Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik has announced one move, demoting C Jesus Montero to AAA, but he must not stop there
SEATTLE — As Hall-of-Fame catcher Yogi Berra once said: “it gets late early out there.” For the 2013 Seattle Mariners, that statement is ringing incredibly true, not only to a team that finds itself in third place in the AL West, 10 games behind the division-leading Texas Rangers, but to general manager Jack Zduriencik who is in the last year of his initial five-year contract.
After winning five of six series, the Mariners were swept by Cleveland and Anaheim to crawl home on a six-game losing steak that feels more real than the good play that preceded it.
The 3-4-5 slots in the rotation can be described as “inconsistent” in the best terms and “just downright unacceptable” in the most frank terms. The offense from its middle infielders has been atrocious and the lack of team speed is becoming a huge concern.
All of these issues have become readily apparent over the course of the first quarter of the season. The last six games have only served as a microscope, putting those faults on display. If something isn’t done immediately, the next 50 games could be even more ugly, leaving the Mariners in the dreaded position of wasting yet another season.
On Thursday, with the team licking its wounds at home as it prepares to play the division-leading Rangers Friday, Zduriencik made the necessary move of demoting catcher Jesus Montero to Triple-A Tacoma and purchasing the contract of current Rainiers catcher Jesus Sucre. Sucre, 25, will be making his major-league debut and is known more for his defense than his bat. His arrival acts as a temporary fix while the team waits for last year’s No. 1 pick, Mike Zunino, to earn his shot.
But more changes are needed as this team looks to contend rather than throw another season away.
Second baseman Dustin Ackley is hitting just .218 with a .542 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). Ackley, in his second full season since his debut in 2011, has struggled for the last year and a half and needs time in Tacoma to right himself.
And I wouldn’t stop there with the one-way tickets to Tacoma if I’m Zduriencik, the rush-hour traffic down I-5 can be rough after all, better to make sure the players can get to Cheney Stadium on time via use of the HOV lane. Reliever Lucas Luetge might as well make the trip as well. His effectiveness in middle relief has completely eroded this season, sporting an ERA of 8.10.
Filling the roster spots of Ackley and Luetge should be infielder Nick Franklin and reliever Bobby Lafromboise.
And I’m not through. Infielder Robert Andino and current No. 5 starter Aaron Harang should immediately be designated-for-assignment by Zduriencik. In their place should arrive Tacoma shortstop Carlos Triunfel (to become the team’s starting shortstop) and Hector Noesi. It was Noesi, after all, who helped give the Mariners their last win when he filled in for Harang in a spot start against the Yankees, May 16th.
Those five moves (including the Montero-for-Sucre maneuver) should suffice for now. Meaning through the end of May. When Franklin Gutierrez is ready to return, he should be activated and Endy Chavez should be released. And finally, with 15 of the Mariners next 20 games at home, Safeco Joe (AKA pitcher Joe Saunders) should be given five more starts — four of which occurring at the Safe (if he is pitched on four days’ rest as he should be, on June 12th) to show whether he should remain on the roster.
If he continues to sit where he is currently — a 5.64 ERA and 1.61 WHIP — he should be released as well to make room for Erasmo Ramirez, if he is healthy enough to return, or Andrew Carraway, if he is not.
What Zduriencik and his staff need to realize is that while the team’s ultimate goal should always be, not only contention, but making championship runs, player development is a close second. And when the majority of your starters are players unlikely to return to the team in 2014, what are you really achieving by losing with them this year?
As mentioned, the Mariners sit 10 games out of first place through 47 games. They are starting five players (Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Brendan Ryan, Kelly Shoppach and Raul Ibanez) almost on a nightly basis currently, who are free agents at the end of the season, and by most accounts, unlikely to return. The aforementioned starting pitchers, Harang and Saunders, add two more players receiving regular playing time that will not be contributing to the future of this franchise. So why waste valuable at-bats (or innings in the pitchers’ case) on them when you aren’t contending with them anyways?
As Zduriencik himself has preached numerous times over the past few winters, his goal is to achieve lasting success by building a foundation of young players that carry the team. Wasting at-bats on players like the 40-year-old Ibanez and .191 hitting Ryan, players who have no future with the team, does nothing but stunt the development of young players who could use those at-bats to further their development and allow the franchise to make critical evaluations of their ability to succeed at the major league level.
It would be one thing if Ibanez and Ryan were helping the team contend, but they aren’t. The team is 20-27, 10 games out of first. Contention is still an imminent possibility but it isn’t with the roster currently constructed. Let Franklin and Triunfel take over the middle infield to show what they can do. Let Noesi and Ramirez (or Carraway and soon Danny Hultzen) show whether they can be lasting fixtures in the starting rotation.
You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain because those spots are already virtual automatic losses at this point.
It would behoove Zduriencik to make these changes. It would behoove the Mariners to act like this season matters.