In recent days, I’ve found myself poking and prodding at the subject of our struggling baseball team. I’ve written little articles here and there hinting at my irritation, while feebly attempting to remain semi-objective in my criticism of the ballclub. The lingering negativity surrounding this last-place team has stagnated to the point where multiple articles and day after day of considering and re-considering my positions on various topics about the Mariners have brought me to the point of emotional destruction.
So enough is enough. It’s time to let it all out in one gigantic rant. After this, I’ll do my best to ignore what our hometown nine is doing to bring us down. Until I have something positive to say, I won’t say much at all. Or at least that’s the plan. We’ll see what happens. For now, I give you this explosion of frustration. Enjoy it.
Where to begin?
We could start with the struggling offense, or the ugly defense, or the crap attempt to make this team better in the offseason, or even Casey Kotchman, my new least favorite Mariner of all-time.
We could discuss manager Don Wakamatsu’s indifference towards shaking up the lineup, Milton Bradley’s breakdown, the Eric Byrnes fiasco, Jack Wilson’s bum leg, or Ryan Rowland-Smith’s inability to be a starting pitcher anymore.
We could talk about the makeup of this club and how absolutely mind-numbingly boring it is to watch them play.
Or the presence of two designated hitters that more or less defy their position.
Or Chone Figgins, who is the latest in a long line of once-productive free agent signees who can’t get their feet off the ground in Seattle.
Or we could just vent about it all at once. A melting pot of anger and frustration, laid before your very eyes like a veritable goulash of last week’s leftovers. It makes you sick to even think about. And that’s a good start. Because I’m sick, and you’re sick, and we’re all sick of this team. And it’s about damn time we stood up and owned that, took control of our feelings and let them out for the world to appreciate. Let’s begin, shall we?
Boring. If I could sum up the 2010 Mariners in one word, it would be “boring.” Forget the win-loss record for a second. This team is just no fun to watch. Teams built around pitching-and-defense can give you exciting games here and there, but when they can’t hit and can’t do one of the requisite halves of their modus operandi (pitch or defend) it’s not something you want to witness in action. We knew coming into the year that the M’s couldn’t hit. And now, two months into the season, it has become apparent that they don’t really play great defense, either. At least they get good pitching. Or, to be more accurate, I should say starting pitching. Because the bullpen isn’t anything to write home about these days.
And that’s what really pisses me off. This whole “pitching and defense” philosophy that we were spoon-fed during the offseason. “It’s okay that we can’t hit the ball,” they told us, “because our pitching and defense will carry us to the playoffs.” Bull. Pitching and defense might give you a leg up, but pitching and defense don’t win ballgames. I’m sick of hearing that. It’s one of those stupid cliches that baseball’s old-timers hold near and dear to their hearts. You can pitch a perfect game and play error-free defense, but if you don’t score at least one run, you won’t win the game. Simple as that. Offense wins ballgames. Pitching and defense help keep you close.
This team has no balance whatsoever right now, and that’s the fault of the front office for loading up on gloves and arms and neglecting the sticks. For example, the Cliff Lee deal. Trading for Lee was a great move, a savvy move, but it wasn’t necessarily a move that this organization needed to make. Lee’s addition made a strength of this club (pitching) even stronger. It did nothing to address the gaping weakness in the batting order. And now we’re paying for it. Because Lee has gone out and pitched gem after gem with little in the way of results. All because his teammates can’t score runs for him. And at the end of the day, how are you going to convince an undervalued employee to stick around when he’s working in a hostile environment? Aside from the losing, Lee knows that he has to go out to the mound every fifth day and give a near-perfect effort in order to even fathom a victory. His teammates, his co-workers, do not have his back. And that’s a crappy place to be for someone who does his job to the utmost of his ability.
Now the M’s are faced with the prospect of negating the Lee deal by swapping him to a contender for virtually the same package of minor leaguers that they gave up to get the lanky lefthander. Like it never happened, or something. What a crock.
What about the bats? What was this garbage about taking flyers on D-listers that had no recent track record of success to warrant their acquisitions? Casey Kotchman? Eric Byrnes? Why waste the roster space when someone’s little brother could go out there and a do a better job than either of these two? At least Byrnes has been pawned off on a beer league softball team. Kotchman should join him. But he won’t, because Jackie Z. loves the guy’s glove.
Part of me thinks that Zduriencik only traded for Kotchman because he used to be a top prospect in the Angels’ system. Around baseball, management groups are always intrigued by guys who used to be minor league superstars. It’s why those types of players get chance after chance to succeed, kind of like first round quarterbacks in the NFL. Kotchman was an up-and-comer six years ago or so, but then he reached the majors and reality set in. He’s just not that good. You can crunch the numbers all you like, but it isn’t going to change the fact that the guy has little to no pop in that bat and on a good day he’ll hit you two singles. You expect power out of your first baseman and Kotchman simply cannot provide that.
Even the lords of sabermetrics will tell you that there are really only three positions on the field where you’ll sacrifice defense for offensive production: first base, third base, and left field. And first base is the premier slot for a lumbering oaf with a big bat. Kotchman is the opposite of that. And it’s killing this lineup.
It wouldn’t be that big of a deal if the team just admitted that Kotchman was a mistake. They already fessed up to the Byrnes mishap by releasing the left fielder, so we know they have a certain level of sheepish humility to lean on. But with Kotchman, it’s something different. They keep running him out to first base every game, despite the fact that he isn’t producing, despite the fact that they have capable replacements (Ryan Langerhans and Matt Tuiasosopo) on the active roster, and despite the fact that they have two productive hitters who play the same position in the minors (Mike Carp and Tommy Everidge). Why? Why do this? All it says to the fans is that the team is committed to seeing their mistake through to the bitter end. No matter what. Even if it corresponds directly with loss after loss.
I could go on about my issues with Kotchman all day, but let me suffice it to say that he is rapidly becoming one of my least favorite Mariners of all time. Right up there with Scott Spiezio, Rich Aurilia, and the like. Moving on.
Jack Wilson. What the hell? Why did we bring back the tin man? I feel for this guy, I really do. He plays the game hard, comes across as a genuine fellow, and really seems to care that he can’t be joining his teammates in combat right now. I like that attitude. It’s refreshing in this game.
But geez, you’re paying him $5 million to sit around and contemplate retirement. You had Josh Wilson, a low-cost viable replacement already on the roster. And Josh is proving that he’s every bit as good a shortstop as Jack, plus he’s hitting the ball. What was the benefit to bringing Jack back? I’d love to hear it, but I don’t think there’s a legitimate argument. The guy was hurt during his brief stint with the team last year, so you would think that the front office would have anticipated this. But I guess not. Or if they did, they just chose to overlook the history there. That’s a shame.
And then you’ve got Chone Figgins, the high-priced free agent addition. Remember when high-priced free agents used to hit 40 home runs or win 20 games? Not anymore. Now they hit .190 and take pitches. This is baseball in the year 2010.
I get it. We’re Club Nouveau, the trendy frontrunning organization that’s hip to the Moneyball philosophy. That’s why we signed Figgins, a speedy slapper who gets on base. It’s why we didn’t sign a feast-or-famine slugger, even though that’s what this lineup desperately needs. That’s just the Mariner way, you could say. It’s how we do things around these parts. And I think it sucks.
Give me power hitters that don’t always get on base. At least give me one of those guys, and preferably two. I don’t want to watch a guy take walks or ground out. That only fuels the boredom surrounding this team. Bring me a guy like Jay Buhner. Someone who swings for the fences and blasts 35 dingers a year. I would love to see that. I crave that. Our whole team used to be just like that a decade ago. Now we’re the antithesis of that. And it’s not working. Move the fences in, if you have to. Feed these guys meat. Let there be bulk. Let there be run production. You want to pay a guy $8 million a year, fine. Just make sure he brings something to this ballclub, and preferably some power. Because not only does Figgins not bring power, he doesn’t bring much of anything else right now. It’s a travesty.
I don’t know. I hate to harp on all these new additions, but the moves that were made this offseason were reminiscent of the Bavasi regime. Signing guys who were on the down sides of their careers or simply had no history to warrant relying on them so heavily. Figgins is 32. Jack Wilson is 32. Kotchman has never been a consistent performer at the big-league level. What did you expect?
Bavasi can relate. He acquired an aging Scott Spiezio, an aging Rich Aurilia, an aging Richie Sexson, an aging Carl Everett, an aging Matt Lawton, an injury-laden Pokey Reese, and an unproven commodity like Ben Broussard. His mistakes were magnified over five years. And they were much more egregious, let’s not kid ourselves there. I just don’t like the mindset of the organization this past offseason. They’ve made mistakes, and instead of cutting bait with their mistakes, they’re pulling a Bavasi and standing pat despite no results. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
And what to make of all these other little bumps in the road?
The DH situation is bad. Let’s just say that. There aren’t even fantasy owners out there who have two designated hitters on their squad, let alone semi-productive designated hitters. It handicaps your entire team. But tell that to Jackie Z.
Milton Bradley? We knew what we were getting with him and it hasn’t been easy. Were Carlos Silva not 6-0 right now, this move wouldn’t look so bad. But honestly, Silva had no place on this team anymore anyways, and Bradley at least gave you some potential. I’m just glad he’s trying to make things work, and that he appears to be on the path to redemption. He could turn into a feel-good story if he conquers his personal demons.
Ryan Rowland-Smith rubs me the wrong way if only because he’s a 27-year-old pitcher who has done absolutely nothing to warrant such high praise from the organization. Fact is, the team isn’t getting anything out of RRS and they may never be able to do that. Why they feel so inclined to hitch their wagon to a guy with an ERA over 7.00 is beyond me. Why not dump him while you can still get something for him. If he finds the switch with another ballclub, it will probably have more to do with a change in scenery than anything the M’s could provide for him. Right now, he’s on his way to becoming the next Ken Cloude or Bob Wolcott, albeit without the fleeting successes that those two enjoyed, if ever so briefly.
It’s time to shake things up, and yet the Mariners refuse to do that. They keep trotting out the same lineup night in and night out, but to no avail. It sends the message that their content with losing. That’s not the message you want to send to your fan base. Why not shuffle the deck? Move hitters around, change defensive positions, bench the handful of guys who can’t overcome their struggles. Kotchman doesn’t need to play each day. Figgins doesn’t need to play each day. Why make a bad thing worse? Change. It’s not just for the homeless.
I feel we’ve been lied to. Been patronized. Had our excitement preyed upon. Had our joyousness exploited. We’ve been sold a bad product and there’s no way to return it. It just doesn’t seem right. The Mariners’ slogan entering the season was “Believe Big.” We did as told. We’ve been sufficiently let down.
I’d like to imagine that things can get better, but they don’t seem headed that way. This team is in last place. They’re 12 games under .500. They’re 8.5 games out of first place. There’s still hope, yes, but nothing to signify that things are destined to turn around. Our management team has failed us. The players have failed us. It’s unfortunate. We asked for more and we didn’t get it. What now?