BY Art Thiel 07:30AM 06/03/2013

Thiel: The .300 hitter, and Mariners’ lack thereof

The need for Bonderman in the rotation again exposes the Mariners’ dearth of capable, competitive talent, the legacy of perpetual misfire.

Raul Ibanez is a Mariners success story, but it never quite seems that way. / Wiki Commons

Suckers that we are for a good weeper, the teensy planet of Marinerworld was pulling for Jeremy Bonderman Sunday. A state kid once a major league star coming back to the majors after two years of ailments, Bonderman was called up from AAA Tacoma and had a 1-2-3 first inning against the Twins in Minnesota. Then he was marinated in the franchise  juices.

Bonderman didn’t finish five innings before he gave up seven runs. Hollywood hung up. Fairy tales don’t come true. Bill Gates forgets the source code.

Then again, what did we expect? The guy had an ERA near five in the Pacific Coast League, so what did we think would happen in the majors? He wasn’t ready. As Brandon Maurer wasn’t ready. As Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak weren’t ready.

But even if Bonderman were ready, he’d have to have been Felix Hernandez Sunday just to get a no-decision. When the offense can’t score once, the only other option is a rainout.

The irksome part is not that Bonderman flopped; it’s that he was asked to take part. And then was given zero chance to win. Two years gone from the majors, I’m sure he was happy to be there, but his physical and mental therapists might suggest otherwise.

A day after they blew a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning, the Mariners had five hits against Twins starter Scott Diamond, packing a 5.22 ERA entering the game. Again, the only guy doing anything was Kendrys Morales, who had two singles at his old job at DH while the Mariners tried out Alex Liddi at first base.

Liddi, a third baseman, is a good kid with a good story too, being from Italy. But the Mariners are doing spring training stunts in June. While the facts say that Smoak, Mike Morse and Franklin Gutierrez are out with injuries, it is also true that if all were healthy and played Sunday, the Mariners would have lost 10-1.

The two singles did push Morales’s average up to .300, which, from the non-Ichiro perspective, turns out to be a startling number. In the long fall from the summer of 2001 — I find myself asking for additional forensic evidence to prove that season really happened — when the club had four hitters at .300 or better, do you know how many times the Mariners have had another regular position player besides Ichiro hit .300?

Three. None in the past six seasons until Morales this week.

Not saying that .300 is the definitive milestone, nor that a player can’t be a big contributor hitting .260 with some power. And it’s true that throughout baseball over the past decade, the “average average” has declined from around .270 to around .250.

But one would think that in a dozen seasons since ’01 (Ichiro .350, Bret Boone .331, Edgar  Martinez .306, John Olerud .302), the Mariners would have developed a few guys to deliver consistently near a premier benchmark.

Well, there was one — Raul Ibanez. The Mariners twice ridded themselves of him.

In 2004, Ibanez hit .304. That was one of the three, after Olerud’s .300 in ’02 and before the .314 of designated hitter Jose Vidro in 2007.

Back for a third go-round, Ibanez, a 36th-round pick in the 1992 draft by Seattle who turned 41 Sunday, is nobly prevailing against the odds with nine home runs and 24 RBIs. But he’s hitting a modest .227.

During his second tenure as a Mariner, the five seasons from 2004-08, he hit a collective .292. At 36, the Mariners let him go into free agency, from where he signed with defending world champion Philadelphia and helped the Phillies get back to the World Series in 2009, where he hit .3o4 in six games.

Ibanez is the rare position player the club has helped develop who has produced at a consistently high level wherever he has been. Never a big star, but good enough that the club brought him back again, this time mostly for intangibles. But he’s also hit nine tangibles. Or two more than Smoak, Ackley and Montero combined.

Ibanez is a success story that never seems like one for the Mariners, because they never capitalized.  Always there seems to be many more personnel questions than answers that continue to befuddle the franchise, not only in the eyes of fans, but within baseball. The cavalcade of personnel mistakes, drawing withering attention lately with the demotions of Montero and Ackley and the modest improvement of the injured Smoak, explains how only one American League team, Houston, is farther out of the division races than Seattle.

It is never hopeless (Kyle Seager), but never is it anticipatory. Since they can’t get free-agent hitters to come to Safeco, the Mariners must grow their own or acquire by deal, the latter the most expensive way to do business. In trading away pitchers such as Cliff Lee, Doug Fister, Michael Pineda and Brandon Morrow for close to nothing, the Mariners are forced to backfill from the retread bin with Bonderman, Kevin Millwood, Aaron Harang and Joe Saunders because the touted young pitching prospects either never come or don’t stay long.

Sometimes the backfill works, sometimes it doesn’t. After 36 years in business and four playoff appearances, you can see what wishing has wrought: A legacy of perpetual misfire.

Only four teams have fewer playoff appearances, according to baseball-reference.com’s accounting: Montreal/Washington (1), Miami (2), Tampa and Colorado (3). And the Marlins won the World Series both times.

The Yankees have been to the postseason 51 times, the Dodgers 26, the Cardinals 25. The several versions of the Athletics have accumulated 24 post-season entries, same as the New York/San Francisco Giants.

The Mariners are tied at four with general manager Jack Zduriencik’s old team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Oldsters may recall the franchise began baseball life here in 1969, as the Pilots.

The Seattle baseball legacy remains two outs and nobody on.

But if there’s any solace in company, Monday’s opponent at Safeco, the Chicago White Sox, have nine playoff appearances in 112 seasons, about once every dozen years. But at least the White Sox can hang a hat on winning the 2005 World Series.

The Mariners hat remains on the floor, where they hope that a guy two years out of the majors can pick up, the way they hope a bartender out of the game five years can close down.


YourThoughts

  • howie the duck

    Yeah, Art. Good logotherapy … as usual! But let’s extend the therapy aspect just a bit, and ask the following plaintive question: why is it that the Gen X, Gen Z’s, nerds, and untalented street buskers who inhabit this doomed and tragic model railroad toy-town (used as a set by Ingrid Bergman for his darkly Scandinavian psychological palaverings) CANNOT get into simply having a hoot of a good time making fun of the idiotic ball club? Let’s have 2 fingers of scotch, pull up our stools closer to the TV screen behind the bar, order our nachos, and shout, laugh,and deride, until the franchise decamps. Then we can all turn our attention to far-off, REAL clubs, like NY, Chi, SF, etc etc.

    • art thiel

      Novel theory, Howie. I think it’s a tad sophisticated for a town that actually likes to embrace a local winner, just for the thrill of the first time.

      • jafabian

        Seattle needs to get over that. As long as that cheap thrill satisfies them there will never be a consistent winner here. The one time the M’s got a veteran GM they won 116 games and they didn’t do what it took to keep him here. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have Brian Cashman running the show here.

        • Da Kid

          Well, there’s always Pat Cashman. He couldn’t possibly make this franchise any more of a laughing stock, but the punch lines would be funnier.

          • art thiel

            Both of you presume either Cashman would take the job.

          • Da Kid

            What about his kid? (Pat’s, I mean.) You don’t really think KING will keep showing “The 206″ reruns for 20 years like they still run “Almost Live.”

          • jafabian

            Oh no. Only wishful thinking. It would take a major falling out with the Steinbrenner’s to make him leave the most valuable sport franchise in the world. And right now things seem good for both parties.

  • Matt712

    On the bright side, none of the experienced players brought in this season have yet done a Spiezio Splat or a Figgins Flop. They’ve pretty much played to expectation (with Morales even exceeding it). But the hope was that their being here would garner more than just the sum of their parts. The hope was that they would have material influence on the younger guys resulting in elevated play. “Suckers that we are for a good weeper,” that just hasn’t happened.

    • art thiel

      It’s amazing how a different part of the club has failed in sequence that’s kept them from sustaining a run. Hitting, back-end rotation, front-end rotation, bullpen, defense . . . all have cratered at different times. The vets have delivered for the most part, but they’re all short-timers.

  • jafabian

    Bonderman might come around. He was working against AAA hitters all this time. It isn’t until recently Harang started to progress and the jury is out on Joe Saunders still. As it stands right now I’m tempted to say the M’s should keep Raul around for next year as well, though I don’t want him to go down the path Junior did it sticking it out a bit longer than he should have.

    • Steve Rudman

      Bonderman will get a second start, against the Yankees, later this week. Hope for his sake that his first outing was a mulligan.

    • art thiel

      I don’t think they’ll quit on Bonderman but Wedge and Z are in their contract years and are experimenting with guys not long off the gurney.

      Ibanez is a tough guy to let go. They can keep him a full season and bid for him in the winter. The market will be small.

  • Trygvesture

    There is no bright side, really, and nobody is going to ‘come around” to major league caliber simply because they’ve begun to play against major leaguers– it doesn’t work that way. Old guys can’t make mediocre, rushed-to-the-show youngsters be more than their mediocre talent or mediocre AAA experience dictate them to be. They are neither experienced nor talented enough– that’s the reason they play at a mediocre level.

    It’s a matter of talent on the field– nothing else is within light years of importance by comparison. The M’s, with Howard’s OJT and Chuck’s “intimate knowledge of baseball” are led by the two worst baseball execs imaginable. Bad decisions from the top down, year after year after year after year after… well, since Gillick, which Lincoln said was a essentially a dumb-luck hire on their part– they just fell into the opportunity and didn’t know enough to screw it up.

    They are, in fact, in a race towards the bottom with the Astros. Bottom feeders yet again, boxed out of options by being so historically, consistantly inept that they have lost both quality players and credibilty in the eyes of most MLB players — not to mention whatever smug snickers they’ve inspired by their incredulous competition in the FOs of other clubs.

    These guys weren’t “born on third base and think they hit a triple’. They think they’re legging out a triple and can’t grasp the reality that they’ve long since struck out looking .

    I want to hear from a lawyer: since these guys have managed the Safeco tax-paid facility under a lease agreement with public agency oversight, and since they’ve ruined the franchise, lost communtiy support and essentially failed to manage it to the public benefit, and since there has been significant tax revenue that hasn’t been realized by virtue of the loss of butts in the seats that result from their mismanagement, isn’t it misfeasance at the very least?
    Or, since one could say they continue to enrich themselves via franchise appreciation which results solely from the strength of the regional market and from the state of the art facility– isn’t that approaching misfeasance?
    Oh that it were true as a legal matter and they could be run out of town on a rail!

    • maqman

      Cheer up, it will be all right – take it from an old guy.

      • Da Kid

        Take it from another old guy: Lincoln and Armstrong suck worse than the Maloofs.

        • Trygvesture

          But… I AM an old guy. Geezer, almost. First baseball card was Duke Snider. Saw the Rainiers at Sicks. Sat in Slo Mo V with my dad once. ..
          I think it matters to raise the issues of L&A’s ( and the BOD) ineptness, make it as a much a part of the zeitgeist as possible– until their arrogance is tripped up by their incompetence and their status in the community they are immersed in drops twenty rungs.
          And I DO want to hear from a lawyer re the mis/malfeasance question. Loss of tax revenue due to mismanagement, loss of public participation in a public-benefit lease arrangement seem like questions worth exploring.
          Even Larry Stone wrote a (measured and thoughtful) piece that left the Clownship Captains completely exposed as THE problem. If Larry will take on the FO, the situation must be as bad as it can get, the diagnosis and treatment option without any credible dissenting opinion. They must go, ownership must change. The only question is– how can fans speed the inevitable?

  • maqman

    The Ms are going to win ten in a row. Remember you read it here first.

    • jafabian

      This season?

      • maqman

        How the hell should I know?

        • Da Kid

          You mean they’re going to win at least one game in ten consecutive seasons? Talk about optimistic.