For Mariners, pain of youth movement better than wondering what could have been
Watching Chris Tillman and Adam Jones punish the Mariners serves as a reminder of the wrong way to handle prospects.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Jesus Montero stood at his locker, woozy. The 22-year-old catcher took a foul ball off his face mask Wednesday afternoon and had to leave the game in the fifth inning.
"I feel a little dizzy, but it's going to be OK," Montero said.
In a season of hard knocks, this was merely the latest for the Mariners. Their 4-2 loss to Baltimore was painful all the way around, from Montero's noggin, to the 21,982 fans at Safeco Field who endured a home team mustering just one hit in the first eight innings, to the misery of watching Mariner-bred prospects Chris Tillman and Adam Jones contribute to Seattle's demise.
Oh, and we forgot the part about Hector Noesi proving again to be an unreliable starter.
Again, some holiday.
This Independence Day defeat ended a 10-game homestand in which the Mariners hit .175 and scored only 2.1 runs per game, even worse than their usual Safeco ineffectiveness (.195 average, 2.85 runs in 41 home games overall). With that kind of production, it's a miracle the Mariners actually won four of those games.
So Montero isn't the only one who feels a little dizzy.
But is it going to be OK?
This game did provide a lesson about patience. It was impossible to ignore after watching Jones, now a two-time All-Star, hit his 20th home run. And while Tillman hasn't had much of a major-league career thus far (5.58 career ERA coming in), he looked incredible against the lowly Mariners offense while making his first start of the season.
Both players, of course, were shipped to Baltimore in the infamous 2008 Erik Bedard trade. At the time, Jones was the Mariners' most major league-ready prospect, and though he had only 147 big-league plate appearances, he was primed to win a starting outfield spot that season if he hadn't been traded. Tillman was one of their most promising minor league arms. But they were gone before the Mariners even knew what they had.
Back then, the Mariners were amid epic mismanagement and about to become the first team in history to lose 100 games with a $100 million payroll. Before the trade, Jones didn't have a clear path to big-league success because the roster was full of high-priced, mediocre veterans blocking him.
Ultimately, the Bavasi era was burdened by the former general manager's inability to secure talent through any avenue, but his fatal mistake may have been his failure to restock the farm system. And when he had usable young talent, he didn't know what to do with it.
That's why the Mariners fans are lamenting that the Bavasi-era team mishandled the big-league development of All-Stars such as Jones, Asdrubal Cabrera and Bryan LaHair, as well the likes of Shin-Soo Choo and Mike Morse, all of whom were traded or discarded by Bavasi or the current regime.
And that's why, painful as it may be, the Mariners are better off learning the most they can about their young talent right now, especially since general manager Jack Zduriencik and his staff have a proven history of successfully evaluating precocious baseball players.
This method sinks on days like Wednesday when a roster that is too young and devoid of quality veterans spits up on itself. It leaves us to question whether the plan will work. But there's significant value in creating a path for these young players to succeed and knowing for certain which ones are worthy of building around and which ones are better to use as trade assets.
This process should've happened a long time ago — like, eight years ago — and the Mariners are paying for their years of floundering now by enduring public distrust. If there had been a better culture for developing youth, Jones would be their star center fielder, not an opponent crushing an upper-deck homer. And Tillman, who was developing nicely in the Mariners' organization, might have had more success making half his starts in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.
He was dazzling against the Mariners, consistently throwing mid-90s fastballs and limiting the Mariners to two hits in 8-1/3 innings.
"I've never seen him sit at 93 to 95 miles per hour," said Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders, one of the few Mariners to hit the ball hard.
Saunders, Jones and Tillman all came up together in the Mariners' farm system. If only they could've stayed together, perhaps the Mariners would be further along in this process.
Instead, they mustered only two hits against someone who should be on their side. Tillman did so well that he was sent down to Class AA after the game. He gave up two hits against the Mariners. Clearly, he doesn't belong in the majors.
It's a technicality, a move because the All-Star break is in a few days, and the Orioles don't want Tillman to have nearly two weeks between starts. Still, it's a funny coincidence.
Laughter can help soothe the pain, you know.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com.
On Twitter: @JerryBrewer
Information in this article, originally published July 4, 2012, was corrected July 5, 2012. A previous version of this story listed players who had been traded away by the Mariners. One of those players, Bryan LaHair, had been released by the Mariners. And the trade of Mike Morse was made by Jack Zduriencik, not Bill Bavasi.
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