BY Art Thiel 02:57PM 05/19/2014

Thiel: Will Mariners get more ‘jamesjones’ luck?

The Mariners appear to have gotten lucky with rookie James Jones in center. Seattle fans aren’t asking too much of the baseball gods to let Nick Franklin fix shortstop too.

Nick Franklin played in 102 games for the Mariners last season, but his real test will be the next call-up, probably Tuesday. / Wiki Commons

The pending call-up of Nick Franklin, the Mariners’ IOW (infielder/outfielder/whatever), comes at an intriguing juncture in the season. It can be said that a third of the starting lineup from Opening Day isn’t functioning.

Yet if the Mariners (21-22) can snag a couple this week in Texas from the injury-blistered Rangers (21-23), they will remain a .500 team despite a slugging percentage from Robinson Cano that trails former Yankees teammate Ichiro (.424 to .406). Remarkable.

The inability of SS Brad Miller to hit, the inability of Abraham Almonte to hit AND field; the inability of DH Corey Hart to run (destined for the disabled list after pulling a hamstring Sunday stealing a base; that’s like a race-car driver crashing while texting), and the inability of Cano to hit for power, means that Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik’s plans for 2014 success are closing in on a full 52-card pickup.

Because signing Cano was a win-now proposition, Zduriencik seems to have done a poor job of priority No. 1: Supplementing Cano with new and better hitters before the 2014 season.

At 339 Monday morning, the Mariners have the fewest hits in the American League. The team’s DH batting average is .188, worst in the AL by a cool 26 points, and OBP is .281, a point better than last-place Kansas City.

After the failure to force-feed Almonte the leadoff spot and center field, the Mariners finally bounced him down to AAA. Until now, they have clung stubbornly to Miller in his more perplexing flop after a stellar spring. But if his presumptive replacement, Franklin, can reach the offensive heights of former Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan, that would be about a 50-point improvement from Miller’s .154 BA.

And while Hart has supplied a little pop with five home runs, he’s down to  a .209 BA and .647 OPS. His hamstring injury, as with an injury to Logan Morrison (remember him?) are bad for them individually but probably an opportunity for the Mariners to jamesjones the position.

You haven’t heard the verb jamesjones? That is the new term for when a team that doesn’t know what it is doing with personnel gets lucky.

The replacement for Almonte in center and at the top of the lineup, rookie James Jones is already in the record books with a powerful name from Mariners history. He and Edgar Martinez are the club’s only players to hit safely in each of their first 10 big league starts.

No one is predicting a similar career arc yet. But in 15 games, he has a .326 BA and .861 OPS and with his speed, gets to most balls that would be expected of an average MLB center fielder. And as a pitcher for much of his college career, he has the arm for center.

A 6-4, 200-pound lefty from Brooklyn and Long Island University, Jones isn’t completely an out-of-nowhere story, because he was taken in the fourth round of the 2009 draft and made steady progress in the Mariners system. But at 25, he was on no one’s hot-prospect list and in 2013 played only four games at AAA Tacoma.

A noteworthy spring training, however, suggested to the bosses they might have a guy on the short list who could be . . . adequate at the MLB level. Remember this is the Mariners; even after 38 seasons, we’re still talking about baby steps.

He caught the eye of new manager Lloyd McClendon. Of course, so did Almonte. But for reasons still unclear, Almonte was given the job out of spring. Hindsight suggests that was a waste of time.

“He’s a pretty interesting young man,” McClendon told reporters at spring training about Jones. “He’s very talented and I really like what I’ve seen. I don’t think he’s going to knock on the door, I think he’s going to knock the door down when he’s ready to get there.”

After a three-game callup in April, Jones replaced Almonte May 5. The sample size is too small — remember that Miller and Franklin looked good in their first trips around in 2013 before the scouting reports caught up to them — to say whether the door is knocked down. But a few screws are loose.

Normally that’s not a good thing to say around the Mariners. But we’ll run with it in McClendon’s context for now.

Which brings us to Franklin, who lost second base to the Cano hire and the shortstop job to Miller’s hot spring. Franklin’s name was popular in some trade talks, but the Mariners put on him a higher value than did the market, so nothing happened. Perhaps the Mariners, who have dabbled with Franklin in the outfield, caught another break.

Rather than pout — the fear was genuine, given his immature cockiness that borders on annoying — Franklin in 30 games in Tacoma has gone .376/.481/.633 with seven homers and 26 RBI.

No one is foolish enough to impose those numbers from the hit-happy Pacific Coast League on Franklin’s pending trial with the Mariners. But in 102 big-league games a year ago, he finished with .225/.303/.382, six homers and 45 RBI. Given that the shortstop position so far has hit .166 for the Mariners, a mere repeat of ’13 will make him seem like a young Cal Ripken.

Speaking of young, Franklin, who was drafted out of high school, is 23 and just swallowed a bellyful of humility from his (temporary) fall from grace. If that experience inspires a more mature approach in his second rise to the bigs, imagine, if you dare, the possibilities here.

The other younger position players — C Mike Zunino, 1B Justin Smoak, 3B Kyle Seager, LF Dustin Ackley and RF Michael Saunders — have all shown in the season’s first quarter at least glimpses of their potential to be major-league-average players. If Jones and Franklin are fixes, not patches, for the two leaky positions — understand, those are big ifs –  consider what might happen if Cano hits a second home run this season. Or a third. Or a 24th.

The Mariners reached .500 ball with 39 lineups in 43 games and a pitching staff that at times has resembled a cat after hitting full-speed a sliding-glass door.

Is it asking of this group too much to shake it off and go 65-54 the rest of the way? Hell, bring back Kendrys Morales to DH.

Seattle baseball fans are entitled to a little jamesjonesing, even if they — and the Mariners front office — didn’t know that was what was needed.


YourThoughts

  • 1coolguy

    Until Lincoln and JZ are GONE I don’t see much worth in expecting the M’s to do anything, again.
    They had Gillick and it’s remarkable they haven’t found a qualified successor.

    • art thiel

      Skepticism understood. But if you’re willing to look between the fingers over your face, there is some intrigue here. Not World Series intrigue, but a chance to be relevant beyond Memorial Day. Woo-hoo.

      • Da Udda Jay-Z

        That’s only because the terminally mediocre M’s are feasting on this year’s other mediocre teams. Oakland is the only team they’ve played that doesn’t effectively stink.

        ANGELS 25-20
        MIAMI 23-23
        NYY 23-21
        MINN 22-21
        KC 22-23
        TX 21-24
        TAMPA 19-27
        HOU 17-29

        Geez, MLB has finally attained parity!

  • jafabian

    IMO, they’re jerking Franklin around too much. Trying him at different positions, called up, sent down, called up again. They’ll end up damaging his growth as a player the way Brandon Morrow was messed up. Do they need a DH? Franklin is not the player for that. Should be Montero because he’s no 1B.

    • Tian Biao

      i agree. among all the other Ms managerial weirdness, they keep moving players around. I mean, Ackley was a 1B in college, and somehow they thought he could play 2B in the majors. that’s just bizarre. still, the season’s not a total loss, not yet anyway, as Art says. if nothing else, it’s been interesting . . .

      • art thiel

        They brought Franklin up too soon last year. But a lot of teams move players to new positions if they are seen as MLB hitters. I do agree that the Mariners do it more than most because of so many foolish trades of top-tier prospects.

        • jafabian

          IIRC, they’ve been experimenting with him in the OF with the M’s. They should do that in Tacoma.

      • RadioGuy

        In fairness, Tian, Ackley became a very good defensive second baseman in a short time and played the position better than either Franklin or Cano have since. Like Seager, the guy’s a natural ballplayer…he just hasn’t hit like one. They both remind me of one of my old favorites, Kevin Seitzer.

  • Joe Fan

    I want to see Montero called up to DH, that way it won’t be so embarrassing when I wear my one and only M’s jersey, which has Montero’s name on the back, to a game..

    • art thiel

      You can say you meant Fredy Montero. Oh, wait . . .

  • Will

    Entertaining article … but it can be summed up in a few words… “The Seattle Mariners”.

    • art thiel

      Easy to say. All I’m saying is imagine if Franklin hits, and Jones sustains.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    Hell, bring back Kendrys Morales to DH.

    Is that even possible?Morales has literally been begged to come back here and all he has done ?Posturing posturing and more posturing…..I guess every player has his price but he has thus been pretty stubborn about not returning to Seattle….

    • art thiel

      Mariners hired guys to do the DH job who haven’t, and the Mariners can afford to pay anyone.

    • jafabian

      He never intended to return to the club. That much is obvious. He was given some very generous offers and he declined.

  • matt712

    Quasi-interim spring training GM Robinson Cano called it perfectly over two months ago: Get another quality bat and another quality arm. That’s about as close as the Ms were ever gonna get to contending this season.

    The rotation, when healthy, could soon be among the best is the league. Unfortunately it would also be among the most heart-breaking due lack of run support. Once again, the Ms can’t escape the trickle-down ineptitude.

    If you finally decide to pull the trigger on a Mercedes, for God’s sake, at least purchase a few options for it, or don’t get the car at all!

    • Long-Time Mariners Fan

      Quote: “Quasi-interim spring training GM Robinson Cano”

      That’s quite funny, and true at the time.

      Quote: “If you finally decide to pull the trigger on a Mercedes, for God’s sake, at least purchase a few options for it, or don’t get the car at all!”

      To play that metaphor out all the way, you don’t really need the any options or anything fancy. You just need something to park in the garage. (He said, cynically.)

      • art thiel

        I’m up for a twin-carb, fuel injected, 458 cubic inch DH.

        • FidoFetchtheBall

          Remember Art: If you’re for it——- Howard isn’t.

          If Lou Pinella is for it—— Howard isn’t.

          if Pat Gillick, Eric Wedge, Bob Melvin, The Human Rain Delay… is for it—- well, you know– if anybody the public can hear has an idea Howard deems un yes-man, Howie Rage just inevitably sets in. In fact, he is likley so antagonistic to the honest asssessments SPNW provides that we could probably blame his intransigence and the M’s being the M’s almost entirely on SPNW.

          Aiming for the glee that accompanies MLB mediocre. What a compelling hope to have, huh? Would you ever have envisaged this in ’95?

          • art thiel

            It’s true that Howard does not embrace the opinions of those who disagree, unlike the more famous Lincoln.

            But since mediocrity is a step up from crappiness . . . well, a fan base must start somewhere.

        • Jan’n'Dean

          Revvin’ up our engines and they sound real mean.

    • art thiel

      It was obvious the moment Cano was signed that they had to do better than Hart/Morrison. Cano told the truth in spring training. And yet, they linger on the edge of credibility.

      • Da Kid

        There’s an “edge of credibility” here? When was the last time the M’s FO even knew what that was? The first U2 album?

  • notaboomer

    you artfullly dodged the obvious answer at dh of jesus montero. at 1/10 the price of corey hart, jesus has 8 hr, 32 rbi, and .269/.347/.868 at tacoma. also ichiro makes 1/4 of what fellow singles hitter cano makes.

    • art thiel

      I wouldn’t dismiss Montero, but Morales is a proven MLB hitter. No reason to sign him for more than ’14. Then see if Montero can sustain his concentration until ’15.

  • notaboomer

    btw, do you think the macklemore bobblehead will be wearing the funny wig, bear, and nose?

    • art thiel

      I’m thinking that might be retired. Although 10 years from now, the Mariners might feature it in a throwback night. If they’re saluting the ’79 unis, anything is possible.

      • RadioGuy

        Art, speaking of Macklemore and related weirdness, do you remember how Gaylord Perry’s 300th career win came the same week as Funny-Nose-and-Glasses-Night? And which drew the larger crowd? Glad to say I was in Perry’s Perch for a little baseball history…still have the certificate they handed out after the game along with the ticket stub.

        • Da Kid

          Same here. I was one of the guys who started the “Gaylord!” chant in left field. I also have two (count ‘em) of the commemorative t-shirts and an 8×10 of a pic I took that night, signed by Perry when he came back for a game in 1992. (Sure glad Dave Aust didn’t see me do that.)

          This year’s Funny Nose & Glasses are known as Lincoln & Zduriencik. I didn’t keep them 32 years ago, and I sure wouldn’t keep them today.

  • Da Kid

    Now, if they would only replace the god-awful Dave Sims with the god-like James Earl Jones. THAT would be some kinda luck! “If you hire him, they will watch AND listen.”

    • art thiel

      There’s always the radio, and the happy totals.