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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

February 2, 2012 at 9:13 AM

Carlos Guillen’s trade was at forefront of Mariners’ decline and fall

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(Carlos Guillen at the 2008 All-Star Game, flanked by Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Photo by Associated Press).

Dec. 15, 2003 was quite a momentous day in the annals of Mariners’ baseball. They signed free agent Scott Spiezio to a three-year, $9 million contract, bringing in the winning attitude and slugging bat of a guy who had helped the Angels win the World Series two years earlier. They dealt Greg Colbrunn to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Quinton McCracken, an invaluable bench player for manager Bob Melvin. And they worked out a trade that would send Carlos Guillen, who had fallen out of favor, to the Cleveland Indians for old favorite Omar Vizquel, who would revive his career where it began as the Mariners’ regular shortstop.

It all looked good on paper, anyway. In reality, Spiezio was an all-time bust, McCracken withered away on the Mariners bench before getting released in June, and Vizquel never made it back to Seattle — the deal was called off the next day when Vizquel, coming off two knee surgeries, failed his physical in Seattle. He went on to play 148 games for Cleveland in 2004 and hit .291, then moved on to San Francisco, where in 2005 and ’06 he won Gold Gloves numbers 10 and 11. He’s still playing at age 45, having signed with the Blue Jays.

Guillen, meanwhile, was dealt instead to the Tigers three weeks later for infielder Ramon Santiago and a minor leaguer named Juan Gonzalez, forever known as “not that Juan Gonzalez” — but certainly not known for his playing. The Mariners, that very same day, wound up signing Rich Aurilia to a one-year, $3.5-million contract to play shortstop. Aurilia made it to July until the Mariners had seen enough — they dumped him to San Diego. Guillen, meanwhile, blossomed into a three-time All-Star with the Tigers, for a stretch one of the most dangerous infielders in the American League. Oh, and Ramon Santiago proved to be a very useful player — for the Tigers, who reaquired him in 2007 as a free agent after two lackluster years with the Mariners.

I bring up this sordid history for two reasons. One, obviously, because the Mariners re-acquired Guillen yesterday, signing him to a minor-league contract with a spring training invitation. Welcome back, Carlos.

And two, because you can really pinpoint that offseason between 2003 and 2004 as the beginning of the Mariner malaise that exists to this day. New general manager Bill Bavasi made a series of ill-fated moves that continue to haunt the franchise — which had won 116, 93 and 93 games the previous three years, but would lose 99 in 2004, and have had just two winning seasons since, to go with five seasons of 90-or-more losses.

Here is what I consider the 10 worst moves of the Bavasi era:

1) Bypassing Troy Tulowitzki with the No. 3 overall pick in 2005 to take USC catcher Jeff Clement. Just thinking of what Tulowitzki would have meant to the Mariners’ offense is enough to make a Mariners fan weep.

2) Signing Carlos Silva to a four-year, $48-million contract prior to the 2008 season. Hey, but the good news is they got Milton Bradley out of the deal.

3) Bypassing Tim Lincecum to draft Brandon Morrow with the fifth pick of the 2006 draft. Yeah, Morrow netted Brandon League — but Lincecum is Lincecum.

4) Trading Asdrubal Cabrera to the Indians for Eduardo Perez in June of 2006. I thought this was a good move at the time. I was wrong, big-time.

5) Trading Shin-Soo Choo to the Indians for Ben Broussard in July of 2006. See above.

6) Trading Guillen to the Tigers in 2004. The fact that this stinker deal only ranks sixth worst should tell you something.

7) Trading Rafael Soriano to the Braves for Horacio Ramirez after the 2007 season. Soriano has been a bullpen stud ever since. Ramirez was bad in 2007 and has faded to obscurity.

8) Trading Adam Jones, et al, to the Orioles for Erik Bedard prior to the 2008 season. This one hasn’t been quite the disaster it appeared headed to be, mainly because Chris Tillman has, so far, been a bust. But Bedard was not nearly the pitcher the Mariners hoped, and Adam Jones has been good and may be poised for greatness.

9) Trading Matt Thornton to the White Sox for Joe Borchard prior to the 2006 season. The idea was to deal one high draft bust for another, hoping a change of scenery might do them good. It worked — for Thornton.

10) Signing Spiezio to a three-year, $9 million contract. He was a unique combination of miserable performer and clubhouse mope.

Now, you might have a different pick for the top 10 — there are numerous other candidates, from Aurilia to Pokey Reese to Jeff Weaver to Carl Everett — but the upshot is that the Mariners didn’t get in this mess by accident. And the Carlos Guillen trade eight years ago was right at the forefront of the decline and fall.

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