The value of showing up

DMZ · July 4, 2009 at 10:39 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

“[Napoleon] had a two-part plan.”
“What was it?”
“First was show up. We’ll see what happens.”
“That was his plan.”
“Against the Russian army.”
“First we show up, then we see what happens.”
“Almost hard to believe he lost.”

— another Sports Night quote

The M’s are going to make like Napolean. And if they lose, it’ll still be the right play.

No matter the outcome tomorrow morning they’ll have pulled a win out of this road trip by staying in contention while playing the Yankees and Red Sox. In the last week, their playoff chances have dramatically improved. Looking at the AL East, it’s pretty clear the division title’s going to be the only way into the post-season dance, but the division title requires them to climb over two teams.

Dave’s talked a little in recent weeks about players the team can target (like Langerhans!) to improve their chances, and I want to take a little larger view here. With two teams at 43 wins already, for the M’s to take the pennant they’re going to need to bank 90 wins. There’s a chance at 85, sure. If the team does nothing, they can still luck into it. All they have to do is stay close. With Beltre out, though, their chance is probably 10%. To stay in the middle of the fray, and be able to take advantage of any opportunities if the other teams stumble, they will have to make some pickups before the trade deadline.

The great thing about the M’s as currently built is we can see how you get there.

Two things they have to do:

They need a shortstop. Gambling on a miraculous appearance of super-Yuni won’t do it. Dave suggested Jack Wilson, Nick Punto, and Reid Brignac in this post. Put someone average in there and you get another win at least in the second half. Put someone good in there… oh yeah.

They need a third baseman. I’m not betting on Beltre’s return this year, and crossing my fingers and wishing really hard isn’t going to help. I’m still all wished out on the illusory 2007 run at contention. If you’re willing to take a below-average glove, you go after the last year of Aubrey Huff’s deal, or see how far in the doghouse Garrett Atkins is. Or check pre-season USSM-suggested gamble Andy Marte, currently hitting .323/.363/.543 in Columbus) (and that I’m even throwing these out there is a measure of how wince-inducing this problem is).

And the problem here is if you’re trying to improve the team, you have to get to Beltre production to stay even. Which means they need to patch here and improve elsewhere.

How much do these upgrades cost? In some of these, taking on salary might make the cost in young talent much less. Jack Wilson’s being paid $7m this year, and while the team’s got a 2010 option, the Pirates are in last place (and making bad trades). Huff’s $8m in payroll. Atkins is on a one-year arbitration-avoiding deal for $7m. The M’s are still drawing, though not as well. Proving they’re in contention, particularly that they’re turning this thing around, might be hugely valuable in keeping the season ticket sales up for next year, when they can put back-to-back years together and show this isn’t a 2007-style luck-fest. It might make it worth trying even if they don’t make it into the playoffs, which is like hitting the jackpot.

And as Dave’s suggested, trading off Bedard or Washburn could hugely improve the team now and help not give up the players who might help contend in two or three years.

Then we have less-pressing needs. Jose Lopez isn’t helping, but finding an upgrade there may be too costly. They desperately need a right-handed DH platoon for Griffey, preferably one that can hit a little, because Sweeney has done nothing all year to give anyone reason to believe he can still play. You can fix that with Chris Shelton, or any number of other candidates. Sweeney’s by all accounts a great guy, but character’s not hitting and the offense sucks. If you can upgrade on Griffey, that’d be nice too, but he’s way down on the priority list.

The offense needs it. They’re not going to win a pennant with a .316 on-base percentage. And neither is Texas at .317. The AL average offense so far is scoring 4.8 runs a game and the M’s are at 4. The LAAoA are scoring over five. Even considering Safeco’s park effects, that’s too much. It’s almost like the M’s are spotting the other team a runner on third for the start of every game, all year long.

What’s particularly good about this is none of the holes they have to plug are hard to confront. It’s not like telling Ichiro! he can’t play any more, and Yuni and Lopez don’t have such large contracts there’ll be pressure to keep them out there.

So let’s say in July they find an average third baseman somewhere, an average shortstop, and a decent RH bat. The offense gets a little better, the defense gets a little better (swapping Beltre for an average glove, Yuni for an average glove), and the cost shouldn’t be too dear.

That’s showing up. Patch a couple holes, gut it out.

If they seriously want to make a push and target the division, the team has to get a lot better than even that. They need a good third baseman, a good shortstop, a good second baseman, a big DH upgrade, and they might look at a catcher. At the same time they’ll probably need to upgrade the starting rotation at least in one spot.

And the price tag there is potentially huge. We can argue about who you can throw in at each positions who might be adequate, but the list of players who can make enough of a difference in a half-season is a lot smaller, and most of those aren’t available at any reasonable cost. You can get Langerhans for Mike Morse, but David Wright doesn’t come for a hundred of them.

The team’s finally setting up for a long run at contention and this season’s success is only the first fruit. I’d love to see them get into the playoffs, but I’d much rather watch the team exercise patience, continue to improve, and make a legitimate run at a World Series win in the future. This year, I’m all for paying a small price to stay in this, rather than make the kind of mistakes we’ve seen the franchise make lately in chasing contention at so high a cost. And staying in it might prove enough.


30 Responses to “The value of showing up”

  1. Willmore2000 on July 4th, 2009 11:01 pm

    Just today was I thinking of re-watching Sports Night. What a great show. Can’t wait for Sorkin to get back to TV writing.

  2. rossroscoe on July 4th, 2009 11:25 pm

    Would Josh Fields be available. He is seeing alot of pine recently

  3. RedWave on July 4th, 2009 11:26 pm

    Sports Night was so groundbreaking that the writers even came up with an original spelling of Napoleon’s name.

  4. juneau_fan on July 4th, 2009 11:32 pm

    Should they go after a permanent solution at third, since the assumption is that Beltre’s not coming back?

  5. Kazinski on July 4th, 2009 11:53 pm

    There isn’t a permanant solution available out there at third. The best your going to get on the market is from teams looking to dump salary. We just don’t have the prospects out there available to trade for somebody decent. And we have holes that we need to fill next season at 1b, SS, 3B, and starting pitching.

    The outfield is the best shape its been in since we had Cameron, Winn and Ichiro. Hopefully Saunders is ready next season, and Langerhans will be the 4th outfielder.

  6. Jeff Nye on July 5th, 2009 12:16 am

    I think there are permanent solutions available at third; we’ve been spoiled by Beltre the last few years but I think we could find a solid player to swap in there. I’m not sold on Tuiasasopo even though the organization is supposedly high on him.

    I’m still hoping we find a way to bring Beltre back, but I don’t think we should count on it.

  7. mac1 on July 5th, 2009 1:39 am

    Does trading Washburn – and maybe a draft pick and cash kicker – for Willy Aybar work? Will it take Bedard to get Aybar? Aybar then fills in at third and goes to short or second when Beltre gets back. Am I clueless?

  8. zvazda on July 5th, 2009 2:02 am

    Derek has sealed his place in my heart, for mentioning Sports Night. If tomorrow, he mentions Firefly, he will achieve Godhood.

  9. mln on July 5th, 2009 4:19 am

    Who would of thought that the Mariners would have a winning record from this road trip or even have a chance to sweep Mean Little Squirrel’s team.

  10. Breadbaker on July 5th, 2009 5:11 am

    Ackley’s got a lot of weight on his shoulders and he isn’t even signed.

  11. bilbo27 on July 5th, 2009 5:14 am

    Anybody know how Figgins is defensively at third? I know he’s not available this year, but he is a free agent coming up and supposedly the Angels aren’t looking to re-sign him. His offensive numbers and base stealing certainly make him look good if nothing else. Ichiro hitting leadoff and him hitting second would make for a great 1-2 punch next year. The fact that he’s a switch hitter is also a plus.

  12. GarForever on July 5th, 2009 6:05 am

    Unless something has changed I’m not aware of, MLB teams can’t trade draft picks, mac1.

    As for Figgins, his season-by-season UZR/150 at 3B suggests he is an inconsistent defender at best. Good in ’04 and ’05, awful in ’06 (10 E in 34 games at third), marginally bad in ’07, good again last year (13.8 UZR/150 in 105 games, his largest sample size at the position to date), this year so far…meh. Here’s the other thing: with Beltre’s injury, guess who stands to move up right to the edge of Type A free agent status: that’s right, the guy right behind him in the latest “rankings,” Figgins. So not only is free agency one of the most expensive and least efficient ways to acquire talent, in this case we’d almost surely overpay in both dollars and draft picks for a slap-hitting guy with speed who’s a question mark in the field, and overpay dearly if he finishes the season strong. If we desperately needed a legitimate lead-off hitter, maybe, but as things stand? No, thanks.

    As for the “other” Josh Fields. I am a Mariners fan in exile, living in the shadow of Chicago, and I can tell you there is a reason he’s riding the pine: the White Sox have had pretty much had it with him, and rightly so. He’s got a .683 OPS with a 32% K rate and is a butcher in the field to boot (pun intended). His response to all of this? To whine constantly when the Sox decided they’d seen enough of his poor performance on both sides of the ball, with a Betancourtesque refrain about how he felt he was doing enough to keep his job.

    I’ve said all along that I think if the answer is Matt Tuiasasopo, then you’re asking the wrong question. But there don’t seem to be particularly better options out there for the future, other than trying to re-sign Beltre (which I don’t think will happen, unfortunately). This doesn’t solve our problem for this year, and I still think the suggestion the other day about moving Lopez to 3B and finding a 2B might be the better route for the short term.

  13. bilbo27 on July 5th, 2009 6:42 am

    Given Yuni’s strong arm and limited range, wouldn’t it make just as much sense this year to have him play third and leave Lopez at second where he’s more comfortable? It seems to me Yuni might be better defensively at third than Lopez. Though I suppose Yuni may well also be better at second defensively over Lopez (not hard to do, i know). Any thoughts on this?

  14. rsrobinson on July 5th, 2009 6:54 am

    The Braves are allegedly shopping Yunel Escobar. What do you guys think of him at SS and do the M’s have any pieces the Braves would be interested in?

  15. justinh on July 5th, 2009 7:32 am

    TY WIGGINGTON – An easy pick-up and puts up good numbers and can play anywhere. I would also LOVE to pickup Luke Scott, but it will take a bit.

  16. sugar2323 on July 5th, 2009 7:34 am

    what about Ryan Freel? He just got DFA’d by Cubs.

    Plays solid defense at third, has shown some patience at the plate and brings some more speed to the lineup. Would either come for free or really cheap.

  17. Scottdids on July 5th, 2009 8:00 am

    Wigginton is a guy I’d target for sure, you could use him at 1B-3B-LF as necessary, and even the middle infield in a pinch. From what I recall, he’s a guy who does well in the 2nd half too. I say that without any stats to back that up, just off memory.

    What it would take to get Wigginton, I’m not too sure.

  18. pumpkinhead on July 5th, 2009 8:09 am

    Hmmm… If you’re referring to the French military leader, I’m pretty sure it’s Napoleon.

  19. pumpkinhead on July 5th, 2009 8:22 am

    I think it’s hard for most fans to see the cost is probably too high for an all-out campaign for post-season success, but it’s hard to watch October baseball without the M’s for yet another year.

    It’s a fine line between keeping your organization strong for the future, and going all-in in the hopes you’ll end with a bang. Hopefully the M’s can find a way to both fight for contention and not give up strong building blocks for the next few seasons to come. Here’s for optimism, woo!

  20. msb on July 5th, 2009 8:46 am

    hhhhm. napoleons. delicious.

    has it really been a decade since Sports night? I have got to re-watch that show.

  21. JMHawkins on July 5th, 2009 8:57 am

    Contention or not, the M’s still have three players on their 40-man that they have to make decisions about who could bring something useful in a trade: Clement, Washburn and Bedard. And Yuni might attract some interest from teams that haven’t been paying attention (Pittsburgh?).

    The possible returns for Bedard + Yuni or Washburn + Clement trade could be good short and long-term deals.

    Plus, I mean, geez, are we going to let the rest of league pilfer Pittsburgh without getting any loot ourselves?

  22. Jake N. on July 5th, 2009 2:08 pm

    I am shooting in the dark here. What would be the likelyhood of getting Teahen from the Royals? He is a left handed bat with Average defense at 3rd. The Royals seemed to be out of the race and have spent alot of money in the last couple of years. Could they be looking for a little relief?

  23. rightwingrick on July 5th, 2009 3:51 pm

    Waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many holes. This team may be a contender for a weak division title (maybe), but to go much farther…..hardly.

    I think we should be sellers at the trade deadline, and let Jack work his obvious magic. Guys like Washburn and Batista are very tradeable with current stats, and it also sounds like Balentein is now a trade commodity (I still think he’ll play somewhere and do well…just probably not here). Betancourt is also on the block, I suspect. He might be good when he’s 28-30 and finally figures it out.

  24. DMZ on July 5th, 2009 5:29 pm

    Batista? Really? If Batista was that tradeable he’d be gone already and the payroll space filled.

  25. heyoka on July 5th, 2009 7:37 pm

    ESPN just sensationalized a Braun quote about the Brewers needing starting pitching. Washburn for somebody? Throw in Yuni?

  26. diderot on July 5th, 2009 11:44 pm

    Sweeney’s by all accounts a great guy, but character’s not hitting and the offense sucks. If you can upgrade on Griffey, that’d be nice too, but he’s way down on the priority list.

    I have to admit I’m baffled by this. If the first sentence is true about Sweeney, why is it not also true about Griffey?

    Two platoon splits:

    Player A: 414/578/992
    Player B: 310/318/628

    Player A is Sexson last year against lefties. B is Junior this year versus righties.

    Can’t we stop pretending and have an honest conversation about why the biggest offensive shortcoming on this team (and easiest upgrade) is DH–everyone at DH?

  27. DMZ on July 6th, 2009 12:26 am

    Because it’s not. It’s Yuni. Really, it is.

  28. diderot on July 6th, 2009 8:24 am

    My point is that the ‘fix’ for DH is seemingly a lot easier than the one for shortstop–otherwise Jack already would have fixed shortstop.

    The issue at DH, of course, is the sentimental attachment to Griffey, nowhere more in evidence than among our broadcasters. So we can dip down to Tacoma and grab Clement or Carp and pretty much eliminate any downside impact…while creating a lot more potential upside. In other words, there’s no guarantee it will get a lot better with them…but it really can’t get much worse.

    So, I understand the ability of Griffey to sell tickets and jerseys, and that’s fine. But before we get too much deeper into the ‘go for it’ argument, I would just suggest we realize that we can have Griffey/Sweeney, or we can try to maximize production, but we can’t have both.

  29. eponymous coward on July 6th, 2009 9:35 am

    The thing is that Griffey’s just not that terrible. He’s a ~.330 wOBA player. Fangraphs has ZiPS projecting Shelton at being around that level (well, at least Fangraphs DID for Shelton, before the season- I recall him, Griffey and Branyan being around .330-.340), and Carp somewhat below it (in the low .320s).

    Yuni, on the other hand, is just awful- BELOW replacement-level, and a complete boat anchor on offense and defense.

    And as for “can’t get much worse”, let’s see- Jose Lopez in 2004-2005, Wlad in 2008-2009, and Jeff Clement in 2008 all spent significant time being disasters on offense after doing well in Tacoma. It’s not unusual at all for a player to hit something like .200/.250/.300 in their first 300 PAs in the majors- which would be a decline in performance from Griffey, and would be a big problem during a pennant race.

    This isn’t to say you shouldn’t improve the team at DH if the opportunity comes along, but it isn’t the biggest problem on the team, nor is it the easiest upgrade (defense counts on upgrades, too).

  30. Jake N. on July 6th, 2009 9:42 am

    It would be nice to dream this team into the trade market, but what do we really have to offer at this point. We have a few nice prospects. I just cannot see Jak sending Aumont anywhere at this point. Could the Mariners get anything for a mid level pitcher like Seddon at Tacoma. Trading Seddon, Clement and Yuni for Scutaro from Toronto?

    The only way I see the Mariners getting better via trade is to take on a contract. There are quite a few teams like Toronto and Kansas City that have really hung it out there lately. The question is, will they lossen up come next week? Also would Jak be willing to take on that cost? We all saw What he turned Putz into. Could the Lottery hit twice?

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