a new team bring a new kind of pressure that many free agents can’t handle.  Expectations are always higher when you’re talking about a guy going to a new team.

If we were to re-sign Felix today for a 10-year, $300 million deal, I would be fine with that.  You know why?  Because I’m familiar with Felix.  He’s already done so much for this team and I have no reason to believe he would be anything less than excellent for us through the duration of his contract.  However, let’s pretend Felix is a free agent.  And let’s say the Texas Rangers signed him to a 10-year, $300 million deal.  If I’m a Rangers fan, I’m thrilled, but I’m also thinking, “OK, here we are.  This is the guy who’s going to win us a World Series Championship!”  Anything less, from a team standpoint, or specifically from an individual standpoint, and I’m pissed.  If Felix got rocked for the first month of the season, then sort of came around, but ended up with an ERA in the 4.50 range, I would be killing the organization for giving him so much money.

However, if Felix – upon re-signing with the Mariners for the same contract – gave us the same production, I would be more likely to dismiss it as “just a down year”.  I would be convinced that Felix could turn it around because he’s the best!  And, I would probably be convinced that Felix was playing through injury all season and that’s why he sucked the way he did.

So, no, I’m not upset that Josh Hamilton is with the Angels.  I’m sure that team will be very formidable in 2013.  But, how will they look in 2015?  Old and beat up?  I sure hope so.

The bottom line is:  this free agency class sucks.  Probably.  I can’t say that with any certainty, but I really can’t say ANYTHING with total certainty.  Nevertheless, are you really telling me that Nick Swisher gets your dick hard?  A career .256 batting average, a guy who last hit over 30 home runs back in 2006, a guy who couldn’t hit more than 29 home runs while playing half his games in Yankee Stadium?  A guy who just turned 32 and is one of those free agents I was just talking about who’s looking for One Final Huge Score?  Like a master thief trying to rob one more bank vault before retirement, I would expect Swisher’s chances of success to be mighty slim.  He might not fall off completely like a Richie Sexson, but he will certainly taper off the face of the Earth.  Making more and more money each year as his production dwindles and dwindles. 

How about Michael Bourn, the other swingin’ dick free agent on the market?  Does his career .272 batting average, his history of injury, his history of high-strikeout seasons, and his complete lack of power sound like something you might be interested in?  He’s turning 30 in two short weeks.  Feel like over-spending for six years of a guy who bats leadoff and gets a lot of steals?  Doesn’t that sound like someone we just got rid of?  Doesn’t that sound like someone who was killed by the local media because smart teams don’t put all their money into slap-hitting singles machines?  Remember when the Mariners had TWO of those guys, and they were supposed to be the 1-2 punch that would jumpstart this offense?  They get on base, they steal bases, they get in scoring position … all sounds good to me, until you realize there’s no one behind them to hit them in.  And then they get old, so they’re not even on base enough for anyone TO hit them in!

Yeah, can you PLEASE sign me up for another six years of THAT?  I can’t fucking wait.

This offseason is a trainwreck, in case you haven’t heard.  You can twist the numbers any way you like, but those numbers aren’t created in a vacuum.  There’s something to be said about the fact that all these big-name free agents are coming from winning organizations.  If the Seattle Mariners signed them, they’d immediately be transplanted into a losing organization.  So, not only do they get the added pressure of trying to impress a new city, but they also get to be “The Savior”.  The guy who is FINALLY going to bring winning ways to the city of Seattle!  All of our hopes and dreams and criticisms are going to be levied upon you, the great baseball hope.

Do you ever wonder why Ichiro went from being a .261 hitter to a .322 hitter in the very same season?  Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that he went from a Loser to a Winner?  Do you think that maybe, just MAYBE, playing on a GOOD team, surrounded by GOOD players, might make it easier for one’s peace of mind?  Instead of focusing on how everything sucks, you can focus on a stretch run for the playoffs.  Instead of being faced with the burden of trying to carry an entire franchise on your back, you can just go out and play baseball like a kid again.

It goes both ways.  You know why there are so many under-the-radar type of free agent guys who go on to have some serious success?  Because they are signed without hype, without expectations.  They can go out on a 1-year deal, play their hearts out, and try to earn that next big deal the following offseason.  It’s not sexy, but the risk/reward ratio is phenomenal!

Obviously, I’m not saying we should go out and sign 9 more Jason Bays.  But, there’s a middle ground in there somewhere.  Guys who are younger and more spry than Jason Bay, but who aren’t necessarily big-name albatrosses like Josh Hamilton.  Can we get a couple of THOSE?  I guarantee we’ll end up happier in the long run.

Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings (Part 2)

Editor’s NoteThis is the original blog post.  If you want to see the comprehensive list, click HERE.  I update the master list semi-regularly, whenever I can find the time.

Here we are with Part 2 of the series.  Look for the link in the menu bar above to be updated accordingly with my exhaustive timeline of a generation’s worth of bungling.  There will likely be a Part 3 of the series, but in that one I’ll focus on supposed bad moves made by the Good Guys that I’ll end up defending as “not that bad”.  It’s in this “Omissions” article where you’ll find the likes of the Randy Johnson Trade and the Ken Griffey Jr. Trade.

Of course, this is by no means a complete list.  And again, I welcome any and all suggestions from the peanut gallery.

June 26, 1991 – (Sonics) – Rich King 1st Round Draft Pick:  14th overall.  I don’t want to say this is the “first” in a long line of busted centers for the Seattle Supersonics, but he’s certainly the first on my list.  7 feet 2 inches of complete and utter worthlessness.  The guy gave us absolutely nothing for four straight years before signing elsewhere at the end of his rookie deal.  To be fair, I don’t know much about the guy – maybe he suffered through chronic injuries or something.  Regardless, for a team on the rise, the Sonics really missed on this pick.  The only way you could defend the team on this one is that there really weren’t any studs left once Dale Davis was snapped up 1 pick prior.  Nevertheless, there’s nothing I can’t stand more than a tall, unathletic white guy who does little else than take up space.

September 1, 1993 – (Sonics) – Dana Barros, Eddie Johnson & 1st Round Pick to Charlotte Hornets for Kendall Gill & 1st Round Pick:  for me, Kendall Gill is Public Enemy #2 among Sonics in the 1990s (just below Jim McIlvaine).  We were looking for a solid shooting guard to play alongside GP and the boys; what we got was a dour, cancerous sideshow.  Is it any surprise that he was on the first ever 1-seed to lose to an 8-seed?  Is it any surprise that his play and his attitude destroyed what should’ve been another championship run in the ’94-’95 season?  Not in my book.  Kendall Gill was an assclown before Milton Bradley stole his crown.  To make matters worse, Barros was a stud sharpshooter and Eddie Johnson was a quality all-around player.  Fortunately, to make matters much better, on June 27, 1995, the Sonics traded him BACK to Charlotte for Hersey Hawkins and David Wingate.  Result:  Sonics team chemistry skyrockets and they go to the NBA Finals.  Coincidence?  You better believe NOT.

July 18, 1994 – (Sonics) – Ricky Pierce, Carlos Rogers & Two 1995 2nd Round Picks to Golden State Warriors for Sarunas Marciulionis & Byron Houston:  I remember nothing about Byron Houston, probably because he DID nothing for us.  Ricky Pierce, on the other hand, was a veteran guard who could come off the bench and still give you quality minutes (and, in fact, he did for a few years after this trade).  The real culprit here, though, is Sarunas Marciulionis.  The guy was supposed to come in and be Instant Offense.  Instead, for his lone season with us (that disaster of a ’94-’95 campaign) he averaged 9.3 points per game while playing abysmal defense.  If you can’t tell, there was a lot to hate about that ’94-’95 team.  Fortunately, glory would shine down upon us when we flipped both Marciulionis and Houston on September 18, 1995 to Sacramento for Frank Brickowski.  You know what they say:  if you’re going to be an unathletic white center, you better bring the pain on your opponents (okay, so maybe they don’t say that, but they should).

July 22, 1996 – (Sonics) – Jim McIlvaine signs 7-year $33.6 million deal:  the beginning of the end.  This one wasn’t just a team-destroyer, this was a franchise-destroyer.  First of all, McIlvaine was a nothing backup for the Bullets for 2 seasons.  We sign him to this monster deal RIGHT after our run to the Finals when we should have God damned signed Shawn Kemp to a nice fat extension.  Instead, Kemp is unhappy, plays another season where we lose in the 2nd round (with McIlvaine giving us no help whatsoever), forces a trade where we get 1 good season out of Vin Baker (before the strike-shortened season gets him all fat), and then the wheels come off (ultimately leading to a bunch of up-and-down Sonics teams, and finalized by those Oklahoma City chickenfuckers stealing our team).  Maybe it wasn’t all Jim McIlvaine’s fault; but it was CERTAINLY the fault of Wally Walker and company.  We had no business bringing in this guy, nor giving him the kind of money that would make All Pros like Shawn Kemp jealous.  He broke up our golden team, and for that this sin of signing him is unforgivable.  There was plenty of good basketball left with GP and Kemp; it’s a crime we didn’t get to see it.

September 25, 1997 – (Sonics) – Shawn Kemp to Cleveland Cavaliers for Vin Baker (from Milwaukee Bucks in a 3-way deal):  I got into this one a little bit in the Jim McIlvaine section, but this definitely deserves to be on the list.  One could argue that, in the end, it was one overweight disappointment for another, but I refuse to see it that way.  First of all, Shawn Kemp wasn’t an alcoholic.  Gary Payton would’ve made DAMN sure to keep him in tip-top shape during that NBA Lockout.  And anyway, who could’ve seen the lockout coming (or, at least, who could have seen it costing us so many games that season)?  What you COULD see coming was breaking up a dynasty.  Yes, Kemp pretty much forced this trade upon us (and yes, Vin Baker WAS a quality player at the time on par with Kemp’s level of production), but since this correlates DIRECTLY with the Jim McIlvaine signing, the Sonics were doing nothing more than compounding one mistake on top of another.  Had we kept Kemp happy in the first place, none of these other things would’ve happened (and, as you’ll see, the trail of tears from that McIlvaine signing will continue).

August 9, 1999 – (Sonics) – Vernon Maxwell signs 3-year $5 million deal:  no, it wasn’t an exorbitant amount of money.  But, we were getting a guy whose prime was CLEARLY well behind him (and, even then, what kind of a “prime” can you really call it?) and we were getting a guy who couldn’t stick with a team.  He’d changed cities TEN times before he landed in Seattle!  You HAVE to think something’s not quite right with a guy when he’s got that kind of background (again, see:  Bradley, Milton).  Sure enough, he was turmoil incarnate when he joined the Sonics.  I mean, what kind of a dick throws a fucking free weight at a teammate?  He injured two of our guys while battling it out with GP, and wasn’t long for the team after that (he was traded on September 20, 2000 in that collosal Patrick Ewing deal).  Any shock to anyone that he was thereby waived 15 days later (and again in December of that same year)?

August 18, 1999 – (Sonics) – Vin Baker re-signs for 7-year $86 million deal:  and here we are, with the zenith of Jim McIlvaine’s horrorshow.  WHAT were we THINKING???  Vin Baker just finished a horrendous strike-shortened season – where of course he came back drunk and overweight – and we rewarded him with a max contract.  Incredible.  Un-fucking-believable.  We got three full seasons of lessened production out of this schlub, then we dealt him on July 22, 2002 to Boston with Shammond Williams for Kenny Anderson, Joseph Forte, Vitaly Potapenko.  I can’t imagine anyone really “won” that deal, but it’s just frustrating.  From ’96/’97 onward, we squandered Gary Payton’s prime with a subpar supporting cast.  On behalf of everyone in Seattle, I hereby apologize to GP for not getting you the ring you deserved when you were with us.

April 21, 2001 – (Seahawks) – Koren Robinson, 1st Round Draft Pick:  9th overall.  There were plenty of other wide receiver fish in the sea in the 2001 NFL draft, but we decided to go big with Koren Robinson.  He was supposed to be a Randy Moss-type of guy who would speed down the field and go up for the long bombs.  Instead, we got a lush who wasted all of his God-given ability.  Koren Robinson single-handedly turned me (and most of Seattle) off of drafting wide receivers high in the first round.

June 5, 2001 – (Mariners) – Michael Garciaparra, 1st Round Draft Pick:  this was a guy we seemingly drafted on name alone.  I mean, Nomar was such a great player for Boston, how could his brother not be equally as amazing?  And at the same short stop position no less!  Well, he was a dud.  This was our supplemental pick for losing A-Rod, so there’s some more salt for your wounds (I better hear plenty of extra boos for Pay-Rod now that you’re thusly reminded!).  Making matters worse:  David Wright was drafted by the Mets two picks later.  Wouldn’t it have been nice to have that third base position locked down all this time?

July 31, 2001 – (Sonics) – Calvin Booth signs 6-year $34 million deal:  now HERE’S where the rediculousness of the Sonics’ search for a starting center reached new heights.  I guess averaging 7.5 points per game (over merely 15 games) for the Dallas Mavericks means you’re worth a skyscraper of a deal (at long as the Sonics are the willing buyer).  And, as laughable as it sounds, we would’ve RELISHED 7.5 points per game!  Only for the Sonics could a suck-ass player manage to get markedly worse.  In the end, we traded his final three years away on July 26, 2004 BACK to the Mavs for Danny Fortson’s final three years.  You’d think after McIlvaine, we would’ve learned our lesson.  Of course, you’d think after McIlvaine AND Booth, we REALLY would’ve learned our lesson.  In a sense, I guess we did, since we opted henceforth (for the most part) to get our shitty centers direct from the NBA Draft.

July 18, 2002 – (Sonics) – Jerome James re-signs 3-year $15 million deal:  the thing I’ll never forget about this deal was in the 2002 NBA playoffs we played (and lost to) the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.  As a 7-seed, we took them to the brink of five games, and in those games Jerome James exploded for production up to that point unseen.  He was a monster.  Scoring, rebounding, defending.  He was our MVP and almost single-handedly led us to the next round.  Ignoring all of his regular season struggles up to that point, we gave him this contract and our starting center job.  He went on to revert right back to his old ways, then somehow snookered the Knicks into giving him a huge payday.

December 19, 2003 – (Mariners) – Scott Spiezio Signs 3-year $9.15 million deal:  we stole him away from the Angels (after their World Series win) and got nowhere near what we paid for.  He batted .215 for us over 112 games (a remarkable decline).  We played him for a bit in 2005 where he got 3 hits in 47 at bats, then we released him on August 19, 2005.  Nearly 4 years and 4 months later the Mariners would go on to steal Chone Figgins from the Angels.  Here’s a hint fellas:  Angels are only good when they’re Angels and they get to play 19 games against the Mariners!

January 8, 2004 – (Mariners) – Carlos Guillen to Detroit Tigers for Juan Gonzalez & Ramon Santiago:  not the Juan Gonzalez you’re thinking of.  This Juan Gonzalez was a minor leaguer who never cracked the majors.  Ramon Santiago was a glorified minor leaguer who SHOULD’VE never cracked the majors.  Meanwhile, Carlos Guillen went on to kick ass and take names.  We really missed his streaky-ass.

January 8, 2004 – (Mariners) – Rich Aurilia Signs 1-year $3.5 million deal:  on the SAME DAY.  We replaced a guy who went on to be a cornerstone for a quality Tigers run with a guy who’d be released 6 months later.  National Leaguers can NOT hit in Safeco!  Say it with me now!

June 24, 2004 – (Sonics) – Robert Swift, 1st Round Draft Pick:  12th overall.  We could’ve had Al Jefferson; think HE could’ve helped out our front court?  Instead, we got the 7-foot project out of high school who spent more time rehabbing knees and getting tattoos than he did playing pro basketball.  What a magnificently frightening bust!

December 15, 2004 – (Mariners) – Richie Sexson Signs 4-year $50 million deal:  this was the beginning of a very happy week for Mariners fans.  We’d just wrapped a total collapse of a season where all of our veteran players died simultaneously.  This was after an epic string of Mariners seasons where 90 wins was the norm.  A lot of money was coming off the books.  I mean, a LOT of money.  In his first major foray with the team, Bill Bavasi was looking to both make a big splash and return the team to dominance.  First:  Richie Sexson.  He missed most of 2004 with injury, but before that he was a home run machine with the Brewers.  He had two seasons of 45 homers in a 3-year span; SURELY he’d bring that much needed bop over to Seattle!  And, to his credit, he did … for two seasons.  But, if you were paying attention, you’d know that was really 1.5 seasons; because in year 2 of his 4-year deal he got the bulk of his numbers in the 2nd half of the season when the team was already out of it.  2007 saw that first-half malaise push through to the full season; 2008 saw him clearly done.  He was making an ass-load of money by going out there making an ass of himself.  The team finally had the decency (to its fans) to release him on July 10, 2008, but by then the damage had been done.  That 2008 team was a clusterfuck of epic proportions, only matched (somehow) by 2010’s clusterfuck to end all clusterfucks.

December 17, 2004 – (Mariners) – Adrian Beltre Signs 5-year $64 million deal:  two days after landing the whale that was Richie Sexson, the Mariners went out and doubled down on Adrian Beltre.  Most of us, over time, came to respect Beltre for what he was:  a hard-nosed, inconsistent hitter with a little bit of power and a ton of defensive ability at the hot corner.  We could respect the guy for playing through pain (and massive shoulder injuries) and giving his absolute all to a consistently losing effort.  But, he wasn’t worth the money and it was obvious early on.  Coming off a career year (steroids anyone?) in Los Angeles where he hit .334 with 48 home runs (after his previous career high was only .290 and 23 home runs – not in the same season), he’s the epitome of a Contract Year Player.  Year 1 with the Mariners:  .255 with 19 homers.  Believe it or not, Beltre was the more loathed between him and Sexson.  That went on to change, but we’ll never forget the disappointment on all our faces when we realized that Beltre would never come NEAR to approaching .334 with 48 homers again.

January 4, 2005 – (Mariners) – Pokey Reese Signs 1-year $1.2 million deal:  it’s not the amount of money, it’s not the length of contract.  It was the fact that he never played a GAME.  Not for the Mariners in that year, not for another Major League Baseball team ever again!  In his place, we were introduced to Yuniesky Betancourt.  And the rest, as they say, is hostility.

June 7, 2005 – (Mariners) – Jeff Clement, 1st Round Draft Pick:  3rd overall.  Out of the top 7 picks, there was one bust, one mediocre player (who could still be decent if this year’s promise means anything), and five super studs.  Guess which one the Mariners drafted!  Let me run down the list:  1. Justin Upton, 2. Alex Gordon, 3. Clement, 4. Ryan Zimmerman, 5. Ryan Braun, 6. Ricky Romero, 7. Troy Tulowitzki.  Four of those guys have are considered All Stars and Romero is a quality starter for Toronto.  We screwed up ROYAL in this draft.  Where is Jeff Clement now?  Probably in the Pirates’ farm system (where he belongs; the worst Major League team’s minor leagues).  Who did we get in return?  Try Ian Snell and Jack Wilson.  I’ll give you a minute to bang your head against the wall.

July 30, 2005 – (Mariners) – Randy Winn to San Francisco Giants for Jesse Foppert & Yorvit Torrealba:  or, in other words:  “Randy Winn to San Francisco Giants for Nothing.”

December 22, 2005 – (Mariners) – Jarrod Washburn Signs 4-year $37.5 million deal:  hey, another Angels player they didn’t want!  I bet this turned out swell for the Good Guys!  Except it didn’t; we got three sub-par seasons before he miraculously turned it around long enough in 2009 so we could trade him to the Tigers on July 31st for Mauricio Robles & Luke French.  That was a Jackie-Z miracle if I ever witnessed one.  French is a back-end starter (currently toiling for the Rainiers) and Robles has the potential to be great.  Or, at least, greater than Washburn ever was for us.

January 4, 2006 – (Mariners) – Carl Everett Signs 1-year $3.4 million deal:  you can point to this signing as the beginning of the Mariners suffering through rent-a-veterans on their last legs.  He would be released on July 26th of that year, but not before hitting 11 homers and batting .227.  Funny thing is, what WOULDN’T we give to have 11 homers and a .227 batting average out of our designated hitter in 2011?

April 29, 2006 – (Seahawks) – Kelly Jennings, 1st Round Draft Pick:  undersized cornerback wanted for:  giving up long touchdowns and never intercepting the ball.  Must be able to occasionally ankle-tackle and make Marcus Trufant look like a Pro Bowler by comparison.  Start immediately.

June 6, 2006 – (Mariners) – Brandon Morrow, 1st Round Draft Pick:  5th overall.  This pick will forever be known as the time where the Mariners passed on multi-Cy Young winner (and local hero) Tim Lincecum.  Odds are, we would’ve ruined him the same way we did Morrow – by fucking with his confidence, and jerking him around between starting and relieving – but you never know.  Maybe not.  Maybe, if we would’ve gone with the proven winner over the guy with one year’s college experience, he would’ve commanded a starting rotation slot from the get-go.  We’ll never know; and San Francisco is all the luckier for it.

December 14, 2006 – (Mariners) – Miguel Batista Signs 3-year $24 million deal:  in what universe is Miguel Batista worth $24 million?  Well, THAT’S certainly a silly question!

December 18, 2006 – (Mariners) – Emiliano Fruto & Chris Snelling to Washington Nationals for Jose Vidro:  Vidro was awesome back in his prime.  You know, when he could play the field and hit well over .300.  By the time we got him, he was less than a shell of his former self.  Yet, he still managed a respectable batting average in the 2007 season – though, for a DH, his power numbers were attrocious.  Unfortunately, in 2008, the wheels came off (like they did for Sexson and pretty much the entire team).  We stuck with him for 85 excruciating games that season, then released him on August 13th.

January 30, 2007 – (Mariners) – Jeff Weaver Signs 1-year $8.3 million deal:  and the hits just keep on coming for the Bill Bavasi era.  Pretty much because of a single World Series game for the Cardinals, Jeff Weaver “earned” $8.3 million for the Mariners.  “If he was so important to their success in 2006, why didn’t St. Louis want him back,” you might be asking yourself.  I don’t have an answer for you.  What I CAN tell you is that he gave us 27 of the most worthless games imaginable in 2007.  And HE wasn’t even the most loathesome starting pitcher for that team (thank you very much Horacio Ramirez).

December 20, 2007 – (Mariners) – Carlos Silva Signs 4-year $48 million deal:  or, The Straw That Broke Bavasi’s Back.  He was awful for his two seasons in Seattle.  I have nothing redeeming to say about the man.  We traded him on December 18, 2009 to the Chicago Cubs for Milton Bradley in a swap we hoped would be one of those “Change Of Scenery” deals.  Well, the scenery was different, but there would be no change.  Yeah, Silva had half a good season in 2010, but then he reverted right back and was cut before the 2011 season.  Bradley, of course, was miserable for the Mariners.  The worst part of it all?  Not only did we take on Milton Bradley, his contract, and all his emotional baggage (all of which the Cubs were DESPERATE to get rid of), but we ALSO had to pay them an additional $9 million.  How’s that for a nice Fuck You?  Wonder why the Mariners were so bad in 2010?  Wonder why we couldn’t get any free agents in 2011?  Look no further than the money we have on the books for both of these jack-wagons.

January 31, 2008 – (Mariners) – Brad Wilkerson Signs 1-year $3 million deal:  not only did he play right field – forcing Ichiro into the uncomfortable position of playing center – but he didn’t even make it out of the first month, released April 30th.  What a douche.