Just flew in from Southern California, where my youngest nephew offered a two-word holiday description of the Seattle Mariners: 'They suck.'
Now, Riley has a marvelous right arm and an even better mind - his vocabulary his excellent - but in the vernacular if a 13-year-old, his analysis is accurate enough. After finishing fourth in the American League West last year, if the Mariners have gained ground on anyone in the division, it's because Oakland is dumping salary, not because Seattle has added talent.
And, as my nephew pointed out, both the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels have improved their rosters.
Since the season ended, the Mariners have added a left-handed hitting reserve catcher and George Sherrill, a left-handed reliever. There are rumors out of Japan that Seattle is the preferred landing spot for free agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, a veteran middle-to-back-end-of-the-rotation starter.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Nice additons for a team that finished first in 2011. For one that finished last? Yikes!
Spring training remains more than a month away, and Prince Fielder remains on the open market. There are other hitters the Mariners may turn toward if Fielder signs elsewhere, but the sense of urgency has seemed lacking since the final game of a 67-95 campaign.
Worse, since the 2004 season, the Mariners have finished in fourth place six times. Fair or not, the team has a credibility issue.
Simply put, most of the national media feels the way my nephew does about Seattle baseball, and until the Mariners show marked improvement, no one is going to change their mind. Worse, the Northwest fan base has been numbed by a four-year run that produced 101 losses in a season twice and 95 a third time.
The Mariners will tell you they have one of the AL's elite pitchers in Felix Hernandez, but over the past two seasons, Felix has gone 27-26. Seattle has young hitters like Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp and Kyle Seager, but in 2011 they batted . 273, .276 and .258, respectively.
The Mariners have Ichiro Suzuki, who this week admitted to the Japanese media that the worst season of his career last year - when he batted .272 - left him feeling 'desperate,' and admitted "I admit I sometimes feel I'm getting older ...'
General manager Jack Zduriencik no doubt has plans to improve this team, and CEO Howard Lincoln, president Chuck Armstrong and manager Eric Wedge are watchiing with at least as much interest as Mariners fans.
At the moment, this team looks capable of challenging Oakland for third place in the AL West. That won't draw new fans or keep old ones. In fact, as Riley would say, as a Jan. 4 state of the union, it sucks.