Time for accountability in M's front office

Start the plank walking with Howard Lincoln, who has led the good ship Mariner in all these seasons of plundering the patient (or gullible) fans
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Start the plank walking with Howard Lincoln, who has led the good ship Mariner in all these seasons of plundering the patient (or gullible) fans

For much — much too much — of the past decade Major League Baseball's All-Star Game has been an occasion for many Seattle Mariners fans to admire the remarkable record of Ichiro Suzuki, 10-for-10 in bids to the midsummer classic. Possibly just as many fans wish M's execs would get rid of their one genuine star-quality position player, trading for the elusive "prospects."

This year's Some-Star Game finally gave the National League a win (3-to-1), its first since many of the participants started shaving. It also became a predictably maudlin occasion to deify George Steinbrenner simply because the obnoxious long-time Yankees owner had died.

Otherwise it was a benign spectacle, interesting locally only in that Ich was zip for two, out of the game quickly, and, inevitably, seen by some as expendable to the M's.

Often lost in the discussion about swapping Ichiro for "prospects" is the reality that prospectors who make up M's management have been about as successful as Yosemite Sam. While extolling the virtues of "great gets" such as Jeff Clement (since traded to Pittsburgh and .189 this year), local baseball brains also have bartered away seven who appeared on this year's all-star rolls.

All-star roster score: Former M's 7, Ich 1.

Since the end of the 116-win 2001 season the M's rosters typically have boasted a few journeyman-caliber position players and a pitcher or two capable of playing with the midsummer stars. Fans, meanwhile, seem to keep believing that, if management could just hustle up that one big deal, greatness would come this way. Prospects would pan out the way others haven't.

It just doesn't happen. Draftees are picked and hailed, then lost in the minor-league shuffle or shuttled off to other clubs when they fail. It's one reason why the roster chronically carries has-beens and never-wills to go along with a few organization-grown or trade-bait regulars.

Consider the current Mariners position by position, admittedly a depressing exercise and tricky given that there's a new "who" on first seemingly every week.

The four who have played catcher, judging from their production, could be called: Eenie, meeny, miney and Moore. The latter, Adam Moore, plays in Tacoma, which is where the others also belong.

Of the six who have played first base, Mike Sweeney can hit but not field, Casey Kotchman can field but not hit, and Russell Branyan, reacquired, can do both. So what does General Manager Jack Zduriencik get for Cliff Lee? Yet another first-baseman.

Second base belongs to Chone Figgins, who's having by far the worst offensive year since he became a full-time big-leaguer.

Shortstop has been "Wilson"-ville. Jack slacked and Josh took over; then Josh sloshed and it's back to Jack.

Jose Lopez has just about owned the third-base job and plays better defense at the hot corner than many imagined. But his offensive numbers are disappointing, as are those of all the outfielders besides Ichiro.

Going into the nominal second half of the season (it's actually seven shy of 81 games left, but with these guys who's complaining?), Seattle has one great pitcher in Felix Hernandez, one great position player in Ich and a maybe-someday great in Franklin Gutierrez, the center-fielder. Is there any wonder, then, that the club is mirror image at 35-53 and 15 games back?

The better question: Is there anyone on the board of directors willing and capable enough to get rid of the M's executive corps top to bottom? Surely it wouldn't be board chair Howard Lincoln, who also functions as chief executive officer and, hence, is the obvious plank-walker on the good ship Mariner after all these seasons of plundering the patient (or gullible) fans.

Beyond that, many have never quite understood what it is Chuck Armstrong (president and chief operating officer) does for his money besides his requisite glad-handing before home games, same as he did during the '80s when he was then-owner George Argyros's sycophant in chief.

For many members of the species, a human sense of shame alone would be enough to prompt the aging Lincoln and Armstrong to do the right thing and resign. Since they won't, shove both of them out and hire somebody who knows about the game of baseball and not just the staging of a "fan-friendly" environment.

Safeco Field has become something of a theme-park charade of major-league baseball. It's the baseball environment one might've expected to see in "The Truman Show," and, as in that cinematic fantasy, the result always seems to be the same: The Mariners annually show they can't even compete in a meager, four-team division, smallest in the big leagues.

Zduriencik has been quick to give up on the prospects he once praised. Treat him in kind and can him: Sorry, Jack, two strikes and you're out.

None of the above will happen, of course. Team execs will continue to work the mendacious M's message about success coming with the next "can't miss" shipment of prospects. There's a time-honored term for it: "smoke and mirrors," fitting given that the latest to be hailed as the next M's messiah is in fact named Justin Smoak. The first-base prospect acquired last weekend from Texas fits in perfectly with this team, given that he's hitting in the vicinity of the area code at .206.

Yes, fans, as every M's exec and flack (or "announcer," as the job title is known here) has assured you, Smoak's destined for greatness. But don't get too used to him. This time next year he'll probably be playing someplace else so that M's management can make room for yet more prospects. Maybe they'll package Smoak with Ichiro and ship them to Pittsburgh — for Jeff Clement.


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