Saturday, March 24, 2012
How Mariners management turned the magic of 1995 into a mess today
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:
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:
8. The roster got old and there was no young replacements ready:
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:
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:
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.