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May 27, 2013 at 5:20 PM

Despite today’s win, not a great big picture day for Mariners

The Mariners won their second in a row, mostly behind their veterans at the plate and on the mound.

The Mariners won their second in a row, mostly behind their veterans at the plate and on the mound.

Nice to see the veterans again carry the day for the Mariners, from the pitching of Aaron Harang, to the hitting by Michael Morse, Jason Bay, Kelly ShoppachRaul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales. This 9-0 win buys the Mariners a little more breathing room as they climb to within seven games of .500 with six in a row still to play versus the Padres and the Minnesota Twins.

“The guys have been swinging the bats great and putting runs on the board,’’ Harang said. “The starters, we kind of talked the other day and said ‘We’ve got to pick this up.’ ‘Kuma went out and had a great game yesterday. I kind of wanted to go out and try to follow suit. Hopefully we can just start feeding off each other.

“The offense is there,’’ he added. “The guys made some good plays today for me. We’ve just got to keep everything going and stay on a roll.’’

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Morales is on quite the roll with three more hits today to lift his average to .301 and his OPS to .859. He leads the team in hits and total bases, starting to look like the elite player he was becoming three years ago before breaking his leg.

“I’ve been working in the cages, grinding more and more,’’ he said. “I’m just trying to get better and help the team. I feel comfortable now and am where I want to be…I just want to make more contact with the ball and help the team in the situation we’re at.’’

Still, today isn’t cause for anyone to celebrate. I was seeing just a few too many high-fives on Twitter about the Nick Franklin promotion at the expense of Dustin Ackley.

No offense to Franklin, who I hope does well, but anybody applauding this move as a positive step in the youth movement is absolutely deluding themselves. This was an awful day for the Mariners as far as their long-term rebuilding plan goes.

You remember? The Plan? The past four-plus years spent building up a “young core” that was supposed to be rounding into something the Mariners could build around by now?

Well, in the past three days, we’ve seen Ackley and Jesus Montero sent to AAA. We’ve seen Justin Smoak sidelined by an oblique injury before he had produced the extra-base power everybody has been waiting on, though he’s one of the best of the bunch.

Michael Saunders has floundered going on multiple weeks, has been dropped down from the leadoff spot and didn’t play today. Brandon Maurer is about one bad start away from AAA demotion, only there’s nobody ready in the minors to take his place because all the young pitching is either hurt or underperforming.

Oh yeah, and the Mariners on Monday decided to DFA minor league outfielder Francisco Martinez, perhaps ending another chapter in the Doug Fister trade saga. Right now, the only returns on that trade two years ago are looking like relief pitcher Charlie Furbush and Class AA starter Chance Ruffin — converted from his role of what was supposed to be a future MLB closer.

So, yeah, anyone applauding today’s flip of one first-round infielder for another before this rebuilding plan has even really taken off is truly missing the bigger outlook. This was not how things were supposed to be going by now, no matter how much patience some of these younger guys may need.

Right now, the Mariners are being carried by a bunch of veterans on one-year deals who were supposed to be here to round out that young core and help stabilizie the environment through which young guys were going to take their games to the next level.

So far, Kyle Seager is about the only non-bullpen guy who can claim to have done that on the younger side.

Sure, having Franklin to call up and offset some of the offensive ineptitude Ackley was providing can help a bit. So can Mike Zunino when he eventually gets here.

But unless the “Plan” was to contend about 2016 or 2017, the Mariners needed to be getting something more from the guys we’ve spent the past two, three and even four seasons watching the team develop. You can’t have them all miss. Remember, there was a lot of sacrifice that went into those developmental seasons. All the calls by some of “stay the course” and “play the kids” and “do the right thing” we’ve heard since 2009 as the Mariners bypassed chances to add free agents or veterans in trades at the deadline and in the off-season.

Those calls were repeated, almost mantra-like by many of the same people who now claim the regime of GM Jack Zduriencik was never really the best choice for Seattle. After years of staunch, near-blind defense of a process and way of doing things, some of the biggest backers of that policy have fled to the other side and now lob daily grenades at the team for having signed a bunch of veterans this past winter.

The same veterans now carrying this team day-in and day-out.

The Mariners could have added such veterans years ago, but not without raising a hue and cry from proponents of the plan that it might somehow harm the development of young prospects. And so, as the Mariners plodded along, losing season after losing season, they encountered very little blogosphere resistance in going about things the deliberately slow-and-cheap route.

Again, with casulaties. The missed contention opportunities to add offense in 2009 and 2011 before the teams eventually collapsed in July. That horrific 101-loss season in 2010 that cost manager Don Wakamatsu and his staff their jobs.

Another 95 losses in 2011 and then 87 more last year. All in the name of protecting the young core, grooming the minor league draft picks and waiting for that never-really-defined future.

That was what the young core was supposed to be about. And today, it is all over the place.

Today, the Mariners have Kyle Seager and some bullpen guys they can trumpet as the cream of that rebuilding plan crop. And some others on-the-way — always on-the-way — who have not quite arrived. Even this past winter, the team balked at adding free agents like Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher at less-than-anticipated prices in the name of protecting a 12th overall draft pick and first-round slot money.

In the name of protecting the future. Of safeguarding more prospects, eventually to be on-the-way.

So, no, there is no place for celebration in Seattle baseball today.

The two-game win streak is nice indeed. This Mariners team should be good enough to win more than it loses and might even be back at .500 by mid-June if it takes advantage of the upcoming schedule.

But the long-term picture will always need the “kids” to come through before they turn into old men.

So, cheering for the demotion of Ackley? That’s nuts.

Applauding the downfall of Montero? Suicidal if you’re a Mariners fan.

This franchise will be going nowhere fast if more of this young core does not step up to join Seager this year. If the core as a whole flops, so will this franchise for the next few seasons, unless somebody can convince this ownership group to seriously open its pocketbook. Good luck with that.

There was never any guarantee that “playing the kids” was ever going to work as a strategy, no matter how novel it may have seemed back in 2010. So far, the strategy has failed. There is still time to save it. And Mariners fans had best hope some of it can be saved, or this franchise will be having many more bad days than good ones ahead, no matter how high the team may have scored in past prospect rankings and other things that matter little at the MLB level.







Comments | More in analysis | Topics: dustin ackley; jesus montero; nick franklin; jack zduriencik


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