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Designated Hole

Ben Broussard
I came across a tidbit early this morning that Mike Sweeney signed a one-day contract with the Royals to officially retire. He was a real good player in his prime, and a very high character guy to boot. It was always awkward for me as an M's fan to see him in the starting lineup. Every swing I was convinced he would hurt himself, but I wanted him to succeed, but I also knew if he was in the heart of the M's order, the offense needed some help.

Sweeney retires mere months removed from being a regular DH for the Mariners. As I thought more, I realized this has happened before. Really, though left field has been a mess for Seattle the majority of its existence, designated hitter has become as much of a problem since Edgar Martinez retired.

Edgar retired in 2004, which is long enough ago now to allow 'Gar to be on the Hall of Fame ballot for two years. It has been a while. Nobody will fill his shoes, but the Mariners could at least try a little harder. Here are the M's regular designated hitters since 2004:

  • Raul Ibanez (2005) - At first, it looked like life would go on just fine. Raul did just fine in the DH role, but switched back out to left field for three more seasons in Seattle after his one-year run as the full-time Edgar replacement. He then earned a big (and probably ill-advised contract) with the Phillies, which they now are more than willing to try to get rid of. Still, there were no warning signs of the DH disaster to come. There is something eerily fitting that Ibanez stabilized left field, but the cost was a new black hole.
  • Carl Everett (2006) - My favorite thing about Carl Everett is that he does not believe in dinosaurs, which is a shame because he was one by the time the M's signed him. It seemed rather clear to the majority of baseball that Everett was in the twilight of his career when the M's decided to sign him, and make him a pivotal part of the offense. He lasted 93 games, and was released by the M's after they acquired Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez in separate deals with the Indians. The price tags? Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera (ouch). Perez would retire to Baseball Tonight after a forgettable two-month stint as part-time M's DH, while Broussard would have an okay-ish 2007, and then get 89 at-bats with the Rangers in 2008 before never playing in baseball again.
  • Jose Vidro (2007-2008) - Since acquiring an aging switch-hitter that most of baseball thought was washed up worked so well in 2006, Bill Bavasi pulled the trick again, trading for Vidro. There was a time when he was a terrific hitter, but his legs were shot by the time he hit Seattle. Somehow, Rick Griffin and the training staff massaged a surprising year out of him in 2007, though they couldn't bring back much power. 2008 was a different story though. Vidro flamed out, was released in August, and went straight from full-time DH to never playing in the majors again.
  • Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Sweeney (2009-2010) - Surprising contributions from Sweeney over bits and pieces of the past couple seasons don't even help this problematic duo all that much. It wasn't good in 2009, though it was acceptable to look past with the success on the field, and how integral both seemed to a revitalized clubhouse. Last year though...uffda. Griffey walked away in the middle of the season, and now after a run to the World Series with the Phillies, Sweeney has retired as well.
Of the seven guys (counting Broussard and Perez from 2006) the Mariners have rolled out as a regular DH since Edgar Martinez retired, only one of them is still playing professional baseball today. Even worse, the one guy is the very first guy the M's turned to.

In fairness, I don't even believe in investing a ton of money in a designated hitter. It is a role easily and productively filled by an aging slugger that should not take the field anymore. Perhaps a high turnover and retirement rate is okay.

The problem is that most of these players were good 'till the last drop, and then the Mariners thought they could squeeze a passable DH out of the remaining coffee grounds. The Mariners have not had tough luck at the position. They have made a lengthy string of ill-advised choices.

So, is Jack Cust the latest mistake, or a step in the right direction? He of shrinking ISOs the past three years, and power to left-center that is likely to turn into doubles and outs in spacious Safeco Field? A man Baseball-Reference compares to such illustrious sluggers as Otto Velez, Bob Robertson, and Bubba Trammell, all guys that trailed off in a hurry in their early 30s?

We'll see what happens. I'm bullish, if you couldn't tell. It's hard not to be since Edgar retired.