Thiel tees off

DMZ · July 27, 2005 at 4:32 pm · Filed Under Mariners 


For all the providence, natural and man-made, attendant to the franchise, the Mariners lineup this week features a 42-year-old catcher hitting .200 (which is 50 points better than the catcher of the future), a trio of starting outfielders whose combined home-run production is exceeded by 59 individual major leaguers entering yesterday’s games; an offense that is last in the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs and homers; and a starting rotation whose two youngest pitchers have been dragging the word “potential” behind them for so long that it shines like the nose of the Pike Place Market brass pig.

(in the next paragraph, he seemingly totally ignores Felix Hernandez, though, which was a jarring transition for me)

Always nice to see a good local columnist really go after the team, talking about their rich position and how little they’ve accomplished compared to their peers.


34 Responses to “Thiel tees off”

  1. calvin on July 27th, 2005 4:37 pm

    [fixed] Anyways, a nice article from one the few good writers left in the Seattle sports section.

  2. Christian on July 27th, 2005 4:38 pm

    Very well written. Shows of the angst of those of us who have stuck around through thick and thin.

  3. Russ on July 27th, 2005 4:41 pm

    Thiel is my new hero.

    I hear there is a special on asbestos suits at Safeco today.

  4. David J Corcoran on July 27th, 2005 4:41 pm

    Beautiful. Only one qualm, though. The nose on the brass pig at Pike Place isn’t very shiny.

  5. Rusty on July 27th, 2005 4:43 pm

    Thiel has always been good. Perhaps the best sports columnist that Seattle has. Well, hopefully Bavasi reads this and takes note of the disgruntlement across Seattle that Thiel is representing.

  6. DMZ on July 27th, 2005 4:45 pm

    That’s really more of a quibble than a qualm, isn’t it, Mr. Corcoran?

  7. jloris on July 27th, 2005 4:46 pm

    Re: Felix, it sounds like Thiel may be questioning his future health consistency, rather than his starhood, in that paragraph you question.

  8. David J Corcoran on July 27th, 2005 4:46 pm

    Point made. I get those words mixed up a lot.

  9. Paul Molitor Cocktail on July 27th, 2005 4:47 pm

    I would wager that the Ms will start listening only when attendance drops below 2M.

  10. Ace of Spades on July 27th, 2005 4:56 pm

    I wonder if Howard Lincoln is going to have Thiel “erased” after this.

    It’d make a good movie, if, y’know, Thiel looked more like Vanessa Williams.

  11. goodbye baseball on July 27th, 2005 5:21 pm

    10: But AHNOLD’S too busy running California into the ground to protect Thiel from being erased.

    Seriously, love the passion on the article. My only beef with Thiel is sometimes he gets so creative with his wordplay that he can confuse. But this is a column, not a book, or a factual news article, so it may be nitpicking on my part.

  12. toonprivate on July 27th, 2005 6:06 pm

    Thiel’s primary question — is there a plan? — is a starting point. But the FO and Hargrove are going to say that of course there’s a plan. Sexson and Beltre are part of it. so is a large group of outfield prospects, ss prospects and pitching hopes. and when we get close, we have enough money to spend on free agents to put us over the top. in the meantime we’ll develop the farm and spend responsibly. And what can you say to that other than ‘I hope you’re right.” The devil is in the details: the nuts-and-bolts analysis of individual talent. And that’s where it’s hard to restrain the skepticism. Thiel’s contention that you need a hobbyist owner is far-fetched. The A’s don’t have that, after all. There’s no particular reason that a $90 million ballclub (adjusted for inflation) can’t be competitive over the long haul. It’s just those pesky details. it’s going to take a LOT of good decisions to get into contention within three years, that and some really good luck.

  13. DMZ on July 27th, 2005 6:11 pm

    I disagree that luck is going to have to play a role. Make the right decisions, and luck will find you.

  14. Michael Kale on July 27th, 2005 6:12 pm

    toonprivate, I believe Thiel’s assertion was that you need either a hobbyist owner who’s willing to spend lotsa money OR a super-smart GM like Billy Beane that the A’s have.

    (To that I might argue that the M’s still have a pretty high payroll, even if they don’t have a “hobbyist” owner, so what’s the difference?)

  15. Itea on July 27th, 2005 6:36 pm

    I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but the Ms are fine for the future. And again, I’m not even a fan of the team.

    Despite everything that has been bad this year, they have only been outscored by 23 runs. In a division that is well above .500 as a whole.

    What do you guys want? The Ms needed a 1B and a 3B in the off-season, and they went out and got them. Was signing Beltre a mistake? Was signing Sexson a mistake? Was counting on Olivo a mistake?

    I suppose one could posit that they should have signed a slugging outfielder in the off-season, but didn’t they need to fix 1B and 3B more?

    So we’re left with the pitching, starting pitching, which has been disastrous. And how is that fixed? They could have pursued a mediocre arm in the off-season, but they were counting on getting a bit more out of what they had. They have the highest rated pitching prospect out there, plus another couple guys who could be excellent if they make it past injury (Soriano and Madritch). They might get another live arm in the next couple days or in the off-season. And beyond that, what do you guys expect? They’ve shipped out the dead weight (Boone). They’ve promoted the farm guys.

    From my perspective, the only really legitimate beefs are:

    – Willie Bloomquist has been in the lineup more than his career warrants
    – Dobbs got too many opportunities, and Snelling didn’t get enough
    – Thornton pitches too often, and should go back to the minors until he has some control

    Sure, Pat Borders has been in the lineup too many times, but after Olivo’s horrible results and Wilson’s injury, what other option did they have?

    Yeah, the season hasn’t worked out so well. That happens sometimes. This could be so much worse. Imagine if Aurelia/Spiezio/Boone were all out there? They aren’t. Reed and Lopez are getting some seasoning, and are certainly likely to improve next year. They’re learning about Morse.

    It’s a tough crowd here. Thiel is result-mongering. If he had a crystal ball that told him Olivo would be horrible, Wilson would be hurt, Beltre would have a rough start, Boone would collapse, and none of the starting pitchers would meet their average expectation, then he ought to be making a few million a year as the Psychic GM.

  16. David J Corcoran on July 27th, 2005 6:41 pm

    Agreed, mostly. But:

    I suppose one could posit that they should have signed a slugging outfielder in the off-season, but didn’t they need to fix 1B and 3B more?

    If Beltre and Boone had lived up to their power potential, we wouldn’t be complaining.

    Sure, Pat Borders has been in the lineup too many times, but after Olivo’s horrible results and Wilson’s injury, what other option did they have?

    There’s a guy named Wiki Gonzalez down there in AAA. He’s hitting over .300 with a bit of power. There’s no reason why Pat Borders is up here right now instead of him.

  17. Jim Thomsen on July 27th, 2005 6:43 pm

    As I’ve said before, Thiel’s primary failing as as a writer is that he is unable to get out of the way of his writing style and let any substance peek through. Factual limitations aside, that paragraph above all else is wretchedly unreadable.

    Everything about Thiel’s writing screams “LOOK AT ME!!! AREN’T I CLEVER???”

  18. Brian (No Relation to Matt) Thornton on July 27th, 2005 6:52 pm


    I don’t have any problem reading anything of Thiel’s. I think he’s a prettygood stylist, and that’s not just as sports writers go. I don’t see his stuff screaming self-promotion nearly as much as you do. I think he’s clever, and even when I don’t agree with him, I enjoy his stuff.

    You know, sort of like George Will (Note: NOT a conservative, here).

    After all, like Will Rogers said: “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it. Thiel’s the best of the lot here in town. It’s not his fault that he knows it.

  19. Jim Thomsen on July 27th, 2005 6:58 pm

    Opinions vary.

  20. eponymous coward on July 27th, 2005 7:33 pm

    Nothing personal, but considering Willie Bloomquist’s performance a legitimate beef is a little bizarre when he’s basically giving you the same level of offensive performance per at bat as Adrian Beltre (Willie’s EqA: .256, Adrian’s is .259).

    He’s. Not. That. Freakin’. Bad. Get. Over. It.

  21. Itea on July 27th, 2005 7:39 pm

    OK, some cleaning up.

    I agree that Wiki would be a better choice than Borders.

    I looked at BP 2005 for the pitcher projections, and actually, Moyer, Franklin and Meche have been a bit better (about .25 earned runs each) than projected in ERA. Pineiro has been a run and a half worse. Sele has been .4 runs worse. So, the starting pitching as a whole has come very close to the BP projections, at least.

    Which undercuts my argument quite a bit.

  22. Itea on July 27th, 2005 7:39 pm

    And a typo. Sele has been .40 better, not worse, than projected. No, BP sure didn’t think much of him…

  23. bookbook on July 27th, 2005 7:51 pm

    The M’s are colossaly silly to be playing Borders, but that’s a minor beef.
    Pitching Sele and Nelson is a strange combination of boring and guaranteed bad.
    Spezio, and a few others, could also really stand to go in order to make room for improvements.

    Yet the overall point is a fine one. The M’s made a couple of reasonable moves this offseason in Beltre and Sexson. (Yeah, Sexson was a bad signing for the money and compared to the opportunity to get Delgado or Drew, but he’s a solid player the team benefits by having.) Bloomquist, if he can keep this up, turns out to be a reasonable 5th infielder. Hurrah! Dave Hansen was the right kind of guy to add to the bench.
    They are trying, sorta kinda, to work some young blood into the mix.

    Hargrove is a solid manager, but evidently not a real good one at developing a youngish team.

    Overall, it’s a solid C+ effort. Can continued C+ work along with a 90 million dollar budget lead to contention and eventual victory? Yeah, maybe.

    I’d love to see a B.

  24. Felonius Drunk on July 27th, 2005 7:57 pm

    You’re joking, right? Same level of offensive performance per at bat? Beltre’s been a disappointment so far, sure. But comparing him to Bloomquist? This is a guy with zero HRs thus far..somehow I doubt that’ll be changing.

  25. PositivePaul on July 27th, 2005 7:59 pm

    Jim — you’ve made your feelings about Art known quite well, and I agree that Thiel’s writing is a matter of opinion. That’s the point — He’s an opinion columnist, not a beat writer/reporter. He’s got the license to festoon his language and proclaim himself clever in the process, unlike Finnigan and Street who trip overthemselves quite frequently. They’re not very good writers, and even worse reporters.

    As someone who’s spent a lot of effort learning the skill of plain language writing, I understand what you’re saying. However, it’s Thiel’s poetic verbosity (however difficult it is to interpret and understand at times) that appeals to people (including me).

  26. Shoeless Jose on July 27th, 2005 8:02 pm

    There were some unexpected injuries. But there always are. Mads got hurt, and nobody expected that, but as you noted the rotation wasn’t set to shine even with him in it. Wilson got hurt, but c’mon: Wilson has been obviously past his prime for quite a while. The string of failures they’ve tried to use to replace him is hardly a ringing endorsement of the FO’s ability to evaluate catchers. Boone was obviously in decline, and there were many people who were calling on trading him this time last year (when the Yankees, among others, were looking for a 2B and Boone could still be gift-wrapped in his 2001/2002/2003 numbers). And how do you explain the situation at shortstop, where Bavasi was scrambling just before opening day to find a player? Pokey was injured, but everybody knew Pokey was an injury risk; so why didn’t they have a plan?

    The obvious problem last year was offense, so yes the ownership gave Bavasi the greenlight to go out and get some (that only half of it has panned out so far isn’t — yet — a damning criticism). But you don’t just focus on that and allow your pitching corps to get a year older and closer to death. Looking at the list of pitchers going into camp did anyone believe they had a WS-ready rotation in there somewhere? Or even a playoff-ready rotation? Yeah, the free agent market for pitching in the offseason was insane. Does Bavasi think it’s going to suddenly get better this offseason? And a GM’s options aren’t limited to just that. Oakland didn’t dip into the free agent market and yet they managed to get cheaper, younger, and apparently better or just as good.

  27. roger tang on July 27th, 2005 8:30 pm

    Um, guys….the obvious problem is NOT the offense…it’s the wretched farm system that has NOT produced over the last few years. Forget the pitching injuries…even given that, there simply hasn’t been any consistent production out of the farm system…Get persistent productivity out of the farm system and half the problems wouldn’t be there.

  28. Itea on July 27th, 2005 8:45 pm

    re 26:

    I think going into this season, the Mariners thought they had a bunch of young-youngish pitchers with possibilities in Madritch/Hernandez/Soriano/Pineiro/Meche/Franklin. Now perhaps that was a mistake in judgement in regards to the latter three, but I haven’t given up on Meche/Pineiro yet myself. [Obviously they are pitching poorly, but I think it’s too early to say they are poor pitchers.]

    If you think you have 6 young pitchers and expect three of them to be decent/good starters, plus you are counting on Moyer to bounce back somewhat, you probably don’t want to go out and sign mediocre starting pitching talent to a long-term overpriced contract.

    That’s without even getting to the other minor league pitchers the Mariners have that could reasonable contribute at this level; Sherrill, Nageotte at some point, etc.

    I’m not trying to be an apologist for the front office. I’m a baseball fan, an A’s fan if I had to pick a team. But I thought the off-season moves made by the Mariners were smart, and I think that looking to the future the team will only be better. There is nobody contributing to the current team that is on the steep downslope of his career. The pitching fell short of expectations this year.

    And once again, the current team just isn’t that bad. Assuming tonight’s current score (8-0) holds, by tomorrow morning the Mariners will have a run differential better than the Nationals but a record that’s 10 games worse. That’s just how it goes some years. If the Mariners were 55-46 with the same run differential that they actually have, there would be a lot less hand-wringing here, even though they would have the exact same stats on a per-player basis.

    Dan Wilson isn’t much of a player. He hasn’t been for quite a while. But as I wrote once in a thread about a month ago, it’s not like the Mariners have gotten 10th percentile production from their catching spot. They’ve gotten 0th percentile production, and just getting that to leagu-minimumish would help their team out another 10+ runs.

  29. Gary on July 28th, 2005 12:29 am

    Given the dozens of AAAA players flopping about the minor leagues, the Mariners’ inability or refusal to put together an effective bench worries me. Many people have made the valid point that, given Hargrove’s preference to play eight regulars and let the rest sit, that a good bench wouldn’t add many more victories anyway. That may be true, but why settle for a bad bench when a good one can be acquired for little or no more money?

    That they have indeed settled for a chronically bad bench makes me concerned not that the Mariners have been experiencing a run of bad luck, but that somewhere in the organization at least one important person (and probably several) doesn’t know what he or she is doing. (When in doubt, blame Howard Lincoln is generally a good policy, but I really don’t know who to point a finger at.)

    Finally, that the Mariners choose to play two bad catchers when there are (arguably) better available reinforces my dubiety that some kind of overall, big-picture insight is being employed in the choice of the individuals who make up the team.

    Perhaps most of the energy and money is going into the scouting and signing of prospects, granted, but once again, why settle for bad players when better (or at least better performing) players are available in your own system?

    Does someone have an hypothesis that makes sense of what is going on, especially with the bench? I want to be wrong. I want what they are doing to make some kind of overall sense on this admittedly minor level, but I don’t, and that keeps me on tenterhooks, because it makes me anxious that they don’t have an overall plan–or if they do, they don’t know how to select the players that would make it work.

  30. Spike on July 28th, 2005 8:54 am

    Well, let’s try this theory.

    The FO doesn’t make trades to improve the team when it’s going good (2000-2003). I will bet they won’t make trades to improve the team when it’s bad. They didn’t last year and it’s looking like a repeat this year. They play old farts they’re comfortable with over younger players. It seems their moto is:”Dare to be scared.”

    They seem to only have policies of what they won’t do. Don’t make daring trades of Soccer Mom favorites. Don’t replace Soccer Mom favorites with younger players unless it’s 100% proven the old player is done. Don’t tell the people we only want to look like we want to win. (Getting into a rant now).Don’t let the fans know we’re not really not spending $90mm on payroll. Just tell them we’d “plan” to have a payroll of $90mm.

    The FO is just so timid and lacking of passion. I wonder if that doesn’t show up on the field. I was going to say something about certain FO types sitting to take a whiz, but I didn’t want to get personal.

    I also wonder if the whole front office didn’t get too comfortable and complacent after 2001. Howie even said he thought running a team was a piece of cake after that year.

  31. roger tang on July 28th, 2005 9:28 am

    re 30

    So you’re saying the Freddy Garcia trade didn’t happen last year…

    Front office isn’t THAT stupid; they know damn well they can’t be complacent after 2004 and 2005.

  32. Spike on July 28th, 2005 9:57 am

    Not saying that trade didn’t happen. Just that it happened only when it was obvious something had to be done. I just get the feeling this FO would much rather do nothing, and only does anything in a “management by crisis” mode. What they then end up doing is done for appearance rather than substance.

    Their mission statement is to “appear” to be putting a good team on the field in a reactive, rather than proactive system.

  33. Brent Overman on July 28th, 2005 11:29 am

    Spike, you said it best. They are a “reactive” organization. They fear what a fan reaction would be to purging the team of the dead weight, instead of coming forward with a plan of attack for the future. It’s a method that is doomed for failure.

  34. Glenn on July 28th, 2005 12:34 pm

    Wow, I don’t post much but I have to react to this. I think the FO regimes of the past (read Gillick) are very guilty of what Spike is describing; but is the Bavasi regime cut from the same cloth? If it was wouldn’t we still be looking at players like Cirillo, Jarvis, Aurilia and Boone? Would Edgar have gotten more at bats last year at DH? I’m not a blind Bavasi backer by any means, but he’s certainly shown that he’s willing to offload a veteran.

    As for not playing the younger players, wow, a LOT of names come to mind: Madritsch, Blackley, Nageotte, Thornton, Putz. And those are just the pitchers! Do we have to have 9 starters under 25 before we lose this reputation of not giving the kids a chance? Do you not see that we currently have 3 rookie starters?