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Mariners at the quarter pole

If injuries and slumps don't get in the way, the Ms could be in the playoffs this fall.
Robinson Cano at Mariners vs. Rays game on May 14th.

Robinson Cano at Mariners vs. Rays game on May 14th. All photos in story by Elaine Thompson (AP) courtesy of Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners departed Thursday for a five-game road trip to Minnesota and Texas. One quarter of their season was gone, their record was 20-20, and opinion remained split as to whether they will do better or fall back into more of the same-ol’, same-ol’.

If grades were being handed out, the Ms would, on all fronts, be getting Incompletes, along with these progress reports.

The Management
New President Kevin Mather, Chuck Armstrong's replacement, leaves an impression as a common-sense, flexible manager who is aware of the financial bottom line but also wants a winning team — and recognizes how the two are connected. He comes across as a nice guy who loves baseball but will not tolerate much flubbing.

General manager Jack Zduriencik started the season on shaky ground made even shakier by some parting and public shots from former manager Eric Wedge, who refused to return for another year. Zduriencik responded by extravagantly outbidding the Yankees for all-star second baseman Robinson Cano.

Zduriencik signed Cano to a huge 10-year contract knowing full well that the 31-year-old likely won't be productive after his first five seasons. Zduriencik no doubt worried little about the tail end of the contract, since his own fate as GM depends on the team's short-term success. 

During the off-season, Zduriencik also signed free agent outfielders/designated hitters Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. Both were risks because of prior injuries. Hart has held up physically as a DH and shows signs of life, although his batting average is low.  Morrison is hurt again.

The Ms GM also awarded a big two-year contract to relief pitcher Fernando Rodney, a favorite of new manager Lloyd McClendon's.  Zduriencik has repeatedly stated that his Plan — to grow and develop the team through its own farm system — was working and, with the addition of Cano and one or two other veterans, would bear fruit this year.

McClendon, Zduriencik's choice to replace Wedge, appears to have won over the players with his no-nonsense but protective approach toward them. They play hard for him. Beginning with spring training, he instituted more intense instructional drills. His only shortcoming to date, it would seem, has been his tendency to stick too long with players whose non-performance was hurting the team.

McClendon fell in love, during spring training, with rookie outfielder Abraham Almonte. He started him in centerfield, batting leadoff, until it was painfully clear that Almonte was shaky afield and an almost automatic out in the batting order. Almonte finally got sent down to Tacoma, where he still is not hitting. We may never see him on a major-league roster again.

Shortstop Brad Miller also dazzled in spring training only to fizzle in regular season play. Miller had an impressive late-season call up in 2013, showing aggressive hitting and overall play.  But, like Almonte, he has faded badly, desperately slumping at bat and costing the Ms a couple of games with his unreliable glove. A shortstop should be the best fielder in any team's infield. With Kyle Seager at third, Cano at second and Justin Smoak at first, Miller is the Ms weakest infield link. But he continues to play every day.

Fernando Rodney, brought in as the closer, came with a reputation as a 37-year-old specialist in perilous, just-in-time escapes from opposition rallies. Would his luck hold out? The question remains unanswered. Rodney has saved several games but has also turned two victories into late losses and, to many fans, evokes memories of the immortal Bobby Ayala and Jose Mesa, former Mariners' closers who also had a habit of pitching into trouble.

McClendon has made it clear that Rodney is his guy and will remain so. It's unlikely, though, that he'll be able to keep Miller at shortstop, barring some immediate and dramatic revival. Two talented shortstops, Nick Franklin and Chris Taylor, are waiting in Tacoma. Utility man Willie Bloomquist has always been available as a spot replacement for Miller but has seldom been used.

The Players
Cano truly is an all-star and although he has yet to show the extra-base power he displayed in his years with the Yankees he is a cornerstone player. Smoak, Seager and leftfielder Dustin Ackley, all key parts of Zduriencik's Plan, appear to be establishing themselves as major-league regulars. Young Mike Zunino, unless felled by injury, will be the team's starting catcher for a decade. Rookie James Jones, called up to replace Almonte, has brought speed and energy to the team. He is a natural centerfielder, and has hit unexpectedly well. The jury still is out on Hart, although his swing is coming around. He could hit for low average yet collect 25 homeruns with 80-85 RBIs.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, May 21, 1:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Ted, you got through that without mentioning the real "find"--center fielder James Jones, who replaced the underperforming Almonte (showing that he's really a Mariner)...Jones started hot, and though tailing off a bit, is still over .300 in BA, and playing solid defense.

You couldn't know at the time of writing that Corey Hart would go on the DL...which may be a good thing, since he hasn't impressed as the guy expected to assure that Cano gets decent pitches to hit. Cano, though not likely to hit for real power, has been worth the Big Nickle.

The rest of the young M's, though now at .230 or so instead of .215, have managed to hit in enough spots to accumulate a .400-plus slugging percentage, and give the Mariners a bit of timely clout.

All this with the pitching staff in disarray, as mentioned...so maybe they CAN make the playoffs, IF Texas and Los Angeles continue their mystifying and sub-par ways.

One of the senior citizens running the team is gone, along with the absentee owner. Now we need to get rid of Howard Lincoln, and quite possibly Jack Z, too.

Signs that there may be something to enjoy at the Safe besides the pledge of allegiance, Gott Bless America, and similar displays of affection for patriotism and the military.

Seneca

Posted Thu, May 22, 10:45 a.m. Inappropriate

I did mention James Jones, Seneca. You missed it. Let us hope he can sustain what he's done to date.

If he does not sustain it, the Mariners need to find a good-fielding, consistent center fielder with reasonable batting skills---maybe the Cuban outfielder for whom they're reportedly bidding now. They'd have to top offers from several other ML teams. About time they did that with someone besides Cano.

Posted Thu, May 22, 8:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes, you did mention James Jones...my apologies. Too quick on the comment button, and too slow to put on the reading glasses!

Seneca

Posted Fri, Jul 18, 11:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Its a team sport you morons(meant in a nice way).
M's will always have one guy you love. Griffey, A-Rod, Johnson now its that Mexican pitcher, The King(of what a mediocre team.)

But, alas its a Team sport as a Team the m's are pretty bad.Will go nowhere.

tjp

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