The 2010 Mariners

Dave · October 29, 2008 at 9:11 am · Filed Under Mariners 

While I’m sure Zduriencik and company don’t want to get off to a bad start and lose 100 games next year, it seems clear that the direction this team is looking to build beyond 2009, and it’s unlikely the M’s will be contenders next year. So, if we write off 2009, what about 2010? Is there enough talent in the organization to support the idea that this team could win 90+ games in two years?

Let’s take a look at what’s here now, what it might it look like in two years, and what’s missing. Today, we’ll do the infield.

Catcher: Kenji Johjima, Jeff Clement, Rob Johnson, Adam Moore

While I think there’s a decent chance Kenji bounces back a bit next year, by 2010 he’ll be on his way to his 34th birthday, and the list of catchers who perform well at that age and beyond is very, very short. If we consider his 2006 and 2007 performances to be something close to his true talent, then even a normal aging curve from there (where his horrible 2008 is ignored) would have him lose a pretty good chunk of his value by the time 2010 rolls around. He might have enough juice in his bat to be a decent backup, but that’s probably the best case scenario.

As for the three kids, I’ve expressed my reservations about Clement’s future behind the plate, and I still feel like he’ll end up at first base sooner or later. They can afford to give him 2009 to prove his skeptics wrong, but I’m not counting on him as a long term option as a backstop. Rob Johnson just doesn’t have adequate major league offensive skills, but should stick as a backup thanks to his throwing ability. That leaves Adam Moore, who hasn’t played a game above Double-A yet, but has hit very well the last two years and is a bit better than Clement behind the plate.

In 2010, Moore will be 26, and right now, he looks like the best internal candidate for the everyday catcher role. He has to conquer Triple-A, prove that he can get around on good fastballs, and continue to improve behind the plate, but there’s some potential there for him to be a .270/.320/.400 hitter by 2010, and that’s a pretty valuable player behind the plate. With Johjima and Johnson around to fight for the backup role, the team should have a reasonably productive catcher tandem.

First Base: Jeff Clement, Dennis Raben

There isn’t exactly a great crop here – Clement’s never played an inning of first base in his life and has been extremely resistant to spending any time there, while Raben played the outfield in Everett this summer. There’s real questions about whether Clement would or could adjust to first base, and Raben would have to develop very quickly in order to be a quality major league first baseman in 18 months. In reality, the M’s need to find a stop gap here (Brad Nelson, anyone?) who can give them time to figure out where Clement fits and allow Raben to develop naturally and get to the big leagues when he’s ready rather than when the organization needs him.

Second Base: Jose Lopez, Luis Valbuena, Yuniesky Betancourt, Tug Hulett

Lopez had his best offensive season of his career, and at age 24, showed signs of what is hopefully real improvement that can be carried forward. He’s under contract through 2011 for minimal amounts of money, so the question is more whether the organization is comfortable enough with his defense going forward. It’s a real question, honestly – he’s already in mediocre physical shape and his footwork leaves a lot to be desired. The bat is probably good enough to allow for some defensive flaws, but is having him play an up the middle position optimal?

If Luis Valbuena’s bat develops, the answer is probably not. Valbuena flashed some serious range during his time in Seattle, and comes with the added bonuses of actually taking pitches and hitting left-handed, both of which the Mariners have something of a shortage of. He doesn’t have Lopez’s long ball ability, but there’s gap power in his bat, and by 2010, he should be a bit stronger than he is now. Even if he’s not as good offensively, the defensive difference and the LH stick probably make him the preferable internal choice for manning the second sack in 2010.

And, of course, if Betancourt is displaced at shortstop (as we’ll talk about in a second), shifting him to second base is an option as well. Hulett’s probably a utility player in the majors, but he could be better than people expect. Regardless of what ends up happening, it seems like the M’s have enough internal choices to where this isn’t a position they necessarily need to pursue outside players.

Shortstop: Yuniesky Betancourt

And here, we see a glaring hole in the organization. Betancourt’s got problems, as we’ve noted all year, and there aren’t any other internal options. If he got hurt, I really don’t know what they’d do next year – sliding Beltre over from third might be their best option, and that’s kinda sad. This is certainly a position that needs to be addressed from a depth perspective, and potentially from a finding-a-new-starter option. Yuni’s regression with the glove has left him as a +1 win player rather than the +2 to +3 win player we thought he might be, and that makes him more of a good back-up/part-time player than a franchise cornerstone.

With Grant Green one of the main options for the second pick in the draft, as well as guys like J.J. Hardy available in trade this winter, the M’s will have to seriously consider whether they want to go forward with Betancourt at shortstop. At the least, they need to get a realistic alternative into the organization this year.

Third Base: Adrian Beltre, Matt Tuiasosopo, Jose Lopez

If Zduriencik realizes how good Beltre is, and they can talk him into signing a new contract, keeping him around isn’t a bad plan. He’s the team’s best position player and extremely underrated around the game, as we’ve noted many times – his combination of average bat and great glove are not easily replaced.

If he’s traded, Tui seems to be the heir apparent. He made significant strides with his bat this year, and could be a pretty solid high average/gap power hitter by 2010, potentially developing more long ball power later in his career. However, the defense… it’s not good. His footwork needs a lot of work, and for a former football player, he doesn’t move all that well. Right now, he’s a real stretch there, but he’s young enough that we shouldn’t condemn him to first base just yet. He’s going to have to make some pretty big strides to be a solid defender at the hot corner, though, and if he doesn’t, the average bat/bad defense combination makes for a pretty marginal player.

The other internal option would be shifting Lopez to third. This would probably be the way to go if his bat continues to take a step forward and Valbuena develops a lot faster than Tui. In that case, moving Lopez to the hot corner would hide some of his range issues and still allow the team to benefit from a low cost, league average (or slightly better) hitter. He’s never going to be Beltre defensively, but he’d be okay at third.

Based on the individual positions and their respective depths, here’s how I’d peg the likely infield for 2010:

Optimistic: Moore-Clement-Valbuena-New Guy-Lopez
Most Likely: Johjima-New Guy-Valbuena-Betancourt-Lopez
Pessimistic: Johnson-Raben-Lopez-Betancourt-Tui


61 Responses to “The 2010 Mariners”

  1. The Ancient Mariner on October 30th, 2008 10:46 am

    ajn007, I wasn’t aware that Morse and LaHair (do spell his name right) had the habit of letting their personal biases get into their logic. I’m quite sure Dave doesn’t, though. He does however have the habit of insisting on evidence to support his arguments, which habit doesn’t seem to weigh on you too heavily.

  2. Benne on October 30th, 2008 12:27 pm

    If you think Morse and LaHair are the answers, you’re asking the wrong questions.

  3. eponymous coward on October 30th, 2008 1:25 pm

    Don’t get me wrong the posts about is statistics over the past are an indicator of his future, but human beings don’t always folllow a predictable behavior. To leave out his spring training last year or his first year up with the mariners as data that is not important is simply not looking at the other data

    If you’re talking to me:

    – yes, I included Morse’s first year. Surprise! He didn’t slug .400 his first MLB season, either.

    – no, I did NOT include spring training. Spring training is a horrible predictor of MLB hitting ability- you’re facing everything from MLB pitchers who are working on new pitches to A ball, in tiny parks at altitude and dry air that inflate offense, and you have the ultimate in Small Sample Size Theatre.

    Even the players like Raul Ibanez who surprise people in the majors have better minor league hitting stats than Morse (.295/.361/.473 for Raul, .261/.312/.408 for Morse). Bryan LaHair, by the by, is a better hitter in the minors than Mike Morse (.287/.350/.456).

    You can invoke all the special pleading you want (“But his spring training in 2008 was great!”), but there’s just no evidence Mike Morse deserves anything more than a bit player role on a MLB team, if that.

  4. eponymous coward on October 30th, 2008 1:36 pm

    Over the last few years, I’ve become appalled by the lack of maturation/skill development by guys like Lopez and Yuni at the major league level.

    I can agree on Yuni, but Lopez? He obviously was promoted too early (because the 2004-2005 teams were terrible, the M’s thought “what the hell”), and really, let me show something to you before we stamp his career with a big FAIL stamp:

    Jose Lopez, through age 24 season: .271/.303/.398
    Player A, through age 24 season: .226/.286/.373
    Player B, through age 24 season: .262/.306/.404

    Players A and B? Miguel Tejada and Jose Guillen.

    My feeling is Jose Lopez is probably the new Jose Guillen/Carlos Lee- he should be put in the corner OF and left alone to hit .295/.340/.500, which is fine for corner OF as long as you aren’t paying them 8 digits a year on a contract that will outlast a presidential term.

  5. ajn007 on October 30th, 2008 4:00 pm

    [this is not a board]

  6. Kemp on October 30th, 2008 5:02 pm

    I don’t think there’s any way Betancourt is playing SS in 2010 as long as the Mariners do the smart thing and take Grant Green in the upcoming draft. Heck, by the end of 2010, he’ll probably be batting third for the M’s!

  7. MyOhMy on October 30th, 2008 5:26 pm

    I just read that Mike Jacobs got traded to the Royals for a Leo Nunez. Jacobs K/BB isn’t much to be desired, but a Left handed power bat at Safeco is … 32 HR’s, 93 RBI last year.

    Any thoughts on Jacobs? I gotta believe Z will be pulling a player or two from the Brewers farm system and I agree with Dave that Brad Nelson would be a logical place to start.

  8. brad_i on October 31st, 2008 10:54 am

    eponymous coward, I was talking more about Yuni and Jose’s defense, which to be generous, has not improved during their stay in Seattle. Why can Tui improve his defense in Tacoma, but the DP Twins can’t do it a few miles north?

    The isolated patience (OBP – AVG) on those slash lines doesn’t look too good for Lopez, either.

    And you left out games played in your slash lines. I’d guess Guillen played a lot fewer games than Lopez.

  9. TotallyNotWilly on October 31st, 2008 12:00 pm

    brad_i you make a good point about defense on the major league club. McClaren was known for not pushing his players to work on infield practice. I don’t know about Hargrove, but it has seemed to me the team’s defense and focus on consistent, excellent play in all aspects of the game has suffered ever since Lou left. I just think we keep hiring pushovers for managers and players have been allowed to slip in terms of their work ethic. Freakish exceptions like Ichiro excluded, of course.

  10. joser on November 1st, 2008 4:15 pm

    If the O’s move Roberts to short as Sheehan suggests, maybe the M’s can bundle Bedard and Lopez to get back Adam Jones. OK, ok, that’s unrealistic. Maybe Bedard and Lopez and a PTNL for Mickolio.

  11. ajn007 on November 3rd, 2008 12:09 pm

    [bye then]

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