I got a weird feeling yesterday morning, when I read that the Mariners had "relieved Alan Cockrell of his duties." I guess I should not have been surprised that the hitting coach got fired as the hitters continued to not hit at a historic rate. That's how baseball works.
I could not get around a faint, uneasy feeling in my stomach though. It was a feeling I had forgotten about. Slowly, faded memories came into focus: Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard, Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez, three-year deal for Miguel Batista, four-year deal for Carlos Silva, Chris Snelling and Emiliano Fruto for Jose Vidro.
It's the feeling I get when my team makes a bad decision. Again, it was faint, but it was there. If Bavasi moves were heartburn, letting Cockrell go felt like a really nasty burp.
Still, this is the first time the Z administration has made a move that gave me that feeling in my gut. I was so caught off guard that I decided to take a step back, and wait to pass judgement. And by wait, I mean that I furiously refreshed Twitter until some quotes about the move started coming out. There had to be more to the story.
In some ways, it was exactly what it looked like at first glance. Jack Z called change "inevitable" with how the offense has performed, and I give him credit for being so transparent. Clearly, Cockrell was let go because the hitters have stunk, whether he is at fault or not. Most teams try to put some lipstick on the situation, and I guess the M's tried by saying they "relieved him of his duties." However, the quotes from Z and Wak made it clear: Cockrell didn't do anything wrong. In fact, he was called away from studying tape of the M's hitters to be told he had been axed. Cockrell is a scapegoat.
What surprised me even more were player reactions. They seemed genuinely shocked and disappointed. I expected quotes to the effect of, "well, it's too bad, because it's our fault, but that's how the game works, and we have to be professionals," and so on. Instead, the players that spoke up stood behind Cockrell. Jose Lopez said it hurts. Mike Sweeney was the most outspoken, calling Cockrell one of the best coaches he has had, and saying that there were several players that deserved to get fired before Alan - including HIMSELF.
Now, I do not want to go overboard with this move. I don't think hitting coaches have much of an impact on MLB hitters, particularly veterans. This is not like all those bad Bavasi moves I cited, where there were clear impacts on the on-field product. Furthermore, by all accounts, Alonzo Powell is a great guy, and a deserving replacement.
However, I thought this organization was above naming scapegoats. With the way the Mariners have gone about evaluating its players, and all of Wak's talk about "belief systems," I thought this leadership was a rare breed that could see beyond slumps and hot streaks. They seem to balance past performance with probable future returns quite well. They have also shown genuine care for the people within the organization, a type of compassion that other organizations do not exhibit. We saw this in the past week as the Milton Bradley situation unfolded.
Letting go of Cockrell seems to go against so much of what the M's have been building. It sounds to me like Zduriencik even acknowledged that this was a move simply for the sake of change.
Sure, this is the type of move that is acceptable in the baseball culture. However, the hitters seemed to believe in Cockrell, and this organization has made such a big fuss over developing belief and trust. Why risk organizational principles over a brutal eight-game stretch, especially when the move is not very likely to make a tangible difference in on-field performance?
Without a doubt, something had to be done. There had to be consequences for the lack of production. However, Mike Sweeney hit the nail on the head. It is up to the players to produce. Guys failing to hit should sit on the bench for a few days (that's easier to do with an actual bench, but that's a tangent for another post).
We will never know if the M's would have scored eight runs yesterday with Alan Cockrell still employed. However, I can't help but notice that yesterday's lineup featured contributions from Ryan Langerhans, Michael Saunders, and Josh Wilson - all guys called up recently, getting a chance to play.
I don't care that Ken Griffey Jr. is the best Mariner of all time. He has popped out enough to warrant a seat on the bench.
I don't care that Chone Figgins was our big free agent signing. It is time to drop him to the bottom of the lineup.
Josh Wilson, Ryan Langerhans, and Michael Saunders will probably never be a murderer's row, but if they are the ones actually getting hits, they should move up in the order. If the other guys are actually better than them, then they will wake up and force them back down in the lineup.
It is called healthy competition, and it would have been a much better and safer approach to solving the offensive woes than ditching the hitting coach.