Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
HAPs: Seattle
2006-03-21 07:54
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Mariners performed badly enough last year to earn themselves their own section in the sidebar I set aside for the Rockies' competition as worst team in the majors (to which I should probably add the Marlins, but more about them later). Unlike Colorado, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and now Florida, Seattle wasn't particularly young last season, and they won't be any younger in 2006. Kenji Johjima, their big offseason get from Japan, will probably be pretty good, but for certain he will turn 30 in June. Yes, there is one glaring exception to Seattle's overall grayness: Felix Hernandez. I assume you've heard about him. Hernandez is 19 and will probably be the best player on the M's this year. If you grabbed him for your fantasy team, feel free to tent your fingers in a Mr. Burns manner right now.

But besides Hernandez and (maybe) Cuban shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who do the Mariners have on the upswing of their careers? Certainly not Adrian Beltre, who has three more years until he has to worry about his next contract push. Not Jamie Moyer, who got thrashed on the road last year (3-7, 6.11 ERA versus 10-0, 2.95 at home). Not Ichiro, who will remain a good player long enough to build a very interesting Hall of Fame argument, but more than likely won't win any more MVP's. Not Richie Sexson, who was really more than the Mariners could have asked for last year, for all the good it did them. Their free agent pickups fit the same mold. Jarrod Washburn ought to maintain his inflated reputation pitching his home games at Safeco, but he's not going to win a lot of games in front of Seattle's lineup. Matt Lawton isn't fit to be a full-time player any longer (.207/.301/.317 against lefties last year). The White Sox won the World Series, so all is forgiven, but Carl Everett was dire down the stretch last year (as BP '06 notes at length), and now he's a newly-minted Mariner.

Then there's Jose Lopez and Jeremy Reed. Lopez isn't ready, but the Mariners really didn't expect the Great Bret Boone Implosion of 2005, and they didn't have much of a backup plan. Seattle's attitude towards Lopez seems to be, well, he's already here, so he might as well play, a common franchise strategy which brought us such seasons as Bucky Jacobsen's 2004. (So it can't be all bad.) Conversely Reed has been ready for some time, or at least that was the word when the Mariners acquired him in the Freddy Garcia deal. The centerfielder had a rough 2005, though, his first full year in the bigs. Between Lopez, Reed, and Betancourt, the Mariners are abusing their privilege to field young players who are "already great with the glove, so we'll just wait for their hitting to come around." (I feel obligated to disclose that Jeremy Reed is the first major league player ever born in San Dimas, CA. I have no word on whether he ever shopped at the Circle K or tried the slides at Waterloo.)

Seattle's offense was pretty terrible in 2005 (a 29th-in-the-majors .709 team OPS), and it won't be better this year. Ichiro will hit his singles, and Sexson will hit his homers, and after that, good luck. Can the pitchers pick up the slack? Hernandez, yes. Washburn, maybe a little. Moyer is three years overdue for a precipitous collapse. The other guys are Gil Meche and Jor-El Pineiro. Eddie Guardado is still around to anchor the bullpen, a decent if unheralded group also featuring Rafael Soriano, Julio Mateo, and J.J. Putz. Clint Nageotte fills the requisite failed-starting-prospect-now-a-swingman role. Former Rockies reliever Marcos Carvajal could lend a hand in this department, but if the Mariners were really clever they'd send him to the minors for seasoning as a starter as Colorado was planning to do before they swapped him for Yorvit Torrealba. The bullpen is really only the team's strength by default, as the lineup and rotation sure don't qualify. Don't even get me started on the bench.

Seattle's close-but-no-cigar run in the late '90s/early '00s was marked by a number of major contributors who peaked relatively late in their careers -- Boone, Moyer, Edgar Martinez, 27-year-old "rookie" Ichiro. That doesn't excuse the fact that they've allowed their farm system to go completely to seed. Quite the opposite, really. There's no way they can claim now that they believed the good times would roll forever, or at least until, say, 2007. Now they're stuck with a talent core that's either retired, spent, or untradeable for other reasons (Ichiro). Plus they play in a murderous division. The Angels and A's are perennial contenders now and for the forseeable future, and the Rangers, if flawed, will certainly drain your bullpen resources rather quickly if you're not careful. Seattle has to be hoping that Ichiro stays healthy and Hernandez remains on course for megasuperstardom, because they're not going to be drawing fans in with division titles for the next several years.

2006-03-21 14:47:18
1.   Todd S
Nice Bill and Ted reference!
2006-03-21 17:39:19
2.   das411
Excellent as always Mark.

I wonder if it might make the most sense for the Mariners to just go through a Marlins-style fire sale this summer, trade some of their older players who are still useful, like Moyer, Everett, maybe Beltre, the "Fat Mexican" (that USAtoday article about Johjima was one of the funniest I've read all year), perhaps even see what they could get for Sexson. This team seems unwilling to go into an all-out rebuilding mode, when perhaps this could be the perfect season to do so with guaranteed draws in King Felix and Ichiro!

Or they could try to cook up a Piazza-style megatrade for one of those two, and fill several holes long-term that way. The rumor-mongering would be MUCH more interesting then:

Milledge and Heilman from NYM for Ichiro?

Dukes and Neimann from TBD for Felix?

There are not too many players with higher trade values than those two these days, especially after Japan's WBC victory. It would take a bold GM to let either of those two go, but the last Mariner mini-dynasty was built by filling in for departing superstars also...

2006-03-21 21:35:13
3.   Voxter
Strange things are afoot at SafeCo Field.

This all seems fairly accurate, but in the Mariners' defense, I (and some others) thought Reed was ready with the bat before last year, too, and he's not all that young anymore, so I think it was time to strike while the iron was hot-ish. I wouldn't be surprised to see his SLG bounce back eighty points or so next year, making him a more-than-acceptable CF, provided his glove skills weren't some kind of fluke. (PECOTA's weighted means have him at .350 / .406, which would be all right.)

Other than that, all I have to say is that I'm glad I'm not one of the Oregonians who was completely captured by the Mariners' brief market penetration back in the glory days of Edgar & Johnny Olerud. Yes, I miss those days, and yes, I can still recall Martinez' last at bat, but thank god I became a Red Sox fan in childhood. (It feels strange to say that.) This team is dismal, and decisions such as allowing Bavasi, a run-of-the-mill part of the ol' boys' network if ever there was one, to replace Gillick are indefensible, really.

A friendly warning: Don't say mean things about Adrian Beltre at USS Mariner. People will list out his career OPSes by year and scream about your ignorance of the fact that he once scored an .806 or something in his youth, in addition to his 17 billion from 2004, as if that somehow negates the fact that he's unlikely to be worth the money they're dumping on him this year or anytime soon.

2006-03-21 21:38:46
4.   Voxter
Also, I've been meaning to ask if you've ever frequented You seem to be a bit of a TV junkie with descriminating tastes; it seems like it might be right up your alley.

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