x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Best-laid plans go awry for Mariners

When Seattle added the star pitcher Cliff Lee, they thought they had become the team to beat in the American League West.

The Mariners had high hopes for Chone Figgins this season, but he was not as productive as the team had hoped.
The Mariners had high hopes for Chone Figgins this season, but he was not as productive as the team had hoped.

When the Seattle Mariners added the star pitcher Cliff Lee in a trade and run-scoring dynamo Chone Figgins through free agency last winter, it seemed as though they had become the team to beat in the American League West. In landing Lee, the Mariners had established the league's best 1-2 starter combination (Lee and Felix Hernandez). And by getting Figgins to pair with Ichiro Suzuki at the top of the Seattle line-up, the Mariners suddenly could boast the top 1-2 lead-off combo in the American League.

Together, Lee and Hernandez would win 35-plus games and Suzuki and Figgins could combine for 100 or so steals and more than 200 runs. And the Mariners team that won 85 games in 2009 would improve and be even better. That was the plan, anyway. Reality proved far different. Lee pulled a muscle in his side in spring training and missed the first month. When he finally joined the Mariners rotation, the team was already struggling.

Figgins was healthy but never productive, and the Mariners' offense never got any traction. The team ticketed for a division title was, instead, selling off parts - including Lee, to Texas - in July and looking ahead to 2011. What happened? First, the Mariners never worked as a team. The veteran Ken Griffey Jr seemed to be at odds with manager Don Wakamatsu, driving a wedge between some veteran players and their dugout leader.

Also, Jack Zduriencik, the general manager, overestimated the impact of Suzuki and a productive Figgins, who are skilled at scoring runs but not at driving them home. In assembling the 2010 Mariners, Zduriencik overlooked run production and power. The Mariners play in the spacious Safeco Field, which puts an emphasis on pitching and defence. But, ultimately, AL teams need to score about five runs a game to win with regularity.

Zduriencik has to hope that Justin Smoak, the power-hitting first baseman who was the key piece in the deal which sent Lee to Texas, can establish himself as a run-producer. And he must hope that Figgins, who signed a four-year deal, is merely having an off year. Figgins' on-base percentage was a stellar .395 last year; this season it is a pedestrian .334. Moreover, Zduriencik must make a tough call on Wakamatsu. Some have argued that Wakamatsu has lost the respect of his players. Others counter that Wakamatsu, who guided the M's to a surprise season in 2009, deserves another chance.

Either way, it has been a miserable season for the Mariners, who are living proof that looking good on paper does not mean nearly as much as playing well on the field. @Email:sports@thenational.ae