New Year’s resolutions are like receipts – nobody but squares keep ’em. That doesn’t stop millions of people from making them though, including your very own Seattle Mariners:
Carlos Peguero: Close eyes. Swing hard.
Eric Wedge: Bury Casper Wells even deeper on the bench. Stroke mustache more.
Casper Wells: Stare wistfully at field from dugout.
Michael Saunders: Capitalize on his nickname (“The Condor”) and start making bird noises when he hits home runs. Bacaw!
Felix Hernandez: Two perfect games.
Kendry Morales: Introduce fellow Mariners’ hitters to the mystical powers of Jobu.
Hector Noesi: Stop reading the newspaper the day after a start because it always hurts his feelings.
Alex Liddi: Get picture of cat eating pizza onto front page of Reddit.
Brendan Ryan: Contribute on defense AND at the plate.
Charlie Furbush: Work up courage to ask teammates to stop making fun of his last name.
Dustin Ackley: Found out more about all this “fiscal cliff” hubbub.
Justin Smoak: Play terribly for Seattle. Get traded. Turn into star for new team.
Wow! That sure is a lot to look forward to! Opening Day can’t get here soon enough!
Michael Saunders would like to forget that 2011 ever happened.
Would anyone blame him?
The Mariners centerfielder struggled all season long with Seattle, hitting .149 and striking out a whopping 56 times in just 161 at-bats for the big league club.
If the numbers weren’t bad enough, the way Saunders failed only exacerbated his, and Mariners’ fans, frustrations.
The bat rarely left his shoulder, and when it did, Saunders looked like he was swinging under water. Weak ground outs and pop ups, check swing strikeouts, and too many called third strikes to count.
He wasn’t just failing, he was imploding, and fans could see the young ballplayer unraveling at the seams. Little did they know the extent of Saunders struggles…
Off the field, his mother, Jane, was losing her 13-year battle with cancer. Michael had a special relationship with his mom, who was in attendance at Safeco Field on Mother’s Day 2010 when Saunders hit his first major league home run. Jane finally lost her battle with cancer in August, and Michael was granted an extended leave of absence by the Mariners to spend time with his family.
After six weeks away from baseball, Saunders returned to Triple-A Tacoma and hit well, posting a .864 OPS for the Rainiers. It looked like the Condor had finally turned a corner and was ready to take flight, but he came crashing back down to earth when he returned to the Mariners in September.
In 24 at-bats after being recalled by Seattle, Saunders collected just one hit (.042 BA) and struck out 11 times. There’s a difference between patience and passiveness at the plate, and Saunders was so timid that it looked like he didn’t even want to be there. Mariners fans yelled at their TVs, pleading with Saunders to swing, just swing, but nothing they said could clear his Ayers Rock-sized mental block.
The season ended, and Saunders struggles mercifully disappeared into the darkness of winter. Franklin Gutierrez would be back in 2012, and there was Casper Wells and Trayvon Robinson too. He’d been given every chance to succeed with the Mariners, and squandered them all like the prodigal son. Saunders was destined to be forgotten; another failed Mariners prospect in an overflowing pile of unfulfilled expectations.
Spring rolled around and Saunders reported to camp with talk of a new swing. It didn’t matter much at the time; plenty of players show up to spring training with a “new approach at the plate” or in “the best shape of their life” and it usually it amounts to a hill of beans. Besides, he was buried on the depth chart and ticketed for another season in Tacoma; who cared what his swing looked like?
Then, as quickly as it had been dismissed, his new swing suddenly mattered a whole lot. Franklin Gutierrez, the surefire Opening Day starter, suffered a tear in his pectoral muscle and Saunders, the player who had appeared to run out of opportunities, was suddenly front and center.
Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! If confidence had a sound, it was the noise the ball made as it met Saunders’ suddenly potent bat. He was no longer on the defensive at the plate, he was in attack mode and lasering base hits to all fields. The browbeaten boy of 2011 was gone; in his place stood a self-assured man with something to prove.
As the Mariners travel to Japan to open the season against the Oakland Athletics on March 28th, Saunders isn’t just the starter in center by default, he’s earned it.
The Condor has risen from the ashes of seasons past and spread his wings, knowing this year might finally be his last chance.
He just can’t let this one go by like another called third strike…
When the signing of free-agents like Richie Sexson and Carlos Silva aren’t the biggest mistakes your team’s front office has made, you’re either a part of Raider Nation (A kicker in the first round?), a long suffering Pittsburgh Pirates’ supporter (17 straight losing seasons, but who’s keeping track?), or in this instance, a Mariners’ fan still coming to grips with the depths of Bill Bavasi’s inept tenure as general manager. At least John McLaren didn’t sucker punch third base coach Bruce Hines while he was manager…we think.
During his time as general manager, Bill Bavasi was caught up in a neck-and-neck contest with Clay Bennett and David Stern to see who could become the most hated man in Seattle, and somehow Bavasi beat out the duo that stole basketball from the city. Ken Griffey Jr.’s triumphant return to Seattle this season brought untold joy to the denizens of the Emerald City, but it paled in comparison to the excitement that rippled through the streets when the sad-sack Bavasi was finally given his pink slip last season. Anytime a fanbase is more excited about the firing of a GM than the return of its greatest player ever, well, then things probably just aren’t going as planned.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to Mariners’ fans after more and more of Bavasi’s “brilliant” acquisitions went up in flames. His signings of has-beens like Sexson, Silva and Jose Vidro and questionable draft picks (Jeff Clement over Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki in 2005 and Brandon Morrow over Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw in 2006) put the Mariners’ organization in a hole they are still digging themselves out of. But Bavasi’s worst move of all, which is really saying something, was the fateful trade of February 8, 2008 that brought convicted felon Canadian southpaw Erik Bedard to Seattle.
The Mariners were fresh off a 2007 season that saw them go 88-74 and there was plenty of buzz about what the team could do in the AL West. Bavasi was bullish about his team’s chances in 2008 and figured that one big move was all Seattle needed to compete for the World Series. The trade had been in the works for quite some time before being finished in early February, with the Mariners sending a package of five players to Baltimore in return for Bedard who was coming off a season in which he went 13-5 with a 3.17 ERA and 221 K’s in 182 innings, finishing 5th in the Cy Young race.
Bavasi’s acquisition of Bedard in and of itself wasn’t a bad idea; here was a young, quality left-handed pitcher with plus stuff and the ability to create dominating 1-2 combination with Felix Hernandez. The real problem was that Bavasi greatly overvalued the talent within the Mariners organization and failed to realize that 2007, a season in which the Mariners won 14 games more than they lost despite a negative run differential, was a statistical anomaly and not a harbinger of things to come. Seattle players like Jose Vidro and Richie Sexson had overperformed, and thus were due for a regression in 2008, and adding Silva to the starting rotation was a mistake from the beginning. The good news is he’s only around for two more seasons. The bad news is that he’s due $24 million over that span. That’s no bueno.
In addition to misjudging the playoff chances of his team with the addition of Bedard, Bavasi also sold the farm, quite literally, in order to bring in the lefty. Bavasi’s time as GM of the Mariners was marked by his extereme myopia, and this was never more clear than when he sent Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Kam Mickilio and Tony Butler to Baltimore. Jones was the top prospect in the M’s organization, a speedy outfielder with 30-30 potential and tremendous range in the outfield. After experiencing some growing pains his first full season with the Orioles, Jones came into his own in 2009, hitting .277-19 HRs-70 RBIs-10 SBs before being shutdown with a leg injury. The Mariners certainly could have used his services in left-field this season, a position manned by the likes of Endy Chavez, Michael Saunders and Ryan Langerhans. Can you imagine an outfield of Franklin Gutierrez, Ichiro and Jones…there would never be a double hit by an opposing team in Safeco Field. Quite simply, Jones is a star and the player that the M’s will most miss down the road from this deal.
But it wasn’t just Jones that left town for Baltimore. Sherrill was a shutdown lefty for the M’s out of the bullpen, who became a closer for the Orioles, and is currently enjoying the best season of his career since being traded to the L.A. Dodgers (0.40 ERA, 15 hits in 22 innings with LA). Tillman is a tall right-hander starter with the potential to become a staff ace (8-6, 2.70 ERA, 154 Ks in 135 innings at Triple-A), and at only 21-years-old, should be a top flight starter for the Orioles over the next 5-6 years. Mickilio, in addition to being one of the tallest players in the league at 6’9″, has been a strong arm for Baltimore out of the bullpen, with a 2.63 ERA and 14 Ks in 13 innings this season. The final player in the deal, lefty Tony Butler, has struggled with injuries in the minors but is still only 19-years-old and if he develops could make this one of the most lopsided deals in the recent history of baseball, in the same breath as the Bartolo Colon for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore deal between the Cleveland Indians and Montreal Expos…a trade so bad that the Expos don’t even exist anymore!
To recap, the Mariners traded an All-Star outfielder and closer, a future #1 starter, and two more promising arms in return for a pitcher who threw a combined 164 innings in two seasons. Bedard hasn’t been bad when he has pitched (11-7, 3.24 ERA, 9 Ks/9 innings) but with the recent news that he will be shutdown for the remainder of the season with yet another shoulder injury, he isn’t exactly endearing himself to Seattle fans. Bedard has indicated that he would be interested in returning to the Mariners next season, but would the Mariners or their fans even want him back?
Unless the lefty agrees to a 10-year deal for the league minimum and promises to start taking enough tough pills to stay off the disabled list, Seattle should show Bedard the door at the end of the season and put all memories of this horrendous trade to rest. Of course that won’t be easy as Adam Jones and Chris Tillman continue to develop into stars and the Mariners continue to toil in mediocrity, but it never hurts to dream.
Thanks Bill Bavasi. Seattle will never forget you…for all the wrong reasons.
Filed under: AL East, AL West, Baseball, Mariners | Tagged: adam jones, baltimore orioles, bill bavasi, bruce hines, chris tillman, clay bennett, daniel stern, emerald city, erik bedard, franklin gutierrez, george sherril, Ichiro, ichiro suzuki, john mclaren, jose vidro, kam mickilio, oakland raiders, Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners, tony butler | Leave a comment »
Record: 15-14 (68-64 overall)
AL West Standings: L.A. (78-52); Texas 6 GB; Seattle 11 GB; Oakland 20.5 GB
Top Hitter: Jose Lopez had a solid month of production at the dish (.258-6 HR-22 RBIs-10 2B) and Mike Sweeney took advantage of increased playing time (.333-2 HR-9 RBI-5 2B) but the best hitter on the team continues to be Mr. Consistency, Ichiro Suzuki. Despite missing 7 games with a calf injury, Ichiro hit his usual .340 with 2 HRs and 10 RBIs, in addition to swiping 3 bags and scoring 16 runs. Seattle’s offense went into a major funk without him at the top of the lineup and they were glad to welcome him back to the field last night. Suzuki is just 14 hits away from becoming the first player in major league history with 9 straight 200+ hit seasons and is also just 9 hits away from 2,000 in his MLB career. Yeah, he’s that good.
Top Pitcher(s): Felix Hernandez continued his breakout season with a sterling August that put him good position to make a run at the AL Cy Young Award (his teammates didn’t help the cause though, getting 1-hit by Zack Grienke). The flame-throwing right hander went 2-1 in the month with 2.70 ERA and 40 Ks in 40 innings. On the season, the 23-year-old Hernandez is 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA and 179 Ks in 185 innings, a vast improvement in all statistical areas from last year. Felix starts have become must-see TV, and Seattle has to begin worrying about whether he will stick around when he becomes a free-agent in two years. Translation: enjoy him while you can.
Biggest Surprise: Despite the fact that he’s hitting .211 on the season, Ryan Langerhans has provided Mariners’ fans with plenty of excitement. The soft-hitting lefty has drilled only 3 HRs on the season, but 2 of them are of the walk-off variety and both came in August (7th and 25th). An amazing 10-percent of his hits this season have been walk-off HRs, which becomes much less amazing when you consider Langerhans only has 20 hits on the year. At least he’s making them count.
Biggest Disappointment: Erik Bedard was shut down for the season on August 20th, adding further disappointment to his short tenure in Seattle. Bedard wasn’t bad when he pitched (5-3, 2.82 ERA in ’09) but rarely went deep into ballgames and struggled with injuries both seasons. With the continued growth of the players the M’s sent to Baltimore to acquire Bedard (Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill) this might go down as one of the worst trades in recent history (though not quite as bad as the Bartolo Colon for Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee deal).
Griffey Watch: Junior had his best month of the season in August, hitting .246 with 4 HRs and 13 RBIs, which was highlighted by a pinch-hit walk-off single against the Chicago White Sox in the 14th inning of a thrilling 1-0 Seattle win. Griffey missed a couple of games at the end of the month with sore knees but is expected back in the lineup soon, and though Seattle is out of contention, should give fans a reason to attend M’s games during the last 5 weeks of the year. This may be your last chance to see one of the greatest ball players of all-time (currently sitting on 625 career HRs), so soak in his every at-bat, players like Griffey come along once in a generation.
Injuries: Endy Chavez (torn ACL–out for year); Russell Branyan (herniated disk in back–mid-September return, possibly out for season); Adrian Beltre (bruised testicle–should return September 1); Ichiro Suzuki (tight left calf–should return September 1); Carlos Silva (rotater cuff–set to begin rehab assignment, unfortunately); Erik Bedard (shoulder surgery–out for season).
Welcome Aboard: Doug Fister was called up from Triple-A Tacoma and did nothing but impress in his 5 August outings, going 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA and 18 Ks against 7 BBs. The 25-year-old is making a strong case to be a part of the Mariners rotation in 2010, and twirled a gem against the Angels last night (7.1 innings, 5 hits, 1 R). Fister takes a pitch-to-contact approach on the mound (2 walks or less in 4 of his 5 starts), relying on the M’s defense and the spacious confines of Safeco Field to keep hitters in check. So far, it’s worked.
September Schedule: 2 vs. LA; 4 @ Oakland; 4 @ LA; 3 @ Texas; 3 vs. Chicago; 3 vs. NYY; 2 @ TB; 4 @ Toronto; 2 vs. Oakland
Overall Grade: (B) The Mariners continue to hang around on the outskirts of the playoff picture and finished August with a winning record (15-14). Sure they aren’t the best team in the league, but this is a far cry from last year, and they are building some excitement towards the 2010 season. September should be a fun month, with expanded rosters giving fans a look at M’s of the future.
Filed under: AL West, Baseball, Mariners, Seattle Mariners | Tagged: AL West, carlos silva, Doug Fister, endy chavez, erik bedard, felix hernandez, franklin gutierrez, ian snell, Ichiro, jack wilson, jose lopez, Josh Wilson, Ken Griffey Jr., LA Angels, michael saunders, Mike Sweeney, oakland athletics, russell branyan, ryan langerhans, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers | 3 Comments »
Record: 14-13 (53-50 overall)
AL West Standings: LA (61-40); Rangers 3 GB; Mariners 9 GB; A’s 17.5 GB.
Top Hitter: Franklin Gutierrez has become one of the most exciting defensive outfielders in all of baseball this season, saving the Mariners countless runs with his strong arm, good instincts and unbelievable range. In the month of July his bat finally caught up to his glove, as the 26-year-old Venezeluan hit .351 with 5 HRs and 17 RBIs. Simply en fuego. Gutierrez recovered quickly from a scary collision with the wall in Detroit and continues to cement himself as one of the cornerstones of Seattle’s rebuilding project. Almost an afterthought in the Mariners’ offseason moves, Gutierrez has arguably become the best all-around player on the team and his continued maturation at the plate gives M’s fans plenty to look forward to in the coming seasons.
Top Pitcher(s): Despite the fact that he no longer plays for the team, Jarrod Washburn was clearly the Mariners’ best pitcher in July. The suddenly reborn southpaw went 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA in the month and only allowed batters to hit .185 against him. It’s unfortunate that Washburn wasn’t able to pitch like this throughout his entire tenure with the Mariners, but his improvement this season allowed Seattle to maximize his trade value, and they received two good arms in return from Detroit (Luke French–a virtual clone of Washburn, and Mauricio Robles–a young, flame-throwing lefty with exciting potential). The Mariners have discussed the possibility of resigning Washburn in the offseason, and if they are able to accomplish that, this trade will look like a real steal for Jack Zdrunciek.
Biggest Surprise: Adrian Beltre is making incredible progress in his return from shoulder surgery and is expected to be activated next week against Kansas City. Beltre dealt with bone spurs for most of the season and there was a possibility he wouldn’t play at all this year after surgery, but his return should provide a boost for the M’s over the season’s last two months providing he is fully recovered. A free-agent this offseason, Beltre will be eager to prove that he is still one of the better 3B in the game; let’s hope he does. It was fun while it lasted Jack Hanahan.
Biggest Disappointment: Lefty Garrett Olson continues to struggle in the starting rotation and may have puched a permament ticket to the bullpen with his latest stinker against Texas (3 2/3 innings, 6 hits, 4 ER, 3 HR). Olson has shown flashes of brilliance, but nothing consistent, and ended July with a 7.53 ERA. It’s unclear what Seattle’s long-term plan his for him, but it seems like Olson is best suited as a reliever (2.76 ERA out of the bullpen).
Griffey Watch: Junior got all of Seattle feeling nostalgic when he hit a two-out, two-run go ahead double against Roy Halladay over the weekend, but otherwise his July was utterly forgettable. Seattle’s DH hit .224 in the month, with only 1 HR and 5 RBIs. You can’t overlook his influence in the clubhouse but on the field Griffey is a 39-year-old at the tail-end of his career. It’s been wonderful having the Kid back in the Emerald City, but here’s hoping he hangs up the cleats at the end of the season.
Injuries: Endy Chavez (torn ACL–out for year); Adrian Beltre (bone spurs in left shoulder–early August return); Erik Bedard (left shoulder inflammation–due back mid-August); Carlos Silva (fraying of labrum, enlarged stomach, loss of any tangible baseball skills, etc.).
Welcome Aboard: Jack Wilson (a nice upgrade over the Betancourt-Cedeno disaster at SS), Ian Snell (tons of potential, will a change of scenery make the difference?), Luke French (a solid lefty, #5 starter type), Michael Saunders (does anyone want to play LF for the M’s?), Jack Hannahan (fun name, good glove, but little else), Ryan Langerhans (thank the guys at USS Mariner for this one).
Happy Trails: Yuniesky Betancourt (you won’t be missed!), Wladimir Balentien (what a strange way to spell your name!), Jeff Clement (Pittsburgh is a wonderful baseball town! Also, a small list of players Bavasi could have drafted instead of Clement in 2005: Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman, Troy Tulowitzki, Ricky Romero, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew McCutchen), Jarrod Washburn (Where was this kind of performance the past 3 years?!).
August Schedule: 2 @ Texas, 3 @ Kansas City, 3 vs. Tampa Bay; 3 vs. Chicago; 4 vs. New York; 3 @ Detroit; 3 @ Cleveland; 3 vs Oakland; 4 vs. Kansas City; 1 vs. Los Angeles.
Overall Grade: (B) The Mariners really weren’t that bad in July, they finished a game over .500, but a three game sweep at the hands of the Indians and the continued success of the Angels all but ended Seattle’s shot at making the postseason. Although they gave up Washburn, the Mariners should remain competitive throughout the rest of the season, and it will be interesting to see if the new pieces (Wilson, Snell, Saunders, French) can become part of Seattle’s longterm plan. Wakamatsu and the rest of the coaching staff should receive high praise for keeping the M’s in contention this last into the season, and fans should be excited about what’s in store for 2010. The Mariners are certainly making strides in the right direction and will look to play spoiler to pontential playoff teams down the stretch.
Filed under: AL West, Baseball, Mariners | Tagged: adrian beltre, Don Wakamatsu, endy chavez, franklin gutierrez, Garret Olson, ian snell, ichiro suzuki, jack hanahan, jack wilson, jarrod washburn, jeff clement, Ken Griffey Jr., Luke French, mauricio robles, michael saunders, russell branyan, ryan langerhans, ryan rowland-smith, wladimir balentien, yuniesky betancourt | 1 Comment »