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July 5, 2012 at 9:29 AM

Mariners can help themselves get over Bill Bavasi by doing more to help team in present day

Suppose it was inevitable we’d get a day like yesterday at some point, where Adam Jones hits a mammoth home run and Chris Tillman sticks it down Seattle’s throat from the mound. After all, it wouldn’t be Mariners baseball if we couldn’t take yet another trip down memory lane and wonder what could have been.
Beats looking at the present, I guess.
Anyhow, for those still stuck on February 2008 and the Erik Bedard trade, here’s what I have to say about it: Yes, the Mariners lost the trade. No, they will never win the trade. Time to get over it.
We’re in the midst of the fifth baseball season since Jones, Tillman and three others left town for Bedard. That’s a lot of water under the proverbial bridge and most organizations by now would have found a way to get past the damage. One trade does not decimate a franchise, no matter who it involves and the continuous blaming of Bavasi for the current sorry state of the Mariners is getting a bit old. Bavasi hasn’t had a say in any Mariners decision-making for more than four years and there have been numerous questionable moves by the current front office and the same ownership group that should be the subject of far more scrutiny locally, but which continue to get a free pass from many corners because of the ever-convenient Bavasi boogeyman.
Anyhow, for those still blaming Bavasi and his myriad bad moves pre-Jones for everything currently wrong with the team, here’s some consolation: the Mariners and current GM Jack Zduriencik might have gotten rid of Tillman by now had he been kept in Seattle. After all, Tillman hasn’t done much with the Orioles up to this point and Zduriencik already traded away a better pitcher he inherited in Brandon Morrow. So, the logic dictates that, yeah, odds are pretty good Tillman would have been one of the many Bavasi-era holdovers sent packing. If that still doesn’t cheer you up, I’ll just flat-out say it — Tillman two-hitting the Mariners is no great shakes. The way Seattle is playing, Hector Noesi could two-hit them right now.
As for Jones, who deserves congrats for taking his career to the next level, it took him nearly five seasons to blossom into the type of player many in Seattle correctly feared he might become when he was traded.
For the first four full years of his career, he did not break .800 in terms of on-base-plus-slugging percentage playing home games in a hitter’s park and his Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) was in negative territory defensively. For those who believe in UZR and the FanGraphs version of the Wins Above Replacement Level (WAR) stat, that means Jones was less than a 3.0 WAR player.
He was still very good, just not a superstar. For comparative purposes, Brendan Ryan and his .248 batting average last year was considered to be roughly as valuable a player by FanGraphs as Jones — given the WAR stat’s margin for error — had been in any of his past four years.
Now, you can be skeptical about FanGraphs WAR if you’d like and I certainly won’t discourage it in this case. But you have to decide which side of the fence you fall on. Those who constantly cite WAR in every player evaluation can’t ignore what I just threw in front of you.
Jones this year has obviously taken things to another level. But it’s in his fifth season in the majors and that’s important because he is no longer cheap. In fact, he just signed a six-year, $85.5 million contract with the Orioles. So, if we’re going to harp on the Mariners losing Jones and all that, we have to answer the inevitable question of whether this Seattle franchise could have afforded to keep him when he finally got around to showing the elite-level play everyone feared losing in the first place. Given this franchise’s recent history of payroll cutting and letting long-term deals expire rather than committing to new ones, I have serious doubts the M’s would have tried to keep Jones beyond the coming winter trade season.
Hey, you don’t have to believe it. But I don’t see evidence to the contrary. Just in case, for those who want to continue wallowing in past failure, the good news is you could have a great chance to see the M’s put their money where your mouth is next season. I mean, if Franklin Gutierrez takes off in the second half this year and continues to be everything Zduriencik had hoped next season, the Mariners will have their opportunity to extend him to a long term deal and pay him huge dollars as well. Then, we’ll maybe have our answer on whether the M’s had any chance at enjoying an elite level Jones for more than a year or so.
For now, let’s get over the past and focus on the present, where money and cost-savings have indeed played as key a role in producing the worst team in the AL as have a slew of young players struggling to hit their own weight.
The one thing Zduriencik and company can do right now is a better job of maximizing the return they got on the one big trade they made last winter. And that will be sending both Jesus Montero and Noesi to Class AAA.
Zduriencik may indeed “win” the Michael Pineda trade yet by getting better value out of Montero and Noesi than the Yankees eventually do out of the now-injured pitcher sent their way. But it isn’t going to happen the way things are currently being allowed to unfold.
Photo Credit: AP

Noesi just isn’t getting it done on the mound, despite flashes of promise. He keeps making the same mistakes on 0-2 pitches, keeps burying his team early and is probably going to lose 20 games — which no team ever wants a young pitcher to be saddled with — if kept in the rotation. Major League Baseball is not an elite-level finishing school. Noesi still has stuff that needs to be worked out in the minors. He needs to learn how to pitch better. That’s a minor league assignment.
As for Montero, he too has shown flashes of promise both at the plate and behind it. But we’re at the stage now where the team is still fearful of catching him more than two days in a row without his game falling apart. And his bat — the only reason he isn’t in AAA to begin with — has now been running a .528 OPS since June 1.
It’s been at a .605 OPS going on two months and that’s not going to cut it for a middle-of-the-order hitter in the big leagues.
Montero is still only 22 and nobody is saying he’s washed up. But a team this bad can’t have untouchables on it, especially a guy barely producing a .600 OPS for two months in his rookie season.
This isn’t development. It’s a player not getting it done. His plate approach and the swings he is now taking look lost. In AAA, he can work on getting that back and on making improvements to his catching to the point where he might be able to handle more than two days in a row. Maybe he can tweak his technique to the point where he isn’t taking so many foul balls off his head (or maybe not, I don’t know if that can be fixed). But the majors aren’t the place for basic teaching. That’s for the minors. Montero’s bat is what got him up here so quickly and it’s the bat that now should have him back in AAA for a spell.
There are other candidates for demotion as well, like Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley. But those guys will benefit less from a teaching stint in the minors and the M’s don’t really have every day replacements for them just yet.
That could change shortly once Mike Carp comes off his injury-rehabilitation assignment and starts to play first base full-time again. Then, you’d have a temporary replacement for Smoak.
As for Ackley, you could play Kyle Seager at second several days per week and call up Alex Liddi to play third along with Chone Figgins. But that’s real temporary. After all, you don’t want to lose 100-plus if you’re the Mariners and odds are you’d lose more by making all of those switches than by keeping the players here and hoping they improve with time.
But the Noesi and Montero moves to AAA are no-brainers.
Erasmo Ramirez and Kevin Millwood should be ready to go after the All-Star Break and Hisashi Iwakuma could get some more starts as well in Noesi’s place. If you’re going to have a guy pitch five innings and lose or get a no-decision like Noesi does, Iwakuma just showed he coud do that in his very first start.
As for Montero, you could go with a Miguel Olivo-John Jaso tandem behind the plate. But you’d probably want a third catcher just to get Jaso’s bat into more games as a DH (not behind the plate, that’s still a no-go zone). That can be solved by calling up veteran journeyman Guillermo Quiroz, who just made the AAA all-star team.
There you go.
These are decisions that can help this team far more in the long-term than grousing about what Bill Bavasi failed to accomplish four-plus years ago.
The other thing this current team can do? Spend some money this off-season to bring in a supporting cast to help these young players develop.
The idea that the only way to develop young players is to throw all of them out there at every single position so they can flounder away with no veteran support is both misinformed and absurd. The Los Angeles Angels are laying waste to that notion right now by developing Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos right under Seattle’s nose while managing to hold down the top AL wild-card spot.
You can spit and chew gum at the same time in baseball, and Lord knows, we’ve seen enough players do that on TV. With a second wild-card now giving hope to sub-.500 teams across the game, there is no excuse for the Mariners to still be playing meaningless baseball by May of each year. There is room to grow young players and to actually be trying to win someting, assuming that this is actually what a team’s ownership cares about. If the Mariners do indeed care about trying to be competitive, there is still ample room between what they are now doing and could be doing.
And that’s on them. It’s not on Bavasi, Bedard, Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Eduardo Perez, Ben Broussard or anybody else.
The Angels made a terrible trade to pick up Vernon Wells. It took them less than one year to get over it.
Four-plus years has been long enough for the Mariners to get over the Bedard trade.
Time for this franchise — and those who keep wallowing in misery and fear about the past — to decide right now what they’re going to do. Are they going to start acting like winners and push for pro-active steps to get out of the AL’s basement? Or are they going to keep thinking and acting like losers while teams like the Angels stay in contention year after year while developing a young core at the same time?
The choice is theirs to make. Right here, right now, in July 2012.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, Hisashi Iwakuma


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