I will not hang up my High Epopt hat

DMZ · December 17, 2006 at 12:19 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Long live the Cult of Doyle.

When I read the Snelling trade story, I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. My eyes watered, I was nauseous. I tried to put it aside and start writing about why it was a bad idea on a baseball level, and we’ve done that now. I’m ready to talk about the other side.

I know my fandom of Snelling’s sometimes the object of mockery and it sometimes baffles people (often the same people who get mad and accuse us of being too analytical and incapable of being fans, which is funny).

But if you asked for my baseball-only Snelling evaluation, it would be:

Amazing hitting eye, but still sometimes has bad at-bats and is likely to be one of the rare true streak hitters, a guy who can make consistent good contact when he’s going well and will struggle when he’s going badly. When he makes contact, he puts a charge into the ball. He may not ever hit 40 home runs, but there’s power in his swing. He can go to any field with the ball, he doesn’t have any platoon problems, and he consistently works pitchers for good pitches. His inconsistency means at least for now, I’d bat him down in the order, like #6 more than #2, but if regular playing time means he evens the at-bats out, bump him up. If he puts in a full season, he’ll hit ~.270/.360/.450 without trouble.

In the corner outfield positions, he’s a plus defender, with an arm that hasn’t attracted a lot of notice but is quite good. His knee problems have taken a lot of his speed, so his range is limited enough that he’s not a centerfielder, though there are cozy parks you could certainly get away with it. He’s got a long history of sometimes-catastrophic health problems, and there’s really no way to know if he’s past them or if his hell-bent style of play can be throttled back. Or if that would even matter. Which means depending on how much risk you’re willing to accept, you want to get him some regular time off, and you’ll probably also want to stock a decent backup in AAA.

I don’t know anyone who’s watched Snelling for the last seven years or even who’s followed the Mariners or prospectdom who would disagree with that. He’s potentially a very good hitter but until he puts a couple healthy seasons, the uncertainty about the health’s going to be there.

That’s enough to be outraged about the deal.

What’s the big deal, then?

Chris Snelling was a great reason to be a Mariner fan. He had a good eye on a team of free swingers, he played hard. He was a young, promising hitter in an organization led by declining veterans winding their careers down. He was weird, and cool, and he worked harder to get to the major leagues than almost anyone else. His interviews were funny and a little spacey, he answered stock questions in strange ways, and he’d go back to Australia and hike around the outback, eating beans, because the urge took him. He was likable in a way that few players are, because he was so open and genuine, even though it meant that a lot of his press went straight for the novelty angle.

You could really cheer for Snelling. And in his success and setbacks, there was a lot to cheer for. He would get healthy, tear it up, and then go down. His debut was followed almost immediately by a season-ending, career-threatening injury. His comebacks came with setbacks and, eventually, other career-threatening injuries. But he would not be denied.

As much as drive, character, work ethic, and the host of intangibles teams want from their players can’t be measured, they are often the difference between realizing the talent and potential we see and failure. Listening to coaches doesn’t give a player more natural talent. Eating well and conditioning often don’t really make a difference to a player’s health until they’re well into their twenties or thirties. A player doing physical rehab can sit around and play video games and eat, or they can work their ass off.

Snelling’s never done that. I’ve always had faith that if his absolute ceiling was 140 healthy games, 35 doubles and 20 home runs, that I would see that, and if it was higher, I’d see that too. He wasn’t going to be the guy who showed up hung over and bored to his tryout for a Japanese team his team was trying to sell him to. He was going to be what I love to see in guys like Jim Thome, who never gave up on an at-bat or a game.

The trade felt like a betrayal to me. Not just to me, but to Snelling. I know baseball’s a business, and the Mariners were under no obligation to find him a spot, much less to not trade him if they felt it would improve the team. That past sacrifice doesn’t bring with it obligation.

But it does. Snelling spent eight years in the M’s system after joining Everett. He came back from horrible injuries as fast as could be hoped, when no one would have blamed him for walking away, over and over again, sometimes just to put on a uniform and get some at-bats somewhere in the system before the season ended. He gave the organization more pain and blood than anyone in the team’s history.

Isn’t that worth giving him the clean shot at a job? Is the message to other players in the system that if you try your hardest, if you’re talented, hard-working, and dedicated that when you’re ready, we’ll find a way to block you out of a job and ship you off?

I understand the possible desire to get him a starting job if he couldn’t have one here, though I’m not sure that’s a sure thing in Washington. But in the same way teams sacrifice a little to make sure an organizational soldier like Mickey Lopez gets his cup of coffee and scratches out a hit, don’t they owe a player like Snelling the chance to make his name with the team he worked so hard for? Shouldn’t the obvious potential so long held back be realized for the organization that stood with him?

And moreover, to trade him for so little, so pointlessly, makes his struggles and our fandom trivial. Did he really fight back from all that to find that the team valued his talent so little?

It doesn’t matter, now, if Vidro’s physical reveals his hamstrings are a couple jogs to first base from snapping, or there’s nothing left of his knees — that slap’s been delivered.

The Nationals got a good player, in some ways a similar gamble to taking on Nick Johnson, which turned out well for them. And my favorite player isn’t on the M’s any more. I’ll watch Nationals games next year to see Snelling, I’ll follow his progress, but it made me happy to go to home games and see him wearing my team’s uniform, and I will almost certainly never enjoy that feeling again. Star or potential unrealized, Snelling’s future isn’t here any more.

We lost him. We lost him for nothing, for less than nothing. His dedication and our fandom have been repaid with indignity. But if this is how the organization valued him, well, may he succeed wildly elsewhere, making even my faith seem inadequate.

Good luck, Chris.


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