The Mariners head into next week’s All-Star break out of the pennant race once again. KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says the team's poor performance has created a trust issue with fans.
Same Story, Different Year?
The Mariners have been here before. Out of the pennant race before the season's half-way point. Young players not performing up to snuff. So what's different about this year?
There are glimmers of hope in the Mariners' young prospects, but Art says fans can't trust the team to do the right thing. "Frankly, I don't see how a Mariner fan can trust the club's judgment," he said.
In the past the team has either traded away young talent only to see them flourish on their next team (i.e. Adam Jones who's now an All-Star with the Baltimore Orioles). Or they move young guys up too quickly and they can't handle the pressure. "All rookies stumble at some point or another. And how they get out of it is the great mystery," Art said.
Dustin Ackley is a prime example. He was the No. 2 pick overall in the 2009 draft. He had a great rookie year but has been mostly on the decline since then. He was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma earlier this season, where he thrived. He's back now - but performing at the same poor level he was before he left.
"Dustin Ackley is thinking too much as a Major League ball player," Art said. "It's kind of a sad story really. Not to say he's done. Not to say it's all over. But he's the cautionary tale that Mariner fans look at and say 'Well, if Dustin Ackley, the second pick, can't succeed, what are the chances these other young guys have to sustain it? How do we trust the Mariner judgment?'"
Can Latest Newbies Break the Cycle?
The newest young guns on the Mariners' roster are catcher Mike Zunino, shortstop Brad Miller and second baseman Nick Franklin. "They've all had their moments, have all had their weeks," Art said. The big question is where they go from here.
Does it all hinge on coaching? Art says no. "First of all, you've got to draft the right guy. He's got to have the physical, emotional and mental talent," he said. "The second thing that's the most influential externally is how they get used. Are they rushed to the Majors too soon? Are they put in pressure situations for which they're not ready? The Mariners have done that more often than not. And even when they do succeed, they often wind up trading that guy."
Rest of Season: Hope or Despair?
"The worst outcome would be that they continue to spiral downward, and wind up firing (General Manager) Jack Zdurencik and (Manager) Eric Wedge and starting from zero—AGAIN," Art said. "The best outcome would be a hot August and September—which we have not seen from these guys, really, since the 2001 season —that will get them to .500. No pennant race; just an opportunity to be respectable by the end of the year."
"I think it's going to fall somewhere in the middle where we're going to see one or two of the young guys become credible and a regular," he said. "But the best that the Mariners can probably hope for is optimism at the end of the year. No contention. No abject failure. But a little bit of hope."
Note: The Mariners will have two players in Tuesday's All-Star game: pitchers Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.
Web extra: One bright spot in the Mariners' season has been the performance of veteran Raul Ibanez. Read here about the link between Ibanez and baseball great Ted Williams. Ibanez is the first player in Major League Baseball history to have 20-plus home runs before the All-Star Game in a 40-or-older season. And he's closing in on Williams' home run record.