ANAHEIM, Calif. – There was no rush to judgment in spring training, although what the Seattle Mariners saw gave them pause.
“We’re going to have to create a lot of our runs,” said general manager Jack Zduriencik. “We’re going to have to find ways to score runs.”
The pitching was so good in April, fewer runs still meant wins – and for a franchise starved for those, victories almost camouflaged the weaknesses. Almost. Then came May, and the American League had 12 teams that scored more runs than Seattle.
Lots more runs.
That steady flow of wins dried up. The pitching was still more than good – it was top-third-in-the-league good – but without runs, it wasn’t enough.
On the threshold of June, not yet 50 games into their season, the question now is what has that offense cost the Mariners?
The answer: Games and, soon, players.
In April, there was the hope of contention. Neither Texas nor Los Angeles had started fast, and Seattle had. The Mariners spent more days in first place than they had since 2003.
Now the Mariners have seen what they have, know what they need and have begun planning how to go about getting it.
That means players you thought might be traded will be – pitchers Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn, for instance, and third baseman Adrian Beltre. All are in the final year of their contracts, and none will be back in 2010.
So Zduriencik and his scouts will be looking at likely trading partners with an eye toward the kind of players they want next season and beyond. They will be looking for blue-chip players, for sleepers and for big-league ready talent.
That, however, is not all that the Mariners’ lack of offense has meant.
The inability to score runs, to even get on base except by hitting, means Mike Sweeney almost certainly won’t finish the year with the team and that Ken Griffey Jr., who might, probably will see his role diminish.
They are not the designated hitters of the future, and the Mariners will have to use that spot to look at some of their minor-league players – players such as Mike Carp and Mike Wilson – later this season.
And the first two months of the season seem to have convinced the front office and coaching staff that the middle of the Mariners’ infield – shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez – needs to be rebuilt.
For all his talent, Betancourt is not an on-base-percentage player and not a postseason team shortstop. Lopez, whose offense last season almost made up for his defense at second base, has taken one large step backward at the plate, batting .216.
If there was a market for everyone on this roster today, the only Mariner completely safe would likely be Ichiro Suzuki – he still has protection from the Far East – much of the bullpen and starting pitcher Felix Hernandez.
That doesn’t mean the Mariners don’t like Russell Branyan or Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jason Vargas or Franklin Gutierrez. It simply acknowledges that as this team tries to reinvent itself, there are players who won’t bring much of a return.
Which may mean moving a few of those who will.
Branyan, for instance, has been the feel-good offensive surprise of the first two months and evidence that Zduriencik’s outside-the-box style can work, if he’s allowed to maneuver.
Had they been solely baseball decisions, for instance, the Mariners might have landed outfielder Bobby Abreu instead of Junior, and brought in second baseman Orlando Hudson when he was looking for work.
Next month the Mariners will take part in what they see as their most important amateur draft in decades. By mid-July, the team will begin looking at promising young minor leaguers – Carp, Jeff Clement, Adam Moore, Greg Halman, Michael Saunders, Josh Fields, Phillippe Aumont and Wilson.
And they will commence trading as soon as they find partners who’ll offer what they want.
The Mariners know what they have in the big leagues today.
Their roster won’t look nearly the same over the next four months.