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

April 24, 2013 at 6:38 PM

Mariners simply taking too long to get this season started

Let’s cut through all the smoke and get down to business: this Mariners team was not supposed to be this bad in 2013 and yet, for whatever reason, it keeps playing that way.

I understand that some people felt beforehand this team would be bad and that years of poor decisions have led to this and that’s why we are where we are some four-plus seasons into this rebuilding plan with no end in sight. All valid arguments to make. And if people want to believe that, then it’s fine. My only hope is that the same people now saying they knew all along this was a bad team weren’t the same folks championing this rebuilding plan within the past year or two.

Because I seem to remember a whole lot of people who bought into this plan and kept saying it was the right way to do things as long as the team stayed the course. Well, the team stayed the course. It hasn’t deviated from any of the youthful core other than replacing a handful of role players who weren’t that young to begin with in favor of some older veterans. The team, as before, hasn’t spent money to replace departed veteran players on long-term contracts with long-term free agents, instead allowing the on-field payroll to this year dip below $80 million.

But the young core that’s taken four-plus years of this plan to identify is now still here — Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Saunders, Kyle SeagerDustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero — and has been pieced together by GM Jack Zduriencik since 2009. That’s the plan that was being championed for so long by so many, only now, I see many of those voices now acting as if they felt it was a bad plan all along. That’s the part that confuses me. Because if this plan really was a bad one all along, then the Mariners as an organization are in serious trouble.

For me, it’s no secret amongst those who read here that I was very skeptical about a plan that seemed to be taking too long to unfold and didn’t appear as if it would bear any fruit until about 2014 or 2015 at the very earliest. Very skeptical about throwing so many young players out there season after season and watching them fail without at least some half-decent veteran help.

I thought if the Mariners went out and got some good veterans, it would help the cause this year and I still believe in guys like Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales. I would have preferred, as many of you know, to see the team add Josh Hamilton, or Justin Upton or Michael Bourn as more permanent pieces. But I also think that, given the rejections by Hamilton and Upton, the Mariners did a decent job of adding more experience to the team. And in the end, I figured, this rebuilding plan was going to take at least six or seven years to pan out if the team added nothing, so why not add a bunch of guys on one-year deals and see if you could jumpstart the process?

So, the Mariners did. I was OK with it and optimistic, based on spring training and the track records of the guys involved. If it didn’t work, you just get rid of those additions and keep moving forward with the young core. If the young guys were any good, then by sheer time lapse you’d think they could hold their own by 2015. That was my way of looking at it.

And I felt the Mariners owed it to the fanbase to put a more competitive team on the field. Would have liked to see Bourn added, but I felt thse additions would lead to better things than what we’d seen.

Clearly, things to date have not worked out. Things are disturbingly close to going off the rails for this ballclub and we’re not even out of April yet.

For varying reasons, too. First it was most of the young core not hitting, then the older guys followed suit and now the team just went out and truly played awful baseball in consecutive series in Arlington and Houston. And manager Eric Wedge is clearly concerned as well because he reamed the team out in the clubhouse after today’s 10-3 loss.

But to be straightforward about it, I still believe this team is much better than its 8-15 mark or the way it’s played. That still won’t matter, though, unless the players play better. And they are running out of time. They are not good enough to dig themselves a hole much deeper than this and then try to climb out of it.

Now is not the time to panic, but it is the time for some greater urgency. I wish I knew the answer for how to instill that. Today, Wedge tried yelling. Before, he’s tried giving guys more playing time to get them going. Now, he’s taken playing time away from Brendan Ryan. There are some other guys who could soon have it taken away, but options are limited in many cases.

You don’t want to start replacing your entire roster fewer than four weeks into the season.

Yes, injuries have hurt the team, though the decision to go with Franklin Gutierrez in center field once again came with risks that have been spelled out countless times. And even though the team does miss Gutierrez and the injured Michael Saunders, that’s no excuse to have the Houston Astros mop the floor with Seattle the way they did today.

The way the Rangers did to the Mariners in Arlington.

Good team, bad team, whatever, the Mariners are simply taking too long to show up for the 2013 season and they are coming dangerously close to negating any future positives simply by burying themselves too deeply. And trust me, it’s not just this one season at stake.

Because if indeed this team truly is as bad as some folks say it is, then that strikes to the heart of this young core that has taken a long, long time to get things going.

Ackley had three more hits today and finally looks like he’s arrived for 2013. Smoak finally hit his first home run tonight. Montero hit his first the other night.

Problem is, we’re already into the fourth week of the season. That’s too long to flip the light switch to the “on” position. The good teams have to have their core players ready to go from the moment the season starts. Sure, there are slumps. But not by the entire core at the same time.

Kyle Seager has been much better after a tough first two weeks. He kicked it into gear quicker.

Saunders looked good before he got hurt. Not sure what to say about Gutierrez, only that I doubt this team will pick up his 2014 option going forward.

So, that was always going to be the kicker here: how good this young core was and whether it would help going forward.

The Mariners were probably never going to win anything this year without some major breaks and by surprising teams. But staying competitive throughout the season would at least bring some fan interest back and set the stage for next year.

Only now, if the core is rotten, so to speak, will the fruit ever ripen?

In other words, if you truly believe that these players are what they’ve shown so far, then what were the past four years of youthful rebuilding about? What is this fifth year about and how much longer is it going to take?

The veterans, you can always dump and try again with new ones. And this team’s future also never depended on the third string center fielder, the backup catcher or how old the reserve corner outfielders were. As we’ve seen, many of those guys are replaceable.

No, the future has always depended on the players this rebuilding plan was supposed to be about. So, if you’re admitting the young core is as good as it’s going to get, you’re effectively admitting this rebuild has been a failure.

If not, then you’re probably like me and getting just a little impatient for all of these players — young and old — to show up and play.

Because that’s what is going to determine the future of this team. And the future of the guys running it. We can talk all we want about firing Wedge and Zduriencik and that could very well happen in 2013 if things don’t turn around. But if they do indeed pay the price, it will be because of the failure of the rebuild. Nothing more and nothing less.

They won’t lose their jobs because Morse and Morales had some off weeks, or Raul Ibanez found out he could no longer play, or because they went with Jason Bay over Casper Wells. They will lose them if Smoak keeps hitting a homer per month, Ackley continues to flirt with the Mendoza Line, and Montero shows he can’t catch or hit. Because combine a disappointing on-field record with only Seager and Bill Bavasi-holdover Saunders and some bullpen pieces to show for the first five years of the plan, and that — and some trades that really went south on this team — could be grounds for dismissal.

And once you do that, we’re talking several more years of wheel-spinning by this organization while it again tries to find the right fit.

Still, this team has to show something or maybe a change and another wait will be warranted.

It’s all about the future, or so we’ve been told by this team and its ownership for years. Now, they need to show that there is a future beyond highly-rated draft picks.

I do believe the young core has talent. My problem has always been the length of this rebuilding plan, not that the young guys taken weren’t any good. So, we’ll see. But everybody on this team has to step forward and start doing more of what they’re capable of or this is the kind of stuff that’s going to be discussed all summer long.

It’s definitely not what I had planned. It’s certainly not what I want to do — again. But it’s coming at this group of underperforming players like a runaway freight train and only they have the ability to do something about it.

Comments | More in roster | Topics: eric wedge; michael saunders; robert andino; jack zduriencik


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