Brandon Morrow Closing Starts Clock on Seattle Departure

Casey McLainSenior Analyst IApril 3, 2009

SEATTLE - MAY 28: Brandon Morrow #35 of the Seattle Mariners lines up his pitch against the Boston Red Sox on May 28, 2008 at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

When Brandon Morrow chose to exit the Mariners starting rotation, he all-but-ensured that either he or new General Manager Jack Zduriencik would also exit Seattle at some point in the near future.

For years I’ve debated with close friends, or anyone with a functional knowledge of baseball and a willing ear, about the overvalued closer position. The ignorance displayed by paying a guy over 10 percent of a team’s payroll to play less than five percent of a team’s defensive innings seems asinine to say the least.

Zduriencik, albeit unwillingly, proved that he seconds my notion when he traded 2008 closer J.J. Putz for prospects. And then began the hunt.

David Aardsma, Mark Lowe, Chad Cordero and a seemingly endless line of varying arm angles, velocities, and repertoire were paraded throughout the spring in what was considered perhaps the most important position battle facing the team.

The team signed Bill Bavasi-draftee Josh Fields, a 23-year-old college closer, as Zduriencik did his best to make chocolate cake from the fecal matter left to him.

Then Morrow, after two years of debate and agony among Mariners fans over his proper place on the pitching staff, after an offseason of winter ball stretching his pitch count, a minor league assignment, and an eventual successful major league debut as a starter, decided he’d rather finish games than start them.

Dashed are the hopes of any potential return on Miguel Batista’s awful tenure as a Mariner, decreased are the effectiveness of savvy acquisitions of players like Cordero and Aardsma, and gone is any potentially inflated value that Lowe may have commanded in a Putz-like ascension-by-attrition rise to the closer spot.

Notably, Putz was a sixth-round pick who started 76 games in the first four years of his minor league career. Putz was deeply entrenched in the Mariners bullpen when he cured his pitching woes, finding a dominating second pitch, let alone a third, surely a hurdle Morrow would have been forced to leap over also.

It may seem crass, to criticize a diabetic for choosing to take a lesser workload. However, while Morrow’s condition is certainly one for concern, the recently-traded Jay Cutler spends his fall and winter Sundays dodging 300-pound men while suffering from the same condition.

With Fields in waiting, a half-dozen worthy arms behind him, and Zduriencik’s frugal personnel strategies, it’s all but assured that even with the utmost success, Morrow will eventually price his way out of a Mariner uniform.

It isn’t however, only Morrow’s fault. The team brought him to the majors with a cup of coffee in both Rookie and A ball, as well as a big league spring training under his belt. The team won 88 games in 2007, Morrow’s rookie season, including 16 smoke and mirrors aided victories of the aforementioned Batista.

The Mariners were riding high after what would ultimately be Bavasi’s only winning season as Mariners general manager, despite the team being outscored by 19 runs over the course of the season.  

One is left to wonder; is everything that Bavasi touched in Seattle cursed? Had the Mariners drafted Tim Lincecum instead, would he have been mishandled the same way? Lincecum was drafted five spots after Morrow.

Many analysts felt that Lincecum, the 2008 National League Cy Young Award winner, couldn’t be a starter in the pros because of his awkward delivery and small stature.

The same was said about Pedro Martinez, whose similar stature and violent delivery, as well as extended success made a fool out of Tommy Lasorda.

Also gone, perhaps most greatly felt, is perhaps the biggest chance for potential improvement from 2008 to 2009. For all intents and purposes, the Mariners would be trading an awful Batista for an unknown Morrow. An unknown however, that couldn’t be much worse than the former on its darkest day.

Perhaps the only positive is that while Morrow spends the rest of his arbitration years tossing single and fractions of innings for the M’s, Ryan Rowland-Smith has been given the opportunity to build on a promising 2008 run as a starter.

Rowland-Smith started 12 times for the Mariners last year, posting respectable numbers, without the luxury of stretching his “golden” arm out in AAA like Morrow got.

Casey is a writer and co-founder of 5th Quarter Sports