Game 162, Athletics at Mariners

September 28, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners, Off-topic ranting · 38 Comments 

Dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn:
Seattle, 60-101
Washington, 59-101

Philly having clinched is scheduled to rest Hamels against Perez… please, pitch Hamels. Give him a couple of innings. Keep him loose.

Seattle, desperate for the loss, puts Dickey out. But Oakland attempts to block with Outman!

What’s the worst lineup the M’s could plausibly run out there without getting a nasty call from Selig? I’m thinking:

DH-L Valbuena
C-R Johnson
1B-L LaHair
2B-L Hulett
SS-R Betancourt
3B-R Cairo
LF-L Ibanez
CF-L Reed
RF-L Ichiro!

I’m playing for the platoon disadvantage there.

It all comes down to this…

September 27, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 22 Comments 

I’m bummed. I’m in Washington DC right now and I was supposed to go to the Nats game on Thursday night, but it didn’t happen—it got rained out. What bums me out the most, however, is the fact that the game-that-didn’t-happen could have a substantial impact on the draft next year. Because the M’s won a meaningless game today, they’re now a half game in front of Washington with one game left to play. In order for the M’s to get the first pick in the draft next year, they have to lose tomorrow and the Nationals have to win. I’m not worried about the Mariners holding up their end of the deal, but it could be a tough order for the Nationals—they’re scheduled to face the Phillies. Now, the Phillies are already guaranteed a playoff spot, so maybe they’ll be resting some of their regulars. Cole Hamels has already gotten the day off, resting up for Game 1 of the playoffs.

It all comes down to this, so knock on wood, wish on a star, go find a four-leaf clover, hang up a horseshoe and pick up any pennies you see, because we need all the help we can get!

Game 161, Athletics at Mariners

September 27, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 52 Comments 

Smith v Rowland-Smith! The Smiths!

As you’ve noticed if you’ve been around here for a while, I take my music seriously. And as Jim Thomsen noted last time we did a year’s-end list, I tend to be in the John Richards set, so yeah, I subscribe to emusic even though I whine about emusic’s monthly corner-cutting, I have all the Sonic Youth albums, even the ones that aren’t much good, and I have the new Mogwai on while I listen to this (and it’s bad! really bad! I’m hoping it grows on me, because it’s been hugely disappointing the first time). I’m your general-issued self-conscious hipster.

But I don’t get the Smiths love. I thought Morrissey was annoying when I first heard them, and I don’t understand why they’re considered important, or influential, much less worth listening to. And usually I can look at bands I don’t like and still recognize this, but The Smiths… if your musical legacy is the Cranberries, you sucked. And there are other bands that liked them… but what did they do that was so influential? And how do you measure these things?

Oh, and the game’s at 1:10. It’s not televised.

Payroll cuts and salary commitments

September 27, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 10 Comments 

The M’s may cut salary this off-season, and I was curious about how much hurt that’s going to put the team in.

The team has $76m in payroll committed for next season. Ichiro gets $17m, Beltre $12m, Carlos Silva $11m, Washburn $10m, Batista $9m, Johjima $8m, Putz $5m and then Lopez and Betancourt get $1.6 and $2m respectively.

Yes, 50% of that $76m is dead already. I was thinking about making a pie chart with “easily movable” “tough sell” and “unmovable” sections and please trust me, it was too depressing to inflict. Let’s try not to think about it too much.

The rest is going to be players headed for arbitration or under team control. If they decide to fill the gaps with random minor league free agents and other scrubs, their 25m roster would run about $85-90m. Put at $90m, figuring they sign a journeyman veteran for the bullpen. That sounds pretty good. Except here’s the problem. That’s just payroll. If you want to count pro-rated signing bonuses, there’s another $4m.

At the same time, the M’s have a number of huge holes they need to fill:
– DH
– first
– left field
– center field

Before you even want to consider upgrading the infield. A really good GM will turn up cheap-o fixes for DH/first/left, and a good GM will go cheap but still pay a couple million each — the average salaries at those positions is higher than it should be, so it’s easy to turn up a floating slugger (Carl Everett!) who seems to meet the role’s needs for $4-5m. This would certainly have been the likely path for the last GM.

The problem is that $90m+$12-15m = $102-105m and no center fielder. If the M’s cut payroll and actual salary available drops much, something already has to give.

That contributes to the Beltre speculation: he’s the highest tradeable salary, and most GMs would look at that situation and consider trading Beltre to have $12m to fill two positions.

Obviously there’s some wiggle room here. But if the M’s are rebuilding and they’re preparing the fan base to see reduced on-field spending, these are the things they’re preparing us for:
– holes may not be patched by recognizable veteran presences
– Beltre may have to be moved to give them room to fill holes

The flip side of this is you can also quickly see how you can build a team that lets you spend in the right places. Clement moves to first and you don’t have to invest in a first baseman. You find some free swinger with huge power and no glove to DH for a song, or Ibanez comes back on a sweetheart deal. Then you’re down to two positions, with left field an easy fill. If you’re lucky, instead of $0 left and no center fielder, it’s $10m left and you can start to think about how to shore up the infield defense.

Now potentially, they could of course severely back-load deals to get them in the door, as they did with Sexson — but there’s also the reason the higher-ups might be unwilling to be aggressive with that tactic.

It’s also clear that every dollar a new GM can clear off of the dead pool can contribute directly to the team getting better. If they have to eat a chunk of Washburn’s salary next year and they get $6m freed, there’s a lot they can do with that.

Or insert your own scenario. But the limitation of payroll will form the puzzle the new GM will work on all off-season.

Not that any of this will help you if the Mariners make public statements like “we’re going to maintain payroll” but I hope it’s at least a little helpful in seeing that without any moves, they’re starting 2009 with a couple of holes and $90m already spent.

Times on ownership, hiring, related topics

September 27, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 8 Comments 

Ahhh, actual content. With sources!

Time-saving summary:
Larson: “I’m not trying to buy the team.”
Lincoln: “Chuck and I decide who the new GM will be.”
Armstrong: “I talk to Gillick, he’s a pal. He’s not coming here.”

What else… Yamauchi is rumored to watch games. And Larson is said to have some memorabilia.

And those observers say that Larson, a baseball fanatic said to have an extensive memorabilia collection, would have the common sense to step back and let the baseball experts run any team he had control over.

Larson showed up to a meeting with the MLB ownership committee to buy the team wearing an actual Ty Cobb jersey.

Oh, those crazy anonymous sources.

The GM speculation kicks off

September 26, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 26 Comments 

The AP, which I can’t quote or they’ll sue us and won’t link to, has a story on the wires in which some Chuck Armstrong makes a particularly interesting comment about the team being blind to skin color or gender. I’ll update this with a quote when there’s a non-AP source.

Hey! Lincoln’s on FSN! Apparently GMs make decisions. Good one, Howard. They want a GM who makes decisions that most of the time turn out right. WOO HOO! Results-based hiring!

They want a comprehensive short/long term plan that gets them to the playoffs. Full interview Sunday at noon… I might have to turn that on.

Game please let this season end, Athletics at Mariners

September 26, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 40 Comments 

Gallagher versus Morrow. 7:10.

I would participate in this game thread but I’m suspending my participation in game threads in order to fly to New York to help the UN negotiate a peaceful unification of Cyprus.

Good News on Bedard – To Tender Or Not

September 26, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 37 Comments 

The M’s announced that the surgery on Erik Bedard’s shoulder today was more minor than expected, with his labrum being essentially structurally sound. They removed the cyst, and he’ll be rehabbing for the next 6 months or so. He might be pitching on a major league mound in 7 to 9 months, depending on how rehab goes.

This makes the decision on whether to tender him an arbitration offer this winter more complex. Due to CBA rules, the absolute minimum the M’s could offer is $5.6 million, and even with the injury, it’s likely that he’d file for a raise from his $7 million that he made this year. Since arbitration awards are based on service time more than performance (a mediocre 5th year arb guy will get more than a good 3rd year arb guy), and Bedard can point to some pretty high salaries for comparable talents, we have to assume that his agent would ask for something in the $9 to $11 million range.

Most times, teams settle for something close to the midpoint between the two figures, so we’d estimate Bedard’s expected salary for 2009 to be something like $7 to $8 million for 2009. It could certainly be higher if Bedard’s agent files for a higher number and wins, but that’s less likely than the two trying to find some common ground. But again, he couldn’t possibly make less than $5.6 million, and the M’s probably wouldn’t even risk an offer that low.

So, is it worth $8 million or so to keep Bedard in the organization, pay for his rehab, and hope he returns to contribute in some meaningful way next year? There are a couple ways to look at this.

1. If your goal is to keep him around in order to get him healthy and flip him for prospects at the deadline, then no, it’s not worth it. $8 million will buy you at least 2 or 3 premium international free agents – we’re talking the absolute top tier of teenage talents. Yes, they’re further from the majors and represent more risk, but you’re not going to be able to flip Bedard for a couple of major league ready stars in waiting next summer anyway, no matter how well he pitches. There’s also the draft to consider – the M’s will have a lot of high selections next summer (especially if Ibanez leaves), and there’s always some top tier talents that fall due to their signing demands. If you allocate some of the $8 million (or so) that you’ll owe Bedard to overpaying for a draft pick or two, you’re almost certainly going to get a better prospect than if you hope he gets healthy and you try to deal him at the deadline.

Now, there’s a monkey wrench here – the M’s separate their major league payroll budget from their amateur acquisition budget, so the new GM would have to convince the ownership to transfer the savings on Bedard to another fund. The M’s clearly don’t recognize this kind of thought (thus the whole “saving $10 million by dumping Washburn doesn’t help us” mindset, ignoring the kinds of prospects they could have bought with $10 million) right now, but hopefully a new GM can convince them to change their accounting practices in order to turn the franchise around.

2. However, if you’re keeping Bedard around because you think he can help you win some games next year, it could actually be worth the $8 million investment. Even with a conservative projection of him having a repeat of his 2008 season (so, 80 decent but not amazing innings), Bedard would be worth about 1.5 wins over a replacement level pitcher. A marginal win is going for about $5 million nowadays, so 1.5 wins are worth about $7.5 million on the free market, or almost exactly what we’re projecting he’ll make next year.

If you viewed the M’s as potential contenders, keeping Bedard around for what he could add on the field actually makes some financial sense. If the goal was to add a couple position players, upgrade the defense, and see if you can turn the franchise around quickly, then tendering Bedard a contract would be a worthwhile gamble.

However, if the idea is to try to turn his rehabbed arm into prospects next summer, the team is better off just letting him go and investing the cash elsewhere. The ROI is higher in other places, and right now, the M’s absolutely need to focus on getting as much value for their buck as they can in order to speed up the rebuilding process.

The larger issues

September 25, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 52 Comments 

If I may, there’s a lot tied up in this whole Ichiro thing today and I think it’s important to tug them apart a little.

First, there’s the blind quote thing. I wish Baker would either name his sources or stop acting all coquettish about it (“You’d be surprised… could be a pitcher… name doesn’t start with a ‘Q’…”). If someone wants to give an incident like that on background, that’s fine, but if it’s important enough to run, it deserves a more detailed exploration. If the situation was so serious that the team thought Ichiro’s physical safety was an issue and called a meeting to work it out, that’s really quite disturbing.

The story’s now been flatly contradicted by at least two people who would have been around for it in Riggleman and Putz. And there will likely be others. If they’re all singing the same tune to protect Ichiro, doesn’t that at least undermine the clubhouse-v-players thing?

Beyond which, if there was a player looking to pick a fight with Ichiro, they’d have been thrown out or traded for John Mabry or something crazy, and it would have looked really weird. Unless it was Brad Wilkerson (hey, Blue Jays-Expos connection!) it’s fair to assume the threat of actual violence didn’t seem too serious.

We don’t know what happened. Some people do who are willing to put their names to it, and others don’t, and they’re probably afraid to shower with the team because there’s a big yellow streak down their spine which if spotted would guarantee at least one player does get in a fight. We can’t weigh that out.

So chalk the “was Ichiro going to get beat up?” to at best uncertainty.

Second, is Ichiro a bad teammate? Does he harm team chemistry? I don’t know. I wrote a whole thing on evaluating team chemistry and the short of it is that team chemistry, if it exists, can’t be predicted, evaluated, doesn’t seem to be significant and — as Riggleman said today — tends to be the product, rather than cause, of winning or losing. And we don’t know Ichiro personally, so I can’t speak to that either. And maybe contributing by quiet example in 2001 ticks the 2008 supporting cast off. But if there’s a real reason that Ichiro’s a bad teammate, we haven’t heard it yet, as Dave pointed out.

Third, is there resentment of the Japanese players? I don’t know that either. But I don’t understand how Ichiro would enter into this. Ichiro’s well-paid for being a good player. He’d certainly have received more on the open market, whether or not you think he’s worth the money. Johjima got a huge contract extension while sucking and then kept sucking. I think Washburn’s public tantrum about Johjima was ridiculous, but it’s still true that he, at least, and Bedard both didn’t like throwing to him for whatever reason. So I understand players might look at that contract deal and think “he only got that contract because the team has Japanese ownership ties”. But that’s not Ichiro. And if the resentment and hostility is really about performance and undeserved contracts, why Ichiro over Johjima?

I realized while writing that I do understand how Ichiro might enter into this. If they’re mad about that and think Japanese players get special treatment, well, Ichiro’s Japanese, why not hate on him, too? And that’s even beyond the general racial issues, which brings me to:

Fourth, is the clubhouse racist? This would hardly be the first time a team fractured along racial lines. Stuff a bunch of vastly talented people from diverse backgrounds speaking different languages into each other’s company for 162 games and crazy things happen. But if that was the case, you’d think we’d have seen symptoms of this a lot earlier. So we don’t know this one either.

Fifth, why Ichiro? There’s a Bill James line Gomez quoted in the comments I like: “Bad teams tend to focus all their frustration at their best players.” Ichiro’s clearly the best all-around position player on the team. Ibanez is by far the more productive hitter, and he’s done exceptionally well in important situations this year, but he’s terrible in the field. Felix can be electric, but he’s not the draw Ichiro is yet. We’ve seen this before, when players like Alex Rodriguez and even Ken Griffey Jr. were criticized for not doing enough to lead.

And yet it seems strange that Ichiro would be singled out for being paid while not performing, when there are other players are equally well-paid, but produce nothing. Silva was supposed to solidify the rotation and instead has been plagued by back trouble, talks trash about players to the press, and has had a season line so bad it’s painful to glance at. Why was there no blanket party held for him?

… unless Ichiro’s a bad teammate, to the point that his teammates find reasons to hate him.
… or it’s because the clubhouse is divided and there’s some portion that doesn’t like the Japanese players

Neither of which we can know.

Sixth, why is this important? Brewer argued that Ichiro being in a bubble was the team’s greatest problem. Which should let you know not to value his baseball analysis, because this is a team that can’t hit, pitch, or field, and a front office that spent vast sums of money on horrible players because they couldn’t tell the difference between good value and bad. They’ve lost a hundred games this year. There is no possible accounting, no matter how much value you want to put on a team “melding” or whatever chemistry term you like, that makes Ichiro or his personality or lack of leadership worthy of this kind of treatment.

The whole thing – the stirred-up controversy, which I certainly bit on angrily, is exactly the sort of baseball coverage that drives me nuts. It’s the focus on the superficial: which players are “accountable” by being media-friendly, or who hangs out with who, the blind-source gossiping and speculation, all at the expense of what’s substantial and to me interesting — and what some of the other stuff Baker’s series is covering. How does an organization go so badly wrong? How do they recover?

It’s a weak story told because it generates a lot of controversy and traffic for the Times. And obviously, since they’re contracting out road beat coverage, they’re willing to run this kind of thing. I wish they hadn’t (bringing us back around to the first point). We’re now in a place where, as scraps put it while I was drafting this,

It’s coming down on Baker because he’s responsible for it. If the source won’t take responsibility, then it’s on Baker. We have to take Baker at his word, over Riggleman and now Putz. I’m not willing to do that.

Moreover, it’s not an important story for that very reason. If it’s Beltre and Beltre’s got something to say, we can talk about that (Beltre, lauded for playing through injury, Ichiro, supposedly resented). Or Silva or Bedard or who the hell ever. We can discuss whether they can deal with him or need to be traded, or if Ichiro has to go. But this is gossip, and common gossip at that.

Riggleman’s right: teams that lose a hundred games, particularly teams that go into a season thinking they’re contenders, have these problems.

I want to know whether or not the team is serious about playing Lopez at first, and whether that’ll affect their off-season strategy, and whether they’ve given up on LaHair (yes). Whether Ibanez might get offered arbitration, what the GM process will look like.

We’re a week away from the end of the regular season, and we haven’t read a good GM article in ages. Who’s on the list? Who’s available, and what other options are out there for candidates? That’s the kind of thing that’ll matter to the franchise. Because when they’re winning again, Ichiro will go back to being the weirdly-dressed, funny and sometimes foul-mouthed leader-by-example, all of this will be forgotten, and we won’t have to wonder which team personnel are fighting a proxy mud flinging contest in the press.

All of which is reason enough to hope they get this ship turned around.

Jim Riggleman is Awesome

September 25, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 39 Comments 

I don’t love all of his in game tactics, but every time we get one of these locker room controversies, he comes out and says brilliant things. From Ryan Divish’s piece in the TNT, we get all kinds of awesomeness. Here’s one good answer:

Divish: Why would someone say stuff like this?

Riggleman: Pettiness, seventh-grade mentality, just pettiness of whatever jealousy, pointing fingers, deflecting responsibility, lack of accountability, just a lack of a character. These things happen when you’re losing; you’re not seeing that happen with winning teams now. But those winning teams go out and lose a couple games and you’ll see it.

And then this is just tremendous:

Rats are the first one of the ship. When the ship is sinking the rats are the first ones off. They’re the ones scavenging everything on the ship when it’s floating good and going good, but when it’s sinking the rats are the first ones to abandon the ship.

Go Jim Go.

Edit: KJR has the whole audio, and it’s so great. Listen to the whole thing. I might go start U.S.S. Riggleman.

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