Surveying the wasteland and charting a course for 2014

It’s been a long time since my last post.  The Mariners turned in an apocalyptically bad second half of the season, so poor that I simply lost hope and lost heart.  I finished the schedule with a fire ’em all attitude.  Not like me, really. I’m an eternal optimist, a glass half full kind of guy.  I’ve always been able to find some kind of silver lining in a Mariners season.

Not this year.  In every phase of the game, from the starting rotation, to the bullpen, on offense and defense, the Mariners simply weren’t very good.  With the exception of Hisashi Iwakuma, there really wasn’t a player I can point at and suggest that this guy took a big step forward. The roster Jack Zdurencik constructed this year was so flawed, it is my belief he should have been fired at the end of the season.  Eric Wedge probably should have been fired too, but he made it easy by catching the first bus out of town.

If you check my comments from the beginning of the season, I voiced concerns about depending on a healthy Franklin Gutierrez in center field, and relying on two youngsters to make do in the starting rotation.  I was right, only it was even worse than i feared.  Gutierrez didn’t make it out of spring training, leaving the team without a serviceable center fielder.  Michael Saunders and Michael Morse were both injured early in the year, which left the M’s to make do with the agerific Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez and  Endy Chavez.  Outfield defense was ghastly as Saunders spent much of the year filling in at center, not the position he is best suited for.  The M’s off-season decision to pursue sock rather than a workable outfield left them in dire straits with balls not caught and bonus runs allowed.

I also suggested the team would go as far its rotation took it.  While I questioned whether Hiroshi Iwakuma could hang in for the entire season, he ended up being the star of the show. with his 219.2 innings pitched, his 14-6 record and his 1.006 WHIP.  Felix Hernandez, after inking a lucrative contract extension performed well for four and half months of the season and limped through the remainder for the second year in a row.  The rest of the staff could have been replaced by an ambidextrous  octopus named Willy and been far more entertaining.  Joe Saunders, a major off-season acquisition to replace the traded Jason Vargas was anything but an adequate fill in No.3.  The combination of kiddie corps and has beens run out at four and five were generally hopeless.

I did not foresee the great bonfire nightly sprouting from the Mariner bullpen, but bullpens do often morph quickly from very good to the level of Ray Bradbury’s “firemen.” This year was the Mariners’ turn to watch Tom Wilhelmson and company spark a blaze wherever they went. People can talk up Yoervis Medina and Danny Farquhar as much as they want, but I am not convinced.

Offensively there was some improvement, but not in a knock your socks off fashion.  They were second in home runs, seventh in walks, and eighth in runs scored, but bad at almost everything else, especially batting average where they were dead last in the American League.  Some of it was injuries, some of it was kids, but most of the problem was they just weren’t fucking good enough.

At the end of the day I look at this team, I look at the plan to develop the kids, I look at the players who are here and those who are likely to play regularly next year and all I can do is shriek “Where the fuck are we???!!?  This team has money.  It must spend it, and wisely to supplement

We are year six of Zdurencik’s rebuild and this is what I see:

This team desperately needs an outfield.  Bring back Michael Saunders as a corner outfielder and Abraham Almonte as a number four guy.  I like both these players, but Saunders should not be exposed as a center fielder, and though Almonte could be a regular guy after a season playing in the bigs, he isn’t ready now.  The Mariners must bring in a real, live center fielder.  Empty a dump truck of cash at the door of Jacoby Ellsbury, swap for Peter Bourjos, I don’t care but make it a legit guy who can play the position.  No half measures.  I like Shin Soo Choo, but he is not a center fielder, he’s a corner guy.  Not Curtis Granderson, he used to be a center fielder.  However the quest for a center fielder does not preclude bringing in another outfielder–we need one more not named Raul Ibanez.  I have the utmost respect for Ibanez, I truly do.  He’s a good guy who had a decent year, but he doesn’t play in my outfield, except as a number five guy. We must have another corner outfielder.

Somebody needs to step up on the infield.  I have no problem with Kyle Seager at third, despite his season ending slump.  But the situation at second and shortstop needs to be sorted out.  Note that I did not include Dustin Ackley in the outfield, particularly not at center.  If Dustin Ackley is our centerfielder on opening day, I swear I will give up the Mariners forever, sort of, maybe, or perhaps just as natural disaster coverage rather than sport. No, Dustin Ackley belongs at second base, where he is a fine defender.  If he can also be a productive hitter, that’s where he belongs. I am a Brad Miller fan, despite his defensive limitations.  He brings speed and a productive bat to shortstop.  I also believe many of his defensive issues can be resolved with experience and maturity (but what do I know.) My faith in Justin Smoak is diminished but considering the other problems the M’s have, I don’t go shopping for a first baseman.  Nick Franklin’s situation is tenuous in my book.  He truly looked lost after July, and it’s hard to know whether he is a washout or just needs more seasoning.  I’m opting for Tacoma.

Kendrys Morales, Seager and Ibanez were the only consistent producers for the Mariners last year.  Seager will be back, but the M’s must make an effort to re-sign Morales.  Morales led the team in average, extra base hits and rbi’s and will be better with a stronger lineup.  Ibanez maybe, but I’m unsure of his role.  Raul shouldn’t be relied upon for any defensive position, and I doubt his bat will be very effective if he sits much.  Probably time to part the ways unless he comes back as a DH.

The rotation is a situation that begs for real leadership.  The temptation is going to be to make do with the King, Iwakuma and three youngters.  Dumb, disaster, I can smell doom 162 games away.  This team needs not one, but two more trusted veteran starters.  No reclamation products.  No veterans coming off of bad years hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.  Somebody good. Jason Vargas is available.  Maybe Vargas and a right handed version of Jason Vargas.  That leaves one slot left for Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer to fight over.  It gives the M’s some depth in case of injury, or somebody to promote at the trade deadline.  Let these kids earn their way on to the rotation and don’t stick them somewhere they don’t belong. Believe me, I have faith in these guys, and they need to repay that with performance, not some kind of pitching welfare.

Last, but not least, the M’s need to repair their bullpen.  Carter Capps, Carson Smith, Stephen Pryor may all help the Farquhar/Medina regime, but they need some proven veterans to bolster that staff.

If was an M’s decision maker for next year these are my priorities:

1.  Legit center fielder–Ellsbury is fine, but somebody who belongs there.

2.  Two additions to the pitching rotation at 3 and 4, with honest competition between the kids for number five. (Oh and I might consider extending Iwakuma.)

3. Corner outfielder that can get on base, with some power.

4. Re-sign Kendrys Morales

5.  Rebuild the bullpen

 

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