Saturday, March 24, 2012

How Mariners management turned the magic of 1995 into a mess today

By Kshell

We all remember the magical run of 1995 that saved baseball in Seattle. The Seattle Mariners who were playing in their 19th season headed to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Now 1995 suddenly has been 17 years ago. When the Mariners defeated the New York Yankees in a best of five game series in the first round the town was crazy for the Mariners. When Ken Griffey Jr. slid into home plate for the winning run Mariners play by play announcer Dave Niehaus screamed "It just continues! My oh my!" well unfortunately that run didn't continue. The Mariners lost the next series to the Cleveland Indians in six games. With a core that featured Ken Griffey Jr, Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, and Tino Martinez who were all in their prime plus up and comer Alex Rodriguez on his way things appeared bright for this franchise. They also had a future hall of fame manager in Lou Piniella running the show as well. Instead the Mariners made the playoffs just three more times after that and are the only American League franchise to have never played in a World Series. The Mariners are currently in a rut having finished in last place six of the last eight seasons. How did this happen? In this following post I'll explain in 11 basic steps how the franchise went from a magical run to in the mess they currently find themselves in right now.

1. Traded Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson to the New York Yankees:

After defeating the Yankees in a hard fought series the Mariners ownership decided to cut back on payroll instead of go all out. Meaning a choice had to be made. The Mariners announced only one Martinez(Edgar or Tino) was going to be dealt. Since Edgar had just saved baseball Tino was dealt. Trading Tino Martinez was bad but what made this deal particularly bad was he was dealt to the New York Yankees. The Mariners also included reliever Jeff Nelson. Martinez was coming off of an All-Star season at the age of 27 years old he hit .293/.369/.551 with 31 home runs, 111 RBI's and 92 runs scored. Martinez was a former first round pick of the Mariners so this trade really hurt. Nelson who was a 28 year old reliever finally had a break out year going 7-3 in 62 appearences. He pitched 78.2 innings, saving two games, posting a 2.17 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 96 strikeouts(11.0 K's per 9). Both Nelson and Martinez would help the Yankees win four World Series titles. While what the Mariners got in return was Sterling Hitchcock who would win the 1998 NLCS MVP award as the Mariners shipped him away for Scott Sanders who they then dealt for Omar Olivares and Felipe Lira. The other piece was Russ Davis who posted a negative 1.3 WAR in his four lack luster seasons in Seattle. The Mariners help build a dynasty with a team they just defeated while potentially costing themselves from 1996-2003.

2. The Bullpen was historically awful:

After trading away Jeff Nelson and over using Norm Charlton in 1995 the bullpen suffered in 1996. After 1996 the Mariners inexplicably resigned Bobby Ayala back and let Mike Jackson go. The 1997 Mariners set the all-time home run record for a team which featured two batting champions in Edgar Martinez and Alex Rodriguez. Also featured MVP Ken Griffey Jr who belted 56 home runs that year and Randy Johnson finished that season second in the Cy Young race. The terrible bullpens of 1997 and 1998 made sure a team with Griffey Jr, Martinez, Johnson and A-Rod would never win a playoff series together in their prime years.

Ayala took most of the blame of the bullpen failures as he pitched with the Mariners from 1994-1998 posting a 27-26 record in 292 games pitched. He threw 367 innings with a 4.88 era, 1.41 WHIP and had 374 strikeouts with 56 saves. His final year in Seattle in 1998 he was 1-10 with a 7.29 ERA. In the playoffs Ayala posted a 17.47 ERA allowing 11 runs in 5.2 innings in the 1995 and 1997 playoff series combined. The bullpen struggles of 1997 not only cost them that season but put the Mariners franchise in a state of panic which cost them down the road.

3. Mariners trade away three young stars in Varitek, Lowe and Cruz Jr in 1997:

In 1997 the Mariners bullpen was killing the team as the division race was falling away. So the Mariners decided to trade Jose Cruz Jr. who was the 3rd overall pick in the 1995 draft to the Toronto Blue Jays for setup men Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric. Cruz. Jr at the time was hitting .268/.315/.541 with 12 home runs and 34 RBI's in 183 at bats. He would finish the year second in the rookie of the year. While Spoljaric flopped and Timlin left the Mariners after the 1998 season. Cruz Jr. posted back to back 30 home runs season in 2000 and 2001 when the Mariners lost back to back ALCS trips. In 2001 Cruz Jr hit .274/.326/.530 with 34 home runs and 32 stolen bases. He could have been the missing power the Mariners needed. What is sad is he wasn't even the worst trade that day.

Cruz. Jr stole all the headlines that day but another trade set the Mariners back. The Mariners traded former first round pick catcher Jason Varitek and pitcher Derek Lowe to the Boston Red Sox for closer Heathcliff Slocumb. Slocumb was the closer for the 1997 division champions but was ineffective. In less than two seasons with the Mariners Slocumb was 2-9 in 84 games. He threw 96 innings posting a high ERA of 4.97, a 1.63 WHIP and had only 13 saves. Meanwhile Varitek and Lowe ended the curse of the Bambino in 2004 as the Red Sox won the World Series title first time in 86 years. Varitek won another title in 2007 as he was the Red Sox captain. Varitek was named to three all-star games, won a gold glove and silver slugger award. In 15 seasons he hit .256/.341/.435 in 5,099 at bats. He belted 193 home runs while driving in 757 RBI's. 

Derek Lowe enjoyed a long career as well. Lowe is 166-146 in his career with a 3.94 era and 1.31 WHIP with 85 saves. Lowe made two all-star games where he led the league in saves in 2000 and then in 2002 as a starter finished 3rd in the CY Young race. During the 2004 playoff run Lowe was the winning pitcher in the series clinching game in all three series. The Mariners could have used Lowe as a bullpen arm in the late 1990's or used him as a front of the rotation pitcher in the 2000's. They definately could have used Varitek's power at the catcher position or Cruz Jr power in left field in 2000-2001. Instead it was all wasted away to pick up three crappy relievers.

4. Poor drafts from 1997-2008:

Starting in 1997 and going all the way until 2008(could be even longer but the rest are too early to tell) the Mariners have done poorly in the draft. Starting in 1997 when the Mariners took 6'11" left handed pitcher Ryan Anderson with 19th pick overall. Most of baseball fell in love with Anderson as he instantly became compared to Randy Johnson. Anderson was also a top prospect for the longest time but never threw an inning in the major leagues.

Here are the list of the names of the Mariners first round picks after Anderon.
1998-Matt Thornton(did nothing for the Mariners but turned good for the White Sox after Bavasi gave him away).
1999- Jeff Heaverlo(never pitched in the major leagues)
1999- Ryan Christianson(11th pick overall, catcher never cracked the major leagues)
2001- Michael Garciaparra(never played in the majors)
2002- John Mayberry(never signed with Mariners, re-entered draft)
2003- Adam Jones(Bavasi traded him away for Bedard in 2008, currently an all-star with the Orioles)
2005- Jeff Clement(3rd pick overall as a catcher. Hit .237/.309/.393 with just 7 HR's in 219 AB's. Currently in minor leagues)
2006- Brandon Morrow(5th pick overall and was chosen ahead of hometown pitcher Tim Lincecum. Lincecum has won two Cy Youngs and a World Series. Morrow has since been traded).
2007- Matt Mangini(has had just 38 AB's with Mariners)
2007- Phillippe Aumont(11th overall pick, is still in the minors. Part of the Cliff Lee trade)
2008- Josh Fields(has yet to make the majors and is in double A as the Mariners have traded him).

Add it all up zero all-star game appearences for the Mariners, seven guys who never played one game for the Mariners and six who were traded away. Hard to win when you whiff on every single first round pick in a 12 year stretch like the Mariners did.

5. Getting rid of Randy Johnson too early:

After finishing second in the Cy Young race in 1997 Johnson was entering his final year on his contract. Johnson wanted a three year deal while the Mariners told him he didn't have three years left. During the 1998 Johnson didn't pitch up to his usual standards and was traded for Freddy Garcia, John Halama and Carlos Guillen. Now that ended up being a decent trade but make no mistake none of them were worth a Randy Johnson. Johnson proved he had several years left as he pitched until the 2009 season.

 Johnson after leaving the Mariners would go on to win four straight Cy Young's then finished second in 2004. He was also World Series MVP in 2001 as well. With the Diamondbacks Johnson was dominant over the next six seasons. Johnson went 103-49(.677) while throwing 1,389.2 innings posting an ERA of 2.65 and a 1.05 WHIP. He also had 1,833 strikeouts good for 11.87 K's per 9. The Mariners desperately needed an ace during the 2000-2003 run when Johnson was winning three of his four Cy Young's in a row and finished in second place in 2004. Even at the end of his career Johnson proved to be a quality pitcher as he won over 300 games in his major league career. The emotional scars of trading away Johnson set up a bad three year stretch for the Mariners as they saw three straight offseasons where they were asked to replace a future hall of famer.

6. Losing both A-rod and Griffey Jr in back to back seasons:

After losing Johnson the Mariners saw Ken Griffey Jr. demande a trade after the 1999 season. The Mariners traded him for Mike Cameron, Brett Tomko and two prospects who never panned out from the Cincinnati Reds. The Mariners without Griffey became Alex Rodriguez team as they advanced to the ALCS before losing in six games to the eventual World Series champions New York Yankees. Griffey who had always owned the Yankees could have been the difference that playoff series as the Mariners lost two heartbreaking games. After that series Rodriguez left the team for a record 10 year 252 million dollars to the Texas Rangers.

In 2001 the Mariners would once again get better without a superstar. The Mariners won a major league record 116 games but failed to reach the World Series. After that season the Mariners little did they know at the time would never reach the playoffs again. While Rodriguez has since joined the Yankees and won a World Series. The Mariners survived at first losing three hall of famers in three successive years but no franchise can survive that long term and the Mariners were no exceptions.

7. Stood "Pat" during the 2000-2003 trade deadlines:

The Mariners posted the best record out of any major league franchise during the four season stretch from 2000-03 yet had no World Series banners to show for it. The reason was the Mariners management refused to upgrade at the trade deadline. In 2000 the only trade was John Mabry for Al Martin(whose blunder in the outfield in the 8th inning of game two of the ALCS started the big inning for the Yankees). In 2001 the Mariners had the division title practically wrapped up by May so fans started to wonder what they need come October. Most felt the Mariners could use one more stick but most of all was a frontline starting pitcher(Randy Johnson would have been nice). The main guy on the block was Al Leiter who was in his second season of five straight seasons of having his ERA in the mid 3.00 range. Leiter had won a World Series with the Blue Jays and along with Freddy Garcia and Jamie Moyer could have made up a nice playoff rotation. Then Mariners general manager Pat Gillick didn't want to be another Woody Woodward from 1997 where he was known as the guy who gave away the next young prospect. Instead the Mariners stood pat and lost in the 2001 ALCS as Aaron Sele the #3 starter had to pitch games one and five and got shelled in both games. In 2002 and 2003 the Mariners once again made no moves and missed the playoffs down the stretch. Since then the Mariners have finished in last place six of the last eight seasons.

8. The roster got old and there was no young replacements ready:

The Mariners in 2004 woke up one morning and were suddenly old. After winning 90+ games four years in a row the Mariners lost 99 games in 2004. I'll list the Mariners opening day lineup in 2004 with their ages next to their name.

1. Ichiro RF(30 years old)
2. Winn CF(30 years old)
3. Boone 2B(35 years old)
4. Ibanez LF(32 years old)
5. Martinez DH(41 yeards old)
6. Olerud 1B(35 years old)
7. Aurilia SS(32 years old)
8. Wilson C(35 years old)
9. Bloomquist 3B(26 years old) was filling in for Scott Spiezio(31 years old)
SP- Moyer(41 years old)
Closer- Guardado(33 years old)

That roster was old. The Mariners didn't bring in any youthful pieces to take over for some of their veterans. Due to the poor drafting there was no up and comer to take over for when a Jay Buhner retired or when Edgar Martinez retired. Nobody to take over when Moyer or Dan Wilson got old. This franchise got old pretty quick and with steroid testing about to begin players stopped being in their prime in their mid 30's.

9. Lou Piniella left the franchise after 2002:

When the Mariners stood pat in 2002 after Piniella screamed to the press over and over he wanted one more hitter for this team. After winning 116 games in 2001 the Mariners stormed out of the gates in 2002 with the best record again after April. Due to injuries and regression to the mean the Mariners were being overtaken by the Oakland A's(the money ball season) and the Anaheim Angels. Eventually losing out the division and wildcard race to both. Frustrated with ownership and seeing that this roster wasn't getting any younger Piniella decided to leave for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

While in Seattle Piniella went 840-711(.542) in 10 seasons. The Mariners prior to his arrival had just one winning season. During his 10 seasons the Mariners had seven winning seasons, four trips to the playoffs and three trips to the American League Championship Series. Since Piniella's departure the Mariners have had just three winning seasons and six last place finishes. The Mariners are just 665-793(.456) since Piniella has left the team. It's looking more and more like Piniella made this franchise as before and after he was here the franchise has produced just four winning seasons(one of which was right after he left). The Mariners have had six full-time managers in the nine seasons that Piniella has been gone and a total of eight overall. This franchise has been a huge mess since he has left.

10. The Bill Bavasi years:

The Bavasi era really sank this franchise. He came into a difficult task as the Mariners roster was old heading into the 2004 season and like I pointed out had drafted poorly from 1997-2003(which doesn't include 1993, 1994 and 1995 first rounder A-rod, Varitek and Cruz Jr no longer part of the franchise) meaning he didn't have a great situation. So it was important that the Mariners got that GM hire correct. Instead they got it so wrong the franchise is still struggling from it. Bavasi is known as the GM who built the first ever 100 loss team from a 100 million dollar payroll. In his five years with the Mariners they went 359-451(.443) with four losing seasons all of which saw them finish in last place.

In fact the Bavasi era was so disasterous I hope you take the time to read my blog post about the Bill Bavasi years as his era deserves a separate post. Adam Jones, Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin Soo-Choo were all traded away under his watch. Jeff Clement was chosen ahead of Ryan Zimmerman, Troy Tulowitzki, Ricky Romero and Ryan Braun. He also chose Brandon Morrow with the 5th pick overall. Taken shortly after him was currenty Cy Young pitcher Clayton Kershaw who went 7th overall and two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum who was picked 10th overall. Bavasi blew payroll, lost games and developed no talent in his years. The franchise was a mess by the time he stepped away.

11. This franchise has no identity:

Jack Zduriencik was asked to take over for Bill Bavasi. Jack Z basically has walked into a room full of crap all over the walls and ceiling. So far Z has been able to clean a spot off so there is some hope but the place still is covered in crap. In Jack Z's three years in Seattle the Mariners are 213-273(.438) with 196 losses the last two years finishing in last place. The problem with the franchise now is they appear to have no identity. The Mariners are in a rebuilding mode with young prospects yet are trotting Chone Figgins out there over Kyle Seager. Ichiro will receive as much at bats as possible while Casper Wells and Trayvon Robinson rot away. The Mariners farm system far as the hitting goes is still a mess. The Mariners are just a franchise with no true identity anymore. Second straight  offseason where they did nothing after appearing to go for it in 2010 when trading for Cliff Lee and signing Figgins(which blew up in Jack Z's face). Yet in these offseasons the Mariners are signing older guys like Kevin Millwood, Miguel Olivo, Jack Cust, etc. Jack Z inherited a mess as I just explained the franchise was in the toilet well before he arrived but he isn't exactly getting them out of the toilet either. This franchise needs to full on committ to rebuilding which should start with cutting bait on the older guys and going with the young guys.

Back in 1995 the Mariners took over the city. The Sonics were in the middle of their prime and Husky football was towards the end of their run as well. Yet it was the Mariners who captured the cities heart during that time. Ever since 1995 Mariners management has slowly but surely destroyed that feeling. When the Mariners are sitting at home watching the playoffs for the 11th straight year you'll now know why it got to that point. Ever since that magical ride in 1995 the Mariners have made one key blunder after another as attendance continues to drop each season. Look for Safeco Field to be empty yet again as the Mariners continue to be lost this year. Do we compete now? Do we rebuild? Should we play the young guys and punt this year? Should we give Ichiro one last final send off? That is the problem the Mariners don't even know and they never fully commit to one solution. The Mariners are a mess and this was painful to write but felt it had to be done. Maybe on the 20th anniversary of the Mariners magical 1995 run the Mariners by then can finally compete for a playoff spot. One can only hope but knowing this ownership I have my doubts. After reading this how can anyone trust this ownership ever again? I sure as hell don't.


  1. It looks like the Seahawks are light years ahead in the rebuild. I hope things get turned around soon.
    In defense of the current ownership, they did build a contender out of nothing. When Steinbrenner died, I heard some people saying they wished he had bought the Mariners. If he had, he would have moved the franchise to FLA before anyone could blink.

  2. Good point about moving the team. Did they build that contender though? I mean Johnson, Buhner, Griffey, Edgar and Tino were all part of the franchise before the sell. By sucking so bad in 1992 that meant A-Rod was a part of it too.

    The Seahawks committed to a plan which was rebuilding they didn't half ass it like the Mariners do. Plus Schneider is drafting well and in the NFL you see more immediate impact on draft picks than in baseball.

    Jack Z is developing our talent well but he isn't doing it fast enough in my opinion. He seems to think he has a lifetime to build this thing. I mean I've been hearing about the Indians, Royals and Orioles rebuilding for a while now. That is the problem with prospects they are just that.

  3. Our model for rebuilding should be the Detroit Tigers.

  4. As well as the Rays. I've long been a defender of Jackie Z, but even my patience is wearing thin. It may be that a new ownership is needed. Hard to argue otherwise.

  5. A new ownership is definately needed! Jack Z has done some good things I just don't know if he is a major league GM to be honest.

    His scouting is great but you also have to provide major league results.