Six days ago, the Seattle Mariners were riding high. They were waking up in their hotel rooms in Cleveland after taking 2 of 3 games from the New York Yankees for the team’s fifth series win in its past six.
The team had improved in all facets really, to close to within one game of .500, its record standing at 20-21, rallying from the 8-15 mark it opened the season with. The pitching had improved, lowering the team ERA a full run from the high 3’s down to the high 2’s while the offense picked up, going from 3.5 runs a game to nearly 4.5 per contest.
How quickly things can change in a week.
After being swept in a tightly contested series in Cleveland, in which three of the four games were decided by walk off hits, the Mariners were absolutely shallacked by Anaheim last night 12-0, thanks in large part to another horrendous outing by No. 5 starter Aaron Harang. The loss left Harang 1-5 with a 8.58 ERA in 28.1 innings pitched. Absolutely brutal.
The past five losses have highlighted the Mariners biggest flaws. The 3-4-5 slots in the rotation can be described as inconsistent in the kindest terms and just downright unacceptable in the most frank terms. The bullpen is hit and miss. In the late innings, it has go-to guys in closer Tom Wilhelmsen and set-up man Carter Capps who are lights out right now, but in the middle innings, relievers like Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge are really struggling. Oliver Perez, Yoervis Medina and the recently called up Danny Farquhar have largely been quite effective. Part of the problem, of course, is their usage, how often and when, but that is another topic entirely. Team speed, or lackthereof, is another huge concern. With Franklin Gutierrez down, the outfield is filled with two terrible defensive players almost nightly with Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez forced to man the corners so that their bats remain in the lineup. However, their lack of speed and the similar slowness of Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales, makes this team a station to station squad that can’t take the extra base when the opportunity is there and, most importantly, doesn’t put pressure on the opposing team’s pitching staff in the way that great offenses do. And then finally, the lack of offense from the middle infielders. Dustin Ackley, now in his junior campaign, is hitting a woeful .224 with a .557 OPS. And then there is Brendan Ryan who is giving new definition to the word woeful with a ..178 avg and .461 OPS. I mean .461! That should be his slugging percentage.
Suddenly flaws are apparent. The 1/4 pole has come and gone, you have minor league players knocking on the door for an opportunity and this team is once again, stuck in the mud, unable to make any kind of really progress.
The sad thing is, for the most part, the Mariners are losing because of veterans who have no place on the roster entering 2014. Brendan Ryan, Aaron Harang, Jason Bay, Joe Saunders, Robert Andino and Kelly Shoppach. These guys won’t be back. And even the veterans who are playing well, holding their own, guys like Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales. At best, one of them will be back next year. So what you are dealing with is a roster full of short term players who are eating up valuable ABs that could be given to young players who actually have a future. A future with the organization and a future in the big leagues with the promise of getting better every day.
Ibanez isn’t getting any better. He’s 40 years old, and sure, he’s had a good week, that’s awesome, but ultimately, how is it helping this franchise to be giving Ibanez four at-bats a game right now?
If you’re winning, great. He helps you contend for the division title and a playoff spot and that is the goal. But, you’re not winning. The team is now nine games out of first place and could soon see that reach double digits before June hits. No, this race isn’t over, but I think clearly, Ibanez isn’t making a big enough difference that states a compelling reason for him even being on the roster at this point.
And it continues with Harang and Saunders. Why is Zduriencik allowing Wedge to run these guys out there two out of every five days? Both of these scrubs are in the twilight of their careers. I’d rather watch Noesi and Beavan out there, post 5.00+ ERAs. At least with them, you understand that there is the possibility of improvement and perhaps the promise of a future payoff. There’s no future payoff with Harang and Saunders.
This was supposed to be a contending season and it still can be. But it’s not going to happen by waiting for a number of the veterans that populate this roster to improve. It’s going to happen by giving its talented young players — Nick Franklin, Carlos Triunfel, Danny Hultzen, Bobby Lafromboise, Hector Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez and Mike Zunino — the chance to show what they can do. It’s going to happen because you make the tough decisions with Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero to get them help at the minor league level before they are total lost causes.
We can’t keep throwing away month after month of baseball seasons waiting for players to improve. Ackley and Montero need help in major way right now. Ibanez, Ryan, Harang, Saunders and Andino have no business being on this roster. Furbush and Luetge just aren’t getting the job done. Start making some changes or risk losing your job because you waited too long.
It’s 2013 now. This team should be making serious progress to contending and yet it isn’t because of the roster decisions that have been made (and not made) in the past three months. I’m a staunch supporter of what Zduriencik has done in building the talent base of this franchise back up to a respectable level. His drafts have largely been above average. His trades have been, for the most part, solid. His free agent moves, for what he’s been able to, have been solid. But right now, his inability to diagnose weaknesses and make the smart roster move is putting his job on the line.
It’s 2013 and this team cannot afford to squander away another full season without making serious developmental progress with the players that it is trying to build around.
Make changes. Now.