The 2010 Team, Quantified
After the first trade last week, I put up a post looking at the projected 2010 roster, given players under team control for next year, and the amount of payroll it would cost to put that team together. Based on that projection, we saw that the M’s would have to spend around $78 million or so to field that particular roster, which would give them a little less than $20 million to play with this winter, assuming the budget holds something close to constant.
One thing we didn’t get into that much was just how good that team would be – it certainly looks unimpressive on paper, after all. And today, Art Thiel put in his two cents on the matter, essentially laying out his reasons for why next year’s team may be worse than the current version.
I think he’s wrong, and here’s why – the continuing reliance on cliched definitions of certain types of players significantly underrates the kind of team the Mariners have built. You know the lingo by now – “big bat”, “innings eater”, “proven commodity”, “solid performer” – this is how baseball players are still described in some circles. I’m not trying to pick on Thiel here, whose work I genuinely like, but sentences like this one…
The upside is intriguing. But after Hernandez, the group also could end up being just a bunch of back-of-the-rotation guys.
… would also describe the Philadelphia Phillies rotation last year (Hamels and fluff), and they won the World Series. These vague categorizations of contributions often do more to hide the actual value of players than reveal it.
So, let’s get away from cliches, and actually look at what the 2010 Mariners, as currently assembled, can actually contribute, based on some back-of-the-envelope projections of the guys that the team already has.
That roster adds up to something like +29 wins above replacement, and remember, a replacement level team would be expected to win ~50 games over a full season. So, as hard as it may be to believe based on cliches about their player types, that team would project out to something like a 79-83 club, despite the fact that its filled with “back end starters”, “unproven youngsters”, and a bunch of “glove-first” position players.
You can quibble with some of the projections if you want, but not enough to get below ~75 wins. That’s really the floor of what you’d be looking at for a projection for the 2010 Mariners, as they stand right now, if you were fairly pessimistic about the talent currently in the organization.
And remember, we’ve already noted that the M’s should have about $15 to $20 million to spend on new player acquisitions this winter. The going rate for wins in free agency is between $4-$5 million per win, so even if Jack wasn’t a GM good at finding undervalued assets for pennies on the dollar, the room in the budget should be good for another 3-5 wins.
For instance, the M’s have the cash to bring back Beltre and Branyan, which would make Hannahan a quality reserve and put Nelson back in Tacoma. That’s probably a +4 win upgrade, just by bringing back those two. That 79 win team would then be an 83 win team, and that’s if those were the only moves the M’s made all winter. What if the M’s were able to squeeze a guy like Jim Thome or Carlos Delgado in along with Beltre/Branyan? Now, you’re looking at something more like an 85 win team.
As long as the M’s don’t take the $20 million or so they’ll have available this winter and light it on fire, the expectation for 2010 should be that the Mariners will be a better than .500 club. If you think the organization is capable of improving the roster by making moves that help the team without really increasing the payroll as well (like they did with Aardsma/Gutierrez/Branyan last winter), then you’re probably looking at a potential 87 or 88 win team.
In other words, the 2010 Mariners have a very real chance of being a contending club. It isn’t a finished product, but the idea that the team can’t win because Silva and Johjima are on the books for $20 million next year is a fallacy. Yes, Bill Bavasi left the organization in bad shape… but Zduriencik and crew have done astonishingly good work in picking up the pieces and putting the M’s back on the path to winning baseball.
They’re further down that path than folks like Thiel realize. The 2009 Mariners are okay – the 2010 Mariners should be even better.