M’s add a pitcher – really!

November 30, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 188 Comments 

This isn’t going to show up in the local dailies, and no one in town is going to care, but the M’s have signed a pitcher who has a legitimate chance to help them in 2007.

Justin Lehr.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking – he’s 29 and has a career 5.31 ERA in 83 innings in the majors. To which I respond, so what? It’s 83 innings.

Justin Lehr is a guy who deserves a shot and has never gotten one. He’s never going to be an all-star, but he’s got a skillset that works in the major leagues; groundballs and strikeouts.

He threw 112 innings in the rotation for Nashville this year and had a GB rate of 50.1%. His Triple-A G/F rate is the same as Felix’s was when he was in Tacoma. This wasn’t a one time thing, either, as Lehr has a long tradition as a groundball guy. However, he’s not a one tricky pony like Sean Green – Lehr’s got decent enough secondary stuff and solid command, allowing him to post a 31/90 walk to strikeout ratio. His walk rate and strikeout rates were better than average in the Pacific Coast League, and for a heavy ground ball pitcher, that’s rare.

Lehr lacks an outpitch and he’s spent most of his career in the bullpen, but the Brewers were onto something when they decided to stretch him out in their Triple-A rotation. He doesn’t have the dominant stuff to be an end-game reliever, but his sinkerball has enough movement to get him through 5 or 6 innings a game. If you want to see the prototype of this type of pitcher, check out Clay Hensley, who gave the Padres 200 good innings in the rotation last year by just throwing his sinker over and over.

Justin Lehr, on a minor league contract, is a terrific signing. He’s better than Cha Baek or Jake Woods, and as a non-guaranteed invite to spring training, there’s no risk here, and a decent amount of upside.

Whenever someone tells you that there’s no pitching to be had on the cheap, point to Justin Lehr. Bargains can be found if you look in the right places. The Mariners found one, and now we just have to hope they use him.

A short discussion of McGwire and the Hall of Fame

November 29, 2006 · Filed Under General baseball · Comments Off on A short discussion of McGwire and the Hall of Fame 

Two names are on the Hall of Fame ballot this year that have sparked controversy:
Mark McGwire
Jose Canseco

There’s already a media frenzy over McGwire: ESPN’s running an article on their baseball page that says “Time Will Tell” and has an article on how a survey of voters says many won’t voter for McGwire. Jayson Stark’s article is linked as “Sad start to process”. Buster Olney’s link is “Hall enters ‘Roids Era”.

I spent a lot of time thinking about steroids (and, indirectly, my own culpability in same) while writing my book “The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball” and I have mixed feelings about this.

Not just because the writers who are saying they won’t vote for him acted badly during the whole era, ignoring use by home-town players, making suggestions about the other guys rarely, but doing little to agitate for rule changes. The people closest and most able to write about the problem didn’t, because their jobs were compromised. We only got “Game of Shadows” because the San Francisco Chronicle put reporters from off the sports side on the story. And baseball people once removed (like me) engaged in hysteria or shrugged and said “look, I can’t tell who is and isn’t, so without better evidence, I’m not saying anything,” both equally unhelpful. Now the same people who let baseball’s slide into widespread steroid abuse from the late 80s on get to throw rocks at McGwire? Does their earlier failure as baseball writers now demand they act as vigilantes, enforcers for rules that didn’t exist at the time?

McGwire’s being punished without evidence. There are no positive drug tests. The andro bottle was legal and baseball allowed its use at the time (see the reaction when other players failed international testing for its use). McGwire’s admitted nothing as far as I know, under oath or otherwise. Unlike Canseco, who cheerfully talks (and writes) about advocating and spreading steroid use, McGwire is at best an indirect motivator. When I agree that players shouldn’t have to make a choice between their health and keeping up with the Joneses, it’s guys like McGwire we suspect are the Joneses.

But we don’t know. There was no drug policy for steroids, except the thinnest coverage if they were controlled substances. There was no testing. It was tacitly encouraged by owners and MLB in the wake of the 1994 strike.

Is the suspicion standard really going to be the writers look at this? Will players be judged on the checklist of symptoms, their chances determined by the vehemence of their denials? Did Rafael Palmeiro really teach them nothing?

Edgar Martinez is going to be a tough case for the hall in a few years. He’s a DH, one of the best right-handed hitters ever, but a DH who got a late start on his career. And, like many of the hitters who have fingers pointed at him, you could check off the boxes on the “suspected steroid user” list. He kept hitting past 30. He got bigger and bulkier through his career. He suffered a lot of hamstring injuries.

He’s already likely going to be a borderline Hall of Famer, if the partisans can make a decent case in the press. Is their consideration of possible steroid use going to make the difference between election and refusal? With or without testing, can the question of a player’s steroid use ever be settled definitively?

And what happens to current sluggers when the next batch of secret designer drugs are uncovered in 2010, and again, and again? In the Hall of Fame elections of 2025, are voters going to ding Pujols becaause they suspect he might have been using NGR-4, the super-steroid that baseball found a testing for in 2021? Where does this stop?

The Hall of Fame rightly provides voters wide latitude to consider a player’s contributions to the game off the field. There can and should be no statistical test for a plaque on the wall. But there are really no analogs in the history of the Hall of Fame for excluding a player of McGwire’s accomplishments on the basis of things he may have done while playing, for which there is no evidence, and his possible association with a larger, greater baseball scandal.

This may indeed be the start of a new era for the Hall of Fame voting. It’s a sad moment.

Wednesday chilling

November 29, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 184 Comments 


The Blue Jays “rolled out the red carpet” for Gil Meche.

Nick Lachey has joined the Tacoma Rainiers ownership group. I’m not sure why everyone wants us to post about this, but let it never be said we’re not about customer service.

Return of Freddy

The good:

Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said Tuesday, “I wouldn’t say we’re close” to adding the help the club is looking for, and he is perfectly willing to trade if free agency prices the Mariners out.

The bad: Hickey quickly goes into a strange digression about trading for Freddy Garcia. Did the team drop a hint he should pursue it, or is he just speculating?

But in the current environment, it seems Garcia, who has one year left on his contract at about $9 million, is beginning to look good to the Mariners as the pool of free agent pitchers dries up. For one thing, Mariners starter Felix Hernandez idolizes Garcia, a good friend. For another, Garcia was a steady winner during his time in Seattle.

Speculating! Please, speculating!

Also, Garcia was not a steady winner during his time in Seattle. Come on, John, you were around, you know that’s just not true by any reasonable definition of “steady”.

Igawa to Yanks for $25m, rumor has it

November 28, 2006 · Filed Under General baseball · 17 Comments 

ESPN purports posted pitcher to put on pinstripes.

And you thought Daisuke’s bid was high. Remaining options for the M’s include…uh… yeagh.

Your 2007 Mariners

November 28, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 87 Comments 

A random sketch of how this off-season remains to be played out, presuming the M’s have about $20m in free agent money to work with this year. Because what with the sun out, I figured you might not be depressed enough.

C-R – Kenji Johjima
2B-R Jose Lopez
SS-R Yuniesky Betancourt
3B-R Adrian Beltre
LF/DH-L Raul Ibanez
LF/DH-L Luis Gonzalez
CF-L Ichiro!
RF-L Chris Snelling

C: Johnson/Rivera/whoever
UT: Morse

SP: Felix Hernandez
SP: Jason Schmidt ($15m a year! Heavily back-loaded, too!)
SP: Jarrod Washburn
SP: Jamey Wright or some equally unattractive option
SP: Baek/whoever

Closer: Putz
RPs: standard assortment of the good, cheap, and Julio Mateo.

– Yup, 90% chance Sexson not going anywhere, much as we’d like that.
– Doesn’t have to be Luis Gonzalez. Pick your old overpriced team-player chemistry-adding left-handed sock of choice. Cliff Floyd? Why not. Ryan Klesko? Nope.
– Seattle’s still the favorite to sign Schmidt, but the question is how high is the bidding going to go and how heavily can they back-load a contract to try and squeeze him and one other scrubby pitcher and scrubby LH bat into this year’s acquisitions?

This team’s not much better than the 2006 version. If at all. If not worse.
There’s even more dead salary in future years for some even worse players.
I don’t even want to do a ballpark won-loss projection, to be honest. Writing his has depressed me.

A good free agent signing!

November 27, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 80 Comments 

Not surprisingly, the bargain of the offseason so far belongs to Mark Shapiro and the Cleveland Indians, also known as The Best Run Organization In Baseball.

The Indians signed David Dellucci to a 3 year, $12 million contract. Dellucci isn’t anyone’s savior, but he’s a very effective LH bat with across the board skills. He’s had his injury problems and just turned 33, but for $4 million, he’ll provide the Indians with an above average left fielder. Like the Jacque Jones signing last winter, this is a contract the Mariners should have been very willing to hand out in their search for “left-handed sock”.

Pat Gillick, Mariners Savior

November 27, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 130 Comments 

Well, he owes us big time for the crap he pulled while he was Mariner GM, but this is a decent first step towards making it up to the Mariners. The Phillies have agreed to a deal with Adam Eaton for 3 years and $24 million.

This takes a local white kid off the market, which is always dangerous fruit where the Mariners are concerned, as well as establishing the market for mediocre starting pitchers at a much lower threshold than expected. Now, teams will have a little more leverage in their direction while trying to drive down the salaries of all the other mediocre back-end starters on the market.

So, thank you Pat Gillick. It’s about time you did something to help the Mariners.

Manny trade rumors, I lash out at the messenger

November 27, 2006 · Filed Under General baseball · 35 Comments 

Buster Olney at ESPN reports on the talks for Manny Ramirez. The M’s aren’t involved because.. I don’t know. They want to block Snelling with someone horrible to make me even more miserable.

Who’s in the bidding?

• The San Francisco Giants, who might have to involve a third team to become a serious player in this market, or perhaps swallow some of Boston’s worst contracts, like that of pitcher Matt Clement.

• The San Diego Padres, who can build a deal around reliever Scott Linebrink.

• The Dodgers, who are starved for power hitters, loaded with prospects and could probably offer the best possible package of youngsters, from third baseman Andy LaRoche to pitcher Chad Billingsley to outfielder Matt Kemp.

If the Red Sox manage to loot a bunch of top-tier prospects off the Dodgers, I’m going to vomit with disgust. One? Not so bad. But really, if they get a whole package of deliciousness that includes Matt Kemp, that team’s going to be ridiculously well-prepared for the next few years.

And, because I’m feeling depressed and obnoxious, here’s this on David Ortiz without Manny.

“That guy will draw about 200 walks next year without Manny hitting behind him,” said one scout. “I don’t care who it is who bats fourth instead of Manny — J.D. Drew, or Wily Mo Pena, whoever — he won’t be as dangerous as Manny was, because Manny can hit good pitching.”

Really. 200 walks. The single-season all-time leader for walks was Barry Bonds in 2004. He had 232. Followed by Bonds 2002, with 198, and Bonds 2001 with 177.

In 2004 you could have batted a bowl of cream of mushroom soup behind Bonds and he’d have been better protected, and he only walked 232 times. In 2002 he was frequently protected by BENITO SANTIAGO because Bonds was batting behind Jeff Kent. In 2001 he had decent protection with Kent behind him and he still got walked 177 times.

David Ortiz will not walk 200 times next year. You know how we know this? Because it’s only happened once in all of baseball history.

Head Shaking

November 27, 2006 · Filed Under Mariners · 42 Comments 

If you’re still on the fence about whether this offseason is proving that a few major league GMs are just terrible at their jobs or if this is some kind of market correction where players are getting paid what they’re worth, well, the Danys Baez signing should pretty much end that discussion.

Take a look at this comparison (walk rates exclude intentional base on balls)

Danny Baez, 2006: 59 2/3 IP, 2.11 BB/9, 5.88 K/9, 0.45 HR/9, 4.20 FIP
Julio Mateo, 2006: 53 2/3 IP, 2.34 BB/9, 5.20 K/9, 1.01 HR/9, 4.90 FIP

Baez is clearly better. His walk rate is a little better, his K rate is a little better, and his home run rate is significantly better, though Baez’s low HR rate probably isn’t sustainable, given his career track record. The difference between the two, over the course of 60 innings pitched, is about five runs. And Baez’s trends aren’t exactly promising – his groundball rate and strikeout rate are both in steady decline, indicating a deterioration in the quality of his stuff.

Julio Mateo is the essence of a replacement level relief pitcher. He’s being paid $1 million in 2007, and most of us feel that he’s overpaid. Danys Baez signed with the Orioles for $19 million over three years!

The Orioles are paying $6 million per year on a three year contract for a reliever who is worth about five runs more than a replacement level reliever over the course of a season. That’s a million dollars per marginal run.

That’s absurd.

Collecting Ichiro

November 27, 2006 · Filed Under General baseball, Mariners · 13 Comments 

I’m not sure how many readers of this site collect or collected sports cards. Whether that number includes you or not, though, I’ll wager that you may find something entertaining at the Collecting Ichiro site, which documents many of the Ichiro cards made available from 1993-2003.

Besides the photo of a young Ichiro holding up autographed cards of himself, there is much to explore here. This includes those rare cards available only at certain Japanese pharmacies due to a deal with Sato Pharmaceuticals to endorse their Yunker energy drink.

As we talked about a bit a year and a half ago, Ichiro shills Yunker here in Japan while eschewing similar ads in the U.S. This certainly isn’t unique to Ichiro — Hideki Matsui was ubiquitous in commercials when I was here last two years ago, although that seems to have subsided a bit.

Still: Holy crass commercialism, Ichiro! For those of us used to your absence from product placements in the U.S., it’s mighty jarring to hear about, say, the “Batter in the wilderness” commercial.

A town in the Wild West in dead calm. When gusty wind blows up dust, a giant pitcher tries to take away a beauty over her strong protests. A boy who wants to help her finds Ichiro, rushes to him, and hands him a bat instead of a gun. In the midst of mounting tension, Ichiro holds the bat at the ready. The pitcher throws a fastball. Ichiro swings and strikes back the ball at ultraspeed. At this moment, the scene changes to a baseball stadium. After the narration of “Powered by Yunker!”, Ichiro holding a Yunker bottle in his hand declares “It works!”

This raises two issues. One is about the social role of the star: do superlative performers have obligations to adopt consistent standards for commercial endorsement? You should see, for example, Tommy Lee Jones and Cameron Diaz hack out for coffee and cell phones over here. Is there an overriding ethical or socioeconomic concern about this practice?

Well, I don’t know, and I don’t care.

The second issue is Yunker itself. Does it really work, as Ichiro claims? Would it work in the Wild West? Will it work to help one meet beautiful women and defend them against dastardly, um, pitchers — especially in historical fiction narratives?

While in Okinawa, I’m tackling many research topics. This may be the most important issue I have to resolve. Before I leave, I will report. Count on it.

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