“When are the Mariners going to pony up and do what it takes to win? These owners worry more about lining their pockets than putting a winning team on the field! My 9 year old son could hit better than half these Mariners!”
Stop me if you’ve heard any of this same tired drag your friend’s Dad shouts at you around the seventh inning after he’s had one too many 9-dollar beers at any given Mariner game. This feels like a good time to write this, with Josh Hamilton headed to Los Angeles and Nick Swisher now packing his bags to Cleveland for God knows what reason, the Mariners have lost out on the two “Big Bats” fans clamored for at the start of the offseason. Now that the dust has settled, Seattle will not be courting an elite offseason acquisition, and that has led to a collective sense of pessimism regarding the future of the squad. So many fans that I have conversed with casually have expressed their displeasure, swearing off the Mariners for good, as if this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. These feelings are not without merit, the Mariners have been the definition of futile over the last few seasons, but I want to help quell the pessimism and demonstrate why things are not as bleak as many of the pundits believe it is. I am well versed in the argument I am about to make; I have been repeating it to anybody who will listen for the last 3 years now, and there is no better way to make it than with my very favorite childhood book:
Jake was a very impatient boy; Jake did not like doing chores, so naturally you can imagine just how upset Jake was when his mother asked him to clean his room. Jakes room was in horrid condition, picking everything up one by one would certainly take him hours. This is when Jake got a brilliant idea. He took the vacuum out of the closet and in one fell swoop vacuumed up all the clothes, books, and toys strewn about his room. Knowing his mother would be upset at seeing this, Jake decided the only solution was to take the vacuum and suck her into it as well. Jake thought he was home free, that is until his Dad got home! Seeing the gravity of the situation Jake realized his only option was to put Dad in the Vacuum as well. Anyway this goes on and on until eventually the vacuum can’t hold any more and burst, then Jake gets in a metric crap-ton of trouble.
If you are a person who believes that the Mariners should be in the hunt for the big name free agent every offseason no matter the cost, congratulations, you are as smart as the kid in my childhood book.
The approach the Seattle Mariners are taking is not exciting, it is not glamorous, and will not make the front page of ESPN. The approach that the Seattle Mariners are taking will, however, win games. You don’t believe me? Ask Pat Gillick, the General Manager of the Seattle Mariners from 1998 through 2005, what his stance was on signing the hot ticket free agent. I’ll give a hint. Gillick’s tenure in Seattle was underscored by his motto. “Stand Pat” Gillick did not flinch on trading Ken Griffey Jr or Randy Johnson realizing resigning them in the offseason was going to be a slim chance, and he let A-Rod walk when Rodriguez commanded the largest contract in Major League history and free tip-frostings for the rest of his life. After all three “stars” were gone; the Mariners won 116 games in 2001.
Unlike Jake the Mariners are calculating, exercising monk-like patience. This regime has a plan, and that plan is not going to be deviated from at any cost. Don’t get me wrong, would I love to see Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher or Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols or Zach Greinke or a multitude of other players suit up for the Mariners? Of course I would, but the Mariners aren’t mortgaging their future so they can win 83 games this year instead of 79. Just like Jake, impatience is always the downfall of a team. Not too long ago the Philadelphia Phillies had Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Owswalt, Cole Hamels and…….. some other guy, and they looked like the World Series favorite. Fast-forward three years. No Championships, a load of bad contracts hamstringing their flexibility, and a depleted farm system later the Phillies look like they are in a lot of trouble, and no free agent is going to fix that. Just like Jakes vacuum eventually exploded, the aggressive free agent approach, while exciting, is never anything more than a house of cards. This Mariners offseason has not been a failure by any stretch of the imagination. The Mariners gave what they believed to be competitive reasonable offers to these free agents and said free agents did not accept in favor of another team. What other teams do should have no effect on how the Mariners are evaluated.
Jake was impatient; instead of doing what was necessary to clean his room, he took the easy way out, and that ultimately led to his own demise. The Mariners will not be Jake; they will put every book back on the shelf and put all the clothes back in the closet no matter how infuriating that approach is. Strong drafts, meticulous trades, and careful international free agent scouting is how teams like the Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants, and Saint Louis Cardinals are perennial contenders. Believe it or not the Mariners are getting better, and they are not doing it by putting a band-aid over a bullet wound; they are doing this thing the right way. The Mariners improved by 6 games in 2011 and 8 games last season. This thing is turning around. Now, this is not to say all free agent signings are bad moves, in fact they can be extremely helpful to push a team over the edge and into playoff contention, but thinking that Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher could be the cure all to wash away the Mariners sins is just as asinine as what Jake did. And I’m pretty sure Jake was like 8 years old.
So instead of focusing on what the Mariners haven’t done this offseason lets see what they have done.
The Mariners have signed Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez. My guess is only one of the two of them are going to be with the Mariners come April as they serve almost the exact same purpose; A bench player who can pinch-hit and serve as a mentor to the younger players. Because Ibanez has a guaranteed major league contract and Jason Bay doesn’t, odds are Jason Bay gets as many at-bats next year for the Mariners as I do. Don’t expect this to be anything major; Ibanez will likely be penciled into the lineup less than once a week. As the season progresses there is a chance we will see him less and less. Ibanez is a shell of what he used to be with the Mariners, and his numbers last year benefited tremendously from being in the left handed hitter bandbox that is New Yankee Stadium.
The Mariners Traded Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales to the Los Angeles Angels. This trade is about as good as it gets in terms of what we are parting with for what is returning. The Mariners saw the writing on the wall with Jason Vargas, he is a homerun susceptible pitcher who benefited greatly from pitching in the friendly confines of Safeco Field. With the fences moving in and Safeco not being as much of a haven for Vargas the Mariners couldn’t ship him out quick enough. Vargas pitched exceptionally last year at home, but on the road he was something not that short of a disaster. In return for the services of Jason Vargas the Mariners are getting a former MVP candidate who rebounded nicely this previous season after missing all of 2011 with one of the worst ankle injuries in recent memory. Morales hit .273 with 22 homeruns and only appeared to be getting stronger as the season progressed as he put some distance in between himself and that devastating ankle injury. Morales is a good fit at Safeco and he is only on a One-Year Deal (as is Vargas). If the Mariners like Morales they can extend his contract or trade him at the deadline. Morales is on a team friendly contract so the ball is really in the Mariners court here. Worst case scenario Morales takes a turn for the worst as his ankle proves to be a problem and he never gets rolling in Safeco, causing the Mariners to cut him loose at the end of the season. Best-case scenario he returns to form to the tune of .306/34/108 making us all forget about Nick Swisher and Josh Hamilton. The Angels had a surplus of bats after the Josh Hamilton signing and needed an innings eating pitcher, and the Mariners were there to swoop in on this deal. This does however open up a spot in a now rather weak Mariners rotation, so look for a free agent to fill the void on that front in the coming weeks.
The Mariners signed Jeremy Bonderman to a minor league contract. If you are willing to read even one paragraph about Jeremy Bonderman you may need psychiatric help.
For right now that is all I really have to say about the Seattle Mariners. Baseball teams are not static. Things will change and I will be here to update you through it all. The Mariners are not the Yankees, if you have made it this far through the article you have probably seen some bad baseball in the past and I know you’re frustrated. I’m frustrated. But now is not the time to question what the Mariners are doing, that was 6 years ago when they were cleaning their room with a vacuum.