The Many Lives of Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley and . . .

The Mariners season is done.  The lockers are cleaned out. The players have headed home.  All that’s left to do is determine who is gone for the season and who will be gone for good.

Two players who won’t be gone for good are outfielder Ramon Flores and pitcher Jose Ramirez.  Flores and Ramirez came to Seattle from New York in the Dustin Ackley trade.  Flores severely injured an ankle on a soggy field in Tacoma.  The Mariners are hoping to give him a long look in spring training–if he is healthy. The M’s got a look at the hard throwing Ramirez.  He pitched in 4.2 innings for the Mariners–and gave up six walks.  His lack of control is what made him available for Ackley.

Ackley is the former Tarheel and second overall pick in the 2009 draft.  Though he went to the Yankees  before the July trade deadline, he promptly went on the DL.  When he returned, he took over the essentially vacant second base job Robinson Cano left nearly two seasons ago and flashed the same kind of prowess at the plate he showed the Mariners for a month or two at a time. In his 23 games with the Yankees Ackley slashed .288/.333/.654.  Today he finds himself getting ready for the AL Wild Card game with the Houston Astros.

Further up north, in Toronto, another former Mariner, Justin Smoak relaxes for a day or two as the Blue Jays, winners of the AL East watch tomorrow’s wild card contest in anticipation of the ALDS.  Smoak was never a success with the Mariners, though, like Ackley, he would show flashes of talent.  Waived by the Mariners and signed by the Jays in October of 2014.  Smoak had a very Smoak-like year. His .226/.299/.470 slash is kind of in line with his career numbers, but a slugging average much higher than his career .392. With only 328 plate appearances, the 28 year-old South Carolinian had 35 extra base hits, including 18 home runs.

Look, I don’t think either player was a raging success with their new teams.  In Ackley’s case it’s a super small sample size and who knows what he could do over a full season.  Smoak, clearly found a role with the Blue Jays as a left handed partner to right handed Chris Colabello.

What is equally clear is that neither Ackley, one of the best hitters in college baseball history and the consensus best hitter in the draft, and Smoak the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee trade to Texas, could prosper in Seattle. I’ve always been inclined to believe it was a mental thing. The expectations were too high, the demands were too great and they simply didn’t have the mental toughness to make it work.

It remains to be seen if Ackley can be successful in New York, but he’ll get a chance to show what he can do in a pretty amazing showcase, the AL Wild Card game. He should have a shot at the Yankees second base job in 2016.  For Smoak, in going to Toronto he had nothing to lose.  He was surrounded by Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Colabello and a plethora of good bats. He played in the Rogers Centre, a bandbox.  Smoak didn’t have to be the man, he wasn’t the savior who fell short, as he was in Seattle, he was merely a complementary piece.  His performance even pencils out to a 108 OPS+ at first base, a mark he only reached twice in his five seasons with the Mariners.

I’m not sure what it all means.  Just another couple of examples of guys who couldn’t get it done in Seattle, but have found a certain amount of success on other teams.

But there is one more former Mariner I would be remiss if I didn’t mention him. Despite leaving Seattle with his quiver of arrows aflame, and the bullpen covered with third degree burns, Fernando Rodney has found a spot in the Chicago Cubs bullpen as the Cubbies head off to the National League Wild Card game.  In his 14 appearances with Chicago, Rodney pitched 12 innings, struck out 15 and walked only four.  He sports a 0.75 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP.  Perhaps his career was turned around by his former manager Joe Maddon.  Perhaps it was simply sorcery.  But another Mariner rose from the scrap heap to be a valuable piece.

Over the years the stories about former Mariners who left Seattle in tatters and made a career elsewhere are legion. It contributes to the view that Seattle can never win, exporting its talent to the Yankees or the Red Sox, for players who cannot help (Jesus Montero and Heathcliff Slocumb.)  I’m not sure why it works out this way, but it just seems to.

Former Mariner Kendrys Morales also had a great year for the Royals, and is headed for the playoffs too,  but I don’t care.  I just don’t like him well enough to waste the electrons.


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