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Mariners Corner: Flying Away

Have you ever had the misfortune of sitting in an airport, watching out the window, as a plane you were supposed to be on taxies down the runway, preparing to take off into the ether?

Not a fun feeling. Flying on stand-by can really blow sometimes.

Essentially, Mariner fans have been standing-by this season. Hoping to get something for nothing, or at least, something for a lot less than they bargained for.

Sure, force me to regurgitate the offseason hype again, if you must. But I didn’t pick this team to finish first in the West simply because they swindled Cliff Lee from Philly, or convinced Chone Figgins to leave the Angels. Sure those two additions played a role in Seattle’s great expectations, but hope was also high because the AL West was expected to be wide open, there for the taking.

Which it has been. And still is.

So with panic in the air and alert sirens blaring in the Pacific Northwest, I am about to explain exactly how to heal the Mariners’ roster woes, while correctly figuring out what to do with their 40-year-old icon who can hit about as well as your average ninth grader. Stay with me now…

The 2010 M’s team is actually lot like the 2009 one, other than Lee, Figgins and the Mariners decision to play the Milton Bradley game. Sadly, this one had nothing to do with “Community Chest” and just about everything to do with someone proverbially going to jail without collecting $200.

A lot has been made of Milton lately. Taking himself out of the game against the Rays recently, has predictably both infuriated fans and yet persuaded others into showing him grace and sympathy for asking management for help.

Milton Bradley isn’t the Mariners’ biggest problem. Biggest distraction? Yes, most likely. But Milton is just a part of a more troubling issue. Seattle’s largest disaster is the three roster spots they are currently getting virtually nothing out of – Bradley, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Sweeney.

It sure is easy to simply point the finger at the DH and say, “WE HAVE TO GET PRODUCTION THERE!” Which would be nice, certainly. But nicer still, would be to get some sort of value from say, two of those three aforementioned roster spots.

Teams usually opt for a 14/11, position player/pitcher ratio, to fill their 25-man roster. You have nine starting offensive players, leaving your club with little maneuverability in terms of back-ups and pinch hitters. You absolutely HAVE to roster at least one player who can fill in at two or three of the four infield positions. A back-up catcher is non-negotiable and at least one extra outfielder is required as well. That is the bare-minimum. A club will typically fill those last two slots based on particular needs. Primarily right handed? Let’s throw a lefty in there for late-game pinch-hitting situations. Sloppy defense in the outfield? Time to get a nice all-glove, no-bat type on the squad. You get the picture.

But though there is always a certain level of roster flexibility, usually each player comes equipped with at least one specific skill.

That’s where the Griffey/Sweeney issue arises. By tying up two roster spots with guys who are essentially the same player (great veteran clubhouse presence, no ability to field at all, below average bat at best), the team is handcuffing itself.

Logic would say that with Griffey’s history and larger contract, Sweeney will be the one to go. After all, you don’t publicly humiliate your franchise icon in his twilight years. Then again, conventional wisdom wouldn’t have ever let Sweeney make this team to begin with. Hitting .400-plus in spring training or not.

Unfortunately, at this point in their respective careers, choosing between Griffey and Sweeney based on production, is kind of like choosing between flat tonic water and day-old decaf brew on your flight to Phoenix. You aren’t getting anything good from either choice.

So what should they do? Ideally… dump them both. Obviously, that won’t happen. Griffey isn’t going anywhere without his consent. Period. Although, if it really is true that Junior was recently found asleep in the clubhouse when called upon to pinch-hit, all bets are off.

The next best thing would be to TRULY see what Sweeney can do, which would mean benching Captain America for a week or two. Unfortunately, since the average Mariners fan is suffering from a severe case of the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too, Sweeney isn’t going to get the chance to show his stuff. Fans want to come to the park to watch a winner, but they also want to come experience a little nostalgia, watching their boyhood idol, as he takes one last farewell lap in the hometown threads… again. Because of that deep Griffey craving, it is unlikely that we will see a week go by where Griffey starts less than three games.

And judging by recent attendance, fans don’t seem to be eagerly flocking the gates to see anyone play. Let alone a 40-year-old former star, who might have trouble hitting Tim Wakefield’s fastball at this point.

Based on everything above, we know two things:

A.) Griffey isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. (Except possibly to a cot, on which to take a nap.)

B.) Sweeney is unlikely to get a real shot at producing on a consistent basis.

It’s time to play the heartbreak hotel. It is time to part ways with Mike Sweeney. At least, Mike Sweeney, the player. Keep him on the payroll as a special assistant to the hitting coach or something. He is fine as a mentor. But reserving a roster spot for him is foolish.

Once you cut Sweeney loose, what in the world do you do with his roster spot? And even then, giving Griffey ABs is still an issue. With no one particularly worthy on the farm, productive solutions aren’t easily accessible. If you have any visions of an early call-up for Dustin Ackley in a Mariners Superman cape, stop right there. Ackley is hitting closer to .200 than .300 in Single-A.

Why not put out some feelers on a Mark Tuiasosopo for Daric Barton offer? That move would actually save the A’s the awkward trouble of telling Barton thanks, but no thanks, when the time comes to call up man-child Chris Carter later this summer.

If not Barton, how about taking a flyer on Alex Gordon? It seems clear the Royals have had all the fun they are interested in with Gordon.

The point being, looking for a sure-thing at DH with the roster spot freed up by Sweeney’s departure isn’t totally realistic. They should look to obtain a younger, probably miscast player within another organization. Someone who should give you closer to .275 and 16 homers rather than .223 and five. Someone who can still turn on a 91 MPH fastball. And while sitting Griffey is a crisis waiting to happen, unfortunately, it isn’t going to disappear any time soon. Junior isn’t going to sit for Sweeney, but I’m willing to bet he would agree (or be forced) to transition into more of a pinch-hitting role for someone younger and more productive.

Now we have to deal with Bradley.

Bradley hasn’t been good for a few years now, but the M’s knew that when they brought him on-board to shed Silva’s contract. So either they need to REALLY consider the contract a sunk cost and just cut Bradley- giving his at-bats to Ryan Langerhans or Mike Carp or someone else- or ride the lightning and just go with what he gives. Warts and all. Maybe Bradley can become that second of three productive final roster spots. Or… maybe I’ll get the sudden urge to drop a few dozen fire ants down my jock.

Let’s just be realistic and cut Milton too, giving Langerhans his PT.

In one fell swoop, I just cut Sweeney, traded for Daric Barton, made Junior a pinch-hitter and gave Milton a pat on the back as I gave his locker to Ryan Langerhans. Major changes, in the blink of an eye.

That wasn’t so bad, now was it?

There is always another plane to catch. Just like there is always another hot streak, just around the corner, waiting to shoot you up the standings. You just have to do what it takes to find it.

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