There lies the dubious manner in which the Seattle Mariners were conceived.
There lies the impossible ineptness of their nightly performance.
And there lies the very grim hardball future in Seattle, whose Mariners went all in – both in terms of payroll and young talent – and transformed themselves into the worst team in the game.
For those reasons, they’re working their way through the middle-management depth chart, John McLaren following Bill Bavasi into team-subsidized unemployment, this after the bold move of firing the hitting coach had all the impact of relining the parking lot.
The Mariners are now Team Interim, from the GM to the manager to the ace left-hander to the corner infielders. They had no choice in that, of course. They’d given Bavasi one more shot at revealing the slightest aptitude for franchise construction, and his failure was breathtaking. They stood behind McLaren for as long as they could, because McLaren is a good guy, a sound baseball man who had been a valued bench coach, but ultimately he had no impact in a clubhouse that insiders say tuned him out weeks ago.
They could not have Bavasi start the work of conceptualizing and redeveloping the roster, not ever, and particularly not six weeks before the trading deadline, not when the bulk of the work will be undoing Bavasi’s concepts and developing. And the temporary GM, Lee Pelekoudas, apparently could not separate the team’s results from the team’s leadership, so he removed the variable of McLaren and replaced it with Jim Riggleman. If the Mariners are still one of the poorest hitting, pitching and fielding teams in baseball in a month, he’ll have his answer and can initiate the dumping of ballplayers.
The untouchables will be Ichiro Suzuki and Felix Hernandez. The unmovable will be Richie Sexson, barring an outright release and eating the rest of the $14 million owed to him this season. Everybody else is in play, including, one would think, left-handed starter Erik Bedard, who won’t bring nearly what the Mariners paid for him just four months ago.
The process will be slow and painful, and made less bearable by the perception the club had found a capable course last summer. After all, third baseman Adrian Beltre had begun to look like a middle-of-the-order hitter for the first time in four years as a Mariner. Catcher Kenji Johjima seemed a reasonable offensive force, if a limited defensive one. Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt would carry the middle of the infield for years. By spring training, the rotation had its mediocre parts (Miguel Batista, Jarrod Washburn, Carlos Silva), but whose didn’t? The front end, with Hernandez and Bedard, had the chance to be dominant.
It all crashed. Every bit of it. McLaren melted down on television and, in a humorous but amateurish act, Bavasi swept the clubhouse of towels and food. What remains is the core of Hernandez, who has retaken his career momentum under Mel Stottlemyre, and Ichiro, who remains a divisive character in the organization. Despite his supreme and eclectic skills, Ichiro will be something of a dilemma for his new manager, teammates and management, and at a bad time for anything but commitment to another roster-wide project.
A favorite of owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, who 11 months ago granted him a five-year, $90-million contract, Ichiro is regarded by some Mariners and most scouts as a self-centered, numbers-driven player. That’s a tough guy to have standing at the center of an organization trying to make something of itself, and in what is now a dreary environment. Rumors that Ichiro resisted the leadership of the previous manager, Mike Hargrove, were all but confirmed when he signed his extension less than two weeks after Hargrove resigned last summer. McLaren was thought to have connected with Ichiro, even yielding to Ichiro’s desire to play right field instead of center, a decision that ultimately may have harmed McLaren’s footing with the other 24 players.
Privately, Mariners management cringed at Ichiro’s refusal to move runners at the expense of his batting average, to steal bases at the possible risk of his success rate, to adjust his plate approach to the situation, to dive for balls in the gaps. Now approaching July, Ichiro’s offensive numbers are still decent, but well off his career and 2007 numbers. Scouts believe Ichiro, at 34, has lost some speed.
These are Riggleman’s issues now, and not even the most pressing ones. Ichiro at his egocentric worst is still a productive ballplayer, and the Mariners have too few of those to go around. Riggleman’s greater emphasis will be in drawing productive innings from Bedard, Silva, Washburn and whoever fills the fifth spot, currently knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. It would help to get closer J.J. Putz healthy. And the offense is pathetic and probably not salvageable, ranking last in the AL in runs, slugging and on-base percentage, and next-to-last in batting average.
That’s all just temporary. Just like everybody else in Seattle. Soon it’ll be time to pick a full-time general manager, a long-term field manager and some players that make sense, which will entail digging out from the bad trades and worse contracts.
And that’s where the problem lies.