The Mariners seem stuck in limbo with leadership that can’t fix a franchise missing from the playoffs for 14 years.
I just reread my first Dustin Ackley article, the one from back in June 2009 after the Mariners made him the second overall pick of the draft — the first-ever selection under new general manager Jack Zduriencik.
I’d almost forgotten how highly regarded Ackley was. A cumulative .243 average over five lackluster years tends to dim those memories. The story noted that scouts, college coaches and various analysts had compared Ackley to, among others, Johnny Damon, Chase Utley, Darin Erstad, Jacoby Ellsbury, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, George Brett and Rod Carew.
“You hear just about every left-handed hitter that uses the whole field, is difficult to strike out and can run,’’ Ackley’s college coach, North Carolina’s Mike Fox, told me.
It was all unfiltered hype and unfettered hope back then. But now, as Ackley heads out of town with a legacy of mostly unfulfilled promise, he does so as a symbol of the unfulfilled legacy of this entire era of Mariners baseball.
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Baseball Reference has a cool device which compares players to those in the game’s history whose stats are most similar. The first three names on Ackley’s list are Joe McEwing, Rick Schu and Scott Leius.
Not exactly Gwynn, Boggs and Brett. Sure, Ackley was oversold, but it was legitimate to think he would develop into a front-line player, one who would be key to the rebuilding effort that lay ahead. Instead, he’s morphed into the embodiment of a journeyman.
The trade with the Yankees on Thursday was a good one for Ackley, and for the Mariners. Ackley had not only outlived his usefulness in Seattle, but had become symbolic of the failure of this regime. The vitriol he inspired was not fair to a guy who never stopped caring and never stopped trying.
In exchange for someone who could easily have been designated for assignment any day now, the Mariners got two prospects, outfielder Ramon Flores and pitcher Jose Ramirez, who at least have a shot at becoming contributors. No guarantees, but they are live bodies with potential, and that’s something of a coup for the Mariners at this juncture of Ackley’s tradability.
At least, until Ackley resurrects his career with the Yankees, which is the secret (or not so secret) fear of every Mariners fan, I’m quite certain. And I could see him thriving in New York, now that he’s removed from the pressure of being the No. 2 overall pick and anointed franchise savior (though playing for the Yankees brings its own set of pressures).
The bigger picture at this point, however, is the sorry state of the Mariners.
Wednesday’s 8-2 loss to Arizona, completing a three-game sweep by the Diamondbacks, was about as demoralizing as one game could be. Let me count the ways:
• The Mariners fell a season-high 10 games under .500 — a nice, round number that signifies the hopelessness of their playoff bid, even for those cockeyed optimists still harboring them.
• The victim of most of Arizona’s offense was ace Felix Hernandez, normally the one island of consistency and competence in the stormy seas of the Mariners’ season.
• The main culprit for the Diamondbacks was catcher Welington Castillo, who hit two homers off Hernandez. Meanwhile, Mark Trumbo, for whom Castillo was traded in an ill-fated attempt in June to jump-start the Mariners’ offense, was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. The juxtaposition of their numbers since the trade – a .934 OPS for Castillo, .596 for Trumbo – drives home how badly this has worked out for the Mariners.
Throw in injuries to Robinson Cano and Logan Morrison, and it’s no wonder a pall hung over Safeco Field on Wednesday. There was no way to spin this into anything less than what it was: The low point of a season that began, like Ackley’s career, with so much promise.
While contenders like Toronto and Houston (and all the other AL West teams not named Mariners) are gearing up for the stretch drive, and other teams are facing the reality that this isn’t their year by selling off marketable players, the Mariners seem stuck in limbo.
The Ackley deal will likely be largely insignificant in terms of long- or short-term impact. The truth is, they don’t have many pieces other teams covet, and the one who is most desirous — Hisashi Iwakuma — may not be available, according to one report.
It’s a hot mess, and likely the precursor to a postseason purge that seems more inevitable by the day. But changing general managers and/or managers one more time will still leave the Mariners with the same CEO, Howard Lincoln, who has been in place throughout this dark decade-plus — soon to be 14 years without a playoff berth.
Lincoln was also in charge for the playoff seasons of 2000 and 2001, to be fair. But the glow from those years, and the two 93-win seasons that followed, has long dimmed.
The Mariners, under Lincoln’s ultimate leadership from the top, seem incapable of building a consistent contender. The Ackley departure is just the latest reminder of another blueprint gone astray.