Seattle Mariners: 10 Positive Signs They're Headed in Right Direction
As another losing streak rolls out, Seattle Mariners fans need some hope to cling to. The last few seasons have been almost entirely miserable for fans and players. Few wins, very few runs and hardly any improvement.
All the fans can do is sit back and wait for the team to bounce back, as all teams inevitably do (well, maybe not the Pittsburgh Pirates).
Lucky for us, the Mariners are right on the cusp of a rebound; here are 10 reasons why.
GM Jack Zduriencik Is Sticking Around
It would be foolhardy and unfair for the M's to kick Jack Z out before his plan is complete. So far, most of us haven't seen the upside—mostly because it's just now hitting the majors—but luckily the management did.
The Mariners extended Jack Z's contract officially last Wednesday. President Chuck Armstrong said "Jack arrived in Seattle with a clear plan, and he has not deviated from that plan." Armstrong obviously likes where the plan's going enough to want to watch it pan out.
Of the 32 players on the active roster and disabled list for the Mariners, 28 were brought in by Jack Z. He's obviously made a committed effort to reform the disaster Bill Bavasi left him.
We're ready for the wins, Jack.
Jack Wilson Is Gone
This isn't meant to criticize Jack Wilson. He was on par with the rest of the Mariners' hitting and an above average fielder. This is more to symbolize the movement Jack Wilson was part of.
In a series of trades throughout July and August, Jack Z sent away Doug Fister, David Pauley, Erik Bedard and Jack Wilson, as well as a few others. Those guys were all playing decently, but they didn't have super bright and exciting futures ahead of them.
In exchange for sending the old out, Jack Z brought in the new: Chih-Hsien Chiang, Trayvon Robinson, Casper Wells, Chance Ruffin, Charlie Furbish and Francisco Martinez.
This is now a team that will get progressively better over the next few years.
Danny Hultzen Is Here
The Mariners spent the second overall pick in the 2011 draft on LHP Danny Hultzen. He's supposed to be major-league ready next year, and it's highly possible he'll earn a spot in the starting rotation.
While Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda are both dominant strikeout pitchers, they're also both right-handed. Left-handed Hultzen will be a nice changeup to throw off opponents who are unfortunate enough to get the Felix-Pineda-Hultzen draw.
Hultzen also fits nicely into the youth movement. The Mariners have control over him for the next six years, and I don't foresee a trade—it would go against Jack Z's philosophy. The King and his Prince Pineda will also likely stick around for a while, combining with Hultzen to form the next big three.
The Roster Is Upgraded (and Homegrown)
Recent names we've seen called up include Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp, Kyle Seager, Anthony Vasquez and Dan Cortes.
Those first three have generated a large hunk of the Mariners offense in the month of August. Not only is it refreshing to see new names, but also to see the new players perform. Mike Carp had a 20-game hitting streak throughout August during which he hit over .350 with four home runs and six doubles.
Ackley and Carp hold the two highest OPS on the team with values of .840 and .823. Adding Seager, they have the top three batting averages on the team (sadly, even above Ichiro). Hopefully, this success will be sustained through next year when these guys are on the Opening Day starting roster.
Vasquez has struggled in his first couple of starts, but luckily, they've served primarily as trials, since the M's are undoubtedly out of contention.
Cortes hasn't been dominant in his short major league tenure, but this is his first look at a higher level of hitting. He left the game with an injury on August 23rd but is expected to return Thursday (September 8th) to the Seattle bullpen.
The aforementioned players, along with acquisitions like Casper Wells and Trayvon Robinson, replaced under-performing players from the 2011 Opening Day roster and should remain in the starting lineup for 2012. Fresh, young talent has arrived.
The Power Problem Has Been Addressed
When the season started again devoid of power, Jack Z made an effort to fix it. Mike Carp, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager were the remedy.
For a couple years running, the Mariners had the smallest RBI and home run totals in the MLB. This year, they've moved up to 28th in home runs and 29th in RBI. That's not a lot to celebrate, but the reinforcements haven't been here all season.
Those guys certainly aren't going to catapult the M's into the upper half of the league in terms of home run totals, but the fans at SAFECO will be receiving the long ball treat a bit more frequently.
There's been talk of adding a power-hitting veteran this offseason, but most of those guys play 1B or DH. The M's have Justin Smoak and Mike Carp there now. We'll have to see how that pans out—Carp could move to LF and Trayvon and Casper could take turns in CF since it's unlikely that Gutierrez will ever be healthy again. That would open up a DH spot for a big guy like Jason Kubel.
Justin Smoak Is Healthy and Composed
Justin Smoak has had a very tough 2011 season. He has struggled often with injury and loss in the family. There's no doubt that those factors have kept him off his A-game, which we've really yet to see.
Next year, he'll start healthy and free of any bereavement. Hopefully, we'll see some major production right off the bat.
With a healthy Smoak, the Mariners batting order is much more dangerous.
Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda Will Be Back Next Season
The King and his Prince will both be staying in Seattle for at least a little while longer. Felix has expressed no desire to leave (especially not to New York), and Jack Z definitely doesn't want to trade his ace.
Pineda is a perfect understudy for Felix, and the two have established a productive mentoring relationship. Pineda adds a solid layer of security behind Felix, who, in the past, has been the only solid pitcher in the rotation.
Jason Vargas is also growing into a reliable three-pitcher.
It's great that while Jack Z is putting a lot of care into developing a strong, new batting order, he's also preparing a rotation to go with it.
In the seasons to come, the Mariners won't have to rely solely on pitching or hitting, which is a comforting security.
Jack Zduriencik Is Making Moves
The worst is when there are obvious problems, but nothing's being done to fix them. That's not the case with the Jack Z and the Mariners.
There are obvious problems, and Jack Z is addressing each of them, thoroughly. Just this season, we've seen three big trades and numerous major call-ups.
Also, we all know that the guy in the fantasy league with the most moves is almost always the guy with the most points.
Eric Wedge Is Optimistic
The attitude Manager Eric Wedge has conveyed in press conferences is an optimistic one. If he likes what he sees, we should too, because he gets to see it under a microscope.
Wedge also sees the way the players act together in the clubhouse, pregame and postgame. He's said that there's a lot of team chemistry going on. There's a definite correlation between team chemistry and performance as a team.
Hopefully, the team Wedge puts together for 2012 will stick together for a few years to create a tightly-knit winning machine.
The Fans Keep Coming Out
There's not a sellout every night at SAFECO Field, but there are usually at least 20,000 fans and closer to 30,000 on weekends. The Florida Marlins get fewer fans at playoff games.
The loyalty demonstrated by Seattle's fans pays off: Jack Z has more to spend, and the players get a charge out of playing in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.
Also, the presence of fans usually says something about the success of a franchise. So even if the M's aren't winning a lot of games, they're winning over the fans.
Keep coming out, fans of Seattle—faith will be rewarded.