A terrific way to take the minds of fandom off a fifth loss in six tries is to announce a dubious trade, late during what would prove to be yet another inconsequential game. Such was the case Sunday, June 27, when the Seattle Mariners were losing 5-1 (and ugly) to the San Diego Padres.
"It's real hard to put on a positive spin when you're moving a player like this," said General Manager Bill (is that "Bilked"?) Bavasi of Freddy Garcia, now the ace of the Chicago White Sox pitching staff. Bavasi had just "moved" Garcia (and minor-league catcher Ben Davis) for three no-names. So stunned seemed Manager Bob Melvin 15 minutes later that he speculated maybe the M's would bid for Garcia's services when the right-hander presumably becomes a free agent at the end of this season. Uh-huh, Bob, and we understand that Friends, Frasier, and Sex and the City are returning for the fall season. The Sonics are about to sign Gary Payton, and the Seahawks are picking up Ahman Green.
Swapping Garcia, coupled with the loss of Carlos Guillen to Detroit before the season, means the M's have nothing left from the Randy Johnson trade. It means they never got sustained value for their best players (Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., and now Garcia). The move also nearly coincides with the midpoint of this gone-bad season, one that has featured precisely two games of consequence. The first was the season debut: a loss. The second happened June 22, which dawned with the M's having battled back from oblivion to sit just eight and a half back of division-leading Texas. A sweep of the Rangers, with a series split between Anaheim and Oakland, would have left Seattle five and a half back and in the pennant hunt. Of course, the M's were swept instead.
We who write about the club have be‑ labored our meager beliefs about the reasons for the season's collapse. I never actually made a preseason prediction, but I probably would have guessed 85 victories at minimum (others picked the M's to win 95, along with the American League West Division). Instead the team projects to fewer than 70 wins and last place, possibly because these guys couldn't score if they had Dad's new car, a wad of cash, and primo tickets to the year's must-see concert. That's why Bavasi et al. pretty much conceded Sunday that the present season is effectively over. All that remains is the inevitable blaming rights.
Fine, but let's dispense with general blame and offer individual midterm report cards for the key players, some of whom actually have held up fairly well, even if, in an era of grade inflation, the marks for most of them likely wouldn't be posted with pride on the refrigerator doors of their parents.
•Dan Wilson is hitting better than he has for years and still is handling pitchers expertly. He'll also get a break with Miguel Olivo, the catcher from the Garcia trade. B+
•Ichiro Suzuki stopped hitting recently, possibly because he's only had about an inning of sitting time this season. He still should be the team's only All-Star Game rep. B+
•Randy Winn started hitting (and may earn a trade to a contender because of it), but still throws like he's shot-putting from center field. B-
•Raul Ibanez, lame for a few weeks, was earning a solid B but probably should get an incomplete.
•John Olerud: Great with the glove, as always, but with just 19 RBI through Sunday and a .260-range average in his dotage. C
•Rich Aurilia/Scott Spiezio: We knew before the season that their best years were behind them. C-
•Edgar Martinez: Alas, ditto the above. C-
•Bret Boone: Nobody wants to be playing better and few are playing worse. D
•Eddie Guardado doesn't even want to be playing here now, but is one of the best closers in baseball. B+
•Jamie Moyer probably will win 15 games at age 41. B
•Joel Pineiro/Ryan Franklin: They've had next to nothing in the way of run support, yet each has shown occasional brilliance. C
All in all, then, it's a team GPA of 2.3, about what the coaching staff deserves as well. It's a report card every bit as undistinguished as the Garcia trade, which actually could have been much worse. Many believe Olivo, the frontline guy the White Sox gave up, has potential; same with Jeremy Reed, an outfielder with speed and power. Without describing what is meant by "fun," Bavasi said after the Sunday game that "it could still be a fun year," noting that "strange things can happen in a small division" such as the four-team AL West.
Moreover, no Mariner (not even Boone) has as yet warranted an "F-for-failing" evaluation, though if that should happen by season's end, one could imagine an appropriate ceremonial recitation of the grade coming from a certain vice president who is only too familiar with F-words.