Letter to the Editor: Should Edgar have retired?

Jared Poppel writes in about why Edgar should have called it quits after last season and left the game in style. Poppel believes the Mariners' would have been wise to sign another veteran free agent to fill the DH position, specifically a certain left-handed bat from Texas. Before you slam your fists on the table, read on, as Poppel presents some solid arguments.

The free agent season just began on Monday, but the Seattle Mariners beat their competition to the punch by firing a pre-emptive strike, re-signing 40-year-old designated hitter Edgar Martinez to a one-year, incentive-laden contract. Martinez will reportedly be paid a base salary of $3 million, with a chance to reap another $4 million based on plate appearances and other incentives.

Martinez is coming off a very solid season, to be sure, especially when you take his numerous injuries into account, most notably a broken big toe that plagued him for much of the last two months of 2003. He was still able to hit .294, with 24 HR and 98 RBI, and posted a .406 OBP, fourth-best in the American League. He is a borderline Hall of Famer, who will most probably hit his 300th HR and 500th double this season. Edgar is considered to possibly be the greatest designated hitter in the history of baseball.

In addition, Edgar is one of the most beloved sports personalities in Seattle, having spent his entire career in a Mariners uniform while being involved in the local community. So far, he is the ONLY lifelong Mariner (remember that Jay Buhner did start out in a Yankees uniform), and having him finish out his career as Safeco Field would be a great PR move for the M's.

So, it seems to be a "no-brainer" in the minds of most people that the Mariners should bring him back for one more year. It was the "safe" decision, especially from a PR perspective. Nevertheless, I am going to commit what might be considered blasphemy in the Puget Sound area and say that I believe that it was a MISTAKE for the Mariners to bring Edgar back for 2004.

How can I say this with a straight face? Has the supposedly interminable rain somehow affected my brain? Why would I slam the man who is, quite probably, the greatest Mariner of all time?

First of all, this is not a slam on Edgar, but rather an analysis of whether or not the 2004 Mariners would be better with or without him. And, in my opinion, the plusses are NOT outweighed by the minuses.

What are the plusses? The Mariners would have a reliable, proven right-handed power hitter in the middle of their lineup, as well as a clubhouse leader. He won't cost the M's a lot if he does succumb to age and injury, as his base salary is relatively low. And it gives Mariners fans another reason to come back to the ballpark in 2004 after two consecutive fades in August and September.

That's about it. Decent plusses, to be sure, but not that many.

The minuses? To paraphrase, let me count them:

1) Edgar is a great right-handed power hitter, but the Mariners' most pressing need now is a LEFT-handed power hitter. Safeco Field is much more conducive to a lefty power swing, as the ball carries much better to right and right-center field that anywhere else. While Edgar does have opposite field power, the M's desperately need a 30 HR bat who can better take advantage of the ballpark. While there are some decent lefty hitters in the free agent market this year and a few that might be available via trade, re-signing Edgar has reduced the ability of the Mariners to obtain one of these hitters, especially given the team's propensity to favor financial profitability over winning.

2) Edgar cannot play the field anymore, restricting manager Bob Melvin's decision-making as far as resting players and in-game substitutions. The Mariners have truly suffered through the dog days of August and September for two consecutive years, with most of the fall-off occurring on offense, rather than pitching. It is obvious that players like John Olerud, Bret Boone, and Ichiro Suzuki would greatly benefit from a day off here and there. But the Mariners bench has been relatively weak for several years, forcing these players on the field EVERY day. A "rest day" in the DH spot here and there would serve them well... but you would then have to sit Edgar 2 or 3 days a week. Why have him then? Your ideal DH is someone who can play the field for 40-60 games per year, so that his bat is in the lineup, and would also give the team the flexibility to rotate certain players through the DH spot to keep them fresher. Since Edgar is a full-time DH, that is now impossible.

3) Edgar cannot run anymore... period. Quite frankly, he's a speed bump on the basepaths, and that was before he broke his toe. He was never a speedster to begin with, but he was at least adept at situational running. In 2002, however, he suffered a major hamstring injury, and returned from experimental surgery with even LESS speed, rendering him a liability and potential rally-killer when on base. The broken toe made a bad situation even worse. It made hit-and-run plays an impossibility. Combine that with the fact that he hits directly in front of John Olerud, the slowest 6' 4" man on the planet Earth, and you had the recipe for a disaster in the making. Dave "I've Never Met a Runner I Wouldn't Send" Myers coaching at 3B hasn't helped the cause either. Now Edgar is a year older... and that much slower. I don't even want to think about that.

4) Edgar is a year older. When a baseball player is 30 turning 31, that's not that big of a deal. Even when he's 35 turning 36, you're sensing that maybe the player is beginning to reach the end of his rope. When that player is now 40 turning 41, you should have some serious concerns about his performance, especially when that player has been injury-prone over the past few seasons. There are notable exceptions (Barry Bonds, Nolan Ryan, etc.), but Edgar's stats have been on the decline for a few years. He has to work harder now to stay in shape than before, and even his well-documented hand-eye coordination exercises can't hold off Father Time forever. Here's a fact for you: 50% of people aged 40 or older need some form of corrective eyewear. That's not an encouraging sign.

5) Edgar should have retired after this past season and gone out on a good note. Some players would kill to put up a .294-24-98 season when they are 25 years old, much less 40... which is what Edgar did in 2003. However, some players hold onto their dreams for just one season too long, and the results can be disastrous. Edgar could pull a total fade and end his career like Mike Schmidt. Schmidt hit a pathetic .203 with just 6 HR in 42 games in 1989 for Philadelphia before hanging up his spikes mid-season. His 1988 season was nothing spectacular either, hitting .249 with only 12 HR. With over 500 HR, Schmidt was getting into the Hall of Fame regardless, but Edgar is, as I said before, borderline, and he might be trying to reach certain milestones that he feels might improve his odds. However, reaching the 300 HR or 500 double plateau will probably NOT affect his chances one way or the other. He achieved most of his fame as a DH, and no player who spent the majority of his playing days as a DH has gotten into the Hall of Fame yet. However, a sub-par season in 2004 could totally destroy his shot at Cooperstown. Leaving after this season would have put him along players such as Ted Williams, who knew when it was time to go.

6) The Mariners are starting to have the same problems as the Astros, as far as showing loyalty to long-time veterans by locking them up to contracts when they should be focused on getting better and, possibly, younger. The contracts of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio are hamstringing the Astros in the free agent and trade markets. The Mariners re-signed ALL of their major free agents after the 2002 season, including Edgar (then 40), John Olerud (then 34), Jamie Moyer (then 40) and Dan Wilson (then 33). Now they are ALL under contract for 2004, along with Bret Boone (now almost 35). The Mariners do NOT have a plethora of decent position prospects in their minor league system, so filling the DH spot with someone younger might have been a wise decision for the 2004 season. Instead, they got older and have set themselves up for a big disappointment. Again, I'm not trying to bury Edgar or minimize his significance to the Mariners. I'm simply making an objective analysis of the situation, and have come to the conclusion that the 2004 Mariners would have been better off filling the DH spot with a different player. That player should have been Rafael Palmeiro.

Now, while is not that far from reaching his 40th birthday as well, there would have been several advantages to signing him to a 2-year contract over Edgar.

1) While his batting average has been steadily declining, Rafael has put up 9 consecutive seasons of 38 HR or more and 104 RBI or more. That is as consistent as it gets.

2) Rafael is a left-handed power hitter who can still play 1B for 40-60 games a year, helping spell John Olerud from time to time. In addition, since he is vulnerable against certain lefty pitchers, there would have been an opportunity to rotate other players through the DH spot, keeping them fresher, as well as Rafael.

3) While no Vince Coleman, Rafael is not the detriment on the basepaths that Edgar is.

4) Rafael Palmeiro LOVES to hit in Safeco Field. He had 6 HR and 18 RBI in the few games he played there in 2003, and has 16 HR there since the beginning of the 2000 season. Now imagine 81 home games while facing inferior pitching staffs, and you can start to see drool forming...

5) Rafael Palmeiro is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and based on his current numbers and rates, if he were to sign a two-year contract with Seattle, he would almost definitely get his 3000th hit and hit his 600th HR towards the end of his second year. In fact, he might pull a Roger Clemens and get them both in the same game! That alone will put fannies in the seats!

Alas, Messrs. Lincoln and Armstrong made what they considered a "safe" choice, but I don't think it is as safe as they think.

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