Win the World Series next year

DMZ · November 10, 2005 at 10:29 am · Filed Under Mariners 

I’m going to look at the same thing Dave did from a different starting point, and arrive at a far different place.

What are the barriers to the Mariners winning a World Series in 2006?

They’re not good, to begin. Stick with me, this is going to get better fast.

Huge Problem Solution
1 No starters after Felix
2 Starting rotation sucks
3 Offense sucks

That’s a little too general to do anything about. Let’s break that down further:

Problem Solution
1 Pineiro not good
2 No third starter
3 No fourth starter
4 No fifth starter
5 Poor offense at third
6 Poor offense at short
7 Poor offense at center
8 Poor offense at right
9 No catcher
10 No second baseman
11 No left fielder

To win the World Series, the team has to solve all of these.

In detail:
1. Pineiro’s not good. Whether Pineiro’s done has been hashed over here many times, and there are still some who believe he could still turn into an ace. He won’t. Even the supposedly good version of Pineiro last year was a league-average pitcher. If our goal was to get to .500, that would be fine. It’s possible that we might even look at him as a late-rotation guy in a championship team (certainly, many World Series winners have some random guys in the #4, #5 slots). But Joel Pineiro, in his remaining year here, isn’t going to be a pitcher who helps the team win it all. Ideally, you want to upgrade on Pineiro.
2-4. Moyer may return, filling a spot, and handled well, that’s a reasonable gamble.
Meche may come back on another one-year deal, but again, there’s no ace Meche left. There’s no point.
5. Beltre, Beltre, Beltre. A Beltre that’s somewhere between 2004 and last year’s a big contributor. And yet, counting on a rebound is unsettling.
6. Betancourt’s a ground-ball vacuum, and even if he hits like last year all year, he might be worth playing. He’s a fairly young player who doesn’t take walks and also doesn’t strike out excessively or hit for home run power. There’s offensive potential with Betancourt, and it’s reasonable to see that coming at this stage of his development.
7. I think I wrote once that Reed, reliant on average, lack of walks, but with power, would live and die on his ability to make contact, and that sometimes he’d look like the best player on the team and seem almost unstoppable, while other times he might seem as helpless as a kitten (not as cute, though). Reed has to hit better if they’re going to win it all next year (this would be called “a breakthrough season” if he has it). It might have been Dave.
8. Ichiro is a great player if he can hit .330 or higher. At .300 he’s not helping. I’m a great fan, but that’s just true.
9. Team needs a catcher.
10. Team needs a second baseman. Lopez has now had two extended trials at the major league level, and he hasn’t hit in either of them. Whether that’s coaching or what remains to be seen, but if he’s handed a job next year we’re going to be looking for something more than Luis Rivas style prospect flop-dom.
11. Morse could be a left fielder but then, so could you or me. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

The offense doesn’t so much suck as it’s hugely incomplete. If you stuck randomly selected minor league free agents in there, it’d be horrible. Fortunately, the team’s not going to do that. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So look at that list again, with some additions.

Problem Solution
1 Pineiro not good Hope for rebound
2 No third starter Bring back Moyer
3 No fourth starter
4 No fifth starter
5 Poor offense at third Hope for rebound
6 Poor offense at short Hope for development
7 Poor offense at center Hope for development
8 Poor offense at right Hope for rebound
9 No catcher
10 No second baseman Hope for development
11 No left fielder

That’s a lot of hoping already. But for a second, let’s just assume that the Mariners go with those solutions. That leaves us with:

Problem Solution
3 No fourth starter
4 No fifth starter
9 No catcher
11 No left fielder

Fourth and fifth starters is a little misleading: adding two starters almost automatically moves Pineiro into the #5 slot. But for a moment, consider this as “the team needs two more starters.”

Let’s say the team decides to open the doors and spend like crazy: they’re going to get everyone (I know, I know, but bear with me for a minute).

A.J. Burnett signs for 5y, $50m
Millwood signs for 5y, $50m
Loaiza signs for 3y, $20m
Pineiro’s moved to the bullpen or Ellensburg
Jojima signs for 3y, $15m
Jacque Jones signs for 2y, $10m (yes, I’m with Dave on this)

Wow. What do we get?

Rotation: King Felix, A.J. Burnett, Loiaza, Millwood, Moyer

C-R Jojima
1B-R Sexson
2B-R Lopez
SS-R Betancourt
3B-R Beltre
LF-L J. Jones
CF-L Reed
RF-L Ichiro
DH-L Ibanez

And then you throw some guys together for a decent bench, and the bullpen’s fine.

We’ve just gone tearing past $100m. And even though I tried to go a little high and long on those contracts, it’s likely that if the M’s went on a free-agent tear like that it would cost them even more than that. Some might argue that signing more than one premier free agent makes it easier to sign the next, but even if that were true, that’s not going to translate into a 15% off coupon.

This team wins 85 games easily, even without the crossed-finger guys coming through.

Could that team win a World Series? It could. As with all teams, there’s a lot of luck in who you draw and so on. But that’s a real, authentic contender.

What’s surprising, then, is that the gap between the team we have now and the team that could go worst-to-first isn’t that huge. The team wants to spend $85 million because the team’s ownership is a bunch of skinflint profiteers, but are the playoffs and a fair shot at World Series contention worth $20m? Even from a straight financial view, it might well be. And let’s be entirely clear: the team could run a $100m payroll and still be quite profitable. Asserting otherwise is silly: this team has revenue streams that make the Columbia River look like a neighborhood creek.

So there’s an off-season plan for you: go for it, and go for it now. All that money the team’s been socking away? Go find a hammer big enough to break open that piggy bank.

But we’ve discovered another problem that wasn’t on my original list.

Huge Problem Solution
1 No starters after Felix
2 Starting rotation sucks
3 Offense sucks
4 Tepid ownership

And as much as I’m all about proposing solutions and so forth, unless someone wants to buy the team and put me in Howard Lincoln’s seat (I’d be great, I promise, no scandals or anything) that’s one we can’t even touch.

This last problem is potentially the worst of all. If you want five cents, don’t ask for three. As long as the Mariners are content to put together high-but-not-too-high payrolls, content to authorize their baseball people to build 85-90 win teams, they’ll either succeed or fail at that. A 116-win juggernaut team out rising accidentally from this strategy is a miracle, and it’s not going to happen again.

The baseball people can get around this problem, and they’re doing it, in a way — by building a strong farm system, drafting well, signing international free agents like Felix, they hopefully can build a strong enough, young enough core that $80m can be spent around and take the team a lot farther. And then you hope that the powers-that-be don’t scratch their chins and ask “Why do we need to invest that money if we have three, four really good players only making $3m between them?”

Let’s say, then, that the $100m mark can’t be surpassed. Let’s say the bleating about $85m is real, for whatever reason. Bringing this team back to reality, you ditch some pitchers, Pineiro’s a starter instead of serving free coffee off I-90, and you’re back at Dave’s Plan or the real plan, whatever that is, and scraping.

What’s bad about blowing away the fictional budget here though is that this severely hampers their long-term flexibility while helping win in the short term. Say that Lopez doesn’t develop. You’re stuck with him until another one of the middle-infield guys develops. Reed never improves, you’re waiting on Adam Jones, and so on. The team would have a massive amount of money locked up in a set of players and only left-field would clear reasonably fast.

That’s not a good idea from a roster-construction standpoint, but that’s a whole other post.

Break $100 million. Get to the playoffs. Drink expensive champagne.


78 Responses to “Win the World Series next year”

  1. Deanna on November 10th, 2005 2:12 am

    I’m waiting to see Betancourt hit like 20 triples and an inside-the-park homer next year. Strange thing is, I’m really not kidding — with his speed, he could seriously pull it off. In a few years, if he works on his OBP, he could take over for Ichiro in leadoff, I think — and become overall comparable to, say, Jimmy Rollins with ninety billion times better defense.

  2. joealb on November 10th, 2005 2:48 am

    [Griffey kudzu]

  3. CSG on November 10th, 2005 3:12 am

    [wrong thread, you want “the team’s probable moves down the hall”]

  4. JoJo on November 10th, 2005 4:18 am

    #20 Dave, then its clear there are no credible defensive metrics…

    I watched Griffey almost every game last year. There is no way anyone could claim he is the second worst defensive player in baseball and still be taken seriously. In an outfield that often times had Griffey flanked by Dunn and Pena, its an utter joke to suggest Griffey was the sink whole costing the Reds runs.

    Jr is a very competent defender who is no longer gold-glove caliber. He gets to what he should but no longer takes hits away. Concerning Griffey’s leather, Reed is better but Griffey isnt an embarrassment like you suggest.

    I see better than I hear…. (i.e. defensive metrics=BS if they allow you to state things like post #20 that simnply fly in the face of reality on the field)

  5. JoJo on November 10th, 2005 4:28 am

    And now for the next step:

    Breakdown the Angels, A’s and Rangers similarly to see if by comparison, M’s fans can gain hope or if things truly are this dire looking….

  6. Ken on November 10th, 2005 5:34 am


    Is M’s really great defence team?
    M’s Park Adjusted Defence Efficiency is average at best.

  7. Dave on November 10th, 2005 6:24 am

    The M’s ran out some pretty lousy defensive players last year (Boone, Morse, Ibanez, and Sexson is somewhere from average to bad). Depending on how LF shakes out, the defense should be a lot better. If the M’s go with the Jacque Jones idea, it could be way, way better.

    JoJo, there’s no way around the fact that Griffey’s a terrible defensive player anymore. The Reds defense was the worst in the majors at converting balls in play into outs. Their outfield was the worst in the majors at converting fly balls into outs. A huge, huge percentage of the balls hit into territories that the center fielder is responsible for fell for hits against the Reds and didn’t against other teams.

    Every defensive metric out there agrees with the premise that Jr is terrible defensively. Your opinion simply doesn’t carry enough wait, especially without any kind of supporting evidence, for anyone to take your word for it in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

    Also, Paul, what you did is what I’ve been doing on a slightly different scale; rather than using VORP, I’ve been plugging in BA/OBP/SLG numbers into a system and coming up with “projected runs scored” for the offense. It’s clear to me that, without any major upgrades, the offense should score about 50 more runs than it did last year. If they add Jojima and a real left fielder, that total could be 100 or so.

    The defense and pitching staff, I think, we just don’t know enough about the roster yet to make a call. I’m holding off judgment on team run prevention until I get a better idea of who will be pitching and fielding for the M’s. But the offense is probably a 750-800 run offense, a big, big jump from what the M’s have now.

  8. Southpaw on November 10th, 2005 6:28 am

    [Griffey kudzu]

  9. Dave on November 10th, 2005 6:40 am

    Valdez was pretty darn good at shortstop, actually.

  10. Kwickie on November 10th, 2005 6:44 am

    I just don’t see the value of Jojima at all. You’re going to have a new-look pitching staff and trust it to a guy who’s never seen a major league hitter before, doesn’t speak the language, and is a right-handed hitter with limited power? Doesn’t make sense. I wouldn’t mind picking him up, but I think he’d need to spend a year or two in the minors before he’d be close to performing at the major league level.

  11. DMZ on November 10th, 2005 7:25 am

    That was 3rd among right fielders – plus he’s an above average defender.

    If you’re going to start quibbling, check your facts. Ichiro was not the third best RF in the majors by offense only. Depending on your stat, he was 5th or 6th.

    3rd among AL right fielders, yes. But as long as we’re quibbling, you didn’t say that.

  12. Bob Montgomery on November 10th, 2005 8:22 am

    [Griffey kudzu, sorry Bob]

  13. eponymous coward on November 10th, 2005 8:27 am

    is a right-handed hitter with limited power

    His power’s close to Hideki Matsui’s numbers in Japan, and he has better BB/K ratios. Do you consider Matsui’s power or offense “limited”?

  14. JoJo on November 10th, 2005 8:30 am

    [Griffey kudzu]

  15. DMZ on November 10th, 2005 8:32 am

    Seriously, folks: when I said Griffey’s been hashed out elsewhere and this was not the place to re-hash it, I meant that Griffey’s been hashed out elsewhere and this was not the place to re-hash it.


  16. paradox2 on November 10th, 2005 8:34 am

    DMZ-Thankyou enjoyed this post as it if fun to speculate rather than wallow in the reality of raw data and the past MO of the ownership.

    As I interperted the point you were making is that ownership could and should one time blow the budget and spend to get the top talent. Not every year but to get back on the track of being an elite contending team every year.

    The quickest path there is to buy the best talent on the market as the minor league players develop. The mid to lower level players the FO has been forced by budget restraints to acquire just have not produced. One might even percceive them a waste of money.

    At least with the elite talent the opportunity exists for trade at future date if minor league talent developes a head of time table. Then Mariners may actually get back some highly regarded prospects. Not the ideal way to construct but necessary to get competitive now. The reality is Ownership created this position Mriners are in by being frugal when it was not the wise move. That maybe rectified by getting Mariners back to repectability by just going out and getting the best talent disregarding the budget.

    Those Bobby Abreu rumors are showing up more and more. Pretty sure he would be an upgrade. What could Mariners offer Gillick? Eddie if Phils lose Wagner, Dobbs to platoon with Bell (perhaps Pat is the guy in love with that swing) plus what? Super sub Bloomquist.

  17. Dave on November 10th, 2005 8:35 am

    [even Dave’s Griffey kudzu]

  18. RickL on November 10th, 2005 8:45 am

    I am not convinced that Millwood and Burnet would succeed as Mariners. I think 10 million a year would be a big risk for 5 years with both of them.

  19. Mark Oh on November 10th, 2005 8:52 am

    If we are going to spend over 100 million there are a couple of other things that I would like to do. Maybe we could just crew the rest of the league and sign all the top free agents. I know, I know it is a fantasy world but the free agents available really do fit our team well. NOT REALITY.
    Damon in CF
    Giles in LF
    Reed as a fouth OF
    Reed should really be earning time on the field.
    As far as the free agent pitchers are concerned I am not impressed with any of the top tier free agent pitchers. They could be as good or worse than some of the second tier guys like Loiaza.

  20. Evan on November 10th, 2005 9:32 am

    My biggest objection to Paul Covert’s list of players (though Derek’s defense point was excellent) is that there’s absolutely no reason to expect Morse would put up anything close to a positive VORP in LF. It’s a premiere offensive position – the VORP bar is set pretty high.

  21. Brian Rust on November 10th, 2005 10:04 am

    Sooooooo . . . Busting the budget to win the WS now is “not a good idea from a roster construction standpoint,” but failure to do so elicits not credit, but criticism for “tepid ownership” of “skinflint profiteers.” I see.

  22. joealb on November 10th, 2005 10:13 am

    I want more Griffy kudzu! I NEED more Griffy kudzu! MUST HAVE MORE GRIFFY KUDZU! (Griffy for DH?)

  23. JoJo on November 10th, 2005 10:14 am

    I favor signing Burnett this year. He obviously has top tier stuff-the kind of stuff that would make him a number one target in ANY free agent market. Its a dire need for the M’s so Im not sure giving Burnett 4 years and 48 million would really be overpaying. It would be paying market value for the best talent available.

    I dont think youre going to get a pitcher with better stuff and locking up a 1-2 punch of Hernandez and Burnett for the next four years would be a real step toward contention. Burnett has risks but name a lock in this year’s market. I prefer they take a risk on the best rather than hedge a little.

  24. DMZ on November 10th, 2005 10:19 am

    Sooooooo . . . Busting the budget to win the WS now is “not a good idea from a roster construction standpoint,” but failure to do so elicits not credit, but criticism for “tepid ownership” of “skinflint profiteers.” I see.

    No, you don’t. But that’s okay. Go give yourself the extra-gold star for outstanding cleverness I’m sure you think you deserve and go frolic in the meadows of self-satisfaction.

  25. Paul Covert on November 10th, 2005 10:24 am

    Evan– sorry, but I think you’ve misunderstood my point. Your observation could well be true (though Morse matching Terrence Long’s .699 OPS for a +6.7 LF VORP doesn’t seem wildly improbable to me). But even if it is, please understand that my post was not intended to be a precise position-by-position prediction for next year (which would have been a much more time-consuming study). Rather, I was only trying to give rough guesses that would add up to approximately the right value for the team as a whole. If I was too high on Morse but too low on, say, Jose Lopez, then the errors at least partly cancel out; and as long as the overall total gets me to within five games or so, it serves my purpose.

    (If I’ve perhaps made some systematic error that affects the whole team in the same direction, then that’s worth discussing, as in the exchange with Derek over defense above.)

  26. John D. on November 10th, 2005 10:30 am

    BETANCOURT’S HITTING – (# 51) – Twenty triples and an inside-the-park HR? I don’t think it’s ever been done. Check an Encyclopedia, and you’ll note that hitting twenty triples is pretty rare. Throwing in an inside-the-park HR! Wow.!

  27. DMZ on November 10th, 2005 10:37 am

    I’d like to apologize for the brief blip in the article itself, as it got over-written by a draft article in the queue on the long-term reasons not to do this, what the barriers are to the Mariners building a long-term contender, and what they can do to overcome it.

    So some of you were lucky enough to see a draft of that.

    Also — comments are closing for a bit because I need to look at something else and can’t do it right now. So hold that thought for, uh, six hours.

  28. Joshua Buergel on November 10th, 2005 10:37 am

    8. Ichiro is a great player if he can hit .330 or higher. At .300 he’s not helping. I’m a great fan, but that’s just true.

    Is it really true? According to Baseball Prospectus, Ichiro ranked #2 in the AL in the outfield in WARP, making up enough ground with his defensive performance to pass Ramirez, Sheffield and everybody else except Guerrero. I know that it’s just one source of numbers, and you do have to buy their defensive numbers, but I thought it was worth bringing up. Even if you discount BP’s defensive numbers, it’s clear that Ichiro is a better defender than most if not all of the AL outfielders ahead of him. Even hitting .300, he’s helping the cause. Was he a 7 win player (7.1 WARP1 last year) last season? Maybe not, but he was probably pretty close to that, and that’s pretty tasty.