Leonys Martin’s broken swing prompted Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto to make another roster move Sunday. The slumping veteran was designated for assignment, baseball’s version of divorce papers.
Martin is a rangy outfielder with a strong arm, and the 15 homers he hit last season showed surprising power potential for somebody primarily known for his speed. But a bat must be put on the ball to make that speed useful, and Martin, with 14 strikeouts and three walks, has personified the adage about how it’s impossible to steal first base.
Still, it would be inaccurate to suggest Martin did nothing to help the Mariners. A week ago last Sunday, with his team down five runs to the Rangers, he led off the bottom of the third inning by taking a 2-1 pitch that umpire Mark Carlson called a strike. Martin disagreed, and stepped out of the box to make his point.
As Martin exchanged words with Carlson, Rangers starter Cole Hamels waited on the mound, surely seething at the sight of a .111 hitter yakking at the ump. Hamels next offering plunked Martin in the ribs. It’s never a good idea to put a struggling hitter on first with no outs, but the five-run lead gave Hamels a chance to deliver a message pitch.
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The message? “I’m throwing strikes your sorry bat can’t catch up with, so shuddup and play ball.”
Guillermo Heredia followed with an infield single, and then Mitch Haniger cleared the bases with a three-run homer that turned the Mariners’ 6-1 deficit into 6-4. A new game, which they went on to win, 8-7, by rallying for a tie-breaking run in the bottom of the ninth.
The distraction of Hamels proved to be the afternoon’s pivotal moment. Martin was a strikeout waiting to happen, and he ended up scoring.
Statue plans are on hold.
Martin was acquired from the Rangers in a Nov. 16, 2015 trade that became Dipoto’s first mission statement about his blueprint for an aggressive overhaul.
“The addition of Leonys Martin gives us a premier defensive center fielder,” Dipoto said at the time. “His athleticism and speed will be a strong addition to mold the roster.
“This is a guy we targeted from the get-go.”
Martin’s 2015 struggle — he lost his starting job and was demoted to Triple-A in August, only to suffer a broken hand after eight games — was intriguing to Dipoto, a proponent of acquiring players off down seasons and then trusting they’ll bounce back in a fresh environment.
It’s a bold concept, and I’m a fan of general managers with bold concepts, but the results have been mixed. Martin enjoyed something of a revival last season — he hit .247 and stole 24 bases, enough to convince Dipoto he deserved a $4.75-million contract for 2017 — before regressing to the point he’s as expendable as a thrift-shop windbreaker.
Starting pitcher Wade Miley, who produced pedestrian numbers with the 2015 Red Sox (11-11, 4.46 ERA), went 7-8 and 4.98 with the 2016 Mariners, then was sent to to the Orioles in a midseason trade for pitcher Ariel Miranda.
A whole lot of blah, yet when the Mariners picked up starter Yovani Gallardo from the Orioles for outfielder Seth Smith this past January, it was Dipoto’s way of doubling-down on the bounce-back theory.
Gallardo was a bust over his first three starts — 0-2 with a 6.19 ERA, averaging almost two base runners per inning — but he came through with a gem at Oakland on Sunday, when the Mariners were desperate for a gem.
Three weeks into his second year as Jack Zduriencik’s replacement, Dipoto has overseen a Mariners team that has won six more games than it has lost. Not bad, but not particularly breathtaking, either.
One step forward, two steps back, another step forward, another step back, the Mariners’ 41st season has the rhythm of an awkward dance.
Definition of awkward: Leonys Martin, “targeted from the get-go as a strong addition to mold the roster,” no longer has a place on the roster.
A roster-reconstruction whiff, to be sure, but if the Mariners squeak into the playoffs by one game, don’t dismiss Martin’s contribution. Without taking a swing at a pitch he wasn’t going to hit, he angered Cole Hamels.
So there’s that.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath