Putz to be ready for opening day, plus drugs and gambling

March 28, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 16 Comments 

Times notebook says Putz will be ready for the start of the season.

The PI has a whole article on lottery tickets with the M’s logo.

The new ticket, which costs $5, has more than $1.4 million in $25 and $50 prizes and a top prize of $50,000. The game also has a feature for non-winning tickets. They can be entered to win several prizes, including Mariners paraphernalia, a trip for two to spring training next year or a pair of 2008 lower-box season tickets.

You can’t, however, bet on sports in this state (though the PI relates this season’s odds and provides a handy pointer to bodog). Or play poker online. Or… but I digress.

Proceeds from the lottery go “largely toward construction projects for the state’s K-12 schools” where they’re not doing a good enough job educating kids that they stop playing the lottery.

Baker makes a huge leap while trying to make a point about the evils of major league steroid use, going from minor leaguer Chris Minaker’s sociology paper on what influences college players to use supplements (teammates and coaches, who tout performance gain) to Minaker’s acknowledgement that

“The supplement culture has become completely intertwined with the culture of collegiate sports, just as it had before with professional sports. There has been a trickle-down effect from professional sports right on down to the ranks of all athletic levels.”

to Baker’s assertion that

The last thing Major League Baseball wants is a minor-leaguer writing that college-level players are, at best, being influenced by their perceptions about big-leaguers or, at worst, copying them

Except that there’s really no Minaker evidence that either of those are true – they’re being influenced by their peers and coaches. As a whole, he argues collegiate sports are influenced by weight lifting and supplement use, which took off for baseball in the late 1980s. There’s no assertion here that players are being influenced by their perceptions about big-leaguers, much less copying them in the way implied here (“Player X is on steroids, I should too!”)

Todd Walker

March 27, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 34 Comments 

Today, the Padres announced that they were going to release veteran second baseman Todd Walker, paying him just under $1 million in termination pay, rather than keeping him on the roster for the full season and paying him $4 million to be Marcus Giles’ backup. Because his salary was determined through arbitration, it wasn’t fully guaranteed, and the Padres decided they’d rather pay Walker $1 million to not play for them than $4 million to be part of their bench.

Just for fun, let’s play the comparison game. Here are the 2006 numbers for Walker and another bad defensive second baseman who you may have heard of.

Walker: .278/.356/.398, 442 AB, 9 HR, 55 BB, 38 K, 62 Runs Created
Vidro: .289/.348/.395, 463 AB, 7 HR, 41 BB, 48 K, 63 Runs Created

It’d be hard to find two more similar players. Both aging, injury prone former middle infielders who belong at DH defensively, lack power, but control the strike zone well.

The Mariners valued this skillset so highly that… oh, you know what they did. The Padres looked at this skillset and decided that they’d rather pay it to go away.

Well done, fellas. Way to gauge the market.

My Last Morrow Post For A While

March 27, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 21 Comments 

I don’t want to beat this subject to death, and I don’t want to come across as some kind of anti-Morrow crusader who will tear my hair out if he makes the team. Jeff Sullivan does a great job laying out the case for why it could work, and I agree with about 90% of what he wrote in that post. But I want to point out one comment he made in the comment section over there that is worth noting:

And yet, that’s precisely why it’s also so rooted in faith. Observation is subjective. So are interpretation and extrapolation. We have to trust the Mariners that they know exactly how good Morrow is and how much they can push him, and I think that’s the heart of the main disagreement. In theory, the organization should be more qualified to make this decision than any of us, but we’ve seen them screw up enough times in the past that the trust is on thin ice, if not already submerged in water. It’s a big leap, and precisely why I think external sources might offer the best opinions on this. I can’t do it, because my window is blurred.

Jeff’s absolutely right here. The best advice on this kind of decision is going to come from credible external sources. I think we have several.

Cleveland Indians optioned Adam Miller to Triple-A.
SF Giants optioned Tim Lincecum to Triple-A.
Detroit Tigers optioned Andrew Miller to Triple-A.
New York Yankees optioned Philip Hughes to Triple-A.
Cincinnati Reds optioned Homer Bailey to Triple-A.
Kansas City Royals optioned Luke Hochevar to Triple-A.

I’m going to focus on the Adam Miller transaction, because Adam Miller is essentially what we hope and pray that Morrow becomes. Their repertoires are similar, though Miller’s stuff is a notch above. Miller dominated spring training even more than Morrow did, tossing 14 shutout innings and allowing 11 baserunners. The Indians are legitimate contenders. Their bullpen is a giant jumble of question marks, and they lost starting pitcher Cliff Lee to an injury that will sideline him for the first month of the season.

Here’s a few quotes from an article about Miller the other day.

“He’s a man,” pitching coach Carl Willis said. “You watch the way he walks around this clubhouse, and he’s very respectful, but he has a presence about him. Even on the mound, he has that presence.”

“I don’t think anyone is surprised at what he’s come in and done this spring,” manager Eric Wedge said.

“We’ve never felt like Adam was a year away,” general manager Mark Shapiro said. “We’ve always felt that he could impact our team sometime this year. We felt he had the level of talent that, whenever that time came, it would be evident. When he puts everything together, he can dominate the competition.”

They’re saying the same things about him that the Mariners are about Brandon Morrow. And still, the Indians never once considered carrying Miller on opening day.

It’s the exact same situation, except the Indians have even more reasons for carrying Miller than the M’s do for carrying Morrow. And yet, Shapiro and Antonetti never even flinched in their resolve to do what was best for Adam Miller’s development.

Two organizations making the same decision. If someone asked you which front office was more likely to be making the right decision, and your choices were Seattle and Cleveland, would you really take the Mariners in that fight?

Not me.

Mike Hargrove is Delusional

March 27, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 68 Comments 

The Brandon Morrow issue continues to be the only noteworthy thing around. Today, John McGrath weighs in with some quotes from Bavasi and Hargrove.

“Originally, we were sending him down to the minors (to) start him,” general manager Bill Bavasi said. “If he makes the club in relief, it alters how you develop him as a starter.

“Now, we may have to look at something in the offseason – sending him to a half-season of winter ball, perhaps, and have him re-establish a third or fourth pitch there. But that would depend on how many innings he gets between spring training and the regular season.”

Good News – Bavasi isn’t yet pigeonholing Morrow as a reliever, talking about coming up with a plan to still attempt to develop him as a starter in other ways. Of course, the M’s paid this same lip service to Rafael Soriano as well, so it’s good news with a caveat.

When Hargrove considers the debate about assigning Morrow a big-league roster spot, he recalls the soul-searching once invested over a flaky Cleveland Indians prospect he wanted on his big-league team in 1994.

“Manny Ramirez,” Hargrove said. “He turned out OK. People called me an idiot then, too.”

Manny Ramirez’s minor league career before being called up to the Indians:

1991 – Burlington (rookie): .326/.426/.679 in 215 at-bats as a 19-year-old
1992 – Kinston (high-A): .278/.379/.502 in 291 at-bats as a 20-year-old
1993 – Akron (double-A): .340/.414/.581 in 344 at-bats as a 21-year-old
1993 – Charlotte (triple-a): .317/.424/.690 in 145 at-bats as a 21-year-old

After his rookie league debut, he was named the #37 prospect in baseball. After dominating high-A ball, he moved up to #13. After destroying Double-A and Triple-A, Baseball America tabbed him as the seventh best prospect in baseball, one spot behind Alex Rodriguez.

By the time Hargrove plucked Ramirez out of the minors, he was well known to every person in the game as an elite talent and had dominated every level of minor league baseball over a three year span.

Yea, that’s the same thing we’re doing with Morrow.

Head versus heart. Caution versus impulse.

It wasn’t supposed to be this complicated.

It’s not. Every other organization in baseball has already farmed out their big armed elite pitching prospect to help get them more development time and allow them to make the show when they’re ready. Only the Mariners are so swayed by 8 innings of exhibition work that they’d overhaul their development plan at the whim of a manager whose usefulness has long since expired.

Red hot televised spring training action!

March 26, 2007 · Filed Under Game Threads · 128 Comments 

Seattle @ Texas! Whee! 6:05!

Momentum, problems, superstition

March 26, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 53 Comments 

Hickey tells us the M’s master plan for this spring:

“We wanted to get to the final week of the (spring), win every game that week and go into the season with some momentum,” bench coach John McLaren said. “We’re in position to do that.”

In talking about errors in yesterday’s win, Hargrove said

“We made some mistakes that we wouldn’t make if we did it 100 more times,” Hargrove said.

Say, like hiring Mike Hargrove to manage the team after Melvin got the axe.

Baker on M’s superstitions.

With Amazon and B&N shipping last Friday, some of you should be getting The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball today. May it make you happy. In the meantime, you can always enjoy the blog, where yesterday was the Kent Hrbek/Ron Gant 1991 World Series incident.

Rotation roundup, Sherrill’s struggles, Majors for Morrow?, Ichiro: “Icky!”

March 25, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 56 Comments 

AP story: M’s announce starting rotation. King Felix, Washburn, Batista, Ramirez, Weaver the Lesser. Is Jeff Weaver, at $8+M, the most expensive fifth starter in baseball? Hmm. Hargrove did say that given Weaver’s veteran-ness, they won’t be skipping the fifth starter even when given the opportunity by the schedule.

I can’t decide if this headline is amusing, or sad. “Sherrill lowers ERA to 15.00.” Ouch. I’m sure he’s got this one pinned up in his locker.

Also, Mark Lowe begins throwing this week (multiple sources).

As for young Brandon Morrow

PEORIA, Ariz. – Final roster decisions won’t be made until next weekend, but one thing has become a near certainty for the Seattle Mariners.

Rookie pitcher Brandon Morrow, a spring training invitee who has just eight games of professional experience, has all but made the team.

“I don’t have a whole lot of problem with it,” manager Mike Hargrove said Saturday. “There’s been a lot of discussion but if he continues to throw the way he’s throwing, I know what my recommendation is going to be.”

Finally, from the Arizona Republic:

Ichiro laid down a perfect drag bunt that started a winning ninth-inning rally against the Oakland Athletics. During the postgame celebration, Piniella, his manager – arguably most exuberant and extroverted manager in baseball since Billy Martin – rushed up with a bear hug and a big ol’ smooch on the cheek.

Ichiro didn’t say much at the time but later told a Japanese TV crew: “It’s something that makes most Japanese men want to throw up.”

Uh huh.

Felix first, Guillen’s grudge

March 24, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 47 Comments 

Felix will be the Opening Day starter. Hickey considers historical precedent and gets Felix’s reaction:

Since 1970, the only other Opening Day starting pitchers who were younger than 21 were Fernando Valenzuela (Dodgers, 1981) and Dwight Gooden (Mets, 1985).

“I never saw either of those guys pitch,” Hernandez said Friday, about an hour after manager Mike Hargrove named him to start the opener. “I don’t read much baseball history. But I’ve heard both of those guys were pretty good.”

That cracked me up.

And Felix offers this on being the starter:

“You are like a leader of the pitchers,” Hernandez said. “I want to be a leader for my team. This is one of the greatest things in my life.”

Baker’s got the same story for the Times.

Jose Guillen doesn’t like Mike Scioscia.

Greg Johns on Tui’s struggles.

But the Tuiasosopo name comes with more than just extra vowels. Things like leadership, work ethic and a stubborn pride have the youngest of Manu Tuiasosopo’s sons champing at the bit to get things turned back around this season.

Includes a rare Greg Hunter quote.

After a strong performance that may not be in his long term interests, Morrow is stunned to find Hargrove serenading him with “You Shook Me All Spring Long” in an attempt to woo him to break camp with the club.

Cheater’s Guide now shipping and buyable

March 23, 2007 · Filed Under Off-topic ranting · 45 Comments 

I’m as surprised as anyone, but Amazon’s now shipping the Cheater’s Guide to Baseball, and so is Barnes and Noble, Powell’s, and all kinds of good places.

Remember, your purchase indirectly supports USSM.

The next really simple thing you can do for the book is review it. If you loved it, liked it, didn’t like it, when you’re done, throw something up on Amazon or B&N. Reviews are good.

And if you liked it, please, go ahead and tell people. Bug them to buy it. Buy it for them. And if they need a signed copy, let me know, and we’ll work something out.

If you’ve got other ideas on how I can sell more of these things, please let me know. Or comment. Whatever. It’s my first solo book, I’m inexperienced and eager.

What to do with Brandon Morrow

March 23, 2007 · Filed Under Mariners · 66 Comments 

This has been a pretty boring spring, so far. Besides the Putz arm scare, there have been no injury problems of note, and besides Willie Bloomquist hitting like a man possessed, the performances have been pretty blase overall. Until last week, anyways.

That’s when Brandon Morrow showed up in Mesa with a 95 MPH fastball and a tight slider that made the heart of the Cubs order look stupid. I was highly impressed watching him, and I wasn’t alone, as Mike Hargrove used that performance as a launching point to begin publically lobbying for Morrow to make the team out of spring training. He’s continued to pitch well since that appearance, and Grover’s fondness for the kid isn’t getting any more private. After every outing, he makes it well known that he’d like to see the Mariners first round pick from last summer come north with the team as a reliever when camp ends.

While the Mariners are well known for rushing their kids through the system as quickly as possible, this certainly wasn’t the plan heading into March. Despite all the talk since the pick, the Mariners drafted Morrow as a starter, and he was ticketed for a rotation spot Double-A West Tennessee. The organization has always hoped that Morrow would develop into a starting pitcher, and he wasn’t drafted to be the closer of the future.

However, with Putz’s questionable availability for opening day and the organization short-sightedly creating a mediocre to bad bullpen behind him, Morrow suddenly looks like something of an answer to a legitimate problem on the 2007 squad. With guys like Mateo and Reitsma being handed the ball in the 7th and 8th innings, the Mariners lack a power arm who can be asked to get a strikeout in a key situation that isn’t a save possibility. Successful bullpens aren’t built around handing the ball to guys like Mateo and Reitsma in high leverage situations, so Hargrove has correctly identified the need for a legitimate quality arm to stick in front of J.J. Putz.

The question, then, becomes whether the Mariners should put the short term needs of the 2007 roster ahead of the long term needs of the franchise. Brandon Morrow, at some point in his career, needs to start some games in the minor leagues. His longest appearance in his professional career is three innings. He’s never had to go through the line-up a second time and make adjustments. He’s never had to pace himself to get through a professional game, knowing that there aren’t glaring weak spots in line-ups like there are in college. If you want Brandon Morrow to be a starter in the majors, then he has to be a starter in the minors, at some point, for at least a little while.

The question isn’t whether Morrow would be an effective major league reliever in 2007. It’s likely he would be. He’s got top shelf stuff, especially when he’s throwing max effort for 15-20 pitches, and relieving is the easiest job in baseball. The question is whether you’re willing to delay Brandon Morrow’s ascension to the rotation in order to patch a hole this year. For Mike Hargrove, whose job is on the line, it’s an easy answer. For Bill Bavasi, whose job description is to care for the franchise and not concentrate solely on winning games this year, it’s a tougher one. There is no obvious, easy answer here.

Personally, I’m torn. I want to see this team win, because I’m tired of finishing in last place, blogging about a team that has some upside but is forced to focus on the failures of its manager and the roster construction that left holes that could have easily been filled. I don’t want to see Ichiro leave. I don’t want to go through a summer of what-could-have-been as Doyle hits .320 for the Nationals while the Mariners struggle to find someone who can get on base with any kind of regularity. I want this team to win, and to win, they need a power right-handed setup guy to get to J.J. Putz. Brandon Morrow could legitimately be the answer to a problem that the team is going to have to address at some point.

But I also want the team to win in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and I think everyone will agree that those teams will be better if Brandon Morrow is throwing 100 pitches every five days than if he’s throwing 15 pitches every other day. The Mariners still have rotation holes to fill going forward, and most of the promising young arms in the system aren’t going to be ready for a few years. If the organization wants to fill those holes from within, Brandon Morrow is likely the best chance they’ll have.

While it’s pretty common for prospects to come up early as relievers and then move to the rotation, it isn’t common for those same pitchers to learn to how to pitch as professional starting pitchers in the major leagues. If Morrow is carried as a reliever this year, and then the team decides to shift him to the rotation for 2008, he’s going to have to learn on the job in front of 30,000 people. That’s not good player development. At some point, for his own best interest, Morrow needs to spend some period of weeks in the minors as a starting pitcher.

That either needs to happen this year or next year. If you carry him as a reliever this year and still intend to let him start at some point, you need to be prepared to have him begin 2008 in the minor leagues, regardless of how well he pitches out of the pen this year. And it’s nearly impossible to send a kid to the minors once he’s had success in the majors without creating all kinds of ill will with the player.

So, I can see both sides. I can see why Mike Hargrove wants Morrow on his staff, and I can see why Bill Bavasi should probably tell him that he can’t have him. Not yet, anyways. Morrow’s future as a starting pitcher is too valuable to this club to push back his timeframe on joining the rotation. Send the kid to West Tennessee and let him start for a month or two. If the team still needs a right handed power arm in June, give him a look.

If you carry him as a reliever on opening day, you may never have the chance to get him back to the minors. And asking him to learn how to be a starting pitcher at the major league level just isn’t fair to Brandon Morrow. The long term risk outweighs the short term rewards. Resist the temptation. It’s not worth it.

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