What Went Wrong for Seattle Mariners in 2013 Season?
That's all folks, show's over, thanks for coming.
After 162 games, the Seattle Mariners finished the 2013 season with a record of 71-91.
In a season many had hoped the Mariners would finally turn the corner or at the very least push past the .500 mark, including team CEO Howard Lincoln, who considered this season the most disappointing and frustrating season he's ever endured in speaking to Ryan Divish at the Tacoma News Tribune:
You've had a few days now to look back, what were your thoughts on the 2013 season?
This was the most disappointing and frustrating season I’ve ever endured without any question.
Worse than 2008?
Yeah, really. I don’t judge it just by wins and losses. And the reason I say that, at spring training our expectations were very high. And I think that was justified. You were there. This looked really good. I didn’t expect we were going to go to the World Series, but I thought we were going to be very, very competitive. And things looked really good. I’m really disappointed and frustrated of what happened in the season, given the fact that these expectations on our part, on my part were so high.
What exactly went wrong?
Though it would be probably be easier to ask what didn't go wrong, I figured it might be worthwhile to take one last look to find some answers before we put this disappointment of a season to bed.
I will confess, going into the season I didn't have the highest of hopes for this team, but I, much like Lincoln and fans all throughout the Pacific Northwest, had also hoped the M's would improve slightly on a few fronts and solidify the core of their lineup.
Unfortunately with the Mariners, the best-laid plans more often than not fail.
This season proved to be no exception.
Poor Roster Construction
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Where to begin?
To be blunt, the Mariners were headed for trouble long before the season even started, based on the flimsy foundation of what USS Mariner's Dave Cameron appropriately named "Dingers and Voodoo" all the way back in April:
The Mariners made this bed when they let the front office try and build a winning team around dingers and voodoo. It has blown up in their faces in a comical way, and it’s probably going to cost the people in charge their jobs.
Going back to the very beginning, Mike Morse, Franklin Gutierrez, Kendrys Morales and to a lesser extent Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay were all supposed to in theory provide the veteran muscle and experience to help the M's offense go from anemic to formidable.
The results were mixed at best.
Technically the M's did finish second in the American League in home runs (per ESPN) as Morales held up his end of the bargain after coming over from the Angels, and Ibanez did manage to turn back the hands of time by socking 29 dingers.
On the other side of the coin, Guti and Morse only hit 23 homers between them while barely playing 100 games combined, and Bay wore out his welcome by the end of July.
But beyond the numbers, did the veterans really help?
In baseball, every team from time to time needs a veteran or two to fill out its roster, but in 2013 the Mariners took that thinking to a whole other level by bringing in not only Ibanez and Bay, but Jeremy Bonderman, Aaron Harang, Kelly Shoppach, Endy Chavez, Humberto Quintero and Henry Blanco as well.
In fairness, none of these players were expected to help the Mariners win a ton of ballgames, but with the exception of Ibanez, none of them managed to do much more than deliver a marginal level of play while taking up a roster spot for a time during the regular season.
Perhaps more than anything it was the simple frustration in seeing how much the team came to rely upon this washed-up collection of players to fill gaps in the starting lineup day after day as they struggled to do much of anything at the plate, on the mound and in the field.
For every game one of these players looked decent, there were a half-dozen performances between them that were cover-your-eyes horrific. Over time, most of these players were eventually sent packing, but rarely if ever were they replaced by a better alternative.
Basically the names kept changing, while the results stayed the same...miserable.
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On the mound, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma were All-Stars. Meanwhile, the rest of the starting rotation was a motley crew with Joe Saunders, Jeremy Bonderman, Aaron Harang, Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer all managing to eat innings throughout the season, but at the same time they also got eaten alive.
Wedged in between the none-too-surprising struggles of the youngsters Maurer and Ramirez, the trio of veterans Saunders, Bonderman and Harang somehow managed to make each of their starts a painful experience to witness.
The good news is that Bonderman and Harang are gone and Saunders might not be too far behind them, given the fact that rookies James Paxton and Taijuan Walker managed to look decent during their late-season auditions.
Making matters worse for the Mariners pitching staff though in 2013, the relievers that followed each of the starters were a total train wreck.
Take for instance the season of Tom Wilhelmsen. At the beginning of the season, Wilhelmsen was the Mariners closer, and for a time looked every bit as good as he did the year before, but by late May he started to struggle and soon after lost his job.
Yet before the All-Star break he reclaimed his job, notching eight saves with only one loss during the month of July. On August 1, he, along with Oliver Perez and Yoervis Medina, took a Felix Hernandez gem and blew a six-run lead in Boston. Soon after, Wilhelmsen was shipped off to Tacoma only to return to Seattle a month later for mop-up duty in the bullpen.
Unfortunately, Wilhelmsen's story is only the tip of the iceberg as relievers both young and old, lefty and righty struggled with Stephen Pryor getting hurt early on, Carter Capps and Lucas Luetge not progressing upon their experiences last year, and even dependable vets Oliver Perez and Charlie Furbush looking uneven on more than one occasion.
Last but not least, the man who took over as closer, Danny Farquhar, was a combination of both brilliant and baffling, sometimes in the span of a single inning.
His ability to strike out batters was certainly impressive, but his inability to consistently shut the door made him a liability most outings as he basically learned on the job during the second half of the season.
Simply put, both the starting rotation and bullpen consistently struggled to stay out of trouble or put out fires all season, which, coupled with the team's offense, made a bad situation only worse.
The Youth Movement's Continued Struggle
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Quick, name me one offensive prospect not named Kyle Seager you would be willing to bet every penny in your pocket on seeing in a Mariners uniform in three years' time?
Give up? Honestly I can't blame you if you did.
Between Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders, Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and Abraham Almonte, I'd probably go with Miller if forced to choose, but not without a good deal of hesitation.
Sadly, that hesitation is not based on any meaningful success by a single one of the players listed.
Yes Ackley looked good in August, Franklin was solid in June, Almonte had a nice little cameo in September, Saunders wasn't bad after the All-Star break and even Smoak managed to hit 20 homers this year, but only Franklin's performance left me wanting more.
Paired with Miller atop the batting order for the better part of the summer, Franklin looked like a keeper. Slowly but surely though the wheels fell off, and by August Franklin was skipping starts, pinch-hitting and being moved over to shortstop periodically as part of a strange job-share with Miller and Ackley.
So instead of providing us with answers, the play of what should be the young nucleus only left us with more questions.
Who will play second base next year?
Which players will make up the M's starting outfield?
Is Justin Smoak (based on this year's performance) a keeper at first base?
Finally, what should the Mariners do with Jesus Montero?
Montero more than anyone hurt his reputation in 2013 by getting demoted, injured and suspended.
At this point I can't picture him having any chance of salvaging his career in Seattle, yet I can't picture the Mariners getting much of anything in return for him this winter unless he's tossed in as part of a package deal.
Understand though, there is still plenty of time for someone like Nick Franklin to make a name for himself in Seattle; however, this group of youngsters, both with and without the veteran "help" mentioned earlier, failed in large part to establish themselves as key fixtures in both the team's current and future plans.
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Before we move on, there is one more point worth mentioning in regard to the Mariners' youth movement.
As much as I hate to say it, pitcher Brandon Maurer and catcher Mike Zunino are two players who were both unnecessarily rushed to the majors, placed in significant roles, struggled to adjust and potentially stunted their growth in the process.
Yes, Maurer had a solid spring training back in March and Zunino early on flashed serious power at Triple-A Tacoma; however, neither should have played a game in Seattle before September this season.
Or have we already managed to forget that prior to this season Maurer had never pitched past Double-A and that Zunino was barely a year out of college before being effectively named the team's starting catcher?
There are times when a team might get lucky making such brash moves, but both backfired terribly.
Maurer, after making the Opening Day roster, lost seven of his first 10 starts before being sent to Tacoma by the end of May. It was around that same time that Jesus Montero's struggles got people talking about Zunino taking his place on the M's roster.
By mid-June the fans got their wish, but after homering in his second start behind the plate, things soon went downhill as Zunino had trouble adjusting to major league pitching before injuring his hand at the end of July.
The good news is that when all was said and done, both had managed to make their way back to Seattle before the end of the season while earning significant playing time in September and briefly showing flashes of promise.
The bad news is that we may never know if the push to play both Maurer and Zunino so soon was really worth it.
Odds are the Mariners wouldn't have won or lost any more games had the pair spent the majority of their time at Tacoma this season, but long-term, will their time "maturing" in Seattle make them stronger or leave them at a disadvantage in their careers?
I would like to think it will make them stronger, yet I can't shake the notion both were set back in a way that may take years to figure out.
The Trials and Tribulations of Eric Wedge
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Today the story surrounding Eric Wedge's departure is one shrouded in mystery, and there are plenty of opinions swirling about what may or may not have happened between him and the team's top brass over the final weeks of the season.
Regardless of which side you choose to take in this drama, rest assured that in six months' time none of it will really matter.
By then it will be spring training, and everyone, including Wedge, will have moved on.
But for now, how did this season knock Wedge out with a stroke back in July, see him rush back to the bench a month later in August and finally lead him to catch the first train out of Dysfunction Junction just a few weeks after that?
I'd like to think he'd simply had enough, and at age 45 realized he still has a lot of living to do both on and off the field.
The Mariners this season, as I outlined earlier, were doomed from the start with a poorly constructed roster that failed to execute on the field. In an ideal world, blame should be shared by just about everyone involved, but in the real world these problems usually fall on the shoulders of the manager.
This season, Wedge could no longer defend himself based on both his current record and track record regarding player development.
At first glance wins and losses would be the simplest explanation of why Wedge is gone, but it's the development or lack thereof for players such as Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero that likely doomed Wedge.
All three at one time or another during Wedge's tenure looked to be key pillars in the team's resurgence. Today not a single one appears to be secure in his long-term standing with the club.
To miss on all three along with nearly every other prospect in recent memory outside of Kyle Seager is something that Wedge will have to explain to every potential employer moving forward, especially if the man who succeeds him somehow manages to find some measure of success in Seattle.
Odds are that won't happen as I don't see this franchise contending anytime soon, but the question will likely dog Wedge for at least this winter if he opts to look for work.
Beyond that it's really up to general manager Jack Zduriencik to turn things around now, which, given his lame-duck status, should make life interesting this winter for the M's.
Expect changes, just don't expect them to be good ones.
Either way we will need to wait and see, but the good news for today is that this season is finally over.
It's funny though, with the Mariners season now over I can't help but think about the Seahawks.
Thinking back to last January I couldn't wait for the next season to start after the 'Hawks fell just short of reaching the NFC Championship Game. Not only was there was an energy and excitement about them, but a sense of anticipation in the name of something greater still to come.
Sadly, I don't feel that way about the Mariners...at all.