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A Mariners Rant

The following is a piece emailed to me by Steve Nelson, author of the now-defunct, always-terrific Mariners Wheelhouse blog. Read on:

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Surfing a bit this morning, I found a trio of articles about the Pirates and the Royals that sounded a bit too much like the Mariners for comfort (and tx to Baseball Think Factory's Baseball Primer Newsblog for the links).

First up we have Rob Neyer (of ESPN) and Rany Jazayerli (of Bseball Prospectus), both Royals fans, from one of their periodic chats about the Royals at Rob & Rany on the Royals.  Seems the Royals promoted Justin Huber, their best position prospect, to the MLB roster so he can sit on the bench because the manager doesn't want to hurt the feelings of an established vet.  The guy who needs playing time to develop gets to rot.  And a GM who won't force the issue with his manager.  Where have we seen that before?

Rob:
...It seems that Justin Huber, just recalled from Omaha, isn't going to play regularly. He's going to be half of a DH platoon with Matt Stairs. And since Huber bats right-handed, he'll be the lesser-playing half of the platoon. Somebody asked Buddy Bell why Huber wasn't scheduled to play more often, particularly at first base (his position with Omaha). Professor Bell's response: "I understand the second-guessing, but he's probably not going to play too much against right-handers. Dougie [Mientkiewicz] doesn't deserve that."

This is a franchise, quite frankly, that simply does not value winning. As I write this, Dougie is batting .266, which would be all right if 1) Dougie wasn't a first baseman, and 2) Dougie's on-base percentage wasn't .322, and 3) Dougie's slugging percentage wasn't .380. He simply can't hit, and of course he never should have been signed in the first place.

But forget about those numbers. They're irrelevant. If Dougie was batting .366 it still wouldn't make any sense to play Huber so rarely. It's really this simple: because Huber is supposed to be a big part of the Royals' future -- THE PLAN -- there really are only two things he should be doing: playing first base every day with the O-Royals or hitting every day with the K-Royals. Anything else is pure, unadulterated, indefensible idiocy. And while we can make fun of Buddy Bell all we like -- and jumping jehosaphat, he's a complete fool -- a real general manager would make sure that Huber was playing at least five times every week.

Rany: It would be nice if they would stop making an embarrassment of themselves, though.  For over a year now I've had friends who are fans of other teams who have told me that even though they don't care about the Royals at all, it is painful for them to see any team make such a spectacle of itself over and over again.  Nineteen losses in a row.  Eleven losses in a row.  Holding on to Jose Lima for an entire season.  Not trading Mike Sweeney when they had opportunity after opportunity to do so.  Trading Carlos Beltran for three prospects, only one of whom -- the third guy in the deal, naturally -- has come even close to the team's expectations for him.

And now, promoting one of their best prospects, one of the 50 best prospects in the game, to pinch-hit once in a while so that a couple of thirtysomething mediocrities can get at-bats.  This is a new one, even for the Royals.  Usually they rush their prospects to the majors too quickly, or don't take their prospects seriously and leave them to rust in Triple-A.

The problem here is that Buddy Bell is, in a word, a loser.  He's never won anywhere, either as a player or (especially) as a manager, and to watch this guy on a day-by-day basis I can't imagine why anyone would think otherwise.  The other problem is that Allard Baird is too much of a wuss to force his manager to do the right thing.  The part of Billy Beane's success from Moneyball that people overlook is Beane's ability to ram unpopular or unconventional ideas down the throats of his underlings; as a former player, a former top athlete, he has the background and the physical demeanor to get his way.

Allard has some good ideas.  But if he can't convince anyone to follow them, they're useless.  Having the power to promote your most-ready prospect to the majors means nothing if you don't have the influence to convince your hand-picked manager to play him.


Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star piles on:

You never know what will make you snap. After all these years of horrendous Royals baseball, I never expected a nice Australian kid named Justin Huber to break me. But so it goes. Consider me broken. This is me snapping. The Royals are an embarrassment. A mess. A disaster. It's time to blow up the whole thing and start new.

Of course, Huber is just the final straw. It is 10 full years of ghastly baseball that leads to this rant. Ten years, we've watched the Royals try out softball pitchers, get hit in the back with relay throws, fall off bases on pickoff attempts, jog toward dugouts while fly balls drop behind them, slash payroll, send out incorrect lineup cards, injure themselves in home-plate celebrations and sacrifice innocent young pitchers at Yankee Stadium.

All of that will get to you after a while.

Through it all, I've tried to hold out hope. Hey, it's baseball. Ya gotta hope. Look at the Cincinnati Reds this year. Look at Detroit. In baseball, there should always be hope.

Then this Royals team came along. And you know what? There is no hope. They broke me.

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The Royals aren't just bad, they're infuriating. John Buck -- a key element in the Carlos Beltran trade -- actually had a passed ball on a pitchout the other day. First time I've seen that one. And it reminds you that the Beltran trade, looking back, was the death knell for this organization. The Royals had one great player to trade, one of the best players in the game, and in exchange they got Buck, Mark Teahen and Mike Wood. A baseball executive e-mailed me that day to say the trade was a fiasco, a breathtakingly dumb move by general manager Allard Baird. I held out hope that the executive was wrong.

He wasn't wrong. To this point, Buck and Teahen -- the two key elements to the deal -- are hitting a combined .190 with three times more errors than home runs.

Once the Royals failed to cash in on Beltran, the dominoes tumbled. They hired Buddy Bell, who had one of the worst managerial records in baseball history. They lost Zack Greinke, their best pitching prospect in a decade, to a personal issue that nobody, not even Greinke himself, seems to understand. They acquired a bunch of old pitchers. Before the Beltran trade, they signed Angel Berroa to a long-term deal, a move that at the time seemed like a decent gamble and now seems to have them stuck with a shortstop who has a knack for making disastrous errors and an addiction to pitches in the dirt.

It's so dark now, you can't even see bright spots.

That brings us back to Justin Huber. If you don't know, Huber is a pretty solid Royals prospect. He should be the team's first baseman of the future. He led the Texas League in hitting last season, he was hitting quite well in Omaha this season. The Royals wisely intended to keep him in Class AAA most of the season, maybe all season, so he could get experience playing first base and develop his power.

This week, the Royals called up Huber. Why? They concede he will not play first base -- he's not ready, and the Royals paid quite a bit of money to Doug Mientkiewicz to play there, and if you can believe it, Mientkiewicz leads the starters with a .322 on-base percentage (league average on-base percentage: .335).

The Royals also concede he will not be the regular designated hitter, not with 38-year-old Matt Stairs on the team.

So, they brought up Justin Huber, their first baseman of the future, to (drum roll, please) sit on the bench. I assume they could not think of any other way to slow his development. Maybe next week they will start whacking his toes with baseball bats.


So enough with the Royals.  They're a dead horse.  What's the point of beating the carcass to pulp? Let the flies and worms have it.  I'm sorry - that's redundant. For a moment there I forgot the team was already owned by David Glass.

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Let's shift our gaze to more promising locales - you know, where the horse is laying on it's side, head down, gasping for breath, but yet occasionally twitching it's tail feebly in a futile attempt to shoo the flies that can already smell the rotting flesh. So .........  Pittsburgh and Jim Littlefield, here we come.  

From the Stats Geek at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette we read of a similar story.  Aging vets getting playing time at the expense of developing the future of the team.  Players like Craig Wilson rotting on the bench because the manager is in love with his vets who only signed with the Pirates because they weren't good enough to be a starter with anyone else.

With a fifth of the season in the books, more than a fifth of the Pirates' trips to the plate have gone to three players making more than a fifth of the payroll.

It's enough to make you reach for a fifth.


Player AVG OBA SLG
Jeromy Burnitz 191 238 365
Joe Randa 221 247 312
Jose Hernandez 167 231 250

Each of these guys will blow out 37 candles on his birthday cake this year and is well on his way to killing that many rallies. How bad is their collective .197 batting average and .240 on-base average from what should be high-offense positions?

Mets pitchers are at .233 and .292.

..

Any playing time given now to Burnitz, Randa or Hernandez could get in the way of finding answers to key questions.

Is Jose Bautista, 25, good enough to be a regular third baseman or right fielder? Is Freddy Sanchez, 28, good enough to play third base every day? Is Jose Castillo, 25, ever going to hit or should Sanchez move to second base?

What about Craig Wilson, 29, a free agent at season's end? He's a career 268 hitter who gets on base at a .363 clip and slugs .493. When Sean Casey comes back in July with his .305.370/.463 career line and his brittle 32-year-old back, do you bump Craig Wilson to right field? Do you try to sign Casey or Wilson or both or neither for 2007?

Should the catcher be Ronny Paulino, Ryan Doumit or both? If Doumit isn't catching, do you play him at first base or in right field?

Have we already doomed Doumit to play the role Craig Wilson has played the past six seasons: the power-hitting former catcher who is never given a set position but is kept around to replace whatever offseason acquisition goes down, can't hit or flees the country?


What struck me in these stories are the similarities with the Mariners.

I garnered a reputation several years ago when I was actively blogging as one of the "pessimistic" bloggers.  I was probably the most negative blogger about the prospects of the 2004 Mariners team and events showed I was wildly optimistic.

Since then I've held out hope that things were turning - that the team was setting a new course.  Those hopes are certainly being tried.

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And I read stuff like this, and I wonder, what's the difference between the Mariners and the Pirates/Royals?

Are the Mariners really nothing but what the Pirates and Royals would be if those teams had a payroll and budget similar to the Mariners?  Are the Mariners really nothing but a gussied up edition of the Royals and Pirates - like taking a Yugo and adding hydraulics and a 1000 watt sound system?

It makes me catch my breath a moment and ask myself if I'm really being objective about the Mariners, or have I allowed myself to fall prey to fan's normal optimistic biases.  I've often been irritated by snarky comments about the Mariners made by people like Dayn Perry, Joe Sheehan, and Christina Kahrl.  Gad I would hate it if they were right all along.