Friday, December 23, 2005

Stranded at Sea
By Zach

You might have noticed that it's been a long time since I wrote about the Mariners. What with the Seahawks sitting at 12-2 and the UW basketball team undefeated, there've been more compelling stories coming out of the Pacific Northwest. But even I couldn't ignore the utterly brutal offseason the M's were having any longer. After signing Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima early in the offseason, things went south quickly.

Yesterday brought another piece of bad news about the Seattle Mariners. After signing a guy who doesn't believe in dinosaurs, and a soft-tossing lefty who's 31 and has already been to the DL 6 times in his career. Now they've added a 34-year-old avowed steroid user to the mix. The scary thing is, considering the offseason the Mariners have had, signing Matt Lawton might turn out to be the best move they've made.

The Everett deal is a pretty baffling one. This ownership group has repeatedly said that character is one of the things they look for in players when they consider transactions. Now, while I might contend that placing undo emphasis on unquantifiable issues like "character" and "chemistry" is stupid, the team seems to think that maintaining a family-friendly roster is essential to success. It's part of the reason that guys like John Olerud, Dan Wilson, Willie Bloomquist, and other "fan favorites" have hung around despite declining production (or in Bloomquist's case have gotten way more playing time then they deserve).

While, as I said, I've had issues with this philosophy, I could at the very least understand where it was coming from. Which is why when word came out that the team was close to signing Carl Everett, I was shocked. This is a guy who head-butted a umpire, grabbed his crotch on the field in a gesture to now-teammate Jamie Moyer, lost custody of one of his children because he beat them, doesn't believe in dinosaurs, and, oh yeah, can't hit any more. Once upon a time, he was a damn good hitter. If this were 2001, I'd be damn happy that the team was taking a chance on a good hitter. But Everett is coming off a season in which he hit .251/.311/.435 in 490 ABs.

It's funny that when the team decided to sign him, all of a sudden all the off the field issues were merely because he was "tough," "gritty," and "a fierce competitor." First of all, I don't give a damn how tough he is unless he hits. Second of all, it was part of a series of baffling moves by the team. By the end of last season it seemed like the team had rid itself of most of the aging, underproducing players who had made up the roster over the last five to ten years. They were replaced by young players who may not have been stars, but seemed likely to improve. Guys like Jeremy Reed, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Mike Morse had played fairly well when given a chance, and it looked like the team was going to enter 2006 with most of those guys in the starting lineup.

The club knew it had to add starting pitching and hitting, preferably left-handed hitting. While it was a weak free-agent crop, a couple of guys stood out. The Mariners apparently balked at the price tags for Kevin Millwood and AJ Burnett but didn't have any trouble shelling out $9.5 million a year for Jamie Moyer-lite (Jarrod Washburn). They wouldn't make a real play for either Milton Bradley or Jacque Jones but instead signed a pair of 34-year-old outfielders who can't hit anymore.

Knowing it was a grim crop of free agents, the team should have been content to add Johjima and then taken a run at Millwood or Burnett. If they weren't sold on Jones, then fine. But the majority of their offseason moves scream of desperation. This is an organization which has become convinced that drawing 3 million fans a year is a birthright. They forget that Seattle hasn't always been a baseball town, and if they don't put a competitive team on the field, people will stop buying tickets. The problem is, they're paying for their mistakes from 2000-2004 now. Instead of accepting that fact and taking their chances with their current roster, they paniced and signed anyone who the casual baseball fan might know.

It remains to be seen how it all works out. Sure, I hope Washburn goes 16-6 with a 3.20 ERA, and that Everett hits 25 home runs and no reporters. But I can't say that I'm optimistic. The ship is pretty far out to sea, with no land in sight.


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