Politicians sometimes pick up the worst behavior of athletes: Like when a U.S. Congressman imitates Brett Favre’s seduction strategy. And sports fans sometimes latch onto the worst aspects of politics nuts: Like finding a single scapegoat. Gas prices are too high? It’s Bush’s fault! No, it’s Obama’s fault! When, of course, it’s manifestly all of our faults for buying ginormous vehicles that go through tanks of gas like Michael Pineda’s opponents go through bats.
Which brings us to Ichiro. The Mariners are again an atrocious offensive team, with a league-worst in OPS and practically every other offensive category. Adam Kennedy and Miguel Olivo* have both batted clean-up — not really a compliment to Olivo or Kennedy so much as an indictment of the rest of the Mariner roster. It’s ugly.
Not entirely coincidentally, Ichiro is mired in the worst slump of his career. And those poor souls who’ve been watching too much CNN are targeting the hit king–though they make the oddest arguments. FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi thinks Ichiro should demand to bat third. Meanwhile, Steve Kelley wants Ichiro to jam his face into the ground when he slides like Miguel Olivo does.
(People lamenting Ichiro’s slump now would have a lot more credibility if I’d heard them praising him in April, when he hit .328 and the rest of the team hit a collective .220.)
Ichiro is also being maligned for being among the worst in the league in Ultimate Zone Rating, a measure of defensive prowess. According to Ultimate Zone Rating, Lance Berkman, Nick Swisher, and Jayson Werth are all better right fielders than 10-time Gold Glove winner Ichiro. You decide whether that says more about Ichiro or about Ultimate Zone Rating.
A major league offense should be able to survive a bad six weeks by one player, no matter how much he makes. The M’s outage isn’t the fault of the guy standing in right field. It’s shared by the Mariners ownership and their front office hires. Not a single person, but an entire organization, with a strategy that caused the Mariners to exhaust their offensive talent just like the U.S. is exhausting the world’s oil.
While we endure the horror of Kennedy batting clean-up, over in Boston, another occasional clean-up hitter is having another stellar year. David Ortiz, known as David Arias when he was a Mariner farmhand, hit his 300th homer with the Red Sox earlier this season. He has 362 in his career now, including 15 this season (three more than the entire M’s outfield).
Ortiz is part of a unique club: He’s one of eight players to hit 300 home runs, but none of them with his original organization.
David Ortiz, 2000-2010: 339 HR
Mariners Home Run leader, 2000-2010: Bret Boone, 127 HR
When Ortiz should’ve been the M’s 2000s power source, he was leading Boston to two World Series titles. He’s the most damning example of the M’s fast trigger finger on dumping young hitting talent, but not the only one.
Carlos Guillen: Traded for a minor league shortstop in 2003, the patient, powerful Guillen helped lead the Tigers back to relevance, providing tremendous offense at short.
Carlos Guillen, 2004-2007: 65 HRs, 202 BBs
Mariners SSs, 2004-2007: 30 HRs, 113 BBs
Shin Soo-Choo: A possible solution to the left field conundrum traded away before his time. Put up Edgar Martinez like numbers the past three seasons while making a miniscule salary.
Choo, 2010: 22 HRs, $461K salary
Milton Bradley + Casey Kotchman, 2010: 17 HRs, $14.5M salary
Mike Morse: Many thought Morse’s above-average hitting with the Mariners was a fluke. He’s proved that wrong with an .820 career OPS. He’s not great in the field, but even as a DH he’d have been an improvement.
Mike Morse, 2009-2011: .514 SLG
Mariner DHs, 2009-2011: .372 SLG
Here’s the entirety of the Mariners take for Ortiz (traded in 2006), Guillen (2004), Choo (2006) and Morse (2009) : Dave Hollins, Ramon Santiago, Ben Broussard and Ryan Langerhans. None ever held a starting spot with the team for even one season.
In the past few weeks the M’s have promoted a passel of young hitters. Not all of these players will pan out, but if the Mariners are to avoid the offensive debacle of the 2000s, they must give these players chances, the big contracts of Jack Cust and Chone Figgins notwithstanding.
Given how much excellence Ichiro has given us, I find it hard to point the finger at him. I think he’ll bounce back, and provide much-needed pop to support the young players in what could be a very interesting second half of the season.
But if Ichiro continues to struggle, he, like Cust and Figgins, must make room for Carlos Peguero, Greg Halman and the like. Holding them back could result in another full decade of misery–and with gas prices what they are, I can’t afford to drive to Tacoma every time I want to see a winning baseball team.
*If it seems odd to you to see a catcher batting clean-up for the Mariners, it should. Coming into this year, the Mariners had played 5,383 games. Only seven of the 5,383 had the catcher hitting fourth. In 2011, though, Olivo batted clean-up 21 games out of the first 60. As for Kennedy, he’d batted fourth once in 1,491 career games coming into 2011. He’s started there five times this year.