Hope Is Not A Course Of Action

In the summer of 2006, I was a Navy officer working in the Logistics Branch at FEMA headquarters. That’s when I first I heard a simple phrase, which still resonates with me today.

The man speaking was a retired two-star Army General simply known as “the General” by the FEMA staff. He was a no-nonsense leader, who preferred accuracy to guesstimates.

On one particular occasion, a young staffer was briefing the team on delivery estimates for disaster relief supplies. The briefer repeatedly used the terms “I hope” and “we hope” until the General finally interrupted. That’s when he said it.

“Hope is not a course of action.”

For the remainder of my military career, I’d use the General’s comment whenever I wanted to reinforce that thoughtful planning and proper execution were the keys to success — not wishful thinking and speculation.

Now retired from the Navy, I find myself saying those seven simple words once again. This time, about the Seattle Mariners.

You see, the club entered the season with a reasonable chance to contend for a postseason berth. For that to happen, a lot had to go right. So far, little has.

Seattle is missing 80-percent of their projected rotation and their starting right fielder. Adding insult to injury, they demoted two Opening Day starters to the minor leagues due to unproductive bats. Not exactly what you’d expect from a serious contender.

Despite the whirlwind of bad news surrounding the team, hope is routinely peddled over the airwaves.Talking heads suggest help is just around the corner.

All the last place Mariners have to do is somehow stay close in the AL wildcard race until reinforcements return from the DL. That’s when the General’s words come to mind.

Hope is not a course of action.

Yes, players should begin returning from the DL over the next six weeks. But, their impact on the Mariners’ season is debatable. This is readily apparent once you consider the career status and age of the sidelined.

When staff ace Felix Hernandez went down with shoulder bursitis in late-April, he was anything but ace-like. In five starts, hitters were slashing .348/.376/.554 with six home runs against the 13-year veteran.

Now 31-years-old and coming off his second DL stint in as many seasons, Felix isn’t likely to regain the form that once made him one of the best in baseball.

A cross-section of fans want to believe the “Felix of old” is just one start away from returning. However, there’s no proof to support such hope. That’s the harsh reality facing the player with the second most innings pitched since 2005.

Perhaps, it’s time to stop hoping for the former King’s return and simply be pleased if the Mariners get a solid mid-rotation arm instead.

Hisashi Iwakuma was experiencing decreased fastball velocity and ineffectiveness prior to suffering shoulder tightness earlier this month. Current projections have the 36-year-old returning in late June.

The issue with Iwakuma is which version will the Mariners get if and when he returns? The one from years past with pinpoint control capable of going deep into games or the 2017 model, who was walking runners at a career-high rate and averaging just 4.8 innings during his last four starts.

Hoping a rejuvenated Kuma returns and delivers better results is a lot to expect. The veteran of 16 seasons has a 4.97 ERA in his last 13 starts dating back to last August 29. During that span, he’s averaged 5.2 innings/start, while hitters posted a .351 OBP against the right-hander.

Mitch Haniger was supposed to return from the DL as early as today. That’s what the hope-mongers were selling just a week ago. Unfortunately, he’s suffered a few minor setbacks, which is common with oblique injuries.

If all goes well, the 26-year-old should return within two weeks. That’s good news, but the hope-bar is certain to be set too high.

Haniger will undoubtedly lengthen a lineup receiving little-to-any production from the bottom three spots. He’ll likely move back into the number-2 spot pushing either Guillermo Heredia or Ben Gamel lower in the order. That’s an instant boost for the Mariners.

Furthermore, Haniger’s return to right field gives manager Scott Servais more opportunities to create favorable match-ups at the plate by interchanging Heredia, Gamel, and Jarrod Dyson in left and center field. Another good thing.

Despite the obvious benefits of getting Haniger back, tempering expectations is advisable. I’m not saying the right-handed hitter is going to tank, but he’s not going to sustain his pre-injury .342/.447/.608 triple-slash either.

Remember, Haniger is a rookie with just 218 career major league plate appearances — not Mike Trout. Sometimes, that’s hard to tell when listening to broadcasts.

Out since Spring Training with a flexor strain, Drew Smyly could debut with the Mariners sometime near the all-star break. That’s assuming his therapy, which included a platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection, pays dividends.

Otherwise, the veteran may be facing season-ending surgery, which will likely affect his availability going into 2018.

Of the five injured starting pitchers, James Paxton has the most positive prognosis. The southpaw threw another bullpen session today and is expected to make a rehab start later in the week. Barring any setbacks, the 29-year-old will be available for Seattle’s next home stand.

Considering Paxton will have been absent for nearly a month, it’d be reasonable to employ guarded optimism until the 28-year-old regains the elite-level form he flashed prior to his injury.

It’s not just the return of the injured that’s used to fuel false hope. A good example is Heredia and Gamel.

Certainly, the duo have been huge contributors during Haniger’s absence. Their value increased even more after the demotion of Opening Day center fielder Leonys Martin to Class-AAA Tacoma.

Having said that, both outfielders are certain to encounter regression, especially in the case of Gamel. The left-handed hitter is currently leading active Mariners in OBP. That will inevitably change.

Am I suggesting Heredia and Gamel won’t be valuable after Haniger returns? Of course not. But, expecting them to sustain their lofty production numbers will only lead to disappointment.

Yovani Gallardo and Ariel Miranda have performed admirably during the absence of Hernandez, Paxton, Smyly, and Iwakuma. However, expectations should remain in check.

Sometimes Gallardo and Miranda are good, other times not so much. That’s what you get from number-5 starters.

Christian Bergman and Sam Gaviglio both turned in career-best performances during their respective debut starts with the Mariners last week.

Bergman had big league experience, but was used as both a starter and reliever by the Colorado Rockies in recent seasons. In Gavilgio’s case, his first start with Seattle was actually his first ever in the majors.

How confident are you either pitcher can consistently repeat last week’s success? Before answering, reconsider the ups-and-downs of Gallardo and Miranda.

A spot where replacements haven’t panned out is catcher. The position has been devoid of offensive productivity regardless of who’s playing.

Projected starter Mike Zunino found himself playing for Tacoma after a horrendous start to the season and backups Carlos Ruiz and Tuffy Gosewisch have been even less productive.

Zunino returns to the big league club today, but what’s a realistic expectation for the former first round pick?

Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill noted yesterday the Mariners’ backstop made a mechanical fix while in Tacoma.

Perhaps, the change noted by Churchill permits Zunino to flourish. Nevertheless, the 26-year-old needs to demonstrate sustainable offensive productivity before hailing his latest return from Tacoma as a success.

The Mariners could still contend, but their road to the postseason has narrowed considerably since Opening Day.

Upcoming mileposts along the route include timely returns by Paxton, Haniger, Smyly, Hernandez, and Iwakuma with each contributing value.

The rest of the roster remaining relatively healthy is essential too. Otherwise, nothing will save the season.

Not even, hope.

I think the General would agree.

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. During the baseball season, he can be seen often observing the local team at Safeco Field. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins
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