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Ghosts of Mariners Past, Present, and Future: The patience of waiting for change to take effect

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On opening day of 2012, in a far off land called "Japan" where you can probably find a pet store vending machine, Chone Figgins was the starting third baseman of the Seattle Mariners.

I don't know how you identify "good change" from any other kind of change. Some people think that any change is good change, and others believe the opposite. I like to think of any kind of change as at least a potential positive, because there's nothing more dreadful than monotony. Than waking up every Monday and knowing how at least the next five days will go. But to me that doesn't automatically mean that all change is good.

You may hate your job, but for some reason you need it. You need it for money. You need it for purpose. If you don't need it, please turn in your gun and your apron and leave, Officer Ramsey this fall on NBC.

In 1988, the Mariners 12th year in the major leagues, they were still waiting for their first winning season. The next year, the team hired Jim Lefebvre to be their ninth manager. (Yes. 13 seasons, nine managers. How could they still be looking for a good season, what with all that change!) Lefebvre was a 47-year-old first time manager from Inglewood, a place that has always notoriously been up to no good.

A 25-year-old third baseman named Edgar Martinez hit .363/.467/.517 with 66 walks and 40 strikeouts in 407 plate appearances for triple-A Calgary. He came up for his second straight short stint in the bigs in as many years, but would play in 65 games in 1989 and hit .240/.314/.304 with 17 walks and 26 strikeouts. He was full time in 1990, and hit .302/.397/.433 and the rest is Papistory.

Frumpy Old Men

By the time he was entering his age-32 season, Martinez had won a batting title but actually hadn't put up very remarkable career numbers. And then he hit .356/.479/.628 when he was 32.

Kyle Seager was the Mariners starting third baseman during the second game of 2012. He is a good bet to stay there for awhile, and won't be eligible for free agency until 2018.

In that distant land of "Japan," where little schoolgirl ghosts still have to do their homework young lady, on the first day of the major league season in 2012, Dustin Ackley was the starting second baseman.

I personally try and accept changes into my life, even though I know I can easily get trapped into complacency. It's easy to stay the same, the real challenge is jumping into darkness and not knowing if the tide is high or low. If I know that tomorrow I can go to work and not face unemployment, 365 times out of 365 I will choose work, apparently. But sometimes I think putting yourself in a bad position is the only way to become a better person.

It's when you're climbing out that you're getting stronger and smarter, learning lessons that will help you for the rest of your life. Something that complacency cannot do.

I don't think we can ever truly appreciate how not-complacent generational stars like Ken Griffey, Jr. are. He had the most effortless swing I've ever seen, as effortless as Jordan makes dunking from the free throw line look, but most human beings will never understand the amount of work people like Griffey and Jordan put into their craft. An effortless swing that made Griffey look like the most natural baseball player of all-time, but few people ever make the highest level of baseball without a lot of hard work, let alone hitting 630 home runs without any "effort."

Ken Griffey, Jr, 1990: The "Natural"

The best player of his generation, Griffey didn't top 30 home runs until his fifth year in the league. Okay, he was still only 23 then, but a fun fact nonetheless.

Griffey was the savior that debuted under Lefebvre in 1989. Despite what we want to believe, just because Griffey was the number one pick and one of the highest-touted prospects in history, it didn't have to work out for him. He wouldn't have been the first to fail, and he certainly wouldn't have been the last. Am I right, Delmon? Not even Delmon will be even close to the last.

At only 19, Griffey hit .264/.329/.420 with 16 home runs, 16 stolen bases, 44 walks and 83 strikeouts in 506 plate appearances. In his first career game, he went 1-for-3 with a walk, and the Mariners lost to the Athletics by a score of 3-2. (Does it get any more "Mariners debut" than a 3-2 loss to the A's?)

Griffey had a good debut season, but was actually 1-for-his-first-15, and hitting .189/.246/.340 after 14 games. It didn't take much time for Griffey, not compared to most players, but even he required a little bit of patience.

In that first year under Lefebvre, the M's went 73-89, a five game improvement from the previous year, but still a sixth place finish back when we had those. The good news was that Griffey was the centerfielder now, and by the next year Edgar was the starting third baseman... for as long as he could do that. But he was in the lineup. Several other key players would also be a part of that 1990 team, and even though they only won 77 games that year, the franchise record for wins up to that point was 78.

They were losers... Sexy, sexy losers.

Though Ackley's days in the majors aren't over, his days at second base likely are. Nick Franklin debuted by going 0-for-0 with a walk on May 27, 2013. He hit two home runs on May 30.

The starting catcher for the Mariners on day one, 2012, over there in "Japan," Bill Parcells favorite getaway, the starting catcher was Miguel Olivo. He had an on-base percentage of .239 last year. The starting right fielder was finally playing "away" at "home," and Ichiro Suzuki could go buy a Chihuahua next to the soda machine. The second game of the year was started by Jason Vargas.

Mariners Opening Day Lineup, 2012: Some things always change

The March 28, 2012 lineup, a 3-1 win over the Athletics in a game across the other pond:

1. Chone Figgins, 3B

2. Dustin Ackley, 2B

3. Ichiro Suzuki, RF

4. Justin Smoak, 1B

5. Jesus Montero, DH

6. Mike Carp, LF

7. Miguel Olivo, C

8. Michael Saunders, CF

9. Brendan Ryan, SS

Five years ago I moved from Seattle to Los Angeles. In February of 2008 I had a girlfriend, a job, and an apartment in Bellevue. By May, I had none of those things and I would spend the next six months looking for work, until I finally cashed my first paycheck to supplement the final $10 I had in my bank account.

There's change, like switching from boxers to briefs, and then there's change. In baseball, these "rebuild" projects often require an implosion of the former regime and personnel, also known as a "Marlinsing," but sometimes you're just infused with so many new pieces that it was never about the implosion at all. You were building the foundation of your new digs while the old digs were still semi-operational.

How could the 1990 era Mariners rebuild when they had never built anything to begin with?

While I have mentioned that Edgar debuted in 1987 and Griffey in 1989, that's only a fraction of the significant pieces that were coming together in 1990. Specifically: Two-fifths! In 1988, the Mariners traded Ken Phelps to the Yankees for minor league outfielder Jay Buhner and others. Buhner had hit 31 home runs in triple-A Columbus the previous year at age 22. He played in 60 games for the Mariners in '88, 58 games in '89, and 51 games in '90.

By the time he became the starting starting right fielder for Seattle, Buhner was already 26, but in 1991 he played in 137 games and hit .244/.337/.498 with 27 home runs. His career didn't really start to come together until he drew 100 walks in 1993 and hit .272/.379/.476. And that arm...

1990 was also the year that Alvin Davis finally played more games at DH than he did at first base. The original piece of the original "hope" for Seattle, Davis's days as a player were almost over even though he was only 29 in 1990. He hit .283/.387/.429 that year, .221/.299/.335 the next, and was out of baseball by 1992.

Not out of baseball in 1992: Tino Martinez.

Ti-"Oh Hell"-No Martinez

Better than seeing him in a Yankees uniform.

The M's first round pick in 1988, the 22-year-old Martinez played in 24 games in '90 and hit .221/.308/.279. The next year he hit .205/.272/.330 in 36 games. Martinez didn't get much time in the majors, but when he did, he sure was bad at hitting. Not good for a hitter.

But in 1992 he played full-time and hit .257/.316/.411 with 16 HR. In 1995, he hit .293/.369/.441 with 31 HR and 35 doubles. Martinez, much like most baseball players (even the most talented prospects) needed more time. When he got it, he was pretty good. (I guess you could say he "Tino Turnered his career around" but don't.)

The M's still had a problem in 1990 though. They had a pitcher in the rotation that was too wild, and would lead the league in walks allowed from 1990 to 1992. Despite the fact that Randy Johnson (traded for from Montreal for Mark Langston in 1989) was unable to locate the strike zone, even if he did throw harder than anyone in baseball, the M's stuck with him for some reason.

He didn't become the dominating pitcher you remember until he was 29, really. In 1990, he pitched 219.2 innings, posted a 3.65 ERA, struck out 194 and walked 120. In 1993, he pitched 255.1 innings, struck out 308 and walked 99.

Randy Johnson, 1990: Probably walking a guy

From 1991-1992, Johnson walked 6.5 batters per 9 innings. In 1993, that dropped to 3.5 batters per 9.

Mike Zunino might not be ready for "The Show" but his performance today won't necessarily dictate his ability tomorrow. There's just as good of an argument for advancing a player early as there is against it, because there are plenty of examples that, like me, go both ways. Even if he's posting an OBP lower than Olivo right now, it's too early to worry about it.

Ackley might not be playing in the infield anymore, he might not have much experience at a corner (edit: or any) outfield spot, but at 25-years-old with a history of some major league success, he provides more hope for the future than Ichiro could have promised in any of the last five years.

Hisashi Iwakuma might be old for someone that's only in his second major league season, but at 32 he's not actually old. Randy won his first Cy Young award when he was 31. Vargas won his first Cy Young award in a dream last night.

On the very first day of the 2012 season, long before other teams had started play because this game was taking place under "Ninja Law," (similar to Chuck Norris Law but not as badass) the Mariners starting shortstop was Brendan Ryan.

I've never been good at buying clothes. I don't like to go shopping, I never even have much confidence in my own taste, and for a guy that's 6'6 and well over 200 pounds, it can be difficult to find the right sizes. About a year ago it was time to buy new shoes; I knew this because the telltale sign for me that it's time to buy new shoes is that the soles of my shoes have fallen off.

I found myself in a Payless Shoesource, not a typical destination for me (I'm a Ross guy, what can I say) but maybe fate had brought me to this Payless on this day. I found a pair of Airwalk slip-ons that had my favorite colors, my favorite patterns, and required no tying of any shoelaces which I knew would satisfy my desire to be as lazy as possible when I dress myself. But the bad news of these past few weeks is that it's time to buy new shoes.

The telltale sign hath done creeped up again.

But I don't want to get rid of these Airwalks. In many ways, they're the best pair of shoes I've ever owned. For most people that would mean that they will just seek out another pair of the same shoes, but this would go against my desires to be as lazy as possible. Sometimes you have to say goodbye to something you love and take a chance on something new.

After all, that's how I found my Airwalks.

In 1991, under Lefebvre, the Mariners did something that they've never done before in franchise history: They won more games than they lost. After 14 seasons of losing, the M's went 83-79; what must have felt like the best 83-79 season ever. Griffey, 21, was worth about 7 WAR (6.9 on Fangraphs, 7.1 on BR), Edgar hit .307 and walked 84 times against 72 strikeouts, and Buhner hit 27 home runs as the full time right fielder.

But at the same time that the young was beginning to take over, it was nearing a bittersweet end for the old. Even if the Mariners of the eighties had very little to brag about, they were still our losers.

Starting second baseman Harold Reynolds, a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, was let go by the Mariners after the '92 season. Davis, Mr. Mariner, was out after '91. Bill Swift, the second overall pick by the M's in 1984 (though he couldn't live up to the hype) was also gone after '91. Those are all things that you may have expected to happen, change for the better perhaps, but sometimes change happens that feels dirty to begin with and only gets worse as time goes on.

The starting shortstop for Seattle in 1991 was 24-year-old Omar Vizquel. Though it's disputed that Vizquel has ever been younger than 40, he still appeared to be a young shortstop with an otherworldly glove in his Seattle days.

A Bad Deal

We'll never know what the '95 Mariners would have looked like with Omar Vizquel, but then again, what would the '96 Mariners look like with Vizquel and Alex Rodriguez? Every team suffers through a bad trade sometimes, but sulking only solves problems when it's my party and I'll cry if I wanna.

In five seasons with the Mariners, Vizquel hit .252/.309/.303 with 39 stolen bases and 34 caught stealing. To judge him by his bat, you would have wondered how he could even be tradeable at all, but after winning his first Gold Glove in 1993, the M's sent him to the Indians for Felix Fermin, Reggie Jefferson, and cash. There is no softer spot in my heart than the one that rests for Fermin, Luis Sojo, and Joey Cora, but Vizquel's glove alone made him worth more than most players to come through the majors.

It would be fair to compare Vizquel's ability at shortstop to Ryan's ability, but their bats are world apart. Vizquel's bat is in the strike zone, and Ryan's is not.

Over the last two seasons, Ryan is hitting under .200 and he's struck out in 23.9-percent of his plate appearances. Vizquel had a career wOBA of .310, Ryan's is at .279. In some ways, Ryan is like a combination of Vizquel and Fermin -- amazing defense, clubhouse energizer, but he's not young and he can't hit. In 1995, Fermin was 31 and he hit .195/.232/.225 and he played in just eleven games after '95.

A Difficult Goodbye

Nobody is kicking Brendan Ryan out the door, but after falling to a 60 OPS+ this year, his role was forced to change.

On June 28, 2013, Brad Miller made his debut at shortstop. On June 30, he went 2-for-3 with two doubles and a walk. He will never play defense like Ryan, his character and clubhouse presence might not be truly known for years, but Miller represents a changing of one generation to the next. Whether he plays short or another position, he's been put here for his bat and his bat alone.

The Mariners are taking a chance on Miller, but in a way, they know in their hearts that he's their fancy new shoes and they'll wear those kicks out until the soles fall off.

Before the 2012 season, it wasn't as though the Mariners were avoiding change. In fact, Jack Zduriencik traded a star young pitcher for a star young hitter -- a move that fans had been begging to happen for years. Not only did they acquire Jesus Montero, but they put the 22-year-old into the opening day lineup at designated hitter. Though he had been trying to be a catcher for years, as they said in my middle school many years ago and probably still the biggest middle school insult today:

What a poser!

Montero, who had already had almost 1,000 plate appearances at triple-A and had hit well at ages 20 and 21, hasn't worked out as planned. The same could be said for opening day first baseman Justin Smoak. One of the top hitting prospects at the time Jack acquired him, and with a significant number of at-bats above high-A ball, Smoak has struggled to have success in the major leagues.

(However, Smoak has played in 199 minor league games and hit 24 home runs in those games. A topic for another day.)

I got into a car accident two years ago and the most favorite car I've ever owned was totaled. It wasn't new or fancy like Montero, it was just a '97 Honda Accord, but we had been through a lot together. We got through a major Seattle snowstorm together, as I drove to work past trucks abandoned on the side of the road. We drove to California together. I first kissed my first serious girlfriend in that car and other stuff.

But when it was deemed totaled, it was time to move on.

I didn't want a car payment and I didn't want the hassle of putting a lot of effort into finding something new, so after a week I purchased a 1993 Volvo 940 Turbo station wagon for the grand total of $1100. The car had nearly 200,000 miles and it's not the prettiest car on the road, but what other choice did I have? If this car made it six months, then I consider it a major win.

Two years and well past the 200,000 mile mark, the Volvo might be my new favorite car, even if it's not new.

Some would say that Kendrys Morales is old and beat up and well past the 200,000 mile mark. There was a time when he could have been considered a chic new model, but a horrible accident made him expendable to the Angels. So far, that availability has been one of the best breaks (pun so hard) that Seattle has had lately. I can't say if Morales will even make it with the team past this year, but the 30-year-old is basically the same hitter as Kyle Seager.

Unexpect the Expected: A time to change back?

Montero posted the highest OPS of the young trio in 2012, which was a whopping .685. All three have lost their jobs on the field, but not lost their opportunity. Also, look at Montero's butt, haha.

Smoak, Montero, and Ackley were supposed to be part of the original rebuilding plan set from Jack's first draft to some of Jack's biggest trades, but not all prospects work out. Others work out, but not in their first three years.

Roger Salkeld was the Mariners top prospect in 1990, a pitcher drafted ahead of Frank Thomas and a top five prospect in 1991 and 1992, but he would never join Randy to form the 1-2 duo that M's fans dreamed of. Marc Newfield, the sixth overall pick in 1990, was Baseball America's #31 prospect in 1991 and #17 in 1992, but he didn't form a franchise outfield with Griffey and Buhner.

Bob Newlin. Kerry Woodson. Shawn Estes. Ron Villone. Derek Lowe. Jason Varitek. Bret Boone (originally). Mak Suzuki. Arquimedez Pozo. Desi Relaford. Jose Cruz, Jr. Ryan Anderson. Ryan Christianson. Antonio Perez. Clint Nageotte. Travis Blackley. Chris Snelling.

Get over it.

Prospects fail, prospects succeed. But sometimes yes, they fail. The M's had a lot of players that fell well short of expectations before their run in the mid-90s. They had a lot fail before they won 116 games. The point though is that the M's had enough good prospects to increase the odds that at least some of them would succeed.

Smoak, Montero, and Ackley were supposed to be part of the original rebuilding plan. Now, they're still a part of the rebuilding plan, they just have a lot more company.

To start 2012, the M's rotation included Kevin Millwood, Blake Beavan, and Hector Noesi. Millwood pitched admirably, but he was 37, is now out of the league, and I had to use the word "admirably" because he's old and junk. I would not use that word, or any good words, to describe Beavan and Noesi as pitchers.

For managing Seattle to it's first winning season in 1991, Lefebvre was awarded with the opportunity to not manage the Mariners anymore. The M's were 68-93 in the year before Lefebvre and 83-79 in his third season, but the Mariners had stars now and Lefebvre was replaced with first-time manager Bill Plummer.

Edgar hit .343/.404/.544 in 1992. Griffey hit .308/.361/.535 with 27 home runs and 39 doubles. Buhner hit .243/.333/.422 with 25 home runs. Tino hit .257/.316/.411 with 16 home runs. Before the year, the M's traded Swift, Dave Burba, and Michael Jackson to the Giants for Mike Remlinger and former MVP Kevin Mitchell. Johnson led the league in strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches, and fewest hits allowed per 9 innings; the quadruple crown? A 22-year-old Dave Fleming went 17-10 with a 3.39 ERA and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting.

Firing Lefebvre seems a good move, no?

I should probably mention that with all these awesome performances, the '92 Mariners went 64-98, their worst record since 1983. Plummer was quickly replaced with Lou Piniella, the World Series-winning manager of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds.

Being Bad To Get Good

The Mariners had seven winning seasons under Lou Piniella from 1993 to 2002. They've had four seasons over .500 in all their other seasons combined.

I don't think that anybody grows without failure. Nobody gets better without some pretty serious mistakes and hardships in their life. If I developed a sense of humor, it's because I was the fattest little fat fat on the playground. At least that's what my parents told me.

I wish I could say more about Lefebvre, but the truth is that I was just starting grade school when he was hired. My ability to judge talent at that age was no better than Bill Bavasi at his current age and all other of his ages. I wish I could say that Lefebvre could have done what Lou did, but we can never know that. The truth is that Lou walked into a wonderful situation in Seattle, but they still went 64-98 the previous year for reasons beyond just Plummer.

The '92 rotation included forgettable names like Brian Fisher, Russ Swan, Rich DeLucia, Mark Grant, Tim Leary, Clay Parker, Randy Kramer, Mike Walker... did I mention that 14 different pitchers made a start for the M's in 1992?

14 different pitchers made a start for the M's in 1992. The pitching staff in total struck out 5.6 batters per nine innings and walked 4.1. Even the beloved Jeff Nelson, all of 25-years-old and long before his success, struck out 46 and walked 44 in 81 innings. The truth is that for all their success from 1995 to 2003, the M's long searched for more good pitching.

Erik Hanson's promise evaporated. Chris Bosio joined the rotation in 1993, pitched a no-hitter on April 22 of that year, and didn't contribute much else after. Fleming quickly flamed out after '92. Mike Hampton was traded away in 1993. But the M's improved enough under Lou in 1993 to go 82-80, their second over .500 season in franchise history. Seattle struggled again in 1994, but actually had won nine of their last ten ballgames before the strike.

The 1995 season is mostly forgettable.

Just Kid'ing: 1995 was "cool"

The worst-kept secret of the mid-nineties Mariners is that even though the roster had as many as four future Hall of Famers, the pitching was abysmal. Jamie Moyer's addition in 1996 was helpful, but not enough.

Some change is forced upon you, but there's a lot of change that you seek. When I join a dating website because I'm single, that's change that I'm looking for. When a girl looks at my OkCupid profile, that's change she is not looking for, apparently.

In the nineties, the Mariners setup more Adult Friend Finder, OkCupid, Match.com, E-Harmony, J-Date, Christian Mingle, Fetlife, and OurTime.com accounts seeking pitchers than you could ever imagine. And the results were as bad as you might expect. The '95 team featured Tim Belcher, Bosio, Salomon Torres, Andy Benes, Bill Krueger, and a handful of under-25 pitchers like Torres, Rafael Carmona, Bob Wolcott, and Tim Davis.

Johnson was the only pitcher with an ERA under 4.42, most of them were well over 5.00.

When Johnson missed most of the 1996 season, the M's team ERA jumped from 4.50 to 5.21. Sterling Hitchcock led the team in innings. Bob Wells, Matt Wagner, Terry Mulholland, and some other dudes joined the rotation, without success. A guy named Tim Harikkala made a start.

A large part of what held the Mariners back during this time was the pitching, but that seems to be less of a concern these days. As of right now, the M's pitching of today and the future looks perhaps better than it ever has before. They don't even need a dating profile anymore, they're nearing Gosling-levels of beauty.

Felix Hernandez is a guy I've heard of. Iwakuma is doing a lot more than the "win/loss record, ERA" credentials that could get you by in 1992, posing a FIP of 3.46 and 2.0 WAR this year. Last year, 22-year-old Erasmo Ramirez took a spot in the rotation and it seems a longshot that he'll lose that spot. Now healthy again, Ramirez has struck out 38 and walked 8 in 38.1 innings with Tacoma. He should be taking back that spot any day now.

Mariner fans should feel confident that three of the five rotation spots are locked down by good pitchers. But wait, there's more. It's a scream, baby.

More Like Taijuan Striker-Outer

From a "project" that fell to the 43rd pick of the 2010 draft to arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball, Walker is barely older than Felix was when he debuted in Tacoma eight years ago.

A year ago I was confident in calling Taijuan Walker at least tied with Dylan Bundy as the best pitching prospect in the game. At the time, Walker was 19 and dominating double-A, but he struggled in later months and had some people questioning whether he could really hack it at higher levels. Walker returned to double-A this year and hacked it.

Still one of the youngest pitchers in the league, Walker pitched 84 innings, walked 30, struck out 96, and allowed 58 hits with a FIP of 2.98.

So what happens in a world where Walker becomes the next Salkeld instead of the next Felix? If we allow ourselves to believe that the top three spots in the major league rotation are locked down, who is going to replace Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang if not Walker? That's the beauty of the M's current farm crop (I don't think I ever got that pun before) is that it's not just one glorious prize-winning pumpkin.

Bitch, we got a lot of pumpkins.

Danny Hultzen has returned from injury and in five starts this year with 28.2 innings, he has struck out 31, walked 7, and posted a FIP of 2.73 in Tacoma. Slightly more encouraging than walking 17.9-percent of triple-A batters like he did last season.

Brandon Maurer was given a shot in the rotation to start the year and failed, but in six starts with Tacoma he's struck out 24.6-percent of batters and posted a FIP of 4.05. Could it be better, yes, but did you know that Maurer is a year younger than Hultzen?

He's two years younger than James Paxton, and Paxton would be the top pitching prospect in a lot of organizations. His FIP is down to 4.00 at Tacoma and his walks are down to 9.4-percent.

I believe there are two opening rotation spots for next season, and I've already named four pitchers that would like to compete for those spots and are worthy for it. Look deeper and you'll find 18-year-old Victor Sanchez, who in nine starts with Clinton is walking 1.2 batters per nine innings. Teammate Dylan Unsworth is walking 0.3(!)(!) batters per nine innings. And then there's 16-year-old Luiz Gohara, perhaps the best under-18 pitcher in the world.

The M's currently have long-term and short-term pitching prospects. They've got the trophy wife and the trophy girlfriend on the side just in case.

On opening day of the 2012 season, the Mariners had... Felix.

Iwakuma was in the bullpen, and most expectations were considerably low. Erasmo was in the bullpen and few thought he could be more than a good long reliever. Hultzen had yet to throw his first minor league pitch. Paxton had risen up the rankings, but still walked 4.8 batters per nine innings at single-A Clinton the year before. Maurer couldn't stay healthy. Sanchez? Gohara? Never heard of 'em.

Not all changes come at the top, some quietly form below the surface but they can be equally as important. And they happen ever quicker than you may have realized.

Coming Half-Circle: Brad Lite, Zunino is Spanish for the Nino, Franklin goes Bash

Brad Miller collects his first career hit, a double against the Cubs. The future is here, but it's still not the future.

A potential lineup the Mariners could run out if they wanted to:

1. Dustin Ackley, CF

2. Nick Franklin, 2B

3. Kyle Seager, 3B

4. Kendry Morales, DH

5. Mike Morse, RF

6. Justin Smoak, 1B

7. Mike Zunino, C

8. Brad Miller, SS

9. Michael Saunders, LF

Forgive me for not being a guy that knows how to create lineups (and for not knowing what to do in left or center, but Saunders is younger than Endy Chavez and Ackley seems to be the plan in center at the moment) but this isn't projection of "Potential 2014 lineup!" These players are here now. They carry an average age of 25.5. If Montero came back strong and took over at DH, that would go down even a little further.

There's a lineup that doesn't have to include Raul Ibanez or Jason Bay, God bless 'em.

There's a lineup that, unlike other lineups in the last decade, if it didn't lead the league in scoring at least it's got a lot of potential to do so in the future. We just have to remember that just because "the future has arrived" that the future is always arriving. You will never catch up to the future. They represent a brighter future, but we can't expect a perfect present just because we love Zunino, Miller, and Franklin.

The 1992 Mariners lost 98 games and had a lineup that included Tino Martinez, Edgar Martinez, Omar Vizquel, Jay Buhner, and Ken Griffey Jr., with Randy Johnson in the rotation.

As of this writing, it's been 460 days since the Mariners beat the Athletics on opening day in that place they call "Japan." In that relatively short time, a few of the names have stayed the same, but the Mariners were forced to keep changing because they weren't any good. The truth is that Jack's been changing this team since day one, but five years into the rebuilding plan the team is still seeking it's first playoff berth since 2001.

Edgar debuted in the Mariners organization in 1983. The Mariners drafted Griffey in 1987. They drafted Tino in 1988 and traded for Buhner that same year. In 1989, they added Johnson and in 1993 they traded for Dan Wilson and drafted Alex Rodriguez. So it was nine years after they drafted the greatest player in franchise history that the team finally made the playoffs.

What I see when I look at the Mariners today is the first real representation of "Jack's Team." Jack wasn't hired because of his prowess in trades and free agency, but his ability to spot a prospect. You can call out Ackley, Smoak, and Montero as failures, but you can't ignore that it was Jack that found Walker when so many teams could have had him. And the same for Franklin. And the same for Miller. This is starting to look like the team that Jack has built. This is the team that has to grow together, and then when they add a few starting pitchers and a few relievers, it'll be nearly complete of players drafted by Jack or traded for as prospects by Jack.

How much time can we afford him now?

Fans in Seattle are used to seeing their sports teams fail and that bitterness of witnessing constant failure has cast a pall over the city to not expect something better. The memories of '95 are always strong at the forefront of our minds, but the eight-plus years of building that team are quickly forgotten. The years of Lefebvre and Plummer are stricken from the record. Lou's slow start might as well have never happened. The failed prospects that didn't join Griffey, Edgar, and Randy live on only in a 100-word Wikipedia article.

In order for us fans to really expect better, we'll have to look at things differently. I guess you could say, we're going to need to change.

(Congrats! You've read this article all the way to the end. I wish I could say that meant you won something or gain special powers, but it likely just means you've lost your job. Sorry about that dude. Go M's though, am I right?)

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