2013 Year in Review: The Seattle Mariners

I’ve been a die-hard and lifelong Mariners fan, and I believe this is one of if not my first Mariners post. A season recap of sorts.

Let’s examine what happened in the 2013 calendar year for the Seattle Mariners. Yes, I’ll acknowledge this means cutting two different offseasons in half; we’re only looking at the latter part of the offseason between 2012 and 2013, as well as the first part of the offseason between 2013 and 2014.  So, in (what may actually be something resembling chronological) order, let’s look at some Seattle Mariners events.

–          January 16, 2013. The Mariners take part in a 3-team trade that sees them send John Jaso to Oakland and receive Mike Morse from the Washington Nationals

Let’s take a step back here. How did the Mariners get John Jaso? Well, on November 27, 2011 they dealt Josh Lueke and cash to the Tampa Bay Rays for him. And how did the mariners get Josh Lueke – a man who once pleaded no contest to false imprisonment with violence after committing sexual assault against a woman and lying about it to police – was received as part of the Cliff Lee to the Rangers trade. So you take Josh Lueke, a guy who has provided a black eye against your organization and turn him in to John Jaso, who was paid only $495,200 in 2012. That season, Jaso posted a .276/.394/.456 line with 10 HRs, 50 RBI and five steals, making him one of the Mariners’ better left handed bats that season. Apparently there wasn’t a desire to keep him around, so he was sent to Oakland while Michael Morse was acquired. Morse was a familiar name to Mariners fans; he was originally acquired by the M’s in June of 2004 when Freddy Garcia and Ben Davis were dealt to the White Sox for Morse, Jeremy Reed and Miguel Olivo. Morse’s problem was – and to some extent still is – that he was 6’5” and didn’t have a position, as he’d initially been tried on the left side of the infield before being moved to corner infield/outfield. Morse’s other problem has also lasted his career over; he’s battled injuries. However, the Mariners traded him to the Nationals in 2009 for Ryan Langerhans. This isn’t about Ryan Langerhans so we won’t talk about how average and unmemorable Langerhans was. This is about how solid Mike Morse was for the Nationals from 2010-2012, though he still missed significant time while hurt. Specifically, in 2011, Morse posted a .303/.360/.550 line with 36 doubles, 31 homeruns and 95 RBI. These are the stats that blinded the Mariners front office. The same Mariners front office that loves home runs like I love desserts. The added bonus? Bringing back Mike Morse, who they seemed to think the fans adored (they weren’t insanely off base here, but it’s not like he was Griffey).
We tell you all this to tell you that Mike Morse had an OPS above .770 from April-May in 2013 with 11 HR, 21 RBI and four doubles. Then came the injuries, the drop in performance, and a trade. Let’s revisit John Jaso for a moment. Jaso also battled injuries in 2013 for the A’s, playing in only 70 games but posting a .271/.387/.372 line and going to the playoffs. This is particularly notable with how bad things got for the Mariners at catcher this season. Sure, Henry Blanco and Humberto Quintero were fun, in a really sick and twisted way. But Brandon Bantz wasn’t. Jesus Sucre wasn’t. Jesus Montero wasn’t. Kelly Shoppach wasn’t. John Jaso would’ve made things better, and lord knows this team would’ve been fine without Mike Morse.

–          February 7, 2013. The Mariners signed Kelly Shoppach as a free agent. Shoppach was 32 at the time, coming off a season in which he split time between the Red Sox and Mets with a .233/.309/.425 line but only 27 RBI in 76 games. The M’s were to pay him $1.5 million to…back up Jesus Montero? I think? I’ve done my best to repress any thoughts of Jesus Montero ever catching anything. Well the catching situation deteriorated quickly as Montero was hurt/sucked/steroids and before you know it, Shoppach was starting every day for the Mariners.
…or so it seemed. Shoppach only had 32 starts in 2013? Well okay the point is that in 125 plate appearances for the Mariners in 2013, Shoppach posted a .193/.288/.339 line with three homers, nine RBI and 12 strikeouts and certainly didn’t play stellar defense. Shoppach was asked to do too much, it showed, and it was bad.

–          February 12, 2013. The Mariners signed 31-year old starting pitcher Joe Saunders to a one-year, $6.5 million contract. Hey look! Joe Saunders was once an all-star! It was in 2008? No matter, we’ve signed an all-star! Yes, the mariners needed starting pitchers. Joe Saunders should not have been looked to nearly as much as he was though. Yes, you needed a stop gap while the young guys developed in the minors. But Joe Saunders? The man finished 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA in 183.0 innings, 107 K/61 BB and 25 homeruns allowed. His HR/FB percentage (the percentage of flyballs he allowed that resulted in homeruns) was 14.5%, good for the worst mark in baseball. His 5.26 K/9 innings was the third worst mark in MLB last season. He was bad and it was tough to watch.

–          February 20, 2013. The Mariners “Sold” Mike Carp to the Boston Red Sox. Carp, 26 at the time, was acquired as part of one of the great Jack Zdurenciek – and all-time Mariners – trades in the Franklin Gutierrez-J.J. Putz- Jason Vargas deal. Carp struggled to get an opportunity in ’09 and ’10 but in 2011 played in 79 games and in 313 plate appearances, batted .276/.326/.466 with 12 homeruns, 17 doubles and 46 RBI. Though he did also have a nearly 4-to-1 K/BB rate, Carp’s slugging was a welcome sight. But after battling injuries in 2012, coming back “healthy” and still struggling, the Mariners decided it had been enough. They had their outfield options in Michael Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez and they had their first base guy in Justin Smoak. The Red Sox decided that they should platoon Mike Carp. It worked, to the tune of .296/.362/.523, 18 doubles, nine homeruns and 43 RBI. Oh, and they only paid him $508,500. Tell me Carp would’ve been worse than Morse.
All that said I was hugely supportive of seeing Carp go. Though he may never have gotten enough of a shot for the M’s, I felt he had become a AAAA player, and after getting back to full strength in 2012, he came back and just looked woeful. So…he leaves and does great. Yes, this has happened to the Mariners before. No, it doesn’t happen as often as you might think.

–          Other than signing Endy Chavez – who was also part of the aforementioned megadeal with the Mets and Indians – to a small deal and having him start in Tacoma, the Mariners made nothing other than very small moves before the regular season. The thing with Chavez is – after injuries to Michael Saunders and Franklin Gutierrez – they needed him. Badly, at that. Endy finished the season with 279 plate appearances in 97 games for the Mariners, a .267/.290/.327 line and little to do in the way of base running. I love Endy. So do a lot of other Mariners fans, but he was 35 and nowhere near the guy we knew for about a month in 2009 before Yuniesky Betancourt broke him. Endy is just another example of how bad things were; that a player like him, who posted an OPS+ of only 77, had to play 97 games for the M’s.

–          Ugh. This thing is running out of steam quickly, likely in part to how tired I am. I guess I shouldn’t stay up watching vintage Law & Order’s illegally online, hmm? The Mariners went 3-8 from Apr. 3 – Apr. 13 including four losses at home, two of them against the Astros.

–          The Mariners again went 3-8 from Apr. 16 – Apr. 26, losing twice AGAIN to the Astros and getting swept in Arlington by the Rangers. During April, the Mariners were forced to send stud reliever Stephen Pryor to the 15-day DL with a tear in his right latissimus dorsi muscle, and thus brought us FUNKY COLD MEDINA.

–          Things were a little better from the end of April through mid May as the Mariners went 10-5 from Apr. 27 – May 16, including a resounding 12-2 win over the Yankees in the Bronx, led by a Raul Ibanez-homer laden performance (Side note: this probably deserves its own bullet but I’d forgotten. Raul Ibanez hit an incredible number of home runs in the first half of the season. Almost no one at his age had hit that many home runs. Sorry, but it needed to be mentioned). I was there it was awesome. And then Cleveland happened. Of course it did. Cleveland always happens. It’s always something with Cleveland. I can’t bear to rehash this other than to say the Mariners went in to Cleveland, should’ve won the series and instead got swept with the first and last games ending in 10 innings. Oh yeah, and this was the beginning of (some sort of) the end for Tom Wilhelmsen. The M’s then went to Angels Stadium to lose two more by a cumulative 19-1, and then to Texas where they lost 2 of 3. At the end of the Texas series, the Mariners were 21-29, 11.0 GB in the division and in fourth place. They would not find themselves any higher than 3rd place for the rest of the year and didn’t do any better than 9.5 games back.

–          Guys, I can’t even do this anymore. It’s making me too sad. What else happened

–          Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer all started way too much, in that they aren’t very good major league starting pitchers but we can’t have Walker/Paxton/Hultzen pitch in the majors yet and Erasmo Ramirez is hurt. But those guys just…they weren’t good enough.

–          Jeremy Bonderman started for a little while. I know. Jeremy Bonderman. That’s just ridiculous.

–          Nick Franklin showed some real flashes offensively. He was average at best defensively, but he looked pretty solid with a bat…until he looked awful. Brad Miller proved that he’s really fast and ended up looking slightly better than Franklin. Both Steamer and Oliver project him as a 3+ WAR guy, and I’ll take that. Pleasant to see, certainly.

–          Mike Zunino made his way to the major, likely way too early. But hey, that was fun. That was pretty exciting, right? Look guys, it’s the future of our franchise and apparently the future is now! Oh, wait it wasn’t right okay. Zunino got hurt and ended up only playing in 52 games with a neutral WAR. Oliver optimistically projects him to play in 143 games and have 600 PA’s with 23 HRs and a 2.8 WAR. We’ll see. Who knows. He’s exciting, I know that much.

–          The Mariners had an (official – who knew that was even a thing?) Cy Young finalist and it wasn’t Felix Hernandez. It was a 32 year old Japanese man named Hisashi Iwakuma. Here’s just a few insights into how great Iwakuma was this season

  • His 1.72 BB/9 ranked 10th in MLB
  • His 81.9% LOB (Left On Base) percentage ranked second only behind Yu Darvish
  • His 2.66 ERA ranked 7th in MLB

Iwakuma finished with a 14-6 record in 33 games – starting all of them – pitching 219.2 innings, striking out 185 and unintentionally walking 38. Big ups to Hisashi, who helped provide us all with an additional bright spot this season.

–          Felix Hernandez was great, as always, and it was another season where if you only looked at his W-L record you wouldn’t know any better, providing proof yet again that “Wins” and “Losses” for pitchers are some of the most meaningless stats of all-time. 12-10, yes. BUT.

  • His 9.51 K/9 was 8th in MLB
  • His 2.03 BB/9 was 18th in MLB
  • His 0.66 HR/9 ranked 17th in MLB
  • His 51.4% GB rate was 9th in MLB (for those of you who are unaware, the theory being that groundballs mean the ball is staying on the groundàit’s not in the airàit’s not going for extra bases or home runs).
  • His 3.04 ERA ranked 15th in MLB
  • His 2.61 FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching (which “measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average”  FanGraphs) – ranked 5th in MLB
  • His 6.0 WAR (courtesy of FanGraphs) ranked 6th in MLB

When people thought of great starting pitchers in Seattle, they still thought of Felix. The point here is that it was the combination of Iwakuma and Hernandez that actually gave the Mariners a fighting chance.

–          Kyle Seager had a fabulous year and has established himself as an above-average player, one of the better young third basemen in baseball. Seager led all Mariners in WAR with a 3.9 using the Baseball Reference calculation and a 3.4 using the FanGraphs calculation, posting a .260/.338/.426 line with 22 HR, 69 RBI and nine steals while playing in all but two games and making 695 plate appearances. With Robinson Cano now, the M’s can at least say they have confidence in two of the infield positions…

–          Speaking of Cano, I guess if I’m going to recap the last 12 months for the Seattle Mariners, I pretty much have to mention Mr. Cano. The 31-year old Dominican made his debut with the Yankees in 2005 at age 22 and played with them ever since. Cano amassed five silver slugger awards, two gold glove awards, and was named to five all-star teams in his time in the Bronx. On December 12, Robinson Cano officially signed a 10 year/$240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners. My take (briefly, as I’ve held off writing anything on the move until now): Yes, it is a gigantic contract. But the man is one of the best pure hitters in baseball. Is it overpaying? Absolutely, but the Mariners were always going to have to overpay to get any free agent, let alone a top quality free agent. As I mentioned above, with Cano locked up, the Mariners can now have confidence – both offensively and defensively – in two different positions on their infield. Throw in Felix as well as the ALL HOLY TRIUMVIRATE of Paxton/Walker/Hultzen, and there’s reason to hope. But yes, if you take Cano out of the prior sentences, then the hope is just barely there. Cano represents hope, but not just hope. Cano represents talent and ability actualized. Now it’s time for more, and it’s time for this organization to be run properly.

–         I was about to post this and I forgot to mention Eric Wedge. I know I’m not alone in saluting him, especially after his health issues that caused him to miss time with the team. Wedge is a great person and likely a quality manager who was not allowed to run this team effectively. He played with the hand he was dealt, and management kept dealing him a terrible hand. There were some bridges burned towards the end, though that is what happened with a number of (now) former employees. It’s hard to blame Wedge for too many of the Mariners faults and I’ll take this opportunity to personally salute Eric. Mr. Wedge, you have our support.

–          …Which brings me to (likely) one of my last points. Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times had a scathing piece that enlightened us on how terribly run the Mariners organization is. If you haven’t read the piece, please do. As a Sport Management major, and in my brief work experience – one of the things I’ve become a big believer in is the importance of quality upper management. They set the tone for the rest of the organization. Their attitude, values, morals, efforts and SO much more are passed down through the employees below them, through their underlings, and so on. The Seattle mariners have been a professional baseball franchise since 1977. They have never won an American League pennant, not to mention a World Series. Howard Lincoln, Chuck Armstrong and John Ellis – three really old white guys (the biggest problem with the sports industry and every industry connected to it) – have been the only executives the Mariners have known for the last 20 years. There have been countless general managers, there have been countless managers in the dugout, and still no rings, no trophies, and no championship parades. I’m now in my fourth year of living in New York, and one thing I can say about sports in New York is that beneath all the glitz and glamour, anger and anguish, misery and mediocrity, there is a knowledge and belief that anything less than a championship is not good enough. I just wish the people running the Mariners would acknowledge that they have not been running a championship organization, that they don’t know baseball, that they don’t know how to run a baseball organization correctly, and that it’s time to let someone else in this town give it a try. We’re owed as much. We deserve it.

Here’s to a healthy and happy New Year for all of you, and here’s to 2014 providing the Mariners some very surprising amount of blessings.

-Dylan

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About Dylan Jenkins

I'm a proud Seattlite currently living in Queens, NY. Outside of sports, I enjoy crime dramas - specifically police procedurals - as well as a wide range of music, everything from Top 40 to Iron & Wine, Bob Dylan & Rogue Wave. I am a cat person, which is to say I'm a human who enjoys felines. I have a tremendous sweet tooth that isn't very discerning, and I refuse to observe a number of unwritten social rules.
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