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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Jack Zduriencik Re-Signed, Life Goes On

So, this is a story.  I, like most in Seattle, am not surprised by this.  I, like most in Seattle, think this is a good thing.

It’ll be interesting to see where this goes from here.  I thought USSMariner had a brilliant article today, with the crux of the argument being:  now that we’ve built up all this minor league talent, how is Jackie Z going to transition that into wins and losses for the Major League team?

These things have a way of repeating themselves.  A GM is hired most likely because the previous GM was fired.  So, the GM inherits a pretty bad team and it’s his duty to build that team back up through shrewd moves in drafts, trades, and free agency.  However, where things go awry is when a GM is hired, inherits a bad team, but that same team is coming off of a season in which they were winning a lot of games.

That’s pretty much what Bill Bavasi ran into when he was hired (though, if memory serves, Pat Gillick wasn’t fired; he just left).  Bill Bavasi inherited a good team that flat-out collapsed.  So, he wasn’t necessarily charged with bringing this organization back to respectability through building up the minor leagues; he was charged with quickly returning them to prominence.  Not that I’m defending the guy; he was as bad at drafting as he was at signing free agents and trading (which, as we all know, is really really bad!).  Nevertheless, this is the first real Re-Build the Mariners have ever done.

Jackie Z is entering uncharted waters.  And, so far, he’s done a pretty brilliant job.  Various draft picks are shooting through the minor leagues, he’s been able to unload useless (and not-so-useless) veterans and get back some quality prospects, and here we sit with our minor leagues stocked with all this … potential!  While that’s all well and good (and a sight for sore fucking eyes compared to the black hole that was the Bavasi minor league system), the Seattle Mariners baseball team won’t be winning too many baseball games based on the potential of the underlings in the Seattle Mariners organization.

We need Major League-ready baseball talent, and a lot of it, if we’re ever going to do anything truly special.

This is where Jackie Z has yet to be tested.  And, unforunately, until he does better, every move he makes for the big league club is going to be compared to the Chone Figgins signing; his first major free agent splash and his first major backfire.  It’s unfair because his hands have been pretty tied the last couple of years (especially this past offseason when no new money was put into the coffer).  And it’s not like people ever give him credit for his very best move:  re-signing Felix Hernandez to a long-term extension (especially when we all thought Felix was a goner as soon as he was to be up for free agency).

I’m just saying, if you gave Jackie Z $110 million to muck around with, there would be a lot more Felix Hernandez-type moves and a whole lot less Chone Figgins-type moves.

Of course, he won’t have $110 million.  But, he should have SOME millions.  And I fully expect these Jack Cust and Mike Sweeney-type signings to be a thing of the past.  A couple big bats and a big arm would go a long way for this team.  Now, he’s got the cash and the trade chips to do it.  All we needed to do was re-sign the man and now that’s been taken care of.

How will Jackie Z do as a big league GM who now must provide for the big league ballclub?  I think he’ll do quite well.  But, don’t take my word for it.  I’m sure we’ll be offered a dazzling showcase this offseason.

Jack Wilson, Former Second Baseman

Add this to the list of shit you can ONLY find in a franchise with its head up its ass.

I can’t remember all the crazy shit I’ve NEVER heard of happening before on a baseball team that happened last year.

Milton Bradley losing his shit, walking out of the clubhouse after getting taken out of a game, then promptly asking for psychiatric help that put him on a “restricted list” for a few weeks to get his head right.

Eric Byrnes simply destroying what should have been a relatively routine sacrifice bunt to lose us Cliff Lee’s first start in a 10-inning game, then before he could be questioned by the media, he rides his bicycle out of the clubhouse.

Larry LaRue of the Tacoma News Tribune publishes a story where a couple of unnamed teammates accused Ken Griffey Jr. of sleeping in the clubhouse during a game (and being so groggy that he was unable to pinch hit for Rob Johnson), which leads to Griffey and manager Don Wakamatsu not speaking for a month, Griffey being benched for Mike Sweeney, and (my favorite), Mike Sweeney challenging the unnamed teammates to step forward so he can fist-fight them in order to defend Griffey’s honor.

A few games (or maybe just a single game) after Jose Lopez makes a baffling base-running mistake, Chone Figgins does something else almost as brainless and instead of punishing both equally, Wak opts to take Figgins out of the game.  This leads to a physical altercation between Figgins and Wak (in the dugout, during the game) that ultimately leads to the MANAGER being fired.

I might be missing a few other oddities, but go ahead and throw this week’s freakshow onto the pile.

In Felix’s last start, there were two errors in the bottom of the second inning.  They were back-to-back, and they were both made by Jack Wilson at second base.  Either one could’ve prevented what ended up being the losing runs from scoring (had he been able to turn a simple double play, that is to say), but in combination, they added up to yet another loss for Felix.

By the time the bottom of the third inning came around, we found that Jack Wilson was no longer in at second.  At the time, I thought it MIGHT have been possible he was out for an injury – he was taken out a little hard at the bag as he tried to turn and throw to first base on the second of the two errors – but more likely he was pulled and the EXCUSE would have been that he was a little banged up on that play.

In a surprising revelation later that afternoon, it was pointed out by manager Eric Wedge that Jack was feeling a little “hazy” and was pulled for, I dunno, safety precautions?  DID he get hit in the head?  Didn’t look like it to me, but what do I know.

Later, Jack pointed out that he wasn’t feeling hazy at all, that he was just pulled from the game by the manager for the errors (to which he added that he didn’t blame Wedge, as he was doing nothing to help the team with his play).

Well, it turns out as of yesterday that Jack Wilson wasn’t pulled at all.  He ASKED to be taken out of the game, and Wedge was just trying to cover for his player.  Because teammates (or, really, anyone who’s played the game) will lose respect for a player who ASKS to be taken out, especially if he’s not totally crippled by injury.

This leads us to yesterday’s game, when Adam Kennedy was starting in place of Wilson.  Now, had none of these events of the past few days transpired, I would’ve chocked that up to Kennedy being left handed and Cleveland’s pitcher being right handed.  But now, it’s pretty clear:  Jack Wilson has played his last game as a Mariner.

Honestly, I think that’s a damn shame.  I’ve always kinda enjoyed the guy since we traded for him.  Great defender, if a little lot injury-prone, makes good contact with the bat, AND he’s literally in the best shape he’s been in since he was first breaking out in baseball thanks to losing a bunch of weight and strengthening his legs.  He’s been stealing bases, being productive at the plate, and in his penultimate game he turned what has to be the most impressive 4-3 double play I’ve ever seen.

But, there’s no excuse for taking yourself out of a game.  You’re a professional baseball player.  Yes, you had a terrible half-inning where you blew two plays that could’ve saved some runs.  You know what, it happens!  We didn’t see Kevin Kouzmanoff ask to be sat down when we played Oakland in the first series!  Jack Wilson isn’t the first guy to have a couple errors in an inning.

Of course, the difference there is that Kouzmanoff was playing his natural position and (supposedly) has a track record of successful third base defense.  Jack Wilson has been playing second base for all of a few weeks.  If you don’t have that comfort level in your position, I suppose I could see one’s confidence spiraling out of control.

I dunno.  All I know is that Wilson’s in the wrong here and I think it’s ultimately going to cost this team big.  They can’t put him back out there!  And who’s going to trade for the guy?  If they did, we certainly would be the ones unloading a problem and wouldn’t get a damn thing in return!  It looks like we’re either going to get a steady diet of Adam Kennedy, or a strict righty/lefty platoon.  Either way, I think I like Wilson’s bat and hustle more.

Jesus.  How much more crazy shit can happen to this team?  At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to find the Mariners involved in some sort of human trafficking sex scandal!

Seattle Mariners 2011 Preview, Part 2: The Hitters

It’s a preview, so I could easily bang this post out in my sleep (the only real requirement involves Being Totally & Completely Wrong).  But, I read this little number from Larry Stone yesterday, and I couldn’t resist playing Copycat.  For the record, Stone is MUCH more forgiving than I am (one would think it’d be the opposite, with the fan (me) figuring out ways as to how this squad will be a MILLION times better than last year’s, but I digress).

Let’s start with the Catcher position:

Olivo/Moore vs. Moore/Bard/Rob Johnson.  This looks to be no contest in favor of 2011’s tandem.  Rob Johnson was a waste of fucking life, Bard is no better than any other aging career backup (a.k.a. Rob Johnson in five years), and Moore briefly started to get things going, then he got hurt and never recovered.  Olivo looks to be better than all of them combined, but then again what is that really saying about our 2010 catchers?  At best, he’s top 2 in team OPS (again, what is THAT really saying about our team as a whole?); at worst he’s a Jose Lopez-like drain smack dab in the middle of the order.  The horror.

Nevertheless, give the nod to 2011.  I may have complained about the signing when it happened, but he’s going to be a crucial part of our success (or failure) this season, so I better get used to Miguel Olivo.

First base:

Smoak vs. Kotchman/Smoak.  Stone gave the edge here to 2011, but I’m holding the damn phone.  While I will TOTALLY grant you that this position couldn’t POSSIBLY get any worse (unless it were the DH position of a year ago), I’m still not so sold on Smoak.  He’s going to have to prove it to me.  Because if he comes out struggling (for whatever excuse you want to give:  pressing too much, trying too hard, wanting to do too much, not staying within himself), he’s likely going to be benched and probably even sent down to Tacoma to “work on his swing”, whatever that means.  Struggling begets struggling in this game, and if struggling leads to Smoak turning into Adam Kennedy, we’re going to WISH we still had Casey Kotchman to kick around.

Ergo, I’m saying this is Even and giving the edge to no one until Justin Smoak shows me otherwise.

Second Base:

Jack Wilson/Dustin Ackley vs. Figgins.  Stone gave the edge to 2010, mostly based upon a marginally torrid second half out of Figgy.  When “.286 after the All Star Break” is the barometer you’ve set for success, you know you’re gonna have a bad time.  Personally, I like Jack Wilson.  Yes he gets a bad rap for always getting injured (probably because he’s always getting injured), but when he’s healthy I think he’s quite effective!  I mean, he’s no Luis Sojo, but the guy has been known to get hot at the plate every once in a while.  Of course, he’s also been known to get equally as cold, but that’s neither here nor there.  I like Jack’s bat a helluva lot more than I like Josh Wilson’s, and I might even like it even more than Brendan Ryan’s.  As for Ackley, I think it’s a foregone conclusion he takes over second base for good, once the Mariners are officially 20 games out of first place (a.k.a. sometime in Early June).  But, that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily sold on Ackley The Rookie coming in and dominating.  You know how I feel about rookies.  Yes, I think they should get the most playing time on bad teams to show what they can do, but no, I don’t think they should be counted on to produce like All Stars.

I’m calling this one Even as well.  I think Jack Wilson’s first half will be close to equal to Figgins’ second half last year; and I think Ackley’s second half will be close to equal to Figgins’ first half last year.

Short Stop:

Brendan Ryan vs. Wilson/Wilson.  I was going to make this a trifecta of Infield Evens, but I think Stone convinced me to give the edge to 2011.  Look, Josh Wilson’s a likeable guy, and he filled in admirably last year (especially on the defensive side of things; we never missed a beat with the glovework between the two Wilsons), but he’s more Mascot or Team Pet than he is a Major League ballplayer.  Brendan Ryan is a Major League ballplayer.  No, I don’t expect him to set Safeco Field’s fences on fire with all his doubles power, but he’s got to be worth more than an injury-plagued Wilson and a singles-slapping Wilson.

Advantage 2011, but just BARELY.

Third Base:

Figgins vs. Lopez.  The theme of 2011, what everyone is banking on is:  It Can’t Get Any Worse.  So many players last year were at their absolute worst, including Bradley, Lopez, Kotchman, Griffey, and yes, Figgins.  Most of those players are no longer with the team; ALL of those players were priced to move for any trusting club to take off of our hands.  BUT, Figgins remains.  And I’ll go ahead and bite:  Figgins COULDN’T POSSIBLY be any worse than he was in 2010.  Unless you think his career is over, and I don’t.  NOT because of his “hot” second half last year, but because he’s had these anomaly-type seasons before and has always bounced back.  I’ll even go so far as to believe the switch back to third base will be beneficial.  But, there’s no way he’s done.  I’m going to leave it in the hands of Faith on this one.

Lopez, meanwhile, is done.  Just ask the Colorado Rockies.  Advantage 2011.

Left Field:

Bradley/Saunders vs. Bradley/Saunders.  I’m tweaking this from Stone’s version, as I believe Saunders will eventually stick in Left Field.  Something tells me he’s going to turn it on this year at the plate.  I do agree with Stone that (like third base), we couldn’t possibly do any worse, but there’s no way Bradley survives a full season of playing in the field.  SOMEONE else will force a platoon, and why not Saunders?  In 2010, he finally showed a little of that power he’s always had; now, if he can just manage to get a hit in better than 1/5 of his at bats, we just might have something here.

To 2011!  To Michael Saunders realizing his full potential (finally)!

Center Field:

Guti vs. Guti.  Stone has the edge to 2010 based solely on the fact that we don’t know what’s wrong with Guti’s stomach and we don’t know how long it’s going to keep him out.  I agree wholeheartedly that this is of utmost concern – in fact, it might be the biggest story of the season that no one is really talking about.  What if they NEVER find out what’s wrong with Guti?  What if he tries to eventually play through the pain only to struggle like he did last year?  Guti is a core guy!  He’s a building block to what’s supposed to be a winning ball club (in a few years)!  We NEED this guy!

I’m calling this a Draw based on the simple fact that I’m going to be optimistic in this one instance.  Guti started strong, then faded badly in 2010; I’m banking on the reverse this year.

Right Field:

Ichiro vs. Ichiro.  How could this NOT be even.  Stone and I are of the same mind here.  Give the man 200 hits and a Gold Glove and GET THE HELL OUT OF HIS WAY!

Designated Hitter:

Cust vs. Branyan/Griffey/Sweeney.  Stone likes Cust.  I like EVEN!  Essentially, Cust IS Branyan, except without the pure power.  I believe if you took 2010 Branyan, played him all year at DH with the 2010 Mariners, they would have almost identical lines except Branyan would have a few more homers than 2011 Cust.  Yes, Griffey was complete and total dead weight, but don’t forget Sweeney was a man possessed when he finally got the nod (and before he went down with back spasms).  Sweeney, in his month of terror, was better than every hitter except for Ichiro last year.  Man, I miss Sweeney.  I miss the hugs!

I like Cust, but I don’t like him THAT much.  And I think his strikeouts will start to outweigh his power and his walks over the course of a full season.  Even Steven.

Overall, my impressions aren’t great, but they’re equal to or better than 2010 across the board.  Mostly going on faith in this one.  I’m going to trust Olivo has enough pop to make up for what Lopez was SUPPOSED to give us last year.  I’m going to assume Figgins will return to glory and Bradley will … not fall below the Mendoza Line once and for all.  I’m going to go out on a limb and hope for progress out of Smoak and Saunders, and I’m going to pray to the Pepto gods that Guti gets over whatever it is he’s got.  I’m going to perish the thought of Ichiro finally starting to show his age, and finally I’m going to not expect too much out of our middle infielders (and accordingly be pleasantly surprised).

Do I think we will be better?  Compared to what?  The sheer abomination that was 2010?  We were LITERALLY the worst hitting ballclub in the modern era!  How could we NOT be better?

Well, let’s see.  Maybe Ichiro’s bat speed takes a dive and he hits .240.  Suddenly, he’s not legging out those infield singles anymore and what little power he had completely vanishes.  Smoak and Saunders continue to struggle, putting them mere steps away from being out of baseball.  Miguel Olivo is our home run leader with 16.  Jack Cust turns into Richie Sexson-heavy.  Jack Wilson gets injured in May and Adam Kennedy is Eric Byrnes Redux.  Brendan Ryan remains Brendan Ryan; Milton Bradley remains Milton Bradley.  Chone Figgins discovers he’s got the full blown Mariners Curse.  Franklin Gutierrez never fully recovers from his stomach ailment.  And with a rash of constant injuries beleaguering our lineup from top to bottom, we’re forced to play a bunch of AAA guys who seriously are NOT ready for Prime Time.

I guess that’s how we could be worse.  Dear God I hope we’re not worse.

And I don’t REALLY think we will be.  But, that doesn’t mean I believe we’ll be all that much better.  I wish I knew what amount of wins it would take to guarantee that Jackie Z keeps his job, because I want to see what he can do next winter when he’s actually got some money to throw around.  Does it even matter?  Is 70 the magic number?  Is it 75?  Or is it simply NOT losing another 100 games while showing marginal improvement from the guys who are believed to be the Future of the Franchise?

I hope it’s that.  Because I think that’s something we can actually accomplish.  There’s a lot to like with what Z is doing for our farm system.  We’ve improved tremendously since he got here AND we have the Number 2 pick in the upcoming MLB Draft.  That’s another rising star not long for the minors.

I’m getting off topic here.  Do I think we’re better?  Yes, but not by much.  The outfield is exactly the same as last year.  Exactly.  The infield is basically the same as it was for the second half of last year, just shuffled around a bit.  Brendan Ryan is pretty much the same type of power threat as Jose Lopez was in his underperforming last season.  Cust is Branyan, meaning our only real improvement is Olivo over Rob Johnson/Josh Bard.  We’re 1 man better (with a lot of hoping and praying that everyone else who did poorly last year improves).  That should amount to more overall wins, but not many.

Record Prediction:  65-97.  AL West Finish:  4th Place.  Draft Pick in 2012:  4.

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Even though we seemingly have the entire off-season to talk about next year’s affairs, this doesn’t feel like a bad time to get into some of the stuff we have to look forward to next year.  For the most part, it feels like we’re set with the Youth Movement (which I love, but most casual fans loathe).  Getting their first taste of Full Time, Full Season Duty will be Adam Moore (C), Michael Saunders (LF), Justin Smoak (1B) and potentially Dustin Ackley (2B).  Throw in established (with varying degrees of productive-ness) starters Chone Figgins (3B), Jack Wilson (SS), Franklin Gutierrez (CF), and Ichiro (RF), that leaves us squarely with the dilemma of the Designated Hitter.  A black hole ever since future Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez retired back in 2004.  We’ve used such dreck as Jose Vidro, Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Sweeney, and others, with no success whatsoever.  Currently, we’ve got The Muscle, who may have an awesome nickname (Russell Branyan), and will hit you the occasional dinger (bank on 30 unless his regular aches and pains keep him out for significant time), but will also strike out a shit-ton and pretty much has a batting average on par with the aforementioned dreck.  However, his is only an option that we don’t necessarily have to pick up next year.  Whom we have no choice in the matter is one Milton Bradley (much to my chagrin, as I’d forgotten he existed since being on the DL for so long).  Pen him in for 1 more guaranteed year at a little over $13 million (potentially over $18 million if you count the money we’re still paying on Carlos Silva’s contract) and I pretty much just want to skip next year and go straight to the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse.  He will be the 2nd highest salaried player on our team next year, which makes me want to vomit (and, again, if you want to count the money the Cubs get to employ a now-decent Silva, he’s the 1st highest on the team).  AND, Milton Bradley is a man without a position, if we indeed opt to give Michael Saunders a full-time slot.  So, there you go.  Designated Hitter:  Milton Bradley (with the option for occasional left field duty if we’re feeling particularly sadistic).  I know there will technically be money to spend next year, but holy fucking cow what are we going to do with it?  Let $18 mil ride the pine?  I hate you so much Bill Bavasi.  YOU DID THIS!

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Oh the futility!  I’m beginning to get the feeling that the Mariners aren’t going to make the playoffs this year.  Hey, here’s a fun game to play.  We all know Ichiro is the team’s leading hitter in batting average, but who’s #2?  Well, if you remember this post, it might give you a hint, since the player in question hasn’t played for us since.  Oh, that’s right, Mike Sweeney!  .263!  So, how has Mr. Sweeney been doing since his trade to a contender?  Well, from the looks of things, he had a lot of playing time in August, though he wasn’t crushing the ball by any means.  10 for 44 with 1 double, 1 home run, and 6 RBI.  Though, approximately half his appearances were in Pinch Hit form, where he was 2 for 8.  In the month of September, his playing time has dropped off dramatically.  3 Pinch Hit at bats, 1 for 2 with an RBI.  But, you know what?  It’s hardly about playing time.  The man’s on a team that will likely win the AL East.  Or, at the very least, will hang on for a Wild Card spot unless they fall apart.  Considering the mediocrity that is the National League, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine Mike Sweeney getting a World Series at bat before he retires.  If that ain’t magical as shit, I don’t know what is.

The Cancer That Wasn’t

I looked up an interesting online chat I had with a friend back on 12/18/2009, which I assume is either the day or a day after we traded Carlos Silva and cash to the Cubs for Milton Bradley.  I’m reminded of this conversation mainly because of this post in the Seattle Times Mariners Blog.  I think Geoff Baker goes a long way in explaining what essentially went wrong and ultimately why Wakamatu was (and probably had to be) fired.

Anyway, getting back to Silva for Bradley, this was just one step in a string of – what I perceived at the time – positive moves for the ballclub.  Moves towards contending in 2010.  In conjunction with Figgins, Cliff Lee, and maybe forcing myself to believe a little too much in some questionable players like Kotchman, Jack Wilson, and yeah, Ken Griffey Jr.  Let’s face it, I talked myself into another 15-20 homers out of him with a ceiling as high as .250 in the batting average department.  I wasn’t even close to expecting the Shaun Alexander-like dropoff that we got.

More than anything, though, Silva for Bradley made me giddy.  Even more than Cliff Lee (which sounds insane in retrospect).  I’d base that clearly on my loathing of Silva; getting a half-dead invalid would’ve been a bonanza of a deal.

In my zeal, I took to G-chat and said, “Holy shit dude. Jack Z. is an absolute jedi! How he got the Cubs to take Silva is amazing to me”.

To which my friend replied, “didn’t the m’s get milton bradley though”?

The conversation went on about how Bradley is a cancer and that’s a huge risk to take on, especially considering the harmonious environment we enjoyed in 2009’s pleasant surprise of a season.  Ultimately, I made the argument that I’d take one great (even pennant-winning) season followed by a decade of futility, so long as Bradley could just make it through one year happy; punctuating my point with saying Silva is even worse than the worst possible form of cancer imaginable.

At least we could agree on that.

Of course, the funny thing about 2010 is:  Milton Bradley has been anything but a cancer, as far as I can tell.  Yeah, he did have that meltdown, which resulted in a couple/few weeks of personal time to work through his anger issues.  But, since then, it appears he’s been a model citizen, if not exactly a lightning rod of ass-kicking on the baseball field.  I couldn’t tell you when last he played, since Michael Saunders appears to be getting every chance available, but that doesn’t appear to have made him a clubhouse cancer in the slightest.

No, this season wasn’t foiled by Milton Bradley:  Tumor, but then again it wasn’t exactly helped by him either.

There are approximately two schools of thought when it comes to clubhouse chemistry:

1.  A harmonious atmosphere will beget happy, stress-free players who will then go out and produce in a meaningful way on the baseball field, which will result in more wins for the team.

2.  Winning and winning alone begets a harmonious atmosphere (which, hell, is harmony even necessary if you’re winning?)

So, what was it last year?  Were we a happy team because players like Griffey and Mike Sweeney came in and lifted the dark clouds with their tickle fights and hugging contests?  Or were we a happy team because we won 85 games when we really weren’t expecting much after a 100-loss season the year before?

I dunno, does it even matter?  This year’s clubhouse was bad – maybe not 2008 bad, but bad nonetheless.  And it resulted in lots of losses.  Combined (bad atmosphere + lots of losses) = manager and most coaches fired before season’s end.  If we were still losing, but all the key players still respected Wak & Co., and there weren’t so many blatant lapses in judgment on the basepaths and in the field (and at the plate for that matter), then my money would be placed on Wak getting one more year to see if he could turn it around.

But, that’s the thing.  It would’ve required all the players to be on board, not just the young ones getting a shot at extra playing time thanks to a shot season.  And yes, without a doubt, Griffey leaving so abruptly and contentiously played a major part in Wak losing the clubhouse and losing the front office support.

Nevertheless, I refuse to believe that Griffey is the sole cancerous culprit in upending not only the Mariners season, but Wak’s brief managerial career.

I’m not so naive to think that by simply removing the tumor (Griffey and his discontent), you’ve solved your cancer problem.  But, let’s face facts, there were problems with this team long before Griffey made his value known with the lowest hitting totals in all the land for a regular DH.  All signs pointing to the real villain:  Lack of Discipline.

Wak is his own worst enemy in this tragedy, and he Belief System’d his way right out of a job.  It’s one thing to give proven players a long leash and hope that they’ll play their way out of slumps; but it’s quite another to let them drag you through the muck because they want to go chasing bunny rabbits.  I would argue that his judgment in deciding who to have the long leash with vs. who to yank around has been flawed all season.  And I know that desperate times called for desperate measures (you know, back when the AL West was still somewhat within grasp), but sometimes you have to make a stand.  Look at the April trends and make the snap judgment that some guys just won’t be playing their way out of it.  Some guys are just done.

Mike Sweeney should’ve been our starting DH much earlier, that’s all there is to it.  Either you keep Griffey at his word that he’d accept a reduced role and nip his influence over the rest of the clubhouse in the bud, or you make him Honorary DH For Life and see if all those players who admire such a dying goat at the plate can pick him up with their own production.  But, you can’t let him fester as long as he did, then set the whole mess in motion by benching him without a conversation as to why.

The cancer spread like wildfire from there, but the ultimate source wasn’t Griffey.  It was Wak all along.  I agree that he’ll get another shot at the majors, and I bet next time he learns from his mistakes this year.  2009, all he had to do was coast along, let his veterans fix the clubhouse chemistry, and absorb all the accolades of a winning season.  This year, there would be no such coasting.  The futility of the offense wouldn’t allow it.  In the end, Wak made good on some of the tough decisions, but far too late for his own good thanks to a Belief System gone awry.

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Well, so long to Mike Sweeney; he was one of the good ones.  In a move yesterday shocking to no one, he was dealt to the Phillies for … stuff.  I dunno, cash or a player, likely never to be heard from or about ever.  This was a move to do something nice for a pro’s pro at the tail-end of his career.  I’m sure we’ll all remember Sweeney for all the hugging he brought into the clubhouse.  Can’t forget the hugging.  I know I’ll remember Sweeney – for a little while at least – as the guy who should’ve been playing DH all along for this year’s Mariners team.  But, he couldn’t crack the lineup until the first month was dead and gone, and by then it was too late.  It’s too bad back spasms and whatnot only served as excuses to put him on the DL and bring back Branyan; but at least he’s going somewhere better.  He’s like a neglected old smell-hound being adopted by a farmer … you’ll have all the fields to run around in that you can handle, boy!  DON’T LOOK BACK!  *sniff* JUST KEEP ON RUNNIN’ SWEEN-DOG!

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Another night, another shutout. The Mariners are 3-14 in July. With the exception of Kansas City (who swept us in 3 games), every single team we have played or will play this month is in the running for a playoff birth (Yankees, Tigers, Yankees, Angels, White Sox, Red Sox, White Sox, Twins). You could say things might improve in August, but let’s face it, every team playing outside the Baltimore area might as well be a playoff team when it comes to the Seattle Mariners. We’re nobody’s foe. We’re a team of slap-hitters and no-hitters. We’re so bad we can’t even give away our useless regulars in hopes to Give The Kids A Shot. Nobody wants Bradley or Kotchman or Rob Johnson or Figgins or Jack Wilson or Jose Lopez. And yet, we have to play these fucks because the guys I actually like – Branyan, Sweeney, Saunders, Langerhans – can’t fucking stay healthy. On the bright side, Mr. Douglas Fister bounced back for the Quality Start against a Quality Lineup in the White Sox. Of course, he could’ve went 27-up and 27-down and it still wouldn’t have made shit for difference since we were 2-hit. Felix goes tonight. I’m attending the game TOMORROW night. If we win either one, I’d probably die of shock.