The Padres head next to the Pacific Northwest to face their bitter natural rivals, the Seattle Mariners, in a battle to determine which end of I-5 (all 1381.29 miles of it) is most dominant. In preparation for this dramatic and important event, I chatted with Dave and DMZ of USS Mariner fame to get their take on the 2008 M’s:
Ducksnorts: This is a question I ask myself about the Padres: Are the Mariners a good team playing poorly or a bad team? How competitive did you think the M’s would be in 2008, and have your expectations changed at all based on what you’ve seen in the first six weeks of the season?
Dave: The Mariners aren’t the worst team in baseball, so they are better than they’re playing right now. But this isn’t a good team, either. Before the season, we talked about this team being an 82-84 win team with a lot of downside, thanks to the older roster and significant collapse risks on the roster. Right now, we’re seeing the worst case situation across the board — the aging hitters collapsed, the young kids haven’t been any better, and the team’s had to deal with struggles and injuries to both [Erik] Bedard and [J.J.] Putz. This team will play better, but this isn’t a good team.
DMZ: I thought they’d be okay. I always think they’ll be okay. I thought the worst teams of the last couple years would be about .500 teams, and I was wrong. I thought the 88-win team would do okay, and they surprised me.
My expectations have changed. I can’t help it. They’re so bad. They can’t stop kicking me. They hit Cairo in the #2 spot tonight. Miguel Cairo hit #2 in a major league lineup. I can’t believe how painful this is.
Have you heard of Grey’s Law? “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.” That’s my life right now. My expectation is that the team will lose all year, then go through another horrible off-season, lather, rinse, repeat, until my head explodes in frustration.
This is a deeply bad team, fielded by a deeply inept franchise.
Ducksnorts: Kenji Johjima and Jose Vidro have gotten off to rough starts. What’s going on with them, and have they shown any signs of turning things around?
Dave: Johjima’s fine — he’s turning on fastballs up in the zone again, and Pull Power Kenji hasn’t seen much of a change in skills. He’s 32 and a catcher, so we expect some decline, but I’m not really worried about him struggling like this all year. Vidro’s just totally done, though — his skillset just doesn’t work in the major leagues. You can’t be a regular big leaguer without having any defensive value or power. You have to be able to either drive the ball or play the field pretty well, and he can’t do either.
DMZ: Jose Vidro sucks. He sucked last year and got away with it by getting really lucky on infield hits, and it didn’t fly this year. He can’t face major league pitching without looking embarrassingly bad. There’s nothing there. He’s terrible. The only thing he can hit is the clubhouse buffet. The M’s are paying him a bazillion dollars for no reason, and if he cheats his way to 400 or 450 plate appearances, his option will vest and they’ll pay him a quadrillion for next year. If he doesn’t vest, there’s a great chance he’ll be out of baseball.
Kenji’ll be fine.
Ducksnorts: Despite a problematic hip, Erik Bedard has been effective in the early going. Given where the M’s are (or perceive themselves to be) in the development cycle, what do you think of the trade that brought him to Seattle?
Dave: It wouldn’t matter where the M’s were in any development cycle, that trade was a disaster from the minute they made it. Bedard’s a good pitcher when he’s healthy, but it’s no secret that he’s batted a lot of injury issues over the years, and it’s not a huge shock that he’s struggling with injuries and command problems right now. The team decided to build around a pitching staff at the expense of their position players, and that’s just not a good way to build a baseball team. This deal was a failure from day one.
DMZ: What a horrible trade, made worse by how it took so long to complete. It was like being tortured by watching Miss Congeniality 2 on a loop tape, where time gets slower and slower, giving me more time to dwell on the never-ending horror playing out in front of me, the pain of which slowed time even further.
Any time you get fleeced by the Orioles, you should just quit. Just turn in your laminated RFID pass to the office doors, hand over the company cell phone, and walk out onto the street. You’re done.
Ducksnorts: I saw Felix Hernandez pitch in the Cal League a few years ago and he got torched (I think it was his only bad outing of the season). Although Hernandez hasn’t dominated big-league hitters the way many thought he would, he’s held his own at a young age. How realistic were initial expectations of him, and what do you believe he needs to do to fulfill his potential?
Dave: There’s no one on the planet that can match Felix’s stuff, so I don’t have any problems for the expectations that have been placed on him. In raw talent, he’s the best pitcher alive, and it’s not very close. His main problems have stemmed from an inability to get left-handed hitters out, thanks in large part to an inconsistent change-up that he doesn’t trust enough to use it as often as he could. Until he begins commanding his fastball against LHBs or finds consistency with the change-up (which is an amazing pitch when he’s got it working), he’s going to struggle against teams that stack lefties against him. If he ever gets that solved, however, it’s lights out. Keep in mind, he’s 22 years old. He’s not exactly behind schedule.
DMZ: I don’t think it’s possible for any player to meet all of the expectations placed on him coming up. Between all the prospect coverage available now and the echo chambers of team media, any player coming up almost certainly be heralded as a potential huge star, a good defensive player who may develop tremendous power.
I know I’m too close to it, but I agree with Dave. And it’s not “If only he had 10% better control” kind of wishing. He’s 22, and as he figures out more about how to pitch, he’ll improve, and that’s scary to consider.
Ducksnorts: Another guy who impressed me in the Cal League was Wladimir Balentien. His numbers suggest a one-dimensional player, but it’s a nice dimension. What kind of career path do you envision for Balentien?
Dave: Balentien has tremendous power, but he doesn’t really do anything else well, so categorizing him as a one-dimensional player is fair. He’s made strides in improving his approach at the plate in the minors, but there’s still problems with his swing that good pitchers can exploit. His upside would be a Carlos Lee type career, but if he doesn’t continue to refine his approach and improve his ability to hit breaking balls, he could be the new Wily Mo Pena.
DMZ: The team is starving for power. I’ll take whatever I can get. Seriously, the career paths for guys with the kind of crazy minor league lines like Wlad put up are incredibly weird. Is he going to see the Russel Branyan career path, for instance?
My best guess is he develops into an underrated regular, hitting for good power and being sniped at all the time for striking out too much.
Ducksnorts: Best musician ever to come out of Seattle: Kenny G or Jimi Hendrix?
DMZ: How dare you.
Ducksnorts: Great, then we’re all in agreement; there can be no mistaking genius.
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Thanks again to Dave and DMZ for taking the time to chat with us. Here’s hoping the series is more enjoyable than listening to a guy play the same note on his saxophone for 45 minutes…