First, a brief recent history:
In 2001, the Seattle Mariners won 116 games and were one called strike from Arthur Rhodes to David Justice to going to the World Series. This would turn out to be the last time they got a sniff of the postseason to this day.
In 2002, the team won 93 games and finished 10 games back, missing the playoffs.
In 2003, Lou Piniella left for Tampa Bay and was replaced by rookie manager Bob Melvin. Pat Gillick retired as the general manager and was replaced by Bill Bavasi. The season passed with 93 wins again but still six games back. Both years the Oakland A’s got hot after the All-Star break to win the West.
In 2004, the team got old and the wheels came off. A purge came down as Melvin, considered an easygoing manager, was let go for Mike Hargrove, a gruff Lou Piniella clone.
Fortunes didn’t change as Bavasi stumbled from one ill-advised signing to another bad trade. Partway through 2007, Hargrove bailed on the team without warning, despite being deep in a pennant race. John McLaren, an assistant to Piniella for years, was promoted.
It would be easier to tell you what went right than what went wrong for the M’s. At one point, we had Carl Freaking Everett batting cleanup for us but only because Juan Freaking Gonzalez bombed so badly.
Starting Pitchers Gil Meche and Joel Pineiro failed to live up to potential, gutting the rotation. When they were resigned originally, shouldn’t Mariner brass have noticed that? When had these guys, both once tabbed as number one starters, ever shown that they could consistently give seven innings? Never, that’s when. Both would go from dominant to batting practice from inning to inning, never mind a complete game. When Jamie Moyer, a gutsy and determined guy who I love, is your ace, your rotation is not a strong one.
Whew, okay, enough with the downers of the past.
Last year, the team showed potential, staying in the race much longer than expected. Until September, that is, when the starting rotation, finally blew out the bullpen that had been worn out by the five inning starts.
King Felix Hernandez displayed his potential and dazzled the baseball world by outdueling the Red Sox’s Daisuke Matsuzaka at Fenway early in the season. He couldn’t hold it at that high level all season but he is very young and thrust pretty quickly into a starting ace role out of desperation. Offensively, there were some high lights, such as Jose Guillen, and some low lights, such as Richie Sexson. What worries me is the Mariners first signing in the offseason is Brad Wilkerson, a former Texas Ranger with a history of knee problems and strikes out almost as much as Sexson.
The trade of Adam Jones for Erik Bedard of the Orioles is big controversy here because, as usual, fans have latched on the next big thing and are acting like it would be sacrilegious to trade him. It’s not that I don’t like Jones; I actually think he has a big upside, but I don’t think anyone is untradeable on this team except Felix and JJ Putz. My main concern is that they are giving up more for Bedard than the Mets gave the Twins for Johan Santana. In other words, the Mariners are making a good trade in a bad way.
The holes in the Mariners are the starting pitching and offense. They have a good bullpen and play good defense but their offense is very weak. It comes down to watching too many strike outs.
Filling those holes will be difficult for Bavasi considering they are the same holes they’ve had for a few years and he hasn’t been able to fill them yet.
Will Bedard fill the hole in the rotation? Yes, I believe he will, but anything is better than trotting Jeff Weaver out there every five days.
Will Sexson, a decent defensive first baseman, finally stop striking out two gazillion times a year? No, I don’t think he will.
Who will play right field, the black hole of the Mariners for decades, if they trade Jones? In left field, Raul Ibanez is solid.
Yes, the M’s have problems, the biggest one that they are selling out the future with Adam Jones for winning now. Can they win now? After all, they still have Ichiro (by law, a writer cannot write a full article on the Mariners without mentioning Ichiro) and Felix. An injury to either one of them becomes a death knell on the season, but a lot of teams can say that.
It will reasonably take 95 wins to catch the Angels. If they get better than average years from Sexson, Wilkerson, and Adrian Beltre on offense and Bedard delivers enough with Felix to keep the pressure off of the bullpen, then yes, it’s possible. Will it happen? I would love to believe it but I’m having a hard time pulling it off. Still, that’s why they play the games.