Welp, The Mariners Really Mariners’d Their Way Through That Rangers Series

Did the Mariners climax on the evening of June 2nd, when they made that huge comeback against the Padres to go to 31-22 on the season?  I remember, right around that time, feeling a level of excitement I haven’t felt since 2001 or so.  We were riding high, and we had a stretch of 6 games in 10 days against the Rangers, to see if we could prove that we’re the real thing or not.

In those 6 games, we went 1-5, and for the most part looked pretty bad against the clearly-superior Rangers.  After getting swept on the road half of the 6-game series, there was hope of the Mariners flipping the script on them – and their season as a whole – by doing the opposite at home (particuarly with Adrian Beltre on the shelf).  We got off to a good-enough start by winning on Friday (in spite of our best efforts to blow that game; luckily, the Mariners managed to play add-on in the bottom of the 8th inning to make the Rangers’ would-be game-tying homer in the 9th obsolete).  And, for a while there on Saturday, it looked like that sweep might be within reach!

I was there on Saturday, having come into a suite ticket with all the fixin’s, and it looked like a night for the ages.  James Paxton followed up last Monday’s performance with another gem, going 6.1 innings of shutout ball, allowing 6 hits & 2 walks against 7 strikeouts.  The Mariners scored their lone run in the 5th off the bat of Adam Lind (who failed in his attempt to set the Major League record by being the 5th Mariners player in a row to hit multiple homers in a game), and the bullpen did its job to keep the Rangers scoreless headed into the top of the 9th.

With Beltre out, it was Prince Fielder who picked up ABs this weekend.  Fielder had rightly been benched for being an overpaid tub of goo, but of course, with this being the Mariners, he busted out to completely dominate.  In this case, Steve Cishek decided to go right after him (as you should, because walking a .200 hitter would be a disaster), and Fielder turned it around and knocked it out of the park to tie the game.

The last couple of innings were a blur, but suffice it to say the Mariners’ bats stayed quiet.  The Rangers took the lead in the 11th and that was that.

As for yesterday’s game, what can you say?  Another Wade Miley dud.  And Steve Johnson showed you what he’s capable of doing when you give him lots of opportunities (hint:  he sucks).  The offense didn’t get its shit in gear until the last couple innings, but by that point it was far too late.  I guess the game ended with Cano trying to stretch a single into a double, but if you’re really going to get upset about that – in a series where the Mariners were pretty awful in a lot of different areas – then you do you.

I guess one silver lining is that we don’t have to play the Rangers again for a while.  We went from holding a marginal lead over them, to now being 5 games back.  Maybe by the end of August, we’ll have figured out how to beat them.

We’re now a modest 5 games over .500, and firmly in the Wild Card race, but it’s plain to see the Mariners need some help on the pitching side of things.

How much longer of a leash can we extend Wade Miley?  He’s got 4 quality starts out of 13; that type of production isn’t going to keep us in contention.

Is there any way we can trick some other team into taking Karns off our hands as one of the primary prospects in a Rent-A-Starter deal?  Karns is who he is, and that’s pretty much a Five & Diver who might ultimately be better suited as a reliever.

Considering Felix is looking like he could be out as much as 8 weeks (or until the end of July), the Mariners are probably going to have to make a deal for a starter sooner rather than later.

Also, I can’t be the only one who has no belief in Cishek’s ability to close out an important game.  Not in the way Fernando Rodney would get abused – either via the walk, or the dink n’ dunk variety of hits, before a full-on explosion – but in the way that Cishek is either on fire, or he’s giving up a bomb, and pretty much nothing in between.

Is it just me, or does this season feel like it’s going down the shitter?

Looking Back On The Bright Side Of The 2014 Seattle Mariners

As I grow older, I find that for the most part I’m capable of only two emotions:  apathetic and surly.  This certainly describes my disposition when it comes to the Mariners.  In my surlier moods, I’ll take a hard line and let everyone know that there are NO MORAL VICTORIES.  Either you win or you don’t; either you make the playoffs or you fail.  Those opinions are no less valid just because at times I find myself waffling over to the other side.

The fact of the matter is, when I sit back and apathetically look at The Season That Was, I can see the ways in which 2014 was a success.  Everyone needed this season.  The organization needed it, just to get everyone to stop breathing down their necks.  The players needed it, to show that it IS possible to be a winning ballclub and still play half your games in Seattle.  And, quite frankly, the fans needed it more than anyone.

Let’s face it, there has been a gloomy, dark cloud hanging over the Seattle Mariners for over a decade.  Obviously, everyone knows the last playoff appearance was in 2001.  Since that time – including 2014 – there have been five seasons where the Mariners finished with a winning record.  In 2002 & 2003, the Mariners were still really good, but they were surrounded by teams who were even better, and thus failed to make the playoffs.  Then, the Mariners fell off the cliff, but looked to make something of a comeback in 2007, when they were 88-74.  Of course, you were looking at a team that was 14 games over .500 with a negative run differential, who did remarkably well in 1-run games.  2007 proved to be a fluke, and as the Mariners went all-in with the Erik Bedard deal, everything fell apart in 2008 (and would continue to more-or-less fall apart for many years to come).

2009 would prove to be another even-flukier season, where the Mariners went 85-77, but had a much worse run differential.  Undoubtedly, the Mariners fell into a sinkhole of despair in 2010, from which they are only NOW climbing out of.

Ever since the end of that 2010 season – where we sort of went all-in again with the Cliff Lee deal and the Chone Figgins signing – this organization has been in the tank.  We were able to flip Cliff Lee mid-season, but that deal turned out to be the Justin Smoak disaster.  We would go on to flip Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero after the 2011 season, and from then on it’s been all about Building From Within.  Which, quite honestly, is what you have to do if you’re a losing ballclub and you’re not ready to spend New York Yankees-type money in free agency.

And, it hasn’t been easy!  Many of our first-wave youngsters have come up and failed miserably.  Smoak and Montero and Ackley have largely been disappointing (until Ackley’s second half this past season).  For every Kyle Seager that we’ve hit upon, there have been dozens of Carlos Pegueros.

Finally, as the 2013 season ended (with the Mariners finishing 71-91), the organization had apparently seen enough to finally open up their wallets.

There have been rumors of the Mariners being “in on” any number of big-money free agents over the last several seasons, from Josh Hamilton to Prince Fielder, but they finally settled on Robinson Cano (who, really, has the highest floor of any of these guys).  Why this was the right time, or he was the right player, only the Mariners can say, but it turned out to be a huge success in the first year.  At the time of signing, Cano instantly became the best position player on the team.  His performance in the 2014 season was right in line with those expectations.  He was our 3-hole hitter and he never let us down.

On top of that, Kyle Seager took that next step in his progression, finally becoming an All Star (and deservedly so).  His defense is stellar, the pop is still in his bat, his batting average isn’t ideal, but he’s becoming more consistent and less streaky.

Then, we had a number of smaller players picking up the slack at times.  Logan Morrison was a positive, once he got healthy and was placed in the everyday lineup at first base.  Dustin Ackley – as I mentioned before – had that torrid second half to cement his status as our 2-hole hitter.  Mike Zunino surpassed 20 homers and played quality defense.  Role players like Endy Chavez, Michael Saunders, and Chris Taylor all made big impacts.  While, at the same time, the bullpen was a force to be reckoned with; and for most of the year we had four really good starting pitchers with Felix, Kuma, Young, and Elias.  The hitting, for the most part, did just enough to get the job done; and our bullpen locked it down in the later innings.  That’s a recipe for winning baseball.  Specifically, a team that finished 87-75, a single game out of the Wild Card.

And, not for nothing, but a team that also had a +80 run differential.  With that run differential, you should theoretically be looking at a 91-win ballclub, so it can be argued that the Mariners were, in fact, a little UNLUCKY.

***

This is the part where I’m supposed to shift gears and tell you all the things that were wrong with the 2014 Mariners, but I don’t really have it in me.  We all know where the Mariners need to improve before 2015:

  • DH
  • Right Field

Beyond that, it’s a matter of the younger players continuing to improve.  It’s Ackley building off of his second half.  It’s one of the two short stops (Miller or Taylor) winning that job and not looking back.  It’s Austin Jackson figuring out how to hit again.  It’s LoMo staying healthy.  It’s the bullpen not regressing too far.  And, it’s leaning on our starting pitching once again to keep us in ballgames.

It’s consistency in all three phases.  Fewer times being shut out.  And, if we have to make trades to get the pieces we want, it’s all about not giving up too much from our areas of strength.  And, of course, it’s about the right kind of luck.

Like 2008 and 2010, the 2015 season could see the Mariners go right back into the tank if things go horribly wrong.  The difference between now and those last two winning seasons is:  we’ve got a better foundation.  We’re not coming off of a smoke & mirrors season where the Mariners SOMEHOW generated a winning record despite a negative run differential.  And, the only players we’re losing to free agency are players we probably won’t miss too much (I’m looking at you, Kendrys Morales).

As we watch the Royals return from the doldrums to make the World Series for the first time in almost 30 years, this offseason will surely bring about feelings of, “Why Not Us?”  Hell, if the Seahawks can win the Super Bowl, why can’t the Mariners get back to the fucking playoffs?

Now is the time for the Best Offseason Ever.  The buzz is starting to return to this team.  2014 saw an increase in attendance for the first time in a long time.  If we can land a big free agent, I’m pretty sure 2015 will be the most-anticipated baseball season in Seattle since the 1990s.

How Many All Star Appearances Does Robinson Cano Need To Make His Mariners Contract A Success?

That title is a little unwieldy, but go with me on this.

The objective behind that question isn’t to overly glorify the All Star Game.  As adults, I think most of us give that honor some degree of importance below what we gave as kids.  Yeah, making the All Star Game is nice for the player, but it’s sort of a meaningless honor where players who don’t necessarily deserve it get rubber-stamped into the game beyond their primes (see:  Derek Jeter).

Robbie Cano is an All Star for the sixth time in his career; obviously the first time as a Mariner.  He earned the honor in his second season in the bigs, then missed out for three years, and has been going back ever since.  You could say Cano is in the Rubber Stamp phase of his career, except clearly he is still deserving of the honor.

The thing about All Star Games is, you often don’t get recognized until you’ve put up a second season of greatness.  That’s obviously not true across the board, as you see rookies make it all the time, but it’s more of a general rule of thumb.  You also tend to get recognized at least a year after you should stop going.  Take Ichiro, for instance.  He was an All Star from his rookie year through 2010.  Are you telling me he was one of the three best outfielders in all of the American League in 2010?  I highly doubt it.

Getting back to Cano, you have to figure he’s got a number of All Star-worthy years left in him, followed by probably another Rubber Stamp year that we won’t really count because it’s not important.  What’s important is:  how many elite years will the Mariners get with Cano?

I ask that, because I don’t see a dramatic falling off a cliff in him.  I figure there will be ‘X’ number of All Star-worthy years, then there will be a more gradual decline.  Maybe a couple of just-okay seasons, followed by ‘X’ number of pretty bad years where you’re not getting NEARLY the return on investment as you’d like.  That’s just the way it’s going to be, unless Cano is superhuman (which, for the record, I won’t rule out).

So, I ask again:  how many All Star appearances does Cano need to make his contract a success?

2014 is the first year of 10.  He’s 31 right now.  He will be 40 in 2023.  He’s making $24 million in each year of his deal.  There is no opt-out that I’m aware of.

I like the Ichiro example when it comes to Cano, because I feel like we can see some parallels there.  Ichiro was 27 when he hit the Major Leagues.  That was his rookie season and arguably it was the best season of his career.  I don’t know what he was like in Japan, but let’s just say his year-27 season was the first season of his “Prime”.  I would argue that Ichiro’s prime extended through the 2010 season, when he was 36 years old.  2010 wasn’t on par with 2001 or anything – this was definitely the tail end of his prime – but it was still a very good year with 200 hits and all that.  In 2011 and 2012, while still playing a full slate of games in each year, Ichiro’s hit totals declined to 184 and 178 respectively.  Again, not a dramatic drop-off, but you can see that he’s a shell of his former “Prime” self.

I know Cano’s game and Ichiro’s game are dramatically different – Ichiro’s game was based on speed and infield hits, batting leadoff, and playing a very good defensive right field; Cano’s game involves more power, more RBI production, more walks, and the more-important defensive position of second base – but just go with me on this too.  Cano’s year-36 season will be in 2019.  If he can hang onto his “Primeness” through 2019, that will be 6 of the 10 years.  And, if he declines gradually, as Ichiro did, then years 7 and 8 shouldn’t be too bad either.  It’ll be in the two final years where we probably won’t want to play Cano every day (but might be obligated to, considering the heft of his contract).

So, how does that sound?  Does 6 years of All Star-calibre play, followed by 2 years of just-okay play sound like something you could live with under Cano’s $240 million deal?  Because, I could TOTALLY live with it.  And, obviously, anything beyond that (if, indeed, he is super human).

But, what happens if it’s only 4 or 5 All Star years before he starts his decline?  At what point is the contract a failure?

I know this post probably could’ve been written when we first signed Cano (and, indeed, I’m sure some variation or another is out there in Mariner Blog Land), but I didn’t feel like writing it then.  When someone signs a huge contract with a new team (especially one that plays half its games in Safeco Field), it’s not out of the question to wonder if you’ll get ANY All Star-calibre seasons out of a player.  How have the Angels done with Pujols?  How about the Tigers/Rangers with Fielder?  At least with Cano, we KNOW we’ve got at least one All Star year!  And, you’d think, as long as he stays healthy, we’ll have at least a few more.

I’m not gonna lie to you, I think I need these first six years to be great.  I’d settle for five years of great (as long as the subsequent three years were in the just-okay range, as opposed to two), but I wouldn’t be thrilled.  Four or less?  That’s got disaster written all over it.  Six years or more of Cano struggling might seriously wipe me out.

Of course, the good thing about all of this is that we don’t have to worry about it now.  Because Cano IS good.  He’s great, even!  And, if he helps me win my futures bet against Adrian Beltre at season’s end, he can go on to have nine years of ineptitude for all I care!

Mariners Sign Robinson Cano, Have My Attention

Earlier this week, I asked a buddy if he thought there was anything the Mariners could do to get him excited about the future of the Mariners.  Our swift consensus was:  no, the Mariners are hopeless (utterly, utterly hopeless) and that’s that.

At the time, of course, I believed there was exactly a 0% chance they’d actually manage to land the white whale that is Robinson Cano (10 years, $240 million, just announced today).  All of the talk surrounded names like Nelson Cruz (who is still out there, lurking), Willie Bloomquist (who was just signed recently); and about all the names we could never even dream of getting, because why would they come to a non-stop loser like the Mariners?

In short, I was as depressed as I’ve been since 2008, and it didn’t help that the Huskies lost their head coach (more on that development later).

And now look at what’s happened!  The Mariners got Cano to come out here and they fucking SIGNED HIM!

We, as Mariners fans, have been so conditioned to look at “the future” (because “the present” is so fucking miserable), that you can’t help but look at the deal and think, “Yeesh, that’s a lot of years and a lot of money.  What are we going to do in 2021 when Cano’s bat is legally pronounced dead, he can no longer play in the field, and we’re paying $24 million for a poor man’s Jose Vidro circa 2008?  Have we learned NOTHING from the Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder deals?”

And, I’ll admit:  that’s a legitimate concern that won’t be going away anytime soon.  As with any deal (and, really, anything in life), it can all fall apart in an instant.  Robinson Cano can come here and immediately start batting .265 for the rest of his career.  He could also tear an ACL or a labrum and be out for extensive periods of time (after a career to this point that has seen him be ruggedly healthy).  Anything.  Anything can happen.  And we can focus on all of that now, lamenting on all the What If’s until the cows come home … or, we can just be fans.

Just be a fan!  For one day, put down your analytical cap.  Remember what sports used to be like when you were 10 years old.  If you were a Mariners fan in the late 80s, remember what it felt like when the Mariners brought Griffey up to the Majors.  Sure, there were probably people who worried, “Is it too soon?”  But, for the most part, there was nothing but excitement from the naive fans.  Fans who only wanted someone too root for!  Some reason to care about this fucking team.

We have 10 years with Robinson Cano.  There will be PLENTY of time to obsess about what his contract means in the grand scheme of things.  We can piss and moan about what an albatross he is if-and-when he actually becomes an albatross!

For now?  Guess what!  The Mariners just signed the #1 single greatest, bestest, most amazingest free agent in all of baseball!  They opened up their wallet and instead of the usual cloud of dust and a couple of moths, out fell real, actual MONEY!  That they used to buy a person!  To play baseball in the city of Seattle!  With the hopes of making this team BETTER!  Now!  Not soon, not sometime in the future, not Someday … NOW!

Granted, Robinson Cano by himself isn’t going to change this from a 90-loss team into a 90-win team.  But, as countless others have pointed out:  there’s more where that came from.  There’s more money, there’s more trades, and there’s a whole lotta openings on this team!  No longer do we have to be concerned with The Kids somehow figuring it the fuck out.  No longer do we have to surround said Kids with over-the-hill assholes who have no business playing the field and only provide one type of benefit (dingers).  Now, we can get the talent we need to succeed.

And this is so much better than what the Royals did last year, because the Royals last year brought in relatively SHITTY players!  At least, when compared to Robinson Fucking Cano!

Going forward, this is what we have to look forward to:

  • 2B – Robinson Cano
  • 3B – Kyle Seager

Sure, there are others.  We have Brad Miller who’s pretty good (we hope).  We have Zunino who will probably share time with another veteran catcher.  We have others …

But, we’ve got those two!  2/9 of our lineup is set in stone!  And they’re real, legitimate baseball players!  Guys who can contend for All Star appearances!

On our pitching staff, we have these shining beacons of hope:

  • Felix Hernandez
  • Hisashi Iwakuma

Again, it’s only two guys, but look at them!  Aren’t they glorious?  When you take this foundation of 4 guys and you look at what we have available with regards to money to spend and prospects to trade away, it’s pretty exciting to think about what the Mariners could do to fill out the rest of our 25-man team.

People like Shin Soo Choo, Mike Napoli, and Carlos Beltran by themselves don’t really give me the throbbingest of boners.  But, when you pile them all together and know that we’ve got that foundation of Cano/Seager/Felix/Kuma, now you’re talking.

And, while we’re at it:  I say fuck it, let’s trade Taijuan Walker for David Price!  You’ve never heard me say anything like that before – and in the future, if it turns out to bust on us, I’ll deny having ever said it – but why the fuck not?  Everyone always talks about how starting pitchers are the most volatile of all baseball prospects, what with their proneness to arm injuries.  There’s no guarantee that Walker is going to be the Next Felix!  We thought The Little Unit was going to be the next Big Unit, and look at where that got us!  Not every deal is the Erik Bedard deal.  Sometimes, you trade away your best prospect and he turns out to be nothing (or nothing special, anyway).

If we’re truly in a win-now situation, then here’s the thing:  you can’t afford to wait for Taijuan Walker to develop.  Especially not when you have an opportunity to bring in a second Ace to go with Felix, the best pitcher in all the land!  Walker, if he’s even able to crack a starting rotation this season, is likely to be a 5-innings-and-done type of guy.  He’ll be on horrendous pitch counts and innings counts, and if you’re playing it safe (which is the smart thing to do with a guy like Walker), then you have to figure Walker is at least a year or two away from really unleashing his arm to its full potential.

Let the Rays deal with that bullshit.  Sure, they may reap the rewards of a future All Star.  But, we could also reap the rewards of re-signing David Price to a nice, fat contract extension.  We have the money, anyway!

And that’s why we’re better than the Royals.  Because they got Shields (who sucks) and we can get Price (who is awesome).

I’m not ready to give myself back over to the Mariners fully just yet.  They’ve danced on my emotions for too long.  But, this Robinson Cano signing is a helluva start.  You had me on the brink, Mariners.  The brink of renouncing the game of baseball altogether.  With this signing, it’s like you called out my name, and against my better judgment I’m turning around to see you holding flowers, chocolates, and a “Please Forgive Me” balloon.  In my mind, I know better than to try to take you back.  But, the heart wants what the heart wants.  I hope I don’t live to regret this.

The Shitshow That Was The 2013 Seattle Mariners, Part III: Looking Ahead

Catch Part I HERE.
Catch Part II HERE.

First thing’s first, we’re going to need a manager.  I guess.  There’s a pretty compelling argument to just go without.  Jokes are funny and all, but why the Hell NOT go without a manager?  It literally could not get any worse.  Well, I suppose it could; someone could kidnap me, tie me to a chair, and force me to watch all 162 games of this team next season.

To clear up some misconceptions, Eric Wedge did not quit.  He simply let his contract expire, then chose to not re-sign with the team.  You know how they always have those deals to get ESPN The Magazine for, like, five bucks for a 1-year subscription, and you do it because you want to get ESPN Insider for, like, five bucks?  And then the deal runs out and you’ve got to start paying full price, so you let your subscription to The Magazine lapse because who in their right mind actually reads ESPN The Magazine?  The Seattle Mariners are the ESPN The Magazine of Major League Baseball manager jobs.  Although, with the magazine subscription, you get a nice little bonus by having Insider for a year; I can’t imagine what the bonus is for managing the Mariners.  A few million dollars?  Do baseball managers make millions of dollars?  They probably do, right?

So, the Mariners are going to hire a new manager.  They’ll most likely HAVE to sign this person to a 2- or 3-year deal, because who’s going to sign for one year?  That means, of course, that our new manager will theoretically have more job security than our current General Manager, but like Howard Lincoln said a few weeks back, it’s not like you can’t fire someone in the middle of his deal.  So, let’s not get too caught-up in the length of the manager’s deal.  He’s on a 1-year trial-run just like everyone else.

And, they’re going after the usual suspects:  bench coaches, former managers, whathaveyou.  I’ve already stated what I think the Mariners should do, but they’ll never listen to me.  What is the one organization that seems to get it right all the time?  The St. Louis Cardinals.  They’re the San Antonio Spurs of MLB.  Shit, they’re the Pittsburgh Steelers of MLB!  This is an organization that is almost ALWAYS in the playoffs and contending for division titles!  And when they’re down, they’re not down long.  If you want to model your organization after anyone, it’s the Cardinals.

So, pull your heads out of your asses, Mariners!  Blow this whole thing up, take the St. Louis GM’s second-in-command to replace Jackie Z, and go from there!  What did the Sonics/Thunder do when they wanted to turn things around in a hurry?  They poached from San Antonio to get Sam Presti (who has done a phenomenal job since day 1, even with their salary constraints down in OKC).  What did the Seahawks do when they wanted to turn things around in a hurry?  They poached from another elite NFL organization, the Green Bay Packers, to get John Schneider (who, with Pete Carroll, has rebuilt a cellar-dwelling franchise in three short years).  It makes sense, and the best part is, you don’t even have to think about it!  I’ve done all the thinking for you!

If you want to be a winning organization, you don’t steal from the Milwaukee Brewers!  They had, like, a couple good years after about a million terrible ones!  You don’t go after the teams in your division and try to steal their talent, just because you play them the most and you’re most familiar with them.  Let’s think just a LITTLE outside the box on this one.  Cardinals.  I want to root for the Cardinals.  So, become the Cardinals, however you think you can manage that.

Of course, that’s never going to happen as long as we have the current organizational structure in place.  This team SO needs to be sold, it’s not even funny anymore.  You’re telling me we can’t get Mark Cuban to pay top dollar for the Seattle Mariners?  Say what you will about him, but when he bought the Mavericks, they were the fucking joke of the NBA.  It was his passion, his foresight, his money, and his personality that made them into the champions they became.  If he’s as interested in owning a baseball team as I seem to remember him being, he could very well be the Paul Allen to our Seattle Seahawks.

This isn’t the same situation as we had with the Sonics.  Our lease-agreement with Safeco Field isn’t about to run out anytime soon.  So, even if out-of-town investors come in to buy the team, it doesn’t mean we’re in immediate danger of losing baseball in the Pacific Northwest.  And, quite frankly, I don’t see the Mariners EVER leaving Seattle, no matter who buys it or how bad it gets around here.  The Mariners represent a whole, huge region of the United States and Canada!  MLB isn’t going to lose this foothold because some owner wants to bring this team to Nebraska or some shit.

Anyone.  Anyone, come and buy this team!  Save us all from our cruel and thoughtless overlords!  We’re never going to climb out of this nosedive until new ownership is set in place!

As for players to bring in, I don’t know what to tell you.  Read this comment from yesterday’s post on the subject; this guy’s got some valid and intelligent points.  Nobody wants to come to Seattle.  Because apparently everyone lives in Florida and would rather play for a team that has Spring Training there.  Shit, even people FROM SEATTLE don’t want to come here!  Unless they’re a million years old, coming off three surgeries, and absolutely can’t get a hint of an offer anywhere else.

I hope you’re not tired of hearing things like “youth movement” and “building from within”, because it’s not going to stop anytime soon.  To attract quality veterans, and not completely break the bank in the process, you have to actually develop a solid core.  Right now, the Mariners have two guys:  Felix & Seager.  That’s our proven core.  Everyone else is too young to have a strong opinion on (Franklin, Miller, Zunino) or we’re praying on our hands and knees they figure it out and turn their careers around (Ackley, Smoak, Saunders).  Either way, you can’t count anyone but Felix & Seager in our core, because they haven’t proven dick over the long haul!

You can’t have a core of two people and expect to attract quality.  So, what are our options?  Well, obviously we’re looking at another extended run with Zunino, Miller, and probably Franklin.  They might have to put Nick back in Tacoma if he doesn’t get off to a good start in the month of April, but the other two have probably bought themselves a little longer bit of leash.

Everyone is talking about the Mariners making a huge push for Jacoby Ellsbury, but I dunno.  Yeah, he’s certainly going to be an upgrade over who we have now in the outfield, but big deal.  A guy at a quarter of his cost would be an upgrade!  I’m just kinda over the whole High-Priced Free Agent in baseball.  They almost NEVER pan out!  Because you’re paying them based on what they’ve already done.  Just because they’ve hit one way for the last three or four years doesn’t mean they’re automatically destined to hit that way for the next six or seven.  And even if they do, does that make them worth upwards of $20 million a year?

I know, in the past, I’ve been pounding the drum for the Mariners to start spending money like some of the other elite ballclubs in baseball, but I’ve come to realize that there’s a big difference between spending multiple millions of dollars on your own homegrown studs vs. going out and spending top dollar on other teams’ studs who no longer want them.

This is baseball.  If a player is worth it, he will spend his very best years with the team that drafted him.  If you want to be a winning franchise, you do whatever you can to keep your in-house talent.  That’s why guys like Joey Votto and Joe Mauer and Justin Verlander sign these huge extensions even before they hit the free agent market.  The best of the best don’t tend to go anywhere.  It’s these other guys, guys like Ellsbury and Prince Fielder and Josh Hamilton who hit the market.  Guys who are huge question marks.  Guys who command extremely long deals and extremely high amounts of money.  Guys who realistically are getting their final “big deals” in baseball; for the next deals they sign will be after they’re already over-the-hill and just trying to cling to former glories.  These are the guys you really DON’T want.  Because eventually they’ll break down, and more often than not it’ll be sooner rather than later.

You think the Tigers would pay over $200 million for Prince Fielder NOW?  Of course not.  Ditto the Angels with Hamilton & Pujols.  Because they paid for what those players did in the past, not what they would do going forward.

So, quite frankly, I hope the Mariners DON’T sign someone in the free agent leftover bin to a huge contract.  Why should they?  It’s not like we’re one or two players away from contending anyway.  If this team really is gearing up for a big sale in two years when their deal with Root Sports kicks in, then I’d almost rather the Mariners keep treading water with these short-term deals to make them more attractive for potential buyers.  Not because I necessarily care about this current ownership group getting their full money’s worth, but because I don’t want them to get cold feet thanks to a tepid market.

Any way you slice it, I’m not expecting anything out of the 2014 Mariners.  They can go out and crush the free agent market, make all the ESPN headlines, sign the top two or three guys out there to gargantuan deals, maybe make a couple of win-now trades to put the Mariners on everybody’s radar, and they’ll still most likely end up 3rd or 4th in the AL West.  Likewise, they can go out there, make some value-signings for the short term, and continue to rely on the kids, and they’ll still most likely end up 3rd or 4th in the AL West.

Or, shit, they can do absolutely nothing, fill in roster spots with guys in the organization, hire a chimp to be our skipper, and they’ll still most likely end up 3rd or 4th in the AL West.

This is not the time to get excited about the Seattle Mariners.  This is the time to collect as many cans of food as you can, buy toilet paper in bulk, fill up your freezer with cuts of meat, load up your shed to the rooftop with chopped wood, and hunker down with a few hundred unread books for the winter.  As a Mariners fan, we’re in the most brutal stretch of winter we’ve been in since the 1980s (when I was happily unaware of any of the goings on of this team, because I was a child who blissfully hated baseball).  We’re Jack Torrance, the Mariners are the Overlook Hotel, and it’s now a battle against our own sanity.  How long can we withstand this harsh, unforgiving winter before we break and start chopping down doors and chasing our families around with an ax?  I’m not gonna lie to you, I’m starting to see Lloyd the bartender everywhere I go.  And my wife’s starting to REALLY get on my nerves …

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

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

The Mariners have signed Jason Bay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, that still leaves us with Free Agency.

Free Agency.  Man, talk about a losing proposition!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detroit Saves The Mariners About $214 Million By Signing Prince Fielder

In my wildest dreams, if I thought the Mariners were going to add an additional $100 million in payroll this year and going forward, I would’ve gladly welcomed them to spend $250 million of that on Prince Fielder for the next decade.  However, if you’re talking about adding $100 million to your payroll, you’re essentially willing to put down Fuck You money on your 25-man roster (i.e.  you’re able to say Fuck You to any player who eventually under-performs his contract due to age, fitness, or mental decline by replacing him with the next $250 million man that comes along in free agency).

Since it’s obvious the Mariners were never going to do that, then signing Prince Fielder for that much money is clinically insane.  Having Fuck You money means you’re in control, and if the player wants to keep his position, he’s going to have to live up to the numbers that got him that much money in the first place.  But, forking over a full quarter (or more) of your team’s salary to 1/25th of the roster essentially gives HIM all the power.  It lets a guy like Prince Fielder slack off like he’s some naturally-gifted Babe Ruth who can turn it on whenever he wants.

I fully expect Prince Fielder, after this contract, to be on the DL no less than 5 times in the next 5 seasons.  At least one time for something really serious that knocks him on the 60-day DL.  After that, I expect him to bat no better than .250 for the remaining four seasons, with his home run and RBI production to decline every year (until eventually, in year 7 or 8, he’s traded for another team’s aging contract bust).

At this point, as a Mariner fan, who has suffered free agent bust after free agent bust, I would rather take my chances with the youth.  If we’re not going to pony up the Fuck You money required to win big in the Majors, we might as well save our money and spend it on our up-and-coming prospects when they finally hit free agency.  At least then, if they’re worth the big payday, we’ll know they can handle the confines of Safeco Field.

Believe you me, when Felix is up for a new deal in a few years, we’ll want to have all that cabbage we saved on a soon-to-be worthless Prince Fielder.  Trust me.

More Thoughts On Jesus Montero / Michael Pineda Trade

My snap judgment opinion is here.  Now that I’ve had a chance to sleep on it …

I still say this was a move we HAD to make.

I know there are people out there questioning the haul we got back, considering Pineda’s age, his highly productive rookie season, and the number of years of team control.  Apparently this is NOT the Mat Latos trade on the scale of highway robberies.  On a similar tack, people are saying, “Why HIM?”  As in, “Why now?  Why didn’t we just trade Cliff Lee for Montero way back when?”

It’s a defense mechanism.  I get it.  You spend the last few years hearing about this Pineda kid, waiting anxiously as someone reads you his minor league numbers, and then FINALLY, he gets his shot in Spring Training and blows everyone away with his 98 mile per hour fastball.  He’s so good, you can’t even bother with sending him down to Tacoma for a month or two, even though it would mean an extra year of service time (and even though he could REALLY use work on his change-up … but nobody wants to think about that right now; there will always be time later for a change-up to appear).  And in the first half of that first season, Pineda is smoking EVERYONE.  He’s on a strict pitch count in each game and he’s STILL mowing people down and getting into the 6th and 7th innings!

Pineda is yours.  You’ve put in the effort of hearing about him as he grew through the ranks.  And now that you got a little taste of what Pineda could possibly become, it’s natural to want to hoard all of that Pineda for yourself.

But, let’s face it, keeping Pineda would have actively hurt this baseball team.  There is a need that’s greater than pitching on the Mariners.  It’s called “hitting”.  You might not know what the word means, because it’s been so long since you’ve seen any of it, so I’ll elaborate briefly:  Hitting is how RUNS are scored!  We’ll get into “runs” in another post (I don’t want to overwhelm you all at once with these foreign terms).  Getting back, you’re asking me, “How in the HELL would keeping Pineda hurt this team?  He was an All Star in his rookie season and should only blossom from there!”  Well, like I said, this team has a hitting deficiency.  If the organization didn’t do anything to bring in an impact bat, the Seattle fans surely would’ve collected together and burned Safeco to the ground in revolt.  Unfortunately, in Free Agency, there was only one semi-realistic impact bat that in our wildest dreams MIGHT have signed with Seattle, and his name is Prince Fielder.  Except, he’s a total DICK who’s single-handedly holding up the entire Free Agency process as teams wait and see where he’s going to land (and he’s a total DICK because he most likely would never in our wildest dreams opt to sign with Seattle anyway).  If you believe this, like I do, then you know there’s only one way to bring in that impact bat our team so desperately needs.  Via trade.  And who is our Number 1 trade chip?  That’s right, Dustin Ackley, but it sure as shit wouldn’t make much sense to trade a bat for another bat when the thing we need is MORE BATS.

A-ha!  Who is our Number 2 trade chip?  That’s right, Felix Hernandez, but STOP THAT.

Who is our Number 3 trade chip?  That’s right, Michael Pineda.  With Free Agency being what it was in the 2011/2012 offseason, there was absolutely no other choice.  Yeah, we could’ve traded a different hotshot pitching prospect, one who has yet to crack the Majors, for some other type of hitting prospect (or maybe a Major Leaguer of lesser quality).  But, the Mariners needed to make a SPLASH.  They not only needed to bring in an impact bat, but they needed to prove to the fans that they’re willing to do WHATEVER it takes to turn this thing around and make this a competitive team on the field again.

In other words, they had to get everyone’s attention.  Something a little more impactful than buying every M’s fan one of those birthday cards that reads “SEX” in giant letters at the top, followed by, “Now that I’ve got your attention, happy birthday!”

You know how, in television, a show-runner will kill off a major character well before his prime just to prove to the fans that no one is safe on his show?  It’s a way to keep the fans on their toes, wondering what’s going to happen NEXT!  Well, this is like that.  Jackie Z needs us to know that he’s willing to do just about anything to make this team better.  Although, if he’s smart, he’ll make Felix Hernandez his Jack Bauer.  You gotta know where your bread is buttered, son.

But, look, does it suck that Pineda is gone?  Sure it does.  I had high hopes for this kid just like everyone else.  With Felix as a mentor, who knows how far he could’ve gone?  Maybe we could’ve had duelling Cy Young Award Winners on this team!  But, he’s gone, and we’ve got another month and change to mourn this loss before we get up off the mat and move on with our lives.

Our lives that now includes Jesus Montero.  Getting back to an earlier point, there’s heavy criticism for Jackie Z today as to why we didn’t just take this guy in the Cliff Lee deal.  Fans are BIG on the buyer’s remorse after only one season with Justin Smoak.  Some are even saying there’s MORE pressure on Smoak to succeed, because essentially he flummoxed us into trading for him when we had Cliff Lee in our back pocket.

That’s fucking preposterous.  First of all, if we had traded Lee for Montero in 2010, we STILL would need another bat!  And who’s to say Montero wouldn’t have had a similarly erratic rookie campaign in 2011, with the same pressure Smoak had to face in trying to carry a punchless team?

Secondly, I’m not ready to give up on Smoak!  The way to look at this trade isn’t to think, “Aww shit, if we would’ve been smarter, we could’ve had Pineda and Montero instead.”  The way to think about it is, “Hell yes!  We’ve got Smoak and Montero!  We’ve got two rising stars who are going to be the backbone of our offense for years to come!”

Because, let’s face it, that’s the way we HAVE to think about it now.  Because if these moves don’t work out, and Smoak and/or Montero turn out to be duds, or injury-prone Might-Have-Been’s, then the Seattle Mariners are proper fucked for the NEXT five to ten years.

The truth of the matter is, the pressure is on BOTH of these kids.  If they flame out, then you might as well call us the Kansas City Royals.

The Most Boring Fucking Offseason In Mariners History … Until It Isn’t

Like, right now.

Bitchin' ...

So, after the 9,000th reliever signed to a minor league contract, I’d just about had it with this whole offseason.  Are you telling me, in the most pivotal offseason in Jack Zduriencik’s Major League career, he’s going to go down – not swinging – but desperately clutching his bat to his back shoulder as Strike Three blows past him?  All while we wait for a guy in Prince Fielder to make up his fucking mind sometime this century (when we know God damned well that he’s not going to settle for Seattle anyway).

This offseason has been, in two words:  fucking idiotic.  Our biggest move of the last three months is a tie between signing 34 year old lefty bullpen specialist (and ex-trade bait for Erik Bedard) George Sherrill and a trade for a backup catcher in John Jaso (in the process, losing out on ex-trade bait for Cliff Lee, Josh Lueke).

BUT, all of that changes on one bitter-ass cold Friday afternoon in mid-January!  Just when you think all is lost!  Just when you read Larry Stone’s blog and resign yourself to the cream of the crap in free agency (once Fielder finally signs with the Rangers)!  Just when you’re seriously considering forever giving up on the sport of baseball, because there’s no way your team is ever going to be interesting ever again!

The Mariners trade Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero.  Yeah, THAT Jesus Montero.

Pardon me while I go back and re-write my Justin Smoak post … Jesus Montero will be the second-coming of Babe Ruth!  He and Smoak will both be contending for RBI titles for the next decade!  Woo!

Snap judgments right now are going ballistic on the Mariners for trading away an All Star starting pitcher.  While that’s definitely true, you’re still talking about a guy who was remarkably worse in the 2nd half of last season.  His fastball had less on it, teams were able to figure him out and hit him around, his eye-popping performances were few and far between.  Was it due to his being a young, rookie pitcher in his first full season in the Majors?  Possibly.  Or maybe that’s a better reflection of who he is.

Let’s face it, starting pitchers are huge crapshoots.  Who’s to say, now that the AL has figured him out, they continue to make him look semi-worthless?  His fastball doesn’t have a tremendous amount of movement; his curveball is obviously devastating, but not necessarily against lefties.  And maybe he never develops an effective change up to be that dominant force in the AL like Felix is.  You don’t know!  What if 2011 was as good as it gets?

Here’s the rub:  the Mariners had zero hitting.  Jesus Montero looks like he’s going to be good-to-great, regardless of where he plays.  The Mariners have a surplus of pitching.  Safeco is the key ingredient to that; it makes guys like Jason Vargas into $5 million/year starting pitchers with a terrible fastball and a decent change.  In other words:  the Mariners are ALWAYS going to have good pitching.  It’s the exact opposite of the Kingdome days, where if you didn’t have a guy like Randy Johnson, then your ERA was likely to be in the 5’s.  In Safeco, you’ll have a 3 ERA where anywhere else in baseball that number would be a run or two higher.

I like the move.  Yeah, it’s going to make the Yankees absolutely sick … but then again, maybe it doesn’t.  If Pineda flames out into an average starter, then they’ve just been whamboozled.  As for the Mariners, the motto of the day is:

There’s more (pitching) where that came from.