Making Rumors Pass The Smell Test

Dave · December 3, 2009 at 10:48 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Geoff Baker has a new post up today, which reinforces what we’ve already heard – the M’s are going after a pitcher, and specifically Rich Harden – but also resuscitates some speculation that had died down involving the M’s going after Jason Bay.

Geoff’s a good reporter, and I’m sure he trusts the source who gave him the information. However, I’d like to suggest that for every rumor, there should be a minimum logic test that gets applied before we give it any credibility. This rumor fails that test.

First, there’s the financial logistics. Everything we’ve heard, including in this same report, has a starting pitcher at the top of the M’s shopping list, with various reports linking them to John Lackey and Rich Harden. Those guys aren’t going to sign cheap. Baker even states outright that “pitching is a priority for the M’s” and that nothing will happen at other positions until they get that role wrapped up. Lackey would command somewhere in the $15 to $20 million per year range, while Harden will require somewhere in the $8 to $12 million range. By our calculations, the team has approximately $25 million to spend this winter.

Jason Bay has already turned down a 4 year, $60 million deal from the Red Sox. Suffice it to say that he wants at least $15 million a year in annual salary. If the Mariners are serious about signing either Lackey or Harden, they do not have the room in the budget to also sign Jason Bay and still fill out the rest of the roster. They just don’t have the available cash to make two big ticket signings this winter.

So, even if we believed that the M’s liked what Bay offers, there’s a real problem. And I don’t believe that the M’s are particularly interested in what Bay brings to the table.

Let’s look at what we know about the front office. They place as much value on defense as any team in baseball. This isn’t to say that they won’t put a mediocre defender on the field (Branyan is no gold glover), but they will discount a player’s value heavily if he doesn’t offer value in the field. Bay is a bad defensive player, and at 31 years old, he’s not getting better.

They also have put a premium on acquiring hitters who are left handed, due to the nature of Safeco Field. Since taking over, they’ve brought in guys like Branyan, Griffey, Hannahan, Carp, and Langerhans, all left-handed. They gave away Wladimir Balentien, a right-handed outfielder with power. They’re known to be considering trading Jose Lopez, and they’re letting Adrian Beltre walk away. There is a clear pattern of preferring left-handed bats to right-handed bats.

They value building through the draft, which is how Zduriencik made a name for himself in Milwaukee. Bay, a Type A free agent who was offered arbitration, would cost them the #17 pick in the draft next summer.

They also value young, cost-controlled players. They made moves for Gutierrez and Aardsma because they offered unproven upside at a low cost, and wouldn’t be expensive even with a breakout performance. They have a young, cost-controlled left fielder in Michael Saunders, who they spoke glowingly of when they brought him to the majors last summer. Saunders, by the way, is left-handed and a good defender, making him the kind of player that we know management values.

The argument against Saunders is essentially that he struggled badly in the first 100 plate appearances of his career. However, we know that these guys get the power of sample size. They didn’t care about Russ Branyan’s platoon split, because they believed he had never really gotten a fair shot at proving what he could do. They didn’t care that Bill Hall wasn’t hitting in Milwaukee, because they believed there was some talent not shining through that they may have a chance to bring out. They didn’t care about Gutierrez’s offensive struggles in Cleveland, because he’d been a part-time player, and they felt he could make adjustments if he was in the line-up regularly.

We know that the organization values young, low cost, left-handed, good defenders with upside even if they don’t have a proven track record. That describes Saunders to a tee. But yet, we’re supposed to believe that the M’s are going to spend a huge chunk of their budget on an aging right-handed bad defender who would require a long term contract and end any chance Saunders had of a career in Seattle?

It doesn’t pass the logic test. It goes against everything the organization has spent the last year building.

I just don’t buy it. The M’s aren’t going to spend $15 million a year on a right-handed DH who would block their best prospect from playing regularly. This time of year, almost every source has an agenda, and there are certainly people in Jason Bay’s camp who would benefit from a widespread belief that the Mariners were bidding up Bay’s value. Bay can tell anyone he wants that he’s optimistic about signing here, but it’s a statement made in self-interest, and one that I dismiss as lacking credibility.

For a rumor to be considered legitimate, it has to pass some minimum standards of logic. This one does not. Don’t believe it.


71 Responses to “Making Rumors Pass The Smell Test”

  1. Gibbo on December 3rd, 2009 5:13 pm

    Does anyone think that maybe the sales of Wii are such and Chuck and co wants to get a ring for Jr that they would pump the budget up a bit?

    OK, I know I am being a little silly now…. one can only dream!

  2. trbloomer on December 3rd, 2009 5:16 pm


    Looked at from his expected lifespan vs. length of contract would argue for front loading being in his favor. His maximal abilities are relatively very soon, as are his maximal risks. Say 24m vs. 10m next year. But in September his Arm falls off, sucks to be the Mariners, but for Felix it’s catastrophic at 10m but relatively catastrophic at 24m. The Guaranteed nature of MLB contracts (and thank god for an effective union) is the biggest argument against for Felix but even there it’s the total payout as opposed to which years have the highest payout that are important to him.

    Now backload that contract 12m vs. 10m next year, again sucks to be the Mariners, again relatively catastrophic for Felix.

    Extend the payouts front loaded, arm falls off in year three, sucktastic for the M’s and Felix not quite as catastrophic for either party.

    Back loaded contract sucktastic for Felix, relatively catastrophic for M’s. Two, Three years of paying for a pitcher even Bavasi wouldn’t sign for 16m – 24m a year.

    The total dollars either way are probably near the same, but the riskiest portion from the teams perspective is now, when their ability to compete is less than it hopefully will be in the near future. The argument is predicated on two things, that our front office is as good as we think and hope, thus the near future is bright and that financial flexibility in coming years will be worth more than in 2010.

    And that from Felix’s perspective 24m next year, 20m in 2011 etc. is better than 10m and then 12m plus a possible 24m in 2012, 28m or whatever in 2013.

    As I said it’s only a thought, it leaves out wage inflation which for MLB outruns wage inflation in the economy at large. It leaves out other financial considerations, such as what it does to MLB wage inflation (arbitration in 2011), money is historically cheap right now but probably won’t be in a couple of years, taxes soon are likely to go up not down etc.

  3. Chris_From_Bothell on December 3rd, 2009 5:59 pm

    If they were willing to blow that much on Bay, thereby not leaving much left in 2010 for more than perhaps one FA and/or a Felix signing, why not go whole hog and go after Holliday? For not much more than Bay you get a significantly better hitter and significantly better defender.

  4. tmac9311 on December 3rd, 2009 6:43 pm

    trbloomer it has to do with money depreciation. 24M in 2010 is worth a lot more than 24M in 2016. paying 24M in 2016 is alot closer to paying 10M in 2016 than 24M in 2010. (Not sure if the last part is fact or not, but that is the general argument) it cost more to pay 24M now than 24M then.

  5. mebpenguin on December 3rd, 2009 7:04 pm

    I have to wonder if this Chone Figgins rumor passes the smell test, supposedly we’re the frontrunners.

    On the one hand at the right price, say 9-10 million per year, I’d feel pretty good about it. He’s a classic speedster skillset with good on-base skills, which should age well. I also like that he’s a switch hitter and a great defender at 3B.

    What I wonder is whether that price is realistic, once you get up to 12-15 million per year he becomes far less of a bargain.

  6. coreyjro on December 3rd, 2009 7:11 pm

    It’ll be interesting to put Figgins’ contract next to Polanco’s once they’re both signed. I don’t think that Figgins will sign for less, but maybe he should. Type A free agent that is a good player, but also just had a career year. It’s possible that Figgins has developed into a better player, but I’m not really interested in a speed guy who will be 32 at the beginning of the season and wants a four year deal.

  7. Banton on December 3rd, 2009 7:24 pm

    I have always thought of Baker as more of a “repeater”, rather than a “reporter”. He has a knack for making sure that the tone of his articles speak to the wealth of info that he posesses that the rest of us mere mortals do not. Very big on self-pats….

    As to Bay, he would be the worst pick-up. We have a good example of average/below average fielder with a bad plate approach, and right handed to boot. Name? Lopez. Why pay more for a vintage model? This is the Bavasi model. No longer available with our new Z boss.

    Defense will still remain the priority; but it will have to be left-handed, as Z is remaking the team. It is a much easier task than re-making Safeco.

  8. trbloomer on December 3rd, 2009 7:27 pm

    I was thinking about the depreciation, which is sort of what I meant by how cheap money is right now. Its ridiculously cheep if you have good credit as I’m guessing the M’s do. No it wouldn’t come close to fully adjusting for the difference but it would make a big dent.

    The M’s are in a unique position that won’t recur very often, because the economy is likely to remain awful for awhile and money is cheep but not likely to remain that way. It might and again its only an idea make a lot of sense to borrow now for the future, ie: pay Felix way over the top early.

    What I would say is that the financial arguments against doing this are not the strongest. There could be any number of other reasons which make it a bad idea.

  9. Banton on December 3rd, 2009 7:29 pm

    As to the Morosi whisper posted above, it amazes me that the rest of the baseball writers in this country don’t know/don’t care about Marinerville, but always seem to have an uncanny inside track on what we are doing in the offseason. Sounds like pillow talk from Figgin’s agent to Morosi….

  10. Dave on December 3rd, 2009 7:31 pm

    Figgins, I can buy. Switch-hitter, good defender, can play 3B/2B/LF depending on which young kid develops, taking a player away from the Angels.

    If the M’s are going to spend big on a free agent hitter, he’s going to be the guy they go after. There’s no way the M’s would prefer Bay to Figgins, no matter how much some beat writers want the team to go after “power”.

  11. Banton on December 3rd, 2009 7:47 pm

    I completely buy into going after Figgins. As often as he gets on, he would score runs, and score other players in the 4,5 hole. I would love to see the M’s sign him.

    Power is a relative term. If Figgins hit 35 HR’s, but had a low RBI total, does that make him better than a guy who gets on, and in doing so, scores others. I would suggest that his high OBP would ultimately score more runs than the extra “power” guy with a 28% SO rate and 30 single dingers would.

  12. eponymous coward on December 3rd, 2009 7:55 pm

    I think one thing should be made clear. Our team would be better with Bay on it. No question. Assuming it doesn’t cripple our payroll. He’d be our best hitter, and we could put him at DH half the time. The only question is if his salary would kill any chance of signing Harden, etc. Now if the FO would increase the payroll for this signing, then it’s all gravy, right?

    Richie Sexson was our best hitter in 2005, with similar skills to Bay (lots of Ks, good power, not great average or defense at a position where there’s no defensive premium), and got a similar contract to what Bay would get. How’d that end up working out?

  13. nathaniel dawson on December 3rd, 2009 8:36 pm

    The reason that Felix’ contract would be backloaded is that the team is able to keep a lot of the surplus value they have in him intact for the next two years. They’re set to receive a ton of surplus value from him and they would not want to give most of that up. That extra money could provide a lot of talent to put behind Felix that would help them win more games, which generates more revenue, which would help pay for his escalating salary in the later years of the deal. It might be attractive for Felix as well, because backloading can often result in a higher total dollar value for the whole contract. It’s no different than a company taking out a loan which costs them money in the future with the interest payments. They get the money up front to make improvements in their business, which can increase sales, generate more revenue, and will help pay off the loan plus the interest in later years.

  14. joser on December 3rd, 2009 9:44 pm

    Our team would be better with Bay on it. No question.

    In 2010, possibly (if you overlook the other players you’d have to forgo by acquiring him). By the end of his contract? Not a chance.

  15. Dave on December 3rd, 2009 10:13 pm

    The answer to any “better than” phrase is “better than what”. Because until you answer that, everything else is meaningless.

    Better than if they don’t spend the money at all, and the team goes into 2010 with Griffey as the starting DH? Sure.

    Better than if they spent the money on starting pitching, then traded Morrow for an interesting young hitter? No, I think not.

    Better than if they spent the money on Figgins or Beltre? No, I think not.

    You can say that the team will be “better” only if you don’t care about opportunity cost. And if you don’t care about opportunity cost, then we shouldn’t care about your opinion.

  16. Eric M. Van on December 3rd, 2009 11:31 pm

    The flaw in this otherwise airtight argument comes from not applying the point of the entire piece to one of the premise “facts.”

    It doesn’t pass any kind of smell test that the Sox offered Bay $15M and he turned it down. Especially when they clearly would rather sign Holliday.

    How about this for a scenario: because teams do value defense these days, the Sox offer to Bay was surprisingly, even shockingly, low. A wake-up call. Bay is willing to take a hometown discount, and the Mariners feel they can sign him at a cost-effective rate to be their DH and a backup plan in LF should Saunders need some more time in AAA (and I don’t see how he projects to be an above-average hitting MLB LF — a pretty high bar — without some AAA time at age 23. And why not delay his arb clock with half a year more down there?)

    BTW, I think Bay’s hitting skills will age well. Despite the high K rate he is an extremely disciplined hitter, so the high BB rate will continue. He has very large good pitch / cripple pitch splits if you crunch pitch/fx data, and MLB pitchers are not going to stop making mistake pitches any time soon. He already hits like a guy who’s 36 and used to be an awesome hitter, and is now pitchable but still kills mistakes. He’s kind of the pre-worn jeans of hitters, so I don’t think he’ll fade that much further over the life of the contract.

  17. Mike Snow on December 4th, 2009 8:22 am

    Looked at from his expected lifespan vs. length of contract would argue for front loading being in his favor. His maximal abilities are relatively very soon, as are his maximal risks.

    Once he has a guaranteed long-term contract, it no longer matters to Felix what his period of maximum injury risk is within the contract term. So that’s not a reason to frontload.

  18. joser on December 4th, 2009 11:04 am

    He’s kind of the pre-worn jeans of hitters, so I don’t think he’ll fade that much further over the life of the contract.

    Heh. That makes him comfortable, but does it make him the best use of our wardrobe dollar? Especially when there’s that rather large hole in the left pocket. (Man, I so wanted to use “busted fly” here but I couldn’t come up with a phrasing that worked.)

  19. Chris C. on December 4th, 2009 11:57 am

    Best of luck getting a hit through the 5/6 against the M’s if the deal comes to fruition.

    I guess the Angel’s have a shot still, but potentially a nice lil’ pickup.

  20. Jeff Nye on December 4th, 2009 12:18 pm

    Zaun to the Brewers from the looks. Oh well.

    One rumor down!

  21. Replaced by the Moose on December 4th, 2009 1:24 pm

    But! But! He lives in Kirkland! Geoff Baker can see Kirkland from his house! It just makes sense

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