Moore: Mariners shouldn’t be hanging on to past as they enter rebuild season
You can call it an irregular baseball season this year because it starts at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning for the Mariners with Opening Day in Tokyo against the A’s. Have you figured out when you’re going to watch the first game? Will you pull an all-nighter like you did back in college and watch it live? Will you go to sleep at 9 p.m., set your alarm for 3 and get up to watch it then?
I think I’ll record it and watch it Wednesday morning around 7, but then again, since we’ve been told by GM Jerry Dipoto that the Mariners really aren’t competing for a playoff spot, maybe you won’t watch the game at all.
Probably because I’m a baseball nut, I’m excited to see what the Mariners roll out there this year even if what they roll out has 90-to-100-loss potential. They also have better-than-we-expected potential, but here’s where I stop short of thinking this team will be anywhere close to good.
Let’s say they dramatically exceed our expectations in July. They’re only four games out of a wild-card spot. The Astros still have an eight-game lead in the division, but the Mariners are still in position to earn a playoff berth. That likely means that Edwin Encarnación, Mike Leake and Jay Bruce are having terrific seasons. And maybe Kyle Seager, returning from his finger injury in May (at the earliest), is too.
If that’s the case, they’re all going to be traded for prospects who can help the Mariners compete for AL West and World Series championships in the future. And once they’re traded, any 2019 hopes will fizzle.
I’m fine with that because I like that Dipoto is rebuilding this team. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s just no way the Mariners were an 89-win team last year even though they won 89 games. After going 54-32, they went 35-43 in their last 78 games. Dipoto saw that they weren’t as good as their record and decided to stop tinkering and go with more of an overhaul instead.
I say more of an overhaul because if this were a complete overhaul, Ichiro and Félix Hernández would not be on the roster. If the Mariners wanted to really tell you they’re not your grandfather’s Mariners, they would have dumped both of those players by now. Manager Scott Servais has always talked about baseball being a results-oriented business, but that’s just not the way it is with the Mariners. They hang on to the past like I do, and it doesn’t help anyone who is stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in Redmond when I tell them that I remember when my hometown didn’t have a single traffic light.
Maybe I’m just a cold-hearted person who is pleading for a lightning bolt to strike me down, but I just don’t get the whole Ichiro and Félix circus. Ichiro proved that he was finished in his short stint with the Mariners last year, but remember what happened? They kept him on the roster, turning a short stint into a longer one than it should have been, shipping Guillermo Heredia to Tacoma for a Triple-A stint even though Heredia was the better player.
Now we’re going to see Ichiro in a two-game supposedly farewell appearance in Japan, which I understand is a very cool thing to many. But if I’m a team that’s trying to change a negative perception, I’m thanking Ichiro for everything he did for my team – and I’m doing this LAST YEAR. I’m also planning to hold an All-Ichiro Weekend five years from now after he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame. I’m not trotting him out there in a ceremonial tribute in 2019 when THE GAMES ACTUALLY COUNT.
Now watch, Ichiro will go 6 for 7 in these first two games after going 2 for 31 this spring and I’ll be over here eating crow and wiping egg off my face at the same time.
With Félix, I know it’s hard to swallow $27 million, but I’d rather move on now than in May or July. As with Ichiro, thank him for what he’s meant to the franchise, send him on his way and replace him with Justus Sheffield, who actually earned a spot in the rotation.
Again, I know these two things don’t matter that much in a step-back season, but why not change the perception once and for all and show that you really mean business, that it will truly be different this time around. And in 2020 or 2021, it actually has a chance to be different with promising prospects acquired in offseason trades turning into Major League play-makers.
For now, the lineup looks decent enough to do consistent damage. I’m pinning my biggest hopes on Daniel Vogelbach for no good reason other than thinking he could be a folk hero if he produces the way Dipoto thinks he might if given a bunch of at-bats. He’s certainly a control-the-zone type of player, the kind the Mariners covet, patient at the plate. But if I’m being honest, he looks closer to being the next Jesus Montero than the next Nelson Cruz.
Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how he pans out, and I’m looking forward to seeing Mallex Smith in center field along with a catcher who can hit in Omar Narváez. Dee Gordon might have a bounce-back year at his more customary second base position, and maybe Domingo Santana will be the 30-homer player he was two years ago in Milwaukee.
I’ll be intrigued to see Yusei Kikuchi make his debut but admit to having doubts about the rest of the rotation, including Marco Gonzales, who will make the Opening Day start. He has not looked sharp in his last two spring training outings, and perhaps that shouldn’t matter, but I still feel like he’s a good pitcher who could be great. Yet with him, we’re still talking about potential instead of actually seeing it on a consistent basis.
The bullpen? If you think the relievers will be OK, I’d agree with you. If you think they’ll be terrible, I’d agree with you too. It’s a who-knows collection of pitchers. With new closer Hunter Strickland, I want to see if he can control a temper that caused him to break his hand last year in San Francisco when he punched plexiglass in the clubhouse.
Added up, I’ll guess that the Mariners go 75-87 while keeping us interested in the present and enthused for the future.
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