Why the M’s moves of 2013 seem a lot like the M’s moves of 2014

Yesteraday the Mariners made it official, Robinson Cano joined the team.  Today the M’s gave Cano a little protection in the batting order by welcomingg Corey Hart and Logan Morrison to the team.

Robinson Cano is a great signing. At least today, he is a wonderful acquisition.  He is a middle of the line-up hitter-high on-base, high average, high slugging percentage-who is also a good defender.  Though he displaces other players, notably Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley, he is the best player at his position in baseball and it’s hard to argue that he makes the Mariners incontestably better.  It is likely that some time down the road his contract will not be something of an albatross, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Robinson Cano at his press conference with the Mariners.

Robinson Cano at his press conference with the Mariners.

I’m not sure how Hart and Morrison move the team forward.  Hart is a big right handed power-hitter, who in the past was capable of 30 homer seasons. Morrison a lefty, with less success in the bigs at the plate.  However they are both guys coming off knee injuries.  They are relatively ineffective outfielders, best suited to play at DH and first base. I mean no disrespect.  Hart could light the world on fire, hit his 30 homers and sign a big contract with M’s or somebody else next year.  Morrison will at least entertain the fans on Twitter, and will hopefully have some success at the plate too.  But I am troubled that these players, mediocre outfielders before their knee injuries, are somehow going to offer adequate defense in Safeco’s big barnyard. I remember this story last year.  Trade for Mike Morse, mix in a little Jason Bay, cover with Raul Ibanez, sprinkle with some magical Franklin Gutierrez dust, and voila! Mariners outfield.

There are still a lot of holes to fill.  Though there is still plenty of time until Spring Training, Zdurencik has done nothing to address the team’s pitching problems.  Though noises were made about a trade for David Price, and teams are waiting for the dust to clear regarding the Masahiro Tanaka posting (or not) the Mariners must make an add to their rotation. On the Price for Taijuan Walker question, do you do it or not? If the Mariners are looking to win now, of course, you make the trade.  I’m not convinced that’s their plan, but if they are serious about contending you make a deal that includes two former Cy Young winners in Felix and Price and a Cy Young contender in Iwakuma, plus whatever else.   That’s the best rotation in the major leagues. Their bullpen ended the year a shambles, and multiple pieces are necessary to plaster together a relief staff that lost more games than any team in the American League.

Leaving aside the pitching issues, which will hopefully get sorted out, I question that Zdurencik has a big picture vision for this team. Safeco Field is a pitcher’s park, and it should be built with that idea in mind.  Mariners teams should be built around great pitching and an athletic, effective defense, and an offense that values getting on base and running like the wind.  Robbie Cano fits this perfectly, but depending on home runs from a right hander in a park that will always rob one dimensional hitters of their power seems like a mistake to me.

Last year, Zdurencik left Arizona with a perpetually injured centerfielder, and was forced to use players either too old or too ineffective to play the position.  The result was poor outfield defense that sabotaged the pitching and contributed significantly to the team’s 91 losses. Today the Mariners have exactly one oufielder with a year’s major league experience, Michael Saunders.  One more if you count utility player Willie Bloomquist. If they don’t trade him, the M’s are likely to shuffle Dustin Ackley into an outfield spot, leaving at least one big hole. This team desperately needs a talented, veteran center fielder, and no number of Corey Harts, Logan Morrisons, Jason Bays or Raul Ibanezs can change that. Michael Saunders is not a center fielder and Dustin Ackley should not be. Pieces are available to trade for Brett Gardner or Denard Span who don’t hit home runs but are first rate defenders. That the M’s may be considering returning Gutierrez to the team is just ridiculous.  The scrap heaps and bargain bins are not a place to be looking for one of the most important players on the team.  Good teams have good ones, and great teams have great ones.

My fear is Jack Zdurencik simply sees this team as a collection of pieces.  Cano gives them a superstar.  Hart gives them a right handed thumper.  Felix is the face of the franchise.  Kyle Seager and Brad Miller are the gritty young up and comers. But this is not Major League IV: Hope Springs Eternal with the wily veteran pitcher and the flame throwing righty, the catcher with a heart of gold, and an amazing young centerfielder. This is not a team in which the bits all fit together well.  There are missing parts, and it fails to take advantage of the number one unchangeable feature of the Seattle Mariners and that is the vastness of Safeco Field. I will not be duped by the lure of the longball and I am not convinced that Zdurencik has a clue.

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