BY Art Thiel 04:58PM 05/24/2012

Thiel: By holiday, Mariners may not be dead

The recent uptick suggests a bold move this summer — trading away all the vets for prospects. Except for Ichiro and Figgins, of course, because they have no market.

Brandon League is among the veterans who can play a role in the Mariners' future -- just not on the roster. / Getty Images

The Mariners are upon the time in the baseball calendar when discerning, veteran Seattle fans bid adieu to the rest of baseball — the Memorial Day weekend, when the flickering hopes of spring training are extinguished by the customary downpours of two outs and nobody on.

While the Mariners are rarely mathematically eliminated from the pennant race by the holiday, they are rendered irrelevant to local and national fans because they not only aren’t very good, they are hopeless.

The sense of hopelessness certainly prevails at the moment, because the 20,093 average attendance is 27th among the 30 MLB teams. At 42 percent of capacity, the Mariners are ahead of only Cleveland (37 percent). Most crowds so far could be accommodated in a basketball arena, should there be one in the neighborhood.

At 21-25, they’re also still not very good. But for the first time in awhile, hopelessness is more a reflexive attitude as opposed to a reflective attitude. The Mariners are no longer hopeless, at least in the absolute, Wile E. Coyote sense.

Having displayed to this point in 2012 — despite a major league-worst travel schedule –  the ability to bring forth several young pitchers and hitters with the potential to be major league average or better, there is the possibility that competititveness could be strung out to the next calendar milestone, the Fourth of July.

The achievement is eminently modest, and fans are under no obligation to respond. Their bitterness, ennui, and annoyance are well-earned and entitled to remain stout in the face of incrementalism.

The trick, however, is to be competitive to July 31, the all-important non-waiver trade deadline. Then the Mariners could really bust a move that would arch a community eyebrow:

Trade nearly the entire marketable senior portion of the roster for prospects: Miguel Olivo, Brandon League, Kevin Millwood, Franklin Gutierrez and Brendan Ryan.

Let’s first discuss the names missing from the list: Chone Figgins and Ichiro.

They are absent because neither has market value. It’s plain that Figgins, declared (more or less) a reserve futility player by manager Eric Wedge, will be cut shortly, despite being owed $15 million in salary. The evidence is so overwhelming that it may be visible by now to CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong, who do understand the term sunk cost.

Ichiro can still play, but not in a way that has much value to any team but the Mariners. And because he has 10-and-5 rights that preclude a trade without his permission, he will stay through the season and probably beyond, as long as the current ownership stays in place.

But the other five in the 29-and-older crowd have varying degrees of value, particularly in the first season of an extra playoff berth in each league. More teams desperate to stay close means sellers such as the Mariners will be in a stronger than usual position.

Among the five, there is not a lot of collective talent that will bring high-end returns. But what they have in common is that they do at least one thing well. For a two-month hire that might get any one of a half-dozen or more teams into the playoffs, each guy could fetch something to stock the farm system.

And even though the Mariners farm system seems fairly robust, more depth is needed to make the moves the club needs to trade for top-end hitters who will never voluntarily come to Seattle as free agents.

Intriguing as is the current crop of young hitters, only Jesus Montero appears premium. The others are good and necessary, but compared to a World Series-caliber roster that just passed through town . . . nope. Long way to go.

And one among them — Mike Carp, Michael Saunders, Casper Wells, etc. — will need to be packaged along with premium pitching to get the bats needed to be other than the 13th-best OPS in the American League.

Amusing as has been the past week, the Mariners are too flawed to do much with 2012 except prep for 2o13. So the discerning fan needs to cheer good health for Olivo and Gutierrez, a well-located fastball for League, two hits in every three games for Ryan and the greatest summer in Millwood’s 14-year pitching history. Showcase time.

They may end up be splendid contributors to a Mariners’ renaissance, one year removed.


YourThoughts

  • Jamo57

    “The evidence is so overwhelming that it may be visible by now to CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong, who do understand the term sunk cost.”

    Perhaps Chris Hansen could get the Ms on board with the arena project by agreeing to pay the remainder of Chone Figgins’ contract.   He’s been pretty nimble about recognizing and paying the predevelopment costs on the property.   Perhaps he has a line item for Chone.

    • Artthiel

       A fine idea, although I suspect the conversations between the Mariners and Hanen are a tad strained. When you think about it, the $15 million they will still be paying Figgins through 2013 could fund a lot of traffic studies, which God knows Seattle needs more of.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1599001255 Adam Lewis

    At what point can we label Miguel Olivo a sunk cost?  Besides finding value in the $3.5 million he will be earning this year, I’m hard pressed to find any legitimate reason to keep him in the lineup.

    • Artthiel

       As a learned baseball man, Adam, I suspect you know his value to Wedge is handling pitchers, something for which sabermetrics has no number. Wedge is a former catcher and I don’t think he trusts either Jaso or Montero for the rest of 2012.

  • Jimc

    No strong argument from me. Any predictions on which one of those guys becomes Michael Morse/Brandon Morrow?

    • Artthiel

       I suspect League will again flourish, but he’s killing his market value every time out. And the mystery man is Gutierrez. We’ve all see his upside, but the world will view it after he’s in another uniform.

  • RadioGuy

    As long as Nintendo and Horiuchi own the Mariners, I don’t see Ichiro being traded away.  He’s not going to generate the kind of revenue for the franchise via merchandising and Japanese TV rights he used to, but the Japanese traditionally have a much stronger sense of employer/employee loyalty than we do here.  As much as Ichiro has done over the past 11+ years for the Mariners under Nintendo (and in his case, you have to consider the body of work), I can’t see them getting rid of him.  Much smaller contract after the season?  Absolutely.  But traded by a Japanese owner?  I’m not counting on it, especially if the team has to eat a large portion of his current salary.

    Figgins is another story.  Cut him loose.

    • Artthiel

       You’re right, Ichiro’s place with this org (Yamauchi, FYI), is about much more than pure baseball numbers. Not saying it’s the right way to win games, but the Mariners will be neither the first nor last team to carry a player beyond his expiration date (Ripken, Puckett, B. Williams, etc). For Figgins, see above on interleague play.

  • jafabian

    On one hand, the M’s could get some good prospects by trading the vets.  On the other hand that would send a message that this season is a loss and that the M’s are building towards the future.  How long have they been doing that?  The “X” year rebuilding plan seems to resurface every few years with this club and has under the regime of every past Mariner GM not named Pat Gillick.  If they go with getting rid of the the vets and go with a complete youth movement I’m not sure this team would know what it takes to win a game.  Heck, I don’t know if they do now.

    It’s time to stop being the farm system of MLB and start doing the reverse on a more consistent basis instead of occasionally.  Hopefully that’s what Jack Z. is doing but the jury is still out on that.  IMO, so far as a GM Jack Z is a good Director of Player Personnel.  I hope he doesn’t turn into another Dick Balderson but that’s going to be at least partly dependent on how well management works with him.  Will they tighten the purse strings as they did in the last two years of Gillick’s run as GM or will they open the pocketbooks like the did for Bill Bavasi?

    • Artthiel

       The way they built this team, with five guys getting 70 percent of the payroll, and no mid-career players carrying the team, tells me this was a write-off year from the start. For a change, they didn’t advertise it as anything but. Trading the vets with Vargas isn’t going to bring a lot to this year’s rteam as much as it opens the roster for ABs to others to prove themselves for 2013

  • Ted Van Dyk

    Excellent summary, Art.  It’s perplexing to consider that Figgins is still on the roster.  His signing, and the Morrow-for-League trade, were big initial blunders by Jack Z., who otherwise has done a solid job. 

    Wells, sent to Tacoma, was perhaps the team’s best all-around outfielder—strong fielder, great arm, good power (as shown by his home-run string after coming here last season), and an outstanding baserunner.  Figgins is none of the above and has become one of those guys who never gets off
    the bench—for good reason.

    You are correct that no one will trade for Figgins, even if the Mariners pick up the bulk of his
    salary through 2013.  What do Lincoln/Armstrong/Z. not understand about his marketability?
    Let us hope the Mariners do trade all the players you name before the July 31 deadline.
    You might add Vargas, who has been solid but will never do better than .500 here. He could
    bring real player value in return. 

    • Artthiel

       Vargas is indeed the likeliest player to be combined, because he has solid value and the Mariners have replacements coming for the rotation. I think Figgins remains for his minimal value in interleague play, which requires more pinch-hitting and fielder shifting. Once that is through, so is he.

  • Trygvesture

    The longer the Emperor’s New Clothes (nearly competitive lineup) remain unacknowledged by the two tone deaf, duplicitous and corporate minded losers at the helm, the more it seems somebody did the math on aging: the ancient owner and the the two stooges have a combined age of nearly three centuries. They must have a self-serving escape plan, a profit-motivated, community-ignoring exit strategy for the very near future. A financial-picture goal to maximize profit from sale, perhaps with the buyer in the wings already. 
    Why else doesn’t somebody fire these guys, stage a coup, have a board revolt?
    Let’s hope, hope and hope some more that they screw up the sale as they envision it ( ‘gotta be bad for fans, good for us’) and we end up with a win-motivated baseball-loving owner. 
    They’ve screwed up absolutely everything else – this impending screw-up could work for us!

    • Artthiel

       Not sure age is a factor but results speak for themselves. Imagine if the Nationals make the World Series this year. Mariners will be the lone team in MLB to have successfully resisted rev-share, wild-cards and all the other tools created for competitive balance. Hard to do.

  • Bayviewherb

    Comon’ man. How many baseball fans have ever heard of “ennui, let alone know what it means?

    • Artthiel

       I bet you could find a half-dozen Cougars to tell you. C’mon yourself.

    • Trygvesture

      I’m guessin the undereducated red staters can’t understand– but maybe I misunderestimate