Fate still twisting: Strasburg, Ackley, Riggleman

Three games.

That’s how many games were remaining in 2008 when the Mariners went on to sweep the Oakland A’s, an act normally celebrated, but ultimately ended up being a sarcastic footnote to an awful season that saw the Mariners lose 101 games.

The Mariners had “lost” the worst record in the MLB, as the Washington Nationals were swept to finish the season, meaning that the Mariners had lost out on a phenomenal talent in Stephen Strasburg.

In that offseason, Jim Riggleman, who took over for John McLaren midway through the 2008 season and helped orchestrate the ultimate end of the Mariners chances to draft Strasburg, was hired to be the bench coach of the same Nationals. Midway through the season the team fired Manny Acta, and Riggleman, in what seemed like a stroke of Karma after being jettisoned from Seattle, was given the job as the team’s interim manager barely a month after they’d drafted Strasburg. He ended up getting the full time gig, and will have his option picked up for 2011.

But Karma may have caught up to Riggleman, as Strasburg will likely undergo Tommy John surgery after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament.

Strasburg’s profile, a pitcher with elite-level offspeed stuff and a fastball that topped triple digits, screamed elbow injury before his drafting, but nobody can criticize the Nationals for taking the phenom turned surgery-recipient.

The situation is eerily similar to the Sonics drafting of Kevin Durant. Durant was a slight-of-frame finesse player, and the obvious top pick was Greg Oden, though seven-footers are traditionally risky. Oden was a can’t miss prospect, and skilled centers with athleticism are once-in-a-generation type of players.

After the lottery, the Sonics ended up with the second-overall pick. The top pick went to the Nate McMillan coached Portland Trailblazers.

Obviously, as history has shown, the Sonics—Erm, Thunder—ended up with the better end of the deal. Oden suffered a microfracture in his knee before the season started, and Durant easily won the Rookie of the Year award.

Since their draft, Durant has accounted for 26.3 Win Shares (WS, a statistic similar to sabermetrics’ WAR), compared to Oden’s 6.8 WS.

So leaves Dustin Ackley, whose rapid ascent through the Mariners minor leagues has been a relatively conservative approach compared to Strasburg, who made his MLB debut in June.

By contrast, Strasburg will accrue service time for the rest of this season, all of next season if he stays on the DL. His June 7 call up was solely centered around limiting his service time to avoid making him a Super-Two player, who could collect an arbitration raise after his second season. His arbitrational eligibility may be moot, as his performance likely won’t warrant a raise, however, Strasburg will be a year closer to free agency when he pitches next.

If he’s called up September, Ackley won’t accrue any service time. And we probably won’t see him in Seattle permanently until June of next year, unless of course, he absolutely tears up Major League pitching. Though, the Tacoma Rainiers playoff run, combine with the Mariners futility, may make the sample size that Ackley is able to display small enough to justify a trip back to Tacoma next year for the young, prospective second baseman.

It’s truly a shame for baseball fans, but for Mariners fans, like former Sonic fans, it’s entirely possible that in losing out on a can’t miss prospect, they actually caught a break.  (Though, we’d gladly take our basketball team back, even if it meant waiting for Greg Oden to contribute).