The appointments of 1B Justin Smoak and LHP Jason Vargas to the American League All-Star team bring up that favorite time of the season for Mariners cynics: The All Ex-Mariners team. For a franchise with four playoff appearances in 40 seasons, take your traditions where you find them.
As always, fans understand that every team has similarly scattered regrets across baseball’s apocalyptic landscape of transactions. But only two teams have never made the World Series, the Expos/Nationals and the Mariners, and no current team has been out of the playoffs longer than the Mariners’ 15 years.
So until those distinctions change, the Mariners stand above all in deserving to be singled out, spotlighted, hectored, scolded and subjected to extreme vetting for the hash they have made of their personnel.
Seattle fans also understand that general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais have been at it only a year and a half. Still, Thursday night’s 7-4 loss to the tepid Athletics (box) was the eighth consecutive loss at home, and the storylines of this 41-46 team have the familiar arc of the annual franchise death spiral.
Smoak had all the makings of quality during his tenure in Seattle from 2010 to 2014, but never quite made it to quality until being waived and picked up by Toronto as a free agent. His first two years in Canada weren’t that great, but his year-30 season has been maple syrup-smothered poutine (.300 BA, 23 HR, 55 RBIs, .961 OPS).
Vargas, an even later bloomer at 34, started Wednesday for Kansas City at Safeco Field, only to be shelled by his former team for six runs in six innings. But the Royals won a 9-6, 10-inning crusher, the kind of sneaky win that helped Vargas numerous times in his Seattle tenure from from 2009 to 2012. He leads the AL in wins (12) and did lead the league in ERA before Wednesday.
He was traded in 2012 to the Angels for DH Kendrys Morales, who ironically also wound up going away from the Mariners — twice — to do better elsewhere. In 2015, the year after he left Seattle, he helped the Royals win the World Series with a .290 BA, 22 homers and 106 RBIs.
So let’s start there with the Emigre M’s of 2017, by position and current numbers:
DH — Morales, Blue Jays: .256 BA, .771 OPS, 16 HRs, 47 RBIs.
C — Chris Iannetta, D-backs: .236 BA, .826 OPS, 8 HRs, 23 RBIs.
1B — Smoak, Blue Jays: see above.
2B –Nick Franklin, Angels: One hit in seven ABs after June 30 trade from Brewers for player to be chosen later.
SS — Brad Miller, Rays: .194 BA, .645 OPS, 2 HRs, 14 RBI. On disabled list until after All-Star break.
3B — Adrian Beltre, Rangers: .282 BA, .877 OPS; 5 HRs, 22 RBIs at age 38.
OF — Adam Jones, Orioles: .263 BA, .718 OPS, 13 HRs, 35 RBIs; Seth Smith, Orioles: .251 BA, .752 OPS, 8 HRs, 18 RBIs; Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers: .255 BA, .782 OPS, 12 HRs, 42 RBIs.
Starting pitchers — Jason Vargas, Royals (12-3, 2.62 ERA); Taijuan Walker, D-backs (6-3, 3.30); Michael Pineda, Yankees (8-4, 4.39); J.A. Happ, Blue Jays (3-5, 3.47); Mike Montgomery, Cubs (1-5, 2.80).
Bullpen –Brandon Morrow, Dodgers (2-0, 1.38), Dominic Leone, Blue Jays (1-0, 2.97), Brandon Maurer, Padres (17 saves); Fernando Rodney, D-backs (21 saves); Tom Wilhelmsen, D-backs (1-1, 4.44); Erasmo Ramirez, Rays (4-3, 5.18 ERA).
Reserves — 1B Logan Morrison, Rays; 1B Luis Valbuena, Angels; OF Eric Thames, Brewers; OF Mark Trumbo, Orioles; C-1B John Jaso, Pirates; OF Ichiro Suzuki, Marlins; OF Nori Aoki, Astros.
Collectively, the group of ex-pats is more than respectable, with Baltimore contributing a an all-ex-Mariners outfield in Smith, Jones and Trumbo.
Would the best 25 beat today’s Mariners?
Take a look at the starting rotation, and there’s your answer.
Any one in the rotation among the emigre M’s would be a god-send to Servais now. Even Ramirez, who has been a starter for the Rays as well, would be welcomed.
The guy the Mariners miss most at the moment is Montgomery, who has been the same starter/reliever savior for the Cubs that he was in Seattle before Dipoto inexplicably traded him at midseason a year ago for 1B Dan Vogelbach, who has hit at every level so far except the one that counts.
But he’s in the Minor League All-Star Game next week at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium. So there’s that.
Obviously, the Mariners’ biggest problem this season has been poor health in the starting staff. But can that be a surprise to anyone familiar with the recent histories of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton? The season-long loss of Drew Smyly was unexpected, but the Mariners had no fall-back plan in the event the first three starters went to form regarding recent health histories.
It’s hard to imagine any regrets by Dipoto or Mariners fans for the trade of Walker to Arizona last winter that brought SS Jean Segura and RF Mitch Haniger. But there’s also no getting around the fact that Walker’s departure left the weakest part of the Mariners weaker.
Every trade/cut has its logic at the time it was done, and fans can drive themselves bats with the shoulda-coulda-woulda game. But the cumulative weight of the decisions by GMs Bill Bavasi (he let Beltre walk into free agency), Jack Zduriencik and Dipoto has left the Mariners at midseason on the fringe yet again, requiring miracles.
As the trade deadline approaches, they desperately need starting pitching. But so do about 15 other teams in contention, and most are in better shape with farm-system prospects to barter.
The Mariners had good starting pitching. But they’ve given so much of it away that they spend their days back-filling instead of moving ahead.
Dipoto entered the season knowing Hernandez and Iwakuma were sliding. Then he allowed Smyly to play in the World Baseball Classic, where he was hurt. Some might suggest that is like smelling smoke in your home, and shutting off the water supply.