The final day of the 2009 season was made memorable by Mariners players hoisting their two popular stars, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki, on their shoulders and carrying them around Safeco Field as fans applauded an unexpected 85-win season, an unexpected 24-game improvement.
The final day of 2010? No hoisting. No parade. No fun.
The Mariners are back in triple-digit defeats a second time in three years, a faded Griffey retired abruptly and Ichiro and Felix Hernandez were the only beacons of light in what was one of the darkest seasons in Seattle baseball history.
From spring training expectations to 101 losses, 2010 has been a train wreck. They fired manager Don Wakamatsu, only to find that his replacement, Daren Brown, had virtually the same winning percentage (.380 to Wakamatsus .375) because surprise! the players remained the same.
Bet on wholesale roster changes between now and next spring when the club reconvenes in Arizona. The changes wont just be players. Brown is unlikely to return as manager, although hes likely to stay in the organization. General manager Jack Zduriencik, who survived, said Brown was the interim manager when he promoted him Aug. 9. His 19-31 record didn’t win a return engagement, although he probably will get an interview as Zduriencik seeks to make a decision by the end of October.
What is it this team needs?
“Its hard to say, because we all believed in this team, Ichiro said Sunday. “We thought wed play up to expectations.
Ichiro, who had two hits Sunday to finish with 214 for the year, is wary about next season, too. He’s one of the few in the organization willing to suggest that 2011 could be a duplicate of 2010. The worst offense in the American League this year could be the same next season.
“Its hard to say how I can be optimistic, because I dont think anyone should be, Ichiro said. “This is reality. We have to take it to heart. Just because we havent done anything and remain optimistic doesnt mean everything will turn out (all right) next year.
“We have to reflect on our failures individually. I think we can do that. We can work on what failed. The solution we have to find is how we can put that together for the team. Thats the answer Im trying to find.
Ichiro isnt saying he wants out of Seattle “were not in that situation, he said but hes been here 10 years and has been to the post-season exactly once, in 2001, his first year. He turns 37 this month, so he doesnt have an abundance of time left.
He and Hernandez are assured of being in Seattle in 2011. As for the rest of the roster, its anyone’s guess.
Third baseman Jose Lopez, who got a final at-bat as a pinch-hitter Sunday after having suffered a dislocated right middle finger on the last road trip, has a club option for the 2011 season. But theres no guarantee the club will pick it up after he went from 25 homers and 96 RBIs to 10 and 58.
Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez (.245, 12 homers and a team-high 64 RBIs) has three years left on his deal. Hell probably be back, but his drop-off from 2009s .293, 18 and 70 has to give the Mariners some pause.
Closer David Aardsma saved 31 games, but he also went 0-6 with an ERA that jumped nearly a full point in a season from 2.52 to 3.44. The Mariners might decide that they can lose 90-plus games without having to pay Aardsma close to the $4 million or so hell get in salary arbitration.
So it goes down the roster infielders and catchers, starters and relievers, outfielders and DHs. Some of them have promise. Some have only hope. But almost all of them performed beneath the levels expected when the season began.
All of them are subject to the offseason phone call telling them theyve been traded, released or demoted.
Bad as the Seattle summer was, its going to be a tough winter.