Adjustments the Seattle Mariners Need to Make to Get Back on Track
Are the Mariners beyond the point of help this season that even Russell Wilson couldn't possibly save them?
While the Seattle Seahawks' Wilson proved that one man could make a difference by capturing the hearts and minds of an entire city in just a few short months last year, I still struggled to see how this season could be salvaged for the Mariners.
"We can't keep watching this," manager Eric Wedge answered after Sunday's 2-1 loss when asked if more moves were on the horizon. "We've got to be better offensively. When we do create opportunities we're not taking advantage of it. We've got to create more opportunities. We're not going to come through every time, but we damn sure got to do better than we're doing right now."
Then on Tuesday, in a move that came as a surprise, but not quite a shock, the Mariners called an audible by calling up hot catching prospect and last year's No. 1 pick, Mike Zunino.
Is he ready, and will this move actually work?
Quite frankly, I have some serious doubts in both cases—and while it might be tempting to give up on the Mariners at this point, we've still got several weeks before the Seahawks start their season.
Therefore while we wait for the 'Hawks and see if the Mariners can stay afloat, I figured it might be worthwhile to debate what other adjustments the M's can make to get back on track.
Understand that by getting back on track, I mean long-term as this season, barring a minor miracle, is a loss.
So what I'm about to discuss here are a handful of suggestions, some of which are rattling around in the back of my head, while writers also following the team closely are proposing others.
Whether or not you agree with these moves is your choice, but at this point the status quo is no longer an acceptable option. Something needs to be done, as this organization is going nowhere fast.
Ackley in the Outfield?
Last night Mike Zunino began his major league career by going 1-for-4 with a single and a strikeout while providing fans at Safeco Field a much-needed boost of energy.
Yet before we get too far ahead of ourselves with all the excitement surrounding Zunino, let's not forget that this time two years ago Dustin Ackley was the M's hot prospect making his debut.
Sadly it seems like Ackley's solid start in Seattle didn't start the turnaround for the Mariners, as the once-promising future face of the franchise now finds himself trying to rediscover his swing at Triple-A.
To his credit, Ackley has looked good at Tacoma since being demoted, but what does the future hold for the M's former starting second baseman?
Can Ackley and his replacement at second base, Nick Franklin, coexist on the same roster?
Perhaps, but as Dave Cameron at USS Mariner suggests, Ackley may need to consider a move to the outfield.
Maybe it is finally time to ask Dustin Ackley to start taking some reps in the outfield. No, I don’t think Ackley should be converted into an OF full time — and I still prefer him to Nick Franklin long term at second base — but with Franklin playing well enough to deserve a real shot at second base, Ackley’s best path back to the Majors this year involves him having some defensive versatility. And he’s got both the history and the skills that suggest that he could probably pick up the OF fairly quickly.
OF isn’t a new position for him, as he played there when his arm was healthy enough to allow it in college. Most of the people who were skeptical about his ability to become a quality defensive second baseman have projected Ackley as a long term OF since he has the foot speed to cover some ground out there. You’d probably want to give him a little bit of time to get used to reading balls off the bat again, but it wouldn’t be long of a process to get him to a point where he’s an upgrade over what the Mariners are using in the outfield right now. After all, anyone who isn’t an amputee is an upgrade defensively from Ibanez and Morse.
While it may sound harsh to compare Ibanez and Morse to amputees, the rest of what Cameron outlines seems fair.
Ackley did play outfield at North Carolina along with first base, and in both cases the M's may be well-served to see whether Ackley is game, but especially in the outfield.
Even beyond the current roster, the Mariners really don't have anyone in the pipeline ready to take over an outfield spot within the next year or two.
Unless you're still holding out hope that Carlos Peguero or Eric Thames will somehow magically mature in to major league players?
With that said, I think Ackley should start shagging fly balls as soon as possible.
Promote Brad Miller?
While we're focusing on the shuffling of players between the Seattle Mariners and Tacoma Rainiers, should the M's continue adding youngsters to the roster?
Just prior to Mike Zunino's promotion earlier this week, John McGrath at the Tacoma News Tribune suggested that shortstop Brad Miller could be ready to make the move into the M's leadoff spot to replace veteran Jason Bay:
Raw? No question. A second-round draft selection out of Clemson in 2011, Miller brought only 151 games of pro experience into 2013. But in those 151 games, he hit .341.
And now, at 23, he’s raking at Triple-A.
Again, I’ve got nothing but admiration for Bay, whose job as occasional outfielder somehow has converted him into an everyday leadoff man.
But if Wedge is screaming for somebody to stick his nose in there and fight through an at-bat, here’s a suggestion:
Promote Miller to the next level, and pencil him in as the Mariners’ leadoff man. Miller won’t save the season — he’s not a miracle worker — but he’ll give Mariners fans a reason to watch games better than the one they watched Sunday, when a first-inning pickoff throw foreshadowed another afternoon destined for gloom.
At first glance it's tempting to consider, as Miller for all intents and purposes is being groomed as the M's shortstop of the future.
Upon further review, though, opening the floodgates to Seattle by promoting one prospect after another is a mixture of dangerous and desperate. Unlike Nick Franklin, who across two seasons proved he could handle Triple-A pitching, both Miller and Zunino barely have two months of action between them at Tacoma.
Sure, Miller is raking, but so was Zunino coming out of the gate this spring. Then slowly but surely he started to struggle as pitchers became increasingly familiar with his game.
For the moment, what harm is there in letting Miller get a little more time at Tacoma to be sure he can handle Triple-A before sending him up the road to Seattle?
While I fully understand that Brendan Ryan isn't setting the world on fire, I do see value in letting him play a little while longer to see if the M's can perhaps trade him before the July deadline to a team in search of a defensive wizard at shortstop.
Funny thing is, if that were to happen, I'm still not sure I'd immediately push for Miller to follow Ryan.
In fact, I'd probably be inclined to see if Carlos Triunfel could prove himself as the team's shortstop for the remainder of the season with the hopes that the M's would finally give him a chance to play every day.
I must confess that I have an irrational attachment to Triunfel for some strange reason, but at this stage of his career I believe the Mariners need to figure out once and for all if he can play at the major league level.
If he can, great; but if he can't, then the job is Miller's to lose next spring.
Did someone say fire sale?
Yes, I'm afraid we are rapidly approaching that point. The Mariners have a lot of deadwood on their roster, most of which I'm not sure the team will get much in return for, but so be it.
A few weeks ago I put together a short list of players that could be seen as the M's best trade bait, and today I would probably only make a few slight adjustments to that list.
In light of the team's recent struggles, does this mean that everyone must go?
No, but if the right deal comes along I'd like to hope that general manager Jack Zduriencik is willing to focus upon the team's future rather than try to salvage this particular season.
Of course in reality, that's easier said than done, and the potential conflict of interest here is quite strong as Jack Z is most likely fighting for his job as we speak.
In the coming weeks, I will be curious to see how things unfold and whether or not the team opts to keep the likes of aging/injured players such as Mike Morse and Brendan Ryan or studs Hisashi Iwakuma and Kendrys Morales.
Depending on your perspective, such moves are either necessary or foolish, but regardless, I can't picture the Mariners standing pat between now and the trade deadline.
How the next few weeks unfold both on the field and off will be critical, as I strongly believe the M's roster will look very different by late summer.
Last, but certainly not least, it's time to clean house.
To me this is no longer a question of if, but when.
Perhaps general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge can continue to tread water a bit longer and even make it to the end of the season, but time and patience when considering their body of work in Seattle the past few years is wearing thin.
What's particularly frustrating is that Jack Z appears to want more time, but as Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times explained earlier this week:
Right now, other than a good bullpen and more minor league prospects who may or may not work out in another year or two, this team can’t produce evidence that things will be different in 2015. It can’t win right now, even with a rotation fronted by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.
That could still change in the weeks and months ahead. But unless it does and Zduriencik can at least point to a .500 season from the current decade, the case for giving his plan two more years hasn’t been made. Remember, the end-goal of this plan was supposed to be contention year after year. Right now, there is no evidence this team can contend even once.
And giving Zduriencik two more years now could lead to pleas for two more years midway through the 2015 season. Which is how three-year plans give birth to five-year plans, seven-year plans and even 10-year plans.
At some point, there must be tangible results. And other than being younger and cheaper, this squad hasn’t proven any better than the one Zduriencik inherited in 2008.
Well put, but in the same breath Baker a few days later doesn't see the promotion of Mike Zunino as desperate by the front office, as much as a courtesy to the paying fans:
The Mariners owe it to their paying fans and players to put as close to an MLB product on the field as possible with the intention of winning games. This idea that you can use MLB as an experimental training ground for three, or four, or even six months every season, regardless of how many games your team loses, is a relatively new phenomenon encouraged by an extremely-vocal segment of fans and pundits more interested in the process of how a team is built than the actual yearly results.
Problem is, that phenomenon runs contrary to what those paying their way into games, as well as the team’s players, actually expect. You can’t ask 25 guys to bust their butts night in, night out, then tell people to pay MLB prices to see it, if you’re throwing less than your best out there.
Truth be told, the M's have been putting their best out there for a decade now—and the product stinks.
Fans in Seattle are cognizant of that fact as that ship sailed long ago, hence the reason the M's continue to see their attendance figures drop year after year.
Two separate general managers and handful of field generals working with them have tried anything and everything, only to see their chemistry experiment explode time and again.
Today the Mariners are no closer to putting a winning team on the field than the day that Jack Z took over as GM almost five years ago—and with several key issues hanging in the balance, I'm left to wonder if this organization needs to start over once again so it doesn't continue to make the same mistakes.
Whether the promotion of Zunino is a ruse or not is beside the point. It's more the unshakable doubt that the Mariners are forever trapped in a web of mediocrity they can't escape no matter what they do.
Deep down I want Zunino to succeed, just like I do for Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller and everyone else mentioned here. Yet in a strange way I still can't shake the image of Russell Wilson in a Mariners jersey.
Where is the Mariners' special someone capable of breaking the spell and helping people believe again?
Maybe Jack Z has already found him, but right now I have serious doubts. Even if this mythical figure did exist, Jack Z probably won't be around in time to see him—and that's a shame.
At the end of the day I like Jack Zduriencik and believe that he has a good eye at scouting talent; however, when it comes to putting together a roster capable of winning ballgames, his successes are dwarfed by his failures over the past five years.
As for Eric Wedge, he hasn't had much luck turning lemons into lemonade, and I'm not sure that we can keep watching this.
What should have been a joyous night at Safeco on Wednesday night with Mike Zunino's debut and the M's just three outs away from a 1-0 win soon turned into something so ugly, so fast that I still can't find the words to describe it.
Yet we each continue to foolishly keep waiting, wishing and hoping for something better.
Ultimately I consider myself a reasonable man, so while I understand it may be too much to ask for the M's to field a contender anytime soon, is it that hard to provide the good people of Seattle a major league-caliber team capable of entertaining its fans on a fairly frequent basis?
Let me know when you get the chance, as I along with everyone else in this town would appreciate it.