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|
|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.|
|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.|
|Justin Upton: a future star, or merely a good National League player.|