Seattle Mariners Lost Years: Bill Bavasi's Demolition Derby
After the end of the 2003 season when Pat Gillick left the team, the Mariners were in contention. Safeco Field offered some of America's best baseball. Just two years before, Seattle's "boys of summer" had set the record for most wins in a season.
Each spring, as lights were being tested and clubhouses were being swept clean in ballparks across the Cactus League, Mariners fans would gather around water coolers and talk of the promise to come.
There was no reason for fans to think the winning would stop. The M's had been successful for the better part of a decade and in the shining glare of that past success, the future for the Mariners looked bright.
All of that would come crashing down with the hiring of Bill Bavasi. What Woodward and Gillick had created, Bavasi put asunder. With relentless determination, the Mariners new GM began the methodical dismantling of a once proud franchise.
The demolition began immediately with the trade of Freddy Garcia in 2004. Shortly thereafter, Bavasi sent Carlos Guillen to Detroit. Randy Winn was sent to San Francisco before the trade deadline in 2005. In less than two years, Bavasi had ripped the heart from the Mariners clubhouse.
To many fans, Bavasi's moves seemed to be malevolent and diabolical. The players he was sending away were a part of the organization. We had watched them grow from supporting cast members into featured players. They were the successors.
Apparently, sending away the future wasn't enough. Phase two in Bavasi's strategy: Acquire a bevy of semi-talented, almost-has-been role players and hope they can mesh into a team, while playing above their individual skill sets.
Although, Bavasi made many poor decisions during his time as the Mariners GM, the following are the five worst free agent acquisitions during his reign.
Prior to being acquired by the Mariners, Carl Everett was best known for his on-field antics and his off-field opinions. His fiery temper and love of being "the hated guy" had been cited as a detriment to almost every clubhouse he had been a part of.
Apparently, that made him a perfect acquisition for Bavasi.
On December 14, 2005 Everett was signed to a one-year contract (with an option for a second year.) This acquisition's only saving grace was the price tag. At a relatively cheap $3.4 million, Everett could have been a great insertion into the DH role. Unfortunately, he was way beyond his prime and got more attention for his mouth than his bat.
In 308 at-bats over 92 appearances, Everett had a .227 batting average, 11 home runs and just 32 RBI. On July 26, 2006, after Bavasi determined that enough damage had been done, Everett was designated for assignment.
He has not played at the Major League level since.
On December 14, 2005, Adrian Beltre was signed to a five-year deal for an estimated $64 million.
At the time, this was considered a blockbuster acquisition that would give Seattle a much needed right-handed bat. Beltre could hit for power, as well as average and was maturing into a leader in the clubhouse.
Unfortunately, he never lived up to the hype. Over the course of the next five years, Adrian posted a .266 batting average, while never breaking 100 RBI.
Although, his numbers weren't horrific, and he did win two Gold Gloves while with the Mariners, what hurts the most are the two years book-ending his time in Seattle.
The year before the Mariners acquired him while playing for the Dodgers, Beltre hit .334 with 48 home runs and 121 RBI.
The year after he left the Mariners while playing with the Boston Red Sox, he hit .321 with 28 home runs and 102 RBI.
He has continued that kind of production with the Texas Rangers and just inked a multi-year deal worth upwards of $80 million.
This speaks volumes about clubhouse chemistry and how it affects individual performance. There is a heart to all great teams. A core that defines it. Under Bavasi this heart was removed and never replaced. Consequently, players that had historically performed at a high level did not in Bavasi's clubhouse.
On April 4, 2005 in front of 46,000 fans, Richie Sexson began his Mariners career going 2 for 3 and belting two home runs. That year Sexson would hit 37 more home runs and drive in 121 RBI.
Unfortunately, he would never again be able to replicate that success.
In 2007 in his last full year as a Mariner, Sexson batted .205, while only managing 21 home runs and 67 RBI.
Alas, Sexson was another example of Bavasi acquiring a player past his prime and then paying him way too much money. Sexson made nearly $50 million over the course of his four-year career with Mariners.
On July 10, 2008, Sexson was given his outright release by the Mariners, and although he went on to have a cup of coffee with the Yankees, Sexson would never play a full season of Major League Baseball again.
On January 30, 2007, Seattle signed Jeff Weaver to a one-year $8.4 million contract. This was an obvious "Bavasi Move." The previous year, Weaver had went 8-13 with a 6.13 ERA. At the time, Seattle fans were entering their "Era of Dissent." Blogs were beginning to call for Bavasi's head, and an online petition for his firing had been started.
The water cooler talk began to resemble a scene from the beginning of the movie Major League.
Weaver did not disappoint the naysayers. After his first six starts, Weaver was the proud owner of a 14.32 ERA. He had pitched exactly 22 innings.
In a move to get him out of the clubhouse and hopefully get his head straight, the M's placed him on the DL. This allowed them to send him on a rehab assignment.
Weaver came back from the assignment with a better grasp of the strike zone. Unfortunately, he had dug himself too much of hole. He finished the year with a 6-13 record and a 6.20 ERA.
In an outcome mirroring that of Everett and Sexson, Weaver never started another game in the Major Leagues. Although he would pitch in spot relief for the Dodgers over the next couple of years, his career was over. He has not pitched in the Majors since 2009.
On December 20, 2007, the Seattle Mariners acquired Carlos Silva. The terms of the deal had Silva pitching at "The Safe" for the next four years at a price tag of $48 million.
At the time of his signing Carlos stated, "[Safeco is] my favorite stadium."
He further cited the spacious dimensions as being a key factor in his choosing to play for Seattle. Perhaps he believed that those "spacious dimensions" would cut down on his home runs allowed. In 2006, he allowed a Major League worst 1.90 home runs per nine innings pitched.
Although, his total home runs allowed did drop, Carlos proved he wasn't worth the payday. During his time in Seattle, he posted a 5-18 record with a 6.91 ERA. He lasted two years with the Mariners. He was traded to the Cubs for Milton Bradley and cash.
What do these five acquisitions tell us about baseball? It's not about acquisitions. It's about development. Successful teams develop players over time and feed them into a system that is designed for longevity.
Teams that are constantly looking for that panacea, for that "silver bullet," will never have long-term success. Eventually those acquisitions catch up, and instead of a team, you're left with a collection of over-priced ball players.
In 2008, Bavasi's bevy of blatantly mediocre talent, set a new standard for losing. That year the Mariners became the first professional franchise with a $100 million payroll to lose 100 games.
Fortunately for Mariners fans, that era has ended. On October 22, 2008, the M's hired Jack Zduriencik as their GM. Since then, Jack has made moves that hearken back to the time of Woody Woodward or Pat Gillick; back to a time when there was hope, and baseball in Seattle was good. Players are being developed again. There is a sense that something is building.
Only time will tell, but once again the future holds promise.