Today is an emotional day for the Seattle Mariner fanbase.
As you no doubt have already heard, the Mariners traded young slugger Danny Tartabull and minor league pitcher Rick Luecken to the Kansas City Royals for starting pitcher Scott Bankhead, outfielder Mike Kingery, and reliever Steve Shields. Without the benefit of an oracle, it is of course impossible to predict how this trade will turn out for the Mariners. But losing Tartabull is not likely to be popular with the Mariner faithful, and I'd say it's fair to be disappointed. It's probably even a little fair to be pissed off.
One thing we can't be, however, is surprised. If you're surprised, you haven't been paying any attention.
After all, this is what a decade of losing necessitates. This is what happens when you've seen eight different managers since 1980. This is what happens when you have an organization whose best chance of not losing 90 games was to hope for a strike-shortened season. This is what happens when you hire a 39 year old ambitious general manager in Dick Balderson, eager to make his mark early on a fledgling franchise which has been last or next to last in attendance since the release of The Deer Hunter.
So no, you can't be surprised. Save your indignation. This is your burden, M's fans. What you need to do today is put on your cold hard calculation cap and try to look at this as objectively as you can.
Yes, Danny Tartabull appears to be a star in the making. Yes, he hit 43 home runs for Calgary last season and treated opposing pitchers like Burt Reynolds at an Executive Secretary conference. But let's face facts about Tartabull -- he is a future designated hitter.
Try as this club might to groom him as an infielder, he was a butcher in the minor leagues at shortstop and second base. Between 1984 and 1985, he made 59 errors at shortstop. As if things might change on the big stage, the Mariners trotted him out to second base for 30-plus games where he made fully ten errors, nine of them of the fielding variety.
Tartabull couldn't make routine plays and his range was limited. The presence of Harold Reynolds, despite his bat, necessitated that the organization experiment with him in the outfield. And in right field, nobody is going to confuse him with Jesse Barfield or Gary Pettis. He may have held his own but he wasn't striking fear into any baserunners. Tartabull fielded 22 singles with a man on second and he threw out exactly zero of them at the plate.
A slugging second baseman has a lot of value. A slugging right fielder is kind of what you need. A slugging designated hitter, the Mariners already have -- and his name is Ken Phelps.
And there are two additional names not involved in the trade who no doubt impacted this move as well: Mickey Brantley and Dick Williams.
It's easy to dismiss Brantley because of the .196/.268/.353 line he put up with Seattle this season -- but that was just over 100 plate appearances. Brantley is a far superior defender to Tartabull (he even had three assists in his brief cup of coffee), and don't forget he hit .318/.398/.611 with 30 home runs and 25 stolen bases in just over 100 games with Calgary. Mercy. It could be that Brantley actually covers center for the Mariners in 1987 and new Mariner Mike Kingery moves to right, but I guess that all gets sorted out later. The truth is that this club could be better without Tartabull than with him.
And my guess is that's what Dick Williams thinks. I have a strong suspicion that Williams wasn't a fan of Tartabull's occasional lapses and take-your-sweet-time to first on routine groundouts. Besides, Tartabull strikes me as the kind of player that doesn't receive direct criticism particularly well and Williams isn't the constructive hand-holding type of manager. After laying eyes on Brantley, my bet is Williams started putting the Tartabull bug in Balderson's ear.
M's fans, you could always do the unthinkable and place faith in Balderson in the short term here. The core of this offense remains Phil Bradley, Jim Presley, Ken Phelps, and Alvin Davis. There are plenty of teams that would love to call those four men a part of their future, and three of them are 27 years of age or younger.
Let's not forget this is a Seattle Mariner organization boasting the likes of Mike Moore, Mark Langston, and Mike Morgan, all 26 years old or younger. Stalwart Jim Beattie is probably finished, Bill Swift never seemed to get his sinker to sink enough, and just the lack of major league ready talent necessitated a move to provide depth in their pitching rotation to support that offensive core.
Sure, Scott Bankhead isn't going to be a world-beater, but the Mariners just got younger and better in the rotation. Bankhead is just 22 and put up a rather lackluster 4.61 ERA and just eight wins in 24 games for the Royals. However, there are reasons to believe there are better days ahead, and the Mariners will have him on the cheap for years to come. You really want to see any more of Milt Wilcox? Didn't think so.
Losing Danny Tartabull stinks. It made me say naughty words. It made me want to kick Balderson's puppy. But after the initial shock, I'm not convinced this doesn't make the Mariners better, and I'm pretty sure that's what we all want. Tartabull had a nice little season as a rookie, no doubt. But the haul of Bankhead and Kingery, the presence of Brantley, the fact that Tartabull can't really play a position, and that Dick Williams probably hates his guts -- well, I think it all adds up to make some sense. And it's hard to make sense of things through the fog of anger, so I'll allow you a few more days to let the mercury come down a little.