Mariners fans all have the same desire, same wish, as we head into the meat of the offseason: that 2014 is the end of the rebuild. We all have varying levels of optimism—or, in more cases—deep pessimism that something like this will happen, but we're hoping that, in a best-case scenario, the moves about to transpire are legitimate seeds of contention in 2014 and beyond.
And that may happen. It may not happen too. But if this is the end of the rebuild, or if we're still in the thick of it, it's a trip to look back on what we've been through so far. I find myself all-too-frequently wading through the Mariners' online video archives, often-times pulling up whatever random moment from the past few years come to mind—and in particular, the players who were involved.
This afternoon, and now evening, it was the diminutive Luis Rodriguez, one of the players who most embodies what the past few seasons have been like. And there's one Luis Rodrigues moment that stands above the rest—the pile of which consisted of more highlights than I thought.
It was this:
I was at this game. I wasn't there for this. I'm embarrassed to say it, I left early—committed a cardinal sin. For anyone who doesn't remember the context of this, let's first run through it. The Mariners, as you can hear on the call, were in the midst of an seven-game losing streak. In this game, they trailed 7-0 in the seventh, with all seven runs credited right to Felix. The game boasted the smallest history of Safeco Field, up that point. You can imagine what it was like when the game ended. Or you can watch this:
Lots of echoes.
Again, I wasn't there, so all I have is this video. I can't justify it, but it felt like enough was enough—even early in the season. The Mariners were looking 2-8 in dead in the eyes, it was a cold April night and after attending the previous two evening's losses, I just wanted to get home. I don't know when I left Safeco exactly but when things really started to break right I had already walked enough of my journey home that I was at a QFC almost two miles away on Capitol Hill. The Mariners—specifically, Milton Bradley(!), hit a solo home run after I left because of course he did. But then in the bottom of the eighth things got ridiculous, or started to go that way, when the Jays loaded the bases and then walked in three straight runs. Then Justin Smoak hit an two-run single. The Mariners could've cut even further into the deficit, but Miguel Olivo grounded into a double play because, as absurd as this game was, it still existed within the confines of reality. (Unlike this game)
So I was following this on Twitter in the grocery store, but when it got as close as it did, I ran out of there and to the nearest sports bar, which was about a block or two away. And along with maybe four or five other people, two of them the bartenders, I watched what you see in the broadcast highlight above.
But look at the people in that highlight. Playing a prominent role in the cast of side characters, we have Milton Bradley. High-steppin' Milton Bradley.
It's almost hard to believe, this was during Milton Bradley's second season as a Mariner. Milton Bradley made two opening day rosters. He's seen in the highlight above wearing bright yellow earplugs, because he wanted to block out the heckling—even at home.
- I mean, Ichiro(!), of course.
- Jack Wilson, resident cool dude with that backwards hat, makes an appearance. Jack Wilson and Brendan Ryan played on the same team, in the same infield, in 2011. Did a ground ball back up the middle ever get through? Luis Rodriguez got the start for Wilson in this game, as the pair split time filling the position until Ackley's arrival.
- Adam Kennedy's there. He was the team's best hitter in the early part of 2011, or was it the best clutch hitter? He was reluctantly our Jaso, before there was Jaso. We didn't like him, because Jaso was wildly better at it, but they played a similar function—and that's insane.
- There's a young and relatively-raw Justin Smoak. We were worried, but ceiling was higher then.
- Tom Wilhelmsen pitched in this game, and so did Josh Lueke.
- Jack Cust got the start at designated hitter. He was the team's most high-profile offensive acquisition that offseason.
And then, the star here is Luis Rodriguez. We look back now on Luis Rodriguez and think—wait, do "we" look back now on Luis Rodriguez? I mean we are now. Ah, what I mean to say: Rodriguez, now 33, has played more than 100 games in the Pacific Coast League each of the past two seasons and we're not that far removed from somehow being excited about the guy as having some role in the organization's future.
Don't believe me? Dave wrote this post supporting Rodriguez as an interesting piece the day after the game, and I read it and I bought in completely. Dave wasn't wrong either—he was an interesting piece at the time, given the context. And the context is those players I mention above. Adam Kennedy, Jack Cust, young Justin Smoak, Jack Wilson and Brendan Ryan—this isn't some fill-in September roster, this was the tenth game of the season and these were the guys the Mariners were rolling with.
Seriously, look at them. The Mariners may whiff on all of their targets this offseason, but the roster isn't going to look like that. You know who has a pretty similar "interesting, but not to be counted on" label to Rodriguez this offseason, approximately? Abe Almonte, a toolsy 24-year-old outfielder who put up a 138 wRC+ in AAA last year.
But while the changes in personnel make me want to believe, on a macro level, that things will be better and that we'll accomplish greater goals and play a season that's interesting for longer, the micro is just as appealing. If the Mariners are good, and god I hope they are, we get more moments like this.
And if this post underscores one point, I'd like it to be that, as disappointing as the Mariners have been in recent years, they—like any team—have still had their moments.
Some, for varying reasons, are painful to remember. Here's a weird one, from just the season before last:
With a minimum of 350 plate appearances, John Jaso had the 16th-best wRC+ in all of baseball in 2012, better than Josh Hamilton. Jaso, of course, was traded for Michael Morse—and the Mariners tried to give Josh Hamilton a guaranteed $100 million.
Then there are ones, plays more recent, that give you more optimism because of those involved:
I wrote about being bummed out about this team just a couple days after that, but it's fun to look back on now.
And we've seen the Double Play Twins before, but it's hard not to enjoy—and be optimistic—about these two, even if they're better at the plate.
But again, as much as we focus on the grand vision of what a successful rebuild might look like, I'm as much optimistically looking forward to experiencing more of what you see above. The players are always changing, and they'll have to change a lot more if we're going to see the uptick most desire, but the possibility looms out there.