The overwhelming mediocrity throughout MLB presents a great opportunity for the M’s to get well at several positions. All it takes is guts.
Entering the second half of the season, Mariners management has two choices.
Do nothing of significance to the roster.
Do damn near everything to the roster.
Anything between such as trading still-injured pitcher Erik Bedard for a B-level prospect is just fixing with Spackle instead of putting up fresh drywall.
Each of the big choices has merit. I advocate three words:
Much as it seems counter-intuitive, given the semi-feel-good first half, getting sustainable success out of this roster is like attempting to make three meals a day out of potato chips and ice cream.
Which is not to say theres no nutrition here. Theres no point in dealing Dustin Ackley or Michael Pineda.
One other untouchable: Manager Eric Wedges mustache. It was the most consistent performer in the first half. The fear is that he will come back from the break having traded it for Ben Broussard or Eduardo Perez.
Just about everyone else is in play.
If desperation-pickled opportunity arises, trade Felix Hernandez. Trade Ichiro. Trade Brandon League. Even Justin Smoak.
Its not so much that general manager Jack Zduriencik has proven his brilliance or that the team is awful to watch. Agonizing, yes, but not awful.
The reason is that few are the times in Major League Baseball history where mediocrity is so rampant. With about 20 teams in contention at the All-Star break, there is much foolishness across the fruited plain that convinces teams they are one or two players away from being good. Even Pittsburgh, which hasnt been a contender since Barry Bonds hat size was smaller than Saturns rings, is giddy.
The fun-house-mirror effect means some among these general managers, at or before the July 31 trade deadline, are going to feel compelled do something, and that something has a good chance to be stupid.
At about 4.3 runs per game in the American League and 4.1 in the National League, the Great Depression of baseball offense, worst in several decades, is warping the games strategies and thinking. Regarding offense, few are sure what constitutes the new normal.
For a change, let it be the Mariners who benefit from chaos instead of contributing to it.
The Mariners have just enough pieces to take advantage in order to heal themselves at multiple positions.
The truths about this lineup are that catcher Miguel Olivo and utility man Adam Kennedy are career downsiders having good final years. Shortstop Brendan Ryan is average, Franklin Gutierrez is no longer effective and/or fit, and left field remains the franchise hole as it has for most of 20 years. Edgar Martinez, seven years retired and in street clothes, can hit better than the current DHs.
The Mariners often play with a 21-man roster, getting little to nothing from infielders Chone Figgins and Jack Wilson, DH Jack Cust and reliever Jeff Gray. Milton Bradley is still on the books at $12 million.
Wedge has done a good job to get this disjointed outfit this far, thanks to the stupendous starting pitching. But with a team OPS of .621, the offense is last in baseball, nearly 200 points behind the lead of the Boston Red Sox.
The lineup does not requiring tinkering. It requires a cigarette and a blindfold.
Lets start with Ichiro. At 37, the too-old theory is easy and popular. But consider that his peak year, 2001, when he was rookie of the year and MVP, will be celebrated Saturday, because its been 10 years since the franchise was good.
Particularly during the 2009 World Cup representing Japan, after which he took time off to recover from stress, Ichiro has done and said enough to establish that he is an emotional guy. He’s just not demonstrative about it.
During his time here, its fair to speculate that the biggest issue affecting his performance is all the turmoil and losing. The Mariners failures have to eat at a guy whose professional standards are so high.
Nearly anyone with his talent and options would have been long gone. But his Japanese sense of company and personal loyalty, particularly to majority owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, is too intense for his own good. If he were to ask out, however, his request would be honored.
At $18 million, he makes way too much money for a singles hitter. But remember, baseball is warped right now. If Ichiro were packaged with a pitcher such as League, and the Mariners agreed to eat some salary, the roster would reap a return of at least two 2012 starters from a desperate team, plus prospects.
More painful would be the departure of Hernandez, because of his youth. But his talent puts him nearly in the Alex Rodriguez class, which means hes destined for a big market.
In 2000, rather than trade one of the best players in baseball history, the Mariners let Rodriguez go into free agency, hoping to out-bid suitors for his return. Instead, they were woefully under-armored, and received nothing for him. That was a franchise wound that gave much blood.
No matter his nice words about Seattle and the Mariners, Hernandez is fated to be traded. There may never be a better market for his services than in the next couple of weeks. Hell also net at least two more near-term starters, plus prospects.
Such moves would be dramatic, controversial and risky three things rarely in the Mariners playbook. But the celebration Saturday of the 2001 team of 116 wins puts into sharp relief how far the Mariners have fallen, how irrelevant they have become, nationally as well as locally. This year, they are also without a great number of their most loyal fans, who finally quit on their season tickets.
Time to bust some moves.