Left Field And DH
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”.