October 2012

Brendan Ryan wins Fielding Bible Award

For those wondering why the Mariners like Brendan Ryan at shortstop, in spite of his .194 batting average in 2012, here’s a little affirmation of the defense provided by the 30-year-old veteran.

Ryan won his first Fielding Bible Award on Thursday as the prestigious defensive team was announced.

Fielding Bible Awards have only been given out since 2006 and this is Ryan’s first. Jack Wilson was the shortstop winner in 2009 and Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies took the honors the past two years.

Besides Wilson, only third baseman Adrian Beltre (2006 and ’08) and outfielders Franklin Gutierrez (2008 and ’09) and Ichiro Suzuki (2006, ’09 and ’10) had previously been selected from the Mariners.

Here is the glowing report on Ryan by John Dewan, author of the Fielding Bible and one of 10 panelists who make the selections:

“Brendan Ryan is the best defender in baseball. Period. Make that double period. He has saved 67 runs for his teams defensively over the last three years, the highest total among all players. The next highest runs saved total is not even close (Michael Bourn, 51).

“Ryan led all shortstops in 2012 with 27 runs saved, led in 2011 with 18, and finished second in both 2010 and 2009 with 22 runs saved each year. Seattle recognizes the value of Ryan’s defense, and that’s why they keep putting him out there day after day despite his .194 batting average during the 2012 season.

“It will be interesting to see if the American League coaches and managers, who vote for the Gold Glove Awards, can look past Ryan’s offense and base their ballot on his defense alone. This has been one of the problems with the Gold Glove voting—a certain amount of offense has always been required for what should be a defense-only award. Gold Glove voting has never allowed for a position player hitting below the Mendoza line to win a Gold Glove. Hopefully Ryan will be the first.”

Ryan has yet to win a Gold Glove, so it’ll be interesting to see how that comes out when Rawlings announces those awards on Oct. 31. If you need a visual reminder of Ryan’s skills, here is a video highlight package from this past season.

And remember, he did all this with a sore throwing elbow that needed surgery to remove bone spurs the day after the season ended. Pretty impressive.

Big Luis Jimenez outrighted off 40-man roster

The Mariners opened up another spot on their 40-man roster Thursday by outrighting designated hitter Luis Jimenez back to Triple-A Tacoma.

Big Luis put on some tremendous batting practice displays with the Mariners after getting called up in September and had a nice year in Tacoma, where he was the Rainiers Offensive Player of the Year. But it was pretty clear, even in a limited time that last month, that Jimenez was going to have trouble with Major League pitching.

The 6-foot-3, 280-pounder was 1-for-17 (.059) with one walk and four strikeouts in seven games as a DH and pinch hitter. It was the first shot in the Majors for the Venezuelan after 12 seasons in the Minors and one season in Japan.

Jimenez is a great guy, a jovial big man who deserved his September call-up after hitting 20 home runs and 91 RBIs in 125 games with Tacoma. But there is a reason he’s been with seven different organizations and never got a shot until this late-season stint at age 30.

Jimenez is a man without a position, strictly a DH candidate at the Major League level, and his batting-practice power didn’t translate into games, where pitchers don’t feed big guys a steady diet of fastballs. He struggled to hit breaking stuff and swung through a lot of pitches in the dirt in his limited exposure with Seattle.

The Mariners are going to need space on their 40-man roster to add players and protect some of their top young prospects when it comes time for the Rule 5 draft, thus the move of Jimenez as well as the release of Munenori Kawasaki on Wednesday.

The 40-man roster now stands at 38 players and they’ll gain four more openings when the free agency period begins the day after the conclusion of the World Series. At that point, catcher Miguel Olivo and pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma, Kevin Millwood, Oliver Perez and George Sherrill will become free agents.

Sherrill currently isn’t counting against the 40, as he remains on the 60-day disabled list following Tommy John surgery in April. Here is the 40-man roster as it stands.

Clubs have five days after the World Series to re-sign their own free agents. After that, they are able to sign with any team.

Jimenez falls into a similar situation now as a six-year Minor League free agent. If he doesn’t agree to a Minor League contract with the Mariners by the fifth day after the end of the World Series, he would become a Minor League free agent.

Olivo’s option not renewed; Kawasaki released

Miguel Olivo saw the writing on the wall last season, which means he won’t see the writing on an extended contract with the Mariners. Olivo lost playing time to Jesus Montero and John Jaso, both acquired by offseason trades, and knew he wasn’t part of Seattle’s future.

That played out Wednesday when the club announced Olivo will not have his $3 million contract option picked up for 2013 and thus becomes a free agent the day after the World Series ends.

Additionally, the Mariners said they were releasing utility infielder Munenori Kawasaki (pictured above) from his Major League contract, which makes him a free agent able to sign with any other team as well.

Kawasaki was a fan favorite, an outgoing sort who became something of a team mascot with his constant dancing and jabbering. For a guy who rarely played and barely spoke English, he certainly made his presence felt in his one season in Seattle.

But Kawasaki wasn’t much of a hitter — he batted .192 with just one extra-base hit (a double) — in 104 at-bats. So while there will forever be some fans who insist he should have received a chance to supplant Brendan Ryan, the fact is that he wasn’t as gifted defensively as Ryan and his .202 slugging percentage was indicative of the total lack of ability to hit Major League pitching.

As bad a season as Ryan had with his .194/.277/.278 line, Kawasaki was even lighter at the plate at .192/.257/.202. And while a solid defender, he wasn’t close to Ryan at shortstop.

Kawasaki was under Mariners team control after signing a Minor League deal last year, though he had an opt-out to return to Japan if he wanted. But Wednesday’s move opens the door for him to go to any MLB club if he gets any offers elsewhere.

Olivo was the anti-Kawasaki, a lightning rod for many fans who didn’t understand why he continued to start as many games as he did for manager Eric Wedge while hitting just .223 in two years in Seattle. Wedge valued Olivo’s ability to control the running game as he had one of the better arms in the league. And he was a veteran presence with a young pitching staff.

But Olivo struggled with other aspects defensively and didn’t hit enough to hold off Montero and Jaso, two promising youngsters with bright futures. With first-round Draft pick Mike Zunino looming on the horizon, the Mariners obviously have their long-term plan behind the plate secured.

So while it was obvious to everyone, including Olivo, that he wouldn’t be coming back, I will miss him on a personal level. He was a guy who could get down when his playing time diminished, but had a great sense of humor and loved poking fun with reporters who gained his confidence.

For some reason, he always wanted to challenge me to boxing matches or pretend fights in the clubhouse or dugout. A year ago, I found myself with a towel wrapped around my neck and Olivo telling me I needed to learn self-defense after I’d innocently been walking through the clubhouse in Oakland before a game.  I told him that made perfect sense … if somebody attacked me with a towel at the pool.

This was a barrel-chested workout warrior that even the strongest of baseball players didn’t want to tangle with in a serious fight, so it was humorous for a 54-year-old sports writer to engage in any antics. But with Olivo, it was all in good fun.

He told me on one road trip this year that he got a kick out of the fact that Tacoma News Tribune writer Larry LaRue never knew whether he was joking or serious with him. Then a week later, when LaRue was standing in a group with several of us, Olivo walked up and said, “I like you and you and you,” while pointing to the rest of us. “But you have made me mad,” he said to LaRue. “I’m not talking to you anymore.”

And then he stalked off with a glare on his face, leaving LaRue wondering what he’d done to anger the big man.

But truth be known, Olivo is a good-hearted dude who enjoyed talking about life and kids and taking care of people, the kind of guy who would have your back if needed. I know that won’t change anybody’s opinion of his value as a player, but it is a side of the man most never had a chance to see and I wish him well in his future.

Olivo now joins four other Mariners — pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma, Kevin Millwood, Oliver Perez and George Sherrill — as free agents when the World Series ends. Millwood is contemplating retirement and Sherrill is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but I would think the Mariners would definitely be interested in trying to re-sign Iwakuma after his strong second half as a starter, and possibly Perez as well after his bounce-back performance as a lefty reliever.

After the World Series, every team has five days to sign their own free agents. After that, it’s everybody’s ballgame.

Saunders just misses Super Two contract status

The “Super Two” process can be a confusing issue, but suffice it to say, Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders wound up in a tough-luck situation Tuesday when MLB announced its status of Super Two arbitratation eligible players this offseason.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the top 22 percent of players between two and three years of service time get to enter the arbitration process a year earlier than the normal three-year time span.

The Associated Press reported that calculation was announced Tuesday at 2 years, plus 139 days, which allowed 26 players to be moved into salary arbitration early.

As for Saunders? He missed the cutoff by one day.

That means Saunders will remain at the Major League minimum next year, which puts him around $490,000, rather than being eligible to see what he could get in arbitration. Like the rest of MLB’s players with three or less years of service time, he’ll become arbitration eligible next season and be in that process another three years before becoming a free agent.

How much did that one day cost Saunders? Hard telling. But last year, reliever Shawn Kelley earned Super Two status and he signed for $600,000 while coming off a season in which he’d only just returned to full strength in the final month following Tommy John surgery.

Saunders was coming off a nice breakthrough season as the Mariners starting center fielder, so it’s reasonable to assume he’d have been able to cash in a little north of Kelley’s deal.

MLBtraderumors.com estimated that Saunders could have signed for $1.6 million if he’d become arbitration eligible this offseason.

Mariners hire Hansen as new hitting coach

Dave Hansen, who ended his 15-year Major League career as a player with the Mariners in 2005, is returning to the club as its new hitting coach, general manager Jack Zduriencik announced Monday.

Hansen, 43, is a relative newcomer to coaching, but has been on the Mariners’ radar since interviewing with manager Eric Wedge for the same position when Wedge hired his first staff in 2011.

Hansen said he was runner-up to Chris Chambliss at that time and felt he just needed to get more experience, having worked four years in the D-backs’ Minor League system up to that point. So he hired on with the Dodgers and spent the past year and a half as their hitting coach before being dismissed following this past season.

The first question of many fans is why hire a guy who just got fired by the Dodgers, but it’s worth remembering that hitting coaches can only do so much and are usually the first to go when teams are disappointed with their offense. Lots of good hitting coaches have been hired and fired numerous times, it’s just part of the MLB spin cycle.

The Rangers, for instance, just hired their fifth hitting coach in the past four years. And Texas led the Majors in scoring last season.

Hansen understands the history of the Mariners’ hitting coaches, but is eager to see what he can do to help a young offensive nucleus that still finished last in the AL in scoring this past season.

“I think the job is tough just because when a team is not hitting or things aren’t clicking, that’s who they look to is the hitting coach,” Hansen said on a conference call with Seattle-area writers this afternon. “It’s usually [the coach] that has to move on, not the players.I know that first hand.

“It’s a tough job because people don’t realize just how much time hitting coaches put in. There’s no way around the video you have to watch to prepare every club you’re facing and then the individual routines that have to go on, so we’re in the cage constantly.

“There’s so many hours involved. I have so much appreciation for hitting coaches past and present. Just circumstances happen. It’s not necessarily personal with the hitting coaches, it’s just the organization usually thinks they need to make a change or get a different voice. But it’s certainly not for lack of effort.”

Hansen said he had several teams interested after his dismissal by the Dodgers, but the Mariners were the first to call “within hours” and “it’s safe to say the Seattle Mariners were my No. 1 choice.”

“We’ve got some talent, really good swings and aggressive hitters that maybe need a little more direction,” he said. “But I like the style of play Eric has created here already. It’s a great nucleus of kids that really buy into the Mariner way and I’m fortunate to jump in with them.”

Here is the full history of Mariners hitting coaches over the years:

1977: None
1978: None
1979: None
1980: None
1981: Tommy Davis
1982: None
1983: None
1984: Ben Hines
1985: Deron Johnson
1986: Deron Johnson
1987: Bobby Tolan
1988: Frank Howard
1989: Gene Clines
1990: Gene Clines
1991: Gene Clines
1992: Gene Clines
1993: Ken Griffey Sr.
1994: Lee Elia
1995: Lee Elia
1996: Lee Elia
1997: Lee Elia
1998: Jesse Barfield
1999: Jesse Barfield
2000: Gerald Perry
2001: Gerald Perry
2002: Gerald Perry
2003: Lamar Johnson
2004: Paul Molitor
2005: Don Baylor
2006: Jeff Pentland
2007: Jeff Pentland
2008: Jeff Pentland/Lee Elia/Jose Castro
2009: Alan Cockrell
2010: Alan Cockrell/Alonzo Powell
2011: Chris Chambliss
2012: Chris Chambliss
2013: Dave Hansen

International superscout Bob Engle leaving Mariners

Tough news for the Mariners today as Bob Engle, the club’s vice president of international operations, announced he will be leaving the organization at the end of October after 13 years.

Engle is highly regarded for his work in international scouting and helped the Mariners land Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez, Michael Pineda, Greg Halman, Carlos Peguero, Jose Lopez and Carlos Triunfel as well as countless other prospects.

Engle, 65,  told the club he would not be signing an extension when his current contract expires on Oct. 31 and he’s debating whether to pursue other opportunities or retire from baseball.

“This was a very tough decision for me,” Engle said in a statement released by the Mariners. “I have had a great time in Seattle and am proud to have served with so many fine people in the international department. I cannot thank the scouts and field personnel enough for their dedication and hard work.

“I have to thank Howard and Chuck as well as ownership and the many people behind the scenes who are never recognized for their efforts and support. In addition, I want to thank Pat Gillick, Bill Bavasi and Jack Zduriencik for allowing us to expand the international program since my arrival.

“This was a most difficult decision to make and I am planning to take the remainder of October to spend time with my family and assess my future and if I want to retire or remain in the game.”

Before coming to the Mariners in 2000, Engle was director of scouting with the Blue Jays when they drafted Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter and Pat Hentgen, who like Hernandez all went on to win American League Cy Young Awards.

I had a chance to meet Engle last December at the Winter Meetings in Dallas, where he received an honor as one of baseball’s top scouts, and discovered him to be a very humble guy who wanted to share credit for his success with all those working with him. Here is my story from that interview.

Engle lives in Florida, but estimated he spends 175 days a year traveling to Latin American, Europe and Asia in pursuit of baseball talent. MLB’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement limits the amount of money teams can spend on international signings and that could have a bearing on Engle’s future, I would think, as the game is changing a little.

But the Mariners have benefitted a great deal from his international presence over the years and he certainly has made his mark with his work and leaves Seattle now as one of the giants in the scouting community.

Chambliss fired as hitting coach, continuing long trend

When Eric Wedge took over as Mariners manager prior to the 2011 season, one of the things he vowed to do was slow the revolving door with hitting coaches in the organization.

But on Thursday, a day after Wedge’s second season ended, Chris Chambliss was fired. Wedge has certainly brought stability to the coaching staff as that will be the first change in his two-year tenure, but hitting coach remains a particularly tough spot in the Mariners’ organization.

Maybe bringing in the fences next year will help, as Seattle certainly hit better on the road than at home again this season and those home struggles certainly are part of the Mariners finishing last in the AL in hitting now for four straight seasons.

But this move doesn’t seem like change just for change’s sake and frankly shouldn’t be a big surprise. Too many of the young Mariners hitters didn’t seem to be improving under Chambliss’ watch and that was a problem.

Michael Saunders took a big step forward this year, but he’s been working on his own with Mike Bard, the brother of Josh Bard, on their own hitting program that began last offseason and was carried through this campaign by Saunders.

Several other youngsters seemed to get better after they went down to Tacoma and got some help from Triple-A hitting coach Jeff Pentland, with Casper Wells and Justin Smoak the most obvious examples. Pentland was ultimately brought up to work alongside Chambliss for the final month of the season, which obviously was an indication that change might be on the way.

Whether Pentland is ultimately hired as the new man remains to be seen. He’s a respected veteran hitting coach — as was Chambliss — and has been in the organization before. In fact, he was part of the previous churn.

Since 2000, here is the Mariners hitting coach history:

Gerald Perry (2000-02)
Lamar Johnson (2003)
Paul Molitor (2004)
Don Baylor (2005)
Jeff Pentland (2006-08)
Lee Elia (2008)
Alan Cockrell (2009-10)
Alonzo Powell (2010)
Chris Chambliss (2011-12)

That’s a lot of change for any coaching position, which is why Wedge wanted some stability there. But that didn’t mean the Mariners were going to stick with Chambliss forever if they thought they needed a change. And that change came Thursday.

I counted four more HRs tonight if fences were already in

Not saying this will happen all the time at Safeco Field when they bring in the fences next year, but tonight’s 6-1 win over the Angels certainly would have been greatly impacted by the 2013 configuration that was announced today.

Casper Wells hit two deep fly balls to the left-center gap where the fence will come in the most next year. Instead of a two-run HR in the third and a solo shot in the seventh, he wound up with two fly outs to the track in an 0-for-4 day.

Michael Sanders ripped a two-run double to left center in the fourth that would also have surely been a three-run HR instead.

The Mariners did get a legit solo shot from Kyle Seager in the first inning, but could have had four home runs in the revised park.

Anaheim also had one shot to the wall by Hank Conger that Michael Saunders caught up against the fence in the fourth. I’m presuming that would have been gone as well, though who knows,  maybe Saunders goes up high for a great leaping catch. But in the sake of fairness, we’ll give Conger that one.

And that would have made tonight’s game a 10-2 win with five home runs instead of 6-1 game with one home run. No wonder Seattle’s hitters were excited today, as you can read in my story about their reaction to the fence news.

Either way, the Mariners win this particular game, it’s just a matter of by how much. And how many long balls go on the stat sheet.

“Ironic, huh?” manager Eric Wedge noted of what might have been in this particular game.

Wells took the high road, saying he definitely crushed the second shot and thought it was a no-doubter, but he wasn’t lamenting the current fences.

“I don’t make excuses,” he said. “If I was a little stronger, they’d have got out.”

And, yeah, there’ll be games when the opposing team is the one getting the new home runs and not the Mariners. These new fences will play both ways.

But will Safeco suddenly be a launching pad? I don’t think so and neither does Mariners assistant GM Jeff Kingston, who was part of the committee that studied every ball hit at Safeco the past few years and came up with the new fence recommendations.

Kingston says their study showed 30-40 balls each year — for both teams combined — that would have been home runs  in the new configuration in the previous few seasons. The Mariners have 54 home runs at home this season, so another 15-20 would certainly be a healthy increase, but not a crazy figure by any means and not the kind of potential difference that was hinted at tonight.

Kingston also said the hand-operated scoreboard — which will be moved next year to lower the fence down the left-field line to a uniform 8-feet height along with the rest of the outfield walls — has only been hit a handful of times each season. So that change doesn’t figure to have a huge impact either.

All this does make for some interesting conversation and surely will be fascinating to watch play out next season. Until then, one more game at Safeco Field on Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. with the current fences so we can play the “would that be a home run next year?” game one more time.

Safeco Fences are moving in next season

Yep, the fences are coming in a little at Safeco Field, with the Mariners announcing Tuesday that some modifications are being made for next season.

The changes aren’t dramatic except in the left-center gap, where at the maximum point the wall will be 17 feet closer than it currently stands. In most places, the move is four feet, but the new fence will cut across from left field to a spot in center at 405 instead of 409, shortening that whole left-center alley.

The other big change is the hand-operated scoreboard in left field that currently is part of the left-field fence will be moved to a new location farther back, leaving just the 8-foot fence from foul pole to foul pole instead of the current 16-foot section where that scoreboard sits.

You can read the full story with a graphic showing the new configuration here and I’ll have reaction from players and general manager Jack Zduriencik this afternoon when we get access to them prior to tonight’s game with the Angels.

Mariners should be taking notes on A’s success

Watching the A’s sweep the Mariners this past weekend in Oakland and move to the verge of clinching an AL Wild Card berth — and even keeping first-place Texas in their sights — it was impossible not to ask how Oakland did what Seattle certainly wants to accomplish.

The A’s have taken a young team and turned it into a contender despite starting the year looking for all the world like a club that was punting this season by trading away top young pitchers Gio Gonzelez, Andrew Bailey and Trevor Cahill for even younger, unproven prospects.

It’s unheard of for a club to deal young standouts who are still under team control for several more years, given those are exactly the low-priced players every franchise tries to build around. But the A’s went that route, with Billy Beane saying he was building for a further-away future when a new stadium might be build in San Jose.

Instead, the future turned out to be now — in a dilapidated Oakland Coliseum still drawing just 21,000 fans to weekend games with their team on the verge of one of the best baseball stories in years — right along with this year’s Orioles on the other side of the country.

So what did the A’s do that Seattle didn’t this season? For two, they upgraded their offense with the trade for outfielder Josh Reddick and free-agent signing of Cuban standout Yoenis Cespedes.

Reddick, 25, came from the Red Sox in the Andrew Bailey-Ryan Sweeney trade. Cespedes seemed like an odd free-agent signing, given his four-year, $36 million deal flew in the face of Beane’s other “for-the-future” trades.

But Cespedes has given the club a big middle-of-the-order presence (23 HRs, 83 RBIs) and Reddick has done the same (32 HR, 82 RBI). And they’ve gotten a nice boost from first baseman Brandon Moss, a 29-year-old who signed a Minor League deal and has helped out along with other guys like Coco Crisp, Seth Smith, Josh Donaldson, etc.

The A’s also made two late-season trades that helped. Nothing spectacular, but catcher George Kottaras was a deadline deal from the Brewers who has chipped in. And the mid-August addition of shortstop Stephen Drew has proven wise as well.

This isn’t a club you look at and think, ‘Wow, that’s an imposing lineup.’ Yet collectively, it is a group that has hit the most home runs in the Majors since the All-Star break (110) and is doing so in timely fashion, witness the two late-game bombs that overturned Seattle’s 4-1 lead on Saturday and two more in the eighth on Sunday that led to a 5-2 win.

What do the Mariners take from that? For me, it’s seeing just how much impact two key bats can make in a lineup with Cespedes and Reddick. The Mariners have an improved lineup top-to-bottom this season and their youngsters are close to being as good or better than what the A’s are trotting out on a daily basis. But finding a key veteran bat or two this offseason could take them over that hump, with right field being an obvious opening and first base being the other.

Ichiro’s departure opens the payroll and position to add a much-needed impact bat to the corner outfield spot. And either Justin Smoak has to be what Justin Smoak needs to be, or they need to get a first baseman that can produce. It’s as simple as that. Other changes could be made as well, but those two are the glaring necessities.

The other place the A’s are impressive is their bullpen. This is a club surviving now with an incredible five rookies in their rotation. But manager Bob Melvin isn’t putting all the weight on those youngsters. If he can get 5 innings from them, he’s quick to pull the trigger and go to his ‘pen.

The A’s won Saturday’s game after Dan Straily went 4 1/3 innings and they won Sunday after getting 4 2/3 from Tommy Milone.

Seattle has Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas atop their rotation, plus potentially three or four young pitchers who can do what the A’s have done with Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan, Danny Hultzen, Brendan Mauer, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. If they re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma or add another solid veteran, they’ve got even more depth.

But the difference this weekend was the Mariners bullpen is running out of gas right now and that is as much the result of where Seattle was at the trade deadline as anything. The Mariners were sellers on July 31 and they moved Brandon League and Steve Delabar.

As a result, they’ve been using rookies Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps down the stretch and leaning heavily on veterans Shawn Kelley and Josh Kinney. All those guys, along with lefties Lucas Luetge and Charlie Furbush, have made a lot of appearances and it’s wearing on them.

League and Delabar would have helped ease the load. After a slow start in L.A., League has been lights out for the Dodgers, taking over as their closer and allowing just one run in his last 19 outings. Here’s a good story on him in the LA Times.

Delabar has been good as well for the Blue Jays with a 3.18 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the Mariners were wrong to make those deals, particularly in League’s case. He is going to be a free agent and his trade brought the Mariners two nice prospects in 22-year-old outfielder Leon Landry and 23-year-old reliever Logan Bawcom. I have no issue with that trade. You improve your future potential when your present is headed for a last-place finish either way.

But I raise the point because the difference between the A’s and Mariners this weekend had much to do with bullpen depth and that is the difference between being a contender at the trade deadline or being out of it and making deals for the future.

I didn’t like the Delabar deal as much because he’s still under team control and could have helped now and in the future. His biggest issue was home runs and once he solves that, he could be a strong set-up guy. The Mariners have depth there with Capps, Pryor and others, so that’s obviously why Jack Zduriencik made the trade for Eric Thames, looking for some corner outfield pop.

Thames struggles defensively, however, so he’s going to either need to get better there or be so good offensively to overcome that. Neither has happened this season and he’s fallen behind Casper Wells and Trayvon Robinson on Eric Wedge’s outfield rotation at season’s end.

Bottom line, there was considerable frustration watching the A’s celebrate dramatic wins twice this weekend while the Mariners trudged off the field. But there should be lessons there as well. The difference between contending and not contending in baseball isn’t always huge.

The Angels spent big money over the offseason in adding Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to an already talented and well-paid roster. Yet here are the A’s, one game from knocking the Angels out of the playoffs. And Felix Hernandez can deliver that knockout blow tonight at Safeco if he beats the Angels in the opening game of the season-ending series.

The A’s are an amazing story. And one worth paying attention to for a Mariners team that certainly could make a similar step forward with a couple smart additions in the offseason to go with their young nucleus of talent.

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