Seattle Mariners Rant

by

Today, the Seattle Mariners record stands at 16-26, which is good for the worst record in the American League, and a half game ahead of the San Diego Padres for worst record in all of baseball (this fact scares me, as the Peoria Sports Complex is the Spring training complex for both teams, and it was my home base for my spring training adventures this year; so basically, I’m a huge jinx).

 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

 

Yes, it’s May 13th, 2008 and the Mariners have only played 40 games, not even a quarter of the season. But the Mariners hold little reason for optimism. Before Sunday’s 6-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox, the Mariners had lost 10 of their last 11 games, and have lost 11 of their last 13 overall. This collapse can be attributed to pretty much every aspect of their ballclub, since it’s hard to have anything working when you’re 10 games under .500 and practically the worst team in baseball. From May 6th through May 8th, the Mariners lost three games to the Texas Rangers, and managed to score only one run against the Rangers formidable pitching staff (note: this is a joke), which included Ponson, Padilla and Gabbard. And judging by their game Monday night, where the Mariners lost 13-12 in extra innings, and Mariners pitchers walked a whopping 13 batters, it’s not just the hitting that has been lost at sea.

 

Going into the year, I picked the Mariners to unseat the Angels as division winners, in part due to the preseason injuries to John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, their top two starters. The Angels have plugged in Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders, both of which have 6 wins and have combined to go 12-1 and have been positively sparkling for the season’s first month and a half. Ervin Santana has overcome his road woes of the past and been dominant, including a 97 pitch complete game with 9 strikeouts, a Herculean feat. Saunders has just thrown quality start after quality start. Both figure to come down to earth, but with John Lackey returning yesterday, they don’t have to be All-Stars like they have been to this point. The A’s, a team I picked to finish last, is currently in first place even without Rich Harden for a month and Eric Chavez for the entire season (although what good would he do in the lineup anyways?). Clearly, I misjudged the AL West, and my hometown bias of the Mariners made me look like a buffoon. The Mariners went 88-74 last year, but their Pythagorean W-L record, which calculates how many games they should have won, was 79-83, showing that some of their progress was mostly a mirage.

 

It’s always easy to blame the front office and management at times like these, but for the Mariners, that’s really the case. General Manager Bill Bavasi has been given the 9th highest payroll in baseball and five years to turn this sinking ship around, and he has done nothing impressive other than signing Ichiro Suzuki to a long-term contract.

 

Let’s start with perhaps his worst move, one of the first he made. Upon being hired in 2003, he decided Carlos Guilen was in a decline and wouldn’t stay healthy at shortstop, so he traded him to the Tigers for Ramon Santiago. Ramon lasted a year with the Mariners and ended up joining the Tigers again. Guillen turned into a stud, hitting .318, then .320 twice, then .296 and at .295 this year, still chugging along strong. He has been forced to move from short, but there’s no question the Mariners could have used Guillen and still could to this day.

 

Here’s a list of the names he’s signed to fill holes in the lineup: Rich Aurilia (hit .241 with an OPS of .641 and lasted only 73 games), Scott Spiezio (.198 batting average and a substance abuse problem), Matt Lawton (only lasted 27 at bats) and Carl Everett (.227 average and an OPS under .660). Aside from Rich Aurilia, Seattle derailed or ended the careers of all of these players. In 2007, Bavasi signed Jeff Weaver, who was coming off a World Series ring in St. Louis, and was rewarded with a 7-13 record and an ERA of 6.20. In perhaps one of his worst moves, he traded superb set up man Rafael Soriano for 5th starter Horacio Ramirez, who was released after an 8-7 season that saw his ERA above 7.

 

Bavasi has made some good signings. He signed Raul Ibanez back from the Kansas City Royals in 2004, and has averaged 22.5 homeruns and 95 RBI’s in his four seasons since (including a monster .289, 33 HR, 123 RBI season in 2006), and has a strong start to 2008 (one of the only Mariners performing up to his capabilities). He also signed Eddie Guardado who saved 54 games in two seasons with great success before injuries and age rendered him useless, and now a Texas Ranger (but hey he picked up save against the Mariners on Tuesday!)

 

In 2004, Bavasi traded the Mariners #1 starter, Freddy Garcia (and Ben Davis) for Miguel Olivo, Mike Morse and Jeremy Reed. At the time, the deal looked great. Olivo was one of the best catching prospects of the game and had a lot of power at a usually light hitting position. Reed was the top prospect in the White Sox organization and was Jacoby Ellsbury with less speed. He was going to be a fixture in centerfield for years for Seattle, especially after a hot September tryout in 2004. Freddy Garcia went on to help the White Sox win a World Series in 2005, but has since had his career stall due to injuries and has been ineffective, while the Mariners have gotten nothing in return. Olivo hit .176 and struck out 104 times in 104 games on the M’s, Reed continues to toil in Triple-A (he needs a change in scenery; he could still be a useful bench player at the very least if given the chance) and Mike Morse has shown the ability to hit and play multiple positions, but has been injury prone, and is already out for the entire 2008 season. In another trade of valuable parts, Bavasi traded Randy Winn for Jesse Foppert, another prospect that hasn’t panned out.

 

Bavasi made a huge splash with Beltre and Sexson in 2004. At the time I liked both moves at varying levels, particularly liking Sexson’s ability to rebound from a separated shoulder. He hit 39 homeruns and had 121 RBI’s in 2005 and followed that up with a 34 HR, 107 RBI season. Most noticeably, he kept his average above .260. Since 2006 however, Sexson has hit .204 and hasn’t hit for the same power. There seems little hope for him to recover, and after his 5-game suspension for throwing a helmet and charging the mound toward Kason Gabbard (who by all accounts threw a high pitch that wasn’t even inside), he seems on his way to Carl Everett and Matt Lawton-like obscurity. I hold out hope for a rebound, and while a rebound for Sexson would have to be limited to a .250 average and 20 homeruns, the Mariners would gladly take it at this point. After his monstrous 2004 campaign in a contract year in which Adrian Beltre hit 48 homeruns and had 121 RBI and a .334 average and an OPS over 1, there was lots of reason for pessimism with giving him guaranteed money. Turns out, the speculation was right, as he hit just 19 homeruns in 2005 and had his lowest average in .255 in his entire career. However, Beltre provides outstanding glovework at 3B, and has improved in every season since joining Seattle, and seems poised to do it again this year. He already has 7 homeruns, and while he’s hitting in the .250’s right now, his BB/K ratio is 21/26, a sparkling improvement from his 123/330 ratio in his previous three seasons with Seattle and bodes well for the rest of the year if he continues at that rate. He has also found speed, getting better than 10 steals each of the previous two seasons. Both signings were more for PR than anything at the time, but I would have to say that Bavasi has done a lot worse.

 

In 2006, Bavasi made the strong move of signing Kenji Johjima, who stabilized the Mariners catching position ever since the Olivo debacle. He averaged 16 homeruns the past two seasons and hit .289. But, this move has hamstringed Bavasi since. Johjima is already 31 and will turn 32 next month, and is blocking the Mariners #1 draft pick of 2005, masher Jeff Clement and has already showed signs of his decline. Before a current hot streak, Johjima was struggling under the Mendoza line and had yet to hit his first homerun. What did Bavasi do? Why, he signed him to a 3-year, $24 million dollar extension through 2011 (a week later he had to be benched for a “mental break”). This move makes no sense. Not only is Johjima not getting any better, but there continues to be whispers of discontent with pitchers when working with Johjima due to the language barrier (although I think this is an excuse more than anything) and most importantly, catcher is one of the few positions the Mariners are stocked with. Jeff Clement, a player many envisioned as a future 1B or DH, had been improving behind the plate since the Mariners stuck with him. Now? He’s playing DH for the Mariners and blocked for three years after 2008 by Johjima. The Mariners already have a solid backup in Jamie Burke, and two strong prospects in Adam Moore and Rob Johnson in the system. Not only is it a bad contract to begin with, and the timing abhorrent, but it’s all the more worse considering the Mariners have younger and better alternatives. Since recalling Clement, he has played sparingly at catcher, and while Johjima has hit, pitchers continue to be frustrated with Johjima and Clement, like any young player, has shown that he hits better when playing in the field. Clement deserves better treatment than a DH stint his rookie season.

 

Another signing for the 2006 season was Jarrod Washburn. Bavasi gave Washburn 37.5 million dollars over 4 years. Envisioned as a #3 starter and innings eater, he has rewarded the Mariners with a 20-34 record and an ERA in the 4.40 range. While his record should be better, it’s clear the Mariners overpaid for Washburn, who is little more than a #4 or #5 starter anyways. This started a trend of Bavasi overpaying for mediocrity in the starting rotation. During 2006, Bavasi traded Shin Soo Choo for Ben Broussard, which turned out to be a good move, even though the Mariners no longer have Broussard after losing him after the 2007 season. Broussard proved a capable hitter throughout 2007, and Choo has done little for the Indians. The Mariners also traded for Eduardo Perez from the Indians, giving up Asdrubal Cabrera, who was a stud in the playoffs in 2007 for the Indians and while starting off poorly this year, turned an unassisted triple play yesterday. Eduardo Perez hit below .200 for the Mariners in his lone season with the club. 2006 was also the year of the Lawton and Everett signings, so clearly there was a lot to be desired.

 

In 2007, Bavasi produced another mixed bag. A lot of people questioned his signing of Jose Guillen, but it was to a one-year contract and the man has always had talent, and apparently steroids. He was the best signing of the Bavasi era, hitting .290 and hitting 23 homeruns and driving in 99 runs. The Mariners made the right move in letting him walk as well, as he now toils in Kansas City hitting around .200. Bavasi signed Weaver and Batista and traded for Horacio Ramirez to bolster a weak starting staff. As already discussed Weaver and Horacio were arguably the two worst starters in the majors last year, and the Mariners gave money and talent to get them. Signing Batista looked to be another terrible decision, but in fact, paid off well in 2007. He went 16-11 and gave the Mariners 193 solid IP. Of course his WHIP was a terrible 1.52 and this year he has been more even more mediocre, and Bavasi pays him way too much money to do the things that he does, but I can’t quibble too much about him. There’s too much else to quibble about elsewhere. Also in 2007, Bavasi traded for Jose Vidro, giving up Snelling and Fruto (at the time I didn’t like the deal, because Snelling had talent and Fruto had shown signs of brilliance as a reliever, but little has come to them). Much like Johjima, it was a move that paid off well in 2007, but has now left Bavasi with his shoes tied together. Vidro amazingly stayed healthy and hit .314 in 2007, but as a DH, he only provided 6 homeruns and an OPS of .775. This year Vidro is struggling to hit .200 and has little pop in his bat despite 18 RBI. He is losing time to Clement at DH, and really doesn’t deserve a spot in the lineup any longer. Bavasi should investigate trades (or an outright release), rather than impeding Clement or whoever’s development.

 

In the offseason before this year, Bavasi made his biggest move to date. He traded trusty and overwhelmingly effective lefty setup man George Sherrill, rookie stud Adam Jones and three other prospects (including Chris Tillman, Tony Butler and Kam Mickolio) for Orioles ace Erik Bedard. Bedard was on his way to winning the AL strikeout crown before an injury derailed his September last year. Sherrill already has 14 saves with the Orioles, and while his ERA is in the 4s and his WHIP is above 1.20, he has given the Orioles more than sufficient value. The Mariners have certainly missed Sherill’s presence in the bullpen, especially after JJ Putz’s injury in the first week of the season. The Mariners were forced to rely on scraps of major leaguers like Mark Lowe and Ryan Rowland-Smith for closing duties to disastrous results. Adam has struggled in his first season in Baltimore, hitting in the .220’s to this point and striking out three times as many times as he walks (31:7). He has stolen 4 bases and is still a bright prospect that I believe at the very least has an All-Star game in his future. The other three prospects aren’t particularly close to the big leagues, but Tillman especially has upside (Tillman being a lefthanded starting pitcher).

 

The price was exorbitant, but Bedard is one of the best pitchers in baseball if healthy. The health has already proven to be a problem, as he missed the better half of April with a hip problem. It’s a scary injury, and something I’m constantly worried will flair up again because of his awkward delivery. Aside from last night’s 2 IP, 6 ER debacle in Texas, Bedard has been the stud the Mariners need, although his record hasn’t reflected it (2-2). While it could come back to bite the Mariners, especially if they don’t contend by 2009 when Bedard’s contract runs out, the fact is that the Mariners have a 1-2 punch of Bedard and Felix Hernandez that rivals any in baseball.

 

Of course, Felix has done nothing to assuage concerns about whether he can dominate for an entire season. Last year he was unhittable at the start of the season, then injured his shoulder, and was never the same. Many attributed it to the injury, but aside from flashes of brilliance, Felix was never consistent and left much to be desired. After another poor start Tuesday that saw him walk 5 batters and lose his composure (as well as the game), you wonder if Felix will ever harness his All-World stuff (answer: once he leaves the Mariners).

 

Nothing has worked out for the Mariners, even the stuff that was a shoo in. Bedard and Felix haven’t been top ten starters. One of the best closers in baseball has been a shadow of his former self after injuring himself in the second game of the year, which was a catalyst for the Mariners downfall. If the Mariners hadn’t lost Bedard and Putz early, two of their most important pieces, who knows where they would be. But you can’t make excuses. The Angels sure haven’t, losing Lackey, Escobar and Kendrick and still kicking Mariner ass. The Mariners have tried everything to turn the tide, including lineup changes and as usual, rushing their prospects to the bigs. Bavasi called up Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien to the majors on April 30th. I had no problem with doing this, but the way it was done was the worst possible. First off and most importantly, if Bavasi had waited a week before promoting the prospects (and by all accounts he could have) he would have delayed their free agency an entire season. Instead, if these guys turn into the types of players they can be, the Mariners will have to worry about free agency that much faster. Great move Bill. Secondly, the Mariners made room for them by releasing Greg Norton and Brad Wilkerson, who are better than at least a couple players still toiling on the Mariners roster. The Mariners were on the hook for $5 million for Wilkerson, and he was showing signs of breaking out of a yearlong slump, and is a lefty hitter with power and on base skills, despite being a batting average liability. Wilkerson was snapped up by the Blue Jays, and I’m sure he’ll homer against the Mariners 3 times this year. Wilkerson is a valuable piece and could at the very least spell Clement and Balentien in the order and provide bench pop. Norton is one of the best pinch hitters in the game, if nothing else, and is a good presence to have in the dugout. Also, he is one of the few players that can play 1B. After Sexson got suspended five games, the Mariners were forced to play Miguel Cairo at 1B (and McLaren decided to bat him 2nd). Miguel fucking Cairo. The Mariners could have had Greg Norton at 1B, who has already won two games for the Braves since joining them. Miguel Cairo’s a nice veteran guy who can play defense. But the Mariners already have a utility guy just like him in Willie Bloomquist. Pick one, not both. Hell, don’t have either of them, and keep Wilkerson and Norton. Wilkerson could’ve played 1B as well. McLaren has been another problem with the Mariners. While he’s remained positive, he has been unable to prevent the Mariners from slumping and getting in prolonged losing streaks. While that’s not the manager’s complete fault by any means, the M’s could clearly use a more dynamic presence in the dugout.

 

Honestly, Bavasi should be fired. I don’t trust him for another year, especially in panic mode, when he thinks we could still contend. The Mariners have to play .600 ball the rest of the way to have a shot at winning the division, and there’s no reason to think they can do that, even with adding someone. There’s rampant speculation that Griffey will return to Seattle in a trade, and while it would do wonders for ticket sales and PR, where would Griffey fit in? You could send down Balentien and/or Clement, delaying the Mariners future for a pipe dream. The Mariners have pieces, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Griffey could help and perhaps be a needed clubhouse presence, but if the Mariners have to part with any good prospects to get him, it’s not worth it.

 

So I’ve rambled for far too long. The Mariners are flawed, and it all starts at the front office. The Mariners are one of the most poorly operated franchises in baseball and it shows. They have talent. They just can’t use it properly. Hopefully that changes.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: