Tuesday the Mariners acquired outfielder Leonys Martin from the Texas Rangers, sending right-handed reliever Tom Wilhelmsen back to Arlington. They also picked up righty Anthony Bass and surrendered OF James Jones.
But there’s little question the cheers you heard in Marinerland was for Martin. Though it is unclear how much offense Martin can bring to the team, there is little question he fills GM Jerry DiPoto’s search for athletic outfielders who are very good defenders and can play a big part of run prevention in Safeco Field.
Martin will be the latest, and among the most heralded of center fielders to assume position 8 at Safeco. In 1999 Ken Griffey Jr. was the of first them, playing half his games in the Kingdome and half at “The Safe” The Mariners were pitching-lite in ’99 and struggled to a 79-83 finish. Junior slashed .285/.384/.576 with a league-leading 48 home runs. 1999 was several years before the stats community had in place the defensive metrics used to measure effectiveness in the field. Though we’ve always accepted that Junior was the greatest defender since Superman, remembering his home run-robbing play against Jesse Barfield in 1990 and his notorious”Spiderman” catch at the Kingdome wall off Kevin Bass in May 1995 that broke his wrist. But a reexamination of his defensive prowess, has revealed Junior to be less than superhuman. 1999 was a poor defensive year for Griffey. The negative defensive ratings would plague Junior throughout his career in Cincinnati.
Ken Griffey, Jr. Slash Defensive Rating (Total Zone)
1999 .284/.384/. 576 -13 runs above average
As the off-season approached Junior revealed, after 10 seasons as the M’s everyday centerfielder, he wanted a trade closer to his Cincinnati home, AND that ultimately he would ONLY accept a trade to Cincinnati. Pissed me off. The Reds had the Mariners over a barrel, and in the end the M’s were able to garner four players for Junior: Right-handed starter Brett Tomko, outfielder Mike Cameron, reliever Jake Meyer, and infielder Antonio Perez. Tomko never found success with the Mariners, Meyer and Perez never played at Safeco.
But Cammie, was something special. Mike Cameron was arguably the best center fielder ever to play for the Mariners at Safeco. He walked into his first home season having to somehow fill in for the Mariners own departed God and promptly robbed Derek Jeter of a home run. Statistically Cameron was spectacular. Though he lacked Junior’s bat and his strong arm, Cameron’s UZR for 2002 and 2003 of 11.4 and 19.2 respectively. In his four years with the M’s Cammie was always good for about 20 homers and the same number of steals-and a 100+ strikeouts.
Mike Cameron Slash Defensive Rating
2000 .267/.365/.438 Total Zone 2 runs saved AA
2001 .267/.353/.480 Total Zone 11 runs saved AA
2002 .239/.340/.442 UZR 11.2 runs AA
2003 .253/.344/.431 UZR 19.2 runs AA DRS 11
Tired of all the K’s, and not really realizing what he had, new G.M. Bill Bavasi didn’t tender Cameron a contract for 2004 and moved left fielder Randy Winn over to center for the season. For those too young to remember, Winn came over from Tampa Bay after Lou Piniella fled the aging Mariners to be close to his family in Florida. Winn was compensation for that move. Manager Bob Melvin’s 63-99 team boasted Ichiro in right, Winn in center and the less than nimble Raul Ibanez in left.
Randy Winn Slash Defensive Rating
2004 .286/.346/.427 UZR 6.7 runs AA DRS 8
Unfortunately, Winn moved on after 2004 and the M’s entered a dark period of change and inconsistent performance. Jeremy Reed, received as part of the trade for pitcher Freddie Garcia was supposed to be the Mariners center fielder for the future. In 2005, Reed looked like he might be the real deal. Though he was a light hitter, Reed was a very good fielder. But 2005 was Reed’s only good year. His time with the Mariners was filled with a litany of injuries and time split between the bench and Tacoma. 2006 saw center field divided between Reed, Ichiro, Jamal Strong and Willie Bloomquist version 1.1, though Reed got the vast majority of innings.
Jeremy Reed Slash Defensive Rating
2005 .253/.322.352 UZR 13.6 runs AA DRS 9
Mariners Center Fielders Defensive Rating
2006 .242/.312/.334 UZR 9.2 runs AA DRS 10
In 2007, a year the M’s went an improbable 88-74, Bavasi and manager Mike Hargrove moved an unhappy Ichiro Suzuki to center while center fielder of the future Adam Jones spent his final year developing in Tacoma. Ichiro defensive ratings were respectable, but nowhere near his superlative numbers in right field. Though he got additional time in center in 2008, the experiment was over–and in a sense so was the media’s love affair with Ichiro. Increasingly the word out of the Mariners camp was that their star was inflexible and selfish, far more about his numbers than helping his team win.
Ichiro Suzuki Slash Defensive Ratings
2007 .351/.396/.431 UZR 5.3 runs AA DRS 4
2008 was supposed to be the year of Adam Jones, instead it was a disaster. Jones and half of the Mariners pitching prospects were traded to the Orioles for lefty ace wannabe Eric Bedard. Jones is still a star in Camden Yards and Bedard pitched a less than scintillating 81 innings for the M’s. Bill Bavasi was toast and manager John McLaren ran the Fantastic Four of Reed, Ichiro, Wladimir Balentien and Bloomquist out to center in a return engagement of mediocrity.
Mariners Center Fielders Defensive Ratings
2008 Slash .279/.334/.361 UZR 3.2 runs AA DRS -3
2009 was Jack Zdurencik’s first year. His first off-season move was a creative three team deal in which he parlayed closer J.J. Putz, Reed, reliever Sean Green and Luis Valbuena into a pile of players including pitcher Jason Vargas, and outfielders Endy Chavez and a young, shiny Franklin Gutierrez. Guti played such a spectacular center field, broadcaster Dave Niehaus resurrected the 19th century baseball nickname “Death to Flying Things” and applied it to the budding Mariners star. Guti displayed one of the finest center field performances in the new stat era, and the M’s signed him to a four year deal. The team was set for a long time to come.
Some teams are built bad, some teams play bad, and some are simply cursed. There was something wrong with Franklin Gutierrez. He suffered through a series of well-documented injuries, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Ankylosing Spondylitis. His problems began in 2010 and continued through 2014 when he was effectively out of baseball, and the M’s were out of luck in center field. He played a full season in 2010, half a year in 2011, and scraps in 2012-13. His performance declined with his playing time.
Franklin Gutierrez Slash Defensive Ratings
2009 629 PA .283/.339/.425 UZR 31 runs AA DRS 32
2010 629 PA .245/.303/.363 UZR 5.9 runs AA DRS 0
2011 344 PA .224/.261/.273 UZR 16.0 runs AA DRS 10
2012 163 PA .260/.309/420 UZR -8.8 runs AA DRS -4
2013 151 PA .248/.303/.503 UZR -3.3 runs AA DRS -3
A litany of impostors filled in for the banged up Gutierrez: Ryan Langerhans, Chone Figgins, Endy Chavez, Michael Saunders, Abraham Almonte, James Jones, Dustin Ackley even Jason Bay took turns patrolling Safeco’s vast center field. Few were very good, and some, ahem Mr. Bay, were awful. But most weren’t suited for the role, and should never have been put there in the first place.
Mariners Centerfielders Defensive Ratings
2011 .199/.251/.279 UZR 8 runs AA DRS -1
2012 .250/.307/.429 UZR -13.7 runs AA DRS -20
2013 .251/.309/.378 UZR -24.9 runs AA DRS -34
2014 .234/.269/.290 UZR -9.1 runs AA DRS -6
When the Mariners picked up Austin Jackson in a three way deal with the Tigers and Marlins at the deadline 2014, I nodded my approval. A veteran center fielder was, at last in the M’s clubhouse. But when he hit well below his career numbers and put up poor defensive numbers, there were a great many doubters. When 2015 began Jackson’s troubles at the plate continued, but he made adjustments, turned in a respectable 97 OPS+ and was above average in the field
Austin Jackson Slash Defensive Ratings
2014 .229/.267/.260 UZR -8.6 runs AA DRS 0
2015 .272/.312/.387 UZR 7.5 runs AA DRS -1
When Zdurencik traded away Jackson in one of his last official acts as GM it left the M’s without a legitimate center fielder. Folks filled in-James Jones, Brad Miller, and Shawn O’Malley-but as center fielders go they were vile. With Miller’s trade to Tampa Bay it was clear a candidate wasn’t going to come from in-house. So, trades being GM Jerry DiPoto’s preference, it wasn’t a surprise to see him deal for Martin.
Here’s a quick look at Martin’s career stats, which will be somewhat better than his abbreviated injury-plagued season.
Leonys Martin Slash Defensive Ratings
Career .255/.305/.361 UZR 10.3 runs AA DRS 13
Look, as you can see, the Mariners have had some decent to excellent center fielders during the Safeco years. And honestly, for a park this big, a superior defensive center fielder is a requirement to succeed at home. Martin’s range and throwing arm aren’t in question. He’s shown his ability in Arlington. If he can hit enough to stay in the lineup-without the pressure to lead off-he’ll be an important addition to this team.