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July 23, 2012 at 12:31 PM

How much longer will Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley get?

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There is a wide assumption taking place that Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak will be on his way to Class AAA by tomorrow and that Mike Carp will be called up in his place. That may or may not be true, given that Carlos Peguero can still be sent back down.
But after seeing Peguero notch a couple of singles on Saturday to go with the mammoth homer he hit on Friday, I’m not convinced he should be the one going. Smoak was living on borrowed time from the moment manager Eric Wedge did not follow through with his thinly-veiled threats to demote players during the All-Star Break.
Since that time, Smoak has popped a couple of homers, but is also hitting .100 since the break and is 0-for-16 with seven strikeouts dating back to the Kansas City series. In other words, he once again looks lost.
So does Dustin Ackley, hitting .162 with nine strikeouts since the break. That isn’t what you do with a new lease on life.
Both players probably should have been sent down when Wedge began making his threats prior to the break. But in Wedge’s defense, he also could have jettisoned catcher Jesus Montero as well and all he’s done with his second chance is hit .394 with a 1.053 OPS since the break.
That’s how you thank a team for sticking with you.
There is a bit of a difference in the cases of Smoak, Ackley and Montero in that Montero was actually hurt when Wedge began musing openly about sending players down during the break. So, in fairness, he couldn’t be expected to “respond to the challenge” unless actually put back on the field first after the break.
Things were different with Ackley and Smoak, who were both part of what fueled Wedge’s comments in the first place and then, in truth, only earned their way back to more playing time post-break by virtue of a good couple of swings. A slight distinction there, but an important one to make.
Because if we’re looking at what’s fair and such, Smoak and Ackley both ran out of chances a while ago. Neither is showing any real steps to improving at the major league level and platooning Ackley against left-handers and Smoak against righties isn’t the answer.
They both have to get better against those types of pitchers. Ackley won’t get that way by sitting on the bench, as he did Sunday.
So, what should the Mariners do now? Send both players down after tonight’s game.
Photo Credit: AP


The whole argument that the two players were kept up here this long because there was nobody really ready to replace them is a bit of a non-starter. There’s nobody around to replace them right now, if we’re going off the same logic.
Carp is coming back because his injury rehab time is up, not because he’d earned the promotion. The Mariners have no choice. Carp is hitting .218 with a .682 OPS down at Class AAA Tacoma, so he isn’t exactly lighting it up and may not be the full-time answer as a replacement for Smoak.
But still, it’s got to be better than watching one of your franchise cornerstones bat .100 in the majors while striking out every second at-bat. The Mariners also have John Jaso they can play at first base and might want to try Jesus Montero there as well.
If you’re keeping Peguero and not Smoak, then Peguero has to DH some, so there is no reason not to play Jaso and Montero at first base. This season is supposed to be about development and a team that once played Alex Liddi in left field can certainly experiment at a less demanding defensive position with two backup catchers who you probably want in the lineup more often in any event.
So, in other words, the M’s are really in no better position to replace Smoak now than they were 11 days ago. Carp hasn’t hit any better since — in fact, he’s gotten slightly worse numbers-wise — and Jaso and Montero have always been here.
But you might as well take the shot now, just as the team could have done after the break. Smoak isn’t getting any better and the New York Yankees don’t pitch like the Kansas City Royals.
Keeping Peguero makes sense since Franklin Gutierrez is still suffering post-concussion symptoms and regardless of what you think of Peguero as an outfielder, the fact is that he is one and gives the team more flexibility than a hitless Smoak does.
As for Ackley, the team already has some replacements around who can handle second base in Munenori Kawasaki and Kyle Seager. They have Chone Figgins to play third base on days Seager plays second.
Yeah, I said Figgins. At this stage, his bat isn’t much worse than Ackley’s and if you’re going to go through the trouble of keeping a guy on the roster all season you might as well play him.
Another thing the Mariners can do is call up Nick Franklin from AAA. This is a somewhat riskier proposition, given the fact he’s only got a month of AAA experience and his numbers aren’t exactly off-the-charts. The thing that really worries me is that Franklin is already running a 31 percent strikeout ratio in AAA that sticks out as a red flag.
Yes, his .761 OPS is intriguing, but that will plummet very quickly in the majors if he carries the same holes in his swing up to the bigs. Ultimately, this is a call that can’t be made by numbers alone. Only the personnel hired to monitor Franklin up close will know whether he’s got the intangibles down to survive — not thrive, survive — in the majors with an early call-up.
At best, he’d be getting about a five-week head start on the normal September call-up process and I think that with the M’s relying so much on Franklin as part of their future, they might want to get a longer look at him. He’s been playing second base for Tacoma as well as shortstop, so he could be one of the replacement answers for Ackley for a few weeks in a rotation with others I’ve mentioned.
Again, that part is a risk.
But honestly, whatever way the Mariners go with this, they are probably going to have to take a great big wallop to the noggin. There is no easy way out of this predicament because taking Smoak and Ackley out of the lineup for any amount of time is going to be a blow to this offense. We’re going to see more days like yesterday where Miguel Olivo is batting cleanup and four guys with sub-.200 averages are in the starting nine.
Here’s my theory, though.
The Mariners are likely to experience those days even if they keep both Smoak and Ackley, or one above the other. At this point, you’re just subbing in a bunch of minor leaguers who may hit below .200 for two major leaguers already doing that since the break.
Might as well swallow the medicine now and get Ackley and Smoak started on improving their games in AAA so they can make it back to the majors with enough time left in the season for it to mean anything.
The upside is, you’ll start to see whether Jaso and Montero can actually play some first base and figure out whether Carp has a future with this team. You may get an advance look at what Franklin can do and maybe he surprises you. You’ll get to see Seager in action at second base and at least use Figgins since he’s hogging up a roster spot at $9 million per season. And you get to keep Peguero as some corner outfield depth.
And yes, the Mariners will probably lose a whole bunch of games during this process.
But they tried the pay-me-later part of the equation and that bill is now overdue. The Mariners have stalled long enough with both Smoak and Ackley. If they really are franchise cornerstones, they need to get right in a way other than being made to look foolish by legit MLB pitchers.
It won’t be an easy process. But if the Mariners delay it any longer, they might wind up hurting themselves more in the long run.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins, Jesus Montero

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