Why is it so painfully obvious to the rest of the baseball world when some franchises just can’t seem to get it right? How is it possible for a guy to hold a general manager position year after year after year, only to watch the team flounder under his watch? Although, it isn’t always the GM that’s at fault. Maybe he’s hamstrung by ownership that isn’t willing to properly invest in a winning team. Maybe it’s a team that can’t generate enough revenue because the fans in a market that’s plenty big enough just don’t support their team (Tampa). Perhaps it’s a franchise in one of the largest TV markets in the country that acts like it’s a small-market team that can’t spend money on high-end free agents (ahem, Houston). There may be a number of contributing factors to why a team seems to struggle to ever succeed.
But, while there are often a number of reasons why a team struggles to succeed, there are some teams that seem to be the Barney Fife’s of MLB. They consistently shoot themselves in the foot. We saw last week how the Mets (in spite of what seems like a number of rising stars in their farm system), just can’t ever seem to get things rolling in the right direction. Today’s team that just doesn’t seem to get it…
Granted, this is a team that has only been in existence for 38 seasons. But, only one other franchise in baseball has never been to the World Series (Expos/Nationals – and, I think we’d all agree they’re a lot closer to ending that drought than Seattle is). And, no other franchise as old as Seattle has fewer playoff appearances. The Mariners clustered together four playoff appearances from ’95-’01 – and that’s it. Nearly 40 years of history, and just 4 playoff appearances without a single appearance in the Fall Classic (and going a combined 5-12 in the three ALCS’s they’ve made it to).
It would be one thing if they were competitive every now and then, and had just missed the playoffs. But, in 38 seasons, the Mariners have had a losing record 26 times! Which means that in every decade of baseball in Seattle, you’ll get 3 winning seasons, and maybe one of them will be a playoff team – but the other 7 seasons, you might as well throw in the towel. In fact, before their miraculous ALDS win over the Yankees in ’95, things were so bad that there was serious talk of moving the franchise out of Seattle. That playoff victory saved baseball in Seattle. Though, I’m not sure that baseball is better for it.
So, why have they been so bad for so long? Let’s start with their drafting skills. Yes, the draft in baseball is considerably different from the NFL or NBA. There are far fewer “sure things.” First round busts are about one out of every three or four. But, with Seattle going through several lackluster seasons, they were privileged enough to be drafting much higher in the draft, which offers them several opportunities to put together quality picks. Yet, they found a way to swing and miss almost every time. If we go back to the 2012 draft (generally, the players we’d expect to be seeing soon), we see the Mariners chose Mike Zunino as the #3 overall pick. He cracked the top-100 prospect list just once while in the minors, and in a year and a half in the majors (183 games), he has posted a whopping .203/.265/.383 stat line – not good, even for a catcher. In the 2011 draft, the Mariners had the #2 pick, and chose Danny Hultzen – who has missed most of the last two seasons in the minors due to shoulder surgeries. In 2010, they drafted Taijuan Walker at #43, as a part of the supplemental first round (their regular pick was gone to the Angels) – Walker has potential, but the jury’s still out.
Then things start getting really ugly. 2009 #2 pick – Dustin Ackley (.239/.300/.355 stat line in three full seasons in Seattle); 2008 #20 pick – Josh Fields (traded in ’11 for Trayvon Robinson, who has a .215/.272/.330 stat line in 90 games in the majors); 2007 #11 pick – Phillippe Aumont (part of the Cliff Lee trade in ’09, which got them half a season of Lee, to finish in 3rd place); 2006 #5 pick – Brandon Morrow (traded in ’09 for Brandon League, who was traded in ’12 for inconsequential minor leaguers). So, even the best first-round pick they made in several years ended up being traded away for basically nothing. Then, there’s 2005. The Mariners had the #3 pick in what turned out to be an extremely talented draft. And, they chose . . . Jeff Clement. In four major league seasons, Clement played in 152 games, and bat .218. Meanwhile, the other top 7 picks in that draft – Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Ricky Romero, and Troy Tulowitzki (all of whom have been All-Stars at least once). The list of bad draft picks goes on, but I’ll stop there.
With this kind of drafting, it should be no surprise that the Mariners don’t have a strong farm system. At the end of last season, they only had 2 of the top 100 prospects in baseball. But, this is just the beginning of the troubles for Seattle. Because even if your farm system isn’t great, you can make the right moves to improve your major league team here and there. But, Seattle has consistently made the wrong moves.
Jeff Cirillo was supposed to be worth trading three prospects (including Brian Fuentes – who went on to 4 All-Star selections), after four consecutive .300 seasons. But, in two years in Seattle, he compiled a .234/.295/.308 stat line. After the 2006 season, they traded Rafael Soriano (who has saved 191 games over the last 6 seasons) for Horacio Ramirez – who lasted one season in Seattle, and put together a staggering 7.16 ERA. Prior to the 2008 season, they traded Adam Jones (a first round draft pick), Chris Tillman (a second round draft pick) and George Sherrill along with two other minor leaguers to the Orioles for . . . Erik Bedard. Granted Bedard had a good season in 2007 (13-5, 3.16 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) – but, oh what a price to pay for a #2 starter. Especially when he ends up starting just 46 games over 2.5 years, goes 15-14 with a 3.31 ERA, and 1.23 WHIP. But, trades aren’t the only bad moves the Mariners make.
Safeco Field, the home of the Mariners for the last 15 years, is not a hitters’ ballpark. It consistently ranks in the bottom 1/4 of baseball in run production. So, what do the Mariners do? Continue to sign big power-hitters to inflated contracts, only to see their numbers trail off significantly when playing half their games in Seattle. Adrian Beltre hit 48 home runs the year before signing a huge contract with the Mariners in 2004. He averaged 21 HR per year while in Seattle, despite those being his prime years. Yet, when he left Seattle at the age of 31, over the next 4 seasons, he averaged 32 HR. Robinson Cano was given a lucrative 10-year contract worth $240 million – at the age of 31. Nevermind how little sense that makes on the surface, but from the ages of 26-30 in New York, he averaged 28 HR per season. In his first year in Seattle – 14 HR. After never having made more than $10.5 million in a single season, Nelson Cruz signed a 4-year deal with the Mariners this past offseason . . . for $57 million! At the age of 34! He has averaged 29 HR per year over the last six seasons, in much more hitter-friendly ballparks, during the prime of his career. If he cracks 20 HR in 2015, I’ll be shocked.
The Mariners have some nice pitching. But, when your stadium is already a great pitcher’s ballpark, perhaps you should spend more time seeking out quality contact hitters who will get on base, and keep the offense flowing. I guess the fact that the Mariners don’t seem to realize this shouldn’t surprise us. 38 years of less-than-mediocre success isn’t a fluke. They just don’t get it.