So Long, Pocket Lint (super exciting dual post!)
An era is offically over in Seattle – Bob Finnigan has written his last story for the Seattle Times. After 20 years covering the team as the beat writer, today is day one of his retirement. As a farewell gift, lets bring the USSM-critique-of-Pocket-Lint column out of retirement.
General manager Bill Bavasi said this week that the Mariners are trying to win each day, a position that is probably predictable and possibly posturing. However, it is that mindset, born of years of being competitive under former manager Lou Piniella, that has brought the current dark and stormy night to the Seattle franchise.
Reference to the good old days under Lou Piniella? Check.
Baseball fortunes run in cycles, and are always â€” always â€” based on how good one’s pitching is, unless there is a lack of pitching through the division or league, as there is now.
Ridiculous, untrue cliche about what it takes to win baseball games? Check.
Even with a month to go, it is not hard to see where this year’s failure came from and where the solutions lie.
The root of the rot that ruined this season is found in the Mariners’ â€” and fans’? â€” unwillingness to ride the cycle, which can be as short as three years or as long as five.
Here’s a poorly phrased critique of the team’s decision to not go for a full scale rebuilding, but instead to try to win games while adding youth to the roster simultaneously. We made this same critique of the organization – three years ago. It was true then, during Gillick’s last year and Bavasi’s first year, that the team’s core was flawed beyond repair and that the organization needed to face reality and start over. But heading into 2006, that wasn’t the case. His point would have been valid if he had written it in the fall of 2003. Now, it’s just wrong.
The Seattle organization has accomplished some important things. While it is totally lost in the welter of losing, it is building a future around a young bullpen and middle defense, and outfielder Adam Jones stands a chance to be the best player the Mariners have produced in a decade.
Felix Hernandez says hello, Bob. I wouldn’t trade Felix for three Adam Jones’.
In fact, it is because of this building â€” while trying futile and misguided efforts to win â€” that Bavasi and manager Mike Hargrove stay in place. While trying to compete daily, as Bavasi said, their watchword is patience.
Futile and misguided efforts to win? What a crock.
Rather than risking fans’ reaction to a downswing, the Mariners tried to buy their way through this natural pause in win production and they have failed. Only the New York Yankees do this well; even the Boston Red Sox have shown this year they cannot with any consistency.
The Atlanta Braves and their 13 consecutive division championships say hello, Bob.
It’s not so much their requirement to avoid a loss each year as the idea that profits â€” or monies saved like those from moving Eddie Guardado and Jamie Moyer â€” of one year can’t be set aside for when the time is right.
Hey, look, we agree! He’s totally right – this policy is asanine.
Cynics are clamoring that Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln has finally gotten a team that mirrors his style of organization, tight (uptight?). But credit Lincoln with one huge thing. He understands now that baseball bears risks beyond most other businesses.
Research and development normally produces products that sell. Baseball R&D produces no more than best-guesses that if someone stays healthy they stand a chance of doing the job you paid them for.
While the second paragraph is true, I’m not sure why we have to credit Howard Lincoln for understanding that. Everyone who watches baseball understands that. That’s not a new revelation, and it’s not one that has helped the M’s in any tangible way.
While it is easy to slam the team for paying too much for free agents, and players for earning too much, understand Seattle is deep into a losing mode and as former GM Pat Gillick once succinctly explained, must “pay a premium of $2 million to $3 million a year to attract good players.”
Beliefs like that are why Pat Gillick is no longer an effective general manager. People who believe comments like that don’t deserve to win baseball games.
In Sexson and Beltre, the Mariners thought they were getting glue guys, re-creating the team chemistry, cohesion, camaraderie that Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez, even Mark McLemore and Stan Javier, brought to the lineup and to the clubhouse.
Actually, they thought they were getting two right-handed power hitters who would help the team score runs. And, though in alternating years, that’s been true of each player for half their time here.
But Sexson and Beltre are both naturally introverted, and despite their team’s desperate need for more from them, have shown no interest or understanding of giving beyond sincerely hard efforts to win each game. They have been distant and/or distracted, self-absorbed, both intensely embarrassed by their own struggles.
This last psyche naturally fed feelings that their inability to produce as expected on the field undercut them to act like leaders. But that is wrong. Buhner, for instance, never lost the raucous upbeat mood he spread around the room.
Teams pay for stature as well as statistics. But even Beltre, as intelligent a fellow as you’ll find on any roster, seems to have no feel for sharing his character.
This is the worst part of sportswriters having access, right here. Finnigan watches Beltre and Sexson not yell and hoot and call team meetings and decides that their lack of leadership is why Joel Pineiro can’t pitch well. It’s stupid, and almost every beat writer in America writes this crap.
Ichiro could be a leader, as shown by his vociferous and spirited leadership of Japan’s team in the World Baseball Classic. But this is impossible because the outfielder, despite six years in Seattle, chooses to remain wrapped in his own way of doing things.
Much of this is admirable, total preparation and focus, and disdain for much of what he sees around him, dismay, maybe even disgust, that he presumably reports back to owner Hiroshi Yamauchi each winter.
Ichiro’s stature as one of the game’s great contact hitters is undercut by the way he approaches the game. His tunnel vision is on getting hits â€” his idea of how best to help the team â€” not doing all he can to help.
And now, we rip Ichiro for his lack of leadership. Sure, why not? Clearly he’s been dragging the team down the last six years.
For instance, although he has played center field in Japan, it took him a month to agree to move to center for the Mariners. Meantime, Seattle suffered. Shin-Soo Choo, who may or may not prove to be a sound big-league player, was forced into center field and not right, where he stood his best chance of helping.
Had Ichiro not agreed to move, Chris Snelling, who looks a potential major-league producer, would have as little chance as Choo had. Choo got a measly 11 at-bats, a joke of a tryout, while struggling to play out of position while Ichiro watched and did nothing.
We’ve been calling for Ichiro to move to center for years, so we obviously agree that the M’s are better off with him there than in right field. But to blame Ichiro for the lack of opportunity given to Shin-Soo Choo is ridiculous. Carl Everett got 400 plate appearances as a Mariner DH this year. If the Mariners had any desire to give Choo a legitimate chance to hit major league pitching, the opportunity was clearly there. They chose not to, and Ichiro’s reluctance to move to center field had nothing to do with the team’s decision to play Everett instead of Choo.
Should Hargrove be firmer? First of all, the days of firm managing are far between in the majors and Hargrove reputedly was the subject of some of Ichiro’s comments to Yamauchi last winter, so that may play a part here.
Overall, the manager has an easy rein on his veteran regulars. Hargrove can be faulted for letting them play all they want, which is virtually all the time. As a result, fatigue could have had a role in this recent collapse.
I’m not sure there’s another manager in baseball who would have put up with Carl Everett as his DH for four months while trying to contend. Writing off Grover’s slavish devotion to bad players as part of the new culture of baseball management is just wrong.
Yamauchi, who has paid for the right to be involved, could be too much so, although it is undoubtedly well-intentioned. He was right in recommending catcher Kenji Johjima, although his offense is much more than his defense and game-calling at a position that cries for more balance between the two parts.
And now we get a shot at Kenji Johjima’s defense. Ichiro’s not a leader, Kenji’s not a good game caller – I’m curious what he would have written about Daisuke Matsuzaka, if given the chance. Perhaps Daisuke’s strikeouts would bore the fielders and cause them not to hit? I’m guessing Bob’s not going to be vacationing in Japan anytime soon.
When the Mariners were asked for Ichiro in trades at the deadline, they refused, although their need for a top-of-the-rotation pitcher is far greater than a singles hitter who covers a corner outfield spot well.
Can they trade the owner’s favorite player? It might be best, if they can overcome what is thought to be Yamauchi’s firm stance against losing Ichiro.
Now that Ichiro has agreed to play center, he’s one of the five best players in the game at that position. You can call him a singles hitter if you want, but the ridiculous amount of singles he hits makes him absurdly valuable, and removing Ichiro from the roster isn’t going to make this a better team.
For certain it would help financially, saving about $11 million in a winter when the payroll budget is near-certain to tighten by 10 percent or more.
Because Finnigan has been so accurate with his predictions of Mariner spending in the past…
Attempting trades does not play to Bavasi’s strength. Gillick once admitted he was not a good trader and preferred building with free agents and youth.
Bavasi does not have a good record as a dealer, either. But his forte seems to be what the Mariners most need now, building through development.
Pat Gillick preferred building with youth? How did he write that and not fall out of his chair?
If it comes to trades, it might be easier to move Sexson, a proven longball hitter, although no one is going to take on his full salary. If Seattle could split the difference, with Ben Broussard or Greg Dobbs playing first base, they would save about $7 million.
If the Mariners want to, they’ll be able to move his whole salary this offseason. And nice Greg Dobbs mention there, Bob. Nothing like continuing to hype up terrible players even on your way out the door.
The departures of Moyer, Guardado, Gil Meche (who could also agree to return for less than he might get on the free-agent market), Carl Everett and Pineiro would reduce the payroll by about $25 million.
Some of this money, about $5 million, will go to raises for J.J. Putz, Yuniesky Betancourt, et al. In fact, expect great effort made to get a number of the younger players signed to multi-year contracts this offseason.
Yuniesky Betancourt is under contract through 2008, and is signed for next year at the whopping total of $400,000. So, no, don’t expect the M’s to be tearing up Betancourt’s contract this offseason. He’s one of the biggest bargains in the game.
Club officials are anticipating three openings in the rotation to go with Felix Hernandez and Washburn, and while Jake Woods (whom Hargrove wanted in the rotation months ago) could fill one and maybe Rafael Soriano another, they need a veteran starter who can start on opening day and maybe another for Day 2 as well.
Jake Woods is terrible. Saying that Hargrove wanted him in the rotation months ago is an indictment on Hargrove’s inability to evaluate talent.
Pitching, the deeper the better even in these days when no team has quality depth on the mound, is where success begins.
Tell that to the Houston Astros.
There is solace and considerable hope in the fact that in the bullpen, and middle infield, notable by the standards of even first-place teams, the Mariners are far ahead of where they were this time last year.
Good to see Bob end his career on a note of truth, even if it runs counter to what he just wrote in the previous 1,500 words. I’m not totally sure how “far ahead of where they were…” gets written in the same column as “…the current dark and stormy night…”, but that’s Bob Finnigan for you.
So, with that, we say goodbye to Pocket Lint, the man who got his nickname by being such a tool of the organization that his writings were more often propaganda than journalism. I hope you have a great retirement, and one that lasts forever.
endDave endDave endDave endDave endDave
[Jason says: Dave and I wrote our posts about essentially the same time, unbeknownst to each other, so we decided to run ’em both on one post…]
beginJason beginJason beginJason beginJason
As you no doubt heard on the broadcast this weekend, Saturday was Bob Finnigan’s last day on the M’s beat for the Seattle Times after 25 years. On one hand I was surprised he had been here so long, but on the other hand it made sense — I can’t remember him ever not being here.
Interestingly, Finnigan takes some strange parting shots at the M’s on his way out the door. In this column, he bashes Ichiro both for not being a leader, being too focused on getting hits, and for not moving to center earlier. He calls Shin-soo Choo’s 11 at-bat tryout “a joke,” says the M’s finally have a team to match CEO Howard Lincoln’s personality “tight (uptight?)”, and even says ownership “must be knocked for their iron-clad business principles.” On the positive, he closes with the Larry Stone “but they’re better off now than they were this time a year ago” line of thinking.
But he’s not done yet! In this notes piece, he discusses the prospects the M’s got for Jamie Moyer, saying “It might only have been a matter of time before the two pitchers wound up in the Mariners organization since both have Northwest ties.” (Incidentally, Andrew Baldwin took a no-hitter into the seventh for Inland Empire in his M’s system debut last week.)
Honestly, this is more negativity than Finnigan has expressed since we founded the good ship USS Mariner. It’s almost like he’s been saving all of this up for the day he finally stepped aside, no longer worried about whose feelings he might hurt.
Finally, sports editor Cathy Henkel showers Finnigan with praise (“A fond farewell for our own MVP”) in this piece, which mentions that the new beat writer will be announced next month. Smart money’s on Geoff Baker — we’ve already discussed him here and here. Good news in the meantime? Larry Stone will pick up the M’s beat. Woo.
Oh, and one more thing — does anyone else think it’s weird that he’d retire at this point in the season? I mean, another month and he could finish the thing out. Maybe he has somewhere to be, maybe they want to bring in the new guy so he’s not coming in cold next spring… I dunno. Just seems odd to me, not that I’m at all familiar with the inner workings of a MLB beat writer.