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Originally published May 24, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 24, 2005 at 12:56 PM

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Mariners

M's keep coming up short at short

The perfect fit for the Mariners at shortstop might sound a bit familiar. He stands 6 foot 3, weighs 225 pounds, hits for average and power...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The perfect fit for the Mariners at shortstop might sound a bit familiar. He stands 6 foot 3, weighs 225 pounds, hits for average and power and plays the field with a golden glove.

The perfect fit for the Mariners at shortstop should look a bit familiar, too, considering he once fit perfectly as the Mariners' starter at that position.

"Look at Alex Rodriguez," general manager Bill Bavasi said during a phone interview yesterday, "and you have the perfect fit."

Or had, if you're talking Mariners shortstop history. And since Rodriguez bolted for Texas and a $252 million contract following the 2000 season, the shortstop position has given the Mariners more hissy fits than perfect ones.

There are seven degrees of separation at the shortstop position from Rodriguez to the Mariners' current starter, Wilson Valdez. The names given below are notable for what they did not do in a Mariners uniform or what they did do after leaving or turning down the Mariners.

None more so than Baltimore's Miguel Tejada, considered one of the top shortstops in baseball and an early-season MVP candidate. When the Mariners start a three-game series against the Orioles tonight, they will play another one that got away, with Tejada's talent shining a light on all their shortcomings at shortstop since Rodriguez left.

Tonight

Seattle @ Baltimore, 4:05 p.m., Ch. 11/KOMO (1000 AM)

The seven degrees of separation:

1. Rodriguez leaves, and Carlos Guillen assumes the starting position. That is, when he isn't injured. Guillen plays only 76 games at shortstop in 2003, introducing concerns about his durability.

2. Before the winter meetings in 2003, just after Bavasi takes over as general manager, the Mariners decide that Guillen is too injury-prone and not worth a long-term investment. They turn their eyes to another superstar shortstop, Oakland's Tejada, and offer a five-year deal.

Tejada signs a six-year, $70 million contract with the Orioles.

Asked how close the Mariners were to signing Tejada, Bavasi offered one word yesterday.

"Close."

3. The Mariners attempt to trade Guillen to Cleveland, clearing the way for Omar Vizquel to return to Seattle, where he established himself as one of the top defensive shortstops in baseball from 1989 to 1993.

But Vizquel fails a physical, and the deal falls through. He then hits a surprising .291 in 2004 for the Indians, his highest batting average since 1999.

4. The Mariners trade Guillen to the Detroit Tigers for Ramon Santiago and Juan Gonzalez. Santiago can play shortstop, but he has yet to permanently latch on with the Mariners. Gonzalez was released last week.

Guillen, meanwhile, made the All-Star team and hit .318 last season. He's batting .375 this year.

"That is a decision we had to make, to go in that direction with Carlos," Bavasi said. "Given the opportunity to make that decision again, we'd probably make a different decision. That comes with the benefit of hindsight."

5. The Mariners sign Rich Aurilia to play shortstop. He bats .241 until July 19, when the Mariners trade Aurilia to the San Diego Padres for basically nothing — a player to be named or cash considerations.

6. In the offseason, the Mariners sign free agent Pokey Reese, fresh off his championship as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Sidelined by a shoulder injury, Reese has yet to play a game this season. He's two weeks into a six- to eight-week rehab stint.

And while Reese said his shoulder is coming along well, he added later that "it's been frustrating" and that "we've got a long way to go."

7. Faced with an injured Reese and no minor-leaguers they deem ready, the Mariners sign Valdez near the end of spring training. He arrives 20 minutes before their second-to-last exhibition game, and starts the season opener.

Valdez has been serviceable defensively, but is hitting .216 with eight RBI.

To recap: The Mariners traded Guillen, and he became an All-Star. They tried to trade for Vizquel, and he nearly hit .300. They tried to sign Tejada, and he has produced at an even greater clip than they anticipated. Meanwhile, their signings — Aurilia and Reese — have performed below expectations or not at all.

Asked if the team had been unlucky in regards to shortstops, Bavasi again answered with one word.

"Yes."

All hope is not lost, however, considering the depth at shortstop in the Mariners' farm system. The question is how soon any of those shortstops will be ready.

Jose Lopez was once considered the Mariners' shortstop of the future, but he is now projected as their future second baseman. That leaves several options with varying amounts of experience — Michael Morse, Yuniesky Betancourt, Santiago, Adam Jones and Woodinville's Matt Tuiasosopo among them.

It is believed the Mariners have concerns about Morse being a major-league-level shortstop and that they are impressed with Betancourt enough to give him more consideration as their shortstop of the future.

Problem is, all the future applicants are just that — prospects without guarantees.

"We'll see," Bavasi said. "Everybody will get an opportunity. They are all prospects for the time being. You just hope you can convert prospects into players."

Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or gbishop@seattletimes.com

Tough row to hoe
The Mariners have had a tough time getting any offensive production out of the shortstop position since Alex Rodriguez left following the 2000 season:
Year M's shortstop SS* GP Avg HR RBI
2000 Alex Rodriguez 148 148 .316 41 132
Also played (games at SS**): Carlos Guillen (23), Charles Gipson (5), David Bell (1).
2001 Carlos Guillen 137 140 .259 5 53
Also played (games at SS): Mark McLemore (35), Ramon Vazquez (10), Charles Gipson (6).
2002 Carlos Guillen 130 134 .261 9 56
Also played (games at SS): Desi Relaford (40), Luis Ugueto (8), Mark McLemore (1).
2003 Carlos Guillen 76 109 .276 7 52
Also played (games at SS): Rey Sanchez (46), Mark McLemore (38), Willie Bloomquist (18), Luis Ugueto (1).
2004 Rich Aurilia 73 73 .241 4 28
Also played (games at SS): Jose Lopez (57), Willie Bloomquist (20), Ramon Santiago (16), Jolbert Cabrera (14), Justin Leone (2).
2005 Wilson Valdez 38 38 .216 0 8
Also played (games at SS): Willie Bloomquist (9).
*SS=Games played that season at shortstop; GP=Total games played; Avg., HR and RBI are for the entire season, not just games played at shortstop.

**Games played at shortstop totals more than 162 games because more than one player played the position in some games.

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