Believe in Moderation

believebig2Remember 2010? It will forever be etched in time as the Seattle Mariners’ “Believe Big” year. Believing big didn’t really work out the way everyone hoped, but the optimism was warranted. Coming off a promising 2009 campaign in which the team posted an 85-77 win-loss mark, the ’09-’10 offseason was full of giddiness and excitement.

Neglecting the various warts in a lineup pockmarked by over-performers and aging veterans, the M’s front office pulled off two major moves that offseason. The first came on December 8th, 2009 in the form of diminutive free agent infielder Chone Figgins. The Mariners inked Figgins to a (ugh) four-year contract that day, then waited just eight more days before pulling off their next big move. On December 16th, the team acquired starting pitcher Cliff Lee from Philadelphia for a hodgepodge of middling prospects. The move was heralded as a franchise-changer, the type that would take the organization from okay to great. With Lee and Felix Hernandez, the Mariners would be unstoppable. Never mind the fact that, assuming both aces stayed healthy, the duo would appear in just 40-percent of the team’s games. This was it! This was the Mariners’ year!

In clear win-now mode, the Mariners’ front office should have added to their December harvest by adding a power hitter or two (or six) to an otherwise unintimidating batting order back in that ’09-’10 offseason. Instead, they supplemented their heist by taking fliers (slash, risks) on a handful of guys who had, at one time or another, been considered decent ball players: Milton Bradley, Casey Kotchman, Eric “Beach Cruiser” Byrnes, and Ken Griffey Jr. in his second (and final) swan song season with the team.

As we all know now, the 2010 Mariners bombed epically for a number of reasons. One, their core performers – Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez, and Jose Lopez, to name three — couldn’t produce numbers mirroring their over-performance of a season prior. Two, their “big free agent signing,” Figgins, regressed faster than Lebron James’ hairline. Three, the risky players the team invested in and relied upon – Bradley, Kotchman, Byrnes, Griffey – failed just as spectacularly as Figgins. And four, management sent the team up the river by failing to fully commit to a season that was expected to be quote-unquote BIG. In all, the year was a complete and utter disaster.

Fast forward to today and the M’s find themselves in the midst of a somewhat similar situation. No, they haven’t pulled off a trade for a superstar pitcher, but they were able to ink the market’s top free agent to a decade-long contract – subsequently bumping the Figgins deal of 2009 down a rung on the ladder of the organization’s biggest free agent signings. And in convincing Robinson Cano to presumably finish his career in Seattle, the Mariners have begun to act in congruous fashion to four years ago, embarking on the piecemeal process of adding parts to a machine that now seems to be somewhat functional.

Last week, the soon-to-be-2014 Mariners signed free agent slugger Corey Hart, formerly of the Brewers, to a low-risk, one-year deal. The 31-year-old Hart, an All-Star in 2008 and 2010, is coming off a 2013 campaign in which he appeared in exactly zero games, the result of knee surgery that left him sidelined for the entire season.

The club also made a trade for first baseman-outfielder Logan Morrison, sending reliever Carter Capps to Miami to complete the deal. Morrison, who has combined flashes of brilliance with stretches of ineptitude in his four-year career, is just 26 years of age and was once considered among the game’s best young prospects.

Optimists will look at the additions the team has made in the wake of the Cano deal and scoff at their similarity to the moves made back in the ’09-’10 offseason. But in harkening back once more to those deals of four years prior, it’s hard to ignore at least a couple important bullet points.

In 2009, Figgins and Bradley were both 31 upon being obtained by the Mariners, the same age Hart is now. Each failed to extend his big league career beyond his time in Seattle and, like Hart, both had been All-Stars prior to arriving in the Emerald City. By the same token, Morrison evokes memories of the then-26-year-old Kotchman, a former prospect himself, who never quite panned out the way everyone expected. Entrusted with the starting first baseman’s job, Kotchman couldn’t quite put up starter’s numbers – a problem all too familiar to the Miami faithful who have watched Morrison develop.

Sure, Morrison and Hart play the game differently than their comparative predecessors in Mariners blue. Both have more power at the plate than the men I’ve aligned them with (a trait the Mariners sorely need), and Hart has a more distinguished pedigree than either Bradley or Figgins. But each maintain unique risks of their own, as well. Hart is attempting to return to baseball after surgeries on both his knees, the type of thing that would make even the Adrian Petersons of the world cringe. Morrison, meanwhile, has been lauded as one of baseball’s premier denizens of social media, accruing more Twitter followers than could fit in any one stadium in the country. Morrison’s off-the-field notoriety has often been seen as more burdensome than beneficial, however, creating a distraction for his employer and causing critics to point fingers when his on-field play has suffered. The virtual LoMo persona perpetuated by the talented Morrison has, to date, been more curse than blessing for the professional baseball player that is Logan Morrison.

With all due respect to both Hart and Morrison, history reminds us that the Mariners cannot settle for the haul they’ve accrued thus far. And indications are that they won’t settle, either. Coming off a season in which the team finished with a paltry 71-91 win-loss record, glaring holes persist at any number of positions in the lineup. Another power hitter is needed in the middle of the order to protect Cano and augment Hart. The rotation still needs at least one more proven major league arm. The outfield is barren, with none of the three positions set in stone at this point. And the bullpen, marred by inconsistency a year ago, is in need of at least one stabilizing presence, preferably in the form of a closer.

Should any of the additional upgrades be made in the near future, fans can start to feel a bit more comfortable with the prospect of a successful 2014 season, albeit one that will be played in what could be the toughest division in baseball. Still, there’s enough evidence in our recent past to temper expectations leading up to the year’s first pitch. Believe if you want to. Just make sure to believe in moderation.

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