On March 20, 2006, the Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox participated in a swap of former first-round draft picks. In exchange for outfielder Joe Borchard, the Mariners parted with left-handed pitcher Matt Thornton.
Borchard ended up collecting two hits during a Seattle “career” that lasted six games, or 506 games fewer than Chicago got from Thornton, a 2010 All-Star reliever who recently was traded to the Red Sox for Double-A outfield prospect Brandon Jacobs.
What’s notable about the Borchard deal — aside from the discrepancy of acquiring an outfielder who’d appear in six games for a pitcher destined to serve as a bullpen fixture for eight years and counting — is that it’s not the most regrettable transaction in franchise history. Joe Borchard, wherever he is, merely represents one of many boneheaded decisions the Mariners have made on trades and free agents.
With the trade deadline looming, I’ve assembled a team — not just a lineup, mind you, but a 25-man roster — conceived of Seattle players obtained through front-office gaffes.
It should be emphasized the following selections were not the result of those occasional tiffs between media members and ballplayers. No grudges were honored. I mean, how could I hold a grudge against Joe Borchard when he didn’t hang around long enough for anybody to meet him?
First base: Eduardo Perez. A nice guy I actually met in 2006 — we talked after he connected on his first homer for the Mariners, which also turned out to be the
last homer of his career. Perez was released and promptly retired at the end of a season in which he hit .195 over 43 games.
In exchange for a 36-year-old contemplating retirement, Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi sent Rainiers infield prospect Asdrubal Cabrera to Cleveland. Cabrera became a two-time All-Star and, like Thornton, has retained value as a possible trading chip. Perez became a baseball studio analyst.
Second base: Chone Figgins. The free agent showed up in Seattle in 2010 with a $36 million contract, an engaging smile, and a résumé that suggested he’d give the Mariners the same dynamic package of versatility — both offensively and defensively — he gave the Angels. Touted as a difference-maker, Figgins ended up giving Seattle 308 games of indifference.
He lost the smile. He kept the money.
Third base: Jeff Cirillo. Obtained in a 2001 trade that sent future Rockies All-Star reliever Brian Fuentes to Colorado, Cirillo didn’t just struggle with the mountain-to-marine altitude adjustment. He turned it into a phobia, a curious condition for somebody who already made his offseason home in suburban Seattle.
Shortstop: Pokey Reese. Once regarded as untouchable by the Reds (Mariners GM Pat Gillick wanted Reese included in the 1999 trade package for Ken Griffey, Jr.), Bavasi finally acquired Reese as a free agent in 2005.
Paid $1.2 million, Reese had shoulder problems in spring training and never played a regular-season game for the Mariners. Or a regular-season game for another MLB club, for that matter.
Left field: Kevin Mitchell. Two seasons removed from his MVP campaign of 1989, when he hit 47 homers and drove in 125 for the Giants, Mitchell came to Seattle in a 1992 trade for pitchers Bill Swift, Dave Burba and Mike Jackson.
The Mariners presumed a change of scenery would revive Mitchell’s career. They soon learned his career was a lost cause, steep into a decline phase that would find him hitting nine homers and missing 63 games. After the ’92 season, Mitchell was sent to the Reds for reliever Norm Charlton.
Center field: Jeremy Reed. Acquired along with Miguel Olivo and Mike Morse in a 2004 deal with the White Sox for starter Freddy Garcia, Reed, the 2003 minor league player of the year, was considered a better prospect than the defensively challenged Morse.
But Reed had tough luck with injuries, and even when he was healthy, he showed little power and no aptitude for base running. There’s a word for outfielders like this: expendable.
Right field: Joe Borchard. Duh.
Catcher: Miguel Olivo. The Mariners should have known enough about Olivo, who played parts of two seasons with them in 2004 and 2005, to realize he was even worse at hitting than he was at catching. Yet in late 2010, Jack Zduriencik signed the free agent to a two-year deal worth $6 million.
Olivo’s second tour with the Mariners was as fruitless as his first. He didn’t hit and couldn’t catch.
Designated hitter: Scott Spiezio. A key postseason contributor for the world-champion Angels of 2002, Spiezio was signed to a three-year deal in late 2003 worth $9.15 million. He got off to a disappointing start before the wheels really fell off in 2005, when he hit .064 with one RBI.
Spiezio put together a brief comeback in 2006, but it didn’t do the Mariners much good. His comeback came in St. Louis.
Right-handed starters: Carlos Silva, Jeff Weaver.
Silva, of course, was the $48 million bust dumped to the Cubs for serial head-case Milton Bradley. Weaver collected $8.325 million in 2007 to go 7-13 with a 6.20 ERA.
Left-handed starters: Erik Bedard, Horacio Ramirez, Greg Hibbard.
Bedard remains the poster child of “What Was He Thinking?” trades arranged by Bavasi. Between his brittle body and casual work ethic — he couldn’t and wouldn’t throw more than 100 pitches in a start — Bedard quickly established himself as a throwback guy.
Fans wanted to throw him back to Baltimore, and pretend the infamous 2008 deal that cost future All-Star center fielder Adam Jones and recent All-Star Chris Tillman in addition to two variously serviceable pitchers never happened.
Ramirez was a soft-tossing lefty starter acquired in a 2006 trade with Atlanta for hard-throwing reliever Rafael Soriano (who, by the way, became an All-Star in 2010). After that deal, I phoned a friend who published the Braves’ fan magazine and authored the team’s encyclopedia.
I asked for a scouting report on Ramirez.
“He fields his position OK,” I was told, “and he’s a pretty good bunter.”
Hibbard was a free agent who commanded a mere $6.75 million for three seasons (then again, it was 1994-96) — but chronic shoulder injuries limited that three-season output to 14 starts and a 1-5 record in 1994.
Bullpen: Heathcliff Slocumb, Jose Mesa, Miguel Batista.
Slocumb was acquired from the Red Sox in a 1997 deadline trade for budding starter Derek Lowe and catching prospect Jason Varitek, a deal so wrong GM Woody Woodward was rumored to have mistaken Boston’s offer of Lowe or Varitek as Lowe and Varitek.
Batista arrived for the 2007 season in Seattle as a starter, and by the third and final year of his $25 million contract, the Mariners decided he was better suited for long relief. The emphasis is on the long. If his $25 million were broken down by the hour, the laborious Batista worked for minimum wage.
Mesa, a free agent seen as a pariah in Cleveland after his Game 7 meltdown cost the Indians the 1997 World Series, was paid $6.8 million for two seasons of forgettable work in the Mariners ’pen in 1999-2000.
Bench: Dave Hollins, Ben Broussard, Rich Aurilia, Rey Quinones, Eric Anthony, Carl Everett, Brad Wilkerson, Kenji Johjima.
Hollins was solid during a 28-game stint with the 1996 Mariners before leaving as a free agent, but the player to be named later in the deadline deal with the Twins? That would be slugging prospect David Arias.
Or, as the player was named later, David Ortiz.
In exchange for now-accomplished outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, traded to Cleveland in 2006, the Mariners landed Broussard, a now-accomplished guitar player.
I’ll grant you that’s too many reserve outfielders and too few relief pitchers, but hey, what team of overpaid, perpetually hobbling injured underachievers is perfect?
Besides, I had to find a spot for Wilkerson, who in 2008 accepted a free-agent offer from the Mariners for $3 million and proceeded to appear in 19 games, with no homers and 15 strikeouts. Brad Wilkerson would be good candidate to serve as captain of this team.
Unless it’s Johjima, who was one year into a three-year contract extension when he did a most captain-like thing for our mythical team.
He saw the future, and quit the Mariners.