Month: January 2014

2004 and lessons for 2014

In 2004 the M’s were coming into the new season after consecutive 93 win, no playoff appearance seasons.  But there was hope for the new year. The team had a young Ichiro (this is the year he broke George Sisler’s hit record,) a productive Raul Ibanez, and many of the heroes of 2001, Dan Wilson, John Olerud, Brett Boone, and Edgar Martinez.  Bill Bavasi replaced Pat Gillick as GM and he brought in Scott Spiezio, an Angels hero in the World Series, Rich Aurilia would play shortstop.  It was the season of Bucky Jacobsen, Hiram Bocachica and Jeremy Reed.

The pitching staff was a juggernaut, featuring Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Ryan Franklin, Gil Meche and Joel Piniero.  In 2003, the five starters pitched every scheduled start.  All except Meche threw 200 innings (he had a respectable 186.0.) The first three had above league average years with ERA+ over 100, and the youngsters, Meche and Piniero weren’t bad with ERA+ of 94 and 95 respectively.  When the ’03 season ended the talk was about the youngsters in Tacoma, Clint Nageotte a right-hander, and Travis Blackley a lefty.  They chewed up the Coast League and it seemed clear the M’s should be set with pitching for years to come.

The 2004 season was a disaster, the first of a decade’s worth of disasters that has spun into little more than ennui today.  The heroes of 2001 were too old.   Spezio and Aurilia were awful. The pitching staff collapsed in a season of injury and poor performances. Moyer finished the year  7-13, Franklin was 4-16, and Piniero was 6-11.  Old stats aside, these guys were terrible.

But most relevant to today’s team is the performance of Nageotte and Blackley.  Called up to fill in for the injured Freddy Garcia and Gil Meche, both showed they couldn’t throw strikes and were sent back to Tacoma.  Nageotte’s career floundered and threw a total of five more major league innings and was gone from the majors after the 2006 season.  Blackley was injured in 2005, and played briefly with the Giants in 2007, and was out of the majors until 2012. He’s started 20 games the past two years, but has never approached league average effectiveness.

What does this have to do with anything?  The M’s are attempting to cobble together their pitching staff for the coming year.  You can write in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma at one and two respectively.  Erasmo Ramirez, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton will compete for the four and five slots.  The third slot remains wide open.

Today the M’s signed pitcher Scott Baker to a minor league deal.  Baker was a very good pitcher for the Twins until he had Tommy John surgery.  Baker missed all of 2012 and pitched in three forgettable games with the Cubs in 2013.  Lookout Landing did a nice  analysis of Baker’s style and what it might mean, so I’ll skip that. The Mariners risk little with this signing.  It’s an incentive laden deal that is worth Baker’s while if he can make the team.  The Mariners were an attractive choice because they have that third slot open.

But looking at the larger picture, what does Baker’s signing mean for the M’s?  While I wish Baker the very best, he is still an unknown, an unproven commodity coming off a serious injury.  He clearly wasn’t ready to pitch last year and we don’t know how his current situation is different from his September starts.  The Mariners are placing considerable faith in the their young pitchers and Baker to fill out the rotation.  They did the same thing last year when they gave rotation slots to Brandon Maurer and Jeremy Bonderman.

At the very least the M’s seem thin in their rotation.  Jack Zdurencik balked this weekend when he concluded giving four or five years to the remaining free agents was risky and potentially very costly. I’m not sure I disagree with him, but it seems to me the lessons from 2004, that pitching staffs break, and that youngsters often disappoint, calls for a known quantity in that third spot in the rotation.  If Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are asking for too many years and dollars, what about Bronson Arroyo or Chris Capuano?  They won’t require as much of either.  They aren’t recovering from a serious arm injury.  The M’s need a plan B; there must be another guy.  I wish Baker the best, and I love his story and I rooted for Bonderman last year.  But more than anything I want to win.

FanFest: hoopla in the land of lollipops and rainbows

There are some things the Seattle Mariners do very well.  I’ve attended three of the Mariners Hall of Fame inductions, and they are super at hosting these big events recognizing the glory of the Mariners brief golden age.  I’ve already made it known in Maison de Smyth that I’ll see Sweet Lou join that band of brothers on August 9th.  They are always fun and well-organized.  The fans are treated well, often with a special bobblehead, and the ceremonies are tasteful as we get to see and hear from those successful players we cherish from our rapidly receding memories when Seattle baseball was the exalted sport in town.  The games can be a different story.  In 2012, on Randy Johnson’s and Dan Wilson’s induction day, the M’s won a nail biter.  Last summer, when Junior got the call, the M’s were destroyed 10-0.  Always interesting to contrast the memories of past glory with the hard realities of the present.

Yesterday I went with a friend for my first Fan Fest at Safeco Field.  I had a morning commitment so I didn’t make it to the ballpark quite as early as I hoped, missed out on autograph vouchers, and most importantly Jack Zdurencik’s Dugout Dialogue.  These mini-events are held each half hour on top of the home dugout, hosted by a local media type like Brad Adams of Root Sports (or whatever it will be called) or Rick Rizzs.  There are lots of other things to do for those so inclined including clubhouse tours, autograph sessions and even a zipline event in the ballpark. It was a beautiful, crisp day, but the ballpark was crowded, or at least seemed crowded with lots of veteran fans and families who took advantage of the very reasonable $10 admission and enjoy the festivities.

Though ziplining sounds fun, I break easily and passed on that.  More than anything it was just fun to be in the ballpark with lots of other baseball enthusiasts, have a beer at Edgar’s in left field and talk baseball with my friend Dave.  We caught some of the Dialogues on closed-circuit television including Tom Wilhelmson, Michael Saunders, and Lloyd McLendon.  I’d promised my wife to try to get a Dan Wilson autograph and we made our way toward Section 123 and the seats near the Dialogues area.

As we headed through the concourse we ran across the ESPN 710 radio booth where Rizzs, Shannon Drayer who covers the Mariners for ESPN, and Matt Pittman were hosting a live version of Hot Stove League from the ballpark.  They were interviewing the very same Jack Zdurencik I missed in the morning and I promptly pulled out my iPhone to begin recording the conversation.  I caught the last 12 or so minutes of the interview.  Sadly, I didn’t hear anything I hadn’t heard already.  Zdurencik talked about competition for playing time in the outfield, competition between Nick Franklin and Brad Miller, and how the young players simply needed to rise to the occasion.  Unfortunately, I didn’t record properly, so I can’t provide exact quotes.  However I left that interviewing feeling more than ever that Zdurencik has no vision for this team, that they’re simply bits and pieces stuck together without any clue for a larger purpose.

Dave and I stayed until 3:30ish.  We heard Wilson talk about his experiences as a Mariners catcher as well as his new responsibilities as Mariners minor league catching coordinator. Catcher Mike Zunino and shortstop Brad Miller spoke and took questions from the audience, followed by future stars, first baseman D.J. Peterson and shortstop Chris Taylor.  These were well orchestrated and fun, though I did not get Lorri’s Dan Wilson autograph.  To do so would have required trampling several dozen children and I just didn’t have the guts to do that.

FanFest was a great experience, another one of those opportunities the M’s try to take to connect the daily dwindling fan base with the team and the organization.  There are lots of things I missed, including Robinson Cano flown in from the Dominican Republic, shivering in a stocking cap, but it’s a great event to wet your whistle for the big show that will soon begin in Arizona.  If I had the time, head back up for day two today. It’s a sign that baseball will begin again soon, and that hey it’s January and who knows, anything can happen.

But after listening to Zdurencik, knowing the holes this team has on it-in the outfield, in the rotation, in the bullpen-FanFest reminds me of Robinson Cano’s signing: mostly window dressing on a deeply flawed team that has little hope of contending without significant upgrades.  While the organization’s  celebration and fans’ passion is fun and nice to be a part of, it’s all illusion, covering for what is likely to be a very difficult year

Mariners hire Kevin Mathers as President

Thursday the Mariners made it official that Kevin Mathers, M’s vp of finance and business operation, to fill Chuck Armstrong’s role of president and chief operating officer. I know, your reaction is probably the same as mine-another bean counter to fill a job that could be nicely filled by a baseball guy.  At least Mather came from the Twins, an organization that has shown it knows how to win and do things the right way.

I was encouraged by some of his comments, which appeared in Bob Dutton’s Mariners blog in the News Tribune. In the Dutton post, Mather indicated there was more money to acquire players needed to make the team better.  He also indicated the M’s would adopt a three year budgeting cycle, rather than year-to-year budgets.

“Historically, it’s been, `Here’s your payroll for next year,’” Mather said. “Free agents don’t sign one-year deals unless they’re desperate. . . Free agents sign three-, four-, five- — and in the case of (Robinson) Cano — 10-year deals. We need to have a longer-term vision. That’s where I think I can add value.”

Of course, this is all just talk, and I’ll be interesting to see if actions speak louder than words.  At the very least this team has an urgent need for a veteran starting pitcher at the three spot.  Despite the signing of formerly broken reliever Joe Beimel, announced this morning, they need more bullpen help.

Help Wanted

Greg Johns of just tweeted from the media gathering at the pre-Spring Training luncheon two interesting items, both by GM Jack Zdurencik.

The first is the M’s don’t plan any further “major” moves.

The second is that he hopes to have a number three starter signed in the next few days.

What the hell does that mean?  Does that mean if he signs a number three starter they’ll be bad?  The M’s have been linked to former Cubs starter Scott Baker, attempting a comeback after years of injury.  With Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo, and Chris Capuano still out there, it will be interesting to see what this means.  If it means the M’s will be filling a number three spot with hope, sunshine, rainbows and lollipops as they did last year when they gave a try to Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman, this fan will be disappointed.  If they turn over the last three turns in the rotation over to Erasmo Ramirez, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton and hope for the best I will be disgusted.

It doesn’t bother me the M’s weren’t in the hunt for Masahiro Tanaka, but if they hope to be credible with fans and future free agents they can’t fill a large hole with the illusion of trying.  Whatever direction they’re taking they’ll need to act quickly because the market is moving again with the signing of Matt Garza by Milwaukee.

Today, the Mariners announced they’d signed Endy Chavez to a minor league deal.  This seems like a depth move, but it still indicates the weakness the organization has in centerfield.  At 36 Chavez should be sitting on a bench in a glass box that says “Use in Emergencies Only.” The M’s still need outfield help, but I think they think they’ve just gotten it.

In speaking of help, how about that bullpen?

The Chips on the Table

With yesterday’s signing of Masahiro Tanaka by the New York Yankees, the constipation affecting player movement and roster construction for the past six weeks is likely to end.  Expect a flurry of moves as the calendar speeds toward Spring Training.

The Mariners have unfinished business.  They’ve done little to finalize their pitching staff.  There is still a glaring hole in the starting rotation.   Likewise, the Mariners bullpen, among the worst in the major leagues last year, looks sadly recognizable.    While there are still plenty of high priced closers available, perhaps the M’s would be served best by picking up a few talented, but cheaper pieces and creating the situational closer-by-committee.

But the real focus of this post is not what the M’s don’t have, but what they do have.  That the M’s coughed up $240 million for Robinson Cano is truly remarkable for this organization.  One can debate the wisdom of this contract down the road, but for 2014, it does give them a valuable piece to build around.

However, the signing displaces one of the team’s most valuable young players, Nick Franklin. Franklin, a minor league shortstop converted to second base, showed promise after his June call-up, but struggled at the plate in August and September. His 2013 slash line was .225/.303/.382 in 412 plate appearances. These numbers, accompanied by a 27.4% strikeout rate aren’t very good.  However, Franklin was a fine minor league hitter who initially struggled at each developmental level, made adjustments and tore up his league before moving on to the next challenge.  There is no reason to suppose he won’t do the same at the major league level.

The question is what to do with him? He’s blocked at second, and youngster Brad Miller seems to have grabbed the shortstop position.  Miller had more success as a defender and at that plate in 2013 than Franklin.  The Mariners, committed to two years of Willie Bloomquist as a utility player are reduced to three options on Franklin: A) send him to Tacoma, available as depth in case of injury or if Miller should fail , B) send him to Tacoma and give him instruction in playing the outfield or another position that is less set, or C) trade him.

A and B are highly unlikely.  Franklin has nothing left to prove at AAA, and it would seem like a demotion, rather than a regrouping. Franklin to the outfield? The experiment of moving Dustin Ackley to the outfield, while an unfinished work, has not been a big success. Ackley is not much of a hitter, even with his late season surge, and his outfield defense is below average.  While Ackley certainly seems tradeable, it’s just as likely the M’s will keep him in the outfield mix. With Michael Saunders, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, Franklin Gutierrez and Abraham Almonte all chasing outfield time with Ackley, a conversion move seems unlikely.

Nope, Franklin is a trade chip.  He’s a very good trade chip, but still not worth a lot to this franchise on the field. Oliver projects Franklin at between 3.1-3.6 WAR over the next five years, so he’s not someone who should be traded for a LOOGY, a pepperoni pizza and a bag of balls. He would also be under team control for those five years, which should make him very attractive. The M’s should be filling a genuine need in moving him.

Another player displaced by free agency is Brett Gardner.  The Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury, an elite centerfielder, to a seven year deal displacing Gardner from his spot. Last year they acquired Alfonso Soriano in a trade, and in November signed Carlos Beltran to a three year deal.  With Ichiro Suzuki still on the roster, the Yankees’ outfield seems quite full.  On the other hand, having lost the best second baseman in the game in Cano, they have a hole filled at least temporarily by the aged and infirm Brian Roberts, with nobody else on the horizon.

Gardner is a fine player.  He is 30, and an elite level defender. His defensive numbers compare roughly equivalent to Ellsbury. Gardner is rated in Oliver at 3.5 WAR for 2014 and down to 2.5 in 2018. He recently signed a very affordable one year $5.6 million extension with the Yankees for 2014.

The M’s need a centerfielder.  A good centerfielder. A player who can cover a lot of ground, make plays in and out of zone who will make the pitching staff better.  There is little question Gardner would improve the Mariners.  The Yankees need a second baseman. You’d think there would be a way for the two teams to waltz across the floor and dance.  But it’s never that easy.  The economics of the deal-Yankees get a player with great potential, who has proved little at the major league level, cost controlled for five years, and the M’s would get a potential one-year deal on a very good player who may walk at the end of the season. Probably not going to happen.

If the Mariners could make a sign and trade work out, this could be to both teams’ benefit.  Even if this is not a deal the M’s can make, Gardner is the kind of player the M’s should be looking to get for Franklin, Ackley or any other young player they think about moving.  Athletic, good defender, decent OBP, with some speed. They don’t need to further complicate their outfield, DH picture further with another player like Hart or Morrison, i.e., Nelson Cruz, guys really not suited to play the outfield, but someone they’ll trot out their anyway because they’re enamored of the longball.

A Tale of Two Teams: The Mariners and Seahawks

Football is a sport made for television. Every play, perfect for the little screen, is a carefully scripted drama, with all the actors, offense and defense having an important role to play. Some are three star “no biggie” plays, but there are enough stuffed runs and quarterback sacks, or amazing catches and runs through traffic to the end zone to keep everyone interested.

Football is not my favorite sport, baseball is. I prefer its elegance, its pace, not bound by the clock, and the skill set required to throw a small ball past another guy with a small bat. That it usually begins in those Persephonic months when the weather is warming, and ends when the Northwest is plunged into the endless winter darkness that lasts pretty much until baseball begins again the next spring. For me, Thomas Boswell got it mostly right when he wrote “100 Reasons Baseball is Better than Football,” and George Carlin’s monologue comparing baseball and football was right on.

That said, congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks, champions of the NFC. It’s been a fabulous season. Though I usually do watch Seahawks games, I’m rarely emotionally attached to them. But Sunday I was hollering and screaming at the television with the best 12th Man rowdy. They are a throwback team, with lots of hitting and defense and a run oriented offense, the kind of football I like.

The Seahawks came into the NFL in 1976, and the Mariners entered MLB in 1977. It’s not that the Seahawks have always been good and the Mariners have always been bad over their 37ish year histories, they haven’t, but it’s interesting to examine their past, and consider how we got to where we are. Why is the Seattle football team such a raging success, a crowd favorite, and the baseball team, is considered such an utter failure?


The Mariners  finished 37 seasons of baseball. They’ve won more games than they’ve lost in 11 seasons, fewer than one third. They’ve appeared in the playoffs in four seasons, and never made it to the World Series, going 0-3 in American League Championship Series in 1995, 2000 and 2001.The Mariners finished last in their division 12 times in their history, and next to last 11 times. The Mariners had a brief “golden age” from 1995-2003. All their playoff appearances and all five of their 90+ win seasons were during this time. 90 wins is a key benchmark because it show’s a team is competitive for the playoffs. This is also the time when the M’s featured their most recognizable players: Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, and Alex Rodriguez all played on these teams.

The Seahawks have an entirely different history. In their 38 seasons, the ‘Hawks have had 17 winning seasons. In those seasons they’ve made it to the playoffs twelve times. They’ve won the conference title twice, and are on the verge of their second Super Bowl appearance. The Seahawks finished last in their division seven times, and next to last nine times. In their history, the footballers have had three golden ages. The first came under coach Chuck Knox, lasting from 1983-88, with four playoff appearances, including a loss in the ’83 Conference Championship game. After a along time in the wilderness, they achieved a second era of success under coach Mike Holmgren. During Holmgren’s ten year tenure, the ‘Hawks made the playoffs six times, including their first trip to the Super Bowl. It is hard to argue the Seahawks are not in their third era of success. In this, their fourth year under coach Pete Carroll, the team has made the playoffs three years, and are making their second Super Bowl appearance.

It’s difficult to compare records between baseball and football. The NFL has had more extended playoffs far longer than baseball. A bad baseball team may have a .420 winning percentage, while a bad football team may go 4-12 for a .250 winning percentage. It is more useful to look at playoff appearances as a basis for comparison. They are not only a useful measure for team success, but they are a benchmark for keeping a fan base interested in a team, generating attendance and a media audience. By any measure, the football team has been far more successful than the baseball team.

At the present time, there is no comparison. The Seahawks are the best team in their conference, while the Mariners remain mired in an everlasting rebuilding effort. The ‘Hawks fill Century Link Stadium each week, while the Mariners have seen precipitous drops in their attendance since 2003, and for the past several years have ranked in the bottom third in the American League.

Stable Leadership

Leadership occurs at many levels in professional sports.  For my purposes, I ‘ll focus on three areas: A) ownership, B) general manager/operations, C) manager/head coach.

Mariners Ownership

The Mariners have had four different ownership groups.  The original group (1976-80,) including entertainer Danny Kaye, was undercapitalized, and lacked the money even for fully staffing their scouting needs. The second owner was George Argyros, a Southern California real estate mogul. Though Argyros was originally seen as a life ring for the struggling franchise, and though he had plenty of money, he refused to accept the realities of free-agency, and wouldn’t offer guaranteed multi-year contracts. Jeff Smulyan purchased the team in 1989, but compounded inadequate operating funds and found  the Kingdome a losing proposition.  Before selling to a local ownership group in 1992, he attempted to move the team to Tampa Bay.

Smulyan sold to The Baseball Club of Seattle in 1992.  This is the current ownership group, now somewhat in tumult following the death of majority shareholder Hiroshi Yamauchi.  Following the Mariners dramatic victory in the ALDS in 1995, the ownership group was able to force legislation throught the statehouse to build Safeco Field, guaranteeing stable reveue streams.

This ownership group benefited from the Mariners “golden age” 1995-2003, and has suffered from a dearth of wins ever since. Though this group has, at times, spent wildly on free agents, many turned out to be busts on the field, or at least underperformed their contracts.  Though the 2001 team won a league record 116 games, manager Lou Piniella complained loudly that he could not get the player he needed at the trading deadline to get the team over the top, losing to New York in the ALCS.  In November 2013, Seattle Times reporter Geoff Baker wrote an article detailing the level of dysfunction and meddling on the team by general manager Jack Zdurencik, team president Chuck Armstrong, and CEO Howard Lincoln.  The Mariners are perceived in baseball as a team with plenty of money that is poorly run.

Each owner of the Mariners sold their stakes for millions in profits.  The Baseball Club of Seattle purchased the team for $100 million in 1992.  Forbes valued the Mariners at $644 million in 2013.  This was before their purchase of a stake in Root Sports.

Seahawks Ownership

The Seahawks opened with the Nordstrom family as majority owners.  The team struggled through the its first six years, but prospered under new coach   Chuck Knox.  The Seahawks first “golden age” occurred during the Nordstrom’s ownership.  In 1988 the Nordstroms sold their shares to California real estate baron Ken Behring.  Behring’s stewardship lasted until 1996 and corresponds roughly with what could be called the Seahawks “dark age.”  Having had success on the field, the ‘Hawks had only one winning season.  Behring replaced Knox with friend Tom Flores, the team lost and his unpopularity grew.  He attempted to move the team to Anaheim in the wake of the Rams move to St. Louis, but was thwarted in court, the team declared bankruptcy and sold to Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen.

Though Allen’s tenure as owner has had some bumps, the Seahawks have had considerable success.  In 2002, through Allen’s efforts, the football team opened Qwest Field.  Eight of Seattle’s playoff appearances have come during Allen’s ownership, including both Super Bowl appearances.  Allen is known to be willing to spend money for free agent signing bonuses that do not count against the NFL’s hard salary cap.

General Managers

M’s GM Jack Zdurencik

Jack Zdurencik begins his sixth year with many question marks regarding his ability to evaluate talent, construct rosters and provide leadership.  In his first season Zdurencik made a series of trades and free agent signings that catapulted the M’s from a 101 game loser to an 85 game winner. But the team has never approached the same level of success.  Committed to building a winner through successful drafts and player development, the farm has produced some players with ability, but no stars: no Mike Trouts, Giancarlo Stantons or Bryce Harpers despite high annual daft picks. Forays into the free agent market have been mixed.  The Chone Figgins signing in 2010 was a notable failure.  Signing Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma has been a success.  In November 2013, the Mariners outbid the rest of the field in signing Yankees all-star 2B Robinson Cano.  Baker’s article about the M’s was highly critical of Zdurencik’s leadership style, as well as his commitment to using advanced statistics as evaluative tools, including comments from former M’s manager Eric Wedge, and assistant Tony Blengino. At the very least, Zdurencik enters this season with question marks about his ability to construct a winner.  He hasn’t done it. He’s taken little responsibility for it, and there is little to suggest great change for the team this year.

Seahawks Executive VP/General Manager John Schneider

It’s difficult to mention John Schneider’s name without mentioning his partner, Coach Pete Carroll.  Together with Carroll, Schneider took over the team in 2010, tore the team apart and rebuilt it. In their first year Schneider and Carroll made 282 player transactions.  Their mantra is always that competition is good, and that players must earn roster spots and playing time.  Schneider brought running back Marshawn Lynch to Seattle from Buffalo in 2010. He’s drafted players like Earl Thomas and Russell Wilson, and he’s taken an almost Moneyball-like approach to acquiring under-valued talent in players such as Richard Sherman (5th round) and wide receiver Doug Baldwin (undrafted.)  The Seahawks are winners under Schneider.  His real challenge will come in the future, as the team matures and players seek contracts to match their achievements, and managing the salary cap.

Field Managers

Mariners Manager Lloyd McClendon

This is not an evaluation of Lloyd McClendon who has yet to oversee a single spring training inning.  I wish him the very best, I truly do. However, it is difficult to see McClendon as other than an empty suit.  Since Lou Piniella’s decade long leadership ended in 2002, the M’s have tossed eight managers to the wolves.  Wedge’s three year reign in the Safeco field dugout was the longest.  Mike Hargrove mysteriously resigned in mid-2007, with the M’s actually competing for the playoffs. Though Wedge, McClendon and Hargrove have all had major league managing experience, few others have.  Bob Melvin, fired after the 2004 season, has gone on to manage Arizona, and was named American League Manager of the Year in 2013 after getting Oakland to the ALDS.  Mariners managers are valued for their ability to toe the company line and suffer in silence until their inevitable firing.

Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll

I love watching Pete Carroll on the sidelines.  He has an exuberance during the game that is timeless.  He is joyfully enthusiastic whether the team is winning or losing.  Seemingly 30 years younger than his 62 years, he runs up and down the field, clapping, rooting his players on, trusting his defensive and offensive coordinators. (Contrast with screaming whiner Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers.)  He is an endless cheerleader, and must transmit his confidence on to his players.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe his hands are all over this team, and if a player doesn’t perform he’s gone.  But as a former big-time college coach, I see his appeal to young players, as well as his respect for the grizzled veterans.  Carroll has input, if not outright control, over player acquisitions Mariners managers could only dream of, but in shaping his team, he has a clear vision of what the Seahawks are supposed to look like: tough defense, run first, while developing a bevy of  intelligent, talented young players like quarterback Wilson. The Seahawks are winners in no small measure because Pete Carroll is a winner.

The Boredom Factor

Fans should be excited about their teams.  Winning goes a long way toward stoking some excitement and putting butts in the seats.  The M’s always had some exciting players, even in the bad old days.  Julio Cruz was a hot dog and could steal you a base.  Alvin Davis and Mark Langston both had superlative rookie seasons in 1984.  Junior made his appearance in 1989 to play alongside Jay Buhner, Omar Vizquel and Jeffrey Leonard. These were bad teams, but they were interesting.  Lenny Randle blew a ball foul in 1981, Tom Paciorek hit home runs on consecutive nights to beat the Yankees the same year.  Egar  hit “the double” but he also made the “light bat.” Buhner Buzz Cut Night attracted hundreds of fans each year.  Fast forward to  2013, and whaddaya got?  King Felix Nights, which are nice.  But there’s a problem when the face of your franchise is a pitcher who plays every fifth day.  It’s hard to build a public relations campaign around a team that has modestly talented players who tend to under perform expectations, aren’t very good defensively, don’t hit a lot of meaningful home runs, and are slow as molasses in January on the basepaths.

Who would you rather see, Richard Sherman swatting away a ball, or Dustin Ackley swatting at a ball (at bat or in the field, it makes no different.)  Who would you rather hear interviewed, the extremely voluble Russell Wilson, or the tongue-tied aw-shucks simple sentences only Justin Smoak.  Whose post-game press conference would you rather hear-an honest, enthusiastic appraisal from Pete Carroll, win or lose, or a say no evil assessment by any Mariners manager?

The M’s are boring.  Their play is boring.  Their lack of success is boring.  Their persona is boring. The Seahawks are all swagger and confidence.  Yes, Sherman is obnoxious, but he’s much more than his foolish Crabtree remarks.  He has a great personal story to go with his on-field achievements.  Earl Thomas is another player whose performance is matched by his ability to talk the game and be reflective.  Maybe the Mariners need a nickname to give them identity like the Legion of Boom.  The Brotherhood of Whiff? The Clutchless? The Blown Save Society? Maybe not.

Moving On

It is the Seahawks’ time, and I wish them nothing but victories.  I would love to see the Mariners do the same.  Perhaps Robinson Cano will bring that certain something that will at least make them interesting. But let’s be honest, sorry Forrest, but interesting is as interesting does.  Win, the fans will care, the team will seem more special.  Winning covers up a multitude of sins.  Lose. Again. Play bad ball.   Nobody cares.

But it’s up to management-Howard Lincoln and Jack Zdurencik-to provide the pieces needed to make the M’s a winner, whether from inside the M’s system or the free agent market.  I’m convinced more than ever the resources are available to make it work, and all that’s needed is the will to use them.

Adding and Subtracting: Buck comes, Peguero goes

Yesterday the Mariners officially added catcher John Buck to their 40 man roster after he signed a one-year one million dollar contract. In order to make room for him the M’s designated minor league outfielder Carlos Peguero for assignment.

Buck joins recently acquired Humberto Quintero as depth behind likely starter Mike Zunino, a 2012 first round draft pick. Last year the Mariners struggled mightily with depth at the catcher position, going through seven catchers with the big league club.

Last year Buck played in 110 games for the Mets and Pirates, with a slash line of .219/.282/.365. He’s a solid defensive catcher: blocks the plate well, mediocre arm, poor pitch framing. He is certain to get plenty of playing time. He is also a reasonable plan B if Zunino should again be injured, or if he should need to spend some more time for seasoning in Tacoma.

The M’s have made some reasonable moves to provide a bit of depth this year in picking up Willie Bloomquist, able to play most positions on the field, and Franklin Gutierrez as a fill-in outfielder, if he can stay healthy.

Carlos Peguero was the casualty from the 40 man roster, making way for Buck. Peguero was never one of my favorite players. The 6’5″ 260 lb. outfielder never seemed to play the game under control. Blessed with power that threatened to send batted balls into orbit around the sun, he could only seem to hit mistakes. When he did the ball certainly could travel. But in 219 major league plate appearances, Peguero struck out 84 times. In the field the big man seemed like a semi-truck whose brakes had failed. He covered a lot of ground, but I always felt like I had to cover my eyes as he ran uncontrollably toward centerfield or at a tracking Dustin Ackley. Peguero could be a great Cerrano in the remake of Major League. And you know it’s just a matter of time.

Not likely to see much more until the Masahiro Tanaka constipation clears up. The M’s need to be in the pitching chase that follows if they hope to make any meaningful steps forward in the wake of the Robinson Cano signing.

Tony La Russa: Next Mariners President?


Freshly minted Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa is reported to be in consideration for the open Mariners president job, according to a story by Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Current Mariners president, Chuck Armstrong will be leaving that position on January 31st and the Mariners plan to fill the vacancy before he goes. According to Nightengale, the M’s plan to interview two internal candidates, and if none is found suitable La Russa stands a very good chance of winning the job.

Yet, with La Russa’s high-profile resume and several prominent Major League Baseball officials recommending La Russa to Lincoln, he could be the odds-on-favorite to be the next Mariners’ president, providing they open the search to outside candidates.

A new president with La Russa’s on-field resume may energize the restive, cynical fan base, hoping for new leadership in the wake of Geoff Baker’s devastating article detailing dysfunction in the Mariners’ front office.  As an example, Nightengale uses the effect of Nolan Ryan’s leadership in guiding the Texas Rangers to consistent contention.

A La Russa hire could go a long way toward dispelling the view the Mariners are led by the baseball-ignorant who persist in meddling in on-field operations.

Highly Recommended: The Steroid Hunt by Bryan Curtis

Read this article on the Grantland website.  Writer Bryan Curtis chronicles the evolution of the baseball press and their coverage of PED use between 1988 and 2010.  It’s a story of the change in press attitudes between the acknowledgement of steroid use in baseball with a Thomas Boswell interview with Charlie Rose, and the total press disillusionment with Mark McGwire’s confession of steroid use in 2010.

Aside from being a great read, it also interviews some very good writers including Steve Wilstein, the AP writer who broke the story that Mark McGwire was taking androstenedione in 1998, Tom Verducci who wrote about non-using player fears in 2002, and Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams who wrote Game of Shadows about the BALCO scandal.

Interestingly the article closes with different views of the steroid scandal among BBWAA and how it has impacted their voting.  At least it adds complexity to the question of whether the writers are completely ignorant, immoral schmucks, or moralizing traditionalists who want a Hall full of goody-goodies.

The Hall of Fame vote and why we just can’t get along.

At 11:00 PST the Baseball Hall of Fame announced their inductees for 2014. Those receiving enough votes for induction were Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.  In my view, all were completely deserving of induction. The complete record of voting can be viewed at the Baseball Hall of Fame website.

In my view, there were many more players deserving recognition.  Craig Biggio missed by two votes.  Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Allen Trammell and others will be put off to join next year’s class of nominees which will include Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield and John Smoltz and others.

The run-up to this announcement was preceded by a continuation of last year’s nastiness in the press and the blogosphere.  The unpleasantness rotated around a few key issues:

1. Jack Morris

2. Sabermetric vs. more traditional measures of achievement

3. Performance enhancing drugs

Jack Morris is such a tough case.  He’s one of those that illustrates the divide between traditional writers and Sabermetricians.  Perhaps the most persuasive of the “traditionalist” views of Morris was made by Jayson Stark in explaining his Hall of Fame ballot.  Sometimes the new statistics can only take you so far, and its important to remember other important stats like numbers of opening day starts, All Star and play off performances.  There is something to the argument about guts and leadership.  On my ballot I didn’t vote for Morris, but not because he wasn’t worthy–and that’s a debate I wish could continue-but simply because there were ten other players I thought were more Hall-worthy this year.  This is a story, not because Morris didn’t get into the Hall of Fame today, but because of the general level of nastiness applied to the debate.  Some appeared on blogs, a lot appeared in discussion.  Whatever one thinks of the Hall vote-the gray area in which Morris is worthy or not–does not excuse the level of vitriol leveled at voters and defenders of this man.

If Jack Morris didn’t quite meet your bar, he was still a very good player, and he doesn’t deserve the diatribes that say far more about the writer than about his career.  I hate to say it but instead of using the new statistics as another means of measuring the players in the game we love, it has become its own orthodoxy.  Instead of offering another perspective for those devoted to measuring players against one another, it has become the only way of measuring players, and in the comments pages, often the stats only guys are the jihadists. I hesitate to say this because I want to understand and I want to believe, but my belief that life is about being presented with more than one way to skin a cat guides me here.  What I particularly find disturbing is the comments directed at writers who don’t wholly embrace the stats-only world view.  They are characterized, categorized and criminalized usually for not towing the line of orthodoxy even if the new stats figured into their thinking.  The Hall of Fame ballot has become far more about character assassination, diminishing the accomplishments of one player from another, and attacking those who support them.

PEDs are another topic that clearly divide voters and fans.  Many of the writers are beginning to embrace those clearly linked to steroid use. The blogosphere and its commenters tend  to be more in favor of users inclusion in the Hall.  I’ve made my feelings about this clear the past two years.  Those who are clearly linked to PED use, in which there is tangible evidence of their use should not be admitted to the Hall. I’ve heard the arguments in favor before, and I’m immune, at least for the present.  It is possible everyone in baseball was using during the steroid era, but I doubt it. It’s true that despite knowing the health dangers of steroids, the Players Union and Bud Selig’s office was incredibly slow in acting against their use with an effective testing regime and real consequences.  It is likely that players heard the cheers of the crowd, the plaudits in the media, and the cha-ching of the contract calculator as taters fled the yard.  Yes, so many are complicit in sweeping the steroids issue under the rug.  What does it change?  Players knowing chose to break the law to unfairly improve their skills by by injecting an illegal substance into their bodies. Enough juiced to fundamentally change the game-statistically and strategically.  It was wrong.  Don’t give the “greenies” and spitters argument.  It’s not the same and they didn’t change the game in the same way.

And don’t give me the tired “moral high ground” crap.  At what point do you draw a line?  I understand that Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams weren’t always good people.  It’s not the same.  If you give on a substance used to amplify the natural abilities of a player in such a profound way that long-held records in the sport are not just broken but atomized, what is next?  Do we allow bionic limbs? Artificially enhanced eyes?    What about genetically engineered players?  The science isn’t that far away.  To my knowledge they aren’t specifically prohibited by the collective bargaining agreement, does that make them within the rules?

The bottom line is the known steroid users-those identified in court, by test, or are listed in the Mitchell Report-chose to break the law.  They chose to violate a memo issued by Commissioner Vincent in 1991. No writer, commissioner, union president or fan gave them a hypodermic and said “Do it.”  I find the cases of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens particularly reprehensible.  These were two men on the way to the Hall of Fame anyway, and they chose to juice.  Why?  Anybody’s guess.  That shouldn’t give them a pass.  When Clemens left Boston for Toronto in 1997 he’d led the American league in ERA four times, in wins twice, in strikeouts three times, in ERA+ five times, and in WHIP twice.  Yet his final two years in Boston, his age 32 and 33 seasons were a bit of a struggle by comparison.  It’s astonishing the remaining ten seasons of his career, ages 34-44, were as productive as any in his career.  Roger Clemens made over $150 million playing the game of baseball.  His records stand and he is number nine all time in wins, one behind Greg Maddux. Barry Bonds won three MVP awards before moving from Pittsburgh to San Francisco in 1993.  He was a rare blend of power and speed.  He was also bad with the press and sulky with his teammates.  In 2000, his age 35 season,  he hit 49 home runs, the highest number in his career to date,  contributing to a 1.127 OPS and a 188 OPS+.  The next four years, his ages 36-39 seasons, his OPS was never less than 1.278 and his OPS+ was never less than 231.  In those seasons, together with the three that followed, he succeeded in breaking the single season record for home runs, the career record for home runs, the career records for walks and intentional walks.  Bonds made $188 million playing major league baseball.  His records remain intact.  He was also the centerpiece of A Game of Shadows, a book exposing BALCO which distributed steroids to prominent athletes including Bonds.

For the supporters of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Raphael Palmeiro, lamenting the fact these greats are not in the Hall of Fame, cry me a fucking river. These men profited from the game, they played at an artificially high level and they received the cheers and accolades the fans, the press, and the baseball establishment allowed them.  Isn’t it enough?  Shall we stroke their egos further by freely admitting them into what is baseball’s sacred sanctuary? Is it really a shrine without them, among the best that ever played the game?  Fair question.  I’m not sure I have an answer, but it sends absolutely the wrong message to future generations, with access to developing sciences and technology, to suggest that breaking the law to change the game is acceptable behavior.  Here’s your Get Out of Jail Free Card, we’ll look the other way.