BY Art Thiel 06:14PM 07/21/2013

Thiel: Mariners’ streak may stop the dithering

Best thing about the Mariners’ uptick is that it takes the pressure off GM Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge to do something foolish at the trade deadlne.

No, this is not Nick Franklin, but manager Eric Wedge does have experience being patient with young hitters, be it Japan, Cleveland or Seattle. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

The jaw-slackening moments that have pickled the Mariners’ play recently have led to something equally remarkable: A mid-season calm that may forestall any moves at or before the July trade deadline.

“Jack and I have already talked about this,” manager Eric Wedge told reporters before Sunday’s game in Houston. “Unless it’s something that raises the bar, I don’t think we’re going to do anything. We’re not going to move somebody just to move somebody.”

After a 12-5 triumph Sunday over the hapless Astros made for six wins in a row, and 11 in the past 16, Wedge’s remark signaled a sign of progress — a diminished perversion for self-inflicted wounds.

One of the most crippling aspects of an absentee ownership that doesn’t know how to win is the unease that settles across the franchise. As attendance and ratings dwindle, the baseball people don’t know whether to act in the short term to save their jobs or in the long term to do what is best.

The dilemma is hardly unique to the Mariners, but with 11 winning seasons and four playoff appearances in 36 years, they seem to have earned a seventh-degree black belt in dithering.

The trade deadline often seems to bring out the worst in decision-making because the buy-or-sell question can never be answered easily when the scrutiny is most intense and results immediate. As frequent sellers in mid-July, the Mariners are usually in a position of weakness as they attempt to swap veterans for prospects while trying to fool a steadily diminishing fan base that the club hasn’t quit on the season — again.

In the off-season, Wedge and GM Jack Zduriencik tried and failed to get contract extensions from ownership. That meant the classic dither was on.

Off-season acquisitions were limited to a spate of one-year contracts for veterans who could help win games in 2013 while top prospects Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino were being seasoned, instead of served too quickly, such as was the case with Dustin Ackley.

But Zduriencik, after an 8-15 start that followed some big spring-training results, had to bust a move. With jobs on the line, Zduriencik said what the hell and brought up the kids.

So far, so good. But it’s way too early to say Franklin, Miller and Zunino are beyond the inconsistencies that have plagued Ackley, Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders.

In fact, the rookieness of all three has been obscured by moments of big fireworks such as Franklin’s grand slam Sunday and Miller’s two-homer night Friday (all against the woeful Astros pitching). Say what you will about ex-Mariner Erik Bedard; he knows how to pitch, and Saturday held the allegedly formidable Seattle lineup hitless for 6.1 innings. The fact that the Mariners managed four runs and a win deploying one hit was freakishness akin to coaxing a filibuster out of Marcel Marceau.

What is more substantive about the current uptick is that it provides a reason to let the season play out as it is, instead of exercising the dubious option of pursuing more prospects, only to throw them off the 40-man roster a year from now in another dither-storm.

The addition of proven middle-of-the-lineup hitters such as Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and, to a lesser extent, Mike Morse, has taken pressure off young hitters to carry the day. While all three vets could leave after this season, the Mariners are tied for second in the American League in home runs, a fact that by itself is not predictive of team success but does suggest a big franchise problem was solvable.

Aided by moving in the fences, there is now some data showing veteran free agent hitters that Safeco Field is no longer the barren wastelands of Mordor. So there is tangible momentum.

The recent uptick wouldn’t preclude, say, trading reliever Oliver Perez to a desperate contender for a major-league-ready prospect, because a Perez replacement is relatively easy to come by. But the Mariners’ chances to get better sooner are improved by finding out who among the young position players, protected by vets, is a long-term major leaguer, either in Seattle or traded to another team after major-league value has been established.

It is a help to Mariners fans to keep in mind that while the current run seems dazzling, given the minimal expectations surrounding the team, the Dodgers and Rays are each 20-5 over the last month. That is hot. The Mariners are merely warm around the edges.

Zduriencik and Wedge have made their gambles with personnel changes, and they have acquired a bit of house money. Given the Mariners’ trade deadline history, best to play, as Seahawks coach Chuck Knox loved to say, the hand already dealt.

 


YourThoughts

  • Will

    As Mike Hammer once said, “Trust is a one-way street” and M’s management is a far from that street.

    This is the time of a season when non-contenders play with some verve, let’s wait awhile before thinking they’re anything but the traditional Mariners.

    • art thiel

      See response above.

  • SandlotSam

    No matter how good things are going M’s fans are forever waiting for the Baseball Gods to slap them silly and put them out in the backyard for the night along with the cat. But there’s something different about what’s happening this time around. There’s just something different.

    And I’m with Wedge and Z on this trade deadline. No mas.

    • art thiel

      Your skepticism is valid. No fan needs to be talked out of holding off the embrace. Too many false positives. Prove it.

    • bootlegger59

      We shall see what we shall see! Let’s see just how ‘different’ this team will be. For a number of years now, I’ve held to the ‘show me’ attitude, and thus far, they haven’t shown me a thing. Okay, SHOW ME, that this streak will be ‘different’, and NOT followed by a 10 game losing streak.

  • J Mazin

    If they can only avoid the 6 game winning streak followed by the 9 game losing streak that has been so prevalent each time they get hot.

  • maqman

    Irrespective of what their won/loss record ends up at this Mariner team is different in three respects: 1. They are interesting to watch (Safeco attendance is up 3% so far this season). Remember, if we build it they will come. So will free agents and trade targets. 2. A lot of farm talent has successfully transitioned to The Show, not that some won’t struggle or fail, they will, but most will stick and be average or better big leaguers. 3. Wedgie has found a lineup he likes.

    • art thiel

      Any attendance uptick is still more a function of bobbleheads, promotions and a glorious summer, but the team is playing entertaining ball. Most of the kids have done all right. and the biggest development is a decent fit at leadoff.

  • Adam Lewis

    The Mariners have the opportunity to add an integral piece, should they become relevant in the Wild Card standings by mid-August. This club still needs another reliable starting pitcher. All indications show they are holding back an electric one. Please, no more Aaron Harang.

    It’s time to call up Taijaun Walker.

    • art thiel

      Harder to get a quality return on a trade through waivers at the mid-August deadline. But not impossible. After Hultzen’s arm trouble, M’s being very careful with Walker.

  • zigzags

    It would be tempting to see what the M’s could fetch for Ibanez. I imagine a contending club would love to get a bat like his in their lineup. But I agree that having proven bats in the M’s lineup has helped protect the young hitters, affording them the freedom to play loose and not feel like the fate of an entire major league ballclub depends on their success. If only Ackley and Smoak had that luxury when they were brought up…

    • art thiel

      They will be tempted. But most clubs are going to say that Ibanez’s heavy play early will cost him in the final two months. Not saying it’s true, but that’s the rationale for offering in return a B-list prospect. Which is hardly worth itl.

  • bootlegger59

    No, it won’t stop the ‘dithering’. Simply because the M’s have done this before, it’s like a tease…..then the bottom falls out again, and they lose 10 straight. So, I want to see some consistency here, not just a winning streak followed by a huge losing streak.

    • art thiel

      10 years builds a lot of scar tissue. You’re entitled.

  • Trygvesture

    Love the photo. Says it all and just so tongue in cheek. Is it how Wedgie feels about his job? Is it how Wedgie manages? Is it how the fans see the M’s? Is it how the vets on the club see the player-manager dynamic with the ‘kids’?To the little-league level MLB club this franchise constantly proves itself to be? Is it 1/2 of the field manager/general manager team pitching soft ones to the new-to-baseball/may go to a game someday (STILL!) owner? Or maybe to the too-dumb (STILL!) to be more than functional neophytes in the MLB world that the forked tongue, now invisible FO duo of Steinbrenner-like world series-driven competitive dynamism actually are? ( Little leaguers always talk about what position they’ll probably play when they get to the Bigs– luckily, kids can dream without consequence, growing into their possibilities. This Geezer FO duo aren’t kids, don’t grow, and haven’t assumed the adult ability to self assess. They think they are peers in the Bigs with other MLB leadership. And Wedgie and Z surely have to put on the respectful yessir-boss/you know best/you’re Big Leaguers for sure smiles and pretend they are pitcing high hard stuff to these t-ball goofballs). The thematic possibilities are just too, too good. Thanks.

    • art thiel

      Quite the analysis, Tryg. I’ll settle for ironic.