The Mariners are desperate. They haven't had a winning season since 2009, haven't been to the playoffs since 2001 and the past four seasons have been four of the of the 10 lowest-scoring seasons in franchise history. This offseason has seen a damning report about their front office surface and a spending spree that seems to say they're done trying to build long-term success with young players.
There are few things more dangerous in baseball than a GM trying to save his own job. For that reason, short-sighted decision-making is one of the weaknesses for this year's Seattle Mariners. The other is a dependence on injury-prone players.
Jack Z. came to Seattle with a reputation for finding and developing star-quality prospects. As Milwaukee's scouting director, he played a major role in the drafting and development of Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, and Jonathan Lucroy — key players in the Brewers' return to respectability in the late 2000s. In Seattle, Jack Z. has still racked up the names in Top 100 prospect lists, but those players have had trouble producing once reaching Seattle, most notably Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and now Jesus Montero.
As the losses have mounted, so has frustration over the inability of their prospects to make the next step. And when your job security starts to come into question, it becomes a lot more difficult to trust those prospects to carry you. You'd rather go with proven veterans — guys who you know have produced at the major league level, and while there isn't much room for further growth, at least you know what you're going to get.
So you go out and do something like give the best free agent on the market a 10-year deal to switch coasts. You also sign a guy with significant injury concerns, but is a familiar face from your previous job. Then maybe you do take a chance on a former top prospect that's getting close to bust status, thinking maybe he just needs a change of scenery. And then you pay for saves, despite having a number of guys already in your bullpen capable of doing the same job for less money.
That may not be all! There are still the rumors connecting Nelson Cruz and/or Ervin Santana to the Mariners. And what happens if the Mariners stumble a bit out of the gate and feel like they need a big move to get them going again? Or, maybe even worse off for the future of the franchise, they're just close enough to playoff contention in July that they mortgage the farm to make one push this season? When you have a GM fighting for his job, you get a level of unpredictability that can get a little scary if things don't go according to plan.
Also scary is the fact that right now, that plan depends on certain key pieces staying healthy, despite plenty of evidence saying that it shouldn't be expected. Hart tore up both knees last season and never played in a game, injuring one knee in offseason workouts before spring training, then injuring the other while rehabbing the first. Hart also had knee surgery prior to the 2012 season. He's 32 years old, 6'6" tall and had three knee surgeries within about 18 months. The knee problems aren't likely to just go away, and this is a guy the Mariners want to play in the outfield.
Morrison has had just as many recent issues as Hart, but at least has the benefit of only being 26 this season. LoMo had knee surgery late in the 2012 offseason, then needed a second surgery after struggling through 93 games that season. Recovery from that surgery cost him the first 2 1/2 months of the 2013 season, and the cumulative effect of the surgeries have sapped his once-promising power. Morrison has only played in 178 games in the past two seasons. Having the DH spot available will help, but it's fair to wonder just how often he can be stashed there with so many other 1B/DH types also needing that spot.
Then there's Hisashi Iwakuma, who put together an amazing 2013 season that saw him finish third in the AL Cy Young voting. Seattle's #2 starter won't be able to pick up a baseball for the next 4-6 weeks after injuring a tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand, putting him at least a full month behind the rest of the starters on the team. Rotation depth was already potentially an issue for the Mariners, and losing Iwakuma for the first month+ of the season isn't going to help. While this injury was more of a freak accident than anything (apparently his finger got caught in some netting while training), Iwakuma's injury history in Japan is nothing to scoff at, and he will be 33 this year.
The ultimate uh-oh scenario for the Mariners this year would likely involve these two weaknesses merging into one big weakness. It's not that hard to imagine a scenario in which injuries force some sort of panic move by the front office, which would be more damaging long-term than just taking their lumps this season.