The other day, I found myself going through all of the old Mariners commercials. I've generally been impressed by the consistent quality that the M's advertising department has been able to produce, mixing good players with fun/silly lines and situations. However, during my most recent viewing, one commercial in particular caught my eye (and not in a good way!). Let's hop in our time machines and go back to the off-season between 2011 and 2012.
For me, as a Mariners fan, the '11 season feels like it happened both incredibly recently and absurdly long ago. The 2011 M's won 67 games (a six win improvement from the year before!) and featured Brendan Ryan as their best everyday position player. Ichiro fell off of a cliff spectacularly and Adam Kennedy somehow accumulated more than 400 PA. The overall outlook of that team seemed fairly bleak; there were still some things to get excited about during 2011 (Felix was Felix, that Ackley kid looked like he definitely had a plus bat, and Michael Pineda seemed like he could be an important part of the M's rotation as they built for the future), but it certainly didn't feel like the best time to be a Mariners fans.
As spring training rolled around in 2012, Seattle's advertising department got started on their next batch of commercials. Given the relative lack of good players on the team, they had their work cut out for them. Unfortunately, I didn't really think that any of the commercials in 2012 were particularly good. (I know some people enjoyed the impressions commercial with Ryan and Ichiro, but I think that this was the weakest batch that they've ever come out with.) One of the spots featured Justin Smoak, Miguel Olivo, Casper Wells, and Franklin Gutierrez:
Of course, the casting for this commercial made complete sense. Smoak was coming off of the best year of his career, which saw him play incredibly mediocre defense and put up a monster wRC+ of 103. (He was also incredibly slow!) It was only right to cast him as the lead and imbue him with super-human strength so he could strike out into the wilderness to harvest comically over-sized baseball equipment. The appearances of Gutierrez (coming off an injury-plagued season where he slugged .273), Wells (a fringey/fourth outfielder who'd racked up 116 whole PA for the Mariners the year before), and Olivo (who doesn't love a backstop with a walk rate below 4% and a K rate above 25%?) were simply the cherry on top. Again, I understand that there weren't many good players to pick from to cast in commercials that year, but this was the same advertising team that took the Mariners best player and paired him with a mannequin... so I'm not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt in this scenario.
"Timber" seemed fairly weak at the time and it looks even worse in hindsight. Since this commercial aired, the four men featured in it have each seen their baseball careers fizzle.
These fine gentlemen have appeared in 698 MLB games since the beginning of 2012 and have logged nearly 2500 PA. During this period, they have combined for a sub-.290 OBP and an incredibly robust WAR of -0.1. (Adding Ichiro's magical bat, which was also featured in the commercial, wouldn't even help; Ichiro has a wRC+ of just 82 since 2012. Being in this commercial was a curse!)
The 2014 season had an air of finality about it for these four men. It saw:
- Gutierrez miss all of '14 due to a debilitating combination of ankylosing spondylitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Franklin has often said he'd like to come back next year, which would make for a really lovely story, but I just don't know that I can stand to be at all hopeful about the situation.
- Olivo appear in just eight MLB games before being released by the Dodgers after chompin' on a teammate's ear in the dugout during a AAA game. It looks like he finished up 2014 playing in the Mexican League with the Tijuana Toros.
- Wells put up a .197/.290/.230 triple-slash line in 26 games for the Cubs AAA team before being released in June.
- Smoak get demoted and benched (he had just 14 PA with the M's after July 21st) as he "hit" .202/.275/.339 during his last last chance with the team. Out of option years, Smoak was selected off waivers by the Blue Jays at the end of October.
It's a real shame that the title of this commercial turned out to be damned prophetic about the trajectories of these men's careers. Maybe if Smoaky ventures deep into Canada's boreal forest he'll be able to find some pristine trees to craft into better bats. (Global warming and climate change have adversely affected the forests in the Pacific Northwest at an increasing rate over the past few years; maybe those affected trees make for lousier bats?) Smoak's inability to live up to his potential is somewhat sad, especially considering that he was widely considered to be a pretty stand up guy, but he's the Great White North's problem now.