As I write this, the Seattle Mariners have the worst record in baseball at 24-42. They stand 16 1/2 games behind the first place Angels and, worse, they stand a staggering nine games behind the third place Texas Rangers. The team will have to play inspired baseball for the rest of the season to just avoid finishing in last place, and suffice it to say, this isn't how the front office saw the 2008 season going.
"It's a completely demoralizing position we're in right now, based on the completely legitimate (preseason) expectations" was the line recently offered up by General Manager Bill Bavasi after last week's sweep at the hand of an Angels roster missing Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins in a series where John Lackey didn't take the mound. Even with the reality of lousiness staring them in the face, the executives in charge of compiling this roster are unwilling to admit that this team was assembled poorly. It wasn't just a bad move here or an underperforming player there, but a long series of poor decisions that have led to this abysmal season. In fact, the foundations for this failure were laid years ago. Let's look at where this disaster started.
October 27, 2003
Coming off a 93 win season that saw the team fade down the stretch and fail to make the playoffs, Pat Gillick resigned as GM and was replaced by Bill Bavasi, but the basic plan for that offseason was laid before Gillick ever stepped aside. Central to that plan was the decision to decline an offer of arbitration to Mike Cameron, who badly wanted to stay in Seattle. Cameron was vastly underappreciated by the organization due to his contact problems and their failure to understand just how valuable his glove was in center field. Two weeks later, they announced the signing of Raul Ibanez to play left field, shifting Randy Winn to cover center in Cameron's absence. At the time, they noted the defensive downgrade but explained that it would be more than offset by the offensive improvement. Ibanez has hit well since returning to Seattle, but his defense in left field can only be described as atrocious and is one of the most glaring issues that has sunk the 2008 team to the bottom of the A.L. West. The seeds of the Ibanez-as-LF disaster were planted on the day that the team decided to jettison Cameron and make a conscious decision to sacrifice defense while chasing minor offensive improvements.
January 8, 2004
The Mariners organization has long been infatuated with player personalities and their effects on team chemistry, often making headscratching decisions based not on on-field ability but instead on thier preconceived notions of leadership and how the game is supposed to be played. That move is typified in the decision to literally give Carlos Guillen to the Tigers, as the organization had grown weary of his late-night drinking and his perceived negative influence on Freddy Garcia. They decided that they would rather go with Rich Aurilia as their shortstop - a guy who more fit their mold of how players should approach the game than Guillen. Aurilia was a gigantic bust and was released four months later, while Guillen has gone on to become one of the American League's best infielders ever since. It was impossible to see Guillen's breakout coming at the time, but the logic used - choosing to field a worse baseball team in order to have better people on it - has haunted the organization repeatedly over the years.
December 15, 2004
After a disastrous 2003 season, the organization was determined to make a big splash and find some new offensive stars to build around, using their financial advantage over the rest of the division to rebuild through free agency. They coveted Carlos Delgado's left-handed power, but after a long dance with him over contract terms, they got tired of waiting and threw $52 million at Plan B - Richie Sexson. Heading into his age 30 season and coming off a major injury while possessing classic old player skills, making a long term commitment to a player with Sexson's profile looked remarkably foolish at the time, and the concerns we raised about guaranteeing an aging Sexson big money have proven true with time. He's simply aged very poorly and is not a major league quality starting first baseman anymore, but the Mariners owe him $15.5 million for the 2008 season. Instead of looking at an aging veteran heading for decline and finding a younger, cheaper alternative, the organization focused on intangibles such as Sexson's intimidating power and ability to be an RBI man. Unwilling to admit that they had missed the boat on how he was going to age, Mariners fans instead got to watch his career end mercilessly during both the '07 and '08 seasons, while Sexson became the embodiment of everything wrong with this team.
December 22, 2005
If there's one glaring flaw the front office of the Mariners has, it's a total inability to evaluate pitching talent. They come from a bent that is entirely seduced by results and cares nothing about the process or the context that those results were produced in. Nowhere is this more obvious than when the Mariners gave Jarrod Washburn a 4-year, $37.5 million deal to leave the Angels and join their starting rotation. Washburn was coming off a 2005 season where he posted an obviously flukey 3.20 ERA, built entirely on a house of runner-stranding cards. His league high left-on-base percentage predictably regressed to the mean, and he went right back to being the #5 starter that he's been for years. Instead of being a solidifying force in the rotation, Washburn has given the M's 445 innings with a 4.72 ERA in a terrific pitcher's park since signing. Despite having to watch him implode in 2008, the M's are on the hook for another $10 million in salary in 2009, and they'd be lucky to give Washburn away at this point. Thanks to a pitching analysis based on results, the organization continues to just wildly misunderstand how to predict future run prevention, and this is most obvious with the Washburn contract. By the way, the next best offer Washburn had on the table was 2 years at a total of $14 million.
January 4, 2006
Faced with a strong desire for some "left handed sock," the M's focused on a list of low-cost, one-year options to fill the hole at Designated Hitter. Completely ignoring the entire concept of replacement level, the M's disregarded every player on the planet that wasn't a proven veteran with a long track record of success, essentially ensuring they were going to get a washed-up old timer on his last legs. That guy turned out to be Carl Everett, and his could-see-it-coming-a-mile-away failure both doomed the offense and led to an even more heinous transaction, when the Mariners shipped Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo to Cleveland in separate deals to acquire the DH platoon of Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez. Neither of the new acquisitions did much to help an offense that was in disrepair, and the careless giving away of talented youngsters in search of proven veterans depleted the farm system of guys who could have helped the team down the line. When asked directly why the team chose Everett over free talent guys such as Carlos Pena, Bavasi replied that "we know Everett can hit 5th or 6th in the line-up, and Pena just hasn't proven that he can do that yet". Good call, Bill.
December 7, 2006
In another transaction that was bad enough on its own and unbelievably horrible based on the future events it led to, we have the inexplicable Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez trade. The M's were tired of Soriano's lack of durability and believed that his elbow was a ticking time bomb, so they set out to trade him at the winter meetings that year. They settled on a left-handed National Leaguer with a NL fastball because "he'd won some games before" and the Braves were willing to make him available. Ramirez was a complete disaster, giving the Mariners 100 innings of below replacement level performance before getting released. To replace Soriano, the Mariners then converted 2006 #1 draft pick Brandon Morrow into a relief pitcher, believing that they needed a new power arm to replace the one they just lost. Two years later and Morrow is still stuck in the bullpen, losing precious development time and not being able to be viewed as a potential option for the rotation. Because Morrow wasn't considered starter material, the Mariners blew $48 million on tub-of-goo Carlos Silva and then spent a first round pick on Josh Fields in the 2008 draft in order to have a new power reliever in the organization to allow them to move Morrow back to the rotation eventually. By trading Soriano, the M's not only got back a horrible pitcher, but they also opened several holes on the roster that they then spent precious valuable resources trying to fill.
December 18, 2006
Finally, the cherry on top of this amazing series of bad roster moves. Determined to not let Everett go down as the worst designated hitter in organizational history, the M's made the decision to fill their DH role for 2007 with a broken down middle infielder who had the power of an eight-year-old girl. The Nationals simply wanted to move Jose Vidro, who didn't fit in a league where defense was required, and somehow convinced the Mariners to pick up $12 million of the remaining $18 million left on Vidro's contract. The rationale given was that a move to DH would somehow restore the 32-year-old's power and, besides, they really needed a #2 hitter who didn't strike out, despite the fact that they had a team full of guys whose best skill was contact and lacked power. Not surprisingly, Vidro's power never returned, and he's posted a .289/.350/.376 line since coming over in the trade from Washington. Only in Seattle would that be acceptable as a performance from a designated hitter completely incapable of playing the field or running the bases, but somehow, that's what the organization decided they wanted. Vidro's presence on the roster not only kept the remains of Ibanez comically chasing fly balls in the outfield, but it also has forced them to keep top prospect Jeff Clement languishing in Tacoma while he destroys Pacific Coast League pitching. Hilariously, Vidro's 2008 performance has been so terrible (.215/.260/.323) that most fans are amazed he hasn't been released yet, but John McLaren's lineup construction veers so far from reality that he's spent the last two weeks alternating between the 3rd and 4th spots in the batting order. Seriously, Vidro, he of the .583 OPS, spent several games hitting cleanup for the Mariners recently. I wish I was kidding.
Through it all, the Mariners front office has demonstrated a staggering lack of ability to evaluate and project major league talent. They have repeatedly misunderstood what makes a winning team and made brutally bad choices that are compounded by even worse decisions trying to fix the problems created by the first act of ignorance. Through it all, they've doggedly maintained that their ways are effective and will work despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Team President Chuck Armstrong, talking about the season and the job status of the front office on May 25th, uttered the following quotes:
"In my 23 years, I have never ever seen anything like this," Armstrong said "We saw it the other way in 2001. I mean, you have to ask yourself, 'How did the Mariners win 116 games that season with that roster, compared to this roster?' This is just as inexplicable the other way."
"Their positions are secure," Armstrong said "They are not to be blamed for what's going on."
"We have given no thought to making any changes in managerial personnel," Armstrong said. "Same for the GM. Listen, he's part of the solution, not the problem."
What's worse than abject failure? How about rooting for an organization that can't even recognize the problem from the solution? The Mariners executives are so rooted in their ways, so dogmatic in their wrongheadedness, that there is seemingly no light at the end of this long tunnel that we call being a Mariner fan. $117 million dollars in payroll has bought them a roster on pace to lose 104 games, and through it all, they won't admit responsibility. It's inexplicable, after all. What else is there to be said?
David Cameron, along with Derek Zumsteg, authors the ussmariner.com blog that covers the Seattle organization in more depth than they care to admit. He also writes daily for fangraphs.com as he looks to remember what it's like to enjoy watching baseball again.
That is so sad. I didn't realize the Mariners were making all these stupid decisions. I mean, I know they must've been goofing up somewhere 'cause they're terrible, but... that stuff is ridiculous. It makes me wonder if the M's are in the same PCL division as the Royals. I'll have to check the standings again.
Posted by: Devon Young at June 12, 2008 2:36 AM
The Mariners are the antithesis of the Athletics, Red Sox, and Padres. I love what Paul DePodesta wrote in his blog about having correct processes in place. Last year the Mariners were in the category he described as "dumb luck". This year they are in the "poetic justice" quadrant.
Posted by: Scott at June 12, 2008 6:22 AM
This excellent essay should be titled "The 3 Stooges Build a Baseball Team."
Posted by: Al Doyle at June 12, 2008 9:00 AM
Very nice write up Dave. I'm a long time USS reader, but have never posted. Where does the silver lining exist? I think about the years to come, and, whether or no they keep the front office, I see a team that is in trouble. Do they have the patience to build a farm system, or will they try to continuously patch holes and remian in a confused, mediocre, stupor?
Posted by: Rabble at June 12, 2008 9:08 AM
Good recap. It's hard to go through it all at once like that.
Posted by: The Ghost of Spike Owen at June 12, 2008 9:33 AM
oh oh! do JP Riccardi next!
Posted by: exxrox at June 12, 2008 10:59 AM
Thanks for Pat Gillick. We like him here in Philadelphia. Maybe the Mariners should move to Oklahoma .
Wilhelm Sandvik, Ballard High Schoo, Many Years ago.
Posted by: Wilhelm Sandvik at June 12, 2008 11:22 AM
Its funny you should mention itmightbedangerous. I literally tried to post a comment that the 2007 Mariners were in the bottom left (dumb luck) and the 2008 Mariners in the bottom right (poetic justice), but Paul apparently elected not to post it. Guess maybe he didn't want to post a comment gratuitously bashing another team since that isn't the purpose of his blog, but I don't think I have ever seen a clearer example than the Mariners!
Its funny, because there literally are 1000 (or more) arm chair GM's that could do a better than the Mariners organization has done. I like to say that Bill Bavasi combines the trading acumen of Tim Purpura with the free agent signing acumen of Ned Colletti. Only he's worse in both counts.
And all of this story ignores the fact that they paid Beltre for his career year AND overpaid Miguel Batista. And overpaid Ichiro (though that is understandable, can you see Ichiro playing anywhere else).
Posted by: mymrbig at June 12, 2008 11:29 AM
They paid Beltre for his career year, but he's actually been pretty serviceable to the Mariners and fairly worth his contract. His defensive abilities are outstanding and his offense isn't as deplorable as many thing it is. Ichiro, I'm not sure is overpaid or not since he might be one of those unique seemingly never-aging players. If he keeps up the level of production he's at with only minimal decline, then he'll be well worth the contract considering his defensive abilities and his offensive abilities.
Miguel Batista is pretty inexcusable, however. Not to mention the other Miguel, Cairo.
Posted by: Jason at June 12, 2008 1:07 PM
It is not a coincidence that all of this began as Pat Gillick left the team. He must have clearly seen what was coming up and bailed, along with Sweet Lou Piniella.
Posted by: Rob McMillin at June 12, 2008 1:42 PM
1000 armchair GM's could do better? .. that is actually being nice to Mr. Bavasi, and vastly understating his ineptness... honestly, i think my neice (15yrs old) could probably do better!
heck... using a dartboard and darts to create the lineup randomly would work better.
..as usual Dave is on point with this one ;)
Posted by: Jesse at June 12, 2008 2:43 PM
In the race for crappiest GM, Bavasi has cemented his spot in the top 5. The one thing I heard (directly from a writer who has talked to BB many times) is that ownership won't let them sign whoever they want, "character" is huge with them. A perfect example of a team that would rather lose comfortably than deal with crap and win.
I hate to suggest this as an Angels fan, but DePo would be a hell of a fit as GM of the M's eh?
Posted by: John McCann at June 12, 2008 3:24 PM
Not to mention Willie Ballgame's performance to date in 2008:
.152, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 7 hits, 7 total bases, 0 extra base hits.
I'm pretty sure Bloomquist is only on the team because he's a Northwest native. Obviously, this is a completely outrageous rationale for a Major League Baseball team.
Posted by: Andysac at June 12, 2008 3:58 PM
Best article ever. Thank you for hitting the nail on the head. Did you mail this to the front office?????
Posted by: Michael Remis at June 12, 2008 7:23 PM
Great summary article. Clean house NOW! it's going to have to come down to the ownership panel.
Posted by: J Porter at June 12, 2008 10:31 PM
Cameron wanted to stay? I'd always heard he wanted to leave because didn't like hitting in SafeCo Field. He was my favorite player. And you don't even mention trading Bedard for Jones/Sherrill/Tillman/Mickolio/Butler. It's amazing how bad you can make our organization look without even mentioning one of the stupidest moves we've made.
Posted by: Dan at June 12, 2008 11:43 PM
We could've had Carlos Pena? Are you kidding me? And of course Soriano, Soo-Choo, Cabrera, and Delgado. And who knows who else. Wow. I don't know what to do now.
Posted by: Andrew at June 12, 2008 11:53 PM
Something that also deserves mention is that despite trading away relatively high-value talent in the recent seasons when we've sucked (eg. Freddy Garcia, Randy Winn, Ron Villone, Jamie Moyer, etc), did we ever get anything back that was worth more than a bag of baseballs? Jeremy Reed in the Freddy trade is the only player that comes to mind. Have I missed anyone?
Sucking from '04 to '06 should have allowed this team to rebuild via high draft picks and acquiring additional picks/good young prospects via trades. The latter certainly didn't happen.
Posted by: ned beetroot at June 13, 2008 4:47 AM
Great little summary of the past few years in Mariner Land. I actually think you let Bavasi off easy. There is a long list of free agent garbage we have been throwing our hard earned $8 bwarm beer money on- like Scott Speizio, Jerad Weaver, Ron White....
Posted by: tylerv at June 13, 2008 10:01 AM
You summed it up perfectly with this...
"[The Mariners front office] come[s] from a bent that is entirely seduced by results and cares nothing about the process or the context that those results were produced in."
Posted by: Dickard at June 13, 2008 10:46 AM
Bill Bavasi really has no business being the GM of a major league team. Consider his career performance: four 2nd place finishes and seven 4th place finishes (including 2008), and in every one of those years he was in charge of a team that had either the highest payroll in the division or was a close second. Given eleven seasons in a four team division with a payroll better than half the teams, you'd expect to win at least once just by random chance. Bavasi has now spent over half a billion dollars on payroll ($481M so far with the M's, another $194M with the Angels) in his career. It takes real (albeit perverse) talent to spend that much money and have absolutely nothing to show for it (except a .466 winning percentage).
Posted by: joser at June 13, 2008 11:23 AM
As usual, Dave Camerson demonstrates why he is the premier Mariner voice and larger publication should take note. Of course, he vehement disdain for the Mariners comes from his love for them. Thus, with each new piece we are witnesses to Dave's bittersweet prose - to love the thing we hate - the definition of tragedy.
Posted by: John Pell at June 13, 2008 1:13 PM
Gillick's done a good job here in Philly. He got us to the playoffs, currently has us in first place, reconfigured the payroll, and the ballpark is selling out nightly. He's got us 2 extra draft picks two years in a row with a chance for more in the years ahead. After Pat retires this season, the Phillies will probably go back to their stupid ways and name company man Ruben Amaro the GM. He learned from that dope Ed Wade, who Gillick replaced to clean up the mess he left.
Posted by: WillyFrom Philly at June 13, 2008 4:24 PM
I've been trying to think of what the M's could possibly do to turn this train wreck around, even with completely new management. The only thing that I can think of is to play out 2008 (and probably get the first pick in the 2009 draft). They'll have over $20 million coming off the books after 2008 ($14m from Sexson, $8.5m from Vidro, $5.5m from Ibanez, minus some increases to other players).
They should promote from within and pick up some bargain-basement players to fill their holes, tough out another bad year in 2009, and then have another big chunk of payroll go ($12m-Beltre, $10.35m- Washburn, $9m-Batista). Then maybe what they can get from that $50m-or-so, plus contributions from their farm system, will be enough to get them back to some semblance of respectability.
Posted by: Bart at June 13, 2008 6:50 PM
Thank you, Bill Bavasi, I love you.
Because of you, Carlos Guillen has been batting .300 for my team for years now, and the player that we traded him for returned here not long after he was traded to Seattle.
Posted by: Ryan at June 13, 2008 10:01 PM
God thats depressing....
Posted by: AARON at June 14, 2008 1:27 AM
You out in Seattle think that Ichiro is sacred! I think he plays the worst CF postions of any team in baseball. It's pathetic I think he plays for himself. Yeah he can hit but I see more balls drop or get behind him than any other CF!
Posted by: Robert at June 14, 2008 4:39 AM
This is a bad string of trades, but The Texas Rangers still beat you in un-ending insanity of trades. Jon Daniels is getting better, but at what cost? Just look back at the bungled trades he has made..Sure we got Josh Hamilton this year, but look what we gave up!! Volquez is throwing out some shut down pitching and Rangers have stated for over 10 years they need pitching.
Bavasi did this for the Angels too, so dont be surprised.
Posted by: c at June 14, 2008 6:55 AM
As much as I agree with all the deadweight and $50million freed up payroll we will have in two years, Bavasi will continue to give $12million a year deal to crappy old broken down pitchers because they were decent 7 years ago. The cycle will continue. Bavasi will be back. Why? he's been horrible for 5 years, why would he get fired now? Upper management doesn't seem to even care what the hell he does.
Posted by: Wsumojo at June 14, 2008 11:09 AM
Fire Howard Lincoln. Do it NOW!
Posted by: SeaPilot69 at June 14, 2008 12:51 PM
Never have more truthful words been spoken.
Posted by: Edgar at June 14, 2008 5:10 PM
Great article, but you have to include the Bedard trade. The M's traded their entire farm system for a pitcher who's had one good year and a whole bunch of injury plagued years. The M's needed to start to rebuild as that offense had no chance of doing anything significant this year or for the foreseeable future. Other than that, great analysis and yes, the M's front office is horrendous.
Posted by: Mr. Krinkle at June 14, 2008 11:20 PM
The money they idiotically threw at Scott Spiezio in 2004 greatly handcuffed the Mariners. Again, an organization so terrible that major blunders can be overlooked in a factotum of major blunders.
Posted by: RevHalofan at June 15, 2008 12:38 PM
The contract that handcuffed the Mariners was the Scott Spiezio deal? Ok, I assume that's a joke. There's no evidence the M's are handcuffed at all. They've got plenty of money to throw around; they just throw it at the wrong guys.
.....and, the Bavasi era has ended. Final tally:
4 years + 69 games. 322-395 (.449)
One 2nd place finish, 3 last place finishes (and departed with the team mired as the worst in baseball).
Good-bye, Bill. You seemed like a nice guy, but your performance sucked. You will not be missed.
Now we can only hope that the system and brain trust that believed Bavasi was the best man for the job will somehow find someone who actually can win in 21st century baseball. I wish I could be hopeful about that, but I suppose they might blunder into somebody who can hang with the Beanes and Shapiros and Epsteins (and then somehow hire him anyway).
Posted by: joser at June 16, 2008 3:04 PM
I've been a life-long M's fan and thoroughly enjoyed this except for one thing. You failed to mention Scott Spiezio and his pathetic performance in an M's uniform.
Posted by: Jason at June 16, 2008 5:22 PM
Believe me, I've noticed. Ichiro almost never goes all out for a ball and many drop just in front of him, but like you said he can hit, and still plays +defense aside from that.
Posted by: CG at June 16, 2008 5:25 PM
It could be worse; imagine if we signed any of Zito, Igawa and/or Pavano.
Posted by: PK at June 17, 2008 4:23 PM
Apparently the Ichiro bashers here have never actually seen that guy play a game in CF. I have witnessed first hand, this year alone, the guy making amazing catches on the full out dead run. He's saved countless runs with these types of catches... ones that clearly only the top few CFers in the game could even attempt to make. Oh, and he's only been playing the position about a year! (although it looks like now he is back in RF for some ridiculous reason... like getting Willie more playing time).
The ludicrous string of horrible moves by Bavasi is well documented. The big surprise to me was not that he was fired, but that it took the M's so long to do it! If this guy was the CEO of a major business outside of the sports world, he would have been axed long, long ago.
During the game a few days ago, they flashed he list of free-agent signings... what a complete joke! Really the only guy that wasn't a total disaster is Beltre, but my god, even he has been close to a full bust offensively (hitting about .235 this year).
I tend to like MacLaren, but man, that guy just doesn't seem to get it either. Several times this year he has made very poor in-game decisions about player usage. And, I don't know how much of this is up to him, but why oh why are they playing the guys that continue to barely hit above the Mendoza line? Johjima may be the exception, but for god's sake, why are Sexson and Vidro still in that lineup? Yeah, you've like $25 mil tied up in the 2 this year, but you're paying that no matter what, so why not give some of the young guys a chance to see what they can do? I'd lay good odds that they would not hit .210 and leave countless runners on base in critical situations!
Posted by: Jim at June 18, 2008 2:24 PM