Former Mariners Defeated Current Mariners

How fucking weird is this shit?  The Blue Jays hit three homers yesterday, by three different people who spent significant time in the Mariners organization, scoring all four of their runs in a 4-2 Blue Jays victory.

In the fourth, the Mariners nursing a 1-0 lead, Kendrys Morales hit a 2-run homer.  Those would be Ariel Miranda’s only 2 runs allowed, in his 6.1 innings (2 hits, 5 walks, 2 strikeouts) as he continues his fine sophomore campaign.

Then, in the eighth, after the Mariners tied it at two on a Jarrod Dyson stolen base followed by two errors (on a bad throw from the catcher to second base, allowing Dyson to take third; and on the centerfielder over-running said bad throw, allowing Dyson to take home), Ezequiel Carrera hit a solo homer to right.

Carrera, you might remember, was thrown into that massive 3-team deal back in December of 2008 that brought the Mariners Guti, Vargas, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp, among others (in the height of the Jackie Z era).  Carrera never got a call up to Seattle – making it as high as Tacoma in 2010 – before being traded to Cleveland that same year in June for the return of Russell Branyan.  Remember when the Mariners were so bad on offense they had to go back to the Branyan well and STILL set records for fewest runs scored in a season?  Yeah.

Anyway, I wouldn’t say Carrera has been some All Star or anything since we gave him away, but he’s been a nice little player for a few teams, including Toronto.

Finally, in the ninth, Justin Smoak smacked a homer off of Steve Cishek, because of course he did.

I know the bullpen did us no favors last night, but they’ve been the best bullpen in baseball for a little while now, so I’m down to give them some slack.  Where I think the Mariners were really lacking is on offense, and I attribute this one to not having Jean Segura.

I obviously misjudged Taylor Motter’s abilities when he got off to his hot start this season, but he’s been remarkably bad at the plate ever since.  All you gotta do is pitch him away – which is sort of the defacto strategy for most pitchers anyway – and he’ll roll over on it and die on his feet.  He’s been able to scratch out some singles here and there, but his power is GONE.  He’s hit 1 homer since April 23rd; he’s hit 0 doubles since May 9th.  Suffice it to say, this stint making up for Segura has not gone as well as the first one.

The Mariners had the double-whammy of having to start Tyler Smith at short stop (bumping Motter to first base) because Danny Valencia needed a day off to rest some nagging injuries.  Valencia still came in to pinch hit, but didn’t do anything.  Tyler Smith, I know is a rookie, but he doesn’t appear to have it at the Major League level.  Sucks we had to lose Mike Freeman, because it feels like he could be a real asset right now.

It seems like most everyone is dealing with one nagging injury or another, but since this is the stupid sport of baseball, there’s yet another game today.  I guess that’s what you get with all these fully-guaranteed contracts:  no fucking days off.  Maybe they can work that into the next collective bargaining agreement.

The Long Shadow of the Randy Johnson Trade

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

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.

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?

Seattle Mariners Offseason Review

With Michael Bourn finally signing, with the Cleveland Indians of all teams, and with Spring Training officially underway, I’m officially calling it the End of the Offseason.  The Mariners have made ALL the moves they’re going to make, and their precious unprotected #12 draft pick is securely in their possession.  So, consider that their first move of the offseason:  keeping their draft pick (which they would’ve lost had they signed a premier free agent like Bourn or Josh Hamilton).  It’ll be interesting to see what that guy turns into, considering I’m hearing rumors that this isn’t the strongest of all draft classes.

The Mariners have made moves, both major and minor.  I’m not going to get into those Arbitration-Eligible players the Mariners had.  Just, rest assured, they eventually came to an agreement with all of them.

The Major Moves are as follows:

  1. Felix Hernandez signs 7-year, $175 million deal
  2. Jason Vargas is traded to Anaheim for Kendrys Morales
  3. John Jaso is indirectly traded to Oakland for Washington’s Michael Morse
  4. Hisashi Iwakuma signs 2-year, $14 million deal
  5. Joe Saunders signs 1-year, $6.5 million deal (plus mutual option for 2014)

These are the guarantees.  Felix is obviously the biggie; he really deserves to be in a class all his own.  Because, aside from his deal, Iwakuma’s deal, and possibly Saunders’ deal, everything else the Mariners have done this offseason has been strictly for 2013 and no more.  That isn’t to say the Mariners won’t re-sign Morales or Morse or anyone else, but without the guarantee on the table, we really can’t count on anything long-term, now can we?

As a gentle aside, I would point out that it’s quite unwise to dismiss Geoff Baker’s assessment out of hand that the Mariners aren’t gearing up for a transition of organizational power in the near future.  All the Mariners have at the moment are Felix, young guys on rookie contracts, a bunch of stiffs on 1-year deals, and the last year of Chone Figgins’ contract.  After 2013, we can forget that Chone Figgins ever happened, and all those stiffs will be dust in the wind.  Think about it.  For a franchise going into serious negotiations with a potential Regional Sports Network (be it Root Sports, Comcast, or some other entity yet to be determined), you’re looking at some SERIOUS fucking value.  Do the right thing, Nintendo, sell to a committed buyer whose primary and only obligation is to WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS!

So, Felix stays, Saunders replaces Vargas, Iwakuma gets a chance to build on his solid second half of last year, Morales fills the DH role shared by Montero and Jaso, and Morse fills the corner outfield role that was spread evenly between Ichiro and a bunch of AAA knuckleheads.

Our offseason will be defined by these major moves, but they’re not the only moves.  While our OFFSEASON will be defined by those five guys, our level of success in the regular season might just hinge on some of these minor deals we made.  It’s going to be more difficult ranking these guys as I did with the five above, but I’ll do my best.

  1. Jon Garland signs 1-year minor league deal
  2. Raul Ibanez signs 1-year Major League deal for $2.75 million plus incentives
  3. Oliver Perez signs 1-year, $1.5 million deal
  4. Trayvon Robinson is traded to Baltimore for Robert Andino
  5. Kelly Shoppach signs 1-year deal for $1.5 million
  6. Jason Bay signs 1-year deal for $1 million (if he makes the team), with only $500,000 guaranteed
  7. Jeremy Bonderman signs 1-year minor league deal
  8. Kameron Loe signs 1-year minor league deal

Obviously, there are a lot of question marks about these guys.  I have a feeling that Garland is going to come back and make an impact, but that’s really just a feeling.  Then again, of these 8 guys, he has the most potential to make the biggest impact on this team, being a regular in the starting rotation.

Ibanez is here to be a veteran presence and a bat off the bench.  He will get his share of starts, but I wouldn’t call him a “starter” by any stretch.

Perez, the Mariners rescued off the scrap heap before last season.  He threw in our bullpen for half a season and acquitted himself quite well.  He’s a hard-throwing left-hander with experience who should be able to lock down the 7th and/or 8th innings in a close game.

Robert Andino is the man nobody talks about, but that’s ridiculous because he IS our infield bench.  He’s the only guy on the roster who can play 3rd, 2nd, and short stop, and should be a huge upgrade over unofficial 2012 Mariners mascot Munenori Kawasaki.  Considering the fact that this team is going to have a catcher and two other guys who strictly play outfield (Ibanez and either Casper Wells or Jason Bay), Robert Andino is going to have the weight of the world upon him as he’s pencilled in to spell three of the four infield positions for an entire season.

Shoppach is a backup catcher.  He replaces Miguel Olivo as a veteran catcher presence and he also replaces John Jaso as our primary (and only, thank Christ) backup catcher.  I like Jaso as much as anyone, but it was KILLING me having three catchers on the same team.  Killing me.  Shoppach probably won’t be much better at the plate than Olivo, and he’s probably going to let his share of passed balls slip between his legs, but he’s NOT Miguel Olivo, so that buys him at least a month of reprieve from the likes of me.

Jason Bay is to the New York Mets what Chone Figgins was to us.  He was a big contract, a huge disappointment, and cut after the third year of his 4-year deal.  Now Jason Bay is to us what Chone Figgins is to the Florida Marlins:  a reclamation project on a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite and a real chance to resurrect his Major League career while playing for a terrible, terrible organization.  It would be wise for you to expect nothing of Jason Bay.  As it stands right now, he’s going to have to prove in the coming weeks that he’s more valuable to us as a 34 year old veteran on a 1-year deal whose last good offensive season was in 2009 than a 28 year old Casper Wells who still has some team control left on a relatively inexpensive contract (and who is capable of playing all three outfield positions fairly well, while Bay plays only one outfield position downright horribly).  His odds are long, put it at that.  Then again, Eric Wedge is Old School (to put it kindly).  It’ll be interesting if Bay puts up solid offensive numbers in Spring, because this organization has the feel of one that’s looking for any and every reason to get rid of Casper Wells.

Jeremy Bonderman is, like Garland, on a 1-year minor league deal to try to regain his Major League career.  Considering he was worse than Garland when both were in their primes, I find it hard to believe Bonderman has much of a chance in Hell.  Then again, you never know.  You just never know, but I REALLY wouldn’t count on this one.

Kameron Loe was just signed to essentially replace Shawn Kelley.  Kelley was re-signed for nearly a million dollars earlier this offseason (he was one of those Arbitration Eligible guys), then cut for seemingly no reason, except for the fact that he was on the 40-man roster and this team needed to make some cuts to bring in guys like Joe Saunders and Kelly Shoppach.  The difference is, Loe is on a minor league deal, so if he sucks, whatever.  If he’s good, then obviously the Mariners will have to make a move before the regular season starts.  Either way, he’s a bullpen arm and one without much of a future with this team considering his age and his track record of late.  At best, he’s insurance in case one of our bullpen studs (Carter Capps or Stephen Pryor) fall apart and need to start the season in the minors.

Finally, you can’t talk about this offseason without talking about the guys who are Mariners no more.

Chone Figgins was the first piece to fall, hail Satan.  We’re still paying him upwards of $8 million to run around in the tropical sun with the Florida Marlins, so bully for him.

Losing Jaso is probably the one that stung the most at the point of impact and it’s probably the one that still stings the most to this day.   He was consistently our best hitter in 2012 (which, obviously, isn’t saying a whole helluva lot, but still) and a guy I know we all loved watch play.  He had a knack for late-game heroics, he could get on base with the best of ’em, and shit, he caught Felix’s perfect game!  AND, as a catcher, he batted left-handed, which is about as rare as it gets!

The main problem, of course, was where he was going to see his playing time.  Ultimately, it would’ve been split between catcher and DH in some Devil’s Three-Way with Montero and Morales (with Morales being the other half of the DH platoon and Montero being the other half of the catcher platoon).  Ultimately, you’re talking about three quality (or supposedly-quality) bats for two positions.  Which means you’re talking about not exactly maximizing your bang for the buck.

With the trade for Morse, the Mariners are essentially going all-in with Montero.  Morse isn’t necessarily “better” than Jaso, but he has more power, so he’s a different KIND of “better”.  And he plays a position of need for this team (corner outfield).  We were logjammed with first base/DH/Catcher types; now we aren’t.  It’s as simple as that.  If we can get a similar OPS out of Morse (with slugging substituting for Jaso’s on-base percentage) than we would have with Jaso, while Montero continues to improve and Morales continues to be solid, then that’s a win-win in my book.

If that doesn’t happen, then we just made a huge mistake and gave Oakland the piece it needed to move over the hump in the playoffs this year.

The other big loss was Jason Vargas.  But, of course, we now have Joe Saunders.  While they aren’t exactly the same pitcher, they’re close enough.  In the end, I think we get the same production out of Saunders as we would have out of Vargas, so again we’re talking win-win with the boost we’ll hopefully get from Morales.

Trayvon Robinson was traded, but he’s not a huge loss.  We have PLENTY of AAA outfielders who can’t hit in the Majors.  Getting rid of one and getting back a solid infield bench player is about as much as anyone could’ve hoped for.

Recently, Shawn Kelley was DFA’d and ultimately traded to the New York Yankees for a AA center fielder.  I guess that’s great for the Jackson Generals and great for the Yankees (who were looking for cheap bullpen depth), but I don’t really see how this move helps the Mariners.  But, whatever.

Even more recently, Mike Carp was DFA’d.  We’re still in the period where the Mariners can trade him, but I wouldn’t expect much.  Mike Carp has always struck me as being the next Michael Morse – a quality bat with terrible defensive skills who just needs an opportunity to play everyday to show what he can do (and who never got that opportunity with the Mariners because he couldn’t stay healthy).  In other words, look for the Mariners to trade for Mike Carp in about five years.  You know, once he’s proven himself and has already had his very-best seasons with another team willing to give a guy a fucking chance.

There might be more moves as Spring Training progresses – Pitchers & Catchers have only just started up this past week – but for the most part, the offseason has come and gone.

Do I think the Mariners have improved?  Well, that’s a subject for part two of this post, to be released tomorrow.

The Major Moves Of Jack Zduriencik

On October 22, 2008, Jack Zduriencik was hired by the Seattle Mariners to be their General Manager.  Here are the major player personnel moves the Mariners have made in that time.

For the 2009 Season:

12/3/2008 – Signed Russell Branyan to 1-year contract
12/10/2008 – Traded J.J. Putz, Jeremy Reed, Sean Green, and others for Jason Vargas, Franklin Gutierrez, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp and others.
1/20/2009 – Traded for David Aardsma
1/29/2009 – Signed Mike Sweeney to 1-year contract
2/18/2009 – Signed Ken Griffey Jr. to 1-year contract
7/29/2009 – Traded for Jack Wilson & Ian Snell

For the 2010 Season:

11/11/2009 – Re-Signed Ken Griffey Jr. to 1-year contract
12/8/2009 – Signed Chone Figgins to 4-year contract
12/16/2009 – Traded for Cliff Lee
12/18/2009 – Traded Carlos Silva for Milton Bradley
12/23/2009 – Traded Brandon Morrow for Brandon League
1/7/2010 – Traded for Casey Kotchman
1/21/2010 – Re-Signed Felix Hernandez to 5-year extension
1/29/2010 – Signed Eric Byrnes to 1-year contract
2/6/2010 – Re-Signed Erik Bedard to 1-year contract
2/12/2010 – Re-Signed Mike Sweeney to 1-year contract
6/27/2010 – Traded for Russell Branyan
7/9/2010 – Traded Cliff Lee & Mark Lowe for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan & others

For the 2011 Season:

12/2/2010 – Re-Signed Erik Bedard to 1-year contract
12/10/2010 – Signed Jack Cust to 1-year contract
12/12/2010 – Traded for Brendan Ryan
1/3/2011 – Signed Miguel Olivo to 2-year contract
1/10/2011 – Signed Adam Kennedy to 1-year contract
7/30/2011 – Traded Doug Fister for Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, & others
7/31/2011 – Traded Erik Bedard & others for Trayvon Robinson & others

For the 2012 Season:

11/27/2011 – Traded Josh Lueke for John Jaso
12/8/2011 – Claimed Lucas Luetge in Rule 5 Draft
12/21/2011 – Signed Munenori Kawasaki to 1-year contract
12/30/2011 – Signed George Sherrill to 1-year contract
1/5/2012 – Signed Hisashi Iwakuma to 1-year contract
1/18/2012 – Signed Oliver Perez to 1-year contract
1/23/2012 – Traded Michael Pineda & Jose Campos for Jesus Montero & Hector Noesi
1/24/2012 – Signed Kevin Millwood to 1-year contract
7/31/2012 – Traded Steve Delabar for Eric Thames.  Traded Brandon League for others

For the 2013 Season:

11/2/2012 – Re-Signed Hisashi Iwakuma to 2-3-year contract
11/3/2012 – Re-Signed Oliver Perez to a 1-year contract

These by no means comprise ALL of the moves, but if I tried to list ALL the moves I’d be here all fucking month.  These are the guys who, more or less, made some kind of an impact on the major league ballclub.  I left out anything related to the draft, because it’s not draft season and that’s not really the point of this post.

What has Jackie Z done to improve the Major League ballclub?

You can see on the timeline where it all went awry.  Just about all of his major moves before the 2009 season were solid gold!  And, of course, what happened in 2009?  The Mariners ended up with 85 wins and somehow found themselves contending to the last month (or so).  It was only natural to think, given a few tweaks here and there, the 2010 season could be pure magic.

So, what did Jackie Z do?  He brought out the whuppin’ stick.  Within a 10-day period, we had our first MAJOR major signing of the Jack Zduriencik era:  Chone Figgins, 4 years.  No one at the time thought that was a stupid idea.  Piggybacking on that, in the aforementioned 10-day period, we brought in Cliff Lee to have one of the better 1-2 punches of all baseball starting rotations; and THEN we traded the dead weight of Carlos Silva for a possible reclamation project in Milton Bradley!  Hell, a bag of turds would’ve been better than Carlos Silva, so either way, there’s no losing THAT deal, right?  To top off his offseson, Jackie Z traded for League (to bolster the back-end of our bullpen), Kotchman (to give us some defense and decent pop at first base), and re-signed Felix to a 5-year extension.

I mean, my GOD, if Jackie Z wanted me to suck his dick after that string of moves, I gladly would’ve closed my eyes and opened my mouth.  THIS is exactly what we’ve been missing out of our baseball GM all these years!  He was doing it, he was really doing it!  There could be no downside to these moves!

Except, Figgins turned to crap.  Kotchman continued being crap.  Bradley continued being crap.  Griffey fell off the map.  Cliff Lee was hurt for the first month of the season.  League was nothing special (and Morrow still might be for someone else).  Byrnes was a fucking disgrace to the game of baseball.  We eventually had to bring back Branyan in a mid-season trade (and even THAT couldn’t prevent our offense from being the worst in the modern era).  And, since we weren’t contending, there was no point in holding onto Cliff Lee; we traded him for what looks like utter shit and disappointment.

Every move for that 2010 season (save re-signing Felix) COMPLETELY backfired.  And yet, at the time, every move was completely defensible!  The only thing you could possibly argue is:  the Mariners didn’t go far ENOUGH.  Of course, that’s the story of this franchise (see:  1996-2003).

After that, the organization put a total and complete halt on trying to contend whatsoever.  Going into 2011, the Mariners signed two veterans at the minimum (Cust & Kennedy), traded for a defense-only shortstop (Ryan), and their only major signing was Olivo on a 2-year deal with an option for a 3rd (that has since been denied, because Olivo).  That was it!  Four guys!  One of which was released before season’s end!

2012 was no picnic either.  Three more veterans at the minimum (Millwood, Sherrill, Perez), a backup shortstop (Kawasaki) who was somehow worse at the plate than Ryan, a Japanese pitcher coming off a major shoulder injury (Iwakuma), a Rule 5 reliever (Luetge), a backup catcher who somehow turned into the cream of the crop (Jaso), and another backup catcher in trade (Montero) who will hopefully be a future designated hitter for years to come.

It’s been two straight years of sifting through a muddy river of shit hoping to find a few tiny flecks of gold.

Now, with enough money off the books, and with the fanbase completely up in arms over all the losing, the Mariners are ready to spend money and hopefully try to compete once again.

Which got me to thinking.  Well, this blog post by Geoff Baker got me to thinking.  The money quote:

Towards the end of the call, I asked Zduriencik about the Chone Figgins experience and whether it caused any hesitation for him going forward when it comes to this winter’s crop of free agents — especially when it comes to inking longer-term deals of more than three years. I wasn’t doing it to rub his face in the Figgins mess — which no one really could have seen imploding as badly as it did — but rather to gauge whether this current administration is prepared to go longer than three years on any deal this winter.

The two biggest free agent acquisitions of the Jack Zduriencik era (not counting Felix, since he was already under contract) before this offseason’s Iwakuma deal have been Chone Figgins (4 years, $36 million) and Miguel Olivo (2 years, $7 million).  That’s IT!  The rest of his moves have either been in trade or of the bottom-feeding veteran minimum variety.

Obviously, this has been by design.  The organization wanted to rid itself of burdensome contracts.  The organization wanted to let some of the young kids play, to see if a “youth movement” could jumpstart things.  But, also, the organization was patently unwilling to increase payroll for the types of free agents that were becoming available the last two offseasons.  Let’s call a spade a spade here; the Seattle Mariners were pushing the Reset Button on this whole thing and starting over from scratch.  I don’t mean that literally, of course; it’s not like they could just waive everyone they didn’t like and bring up all new guys.  But, essentially, the Reset Button is what they did.

Up until now, I would say that the Figgins contract had little to do with the Mariners’ overall plan (except, obviously, they needed to fill their third base position with a rookie).  I don’t think being gunshy about Figgins’ 4-year deal prevented the Mariners from signing other guys to long-term contracts.  I think it was all the reasons I stated above.  That having been said, though, if the Mariners don’t sign someone to a long-term contract THIS off-season … then I’d have to say the Figgins deal is weighing on them.

It would only be natural, after all.  I mean, who WOULDN’T be gunshy?!  From the day Jackie Z took this job, give me the names of the free agents who have worked out beyond even a decent first season?  Yeah, the answer you’re looking for is ZERO.  Hisashi Iwakuma would be the first, if he comes back in 2013 and does well (which is no guarantee, let me tell you).

So, yeah, they SHOULD be apprehensive!  They SHOULD do as much due diligence as humanly possible on this offseason’s free agent crop.  Because it’s fucking NASTY out there!  You’ve got lemons and land mines all OVER the place!

Seattle Mariners 2012 Postmortem, Part 1 (Hitters)

Apparently, there’s only been a handful of things to talk about since the season ended:  Mariners reaction to the Arena Deal, Mariners jacking up season ticket prices, Mariners not winning any post-season awards, Mariners signing some particularly non-interesting free agents, and the Mariners talking about possibly sometime this offseason signing some yes-interesting free agents.

The Mariners’ post-season has been pretty much like the Mariners’ regular season:  mostly shitty.

So, fuck it, let’s dive right in.  The Seattle Mariners finished 75-87, which was a whopping 8-game improvement over 2011, and a 14-game improvement over bottoming out in 2010.  Remember how shitty 2010 was?  The team you just watched all spring and summer finished exactly 14 games better.

I don’t think anyone wants to re-hash 2010 all over again, so let’s leave that off the table for now.  For a moment, let’s take a look at how we got the 8-game improvement over 2011.  What changed?

Well, for starters, Miguel Olivo had 184 fewer plate appearances.  That’s a good start!  He had a .620 OPS in ’12 vs. a .641 OPS in ’11, but what’s important to remember is:  THOSE ARE BOTH TERRIBLE OPS’s!  Less of a shitty thing doing shitty things is a good thing.  Always remember that kids.

Where did the rest of those plate appearances go?  Well, a lot of them (361 to be exact) went to John Jaso, who had an .850 OPS.  Now, granted, we had kind of a 3-headed hydra locking down two positions (DH & Catcher) with Jaso, Olivo, and Montero (who had a .685 OPS), but as you can clearly see, John Jaso really saved this team a lot of embarrassment.  We had no one resembling Jaso in 2011, at any position, and if you look at the numbers, you can see that he was good for at least 3 of those wins all by himself.  And he did it in an essentially part-time role; dude didn’t play a lick in April, and not much more in May before being thrust into the game regularly thanks to Olivo’s injury (and Olivo’s overall shittiness).

You know what else helped?  Giving Chone Figgins 119 fewer plate appearances.  An already part-time player went down to almost nothing in 2012.  We tried giving him the leadoff spot, he started for the entire month of April, and what did he do?  He rewarded us with a second consecutive season of sub-.190 batting.  I know veterans like to complain about their pisspoor numbers by stating they don’t get to play enough to turn things around; well, you know what?  Earn it.  DESERVE it and we’ll let you play.  Remember when you were just starting out in the Majors and you had to earn your time?  Do it now.  Don’t expect it.  Don’t ask for it to be handed to you because you’ve been around forever.  Force the manager to play you by playing well.  That’s all I’ve got to say.

Everyone seems to think Figgins will be let go this offseason.  I’m not buying it until I see it’s already happened.  Every time someone has predicted Figgins’ release, what’s happened?  He’s remained.  If they were going to let him go, wouldn’t they have done it by now?  Wouldn’t they have done it during another last-place finish in 2012?  When the fans could’ve used a morale boost in the waning summer months?  Or immediately after the season, when fans were already on edge about ticket prices and Arena Deals?  What are they WAITING for?  Do they REALLY think they’re going to get another team to eat his 2013 salary?  That ship has sailed!  You know how everything in life is a risk?  Well, it’s time to take a risk; it might be the safest risk you’ve ever taken.  Drop Figgins.  Yes, he will likely get another chance with another team, with the risk being:  he will dramatically improve and rub it in all of our faces.  Don’t worry, he won’t improve.  He’s the worst.  He’s LITERALLY the worst Major League Baseball player.  I know, hindsight being what it is, that it’s fairly embarrassing to have signed a guy to such a large contract only to have him be completely worthless.  But, you don’t have to worry about any such embarrassment with him going on to great success elsewhere.  He won’t.  Trust me.

What else happened?  Carlos Peguero had about 100 fewer plate appearances.  And, of course, Jack Cust had 270 fewer plate appearances (hint:  he had 270 plate appearances in 2011).

But, enough with that.  My overall view:  the hitting was slightly better, the starting pitching held up reasonably well, and the bullpen was pretty lights out.  That’s how you improve by 8 games.  Now, the only question is:  how do we improve by another 20 and reach the playoffs?

***

Let’s look at some starters.  Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager both had full seasons.  They played some in 2011, but in 2012 they went wire-to-wire, holding down second and third base respectively.  How did they do?

Seager was a definite bright spot for this team.  He wasn’t amaze-balls or anything, but he was pleasant.  The line:  .259 BA, 35 doubles (led team), 20 homers (led team), 86 RBI (led team), .738 OPS.  Not bad, right?  Not bad for a guy’s first year in the majors.  He’s no Mike Trout, but then again who is (besides Mike Trout, obvs)?  If he can figure out a way to get that batting average to go up another 20 points or so, you’re talking about a VERY valuable piece to a team.  And remember all those clutch 2-out base hits with runners in scoring position?  Apparently, there were a lot.  And those were sure fun to watch.

Ackley, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment.  The line:  .226 BA, 22 doubles, 12 homers, 50 RBI, .622 OPS (Olivo-ian levels), and a whopping 124 strikeouts (2nd highest on team).  I mean, what can you say about Dustin Ackley’s 2012?  He had 292 more plate appearances than he did in 2011, yet he lost 144 points on his OPS.  That’s bad.  As a left-handed batter, he somehow managed to bat WORSE against righties!  He batted .215!  And, he was probably one of the few on the team who managed to bat BETTER in Safeco as opposed to on the road, so you can’t even use that as a valid excuse!

The only thing you can do with Ackley is write off 2012, hope he got some good experience out of the deal, and hope he improves dramatically in 2013.  He’s a #2 overall pick.  He can’t be this bad for this team to survive; he just can’t!  He needs to cut down on the strikeouts and bring up the walks in a big way.

Another certifiable black hole in our lineup was Justin Smoak.  Good fucking God.  The line:  .217 BA, 14 doubles, 19 homers, 51 RBI, .654 OPS.  I don’t know what to say.  We traded for him in 2010, gave him a cup of coffee in the second half, then let him start for the entire 2011 season.  Of course, he was injured for about half of that, but he had a strong close to his season, so we brought him back as a starter in 2012 (as if we had any choice, what with the purse strings being tightened each and every year since 2008).  We figured, “OK, when Smoak was healthy in 2011, he was good.  SURELY he’ll be good when he’s healthy in 2012!”

And, of course, he sucked.  He sucked so bad that the team had to send him down to Tacoma to work on some things.  The only reason he was brought back as early as he was is because Mike Carp couldn’t stay on the field without injuring himself.  So, Smoak was gone from July 24th thru August 13th.  He left with a .189 batting average.  He played regularly from August 14th thru the end of the month and finished August with a .190 batting average.  Lotta good that trip down south was.

He continued to tread water until September 15th, when he entered the day still batting .190.  From the 15th onward, Smoak went 25 for 63, good for a .397 batting average over 17 games, with 5 of his 14 doubles, 5 of his 19 homers, and 10 of his 51 RBI.  He raised his final batting average to a still-dreadful .217, but nevertheless, that’s a 27-point increase over the final 17 games.  When you play as much as Smoak did in 2012, that’s a fairly impressive hot streak.

What does it mean?  Obviously nothing.  If I could bank on having these types of torrid 17-game streaks multiple times throughout a season, then maybe I’d be a little more excited.  But, tacking just the one on at the end of a horrendous season is nothing to hang one’s hat on.  I mean, yeah, anything can happen.  But, is Smoak “figuring it out” at all likely?  Not really.

So, we’re 1 for 3 so far for 2012.  1 supposed building block for the future did well.  2 did not.  What about Jesus Montero?

Again, we’re talking about a guy who played in his first full Major League season.  I tend to give these guys a pass, especially if they managed to stay IN the Majors for the full season.  Montero was never sent down, but some thought he maybe should’ve been.

The line:  .260 BA, 20 doubles, 15 homers, 62 RBI, .685 OPS.  What I notice right away is that Montero didn’t have a whole lot of super highs or super lows.  Once his batting average kind of normalized around .260, it didn’t waver all that much.  He had a mid-season lull in July where he found himself in the .240s, then he kind of bounced back in August where he was briefly scraping the .270s, but for the most part he was right around .260 the whole time.  Again, for a first year player playing a full first year … not terrible.  You’d like to see some more walks, or if not that, at least a lot more power, but whatever, it was what it was, and what it was wasn’t the worst.

That isn’t to say he doesn’t have a lot to fix He has a lot to fix, though.  His Home/Road splits, for one, are an abomination.  His home OPS was .605; his road OPS was .768.  That’s CRAZY.  Obviously, you have to hope that bringing the fences in will help normalize some of that.  But, even still, that’s a huge psychological disadvantage he’s got swirling around in his head.

You like crazy splits?  How about this one:  vs. right handed pitchers, his OPS was .609; vs. lefties, his OPS was .830.  Against lefties, Montero is downright dominant!  The only problem is, he only bats about 1/3 of the time against lefties.  That means 2/3 of the time he’s pretty much worse than a replacement level player.

Nevertheless, I think you’d take the total package if he was a dominant force defensively.  Except, no, he’s not.  He was allowed to play in 56 games as a catcher vs. 78 as a DH.  As a defender, he was worse than replacement level.  He’s not projected to be a starting catcher in this league; he will either be a DH or a converted first baseman.  Either way, you’re talking about positions where you’d like some consistent thump in your bat.  A .685 OPS with a bunch of crazy splits just won’t cut it.  Yeah, when he’s facing lefties on the road (especially in Kansas City), he’s phenomenal!  But, we can’t afford to have Montero be a strict platoon guy.  We didn’t trade for him to play in 1/3 or 1/2 of the games.  We traded for him to play EVERY game, and to play well!  I’ll give him a pass for his first full season, but I hope I don’t have to wait too much longer for his bat to really explode.

Since we gave Seager a passing grade, I’ll give Montero a passing grade.  That gives us 2 out of 4 building blocks who played well.  With Brendan Ryan giving us the best defense in all of baseball (stupid Gold Gloves are STUPID), that rounds out the infield.  Brendan Ryan will give you nothing at the plate, but as long as he’s not counted upon to do anything but bat 9th, I think I’ll take it.

But, what of the outfield?

Well, for starters, we don’t have Ichiro to kick around anymore.  I liked the guy, but I’m glad we traded him and I’m glad he got to go to the playoffs and I’m glad he did really well for the Yankees, but I’m mostly glad the Yankees lost.  Ichiro finished his Mariners career with so many wonderful stats we can look back on fondly.  He will be a Hall of Famer, he will go in as a Mariner, and, you know, WHO KNOWS?  He managed 73 hits in 67 games with the Yankees in the regular season.  He now has 2,606 hits on his career.  And, for fuck’s sake, he’s fucking ICHIRO!  Who’s to say he can’t stick around with some team or another and get the 394 hits he so desperately desires?  I hope he does it!  Just not with the Mariners.  And I hope he gets that World Series Championship!  Just not with the Yankees.

The star of the outfield in 2012 was Michael Saunders.  If you asked me going into 2012, would Michael Saunders be worth a darn, I likely would’ve said, “Heck no!”  Funny thing about baseball, weird shit can happen (see:  Baltimore Orioles, Oakland A’s).  The line:  .247 BA, 31 doubles, 19 homers, 57 RBI, .738 OPS in 553 plate appearances.  OK, so it’s not the best line in the world.  But, when you look at his combined three seasons prior (.196 BA, 17 doubles, 12 homers, 45 RBI, .569 OPS in 635 plate appearances), you can see some real dramatic improvement!

The legend has it, in the offseason between 2011 & 2012, Saunders trained with Josh Bard’s brother (whose first name, legend has it, remains a mystery to all).  They worked on his mechanics, shortened his swing, and lo and be-fucking-hold, a miracle happened!  Saunders managed to stay in the Majors for a full season, and remained productive throughout!

As a centerfielder, you’ll take that line just about every year.  You’d like to see improvement, considering he is so young and everything, but with the defense he provides, you’ll take it.

As a corner outfielder, there’s a little something left to be desired.

I think in an ideal world, if we don’t bring in a bigtime free agent like Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher, then in 2013 you’d like to see Michael Saunders in left and Franklin Gutierrez in center.  Regardless of who you put in right, you’re looking at one of the better defensive outfields.

But, of course, who can count on that?  I’m talking about Guti, of course.  Who can count on him???  He has to be, by far, the most cursed athlete I’ve ever seen.  Which SUCKS DICK, because he’s one of the greatest defensive outfielders I think I’ve ever seen, Griffey included.  Every time we think Guti has turned a corner, BAM, he hits another brick wall that sidelines him.  He goes from IBS to a pec injury to a concussion from being hit with a baseball on a pick-off move to God knows what else!  Was there a groin or a knee or a shoulder or all three in there somewhere?  I’m pretty sure all that’s left for Guti is Bell’s Palsy, mange, and the fucking gout.  Something to look forward to in 2013.

Aside from Saunders, there was a huge revolving door in 2012.  Including Guti, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Eric Thames, Mike Carp, Peguero, and just a LITTLE bit of Alex Liddi.  I can’t say much about any of these cats.  Wells looks like a decent 4th outfielder, but the shine wears off quickly when you give him the everyday job.  Thames had some memorable moments, got doused with some shaving cream pies and such, but he’s no solution.  Robinson and Peguero have HUGE holes in their swings, which says nothing of their defensive liabilities (especially Peguero’s).  Carp should probably stay away from the outfield forever, because he’s terrible at it, and because he keeps getting hurt diving for balls he’ll never be able to reach on his own.

For the record, I like Carp, but this strikes me as a numbers game he’s not going to win.  If you can’t plug him in the outfield (which you really, really can’t), then you’ve got to make him a first baseman or a DH.  He was decent defensively at first, but let’s face it, this team has a lot invested in Justin Smoak.  Not only that, but first could also be a home for Montero in the future.  And finally, not for nothing, but I have to think first base is going to be a free agent or a trade priority this offseason we’re in right now.  I like Carp’s bat, but I have a sick feeling he’s going to make good on his promise with another team more willing to give him the everyday first baseman job.  In fact, 2012 could be the last we see of Carp in a Mariners uniform.

As a team, the Mariners were 27th in runs scored in the Major Leagues.  Dead last in the AL by a whopping 48 runs.  However, their 619 runs were 63 better than 2011!  And 106 better than 2010!  Oh, by the by, 619 runs for a season is fucking terrible, regardless of the era we’re in.

The Mariners were also dead last in the AL in batting average with .234.  For the record, Oakland was second-to-last with a .238 average, and they won the entire AL West; so at least there’s some semblance of hope.  Also for the record, .234 was dead last in all of baseball, even worse than Houston (Welcome Astros, 2013!).

And, of course, the Mariners were dead last in the AL in OPS.  By a HUGE margine (.665, next highest was Cleveland with .705).  And, no foolin’, that .665 OPS was also dead last in all of baseball.

Make no mistake, this offense in 2012 was horrible.

On the plus side:  Miguel Olivo’s option was NOT picked up!  He’s gone!  Gone for good!  That’s addition by subtraction if I’ve ever seen it.

On the down side:  there are no other prospects ready for a shot at the big time.  All Major League-ready prospects are up in the Major Leagues.  Unless we wheel and deal like crazy, you can pencil in the following gentlemen:

C – John Jaso (but probably only as a platoon)
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
3B – Kyle Seager
SS – Brendan Ryan
LF – Michael Saunders
CF – Franklin Gutierrez (until he gets injured, then Saunders slides over)
RF – ??
DH – Jesus Montero (with a possibility to play some catcher, but look for this team to bring in a third guy for the catching rotation, hopefully someone who is awesome at defense to round things out a bit in the later innings)

Obviously, this team will have to bring in an outfielder.  More than likely, they’ll have to bring in a couple.  Aside from a backup catcher, I think this team goes hard after either a first or a third baseman.  Nick Swisher is a guy people like because he can play both of the corner outfield spots as well as first base.  That gives a team a lot of flexibility in the event a Guti goes down, or a Smoak sucks cock.  Josh Hamilton is another guy people like because he’s got awesome-a powah.  I’ll reserve my thoughts on these guys and others as the rumor mill gets hotter.  Or if I have nothing else to write about.

For now, what we have is what we have, and what we have isn’t worth a shit.  This offseason needs improvement, it needs it from the batters, and it needs it in spades.

Sometime soon, I’ll finish my Part 2 about the pitchers of 2012.  I swear.

Running Diary of My First Mariners Perfect Game (DVR)

My last retro diary can be found here, of my first Mariners no-hitter.

I’ve seen the ends of perfect games, whenever ESPN would cut in, at a bar last Wednesday, whathaveyou.  But, I’ve never seen one all the way through.  I was thankfully out of town when Phil Humber did it to the M’s earlier this year.  So, this DVR replay is my first opportunity.

Since time is irrelevant when you’re talking about DVR replays (it is 8:11am as of this sentence, on Saturday morning), I’ll denote time by how many outs there are in the game.  Without further ado.

Pre-Game Intro:

Rubber match.  Rays won the first, Mariners won the second.

Top First, One Out:

Man, that was certainly a well-stroked first out.  Not a difficult catch, but still, wouldn’t lead you to believe we’d be looking at a perfect game.

Top First, Two Out:

And, a nice dig by Smoak!  Brendan Ryan’s throws are usually better than that.  Ragged way to open the game.

Top First, Three Out:

Ball pounded hard into the ground to Ackley.  One, two, three.

Bottom First:

Looks like Hellickson owns the Mariners.  Great.

Top Second, One Out:

First strikeout, by Longoria.  Out in front of a curve.  No chance.

This game is moving QUICK.  With the DVR fast-forwarding and all the consecutive outs, I should be finished with this in another 20 minutes or so.

Top Second, Two Out:

The shift.  Ryan, on the other side of the bag, easily throws Zobrist out.

Top Second, Three Out:

First pitch fastball swinging, easy fly out to left.  For as tricky that first inning was, the second inning was as non-eventful.

Bottom Second:

One hit in the first, erased by a double play.  Hellickson seeing the minimum thus far.

Dan Wilson doing color commentary sounds like he’s trying to not wake up a sleeping uncle laying on the couch.  An animated Dan Wilson must sound like a librarian engrossed in a good book.  I like the guy, but he’s got all the charisma of a conference on technical writing.

An error and a hit!  The Mariners are absolutely WORKING OVER Hellickson!  You don’t stand a chance, ass-eyes!

Top Third, One Out:

Being able to fast-forward Root Sports commercials is like some wonderful drug!  I never want to come down!

Towering pop-up to right, another quick out for Felix.

Top Third, Two Out:

I certainly would have considered the white Felix jersey when I was looking for one, but keeping it that gleaming white would be more than my washing machine could handle.

Hmm, very nearly hit Johnson in the ankle before a strikeout on a breaking ball in the dirt.  Ass sticking out, swinging it like a golf club.  Looks like he hasn’t played baseball a day in his life.

Top Third, Three Out:

Another first-pitch pop-out to left.  10 pitches in the first, 7 in the second, 7 in the third.

Bottom Third:

Brendan Ryan is generally a better hitter than his batting average gives him credit for.  If he could just get that average up over .220, he’d damn near be the MVP of the team!  Nice single to lead off the third.

I know Dustin Ackley is going to be a good hitter, but this season has been more than a little discouraging.  Sophomore slump?  Good God, let’s hope so.  Even if he’s just another John Olerud, I’d take it!

That’s a huge hole between first and second, Ackley.  Come on, let’s do this!

… AND … he’s gone!  One out.

Michael Saunders walks up to the plate with Hypnotize by the Notorious B.I.G.  Still a better rapper than Tupac …

Joe Maddon looks like a tool with those white sunglasses.  Here’s a photo I found, take a look.  Who IS this guy???

He looks like someone you’d find standing on a front porch in only his dirty, ill-fitting tidy-whiteys with a shotgun in one hand and a Hamm’s in the other.  If any image has ever screamed “Tampa” any more, I’ve never seen it.

With two outs, Brendan Ryan steals second and advances to third on a wild pitch.  Then, “You Don’t Mess With The Jesus” Montero knocks a clean single into left to bring in the run!  Hellickson really just gave that to us.  He had no idea what Ryan was doing as he started for second, then really mangled that wild pitch.  Holy shit, I never realized how close this game was to being 0-0 for all of eternity.

You know, if Felix went 27-up and 27-down and it was still 0-0, I’m pretty sure I would have gangland executed each and every one of these Mariners hitters.

Top Fourth, One Out:

Hey, Fleece Blanket Night this Friday (yesterday)!  What better give-away on the hottest day of the year in the Pacific Northwest?  It’s not like we could’ve used that blanket in any April, May, or June game …

Another near hit-batsman with a curve way inside to a left-handed hitter.  And now a full count to Fuld … leads to a 93 mph fastball.  Fuld went the other way – as he should have – but luckily it was hit right at Seager.  Nothing spectacular defensively, but still very, very lucky.

Top Fourth, Two Out:

2-0 count, Upton swung at ball 3, a high fastball.  Then, he swung at ball 4, a curve in the dirt.  THEN, he swung at ball 5, another curve in the dirt!  Thanks, Upton!  You shouldn’t have!  (you really shouldn’t have; I thought we promised we weren’t giving each other gifts this year …)

Top Fourth, Three Out:

Strike out, 12-up and 12-down!  But, more importantly, Dan Wilson called his curveball a “dandy”.  Dan Wilson said “dandy”.  I know that’s not funny, you’ve got to enjoy the little things.

Bottom Fourth:

Hey, Melky Cabrera is in the news, have you seen this, have you heard about this?  He was my 28th round pick in my fantasy baseball draft; he was my best position player.  And now he’s gone.  It’s a killer to the Giants offense and it’s a killer to me.

Tie goes to the runner, bitch!  #KyleSeagerCalledOutAtFirst.

Smoak is not ready to be back in the Majors yet.  Fucking Carp, why can’t you stay healthy so I can love you?

I want to like Trayvon Robinson, but the kid will probably never be any better than a reserve.  You’d think one of these Quad-A outfielders would bust out, but you’d be sorely mistaken.

Top Fifth, One Out:

The first batter of any inning when you’ve got some form of no-no going is the scariest batter you’ll face.  This inning is no different, with Longoria hitting a soft-liner up the middle that landed squarely in Ackley’s glove.

Top Fifth, Two Out:

That fastball has such crazy sink.  How does anyone hit Felix ever?

Deep fly to left-center on a hanging curve; first mistake pitch I’ve seen thus far.  Looks like Robinson fought the sun a little bit, but made the catch.  One thing no one mentioned in the aftermath:  that sun looked pretty brutal; how were there no “Sun Doubles” in this game?

Top Fifth, Three Out:

The fastball is slowly but surely increasing in velocity.  Started out the game in the 90 mph range.  Just hit 94 on the gun a little after 50 pitches.

Pena, breaking ball, dribbled out in front of Jaso.  Easy put-out.

Bottom Fifth:

You know, Root Sports, no one – and I mean NO ONE – likes the behind-the-plate camera angle.  It brings nothing to the table and makes it so you can’t tell if the ball was actually a ball or a strike.  We’ve asked you nicely, but you just won’t listen.  Don’t make me skull-fuck the stupid out of you!

Top Sixth, One Out:

Felix getting some generous outside fastball calls from the Ump against lefties.  I’m not saying what Joe Maddon’s about to do is right, but it might be justified.

Strike three on a 90 mph change.  A 90 mph change.  It’s not necessarily the the difference in speed, but the subtle shift in movement.  Just 3-4 miles per hour difference can make a hitter look absolutely silly.

Top Sixth, Two Out:

Strike one, strike two, strike three, see you later.

Top Sixth, Three Out:

Holy shit, I want to dress this sixth inning up in a pretty little skirt and finger her underneath the bleachers!  You’re a dirty girl, yes you are sixth inning!  A dirty girl!

That’s sort of my way of saying that Felix just struck out the side.  Interesting how little emotion Felix has shown thus far.  He’s really dialed in.

Bottom Sixth:

Starting to get bored with these Mariners hitters.  Good thing they’re being considerate and not putting up much of a fight.

John Jaso is easily my favorite non-pitcher on this team.  Can we lock him up and give him a 50/50 split between catching and DH’ing with Montero next year?  I want him batting in every single game, is what I’m trying to say.

Top Seventh, One Out:

Fuld has easily had the best hacks in this game, but that was a weak-ass grounder to Ackley.  Lots of changeups in this AB; might be an adjustment to go away from the curve, which has been so dominant thus far.

Top Seventh, Two Out:

Wow.  Just, wow.  Upton hit a ball.  It bounced once just in front of the plate.  Came up about 10 feet in the air, landed JUST underneath Seager’s glove as he fell to the ground.  Fortunately, we have Brendan Ryan on our team.  He’s always in the right position and this play was no different.  The ball bounced to about eye-level, right into Ryan’s glove for the easy put-out.  Had Seager come up with that ball, I have no doubt he has enough arm-strength to throw out the speedy Upton, but that right there was the play of the game.

Want to know why Brendan Ryan is the best defender in baseball?  Check out this interview, it’s more than a little enlightening.  Particularly, this quote right here:

Most of the time, I’m moving one way or the other on the pitch.  Say that Vargas is pitching and it’s a cutter in to a righty.  I can kind of shuffle to the right and get a head start.  It’s almost like cheating.  You can’t move so early that you’re giving something away, but even so, there are times where I’m almost running, because I know where that ball is going to be hit.

This play, this out right here, a little of that “cheating” was definitely going on.  I mean, that’s the only way you can explain how he was so far over – almost where the third baseman would normally be positioned before the pitch – without having to completely dive to his right.  Outstanding!

Top Seventh, Three Out:

95 on the gun, regularly, this inning.  Fastball on the outside corner called for a strike.  Close, MAYBE questionable, but looked good to me.  Regardless, it wasn’t this as far as umpire blindness is concerned.  Either way, here comes Joe Maddon!

Had I been watching this live, I would’ve been pissed beyond belief with Maddon trying to put the freeze on our pitcher.  It’s a whole different ballgame when you already know the results of a game.

BOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

“K!  K!  K!  K!  K!  K!  K!” – I love the King’s Court.

96 on the gun.

3-2 ground ball to first, unassisted.

Bottom Seventh:

Seven strikeouts through seven for Felix.  He will go on to strike out five of the final six.  I have a feeling the next inning is going to have herself deflowered …

Top Eighth, One Out:

That curve is still dy-no-mite!  Down goes Longoria!

Top Eighth, Two Out:

Ben Zobrist, down swinging on a change.  Fans are finally starting to make a little noise outside of the King’s Court.

Top Eighth, Three Out:

Just a nasty, nasty curve.  Mecha-Felix is laying these Rays to waste!  He’s an unstoppable killing machine!  To hell with 9, he could throw 30 perfect innings today!

Felix strikes out the side!  And still, no emotion.  We would normally be seeing some hoots and hollers out of him after an inning like that.  On this day?  Steely.

Bottom Eighth:

The big thing is that the Mariners have never faced David Price since he’s been called up to the Majors.  We’ve played the Rays about a million times and it still hasn’t happened; what are the odds of that?  I have a feeling he would just annihilate us.

With Montero at the plate, this is about where I came in.  If it wasn’t 10:37am (and if I wasn’t planning on getting drunk tonight), I’d crack open a cold one and pretend it’s last Wednesday.

Top Ninth, One Out:

Jennings pinch hitting.  Got a favorable second strike to get ahead in the count.  95 on the radar gun, well over 100 pitches.  And a 92 mph change up knocks him out!

Top Ninth, Two Out:

Keppinger also pinch hitting.  Grounder to Ryan on the 4th pitch of the at-bat.

Top Ninth, Three Out:

Sean Rodriguez, the 27th out.  Felix falls behind 2-0, both outside.  At this point, I read somewhere that he was considering – for a brief moment – bunting to get on base.  Look, I’m usually not one for these “unwritten rules” that people like to trot out, and in my younger days I would have commended a guy like Ben Davis for doing whatever it takes to keep your team out of the record books (and, because I think Curt Schilling is a douche and I’m glad he’s out of baseball without ever having thrown a no-hitter or a perfect game).  But, I mean, bunting with 2 outs in the 9th inning would be a pretty chickenshit thing to do.  At that point, you just have to take your medicine and beat him fair and square.  Had he bunted against Felix, I don’t think he would have made it out of Seattle alive.

Still, from what I read, once the count got to 2-0, Rodriguez decided he was likely going to get something worthwhile to hit with the next pitch.  Something he could take to the gap or even over the fence.  Pretty gaudy optimism for a guy batting 9th in the order.  For a guy batting .206 with only 12 doubles and 6 homers at that point in his season.  Really?  You’re going to hit an extra-base hit off of Felix in the bottom of the 9th, 26 outs into a perfect game?  Really?!

That’s when he saw a 2-0 slider, low and to the outside corner of the plate.  That’s when he swung right over it.  He still had the count somewhat in his favor, but he might as well have just turned around and walked back to the dugout right then and there.

Major storyline after the game was Jaso and his gameplan.  Coming from the Rays’ organization, he knew their strategy on Felix:  be aggressive early, go after the fastball.  So, what did he do?  He flipped it on them.  Calling for off-speed pitches in fastball counts.  Most pitchers couldn’t do that.  But, Felix isn’t most pitchers.

Curveball, a yacker, on the outside edge of the plate.  I’m telling you S-Rod, go sit down now!  Save yourself the embarrassment!

92 mile per hour change-up on the inside corner.  Felix turned around, let out a scream, and looked to the sky before the umpire had even moved a muscle.  Then, he gave us this:

Where The Felix Things Are ...

Felix gave us so much with his performance, but to tack on what would become a photo like this is just too much, really.

23rd perfect game in Major League Baseball.  Felix Hernandez, you are truly one of the greatest.

Analysis Of The Ichiro Trade

For the record, this trade defies analysis.  At its core, this trade is one of convenience.  It’s good for the Mariners because now they can start Wells every day.  They can continue to play Saunders every day (even when Guti comes back, if Guti ever comes back).  And, they can give Mike Carp regular playing time (between left field and first base) to see if there’s anything there worth keeping around for next season.

The Yankees get a still-good defender (though, they’re going to shoe-horn him into left field; I’m sure Ichiro will be as up to the task as he was when playing center field for Grover) who will be a major upgrade over Raul Ibanez (who the Yankees blogs seem to loathe).  They get a guy who still has a lot of speed and stolen base potential.  AND, they don’t have to feature him in the top third of their lineup like the Mariners have been doing.  With a guy like Ichiro, batting what Ichiro has been batting over the last two seasons, it’s a lot easier to justify his playing time if you’re able to bury him at 9th in the lineup.  And finally, it’s a lot easier to justify bringing in Ichiro at all when you’re only paying him $2 million over the rest of this contract.  At season’s end, if Ichiro is terrible, let him go.

And, quite frankly, this is a boon for Ichiro himself.  He asked for the trade, but he did so quietly.  That shows the respect he has for this organization.  I’m sure he didn’t demand to which team he’d be traded, but I’m sure landing with the Yankees had to have been at or near the top of his list.  He is all but guaranteed to make his second-ever playoff appearance on a team with a real shot at going all the way.  And, most importantly of all, he will have an opportunity to play every day (or nearly every day) thanks to Brett Gardner being out for the season.

***

I’ve been hearing people talk about the Mariners saving money and how that’s a good thing; are you high?  First of all, the Mariners are still picking up $5 million on his tab; how is that saving ANYTHING?  Secondly, this money is already spent.  The deal ends at the end of this season; any money the Mariners save is ONLY good for improving their bottom line.  It’s not like that $2 million is going to roll over into next year.  It’s not like they’re going to make a trade for someone else’s high-priced contract.  That money is GONE.  So, stop talking about the money like it’s anything other than what we already hate this organization for:  the Mariners pinching pennies and getting away with it.

Also, let’s get this out of the way:  this trade was never going to be for some amazing hitter or high-end prospect.  D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar are probably – at-best – decent pitchers for the Tacoma Rainiers for a couple of seasons before they flame out of professional baseball entirely.  You can’t sit there and expect to fleece a Major League ballclub in a trade for a guy like Ichiro.  They have scouts, they can read stat lines, they know all about sabermetrics, and they have eyes.  What they see with those eyes is a 38 year old singles hitter who doesn’t walk, has a sub-.270 batting average, and is no longer the dynamo he was just three years ago.  I know, as a Mariners fan, you see Ichiro and you see an All Star, Gold Glove leadoff hitter with a career .322 batting average.  But, as objective, non-Mariners fans, every other front office in the Major Leagues sees a guy who is past his prime, playing in one of his final seasons (if not his actual final season).

In other words, I wouldn’t expect a whole lot out of the pitchers we received.  If they’re even marginally better than Hector Noesi, I’ll be ecstatic.

This trade came as a shock not just for its timing, but for the fact that it happened at all.  I think most Mariners fans thought we’d be seeing Hell frozen over before we’d see them ship off their most marketable commodity (in fact, has anyone checked Hell recently?  is it still warm down there?).  A few of us thought (and hoped) that this 2012 season would conclude and we would all be glued to our TVs (if not cheering wildly at Safeco) on October 3rd as Ichiro played in his final game as a Seattle Mariner.  He would retire after the game, a franchise leader in so much, and we would be counting down the days until his Hall of Fame speech.  Others thought we’d get to season’s end, Ichiro would expect a new contract, the Mariners would balk at making an offer, and he would leave the organization in a huff.  I think the majority of us feared we’d get to season’s end and Ichiro either would have already signed or would eventually be re-signed before next season to a long-term (2, 3, 4 year) deal, for many more millions of dollars than he’d be worth.  Resentment would set in.  Resentment mostly for the organization so foolish as to think that would be a good idea for a team aspiring to win ANYTHING, and resentment for Ichiro himself, through no fault of his own.

In short, as I’ve said before, this trade is probably the best possible outcome, even if we don’t get to say a proper goodbye.  But, we have two more games at Safeco with Ichiro, even if he is wearing the wrong uniform.  Go out and show him how much you care.  Because the first game the Mariners play without Ichiro involved in some way is going to be fucking strange.

The Heartbreak of the First Half with the Seattle Mariners

As a Mariners fan, I tend to run one of two ways:  Angry & Bitter or Desperate & Depressed.  Consider this post part of the latter.

Everyone’s doing their Mid-Season assessments of the Mariners, and a line from Larry Stone’s blog post caught my eye:

… my confidence is waning — or, at least, my confidence that the turnaround is going to happen with this foundation. And if not, well, then a lot of rebuilding time has been squandered.

Now, I know Jackie Z came here before the 2009 season, and so technically you could say the “rebuild” started then.  But, really, what you’re saying is that the rebuild started at the lowest levels of the minors.  For the Major League club, we were still saddled with a lot of aging veterans and stop-gap solutions.  The rebuild didn’t REALLY start until last year, the 2011 season.  But, even then, aside from Smoak, you’re talking about the rebuild starting with the second half of the 2011 season.

Essentially, we are one year into the official rebuild.  So, is that really a lot of rebuilding time squandered?

There is no doubt about it, Justin Smoak has been an unbelievable disaster since he got here.  It’s too bad we weren’t able to snooker the Rangers out of one of their actual stud hitters in the Cliff Lee deal, but that’s neither here nor there.  At least we’re not watching Cliff Lee dominate us within our same division.

But, I don’t think you can call the rebuild a failure at this point based solely on Justin Smoak.  Is he a big piece?  You’re damn right he’s a big piece!  Even though we got Cliff Lee for table scraps (and essentially flipped him for more table scraps), Cliff Lee was the most-prized starting pitcher of the 2010 trade deadline.  He eventually helped the Rangers get to their first World Series, which is no small feat (even if they did end up losing).  That needs to get you something in return that’s MORE than what Justin Smoak has been able to give us.

When Smoak came here in 2010, he played in 30 games and had an OPS of .694.  He was given the keys to the first base job for the entirety of the 2011 season and raised that OPS to .719.  FYI:  a .719 OPS still isn’t great.  At all.  BUT, he was injured for a big chunk of time, so we all thought he could come back in 2012 and look like the player he was in April, or September (when he was healthy again).  Instead, in 2012, Smoak has regressed to unforeseen lows, with a batting average barely over the Mendoza line and an OPS of .606.  Yeah, he leads the Mariners in home runs, but he leads them with 11 because the Mariners are pathetic at hitting (and at hitting home runs).

If Smoak has a second half that isn’t DRASTICALLY better than this first half, then it’s safe to say he’s officially a bust and it’ll be time to scrap him in favor of some other solution.

So, that sucks.

Another major part of our rebuild is Dustin Ackley.  #2 overall draft pick who rocketed his way through the minors and received a second-half call-up in 2011.  He showed lots and lots of promise last year in 90 games, but this year he has taken a step back and hasn’t really figured out how to adjust to how pitchers have already adjusted to him.  The panic button hasn’t been pushed like it has on Smoak, but let’s just say his .240/.321/.338/.659 slash line isn’t what you want out of a #2 overall draft pick.  You don’t pick a 6-hole hitter that high, is what I’m trying to say.

The other major concern with the rebuild is Jesus Montero.  He’s doing just a hair better than Ackley, and he too is in his first full Major League season.  Again, I don’t know if anyone is panicking, but his June numbers (3 doubles, 1 homer, 1 RBI, .580 OPS) aren’t inspiring a whole lot of confidence.

I would like to say that it’s still early yet.  That the Mariners have a lot of players experiencing their first full seasons in the Majors.  That you just gotta have faith that they’re going to figure it out.  But, it’s hard, because they’ve been so damned miserable lately.

If this core group of players all fail across the board, if they turn out to be – at best – utility players and – at worst – property of Japanese baseball teams, then I don’t know what the Hell.  It’s not like the Mariners have a whole lot of hitting studs in the minors.  It’s not like ownership will be willing to spend any money whatsoever.  And it’s not like our trades have inspired all that much immediate confidence.

What sucks is, there IS potential.  There’s potential all over the place!  Montero and Ackley have been productive in spurts.  Seager had been fairly steady before the month of June dropped his average under .250 again.  Casper Wells seems to be catching on in the outfield, but it’s been a struggle to find a place to play him with Ichiro, Saunders, and Guti taking up space.  John Jaso has been a sight for sore eyes, but HE can’t seem to get any regular playing time with two other catchers on this roster and the futile task of playing Smoak everyday to get him turned around.

You know what I’d like to see some day?  This team:

C – Montero
1B – Jaso
2B – Ackley
3B – Seager
SS – Ryan
LF – Saunders
CF – Guti
RF – Wells
DH – a healthy Mike Carp

That’s not me saying I want Ichiro and Smoak benched for the rest of the season.  Lord knows I’ve been about as big an Ichiro supporter as there can be in the land of the blogs.  I’m just saying that Ichiro should probably only be playing 4-5 days a week.  Give two games to Wells in right field (when Guti is able to come back from his concussion) per week.  It’s time to start playing HIM every day (either in right, left, or DH), because he could very well be our starting right fielder in 2013.

As far as Smoak is concerned, it’s probably time to start a time-share with him too.  If Mike Carp is ever able to return, I wouldn’t mind seeing him get in there a little more.  Wedge gave him a starting job last season and Carp ran with it.  This year, he injured his shoulder in the first game of the season and we haven’t seen much of him since.  It’s time to change that.  Let’s get a first base platoon going with him and Smoak.

And I’m just going to say this in one sentence:  cut Chone Figgins already!

On the pitching side of things, the major Mariners talking point has been the bullpen.  Indeed, the bullpen has been absolutely fantastic, but I’m not going to sit here and sugarcoat everything like that makes up for the fact that this team can’t hit, and the majority of its starters can’t keep us in games long enough for our hitters to not hit.

I would gladly trade every trade-able relief pitcher we have both on this team and in the Minors for either one solid #2-type starter or a bona fide middle-of-the-order bat.  Do I love what Wilhelmsen has done?  Absolutely.  Would I like to see what Furbush could do if stretched back into a starter?  Of course.  But, you are never going to build your team around a lockdown bullpen.  A lockdown bullpen is a luxury GOOD teams can afford, once they’ve figured out a way to plug all their other holes.  Holding on to these pieces makes absolutely zero sense and they seriously need to be traded yesterday!

On paper, and on the field, the first half for this Mariners team has been a disappointment.  But, I have to believe that SOMETHING is going on.  They can’t ALL be busts.  I won’t sit here and say that this rebuilding time has been squandered … mostly because I don’t WANT to believe it.  Because, deep down, I know in my heart that this time really HAS been squandered and we’re secretly rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates West.