Why It Would Be Okay To Trade Michael Pineda

November 29, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 99 Comments 

The last few weeks of Justin Upton related conversations have given rise to perspectives on the relative trade value of most of the M’s young talents, including the three young guys who seem close enough the majors that you should expect to see them at Safeco this summer – Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Michael Pineda. Besides Felix, these are the three guys in the organization that get people excited about what the future might hold, and for many of you, the idea of trading any of them away is painful. As Shannon Drayer wrote on her blog, initial reaction is often “hell no” when the topic of moving two of those players for Upton is broached.

However, Shannon came around to the idea of making a move with some limitations – for her, the guy she wants to keep is Michael Pineda. Personally, I’m of the exact opposite opinion – he’s the guy I’d be most willing to deal, and given the Mariners situation, I think it might actually make sense for the M’s to use Pineda as a bargaining chip this winter.

I realize that this might sound crazy. Pineda is the organization’s best pitching prospect by a country mile, as the drop-off after him is pretty substantial. He showed front-of-the-rotation stuff and potential in Double-A and Triple-A last year, and is widely expected to have a real chance to break camp with the team to start the 2011 season. After Felix, the M’s rotation options are a bunch of slop-throwing, pitch-to-contact guys, none of whom have anything resembling Pineda’s upside. If the M’s did trade him, they’d need to acquire two starting pitchers to fill out their rotation this winter, and it’s never easy to get two useful big league starters in the same winter.

However, while Pineda is full of upside, he’s also brimming with risk. Pitching prospects are notoriously fickle, as they are the most likely players on the field to get hurt and don’t follow traditional development curves. Just as an example, here are the pitching prospects that Baseball America ranked in their top 25 prospects before the 2007 season began.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (#1)
Phil Hughes (#4)
Homer Bailey (#5)
Andrew Miller (#10)
Tim Lincecum (#11)
Yovani Gallardo (#16)
Mike Pelfrey (#20)
Matt Garza (#21)
Adam Miller (#23)
Clayton Kershaw (#24)

Despite being a really strong year for pitching prospects, that is a decidedly mixed bag. Dice-K is generally considered a bust, and is nothing more than a #4 or #5 starter at this point. Hughes has turned into a good starter, but it took him four years and a trip to the bullpen in between. Bailey has mostly struggled, finally showing some progress in the second half of last season. Andrew Miller is a bust, as he’s battled arm injuries and is now a reclamation project with his third organization. Lincecum is the big success story, though Gallardo and Kershaw have also developed into high quality starters as well. Pelfrey has established himself as a decent mid-rotation guy, as has Garza, though it took him a change in organizations to live up to the hype. Adam Miller rounds out the bust group, as finger problems have derailed his career.

This is basically how it goes with pitching prospects – even premium ones. There’s a chance that Pineda turns into a really good starting pitcher, but there’s an equally large chance that he gets hurt or simply can’t translate his minor league success to the big leagues. In fact, given Pineda’s history of arm problems and limited workloads, chances are almost certainly better that he busts than that he booms. He’s a high risk prospect even by normal pitching prospect standards.

Volatility is the nature of the beast when it comes to prospects, but the Mariners have some circumstances that suggest it might not make sense for them to be the ones to take the risk on Pineda’s development. The big factor here is Safeco Field. As we’ve talked about ad nauseum, the stadium’s asymmetrical alignment makes it a pitcher’s paradise for southpaws, but it isn’t nearly as friendly for right-handed pitchers. The team has a built-in competitive advantage with left-handed pitchers, where they can take a guy who would be marginal in another park and make him a viable starter because of how the field plays. This gives them a chance to get value out of players who won’t command a huge return in the market, as their skills don’t work in other places as well as they do in Seattle.

This isn’t to say that the Mariners should only have left-handed starting pitchers, but filling the rotation with right-handers does come with an opportunity cost. With Felix and Fister already around, adding Pineda to the rotation leaves a maximum of two spots for lefties, which prevents the team from using the dimensions of its home park to full advantage. Or, to put it another way, replacing Pineda’s production may actually not be all that hard for the Mariners, given their unique ability to extract maximum value from pedestrian left-handed pitchers. If you could get a 4.25 ERA from a guy like Jeff Francis simply because of how the park plays, you would not lose all that much from what Pineda is likely to give you, even if his true talent level is significantly lower.

The other factor is that a team in the Mariners position can’t afford to see one of their primary assets lose a large chunk of his value overnight, as would happen if Pineda’s arm started hurting at some point this year. For a team that needs to be adding value to their major league roster, having two of their five most valuable pieces be pitchers under the age of 25 exposes them to significant downside. Swapping Pineda for a position player, or using him as a piece in a trade that brings the team an everyday player, would reduce the likelihood of the team facing a catastrophe.

I’m not suggesting that the Mariners should give Pineda away, of course. As one of the best pitching prospects in the game, and a guy who could step into a big league rotation right away, he should have a substantial amount of trade value. I’d simply suggest that the Mariners may want to consider cashing in that value if an opportunity to get a quality young position player presents itself. The risks of Pineda flopping are pretty large, and the organization would lose a big asset if he doesn’t develop as hoped. For where they are in terms of roster construction, it may be wise to take a little less reward to minimize risk.

If the Mariners are going to trade any of their premium young talent this winter, Pineda should probably be the one they move.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 21 Comments 

It hasn’t exactly been a year where we look back and say “man, aren’t we lucky to be Mariners fans”, but I want to thank you guys for sticking around anyway. I know the site hasn’t been as active as it used to be, with Derek enjoying retirement and my attention being shifted to FanGraphs because, well, they put food on my table, but you guys have stuck with us anyway. Here’s to hoping in a year we can celebrate a successful Mariners season, and list all of the good new players we’re thankful for.

Until then:

Felix! Ichiro! Death To Flying Things! Smoak! I am thankful for you all.

M’s Not On Upton’s No Trade List

November 23, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 80 Comments 

A few days ago, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Mariners were one of four teams on Justin Upton’s limited no-trade list. Rosenthal is almost always right, and breaks a ton of news, but it turns out that he missed on this one, as no less a source than the agency that represents Upton said on Twitter today that the Mariners are not on Upton’s list.

This is interesting for the obvious reason, as it means that we can resume wondering about just how much the M’s should be willing to offer Arizona to get Upton to Seattle. It’s also interesting for a more subtle reason, I think – that Upton’s agents felt it necessary to set the record straight on this particular rumor tells me that there’s a decent chance that the Diamondbacks and his agents have already talked about where he would be willing to go based on the teams that have shown the most interest.

When was the last time you saw an agency correct a rumor like this? It just doesn’t happen, and there’s no way this was the first piece of incorrect information that has ever been floated about one of their clients. However, they felt that it was important this time to correct the public record. We can only speculate as to why, but if the Mariners were being aggressive in their pursuit of Upton, and the agency knew it was a legitimate possible destination, then it could make some sense to debunk that particular error.

I could be wrong, but it’s worth thinking about, at least.

An Under The Radar Good Move

November 23, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

Yesterday, the Mariners signed Luis Rodriguez to a minor league contract. A 30 year old utility infielder who spent all of 2010 in the minors, he’s probably not going to excite you much. However, as I wrote on FanGraphs a few months ago, Rodriguez’s 2010 season was pretty interesting, and makes him a guy worth taking a flyer on.

Up until this year, he’d never really hit at all. In 4,000 minor league plate appearances, he has a career .276/.356/.372 line. In 1,000 career major league plate appearances, he’s hit just .243/.316/.323. For his career, he’s been worth +0.7 wins. He’s been the definition of a replacement level player – an okay defensive second baseman who can’t hit much and is stretched defensively at shortstop. However, you’d never know that’s what he was from looking at his line in Charlotte from last year.

In 400 plate appearances, he hit .293/.364/.493, launching a career high 16 home runs in just 94 games. His previous career high for home runs in a season was eight, and that was over 129 games back in 2002. He had as many extra base hits as strikeouts, racking up 35 of each. It was, in every way, a career year for Rodriguez. When a 30-year-old has a big year in Triple-A out of nowhere, you can usually write it off as meaningless. However, there are some interesting parallels between Rodriguez and Andres Torres, as I wrote about in the linked post above.

Is Rodriguez going to turn into Andres Torres 2.0? Don’t count on it. However, players develop at different rates, and if Rodriguez has figured out how to drive the ball after years of slapping it on the ground, there’s a chance that he could be a pretty useful reserve infielder. The M’s will be able to give him a look in Peoria and see whether they think he can carry over his 2010 success to the big leagues. If he continues to show some pop, he could end up as a nice role player for the league minimum. If he goes back to looking like the pre-2010 version, the M’s can simply assign him to Tacoma and let him serve as minor league depth.

It isn’t the kind of move that will get headlines, but it’s a nice little pickup for the M’s, and gives the organization another interesting player to watch in March. .

USSM Chat – 11/23/10

November 22, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

Ten Added to the 40-Man

November 19, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 25 Comments 

To think that we were saying last year was an opportunity to add some fringe guys because there was space. Back then, we added six, and this time, ten players were added, those being OF Johermyn Chavez, RHP Maikel Cleto, LHP Cesar Jimenez, 3B Alex Liddi, RHP Josh Lueke, RHP Yoervis Medina, OF Carlos Peguero, RHP Michael Pineda, LHP Mauricio Robles, and RHP Tom Wilhelmsen. If you’re expecting nearly 2000 words of analysis to follow, well then by golly, you’re right.
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Four of twenty eight, ten of thirty

November 18, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · Comments Off on Four of twenty eight, ten of thirty 

Growing up, baseball was more than one of three national sports. It was the only one that mattered. Each day I could get my afternoon copy of the Times and pore over the day-late boxscores, looking for weird plays, interesting lines, and I’d read one or two paragraph wire recaps of games eagerly for news of players I couldn’t count on ever seeing in person. It took me a long time to grasp how long the seasons were, because it seemed like there wasn’t baseball news only when it was dark and rainy all the time.

I loved that the playoffs were so small. In 1993 four — only four — teams played in the post-season: the Blue Jays, the White Sox, the Phillies, the Braves. Two teams won more than 90 games and stayed home: the Expos won 94.The Giants, my second-favorite team, won 103 games and lost the NL West to Atlanta by a game.

I’m still angry about that loss, and I took it as a reasonable argument for re-alignment and the wild card, and yet I understood. I always looked at the NBA and the NHL and rolled my eyes. I didn’t see the point in a regular season if half the teams got in. What did it matter? Why even bother playing fifty games if the outcomes didn’t matter? Baseball… baseball got it. The regular season took so long that only strong, deep teams could make the playoffs — if you could barely patch together a three-starter rotation, you could win a series but how would you even get there?

The 2001 Mariners, that was a long-season team. Balanced, consistent, deep. As a roster-construction geek, admired the collapsible squads that could get to the eighty-five, eighty-eight wins to squeak into the post-season and thrive in rest-day-heavy playoff schedules, sure. But I loved teams that had deep benches, and a long man in the bullpen who would start double-headers.

Why bother now? There are no double-headers, and some playoff schedules flirt with being pitchable by two starters on each team.

I miss those teams. But I miss caring about the post-season more. In 1993, four of 28 teams went to the playoffs, and it was special. Every playoff game mattered, because the winner of each of the Championship Series played in the World Series, and in the World Series the two leagues played each other.

I know, quaint.

In 2001, when my marathon-runner M’s won and won, remember the A’s ended up with 102 victories as well. And unlike my Giants in 93, they got in, and I was happy. And I loved seeing the Mariners play the Giants. But since then interleague play grew stale, it affected the fairness of schedules, and we’ve all been subjected to far too many Padres-Mariners game. Worse, expanding the playoffs has led to expanding the playoffs further: according to ESPN, Selig’s going to go to ten-team playoffs and none of the owners seem to care.

In 20 years, baseball will go from having four of 28 teams play in the post-season to letting ten of 30 in. Ten of thirty. Proportionately in 1993, when the injustice of the Giants made me willing to accept the wild card, nine teams would have gone, all the way down to say, Texas, at 86-76, with three teams tied behind them at 85-77. Texas finished eight games behind the Chicago squad that lost to the Blue Jays in the ALCS. The Cardinals at 87-75 get in, and they finished ten games back from the Phillies team that played in the World Series.

I know a World Series game lost in the ratings to a not particularly interesting NFL game, and I know there’s a ton of money in post-season broadcasts. But I’ve always felt baseball was a unique game with a season that encouraged following it, learning it, and letting it become part of your life. I wish it wasn’t so willing to sell the very things that make it special and wonderful for short-term gain, and instead highlighted and celebrated why it’s different and the ways it’s superior.

Would the playoffs in 1993 been better for having those teams that finished eight, ten games back over the course of a 162-game season get into the post-season? That Atlanta and San Francisco could be so good for a whole season and even in the last days throw everything they could into each game and in that last day each inning, out, and pitch required that the division title be worth so much. The playoffs, in turn, benefited. We remember that Giants team for being the second-best in baseball that year while still missing the playoffs, a mark of undeniable greatness and bitter frustration. I can’t believe that isn’t worth more than being the tenth team into the playoffs, or than the immediate gains from forcing baseball to be like all the other sports.

Congrats, Felix

November 18, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 72 Comments 

You were awesome. Enjoy the award.

Also, 21 first place votes for Felix, 4 for Price, 3 for Sabathia. Win-Loss record took a whooping.

The Big Day

November 18, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 12 Comments 

In about 90 minutes, we learn whether the BBWAA has awarded Felix Hernandez the 2010 AL Cy Young. In about 95 minutes, you’ll be reading a non-stop series of articles about what this vote means. You’ll be told that if Felix wins, it will be the culmination of the baseball writers acceptance of newer statistical analysis. If Sabathia wins, it will be cast as evidence that the voters are standing their ground and refuse to move off of traditional dogma.

In reality, both narratives are probably wrong. I talk about this a bit at FanGraphs today and made some of these same points in September here, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that today’s results are simply a poll of 28 people. Are those 28 going to be representative of the entire membership of the writer’s association? Maybe, maybe not.

If we avoid the litmus test idea, and instead look at the bigger picture, I think we can see some remarkable progress in how the mainstream media covers the sport. If you think about what the local coverage was like five years ago, we essentially had Larry Stone, Art Thiel, and a lot of cringing. There is simply no comparison when you look at the types of coverage provided today compared to what used to pass for analysis in the dailies. It’s not just Seattle, either – writers around the country have taken stock of what they believe and been willing to question whether some of the old cliches were actually true.

I know Felix wants to win the award, and for his sake, I hope he does. But even more for the sakes of guys like Larry Stone and Ryan Divish, I hope Felix wins – their industry deserves recognition, not scorn, for how well they’ve recently adapted to changes in the understanding of the game.

And Two Small Drips to Open Things

November 17, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

Time will tell if Buster Olney’s prediction for the M’s offseason holds true, but the opening dips into the market adhere to the pattern. Today, the Mariners claimed IF Sean “Rock the” Kazmar from the Padres (not my pun) and signed journeyman RHP Justin Miller to a minor league contract.

Kazmar spent the past two years with the recently-exiled Portland Beavers, hitting .235/.306/.314 his first year and .275/.326/.381 his second. Overall, you might look at him as Josh Wilson-type hitter, except he’s a bit smaller and doesn’t hit for as much power. The fielding data on both is roughly the same, though Kazmar is probably a bit better at second base. Neither are ideal, but both can fill in for a while. Kazmar just happens to be younger and might cost a little less.

Miller is actually mildly interesting. He was a 1.2 WAR pitcher for the Marlins back in 2007, but as he’s lost about three mph off his heater since then. The fastball/slider combo, however, is still working about as well as it ever did. Last season, his K-rate jumped back up to about 11 per nine, roughly the same as ’07, and it helped him run the best strikeout to walk ratio of his career. His xFIP of 3.32 was more than a run and a half better than his tour with the Giants the previous year.

Both will probably get invites to spring training, where Kazmar will compete with Wilson and whoever else and Miller has a chance to fill one of the bullpen roles that opened up recently.

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