Maurer Likely In, Erasmo Out, and M’s Scout Capuano

March 25, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 18 Comments 

Brandon Maurer had another good day today, and the presumption now is that he’s essentially locked himself into one of the two open rotation jobs to start the season. The Mariners go to Salt Lake City on Saturday to play an exhibition game, and Maurer is currently on track to start that exhibition, a pretty clear sign that he’s a strong favorite for the Opening Day roster.

And, while they haven’t officially declared him out of the running, you can basically cross Erasmo Ramirez’s name off the list. While the Mariners didn’t say anything about it previously, the story now is that Ramirez had some soreness after his six inning start a few weeks ago and they had to back off his workload because of it. Due to the missed time, they don’t feel he’ll be ready to start the season in the rotation, so he’ll concentrate on building up his arm strength to start the season, likely in Tacoma. But, as we saw last year, the team is willing to carry a guy as a long reliever on the big league roster who is “building up arm strength”, so maybe Ramirez breaks camp as The Guy Who Never Pitches. Someone needs to keep Jeff Gray’s memory alive.

And in related news, Ken Gurnick of reports that the M’s were one of four teams scouting Chris Capuano today. This isn’t the first we’ve heard of the team’s interest in Capuano, and it’s widely known that he’s available given LA’s rotation surplus. I’ve been a Capuano fan for a while, lobbying the M’s to sign him several times over the last few years, and he’s still an average-ish Major League starter on a team that could use more average-ish MLB starters. That said, he’s also a soft-tossing lefty with home run problems, and Safeco isn’t going to be as kind to those guys as it used to be. Depending on what the price is, acquiring him might be a real improvement, but at this point in his career, I don’t know that I’d want to give up a valuable prospect for him. Signing him as a buy low free agent was one thing; paying retail for a “proven veteran” is another.

But, hey, not Beavan is an improvement over Beavan, so at least it seems like they might be willing to break camp with someone else in the last spot in the rotation.

The Most Photographed Cactus League Game in America: Mariners at Reds

March 25, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 17 Comments 

Brandon Maurer vs. Homer Bailey, 1:05pm

I don’t know, but it’d be a better choice than photographing yesterday’s ugly affair against the D-Backs. Sure, Salt River Fields is the jewel of Arizona complexes, but Joe Saunders and a still-recovering Wade Miley? No, much better to focus on this match-up between the most intriguing prospect of 2012 and Homer Bailey, the guy who now acts as an object lesson in not giving up on pitching prospects. Maybe there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect, but Bailey teaches us that there’s no such thing as an ex-pitching prospect. There’s lots of philosophical work to be done here, but Bailey’s is a strong and important critique of the dominant theory.

Maurer’s path to the starting rotation obviously got a bit easier with the release of Jon Garland and the growing consensus that Erasmo Ramirez won’t start the year in the rotation. We learned a little something about the fallibility of growing consensii over the weekend, but still: why would you have a guy start making short relief appearances a week before the season? Anyway, the competition behind Felix, Iwakuma and Saunders seems like it’s down to Bonderman, Maurer, and Beavan. Maurer’s certainly had consistent results, though his velocity dropped a bit in his last start. That may have been because he threw a lot more two-seam fastballs (he reported he didn’t have a good feel for the four-seamer), but it’d be nice to hear that he’s back up in the 92-93 range today.

Jesus Montero returns to the starting line-up at catcher – it’s nice to see that scary bat-to-the-head incident hasn’t sidelined him, and that the M’s were able to rule out a concussion so quickly.

1: Saunders, CF
2: Andino, 3B
3: Ibanez, DH
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Seager, 2B
6: Montero, C
7: Bay, RF
8: Wells, LF
9: Ryan, SS
SP: Maurer

Cactus League Days/Weeks/Years Bleed Into One Another: Mariners at Diamondbacks

March 24, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

Joe Saunders vs. Wade Miley, 1:05pm

Unhappy with their AAA centerfield depth, the M’s signed Endy Chavez to a minor league deal today, after Chavez opted out of his contract with the Royals. Chavez played with the M’s in 2009 before destroying his knee in a collision with Yuni Betancourt. He rebounded well enough to put up a 1.5 WAR season in limited time with the Rangers in 2011, but the less said about his 2012, the better. He’s talked about starting in AAA, so this isn’t a Garland situation where he’ll test the waters if he doesn’t make the club. That might keep Francisco Martinez in Jackson to start the year, or it could push Abe Almonte to a 4th outfielder role/job share with either Chavez or Martinez.

Joe Saunders hasn’t pitched particularly well this spring, but that doesn’t really matter. He is who he is, a lefty whose lack of raw stuff inevitably attracts the adjective ‘crafty.’ It’d be nice to see how hard he’s throwing, but this game’s at Talking Stick, so not only will we not get any pitch fx readings, we’ll also get to see Saunders bat.

1: Gutierrez, CF
2: Andino, 3B
3: Morales, 1B
4: Morse, RF
5: Bay, LF
6: Shoppach, C
7: Ackley, 2B
8: Ryan, SS
9/SP: Joe Saunders

Cactus League Remains Impenetrable, Mysterious: Indians at Mariners

March 23, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 47 Comments 

Blake Beavan vs. Scott freaking Kazmir, 1:05

Jeff’s post below summarizes an all-too common problem: baseball is too weird. It’s not just that we thought Garland was penciled into the rotation because of Wedge and gritty veteran-ness. It was, in part, due to things like having Erasmo Ramirez pitch a couple of innings the other night and postgame quotes to the effect that they could stretch him out again “if we need to.” How can you read that and not think, “Erasmo’s not starting the year in the M’s rotation?” And if you make that leap, Garland’s path just got a little bit easier. But all of those logical deductions were wrong. It happens.

I’ll be honest here: I’ve made a lot of logical deductions about Scott Kazmir in the past two years, if metaphors for dead things count as logical deductions.* Kazmir was object A in the risks of trading prospects at the deadline, and then he was an excellent starter for the Devil Rays for a few years before suddenly, utterly losing it at age 27. Hitters in the minors blew him up, so he was out of organized baseball, still believing in himself but, with every failed try-out, making it hard to see him as anything but a pitiful figure – the ex-jock who can’t believe it’s over. A kid with no training in anything but pitching baseballs who deals with sudden, dramatic loss of ability through denial and obsessive work on mechanical tweaks. The Sugar Land Skeeters offered him a job, because why not, and because Bobby Livingston’s not the most durable guy out there. Indy league teams blasted Kazmir too. Today, he’s the odds-on favorite for the #5 spot in the Cleveland rotation. We *knew* the moral of the Scott Kazmir story: ‘Don’t be like Scott Kazmir. Leave with your head held high, get your degree, invest your money and make yourself anew.’ All of that – the dead certainty of it – is gone, and while the odds are still long for Bobby Livingston, lesser versions of this happen all the time. Blake Beavan thinks he’s a groundballer now because he worked with a guy in Texas for a little while. I mean, why not.

1: Saunders, RF
2: Andino, SS
3: Ibanez, LF
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Seager, 2B
6: Montero, C
7: Wells, CF
8: Shoppach, DH
9: Miller, 3B
SP: Beavan

Today’s game is televised on ROOT sports, and it’s on live radio as well. Go M’s.

* I’m pretty sure they don’t, but it’s not like you needed ‘logic’ to see that Kazmir wasn’t capable of pitching anymore.

Jon Garland Packs His Things

March 22, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 17 Comments 

A baseball organization, in a lot of ways, is like a living being. And as with a living being, if you spend a long enough time getting to know a baseball organization, you start to get a sense of its personality. When you get a sense of a personality, you start to be able to anticipate certain behaviors. You start to feel certain ways about things, even if you can’t put your finger exactly on why. We all know the Mariners really well, and as such, I think we all expected the Mariners to add Jon Garland to the roster. From the instant Garland was signed, it felt like he had the inside track on a rotation spot. I don’t know why we felt that way, given that Garland is coming off major surgery, but it seemed to make so much sense. Garland was a veteran, and once upon a time, he was proven and durable. Eric Wedge would remember him from the AL Central. It seemed like Garland would make the team as long as he didn’t suck in spring training, and Garland didn’t suck in spring training.

Given the terms of Garland’s minor-league contract, the Mariners today had to make a decision on whether or not he’d make the team. To me, there was no question in my mind, no ephemeral whisper of doubt. Dave already posted his assumption that Garland would make it. The writers all seemed to figure that Garland would make it, and I don’t think any of us gave much consideration to the alternate scenario. It was a foregone conclusion that Jon Garland would at least begin the 2013 regular season as a Seattle Mariner. The Mariners this afternoon opted against giving Garland a roster spot.

Now, that doesn’t guarantee that Garland is gone. He has 24 hours to decide what he wants to do, but he packed his stuff and the nameplate above his locker is gone. Garland’s presumably going to work somewhere else, and the Mariners are going to have a different rotation than we expected.

Garland, at his best, worked around 87-91 with his fastball, with enough secondary stuff to scrape by. Garland, this spring, worked around 87-91 with his fastball, with enough secondary stuff to scrape by. Garland said he gave it all he had and it actually wasn’t enough. Clearly, we were all in the wrong getting ahead of ourselves, and we thought we knew more about the Mariners than it turns out we do, but even the people closest to the team have been taken by surprise by this. It wasn’t just fans who thought Garland would get his turns.

Don’t feel bad for Garland, in case you’re tempted. It’s never pleasant to be rejected, especially when you’re rejected by a team like the Mariners, but Garland’s going to find work. Teams have holes in their rotations and teams are going to experience injuries. Garland’s going to get his major-league innings and it’s not like there was any Jon Garland/Seattle loyalty at play. He was always going to be a stopgap; he just lasted even less time than expected. The bigger question is what the Mariners do now.

There are two open spots in the rotation. The competition is down to Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan, and Jeremy Bonderman. I haven’t taken Bonderman seriously all spring, but I just learned a valuable lesson about making assumptions about things I don’t know that well. The Mariners seem to like what his arm is doing. All three of the young guys have options, and Bonderman might be willing to report to Tacoma if he doesn’t make the roster. That much is presently uncertain.

The thing about selecting Maurer is the same as it was with selecting Michael Pineda: have Maurer on the roster all year and you might cost yourself a year of service time. But specifically because of what the Mariners did with Pineda, we can’t rule Maurer out. Personally, I’d just give the jobs to Ramirez and Beavan and then re-evaluate in a month or a month and a half if things aren’t going as desired. That way the service-time concerns are a non-issue and it’s not like the team could be crippled by giving seven starts or so to a potentially ineffective Blake Beavan. I’m somewhat curious about his tweaked delivery. Even before, Beavan wasn’t bad. I still can’t bring myself to trust Bonderman, no matter how hard and freely he’s throwing.

But I don’t know what the Mariners are going to do, and ultimately it won’t be a huge deal, because the Opening Day rotation generally isn’t the season-ending rotation, or even the rotation after three or four weeks. If the Mariners go with Ramirez and Beavan, great, even if Bonderman decides against reporting. If the Mariners go with Ramirez or Beavan and Maurer, great, Maurer can go back down if he struggles and if he doesn’t that’s terrific. If Bonderman gets one of the jobs, you have to think about who’d get dropped from the 40-man roster, but there are droppable players, and if Bonderman struggled he wouldn’t last long. Spring training isn’t a time when teams make long-term commitments. They just make decisions about the roster on the first day of the season.

I wouldn’t have even minded having Garland on the team, given the necessity of having pitching depth, but there’s still enough depth without him that this isn’t unwelcome news. It’s surprising news, is what it is. Will there also be surprising news about the Casper Wells vs. Jason Bay competition? I don’t know, I doubt it, I’m going to dinner.

Cactus League Game: M’s at Padres

March 22, 2013 · Filed Under Game Threads, Mariners · 10 Comments 

Felix Hernandez vs. Tyson Ross, 7:05pm

So have the day’s revelations (really assumptions, but likely *correct* assumption) got you down? You didn’t really envision Erasmo going to the minors a week or two ago, did you? Jason Bay started in CF yesterday, but today Franklin Gutierrez is back and…oh, Jason Bay is *still* playing CF today. Huh.

If there’s one thing that makes being an M’s fan OK – more than OK – it’s King Felix. So King Felix is starting tonight, and that’s going to have to do.

1: Gutierrez, DH
2: Seager, 3B
3: Morales, 1B
4: Morse, LF
5: Wells, RF
6: Bay, CF
7: Ackley, 2B
8: Shoppach, C
9: Ryan, SS
SP: King Felix

It’s possible Bay’s in CF not because they actually anticipate using him there this season, but because Franklin Gutierrez’s leg ‘tightness’ still hasn’t fully un-tigh…you know, nevermind.

I mention this just about every time I see him, but Tyson Ross is an intriguing SP who just can’t stay healthy. He flings the ball across his body, and his stride length is as long as a toddler’s, if that toddler really needs to pee. But 95-96mph! An interesting change! I know, I know: the stride length help his 95-96mph appear more like 92 to hitters, and the whole across-his-body thing may have contributed to oblique injuries that sapped his effectiveness with Oakland. But I’ve consistently overrated him for years, and I’m going to gambler’s fallacy my way to being right (er, less wrong) one of these days.

[Breaking: M’s don’t guarantee Garland a roster spot, so he opts out of his contract. Sooooooo, about those assumptions….]

Reviewing The 2013 Seattle Mariners Commercials

March 22, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 12 Comments 

The big news surrounding the Seattle Mariners right now is nothing. The lesser news is that Kameron Loe and Jon Garland are probably going to make the team, and Jason Bay is also going to make the team, and Casper Wells is going to make some other team. That last bit is probably good for Casper Wells but it’s probably bad for us on account of reasons I don’t need to go into. There’s plenty of discussion right now about what the Mariners ought to do, and how the Mariners ought to play. The regular season is actually just around the corner, and then there will be one hundred and sixty-two baseball games. But I thought I’d provide a break from the analysis and roster consideration by turning an eye to this year’s crop of commercials. The commercials came out a week and a half ago, so by Internet standards they’re old news, but they were released the day after I left Lookout Landing and the day I traveled to Arizona so I haven’t had a chance to review them yet. Below you may review them with me, if you’re interested in amateur reviews of baseball team commercials. If you’re interested in that, you might also be interested in other things, but you won’t find any of those other things here. Just amateur reviews of baseball team commercials.

Here is a link to all of the commercials. We go in the order in which the commercials are presented.

The Wise Ol’ Buffalo

Here we have a commercial featuring Brendan Ryan and a buffalo. Not just that — a commercial featuring Brendan Ryan and a buffalo that takes Ryan by surprise, given that the commercial begins with Ryan suddenly turning around. “Hey wise ol’ buffalo” is immediately one of my favorite lines in the history of these team commercials, owing both to its absurdity and its enthusiastic, casual delivery. The concept is brilliant specifically because it doesn’t make any sense. But I’ve an analytical mind, and I have to wonder about a few things. For one, why does Ryan appear to be alone on the field? How did he not notice the buffalo looming behind him? Why would the Mariners be okay with players teasing another player with a big live buffalo? I remember chatting with a friend some years back who was in a cabin in North Dakota, and he couldn’t leave the cabin because it was surrounded by buffalo, and they didn’t want to let him out. Buffalo are strong and unpredictable.

More, Ryan basically just invites the buffalo to go into the Mariners’ clubhouse to have some cookies. I can’t imagine a buffalo would even fit through a door, but Ryan talks as if this has been going on for a while. Tom Wilhelmsen confirms as much to Jesus Montero, saying he’s been pranking Ryan for six months. The spot takes place during spring training, meaning Wilhelmsen followed Brendan Ryan with a magical buffalo for the duration of the offseason. I’m not saying it’s impossible; I’m just saying it…requires a hell of a commitment to a joke, all for the sake of getting some free cookies from a guy who isn’t a professional cookie-baker. What did Ryan’s family think of the buffalo? I have even more questions.

Hottest Thing In Town

Though shy of spectacular, this works for me, and while I don’t know how many times I’ll be able to tolerate it, the answer’s probably higher than the number of Mariners games I’ve been able to tolerate the last few years. I don’t think it works if Felix isn’t Felix. By which I mean, Felix’s accent sells it. This commercial probably wouldn’t be that funny at all with Justin Verlander. But skip ahead to 0:16. “And sport drinks!” Or, “ann SPOR drinks!” Felix nailed it with his delivery of “I’m Larry”, and he nailed it again with his delivery here. One’s reminded that Felix has a superstar personality to go with superstar talent. My only quibble is with the guy reaching for bubble gum right as the teammate beside him grimaces and takes out his bubble gum.


Focused & Relaxed

I mean, the players all get dressed in the same place, right? They don’t just show up at the ballpark in full baseball uniform? It would be possible for no one to notice Michael Saunders’ feet. It would be possible for no one to really notice or care about Michael Morse’s t-shirt. But there’d be no hiding Kyle Seager’s full-body silk pajamas. Seager would be wearing his pajamas, and teammates would be like, “what’s up with the pajamas?” People would talk about the pajamas, so no one would be taken by surprise by the pajamas. It would be probably the least conspicuous thing in the clubhouse. And how long has Seager been wearing a breakaway uniform? Is that a breakaway belt? What if the uniform broke away while Seager was diving? No, no, it doesn’t make any sense at all. What’s going to allow this commercial to survive and even be thought fondly of is that there are going to be context-free .gifs of Kyle Seager stripping off his uniform. As a standalone image, it’s hilarious. As part of a story, the story is weak.

Fan Mail

If Dustin Ackley gets all those letters, just imagine how many letters the Mariners’ good players must get. On the other hand, maybe Ackley was just letting the mail pile up for a while — Eric Wedge seems surprised by Ackley’s behavior, as if this hasn’t happened before. But then, Ackley says he can’t let his fans down, implying that he wouldn’t wait to open a package. It’s a nice gag to have Ackley put everything on and then make a play in the field. Apparently I still remember that scene from Friends where Joey puts on all of Chandler’s clothes, so it can make for a memorable image. But I’m worried that this might turn out like the Justin Smoak commercial a year ago, where Smoak was billed as some big strong dinger hitter before he was established as such. What if Dustin Ackley is bad again? Then it’d look weird for Ackley to be sold as a regional fan favorite. It’s not like people love him for his personality.

One Wish

The weird thing A weird thing about “One Wish” is that it features a Mariners fan making several different wishes. And all within seconds or minutes of one another, apparently, making you wonder whether he’s just like this all the time. That would make him so annoying. How does he have property? Something I definitely don’t get is why every wish isn’t just about the World Series. Isn’t that the whole thing? Wouldn’t that work better with the name of the spot, too, if the fan just made the same wish over and over, about the Mariners winning the championship? Why would his first wish (that we see) be about just a winning season, where the Mariners might not even make the playoffs? Most bizarrely of all, the genie lamp works! Raul Ibanez shows up in the guy’s house! Because the guy wished for Raul Ibanez, of all things and people. The first time we see the genie lamp, the guy is wishing for a World Series. Did the Mariners effectively just guarantee that they will win the World Series? That strikes me as bold. To me, the main selling point here is Raul Ibanez saying “I have no idea how I got here” while looking around, bewildered. Tell me about it, Raul.

The Lineup

Names of children:

  • Raul
  • Felix
  • Guti
  • Michael
  • Kyle
  • Dustina
  • Justina
  • Wilhelmsen
  • Hisashi

Picture of children:


So I’m terrible at estimating the ages of children, mainly because I don’t have any of my own, nor do I hang out with them. But don’t most of those children look about the same age? How would that have been physically possible for the wife? We know we’re not dealing with an adoption situation, given that at the end of the commercial the man is preparing for sex. Even though for some reason the wife is apparently cuttings things off at nine instead of ten. Someone has a lot of explaining to do. I’d say that, for the Mariners, it’s somewhat daring to include sexual overtones when advertising a family-friendly product, and I appreciate that, but for me the commercial just doesn’t work because the joke isn’t good enough to have me ignore the logical holes. Honestly I would’ve been more interested in 30 seconds of the husband philosophically exploring what it actually means to be a diehard fan. Should we consider it a positive or negative character quality?


We can probably expect “The Lineup” to go away after a few months, if and when the Mariners trade Kendrys Morales. The others seem like they have lasting power, but as a crop overall, I’m going to choose “mediocre” as my adjective. I’ll admit that I don’t know what other teams are putting out there, and you can’t expect the Mariners to come up with six segments of brilliance. They’re a baseball team and they have far bigger priorities. And there are some memorable images, like Brendan Ryan talking to a buffalo, Kyle Seager ripping off his uniform, and Dustin Ackley wearing a Goodwill donation bin. I’m going to chuckle every time Felix says “sport drinks!” But if the old Mariners commercials were actually as good as people remember them being, then these don’t measure up. More likely, people remember the good and forget about the lame, because the past typically tends to be overrated, but I think here there’s room for improvement. And we’re the people who have to sit through hundreds of airings of these things. We should want for them to be as tolerable as repetitive commercials can ever be. Maybe that’s an impossibility. Maybe my standards are impossible.

Bonus! Slogan

Our progression of Mariners team slogans:

  • 2010: believe big
  • 2011: ready to play
  • 2012: get after it
  • 2013: true to the blue

I don’t know what it actually means to be true to the blue. If I had to guess, the Mariners wear blue, and this year’s Mariners intend to adequately represent the Mariners franchise and all of the attendant organizational principles. What would it be for the Mariners to defy the blue? What principles would they disobey? Would they win? The blue hasn’t done very much winning. Maybe they’re going to be true to some other blue, like Dodger blue. Points for ambiguity.

M’s To Make Decision on Garland

March 21, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 45 Comments 

You’ve likely read by now that Jon Garland has an opt-out clause in his contract on Friday, and so the Mariners have to tell him he’s going to make the team or let him become a free agent. This is actually mandated by the most recent CBA, though Garland’s agent apparently negotiated his opt out to be a few days earlier than all the other veterans on minor league deals.

Anyway, Garland’s going to make the team. The Mariners can say that they haven’t made the decision yet, and hey, maybe they haven’t, but they want another veteran in the rotation and Garland fits the Kevin Millwood old-guy-strike-thrower mold. They’ll announce it at some point tomorrow, but you can start penciling Garland into the rotation right now.

It will be noted that the Mariners will have to open up a 40 man roster spot for Garland, since he’s in camp as a non-roster invitee, but with the inevitable Casper Wells trade on the near horizon — seriously, Jason Bay playing center field should tell you all you need to know about whether this is even actually a real “battle” — they’ll have a spot for Garland before opening day.

Oh, and you should start preparing for Erasmo Ramirez to head to Tacoma at the beginning of the year. He only threw a couple of innings in relief tonight, and Wedge noted that they could “stretch him back out if they need to”, with everything after the if being the key phrase there. If they were going to carry Erasmo as one of their first five guys, he wouldn’t be pitching a couple of innings in relief 10 days before the season starts. I’ve already noted that I think the idea of Erasmo losing out on a rotation spot to Blake Beavan is silly, but at this point, silly decisions are becoming the norm again. Hopefully Ramirez pitches well enough in Tacoma that the Mariners remember that he’s good when Beavan is getting torched by Major League hitters in April.

The Discreet Charm of the Cactus League: Cubs at Mariners

March 21, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 30 Comments 

Garland vs. Samardzija, 7:05pm

I’m a hypocrite. I complained about the lack of baseball during the off-season, and now that it’s back, I complain that it’s a sort of weird hybrid of baseball and practice. But part of what we miss (or at least I miss) in the offseason isn’t the regular season – we’ll all be bored by a random Tuesday night 7-2 loss in June – it’s the discussion of how the team and players are evolving. It’s, to borrow an over-used, under-defined word, the narratives that I miss. All of the players are working on something, tweaking a delivery, messing around with a grip, learning a new pitch. The optimism, the sense of possibility, extends even to ex-players who find that the everyday aches and pains have vanished and that their arm feels the way it did when they were 20 and their sense of possibility was lauded and not mocked as wishcasting.

What has this Cactus League done but throw us more interesting stories than Hollywood cranks out in a decade, and what have I done but worry about how the stories end? Dave’s even told us, in no uncertain terms, that the ending doesn’t matter, but I’m so caught up with keeping up with the Angels that I lost sight of the multifaceted richness that the Cactus League offers. Jon Garland hasn’t pitched in years, but he’s suddenly the favorite for the #5 job. Jeremy Bonderman pitched in a minor-league game after his career appeared to end in 2011. That’s fascinating! Scott Kazmir looks likely to make the Indians rotation and my mind’s blown by that, but we have a very similar situation here (X2), and I’m worried about getting more upside, in April, from the fifth freaking rotation spot. Their career was over, because their arms didn’t work anymore, and now they do! Maybe only for a little while, but who cares?

Meanwhile, the baseball decisions are harder because Brandon Maurer is suddenly an elite prospect who is making it damned difficult for the Mariners to send him down. What do we watch the Cactus League *for* if not to see difficult situations develop? If they’re not resolved the way we want, well, it sure beats easy decisions (or those dreadful “flip a coin and hold your nose” decisions). Spring training is all about seeing Carter Capps, the intriguing starter/reliever drafted out of Division II, is not a guy who racked up Ks by throwing 90 with a decent change-up, he’s throwing 99 from a freakish arm angle. It’s about seeing Taijuan Walker throw a cutter, because he’s Taijuan Walker, that’s why. It’s seeing Brandon Maurer command four pitches, react to what’s working and what isn’t, and pitch intelligently and successfully through a (sort of) major league line-up. In the Cactus League, the Mariners – the Seattle Mariners – cannot stop hitting home runs.

It’s not a kids’ movie. Not all of the stories are happy ones. Stefen Romero’s oblique injury was a tough break, especially given its timing. Whatever Hector Noesi did in the off-season should be systematically studied by the Mariners player development staff and then banned organization wide. Erasmo Ramirez has exceeded all expectations and finds himself “in a battle” for a rotation spot anyway. There are inconveniences, obstacles, seeming injustices, etc., but in the end, these have made the story more interesting, and in the end, the wicked received their just desserts. Then there’s the tension that these roster battles create: Jon Garland can opt of his contract tomorrow, and as Geoff Baker says, is essentially pitching for his job tonight. So to you, Cactus League, Today’s line-up – whoa, hey, I’m writing a post 1: Saunders, RF here, we’ll get to the 2: Andino, 3B line-up in a minute 3: Ibanez, DH

1: Saunders, RF
2: Andino, 3B
3: Ibanez, DH
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Montero, C
6: Bay, “CF”
7: Wells, LF
8: Ackley, 2B
9: Ryan, SS
SP: Garland

Sailing To Sicily

March 20, 2013 · Filed Under Mariners · 44 Comments 

For I think a couple years, now, I’ve wanted to use that as the headline of a post. I stumbled across it while reading a book by Simon Winchester, and immediately it grabbed my brain and buried itself within. It struck me as just the perfect, profound, concise potential headline. The only problem is that, as an expression, “sailing to Sicily” is antiquated and used to be a euphemism for going to Hell, and that’s not something I write about a lot when tackling a baseball story. So I’m just forcing it here, along with a distracting introduction, because I want to stop thinking about how to use this, and because I am in one sense going to talk about a departure. It doesn’t entirely not work.

Some months ago, the Seattle Mariners released Chone Figgins. Some weeks ago, the Miami Marlins signed Chone Figgins to a minor-league contract. Some hours ago, the Miami Marlins released Chone Figgins.

You might have stopped thinking about Figgins. At least, you might have tried to stop thinking about Figgins, but I know we’re all interested, here, in the way we were all interested in Carlos Silva following his exit. When you have a player so unproductive and so unpleasant, there is displayed among the fan base a certain pettiness, where no one wants the player to succeed in greener pastures. I know it bothered me when Jeff Cirillo rebounded, and I know it similarly bothered me when Scott Spiezio rebounded and took the extra step of talking trash about the Mariners. Chone Figgins hasn’t yet followed the Cirillo or Spiezio path. Chone Figgins, once again, doesn’t have a job.

And he doesn’t have a job with the Miami Marlins. Consider all of the circumstances:

  • the Mariners didn’t want Figgins anymore
  • for months, nobody pursued Figgins, despite the Mariners owing all the salary
  • Figgins eventually ended up on the Marlins, who are presently the league’s saddest team
  • Figgins at no point had the inside track on a major-league job
  • Figgins got himself released in the middle of March
  • …so that the Marlins could plan on giving a backup job to Nick Green

It would be one thing if Figgins were dropped because the Marlins preferred a young prospect. Nick Green is 34, and he’s got a lifetime 70 OPS+. The Marlins like him as a backup because he’s the most experienced shortstop. Figgins isn’t a particularly experienced shortstop, so Figgins was always on the outside of the competition looking in. Now he’s looking in from even further away, maybe from behind a chain-link fence. You know, with the rest of the people paying attention to the Marlins who aren’t actually employed by the Marlins.

You have to figure this is the end of the line. This post was nearly titled “End Of The Line”. The Marlins were on the hook for the league minimum, and they don’t want Figgins around. No one else jumped at the chance to sign him as a free agent. I’m not going to declare outright that Chone Figgins’ career is over, because I don’t know what the market looks like and players will always get injured, but Figgins has never been further away from his career peak. He’s never been in a situation this desperate. The one team willing to take a chance on Figgins is baseball’s biggest embarrassment. Even they were like “actually, no”.

So, to review, keeping in mind that Figgins is 35:

  • 2009: All-Star
  • 2010: everyday player, mediocre
  • 2011: non-everyday player, awful
  • 2012: benched, awful
  • 2013: released by the Marlins

Ask Chone Figgins and he’ll tell you there’s plenty left. He was never lacking for confidence with Seattle, at least outwardly, blaming his problems on an unfamiliar lineup spot, and then on infrequent playing time. Here’s a recent article by Steven Wine on Figgins trying to make the Marlins’ roster:

”I’d go three weeks to a month not playing, going from getting 700 at-bats every year,” he says. ”It’s tough. You sign a four-year deal, and the second year of the deal you’re sitting on the bench. That’s hard to swallow. But I stayed positive as much as I could. This is where it has taken me.”


He’s off to a slow start in spring training, going 0 for 9 in his first four games. But he’s confident he can still hit, and figures his versatility afield coming off the bench makes him especially valuable to a National League team.

It’s easy, I think, to poke fun at Figgins having so much confidence, given that he sucks now. It just reads funny. It reads like he’s delusional, like he doesn’t see what literally everybody else sees. Maybe that’s exactly the case, but consider what this might be like from Figgins’ perspective.

Figgins is a little guy, and coming up he was never high on any prospect lists. At his best, he was a guy who did everything with what he had at his disposal. Figgins, you can think of as a player who more or less reached his ceiling. Not unlike David Eckstein, Figgins made the most of a little, succeeding without a superior or exceptional skillset. He didn’t have power, or noteworthy bat control. He didn’t wow in the field, and though he could run, lots of guys can run. Figgins was always scraping by, succeeding despite the odds.

How much do you think things change in just a matter of years? When you’re 40, you know you don’t feel like you’re 20 anymore. But Figgins is 35, and when he was 31, he was one of baseball’s most valuable and versatile players. How different do you think Figgins feels today, in terms of his baseball skills? Do you think he feels like he’s fallen off a cliff, or do you think he feels like he’s basically the same guy? His self-confidence is probably telling. When Chone Figgins steps back, he doesn’t understand why things should be different from how they were, because he doesn’t feel like he’s really changed.

And, truthfully, if Figgins was at 100% in 2009, then today he might be at, I don’t know, 90%, or 95%. I don’t know what this scale is. His skills haven’t eroded. We’re talking about declines of just a few percentage points — hardly even perceptible, from Figgins’ perspective. His bat speed won’t be much different. His eye won’t be much different. His defense won’t be much different, and Figgins can still motor. The difference between Chone Figgins now and Chone Figgins then is slight.

But that’s also the difference between being a productive major leaguer and being an ex-major leaguer. Especially for a guy like Figgins, who had to max everything out to succeed. You usually can’t just rest on your laurels and stick in the bigs as a regular, unless you’re phenomenally talented. It takes a ton of work and a ton of skill, and should that skill deteriorate, you’ll face longer and longer odds. Figgins right now is out of a job without feeling like he deserves to be, because that very slight physical decline is the very most meaningful thing.

A lot of players feel like they can still play, even after they’re finished being good players. This is because they hardly feel any different, and that’s all the players can know. A pitcher who’s good at 90 miles per hour might struggle at 87. At 87, he’ll feel like he’s not far off, like he still has something to offer. Figgins, perhaps, has declined from a 90 to an 87. At 87, Figgins is dreadful, even though we’re talking about a difference of three ticks.

I don’t know if this is truly the end for Chone Figgins. Hell, he could even bounce back somewhere and produce, in the way that Cirillo and Spiezio did after I gave up on them. Maybe the Marlins didn’t see what Figgins can do. Or maybe Figgins can’t see what Figgins can do. Perhaps more accurately, maybe Figgins can’t see what Figgins can’t do. Sometimes it’s the market that’s wrong. Only some times.

(Hi, you guys. USSM is what inspired me to blog a decade ago. So this is neat for me. Hopefully it will be neat for you.)

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