The Seattle Mariners are setting their sights for 2015.
This theory shouldn’t surprise many Mariners fans. Emotions may have run high with a hot start, then soured with an 8-game losing streak (aka the Week from Hell). But neither are rational ways to regard this team. The Mariners are in the final stage of their rebuilding process. It’s a critical year for them, but not in terms of winning. Rather, this is the year Seattle’s young core develops into major league players. The year the team’s psyche forms around it’s youthful enthusiasm, new manager, new recruits, and varsity talent.
Let’s look at some of the dimensions of the Mariners 2014 season so far:
Heads have scratched at Abraham Almonte’s role as leadoff hitter. Sure, last year he posted incredible minor league stats— .300/.394/.482/.876 with 26 SB in 516 PA. Yet prior to this year, Almonte had only 25 games of major league experience. He’s really the guy you wanna give the most plate appearances to?
Well yes. That’s exactly what Lloyd McClendon wants to do. Not only that, McClendon apparently wants Almonte swinging like a drunken sailor. (Or a drunken Mariner… Ahh pun!) He approves of Almonte, and all of his rookies, for being overtly aggressive at the plate. You’ve seen this if you’ve watched any recent Mariners games: First pitch. Swing. Second pitch. Swing. Third pitch. Swing.
McClendon wants these kids to hit the yarn out of baseballs. Yes, plate discipline and high walk rates are tactics for winning ballgames. But you don’t teach an aggressive course in major league hitting by playing small ball. If your concern is developing your players, and not necessarily winning, this approach makes a fair amount of sense.
The Starting Rotation
Seattle has two extraordinary young pitchers in Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. Mixing in the pleasant surprise of young Cuban defector Roenis Elias, and wow, you’ve got a phenomenal looking rotation.
Assuming Walker and Paxton return from their injuries without lingering issues, they’ll have the 2014 season to adjust to the world’s best hitters. As of now, they combine for only 51 innings pitched in the majors. While they might acclimate rapidly, as some great pitchers do, it’d be naive to peg sky-high expectations on them so early in their careers.
For the Mariner’s elders, we’re seeing a focus on adjustments. Robinson Cano is adjusting to his new environment, both in ballpark and in lineup. He’s already complained about not seeing enough pitches to elevate. (Most people are surprised he sees any pitches at all.) As one of baseball’s best hitters, he’ll surely figure out how to excel in his new surroundings. But time is needed.
Corey Hart seems to be doing fine while returning from a season-long absence. Concerns about his knees are legitimate, but it’s quite encouraging to see his plate-timing without much rust. (On a side note, how about offering Hart a 3 year incentive-based contract soon?)
Justin Smoak has been commissioned to hit more doubles. Kyle Seager is trying to shake off a very long slump. Dustin Ackley is redefining himself as the world’s best (and highest drafted) 8-hole hitter. Michael Saunders is finally being used appropriately— as a defensive replacement.
Oh, and we finally dropped Hector Noesi. Yay for housecleaning!
The bottom line is that there’s loads of talent on this team. Setting the sights for 2015, instead of immediately, allows the team enough space to grow, learn, and screw up. So do yourself a favor and enjoy witnessing the developments. Don’t get cynical. We’ll surely win some games, because there’s great players here. But this season really isn’t about contention. It’s about major league transformations. And adjustments.
Because next year, dear friends, we will undoubtedly see a Mariners pennant race.
Tags: Seattle Mariners