October 31, 2004 · Filed Under Off-topic ranting · 28 Comments 

I’m not picky about these things. I went as a baseball player year after year. And I think it’s important to teach kids that they can satisfy their sugar craving through implied blackmail.

But this year, in my new digs, we’ve seen a lot more trick-or-treaters of the “sullen teen with jeans and backwards-cap” costume.

If you’re going to trick or treat late into life, I’m okay with that. But put some effort into it, please. When I answer the door in a hooded sweatshirt and messed-up hair because I’ve been at the keyboard all day and my haggard writer costume is better than whatever they have on, it’s embarassing for us both.

Meche and arbitration

October 30, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · 41 Comments 

Many people have commented that the Mariners won’t pay Meche more than, say, $3m next year. Whether or not that’s true, Meche heads into arbitration with a 2004 salary of $2m. Now, normally that can’t go down by more than 20% — it’s in the CBA — except that I found a rule that says they can submit lower if in the last year his salary went up over 50% through arbitration.

So maybe I was totally wrong there, and the M’s could submit a arbitration figure of $600,000 if they wanted.

Arbitration doesn’t work on merit, though, as much as you’d think it would. It is, by and large, an issue of service time. Players headed into arbitration are compared to other players with equal service time and that’s the single largest determinant.

Other factors include performance (including clubhouse leadership and community love! no, really!), the player’s past compensation, “existence of any physical or mental defects” and the performance record of the club.

They’re unlikely to argue that Meche is injured, obviously.
They’ve got a performance argument to make, yes.
Meche isn’t known as a leader or pillar of the community.
The performance record of the club similarly provides the team with ammunition, though I’ve never heard of this being a factor in an actual arbitration hearing.

We should remember that even Brian Hunter, after his awful season as a Mariner, beat the team in arbitration. The M’s thrashed him and the arbitration panel said “if he was so bad why’d you play him so much?”

The argument for taking him to arbitration’s a lot like the Freddy Garcia argument, exceppppt.. if Meche was available for a minor league contract, many teams would bite. Given that teams were unwilling to trade for Meche last year, or claim his contract for nothing when they had the chance early in the season, it seems unlikely that they’d be able to take him to arbitration and move him.

In that case, the team’s going to face the same decision they did with Freddy, sort of: do you take the gamble on the money and hope he performs well enough that you can get something shiny in trade, or keep the money and see if it can’t be put to better use elsewhere?

Continuing expectations game

October 30, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · 75 Comments 

Ahhhh, just when you might be getting excited about the team picking up some good young players… not so much! Bob Finnigan (dubbed “Pocket Lint” previously for other articles of this sort) breaks the exclusive news, as he does frequently, that the Mariners don’t have as much money as you’d think! No, really! Like $13m. Less, actually.

You see, it turns out that the clubhouse boom box is Jeff Nelson’s, so they have to mail that to him and then buy a new one. Then a recent audit turned up some deferred payments to Russ Davis the team has to pick up. After all the expenses and related fees, they’re looking at having seven dollars and change to spend this off-season.

What we’re going to need to wait for, according to Finnigan, is neeeext year, when even more contracts roll off the books and — I’m sorry, I can’t type any more of this without laughing.

Seattle Times, dear readers. They’ve won Pulitzers.

Offseason Predictions

October 28, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · 130 Comments 

I’ve still got a ways to go on my short articles on each important free agent on the market, but now that the offseason is actually upon us, I’d like to take a quick break and post what I’m expecting to occur this winter. Now, like any prognostication, odds are that most of these will be wrong in some way or another. Some of these beliefs are based on some things I’ve been told, while others are more speculative in nature. If you’ve been reading the blog for a few months, you’ll probably be able to tell which is which. So, without too many more caveats, here is basic timeline that I believe will at least somewhat resemble this coming offseason and the Mariners involvement.

Two week exclusive negotation window ending November 10th

During the next two weeks, teams have exclusive rights to negotiate with their own free agents without interfernece from other teams. Often, when a player and team both want to extend the contract, the player will reach an agreement without ever filing for free agency. The Mariners who fall into this category are Ron Villone and Dan Wilson. While the M’s are talking to Villone, I expect him to file for free agency, and the Mariners to pursue other options while keeping Villone as a fallback plan. I believe Wilson will be re-signed to a one year contract before the end of the month. In addition, the team will likely exercise the $1.5 million option on Jolbert Cabrera, bringing him back for another year of hacking utilitiness.

I also expect Randy Winn to be traded during this timeframe. The M’s are going to pursue several outfielders in free agency and are expected to move Winn off the roster in order to free up salary and an open position. Coming off another solid average season, he has a bit of trade value, and will likely be part of a package to acquire a veteran pitcher, either a backend starter or more likely a late inning reliever. Houston, Florida, and Baltimore have been mentioned as possibilities. If forced to pick the most likely destination, I’d guess Baltimore, with Jorge Julio being the player coming back to Seattle. The Mariners would likely include a pitcher in the deal as well.

Beginning of free agency, mid-November to December 1st

If the Astros don’t reach an agreement with Carlos Beltran before he files for free agency, I expect the Mariners to come out with a “take it or leave it” offer in the range of 6 years, $95 million and a 2005 salary of about $9 million. The Mariners would love to have Beltran and will give Boras an opportunity to set the market with a contract larger than what Vladimir Guerrero commanded last year, but they have little interest in getting involved in a prolonged negotiation. If Boras intends to keep Beltran on the market and create a bidding war, the Mariners will retract their offer and move on quickly. I don’t expect Boras to accept the Mariners terms, and I believe he’ll eventually sign with the Chicago Cubs for about the same money, perhaps a little bit more, than what the Mariners original offer will be.

After moving off of Beltran, the organization will turn to target B, who many in the front office prefer anyways. Again, the team will come out bidding strong with an offer intended to knock the Dodgers out of the running; probably something in the 6 year, $80 million range, again with a significantly lower 2005 salary. I don’t believe anyone else in the market will match the Mariners offer, and I expect Adrian Beltre to be the Mariners starting third baseman next spring.

With Beltre under contract, the Mariners will turn to their #1 pitching target, Matt Clement. Hoping that a mediocre record will deflate interest and that other teams will be distracted by bidding wars for Pedro Martinez, Carl Pavano, and Brad Radke, I expect the M’s to come in with a midlevel offer of something in the 3 year, $18 million range. Clement won’t accept that, and negotiations will eventually lead to him signing a deal in the neighborhood of 3 years, $24 million with a 4th year team option and a $1 million plus buyout. Again, expect Clement’s 2005 salary to be quite a bit less than the average yearly value of the contract, perhpas in the $5-6 million range. If Clement decides to sign elsewhere, look for the M’s to offer a similar deal to Kris Benson.

Middle of free agency leading up to Winter Meetings through December 13th

By this time, the Mariners will have committed about $70 million to the roster, leaving about $15 million to fill out the roster. The last “main” piece will be either an outfielder or a first baseman, which will determine Ibanez’s position on the club in 2005. Expect the M’s to make an offer to Richard Hidalgo in the range of a 3 year, $18 million contract with incentives that would push it significantly higher. I expect Hidalgo to get a better offer, however, and the M’s to eventually make a deal with Arizona to acquire Shea Hillenbrand, who will earn about $3.5 million in arbitration next season to play as the everyday first baseman.

They also want to bring in a veteran shortstop as Jose Lopez insurance and will be willing to spend a couple million on a backup who can play several positions. Expect us to be the lucky winners of Deivi Cruz, probably for something in the 1 year, $2 million range.

The last bench spot will likely be filled with by an outfielder. The front office has a lot of Todd Hollandsworth fans, and he’s coming off a career year, but with a projected outfield of Ibanez, Reed, and Ichiro, the team probably needs a right-hander in this spot. Gabe Kapler is a potential target, and don’t count out Juan Gonzalez, despite his health problems. If he finds the market completely uninterested, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the M’s offer him a nonguaranteed contract with a ton of incentives. I’ll pencil in Kapler for $1 million here, but this spot is pretty fluid.

End of free agency, non-tender period

Due to the questionable health surrounding Pineiro and Guardado, I expect the M’s to take at least one flier on a free agent reliever released by another club. There are just too many possibilities to speculate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the team picked up a non-tendered veteran and signed them to a low base salary, high incentive contract. Think Ron Villone, part two. It could be Villone himself.

So, what does this expected roster look like?

Position	Player		Salary
C	Wilson		1.0
1B	Hillenbrand	3.5
2B	Boone		9.0
3B	Beltre		9.0
SS	Lopez		0.3
LF	Ibanez		3.8
CF	Reed		0.3
RF	Ichiro		12.0
DH	Jacobsen	           0.3
C	Olivo		0.4
Util	Cabrera		1.5
Inf	Spiezio		3.1
OF	Kapler		1.0
Util	Cruz		2.0
SP1	Clement		6.0
SP2	Pineiro		4.2
SP3	Meche		3.0
SP4	Madritsch	           0.3
SP5	Moyer		7.5
Long	Franklin	           2.4
RHP	Putz		0.3
RHP	Hasegawa	           3.0
LHP	Sherrill	           0.3
Setup	Julio		0.5
Closer	Guardado             4.5
Total			79.2

There are some pretty prominant names not included in that final twenty five. Most obviously, Willie Bloomquist. I don’t expect him to be on the 25 man roster next spring. He may stick with the organization if he’s willing to go back to Tacoma, or they may designate him for assignment. Either way, Cabrera is likely going to inherit the main utility spot, with Deivi Cruz taking over the backup middle infield responsibilities. That leaves Bloomquist on the outside looking in. On the pitching side, there’s no room for Julio Mateo or Scott Atchison, though both could make the club if Guardado isn’t healthy or if Putz struggles in spring training. Atchison or Mateo could also be included in several deals, as their value to other clubs is likely higher than it is to the Mariners.

So, what do I think about this group? It’s a decent start, but it won’t make the playoffs next year. Beltre is a good building block, but he’s surrounded by too many easy outs in the line-up. The offense can be reasonably expected to get nothing from catcher or shortstop and needs to hope for average at best production from DH, center field, and left field. The bench is still going to be poor. At best, the team will finish in the middle of the pack in runs scored.

The rotation is improved, though questions abound. If Meche and Pineiro are healthy, it could be one of the better rotations in the league. If either one of them misses significant time, there’s trouble. The bullpen hinges on Guardado being healthy and Julio improving on his mediocre ’04 season. It’s an average at best group, but at least it costs a lot less than the average bullpens we’ve built in the past.

I’d probably suggest that this team could win 82-85 games, but there’s enough young talent to build around that its finally a team headed in the right direction. The acquistions I expect and won’t like are probably going to be short term moves without a big commitment.

This is what I expect from the club this offseason. It’s a cash outlay of around $24 million and a long term commitment to a free agent, both of which would be unprecedented in team history. There’s a first time for everything, right?

Watson turns down DC, Gillick to GM?

October 28, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · 12 Comments 

So the fat rumor today is that after Bob Watson turned down a chance to take the Expos job, Pat Gillick is now the leading candidate. It seems weird that instead of leaving a barren wasteland of a franchise, he’d be taking one over, but maybe guilt over his work with Toronto, Baltimore, et cetera finally overcame his reluctance to take such a difficult assignment.

Minor League Free Agents

October 28, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

This year’s minor leauge free agents posted at Baseball America.

As predicted by Dave, AJ Zapp’s off to greener pastures.

One of the ways good teams build their rosters is through minor league free agents: the A’s, for example, spend quality time building a roster in Sacramento that can help the major league roster if things go wrong.

Note that Jack Cust is available to be re-united with Hargrove, who gave him all of what, 10? 20? at-bats when Hargrove had the chance.


October 27, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · 52 Comments 

Congratulations to the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox.

BP to stay

October 27, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · 34 Comments 

Mike Hargrove has retained Bryan Price as pitching coach for the 2005 season, choosing the organization’s recommendation over his friend, Mark Wiley. However, Price is entering the final year of his contract, and I’d imagine that this is probably his last season as Mariner pitching coach. If the team’s pitching struggles, Hargrove will likely look to replace him with his own man. If the team turns it around, Price will have suitors elsewhere, and the cost of keeping him could be prohibitive.

Carl Pavano

October 26, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · 28 Comments 

At the beginning of the 2004 season, you could have given me 30 or 40 chances to name the most coveted free agent starter on the upcoming market, and I’m still not sure I would have gotten around to mentioning Carl Pavano. A prized Red Sox prospect coming up through the farm system (he was the main player given up in the Pedro Martinez trade), he had never lived up to expectations. His performance record consisted of three and a half below average seasons in Montreal and a year and a half of league average production in Florida. In just over 700 career innings of work, he had posted a 4.59 ERA with peripheral stats that supported the assertion that he was an innings eater at best.

2004 saw him post an ERA of 3.00, 37 percent better than league average, and post an 18-8 record and a VORP of 64.4, fourth highest among major league starters. Seemingly out of nowhere, Pavano became a legitimate Cy Young contender, mixing both durability and excellence at the age or 28. What changed to cause him to go from back end starter to ace? Look at his ratios for the past three seasons:

2002	1.28	2.04	1.25	6.09
2003	1.01	2.71	0.85	5.96
2004	0.95	2.84	0.65	5.63  

His walk rate has remained fairly steady, but he’s been able to cut his hits and home runs allowed. Usually, this would be accompanied by a higher strikeout rate, but Pavano is actually missing less bats now than he was during his mediocre years. Peripherally, there is very little difference between his average 2003 and superb 2004 seasons. So what the heck happened?

Honestly, it was probably luck. Based on his peripherals and an average defensive support, he should have posted a 3.57 ERA; still solid, but a big step down from his actual performance. It appears that a good percentage of the steps forward he took this year aren’t repeatable talent, but more good fortune.

Pavano’s skillset is one that can succeed, but much like Brad Radke, whom we profiled earlier, he’s going to be prone to inconsistency. As a ball-in-play starter, he will be more susceptible to the ups and downs of random variation than a three true outcomes starter like Matt Clement. 2004 was the peak of what one could expect from Pavano, given his stuff and command. Whoever signs him will pay the premium value for a pitcher who cannot reasonably be expected to pitch any better than he did last year, and should be expected to return closer to performances matching his career lines.

In all the talk about Adrian Beltre’s breakout season (or fluke, depending on your point of view), Carl Pavano’s leap from mediocrity to stardom appears to have the least potential to continue. Pavano, while coming off a tremendous year, is going to price himself into a market that will almost certainly make him a bad investment. He’s a great player to avoid.

Edgar pre-game

October 26, 2004 · Filed Under Mariners · 30 Comments 

According to reports in both the PI and Times, Edgar will win the 2004 Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes “the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” (from

If that’s the case, we should see a pre-game ceremony before tonight’s Game 3 of the World Series.

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