Mariners Should Return To Creative Ways, Embrace Platoons


Sep 23, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners pinch hitter

Franklin Gutierrez

(21) rounds 3rd base after hitting a solo home run against the Kansas City Royals during the 8th inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

When Lloyd McClendon was first hired, I was pretty lukewarm on the decision. First and foremost, I did not have a strong opinion from the beginning, because 1) I think the importance and the ability to accurately evaluate managers is often overstated, and 2) I at least kind of wanted someone fresh, or that had some connection to a forward thinking organization like the A’s, Cardinals or Rays.

But since then, I have grown to like “Mac,” at least as much as I can without actually having seen what he is going to do. Part of this appreciation is solely because he isn’t Eric Wedge who, justified or not, I loathed since Day 1.

But on top of that, the way he holds himself in interviews, and his genuinely stern and determined attitude (a trait that I think Wedge was wrongly assigned) made me like him as a person, which is really the only thing I, or anyone else, is qualified to evaluate at this point.

And a couple recent quotes — one from Jack Zduriencik and one from McClendon — have particularly tickled my fancy, if you will.

Zduriencik said:

"“We may have to look at some other alternatives like platooning. In our matchups this year, I would have hoped we had done a little better job going forward with matchups, and a lot of that has to do with health, and that hurt us. There were so many times this year we were so left-handed oriented, just throw a left-hander against us and we were in trouble. And we knew that. It’s hard to rectify that in the middle of the season."

While McClendon echoed something similar:

"“There’s no question about it. It’s a specialized game now. People are depending so much on match-ups—left on left and right on right, platooning. It’s just the nature of this game now and you certainly have to be able to adapt and be progressive in how you attack other teams.”"

Those two quotes alone have instilled a glimmer of hope in my otherwise cynical mind about the direction this team is going. When Jack first joined the organization, he was thought of as a “moneyball” type GM, with a focus on pitching, defense, and other undervalued traits.

He brought in Franklin Gutierrez, a then great defender with enough offensive upside that he could be a very valuable player. Russell Branyan was also an undervalued guy, who was never really given a fair shot earlier in his career, but had a knack for getting on base, while also having 30 home run power. That mindset led to some success, but then they seemed to go away from it after a down year.

From there, the focus seemed to shift towards a “dingers” mentality, with the Michael Morse for John Jaso deal being the picture perfect example. Morse is a power-only bat with little overall value, while Jaso is a more valuable player, due to his under-the-radar ability to get on base like a mad-man, but doesn’t have the eye-popping traditional numbers that Morse does.

But now, could we be seeing a return to those slightly-more sabermetric principles? It is certainly a possibility.

Platooning and playing match-ups, by definition, requires some knowledge of the numbers. You have to know how guys are faring in certain situations so you can maximize their value and get the most out of them.

At the very least, Jack and Mac both seem open to the idea. Whether they actually go that route is yet to be seen. Maybe Jack just meant that he wants to bring in right-handed bats to fill the open outfield and DH spots, rather than going to full on platoons.

Again, we won’t know until it happens.

What I can say now is that exercising some platoons and taking advantage of other nontraditional ideas, is probably a smart move for a team like the Mariners that is more than one or two good players away from relevance.

Almost everyone in and out of the “blogosphere” has been tooting the Jacoby Ellsbury horn to some capacity. The M’s need a center fielder and top of the order hitter, and

Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

what do you know, Ellsbury is both of those things.

But he alone — or even along with a Matt Kemp or Dexter Fowler — likely wouldn’t be enough to get this offense where it needs to be. And although the organization should be able to spend a lot of money this winter, they simply cannot sign as many players as it will take.

For one, players don’t exactly throw themselves at the Mariners. For two, this free agent class isn’t the deepest, unless you just spend stupidly and hand out blank checks, or decide to take another route and give up the farm for a bunch of expensive trade candidates.

So, to combat this sad truth, the Mariners will have to turn to some less expensive players, that may have some kind of deficiency that allows for them to be cheap. Maybe they can only hit lefties. Maybe they can’t hit much at all, and instead play defense and steal bases.

Who knows? But what I do know is that one or two guys cannot solve it all.

I would like to echo something Jason A. Churchill said on 1090 The Fan. Essentially, he is not fully against overpaying for Ellsbury. However, you have to have something else in place first. You can’t just throw a bunch of cash his way and think that will be enough.

Because if you do that, you are still however many wins shy of contention and you just wasted a very expensive year of a guy who is slowly but surely getting to a scary age for any player, let alone one who relies heavily on speed.

So maybe you turn back to Franklin Gutierrez as a platoon right fielder, if you determine he is healthy and cheap enough. Maybe you look to trade for a guy like Peter Bourjos, who can be a very valuable player, but is blocked with his current team and could thus be cheaper than he should be. I don’t really know.

But you can be certain that creativity will be key if the M’s plan on contending in the near future. They can go hard after a top player or two, that’s okay. But what they can’t do is expect that to be an end-all-fix-all solution.

So throw some cash at Ellsbury. Put together a package with Nick Franklin and/or James Paxton and bring in a right-handed outfielder or first baseman. But also look at the alternatives and fill in the gaps in innovative and efficient ways, so that the money spent and young talent traded isn’t all for nothing.