The Battles

February 18, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 67 Comments 

With spring training kicking off, we can start to more safely assume that the Mariners won’t be adding any more players, and this is the roster. It’s not a lock, of course, but for now, let’s work under the assumption that the opening day roster is going to come from the guys who are already here. That would give us the following set-in-stone roster, where blank spots are the position battles that we’ll address below.

1B: Casey Kotchman
2B: Jose Lopez
SS: Jack Wilson
3B: Chone Figgins
CF: Franklin Gutierrez
RF: Ichiro Suzuki

Backup C:
Platoon 1B/DH: Ryan Garko
Platoon LF: Eric Byrnes
Backup INF: Jack Hannahan

SP: Felix Hernandez
SP: Cliff Lee
SP: Ryan Rowland-Smith
SP: Ian Snell

CL: David Aardsma
RP: Brandon League
RP: Mark Lowe
RP: Shawn Kelley

25th guy:

That’s 17 roster spots essentially accounted for. Maybe you can argue that Hannahan is going to have to fight for his job, but I doubt it. There’s just no real competition in camp for the utility infielder spot. I’d say there’s a good certainty that these guys will open the season in these respective roles, barring injury.

Now, after those guys, there’s a few players who are definitely on the team, but have undefined roles as of now. The two big names not listed above are Milton Bradley and Ken Griffey Jr. As we talked about all winter, it looks like LF and DH will be some kind of job share between a bunch of players, depending on who is healthy and what kind of pitcher the team is facing on any given day. Adding in those two, and we have 19 players who are definitely on the club. That leaves 6 roster spots that are legitimately up for grabs. Let’s take a look at the contenders.

Catcher: Two of Adam Moore, Rob Johnson, Josh Bard

Nothing much new to add here. Johnson’s likely to make the club as long as he proves he’s healthy, but that’s questionable enough that we won’t pencil him for a spot just yet. The other spot comes down to whether the team thinks Adam Moore is ready. If they don’t, then Bard makes the team and splits time with Johnson behind the plate, offering a switch-hitter and the best bat of the three options. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. My gut? Moore goes to Tacoma, Johnson breaks camp as the starter, and the team lets Bard play a few times a week until Moore forces them to call him up.

Fifth Starter: One of Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Garrett Olson, Luke French, Yusmeiro Petit

Probably the most fluid spot on the team. Vargas and Fister both pitched well at times last year and have to be the leading candidates, but both have fringey repertoires that could easily make them look terrible in Arizona. Olson and French are similar, except for the pitching well last year thing, and Petit is the longshot candidate, especially now that he’s off the 40 man roster. Additionally factoring into this is that the losers of this spot are going to be fighting for a bullpen job, and that the pen is currently 100% right-handed.

I’d say that gives Fister a slight advantage, but as a strike-thrower, he’s also the most likely to be able to soak up the 100 innings that Jakubauskas took last year in the swing role. I’m not sure Vargas could handle that job as well. So, right now, I’d call this a toss-up between those two, with the other three needing to pitch well to avoid a trip to Tacoma.

Fifth Reliever: One of Sean White, Kanekoa Texeira, Ricky Orta, Anthony Varvaro, Josh Fields, Nick Hill

This is an interesting spot that hasn’t gotten as much attention over the winter. White gave the Mariners some good results last year, but he’s both injured and not good enough to be expected to do it again (2.80 ERA, 4.86 xFIP last year). If he shows he’s healthy in the spring, he would be expected to have the inside track, but the M’s have made no secret of the fact that they’re not counting on him to be healthy. So, this spot is up for grabs, with a bunch of rookies behind White potentially fighting for the last middle relief role. Texeira would be the most likely bet as a Rule 5 guy, but the M’s discarded both of their rule 5 picks last year in favor of internal candidates, so who knows. This will be a battle to watch.

Long Reliever: One of Jason Vargas, Garrett Olson, Doug Fister, Luke French, Yusmeiro Petit

The consolation prize for the guys who lose out on the fifth starter’s job. Nothing much else to write beyond what I wrote above.

25th man: One of Ryan Langerhans, Michael Saunders… really, anyone in the organization

This spot is the ultimate wildcard. It could go to a left-handed outfielder like Langerhans if the team is going to play Bradley in left but wants to have a defensive replacement/pinch runner to keep him healthy. It could go to Saunders if he tears the cover off the ball and forces the team to make him their left fielder, pushing Bradley to DH and Griffey to the bench.

Or the M’s could decide to go with a 12 man pitching staff, carrying another reliever to help get the team through the early part of the season when Wak will want to be more conservative with the pitch counts. That could be a lefty if they want to add some balance to the bullpen, or another young guy who forces his way onto the roster like Shawn Kelley did last year.

There are way too many variables in play here to take a guess at who will fill the final roster spot. This spot likely won’t be decided until the last few days of spring.

Mariner Annual Reaction Thread

February 18, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 64 Comments 

Based on the freak out ratio currently happening on Twitter, I’ve discerned that people who ordered their copy of the 2010 Mariner Annual from Maple Street directly are receiving theirs today. So, I figured I’d put this thread up for those of you who now have a copy to post your thoughts. Feedback is welcome, both positive and negative.

Pitchers And Catchers

February 17, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 35 Comments 

And the countdown is over. Pitchers and catchers report today, marking the official beginning of spring training, and the kickoff to the 2010 season. Okay, so, the entire day consists of people showing up, unpacking bags, and taking physicals, so high drama it is not, but it’s still symbolic of the end of winter.

Welcome back, baseball.

The Opera and the Symphony

February 16, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

If this is not to your musical tastes, feel free to await your copy of the 2010 Mariner Annual so you have something else to read. But I figure holding our last event at Benaroya gives me a hook to talk about this, and anyway it’s not really about the music. Rather, I want to reflect a little bit on organizational structures and team leadership. If you follow other sports teams in town, you may have heard that this was a really big issue one of them has been sorting out recently. But in order to stay focused on baseball, I don’t want to invite people to talk about the wrong sport, so ironically the way I’m choosing to do that is to talk about something other than sports. Read more

New Blog To Follow

February 15, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 5 Comments 

If you’ve been sitting around thinking “you know, my life lacks information about the Tacoma Rainiers”, I have some amazingly good news for you – friend of USSM/Tacoma announcer/poker maverick Mike Curto has joined the blogosphere. His Mike Off Mic blog will be your best bet for Rainiers news and information throughout the season, and he’s decided to start it up a little early.

Seriously, check it out. Curto is good people, and I’m sure the blog will be worth reading regularly.

Out of [Left-handed] Options

February 12, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

Quick update by Dave: After checking, I think both Vargas and Olson will get a fourth option year. The rule is laid out here, and essentially states that any player with less than five full professional seasons will qualify for a fourth option year. Vargas missed all of 2008 due to injury, so that year doesn’t count, meaning he’s headed into his fifth full pro season. Olson’s only full pro seasons are 2006-2009, so he’s also going into his 5th full year. By my reading of the rules, both should be option eligible this year. But I could be wrong.

After Bedard was brought back to possibly fill out a rotation that will have Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ian Snell following Felix! (here for another five years!) and Cliff Lee in the rotation, there were assorted debates arising over who is likely to be on the outside looking in as far as pitching spots go. We tried out a lot of arms in the fifth spot last season, and seeing as how many were new to the org, we didn’t really think much of it as we were using the I-5 shuttle to send them back and forth between Seattle and Tacoma. The assumption was that we’d continue to be able to do so until one or more of them broke away from the pack and proved themselves valuable enough to stick, loading up the Rainiers rotation in the process.

The reality is more complicated than that, if not a little bleaker as well. We knew that Snell was out of options because much was made of his return to triple-A this past season, which burned up the last of his years. What we didn’t realize at the time was that he wasn’t the only one to do so. RR-S, Jason Vargas, and Garrett Olson all used up their last options during the 2009 season.

For our purposes, it’s easy to pencil in Rowland-Smith and Snell as keepers. Hyphen has pitched well when healthy, enough for Bedard to suggest that he signed on to be the 3-B starter. The only major issue with Rowland-Smith is that last year was the first time he’d ever hit 150 or more innings, as he was bouncing back and forth between relief and starting early on in his career. Snell, while he didn’t show a great deal of improvement in his tenure with the M’s, remains more talented physically than most starters in the org and I don’t think that the org would cut bait on him after two+ months of not-good pitching.

That leaves us with Olson and Vargas. Olson has been the name that comes up most often when people seem to talk about leaving a guy out. It’s true that based off of the FanGraphs metrics, his fastball was an alarming 15.9 runs below average in his 80 innings with the team, but we also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that his curveball, which added some depth last season was right up there with the best of them at 4.9 above and his change, at 3.6 above, was the second best on the team, behind Felix’s which of course has to be judged by its own standards.

What makes Olson peculiar in his MLB behavior is that he’s not good against left-handed batters. His splits are relatively close after last season, and what he gains in roughly a K every nine innings, he offsets with nearly a whole walk on top of that. Some parts of Olson’s game have never translated to the big leagues. If you take a look at his historical minor league splits, you’ll see that he only walked 1.35 left-handers per nine innings in Tacoma last season, which is slightly better than his career average. Another minor oddity is that, historically, he’s struck out more right-handers than left-handers, 8.88 to 7.58, and last year, while fewer in number and closer overall, was no exception.

Vargas presents different issues. His fastball, while slightly slower than Olson’s, has generally been a below-average, but not horrible offering every year he’s been in the majors except 2006 when he was with the Marlins. The slider and change have also improved to the point where they’re more or less average, while he pretty much shouldn’t throw his curve at all, and rarely does. As a sum, he won’t kill you in lower leverage roles.

Last year’s splits also established Vargas as more or less even versus both types of hitters, pedestrian, but competent. It wasn’t always this way, and in limited samples over the earlier part of his MLB career, there was a great deal more variance. This demonstrates that Vargas has managed to adapt to major league hitters, as he also showed little difference in his minor league career. Olson has not adapted, and may not survive because of that.

Derek’s earlier depth chart showed us a bullpen setup of Aardsma, League, Lowe, Kelley, French, Vargas, and Olson, with one of them heading elsewhere assuming that you run out a six-man bullpen. You can add Fister to that group as well as soon as Bedard comes back, leaving us to cut two from the group. Given that French has two options left and a fastball about as bad as Olson’s right now, you could probably option him in the hopes that he figures out how to use his newly improved stuff in Tacoma.

Fister, however, may be a different matter. Similar to Vargas, Fister’s offerings are about average, with the bonus of him not walking anyone. The fastball and the curve aren’t great, but the change is an effective pitch and makes him a solid option versus left-handers. While he does have every one of his options left, it would be difficult to make the case that Olson, whose heater is a legitimate suck pitch and could only hope to become “bad” going forward, provides more value than Fister might as he adapts.

Assuming the health of the group as a whole, which is always a tenuous bet, the return of Bedard might also mean the end of Olson’s career as a Mariner without significant improvement in his primary offering. He’ll have a month or two to try to change his fortunes.

Mike Sweeney returns to hug it out one more season

February 12, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 43 Comments 

The right-handed hugger has signed to a minor league deal with spring training invite.

Bedard And The Budget

February 9, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 29 Comments 

Took a little longer than usual, but Ken Rosenthal came through with the details of the incentives in Erik Bedard’s contract today. Here’s the nitty gritty, mostly per Rosenthal.

$1.25M base salary, guaranteed. $250,000 buyout if M’s decline their half of $8M mutual option for 2011. If Bedard declines his half of the option, he forfeits the buyout. This adds up to the $1.5M in guarantees that the M’s were reported to have agreed to last week.


Starts: $500,000 each for 14, 17, 20, 23, and 26 games started
Innings: $500,000 for 75 innings, $600,000 each for 100, 125, 150, 175, and 200 innings
Days: $250,000 each 65, 90, 120, and 150 days on the active roster

Okay, let’s add all this up, based on our best guess as to what Bedard may do this year. We’ll ignore April, since no one thinks he’ll be back for the first month of the season.

From May 1st to October 3rd, the last day of the regular season, there are 156 days. So, Bedard would have to be activated from the DL no later than May 6th, and spend the entire rest of the season on the active roster, to collect the 150 day bonus. That seems remarkably unlikely, so we’ll cross that one off too. The bonuses up to 120 days are at least kind of possible.

The Mariners will play 139 regular season games from May to October. If the team stayed with a strict five man rotation, and Bedard made every a start every 5th game from May 1st to the end of the season, he’d make 27 starts. Let’s go ahead and cross of that 26 start bonus as well. He’s not getting that one. The 23 start level is close enough to borderline that I’ll leave it as theoretically possible for now, though it would require a May return and no missed starts the rest of the year.

Innings wise – Even in a best case scenario where we’re giving Bedard 23 starts, he’s not going to average more than 6 IP/start coming off labrum surgery. That puts him at, best case, 138 innings. Cross off the 150/175/200 innings incentives. He’s not making those. The 125 line is probably even too questionable, but like the 23 start one, it’s borderline enough to get left in as an extreme long shot.

Where does that leave us? Well, if he returns around June 1st, averages 5 to 6 innings per start, and avoids any extended DL stints the rest of the year, that would put him in line for $1.5M for making 20 starts, $1.1M for pitching 100 innings, and $750,000 for being on the active roster for 120 days. $1.5 + $1.5 + $1.1 + $750K = $4.85 million in 2010 payouts. For ~100 innings of Erik Bedard.

Is that a massive steal? No. He’d need to be worth about +1.4 wins to justify the contract, based on the going rate of wins in the market this winter. That’s about his 2008 performance level; good, not great. His 2009 performance level was significantly better, and would represent a good value for the team, though I don’t think you can count on getting that from Bedard again, given the surgery.

So, that’s probably your best case plausible scenario – he gives the M’s three months of good pitching and earns just shy of $5 million for his efforts. In reality, there’s probably going to be a setback or two, and he’ll probably fall short of the 20 start/100 IP/120 days on active roster incentives, which would put the team on the hook for ~$3.5 million. And, of course, there’s always the worst case scenario, where he doesn’t pitch at all and the M’s give him $1.5 million and get nothing in return.

I would say, given the time table for Bedard’s return, this incentive structure is fair. If he’s healthy and pitches at 80 percent of his pre-surgery abilities, he’ll earn his paycheck. This probably won’t turn out to be a huge bargain for the M’s, as he gets rewarded pretty handsomely for taking the mound, so there’s not too many scenarios where he pitches great and the M’s only pay him a fraction of what he’s worth. Perhaps the most likely of those scenarios would be a delayed return, where he joins the team in July and then pitches well down the stretch, helping the team in August and September but not racking up enough time to trigger many of the incentives.

But, given the low guarantee and the way the payouts don’t begin to kick in until after start #14, it’s a good deal for the team. There’s very little on the line. Worst case scenario, they’re out less than $2 million. Best case scenario, they get a quality arm for a little less than the market rate, and then Bedard has opportunity to really pay off in October.

How the team is going to account for this contract in the budget is really anyone’s guess. They can’t just budget the $1.5M and then have to scramble if he pitches well and earns $5M instead, so I’d guess that they’re slotting him in for somewhere in that $4 to $5 million range. Given the rumbles about how close they were to their budget ceiling before signing Bedard, it’s tough to see them spending any more significant money.

One thing is for sure, though – this is a hell of a lot better deal for the M’s than the Ben Sheets contract was for the A’s.

Okay, I Have To Do It

February 8, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 113 Comments 

I tried really hard to just let this Steve Kelley “apology to Erik Bedard” go. But, I can’t. I can’t just let this sit there. So, here we go.

Last week, a few readers — well actually a lot of readers suggested, demanded really — that certain sportswriters, namely me, owed Mariners pitcher Erik Bedard an apology.

They’re right.

Awesome. You totally do. Glad to hear that you figured that out.

After all, we (and by we, I mean I) have spent a lot of the past two years lamenting the trade that sent a large chunk of the Mariners’ future to Baltimore for a pitcher we (and, by we, I mean former general manager Bill Bavasi) expected to be the ace of the staff as the Mariners challenged for an American League West title.

Of course, that never happened.

Bedard rarely was healthy. He made only 30 starts in two seasons. He ran too many deep counts, which meant the bullpen usually had to get up by the fifth or sixth inning and he was as exciting to watch as your Uncle Bob on the putting green.

Not only that, but he might have been the most media-unfriendly Mariner since, I don’t know, Phil Bradley?

It was as if he were allergic to reporters. He answered questions in a monotone, often snickered at the questions we asked and never let us see what was behind his icy eyes.

It was that way from his first spring-training start in 2008 in Scottsdale, when he got hit hard by the San Francisco Giants and dismissed every question he was asked.

I’m sorry, didn’t you say that you owed Bedard an apology? Does “recounting everything I hate about a person” qualify as an apology to you? Why are you repeating the same tired insults you’ve been hurling at him for two years now? Wasn’t the point of this piece to admit that you were wrong, not to try to defend your wrongness?

His personality (or lack of one) should have nothing to do with the way we covered him, but human nature being what it is, Bedard created an adversarial relationship which affected the way we (I) wrote about him.

Hey, good, we’re back on track here, even though you apparently felt the need to take another swipe at the man you’re attempting to apologize to. But at least you’re admitting that you let personal bias get in the way of whatever journalistic ethics you’re attempting to hold onto. That’s a good first step. Maybe it will get better from here…

Of course, he never made it easy on himself. He asked out of his first homecoming start in Baltimore, because of an injury and he never gave the impression — on the mound, or in the clubhouse — that he had that Cliff Lee give-me-the-ball-and-I’ll-throw-200-pitches-if-that’s-what-it-takes mentality.

He wasn’t a gamer like CC Sabathia. He wasn’t an Alpha Dog like Curt Schilling. He couldn’t be counted on every fifth day from April to September. That was the impression.

And we’re right back to listing the reasons you hate the guy. This is now two attempts to apologize, both of which times you’ve followed an apologetic lead in with shots at Bedard. You suck at this whole apologizing thing.

Last season, it always seemed as if Bedard was afraid to throw hard. His fastball was topping out in the 80s. His control was off.

Erik Bedard’s average fastball in 2008: 90.9 MPH. Erik Bedard’s average fastball in 2009: 91.5 MPH, exactly the same as it was in 2007, when he dominated hitters in Baltimore. You also suck at fact checking, apparently.

There were those of us (me) who thought he was a malingerer. That he didn’t have the heart to pitch in the heat of a pennant race. That he didn’t much like the game.

I’m not sure if you realize this or not, but you’re still insinuating that there’s some truth to this stupidity by repeating it yet again.

Now we know he was hurt. He was trying to pitch with a torn labrum, which is a little like a miler trying to run with a broken ankle.

You should have led with this, and then just stopped writing.

This was, quite possibly, the worst apology in the history of the world. You, Steve Kelley, managed to take an article where the premise was that you were wrong about Erik Bedard, and turn it into a defense of your own stupidity. You now need to apologize for your apology.

Or just go away. We’d settle for that, too.

Calling For A Moratorium

February 8, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 47 Comments 

Over the 15 months or so, we have certainly said our fair share of positive things about Jack Zduriencik and the job he’s done since taking over as the M’s GM. We all watched the franchise turnaround first hand, and it was amazing to see how quickly the team was able to get back on track. The turnaround was a great story.

That great story has now been written about, oh, everywhere. A google search for “Jack Zduriencik” + “turnaround” returns 2,900 hits. Name a national outlet, and they’ve done a feature on Jack Z recently. The off-season moves have people gushing. Pretty much every move the team makes is well received, both locally and nationally. The team is being held up as the poster boys of stats and scouts converging, and how well a team can be run when they listen to both sides.

I’m not here to say any of it is wrong. I am here to say that it may be time to move onto another subject of discussion, though, because I’m beginning to get the sense that it’s all getting to be a bit much for non-Mariner fans. All the stories, all the raves, all the hype… it’s starting to feed a backlash, and perhaps, setting the club up as an unnecessary litmus test for the current sabermetric beliefs.

As much as we like what the M’s have done in the last year and a half, there’s still a really good chance that this team is not going to make the playoffs. There are a lot of things that could go wrong with this team. Felix could get hurt. Lee could regress. Bradley could get injured/suspended/arrested. Wilson could pull something, and Jack Hannahan would be the team’s starting shortstop. Aardsma could forget how to throw strikes again. Kotchman could continue to not live up to his talent level. Bedard’s rehab could go badly.

Some of those things will happen. In a worst case scenario, almost all of them could happen at the same time. And if those downsides all happen to occur at the same time, this team could suck. They could win 70 games. The whole thing could fall apart.

It’s not likely, but it’s possible. Baseball’s weird. Good teams have bad years. “The best laid plans” is only a cliche because of how often well laid plans go awry.

I’d rather not have that kind of result lead to a larger, anti-stathead movement, where all the hard work done by so many to better understand the game is devalued because the 2010 Mariners were made the proxy for everything that we stand for. We think they’ve made a lot of good moves. We like this team. We think they have a chance to contend. But they might not, so in the way we talk about the franchise, let’s leave some room for the fact that the 2010 Mariners could finish in last place.

The M’s are a lot of things, but they’re not a litmus test for sabermetric theory. We’ve made the point clear that we’re extremely happy with how the team is being run, and I think the world has gotten the message. So, let’s lay off for a while, eh?

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