What Are You Supposed To Do With A Mariners Offense Playing Like This?

At some point this week, I decided I’d take it upon myself to post a recap of all the Mariners games, even on *shudder* the weekends.  Someone needs to slap some sense into me, preferably with a couple of perky C’s.

I don’t know what to tell you.  5 hits in a 5-1 defeat to the thoroughly unimpressive Angels.  1 for 7 with runners in scoring position, another 7 left on base.  I mean, what is this?  Is this Spring Training fatigue?  The fact that these guys have been away from home for so long, and now the MLB schedule-makers have tacked on an extra 7 days to this living nightmare?  Will a simple matter of some home cooking turn this thing around?

God, I hope it doesn’t take that long.  Going 1-6 in your first week isn’t an insurmountable mountain to climb, but it sure as shit makes life unnecessarily difficult.

I mean, it’s one thing to see Kyle Seager struggle in the early going; we’ve come to expect that at this point.  And we all knew the outfield would be a bit of a depressing mixed bag at the plate (currently hitting a collective 8 for 59 (.136) with 5 walks, 2 doubles, 1 homer, and 18 strikeouts).  But, I think what’s most alarming is the funk that Cano and Cruz have been in through 5 games.

Those are our rocks!  Our studs!  Our superstars!  6 hits in 39 at-bats (.154) with 2 doubles, 0 homers, 1 RBI, 5 walks, and a whopping 13 strikeouts.  I know 5 games is a small sample size and everything, but come on!

Really, you can go up and down the lineup and pull these lunatic numbers that make you wonder just what sort of fresh hell we’re in for this season, so I won’t bombard you with all the misery.  I will say that I have no problem with Segura so far; I like that Seager has at least taken the most walks on the team to feature the highest OBP (.364), even though he’s only batting .125; and I’m starting to come around to Mitch Haniger (who leads the team in extra-base hits with 2) mostly because he seems to also have a good command of the strike zone with a .333 OBP.

As far as last night’s game is concerned, we got our first look at Yovani Gallardo.  I came away not totally sick to my stomach!  Granted, he went 5 innings and gave up 3 runs (being pulled in the bottom of the 6th with no outs after giving up a solo homer and a hard-hit single) while only throwing 90 pitches, but there were issues outside of his control that severely altered the course of the game for him.

In the bottom of the first, Gallardo gave up a leadoff single, followed by an ever-so-unfortunate double to Kole Calhoun (opposite field, against the outfield shift, just BARELY touching the chalk of the left field foul line before bouncing into the stands).  If that ball lands foul, who knows where the inning takes him?  Even still, with no outs and runners on 2nd & 3rd, he only gave up a sac fly to Mike Trout before getting out of the inning.

Then, in the bottom of the third, disaster.  A couple of singles and a strikeout preceeded Trout coming to bat.  After spotting him a 3-0 count, the Mariners intentionally walked him to get to Albert Pujols with 1 out and the bases loaded.  Pujols obliged about as well as you could ask for with a weak grounder right at Kyle Seager.  It was a tailor-made double play ball to get out of the inning still down 1-0.  Instead, Seager totally biffed it, allowing a run to score with the bases still loaded.  I couldn’t tell you how many pitches that cost Gallardo in his pitch count, but he ended up striking out the very next batter before getting out of the bases loaded jam with a ground ball to third.

And you may say, “Well, his pitch count stalled at 90 anyway, so it’s not like he was THAT over-worked,” but I’ll say this:  pitches in high-pressure situations like that, with the bases loaded and less than 2 outs, count A LOT more than pitches with nobody on base.  Sure, it was mostly his doing that got the bases loaded in the first place, but in the end, he induced a ground ball that should’ve been a double play and instead was a fielder’s choice/error that got no one out.  That’s not on Gallardo.

All in all, I thought Gallardo looked okay.  I saw him touch 94mph on the gun, he was usually in the lower 90s with his fastball, and he was able to work both up and down in the zone to pretty solid effect.  I mean, he’s never going to be anything amazing, but he’s a veteran 5th starter, so a lot of his starts are going to look like this.  He’s going to spread around a bunch of hits, hopefully not walk too many, and usually keep you in enough ballgames to justify his roster spot.  Think of a Kevin Millwood or a Chris Young type moreso than a Wade Miley or a Joe Saunders type.  At least, that’s my hope.

Casey Fien looked pretty good in his first inning of relief, then gave up a 2-run homer in his second inning of relief.  But, he’s not really a guy you’re going to count on in the 8th inning of a game you’re winning; he’s a guy you’re going to see in games like this, where we’re losing but hoping he can keep it close enough for us to come back.  I think the jury is still out on him, but I also don’t see him going anywhere anytime soon, even with Tony Zych set to rejoin the Mariners at some point in the next week or two.

Finally, Dillon Overton got his first inning of relief in the soft landing we unfortunately couldn’t give to Chase De Jong.  Overton gave up a meaningless single and netted 2 strikeouts, but I couldn’t tell you how he looked because I turned off the TV after that 2-run homer Fien gave up.

Felix Day today.  Let’s hope he doesn’t have to cover first base.

Mariners Tidbit 67: Iwakuma’s No-Hitter

The first Mariners no-hitter happened on June 2, 1990, against the Detroit Tigers.  Randy Johnson walked 6 and struck out 8 in 138 pitches for the 2-0 victory.

The second Mariners no-hitter happened on April 22, 1993, against the Boston Red Sox.  Chris Bosio walked 2 and struck out 4 in 97 pitches for the 7-0 victory.

The third Mariners no-hitter happened on June 8, 2012, against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Kevin Millwood, Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League, and Tom Wilhelmsen combined to walk 3 and strike out 9 in 114 pitches for the 1-0 victory.

The fourth Mariners no-hitter was also the first Mariners perfect game; it happened on August 15, 2012, against the Tampa Bay Rays.  Felix Hernandez struck out 12 in 113 pitches for the 1-0 victory.

The fifth Mariners no-hitter happened yesterday afternoon, against the Baltimore Orioles.  Hisashi Iwakuma walked 3 and struck out 7 in 116 pitches for the 3-0 victory.

Is it weird that all of the Mariners no-no’s have happened at home?  Is it weird that the last two happened on Wednesday matinee games?

As usual, I was at work yesterday while all of this was going on.  Furthermore, I was stuck in meetings for most of the afternoon, so I didn’t even realize that a no-hitter was officially happening until the 8th inning.  I was able to listen to Iwakuma close out the 8th before running out of work and over to Pacific Place for an impromptu happy hour.  Sitting at the bar of Gordon Biersch, I quickly ordered a Captain & Coke while the final commercials ran before the top of the 9th.

I don’t remember everything.  Obviously, this isn’t my first no-hit rodeo, but I don’t know if I’ll ever forget Kyle Seager’s basket catch in foul territory.  That was banana-nuts!  And then I want to say the next at bat, Iwakuma grooved a fastball right in the middle of the plate that the hitter thankfully fouled off.  After that, it was relatively smooth sailing getting the last two outs.

I don’t care who you are, but no-hitters are always special.  It’s SUCH a hard thing to accomplish; you see SO MANY of them lost in the final couple of at-bats.  So, my hat is off to Iwakuma and everyone else involved for getting the job done.

I’m finding it difficult to peg just where we’re at with Iwakuma.  Is this a last gasp of brilliance before he declines even further?  Is this proof that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated and premature?  And, if so, how much more does he have left in the tank?

What this no-hitter accomplishes is it gets me – and most of the fans – back in Iwakuma’s corner.  That’s a biggie.  From the last month of the 2014 season through most of this season, Iwakuma has been an unmitigated disappointment.  Since returning from two months on the DL, he’s had flashes of brilliance – 8 shutout innings against the Angels, 7 quality innings in Detroit, an almost-complete game shutout in Minnesota, 7 more quality innings against the Rangers – but he’s also had a good amount of duds:  4 homers given up to the Tigers in Safeco, just a so-so game in New Yankee Stadium, getting blown out at home against the Diamondbacks.

The back-and-forth nature of his outings the last month and a half are definitely cause for concern, but what this no-hitter does is make it okay for the team to bring him back for 2016, at least in my mind (pending what he does the rest of this season, of course).  The thing is, though, we have to temper our expectations.

I don’t know if it’s fair to count on Iwakuma to be healthy for a full season anymore.  He’s missed extensive time in all but one of his Major League seasons.  Also, I don’t know if we should expect him to be the #2 starting pitcher this team needs.  He strikes me as more of a 4 or 5 going forward; meaning this team STILL needs to bring in a high-end starter either via free agency or trade.  Also, if Iwakuma does warrant an extension, I wouldn’t go anywhere beyond 2 years; that’s a deal-breaker for me.

Anyway, this is all stuff we can hash out later, when the season’s over.  For now, let’s celebrate a truly amazing feat.  The Orioles are a good hitting team, and Iwakuma’s been serving up a steady diet of meatballs for a while now.  To hold them hitless is OUTSTANDING!

Where In The Fudge Do The Mariners Go From Here?

The following players are under contract for 2016:

  • Felix Hernandez (signed thru 2019)
  • Robinson Cano (signed thru 2023)
  • Kyle Seager (signed thru 2021, w/ option for 2022)
  • Nelson Cruz (signed thru 2018)
  • Seth Smith (signed thru 2016, w/ option for 2017)

Of course, the team has other players under team control, but for the most part those players are part of The Problem.  The above-referenced players are the good ones.  You like to think you can count on Felix, Cano, Seager, Cruz, and Smith; these are professional players who are going to give you professional performances for the most part.  A starting pitcher, a second baseman, a third baseman, a DH, and a platoon corner outfielder.  That’s what the Mariners have going for them in 2016.

So, what are they going to do about the 20 other spots on this roster?

Well, here’s a breakdown of the players who will most certainly be playing elsewhere in 2016, because their contracts run out after this year and either they won’t want to return or we won’t want them to return:

  • Austin Jackson
  • Hisashi Iwakuma
  • Fernando Rodney
  • J.A. Happ
  • Joe Beimel

So, in theory, the Mariners will be looking to fill two starting pitcher roles, a closer role, a lefty specialist role, and a center field role.  I already don’t like where 2016 is headed.

Here’s a list of players with 1 more year of arbitration eligibility before they become full blown free agents:

  • Mark Trumbo
  • Logan Morrison

Oh goodie!  Two underperforming first basemen – one from each side of the plate – who have no business being in the outfield!  Mark Trumbo is probably the more offensively-gifted of the two, but he’s also the absolute God damn worst in the field.  LoMo has some defensive value at first base, but he’s proven without a shadow of a doubt that he’s not an everyday player.  We all wondered what he could be if he actually managed to stay healthy for a full season.  WELP, look no further than his 2015 output!

Trumbo earned $6.9 million in 2015, so figure he’ll get somewhere in the $8-$9 million range in 2016 (if we decide to keep him and not just cut him loose set him free).  LoMo earned a shade under $3 mil in 2015; maybe he gets in the $4-$5 million range in 2016 (again, if we decide to keep him, which I’m pretty against).  If we dumped these two guys, we’d need to get a whole new first baseman/DH combo, which probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Next up, we’ve got the guys with 2 more years of arbitration eligibility before they become full blown free agents:

  • Dustin Ackley
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Tom Wilhelmsen

Did you know that Dustin Ackley has earned over $12 million in his professional baseball career?  That’s over $12 million for the single most disappointing draft pick in Mariners franchise history.  He earned $2.6 million in 2015, which you gotta figure gets bumped up to the $4 million range in 2016, and probably somewhere around $6 million in 2017.  GET RID OF HIM NOW!!!  I don’t care what you have to do, but Dustin Ackley needs to be gone; he’s had every possible chance you can give a prospect, and he’s proven his worth (his worth is zero).  Nothing in the next two years is going to turn him into what we need him to be.

Furbush is a guy I probably wouldn’t mind keeping around.  His pay rate is pretty reasonable, and I wouldn’t expect the raises he gets will break the bank.  Wilhelmsen might be a guy I give another year to, but he’s obviously not someone you’d want to extend long term, and probably not someone you’d want to keep after his final arbitration year.

Finally, here’s a list of all the younger guys with extensive Major League experience, who we’ve got tons of team control for:

  • Brad Miller
  • Mike Zunino
  • Taijuan Walker
  • Carson Smith
  • Jesus Sucre
  • Chris Taylor
  • Vidal Nuno
  • Mike Montgomery
  • James Paxton
  • Roenis Elias
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Lucas Luetge
  • James Jones
  • Jesus Montero

Just brutal.  There are simply too many fucking holes to count.  I mean, look, I guess you can feel pretty good about Brad Miller if you want.  But, he’s still wildly inconsistent.  Or, I guess that’s wrong:  he’s pretty much been consistently bad at the plate since he was first called up here.  And, Chris Taylor is no better, so there’s that.  With Ketel Marte recently being converted to the outfield, there’s yet another short stop prospect gone by the wayside.  Like him or lump him, but Brad Miller is your Opening Day 2016 starting short stop.

Mike Zunino, there’s another.  His rotting carcass has been dragging down this offense for the better part of two years.  But, what are you going to do?  He’s still young enough to where he could theoretically put it all together, but at this point I think it’s foolish to expect him to be the All Star we all hoped he’d be.  So, what we’ve got is Just Another Guy behind the plate.  Great.

Walker, Paxton, Montgomery, and Elias are all young, up & coming starters, but you’re going to run into the same questions going into next year that we had going into this year.  Are they too young?  Will there be more growing pains?  And, most importantly, can they ever stay fucking healthy?  Say what you will about the 2015 Mariners, but I think it will ultimately go down as a good thing for Walker, should he stay healthy the rest of the way.  This year of experience – God willing – will help him be a better pitcher in 2016 and going forward.  One can only hope.  As for Paxton, I won’t put him in Danny Hultzen territory, but I don’t think you can ever count on Paxton staying healthy for a full season.  And, if that’s the case, I really don’t think you can count on him as a starter out of Spring Training.  He might ultimately prove to be a bullpen guy for that very reason.  Montgomery is getting an extended look this year in hopes that we can plug him in for the full season next year.  Should he keep pumping out quality starts, his is a spot in the rotation we might not have to worry about.  But, should he start to get knocked around the more the American League gets used to his repertoire, then that’s yet another hole we’d need to plug.  A hole that might be too big even for Elias, who has seemingly taken something of a step back in his second season in the Majors/upper minors.  None of these guys could be considered safe bets for 2016, but then again, what does that even mean?  We all thought Hisashi Iwakuma was a safe bet for 2015, and look at what we’ve gotten.

The bullpen guys – Carson Smith, Danny Farquhar, Vidal Nuno, and Lucas Luetge – are all pretty iffy in their own rights.  Carson Smith looked to be the second coming of Jeff Nelson until very recently, when he’s been bashed around (possibly to over-use?  He is still fairly young in his career).  I’ll be looking for Smith to ramp it back up the rest of this year.  Nuno has looked okay and will likely be the reason why we don’t see a third year out of Joe Beimel.  Luetge probably continues to get stashed in Tacoma (along with David Rollins, should he manage to stick the rest of this year).  And, that leaves Farquhar, who’s probably good AAA insurance as long as he still has options, which I would assume he does.

The rest – Sucre, Jones, and Montero – aren’t much to write home about.  I have to believe the Mariners will find another backup catcher to allow us to keep Sucre in Tacoma where he belongs.  Jones doesn’t strike me as a guy who’s ever going to hit enough to be anything more than a 4th or 5th outfielder on a team with 3 good starting outfielders (which the Mariners most certainly are not).  Montero is a bit of a wild card, but can you really go into 2016 with him as your starting first baseman?  Or, even as a platoon first baseman?  It would be nice if the Mariners managed to pull their heads out of their asses long enough to call him up for good in 2015 and let us see what the newly-skinny Montero can do over the last two months of the season.  But, that might be asking too much of an incompetent organization looking at wholesale changes in the coming offseason.

The last guy – Mark Lowe – who I didn’t list above, will be a free agent I have to imagine the Mariners will want to re-sign, at least for a year or two.  So, let’s hope that gets done, I guess.

***

That just leaves us with the “Where Do We Go From Here?” bit referenced in the title.  Do the Mariners opt to keep most of the roster intact?  Do they just keep the top five guys under contract and wash away the rest?  Do they completely blow it up, putting anyone and everyone up for auction?

At this point, I’m so disgusted with the whole organization, if I had my druthers, the Mariners would only keep Felix and Seager.  I think if you have a team willing to put in significant coin to take over the remainder of Cano’s contract, I think you jump at the opportunity.  Should he manage to turn things around sufficiently in this second half to make the first half seem like an anomaly, the Mariners could probably trade Cano for a couple of quality pieces (especially when you consider the team he’d end up going to will have a much friendlier stadium to hit in).  Maybe the Mariners kick in $7 million per year the rest of the way, for the right to dump Cano and pick up a couple of quality prospects; wouldn’t that make sense?

Same thing goes for Cruz, though I don’t think the Mariners would have to kick in as much – or any – money to get some good pieces from him.  He’s been a dominant force offensively for the last two years and is only costing $14 million per year.  That’s NOT bad.

Do I think that’ll happen though?  Probably not.  I have to imagine teams are going to stay away from Cano’s contract until they can take him from us for pennies on the dollar.  Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for the Miami Marlins way of doing things:  when you know you’re fucked, dump & run!

Odds are, whoever the next GM is will consider Felix, Seager, Cano, & Cruz as “the core” and will look to build around them.  I can’t imagine Seth Smith, Miller, Zunino, Walker, Carson Smith, Furbush, or Nuno are going anywhere either.  Barring some sort of blockbuster trade, I think these are the guys you’re looking at as the safest bets to return in 2016:

  • Felix – starting pitcher
  • Walker – starting pitcher
  • Carson – reliever
  • Furbush – reliever
  • Nuno – reliever
  • Seager – third base
  • Cano – second base
  • Miller – short stop
  • Cruz – DH/right field
  • Seth – OF platoon
  • Zunino – Catcher

All told, you’ve got 11 of your 25-man roster right there.  How do you feel as that for your “core” players for 2016?  We just need 3 more starters, 4 more relievers, pretty much an entire outfield, a first baseman, and a bench.  I’ve never been more depressed.

Taking a look at the pitching staff, it’s pretty obvious that as long as they’re still here, Paxton, Montgomery, and Elias will get looks in Spring Training.  But, you’re still going to want to bring in a veteran and maybe two.  I’d hope that the Mariners will go hard after a top-end of the rotation guy, and stop trying to make it through seasons with J.A. Happ/Chris Young/Kevin Millwood types.  I mean, if you feel it’s necessary, pick up an innings eater to throw onto the Spring Training pile, but this team absolutely needs another ace-type pitcher, like Iwakuma was before he completely broke down.

For the bullpen, I like Mark Lowe being back.  I don’t even totally mind having Wilhelmsen around, since he’s good to eat up some innings, but I wouldn’t consider him as one of your Late Innings With A Small Lead type of guys.  Assuming Farquhar won’t ever be returning to form, I think this team would be well served in picking up another veteran reliever with a proven track record.  You know, someone like Rodney two years ago, only less volatile.  Lowe, Smith, and Proven Hard-Throwing Righty, combined with Nuno, Furbush, and innings-eating Wilhelmsen could be a nice little unit.  Save that seventh spot for someone off the scrap heap, or a young up & comer with some heat and I think that’d be okay.

So far, my Plan For 2016 involves spending relatively big on a starter and a reliever, while at the same time plucking a cheaper starter and reliever from the scrap heap.

On the hitting side of things, let’s start with first base.  I feel like whatever you do with the rest of the offense hinges on what you do at first base.  The Mariners can afford to keep LoMo or Trumbo, but I don’t think they can afford to keep them both (and I really wouldn’t mind seeing them get rid of both).  If you’re going to skimp on first base (like, say for instance, there just aren’t any quality first basemen available in free agency or via trade), then either you go whole hog with Trumbo as your everyday starting first baseman and cut LoMo loose, or you let Trumbo go, save a few mil, and put LoMo in a platoon with Montero.  Neither of these options are all that enticing, but that’s the world we’re living in.  You can’t afford to completely fill all the holes on this team via free agency, that’s just not how it works.  There aren’t enough good players out there, and the organization won’t be willing to spend all the money in the world just to try to make this team a winner.  We’ve already got major deals going out to five guys in 2016 – the aforementioned guys at the top of the post – those five guys account for almost $79 million in salary next season.  When you account for the 2015 Mariners spending over $126 million on this turd stew, it realistically puts this team with $47 million to spend (minus all the smaller amounts of money going to guys under team control, and minus the arbitration guys we opt to keep).  Honestly?  Not a whole lot of wiggle room.

Of the three options at first base, obviously I’m in favor of Door #3 – the free agent.  But, I’m a realistic man, so I’m putting our chances pretty low at that becoming a reality (especially considering this team has arguably bigger fish to fry in the outfield).  Of the remaining options, I like the idea of Trumbo getting the job outright, because that gives us another spot on the bench a platoon would otherwise take up.  I have to believe that Trumbo is going to give us better offensive output than a combo of LoMo & Montero, but I have to admit the platoon is intriguing (I guess they usually are).  In this instance, Montero would face all lefties and the occasional righty.  This would still give LoMo the majority of the starts, but hopefully the days off would keep him fresh, so he wouldn’t hit so many offensive lulls.  Then, figure LoMo would also come in during the later innings of games he doesn’t start as a defensive replacement, I think this could work in a pinch.  But, as I said before, under no circumstances should the team opt to keep both LoMo AND Trumbo.

With the rest of the infield pretty well accounted for, that leaves the outfield, and a huge gaping hole in center.  No way Austin Jackson returns.  He could be the dumbest man on the planet, but even then he’d still be too smart to want to stay in Safeco.  He’s had a decent bounce-back year in 2015, and I think he parlays that into a nice little 3-4 year deal somewhere a little more hitter-friendly.  And, since the Mariners have exactly no one in the minors ready to ascend in center field (and since the Angels aren’t looking to trade Mike Trout away anytime soon), they’re going to have to make finding a new center fielder one of their highest priorities (if not THE highest).  I don’t know who’s going to be out there in free agency, but this strikes me as something that might have to get done via trade.  We should just assume that we’re not going to find a miracle offensive center fielder, so I wouldn’t mind going the other way:  find the very best defensive center fielder you can possibly find and give HIM the job.  I long for the days of awe-inspiring catches being run down at the wall; I want those days to return, even if it means we have to suffer some more at the plate!  Let’s face it, as long as this team keeps drafting terribly, and as long as they play in Safeco, this team is going to be offensively challenged.  Might as well go the other way and get as strong defensively as you possibly can.

That goes double when you see what we’ve got in the corner outfield.  You’re just not going to keep Nelson Cruz from playing right field half the time.  It’s just the way it is.  Until he severely destroys his knees, he’s going to be a part of this defense.  And, say what you will about Seth Smith, but he’s no defensive wunderkind.  And besides all of that, you still need a right-handed platoon partner for Smith, as well as another solid all-around outfielder beyond that.  If the team was smart, they’d play Cruz in the outfield exclusively in National League parks and against left-handed starters and make Cruz Seth Smith’s platoon partner.  That’d give Smith about 2/3 of the starts, which is about what he should be getting, and it would still give Cruz enough starts in the outfield to feel like he’s giving us more than just his bat.  But, again, that’s if the team was smart.  In that instance, they’d only need to find TWO everyday outfielders instead of three or four in various timeshare situations.  Whatever happens, Ackley needs to go, and Trumbo needs to not be part of that outfield mix.

From there, fill out the bench as best as you can.  Find another catcher, I don’t care whose dick you have to suck.  Chris Taylor is an adequate bench player who can cover you in all the infield positions if need be; the new generation’s Willie Bloomquist.  Fill out the outfield bench spots with speed; maybe finally decide to keep Jones up here for the duration to be a base-stealing and defensive specialist.  Good teams DO have those guys, you know.

If it’s up to me, the roster looks something like this:

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Good, Veteran Starter
  3. Taijuan Walker
  4. Mike Montgomery/Roenis Elias
  5. James Paxton/Innings-Eating Veteran Starter
  • Good, Veteran Closer/Reliever
  • Carson Smith
  • Mark Lowe
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Vidal Nuno
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Other Veteran Righty Reliever/Young Righty Fireballer
  1. Mike Zunino – Catcher
  2. Trumbo OR LoMo/Montero – First Base
  3. Robinson Cano – Second Base
  4. Brad Miller – Short Stop
  5. Kyle Seager – Third Base
  6. Good, Veteran Corner Outfielder
  7. Good Defensive Center Fielder
  8. Smith/Cruz – Right Field
  9. Cruz/Whoever – Designated Hitter
  • Backup Catcher Who’s Not Sucre
  • Chris Taylor – Infielder
  • Backup First Baseman
  • Backup Outfielder

For the pitchers, it’s a one or the other scenario.  You’d have Felix and Walker pretty well locked in there, as well as whoever we bring in to be our #2.  Then, you’d want approximately four guys competing for those final two spots.  Paxton, if he’s healthy, probably gets the nod.  And, ideally, you’d only have Montgomery or Elias, but not both, as they’re pretty close to the same pitcher.  Innings-Eating Veteran needs to look reasonably good, but will very well have the advantage over both Montgomery & Elias, as he’s not likely to have any options left.

The bullpen is pretty self-explanatory.

If we go platoon at first base, then obviously the other half of that platoon becomes “Backup First Baseman”.  If we go Trumbo at first, then either Montero gets a chance to be on our bench, or we go out and get someone, but again, I don’t think LoMo should be that guy.  With Cruz & Smith, you’re still looking for three new outfielders (again, assuming the organization has any brains and opts to keep Trumbo away from the outfield entirely), and I wouldn’t mind the bench guy being someone like James Jones.  Either way, Jones can’t be the everyday center fielder, so that needs to come from elsewhere.  And, as I’ve stated repeatedly, they need to get rid of Ackley and go somewhere else for the left field spot too.

If this team wants to try to hang onto the core and keep building around it, I don’t see any way they get that done with fewer than six new players – two starters, two relievers, and at least two fielders/hitters.  The first base situation is a quagmire that we’re probably stuck with, but the outfield situation needs to be a complete breath of fresh air from head to toe.

I don’t know how they’re going to do it, and after this abortion of a season, I honestly don’t much care.  Just get it done and quit wasting Felix’s prime!

Mariners Tidbit 11: What’s Happ-ening?

You know who’s presumably got two thumbs and is in a no-win situation?  J.A. Happ.

After the Cruz signing, and probably the Seager extension, the trade for J.A. Happ has gotten the most pub in Seattle.  It makes sense – and in a way, even the trade makes sense – but I don’t think there’s any way this thing ends well for Happ in Seattle.

We’re all abundantly aware that Michael Saunders was the price to obtain Happ.  Saunders was deemed – by the organization – to be too much of an injury risk to keep around.  He promptly required knee surgery at the beginning of Spring Training this year, but it looks like he’ll nevertheless be ready for the start of the regular season.  For some reason, I doubt that’s the last time we’re going to hear about Saunders missing time or going under the knife.

Anyway, the fans were up in arms over the move.  We all saw what Saunders was capable of – when healthy – and it seemed like too much to give up for what we got in return.  Happ is a middle-of-the-road innings-eater in the same vein as Chris Young, Joe Saunders, Jeremy Bonderman, Aaron Harang, and Kevin Millwood, to name a few.  It seems like every year, the Mariners are in the market for one of these re-treads, and every year we get a new experience.  Chris Young was the epitome of Best Case Scenario and Jeremy Bonderman was probably at the opposite end of the spectrum.  You don’t bring these guys in and give them spots in your rotation for their upside, because at this point there IS no upside.  Chris Young was pretty solid last year, but he’s still far from the ideal (and, besides that, there’s a reason why it took him so long before he caught on with a ballclub).  You employ these guys as injury insurance, or as insurance against one of your younger (higher upside) pitchers not quite being ready for primetime.

Either way, no one WANTS to employ a J.A. Happ.  But, it makes good sense, if he can keep you in enough ballgames and give you something close to a .500 record in his starts.

Happ’s start to this spring has been less than ideal.  He’s made three starts and all he’s really accomplished is getting his pitch count up into the 80s.  Obviously, no one in his right mind should be focused to intently on the numbers one puts up in Spring Training, but it’s just more ammo to throw onto the fire in the case against Happ ever being a fan favorite.  What’s most important is what happens in the regular season, but what right do we have to be excited about his regular season performance, based on his past experience?

The hope – and probably the Best Case Scenario – with J.A. Happ is that he’s able to turn in a Safeco Joe-esque one-year career with the Mariners.  Puts up decent-to-good numbers at home, and is mostly a trainwreck on the road.  While it’s evident that these types of nothing pitchers are able to extend their careers by pitching half their games in Seattle, it’s still putting a Band Aid over a severed foot.  Eventually, they start struggling at home as well as on the road, and when that happens they’re effectively useless.

I’m calling it right now:  J.A. Happ will cause more harm than good.  The team will be well-served to demote him to the bullpen or DFA him altogether, because I have no doubt in my mind that he’s clearly the sixth best starting pitcher in this organization.  Hell, at this point I wonder if Erasmo Ramirez is even better than Happ!  Here’s to hoping the Mariners realize this before he costs us our shot at the postseason.

Just Another Home Opener NOT On Opening Day

Last year, the Mariners didn’t get to play their home opener until April 13th, after eight games on the road including two in Japan.  I don’t remember this, but apparently the Mariners got to start Felix Hernandez at their home opener last season.  He went seven innings, giving up two runs, and we ended up losing to Bartolo Colon and the Oakland Athletics 4-0.

In 2011, the Mariners didn’t play their home opener until April 8th, after six games on the road.  I remember this game vividly, because Jason Vargas got the start against the Cleveland Indians, giving up 7 runs in 3.1 innings en route to a miserable 12-3 loss.  The 2011 Mariners were trying to help everyone forget about the doldrums their 2010 counterparts faced; what better way to do that than to get lit up at home in front of a near-sellout crowd?

In 2010, the Mariners didn’t play their home opener until April 12th, after seven games on the road.  I have a vague recollection of this game, which leads me to believe that maybe last night’s home opener was my FOURTH in a row and not just my third.  Ryan Rowland-Smith was a personal favorite of mine and he didn’t do so hot in his 7 innings of 4-run ball.  The Mariners lost this game to the A’s 4-0, while generating only two hits.

In 2009, the Mariners didn’t play their home opener until April 14th, after seven games on the road.  I am almost positive I didn’t go to this game, though I bet I thought about it.  Carlos Silva got the start, went 7 innings, gave up 2 runs, but this ended up being a battle of the bullpens as the Mariners won 3-2 in 10 innings.

2008 was the last time the Mariners got to play their home opener on ACTUAL Opening Day.  On March 31st, against Kevin Millwood and the Texas Rangers.  Newly-acquired Erik Bedard got the start and went 5 strong innings of 1-run ball; Sean Green, Eric O’Flaherty, Mark Lowe, and J.J. Putz locked down the final four innings, giving up only 1 run in our 5-2 victory.  For the record, the Mariners played their first three games at home, then promptly went out on the road for a 7-game trip against the likes of Baltimore and Tampa Bay.

Major League Baseball REALLY likes sticking the M’s on the road to start the season!

I was at the game last night, but right now my mind is a jumbled mush, so this post probably won’t come out the way I want it to.

When I go to a mid-week Mariners game, I tend to do it up right.  Straight from work (getting off at 3:30), I walk down to the tunnel and get off at the International District stop.  From there, it’s a hop and a skip over to Slugger’s, the little hole in the wall just across from the north entrance to CenturyLink Field.  Yesterday, I made a bee-line to the upstairs area and grabbed the first 4-person table I could find.  A basket of tots and a Coors Light tallboy later, I was joined by a couple of friends and we proceeded to drink Coors Banquet Beer tallboys until 6:15 or so.

Then, we grabbed some bagel dogs from Blazin’ Bagels and went inside.  We opted for the 200-level club seats, along the third base line, and were hardly disappointed.  Of course, I managed to find the only two Astros fans willing to spend upwards of $75-$100 on club tickets, seated right next to me.  There’s nothing sadder than a lone Astros fan clapping in your ear when he knows as well as you do that there’s no chance in Hell the Astros are going to win this game.  Nevertheless, it’s still kind of annoying when you hear people next to you cheering at all the wrong times.

I was inside buying a soda when Jamie Moyer threw out the first pitch.  From television replays, he looked like a guy who should not be quitting his day job (especially when that day job is “Sit around, do nothing, play some golf, and go for a swim in your Money Bin”).  I don’t understand these athletes who can’t give up the game.  IT’S JUST A GAME!  Take your millions of dollars and enjoy your fucking life!  Find a new hobby for fuck’s sake, it’s not that hard!

I did not get a chance to leave our club seats during the game.  I did not spend any time in The Pen, nor did I get a chance to walk through Edgar’s; it was far too crowded to do either.  Maybe on some chance Tuesday-night game when there are only 12,000 people there.

I did get to marvel at the new video screen.  Sure is a great way to pump us up with more advertisements!  Here we go, Budweiser, here we go!  Clap clap.

The hydro races were most certainly NOT in mid-season form.  Green won wire to wire!  When does that EVER happen?  Yellow was poised for a breakthru, but it wasn’t to be.

Oh, and a fan ran onto the field!  Those are always fun and exciting.  It was between innings, so I’m sure the Root broadcast was on a commercial break.  I’m also sure that when they came back, Dave Sims probably made some disparaging remark about that fan’s overall jackassery.  I don’t understand the media policy surrounding fans running onto the field.  They have an “America Doesn’t Negotiate With Terrorists” type of stubborn resolve over not showing these people (streakers, athlete kissers, general disruptors) on camera, lest everyone else gets the bright idea that, “If I run out onto the field, I’ll be famous!”  This, in spite of the fact that NOT showing them still doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent.  Also, let’s face it, when someone runs onto the field, people want to see what happens!  They’ll take a break from open-heart surgery to see how this idiot gets tackled and whisked away to Stadium Jail.  Why not show it?  It’s something new and different and obviously the people want to know what’s happening.  Pretending everything is hunky dory and showing random shots of athletes standing around looking confused isn’t exactly the best way to spend five minutes of broadcast time.  Making snarky comments about people you refuse to show on camera, bemoaning how they’re wasting everyone’s time, is also a terrible way to spend your broadcast time.  Just acknowledge it, laugh it off, and let us see the guy get tackled to the turf by four guys in security outfits!

As for the game itself, what am I going to tell you about a 3-0 game over the Astros that you don’t already know?  I was going to rage against the machine if Joe Saunders got anything less than five strikeouts, so bully for him.  He only managed to go 6.1 innings even though his pitch count was at 91 for the day.

I’m telling you, I’ve never seen a manager so giddy about his bullpen.  I hope you like mid-inning pitching replacements, because Eric Wedge is a kid in a candy store, mixing and matching left-handers and right-handers left and right!  Capps came in and continued his blitzkrieg on the rest of baseball.  Furbush got to pitch to one guy.  And Wilhelmsen recorded one of the easiest saves you’re ever going to see.  A 3-0 lead against the Astros shouldn’t even COUNT as a save!  That’s like a 12-0 lead against anyone else!

Regarding the offense, they got five hits.  Saunders and Morales got two apiece in accounting for just about all of our offensive production.  Dustin Ackley got a hit and still managed to finish the day with a sub-.100 batting average.

In fact, here’s a look at our 5-6-7-8 hitters:

  • Kyle Seager
  • Justin Smoak
  • Jesus Montero
  • Dustin Ackley

And here are their batting averages:

  • .167
  • .167
  • .160
  • .087

The future of the Mariners!  The young core that’s going to lead this organization back to the playoffs!  True to the Blue!

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.

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.

So, Jon Garland Won’t Pitch For The Mariners (Will Pitch For The Rockies)

News – if you can really call it “news” – happened while I was away.  I followed along, as I’m sure most of you did, and I was flabbergasted, as I’m sure most of you were.  I mean, who DIDN’T think he was a lock to make this team?

Apparently, last Friday was the deadline.  It was written into his deal so he’d have plenty of time to find a backup team in the event that the Mariners decided at the last minute they didn’t want him.  Funny thing is, I have a feeling had he opted to stick it out for the final week, the Mariners probably WOULD have made him their fourth or fifth starter.  Instead, the Mariners told him they weren’t ready to give him that spot, and he took that as his opportunity to look elsewhere for employment.

Now, obviously, we weren’t in on the conversation.  Maybe the Mariners said what they’re reported as having said, or maybe they said something different.  Maybe they left the opportunity open to him – to possibly make this team if he chose to stay – or maybe they slammed the door shut and told him to take a hike.  Either way, Garland figured he’d have a better chance elsewhere.

With Seattle this spring, Garland appeared as a starter in 4 games and as a reliever in 0 games.  He pitched 12 innings in those 4 games, giving up 10 hits, 3 runs (2 homers), 5 walks, and 4 strikeouts.  That’s the data.  And apparently he (or his agent) heard enough from other teams that those numbers would suffice.  It wasn’t the ballsiest of moves, but it was still a decision that came with some risk.  Risk that has now been rewarded with a Major League contract with the Rockies and a guaranteed starting job in the Major Leagues.

Will this move come back to bite the Mariners in the ass?  I find it incredibly hard to believe.  Garland is 33 years old.  Best case scenario (had he stayed, and the Mariners made him a starter):  he pitches the full season with us as a back-end starter, approaches 200 innings, has an ERA around 4 and a record around .500.  Had he done that, he most certainly would’ve signed a bigger deal elsewhere for multiple years.  I can’t imagine the Mariners would have extended him, knowing what we have ready to burst through the upper minor leagues.

Would it have been nice to have a stabilizing influence at the back-end of our rotation a la Kevin Millwood?  Sure, I guess.  But, Jon Garland isn’t the difference between playoffs and no-playoffs.  Hell, he’s not even the difference between contention and no-contention!  Again, define “contention” however you wish (I’d say within 5 games back of a playoff spot going into the final month is a pretty conservative estimate), but Garland was hardly a savior.  His ceiling is incredibly low, he had no future with this team beyond 2013 (had they opted to keep him), and his floor is pretty brutal when you think about it.

Jon Garland’s floor is essentially this:  we keep him, meaning we have to make room for him on our 40-man roster.  So, we cut someone younger, with more upside and more value, to bring in a guy on a one-year and ONLY one-year deal.  Then, he gets injured.  Because, let’s face it, there isn’t exactly the greatest track record of starting pitchers returning from shoulder surgery.  So, not only have we wasted a roster spot, but we paid a guy to come in and reinjure his most fragile body part.  Resulting in what the Mariners have right now!  Most likely a younger guy coming in and taking that final spot (like a Beavan or a Maurer).

Might as well avoid all that potential mess.  Or, at the very least, don’t let that potential mess dictate terms before you’re ready to accept.  I wish Garland nothing but the best for the Colorado Rockies.  Unfortunately, I have a feeling his best will result in 2013 being his final go-around.

Seattle Mariners Spring Training Preview

You can see yesterday’s Offseason Review here.  One-stop shopping for all the Seattle Mariners offseason moves of note (see what I did there with that “of note” … can’t pull the wool over the eyes of THIS guy).

So, to bring it back, this is the team the Seattle Mariners ended with in 2012 (the players in BOLD are no longer on the team going into 2013):

C – Jesus Montero
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
SS – Brendan Ryan
3B – Kyle Seager
LF – Casper Wells
CF – Michael Saunders
RF – Eric Thames
DH – John Jaso

C – Miguel Olivo
OF – Trayvon Robinson
INF – Munenori Kawasaki
Util – Chone Figgins

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Jason Vargas
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Kevin Millwood
  5. Blake Beavan

Closer – Tom Wilhelmsen
LRP – Oliver Perez
RRP – Josh Kinney
RRP – Stephen Pryor
LRP – Charlie Furbush
LRP – Lucas Luetge
Long Relief – Erasmo Ramirez

Obviously, the 2012 Mariners’ roster was ever-changing, so these aren’t concrete examples.  But, overall, in the 2nd half of last year, more often than not these are the players who played and those were the positions they played.  Give or take a Guti and Carp (when they were healthy) and a Shawn Kelley in the bullpen.

So, from the looks of things, we’re replacing at least seven guys on this roster (including our ENTIRE bench and 40% of our starting rotation).  But, obviously, those aren’t the only moves to be made.  You gotta figure aside from Pitching Staff Ace, everyone’s job is on the line.  Based on the offseason moves made to date, here’s what I’m seeing as our roster to start the 2013 season (changes from 2012 made in BOLD):

C – Jesus Montero
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
SS – Brendan Ryan
3B – Kyle Seager
LF – Michael Saunders
CF – Franklin Gutierrez
RF – Michael Morse
DH – Kendrys Morales

C – Kelly Shoppach
OF – Raul Ibanez
INF – Robert Andino
OF – Casper Wells

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Joe Saunders
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Jon Garland
  5. Erasmo Ramirez

Closer – Tom Wilhelmsen
LRP – Oliver Perez
RRP – Josh Kinney
RRP – Stephen Pryor
LRP – Charlie Furbush
LRP – Lucas Luetge
Long Relief – Blake Beavan

Obviously, I hold no sway in this deal.  Although, truth be told, if I had it my way and things break the way I hope they’ll break, this would be the starting 25 you’d see on Opening Day.

So, let’s go through it, position by position.

The first five players listed above, from Catcher – Montero down through our entire infield, is all the same.  Yes, it will be important for the moves the Mariners made to pan out if we’re hoping to shock the world and contend for a playoff spot in September; but if this team is ever going to pan out long-term, it’s going to be up to these five guys:  Montero, Smoak, Ackley, Seager, and Ryan.  Montero and Smoak are supposed to be our middle-of-the-order thumpers to drive in runs.  Thus far, they’ve been underwhelming.  Now, we’ll see if those “protection” theories hold any water (the thinking being:  if you have good, established hitters in your lineup, they will “protect” younger, inexperienced guys like Smoak and Montero, thereby allowing them to see better pitches because opposing pitchers are too worried about the veterans like Morse and Morales).  2013 is Make or Break for Jackie Z and it’s Make or Break for Montero and Smoak.  If they fail, Jackie Z is likely toast, Smoak is likely to be dealt for peanuts, and Montero will be relegated to a backup catcher role as Mike Zunino takes hold of the position for the next decade-plus.  If they succeed, then Jackie Z will likely be given an extension, Smoak will hold the fort at first base, and Montero will hold the fort at DH while Zunino takes over as full-time catcher anyway because he’s so great.

The bottom line:  we need Smoak and Montero to be good.  We need Seager to build upon his promising 2012.  We need Ackley to show why being picked #2 overall was a smart decision.  And we need Brendan Ryan to hit SOMETHING, because if he can be halfway competent, his defense makes him a superstar.

We need:  no more black holes!

Let’s move on to the outfield.  Michael Saunders played the full season in 2012 and made huge strides.  He primarily played in center because Guti once AGAIN couldn’t stay healthy.  Like Seager, it will be important for Saunders to build upon his promising 2012.  This organization has enough to worry about.  Let’s have Saunders not be one of those things.

Getting Guti back, healthy, and in center full time is akin to signing a bigtime free agent.  If we can just, for Christ’s sake!, get Guti back to where he was in 2009 before this nightmare run of maladies befell our beloved center fielder, then it’ll be an addition on par with the other big bats we brought in.

Morse, while a liability on defense, should be a steadying presence in the lineup.  Personally, I think these baseball intellectuals are giving WAY too much credence to defensive metrics they readily admit are flawed.  I don’t for one second believe Casper Wells is as good, much less better than Michael Morse as an overall baseball player.  His defense might be superior, but is it SO superior that it overwhelms the fact that Morse is a legitimate Major League hitter while Wells sucks dick except for a few brilliant spurts of prowess?  I say no.  Morse makes this team better than Wells and he makes this team better than all of the other jackasses we had in the corner outfield spots in 2012.

Morales is another legitimate Major League hitter that we can slide right into the #3 or #4 spot in the lineup.  With Morales and Morse as a one-two punch, we’re really giving other teams something to think about for the first time in YEARS.  More importantly, it pushes guys like Seager, Smoak, and Montero into less-stressful spots in the lineup, where they can worry about their own games, and not trying to carry this team on their backs.

As for the bench, I think we’re better across the board.  Shoppach has to be a step up from Olivo.  Ibanez essentially takes over as the veteran presence Chone Figgins occupied last year, only Ibanez should hopefully not be a complete waste of space.  Andino is an upgrade over Kawasaki.  The only question mark is the final outfield spot.  I’m predicting Casper Wells takes it over Jason Bay, because I just have zero confidence in that guy having anything left in the tank.  With Wells, you’re looking at a clear upgrade over Robinson, Thames, Carp, Peguero, and whoever else was our reserve outfielder in 2012.  Being the team’s 4th outfielder seems to be the role Casper Wells was born to play.  He can cover all the outfield positions and he’s not such a huge drop-off in offensive production when you play him sparingly (and against left-handed pitchers).

Here’s what our starting lineup could look like for much of the 2013 season:

  1. (L) – Dustin Ackley (2B)
  2. (L) – Kyle Seager (3B)
  3. (S) – Kendrys Morales (DH)
  4. (R) – Michael Morse (RF)
  5. (R) – Jesus Montero (C)
  6. (S) – Justin Smoak (1B)
  7. (R) – Franklin Gutierrez (CF)
  8. (L) – Michael Saunders (LF)
  9. (R) – Brendan Ryan (SS)

Doesn’t look too bad, right?  Again, this is all guess-work, but in an ideal world, if the Mariners are playing a 1-game playoff to get into the post-season, this is the lineup I’d like to see.  Against a tough right-handed pitcher, you can slide Saunders into center, and start Ibanez in left.  Late in games, you can put Wells in for Morse (or pinch-run him for Montero, Morales or Morse).  And on getaway games, you’re not losing a ton when you start Andino for Ryan, Shoppach for Montero, Ibanez for whoever, and Wells for whoever else.  You can give Seager and Ackley days off from playing the field by throwing them at DH once in a while.  Morales can always slide over to first base in a pinch, I’m assuming.  Lots of flexibility on this team.

More importantly, lots of production on this team, if things go the way we hope.  If Ackley improves and Seager at the very least doesn’t get any worse, you’re talking about a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup.  Morales and Morse are there to hit dingers, Montero and Smoak are down in the lineup where there’s less pressure on them.  And, at the end of our lineup, you’re not talking about 1/3 of our batters being a bottomless pit of despair!  While before we were trying to shoe-horn guys like Saunders and Guti into the upper third of the lineup, now we have the luxury to play them near the bottom, improving our production dramatically over guys like Thames, Trayvon Robinson, an everyday Casper Wells, and so on.  Saunders and Guti have the potential to be productive EVERY day, not every 10 days.  That’s big in my book.

I don’t want to alarm any of you.  If you’re on any heart medication or have a pacemaker, you may want to stop reading right now.  Don’t look now, but this offense MIGHT just be a league-average offense!  I KNOW, RIGHT?

If you want to know why so many people are picking the Mariners to be one of the “surprise” teams of 2013 a la Oakland and Baltimore of 2012, look no further.  Of course, by these very people declaring us a “surprise” team, they’ve effectively ruined the surprise and doomed us to a fate worse than Bill Simmons picking the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl.  I want you to keep that in mind as you don’t watch this team still playing in October.

One major reason to take a huge step back from all those post-season expectations is this team’s starting rotation.  At the top, we’re fine.  If Felix can give us his usual Cy Young-calibre pitching, we’ve got a huge leg-up over most other teams.  And, if Joe Saunders can continue to be Joe Saunders (and not Worse Joe Saunders), then we’ve effectively made up for the loss of Vargas and won’t miss much of a beat.

After those two, it gets a little … iffy.  Is Iwakuma the real deal, like he was in the second half of 2012?  Or, is he going to require another half-season to get his stuff up to snuff?  If we landed the real deal with Iwakuma, then I’ll tell you we’ve really got something here.  Felix, Saunders, and Iwakuma aren’t really on par with the best 1-2-3’s in the Major Leagues, but for the regular season they could be just enough to get the job done.  If those guys can give us 60 wins in their 90+ starts, then we’ve only got to manage somewhere around 30 wins across the other starters’ 60+ starts to be a legitimate candidate for post-season contention.

Well, when you put it that way …

The last two starters could be brutal, though.  I’m only pencilling Jon Garland into the rotation based on his prior performances; but that guy hasn’t pitched in a year and a half!  Erasmo Ramirez is only in my hypothetical rotation based on a handful of starts in June and again in September.  Ramirez had 4 starts in June where the M’s went 2-2 (his record being 0-2), his ERA was 4.58, and he averaged less than 5 innings per start.  Of course, a main reason for that average was his last start where he left injured in the 3rd inning and promptly went on the DL.  He only had 1 quality start out of those four, but MAN was it a quality start!  8 innings, 10 strikeouts, 1 earned run on 3 hits and a walk in a 1-0 loss to the A’s.  Upon his return from the DL, in a September call-up, Ramirez made 4 more starts.  The M’s were 1-3 in these games (his record being 1-1) and his ERA was only 2.96 in this stretch, as he averaged nearly 7 innings per start.

So, in reality, I’m basing Ramirez’s status in our 2013 rotation on five starts in 2012.  Not really the smartest way to go about predicting a roster, but then again, it’s not like I’m the only one.  Many smarter people than myself are also pencilling Ramirez into our rotation.

Which, when you think about it, could be the best thing for this team.  When you see these “surprise” teams jump out of the woodwork, what’s a general theme?  They USUALLY have one or two very young rotation guys who have breakout years.  What’s more likely?  A guy like Smoak or Ackley figures it out and takes the world by storm?  Or a pitcher like Ramirez (or Hultzen, or someone else) mowing people down out of nowhere?  You see it all the time with pitchers; why can’t Ramirez be that catalyst for us at the back-end of our rotation?

At which point, you’ve got an elite Felix Hernandez, a steady Joe Saunders, a solid Hisashi Iwakuma, and a breakout Erasmo Ramirez.  With Jon Garland as an innings eater who will give you a number of quality starts a la Kevin Millwood.  I’m not gonna lie to you, my heart just fluttered a little.

The more I think about it, if we can JUST squeeze the best out of this starting rotation, and if our hitters can do JUST enough to keep us in ballgames, this very well COULD be our year!  Because I don’t think you’re going to find many better bullpens – from top to bottom – than the one we have in Seattle this year.  It’s a shame we have to waste it on a team that will likely be treading water around .500, because in a couple years (when this team will theoretically be ready to make the big jump towards regular contention) this bullpen won’t be the same (and will likely price itself out of our range).

But, Wilhelmsen is a stud of the highest order.  Yet, if he fails, Carter Capps is waiting in the wings.  And if he fails, Stephen Pryor is another flame-thrower.  And if he fails, Oliver Perez can burn the strike zone from the left side.  And if HE fails … it goes on and on.  Furbush had an amazing 2012 out of the bullpen.  Kinney was solid, if unspectacular.  Luetge was a Rule 5 draft pick who stuck with the team as a left-handed specialist.  Beavan has always been an innings eater who will easily devour innings in a long relief role.

For the record, the likelihood of all those guys failing is pretty slim.  But, in my opinion, NONE of those guys will fail, and we will have the best lockdown bullpen in the American League.

How many 1-run games can the Mariners win?  Ultimately, that will tell the story as to whether or not this team makes the playoffs.  I know winning 1-run games isn’t really a sustainable model for building a championship contender, but every so often there are outliers.  The A’s last year were 11-5 in extra-innings games.  They were 25-18 in 1-run games.  The Orioles last year were a mind-boggling 16-2 in extra-innings games!  And they were 29-9 in 1-run games!

Meanwhile, the Mariners last year were 5-10 in extra-innings games and 25-28 in 1-run games.  Gotta figure out a way to turn those figures around.  Clutch hitting, quality starts, unbelievable bullpen pitching.  That’s the key.  With just enough late-game defense thrown in to keep everyone honest.

I’ll have an official Season Preview closer to our April 1st season debut in Oakland (where else?), once everything has been set in stone and we know just exactly what we can expect on Opening Night.  In the meantime, dare I say it?  There’s ACTUALLY some reasons for optimism in 2013?

Free Agent Watch: Mariners Sign Joe Saunders, Backup Catcher

One of these things happened a while ago, but I couldn’t be bothered to care.  The other is so damn new, it’s hardly more than a glimmer in Twitter’s rumor-mongering eye.  But, since the right people on Twitter are saying the right things – 1 year deal for Joe Saunders – I feel it’s strong enough to go with.

Kelly Shoppach is the catcher in the title of this post.  He’s been in the Bigs since 2005 (where he had a cup of coffee with the Red Sox), he has a career batting average of .226, he has played in over 100 games only once in his career (112 in 2008) and he managed a robust .261 average that season.  He’s a guy Eric Wedge had in Cleveland, he’s a veteran, he likely won’t be expected to play all that much (40-60 games, I would guess), and he’s a BACKUP catcher, so really, who cares?  He will struggle mightily on Wednesday and Sunday get-away games, BFD.

Keep your expectations low.  Keep them WAY low.  Like, imagine your already-low expectations for this upcoming Mariners season as a whole, and bury those expectations under the requisite 50-feet-of-crap necessary to not drive yourself crazy about how bad this guy is going to be on the few occasions he’s inserted into the starting lineup.  Then, if by the grace of Satan, Kelly Shoppach manages to scrape the edges of a .250 batting average, we can smirk, put our hands on our hips, and exclaim to absolutely no one, “Huh, what do you know?  This guy ISN’T a total waste of space!”

Joe Saunders is the Joe Saunders in the title of this post.  Say it aloud, “Joe Saunders”.  You don’t even need to see the guy play or know anything about his history in the Major Leagues; just saying his name aloud will give you all the knowledge you’ll ever need about this guy.  He has mediocrity oozing out of his pores like a pizza-faced teenager.  He has a career 4.15 ERA in 189 career starts and ALREADY I’M SNORING!

I hope you’re all happy.  You all bitched and you moaned about how boring and pointless Jason Vargas was (aww, who am I kidding; I was right there with you).  Now look at what we’ve got!  His older, whiter, pudgier, less lesbian-looking distant relative with just about the exact same skillset.  He’s like a left-handed version of Kevin Millwood on whatever the opposite of steroids would be (quaaludes, I guess).

On the plus side, he’s on a one-year deal.  Remember how that was the same plus side we had with Millwood?  Remember how that’s not really much of a plus side at all, because it still means we have to deal with this guy for one full season (which is one full season too many, if you ask me)?

Please, young talented starting pitchers in the Minors; please get elite quickly so we can stop signing these guys to 1-year deals!

The best and worst thing I can say about Joe Saunders is that he’s durable.  That’s essentially my point.  Yes, he will eat up innings and give you adequate performances.  But, yes, he will eat up innings and give us eternal adequacy.  Every five days, for the whole … fucking … season.

But, when you pit that against the alternative – a season’s worth of Hector Noesi giving up gopher balls on 0-2 counts – I guess I’ll have to take it, yeah?  Yeah, I guess I will.

Lord help this team if I have to come back and correct this post, lamenting a surprise 2nd season they’ve for-some-reason decided to tack on.

Keep this in mind as we head into Spring Training, as I’m sure I won’t be the only one to bring it up:

  • We replaced Vargas with Joe Saunders
  • We replaced Jaso with Kelly Shoppach
  • We replaced Jaso’s bat (as a DH) with Kendrys Morales’ bat (as a DH)
  • We replaced a revolving door in left field (Wells, Thames, Peguero, Robinson) with Raul Ibanez and Michael Saunders
  • We replaced Ichiro and another revolving door in right field with Mike Morse

Are we REALLY better than we were in 2012?  I, for one, am champing at the bit to dig into this team next week and find out for myself.