Seattle Mariners: Moving in the Fences Is a Placebo for Players and Fans Alike
After years of offensive ineptitude at Safeco Field, the Seattle Mariners have decided to bring in the fences for the 2013 season and it would seem that just about everybody from the Seattle Times, U.S.S. Mariner, and Lookout Landing have all endorsed the change.
To be fair, it's hard to take issue with some of the responses when you lay out the key points.
In his piece for the Seattle Times, Larry Stone offered up two critical points on why he believes the move makes sense by focusing on both the development of current players and recruitment of prospective players:
The first is assuaging the battered psyches of the young Mariner hitters, beaten down by too many well-struck blasts which scream "home run" off the bat, only to die a maddening death at the warning track.
And the second is making Safeco Field a viable destination for free-agent sluggers who heretofore broke into a cold sweat at the mere mention of the ballpark, and instructed their agents not to take a call from Jack Zduriencik under any circumstances.
Jeff Sullivan, at Lookout Landing, takes a slightly similar tact, but with more cautious approach:
Of course, any ballpark adjustment is neutral, in that it has the same effect on visitor batted balls as it does on host batted balls. The Mariners and visiting teams have both long struggled to score in Safeco, and these adjustments aren't going to make the Mariners better on the field. But they could make the Mariners better in other, less-direct ways. We don't know what psychological effect Safeco was having on both hitters and pitchers, but there were definitely whispers, and it doesn't help a team to have its hitters hate the place they play.
Will Moving in the Fences Help?
While it's hard to deny that Safeco is a tough place to hit, especially for right handed hitters, can we also agree that this team, especially its young core hitters, have yet to see a pitch they didn't like?
A little over a week ago the Mariners Angels struck out 20 times against Zack Greinke and four different pitchers from the Angels bullpen and no one blinked.
At least Justin Smoak hit two homers that night, right?
Joking aside, it seemed like the Mariners struck out at least 10 times a game the entire season.
So, it really came as no surprise on Thursday that the team opted to not renew hitting coach Chris Chambliss' contract after the M's, "finished last in baseball this season in batting average (.234), on-base percentage (.296), slugging percentage (.369) and on-base plus slugging (.665)."
Yet beyond bringing in a new hitting coach, does it really matter how far they move in the fences if no one can actually hit the baseball?
One would hope that the key decision makers in the organization are aware of that fact, but it's been years since the Mariners have developed an everyday player capable of displaying any plate discipline whatsoever.
What effort is being made to address this issue?
Instead, the organization is spoon-feeding fans (and players) a giant placebo to help the franchise sell tickets for next season.
But are fans really going to go home happier watching the M's lose 7-4, rather than 2-0?
Probably, but it doesn't solve the real problem.
Sadly this move only accomplishes two things:
1. It takes away an easy excuse that players, writers, and fans have all made a cottage industry complaining about for the better part of the past decade.
2. It serves as a cheap way of keeping the current staff happy, rather than spending actual money on ballplayers in free agency.
Don't believe me?
Shortly after the move was announced, staff ace and face of the franchise Felix Hernandez offered his support, "I'm just happy for the hitters. It's going to help them a lot. I've heard guys say, 'Man, I hit that ball hard, and it didn't even make the warning track.' I say, 'Welcome to Safeco.' Now it's going to be different."
"But the M's will spend money this winter, right?"
Hard to say given the mixed message general manager Zduriencik offered up to Seattle Times writer Geoff Baker:
'I don't think it's a secret that if there was a bat that we were able to pursue that would be a good fit for us, we would pursue it,' Zduriencik said this week.
But at the same time, he added, the free-agent market looks weak and might require teams 'to get creative' in seeking upgrades.
In theory, payroll should go up in 2013, as U.S.S Mariner outlines, as means of competing in an already tough division, but I'm skeptical, especially when you add manager Eric Wedge's thoughts to the mix.
When asked by Geoff Baker about goals for next season, Wedge responded:
The first thing that comes to mind, obviously, is to continue to get better offensively...That would be ideal. But without breaking it down — looking at the free-agent market, looking at potential trade possibilities — you really can't dive too deep into it right now.
But I think that a veteran presence in our lineup, particularly in the middle of our lineup, would be great. Easier said than done.
In other words, instead of spending actual money, Zduriencik will either seek out, or at least consider, another Jesus Montero/Michael Pineda-type swap as it's easier to trade away the likes of a James Paxton rather than sign another Chone Figgins.
Until then, maybe this move will improve the psyche of the younger players, and perhaps get Adrian Beltre to stop bad-mouthing Safeco, who if I recall no one forced to sign with the M's.
But what's next?
Training wheels on the stationary bikes in the weight room, painting the bases bright vibrant colors and bibs for players while they eat on team flights?
Seriously, though, why not invest in hiring some solid hitting instructors throughout the organization to help players learn the fundamentals across each and every level?
Teach hitters how to take a pitch, hit to all fields, get on base and maybe even steal a base as a means of manufacturing runs rather than wait for someone to hit a homer.
It seems that rather than work from the bottom up, the Mariners are trying to take a top down approach to the situation which for years now has failed. Yes, Zduriencik has helped rebuild the M's farm system since joining the organization, but we're still waiting to see a complete hitter rise through the ranks.
Dustin Ackley looked like a promising candidate last year, but regressed sharply in 2012.
Will Mike Zunino step up?
The point is, even if Ackley and Zunino do put up solid numbers, it still won't be enough if players like Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager, Smoak and Montero can't drive them in either next year or the year after. Sure, they might hit a few more homers next season, but it's only going to make them and by extension fans feel good for so long if the team doesn't win.
Yet, I can already see the billboards now, "Mariners Baseball...Short fences, Big Expectations!"
Ultimately, time will tell what happens next, but for now I'm not buying what the M's are selling.
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