Monday, March 06, 2006

The Tatonka List: 1997

The offseason after 1996 was virtually devoid of major additions to the team. We're going to have to stretch a bit, but not too far, to get our Tatonka.

Oh, sure, Woody Woodward re-signed lefthander Jamie Moyer, then a baby-faced 30 years old, after having dealt away no one of consequence (Darren Bragg) to the Red Sox to get Moyer down the stretch in '96. (You may not remember this, but the Mariners used to deal for help down the stretch when they were in the playoff hunt. What with the advent of Stand Pat during the most recent run of good teams, and now the extended suckfest that has been the M's, it's been quite some time since any such deals were made.)

But that signing was not really a new, hope-inspiring addition to the club. We think much more of Moyer in hindsight than people did at the time, because as well as he's performed with the Mariners for a decade now, he's never been a player to get excited about as the cornerstone of the team.

Indeed, the runner-up for the greatest hope at the time was this: 6 December 1996, traded Sterling Hitchcock to the San Diego Padres for someone to be trifled with (Scott Sanders...yeah, me neither). Addition by subtraction.

Hitchcock and Russ Davis were the "prospects" that the Yankees traded to Seattle after 1995 in exchange for Constantino Martinez, Jim Mecir, and Jeff Nelson (he of the questionable facial hair). The lefthander was supposed to be a major-league ready power lefty. Instead, his major accomplishment in front of the 1996 fans was to be the only Mariner pitcher to take every turn in the rotation, starting 35 games and winning 13 despite an ERA of 5.35.

In any case, the other big addition to the as yet undefeated 1997 Mariners team came in an October 29, 1996 trade with the Montreal Expos that brought Jeff Fassero to the team, without losing anyone more important than Chris Widger.

Between subtracting Hitchcock, resigning Moyer, and adding Fassero, a groundswell of hope accompanied the thought that Randy Johnson might be healthy again in 1997 (he only made 8 starts in 1996 due to injury), and the M's would go from a ridiculously bad to a scary good starting rotation. And since the pitching-poor '96 team had won 86 games (and the still-recent 1995 AL West champs inspired plenty of hangover hope), Mariners fans were quite certain that Seattle was going to win. (Picture Tom Hanks, when Geena Davis returned to the Rockford Peaches for the final game. That was us. Really.)

That hope was even kind of justified, given the 90-win, AL West winning campaign that resulted. Sure, we lost in the first round of the playoffs to Baltimore (can anyone remember the last time the Orioles were any good?)--the only time in M's history thus far that the team has qualified for the playoffs but failed to emerge from the Division Series--but the hope of Fassero played evil tricks on the minds of true Mariners fans. Evil tricks.


Tatonka List
2006 Kenji Johjima
2005 Adrian Beltre
2004 Eddie Guardado
2003 Randy Winn
2002 Jeff Cirillo
2001 Ichiro!
2000 John Olerud
1999 Jose Mesa
1998 Glenallen Hill
1997 Jeff Fassero
1996 up next


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