Seattle Mariners: The Head-Rolling Begins

Aaron MeyerCorrespondent IJune 17, 2008

About time.

Those were the words that ran through my head as I read the article in USA Today about the Mariners firing their GM of the last five years, Bill Bavasi.  Over his tenure a number of questionable moves have been made, as well as a number of questionable non-moves.

Let's face the facts: the Mariners are 24-48 with a $117 million payroll.  That is unacceptable for any professional sports franchise.

With ticket prices hovering around $50 a pop, watching the likes of Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson, and Jarrod Washburn continually flounder around the plate and the field has fans like myself feeling more than a little ill.

It ain't the sushi, Bill.

When I had heard that the Mariners hired Bill Bavasi five years ago, I had hope. This was a guy who built the Angels farm system into the dynamo it is now and had even put together a team and manager capable of winning a World Series.  I thought, "Hey, why not a second time around?"

How wrong I was.

In his first season, the marquee acquisition was the completely inconsistent Scott Spiezio.  Third base has always been a black hole for the Mariners (the best one I can remember was Mike Blowers, and that says it all), but Spiezio may go down as an all-time worst signing.

He immediately flopped, getting designated for assignment two months into the season, and eventually landed in St. Louis, where he actually dusted himself off long enough to contribute to another World Series team.

The next year showed promise.  Washburn, Beltre, and Sexson all got signed, and all of a sudden Mariner-land was awash in good feelings.

We thought we had gotten the power-hitting first baseman, the three-hole pounding third baseman, and a solid lefty starter for the middle of the rotation.  With Felix Hernandez simmering in triple-A, hopes were high.

What happened?  Sexson and Washburn gave us what was expected, but Beltre flamed out spectacularly.

In addition, Bavasi traded Freddy Garcia for Jeremy Reed (a former Minor League Player of the Year) and Miguel Olivo (a decent power-hitting catcher).  Both failed miserably to catch on as Mariners.  Losing season after losing season followed.

More and more it seemed that Bavasi's moves were cursed.  Everything he did, no matter how good it looked on paper, paled in real life.

The problem wasn't necessarily with the players he signed or traded for.

Miguel Olivo is a decent backstop—with the Padres, Marlins, and Royals he either shared the starting job or held it outright.  Spiezio won another World Series with the Cardinals.

But when these characters joined the Mariners, they all turned to crap.

The best thing to be said about Bavasi's reign is the few pieces of young talent he brought in who are performing.  Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Felix Hernandez, and a bevy of young bullpen arms all look like they may deliver at some point, if not already (Lopez and Betancourt may be the best 2B-SS combination outside of Philadelphia).

In addition, Erik Bedard will not stay as inconsistent as he has been with Mel Stottlemyre in the dugout.  But the fact remains that Bavasi practically emptied the minor league clubs to bring in Bedard, and rebuilding that may end up being the biggest challenge for the new club.

Plain and simple, the Mariners need an organizational ethos.  Their biggest rivals, the A's and Angels, both train their up-and-coming talent to do the things they need them to do in the Big Club.

The A's preach plate discipline and patience, the Angels preach aggressive play and running the bases.  Their minor league talent all get the same drill all the way from single-A to the bigs.  They're ready to contribute when asked.

The Mariners don't seem to have any direction in their scouting and minor league development.  They don't target specific players, and they don't teach them correctly.

It's going to take time and patience, something Mariners fans are short on nowadays.  We got used to greatness in the '90s and early this decade, and we want more.

The new GM will need to get rid of the aging, ineffective members of the team. Washburn and Raul Ibanez can net a few prospects as lefties with effective years ahead of them.  Sexson, Beltre and Jose Vidro have contracts expiring soon, so they can just walk.

The inexplicable signing of Kenji Johjima to a long-term contract this season, with Jeff Clement almost ready to contribute, is a big negative, but it could be worse.

Brandon Morrow and Ryan Rowland-Smith are the replacements for Miguel Batista and Washburn, as soon as they get stretched out to starter condition.  And the bullpen, when healthy, is effective and deep.

Let's all breathe a sigh of relief for the end of the Bavasi era and hope that a great GM is available to be brought in.  Pat Gillick, anyone?