Friday, November 26, 2010

Mariner Prospects

In keeping with my preaching on the value of Mariner prospects in the any rebuilding plan, this morning's News Tribune included an article by Larry Larue reviewing those M's farmhands who may be close to contributing to the big club. Larue interviewed Pedro Grifol, the M's minor league director who was particularly enthusiastic about pitcher Michael Pineda and 2B Dustin Ackley.  Larue then broke down the prospects position by position. Interesting thoughts.

After a flurry of minor league deals and shoring up the team's 40-man roster, I'm anxious for Jackie Z to begin putting pieces together that will cement the 2011 team.  I'll be following up with a series of post offering my "suggestions" for players who might help the Mariners beyond hopelessness.
A black hole since Dan Wilson's retirement in 2005, Adam Moore could be the Mariners catcher for years to come.  If Moore can't handle it, the only answer lie outside the organization.

Greg Halman's tremendous power and athletic ability are  assets. He seemed overmatched in his September call-up and  must reduce his ridiculous strikeout rate to contribute to the big league club.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Today's Music

Tori Amos                                                            Winter
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss                             Fortune Teller
Regina Spektor                                                     Samson
Deanta                                                                  Lone Shanakyle
Shawn Colvin                                                       If These Walls Could Speak
Rolling Stones                                                      Hand of Fate
Roy Orbison                                                        Candy Man
Steve Miller Band                                                Jungle Love
Toad the Wet Sprocket                                       The Nightingale Song
Dave Clark Five                                                   Everybody Knows
REM                                                                   Bang and Blame
Richard Thompson                                               From Galway to Graceland
Sam Cooke                                                         Cupid
Scandal                                                                Beat of a Heart
Dire Straits                                                           On Every Street
Duffy                                                                   Mercy
The Doobie Brothers                                           China Grove

I love making eclectic playlists and having at it.  Try From Galway to Graceland, by Richard Thompson.  It's a great story.  All of it is fun. Hope you have a fabulous Thanksgiving. 

From Godawful to Merely Stinky: A Blueprint for the 2011 Mariners

As we all know, the Mariners of 2010 were vile.  Their 101 losses  showed them to be inept on the field and incompetent in the front office.  Though I've been a devoted follower since 1977, I found them difficult to watch after about July 1st.  I don't think I've ever given up watching them so early.

The year's attendance at Safeco field totaled about 2,085,000, an average of about 25,700 per game, 19th in major league baseball, according to ESPN-MLB.  This represents the lowest attendance since the miracle of 1995.  Attendance continues in steady decline since 2002, the last year the Mariners were in competition for a playoff spot.  In that year the Mariners averaged nearly 44,000 per game, and drew over 3.5 million for the season according to

Though radio ratings were up about 10% according to John Ourand in July 26th Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal , television ratings were down 15.6%.

Clearly my concerns are not mine alone, fan interest is diminishing as the Mariners remain mired in a decade long absence from the playoffs, seem unremittingly noncompetitive, and, based on last year's demoralizing performance, offer no short term escape from baseball hell. I'll offer one fan's perspective on the problem, as well as suggestions the Mariners will likely not read, let alone adopt as a blueprint for rebuilding.  But this is a blog, so I'm entitled to my views.

Here are some four big picture suggestions for my favorite baseball team.

1. Cast off Anchors
Though it is hard to admit failure, cut loose some of the contracts that simply won't help the M's this year.  First, I'm speaking of Milton Bradley.  Certainly nobody expected he would contribute as little as he did this year, and the M's are on the hook for another $12 M, not exactly chicken feed.  Bradley performed poorly in the field and at bat with an UZR of -.5 and an OPS of .641.  He was perpetually injured physically and emotionally and there is no reason to believe this won't continue.  I would love to believe Bradley could repeat his fantastic 2008 season and provide some run producing spark to this offensively challenged team, but I don't, sorry Milton. Further, the only positions he plays are left field where he is likely to block the development of a more productive player, oh and he's terrible there, or at DH where he is not the kind of power guy the M's need  in that spot. Milton off the bench seems like a horrific accident waiting to happen, given his charming past. Milton should go.

 The other player needing a "Thank you for your services . . ." card is Jack Wilson.  This pains me to say because I think Jack Wilson is a tremendous defensive player and I love great defensive players.  Unfortunately Jack is only available for 15-20 minutes every other Tuesday once per month.  Not much of a hitter, when he isn't available the Mariners are forced to use a bench player who is an adequate utility guy who should never be a starter.  Jack's hamstrings simply won't let him play anymore and the only person who can't admit it is Jack.  Do the right thing Jack and sail off into the sunset.  Failing that, Zdurencik needs to do the right thing and let Jack and his $5 M deal go.

2. Remember Where You Play
I'm sure Jackie Z. has a plan, he just hasn't shared much with us lately.  I would encourage him to consider the park he plays in.  Perhaps no team took better advantage of their home field than the mid-80's Whitey Herzog Cardinals teams.  Playing in roomy Busch Stadium, those teams relied on good pitching, good defense, and lots of team speed. They had some guys who could get on base and one guy whose job it was to hit home runs, Jack Clark.  But, Terry Pendleton and Willie McGee could hit gaps and play great D.  They had awesome outfield defenders.  Ozzie Smith played an otherworldly shortstop, and we forget he could hit a little too (in case you've forgotten he hit 40 doubles in '87.)  Not just a bunch of slappy hitters. Building a team that has right handers who could hit the left field gaps and run like the wind wouldn''t be a bad thing.  Rely on a couple of lefty's for the porch in right.  Most of all, build on good defense and athleticism to match solid pitching. Jack Cust and Matt Stairs need not apply. That will win a lot of games.

3.  Patience, patience.
 There will be offers, no, traps and snares for the Mariners brass to give away the jewels.  Okay, they may not be jewels, but they may be solid major league players.  I'm speaking of pitcher Michael Pineda, 1B Justin Smoak, and 2B Dustin Ackley.  The M's have already been named in the Justin Upton sweepstakes, how many other veteran players will be dangled in front of them in order to snatch major-league ready prospects from them.  Why not, others have done it.  Every time I see Jason Varitek I remember the Heathcliff Slocumb trade and steam comes out of my ears.  Cleveland has Shin Soo-Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera whom they got for virtually nothing (okay, Ben Broussard and Edouardo Perez, same thing).   I could go on and on about bad trades just in this decade, but it makes me nauseous.  The temptation to cut corners and catch lightning in a bottle with a quick deal or two will be out there.  It hasn't worked, it won't work. Been there, done that.

I'm not a professional, but it seems like Dustin Ackley is the real deal.  Hitting doesn't seem to be a problem based on his performance with the Rainiers and the Arizona Fall League.  If anything, he seems to need more work on his 2B defense, not a surprise given the little time he's played there.  See where he is in June and plug him into the M's lineup.  Smoak made strides in September and in his small sample of at bats showed us the player we all hoped he could be when he came over in the Cliff Lee trade.  Pineda, the Mariners' Minor League Player of the Year, has nothing left to prove at the minor league level.  He seems to have the stuff to be successful in the majors, a complement to Felix Hernandez.

The M's front office is rebuilding a largely empty farm system.  They have some talent at the top and some on the way, but is shallow, according to Baseball Prospectus. Well run baseball organizations, the Red Sox, the Twins, and the vastly improved Rangers depend on their minor league system to produce good players BEFORE going the trade and free agent route to fill holes.  Note I said before rather than RUNNING DESPERATELY TO. The M's have relatively few players who are close.  Treat them as the gifts they are and find out what you have.  If deals must be made they have to go for proven, young talent, not for fading veterans with mammoth contracts and one or two years of productivity.  Oh, you mean nobody likes to trade the former?  Sorry, nevermind.

4.  Embrace the Badness
The Mariners often seem to be doing stuff just to prove to fans they're trying to get better to build fan excitement.  Believe me, supporters of the team have seen through this.  Knowledgeable fans want to see a commitment to real improvement toward a consistent winner.  They don't want a team that offers a bright and shiny product that can't win on the field.  We drank the kool-aid last year, embraced the wishful thinking that Eric Byrnes, Casey Kotchman, and Milton Bradley could spark the M's offense last year.  No more.  Just give us the straight scoop.  We're going to be young, inexperienced and undermanned in many positions.  The 2011 Mariners will be bad, not 2003 Detroit Tigers bad, but not very good.  Don't make superficial moves (which is all we can afford) and crown the M's as the next West division winners.  The Tigers lost 119 games in 2003, but were in the World Series in 2006, and very competitive in their division three of the last five years. They told the world they were rebuilding, developed their kids and added the pieces they needed to win.  The Mariners need to do the same.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Today's Music

I dunno about you, but some days I like to fire up my iTunes and make a playlist of songs I'll listen to throughout the day.  I mostly try to choose songs that fit my mood, but sometimes they're just songs I haven't heard in a while.  Then I'll just synch it to my iPhone and life is good.  I can listen to it whenever I want.

Today's Music:
Everywhere                                                            Michelle Branch
Strange Brew                                                         Cream
Because                                                                  Dave Clark Five
That's The Way I've Always Heard it Should Be      Carly Simon
Strong Enough                                                        Sheryl Crowe
One Way Out                                                        Allman Brothers
Darkness on the Edge of Town                                Bruce Springsteen
She's Always a Woman                                           Billy Joel
Joey                                                                        Concrete Blonde
The Night Before                                                     The Beatles
On Second Avenue                                                 Art Garfunkle
Jolene                                                                     Dolly Parton
The Fairy Queen                                                     Clannad
Through Being Cool                                                Devo
Take it Easy                                                           The Eagles
Dunmore Lassies                                                   The Chieftains
I Got Mine                                                            The Black Keys
They Stole My Wife From Me Last Night              Bonnie Rideout

Pretty eclectic mix today

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Curse of David Bell and why the Mariners Shouldn't Trade for Justin Upton

In 2001 the Mariners tied the major league record most wins in a season with  with 116. There hasn't been much written  about the 2001 team except to point fingers at a group of players who probably over-achieved through out the year and choked when they got to the playoffs.

Naaaahhhh.  It was a great team with players who had great years.  How great?  The hitting was certainly great.  Here are a few examples:
Brett Boone:  .331/372/578  OPS + 153  Best year of any player I ever saw. He delivered the mail.
Edgar Martinez .306/423/543 OPS +160 Edgar's last year of brilliance.  He should be in the Hall of Fame
John Olerud  .302/401/472  OPS +136  Reliable at bat and in the field.  He was clutch. Slow too, but clutch.
Ichiro Suzuki  .350/387/451 OPS + 126 Transformed the Mariners.  The first year of his unique career.

Those are just a few examples of the Mariners who had standout careers.  This list omits Mike Cameron, Mark McLemore and other solid hitters.

And then there was pitching.  Freddie Garcia, Jamie Moyer, and Aaron Selie all had good years in a dependable rotation.  Kaz Sasaki and Arthur Rhodes were nearly unhittable. I forgot  Norm Charlton pitched some quality innings for this team.  Rhodes had an ERA + of 243.

So why didn't they make it to the World Series?  Were they really just bums masquerading as champions?  This team struggled against the Indians in the Division Series and were beaten 4-1 by the Yankees in ALCS.

I don't think they were bums.  I think they were human. I believe that 9/11 showed them to be mortal, a group of men on the road when disaster struck New York City.  The week off gave them lots to think about while they sat in Anaheim trying to get home to their families. Baseball somehow seemed less important than their roles as husbands, parents, and sons.  Call it pop psychology, but this story has not been written.  It should be. Though they went 12-6 after baseball resumed its schedule on September 18th, ten of those wins were against bad Angels and Rangers teams.  Against 102 win Oakland, the Mariners were 2-4.  They weren't ready for a team like the Yankees, World Series veterans who were galvanized by the the World Trade Center bombing.  After scraping by Cleveland, they were done.

When a team ties the season wins record that stood for nearly a century but fail epicly in the post-season, there has to be a reason.  In Seattle there was an immediate search for scapegoats, and the big winner was David Bell. Bell was the Mariners third baseman in that record-tying season.  He hit a pretty pedestrian .260, played a solid hot corner and even smacked 15 homers.  Not bad for a right hander in Safeco field.

But it wasn't good enough. Bell played four seasons for the M's, none outstanding, but none that was embarrassing.   Lou Piniella wanted Jeff Cirillo who played a terriffic third base for the Rockies, and a trade was made for him.  Promising young pitchers Denny Stark and Brian Fuentes were shipped to Coors Field and Cirillo headed west. Bell was not re-signed.
David Bell played a solid if unspectacular 3rd base 1998-2001
Cirillo was a splendid player.  His previous four years with the Rockies and Brewers he hit over .300, with an OPS over .850.  His WAR for 1996-2000 was at least 4.0, and he was an All-Star in 1997 and 2000.  Cirillo was also known for his sparkling defense.
Jeff Cirillo looking for his swing.

The Mariners and their new third baseman arrived in camp with high expectations in 2002.  Both disappointed.  The M's failed to make the playoffs despite their 93 wins.  And Cirillo was a bust.  .247/.307/.328 don't earn many cheers from management or the fans.  Cirillo, a perennial winner, became an object of scorn.  A slow start in 2003, didn't bode well for his fragile self-confidence and midway through the season he was dealt to San Diego for catcher of the future Ben Davis and several bums to be named later. Bell, meanwhile, remained a productive player with the Giants and Phillies for several years.  Cirillo's career as a productive starter were over.

This was the first of many deals the Mariners made in the decade since the miraculous 2001 year. And what has it gotten them?  Crap.  The Mariners have finished over .500 four year in that time, including 2002 and 2003, before the last of the heroes of 2001 departed, their careers officially expired. The M's finished dead last last five times, with two disastrous hundred loss seasons in the last three years.

Lots is written about what the M's need to do to get back to winning and competing for the weak AL West crown.  They've aggressively traded for players and signed free agents for big dollars, and almost always the moves turned out badly.  Cirillo replaced Bell, and it was simply the first of many disasters.  Ben Davis was awful, and he was traded for Miguel Olivo, an even worse catcher.

In 2005, new GM Bill Bavasi signed high priced free agents Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson to long term contracts.  Beltre never lived up to his contract, playing a fabulous third base but the high average with power never materialized.  Sexson was brought in to hit home runs and for the first two years of his contract he did just that, but he was awful in the last two years of his deal and was finally released.  Bavasi signed players that never performed-Rich Aurilia, Scott Spezio, Brad Wilkerson are just a few memorable names in the Mariners scrapyard.  He made some boneheaded trades that netted virtually nothing for players who became valuable starters-Carlos Guillen to the Tigers, Shin Soo-Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera to Cleveland for role players that never performed at Safeco Field.
Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre, the Mariner saviors who never where.
The crowning debacle, however, was the 2008 season which began with the trade of promising outfield prospect Adam Jones, useful lefty reliever George Sherrill and three other prospects for Eric Bedard, a Baltimore lefty to join Felix Hernandez in the Mariner rotation.  Bedard, unfortunately, was broken, and he never became an effective starter for the M's.   The 2008 season remains one of the most disgusting in Mariners history as clubhouse chemistry was radioactive.

Erik Bedard's damaged left arm prevented him from providing the left handed bookend to Felix Hernandez.  The trade to bring him to Seattle cost the Mariners far more than what they got in return.

After making some moves in 2009 that seemed like genius, new GM Jack Zdurencik made moves for the 2010 season that looked great on paper, but in practice more disaster.  Chone Figgins, a perennial pest during his days as a lead off pest for the Angels, underperformed his new contract and undermined manager Don Wakamatsu's authority.  Milton Bradley's contract for Carlos Silva's (plus his buffet) seemed like a fair swap at the time, but no, Milton was invisible on and off the field. Casey Kotchman, Eric Byrnes, Jack Wilson, all bad, all the time.

It seemed that by the end of 2010 Jack Z had learned his lesson and would rebuild the good old fashioned way, with prospects the Mariners worked hard to acquire and develop.  It meant 2011 would be stinky, but at least the M's would know what they had. Justin Smoak at first base, Dustin Ackley at second, and Miguel Pineda penciled into the starting rotation seemed a likely occurrence in 2011, with hoped for improvement by young Michael Saunders and catcher Adam Moore.  The philosophy seemed to be patience with a smattering of free agent signings to add help where it seemed to be needed-in the rotation and bullpen, at DH, a fill-in second baseman and shortstop.  No more David Bell swaps, no more long term unaffordable contracts, at least not until we got to see how the kids performed.
Hard throwing phenom Michael Pineda is penciled into the Mariners rotation for 2010
All agree Dustin Ackley is the real thing at the plate.  He's electrified crowds in the Arizona Fall League.
Justin Smoak's adjustments paid off in his fall audition with the Mariners.  The first baseman could be the power hitter the Mariners lack.
This week the rumor the Mariners were interested in the Justin Upton sweepstakes floated on the internet like a stinky fart.  The price would be two or three of the M's top prospects.  Upton a young, rising star in the Diamondbacks' outfield could move to left and provide power, speed and defense.  He would immediately become the most dangerous hitter in the Mariners' lineup at age 23.  I've heard this before, when we welcomed Jeff Cirillo to Seattle in 2002.  Two years after we waved good bye to Jeff, we welcomed Adrian and Big Richie and we saw two more National League hitter founder on the reef that is Safeco's left field wall. Jose Vidro and Jack Wilson brought their experienced National League bats to Seattle and left simply shavings and splinters.  This rumored deal has the stink of Erik Bedard all over it.
Justin Upton: a future star, or merely a good National League player.
I cannot see giving up any of the three players that are on the brink, clearly fit into the M's immediate plans for another player who has never played in the American League, a right handed power hitter to be demoralized by the spacious dimensions and heavy air of Safeco Field. Recognizing that while Upton is a good player, and may become a great player, he is unproven in this league, and is not worth blowing holes in the team that will take the field in 2011.  The foolish decision to seek a quick fix in 2002 still haunts this team.  The quick fix was tried dozens of times since then, and not a single decision has paid off.  Only by developing our own before turning to trades and free agency will the Mariners ever prosper again.  Jack Z. needs to learn from the curse of David Bell before it takes his job too.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Good bye Dave

Lorri, Pat and I drove up to Safeco Field yesterday to say good-bye to Dave Niehaus.  The open house farewell estimated 3,400 attendees.  The crowd was just right.  The ballpark was chilly and a longer wait than the 30 minutes or so we encountered to snake down to the field and past the Niehaus memorabilia would have been pretty uncomfortable.

We determined to arrive at about the same time as the noon opening, and when we got to the Home Plate entrance a long line stretched down First Avenue.  Many remembrances fixed to the main entrance greeted us, with Niehaus admirers busy signing oversized cards for the Niehaus family.  Here Patrick is signing on the ground.

The line moved quickly through the gate and up to the 100 level.  Many of Dave's greatest calls rang through the largely empty ballpark.  Down on the field, his tradmark My Oh My filled the infield just behind second base.  A giant Mariner compass covered the pitcher's mound.  While mourners waited patiently in line, they could sign guestbooks.  Lorri signed and I passed, believing what I wrote in my blogs for public consumption would have to be enough.  I decided not to subject the Mariners organization or the Niehaus family to my wretched handwriting.

We quickly got in line to see what was happening on the field.  Neither Lorri or Patrick had been there before so it was a great opportunity.  I'd had the good fortune to view batting practice from the track some years ago, but it was still exhilarating to view Safeco from a field perspective.  Patrick made an interesting observation.  As the three of us stood in line we chatted, told stories, some about baseball, the Mariners and Niehaus but most didn't.  We are a family of storytellers, Pat recalled, and of course he is right. I couldn't imagine being there with anybody else.

As we made our way toward the display on the field behind home plate, we looked up into the press box and saw the illuminated jersey the Mariners made in Dave's honor.  Number 77, the year he began calling M's games.  On the visitors scoreboard the teams were the Angels and Mariners.  I'm not quite certain of the significance, whether it represented the 1995 one game playoff, or whether it was because Niehaus called games for both teams over his long career.

As we neared Dave's Mariners Hall of Fame plaque and first game scorebook from 1977, it was clear that Rick Rizzs and the Niehaus family were greeting those making their way through the line.  What a brave thing to do under the circumstances.  Brave and classy.  I shook Rizzs' hand and wished him well.  He's going to need it.  I hope he is given the role of lead man on the broadcast team.  Having worked with Dave for so many years, in his giant shadow, Rick deserves an opportunity for his shot, to be his own man.  Twenty four years is a long time to study under the master, and at some point the pupil should be allowed to show his chops.

It was a great day.  We dashed off to the Portage Bay Cafe for a late lunch and headed home.  It was worth the trip.  Dave Niehaus played a big part in our lives.  During many summers baseball has always been on the radio or television at our house.  We have seen so much of a seemingly simple game through Dave Niehaus' eyes, yet he shared all of its story, the drama, the exhilaration and the disappointment with all of its color, its emotion and yes moments of absurdity in a way I'm convinced nobody else could.  What a loss.

Finally, though the Mariners are in a mess of mountainous proportions at the moment, from front office foul ups to a wretched team of Cleveland Spiders proportions, they managed this well.  If only the 2011 Mariners were as smooth, as professional and as classy as this memorial open house, far more fans would be gracing the friendly confines of Safeco Field.