Should The Mariners Extend Nelson Cruz?

When the Mariners signed Nelson Cruz to a 4-year deal before the 2015 season, I was in the camp that yelled out to the heavens, “IT’S ABOUT TIME!”  I wanted him a year earlier – when he was a bargain for the Orioles on a 1-year deal – but we missed out.  Not letting that opportunity slip through our fingers a second time, Jackie Z & Co. signed him to a $57 million contract (all guaranteed, because MLB), $1 million as a signing bonus, with four equal shares of $14 million per year paying out accordingly.

Given his age, his declining athleticism from an outfield defense perspective, and his injury history, I think we all took that deal in the same vein we did the Robinson Cano deal:  if we can get his usual offensive production for half of the deal, it would be worth it.  Anything beyond that is pure gravy.

Well, we’re just over halfway through the final year of that deal, and as Mariners fans we’re up to our EYEBALLS in gravy!

I know it sounds crazy, but as purely a DH making $14 million per year, Nelson Cruz has nevertheless been a total bargain.  He’s averaged over 150 games per season (and is on his way to matching that this year), he’s hit for 44, 43, and 39 homers (respectively), and he’s already got 22 this year (on pace to surpass 40 homers yet again).  This is what we brought him here for, to hit dingers and hit for a solid average.  And, while those numbers have been steadily declining, it’s been ever-so-slight; so slight as to really be negligible from a production standpoint.  2015 was his best year with the Mariners (and arguably his best year ever), but he’s only dropped a tad since then.  Instead of falling off of a mountain, Cruz is enjoying a leisurely stroll down a molehill.

He could drop dead the moment I publish this post and his stint with the Mariners would STILL be better than my wildest dreams upon his signing 4 years ago.  Which brings us to the ultimate question:  should the Mariners keep him around beyond 2018?

I find myself saying the same things I always say about a beloved veteran athlete whose prime might be just behind him, but is otherwise still playing at a high level:  I wouldn’t mind having him back, under the right contract.  Obviously, I want something that’s somewhat team-friendly, but I also live in the real world, and I understand how deals work in the MLB.  Reports indicate Cruz is looking for a multi-year deal.  Given how much of a boss he’s been for the majority of his career – but especially when he got out of Texas and became more of an all-world DH – my hunch is he’ll get what he’s looking for.  But, “multi-year” can mean a lot of things.  Since he just turned 38 years old this week, I can’t imagine he’ll land anything beyond a 2-year contract (it only takes one team, of course, so it wouldn’t TOTALLY shock me if he saw a 3-year deal from someone like the Royals or, I dunno, the Orioles maybe; but I highly doubt it).  So, would I be interested in the Mariners signing him to a 2-year deal worth $26-$30 million?

I mean, again, I probably wouldn’t be devastated, but the more I think about it, the more I start to wonder if I’m coming at this from the wrong angle.

I keep saying I want to be the type of fan that roots for teams who get rid of aging players a year too early vs. a year too late.  So, I need to build some thicker skin about these types of things.  Yes, Cruz has been wonderful in a Mariners uniform; you can consider me a fan for life for all he’s done.  Do I really want that legacy tarnished if he turns into a Richie Sexson in his final season with us?

More to the point:  do I think Cruz has two MORE years where he can give us this type of 4-win production?

The Mariners just signed Wade LeBlanc to an extension this week.  He’s got guaranteed money for 2019, with apparent team options (and incentives) based on his performance that could see him in Seattle through 2022.  It’s basically one of the most team-friendly deals I’ve ever seen that wasn’t negotiated by the player directly.  A lot of the Mariners core we have now is locked up at least through next year, if not for many years to come.  Cruz is really the most important player not under contract for next year, which is why this is coming up now.

For what it’s worth, the LAST thing I want to have happen is for the Mariners to extend him before the season ends.  I mean, let’s face it, he’s one major injury away from calling it a career.  That’s just the way these things go when you get to be his age.  If he tears a rotator cuff or an ACL or otherwise has to go on the shelf for up to a year, how good do you think he’s going to be when he comes back?  That’s assuming he has no setbacks!  Will he have the power he has now?  Will he be able to hit for the average he’s hitting now?  Or, will both of those numbers dip to the point that – considering he plays no defense whatsoever – he’s just a replacement-level player that can only DH?

Sorry, but you HAVE to wait to see how his season plays out before even CONSIDERING an extension.  At which point, I say you wait for the market to dictate what he’s worth.  Teams haven’t been willing to shell out mega millions for designated hitters in recent years.  You could argue he’s different, and given his work ethic and leadership abilities, he’s worth more than your average lumbering slugger.  But, I wouldn’t bet he’ll get insane money.  It’s even possible he’d earn less of a base salary (with more in the way of incentives) than he’s getting now.

And, as always, Bob Dutton makes some good points here.  What do the Mariners want to do with Robinson Cano after this year?  We’re in the 5th year of his 10-year deal, and the plan all along was to eventually move him away from second base.  With his suspension, it looks like that plan has been accelerated.  It was always going to require the Mariners getting a worthy second baseman to take his place, and with Dee Gordon’s emergence, you can see why the team is comfortable with him there.  And, with Healy under team control (arbitration eligible through 2022), and Evan White behind him, I don’t see a lot of free time from the first base position.  Besides that, how would Cano take to a possible transition there?  He might prefer (and even be better suited) to simply DHing.

These are all questions we have facing us in mid-August when Cano returns from his suspension, by the way.  Where does he fit?  I would assume he’ll still play some at second base, but not so much that it cuts Dee Gordon out (who will need to be our starter there in the playoffs).  I would also assume Cano fills in at first base on a part time basis – possibly against right-handed pitchers? – but it’s going to be a struggle.  You can’t play Cano at DH over Cruz, barring injury.  But, you CAN play him at DH starting next year, if Cruz is playing elsewhere.

Based on the way the roster is constructed, this seems to be the most sensible and smartest way to go.  I love Cruz, and in another world I wouldn’t mind him finishing his career in Seattle.  But, we’ve got Cano for another 5 years, at $24 million per year, rendering him effectively untradeable.

Best case scenario has the Mariners passing Cano through waivers in August and sending him somewhere in a salary dump deal with a team looking for some veteran leadership.  But, considering he has a full no-trade clause, that seems unlikely.  It would also require the Mariners to eat anywhere from $10-$14 million per year for the rest of the contract, which almost defeats the purpose.

Unless the purpose is to use the money you’re saving to put it up toward a Nelson Cruz extension.  Long story short, the only way I want to see the Mariners extend Cruz is by first ridding themselves out from under the albatross that is Cano’s massive contract.  Since that seems impossible, I’m afraid we’re going to have to bid adieu to Mr. Cruz after this season, with the consolation being that we enjoyed the perfect free agent transaction (which is so rare nowadays).

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Dan Vogelbach

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

Look, we’re kinda getting down to the bottom of the barrel a little bit in these “very important” Mariners.  I get that.  I’m just trying to get through the month with a little content on the ol’ website before Spring Training gets going in earnest.

I’ll dive into this one by saying that I’m a little concerned about first base.  First base and the outfield in general has been a problem dating back to 2008 and it’s never REALLY been solved.  This year, instead of half-assing it, we went full throttle on defense to bolster our outfield, probably to the detriment of our hitting from that neck of the woods.  I’m predicting the 8th and 9th spots in the lineup will regularly go to two of our three outfield spots, and for once I’m okay with it.

First base has been a different kind of black hole entirely.  Dating back to 2008, when Richie Sexson totally bottomed out and became one of my most-loathed players of all time, look at who we’ve been running out there:  Bryan LaHair, Russell Branyan, Casey Kotchman, Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison, Jesus Montero, Adam Lind, and Dae-ho Lee, to name but a few.  Any one of those guys, if they were even REMOTELY worth a damn, could’ve taken the Mariners’ first baseman job and ran with it.  Instead, we’re onto the next one, and in this case it’s some combo of Dan Vogelbach and Danny Valencia (at least to start off the season).

Dan Vogelbach is the main prize we got in the Mike Montgomery trade last summer with the Cubs.  He came over here as a big power hitter from the left side who has had a lot of success in the upper minors (was a rookie in 2011, climbed the ranks through A-ball, reached AA in 2015 and AAA in 2016).  He slashed .272/.403/.425 in AA and .292/.417/.505 in AAA.  Finally, in September of last year, he got his first cup of coffee in the Majors and picked up his first Big League hit, but otherwise did absolutely nothing.  For what it’s worth, he could’ve batted 1.000 in 12 at-bats in Seattle last year and I’d feel the same exact way about him, because it’s 12 at-bats.  There’s nothing to learn about anyone’s September call-up, ever.  We’ve seen guys come up and be amazing, only to revert back to nothing the next year; just as we’ve seen guys struggle in their first call-ups while eventually sticking in the Majors at some point in the future.

All that having been said, I feel like the majority of Mariners fans out there would rather have Mike Montgomery right now, but that’s neither here nor there.

Vogelbach is also a guy who came here without a position.  I mean, yeah, he’s played first base all through the minors, but he’s not really a defensive wunderkind.  So, not only does the kid have to prove his worth in Spring Training just to make the Opening Day roster, but he’s got to figure out how to hit Major League pitching, AND he’s got to be good-enough defensively to not be a total liability.  That’s A LOT to expect out of someone, especially as a rookie!

I don’t know about you, but I like my baseball rookies to have at least one aspect of their game already figured out by the time they reach the Majors.  Usually, that means you’re getting a great defensive talent who will hopefully adjust and eventually learn to hit.  Those guys, at least, know they have the defensive part down, so all they have on their plates is needing to hit (oh, is that all?).  But, if a guy has to come up, learn how to hit, AND learn how to play defense better, the odds of him struggling are greatly increased.

My point is:  I don’t see any way that Vogelbach has a good season in 2017.  The hope is that he’s such a natural at hitting that he’ll come up here and start mashing from Day One, but I’ve been burned on that pipe dream too many times.  Our most-realistic best-case scenario is that he at the very least has a good eye for balls and strikes and is able to walk his way to a respectable on-base percentage, while providing 15-20 homers near the bottom of our lineup as he gives Valencia the occasional off-day.

I think the most-realistic realistic-case scenario is that he stinks.  I understand the idea is to have a Vogelbach/Valencia platoon, and it would stand to reason that by being the left-handed hitter, Vogelbach would get 2/3 of the starts at first base.  But, I think that script will get flipped pretty early on in the year.  I think a terrible April out of Vogelbach will render him little more than a bench player (unless they opt to send him to Tacoma to work it out on an everyday basis), and Valencia ends up with the lion’s share of starts at first base.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think you’re going to run into any number of articles around mid-season clamoring for another left-handed bat who can play first base with Valencia.

Cano, Cruz, Seager: An Appreciation

In football (and, I guess in all sports, but people seem to talk about it in football the most), the goal is to strike a healthy balance between offense and defense, between high-priced superstars and cost-effective elite youth, between a strong running game and an opportunistic passing attack on offense, as well as stout run defense and a lethal pass rush.  Of course, there have been teams that got by with a stark imbalance (usually a top defense and a meh offense), but even the teams who have won Super Bowls with high-flying offenses usually see an uptick in their defensive production, if only for that championship season.

The Mariners, for years, have been anything but balanced.  The pitching has usually been okay, but for the longest time, the hitting was non-existent.  In the Jackie Z “Rebuild On The Cheap Through Prospects” Era, the middle of our order was riddled with sick jokes.  Power hitters with no on-base abilities who struck out a ton, line drive hitters with warning track-power who struck out a ton, past-their-prime veterans who struck out a ton, injury-plagued veterans who couldn’t even stay off the DL long enough to strike out a ton, and so on and so forth.

It really wasn’t until we signed Robinson Cano in 2014, then paired him with Nelson Cruz in 2015, that we could say we had a middle-of-the-order we could be proud of.  But, there always seemed to be a straggler.  In 2014, Cano was top notch and Seager was Seager, but Kendrys Morales was a lump of crap, and all too many at bats were going to the likes of Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak.  In 2015, Cruz and his 44 homers were far and away our offensive MVP, and while Seager was still Seager, Cano was plagued with nagging injuries and had a forgettable first half of the season.  This three-piece didn’t really all put it together until 2016, but boy did they make beautiful music together!

Not since the trio of A-Rod, Griffey, and Edgar have the Mariners had a middle of the order this formidable.  Don’t take my word for it, though; take these numbers:

  • Cano – .298/.350/.533, 39 homers, 103 RBI
  • Cruz – .287/.360/.555, 43 homers, 105 RBI
  • Seager – .278/.359/.499, 30 homers, 99 RBI

I would like to point out, before we move on, that Seager would’ve had that 100th RBI had his line drive not hit the second base umpire in the last week of the season, as it most certainly would’ve scored the runner from second.

Anyway, as you can see, that’s a ton of production.  We were second in the league in homers, and 112 of our 223 (a hair over 50%) were from those three guys.  They missed a combined 12 games and led us to our best offensive season since the Lou Piniella days.

Cano had a career high in homers, which is particularly impressive coming off of his 2015, when we all wondered if he was beginning his decline a little earlier than scheduled.  He proved he’s still the superstar we signed up for, and even though his batting average dipped under .300 for just the third time since becoming an everyday player, the huge boost in his power numbers were most welcome on a team that stayed in contention throughout the season.  We’re 3 years into a 10-year contract; it’s comforting to believe we have at least a couple more high-level years to go with Cano before we face that inevitable decline.

Cruz has been something of a revelation since leaving the Rangers at the age of 33.  He’s always had impressive power, but lacked consistency.  Everyone figured he’d get a massive deal anyway, because this is baseball and GMs are dumb, but more teams than expected were turned off by his lack of defensive ability.  So, he signed a 1-year prove-it deal with Baltimore and turned out the best season of his career to date, with 40 homers and a 4.7 WAR over 159 games.  He parlayed that into finally getting that massive deal with the Mariners (4 years, $57 million) and somehow had an even BETTER season in 2015!  44 homers and a 5.2 WAR over 152 games (including a .302 batting average and .369 on-base percentage, which remain career highs with a minimum of 110 games played).  It was better than we could have possibly hoped for, considering he played half his games in Safeo Field (moved-in fences or no, it’s still a notoriously tough place to hit dingers).

It would’ve been pretty unrealistic to expect that upward trajectory to continue, and while it came to pass that Cruz’s numbers took a bit of a dip, it wasn’t the nosedive some of us feared.  He still hit over 40 homers and nearly pulled off a .290 batting average in earning another 4.7 WAR season.  Granted, he played a lot more DH than he did last year, but that’s not a bad thing.  Given his limitations in the field, he SHOULD be preserved by playing almost exclusively DH (outside of games in N.L. stadia).  Considering we’re halfway through his contract, and he’s still hitting as well as he did in Baltimore (combined with our tough luck with free agent acquisitions in the past), I feel like we’re playing with house money with Cruz.  Hell, his year THIS year could’ve been even better had he not been dealing with that wrist injury down the stretch!  Talk about a guy playing through the pain and producing at a high level!

Given what we’ve seen out of him over the first half of his contract, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect him to continue playing at a high level at least through the 2017 season.  One would hope, barring injury, that his decline doesn’t officially kick in until 2018 or beyond, but suffice it to say these declines can start at any time, and when they hit, it’s remarkable how fast a player can go from being at the top of his game to out of baseball entirely (see:  Sexson, Richie).

The real player I’m in awe of in 2016 is Kyle Seager.  I just don’t remember ever seeing a player like him before.  He consistently gets better with each passing season!  It’s incredible!  Usually those guys end up leaving Seattle, and finding their success with other teams.  There have certainly been Mariners players who have been better than Seager, but guys like A-Rod and Griffey were superstars as infants.  Edgar was already a pro hitter when he was still languishing in the minors.  Cano and Cruz obviously made their names elsewhere before cashing in here.  But, Seager is a true rarity.  A true find.  A homegrown stud at a difficult defensive position who was rewarded with a contract extension, and who continues to improve at his craft.  We’ve had Seager in Seattle for six years (five full seasons), and the best part of his game is that he could continue to improve for six more years!

He’s played in at least 155 games in every full year he’s been in the Majors.  Before 2016, he’d hit for an average of around .260 to .270.  He’s increased his homer production each and every year.  He’s got a gold glove under his belt.  He’s been an All Star.  But, this year, he took his hitting to a new level.  Yes, yes, the career highs in homers, RBI, and runs scored.  But, also career highs in average, on-base percentage, and slugging!  And, we’re talking considerable jumps:

  • .278 average, previous high of .268 in 2014
  • .359 on-base percentage, previous high of .338 in 2013
  • .499 slugging percentage, previous high of .454 in 2014
  • .858 OPS, previous high of .788 in 2014

This coincides with a smarter approach at the plate.  If you look at his spray charts this year compared to years past, you’ll see while he’s predominantly a pull hitter when it comes to homers, he’s much better at distributing batted balls evenly throughout the field.  Still a lot of ground-outs to the second baseman, but not nearly as pronounced as it was even two years ago.  If he can continue to improve in this regard, he might even be able to get teams to stop shifting so much when he comes to the plate.

I still contend there’s a .300 hitter lurking beneath the surface of Kyle Seager.  The more he works at hitting to all fields, the better his chances of cracking that barrier.  Of course, you take the good with the bad, and there are definite limitations to Seager’s game.  He’s got power, but not to all fields.  So, the trick is, maintaining that 20-30 homer power, while morphing into that .300 hitter I keep saying (every year) that we’re going to see one of these days.  It’ll happen, and when it does, I’m going to go hoarse from saying “I Told You So” so many times.

The best part of this 2016 Mariners team was its heart of the order.  These 3-4-5 hitters.  Even if they went through individual slumps, they weren’t long-lasting.  And, it seemed like there was never a point in the year where all of them were in a slump at the same time.  There was always one or two of these guys hitting to pick up the slack.  And, when all three were on at the same time, it was usually a bloodbath for the other team.  Now, whether that contributed to the hitters around them being better, or getting better pitches to hit, I couldn’t tell you.  I do know that we had 9 guys (including our fearsome Big Three) who had over 10 homers, which is pretty impressive.  I’m sure guys ahead of them (pitchers not wanting to walk guys ahead of Cano) and behind them (pitchers not wanting to give up more RBI, as there would most certainly be at least one guy on base by the time the 6-hole batter came up) saw better pitches to hit.  But, this was also a very veteran team, that by and large was able to work a count better than we’ve seen in over a decade.  So, it’s tough to say how the Big Three affected the rest of the lineup.

I just know what they were able to do, and it was the best we’ve seen ’round these parts in quite some time.

Ideally, we’ll get more of the same in 2017.  We’re probably going to need it, as I can’t imagine the pitching staff is going to drastically improve between now and then.  But, if they start to regress, at least we’ll have 2016.  It didn’t end in a post-season berth, but it was still an entertaining year of baseball thanks to these three guys.

Should The Mariners Be Sellers?

I’ve talked about the Mariners potentially selling the farm and going all in this year, but for some reason I haven’t gone in depth about whether or not the Mariners should do the opposite.

Make no mistake, watching the organization give up on yet another season would be a HUGE demoralizing blow, psychologically.  Starting with the team’s promising 2014, expectations in Seattle have grown as a core group of veterans have been established.  Felix, Cano, Seager, Cruz starting in 2015.  Seth Smith, Iwakuma, Guti to a lesser extent.  With vets like Lind, Aoki, Miley, and Iannetta, alongside potential reclamation projects like Leonys Martin, Steve Cishek, and various other bullpen pieces, 2016 had the feel of something special – particularly when the team got out to that fantastic start over the first two months of the season.

But, as things have fallen apart, the hard questions must be asked.  Should the Mariners sell?  And, if so, WHO should they sell?

I had every intention of either blowing this post off, or at least pushing it back into next week (closer to the trade deadline), because it’s not something – as a fan – I enjoy thinking about.  Giving up.  Going back to the fucking drawing board.  AGAIN.  Building up the farm system to, what?  To try to find that special sort of magic the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s found?  The kind of magic teams like the Royals and Astros of today enjoy?  Those are forged in many multiple last place seasons, combined with a tremendous amount of luck!  At what point have the Mariners been able to generate that type of luck?  Even when we lose – even when we’re THE WORST – we still fuck up somehow!

So, no, this isn’t a particularly enjoyable post for me.  But, then I got to thinking.  Specifically, I got to thinking about Nelson Cruz.

He’s an interesting case, isn’t he?  I’d go so far as to say Nelson Cruz is at his peak, today, right now.  Truth be told, his actual peak might have been 2015, but let’s say he’s still close enough to his 2015 production to have as much value as he’s ever going to have.  He’s hitting the tar off the ball, hitting for a solid average, and he’s doing it in Seattle of all places.  If he can do it here, surely he can exceed expectations for a winning ballclub that needs that one piece to be World Series contenders!

Cruz has two more years on his contract after this year.  Obviously, you can make the argument he’s not in the long-term plans of the organization.  He’s 36 years old as of July 1st, so there’s that.  He’s making $14 million a year, which isn’t chump change, but it’s also not outrageous for a guy producing at his level.  While it’s reasonable – and probably smart – to expect a decline starting as early as next year, you could easily make the argument that 2017 Nelson Cruz will still have SOME value.  He’ll still hit dingers.  He’ll still make your lineup better.  But, maybe his average dips.  Maybe he hits into some more double plays.  Maybe his defense gets even more laughably bad.  And maybe in 2018, when he’s hitting 38 years of age, things start to REALLY bottom out, and you’re stuck with a guy who’s now overpaid, and an active liability to your team in every capacity (see:  Richie Sexson’s 2008 season).

Do you want to trade Cruz at his peak value?  Or, do you want to hold onto him, try to squeeze every last drop out of him, and risk not only being stuck with him, but having the fans resent you for not opting out of this thing when you had a chance to sell high?

Now, if you REALLY believe that 2017 is THE year to make it all happen – if you have some sort of plan set in place that will get us another Ace starting pitcher, and really shape this team into a valid contender for 162 games, plus post-season – then by all means, roll the dice on Cruz one more time and see what happens.  But, if we’re stuck trying to fill holes with veterans, trying to find value in obscure places, hoping for more bounce-back years from guys in key roles, and otherwise just trying to see if some spark will ignite a magical run, then maybe we go ahead and do that with Cruz in another uniform.

I should point out that in any scenario where the Mariners trade Nelson Cruz, we better be getting back a MAJOR piece or set of pieces.  Like, a young, cost-controlled, stud corner outfielder or something.

Moving beyond Cruz, you’ve gotta take a look at the roster going forward.

Obviously, Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee are possibilities, since they’re not under contract after this season.  Aoki, Cishek, and Miley have all, for the most part, underperformed this year, so you’re talking about selling low on those guys (maybe if you take off your glasses and squint, you can find an interesting package with one or more of those guys that another team will swallow, but I doubt it).  If we’re going full sell-off mode, you have to look at the guys other teams actually covet!

Aside from Cruz, the core going forward is still Felix, Cano, and Seager.  Leonys Martin is arbitration eligible for the next two seasons, has played outstanding defense, and his bat is coming around, so he’s probably not going anywhere.  Ketel Marte and Edwin Diaz are young potential stars in this league, so you figure they’re off the table.  Seth Smith and Iwakuma are both signed at least through next year, and they’re useful enough to either keep around for one more year or to trade for probably some pretty solid pieces.  Then, there’s always Paxton and Walker, who you’d think the organization has earmarked for the future, but injury issues have slowed their development considerably the last few years.

The prime candidates are the Big 4, though.  Cruz, Felix, Cano, and Seager.  Cruz, I’ve talked about.  Felix, I don’t even want to consider.  I’m not saying he’s untouchable, I’m just saying I don’t want to think about it.  Cano has 7 more seasons left, making $24 million per year.  He’s probably still got at least 3 more prime years left in him, and should still be good-enough for another couple years beyond that (those final couple years though, YEESH).  Getting rid of Cano would signal a total and complete rebuild, so I highly doubt we’re looking into that at this time.  Maybe in a year or two, if the team totally falls apart.  And, as for Seager, I think he’s probably the biggest lock of anyone to remain in Seattle for the foreseeable future.  His contract is reasonable, he’s playing at a high level, he’s still got LOTS of years left on his career; he’s not going anywhere.

In all likelihood, I don’t know if the Mariners can be sellers even if they want to!  Aside from a couple of smaller deals, or a potential blockbuster Cruz deal, I think the core of this team is going to be around at least through the first half of next year.

The Worst People In Seattle Sports History, Part III

We continue from Saturday’s post on all the hated Seahawks, which was continued from Friday’s post on all the hated Mariners.

Seattle Supersonics

A lot of real obvious candidates here.  It’s just a matter of organizing them in the proper order.

I, along with many of you, have Howard Schultz smack dab at the top of this list.  In fact, I would have to say – even though it’s been nearly five years since the team moved, and even though it’s been nearly seven years since he sold the team to those OKC goons – that Howard Schultz is Public Enemy Number 1 (regardless of sport) in the Most Hated Seattle Sports Figure list.

Really quick, my top 5 looks like this:  1. Schultz, 2. Behring, 3. Lincoln & Armstrong, 4. Bennett, 5. Bavasi

Easy, right?  For the record, Lincoln & Armstrong are a package deal; they have morphed into this singular blob of incompetence.  Also for the record, Ruskell is a close 6th on that list.  My most hated PLAYER is and might always be Richie Sexson, because I’m irrational like that.

Anyway, getting back, I think it should be obvious why Schultz heads this list.  He’s the worst.  THE.  WORST.  First, let’s just get this out of the way:  he had NO BUSINESS getting involved with the NBA.  He should have just stuck with his season tickets and his corporate sponsorships and been happy with that.  He didn’t have the stomach to properly run the organization; instead, he tried to run it like a business.  This isn’t Starbucks, this is sports.  It’s a completely different ballgame (so to speak).  If your goal is to buy a team and try to turn a profit every year, then congratulations, you’re the Seattle Mariners.  You go forever without winning, you scale back payroll, you trade away your superstars for nothing, and you do just enough to turn a small profit every year (which, hey, beats losing money).

If your goal is to run a winning franchise, then guess what?  You can’t be all-consumed by the money coming in.  Turning a profit can’t be goal #1.  It’s got to be a residual from sustained success.

The Seattle Supersonics, as far back as I can remember, were a well-oiled machine.  Yeah, they’d have some down years, but they’d bounce right back and be contenders in short order.  That includes a lot of the 70s, most of the 80s, and most of the 90s.  Then, Howard Schultz bought the team in January of 2001.  In the five full seasons the Sonics were owned by Schultz, they made the playoffs twice:  once as a 7th seed and once as a 3-seed.  Both times, they lost to a far superior franchise, the San Antonio Spurs.  In the other seasons, the Sonics ended up 10th, 11th, and 12th in the West.

Schultz was involved with a controversial trade of Gary Payton.  He also let head coach (and Mr. Sonic) Nate McMillan walk (over to Portland where he coached the hell out of a mostly-mediocre team).  He did battle with the local & state governments over getting financing for a new arena, but once that failed he essentially threw up his hands and gave up.

Schultz had no interest in keeping the Sonics in Seattle.  If he had, he wouldn’t have sold them to a group that so clearly wanted to move the team out of state.  He can sit there and pretend he had “no idea”; he can cry out about how they “misrepresented” themselves when they purchased the team; but if he’s being honest then he’s the biggest fucking moron the world has ever known.

Here’s the thing:  Schultz isn’t being honest when he gripes about how he was duped (along with the rest of Seattle).  I’d like to point out that from the moment this deal was made, I knew those fucks from OKC would do everything in their power to move this team.  If I know that, and I’m just some yahoo fan with a pottymouth, then Howard Schultz sure as shit knew that too.  He just didn’t care.  All he cared about was receiving $350 million for a team he paid $200 million to acquire five and a half years earlier.

And that’s all you need to know about the Howard Schultz Era.  He was a greedy old man who let the Sonics move away.  He ran the team like a business, but not like a business he gave two shits about.  He ran this team like Ken Lay ran Enron.  Schultz may not have faced decades in prison, but he probably should.  If I had it my way, he’d be rotting in prison until the Sonics return to Seattle, but that’s neither here nor there.

If we’re jumping on the whole Sonics leaving Seattle saga, I’d rank former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels number two on this list.  That spineless weasel forced an agreement down our throats letting those OKC fucks take the team while the city received $45 million in return for the last two years of the KeyArena lease.  Had we forced them to honor those final two years, who’s to say what might have happened?  But, he was never officially a member of the Sonics organization, so fuck Greg Nickels.

Truth be told, I hate Clay Bennett’s puppetmaster – David Stern – far more than Mr. Bennett himself, but we’re sticking with a theme here of people specifically related to the Sonics organization.  Clay Bennett’s a rat bastard, to be sure, and when all is said and done I’d like to know what kind of buttfucking arrangement he has with Stern to make them so buddy-buddy; his blowjobs must be SOMETHING ELSE.  As such, now he does whatever David Stern says, essentially making them both one and the same.

It takes a lot of work to keep up a lie for so long.  Bennett bought the team in July of 2006.  Nearly two years went by before we finally got the official word that his intentions all along were to move the team to OKC; and even then, “official word” came in the form of e-mails to his cronies that were uncovered in the days & weeks leading up to the team leaving.  To the bitter end, Bennett affirmed his bullshit, and he has been rewarded with one of the best and most exciting teams in the NBA today.  There is no justice in this world if that team ever wins a championship.

From what I’ve been told, Wally Walker has been instrumental in the behind-the-scenes efforts to bring the team back to Seattle.  Also, from what I’ve been told, Wally Walker was dead-set against selling to those OKC fucks in the first place.  Nevertheless, Wally Walker appears on this list, because his tenure as GM of the Sonics was rocky at best.  You can’t have a Most Hated list without having a few GMs appear first.

For the record, yeah, Walker has been instrumental in working with Hansen & Ballmer, but he was also instrumental in getting Howard Schultz to be our primary owner in the first place to start this whole fucking mess.  It’s complicated with Wally Walker; he tries his fucking best, but God bless him, in the end he’s just a fuck up who can’t seem to ever get things right.

He joined the Sonics in 1994, right as this team was on its rise to the elite of the NBA.  In 1996, the Sonics were in the Finals, losing to the greatest team of all time, the 1996 Chicago Bulls.  From that moment, this franchise started on its long, slow decline to mediocrity, and it all starts with the next name on this list:  Jim McIlvaine.

Jim McIlvaine was signed to a 7-year, $33.6 million deal in July of 1996.  To that point, Jim McIlvaine had been a worthless pile of crap.  He would go on to continue being a worthless pile of crap.  So, not only was he overpaid and useless, but he also served as a reminder that this ownership group – and this general manager in particular – would rather reward potential from outside the organization than reward the superstars already IN this organization.  Shawn Kemp was resentful and rightly demanded a new contract.  He was denied, so less than a year after signing McIlvaine, Kemp demanded a trade.  Just before the 1997/1998 season, Shawn Kemp was traded for the NEXT name on this list:  Vin Baker.

One could argue that the Sonics dodged a bullet by trading away Shawn Kemp.  He went on to Cleveland, sat on his ass during the Lockout, got fat, and was never the same.  One could also argue that had the Sonics rewarded their budding superstar, he would’ve been kept in shape and kept in line by team leader, Gary Payton.  In Cleveland, Kemp was the big kahuna, and nobody was going to tell him what to do.  There was veteran leadership in Seattle that could’ve prevented such a fate.

Oh yeah, by the way, don’t forget that Vin Baker also sat on his ass during the Lockout, also got fat, and was a huge drunk to boot.  So, why didn’t this veteran leadership keep HIM in line like I’m saying they would’ve kept Kemp in line?  I dunno, probably because you can’t rationalize with a fucking alcoholic!  Also, probably because you have to have the Want To in order to succeed.  Vin Baker lacked that passion, that drive.  He took his solace in a bottle and that’s all there is to it.

Mind you, this chain of events all started with Wally Walker meddling with a good thing, then bungling things away.  More often than not, Walker made moves just to make moves.  Sometimes, you just need to let a team settle and grow on its own.  You don’t have to keep adding and subtracting to make things JUST RIGHT.  Just leave it be and hope things shake out as best as they can!  If it ain’t broke, don’t fucking fix it!

Any number of bumbling big man buffoons could also make this Most Hated list (Calvin Booth, Jerome James, Robert Swift, Johan Petro, Mouhamed Sene), but that would ignore the real problem with the Sonics at the turn of the century:  Rick Sund.  Remember him?  God, I wish I didn’t.  Rick Sund took over for Wally Walker (as Walker was promoted to president or some damn thing) in 2001 and proceeded over one of the longest stretches of ineptitude in team history.

Seemingly every year, this team needed a big man.  Seemingly every year, this team went after a big man, either spending an ungodly amount of money in free agency, or by squandering a high draft pick.  Seemingly every year, this team failed to bring in a big man of any quality, and so seemingly every year this team struggled under Rick Sund.

Finally, there’s a name on this list I won’t ever forget.  Kendall Gill.  Back when Bob Whitsitt was still in charge, he traded a number of quality supporting players (Dana Barros, Eddie Johnson) to the Charlotte Hornets for Kendall Gill.  In his previous two years, Gill averaged 20.5 and 16.9 points per game.  We brought him in to be our starting shooting guard next to Gary Payton.  As chance would have it, he arrived on the scene in 1993/1994, as the Sonics had the best record in the Western Conference.  We would go on to lose in the first round to the Denver Nuggets.  The very next season, this team would make the playoffs again, and once again it would lose in the first round.

I’m not blaming it ALL on Kendall Gill, but he sure as shit was not a good fit for this team.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all that as soon as he was traded (back to Charlotte for Hersey Hawkins and David Wingate in June of 1995), the Sonics would go on to make a run to the NBA Championship.

Gill didn’t get along with coaches or teammates.  He was a ballhog who shot too much.  Oh yeah, and he SUCKED DICK.  He immediately saw a dip in his scoring average (14.1 and 13.7 points per game in a Sonics uniform).  His pissy attitude didn’t endear him to Seattle fans either.  In short, Kendall Gill was a worthless dickhole and I can’t believe he managed to have such a sustained NBA career, considering what a joke he was.

The Worst People In Seattle Sports History, Part I

You’ll forgive me if I’m not exactly in the most chipper of moods.  That’s what happens when some useless cunt brings bedbugs into your apartment building and you spend a sleepless week itching, cleaning, and bagging up all your shit.  Suffice it to say, I’m not exactly looking on the bright side of things.

I actually had this idea before.  It was supposed to be a series of posts dedicated to the most loathed sports figures in Seattle history.  Over two years have passed and I’ve let it go by the wayside, but while it has been neglected, the idea has not been forgotten.

The primary reason for this site’s existence is that notion that there is a Culture of Losing in Seattle.  Losing has become commonplace.  Losing has been the norm.  And losing has been accepted, which is most damning of all.  It’s the main reason why I can’t stand most Seattle sports fans, because they’ve cultivated this Everybody Gets A Trophy attitude about the sports they follow.  Granted, it’s probably HEALTHIER; it’s a hard fact of life that we certainly take sports too seriously.  But, it still pisses me off.

Oh, good try sweetie!

It doesn’t matter who wins, all that matters is how you play the game!

Well, we didn’t win, but if you had a good time that’s all that matters!

You played hard out there fellas, now let’s all go out and get some ice cream!

There’s always next year!

This is what I have to put up with whenever a Seattle team ends its season.  Nobody in Seattle ever expects to do well, so when a Seattle team makes the playoffs THAT’S a thrill in and of itself!  Like just making the playoffs is “good enough”.  Sure, winning a championship would be an incredible bonus, but isn’t being one of the top 4-8 teams in the league reward enough, you guys?

But, I suppose it’s not all the fans’ fault.  I mean, THIS is all they’ve known.  These shitty Seattle teams who have always let us down every year since 1979.  Yes, the level of shittiness fluctuates, but they’re shitty all the same because it’s been over 30 years since we’ve tasted the sweet nectar of championship victory in this city.

I have a list of people here – athletes, GMs, and owners – who are more or less universally despised.  My list is by no means complete, and I encourage anyone who has names to add to come forth and state why you feel that way.  I may eventually return to my “Seattle Hates …” series and single out these losers in their own individual posts, but for now I thought I’d just list as many as I can think of and go from there.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are far-and-away leading the pack of the most hated Seattle sports figures.  It’s almost impossible to rank them, but I’m going to give it a shot.

This hasn’t always been the case, but it’s definitely true today:  the most loathed Mariners figures of all time are now Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong.  I’ve written about these two before, so I’ll keep this brief.  Rest assured, it’ll be a happy day in Seattle history when the team is sold and these two lame-asses are shit-canned.  Why they haven’t resigned in shame years ago is beyond me.

Time makes the heart grow fonder is the famous quote by some guy.  In this case, time makes the heart grow less enraged.  At one point, I would argue that no one could possibly be hated more than Bobby Ayala.  Looking back on it, it probably wasn’t fair.  Then again, I’m sitting here with my eyes closed and I can still picture it:

Ayala hurls a split-fingered fastball that hangs in the middle of the plate as he falls off of the left side of the mound.  Opposing Batter X takes a mighty hack and launches the ball into the Kingdome seats.  Ayala turns to watch the ball leave the yard as the cascading boos provide the perfect soundtrack to the four opposing runners trotting across home plate.  Ayala, takes his cap off and wipes his sweaty brow with his sleeve as Lou Pinella walks out of the dugout, pointing at his left arm.

Bobby Ayala was kind of a joke (seriously, what grown man goes by the name “Bobby”), but the target of our vitriol shouldn’t have stopped with him.  Bobby Ayala represents the total and utter futility of those Mariners bullpens from 1995 … really through 2001.  In the mid-to-late 90s, those bullpens were terrible.  Granted, we were playing in a bandbox known as the Kingdome, but still.  Even after we left that concrete prison and moved into the pitcher’s paradise that is Safeco, and even after we drastically upgraded our bullpen talent with guys like Jeff Nelson, Arthur Rhodes, and Kaz Sasaki, our bullpen STILL let us down.  Nevertheless, you rarely hear about Seattle fans bashing The Sheriff.  You almost NEVER hear people killing Rhodes or Sasaki.  You might get some grumbling about Heathcliff Slocumb, but who are you madder at:  the pitcher who wasn’t any good, or the bumbling idiots who traded two studs (Varitek and Lowe) for the pitcher who wasn’t any good?

Nope, the hatred always comes back to Bobby Ayala.  To this day, I don’t understand it.  But, at the time, back in the day, I could certainly condone it.

A more-recent villain in this saga of the Mariners sucking is Bill Bavasi.  I know, for me, he’s one of my most hated Seattle sports figures of all time (not involved with the Sonics leaving Seattle, that is).  This website is pretty much a love letter to how much I can’t stand that guy; I don’t know if I’ve ever gone more than a few weeks without referencing him and lamenting how terrible he is at life.  At this point, it goes without saying.  But, if you need any fuel, I suggest taking a look at his very large section of idiocy.

I don’t really have the heart to do the research on these next few guys to see who was ACTUALLY the worst as a Mariner, but I’ll give you my opinion on who I disliked the most.

I’ll start with Richie Sexson.  He was the first installment in my “Seattle Hates …” series, so I won’t go too in depth here.  What I will say is that it has always boggled my mind a little bit that Adrian Beltre never saw the same amount of invective.  He made more money than Sexson, he signed for more years, and he was coming off of this 2004 season with the Dodgers:

200 hits, 48 homers, 121 RBI, .334 batting average, 1.017 OPS

Here is what he averaged in five seasons with the Mariners:

150 hits, 21 homers, 79 RBI, .266 batting average, .759 OPS

I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I’m calling Steroids on this bullshit not going to make wild accusations about something I know nothing about, even though this guy doesn’t pass the smell test by any means.  For funsies, here is what Beltre averaged in the three seasons since he left Seattle:

176 hits, 32 homers, 103 RBI, .314 batting average, .912 OPS

Are you kidding me?  OK, maybe that steroids crack was out of line, but COME ON!  How are you, as supposed Mariners fans, not enraged by this?  You boo and throw money at A-Rod decades after he left for an insane deal with the Rangers … why aren’t you fucking raining down sandbags at this fucking gold-bricker???  Adrian Beltre is a fucking bullshit artist and I’m leading the bandwagon to turn the tide against him; who’s with me?  Good defense at third base?  Fuck you, go home and play with your kids.  You were brought in here to fucking hit.  You hit with the Dodgers, you hit with the Red Sox, you’ve hit with the Rangers.  Man up and quit blaming the stadium for your insecurities you fucking mental midget.

Up next, we have Chone Figgins.  Who was a much better player when everyone thought his first name was pronounced “Ch-own”.  He signed a 4-year deal and sucked more and more every year he was on this team.  What’s worse, he didn’t appear to be even remotely sorry for the fact that he was the most over-paid piece of shit in the Major Leagues.  You’d hear stories about how hard he was working behind the scenes, but then you’d watch him play and what would you see?  An emotionless pile of shit striking out.  An emotionless pile of shit letting a ground ball go right past him.  An emotionless pile of shit unable to catch a routine fly ball.  Then, after the game, whenever he’d consent to an interview, you’d hear about how he needed MORE playing time to “play his way out of it”.  Or, if by the grace of fucking God he managed to have one of his three good games as a Mariner, he’d chirp his fucking head off after the game, talking about how he’s “still got it” and how he should be playing every day.  What a motherfucker.  To the bitter end, he left here thinking that he was a legit Major Leaguer.  I suppose that’s why he was released by the Miami Marlins in Spring Training this year.

Chone Figgins is a guy who grabbed his big payday, then proceeded to dog it until he was run out of town.  He didn’t give a shit!  He got his money and that’s all he cared about.  Now, he gets to sit on his ass while making upwards of $9 million for doing absolutely nothing.

Carlos Silva is another fan favorite, if by Fan Favorite I mean guy who we’d like to tar and feather.  He was supposed to be this adequate ground baller who would earn his money tenfold by pitching in the cavernous Safeco Field.  Instead, he got shelled, constantly.  And since he was signed for so long (4 years) and for so much money ($48 million), we had to give him every opportunity to try and turn things around.  Imagine it:  you and me and most everyone we know will live our entire lives scraping by like a dog on the streets; meanwhile Carlos Silva received nearly $50 million to suck dick.  Kinda makes you want to stop following sports, doesn’t it?

I’m going to wrap up this Mariners section with some rapid-fire.  Because it’s going on far too long and because I’ve got other things to do.

Jeff Cirillo was brought in after our 116-win season to lock down third base.  He was supposed to be one of the final pieces to push us over the top as a championship contender.  Instead, he was terrible.  My booze-addled mind has mostly blacked out the Jeff Cirillo stint as a Mariner, so bully for me.

Alex Rodriguez is a different animal entirely, but I can’t leave him off this list.  Where he differs from the rest is that – as a player wearing a Mariners uniform – he was universally beloved.  A-Rod was on the fast track to being as beloved as Ken Griffey Jr.  And, had he taken less money to remain a Mariner (or, had the Mariners ponied up a proper offer, depending on which story you choose to believe), A-Rod would PROBABLY be #1 on the all-time favorite Seattle sports figure list.  Instead, the moment he signed that 10-year, $250 million deal and put on a Texas Rangers uniform, A-Rod was Public Enemy #1.

Not by me, mind you.  Even at the time, I didn’t understand the sentiment.  Who WOULDN’T take that deal?  It was the biggest deal in MLB history!  How can you fault a guy for accepting that deal when it’s universally known that the Mariners weren’t able to come CLOSE to matching?  On top of that, the deal essentially crippled the Rangers and it took him until 2009 to finally win a World Series.  He’s been a laughingstock everywhere he’s been, he doesn’t appear to know how to relate to people, he has an addiction to strip clubs and banging chicks with muscular, dude-like bodies, and – oh yeah – he’s a steroids cheat.  Even if you don’t think he would’ve helped us win a World Series in 2001-2003, don’t you think we kinda dodged a bullet by NOT having him embarrass us seemingly every year?

In recent years, there have been any number of hated Mariners, as this franchise has found new depths of ineptitude.  Miguel Olivo, Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, Jeff Weaver, Horacio Ramirez, Erik Bedard, Brandon League, Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Brad Wilkerson, Eric Byrnes, Kenji Johjima, Casey Kotchman, Rob Johnson, Ian Snell, Jack Cust, Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan … just to name a bunch.  As long as there are losing Mariners teams, there will always be people to hate.

I’m going to stop here and continue with the other teams another time.  This has been a lot more involved than I originally anticipated.

The Last Five Years In Seattle Sports

2008 was the lowest point in Seattle sports.  It was our Absolute Zero.  Rock Bottom.  The total nadir of sports humanity!

It was the primary inspiration for the title of this website.  Take an already-crappy sports city, with practically no history of real success whatsoever, then rain down a million boulders while giving fans only a tiny umbrella to protect themselves.

We did NOT deserve this …

Well, we just finished the 2012 sports year with the 2012/2013 Husky basketball season coming to its conclusion.  As such, I have taken it upon myself to take a look back.  Five years ago, it was 2008; we were just getting started with the worst year ever.  How have things changed with our primary Seattle sports teams?

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners came off of a surprising 2007 campaign that saw them appearing to turn a corner.  Beltre, Ibanez, and Ichiro led the offense.  We hoped that a possible resurrection of Richie Sexson would bring about a further boost.  Two young guns up the middle – Lopez & Betancourt – were proof positive that what we were doing in our farm system wasn’t a complete joke.  Felix was coming into his own.  Losing Weaver & Horacio Ramirez was addition by subtraction.  You figured, with another quality starter, and another bat or two, and we’d be in business!

Well, we know what happened with 2008.  The Erik Bedard trade was a total and complete disaster (though, it went a long way towards the Orioles making their surprising playoff run in 2012).  The Mariners opted to let Jose Guillen walk and replaced him with the corpse of Brad Wilkerson.  Richie Sexson became a local pariah.  And, oh yeah, the other big pitching piece – Carlos Silva – was signed to the single-worst contract in recorded history.  You tack on little things – like J.J. Putz going from the greatest reliever in baseball in 2007, to an injured pile of crap in 2008 – and it all boils down to this team losing 101 games.  The first team with a payroll over $100 million to lose over 100 games.  Everyone was fired; it was brutal.

Enter Jackie Z, who could seemingly do no wrong at first.  He replaced Sexson with Russell Branyan – big upgrade.  He traded Putz for Franklin Gutierrez, who had an amazing season both in the field and at the plate.  We also ended up with Jason Vargas in that Putz deal, who came in and earned his way into the starting rotation.  He brought in Ken Griffey Jr., who wasn’t a total disaster as a DH.  In short, there was an immediate turnaround thanks to God knows what.  Good vibrations?  Luck?  I dunno.  But, this team improved 24 games over 2008 and contended well into the summer.  Everyone thought we’d struck gold!

Then, like some kind of sick fucking plague, every move Jackie Z made to help bolster the 2010 team turned to shit.  Chone Figgins was signed to a 4-year deal and immediately was the worst player in baseball.  Branyan was allowed to walk in favor of Casey Kotchman; Kotchman was terrible and Branyan was brought back in a panic-deal mid-season, because we had the most punch-less lineup in all of baseball history.  Silva was traded for Milton Bradley – which was a move of pure GENIUS until it turned out trading one cancer for another still leaves you on your deathbed.  Griffey was brought back, because HEY!, he hit 19 home runs the year before and it’s not like players suddenly lose all of their ability to swing a bat all at once or anything.

Mind you, just about everything Jackie Z did in anticipation of the 2010 season was believed to be the right thing.  Except for Griffey, but really, if we didn’t make the playoffs that season, it wasn’t going to be exclusively the fault of our elderly DH.  And, to a lesser extent, the Brandon League for Brandon Morrow trade was a bit questionable.  I mean, who trades a bona fide Major League starting prospect for an 8th inning reliever type? Nevertheless, this was a bold move looking to shore up our bullpen.

The cherry on top was the Cliff Lee trade.  We gave a bunch of Bavasi draft rejects to the Phillies for Cliff Lee in his final season.  At best, he’d be the starting pitcher to put us over the top.  At worst, we’d be a losing team and trade him at the deadline to the highest bidder for the best crop of prospects.

Like everything else that happened in 2010, even THIS ended up backfiring.  Cliff Lee came with a built-in contingency plan!  And he was traded for Justin Smoak – a disappointment to date – Blake Beavan – a less-than-adequate starting pitcher – and what has turned into a season’s worth of Michael Morse, a season’s worth of John Jaso, and a season’s worth of Josh Lueke.  There’s still time to turn around our fortunes, but unless Smoak figures out a miracle cure to his sucking ways, this has bust written all over it.

So, what happens when every single offseason (and in-season) move you make backfires?  You lose another 101 games, your franchise icon retires mid-season, your manager gets fired, and your GM is lucky to still have a job.

2010 was a wake-up call, both for fans and for the organization.  The last two times the Mariners had winning records – 2007 and 2009 – they immediately went out the very next offseason and tried to Win Now.  All the moves they made in hopes to Win Now were total disasters, so they had to come up with a new plan.  Either you keep riding this rollercoaster, firing your manager and/or GM every two seasons, or you start over from scratch.

Even though Jackie Z managed to bungle every Major League move known to man, he had still built up the minor leagues a fair amount.  With another high draft pick in his pocket, he put his head down and went to work.

The 2011 season was essentially given over to the kids.  Our major offseason moves included bringing in Miguel Olivo, Jack Cust, Adam Kennedy, Brendan Ryan, and handing over the starting rotation to guys like Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, and Blake Beavan.  In addition, Ackley, Seager, and Carp all got their feet wet; Peguero was given an inordinate amount of playing time for what he was actually bringing to the table.  Others, like Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Saunders, and Halman all got varying amounts of playing time.  2011 was Try-Out central in Seattle.  Throw a bunch of spaghetti noodles into a pot of boiling water, take them out and see which ones would stick to the wall.

2012 took it a step further.  The big free agent pick-ups consisted of Millwood, Iwakuma, and a backup shortstop in Kawasaki.  We traded away Pineda – our best pitching prospect – to bring in Jesus Montero, because we absolutely could not live with the same old offense we’d had the past two seasons.

What did 2011 and 2012 accomplish?  Moderate gains in the win/loss column (+6 wins in 2011, +8 wins in 2012), moderate gains in our offensive production, and a whole lot of salary coming off the books.  The Silva/Bradley money, the Ichiro money, the Olivo money, another season’s worth of the Figgins money.

Now, it’s 2013.  The Mariners brought in some big bats via trade – Morse & Morales for Jaso & Vargas respectively – and some veteran bats via free agency – Ibanez and Bay.  They re-signed Iwakuma (when they realized he’s actually a quality starter), brought in Joe Saunders (who will probably be terrible), and have given the back-end of the rotation over to youth (Maurer and Beavan).  The crown jewel of the 2012/2013 offseason was re-signing Felix through 2019.  That’s huge.  The Mariners may never make the post-season while he’s with us, but God damn it, if they do WATCH OUT.

There is reason for optimism five years after bottoming out in 2008, but we’re still in a Show Me stage.  I’ll believe it when I see it, and all that.  2013 is critical, because if they don’t show some significant improvement, I think a lot of people will be out on their asses again and we’ll be looking at ANOTHER rebuild.

Husky Football

The Huskies ended their 2007 season with a 4-9 record.  Their 2007 schedule was deemed by many to be the toughest schedule in the nation.  Tyrone Willingham was coming off of his third consecutive losing season (going 2-9 in 2005 and 5-7 in 2006), and many believed he should have been fired then and there.  I was one of those simple-minded folks who said we should give him ONE more chance.  Jake Locker had a full season under his belt, why not give Willingham an opportunity to turn things around with the guy he brought in as his quarterback?

Well, we kicked off 2008 by being trounced in Oregon (who would go on to finish 10-3).  Then, we lost by a single point at home to BYU (thanks to the infamous penalty flag thrown on Locker as he ran in for the would-be game-tying touchdown and tossed the ball over his shoulder … thank you Pac-10 referees for being so damn competent) on a missed extra point at the end of the game.  Then, we lost at home to Oklahoma (who would go on to lose to Florida in the BCS National Championship Game).

THEN, we lost our quarterback, our best player, and really our only GOOD player, in the Stanford game.  After that, with the likes of Ronnie Fouch at the helm, we proceeded to lose all the rest of our games (including a pathetic heartbreaker of an Apple Cup, 16-13 in overtime).

0-12.  Doesn’t get any worse than that.  Can only go up from there, right?

Willingham:  gone.  Sarkisian:  in.

The 2009 Huskies improved by 5 games.  There was a signature win at home over the then-#3 USC Trojans, 16-13 on a last-minute field goal.  There was a signature near-win the first game of the season at home against LSU.  Jake Locker took huge strides in his development as a passer.  Everything looked great for the future.

The 2010 Huskies weren’t all that much more improved than the 2009 team, but they managed to win six regular season games (winning out after starting 3-6, thanks to a soft schedule to finish things) and earned a bowl game against Nebraska.  Of course, they got killed by Nebraska, IN Husky Stadium, earlier that season.  But, in the rematch, this Husky team was totally reborn and they took it to the Cornhuskers, stifling them 19-7.

That led to somewhat higher expectations for 2011, but how high could we possibly make them?  Let’s face it, we’d lost our best player and were breaking in a new quarterback.  Our defense was still on the fritz, and we were still in a very tough conference with Oregon, Stanford, and USC.  Not to mention we had to go to Nebraska, where we most certainly got our shit kicked in.

2011 was a disappointment because there was no Signature Win.  In 2009 and 2010, we had victories over USC and Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.  In 2011, we barely squeaked by Eastern Washington in the first game.  We were absolutely terrorized by the aforementioned heavy hitters (losing the games to USC, Oregon, Stanford, and Nebraska by a combined 190-93).  In spite of losing ALL the games were were technically “supposed” to lose, we were still in line for a 1-game improvement over 2010.  That officially died when A. we went into Oregon State and lost (they ended the season with 3 wins) and B. we faced RGIII and the Baylor Bears and gave up 67 points on 777 yards of offense in losing by 11.

Back-to-back 7-6 seasons left a bitter taste in our mouths.  After storming the field against the Cornhuskers, we bent over and grabbed our ankles against the Bears.  2012 would SURELY be different, though.  We had a full season with Keith Price, he had surpassed our wildest expectations by throwing for over 3,000 yards with 33 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions.  How could 2012 NOT be a huge improvement?  On top of all that, we didn’t wait that extra season to see if Nick Holt could turn things around on defense.  We went out, brought in some heavy hitters at recruiting and defensive coaching, and nabbed some top prospects in the process.

Well, there was improvement.  The 2012 Huskies DID manage some signature wins against the likes of Stanford and Oregon State (both in the top 10 at the time we beat them), but they also fell completely flat against the likes of #3 LSU, #2 Oregon, and #11 USC.  In spite of yet another 3-game losing streak in the middle of the season, these Huskies were looking at possibly winning 8 or 9 games when all was said and done!

They were 7-4 (riding a 4-game winning streak) going into the Apple Cup in Pullman.  They had an 18-point lead going into the final quarter … so of COURSE they ended up blowing the game in overtime.  This ultimately led to the Huskies facing Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl and ending up – once again – 7-6.

In short, the Huskies went from 0-12 in 2008, to 5-7 in 2009, to 7-6 in 2010, 2011, and 2012.  No 7-6 record is created equal, obviously, but at the end of the day people don’t remember how you got there.  They just see where you were and shake their heads.

Keith Price showed all the promise in the world in 2011.  But, he lost all his major weapons (Kearse and Aguilar at receiver, Chris Polk at running back) and couldn’t recover in 2012.  In the Baylor bowl game, Price accounted for 7 touchdowns on offense and looked like the best quarterback on the field – even better than the Heisman Trophy winner and ultimate #2 overall draft pick.  However, in the Apple Cup and again in the Boise State bowl game, Price ended both with interceptions.  He was going into the 2013 season fighting for his job, but from all accounts he’s got it locked up after Spring Ball.  Nevertheless, I have to imagine he’s on a short leash.  We can’t suffer the kind of downgrade in production again.

At this point in Sark’s tenure, he’s got all his own guys now.  2013 is the year we’re expected to win and win consistently.  The non-conference schedule is relatively easy, and the conference schedule isn’t too bad either.  We’ve got veterans in all the right places, we’ve got some serious talent on defense for the first time since he got here, and Price has had a chance to gel with his offensive weapons.  2013 isn’t a Rose Bowl or Bust, but it’s close.  The Huskies have to at least be in the conversation.

I’m not gonna lie to you, beating the Ducks for the first time in eons would go a long way towards cementing Sark’s status as a legend ’round these parts.

Husky Basketball

The 2007/2008 Huskies were a definite low-point in the Romar era.  They finished the regular season 16-16, losing in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, and received the #1 seed in the College Basketball Invitational.  You know, that post-season tournament for the teams not even good enough for the N.I.T.

We lost.  To Valparaiso.

In 2008/2009, we brought in Isaiah Thomas and he was a firecracker right from the start.  We enjoyed Brockman’s senior season, and we rode that wave to a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament and a Round of 32 loss to 5-seed Purdue by two points.  More or less, it was a successful season, but once again it ended prematurely.

In 2009/2010, we had another senior leader taking to the forefront.  This time, it was Q-Pon, who averaged 19 and 7 per game in leading us to a Pac-10 Tournament victory, an 11-seed in the tournament, and upset wins over #6 Marquette (where he hit the clutch game winner) and #3 New Mexico.

Once again, though, the Romar-era Huskies couldn’t get past the Sweet 16.  This time, we lost to West Virginia, thanks to them totally having the length advantage on us.

In 2010/2011, we had our version of a Big 3 with Thomas, MBA, and Holiday.  The last two were seniors and Thomas was playing in what would be his final season.  We rode this squad to another Pac-10 Tournament victory (you all remember COLD BLOODED don’t you?).  This resulted in a 7-seed – our third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance – and a victory over 10-seed Georgia before losing in the Round of 32 to 2-seeded North Carolina (by only 3 points, but still).

The 2011/2012 season saw the emergence of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross.  Both were young, extremely talented, and irritatingly inconsistent.  Ross would disappear for minutes at a time.  Wroten had no jump shot whatsoever, so he had to fight for every single basket in the paint.  This team ended up winning the Pac-12 outright, but since the Pac-12 sucked dick that season, and since the Huskies lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, AND since they had no quality wins over ranked non-conference opponents, the Huskies were denied a fourth consecutive NCAA invite.  Instead, they locked down the #1-overall N.I.T. seeding and ran with it to the Final Four in New York City.  It ended with a loss to Minnesota, who would end up losing to eventual-champion Stanford the very next game.

The less said about the 2012/2013 season, the better.  Wroten and Ross both bolted for the NBA, and absolutely no one came in to replace them.  That’s what happens when you’re a good-not-great recruiter in a good-not-great university for basketball:  sometimes you DON’T bring in a player of quality and you suffer as a result.

Gaddy, Wilcox, Suggs, and N’Diaye were left to pick up the pieces.  This team was pretty solid on defense, but ultimately inept on offense, and now at least three of those guys are gone (with Wilcox having a difficult decision to make regarding his final year of eligibility).  The 2012/2013 Huskies didn’t beat a single ranked team, only beat three teams who ended up going to the NCAAs (Saint Louis, California, and Colorado), and wound up being a 6-seed in the N.I.T., where the subsequently got their shit kicked in at BYU.

What’s in store for 2013/2014?  Well, a solid incoming class with one McDonalds All American at point guard in Nigel Williams-Goss.  If Wilcox comes back, that gives us a veteran scoring presence (for the record, he’s a fool if he leaves; his past season was absolutely dreadful and injury-plagued).  If we can get anything from our young forwards, you could look at a team that surprises a lot of people.  Or, you could be looking at a third-straight N.I.T. bid.  If it’s the latter, I’m not so sure I’d be confident about my job security if I was Romar.

Seattle Supersonics

I won’t go into excruciating detail on this end.  We all know what the last five years have been like for the Sonics.  They went 20-62 in their final season in Seattle (after drafting Kevin Durant and bringing in one of the finest GMs in the game from the San Antonio organization).  They were given away by the city of Seattle, they struggled again the following season, and then they went to the playoffs four straight seasons (losing most recently in the Finals to the beloved Miami Heat).

Now, we’ve got an ownership group and an arena deal in place, and we’re fighting like crazy to steal the Kings from Sacramento.  If all goes according to plan, we will have pro basketball back in Seattle for the 2013/2014 season.  If it doesn’t, then this part of next year’s “Five Years” post is going to be REAL fucking depressing.

Seattle Seahawks

I’m saving the best for last because I can.  Because, honestly, it’s all a little too much and I can hardly believe it myself.  There is cautious optimism for the Mariners and their young core to turn things around.  There’s more confident optimism that the Husky football team will turn some heads this fall.  There’s hope that the Husky basketball team can somehow gel with their new incoming players and make an improbable Tourney run.  There’s delusions that the NBA will be back in Seattle this time next year.

But, that’s nothing.  There is outright SWAGGER for the Seattle Seahawks.  How did we get HERE?

In 2008, we went 4-12.  We had dicked around with Mike Holmgren, we signed on his replacement – Jim Mora Jr. – to be his defensive backs coach, and all the major veterans took a huge dump.  This was coming off of a 2007 season where the Seahawks once again won the division.  But, Shaun Alexander was released at the end, losing out to another injury.  So, Tim Ruskell opted to reload via free agency.  Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett were brought in to liven up the running game, but no dice.  Hasselbeck missed a bunch of games, Walter Jones tried surgery but wasn’t the same and was forced to retire at season’s end … it was just a mess.

In 2009, there was something of a fresh start expected with Mora.  T.J. Houshmandzadeh was brought in on a huge free agent deal, Aaron Curry was signed as our can’t-lose first round draft pick … in short, we were one of the oldest and least-talented teams in the NFL.  When all was said and done, these Seahawks improved by only 1 game and both Mora and Ruskell were fired.

2010 was the REAL fresh start.  Pete Carroll and John Schneider tag-teamed this roster from head to toe.  They traded for Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, and Charlie Whitehurst (hey, they can’t all be winners).  They got rid of Housh (taking a healthy bath in the cap hit) and later Deion Branch.  They brought in a rejuvinated Mike Williams who led the team in receiving.  They drafted Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, and Kam Chancellor.  They made hundreds upon hundreds of free agent moves, giving tryouts to anyone and everyone who they thought might be an upgrade.  They got significantly younger, and thanks to a piss-poor division, ended up making the playoffs with a 7-9 record.

Understand, this wasn’t a legitimate playoff team.  Yes, after two years in the wilderness, they found their way back to civilization, but it was totally phony!  The fact that we beat the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at Qwest Field is a travesty of common decency (though, it did provide us with the greatest NFL play ever, Beastmode’s Touchdown Scamper).  Our “Cinderella” run ended the following week in Chicago, and you had to wonder how long it would be before the Seahawks made the playoffs again.

The 2011 Seahawks were hamstrung by the NFL Lockout.  They fired their offensive coordinator and hired Darrell Bevell from Minnesota.  Which meant, if they stood any chance of competing in ANY games that season, they’d have to bring some people in who knew Bevell’s system.  This meant Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback.  They let Hasselbeck go with a cordial goodbye and handed the keys to the team over to Tarvar (without so much as a second look at Whitehurst, who was as bad as we all remember him being and then some).

Tarvar proved tough, but ultimately inept when the game was on the line.  Those 2011 Seahawks also finished the regular season 7-9 and weren’t given the benefit of a lousy NFC West to “earn” a home playoff game.

With a full offseason going into 2012, the Seahawks needed to make a change.  They’d drafted well, bringing in guys like Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright.  But, they needed a signal-caller with some zazz!  So, they signed Matt Flynn to a three-year deal, and they went out and drafted Russell Wilson in the third round.

People say if Wilson was just 2-3 inches taller, he would’ve been a Top 10 pick.  But, he’s not, so now he’s ours.

Wilson earned his opportunity to have an Open Competition in Training Camp.  This led to him wowing us in the Pre-Season, which ultimately led to him winning the job and running with it.  The 2012 Seahawks took it easy with him for the first few weeks, but once they knew he could handle himself, they opened things up.  This resulted in the Seahawks being the best team in football over the second half of the season.  Still, their early-season slip-ups meant that the 49ers won the division, relegating us to the fifth seed in the NFC.

We went into Washington and somehow came away with a victory.  Then, we went into Atlanta, gave them a 20-point lead, and somehow led in the game with 30 seconds to go.  That was choked away, but the message was sent.  It wasn’t, “Wait Until Next Year,” the way most fanbases say it, more resigned to their current fate as losers, sorely, bitterly hoping that things will turn around for them in short order.

No, this is, “Just you WAIT until next year, chickenfuckers!”  Because the 2013 Seahawks are a runaway train that has Super Bowl or Bust written all over them!

In five years, the Seahawks have gone from one of the oldest and worst teams in the NFL to one of the youngest and best teams.  In five years, the Seahawks have gone from bottom-feeders to would-be kings.  We fans are cashing in our 401Ks in anticipation of buying Super Bowl tickets in 2014.  It’s never been so clear and so positive in the city of Seattle.  They can single-handedly reverse the fortunes of this desolate sports city.  All they need to do is win.

What’s more, they’re spreading around the positivity.  People are stoked on the Mariners WAY more than they should be thanks to the good will generated by the Seahawks.  Sports fans have something to look forward to and spirits are bright.  This is carrying over to the other sports in hopes that the good vibes will roll on.

We’ll see.  If the Seahawks win it all, the Mariners contend for a playoff spot, the Huskies make a run at the Rose Bowl, the basketball Huskies make a run at the NCAA Tournament, and the Sonics return to Seattle, we could be talking about the greatest 5-year turnaround any sports city has ever seen.  Fingers crossed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

2008: A Seattle Sports Apocalypse

Editor’s Note:  To read this blog post, click HERE.  It is one of Seattle Sports Hell’s “Featured Articles”.