Going in to the 2011 Season, the goal for the Mariners was a simple one – improve. With a brand new field manager in place (the 7th manager since Lou Piniella left in 2002) and coming off a 101 loss season in 2010, expectations for this club going in to this season were low. Management’s goal was simply to help re-instill a culture of winning with a young nucleus of players. But with the Mariners surprising success this season, expectations amongst many in the Mariners fan base have significantly inflated. Despite the team’s recent struggles, dreams of an AL West Pennant and a trip to the Post-Season have led many to wonder whether or not this team should make the necessary changes in order to seriously contend right now. The overriding question for many Mariner fans at this point is – do we stick with Plan A and continue to rebuild … or should we make whatever trade is necessary in order to win now? Let’s examine this issue in depth and consider the possible consequences of such a move …
1) Short Term Gain … Long Term Pain?
Though many fans out there are crying for Jack Zduriencik to pull off a July 31st miracle, it should be remembered that the Seattle Mariners have a history of deadly deadline deals. During the 1997 season, the Mariners struggled mightily to find reliable relief pitching. Desperate to acquire relief help for what appeared to be a playoff team, GM Woody Woodward made what would turn out to be a couple of ill-fated moves. Woodward traded away a pair of young and fairly unproven players at that point (AAA catcher Jason Varitek and RHP Derek Lowe) to the Boston Red Sox for closer Heathcliff Slocumb in order to solidify the Mariners success heading down the stretch. In a separate move, he then shipped a young OF by the name of Jose Cruz, Jr. for RHP Mike Timlin and LHP Paul Spoljaric. While Timlin would be a serviceable (though not spectacular) reliever and closer for the Mariners through the 1998 season, Slocomb would become a whipping boy of both fans and Lou Pinella, sporting a 5.32 ERA and saving a mere 3 games in 1998 before being let go. While Cruz would go on to be merely a major-league average outfielder, Jason Varitek would become a perennial All-Star Catcher … and Lowe would become a 2-time All-Star Selection and one of the better starting pitchers in all of baseball.
Needing help at 3B the year before, Woody traded away a young 1B prospect for the class A Timber Rattlers named David Arias for Dave Hollins at the deadline. While Hollins provided solid defense and decent offense down the stretch in 1996 … the M’s failed to make the playoffs. Arias, on the other hand, (known today as David Ortiz) would go on to become one of the greatest home run sluggers in all of baseball throughout the 1990s and remains so still today.
Even in 1995, the moves Seattle made at the deadline had less than desirable results. At the July 31st deadline that year, Woody Woodward packaged prospects Marc Newfield (6th overall pick in 1990 draft) and Ron Villone (14th overall pick in 1992 draft) to San Diego for starting RHP Andy Benes (regarded at that time as one of the better starters in baseball). Newfield never earned more than a couple of cups of coffee in the majors … and Villone blossomed in to a major league average reliever and spot starter. Though the prospects Seattle gave up never ended up hurting them, Benes truly didn’t help them either. Benes went 7-2 for Seattle … but ended up sporting a 5.86 ERA and allowed a whopping 13 earned runs in 14 innings in the playoffs that year. While the trade for Vince Coleman on August 15th of 1995 did provide a significant spark to the Mariners, in a great many cases not only do these late deals not end up helping the club -- they often have negative consequences down the road. Al Martin certainly didn’t help the Mariners after Gillick dealt for him at the July 31st deadline in 2000. And I’m wondering just how the Chicago White Sox are feeling now. On July 30th of last year, the White Sox traded for Edwin Jackson, who pitched one of Major League Baseball’s five no-hitters last season, sending minor league pitchers Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg to the Diamondbacks.
Jackson pitched very well for the White Sox last year, going 4-2 in 75 innings with a 3.24 ERA. However, the White Sox ended up 88-74, finishing 2nd in the AL Central, six games behind the Twins. This season in 106.2 innings, Jackson is 5-7 with a 4.30 ERA and 92 strikeouts. Not bad, until you consider what they gave up …
This season 24 year old Daniel Hudson is 9-5 as a starter with the 1st place Diamondbacks, sporting a 3.75 ERA. Holmberg won’t be far behind. He’s currently 8-3 for the Class A South Bend Silver Hawks with a 2.39 and leads the team with 81 strikeouts in 83 innings, issuing a mere 13 walks.
How different would the Mariners fortunes have been throughout the early 2000s with names like Ortiz, Varitek, and Lowe on this roster? Just something to consider – buyer beware.
2) Failing to Major in the Minors
While former GM Pat Gillick admittedly should be lauded for getting the Mariners in to the Postseason in both the 2000 and 2001 years … he also deserves a bit of criticism for his failure to stockpile a deep pool of minor league talent. Gillick served as GM of the Mariners from October 26, 1999 to September 30, 2003. During his 4 years as GM, Gillick had some notable International Free Agent Signings …
Kazuhiro Sasaki (1999)
Shin Soo-Choo (2000)
Ryan Rowland Smith (2000)
Felix Hernandez (2002)
Asdrubal Cabrera (2002)
… but for all that time as the M’s head talent evaluator, Gillick’s track record in the June Amateur Draft was less than stellar. In fact, only one 1st Round Draft choice of Gillick’s ever truly panned out – Adam Jones in 2003 (who was subsequently traded by Bill Bavasi in the Erik Bedard deal.) Here are a few of Gillick’s choices …
1999 -- drafted Ryan Christiansen #11 overall (never made it to the majors)
1999 – drafted Jeff Heaverlo #33 overall (never made it to the majors)
1999 – drafted Willie Bloomquist 3rd round (ML utility level player)
1999 – drafted J.J. Putz 6th round (became M’s closer – traded prior to 2009 season)
1999 – drafted Rich Hardin 38th round (Hardin chose not to sign)
2000 – no 1st round choice due to FA signings. No other choices made any appreciable impact)
2001 – drafted John Mayberry (failed to sign – has become a below-average MLB player)
No other draft choices made any appreciable impact.
2002 – drafted Gabby Sanchez 15th round (failed to sign -- has made 2011 All-Star as a Florida Marlin) No other draft choices have made any appreciable impact.
2003 – drafted Adam Jones #37 overall (has become a solid MLB center fielder for the Orioles) No other draft choices have made any appreciable impact.
On November 7, 2003, Bill Bavasi was hired by the Mariners to take over GM duties for Pat Gillick. In the words of Gillick, “I've had four kicks at the cat, and we couldn't get over the hump. Maybe it's time for someone else to give it a try and see if they can get over the hump." Bavasi most certainly did send the Mariners over the hump – paddling the club head long down the River Styx … and straight down to baseball Hades.
As a result of some of the holes created by the M’s inability to develop its own talent, Bavasi responded with a combination of trades for prospects and expensive free agent signings in an attempt to patch them. Here are a few of the more infamous moves made during the Bavasi years …
(6/27/04) Freddy Garcia and Ben Davis to Chicago White Sox for Miguel Olivo, Jeremy Reed, and Mike Morse
(6/30/06) Asdrubal Cabrera to Cleveland for Eduardo Perez
(8/24/06) Shin-Soo Choo and Shawn Nottingham to Cleveland for Ben Broussard
(12/7/06) Rafael Soriano to Atlanta for Horacio Ramirez
(12/18/06) Chris Snelling and Emiliano Fruto to Washington for Jose Vidro
(2/8/08) Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Kam Mickolio, and Tony Butler to Baltimore for Erik Bedard
2005 – Richie Sexson – signed for 4 years/$50 million
2005 – Adrian Beltre – signed for 5 years/$64 million
2005 – Jarrod Washburn – signed for 4 years/$37.5 million
2007 -- Carlos Silva – signed for 4 years/$48 million
2007 – Jeff Weaver – signed for 1 year/$8-9 million
In September of 2008, ESPN’s Jonah Keri wrote a column in which he ranked Bill Bavasi and Woody Woodward as the #9 and #10 worst GM’s in the history of professional sports. Those rankings are well deserved.
As a result of these expensive free agent signings and trades, payroll became significantly inflated, reaching its climax in 2008, as the Mariners became the first club in Major League Baseball history with a $100 million payroll ($117 million that year) to have a 100 loss season. To top it off, when the dust had settled following Bill Bavasi’s firing on June 18, 2008, the Mariners found themselves fairly picked clean of prospects.
In February of 2004, Bill Bavasi gave the following interview to Jonah Keri, who was working with Baseball Prospectus at the time. On player contacts, Bavasi was quoted as saying: “With most any player, going over four years isn't a philosophy we want to go with. It's hard to find a contract over four years that everybody stays happy with. Pat and I talked about this, and he was saying how with a contract that long, either the player's unhappy with it after a while, or the team is, but someone almost always is.” -- Bill Bavasi on why the Mariners don’t believe in free agent deals longer than 4 years
How ironic that he would sign so many 4 year deals (and in the case of Beltre a 5 year deal) that continue to hamstring the Mariners today. And how ironic that the Mariners seemed to have failed to learn from their mistakes in signing players to long-term deals, inking Chone Figgins to a 4 year/$36 million deal prior to the 2010 Season. That same offseason, many Mariner fans whined and begged for Zduriencik to sign local boy Jason Bay as well. The Mets ended up signing Bay to a 4 year/$66 million deal that could become 5 years at $80 million. Ask the Mets and their fans whether or not they are happy with that deal now.
Such deals, very often, do not end up working out. Perennial successful clubs are the ones who can find, grow, and hang on to their own talent. Outside of young players such as Michael Pineda (IFA in 2005), Doug Fister (7th round in 2006), Greg Halman (amateur FA in 2004), Carlos Peguero (IFA signing in 2005), and Carlos Triunfel (IFA signing in 2006), the Mariners have very little in terms of prospects to show from the Bavasi years.
3) The Power of Youth …
I believe the children are the future … teach them well and let them lead the way …”
Let’s take look at some of the best minor league organizations throughout baseball and see what they have to teach us …
Nelson Cruz (traded as a 25 year old prospect to the Rangers in 2006)
Josh Hamilton (traded as a 26 year old prospect to the Rangers in 2007)
Michael Young (traded as a 23 year old prospect to the Rangers in 2000)
Elvis Andrus (traded as an 18 year old prospect to the Rangers in 2007)
Alexi Ogando (Rule V signing in 2005 as a 22 year old prospect)
C.J. Wilson (drafted 5th rd. 2001 Amateur Draft)
Colby Lewis (38th pick in 1999 Amateur Draft)
Neftali Feliz (traded as a 19 year old prospect to the Rangers in 2007)
Those players are all ones that form the core of a very potent Rangers ballclub. All of them were either cultivated by the Rangers farm system or were prospects acquired via trade. After going in to bankruptcy thanks in part to the Alex Rodriguez $250 million mega-deal in 2001, the Rangers looked to remold themselves after casting his Titanic salary on to Yankees in 2004. Jon Daniels became the youngest GM in all of baseball in 2005 and committed to build the Rangers in to a contender via home grown talent and trading for young prospects. In 2007, Rangers went a long ways towards reshaping the face of their franchise, trading away star 1B Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay to the Braves for prospects Neftali Feliz, Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. In 2009, Baseball America ranked the Rangers farm system #1 in all of baseball. Though the Rangers took a bit of a hit by trading some of those prospects away last year in their run to the World Series, their farm system is still fairly stacked, giving them one of the best systems in all of baseball in virtually assuring that this club will be a contender for a long time to come. The Rangers are the new sheriff in town. The M's will have their work cut out for them taking the AL West back.
Asdrubal Cabrera (traded as a 20 year old prospect to the Indians in 2006)
Carlos Santana (traded as a 22 year old prospect to the Indians in 2008)
Lonnie Chisenhall (drafted #29 overall in 2008 Amateur Draft)
Justin Masterson (traded as a 24 year old prospect to the Indians in 2009)
Josh Tomlin (drafted by Indians in the 19th round of the 2006 Amateur Draft)
Carlos Carrasco (traded as a 22 year old prospect to the Indians in 2009)
Chris Perez (traded as a 23 year old prospect to the Indians in 2009)
Cleveland is a team on the rise; though many of their fans have yet to recognize that (they currently rank #26 out of 30 in attendance). Last season, the Indians went 69-93 and recorded their lowest attendance in Jacobs Field History (1.39 million fans.) 2009 wasn’t much better for the Indians either, as Chief Wahoo saw the tribe go 65-97, a result of extreme growing pains from another franchise committed to the youth movement. The past few years have seen this club trading away its biggest stars for prospects -- Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, and C. C. Sabathia. While the Indians of 2009 and 2010 in some ways resembled the group from Major League, 2011 has been a far different story. Catcher Carlos Santana and second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera (thanks to Bavasi) are two very quickly rising stars in baseball. Coming in to this season, Baseball America ranked the Indians’ farm system #7 overall. Lonnie Chisenhall (one of those farm hands) is considered one of the best 3B prospects in all of baseball and RHP Alex White, 2B Jason Kipnis, and LHP Drew Pomeranz all ranked among the top 100 prospects in all of baseball at the start of the 2011 Season. With a young core already in place and more on the way, look for this Indians team to be on the warpath throughout baseball for the next several years.
Brian McCann (drafted in the 2nd round of the 2002 Amateur Draft)
Freddie Freeman (drafted in the 2nd round of the 2007 Amateur Draft)
Martin Prado (signed as a 17 year old Amateur Free Agent in 2001 by the Braves)
Chipper Jones (drafted 1st overall pick in the 1990 Amateur Draft)
Jason Heyward (drafted 14th overall pick in the 2007 Amateur Draft)
Jair Jurrjens (traded as a 21 year old prospect to the Braves in 2007)
Brandon Beachy (signed as a 21 year old Amateur Free Agent in 2008 by the Braves)
With $87 million sunk in to player contracts, the Atlanta Braves are a team with a payroll just $3 million more than the Mariners. And yet, Atlanta finds itself with the 2nd best record in the National League … and firmly in the driver’s seat for the NL Wild Card. How is that possible? The Braves are a club that finds its success deeply rooted in player development. Coming in to this season, Baseball America ranked the Braves minor league system #3 overall. Historically, they have been a club that has had great success identifying and developing talent, both through the Amateur Draft and the International market. Catcher Brian McCann and outfielder Jason Heyward are former superstar prospects who have taken the baseball world by storm. And with other prospects in tow such as first baseman Freddie Freeman (#17 on Baseball America’s top 100), RHPs Brandon Beachy, Julio Teheran (#5 on Baseball America’s top 100), Randall Delgado, and LHP Mike Minor, the Braves look poised to go on another run and be counting coup on the rest of the NL, as they did throughout the 90s.
Shane Victorino (Rule V signing in 2004 as a 24-year old prospect)
Jimmy Rollins (drafted in 2nd round of 1996 Amateur Draft)
Ryan Howard (drafted in 5th round of 2001 Amateur Draft)
Chase Utley (drafted #15 overall in 2000 Amateur Draft)
Cole Hamels (drafted #17 overall in 2002 Amateur Draft)
Domonic Brown (drafted in 20th round of 2006 Amateur Draft)
As of this date, Philadelphia sports the best record in all of Major League Baseball. Though the Phillies admittedly have some major (and expensive) veteran cogs that they have acquired via trade – i.e. Cliff Lee (in 2009, re-signed as a FA this season), Roy Oswalt, and Roy Halladay, a significant portion of the core of their roster has been built on the backs of young prospects, most of which were developed via their own minor league system. Even after the Cliff Lee, Oswalt, Halladay, and Blanton trades, Baseball America still ranked the Phillies minor league organization #10 overall at the beginning this season. That’s a testament to just how strong a system the Phillies have. At the centerpiece of the organization is outfielder Domonic Brown, who Baseball America ranked #4 in its top 100 prospects at the start of 2011. According to one scout cited at Baseball America, “No team has more talent in A-ball than the Phillies.” The Phillies are an excellent example of what a team with a strong minor league system can and should do – use it to build a core via your own system … and use prospects to trade for superstars to reach for the brass ring once that core is in place and well established.
All those teams rank currently among the best minor league organizations in all of baseball … and are all (except for the Braves) currently leading their respective division. As the Rangers, Indians, Phillies, and Braves all demonstrate, the secret to success is by being able to effectively identify, develop, hold on to, and utilize minor league talent. Teams like the Twins and Rays are two others who show that competitive clubs can be constructed and maintained that way. And like those clubs, the core of players that powered the Mariners to their miracle run in 1995 and starred on in to the early 2000s was built in basically the same way …
Ken Griffey, Jr. (drafted #1 overall in the 1987 Amateur Draft)
Edgar Martinez (signed as a 19 year old International Free Agent in 1982)
Jay Buhner (traded as a 23 year old prospect to the Mariners in 1988)
Randy Johnson (traded as a 25 year old prospect to the Mariners in 1989)
Dan Wilson (traded as a 24 year old prospect to the Mariners in 1990)
Tino Martinez (drafted #14 overall in the 1988 Amateur Draft)
Jeff Nelson (drafted as a 19 year old in the 1986 minor league draft)
Minor league prospects, in many ways, are the backbone of an organization. Just consider again some of the prospects the Mariners traded away in recent years with very little to no return on those deals. Imagine what might have happened if the M’s had hung on to some of these names …
When Jack Zduriencik was hired in October of 2008, he placed heavy emphasis on player development, moving quickly to bolster the scouting department by hiring men such as Tony Blengino and Tom McNamara … and telling all his guys in the scouting department regarding picks in the Amateur Draft, “Get it right.” As a former scout himself, Zduriencik knows just how important finding, developing, and holding on to young players is. In a little under 3 years, Zduriencik has taken a system that ranked among baseball’s bottom feeders … and brought it back right to the middle of the pack. The goal right from the moment Zduriencik was brought on board was to get younger and to rebuild that core of young talented players. The question at hand now is, “Is now really the time to start going away from that original plan of re-building this club through young prospects and home grown talent?”
4) Contenders or Pretenders? …
Ahhh, yes – that was the plan wasn’t it. Go young … show slow incremental improvement … and re-teach a new generation of players how to win at the Major League level. But things in life and in baseball are rarely that simple. The new manager on board, Eric Wedge, simply doesn’t accept that plan. Possessing much of the old style grit and fire that Lou Piniella had, Wedge believes his players should play hard, play the game right, and not accept losing in any way, shape, or form. And most of his players are clearly getting the message. On July 9th of 2010, the Mariners found themselves at 34-52. This season as of July 9th, the Mariners are 43-46 … and find themselves a mere 5.5 games out of 1st place. That sudden turnaround has both Mariner fans and many within the organization thinking Pennant Race. But is that all talk Smoak and mirrors (no offense Justin ) … or could the M’s be serious contenders for the division crown with a key move here or there?
While the Mariner offense ranks dead last in Major League Baseball in virtually every category, Mariner pitchers have put up stellar numbers. In fact, never before in the history of this franchise have a starting 5 put up the kind of numbers that this group has.
Going in to tonight’s game, the Mariners have a staff ERA of 3.15, fourth best in all of Major League Baseball. As of July 9th, starting pitchers Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Erik Bedard, Jason Vargas, and Doug Fister sport a combined 3.09 ERA … have the second most complete games in the majors (9 complete games) … and are 3rd in batting average against (at .233 – Atlanta leads with a .230 average against).
Those stats have led many Mariner fans to clamor for a deal to help the beleaguered offense. Some out there would even point out that some fairly mediocre teams have won the World Series in the past, so why not make a deal? True. Teams with less than stellar records have gone to and won the World Series. Let’s take a look at 4 of those teams and see what some of the numbers tell us …
Worst World Series Winners in Major League History …
2006 St. Louis Cardinals (83-78)
Team BA .269 (4th out of 16 NL Teams)
184 HR’s (5th out of 16 NL Teams)
781 Runs Scored (6th out of 16 NL Teams)
Albert Pujols (.331 BA, 49 HR, 1.102 OPS, 137 RBI, 33 doubles)
Scott Rolen (.296 BA, 22 HR, .887 OPS, 95 RBI, 48 doubles)
Juan Encarnacion (.278 BA, 19 HR, .760 OPS, 79 RBI, 25 doubles)
Jim Edmonds (.257 BA, 19 HR, .822 OPS, 70 RBI, 18 doubles)
Team ERA 4.54 (9th out of 16 NL Teams)
Chris Carpenter (15-8 with a 3.09 ERA)
Jeff Suppan (12-7 with a 4.12 ERA)
Jason Marquis (14-16 with a 6.02 ERA)
Jason Isringhausen (3.55 ERA with 33 saves)
Adam Wainright (2-1 with a 3.12 ERA in 75 relief innings)
Braden Looper (9-3 with a 3.56 ERA in 73.1 relief innings)
1987 Minnesota Twins (85-77)
Team BA .261 (10th out of 14 AL Teams)
786 Runs Scored (8th out of 14 AL Teams)
Kirby Puckett (.332 BA, 28 HR, .900 OPS, 99 RBI)
Kent Hrbeck (.285 BA, 34 HR, .934 OPS, 90 RBI)
Tom Brunansky (.259, 32 HR, .841 OPS, 85 RBI)
Gary Gaetti (.257, 31 HR, .788 OPS, 109 RBI)
Team ERA 4.63 (10th out of 14 AL Teams)
Frank Viola (17-10 with a 2.90 ERA)
Bert Blyleven (15-12 with a 4.01 ERA)
Jeff Rearden (4.48 ERA and 31 saves)
1990 Cincinnati Reds (91-71)
Team BA .265 (1st out of 12 NL Teams)
693 Runs Scored (5th out of 12 NL Teams)
Barry Larkin (.301 BA, 7 HR, .753 OPS, 67 RBI – 30 SB, 25 doubles)
Chris Sabo (.270 BA, 25 HR, .819 OPS, 71 RBI – 25 SB, 38 doubles)
Billy Hatcher (.276 BA, 5 HR, .708 OPS, 25 RBI – 30 SB, 28 doubles)
Eric Davis (.260 BA, 24 HR, .833 OPS, 86 RBI – 21 SB, 26 doubles)
Paul O’Neal (.270 BA, 16 HR, .761 OPS, 78 RBI – 13 SB, 28 doubles)
Team ERA 3.39 (2nd out of 12 NL Teams)
Tom Browning (15-9 with a 3.80 ERA)
Jose Rijo (14-8 with a 2.70 ERA)
Jack Armstrong (12-9 with a 3.42 ERA)
Randy Myers (2.08 ERA and 31 saves)
Norm Charlton (12-9 with a 2.74 ERA in 154.1 relief innings)
Rob Dibble (8-3 with a 1.74 ERA in 98 relief innings)
Rich Mahler (7-6 with a 4.28 in 134.2 relief innings)
2010 San Francisco Giants (92-70)
Team BA .257 (7th out of 16 NL Teams)
697 Runs (9th out of 16 NL Teams)
Buster Posey (.305 BA, 18 HR, .862 OPS, 67 RBI, 23 doubles)
Aubrey Huff (.290 BA, 26 HR, .891 OPS, 86 RBI, 35 doubles)
Juan Uribe (.248 BA, 24 HR, .749 OPS, 85 RBI, 24 doubles)
Pablo Sandoval (.268 BA, 13 HR, .732 OPS, 63 RBI, 34 doubles)
Pat Burrell (.266 BA, 18 HR, .872 OPS, 51 RBI, 16 doubles)
Andres Torres (.268 BA, 16 HR, .823 OPS, 63 RBI, 43 doubles)
Team ERA 3.36 (1st out of 16 NL Teams)
Matt Cain (13-11 with a 3.14 ERA)
Tim Lincecum (16-10 with a 3.43 ERA)
Jonathan Sanchez (13-9 with a 3.07 ERA)
Barry Zito (9-14 with a 4.15 ERA)
Brian Wilson (1.81 ERA with 48 saves)
Sergio Romo (5-3 with a 1.95 ERA in 62 relief innings)
Santiago Casilla (7-2 with a 1.95 ERA in 55.1 relief innings
Seattle’s pitching numbers compare very favorably with that group. The 2011 Mariners with their 3.15 team ERA, far and away beats out the 2010 Giants, who had the best team ERA of that group at 3.36.
The offensive numbers, on the other hand … tell a very different story …
The 2010 Giants had the lowest team batting average among that group at .257.
As of July 9th, the Mariners sport a .224 team batting average
The 2006 Cardinals had the lowest team OPS among that group at .769
As of July 9th, the Mariners team OPS of .622
The 1990 Reds had the lowest amount of runs scored among that group at 693.
As of July 9th, the Mariners have scored just 296 runs, and are on pace to score a mere 539 runs -- far below that mark.
Just looking at some of the individual stats from some of the players on those teams (Pujols, Hrbeck, Sabo, etc), and I mean from several players, do you honestly see anywhere close to that kind of production coming from this Mariners team? And unless the Mariners are able to trade for 2 or 3 Albert Pujols type of bats, this team isn’t going to get that kind of run production either.
In many ways, this team reminds me of another past Mariners club. The 1991 Mariners had a good pitching staff as well, ending the year with a team ERA of 3.79. Led by Randy Johnson (3.98 ERA), Brian Holman (3.69 ERA), Bill Krueger (3.60 ERA), and Erik Hansen (3.81 ERA) … and a strong bullpen of Billy Swift (1.99 ERA and 17 saves), Mike Jackson (3.25 ERA), Russ Swan (3.43 ERA), Rob Murphy (3.00 ERA), and Mike Schooler (3.67 ERA) … the M’s then were just about in exactly the same position this club is in now. The Mariners that year came in to the All-Star Break that year (July 9, 1991) at 40-42, 6.5 games behind the Texas Rangers. Despite having a very talented young group led by Ken Griffey, Jr, Edgar Martinez, and Jay Buhner, the offense managed a team batting average of .255 that year (9th out of 14 AL Teams) … and finished 9th out of 14 AL Teams in Runs Scored (702 Runs). The Mariners ended up finishing 5th in the AL West in 1991 with an 83-79 mark – very much the kind of record I’m projecting from this Mariners ballclub when it’s all said and done.
MA’s Parting Thoughts …
I feel for Jack Zduriencik and the position he’s in, I really do. In this case, I believe Classic Greek Mythology provides both an apt picture for the situation Zduriencik finds himself in … and some practical advice for him as well. In Homer’s Odyssey, Scylla and Charybdis were two mythical monsters positioned at opposite ends of a narrow strait (thought today to be the Strait of Messina). They were positioned so close to one another that they posed a dilemma for passing sailors. Scylla was a six-headed monster with large tentacles and lived on a cave on a rocky shoal. If ships passed by too close, she would grab and eat sailors off the deck. Charybdis, on the other hand, was a great whirlpool, that would suck down entire ships that got too close to her. In the Odyssey, the hero, Odysseus, chose to order his men to sail as fast as they could past Scylla, reasoning that it would be better to lose a few men than to lose the entire ship. The English phrase, “between a rock and a hard place”, comes from this particular myth … and I believe Jack most certainly is between Scylla and Charybdis.
On the one hand, Zduriencik risks alienating players and fans alike if he fails to upgrade the offense. As the offensive futility on this club continues, frustration among pitchers will undoubtedly inevitably set in (if it hasn’t already). I believe the look on Doug Fister’s face after the 9th inning of last his start on July 2nd said it all, “Pitchers cannot continue to go 9 innings, allow 1 run, and lose!” I understand his frustration and that of poor Eric Wedge, having to continually answer the same questions again and again. What kind of message does that send to this team if he fails to upgrade this offense? Would that say to the players, management doesn’t believe in and care about you guys?
On the other hand, if Zduriencik does cave in to pressure, and really makes a bold move or two, he potentially risks everything he has been working for since he was hired. The kind of move that this club needs to make it a contender now would undoubtedly gut the farm system he has worked so hard to build. Such a move might make the players, the fans, and Eric Wedge happy in the here and now … but will they still be happy 2-3 years down the road, with an inflated payroll and no young prospects on the way up that could potentially become mainstays for years to come? To choose that route would be to commit the very same mistakes Bill Bavasi did -- the very reason the Mariners are in the situation they are now. One other thing to consider is that at this point Zduriencik is a man without a contract for next season. He knows that his bosses will be watching and that his position as GM might potentially be threatened if they believe someone else might be a better fit for the job.
On Wednesday July 6th , Jack Zduriencik joined the Kevin Calabro Show. Zduriencik talked to 710 ESPN’s Jim Moore and Matt Pittman both about Kyle Seager’s promotion and about the potential of making a move down the stretch. His comments regarding this very subject are very telling …
“… everybody is also saying, ‘hey, wait a minute, we don’t want to see this pitching go to waste. Jack Zduriencik is going to have to go out there and get another bat, now granted, you’ve added Ackley and you’ve added Seager, but people are thinking that maybe you’re going to need to be a buyer in the next few weeks to keep this team in the race.”
“Well, we have done our due diligence, I can tell you that. I’ve made a lot of phone calls, I’ve had a whole lot of conversations going on, and you know, I don’t know that anything will transpire. I don’t have a clue of that. It’s very, very interesting when you talk to other general managers where they’re at. The other issue is – to bring in the kind of bat that I would love to have, could be very expensive in a lot of ways – you know, could be expensive in terms of what you’d have to give up. And I’m willing to make the move, but I think we will make a move if the move is right. If we have the right thing sitting right in front of us, and we think it’s the right thing to do, I think we’ll do it. But again, I’m not going to mortgage the future. You know, our pitching has not been wasted. We’re where we’re at right now because we have very, very good pitching. These guys are young and we have all of these guys as we move forward for years to come – and we have a lot more coming. So, we’d love to win this thing. We want to be in this thing until the very end, that’s our goal. We’ll do what we can to keep us here and to surpass these clubs ahead of us, but you’ve got to be realistic in the big picture – now, next year, and in years to come.”
Though many fans out there might not like it, I believe that Jack Zduriencik is quite right. To get the kind of bat he’s looking for (a true impact bat) would be very expensive indeed ... and would likely set this franchise back for years to come. And as demonstrated pretty conclusively, even that probably wouldn’t be enough. As Zduriencik said he’s willing to make a move (if it’s the right move), but is not going to mortgage the future. There’s an old saying, “You are what your record says you are.” Right now, the M’s record says they are a .500 club that will tease by winning a few in a row, but then just as quickly go on a losing streak. So unless Zduriencik can work some incredible prestidigitation … and unless the M’s bats suddenly decide to become the 1927 Yankees for the 73 games that are left in this season, I honestly don’t see this as being the Mariners year. As if the Braves and Angels haven’t already demonstrated that fairly conclusively.
In Greek Mythology, the Sirens were female creatures who lured unwitting sailors to their deaths, wooing them with their irresistible songs in order to force them to crash on the rocks and subsequently devour them. In Homer’s Odyssey, the hero Odysseus orders his crew to put bees wax in their ears and lash him to the mast to keep him from sailing towards the Sirens and certain doom. The voices GM’s hear this time of year (from managers, players, and fans) can be like the Sirens sometimes, beguiling and pressuring GM’s in to making moves they might later regret. My advice to Zduriencik – lash yourself to the mast of the U.S.S. Mariner and continue straight on through these dangerous waters. Stay the course Jack. Stay the course.