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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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July 4, 2008 12:28 PM

Holiday optimism

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A Happy Fourth of July to all of you. It's that time of year. At least, for fans of losing teams. The time when everyone gets sick and tired of all the negativity. I know all about it. Been there, done that before covering a losing team that everyone expected to at least be around .500, if not contend. It gets old. This team collapsed two months ago and now, after two months of hellfire raining down on it from all directions, we're looking for the silver linings. The bright spots. No one wants three more months of this. I understand.

It puts me in somewhat of a bind. For all of you writing in saying you're tired of the negativity -- and there are many of you out there -- I see just as many people rooting against the M's. Some of you are afraid that if this team wins too many more of these games (meaningless ones), management might somehow be "fooled'' into thinking this team can contend next year and not make the needed moves.

So, I'm torn. I don't want to be the guy some of you are already accusing GM Lee Pelekoudas of being. A guy who can get duped by this team into standing pat. The last thing I want to do is encourage that by being too optimistic. So, I try to temper that in game stories and blog posts with some reality. But the end result is, it can wind up sounding overly negative.

Just for the sake of balance, I'll point out a couple of positives I've seen the last month.

Jeremy Reed continues to surprise me. I still think of him as a fourth outfielder, but if he keeps playing like this every day, busting his tail in the outfield and hitting like he has, I may have to change that opinion. Reed is hitting .295 with a .755 on-base-plus slugging percentage. As a center fielder, that's OK. Not great, but not the worst in baseball either. He can at least hit for average. In an outfield with more power, he could be an every day player with these numbers. Not completely sold, but to me, this is a positive development.

Felix Hernandez continues to improve. His innings totals are up and his other numbers are headed downwards. He now pitches with a plan and seems to have a grasp on what he's doing out there. As I wrote last week, he's not an "ace'' stopper yet, but he's getting there. A sound building block.

Brandon Morrow has also become a pleasant surprise, considering how his year began. He's now a three-pitch guy, with that changeup added on to the fastball/slider routine. He'll either get a shot as a starter or present an intriguing option as a future closer. On a playoff-type team, having a healthy J.J. Putz closing and Morrow setting him up would also not be a complete waste. The game would be over after seven innings and that would make the team's current starters seem much better. We're still a long way off from that scenario. More things have to happen on other fronts before I'll call this a serious playoff contender again. I thought it would be this year. After what I've seen, I still think wholesale changes are needed. Maybe not a complete blow-up, but a lot more than just one or two repositionings.

My verdict on Jose Lopez is one of cautious optimism. He has hit better. but the knock on him the past two seasons was his second-half fade, We're not even at the All-Star Break yet, so let's hold off on any medals.

I'm not as high on this core group as our friends at Lookout Landing this morning. I see their point. What I don't see, with the lineup mentioned, is a playoff contender. And if this team isn't going to contend next year, then there are trades -- like one involving Erik Bedard -- that might be better off taking place this year. What if Bedard remains a six-inning pitcher next season? How will that impact his value. You've still got two camps out there split on what he is. Some still feel he's a legitimate ace. But that camp will dwindle if he continues to pitch like a No. 2 or 3 starter. So, the guys paid to make this call have to get it right this time.

But hey, we'll try to avoid cliff diving on a daily basis here. I'm not being sarcastic. It's going to be a long season any way you cut it. The future is full of huge question marks. Kenji Johjima is not going to be a $24 million backup catcher. Just isn't going to happen. Plenty has to be sorted out. I'll try to present you the context required to wade through these decisions. Try not to fall victim to overt negativity, because, frankly, I don't want three more months of this and neither do you.

But I also can't lie to you. Yes, an 8-5 record under Jim Riggleman is a first step. But these Tigers are also the first winning team faced by the M's since they got beaten in Boston a month ago. This is an AL team. The record against Detroit is a little more pertinent to discussing the future than how the M's did against San Diego (I mean, Seattle stranded 18 runners in a game and still won, which tells you how bad the Padres are). It's not so much a glass being half-empty or half full. More like making sure the glass is actually made of glass and not paper.

Still, I hear you. It's been a long season. Some tough calls by the front office are coming up and we'll be debating them for weeks, I'm sure. Looking forward to Kansas City next week. Want to hear what Jose Guillen thinks about this team.

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