The Big Splash Option

November 17, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 145 Comments 

A lot of people are hoping that the Mariners will make a big splash this winter, landing a big power hitter like Prince Fielder or Adam Dunn. That’s looked unlikely at best all along, and we’ve tried to caution that the Mariners off-season is likely to be a bit more low key than that. They don’t have a ton of money to spend, and most of the big name options don’t make sense for where the organization is and what it needs.

Until now. You’ve probably heard that Kevin Towers is now willing to listen to offers for Justin Upton, the Diamondbacks young outfielder, and rumors have swirled over possible landing spots over the last few days. Joel Sherman reported this morning that the “Diamondbacks have growing belief (they) will trade Upton based on ton of interest.” The more reports surface, the more it sounds like this is something Arizona may be planning on doing, rather than just kicking the tires to see what they could get for him.

If Jack Zduriencik wants to make a big move to improve the offense, Upton’s availability gives him that chance. He’s signed through 2015 for a total of $49.5 million, but only $4.25 million of that is due in 2011, so he’d fit into the team’s modest pool of available cash. He turned 23 in August, so acquiring him wouldn’t be a short term desperation move that would require sacrificing the future to improve the present. And, he fits a lot of what the Mariners need.

Yes, he’s a right-handed power hitter, but he’s the kind of right-handed power hitter that the team needs – a guy who drives the ball to all fields. Of his 60 career home runs, only 31 have been to left field. While a lot of right-handed thumpers are great when they pull the ball and lousy when they do anything else, Upton has a .511 wOBA when he hits the ball to left, a .439 wOBA when he hits it to center, and a .365 wOBA when he hits it to right field. Here’s Upton’s spray chart for his 2010 home runs, via Hit Tracker:

He wouldn’t love Safeco, but it wouldn’t kill him either. He’s the kind of slugger who could survive the park and still be a productive hitter in Seattle.

On FanGraphs yesterday, I estimated Upton’s future value, and as you can see, he’s a huge asset, as his contract will pay him just a fraction of what he’s actually going to be worth over the next five years. Given his age and abilities, the expected career path for him ranges anywhere from Ruben Sierra to Reggie Jackson – he’s almost certainly going to hit for power, and if he gets the rest of his game to develop, he could be one of the all-time greats. Even if he doesn’t, he should be a nice player.

Of course, acquiring him would not be cheap. The D’Backs will only deal him for a big offer, but the Mariners have the pieces to put together a big offer. If Jack is willing to build a package around some of the organization’s best pieces (and we’re talking guys like Michael Pineda, Dustin Ackley, or Justin Smoak here), the M’s could get Kevin Towers attention.

Should they? That’s a different question, and depends on the asking price. But, the opportunity is now in front of them. If they want to make a big move to acquire a franchise slugger, they have a shot.

Jack Needs A Metaphor Coach

November 16, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 18 Comments 

When asked about Milton Bradley’s role on the 2011 Mariners, given his previous problems with Eric Wedge in Cleveland, Jack Z said this:

“That’s water over the dam,” he said. “That was several years ago. He and Eric talked since Eric got the job. They are both grown men. They are both pros. They will turn the page and move on and play baseball.”

Jack, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but water going over a dam… that means there’s flooding, the whole structure is about to break, and things are about to get real bad, real quick. What you were looking for is water under the bridge, which refers to something that is in the past and no longer relevant.

Of course, if Milton’s still got his infamous t-shirt around, water over the dam might be a more accurate projection of how this could go…

Update: Apparently, water over a dam is a synonymous idiom to water under the bridge. Apparently, I’m an idiot. Carry on, Jack.

Rick Waits: Pitching Coordinator

November 15, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 11 Comments 


Waits takes over Carl Willis’ old job, after seven years of serving in the minor league pitching coordinator capacity for the Mets. Prior to that, he had served as the pitching coach before Rick Peterson, and the bullpen coach before that. The Mets didn’t exactly have the strongest track record for developing pitching while he was in charge. In fact, you may be familiar with some of his former charges that have come our way in Yusmeiro Petit and Gaby Hernandez. You may also recognize certain names from the past of prospecting lists like Philip Humber and Mike Pelfrey. If you’re sensing a trend of the Mets not really generating good pitchers internally, you’re correct. I suppose Jonathon Niese is all right.

How this will turn out for us, we don’t know exactly. There are more factors involved in the development of a pitching prospect than can easily be accounted for, or attributed to one individual. Waits will take his orders from Willis, and we’ll see how things shake out from there. It’s unlikely that this is going to make a huge impact one way or the other. This is just some small amount of news.

For my own part, I plan on working in as many Tom Waits references as possible as long as he’s here.

My Favorite Dave Niehaus Memory

November 15, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 21 Comments 

I’ve been struggling since I heard the news. I felt like I should write something, but didn’t want to just put up a post because I was supposed to. And, unlike Shannon Drayer or someone else close to him, I didn’t have much personal experience with the man. I met him once when I was younger, but our relationship has been a one way street. And besides, Dave didn’t like blogs, and if he knew what I wrote, he probably wouldn’t have liked me all that much.

But I liked him. Listening to him call a baseball game always reminded me of why I became a fan in the first place. He was the personification of my childhood, and now he’s gone. I can’t write a tribute to the man the way Shannon did, so instead, I’m just going to tell you a story.

Every year, the school I attended had three day getaways for all the students. We went to the woods, did a bunch of stuff, and “got away from it all”. In order to enforce the not-your-normal-routine environment, they banned electronics from the trip. Most of my friends were mad that they couldn’t bring their gameboys. I was mad that I couldn’t bring my radio. You see, in 1995, they just happened to schedule this thing for October 3rd through the 5th, better known to most of Seattle as Games 1 and 2 of the American League Division Series between the Mariners and Yankees. I was the biggest baseball fan in the school, and they decided to take us on a get-away-from-life trip to the mountains during the first two playoff games the Mariners would ever play. And they outlawed radios.

Looking back, I can’t believe my parents made me go. What a ridiculous decision that was, and one that I’m going to yell at them for now that I think about it. But, they did make me go, and so on the day of Game 1, I piled into a bus with my sleeping bag and various assorted toiletries, and off we went. When we got to the camp, I went to our little a-frame cabin and unpacked my stuff, including my super-secret weapon against their nefarious plot to keep me from playoff baseball – an alarm clock. I had to wake up on time to get to breakfast, after all, so the chaperone couldn’t put up a fight about me having that one item that needed to be plugged in. It was pure coincidence that I brought an alarm clock that happened to have a radio, of course.

The real problem came from the time difference. Since the game was on the east coast, it was played at around dinner time, and I had no reason to bring my “alarm clock” to dinner or the night meeting. I had to try, though, so I stuck the bulky thing in my jacket and sat near a plug while I ate. I managed to catch the first few innings before we had to head over to the Lodge, as Dave gracefully informed me that Chris Bosio was pitching like, well, Chris Bosio. Unfortunately, my contraband was detected and I was asked to surrender the radio before we transitioned to the meeting at night. Luckily for me, my captor was also our basketball coach, who happened to be a pretty big sports fan himself.

During the meeting, he decided to put my radio to good use, plugging it in in a back room somewhere and occasionally running me updates. Bobby Ayala was terrible? Well, I knew that already. Game 1 ended before our meeting did, and I was informed of the bad news before getting my alarm back for the evening.

Wednesday, though, the game ran long. You may remember it as a five hour, 15 inning epic affair that featured four innings of Norm Charlton, among other things. This time, I had brought my radio to the accomplice, figuring some updates were better than nothing. When our meeting ended, however, the game was still going on. I got there in time to hear Dave call Jim Leyritz’s home run with just enough disgust in his voice, but I also heard Dave remind us all of how crazy the season had been, and how Randy Johnson was taking the hill on Friday, and that we couldn’t give up on this team now.

I can still hear Dave’s encouragement in my ears. He imparted hope to a young boy who was not ready for the team’s playoff run to be over.

Four days later, we got The Double. I watched that one on TV, but we weren’t listening to Brent Musberger. We were only interested in hearing one voice call that final game, and it came through the radio. Everyone knows how that call went, and while I’m part of the masses that get goosebumps every time I hear Dave yell “the throw to the plate will be late…”, I also remember sitting in the woods, gathered around a crappy alarm radio, hearing Dave tell me that the Mariners were coming home, and with The Big Unit on the mound, anything was possible.

When Dave Niehaus was broadcasting a game, anything was possible. We’ll all be back for opening day, but it won’t feel as special without Dave around. You will be missed greatly, sir.

A Tribute To Dave

November 11, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 53 Comments 

Pretty cool idea by ESPN 710.

710 ESPN Seattle and News Talk 97.3 KIRO FM, the radio home of the Mariners, will broadcast game 5 of the 1995 American League Division Series in tribute to the Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 12noon.

“My Oh My – A Tribute to Dave Niehaus” recognizes him as one of the best and most exciting broadcasters in the game. This commercial free replay of a fan favorite game as the Seattle Mariners defeated the New York Yankees in an amazing divisional comeback will include memories and comments from former players and broadcasters including Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, Rick Rizzs, Harold Reynolds, Ron Fairly and more.

“Dave’s play-by-play speaks for itself, and stands the test of time,” said Carl Gardner, Bonneville Seattle Media Group Vice President and Market Manager. “We can think of no greater tribute to the man than to re-broadcast his master work – the greatest game of his exceptional career.”

Dave Niehaus, the voice of the Seattle Mariners since the team’s inception in 1977, passed away Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at the age of 75. For more information on the passing of Dave Niehaus and to hear an audio montage of his greatest calls, visit

2010 40-man Roster Candidates

November 10, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 27 Comments 

(This was originally set to post this afternoon. I’m torn about this. Part of me wants to talk about minor leaguers so I can stop thinking about Niehaus’ passing, and part of me wants to post nothing but Niehaus clips for a week. We’ll miss you, Dave).

Or, if you prefer, Rule 5 draft candidates…

JY did a great job of running down the rules and the process in last year’s preview, so I’ll stick with the twitter version: ’06 high-school draftees and international signings and ’07 college draftees who are NOT on the 40-man can be selected in the Rule 5 draft. Players who signed one-year minor league deals or who’ve been in the system for at least SIX years without being added to the 40 man become minor league free agents; that list is here.

Last year, Dave and JY discussed the fact that the M’s had room to store more marginal candidates on the 40 man. This year, it’s the same basic thing, only turned up to eleven. If you’re eligible in the Rule 5 draft this year, you’re probably bad, injured, or bad and injured. Last week, the M’s released Casey Kotchman and outrighted Chris Seddon. That brought the M’s “40 Man” roster stands to a lean 29. As a result, we may go deeper down the list of potential 40-man candidates this year. While some may see the turnover on the roster as a sign that the team has no ‘plan,’ I think it’s a good thing. The 2010 Mariners may not have been good at baseball, but they’re a useful reminder that for many, many players, short contracts are better than long ones. If we’re going to have awful baseball players, I’d prefer they be signed for one year and not four (at $12 million per).

With that, let’s take a look at the players who must be added to the roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. We’ll rank them in tiers – the absolute locks, the maybes and the darkhorse/slim chances.
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Dave Niehaus Passes Away

November 10, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 137 Comments 

One of the most vivid parts of my childhood has died. We all have the shared memories of the big events – The double, the no-hitters, Jr’s catch on Jesse Barfield, my oh my and the rye bread. However, I can still hear Dave describing a spring training game in which Bip Roberts got a couple of hits. Even though he was on a Padres team that the Mariners never played, that memory never fades because of the man who called it. He was a great storyteller, and he made baseball magical for myself and millions of other children who grew up with his voice.

It was always a beautiful day out for baseball when Dave Niehaus was behind the mic. Thanks for everything, Dave – you were one of the reasons I fell in love with this game.

Shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka Posted

November 9, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 44 Comments 

A new name has surfaced out of left field in the conversation of potential middle infielders. Far left field. Dave talked earlier in the offseason about Hiroyuki Nakajima as a second base candidate, but it looks like Seibu won’t be posting him this year, and instead, the Japanese infielder hitting the market is Tsuyoshi Nishioka of the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Nishioka is another leadoff-type hitter, a switch-hitter who led the Pacific League last season with 206 hits, which is the most since Ichiro’s 210 back in 1994. He also topped the leaderboards in games played (144), batting average (.346), and runs (121), along with topping the league in stolen bases in the past due to his smart baserunning. On top of all that, he’s regarded as one of the top defensive infielders in the league and has played shortstop exclusively the past five years. Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker named him his Pacific League MVP for the 2010 season and posted a full article at Fangraphs earlier in the day as the story was going around. Nishioka is also just 26, compared to Nakajima, who is 28 already.

The knock on him? He’s injury prone for one thing, having an assortment of wrist, knee, neck, and hamstring injuries throughout his career. Since he won the full-time job, he’s never played fewer than 115 games, but the risk is there that either he’ll get hurt or be playing through something that hampers him in some way. The other thing is that this season represented a bit of a breakout for him, one that he’s likely to make a fair chunk of money for. We’d certainly be happy to take a straight translation of his .346/.423/.482 line this season, but his career numbers are .293/.364/.426, and he runs the risk of coming back to earth a bit next season.

As we’re competing with everyone else who’s in the market for a shortstop this season (and there are many out there), there’s no guarantee that we’ll get him through the posting process, but file the name away anyway.

Hisashi Iwakuma to….Oakland?

November 8, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 39 Comments 

This weekend, we learned that Rakuten would accept the high bid for Iwakuma, then we learned that the high bid may have come from Oakland.
Today, Peter Gammons confirms that Oakland won the rights to sign Iwakuma. Some have speculated about a trade (possibly with Milwaukee), while others think the A’s just want some rotation depth. Either way, it looks like Oakland got its man.
While it stings to lose what looks like a solid starter to a divisional rival, I remember we were all pretty angry when Texas made a late push for Rich Harden and seemingly stole him from the M’s. How’d that work for the Rangers? Yes, yes, they cruised to the AL pennant and all that, and yes, the M’s were awful. But Harden was hurt and ineffective, giving the Rangers 92 sub-replacement level innings in exchange for a cool $7.5m.

What They’re Improving On

November 6, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 54 Comments 

One of the popular comments made in response to the suggested offseason plan is that the team looks a lot like last year’s, and last year’s team was terrible. People see the same names and associate equality in production from one year to the next, which is one of the biggest mistakes made in projecting future performance. For reference, here is what the Mariners got in Wins Above Replacement, by position, in 2010, and where that ranked in MLB.

Catcher: 0.1 (30th)
First Base: -1.4 (30th)
Second Base: 0.6 (24th)
Shortstop: -0.3 (27th)
Third Base: -0.4 (29th)
Left Field: -0.5 (29th)
Center Field: +2.2 (24th)
Right Field: +4.8 (10th)
Designated Hitter: -0.2 (11th)

Starting Pitchers: +13.4 (17th)
Relief Pitchers: -0.4 (29th)

Yes, you’re reading that correctly. The Mariners got below replacement level production out of 1B, SS, 3B, LF, DH, and the bullpen. Catcher produced one RUN above replacement, while second base came in just slightly better than that. Truly, the only positions on the team last year that performed any better than what you could have expected from a Triple-A callup were CF, RF, and 4/5 of the starting rotation.

Nick Punto is an upgrade over what the team got last year. Hell, Willie Bloomquist is an upgrade over what the team got last year from most of the roster. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that similar names equals similar production. By any reasonable projection system, the Mariners will improve by quite a bit next year, even if they don’t make major upgrades this winter. There is just no way they’re going to get those kind of below replacement level seasons from that many positions again.

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