Melvin’s extension

DMZ · October 16, 2004 at 3:36 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

I’ve been thinking about this lately, and there’s something weird in this season’s extension of Melvin.

In early May, the team was in a lot of trouble. Melvin had a two-year deal, and after season one, they didn’t extend it — they waited until the team had stumbled badly.

The team reacted to rumors his job might be at risk that early in the season by giving him another year. Now, at the time they gave us a whole set of reasons why, some of which didn’t make sense:
– Bavasi wanted to wait until he’d seen enough of Melvin to make a decision (why such a short time? why not wait out the rest of the contracted year for more information?)
– Vote of confidence in the whole team: “In terms of timing, this sends a strong message from our ownership group and front office to our fans, the media and our players that we are 100 percent behind Bob Melvin and this team.” — Howard Lincoln. Don’t worry, fans, we’re confident this is a blip.
– Confidence in Melvin specifically. “But I did sense when I started seeing things in the media that suggested Bob was at risk, and knowing how highly we think of him, it was very appropriate that we do this now.” (Lincoln again) Also some player comments about how important it is to know that Melvin would be there the whole year– even though he was signed for the whole year anyway — seem strange.

Here’s what’s weird about this in retrospect is that this seems to be another of the organization-over-Bavasi moves. Bavasi said the right things at the time, but it’s notable that in re-reading the quotes from news stories at the time, it seems like Lincoln’s doing all of the talking, and Bavasi’s kind of left acting dumb. Lincoln gets to talk about timing, showing confidence in the team, and so forth, while Bavasi has to say “Uh, I like shiny things.”

It makes me think that there was a discussion that went
Lincoln: The fans are restless, and the team’s losing. We need to show the fans we know what we’re doing. Wait, I’ve got it — we’ll give Melvin an extension.
Bavasi: Well, we’re only paying him 500 a year, and we can still fire him… sure, I guess.

So set aside Bavasi for a second. What the ownership group, and in particular Lincoln, thought when the team was starting to go down, was that the fan base would be reassured by an extension to Melvin. I don’t even know where to start with this, but it’s bugged me the more I’ve thought about it. But two things:

First, that public confidence in Melvin was the problem that needed solving
Second, that extending his contract would solve that problem

It makes me wonder about what happens this year if the team starts to tank again. Will they announce an extension of Bavasi, or the PA announcer (who doesn’t deserve it, as long as I’ve brought that up), or the Moose?

It’s a bizarre mix of misdirection and wrong direction, all at once.
“Hey, Mariners, you’re headed off that cliff.”
“No we’re not. Here, I’ll accelerate to make you feel better.”

And yes, I recognize that we need some hard news around here.


25 Responses to “Melvin’s extension”

  1. Dave on October 16th, 2004 3:57 pm

    The joy of multi-author blogs; we don’t always agree.

    The Melvin extension was basically a $500,000 investment in organizational sanity. Lameduck managers are bad for everyone; the mananger, the players, the coaches, the front office, the reporters, and the fans. Going through the season with Melvin’s status being a constant question was just going to be a distraction that the club could avoid for nothing, essentially. Giving Melvin the extension was like free corporate lunches; an investment in employee happiness.

  2. Jim Thomsen on October 16th, 2004 7:58 pm

    The irony is that Melvin’s status turned out to be pretty much a season-long distraction anyway.

  3. Jim Thomsen on October 16th, 2004 8:08 pm

    Off-topic: It’s been pretty interesting to watch the transactions wire these days, as team offload detritus off their 40-man rosters and those that elect free agency get signed by other organizations. (The Mariners did their own version of this by outrighting B.J. Garbe, Jeff Heaverlo and Mickey Lopez; they tried the same with Beavis Bocachica but he opted for free agency, and somehow I see brief cups of coffee with the Texas Rangers or Tampa Bay Devil Rays in his future.)

    Most of the players involved in these early roster machinations are essentially worthless, and yet, there is the occasional player worth taking a look at. I cited pitcher Aaron Myette as one example; look at and weigh in yourself on whether any of the names listed appeal to you. The only other one I remotely like is J.D. Drew’s brother Tim, and barely at that (though it could be a small edge in landing J.D. as a free agent).

    It would be nice to see if the Bavasi Regime is open to be combing the waiver wire for overlooked talent … as well as, later on, the Rule 5 draft. That exercise, I suspect, will be a tremendous referendum on the Bavasi Politburo’s ability to competitively evaluate such talent.

  4. Bill Creech on October 16th, 2004 8:21 pm

    This was nothing other than the dreaded “vote of confidence” that usually precedes a firing.

  5. Paul Molitor Cocktail on October 16th, 2004 9:43 pm

    Also off topic: I hate the goddamn Red Sox, and I hate the goddamn Yankees even more.

  6. Jeff Morgan on October 16th, 2004 9:53 pm

    On topic: In Bavasi’s press conference the reason he gave for the extension was so that Melvin’s future with the team (or lack thereof) didn’t become a distraction (comment #1 above). So a front office that preaches having a budget and sticking to it still saw fit to throw $500K at a potential problem to make it go away. Wonder if that $500K gets applied to this year’s player budget or next years’? Also, if Melvin gets hired somewhere else (ha) does he still get paid by the M’s? If not, maybe that was why Bavasi was recommending him to Arizona before Melvin’s car left the parking lot…

  7. Coach on October 16th, 2004 10:10 pm

    You knew this would drive some of us crazy, didn’t you? I’ve tried to write this one off as FO madness, but I admit that I think there must be more to it.
    The thing that started me pondering was your point that it seemed bizarre the FO felt public confidence was the problem that needed to be solved. I’m of the same mind, so I would like to suggest that maybe the move was NOT directed (primarily) at public confidence.
    What if it were directed at the players? Looking back at the timeline, Bavasi ripped the offense AFTER the contract extension. That would seem a bit counter-intuitive to the extension being simply a vote of confidence. It also makes me wonder if the two incidents are related.
    We now have Bavasi’s admission that they knew going in that this team would need “good fortune” to compete. If the FO were actually lucid enough to know they had blanks in the gun, they must have suspected what would eventually transpire – that they would have to release some popular players. So the immediate need was not to have a scapegoat in October, but rather to have deflecter shields in June.
    I have often doubted that Melvin was held in high regard in the clubhouse, at least to the extent we have been led to believe. (Perhaps some of the curious off-season departures were linked to grumbling about Melvin). On the other hand, if the players really did “love the guy”, was the extension and the subsequent public flogging meant as a loyalty test? Perhaps the FO was inviting someone to step forward and volunteer to be disloyal prior to beig DFA’d?
    This is getting a bit labored. Maybe that’s just the way they do things on whatever planet Howard Lincoln came from.

  8. stan on October 16th, 2004 10:19 pm

    I would think that the half million is a sunk cost, which is appropriate given how the season turned out.

  9. mike on October 16th, 2004 10:24 pm

    Off Topic, in response to Jim… I think the M’s would do well to claim Oakland catcher Mike Rose. He’s an offensive machine and would be a fine back-up catcher if they don’t re-sign Wilson. If anything, Rose sure would look nice in a Rainiers uniform…

  10. Jeremy on October 17th, 2004 12:24 am

    I have no clue about the Bavasi/Lincoln/Roberto/McCleod/Whoever leadership ladder, but there’s something in psychology called the Hawthorne Effect. I think it has a huge affect in baseball. Basically, you show your presence and “shake things up” and your workers perform better. Even in Moneyball, Lewis showed that Billy Beane knew that this was worthwhile (in his heart if not his mind) with the Jeremy Giambi deal. This year, Boston and Houston (to a lesser extent) suddenly turned things around when semi-random moves were made. Sure, it might be coincidence in these cases, but I’m sure there’s definitely a psychological component to baseball performance and this area is mostly untouched in the performance analyst community, even though I’m sure good stats can be found.

    Any good resources out there on how to analyze stats?

  11. Ryan on October 17th, 2004 9:52 am

    Derek, if your theory is true I am even more disturbed by the front office than ever before. How can Lincoln be so misguided and idiotic as to think that extending Melvin’s contract would appease M’s fans????

    On anither note, I was leafing through the current copy of ESPN the Magazine and I saw that our very own Derek was quoted in the Bizness Section (their spelling, not mine) regarding the Expos. Way to go Derek, hitting the big time.

  12. Laurie on October 17th, 2004 11:05 am

    Lincoln and Armstrong think that the fans are naive and maleable. The contract extension was transparent at the time as an “appease the fans” move. I honestly don’t believe that those people in the front office have any understanding of what drives baseball fans. This team SO needs a new leader. Is there any indication from ownership that Lincoln’s job will be on the line one of these years?

  13. eponymous coward on October 17th, 2004 12:07 pm

    Melvin’s firing was also a transparent “appease the fans” move, while we’re at it. Odds are no-one they hire is really any better at managing.

  14. Conor Glassey on October 17th, 2004 12:31 pm

    Jim – Although they’re already signed, I think there were 2 pitchers released by the Rangers that might have been interesting…Colby Lewis and Ben Kozlowski.

  15. Avery on October 17th, 2004 1:25 pm

    I guess Bavasi is gonna hang onto Kida instead of taking him off the 40 man???

  16. eponymous coward on October 17th, 2004 2:02 pm

    I suppose- though I’d note that the Gillvasi team brought you Bucky Jacobsen, Bobby Madritsch and George Sherrill as recent examples of looking at various sources of “overlooked” talent.

    OTOH, Gillick spent lots of time futzing with the waiver wire and looking at other organizations rejects- remember Matt White? Giovanni Carrara (who, while he’s been OK in LA, was AWFUL for us)? Doug Creek? Mark Watson? We occasionally would get the Jose Paniagua, but still…

    IMO, dumpster-diving only works well if you have a strategy- and nothing indicates to me Bavasi is any more enlightened than most GM’s are in doing the waiver shuffle. Who would you cite as someone who does a good job of this, consistently?

  17. Dave in Palo Alto on October 17th, 2004 2:30 pm

    Off topic again: could they just shut up for a little while about Steinbrenner buying Beltran? I’m glad our Strong Leader© let the assault weapon ban lapse so I can go postal when it happens.

  18. LB on October 17th, 2004 3:18 pm

    Theo Epstein and the Red Sox have done a pretty good job shopping in the bargain bin: David Ortiz (a non-tender from the Twins) and Bronson Arroyo (claimed off waivers from the Pirates) come to mind. Arroyo is worthless when he doesn’t have command (e.g. against NY last night), but he’s still better than Lowe and making only the MLB minimum.

  19. Jim Thomsen on October 17th, 2004 3:19 pm

    #13 — Lewis and Kozlowski were claimed off waivers by the Tigers and the Reds, specifically. The Tigers seems to be unusually active dumpster-divers so far.

    #15 — Bavasi had nothing to do with the transactions that brought Sherrill, Madritsch and Jacobsen to the M’s organization. Well, Jacobsen, maybe … I haven’t been able to find the date he was signed on waivers from the Cardinals. But Bavasi wasn’t on board at this time last year, and that’s the time of year when these signings usually take place.

  20. eponymous coward on October 17th, 2004 3:58 pm

    Note I said “Gillvasi”…Gillick and his organization would have to take credit for those, mostly.

    OK, Epstein…though Bronson Arroyo isn’t really any better than Brett Tomko, Ismael Valdez, Jose Lima or any number of Generic Rotation Fodder that’s floating around.

  21. John on October 18th, 2004 1:00 am

    Re: # 18: BUCKY JACOBSEN was signed as a Free Agent by the Mariner organization on November 10, 2003.

  22. LB on October 18th, 2004 1:14 am

    Arroyo is a #4 or #5 starter who got boosted to the #3 position in the playoffs because Lowe and Wakefield have been abysmal down the stretch. The point isn’t that he’s Cy Young, the point is that he’s cost-effective. The other Rotation Fodder arms you mention are either free agents or arb-eligible.

    Tomko $1.5m
    Lima $0.95m
    Valdes $0.8m

    Arroyo $0.33m

    (Figures are from

    Which would you rather pay?

    Bill Mueller was also a pickup from the bargain bin (nontendered free agent) and won a batting title in 2003. Kevin Millar was also sort-of a remaindered item, through his story was complicated by his sale to a Japanese team that never quite happened.

    I’d say Theo’s done pretty well for the Red Sox in this area.

  23. Steve on October 18th, 2004 1:00 pm

    How could you possibly have a gripe with the PA announcer? Complaining about Rizzs is one thing, but the PA announcer?

  24. EdPres on October 18th, 2004 1:31 pm

    This is what I told my friend, Steve, in email… on May 6th!

    “You could easily frame Melvin’s extension in terms of Lincoln being a value investor. Here’s your business, slowly running itself into the ground, and you’re not sure how to really fix the problems. Or, you have ideas about how to really fix the big problems, but they would cost way, way too much. What’s a value person to do? How about a “morale event”, spread a little money around when you don’t have to, blow a little air up a few people’s asses, and maybe things will turn around. You’ve seen how things can go from good to bad for no apparent reason, so maybe this is enough to spark it from bad to good? And without much money expended, what’s to lose? It might just be the cheapest investment you ever bought.

    It’s nice he got an extension. But he can be fired, even though he’s got the extension. How long would they keep a manager around just because he’s owed ~$500K? Jarvis was released just a few days ago, for the reasonable cost of ~$5M. That is about ten times the cost of Melvin’s extension. If they’re willing to agree to pay Jarvis $5M, and then they’re willing to throw him on the trash heap, how come $0.5M means for sure we will keep him around next year?

    I want to know, how many of these players, at the instant they were clapping for Melvin’s employment for next year, were wondering what they would be doing next year?”

  25. XMFan on October 19th, 2004 4:07 pm

    I always thought they gave Melvin the extension so that he would quit playing the veterans and see what the kids had to show. The extension says, don’t worry about winning now, just sort out who to keep and who to let go. He got fired for not doing that. How long did Reed sit around? How much pt did Boccachica get to shwo whether he was worth keeping? The only thing that BoMel did that was unforgivable was squander an opportunity to set up the team for next year.