There was a point the past couple of weeks where in reading many of the comments relating to younger Mariners hitters like Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero, I began to sense a shift in the tide of how they were being viewed. In listening to the calls for one or more of them and some others to be sent to Class AAA, the image of the Tacoma Rainiers became one of a Stalinist gulag to which the offending hitters would be dispatched in order to pay for their crimes against the Mariners fan base.
And that, folks, simply cannot be.
Whatever the Mariners decide to do with any of their young hitter this week, the motives behind it cannot be of vengeance. Yes, we all get frustrated watching this team try to score. We make fun of some of the games of Twitter — as do I — or vent on comments threads or radio call-in shows. But that’s just spur of the moment fun stuff to get through a game or blow off steam. In the bigger picture, we have to remember that many of these young hitters are just beginning their careers and will have ups and downs. It is far too early to give up completely on any of them — even Justin Smoak, even Franklin Gutierrez.
Yes, the team should begin to piece together a contingency plan in the event some of these young hitters don’t pan out. And let’s face it, odds are that some will not.
But the goal of whatever is done this week has to be to get these hitters better. So, the dispatching of anyone to Class AAA should not be accompanied by celebratory high fives in cyber space. If indeed you are a fan of the team, your goal should be a crossing of fingers and the hoping that one or more of these struggling players turns things around.
Photo Credit: AP
This sounds like needless advice to some of you, I’m sure and that’s probably because you’ve felt this way all along. But not all of you do. Some of the animosity I am now detecting out there in the fan base is a bit unusual. Young players struggle all the time, but here in Seattle, because the young hitters have been thrust into prominent roles so quickly, I think they are getting the kind of treatment — and developing resentment — often reserved for much older, more veteran hitters.
The reason this concerns me — and I don’t get too concerned about player images or feelings very often, since I don’t get paid to think that way — is because these resented players are going to be around for a while. The veteran who gets booed with every strikeout is often gone from the team within a year or two. Not these young guys. The plan is for some of them to be around for another five years at least. They are part of the brand this team is building for the future.
So, it’s a very tricky path I see some fans starting down.
By all means, get frustrated by the performances you see. But if I had any advice to offer, it would be this: don’t let the frustration turn to bloodlust. Don’t take a “good riddance!” attitude if any of these players gets sent down, because it really isn’t going to do your fandom much good in the long run. The Mariners won’t become a better team if they send down all of the young hitters who probably deserve to see a little AAA action based on performances.
At best, the team will tread water until some of these hitters get their confidence and their swings back to the point where they can try again in the big leagues. Just remember, it’s only Smoak’s second start-to-finish season in the bigs. Ackley wasn’t even a big leaguer 13 months ago. Montero has only a few months experience under his belt. Gutierrez has been hurt a lot. Mike Carp as well.
By all means, venture opinions that they may not work out. Call for them to go to AAA based on lack of experience and results. Press the team to have contingency plans. Just don’t root for all of them to be run out of town just yet. Because that’s not what is about to happen. Whatever is done with them in the next day or two, the goal will be to make them better players.
These guys are far too young to be bearing the burden for this season on their shoulders. They should never have been thrown into the fray like this with such a lack of a supporting cast around them. That’s not their fault. That’s the fault of the front office of GM Jack Zduriencik for some of the choices made. And yes, the fault of an ownership above him that keeps cutting payroll and may — I say may, because the front office can’t be let entirely off the hook here — have blocked Zduriencik from acquiring the types of veterans he’d expected to get.
But still, I’m not about to put all of this on the shoulders of Smoak, Ackley and Montero. There is just no way they can be scapegoated for this season. Those calling for the team to go “all in” and “play the kids” last summer, well, this is what happens when you go too far in that direction. It doesn’t always help development. Sometimes, it hurts it. Listening to Ackley down on the field in Oakland last Sunday tell me how he’s probably been trying to do too much in games instead of carrying over his batting practice swing just reinforced that thought for me.
These guys have all been trying to do too much. They’ve been cast as saviors for a bad team, thrust into middle of the order and leadoff roles in the batting order usually reserved for much older guys. And yeah, they are struggling. Yes, some of them should go to AAA just to let them regroup and maybe reinforce the idea that nothing is given to you in the big leagues.
But it won’t be as a punishment. It should not be that. These players are all working extremely hard and are struggling because they are just not ready to handle what the team has thrown on to their plates.
Just remember that for now, whatever happens in the next two days. These guys are all going to be back wearing the Mariners uniform at some point this season if indeed they are sent down. And they will be the ones you will be rooting for to succeed. So, I don’t think rooting for them to be run out of town on a rail right now is an attitude that’s going to help any fan down the road. If anything, it will lead to a lot of yo-yo-like confusion later on.
These are tough times indeed to be a fan of this team. The pace of this rebuilding plan is not one that appears destined to succeed anytime soon without some impact moves being made. That’s up to the front office and ownership. Not up to the younger guys who will require far more patience from the team and from some of you before they are ready for prime time.
What this franchise has become is not their fault. They are still part of the solution. And when this front office and ownership gets its own act together, some of these players might even be the answer.
For now, they just need to get better.