What happened in the last week?

There was some roster movement with Dustin Ackley and Brad Miller arriving from Tacoma and some injuries, including Michael Saunders and Ackley with digital injuries.  Saunders finger was stepped on and Ackley sprained his thumb in an awkward attempt to catch a ball hit in front of him.  Both should be available to play either tomorrow or Wednesday.

There are some interesting things to riff on from the last five games as well as what the next month portends for baseball this summer and next year.  As always winning or losing baseball is about the players, every once in a while it is about the manager and from a longer perspective the general manager and ownership.

Let’s get micro to start with:  The Mariners were 1-4 from Tuesday forward.  They were blown out early in two of the games, Joe Saunders’s start against the Pirates and Jeremy Bonderman’s yesterday against the Cubs.  They did try to comeback against the Cubs, but could not get all the way there.  Their one win came in extra innings.  They were outscored by almost two runs a game while averaging four runs per game.  The trouble with averages over a week is that they mask reality.  In two of the games they scored two and three runs.  Unfortunately those were not in the games that they were blown out early, so it makes it hard to win.  Four runs a game is 648 runs for a season, which is not going to get it in the American League West.  But allowing 5.8 runs a game computes to 940 runs for the season.

At 82 games the Ms have scored 291 runs which projects to 582 runs scored for the year. Last year the Ms scored 619 runs to regress by 36 runs over the course of this season.  It is only .22 runs per game, which by itself is not huge, but here is the thing 619 runs per game was the worst in the league and in order to compete for a playoff spot, it was generally accepted that they needed to score 80 to 100 more than last year’s team.  So going in the wrong direction is not a good sign.  Bad sign actually.  Let us come back to this in a few paragraphs.

In 2012 the Mariners allowed 651 runs in the American League which was third (3rd) best.  So far this year at 81 games, the Ms have allowed 356 runs which projects to 712 runs or 61 runs more allowed across the full season than last year. 

Simply put to this point the pitching has regressed more than the offense has.  Combined it’s 61+36=97 runs, a little more than 1/2 a run per game, with pitching and hitting trending off from last year. 

At the beginning of the season the starting lineup was:  Jesus Montero catcher; Justin Smoak 1b;  Dustin Ackley 2b;  Kyle Seager 3b;  Brendan Ryan ss;  Michael Morse lf;  Franklin Gutierrez cf; Michael Saunders rf;  Kendrys Morales dh.   Let’s take each of those choices by Wedge and Zduriencik.

Jesus Montero was received in a trade for Michael Pineda, who was the best starting pitcher for the Ms in 2011.  After a desultory first year in Seattle as a designated hitter and part time catcher in which he hit .260 with 15 home runs, Montero was given the starting catching job.  Stifled laughs were heard emanating from the Bronx.  Alas the glimpses of Montero as a catcher in 2012 which showed him to be lacking in athleticism which hampered his ability to throw or block balls were further realized this spring.  Compounding that his ability to hit at this level began to be questioned as he showed no ability to either get on base or hit with power.  To rub salt in the open wound, he is on the list of steroid users from the MLB investigation of the Biogenesis clinic in Miami and he blew out his knee upon being sent to Tacoma to learn how to play first base, while he was catching yet another game.

Justin Smoak has hung around Jack Zduriencik’s neck like a burning tire.  Radio, television and blogging press have saddled the Zman with Smoak’s abject failure over four seasons as a high price loss for the franchise.  It is not so.  To recap in December of 2009, Zduriencik traded for Cliff Lee from Philadelphia.  Lee was to be a free agent at the end of the 2010 season.  He gave the Phillies the following players Tyson Gillies, Philippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez.  They represented Bavasi draft choices that Zduriencik had little use for.  Aumont and Ramirez have sniffed around the Phillies roster the past two seasons.  Neither has shown anything that exudes even approaching a replacement level reliever.  A lot of words to suggest that Zduriencik paid nothing for Lee and the Phillies were happy with that.  How was he able to do that?  The simple reason is that Lee would have to come to Seattle, but it was highly doubtful that he would re-sign with Seattle in the fall.  Why is that you ask?  He likes to compete and play in the post-season and that was very unlikely given the talent the Ms had in 2010.  So by July 9, 2010, with the Mariners 18 games under .500 it was even more unlikely that Lee would resign with Seattle so Zduriencik traded him to Texas for Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Leuke and Matt Lawson.  Beavan is still here Leuke was traded for Jaso who was traded for Michael Morse.  Smoak had an OPS with Texas before the trade of .678.  His career mark is .689, so far this year he’s at .729, which is up a bit, but you want .900+ from that spot, which is not going to happen with him.  Let’s sum up, he cost nothing, he was not good before he got here and he’s still not good.  The trade brought one good player in Jaso/Morse.  So giving him the starting slot this spring and letting Mike Carp go for example for nothing, while Carp has an onbag of .376 and a slug of .685 or a 1.028 OPS looks like a real bad decision.  Some will say that Carp is a platoon guy, well given that Smoak is batting .100 right handed, probably still a really bad decision.  If Zduriencik can’t explain to his boss or the media why Smoak cost nothing, nor why he is not a big time prospect then he’s lacking skills to be an executive. 

Dustin Ackley started out the season as the starting second baseman which he had been since June of 2011.  He had two extraordinary months in June and July of 2011.  Each and every month since then he performed badly with the bat.  Finally they sent him down in May.  It was obvious he was struggling badly last year, but the team just kept running him out there.  It was a very bad decision.  When he returned to Tacoma, he was told to get an outfielder’s glove and that he would play left field and center field.  He did and he pounded the ball while in Tacoma.  He returned last week to Seattle to play center field and hit.  He was 1-7 before hurting himself trying to catch a ball he broke slowly on.  Nick Franklin replaced him at second base and looks to be superior as a hitter and defensively than Ackley.  Giving the job to Ackley after last year appears to have been done because they could not perceive anyone that might play second base in spring training other than Ackley. 

Kyle Seager at third base is having an improved season over last year and is probably the best player on the team at this point.

Brendan Ryan, the winner of the fielding bible award as the best defensive short stop last year, continued to play well defensively.  Beyond well, he is a great short stop.  He is not a major league hitter and certainly a team cannot play someone with his bat, when the balance of the lineup is lackluster.  Brad Miller replaced him three games ago.  He is not as good defensively, but figures to be an average defender with a very good bat.

Michael Morse was to be the team’s starting left fielder as helped by Jason Bay.  Collectively they have hit 21 home runs.  He’s played 8 games in left field, 37 in right field and 6 at first base.  He’s played 56 total games out of 82.  He’s been hurt, a broken finger and a strained quad and was moved to right field due to Franklin Gutierrez’s inability to play.  Jason Bay has come back from his debacle as a Met.  He has ten solo home runs and has played hard when called on.  There is not much left in the tank.  In a way Morse is similar in that this is the second straight year he has missed a lot of games due to injury.  Before steroids, players faded in their 30s.

Franklin Gutierrez played 92 games in 2011, 40 in 2012 and 18 so far this year.  He’s missed these games with a variety of maladies and injuries.  They range from irritated bowel syndrome, to getting hit in the head with a pickoff attempt, to a bunch of pulled muscles to a genetic blood issue that causes some of the previous stuff.  He DID have a big contract entering this, his last year, so despite lots of evidence that he was no longer able to play major league baseball regularly, he was the starting center fielder for about three weeks until he hurt himself.  As in the past he took extensive time on the disabled list along with lengthy rehabs in the minor leagues, returns to the major league and plays well and hurts himself again.  One of the Times beat writers took offense at some of the humorous stuff, of the gallows version, written about this mess.  At the end of the day the organization has to realize that they’re trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip and just let it go.  Bringing him up and down causes roster adjustments and guys getting moved when it defies credulity that he’s going to actually play.  To summarize, if they re-sign him in the face of this it would be idiotic.  If they release him and he recovers on some other team and plays all the time, well then that’s on him.  Move on.

Michael Saunders after a breakout season in 2012 in center field was moved to right field to accommodate Gutierrez.  Playing in the World Games for Canada he was their most valuable player as their starting center fielder.  He hits, runs, defends well both getting to balls and throwing.  Started off very well and ran into wall catching a ball and hurt his right shoulder.  Went on disabled list and came off it and has not hit well at all since then, says he’s not hurt.  In the last ten days he has started to recover but it seems he will be in right field if he hits.  This observer thinks he’s a far better center fielder than Ackley, but perhaps Ackley will improve.

Kendrys Morales has been the primary designated hitter and played some first base while Smoak was on the disabled list.  Had a quiet April with a .738 OPS. Was on fire in May with a .983 OPS and slumped badly with a .571 OPS in June.  In June he seems to be jumping at pitches as if he is anxious.  It is very likely that he is traded this month as he is a Scott Boras client.

In 2012 the starting rotation included Felix Hernandez, Kevin Millwood, Hishashi Iwakuma, Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan and Jason Vargas.  This year it has included Brandon Maurer, Joe Saunders, Aaron Harang, Blake Beavan, Jeremy Bonderman, Felix Hernandez and Hishashi Iwakuma.  Measuring the two staffs by OPS Against is direct and makes the point.  In 2012 Iwakuma had an OPS Against of .718, this year .603.  Felix Hernandez .653 last year and .629 this year.  Beavan was .780 last year and is .792 this year.  Brandon Maurer’s OPS Against this year is .964.  Joe Saunders is .836, Jeremy Bonderman’s is .782 and Aaron Harang’s is .766.  Last year Jason Vargas had a .714 and Kevin Millwood a .729.  The combination of Beavan, Vargas and Millwood was vastly superior to Maurer, Saunders and Harang.  Jason Vargas was more valuable to the Ms last year than Kendrys Morales has been this year.  Collectively as shown earlier the pitching was better.  Felix and Kuma have been better so far, especially Kuma.

So there is much hue and cry that the rebuild has failed.  Especially from the Times “writers”.   The team is not playing well but I’m not sure that reflects on the “rebuild”, remotely.  Let’s look at who plays now, and when the team acquired the player:

Catcher:  Mike Zunino 2012 draft;  comment:  Rushed, but should be good.

1b:  Justin Smoak 2010 trade;  comment:  Failed player.

2b:  Nick Franklin 2009 draft first round; comment: Huge upside.

3b:  Kyle Seager 2009 draft 3rd round;  comment:  best player on team, big upside.

ss:  Brad Miller 2011 draft 2nd round;  comment:  huge upside

lf:  Raul Ibanez FA 2013:  Former 36th round pick:  day by day, fooling mother nature

cf:  Dustin Ackley 2009 draft 1st round; comment:  hanging on by his teeth

rf:  Michael Saunders 2004 draft 11th round;  comment:  playing hurt, second half should be good

dh:  Kendrys Morales trade 2013;  comment:  Surely to be traded shortly.

SP:  Felix Hernandez: 2002 free agent;  comment:  he’s here through 2019

SP:  Hishashi Iwakuma:  2012 free agent;  comment:  through 2015

SP:  Joe Saunders:  2013 free agent; gone at year end if not sooner

SP:  Aaron Harang; 2013 free agent;  gone at year end if not sooner

SP:  Jeremy Bonderman:  2013 free agent;  gone at year end if not sooner

RP:  Oliver Perez: 2012 free agent:  Free agent at year end has been terrific

RP:  Carter Capps: 2011 draft third round:  absolutely shelled by left handers.

RP:  Charley Furbush: trade in 2011: club control through 2015

RP:  Tom Wilhelmsen: FA 2011, club control through 2015

Five guys playing with less than two full years of service, a number of relievers in the last two years from last three drafts and Tom Wilhelmsen.  Then you have a group of second tier veteran free agents that do not figure to be great:  Morse, Morales, Bay, JSaunders, Harang and Bonderman. It is unfair to suggest that Smoak is a critical failure except to say that they should have cut their time commitment to him a while ago.  He is not an important prospect.  I don’t see Chris Davis there.  A large number of the guys are here for the first time this year. 

If there is criticism to be levied, Zduriencik has thrown away starting pitchers in Pineda, Vargas and Fister and reaped very little to this point.  That may be forgotten when Walker, Hultzen, Ramirez and Paxton show up to good effect. 

The team has never been able to sign a tier one free agent with the exception of Felix Hernandez.  These executives have let Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson walk away and the premium free agent signing was probably John Olerud who gave the team a home town discount.  There is a clanging bell by a newspaper blogger that the Ms must follow the path of the Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees and sign high end free agents.    There are two problems with that, it does not seem likely this ownership will do that, nor does it seem likely, given a choice that a great free agent will sign here, given the size of the park and the organization’s commitment to winning baseball.  Which translates to building through the draft is probably the only way to go.