The Mariners called up two players from Tacoma today, INF Tug Hulett and RHP Jared Wells. Tug has been playing primarily second base, but he has also played some shortstop and has limited experience at third, first, and even in the outfield. He primarily batted lead-off for the Rainiers, and while he will not be a star, he is a pretty solid player. He has more power than his size implies, and he has good plate discipline. Hulett was the player the M's received when they traded 1B Ben Broussard to the Rangers. Jared Wells was a promising prospect in the Padres system until he started to suck, to put it bluntly. He still possesses plus stuff, and he has pitched better since joining Tacoma. He was the player the Mariners received from San Diego when they traded RHP Cha Seung Baek to them after designating Baek for assignment.
Now to the real news. The new players took two spots vacated by much more noteworthy moves. There was room for Wells once the M's placed Erik Bedard on the 15-day DL. Popular thought was that Bedard would go on the DL to clear a spot for Felix's return, so either Wells is only around for a few days, or another move is in the works (my hunch is that Batista might head to the DL). As for Hulett, he takes the spot formerly filled by Richie Sexson. After weeks of speculation and a year and a half of lackluster production, Big Richie finally became the latest casualty in this debacle of a season. The timing was a little odd, especially with Richie being on a mild hot streak by Richie standards, but Jim Riggleman said he could tell that Richie was not pleased with being benched, and Riggleman did not see how he would get off the bench much with how the next couple weeks were going to go. Whatever the reason, this move seemed inevitable ever since the Mariners started making major changes.
Richie became a popular target for 2008's frustrations, but the collapse is not his fault. This team won 88 games a year ago with him underperforming just as badly at first base last year. He worked hard to regain his old form, but he just could not find it. Despite the boos and benchings, Richie never complained. The closest he did was apparently on Tuesday night, when Riggleman felt his body language showed frustration over not playing. Frankly, I would be concerned if an everyday player did not react somehow to being benched. It is easy to point a finger at the man hitting around .200 with minimal power and limited defense making $15.5 million, because the team definitely did not get its money's worth. However, Richie did not become lazy, or a clubhouse cancer. He tried as hard as he could. The reality is that Richie is what he is at this point. This is more than a slump. This is what a player past his prime looks like.
Fingers should be pointed at the man who signed Richie Sexson, Bill Bavasi. I guess they already have been pointed since he was fired, but the contract he offered Sexson was doomed the second Richie inked it. Let's flash back to when Richie was a free agent. He was coming off of a major shoulder injury that cost him nearly all of his lone year as a Diamondback. However, while with the Brewers, he had developed into a feared power hitter. Despite the shoulder injury, Bill Bavasi decided to sign the then 30-year-old Sexson to a whopping 4 year, $50 million contract.
It is easy to say that was a bad decision now, but even then it should have been obvious that this was a bad contract. Even if the M's had full confidence that the shoulder was fine (and it turned out to be), most teams were concerned, and I doubt the Mariners really needed to give Sexson as much money as they did. Plus, injury not withstanding, Richie in his prime was still 6'8" and struck out a ton. He offset both of these significant disadvantages by developing great plate discipline and shortening his stroke. Though his height is a major source for his power, the list of hitters as tall as Richie Sexson succeeding is painfully short. This game is just tougher for taller hitters, likely due to a larger strike zone to cover and naturally longer swings. So, was it reasonable to expect Richie Sexson to continue to produce at a high level as he entered the twilight of his physical prime? The answer is obvious now, but given how difficult it was going to be for Richie to beat father time with his body type, the Mariners should have known back when they signed him that there was a decent chance he would not age gracefully.
What is even worse is that the previous Mariners regime was completely oblivious to all the warning signs. In 2005, Richie's first year with the M's, he was fantastic. Even in 2006 he was still good, but he slipped noticeably. Some noticed, but then-manager Mike Hargrove did not bat an eye, claiming Richie was here to hit home runs and nothing else mattered. True, Richie still swatted his share of bombs. But, at the very least an observant baseball person should have furrowed their brows over the drop-off, noticed the complete lack of first baseman in the farm system that precipitated Richie's signing in the first place, and drafted a first base prospect. Year after year the Mariners did not, all while Richie went from regressing to plummeting off the face of the earth.
That is how the Mariners got to this point. That is how a team dumps a light-hitting first baseman making $15.5 million with no legitimate replacement. I am rooting for Bryan LaHair, and I have to give credit to Bavasi and scouting director Bob Fontaine for finding a talent as good as him in the 35th round of a draft. But, he is not starting material, and I do not think he ever will be. Marshall Hubbard and Johan Limonta both offer a little promise in AA, but the fact remains that the previous leadership was relying on fringe prospects to pan out in the farm system. They never had a legitimate long-term plan for first base despite every indication that disaster would strike if the issue was not addressed. Bavasi and company seemed to all close their eyes, cover their ears, and tell themselves over and over, "Richie hits the ball a country mile. Richie hits the ball a country mile. Richie hits the ball a country mile..."
Well, Richie did hit the ball a country mile, but he does not so much anymore. It is as if he continues to get older. Fancy that. Thanks, Bill Bavasi. Thanks alot.