Editor's note: This is the first in a future series of "point/counterpoint" posts. Logan will be making another post soon offering a contrary view on the same topic. - Scott
Being content is an odd pursuit. It's the ultimate goal in life, to reach a pinnacle when everything is fine. But almost always, we address one task and then another source of stress quickly surfaces to take its place.
You finally get the wifi router working right and then your car makes noises when the RPMs are low. You finish this huge project at work and now there's this random conference trip looming. You finally settle into summer, a bit of a relaxing routine, and oh hey there's people staying with you all next week.
But then, in those rare instances of momentary bliss, it all comes together. Everything's alright. But then, then you feel guilty. Or I feel guilty. I assume there must be something else I should be working on, working towards or generally stressed about. I feel bad saying "you," because maybe you're better at this than I am, but I assume at least some of you have experienced it—because I see a lot of it in baseball. Hell, the slogan for the entire SABR community should be, if not "small sample size," then "Yeah, but that's not predictive."
Not too far back I was having a conversation over Twitter with Nathan and @MarinerMagic (if you're on Mariners Twitter, you know him) about Raul Ibanez and what's become deridingly known as #VeteranPresents—or the belief that having Raul (and others) on the team would (does?) have an unquantifiable positive impact on the younger players.
The conversation took place last Tuesday morning, a day after the Mariners thrashed the Red Sox to open a four-game series. In the game, Justin Smoak hit two doubles, one from each side of the plate. Both hits came with runners in scoring position, when he's usually struggled. After the game, Smoak spoke glowingly about Raul Ibanez, who, like he does in every game, hit a home run. The next day, I caught this on Baker's blog (emphasis mine):
"I think it’s just wanting it so bad," he said of his RISP struggles. "I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself instead of going out there and relaxing, getting good pitches to hit and putting a good swing on it. That’s what you’ve got to do in those situations. I’ve watched Raul do it all the time…you’ve just got to go up there and relax like you would in every other at-bat."
I sent the post to Nathan and MM, noting that maybe the signing did have the side effect management hoped it would, that maybe the things Raul Ibanez does, and why he does them, are more salient to the younger players when they're working so goddamn well. Each of them responded with, and I'm paraphrasing here, "How do we know? Is this really something that can be used again in the future? It's all impossible to quantify." And that's true. They are right.
But I didn't care about that. This is all that struck me: Justin Smoak said he watched Raul Ibanez. Justin Smoak said tried to do something Raul Ibanez was doing, something that seemed to be working. Justin Smoak credited that for his success. It's nothing more, and it's probably a bit less.
It's just a thing that happened, it was cool and fun, and that's all.
And that's what I want the second half of the Mariners season to be. I want it to be just baseball, a complete Mariners team playing games to win—with the focus primarily being just on what's happening before us. With the trade deadline approaching and the Mariners' young core starting to show signs of blossoming, we've all started to look to the near and distant future. As the trade rumors start to trickle and then flow and, before long, drown out everything else for a few days, we wonder who's expendable and what other teams will expend to acquire them. I want to focus on what's on the field, though I know I'm not alone or making some bold proclamation here.
I've mentioned multiple times here on LL that my biggest frustration with the Mariners' lack of contention is the fact that we as M's fans don't get to enjoy a full season of baseball. We're not in a pennant race, so every game doesn't carry the same weight it does for other teams. At times, that can lead to feeling like they're playing a 100-game season, and then a 60-game exhibition set.
Since Brad Miller's call-up, my mental bookend for "now it starts," the Mariners have played inspired baseball. Since that point, I've been excited about every game and cared about the results. I'm ecstatic when they win and genuinely bummed when they lose. And over those games—10 of 16 against playoff teams— it's two more "escatic"s than "bummed"s. You'll take it every time from the M's, and probably a majority of the time from a contender.
It's no coincidence either that the stretch coincides with Miller's arrival. He isn't the sole cause, of course, as almost everyone's hitting the shit out of the ball—but it's hard not to sense the catalyzing effect he's had. Or, if you're looking for more direct and quantifiable evidence, Dave pointed out inserting Miller in place of Brendan Ryan is the equivalent of swapping Smoak for Cabrera. Smoak's success—both recent and extended—makes that point a little less powerful, but do you really want to do the opposite of this for the sake of a few mid-level prospects? It's a low threshold, but it's nice to go up and down the lineup and, on most days, have 1-9 clear a bar set only at "relative competence."
The Mariners most valuable offensive trade chips now, of players likely to be dealt, are Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez. Are you ready for the drop to Endy Chavez and, very possibly, Jesus Montero? Maybe, just maybe, it's Michael Morse and Stefen Romero—each of whom come with their own reasons for excitement—but the team will be worse-off without Morales (who's traditionally a second-half guy) and Ibanez, and that's really the entire point.
Now, I understand the counter, and let me state first I'm not advocating the Mariners not trade anyone. Oliver Perez is likely gone no matter what, and same for Brendan Ryan, maybe even Joe Saunders. But for the big-time contributors, particularly in the lineup—where a single black hole can throw off the entire thing—let's keep it together.
I do get the belief that playing for now makes little sense for a team this far back and comes with the opportunity cost of a handful of lottery ticket prospects. Yes, every now and you'll hit on a Chris Davis, but if we want to use good process and consider the most likely series of events—where is it more likely Zduriencik (I'm dangerously assuming he's here) will add a Major League contributor: in a mid-season trade, where he's struggled to acquire valuable players without intensive months of scouting? Or in the draft, with the Kendrys Morales sandwich round comp pick if he doesn't re-sign? Do I need to remind you of Jack's track record in that general area of the draft?
There are objective and quantifiable reasons to not aggressively shop guys like Raul and Kendrys, and I do believe in them, but coming back, I care most about the more fluffy ones. Maybe it's foolish. Hell, it's probably foolish. But this team and these guys deserve to feel positive vibes from fans, and after all this time, the fans deserve to give them. Is the opportunity cost of holding onto a few key glue guys so high that it's worth throwing this season in the heap with other lost campaigns, and coming back next year with the hope that this core—combined with a few additons—is capable of playing contending ball for an extended stretch? I don't think so. I'd rather they prove it, to the fans, and to themselves. This isn't about self preservation, though I wouldn't mind that if that were the outcome.
And now's where I loop in something people might hate, but it's worth pondering or at least considering. Studies have shown that individuals are most effective, and most motivated, when they have a true purpose (longish video, but worth watching if you have the time). People want to be part of something larger than themselves, and they want to know they're contributing to it. Self-preservation and personal acclaim aren't enough. If we make the trades, and the losses start to come, then we and the players look to those personal successes. And even if they are, as mentioned, "successes"—do you want to reinforce the idea that these guys playing well simply isn't enough to make a good all-around ball club?
I understand that good players play and perform well on bad teams all the time, but how often do we talk enviously about "winning culture" and year-over-year success that breeds? I know the term carries quite the negative connotation as well, as we don't know what creates it or how exactly to foster one, but shit, don't you think "trying to win" would be a logical starting point?
That, in itself, is all I want. Let's try to win. For once, let's do it for an entire season, because right now the cost isn't very high. And though the reward isn't high either, or even quantifiably existent, I'd rather chase something imaginary than throw another half a season away.