Second Half Suggestions
And with that 7-3 win over the A’s, the first half of the season comes to a very enjoyable end. The M’s drove a stake into the heart of the A’s playoff chances, creating even further separation from the wild card pack, and establishing themselves as the real contender to the big four. As the team now gets three days to regroup during the all-star break and prepare for a second half that will hopefully provide the first playoff race this team has seen in several years. The latter part of this season will go a long way in deciding the future of the Mariners organization – will Ichiro re-sign, does the front office get removed from their hot seats while retaining their jobs, and how close are they to taking the step towards perennial contender with this core base of talent?
Those questions become easier to answer if this team has a strong second half and makes the playoffs. However, as currently configured, the Mariners simply aren’t one of the four best teams in the American League. Los Angeles, Detroit, Cleveland, and Boston are all clearly better teams (even if the Angels aren’t playing like it right now), and the Mariners have some work to do to make up ground on quality competition. There are some definite weak points on this roster that need to be addressed in order to give the team the best possible chance of turning a solid first half into a real playoff run. Most of these, we’ve already discussed, but since we have three days without Mariner baseball, and I know you guys love your roster speculation threads, here’s my mid-season suggestions on how to upgrade this team and make it a legitimate contender.
1. Promote Adam Jones from Tacoma and make him the everyday left fielder.
There’s not a team in baseball poised to make a bigger internal improvement than the Mariners by simply promoting from within. The Mariners outfield defense has been a disaster, and Raul Ibanez is the main reason why. While not lacking in the effort department, he’s shown his age with a complete lack of range, and hamstring issues have simply compounded the fact that he can’t cover enough ground to be a major league quality defensive outfielder. Because of the way Safeco Field is aligned, left field is a vastly more important defensive position than right field, and having a premium defensive outfielder play next to Ichiro to swallow the balls hit into the LF-CF gap would give the Mariners a large competitive advantage.
How big of an upgrade would Jones’ glove in left be from Ibanez’s? Well, without getting all mathy, I can tell you that advanced defensive metrics have Ibanez’s defense costing the Mariners approximately 15 runs over the first half of the season compared to an average defensive left fielder. 15 runs below average! That makes him something like the worst defensive player in baseball not named Manny Ramirez. If Adam Jones is simply an average defensive left fielder, the Mariners should expect, at minimum, a 10 run second half improvement (Ibanez probably isn’t really a -30 defender over the course of a full season, so we regress his projected performance accordingly) simply by removing Ibanez from left field and replacing him with AJ.
Now, Adam Jones has made huge strides defensively while playing center field in Tacoma, and most scouting reports grade him out as a solid defensive center fielder right now. What happens when you take a solid defensive center fielder and stick him in left field at Safeco? Well, the Mariners did that for several years with Randy Winn, who was routinely rated as 10 to 15 runs above an average defensive left fielder while with the Mariners. Jones’ range now is superior to that of the 2003-2005 Randy Winn. Realistically, I think we should expect Jones to be something like 5 to 10 runs better than an average defensive left fielder during the second half of the season.
Combine Ibanez’s -10 with Jones +5 (and those are conservative rankings), you’re looking at a 15 run improvement on defense alone. To give you an idea of what 15 runs over half a season looks like, let’s scale it to ERA. Let’s take Miguel Batista’s current ERA, then subtract 15 runs per 90 innings and show you the new ERA as a reference point for what that kind of savings looks like in half a season.
Miguel Batista: 4.54 – 2.87
Replacing Raul Ibanez in left field with Adam Jones projects to have about the same run prevention impact on the team that trading Miguel Batista for Johan Santana would.
Let that sink in for a second.
The Mariners can, in one move, make a second half run prevention improvement equal to that of turning a #4 starter into a Cy Young winner.
And that’s just the defensive improvement! That doesn’t even factor in the possibility that Adam Jones becomes Seattle’s version of Ryan Braun (called up from Triple-A in May, currently hitting .342/.382/.645 as the #3 hitter for the first place Brewers) and gives the Mariners a significant offensive boost over the nothing performance they got from Jose Vidro in the first half.
This move has to happen. It’s such a monumental upgrade that the team cannot continue to ignore the tangible, real effects it would have on making the playoffs, and that’s what this second half has to be all about.
2. Do not trade for Matt Morris. Whatever you do, leave him alone.
I wrote this post before Mark Buehrle re-signed with the White Sox, and #2 was originally an advocation for the M’s to get a deal done for the Chicago lefty. Now that that’s not an option, I’m simply asking the organization to please, please, please not be fooled by the mirage that is Matt Morris’ ERA. I know that he’s a veteran, and he’s playoff tested, and the sparkly ERA makes it a trifecta of things the franchise usually looks for in a pitcher, but you guys usually pick sucky pitchers, so let’s try to not fall into the same trap that keeps bringing us bad pitchers at high costs again, okay?
Yes, the team needs another starter. I’ll figure out who I want that to be in a few days. But I know that I don’t want it to be Matt Morris. Please don’t trade for him. Please.
3. Option Brandon Morrow to Triple-A Tacoma, promote Kam Mickolio to Seattle.
For all the talk about the potential return of Mark Lowe, Mickolio may very well have the best arm of any guy in Tacoma and be in the best position to help the Mariners as a power right-handed reliever down the stretch. He’s 6’9, throws a 96 MPH four-seam fastball, has a sinking two-seamer and a cut fastball that keep left-handers off balance, and has dominated since the Mariners selected him in the 18th round last summer. Remember Brandon Morrow’s dominant May, where he threw 18 consecutive scoreless innings with simply an overpowering fastball? That’s Kam Mickolio right now, except Mickolio is a few inches taller and has better command.
Bring Mickolio up to work some low leverage innings in the old Jason Davis role and get his feet wet in the majors for a few weeks. By the time mid-August rolls around, if he’s made the proper adjustments and is pitching as well as I suspect he may, you have yet another power arm to put in front of J.J. Putz and get strikeouts from the right side in the 8th inning. Mickolio’s trial also buys Mark Lowe time to work on his arm strength and rust after a year off from pitching, and gives Morrow a chance to improve his command and breaking ball in a low stress environment. The six weeks both can spend down in Triple-A would give the Mariners a chance to evaluate their progress and potentially bring them back up at the end of August if they’d shown they’re ready to go.
Ideally, the team would head into the September stretch run with a bullpen of Putz-Sherrill-Mickolio-Green-O’Flaherty-Lowe/Morrow-Reitsma, giving them a variety of power arms from the left and right side and allowing the team to be extremely aggressive in removing struggling starting pitchers early in critical games.
And, really, there’s almost no downside to this move. If I’m wrong about Mickolio, and he doesn’t adjust well to the majors right away, you simply ship him back to Tacoma and promote Mark Lowe, giving him the spot the team had been reserving for him anyways. No harm, no foul.
4. Platoon Broussard, Ibanez, Guillen, Sexson, and Vidro.
With the Adam Jones promotion, the M’s would have three spots for five guys. Thankfully, two of them are left-handed, two are right-handed, and the other is a switch hitter, making for easy natural platoons and many interchangeable pieces. Guillen/Ibanez can run a platoon in right field, with Sexson/Broussard platooning at first base, and whichever of those two aren’t playing can rotate at DH with Jose Vidro. Vidro should get the least amount of playing time in these scenarios, essentially being limited to DH against lefties, with Sexson/Ibanez getting most of the DH time against right-handed pitching.
The M’s are shooting themselves in the foot by ignoring the huge platoon splits their veteran hitters are putting up. Raul Ibanez is hitting .258/.272/.315 against left-handed pitching. Jose Guillen is hitting .242/.306/.361 against right-handed pitching. Those are horrible marks, and both guys are consistently being put in the middle of the line-up against same-handed pitchers, despite the fact that they’re killing the team by being put into situations they simply don’t have the skills to succeed in.
An Ibanez/Guillen platoon would give the Mariners one of the more productive offensive right-fielders in baseball. Broussard getting at-bats in lieu of Vidro would also be an instant upgrade, and by rotating the five guys through the RF/1B/DH roles, you keep the banged up veterans more healthy by giving them partial days off and not forcing them to play the field everyday.
Manage the roster to put players in roles they are best suited to succeed in.
5. Restructure the batting orders to account for the roster moves.
The team’s line-up would have a different look to it with Adam Jones in it, and it needs a slight overhaul anyways. So, here are my proposed normal line-ups, with their OPS (as of Saturday, when I wrote this) vs LH/RH to the side.
1. Ichiro, CF, .860
2. Ibanez, RF, .819
3. Beltre, 3B, .800
4. Broussard, 1B, .808
5. Sexson, DH, .724
6. Johjima, C, .701
7. Lopez, 2B, .745
8. Jones, LF, (AAA – .938)
9. Betancourt, SS, .626
1. Ichiro, CF, .903
2. Betancourt, SS, .829
3. Guillen, RF, 1.117
4. Beltre, 3B, .817
5. Sexson, 1B, .730
6. Johjima, C, 1.094
7. Lopez, 2B, .648
8. Jones, LF, (AAA – .981)
9. Vidro, DH, .723
In both line-ups, the Mariners are grouping their good hitters at the top of the order, and getting power guys behind Ichiro to start driving him in. They’ve been wasting far too many chances with the powerless Jose Vidro hitting second and sticking Ibanez/Guillen in RBI spots against same-handed pitchers. This gets away from Hargrove’s “same line-up, everyday” approach, but hopefully John McLaren is smart enough to realize that’s a foolish way to run a ballclub. The other contenders don’t follow that belief, and there’s no evidence supporting the idea that guys perform better if they’re locked into a certain spot in the batting order. Put the best team on the field to beat that day’s starting pitcher.
After implementing all these moves, the team would have a stronger offense against both lefties and righties, a significantly improved defense that would have a tremendous positive impact on the pitching staff, and a bullpen that rivals any in baseball.
This is a roster that you can contend with, one that can give the Angels a run for the division and makes the Mariners legitimate wild-card contenders. Most of these moves should be relatively simple to pull off, and serve to set the team up better for both the stretch run as well as 2008 and beyond.
These are bold moves, and a significant reshaping of a team in a playoff race, but they’re the kind of moves that the organization needs to make. Don’t rest on your laurels – improve the roster and give us a winning team.
(And yes, you guys can use this thread to post your own trade/roster suggestions. It’s the only one you’re getting the rest of the year, so have fun.)