The Counter Argument: Moves could make M's worse

Take a look around the league and notice all the new ballparks with half-empty grandstands. If the Mariners continue at the rate they're going, they could be the butt of all jokes in a few years. You should be confused, frustrated and disappointed with the Mariners front office. Brace yourself for a disappointing 2004 season, says InsidethePark.com guest writer Conor Glassey.

The Mariners will be in Arizona in about six weeks and I'm just as excited as InsidethePark.com publisher Joe Kaiser for the baseball season to begin (I might as well have a paper chain in my room counting down the days). But, unfortunately, I just can't share his overt optimism for the Mariners in 2004. The Mariners have averaged 100 wins over the past three seasons and yet they have made it to the playoffs in only one of them. The team has secured a spot as one of the most profitable organizations in the game, but they continue to blow money on guys as if they drew names out of a hat. While following the Mariners recent transactions, I am often reminded of one of my favorite quotes from the great Bill Veeck.

"It's not the high price of stardom that bothers me...it's the high price of mediocrity."

The man behind the current chaos of the off-season is the Mariners new general manager, Bill Bavasi. After not even interviewing the statistical mastermind and penny-wise Oakland assistant GM, Paul DePodesta (just imagine what he could do with our budget!), the Mariners instead chose the old-school, pound-foolish Bavasi. Here are some of the things Bavasi has done with his two months at the reins: overpaid for aging veterans, made or pursued "fan-friendly" PR boosters to make veteran players happy and fill some seats, admitted to not knowing the current contractual status of a player he was trying to trade, took a vacation during one of the most important weeks of the off-season after only a month on the job, and needlessly gave away a couple of high draft picks. If that gets you excited for the upcoming season, I think you need psychiatric help.

Sure, there are still some things to look forward to in 2004. Jamie Moyer will hopefully finesse his way to another amazing season. Rafael Soriano could get a shot in the rotation. The newest Hall of Famer, Paul Molitor, will be in a Mariners' uniform (unfortunately he'll be coaching, not hitting). The Mariners will play the Cubs at Wrigley Field and Edgar Martinez is returning for one more go-around.

Edgar is an amazing hitter, a real treat to watch. He had another great season last year, but I can't help but prepare for the worst. Despite his amazing work ethic and exceptional conditioning regimen, he's 41 years old and can't last forever. I cringe every time I see him make an attempt to "run out" a ground ball. Sure, he can play with a broken toe, but how many games can he play with a torn hammy? I'll be (pleasantly) surprised if 'Gar plays 100 games next season.

But don't panic yet. If Edgar gets hurt, the Mariners are prepared…with arguably the weakest bench in the majors. The Mariners bench went 8 for 52 last season, posting a .154/.250/.269 line. The bench had only 2 home runs (by two players that are gone for 2004, Colbrunn and Cameron), 6 walks, 15 strikeouts and 7 RBI. John Mabry was the most frequently used pinch hitter and hit .053/.217/.053, and the Mariners replaced him with the only player in the majors who could be worse – Quinton McCracken! McCracken should be coaching Little League by now. Why can't the Mariners get some real ballplayers? They could have signed Brad Fullmer, Ben Grieve, and Gabe Kapler for very close to the same price they will pay McCracken next season.

Speaking of potential injuries, I am slightly concerned about Gil Meche next year. Coming off of labrum surgery, the most serious injury a pitcher's arm can suffer, Meche was brilliant in the first half of 2003, but showed steady decline after the All-Star break. Going 10-5 with a 3.61 ERA before the break, Meche went 5-8 with a 6.08 ERA after, including a 1-3, 8.06 ERA performance in September. Although I never saw his velocity drop, those numbers are reason for concern. Another item to consider is the fact that during Meche's first 60 pitches of a game, opposing batters hit only .237, while after 60 pitches they hit .297. Perhaps Meche would be better in long relief next season, while the Mariners give Soriano a chance in the rotation.

Just as there are things I excitedly await in 2004, there are things that I am not looking forward to. I'm not excited to watch the Mariners' entire outfield hit a combined 30 homeruns. It wouldn't surprise me if there were a few individual players with more dingers at the All-Star break than the Mariners' outfielders hit all season. That's pathetic.

The M's finished second to last in homeruns hit last season. We were out-homered 171-133 at Safeco Field. So, how do the Mariners try to rectify this problem? By bringing back Raul Ibanez.

Many people are touting Ibanez as the missing link to our anemic offense, but if you believe that, you're getting too much of your "news" on the Mariners' official website. Ibanez is not the answer. He's a 31-year-old who hit 18 homeruns last season in the hitter-friendly Kauffman Stadium. We're paying him $13M over the next three years while several similar or better players (Juan Gonzalez, Carl Everett, Rondell White, Jose Cruz Jr., Jose Guillen, Matt Stairs) were signed for less money. The casual fan will like Ibanez because he doesn't strikeout as much as Cameron. However, a strikeout is the same as making any other kind of out, and since 2000, Cameron and Ibanez have had the exact same percentage of their plate appearances result in outs (67.9%). Plain and simple, Ibanez doesn't make our offense any better, and makes our defense significantly worse. How obvious is it that the M's value feel-good stories more than they value.... well, value? Don't think for a second that it is merely a coincidence that a few weeks before signing with the M's, Ibanez was down in Puerto Rico hanging out with Edgar and Buhner. Why can't Edgar be a friend with Vladimir Guerrero?

As the singer for the grunge/metal band, Sandfrog, I bet Scott Spiezio is happy to be in Seattle. However, Nirvana is the last thing I expect Spiezio to experience in the Emerald City. Over his past three seasons with the Angels, Spiezio has posted less than holy numbers in Safeco Field. In 77 at-bats, he has scraped by at a .195/.304/.299 clip. Hell, Cirillo can do that! Looking on the bright side, Spiezio is better than Cirillo at one thing. Unfortunately, that one thing is making errors at third base. Spiezio has played 134 games at third base in his career and has a .929 fielding percentage at the hot corner.

As a whole, I am not too concerned about the Mariners pitching next season. However, for the pitching to be effective, it needs good defense and run-support. The Mariners have sacrificed defense and not gotten better offensively. I just don't see how anyone can think, "In the absolute worst-case scenario, the M's will be better next season than they were last year."

Don't get me wrong, I love the Mariners and want more than anything to have a parade down Royal Brougham in October, but it is so frustrating to sit back and watch the management operate like this. It's sad that 'Gar is coming back for one more season - one more shot at a ring – when it could be the worst the M's have had since 1992.

The official Mariners anthem for 2004: "Bomp bomp bomp...Another one bites the dust!"

Sing it with me!

Conor appreciates your feedback at ConorG@aol.com.

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