Well, that certainly was not the first half many of us envisioned for the Mariners. They enter the All-Star Break with a record of 36-51 compared to 43-48 one year ago. Somebody on the earlier post commented that we really should not be too surprised. That the team went with young kids and that they were not expected to win a lot of games.
I find it difficult to find too much fault with that assessment. In fact, I believe I wrote something similar back in spring training that this would be the year in which to watch for progress beyond the win-loss records.
And I still believe that. But I also believe, as I have written many, many times since last year, that a rebuilding plan cannot simply be an exercise of “Oooh, look at all the cute little kiddies play!” and “Boy, isn’t it fun to watch the little kids play hard, even if they lose!” and “Golly, gee, we’re getting our butts kicked now, but in (insert timeline here) number of years, we’re going to be real, real good, just because we’re young now!”
I’m not saying that’s what any of you laid out as your expectations. What I’m saying is, any rebuilding team has to avoid their plan turning into a farce in which phrases like those can be used in mocking fashion to describe the supporters of the rebuild. I truly don’t believe this Mariners rebuild has reached those depths just yet.
But what it has reached is a bit of a crisis point where it is losing some of its more staunch adherents. And who can really blame them? The current team is not really showing any signs of tangible progress over last year and 2010 and 2009 before that. Sure, there are a bunch of new faces now being identified as the guys that will carry the plan forward. Still, the biggest thing they have going for them is that they are relatively new and young.
What remains to be seen is whether they can be any good. Both as individuals and as a collective team.
Because we’ve seen new and even young faces come and go before. The Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt types. The David Aardsmas and the Mark Lowes. The Doug Fisters. Heck, just a few years ago, Franklin Gutierrez was supposed to carry this team to the promised land. Now, we’re not so sure.
Was it going to be Felix Hernandez, Doug Fister, Jason Vargas and Brandon Morrow leading this team someplace? Or is it Felix and a bunch of guys currently in Class AAA and AA. The plan keeps shifting. And I get it. Players come and players go. Not every young player turns out to be good just because they are young.
But sooner or later, the progress has to show. And it has to be consistent. Because it’s one thing to ask a fanbase to wait three, four or even five years. It’s another to keep shifting the timeline and make them wait six, seven, eight, or 13 years, at which point the rebuild will have had the reset button pushed and been started over anew — sometimes without fans even realizing it was a reset.
So, the folks running the Mariners have some decisions to make and some work ahead of them.
They can continue to operate as if it’s business as usual and hope that everyone they currently have up here right now with the team can find their bats and learn to mesh together as an offensive unit.
But that plan has its drawbacks. If the currently struggling young players do not find themselves this year, there will be more unanswered questions heading into next season — the fifth year under GM Jack Zduriencik — and more delays in implementing this plan to the point where it can bear fruit.
There is no easy answer here. Sending a bunch of guys to AAA won’t automatically fix them. It might not even help their development any. But keeping them up here to fail night after night might harm their development as well.
“I’ve got some thoughts,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said postgame. “Jack (Zduriencik) and I have been talking. Whatever we decide to do, if anything, we want to make sure we’re doing for the right reasons, not just being emotional with it. I think we do a pretty good job with that. Ultimately, I have a strong vision, as Jack does, for what type of ballclub we want to be and we’re going to keep working to get to that.”
But that vision has little to do with what we’ve seen this first half.
There isn’t much to analyze off today’s game that we didn’t already see before. Felix Hernandez pitched well enough to win for 7 2/3 innings and did not. We saw him do that a lot back in 2010 and not much has changed this year. So, in that one area alone, we are not seeing much “progress” from this team.
Hernandez threw 114 pitches and might not be able to pitch in Tuesday’s all-star contest.
“Pretty tough,” Hernandez said when asked whether he could pitch. “Pretty tough question. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”
Does he even want to pitch in KC?
“If they need me I will pitch,” he said. “If no, I’ll be OK.”
Hernandez is, understandably, a bit more concerned about the current state of his team than he is the fortunes of the AL vs. the NL.
“Those guys, they’re trying very hard,” Hernandez said. “They want to score runs. I
believe in this team. I believe in these guys. We’re going to be better. It cannot happen all the time so we’re going to be better.”
For the record, I agree the M’s are trying hard. I don’t see anyone going out and joking around on the field. The guys who were out there today were trying to get it done.
They just could not. Now, they have another 2 1/2 months to get something right. And this team’s front office has to help them get there. The right decisions must be made this week to help get this thing back on a semi-respectable course.
It’s too late for ownership to do anything — other than take on somebody else’s overpriced bats — right now. The time to do this was over the winter and in that regard, the ownership let this club down huge. The youth of this team has been left to flounder alone in the name of cost savings.
But that’s done for now. Not much is going to change in 2012 on that front. It’s now up to Wedge and Zduriencik to do what they can to salvage the rest of this season and get the team headed in a direction where real progress — not merely “kids” turning a year older — can be said to have been achieved.
It’s still too early to judge this 2012 season. But it won’t be if the wrong call — in whichever direction — is made the next few days.
Rebuilding is great, as long as that’s what is actually happening. But it can’t take forever and it can’t be measured in the age on birth certificates. It’s measured in results and so far, this collection of Mariners is coming up far too short.
If they thought the pressure was on in the first half, just wait for the second half of the season. Believe it or not, this last place team has plenty at stake. In the credibility department, most of all.