BY Art Thiel 07:47AM 08/20/2015

Mariners’ all-discard team reveals shortage

After the need to use Rodney and Beimel fails spectacularly, it’s apparent Mariners, despite a $130 million payroll, can’t find enough players to win major league games consistently.

Manager Lloyd McClendon and hitting coach Edgar Martinez must wonder what they’ve gotten themselves into./ Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Whether it was from the worst homestand in club history — 2-9 from May 28 to June 7 — or the worst consecutive defeats in team annals — 15-1 and 22-10 in Boston last week — this Mariners season ravages the Seattle baseball soul with more grimness than the appearance of a 56-65 record.

So many moments of failure are so ghastly, especially compared to local and national expectations for the season, that they call to mind the franchise’s expansion-era, clown-car festivals of the 1970s and 1980s. The seasonal roster chaos is mindful of throwing Thanksgiving dinner into a clothes dryer.

Yet players have done enough things right, coupled with MLB’s expanding desire to award participation ribbons to everyone, that they are about a half-dozen games removed from the final wild-card playoff spot.

They won’t get there. Mariners’ bosses knew it when they traded July 31 top reliever Mark Lowe for prospects, signaling a strategic end to a 2015 season in which they were pot-committed to make the playoffs. Teams don’t bid a club-record payroll ($130 million), including years of guaranteed huge salaries to sluggers in their 30s, to play incremental-improvement patty-cake.

On Aug. 20 a year ago, the Mariners were  68-58 and in third place, 7½ games out of first. They were on the way to an 87-win season, just the 10th winner in the club’s 38 years. At their 2015 pace, they will win 74.

The regression features two extremes in game outcomes: A major-league-leading 21 losses in the opponents’ last at-bat, as well as numerous short outings by starting pitchers. Both are high stressors on the team’s strength year ago: The bullpen. Nearly to a man, the pen has under-performed from 2014; only Charlie Furbush and newcomer Lowe were consistently reliable, and Furbush is hurt (overuse?) and Lowe traded.

But the high number of close games is not only because of a regression among relievers, it’s a function of a miserable offense that is next to last in MLB in average with runners in scoring position (.222).

Late-inning failures are profoundly debilitating and have been going on for years. Since 2010, the Mariners have an MLB-high 64 walk-off losses, five more than No. 2 Cincinnati, and have only 25 walk-off wins during the span. That is a lot of baseball trauma.

What compounds the grimness is the singular inability of baseball management to solve the talent shortages by any method other than throwing money at the problem with the hires of Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, and the huge extensions to Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager.

Throwing money is not a bad thing; this is not the NFL, so there are no consequences to magnum spending. But throwing money is the least effective route to building a winner.

In the 14 years since the Mariners were last in the playoffs, three general managers and their staffs have given away more than they have received in transactions. Additionally, they have failed to do with lousy finishes what longtime losers Tampa Bay, Kansas City and now Houston have done — turn high draft picks into major league-plus players.

In a story for ESPN’s Grantland, writer Jonah Keri enumerated the whiffs in player development under general manager Jack Zduriencik that severely limit the Mariners’ ability to fix their shortcomings from within. Basically, every player in the organization who can help the major league team in 2015 is here, and they have about the third-worst record in the American League.

Farm-system prospects typically used by most clubs to get immediate-impact vets aren’t there, as Keri points out, so the Mariners have to trade from the major league roster.

The one move to try to be good in 2015 came in June, when the Mariners acquired OF/1B Mark Trumbo from Arizona (plus emergency starting pitcher Vidal Nuno). In his past 35 games prior to Wednesday, he’s hitting .308 with four homers; in his first 22 games, when the season was in the balance, he hit .189 with one homer.

The cost was reliever Dominic Leone, now in the minors, and Welington Castillo, a backup catcher Seattle earlier acquired from the Cubs for reliever Yoervis Medina. Castillo spent six games with the Mariners, hitting .160 with one homer and decent defense. For the D-backs, in 161 at-bats, he has 13 homers and 31 RBI.

As has happened so many times with the Mariners, Castillo is an example of departed players who flourish elsewhere. It’s doubtful Castillo was here long enough to absorb the toxins or whatever it is that stymies players here, but he’s suddenly gone Pudge Rodriguez in Phoenix, while starting C Mike Zunino is regressing again.

The failure of Zduriencik to stop the slide has become acute because the wild losses are physically damaging players. Not only is Furbush on the DL with a sore arm, another reliever reliable until recently, Joe Beimel, had a horrendous afternoon in Arlington Wednesday, giving up three home runs on four pitches.

He told reporters postgame that he’s worn down.

“I’m so-so,” Beimel said. “I’ve been kind of fatigued the last week or so. It’s kind of like I was throwing through mud. Everything was slow, and I’m not bouncing back. I thought I’d be able to fight through it and keep going and battling. Today was one of those things where I don’t think I’m going to be able to do that anymore.”

Pushing a pitcher like that is, in a word, disgraceful. The Mariners have burned up their relief staff. To be unable to fill out a major league roster with a $130 million payroll so that players don’t get abused is the acme of absurdity.

Behind the dreary current events is a landscape of personnel failures in selection, development and transactions going back years. One way to look at it is the All-Discard Team, players the Mariners have shed since their last playoff team in 2001 who remain productive elsewhere. Yes, I know all the caveats with this exercise:

*Every franchise has an all-discard team; it’s almost impossible to say which has better or worse;

* To get talent, a team has to trade talent;

*Too early to tell outcomes for more recent transactions;

*Some young players mature later; few ways to forecast it.

I also understand that each deal on its own made some sense at the time. But the cumulative effect is to leave the 2015 outfit so bereft of answers that they serve up a 38-year-old reliever to be slaughtered, days after losing games 15-1 and 22-10.

Frankly, I’d take the discard team over the current team in a best-of-seven series. (And I didn’t even include Alex Rodriguez. Just because.)

 MARINERS ALL-DISCARD TEAM

C – Welington Castillo, Diamondbacks (13 HRa, 31 RBIs, .267 since leaving SEA);  John Jaso, Rays (92 ABs, .326, .895 OPS)

1B — Justin Smoak, Blue Jays (204 ABs, .221, .726 OPS)

2B –  Asdrubal Cabrera, Rays (.268, .735 OPS; two-time All-Star since leaving Seattle)

SS — Brendan Ryan, Yankees  (57 ABs, .246, .681 OPS)

3B  --Adrian Beltre, Rangers (.268, .726 OPS; four-time All-Star since leaving Seattle)

OF – Adam Jones, Orioles (.280, .817 OPS, five-time All-Star since leaving Seattle);  Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers (.246, .768 OPS); Chris Denorfia, Cubs (169 ABs, .266, .661 OPS);  Ichiro Suzuki, Marlins (.260, .630 OPS); Abraham Almonte, Indians (41 ABs, .261, .856).

DH — Mike Morse, Marlins/Pirates (160 ABs, .217, .598). Or A-Rod.

Starters — Chris Tillman, Orioles (9-7, .454 ERA, 1.341 WHIP, one-time All-Star since Seattle); Michael Pineda, Yankees (9-7, 3.97 ERA, 2.220 WHIP — injured); Doug Fister Nationals (4-7,  4.45 ERA, 1.271 WHIP — injured); Chris Young, Royals (16 starts, 8-6, 3.31 ERA, 1.111 WHIP);  Erasmo Ramirez, Rays (10-4, 3.57 ERA, 1.095 WHIP since leaving Seattle).

Relievers — Mark Lowe, Mariners/Blue Jays (1.56 ERA, 1.167 WHIP); Brandon Maurer, Padres (7-4, 3.00 ERA, 1.056 WHIP); Shawn Kelley, Padres (2.76 ERA, 1.063 WHIP); Oliver Perez, Astros (2.87 ERA, 1.309 WHIP); Josh Fields, Astros (2.23 ERA, 0.967 WHIP); Steve Delabar, Blue Jays (3.33 ERA, 1.14 WHIP); Matt Thornton, Nationals (3.07 ERA, 1.091 WHIP).

When the names are in one place, it’s staggering. For fans new to Seattle since 2001, perhaps you now understand.

We discuss this ahead of the pending unkindest cut: When the Blue Jays make the playoffs, as seems likely, for the first time since 1993, the Mariners will inherit the dubious title of MLB franchise gone longest from the postseason.

Think about that. Every team in MLB will have made the playoffs at least once since 2001. With revenue sharing and oodles of TV money, every team has the resources to deliver the playoffs. Long-time dead-enders such as KC, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Tampa have come to life.

The Mariners at one time had a nice little streak going — four playoffs in seven years, culminating in a spectacular new ballpark, eight players in the 2001 All-Star Game that Seattle hosted brilliantly and, of course, the 116-win season that still defies sufficient explanation.

And now . . . the team that was the first with a $100 million payroll to lose 100 games can be the first $130 million payroll team to lose 90 games, because they can’t find anyone better than Beimel and Fernando Rodney, both 38 and on fumes, to pitch a good inning of baseball.

The need to replace Jack Zduriencik fairly screams, except the same people who hired him will replace him.


YourThoughts

  • mrRef63

    Art, as usual your great insight and explanations regarding the Mariners failures are terrific! What a great article! Your last sentence tells it all!

    • art thiel

      Thanks.

  • notaboomer

    Beimel’s exhausted? Really? From what?

    • Rj Smith

      His neck is probably sore & tired from all that rapid turning around to watch his pitches fly away into the seats THREE hitters in a row

    • art thiel

      Overuse. No Lowe, Furbush, others inconsistent.

  • Estip

    The last sentence of the column is what keeps me pessimistic about the future of the Mariners.

  • Lodowick

    Yeah, outstanding article. Great summation. I had a hunch they would regret letting Young go and betting on Paxton to come forward. Fister was the biggest trade disaster of the last several years. And it looked horrific at the time. Doug was a great athlete and he was a bulldog. He went all out every time. Where’s the bulldog in the bullpen? Where’s the bulldog attitude on this team? They need more players like Seager. Cano needs to kick some ass and quit demonstrating a laconic playing style. The team deserves to be ripped.

    • dingle

      The problem with Cano is that he isn’t a leader, and certainly doesn’t lead by example. His lack of hustle sends a message to everyone else on that roster.

      If you’re going to drop 240M on a player, that player should have leadership skills as well as great talent. I don’t see it.

      Giving Cano that mush money was just another symptom of a desperate but stupid baseball team led by idiots.

      • Lodowick

        Could not agree with you more, my friend. Gotta have a GM who understands the need for guys with grit. Dirtballers. Sabo. Pence. Barnes. Where’s the Bret Boone who would lay out for a ball and get the knees skinned? There’s no Olerud, that’s for sure. A first baseman who had real range and would take pitches, work a count and then drive the ball. The entire image of ‘complete ballplayer’ has collapsed here. I’m sorry, I can’t blame the manager. At this level you just have to bring it, every night. The stakes have to be high. And stay high. Push all your chips into the middle of the table and play the one damn hand.

        • Effzee

          “Gotta have a GM who understands the need for guys with grit.” But before that, you gotta have an OWNER who understands the need for guys with grit, and who ALLOWS his GM the freedom to assemble a real baseball team, with real baseball players, based on their actual abilities at the game of baseball.

        • dingle

          A lot of people pooh-pooh “team chemistry” and say that, when it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter very much. Intangible, so it’s suspect. I disagree, especially in baseball when you have to spend that much time with the same guys for 8 months at a time.

          Maybe on a team full of superstars, you don’t need it. But on a team full of guys who are major-league average, more-or-less, I think it’s a big deal.

          I don’t see much chemistry with the Mariners. No leadership, no stability in the roster, no chance to develop any.

        • notaboomer

          you liked bret boone’s ped-enhanced homer totals better than cano’s “laconic” style? hmmm. something’s going on here.

          • Lodowick

            Dude. At least he dove. He understood urgency. But probably he was…as you said.

      • art thiel

        Leadership helps, but talent and health are better. Haven’t had much of any.

    • art thiel

      Too many mistakes for contention.

  • Leland Smith

    The last sentence should be the lead sentence. But thanks Art for being the lone wolf out there in Seattle media who seems to be calling out the Mariners’ front office. But as long as the front office/Rick Rizz can continually warm up a “can of ’95″ and lure in 25,000 a game, all the front office goals will be met.

    • art thiel

      I don’t think I’m alone. But fans have made a significant emotional / financial commitment to this team, and deserve some accountability.

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  • Effzee

    Its so bad that, literally, for as long as Howard Lincoln remains at the helm, there is no need for analysis of the product on the field. Whether or not Jack Z is fired, there is no reason for anyone to go to Spring Training next year. Its a pointless trip. No matter who the next manager is doesn’t matter. Whatever moves they make in the offseason do not matter. Every bit of money, effort, time, and brain-space spent on analyzing Mariners baseball in any way that does not start with the necessary removal of Howard is utterly wasted. My sentences here have all been said before. I’ve been repeating this since the trade deadline of 2001. The WORST part is, its so feeble, so transparent, so predictable, that you just *know* Howard insisted (or, “gently suggested” – but we all know what that means in Lincolnland) upon hiring Edgar as the hitting coach. This has Howard’s incessant meddling written all over it. But not only that…. You *know* that in his infinite idiocy, he is already imagining the Can of ’95 that Edgar is going to magically infuse into the team when he “gently suggests” to his next lackey GM that Edgar be named the next Manager of the M’s. Just watch it happen. >:-

    • art thiel

      An eloquent despondency, Effzee.

      • Effzee

        Thank you. Means a lot coming from a master wordsmith. :)

  • Kirkland

    Brendan Ryan is hitting .246? Is it the Yankee Stadium effect? I remember he couldn’t break the Mendoza Line when he was here. That batting average, plus his excellent defense, would look great in the lineup right now.

    • dingle

      With his glove, I’ll take Brendan Ryan hitting .240 7 days a week and twice on Sunday. He does some positively, wonderfully absurd things in the field.

    • art thiel

      He’s a part timer, but nearly every good team can indulge one good-field, no-hit position player. Not two.

  • David Flock

    I can address all these problems very easily by hiring one man and granting him total control. That man? Pat Gillick.

    • dingle

      Gillick would never accept the terms of employment.

    • art thiel

      He walked away once. He wants control.

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    Great article Art, as most on here have stated the obvious. The last sentence is an understatement. Unless Nintendo sells the team, pigs will fly first. Or they have a come to Jesus moment and show Howard his new retirement watch and “The Door”. If neither happen, which you could get better odds that it will never rain in Seattle again. Then nothing will change with this franchise. Yes Big Jack and Little Lloyd will be shown the door at the end of the year, but a clown car will appear at the front door of Safeco with a new flunky for Howard and his clown posse to lay the blame on for next year or the year after.

    • art thiel

      The despair in these comments are intense and revealing,

  • Tian Biao

    yep, all sadly true, especially the wear and tear on the bullpen and the late-inning losses. And what makes it worse is the dissonance between the fan base and the radio and tv announcers. I know these guys are team employees, but if they showed a little passion, some anger, some flashes of annoyance, like the rest of us feel, they’d be a lot easier to listen to. All these bland pleasantries and positive spins have become really grating. tell it like it is, folks: the team is not very good.

    • art thiel

      The gee-whizzery makes everyone, including the team and its front office, look foolish.

  • Sam Base

    As the years have come and gone and the passions of sports debates have sounded in homes and taverns and bars, one thing is truly undebatable: it sucks to be a Mariners fan.

    • art thiel

      It has sucked worse in other cities. Cold comfort, I know. Even colder in the shadow of the Seahawks.

  • Rj Smith

    Unfortunately now for long suffering M’s fans, Dombrowski is gone & we’re stuck with Trader Jack Z, Howie don’t call me Abraham Lincoln & Lloyd McMuffin in 2016 for the made up “8 year plan”…… sigh

    • art thiel

      Not sure about that, RJ. But I’m not sure change will help.

  • Edgar Martinez

    Unfortunately, nothing will change until the ownership changes. We’ve been saying it for years, but an absentee foreign ownership does not work for a variety or reasons. The main one, in my opinion, is that they know nothing about who to hire to be in charge of the whole thing.

    • art thiel

      The Mariners make money annually in operations and grow annually in equity value. What’s not to like?

      • Edgar Martinez

        Well, yeah. They didn’t get into it to win a world series, exactly.

  • ksmyth

    What’s really needed is a GM and ownership group that understands the peculiarities of Safeco Field and constructs rosters accordingly. The Mariners should be built around high on base percentages and speed offensively, but focused chiefly on run prevention. The model should be the ’87 Cardinals who played in roomy Busch Stadium, not the ’97 Mariners who played in the beloved bandbox that was the Kingdome.