Hawks beginning to resemble 2004 Seattle Mariners

The 2004 Seattle Mariners finished dead last in their division and had the third-worst record (63-99) in Major League Baseball. A veteran-laden club, the ’04 Mariners opened the season with a regular on the wrong side of 30 at every position. Five of the team’s best players were 35 or older, including catcher Dan Wilson (35), first-baseman John Olerud (35), second baseman Bret Boone (35), designated hitter Edgar Martinez (41), and starting pitcher Jamie Moyer (41). Despite their quickly-closing window, the team entered the season with high expectations after winning 93 games in 2003. But of course, by the time June rolled around, the team was theoretically out of contention, having put together an 8-15 April and an 11-16 May.

The 2008 Seahawks are starting to take on the look of their next-door neighbors from 2004. Now 2-8 on the season, the Hawks are out of playoff contention and we’re only in week 11. Like the ’04 M’s, the Hawks entered the season with high hopes, coming off five straight division titles and a loss in the NFC divisional playoffs a year ago.

Similar to the Mariners, the Hawks of ’08 are also an aging bunch. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is 33, and plagued by a bad back. Wide receivers Deion Branch and Bobby Engram are 29 and 35, respectively, and like Hasselbeck have been bitten by the injury bug. All-Pro left tackle Walter Jones will turn 35 in January. Linebacker Julian Peterson is 30. Defensive end Patrick Kerney is a month away from 32. Left guard Mike Wahle is 31. The rest of the team, when healthy, has vastly underperformed.

Like the 2004 M’s, the Hawks brass currently see the team’s performance this season as an aberration, rather than the beginning of a trend. Following their dismal ’04 campaign, the Mariners performed a “patchwork rebuild,” essentially trying to rebuild and compete at the same time. Patchwork rebuilds are carried out by filling positional holes with stopgap veteran players, while at the same time trying to bring along young talent at any and every position. In order for patchwork rebuilds to really work out, a team needs a core nucleus of young players it believes it can build around, while at the same time bringing in adequate veterans to bridge the gap between the present and the future.

The 2005 Mariners carried out their patchwork rebuilding effort by signing power hitting vets Richie Sexson (30 years old at the time) and Adrian Beltre (26), while retaining holdover vets such as Bret Boone (36), Randy Winn (31), Ichiro Suzuki (31), Raul Ibanez (33), Dan Wilson (36), Aaron Sele (35), and Jamie Moyer (42). Additionally, the team felt they were building from within behind players who either started the year at the Major League level, or were in the high minor leagues. Those players included outfielders Jeremy Reed (24), Chris Snelling (23), and Shin-Soo Choo (22); catchers Miguel Olivo (26) and Rene Rivera (21); shortstops Yuniesky Betancourt (23) and Mike Morse (23); second baseman Jose Lopez (21); and starting pitchers Gil Meche (26), Joel Piniero (26), Clint Nageotte (24), and Felix Hernandez (19).

Of course, by mid-season 2005 the Mariners were abject failures once again and experts and fans alike saw the team for what it was: a blend of older players past their prime and younger players that weren’t nearly as talented as once thought. The Mariners finished in last place again in 2005 and are now engaged in an “overhaul rebuild,” or the total rebuilding of the organization from the minor leagues on up. Overhaul rebuilds incorporate new team philosophies, new leaders, and new players at all levels to send a franchise in a new (and hopefully winning) direction. While they usually involve up to five years of development, overhaul rebuilds have a better chance at success than patchwork rebuilds and are more apt to produce consistent, longterm results.

The Seahawks front office will be facing a dilemma regarding their rebuilding efforts in the coming offseason. Though the NFL is quite different than Major League Baseball in terms of contracts, free agency, trading, and the lack of a minor league system, rebuilding efforts are often fueled by salary cap-saving moves and the NFL Draft, which produces immediate answers for teams with questions.

With veterans abound on a Hawks team that, under its current makeup, looks hard-pressed to challenge a bourgeoning Arizona Cardinals team in 2009, the front office will have to decide whether it wants to a) move in a different direction at quarterback (not likely given Hasselbeck’s reputation), b) bring back receivers Deion Branch and Bobby Engram, c) begin the process of reconstructing the offensive line (especially the aging left side), and d) improve a young secondary that has had trouble defending the pass. In addition to all the questions regarding the product on the field, the team will also undergo a coaching change, with Mike Holmgren retiring and Jim Mora, Jr. stepping in.

No matter which direction the Hawks choose to proceed, they will undoubtedly have a tough task at hand in attempting to repair a ballclub with more questions than answers at this point.

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