Newsflash: The Mariners are not going to run away with the AL West this season. Their bid for wild cards #1 and #2 has been denied. Third place has been staked and claimed by the Angels.
If you look hard enough, you can find Mariner fans who, season in and season out, continue to point out the light at the end of a decade-long tunnel. When the postseason rolls around, its underdogs predetermined by the baseball gods and any number of pagan sacrifices by Bud Selig, our spirits sink a little lower as the Mariners use the last of their strength to grapple for .500.
In eleven days, the Mariners will take Safeco Field for the last time in 2012, leaving Seattle fans with the opportunity to enjoy a stress-free postseason or select a contending team to root for. Here’s a simple way to soothe the sting of a long offseason and another wasted series of playoff titles: cheer the team with the most ex-Mariners on board.*
This should come as little surprise. Since Seattle’s playoff surge in 1995, the Yankees have mined countless players from the Northwest: most notably, Freddy Garcia, Alex Rodriguez and the newly-pinstriped Ichiro Suzuki. Provided you can bring yourself to watch Ichiro slugging away in Yankee Stadium, you won’t find a team more resembling the most despised and loved former Mariners in MLB.
Nearly an exact month apart, Thornton and Lopez made their major league debuts in Seattle in 2004. Matt would last just two seasons before beginning his seven-year tenure with Chicago, where he made a handful of postseason appearances in 2008. Over 540 appearances, Thornton recoded a single start, giving up three hits, three earned runs, four strikeouts, and a career-high seven walks. By contrast, Lopez lasted seven years with Seattle, batting .266/.297/.400 and earning one All-Star berth in 2006.
Behind Ichiro and Lopez, Mark Lowe is the most recent Mariner to jump ship. He got his big league start in the Northwest, hopping between minor league rehab assignments in 2006 and 2007 after an elbow injury. In 2010, Lowe was involved in a blockbuster trade to the Rangers, packaged with Cliff Lee for Josh Lueke, Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, and Matt Lawson. Adrian Beltre struggled through a five-year stint with Seattle, leaving his mark with the club’s first inside-the-park home run and consecutive Gold Glove Awards in 2007-08.
Blackley barely squeaks by with a nod to the Mariners. Like 10 of the other 14 players on an AL playoff roster, he also began his career in Seattle. His first impression was a fleeting one: in six starts, Blackley earned three losses with a 10.34 ERA and 8.97 FIP. His one-month stint with the team resulted in another season of minor league assignments before an eventual trade to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Jason Ellison.
Chavez managed a brief 54 games with the Mariners in an injury-shortened season, when he tore his ACL two and a half months after his team debut. A little less forgettable is Adam Jones, who made his first MLB start with Seattle in 2006, a pitcher turned shortstop turned outfielder who hit .230/.267/.353 over two seasons. He was one of five players dealt for Erik Bedard in 2008, and has remained in Baltimore ever since.
*Okay, I wrote that sentence before scanning the expanded rosters. While I would never advocate supporting an AL West rival, let alone the almighty Yankees, if it makes you feel better to watch Ichiro vie for his first championship ring, by all means, have at it. Given the lack of former Mariners dawdling in the National League, potential postseason bandwagons have been limited to American League candidates only.