Jeff and Derek discuss the 2005 offseason
At length, written over the break
Let me throw out the spring-training-optimistic view.
(I figured that given a chance to compete for the starting second baseman job, Bloomquist loses)
Johjima’s a huge upgrade. Everett’s a huge step back at DH, and a defensive downgrade in forcing Ibanez into left. Lopez should hit better than M’s got out of 2B last year, and Betancourt should improve. Beltre should hit somewhere between 2004 and last year, which is good. Sexson’s likely to fall off a bit, though, because that was a really great season. Ibanez will hit better than what we got out of left field. Reed should improve, and Ichiro should bounce back at least somewhat to Ichiro!
That’s a hundred-run improvement pretty easily.
So, to the starters:
A full season of King Felix, then we figure Washburn, in a park similarly-suited to him, puts up 2004 again, Moyer doesn’t get any worse, and both Meche and Pineiro show a little improvement — you can figure that’s “fixed” Pineiro or a dead-cat bounce for both of them.
That’s a hundred-run improvement there, tempered a little by the slightly degraded defense.
So we look back at 2005, add a hundred runs scored, subtract 100 runs allowed — that’s a 90-win team! We’re going to the playoffs! Wooooooo!
It feels a little like role-reversal for you to do the positive view and me to do the negative, but here it is. First you got the bull, now you get the horns — the pessimistic scenario.
CF: Corey Patterson? (Or Ichiro!, with a rotating tandem of Lawton/Everett/Ibanez/? filling the other slots)
Any pessimistic view must include a trade of Jeremy Reed, which is why he’s not in the lineup. Some proposed Reed trades would be worse than others, but all of those that have been reported as possibilities would be a drain.
It’s true that Johjima will almost surely be a big boost over last year’s catchers, but there’s got to be some uncertainty about his production given that he’s Japan’s first catching export. Sexson will likely backslide from last year’s monster. We’d all like to see Betancourt improve, but it’s not like he could be the next Alfonso Soriano or anything. Indeed, he could hit more like Rey Ordonez next year. Carl Everett isn’t good even if he stays healthy. Reed should be better, but if he’s gone ….
Of course, if Reed isn’t dealt, that’s a different story. And even the pessimistic view has to acknowledge that there is likely to be at least modest improvement here. But it’s also true that a mere modest improvement is a real possibility.
SP: Arroyo, maybe Papelbon (doubtful)
This assumes that Meche is dealt for Corey Patterson, or otherwise moved to make room for whatever pitcher we get in a potential Reed deal.
King Felix looks dominant, but he’s the only guy in this rotation that’s going to generate many strikeouts. Washburn and Moyer especially give up lots of fly balls, so they’ll be helped by Safeco Field — but they have to pitch on the road sometime.
Plus, remember the Cameron-Ichiro-Winn outfield, where doubles went to die? Thos outfield is where doubles go to grow strong, with dreams of becoming triples.
In short, the pessimistic view is a dramatically weakened defensive outfield playing behind defense-dependent pitchers, a lineup where old players could break down and younger players may not develop offensively. That’s the phone, and I think it could be fourth place calling.
But why do anything further if the team’s already improved by 200 runs and will win 90 games? I don’t understand the need to keep tinkering.
Or why we’d bother trying to divine what might yet happen this off-season. I’ve mentioned this before, but this year’s been amazing in how many crazy moves didn’t come off not for lack of trying but for other, almost trivial hang-ups. A Juan Pierre trade, for instance. Reed traded everywhere. And what we’ve seen come through: Carl Everett, Jarrod Washburn… these are bad moves too. I’m not arguing that the Mariners should have spent $12m next year on Kevin Millwood, but that’s a much better move than what they gave Washburn.
Which brings me to another point that gets into market value. I think there are a couple of factors at work that we haven’t really considered:
– If the team starts out slow, Bavasi’s going to get canned. He’s said as much, and I think everyone knows it.
– The team wants to demonstrate to the fan base that they’re (again) serious about winning, and they’ll spend to get there
Taken together, it’s a strange situation. Bavasi had a ton of money to spend in a horrible market for spending money, and saving it — even if the team would let him — would have done him no good. As much as I like to argue that if you’re going to write off 2006 as another rebuilding year, you might as well sign interesting gambles with a lot of potential to surprise (and who might turn into trade bait) and sign every shiny prospect that emerges out of the Dominican, Venezuala, and any Cuban national player who makes it to Costa Rica, for Bavasi, that’s not an option anyway, because a horrible opening two months means someone else gets to run the show.
And there’s no way the ownership’s going to go in front of the fans and say “Hey, we know you’re all really, really ticked about the last couple of years. But there’s going to be at least one more bad one, and we hope you all continue to stick with us.”
So as much as Bavasi has done to repair the neglected farm system, and as well as he’s done in the dump trades, this is World War 2, defense-of-Moscow stuff: here’s your budget, we know everyone’s overpriced, we know you’d rather continue to build. Now go charge the enemy. If you hesitate or turn around, Commisar Armstrong here will shoot you.
Faced with this dilemma, there are things to be done. You can spend on the highest prizes, hoping that Millwood or Burnett at over $50m will be a better deal than a second-tier guy, and try to fill in around that. You can look for undervalued guys, like Loaiza, and sign them. You can try to trade for players in contracts their teams no longer find attractive: pick up Jim Thome to DH, for instance, or find a place for Carl Pavano (and I’m not endorsing either move).
Instead, we say really the worst way to go about it, and it’s been something we’ve seen before from the team: the fixation. We need “x” whatever x is. X can be veteran grit, or left-handed power, whatever. Once they’ve decided on that, they find x or something that can be hammered in to fit x, and they’re willing to pay sometimes ridiculously for it. If they’re turned away, they fixate on another possible x solution.
Sometimes this works out: they were convinced they needed Ibanez’s bat, and that it would play here, and they paid him far more than other left fielders were getting. And he did much better than skeptics (like me) thought.
And sometimes they go looking at a guy like Jacque Jones as a cheap, intersting upside guy, and he wants too much money for too long. So be it. But when the quest for left-handed sock leads you to Carl Everett, something’s gone wrong.
I look at these acquisitions and I don’t see hope for a kind of Ibanez surprise. Everett hasn’t been any good in years, his gaudy two stats aside (23 HR! 85 RBI!). Even looking at Washburn optimistically doesn’t get me to where I can imagine giving him that deal.
Moreover, what worries me was the Reed stuff. I would trade Reed in the right deal, but Reed’s not the team’s problem. A young guy who makes MLB minimum playing a decent centerfield is a huge boon to the team, and the fact that all off-season the team’s been looking at Juan Pierre, Preston Wilson, Corey Patterson, whoever — it’s like the house is on fire and they’re looking at getting new cabinets for the kitchen.
Or to put this another way, this off-season reminds me a lot of the 2003 one, when the team decided to trade a little of their stellar defense for offense, and in making a series of bad choices, managed to downgrade both severely. This year they had a lot of problems to fix, and they’ve created more problems, and these problems are going to hurt whoever takes over the team next.
Say this for Bavasi: he’s a stand-up guy.
It would be easy (and even, arguably, sensible) to strip-mine the farm system, trading prospects for quick-fix players that would enhance the Mariners’ chances next season. That might be the best way to save his job, and it would certainly be the easiest thing to do — but he didn’t, and you get the feeling he wouldn’t. I think that’s pretty honorable.
He is, I believe, doing what he thinks in his heart is best for the franchise in the long term. I don’t think the Washburn deal is a demonstration deal for Bavasi. I think he believes in his heart it’ll make the squad better.
That being said, his record so far is hit or miss, and over the past two months it’s almost entirely composed of bad deals that did go through and terrible deals that didn’t.
That’s true, and that’s sad. Coming in and fighting Gillick for (essentially) his first year, he also set to work righting the fundamental problems of the franchise that brought us here: poor drafting, poor player development, all the things that contributed to the team’s long inability to field home-grown players that could contribute.
You don’t right a franchise in two years after such long neglect.
I’ll stop writing the obit, though.
This isn’t a bad team. I know I say this every year and I come up with some win number and every year the Mariners do dramatically worse than that, but really, it’s not. There are two legitimate stars in Ichiro and King Felix, there are a bunch of young players who should improve, and so on.
But you look at what the A’s did this off-season, or even the Rangers and… there’s just no way. They may scrape back to .500, but they’re unlikely to win the AL West, and if they don’t win the pennant, there are teams in the AL Central and East that are going to have much better chances to win the wild-card. Which will mean a third year without playoffs.
The question, then, is what happens if the team stinks? Do the fans still come out? And if they do, is that good, or bad?