The previous time I went on a real, extended international vacation, I left the States feeling afraid that the Mariners would throw too much money at Barry Zito. They did try that very thing, but in true Mariners fashion, they lost, and Zito went to the Giants on an even bigger mistake. This time, I left the States feeling afraid again that the Mariners would screw up, even though these days I’m considerably less emotionally invested. A whole lot happened over two weeks, but none of it involved the Mariners, except for the Chuck Armstrong part. That was a surprising part, and probably an overall good part, although in truth it’s impossible to know. In my absence, the Mariners didn’t do anything with which I disagreed.
But it sure feels like they’re going to, because they just can’t stop getting linked to Nelson Cruz. In fairness, they also can’t stop getting linked to Carlos Beltran, but Beltran’s market is too big, with too many superior teams. Beltran is virtually certain to sign somewhere else for two or three years in pursuit of a championship. The Cruz sweepstakes, on the other hand, is just conveying that feeling. The feeling where it’s only a matter of time before Nelson Cruz signs a multi-year contract to fill a hole in a currently embarrassing outfield.
The most current rumor, from Buster Olney, assumes the Mariners will end up with one of Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, and Ervin Santana. But that was mostly speculation on Olney’s part, and those markets are difficult to read with the Tanaka situation still open. The Mariners are most definitely in search of a starter, but I don’t know where they’ll turn. Cruz is the guy who seems likely, so Cruz is the thing I’m writing about at the moment.
It’s funny the way some guys just seem like obvious mistakes from the beginning. Zito looked like a certain disaster. Cruz, likewise, isn’t very good now, and appears a good bet to break down in a hurry. These likelihoods are exaggerated, but as fans you wonder why your own team might not recognize the same truth. In this free-agent market, Cruz seems like one of the most probable busts. He also has the Mariners’ attention.
It supposedly isn’t just the Mariners. The Phillies have been linked, but they signed Marlon Byrd. The Mets have been linked, but they signed Chris Young. The Rangers have been linked, and their outfield is thin, but they got Prince Fielder and seem too smart to guarantee Cruz big money. The A’s have been linked, but that doesn’t make one bit of sense.
One major-league source told me that the A’s have “meaningful interest” in free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, although there is nothing imminent.
You’d like to be encouraged by seeing the Mariners and the A’s connected to the same free agent, since the A’s are run extremely well. But the A’s have a pretty full roster, and they don’t make a lot of free-agent splashes. Yoenis Cespedes was one, but he was a potentially underrated international free agent. They went hard after Adrian Beltre, but Beltre has long been underrated by the market. Cruz is basically the anti-Beltre, so when you consider the A’s reputation, you automatically want to dismiss the rumor as nonsense. This is the power of reputations. See the A’s linked to Cruz, and you figure it’s either crap, or an attempt to raise his price. See the Mariners linked to Cruz, and you figure, yeah, makes sense. And they’ve been linked for weeks.
It’s all lined up. In the interest of honesty, I came into the offseason assuming the Giants would end up with Bronson Arroyo, and now that probably won’t happen, and I thought that was a lock. Nelson Cruz isn’t actually inevitable, for the Mariners. But he has a small rumored pool of suitors, and the others seem too smart or cash-strapped or both. The Mariners have a need, they have the money to spend, they have the desperation, and they have a demonstrated affection for Cruz’s skillset. Dave already wrote about the similarities between Cruz and Michael Morse, with whom the Mariners fell in love before, you know, the breakup. You have teams who might – might – like Cruz as a potential bargain, following a suspension. And you have a team that can’t seem to give its money away, a team that loves its dingers and runs-batted-initude. A team with Michael Saunders as its best current outfielder.
Offers being equal, the Mariners wouldn’t be the pick of many players. But there’s reason to believe that, with Cruz, the offers won’t be equal, and if the Mariners blow away the competition, Cruz would have to take a significant hit to go somewhere else. Before Byrd, maybe the Phillies would’ve been the team most likely to save the Mariners from themselves, but now they’ve already acquired an alternative and the coast is clear for the Mariners to put their best foot forward where other teams will be justifiably hesitant. I can’t imagine it would actually take the $75 million over four years that Cruz reportedly wants, but maybe four years is a real thing to fear, or $16-17 million a year over three. The Mariners want to spend more, and there’s only so much to buy. The Cruz sweepstakes might have the least competition, given how the Mariners probably value him.
At this point I’m just waiting for it. I’m waiting for it and I’m ready to not like it. There’s something to be said for spending money instead of pocketing it, because it’s not like the Mariners have infinite potential alternatives, but there are other courses, and Cruz could be a mistake from the beginning. My hope lies in the fact that I’ve been wrong about inevitabilities before. Nothing’s ever a lock until there’s a contract with a funny-looking signature. Maybe, somehow, the Mariners will be rescued from this.
And there’s also the Giants winning a pair of World Series toward the back end of the Barry Zito Era. From recent baseball history, that’s one of the very most important facts to remember. There are a lot of players on a baseball team, and a lot of things that happen because of them. The ultimate hope lies in the fact that either we don’t know what we’re doing, or baseball doesn’t.
Busy couple of days in Mariners-land, at least in terms of things related to the club. Let’s do a quick recap.
1. Chuck Armstrong is retiring as team president. I know a lot of people like to blame Armstrong (and Howard Lincoln) for the team’s failures, so for a portion of the fan base, this is going to be seen as great news. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, I don’t think there’s any way to know from this distance. I’ve never personally bought into the idea that the Mariners were more interested in profit than winning, or that they were simply a PR marketing firm masquerading as a baseball team, and I don’t have any real animosity towards the Mariners ownership or executives. I wish Mr. Armstrong the best in his retirement.
In terms of what it might mean for the Mariners future, I think the most significant factor is that Armstrong’s replacement will likely have a significant impact on whoever the next GM is, whenever there’s a next GM. Regardless of how optimistic you are about the 2014 Mariners, the reality is that the tenure of a Major League GM is rarely more than 10 years, and Jack Zduriencik is coming up on year six. There’s a pretty high chance that there will be a new GM hired at some point in the next few years, and potentially as early as next year.
More than “bringing respectability” or “lending credibility” or whatever other buzzwords people will use to talk up some celebrity president who they interviewed as a player/manager, the Mariners should be looking for someone who will push the organization towards a more analytical approach than they’ve used in the past. The trend in baseball is clearly moving in this direction, and this could be a chance for the Mariners to bring in someone with some newer ideas, and likely influence the organization to go a little more towards modern thinking when the inevitable front office overhaul happens. The Mariners should absolutely be looking to poach someone like Matthew Silverman from the Tampa Bay Rays, and I’d hope their list of candidates swings far more towards the analytical executive mold rather than a media spokesman type like Nolan Ryan was in Texas.
2. The Mariners announced their new coaching staff. Interestingly, Lloyd McClendon only brought in a couple of guys from outside the organization; Andy Van Slyke (McClendon’s teammate in Pittsburgh during his playing days) and Mike Rojas (Tigers bullpen coach during McClendon’s stint there), while everyone else was promoted from within the organization. Usually, a manager will bring in his own guys and surround himself with people he’s worked with in other organizations, but this at least has the appearance of McClendon not getting the final call on who joined him on the coaching staff. We can’t know exactly how much influence the team had in deciding who got each position, but it certainly looks like McClendon is not going to be given the kind of authority that Eric Wedge clearly coveted during his time in charge.
3. In Mariners writer news, Ryan Divish has officially joined the Seattle Times as their lead beat writer, and had his first day at the paper yesterday. Ryan is a friend and I’m happy for him in his new gig; don’t worry, Ryan, we’ll get the link added to your new blog home shortly. To fill Ryan’s vacancy at the News Tribune, the TNT has hired Bob Dutton, a longtime beat writer for the Kansas City Star. I don’t know Bob personally, but he has a pretty good reputation, and I’m looking forward to reading him on a more regular basis.
A few days ago, Shannon Drayer wrote a post about the Mariners potentially pursuing Robinson Cano, based on comments made by Jim Bowden. The Cano rumors don’t interest me much, because I don’t think there’s any reason to believe the Mariners should or will go after Cano, nor do I believe that Cano would have any interest in relocating to Seattle, and I think the idea of a big free agent signing turning around a franchise’s reputation is pretty much 100% BS. But in that piece, Shannon wrote another thing that was a little more interesting, and something I think is worth mentioning.
If you read my blog on a regular basis, you know I hate to make predictions. I will predict this, however: The Mariners’ No. 3, 4 and 5 starters will be significantly better next year. I know I am going out on a limb, but James Paxton and Taijuan Walker will be an upgrade from 3, 4 and 5 and most likely 6 on that list above. General manager Jack Zduriencik is planning on adding a starter from the outside as well. Great. Add a pitcher, do not trade Paxton or Walker and you can pencil in (I am done with my predictions so we are going with “pencil in” here) a 100-run swing.
Zduriencik has said that upgrading the defense is a priority as well and there is a lot of room for improvement. That translates to runs saved, which you can tack on to that 100-run swing. Go ahead and add a few more for an improved bullpen as well. That 754 runs allowed in 2013 should come down significantly in 2014.
She’s right that the back-end of the Mariners rotation last year was dreadful. Whether you’re looking at Joe Saunders, Aaron Harang, Brandon Maurer, Jeremy Bonderman, Blake Beavan, or even Erasmo Ramirez, the results were lousy. A lack of starting depth was one of the main reasons the 2013 Mariners were terrible. It should not be hard to improve upon what the team got from those three spots in the rotation. If Walker and Paxton are what some people think they are, and the team acquires a “legitimate #2″ — or someone they’ll stick that label on, at least — then the 2014 rotation should project to be significantly better.
But Shannon makes a pretty common mistake that a lot of people make when projecting the future; she focuses only on the positive improvements from replacing lousy performances from the year before. When you do projections like this, and note that Awesome New Guy X is some number of runs better than Old Crappy Guy Y, you’re inherently treating everyone else on the roster like their performance is fixed from year to year. And that is simply not the case.
As great as Felix Hernandez is, and as good as Hisashi Iwakuma was last year, those two simply cannot be expected to repeat their 2013 performances again in 2014. It’s not that they couldn’t possibly throw another 423 innings while allowing just 143 runs (3.04 RA9, combined), but that their performance from last year represents something very close to the upper limit of their potential, and there’s a significant probability that the Mariners will get less from their top two next year. And you absolutely have to factor the expected regression from those two into any kind of forecast for runs allowed by the team in 2014.
For instance, right now, the Steamer projection system forecasts the Mariners rotation to post a combined 4.07 ERA in 969 innings, barely any improvement over the 4.18 ERA the Mariners got from their starters over 960 innings last year. Part of that lack of improvement is because there is no “#2 starter” included in the depth chart yet, so Shannon’s projecting some improvement from a pitcher the team doesn’t yet have, so you could go ahead and make some adjustments for adding that guy to the mix. And I’d imagine she’s probably more optimistic about the short-term performances from Walker and Paxton than Steamer is, since that system is forecasting something close to league average pitching from both. No one is saying the Steamer projections are the gospel truth and can’t be underselling the expected performances of the team’s 2014 rotation, and perhaps Shannon’s right to be more optimistic about the young kids than the numbers suggest.
However, I think we can say with near certainty that the Mariners rotation will not improve by 100 runs next year. In fact, we can basically prove that they won’t do it just through looking at the recent history of major league rotations.
The Mariners starters allowed 481 runs in 2013. Over the last 30 years, no American League team has allowed 381 runs over a full-season — a bunch of teams did it in 1994, when the season ended in mid-August — and in fact, no team has even come close. The fewest runs allowed by an AL starting rotation over the last 30 years? 412, by the 1990 Red Sox. That was a team that had Roger Clemens throw 230 innings with a 1.93 ERA, and a bunch of good hurlers behind him.
A few other teams have gotten close to that mark recently, including the 2012 Tampa Bay Rays (David Price, James Shields, and a bunch of good young arms) and the 2013 Tigers (Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister), but have maxed out around 415 runs allowed. Those are two of the best run prevention rotations we’ve seen any team run out in recent history, and they topped out at about 65 runs better than the 2013 Mariners. Realistically, it would be impossible to expect the Mariners rotation (and defense) to be better than any of the recent Rays teams, last year’s Tigers, or even the ’85 Blue Jays, ’89 A’s, or that 2002 Red Sox team that featured Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.
Even if we narrow the timeline to the more recent years, as offense in baseball has declined and so comparing the current game to the one seeing 15 years ago is a little bit of apples and oranges, we still only find a handful of teams even getting under the 450 run barrier. Over the last three seasons, only seven different pitching rotations have allowed fewer than 450 runs, and five of those seven were between 432 and 442. If you were to look at the runs allowed totals by the best rotations (and defenses) we’ve seen in the last few years, we’d peg the expected upper limit around 435 or so. It’s possible to push it to 415, but it takes such a remarkable performance from so many elite talents that it’s basically impossible to expect anyone to match those levels.
435 runs allowed isn’t even a 50 run improvement over what the Mariners rotation put up in 2013, less than half of the 100 run improvement that Shannon wrote about. And that’s the level reached by the best starting staffs in the AL over the last few years, which it isn’t entirely clear that we should expect the 2014 Mariners to be. Yeah, Walker is a great prospect, and Paxton had a nice final start to his season, but the performance range of young pitchers is all over the map. Pitching prospects are as flakey as anything in baseball, and it’s not like either Walker or Paxton destroyed Triple-A in a way that suggests that the inconsistencies of young pitchers shouldn’t be expected to apply to them. There’s as good a chance that one or both of them just fall on their face — as Brandon Maurer did a year ago after winning everyone over in spring training — and get shipped back to Triple-A as there is that they pull a Michael Pineda and dominate from day one. The reason we were all impressed with Pineda is because that kind of performance from the start was unusual. You can’t expect that from every young kid who throws 95.
And even if you could, you’d still have to expect less from Felix and Iwakuma. They might stay perfectly healthy and make 64 starts between them again, but there’s basically no room for upside beyond that, and even short DL stints from either one could really cut into their overall production levels. And, realistically, a 2.66 ERA for Iwakuma is almost certainly not happening again. He needed absurdly low rates of hits on balls in play and stranding runners in order to post that mark last year, and those numbers fluctuate greatly from year to year. Even if he pitched the same in terms of walks, strikeouts, and home runs, you’d expect his ERA to go up significantly just due to different timing of events.
It’s fine to expect the Mariners 2014 rotation to be better. It might even be a lot better. But, in reality, a lot better is a 30 run improvement, not a 100 run improvement. If the Mariners really do commit to upgrading the defense, and the bullpen gets some positive regression as well, maybe the overall staff can be 50 or 60 runs better than they were last year. But anything beyond that is really pushing it. 100 runs just isn’t realistic.
This post came from: U.S.S. Mariner, and is copyright by the authors. This RSS feed is intended for the personal use of readers and not, for instance, spam blogs.
The Problem With Only Focusing on Improvements
So today’s been interesting.
1: The M’s, like all clubs, protected four players from the looming Rule 5 draft by placing them on the 40-man roster. They’ve selected Logan Bawcom, Ji-Man Choi, James Jones and Stefen Romero, leaving two open spots on the 40-man. JY talked about all four, and the two guys most are talking about as potential Rule 5 losses, in his preview the other day. That means there are a few marginal high-minors big-tent “prospects” who won’t be protected – Brian Moran was in this situation last year, and he went unselected despite a remarkable, eye-popping year in 2012. He’s the same guy, pitching off an 85-86mph fastball and striking out tons of hitters, but he sprouted some platoon splits this year and yielded a few more home runs. The sheen is off somewhat, but he’s still a guy who’s pitched very effectively in the Pacific Coast League for nearly two seasons and could presumably help someone as a back-of-the-bullpen arm, but there’s not much projection. I’ll admit that I still hope Moran makes his MLB debut in an M’s uniform, just because there’s something cool about a fly-ball/strikeout lefty throwing 85 and somehow making it work. As JY mentioned, Moran’s got an odd delivery, but it’s not one that’s really conducive to the LOOGY role – it’s very over-the-top, which helps explain the lack of splits in 2012. Sounds nice and all, but it’s probably keeping him out of a big league role, as a drop in arm-angle and a slider would make him much more of a traditional, Lucas-Luetge-esque LOOGY. I think the obsession with defined roles for non-closers is often hard to jusify, but in this case, we’re asking a big league manager to give the ball to a mid-80s lefty and NOT play match-ups with him. Someone may, someday, but I don’t think it’s that surprising that no one’s bit yet. Here’s hoping he has a bounce-back year and gets a look with the M’s in the late summer.
The other “snub” was IF Ty Kelly, the former Orioles farmhand the M’s got for Eric Thames in a waiver deal last summer. Between the IL and PCL, Kelly racked up 100 walks despite minimal power (his career OBP> his career SLG%). He’s a good utility-man candidate, so could conceivably stick with someone, but without power, above-average defense or good speed (3 SBs for Tacoma, but 7 caught-stealing), it’s not clear how any team would use him at the big league level next year. That’s not to say he’s worthless – with Stefen Romero moving to the OF and with a raft of IF promotions the past few years, the M’s could use some IF depth in the high minors, and a bench guy with some patience probably sounds better than it ought to for the OBP-starved M’s.
Congratulations to Bawcom, Choi, Jones and Romero – I haven’t said as much about them, as Jay covered it already, but it’s a testament to some hard work by each player and by the M’s player development staff. Bawcom struggled a bit when he first came to the org (in the Brandon League deal), and wasn’t great in the Arizona Fall League. But a solid season for Tacoma and good stuff make him a good choice to protect. Choi’s defensive limitations and voluminous injury history don’t change the fact that he can hit. If he’s healthy, he could put up decent numbers for Tacoma. Stefen Romero is one of those great draft bargains that Tom McNamara comes up with from time to time – a 12th round pick after an injury-shortened career at Oregon State. He had an up and down AFL this year, but has some pop (a HR in Arizona registered as the hardest-hit ball of the circuit, according to Trackman data. The HR left Romero’s bat at 110mph); as I mentioned recently, his success against Michael Wacha (1-2, with two well-stroked line drives) looks much better in retrospect than it did at the time. He’s got a ways to go, but given his potential and the open slots, this move makes perfect sense.
2: Speaking of the Winter Leagues, it’s been something of a disappointing campaign for the M’s. Danny Hultzen’s injury meant that the M’s lacked a really high-ceiling guy, as Jesus Montero’s the guy with the best prospect resume actually playing, and that resume’s only worth looking at if you pretend his big league tenure never happened, something many M’s fans are actively trying to do. Carson Smith (another guy who looked great in both pitch FX and Trackman) is still a very good relief prospect despite so-so numbers (obligatory small sample warning) which just goes to show that Smith didn’t really have much to gain this fall. Of the guys who did, a few took a step forward – Dominic Leone hit 97mph fairly regularly, and showed solid control in his innings for Peoria. His very hard cutter at around 90mph looks like a good pitch, and though he made some mistakes, Arizona’s a place that punishes missed location a bit more severely than most. He had scouts talking throughout the year, and he backed it up on a bigger stage this fall. Chris Taylor had a brilliant first few weeks in Peoria, and while he faded a bit down the stretch, he showed that his presumed ceiling of a glove-first utility IF was too low. Splitting time at 2B/SS and with great speed, he could add value as a bench player, but could work his way to a starting role as well. On the other end of the spectrum, we find Patrick Kivlehan, the guy I said had the most to gain from his AFL experience as any player on Peoria’s roster. He slugged .213 in 61 AB with a K:BB ratio of 17:3. It…it could’ve gone better.
3: The Alex Rodriguez saga has been a thoroughly ugly affair, pitting two towering ego with limitless resources against each other in a battle to discredit the other. It’s easy to hope they both succeed and get back to watching the Seahawks, but the NY Times story on the case a few weeks ago was absolutely riveting. Today, A-Rod walked out of an arbitration hearing when a judge refused to compel Bud Selig to testify. MLB clearly won that particular battle, but as Wendy Thurm’s great recap for Fangraphs makes clear, the Arb hearing (despite being ‘binding’ and the final step in adjudicating discipline according to the CBA) won’t end the matter. Rodriguez will certainly appeal to the federal courts, and even if he loses both in Arbitration and the courts, this is shaping up as a very Pyrrhic victory for MLB.
The conduct outlined in the Times article, and repeated by Rodriguez’s attorneys is pretty shocking, and while MLB can constrain the Players’ Association’s response for now, it’s probably going to be an issue when the CBA’s renegotiated. As today’s hearing showed, the Commissioner’s office sometimes sits above the arbitrator, and the anti-trust exemption means it’s really tough for players to seek any sort of remedy outside of the CBA. None of this mattered before, and it’s amazing the lengths to which Selig’s willing to go to ensure it matters in the A-Rod case. It’s not like Congress ever seriously debates the anti-trust exemption, and no, Congress isn’t going to be moved by A-Rod’s pleas that he’s being railroaded, but we’ve got an absolute trainwreck of a case (buying evidence, witnesses switching sides, etc.) that show that, in this specific instance, the fruits of that exemption have been put to, well, questionable use. You don’t have to feel sorry for A-Rod, but this has gone about as poorly as it could’ve for both sides.
4: So, there was a trade today. Dave’s got a couple of posts on the deal at FG. The deal can certainly work out well for both teams; both are contenders, and both fixed a weakness for 2014 through this swap. It allows the Rangers to make a space for one of baseball’s biggest prospects in Jurickson Profar, while it may allow the tigers to extend Max Scherzer and replace Omar Infante. You can make a case that Detroit “wins” thanks to that flexibility, and I think it’s a great argument, but that doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to seeing Prince Fielder in Arlington next year.
Still, I find it incredible how quickly Fielder’s contract turned ugly. The statheads would say it was obviously too high from the day it was signed, and I’m patting myself on the back for that a bit, truth be told. But Fielder was young, he’s incredibly durable, and had a very good 2012 before slumping a bit in 2013. It was self-evidently not an anchor, and while the Tigers threw some money in, Prince Fielder had a market, even with a lot of money and a lot of years remaining. Still, I wonder if we’ll come to see the Fielder deal as some sort of peak in the value of pure power hitters on the open market. The Pujols deal may end up looking worse in time, and the Ryan Howard contract is still so bad it’s basically in a separate category, but throw in Mark Teixeira and you’re looking at a lot of dead money for 1Bs. As Dave’s mentioned, this is part of a trend where contracts have lengthened, showing that teams are holding the line on single-year salary and stretching their commitment over time instead. But while Fielder’s deal isn’t going to seriously impact Robinson Cano’s negotiations, I wonder if we may not see many deals like, say, Joey Votto’s extension for a while. We won’t really be able to see for a while, not until the very reasonable extensions for young players like Arizona’s Paul Goldshmidt run out, but the fact that the Reds will be paying Votto $25m in 2023 looks odd, and Votto’s a much better hitter than Fielder. Basically, will this lead to a re-valuation of good-not-historically-great ballplayers?
These things seem to go in cycles. The Mike Hampton contract haunted owners dreams, and thus frustrated agents of free agent pitchers, for years. The rising tide of revenue, extensions buying out some pre-arb years as well as free agencies, and the corresponding willingness of teams to “eat” some bad years on the back end of contracts changed all of that, and so long term deals for guys like Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez raise fewer eyebrows. Hampton, Darren Dreifort and, to a lesser extent, Kevin Brown, seemed to be the poster children for the baseball truism that pitchers are simply far more risky investments. But as you survey the baseball landscape, it certainly seems less true than it once was. Barry Zito’s contract was silly, but it’s nothing compared to the Ryan Howard extension, and you can make a case that the Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp deals would be more damaging to a team (er, as long as that team isn’t the hyper-wealthy Dodgers). That’s kind of a separate issue from the very healthy and still youngish Prince Fielder, but I wonder to what extent teams would say that pitchers really are more risky for these 8-figure contracts. It’s possible I’m still scarred by Franklin Gutierrez’s collapse, and Chone Figgins…whatever the hell that was. Still, just as some of the received wisdom of sabermetric studies of the draft (HS pitchers are terrible, college 1Bs are awesome, college>>>>HS players) slowly became less and less predictive, I wonder if this (or 2010-2012) marks another inflection point, or if cable deals will make all of it irrelevant for a few more years.
This post came from: U.S.S. Mariner, and is copyright by the authors. This RSS feed is intended for the personal use of readers and not, for instance, spam blogs.
M’s 40-man moves, Winter Leagues, and a Fairly Large Trade
Over at FanGraphs, we’re rolling out our off-season prospect lists, with some additional content as well. Today is the Mariners turn, and we’ve got four pieces up that may be of interest to you:
The Top 10 Prospects, by Marc Hulet.
A Q&A with Austin Wilson, by David Laurila.
DJ Peterson and the Wisdom of First Round First Baseman, by Al Skorupa.
Steamer Projects the Mariners Prospects, by Carson Cistulli.
It’s a veritable cornucopia of content, and hopefully you’ll enjoy the pieces.
This post came from: U.S.S. Mariner, and is copyright by the authors. This RSS feed is intended for the personal use of readers and not, for instance, spam blogs.
Mariners Prospects Day at FanGraphs
I don’t have much to say about this — I just found it an interesting paragraph. Not long ago, I mistakenly identified the Cardinals as less of a sabermetric organization. In doing so, I casually cited outdated reputation instead of really thinking about it, and the truth of the matter is that the Cardinals have long been one of the more forward-thinking organizations in baseball. That was just a stupid error on my part, as my fingers got ahead of my brain. Someone who worked for the Cardinals for a long time is Jeff Luhnow, the current general manager of the Astros. Luhnow recently had something to say about the process of hiring a manager. The Mariners recently hired a new manager in Lloyd McClendon. All right, that’s the connection. This is the excerpt:
Luhnow, a former CEO who leans on analytics perhaps more than any other general manager, called hiring a manager the most important job of a front office. In hiring Porter, the Astros were “not looking for someone we could dictate how to do their job,” he said. But he demanded a candidate “curious enough to listen and bright enough” to be open to new ideas.
It’s funny how a word, or the absence of a couple words, can change everything. If Luhnow called hiring a manager one of the most important jobs of a front office, it would be an easy paragraph to ignore. That would just be interpreted as a statement of little substance. Instead, it’s very matter-of-fact: hiring a manager is the most important job of a front office, according to Jeff Luhnow. He didn’t give himself any wiggle room. He made a statement, asserting it as fact, and Jeff Luhnow is very smart and good at baseball.
And, you know, okay, maybe he’s wrong. Nobody’s right all of the time. But my inclination is to give baseball people the benefit of the doubt with most baseball questions, and Luhnow’s a hell of a baseball person. This is something he’s thought about before, at length. And while it’s obviously important to hire the right manager, it’s an interesting situation to have a manager be considered this important, when fans by and large don’t know and don’t care. Fans care about the roster. Fans care about the manager only when they have reason to complain about him.
Two points, to summarize what we’ve got here:
(1) according to at least one smart GM, there’s nothing more important for a front office than hiring the right manager
(2) we might not ever have any idea how well or poorly a given manager did with a given team in a given year
It’s maybe the most important thing, and we know nothing about it. Even when we think we do, we don’t for sure, but if Luhnow is to be believed, the Mariners just made a very significant decision in bringing on Lloyd McClendon. Of course, I don’t know if that’s a good decision or a bad decision, and there’s little sense in analyzing the quotes since McClendon’s just making a first impression and everybody’s positive, but let it not be suggested that the Mariners’ offseason isn’t underway. McClendon’s here now, and he’s going to try to develop a new and better team culture. For all I know that’ll be the biggest thing of all. Never underestimate what might be hidden in your blind spots.
As for the end of the excerpted paragraph? We’ll see about McClendon’s curiosity, and we’ll see if he’s provided with new ideas. Or, probably, we won’t see that, directly. But we’ll see if the team looks different. The person who knows the most about Lloyd McClendon is Lloyd McClendon. The people who know a lot are the Mariners. The people who know nothing, aside from what they’ve been fed, are us. We might never know whether the Mariners made a good move or a bad move, but I sure would welcome good moves. I’d like for this to be one.
We’re presently in one of the offseason doldrums that precedes the winter meetings, a time of frenzied anticipation when we pretend as though things are going to happen and then they usually don’t. That means it’s time for me to step in and talk a bit about other forms of anticipation, namely prospects, and who we might see get added to the 40-man in preparation for the deadline, which is I think a week from now. Given that the M’s keep promoting these guys, I don’t know that it’s more or less interesting, given the obscurity of the players in the eyes of most.
The name of the game this year is last year’s game’s name moved up a digit: ’09 high school draftees and early international signings and ’10 college draftees need to be on the 40-man lest they be kidnapped by other organizations. The international portion of this is always the most dicey as players can “debut” in instructs the year they sign, but as I’m not seeing that from the media guide, I’m guessing that Guillermo Pimentel and Alexy Palma are not on the list, which is great because I don’t want to write about them now, or unless they’re doing things worth writing about. All advanced metrics are courtesy of StatCorner, your Corner for Stats (and nB%, if unfamiliar, is unintentional walks plus HBP)
Among names I won’t touch on, with brief reasons why: Steve Baron (LOL), Ramon Morla (bad plate discipline, hasn’t shown power regularly), Jordy Lara (Morla minus power outburst and experience), Nate Tenbrink (not the same since his concussion), Scott Savastano (you all know why), Marcus Littlewood (basically coaching material), Isliexel Gonzalez (no proper names in Scrabble), Jonathan Arias (walks too many, dinger-prone), Jimmy Gillheeney (suspect K-rates and stuff), Jandy Sena (rather unpolished), Mike Wilson (played for the Padres last year and is not a Mariner anymore), Andrew Carraway (lost his command), Richard Vargas (too injured/unpolished), George Mieses and Rigoberto Garcia (not-good command), Jose Valdivia (both and a limited track record), Jesus Ugueto (limited track record, maybe a tweener) Kevin Rivers (despite his lack of home/road splits, old and needs to do something outside the Cal League), Seon-gi Kim (never had a BB/9 under 3.5 in a full season), Jose Flores (less relevant than other Jose Floreses), either of the Pereiras (laughably bad command), and Joe Dunigan (injured and hasn’t hit for average since 2009, which was the only time he did it). I would like to write about Leury Bonilla, but he’s still just that guy that sometimes plays all nine positions. I could blurb even more names and should not be tempted to do so. If I did not blurb your offspring, friend, or relation, I apologize. I’m probably just jealous or something?
RHP Logan Bawcom, 6’2″, 220 lbs, 11/2/1988
AAA: 1-4, 51 G, 4.38 tRA (3.91 ERA) in 65.0 IP, 56 H (4 HR), 24 R (21 ER), 64/24 K/BB (24.1 K%, 9.7 nB%)
Pros: Cheap bullpen arm, one of the lowest walk-rates of his career, few split issues, guest blogger for Shannon Drayer
Cons: Name seems pun-able, K-rate also dropped
It’s been a trend that the second piece of the trade ends up doing the most for us. Fister brought Wells, but it’s Furbush who is still around. Ichiro netted us D.J. Mitchell, a probable starter whom we DFA’d, but Farquhar is now our closer. League brought Landry, but Bawcom seems more interesting right now. Caveat: he’s changed a bit since arriving. The stuff is probably the same, low-90s heat, slider, but how he’s using it isn’t the same as it once was. He’s become more contact oriented and while the contact seems as hard as ever (Bawcom doesn’t give up dingers), he’s been more into fly balls lately whereas his career had him drawing grounders. So, we’ve solved one problem (walks) at the hazard of maybe creating two more (fewer Ks, more flies)? Mariners? Mariners.
RF Jabari Blash, R/R, 6’5″, 225 lbs, 7/4/1989
A+: 80 G, 332 PA (283 AB), 42 R, 73 H, 16 2B, 3 3B, 16 HR, 53 RBI, 85/40 K/BB, .396wOBA (.258/.358/.505)
AA: 29 G, 120 PA (97 AB), 13 R, 30 H, 3 2B, 9 HR, 21 RBI, 28/20 K/BB, .480 wOBA (.309/.442/.619)
Pros: His name is “Jabari Blash,” power, good arm, drew walks in double-A, modest improvement in K%
Cons: Wildly inconsistent, hitters with this profile always draw more walks in double-A, still Ks ~25%
The past few seasons we’ve picked up or added to the 40-man every live-bodied outfielder that has shown the faintest glimmer of promise (hello, Travis Witherspoon). Much of that time, that’s been fata morgana. Blash seems to be more illusion than reality right now, which is a shame because those tools seem very real indeed. My criticisms are the usual on this front. At home in the Cal League, he hit .278/.359/.604. On the road, .237/.358/.403. He hit .333/.389/.833 in April (54 PA) and later .211/.324/.300 in July (105 PA). His walk rate in High Desert overall was worse than it was in Clinton by nearly a full percentage point and his strikeout tendencies were curbed more strongly by double-A than anything else. I’ve seen a lot of hitters with his profile suddenly gain some semblance of plate discipline in double-A and then peter out into nothing again, so I think it’s mostly a function of pitcher quality. To summarize: neat player, but I don’t think his skills have advanced enough to warrant us protecting him or any other team taking him for any reason other than to break up our Jabari monopoly.
RHP Tyler Burgoon, 5’10″, 175 lbs, 8/10/1990
AA: 4-3, 36 G, 4.07 tRA (3.58 ERA) in 50.1 IP, 45 H (6 HR), 22 R (20 ER), 65/23 K/BB (31.5 K%, 10.2 nB%)
Pros: Hard-thrower, career K% of 28.2 in full-season ball (29.9% this year, adding in two Tacoma outings)
Cons: The opposite of tall (baseball relative), gross walk rate, 1.096 OPS against lefties this year
‘Goon, at various points in time, has been mentioned in the same breath as Capps, Pryor, and Carson Smith, though he’s been slower to come along than any of them and has never gotten much love from the scouting community. I could joke around and say that it’s because he’s under six feet tall, but he also doesn’t have the raw velocity of any of those guys and tends to sit a few mph lower. The slider is awesome. He has that going for him. But increasingly it’s looking like he might need a third pitch because he’s shown a definite trend of getting hit worse by LHB. Do you protect him knowing that he might be potential ROOGY, or no? On one hand, it might be valuable in the short-term with Pryor and Capps both having setbacks. On the other, Dominic Leone and Carson Smith have shown better stuff.
1B Ji-man Choi, L/R, 6’1″, 225 lbs, 5/19/1991
A+: 48 G, 211 PA (181 AB), 34 R, 61 H, 24 2B, 3 3B, 7 HR, 40 RBI, 33/27 K/BB, .450 wOBA (.337/.427/.619)
AA: 61 G, 236 PA (198 AB), 21 R, 53 H, 10 2B, 3 3B, 9 HR, 39 RBI, 28/32 K/BB, .379 wOBA (.268/.377/.485)
AAA: 13 G, 52 PA (45 AB), 9 R, 11 H, 2 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 7/4 K/BB, .335 wOBA (.244/.333/.422)
Pros: Professional hitter who provides quality at-bats, has adapted well despite being promoted aggressively
Cons: Non-traditional offensive profile for his position [assuming third is not an option], sketchy health record
As a charter member of the J-MC Fan Club, this will be tricky for me. Choi was a top prep third baseman in Korea who donned catcher’s gear after turning pro. He won MVP his first year in the AZL and nearly led the league in all the slash categories. Awesome, initially, but his back couldn’t handle the strain of catching and he was on the DL for the next year, eventually moving to first just to keep healthy. With ~150 PAs in the AZL under his belt (and 50 more in the Cal League), he went to Clinton in late May 2012 and handled himself there. This past year, he punched cards on three more minor league levels and kept hitting after ~a month of adjustment time. Nevertheless, some scouts dislike him because he doesn’t have big time power. Talent evaluators love it when you can get power from non-traditional position. Provide them with average-ish power from a traditional power position and they’re less jazzed to see whomever you’re talking about. I speculate that his ceiling (emphasis: CEILING) would look approximately like John Olerud, maybe with more power and almost certainly with fewer walks though a not-insignificant number of walks on the whole. He’ll also be worse with the glove and might not lead the league in hitting. Most first basemen have been in that company. It’s a profile that’s interesting enough for me, given that 40+ HR first baseman are rare and it’s an accomplishment to top thirty dingers these days, but hey, I’m not in charge or anything.
OF James Jones, L/L, 6’4″, 195 lbs, 9/24/1988
AA: 101 G, 405 PA (363 AB), 44 R, 100 H, 14 2B, 10 3B, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 72/40 K/BB, .358 wOBA (.275/.347/.419)
Pros: Ks dropped this year, improved stolen base efficiency over last year, was not horrible in April
Cons: Power numbers took a hit on leaving the Cal League, was mostly a RF last year, sucked in May instead
I’ve been preparing eulogies for Jones’ life as a hitter pretty much every May now and he keeps hitting competently, so now I think I have positioned him in a different space. He hits well, but he probably won’t hit well enough considering he’s a tweener outfielder. The speed is probably not quite there to play center (the M’s have never been eager to try), but he doesn’t have the raw power to be good at the corners either. So the good news is that maybe James Jones won’t have to be a pitcher after all and the bad news is he’s looking sort of like a triple-A role player. That’s how it stands right now at least. There are still enough tools there to think that he might turn into more, but without clear signs of it, he’s an unnecessary gamble.
UT Ty Kelly, S/R, 6’0, 185 lbs, 7/20/1988
AA: 72 G, 343 PA (283 AB), 51 R, 80 H, 21 2B, 2 3B, HR, 47 RBI, 49/51 K/BB, .372 wOBA (.283/.389/.382)
AAA: 54 G, 252 PA (197 AB), 34 R, 63 H, 6 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 41/51 K/BB, .412 wOBA (320/.456/.406)
Pros: Take a look at those walk totals!, has hit for some average
Cons: Take a look at those HR totals!, strikes out a bit much, no defensive position
For those of you who checked out June 30th or earlier, Ty Kelly was what happened when the Mariners finally accepted the fact that they weren’t playing Eric Thames and shipped him off to Baltimore. Kelly can hit a bit, which endeared him to the Orioles, but he’s topped ten home runs all of once and hit thirty doubles once, narrowly missing it last year. This ties a lot of value to his ability to walk, which he does, thankfully, more than anyone in baseball it seems. Why he just stands there in that box and doesn’t swing unless it’s a strike, and sometimes even if it is. The bigger issue is that none of his defensive tools are any good, or so the reports go. The instincts are fine and permit him to make plays, but he can only pass at second and that’s as high defensively as he can go. This, in turn, pressures the bat more. So, offensive utility man who can only play so many places? I think the most interesting thing about him is that we traded for him, given that he doesn’t seem like he would be a darling of the scouting community. Nerds probably dig him.
RHP Stephen Kohlscheen, 6’6″, 225 lbs
AA: 7-3, 41 G, 2.77 tRA (2.30 ERA) in 66.2 IP, 47 H (6 HR), 18 R (17 ER), 85/25 K/BB (33.3 K%, 9.1 nB%)
Pros: Sustained last year’s K-rate while reducing his walks, pretty much stopped getting hit
Cons: More a results guy than a stuff guy though the stuff isn’t terrible, lefties hit him hard
I usually start these things out by writing down every name I can remember and cross-referencing with the media guide. Some names, I’m all too eager to write off, but I look up stats for everyone and Kohlscheen’s popped out as being better than I expected. Teams only hit .203/.280/.328 against him this past season. This was not something I had anticipated given that in 2012, he had more of everything than at any point previously in his career, which was not all High Desert though a fair amount of it was. What I see as two issues facing him is that 40% of his hits given up to lefties went for extras (and half of those left the park) and he’s competing on the depth charts with a lot of guys who have better stuff and are better regarded. For all I know, all systems have guys like these. For all I know, they don’t and as a redundant piece here, he’ll be picked up elsewhere and they’ll see what happens.
CF Leon Landry, L/R, 5’11″, 190 lbs, 9/20/1989
AA: 114 G, 460 PA (422 AB), 43 R, 91 H, 15 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 37 RBI, 71/26 K/BB, .216/.262/.303 (.259 wOBA)
Pros: The Mariners saw reason to acquire him, charming nickname
Cons: They are the Mariners and he had a Mariners season
Outfielders who have little appreciable power to speak of need to do some combination of things in order to remain relevant. They can steal bases at a high level of efficiency, walk a lot, or hit for a really high average. Neon Leon has topped out at a 75.9% SB success rate, and twenty-eight in a season (70% in that case). His walk% has never entered double-digits. This year provided the worst average of his career, but he also had the worst BABIP of his career (.245, career .300). Part of this seems to be tied up in the fact that last year he beat out a lot of infield singles (.419 BABIP) and this year, not so much (.286). Turns out there was some value in that! The emergence of Abraham Almonte renders him somewhat irrelevant and the fact that the Mariners acquired Travis Witherspoon, who posted all around better numbers, means that I have no idea why I typed this all out.
LHP Brian Moran, 6’3″, 215 lbs
AAA: 2-5, 48 G, 3.04 tRA (3.45 ERA) in 62.2 IP, 70 H (4 HR), 28 R (24 ER), 85/20 K/BB (32.6 K%, 6.9 nB%)
Pros: Highest K-rate of his career
Cons: Still presumably has meh stuff, highest hit rate of his career, righties may have figured him out, we didn’t get to draft his brother
Brian Moran has been a pitcher of interest in the system for a while now. His stuff sucked relative to the baseball population, but he had a tricky arm angle and this was supposed to make him an awesome LOOGY. What instead happened for much of his career was that Moran killed it against both left-handers AND right-handers, something none of us really anticipated. Magic is usually a risky if not unsatisfying explanation for phenomena and this year, the magic may have gone away entirely. There’s some noise like the differential of nearly 100 points in BABIP and the fact that his swinging K percentage was higher against righties, but basically what we saw was a loss of twelve points in Ks and a doubled walk rate in his splits from left to right. Translated into friendlier terms, there was a 300 point OPS jump. Not cool. Maybe he figures it out. Maybe this is the wall?
1B Rich Poythress, 6’4, 250 lbs, 8/11/1987
AAA: 100 G, 416 PA (365 AB), 47 R, 92 H, 24 2B, 3B, 13 HR, 57 RBI, 77/46 K/BB, .351 wOBA (.252/.337/.430)
Pros: Has shown the ability to walk, hit for power, and limit Ks at various points in time, nickname is The Mayor
Cons: Has never done all those things at once, was never officially elected
If I were to pick a guy who, two-three years down the road, gets picked up by some random ML team in dire need of a first baseman and subsequently pulls a Bryan LaHair, it’d probably be Poythress. Two years ago, The Mayor ran a stupid 33/50 K/BB in 357 PAs for Jackson. It’s a thing sometimes when players have a plate discipline breakout, that they then have a power breakout later, but for Tacoma last year, his K/BB was more ordinary and even in the friendly confines of the PCL, he didn’t hit a lot of dingers. There are better 1B-types on present value in the system already and Poythress is exactly the type of player that would cause Dave to throw his hands up and question why the heck I wrote about him in the first place. I don’t really have much to say in my defense on that. He’s done some weird things. Baseball’s a weird sport in which weird things can eventually happen.
UT Stefen Romero, R/R, 6’2″, 220 lbs, 10/17/1988
AAA: 93 G, 411 PA (375 AB), 51 R, 104 H, 23 2B, 4 3B, 11 HR, 74 RBI, 87/28 K/BB, .344 wOBA (.277/.331/.448)
Pros: One of the best hitters in the system a year ago, walk rate improved 1.5%
Cons: It’s this year, K-rate also went up by 7.3%, unlikely to be a good defender anywhere his bat will play, sucked in the AFL initially
In 2012, Romero had a .401 wOBA in High Desert and reached .444 in Jackson. That was pretty impressive to us and likely would have been more exciting if we hadn’t recently seen one Vinnie Catricala put up similar numbers and then dig a hole in Tacoma. Romero had a .330 wOBA in the PCL this year. One wonders about trends. In this case, the drop wasn’t so precipitous: he went from way above average to just slightly above average. There isn’t a clear explanation as to why unless you want to bang the old drum of “he was switching defensive positions and stopped being good because he was preoccupied.” I don’t know if I like that drum so much, and the matter’s additionally complicated by the fact that he’s a bat-first guy who was moving down on the defensive spectrum. All in all, he’s in Tacoma now, and would have three option years to figure things out, so it doesn’t seem like a terrible idea to see if he can collect himself again and resume hitting. The AFL was supposed to be that place, but he wasn’t all that great there until the Fall-Star match-up, which he was selected without a clear rationale as to why. He hit two opposite field dingers there so hindsight’s looking pretty awesome now, so long as you’re selective about it.
LHP Jordan Shipers, 5’10″, 170 lbs, 6/27/1991
A: 4-3, 11 GS, 6.86 tRA (6.50 ERA) in 54.0 IP, 56 H (6 HR), 43 R (39 ER), 33/24 K/BB (13.8 K%, 12.5 nB%)
Pros: Showed good velocity and a promising three-pitch arsenal in high school
Cons: Limited returns, missed two months of the season, not tall
Back when it was okay to do so, the Mariners spent a mid-round pick on one Jordan Shipers and threw $800k at him to sign because it was conceivable that he could be one of the system’s best LH starters in short order. Since then, the M’s have signed three southpaws that I’d probably put ahead of him on this charts (well, four if you want to count Paxton, who signed later but was drafted higher). And Shipers? While he was expected to be raw, having pitched little in high school, he’s stayed that way so far. Early on it was walks and strikeouts, then pitching to contact, and now contact, walks, and few strikeouts and he wasn’t even entirely healthy last year. You can say “but High Desert” if you feel like it. I do often. And from there you have to determine what you make of the fact that his average against and home run rates weren’t out of line with career norms despite being in the Cal League and turning into a flyball pitcher. He’s still an unknown and it’s hard to see anyone picking him up.
RHP Forrest Snow, 6’6″, 225 lbs, 12/30/1988
AA: 1-5, 23 G (GS), 2.64 tRA (3.00 ERA) in 42.0 IP, 27 H (2 HR), 14 R, 41/11 K/BB (25.0 K%, 7.6 nB%)
AAA: 4-0, 19 G (GS), 4.84 tRA (2.92 ERA) in 40.0 IP, 34 H (5 HR), 13 R, 43/17 K/BB (23.3 K%, 10.7 nB%)
Pros: Local angle potentially translates to butts in seats, numbers made a major recovery this year
Cons: 50-game suspension (drug of abuse), likely a reliever amongst other shinier relief candidates
Initially, when writing these, I was going to list Snow among the also-rans until I looked up his numbers. Perception issues. We all remember Snow from his meteoric rise through the minors, arriving in Tacoma in his first full season. It was a great story about how some local kid and late-round pick was almost with the team as a valuable contributor. He spent the next year doubling his walk rate and we all chased after the next darting prospect butterfly because that’s what happens. This past season, still in the high minors, they had him in relief work and he resumed his 3:1 K:BB ratio, albeit with a bit more of each, and hitters couldn’t seem to do much against him. So he’s interesting again I think, except everything took a hit once he moved back to Tacoma. The suspension is an x factor in the whole valuation thing too.
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) November 12, 2013
Let’s put aside the Carlos Beltran stuff for now. The Yankees want Beltran, the Rangers want Beltran, the Cardinals want Beltran back; barring some kind of unreported desire to have access to fresh caught salmon, there’s little reason to think that Carlos Beltran is going to be particularly excited about playing for the Mariners. The Mariners are interested in Carlos Beltran the same way that most 18 year old males are interested in taking a swimsuit model to the prom.
So let’s talk about the first part of that tweet. Jerry Crasnick suggests that the Mariners would like to sign free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz. Because most of us have been busy speculating about how many dollars the Mariners will throw at Jacoby Ellsbury this winter, we haven’t talked too much about Cruz here, but it makes perfect sense that the Mariners would be interested in Nelson Cruz. Because we know that this front office places a very high value on this particular skillset. For your reference, below are Nelson Cruz’s core offensive numbers over the last three seasons, compared to the same numbers that Michael Morse put up in the three seasons prior to be acquired by the Mariners last winter.
Morse’s overall offensive totals from 2010 to 2012 were better than Cruz’s from 2011 to 2013, but that was entirely due to the fact that Morse had one of the highest rates of hits on balls in play, a number that has a lot less predictive value than things like walk rate, strikeout rate, and isolated power. In these core numbers, Cruz and Morse are basically identical twins.
The similarities don’t end there, of course. Both are physically built like linebackers. Both are right-handed power hitters, which the Mariners believe they need to add to their line-up for balance and to help against left-handed pitching. Both are injury prone, spending parts of nearly every season of their career on the disabled list. Neither are particularly good defenders or baserunners, and accumulate almost all of their damage at the plate. Both have been suspended for using PEDs. Both are on the wrong side of 30 and are headed to the decline phase of their careers.
Their overall performances aren’t exactly equal. 2010 to 2012 Morse was a slightly better hitter (thanks to the aforementioned BABIP) and worse fielder than 2011 to 2013 Cruz has been. Over those three seasons, Morse averaged +12 runs of offense and -15 runs of defense compared to an average player, while Cruz was +6/-11. Cruz is a little less bat and a little more glove, but it’s basically the exact same player type. There are few players in baseball more similar than Cruz and Morse.
The Mariners, of course, were thrilled to acquire Michael Morse last winter. They made a big deal about how he was going to revolutionize their line-up, and how he was the kind of Big Bat they’d been missing for years. He was considered a vital cog of the 2013 plan, and if you ask them what went wrong last year, they will frequently point to his early season injury as a big reason for why the plan didn’t work.
At no point has the organization ever suggested that they think perhaps it wasn’t a very good plan, however. They love players like this. It’s why they’ve kept non-prospects like Carlos Peguero hanging around and acquired a thousand low rent versions of this same player type. The list of low walk, high strikeout, one dimensional sluggers the Mariners have stockpiled over the last few years is getting absurdly long; no one likes this player type more than Jack Zduriencik’s Mariners. Of course they’re interested in Nelson Cruz.
But they really shouldn’t be. Cruz is Texas’ Kendrys Morales, a mediocre player with an outsized reputation based on irrelevant HR/RBI numbers. While Morales is a “professional hitter”, Cruz is “right-handed power”, and in both cases, the talking points are about how scarce these things are in the “post Steroid Era”. Like with Morales, what is not mentioned is that the “power” isn’t exactly that amazing to begin with, it comes with weak on base percentages, and Cruz does nothing else to add any value to a big league team. The Rangers made Cruz a qualifying offer which he turned down, so he’s now a compensation attached free agent, and he turned the offer down because he’s expecting to land a multi-year deal this winter.
The FanGraphs Crowd projected Cruz’s contract to come in at $32 million over three years, while former GM (and recent successful prognosticator of free agent contracts) Jim Bowden projected $48 million over those same three years. The guys over at MLBTradeRumors guessed three years and $39 million. Everyone’s in the same ballpark, basically, so let’s just take the average of the three guesses and say Cruz will cost $40 million over three years.
To live up to that contract, Cruz would have to be a league average player over the life of the deal, or maybe slightly above average. $40 million over three years should buy you something like +6 or +7 WAR from 2014 to 2016.
From 2011 to 2013, Nelson Cruz produced +3.9 WAR. From 30-32, he was 2/3 of the player he’d need to be from 33-35 in order to justify the expected cost of signing him, and that’s not even including the loss of the draft pick in the calculation. In reality, Cruz projects to be about a +1.5 WAR player next year, and then probably a +1.0 WAR player in 2015, and probably a +0.5 WAR player in 2016. A team signing him should expect to get roughly +3 WAR over the next three years. In a rational market, Cruz would probably land a deal roughly similar to the one David DeJesus signed with Tampa Bay, which paid him $5 million per year for two years with a team option for the third year.
DeJesus, while being wildly different than Cruz, is basically as valuable. This is what a slightly below average outfielder heading into his decline phase should cost. But teams have decided to pay ridiculous prices for power hitters while undervaluing performance in things that are not home runs, so players like Cruz cost way too much to acquire and hardly ever provide a positive return on investment. And that’s why I ranked Nelson Cruz as the #1 land mine of the 2014 free agent class. There is no player available this winter who has a bigger gap between his perceived abilities and his actual value.
And there’s no player who fits the mold of the player the Mariners overvalue more than Nelson Cruz. So, yeah, maybe we should have all seen this coming. Maybe instead of expecting the Mariners to throw a lot of money at a very good speed-and-defense player, we should have expected the Mariners to throw a little bit less money at a mediocre dingers-and-ribbies player. After last off-season, expecting anything else was probably wish-casting.
Kendrys Morales may be a Seattle Mariner next year, but it won’t be on a one year, $14 million contract, as he declined the team’s qualifying offer today and is now a compensation-attached free agent. Scott Boras will look to land him a big money multi-year contract this winter, to which I offer him a hearty good luck. As a rule, I generally try not to doubt that Boras can convince someone to be foolish with their money, but this might be his biggest challenge in a while. Morales isn’t that good and as a DH, his market will be heavily limited, so Boras is going to have to pull a bit of a rabbit out of a hat if he’s going to find a pot of gold for his client.
For the Mariners, they now have three choices:
1. Engage Morales and try to re-sign him to a multi-year contract.
2. Celebrate their new-found draft pick and extra pool allocation, not make Morales another offer, and go find a cheaper player who can provide value at DH without costing them that pick or Boras’ asking price.
3. Settle in for a long game of chicken, keep the DH spot available for Morales but hold firm at a much lower price than Boras is asking for, and simply wait for him to get to the end of the off-season without a significant contract, then swoop in as the hero who will give him a job after a winter of rejection. This is the Adam LaRcohe plan, basically, but hopefully at even a lower price than the Nationals re-signed LaRoche for last winter.
Personally, I’d go for door #2. It’s just not that hard to find a player who can produce at something close to Morales’ level, and the pick should have significant value to the team, especially if they punt a pick or two (as expected) in pursuing free agents this winter. While people will say that the Mariners are at the point where they need to start prioritizing winning now over the future, the reality is that you always prioritize both, and undervaluing a draft pick just because the team has spent years rebuilding with little success is silly. The pick has value, and it shouldn’t just be frittered away because people aren’t willing to see that there are a lot of guys in baseball who can perform about as well as Kendrys Morales.
Door #3 wouldn’t be an awful strategy, though it would leave them open to the possibility that Boras never does back off his ridiculous demands and they end up watching better alternatives get acquired while hoping for a potential ending that might not ever develop. Door #1 is the one to be afraid of, as its pretty easy to see the team trying to sell an off-season of Ellsbury, Morales, and free agent pitchers as the Winter of Hope and Dreams. That plan kind of sucks though, and it’s the one to root against.
This post came from: U.S.S. Mariner, and is copyright by the authors. This RSS feed is intended for the personal use of readers and not, for instance, spam blogs.
Kendrys Morales Declines Qualifying Offer
By way of Jeff Evans, this is an article by Colin O’Keefe that examines the state of the Seattle Mariners’ analytics department. While, by very definition, the lead isn’t buried, I’d say that it is somewhat glossed over: the Seattle Mariners have an analytics department. That is a thing which exists, and I recommend you take the few minutes to read the article, if only for the emotional comfort of seeing the Mariners linked to HITf/x. It’s right there on the Internet, and the Internet hasn’t lied to me since that one time it said the Mariners walked a Padres hitter on three balls. Haha, Internet, you’re so crazy.
It’s a good article based around a good conversation, and it undermines the caricature of the Mariners, where they’re a hopeless organization that has everything completely backwards. The team, obviously, has bright and motivated young people working for it. The goal is to win, to be sustainably successful, and these people wouldn’t get paychecks if they didn’t serve some purpose. I guess they could be unpaid interns since baseball is a miserable industry to work in when you’re just starting, but then replace “paychecks” with “responsibilities”. The Mariners’ front office isn’t a bunch of 60-year-olds farting around a conference table.
The rest of this post isn’t intended to come off as negative, so try not to read it that way. Rather, I just want to write out a few follow-up points after reading O’Keefe’s article twice. He had a good chat with a smart guy who works for the Mariners. If he blogged about a different team, he could’ve had a good chat with different smart guys who work for other organizations. The reality of baseball today is that just about every organization has young thinker-types, working on numbers and trying to find value. The Phillies might be the last holdout, or possibly it’s the Twins, but even the Phillies are beginning to crack. Analytics is just a part of the game now. Fans tend to exaggerate the mindsets of the unsuccessful. Basically every team is using computers, and while it’s encouraging to know the Mariners have a whole staff working on the smart stuff, that serves to answer only the first question. As I see it, there’s more to explore.
(1) Are the analysts good?
I don’t mean good, in a vacuum. I mean good, relatively. You could go hang out with Pete Kozma. You could spend a whole week with him, training and taking grounders and batting practice. You could talk to Kozma about his approach and his thought processes, why he does things the way he does, adjustments he’d like to make. You’d come away pretty convinced that Kozma is an awesome player, and he is an awesome player. He’s an amazing shortstop. He’s also a profoundly mediocre shortstop by big-league standards, and he’s a shortstop the Cardinals are going to try desperately to improve on in the coming months. Kozma doesn’t get points for being better than most baseball players. He loses points for being worse than his big-league peers, and this is where we don’t know enough about the Mariners. And can’t know, really. Especially since they’ll never go into detail explaining their own methods. How good is the Mariners’ analytical staff, relative to, say, the Angels’? The Rangers’? Dare I ask, the A’s or the Astros’?
These days, an analytical staff is basically like a shortstop. You’re just expected to have one and you’d look silly if you didn’t. All right, everybody has shortstops. How good is your shortstop? Do the Mariners have Troy Tulowitzki? Elvis Andrus? Daniel Descalso? I’m not asking as a literary technique as I get to the answer. I don’t have the answer. Doubt the Mariners do, either. Don’t think the analysts are spending their time analyzing the analysts. That’s a little too meta for the real world.
(2) Do the analysts matter?
We know that the department serves a purpose, because if it didn’t, it wouldn’t exist. When Tony Blengino stopped serving a purpose, he disappeared after an awkward stretch. The way it’s laid out is that the department is free to explore its own ideas, and sometimes specific requests are filed, and the information generated becomes part of the conversation at the highest levels. But what’s the significance of that information to Jack Zduriencik and his closest associates? Can it drive decisions? Can it tip them? Is it almost entirely ignored, like it’s been for some time in Washington, at least in years past?
Zduriencik has said several times in the past that everything is a group decision, and everybody gets a chance to express his or her own feelings. Ultimately, it falls to Zduriencik to make the calls, so he decides how much he cares about what the numbers say. We have evidence to suggest he listens to the numbers less than he used to, but that isn’t scientific and, additionally, minds can change. Zduriencik’s mind has changed at least once. It’s possible the Mariners have an awesome analytics department that gets ignored. It’s possible they have a lousy analytics department that doesn’t get ignored, which might be worse. Everything in between is possible, too. Every team has to decide how much it’s going to trust its own eyes.
(3) How much trickles from the top down?
That is, while the analytics department could be very talented, within what kinds of framework does it go about its business? What’s the role if, say, the Mariners decide they need to field a winner in 2014? What if the Mariners decide to change focus or shift priorities, like from defense to dingers? Does the department try to come up with the best suggestions that fit a theme, or does it try to come up with the best suggestions, just? To what extent is it a two-way relationship between the analysts and the general manager? I’m not doing a very good job of exploring this point, but I can’t think of what I want to say, exactly, so hopefully this at least touches on it.
There’s also the matter of the elephant in the room — how much do we overrate the importance of analysts within a front office? How much do we overrate the importance of “sabermetric thinking”? There aren’t that many disagreements over who is and isn’t good. This year, the Cardinals made the World Series, and their strength isn’t exactly sabermetrics. The Tigers were an awesome team all season and they’ve never been thought of as progressive. The Red Sox won it all, and of course the Red Sox are famously sabermetric, but then for one thing, this year they put so much emphasis on chemistry, and for another, the 2013 Red Sox are no more or less representative of the front office than the disastrous 2012 Red Sox. There are so many other things that contribute to winning, and there’s so much random variation, and we still don’t properly appreciate the Tampa Bay miracle. 90+ wins in five of six years. 84 in the other. Miracle. We like to think the Rays validate the sabermetric ideas, but really, the Rays validate unparalleled genius. No one should realistically be held to that standard.
I think the fact of the matter is that while we want the Mariners to be smart, and while the Mariners should want the Mariners to be smart, the key for them is probably going to be player development more than anything else. Things would look super different if the team could count on bigger things from Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero. What if Danny Hultzen were healthy, and Brandon Maurer were better, and Hector Noesi didn’t suck a lot? Obviously not everyone can be a success, but strong internal development is what you should count on to make a mid-market team sustainably competitive.
Analytics as we understand it is mostly about players in the bigs, or the very high minors. The goal is to identify talent and value, and just about every team has a department trying to do the same thing. Similar departments will identify similar players, and then there are only so many to go around. You can’t acquire all the value you identify, and your exclusive talent pipeline is your own minor-league system. Those are the players that only you have, and those are the players who can make and keep a team good for a while. The Cardinals’ player-development system seems awesome, and the Cardinals are always good. Same goes for the Rays. The Pirates’ player-development system sucked when the Pirates sucked. They couldn’t dig themselves out until they started churning out their own talent. They’ve made some shrewd moves in the market, and they’ll try to make some more, but right in the middle you’ve got McCutchen, Marte, Alvarez, Walker, Cole, Morton, and Locke.
And you’ve got whatever made Francisco Liriano good again. Sabermetrics didn’t chop his FIP by a run and a half. There’s player development, and there’s player rehabilitation, I suppose. Maybe a better umbrella term would be talent maximization. That’s where the Mariners really need to be better. Some of that, probably, is analytics, but it’s also scouting and coaching and ensuring general wellness. You know, the kind of stuff we can’t speak to. We love analytics because at least we mostly understand them.
The Mariners have an analytical department, staffed by multiple people. Those people take requests from the bosses above, and they’re involved in decision-making. They are, probably, quite smart, and quite driven. We don’t know how good they are, relatively speaking. We don’t know how significant their role is within the Mariners organization. We don’t know how much they’re driving decisions, and how much they’re responding to ideas. And at the end of the day, numbers aren’t going to make young talent better, not by themselves. I’m pleased to know at least one person within the Mariners organization spends time with HITf/x. I’d like to know if Justin Smoak’s ever going to slug .450.
The other day, Ken Rosenthal expressed that the Mariners want Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo. On its own, that hardly says anything — every team would want Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo, and indeed each player will have maybe as many as a dozen serious suitors. They’re two of the very best players on the market, freely available, where by “freely” I mean “absurdly expensive and”. But we know the Mariners have money to spend, and we know they have a need, for both talent and excitement. We know they were linked to Ellsbury and Tim Lincecum for a while, and Ellsbury hasn’t signed a contract yet, and he has the loosest of area ties. It’s easy to envision a Mariners offseason in which they make a splash by spending big on a free-agent outfielder. Provided the outfielder lets them.
There are arguments in favor of such a move, and there are arguments against. Among the latter, this is the simplest. Let’s just use Ellsbury’s name. Let’s say the Mariners sign Ellsbury, and they get him at a six- or seven-year commitment worth $20+ million a pop. Ellsbury would project to be a valuable player. But he’d also be getting paid like a valuable player, as the Mariners would have paid the market rate, or realistically something a little higher than that. The real core of value is in the difference between what you should be making and what you are making, as a good player. With Ellsbury, there likely wouldn’t be a big difference. He’d make the Mariners X wins better, at the market cost of something like X wins.
It’s easy to just focus on names, and Ellsbury’s is a significant one. Hero in Boston, and all that. Widely hyped. He’d bring the Mariners some more star power. But teams are made up of names with salaries. Yes, if the Mariners were to sign Ellsbury, you could write Ellsbury’s name in for the next several years. But the same money could be put toward other names, multiple names. It isn’t a choice between the Mariners with Ellsbury and the Mariners without him. It’s a choice between the Mariners with Ellsbury and the Mariners with other acquisitions, at least in theory. Other acquisitions that would provide Y wins, at some other market cost.
There’s something to be said for talent consolidation, but the Mariners aren’t at the point at which they can worry about talent distribution. They still need to worry about just talent, and it’s not like they’re in pretty good shape across the board. Obviously, last offseason’s Red Sox went the way of spending on a bunch of different guys, and while that’s not the only model that could work, that’s a model that just worked. Don’t get caught up on Ellsbury’s name. There’s a lot more to the picture.
A pretty important factor: what tends to be the case is that big-time free-agent signings provide the most value toward the beginning of the new deal. Over time, the players get worse while the salaries remain high, and teams accept that because of the earlier years. As currently constructed, the Mariners look like something like a 70-win team. It’s hard to come up with any offseason plan that makes them much better than .500. The point being that the Mariners don’t look to be on the verge of something, new star or no. So a big-time acquisition now might spend the most valuable years on a team that isn’t good enough yet.
In theory, the Mariners would have some advantage from having so many cheap young players contributing on the roster. Performance from low salaries allows a team the flexibility to pay for performance from high salaries. In reality, the Mariners don’t have much in the way of established quality youth. It doesn’t help that the team can’t count on Dustin Ackley or Jesus Montero or Justin Smoak. It’s a nice thought, and it might come true, but it can’t be counted on like it’s automatic.
Of course, bad teams have to get better somehow, and money needs to be spent, since it doesn’t do anyone any good to have extra budget flexibility go back into the owners’ pockets. This is a simple argument, to which the simplest counter-argument is
- who cares
- do something
I know I’m tired of not caring. I know I want to be passionate about the Mariners again, and I know I’d be excited by a new Ellsbury or Choo. Ultimately we just want to feel, and it’s such a rush when the team makes headlines with an acquisition. It makes it so much fun to look forward, it makes it so much fun to daydream, and fans can worry only so much about crap like “being responsible”. But a business can’t stand to give in to emotion like that. You must stay the course of responsibility. If you get frustrated with under-performance and become irresponsible, that can make the problem only worse, kickstarting a miserable death spiral from which there’s little hope of recovery. Recovery, that is, without starting over again.
Here’s maybe the neatest thing, though, at least for fans of bad teams, like us: while we can often identify what is and isn’t responsible front-office behavior, baseballing success isn’t determined just by responsibility. There’s this huge, huge element of luck, or at least unpredictability, that allows a team like the Giants to win two world championships during the Barry Zito Era. The Cardinals can make a World Series with a shortstop like Pete Kozma, and the Mariners can make a World Series with a somewhat irresponsible front office, so it’s not like signing Ellsbury would mean anything other than the Mariners signed Jacoby Ellsbury. All that would guarantee is that Ellsbury would suit up in the uniform. There’s not actually any telling how it would play out, and this gives more substance than you might like to admit to the “who cares / do something” crowd. Who cares? Do something. It might work out super. Maybe it won’t, but maybe the responsible course wouldn’t work out, either.
The Mariners are likely to go hard after Jacoby Ellsbury. They might sign him, and if they do, they’ll be committing nine figures. On paper, it probably won’t be the smartest thing. There would, however, be points in support, and we’d all be pretty fleetingly excited, and when it’s all said and done, welp, lots of stuff is going to happen that we didn’t see coming. The reality of an unknowable future can be used to justify anything, dangerously, but then there is a reason for that. There’s certain comfort in chaos.
This post came from: U.S.S. Mariner, and is copyright by the authors. This RSS feed is intended for the personal use of readers and not, for instance, spam blogs.
The Simplest Argument Against A Big-Ticket Signing
For FanGraphs, right now, I’m writing about a new trend around MLB toward hiring managers with little or no managerial background. Mike Matheny didn’t have a track record when he was hired by the Cardinals. Neither did Robin Ventura when he was hired by the White Sox, and neither did Walt Weiss when he was hired by the Rockies. Recently, the Tigers hired Brad Ausmus, and the Reds promoted Bryan Price, and the Nationals hired Matt Williams. It feels to me like six is meaningful — it feels to me teams around the league are less afraid of inexperience than ever before. Word is the Mariners are hiring Lloyd McClendon. He’s been the only guy linked to the Mariners who’s managed much before. He was in charge of the Pirates for five years at the beginning of the millennium, and the Pirates totally sucked.
On this basis alone, it’s beyond easy to be cynical. It was probably going to be easy to be cynical, regardless, since cynicism is our Seattle Mariners battle station, but here the team is visibly going against a new trend. It’s hiring a guy with a history, and whose history wasn’t successful. The Mariners are passing up an opportunity to try something new and different, something which might really shake things up.
We can do better than that, though. For one thing, I don’t know if there’s evidence that the trend toward inexperience is good, bad, or neutral. It’s new, and new is different, but new isn’t always an improvement, and it’s not like Mike Matheny was a tactical wizard in the playoffs. And while McClendon managed some bad Pirates teams, we can’t allow that to automatically color our impression of McClendon as a leader. Jason Kendall played for a lot of those Pirates teams, and he didn’t suck just because the team sucked. Maybe McClendon was a good manager. Maybe the situation was too utterly hopeless. Maybe McClendon wasn’t a good manager then, but he’s learned a lot more since.
Let’s construct a hypothetical manager WAR. Let’s say the hypothetical manager WAR is perfect, with all the right inputs and all the right weights. For those Pirates teams, we can say that manager McClendon was worth x WAR, where x could be basically any number. We have absolutely no idea if McClendon was good. We have absolutely no idea, in turn, if McClendon was bad. Even if we were to know something about McClendon back then, we’d have absolutely no idea if McClendon stood to do well with these Mariners, with this roster that isn’t even close to complete.
It all comes back to the reality that we’re dealing with things we don’t know about. There’s no shame in admitting that — better to be up front, than to pretend like any of us is insightful. It seemed weird that the Mariners talked to Dave Valle about managing, but, who knows? The Mariners are hiring Lloyd McClendon, and that seems kind of lazy, but, who knows? You’re allowed to have an opinion when you don’t know anything. I have an opinion here. But you have to understand it’s just an opinion, and there isn’t any actual substance. They’re feelings based on feelings.
Maybe it’s meaningful that McClendon didn’t get hired by the Tigers, for whom he’s long been the hitting coach beside Jim Leyland. McClendon has coached with the Tigers since leaving the Pirates, and he’s probably learned from Leyland, and he got himself an interview after Leyland announced his resignation, but the Tigers went with Ausmus, who’s never managed before. Maybe the Tigers know that McClendon wouldn’t make for a good manager today. Or maybe they just like Ausmus better. Or maybe they messed up. Or maybe, for whatever reason, McClendon wouldn’t be a great fit in Detroit, but he’ll be a better fit in Seattle.
This is all to say the same thing: no idea. I’ve got no idea. This post could be one sentence: Mariners hiring Lloyd McClendon. But I will now touch on my feeling. Among the Mariners’ managerial candidates, McClendon intrigued me the least. He seems like an old-school guy, a retread, a safe selection in that he’s an uninteresting selection. He’s probably got old-school ideas and old-school methods, and he’s probably not what you’d refer to as the “thinking type”. Lloyd McClendon has never managed the Mariners before, but he’s probably going to feel pretty familiar, and at some point he’s probably going to get fired. Lloyd McClendon isn’t going to challenge anything but those dog-gone entitled vets in spring training, who think they’ll just be handed a job, but no, everyone’s got to fight, everyone’s got to earn it. McClendon, actually, is probably going to sound a lot like Eric Wedge, and people didn’t like Wedge much.
But that’s a feeling and it doesn’t matter because it’s not based in evidence. Maybe Wedge was a fantastic manager during his time! Again, no idea. We can’t say anything about Wedge and McClendon as managers except that they have been managers, and their teams have lost more games than they’ve won. Some of you might have particularly strong opinions about the McClendon hire. They probably aren’t warranted. Most of you are probably more negative than positive, but we’re all negative about the Mariners, and managerial hires are like tofu, in that they absorb the flavor around them. I think there’ll be a negative response to this move because we’re all prepared to be negative about this team. It’s going to take a lot to turn that around.
There’s nothing about Lloyd McClendon that excites me. I don’t know if I would’ve been excited about Tim Wallach or Chip Hale or Joey Cora and the answer is probably not, no. This move feels safe and predictable and lazy and bad, but there’s not actually any evidence to back that up, and unless we’re way off in how we think about coaching staffs, the fate of the Mariners going forward will be determined for the most part by the players on the 40-man roster. If McClendon’s going to have any chance, the Mariners need a lot more talent. And if they get so much talent McClendon can’t possibly screw it up, then we’ll all love him in the end. Get to work, front office. You’ve made the move we can’t criticize. Now for everything else, all the moves we can. That’s the important bit, and you’ve got a whole team to make better.
This post came from: U.S.S. Mariner, and is copyright by the authors. This RSS feed is intended for the personal use of readers and not, for instance, spam blogs.
Lloyd McClendon: Leader Of These Men
This was, by far, the hardest off-season plan post I’ve ever done. For one, you’ve probably noticed that I’m not writing here nearly as often as I used to. Part of that is that my life has gotten busier, and I’ve committed to spending more time with my friends and family since getting leukemia — side note: clean checkup on Friday, now 25 months in remission, huzzah — but part of that is also that my interest in this franchise is waning. It’s not gone, and it never will be gone, I’m sure, but the Mariners have made themselves far less likable, and far less interesting, and in general, I just don’t get the same satisfaction in writing about the Mariners as I used to. For the first time, this post feels like an obligation. I’m basically putting it out there because I know a lot of you want to read it, not because I particularly wanted to write it.
And I think part of that reality comes from a place of just knowing that the actual decisions being made this winter are being made in an awkward situation, where the front office almost certainly has a mandate to put a winning team on the field in 2014 even though they don’t have a roster that resembles anything close to a winning team. This feels like the Mariners are headed into the off-season that the Royals had last year, sacrificing the long term future for a short term run at mediocrity because everyone’s tired of losing. Maybe I’m reading this all wrong, and maybe they’re going to make good decisions and add a bunch of quality players at reasonable prices, but that’s not at all what I’m expecting them to do, and my guess is that it’s not what their marching orders are either.
So, I’m basically making a bunch of suggestions to try and reach an end goal — a winning Mariners team in 2014 — that I’m not even sure is reasonably likely. This team is far away from being good, and it’s going to take a lot of good outcomes to make them into even a winning club, much less a legitimate contender. But I don’t think saying that my off-season plan is to keep making smart moves until the team is ready to win actually helps anyone, because that probably wouldn’t fly for the front office this winter, so instead, I’m going to make a bunch of suggestions that I think could maybe get them as close as possible to a winning team without totally burning the future to the ground.
It requires some risks, and yes, it requires an increase in payroll, but with the national TV money getting disbursed to each franchise, not raising payroll this year would be akin to slashing it in prior years. Just to keep up with the rest of the league, payroll should go up. I’m not asking for any more than that, because an off-season plan that assumes a $125 million payroll doesn’t help anyone either. So, I’m going for a $95 million payroll, not including random 40 man guys, incentives, and all the extras the Mariners include in their calculations to boost the number and make it sound better. They would probably calculate that this team cost over $100 million when all is said and done. But if they want to win next year, they have to spend more money, because they’re so far away from being good that there’s no real way to get from where they are to where they want to be without buying some free agents. And free agents are expensive, so if they’re going to tell the front office to put a winning team on the field, they have to allow the front office to spend more money.
Again, I don’t think any of this is necessarily the right plan for the organization right now. I think that would have involved an organizational overhaul, a realistic assessment of where the team’s talent base currently is, and a solid plan to get the team to a sustained level of success. But that’s not what the Mariners are doing. So, with the caveat that this is an attempt to build a plan that works within what the Mariners are doing, here’s my 2014 Off-Season Plan.
Sign C Brian McCann to a six year, $90 million contract.
Sign OF Chris Young to a two year, $14 million contract.
Sign DH Corey Hart to a one year, $6 million contract with a bunch of incentives.
Sign SP Chris Capuano to a two year, $8 million contract.
Sign SP Roberto Hernandez to a one year, $3.5 million contract.
Sign RP Jose Veras to a one year, $3 million contract.
Sign MI Ryan Roberts to a one year, $1.7 million contract.
Analysis of these moves below, but for a second, here is what the imagined opening day roster might look like, along with projected batting orders against both righties and lefties.
|C||Brian McCann||$15,000,000||SP||Felix Hernandez||$23,000,000|
|1B||Justin Smoak||$2,800,000||SP||Hisashi Iwakuma||$6,500,000|
|2B||Dustin Ackley||$500,000||SP||Chris Capuano||$4,000,000|
|SS||Brad Miller||$500,000||SP||Taijuan Walker||$500,000|
|3B||Kyle Seager||$600,000||SP||Roberto Hernandez||$3,500,000|
|CF||Chris Young||$7,000,000||CL||Danny Farquhar||$500,000|
|RF||Michael Saunders||$2,000,000||RH||Matt Belisle||$4,250,000|
|DH||Corey Hart||$6,000,000||LH||Charlie Furbush||$600,000|
|C||Mike Zunino||$500,000||RH||Stephen Pryor||$500,000|
|IF||Josh Rutledge||$500,000||LH||Brian Moran||$500,000|
|IF||Ryan Roberts||$1,700,000||RH||Erasmo Ramirez||$500,000|
|Vs RHB||Player||Bats||Position||Vs LHB||Player||Bats||Position|
|1||Brad Miller||L||SS||1||Dexter Fowler||S||LF|
|2||Kyle Seager||L||3B||2||Ryan Roberts||R||2B|
|3||Corey Hart||R||DH||3||Corey Hart||R||DH|
|4||Brian McCann||L||C||4||Brian McCann||L||1B|
|5||Dexter Fowler||S||LF||5||Chris Young||R||CF|
|6||Michael Saunders||L||RF||6||Kyle Seager||L||3B|
|7||Chris Young||R||CF||7||Mike Zunino||R||C|
|8||Justin Smoak||S||1B||8||Brad Miller||L||SS|
|9||Dustin Ackley||L||2B||9||Abraham Almonte||S||RF|
|Bench||Mike Zunino||R||C||Bench||Justin Smoak||S||1B|
|Bench||Josh Rutledge||R||IF||Bench||Dustin Ackley||L||IF|
|Bench||Abraham Almonte||S||OF||Bench||Michael Saunders||L||OF|
|Bench||Ryan Roberts||R||IF||Bench||Josh Rutledge||R||IF|
Okay, now the explanations.
This plan is weird. It calls for the team to commit big money on a long term deal for an aging catcher when they have invested a lot into Mike Zunino and anointed him the catcher of the present and future. It spends $7.5 million on two starting pitchers after trading away a starting pitcher who would make $500K next year. It spends another $7.5 million on two relievers, even though relievers are fickle and spending money on bullpen pieces often works out poorly. It calls for Justin Smoak to remain a regular, even though I don’t think Justin Smoak is worthy of a regular starting gig on a team trying to win in 2014. I imagine your first read over this will be “this is nuts”. It kind of is.
But hopefully the result of a lot of nutty decisions would be a team that had very few just glaring, unsolvable problems. This team, as constructed, would run three platoons, leaving only the backup shortstop without a defined role in the line-up on a regular basis. It would restore the outfield defense that has historically roamed around Safeco Field, giving the team’s pitching staff a chance to actually have their fly balls turned into outs once in a while. It adds a couple of guys who thump left-handed pitching, plus a slugging lefty who should enjoy pulling balls down the right field line at Safeco, and a 28-year-old switch hitting outfielder who could actually be a productive piece to both improve the team and build around going forward. It creates a pretty deep bullpen, and gives the team six Major League starting pitchers, so they’re not totally screwed if and when one of the original starting five get hurt or end up being terrible.
It’s not a great team. It might not even be a good team. But it has a chance to be a good team, and it doesn’t kill the team’s future. It’s the best balance I could figure out how to strike. It might be too balanced, producing neither a winner next year nor in the future, but if the mandate is to put a good team on the field without punting the farm system in a desperate hail mary, then I think this at least heads that direction.
Let’s start with the two big pieces that are likely to draw 95% of the reaction; throwing a ton of money at a catcher and trading Paxton and Franklin for an okay hitter at altitude with bad road numbers. McCann first.
First off, note that this is not a situation where McCann is displacing Zunino entirely. By having him split his time between catching and first base, it would essentially create a three way job share between McCann, Zunino, and Smoak. McCann would get the opportunity to be an everyday player and not have to DH — a thing that some players really dislike doing, so keeping him away from DH would be a nice carrot in negotiations — while Zunino and Smoak essentially fight over one job. If Zunino improves dramatically and proves to be ready for regular catching duty, he could essentially split time behind the plate with McCann, keeping both fresh and well rested.
But there’s also the reality that Zunino may very well not be ready to be a big leaguer yet. He was not very good in Seattle and particularly terrible in Tacoma last year, and the team should at least be prepared for the fact that he might need more time in Triple-A. If they go into the season with Zunino and some random backup behind the plate, and Zunino proves overmatched, then they have a glaring hole that could essentially sink their season. Signing McCann as your “big bat” provides a top flight option behind the plate while also giving you the flexibility to have him play a decent amount of first base if Zunino proves ready to play more regularly.
And yes, I know that McCann is a lot less valuable at first base than he is at catcher, and paying $90 million to a catcher only to have him spend a decent chunk of his time not catching sounds stupid. But you shouldn’t look at McCann’s offensive numbers as a catcher and then just assume they’ll stay the same at first base. There’s a decent amount of historical precedent for guys improving their offensive production when they move out from behind the plate, and McCann should be expected to hit a little bit better when he’s playing first base than when he’s catching. And if the job share works correctly, you’re not so much as shifting games caught to games played at first base as you are taking days off and moving those to games played.
An “everyday” catcher in the big leagues starts about 110 games per year behind the plate. Matt Wieters was the league leader in games started catcher last year with 134, but most of the regulars were around 100 to 120. The rest of the time, most of them sit and watch. That’s 40 to 50 off days a year, where they’re not playing because of the physical demands of their job. By having McCann share catching duties with Zunino, you could aim for something closer to a 90/70 split, and then McCann could start another 50-60 games at first base, and all of the sudden you have his bat in the line-up 140 or 150 times instead of 110.
Depending on how quickly Zunino develops over the next few years, McCann would eventually move into more of a starting first baseman/reserve catcher role, but the Mariners could keep using him behind the plate for 40-50 times per year in order even as he gets older as long as he’s healthy enough to keep catching. Rather than phasing him out of catching entirely, they could offer him a path to an everyday job that still allows him to catch about 1/3 of the time, even as he gets older. This would likely be a more appealing sales pitch than having him start at catcher and move to DH in a few years, and it would be a better use of his skills, since he is a good defensive catcher and would only be changing positions to keep his body healthy.
So, instead of pursuing a defensively challenged 1B only and then trying to find a player good enough to share time with Zunino but not too good to want to catch everyday, McCann offers a nifty combination of depth at both catcher and first base, without forcing the team to use two roster spots to plug these holes. He gives the team a power hitting left-hander, but also gives them the flexibility to not have to depend on both Zunino and Smoak as everyday players in 2014, and can be positioned for the future depending on who develops and who doesn’t.
Now, to the trade. I imagine that the first response to trading James Paxton and Nick Franklin to acquire Dexter Fowler (and stuff) is going to be pretty negative. I know that a lot of people like these two guys more than I do, and are going to see this as giving up on a hard throwing lefty and a power hitting second baseman way too early in their careers, especially given that Fowler only has two years of team control remaining and would be something of an unknown quantity getting transported from Coors Field to Safeco Field.
However, if the Mariners want to win sooner than later, this is the kind of move they have to make. They have to exchange some upside and long term potential for a short term upgrade somewhere, and by targeting a guy like Fowler — who is going into his age-28 season next year — you’re not totally punting the future as much as betting on a different looking future. Fowler’s a switch-hitter in his theoretical prime who hasn’t really lived up to offensive expectations of when he was a prospect yet, but has still developed into a pretty solid player in spite of maybe being a bit of a disappointment. In some ways, he’s Colorado’s Michael Saunders.
I know that probably isn’t a reassuring comment, especially for people who got very excited by Paxton’s final start of the season. But I think the idea of James Paxton is likely going to be better than the reality of James Paxton for quite a while, as his command problems are still very real and unlikely to go away any time soon. The Rockies play in a park where walks and groundballs are actually a pretty good combination relative to letting opposing batters make contact, and flipping Fowler for Paxton and Franklin would give them a power arm for their rotation and shed some payroll that they could use to go sign the “power bat” they’re craving this winter. I know that often times the trades suggested in these posts get scoffed at by the fans of the opposing team, but I’d guess the Rockies would love this kind of package, as it sets them up to have exactly the kind of off-season they’re hoping for.
But it also solves a bunch of problems for the Mariners. Paxton can be replaced in the rotation at a lower cost than a new outfielder can be imported via free agency, and the pieces coming along with Fowler would provide some value as well. Matt Belisle is one of the game’s most underrated relievers, and could step in nicely to an 8th inning setup role or move into the closer’s job if Danny Farquhar falters. Josh Rutledge would provide a right-handed hitting infielder who could serve as a reserve for the three left-handers, and has some offensive upside in his own right. But Fowler is, of course, the key to this deal.
Projecting a position player leaving Colorado is always tricky, and often, people will simply look at his road numbers and treat those as something close to his “true talent level”. That’s not how it works, though. Hitting at altitude doesn’t just help you help hit better there, but there’s a decent amount of evidence that it actually hurts you when you’re not hitting at altitude. Breaking balls move in the other 29 parks in a way that they don’t move in Denver, and going on the road after two weeks of seeing flat hanging sliders can require a dramatic adjustment. You can’t just take Fowler’s road numbers and assume that’s what he would hit in Seattle. Park adjusting his offensive numbers is a better path, and shows that Fowler’s been an above average hitter the last three years even after taking Coors Field into account, but even this isn’t perfect. We really don’t know how Fowler would do at sea level. It is a risk, certainly, that his offense was boosted more than we know by his home park, and perhaps he would lose all of his power without the thin air helping his fly balls carry.
But, at the same time that we have to expect his offensive numbers to decline somewhat, we should expect his defensive performance to get better. Coors Field’s primary trait is inflating hits on balls in play, and this means that nearly every Colorado outfielder rates very poorly in defensive metrics. Metrics like UZR and DRS are park adjusted, but just like offense is different at Coors Field, so is defense, and balls that Fowler did not get to in Colorado may hang up long enough for him to run them down in Seattle. Physically, he’s got the natural skills to be a center fielder, but like Saunders, he might end up profiling better as a plus defender in a corner. Add in average offense and you’ve got a pretty good everyday player in his prime. He’s not Jacoby Ellsbury, but he’s a decent approximation of that kind of player at a much lower price, which allows the team to actually fill the rest of the holes they need to fill.
With Fowler and Saunders flanking newly signed free agent center fielder Chris Young, the team’s outfield defense would once again be among the best in the league. Young’s bat has heavily regressed since his days in Arizona, but there’s still some upside left, and even if he’s just a plus defender in center who mashes left-handers, that makes him kind of a healthier Franklin Gutierrez. Average hitting center fielders who can play defense aren’t that easy to find, and Young has the chance to get back to that level, while also providing some necessary power against left-handed pitching.
Speaking of thump against lefties, that brings us to Corey Hart. He’s coming off two knee surgeries, and spent all of 2013 on the disabled list, so while he’s said he wants to return to Milwaukee, spending a season as a DH and proving he can stay healthy is probably a better long term plan. Jack drafted Hart back in 2000 and clearly knows him well, and Hart would fit in well as a cheaper Kendrys Morales replacement. If he proves healthy enough to play the field, that gives you another option at first base in case Smoak doesn’t hit, and maybe he even gets a little time in the outfield, though I’d call that unlikely given his health issues. He’s a gamble, certainly, but the right-handed power is legitimate, and the Mariners could be a nice landing spot for Hart to prove that he’s ready to be an everyday player again.
That’s the big moves. The minor ones are essentially filling holes.
Chris Capuano replaces Paxton in the rotation, and provides a lefty who can throw strikes and get some strikeouts while giving up the occasional longball. It’s like getting Jason Vargas back, basically, except he should come cheaper because he’s older and coming off a season where the Dodgers kept bouncing him from the rotation to the bullpen.
Roberto Hernandez provides more depth for the rotation, and is another bet on peripherals instead of ERA. If he flops, then Erasmo Ramirez is ready to take his job, and he could turn into a right-handed bullpen option for when the team needs a double play. If his home run rate comes back to normal, then he’s a cheap 5th starter who keeps the team from having to turn to Blake Beavan ever again.
Ryan Roberts comes in as a utility infielder to platoon with Dustin Ackley and back up Kyle Seager. He’s always hit lefties well and has a ridiculous amount of energy, so he’s kind of perfect as your off-the-bench spark plug.
Jose Veras hits the market after a poor postseason and getting rejected by the Tigers, who didn’t exercise his $4 million option, but he’s still a solid enough right-handed reliever who can get lefties out often enough to not be a total specialist. He’d give the team some more depth and another possible closer option if Farquhar faltered. I don’t love spending money on the bullpen, and perhaps the development of Pryor and Capps would make this redundant, but the bullpen could use an upgrade and Veras is a decent value at a few million bucks.
The team can afford to plug those holes because McCann/Fowler/Young/Hart only cost about $35 million between them. If the team spends $20 million on Ellsbury and another $15 million on Morales, it’s almost impossible to see how they’re going to also find room for another outfielder along with upgrades at both catcher and first base, so I’d rather split the $35 million four ways than put it in the Ellsbury/Morales pairing.
The costs of this move are punting on the futures of Paxton and Franklin and betting on McCann to age well. However, I think Rutledge offers some of the same strengths as Franklin while also fitting better into the team’s structure since he’s right-handed, and Fowler’s future production can offset the loss of Paxton if he succeeds as an above average OF and the team re-signs him before he gets to free agency. Betting six years on McCann should be a little less scary since the Mariners wouldn’t be asking him to be a full time catcher for six years, and $15 million for a good-not-great hitter seems to be about going rate now even without including the defensive value that comes from having him catch.
Is this team good enough to win next year? Maybe, maybe not. They would need Ackley to remember how to hit, Hart to stay healthy, Walker to develop into a consistent starter, and one of Zunino or Smoak to take a big step forward, plus not have any disastrous injuries that exposed the organization’s lack of depth. There are a lot of things that could go wrong here, but it would at least give them a chance to be a winner in 2014, and it would keep the most important parts of the team’s future in place for the long term.
Best guess? I think this is probably an 80 to 85 win team, but it has a chance to outperform that, and maybe get Seattle interested in baseball again. Who knows, maybe they’d even get me interested in the team again too.
Last offseason, the Mariners agreed to pay Joe Saunders $6.5 million, and then he pitched like Joe Saunders would pitch in front of a bad defense. Today, the Mariners have turned down an opportunity to pay Joe Saunders $6.5 million, leaving him a free agent. It absolutely makes sense, and I’m by no means saying the Mariners made a bad decision, but there’s a cynical angle here for anybody who feels like being in a bad mood. You don’t even have to look that hard for it. The Mariners make it pretty easy.
But the other news is that the Mariners also declined the 2014 option for Franklin Gutierrez, leaving him a free agent as well. Gutierrez will therefore be exposed to the market, as the team wasn’t going to commit $7 million after all the problems he’s had, and the probability is that Gutierrez’s days in this uniform are over. That’s by no means guaranteed, and the Mariners are more familiar with him than anyone else, but that might be the whole point, and it would be easy to see another team viewing Gutierrez as a high-upside potential bargain. Put most simply, if a guy can sign with any one of 30 teams, the odds of his signing with one team are pretty small.
I remain convinced that Gutierrez captures the very essence of this whole experience. Maybe more now than ever, I don’t know. We’re fully aware of Gutierrez’s potential, because we got to see him around his ceiling for an entire season, not far back. We’re also, simultaneously, fully aware of Gutierrez’s capacity to disappoint, sometimes for predictable reasons, sometimes because of a disease few of us had ever heard of before. Probably, Franklin Gutierrez is going to let you down. But what if he doesn’t? What if he doesn’t? Can you imagine?
I personally find it almost impossible to objectively look past that upside. Perhaps because I don’t know if that would be truly objective. People always talk about certainty and reliability and whatnot as selling points, but how reliable is a supposedly reliable player, really? Upside is real, and upside can drive high-achieving seasons. If Gutierrez had spent the last several years with another organization, we’d identify him now as a potential free-agent bargain. As is, plenty of people will say they’re all out of patience, totally ready to move on, but I can’t move on, not while I know what Gutierrez can do.
An average, reliable player might give you an average performance for 100 games, or 160 games. A player like Gutierrez might give you anything across a vast spectrum. He’s a risk, but are the Mariners not in the very position to take some little risks? Right now they probably project as something like a 70-win ballclub. Who’s going to thumb their nose to upside? My sense this past season was that the Mariners were more than ready to move on, once Gutierrez was sidelined again, but a lot of that sense was coming from Eric Wedge, and now Eric Wedge isn’t here anymore. The guy who most loved Gutierrez isn’t here anymore, either, but, you never know. Maybe Zduriencik still sees the glimmer. He has been watching the Mariners.
And Gutierrez did some interesting things late last season. When he was sick, and I mean really sick, the biggest issue was his lack of strength. He didn’t have any quickness, he didn’t have any muscle. Last year he batted 151 times, and he clobbered ten home runs. That’s twice as many as Mike Zunino. That’s half as many as Justin Smoak, in 29% the time. I’m going to cheat, here, but let’s set a minimum of 150 plate appearances and sort the league leaderboard by isolated slugging percentage (SLG – BA). We find Guti at .255, and we find David Ortiz at .255. There’s Paul Goldschmidt at .249. Guti’s in 11th out of 399, and while he’s behind some guys like Jeff Baker, Donnie Murphy, and Ryan Raburn, there are sluggers up there, too. Lots of ‘em. There’s reason to believe Guti has his power back, which means there’s reason to believe his health situation is at least manageable.
He’ll never be what he was that one year. At this point it’s a physical impossibility. He’s older, so his defense won’t be as good, and he’s more careful, so his defense won’t be as good. Same goes for his baserunning. And Gutierrez has spoken about the difficulty of playing too many days in a row, so he’ll probably never be an everyday guy. But he’s a guy who can handle center and swing the bat, and he’s not yet super old. He’ll be 31 next February, but that’s 31 with a lot of medical attention and lesser wear and tear. It’s a fragile 31, but a talented and capable 31.
Maybe he could be good for 400 plate appearances. Maybe 500, if you really stretch. The neat thing about Gutierrez in this market is he shouldn’t require that much of a commitment, given, you know, what he is. No one’s going to look at him and see an everyday player, because that would be silly. At most, he’s a regular, and a regular you want to support with perfectly capable backup types. Outfielders with versatility who are good enough to play but maybe not good enough to start right out of the gate. Outfielders like Michael Saunders and Abe Almonte. In those two, the Mariners would have some depth, in the event that they kept Gutierrez and he needed some time off. And they’d play often enough that it wouldn’t feel like they were wasting away on the bench. With Gutierrez in the fold, there’s playing time for lots of guys.
The Mariners need help in the outfield, badly, especially if Nick Franklin or Dustin Ackley gets moved. They need help beyond what Gutierrez could provide, because what they need are starters. But that’s a separate issue, and I see room for Gutierrez here if the front office isn’t too sick of him. Guarantee some millions with incentives. Include a 2015 vesting option for a good amount of money that Gutierrez could trigger with modest playing time. Let him know that he’ll get his money if he stays on the field, and give him that chance, again. It’s not like it’s Gutierrez or a guy like Ellsbury or Choo. This team needs a lot of help. If you want to dream, dream away, because lots of people can fit.
Odds are, the Mariners won’t be real good in 2014, so this is a time to take some shorter-term chances. A good 2014 Mariners team would need good performances from a wide variety of players, and Gutierrez is at least capable of that, if he can play more than half the time. With Saunders and Almonte, the Mariners could survive another injury by planning for it ahead. I don’t know what there is to lose, provided Gutierrez doesn’t cost a fortune. Money and games? The Mariners have been losing money and games for a decade. I mean, they’ve been earning money, but losing money on underproductive players. If Gutierrez were to under-produce, or not produce at all, that’d be a bummer, but the process would’ve been okay and the season wouldn’t be instantly tanked.
Do it. Do it, unless some other team blows Gutierrez out of the water for some reason with a big contract guarantee. Do it, unless the team knows something particular about Gutierrez’s condition that dooms him to an ever-disappointing remainder of his career. Do it, because Gutierrez has been awesome here once, and he helped the team play good baseball and galvanize a downtrodden fan base. Things have been dark ever since, but you can always surprise, and surprises are always explicable when you examine how they took place. If Gutierrez were to have a productive 2014 over semi-regular playing time, would that really come as a shock?
Maybe I’m just completely blinded by upside, upside that might not really exist anymore, upside you could find somewhere else. I know I’m not completely rational about guys like this, in the way that a lot of people weren’t always rational about Rich Harden before. But, actually, I think they were on to something. Between 2008-2009, Harden posted a 3.07 ERA over 51 starts. The two years before, he posted a worse ERA over 13. Talent before durability. Durability gets you Joe Saunders and Jon Garland. Talent can get you nothing, or everything.
This post came from: U.S.S. Mariner, and is copyright by the authors. This RSS feed is intended for the personal use of readers and not, for instance, spam blogs.
Goodbye, Franklin Gutierrez / Bring Back Franklin Gutierrez
In Howard Lincoln’s October 1st remarks, written up by Ryan Divish, commented on here by Dave in Lincoln Speaks, Hope Disappears, there’s another thing that’s been bothering me. To quote Divish’s piece
How do you sell this team to fans? If two fans were standing here right now and asked, ‘Why should we spend our money to go see your product?’ What do you tell them?
First I’d tell them that when you get to Safeco Field you are going to have a safe, friendly environment. You are going to be sitting in a first class ballpark. You are going to get great entertainment. It’s a great place to come whether it’s at the Pen or at Edgar’s or wherever. So there’s a lot of things going on at Safeco Field for the fans to enjoy besides watching major league baseball. And I would point that out to them. Many of our fans are thinking about things other than just what’s on the field, so we have to provide a really good entertainment experience across the board as well as getting that major league team to perform.
This was not the deal we made. Go back. What was the case made for the stadium vote? Was it
1) Build a safe, friendly, really good entertainment experience across the board or
2) Build a stadium that will allow the Mariners to be competitive and financially viable?
The choice between those two options was actually on the ballot. At the same time the stadium was coming up, Seattle was thinking about another huge project: the Seattle Commons, in what’s now Amazonia. The proposal for the Seattle Commons was to create a beautiful, safe, park everyone could be proud of — as Cleveland’s Jacobs Field was offered as an example of what a new modern baseball field could do, so the Commons would bring the city together as Boston’s Commons, or New York’s Central Park. This is almost same-variety-of-apple-to-apple comparison.
Seattle Commons lost (57/43), and was not rescued by legislators afterwards. What if you had pitched the ballpark in the way that Howard Lincoln does now?
“Please fund the construction of a new stadium so that the Mariners can make gobs of money and Seattle can have a gigantic video screen with a couple nice places to eat terrible food during the games and also a playground. You know, for kids. Also unwatchable baseball.”
Read everything, or anything, John Ellis and the Baseball Club of Seattle said, from the first ask through the part where they sued the city for no reason, all the way to the opening of the long-awaited stadium. What’s the message?
“This stadium will allow us to be financially viable and field a competitive team.”
We did get that after Safeco opened. It’s hard to remember sometimes. And then… this. I know it’s unrealistic to expect any team to be competitive year-in-and-year out. Since 2003, though, we’ve had ten years of awful. Ichiro and Felix toiling in futility. The highest executives of the Mariners scoffing at the A’s, who this year again went to the playoffs in a season where the M’s lost over ninety games.
This was not the deal, and this is where I differ from Dave when he talks about the loss of hope (and resigns himself to going to bed and maybe punching himself in the face). I agree with Jeff:
The Mariners weren’t provoking any sort of emotional response at all, and that’s supposed to be my most favorite team. I didn’t just not want to watch them; I actively avoided them, and I recognized my own behavior. But it turns out it wasn’t baseball — it was the Mariners. The Mariners were downright unwatchable for stretches. I’m sitting here, watching the playoffs, and it’s incredible.
I haven’t gone to a Mariners game since I saw Ichiro in a Yankees uniform, in right field, here in Seattle, that first game after the trade. I loved baseball, and after that game I never felt the urge to go, or watch it.
Then on vacation, I was eating dinner in a bar with the game on, and I felt the same way Jeff did — it was incredible.
We shouldn’t be hopeless. We should be angry, and demand better. There haven’t been changes at the highest levels because we managed to give the team the financial security they desired, and now it is a defense against recognizing their problems — if anything, it has allowed the team’s highest people to crawl further and further back into denial that there’s any need to change.
If two fans were standing here right now and asked, ‘Why should we spend our money to go see your product?’ What do you tell them?
I tell them do not spend your money to go see your product. It’s clear the team takes entirely the wrong message from each dollar spent. We can’t break our side of the contract and take the stadium or the team back. But we can remove that financial security.
 sadly enough, one of the arguments against the Seattle Commons was that it would gentrify South Lake Union and cause housing prices to spike, and an argument for it was that it would attract high-tech companies to the area
 In concept. In price, the Commons was a relative bargain. Seattle Commons price tag? $111m for a 60-acre park. People were skeptical of the cost, which… well, you saw what happened with Safeco Field. The sheer difference of the prices makes the contrast in support even more stark. If the Commons had gone on the ballot at $340 million, how poorly would it have fared?
 Is there? Was that something that got dropped in the renegotiation that caused Shelly Yapp to resign?
This post came from: U.S.S. Mariner, and is copyright by the authors. This RSS feed is intended for the personal use of readers and not, for instance, spam blogs.
The broken contract of Safeco Field
Finalists for the 2013 Gold Glove Awards were announced Friday, and the Mariners didn’t have anybody included, because they weren’t good. They did, however, have a pair of finalists for the 2013 Gold Shoe Awards.
Raul Ibanez, outfield
- -20.5 UZR/1000 innings, t-2nd-worst in baseball
- -22.8 DRS/1000 innings, 2nd-worst in baseball
Michael Morse, outfield
- -20.5 UZR/1000 innings, t-2nd-worst in baseball
- -27.6 DRS/1000 innings, worst in baseball
Congratulations, Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse. Even if you don’t end up golden, your cleats were certainly made of some kind of metal.
This post came from: U.S.S. Mariner, and is copyright by the authors. This RSS feed is intended for the personal use of readers and not, for instance, spam blogs.
2013 Rawlings Gold Shoe Award Finalists
Maybe the most important thing the Mariners have to do all offseason is hire a new manager to steer the team going forward. Or maybe that’s literally the least important thing on their to-do list. Who among us can say? Keep this point in mind. It’s kind of the whole point of this post. The Mariners have to hire a new manager because they couldn’t reach an agreement with Eric Wedge. That would be one not incorrect way to put what all happened here.
The Mariners have already started interviewing candidates, and the names they’ve been linked to are mostly the names every team is linked to when they have a managerial opening. This should be settled within a matter of one or two or three weeks, and then we’ll officially know the name of the team’s next major scapegoat. While the Wedge chapter arrived at a weird and uncomfortable ending, my sense is that fans aren’t too broken up over losing him. He didn’t make the Mariners win, after all. He didn’t feel like a good manager.
And Wedge was in the news today. Turns out he’s going to interview for the open Chicago Cubs position. He isn’t thought to be the favorite, but he’s going to get himself in the offices, interviewing with another team trying to progress from rebuilding to contention. On its own, that isn’t so remarkable, but the reason I bring this up is because of who’s running the Cubs these days. The Cubs have turned themselves into one of baseball’s more forward-thinking, analytical organizations, the kind of organization we thought we had here a few years ago. The Cubs seem like they’re doing things right. They’re going to interview Eric Wedge. Many people here were unimpressed by Eric Wedge.
What the hell do we actually know? That’s the question I always inevitably come back to whenever I’m reading about a managerial hiring process. What we know are the names of candidates. We can research their histories, and we can pay attention to whatever quotes they might offer. We can’t do any analysis. Even if a track record exists, we don’t know how to interpret it.
At least from the fan perspective, the managerial hiring process is like ordering off an indecipherable menu, a menu written in hieroglyphics. You can try to figure something out from what you’re presented, but you’re not going to know anything about the entree. You’re lucky if you figure out a single ingredient. Also, the cooks in the kitchen change by the day, so you don’t know the conditions responsible for your meal. And after the meal, you don’t actually know if it was good. You know whether you had a negative or positive overall experience, but you don’t actually know why. Stretch it far enough and this simile kind of falls apart.
The most insane thing about managers is also the most obvious thing. We have no idea who’s good. We have no idea who’s going to be good. We have no idea who was good in retrospect. We don’t know how much a manager actually matters. We don’t know how much depends on the environment into which a manager is placed. It stands to reason someone who’s a good manager with Team A might not necessarily be a good manager with Team B. Players are different, mood’s different, situation’s different, manager performance is different. We don’t know a damned thing. I’m not even convinced the teams doing the hiring know a damned thing. I mean, yeah, they’ll come away with some preferred candidates, based on the interviews, but those teams can’t tell you what difference the next manager should make. If the Mariners picked up Mike Trout tomorrow, they’d be, I don’t know, eight or so wins better. If the Mariners hired Chip Hale tomorrow, they’d have hired Chip Hale, and that would mean something or nothing, and we’d never know what it meant.
Gun to my head, I’d say the best manager in baseball is Joe Maddon. I’ll freely admit a lot of that is just based on results, and he makes some tactical mistakes, and I’m just biased in favor of the demonstrably open-minded. I feel like Joe Girardi did a great job in New York this year, but I don’t know. I used to think Mike Scioscia was phenomenal, but more recently people have wanted him fired because the Angels, who always overachieved, have underachieved. Terry Francona was apparently good for a while and then suddenly ineffective and he had to go somewhere else to be welcomed. The point is that the whole damned thing’s so mysterious I can’t believe people following a hiring process end up with rooting interests.
Who can really pick a favorite managerial candidate? Or, who can reasonably support such a pick? Every year, this is such a big story for a handful of teams. It feels important, getting a new manager and coaching staff in the dugout. It’s also a story that’s just about impossible to discuss. It should always be reported on — it’s something that’s happening, after all — but what is there to be done beyond the reporting, save for repeating the reporting? How are we supposed to know who could work here? How are we supposed to know how well someone could work here? How are we supposed to pretend we know anything?
This isn’t an original topic, and I’m far from the only person who feels like this. It’s just kind of mind-blowing to me, every time. Here’s this thing, this seemingly important thing that’s happening with the Mariners, and, welp. We’re frequently made to look stupid by baseball when we make our projections or whatnot, but at least we can have facts on our side and the knowledge that over bigger samples, we’ll be right more than we’ll be wrong. There aren’t any facts with managerial candidates, not facts that we know what to do with. So there’s this sense of feeling like I ought to have an opinion, but knowing that I shouldn’t. I’d like the Mariners to keep away from Dusty Baker, but even that I can’t support with meaningful data. It’s just an automatic response.
Pretty soon, the Mariners are going to hire a new manager, and we’ll never have any idea how good of a job he did here after it’s over. We’ll know how the team did and that will color our feelings, if not determine them completely, but that won’t be good analysis. The truth is it’ll forever remain a mystery, or at least effectively forever. Maybe you personally don’t trust the Mariners to hire the right candidate. Who would you trust? A team I’d trust is going to interview Eric Wedge.
If there was one thing that felt absolutely inevitable, it’s that we were in for weeks and maybe months of Tim Lincecum to Seattle rumors. People in Seattle, maybe more than any other MLB city, absolutely yearn for every kid with anything close to a local tie to end up in a Mariners uniform. Lincecum was a star at the University of Washington, and a lot of people are still upset the Mariners passed on him in favor of Brandon Morrow way back when. Finally free to make his own choice about where to live and work, it seemed like Seattle would be high on his list of choices. And the Mariners, even with Taijuan Walker and James Paxton hanging around, need to improve their rotation. It seemed like a match made in Obvious Heaven.
Tim Lincecum cares not for the narrative, apparently. Today, before testing the free agent waters, he re-signed with the Giants for another two years. Why would he do that, you might ask? Because the Giants gave him $17.5 million per year and a full no-trade clause in order to stick around.
Yes, Tim Lincecum, coming off a couple of years of near replacement level performance if judging by runs allowed, was just guaranteed $35 million for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. A pitcher thought to be perhaps an interesting buy low candidate for teams looking for value instead turned out to be a pitcher who was in line for 70% of Felix Hernandez’s annual salary. Tim Lincecum will get more money next year than Hisashi Iwakuma will get from the Mariners for his first three seasons with the team. There is no buying low here. The Giants are paying Lincecum as if he’s just been humming along as a high quality pitcher with no real bumps in the road, at least in terms of annual salary. Without the bumps he’s actually hit, he’d have gotten this kind of salary for 5+ years, so the discount came in settling for just two.
But, still, there’s no way the Mariners should have been interested at this price. I wrote today over at FanGraphs that there was little difference between Lincecum and Dan Haren, who is expected to sign for something in the range of about half of what Lincecum just got. Today’s deal for Lincecum almost certainly upwardly revises the asking price for Haren, but he’s still not likely to get anything near this kind of deal, and the Giants may have just saved the Mariners from getting guilted into making an overly large commitment for a pitcher with some real warts.
So, yeah, no Tim Lincecum in Seattle. At $35 million for two years, I think we can consider that good news.
This is something I saw. It’s not what’s important.
Lloyd McClendon, who interviewed with Mariners for managerial job last time around, is expected to be a candidate in Seattle again.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 22, 2013
Rather, it got me thinking, and it got me thinking about this poll! This poll right here, asking for your mass participation!
This is rather bizarre, in a sense it’s a personal matter and tangential to the team itself, but at the same time it has potential implications for roster and clubhouse dynamics. The Seattle Times is reporting that Carlos Peguero’s wife (who is, incidentally, the daughter of Pedro Borbon, one of the let’s say more unusual characters in baseball history) has been charged in federal court with wire fraud based on alleged misuse of a debit card belonging to King Felix’s wife. Got that?
Okay, to begin with, innocent until proven guilty, let’s respect that. The charges are based on purchases made in 2012, although it’s not clear from the report when the issue was discovered. It’s before Felix signed his latest extension, although he was already making enough money that $180,000 from Saks could be overlooked. I’m sure he knows some of the dangers for people that wealthy in determining whom to trust, and has professionals managing his finances as the story indicates, but normally you would be most wary of outsiders trying to weasel in, not necessarily people already connected to the team. Being human, players can have their performance affected by family issues, not that Felix would likely ever admit to this as an excuse. Statistically, of course, it’s impossible to evaluate because you can’t verify or reconstruct many of the factors involved, but the impact is real enough to the person going through the experience.
Peguero has told investigators he didn’t know about the purchases. The presumption of innocence should hold up all the more so for someone not charged with any wrongdoing, so let’s take him at his word. It’s not out of the question that Felix might accept that too and they could coexist, men could be teammates and friends and many other things even when their wives don’t get along.
The team has declined to comment, as you might expect. We have no way of knowing how long they’ve been aware of the situation or what impact it might have on their decisions. Any fallout we might speculate about can just as easily have a much more straightforward explanation. We don’t know if they found out during spring training, or maybe after Peguero spent a week with the team in April, or much more recently. Despite the ongoing disasters in the outfield this past season, Peguero was not at any point the best available solution and overlooked. His lack of development means nothing seemed unusual when he didn’t return, even with expanded September rosters, and his performance at Tacoma never really demanded a callup. He’s now out of options and wasn’t likely to have a future with the team regardless. Perhaps Zduriencik moves on over the winter (he’d be a great candidate to follow Wladimir Balentien to Japan), or else he comes back in spring training for one last try, awkward though that may seem now.