Thiel: By holiday, Mariners may not be dead

Thiel: By holiday, Mariners may not be dead

Credit: Getty Images

SEATTLE, WA - MAY 24: Catcher Miguel Olivo #30 of the Seattle Mariners throws out Peter Bourjos of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at second base at Safeco Field on May 24, 2012 in Seattle, Washington.


by Art Thiel


Posted on May 25, 2012 at 7:53 AM

Updated Saturday, May 26 at 10:31 AM

The Mariners are upon the time in the baseball calendar when discerning, veteran Seattle fans bid adieu to the rest of baseball -- the Memorial Day weekend, when the flickering hopes of spring training are extinguished by the customary downpours of two outs and nobody on.

While the Mariners are rarely mathematically eliminated from the pennant race by the holiday, they are rendered irrelevant to local and national fans because they not only aren't very good, they are hopeless.

The sense of hopelessness certainly prevails at the moment, because the 20,093 average attendance is 27th among the 30 MLB teams. At 42 percent of capacity, the Mariners are ahead of only Cleveland (37 percent). Most crowds so far could be accommodated in a basketball arena, should there be one in the neighborhood.

At 21-25, they're also still not very good. But for the first time in awhile, hopelessness is more a reflexive attitude as opposed to a reflective attitude. The Mariners are no longer hopeless, at least in the absolute, Wile E. Coyote sense.

Having displayed to this point in 2012 -- despite a major league-worst travel schedule --  the ability to bring forth several young pitchers and hitters with the potential to be major league average or better, there is the possibility that competititveness could be strung out to the next calendar milestone, the Fourth of July.

The achievement is eminently modest, and fans are under no obligation to respond. Their bitterness, ennui, and annoyance are well-earned and entitled to remain stout in the face of incrementalism.

The trick, however, is to be competitive to July 31, the all-important non-waiver trade deadline. Then the Mariners could really bust a move that would arch a community eyebrow:

Trade nearly the entire marketable senior portion of the roster for prospects: Miguel Olivo, Brandon League, Kevin Millwood, Franklin Gutierrez and Brendan Ryan.

Let's first discuss the names missing from the list: Chone Figgins and Ichiro.

They are absent because neither has market value. It's plain that Figgins, declared (more or less) a reserve futility player by manager Eric Wedge, will be cut shortly, despite being owed $15 million in salary. The evidence is so overwhelming that it may be visible by now to CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong, who do understand the term sunk cost.

Ichiro can still play, but not in a way that has much value to any team but the Mariners. And because he has 10-and-5 rights that preclude a trade without his permission, he will stay through the season and probably beyond, as long as the current ownership stays in place.

But the other five in the 29-and-older crowd have varying degrees of value, particularly in the first season of an extra playoff berth in each league. More teams desperate to stay close means sellers such as the Mariners will be in a stronger than usual position.

Among the five, there is not a lot of collective talent that will bring high-end returns. But what they have in common is that they do at least one thing well. For a two-month hire that might get any one of a half-dozen or more teams into the playoffs, each guy could fetch something to stock the farm system.

And even though the Mariners farm system seems fairly robust, more depth is needed to make the moves the club needs to trade for top-end hitters who will never voluntarily come to Seattle as free agents.

Intriguing as is the current crop of young hitters, only Jesus Montero appears premium. The others are good and necessary, but compared to a World Series-caliber roster that just passed through town . . . nope. Long way to go.

And one among them -- Mike Carp, Michael Saunders, Casper Wells, etc. -- will need to be packaged along with premium pitching to get the bats needed to be other than the 13th-best OPS in the American League.

Amusing as has been the past week, the Mariners are too flawed to do much with 2012 except prep for 2o13. So the discerning fan needs to cheer good health for Olivo and Gutierrez, a well-located fastball for League, two hits in every three games for Ryan and the greatest summer in Millwood's 14-year pitching history. Showcase time.

They may end up be splendid contributors to a Mariners' renaissance, one year removed.

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