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With the Mariners now officially out of the Major League cellar for the first time in a month, it might be time to start preparing for life without the #1 pick. Because the more I've seen of this team over the past couple weeks, the less inclined I am to think that it has what it takes to keep up with the sorry piles of crap in Colorado, San Diego, and Washington. Those teams are just epically bad - true masters of their craft - and while the M's tried their hardest to pull away, they couldn't gain any separation, and now too many unlikely events would have to play out in order for this team to have a fighting chance at the big time. That's the problem you run into when you gradually start replacing bad players with decent ones.

But don't fret; it's not as awful as it sounds. There's still some upside here. You just have to look a little harder for it.

For one thing, we still have another year for draft-eligible high school and college prospects to emerge and bump Strasburg down the board. At the moment he probably has the brightest star in the country, but an awful lot can change between now and next June, and just because we probably won't end up with the first pick doesn't necessarily mean we screwed ourselves out of The Savior. And even if he does get picked by somebody else, we'll still be choosing high enough to come away with something neat. It's not like you happen upon too many draft years in which one player is far and away better than all of the rest. We'll be in a good position, Strasburg or no Strasburg. (For the record I do still want Strasburg.)

For another, let's think about this. Recently the Mariners have been giving a lot of exposure to lesser-proven guys who stand a chance of occupying a significant role in 2009. Jeremy Reed. Jeff Clement. RA Dickey. RRS. Brandon Morrow (sort of). Wlad for a little while. And with many of the veterans soon to be on their way out, that means we'll only be seeing more playing time going to possible pieces of the future. Is that a team you really want to see finish with the worst record in baseball? The better they do now, the better shape we're in when the front office tries to work out how to turn this into a contender for 2009. If we ditch the veterans and just completely tank, the front office will lose confidence in what it has and search for other solutions. But if we ditch the veterans and start winning more games, then in so doing guys like Reed and Clement will be answering a lot of pressing organizational questions. And that strikes me as being pretty damn important. Given an inverse relationship between the success of our younger players and our chances of drafting Stephen Strasburg, I'm going to side with the younger players, because those are the guys who would put us in the best position to succeed. And at the end of the day, all any of us really want is for the Mariners to be relevant again.

I love Stephen Strasburg. I've never met him in person and I've only seen footage of one single start, but I still love him to death. However, I love the Mariners more, and if they can start playing better baseball on the backs of their younger talent, then for me that's going to take precedence over my desire to draft a guy that looks like an elf. I want this team to be good and I want it to be good in a hurry, but I'd rather try to build around a team with potential than hope that Felix and a dude out of college can resuscitate what's clinically dead. I just like the odds a lot better.

7_2_08_medium

Biggest Contribution: Miguel Cairo, +27.3%
Biggest Suckfest: Adrian Beltre, -17.9%
Most Important AB: Cairo double #2, +21.7%
Most Important Pitch: Lind homer, -21.0%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +39.2%
Total Contribution by Lineup: +8.3%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +2.5%
(What is this chart?)

When I say "playing better baseball on the backs of their younger talent," winning because of Miguel Cairo and Jarrod Washburn is pretty much the exact opposite of what I mean. I demand that every last one of our wins be made possible by Ichiro and players under 30. Letting Miguel Cairo flip out doesn't accomplish anything.

I'm completely beat from last night, so all I'll say now is that that Rays/Sox series showcased some of the most exciting baseball I've seen in my life. Seriously, I implore you to start paying attention, if you aren't already. Their entire season has been like our game from last night repeating itself almost every day. If you only bandwagon one team in your life, let this be it. Trust me.