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July 19, 2010 at 8:11 AM

These Mariners no longer the same team that charmed so many in 2009

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Many of us continue to be amazed that a Mariners squad that won 85 games last season is now on-pace to lose 90 and maybe even 100. Even with yesterday’s extra-inning win, the fact remains that the M’s bear a closer resemblance to the 101-loss squad of 2008 than the 85-win gang of 2009.
And maybe that should not surprise us too much.
After all, nearly two thirds of the team that began the 2009 season is no longer contributing to the squad. Only 10 players on the current 25-man roster began last season with the Mariners.
They are:
Jose Lopez
Mike Sweeney
Ryan Rowland-Smith
Franklin Gutierrez
Felix Hernandez
David Aardsma
Russell Branyan
Shawn Kelley
Rob Johnson
When you think about it, that’s one heck of a large turnover — 60 percent — when you consider last year’s team won 85 and this year’s was supposed to be a contender.

First off, let me be clear that I’m counting Ichiro as beginning last year with the team, even though he spent the first two weeks on the DL and Matt Tuiasosopo was called up in his place.
I’m also not counting Erik Bedard, since he has yet to throw a single pitch for this year’s team. Bedard obviously played a big part in helping last year’s team get off to such a fast start. This year, he has contributed zilch, no I’m not counting him until he actually takes the mound.
Of the 10 players mentioned, Sweeney and Kelley are on the DL and haven’t contributed anything in quite some time.
Lopez, Johnson, Gutierrez, Rowland-Smith and Aardsma have all taken a step backwards this year compared to last. Branyan wasn’t even here until a few weeks ago, so his contributions have been minimal.
The only 2009 mainstays producing relative to what was expected from them are Hernandez and Ichiro. Gutierrez isn’t that far off, but he hasn’t had the same impact he did last season.
That’s it. Small wonder this team has been unable to recapture the magic of last season. Don’t forget, a lot of that magic happened before the All-Star Break, when the Mariners closed in on both the AL West and wild-card lead. They kept it up for two series after the break, then got manhandled at home by Cleveland and began making trades aimed more at the future than any present-day competing.
After that, a bunch of new faces started cropping up. Guys like Jack Wilson, Bill Hall, Ian Snell and others. But they had little impact on the winning season that the team wound up having. A handful of newcomers, like Josh Wilson, Jack Hannahan and Ryan Langerhans were acquired a little before the break. But really, the key to the 2009 squad was that fast start in April and a solid run the final month before the break to vault the team into contention.
And the fact is, most of the players who were there for the first half of 2009 are no longer around.
You can say the same about the 2008 team.
Of the folks who began that season, the only ones still here contributing are Ichiro, Hernandez, Lopez and Rowland-Smith. That’s not a whole lot of continuity from year to year.
And it’s pretty common for rebuilding teams.
Next year, I won’t be surprised if we get to the break and a majority of the guys who began this year with the team are no longer here. We’ve already said goodbye to Cliff Lee, Mark Lowe, Kanekoa Texeira and Eric Byrnes, while Snell, Tuiasosopo and Sean White are back in Class AAA from the crew that opened the season. That’s already seven guys gone from the 25-man roster that opened the season.
Lopez will earn $5 million next season (not $4.5 million as some keep writing) and he’s unlikely to be back.
So, yeah, 15 different guys by this time next year is hardly out of the question.
Not saying it’s good or bad. It is what it is. The Mariners weren’t ready for prime time this season and so the rebuild continues.
It’s no longer about looking at one-run stats and how they were lopsided one way last year and now are tilted in the other direction. That explains some of the difference between 85 wins and the 90-to-100 losses this team is now headed for.
But the biggest reason this season is headed for another 2008-style finish, I suspect, is that this team is completely different, outside of the usual 200-hit pace by Ichiro and what’s looking like another standout campaign by Hernandez.
And by next year, my guess is, you’ll hardly recognize the team from 2009 within the M’s ranks.
Again, not saying it’s right or wrong. Just making an observation about the sheer magnitude of the changes we’re now seeing on a yearly basis.
It’s why win totals don’t always tell the story of a particular season. And why you, as fans, will sometimes have to look for other things in gauging a team’s progression. Perhaps the story of this year’s M’s will amount to adding Justin Smoak at first base. Perhaps Michael Saunders will squeeze himself into the storyline. Or not. Name me any mainstays from this year’s team who won a place on the squad in the second-half of the 2008 season. Yeah, you’re drawing a blank, I know. That season was a total writeoff, no matter what spin the club tried to put on it by playing some youngsters the final weeks. My vote goes to Luis Valbuena, showing enough to be added as a key piece of the Gutierrez deal. But that’s some slim pickings there.
Rosters are fluid things, yes. They always change to some degree. But I’ll hazard a guess that we’ll finally know the better times have arrived in Seattle when we can go from the start of one season to the middle of the next without losing close to two-thirds of the roster along the way.
Then, you’ll know that the folks running this team finally found a group of guys they feel are actually worth holding on to.



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