Mariner Rewind: Desi Relaford

Desi Relaford (Getty Images)

Desi Relaford did everything Seattle asked him to do last season - play in the outfield, pinch-run, get the bunt down. His reward? No contract extention. While the switch-hitting utility man found a new home in Kansas City this season, Seattle finds itself needing someone on its roster with Relaford's capabilities. Veterans Jeff Cirillo and Mark McLemore appear to be towards the tail-end of their careers, making the decision to let the 29-year-old Relaford go seem that much worse.

A season ago, it was the Seattle Mariners' bench that drew the majority of the team's criticism.

With players like Charles Gipson, Luis Ugueto and Jose Offerman, three guys that made Mario Mendoza proud with the bat in their hands, it's no wonder fans wanted to upgrade.

So in the offseason, the Mariners' management did just that, signing two free agents - Greg Colbrunn and former Mariner John Mabry.

On paper, the unit appeared to be upgraded. Both Colbrunn, a right-hander, and Mabry, a lefty, were veterans who were thought to be capapble of swinging a better stick then the guys in 2002.

Lost in the bench shuffle, however, was a player who many forget was named the Mariners' "Unsung Hero" for the 2002 season by the Seattle chapter of BBWAA.

I'm talking about Desi Relaford, a player the Mariners decided not to resign.

Relaford, a 1991 fourth-round draft pick by Seattle who was traded away to Philadelphia in 1996 for Terry Mulholland, rejoined the Mariners prior to 2002 in the David Bell trade with San Francisco.

In his second go-around in the Seattle organization, all he did was provide the glue to a Mariners team with a lot of loose part.

He made starts at five different positions, starting 34 games at shortstop, 25 at third base, 14 in left field, 5 at second base and four in right field.

How many other players on the team could do that? Not Mark McLemore - his arm can barely handle third base let alone right field. Desi, who once pitched while with the New York Mets in 2001, has a fastball clocked in the low 90's.

The point is, Relaford was a bigger key to the M's success than anyone realized. A switch-hitter, he batted a respectable .267 with 43 RBI, stole 10 bases and smacked 6 homeruns in 329 at bats.

Do those numbers, although admittedly unflattering, sound better than what Jeff Cirillo has done at third base this year?

Cirillo, in 245 at bats so far this year, is batting .212 with 22 RBI, 1 steal and 2 homeruns.

How about in left field, where Randy Winn hasn't looked one-bit more comfortable to Mike Cameron's right then Relaford did. And I won't even mention Winn's arm...I guess I just did.

Winn, acquired in the offseason as compensation for Lou Piniella's departure to Tampa Bay, already has 357 at bats on the season. That's 28 more than Relaford did a year ago.

His stats?

A comparable .266 average, more steals (15), but only 3 homers and 34 RBI.

Desi's stats in 2003 with the Royals?

In 306 at bats, he's hit .284 with 6 homers, 41 RBI, and 15 steals.

The numbers don't necessarily translate straight across, and I realize that. Relaford in Safeco wouldn't have the numbers he does in hitter-friendly Kaufman Stadium. Winn's numbers, meanwhile, would be better at KC.

But the fact remains, losing a player like Desi - someone as versatile, as likeable, and as productive in every situation as he was - has absolutely depleted the Mariners bench this season.

The fact that both Mabry and Colbrunn have struggled through injuries just underlines that point.

So next time you see Randy Winn send another weak pop fly to right field, Jeff Cirillo beat another ball into the ground, or another pinch-hitter strikeout on three pitches, think about what could have been with Desi Relaford on this team.

All $900,000 of his 2003 contract.


Joe Kaiser is the publisher of InsidethePark.com. He misses all that Desi brought to the table in Seattle. Console him, offer him a tissue, or do whatever else you can to settle him down at joe-kaiser@excite.com.

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