No masking the Mariners' misery
THE NEWS TRIBUNE
The gavel finally fell on the Mariners’ sorry excuse for a 2008 season on Sunday. There is ample evidence to support an open-and-shut case that it was the poorest season in the franchise’s 32-year history.
The 101 losses were the team’s fourth-worst total, but the other three 100-loss campaigns —1978 (104), 1980 (103) and 1983 (102) – were the lurching remnants of an expansion team painfully slow coming out of the gate.
These ’08 Mariners had expectations. They won 88 games in ’07, and had designs on moving forward. Not all observers agreed this would happen, but even serious doubters could not have envisioned the 61-win debacle that ensued.
On Tuesday, baseball writers Larry LaRue and Ryan Divish will look at the Mariners’ search for a new general manager and manager, the first moves toward organizational healing.
Today, LaRue rummages through the wreckage of the season just past.
At least one good thing can be said about it: It’s over...Erik Bedard: Ace or demon?
Bedard didn’t like interviews and limited the media to four questions after each spring start. He was never comfortable being named the No. 1 pitcher on the staff, saying he was a No. 2 behind Felix Hernandez.
After his first start, he had hip pain. After his second, he had a cyst growing near the labrum of his left shoulder – and didn’t tell trainers about the pain.
Before long, teammates were questioning his heart (Batista) and his willingness to pitch through pain (Silva). Fans and media wondered openly, was Bedard worth Adam Jones, George Sherrill and three prospects?
“When Erik is healthy, he’s the best left-hander in the league,” J.J. Putz said in September.
In the end, he made 13 starts with the cyst, won six games and underwent surgery.
Good pitcher, bad rap, unusual personality and – as of now – a disastrous trade for the Mariners and Bedard. They’ll both have 2009 to make it look better. mariners By the NumbersThe Bavasi era ends
General manager Bill Bavasi’s first-round draft picks included Brandon Morrow, Matt Tuiasosopo, Jeff Clement and pitcher Phillipe Aumont.
His trades brought Horacio Ramirez, Jose Vidro, Ben Broussard, Joe Borchard, Eduardo Perez and Jeremy Reed.
Among the free agents he signed were Scott Spiezio, Carl Everett, Jose Guillen, Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibañez, Pokey Reese, Eddie Guardado and Miguel Batista.
Bavasi built the 2008 Mariners’ best hopes around one five-players-for-one trade (Erik Bedard) and one massive free agent signing (Carlos Silva) and overpaid for both. When the offense faltered and the pitching didn’t produce, Bavasi was fired in June.
The final roster he’d produced was, as he said, “dysfunctional.”
He left behind minor league prospects such as Aumont and catcher Adam Moore, and his legacy might be such Mariners as Yuniesky Betancourt, Morrow, Clement and one winning season during his 41/2-year tenure.Managerial roulette
In the span of less than one year, the Mariners had three managers – Mike Hargrove, John McLaren and Jim Riggleman. One quit, one was fired and one will not be retained.
The team’s new GM, whomever it is, will face the major challenge of finding a new manager and keeping him around long enough to bring stability to a franchise that hasn’t had a clear direction from the dugout.
McLaren opened spring training by naming Bedard the opening day starter before he’d thrown a pitch, predicted Richie Sexson would be Comeback Player of the Year and said Ichiro would steal 80 bases.
Oops, wrong and not hardly.
A good man, a great coach but not much of a manager, McLaren’s loyalty to veterans clearly unable to do the job – Sexson, Vidro, Kenji Johjima – cost him his job in June.
Jim Riggleman? He had the team at 32-40, then watched the Mariners lose 12 in a row. This offseason, the Mariners will hire their fourth manager in the span of 18 months.
Yes, that’s a lot. The rotation: Who can we start today?
Go back to spring training and the Mariners and their fans were certain their starting rotation – Bedard, Felix Hernandez, Jarrod Washburn, Silva and Batista – was enough to challenge the Angels in the American League West.
Today, that view is far out of date.
Hernandez led the rotation with nine wins. The pain in Bedard’s shoulder stopped him on July 4. Washburn was, by his own assessment, “brutal” in April and May, then solid in June and July, then faded away.
Silva couldn’t find his sinker, seemed to get larger if not better as the season progressed, and – after promising the media in spring training, “I’ll always talk to you, win or lose” – stopped talking to the press.
Batista, a 16-game winner in ’07, became a problem child in ’08. Troubled by ailments in his back and hip, Batista wound up in the bullpen, a spot starter who was wildly inconsistent.
The Mariners tried knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey in the rotation, then began handing out starts like candy – Ryan Rowland-Smith here, Cesar Jimenez there, then Brandon Morrow and Ryan Feierabend.
Along the way, they found two starters, Rowland-Smith and Morrow. They have three more, Batista, Washburn and Silva, who will make a combined $31 million in ’09. And two, Hernandez and Bedard, are arbitration eligible.
The rotation was not good enough this season, and remains very much a work in progress.
In baseball parlance, that means it’s a problem. Crisis up the middle
Good teams are built on strong defense up the middle, but the Mariners don’t have a solid catcher, have a below average second baseman, an unfocused shortstop and no regular center fielder.
That’s a big reason why their pitching staff struggled.
Defense isn’t just avoiding errors. It’s plays made and not made that determine the success of a team. And plays not made for lack of range or concentration or ability lead to earned runs that break the back of any pitcher.
Betancourt is a wizard when focused, but can’t stay focused. That means a brilliant shortstop one day can’t make a routine play the next. At second base, Jose Lopez is an offensive force, but doesn’t have the range to play the position well.
The Mariners carried three catchers for months – Johjima, Clement and Jamie Burke. They played Johjima because he’d signed a three-year extension in April, but his inability to catch pitches, let alone throws from the outfield, was a major issue.
Clement showed promise offensively but had holes in his swing and his game behind the plate. Reserve catcher Burke, the best defensive player of the three, rarely played.
And when Rob Johnson was added in September, his playing time was limited by Riggleman, who didn’t see Johnson as an answer.
Bottom line: The defensive core of the team was badly flawed from the beginning and wasn’t improved when Ichiro returned to right field from center.
Wladimir Balentien wasn’t a natural center fielder and it showed. Reed caught most anything in the air, but couldn’t throw – and opposing runners knew it. The fans
Despite the Mariners sporting the worst record in the majors much of the season, fans kept going to Safeco Field. Yes, there was a drop-off – but the team still pulled in nearly 2.3 million in attendance. The last time the Mariners lost 100 games in a season was 1983, and that team drew 813,000.
Safeco Field remains a baseball palace. What it lacked in 2008 was a team worthy of the fans who came so often.The offense – or lack thereof
In the American League, teams are built to score, and power is king. Speed is nice to steal a run here and there. And most lineups are capable of sustaining four-, five-, even six-hit rallies.
The Mariners had no real power in their lineup – no one who hit 30 home runs. They had one base-stealer in their lineup, Ichiro Suzuki, who stopped running after the All-Star break, and another, Willie Bloomquist, on their bench.
And when they played regulars such as Sexson, Vidro and Johjima, they gave away three innings a night just on their at-bats, alone.
Adrian Beltre was solid but hardly spectacular, given to wild swings and slumps as often as hot streaks. Jose Lopez had the best season of his career – but spent much of it batting second, trying to hit to the right side to advance Ichiro.
The Mariners couldn’t find a center fielder who could hit once Ichiro went to right field, got no production from catcher – even after Jeff Clement was called up – and wound up playing reserve Miguel Cairo regularly at first base.
Small wonder the Mariners were 13th in the league in scoring, and three of their starting pitchers were in the bottom five in the league in run support.
In the AL, if you don’t score, you don’t win – and more than 70 times this season Seattle scored three runs or fewer. They won nine of those.
Late in August, Raul Ibañez had been responsible for 25 percent of all runs the team scored – and he’s leaving as a free agent. The bullpen
Considered a strength in spring training, it set the team record for blown saves by early September.
Putz went on the DL – twice. Morrow went to the rotation. Arthur Rhodes went to Florida. Sean Green pitched daily throughout the first half, then struggled in the second half. Mark Lowe, healthy at last, had trouble with control.
So the Mariners began looking at other arms. They found Roy Corcoran, a right-hander with heart, and Dickey, who was solid in relief but threw a pitch neither McLaren nor Riggleman fully trusted.
If you could pitch, you got a save opportunity – and that included Washburn, who got the first save of his career.
With Rhodes gone and Morrow in the rotation, the Mariners struggled to get to Putz in the ninth. There are plenty of arms to look at come spring, but no situational left-hander appears on the roster. And with few pitchers in the Seattle rotation going more than six innings, this bullpen was overworked all season, relievers’ roles often blurred or ignored. The best of ’08
Raul Ibañez, Felix Hernandez, Brandon Morrow, Jose Lopez, Ryan Rowland-Smith.
They played either at or above expectations – Ibañez, Lopez, Rowland-Smith – and/or changed career paths – Morrow and Rowland-Smith. All were fun to watch in a dreadful season.
Ichiro may be a category by himself. He hit 20 points below his career average, ran far less aggressively after the All-Star break and at times seemed to speak in tongues. He remains, however, one amazing specimen – an all-sinew-and-bone athlete who routinely rolls out 200 hits and 100 runs a season, plays solid defense and remains the face of the franchise.
The team will lose Ibañez, it’s most productive bat.The farm system: Prospects or suspect?
rom Eric O’Flaherty’s April flameout to Balentien’s .200 average, it wasn’t a great year for farm products.
The two most touted youngsters – outfielder Balentien and catcher Clement – never hit consistently. Cha Seung Baek was traded early. Bryan LaHair proved to be a singles hitter, and not one who drives in runs.
When the Mariners reached down to the farm system for help, they largely came up empty. When they tried reliever Ryan Rowland-Smith in the rotation – a choice made out of desperation, not inspiration – they found a viable starter.
By the time they tried to convert Morrow from setup man to starter, most of the season was gone. In the rotation, he looked promising but inconsistent.
The September call-ups – Tuiasosopo, Luis Valbuena, Jared Wells and Justin Thomas – played and pitched sporadically, and the best that can be said of their time was that they gained experience.
The Mariners can’t expect a major influx of young players from their system to challenge for jobs next spring. The veteran presence
All teams need it, and one like Seattle – with players from all over the planet – may need it most of all.
So the Mariners began the season with veterans such as Sexson and Vidro, Silva and Batista, Beltre and Ichiro and J.J. Putz. It wasn’t a good year to be experienced. Sexson and Vidro were released. Silva and Batista, ineffective in the rotation, retreated into themselves. Beltre and Ichiro remained quiet leaders, with the emphasis on quiet, and Putz wound up on the disabled list twice.
That left the veteran presence to Ibañez, whose work ethic was so strong he spent hours lifting weights, studying video and taking extra batting practice – usually alone.
None of the other veteran players were bad guys. They simply didn’t offer much in the way of team leadership.
McLaren counted on having that, didn’t get it, and was gone by June 20.