Peace out

January 30, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 45 Comments 

Guillermo Quiroz
Ron Wright
Raul Chavez
Arquimedez Pozo

Zak Shinall
Luis DeLeon

If you didn’t figure it out already, that’s a list of players that only played one game for the Mariners. It’s a fitting parallel because after joining the USSM crew just a few months ago, I already have to say goodbye.

There is a silver lining, however. The reason I won’t be able to write here anymore is because I’ve been hired by Baseball America! After six months as an editorial intern, they offered me a job and accepting it was a no-brainer. I’ve absolutely loved it out here and am excited to be on board full time, covering the draft.

Anybody want to buy my car? I’ll even throw in the “I’d Rather Be Reading” license plate frame!

The Abreu Rumors

January 30, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 122 Comments 

Larry Stone has all the info in the piece he did about the Mike Sweeney signing. Lots of interesting stuff in there. Go read it.

Essentially, the M’s have told Abreu that they’re interested in a one year deal with him, but don’t have the money in the budget to meet his asking price right now. They’d have to move some salary in order to bring him in. The obvious candidate to move would be Jarrod Washburn, as you’re not going to be able to get anyone to take any real part of the salaries due to Batista or Silva. You’ll have to eat some of Washburn’s salary to move him, but not all of it, so he’s almost certainly the guy they’re trying to move.

Realistically, though, in this environment, the M’s aren’t going to be able to free up more than about $5 to $7 million by moving Washburn. Jon Garland, a better pitcher in just about every regard (not that that’s high praise), just signed for $8.75 million with Arizona. With guys like Randy Wolf still on the market and likely having to settle for one year deals at less than $10 million, the M’s just won’t be able to move Washburn without eating some salary or giving up a valuable asset along with Washburn that would make some other team value the package at $10 million.

So, to be honest, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for Abreu. There are teams interested in him that don’t have to trade a a non-asset in order to clear room for him, and I can’t imagine that the M’s offer will be so much better than the offers he already has on the table that he’ll sit around and wait for the M’s to make the necessary move to get him.

It’s clear, however, that the M’s are pursuing a LH OF/DH bat, and that they’re not going to settle for Ken Griffey Jr unless they have to. That, in and of itself, is good news.

The day in Marinerdom, Jan 29

January 29, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 26 Comments 

On Craigslist today, you can find not one but two David Segui autographed bats.

Went to a signing in puyallup while still played for the Mariners. Autograph are on a limited edition bat, number 25 and 30 of 100 made. No Coa because obtained directly at signing. Asking $15 each or $20 for both

So this bat’s been kicking around for nine, ten years with David Segui’s signature on them. They were sitting in a closet, presumably, as his career fell apart and he subsequently got caught up/found out for his steroid use… but still they remained, waiting. In June (see the photo stamp, and let’s figure it’s real) they were dragged out, laid out on the kind of carpet Quadrant Homes slapped down on every house they stamped out during the boom years, and captured on film. It may have been the first time they saw light in five years or more.

Why $15 for one, or $20 for both? You could use them for batting practice at that price. Heck, you could be like Bud Selig and start your novelty bench construction with these two, moving on to other short-time also-were players whose signed merchandise goes for well under what the generic sells for.

In a decade, who on these last few teams are we going to seem valuable enough to not just throw out but still result in a huge cost discount? Jose Guillen seems the best candidate.

Or for $50, there’s some guy selling chunks of the Kingdome. That price is per piece. They probably still smell faintly of the urine the place absorbed in its 24-year life.

What is it worth to you to have a piece of Seattle history? Selling each piece seperately. There are 2 smaller pieces left and the biggest one

Let me answer that question: nothing. But since the pieces are selling for the same price, it appears that the amount (and value) of history infused into each of these is exactly equal despite their different sizes. I’m not sure how that works. Is history like a hologram where pieces of it, shredded, all present a partial fragment of perspective?

How can a pebble, which for all we know could be fake, picked up while walking by a construction site, be worth more than a 2001 Ichiro bobblehead?


So a 2001 bobblehead of Ichiro, in his debut RoY/MVP year in which the M’s won 116 games is worth 36% of a pebble? Where’s the invisible hand here?

Meanwhile “Mike” is already attempting to sell nearly all of his tickets at cost already.

I have a season ticket package with two Lower Box seats, Section 125, Row 27. The Box Office charges $58 per ticket for these seats, but I am offering them for just $40! Feel free to select as many as you like from the list below.

It’s an interesting tactic: buy season tickets (they’re $40 a stub for him, btw, don’t let Mike mislead you into thinking he’s taking a loss), hold back the ones you think you can scalp for a profit (NYY, Boston) and then dump the rest. I guess there are worse business models.

M’s Sign Mike Sweeney

January 29, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 62 Comments 

Well, a bunch of you have been screaming for the M’s to sign a hitter, so here’s one for you.

Okay, so, it’s a minor league contract, and Sweeney’s not exactly the kind of big bat that everyone wants. Back problems have robbed him of his power, and now he’s just a high contact hitter with an empty BA. At 35, and coming off three years as a below average hitter, it’s pretty unlikely that he’s going to hook himself up to the juvenation machine and party like its 2002.

But, he’s a free replacement level bat to have in Peoria. He probably won’t make the team unless he shows that he’s found some power somewhere, and there’s no real risk of him taking the job of anyone more worthy of a roster spot. So, it’s just organizational depth with a very, very tiny bit of upside.

Or, alternately, it’s a reminder to the former regime that this is exactly what no-power, slap hitting DH’s cost to acquire.

Garrett Olson

January 28, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 108 Comments 

ESPN reports that the pitching prospect the M’s are getting with Ronny Cedeno is Garrett Olson, whom the Cubs just picked up from the Orioles for Felix Pie.

At this point, if you don’t like this trade, you’re just trying to be a curmudgeon. This is an amazingly fantastic deal for the M’s.

Olson is a 25-year-old LHP with a below average fastball, a good slider, and a solid change-up. He was the Orioles best pitching prospect the last few years, but like Cedeno, he’s been bad in the majors. However, not nearly as bad as his results would indicate.

In 132 innings for Baltimore last year, Olson had a 5.13 FIP – way, way lower than his 6.65 ERA. Just like we talked about with Silva, there’s a huge regression to the mean coming, and considering his minor league track record, quite a bit of upside beyond that.

Olson consistently struck out about one batter per inning in the minors and flashed good command as well. He’s pretty neutral on balls in play, being neither an extreme groundball or flyball guy. CHONE projects him for a 4.96 FIP for 2009, which sounds about right. He’s a #5 starter with potentially some upside as a #4 starter. Not that much unlike Aaron Heilman himself, honestly.

He’s under team control for five more years, and he won’t make any money until 2011. Adding him to Ryan Rowland-Smith, Ryan Feierabend, and Jason Vargas, the club now has four mid-20s LHPs with potential who are all under team control for the next 4-5 years. The M’s have quietly been stockpiling arms who fit perfectly into Safeco Field, and filling out the back-end of the rotation for no cost for the foreseeable future.

I’d have traded Heilman for either Ronny Cedeno or Garrett Olson. To get both is just a huge win for the M’s.

Ronny Cedeno

January 28, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 56 Comments 

As the main piece the M’s are getting for Heilman, I know a lot of you are going to look at his major league numbers and see a .252/.289/.350 major league performance and feel like we’re not getting much back. But there’s a lot more to Ronny Cedeno than his major league totals.

Coming up through the minors from 2001 to 2005, Cedeno was one of the better shortstop prospects in baseball. The Cubs promoted him aggressively, getting him to Double-A at age 21 (in 2004), where he responded with a solid .279/.321/.401 mark, showing gap power as well as flashing a good glove. In 2005, he thrashed Triple-A pitching at age 22, hitting .355/.403/.518, significantly improving his contact ability while maintaining good power for a middle infielder and still showing off with the leather. He got his first taste of the big leagues that summer and held his own, hitting .300/.356/.375 in 80 at-bats.

The Cubs gave him an everyday job in 2006, and it didn’t go well. 572 plate appearances, a .259 wOBA, and average defense at shortstop were not what the Cubs had in mind. It was a bad rookie season, no doubt, and it sent him on a journey back to Triple-A for 2007. He picked up where he left off in 2005, again torching Triple-A pitching for a .359/.422/.537 mark that earned him a ticket back to the majors, where he struggled again, albeit in just 74 at-bats.

In 2008, he was used as a utility infielder and showed some of his prior offensive promise, posting a .305 wOBA in 236 PA. It was definitely a step forward, albeit one that still made him just a useful back-up and not the everyday player the Cubs were hoping he’d turn into.

So, Cedeno’s got a history of offensive potential that hasn’t been realized in the majors through his first 1,000 plate appearances spread out over four years. Heading into his age 26 season, he’s at put-up or shut-up time, where he either realizes some of his potential or ends up as a backup infielder for the rest of his career.

Given the M’s issues up the middle and their overall lack of depth at the SS/2B positions in the high minors, Cedeno is a good acquisition. There’s real upside here – his glove is good enough to make him a league average middle infielder if he can post a .315 to .320 wOBA, and this team could really use a league average middle infielder. In a lot of ways, he replaces Luis Valbuena, who we shipped off in the J.J. Putz deal. He’s the guy we’re looking at now for a little bit of offense and good defense who can push Lopez/Betancourt and give us real depth up the middle.

Cedeno, like Gutierrez and Branyan and Aardsma and Walker and Shelton before him, is the acquisition of a talented guy who needs a shot to see if he can live up to his potential. He’s exactly the kind of player the M’s should be acquiring, and given their relative excess of arms and shortage of infielders, swapping Heilman for Cedeno makes a lot of sense. That they were able to get a pitching prospect as well just makes this another good move for Zduriencik.

He’s still batting 1.000 as the M’s GM.

Nice Timing, Jack

January 28, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 30 Comments 

I just posted a long treatise on the rotation candidates, including Aaron Heilman, and now you’ve gone and are reportedly close to trading him to the Cubs.

From what I can gather, the M’s would be getting Ronny Cedeno + in return. If the M’s can get Cedeno and Rich Hill out of the deal, we should all send Zduriencik a valentine.

Edit: Ken Rosenthal confirms that we’re getting Cedeno and “a pitching prospect” for Heilman. No Rich Hill – we’ll talk about the prospect once he’s identified.

The Eight

January 28, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 16 Comments 

One of my favorite things about how the M’s have handled this off-season is the willingness to accept uncertainty heading into spring training. In past years, the organization was all about plugging holes with Proven Veterans (TM) in order to establish a predictable 25-man roster where everyone knew their job heading into camp. This year, there are five position players and three pitchers who are basically guaranteed a starting job, and everyone else is fighting for the six other starting gigs and the reserve slots.

Being willing to deal with uncertainty leads to a lot more flexibility and higher potential returns. Simply through sheer quantity of talent, you have a better chance of finding a good rotation when you have eight potential starters rather than five. And that’s exactly what the M’s have – eight potential starting pitchers headed to spring training. Let’s take a look at the spots that probably aren’t available this spring.

#1 – Felix Hernandez. This job isn’t up for grabs.
#2 – Erik Bedard. Can’t trade him in this market until he re-establishes his value. If he’s healthy, he’s a lock.
#3 – Brandon Morrow. The M’s have made it very clear that they see Morrow as a starter.

That leaves five guys fighting for the #4 and #5 starter spots. The candidates:

Jarrod Washburn – $10 million salary makes him untradeable, and while the contract is horrible and they obviously should have moved him when they had the chance, that’s all in the past now. He’s coming to Peoria, so where does he fit on the roster? He’s clearly a below average starter with no future in Seattle, but that doesn’t make him useless. As a flyball pitch-to-contact left-hander, he’s the pitcher we’d expect to benefit the most from a Chavez/Gutierrez/Ichiro outfield. With an outstanding outfield defense behind him, it’s fairly reasonable to see the potential for him to run a ~4.00 ERA in the first half and the team be able to dump him during the summer, saving $5 million or so of the contract that he’s owed. If you put him in the pen, you’re eating the whole $10 million.

Carlos Silva – probably the most obvious regression-to-the-mean candidate in baseball. His 6.46 ERA was two full runs higher than his 4.63 FIP, and that’s as unsustainable as anything you’ll ever see. He’s the exact same guy he’s always been – a strike-throwing ultra high contact starter who relies heavily on his defense. The extreme hatred of Silva simply isn’t justified by what we should expect from him on the mound in 2009. Like Washburn, he’s a 4.7 FIP guy who could easily outperform that mark if the team puts a good defense behind him. Like Washburn, he’s a #5 starter with a hideous contract, but the best way to get him off the roster is to have him re-establish some value as an innings eater. He can’t do that from the bullpen.

Ryan Rowland-Smith – the 25-year-old Aussie is going to have a lot of support for a spot in the rotation from both the blogosphere and the local media (in case you didn’t notice, Geoff Baker is a big fan). He’s young, he’s under team control for several years, he’s also a left-handed flyball pitcher who should benefit greatly from improved outfield defense, and he put up good results after moving to the rotation to finish 2008. If you’re treating 2009 as a build-for-the-future season, it’s worth finding out if Rowland-Smith can establish himself as a back-end starter, allowing the team to potentially close one hole in it’s 2010 rotation. However, there’s other considerations here – RRS wasn’t all that good as a starter, despite the results – his K rate as a starter was lower than Washburn’s, and his command isn’t as good. His success out of the bullpen, and the team’s need for a lefty setup guy, also are factors in the decision.

Aaron Heilman – He’s made no secret out of his desire to be a starter, which is one of the reasons the Mets shipped him off to Seattle in the first place. With a lot of competition, though, he’s going to have to really show improved command and bite on his slider to earn a starting job. His successful years as a reliever, he was a two-pitch guy, and the addition of the slider to his repertoire last year didn’t go so well. He’s not going to succeed as a starter without that breaking ball, though. However, the Ryan Dempster comparisons just won’t go away, and indeed, there are similarities. The Cubs hit the jackpot by moving Dempster to the rotation and finding a high quality starter, and with Heilman under team control through 2010, there’s a good amount of upside to be had if that would repeat itself in Seattle. The best case scenario for the M’s involves Heilman pulling a Dempster, but the question of how likely that is hangs over the rest of the discussion.

Miguel Batista – He’s the guy who really doesn’t have much of a chance unless the team bus crashes into a ditch or something. Coming off a disastrous ’08 season, 38 years old, in the final year of a contract that makes him untradeable, and with prior experience and success a reliever, he’s almost certainly heading to the bullpen. He’s an emergency option if Bedard gets hurt again, the team manages to trade Washburn, and someone else goes down in spring training, but the odds of him breaking camp as one of the team’s five starters are not very good. I expect that he’ll actually be a decently useful reliever, but for all intents and purposes, he’s only marginally involved in this conversation.

So, how should this all shake out? If the season started tomorrow, I’d go with Washburn and Silva as the #4 and #5 starters, but with Heilman and Rowland-Smith both working multi-inning reliever roles. Yes, I know, this will make a lot of you upset, but the team has a limited window of opportunity to get some value back from the Washburn/Silva contracts, and there’s real value in getting some ROI out of those two rather than just eating their entire contracts.

The goal, of course, would be to move Washburn as soon as possible. If he strings together five good starts to begin the season and someone calls him about him in May, you give him away and throw a party. At that point, you move either Heilman or Rowland-Smith into the rotation and give them a chance to show what they’ve got. Both of them are unlikely to be able to handle a full season starters’ workload anyway, so letting them start the year in the ‘pen will help keep their innings down while the team puts out marketing pamphlets selling Washburn to anyone who will listen.

By June or July, the team should have an idea of whether they have a real shot at winning a weak division or not as well as seeing if Bedard is going to pitch well enough to establish some trade value. If the team is out of contention and he’s pitching well and healthy, trading him is a no-brainer, which then opens up a slot in the rotation for the other Heilman/Rowland-Smith starter to join and finish out the year as a starter. If the team is contending and he’s pitching well, you probably keep him and make a run at a playoff spot. And, of course, if he’s injured again, then the rotation spot for Heilman/Rowland-Smith has already been created.

If you start the year with Rowland-Smith or Heilman in the rotation at the expense of Washburn or Silva, you’re not significantly upgrading the roster and you’re passing on the opportunity to rebuild some value from those two while you still can. I know those two are pariahs in the blogosphere, and they stand for everything that was wrong with the last administration, but those aren’t good reasons to make decisions on who should be pitching for the 2009 Mariners coming out of spring training.

The team has seven arms (and Batista) for five spots, but two of them are likely to be traded during the season, so there should be enough innings for everyone.

A brief distraction for some of you

January 26, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 57 Comments 

Last year, I sat down and started to work on a Mariner text adventure game. In March, I briefly posted it here for feedback, but I never got back to finishing it for a variety of boring reasons. Thanks to events of the last year, it’s no longer as applicable. Or at all, really.

Here, then, for your momentary enjoyment, if you are both a Mariner fan and someone who knows what happens if you say “plugh” and why an “elvish sword of great antiquity” glows, I offer to you: A Fine Day in Peoria. It’s a .z5 file. It comes with no warranty of any kind. No tech support, nothing. It costs nothing, and you are guaranteed to get your money’s worth. If you get a laugh out of it, that’s good enough.

One-horse town

January 24, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 50 Comments 

I’ve been chewing on this since Hickey posted about the PI’s looming closure.

Any reasonable observer knew that having a one-paper town was inevitable when they signed the Joint Operating Agreement. Sharing functions meant it would be extremely hard to break away. Having the Seattle Times Company run the parent web presence (nwsource) probably didn’t help, either. If you followed Baker, you’ve seen him pushing the Times blog into different media forms with audio and video snippets in his posts, while the PI has… blogs. One of those two had a budget (though, in fairness, it’s worth noting that the Times cut costs by not sending Baker or a Times reporter on the road for some series late in the year, which is inexcusable).

This is going to suck. I mean no offense to the guys at the PI, but strictly in terms of game coverage there’s not a lot of difference between the papers, ESPN, the wire services. This is an opportunity lost. One of the things I see blogs doing a lot better than print is following season-long developments in more depth than papers can (or are willing to do). Anyway.

The problem is first, the columnists. The print columnists do a lot more to drive discussion and define the common views of fans than almost anyone outside of the people who broadcast the games (“Oh, no question…”).

Art Thiel’s a better sports columnist than anyone at the Seattle Times. He’ll be out of a job soon, while Steve Kelley inexplicably continues to collect paychecks. Thiel wrote a must-read book for M’s fans, Out of Left Field. Thiel’s the only person to repeatedly put the screws to the M’s ownership representatives and ask them difficult questions.

Second, though, it’s the competition. I’m sure that on the Times side, this will be met with howls of protest at their intention to continue to cover all issues with integrity and professionalism. I’ll skip my side rant on the Times’ spotty record on those counts for now. But the equation now becomes

value of running story in potential papers/page views and increased reputation
damage to relationships, future access (and so on)

Here’s an example from our own experience. When the M’s were throwing up their crappy bleachers in the beer garden and hoping no one would notice, I screamed and hollered until my throat was hoarse. USSM readers wrote letters and called the M’s. Only the PI picked up the story, covering it a couple of times. The M’s backed down (mostly). The Times never covered it.

It’s a lot easier to run a story if you can say “if I don’t, Bob over there on the other paper will…” And while it’s easier for someone to favor one side over the other in terms of access, information, and so on, it’s also a lot easier to get something quashed if there’s only one person who has to be convinced.

Take payroll. Every year the M’s have made a huge deal about how they’re spending a bazillion dollars, and it’s so awful for them, so painful, but they’re willing to make the sacrifice for us, the fans. And it’s the most transparent malarkey.

Or instead, look at the team’s deal with the city, and the PFD. How is the coverage of Mariner finances, and especially complicated issues like the revenue-sharing agreement, going to get better with fewer people covering this? Jim Street’s not going to put on a fedora with a little “press” card in the band and go start knocking on doors to see if the M’s are cooking the books to avoid giving money back to the city. Who will?

Last year we also saw the benefit of competition, particularly in Felix-related coverage, where relying on one source would paint a very different picture than if you read several. The fewer perspectives we have, the more one account determines how a player or event is perceived.

I’m (obviously) a huge proponent of blog coverage, but there’s no way it fills the gap of a major paper. We don’t get press access. We can’t go talk to Wakamatsu or anyone on the team unless we know them personally. We don’t have the ability to spend eight hours interviewing people about a breaking issue and turning around something insightful for the next day. The research and analysis done here or on Lookout Landing or anywhere is done essentially for free (well, not Lookout Landing, obviously, as they get to bathe in a hot tub of Kos’ money every night). There’s a lot you can’t do as a writer when your budget is zero.

So here’s where that leaves us, press-coverage-wise:
* Times: unless the go the SF Chronicle route and bulk up post-PI, more of the same.
* Tacoma News Tribune: same. Particularly good Rainiers coverage, Times coverage.
* KIRO: Shannon Drayer’s hiring is great news, especially if they let her do some more of the KOMO-style blogging we saw last year.
* Pravada: doesn’t break news, doesn’t say anything negative about players or teams, and the M’s team site prints what are possibly the laziest Q&A mailbags of any media outlet anywhere. Pretty much worthless.
* FSN: not a lot of value add here unless Senior Key Analyst Bill Krueger starts providing actual analysis of any kind, or something similarly crazy happens.

And then of course there’s the national press. You know how that goes.

As enthusiastic as we’ve been about the upcoming season and the prospects for the M’s future, this is bad for fandom, especially if Thiel winds up leaving town.

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