The Seattle Mariners’ recent eight-game losing streak revealed a rather large flaw in any team that is built on pitching, defense and team chemistry: None of the above scores runs.
The team’s inability to produce during that skid (Seattle averaged a paltry 1.5 runs per game) ruined several strong pitching performances and left fans wondering what it would take to get the team to put some runs on the board. (The answer, it turns out, was to play against the Baltimore Orioles.)
With the team sitting in last place and the offense lacking any punch whatsoever, fingers are pointing at one hitter in particular — Ken Griffey Jr.
Even if you don’t believe the reports circulating that the 40-year-old designated hitter fell asleep in the clubhouse during a game last week, the fact is a .200 batting average and five RBIs from Griffey are not going to cut it. On a team that values defense over power production from every spot in the field, the designated hitter position cannot be given to a player who can no longer hit. The Mariners simply cannot afford to continue to generate such little offense from their DH.
Unfortunately, Seattle’s options to improve the offense would appear limited. Its leading home run hitter in AAA Tacoma is batting just .190, preventing any likelihood of a call-up. The only decent hitter left on the free agent market, Jermaine Dye, managed a meager .179 average in 60 games after the all-star break last year. After Dye, the only other notable slugger available is Barry Bonds; not the most appealing option.
Furthermore, no teams seem to be interested in trading any key players this early in the season.
“No one is selling. Everyone wants to sit tight and see what their club looks like,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said last week. Teams out of the playoff race often deal away veteran players for prospects near mid-season but rarely engage in such trades in May. These teams do not want to concede their seasons so early and risk angering their fans. Teams will certainly be willing to engage in trade talks with the Mariners come June, but by then, Seattle could find itself too far out of the race.
The Mariners have one asset that could shake up the entire league’s trading situation: Cliff Lee. The southpaw, with a Cy Young award and World Series appearance already under his belt, is set to hit free agency this winter. With the Mariners’ chances of affording his services long-term not promising, the team could look to shop Lee now in exchange for an impact hitter or two. Losing Lee, one of the finest pitchers in the game, would be a tough blow to the pitching staff, but improving the offense needs to be its top priority. The Mariners have scored the fewest runs in the league, a dubious feat that they also arrived at last year. In lieu of addressing the offense this past offseason, Zduriencik instead made splashy moves to add even more pitching and defense. Now is his chance to atone for that mistake and acquire the big hitter his team sorely needs.
Then again, Seattle could always play it conservative, make no moves and hope that its bats wake up. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. Waking up can be a hard thing to do. Just ask Griffey.
Alex Harkaway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Teams will certainly be willing to engage in trade talks with the Mariners come June, but by then, Seattle could find itself too far out of the race.”