It was bound to happen sooner or later: Mike Zunino had to be called up to the big leagues. The end result was imminent, yet the timing of that end result was a point of contention for pundits and fans alike. It was never about if, but always about when. That “when” hit today, as news broke this morning that the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 Draft would be making his way to Seattle to take over as the team’s starting catcher (or at least part-time starting catcher, with a nod to Kelly Shoppach).
Almost immediately, opinions on the move flooded the internet. The prevailing sentiment, naturally, is that this promotion was more of a job-saving maneuver than anything else, a way for those on the hot seat — namely, general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge — to try and salvage employment at season’s end.
As fast as one could ejaculate words onto the internet, the first person of note to comment on the matter was USS Mariner’s Dave Cameron, who cited that rushing prospects to the big leagues is “what bad organizations do.” And he’s absolutely right.
Fans will recall that back in 2007, the Mariners converted former No. 5 overall pick Brandon Morrow into a relief pitcher in order to maximize his value at the big league level. The move tabled Morrow’s development as a starter and ultimately backfired. It wasn’t enough to save the jobs of general manager Bill Bavasi and his staff, and ultimately resulted in Morrow losing his job, too, as he was traded to Toronto by the team’s current regime prior to the 2010 season. Of course, we all know now that Morrow as a Blue Jay has regained his form as a starting pitcher, while the M’s remain scalded by a transaction that netted them two now-departed commodities in reliever Brandon League and minor league outfielder Johermyn Chavez.
If the rash handling of Morrow was a lesson in desperation and stupidity, the organization seems to have not heeded a great deal from the teachings of the past.
It’s evident to almost anyone that pays close attention to the M’s that the Zunino call-up is cut from the same mold as that of Brandon Morrow. The team is in a similar state of struggle as they were some six years ago, and the men relied upon to build a successful on-field product have scuffled in their ability to provide exactly that. All of this leads to a cynical smirk of a reaction to the breaking news of the moment and the resulting effect it will have on this ballclub.
Regardless of how you feel about Zunino’s worthiness as a big leaguer (you can view his minor league statistics by clicking here), there is something to be said here about Jack Zduriencik’s ability to keep his head above water despite players determined to sink him.
At the season’s outset, Zduriencik and Co. were inextricably bound to the likes of Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, and Justin Smoak, or so we thought. General opinion was that if this trio faltered in what was seen as a make-or-break campaign for all three individuals, Zduriencik and staff would be axed before the calendar turned to 2014.
Alas, in what could be viewed as some sort of wizardry, Zduriencik has managed to untangle himself from the Ackley/Montero/Smoak mess and somehow intertwine his future with a completely different gaggle of players, namely the likes of Nick Franklin and the aforementioned Zunino. Ackley and Montero have been jettisoned to Triple-A (where Ackley’s now hitting over .400 and Montero faces bigger issues with the looming threat of a performance-enhancing drug suspension), while Smoak has provided mediocre results before finding himself on the disabled list. No matter, however, as Franklin and Zunino have spearheaded a damn near seamless changing of the guard.
Perhaps it’s a testament to Zduriencik’s restocking of the minor league system that the organization has managed to deftly sidestep the scuffles of one set of prospects in order to propagate another. Subsequently, even though at least one of these moves (Zunino) has been viewed as a redirection of attention — like a magician performing a sleight of hand or a department store photographer squeaking a stuffed animal to induce a child’s laughter, some might even call this a “distraction” — it won’t matter down the road if a) this new crop of young players succeeds, and b) the team wins, slash, shows visible signs of improvement.
Ultimately, the future of this organization and its key staff members comes down to an Al Davis quote: “Just win, baby.” If the Mariners, along with their newest contributors, can somehow find a way to scratch and claw their way back to relevance in the coming weeks, it won’t matter what we think of Jack Zduriencik right now. He and his staff may in fact do what many have thought to be impossible in the wake of seemingly foolhardy moves and the foibles of the past: they might just save their asses.
Filed under: Mariners
In the movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the title character, Borat Sagdiyev, imparts the story of his younger brother Bilo, a tragedy-stricken young man who lives in a cage. For years Bilo is taunted by his sister, Natalya, the No. 4 prostitute in all of Kazakhstan. Natalya, who has even earned a trophy for her whoring efforts, often dances before her confined sibling, flashing her “vazheen,” shouting, “You will never get this, you will never get it, la la la la la la!”
Restricted to a life behind cold, metal bars, Bilo cries. He cries, says Borat, as everybody laughs. And as they laugh, Bilo’s older sister issues a firm decree: “You never get this.”
As far as the Seattle Mariners are concerned, a .500 record might as well be their mystical “vazheen.” Like the cage that imprisons Bilo Sagdiyev, the M’s are seemingly bound to a certain cosmic futility that prevents them from achieving so much as sustained mediocrity. Forget division titles, wildcard berths, playoffs, or championships. No, the immediate goal should be much less than that. Every team has to start somewhere, and for the 2013 Mariners, success commences with a balanced record.
It’s almost cruel the way equilibrium toys with the Mariners. The last time the team had an even mark was way back on April 8, following a 3-0 disposing of the Houston Astros that brought the ballclub to a stable 4-4. Since then, the M’s have lost 20 of 36 games — bad enough to not feel good about things, but not so bad that par can’t easily be attained.
On May 16, just a few short days ago, the Mariners cut their win-loss deficit to a mere one game for the first time since a defeat on April 9 dropped the team to 4-5. Entering a weekend series in Cleveland, the team was poised to level its record anew. What happened next? If you’ve been following the fate of the club, you know all too well: three consecutive losses at the hands of the Indians, dropping the Mariners to four games under .500. It seems like every time the team chips away at their debt to victory, a losing streak rears its ugly head and sends the organization spiraling back down into the red.
For fans, remaining bullish despite such a bear market is difficult, to say the least. While some may write the team off in the heat of the moment, however, there are few who have truly given up on the Mariners. Hope springs eternal…at least through May, I suppose. Pessimism may surround losing, but there are plenty of reasons for fans to believe in a more optimistic future.
For starters, the Mariners have gaping holes at a number of positions. And while the holes themselves aren’t cause for celebration, the imminent patching of those holes should bring about a few smiles.
The most glaring void is at shortstop, where Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino have combined to hit the weight of a supermodel. Neither player has emerged as a winner in this slapfight for playing time, leading to public outcry for alternate solutions. Those alternatives can be found at Triple-A Tacoma, where Carlos Triunfel and Nick Franklin wait patiently for an opportunity with the big club.
Though fans ooze enthusiasm for the left-handed-hitting Franklin, the team may wait on their uber-prospect in favor of the more seasoned Triunfel. Once an uber-prospect himself, Triunfel has had his cup of coffee in the bigs and can provide serviceable ability with both the glove and the bat. Triunfel may not hit .300, but this lineup would be markedly improvement by even a .200 batting average at the shortstop position.
Catcher is another area where upgrades need to be made. Jesus Montero simply isn’t cutting it in the majors, whether as a starter or part-time backup. Montero has struggled all season with the bat (he’s currently hitting .210 with a .596 OPS), but it’s his defense that has warranted the most criticism of late. The 23-year-old has trouble making the routine plays behind the dish, which presents a whole new set of problems since the Mariners are oddly committed to Montero as a catcher.
The M’s stubbornness to keep a mitt on Montero’s left hand seems like it might be a ploy to boost his trade value. Long term, Montero has no future donning the tools of ignorance for Seattle. But with another organization? It’s possible. Hence, the franchise continues to believe in Montero, the catcher, rather than just Montero, the hitter. Either way, Jesus has not earned his roster spot with the bat nor the glove, so what’s he still doing here? It’s a question that has yet to be answered.
Finally, the back end of the starting rotation continues to be an area of weakness. Between the inconsistencies of a rookie (Brandon Maurer), the road woes of Joe Saunders, and the perpetual sadness that is Aaron Harang, the team could use some stability beyond their one-two punch of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.
If a move is made in the near future, expect Harang to be the departing party. The 35-year-old right-hander appears to be in the twilight’s twilight of his career, and frankly if Harang can’t succeed in the pitcher-friendly confines of Seattle, where can he succeed?
The M’s have their share of Harang replacements grooming in Tacoma. The most immediate option could be 30-year-old reclamation project Jeremy Bonderman, who, if promoted, would essentially serve as a stopgap until a younger arm proved worthy of a call-up. Bonderman has been good, not great, in Triple-A; the same could be said for his more youthful teammates. Undoubtedly, fans would like to see top prospects Danny Hultzen or James Paxton make their Mariners debuts, but Hultzen has been on the disabled list since mid-April, while Paxton has had an up-and-down year.
Right now, the Rainiers’ best starting pitcher is probably 26-year-old right-hander Andrew Carraway. Carraway is as unassuming as they come, blessed with a low-nineties fastball and ho-hum off-speed pitches. He gets outs, though, and that’s all that really matters. Once upon a time the Mariners had another minor leaguer in the Carraway mold who you may remember, a guy by the name of Doug Fister. Carraway may not turn out to be a Fister clone, but if he induces blanks on the scoreboard, he could ease the pain of having to watch a pus-throwing Harang every five days.
Hesitation to pull the trigger on any of these promotions hangs on a variety of different reasons. Promoting Triunfel or Franklin would likely result in the team designating Andino for assignment, all but ending his tenure in Seattle. Demoting Montero would mean promoting an unproven backup in Jesus Sucre, or rushing Mike Zunino. And bestowing the fifth spot in the rotation to anyone not named Aaron Harang would mean entrusting significant innings pitched to a call-up with whom the ballclub may not have much faith. Each move comes with a bevy of question marks, yet each move has become warranted.
Change may be difficult for this team to embrace, but it’s time for change to occur. The M’s have been staying afloat with four key contributors (or three-ish, if you count Ryan and Andino as a tandem) doing almost no contributing. It’s unfair to keep everyone wondering what contributions in each of those roles could do for this ballclub. If nothing else, we have to believe that positive changes would lead this team to a .500 record. And from .500, who knows what’s next? Getting back to even has a way of becoming something more, something greater. Division titles, wildcard berths, playoffs, and championships all start with a .500 record or better. But for now, our goals remain simple.
The tale Borat Sagdiyev tells of his younger brother does not end with Bilo sobbing behind bars. Like all good tales, this one has a happy ending. Amidst daily taunts of “You will never get this,” Bilo perseveres in his quest for both his freedom and his sister’s vazheen. And then one day, one magical day, it happens. “One time,” reveals Borat, “he break cage and he ‘get this.’ And then we all laugh!”
It’s about time the Mariners break from their cage and “get this.” We could all use a good laugh.
Filed under: Mariners
You know those “Jesus is _____” bumper stickers? Every time I see one of those, I want to walk up with a pen and write “only hitting .203″ on the blank line. Sure, the vehicle’s owner might not get nor appreciate the joke, but hey, don’t buy a fill-in-the-blank bumper sticker next time.
In fact, you could make all sorts of “Jesus is” wisecracks when it comes to Mariners catcher Jesus Montero. Jesus is 0-for-15 in throwing out stealing base runners. Jesus is unable to hit a curveball. Or how about this one: Jesus is destined for Triple-A. It’s that last “Jesus is” that might be most concerning. But based on current circumstances, it should become the team’s reality.
Montero has been abysmal both offensively and defensively in 2013. He hasn’t hit for average or for power, and he hasn’t even been close to adequate behind the plate. As alluded to earlier, Montero has yet to nab a base-stealer in 15 tries and has often looked stiff and uncomfortable receiving pitches. Were he hitting .300 with a handful of home runs, no one would care that the 23-year-old was providing less-than-serviceable defense. But as the owner of a .203/.250/.324 slash line, Montero certainly isn’t atoning for his shortcomings in the field right now.
Recently, it’s been rumored that manager Eric Wedge has been pressured from the organization’s front office to play Montero on a more frequent basis. Montero has received (note: not earned) a slight bump in playing time, taking about two-thirds of the starts to backup Kelly Shoppach’s one-third. Even with increased opportunity, however, the second-year big leaguer has yet to deliver. In his past 10 games, the ex-Yankee is performing no more remarkably than he was at the season’s outset, compiling a .194 batting average along the way (though, in fairness, he has belted his only two home runs of the year in that span). Nevertheless, settling in around the Mendoza Line does not a major leaguer make. Montero doesn’t necessarily have to hit for both average AND power (it’d be nice, though), but he can’t get by with a sub-.200 line.
Aside from his hitting struggles, where player and team have most failed to align is in their commitment to one another. The franchise seems committed to giving Montero a long look at catcher. Montero, meanwhile, seems committed to proving he is not that at all. Rock, meet hard place. The end result of this mutual stubbornness is a big ol’ crap sandwich. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Everyone and their mother knows that the M’s catcher of the future currently resides at Triple-A Tacoma. The uber-prospect that is Mike Zunino has had an up and down start to his 2013 campaign. This isn’t unanticipated. Zunino has yet to play a full season in the pros, and were all to go according to plan, he wouldn’t see his first action at Safeco Field until 2014. Problem is, Montero’s struggles have accelerated the demand for a Zunino call-up.
Zunino and Montero are mutually exclusive entities. No one should believe a demotion of Montero will necessarily result in a promotion of Zunino. Montero has done nothing to earn his spot on the big league roster, however, and shouldn’t be here anymore. Not if this team is truly committed to winning.
It’s clear that if the Mariners really want Montero to experience life behind the plate, he should be playing every single day. It’s also clear that, based on the way he’s been playing, Montero has done very little to warrant an everyday spot in the lineup. Therefore, all signs point to sending Montero to the minors, giving the majority of the big league starts (for now) to Kelly Shoppach, and promoting anyone else with a pulse not named Zunino to be Shoppach’s understudy. In this case, that might be Triple-A backup Jesus Sucre, who is nothing special with the bat, but can actually live up to his job title and, you know, catch.
Of course, this begs the question of what to do with Zunino in the interim. If Montero and Zunino share a clubhouse, only one can log time behind the plate. Fact is, the Mariners need to make a hard call on their catchers. Could they teach Montero how to play first base? Maybe. Could they let both players work on their hitting while splitting time as backstops? Possibly. Could they send Montero to Double-A to work on his receiving skills? That’s also an option. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter what the organization does so long as they jettison Montero to the farm and prove to both players and fans that they a) want to give opportunities to the most deserving players, and b) believe the 2013 Mariners aren’t losers. Seriously. Because, to date, the current regime has never shown much in the way of faith for their ballclub, regardless of how many wins the team can string together at any given moment. It’s about time they display some commitment to a winning mentality, and that starts by demoting those who deserve to be demoted.
Jesus is not for long in the big leagues. It’s time the Mariners filled in the blank.
Filed under: Mariners