It’s May 26th and the Seattle Mariners are 21-23 – not off to a terrible start by any means, but certainly playing at the kind of level that makes for some kind of frantic uncertainty. It’s so hard to gauge where this team is at right now. Are they a good team waiting for their big break, a bad team ready for some regression, or are they a middling team that is exactly what they appear to be?
This used to be a game we’d play with one Mariners player in particular. For years, Dustin Ackley frustrated with his level of play. It seemed like he could be so much more, but was always mired in mediocrity. Until now, that is. Now we’d love it if he could up his game the the level of “mediocre.” Because right now, Ackley is the worst player on the team.
Through 112 plate appearances, Ack is hitting .186/.227/.314. His defense in the outfield has been shaky at best, and by all means he’s been a below-average fielder. He’s pairing that defense with the kind of offensive output you’d expect from a ninth inning defensive replacement type of guy, and the result in negative value. Except that he’s seen the eight-most trips to the plate of anyone on the team. He’s been a regular player, though he’s played like anything but.
Watch Ackley play and none of this is surprising. He’s gone back to looking lost in the outfield, as his routes are just too whacky and his arm too weak for him to ever look like a plus fielder. Even as he keeps his strikeout rate reasonable, his plate discipline overall is going in the wrong direction and he’s walking even less than ever. He started the year off smashing the ball, but now is down to a weak .127 ISO. Not a lot is going right for him right now.
What’s worse is that the cause looks to be more talent-based than anything. There’s the .193 BABIP, too, but regress that all you want and it doesn’t solve much. His career mark is .283, which is low for his (alleged) skillset of contact and speed. Even bumping him up to that mark doesn’t make his numbers look good. He’s not a good hitter – he’s not even an average hitter. The only way he’d be good is with exceptionally good luck. Right now he’s getting the opposite.
Ackley was drafted second overall behind Stephen Strasburg in 2009 and would have been the 1-1 in just about any other draft. He was as close to a sure thing as possible, the kind of talent any team would love to have. This tidbit is included just to remind you that it’s not the Mariners fault for drafting him. They were lucky to draft him. And remember his debut in 2011? There was something there. It’s just that this is the fourth straight year of him steadfastly refusing to show even a glimpse of it.
Where does the team go from here? It’s a good question. They’ve got plenty of outfielders – Seth Smith, Nelson Cruz, Justin Ruggiano, Austin Jackson, Brad Miller… there’s versatility and moving parts galore, and the group doesn’t get any better if you add Ackley’s name to the mix. He brings nothing new to the table, given what’s already in place. The best place for him would be AAA – a place he can’t go since he’s out of options.
They could try to trade him, but no-bat, no-glove players who’ve sucked for four straight years don’t generally generate much of any interest. They’d effectively be dumping him for nearly free when his value is the lowest. This is an unappealing route for the team, and the leverage is totally against them. Even if someone saw something they liked in Ackley, there’d be no reason for them to pay for it.
The other viable option – and this is probably something we should expect to see sometime in the coming weeks – is that the team dumps one or both of Rickie Weeks and Willie Bloomquist and turns Ackley into the 25th man. This should be under serious consideration – Ackley was a pretty excellent defensive second baseman, remember, and if they can fearlessly use Miller at multiple positions, why not Ack?
The scary option would be if they keep finding playing time for him and he doesn’t improve. Give him a token start every once in a while, but what’s the benefit there? To build his trade value? As soon as he looks like a guy worth trading for, he becomes a guy worth keeping. And if they’re going to keep him, they need to adjust their expectations and make him the 25th man.
Dustin Ackley has created a messy situation by sucking so bad right now. The Mariners have plenty of reasons to keep him around, but none of those reasons have to do with him helping the team right now. Because, you know, he’s not helping the team. He’s hurting the team more than any other single thing.
It was never supposed to be like this. Ackley was supposed to be the best, and now he’s the worst. The Mariners have good, young homegrown players in Kyle Seager and Brad Miller, and it sure would have been nice for Ackley to be in the mix, too. Turns out he’s basically Jeremy Reed. Maybe he was always Jeremy Reed.
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