The state of Seattle baseball

By all measurable accounts, the Seattle Mariners should be  just one or two reliable pitchers away from being a contender in the American League West. They boast above average defense at every position, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner in Felix Hernandez, and a stadium that caters to their defensive strengths. So what’s not to like? Last offseason we all watched in awe as Seattle gobbled up player after player, totaling roughly 3,819 prudent, well thought deals before opening day.

So how does this translate to a 101 loss season? In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Mariners had signed Chone Figgins, Felix Hernandez, and Franklin Gutierrez to multi-year deals. Not to mention a one year contract extension  for Ken Griffey Jr. (largely symbolic), a promising new manager in Don Wakamatsu. As if that weren’t all enough, they also managed to somehow trade a bag of peanuts (and 9’million dollars) for Cliff Lee. It truly seemed A’s though Seattle had turned a corner. Jack Zduriencik (pronounce this name as you see fit) and his league of extraordinary businessman had assembled a roster that seemed downright title-worthy in the AL West. Sprinkle in Brandon League, Eric Byrnes, and a trade of one horrible contract in Carlos Silva for another in Milton Bradley, and now they even had excited, optimistic fans. Something that really has not been present in the organization since the days of Brett Boone (pre-breakdown) and Edgar Martinez.

What nobody could see coming was the horrible underperformance of Seattle’s offense that would leave the team crippled and hopeless long before even the All Star break. Many blamed Wakamatsu, who continued to play his struggling stars, often replacing them late in games with sub-par second string players, leading only to even more lopsided scores. By June, Cliff Lee was gone, in a rare same-division trade with Texas that would propel them to a division title and eventual World Series appearance. It would not be long before Ken Griffey Jr. Would be all but forced into retirement, complications with Milton Bradley’s behavior and health would sideline him for the majority of the year, and Wakamatsu would be fired.

The season that baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest were hoping for was gone. The dream was over. Not just another losing season, but a 101 loss season. A far cry from the playoff dreams they all had in April. It is possible that this was all due to incredibly unfortunate circumstance. Every star player could have coincidentally had a miserable season at the same time. It’s also possible that the manager was in way over his head. Maybe Wak, A’s they used to affectionately call him, really had no idea how to handle personalities like Griffey and Ichiro. But maybe…just maybe, Mariners fans were just a little bit too willing to believe.

This was a lineup that had no true sluggers in a park that did not give up home runs to non-sluggers. It was a lineup with two leadoff hitters and no middle of the order guys. In addition, the team had only two great pitchers, a bullpen full of unknowns, and a mid-level closer who somehow managed to give up home runs. Perhaps the team had a huge number of talented players with none of the right pieces.

Few hold out hope for 2011. The team has addresses some issues. Justin Smoak, a young first baseman received in the Cliff Lee trade from Texas will play the full season at first base. Jack Cust will take over the DH role, an undeniable upgrade from Griffey, who was a shell of his former self in 2010. Miguel Olivo will be the everyday catcher, replacing the potted plant they stood behind the plate most games last year. Former Indians skipper Eric Wedge will steer the ship.

Unfortunately however, this is still a team in a pitchers park with very little pitching talent, and little hope to improve. Zduriencik is still dealing with bad contracts from old management. Trading certain expensive players like Milton Bradley is a virtual impossibility. Trading other expensive players like Ichiro or Felix Hernandez would mean immediate abandonment from the few remaining fans, who are still dealing with the retirement of Griffey and the passing of their great longtime color commentator Dave Niehaus. It is a tough time to be a Seattle Mariners fan. It’s a tougher time to be Seattle Mariners brass. Hang in there Jack. Keep making prudent trades, draft like there’s only tomorrow, and you’ll have your day in the sun.

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