Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Tatonka List: 2003

We're less than 24 hours from the first Spring Training games in Arizona. Whoo hoo!

We're not quite ready to ask Mr. Peabody to fire up the Wayback Machine, but we are beginning to go back in time a ways. We have reached the era of Stand Pat, GM. I'm not really sure how to evaluate Gillick. He certainly was associated with winners in Toronto and Seattle. But there's that bitter aftertaste from the way he couldn't seem to fix the aging team that once was good enough to win.

In the offseason before the 2003 campaign, Mr. Gillick's administration saw the biggest change via one of the most bizarre trades that a major league baseball team can engage in. Surprisingly, I believe that this deal provided as close to a Tatonka as we would have that offseason, since it was mostly devoted to resigning current Mariner free agents.

The trade? We sent manager Lou Piniella (technically along with Antonio Perez) to fume and throw bases in Tampa Bay. In return, we received "All-Star" Randy Winn. Winn was a 28-year old center fielder who had just finished a 298/360/461 campaign, and he would fill the eternal void in left field for the M's, while adding speed and contact to the top of the order. Piniella will always have fans in Seattle, as he brought genuine success to the team, even if he couldn't manage a pitching staff to save his life. This was therefore a real loss, with the addition of Winn almost more of a "meh" than anything else.

In hindsight, Winn performed well in Seattle, although he had his Magellan moments playing the outfield, and his arm rivals Rickey Henderson's (and mine). The fact that Brian "I heart senior citizens" Sabean today signed Winn to a three-year, $23.25 million contract extension past his 36th birthday reflects, in part, the consistent, useful performance of Randy Winn. Still, this was a down year for the Tatonka franchise, as we failed to bring in any candidate who really lifted the spirits of Mariners fans. On the other hand, what kind of boost did fans of a team that had posted 300 victories in the preceding three seasons really need?

To sum up:

Tatonka List
2006 Kenji Johjima
2005 Adrian Beltre
2004 Eddie Guardado
2003 Randy Winn
2002 next up

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Tatonka List: 2004

Another day, another Tatonka. Today we have to delve into the deepest, darkest recesses of our repressed Mariners memories.

That's right, we're talking about the 2003-04 offseason.

Bill Bavasi sort of took the helm of the M's during this offseason, and it seemed at the time that he wanted to make a mark right away. In hindsight, it is hard to distinguish between the bald one's moves and those directed by the lame duck Pat Gillick regime.

I am not really exaggerating to say that the only offseason move that inspired a great deal of positive reaction was the inking of Eddie Guardado on 16 December 2003. He signed a weird three-year deal, in which he was given $4 million for 2004 (good) and then a pair of mutual options at different salaries for 2005 and 2006. Due to injury, he exercised his player option ($4M) after 2004, and the team subsequently exercised its more expensive option ($6.25M) for 2006.

This was a relative bargain for a Proven Closer(TM), and although the Mariners didn't particularly seem to need one, there was nothing wrong with the signing (we should note that it turned out later that Kaz Sasaki was leaving, so we did need a closer after all). The bigger issues, as many of us the fans saw them, revolved around the black hole named Jeff Cirillo at third base. Still, this was a team coming off a 93-win campaign, and Guardado's status as Tatonka rests mostly on the fact that none of the other signings that offseason met with any sort of optimism amongst fans.

It is clear now that disaster was looming. And I mean disaster in the classic, "as you crest the hill, you see a bunch of giant weapons" sense. (Inside joke, sorry.) But from a Tatonka point of view, I would argue that while fans were disgruntled about the free agent moves that Gillvasi made (adding Scott "I R ClassY" Spiezio, Rich Aurilia, and Raul Ibanez, all for too much money, whilst trading away Carlos "Glass" Guillen for a wet bag of hammers, and Cirillo for the least valuable major leaguer in the history of the game), no one was too incredibly depressed about the way the offseason went.

Well, I was, but I was pessimistic before the 2001 campaign as well; look where that got me.

In any case, the 2004 Tatonka representative turned out to be by far the best move of that offseason. Moreover, the lamented Ibanez signing (which combined what seemed at the time to be an above-market contract to an aging slugger whose park effects in KC made him seem to be worth more than he was, with the seeming foolishness of signing him early enough to forfeit a draft pick in compensation to the Royals for signing him) has actually turned out OK as well, at least until yesterday when M's management decided to guarantee him money and a roster spot for his age 35-36 seasons. Did someone forget to change the locks when Pat Gillick left?

So far, we have not really encountered that complete disaster that is Tatonka himself. I suppose that's to be expected, but it is interesting that after enduring two of the most awful years of Seattle Mariners history, our "best" offseason deals each season have not busted in such spectacular fashion.

To sum up so far:

Tatonka List
2006 Kenji Johjima
2005 Adrian Beltre
2004 Eddie Guardado
2003 next up

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Tatonka List: 2005

Part II in a lengthy series that should get us through Spring Training without having to complain about WFB every day.

Last time we unveiled the reigning member of the Tatonka list, Kenji Johjima. Let's hope he avoids the usual fate of these guys. But not every member of this list will be an utter disappointment.

Take 2005's representative, Adrian Beltre. He's not a complete waste, although his productivity at the plate compares rather poorly to his salary thus far, but it's still early yet in his Mariner career, so we have to say that the jury is still out on this one. His signing was not unlike Johjima's: 17 December 2004, two days after signing brittle first baseman Richie Sexson to a huge free agent deal, the Mariners inked the twenty-five year old third baseman Beltre to a whopping five-year, $64 million contract. This was quite a Christmas present, and after several years of the Mariners being rather reluctant to spend big money on free agents, this move inspired all kinds of hope and praise on the part of often pessimistic Mariners fans.

Indeed, the twin signings of Sexy and Beltre in that fateful December also seemed to mark the definitive severing of ties between the Mariners and former GM Pat Gillick. This, too, inspired hope, mostly of the "how much worse could anyone else be" variety. It seemed to be a sign that on Bavasi's watch, the Seattle organization would make smarter moves in the marketplace, which might also transfer into better trades and farm development as well.

The sky was the limit.

93 losses was a rather disappointing outcome to the immediately succeeding season, and although it was not all Beltre's fault, he certainly contributed to the inability of the M's to improve by more than the six games that they did. The good news, in Spring 2006, is that Beltre's signing was still smart, given the young man's age and previous demonstrated potential ability with that stick thingy that players generally bring to the plate. Plus, he's kinda good at defense.

So for now, the 2004-05 Tatonka is, uhh, not all bad. Yeah. Whoo hoo!

A running recap:

Tatonka List
2006 Kenji Johjima
2005 Adrian Beltre
2004 next up

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Tatonka List: 2006

We've been busy behind the scenes at Tatonka, what with the scratching, and the rolling over. And then there's the perfect yawn.

But Spring has sprung! We have predictable and stupid quotes flying fast and furious into newspapers and reporter blogs around the nation, and that can mean only one thing: Spring Training is underway!

This is the time of year when we can look at our team, listen to the half-wit beat reporters in Arizona, and think dangerously optimistic thoughts that start with "What if...." As we have been hinting in the New Beginnings series (next installment coming soon), the Mariners have inspired little of that kind of crazy hope for 2006. Unless El Rey Felix can figure out a way to start every game for us, I'm pretty confident that we're screwed this season (thanks Mr. Bavasi...nice planning). And that's the giddiness of Spring talking. Just wait until we hit July and August.

In any case, it's good to be talking baseball again, even if the M's have done their best to be the high-payroll analogue of the Royals.

As a paean to Spring, I begin a list of our most inspiring offseason moves, starting this year and going back in time to the start of it all. This is the quintessential Tatonka list: Mariners moves that inspired frequently false hopes amongst fans.

The good news about this kind of project is that there is no need to actually assess the moves in question. No stats. Sheer pre-season emotional reaction is all I'm looking for.

Let's begin:

22 November 2005: Seattle Mariners sign Kenji Johjima to a three-year contract.

This move very clearly suggested that Bill Bavasi's organization was poised to make important, major steps toward transforming the pathetic 2004-5 Mariners into a viable major league team. Johjima is the ultimate Tatonka (other than Kevin Mitchell himself), since as yet we can only guess as to his future with the club. The signing was for a seemingly reasonable amount of money, which is something that we fans pay attention to in the twenty-first century, and that, too, seemed to bode well for the future.

Who knew that Bavasi would follow this up by letting a lawn gnome and a gecko plan the remainder of the offseason? Carl Everett? Bah. Matt Lawton? Why not just sign ALL the steroid users out there? Johjima is not going to save the team, and with Ichiro! as the NPB import frame of reference for Seattle fans, there is zero chance that Kenji-san can meet the subconscious expectations of the Mariner faithful.

Oh, sorry...spring is supposed to be positive and uplifting. Stay tuned for 29 other "offseason" moves that explain this level of cynicism toward the home nine.

A running recap:

Tatonka List
2006 Kenji Johjima
2005 next up

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Super Cheaters

Hats off to the officiating crew for the Super Bowl. I've seen poorly officiated games, but never like this.

Bill Leavy and his supposedly "All-Star" crew of officials have so far missed four calls that have transformed the game from a clear Seahawks victory to what seems sure to be a Pittsburgh win. The topper was the call on Hasselbeck for a phantom penalty on his interception. But the phantom offensive interference call in the first quarter was disgraceful, as was the ridiculous decree that Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger actually got the ball into the end zone for the first Steeler TD. And how about the phantom holding call two plays before Hasselbeck's INT? Nice.

I am the first to admit that the 'Hawks have played poorly to this point, and that Pittsburgh has taken advantage. But it sure helps to have the officials consistently in your favor.

Bill Leavy, Garth DiFelice, Mark Hittner, Mark Perlman, Steve Zimmer, Tom Hill, Bob Waggoner, and Bob Boylston, you are collectively a disgrace. "It's only a game" shouldn't excuse your awful performance. I salute your incompetence and partisan calls as hallmarks of what is wrong with sport. I do not believe that any foul play was involved here...just incompetence at the highest level.

Cheers, fellas.