M’s May Have A Manager – It’s Not Valentine

October 15, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 40 Comments 

Larry Stone has the story on his blog. Bobby Valentine has been told he will not get the Mariners job, and rumors are swirling that the team may have already made their decision. If that is true, then the choice will come from the group that interviewed this week – Eric Wedge, Lloyd McClendon, John Gibbons, or Cecil Cooper. It could also be Daren Brown, hypothetically, but I don’t know anyone who actually thinks he has a real shot at this thing.

More to come, obviously.

Update: Buster Olney just sent out the following on Twitter. “Heard this: Eric Wedge did very, very well in his interview with Seattle Mariners. Wedge would be a good fit in Seattle; he’s experienced, he’s prepared to help with the rebuilding of the team,and a good organizational guy.” You can probably put two and two together.

Another update: Ken Rosenthal says John Gibbons has been told he’s out, too. All signs pointing to Eric Wedge at this point.

CJ Wilson and Cutters

October 14, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 17 Comments 

My new post at Brock and Salk’s blog is up and deals with C.J. Wilson’s conversion from the bullpen to the rotation. It’s not super Mariner specific (next week’s follow-up will get more into the Seattle tie-in), but I think its interesting from a “how pitching works” point of view. We’ll be talking pitching and playoff baseball when I do my weekly spot with them at 11:30 on ESPN 710.

Also, my afternoon post on FanGraphs today deals with another subject I find interesting at the moment – the rise of the cutter as the hot new pitch in baseball, and how you’re going to see a lot of it in the next couple of weeks, given which teams are still alive in the playoffs. Interestingly, the Mariners staff doesn’t have anyone who uses the pitch. Jason Vargas toyed with one earlier in the season but the experiment didn’t last long. Cliff Lee and Jamey Wright represent almost all of the cutters the team threw in 2010 (which was still just 26th in the league), and neither will be on the roster next year. It will be interesting to see if the Mariners decide that this is a trend they want to pursue. The cutter is certainly showing benefits for some guys who add it, and its hard to argue with the results of those who have picked it up.

Ackley Out for a Few Days (At Least)

October 13, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 8 Comments 

The Arizona Fall League season started Tuesday evening and now we already have our first injury (or second, if you want to consider Mangini’s strained quad leading to IF Matt Lawson being subbed in). 2B Dustin Ackley had tried to catch a line drive in the second game of the season and ended up with a sprained finger on his glove hand. The team doesn’t believe it’s serious, but it should keep him sidelined until next week, maybe longer. It’s disappointing in that he needs as much game time at second as he can get, but again, if he only misses a few games of the AFL season, which lasts a little over a month, it’s not quite so bad.

In more positive news, Josh Fields pitched for the first time since June 11th and ended up with a walk and two Ks in an inning of work. Venezuela is also active for winter baseball, and has Alex Liddi, Johermyn Chavez, Mauricio Robles, and Dan Cortes active so far, with Cortes and Robles both striking out one in one inning of relief. It’s something.

One Way To Describe Cliff Lee’s Greatness

October 12, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 25 Comments 

Sandy Koufax, career, postseason:

57 innings, 32 hits, 10 runs, 2 home runs, 11 walks, 61 strikeouts

Cliff Lee, career, postseason:

56 1/3 innings, 32 hits, 11 runs, 1 home run, 6 walks, 54 strikeouts

New Second Base Candidate

October 12, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 54 Comments 

Based on a conversation I had this morning, there’s apparently a name I left out of last week’s second baseman candidate post that could be a real possibility for the Mariners – Hiroyuki Nakajima. The shortstop is reportedly going to ask the Seibu Lions to post him so he can make a move to Major League Baseball next year. And, according to what I was told this morning, the Mariners are interested.

Nakajima is not an Ichiro/Matsuzaka kind of player where his posting will be a big deal stateside. The comparison I got was Taadahito Iguchi, and the price is expected to be similar – maybe a couple of million for the posting fee (Aki Iwamura, the only infielder ever posted from Japan, fetched $4.5 million), and then a short term, lower money contract. If he performed like Iguchi did in Chicago, it could be a huge bargain.

Nakajima is a shortstop in Japan, but some reports say he might profile better at second base. His experience at SS certainly wouldn’t hurt, though, and he could potentially shift across the bag if the team moved Jack Wilson once Dustin Ackley was ready. He’s a line drive gap hitter without big power, but he uses the whole field and could be a decent doubles guy. He doesn’t walk a lot, but as Patrick Newman of the great NPB Tracker pointed out, walks and strikeouts are both lower in Japan than in MLB, so that could change when he gets to the US.

If he can handle the transition from turf to grass and play some solid defense, he projects as a potential league average player. He turns 29 next summer, so he should have a few good years left in him. I’d say he’s certainly more interesting than a lot of the names we talked about last week, and he might not be much more expensive. Toss in the potential ability to play shortstop, and you can see why the M’s are apparently interested.

Just another name to tuck away for the winter. Should be an interesting offseason.

Four Managerial Interviews Scheduled

October 11, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 51 Comments 

Shannon Drayer with the scoop on the first four managerial candidates that the Mariners will interview. The first two up are John Gibbons, who we heard about last week, and Eric Wedge, the former Indians manager. Bobby Valentine and Cecil Cooper, formerly of the Astros, will also get interviews.

Finally, Shannon notes that the Mariners hope to have a manager in place “before the World Series”, which begins on October 27th. So, they essentially have two weeks to get through the process to meet that goal. Given that, it’s unlikely that you’ll see too many more names added, just given the time constraint.

I’m sure plenty of you guys will have opinions about these guys, and that’s fine, everyone’s allowed to have an opinion. Personally, though, I don’t think we really have any idea how what makes a good manager, and it’s almost certainly different for each organization. What kind of manager would be the best fit for this group of players and front office to work with? I have no idea. Unless your last name is Zduriencik, you probably don’t either. So, we can yap all we want, but that’s really all we’re doing. They’ll hire whoever they’re going to hire, and we’ll figure out whether we like him or not once we see what he does. Until then, they’re pretty much all the same to me.

DH Candidates

October 8, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 86 Comments 

I decided to save the second-baseman-we-could-trade for a larger post next week, since there will be some crossover with guys who could fill the backup SS/utility infielder role. If the Mariners don’t like any of the cheap free agent second baseman, it’s likely they may look to the trade market to fill both of the 2B and UT holes, and they’ll be buying from the same market, so we’ll just look at that all at once.

So, today, we focus on the boppers. The Mariners are probably going to make a run at some kind of offensive upgrade this winter, and as we’ve discussed, DH is really the only line-up spot where they can do that. Especially if they go with cheap stop-gaps at second base and in the rotation, they’ll have some money to spend on a guy who can hit the ball over the wall. The problem will be that, as a pretty obvious rebuilding team, they’re not going to be very high on the list of destinations for many free agents, especially the older guys who are looking to land with a contender and have already made a lot of money. Jim Thome would probably love hitting in Safeco Field, but I doubt he wants to spend his age 41 season on a team that will be projected to finish in the cellar by just about everyone.

And, by nature, most DHs are older. It’s a position generally stocked by guys at the end of their careers who can’t play the field anymore. So, that presents another dilemma – should the team really be spending a decent amount of its budget on a guy who is on his last legs? Yes, the offense needs improving, but if the team isn’t going to win the World Series next year, they probably shouldn’t spend $7 or $8 million on a guy in his late-30s anyway, as that money would have to come from the pool that could potentially be invested into players who would actually be productive in 2012 and beyond.

So, we’re basically throwing out guys who might be on their last contract. They’ll probably want to play elsewhere anyway, and it doesn’t make sense for the M’s to use a lot of resources on a guy who may not be an active player in 12 months. We’re also going to eliminate all right-handed hitters from the search, because bringing in a bat-first guy who will get killed by Safeco doesn’t really accomplish anything. Oh, and as we mentioned in the last piece, the organization probably can’t afford to have the DH be only a DH if they’re going to carry Milton Bradley – they’ll need him to be able to fake it, at least, at first base or in left field, to give them necessary roster flexibility.

Using those filters, we can say goodbye to the following possibilities, for the most part: Jason Giambi, Troy Glaus, Paul Konerko, David Ortiz, Jim Thome, Magglio Ordonez, Vladimir Guerrero, Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez

Suddenly, a deep group of available hitters looks a lot smaller. Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities.

Adam Dunn, Free Agent

Let’s just get this one out of the way – he’s the longest of long shots to fill this spot. He’s stated his distaste for DH’ing before, and if he had his druthers, he’d stay in the National League. He’s said the right things about being open to being a DH, as his agent certainly wants him too have as many bidders as possible, but it’s not something that he really wants to do, and odds are pretty good that he’s not going to want to do it for a last place team. Given that teams like the White Sox are known to be going after him, there’s little chance that he’ll end up signing a contract in the team’s budget anyway. He’s available, and he fits the mold of what the team is looking for in some ways, but he’s probably not going to be the guy they end up with.

Prince Fielder, Milwaukee

I threw water on these rumors a few weeks ago, arguing that his $15+ million salary in 2010 and desire for a huge, long term extension priced him out of the Mariners plans. However, after I wrote that post, I had a couple of people in the game tell me that they think the Brewers will be aggressive in trying to move Fielder this winter, and that they’ll work with teams who might not be able to afford him to get them into the bidding. It sounds like they realize that there won’t be a huge market for Fielder this winter if they don’t create one, so while they’re not going to pick up any of his 2011 salary, they might be amenable to taking back some salary in a deal that got them the pitching they were looking for. I’d still say its a longshot, but the odds might be a couple of points higher than I thought they were when I wrote that post.

Carlos Pena, Free Agent

Once a guy who figured to be way out of the team’s price range, Pena’s ridiculously bad September (.122/.258/.232) and ugly showing against Cliff Lee could be driving his price down significantly. He has the kind of offensive skillset that the Mariners would like – patience, power, and relative youth – but he’s also a pretty decent defender at first base, and it’s unlikely that he would want to relegate himself to being a DH at this point in his career. The M’s could offer him a chance to split time at first with Justin Smoak, but that’s probably not going to be that enticing either. I’d expect Pena to land with a club that needs a first baseman, and right now, that’s not the Mariners.

Aubrey Huff, Free Agent

Huff is the walking definition of an enigma. His wOBA by year since 2004: .365, .315, .346, .337, .387, .297, .388. There’s a couple of really bad years, a couple of mediocre years, and a couple of great years in there. And that was during his prime. Now, headed for age 34, he’s probably on the downside of his career, except that he just had the best season of his life. He upped his walk rate by 50 percent without striking out any more than he did in 2009, and the left-handed power is still there. He’s young enough that a multi-year contract isn’t out of the question, but would the Mariners want to take commit several years to a guy who was below replacement level in 2009? I’d imagine the Giants will probably try to re-sign him as well, so they’d have to outbid a winning team where he’s comfortable in order to get him. He’s an option, but there are hurdles here.

Lance Berkman, Free Agent

If the Mariners are going to sign an older guy, this would be the one I’d be the most in favor of. Yes, he’ll be 35 next year and struggled with the Yankees, but he’s still got some good baseball left in him. A switch-hitter with one of the most patient approaches in MLB, the question is how his power will hold up as he ages. He had trouble driving the ball this year after a wrist injury, but that shouldn’t linger into 2010. Prior to this year, he’d posted a wOBA of .383 or higher in every single season of his career, since his brief debut in 1999. He’s a legitimate offensive force, and he’s still mobile enough to play first base when necessary.

The problem will be location. He negotiated a full no-trade clause into his contract with the Astros because he’s a Texas guy who values being close to his home. There was some talk that he was planning on going back to the Astros this winter, but they did trade for Brett Wallace and have talked about moving Carlos Lee to first base, so that might not be an option. The Rangers, however, have a gaping hole at first base and will have money to spend this winter, so if they show interest, Berkman probably won’t choose Seattle. If the Rangers pass, for whatever reason, he could be a really good fit though. His numbers and age will keep him from getting a huge paycheck, so he’ll be in the M’s range in terms of salary, and he could reasonably be a good hitter for several more years. The key would be convincing him to sign here – if they could do that, he’d be a good guy to target.

Luke Scott, Baltimore

A guy I’ve been advocating for quite a while, the M’s probably missed their chance to acquire the O’s slugger. Given how well he finished the 2010 season, Baltimore will be inclined to keep their best hitter, even as a second year arbitration eligible guy. They can afford to give him a raise to the $6 or $7 million range, so they don’t need to trade him this winter. Odds are they’ll keep him for the start of 2011, let him crush some more home runs in the first few months of the season and shop him around this summer at the deadline.

Hideki Matsui, Free Agent

Now we start to get into the pool of guys who just aren’t all that great, and don’t represent the kind of upgrade that the team is looking for, and would generally just be a waste of money. I’d throw Adam LaRoche, Lyle Overbay, and Russ Branyan into this mix as well. They’re all average at best players with some real limitations, and if the Mariners were just going to go with a guy who would be a decent-but-not-great hitter, I’d rather see them give an unproven kid a shot. I just don’t see much point in paying money to have any of these guys around for one year. They won’t make the team that much better, and there’s basically no upside with any of them. Pass.

Brad Hawpe, Free Agent

If the team can’t get any of their higher priced targets to come here, Hawpe could be an interesting flyer. After years of productive offense (along with putrid defense) in Colorado, he just fell apart this year, hitting .245/.338/.419. For an epically bad defender, that’s just not going to cut it, and that’s why he got released this summer. He didn’t hit after catching on in Tampa Bay either, so he’ll be looking for any team that is willing to give him a chance to get his career back on track this winter. He’s not in the position to be choosy, and if the Mariners offered him a low base salary with incentives and a chance for 600 plate appearances, it would probably be the best offer he’d get all winter.

He’s not an elite hitter, but it seems unlikely that all of his offensive skills evaporated at age 31. Interestingly, he’s not a classic pull-power lefty, as only 40 percent of his career home runs have been hit to right field. He’s shown power to all fields before, and while his numbers are inflated by Coors Field, there are reasons to think that he could be a good hitter again. He’d come with more risk and less upside than a guy like Berkman, but he’d be significantly cheaper and is more likely to sign here. He wouldn’t be my top candidate, but I’d make sure he knew I was interested before he took a deal from someone else.

Dan Johnson, Tampa Bay

I threw his name out there a couple of weeks as the kind of guy that I’d like to see the Mariners give a shot to, though he’s basically a stand-in representation for any number of older minor league sluggers who haven’t gotten a real shot at a full-time job. The M’s basically went this route with Russ Branyan a couple of years ago and it worked well, but I get the sense that they might not be willing to do so again. The team is willing to admit that they’re rebuilding only to a point, and they’ve repeatedly avoided going with a full fledged young roster that would lead to low expectations and lower attendance. The casual fan is going to be looking for some kind of big offensive acquisition this winter, and Dan Johnson won’t be what they’re looking for.

While I think there’s a baseball argument to be made for using the position to try to find a guy who might be here for several years at a low cost, there’s also a legitimate business argument to be made that the team needs to put a decent product on the field next year or risk alienating a portion of the fan base that can be hard to win back. A few years ago, I probably would have dismissed that reasoning, but declining attendance is a legitimate concern, especially since the team continues to tie payroll to number of people who come to the games. With jobs on the line and some angry customers to appease, hesitation in going with another “trust me on this one” type of guy is valid. Besides, Tampa Bay won’t want to just give Johnson away, so you’d have to give up some kind of asset to take that risk in the first place. I can see why spending money on a bigger name guy is more appealing.

That’s not an exhaustive list, as there are other guys who could become available throughout the winter, but hopefully it gives you some idea of what the team will be looking at this winter. There’s a couple of guys in the high rent district that they can’t afford, a couple of middle age guys who might be fits if they wanted to play in Seattle, and some low cost flyers that the team might have to settle for if they can’t land a bigger name.

Halladay Talk With Brock And Salk

October 7, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 11 Comments 

My latest post for Brock and Salk is up, and after last night, is there anything I could write about besides Roy Halladay. The game’s best pitcher put on a performance that ranks as the best I’ve ever seen, and showed why he is the best pitcher alive. He wasn’t always this dominant, however, and as the piece explains, Halladay is the poster child for why you shouldn’t overreact to a kid struggling to begin his career.

Also, my normal spot with the ESPN 710 guys will be at 11:30.

All Day Playoff Chat

October 6, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 17 Comments 

I’m hosting a marathon chat session over at FanGraphs today, as we’ll be chatting all through the three playoff match-ups today. If you want a spot to hang out while you watch the game (or, you know, “work”), check it out.

Second Base Candidates

October 5, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 102 Comments 

As we talked about in the last post, this is probably not a position where the Mariners will invest heavily, even though they’re going to need to bring in someone who can begin the season as an everyday player. Dustin Ackley is knocking on the door, and they’re not going to want to expend resources to bring in a guy who would block his path to the majors. While you’ll probably see the team linked to guys like Kelly Johnson and Dan Uggla, both of whom would represent an offensive upgrade on a team that needs one, I doubt you’ll see the Mariners make a play for either one.

Instead, they’ll be shopping for a guy who can handle the position for at least the first few months of the season, then be able to slide into a utility role if Ackley’s performance demands that he be promoted from Tacoma in the early summer. That means they’ll want a guy who is okay with reduced playing time and can handle shortstop in a pinch. Ideally, he’d probably be a right-handed hitter that could complement Ackley, who still has a ways to go before he’s productive against LHPs.

Let’s take a look at a few different options that may be available without having to give up anything in trade – we’ll deal with those options in a separate post.

Ryan Theriot, Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers picked him up in a deal with the Cubs this summer, hoping he would stabilize their second base problem. He didn’t, hitting just .242/.323/.283 in 228 plate appearances, a performance worse than the line that got him shipped out of Chicago in the first place. After serving as the Cubs starting shortstop the last few years, the Dodgers used him exclusively at second base, but he can handle either spot defensively. What he can’t do is hit for any power, so he’d be a hard sell to the fan base as any kind of offensive upgrade. He’s honestly pretty similar to Jack Wilson, just with less defensive value and fewer injuries. Exciting, right?

The Dodgers probably won’t want to give him the $3 to $4 million he’d earn in arbitration, so I’d expect Theriot to hit the free agent market at the beginning of December. Coming off a down year, and headed into his age 31 season, he probably won’t be able to get more than a one year deal for $2 to $3 million. He fits the description of the kind of player the M’s are probably going to be in the market for, and he’s in the right ballpark in terms of price. The question is whether the M’s want yet another slap-hitter who provides no difference in skills than what they already have, or if they’d rather find a guy who might provide a different kind of skillset. Still, expect Theriot to be a consideration.

Juan Uribe, Free Agent

Speaking of guys with different skillsets, expect to see a lot of people pushing for Uribe this winter. He’s been a productive player for the Giants over the last two years, combining good defense at three infield spots with surprising power from a middle infielder. In just over 900 plate appearances in 2009 and 2010, he’s launched 40 home runs, so he’d definitely provide some power that fans covet. There are a few problems, however – he’s a right-handed extreme pull power guy with a poor approach at the plate, and he’s going to be in demand as a free agent this winter.

Not only is Safeco about the worst possible park for his skills, he’ll have no shortage of suitors, most of whom won’t offer a home park that will turn his homers into long outs. The Mariners would have to outbid everyone else for his services with enough to spare to make him overlook Safeco, and given that he’s going to be 32 and is essentially Jose Lopez with a better glove, that doesn’t seem like a wise use of the team’s limited resources. If the market for him dried up, for whatever reason, the M’s would probably be interested, but I think he’ll probably end up pricing himself out of their range.

Jerry Hairston Jr, Free Agent

The Mariners were interested in Hairston as a utility player two years ago, when Jack Zduriencik first took over as the GM, but he ended up signing with the Reds. It is pretty likely that this front office still likes what Hairston brings to the table, and he fits the mold of what they’re looking for in a lot of ways – right-handed, a little bit of power, can play anywhere on the field, and experienced at serving as a super-sub. However, like Uribe, there won’t be much in the way of motivation for him to come play in Seattle. If he stays in San Diego, he may be able to keep playing with his brother, and the Padres want him back. The M’s could offer a little bit more money, but Hairston will be 35 next year and is reaching the end of his career – odds are good that winning is going to be the main factor, and so Seattle probably won’t be high on his list.

Jhonny Peralta, Free Agent

The poor man’s version of Juan Uribe. He has a similar build and approach, but gets a little less power out it at the plate while simultaneously managing to be worse defensively. He’s only going to be 29 next year, but he’s not aging very well and his days at shortstop are probably coming to an end. He doesn’t have any experience at second base, however, which might make him less attractive than other options, as the team already went through growing pains with Figgins at 2B this year. The Tigers have expressed interest in bringing him back, and it’s unlikely that he’d come to Seattle to play a new position, so he’s probably not going to be very high up on the list.

Felipe Lopez, Free Agent

Lopez had a pretty spectacular fall from grace after a really good 2009 season. He couldn’t find a job last winter, fired Scott Boras as his agent, eventually took $1 million from the Cardinals to serve as a part-time player, didn’t produce, and got released in the final week of the season for showing up late. He’s never had a good reputation for work ethic, but he’s got some offensive abilities and can handle second base defensively. He’s also a switch hitter and has experience around the infield, though he doesn’t have enough range to play short in anything other than an emergency.

At 31, he should have some decent baseball left in him, but his inconsistency and lack of motivation aren’t exactly the kind of thing the team will want around a bunch of young players. He’ll be cheap and would provide some upside, but I’d expect the M’s to pass due to his personality.

Clint Barmes, Colorado Rockies

The homeless man’s version of Juan Uribe. If the M’s really want that kind of player, Barmes provides the same idea in a worse package. He can play second or short without embarrassing himself, and has some power, but it’s all to left field. He doesn’t have a very good approach at the plate and had trouble keeping his OBP over .300 while playing half of his games in Coors Field. He’s an automatic non-tender for the Rockies, who won’t want to give him a raise from the $3.3 million he made this year, but he’s probably not worth more than a few million dollars, and Safeco would kill him. He’s an option, but not a great one.

Cristian Guzman, Free Agent

Felipe Lopez, but a slightly better work ethic. In retrospect, I wish I had written up Guzman instead of Lopez, and then just referred to Lopez as the the lazy version of this same skillset, but you get the idea.

There will be some other names available as well, but they’re all going to be some version of this kind of player (or they’re going to be out of the M’s price range). For $2 to $3 million on a one year deal, this is probably the group that the M’s will be looking at. I think my preference would be for Theriot, mostly due to his ability to slide over to shortstop when Jack Wilson inevitably gets hurt, but I’m not sure there’s a huge difference between most of these guys.

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