Before the infield dust had settled following Mariner GM Jack Zduriencik’s dismissal, interim GM, Jeff Kingston, sent Mike Zunino to AAA Tacoma, calling up catcher John Hicks. He threw out 49% of base stealers in 2013 and was doing close to that in Tacoma.
Coming so soon after Jack’s departure, they door barely closed, makes one wonder if it was Jack keeping Zunino in Seattle despite two consecutive seasons batting under .200, with this season being particularly worrisome with a .174 average and 132 strikeouts in 350 at bats (37.7 rate). He was striking out two times for every rare hit he got. Jack should have sent him down months ago.
An even bolder move is that when rosters were expanded for September, Zunino was not recalled. Instead he was ticketed for the Arizona instructional league to work on his swing, to reshape, rebuild, remake, re-everything. He is an excellent defensive catcher, but he desperately needs to get his hitting on track if he wants a major league career.
Centerfielder Austin Jackson who would be a free agent was traded to the Cubs, where he joins former Mariners Fernando Rodney and Chris Denorfia. They said they wanted to get a good luck at Brad Miller in center, but that is misleading. Miller has more value as the role Mark McLemore, someone who can play on a regular basis, but playing different positions on a nightly basis. Miller has already tied McLemore’s mariner record for most positions played in a season. Miller has played all three outfield spots along with third, short and second.
Kingston also traded Justin Ruggiano, whom Zduriencik signed prior to the season, was released, cleared waivers, sent to Tacoma, and now is helping the Dodgers win games.
It would be easy for Kingston to do nothing and let the new GM make decisions, but Jeff is, as one might expect, auctioning for the job. So far so good. This his sixth season with the Mariners after nine seasons with San Diego, having been hired as an intern in 1999. He is young and the Mariners would be wise to avoid the usual in hiring a big name experienced candidate. A bolder, younger man, one with 15 years of experience already in the books might be a good hiring.
I hate to pick on a carcass for I am not a buzzard, vulture, or any of the animal kingdom that eats what other’s kill. My intent is to analyze the offseason moves prior to the 2015 season and not to cast blame, for others could be at fault. More about that later.
Lets us begin with the good. The free agent signing of Nelson Cruz, whose batting average and home run blasts have proven that it is possible for a free agent to succeed and flourish, which is not always the case. Seth Smith has been a solid player, not great, but consistent. As I write, a .251 average, 27 doubles, 5 triples, 10 homers, and 35 rbis in 327 at bats. Certainly the numbers of a good fourth outfielder.
But then there are the other players. Justin Ruggiano who was to platoon with Smith was released early in the season, cleared waivers, ended up in Tacoma and was recently traded to the Dodgers. Richie Weeks, a veteran whose career was on the decline, but had a connection with Jack from his Milwaukee days, was released early in the season as well. No hits, no runs, two errors.
JA Happ did not turn out to be this years version of Chris Young and was traded to Pittsburgh. One can only take so many line drives heading into the gaps and over fences. Mike Montgomery looked like a great find when first called up, but teams caught on to him and he was hit worse than a batting practice pitcher. Starting pitchers should go more than 2.1 innings. Dave Rollins, a lefty reliever, was Rule V pick from the Astros, and that meant, once his suspension for using a banned substance was over, he had to remain with Seattle or be returned to the Astros. In 21 innings, 36 hits, 20 runs, and the question of why he is still with Seattle. Mark Lowe was outstanding, so good that he was traded to Toronto for their stretch drive. So he along with Cruz and Smith made three positive additions. But as you can see, the bad outweighed the good by a large margin.
Was it Jack’s fault? Or was it the two cross-checkers who were let go the same day Jack was terminated. Jack, as the GM, must take responsibility for he has the final word. But the larger problem is perhaps, the scouts who cover the major leagues. The scouts who cover amateurs in high school and college is another story, but they too must accept blame for the failure to provide major league players. The problem with the Mariners is larger than Jack’s failure to be more consistent in trades, and his failure to rebuild the Mariners minor league system. The problem lies in the Mariners system itself, and some of the people who populate it.
Scouts, minor league coordinators and coaches, advisors, ownership; they are all part of the problem, one not easily changed.
The trade that caught people off guard who follow the Mariners was trading catcher Wellington Castillo a little over a week after acquiring him from Chicago. Jack Zduriencik said Arizona needed a catcher so shipped him away for Mark Trumbo. I thought Jack’s job was to fill needs for the Mariners, not other teams.
Seattle desperately needed a back up catcher because Jesus Sucre hits worse than Zunino and they wanted a bat with a little bit of power. Castillo filled that need. Jack said so himself. He was happy with the trade. Then he trades him away for a player they did not need.
What was Jack Zduriencik thinking? You fill a need then you go back to a void. It would have been smarter to bring up Jesus Montero after the trade for Castillo and keep Jesus up.
Montero came to Seattle in a trade with high expectations, but failed. He did not take the game seriously and was suspended last year as well. But when he came to training camp this season he was unrecognizable. I could not believe the transformation. He was in the best shape of his life. He has a wife and a child and has dedicated himself to his family and to becoming a solid major league player. Thus far he has torn up the Pacific Coast League, but has only gotten ten at bats with three hits and two walks with the Mariners this year.
As hard as Montero has worked and as productive as he has been at AAA he deserved more of a chance, but Jackie Z is content to keep him in Tacoma. Jack should have taken a page from Seahawk coach Pete Carroll. He signs players who are hungry to prove themselves and gives them a chance, like Richard Sherman, like Doug Baldwin, like Jermaine Kearse, and so on.
Meanwhile Trumbo is batting .228 with 3 homers. Castillo came into the getaway game with Arizona batting .227 and hit two homers off Felix Hernandez, giving him 10 on the season. Since the Mariners needed Castillo he should have stayed and Montero could be belting out hits with Seattle instead of watching Trumbo flail at pitches a foot off the plate. Thanks Jack.
The Mariners are in a race for a wild card spot. The divisional race where Seattle bests both the A’s and the Angels remains a lovely dream for those not living in reality.
The A’s, already with great pitching, added two starters in Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. They want not only to remain in first, but to set up a strong rotation for the post season. The Angels strengthened their bullpen by trading for Jason Grilli, Joe Thatcher, and Huston Street.
Many feel the Mariners are now forced to make a trade to add a bat and a starting pitcher in order to compete in the divisional race. But there may be a problem as to whether Jackie Z, Mariners GM, will follow through.
Ken Rosenthal, Fox’s senior baseball analyst, who always wants the Mariners to trade away stars like Felix Hernandez ,as he pushed for a couple of years ago, has written that other GM’s have told him it is difficult to move Jackie Z across the trade finishing line. Jack came to Seattle with a reputation for making trades in Milwaukee, thus the nickname Trader Jack.
But there is a perception in Seattle, rightly or wrongly, that every trade the Mariners make is a bad one. Mariner fans remember all the bad ones, never the good ones. Of course, there are more bad ones to remember and I won’t go over all those here; there is no reason to depress people in summer.
So maybe Trader Jack is reluctant in light of the history in the haunted Northwest to hit the trade accept button on his laptop.
But the Mariners need a right handed bat in left field and a starting pitcher, a good one, to give them three solid starters for the post season. Remember the famous football quote, “You play to win the game.” So make the moves to put you in a better position to win the game. Bring me the arm of John Lester. Bring me the bat of Marlon Byrd. Push that button Trade Jack.
Projecting the Seattle Mariner lineup, the 3-4-5 hitters looks promising. Cano, 2b, Hart, rf, and Seager, 3b, give the lineup left-right-left hitters in the middle. All three can hit, though Hart is attempting a comeback after being disabled in 2013. If he falters, the 4th spot, with no one else to fill it, could sink the Mariners. Hart is crucial to the teams success. Who fills the other spots are up in the air.
Two left handed bats in the outfield are Dustin Ackley, scheduled for left, and Michael Saunders who should be in center. Both struggled last year and one of them needs to step up his game.
Shortstop will be either Brad Miller, batting left, or switch hitter Nick Franklin. First base will be perennial disappointment, Justin Smoak, a switch hitter, or Logan Morrison, batting left. DH is up in the air. But if Hart is in right then DH will most likely be Morrison if he can’t beat out Smoak.
Michael Zunino is the catcher. He bats from the other side, that side being right. It could be that the Mariners lineup could have only two right handed batters. As I write Kendrys Morales is still available and is a switch hitter. I doubt the Mariners will sign him though as they try to figure out some way of using what they have instead of a free agent signing or trade. The M’s most likely are going to mix and match using everyone on the roster.
If James Paxton does not make the rotation and if Randy Wolf, a spring training invitee, does not impress, then Seattle will have an all right handed pitching rotation. Not a good thing.
The team at present is clearly out of balance, too many left handed bats, too many right handed starting pitchers, and three DH/ first basemen, Smoak, Morrison, and Hart, who probably will be in right. And no DH of significance. The signing of Robinson Cano generated many headlines, but the reality is that GM Jack Zduriencik has constructed a team whose parts don’t’ seem to fit well. There are too many questions and if they are not answered then blame Jack.
If the M’s win another 70 games, GM Zduriencik, like Captain Bly, should be set adrift, because Mariner fans will mutiny the Good Ship Mariner.
Frank Sinatra could sing “New York, New York” a hundred times and fans would love hearing every note, as would fans of Tony Bennett singing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” but when Trader Jack, Seattle Mariner’s GM, sings his famous tune, Mariner fans put their hands over their ears, their loyal hearts sinking to Davy Jones locker, and once again, they see the team walking the plank in another mediocre season.
At the Mariner Fan Fest over the weekend Trader Jack said there will be some more moves, but nothing big. Despite needing a third starter, the cost of Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana does not fit within the Mariners financial picture. Jack said they will be looking at low end free agents. The M’s recently signed former Milwaukee number one pick, pitcher Mark Rogers, to a minor league contract and are now looking at former Minnesota Twins pitcher Scott Baker, yet another player trying for a comeback after missing the 2012 season with Tommy John surgery.
The Mariners nickname for 2014 should be the comeback kids, as the roster is full of players trying to rejuvenate their careers. They should rename Safeco Field, Ellis Island Field, and build the Statue of Liberty outside the park. They can rewrite the famed sonnet by Emma Lazarus (what an appropriate name-maybe one of the comebacks can rise from the grave) that is on the Statue of Liberty. Instead of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddles masses,” it can read “Give me your wounded players, your cheap free agents, your huddled discards.”
Signing Robinson Cano was positive, but if Trader Jack is essentially done, would it not have been better to use the money for Cano to add say three players that could help Seattle now. Jack had a four year plan, then a five year plan, then a seven year plan. Once again he is relying on holdover youth to finally blossom, as we have been waiting to see the past few years. The Mariners plan for success always seems to be down the road, one not paved with yellow bricks, but gravel. If I hear Jack sing his song about waiting for the kids to come through one more time, my stomach will launch a heave-ho of every Mariner Dog I have eaten at both Safeco and the Kingdome.
At baseball’s winter meetings much was done with trades and free agents. It was a hot stove of activity for fans to talk about, but now the stove is ice cold. I know NFL playoffs are going on, but there are still five top free agents sitting on their couch waiting to find out where they will be spending spring training.
After further review I don’t think the Seattle Mariners need Nelson Cruz, but they could use another starting pitcher. Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are my top choices, with Bronson Arroyo coming in third, and A.J. Burnett not placing.
From recent comments by Trader jack, Seattle’s GM, it sounds the Mariners may be done. I hope some trades are coming, but if there isn’t, Jack will make the usual ” we tried to make a trade, but we could not get value for value.” Blah, Blah, Blah.
Other than Robinson Cano, the Mariners have done the usual in signing players hoping for a comeback. Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, and Franklin Gutierrez, all have had health and injury problems. It is a gamble. At the moment Cano should lead the league in walks, as he will get no protection if Hart, et al don’t hit.
It is easy to say Seattle needs to make, if not a blockbuster trade, at least one that gives the team more balance. I am not going to offer any proposals, as anyone can play that game. Fans tend to think trade proposals are as easy as trading baseball cards. They aren’t. But I, like all fans, am greedy. I want to see new faces, ones that give the Mariners a better chance to move up in the standings. But Texas and those pesky Angels have improved, with Texas my early favorite. Oakland is always in the hunt, usually with players no one has heard of. At the moment Seattle is destined for 4th place.
Cano needs help, Seattle needs help, and I would be itching for the season to start, but the M’s need to scratch that itch.