Mariners Breaking My Heart

Safeco Field

Safeco Field 

 

We’ve reached the Major League baseball All-Star break and I’m overwhelmed with one recurring thought regarding my beloved Seattle Mariners…when does Seahawks Training Camp begin. This season’s Mariners season might be the most disappointing for me to date.

As I wrote in this blog before Spring Training, Really Looking Forward to Mariner Season, I wasn’t expecting a playoff team. I was expecting a team that would show considerable improvement over the debacles of the previous two seasons. So far, what improvement there has been, if any, has been so slight it doesn’t merit booking playoff dreams in 2013, 2014 or any time in the foreseeable future. And the future is never foreseeable.

 

Seattle enters this four day break with the worst record in the American League, fifth worst in baseball. Their team batting average is .230. For a whole season that would be the 2nd worst in franchise history, topped, or bottomed, only by last year’s .224 average. The lone bright spots are outfielder Michael Saunders and 3rd baseman Kyle Seager.  But after 3 years of failing to make a good impression at the Major League level and his teammates ineptitude Saunder’s .257 batting average and mere 25 RBI is inflated in the eyes of media and fans. Should we really be THAT excited about an outfielder that at best projects to a 50 rbi-guy in his 4th year of MBL service? And Seager wasn’t expected to make the team in Spring Training, did well, opened the season strong but has fallen off to a .243 average. His HRs and RBIs, 10 and 52, still project well. But it remains to be seen if he can pull himself out of his current long slump. And like Saunders, we’re all way to excited about a guy with a .243 average only because it exceeds what was expected and looks so favorable compared to teammates.

Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak remain the biggest disappoints, given the franchise’s future high expectations were largely built on the 1st and 2nd basemen. Ackley can be sent down to AAA Tacoma for some more schooling. But other than Smoak there is no other full-time first-baseman on either the Mariner’s roster or Tacoma’s. So sending down Smoak isn’t an easy answer. Who’s going to replace him?

The Mariner’s offensive ineptitude is particularly acute at home, at Safeco Field, where they collectively bat .197 for the season, and mustered only 1 run per game during their recent 10-game homestand. Talk of bringing in the fences continues to be thrown out for discussion by restless beat writers. But a simple and available partial solution continues to be ignored by the Mariners management. Closing the Safeco Field roof more frequently is an advantage to the home team offensive that mysteriously gets no discussion. Miller Park in Milwaukee and Toronto’s Roger’s Centre (formerly Skydome) regularly keep their roofs closed, even on clear-sky days. Doing so warms the air and allows the baseball’s to fly better off the hitter’s bats. But Seattle fans continue to shiver during 40 and 50 degree nights while watching the most offensively inept team in MLB since the advent of the Designated hitter.

Seattle’s refusal to make tough decisions on veterans infects this franchise like no other I’ve ever seen. Ichiro is clearly not the spectacular hitter he once was. He hit .271 all last season and is hitting only .261 this season with an on-base percentage of less than .300, worst in the league. And as mediocre as those numbers are for most major-leaguers they’re made absolutely pedestrian by the total lack of power from the Japanese future-Hall-of-Famer. Manager Eric Wedgefinally moved Ichiro from the lead-off spot he is no longer suited to hold, and batted him #2 for the last two games against Oakland before the break. It remains to be seen if this is a permanent move. Ichiro should be allowed to finish his season here in Seattle. Then let him drift away back to Japan for an honorable retirement. His weak bat an 39 year old age make him no asset to a Mariner team seemingly more interested in nostalgia than winning.

English: Ken Griffey in June 2009.

Ken Griffey Jr

Ken Griffey Junior being the most recent previous example of this franchise holding too tightly to a star’s past glory long since vanished.

Chone Figgins

Chone Figgins 

And Seattle’s unwillingness to cut Chone Figgins is understandable, given his contract, but unforgivable given the team’s poor play and the fact that other younger more capable players are being deprived learning experiences every time Wedge marches Figgins out onto the field with his pathetic .186 average. Seattle needs to eat the remaining 1 1/2 years on Figgins contract and call it what it is, a failed free-agent signing. Then move on with the younger guys. I’m fairly confident Tacoma’s AAA outfielders Trayvon Robinson, Carlos Peguero, or Mike Wilson could manage a .186 average while having more HR pop than the diminutive Figgins. And being career minor leaguers thier MLB minimum salaries shouldn’t be a money concern like Figgins’ contract.

And speaking of Tacoma, Seattle’s highest level minor league affiliate is currently 38-51 on the season, last in their division and 4th worst in the entire Pacific Coast League. So much for building the franchise through the minor-league system.

English: Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik a...

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik at Mariners FanFest 2011. 

So a couple of things are clear for the remainder of the Mariner season. One-hitting coach Chris Chambliss has to go. I’m not saying the poor offense is his fault. But given such limited options for fixing the problem, and given 2 seasons of the worst offense any where at any time some new ideas wouldn’t hurt. Second- General Manager Jack Zduriencik may need to start polishing up his resume. He’s had nearly four years to make the team better. It isn’t working. My patience is through. I’m really disappointed. And I can’t wait to see Matt Flynn throw the football.

Thanks for visiting. Comments are welcome.

 

Mariners: It’s Time For Ichiro to GO.

English: Ichiro Suzuki on June 10, 2009.

Seattle Mariner iconic right-fielder and lead-off hitter Ichiro Suzuki, who is more commonly known only by his first name much like Madonna and Cher, has given Northwest baseball fans eleven years of exciting baseball. He’s won awards, broke records, and solidified a spot for himself in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame following his retirement. But his play this and last season show that he’s done. He’s fallen and given his age of 38 it’s safe to say he won’t get up.

It’s early June and the Mariners are seven games below .500. Not all that bad given they’ve had to endure the worst schedule in MLB, playing more road games than any other team…including a trip to Japan. Ichiro started the year as the team’s number 3 hitter; a spot usually reserved for the teams best batsman. At the start of the year it seemed like a worthy experiment. But after two months Ichiro’s diminished batting average and total lack of power necessitated his move last week back to his familiar lead-off position in the batting order.

The problem is Ichiro is not the familiar player who slapped singles and occasionally doubles and triples all around the ballpark, and beat out infield hits, and stole bases on a regular basis. Last year’s drop in average to .271 was dramatic for a lifetime .300+ hitter. And wishful fans AND Mariner management hoped it was a one season anomaly created largely by the inept hitting around the great Japanese ball player. Despite two hits in last night’s win over the LA Angels Ichiro’s .259 average and .290 on-base percentage show that it wasn’t an anomaly, but a trend. Hitting .259 with an OBP of only .290 would make Ichiro one of the worst lead-off hitters in baseball. Such averages are more deserving of a spot 7th, 8th or 9th in the line-up.

Ichiro is making $18-million dollars this year. But his contract is up at the end of the season. Knowing the Mariner’s history they’ll want to re-sign him and let him retire having only played for Seattle in his MLB career. I’d be all for it if not for the team’s reluctance to do anything that might upset their ego-maniacal star. And if Manager Eric Wedge can’t bring himself to put the team first and lower Ichiro’s position in the batting order NOW when several acceptable alternatives are available for the team’s lead-off spot, what makes you think he will do the right thing next year. Do you really want another Ken Griffey Jr. situation?

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Junior was brought back to the team in 2009 to end his career with the city and team that launched his Hall of Fame career. In spite of hitting a paltry .214 with little power, the nostalgia loving Mariner management team brought him back for the 2010 season. It was a disaster. Griffey was old. His interest level in playing was clearly diminished. He couldn’t bring his average above the proverbial Mendoza Line (.200) and he had even less power than in 2009. After being benched in mid-May Griffey left the team in a huff, announcing his retirement in a letter to management and leaving town without another word to anybody. The team suffered with and without him and proceeded through one of the worst seasons in team history, losing over 100 games.

The same ugly fate awaits Ichiro if Mariner management can’t do the right thing. He must be shown respect. And he must be shown the door. If they can get anything for him (and by anything I mean a bag of baseballs would suffice, given his age, his stats, and his contract) they should trade him to a contender by the July 31 trade deadline so Ichiro has a chance to end his career with a winner. Or, they should let him play out this season honorably. Then profusely thank him for his service and say goodbye. Then plan on a new right-fielder in 2013. Then, and only then can this young and improving Mariner’s team have a chance at contention.

Thanks for visiting. Comments are welcome.