If you were to try and sum up the last five years of Seattle Mariners baseball, one of the very last words you would ever gravitate towards would be "Lucky." Using the world "lucky" to describe what this franchise has gone through not only seems blatantly inaccurate on its surface, but it would also be cruel to the collected experiences of people named Justin Smoak, Tony Blengino, Eric Wedge, Jeff Sullivan, Casper Wells, Franklin Gutierrez, Ryan Divish's answering machine, that scout that got fired for throwing an ice cream sandwich at Jesus Montero, and Jesus Montero. We all know the Mariners are finally in pretty good shape for the next couple of seasons, but it seems fair to say that they got there through the law of averages evening out a decade of worst-case scenarios drawn into the abyss like Guti's head attracting baseballs on a pickoff throw. Easy this was not.
But something very strange happened today, and it's something that has me second guessing my gut on this whole thing. If you haven't heard, well...behold entropy at its finest:
Victor Martinez will miss all of #Tigers spring training after tearing meniscus in his left knee. Surgery next week.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) February 5, 2015
Now if you recall, this is the same Victor Martinez that most of us were salivating over throughout all of the postseason, despite knowing full well he wasn't going to be wearing Northwest Green next season. This was supposed to be the right-handed pop at the top of the lineup, the safety net around Robinson Cano that would ostensibly add at least that one win the Mariners needed to make the playoffs last season. According to all accounts, the Mariners were ready to throw a shit-ton of money at a 37-year old who had already suffered knee problems in hopes that it would all just kind of...work out in the end. He chose to stay in Detroit. And now we know what could have happened.
Martinez very well could be back in time for opening day, or even early in the season, according to some reports. But regardless, it seems clear that the Mariners dodged one hell of a bullet here, even if it was all by accident. Twitter was ablaze with the news in its wake, and you do kind of have to feel bad for Tigers fans, or not, I guess. Do what you want. But then Colin raised an interesting point in a chat that got me thinking about luck and the luck of the Mariners in general, who you may think have had none, but it turns out that idea would be wrong.
In 2011, the Seattle Mariners were aggressive in their pursuit of Prince Fielder, who was coming off a near five-win season that saw him put up a wRC+ of 160 in the prime of his career. There ended up being a whole lot of weird chatter during the ensuing chase, and while Zduriencik was trying to play cool, it seems pretty obvious that Fielder wasn't interested in playing for a shitty baseball team in a park that kills offense. So he didn't come to the Mariners. luck be damned. And then he missed 120 games after hurting his neck and started scaring people into thinking he'd never be the same again. He remains under contract until 2020.
In 2012, the Seattle Mariners tried to snag walking barbed-wire-tattoo Josh Hamilton off the market in the hopes that an era of bad strikeouts could give way to an era of dingers bouncing off the Hit-it-Here Cafe and something something playoffs. He immediately went to Los Angeles because the goddamned Mariners are so unlucky and unattractive. He quickly put up a wRC+ of 105 on a $125 million dollar contract, got hurt a bunch, and is now set to miss the start of the season after hurting the one piece of his body he needs to do that one thing he was good at. He remains under contract until 2017.
In 2013, the Seattle Mariners signed Robinson Cano and he immediately put up a 5.2 win season with a wRC+ of 136, and is by all accounts, set to age well as he creeps closer and closer to 40.
In 2014, the Seattle Mariners did not sign Victor Martinez because they were unlucky, and now he may be transforming into a crumpled up newspaper.
They found some kid hanging out in Venezuela who will someday be in the Hall of Fame with one of the most remarkably consistent careers in decades, turned a third-round pick into a Gold-Glove-winning All-Star third baseman, and watched as an injury-decimated starting rotation put together win after win with two packs of restaurant salt and a street lamp. They traded players for returns they had no business participating in, and then it didn't matter. They had a manager who wasn't very good, and then they found a new manager that the players love despite having absolutely no success at the Major League level in his life. They had an army of prospects blow up and then they missed the playoffs by one game.
It's stunning, really, and it's all kind of, well, lucky. When teams build for success it usually takes ten trillion dollars or years of drafting well, coming out at least even with high-pick draft prospects, and then building a culture of winning that attracts otherwise uninterested free agents to sacrifice stats for the chance at a ring. The Mariners do not have ten trillion dollars, and tried to build around Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Franklin Gutierrez, and eventually Jesus Montero, and in spite of the whole thing they are good.
It's stunning because while there isn't a universe where the Mariners had all three of Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton, and Victor Martinez at the same time, they were miraculously spared by the baseball gods into not getting any of them. Nobody ever says Boy, it's a good thing I didn't win the lottery and buy that Lamborghini I've always wanted, but then when you crash the car and lose your legs because they forgot to screw the engine onto the chassis you are pretty lucky.
Right now you're looking at the obverse of a coin that had SHIT LUCK written all over it, and that very same coin has been flipped over to say ACTUALLY NO THIS IS NICE on the other side. In fact, the Mariners are in precisely this position because they completed that shitty Cliff Lee trade and because Jesus Montero was bad. They are winning now because Josh Hamilton is on the Angels and because they had to change course in the middle of a rebuild. Because things got bad. Bad is good. Up is down. The Seattle Mariners, ladies and gentlemen.
I don't believe in an actual thing called luck, and I realize that there are about nine trillion different variables between 2010 and 2015. And sure, it could all end up going to hell, but it hasn't so far, and that's kind of the point. If anything, today's news should remind us that "luck" may not always look the way we think it does. I'd complain about the whole thing, but hey, beggars can't be choosers now, can we?