Thanks to my inability to sleep well on airplanes – neck pillows don’t work well for my gargantuan cranium – I figured I’d crank out a few random thoughts. These are in no particular order of importance. Much like Brendan Ryan, my ADD can lead me in different directions quite quickly.
Look we don’t have a ton of people leaving comments on here. But I respect the group of guys that do. You’ve been loyal to the blog as I’ve tried to do what I can to make it a place to go for Mariners news, analysis, information and some fun.
For the most part, when there is debate in the comments, it’s thoughtful and even reasoned.
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But lately, the anger toward the team and the decisions has led to some less than appropriate comments. The four-letter words and the name-calling have to stop. Believe me, I have been accused of having the vocabulary of a drill sergeant, but there's a time and place, it isn't here. The TNT will delete those comments. Still, we shouldn’t have to. I understand the team irritates you, but we can’t have that on here. We are all better than that.
If you are waiting for me to start demanding that general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge, you will be waiting a long time.
I tend to fall into the old school journalism hierarchy where the beat writer does the reporting and analysis while the newspaper’s columnist handles things like calling for people to lose their jobs.
It’s not that I don’t have opinions about this team. I think we all know I do as evidenced by Twitter. And I will write a column or even use this space to throw out some opinions. But when you do that, it's time and place and purpose. Sitting there and beating the same drum each day makes the meaning seem hollow.
I don’t see myself writing that someone needs to be fired in the first month of the season – even if the Mariners did lose two series to the Astros.
Now let’s be clear, I’m not saying that’s not a vote of confidence for Wedge or Zduriencik. Looking at the situation logically, and after watching the run of awful baseball the last few weeks, it’s a very real possibility that either one or both could be let go at midseason or after the season if something doesn't change.
But covering sports and the birth of Twitter and seeing what it can be like, I’ve forced myself to try and not be reactionary. It serves no purpose. Right now, any time a team starts playing poorly for a stretch, fans' easy solution is to fire someone. Just ask any of 57 hitting coaches that the Mariners have employed and removed.
As someone, who has covered the resignation of Mike Hargrove, the firings of Bill Bavasi, John McLaren and Don Wakamatsu, huge changes made in midseason do very little to improve on field play or bring fans to the stadium.
That being said, if something doesn’t change this season in terms of on-field performance and progression of young players thought to be the core of this team, then there are going to be serious changes. And after five years, it can be justified. The minor league system has been rebuilt and improved, but the big league product has not followed. Zduriencik preached patience and doing it the right way, but if that core he's built fails, this team is still far away from consistent success.
Both Zduriencik and Wedge have made some curious decisions with the roster and playing time this year. Giving into possibility and doing the dance with Franklin Gutierrez is now looking like a mistake. Basically, the thinking seemed to be that they could withstand Gutierrez’s fragility by having the durable and tough Michael Saunders there just in case. The addition of Endy Chavez offered a capable and possibly better fill-in for Casper Wells. But when Saunders went down and Gutierrez had issues with his groin, hamstrings, hips and pelvis, Wedge started playing Raul Ibanez in left field four times a week, things spiraled downward quickly.
When I talked to Wedge in spring training, he figured to play Ibanez in the outfield maybe a once a week at most. But Gutierrez got hurt, was hurt or whatever and Saunders got hurt, and now Ibanez is playing there more. It hasn't been pretty to watch. But it's made for some entertaining GIFs (I need learn how to make those things).
It’s fair to wonder why Wedge hasn’t played Jason Bay more. One of the reasons they kept Bay was that they were more comfortable with him playing for an extended period if needed than Wells, who had shrunk to a defense only guy in their eyes.
I’m not saying Bay is the answer. But it’s clear, he’s better defensively than Ibanez and probably a better presence at the plate at this point.
Right now, Wedge is trying to just find a group of guys that can produce on a daily basis. If you look at what he’s choosing from, it’s not an easy job. But that hand was also partially chosen by him.
You could sit analyze every single line-up decision every day, and it’s being done. But it’s all mentally exhausting. Here’s a simple way of fixing it – play better. Because of the current position players, only Kyle Seager and Kelly Shoppach are performing at or above an expected level.
It hasn't been good in Seattle. It will likely be decent against the Angels. But come Monday and Tuesday against the Orioles?Those games will be under 18,000.
Why are people not showing up?
Well, it's not because Wedge chose Robert Andino over Brendan Ryan, or because Zduriencik didn't keep John Jaso. Not that many more people would be showing up that much more if they signed Josh Hamilton either.
People aren't showing up because it's been miserably cold at these games and not cheap to go to games. Most people - especially families - view going to a game as an investment. And they aren't going to spend the money on tickets, concessions and parking and then freeze their butt off for nine innings. People aren't showing up because this team hasn't been playing well and winning games. The Mariners have lost a lot of games over the last five seasons. And there is skepticism around the team when it comes to some fans. The only way that will change is with wins. It's not about philosophies or ballpark giveaways or big name signings, it's about wins. If you win and win consistently, people will forget the other stuff and even the cold to come to games.
Team meetings, showing fire, chemistry
The Mariners had a closed door team meeting yesterday. As Ozzie Guillen always said, “Good teams win games, bad teams have meetings.”
Right now, the Mariners are not a good team. And they’ve done little to show that they aren’t a bad team.
Will the meeting help? I don’t know. But reminding some players of what is expected isn’t a bad thing. Most baseball players have a great way of compartmentalizing the game. They are taught to never get too excited with success and never get too down with failure. It’s too long of a season to ride such an emotional roller coaster. However, there are times when players and teams can be lulled into a middling existence. Having a little conversation about complacency can be a good thing in any walk of life.
I look at it like team chemistry – it doesn’t mean quite as much as what some people who laud it think, and it means a little more than what other people, who scoff at it, believe.
About three times a day, I get tweets wondering why Wedge doesn’t get kicked out of the game to fire the team up. Why doesn’t he show some anger or emotion, the players need to see it? Why does Wedge lack intensity?
First Wedge doesn’t lack for intensity. People’s faces just don’t turn as red as Wedge’s did yesterday. He was irked and he let the players know about it. I don’t think it lacked intensity.
Because of Lou, there’s a predisposed thinking that managers should all be like that. But rarely if ever were Lou’s antics on the field toward the umpires meant to fire up his players. No, those were legitimate bouts of anger and frustration. He had no great love for umpires (who does?). Sometimes he would just blow up. He needed those tantrums for himself, not for his players.
Wedge is very controlled and disciplined. It takes a lot for him to go off the handle. And he’s not going to do it very often in public. There would be nothing like John McLaren a few years ago. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t intense. Ask any of the players, they feel it. They joke about it often how intense he gets. And the idea of them getting inspired to play harder because Wedge gets tossed from a game is absurd. If they need that to play hard or play well, then the team is in even bigger trouble than you think.
Prospects and sending players down
If I had a dollar for every one of the tweets, emails and comments I receive about sending out Justin Smoak or Jesus Montero or Dustin Ackley or some combination of all three, I might actually be able to afford my single playboy lifestyle.
Ackley has looked better significantly better since he simplified his swing. The numbers prove me right.
He is 12-for-last-30 (.400) in past eight games and he’s hitting the ball over the field.
So maybe we can let that one go for a while.
Smoak has also looked somewhat better. Is he ever going to be the player the Mariners expected when they traded for him? No. I don’t know if he’ll reach that level. I don’t know if he’ll be more than average player at the big league level. I would like for him to prove me and other people wrong because he’s a pretty good kid.
Montero has seen his playing time cut in half a month into the season. He basically played his way out of a starting catching position a month into the season. He hit that monster home run the other day. And what’s crazy he was just trying to hit behind the runner and drive the ball the other way, and that’s the result. That’s not a coincidence. His normal approach is netting strikeouts and pop-ups, when he stays back and lets the ball travel, he hits the ball hard. That inability to find approach is one of the reasons why he lost his starting job.
So if you want to replace Smoak or Montero, well it’s not just so simple. The Mariners don’t really have any legitimate first base prospects in Triple A. Rich Poythress is in his first season with the Rainiers. Vinnie Catricala is playing there some in Double A. They could move Michael Morse to first base, but it’s a little more difficult to do with Gutierrez on the DL. That would mean more Ibanez or Carlos Peguero in the outfield.
Mike Zunino will replace Montero this season. But there’s no reason to push it if they are getting a decent performance from Kelly Shoppach. Zunino had some early success, took a 0-for-20 stretch on his first homestand and has started hitting again. I’ve talked to a few people who feel that Zunino is going to see a consistent diet of breaking balls and off-speed pitches until he proves he hit them hard. He was destroying fastballs early in the season.
Zunino is a special player. But letting him force way up into the big leagues with his performance is certainly better than rushing him up Seattle because the poor performance from someone else.
The first “prospect” I think we see called up will be a middle infielder – either Carlos Triunfel, Nick Franklin or Brad Miller.
Triunfel has the most ability and can be a better than average defender at shortstop. I still think Franklin is best at second base, but the Mariners believe he can play shortstop. And he’s really starting to hit in Tacoma. Miller became a Wedge favorite this spring. He’s athletic, tough, puts up good at-bats, the questions with him are experience and defensive consistency.
If this Robert Andino experiment fails – and it’s very likely to – we could see one of those youngsters get a chance at shortstop.