Happy Halloween, everyone. Itâ€™s that one day of the year when ghosts and spooks of all kinds start coming out of the woodworks. The Mariners, in anticipation of that, have brought back a ghost of seasons past to fill out their third base coach position, hiring Mike Brumley, who played sixty-two games for the Mâ€™s back in 1990, most of them at short. Geoff Baker caught up with Wak to get some quotes on Brumley , praising his coaching experience in all things fielding and base stealing. Brumley had previously been the minor league field coordinator for the Dodgers.
Other odds and ends from the past few days:
â€¢ Franklin Gutierrez, Jack Wilson and Ichiro! all took home top honors for their positions in the 2009 Fielding Bible Awards
â€¢ Former minor league pitching coordinator Dave Wallace has accepted a job with the Braves, which will move him closer to home.
â€¢ Michael Saunders, who has been playing for the Cardenales de Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League, has sprained his ankle, trying to play on it again after tweaking it earlier in the week. The injury isnâ€™t that severe though. Saunders had been hitting .364/.432/.606 in nine games so far, which would be great if not for the fact that heâ€™s also struck out twelve times.
The M’s made some procedural moves today. Bryan LaHair, Cesar Jimenez, Marwin Vega, and Randy Messenger were outrighted to Triple-A, getting them off the 40 man roster. The M’s attempted to outright Justin Thomas as well, but Pittsburgh claimed him on waivers, so he’s now property of the Pirates.
No big news here. None of these guys are major leaguers, most likely – Thomas had a chance but injuries have taken a toll on him, and his 2009 season was downright miserable. LaHair and Jimenez have been around forever and still aren’t any good.
Since Kenji decided to head back to Japan, one of the things that Jack said to the media afterwards has gained a decent amount of attention, is that this creates a hole where they’re probably going to have to bring in a veteran catcher this winter. To some more traditional writers, the thought of breaking camp next year with a catching tandem of a rookie and a second year guy is unthinkable. However, I’d suggest that the Mariners would love to do just that.
The M’s are going to bring a veteran catcher to spring training next year, certainly. But they don’t want him to make the team, and that’s why it’s far more likely that they’ll sign a guy to a minor league deal late in the winter than that they’ll give guaranteed money and a promise of a job to a free agent backstop. While it’s true that Johnson and Moore don’t have a lot of major league experience, they aren’t kids, either.
Rob Johnson is 27-years-old – older than Franklin Gutierrez. Adam Moore will turn 26 next May, so in baseball terms, he’s basically the same age as Jose Lopez. For young players, these two are really old. Describing them in terms of their major league experience doesn’t paint an accurate portrait of the amount of time they’ve spent learning the game and developing in the minor leagues.
If you’ve been around the M’s front office at all, you know how much they think of Moore. If you listened to the M’s coaching staff or the pitchers on the team this year, you know how much they all think of of Johnson. The M’s would love to be able to break camp with the pair as their catching combo next year, and they wouldn’t give a second thought to the lack of an experienced veteran. Johnson’s off-season surgeries and just general wisdom mean that the team won’t come to camp without an option in case either of them prove not to be ready for opening day, but the Mariners aren’t going to expend resources to put themselves back into a position where they can’t go with a Moore/Johnson combo if they want to.
Losing Johjima was a gift, and they know it, even if they won’t say so publicly. They’re not going to put themselves back in a similar spot where their catcher of the future or Felix’s personal caddy has to head back to Tacoma because they gave an older guy guaranteed money. Zduriencik saying that he’s going to have to “bring in a veteran” is not the same thing as bringing in someone to take one of their jobs.
So, don’t expect the M’s to make a run at any of the catchers that most fans have ever heard of. They’re not going to be in on Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Kendall, or Jason Varitek. They’re probably not even going to talk to guys like Gregg Zaun or Mike Redmond. Instead, expect the M’s to bring a Jamie Burke type (though probably not Burke himself) to spring training on a non-roster invite. They’ll have a veteran catcher in camp, but in the best case scenario, they’ll be cutting that guy in March. They don’t want him to make the team.
As was already rumored from the moment he opted out, Kenji Johjima is signing with the Hanshin Tigers. It’s reportedly a 4-year deal for $21 million. So that’s more money than he’s giving up by opting out of his contract (more years too, obviously). We can speculate all we want about some quiet backroom payment, but the public stance that the Mariners paid no buyout is consistent with this, which pretty much shows none was needed.
And really, if Kenji was going to be a free agent again, in either the Japanese or American markets, he was probably better off doing it now than in two years when his extension finally ran out, with his body breaking down and performance declining even more precipitously. It’s also an indication of just how impressive his career has been that someone’s still willing to pay him this kind of money. How many catchers can you think of that signed two different multiyear, multimillion-dollar free agent contracts, let alone with a multiyear, multimillion-dollar extension in between? Okay, so he only played one year under the extension, but consider also that coming from Japan, he had to wait nine years for free agency.
For us, the extension was awful and its timing even worse, but we should remember what a bargain his initial contract was. The salary was about the same as his Hanshin contract, and if the terms of his extension had been along the same lines, well it’s still a bad idea to hitch yourself to an aging catcher, but it wouldn’t have been quite as horrible.
Okay, you’ve seen my plan for the kind of off-season I’d like to see the M’s have. As a follow-up, I usually post a “What I Think The Team Will Do”, where I speculate on the types of moves that I expect the Mariners to actually make. I spent hours trying to do that post, and you know what – I don’t have any idea. I really don’t know what to expect.
There are just so many ways the team could go. Negotiations with Felix could break down and they could decide to trade him, which would lead to several different options; try to get a package that includes another team’s young star, deal him for a couple of major league ready guys who haven’t established themselves yet, or ship him off for a bushel of prospects that will hopefully be ready in a couple of years. I don’t think they’ll do the latter, but the first two are possibilities.
As we’ve talked about, a Felix trade has ramifications for the rest of the roster as well. The players coming back are going to fill positions, though there’s no way to know which players the M’s could get until the offers emerge. It also signals that you’re probably building for 2011 and beyond, and that makes signing free agents who may want to win significantly harder. At that point, the incentives for playing kids like Mike Carp and Michael Saunders go up, so the team is less likely to pursue minor upgrades at the major league level. On the other hand, dealing Felix also saves the team a pretty significant amount of money, giving them the option to be aggressive in acquiring a higher priced player who may be willing to wait for 2011 for real contention. So, while the team would probably avoid moderate upgrades that displaced young talent, they may be more aggressive in going after an expensive premium player to replace Felix.
Then, there’s the scenarios where they keep Felix, which vary significantly as well. The team could take a conservative path, making small changes to a roster that returns enough players to not be horrible and judge the development of Morrow, Saunders, Moore, and Tui as the season goes along. They could take a more aggressive approach, giving the kids a little more Triple-A seasoning while bringing in several quality players as placeholders in an attempt to make a playoff run next year. They could do a hybrid of both, which is the direction that I suggested they lean towards, and upgrade certain roster spots while also giving a couple of the young players a chance to prove themselves.
All of those overall strategies have a multitude of different routes as well. The team could trade Lopez, give Tui a shot at second base, and bring in a third baseman. They could keep Lopez and use Tui at third. They could keep Lopez and send Tui back to Tacoma for some more polishing. They could trade them both, re-sign Beltre, and bring in a veteran second baseman with a better glove. Saunders could be the starting left fielder for the Mariners or the Rainiers, or he could be traded in a deal to bring in a young player at another position while a new placeholder keeps the seat warm for Dustin Ackley. They could sign a high risk, injury prone pitcher and hope to strike gold, or they could trade a couple of pitchers away in an effort to improve the offense.
In the end, pretty much anything is possible outside of Ichiro getting traded. When you look at the current 40 man roster, I’d be comfortable with saying that approximately 5-10 of those guys will certainly be here in March. The other 30-35? No idea.
There are just so many ways the team could go that the off-season is essentially unpredictable. I know people love to speculate about what the team is going to do, but in reality, there’s just no way to know. We’re just going to have to wait and see what Z and the gang have up their sleeves.
It’s back again – the annual winter tradition where I speculate on some potential moves the M’s could make and put together my own roster for next year. I try to be as realistic as possible, so I’m sticking to a $95 million budget and hopefully get in the realm of possibility with the dollars for the arbitration eligible guys and suggested free agents, as well as trying to compensate trade partners with sufficient talent. As always, the specific players are more just examples of the types of moves I’d like to see the team make. Oh, and yes, this is your thread for rosterbation. Go nuts.
Trade Brandon Morrow to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy.
Trade Jose Lopez, Mark Lowe, and Jason Vargas to Chicago for John Danks.
Sign Nick Johnson to a one year, $9 million contract
Sign Orlando Hudson to a two year, $16 million contract
Sign Ben Sheets to a one year, $7 million contract
Sign Russell Branyan to a one year, $4 million contract
The Mariners are in something of a tough spot this winter, caught between rebuilding and winning, and having to make some decisions that will push the organization towards one of those directions at the expense of the other. There are some young kids who deserve a shot at real playing time, but coming off an 85 win season and with some talent on the roster, the team isn’t in a position to sell a 75-80 win team as progress again next year. So, they need to add some guys who can help the team in 2010, but are not in a position where they should be sacrificing too much of the future for the present. The best solution – target guys with upside and the ability to help for several years if all goes well.
It’s not easy, but it can be done. J.J. Hardy is a great example of the kind player the M’s should be targeting. He’s 27-years-old and under team control for two more seasons with an established ability to play shortstop in the major leagues at an all-star level. He’s coming off the worst year of his career and has already been replaced in Milwaukee, so this is as low as his value will ever be. He’s an above average player headed into the prime of his career, similar in value to the departing Adrian Beltre, though significantly cheaper in salary.
He’s not going to come for free, though. The Mariners aren’t going to be the only ones interested in acquiring Hardy this winter, which is why I think it would require giving up Brandon Morrow to get him. Giving up four years of Morrow for two years of Hardy is a risk, but it’s a risk the M’s should be willing to take. Young pitchers are full of false hope, so while Morrow may indeed put it together and become a quality starting pitcher, the M’s would be better off building around a shortstop instead. The Brewers have coveted Morrow for years, and they probably won’t get a better arm in return for Hardy. It’s a win-win trade, upgrading the M’s infield while giving the Brewers a pitcher they badly need.
Now, having written all that, perhaps you’ll think it is a little hypocritical that I then immediately suggest swapping an infielder for a pitcher by sending Lopez, Lowe, and Vargas to Chicago for Danks. However, the situations are quite a bit different. Despite his age, Lopez is simply not the kind of player the M’s want to build around for the future, and his value will be maximized in another city. His best skill, power to left field, is in direct conflict with the way Safeco plays. The M’s will get less value from Lopez than just about every other team in baseball, so moving him to an environment that doesn’t clash with his skills is an efficiency maximization decision.
Danks gives the team an above average starter to slot behind Felix, but also helps build for the future at the same time. Heading into his age-25 season, he’s already arbitration eligible, which is why the White Sox would be willing to move him in the first place. As a left-handed starter with a bit of a home run problem, Safeco would be perfect for his continued development, so both main pieces of the deal would find a better fit in the confines of their new home.
Now that you’ve turned Morrow and Lopez into Hardy and Danks, it’s time to spend a little money. The organization will have already added two good young players who don’t require huge salaries, so they’ll have some budget room to spend on quality veterans to round out the roster.
Bringing back Russ Branyan is an easy call. He’ll come relatively cheap and provide +2 to +3 win upside. He would have been in line for a bigger paycheck before the back problems, but now, he’s looking at another one year deal, and there’s no better spot for him to spend 2010 than Seattle.
However, with Branyan’s health issues, the team isn’t really in a position where they can afford to carry a no-glove DH. They’ll need to have the ability to keep Branyan’s bat in the line-up without making him play the field, so ideally, they’ll get a DH who can also play first base. Enter Nick Johnson. He’s the kind of patient hitter the organization has needed for years, and his track record of health problems will prevent him from ever cashing in on a long term contract. The M’s can offer him a nice paycheck for 2010 with the ability to split time between 1B/DH in order to keep himself healthy, and Johnson can give the M’s offense a needed boost.
Having traded Lopez, the M’s will also be in the market for a second baseman, and Hudson is the natural fit. He’ll be back on the market after finding a cold reception last winter, and the M’s should take advantage of the fact that he’s still an undervalued asset. He’s not the defender he used to be, but he’s still an above average hitter who can play the position and provide solid value for several more years. Adding a switch-hitter to the line-up is a nice bonus as well, giving Wak a little more flexibility in his line-ups.
Finally, the spending is capped off with a high risk, high reward gamble on Ben Sheets. While his health risks are certainly a concern, the M’s need to take a gamble on a player with all-star upside, and they have the pitching depth to survive the inevitable trip to the disabled list. Seattle’s the perfect spot for a strike-throwing fly ball starter to re-establish his value, and Jack can offer the comfort of knowing the management team in place. The M’s can take advantage of Safeco and their defense in giving Sheets the best possible chance to line himself up for a big payday in 2011, while reaping the rewards of a high quality arm at a middling quality price.
This roster isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s simultaneously good enough to try to win in 2010 while still allowing the team to build for 2011 and beyond. Johnson, Sheets, Branyan, and Hudson give the team needed present value without tying up payroll long term, while Danks and Hardy give the team two good young players to add to the foundation of the roster going forward. On paper, it’s probably an 85 win team that would need a healthy, strong season from Sheets and a breakthrough by one of Saunders, Moore, or Tuiasosopo to really contend in the AL West. But those things are certainly possible, and the reward for having the gambles pay off could be significant.
The team would still be building for 2011, but they’d have given themselves a chance to make a playoff run next year as well. Straddling the line between contending and rebuilding isn’t easy, but it can be done.
Oh, and I forgot to mention one last part of the plan.
Sign Felix Hernandez to a 6 year, $90 million extension.
Get it done, Jack. We’ll love you even more than we already do.
Still working to confirm, but I’ve been told that Kenji Johjima has opted out of the final two years of his contract. Obviously, woo.
Edit: LaRue confirms with a quote.
“After lots of very deep thought and deliberation, I have decided to return home to resume my career in Japan,” Johjima. “I have had a wonderful experience competing at the Major League level. The last four years have been extraordinary, with great teammates and great coaches.
“I will always be indebted to the Mariners organization for giving me the opportunity to follow my dream. This was a very difficult decision, both professionally and personally. I feel now is the time to go home, while I still can perform at a very high level. Playing close to family and friends was a major factor. I will miss the Seattle fans and their gracious support. Thank you all.”
Update to the update: Jack Z denies there was a buyout. We’ll probably never know for sure.
Hey, it’s time for naked promotion time, and a small part of why I haven’t been posting so much lately: you can now check out and buy the iPhone app that’s been in development for the last few months, built by my dad and I (mostly my dad, who has a couple of other fine language apps in the store). It’s called 2nd Guesser, and it’s a couple bucks.
It lets you track the game situation as it evolves, a live win expectancy as you go, along with and run expectation for that inning given the current situation. Here’s the game view:
There’s also the managerial view, which allows you to game out whether it’s a good idea to steal, bunt, or intentionally walk the hitter in the current situation
You’ve probably seen me rant about this kind of in-game stuff here on USSM over and over, citing Tango’s Inside the Book, massive studies on when it makes sense to bunt, or how crazy it is to intentionally walk batters in most situations where it’s considered normal.
I really think using run expectations and WPA are key to understanding effective in-game strategies, and I hope that in offering a really easy way to experiment with tactics, especially as you follow a game, it’ll make all of this more relevant and understandable.
I know, it’s a niche app, designed to serve you, watching a game and wondering whether it’s worth bunting a guy over if you’re the home team tied in the ninth. But I think it’s pretty cool, and it’s got a lot of potential to grow. Over the off-season we’re planning on making further improvements (for free!), including working on the UI based on early feedback, building out the managerial interface, and as the M’s like to say, much, much more. So if you have thoughts, drop me a line, unless you’re going to talk about the price point.
Anyway, many more photos follow after the break here. Check it out.
Friday, I proposed Yusei Kikuchi as a player to look at should the Chapman bidding war get out of hand as expected. I’ve talked about him a little in the past, discussing the implications of his possible jump to the U.S., but I hadn’t profiled him to any length with regard to his abilities. Fortunately, not only do I do requests, I also get to ride in on the coattails of Larry Stone for the second week in a row, as he got a Sunday write-up giving the general overview. So, it falls to me to flesh out the scouting end of things.
Thus, Sunday afternoon, I watched a complete game of him pitching, no cuts or anything, just seven innings of the pure goodness that is Japanese prep baseball, with the cries of “taimuri hitto”, “shotto hoppu”, and of course, “san shin!” There were certainly a lot of those in this game, let me tell you.
Watching Kikuchi and Chapman in close succession is an interesting exercise. While Chapman has been drifting slightly into a more over the top motion, Kikuchi pretty much stays to his three-quarters and doesn’t seem to deviate from it all that much. Chapman also looks like he’s slinging the ball at times, whereas Kikuchi’s arm motion is more whippy. The majority of the stress seems to be in his arm, which alarmed me a little at first. I also noticed that, among other quirks, his arm can finish low and across his body and sometimes his trailing foot will drag forward as he decelerates. Aside from that, there aren’t any major mechanical concerns; the inverted W, which is in vogue now as the source of all pitching ills, was not present, nor did it look like he was otherwise putting a lot of strain on the other sensitive areas. His finishes weren’t always smooth, but his flaws were few for a pitcher of his age and generally correctable.
Getting into his arsenal, as was the case with Chapman, the 96 mph reading is about as much of an exaggeration as the 102 mph one. It is more Kikuchi’s style to stay in the high-80s range, but he is capable of reaching back for 92, 93 or 94, with about a 60% success rate, and will do so about fifteen times a game. His ability to hit his spots is otherwise solid. He doesn’t miss often, and when he does it tends to be down. Like Chapman, his pitches naturally trail from left-handed batters, so you don’t see him come in on them like he does versus right-handers, but that’s not so much of an issue at this point.
For secondary pitches, the next one up would clearly be the slider that clocks in the mid-70s. It has a great deal of lateral movement, but there were a few of them that had a sharp downward break to them and it’s clearly a pitch with a lot of potential and he recorded Ks on it at a rate roughly equivalent to his fastball. He also threw a slurve, not quite as often. His other offerings came and went as needed. For example, when a hitter led off the second with a double and the next batter came up intending to bunt him over, Kikuchi gave him a steady diet of two-seams, and while the run did come around (seeing eye single), the bunt was quickly fielded and the batter erased. He would continue to rely on it for the rest of the game. Also, I don’t know if it’s a common thing for him, but I did see him start out a batter in the first with a hilarious eephus pitch. It was taken for a ball and I didn’t see it again, but the batter had an expression on his face that suggested that he was going to go forward pretending that didn’t just happen.
His poise on the mound is another plus in his column. There were a couple of pitches that were tagged for hits when better defenders would have made the play. In one of the later innings, there was an infield hit to the first baseman, with the runner barely beating it out. No big deal. He struck out the next batter on five pitches and retired the one after him in similar fashion. While he is attentive to runners on the field, he doesn’t lose focus and his tempo is pretty much the same throughout, which ensures that he’s rarely on the defensive.
If we were looking at the same pitcher in a high school in the U.S., he’d be talked up at a potential first-round pick too. He looks like a kid who could add velocity in the future and everything else that you could ask for is present already. I would still put him as being three to four years out, easily, but if you’re in the camp that doesn’t believe Chapman is going to be ready out of the gate, that’s a tradeoff that you could probably tolerate. I’m not one to talk about the Mariners specific chance of getting him signed, or how much it would take, as this is a bit of a rare case (probably closer to standard NDFAs than Tazawa was), but I can say that he would be a top ten, or even top five prospect in most systems.
Coming into the 2009 season, there were three pitchers in their early 20s that were singled out as having the talent to be MLB stars in the future: San Diego Stateâ€™s Stephen Strasburg, Nippon Hamâ€™s Yu Darvish, and HolguÃnâ€™s Aroldis Chapman. Strasburg, as we all know, went number one overall, and Darvish has indicated no real desire to move to the MLB, but Chapman, who defected months ago while Cuba was playing in Rotterdam, has declared residency in Andorra and is eligible to sign as a free agent any time now.
Last weekend, Larry Stone profiled Chapman for the Times, alluding to the Mâ€™s interest and listing them as one of the teams in attendance when he threw a bullpen session in Madrid. Most of it is the standard fare; the Mâ€™s are players because they have money and Chapman has pitched against Ichiro in the WBC and knows about Felix, for whatever thatâ€™s worth. His agent, relative unknown Edwin Mejia, has thrown out the familiar line of his guy being the type of player that â€œcomes across every 40 or 50 yearsâ€, and word is that Chapman is going to want $60m on the market, nearly double what Jose Contreras got from the Yankees years ago. So, is he worth it?
There are a few videos of Chapman pitching in online, from the â€˜07 World Cup, to â€™09 WBC preliminaries, to his WBC stint earlier in the year. Theâ€™07 video shows why it would be easy to get excited about him. Heâ€™s not the archetypal pitcher, heâ€™s long-limbed and tends to throw from a high three-quarters slot like heâ€™s slinging the ball to the plate, but the ball jumps out of his hands, looking much faster than the low-90s it was being clocked at, and has tremendous lateral movement. The follow-through is also workable, in that he doesnâ€™t fall over, despite taking a few steps forward on some landings, and he manages to keep his eyes on the glove as heâ€™s pitching. The curve, his second best pitch, was a low-70s offering, nothing eye-popping in terms of vertical break, but an effective pitch and one he seemed comfortable with. Heâ€™d only bust out the slider every now and then, which would come in about five to ten MPH faster and functioned as a third pitch.
The â€™09 videos are a bit more revealing, being slightly more than the standard highlight reel. All his pitches seem to have gained a few MPH and heâ€™s now throwing in the mid-90s with his fastball on a regular basis. This is out of line with his hype of hitting 102 on the radar gun. He can reach back for triple-digits, and I saw him do it, but this was not a regular occurrence. He seemed to have additional confidence with his slider and was more readily throwing it. The talent is all there, and he seems to be progressing, and those cover enough positives to warrant interest.
The negatives? Chapman is fundamentally a thrower. One would gather as much given that he ranked near the top in walks and wild pitches, in addition to strikeouts, during his tenure with HolguÃn. The same came out in the WBC. What I saw was his showing against Australia (going against former Mariner Travis Blackley), not the Japan game in which he ran into trouble. Even so, there were flaws that would be exposed elsewhere. His delivery has gone even higher over the past couple of years, but itâ€™s as inconsistent as it was before. His tempo and his release points are both uneven. When he gets more over the top, he loses his fastball command. Itâ€™s difficult to say why heâ€™d even be throwing there either, as his curves were best around three-quarters. So, the delivery, while not setting off injury warnings, is going to need ironing out in order for him to be in any way efficient.
As a result, he was giving the catcher a workout and probably hit his spots less than half the time. When he was missing, it tended to be up in the zone. Thus, the majority of his outs seem to come in the air. The other thing is that his fastball, when moving, tends to dart into the right-handed batterâ€™s box and down. If heâ€™s capable of pitching in to left-handers, I didnâ€™t see him do it much, not that he really needed to. Chapman seems to live and die by his fastball command. Even with the tight, but unspectacular curve, the fastball was his out pitch, and more Ks came on that than any other.
Weâ€™re due to see the bidding war start any time now, with the usual competitors in the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels. Chapman may get a huge paycheck, but realistically, youâ€™re looking at a guy who isnâ€™t going to be MLB-ready from the get-go. Iâ€™d put him as a year or so split between double and triple-A at least, just to get the mechanics in order. After that, youâ€™re still hoping that the breaking pitches manage to develop a little more. They have so far, and are fine for how he uses them, but I wouldnâ€™t call them plus pitches, or signature weapons (that would still be the fastball). If the bidding starts to get out of hand, and it might, I think the Mâ€™s would be better served going after Japanese prep left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who will be meeting with teams next week in advance of the Oct. 29th NPB draft, and maybe adding Taiwanese right-hander Chih-lung Huang, who is also mulling over the idea of jumping the pond. You could probably pick up both and then some for less than itâ€™s going to take to get Chapman alone.