The next stop for the Pale Hose is Safeco Field to take on the Seattle Mariners. In anticipation of the trip I played a little game of Q and A with Harrison Crow of the Mariners site Sodo Mojo throwing a 3-pack of questions each other’s way:
MA: Chone Figgins leading off will make a lot of Sox fans think of Juan Pierre. This year we learned it could be much better with Alejandro De Aza. How do you feel about the lead-off capabilities of Chone?
HC: Figgins got off to a really poor start and Mariner fans are rather merciless. He’s not a bad lead off guy. Sure, he fits into the traditional mold of a top of the order hitter in the sense that he’s “speedy” and has a tendency to make poor contact, slapping the ball around, so in that context he does fit the “Juan Pierre” mold. But he gets on base and is reasonably patient at the plate, working the count and making pitchers work. He can do a good job of spraying the ball around the field making him a good fit for Safeco. The thing that really frustrated fans is that he’s been rather poor the past two years and he comes across as he doesn’t put forth much of an effort. Add to the fact that he’s moving the organizations best all-time lead-off hitter out of that role. He’s just received a little bit of flak for that. But thus far he’s been pretty good and so long as he sticks with taking pitches and driving the ball like he has the first couple of weeks of this season and his past time in LA.
MA: Justin Smoak is a frustrating fellow. The skills and tools are there and every now and then he shows flashes of his true ability. Do you still believe he can get there, and how much longer do you have to give him before you just chalk it up as a loss?
HC: Smoak went through a whole slew of struggles last year that were related to a few different injuries as well as off the field incidents. That’s not to say that any of it was really his fault it just was a really crappy year for him where things just went wrong and it wasn’t within his control. Things like that happen. I think he has the whole rest of the year and maybe a bit into next year before the organization is too worried. There isn’t a lot of depth at the position at this time but at the same time I don’t think it’s a position that is very difficult to fill in the sense of there are plenty of guys around the league that you can take chances on as “change of scenery” candidates. I fully expect him to take a step forward this season. Maybe not to be the guy that everyone thought could hit 30 home runs and get on base at a .400 clip. But, at the same time he isn’t going to continue floating around the .300 level. A nice in between with an ISO above .200 and possibly 20-25 home runs and it’s possibly that even next year he takes an even greater step. So, yes. I still believe in Smoak and I think he’s still capable of being a good if not above average first basemen.
MA: The Angels are scary. The Rangers are scary. When you envision where the Mariners will finish this year, or in the next couple years, do you feel the team has the tools to compete with those teams?
HC: I think a lot of the Rangers organization. Which is why they are fun to hate as a Seattle fan. But the Angels I just don’t see it. I like CJ Wilson as a pitcher but Jared Weaver is someone that I think of as a great #2 rather than an “ace” and Dan Haren has taken a step back this year. Ervin Santana is unpredictable and their bullpen is rather volatile. The Angels may win 90+ games this year. I think they have the talent. But, looking beyond this year, I think their farm system and their inability to continually grow talent leads me to believe that their ceiling as a team is limited at this point. Mike Trout is burning up AAA and I have no faith in the organization to continue to do the right thing. Obviously they are still tying up a bunch of money in Vernon Wells and though Abreu and Hunter both come off the books this off-season there isn’t a real track record to spend responsibly and with a ton of money owed to Pujols, you have to wonder if they have the money to really spend on the free market. Bottom line: The Mariners are going to be in position to spend money (or take on money), with great, cost controlled, talent at the major league level and with plenty of pieces to move (ala Michael Pineda) that can be used to acquire missing pieces. Challenging the Rangers isn’t something that is going to just happen. But opportunities do arise and with the Angels struggling to stay relevant over the next few years as the Mariners youngsters ascend it’s possible that they put themselves in position to at least challenge the Rangers and maybe even, should the chance happen, steal a division title or a Wild Card. Now this all is built upon the assumption that Jerry Dipoto doesn’t turn things around. But, I’m not sure and I believe it’s completely possible that Dipoto doesn’t have the power needed to make as much of a change as is needed in the organization and that would just ease the emerald city nines ascension back to prominence and relevancy.
HC: How much faith do you have in Robin Ventura and how do you perceive he is doing so far in this early season?
MA: It’s early enough that I still have faith in Ventura, but the sheen has already worn off for me personally. I was excited at the prospect of new blood in the role of Manager in the hopes that he’d be less “traditional” about things like sacrifice bunting and being unnecessarily aggressive on the bases, both pet peeves of mine. He’s proven thus far to be very much in the mold of most other Managers in the game. Which isn’t a terrible thing, just not what I hoped for. And with the way Ozzie Guillen’s season has started, I think we’re all just glad to be without that sort of soap opera.
HC: Everyone has talked about Gordon Beckham struggling, what about Brent Morel? How long is his leash and are you worried with how he has started the season?
MA: Those are both really tough. Their hitting is so dismal and hopeless looking while in the field they are so valuable. That’s particularly so for Beckham. He had a solid rookie campaign but never made the adjustment. He’s currently walking around with a leash that is 2 years old and it’s actually quite amazing that the patience has lasted this long, both from management and a fan base that can be unreasonably quick with the boo button at times. Morel has a lot less pressure, nobody expects a ton out of him. Obviously his production so far is completely unacceptable, though. We have a couple of players that can step in those roles with Eduardo Escobar and Brent Lillibridge but I’m afraid neither will prove much more productive in full time roles. They should get at least a couple more weeks to pull it together but if they both flirt with .100 for any longer than another series that might get cut short.
HC: I don’t believe the Tigers are invincible, they’ve got some holes around their team and despite having the best 3-4 punch in baseball, they still have problems with their line-up and their bullpen seemingly always has question marks. Can the White Sox rise from the ashes and compete in the AL Central this year?
MA: I agree, the Tigers can certainly be had, but who has the tools in the division to take them down? I don’t think they got a ton better by adding Fielder, simply because they lost Victor Martinez at the same time, who hit .330 last season. The White Sox ability to be a competitor for the division come September hinges on a lot of “maybes”. Maybe Gordon Beckham turns it around. Maybe Adam Dunn is fixed. Maybe Alex Rios can play like he actually cares to be on the field. Everybody has at some point shown the ability level for some period of time, it’s just a question of these guys getting it together for the better part of a season.