A few weeks ago, a not-so-small news story surfaced in the New York Daily News that included one of the Seattle Mariners up-and-coming players has since been eclipsed by the signing of Felix Hernandez to his big seven-year, $175 million extension.
While it's nice to ponder the possibilities of what King Felix's signing may lead to, it's also a bit foolish to ignore the potential issues that may come from Jesus Montero's link to the Miami-based BioGenesis clinic.
As Dave Cameron at USS Mariner wrote when the news broke, "Let’s be realistic—a player’s name being linked to BioGenesis is not a good thing. It’s not a smoking gun, and you shouldn’t automatically brand Montero a steroid user, but it’s not nothing either."
Sadly I feel like we've been here before as we saw with Seahawks cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner a few months ago, as both faced suspensions following news that each had tested positive for banned substances.
Ultimately things worked out for the 'Hawks as they managed to make the postseason even while Browner served his four-game suspension. Meanwhile, Sherman won his appeal against the NFL and was voted as first team All-Pro.
At this stage, Montero still seems a bit overwhelmed by the situation as he explained to The Seattle Times' Geoff Baker:
I don’t really know what’s going on. I didn’t have anything to do with those people. I know my agent’s been handling everything. I don’t know anything about it. I just talked to my family, I told them ‘It’s nothing, don’t worry about.’
We’re happy. I’m just doing my job over here trying to be ready for spring training and be ready for the season. What can I say? It surprised me too.
While it's still early, the situation still begs the question of whether the Mariners could weather the storm if Montero is suspended.
First and foremost this complicates the situation behind the plate at catcher, as John Jaso is now in Oakland and I doubt that anyone in the organization wants to press Mike Zunino into service with only a few months of pro ball under his belt.
Funny thing is that only a few months ago I was foolish enough to believe the Mariners had done a decent job of setting themselves up at catcher for both the present and future with the options of Jaso and Montero with Zunino waiting in the wings.
Instead, we face the prospect of platooning the catcher position at some point this season if anything happens to Montero.
With all due respect to veterans Kelly Shoppach and Ronny Paulino, for a team looking to turn a corner, this is hardly the kind of tandem we had all hoped for behind the plate and that's assuming both of them have enough gas left in the tank to do the job.
Making matters worse is the potential drop off at the plate for the M's.
Bill James at Fangraphs actually projected a decent sophomore season for Montero hitting .285 with 22 home runs and 82 RBI. While on some levels that may seem a bit optimistic, it's not unrealistic to see Montero approaching those numbers with more veteran protection in the lineup, a lower spot in the batting order and the fences moved in at Safeco Field.
Yet surprisingly enough, if you try gluing together projections for Kenny Pauloppach (Shoppach & Paulino) "he" could hit .230 with 15 HR and 60 RBI which nearly duplicates what Montero did all by himself last year.
For a full season, that wouldn't be all that impressive from the pair in helping the Mariners offense, but if we consider the worst-case scenario—a suspension of 50 games—it certainly seems like something the team could survive.
In all honesty, if the worst thing to happen to the Mariners this season is seeing Montero suspended and having Shoppach and Paulino platoon in his place while producing the aforementioned stat projections, we should all consider that a not-too-tragic outcome.
My concern is what happens if that isn't the worst thing to happen.
The starting lineup is still very much a work in progress with a mixture of youngsters and veterans jockeying for positions both on the field and in the batting order.
What's confusing here is not whether the Mariners can survive without Montero, but whether or not Montero will even be missed.
The easy answer is yes, especially with Jaso gone. Montero's role behind the plate appeared all the more significant before the allegations surfaced. At the same time, it's hard to judge if Montero's presence would make a significant impact.
If all goes to plan, having Montero hit .280-plus with 20-plus HR and 80-plus RBI could be the difference in making a push for a wildcard berth, rather than simply being a .500 ballclub.
If Montero is lost for any meaningful stretch, either due to suspension or by injury, and the rest of the lineup tanks, would the M's be more or less inclined to give Zunino a shot if he has proven that he is ready?
It's just a thought, But how the situation with Montero unfolds could complicate things for the Mariners if his link to BioGenesis is something more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As much as I hate to say it, I feel like we had better brace ourselves for more. More allegations, more nonsense and more questions than answers. Right now I'm hoping for the best, but also preparing for the worst. Let's just hope the Mariners are capable of doing the same.
Montero was brought to Seattle to be a part of the big picture a little over a year ago. But this year he needs to step up, whether he's on the field or not, while also being mindful that any major problems could potentially force him out of the picture.
Stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed.
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