When he came to Seattle, the Mariners made promises to new manager Mike Hargrove.
When he came to Seattle, the Mariners made promises to new manager Mike Hargrove. The same kind of promises they made, then broke, to past managers Lou Piniella and Bob Melvin.
They promised to spend money. They promised to find more pop in a lineup that had all the sting of a Richard Simmons jab.
They promised Hargrove a lineup that would be similar, if not a copy, of the lethal-weapon order he once managed in Cleveland.
Promises. Promises. The Mariners always make promises.
But who among us ever expected them to deliver like this?
For the past freaky 48 hours, the Mariners have morphed into the New York Yankees.
In 48 hours, they’ve shown they are willing to spend $110 million to $115 million for two players. That’s more than this ownership group paid for the entire franchise.
They’ve gone Steinbrenner on us.
The Mariners are in the process of performing plastic surgery on their Punch and Judy lineup, making it look more like an Aaron and Bonds lineup.
Call it the Miracle on First Avenue.
With only eight shopping days left until Christmas, they are in the final stages of solidifying the corners of their infield and the heart of their order for the rest of this decade.
A day after they signed power-hitting first baseman Richie Sexson to a $50 million deal, they made an offer of between $60 million and $65 million to Adrian Beltre, former Dodgers third baseman, who is expected to accept it today.
How good is Beltre? He was second in the National League in the MVP race behind the blown-up Barry Bonds. He led the majors in home runs with 48, twice as many as Mariners leader Bret Boone. He hit .334 and drove in 121 runs.
And he’s only 25.
Last year, under the patient instruction of Dodgers hitting coach Tim Wallach, Beltre found his groove. For the first time in his career the right-handed hitter didn’t pull every pitch this side of the left-hander’s batter’s box. He shortened his swing and hit to the opposite field. He was the prime reason the Dodgers won the National League West.
If he signs with the Mariners, all new hitting instructor Don Baylor will have to do is study the tapes of Beltre from 2004 and make sure his new prodigy doesn’t fall into his old, bad bat habits.
This almost makes up for all the swings and misses of the past, like the trade-deadline paralysis of 2002 and 2003. It almost makes up for the ones who got away, like shortstop Miguel Tejada.
This is the first real sign since 2001 that Mariners management gets it. That it understands, even in a park as lovely as Safeco Field, you can’t just throw open the doors and expect 35,000 baseball lemmings to follow the team into the stadium.
Finally there is some taxpayer payback for the Mariners’ playfield.
Beltre is the real deal. He would be the most dramatic free-agent signing in franchise history or at least since Pete O’Brien.
(Cheap joke at former owner Jeff Smulyan’s expense.)
Beltre, by the way, also had the highest fielding percentage among third basemen at .978 and was a leader in the Dodgers’ clubhouse.
After three seasons of Jeff Cirillo and Scott Spiezio, seeing Adrian Beltre at third for the Mariners will be like watching Robert DeNiro after Jim Belushi and Tony Danza.
Of course nothing in the frenetic world of winter baseball is for sure. Sexson still has to prove he has recovered from the sore shoulder that limited him to 90 at-bats last season.
He has to put up something close to the numbers he had in 2003 45 home runs, 124 RBI. And he has to suffer his stroke through the swelter of a September pennant race.
And, as good as Beltre has become, he was a .262 hitter before his 2004 baseball bar mitzvah. He needs to prove and few doubt that he will that 2004 was the beginning of something enduring.
These are the kinds of moves the Mariners needed to make to re-establish credibility in the community, not to mention the American League West. At least for the next 12 months, CEO Howard Lincoln can relinquish his title as the city’s sporting punching bag or its best punch line.
When they sign Beltre, they will have maxed out their budget at $96 million. No more free agents will be signed. But their work is far from finished.
They have to repair a bullpen that collapsed under the weight of Shigetoshi Hasegawa’s disappointing season and “Every Day Eddie” Guardado’s every-day arm problems.
And, even if it takes trading starting outfielder Randy Winn, the Mariners have to find another 200-plus inning starting pitcher.
Much work remains to be done, but this fall, the Mariners seem bent on keeping their promises. They’ve offered up $115 million of hope. And, for now, that is reason enough to celebrate.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org