BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 07/07/2014

Thiel: Mariners’ dreary weekend makes a point

The Mariners saw the limits of their lineup over the weekend in Chicago. But team president Kevin Mather spoke cautiously about adding talent. It’s too late for that.

Kyle Seager and his offensive mates could use some help, as the weekend proved. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

As long as the Mariners offense can be overwhelmed by Hector Noesi, Erik Bedard and Jason Vargas — all of whom are ex-Mariners who pitched at least six shutout innings against them this season — their leap from fourth place to third in the American League West will be as dizzying as it gets.

The four runs accumulated in 32 innings in Chicago against the middling White Sox over the weekend tell an ominous tale about sustainability in the season’s second half. To be shut down by Chris Sale and even Jose Quintana, both quality left-handed starters against a lefty-dominant lineup, is not an embarrassment. But to get de-toothed by Noesi, who made the bad Jesus Montero trade look even worse, was mortifying.

In 22 starts for the Mariners in 2012 when he came as pocket change in the Montero-for-Michael Pineda debacle, Noesi went 2-12 with a 5.82 ERA. Put into the bullpen in 2013, he pitched 27 innings in 12 appearances and his ERA went up to 6.59. This spring, manager Lloyd McClendon pulled the trap door after two appearances and one inning that led to an ERA of 27.

Noesi was flushed and ended up in Texas, where he was even worse, lasting five innings over three games before being released. Now he’s a stud with the White Sox. At least, when the Mariners are in the mood to swoon.

One game hardly justifies popping the infant balloon of optimism the Mariners have generated. And the Noesi brilliance can be written off as a one-game Bob Wolcott moment (look it up, youngsters).

What the weekend suggests is that this lineup’s ceiling is relatively low for playoff contention. Certainly it is impressive to note that the Mariners are third in MLB in run differential at +65. Unfortunately for them, the only teams better are the A’s (+133) and Angels (+66).

What kills the offense is periodic, undisciplined work at the plate — up to and including their All-Star second baseman, Robinson Cano.

Whether he feels an urgency to justify his free agent choice or his salary isn’t known, but Cano has twice been admonished by McClendon this season for going Vlad Guerrero on swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.

“I hope it’s the last time we talk about it,” McClendon said after Cano recently recovered from an 0-for-21 slide.

Although it’s hard to deal with those 31-going-on-21 moments, it’s not all on Cano. Kyle Seager, whose quality play in May and June raised some modest momentum for an All-Star bid so far unrequited, had an oh-for-Chicago weekend in 12 at-bats. And the Mariners put out a lineup Sunday that had six players hitting .250 or under.

As has been said here as well as by others, the Mariners are close to desperate for a proven right-handed bat. Yes, so is much of the rest of MLB, but that changes little for the Mariners.

The reason for the throat-clearing is not only because of the weak-hitting series, but because of the approach of the July 31 trade deadline and Kevin Mather’s comments about it.

Who?

He’s the new president of the Mariners, the guy who succeeded everyone’s favorite pin-cushion, Chuck Armstrong. Mather’s been in the Mariners front office since 1996, but is more stealthy than Facebook with online secrets.

In an interview with the Seattle Times’ Larry Stone, Mather spoke publicly for perhaps the first time on the urgency many fans feel about acquiring another hitter to take advantage of the Mariners’ pluses of pitching and defense.

“We’re going to be patient,” Mather said. “We’re going to be smart. (General manager Jack Zduriencik) has been great about that. I’d like to make the playoffs four out of the next five years. So let’s make smart long-term decisions and make sure we’re not selling our souls for ’14, because we’ve got young talent. Other clubs are interested in our young talent.”

Prudent and sober as that sounds, it’s a little late for that. Sobriety went out the window with the Cano signing. Nothing says “2014″ like out-bidding the Yankees for a 31-year-old player with a 10-year contract for a quarter of a billion dollars.

Recklessness is not a good idea, but the Mariners haven’t had a sniff of contention in what seems like half a generation. Which it what it has been. As much as Mather would like a half-dozen playoff appearances, the Mariners have to get to one first.

As Mariners fans have come to learn, prospects are not necessarily the gold standard. Consider that the franchise’s “Big Three” young pitchers have all had health problems. Taijuan Walker had his second start of the season Sunday, and he needs more work to be an MLB regular. James Paxton is still out, and Danny Hultzen won’t be back until next season, if then.

Certainly, it would help Mariners fans’ digestion if Zduriencik had shown more wisdom in his dealings. Too often he’s acquired lumps of coal (see Montero/Noesi). But that can’t be a disqualifier, because sitting out the action is not a good option either.

The weekend showed the limits of this lineup. The front office in December showed unlimited ambition with the Cano signing. The race is on. Now is not the time for application of brakes. The pedal next one over is the desired one.

 

 


YourThoughts

  • Effzee

    Oh, joy. Howard’s new yes-man talking-piece: “We’re going to be patient. I’d like to make the playoffs four out of the next five years. So let’s make smart long-term decisions and make sure we’re not selling our souls for ’14.”

    Compare that to Pete Carroll, who upon being hired to coach the Hawks said: “I’m not gonna be one of those guys — build for the future, and by Year 3 we’ll be this or that. I couldn’t care less about that type of thinking. We’re trying to win our division right now.”

    Yeah. Sorry M’s. We know which philosophy leads to the fun kind of winning. The cat is totally out of the bag on that one.

    And here we see why Kevin Mather got the job. With aspirations like that, from the team president, its not hard to see this is all going nowhere fast. The expectation he is setting for the team, fans, scouts, players, coaches, is to try to make the playoffs more than half of the time.

    This of course means that sometimes, he expects to not make the playoffs. At which time he will give them the “‘Atta boy, good game” back-slaps, until Lincoln, whose seat got so hot that he is now permanently fused to it, decides its time to make another change that does not involve him leaving.

    Its unfortunate for the M’s that they have to try to convince us to support their message when the team across the street lives by the opposite philosophy, and delivers Super Bowls. I want to hear this Mather fellow – as completely, beautifully insane as it would sound – talk about the World Series. Don’t be afraid to set the expectations high, buddy. You never know what you might achieve…

    • art thiel

      Well, the Mariners do invite buzzkill. In fairness to Mather, his Times interview did include a comment that the Mariners, when it comes to adding payroll, “have flexibility.” That’s a definite uptick in approach.

      And I don’t think Mr. Sunshine is a good trade for EffZee . That’s Bedard/Jones level.

  • jafabian

    This weekend showed exactly why the M’s won’t make the playoffs. Their offense is still inconsistent and that’s not acceptable during a penant race. As evidenced with Justin Smoak being sent down to Tacoma, there’s still some growing up to do on this team.

    I briefly wondered if the club might take a flier on Alfonso Soriano now that the Yankees have designated him for assignment. He’d at least give Cano better protection than what he’s getting and while platooning with Ichiro his production his stats are comparable with Ackley’s. I get the impression though that managent likes Ackley though and probably won’t be a player when the trading deadline. Especially for a 38 year old LF at the end of his career for a team that at best is a long shot to make the post season.

    The fact that Maher is preaching paitence tells me the club won’t be a player when the trading deadline approaches. They seem to believe in this team which is interesting because they didn’t believe in last years, dumping on Nick Franklin for Cano. As much as this team is searcing for its identity, so is management.

    • art thiel

      What Mather is saying may be a smokescreen. But it certainly isn’t a “whatever it takes” statement, as was the Cano signing. Your point about identity is well-taken.

      • jafabian

        After they got Cano it was like they were satisfied with the moves done when more was needed. Their MO of picking up free agents coming off injury or at the end of their careers may be cheap but it hasn’t helped the club get better. Jack’s moves, and same with Bavasi before him, aren’t done with the wisdom and confidence of a Gillick, Beane, Cashman or Epstein. They’ve seemed at best to be gambles.

  • Matt712

    “We’re going to be patient… We’re going to be smart…”

    Ugh! Show me a team without a sense of urgency to win, and I’ll show you… well… the Seattle Mariners, apparently. I think the band wagon just slowed down enough for most of us to just get off and walk.

    • art thiel

      As the column pointed out, they did go nuts on Cano. From a strategy standpoint, I get that Mather is playing poker: No tips, no tells. But if what he says is actual policy, then you, Matt, won’t be first off the bandwagon.

  • Jamo57

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    This is the same Mariners-speak as 2002, Lou’s final year, when he spent the season pleading for one more bat. But senior management didn’t want to part with the gems in the minor leagues, saying they wanted to contend for the playoffs every year. Those gems turned out to be colored glass and we know the history

    Youngsters, while you are looking up Bob Wolcott, also google Clint Nageotte.

    But that’s the Mariners business model. Try and stay competitive as late into the season as possible to keep fan interest, maximize ticket sales and ratings, while keeping overall payroll low. The problem is, when you set the bar for being in the hunt for the playoffs and fall short, where do you end up? Going home at the end of September. 12 years running.

    The Hawks talk about winning championships. If they fall a little short, they are still competing for the playoffs. Big difference.

    • art thiel

      A point I didn’t make in the column, but have before, is the acquisition of Root makes salary limits unnecessary. The Mariners can’t and should not play by the 02 budget rules.

      • Trygvesture

        I think those aren’t rules imposed for timely bean counting– they are the hardwired mindset of Lincoln, et al. That mindset is not flexible–matching Lincoln’s reputation in every way. That mindset is not the one that says– “Gee whiz, it was tough to keep the purse closed all those years when we really, really wanted to spend and win, but we did it for the good of the franchise! Now we can be what we always wanted to be and spend the bucks needed to contend!”
        Ha.
        Lincoln is Lincoln is Lincoln: The mouthpiece may change, but you can always see Lincoln’s Lips moving. The business model is semingly fixed and impervious to circumstances on the field. It’s Button-Down Baseball– it’s Lincoln’s MO and it will be his legacy. Fortunately, aging happens, and no one reigns forever. Retirement will happen. It will. ( Unless our worst fears are true and there is a portrait of a really ancient guy in Lincoln’s attic…)
        ( look up Dorian Gray, youngsters)

        • art thiel

          Could be true. Also could be true that the Mariners are so wealthy from Root that the club can be go crazy with Cano AND someone like Marlon Byrd.

      • Jamo57

        I was just going to make the point Tryfvesture makes below. That being, I’m not so sure that’s how Howard Lincoln thinks. He has repeatedly referred to his efforts with the Ms as ‘I’m just trying to run a business here’ and as such, I think he is hardwired to try and run it as profitably as possible.

    • Da Kid

      Man, did you ever nail it! Same old front office BS!

      But for the record, it was Nuke Nageotte. :)

      • Jamo57

        Poor Nuke. He never mastered breathing through his eyelids. ;-)

  • RadioGuy

    Business as usual with the M’s, where winning isn’t a goal, it’s a happy accident. As long as the ledger doesn’t have any red ink staining it, it’s all good. “We’re bringing in 24,000 per game, aren’t we? We’re getting all that TV money, aren’t we? We’re above .500, aren’t we? So what’s the problem?”

    BTW, I don’t think I’d call the Pineda-Montero/Noesi deal a debacle so much as a swap of defective equipment. The Mariners received the same number of wins out of Noesi that the Yankees have gotten from Pineda and Hector was nothing more than a throw-in.

    • art thiel

      By debacle, I meant bad for both clubs, at least to this point.

      • RadioGuy

        True enough. It hasn’t really helped either team, although we DID get those 15 homers and 62 ribbies from Montero two years ago. He’s still only 24 but I think he’s going to be given less time than he might’ve had to come around before he started hitting both the PEDs and AYCE buffets. I don’t think Lloyd has any use for him at this point.

        Who knows about Pineda? He looked like he was pitching in pain by the end of his rookie year and he’s never really been healthy since. He’s a good one when he’s able to pitch…he’s just always hurt.

    • Trygvesture

      True about the trade, except the Z thought he was getting a great deal in Montero as a catcher and a hitter–and was at the time trading a well-documented, terrific pitcher. Fooled again on the trade front. Too bad for Pineda that he broke down, but Montero was a non-starter in every sense of the word. If Pineda hadn’t broken down, the Yanks would have something and the Ms would have, well, nothing. Again. But, Z has this going for him: He seems to be able to clearly say, “Yes sir, I’ll say whatever you want me to say.” Other than that, he seems to build great AA teams.

  • Big

    Wild card fever, why not. The chances of making the playoffs has been increased by one and the hunger for a Mariner winner is high. To do nothing to improve this team seems short sighted but not without precedent. One can only sit on the side lines wait for The Big Bat.

  • Edgar Martinez

    Funny how our offense was struggling bad when Hart was in it before he got hurt. They found a little groove when he was out. Then the first series he’s back in it they struggle again. Maybe forcing him into the cleanup spot isn’t the wisest thing to do.

  • Mark Langley

    It looks like an extension of the problem recently (seemingly) exorcised from the Astros: The M’s making mediocre pitchers on middling to bad teams look good. They seem to often have the ability to rise to the opponent, but they also lower themselves to the opponent with maddening frequency.

  • Jason

    This team is not a right-handed bat away from being a team that could make a serious playoff run. The Angels are loaded with talent and the A’s are loaded with patient hitters and an abundance of top-tier pitchers. Making the playoffs would be nice, but I do not think this is the year the M’s truly contend. For that reason, I agree that the young players should not be traded. Patience is not a word that I think any Mariner fan wants to hear, but lets be realistic, this team has to do some growing to be a true contender. I am glad this past weekends series brought many of us back down to earth because the just the hint success may lead to some irrational thoughts and decisions.

    • Big

      M’s got pitching. Cano has given the team a lift as has Jones and Young. Another bat could be the difference. The weekend series is in the rear view mirror or move on and flush it.

  • ollie swensen

    The M’s need a right handed bat. Haven’t heard that one before.
    The fact that options for one are few and costly can be something a team in this market size can have difficulty in in acquiring.
    What the M’s DO have is a pitching staff that is deep and getting healthier.
    They also have the best fielding team in the AL. After 88 games the M’s have a fielding percentage of .987%, which ranks them among the top in the American League. The A’s meanwhile have a .983% behind several teams.

  • Bayview Herb

    Keep in mind that Seattle has enough wins to lead both of the other divisions and one in the national league. Just thought I’d give another perspective to the discussion about when to bury the Mariners.