Ever since the end of the baseball season back in October, the Seattle Mariners have been making news with a variety of moves both on and off the field of play.
Yet you have to wonder whether things will ever improve or will they only get worse as the team continues to sink further following a decade of futility.
I figured it might be entertaining to take a shot at making a few predictions, with some being more bold than others, about the Mariners not too distant future.
So for fun, let's give it a go and see how the good, the bad, and the ugly could change during the next three years...
Disclaimer: All predictions guaranteed wrong come December 2015...or your money back!
Chone Figgins may have moved on, but will the Seattle Mariners?
Financially the team will only have to pay him for one more season, but for the moment it's hard to imagine the M's landing another big name free agent any time soon following Figgins' disastrous stay in Seattle.
Perhaps it's a bit unfair to blame Figgins for all the Mariners troubles, yet I'm not convinced that moving in the fences next season is going to change players perception enough league-wide to have any of the next crop of high profile free agents decide to play half their games at Safeco.
Will the team improve statistically at the plate in 2013?
I sure hope so, but if Figgins finds a job elsewhere and reestablishes himself with a meaningful role it could make one of the team's biggest mistakes in recent years look even worse.
If that happens Jesus Montero will basically need to morph into Edgar Martinez 2.0 in order to combat the perception that Safeco Field is a hitters graveyard for free agents and right-handed hitters alike.
At some point at the rate things are going, this is going to happen, especially for manager Eric Wedge who will likely go overboard first.
Understand it's not that either one of them is doing anything terrible, it's that neither of them is making the right moves to move the needle.
Depending on how the Seattle Mariners start out the season next year will be telling as to how long these two men get to stay in Seattle.
Right now I can see Wedge getting axed either some time around the All-Star break or more likely by the end of the season, especially if the young hitters don't figure out how to make the most of another year's experience and after having the fences moved in.
How much blame you can pin on Wedge is difficult to measure, but the nature of the business dictates that the manager is often the first to go in losing ballclubs especially after two plus seasons at the helm.
In other words, he's been given a fair chance.
Meanwhile, if the bottom really falls out, general manager Jack Zduriencik will probably soon follow Wedge out the door as well.
That in some ways would be unfortunate, as Jack Zduriencik in a few short years has done a solid job of rebuilding the M's farm system and cleaned out a good portion of the deadwood remaining from the tenure of Bill Bavasi. However, the fruits of his labor have yet to fully take shape in Seattle.
Fact is I don't envy him and have to wonder whether his efforts this winter will seal his fate if the team fails to reach the 80 win plateau next season?
If the team doesn't compete next season for all 162 games and experiences a serious backslide, we could be starting from scratch once again next winter assuming ownership will conveniently let both men shoulder the blame.
When the time comes for the franchise to start over yet again, the search for a new general manager will be entertaining, but will likely end with a largely unknown entity taking the job.
That in itself may not necessarily be a bad thing, as I'm hopeful the new GM will inherit a decent farm-system along with arguably the best pitcher in baseball about to enter his prime.
So what do I think will be the first order of business for this new general manager?
Trade Felix Hernandez and after that, finish the job of cleaning house.
The deal for Felix will at the time seem like the end of the world for the franchise; however this immediate move will liberate the new GM of having the issue of Felix hang over his head and also net a package of players that will eventually help turn the Mariners around.
Some of the other moves made by the new GM will also be met with skepticism and also put them in hot water with the fans, but at the same time will help rebuild the team's outfield which will require a complete overhaul.
Meanwhile as that's getting done, the search for a new manager will begin.
The search for a new manager will also generate a lot of interest especially with Felix Hernandez being traded, yet will ultimately end with someone familiar to the Seattle Mariner fans as a means of soothing the masses.
After spending 24 seasons as a major league player, Omar Vizquel will begin his managerial career as the M's next skipper.
Is he really ready?
In an interview with Fox Sports Jon Paul Morosi, a few months back when asked what kind of manager Vizquel would be, he responded:
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t have a style yet, as a manager. I don’t know how the players are going to make you react, how they’re going to make you feel. I’m going to have a wide-open communication with all of them. That’s the only way you’re going to learn about your players.
You have to implement respect, so they respect you, but you have to be able to talk to them anytime about what bothers them, what they like, when they want to play. Do they want to play seven days a week, or would they rather take a break? Who do they feel comfortable against? Which pitchers do they (not) want to face? You have to know what’s going on with your players — same with the pitchers.
You are the manager. You have to be able to know about pitching, running the game, fielding, catching. Everything. You have to know everything.
Sounds risky, but both sides will take a chance on each other.
Many will think of it as a gimmick from the new GM acting on behalf of ownership, but the joke will be on them as Vizquel will actually turn the team around while earning back the respect of both the team and the community.
The question you've all been waiting for in three years time will probably still leave us guessing.
Assuming there are no major setbacks during the course of the next three seasons, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker should all be pitching at the major league level, but whether they all do so in Seattle and with success is something I'm not so sure of.
When all is said and done my best guess is that the trio will end up resembling, "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly."
The Good is Walker who in three years will start to show hints of greatness, but will occasionally struggle given his youth and the pressure of being anointed the "Chosen One" within the M's rotation. Over time though he too, much like Felix Hernandez, will grow into the role and embrace it as a perennial All-Star.
The Bad is Hultzen, who unfortunately will struggle and never get past the back end of the rotation as a pitcher who simply can't beat good hitters or good teams.
The Ugly will be Paxton simply because he will be the one that got away in a trade to a team that will see him flourish as either is a middle of the rotation guy or simply one of the best closers in baseball.
Sounds crazy right?
But is there any good news?
In three years time names like Casper Wells, Mike Carp, and Eric Thames are going to sound as distant as Wladimir Balentien, Jeff Clement, and Rob Johnson do to you now.
So who on the current roster will have any staying power?
Going into last season it seemed like Dustin Ackley would cement his claim in becoming the face of the franchise, but instead ended up having a miserable season.
Meanwhile Kyle Seager, who barely made the roster coming out of Spring Training, ended up being the team's biggest surprise in 2012.
It's hard to say whether Ackley was that bad or whether Seager was that good. In time, I gather, the pair will settle in to comfortable roles within the team's infield by putting up solid, yet not spectacular numbers for the next several years.
Who else do I see becoming fixtures on the current roster?
Jesus Montero should improve at the plate over the few seasons, but the issue of where he should play on the field will become problematic over time especially if he fails to put up monster numbers and if Mike Zunino cements his spot behind the plate.
I wouldn't rule out a move to first base at some point in the future, but what about Justin Smoak?
As part of the house cleaning by the new GM, Justin Smoak will be packaged as a throw in with the belief that a change in scenery will make all the difference.
Depending on where he lands, it could actually help resurrect his career.
For whatever reason I can see Smoak either in St. Louis or Atlanta and suddenly figure out how to hit a baseball consistently while playing in a lineup that can protect him on a daily basis.
Crazy as it sounds, I can imagine Smoak hitting .250 with 25 HR and 90 RBI for a playoff bound team in the NL in just a few years time.
Another player I can see the M's later regret trading or releasing is Carlos Triunfel.
During his brief stint with the big club last season, Triunfel didn't do too much to win anything more than an invite at Spring Training and a spot on the bench next season; however he is still quite young and could end up being another Jose Bautista type player who after a few years of wandering finds a home and makes a decent career for himself.
Speaking of wandering, if things don't improve for Michael Pineda in New York, eventually the Yankees will give up on him and oddly enough I can actually see him returning to Seattle to repair his career.
Will he return to the level of greatness we saw early on with the M's during his rookie season in 2011?
Probably not and yet for some reason I have trouble shaking the image of Pineda as someone who really looked like he felt comfortable in Seattle for the short time he was here.
Wouldn't it be wild to see him sign on as Spring Training invite in a few years time, just barely make the team and then morph from a middle reliever to the closer role over the course of a season?
Meanwhile if anyone is going to morph into something special, I suppose it might as well be Mike Zunino.
Six months ago, I considered the selection of Zunino by the Mariners with the No. 3 pick a mistake.
Turns out I was the one mistaken as Zunino has so far managed to breeze through the M's farm system at breakneck speed.
Will he be playing in Seattle by the end of next season?
He might get a cup of coffee, but I'd be curious to see how he does in 2014 and beyond.
If Zunino is as good as advertised, the M's could have someone capable of making fans at least try to forget about Felix Hernandez if and when the time comes.
Zunino's work ethic, competitive nature, and ability to hit a baseball with authority should put him at the top of the list when it comes to replacements for the face of the franchise as I can see him emerging as a leader both on and off the field to help turn the Mariners around.
Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong aren't going anywhere folks.
As much as we would all like to think that the "braintrust" will retire or simply go away via sale of the team by the shadowy Hiroshi Yamaguchi, I just don't see it happening any time soon.
But aren't the M's making all of the moves necessary to sell?
On the surface it would sure seem so, but until that actually happens, I can't see ownership spending any real money to improve the team on the field.
Therefore, we really are left with hoping the kids will grow up, that deals for prospects or unheralded players work out, and that aging spare parts will somehow find the fountain of youth during their time in Seattle.
In other words, reinforcements aren't coming in spite of whatever anyone within the organization says.
It's far easier and cheaper to offer lip-service at this point rather than take on any long-term risks while trimming away all the excess fat in preparation for a sale when the time is right.
Meanwhile if the current batch of youngsters such as Dustin Ackley, Danny Hultzen, and Mike Zunino fail, so be it, on to the next batch of prospects.
At the same time the blame will continue to fall on Jack Zduriencik long after he's gone, just like we all still curse Bill Bavasi almost five years removed.
It's a vicious cycle that only looks to get worse and has shaken the confidence of many a Mariner fan as The Seattle Times Larry Stone explained in follow-up to the Josh Hamilton signing last week:
It's a full-blown crisis of confidence, one that informs the reaction to every move the organization makes. Whether it be moving in the fences, raising some season-ticket prices without informing customers, or the Jason Bay signing, it is viewed, overwhelming, through a prism of scorn, distrust and cynicism. At least, that's the vibe that is reaching me.
And that brings us to Thursday, when Josh Hamilton chose someone else besides the Mariners, and fans went bonkers . Most saw it coming, yet his signing with the Angels became just the latest "proof" that the Mariners are not-ready-for-prime-time players. I predict the initial reaction to virtually any subsequent acquisition this winter by GM Jack Zduriencik -- unless they trade for Mike Trout -- will be more hard-core skepticism.
That's where this organization is right now, like it or not. And the only way I see to change it, short of an ownership or upper-management change, is by winning.
It's that simple, winning and on the cheap if possible.
Yet if a rag-tag cast of kids, a few wily veterans, and perhaps one or two All-Star caliber players could string together an entertaining if not decent season things might change for the better, right?
But wait didn't the same thing happen in 2009?
Didn't the team then go out and trade for Cliff Lee along with Milton Bradley and sign Chone Figgins?
And with that we've come full circle.
Will that circle be unbroken?
We all keep hope while wishing and waiting, but right now I'm having a hard time believing it will.
Either way, the Mariners will continue to play baseball and come March our cold hearts will thaw just a bit as we start to see familiar faces show up for Spring Training eager for a shot at proving us and the world wrong.
Now we wait, while feeling frustrated and neglected by an organization that has seemingly lost its way. A big screen TV and moving in the fences may be well intended along with whatever other bells and whistles the team plans to throw at us, but it really does come down to winning.
Unfortunately with the Mariners, everyone for far too long has banked on this team finding a way of being lucky rather than good, rather than the other way around. Until that day comes we're all stuck in limbo, waiting for kids to mature and for prospects to materialize to form a nucleus of something both lucky and good that's built to last.