H to the Izzo…V to the izz-A, Robinson Canoizzo is Coming to the Emerald City: Mariners Land Star 2B In Stunning Coup

“If you’re having run scoring problems I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but a power hitting second baseman ain’t one.” – Jay Z  Jack Z

Seattle’s embattled general manager will have to drop more than just one fat beat to save his job and bring the Mariners back from the brink of irrelevance, but if Robinson Cano’s 10 year/$240 million dollar contract is any indication, Jack Z is just beginning to dust off the rhymes.

Let’s be clear about one thing — the contract is too much money for too long, but what choice did the Mariners have? Free agents aren’t going to come to Seattle for a chance to win a championship (not yet at least) or to improve their offensive numbers. Until the Mariners reverse 12 years of mediocrity, they’ll only come for the money.

Have the Mariners found their Holy Grail?

Have the Mariners found their Holy Grail?

This contract will probably look terrible in 5-6 years (although inflation will help offset this to a small degree) but signing Cano was about making the Mariners relevant NOW without worrying about what it would do to the franchise in the coming years. The only way Seattle made headlines the past few seasons was for utter chaos in its front office, and of course, that huge ass TV in centerfield. The time was right (as was the payroll) to make a splash, and in a limited free agent market, Cano was in a class by himself.

Power hitting second baseman who hold their own defensively don’t grow on trees (at least not in the northern hemisphere) and though he’s on the wrong side of 30, Cano is fresh off a 7.6 WAR season that included a triple slash of .314/.383/.516 (he would have led the 2013 Mariners in nearly every offensive category – shocking I know). In the last five seasons he’s never posted an OPS below .871, never failed to crack the 20 HR mark, and never played in less than 159 games — that’s consistency Seattle has been looking for since Russ Davis Edgar Martinez left town.

Robinson Cano is a superstar, and the Mariners didn’t have to give away any prospects to acquire him (although the superfluous Dustin Ackley or Nick Franklin may be on their way out). It’s obviously risky putting so many eggs ($$$) in one basket, but it’s better than piddling away your payroll on a bunch of Michael Morses and Jason Bays. There’s still plenty of work to be done with the roster if Seattle hopes to make a serious run at the postseason, but they have more cash to spend and three studs (Cano, Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager) along with a bevy of potential stars (Mike Zunino, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, D.J. Peterson, etc.) to build around.

There’s something in the air in Seattle and it’s not rain…it’s excitement about the Mariners.

Better grab an umbrella…ella…ella…eh…eh.

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Once, Twice, Three Times a Mariner: Seattle Does the Most Seattle Thing Possible, Signs Raul Ibanez. Again.

Unless Ibanez returns to catching, this deal just doesn't add up.

Unless Raul Ibanez returns to catching, this deal just doesn’t add up.

So the Mariners missed out on Josh Hamilton? No problem, we got Jason Bay! Nick Swisher chose to sign with Cleveland over Seattle? Big deal! Welcome back Raul Ibanez!

I keep hearing that Jack Zduriencik has a plan. At what point does it include building a winning team?

Seattle isn’t going to make the playoffs in 2013; I think everyone agrees on that. The team appears to be committed to building through the draft and letting young players get at-bats, so why are they dishing out $2.75 million to a 40-year-old on his last legs?

Is it the mythical, unquantifiable quality of leadership? I can’t think of any other reason to bring in another player to add to the logjam at 1B/DH/OF. Didn’t we just do that with Kendrys Morales? Is the front office admitting that the deals that brought in Casper Wells, Mike Carp, and Eric Thames (players who will lose at-bats or a roster spot to Ibanez) were failures?

Don’t get me wrong I’m a big fan of Raul, and think he can still contribute as a bat off the bench, but he’s not what the Mariners need right now. Ibanez  hit .208 with a .365 slugging percentage (four points below Seattle’s team average last season) away from Yankee Stadium in 2012, and the last time he played full-time in the outfield he was worth negative 23 runs. That’s not just bad, that’s cover-your-eyes bad.

Could the Mariners hide his Benny Hill act in the outfield by keeping the majority of his at-bats at DH? Sure, but then better hitters like Morales, John Jaso, and Jesus Montero would be forced to the bench, and on days when Ibanez is in the outfield, Michael Saunders or Wells would lose playing time – how exactly does that help their development?

The Mariners don’t need leadership right now, they need talent. Ibanez doesn’t make Seattle any better in 2013, and the belief that his veteran presence will make the M’s young hitters better in coming years is ludicrous. Is Raul going to make Montero stop swinging at sliders in the dirt, or is Montero going to figure that out on his own with (gasp!) playing time? Seattle wants its young players to improve? Hire a good coach; don’t send them to the bench so a star of bygone days can parade in front of an apathetic fan base.

I used to joke that the Mariners would finish fifth in the A.L. West. Now, with Houston in the division and a front office committed to ineptitude, it seems like a very real possibility…

At least Raul can provide something for the Mariners...laughs.

At least Raul can provide something for the Mariners…laughs.

CLICK PICTURE TO ENJOY RAUL IN THE OUTFIELD

 

Maligned Mariners Management Makes Move for Montero: Can Jesus Save Seattle’s Season?

Hopefully this card wasn't part of your retirement plan, because you know, he's a Mariner now.

Seattle Mariners fan(s) complained all winter long (with good reason–did you see the summer blockbuster, “2011: A Baseball Tragedy“?) about the lack of activity from the team’s front office, and now that a substantial and largely unexpected move (though Rob Lowe did tweet about it a few weeks ago) has been made, well, nobody knows quite how to feel.

On one hand, Seattle acquired a power-hitting catcher/DH in Jesus Montero who has long been considered one of the best power prospects in the minor leagues. On the flip side, the Mariners had to give up Michael Pineda, a towering right-hander who made the All-Star game in his first season and become a fan favorite for his sizzling fastball and gregarious personality.

So how does the trade rate on paper, and where does the move leave Seattle heading into the 2012 season?

If the Mariners organization has any strength (try to stifle your laughter), it’s their depth of pitching talent at both the major and minor league levels. Even with Pineda (and the second piece of the trade–Jose Campos) off to the Bronx, Seattle still boasts a farm system loaded with talented arms like Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Taijuan Walker who aren’t that far away from contributing for the Mariners. So while it was difficult to give up Pineda and his 1.099 WHIP and 9.1 K/9, Seattle has a much better chance of replacing him from within than it did of acquiring a free-agent hitter at a palatable rate.

What the Mariners boast in pitching however, is negated by a lineup (Seattle scored 299 fewer runs than Texas in 2011) often described as “more unwatchable than Norbit“. Enter Jesus Montero, a burly slugger who has elicited comparisons to Miguel Cabrera and Paul Konerko while posting a career .308/.366/.501 slash line in the minor leagues, and hitting .328 with four HR’s in 61 AB’s for the Yankees in September. There are legitimate concerns that Montero won’t be able to stay at catcher, but even so, it’s hard to imagine him hitting worse than the combination of Jack Cust/Adam Kennedy at DH.

Though Safeco is a tough environment for right-handed hitters (somewhere, in a dark room, Richie Sexson quietly weeps), scouts have raved about Montero’s ability to drive the ball to the opposite field, something that allowed Brett Boone to set a major-league record for HR’s by a second baseman in 2001. If Montero lives up to his sizable potential, it’s easy to get excited about a heart of the lineup that also features Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Mike Carp. It’s not exactly the 1927 Yankees, but it sure is better than anything Mariners fans have seen lately.

The other pieces of the trade, Hector Noesi to Seattle and Jose Campos to New York, benefit the M’s in the short term as Noesi can slide in as a fourth or fifth starter in 2012. Noesi has proven he can handle major league hitters in the treacherous AL East, but he doesn’t have the upside of Campos, who dominated the Northwest League in 2011 to the tune of a 2.32 ERA, 0.971 WHIP, and a ridiculous 6.54 K/BB ratio. Campos looks like another Pineda in the making, but is years away from contributing at the major league level, and when it comes to pitching prospects, there’s no such thing as a guarantee (remember Ryan Anderson).

The Mariners aren’t going to compete for the AL West crown in 2012, but if nothing else, this move makes them infinitely more watchable. A full season of Montero, Ackley, Carp, and the possible return to form of Justin Smoak gives M’s fans reasons to believe that the worst of times are behind. Heck, Seattle might even flirt with .500 in 2012 (although they’re far too shy to ask it on a date). It’s not the end of the long climb back to respectability, but it’s a start.

Go Mariners.

Deal With the Devil: Will Seattle Regret Not Trading Cliff Lee to the Yankees and What Is Josh Lueke’s Future in Seattle?

Will Josh Lueke ever be allowed to pitch for the Mariners? Should he be?

If you haven’t been paying attention to the Mariners lately (instead choosing to enjoy life and not indulge in masochistic urges) it’s likely that you missed the latest controversy surrounding the team–and it has nothing to do with play on the field.        

Flashback to July, when the Mariners had a deal in place to trade Cliff Lee to the New York Yankees for a package of prospects including top-hitting catcher Jesus Montero, only to nix the trade at the last-minute in order to take a “better” offer from division rival Texas. At the time it seemed like a major coup for the Seattle front office, as they acquired powerful switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak and a former first round pick in pitcher Blake Beaven. However, after the initial euphoria lifted, things quickly began to unravel.        

One of the lesser known players in the trade, reliever Josh Lueke, had been convicted of a horrific crime–one that the front office was apparently clueless about (despite the fact that a simple Google search would bring up the information from Lueke’s case). Team president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Jack Zduriencik both claimed not to know the extent of Lueke’s criminal record, even though former pitching coach Rick Adair said he told the front office everything he knew about Lueke on and off the field. This set off a back and forth between the Seattle front office (who claimed to have been misled by the Rangers) and Texas (who stated that Lueke’s background was common knowledge and that they had offered to take him back) and eventually led to the firing of professional scouting director Carmen Fusco, a personal hire of Zdurinciek and a 35-year baseball veteran. Selling Fusco as the scapegoat didn’t quell the controversy though, and serious questions continue to linger about the M’s front office and the future of Jack Zdurienciek in Seattle.   

There’s no denying that Lueke is a talented pitcher (5-2, 1.86 ERA and 94 K’s in 63 innings at three minor league stops in 2010) but there are plenty of questions surrounding the Mariners’ decisions making in the process and what Lueke’s role with the organization will be moving forward. Seattle certainly needs help in the bullpen (apologies to Chris Seddon and Jamey Wright) but is bringing aboard a pitcher with Lueke’s history worth the potential damage to the organization’s reputation–especially an organization that has been so outspoken about domestic violence? The team had a chance to call-up Lueke when rosters expanded but balked at the opportunity, likely due to the outrage surrounding the “discovery” of his crimes. Will the response of fans be any different if the Mariners wait until next season to promote Lueke?  

Despite the fact that Lueke has paid his debt to society (spending 40 days in jail), it doesn’t change what he’s done and it won’t change how he’s viewed by fans and the community. If the organization knew about his past and still completed the trade with Texas it’s clear that the Mariners puts winning above all else, and if that’s the case,  they had better start winning (maybe we could become the baseball version of the Cincinnati Bengals). If Seattle truly didn’t know about Lueke’s criminal record (highly, highly unlikely) then the organization still has a responsibility to be upfront with their fan base about the situation and act accordingly, even if that means trading away or cutting Lueke. The Mariners made a colossal P.R. mistake by bringing aboard Lueke and the organization needs to act fast in order to save face–this isn’t an issue that will just go away if it’s ignored. 

No matter how this issue plays out, it’s clear that the Seattle front office isn’t the model of perfection we though it was, and that Jack Zduriencik might not be the man to lead the Mariners back to the playoffs. This whole firestorm could have been avoided if Seattle had just followed through on their trade with New York, but it appears that by trying to burn the Yankees, the Mariners torched themselves. 

Only time will tell…

Already Gone: Long Awaited Cliff Lee Deal Finally Completed; Ace Lefty Traded from Seattle to Texas for Justin Smoak and Prospects.

It was all smiles when Cliff Lee arrived in Seattle, but it wasn't meant to be.

When grammy-winner Kelly Clarkson penned her hit “Already Gone” she wasn’t referring to the love between a man and a woman. Rather, Clarkson was alluding to the relationship between superstar pitcher Cliff Lee and the Seattle Mariners:

“Remember all the things we wanted (a World Series title); Now all our memories they’re haunted (a ruined chance at a long-term relationship); We were always meant to say goodbye (how ’bout just so long for now?)” 

“Even with our fists held high (seven wins in Lee’s last nine starts); It never would’ve worked out right (Seattle’s cursed after all); We were never meant for do or die (though we wish Beiber-mania would).” 

“I want you to know that it doesn’t matter; Where we take this road someone’s gotta go (either via free agency or trade); And I want you to know you couldn’t have loved me better (8-3, 2.34 ERA, 89 K’s/6 BB’s); But I want you to move on so I’m already gone (16 games out in division).” 

“Looking at you makes it harder (because he’s so very good); But I know that you’ll find another (please just don’t be the Yankees or Boston); That doesn’t always make you want to cry (or at least a team that can score runs).” 

Despite Kelly’s warning, losing Cliff Lee won’t be any less painful for Mariners’ fans. He was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season and his affable personality and dynamic stuff made Lee a lovable character among a team of bumbling oafs.

My head knew that Cliff Lee had to go, but my heart still refuses to believe it.

David Ortiz, Seeking to Prove He’s More Insecure Than Most High School Girls, Lashes Out at Reporters Following Loss.

A meltdown following the second game of 2010 spells a long season for Ortiz.

Well that didn’t take long. 

Following a 6-4 loss to New York on Tuesday night the Boston Red Sox found themselves sitting at 1-1 and on pace for a .500 season; clearly it was time to hit the panic button. Former slugger and current decrepit designated hitter David Ortiz, who went hitless in the first two games of the season, was asked by reporters following the game whether he was concerned about his slow start after last year’s disastrous meltdown (Ortiz hit .185 with one HR and 18 RBI’s last April/May). Apparently the question struck a nerve, and Big Papi responded with Dickens-like eloquence: 

“Good…you guys wait ’til [expletive] happens, then you can talk [expletive]. Two [expletive] games, and already you [expletives] are going crazy. What’s up with that, man? [Expletive]. [Expletive] 160 games left. That’s a [expletive]. One of you [expletives] got to go ahead and hit for me.” 

Even if I can’t correctly identify all of the expletives listed above (s-word, s-word, f-ing, mother-effers, f-word, f-ing, s-word ton, mother-effers?) the gist of Ortiz’s comments is quite clear: don’t judge me by two games. 

He’s right of course. Seven at-bats is an extremely small sample size, and if Ortiz played in San Diego or Kansas City this minor slump would be a non-issue. Unfortunately Ortiz doesn’t play for the Royals, he plays for the Red Sox in one of the largest media markets in the sport. As a player in New York or Boston you’re under the microscope 24/7, which Ortiz should realize entering his 8th season with the Red Sox.

If Ortiz had just brushed off the questions, or laughed at his own expense, it’s unlikely we would still be talking about his slow start today. But by lashing out at reporters, Big Papi revealed what many in the media speculated last year…that the end is near. Ortiz is no longer the 40-50 home run threat he was when he first arrived in Boston and unless he rights the ship soon, both physically and mentally, Big Papi’s days in Beantown might be numbered with Mike Lowell waiting in the wings.

Love ’em or hate ’em the Red Sox sure know how to make things interesting.

Viva La Vidro’s 2010 Baseball Forecast: Cloudy With a Chance of Mariners.

Say hey to Jason Heyward, the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year and next Ken Griffey Jr.

I know what you’re thinking: “It’s Opening Day and Bud hasn’t even picked his award winners for the upcoming season yet. How am I supposed to know what’s going on and who’s taking home the hardware without his keen insight and witty commentary? Is it finally time for Sidney Ponson to capture a Cy Young? Does anyone like Derek Jeter? Can Casey Kotchman slug his way to an MVP? He doesn’t work fulltime, what’s his excuse this time–his computer died?”    

Well, my computer did pass away, and I would appreciate a little sensitivity during this difficult time (Bud’s computer was five-years-old). Despite this overwhelming obstacle that would cripple most bloggers, I realize my reader(s) would be ill prepared for the 2010 season without me, and that is a responsibility I take very seriously. So before I get emotional thinking about my computer again, here are the players poised for greatness this year:    

NL Rookie of the Year–Jason Heyward (Atlanta Braves OF): If card sales are any indication (just take a gander at his stuff on eBay) Heyward is the real deal. The 20-year-old slugger has been compared to everyone from Ken Griffey Jr. to Fred McGriff, and the Braves would be more than happy if Heyward turned into a “Kred McGriffey Jr.” hybrid. It’s amazing that 13 other teams passed over him in the 2007 draft because Heyward has a once-every-decade skill set, including light-pole power and tremendous plate discipline (especially for such a young player). He’ll start the year in rightfield for the Braves after a strong spring and should run away with the award.    

The Orioles are confident that Matusz can lead them out of the AL East cellar.

AL Rookie of the Year–Brian Matusz (Baltimore Orioles SP): Matusz is set to become the most badass bird since Frightful of My Side of the Mountain fame. The 23-year-old lefty breezed through the minor leagues (11-2, 1.91 ERA, 0.906 WHIP) and showed plenty of talent in a brief stint with the Orioles (5-2, 4.63 ERA, 38 K’s in 44 innings) last season. Alongside Chris Tillman, David Hernandez and Brad Bergesen, Matusz is a major part of Baltimore’s rebuilding project, and despite his age will be counted on as a leader of the pitching staff. Matusz has a four pitch repertoire and a deceptive delivery that makes it difficult for hitters to track his fastball. He also shows a good command of the strike zone and has the ability and makeup to be a top of the rotation starter for the next decade. The Orioles will need Matusz to be as good as advertised if they hope to climb the treacherous mountain known as the AL East.   

NL Cy Young–Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Phillies): While there is no shortage of premier pitchers in the National League (Tim Lincecum, Johan Santana, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, etc.), Halladay should have the best season of his career in 2010 after moving from the power packed AL East to the offensively challenged NL East (no offense Mets’ fans…okay plenty of offense actually). Supported by one of the game’s best lineups Doc Holliday should have no trouble winning games and posting a sub 2.50 ERA to go along with around 200 K’s–more than enough to wrestle the award away from Lincecum.    

AL Cy Young–Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners): King Felix was nearly unstoppable in 2009 (19-5, 2.49 ERA, 217 K’s) and only missed out on the award because of an unreal season from Zack Grienke. With Cliff Lee backing him up (after he gets off the DL) and a slightly improved lineup, Hernandez should be even better in 2010 and has a solid chance to capture his first 20-win season. The key this year for Felix will be cutting down on his walks (71 free passes) and wild pitches (a league leading 17); if he can do that, the King might just be the best pitcher in all of baseball.   

Troy Tulowitzki and the Rockies are poised for big things in 2010.

NL MVP–Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies SS): Tulowitzki finished fifth in NL MVP voting last season, which is astounding considering how slowly he and the Rockies started in 2009 (.200 BA in April, .242 in May). The sweet swinging shortstop is a wiz in the field and has a desirable combination of power and speed at the plate (30 HR’s/20 SB’s in 2009). More importantly than his numbers though, is Tulo’s leadership in the Rockies clubhouse, where he is the unquestioned captain of the team. If the Rockies can build on their strong finish last year Colorado should have no trouble overtaking the weakened Dodgers in the NL West, and if Tulowitzki plays like he did from June until the end of the 2009 season, the MVP will be his to lose.   

AL MVP–Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay Rays 3B): Despite the Rays’ struggles in 2009, Longoria put together a quietly solid season in his sophomore campaign, hitting .281 with 33 HR’s and 113 RBI’s while capturing the Gold Glove at third base. Still only 24-years-old, Longoria has plenty of room for improvement at the plate, and he’s certainly capable of smacking 40 HR’s if he can cut down on his strikeouts. Tampa Bay has one of the most talented rosters in baseball and have been picked by many baseball pundits to take the AL East or Wild Card, thanks in no small part to Longoria’s continued maturation as a player. Look for big numbers in 2010 from the Rays’ third baseman as Evan finally becomes America’s most popular Longoria.   

World Series: Seattle over Colorado (4-3)–It’s no crazier than a Duke-Butler final, and really, could it end any other way? Well it could, but I don’t want it to, and I think baseball takes my wants and needs very seriously.