Mariners Tidbit 58: Jesus Montero Is Back … Hooray?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mariners Are Impossibly Thin, With No Depth

You want a reason for the Mariners to stand pat and not trade anybody in the next couple weeks?  This would be Reason #1.

The argument against trading people are many.  The veterans we have aren’t worth a whole helluva lot, which means we wouldn’t get anything back except for middling prospects (see:  Eric Thames, Trayvon Robinson, Casper Wells, etc.).  Right now, the Mariners are going good, and do you REALLY feel like messing with that just to bring back some tryout flunky who will probably be traded or waived within two years?

I’m as realistic as I can be right now; I know the Mariners aren’t playing for anything THIS season.  At best, I’m hoping they end up at or near .500; anything over that mark would be a huge bonus.  As such, I know that anybody we bring in via trade will be someone that likely WON’T help us and won’t make us any better, either this year or in the future.  They will be organizational filler.  I’m tired of organizational filler.  We’ve got an organization FILLED (!) with organizational filler!

Yes, the Mariners are going good right now, but things won’t always be this good.  There’s another lull right around the corner (probably).  How soon that lull arrives, or how debilitating that lull is to our chances of ultimately achieving that .500 goal, all depends on what happens at the Trade Deadline, and what happens with injuries going forward.  A good way to speed up that lull will be to trade away guys like Morales, Ibanez, Joe Saunders, or even Oliver Perez.  Tired of watching this new, exciting brand of Mariners baseball?  Yearning for the duds we’ve seen the past three seasons?  Then, start clamoring for the Mariners to make ill-advised moves.  I’ll be over here, ironically pounding the podium for the status quo (ironic because I’m usually with the rest of you, demanding trades at all costs for players who won’t be around next season anyway).

Concerned about the Mariners?  Then, be concerned about the status of our everyday lineup and our pitching rotation.  This team is thin.  The bench consists of guys like Henry Blanco, Jason Bay, Endy Chavez, and Brendan Ryan.  You don’t mind playing Blanco once or twice a week (at the most) because catchers need off days.  The rest you don’t mind seeing in the occasional spot-start, or as defensive replacements in later innings; but they’re not guys you want to see playing everyday.  We’ve been there, we’ve done that, it didn’t turn out well.

Also, are you looking to shake up the starting rotation?  Well, for starters (!!), no one is going to trade you a fucking thing for Aaron Harang, so just stop it.  STOP IT!  Felix is untouchable (of course) and Iwakuma isn’t going anywhere (we’ve still got him on a cost-effective basis for next year and most likely 2015 as well, on a team option at a reasonable price).  Erasmo Ramirez is someone you hope will be part of the future, so he’s out.  That just leaves Joe Saunders.

Tired of Joe Saunders?  Want to see the team trade him while his stock is high?  OK, I’ll bite.  You know that’s going to create a huge, Grand Canyon-sized hole in the middle of this rotation, right?  Anybody we get back will likely be some triple-A hitter of little value, or a pitching prospect who is not yet ready for the Majors.  That’s what teams in contention give you for guys like Joe Saunders.  They’re not going to give you some young stud you can throw immediately into the rotation; if they had that, they’d keep him and use him instead!  Without Joe Saunders in our rotation, that leaves some pretty sad options:  Blake Beavan (the leader in the clubhouse), Hector Noesi (who, as you can plainly see, is still terrible), James Paxton (who, despite some recent success, still probably isn’t ready for anything more than a September call-up and one or two starts), and that’s about it.  Danny Hultzen is injured and keeps suffering setbacks by the week; I’m putting my Smart Money on him being finished for the season.  Taijuan Walker JUST started pitching in Tacoma a couple weeks ago and is on a strict pitch count.  Even if we bring him up, he’s going to be shut down in about 45 innings or so (he has pitched 84 innings in AA and 21 innings in AAA; reports have him at around 150 innings for 2013 before being shut down).  What is that?  5-8 starts?  Whatever it is, his number of starts is going down by the week.  I’d eat my hat if he becomes Joe Saunders’ replacement.

Yeah, so Blake Beavan for Joe Saunders; that’s what you’re looking at.  Still gung-ho about ridding ourselves of this middle-of-the-road pitcher?  For my money, Saunders is a helluva lot better and more reliable than Beavan.  I’ve seen enough of Beavan to know I never want to see him again.

As for our bullpen, word on the street is Oliver Perez’s days are numbered.  He has the highest value, he’s not our closer anymore, and he’s likely gone after this season; why not, right?

Well, it’s true, Tom Wilhelmsen has seemed to regain his former position as the team’s closer, but does he really inspire a ton of confidence right now?  We’re all still waiting for his strikeout numbers to return; I have a feeling we’ll be waiting until the end of time.  Yoervis Medina has been a pleasant surprise in 35 games thus far.  Charlie Furbush has been used appropriately and has turned out some positive results.  But, after that, it gets pretty dicey.  The aforementioned Noesi is up here because it looks like the Mariners want to stretch Beavan back out to starting.  He’s a terrible pitcher, but he can eat up innings in a blowout, so there you go.  Lucas Luetge is back, but he still can’t get out right handed batters, so he’s usually only good for a third of an inning.  Capps has been sent down to Tacoma for getting torched too often.  Farquhar – after a promising start to his Major League career – has shown why he was so available in that Ichiro trade.  Bobby LaFromboise isn’t anyone I ever want to see again.  Stephen Pryor is working his way back from the 60-day DL and who knows if he will make it back before season’s end?  The other guys are in Tacoma for a reason.

This bullpen, in short, has Perez, Medina, an iffy Wilhelmsen, an iffy Furbush, and that’s it.  If you ask me, I’d like to see Perez stay here and help us win as many games as we can.  He, like everyone else trade-able on this roster, won’t garner much in return.

Getting back to our hitters – and our toothless bench – there isn’t much help on the horizon.  Mike Morse will probably be back pretty soon.  At which point, I guess he goes into a time-share with Ibanez?  Honestly, I don’t know what we do with Morse when he returns.  Ackley seems pretty entrenched in center, Michael Saunders is probably the team’s best defensive outfielder, and Ibanez has been hitting lefties just as good as he’s been hitting righties.  Does Morse’s return spell the end for Jason Bay?  His playing time has diminished to almost nothing since our current outfield incarnation has presented itself as viable.  Does Bay bring anything to the table, aside from being slightly better defensively?

Also, what does this team do if Guti returns?  Part of me hopes he NEVER returns, because what’s the point?  We would have to waive Endy Chavez.  Granted, Chavez isn’t good, but I like what he brings in a very part-time role.  He doesn’t walk, but he gets hits (singles, mostly) and plays solid defense.  As a defensive replacement for Ibanez, you have to like him on the team.  You know, if we waive him for Guti, some contender is going to snap him up and put him on their bench.  Then, a week later, Guti will get hurt again, and where are we?  Welcoming back Carlos Peguero, apparently.

The only guy currently on the 25-man roster I won’t actually miss is Jason Bay.  This team could conceivably also get rid of Brendan Ryan, because Nick Franklin is a serviceable back-up at short stop, and Ackley can always slot back over and play second base if needed.  Other than that, there’s nothing I want to see this team do in trades, nor is there anything I want to have happen as far as health is concerned.  Let us just ride this wave to its conclusion and make whatever moves we feel like making this offseason.

What To Expect From The Mariners In The Second Half Of 2013

At the end of June, the Mariners were 35-47.  They had just finished a homestand where they played 8 games in 10 days (with a 2-game Pittsburgh series sandwiched between two off days) and they went 3-5.  This was following a road trip where the Mariners lost another 4 of 7 games, which followed a home stand where they went 5-5.  Let’s face it, if this season’s ship was ever going to be righted, it was going to be in the month of June where they played 18 of 27 games at home and had a whopping three days off sprinkled in.  Instead, the Mariners finished June with an 11-16 record, and all hope was officially lost.

Then, the first two weeks of July happened.  I wouldn’t call June 30th the season’s low point (for that, you’d probably have to look at the end of Game 8 of that 8-Game Losing Streak back in May), but it was one of many low points that left this team at sort of a crossroads.  Would they play for the current season, in hopes of saving some high-level jobs?  Or, would they play for the future, in hopes of saving some high-level jobs?

As it turns out, there’s a way to do both, and it just might be working!

To kick off July, the Mariners won 2/3 in Texas and another 2/3 in Cincinnati.  In case you hadn’t heard, those are two very good baseball teams.  Riding that wave of euphoria, the Mariners came home and promptly lost 3/4 to the Red Sox.  Here’s where it gets wonky, though:  in that 4-game series, the Mariners scored 30 runs … IN SAFECO!  And, not for nothing, but I don’t think the new brought-in fences had much to do with it.  These were legitimate offensive numbers, and they were a long time coming.  Buoyed by this resurgent offense, the Mariners went out and swept the Angels in the three games leading up to the All Star Break, outscoring them 18-6.  In that homestand, the Mariners averaged nearly seven runs a game.

Let me say that again:  in that HOMEstand, the MARINERS averaged NEARLY seven RUNS a game.

So, where does that leave us now?  Two weeks later, after the Mariners struggled so profusely, with an 8-5 record in that span, suddenly there’s something resembling Buzz about these Mariners.  You could knock me over with a feather.

First, let’s go ahead and analyze this buzz.  I would argue that there wouldn’t be NEARLY the buzz if this team didn’t sweep the Angels.  If they were to have lost that last game on Sunday (which they very nearly did), this would be an entirely different discussion.  But, they did sweep the Angels, and it was their FIRST sweep of the season.  That’s significant.  Along with the fact that the first sweep immediately preceeded the All Star Break, we’ve had three full days to sit and digest what we’ve seen.  Obviously, what we’ve seen most recently takes precedence, as it’s freshest in our memories, so here we are.  Buzzed.

At this point, there’s a lot to like about this team, rather than just a lot to be hopeful about.  In season’s past, we would all hold out hope for guys like Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Eric Thames, Carlos Peguero, and of course bigger prospects like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Michael Saunders.  Ultimately, all of those guys would go on to brutally disappoint, rendering our hope as futile as it gets.

But, not the 2013 Mariners!  Right here, we’ve got something we can hold in our hand!  Hard, firm numbers, gently pulsating, exciting us to climax.  Guys like Brad Miller and Nick Franklin who are actually DOING something.  Not just sitting there with all the promise in the world, failing us at every turn.  Then, we’ve got guys like Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak absolutely tearing the cover off the ball … with their bats … because they hit the balls so hard the stitches come loose … I don’t get it either.  Anyway, we’ve got production, and not just from the usual gang of idiots!  It’s not ONLY Ibanez and Morales.  It’s the younger guys, FINALLY contributing.  And it feels like a million God damn dollars in here.

There’s nothing quite like the excitement you feel when your team finally turns the corner.  For the Seahawks, that happened in the middle of the 2011 season, when they improbably beat teams like Baltimore and the New York Giants.  Yeah, they finished that season 7-9, but you could see things coming together.  These Mariners, if they are indeed turning the corner, likely won’t finish much better, percentage-wise.  They currently sit 9 games under .500, which it seems like they’ve been hovering at this mark the whole damn season.  For the Mariners to reach .500, they would have to finish 38-29.  It’s not an impossible dream for this team, especially if they figured out how to bottle whatever it was they had the first two weeks of this month.  If the Mariners can get to .500, or very close to it, considering how they started this season, I would consider 2013 a success.  .500 would mean that the youngsters have continued to produce.  .500 would mean a winning record in the second half, which will hopefully mean continued winning in 2014.  .500 would mean that the Seattle Mariners have FINALLY turned the corner.

Of course, if they keep hovering around 9-12 games under .500 for the rest of the year, then you could probably make the argument that they turned the corner, only to run into another brick wall.  The last thing I want to see out of this team is the injury bug tearing through our core.  If they start dropping like flies and their numbers suffer accordingly, everyone will go into the offseason saying, “If it weren’t for their being injured, they would’ve had great seasons!”  Which, judging by how often we’ve used that line of logic the last half decade, is utter bullshit.

So, no injuries, get to .500, and have the young core be the primary reason for our second half success.  THAT’S what I expect from this team.  Continuing this winning streak by sweeping the Astros (series starting tomorrow) would be an excellent start.

Brad Miller, Come On Down!

Hopefully, after the Mariners started losing a bunch of games, you stopped holding out hope for the 2013 version of the team in its early-April form.  If you haven’t jumped off of that sinking ship, I’m happy to say there’s a brand spankin’ new bandwagon over here.  We’re all holding on for dear life on this bucket ride to Hell!

I don’t need to tell you that Brendan Ryan sucks at hitting.  He’s as bad a hitter as he is good at fielding.  Since he’s the best at fielding, obviously means that he’s the worst at hitting.  Actually, that’s probably not that far from the truth.

Remember those grab-bags you’d get upon leaving the Puyallup Fair as a kid?  Full of cheap plastic toys, a bottle of bubbles, maybe a noise-maker or something.  Yeah, they were terrible.  Well, every year, right around this time, we find a Mariners team bereft of success at the Major League level, reaching into its grab-bag of prospects down in Tacoma to try to bolster – if nothing else – fan interest.  Smoak and Ackley and Seager and Liddi and Peguero and Robinson and Thames and Tuiasosopo and now guys like Franklin and Zunino and Triunfel and Miller.  More often than not, what we pluck from the grab-bag is a little piece of shit toy we’re either going to break or throw away in short order, because they’re dumb or we get bored with them.  Every year, we churn through prospects like we’re grating a block of cheese.  Why should 2013 be any different?

There are arguments for all sides.  You’re rushing guys, you need to stop doing that!  Well, what does it mean to “rush” someone?  Everyone develops at their own pace.  And so on and so forth.  At this point, I’m willing to treat MLB prospects like they’re just one giant Meat Market.  It’s a numbers game, bitch!  Ask a hundred prospects for their digits and you’re bound to get 9 or 10 to say yes!

So far, the Mariners have succeeded in finding one home-grown guy:  Seager.  He, seemingly, was rushed up to the Bigs.  Thus far, through 28 games, we think we have a second success story in Nick Franklin.  He, seemingly, was given ample time to develop in the minors.

That’s it.  Two guys, MAYBE.  I mean, seriously Mariners, what are you using as pick-up lines?  It’s a numbers game at the Meat Market and you are getting SLAUGHTERED!

Christ, do I think Brad Miller will be worth a damn?  Who the fuck knows?  He can’t be any worse than Brendan Ryan … except he can, and if his being in the Mariners’ organization is any indication, he probably will.

This team is in a total free-fall right now.  It’s painful to watch, but then again, it’s starting to get exciting again.  And, if Miller and Zunino can figure their shit out over the next year and a half, we could have one fantastic infield (plus Justin Smoak) by 2015!  Which says nothing of the outfield.  Or the rotation (outside of Felix).  Or the bullpen.

If you didn’t slit your wrists at the probability of one and a half more years of mediocre-to-bad baseball, then congratulations!  You’re as numb and dead inside as the rest of us.

Oh yes, Georgie, they float.  They all float down here.  And when you’re down here, you’ll float too …

Sweet dreams …

The Last Five Years In Seattle Sports

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

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

We did NOT deserve this …

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

Seattle Mariners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Husky Football

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

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

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

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

Willingham:  gone.  Sarkisian:  in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Husky Basketball

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

We lost.  To Valparaiso.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seattle Supersonics

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

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

Seattle Seahawks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seattle Mariners Spring Training Preview

You can see yesterday’s Offseason Review here.  One-stop shopping for all the Seattle Mariners offseason moves of note (see what I did there with that “of note” … can’t pull the wool over the eyes of THIS guy).

So, to bring it back, this is the team the Seattle Mariners ended with in 2012 (the players in BOLD are no longer on the team going into 2013):

C – Jesus Montero
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
SS – Brendan Ryan
3B – Kyle Seager
LF – Casper Wells
CF – Michael Saunders
RF – Eric Thames
DH – John Jaso

C – Miguel Olivo
OF – Trayvon Robinson
INF – Munenori Kawasaki
Util – Chone Figgins

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Jason Vargas
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Kevin Millwood
  5. Blake Beavan

Closer – Tom Wilhelmsen
LRP – Oliver Perez
RRP – Josh Kinney
RRP – Stephen Pryor
LRP – Charlie Furbush
LRP – Lucas Luetge
Long Relief – Erasmo Ramirez

Obviously, the 2012 Mariners’ roster was ever-changing, so these aren’t concrete examples.  But, overall, in the 2nd half of last year, more often than not these are the players who played and those were the positions they played.  Give or take a Guti and Carp (when they were healthy) and a Shawn Kelley in the bullpen.

So, from the looks of things, we’re replacing at least seven guys on this roster (including our ENTIRE bench and 40% of our starting rotation).  But, obviously, those aren’t the only moves to be made.  You gotta figure aside from Pitching Staff Ace, everyone’s job is on the line.  Based on the offseason moves made to date, here’s what I’m seeing as our roster to start the 2013 season (changes from 2012 made in BOLD):

C – Jesus Montero
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
SS – Brendan Ryan
3B – Kyle Seager
LF – Michael Saunders
CF – Franklin Gutierrez
RF – Michael Morse
DH – Kendrys Morales

C – Kelly Shoppach
OF – Raul Ibanez
INF – Robert Andino
OF – Casper Wells

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Joe Saunders
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Jon Garland
  5. Erasmo Ramirez

Closer – Tom Wilhelmsen
LRP – Oliver Perez
RRP – Josh Kinney
RRP – Stephen Pryor
LRP – Charlie Furbush
LRP – Lucas Luetge
Long Relief – Blake Beavan

Obviously, I hold no sway in this deal.  Although, truth be told, if I had it my way and things break the way I hope they’ll break, this would be the starting 25 you’d see on Opening Day.

So, let’s go through it, position by position.

The first five players listed above, from Catcher – Montero down through our entire infield, is all the same.  Yes, it will be important for the moves the Mariners made to pan out if we’re hoping to shock the world and contend for a playoff spot in September; but if this team is ever going to pan out long-term, it’s going to be up to these five guys:  Montero, Smoak, Ackley, Seager, and Ryan.  Montero and Smoak are supposed to be our middle-of-the-order thumpers to drive in runs.  Thus far, they’ve been underwhelming.  Now, we’ll see if those “protection” theories hold any water (the thinking being:  if you have good, established hitters in your lineup, they will “protect” younger, inexperienced guys like Smoak and Montero, thereby allowing them to see better pitches because opposing pitchers are too worried about the veterans like Morse and Morales).  2013 is Make or Break for Jackie Z and it’s Make or Break for Montero and Smoak.  If they fail, Jackie Z is likely toast, Smoak is likely to be dealt for peanuts, and Montero will be relegated to a backup catcher role as Mike Zunino takes hold of the position for the next decade-plus.  If they succeed, then Jackie Z will likely be given an extension, Smoak will hold the fort at first base, and Montero will hold the fort at DH while Zunino takes over as full-time catcher anyway because he’s so great.

The bottom line:  we need Smoak and Montero to be good.  We need Seager to build upon his promising 2012.  We need Ackley to show why being picked #2 overall was a smart decision.  And we need Brendan Ryan to hit SOMETHING, because if he can be halfway competent, his defense makes him a superstar.

We need:  no more black holes!

Let’s move on to the outfield.  Michael Saunders played the full season in 2012 and made huge strides.  He primarily played in center because Guti once AGAIN couldn’t stay healthy.  Like Seager, it will be important for Saunders to build upon his promising 2012.  This organization has enough to worry about.  Let’s have Saunders not be one of those things.

Getting Guti back, healthy, and in center full time is akin to signing a bigtime free agent.  If we can just, for Christ’s sake!, get Guti back to where he was in 2009 before this nightmare run of maladies befell our beloved center fielder, then it’ll be an addition on par with the other big bats we brought in.

Morse, while a liability on defense, should be a steadying presence in the lineup.  Personally, I think these baseball intellectuals are giving WAY too much credence to defensive metrics they readily admit are flawed.  I don’t for one second believe Casper Wells is as good, much less better than Michael Morse as an overall baseball player.  His defense might be superior, but is it SO superior that it overwhelms the fact that Morse is a legitimate Major League hitter while Wells sucks dick except for a few brilliant spurts of prowess?  I say no.  Morse makes this team better than Wells and he makes this team better than all of the other jackasses we had in the corner outfield spots in 2012.

Morales is another legitimate Major League hitter that we can slide right into the #3 or #4 spot in the lineup.  With Morales and Morse as a one-two punch, we’re really giving other teams something to think about for the first time in YEARS.  More importantly, it pushes guys like Seager, Smoak, and Montero into less-stressful spots in the lineup, where they can worry about their own games, and not trying to carry this team on their backs.

As for the bench, I think we’re better across the board.  Shoppach has to be a step up from Olivo.  Ibanez essentially takes over as the veteran presence Chone Figgins occupied last year, only Ibanez should hopefully not be a complete waste of space.  Andino is an upgrade over Kawasaki.  The only question mark is the final outfield spot.  I’m predicting Casper Wells takes it over Jason Bay, because I just have zero confidence in that guy having anything left in the tank.  With Wells, you’re looking at a clear upgrade over Robinson, Thames, Carp, Peguero, and whoever else was our reserve outfielder in 2012.  Being the team’s 4th outfielder seems to be the role Casper Wells was born to play.  He can cover all the outfield positions and he’s not such a huge drop-off in offensive production when you play him sparingly (and against left-handed pitchers).

Here’s what our starting lineup could look like for much of the 2013 season:

  1. (L) – Dustin Ackley (2B)
  2. (L) – Kyle Seager (3B)
  3. (S) – Kendrys Morales (DH)
  4. (R) – Michael Morse (RF)
  5. (R) – Jesus Montero (C)
  6. (S) – Justin Smoak (1B)
  7. (R) – Franklin Gutierrez (CF)
  8. (L) – Michael Saunders (LF)
  9. (R) – Brendan Ryan (SS)

Doesn’t look too bad, right?  Again, this is all guess-work, but in an ideal world, if the Mariners are playing a 1-game playoff to get into the post-season, this is the lineup I’d like to see.  Against a tough right-handed pitcher, you can slide Saunders into center, and start Ibanez in left.  Late in games, you can put Wells in for Morse (or pinch-run him for Montero, Morales or Morse).  And on getaway games, you’re not losing a ton when you start Andino for Ryan, Shoppach for Montero, Ibanez for whoever, and Wells for whoever else.  You can give Seager and Ackley days off from playing the field by throwing them at DH once in a while.  Morales can always slide over to first base in a pinch, I’m assuming.  Lots of flexibility on this team.

More importantly, lots of production on this team, if things go the way we hope.  If Ackley improves and Seager at the very least doesn’t get any worse, you’re talking about a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup.  Morales and Morse are there to hit dingers, Montero and Smoak are down in the lineup where there’s less pressure on them.  And, at the end of our lineup, you’re not talking about 1/3 of our batters being a bottomless pit of despair!  While before we were trying to shoe-horn guys like Saunders and Guti into the upper third of the lineup, now we have the luxury to play them near the bottom, improving our production dramatically over guys like Thames, Trayvon Robinson, an everyday Casper Wells, and so on.  Saunders and Guti have the potential to be productive EVERY day, not every 10 days.  That’s big in my book.

I don’t want to alarm any of you.  If you’re on any heart medication or have a pacemaker, you may want to stop reading right now.  Don’t look now, but this offense MIGHT just be a league-average offense!  I KNOW, RIGHT?

If you want to know why so many people are picking the Mariners to be one of the “surprise” teams of 2013 a la Oakland and Baltimore of 2012, look no further.  Of course, by these very people declaring us a “surprise” team, they’ve effectively ruined the surprise and doomed us to a fate worse than Bill Simmons picking the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl.  I want you to keep that in mind as you don’t watch this team still playing in October.

One major reason to take a huge step back from all those post-season expectations is this team’s starting rotation.  At the top, we’re fine.  If Felix can give us his usual Cy Young-calibre pitching, we’ve got a huge leg-up over most other teams.  And, if Joe Saunders can continue to be Joe Saunders (and not Worse Joe Saunders), then we’ve effectively made up for the loss of Vargas and won’t miss much of a beat.

After those two, it gets a little … iffy.  Is Iwakuma the real deal, like he was in the second half of 2012?  Or, is he going to require another half-season to get his stuff up to snuff?  If we landed the real deal with Iwakuma, then I’ll tell you we’ve really got something here.  Felix, Saunders, and Iwakuma aren’t really on par with the best 1-2-3’s in the Major Leagues, but for the regular season they could be just enough to get the job done.  If those guys can give us 60 wins in their 90+ starts, then we’ve only got to manage somewhere around 30 wins across the other starters’ 60+ starts to be a legitimate candidate for post-season contention.

Well, when you put it that way …

The last two starters could be brutal, though.  I’m only pencilling Jon Garland into the rotation based on his prior performances; but that guy hasn’t pitched in a year and a half!  Erasmo Ramirez is only in my hypothetical rotation based on a handful of starts in June and again in September.  Ramirez had 4 starts in June where the M’s went 2-2 (his record being 0-2), his ERA was 4.58, and he averaged less than 5 innings per start.  Of course, a main reason for that average was his last start where he left injured in the 3rd inning and promptly went on the DL.  He only had 1 quality start out of those four, but MAN was it a quality start!  8 innings, 10 strikeouts, 1 earned run on 3 hits and a walk in a 1-0 loss to the A’s.  Upon his return from the DL, in a September call-up, Ramirez made 4 more starts.  The M’s were 1-3 in these games (his record being 1-1) and his ERA was only 2.96 in this stretch, as he averaged nearly 7 innings per start.

So, in reality, I’m basing Ramirez’s status in our 2013 rotation on five starts in 2012.  Not really the smartest way to go about predicting a roster, but then again, it’s not like I’m the only one.  Many smarter people than myself are also pencilling Ramirez into our rotation.

Which, when you think about it, could be the best thing for this team.  When you see these “surprise” teams jump out of the woodwork, what’s a general theme?  They USUALLY have one or two very young rotation guys who have breakout years.  What’s more likely?  A guy like Smoak or Ackley figures it out and takes the world by storm?  Or a pitcher like Ramirez (or Hultzen, or someone else) mowing people down out of nowhere?  You see it all the time with pitchers; why can’t Ramirez be that catalyst for us at the back-end of our rotation?

At which point, you’ve got an elite Felix Hernandez, a steady Joe Saunders, a solid Hisashi Iwakuma, and a breakout Erasmo Ramirez.  With Jon Garland as an innings eater who will give you a number of quality starts a la Kevin Millwood.  I’m not gonna lie to you, my heart just fluttered a little.

The more I think about it, if we can JUST squeeze the best out of this starting rotation, and if our hitters can do JUST enough to keep us in ballgames, this very well COULD be our year!  Because I don’t think you’re going to find many better bullpens – from top to bottom – than the one we have in Seattle this year.  It’s a shame we have to waste it on a team that will likely be treading water around .500, because in a couple years (when this team will theoretically be ready to make the big jump towards regular contention) this bullpen won’t be the same (and will likely price itself out of our range).

But, Wilhelmsen is a stud of the highest order.  Yet, if he fails, Carter Capps is waiting in the wings.  And if he fails, Stephen Pryor is another flame-thrower.  And if he fails, Oliver Perez can burn the strike zone from the left side.  And if HE fails … it goes on and on.  Furbush had an amazing 2012 out of the bullpen.  Kinney was solid, if unspectacular.  Luetge was a Rule 5 draft pick who stuck with the team as a left-handed specialist.  Beavan has always been an innings eater who will easily devour innings in a long relief role.

For the record, the likelihood of all those guys failing is pretty slim.  But, in my opinion, NONE of those guys will fail, and we will have the best lockdown bullpen in the American League.

How many 1-run games can the Mariners win?  Ultimately, that will tell the story as to whether or not this team makes the playoffs.  I know winning 1-run games isn’t really a sustainable model for building a championship contender, but every so often there are outliers.  The A’s last year were 11-5 in extra-innings games.  They were 25-18 in 1-run games.  The Orioles last year were a mind-boggling 16-2 in extra-innings games!  And they were 29-9 in 1-run games!

Meanwhile, the Mariners last year were 5-10 in extra-innings games and 25-28 in 1-run games.  Gotta figure out a way to turn those figures around.  Clutch hitting, quality starts, unbelievable bullpen pitching.  That’s the key.  With just enough late-game defense thrown in to keep everyone honest.

I’ll have an official Season Preview closer to our April 1st season debut in Oakland (where else?), once everything has been set in stone and we know just exactly what we can expect on Opening Night.  In the meantime, dare I say it?  There’s ACTUALLY some reasons for optimism in 2013?

Seattle Mariners Offseason Review

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

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

The Major Moves are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Agent Watch: Mariners Sign Joe Saunders, Backup Catcher

One of these things happened a while ago, but I couldn’t be bothered to care.  The other is so damn new, it’s hardly more than a glimmer in Twitter’s rumor-mongering eye.  But, since the right people on Twitter are saying the right things – 1 year deal for Joe Saunders – I feel it’s strong enough to go with.

Kelly Shoppach is the catcher in the title of this post.  He’s been in the Bigs since 2005 (where he had a cup of coffee with the Red Sox), he has a career batting average of .226, he has played in over 100 games only once in his career (112 in 2008) and he managed a robust .261 average that season.  He’s a guy Eric Wedge had in Cleveland, he’s a veteran, he likely won’t be expected to play all that much (40-60 games, I would guess), and he’s a BACKUP catcher, so really, who cares?  He will struggle mightily on Wednesday and Sunday get-away games, BFD.

Keep your expectations low.  Keep them WAY low.  Like, imagine your already-low expectations for this upcoming Mariners season as a whole, and bury those expectations under the requisite 50-feet-of-crap necessary to not drive yourself crazy about how bad this guy is going to be on the few occasions he’s inserted into the starting lineup.  Then, if by the grace of Satan, Kelly Shoppach manages to scrape the edges of a .250 batting average, we can smirk, put our hands on our hips, and exclaim to absolutely no one, “Huh, what do you know?  This guy ISN’T a total waste of space!”

Joe Saunders is the Joe Saunders in the title of this post.  Say it aloud, “Joe Saunders”.  You don’t even need to see the guy play or know anything about his history in the Major Leagues; just saying his name aloud will give you all the knowledge you’ll ever need about this guy.  He has mediocrity oozing out of his pores like a pizza-faced teenager.  He has a career 4.15 ERA in 189 career starts and ALREADY I’M SNORING!

I hope you’re all happy.  You all bitched and you moaned about how boring and pointless Jason Vargas was (aww, who am I kidding; I was right there with you).  Now look at what we’ve got!  His older, whiter, pudgier, less lesbian-looking distant relative with just about the exact same skillset.  He’s like a left-handed version of Kevin Millwood on whatever the opposite of steroids would be (quaaludes, I guess).

On the plus side, he’s on a one-year deal.  Remember how that was the same plus side we had with Millwood?  Remember how that’s not really much of a plus side at all, because it still means we have to deal with this guy for one full season (which is one full season too many, if you ask me)?

Please, young talented starting pitchers in the Minors; please get elite quickly so we can stop signing these guys to 1-year deals!

The best and worst thing I can say about Joe Saunders is that he’s durable.  That’s essentially my point.  Yes, he will eat up innings and give you adequate performances.  But, yes, he will eat up innings and give us eternal adequacy.  Every five days, for the whole … fucking … season.

But, when you pit that against the alternative – a season’s worth of Hector Noesi giving up gopher balls on 0-2 counts – I guess I’ll have to take it, yeah?  Yeah, I guess I will.

Lord help this team if I have to come back and correct this post, lamenting a surprise 2nd season they’ve for-some-reason decided to tack on.

Keep this in mind as we head into Spring Training, as I’m sure I won’t be the only one to bring it up:

  • We replaced Vargas with Joe Saunders
  • We replaced Jaso with Kelly Shoppach
  • We replaced Jaso’s bat (as a DH) with Kendrys Morales’ bat (as a DH)
  • We replaced a revolving door in left field (Wells, Thames, Peguero, Robinson) with Raul Ibanez and Michael Saunders
  • We replaced Ichiro and another revolving door in right field with Mike Morse

Are we REALLY better than we were in 2012?  I, for one, am champing at the bit to dig into this team next week and find out for myself.

The Major Moves Of Jack Zduriencik

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

For the 2009 Season:

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

For the 2010 Season:

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

For the 2011 Season:

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

For the 2012 Season:

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

For the 2013 Season:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seattle Mariners 2012 Postmortem, Part 1 (Hitters)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, what of the outfield?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make no mistake, this offense in 2012 was horrible.

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

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

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

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

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

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