The quick answer to the question most asked today — what should new Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto do first? – is that he should really reconsider his decision to join a franchise that has made only four playoff appearances in 39 years (none since 2001), squandered almost two million members of its fan base over the past decade, and killed the careers of the majority of his predecessors.
Assuming Dipoto opts to keep the job, he will have to re-do the major league roster to make it compatible with Safeco Field and revitalize a bankrupt minor league system, ranked 25th by Baseball America. In other words, Dipoto is going to have to re-boot most of the franchise. He can start by making three moves once he comes to a yea or nay on manager Lloyd McClendon.
- Trade Nelson Cruz.
- Jettison the catching corps.
- Gut the bullpen.
I’m not the first to advocate the trade of Cruz, Seattle’s best hitter, nor will I be the last. While such a swap will create an avalanche of criticism, it will signal Dipoto’s intent to finally erase a tortured past and start with a new slate.
The Mariners would have to eat some of the $42.75 million that remains on the Cruz’s contract, but they can afford the hit – especially since CEO Howard Lincoln claims to be taking fewer dollars out of the team pot as a self-imposed punishment for all the gaffes that led to Dipoto’s hiring.
Besides, there is little point in Cruz playing for a team that isn’t going to compete for a postseason when he could return multiple impact prospects.
Dipoto probably can’t trade Felix Hernandez or Robinson Cano due to their onerous contracts, and he has no player other than Cruz who can bring in the type of players who can be successful at Safeco Field, where Cruz has been good, but not nearly as good as he’s been on the road: 16 homers at The Safe, 27 away from it.
Cruz is an adequate right fielder, but the Mariners, who have one of the least-athletic lineups in baseball, need to address the issue of saving runs as much as generating them. I’d be good with Cruz for a catcher, a closer and prospects, probably starting with a catcher.
This year, Seattle used five catchers: Mike Zunino, Jesus Sucre, John Hicks, Wellington Castillo and Steve Baron. If you didn’t know, you have been watching baseball-catching history I’d describe as epic.
A few weeks ago, Bill Arnold, in his syndicated “Beyond The Box Score” column, astutely pointed out this astonisher: Zunino, Sucre, Hicks, Castillo (since traded) and Baron had a combined .156 batting average. The group is on pace to become the worst-hitting catching unit since 1901.
Arnold published the column Sept. 18. In Seattle’s 11 games since, and with Zunino having been sent to Tacoma, Sucre, Hicks and Baron found a way to go into an even deeper slump. In the 11 games prior to Wednesday’s game, they are a combined 3-for-33, an .090 batting average.
Imagine you are sitting in Washington Park, between Third and Fourth avenues, in Brooklyn, NY., on Oct. 7, 1909, the final day of that season. William Howard Taft is in the White House. New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii are not yet states. No one pays income tax. Jim Thorpe is a rookie, the Panama Canal under construction.
Babe Ruth is six years away from his first home run, and you are watching the Brooklyn Superbas, forerunner of the Dodgers, take on John McGraw’s Giants. Superbas fans are probably still tossing barbs at New York first baseman Fred Merkle for his infamous “boner” a year earlier.
By the end of the day, the three Superbas catchers, Doc Marshall (.201), Bill Bergen (.163) and Joe Dunn (.160) are hitting a combined .157. Who knew that it would take 106 years, or 18 presidential administrations, to break that standard for lowest team catcher batting average?
But these Mariners, barring the late signing of a young Johnny Bench, are going to do it, as the following stunner shows.
Worst-hitting team catching since 1901
|Year||Team||Avg.||# Cs||Worst-Hitting Catcher|
|2015||Mariners||.152||5||Mike Zunino .174 BA, 132 strikeouts, 112 games|
|1909||Superbas||.157||3||Bill Bergen (career .170 BA) batted .139|
|2014||Dodgers||.181||4||Starter A.J. Ellis batted .191 in 93 games|
|1964||Colt 45s||.184||4||Jerry Grote hit .181, .240 OBP in 100 games|
|1989||Braves||.185||5||John Russell hit .182 (.225 OBP) in 74 games|
|2011||Twins||.185||3||Drew Butera .167 BA, .449 OPS in 93 games|
|1969||Athletics||.188||5||Dave Duncan hit .126, .236 OBP in 58 games|
Forgetting the 1909 Superbas, Seattle’s .152 is 29 points worse than the next-worst team and 44 points worse than the .196 that famously inspired “Dave Valle Days.”
In the late summer of 1991, a Pioneer Square restaurant and bar called Swannie’s launched the so-named promotion, offering well drinks or beers at a cost based on the Mariner catcher’s anemic batting average. Valle’s .196 became the butt of jokes, but Valle would be Pudge Rodriguez on today’s Mariners.
So Dipoto needs to fix that. Then he can fix the bullpen, one of the best in the American League in 2014 but awful this year. The problems started with Fernando Rodney’s six blown saves. That ineffectiveness infected nearly everyone else in the pen.
At the same you are watching the worst-hitting catching corps since Abner Doubleday, you are also watching the worst bullpen in team history, which is saying something since Bobby Ayala is 16 years removed from Seattle.
With one more loss in the season’s final four games, this bullpen will break a franchise record for single-season defeats. Most bullpen losses in a season:
|2013||Eric Wedge||33||Y. Medina 6, C. Furbush 6; 6 relievers with 3|
|2015||Lloyd McClendon||33||D. Farquhar 6, F. Rodney 5, C. Smith 5|
|1999||Lou Piniella||31||J. Paniagua 11, J. Mesa 6, F. Rodriguez 4|
|2008||John McLaren||31||M. Batista 14, R. Dickey 8, J.J. Putz 5|
|2004||Bob Melvin||30||R. Villone, S. Hasegawa, C. Nageotte, all 6|
|2009||Don Wakmatsu||30||M. Lowe 7, C. Jakubauskas 6, D. Aardsma 6|
|1989||Jim Lefebvre||29||M. Schooler 7, J. Reed 7, C. Zavaras 6|
|1998||Lou Piniella||29||B. Ayala 10, P. Spoljaric 6, H. Slocumb 5|
|2005||Mike Hargrove||29||J. Mateo 6, J.J. Putz 5, J. Harris 5|
|2010||Don Wakamatsu||29||B. League 7, L. French 7, D. Aardsma 6|
It’s easy (too easy) to bash the Mariners for failing to make the playoffs since 2001, and for failing to be relevant this year after the Fourth of July when they fell so far behind in the division race that they had no hope of catching up. But there are two sides to everything.
The Mariners lost 12 walk-off games, 28 one-run games and 12 times in extra innings. They lost 14 times when tied after seven innings, 10 times when leading after seven, 11 times when they were tied after eight and 21 times when they out-hit an opponent.
They did that with a very flawed team, one that Dipoto told the Mariners in his hiring interviews was not built to win at Safeco Field.
Trading Cruz would help Dipoto address the issues that kept the Mariners irrelevant for the 35th time in 39 seasons. A catcher is the logical place to start and a new bullpen is a must.