Hickey: Yanks deal reversing Mariners' talent drain

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by John Hickey

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on May 12, 2012 at 9:31 AM

One thing the Mariners can always count on every game is there will be plenty of friendly faces in the other dugout.

This weekend in Yankee Stadium, Alex Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez will be in the middle of the New York lineup and Rafael Soriano will be in the bullpen. Ex-Mariners, all.

The Mariners' rookie All-Star pitcher from a year ago, Michael Pineda, is on the disabled list. Freddy Garcia, who was a Mariner 14 years ago, was in the rotation but is now in the bullpen.

Friendly faces aren't at all unusual. In the Tigers series completed Wednesday at Safeco Field, infielder Ramon Santiago and starting pitcher Doug Fister were key contributors for the foe.

The Mariners often are harangued for not producing enough talent. While they are at many levels worthy of harangue, that complaint isn’t legit.

They have produced plenty of players of major league average or better. The problems are  they either don’t hold on to them long enough (David Ortiz, Eric O’Flaherty), they don’t give them a chance (Shin-Soo Choo, Bryan LaHair), they don’t get much in exchange (Asdrubal Cabrera, Derek Lowe) or they simply let them walk (A-Rod, Ibanez).

Would the Mariners be a better team today if Cleveland outfielder Choo, who has a career .289 batting average, 68 homers and one of the best throwing arms in the game, was given more than a 14-game tryout before being shipped to Cleveland for the lamentable Ben Broussard?

What if LaHair was given a chance? All he’s done this year is hit .384, eight homers and 18 RBIs for the Cubs. This is a first baseman who bounced around the Seattle minor league system, never got a chance save for a few dozen games in 2008, and who wound up with the Cubs after leaving Seattle as a minor league free agent.

Then there's Soriano. After the 2006 season, the Mariners dealt him to Atlanta for seriously unproductive pitcher Horacio Ramirez. Soriano became an All-Star closer with Tampa Bay a couple of years later. He may wind up as closer this season if David Robertson, given first shot at the job after Mariano Rivera out for the year with a knee injury, continues to struggle.

Most of the bad decisions came under former general manager Bill Bavasi, although it was current GM Jack Zduriencik who opted to let LaHair go. The club wanted LaHair to hit for more power at the minor league level; he complied with 26 homers in 2009.  That wasn’t good enough.

Then there was the Cliff Lee deal with Texas in 2010. In Lee and Felix Hernandez, the Mariners had the best 1-2 rotation punch in the game. For Lee, the Mariners have Blake Beavan, who seems like he'll be a decent member of a starting rotation, and first baseman Justin Smoak.

A year ago at this time, Smoak was hitting well and seemed to be living up to expectations as the key player in the deal. This year, however, he's hitting .173, seemingly burdened by the demands that are following him around.

The history of poor choices made for a painful disclosure for Mariners fans:  Entering the season, the Mariners had  more players on other major league rosters than any team in baseball.

This weekend could showcase a reversal of the trend. Jesus Montero will catch and play some at DH this weekend and Hector Noesi will start Saturday’s game. A year ago both were in the Yankees organization. But a January trade sent Pineda and minor league pitcher Jose Campos to New York for Montero and Noesi. The former was the best hitting prospect in the Yankees system and Noesi was a starter of promise who pitched 30 games in relief for the big club last year.

Now Montero is the sometimes-cleanup hitter for the Mariners who leads AL rookies with 30 hits and ranks among the best with four homers and 16 RBIs. Noesi’s record (2-3) and ERA (6.30) aren’t going to dazzle, but he has had quality outings. He threw eight shutout innings in his second start against Oakland and is coming off seven strong innings against a lethal, if struggling, Detroit in which he allowed just one run.

There have been cries from New York fans and some media (not from the Yankees themselves) about Pineda and Campos, both on the disabled list, being damaged goods – but no one in authority really believes that.

Could be that the Mariners, for once, have legitimate return for premier prospects they developed.

What a change that is.

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