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The looming end of Jesus Montero: Seattle Mariner

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One of my favorite players in the Mariner organization is unlikely to make it past March. I'm not really taking it that well.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.

But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.

And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

-Matthew 14:29-31

***

I'm reading a book, which is a rare occasion for me these days. In it the main character seeks out knowledge. He seeks it partially to arm himself for vengeance for his slain family and to equip himself for life as an orphan. But his primary motivator is something deeper, an ingrained longing to understand. Knowledge for knowledge's sake.

This character eventually attends the greatest center of learning in the land, and finds an eccentric professor and begs him to take him on as his student. "What must I do, to become your student?" The teacher takes him to a twenty-foot rooftop and says simply "Jump." He jumps, believing, hoping, having faith that the professor contains knowledge, power, and will to save him.

He plummets downward and cracks three ribs, a vertebrae, and suffers a concussion.

***

At times we fans come to think of baseball players in strictly the best or worst things we know about them. We know that in 2010-2011 Jesus Montero was a top 10 prospect in baseball, sharing company with Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper, and others. We know in 2014 he committed one of an athlete's unforgivable sins when he stormed the stands in a small stadium in Boise. These are the waypoints marking the outer reaches of our Jesus Montero knowledge, and we use them as reference when we try to fill in the rest of his story.

My love of a good story will often war with my desire to talk about baseball with some level of accuracy. So despite my ache to paint a loving portrait of a classic hero-fall-redemption for Montero we have reached a point of reality where the ineffable cloud of narrative must be swept away so we can view the truth. And it is this:

Jesus Montero is not very good.

Let's compare a few players:

Player A: 28 years old, ~average defensive 1B - .224/.308/.392, 96 wRC+
Player B: 26 years old, below average def. 1B - .253/.295/.398, 92 wRC+

Player A is Justin Smoak, who I don't have a strong desire to discuss in depth. If you watched the 2010-2014 Mariners, you know plenty. Player B is Jesus Montero, a few years younger, but almost certainly worse defensively, and a very similar offensive producer. There is a good argument that Jesus Montero will never be as good as Justin Smoak.

Now, I hear the counter from my fellow Montero lovers. You cry out in throng "But all they're asking him to do is hit left-handers, and that's the one thing he's good at." You have a point, you beautiful, faithful people you. Jesus Montero does in fact have a career 115 wRC+ against LHP. Unfortunately that stat is mitigated by the following facts:

  • Jesus Montero's sample size against MLB LHP is at 340 PA, barely half a season
  • In 2015 MLB 1B had a wRC+ of 113 as a collective.
  • The gap between that one, singular ability that we among his supporters cling to and the rest of his skillset is so vast that in order to justify his presence on the roster that skill would need to be among the league's very elite. It simply is not.

The simple, painful reality is that for a team with playoff dreams and with Adam Lind's career 54 wRC+ against LHP requiring a platoon partner, an out of options Jesus Montero is almost certainly playing out his last days as a Seattle Mariner. It's a reality that I take no joy in observing or writing about.

I want this to be a story where I can point to Jesus Montero's hard work in the Arizona desert over the past two years, and hold it up as an example of what can be achieved through dedication and sacrifice. I want it to mean something, to be for something. I want it to be a story worth telling, and instead it's playing out as just another highly touted Mariner prospect busting out of the organization.

There is always the possibility that I'm wrong of course. Dae-Ho Lee may crater, or twist an ankle. Montero may go 8-13 the next three games and win a job. Maybe this is the moment where Montero's star finally begins to shine, and he is a key member of a surprisginly good Mariner team. Maybe we get to see something kind of like this:

Jesus Montero No-Hitter

and wipe away some tears, remembering the path he walked to get to that point.

But probably not. This month is probably the end of it, for us as Mariner fans at least. If he latches on with another team I will certainly follow him, and root for him. But the whole Jesus Montero saga is just another reminder that life isn't a saga, or a drama, or a romance, or an epic. For those like me it is an important lesson that faith won't carry you across the water, or float you down from the rooftops.

Ability and production are what matter in baseball, not story. At this point Jesus Montero seems full of only one of those things, and it's not the right one.