I don’t like to second-guess very much. It seems a little counterproductive to be saying that a certain decision should have been made or a certain player should have kept on the team.
Balancing risk and reward is pretty necessary, especially in baseball, where a long season becomes a fertile breeding ground for discontent. Nevertheless, I am feeling a bit uneasy at this early juncture of the Seattle Mariners' season and, no, I am not worried about the Erik Bedard trade.
I actually like the deal as a reasonable striking of the risk/reward balance. My discontent lies with the odd structure of the team’s staff and bench. And that structure must be laid at the feet of the manager, John McLaren.
McLaren is a veteran guy, a man who has paid his dues and then some. His shot at managing was probably long overdue and he deserves a little slack as a rookie. At the same time, I expect veteran baseball guys to play the odds correctly and to maximize the potential of their starters, bench and staff.
Management for the Mariners has been known to hamstring the team at key moments, adding useless players, retaining declining players and trading up-and-coming players. However, certain decisions still lie within the purview of the manager.
At the beginning of the season, the bench consisted of Jamie Burke, Charlton Jimerson, Miguel Cairo and Willie Bloomquist. Let me ask you: do any of these guys stand out in any significant skill? Apart from “character,” my thought is no.
Being a former high school baseball coach, I appreciate character as much as anyone. However, you still need to have talent on your bench to win some games.
Burke is a serviceable backup, but is he better than Jeff Clement and Rob Johnson? No, but I like having a third catcher, so I would say Burke stays on the team.
Jimerson is finally gone, replaced by Greg Norton. It's a tolerable switch, but it still is not likely to win you many games. Norton is a pinch-hitter, and that’s it.
That leaves Cairo and Bloomquist, the classic utility men. The problem is that good teams usually carry one solid utility player, not two average/declining players. How long can the Mariners afford to carry character in lieu of talent such as Clement and Wladimir Balentien?
The argument against bringing Clement up is that he needs at-bats. Well then, why doesn’t he catch one game a week, play first against tough right-handers, and DH a little? Wouldn’t he be an enhanced version of Norton?
No one has made a decent argument for keeping Balentien in AAA. I’d like to know some people that are confident that Brad Wilkerson will out-produce Balentien given equal playing time. I’m not one of them.
Balentien can also play a solid right field. Doesn’t the team want a bench that produces both offense and defense? The team needs a true OF on the bench and Balentien would fit the bill.
So what would I do? Here’s my unpopular suggestion: cut Willie Bloomquist. He's a nice guy, but Cairo has more value as a veteran utility guy who can mentor an infield consisting of young Latino players.
Bring Balentien up and let him platoon with Wilkerson. If Wilkerson isn’t producing in a month, give Balentien the full-time shot.
Send Norton back to Tacoma and bring up Jeff Clement as a combination C/1B/DH. Kenji Johjima needs rest periodically, Richie Sexson can’t hit tough righties and Jose Vidro lacks pop. Clement would relieve for all of those issues.
Restructuring of the bench would provide better defense, stronger offense and allow for the “future” to get needed experience at the major league level. And I’ll bet you a dollar that such a bench will also win us a few more games without sacrificing “character.”