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July 5, 2011 at 9:41 AM

Mariners need to be leery of running their veterans into the ground

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We’ll have a special road edition of Geoff Baker Live! coming up at 12:30 p.m. PT
Adam Kennedy finished off the first game of a series in Washington two weeks ago with a .283 batting average and a .755 on-base-plus slugging percentage. This morning, the average is down to .265 and the OPS is at .719.
What happened in the interim?
Well, the Mariners gave him a day off after that first game in Washington, then ran him out there in seven consecutive games, in which he went 4-for-28 at the plate. The team then had an off-day, following which, Kennedy has started in three of four contests since and made an appearance in the one game he didn’t start.
Kennedy is still one of the MVP candidates for this year’s team from a position player perspective. And this post has zero to do with those pop-ups he missed yesterday, which he simply could not see and weren’t anyone’s fault.
But the Mariners have to be leery of playing the 35-year-old as if he’s still 25. Because when they do that, his numbers tend to dip accordingly.
Miguel Olivo is in a similar boat. Prior to his injury, he was on-pace to play 145 or so games this year. No problem, you say? He’s done that before, after all. Well, yeah. Olivo himself made that very same argument to me yesterday morning.
Well, he actually hasn’t played that much — ever. His most games played in any season was 127 in 2006 with Florida. That’s a long time ago.

Today, even after his injury, he’s still on-pace to appear in 133 games. His most ever.
Some folks have no problem with that, since this was a team in need of on-field and off-field leadership and Olivo and Kennedy have been the two biggest suppliers of that amongst position players.
But if you’re going to keep running Olivo out there, you have to take what comes with that. Just like with Kennedy.
And Olivo in the second half of last year faded from a .935 OPS to a .539. That’s not very good.
This year, for all he’s done power-wise, Olivo has still produced an OPS of just .666 — 40 points below his career norm.
Not surprisingly, his biggest slump has come recently. Olivo hit just .189 in June prior to his injury, which was even worse average-wise than his .217 month of April. What saved Olivo’s numbers in June was the eight home runs he hit, which boosted his OPS and obscured the fact he was becoming more of an all-or-nothing type at the plate.
There is a reason we’ve been calling in this space and in my Talkin’ Baseball segment of KJR AM 950’s Mitch in the Morning show for Josh Bard to be promoted for a while now. Nothing against Chris Gimenez, who filled a need early on by being there as a potential outfield replacement when Franklin Gutierrez was out.
But keeping a backup catcher on your roster and rarely ever playing him was not smart baseball. You need to use the 25-man roster better than that. And if the Mariners were not prepared to use their backup catcher like a real backup, then they had to find a way to lose him and get a real backup in there.
Because Olivo, like Kennedy, is no spring chicken, no matter how tough he is. And he is.
But he’s a better tough guy if he’s doing the things that made him valuable to the team in the first place. And he can only do that if he isn’t worn into the ground by the All-Star Break.
It should not have taken an injury to Gimenez and Olivo to force the Mariners’ hand in this matter. Bard should have been up here a long time ago. The team isn’t exactly suffering with him behind the plate.
And no matter what Eric Wedge says about the need for Olivo to run better before he plays after his injury, I’d have to think that some of the week he’s missed since was to give him a needed rest.
Don’t forget, the Mariners begin the unofficial “second half” of the season against the Rangers at home, then fly out to Toronto, Boston and New York. Talk about mid-summer saunas. Each and every one of those cities can have brutal humidity in late July. If you have veterans already wearing down, they will be hard-pressed to survive that road trip completely healthy and productive.
The Mariners have taken steps to protect Olivo by finally getting Bard up here.
And now, they have to be careful with Kennedy. Wedge knows this. But his options are somewhat limited.
It’s one reason he keeps hoping, and praying, that Chone Figgins can somehow turn things around. That way, he can at least throw Figgins out at third three times per week without worrying that he’s giving the game away with his lineup.
The Class AAA options are limited, though if Kyle Seager keeps hitting .500 you’d have to imagine he’ll get called up at some point and possibly before September.
But honestly, when folks out there say that the Mariners are not just “one bat away” from contending, they tend to miss the point. That one bat won’t just add new stats to the equation. It might help bump up the stats of existing Mariners.
And yes, I do think the M’s need to add a couple of bats. Not just one. But they don’t all have to be full-timers. Yesterday, in the comments thread, I threw the name of Chicago Cubs super-sub Jeff Baker out there. Not because his name sounds exactly like mine. But because he hits left-handers very well and would be a natural complement to Kennedy at third base if the M’s stay in contention.
So, yes. Adding Baker would not only bring his numbers into play, they would also stand to boost Kennedy’s by not forcing him to be played five or six days a week.
If not Baker, then some other part-timer who fits that description. And you make the other bat the full-timer in left field.
There are all types of ways to go.
But the Mariners are headed smack dab into a massive second-half wall if they don’t take care of the veteran players who have done so much to get them this far.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins


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