This week, the Seattle Mariners said good-bye to Brendan Ryan by shipping him East to the New York Yankees for a player to be named later. His spectacular skills at shortstop in Seattle made him a highlight reel waiting to happen. He dazzled and whirled his way around Safeco’s middle infield when he was picked up in 2011, solidifying his spot in day-to-day play when he first arrived.
Brendan Ryan’s player arc in Seattle made me think of how much his presence and play paralleled the team’s success and failures over the past few years, thus making his departure particularly fascinating to me.
When he came to Seattle, he had a big smile, vibrant fielding and some character leadership. Coming from St. Louis, the Mariners gave him his first big break in the majors as he was inserted into the line-up and played over one hundred games in a season for the first time in his career. He even grew out an Eric Wedge style handlebar mustache that was remarkably catchy.
Those were the days.
I’m just going to come out and say it. In hindsight, that kind of fielding advantage and charismatic clubhouse attitude just wasn’t what a rebuilding Mariners team needed to create a winning product on the field.
That automatically made him a traveling man in this organization destined to only call Seattle a pit stop. The Mariners need pitching and hitting more than anything, and need better fielding about as much as Miley Cyrus needs another foam finger. They need tough skinned players who create competition in the batter’s box and a winning intensity in the clubhouse.
Everyone knows how to be fun and charismatic when the team is playing well and when they were playing bad; charisma and fielding needed to be replaced with determination, pressure from the fanbase to succeed and strong leadership that corrals these youngsters by providing stable hitting.
In recent memory, the Mariners have played very bad and everything Brendan Ryan brought to the team was about as useful as a poopy-flavored lollipop. The Mariners didn’t need another friend in the locker room; they needed a winner.
After sweeping the bottom rung of the league with their hitting statistics for the past decade, the Mariners are now taking chances on their young, instinctive players. Infielders such as Brad Miller, Kyle Seager and Nick Franklin may make more errors than Ryan did, but they are finding their way into the line-up not because they can field but because they can hit. All but rendering Brendan Ryan obsolete in a Mariner uniform.
If you can hit, we’ll find a spot for you.
I want to say that this article is a nostalgic ode to Brendan ‘Rabbit’ Ryan but it’s more about how this is just another step in the right direction for the Mariners organization. Ryan was an average player; he never won a gold glove for his trademark fielding, has only hit eighteen home runs so far in his seven year career, and only finished with a batting average over .200 one of the three years he was in Seattle.
Brendan Ryan is a relatively young player who is a savvy tiger in the field. He now shores up a New York team desperate for some fielding. The Yankees have world class hitting that can hide Ryan’s major flaws at the plate and accentuate his benefits at shortstop making him a great fit for their team. Seattle was never going to be that place for him and that’s okay – that’s baseball. Unfortunately, the more you look at Brendan Ryan as a player, you notice how metaphorically he represented this baseball team for the past decade; stout defense, poor hitting and you could never see him winning. Nevertheless, his departure also represents our baseball team’s attempt to change that tune.
Fans at this stage in Mariner history shouldn’t focus on wins and losses in September but rather on who is still left in the line-up. This move to trade Brendan Ryan revived my faith a little that maybe – just maybe – the team is headed in the right direction by not trading young talent. By removing more dead weight, GM Jack Zduriencik is finally able to call up some of the talented draft picks he has stockpiled over the past four years. All these inspiring young pitchers and hitters get a chance to play in the majors and the games barely even matter! Meanwhile, the Mariners get ahead of the curve by getting the youngsters’ feet wet and ready for next year.
Brendan Ryan’s departure signals an important turning point in the organization that I hope hits home for this team. Finally, instead of breaking down the foundation every September or sinking slowly in stagnant water through the New Year, they may actually have some sense of urgency to improve. That this decade long rebuilding process is finally moving out of the base groundwork and we can start putting up some sheet rock. Start competing. Is there actually a light at the end of the tunnel? Only time will tell, but saying good-bye to Brendan Ryan is a good place to start.