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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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Posted by Walla Walla Girl

12:44 PM, Jul 04, 2008

Great post, Geoff. Jeremy Reed, Felix 'Grand Salami' Hernandez, and Brandon Morrow have been fun to watch. Hopefully, Jose Lopez will continue to hit well in the second half.

I too look forward to hearing what Jose Guillen thinks about this team!!! Jose, we have missed you! (Some of us tried our best to get you re-signed with the M's ....)

Posted by Capo

1:03 PM, Jul 04, 2008

Geoff, i find it ironic that several of these blogs, who have been pushing for a Cleveland type rebuild ("Blow it up and start over") rebuild since 2002 are now the same sites saying the roster can be salvaged and we just need a few pieces to contend.....just super ironic.

I'm also really troubled by the guys making decisions.......seeing an article yesterday where the M's say their biggest concern right now is not trading Bedard (and that they would prefer not to trade Raul), but trading Sexson, Vidro, etc....The rumor is already going around that Seattle is being completely unreasonable. Look, Billy Beane can play hardball, so can Theo Epstein and a few others.....because they have cultivated a reputation for being outstanding GMs....unfortunately, our FO is looked upon as someone that if you play hardball with them, they'll crumble.

This team is not a piece or two away......It has one starting pitcher who can be counted on (Felix), that leaves us needing four starting pitchers.

The lineup is devoid of power, and has major holes at 1B, DH, and possibly LF, and the bullpen could use at least one more solid arm.

To top this off, there is no one close to ready to contribute in the organization.

then you have these people talking about how we'll have all this money coming off the books after the season, and how we can go get FA to fill those spots......well, lets remember after our big trade and signings this offseason that Armstrong said they had gone well abovbe budget because they felt this was a shot to taking that, and the drop in attendance into consideration, I'd expect the budget to drop a great deal.

This team is going to just keep treading water as long as the same people are in charge making decisions.....If you want them to keep Ichiro no matter what, if you want them to keep Raul, and think we are only a couple of pieces from contending.....then stop complaining and enjoy the fact that you still have a baseball team, regardless of the fact they will be perennial losers.

Posted by Chuck

1:18 PM, Jul 04, 2008

I don't see Bedard leaving this year. Probably during the winter when we have a new GM. The Ms may have stumbled into something by not sending Morrow to Tacoma to be a starter. He has shown that he has the makeup to close, making J.J. expendable. But do it after a new GM. I am in the camp of those that have no confidence in the old wheelers and dealers. Imagine what we could have gotten for Baltimores current closer if we would have auditioned/show cased him last year? I still believe the mistake was not in letting Adam Jones go for Bedard, but by tossing Sherrill in the package. I really like Reed in Center, but we can't afford him and Ichiro in the same outfield.

Posted by Bums

1:42 PM, Jul 04, 2008

I agree with Chuck. As painful as it may be standing pat at this point, major changes should not be made until the new GM is put into place (hopefully it is someone who knows what they are doing). He/she may end wanting to undo the changes made this year and set this club back even further.

After the Bedard disaster we don't need more damage control. Just imagine if we had Jones in center and Sherrill as the closer right now. Maybe Ibanez would be at first and Reed in left and Morrow starting. All Bedard can muster is six innings. Typically six decent innings, but hardly worth the price tag. Oh well, I thought this team had potential and he would make it better, but not sure trading him before the new GM is set into place is the best idea at this point.

If there were guys to be called up I would say do that and let them play in preparation for two to three years from now, but there really aren't. It may be painful to watch Sexson, Vidro, Joh, etc. being trotted out there on a daily basis, but giving them a paid vacation is not the best option for under performing.

My hope is that the rumor of the current owner selling his majority to Chris Larson is true. Armstrong and Lincoln then get canned, and Gillick is brought in to run the show and Gillick will bring in his own GM and the GM and Gillick bring in a good manager. From there they can sort through all the trash and work on getting this franchise fixed. A #1 pick would help them alot. That is the type of real change we need to see.

Posted by downonstrikes

1:43 PM, Jul 04, 2008

When a team is the worst in the majors, and maybe the minors, how can anyone accuse you of being negative, Geoff, when you report and comment? There are few positives this season and what Bavasi and Armstrong have left us with makes for a negative future as well.

I agree with you that Reed, Felix, and Morrow are bright spots in this abysmal black hole. I would add our utility player, Willie Bloomquist, to the list. He is doing a great job filling in wherever and always has the competitive spirit.

Putz has come and gone as a viable closer, mark my words. It was such a foolish trade for Bedard.

Tough calls are in store for the FO, but those jokers will foul up whatever they touch, so negativity rules for the rest of this year and beyond.

Those optimists need to convince me anything will improve with the management and ownership we currently have. Hope and faith just don't cut it amymore.

Posted by kaseyswagger

6:12 PM, Jul 04, 2008

Felix Hernadez not an ACE?Are you serious he is one of the top 10 pitchers in baseball right now.And you think Erik Bedard is an Ace right?Yeah right more like a one year wonder.

All I have to say is 93 K's 2.83 ERA WARRIOR he will pitch on a broken leg if he has to.

Posted by Mariner Optimist

4:21 PM, Jul 05, 2008

The irony is that if we had kept Campillo, we'd have roughly the same pitcher that Bedard is turning into, kept Sherrill so that starters only had to go six innings and added Adam Jones and Tillman as gravy.


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Jul 4, 08 - 03:16 PM
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Jul 4, 08 - 12:28 PM
Holiday optimism

Jul 3, 08 - 11:13 PM
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