Re-Grading Every Seattle Mariners Offseason Acquisition
For a split second on Wednesday afternoon, I wanted to believe again.
Believe that Kyle Seager with one swing of the bat could show us the way. Almost improbably he did, with a game-tying grand slam in the 14th inning to keep the Seattle Mariners alive when seemingly all was lost.
Of course two innings later it all fell apart.
In some ways the Mariners 16-inning loss on Wednesday to the White Sox followed by the flat performance Thursday against the Yankees was symbolic of this season, a roller-coaster ride with a series of highs and lows that ultimately left everyone dizzy and generally unsatisfied.
With each passing week we hope to find answers with this team. Yet as we settle in to the month of June, it's getting harder and harder to escape the fact a lot of people within the organization are starting to feel some serious pressure, especially manager Eric Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik.
With that in mind, I figured it might be as good a time as any to revisit some of the Mariners offseason moves to see if they have contributed to the team's weak start.
In most cases I have grades that I assigned back in January to help compare, but for others who came into the fold later on, I made sure to reference their potential contributions in pieces written throughout the offseason.
As you can imagine some moves have worked out quite well, while others have not, but will any of the revised grades surprise you?
Let's take a look and see...
Where to begin?
Back in early January when I reviewed the team's moves to date, I wasn't quite sure how to feel about the signing of Jason Bay. Eventually I settled upon the safe "low risk, high reward" response with the hopes that spring training would help answer the question.
Now more than two months into the season, I will confess that I'm still searching for answers.
Bay in spite of his recent power surge, still leaves me underwhelmed, yet I wouldn't go as far as saying his performance has been frustrating.
I suppose for this season his presence is neither harmful nor particularly helpful. Occasionally his bat will show signs of life, but not often enough to make you believe he's going to go to make a significant difference.
Perhaps what makes matters worse is the fact that the M's other options in the outfield are equally underwhelming.
If Bay were simply needed to fill in occasionally and help teach a handful of younger players how to play the game, I'd probably see his presence in a more positive light. Yet when you consider that the M's already have Mike Morse and Raul Ibanez on the roster to technically serve that purpose, it leaves you to wonder if Bay's role is necessary.
Of course you can argue that with Morse struggling to stay healthy and Ibanez having just turned 41, I gather the M's feel Bay is worth keeping around along with Endy Chavez. What I will be curious to see is whether Bay's role evolves, as the roster will likely continue to undergo various tweaks in the coming weeks.
For today, I consider Bay a survivor given he made the opening day roster, has stayed healthy to participate in well over 40 games through the first two months of the season and hasn't embarrassed himself at the plate following his disastrous stint in New York.
Revised Grade: B- (Original Grade: C+)
Speaking of players that remain hard to figure, enter Joe Saunders.
Back in late December when Saunders was one of several players the Mariners were rumored to be interested in, I expressed my concerns about the potential move and even joked that inking Jamie Moyer would perhaps be a better move instead.
So far this season Saunders has done very little to prove me wrong in having posted a record of 4-5 with a 5.20 ERA over 71.0 innings pitched, but with strikingly different home and road splits (ESPN).
At Safeco Field Saunders has been solid, everywhere else he's been a disaster.
Perhaps I wouldn't find Saunders performance quite as vexing if:
1. He was the only starter struggling this season.
2. That either left-handed pitching prospect Danny Hultzen or James Paxton was ready to join the rotation some time soon.
Unfortunately such is not the case.
Instead we are forced to watch the fossilized remains of Saunders, Aaron Harang and Jeremy Bonderman try to make it through five innings each time they touch the rubber hoping they keep the game close enough for the M's offense and bullpen to have a shot at winning.
Sometimes, like Monday night for instance, they make it work, but sometimes you get the kind of performance we saw Thursday night from Harang and on Sunday in Minnesota by Jeremy Bonderman.
Revised Grade: C
After nearly three years since his last major league start, Jeremy Bonderman took the mound this past Sunday against the Minnesota Twins.
When asked afterwards how he felt following the M's 10-0 loss, Bonderman described the experience with mixed emotions (Associated Press via ESPN):
"It was a lot of fun to walk out there and get back on the field," Bonderman said. "It's fun to be out there, but you got to pitch better than that."
Bonderman was charged with seven earned runs on nine hits, three of them home runs, and a walk in 4 2/3 innings. He threw 87 pitches, 53 for strikes. Sidelined by shoulder (2011) and elbow (2012) injuries before signing a minor league deal with Seattle on Jan. 9, he had made 11 starts at Triple-A Tacoma, going 2-4 with a 4.52 ERA before Sunday.
For the moment this is a nice story and I'm genuinely happy for him in having made it all the way back, but what's next will determine whether or not this move is of any significance for the Mariners this season.
Can Bonderman rebound and provide any meaningful value the remainder of this season?
I have my doubts, yet with this pitching staff I wouldn't rule out the potential of him being given a fair amount of chances to try over the better part of this month.
While it may be tempting to flunk this move, right now I don't have the heart to do so. When you consider how far Bonderman came over the course of the past few years, I feel inclined to let him pass.
Revised Grade: C- (Original Grade: B-)
USA TODAY Sports
Back in February when news leaked that Jesus Montero was linked to the Miami-based BioGenesis clinic, I questioned whether the M's would struggle if he were to miss significant time either due to injury or suspension.
Who knew that Montero would end up both injured and face the potential of being suspended (ESPN) after the M's sent him to the minors following a dreadful start, only to replaced by the combination of Kelly Shoppach and Jesus Sucre behind the plate instead?
Regardless, what began as a crude forecast based on a worst case scenario, oddly enough has truly come back to haunt the M's as the numbers I projected for Shoppach and then Ronny Paulino hitting .230 with 15 HR and 60 RBI, today seem truly absurd.
In fairness to Shoppach, he wasn't hired to hit the baseball, but his numbers to date (ESPN) coupled with Montero's absence and Sucre's shortcomings as a hitter have left the Mariners with yet another soft spot in an already anemic lineup.
Watching Shoppach split the catching duties with Sucre only makes you hope all the more that hot prospect Mike Zunino; unlike Montero is the real deal both at and behind the plate.
Revised Grade: C-
In the case of Robert Andino, I think most of you can take a guess how this move will be graded.
Through 29 games and 76 plate appearances (ESPN), the Mariners had seen enough, as Andino couldn't hold down a spot at either shortstop or second base while both Brendan Ryan and Dustin Ackley struggled.
Honestly, any time a player is designated for assignment before the month of June, it's hard to give anyone involved in the situation a passing grade.
Perhaps the only positive in this move is that the exchange of Trayvon Robinson (milb.com) hasn't backfired as he remains at Triple-A Norfolk?
Revised Grade: F (Original Grade: C-)
For a guy that just turned 41 years old, it would appear that Raul Ibanez can still play the game of baseball.
Following a slow start to the season, Ibanez seemed to come alive during the month of May.
Can he keep it going in June?
So far so good, yet the fact that the team is relying on Ibanez to contribute speaks volumes of the direction the team is headed this season.
Much like Jason Bay, I didn't place too much faith in this move over the winter, but for the moment have to give credit to the ageless Ibanez when you consider he could come close to matching his output the past few seasons provided he stays healthy.
Technically Ibanez shouldn't be playing at all for someone his age, but for now I suppose we should simply enjoy it while it lasts.
Revised Grade: B+ (Original Grade: C)
Up to this point, you could argue that the players on this list are merely castaways being asked to fill a role for this season and no one of any major importance long-term.
With Kendrys Morales though the narrative changes considerably as he has managed to settle in to the Mariners lineup over the course of the past few weeks and looks like someone the team may want to consider making an effort to retain.
Of course, since we're talking about the Mariners here, the situation with Morales is far more complicated than simply offering the right number of years and money after the end of this season.
For example, if Morales plays lights out the remainder of this season, will he effectively price himself out of Seattle by drawing a good deal of attention from other suitors?
Meanwhile what happens if he plays poorly?
Did I also mention that his agent is Scott Boras?
Finally and perhaps most importantly, does anyone happen to know who will be either the manager or general manager next season in Seattle?
While I'm still unsure where this is all going, I'm quite keen on finding out in the coming weeks.
Whether Morales stays or goes remains to be seen, but so far this season the trade for him is arguably the best move that Jack Zduriencik this offseason. Morales may not be flashy, but for the time being he appears solid and for the Mariners that's as good a place to start as any as they continue to round out their lineup.
Revised Grade: A- (Original Grade: B)
This season Mike Morse, for all intents and purposes, was supposed to be the man upon his return to Seattle.
At times he has been pretty good, but generally speaking not great as he's struggled with injuries for most of the season and has been inconsistent as a result.
With each passing day, projections of him hitting a not too unreasonable .280 with 20 HR and 80 RBI as the Mariners stud, look more and more of a reach.
Is it possible now that he's back in the lineup that he can rebound and make a push for those numbers before the end of the season?
Sure, but right now that's besides the point.
What the Mariners needed from Morse was for him to serve as the leader to help get the starting lineup off to a positive start in 2013, as followup to the team's success at spring training. Instead what we've seen so far is more of the same mediocrity we've grown accustomed to over the past decade.
Like so many things this season, it wasn't supposed to be this way.
Is it fair to pin all of the team's failures on Morse?
Of course not, but in my mind Morse doesn't even appear capable of staying healthy enough to put up a fight.
Historically speaking, if you take away his breakout performance in 2011, Morse has only played close to or more than 100 games in a season only two other seasons in his career (ESPN). While some of those years can be attributed to how the M's and Nats opted to use him, the point is that at age 31, what are the odds that Morse can play every day either this season or any other?
Jack Zduriencik hoped he could and at some point may end up paying the price for being wrong.
Such is life with the Mariners, but until Morse shows some consistency by staying in the lineup and producing on a fairly frequent basis, I have to consider this move a dud.
Revised Grade: C
It's strange, but in hindsight most of the moves that Jack Zduriencik made this past winter are working to some degree. Players that at first glance would be hard to give the benefit of the doubt to are making real contributions.
On the surface that should be seen as a positive, but what's frustrating is that players like Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay were originally intended to serve in complementary roles, not become key everyday fixtures.
Yet with the likes of Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, and Justin Smoak out of the picture for the foreseeable future, not to mention the struggles of pitching prospects Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, the Mariners are left with little to no choice but to play the veterans added over the winter.
To their credit, most have stepped up their game in the time following the demotions of Montero and Ackley, but over the next few weeks and months it's hard to say what will happen.
Will the vets manage to keep the ship afloat by staying healthy and productive enough to play .500 baseball for the next four months?
Sadly, does it really matter?
At this point I'm curious to see what can be salvaged from the situation for next year and beyond. Unfortunately other than Kendrys Morales, I don't believe that anyone else in this group is capable or reliable enough to consider worthy of keeping and even Morales comes with a few question marks.
When looking at the big picture I feel that the M's haven't so much hit bottom, so much as they seem to be stuck in limbo.
They are neither the best or worst team in baseball, but unlike years past, the promise of the future is looking all the more cloudy. Beyond Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager and for the sake of not being a complete wet-blanket Nick Franklin and Carter Capps, who else on the current roster would you wager will still be around in 2015?
Perhaps Michael Saunders hangs on; maybe Dustin Ackley gets his swing back, but beyond them you still have close to 20 roster spots open.
Ideally likes of Mike Zunino, Brad Miller and Danny Hultzen grab a few of those spots, yet even if you take half a dozen of those top prospects and throw them in the mix you still have half your roster left to fill.
Rather than go on playing guessing games, I'd prefer to drive home the point that the past, present, and maybe even the once promising future may leave us disappointed as we remain stuck watching a team that can never seem to turn the corner.
Instead we are once again left to hope that the return of an aging outfielder can keep us entertained for the better part of the summer. Unlike Ken Griffey Jr. in 2009, Raul Ibanez may have more in the tank than I originally expected, but the fact that the front office is trying to sell us an equally punchless lineup four seasons later leaves me to wonder if it's once again time for a change.
I suppose until that time comes simply try to enjoy Ibanez along with his fellow fossils before they turn to dust, while keeping hope that the likes of Kyle Seager and Nick Franklin form some sort of nucleus in which either the current administration or perhaps a future one can build with.