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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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April 22, 2008 1:32 PM

Adam Jones in town

Posted by Geoff Baker

Funny, how we've had all these discussions of late surrounding Jose Vidro, Raul Ibanez, Brad Wilkerson, the DH situation and what not, without mentioning the obvious. The solution to everyone's prayers is back in town tonight, albeit with the Baltimore Orioles.

Now, I'm being just a little facetious. But it seemed, late last summer, that there wasn't a thing Adam Jones could not do. I thought, at some point, that a few of you were going to mention that he play left field, right field and second base all at once. Have we already forgotten how many megabytes were deployed here, at U.S.S. Mariner, Lookout Landing, Detect-O-Vision and elsewhere in the blogosphere debating the merits of whether the M's should have thrown Jones into the stretch drive every day?

Remember, the talk was about putting Jones in left, bouncing Ibanez to DH, and bumping Vidro to bench player. Or, was it platooning Vidro and Ibanez? Or making Ibanez the first baseman and benching Richie Sexson? If you remember the parameters of the debate, it wasn't about whether Jones should start 2008 as an everyday player. That was a given. It was whether he should have been thrown into the lineup for the final eight weeks of a season with his team fighting for a playoff spot.

Once Ibanez and Vidro began hitting better, it became a moot point for me. As a new manager, I could not see John McLaren taking a huge risk by disrupting everyday players who were going well, at the expense of an unproven minor leaguer. Yes, Jones did have an on-base-plus-slugging percentage beyond .900 in Class AAA and traditionally, such numbers tend to project well in the bigs over the long term.

The point was, this was a short-term, eight-week stint we were talking about. There was no way of knowing how Jones would perform. Some have argued there was no way of predicting how Ibanez and Vidro would perform over a short-term stretch. But as a manager, I would tend to side with the guys who had a proven track record of hitting major league pitching and working their way through slumps. And both Ibanez and Vidro did do that. I didn't think, at the time, that the M's could afford the growing pains of a AAA callup learning the twists and turns of big-league ball when the hitters involved were taking off.

So, how has Jones done so far? He's hitting .242 with a .294 on-base percentage and .355 slugging percentage for an OPS of only .649 the first three weeks of this season.

Granted, it's a tiny 62 at-bat sample size. But pertaining to last season, that's less relevant. Last year, we were also taking about a teeny sample size of seven or eight weeks in which he'd either play or not play. These three weeks he's played already would have taken us right up to late August, early September, when the M's fell out of it last year. Had he gone in everyday and hit like he has so far -- AAA numbers or not -- it would have been a colossal miscalculation by McLaren and the M's. Jones (and those who played him) would have been pinpointed as a reason for the late-season collapse and McLaren would have lost the confidence of many of the regulars in his clubhouse. And don't forget, the Orioles are selectively playing Jones this early season, keeping him out of games against tougher pitchers like Felix Hernandez. He is also playing home games in a more hitter-friendly ballpark.

Oh yeah, his defense. I forgot. Answer me this. Even with some of those blooped balls that have dropped down the left field line in front of Ibanez this year, how many have cost Seattle a game? I'll give you a hint. It's one fewer game than the M's have lost because a diving Jose Lopez could not get to a two-out grounder in the ninth with nobody on base and Eric O'Flaherty on the mound in Baltimore with Seattle up by a run.

I still think Jones is one heck of a talent and so do plenty of people around the game whose job it is to know these things. That said, he is having growing pains. McLaren took a lot of heat last year, hearing zingers about "veteran entitlement" for having precisely these worries. Not saying things would have turned out as badly for Jones this quickly. And I'm not saying McLaren should stick by Vidro and Wilkerson much past mid-May this season if things don't start to change. But the start to this season by Jones should give reason for pause. And for last year's debate to maybe be looked at in a somewhat different light.

BTW -- On Roy Corcoran, who has done a fine job, I figure the team will send him down because it needs Cha Seung Baek as its long man. R.A. Dickey is currently in the starting rotation, we don't know how Erik Bedard's hip will respond in his next start, so you keep Baek here for now. Corcoran is one of several one-inning, hard-throwing types on this team. If you don't think he's as good as any of the others, like Brandon Morrow, Mark Lowe, Sean Green etc., at least once everyone else gets their feet underneath them, then he's the odd man out.


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