Before the season started the Seattle Mariners were a team going places. They were coming off a startlingly strong season, a campaign where their successes became something more than a far off hypothetical. All the things that were supposed to go right did go right, and the M’s were a legitimately good team. They barely missed the playoffs, and went into the offseason looking to strengthen a contender.
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So far it hasn’t worked. The Mariners are seven games under .500, buried in fourth place behind some teams they were supposed to blow past. They haven’t exactly given us much reason to hope this is a fluke, as they’re currently sporting a run differential that is the division’s worst by 42 runs. Whereas last year’s team was convincingly strong, this one has been convincingly weak.
As the team continues to sink, it becomes clearer that this team isn’t looking for a savior as much as it is someone to point a finger at. No personell move can turn this thing around, and so now the goal is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again next year. This team doesn’t need a scapegoat – they just need to figure out who’s responsible for this unexepectedly lost year.
Let’s start with the people actually playing in and losing the games – the players on the field. The biggest disappointment, of course, has been Robinson Cano, who’s hitting .236/.277/.323 in the second year of a ten year, $240 million contract. He’s been the everyday starter at second base, and presumably won’t be relinquishing that role anytime soon. He’s been worth -0.3 WAR, which puts him equal with Chris Taylor and Jesus Sucre on the year.
Yet there are other players who have been worse, somehow! Some of them, like Rickie Weeks and Welington Castillo, have already been sent packing, but others like Dustin Ackley and Mark Trumbo, are still around and actively sabotaging the team. But Cano’s the highest profile floundering player, and so he stands to bear much of the blame.
The pitching hasn’t been great, either. Taijuan Walker really hurt the rotation in the early going, but he’s turned it around a bit recently. Hisashi Iwakuma‘s absence has been an obstacle, but he’ll be back soon. For the most part, the rotation has held up to it’s end of the bargain. But the same doesn’t hold true for the bullpen, particularly at the back end.
Fernando Rodney and his 6.26 ERA were a huge problem, as was the fact that he was continually asked to save close games. If you wanted to pin a handful of the Mariners’ losses this year exclusively on Rodney, you’d have a strong case. Danny Farquhar‘s flop has hurt as well, as have the performance-necessitated losses of Yoervis Medina and Dominic Leone.
But for all the harm that Rodney did from the closer’s role, it wasn’t exactly his responsibility to remove himself from such situations. Lloyd McClendon had a fantastic debut season in Seattle, but he’s caught a lot of flack for the team’s current performance. We know that managers can’t really control the outcomes of games, but Lloyd’s supposed to put his players in the best place to succeed. And Rodney is a pretty huge example of a failure to do that.
It’s Lloyd’s job to give his team the best possible chance to win games, and yet he kept putting Rodney in to cough up late runs. His hand might have been a little forced due to the struggles of three of his primary setup men, but the decision to turn to Carson Smith came mighty late. But that’s also more or less where the complaints about McClendon end. He gave us that awesome hat-kicking tirade, after all. That won him a lot of slack.
There are a lot of names involved in this mess, but perhaps it’s only right to blame the architect. Jack Zduriencik has had lots and lots of chances to transform the Mariners into a winner. This is his seventh season, and it’s starting to feel an awful lot like his second-through-fifth. The 2009 and 2014 teams look are the outliers, and 2015 is just another classic no-bat, no-glove group of Jack Z position players. We’re used to his formula, and we know it’s not one that leads to sustained success. Yet here we are again.
Mariners ownership and upper management has trusted Zduriencik for far too long, just as they did with Bill Bavasi. Not like the M’s have a strong history of finding good minds to run the team, nor have they been good at firing them when the situation worsens. This is a team that fosters an almost unbelievable culture of losing, and it hasn’t exactly taken us until 2015 to notice this.
Blame for the 2015 Mariners starts at the top and trickles down through every level of the organization. It’s an anticlamactic conclusion, but probably the right one. Ownership is doing something wrong, management is doing something wrong, the on-field product is doing something wrong. Not to say that Cano will start hitting when Nintendo sells the team, just that there are a lot of layers to this rotten artichoke.