Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Its a Start 

Over the past few weeks, the Mariners front office has done a nice job infusing new life into an anemic offense by bringing up Michael Morse, Jose Lopez, and amazingly, Rene Rivera. The team won 7 of 12 from the NL East, and have been very entertaining to watch.

The M's recognized that Wilson Valdez and/or Willie Bloomquist were not the answer at shortstop, and surprised us all by calling up Michael Morse, who has lit up major league pitching to a .400 average and 1000 OPS over his first 18 games. The gaping hole in the order that was Bret Boone has effectively been replaced by future All-Star Jose Lopez.

But lets not stop there. There are at least four or five other major league contributors currently playing in Tacoma who could continue the turnaround of the M's back to respectability. Lets look at holes in the Mariners roster, and how the M's could look to repair them.

1) Randy Winn. What?!?!?! Are you crazy? Winn is red-hot! He's a sparkplug. He's got great speed. Great defensive left fielder! And you want to drop him?

No, I want to make him a fourth outfielder, which is where he belongs. Randy Winn is a model of consistency, sporting an OPS of 771, 773, 762 over the last three years. 2005 comes with a little twist in that the slugging average has dropped from the 425 levels of the past two years to 395. Essentially, Winn is not hitting the long ball anymore (14, 11, 14 home runs in 2002-2004, but just 2 in 2005).

Of the 30 major league left fielders, Winn ranks 26th in OPS. A 770 OPS just does not cut it as a corner outfielder in the big leagues. 770 in center field, with stellar defense? I'll take it. But I need run production from my left fielder.

And look at it from a marketing standpoint. Who comes to the ballpark to see Dwight Randolph Winn? No one I know. He does not have a bubbly personality, he doesn't make highlight reels, he doesn't have a history of big hits. Frankly, he won't be missed.

Give the starting left field spot to Chris Snelling. He is a true spark plug, fun to watch, and absolutely murdering the ball in AAA. Move Winn to the bench and rotate him in 3 days a week for Snelling, Reed, and Ibanez. Improve the left field offense and the bench in one fell swoop.

2) Willie Bloomquist. His 12 game debut in 2002 was great, but he's done absolutely nothing since. He hustles, is willing to play multiple positions poorly, and is in the prime of his hitting career. At age 27, he's not likely to get any better. His on base percentage the past three years? .317, .283, and now .250. Well, at least he provides power, right, look at these slugging numbers - .321, .330, and .258. Okay, maybe not. Well, there are all those memorable clutch game-winning hits that Willie has racked up over the years. Nope.

Bloomie does not hit well enough to occupy the utility spot on the bench. His one talent is speed, having stolen 20 bases in 24 attempts over the past three years, but you know the old adage about not being able to steal first base.

We have better backup options in the outfield (Ibanez, Snelling!), corner infield (Hansen, Leone, Bucky!), and middle infield (Boone, Leone). To me, Bloomquist symbolizes the frustrations of the past four years, as the Mariners front office seemed willing to settle for mediocrity or worse. Its time for Willie to move on, or get back to the AAAA career that is rightly his.

Give his bench spot to Scott Spiezio, and give him a chance to provide a power bat off the bench. Or Jamal Strong if we want speed. Or Justin Leone if we want a utility guy. But please, lets just move on. Whoever we pick will likely be a placeholder until Bucky returns. Its time to turn the page on the Willie Bloomquist era.

3) Matt Thornton. Alright, we get it. He's a lefty who throws heat. He also can't find the strike zone, and has no business being in any close game. He has walked 19 batters in 24 innings spanning 22 games. Oh, and did I mention the 6 home runs to go with it. Lethal combination.

Imagine being a player in a close ball game, and then seeing them trot out this youngster who can't throw strikes? That's gotta be demoralizing.

Lets bring back George Sherrill, a lefty who was fantastic for us in 2004, and was fantastic in the one batter he faced in 2005. And did I mention how pumped up the crowd gets when Sherrill enters the game. He's a fan favorite and being completely wasted in Tacoma.

4) The 12 man bullpen. Enough already. We need a spot for Randy Winn on the bench, and it should come from one of our righthanders, Hasegawa or Nelson. Neither of these guys inspires confidence when they enter the game. Find a home for them elsewhere, or just let them go.

With that extra spot in the bullpen, insert a reliever we have learned to trust. Ryan Franklin. Dude makes a great long relief man. As a starter, he continually pitches just well enough to lose. With his assortment of pitches, he can provide a change of pace to just about any pitcher coming in out of the bullpen.

We need a fresh face in the rotation. El Cartelua is the natural choice, but if he is experiencing shoulder pain, then the team should tread very carefully.

Instead, lets bring up Jorge Campillo. He's proven himself at AAA with a 2.98 ERA in 11 starts. He has 38 strikeouts and 16 walks in 60 innings, so he's got command of the strike zone. And his nickname is Popeye. What a great bobblehead marketing opportunity!

Give him 4 or 5 starts to see whether he sticks. And once Felix is healthy, bring him up too. Bringing up Popeye puts the rest of the staff on notice that they are pitching for their jobs. The continued mediocrity up and down performances of our rotation will no longer be tolerated.

The M's have turned a corner in 2005. But there is more work to be done to turn this team into a playoff contender. The talent is there in Tacoma, as has been shown by the kids we've already brought up. Let the youth make the team a joy to watch once again, give much-needed experience for 2006, and who knows, you may just find that we can contend in 2005.

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