Seattle Mariners: Bad is bad

Time goes by like pouring rain: The Mariners keep waiting for young outfielder Michael Saunders to grip a position — they’re open everywhere on this roster — but in two abbreviated seasons he has yet to. Blame Saunders’ high strikeout rate — 84 in 327 at-bats in 2010. Saunders whiffs like Russell Branyan without the power of Branyan. Too bad, because the tools are otherwise solid: a decent eye, a touch of power, decent speed and defense. But he’s hit just .214 and fanned once every 3.7 of his first 411 at-bats. He’s only 24, so there’s still time. And with the Mariners, plenty of opportunity.

I feel I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The Mariners are bad, but there’s help on the way. Dustin Ackley, 2009’s No. 1 pick, will be given every opportunity to win the second base job in March despite just 501 minor league at-bats of experience (and just a .775 OPS in those). Pitcher Michael Pineda may not start the season in the majors, but he should be up for good soon. Pineda struggled a bit in AAA last summer, but still fanned 76 in 62.1 innings. The Mariners’ starting rotation might be the strength of the team, but that’s only because Felix Hernandez is in it. After that, it’s as bad as the rest of the team.

What is this man doing here? There may be a value in left-handed pitching, but not if it isn’t any good. Yet, Nate Robertson keeps finding work. In the last seven big-league seasons, Robertson’s ERA has been below 4.48 only once (3.84 in 2006) and above 5.00 three times. His career ERA is 5.01. Yet he’s pitched 1,162 innings. At least this year, Robertson is in camp with the Mariners. He’ll fit right in.

Outlook: For years the Mariners have been deluding themselves, thanks to 85- and 88-win seasons in 2009 and 2007, respectively. The reality is much closer to the 101-loss seasons of 2010 and 2008, and the five losing records in the last seven years. The Mariners aren’t very good.

Yet management kept acting as if they were, signing Carlos Silva, trading for Cliff Lee in his free-agent year, signing Chone Figgins, dealing real talent for Erik Bedard, trading for the overpaid Jack Wilson — one ill-fated move after another.

The Mariners seem to have moved on to the acceptance stage. They’re bad, and they’re likely to be bad when Felix Hernandez’s contract runs out. But they’ll be a lot better off if they plan for that day with that knowledge in mind.

It’s going to take some time to undo the damage, and no matter how far the Angels might fall, it won’t be below the Mariners. The M’s can hope Justin Smoak hits for power; if not, their return for the Cliff Lee rental will be negligble.

The lineup is weak, the rotation after Hernandez is ordinary. There’s always Ichiro, but he’s 37 now with 2,244 hits. He’ll make the Hall of Fame and he may even get to 3,000 hits; he deserves to having spent most of his career doing penance for his employers’ sins.

Depressing for a Mariners fan? We haven’t even gotten to Milton Bradley yet. 

Remember when: Broadcaster Dave Niehaus may not have been as well-known nationally, but he’s every much beloved in the Pacific Northwest as Vin Scully in Los Angeles or Harry Kalas in Philadelphia or Skip Caray in Atlanta. He’s a Hall of Famer who was with the Mariners from their inception. He won’t be this year; Niehaus died last November at 75,  but a lot of Mariners fans won’t believe it until the season goes on without him. Niehaus said no one appreciated the honor more when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame; certainly no team’s fan base appreciated its announcer more. There’s even a website,, dedicated to keeping his memory alive. Fly away, indeed.

Here’s a link to the best of Niehaus.

Next: St. Louis

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