Hip Surgery For Aardsma

December 30, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

Well, if you were wondering why the Mariners haven’t traded David Aardmsa yet, here’s one possible explanation – they announced today that he needs surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. Of the two labrums you don’t want a pitcher to injure, this one’s better than the shoulder, obviously, but it’s still going to nuke his trade value for the rest of the winter. The recovery timetable should allow him to be ready sometime during Spring Training if all goes well, but he’s going to have to throw well in Peoria before any team would even consider making an offer for him.

This has a few repercussions for the team.

1. They’re basically out of money now. The only way they were going to be able to add another significant free agent was to move Aardsma and use the money that would have gone his way to sign someone else, but now that he’s going to be on the books to begin the season, they don’t have much budget flexibility left. You can probably kiss guys like Jeff Francis or Kevin Millwood goodbye – they might be able to still get in on Chris Capuano, but it’s going to be all bargain shopping for the rest of the winter.

2. Aardsma’s probably going to be here until the summer. Even if he recovers and is ready to begin the season, most teams will have given their ninth inning job to someone else, and the M’s will have to wait for another team’s closer to either get hurt or struggle before a market develops for his services. The earliest you’re probably looking at a possible deal for Aardsma is June, and that’s only if he’s pitching well at the beginning of the year.

This is obviously a blow to the organization. Even if they end up moving Aardsma this summer, the opportunity cost of being out of money this winter presents a loss, and now there’s increased odds that Aardsma will have diminished trade value at the deadline. It’s not the end of the world, but this is not good news.

Bloomberg Interviews Eric Wedge In Orlando

December 29, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

This is a few weeks old, but the guys over at Bloomberg Sports spent a few minutes talking with Eric Wedge down in Orlando. He didn’t say anything overly exciting, but he also didn’t say “belief system”, so that’s a good start.

The video is embedded below if you want to listen to the M’s new skipper say things that skippers say.

Another Possible Rotation Option

December 27, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 33 Comments 

Jason Churchill and I heard the same rumor today, linking the M’s to Chris Capuano as a potential option for the back-end starter need that the team has. While I’ve been pretty vocal about Jeff Francis being my preferred option, Capuano presents an interesting possibility as well. He won’t be going back to Milwaukee, as the Brewers have traded for both Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum this month, leaving their rotation without a spot for Capuano in 2011. Doug Melvin said publicly today that the Brewers will move on without Capuano, as he wants to continue to be a starter and they could only offer him a bullpen role.

Why should the Mariners be interested? Well, there’s a few reasons, the most obvious being that he should be relatively cheap. He missed all of 2008 and 2009 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and only managed to throw 66 big league innings last year after starting the year in the minors and joining the Brewers initially as a reliever in June. He finished the year as a member of their rotation and did pretty well in that role, but he hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2007, and teams aren’t going to be offering up big money for a guy with his health questions. Given the team’s limited budget, the M’s are somewhat limited in what kinds of players they can make offers on, and Capuano should fit into the budget.

Beyond that, though, he’s a guy that this front office has some history with, having spent the last seven years in the Brewers organization after coming over in the Richie Sexson trade. Jack Z and the gang know Capuano and have seen him pitch well up close and personal, as they had a front row seat to the 2005-2007 stretch where he was a perfectly capable middle of the rotation starter. And, since they understand how Safeco’s park plays, they know that he could benefit dramatically from pitching half his games in Seattle.

As a left-handed starter, it’s no surprise that Capuano has given up more home runs to right-handed batters than to left-handed batters in his career; what is surprising is the proportion. He has faced 657 left-handed batters in the big leagues and allowed just 12 home runs, but has given up 98 bombs to the 2,699 right-handed batters he’s faced. To put that into a more conventional rate basis, his career HR/9 vs LHBs is 0.67, while its 1.43 vs RHBs. His home rate against righties is essentially double that of his mark against lefties. This is an unusually large split, but it appears that Capuano has a pitching style that leads directly to this result.

Left-handed hitters have put 53.8 percent of their career balls in play against Capuano on the ground; right-handed batters are at just 37.2 percent. While most pitchers induce more grounders versus same-handed hitters, it’s again the size of the split that is surprising. Against lefties, Capuano is doing something (mostly likely location based, since he doesn’t appear to throw a two-seam fastball) that gets them to hit the ball on the ground a majority of the time. He doesn’t do that same thing against right-handers, and it leads to a home run problem that is his biggest issue. With a career rate of 2.45 strikeouts to every walk, he’d be a pretty good starting pitcher if he could limit how often right-handed batters took him deep.

That is, of course, the one thing that Safeco Field prevents most – home runs by right-handed hitters. In Safeco, Capuano’s biggest weakness (and, in fact, his only major problem besides the health issues) would be minimalized, if not neutralized entirely. While pitchers like Jarrod Washburn and Jason Vargas have been able to take advantage of Safeco’s asymmetry, neither of them had anything close to the same tendencies that Capuano has displayed. He would stand to benefit more than either of those two from how the home park plays, and while it’s not quite as simple as dump-a-lefty-in-Safeco-and-watch-him-pitch-like-an-ace, you can bet that no other franchise could give him a chance to post better numbers in 2011 than the Mariners. As a guy coming off multiple years of injuries who will certainly be settling for a one year deal to try and re-establish some value, Seattle is the perfect landing spot for him.

He’s not quite as perfect for the Mariners, who could use some reliability in the back-end of a rotation that currently includes big question marks like Michael Pineda, David Pauley, and the always-around-but-never-actually-pitching Erik Bedard. Adding yet another guy who might be limited in how many innings he can offer might not be ideal, but the potential solid performance for even 100 to 150 innings at a low cost is not something the Mariners should ignore. A healthy Capuano pitching half his games in Safeco could end up being one of the best bargains of the winter, and while there’s a chance that they end up just paying for another broken lefty starter, the cost should be low enough to justify the risk.

I’d still prefer Francis, but Capuano is an interesting fallback plan. I wouldn’t even be opposed to bringing in both. This is the kind of pitcher that Safeco was made for, and the Mariners should be taking full advantage of how their park plays. Buying low on these types of guys is exactly how the team can benefit from a stadium that is, at times, a detriment to roster construction. If we’re going to be harmed by Safeco’s annoying ability to destroy right-handed pull hitters, we should also benefit from it’s abilities to make mediocre left-handed pitchers look amazing.

Derek On Jonah Keri’s Podcast

December 27, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

The subject is somewhat self explanatory. It’s Derek, it’s Jonah, it’s a podcast. I heartily recommend it. Actually, I heartily recommend all of Jonah’s podcasts, but this one gets special recognition because, hey, its DMZ.

Aardsma’s Value

December 22, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 45 Comments 

Yesterday, we saw a report from mlb.com that stated the Mariners were seeking an impact bat in return for David Aardsma. My reaction? Make a joke about how that’s kind of a fairy tale. Plain and simple, the Mariners simply aren’t going to get anything resembling an impact major league bat for their closer, and they shouldn’t sit around waiting for that kind of offer.

There has been some talk that Aardsma’s market value has surged over the last few months, as the price for free agent relievers has gotten crazy. Logically, this makes sense – Aardsma does look like a relative bargain with a fixed salary of around $4 million next year when compared to the multi-year deals that relievers on the free market are getting. You would think that teams in the market for closers would then see trading for Aardsma as an alternative to paying the market rate, and the increased demand would drive up his trade value. However, as I noted on FanGraphs the other day, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Despite the inflation in free agency, we are not seeing a corresponding rise in trade value for players already under contract. The free agent market and trade market are not moving together.

The consensus seems to be that the main driver of this phenomenon is that teams are hoarding young talent now in a way that they haven’t before, perhaps in reaction to the rise in prices of free agents. If veterans cost more to sign, then teams are less likely to want to trade away players who could fill holes that they otherwise would have to pay market rates to fill. It could be that causality goes the other way, with more teams spending in free agency because they’re less willing to trade away their young prospects, but which one is the chicken and which one is the egg is not as important as the result itself. Right now, it seems like the trade market is pretty stagnant, and sellers are not doing as well as expected when moving veterans for younger talent.

So, the Mariners are faced with something of a dilemma. They can either move Aardsma for whatever the best deal on the table is this winter, likely settling for a decent-but-unspectacular prospect or major league role player in return, or hold onto him, let him rack up as many saves as he can, and then try to flip him this summer when teams won’t have free agent alternatives to add talent. There is a school of thought that closers garner more in return when moved at the deadline than in the offseason, though I haven’t seen much in the way of real evidence to support the assertion. But, beyond just the questionable rise in potential return, there are two main reasons why I don’t think the M’s would be wise to bring Aardsma to spring training.

1. Relievers are notoriously fickle.

Even the best relievers see their numbers shift wildly from year to year. George Sherrill, Trevor Hoffman, and Jonathan Papelbon all posted ERAs under 2.00 in 2009, then saw them balloon tremendously last year. Sherrill and Hoffman were downright terrible, two of the very worst relievers in the game. Papelbon was simply shaky, and saw most of his trade value disappear as his fly balls started to clear the wall with some regularity. Aardsma isn’t as good as any of those three were two years ago, and there’s a pretty good chance that he actually hurts his trade value by taking the mound in 2011. Remember, his ERA at the end of July was 4.59, which is one of the reasons the M’s ended up hanging onto him last summer. The risk of Aardsma tanking next year almost certainly outweigh the minimal increase in return you’d get if he pitched well and raised his trade value incrementally. Keeping him is akin to hitting on 17 in Blackjack. There are scenarios where it works out, but more often, you’ll end up going bust.

2. The M’s need the $4 million they’d save by moving him.

We’ve talked about some of the holes this roster still has. Specifically, they are at least one starting pitcher short, Milton Bradley is currently the team’s only reserve outfielder, and Josh Wilson would have to take a starting role if any infielder landed on the DL. Part of the reason the team hasn’t been more active in filling these holes is that they’re up against their budgetary limitations. Moving Aardsma would likely give them enough money to win the bidding for a starter like Jeff Francis or Kevin Millwood, and they have better internal options to fill Aardsma’s 60 innings out of the bullpen than they do the 180 or so they need from a back-end starter.

In fact, I’d argue that if the Mariners are in danger of losing out on a decent starter (especially Francis) because of a lack of funds, they’d be better off giving Aardsma away than hanging onto him and hoping for a better offer to come rolling in. Aardsma is worth $4 million to other teams. He’s not worth $4 million to the Mariners. They have other areas where the money he’s owed would be better spent, and the best options to fill those areas are going to get picked up in the next few weeks. The M’s can’t afford to let those guys sign elsewhere while waiting for a perfect offer for their closer.

If I’m Jack Z, I’m moving Aardsma for the best thing I can get right now. If that’s just a middling middle reliever or a C prospect, so be it. I’d rather have the $4 million to spend on something else, and I’m not willing to potentially lose out on a solid free agent addition while hoping that the free agent inflation finally does carry over to the trade market. I’m not convinced it ever will, and if the M’s are counting on that happening, they may be in for severe disappointment.

Ichiro Speaks, Says Ichiro Stuff

December 20, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 29 Comments 

Ichiro recently gave an interview to Kyodo News, which has been helpfully translated into English. As always, you should read the whole thing, but here are a few of the highlights.

Q: You had high expectations for your team at the beginning of the season, but it turned out to be a disappointing year.

A: When Randy Johnson threw out the ceremonial first pitch in our season home opener, he was joined on the mound by Dan Wilson, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and Junior (Ken Griffey Jr.). It was good to see them all together but at the same time made me wonder if there is a real teammate for me. I hoped that Felix (Hernandez) or (Chone) Figgins would become one and that 2010 would be the start of a new Mariners era. But we stumbled from the outset.

Q: In recent years, the team has repeated a brief rise and a long downward slide.

A: The whole team had high hopes for the 2010 season because we thought we made good additions to the roster (such as left-hander Cliff Lee and second baseman Figgins). And we ended up like this. From now on, maybe we shouldn’t even voice our goals.

Q: What have you been doing this offseason?

A: I’ve been playing golf. I don’t get blisters from swinging the bat, but I get blisters all over my hands from golfing. Blisters are signs that you’re not a good baseball player or not a good golfer, I think.

M’s Sign Four To Minor League Deals

December 14, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 23 Comments 

The M’s have announced the signings of four players to minor league contracts with invites to spring training. Those four are Ryan Langerhans, Denny Bautista, Chris Gimenez, and Royce Ring. They are actually more interesting than you might think.

Langerhans, you know. He probably won’t make the team out of spring training unless Saunders fails to make the club for one reason or another. Most likely, he’ll hang out in Tacoma and come up when Milton Bradley lands on the DL. He gives the team a legitimate reserve outfielder who can play all three spots.

Gimenez is basically Rob Johnson 2.0. Eric Wedge reportedly loved him in Cleveland, and if Moore flops in spring training, he could end up as the backup catcher. Otherwise, he’ll head to Tacoma and serve as organizational depth. He strikes out a lot and doesn’t have much power, but he will take a walk or two.

The two pitchers actually have an outside chance of making this club. Bautista is a hard-thrower with no command, kind of an older version of Dan Cortes. His fastball averages 95 MPH and he gets a lot of strikeouts, but his walk rate was a horrendous 7.22 BB/9 last year. If you enjoyed Jesus Colome, you’ll love Bautista, who is basically the same idea – big arm, no command, could be good if he ever figures it out, but at 30, don’t count on it. A good spring training could land him on the team, however.

Ring is a classic LOOGY, and has been one of the best lefty specialists in Triple-A for several years. He’s completely worthless against RHBs, however, so his only role on a team is as a one or two batter situational reliever. Given that the M’s don’t really have a guy who is good at left-on-left match-ups, Ring could be an attractive bullpen option in March. His lack of versatility will work against him, however.

As far as minor league signings go, these are pretty decent ones. All four guys could end up playing for the M’s and contributing in their own way. They aren’t big additions, but they’re decent depth at no real cost.

Rob Johnson DFA’d

December 13, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 37 Comments 

The Mariners needed to clear a spot on the 40 man roster for Jack Cust today, and they’ve announced the move that will open a spot for him – they’ve designated Rob Johnson for assignment. This means the team has 10 days to trade or waive Johnson, but it gets him off the 40 man right now.

No matter how frustrating he was to watch at times, he’s nowhere near the most useless player on the 40 man – hello, Cesar Jimenez! – so I’m going to read between the lines and assume that this means the M’s are working on a deal to ship Johnson to another team. If they know they can get something done in the next few days, this just extends their window and keeps them from having to dump someone else off the 40 man before that trade is complete. With Miguel Olivo in the fold and Adam Moore still around, Johnson was ticketed for Tacoma in 2011. Perhaps another team felt they would be willing to give up a minor piece to get Johnson as a backup catcher, and the M’s and that team are simply trying to figure out what minor piece that should be.

I could be wrong. Maybe they’ll just end up waiving Johnson in a few days, but I doubt they really viewed him as the most expendable guy on the 40 man. He certainly wasn’t our favorite player, but he’s also not totally useless, especially for an organization that doesn’t have much in the way of high level catching depth in the minors.

The Current Roster

December 13, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 66 Comments 

After adding Jack Cust, Miguel Olivo, and Brendan Ryan, here’s a snapshot of what the M’s projected Opening Day roster looks like at the moment.

1. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
2. Chone Figgins, 3B
3. Jack Cust, DH
4. Justin Smoak, 1B
5. Miguel Olivo, C
6. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
7. Michael Saunders, LF
8. Jack Wilson, SS
9. Brendan Ryan, 2B

Bench: Adam Moore (C), Milton Bradley (OF/DH), Josh Wilson (INF), Matt Tuiasosopo (UT)

Pitching Staff:

1. Felix Hernandez, RHP
2. Jason Vargas, LHP
3. Doug Fister, RHP
4. Michael Pineda, RHP
5. David Pauley, RHP

Long – Chris Seddon, LHP
Long – Jose Flores, RHP
Middle – Luke French, LHP
Middle – Dan Cortes, RHP
Setup – Garrett Olson, LHP
Setup – Brandon League, RHP
Closer – David Aardsma, RHP

There are still some holes to be filled, obviously.

Having Josh Wilson as your primary reserve infielder is a problem, as he simply isn’t qualified for anything more than a 25th man/pinch-runner role. Having him move into the starting line-up whenever anyone (read: Jack Wilson) gets hurt is simply not a good idea, and even with Dustin Ackley‘s likely arrival in the summer potentially solving that problem, the team should not be willing to go with Wilson as their primary reserve infielder for two months. With Brendan Ryan around to act as a backup SS, the team can go with a reserve IF who doesn’t need to be able to play SS, allowing them to get a better bat on the bench. That would push Wilson into Tui’s role and Tui off the roster, both of which are good things. A guy like Willy Aybar would make a lot of sense for that role.

The pitching staff still needs work as well. Pauley is probably best off in a long relief/spot starter role, and moving him to the pen would allow the team to not have to push Seddon to the majors, allowing him to serve as additional depth down in Tacoma. Relying on the hope that Erik Bedard is healthy enough to hold down the #5 spot isn’t a great idea, so the M’s should still be in the market for another back-end starter. Jeff Francis is still my ideal choice, but if he’s too pricey, Kevin Millwood would be worth kicking the tires on.

Speaking of price, the bullpen is still somewhat in flux while the club decides what to do with David Aardsma. Trading him saves around $4 million in salary which could be used to sign a guy like Francis for the rotation, so it’s worth doing even if they can’t land a big return for him. However, moving him also opens up a hole in an already thin bullpen, so the M’s will have to be on the lookout for a cheap reliever or two that they could bring in to bridge the gap in the middle innings if League and Cortes were promoted after Aardsma was dealt. Alternately, they could use Josh Lueke to fill one of those spots, but whether that happens is still up in the air.

So, that leaves the shopping list for the rest of the winter looking something like this – #5 starter, corner infielder with some offensive upside, and potentially decent middle reliever, and if he’s a lefty, that’s a bonus. If they don’t trade Aardsma, they probably only have $2 or $3 million left in the budget, depending on how Olivo’s contract is structured and what Brendan Ryan, Jason Vargas, and Brandon League end up getting to avoid arbitration. If they trade Aardsma, they have a little more flexibility and could probably expand their search a bit.

My preference? Deal Aardsma, and then sign Francis, Aybar, and Mark Hendrickson. That would give the team a better back-end starter, a deeper bullpen, and a better bench, plus whatever prospect they could get in return for Aardsma. They aren’t sexy moves, but they’re the kind of low-cost acquisitions that can fill some holes and give the team a chance to be not-terrible next year. Of course, the offense is essentially predicated on Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders living up to their minor league potential, so it could go badly wrong anyway, but that’s a risk the team has to take. They can minimize problems elsewhere in the hope that, if those guys hit, the team could actually be okay.

Brendan Ryan

December 12, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 74 Comments 

Last week, I started writing up a post on why the Mariners should acquire Brendan Ryan from St. Louis. Because of the craziness of the winter meetings and being totally whipped on Friday, I didn’t finish it. Today, the Mariners acquired Brendan Ryan. I guess you’ll have to take my word for it that I would have endorsed this deal even before it went through.

So, let’s talk about Ryan. The first thing people are going to notice is just how bad he hit last year, and I’m sure we’ll hear moaning from the “we need offense!” crowd, as Ryan is nothing like a big bat kind of player. Like Jack Wilson, most of his value comes from his abilities in the field, and you live with the bat in order to get the glove in the line-up. Unlike Jack Wilson, Ryan can actually stay on the field for more than a few days in a row. And, despite his miserable offensive season last year, there actually is some reason for optimism about his abilities at the plate.

In February of last year, Ryan had surgery on his right wrist, and while he was able to make it back on the field for opening day, wrist problems are among the worst any hitter can have. They are notorious power-sappers, and they can linger for months even after a player is back on the field. It is quite common for a player to hit far below his normal levels when returning from a wrist problem. And that’s exactly what we saw with Ryan, whose offense took a big step back from 2009. He should be totally healthy this year, and it will be interesting to see what a full-strength Ryan looks like again. In addition, there are some statistical suggestions that Ryan’s offense is better than his 2010 numbers.

One of the first things I started doing after we rolled out splits leaderboards over on FanGraphs was to look at how different players performed over the last few years on different batted ball types. We’ve all seen guys hit line drives right at people and say “man, that’s unlucky”, and I was curious if there was any actual year to year correlation in a stat like batting average on line drives. So, I pulled all the numbers from 2007 to 2010 and ran some correlations, finding that – as you might expect – there seems to be almost no year to year predictive ability from a guy’s BA on line drives. The actual correlation was .15, so it’s not completely random, but it’s close. With very few exceptions, almost everyone gravitates back towards an average of about .725 on line drives. Guys who get “lucky” hit as high as .850 in any given season, and guys who got “unlucky” hit closer to .600, but they almost always regress right back to normal the next year.

Brendan Ryan was one of the “unlucky” guys last year, hitting just .627 on line drives, third worst in baseball among full time players. Only Carlos Lee and Alcides Escobar were worse, and before you scream that this is just evidence that these guys suck, other underachievers on line drives include Buster Posey, Ryan Ludwick, and Andre Ethier. Oh, and there’s the fact that Ryan hit .778 on line drives in 2009, so it’s not like this is a yearly problem for him. I’d argue that it was almost certainly a fluke, and we should expect his line drives to find more gaps next year, leading to expectations for a bounce back season.

He probably won’t hit .292/.340/.400 like he did in 2009 again. That was out of the norm that he’s established over the rest of his career, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised by a .270/.320/.380 line from him. That isn’t world-beating offense, but given that he’s an elite defensive middle infielder, it would make him a pretty useful piece. Keep in mind that Ryan’s UZR at shortstop in nearly 2,400 major league innings is +23.1. Even regressing that number to account for the sample size and imperfections in UZR, he’s still likely +5 to +10 runs better than an average defensive major league shortstop, and if you put him at second base, he’d probably be among the best defenders in the game at the position.

If his bat rebounds at all, he’s something like a league average player. Even if it doesn’t, he’s a pretty solid utility infielder and part-time player off the bench. He also gives the Mariners the flexibility to use him as the starting second baseman to open the year, then shift him into a different role once Dustin Ackley proves he’s ready for the big leagues. If Jack Wilson gets hurt and/or traded, Ryan is an easy fit for the starting shortstop gig, basically giving you the same skillset with better health for a fraction of the salary. If Wilson is playing well and is actually able to take the field when Ackley forces a promotion, Ryan can become the primary reserve infielder, giving Ackley days off against tough LHPs and Wilson days off when his (whatever) hurts.

There’s also the added bonus that Ryan is cheap. He’s arbitration eligible for the first time this winter, and the M’s will control his rights through 2013. Given his miserable offensive season last year, he’s not going to get more than $2 million in arbitration, and he might not even get that. He’s a low cost guy who won’t eat up the rest of the team’s payroll, but fills their most glaring need on the roster.

Avoid the temptation to look at Ryan as another no-hit infielder. He’s a quality player, and the Mariners are instantly better for having made this move. He probably won’t have the same breakout that Franklin Gutierrez had after coming over, but he’s got the chance to have a similar impact on the pitching staff if he plays regularly. This is a good move for the team.

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