Francisco Liriano

December 31, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 170 Comments 

Heard a rumbling that the M’s are kicking the tires on Francisco Liriano, who the Twins are willing to move for the right offer. The M’s are definitely in the market for a starting pitcher, and given the horde of low-upside, back-end starters already in the organization, a high risk/high reward type makes sense. Rather than spending money on a free agent, however, it sounds like the M’s would rather focus on a younger arm such as Liriano, who they would control through 2012, giving them long term upside if he has a good season.

Liriano, you’ll probably remember, was one of the game’s best pitchers a few years ago. In 2006, he was basically a left-handed Felix Hernandez. He then blew out his arm, missed all of 2007 and half of 2008 before returning to the big league mound. He returned minus a few MPH on his fastball and without much in the way of command, and he hasn’t’ been able to get back to what he used to be. By traditional metrics, his 2009 was a disaster, as he went 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA.

However, he pitched much better than that. His FIP was 4.87, and his xFIP (which adjusts for HR/FB rate) was 4.55, which puts him in the same vicinity as guys like Jered Weaver and Kevin Millwood. Not the ace he used to be, but a useful pitcher who misses enough bats to overcome the walk and home run problems.

Beyond just the possibility that he regains some velocity and gets back to something closer to 2006 form (unlikely, but you never know), Liriano is the kind of pitcher who would most benefit from Safeco Field. He ran a huge platoon split last year, as he destroyed lefties but had massive problems with right-handed hitters. 20 of the 21 home runs he allowed were to RHBs. A flyball pitcher who gives up home runs predominantly to RH hitters can thrive in Safeco, as the park neutralizes their biggest weakness.

So, even if Liriano pitches like he did in 2009, you’d expect him to run a 4.xx ERA for the Mariners. In a lot of ways, he’s like Brandon Morrow, but suited better to the team’s park.

Liriano makes a lot of sense for the Mariners. The Twins have depth in the rotation and are still interested in Jarrod Washburn (who would likely give them a pretty decent close-to-home discount), so if they can get value for Liriano, it makes sense for them as well.

What would the M’s have to give up? I’d imagine Jose Lopez’s name would at least come up. The Twins are looking for either a second baseman or a third baseman (and maybe both), have a line-up of good LH hitters and mediocre RH bats, and care little for on base percentage. He’s not the defender that the Twins like, but he fits their offensive style, and more importantly, he fits their payroll. It’s no secret that the M’s prefer to trade Lopez, and Minnesota is probably the most likely team of any in baseball to be interested.

A Lopez-Liriano swap would allow the M’s to pursue a guy like Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez to play second base, giving them another switch-hitter to hold down the position until Dustin Ackley is ready. And Liriano provides more upside at a lower cost than any free agent pitcher the M’s could sign.

Like the Luke Scott rumor that I heard a month or so ago, this one makes sense. Doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, of course, but it has the chance of being the type of move that works for both Seattle and Minnesota. We’ll see if the M’s and Twins can put this one together.

Meta: user breakdown

December 30, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 116 Comments 

Of interest to me — I looked up our stats today to see what browser share was (and, particularly, if we could stop policing comments for long, unbroken links, which make the site unreadable for some people).

USSM Reader OS Read more

Left Field And DH

December 29, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 127 Comments 

Let’s face it, the weakest part of the Mariners roster right now is the offense. And, because people are generally used to team building through improving weaknesses (even though that’s not always the best idea), a lot of fans want the Mariners to add more offense to the roster. Traditionally, left field and designated hitter are two spots where you expect to get a decent amount of offensive production, so it’s pretty common to see people suggest that the M’s should pursue another hitter that plays one of those two spots, in addition to the first baseman that is clearly needed.

I’d like to suggest that the team is set at both LF/DH with what they have. And they can actually expect some pretty decent production from those two spots, given a four man combo platoon/rotation of Milton Bradley, Bill Hall, Ken Griffey Jr, and Ryan Langerhans (or Michael Saunders, but I’d rather he play every day in Tacoma than play a part-time role in Seattle).

Each position will be given something like 700 plate appearances in 2010, split at approximately 500/200 against RHP/LHP. With the four guys currently penciled into those spots, the breakdown should look something like this.

LF, vs RHP: Langerhans (250), Bradley (150), Hall (100)
LF, vs LHP: Hall (125), Langerhans (50), Bradley (25)

DH, vs RHP: Griffey (250), Bradley (150), Various (100)
DH, vs LHP: Bradley (100), Griffey (50), Various (50)

The regular line-up against lefties is easy – Hall in left and Bradley at DH. Both hit LHPs well historically, while Hall is the better defender, so Bradley gets to rest his body when a southpaw is on the mound. Against righties, it gets a little more complicated – Bradley will play when he can, with Langerhans/Griffey essentially splitting the other spot depending on Milton’s health and whether Wak wants to maximize his defense that day.

Using this kind of job sharing plan, the total PA breakdown would be as follows: Bradley (425), Griffey (300), Langerhans (300), Hall (225), Various (150).

In terms of decision making, three of those spots are fixed. Bradley and Griffey are on the team – that’s already been decided. Because of their respective health problems, you have to build in expected injury time for both, which is why the unnamed Various players are accounted for. That may be Mike Carp filling for a few weeks when Junior is on the DL or Wak using the DH to give his regulars a half-day off, but there will be playing time at DH doled out to guys who don’t begin the year on the roster.

That means the only two potential players you could replace are Langerhans or Hall, and in reality, you probably can’t toss Hall off the roster – he’s due $1.3 million from the club for 2010, and given his ability to backup a lot of positions while also serving as a RH platoon LF, you’re probably not going to be able to find a guy who offers the needed flexibility that this roster requires. So, that just leaves Langerhans.

He’s penciled for 300 plate appearances, and he’s something like a +1 to +1.5 win player over a full season, so you’re expecting about +0.5 to +0.75 wins in production from him in that role. Let’s say you decide you want to replace him with a better hitting outfielder, a guy who is a +2.5 win player over a full season. We’ll call him “Johnny Damon”, just for fun.

Obviously, you’re not going to limit that guy to Langerhans share of the playing time. So, you reduce the number of days that Bradley and Hall get in left, with Bradley shifting more to a DH role and eating away at some of Junior’s playing time. Perhaps the new allocation of resources looks like this:

“Damon” (600), Bradley (400), Griffey (200), Hall (100), Various (100)

You get Damon’s +2.5 wins, but you lose Langerhans +0.5 win and some portion of Hall’s expected production against LHPs. You also lose the ability to play the match-ups depending on who is pitching on each day, and you make Hall the backup center fielder, making the team worse on days when Gutierrez can’t play. All told, you’re punting about +1 win of value, so the real upgrade is about +1.5 wins.

How much do you think the team should pay for that +1.5 win upgrade? Wins are going for about $3.5 million apiece on the market this year, so you can’t expect Damon to sign for less than $7 million per year, and rumors have him asking for more like $10 to $12 million per season. Even if you think the M’s could get Damon (or someone like him – remember, he’s just a placeholder for Better LF Hitter Guy) for $7 or $8 million, the team would be paying about $5 million per actual win added.

There are simply much better ways to spend the remaining money in the budget. The team currently has ~0 expected value from first base, as Carp is probably replacement level-ish. As we talked about a few weeks ago, a guy like Lyle Overbay could add +2 wins in value at first base, and he’d cost at most $7 million, and probably less (assuming Toronto would kick in some cash to get rid of him). The team also has a bunch of near replacement level options for the #5 starter spot, so adding a starting pitcher from the Smoltz/Martinez/Sheets/Wang/Bedard group could easily add +1 to +2 wins in value, while certainly coming at a lower cost than adding an offensive minded left fielder.

The Mariners do not have enough money for an LF, 1B, and an SP. If they get good value, they might be able to afford two quality players at those spots. It seems clear to me that 1B and SP are the cheaper, easier routes to upgrade. The current group can handle LF/DH, and provide good value to the team. The M’s don’t need to add another bat there. There are better ways to upgrade the roster, even if it doesn’t satisfy some people’s constant need for “a power bat”.

David Schoenfield Nails It

December 29, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 75 Comments 

With ballots due in just a few days, it’s probably too late to convince any voters to add Edgar Martinez to the list of guys offered a ticket to Cooperstown, but David Schoenfield penned a tremendous look at why he’s deserving anyway. It’s well written, logical, and hard to argue with.

For me, the key point in the article is the comparison to relief pitchers. The biggest argument against Martinez’s induction is that he spent most of his career as a Designated Hitter, which makes him less than a complete player in the eyes of some voters. There are those who have stated outright that they don’t feel a DH belongs in the hall, because they added no value in the field, and were only contributing value in a portion of the game.

However, those same voters continue to send relief pitchers to Cooperstown. Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, and Bruce Sutter all have plaques because of what they accomplished as specialist bullpen arms, pitching two to three innings at a time (at most), and racking up a counting statistic that requires them to only face three batters. Lee Smith got support from 45% of the voters a year ago. There is little doubt that active relievers such as Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman are going to end up in the Hall.

As Schoenfield notes, there is simply no way you can argue for a specialist pitcher and then exclude a specialist hitter. If you won’t put a DH in the Hall of Fame, you can’t put any closers in there either. And that’s not the standard that the Hall has set. Closers are in, so designated hitters have to be as well.

This is going to be the key issue on whether Edgar gets in or not. There’s no denying his contributions as a hitter. At the plate, he’s an inner circle Hall of Famer, one of the best right-handed hitters of all time. Those who would choose to not vote for him will do so on the basis of his status as a hitter-only. We should do as Schoenfield does here, and make them defend their stance in regards to relief pitchers as well. There’s no logical ground to stand on – once they admit that players who are great at a specific role are indeed induction worthy, then Edgar gets in.

Great job, David. We’ll be bringing this article back out of the archives every winter until Edgar gets elected.

M’s Sign Bard, Cordero

December 28, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 39 Comments 

Ryan Divish reports that the Mariners have inked catcher Josh Bard and pitcher Chad Cordero to minor league deals with invites to spring training.

Bard provides some things the M’s currently don’t have – a switch-hitting catcher who can actually hit for some power, and has a decent amount of major league experience. What he doesn’t have, however, is a throwing arm – second base is free for the taking when he’s behind the plate, as his career caught stealing percentage is just 20 percent. Given Wakamatsu’s displeasure with allowing teams to run wild last year, it is interesting to see the M’s bring in this type of catcher, but on a minor league deal, he’s a nice value. It is not too hard to imagine him outproducing either (or both) Moore and Johnson if given regular time.

Cordero is less interesting. His fastball sat in the low-80s all of 2009 as he attempted to rehab with the M’s, and he got torched by Northwest League hitters, a collection of kids right out of college and players who will never make the big show. Unless he finds another 6 or 7 MPH on his fastball, he’s never going to be useful again.

Unawaited Milton Bradley chronology

December 28, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on Unawaited Milton Bradley chronology 

Two things. I was unprepared for Bradley to come to the M’s — I just didn’t see this happening. So unlike some of the other deals, I didn’t have time to compile this. But I’ve felt ever since the trade that as much as I hate writing posts like this, that having done them for other deals, I needed to either do it or explain why I wasn’t.

And two, for everyone who said that we were dogging on Carl Everett for the kid stuff, and — in fact this is specifically mentioned in comments in those posts — would stand aside if we ever acquired Milton Bradley, well, you were wrong then and you’re wrong now. Sorry, that’s been sticking in my craw for a long, long time.

For your reference, here’s the as-editorial-free-as-could-be-managed chronology. I could have listed all the ejections, I guess, but I didn’t really have time or the heart.

I recommend this Alan Schwarz article from 2003, “Bradley knows only one way — the hard way“. Mentions his minor league incidents, where he spit gum at an umpire and where he poked another one in the mask.

June 2004: following an argument with umpire Terry Craft, starts throwing stuff on-field, including a bag of baseballs. Suspended four days.

September 2004: at a home game against Colorado, a fan throws a plastic beer bottle at him. Bradley picks it up, yells back at the crowd, and then throws it into the front row (depending on story: even in game stories, it’s “threw the bottle to the ground” in a later story, he’ll say he “spiked it into the concrete”). Ejected when he points and yells at the second-base umpire who’d run out to intercede. Suspended four games, fined. A fan gets arrested and charged. Bradley pledges to seek anger management help.

October 2004: During an NLDS media session, LA Times reporter Jason Reid asks Bradley how the St. Louis fans had treated him. Bradley says ““You’re an Uncle Tom. You’re a sellout.” Reid takes offense and players escort him out. Bradley later meets, apologizes, and they make up. (LA Times)

November 2004: Bradley is riding in a car that’s pulled over for a traffic stop (or, in some versions, in an entirely different car). Bradley gets out to argue, refuses to return to the vehicle, and is arrested. I’ve read he spent three days in jail for that, but it appears the jail time stemmed from a 2003 refusal to accept a ticket during a 2003 traffic stop. (see here)(note that story calling out his great relationship with Kent).

August 2005: This is generally repeated as “Bradley accuses Jeff Kent of being racist”. But that’s not really true — if you read what Bradley actually said, it’s a lot more substantive than that.

June-July 2005: Redondo Beach police respond to several domestic violence reports, including at least one call by him, and an allegation he choked his pregnant wife. Milton was never arrested or charged. “Bradley Had Problems at Home Too” LA Times, 8/31/2005.

There’s a more extensive Daily Breeze article on this I can’t find a direct online cite for (but was widely copied — search for “The injury made any discipline moot.” to find a dozen or so) that describes it as:
June 28, first 911 call is a hang-up, they call back, Milton says his wife hit him. Police show up, counsel.

July 11, his wife runs to a neighbor to call, alleges the choking. Her lip’s bleeding when police show. Milton isn’t present.

July 30, Milton calls to report a fight, police show up to counsel.

January 2007, they divorce.

September 2007: Milton tears his ACL while being held back from umpire Mike Winters, who swore at him. Many, many cites. There’s YouTube video available if you can find it before MLB does.

2008: Milton is stopped at the press box from confronting Royals broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre after Lefebvre made a comparison between the troubles of Bradley and Josh Hamilton (unfavorably towards Bradley). This is often described as Bradley attempting to “storm” the press box, but it’s not at all clear that’s justified.

April 2009: ejected by Larry Vanover after being called out on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded. Apparently Bradley said something really heinous. There’s a Chicago Sun-Times article on this but the URL’s busted (btw, future historians are going to refer to the internet age using only curse words), but Bradley didn’t get suspended until Vanover’s report went in.

May 2009: accuses umpires of widening the strike zone on him (ESPN)(as Piniella said, “there’s nothing good that come out of [saying that]”

… and then things go downhill with the Cubs from there. He’s suspended by the team for the rest of the season on September 21st, mostly for comments on the 19th about the Cubs and their fans.

And my larger issue with the Morrow discussion

December 27, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 47 Comments 

There’s been a huge amount of criticism of Dave (and my) writing on the Morrow-League trade for not having the same insight into the players that the front office does. That we should take the judgment of sound talent people and call it good, in so many words.

Which is fine, to some extent: we don’t know Morrow, or League, personally, and certainly haven’t spent the time evaluating them and their health as long as the Mariners have with Morrow.

What’s concerning is this is exactly the same argument people raised whenever the Bavasi front office (and before that, Gillick) made a move we disagreed with. That all of us are on the outside doesn’t make a considered opinion invalid, or even without insight (or, as commenter Ivan likes to say, “I don’t have to be a chicken to tell you an egg’s rotten”).

I went back through some of the Bavasi off-season moves and it’s there for them all, though from different people, couched in different language, for things like the Everett signing (maybe they see that his swing’s made for Safeco and he’ll hit 20 HR/80 RBI…) (fun side note: people pointing out Branyan was set to make less than Bloomquist in 2007 in this comment thread), or the strange trade pursuit of Juan Pierre (remember that? (shudder)), and on until the front office had lost everyone.

Here’s my proposal, then: I’m entirely willing to acknowledge (as we’ve done with Morrow) that a trade makes sense if you make some evaluation that the team may have arrived at. And I’m happy to argue for or against that evaluation, though I worry we risk wasting a lot of effort arguing things we can’t know.

And in return, let’s not argue that those things are given: that if we believe the reason a trade or a signing happened was unprovable thing x, that isn’t in and of itself proof of thing x.

Because we’ve all made those assumptions and seen them fall flat.

Merry Christmas thread

December 25, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 37 Comments 

Heyyyyy, if that’s your holiday of choice, all the best. If it’s not, well, hopefully you got the day off. If you celebrate with gift exchanges, we’re all the recipients of a fine front office that’s turned our troubled franchise around (and, humorously enough, turned our reputation from cynical robotic haters to mindless pom-pom and calculator carrying cheerleaders).

I will not be playing the Morlock today and keeping the machinery running, Dave’s brain will be taking the day off, and I hope none of the mods work today keeping the comments readable. If the M’s announce they’ve traded for Pujols, well, you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow.

Actually… I would probably step out of the family dinner for a minute for Pujols. No promises though.

My Philosophical Problem With The Deal

December 23, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 170 Comments 

Not surprisingly, Jack threw water on my theory about the Morrow-League trade, stating outright that these deals were two separate, unrelated moves. I will take his word for it – he’s been honest enough as a GM to have earned that.

So, if we strike down my theory that this deal was an extension of the Lee trade and reject the notion that this is a setup for another, better deal (which I just find very unlikely), then the obvious conclusion is that the Mariners simply do not have much faith that Brandon Morrow will be an effective starting pitcher. This trade is essentially a bet against Morrow’s future value, with the team trading out the best case scenario (he succeeds as a starter) for a better probability at a lesser return.

If you believe that Morrow is a reliever, then preferring League makes a lot of sense. They both do the same thing well – throw really hard – but League does it with a sinker that is more effective than Morrow’s four seam fastball. League is a better reliever than Morrow. If you significantly discount or eliminate the possibility that Morrow will succeed as a starter, then this swap makes sense.

But that’s my problem with this. No one knows how Brandon Morrow is going to develop. He’s basically still a prospect, having been jerked around so many times that his development has been stunted significantly. We can try to make educated guesses about the likelihood of his success in the rotation, based on his pitch types, command, durability, and other assorted assessments. But, in the end, none of us know what is going to happen. He could flame out and never amount to anything. He could win multiple Cy Young Awards. He could end up anywhere in between.

This trade is a specific bet against Morrow’s development. In stock market terms, the M’s are shorting Brandon Morrow. Maybe they have enough information about him to believe that this is a good idea, but it’s a departure from the type of roster building that they’ve been successful with – giving themselves options and flexibility based on an unpredictable future.

Since Zduriencik got hired, the Mariners have made moves that do not require a specific opinion to be justified in order for the move to work. They’ve added players at prices that are relatively low compared to the potential return, so that even if the move doesn’t work, it was a gamble worth taking. They didn’t know that David Aardsma was going to take a step forward, but they put themselves in a position to let him do so without needing him to in order to justify giving up Fabian Williamson. The cost was so low that he could not work out and it wouldn’t hurt them. They gave themselves an opportunity, but a specific outcome was not necessary.

The same is true of almost every transaction the team has made under Zduriencik. Russ Branyan didn’t have to hit 30 home runs to earn his salary. Franklin Gutierrez didn’t have to be a +30 defensive center fielder to be worth giving up J.J. Putz. Cliff Lee doesn’t have to win the Cy Young to be worth a trio of okay prospects.

For this trade to be a good idea, though, Brandon Morrow has to fail as a starting pitcher. If he goes to Toronto and becomes a quality starting pitcher, you lose, no matter how well Brandon League pitches out of the bullpen. This time, the M’s are betting on a specific result to justify the trade.

This is what Bill Bavasi often did. In fact, this move reminds me a bit of the Rafael Soriano-Horacio Ramirez swap. The M’s were going to trade Soriano, come hell or high water, because they didn’t like his make-up and his history of arm problems. They expected his arm to fall off and so they shipped him off for a lesser player, believing that they’d be better off with something than nothing. Of course, League is far, far more talented than Ramirez, and this deal is a lot more justifiable than that debacle was, but the gamble against a talented pitcher is the same. The Mariners needed Soriano to break down for that deal to make sense, and the M’s need Morrow to fail as a starter for this one to make sense.

Betting on a specific outcome is not how this team was built. We cannot know the future, so the best way to build a team is to give yourself as many good options as possible, then react to what actually does happen. Jack has done this exceptionally well, which is why this move is so puzzling. The team has continually made moves where they took guys with question marks and gave them opportunities. This time, they took a guy with question marks and decided that he wasn’t worth an opportunity, selling for a price that essentially values him as a failure.

This move could work out for the M’s. I’m a known skeptic of Morrow’s abilities, and I believe there’s a pretty good chance his combination of health problems, lack of command, and problems getting LH hitters out will eventually land him back in the bullpen. That could certainly happen. That may even be the most likely outcome. But we don’t know that Morrow will fail as a starter, and this trade presupposes that knowledge. It needs that to happen for this deal to not look bad.

And whenever you put yourself in a position where you need a player to either completely succeed (or fail, in this case) in order to justify the acquisition, there’s a good chance that you’re taking on too much risk. In some cases, the reward might be worth the risk, as I think you can argue is the case with the Lee and Bradley deals. In this case, though, the reward is a relief pitcher. A good relief pitcher, but still, a relief pitcher.

That’s not much reward. If the M’s are right, they get a good arm out of the bullpen who struggles to throw strikes. If they’re wrong, they just gave up a young, power arm in a rotation that is not overflowing with young, power arms. Even if they believe they are right, the costs of being wrong are really high. They have to be right. And that makes this a deal that I just can’t be a fan of.

Current… for now… that is today… 2010 M’s depth chart

December 23, 2009 · Filed Under Mariners · 49 Comments 

SP-R Felix Hernandez
SP-L Cliff Lee
SP-L Ryan Rowland-Smith
SP-R Ian Snell
SP-R Doug Fister

(SP-R Yusmeiro Petit, then there’s a grey area for a couple of the guys below)

Soooo let’s try and sort out the bullpen this time, rather than just leave a huge blob. Assume 7.

RP-R David Aardsma
RP-R Brandon League
RP-R Mark Lowe
RP-L Luke French
RP-L Jason Vargas
RP-L Garrett Olson
RP-R Shawn Kelley

(then the blob: RP-R Sean White, RP-R Kanekoa Texeira)

Position players
C-R Rob Johnson
C-R Adam Moore
1B-L Mike Carp
2B-R Jose Lopez
SS-R Jack Wilson
3B-B Chone Figgins
LF-L Michael Saunders
CF-R Franklin Gutierrez
RF-L Ichiro!
DH-L Ken Griffey Jr.
DH/LF-B Milton Bradley
UT-R Bill Hall (IF/OF-R?)
IF-L Jack Hannahan
OF-L Ryan Langerhans

Still no Saunders word.
Branyan’s negotiating position is eroding fast.
And I don’t know that we should count the Morrow/League trade as the “other shoe” from the last time we ran this.

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