Tempering Expectations For This Mariners Rebuild

What interests me most about the game of baseball is the long game. In football, you’ve got rosters twice the size of a baseball team, yet we see it every year: teams going from worst to first. You can turn around a football team in one offseason! But, in baseball, it takes seemingly forever (and, for an organization like the Mariners, LITERALLY forever).

I did a big, long post about the first successful Mariners rebuild. I originally wrote that in 2013, when we all were hopeful that we were in the middle of the next successful Mariners rebuild. There were so many moves made between the nadir of this franchise (2008) and the next time you could legitimately say the Mariners were in contention for the post-season (2014, when we finished 87-75, just 1 game back of a Wild Card spot) that it truly boggles the mind.

That rebuild was ultimately a failure. It produced three winning seasons between 2014 and 2018, and zero playoff appearances. Following last year’s collapse, Jerry Dipoto made a bunch of moves to jettison veterans and infuse the farm system with prospects. Our veteran holdovers include names like Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc, Roenis Elias, Dan Altavilla, and Dan Vogelbach; most (if not all) of those players will not be on this team the next time it reaches the post-season.

So, we’re stuck rooting for prospects. Rooting for potential. Rooting for the young guys to step up and prove themselves not just worthy of Major League roster spots, but ultimately good enough to get this team back to the playoffs one day (ideally one day very soon). Jerry Dipoto is staking his reputation and his job on these players. If it all falls apart like it did last time, he, Scott Servais, and a bunch of other very smart baseball men will be looking for employment elsewhere.

As I noted, we’ve been through this before. So, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

See, it can be fun and exciting knowing your team is out of it before the season even begins. First, there’s no expectations, so any on-field success you see is all gravy. Then, of course, there’s the factor of the unknown. New, young players you’ve never seen before are ALWAYS more interesting than old veterans who’ve been around for years. We pretty much know what guys like Seager, Healy, Felix, and Leake are; there’s nothing to learn about those guys. So, we pin all our hopes and dreams on the prospects. We want to see them in a Major League uniform right this minute, to pump them full of experience with the hopes that they’ll pan out immediately. This can lead to guys getting called up too early (a la Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Matt Tuiasosopo, etc.) or guys just being huge disappointments.

Let’s start with the 2008 season, the aforementioned nadir. That team lost 101 games and we were all miserable. Successful players like Felix, Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez, Jose Lopez, and even Yuniesky Betancourt were no match for the suck-asses that were Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro, Jeremy Reed, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, Erik Bedard, and so on. General Manager Bill Bavasi was fired, and The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild was on!

2009 proved to be a welcome surprise. Franklin Gutierrez was brought over in a trade, as was Jason Vargas (Doug Fister was one of the rare Bavasi draft picks that stuck in the org and actually panned out). Ichiro was still Ichiro! Russell Branyan and David Aardsma were quality pick-ups. Even the return of Ken Griffey Jr. for a victory lap proved valuable. That 85-win season led everyone (but the stat geeks, who knew those wins were on a shaky foundation) to believe we were way ahead of the curve on this rebuild. So much so that Jackie Z decided to make a big push to go for it in 2010.

We traded for Cliff Lee! We got rid of Carlos Silva and brought back a useful piece in Milton Bradley! Our young core of starters (Felix, Vargas, and Fister) were bolstered with key bullpen additions like Brandon League, Jamey Wright, and Sean White. So, what happened? The team fell apart (ultimately losing another 101 games; in hindsight, a second go-around with Old Griffey proved disasterous) and shipped off anyone of value for prospects. Lee was flipped for Justin Smoak (among others). Our high draft pick was used on a pitcher who got hurt so many times he never made the Bigs. And The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild 2.0 was on.

2011 was a key year for the rebuild, as the team REALLY went for it this time. Taking a stroll through that roster is long and arduous. Ichiro, Miguel Olivo, Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, and Adam Kennedy were the veteran everyday players; Felix, Vargas, Bedard, and Fister were still holding down the rotation (though Fister would be swapped for a bunch of nobodies at the deadline; yet another example of a trade that totally backfired for the Mariners); and League, Wright, and David Pauley (among others) were the steady influences in the bullpen. But, the young guys were the stars of the show. 2008 first rounder Dustin Ackley was called up midseason, as was Kyle Seager. Justin Smoak was handed the first base job. Guti started his slow descent into an injured adulthood. Then, there were guys like Michael Saunders, Greg Halman, Alex Liddi, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Chris Gimenez, Carlos Peguero, Adam Moore, Mike Wilson and more. On the pitching side of things, Michael Pineda was an All Star, but then there were guys like Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush (remember when he was a starting pitcher?), a younger Tom Wilhelmsen, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes, Chance Ruffin, and Shawn Kelley.

Those were all the players we hung our hats on. How many of them actually panned out? You can count them on one hand. How many of them panned out for the Seattle Mariners? That number is even smaller.

2012 saw the influx of guys like Jesus Montero (swapped for Michael Pineda), Hector Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez, Lucas Luetge, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, and John Jaso. They were paired with the holdovers like Smoak, Seager, Ackley, Felix, Vargas, Ichiro (starting his decline) and Figgins (at the end of his miserable Mariners career).

Then, there’s 2013, with prospects like Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino (a year after being drafted), Brandon Maurer, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. Veterans like Kendrys Morales, Endy Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, Jason Bay, Jeremy Bonderman, and Hisashi Iwakuma saw extensive playing time, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. The old guys didn’t do enough (and most were gone in short order), and the young guys (predictably) never panned out for this team.

So, please, keep all these duds in mind as we go forward. You’re going to hear A LOT of new names you’re not familiar with in 2019 and 2020. The team is going to tout these players as The Future; don’t believe ’em. The vast majority of these players will be more in a long line of losers that help to keep the Seattle Mariners out of the post-season.

Some guys will be promising, only to fall flat on their asses the following year when expectations are raised and other teams learn how to handle them. Some guys will be promising only to suffer devastating injuries that hinders their development. Some of those injured guys will be brought back too soon, only to struggle and lose their confidence. Some guys will just flat-out stink from the get-go. One, maybe two guys, will be okay. But, they won’t be enough. They’ll just embolden this organization to spend a bunch of money when the time “feels right”. At that point, some flashy veterans will be brought in to supplement our future “rising stars” and we’ll go through the process of “contending (for a wild card spot)” all over again.

The Mariners are never going to be the Astros or Cubs or Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers. They’re closer to the Athletics and Rays than anything else, just a Major League farm club for better-run organizations. The tremendous amount of luck required to turn us into one of those truly good teams isn’t ingrained in the city of Seattle and its sports teams. The best we can hope for is competent mediocrity.

The best we’re going to get is just outside, looking in.

Mariners Tidbit 58: Jesus Montero Is Back … Hooray?

Driving down to Tacoma yesterday afternoon for my weekly summer bowling league, I found myself flipping through the three local sports radio shows as the story was breaking:  the Mariners called up Jesus Montero.  We would go on to find out that J.A. Happ apparently still has options, and since he won’t be starting between now and the All Star Break, we used his option to get him off of our 25-man roster for a couple weeks.  He’ll be eligible to return just as soon as we need him, which I would assume is somewhere around July 20th or 21st.

Surprisingly, with news of Montero’s return – and likely impending implementation over the weekend, as we face a run on lefty starters – the tenor of the discussion wasn’t, “Yawn, who cares?”  I was catching a whiff of unbridled enthusiasm!  For a player whose career Major League numbers with the Seattle Mariners look like this:

  • .251/.291/.378/.669, 19 homers, 73 RBI across 680 plate appearances

That’s right around 1 full season’s worth of plate appearances, spread out over three mediocre years.  Last year, he played in all of 6 games in the middle of endless controversy.  Since he was traded for Michael Pineda, Montero has proven to be the following:

  • A terrible defensive catcher
  • Terrible at taking a walk or working a count
  • Terrible at hitting right handed pitching
  • A slow, lazy tub of goo who only in this past offseason managed to get his fitness to where it needs to be
  • A steroids user
  • Not a fan of ice cream sandwiches
  • Terrible at hitting any type of breaking ball or offspeed pitch
  • Strikeout-prone
  • A symbol of all that has gone wrong in the Jack Zduriencik era

In short, Jesus Montero – the Seattle Mariner – has been a complete and utter disaster from the start.  Why would ANYONE think even for a moment that his being called up is going to matter one iota?

  • .332/.370/.529/.899, 15 homers, 68 RBI across 368 plate appearances

Those are his numbers this year while playing in Tacoma.  By all accounts, he’s maintained the weight loss, he’s quicker and more athletic; hell, he’s even managed to somehow hit FIVE triples!  He’s been mashing as a combo DH/1B this year, while at the same time nearly everyone on the Major League roster has struggled at hitting.  Nelson Cruz started off insanely hot, but has cooled off in the last month-plus.  Robinson Cano is going through his worst-ever season in the bigs.  Mark Trumbo appears to be yet another bust.  Weeks and Ruggiano are gone.  I guess what I’m trying to say is:  can you BLAME Mariners fans for thinking that Montero couldn’t POSSIBLY be worse than what we already have?

Yes.  Yes, I can.  Because, YOU FAT BLOATED IDIOT, how many times are we going to go through this?  The solution to all of our problems doesn’t lie in the roster of the Tacoma Fucking Rainiers!  Guys like Jesus Montero, and Carlos Peguero, and Alex Liddi, and Mike Wilson, and Wladimir Balentien, and James Jones, and Stefen Romero, and Abe Almonte, and Carlos Triunfel, and Matt Tuiasosopo, and Casper Wells, and Trayvon Robinson, and Eric Thames, and Adam Moore, and Matt Mangini will ALWAYS do well in Tacoma, because they’re as close as it comes to being bona fide Major League hitters without actually BEING Major League hitters.  They do well down there, they get called up with all this fanfare – invariably because they’re filling a roster spot vacated by a do-nothing turd – and they promptly do their best impression of a do-nothing turd!

And, unlike most of those other guys – when they made their first appearances with the big league ballclub – we KNOW what Jesus Montero can do in the Majors; we’ve seen it firsthand!  Doesn’t mean someone like Montero couldn’t make it as a bench player or a platoon guy on another team; shit, even Bryan LaHair was an All Star one year for the Cubs.  But, it’s beyond idiotic to believe Montero is going to be that valuable player HERE.  For the Seattle Mariners.  Playing half their games in Safeco Field.

I know it’s fun to dream.  I know it’s fun to look at Montero’s relatively skinny frame, point to how he was once a VERY highly rated prospect, and fantasize about how he may be one of the rare late bloomers who turns his career around without the all-important change of scenery.  But, let’s get fucking real, huh?  Could we just once not get suckered into a belief that Jesus Montero will be worth a damn?  Can we PLEASE just live in the now???

2012 Mariners Preview Part I: The Hitters

You know, for a while there, I was ALMOST excited about this upcoming season.  I know, I’m a God-damned sucker, and I sucker myself into this team every fucking season.  You know, every season there’s at least ONE surprise team!  Maybe this is the year underperforming veterans bounce back and young prospects shock the world!  MAYBE, if we get lucky in enough 1-run games, we can stay competitive through the summer …

I know it’s retarded, but it’s hard to watch the numbers some of these guys are putting up and NOT think, “Well, maybe.”

  • Kyle Seager batting .350 with 3 homers and 3 doubles.
  • Michael Saunders batting .324 with 1 homer and 4 doubles.
  • Jesus Montero batting .306 with 2 homers and 3 doubles.
  • Alex Liddi batting .429 with 1 homer and 7 doubles.
  • Vinnie Catricala batting .313 with 2 homers and 1 double.
  • Ichiro batting .400 with 2 homers and 2 doubles.
  • Justin Smoak batting .393 with 3 doubles and more walks than strikeouts.

Pardon the double-negative, but these are not UNimpressive numbers.  It’s just that, as everyone knows, you HAVE to take Spring numbers with a huge grain of salt.  Like, a grain the size of Mt. Rainier.  History is absolutely RIDDLED with the stories of guys who did well in Spring Training, only to fall on their asses when the games started to count.

Which is generally what sets baseball apart from most every other sport.  Take football, for instance.  If a rookie comes into Training Camp and blows away the competition, he’ll likely make the team as a starter (or at least as a guy who plays regularly, if he’s not blocked by an All Pro or something).  That rookie who did so well in Training Camp is GENERALLY going to do pretty well when he plays in the regular season.  All young players make mistakes, but in football the good ones will generally do more good than harm.

In Baseball, it’s pretty much the opposite.  Even in the case of Michael Pineda, you’re talking about a guy who ripped through the minor leagues before he got his first taste.  And even IF you’re a guy who has dominated at the lower levels, that’s absolutely no guarantee of future success at The Show.  Baseball is the biggest crapshoot of them all.  Which is why guys like me still get suckered in every now and then.  But, ultimately, it’s a crapshoot where there’s no winner (if you’re a fan of the Seattle Mariners, that is).

The Mariners get a lot of praise for building this team “The Right Way.”  I tend to be of the opinion that there IS no “right way” except the way that wins you a World Series.  But, I suppose there is a “Wrong Way”, and the main proponent of that wrong way was Bill Bavasi.  NOTHING that guy did ever worked out!  Yeah, there’s something to be said for spending money like the Yankees and the Red Sox (mainly:  “Why don’t the Seattle Mariners spend money like the Yankees and the Red Sox?”), but the apologists have a point when they say it doesn’t matter HOW much money you spend if you’re spending it on the wrong people.  Fat, bloated contracts given to fat, bloated losers will generally make your team the laughing stock of the entire league.  I get that!

Here’s where the Mariners will ultimately lose me forever.  I get that the Mariners have a plan in place right now:  they’re building through drafts and shrewd trades for prospects, in hopes that enough of them hit big so we can build around them with some proven veterans when the iron is hot.  In that sense, yeah, cut your salary if you have to and give all the playing time to your young (and cheap) talent.  But, when that talent starts to blossom into All Stars, the Mariners better be ready to pay the piper.  Because if this is going to be one of those Kansas City Royals/Pittsburgh Pirates deals where we’re constantly trading away our talent when it comes time to sign them to long-term deals, then that’ll be that.  I won’t root for a team that’s essentially a farm club for other, bigger Major League teams more willing to spend money to make money.

Having a plan is fine, but every plan has to have a conclusion it’s trying to reach.  Spending as little as possible (while your direct rivals are spending what it takes to get the job done) and while aspiring to be nothing more than a .500 ballclub is NOT a plan.  Don’t forget that.

***

So, where are the Mariners at with their plan right now?

Oh, Christ, I don’t know.  Based on last year’s numbers, I’d say we’re proper fucked!  But, I suppose it would be more constructive if we broke the hitters down into catagories.

The Keepers

The only hitter on this team we have a good reason to be confident about right now is Dustin Ackley.  On the one hand, that’s IT?  One guy?  But, on the other hand, that’s great!  We’ve at least got AH guy we can hang our fucking hats on!  That’s more than we could say the past three seasons.  He’s going to hit for a good average, he’s going to get on base at a great clip, and he’s going to hit for enough power to be one of the most productive guys at his position.  Considering that position is Second Base, I’d say that’s a good start.  Gonna need about eight more guys at the other positions to really feel good about this team, but at least we can say Second Base is locked down.  There are plenty of guys on this team I will worry about; Dustin Ackley I can thankfully take for granted.

Guys We Have Reason To Hope Will Be Good

These are guys on the next tier down.  We THINK they’ll be good for us, but we just need to see them prove it.  Near the top of this realm, we have guys like Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak, and Ichiro.  I know, one of these things is not like the other, but hear me out.  With Montero, you’ve got a guy who’s got the best stroke we’ve seen since Edgar Martinez.  If he were to actually BE Edgar Martinez and give us Edgar’s career, I think we’d all be more than thrilled with the transaction.  Not only is this guy highly regarded as a prospect, but he’s a guy you HAVE to be considering for Rookie of the Year (if ROY were like the Heisman Race and mostly decided upon pre-season).  The only thing is, he hasn’t done it yet.  Crazy things happen.  If Montero gives us a solid rookie campaign (with no injuries), then he goes right to the top of The Keepers list before next season.

Justin Smoak’s a little different in that he’s had some Major League experience.  He had what amounted to a full season at the Big League level last year (in that he was never sent down to AAA for a lack of productivity) even if he missed some time due to injury.  I think we’re all pretty confident in the guy – after all, we both dealt Cliff Lee and spurned the Yankees to get him – and he has shown flashes of being a very good hitter at this level.  Now, it’s time for him to put it all together.  A full season, no injuries, no personal life disasters.  With Smoak at first base, Montero potentially at catcher, and Ackley at second base, you’re talking about a great little core of guys with which to build your team around.

Before I get to Ichiro, I’m going to throw another name into this mix, as a guy I’m ultimately confident will turn out to be a fantastic hitter for the Mariners.  Kyle Seager.  The thing with Seager is, yeah, I think he’s going to be awesome, but where is he going to play?  With Seager, you’re basically getting another Ackley (in that they’ve got a little bit of pop in their bats, but neither of them are going to put up mind-blowing power numbers).  If he were to take over for Brendan Ryan next year at Short Stop, then yeah, I guess that’d be great.  But, does Seager have the defensive capabilities to man the toughest position in the field?  Or do you sacrifice a traditional power position like Third Base on a guy who’s not going to give you traditional power numbers?  Given the willingness to bring in a guy like Figgins, I’d say Jackie Z is willing to make that sacrifice.  Personally, I’d be okay with giving up a little defensive range at Short Stop if it meant we actually had a third baseman worth his weight, but I guess that’s an argument for another day.  In the meantime, if Seager shows he’s got what it takes, the Mariners will HAVE to find room for him somewhere.  And that’s always a good problem to have.

Finally, Ichiro.  I have him lumped in with these up-and-comers not because I’m looking for a reason to re-sign him to a three-year extension at season’s end.  I’m talking about Ichiro exclusively in the 2012 sense.  He’s coming off of a bad year, no question about it.  This is the first off-season where we’ve had Ichiro as anything but a Sure Bet.  Indeed, he’s now a question mark.  As in:  Is Ichiro finished, question mark?

One thing I don’t think we have to worry about is Ichiro’s speed.  Has he lost a step?  I dunno, maybe he’s lost AH step, but the guy still had 40 stolen bases in 47 opportunites (an 85% success rate, which is far from his worst season in that regard).  He was picked off at the same rate he’s always been picked off (6 in each of the last two seasons).  In fact, pretty much across the board his baserunning numbers are level.  If he’s in decline, or has “lost a step”, the numbers aren’t bearing that out.

The number people like to point to when they remark that Ichiro has lost a step is his 42 infield hits, which is down considerably from the past two seasons (63 in 2009, 64 in 2010).  Had Ichiro had twenty more infield hits in 2011, he would’ve easily cleared his 200-hits goal and maybe this talk about Ichiro being finished could be delayed another season or two.  But, I’ve got to ask a couple of questions:  1. how much of the number of infield hits you get is attributed to luck?  It seems like a flukey BABIP kind of thing that will go your way one season and go against you the next.  If Ichiro hits some of those groundouts a few inches further away from the short stop, then some of those groundouts become hits. After all, Ichiro has had comparable seasons where he’s hit in the 40s in infield hits (and those were years where he still had 200 overall hits).

Question 2:  how much of the number of infield hits Ichiro got (or didn’t get) in 2011 was a result of the opponents being extra aggressive defensively?  After all, with our historically bad offense, why wouldn’t the other team try to take away some of Ichiro’s infield hits?  If they play a step or two in (or towards a certain base, depending on how the pitcher is going to pitch him) and it succeeds, then great, Ichiro is out.  If their aggressive defense fails, then damn, Ichiro is on base.  But, that’s still okay because even if he steals second and third base, it’s not like the Mariners have anyone who can hit him home (regardless of whether there are less than two outs or not).

I have Ichiro in this catagory because I have a better-than-average feeling that he can bounce back from a down season.  With his work ethic and his distinct skillset, if anyone is going to bounce back, it’s Ichiro.  If only for one season.

Guys We Hope MAYBE Will Figure It Out

Here, we have players who – most likely – will turn out to be underachievers.  .225 hitters with lots of strikeouts and double plays hit into.  Frustrating fuckers given chance after chance, with little-to-no payoff.  In essence, this catagory is tailor-made for Michael Saunders.  The only reason he’s not in a far-worse catagory is because the guy has all the damn tools!  He SHOULD be GOOD!  He plays great centerfield defense, he’s shown he has power and speed on the basepaths.  But, his long, slow swing makes him an easy target for the pitcher who can hit that low-and-away spot in the strikezone (and for those who can hit that lower and more away spot out of the strikezone).

But, Michael Saunders isn’t alone.  I’m putting Mike Carp in here as well, because I just don’t know.  Yeah, he was one of our best hitters last season, but that really isn’t saying much.  Will his modest success carry over (and hopefully blossom) into 2012?  Or, is Mike Carp essentially who we thought he was?  He’s not a traditional left fielder, so if it turns out he’s an absolute disaster with the glove, then that reduces his value tenfold.  Because Montero is going to get the bulk of the DH at-bats in his rookie campaign.  But, even if Montero was the catcher and Carp the DH, Carp’s kind of production isn’t really what you’re looking for in a one-dimensional player.  Finally, do we really know if he can hit left handed pitching?  If not, then that’s another hit to his value.  Yeah, if Carp puts it all together, he could be GREAT.  But, if he doesn’t, then he’s just another platoon outfielder who will inevitably be relegated to the bench in favor of a better player who can do it every day.

Guys Who We Know Of What To Expect

That’s not a good thing.  This is the Tarvaris Jackson of baseball player catagories.  We have the rest of our starting nine in here.  Guys like Brendan Ryan.  He’ll bat you .250 (almost exclusively singles) and he’ll give you great defense (when he’s healthy).  That’s it.

Or Miguel Olivo.  He’ll bat you anywhere from .230 to .250, he’ll swing for the fences at will (which means he’ll give you around 20 dingers), he’ll strike out a ton, and he’ll almost never get a walk.  And he’ll play a piss-poor backstop with his passed balls and all the wild pitches he should’ve knocked down in front of him.

Or, *shudder*, Chone Figgins.  He’ll get you around .190, he’ll lead the team in Safeco Field boos, and he’ll make just enough errors and poor throws to make you wonder what anyone ever saw in his defense.

Guys Who We Just Have No Fucking Clue

This is where the rest of our bench resides.  John Jaso, Casper Wells, and Munenori Kawasaki.  Who the fuck knows?  They’re bench (or, at best, platoon) guys, so really, who cares?  Throw in the rest of the AAA rabble like Peguero and Liddi and Wilson and Catricala and Trayvon Robinson while you’re at it.  I don’t know and you don’t know what they’re going to do, so let’s just leave it at that.

Oh, and I guess we can throw Guti into this mix as well.  Will he EVER be healthy?  Stay tuned for the most frustrating show in Seattle sports!

Tomorrow, I’ll try to muster up a preview about the pitchers, but I’m not gonna lie to you, tomorrow’s going to be a busy day in Seattle Sports World.

Greg Halman Is Dead

It always sucks when people you like die; that’s just a given.  It’s always a little different when they’re a celebrity of sorts.

Obviously, in this situation you’ve got a guy who – by all acounts – was really an awesome person.  That trumps everything else and you can’t help but feel shattered for the loss of his close friends and family.  As a fan of the Mariners, and a fan of Greg Halman, I don’t have that deep sense of personal pain.  But, that doesn’t mean it’s still not a shock.  Doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hurt.

Greg Halman the baseball player was an up-and-comer.  A super-talented, super-athletic outfielder who could play all three spots.  He had speed, he had power, and the only reason he was an up-and-comer as opposed to a guy who’d officially Made It is because he struck out a little too often and he walked a little too few and far between.  He was what’s known as “Toolsy”.  He had all of the skills to make it big in the Big Leagues; all he needed to do was develop an eye at the plate and he would’ve been there.

It’s just such a damn shame because I liked him more than the rest of our outfield prospect glut (which includes Trayvon Robinson, Casper Wells, Michael Saunders, Carlos Peguero, Mike Wilson, and Mike Carp).  He had more power than anyone except, arguably, Peguero; he had the best ability to hit the ball the other way and still hit it out; and his defensive skills were only outmatched by, arguably, Michael Saunders, who had more experience because he was given more of a shot.  I figured if there was a chance for any of these guys to stick and make an impact in the outfield (considering I feel Carp is more of a first baseman or DH), it most likely would’ve been Halman (followed by Wells, then probably Robinson).

This one hurts.  It hurts because the team is weaker for it, but most importantly it hurts because a good person was cut down in his prime.  He had so much more to give.  The world is worse off for having Halman out of it.

Don’t Give Up On Guti Just Yet

With all of these Quad-A outfielders being thrown around (Greg Halman, Mike Carp, Carlos Peguero, Mike Wilson, Michael Saunders, the newly acquired Casper Wells, Wily Mo Pena, and Trayvon Robinson), there’s been talk that Franklin Gutierrez needs to step it up or risk losing significant playing time (even talk of him being traded and becoming the next great defensive 4th outfielder).

I will grant you, Guti has been a huge disappointment.  From whenever this stomach ailment first kicked in around midseason of last year, through the present, Guti has been very un-Guti at the plate (“Guti” being synonymous with all things awesome).  But, if you’re thinking that this is the perfect time to unload a troublesome bat, I would pray you reconsider.

History is riddled with guys whose teams gave up on them too soon.  Hell, right off the top of my head I can think of any number of Mariners – David Ortiz, Shin Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Raul Ibanez (the first time we let him go in free agency), Carlos Guillen, Mike Morse – ALL of those guys have gone on to bigger and better things for other teams.  I fear, if we end up trading Guti this offseason, he’s going to bulk up, get stronger, and be a better-than-average-at-the-plate centerfielder (to go along with his top-of-the-line defense).  I DON’T want to see that happen.

I’m no doctor, but I gotta think that these stomach things (IBS or Crohn’s Disease or whatever) don’t just fix themselves overnight.  Not only do you have to overhaul your entire dietary way of life, but you have to give these changes time to stick.  You don’t go from feeling like utter shit, to feeling like a .300-hitting Major Leaguer just like THAT.  And, I imagine, making all these changes during the middle of a baseball season isn’t exactly conducive towards a speedy recovery.

Like, imagine if you’re a baseball pitcher, and you find out just before the season starts that you’ve got diabetes … are you REALLY going to snap back to being a Cy Young candidate just because you have your illness diagnosed?  Of course not.  Shit like that takes time to come to grips with!  Then, after you’ve mentally girded yourself, you’ve still got the long process of normalizing how you feel.  So you can go out there every day and play the game of baseball!

Guti is a huge talent.  He’s shown that he’s able to handle American League pitching.  He’s CERTAINLY shown he’s a better hitter than what he’s been so far THIS year!  He’s not old, he’s not fat, so you can’t say he’s simply losing his ability like every Major Leaguer eventually will.  He’s just been weakened by this debilitating disease and it’s going to take him some time to get back to full strength.

If he’s not already turning it around in the month of September, then I would fully expect him to bounce back better than ever by next spring.  He knows what he has to do to get better and get stronger, he will have survived this punishing 2011 campaign, and I bet he’ll be more motivated than ever to turn it all around and give this team the centerfielder it deserves!

Besides, there are defensive 4th outfielders, and then there’s Guti.  His defense is special.  His defense is something you don’t give up on just because of some woes at the plate.  He’ll turn it around.  You’ll see.

I just hope he’ll turn it around while he’s still a member of this team.

Talkin’ Tacoma Rainiers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlos Peguero Fights For His Life

The Mariners were GOING to make a move.  Left Field has been a black hole for FAR too long this season.  Michael Saunders has been given EVERY opportunity to show he belongs on a Major League roster and all he’s proven is that he’s a quality late-inning replacement defender.  With the bat?  He’s as useless as an asshole on an elbow.

But, who was any better?  Peguero and Mike Wilson are both hitting under .200.  It’s laughable to think Jack Cust could still play left field.  Adam Kennedy is an emergency outfielder at BEST.  All of these guys, if made to play left field on an everyday basis, would make us long for Milton Bradley so fast it would make our heads spin.

Of course, there’s Mike Carp down in Tacoma.  He’s blistering the everloving SHIT out of the baseball this season.  And not just for the last couple weeks, or for the month of May.  He’s been doing it pretty much all season!  And he’s not letting up.  He’s all anyone who’s covering the team can talk about, especially with the elephants in the room being our current crop of Major League left fielders being the suck-asses that they are.

That brings us to last night.  A right-hander on the mound for Tampa, so Peguero gets the start in left.  Kinda surprised that Saunders didn’t get the start – what with this being Felix Day and wanting the best defense on the field behind him – but upon new shit being brought to light, I guess I’m not all that surprised after all.  Anyway, Peguero starts, and LO and BE-FUCKING-HOLD!

Two home runs.

The first a 3-run blast to right field to make it a 5-0 game in the 2nd inning; the second a solo shot to left – absolutely crushed to the opposite field – in the 4th inning to make it 7-0.  Yes, Jack Cust had his first Safeco Field home run as a Mariner, and yes Justin Smoak dropped a bomb to raise his slugging percentage; but I’m here to talk about Peguero, and how he just saved his fucking job!

When I look at a new player – be it rookie, or free agent signee – I like to look for signs.  I’m not necessarily looking for them to be MVPs right out of the box, but I like to know two things:  what I can reasonably expect to be an average game for them, and what’s possible in their BEST game.

When I look at Peguero, I know I can reasonably expect a low batting average, a lot of strikeouts, and a home run here and there when he makes decent-to-good contact.  However, NOW, when I look at Peguero, I also know in the back of my mind that he has a 2-homer game in him.  I can’t say that about most of the rookies who’ve graced the Mariners uniform the last few years; but I can say it about Peguero.

Indeed, it was announced yesterday that one of our left fielders was going back to Tacoma.  From what I understand, this happened after the game, and it was indeed Michael Saunders who got the knife.  Maybe this was Wedge’s thinking going into yesterday’s game.  Maybe he’s known for a while now that Saunders – and not Peguero – would be the one who needed to be sent down to work on his swing and his confidence.  Maybe.  All I know is, if there was ever an ounce of doubt that he was making the right call, yesterday’s 2-homer performance from Peguero surely silenced that little inner critic.  At least, for the time being.

In return for Saunders, we have NOT Mike Carp, but instead Greg Halman.  Greg Halman, from what I remember, is the exact same hitter as Peguero and Mike Wilson.  They all take big swings, they all make big misses, and occasionally they hit the ball far.  Halman, unlike the other two (and unlike Mr. Carp), is fast and rangy and can play center field in case Guti needs a day off.

It would appear, if Mike Carp is EVER going to get a chance to play for the Mariners this year, he’s going to need Peguero to stop having 2-homer games.  Or he’ll need an injury out of Cust or Smoak.  Perish that last thought!  Why can’t you be a third baseman Mike Carp?  Then I could love you long time!

M’s Keep Winning; Top Of The Order Keeps Sucking

What a strange month.  The Mariners have been kicking ass and taking names, but not in the way you’d expect.

Ichiro, Figgins, and Smoak have all been God-awful in the month of May.  For Figgins, I don’t think anyone is too surprised; May has traditionally been his worst month before he starts to catch fire.  But, I don’t think anyone saw this kind of futility coming from Ichiro or Justin Smoak though.

May has always been Ichiro’s best month.  It’s when he throws off the shackles of his April doldrums and slashes his way to a monster season.  Thus far in May of 2011, however, Ichiro is batting just .213 with exactly 3 extra-base hits.  With three games remaining, Ichiro only has 20 hits on the month.  Unless he pulls together some multi hit games and in a hurry, I won’t help but be concerned for the safety of his 200-hits streak.  His previous low in monthly hit totals (not counting 2009 when he only got 19 hits in April because he started the season on the DL and only played in 14 games) was 25 (happened twice, including the 2002 season when he had a real scare, finishing with only 208 hits).  This isn’t the Ichiro we’ve known and loved in the Month of May!  He’s historically a .352 hitter this month!

As for Figgins, what can I tell you?  He’s batting .176 on the month, his overall batting average is back below the Mendoza line (AGAIN), and Wedge won’t stop hitting him in the 2-hole.  I’m not saying you HAVE to bench the guy, but for Christ’s sake, BAT HIM NINTH!  You wouldn’t let Michael Saunders stay in the 2-hole with these kinds of numbers; just because Figgins is a veteran, it shouldn’t make a difference.  You put the guys best capable to handle the top of the lineup IN the top of the lineup, without question.  Leaving him there to struggle isn’t doing the team a bit of good.  Putting him ninth just might be the fire lit under his ass to initiate a hitting streak and a promotion back to his old slot.

Part of the struggles for Justin Smoak this month might be directly related to the fact that Ichiro and Figgins are mired in career-worst slumps, but that’s mostly going to relate to his RBI production.  It speaks nothing of the fact that since May 6th, Smoak’s batting average has fallen nearly 60 points.  Which, fun fact, ALMOST coincides with Smoak’s promotion to the 3rd spot in the lineup (his first game in the 3-hole was May 10th, 2 games after that May 6th high point).  Since batting third, Smoak’s average is .197 (12 for 61), with only a single multi-hit game.

I TOLD YOU, WEDGE!  I told you to leave well-enough alone!  But NO, you just COULDN’T let Smoak play a full season in the 5-hole; you just HAD to tinker with things!  Now look at us!  Look at poor Smoaky there!  He’s MISERABLE!  He’s got only 6 walks against his 19 strikeouts as our Number 3 Hitter (that’s more strikeouts than he had in all of April).  Pitchers are giving him nothing to hit (because there’s no one on in front of him, and nobody any good behind him), and he’s pressing because of all the added pressure of being a 3-hole hitter!  PUT HIM BACK TO FIVE!

It’s tough enough for a young player like Smoak just to crack the Big Leagues and prove that he belongs here permanently.  Putting the added pressure of being our most-important hitter isn’t something he needs or deserves.  Let him get his feet wet in the safe, comforting bosom of the 5-hole.  Let the vets absorb all that goes with being in the 3-spot.

The Mariners won’t keep winning with the bottom of the lineup giving us all the production.  They need Figgins 9th, and they need Smoak 5th, or this could turn sour in a hurry.

***

And just so people don’t get the wrong idea – that I’m all about complaining without offering any potential solutions – here’s what I think we should do with our order:

  1. Ichiro
  2. Kennedy/Ryan
  3. Gutierrez
  4. Cust
  5. Smoak
  6. Olivo
  7. Peguero/M. Wilson
  8. J. Wilson/Ryan
  9. Figgins

To clarify what this means:  When Kennedy starts at second base, put him in the 2-hole and drop Ryan to 8th.  When Jack Wilson starts at second base, put him 8th and bump Ryan up to 2nd.  Regardless, there’s no excuse for Kennedy to EVER bat cleanup (which he’s done quite a few times this year), there’s no reason for Olivo to EVER bat higher than 6th, and I think Guti is far enough along with his return to the team that he can easily handle the spotlight that is batting 3rd.  And, as for Cust, well, maybe I’m a big ol’ softy, but I think I’m coming around on that lovable scamp.  After all, his double last night in the 12th inning against the greatest closer of all time to put a runner at 3rd base with less than 2 outs was a thing of beauty.

Putrid Padres No Match For Magnificent Mariners

The only thing I love more than sweeps are consecutive sweeps.

This one was as convincing as they come.  San Deigo was outscored 14-2.  They managed only 1 earned run the whole weekend!  We struck them out 35 times!  Our starters never failed to go less than 7 innings per!

I could go on and on, but you know what?  I just want to savor this feeling.  The Mariners haven’t been this good in a LONG time.  Granted, it’s probably just another good streak – to be immediately followed by another very bad streak – but you can’t argue that this team hasn’t been MUCH improved since the first couple weeks of the season.  If you gave us back those three blown saves – games we really SHOULD have won – we’d be in first place in the AL West right now and have the 4th best record in the AL.

We’re not that far away.  It helps that we’re facing some REALLY substandard teams.

I’ll get into the starters a little more in depth tomorrow – obviously they’ve been the crux of this whole run over the last week – but you can’t argue that the offense hasn’t done its job, at least in the San Diego series.  In each game, the offense jumped out to a 2nd inning lead, and in each game we played add-on.  For pitchers who are currently DEALING, that’s a nice load off the ol’ mind.

Miguel Olivo had 5 hits, 5 runs scored, an RBI, and his first stolen base of the season.  Brendan Ryan ALSO managed 5 hits to go along with 3 runs and 4 RBI.  And our young left field platoon?  Forget about it!  Peguero and Mike Wilson combined for 5 hits (including a triple and 2 doubles), 1 run and 5 more RBI.

Plain and simple, this was a series where the bottom of the order carried the load.  Not counting the pitchers batting in a National League park, the 6, 7, & 8 hitters dominated:

  • Game 1 (Olivo, Peguero, Ryan):  5 for 11 (2 doubles, triple, homer), 3 runs scored, 4 RBI
  • Game 2 (Ryan, M. Wilson, J. Wilson):  5 for 9 (double), 3 runs scored, 3 RBI
  • Game 3 (Peguero/Guti, Ryan, Saunders):  6 for 14 (2 doubles), 1 run scored, 5 RBI

That amounts to half of our runs scored and 12 of 14 runs batted in!  Outstanding!

It seems like I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but there’s a lot to like about this team.  Flawless starting pitching, a solid-if-unspectacular bullpen, young guys producing in key situations.  We’ve got a Cy Young pitcher readying his run towards a repeat, a potential (and very probable) AL Rookie Of The Year, an up-and-coming middle of the order bat at first base, and some solid slugging out of left field (literally!).  It all adds up to the Mariners being 1.5 games out of first place.  Not too shabby.

Is It Crazy To Think The Mariners Can Contend?

Short answer:  fuck yes!

Long answer:  still yes, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

I’m not saying the Mariners are going to contend.  I’m generally in the market of making outrageous statements, but I gotta draw the line somewhere.  This is still a team that’s 29th out of 30 teams in runs scored.  This is a team that regularly trots out either Jack Cust or Miguel Olivo on an everyday basis as its Cleanup Hitter (in spite of the fact that they’re only even remotely capable of “Cleaning Up” my vomit after I watch them try to hit with runners in scoring position).  This is a team with more black holes at the bottom of its lineup than a (edited for inappropriate, mildly racial, and overt sexual content).

But, you know what?  Call me crazy, but I really like this team right now!

What’s wrong with me?  Have I been slipped some narcotic that’s giving me such a rosy outlook in times of … well, “despair” is too strong a word, so I’ll just say “inconsistency”.

Anyway, you can’t argue with the Scoreboard.  And right now, the “Scoreboard” is saying that we’re only 3.5 games out of first place, and here we are on the 20th of May.  That’s something!  Do you know where we were as of May 20, 2010?  We were 15-26 (as opposed to today’s record of 19-24), and still in last place in the division, except that meant we were 8.5 games behind Texas.

After our initial swoon where we started out 4-11, we’re 15-13 (thanks in large part to two rainouts in Cleveland last weekend).  Nevertheless, over the last month’s worth of games, we’re a team that’s over .500.  Heckuva deal.

So, the team as a whole is playing better; obviously, that’s always going to be a source of optimism.  But, what about the individual players?

Well, first and foremost, the dark cloud of angst and failure that was Milton Bradley is officially gone.  Not having to watch him struggle mightily 8 out of every 10 at bats is pretty satisfying.  Likewise, not having to watch him have some small modicum of success (or, even a large, game-winning amount of success) followed by seeing the sourpuss to end all sourpusses on his face is quite the relief.  There’s nothing more aggravating than watching an athlete get paid millions of dollars to play a game NOT enjoying himself when he does something good.  For Christ’s sake, crack a smile when you hit an RBI double, you miserable fuck!

Anyway, THAT’S gone.  And, in his place, we have two young kids doing fairly well.  Mike Wilson and Carlos Peguero are mixing it up, batting in runs, looking nothing less than overjoyed to be on a Major League ballclub.  Refreshing!  So very refreshing.

We got Guti back as of Wednesday, and he’s one of my favorite players on the team!  So, that’s two bits of goodness for the price of one, because I was getting sick and tired of watching Michael Saunders suck dick at the plate night in and night out.  Yes, Saunders was a wonderful centerfield defender while he got the chance, but if I had to watch him fall behind in the count thanks to him taking strikes right down the middle ONE MORE TIME …

Whoa, easy tiger.  This is supposed to be a Positivity Post.

Speaking of our middle of the order (OK, so I wasn’t speaking of them per se, but a guy’s gotta transition anyway he can), while Miguel Olivo has been pretty much the waste of fucking life we’ve all expected, at least Eric Wedge isn’t INSISTING that he stick as our Number 4 hitter just because.  And, even though Cust has yet to homer, as I mentioned earlier this week, his hitting has come alive.  If I can’t have a homer-slugging DH, I guess I’ll take a doubles-slugging DH.  It’s better than what we were getting in the month of April.

And, to wrap things up, Smoak has been better than expected, Ichiro has been as expected, and Figgins has been worse than expected, but not a total waste.  No, he’s not worth the $9 million he’s making this year (and probably never will be worth it for the duration of his contract), but he’s raised his batting average about 80 points in the last month.  It’s not incredible (considering how poorly he started), but it’s something at least.

When you account for all the hitting I’ve outlined above, yes, it’s insane to think about contention.  But, then again, what is “contending”?  Is it a reasonable, rational run at a division title?  Or, is it just hanging around, 3-5 games back for most of the year?  When you look at it like that, it’s not BATSHIT crazy.

Our starting pitching is among the best in the American League.  From 1 to 5, we’re solid every step of the way.  Our bullpen has settled into a nice little rotation of Pauley, Laffey, and Wright (who all have amazing ERAs).  And, aside from the nuclear holocaust that was last week (which, mind you, happened to him a couple times last year), Brandon League has been pretty kickass.  Rare is the closer who’s perfect for a whole season.  Rare is the reliever period who’s rock solid for six straight months.  I would look for League to come back strong for a solid run through the summer.

With those arms, if they’re able to keep it up, I argue that we’re closer than we think.

I’m not saying we should sell the farm to trade for some hired guns for a pennant run (too many holes to fill along our offense; besides, we’re not at a point where we can take on a bunch of contracts), but I do think if some of our younger guys continue to develop (Smoak, Guti, Ackley, Wilson, Peguero) and gain some quality big league experience – all the while playing for a team that’s hovering right around .500 and right around the AL West leader – maybe we’re not that far off.  Maybe, instead of 2013 or 2014, we can seriously contend in 2012!

Of course, 2011 is out of the question.  One of these teams – likely Texas – will figure it out.  One of them – again, likely Texas – will make a blockbuster trade at the deadline for a big piece that helps them make a huge run in the last two months.  A baseball season is too long for a team like the Mariners to hang around forever.

Still, a girl CAN dream, can’t she?