Hobgoblin Hell

The good news is the Mariners are consistent. The bad news is the Mariners are consistent.

So much was cleared up by the Seattle Mariners' opening day 10-5 loss on Tuesday, April 6, against Anaheim—not the least of which is the certainty now that the locals will not win all their games in 2004. Clarity is one of the great advantages of a new baseball season, when suddenly so much makes sense— the job economy, for example. There was Safeco Field and environs on opening day, and suddenly it became clear: Most of those apparent 308,000 new U.S. jobs we hear about can be explained by the arrival of baseball season, which seems to employ about 10,000 stadium workers, street vendors, temp workers filling in for you and me while we screw off at a day game, etc., in Seattle alone. Multiply by 30 teams and you've got your 300K, including, of course, the 750 athletes.

Our own 25 stalwarts are the ones we desperately care about, and here is where clarity is somewhat elusive. Forget the opening loss. We need to anticipate six months with these guys. With clarity elusive, maybe consistency is the point of departure. Ralph Waldo Emerson's press secretary (possibly reincarnated as that fulminating flack Scott McClellan) no doubt frequently defended the author for being "taken out of context" with his assertion that "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." The author actually wrote that "foolish consistency" is such a creature.

The Seattle Mariners have plenty of consistency, as big-minded baseball scholars of every size cap and gown can appreciate. What kind was evidenced on Tuesday? Edgar Martinez went 0-3, though he had a walk and an RBI; Bret Boone was 0-5, and so went Randy Winn. That's just one game, though, against a tough starter, Bartolo Colon. Even those who don't know a good hobgoblin from a bad hop could plainly see during a successful Cactus League campaign that the team has a veritable lineup's worth of reliability. The most dependable offensive players from each of the past four years have been Edgar from the 2000 season, when he hit .324 in 153 games; Ichiro, the league MVP in 2001 (1-4 with a run and a walk on Tuesday); Boone in 2002; and Winn last year. This year, it promises to be Raul Ibanez (a double in three at-bats and a walk in the opener) but easily could be any of the above: a key point when considering what to expect for the 2004 season.

Because the fact oft lost on baseball observers blubbering about the departures of Arthur Rhodes, Carlos Guillen, and, most of all, Mike Cameron is that none of them could be counted on to perform at their best levels for weeks or months at a time. That's why it's well worth noting that Ichiro, Winn, Boone, Edgar, and Ibanez make up the front end of the M's lineup. Just as reliable for most of their careers (though just as past their primes) have been Dan Wilson, John Olerud, Rich Aurilia, and Scott Spiezio. If that doesn't suggest a record of admirable consistency, then consider that the club has the only pitching rotation since the 1960s in which the same guys started every game of the previous season.

But let's get back to clarity. It's pretty clear that Spiezio is bunged up. Back spasms landed him on the 15-day disabled list, but even if he'd been healthy, he scarcely is the M's answer at third base. For much of his career Spiezio played third, but so did Edgar. Both may still be capable as designated hitters, but that's about the extent of their value.

When Spiezio went down, M's deal makers would like to have reported that they landed a superb replacement to play third. Of course, they cannot make such an announcement because instead they picked up Jolbert Cabrera. Cabrera hit a hearty .282 in 347 at-bats last season with the Dodgers. Unfortunately, the utility man has played third just 35 times during his 448 big-league games. That leaves us with Willie Bloomquist, who, speaking of consistency, has been reliably lousy at the plate. This spring he hit even worse than his .250 average during last year's regular season, when the strapping kid from Kitsap County had just one home run in 196 at-bats. At 26, it's time for Willie to bloom. In the opener, he doubled with an RBI.

The defensive ability of Bloomquist, though, meant M's management didn't need to waste trading pitching prospect Aaron Looper for Cabrera. The team already has utility infielder Dave Hansen (and had the impressive Ramon Santiago until shipping him to Triple-A Tacoma over the weekend). One wonders whether new GM Bill Bavasi made the Cabrera deal just to use up his cell phone minutes. Why not talk that idiot Texas owner out of Hank Blalock for a few pitchers? About all Bavasi made clear with this trade is that he's consistent with past management, which is to say: Don't expect any big deals this season.


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