Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The M's: what to do now?

In the blogosphere, on sports talk radio today there is endless discussion of what the M's should do now.  Their pitching continues to be impressive, the starters especially, but really all around. The hitting continues to be bad.  Not just bad, ridiculously sucky.  How sucky?  Geoff Baker noted the M's have scored 11 runs in their last six games, exactly the number of goals the Sounders have scored in their last six games. When everyone talks about the Mariners' record when they score four or more runs versus their record when they score fewer than four runs, I often feel like we just well may be talking about the likelihood of exploring for fossil fuels in Alpha Centauri.  It isn't happening this year.

It really settles out to two positions.  One is that the M's are trying out the kids.  Even with the trading deadline coming up, and availability of a bat or two being likely being available for a price either in increased salary or for a prospect or two.  The thinking being that the M's could make that four run per game threshold for a price in salary and/or players.  Who is available?  That's not so clear.  Would the M's make a move?  That's become a lot more muddled the past twenty four hours.  Shannon Drayer reported in her blog M's confirmed they are unlikely to spend more money.  With Erik Bedard having a fabulous year, his one year $1 million dollar salary is laden with incentives that will likely cost ownership in the range of $7 million.  Baker takes ownership to task, failing to support a historically superior pitching staff with even the effort to acquire adequate hitting talent.  The division is weak, the pitching is good, and with even a modest increase in run scoring ability, this team could win the division, and in a down year for offense, could ride its pitching a long way in the playoffs.
Erik Bedard's success on the mound has dampened owners' enthusiasm for as they watch his contracted incentive clauses pile up.  The M's owe Bedard another $6 million this year.  Pay the man; he's earned it.
The flip side of this argument was voiced by KJR's Dave Groszby on Bob and Groz today.  The kids are doing better than anyone thought they could.  Let them play and find out what we have.  Unlike past Mariners "rebuilding" efforts, the M's really have tried to build around kids up from the minor leagues. Justin Smoak has performed adequately in his first full year in the majors and given us a look at his potential, but he still is not the consistent hitter we hope he'll become.  Dustin Ackley, in his nine games has looked like the diamond we hoped he'd be-a solid hitter with speed, and not the defensive liability many feared. Michael Pineda performs like the big man he is, challenging Bedard and  Felix Hernandez for the best pitching performance of the year. Mike Carp, Greg Halman, and Carlos Peguero look like, well, rookies.  Eric Wedge says they're learning and making adjustments.  Each has made sporadic contributions to the team.  Do they have enough talent to stick? Those in this camp say we won't know unless they play regularly.  Don't deal them or other gems in the minors.  They offer the real road to success, but likely not this year.
It's early, but M's fans should cheer.  Dustin Ackley has been everything they'd hoped he would be.
I'm of a somewhat different mind, one that Dave Cameron wrote of on USS Mariner a few days ago.  There are still a few holes on this that won't be filled this year or next year from the minors.  Chief among these is left field.  I've watched enough of the Carlos Peguero show.  I'm sorry, he's not ready and he doesn't belong in the bigs.  His at bats are painful to watch and I'm afraid he's going to kill Franklin Gutierrez out there. Carp is not really a left fielder, and Safeco's left field is just too big for a 1st baseman/DH type to cover.  Move Carp to DH where he belongs, let Jack Cust quietly go, and let Carp do what he is best suited for, swing the bat from the left side. Halman could be part of a left field platoon and is fine as a fill in guy.  The other glaring hole is at 3rd base.  There was a great article by Jon Shields of ProBall NW on the likelihood that Alex Liddi is the M's answer at 3b.  The opinion of experts, while mixed, is-certainly not now if ever. While I think everyone is rooting for the young Italian born player, he still has learning to do at the plate and in the field, but he's still pretty young and probably another full season away from the majors. Adam Kennedy has had a super year, but can't play every day, which means two or three days a week of Chone Figgins.  He's struggling and it's clear the booing is getting to him.  Figgins is a utility player right now and nothing more.  A third base replacement is ideal, particularly someone who is right handed on this very left-handed team.
Ryan Ludwick is likely to be dealt from the Padres by the trade deadline?  Could he be a fit for the Mariners in left field?
Left field and third base are positions in which the M's could probably look for some help--not necessarily a big bat, just a league average bat that will help them get better and closer to those four runs per game. Cameron suggested the Padres' Ryan Ludwick, David DeJesus and other who might keep the position warm while others develop, but also have a useful bat that will improve the Mariners' offense.  Will these changes make the Mariners division winners?  Doubtful, but it might keep them from falling off the edge of the world

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