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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

April 15, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Here’s to hoping we can knock off this Casper Wells nonsense once and for all

ADDITIONAL NOTE 4:01 p.m. PT: Mariners relief pitcher Stephen Pryor has been placed on the 15-day DL with a torn lat muscle. This is not good news and it looks like he will now be out several weeks. The team will make a roster move before tomorrow night’s game. Join me tonight to talk about all this and more on The Geoff Baker Show on Sports Radio KJR from 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. PT.

Well, it’s been an interesting first two weeks on Twitter when it comes to the Mariners and their decisions to go with veteran players over some late-20s holdovers from last year.

First, there was all the John Jaso hysteria since January when it came to the Mariners trading him to Oakland for Michael Morse. Thankfully, most of the internet appears to have come to its senses over that trade and realizes that two teams with varying needs made that deal and, so far at least, it appears to be working out for both the Mariners and the A’s.

There was nothing ever “stupid” — and other names I’ve seen the Mariners called over the deal — about dealing Jaso for Morse, since the Mariners have long needed a middle of the order hitter and had other catchers coming up who would replace Jaso behind the plate soon enough. Jaso, for his part, has had a solid start to 2013 and sports a .278 average and .739 OPS.

As long as the A’s dont overuse him behind the plate, he should come close to replicating the fine 2012 season he had with the Mariners as a part-time catcher and off-the-bench role player. Jaso just played in three consecutive games for the A’s and went 1-for-11, serving as a DH yesterday and catching the prior two contests. That mini-slump caused his overall numbers to drop significantly after a scorching start. The A’s are a smart organization and should figure things out soon enough and limit Jaso to the playing time maximum he can have before his numbers begin to drop off.

In plain English, he’s projected for 450 at-bats, which looks to be a bit much. The Mariners kept him to 294 at-bats and he had great numbers. His career-best was 339 at-bats with the Rays in 2010 when he sported a .750 OPS that’s pretty close to what he’s now running.

So, the A’s will have to judge for themselves and act accordingly. Jaso is a useful piece for any team, as long as he isn’t used to do more than he’s capable of. He’s a good bat for a backup catcher playing a couple of times per week and then serving as a DH and pinch-hitter the rest of the time. He’s a guy who will get more expensive his next two arbitration years and while the A’s might have a future need he fills, the Mariners hope to be covered at the catching spot come 2014. So, at most, Jaso had one more year of usefulness to Seattle. That’s it and that’s all.

As for Morse, Mariners fans probably won’t see him continue at a 75-homer pace. But they’ll gladly take the .293 average and .341 OBP to go with all the power in the 511-at-bat pace he’s now on even with the recent injury.

That’s full-time production from a full-time player, and if the Mariners can lock Morse up beyond this year, nobody is ever going to think twice about the trade other than to ask “What was all the initial venom about?”

That’s a very good question, actually. I have my own thoughts on that, but we’ll save them for another post, another day.

As I said, thankfully, most fans and pundits, to their credit, have moved on from the initial hysteria and overreaction to the deal and admitted they jumped the gun a bit.

And I sincerely hope they will soon be able to do the same with Casper Wells because frankly, other than the odd comedic fodder over stuff I read online about him, the entire conversation regarding Seattle’s former sixth outfielder is quickly growing tiresome.

Casper Wells and the veteran bats the team went with over him continues to fuel anger and venom among many fans who follow the Mariners online. Photo Credit: AP

Casper Wells and the veteran bats the team went with over him continues to fuel anger and venom among many fans who follow the Mariners online. Photo Credit: AP

Believe me, I’m not exaggerating when I say that my colleagues and I now sit in the pressbox night after night and trade stories about the more inane Wells overreactions we get to read about online and on our Twitter feeds.

At first, it was cute. Now, it’s just boring.

Look, I get it. They get it. We all get it. Wells could play defense. That’s nice. What he couldn’t do was hit enough to be of much use to this team.

Wells never did me wrong the time he was here and I truly hope he revives his career in Toronto and can go on and have a solid MLB stint for years to come. But he didn’t do that in time to have that career in Seattle.

His time ran out when his minor league options ran out. Now, if you want to jump all over the Mariners for that, be my guest. The Mariners burned Wells’s final option last year in order to keep Chone Figgins when they had no real intent of playing him. That was the wrong move and I think I and every commenter out there both online and in print and on the ariwaves had the same thought. The Mariners actually united the blogosphere over that issue — something I never imagined possible.

But that was last year. Going into this year, as with the decision to keep Franklin Gutierrez as their starting center fielder rather than sign free agent Michael Bourn, the Mariners had to live with the consequences of that decision made to send Wells to Class AAA for a few weeks last year.

That meant, Wells had to show enough this spring to make the team out of spring training or the Mariners would likely lose him to a waiver claim when they tried to outright him to the minors.

And Wells did not show enough this spring to make the team. He was flat-out beat by a 34-year-old Mets version of Figgins and deserved to be sent to the minors this time around.

Yes, the fact that Jason Bay had a great spring and looked more like his pre-Mets self helped turn the tide. The Mariners weren’t looking for the full-time player the Mets gave all that money to back in 2009. They just wanted a right-handed bat who could come up late and be used to platoon guys every now and again.

Some of you are angry that the Mariners looked at Bay’s spring numbers, which some have suggested are meaningless. Well, I can tell you, if spring training meant nothing, Lucas Luetge wouldn’t have made the team last year. David Aardsma might not have made it a few years back, either, nor Shawn Kelley.  Guys make teams based on spring performances all the time. Not just numbers but how they were achieved — or not achieved in the case of Wells. And spring training is not all the Mariners considered when it came to taking Bay over Wells. They also looked at Bay’s track record of prior success before all the injuries in New York. They looked at his numbers just two seasons ago — again, as a full-time player, not a fourth outfielder — and figured they could live with even those in a low-cost, part-time role.

Now, some of you will be angry that the team considered his track record, since you feel it is the most recent numbers that count the most. You’re right, to a certain extent. But if we’re going to play that game, the recent numbers put up by Wells in a fourth outfielder role weren’t exactly off-the-charts.

And when it came to a prior track record, well, Wells doesn’t have one. He has zero history of success as a full-time player and he’s 28 years old. He isn’t a 22-year old out of college.

Two seasons ago, in a more full-time role shortened to 444 at-bats by injury, Bay trumped the offensive numbers Wells put up last year in a healthy part-time role of 289 at-bats. The Mariners were willing to bet last year was an abberation for Bay and that he could return to something closer to his 2011 numbers with a change in scenery and better health. All things considered, the two guys were viewed as pretty much equal heading into camp and one guy won his job and the other lost.

And saying they were equal is being charitable. Wells has never contributed to a playoff team like Bay did for the Red Sox, thriving in a higher pressure environment. Wells doesn’t bring the off-field intangibles.

Anyhow, it’s not like the Mariners kicked Wells to the curb a week into camp. They gave him all spring and witheld their final decision until the very end.

And in the end, given their needs, they liked Bay better. I can tell you, the team really would have liked for Wells to sneak through waivers unclaimed so they would have him in Class AAA for depth. But, as expected, he did get claimed as the Mariners suspected he would. We know they expected it because they went out and got Endy Chavez a week before camp ended so that they would have center field depth in case of injury.

So, when Michael Saunders and Morse went down 24 hours apart, the Mariners had an emergency outfielder at AAA they could call. And all it cost them was pitcher D.J. Mitchell, a guy no one claimed on waivers and who elected to become a free agent when taken off the roster.

That’s it. The worst case scenario unfolded and the Mariners were covered and didn’t lose anything worth fretting about.

They didn’t need to carry Wells on the roster all year for that type of defensive protection. They have Chavez — a guy just as good defensively playing in much larger roles at times than Wells offered.

That’s why I just don’t get the internet vitriol over this. Even Saturday, when I wrote that Gutierrez was hurt again, I had guys tweeting stuff like “If only the Mariners had a backup outfielder they could use at any position in situations like this.”

That was supposed to be sarcasm in the Tweet. But it was misinformed sarcasm.

The Mariners do have a guy as depth who can play all three spots. That’s Chavez and as I just explained, he’s up here.

The worst case scenario just hit the team with three starting outfielders going down just days apart and the team is covered. Had they kept Wells all year, they might never have needed him. But they didn’t have the luxury of keeping a glove-first fifth outfielder on the MLB squad all year just in case the freakish worst-case happened. They needed offense, even if it’s a marginal increase.

And they could not keep Wells at AAA where his depth was needed. They didn’t have that luxury because of his options being used up. They had that luxury with Chavez.

End of story.

Hopefully it is. This whole veterans-versus-young-guys theme has been playing out for far too long in these parts and it really adds nothing to the debate about how to make this team better. Right now, the team is 6-8 primarily because the young core hasn’t hit the way it is supposed to and the young back end of the rotation took the first two weeks off.

And yet, if you read Twitter, you’d think it’s because the team signed Bay and Ibanez — a pair of backup outfielders and DH types. For real?

It feels at times as if the majority of the Mariners blogosphere is just sitting there rooting for Bay, or Morse or Ibanez to take one false step in the outfield so they can  go “Ah-ha! Told you so!”

In doing so, they ignore the six home runs already hit in 10 games by Morse, or the fact Bay has yet to make a bad play in the outfield or that Ibanez already has two more homers as a reservist than Kyle Seager, Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak put together. Heck, backup catcher Kelly Shoppach has more homers on his own than that quartet.

And yet, the minute Ibanez drops a flyball, all the knives come out and the online venom is spewed. Look, I realize Ibanez dropping that ball looked terrible. But it’s not as if he was 20 feet out of position in trying to make the catch. He covered his ground, got there in time and simply took his eyes off the ball. Just like Brendan Ryan did the other night on the error that helped cost Seattle the game. Stuff like that happens in baseball, for no rhyme or reason. It doesn’t mean keeping Ryan on the team was a mistake. Doesn’t mean he can’t cover ground. And yet, those spewing the Ibanez venom on Twitter act as if he failed to get to the ball the way a normal outfielder would. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. Anybody can spew nonsense on Twitter. But to offer up constructive criticism, you have to understand what you are criticizing. And if you’re going to excorciate the decision to keep Ibanez on the team because of that one dropped ball, you might as well do the same with Ryan and the same with Gutierrez — who misplayed a ball he should have caught the other night — because the logic is the same.

Thankfully, I’ve seen some stuff online in recent days that suggests that — just as the hysteria over the Jaso trade subsided — the transformation of Wells into the mythical second coming of Willie Mays is about to go by the wayside as well. Stuff that recognizes what Ibanez and Bay are here for and that they have indeed done a decent job so far despite playing far more than they were supposed to.

Should Wells have gotten more playing time to see what he might become? Maybe, maybe not. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik traded away former top-5 overall draft pick Jeff Clement in 2009 based on 219 MLB at-bats and a lousy spring training.

Since then, Clement has had 166 more unproductive MLB at-bats and is no longer in the majors. Waiting three more years to see him fail wouldn’t have helped Zduriencik any.

He made a judgement call on Clement that proved correct. It just may prove that way in the case of Wells, too. But few teams have the “sample size” luxury of waiting as some would like them to do. They get paid to figure things out ahead of the internet masses and ahead of years of “sample size” at-bats that can sink teams in the process.

Wells is history in Seattle. So far, I’ve seen nothing that proves it was the wrong call. But it is early (bet you haven’t heard that one yet).

But it being early doesn’t explain the reverse cheerleading I’m seeing from Mariners fans online hoping to see guys fail. And yes, that’s exactly what is taking place for whatever convoluted reasoning those fans want to put together to explain it away. It would be understandable if, say, the veteran players causing all the fuss were the ones actually responsible for the team losing more than it wins early on.

Here’s what has actually gone on the first two weeks: the Mariners have been carried by their veterans, both at the plate, behind the plate and on the mound.

The young guys on this team — other than Saunders — have not pulled their weight. Why don’t I see this reflected on Twitter? Why is there this hysterical overreaction to every stutter-step taken by a veteran outfielder, but only the calmer, more long-term view on the fact the young, supposed cornerstones are all tripping over each other as they crash through the Mendoza-line?

I don’t know. I can’t explain it. And I’m starting not to care, because truthfully, analysis that short-sighted isn’t worth caring about. Maybe it’s the usual 50 guys making their noise sound like 50,000 people. But it’s tiring and it’s dull. It’s not even the source of amusement it once was. Can you imagine how bad this team would be right now if all those sub-.200-hitting young guys were still in the middle of the order like they were last year? Nobody is denying anyone a chance here, or blocking any young player that matters from stepping up and claiming their rightful spot.

I have criticized this team and front office incessantly over the years. If I see something that merits all this nightly hysteria, I’ll speak up. There may be time when some of these veterans don’t do the job and we do have to talk about cutting some of them loose. But not when the entire group of off-season signings is about the only thing keeping this team from having gotten off to a 2-12 start.

Look, I realize fans and pundits like to debate moves and it’s a fun part of baseball. But the continued obsession with Wells and whether he left because of two extra veterans is getting ridiculous. Let’s get this discussion back on track. Debating the merits of the 26th guy on the roster when many of the top-10 guys aren’t hitting their weight seems a waste of time. Unless you don’t mind waiting until 2017 before this team finally contends for something? If that’s the case, keep Tweeting away about Wells and/or Jaso. I’ll be busy worrying about the things that might make a difference between the team winning and losing something that matters.

0 Comments | More in roster | Topics: casper wells; michael morse; john jaso; jason bay

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