What To Make Of This Team

Dave · June 4, 2009 at 10:13 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Off days are always good for reflection, and as we mentioned a few days ago, it’s pretty likely that the front office and coaching staff will be meeting today to discuss the roster, what they want to do going forward, and the approach they’re going to take the rest of the season. Six games back with 108 to play is not an easy hole to dig out of, and the M’s playoff odds stand at somewhere around 15% right now. However, it’s also not an insurmountable task, and it’s likely that the new front office will give this team a bit more time to see how the 2009 season unfolds. So, what should we expect from this team going forward, now that the first third of the season is in the books?

Should Improve

Adrian Beltre – The guy is a really streaky hitter, so while his lousy first two months weren’t any fun to watch, he always brings the possibility of a .360/.410/.600 stretch into every month of the season. Beltre’s glove kept him contributing even without the offense, so he was worth +0.8 wins over the first 33% of the year. Given that he’s a +3 to +4 win player, we should expect him to be worth about +2.3 wins over the remainder of 2009. In other words, he’ll be a bit better, but the improvement will be more marginal than dramatic, as the offensive gains will be somewhat offset by lower expected defensive contributions.

Jose Lopez – At 25, he’s having the worst year of his career, which isn’t exactly normal. He hasn’t been able to sustain his offensive step forward from last year, and his defense just continues to deteriorate. Even his most ardent supporters will admit that the idea that he’s an average defensive 2B is a myth now. His lack of range means he has to hit in order to be valuable, and while he’ll hit better than he has so far, how much he’s going to hit is a real question mark. He was worth -0.6 wins through the season’s first trimester, and I’d peg him for about +0.6 wins over the rest of the year. Like Beltre, there’s improvement coming, but it’s not dramatic.

Brandon Morrow – The one guy in the bullpen we shouldn’t have had to worry about, Morrow’s command fell apart and his reliance on one pitch turned him into a home run machine. However, relievers are finicky, and it doesn’t take much for them to fix their problems and see the performances shift quickly. Morrow’s still the best arm the team has in the bullpen, and he should be able to add +0.5 wins in the second half of the year, a nice little improvement from the -0.3 wins he contributed so far.

Should Decline

Russell Branyan – I’m as thrilled with the guy as anyone else, and he’s the kind of pickup we’ve been begging the organization to make for years, but he’s simply not a .319 hitter. Thanks to some balls finding holes (.394 BABIP), he’s been worth +2 wins to the team already, but that’s really unlikely to continue, as much as we’d all love it to. A realistic projection for Branyan over the next four months has him contributing +1 win. His expected regression is of a similar magnitude to the bounce back we’re expecting from Lopez.

Erik Bedard – Again, I think we’re all thrilled that he’s pitching well, and he’s giving the team a chance to win every time he takes the mound. However, his 2.37 ERA is more than a run lower than his 3.46 FIP, and that’s more luck than defense. His 84.7% LOB% is higher than anyone posted last year, and even if you thought he was the best pitcher in baseball, he wouldn’t be expected to keep stranding runners at this rate. Over the next 20 starts or so, we should expect Bedard to give up nearly a run more per nine innings than he has so far.

Jarrod Washburn – Washburn is legitimately pitching better than he has at any time since 2002. From 2003 to 2008, he posted FIPs ranging from 4.35 to 4.97. Right now, his FIP is 3.58, which would be the best mark of his career if it held out all year. It’s not going to. His HR/FB rate is 6.3%, about 3% lower than his career mark. We can certainly expect him to pitch better over the rest of the year than we thought he would at the beginning of the season, but he’s not going to continue to pitch this well all year. Like with Bedard, we need to add nearly a full run per nine innings over what he’s given the team so far in 2009.

Jason Vargas – Hopefully, I don’t need to write a lot of words to explain why he won’t keep posting a 1.93 ERA. He’s done a nice job since taking Carlos Silva’s spot in the rotation, but his strand rate is off the charts. He’s put 31 men on base, and allowed 5 home runs, and only eight men have scored off of him. That’s ridiculous. It’s been helpful, but it won’t last. Vargas is a #5 starter, and we should expect an ERA more in the 4.50 to 5.50 range over the rest of the season.

There are some other lesser roles that we would expect some minor performance shifts in, but they aren’t as significant as these seven. Getting Rowland-Smith and Shawn Kelley back will help the pitching staff, but Sean White won’t keep getting outs on balls in play at the same rate. Griffey will probably hit a little better, but Ichiro will probably hit a little worse. Most of those things are just going to even out, or come close to it.

The seven fairly major changes we should expect, from Beltre-Lopez-Morrow-Branyan-Bedard-Washburn-Vargas, actually point to a slight regression in performance from this roster. The things that are expected to get worse will be more harmful to the team’s win-loss expectancy than the things that are expected to get better.

In other words, you can’t look at this roster and say “hey, awesome, they’re only two games under .500 with Beltre and Lopez hitting like crap. Once they catch fire, we’re golden.” That’s just bad analysis.

We said at the start of the season that this roster looked like a 78 win team to us. They are currently on pace to win 78 games. This team has performed almost exactly as we would have expected. Not every player is going to match their projections, obviously, but as a whole, this team is what we thought it was – not terrible, but not great.

So, what do they do now? If the M’s want to try to make a run at the Rangers and Angels, they need to upgrade several pieces of the roster, most notably the middle infield. This isn’t a playoff caliber team with Betancourt and Lopez playing SS-2B. One (or both) need to be replaced, preferably by a left-handed hitter.

Over the winter, Jack showed an adeptness and moving a valuable major league piece for some guys who could help the team both now and in the future. With the team kinda sorta hanging around the AL West race at the 1/3 mark of the season, but doing it with several free agents to be who aren’t going to keep performing this well, it will be interesting to see if he can do it again. Right now, a buy-and-sell approach might be the M’s best bet. Move Bedard and Washburn while their value is at its peak, and either get players back who can help you right now, or line up simultaneous deals where you’re comfortable giving up prospects to improve the middle infield due to the return you got for the two pitchers.

There are lots of ways the M’s could go from here. It will be interesting to see which path Jack chooses.


78 Responses to “What To Make Of This Team”

  1. Soonerman22 on June 4th, 2009 2:43 pm

    Actually, that’s not true. The vacant seats at New Yankee Stadium are well-documented.

    Sorry, let me clarify, I meant “La La Land” because they spend money like there is an expiration date on it they are trying to beat. (It is also why I thought it was a little chump for them not to picking up Washburn’s contract last year when they pick up everyone else’s. It was like because they are the Yankees we are supposed to give them whatever they want.) So I meant “La La Land” because they don’t have a clue what is going on in the rest of the world. They spent half a billion dollars in free agency in 3-4 weeks(?) this off season.

    If they feel they can do that and not go broke good luck! But right now it doesn’t seem like many people are buying $2,200 or $500 a game tickets.

    As for the research you did, that is awesome! I hadn’t seen any of those numbers. Good to know where the teams really stand not where they say they stand!

  2. Mike Snow on June 4th, 2009 2:55 pm

    You have to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples as well. Yes, there are empty seats at the new Yankee Stadium, but attendance in New York is down mostly because both new stadiums have smaller capacities than the old ones. They couldn’t hit last year’s averages even if they sold out every game.

  3. Marinerfan4life on June 4th, 2009 3:09 pm

    Haha this Putz trade is working out to be amazing for the Mariners!
    Looks like his elbow is still jacked up!

  4. Soonerman22 on June 4th, 2009 3:10 pm

    I just heard the Rangers outrighted Vicente Padilla to waivers.

    If you can’t beat him sign him?

  5. marc w on June 4th, 2009 3:28 pm

    “Sabathia didn’t even garner a Beckham/Gamel level prospect.”

    Huh? LaPorta was well ahead of Gamel; not sure what you’re referring to here. He was the Brewers #1 ‘spect at the time of that trade, if I recall.

    Now, the overall point still stands – Sabathia had waaaay more value than Bedard, and thus Beckham just isn’t happening.

  6. ppl on June 4th, 2009 3:43 pm

    I don’t see this team being full of “Replacement players.” Felix will still be here, unless a major surprise occurs Ichiro as well. Gutierrez will still be playing in CF. Griifey & Sweeney might as well fill out their years (And probably careers) here also. Carp & Moore project as big league regulars. And you gotta figure a couple guys acquired in trades will be playing this year too, whether or not they perform, this year or ever, remains to be seen.

  7. sure on June 4th, 2009 4:41 pm

    Let me be the first to congratulate Randy Johnson on 300 wins (SF’s up 5-1 in 9th). I remember all those wins in Seattle after which he pointed up to the sky in honor of his father, to think he’s made it so far … it’s just wonderful.

  8. scotje on June 4th, 2009 4:44 pm

    Haha this Putz trade is working out to be amazing for the Mariners!
    Looks like his elbow is still jacked up!

    Is a player being injured really something to celebrate just because we happened to trade him away recently? (I suppose maybe if he was a key player on the Hated Padres(TM).) The trade is working out because we got several valuable players back, not because the guy we traded away got hurt later.

  9. joser on June 4th, 2009 4:44 pm

    Note that my projections are from published sources, so it’s not like I have some kind of inside scoop on what is “really” going on with attendance (and those are the reported “paid” numbers, not actual bodies).

    You have to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples as well. Yes, there are empty seats at the new Yankee Stadium, but attendance in New York is down mostly because both new stadiums have smaller capacities than the old ones. They couldn’t hit last year’s averages even if they sold out every game.

    True enough, but the Yankees (and even more so the Mets) aren’t the Red Sox and don’t sell out every game. They certainly weren’t completely sold out last year, so that effect should be reduced. The games where they were completely sold out (opening day, certain Red Sox games, etc) they’ll get hurt by the comparison, but on a game where (say) 48,336 people buy tickets the Yankees would’ve reported 85% attendance last year and 92% this year, but they can accommodate them all either way. (Of course this is assuming people would be willing to take any marginal seat, ie not choosing to do something else with their money rather than take the last worst seat in the stadium). The new stadium is ~8% smaller than the old one, but so far their attendance is down about twice that.

    (I don’t know the breakdown of the ticket prices in old vs new, much less how the attendance is distributed, so it’s impossible to know if they’re still earning more revenue despite the lower attendance. My guess would be no.)

    Haha this Putz trade is working out to be amazing for the Mariners!
    Looks like his elbow is still jacked up!

    Schadenfreude is fine, especially because trades always seemed to work out the other way in the past for the M’s, but really we want trades to work out well for both teams. We don’t want Zduriencik to get a reputation as the guy who always snookers other GMs or sells goods that turn out to be damaged (despite the due diligence of the other team) or no one will want to trade with him (or will be unrealistic about what they want in return). Unless the Mets show up to face the M’s in the World Series, it would be perfectly fine if Putz worked out really well for them, because the other half of the trade worked out really well for the M’s. And frankly, if the Mets showed up to face the M’s in the World Series… it would be the freaking World Series, and I couldn’t care less who they have as their 8th inning setup guy.

  10. Dave on June 4th, 2009 5:49 pm

    Huh? LaPorta was well ahead of Gamel; not sure what you’re referring to here. He was the Brewers #1 ’spect at the time of that trade, if I recall.

    Not really, no. The Brewers basically told everyone last summer that they weren’t trading Escobar, Gamel, Jeffress, or Salome. LaPorta was the guy they were shopping for a roster upgrade, because he didn’t really fit on their roster anywhere.

  11. joser on June 4th, 2009 5:59 pm

    Dave, do you think Morrow can fix his problems while working out of the bullpen with the M’s? Or would it make more sense to send him down to Tacoma to find / regain confidence in his other pitches?

    And assuming he does get it together, you’ve got two pretty interchangable guys in Aardsma and Morrow. Now I like having a solid (albeit lucky) 8th-inning guy who can be a back-up closer, and I know we all wish Morrow will suddenly discover he wants to be a starter again, but…. is there a chance Zduriencik looks at this situation as an opportunity to do Putz Trade 2.0?

  12. The Hamms Bear on June 4th, 2009 6:12 pm

    “Has Bedard, Washburn, or Beltre publicly stated their intentions once their free agency hits? Do either one of them want to stay in Seattle?”

    Players generally don’t talk about wanting to play for a specific club (or even in a specific region) unless they’re at the end of their careers because it can affect the way teams view them in free agency. You want as many teams as possible to be interested so you can get the most lucrative deal from the team you really want to play for. There are no hometown discounts.

  13. msb on June 4th, 2009 8:36 pm

    FWIW, Bedard said this afternoon that he loves the team and would be interested in staying if it worked out

  14. LB on June 4th, 2009 10:35 pm

    > he loves the team and would be interested in staying if it worked out

    And my guess is that it will work out as long as the M’s make him the best offer when he is a free agent.

    A-Rod made similar noises in his contract year with Seattle. It costs a player nothing to say nice things to the local fans.

  15. LB on June 4th, 2009 10:37 pm

    (Note to self: examine the markup codes; don’t trust the nifty buttons to do a perfect job with the tags.)

  16. SonOfZavaras on June 4th, 2009 10:39 pm

    This isn’t a playoff caliber team with Betancourt and Lopez playing SS-2B. One (or both) need to be replaced, preferably by a left-handed hitter.

    I vote both. There was a time I was a fairly strong proponent of Lopez.

    But, now? He’s my vote for “most likely major-league regular at age 25 to be out of pro baseball by age 30”.

    Put it this way: Prince Fielder’s 280+ pounds will have a longer career than “Ol’ Joey Clutch”. I’m willing to bet on it.

    I’ve now also become certain that making the All-Star team in his rookie year was just about the worst thing that could’ve happened to Lopez.

    He took it as a sign that he’d arrived, and didn’t have to do anything else to get better.

    I’ve never been a Betancourt believer, even when the org subverted two or three prospects off of shortstop because he was around.

    Time to wipe the slate clean. Get them out of here.

  17. TranquilPsychosis on June 4th, 2009 10:45 pm

    because there’s a chance it might curtail some of the moronic “we can trade our garbage for everybody’s allstars” comments (here and in general). Probably not, but it’s worth a shot

    Hell, if it works as well as you mention, joser, I’ll pay royalties.

  18. TranquilPsychosis on June 4th, 2009 11:06 pm

    (Note to self: examine the markup codes; don’t trust the nifty buttons to do a perfect job with the tags.)

    Shiny (nifty) buttons are exactly what they look like. If you want it done “perfectly” have your wife do it.

  19. dingla on June 5th, 2009 3:50 am

    trade Griffey! Get boom boom back! (thats my unintelligable post for the moment, or not, ha!)

  20. GarForever on June 5th, 2009 7:08 am

    If the M’s were going to resign, Bedard, Washburn or Beltre, at what time would we expect to see them resign?

    In Beltre’s case, it almost certainly wouldn’t be before the end of the season. He’s a Boras client, and under normal circumstances Boras doesn’t seriously entertain extension offers for one of his premier clients, preferring to have them test the open market. Then, and only then, if the current team chooses to win the bidding war, does a Boras client typically re-sign.

    For FOB (“fans of Beltre”) this could, however, be good news. The open market this season might not be so hot for free agents, especially ones who may have been seen around baseball, fairly or unfairly, as “busts” or disappointments on in their previous mega-contract. Beltre has been quite good; Bavasi and Co. paid him like 2004 was the Beltre that would play here; I think those of us who were more realistic thought we were getting the Beltre who had played for the Dodgers through 2003. Boras may find that the open market for Beltre will yield a contract far below what he made this past deal, and if the M’s want him, he may be cheaper this time around.

    I emphasize “may,” since most of the teams who will probably see themselves as serious contenders in 2010 AND have stupid money to spend are generally set at 3B. The White Sox will try to convert Gordon Beckham to 3B as their Josh Fields (the guy who was supposed to replace Joe Crede) looks increasingly like a AAAA washout. The Yankees, as I recall, have committed a ton of money to their current 3B, and the Red Sox have Lowell for at least another year, I believe. The Cardinals will surely address their 3B issue, and soon, and it looks like the Phillies are starting to consider Pedro Feliz more of an answer than a question. The Dodgers have Blake, the Cubs have Ramirez, the Mets have Wright. This means the only team with a lot of money to spend that might want a 3B like Beltre would be the Angels.

    If Beltre could be had at a “bargain,” I would much rather have him back then see him go to a division rival, especially since I am of the opinion that if “Matt Tuiasasopo” is the answer, then someone’s asking the wrong question.

    But if Beltre’s back, it won’t be until the offseason.

  21. brian_sun on June 5th, 2009 9:23 am

    Beltre is an interesting case. He’s not going to be a type A FA even if he contributes 2.3W the rest of the year. So maybe the team doesn’t offer him arbitration. The way he’s hitting this season, he’d most likely accept arbitration if offered, and hope to have a better 2010 season offensively, and the economy improves. I just don’t see him going out there and get a 3 or 4 year deal in this economy. Joe Crede signed a one year 2.5M contract this year with the Twins. I am not saying Beltre isn’t better than Crede, but he’s going to have to settle for far less than what he’s making this year.

    I would say just let him test the market, and if some other team is willing to pay him $10M+ for 3 or 4 years, you wish him good luck. But I just don’t see it. But if all he could get in the open market is a $5M or $6M a year deal, I think it’s prudent to bring him back by being the highest bidder. I would throw $7.5M/year for 2 years for Beltre and see if he takes it in this off season. I would not offer him arbitration.

  22. brian_sun on June 5th, 2009 9:38 am

    But an interesting question is regarding Branyan. Given his record before this season, I doubt teams will offer much in terms of prospect to trade for him. He had 2 great months, and if he regresses to a +1 win player, he’d still be pretty valuable to the M’s, but not that much in trade.

    So what do we do with Branyan this off season? I don’t see the team gives Tui, Carp, Moore, Saunders and Clement the 3B, 1B, C, LF and DH job all at once in 2010. And you still have the 2B / SS problem un-solved. Russell is also much more likely to outperform Carp in 1B next year. I think even if Branyan reverts back to a +2W player in 2010, the M’s should try to re-sign him. I am not sure if Branyan will take $6.5M/year for 2 years. That’s basically how much we paid Vidro for his “service”. No one is going to give Russell Richie Sexson money this off season. I think it’s prudent for the M’s to keep Branyan in 2010. Even if he reverts back to a 830 OPS 1B, that’s still pretty valuable for 6.5M/year.

  23. Mike Snow on June 5th, 2009 10:12 am

    I would throw $7.5M/year for 2 years for Beltre and see if he takes it in this off season

    This is even more of a fantasyland than some of the highway robbery trades that get suggested in the comments. It’s also simply impossible under the CBA. The Mariners can’t offer Beltre a contract for less than 80% of his salary and bonuses this year, so the absolute floor is about $10 million, I believe.

  24. marc w on June 5th, 2009 10:19 am

    “LaPorta was the guy they were shopping for a roster upgrade, because he didn’t really fit on their roster anywhere.”

    Well, there’s the Brewers plans for him and then there’s his overall value. There’s just no way to rank Gamel ahead of LaPorta in 2008. I believe you when you say that the Brewers really didn’t want to move Gamel, but I think it’s insane to think that Gamel would’ve garnered more in trade. The Indians would never have made the trade if you swapped out LaPorta and put in Gamel.
    This is getting nerdy, and arguing trade counterfactuals is perhaps one step above arguing about trades that will never happen….

  25. arbeck on June 5th, 2009 10:20 am

    Mike Snow,

    Is there something about the CBA I’m not aware of? You could offer Beltre a 2 year contract worth 15M (plus some incentives probably) and it would be kosher. He’d be free to turn it down.

    What they can’t do is offer him that kind of salary in an arbitration case.

    I’m not suggesting offering Beltre a lowball extension is a good idea. I just don’t see how it’s impossible (unless there is a part of the CBA I don’t understand, and since I’m not a labor lawyer, that is possible).

  26. Mike Snow on June 5th, 2009 10:34 am

    No, my mistake in mixing up the part about offering Beltre arbitration and trying to sign him as a free agent. You’re right that the maximum salary cut doesn’t apply in free agency, I was thinking as if it still covered free agents resigning with their current team.

    Still, I can’t imagine Beltre signing for something below the maximum cut limit. He should also be able to get more than two years if he wants, he’s been plenty durable.

  27. eponymous coward on June 5th, 2009 1:37 pm

    I would be surprised if Beltre got less than 3-4 years at 10 million per, even with a crappy year in 2009, and if the M’s could sign him for that, I’d be all over it. A 3-4 WAR player at that price, from ages 31-to mid-30’s? Sold, even with his issues (wrong kind of hitter for Safeco, thinks strike zone is any pitch thrown in general direction of corner of 1st Ave S and Edgar Martinez Dr.).

    His 5/75 deal, by the way, doesn’t pencil out as a bad deal for the team, even adding in his crappy 2005/2009. It’s about what you should pay for his caliber of player. Say what you want about Bill Bavasi (and you can say a lot of things bad about him without much argument from me), but Beltre is easily his most defensible acquisition, at the time the decision was made as well as in hindsight.

  28. Lixjgrib on June 6th, 2009 8:36 pm

    Great article, but I think the assumptions of returning to the mean are too strong. At one third of the way into the season, it seems more likely that Washburn and Ichiro are going to have stellar years. No reason to doubt it, as every player has one more more career years. Here’s why I disagree with regard to those two:

    Washburn has added to has made significant changes coming into this year, and it can be said that his early performance is validating an actual core improvement. He is a new pitcher. And aside from stats, we see that the physics of his pitches are different.

    Ichiro, well, hell, he just broke his own career high hitting streak, and could ‘decide’ to hit 400 or 40 homers for the rest of the season. Seriously, while May is his best month career wise, he has even exceeded that:

    Career: .365 .412 .470 .883
    200905: .377 .417 .515 .933

    April too, his worst career month at 295, was better this year at 306.

    So, if he follows his own career curve, staying at about 12 points above it, as he is now, we’re looking at a 340+ hitter for the season.

    Just my thoughts.

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